There’s nothing useful in my post office box. No cheques from the government have arrived directly or been forwarded by mom. Loyalist College sent a note to encourage me to enroll for another course, but that’s only because I updated my student profile with this new mailing address. The rest are glossy flyers from neighbourhood pizzerias, political messages and brochures from work-at-home web businesses seeking student volunteers with the promise of paid work in the future. I didn’t expect a miracle in the post, but now that my mailbox is empty, reality sets-in. Only one option remains. I have to call home and beg for money.
Asking for money means breaking a deal I made with my stepdad. Even though it’s my name that’s printed on the CESB relief cheques, he considers the money repayment. After the tragedy in 2017 which I will not think about now, my mom’s new husband Grant loaned me money for my lawyer. In hindsight, it was a good move. It’s how I ended up at Gagner with Dr. Barb for eighteen months and not at harsher places for longer. The law firm, Panofsky Lockyer billed Grant six thousand dollars and now I’m on the hook for that amount with him.
Cindy Petti, my mother, reinvented herself after my real dad left. She’s a pampered housewife now, but for the first ten years of my life she was a hairstylist at Top Cuts in the mall. My mom was a teen beauty queen and real smart, but she married a strange boy, my dad, who left when I was nine. She drove him crazy, I’m sure.
James-Henry Petti, my real dad, is a weird guy. A misunderstood polymath, he had trouble in school and with people in general. He moved to Alberta to work in the oil patch in 2010. He ran-off with a lady my Mom knew, but he split-up with her right afterwards, or so he told me. He never returned to Ontario. I flew out to see him when I was fourteen and that was a mistake. I spent two weeks in a Super8 motel cause I couldn’t stay on his job site. My dad just likes being alone in the middle of nowhere, and I get that.
My mom wasn’t single very long. She chose a wealthy business executive this time, or so she thought. Grant Higgins is not as flush as he’d have everyone believe. He's a shapeless blob with bad skin and yellow teeth and not someone my mom would’ve ever found attractive if not for his five bedroom townhouse and sailboat. They have three children now, my step brothers are ages 5, 3 and 1.
I pull out my iPhone SE and dial their home number. I breath a sigh of relief when it goes straight to voicemail. Perfect.
“Hi Mom, Grant. Hey can you guys FedEx my mail? Like I asked, weeks ago. If I don’t get those cheques tomorrow, or Thursday... They’re gonna kick me out and then, I’m gonna be homeless... And that means... You know what that means.” I say, and hang-up. It means I’ll be back on their doorstep and mad as hell.
An ugly boy, a human skunk whom I find utterly repulsive but who always tries to talk to me, stands by the pop machine. Muck Daniels is his nickname and he’s called that because he wears a faded black label Jack Daniels t-shirt from which the J is missing and the a looks like a u. His shirt reads, uck Daniels Old #7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey.
“Hey babe. How about I give you some cash...” He says, making no secret of his eavesdropping, “and we’ll shoot a video together. In my room.”
I head for the stairs and climb five flights again. I mope all the way back to my apartment.
The starchy smell of fresh-made Kraft Dinner mingles with the aroma of burnt powdered cheese. I hear the sound of the noodles being stirred in a Tupperware bowl, schlurp-schlurp-schlurp. I enter the apartment and see all four of my flatmates in the kitchen. The girls wait at the table beside chopped vegies for their turn to use the sink and counter while Sam boils a pot of Maple Leaf hotdog wieners on the stove, and Gordon mixes his cheese noodles. The two boys will subdivide their plates and share half and half as they dine together in the living room in front of the TV.
“Hey Tone,” Sam senses I'm glum and nods toward his wieners, “you hungry?”
“No.” I’m actually starving, but I can’t eat hot dogs. I just can’t.
“Who owns that chicken in the freezer?” Camila asks the room.
“Saving it for a special night.” Sam winks at her and she blushes.
I fish out my own homemade tuna-macaroni salad from my half shelf in the fridge. This is my rocket fuel. This batch has a red onion and two celery sticks chopped in the mix. It’s cheap wholesome food I make with low-fat mayonnaise and it’s my favorite meal. I conjure a bowl every two days for about six bucks. I also like avocados and dollar store sardines, but not together. I sit at the table beside Camilla and Amelia. They’ve chopped vegetables for a salad and wait patiently for the boys to leave so they can mix it together.
