The research team hired by the government to look into the language of youth in Toronto was a mix of the bizarre and the mundane.   Robert, Nichole, Linda, Carly and me were brought together for this peculiar purpose in 1971.   None of us could imagine how the government functioned or how a decision was made to do this particular thing.  Apart from Robert, who was planning on taking the “Civil Service Exams”, we were all of one mind that we would never be bureaucrats.  That was not the way to change the world.  But we were thankful for the money. 

Robert was a brilliant, bookish, well-organized and unstable young man who had suffered a nervous breakdown or two and who tippled whiskey on the side.  A mild stutterer, he had a youthful innocent face hiding behind horned rimmed glasses. 

Linda was a girl from a small Ontario town, unused to big city life, who had been lured into the drugs and sex scene at the university.  Now having graduated from this course of experience, she was a militant feminist vowing never to be exploited again.

Nichole was a middle class daughter of a rich furrier, tall and thin with straight black hair down to her waist.   She had rebelled and now dressed in long black dresses with side slits and fishnet stockings that usually had a hole or two.  Today she would be called a Goth.

Carly was the only daughter of a couple from Hamilton, who doted on her and gave her classical guitar lessons.   She had honey blonde hair and struggled with how to establish her independence.  

I was a newly married man, endowed with a pleasant physical appearance, curly hair and a ready laugh.  Possessing a high degree of abstract intelligence, I could never keep track of my pencils or my wallet and had no idea of what I wanted to do with my life.

 It turned out we had our own office, in the Sociology Department, now located in the former buildings of Borden’s Dairy.  Everything still seemed to smell of sour milk and the office was a large one with five desks and a picture window.  The light shone through it like through a magnifying glass and we knew the place would be sweltering in the afternoon when the building faced the boiling sun.

“First,” said Robert, “we should organize.   I get the desk by the window because I am going to stay and here and write my essay.  The r-r-rest of you should go out in the field and r-r-research something or other.”   He promptly plopped his books on the desk he claimed.

Linda looked at him from under furrowed brows.   “Are you trying to tell us what to do?  Do you think you’re the boss because you’ve got a penis?”

“Hey, wait a minute,” I chimed in.  “That’s not fair.  First of all, I have a penis and I am not the boss.  Second, who says Robert has one?  Robert, I demand you pull down your pants.”

“If I do it, do I get the desk?” 

We all smiled, even Linda, and agreed.  Robert pulled down his pants and showed his boxer shorts.  “That ought to hold you for a few weeks,” he snickered.  When we protested, he simply said, “An agreement is an agreement.  That is only r-r-r-reasonable.  We did not, after all, specify which pants I had to pull down.  I’m afraid this will have to do.”  Robert, who talked like he lived in another century simply sat down and opened his books.

After some grousing, we soon grew tired of the game.  Nichole yawned and pulled her dark sunglasses down to the tip of her nose looking at us like a school teacher as if to say, “Let him be a baby.”  We left Robert in his corner, with his checkered short sleeve shirt, his long dark pants, his greased back hair and his horned rim glasses.  And as we all clearly saw, a small mickey which he was secreting in the bottom drawer.

The rest of us started to talk about what we wanted to do.  “Let’s do something outside,” said Carly.  “I’d hate to be cooped up in this sweat box all summer.   Linda said, “we should interview young women to find out what their values are, how aware they are of the power struggle against the male establishment.”

I laughed.  “Well, I’d love to interview the young women.  But maybe we could find something else to talk about.”  Nichole looked at me askance, her blood red lips standing in stark contrast to her black outfit and her pale snow-like skin.  Carly winked at me and Linda just ignored me.

“We do have to divide up the tape recorders.  We only have a few,” said Nichole.  She had a lazy adenoidal way of talking.  When she laughed, she guffawed and snorted like a man.   Her long slender fingers closed about my arm as I reached for the recorder.  Her touch was like that of an octopus, cold, soft, clammy, clinging and strangely strong.  

I pulled back my hand in shock and disgust.  But I just smiled and said, “So how will we do it? We could draw straws…” 

Carly suggested, “We could use it on different days of the week and maybe some of us could work in teams.  We could collect a common corpus and each one of us would supplement what we got to do our own studies…”

I enthused, “I love it.  You and I will go to the beach, the park and the mall.   Where do you want to go, Linda?”

She looked pensive.  “I’ll go down to the downtown area just south of the University and we’ll see if I can find some young women to talk to.   I know there are some women’s communes down there..,”

We mapped out what we were going to do.   Nichole was going to look at the structure of sexual fantasies reported to her by the people we interviewed.  Linda was going to do her own study on young women and Carly and I would collect information on whether “youth” used vocabulary that was unique to them.  We would get them to talk about rock and roll and identify words we would later do more formal tests with.

We posted a schedule for using the tape recorders, which no one ended up following.   What actually happened is that we started to travel around Toronto in the summer, interviewing people in parks, on the ferry to Centre Island, near the pool, in shopping malls and around the University of Toronto.  We just decided where to go depending on the weather.  Too bad we did not record all our conversations. 

Carly and I spent most of the summer together, laughing at every sick joke we could make.  In the office, we were the most talkative and the others tended to follow our lead.  We were all having a relaxed and enjoyable time - for pay!

