Thursday, September 9, 2010

This Time It's Impersonal

I cannot for the life of me figure out what on earth I've been doing for the last almost-year (- besides perhaps honing my capacities for irony, understatement, and italics.)

Yet some things, besides the irregularity of my postings, remain consistent - like my teeth. Not the number necessarily, but the way they continue to pull focus like petulant children. Suffering no uncertain (which is to say certain), and growing, pain, I obligatorily put off calling my dental S.W.A.T. team and instead busied myself with thoughts of mouth cancer, lifelong loneliness, and physical decrepitude. I can't remember for how long exactly I did this, but long enough certainly to stop doing it almost immediately upon realising that madness had become me.

Then, in a two-minute burst I managed to call my dentist, my endodontist, my oral and maxillofacial pathologist and radiologist, my team of specialist dentofacialorthodontic orthopaediologists - and my specialist periodontic prosthodontist. (Or is that last one a dinosaur? The person who answered the phone said he was extinct now, in any case.)

I greeted my regular dentist (Dr C), prepared this time not only with a list of symptoms, but a loosely bulleted counter-speech for the oral moralising I would surely get, another episode of the all-too-regular over-investment of my dentist in an area of my head for which I have undoubtedly shown insufficient care, but for which - even now - I cannot bring myself to invest in much more than I do in almonds. I blanch (no doubt, punningly) at the thought of a dentist being upset with me, or about me, or skulking around the surgery with some ill-defined mix of the two. I hate the feeling like I might have to call Dr C after hours and say: "Do you want to talk about my teeth? I think a lot went on in the surgery today that you're bottling up. I know you're disappointed in my gums. I saw it in your eyes." She'd be drinking.

Me: Are you drunk?
Her: No.
Me: What were you thinking about before I called? My teeth?
Her: I don't want to talk about it right now.

To avoid these kinds of scenarios, in my rebuttal I was going to point out our relative priorities, about how I thought teeth were important, but yet how I conceived of matters differently to her - not just in this domain, but many others as well. I needn't elaborate now because I didn't get the opportunity then.

Something had changed. She walked in late - tall, glamorous, chatting and laughing on her mobile, like she'd just stepped off a plane - most likely her private jet. She squeezed in a quick, desultory look at my mouth, insulted me with a prescription for amoxycillin, and then said I'd "be good for the weekend." She even winked at me as I left the surgery. How dare she! It was as if she no longer cared. And what exactly did she expect to do with my counter-speech? And all those teeth she'd left me with? I may have to call her after all.

Thankfully this is not the end of the matter. I still have my appointment with another practitioner of the dental arts on the 20th of this month, in the city. I hope at least he has the gall to take my mouth personally. We'll see.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tooth and Error.

The following follows on from yesterday's entry, Dilemma. I was five minutes late to the dentist and so didn't even get to sit down and sort through the antique National Geographic magazines before I was ushered into the surgery. When I walked in Dr Doe (I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even get his name) already had his gloves on and was adding instruments to an existing pile of cutters, scrapers, fillers, and piercers. "Hi, take a seat." I did. "So we start root canal treatment today, huh?"

C-DOG: Probably.

Dr DOE: Probably?

C-DOG: I've still got some questions.

Dr DOE: Questions? OK, shoot.

C-DOG: Well, just say I got one of those drill bits lost somewhere in my head, would...

Dr DOE: Yeah?

C-DOG: ...would I have to pay for a replacement?

Dr DOE: [Laughing] No, no you wouldn't. The first few are on the house.

C-DOG: You know, I'd probably buy you a new one anyway - hopefully a better one than the one that broke. I think that's just being polite.

Dr DOE: Right. Thank you.

C-DOG: Another thing is almost everyone I've spoken to who has had root canal work done reckons it has largely been an expensive waste of time - the teeth break or turn beige and fall out, or keep oozing pus or pulp or hurting them in some way. Things like that.

