Our year of magical thinking

The Fords' combo of delusion and dishonesty is beautiful in its ambition – they think they can bend reality

Nothing in life is so wonderful as those true stories that put our imaginations to shame. When the only precedents for which we can grasp are plot lines from fiction – which then even pale in comparison to our lived reality – there’s a sense that we’re charting new territory, experiencing something that no one before ever has and may never again.

Sometimes that involves sweat. Lots of sweat. And kneeling on the floor of the mayor’s office, on the verge of pissing yourself, squeezing your own camera through the legs of someone else’s tripod. Waiting for an announcement that you would not miss for the world and then finding yourself Rickroll’d by a mayor who will not leave office despite… everything.

It used to be a matter of trying to wrap your head around Rob Ford. Now it’s a matter of trying to wrap others’ heads around Rob Ford. How do you explain him to people who haven’t spent years being gradually acclimatized to his unique approach to life? Toss them a copy of Camus’s The Outsider?

Our great civic pride and shame is that our mayor is simultaneously a simple-minded man-child and an utter cipher with a terrifying dark side and bottomless well of secrets.

“Folks, I have nothing left to hide.”

How could you not be endlessly fascinated by a man whose professed low point in life includes a gratuitous admission that no one for a second believes? The Fordian combination of delusion and dishonesty is kind of beautiful in its ambition: both Rob and brother Doug firmly believe that they can bend reality to suit themselves.

Rather than changing, growing, adapting or admitting mistakes, they reshuffle their understanding of the world around them and try to convince others to go along with it, too. They reject the heliocentric model of the cosmos in favour of one in which every celestial body is defined by its path in relation to them.

And we, in turn, define ourselves by how we see the Fords.

There’s Rob Ford as unstoppable force. Rob Ford as immovable object. Rob Ford as addict. Rob Ford as hypocrite. Rob Ford as Tony Soprano, Tony Montana, Heisenberg, Henry Hill and all of the characters on The Wire put together. There’s Rob Ford as Lucky, and Doug Ford as Pozzo.

And there’s us, watching it for years in awe. Any one part of the Rob Ford story is, by itself, insane. But taken together, it all makes sense, each development a natural progression – a slow-motion satire about democracy gone wrong.

In just over three years, Ford has risen from an idiot nuisance on a municipal council to a person Jon Stewart earnestly begs to seek help for his own sake.

There are times he makes me ashamed of Toronto. And there are times he makes me love Toronto more than I have ever loved it, the way you share a closeness and a connection with those living through something no one else will ever quite understand.

At Rob Ford’s victory party on the night of his election, a fellow journalist and I gave each other emotional support to work through our grief. I don’t talk about it often, because it’s not especially professional to do so, but for me this defined everything that came afterward. Out near the airport at the Toronto Congress Centre, any familiar face was welcome. But to find one who was willing to share that experience with me was something I will never forget.

There’s writing as advocacy, writing as catharsis and writing as historical documentation. Ford continues to inspire all three.

In our search for ways to work through this, to impose coherence and remind ourselves that we can effect change through our passion and intellect, we write. This is a golden age for writing about Toronto.

Former mayor David Miller’s greatest contribution to the city was creating space for hope. Rob Ford’s greatest contribution was getting us off our asses to create our own spaces for hope. To reflect on what we love about Toronto and why those things are worth fighting for.

Squatting on the carpet of the mayor’s protocol lounge on Tuesday afternoon, waiting for him to come out, I realized how much I’m going to miss this when, eventually, it’s all over. Don’t get me wrong: I would much rather the city function properly and forge policies to help its most vulnerable residents than struggle for brief flashes of normalcy. But the exhilaration, the high of tumbling through cataclysmic episodes of increasing consequence, will be gone.

We’ll be nostalgic for this period, which taught us that our stories are worth telling.

I think Jon Stewart summed up our new creation myth: “Must be nice to live in a city so problem-free it can be run for years by a hard-drinking crack mayor.”

We’re doing okay.

jonathang@nowtoronto.com | @goldsbie

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