Every time I open my room door, I take inventory. I scan my desk, closet, clothes rack and bag. It happens automatically; my brain just checks items on a list. There’s my shoebox filled with SD cards and my GoPro-Hero3 camera alongside my Futurama doll that’s really a homemade nanny cam. Check. My laptop is safe on my desk. Check. My phone’s in my hand. Check. And my camera and all three lenses are in my backpack. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I have all my tools together in the same room.
Outside my window, down in the recycling area, two girls rummage through an open bin. They wear covid masks and rubber gloves as they sort through bags of trash. I power-up my Panasonic and zoom-in. With its magnification I watch them recover little jewelry boxes with puffy white cushions and gold stamps on top. They squeal and cackle, thrilled to find them, and one girl looks over her shoulder to see if anyone watches them. Then they’re gone.
My laptop is filled with all manner of digital correspondence; there are Facebook, Gchat, Twitter and IG direct messages and comments everywhere. Kapow, I’m blowing up! One email from YouTube Canada stops me in my tracks and leaves me in cold sweat.
STRIKE ONE! Attention Toni Petti LIVE, your content has been flagged by Sec-D Gov of Canada. An inquiry has been made to determine if the material violates our Community Guidelines. Learn about our Community Guidelines here. Please make sure your content follows our policies. If you think we’ve made a mistake, please let us know. You can appeal this decision here.
The email goes on to explain how YouTube reserves the right to display each user’s content at its discretion. What the hell? This is Cochutemete’s doing. It has to be him. He said he’d shut me down, and this is how it manifests. Government of Canada? Wow.
When I login into YouTube.com I see another banner pop-up that reads: FLAGGED: Dark Alley with Toronto Police and Undercovers, ID Refusal : is this video mislabeled? There have been complaints from verified sources alleging this content is inappropriate. It has been flagged for: Privacy Reasons. Learn about our Community Guidelines here. Please make sure your content follows our policies. If you think we’ve made a mistake, please let us know. You can appeal this decision here.
I appeal. Using the form they provide, I write out the explanation and state the facts. I remind the arbiters that I’ve broken no laws, used no offensive language and the interactions occurred on public property. ′These are public officials recorded at work in the course of their duties, serving the public.′
I remember from my days at Loyalist College that newspaper reporters and photographers who feel they’re being silenced have a resource in the CJFE, Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression. The body exists to hear such cases and help remonstrate or litigate for change. The email form allows me to carbon-copy others and so I add the contact line for the CJFE, and in the notes section I cut and paste the their directives regarding public photography. That’s compelling. I’ll probably win this appeal.
Two of my teachers at Loyalist were members of CJFE and both were miffed about Bill C-51. Despite the opposition of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, Harper’s Conservatives made a deal with Trudeau’s Liberals and enacted their deeply flawed Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 with little public consultation or consideration of its impact. Bill C-51 has disturbing implications for free speech, privacy and civil liberties. My teacher explained how mixing new laws and new technologies can quickly reduce personal freedom. Now look where I am just five years later. This is the manifestation of that legislation impacting my reality! This is what we protest against.
But I shouldn’t complain too loudly as my YouTube channel still works and appears totally unaffected. Other than the popup, and email warning, which only the administrator can see, the service remains functional. I toggle the Upload button just to see if the option is still possible, and it works. I can still publish fresh videos. I haven’t been silenced, just warned.
My YouTube Subscribers now total 12,441, which is another three thousand since I checked a few hours ago at the Sherbourne TTC station. NHL Player Blocks Bike Lane, Toronto Police Fail - ID Refusal now has 32,543 views, and my Dark Alley with Toronto Police and Undercovers, ID Refusal upload has 29,721 views. I’m getting over ten thousand views an hour... Wow.
My thirst breaks my bubble and I wonder where I’ll get my next meal. I’ve paid my rent, but now I have no money and only thirty dollars in my bank account. Freedom Mobile, my cell phone service provider will automatically extract $55 at the end of the month, which is in two days time. That means I have less zero funds. But I do have the TD Bank overdraft service to prevent my cheques from bouncing, so I’m not worried about that.
My room is ninety degrees Fahrenheit and I’m really sweating. I need to rehydrate before I get a headache and maybe take a shower.
The kitchen is even hotter. Camila brews her afternoon tea and Gordon attempts hand-cut French fries. He stands over boiling oil at the stove and my eyes catch a flash in his ear. He’s wearing an audacious diamond earring. It’s a stunning gem, about half the size of my baby fingernail. “Gordon?”
“Toni. Heard you put on quite a show last night...”
“Gorie where did you get that?” My eyes fix on his ear lobe.
“Sam gave it to me. I always had a stud.”
“That’s no stud. That’s a good size diamond.” I have to look closer, “Sam gave you that?”
“It’s probably just zircon,” Camila says.
“Ain’t it pretty?” Gordon asks. “Makes me feel like a Pimp Daddy.”
Gordon’s ear really sparkles and it looks weirdly good, I must admit. But I like anything that catches and reflects light.