Dr DOE: Actually, the real success-rate for the procedure is around 90%.

C-DOG: I'm not sure I understand. At what point after the operation is "success" indicated?

Dr DOE: I'm not sure.

C-DOG: It seems important to me - crucial.

Dr DOE: I can chase up the study if you want, but look, you know, the mouth is a very hostile environment. All dentistry is really just stalling tactics - delaying degeneration. It can't stop it.

C-DOG: Surely that's not just true of dentistry but of all medicine, isn't it?

Dr DOE: I guess so, when you put it like that.

C-DOG: Right.

Dr DOE: That's a bit depressing.

Depressing?!? I didn't conjure up this vision of nihilist medicine. He did.

C-DOG: Anyway, you see I'm still not sure I want to do it.

Dr DOE: The root canal work?

C-DOG: Yeah.

Dr DOE: Well, it's either that or get the tooth pulled. They're the only options, you know? There's not a lot of things you can do.

C-DOG: I know. I'll get my tooth pulled.

Dr DOE: What?

C-DOG: I'll get the tooth pulled.

Dr DOE: [LONG PAUSE] OK, that's easy.

C-DOG: Maybe - but I think I still want you to do it.

Dr DOE: You don't want to have a go yourself?

C-DOG: No.

Dr DOE: Oh, OK then. We'll get started.

C-DOG: Because, you know, if I did it well you might feel humiliated, given that I've had no dental training.

Pause. Weirdish look from Dr Doe. Unsure if it's a half-smile or a wince.

Dr DOE: Well it's good in a way, because I've felt a bit sick today and, to be honest, I wasn't looking forward very much to starting the day with a RC procedure. So it suits me.

Yes, he really said that. In his defence, at one point today he excused himself and coughed violently in a corner of the room for a while. When he finished he muttered "I'm dying" (although but I'm sure he was saying it is the sense of "Zikes! I'm dying out here," rather than "I'm dying of cancer.")* Dr Doe traded some of his implements - swapped a multitude of space-age ones for a few brass and iron barbershop weapons - the ones you'd gravitate towards if a fight broke out in the surgery - or it was invaded - and you were forced to defend yourself.

The course was now set, and I was upbeat - albeit having a few articulation problems. "Everyone wins," I said. "And, you know, if I did get root canal work done I wouldn't be able close my mouth and lick my cheek."
"You want to do that?"
"I'm brainstorming."

He loaded me up with lidocaine, not without some medium-to-large expressions of pain. From me. After the second injection he said: "I've got two seven year-old girls at home who are tougher than you."
"Two on one isn't fair. So I'm a wuss. I came here to get my teeth fixed, not my character."

I was out of there in just under twenty-five minutes. And it cost me $115. That's a saving of $2875 - although they didn't let me take my tooth home. Why not? "It's a biohazard." ("Listen, you're the one who's dying," I thought to myself - and then felt guilty in case he was, in fact, dying. OK Chris, he's not.)

A few hours out, I'm already enjoying pushing my tongue through the gap and licking the inside of my cheek - all with my mouth closed. I keep imagining that my tongue is a slug that pokes its head through a hole and steals some food before darting back to safety.

As I said, everyone wins. Thanks for people's valuable feedback. (Were any of you actually dentists? Or dental hobbyists? Pretty cocky bunch if you weren't.)

* Dr Doe appeared to change into "civilian" attire and leave straight after he finished with me. This would seem to corroborate his claim that he was not feeling well. But there are other possibilities: Was he even a dentist? Or could some needle-happy prankster just have walked in off the street and treated me for kicks?

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Because of an upcoming recording session with Mindy Sotiri (aka. Dr Prisonsongbaby), I've been going to a rehearsal studio in St Peters, and I've learned something as a result. Question: If you couldn't see the members or know anything about their taste in music, how would you spot the X-Gen band? Answer: They're the ones talking about their teeth. Gene, Chris, Mindy, Scott and I talked about the cost of root planing and took a quick filling tally; later we debated the longevity of crowns and cursed the fragility of post-root canal teeth. Don't be misled.