“I'd cook the bird now to mask the gross smell in here.” Camila nods at Gorie’s cheese noodles and waves her hand by her nose.
“Better than curry,” Gordon remarks. “There’s a Paki on seven who tried cooking with that and they near ran her outa the building.”
“A Paki? Really?” I give him a look of cold disapproval. Camilla also shakes her head at him.
“I like the taste of curry,” Amelia says.
“Sure, once in while. Take out.” Sam says, “but to use it regularly... Lowers property values.”
“Nah. It’s the immigrants do that,” Gorie squirts tomato ketchup over his portion. “They’re dirty.” He farts-out more red sauce from the squeeze bottle and laughs. He’s not joking.
“Okay Tucker,” Camila refers to Tucker Carlson, the white supremacist on Fox News. “I’m pretty sure your beer’s getting warm in your cancer box in there. It won’t drink itself you know.”
Poor Camila. She doesn’t deserve this and I make it clear I’m on her side. “Our diversity is what makes us strong.”
“How exactly?” Sam challenges me, but with a smile. “I’m not disagreeing... But why? Can you list the ways how? Like, health care? Economy? How?”
“Star Trek Voyager.” This is me channeling my weird father. We watched all seven seasons of that Sci-Fi series together just before he left. We declared it was the best of all the Star Treks because Captain Janeway was like a mom and they were a close-knit family in space. They needed all their alien crew members’ unique perspectives to help solve their weird problems. So in my mind that TV show represents what’s possible if our species can overcome minor disputes spawned by our different races and religions. Nobody else knows what I’m thinking though, and so they all stare at me like I’m on drugs. “They were really diversified and they succeeded because of it.”
“Ha. Yeah. Hah. Could you imagine Worf protesting?” Gordon looks to Sam for approval. “Like what if Jordy turned all Black Lives Matter up there?” He laughs at his joke and grabs two tall cans of Molson Canadian from his shelf in the fridge. The boys head into the common room with their plates, and Amelia rises to clean the stove, sink and countertop, as is her custom.
I tap-open the YouTube app on my phone. My video now has fifty-two views. It has been up for over an hour. I need to promote it some more.
There’s Wi-fi in my room, in the bathrooms, the kitchen, and in the living room. The wireless internet may be crap in terms of strength, but it’s available all over the building and we seldom complain. Having omnipresent internet service means I don’t have to sit in my boiling-hot room. I can join the others in the living room where Amelia’s fan purrs by the open window. The TV is real old and not a flat screen. It’s a huge heavy cathode ray tube encased in a wooden box and I think most companies stopped making this type of television over ten years ago.
The common room is a battleground because we can never agree on what to watch, but certain rituals have formed. The TV schedule begins with mindless sitcoms followed by news, usually Global which is not my first choice, but I was out-voted, and then Simpsons, and then Alex Trebek and Jeopardy at eight pm, and again at eight thirty and then more sitcoms. I go to bed with earplugs in my ears at nine, or ten at the latest, so I can get up before six and catch the sunrise.
Right now is news time. We watch the evening broadcast on CP24 which details local shootings. There were two last night, and one was just around the corner on Jarvis. The next story is about how the police must prepare for the upcoming Emancipation Day protest event on Saturday, August 1st. The reporter goes to explain how more disadvantaged minorities than ever before are showing up in Toronto, the biggest city in Canada. They assemble in parks and outside government buildings and they occupy city streets randomly even when no protest activity is permitted, as happened today at 52 Division on Dundas Street.
When I look up from my laptop, I see this morning’s march down University Avenue. Toronto’s frontline health care workers rally and join BLM and the indigenous people beside the police station. I watch the video that Exter recorded play on television. The shot begins with a slow pan over the protesters as the ambulance parts the crowd. The emergency vehicle stops beside the pink house and the injured protester is loaded into the back. While the clip plays, the CP24 anchorwoman relates the sad statistics. ”Health care workers comprise over 20% of all patients infected with coronavirus in Ontario, and yet they still have not received a pay raise or any special recognition.”
