The Night Magazine

The Night Magazine

(more…)

Playing the dream

Video games with great (or not so great) dream sequences

Dreams are crazy and unpredictable. Your dream-self is often trapped in a sequence of events beyond your control or understanding. You’re an Alice moving about in Wonderland. How does something so intensely personal translate into an entertainment medium like a video game? I’ve always had a perverse love of dream sequences in video games, but as we’ll see in this article dreams don’t always translate well into digital space, and often lead to the same frustrations as dreams themselves.

Max Payne

2001

The third-person action shooter Max Payne features two different dream sequences. Fans of the game are divided over whether these are brilliant or awful. This is due to the puzzle element in which Max has to navigate a series of mazes based on his house. The first dream features a confusing blood trail that Max has to follow; one wrong step and it’s instant death as Max falls into the void. However, the second dream sequence does a great job of breaking the fourth wall when Max is told he’s a character in a game. Also, the music in both dream sequences is sufficiently ominous and creepy.

Psychonauts

2005

In Psychonauts, the main character Raz enters into the heads of various characters in order to complete challenges and defeat a wide variety of enemies. Each challenge presented to the player is unique and totally dependent on whose head Raz enters. It’s a great game with a dark, twisted sense of humour. Unfortunately, while Psychonauts was critically acclaimed and developed a devoted fan base, its sales figures were underwhelming. Not everyone was into the idea of exploring other people’s psyches (it can be scary in there).

Afraid of Monsters

2007

This is a brilliant survival horror modification for the 1998 first-person shooter, Half-Life. Designed by Andreas Ronnberg, the game takes you through a surreal night in the life of a drug addict. A certain tension from the game comes from being unsure as to whether the monsters you’re seeing are actually there or just drug-induced hallucinations. Perversely, the only way to heal yourself is to take more drugs. The crude graphics add rather than detract from the experience, giving the game an extra layer of unreality.

Dragon Age: Origins

2009

In the fantasy world of Thedas, people who dream don’t just go somewhere in their subconscious, but to a mysterious realm known as the Fade. Unfortunately, the Fade is also home to demons that want to possess people in order to manifest themselves in the real world. There’s a whole sequence in Dragon Age in which the player and their entire adventuring party are put to sleep by a sloth demon and must then escape the Fade. A mod for the PC version of the game that shortens this level is very popular, as many players find this part of the game frustrating.

The Science of Dreams

The Science of Dreams

Have you ever awoken in the middle of the night from a dream and had no idea what it meant? Why did dreaming of an orange elephant wearing tennis shoes, and walking on water, made you feel so anxious that it roused you from your sleep? Deciphering dreams is complex to say the least, and navigating through the subconscious can be like trying to find your way through a labyrinth blindfolded. As if our waking lives weren’t confusing enough, dreaming only adds to the complexity that is the human psyche. It’s not always a bad dream. Dreaming can be a fantastic and liberating experience, and sometimes help with a problem that you are in the waking world. Trying to shed some light on the otherwise-convoluted subject of dreams may be an ongoing process, but an interesting one at the very least.

NATHAN WATSON/THE VARSITY

On a normal night of sleep we enter and constantly cycle through four stages of altered consciousness: two stages of light sleep, and one each of deep and slow wave sleep, constantly cycling through each other. Dreaming occurs at all stages, but the most fantastical, bizarre and emotional dreaming occurs during rapid eye movement (REM), which is between the second and third stage of sleep. REM dreams are the most memorable because in addition to the auditory and visual hallucinations, REM dreams can include other senses such as taste, odor, and in some rare cases, pain.

REM is unique because the brain experiences full conscious wakefulness while the body remains paralyzed. This is due to the neuronal input to the pons, a part of the brain stem, which blocks any type of muscular movement. At this point the dreamer is exposed to the unchartered waters of the subconscious. Whatever repressed emotion the dreamer may be experiencing will ultimately be uncovered by the subconscious and presented in an uncharacteristic way, leaving the confused to ponder the implications of things as strange as orange elephants in tennis shoes. Take a step back; the most important thing about dream analysis is to consider how you feel in the dream. Dream symbols can be characterized by your emotional response to them. You will be able to gain insight into what your repressed emotions may be saying, and possibly realize why you may be repressing those emotions in the first place.

