Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Towers

I had seen it coming. The old management here at New Horizons Tower, a residence tied to the Dovercourt Baptist Church, had been in place since its foundation in the seventies of the previous century, and they had managed to forge a pretty close community, where seniors, students and staff lived together in good harmony.

I do not even know whose stupid idea it was to bring students into a senior residence, but it worked. Most of the seniors seemed to appreciate the energy of the students, some of whom had only started to explore their own talents, while the students were kept more or less under control by a happy platoon of grey-haired grandfathers and grandmothers, armed with canes, riding their walkers.

Having lived here for almost four years, I saw them coming and going, both the students and the seniors, in the morning and the evening of their lives, and me being somewhere in between, around lunchtime, I think. Things started to change about one year ago, when the Administrator of New Horizons Tower retired.

The new administrator introduced a new style of management, which was obvious from the moment she crowned herself CEO. While her predecessor was found among his staff, seniors and students, the CEO rules the tower from her office. The old management was quickly replaced by her trustees: an army of blackshirts for whom management is a matter of time and money, instead of people.

The old marketing director will probably kill me for calling him old, but I will stick to the term anyways. My intake into the tower started a little stiff, but he managed to provide me a smooth entrance. The irritations that arose once or twice were quickly ironed out through a personal meeting, and his good sense of humor and fatherly words made me leave his room in a better mood. When I once expressed my worries about the ability to stay at New Horizons Tower for the full length of my program, he reassured me that "Student presence alone causes happy and bright feelings among most of the seniors living here. [...] Students interested living at NHT will find accommodation at NHT at any given time." It felt good.

The former head of housekeeping was usually whirling around in what looked like a white laboratory coat, which not only screamed "This place is clean" but also provided an unusual contrast with her beautiful afro-american looks. More than once, she hurried to bring clean towels or sheets, and informed every now and then whether things were okay now.

The head of the kitchen reminded me of an old teacher of mine. I still do not know what the man did, or how he did it, but he ran his business smoothly, and the self-service buffet for students always perfectly suited the needs of young people who usually have no time or clue when it comes to healthy food. To be honest, the combinations were not always brilliant, but my complaints were usually answered with the willingness to improve.

A precious place in the dining room was reserved for a sweet old lady who served the students. She knew everyone by name and school, and had a wonderful memory of who liked to eat what, and a magical instinct for what kept people alive. I can only speak for myself, but it was she who really made me feel at home here.

As a neighbour of mine used to say it: "We didn't even know how good it was here". To be honest, I feel a little uneasy that only now I feel the need to express my gratitude towards the old staff: Danish, Joan, Leonard and, especially, Christine, I miss you all.

It started in the dining room. The student facilities were quietly removed: within a few days, the steam tables, the microwaves and the fridge were all gone. Only after my protest that this made it impossible for students to warm up their late dinners, kept in the fridge at their request, was it admitted that the late meal service had been cancelled. During a blazing hot summer, it was no longer possible to get a pitcher of ice cold juice from the fridge, and drinks were reduced to one glass per meal. Although this regime was recently relaxed a bit, during the heat of the summer, requests to get a pitcher of juice at my table, were bluntly refused. The regime extended to the floor lounges, where fridges, once kept stocked with juice by kitchen staff, were now only restocked twice a week, with tiny little packages of juice, enough for everybody to have two drinks a week. Personally, I do not care so much, as I am an ardent Coca Cola drinker and buy most of my own drinks anyways, but for seniors who need to stay hydrated during a hot summer, the situation was dangerous.

From that moment, students had to wait at their tables to be served, which often took too long for those who start at 9:00. More than once, the selection of bread during breakfast and lunch was limited to cheap white bread, so after a while I started to buy my own. The quality of meat degraded quickly, and the seafood served at times was so scary that I did not even dare to touch it. At the same time, the monthly rent was raised by $50.

It became apparent where the money was spent. An ambitious plan to renovate the tower was presented, and it went much further than tackling the usual wear and tear of a building that is more than forty years old. To the contrary. Maintenance was no longer a priority, so my room now has a broken thermostat, the toilet keeps running and the door opens barely wide enough to enter, which is not so much a problem for me, as for the somewhat heavier built cleaner. The new CEO goes for looks and status.

