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Chapter 7
Alternate Arts and Culture

Urban Adventures: Eyeball Pinball

by CORIANDER NEUMANEIMANAYMANEEMAMANN, Alternate Reality News Service Urban Issues Writer

The urban environment is seen by many as cold and dehumanizing. We navigate through mountains of glass and steel to go from our dead end jobs to our depersonalized condos without seeming to make meaningful contact with other human beings.

Various groups and individuals are trying to change that. "If you approach your environment with imagination and an openness to experiment and play," dapper power broker and transplanted Toronto bon vivant Richard Florida notes, "you should be able to avoid this whole 'urban alienation' thing." Yes, he said "urban alienation" with scare quotes; dapper power brokers and bon vivants talk like that.

One person who approaches the city with a sense of play is Karl Rorschach, a 30 year-old Vegan architect with a slightly mad twinkle in his eye. Rorschach is the poster man/boy for a new sport called Eyeball Pinball.

"Well, you know how, like, you're sitting on the subway, right?" Rorschach explained over lunch at Fit for Life, a trendy little bistro on Spadina that's always packed. "And, like, nobody is willing to make eye contact. The trick, you see, is to look at somebody so...so that when they turn their head, they look at somebody else, right? Then, they turn their heads, and so on. I can get, like, six people involved pretty regular, and I even got a chain of seven going two or three times."

Rorschach, an amateur player, says his goal is to one day play on the International Eyeball Pinball circuit. In professional EP, each player is accompanied by a (discretely dressed) referee who ensures that each look in the chain follows established rules, among which are length, angle of head tilt and "demureness."

Perhaps the best known EP player on the circuit is Jeffrey Lebowski, a big, grizzled bear of a man who looks a little like Jeff Bridges on a bad day. "Man, I once saw Lebowski make a circuit of, like 11 people," Rorschach said with a reverence bordering on the religious. "There were no referees around, so it didn't count for competition, but, man, if you looked at him, you would swear he was half asleep, and he pulled off such a big...a big...I don't even know what to call it!"

Because the sport is relatively new, players on the EP circuit get little more than bus fare to competitions in various cities and the occasional can of soda if they win. Rorschach stated that this keeps the sport pure: "Naw, man, can you imagine how phony things would get if there was major international TV coverage...big sponsorship deals...babes...everybody would become an asshole and it would destroy the sport!" There was a wistfulness in his voice, though, that belied his pro-amateur bravado.

"Oh, hey, check this out, Rorschach whispered on a thinly populated Finch subway car on the way home late that night. "I'm going to do a 360 Rondo with a 33...no, 50 per cent backspin." After a moment, Rorschach shyly looked at a large black woman, a middle-aged woman who looked like life had beaten her down and refused to let her get up, sitting across the car from us.

Noticing his gentle gaze, the black woman turned her sad orbs away, momentarily locking eyes with a thin older white woman who had been humming an ancient tune to herself, her creased features exuding a crinkly good humour, a few seats away down the car.

The old woman playfully ran a withered hand through her thinning white hair and looked away, catching the eye of a teen punk listening to her iPod across the aisle. Her spiked hair and grungy clothes were clearly meant to project a strength that the quickness with which she looked away belied.

The punk caught the attention of an old Asian man who turned towards us. You could tell from the look in his eye that he had lived longer than he had thought he would, longer than he wanted, and he was just waiting for the final peace that death would bring. Why he thought he would find it on that subway car was a mystery I will never be able to determine the answer to.

The looks went up one side of the car and down the other, returning to Rorschach - a 360 rondo. The old white woman and the old Asian man, after turning their heads, quickly turned them back - fifty per cent backspin.

Smiling, Rorschach commented, "It's a gift. What can I say?"

Coriander Neumaneimanaymaneemamann's first novel, Eyes on the Surprise, has just been published. The Alternate Reality News Service is certain that, once her book tour has been completed, her writing will be less...uhh...well, it will calm down.

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