Even on a street as gaudy, inconsistent, and ugly as Yonge, the Brass Rail has always felt out of place. Bordered by Ginger on one side and Kitchen Stuff Plus on the other, the building’s façade eschews subtlety: unflattering snapshots of women in bikinis––the focus squarely on breasts and torsos––cover the exterior of the building, while an LED marquee scrolls the latest club news past (there’s always something about “Porn Star Nikki Benz”), and signs advertise the possibility for “sensual encounter[s].” The whole thing shouts sex while being as decidedly unsexy as possible.
In the week after John O’Keefe was shot as he walked back from the Duke of Gloucester past the strip club, flowers and cards have slowly accumulated beside its entrance. Their new presence and the heavy emotional meaning they carry with them serves as another strange contrast for a building that is already characterized by strange contrasts: later on on the same day that a man walking by glances at the flowers and makes the Sign of the Cross across his chest, an announcer will boom from inside the club, “Alright, up next for you guys…Alexa,” the sound bouncing out into the street where taxis and Hummer limos linger.
Last weekend’s shooting was shocking not just because of its location and its senselessness but its victim: John O’Keefe is people like us––someone completely and utterly innocent, interested not in violence but in doing things like teaching his son about the environment––and his murder doesn’t allow us to psychologically (and, for many, geographically) distance ourselves in the way that an anonymous gang-related shooting would. O’Keefe’s death is not proof that Toronto is suddenly no longer a safe city (though Hou Chang Mao’s death on Thursday certainly hasn’t made it feel safer), but, like all bad things that happen to people like us, it forces us to engage in dialogue about the issue. There is no single solution (better gun control! tougher prison sentences! capital punishment!), and the solutions that will actually do most to improve the problem (sweeping social changes!) are, as always, the toughest ones to make work. But at least we’re talking again, and if we’re able to do so rationally, without fear, and with the aim of curbing all gun violence in the city and not just the violence that affects people like us, we’ll be a better city for it.
Outside the Brass Rail, the Hummer limos still come and go. The men who get off don’t pay much attention to the flowers and the cards, but that’s not important; what’s important is that we do.
Photo by Miles Storey.