In the midst of this pleasant activity, we were notified that our area supervisor for the Youth Culture Project was to visit us in the middle of the summer to check up on our progress.  Panic in the office.  We didn’t actually have anything to show for our work. 

He called on the day of the meeting.  He would meet us at the Bagel Restaurant on College at lunch.  We were nervous.  We rehearsed our story.  The tapes had been stolen.  The tape recorder malfunctioned and nothing recorded.  One of us was sick.  Robert was nuts.  Carly and I were chosen by our colleagues to bite the bullet and meet the supervisor.

Unlike every other day at the office, I wore a suit and Carly wore a pants suit.  It was hot and we were both sweating profusely as we entered The Bagel.  The Bagel was one of the remainders of the time that College and Spadina had been peopled by Yiddish speakers and some of its customers were still old timers.  The decor was bare wall with pipes and industrial green paint.   The tables and chairs were plain wood but clean and functional.  As agreed on the phone we took a seat facing the door and looked around for our area supervisor.  No one approached us.

We each asked for water, twice, before the supervisor arrived.  We didn’t know it was him until he came up to our table and sat down.  He was a huge wild haired man with a large bushy beard wearing what looked like a yellow undershirt, khaki shorts and lumberjack boots. 

As we sat in complete silence he straddled the chair opposite us and said, “Hi, glad to see you could make it.  Did you order yet?  No?  Well let me get you some stuff.  We’ll put it on my expense account.”

He called over the waitress and ordered three bagels and three vegetable borsht.  “They make the best,” he explained and licked his lips, or seemed to as there was some movement under his moustache.  

“What a drag,” he said, “I have to haul my ass all over Southern Ontario just to check on these fucking projects.  Know where I can get some weed?  Hey did you guys hear what happened out west?

“Uh, no.”

“What a pisser.  Some of the participant observers got busted for smoking up; some of their group were fucking undercover pigs who grabbed them after they had a few tokes and it’s this big scandal.  Oh and Georgia Strait did a huge expose on the whole youth culture project.  What a fucking scream.   They hyped it as a government plot, no shit.  Van Kleek sounded like a fucking idiot, No surprise there.  The guy is lunched out.”

The waitress arrived with our food and we proceeded to eat.  Carly and I didn’t actually eat much.  We watched in fascination as our supervisor slurped up his borsht and murdered the bagel in a few bites.   It was hard to tell how he got the food through the beard.  There was no perceptible opening in the hair.  Maybe he just strained it through, using the hair like a sieve?

He burped, leaned back in the chair and put his arms behind his head, exposing two of the hairiest arm pits I have ever seen.

“Well, what have you guys been up to?  What’s the story?”

Neither Carly nor I could speak.  We were mesmerized I think by the hair.  Hair here, hair there, hair everywhere.

Finally I stuttered, “Uh, we … we … we …”

He smiled, or at least his beard and mustache seemed to shift and he said, “You say that anymore and I’ll think you have to go to the fucking can.  What’s the score?”

“Uh, we’re working on several worthwhile projects, but we didn’t bring any of the stuff with us;  we’re proving that youth have a different language.”

At this he guffawed and put down his arms under the table.  “Come on, you don’t believe any of that shit, do you?  Look, confidentially,” he leaned forward and I saw Carly jump, “I don’t really give a rat’s ass what you’re doing.   Are you screwing the Man, that’s all I want to know?”

He leaned over to my side and it was my turn to jump.  “But what do we do about a report?” I squealed.

“Do? What do I care?  Rip off the Man.  Make it the fuck up.  Viva la revolucion.  Say are you guys busy today or can we go somewhere and get a joint?” 

I think his eyes underneath those bushy brows, were twinkling but I jumped up and grabbed Carly by the arm.  “No, no, we’ve got to go… We said we were going to meet the rest of the team and make plans after this meeting…. and…”

“Yeah sure, blow me off.  Well I can’t hang in this joint too long anyway.  Won’t stay for a coffee?” 

“No thanks,” we both said at the same time and hustled out of the restaurant. 

“Carly,” I said, “What the hell was that and what the hell do we do?”

Carly looked at the sidewalk, “We’ll just do the things we said we would at the meeting.  No one can blame us for delivering what we promised.  I had to get out of there.  Did you see me jump?  He stuck his hand on my crotch!”

“Carly,” I said, “Why do you think I jumped too?”

We continued on in silence. 

And so, that summer, after the pleasant revolutionary activity of collecting a pay cheque and talking to people in and around leisure spots in Toronto, my colleagues and I delivered the reports that we had promised.

Nichole and Linda each did their reports.  Robert wrote an eccentric comparative analysis of youth values and the enlightenment.  Carly handed in her updated undergraduate essay on rock and roll.  And I handed in remembered statistics on how people of different ages I had met that summer, defined such terms as “toke”, “hype” and “lunched out”.  None of us saw the supervisor again.  And none of this actually proved the existence of a youth culture or a youth language, even though it was all around us and in us.

Twenty years later, all of us were bruised and battered in our own way, the idealism and sense of superiority that had formed a part of us at the time, now stretched thin.  And except for Carly, each of us had found their own way to a job in the federal and provincial governments.