If you’re tired of being bossed around by your subconscious, you might want to consider practicing “lucid dreaming.” Here, the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming and can control what happens throughout the dream. Lucid dreaming is hard to achieve, but can be learned through intense focus and practice. REM is the best stage to take advantage of your lucid dreaming practices. So go and jump on that tennis shoe-wearing orange elephant’s back and walk on water. Have fun with your dream — they’re there to help you through your daily life, and are unique as you are.

Source: Psychological Science

– Second Canadian Edition: Michael S. Gazzaniga, Todd F. Heatherton, Steven J. Hein, Daniel C. McIntyre

By night in Santiago

By night in Santiago

A tear gas fog
police officers armed to the teeth
a woman digs through the trash
cars go by every which way
and the awful asthma trees
the city is doomed to disappear
it’s the world, they tell me
don’t worry
it’s the year 1979
—Nicanor Parra, “1979”

I. Santiago & Arrivals

 

No one should be surprised if the writer feels an unbearable isolation, similar to illness, as he takes his first steps into that new space. If we imagine the arrival: stepping off the plane, smog-obscured mountains encircling him, 70 or so taxi drivers each struggling, swearing and singing in Spanish to get a foreigner into their car. It’s wonderful, entering to such a reception. Everything seems to begin just as it should. But a problem presents itself: as a dream and this new reality clash, the audience realizes that nothing is as it was expected to be. And with the glimpse of the first water-cannon-equipped police truck, Santiago begins.

II. Santiago & Fear

 

To write about fear is a very strange thing, akin to purposefully revisiting a place that you would prefer to forget, to wandering through the alleys of time. It is to translate memory, and link the events of that specific past with those of the present. But I shouldn’t digress too far from the story. It starts with a copy of Antipoemas, by the renowned Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, tucked into my jacket pocket as I step out the gate of my rundown, two-storey building, a 15-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas and the center of Santiago de Chile.

As I walked on that first night, past dogs barking in the alleys, I retreated into my thoughts, realizing what it means to be lost, with no plans, no commitments and no one. So I went towards the city center and looked around me, at the buildings I knew from books and poems that were being transformed from ideas into places. Spaces are always a combination of the two — how much of either depends on the person walking through them. As my roommate said that first day, “People here make so much money, so why don’t they do anything about the street dogs?” She worked in an upper-class part of Santiago, teaching English to business people. I responded to her in my mind, saying that half the Chilean work force earns the minimum wage, equivalent to 386 American dollars a month. Numerous surveys rank Chile as one of the most economically unequal societies in the world.

~

But it’s true, some people do make a lot of money. Las Condes, La Reina, Los Dominicos. These neighbourhoods radiate wealth, with European-style villa homes, and Parisian street lamps lining the wide, empty streets. These places make up one Santiago. They have clean air, nice cars, sprawling malls and private security. They are the “triumph” of the “Miracle of Chile,” as Milton Friedman called it, the period of praised free market reorientation in the 1970s and 1980s, which led to large economic growth — for the upper classes at least. Chile’s economy actually grew just one per cent total between 1973 and 1989.  But I knew all that before I arrived. So as I walked, on that first night, past posters that declared “Nationalize the Lithium!” and “Profit out of Education!” the streets served as both reminders of and introductions to the vast polarization of Chile, to the conflicted feelings that each building, each statue and each flag conjure up amongst the different Santiagos, forced together in that space between the mountains.

 

III. Santiago & the Past

 

The year is 1970. Salvador Allende, a Marxist and head of the Chilean leftist coalition Popular Unity, comes to power in an election in which he wins 36.63 per cent of the vote. He is then, due to the lack of an absolute majority, confirmed president by a vote in the Chilean Congress. The CIA spends $425,000 on an anti-Allende campaign  during the election, while the KGB spends $400,000 on behalf of Popular Unity. Allende becomes the first democratically-elected Marxist president in Latin America .

