Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Scavenger Hunt

The Globe’s Toronto section had this department called “City Diary,” for tiny little slices of life. Nothing like some (self-)righteous rage to get ones energy up.

I was walking to lunch at the St. Lawrence Market on a bright late-May day when I passed an addled and presumably homeless man holding court on Front Street. He stood in a kind of half-crouch, yelling garbled imprecations at passersby, singling each one out in turn. (To one young woman: “You look good, baby! That’s just what I like!”) People traded wry smiles as they walked in semi-circles around him.

Inside, the place was awash in uniformed schoolchildren – probably in Grade 8 or 9, all wearing white shirts, purple-and-grey kilts, grey slacks. Not an unusual sight at the market, but these children were more purposeful than most. They moved briskly in little groups, wrote on pieces of paper. “That’s three down,” said one. They all seemed to have blue popsicles.

After I bought my food, I stepped out into the sunshine on Esplanade and into another wave of uniformed kids. One small group had just crossed the street and was particularly jubilant; fists were pumping. “We got it,” a boy called to his friends. “We got a hobo’s signature!”

I finally realized that they were on a scavenger hunt. And it occurred to me that in the year 2004, these 14-year-olds probably hadn’t come up with the word “hobo” on their own: a teacher or organizer would have done that for them. On the far corner stood a man I took to be the autographer, holding a cup out, standing stoic and unmoving. The schoolchildren moved into the market, sucking their popsicles, having learned the happy lesson that poor people were put on this Earth to amuse them.

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