Saturday, October 1, 2011

Rings On His Fingers

Once in a while, when we want to convey in the same breath that something is both contemptible and hilarious, my boyfriend and I will cackle, "rings on his fingers," while waggling our fingers at each other and generally behaving like morons. It's from High Fidelity, the movie that introduced me to John Cusack (heresy! It should've been Say Anything, I know), and is about Ray, the tai chi-doing, pony-tail-wearing, tantric-sex-having horror that shacks up with Cusack's ex-girlfriend. The rings are just one example of Ray's yuckiness; he also produces "horrible cooking smells" and is one of those guys that, while telling Rob that Laura's descision to leave Rob and come share his bed wasn't easy for Laura and she needs to be respected, will reach out and firmly grasp the other man's shoulder in a manner that can only be understood as a hate-crime.

The problem with men's jewelery is that it can pretty much only be awful. Women, in addition to having centuries of socialized adornment behind them, also frequently have a wide range of tastes and styles to choose from. Last season's bib necklace is cousins with the lavaliere, the pendant, the big ropy chain, the delicate little chain, pearl necklaces (oh, behave), leather chokers, and a myriad other selections, ranging in price from "that store at the mall that gives you a free pair of earrings with every ear piercing" to "mortgage your house." But men? Despite attempts at blingy options in the last few years, the reality is, if a guy comes at me with a lot of metal, my first instinct is to avert my gaze. It demonstrates a level of conspicuous consumption and vanity that is wildly unappealing. Frankly, in both genders, if your choice in jewelry overshadows anything else in the first impression, you're probably doing it rather tastelessly.

Let's do a stereotype rundown, shall we? Let's see: if you wear an earring, you're either gay in 1994 or Harrison Ford. If you wear a chain, you're an Italian-American high school student, with tearaway Diadora pants and a professionally groomed set of eyebrows that are a source of both pride and shame. If you have facial piercing and are under 25, you are deliberately annoying your parents; over 25, and you attend drum circles and are considered "underemployed" by the government. Got a lot of rings? Ick. Bracelet? You're likely wearing an ID bracelet, an invention I have never seen outside a Stephen King book. (Or a hemp bracelet, in which case, carry on, former camp counselor.) Anklet? Have fun geting strip-searched coming back through the Vietnamese border, you hippie tourist. Have we missed any?

If you're among the jewelry-wearing masses, don't despair. I'm only one woman, and if you like your rings and anklets and headpieces, go right ahead and wear them. There are always exceptions to the rules. When I first moved to Toronto, I was struck by the number of regular guys who wear rings. I can't pin it to a specific culture or age group; dudes in the city just seem more okay with wearing jewelry than their country-mouse counterparts. Leather bracelet cuffs are prevalent and sufficiently dudely, although their moment of ubiquity seems to have passed. Some guys wear a crucifix on a chain, ranging in subtlety from "big honkin' cross on a string" to something a little more subtle. It can be tough, though, navigating the waters of personal bling: like cologne or sports cars or Jagermeister, a little goes an awfully long way.

Men don't get the same fashion breadth as women. We get purses, shoes, hosiery, make-up, hairdos and jewelry; they get to let loose with a really wild pair of socks. I'm sure it's not keeping most men up at night, since they make loads more money and have lots more power, but when your major accessory choice in the A.M. comes down to the brown belt or the black belt, chances are, you have a penis.

Obviously, the major exception to the jewelery rules is the wedding ring. Stalwart and true, the band would seem to be a no-brainer. But, again, we've come a long way since they would just hand you a gold band when you signed your marriage license (they never did, but that would have been dope). Now men (and women) are expected to embody themselves in their ring choices. I myself love a classic gold band - I love gold rings, because I'm an aspiring fancy person - but I've seen rings that have ranged from turquoise hunks - amazing! - to pieces that look like lug nuts - not amazing! Utilitarian-type guys seem to think they need a big freakin' ring, as though that might showcase their handy side, or be useful in case they get a flat. Wedding rings are supposed to be gifts from one beloved to the other, but it's handy to know if your future husband is a plain-band guy or if he might like something more ornate.