I walk through Plaza Italia, where the Mapocho river used to fork before it was diverted. I see all of the apartments, dark now because it’s very late, towering over the symphony hall and the 24-hour cigarette stands. Julio, from Chilean-writer Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai, lives in one of these apartments, I think to myself. A police truck sits in the square. As Zambra said, “I grew up in a dictatorship, I said my first words in a dictatorship, I read my first books in a dictatorship.” The memories of an entire generation linger, curled up beside the dogs licking crumbs off the sidewalk.

~

The year is 1973. In the March parliamentary elections, Allende’s coalition increases it’s share of the vote to 44.11 per cent, but is faced by a majority right-wing opposition with CIA support. On September 11, a military coup takes place, led by General Augusto Pinochet. The military declares control of the country, but Allende refuses to resign, and broadcasts a final message on national radio. When the military breaks into the presidential palace, Allende is found dead, having committed suicide. Over the next 17 years, more than 40,000 people will be kidnapped and tortured, killed or “disappeared” by the dictatorship.

~

“The first country in the world to make that momentous break with the past — away from socialism and extreme state capitalism toward more market-oriented structures and policies — was not Deng Xiaoping’s China or Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan’s United States in 1981, or any other country in Latin America or elsewhere. It was Pinochet’s Chile in 1975,” Stanford’s Hoover Institute gushed in a 2007 report, praising Pinochet and his advisers. The argument is based in the idea that the market is pure, that economic freedom is the most important kind of freedom — more important than democracy.

~

The year is 1982. Chile has just fallen into the worst banking crisis in its history. The Pinochet government intervenes in the banking system, after implementing radical free market policies for the previous nine years, and ends up controlling more of the economy than the democratic government that had preceded it. From 1975 to 1982 the Chilean foreign debt rose from the equivalent of $5.3 billion to $17 billion, caused by the excess borrowing of private companies unable to pay their loans. The military government backed their debts, despite mass poverty.

~

The year is 2012 and it is night as I walk towards the Plaza de Armas and the presidential palace, with this history hanging on the walls around me. Statues still stand in honour of members of the regime, while its far-right economic ideology (despite both breeding and being bred out of inequality) has been idealized and adopted by much of the world. So with every student rally that struggles to change the massively privatized education system, and every Pinochet memorial that draws neo-Nazis out of the cracks, this history is made new again, and new violence clogs the streets.

IV. Santiago & Dionysus

 

Another night I was walking alone at around 2 am in Barrio Yungay, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Santiago, and I was afraid. After buying a beer from a guy in an alley (beer is cheaper than bread, after all), I saw some graffiti that read as follows:

“Interviewer: What bores you?

B: Empty discourse from the left. I expect it from the right.”

I went back the next day to try and find it. Worn grey brick stared back at me like a mirror that reflected frozen sand. Those late night phrases had either left before I could find them again or hadn’t arrived yet.

~

The year is 1990. The percentage of the population living below the poverty line is about 40 per cent, down from 50 per cent in 1983 and 45 per cent in 1987. After a referendum on his leadership in 1988, Pinochet steps down and a new democratic government is sworn in. Pinochet hands over power, after passing a law guaranteeing amnesty for most of the military, having reached an agreement to remain Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces (as well as “Senator for Life”), and attempted to preserve his economic model by making it more difficult to change the constitution. Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat who opposed Allende, becomes the new president of the Republic. After the return to democracy, there will be three Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports released in an attempt to come to terms with the abuses of the military dictatorship.