I guess I was one of the first to complain about the new situation. Whereas the old management usually saw this as an opportunity to improve, the new management was pretty blunt: "If you don't like it here then why don't you leave?" And leaving is what people did. I especially remember my neighbour, who left with tears in her eyes. She had a good friend to go to, and felt really sorry about all seniors who have nowhere to go.

A few seniors told me they had issued complaints on the internet on a review site http://www.n49.ca, but these had been quickly removed by the new management. A quick scan learnt that this site is more about advertising than about reviews, as places under review obviously have the freedom to remove reviews they do not like. The single positive reviewer there finally admitted she represented the tower, and stressed that founders and board of New Horizons were so happy with the new situation. Another reviewer correctly summarized this as the new situation: New Horizons Tower is no longer about serving seniors and students, it is about founders, boards, status and money.

Last weekend I was once more reminded about how things have changed. The cleaner had taken my old bar of soap, and forgot to bring me a new bar. No big deal, so I reported the issue at the front desk, expecting them to solve it there and then, either by improvising a new one, or by calling the head of householding. To my astonishment, I was told the relevant manager had gone home at 5:00 pm, and I had to wait till Monday. When on Monday, the responsible blackshirt bluntly entered my room to tell me not to make a problem of a bar of soap, her empty gaze made me realize that, for her, this a nine-to-five job, not understanding that seniors and students do not come and go when she does.

The Director of Resident Service laughed me straight in the face, and told me, once more, to leave if I did not like it here. Well, this is definitely going to happen, as I hope to graduate in a few months, and the terms of my contract do not allow me to stay after that; I am looking for a new place, to stay the rest of the year. What happened tonight made me think.

When I came home at a somewhat unusual time, I found the blackshirt who poses as a Student Liaison sneaking from door to door on my floor. When he noticed me, he jumped up high, and pushed a sheet of paper into my hands, without even looking me into the eyes. By the time his rat-like appearance had sneaked into the emergency staircase, the essence of the writing dawned on me: students are no longer welcome at New Horizons Tower, and rooms must have been vacated by April 30.

It does not really hit me, as I hope to move out soon. However, I really feel sorry about the seniors here, the other students, and the Bloorvillage neighbourhood, which will loose a unique community to the greed, status and money that has threatened much of what connects people in a big city of Toronto. I am also worried about the Dovercourt Baptist Church, who either do not care about the residence once founded, or adhere to a Gospel which is not mine.

The new management has claimed that the only people unhappy are those who hide the anonymity of the internet. Well, I'm too honest for that. You will not see me sneaking around the building, pushing letters of intimidation underneath doors, like Ian Anderson. You will not see me laughing into your face from the safety of my office, like Sylvia Teasdale. I have the courage to stand up straight and to defend my opinion.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Loose ends

I just entered my final term here at Max the Mutt, which consists mostly of building a portfolio with work gathered over the past three years, producing my final film and preparing a board for presentation at Industry Night.

Over the past years, I have been working on a fistful of stories, and I picked one to use in my graduation project. Last term, I completed the character design, this term I will be developing the storyboard, and by the end of the term, I hope to produce the film. Originally, the school had a clear-cut idea of how this should be developed, but a last-minute decision was made to produce this traditionally, which means that, at least in principle, students should be able to get better results, although it implies the production will take longer. It also means that two of the courses slated for this term, i.e. Storyboarding and Toon Boom, have lost much of their purpose, as a storyboard will have been completed earlier, and most of the Toon Boom software will not be used in our production. We will see how this turns out.

Completing my education also means completing another phase of Operation Switch, and starting a new one: finding a job. I decided to put this to rest until graduation, in order to concentrate exclusively on my portfolio and my final film. It also means finding a new home, as the place where I am living now is a combined senior and student residence. Despite my age, being no longer a student does not automatically make me senior. So, lots of exciting things to look forward to, I hope to keep you informed...