We rock hard.

And why should you or anyone else expect otherwise? It shouldn't be embarrassing to openly discuss dental care - and to do so does not automatically disqualify one as an artist. This is not the first time I've discussed teeth on this blog - and it won't be the last. My mouth, into whom I have poured staggering amounts of capital in the last year, is still revolting. A poor but hardened vet of countless extractions, fillings, braces, plates, and - most recently - "root planing," I am due to start my first root canal treatment at 8 tomorrow morning.

Or am I

Let's start with some facts: apart from the cost ($1500 for the root canal procedure and $1500 to fit the "crown" which completes the treatment), almost nothing else in this herculean feat of molar compassion is guaranteed. Root canal therapy also comes with a "reputation" - serves as a paradigm case of dental suffering. As overstated as this popular image might be, I am not so skeptical of the cliche that I am seduced by Kavo Corporation's likening of the procedure to a hummingbird sucking gently on some ornithophilous flower. (Perhaps this oral Eden can be realised only when your dentist uses Kavo Corp's "SONICflex endo," a product whose revolutionary use of upper and lower case letters hints at a possible breakthrough in oral technology. Dental surgery or dental perjury? It's hard to know.)

Doctors and dentists - especially the subset of these that are men - still don't seem to like to discuss things with their patients, engage in dialogues with them. But they are much keener than they used to be about talking to (or at least at) their patients. Even those older dentists, those who have never known gentleness, hardened men whose coarse hands are strangers to human feeling, seem just as likely as younger medicos these days to discuss "treatment options."

Like I'd been on an excursion, I was given a disturbingly bright A4 information sheet about my illness, possible treatments, risks, and chances of success. It seemed passably complete and systematic. After the high-school-textbook section "The Healthy Tooth," we are told of its enemy - "infection or inflammation" - and its victim: "Pulp." The sheet concluded with a pornographically detailed description of the surgery and a sobering list, which sat under the heading "Possible Side Effects of Root Canal Treatment" - a bulleted bestiary of tics, traumas, and paths to ruin: "altered feeling" in the mouth, tooth discolouration and loss, infections, "pain and discomfort," and "weakness" (poetically remedied by wearing a "crown.")

And there was also something else worth reporting back on. Have you heard of "file fracture"? If not, here is the description:

"Special metal files are used to clean the inside of the root canal. These instruments are very fine and occasionally may break during use. Special procedures may be needed to remove the broken portion of the file, or you may be referred to a specialist. In some cases, it may not be possible to remove the fractured portion of the file: the long-term effects of this will depend on many factors. Such as whether the canal was infected and whether it had been cleaned before the fracture. Your dentist will discuss this with you in more details if a file fracture occurs."

It's an amazing admission really, a touching display of medical honesty. And here's an equally interesting display of honesty - a comment left by someone on an "Ask The Dentist" discussion board:

"About two years ago, I had a root canal done. In the process, the drill bits being used by the dentist broke three times. I have three tiny pieces of metal stuck inside my gum, under my molar. Should I be worried?"

Not a problem, came the reply. Regular dental appointments, your dentist being aware of the problem, and periodic x-rays of the area, should minimise significantly the risk of infection. The denstist concludes:

"If the thought of having these tiny pieces of metal in your gum bothers you, you can talk with an oral surgeon."

The implication here is that the person needs counselling, like the sentence could have continued "...and if you can't find or afford the services an oral surgeon, try talking to a close friend or relative about it."

If an optometrist, for instance, informed us that the eye test we were about to take may not only fail to diagnose weaknesses in vision, but actually burn our retinas and blind us, it wouldn't be unreasonable to want more details. So, what are some of the "many factors" that determine the "long-term effects" of file fracture? Can we even be told? Would we have ears to hear it? Or are the realities here best faced solely by the braver members of the dental corps?