I drink an entire glass of water before I refill it and return to my room. There are more new emails in my Inbox and one from my Mom. She’s worried about me putting videos of the police online. Apparently one of her friends emailed links to her. She could have found them herself if she’d visited my Facebook page, but I guess she’s too busy for that.
Marcy texts-me looking for updates on her weekend visit. She wants to attend the Emancipation Day Rally and March on Saturday. She read in the Cobourg Tribune how the gathering will be epic and she wants to come be part of history. I chuckle. That’s what most young protesters say. Senior citizens will tell me they came out to make the world better for the kids, while young people will say they want to be part of history. I want to be there too, recording them.
An unknown sender, a self-proclaimed Jamaican Reggie star, wants me to isolate in Kilarney and shoot his music videos. He has sent along some photos and links to his Soundcloud. Not going to happen, even though he looks like a lovely man. Another more positive email is from Jim Deloitte at the American Civil Rights Enterprise or ACRE. He has a very successful YouTube channel with 550K subscribers. His message is a giant thumbs-up sign and it fills me with joy. That’s the best reward in the world.
Right below Jim’s missive is another auditor’s email. San Joaquin Valley Transparency writes,
Hey Toni. Jasper here from San Joaquin saying well done. I love your videos. You rock. I see you have it listed as Copyright Protected on YouTube. I wonder if you’d consider switching that to Creative Commons so I could feature it with commentary? I’ll link to you and plug your channel, Toni Petti LIVE. Great name btw. Watch anything on my channel and you’ll see what I do. I push 195K subscribers to other auditors and your video is so good I know they will subscribe to you too. So what da ya say?
Huh. So that’s how it works? Creative Commons? Okay. I toggle the license from Copyright Protected status to the more liberal Creative Commons which allows other users to repost and add the footage to highlight reels and other media. Normally I’d never allow this, but Charter Rights videos are different than my other art pieces. They’re not the usual beauty shots and morning sunrise videos which I sell, or try to sell, on the other freelancer sites.
“Knock, knock.” Samuel Parris stands at my door in a plush green and purple paisley shirt. His hair is moist and I can smell his Axe body wash. “Hey babe. I’m letting you know these lips are available for gentle massage.”
The idea appeals. Wouldn’t it be great to just be normal and have everyday regular girl fun? He’s the cutest guy on the floor, maybe the whole building if you’re into Patrick Swayze types with mullets. His charm, and his numerous considerate gestures are certainly growing on me.
He tries to speak more witticisms, but I put my finger over his lips. He gets the hint and waits to see what I’ll do next. I begin to unbutton his shirt. What’s this? Sam wears a fist-sized gold-cross on his chest. The pendant is on a thick gold chain necklace. It’s as audacious as Gorie’s earring. It’s something a hip-hop artist might wear in a video shoot.
“Where did you get this?”
“What? This old thing?”
“Is it real? ” I feel the weight; it’s heavy. “It looks and feels amazing.” The solid gold cross and chain weighs many ounces. If it’s real, it could be worth $10,000 or more, and not something I’ve ever seen him wear before. He’s full of surprises.
“Nah. You’re swayed by the model’s muscular chest and clavicle” Sam removes his shirt and models his gorgeous physique.
We kiss and roll around on my bed. I enjoy his hands on my body and his hot breath on my neck. Little pleasures remember, I just take nibbles. I caress his muscular shoulders and feel his arms around me. It’s a special kind of thrill that uncoils me; it’s fun and entirely harmless.
My phone buzzes.
“Don’t answer it,” he begs.
“Let me just see... You don’t know what I’ve been through today.” I have to look at the display or it’ll bother me all night. I hold up the device and gasp in shock. The screen reads, Mark Dixon CP24. I smile apologetically at my randy young buck, “I’ve got to get this.”
I push away from Sam and stand at the end of my bed to talk.
“Mark Dixon CP24?” I often start phone conversations by speaking aloud the monikers I’ve programmed into my phone. This can create awkward beginnings, but he only just laughs.
"Hey Toni...” Mark’s voice has a familiar eagerness. He’s going to ask me out. His presence on the phone contrasts with the male model lounging on my bed. But they shouldn’t be compared. They’re apples and oranges. Mark Dixon is a grown man with a good job and his own apartment, while Samuel Parris is a teenager with boyish good looks and special charm.
"You get my email?"
“No. What did it...?”
"I sent you a link to apply for a temporary position," Marc interrupts. My heart stops and I don’t know what to say. “A temporary camera position,” he clarifies.
“Are you kidding?” I ask. Sam hears the excitement in my voice and looks up at me. I wink at him. This is amazing. Is it because of my videos? I can’t ask him that though as it’d make me sound pretentious. So I reply, “you got me a job?”
"No. You have to fill out the application," Mark chuckles in a way that tells me he’s on my side and he’s rooting for me, ”but I can fast-track you. I can get you in front of Reggie tomorrow. ”
“Tomorrow? What time?”