V. Santiago & the Present

 

It’s now August, 2012. Universities have just returned from winter break. The student protests resume today, with the biggest demonstrations planned in months. I walk along La Alameda, the biggest street in Santiago, with a friend and enter the protest area. The towering buildings and landscaped boulevards reflect the new wealth of Santiago: a wealth that presents itself in the architecture, in the billboards and in the private universities, but which remains out of reach for the majority. In this society, to get a university degree, poor students find themselves with debts equal to the cost of an apartment, while the elite need not share their higher-than-first-world standard of living. This disparity will continue, under the political class of either the mainstream left or right. But the militarized police break up my thoughts, as armoured trucks (purchased from Apartheid-era South Africa), firing water cannons and shooting tear gas, drive towards us. We run back and forth to try not to get hit. The tear gas burns, though most students have old, faded gas masks. Eventually police come in on foot, with riot shields. My friend and I hide in a hot dog shop and leave through the back door, which leads to an alley.

~

Under the Pinochet regime, large foreign companies were those who profited most from the new economic “freedom.” By exploiting labour through banning unions, privatizing all levels of education, and cutting corporate taxes, Pinochet allowed the means of the upper classes in Chile to grow while, at the expense of the majority, foreign businesses took the country’s natural resource-based wealth back to their shareholders. The democratic governments that have followed have done little to change this, and even ostensibly center-left governments have generally adopted the capitalist programs of the Pinochet years. Pinochet’s 1980 constitution is still in place, though small parts of it were finally amended in 2005.

~

One of the groups that has profited the most from these business-favouring conditions has been the Canadian mining giant, Barrick Gold. Driving through the Atacama Desert, a different night, I see spray painted slogans on rocks beside the highway, proclaiming “Barrick Out” next to small shrines to Jesus. Nostalgia for the Light, a documentary by Patricio Guzman, explores these same deserts, showing the astronomy community, with its telescopes exploring the stars and the past, contrasted with groups of mothers, still searching for their sons’ bodies amongst the rocks where Pinochet hid many of his victims. The copper mines are here as well, constant reminders that while change may have come, it has not been nearly enough.

The Pascua Lama project (a Barrick mine that produces gold, silver and copper) is just one example of the controversies found in Chile, that follow Barrick Gold wherever it goes. The mine is in the Andes, occupying traditional indigenous land. The government did not consult the inhabitants at the project’s beginning and has been known to use the “special forces” to clear protesters from mining sites or pipeline routes. Pascua Lama has been particularly divisive, as activists and scientists claim it is extremely harmful to the environment, In 2010, the Atacama Environmental Authorities began the process of punishing Barrick Gold for illegally damaging the glaciers and rivers and for breaching the health standards of the local Environmental Qualification Resolution.  As Sergio Campusano Vilches, president of an indigenous ecological group explains, “Our Community was intentionally ignored by the State of Chile during the approval process for the Pascua Lama project because we oppose mega-mining development within our lands. This has to be recognized and amended. We sincerely hope we can find the justice that was denied to us in our own country.” He highlights the largest problem with the compromise to reach democracy: it came at too high a price, allowing large corporations to maintain influence and power. The Truth and Reconciliation Committees have not sufficiently dealt with the most destructive legacy of the dictatorship; its economics, which continue today.

VI. Santiago & Apollo

 

 

In a 2010 interview with The Globe & Mail, Peter Munk, founder and chairman of Barrick Gold, stated, “It is your obligation to give back as much as you have taken from a country… I’ve made some money and I wish to give it back.” As the Globe says, there are “two prongs of Mr. Munk’s philanthropic vision: stay focused and support Canada’s role on the world stage.” The interview was conducted in the wake of his $35 million donation to the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. The university has been criticized at length for the lack of transparency in its agreement with Munk, and Munk himself has been accused of exercising outsize influence. Barrick Gold has been under investigation in numerous countries for human rights abuses, environmental destruction and involvement in corruption. But the University of Toronto knows all this. In fact, they profit from it, owning $1,206,000 worth of Barrick Gold stock as of March 31, 2012. It’s just one part of their investment plan, which includes companies such as Imperial Oil, El Dorado Gold and Enbridge.

U of T claims that it cares about inclusivity. It presents itself as an environmentally, socially conscious institution, which offers education not just for the few that can afford it. But it does these things while actively supporting and being supported by companies, like Barrick, that take advantage of people around the world. While Chile continues to have some of the highest post-secondary fees in relation to the average income, the University of Toronto accepts Barrick’s and Peter Munk’s money — earned in an economic system which excludes the majority of the Chilean population — contradicting many of the university’s professed values.

