Dec. 6, 2015. Toronto, ON: One of my favorite WC Fields sketches is with Mr. Muckle, a cantankerous blind man in a grocery store.¹ Makes for a hilarious skit, but a rush hour encounter last week with a blind man with a death wish would need both Fields and Monty Python at their very best, to make it funny. There’s rarely a dull moment in ‘The Big Smoke’ if you keep your eyes, ears and mind open to the things all around you. I’ve been here since the late 80s and seen a lot of weird things, but nothing like this one.
The masses and I were hurtling toward the evening trains at Union Station. I heard the shouting before it registered what was going on. A rumpled man sporting a Blue Jays cap and sunglasses at night, was shouting, “AMD, AMD, AMD”! Then, I saw him. He was bouncing like a chimpanzee around another man — a blind man! These guys were walking toward me. They both looked around 40. The blind man was attempting to trace his stick on the sidewalk ahead of him, but as the shouts came closer and closer to his ear, he clutched the cane to his body. The chimp was simultaneously bouncing and lunging into the blind man’s face shouting his mantra. I could easily see Mr. Muckle’s face was not just upset, but visibly scared. He tried to weave away from the sound of the chimp’s taunts, but was becoming disoriented. He stopped. From the sidewalk, a Skidder shouted at the chimp, “Leave him alone.”² The blind man tried to move forward once more. The chimp was having none of that, and lunged at him again, then danced his way a few feet ahead. The blind man stopped right in front of me. He took out his cane, scraped the pavement, and darted into rush hour traffic.
Anyone who knows King and Bay at rush hour also knows there’s no contingent for this sort of improv theatre.
Cars screeched to a stop, their drivers clearly trying to absorb this show — is this the Leaf’s Stanley Cup Parade, Nuit Blanche? Is this real or just a marketing ploy?
I didn’t have time to listen, but I thought I heard Da Mayor telling me to, “Always do the right thing.” 3
I went right after Mr. Muckle. I had no time to take the politically correct nuanced actions dictated by the government on how to interact with the visually impaired. I grabbed Mr. Muckle by the elbow. When the chimp saw this he was back in his face, bouncing and lunging with gleeful abandon, dancing his way into traffic.
“You’re on the street.”
“I don’t care.”
“Come on, let’s get off.”
“No, I don’t care, I’d rather die. I don’t care anymore.”
The chimp heard this clearly enough and resumed his taunting, “Yes, you do, yes, you do, yes, you do. AMD, AMD, AMD.”
“C’mon, Let’s just get off the street.”
“It’ll never get better, I want to die. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Yes, you do, yes, you do, yes, you do. AMD, AMD, AMD”, was now coming at us from the opposite lanes as the chimp weaved through traffic that had no choice but to come to a standstill.
I held a hand up to oncoming traffic, and it flashed through my mind: what had happened to this guy to lead him to this point? The look etched on his face told a tough story. Naturally, Christmas was just around the corner. No time to ponder the unthinkable, I coaxed Mr. Muckle onto the sidewalk. The chimpanzee did another drive-by taunting, but was thankfully dancing further up the sidewalk. He no longer seemed interested in taunting Mr. Muckle, he’d zeroed in on a herd of bearded millennials.
When the dust settled, there wasn’t much point asking Mr. Muckle if he was okay. Clearly, he wasn’t, not then, not later, unlikely ever. I released his elbow and made sure he knew the chimp was far away and that he was on his own now. Able to use his cane again, he started the scrape and was on his way. I watched after him, wondered not if, but when and how he’d off himself – the TTC is a popular destination and King Street Subway Station was close.
I turned to the Skidder. He was my age. There was no exchange of pseudo facial gestures of concern, no shrugged shoulders, no thrown up hands. We’d both seen our fair share of insane scenarios, but without a word, we both knew we’d just seen one that defied the customary casual dismissal required of big city life in order to get on with things.
A caring young woman pulled out her cellphone to call the cops I guess, or maybe text a friend, or shoot it for YouTube, I don’t know.
I dropped a few coins in the Skidder’s hat and made my way to Union. I was struck by how easily the commuter stream pulled me back in. And away I went. I looked around at the faces of my fellow fish for some sign of someone trying to digest the event. Nothing. I could hear the Mad Hatter. Time was ticking. I must make it to the suburbs on time. Nothing to see here, move along.
The incident lingered with me for a few blocks. It was sinking in. The taunt, “AMD, AMD, AMD” was ringing in my ears. I initially thought he really, really liked the computer chip maker — it wasn’t until days later that I realized, he was mocking the man by shouting the abbreviation for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) at him!
Then, came the unanswerable questions. How could someone ‘in their right mind’ taunt and berate a blind man to the point where he became terrified and suicidal? Or was it, how could someone taunt and berate a suicidal blind man? I instinctively checked for my wallet. Nope, not a well-oiled con, just an unbelievable act of cruelty. Never mind the cops, they’ve got enough on their hands eyeballing hijabs and packages to respond to impromptu incidents like these. Maybe (g)od’s available for a dose of divine retribution, or are we still on our own?
¹ Mr. Muckle, a cranky, miserly, deaf and blind man busts just about everything in the shop sending Fields’ character Harold Bissonette (“pronounced biss-on-ay”) into spastic fits as he tries to satisfy the his request for ‘chewin’ gum’, as quickly as possible, before he breaks everything in the store. It would have been easy enough if it weren’t for a second irritated and demanding customer looking for two pounds of cumquats. See, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNZ-AWLyDoA
² You know the guy, wedged on the sidewalk between the Design Exchange and the gleaming glass and steel TD towers. Just one of many testaments to capitalism in this four block radius. In that same power zone, you’ll also find at least 15 Skidders pitching all sorts of tales of woe, playing some of the worst harmonica I’ve ever heard — but with conviction. Most are cocooned by all their belongings from books to dogs, sofa cushions to record album collections. Most are fronted by hand-scratched cardboard signs using the little tricks of the ad biz – humour, get ’em in the heart, the hook, and the call to action. One wonders how many are former copy writers.
3 Da Mayor (Ozzie Davis) and Mookie (Spike Lee), in Do the Right Thing, 1989