When we visited Brooklyn last weekend, I picked myself up a memory ring. It's a teeny gold band that usually rests on the pinkie, but when I have to remember something, it goes on the first knuckle of a larger finger. I love it: delicate, useful, and unexpected. I feel slightly bad that my boyfriend will never know the joy of a fun jewelry purchase. If he gets married, he's said that he'll likely wear a ring, but the fun of a pendant or an interesting earring isn't in his sartorial vocabulary. Honestly, though? I am mostly relieved. As we learned in High Fidelity, rings on his fingers only leads to ponytails, and you might get smashed in the face with an air conditioning unit. Better stick with funky socks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No Sleep Til Williamsburg

Coming home to Toronto from New York City reminds me of that line in The Big Lebowski where The Dude wistfully says, "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen Karl Hungus?" I've always loved that line, because as our experiences expand, places and things that once seemed oh-so-important start to wither next to the grandiosity of our new explorations. (Plus, The Dude is my bathrobe-wearing, cream-sniffing ersatz life coach.) I'm not going to play the "Toronto isn't good enough" game that well-traveled folks often do. I love my city. It's safe and friendly, it's interesting and fun, it's arty, cosmopolitan and youthful enough to still be figuring itself out. Comparing New York City and Toronto are like comparing Yoko Ono to Katie Stelmanis - both accomplished and inspiring in their own right, but who knows if Stelmanis will have the longevity, the adaptability or the tragic and playful stateliness of Ono in 25 years? Only time will tell.

It's true that New York, being older and larger, has amenities that Toronto can only envy from afar. Take, for example, their metro: an all-night, far-flung subway system with a universal user interface (everyone gets a metrocard! All the stations take it! Oh, plus the buses!), stations that are simultaneously classically beautiful and falling apart in a very appealing way (although probably not for the people who ride it daily), and a long and storied history. It's hard not to ride the TTC and feel, for a moment, that we got into the transit game during an ugly-looking era, and that efforts to expand it will constantly be truncated by whining about expense. Meanwhile, the suburbs and the downtown stay part of two different Toronto experiences, and New York City enfolds its outer boroughs.

I'm not sure if Toronto has "hipster" neighbourhoods the same way New York City does. I know Stratford sure doesn't: Stratford has "the cool coffeeshop" or "the indie video rental place," because it's made up of five or six neighbourhoods, one of which is called "downtown." Coming from a small town into a larger city like Toronto can be a bit of a mind-blower. What do you mean there's more than one cool coffee shop? How can that be? How do people know where to get expensive, artful lattes?

On the other hand, Toronto definitely has "cool" neighbourhoods, like both East and West Queen Street, but we rarely sustain them. Yorkville, our former hippie enclave, has been transformed in the last few decades in a showy and expensive neighbourhood catering to the Rosedale crowd. I guess we'll see, in the coming years, if Parkdale and Leslieville and the Junction can retain their indie vibe, or they, too, will get GapKids and exorbitant rents. In New York, Brooklyn has suffered from its successes: rents have risen and the influx of new residents have most been young, white, and employed in "careers" like barista and web designer. The diversity in ages, lifestyles and backgrounds is slowly getting lost.

I don't mean to sound spiteful. I love Brooklyn, because in addition to Brooklyn Heights and its plethora of hipsters, it's also home to places like Bed-Stuy and its sizable, and creative, Black population; plus, Crown Heights and the Hasidic Jews who call it home. It's huge, bigger than Manhattan in both population and area, but it suffers from the same inferiority complex that Toronto often seems to. Hipsters will stuff themselves into an area of a supposedly dowdy place (like Toronto or Brooklyn) in order to maximize their cool points and to find others like them. Hep cats in cities like Montreal or San Fransisco don't need to congregate into tiny little areas. Those cities spread their fun out to all compass points. Besides, have you ever been to Haight-Ashbury? The damned place is just tourists and drug dealers, and any semblance of genuine counterculture has been neatly erased with the opening of another soup-and-sammie joint. Spread the wealth, you know? As a Torontonian, my city definitely has cool and uncool pockets, and it can be exhausting to navigate them. Not to mention that, when I try, it leaves me feeling like I'm paddling in awfully shallow waters.

The long and the short of it? I refuse to believe that Toronto is a B-team city. We have our shortcomings, it's true. But I've been places - New York City, Chicago, Montreal, not to mention Halifax and Savannah - and Toronto is still very much in its learning, building stages. We're so young compared to a lot of these places. We can make something of ourselves. Frustratingly, we also seem to suffer from a lack of leadership - a monorail and a ferris wheel do not a world-class city make. We need green spaces, integrated transit, a thriving theatre and gallery scene, one-of-a-kind shopping, and a sense that each neighbourhood has something new and different to offer.

Look, NYC has a 200-year head start, and it took some wrong turns - remember the 1980s? Seedy Times Square and a soaring crime rate? There's no reason we can't get there too. We need visionaries: leaders and critics who aren't following some other city's plans, but who can put Toronto on the map on our own merits. Expand the subways, open the waterfront, fund the arts, and give out-of-towners - and ourselves - a reason to ooh and ahh over us. We'll finish fulfilling our destiny as the New York/Paris/Hollywood of the North, and then ditch that mantle to finally, gloriously, be Toronto.