A couple of blocks from our place stands a city subsidized high-rise tower full of the poor, the aged and the disabled. And among the latter are the usual assortment of ‘characters’ and those ‘not crazy enough to be kept locked out of sight’. At election times the building is used as a polling station and those residents hold doors open for voters or act as guides in general as if they were part of election staff. It seems very appropriate in a way. Whenever one sees eccentric or offbeat types, it’s a given that they’ll be headed to or from there and no one pays them much further attention. If there ever was a NIMBY movement over their presence it must have died out before I moved into the neighbourhood because they’ve been there a long time and are generally just shrugged off by people in the barbershop, the supermarket and elsewhere locally. But they’re a playful bunch and aren’t without a sense of humour.
About twice a month a fire alarm gets pulled inside and then the fun begins. Now I know that fire alarms aren’t that much fun in themselves because they’re typically noisy enough to wake the dead and disturbing to those who aren’t already disturbed. But it’s the resulting noise and activity outside that is. Sirens are soon heard approaching throughout the neighbourhood and it’s only a question of how many vehicles will arrive. If it’s done right police cars, fire trucks and ambulances all show up, lights blazing and sirens blaring. People will appear on balconies too for a look because it’s often as interesting as anything on the tube. One or two firemen will look inside and confirm that there’s no smoke and the rest will socialize outside, asking about each other’s families and their holiday plans. When everyone gets caught up with things the show is over and they all gradually drift off to their stations to wait for the next alarm.
The result is this. If the price hasn’t gone up, building owners in Toronto are fined after the first two false alarms: $410 per fire engine, $130 per police officer and $45 per ambulance separately by those respective services. In the case of subsidized housing, the bills are simply passed from one department to another at city hall. It all keeps some employees there on their toes and creates paperwork for others. And it’s all a waste of time and energy too, but those pranksters have one thing right anyway: for fun and games - you can’t beat city hall.
By the way, about an hour after I told that tale, one of our guests watched it played out a little distance before him live, from our balcony