The unease wrought by things left unsaid in the information sheet continued. In the last paragraph we are warned - as if it were a fact yet to be established - that the list "is not complete." There are also "less common complications," the natures of which are (predictably) left to our respective imaginations, which are to be constrained only by the stipulation that what is imagined shouldn't resemble anything so run-of-the-mill as having medical instruments break off and lodge permanently inside our bodies. We we need to picture are abnormal complications.

This blog is entitled "Dilemma." Here it is: rather than spend six hours and $3000 on a tooth destined to fall out and amount to nothing more than the world's ugliest marble, should I just get the troublemaker yanked and look after those children who need only for me to clean and floss them? Besides, it's not my only tooth. And it's much cheaper.

Or is this Crazytalk, the ravings of a man whose pulp has been so obviously and grievously assaulted by infection and inflammation that he can no longer think straight?

I've got to make my mind up very quickly. By 8am in fact.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I promised in a previous post ("Amateurs") that I'd provide Security Guard Guitarist News as it came to hand. I'm honouring my word.

R. caught me playing guitar today. I'd grabbed my beautiful blonde Maton acoustic, headed down to the lower playing field on campus and positioned myself - for reasons hard to comprehend - inside a baseball practice net. Side question: Why do we even have baseball nets on campus? Answer: I have no idea. Perhaps planners thought that the mere presence of the nets would be all that was required to entice potential players to take up the sport. (The only other sporting facilities in the vast field are two mint-condition triple-jump tracks. Obviously two were required to prevent the kind of student unrest that would have ensued if keen jumpers on campus were forced to stand in long lines waiting their turn.)

Whatever. The place is relatively isolated; the nearest structures - the gym and the Assessment and Examination Unit - are a few hundred metres away. People working or working out might see someone holding a guitar and lurching about drunkenly but wouldn't be able to tell if they were actually playing or (with all due respect to mimes) just miming; or if they were really drunk, or just a bit weird; or whether or not the performer's eyes were open or closed. (This last point will become relevant.)

I had a cigarette, got into my Chris Fleming - Live at the Budokan pose, and began to sing and strum like...I was playing live at the Budokan. I shut my eyes, craned my neck, and swayed. The Blind Melon Fleming act is part emotional fact and part rock-star act. At its best, playing music is a bit like pulling off some improbable illusion and then believing in the trick. To do this, apparently I need to shut my eyes and contort my face.

Another thing is that I, like my father, often close my eyes to help me to concentrate. And I, also like him, have had to occasionally placate people who judged me to be an intolerably sleepy interlocutor. During the interview for my first academic position I was asked a tangled question about "the origins of modern disciplinarity and disciplinary knowledge." I'm told that I shut my eyes midway through the question, kept them closed while I considered it, and only opened them about a minute into my reply. Even the person who recounted this, long after the fact, admitted that he himself had worried for a few seconds that I actually had nodded off.

I hardly need to remind people that this isn't a self-help blog - and voluntary blindness isn't a panacea. But it's rarely a problem when I play guitar and sing. It may look unusual, but it's not dangerous* - and I can't see myself anyway. (Besides, I got the job.)

But Bat Vision was a problem today. It prevented me, for instance, from noticing the security van as it approached the net - and also from noticing that the car had stopped only metres from where I was standing. And then, finally, it was a major player in me not notice R. roll down his window and then listen and watch for a minute or two. (In my defense, it's surely unreasonable to expect anyone to notice someone listening to them.)

Then, miraculously, I emerged from my coma.

But instead of seeing a blurry and beneficent Oliver Sacks leaning over me, his tears of joy pinging tunefully as they dropped into the bedpan beside my bed, R. sat motionless in the jeep, addressing me with a massive (and possibly psychotic) smile. I hoped that this was a signal that he was amused - or at least that even if he weren't a famous neurologist, at least he wasn't psychotic.

