Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Return to the Mean 

a graph explains regression towards the mean
Regression towards the mean - via Jeremy Tunnel

On the recommendation of my dentist I started using a new type of toothpaste; the kind for sensitive teeth even though I didn’t find my teeth that sensitive. Since then I’ve worried that I’m deadening the sensitivity of my teeth to the point where I'm not noticing any small cavities that may become big ones because I’ve turned off the sensitivity that is an early warning system.

Now I wonder if city living is making me less sensitive to all the stuff a big city throws at you. Am I hardening myself to life simply by being exposed to so much of it? By living in such an overwhelming environment am I in fact using a sensitive teeth formula on my soul (if there is such a thing)?

Let me back up a bit. A friend was visiting and brought with him his beloved folding bike (a customized Bike Friday) to ride about the town. He had ridden this bike in faraway places such as China and nearby places like New York City. Yet, in less than 24 hours of riding in Toronto, his bike had been stolen. As gutted as he was, I was equally distraught and depressed for days afterwards. How did I let this happen? Why did I let him use his spindly cable lock – a lock similar to the one I was using which was snipped when my own much loved shiny bike was stolen. I should’ve suggested we walk somewhere after he admitted that despite his years of riding experience he could only describe the traffic in Toronto as “mean”. It is mean. To date of my writing this, there have been 23 deaths of pedestrians on Toronto streets this year, 16 of which were over 60 years old, so no, these were not witless teens walking into traffic looking at their mobile phones. Streets are too wide and traffic is too fast… and too mean.

In the past few weeks there have been shooting deaths, traffic deaths, bike thefts and numerous strange encounters such as the man walking naked down my street except for the leg of his trousers still clinging around one of his ankles. Or such as when a “couple” were arguing (loudly, outside my front door) about how he was "dope sick” because his “b**ch” had used his last hit of dope due to her selfishness. Or when I arrived home from the pub (sober as a judge due to enforced teetotalling dear reader) to find an inebriated gentleman imbibing directly from his flask of vodka, sitting on my stoop, reclining (slipping) against my door. My only gratification was that I finally got to utter the words, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Or how only a few nights ago an impish fellow with stringy hair tried to ask me for cigarettes between bouts of uncontrollable giggling. Maybe he was laughing from the joke of having two pairs of pants around his ankles which revealed a third pair of pants pulled thankfully up to his waist. I thought he had moved on until I emerged from my door to meet friends, only to find him apparently eating the dog-urine-soaked mulch under my cedars. I advised against it but he did not listen.

It seems Toronto is in the throes of another Summer of the Gun, a not entirely unprecedented rise in road deaths, epic levels of bike theft and of course an ever worsening opioid crisis all rolled into one giant ball of dung. Unfortunately there are no dung beetles here to roll away this mess. The federal government has pledged millions to fight gun violence, the city has spent millions on Vision Zero (a sort of half hearted attempt to ask people in cars to stop running into people not in cars - or even houses and street furniture for that matter), a plan to bring a better bike theft reporting system has evaporated like spilled water on hot concrete, and the provincial Conservatives have planned to stop spending money on the drug problem with the logic that helping people with a drug problem only encourages them. The backdrop to this mean summer has been higher water levels in the Great Lakes than ever which has meant atypical flooding in Toronto is now typical flooding in Toronto. This too has been worryingly overlooked by our Conservatives who halted the planting of 50 million trees, our only plan for carbon capture, because why plant trees on land you might want to build on? In fact, they're pretty sure trees get on fine without our tax dollars.

Maybe I sound jaded and broken. I’ve earned this mood. I can’t even dull the barrage of this meanness with alcohol due a summer-long skin condition that has felt like I’m covered in red ants and is only now lessened by pharmacology which has additional restrictions against drinking and being merry. It’s not as though I can’t see a brighter future. I certainly can. It’s just very far away. This summer’s gun violence is likely a statistical blip, there can only be so many people addicted to a drug that kills you at any one time and surely the temporary measures of treatment will become regular ones. A reduction in drug use would undoubtedly reduce bike theft. Traffic congestion should eventually solve road deaths. You can’t kill someone in a car stuck in traffic or one abandoned to use transit. Constant flooding will mean actually building the infrastructure and taking actions to prevent it. Yet none of these things will stop 3 more years of a government so stupid they don’t even know the foot up their ass is their very own, which they amputated to save on the cost of shoes. The city can get better. It has to but it will take years. Right now, we are in a nadir and a zenith can only be reached after a long hard upward climb. We can’t go on like this forever. Like an infinite number of coin tosses, we’re bound to return to the mean. Our natural statistical mean and not this summer of mean.

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