My phone shivers with YouTube app notifications. People are commenting on my video. Blue is being extra prolific. He’s plastered his social media channels with the link plus the picture he snapped of me on the street today. It’s not the most flattering shot, but it's fine. It’s the description he composed that has me worried. ′Watch how a white girl handles Toronto police @ Toni Petti LIVE!′
Blue’s message will likely get lots of clicks, but the way he writes white girl reminds me of Darnella Foster.
There’s a few different ways I can promote my video. There’s probably a dozen marketing tricks I don’t know, but I can do some things tonight that will help increase its presence as they say in advertising. I’ve never had a viral video before, but I’ve read articles and learned ways to increase a video’s findability in search engines. Most experts agree you cannot make something go viral. Creators can only launch their best work and hope it intrigues the masses and compels people to share. The content is either compelling or it isn’t, and no amount of marketing or promotion will change that. But on the other hand, good marketing can dramatically increase the uptake and accelerate a filmmaker’s success.
The way I increase spread is to first be diligent and fill-out all possible information fields, and then secondly to make short-takes and graphic stills which I’ll then post on my other social channels. I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I know there are certain words and descriptions I can include which will tell search engines more about the media. The piece needs a description, and the summary should mention some of the key elements. NHL Player Blocks Bike Lane, Toronto Police Fail - ID Refusal. The title is good because it has some popular search terms baked-in.
Instagram videos in a regular post can be sixty seconds long, but videos posted in Instagram Stories can only be fifteen seconds in length. Twitter allows much longer videos by comparison, one hundred and forty seconds and I don’t need nearly that much time. I usually just take the best twenty seconds, and in this case I chose an even shorter part where I refuse to sit down on the sidewalk.
I fade-in right where Constable Silvans looks like she wants to strangle me. ”Why are you making this so difficult?" She asks.
"Are you going to throw me down on the cement Constable?"
"You’re going down the wrong road right now." Silvans says. ”You’re making some real bad decisions here Toni.”
This is the best short segment because anyone who sees it will wonder what happened. I fade out at the end and leave a call-to-action. It’s an invitation to watch the video on YouTube. Next I attach my title placard to the front of this tiny segment. It’s a cute shot of me which helps viewers understand who made the recording and what’s at stake. I can put this on Tumbler and Ello, but on Instagram all I can do is write ′See the whole video on Toni Petti LIVE′ and hope users follow the link to my YouTube channel in my profile. On my Facebook page, I post some stills with a link. I don’t want to embed my video here; I want users to visit my channel. One powerful tactic is to post a short clip on Reddit, in the AmIFreeToGo? group. I’ll do that too, and it should really help raise the audience numbers.
My iPhone lights-up but I have the ringer turned-off. My device doesn’t recognize the number.
“Hello?” I ask, and smile when I hear Blue’s voice .
"Toni. Urr movie be rael fine. We be gawking,"
“Thanks for the promo,” I scold him. “How a white girl handles Toronto police? Really?”
"Sa tru, sa tru.”
“Well I can’t help it that I’m white,” I say, noting the irony.
"Toni.” Paul’s tone of voice changes and he becomes serious, ”Chantwell wans to mee ya. Ee’s a ver wise man"
“Eh? Who dat?” I mimic his Trinidadian accent.
"Shhhh. Settle down. Dis big man ting,” Blue almost whispers. ”No foolin. You be poh-lite. Yah?"
"We be out-fron in five. Look fur me in da black escalade."
“I’m not going anywhere.”
"Jawal com ou fron en five."
“Out front? Five minutes?” I set some rules. “Just to talk. I’m not going anywhere with you or anyone tonight.”
"Das fine. Ou fron. En five.”
Blue hangs up and I take the time to save the number. This must be a new phone? Or he used his important friend’s car phone? I enter it as Bluemageddon and I just have a feeling that's going to come in handy someday.
Sam looks up me with cheese noodles in his mouth. He watches me load my camera into my backpack along with my laptop and phone. He knows I’m going out again.
“History is happening,” I say. “Don’t you want to be part of it?”
Amelia gives me sad eyes.
“You got your mask?” My question is an invitation to join and she lights-up. She nods and hurries away to get her requisite face covering.