"Early. eight am," Mark says, and I smile because that’s not early for me. He continues, ”you can shadow me.”
"299 Queen St. But we’re doing live hits from Yonge Dundas. Comfortable shoes,” Mark says. There’s lots of information to unpack there; 299 Queen used to be the CHUM City TV building. Live hits from Yonge Dundas means we’re going to be in the square. Comfortable shoes means I’ll be on my feet all day which makes me smile because that’s my everyday. Roaming around with a camera is what I do.
“Fries are up.” Gorie reports from the kitchen. Sam rises from my bed to go and be social, but I stop him from leaving.
“Okay, you’ll see me tomorrow,” I tell Mark and wink at Sam. I just want to hang up and scream out loud with happiness.
"Eight am. Don’t be late."
“Thanks Mark. See you then.” I end the call. I wait for a second and then cheer. “Yipee!” I throw myself at Sam and kiss him in celebration. It’s a long sloppy kiss that becomes a grinning laugh.
“What’s your madness?” Sam is thrilled to be the recipient of my slathering happiness. I’m generally not so effervescent, but now it feels good to be bubbly and climb all over him.
“I’ve done it Sammy.” I’m already lost in a dream and making plans for tomorrow. What will I wear? What will I be doing? How will the day go?
“How much does it pay?” Samuel cuts through my euphoria and brings home the reality of my otherwise desperate money situation and that brings to mind my other worries; Trinidadians, and now motorcycle clubs.
“Oh, it’s terrible,” I admit. “I’ll be lucky to get twenty-five dollars an hour. I think that’s the rate.”
“So, ten hours gets ya quarter of a thousand dollars?”
“Ah yeah. That’s another way to put it. Good math.”
“I admire your yak shaving.” Sam puts his hands on my shoulders and condescends, “your desperate struggle to secure the low-paying job of your dreams.”
“It’s not about money.” I react to his sarcasm. “It’s about living a complete life and being present in history.” Like the young protesters in my videos say.
“... And what about crushing bastards?” Sam challenges me with my own words, borrowed from Julian Assange.
“I told you. I’m out. I told the cops that today too. I’m done.”
’Toni Petti, News Girl." Then he adds, “not the girl in the news.”
“Preferably not,” I agree. “What about you? Still on track to be the world’s best bartender?”
“Not quite,” Sam replies. “When you get to my level they call you Senior Mixologist,” he condescends to me, only half-joking. I giggle and we kiss some more.
“Tell me about Mark,” Samuel asks.
“Mark?” My shield goes up. I don’t like discussing boys with other boys.
“The guy you were just talking to?”
“Mark Dixon. CP24 cameraman. He’s putting his neck on the line for me.” Then I remember how I still have to fill out the application form online.
“Is he young and single?” Sam asks, “Is he handsome?”
“Shhhh. Don’t go there.” I caution him. “It’s too limiting.” Before he can react, I program him. “Take your empties back and get us some supper. I need to concentrate for twenty minutes.”
“And what delicious fare do you covet mademoiselle?”
“Hot spinach salad in ranch dressing with peppery roast beef and fresh avocado. And raspberries.”
“Okay. That’s pretty specific. I’ll see what I can do.”
“You’ll have to go the store.”
“You want some money?” I ask him while making a squinty face because I have none.
Sam declines my half-hearted offer to contribute. He rises from my bed with an obvious bulge in his pants which makes him uncomfortable and that makes him appear even cuter in my eyes. He’s a master at knowing when to stay quiet and just look gorgeous.
Sam bows before me as he leaves, like I’m royalty. I turn my eyes to my laptop and my overflowing inboxes. I ignore all the positive notifications and notes of congratulations sent by other auditors from across North America in my hunt for Mark’s note and the link to the CP24 online application form. His message went to spam because of the hyperlink he pasted in its body. Stupid gmail. His note reveals how he’s seen my latest two videos. My heart warms and I picture him standing before me. I Google him just to see his face on my screen, and so I can better anchor my thoughts of what tomorrow will be like.
This opportunity is so much better than the sleazy interview at CTV because I know Mark Dixon and I know this is real.
Sam returns with store-bought spinach salads in plastic bowls. He’s microwaved sliced roast beef from the deli which he’s lays steaming hot on top of the greens and behold there are raspberries on the side. He brings the feast to my room on an orange plastic cafeteria tray covered with white paper towels. I gasp at the bounty and I’m just about to compliment his gastronomy when he leaves the room. He returns a moment later with bottle of red wine and two glasses.
An hour later another mystery is solved. Sam is circumcised, even though he’s from the United Kingdom where less than ten percent of adult males are cut. The Europeans argue that the circumcision of boys conflicts with a child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity. But here in Canada it’s no secret, girls prefer circumcised penises. They look better, smell better, and I believe they’re safer, and by that I mean there’s a reduced risk of infection. They also enhance sexual activity including manual stimulation, fellatio and vaginal intercourse. The evening is a feast that goes well beyond nibbles. Sam leaves my room just before midnight and I sleep like a well-fed lioness until six am.