Some thoughts from a guy riding his bike down the sidewalk: "I've seem them all over. And I noticed they were centred around Franklin Street, so I thought it had something to do with that. But I didn't know what it was. Was it a treasure hunt, or some history thing?"
"Hi there. It's nice to put a face to the name."
I was standing directly in front of my Grandparents' former home. It takes me a really long time to poster the pole on its front lawn because there is a massive metal box on one side. Normally, I wouldn't bother, but I felt it was worth the hassle in this case.
"I looked up your website about a month ago…and there was my house."
"Oh…I hope that didn't freak you out."
"Well, no, because I have common sense. When did your Grandparents live here?"
"1977 - 1988, I think."
"Yeah, I bought the building in 1989."
"You know, I talked to a friend of yours on the street the other week."
"Really? Who was it?"
"Oh, I don't know…he didn't introduce himself. He just said that he knew you."
"Hmmm…I wonder who it was. Yeah, when I bought it, with the market such as it was at the time, it was pretty much impossible for a young couple to buy a house unless they went in with another couple…but here, at least I could rent the apartments and get some income from that. I put stairs in the one side and turned it into a two story home and rented out the other two. The town of Markham is nuts, though. They won't let me turn number 20 and number 22 into one unit. So I just get my mail at 22. And the water bill gets sent to number 16 - they won't change that, either."
"That really doesn't make sense."
"Tell me about it. You know, I get a lot of seniors as tenants. And if you think about it, itís a great neighbourhood for them to live in. It's quiet and it's close to pretty much everything they need. They don't need a car. And they have a back yard, which they love for gardening."
"My grandma grew lots of flowers when she lived here - snapdragons and geraniums - and she had a rhubarb patch."
"When they lived here, was there a chain link fence around the back?"
"Other than that, it must pretty much look the same. We haven't done much to the outside"
"Well, no…the wooden fence around the driveway wasn't there -"
"And now there's a porch on their door."
"That was a good idea. I want to put a garage on our side. Because you have lots of room in the driveway…"
"You could maybe park two cars in there"
"…and I could cut a door in the second floor and have a patio on top of the roof. You know, this building was constructed in an amazing fashion. We call it the bombshelter. There's no basement, just a crawl space, but the thing was built almost entirely in concrete. There's a layer of it between the first and second story. If there was a tornado, you could stay in the bottom floor and if the top floor was blown off, nothing would happen to you."
We must have chatted for more than a half and hour in total. I found out about what happened to him when he first came to Canada from Northern Ireland, how he met his wife, the kind of work he does, the different temperaments of his children and even his theory of the apocalypse that will put an end to postmodern civilization. When he spotted my clipboard lying on the ground, he asked me about it.
"Yeah, I studied Art at the University of Waterloo." Funnily enough, I bought the clipboard right before I started classes at York University. I felt like I needed to take a bit of Waterloo to class with me so that I wasn't betraying my alma mater. Ironically, my eight months at York were far more life-altering than all four years at Waterloo.
"Where do you live now?"
"In Toronto. I'm moving back to Waterloo at the end of the month, though."
"Really? Why's that?"
"I'm ready to move to a quieter town, somewhere more relaxed with a sense of community. I've got friends there, too…and it's closer to my Mom."
"It'll be a good move for you, I think. My wife and I lived in Fergus for a short while. We'd drive in to Kitchener-Waterloo for something to do. It's a nice area…well, Miss Baird, I'll leave you to your project."
"This has happened to me once before. I find it bizarre when people I've never met know my name simply because of this project."
"Well, it's a hell of a way to introduce yourself to people."
"People can't help but notice you."
"I suppose I asked for it."
"It's something I admire…the ability to communicate ideas. I'm an introvert, myself." I was surprised, since he had done the bulk of the talking in the last half an hour. "Like I said, I'll leave you to your project. It's nice putting a face to the name."
"Hi Julie," said Gus, "Still at it, are you?"
"Yeah, I only have one more week of posters to put up. Then I'll stop littering up your neighbourhood."
"I haven't checked out your site yet. I've just been busy, you know? How has the response been? Have you gotten many hits?"
"More than I thought I would. I"ve gotten some really interesting comments from people."
"Okay, I'll make the hit tonight."
I usually wonder when strangers approach me on the street after they've read the website: does the fact that they know I'll write about our conversation affect what they say? As I walked away from Gus' house, I realized that since he hadn't read the site, he had no idea that, other than myself and my grandparents, he was the main reoccurring character in my narrative. I suddenly felt like I was unfairly taking advantage of the friendly acquaintanceship we had developed over the last couple of months.
Over time, I've noticed certain patterns when I make the trip to Markham every week. I can guess, fairly accurately, which poles will have unharmed posters on them, which posters will be ripped to shreds and which ones will have disappeared completely. I can also usually count on the presence of a certain man in his driveway. Some days, he's alone, other days, the driveway seems to be a social hub of the neighbourhood. On this occasion, there were three or four people with him, sitting in lawn chairs and smoking cigarettes.
Usually, the driveway man notices what I'm doing when I put a poster on the pole next to his property, but he doesn't formally acknowledge that I'm there. Today, over the rip and creak of the packing tape, I heard a "I have no idea" emanate from the driveway, then one of the men walked down to the sidewalk.
"Hi. Why are you putting up those posters?"
After I told him, he said, "You know, the day after you put them up, a lady come around and takes them all down."
"Really? No one's ever told me that before."
"Yeah. She just lives around the corner. You know the house with the wishing well out front?"
I shook my head.
"Anyway, she comes around on her bike and takes them all down with a razor blade. I've seen her do it. I don't know why she doesn't have anything better to do than that."
And that, folks, solves the mystery of why there are never any posters left up on Joseph Street.