Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dark City

I wish I had a copy of City Life or SimCity4.
Maybe then I could attempt to model some of the more memorable landmarks in my dream-city. My city doesn't have a name, and it changes pretty dramatically from night to night, but there are enough structural constants that I can (if REM time permits) usually orient myself sufficiently to get my bearings.

There's a huge University at the centre of town. This gleaming art-deco structure looks remarkably like Buffalo's City Hall. Skirting the downtown hub is a quaint little shopping district full of antique stores, rare booksellers, salons, cafes and upscale boutiques.

The sprawling subway system extends not on a reliably east-west or north-south axis, but quadralineally; like a rough X slashed across the city's underbelly. The northwest line peters out among the gentle hills of the wooded countryside. The northeast line terminates among the tangled tracks and blighted depots of the abandoned railyard.

The main thoroughfares, including the provincial superhighway and the "Great Overpass Project", which has been under construction since my teenage years, lies to the southwest. If I had a nickel for every time I broke down on one of those endlessly looping ribbons of asphalt, I'd never have to worry about finding exact change for the toll-roads again. The lunatic layout of this nebulous, near-Gordian knot of onramps and offramps is both infuriating and breathtaking.
If you locked a hyperactive autistic child in a large room with an endless supply of Hotwheels track, this would be the result.

Much like my hometown of Toronto, the southeast corner of the city is bounded by a great body of water. Whether it's freshwater or saltwater, I can't be certain.

There is a reliable, 24-hour transit service that links the underground to the neighboring boroughs, and to my knowledge, this bus is the only way to get to the airport.

There are a few frequently recurring themes in this "Dream City" of mine, and one of them is darkness. The sole illumination cast upon my dreams here is that of late afternoon, and the light fades rapidly after that. It almost suggests a Hyperborean latitude, if one were to try and fix it globally.

Another peculiarity is the perplexing abundance of book stores and costume shops. The former line the main downtown streets in near-perpetuity. Their sizes range from bargain-warehouse huge to airport-hangar immense. I typically wander in through a small, soap-stained glass door, and into a vast area divided into endless rows of waist-high stacks and shelves. The fare is usually bland back-issue women's magazines, Popular Mechanics, and Reader's Digest. To get to the good stuff, you have to go deeper. If you are lucky enough to spot the discreet stairway leading to the basement floor, you'll soon arrive at the gates of geek paradise.

This is where I make my happiest discoveries. Every gap in my comic-book collection can be stopped up by a few minutes perusal of the nearest bargain bin. Wonderfully bizarre fringe titles and proudly kitschy adult mags stare out at you from row after row of plastic-wrapped covers. The walls are festooned with rare and valuable collector's posters, and massive, ancient esoteric volumes vie for shelf space with modern DVD box-sets of my favorite seventies Saturday morning programs.

The costume shops abound almost as frequently. Maybe it's because Halloween always seems to be just around the corner in my Dream City, I don't know, but I encounter them all over town. They crop up in the usual places, like malls and shopping districts, but also in residential areas among ordinary homes with garages and driveways. I could be walking along a sleepy, shaded sidestreet, enjoying the beautiful colors of the autumn leaves, when suddenly I'll spot a small glass-fronted building festively sporting leering jack-o-lanterns and capering skeletons.

And these shops are often quite specialized. One proprietor announced that she only sold novelty wigs and fingernails. Nothing else in the store; just aisles and aisles of bewigged styrofoam heads and plastic press-ons arranged according to varying lengths and degrees of luridity. It's wonderful.

If I'm ever uncertain as to whether a particular dream is taking place in this nameless phantasmagoric metropolis, all I ever need to do is go for a workout.
I have discovered that I am in good standing with no fewer than three different health clubs in town. One is the University centre downtown. It's got an Olympic pool and a high-dive platform that I've never had the guts to try out. The hours are strange, however, as it always seems to be either just closing, or not quite ready to open. I seldom go here, but it's an impressive view from the high catwalk and observation deck. The second gym is a YMCA, and its location and layout shift from time to time. It's unique in the sense that it has perhaps a dozen saunas delimiting the (rather scummy-looking) pool. There are dry saunas, steam rooms, Swedish baths, eucalyptus rooms, you name it, this place has it. The biggest problem is the abominable lighting inside each of these little rooms. I never know who I might be sitting beside, or whether I've got company at all. Even more off-putting are the occasionally ghastly odours that seem to be emanating from the shadowy perspirers.

The third health club is my favorite.
In fact -- I'll tell you how to get there.
Go to one of the many malls around town (doesn't matter which), find Sears, go through the doors between the menswear and automotive sections, go down a flight of steps, go through another set of doors, and you will find a bored-looking woman behind a reception desk. Don't worry about digging out your membership card, because she never asks for it. Just head on past the treadmills, stationary bikes and nautilus equipment and deposit your stuff the locker room.
There's never anyone there, and the pool is always clean.


Post a Comment

<< Home