~

So while Peter Munk buys himself a legacy, the problems of all the different Santiagos still exist. To the south the houses appear entirely different; these are the traditional neighbourhoods of the poor, places where Pinochet did absolutely nothing to encourage development. The walls and roofs are cracking, while a 20-minute subway ride away sit mansions, protected by the police and security forces, who seem to have a greater presence in these neighbourhoods. Peter Munk has taken much from Chile, but he is not concerned with giving back — at least not to Chileans anyway. Of all of Canada’s qualities, economic freedom is clearly at the top of his list to “spread,” as illustrated by a statement he made in 1996, where he praised Pinochet for “transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world.” Munk is quoted as saying about Pinochet’s human-rights abuses on anti-Munk website munkoutofuoft: “They can put people in jail, I have no comment on that, I think that may be true…I think [the end justifies the means] because it brought wealth to an enormous number of people. If you ask somebody who is in jail, he’ll say no. But that’s the wonderful thing about our world; we can have the freedom to disagree.”

Today, those who disagree are greeted with tear gas and water cannons. Under Pinochet, they were welcomed with worse.

VII. Santiago & A Dream of Franz Kafka

 

“it all came down to nothing

& of nothing, there is very little left”

—Nicanor Parra, “A Resounding  Zero”

~

On my last night I wonder, where does all of this leave us? While the student movement may be flawed, it is at least understandably so. As the only group that presents any hope for a different future, it is filled with competing thoughts, ideologies and factions. It is born out of a lack of other options. When politicians and universities alike can be paid and influenced by the likes of Barrick Gold, when elected leaders change little or nothing, the only democracy that exists is found in the street, the sole place where people can declare that it is not okay for us to continue on this path, for one society to slide forward while exploiting another, for one education to be financed while another’s is not.

And so I walk and think of Franz Kafka because he saw modernity for what it was, long ago. I meet him in an alley and he nods his head to me, before walking off in the rain. I go the other direction.

The warning lights

Light pollution’s risks and possible solutions

The warning lights

The night sky in Toronto isn’t what it used to be. Those who have the privilege of getting out of the city from time to time will know the incredible majesty of the sky on a clear night. But even an hour’s drive from Toronto, you can still see a dull orange glow from the direction of the city, reaching up from the horizon. The lights of cities like Toronto can be seen from space, and you have to go a long way on land before you’ll see a truly dark night. Groups like the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) want to take back the night, and despite some objections, they make a good point.

The environment

The argument you hear most often about light pollution is that it’s bad for birds. It’s pretty clear that this is the case, since birds are often attracted to light — sometimes it causes them to fly into buildings, and to circle oil-platforms or fishing fleets out a sea, disrupting their migration. It’s important not to trivialize the effect of light pollution in the environment. Birds, like all animals, are part of incredibly complex ecosystems and small changes can have large effects. And it’s not only birds; any nocturnal animal living in an area of light pollution also be affected.

People

Beyond the bird-based worries, people often forget that light pollution has serious health effects for humans. The human body has a natural cycle of sleeping, waking, and other bodily functions that is regulated, in part, by light. Living in cities where night is often not much darker than day can disrupt these patterns, creating a major health risk. Not only can too much light prevent people from sleeping, but it can also cause sleeping disorders that stop people from sleeping properly even when it is actually dark. Over-exposure to light at night has also been linked to depression, obesity, and even cancer. So it’s not just the birds and raccoons who should be worried.

Solutions

The solutions to light pollution are easier than most people think. Almost no one is advocating a return to candle light, or dynamiting the Honest Ed’s storefront on Bloor. Instead, simple changes in lighting design can focus light downward, where it will be useful, and prevent it from shining upward and outward, where it can be harmful. There are lots of resources available to educate people about how to make their lighting less intrusive to their human and animal neighbors. Both individuals and institutions need to pay attention to concerns about light pollution when designing buildings and installing lights. This should, of course, be coupled with simply turning off unnecessary lights and using motion detectors or timers to ensure that lights are only on when they’re useful.