The song he caught me playing is ostensibly "funny." The first verse goes like this:**

Everything in my life is bad, everything is sad.
Everything in my life is shit 'cause of my mum and dad.
Got no money, got no friends, I'm of uncertain health.
Got no woman to call my own, I think I'll shoot myself.

I try to perform the song in a way that would move any Ray-Cyrus. (So "everything" is pronounced "ayvraythang," "I'll" is "owl," "shit" is "sheeyiet," and so on and so forth.) R's stained, Stonehenge smile seemed to have become frozen onto his face - like "the wind had changed," as my mother used to say. Perhaps, I thought, him being amused was no reassurance at all; maybe psychotic people would find the song funny. Like Petrucio taming Kate, I tried to out-mad R's madness, match him smile for smile, and wait him out. I won.

"Drone tones," he finally said. "The ole drone tone."
"You gotta love those drone tones. Play anything with drones and it sounds good - even really simple stuff."

He snapped back into the smile like an alien hoping to avoid detection.

"Yeah, stuff you could play with your eyes closed" I said.

The deep-space silence following my private joke gave me enough time to reflect on the fact that R. had just simultaneously implied that what I was playing "sounded good" - but that whatever its merits were, these were entirely reducible to my reliance on a technique so rudimentary it could have formed the basis of pre-hominid folk communication.

"So you just came down here to have a bit of a bash, huh?" R. asked.
"Actually, no - this is a gig. It's just that only you guys turned up."

The guard in the passenger's seat laughed - albeit about ten seconds - too late. Keep joking, Dr C-Dog, keep joking.

"But thanks for doing security for me anyway."

Finally, R. laughed. (Or perhaps it was just an unusual cough.) "OK - catch you later C. Enjoy yourself." I started playing again as the two drove off and circled the playing field in the jeep. Ignoring what was in front of him R. pinned his eyes on me as they passed from a distance of about fifty metres. I sang as loudly as I could.

My principal fear wasn't that they'd think I was a shitty player, singer, or comedian - but that, despite being payed more than them while working at the same institution, I apparently had so little to do that I could bring my guitar to work and wander around playing it with my eyes closed. I don't know whether either of them actually did think this - but it worried me that they might. It wouldn't have been the first time.

I've worked with members of "non-academic" staff who've come to realise that what they do - like use Excel, check student records, and get people to fill out long forms - is similar to what some academics do. The main difference seems to be that the academics are: (a) far shitter at the designated tasks; and (b) get paid more money. No one realised this fact more clearly - and was more willing to articulate it - than B. How embarrassed I was then when she walked into my office and caught me reading. It wasn't The Telegraph and so it shouldn't have been embarrassing.

"Hi C.. You waiting for someone."

She wasn't asking a question, just requesting confirmation.

"No, actually, I'm reading."
"Oh. Lucky you. What?"
"It's called The Scenic Imagination. It's about..."
"Sounds boring."
"It's good that you don't have to read it then, huh?"
"Do you?"
"No I don't. I'm just reading it because I hate myself. What do you like to read?"
"Reading is boring. It makes me sleepy."
"But, you know, I actually do read magazines when I go on leave. Have you been on leave?"
"No. Why?"
"Or to the beach a lot?"

Ah, I see what you're getting at. I prickled at the question and the prejudice it expressed. You see, I tan very easily, and as a result people are always asking me if I've "been away" when all I've done is walk to IGA a couple of times or push a pram around Sydney Park. I'm not trying to look like a Bra Boy. I wear sunscreen and a hat and try to walk on the shady side of the road. But I'm not going to traipse around wearing The Hengtai Corporation's Umbrella Hat simply to prevent people making spurious assumptions about my work ethic. It would be un-Australian to prefer to be seen by others as a wanker rather than a bludger.

The painful truth is, however, that I work very hard - and am, in fact, something of a wanker. (By way of demonstration, I draw your attention to the fact that this blog has endnotes.)

* To nuance that assertion slightly, the technique is only mildly dangerous, in that I'm about 100% more likely to walk into things. That's one of the reasons I tend to play and sing in parklands rather than, say, jewellery stores.

**I refuse to say, as is common amongst singer-songwriters, that it "goes a little like this" or "something like this.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ping Pong and Lions.

I'm yet to met an adult who doesn't think that he or she is good at table tennis. You can test it for yourself. If you happen to find yourself in a garage or basement - or any hall or hotel which has a table - ask the person next to you whether they play:

"You mean Ping Pong?"
"Ah, that's not its proper name, but yes."
"To tell the truth, I'm pretty good at it. Surprisingly good, even. Well I was."

Question: What kind of sport is it that everyone thinks they're good at it, even though they don't play it? (And, more pointedly, what kind of trivialising contempt must people have for sports so considered?)

The thing is, I really am good at table tennis. Very good. Excellent even - even though you most probably couldn't tell this just by looking at me. (What were you expecting to see? I mean, what does a typical "great table tennis player" look like? Only genocidal racists would contend that green-tabletop legends like Guo Yuehua, Seiji Ono, Wang Liqin, and Mitsuru Kohno all look alike. And do I look that much like Jan-Ove Waldner, arguably the greatest TT player ever? Surprisingly, yes. But appearances can be deceiving - and people can be deceptive.

And so I am led to discuss briefly a documentary showing tonight on Channel 7 about "Christian the Lion" (so named, I speculate, because he was thrown to humans at an early age). A Lion Named Christian is a story about how two lesbian geologists adopted and domesticated a lion cub. (Actually, having not seen the show, I'm not sure about them being lesbian geologists.) Regardless, after being taught Latin, Rhetoric, and Rubgy, Christian the Lion was released back into the wild - thrown to the lions, so to speak. But rather than devour himself for the amusement of bloodthirsty hordes, he survived ethically for years. Devoutly eco-friendly and respectful of the rights of other animals, Christian recycled and ate his own faeces and conserved huge amounts of energy each day by sleeping. Equipped with a camera, he filmed his everyday successes and disappointments. Anyway, to cut the lion story short, after many years the two lesbians - or male flatmates, or alien triplets - sought out Christian to see whether he would recognise them.

What is my view of the film, given that I haven't actually watched it? My strong sense is that far from being just another example of the English "catsploitation" film, A Lion Named Christian represents a genuine watershed event in cinematic - and perhaps natural - history. Tens of thousands of years of mutual enmity and hostility between lions and humans hangs in the balance tonight. The rest,as they say, is documentary.

(Pursuing for a moment the theme of lions being thrown to humans, I note that immediately following the doco tonight is live coverage of the Wallabies versus the All Blacks in Tokyo.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Toe Lessons.

I originally took photographs to accompany this blog entry, but after viewing them again have decided to withhold the images in the name of good taste and the public interest. Dr Prisonsongbaby is in New York City so, functionally speaking, I'm a single dad.

The boys awoke today at 5am and I blearily went to the toilet, swung the door open, and caught the top of my foot under the door. I'd swung it with such force that I actually tore a toenail off - the nail of the toe next to the big toe (does it have a name? Are you eating? Stop reading) on the left foot. For the next ten or so minutes I bled a lot – far more indeed than I might have expected. I probably didn't help matters by seizing the nail, which hung on merely by threads of skin at the quick, and tugged at it, trying to pull it off. With blood all over my hands and the bathroom floor, and the nail still attached - although now upright - I began to feel a bit woozy.

I moved to the kitchen to lie down on the slate - but before I could lower myself fully I passed out, smashing my head on the tiles. Then my head started to bleed. Oblivious to it all, the boys sat on the couch, looking at their books. I lay on the ground and collected myself for ten or so minutes. I dressed my wounds, cleaned the bathroom and the small amount of blood off the tiles in the kitchen and put on Day Clothes.