Safety

One of the biggest objections to efforts to decrease light pollution are worries about safety at night. These concerns are based on the faulty assumption that more, brighter light makes things safer. Actually, having things brilliantly illuminated leaves even more dense shadows outside the lit area. Very bright lights can also cause glare that leaves people unable to see. The safest lighting design is actually fairly low but consistent light, because it allows people’s eyes to adjust to the new conditions and evenly illuminates their surroundings. Couple this model with proper downward focusing fixtures and we can have cities that are safe and a little easier on the eyes.

Beware of the murder bar

Don’t let lurking terror ruin a night out

Beware of the murder bar

MINHEE BAE/THE VARSITY

You find yourself lost in the wilds of Toronto with a couple of friends. Far from campus, you and your buddies decide that you wouldn’t mind a little light refreshment. Spotting what appears to be a dive bar, you head inside to order a pint or two. But the moment you cross the threshold, you notice that something is amiss. You can’t put your finger on it, but there’s a general malaise, a lingering sense of anger in the air. Perhaps it’s the bylaw-infringing smell of tobacco smoke, or that the bartender is drunker than any of the patrons, or perhaps it’s that a number of customers are asleep or crying. Whatever it is, your adrenaline starts pumping and your sphincter tightens into a knot.

You have just stepped into a murder bar.

This is quite different than your average dive bar. Dive bars are an important and healthy part of any neighbourhood dynamic — they are a vanguard against the all-consuming forces of gentrification — a sign that a neighbourhood still has some balance in regards to mixed income. After all, not every bar can serve seven-dollar pints of local craft brew and artisanal cocktails.

A murder bar is a far more insidious beast. Often located near mental health facilities, probation offices, or homeless shelters, murder bars are almost predatory in nature. Proprietors eschew any kind of moral standard in favour of profiting off the mentally ill, the desperate, or whoever else wanders into their web of misery and alcohol. Entering one, you get the distinct sense you may not leave in one piece.

Some murder bars are deceitful in nature. I’ve seen one that disguises itself as a karaoke bar, hiding its true nature behind images of pop music and joyous sing-a-longs. It is always empty, but if a person tries to enter, they are shooed out angrily with the words “Private party, private party!” as strange noises and cigarette smoke emanate from the back room, a mysterious place guarded by a ratty looking curtain. I have been tempted to return, to challenge those gatekeepers and to explore the secrets of the mysterious back rooms, but I worry that I would be lost forever to its dark secrets.

Others are parasitic. In Parkdale I encountered a bar that was once a gourmet Eastern European restaurant. When ownership changed hands in the late 2000s, a murder bar grew from its inside and burst out like a booze-infused variation of the movie Alien. When I went — seeking cabbage rolls, as is the custom of my people — the only sign of its former glory were photos of Belgrade on the wall. The windows were painted black, though poor workmanship and age allowed an eerie orange mosaic glow to filter though the cracks and shoddy brushstrokes.

I left quickly. I did not order any cabbage rolls.

These bars exist, dear reader, and if you find yourself in one, I would advise you to act as if everything is perfectly natural, and mimic the actions and behaviours of the other patrons. Do not make any sudden or unexpected movements. When startled, a murder bar’s own customers act as antibodies and will attempt to expel any outsiders. Be ever vigilant, browse yelp regularly, and learn to recognize warning signs, such as covered windows, the flagrant disobedience of indoor smoking bylaws, and an ever-present malicious aura.

Getting Home Safe

How the WalkSmart helps U of T students feel secure at night

Getting Home Safe

Campus safety is a major concern at U of T. The university has a number of programs in place to deter crime, including the “Work Alone” service, the “Green Dot” program, and the Community Safety Office. A particular source of anxiety is the increased risk of assault after dark, a concern that has been met by the establishment of the “WalkSmart” program.