The boys then requested the song "Roundabout" by 70s prog rock band Yes. They're big on Yes at the moment. I retrieved the CD from the car and placed it outside on a table. It was a lovely day and I looked up and admired two magpies frolicking in the fig tree. "It's not so bad, this life," I thought. And then one of the magpies shat on the CD - not the case, the actual CD.

So what lessons have I learned? And what can you draw from my experience?

I'm not going to answer that right now. But I will.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nice Canada.

I'm writing this from Canada. I'm due to give a paper on Sunday morning at the University of Ottawa. I love Ottawa. The city must have the highest proportion of blondes outside of Norway and the highest number of cyclists outside of China. Everyone seems to have a tan, although - given the weather - I'm not sure where they get it from. There are also about five churches within spitting distance of my hotel on the Rue Elgin, so there's plenty of space to pray if I feel the need. It's not a hostile environment, though, and so it's unlikely that I'll need to enlist any divine support while I'm here. Everybody in Ottawa seems fit, happy, and polite. 

On Wednesday I met a blind guy while we were both waiting to cross the road. I offered assistance and he gently hit back. He first thanked me and then, very politely, said that he was capable of crossing roads. I defended myself - and added that I probably wasn't a good guide anyway, as I'd been hit by a number of cars over the years. He was on his lunch break and we ended up having coffee at Starbucks. He studied philosophy at Laurentian Uni and then international development at Oxford and now works for the Canadian government as a lawyer. He was, as expected, overwhelmingly positive, cheerful, well-humoured, intelligent, and courteous. Indeed, in that forty-five minutes he did everything he could to make me feel welcome, short of giving me cash and making love to me. He was Canada without the adventure sports. 

I don't really want to labour the point - and I know I'm playing into a cultural cliche - but Canadians often seem so happy that they sing to you, rather than just speak, sometimes with incredible pitch variations. Depending on a person's Relative Joy Quotient, their sentences often finish with a kind of soprano waver. Even the men here do this. An enormous guy in a bookstore must have covered three octaves just saying good morning to me today. I felt like applauding. Initially at least I thought that perhaps all this goodwill was class-related, but now I'm not so sure. The niceness is fairly democratically spread: rather than wolf-whistle at her, yesterday I witnessed a construction worker tip his hardhat at an attractive woman and say "Afternoon ma'am." 

Another piece of evidence: I met my first Canadian heroin addict this morning - also probably schizophrenic. She was wearing no socks but a pressed, collared shirt. (I'm sure she would have thought that Australian junkies, with their tracksuited attire, look slovenly. Or perhaps she'd be very generous about it, and attribute to a generic "Australian athleticism." Actually, that's more likely.) At first she looked like she was going to walk right past, but suddenly angled in like someone had pushed her towards me. Suddenly standing much too close, and talking straight into my chest as if it were an intercom system, she asked me if she could buy a cigarette. Unfortunately, I'd only brought down one from my room. I said I could go up and get one for her if she wanted.

"No, no problem. That's OK. You from round here, hey?"
"No, actually - I'm just visiting here."
"Where from?"
"Australia, hey. Visiting family?"
"No, I'm going to a conference."
"A conference, hey?"
"I see. A conference. Wow. How long you staying?"
"Five days. I leave on Sunday."
"Well, enjoy your stay here, hey. Have a look around. Welcome to Canada."

With her eyes darting around and her body jerking, she swiveled 45 degrees, waved goodbye to the tree next to me and fell away down the street in pursuit of the cigarette. I saw her again a couple of hours later, in town, with her boyfriend. (I knew I didn't stand a chance with her anyway.) I stood behind the two of them on an escalator; the guy sang a few bars of Aerosmith's "Love in an Elevator" (- yes, I know, he should have changed the lyrics) and they open-mouth kissed, lips improbably pared back, tongues sliding around each other like warring slugs. Very touching. Heroin brings people together. Even in Canada. Lovely Canada.