“The service started around 1992,” says Sam D’Angelo, the coordinator of WalkSmart. “Back then, there were a few occurrences at other campuses. It was thought that the only thing we were lacking here was a walk home service, which was very popular at Western and other places. So the university decided to adopt it and it’s been in effect ever since.”

Walk home programs were first developed in the United States. Western was the first Canadian university to institute such a program, during a period of increased crime rates. U of T initially had few night classes, meaning a lower demand for a similar initiative. But evening classes became more common, and with increased activity on campus at night, the program was installed.

Anyone can WalkSmart, including visitors to campus who are not enrolled at the university. The only criteria is that you must be moving between campus buildings or to a nearby subway station.

“The objective of WalkSmart is safety in numbers,” D’Angelo explains. “We get the employees to pick up a student from an academic building, and drop them off at another academic building or a nearby subway station. It’s not designed to be a downtown campus walk home service.

“I don’t want my employees to drop people off at a bar; I don’t want them going to Bathurst and Bloor, because it’s not designed for that. We are strictly a campus service. If the university owns and operates a building, we will escort a student to and from there.”

When you call WalkSmart, the dispatch sends out one male and one female escort to meet you for the time you request. WalkSmart employees have jackets and ID cards so they are easily identifiable to callers, due to incidents in the past where impersonators have compromised the safety of people who call in. “We’ve learned that if we leave an opening, deviants might take over,” D’Angelo reflects.

Most program employees are students. “Our objective is to hire students. We’ve had challenges in the past where students couldn’t work, around exam time for example,” D’Angelo recalls. “WalkSmart is designed so that two people respond to an escort. If one WalkSmart books off, that team is now gone. So, at exam periods and on Friday nights, it is challenging to get students to fulfill the role. We have hired students as WalkSmarts that have graduated and come back [for] a part-time job.”

In order to accommodate the schedules of students employed by the program, after midnight U of T Campus Police building patrols take over the service. “The WalkSmart people aren’t on duty but my building patrols then do their part. They’re students, so you have to appreciate that. At one time, we had them working at two in the morning and it was challenging because a lot of them have class in the morning.

“So what I’ve done is that from midnight to six am, you have campus police dispatched to pick up clients and take them from point A to point B in the absence of WalkSmart.”

D’Angelo looks for more than just enrollment at U of T when evaluating prospective employees. “We test to see why you want to be a WalkSmart person. We want to make sure that you’re here for the right reasons — so why you want this job, what are your objectives. And more importantly, we check out their background, to make sure that they’re not a safety risk to the community.

We ask for police record checks on people because they are escorting people that could be vulnerable. We make sure their intentions are honourable. We do all the necessary due-diligence tests.”

Students going into police work do not have a particular advantage in the hiring process. In fact, D’Angelo notes, the opposite is often true. “The majority of [WalkSmart employees] are doing it for sense of community. Some become social workers.

“Those that want to do police work tend not to be good candidates because they get the wrong perception of what it is. They’re not security. They’re simply there as a comfort zone for safety in numbers for that individual.”

More than counseling, WalkSmart escorts frequently serve as a source of information about campus to students who use the service. The program tends to be used most by first-year students in their first six months on campus before they develop friendships, and they often seek basic information from the employees during the walk, such as locations of different buildings, or names of good restaurants in the area.

Usage takes a dip around this time of year, as more students have friends to walk with when it gets dark out. “It stays fairly regular,” Sam notes, “If there’s an occurrence on campus that’s been in the media a lot, we find there’s a spike in usage.”

D’Angelo believes that the presence of the WalkSmart program successfully deters nighttime crimes. “At nighttime around here, it’s actually very safe. You have a better chance of getting your laptop stolen at Robart’s than of getting attacked. Outside of the soft boundaries of the campus, I can’t speak to, but if you look inside the campus, crimes against persons [are] very low.”

Employees of the program declined to provide testimonies for this article.

On the night shift

Meeting students who work late

On the night shift

After campus shuts down, and students begrudgingly bundle up and begin the walk home from their evening classes, there are people who are just getting ready to start their work day. The Varsity interviewed two students whose jobs reveal both the excitement and the drudgery that comes with working at night: Matthew Wall, a bar back at an infamous Toronto nightclub, and Johnathan Warna, who works as a front-desk attendant at Woodsworth College Residence. They revealed why they do what they do, when no one else wants to do it.

~

I spoke with Matthew Wall to see why he spends his weekend evenings carrying a bus bin on his head. An  Anthropology and Sociology student, in his graduating year, Wall is taking full advantage of his nocturnal sleep schedule and workinga very different 9–5.

Matthew Wall – Photo by DAN SELJAK/THE VARSITY

The Varsity

What is the nature of your job, when does it start and when does it end?

Matthew Wall

I work as a bar-back at a nightclub in the Queen and Bathurst neighbourhood — I am essentially a bartender’s assistant, setting up and stripping down the bar as well as assisting them in their duties throughout the night. My shift typically starts at 9 pm and ends at 3.30 in the morning.

The Varsity

It seems as though people who work late night-hours mostly complain that drunk people cause the majority of problems. Is there anything else about your job that makes it different from people who work in the daytime?

Matthew Wall

I usually work only Friday, Saturday and Sunday, leaving me the rest of the week for school and other pursuits, which I appreciate, however, my social life suffers as I head to work when most people are attempting to distance themselves from it.

The Varsity

What is your sleep schedule like?

Matthew Wall

Erratic at best, but this is an issue that I’ve always struggled with. Starting my workday at 9 pm as opposed to 9 am is a lot easier for me, but perhaps this is just an issue of discipline.

The Varsity

It is hard to maintain relationships considering your work schedule?

Matthew Wall

It hasn’t ever presented itself as an issue, there are times at which I have regretted not being able to join friends on nights out but it has never been a major impediment.

The Varsity

Do you think you get a different experience of the city than someone who works 9–5?

Matthew Wall

My experience of Toronto through the lens of the hospitality industry would probably be unsettling to most people — I have dealt with a variety of bodily emissions, violent customers and some of the strangest co-workers imaginable. Standing on the other side of the fence gives you some cold, clinical detachment in the analysis of human behavior in the club space. I think I also get a rare glance at the layers of veneer that hospitality spaces maintain — plush curtains and lavishly decorated booths serve to cover up leaking pipes, broken dishwashers and malfunctioning ice machines.

The Varsity

Does it give you an edge in school? Why or why not?

Matthew Wall

To some extent, I think it does, as I am able to work to pay rent, bills, and for food working three nights a week, I am, however, not an especially diligent student as it is.

The Varsity

If you could make the same money working 9–5, would you? Why or why not?

Matthew Wall

If this means working a workweek 9–5 for the same money I make in three night shifts, absolutely not. Free weeks allows me to work on projects in a continuous manner, the spare time is worth the cost to my sense of self-respect.

~

I arrive at Woodsworth College Residence at noon on a sunny Tuesday afternoon to sit down with the well-dressed Johnathan Warda, and ask him about his time minding the front desk of Woodsworth at a very different time of the day. Warda supports his studies in History and Employment Relations by spending many of his nights and very early mornings tending to wild first-year students.

Johnathan Warna – Photo by BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

The Varsity:

What are your shifts like?

Johnathan Warna

We usually work three or four shifts a week. Security shifts from 7–11 pm, 11 pm–3 am, 12–4 am, 4–8 am. Those are what we call the hell shifts.

The Varsity

So what is the one story you tell all your friends at parties about your job?

Johnathan Warna

The first year froshees, who come in drunk out of their mind, take half an hour to try and convince you that they aren’t drunk. That definitely keeps the night entertaining. They always tell us not to tell their moms or their profs that they were drunk… It’s cute when they think, like high school, that the administration cares what you do in your free time.

The Varsity

Have you had any nightmares dealing with people?

Johnathan Warna

There’s a lot of traffic from the street at this residence location. During the Olympics once this lady walked in, and she asked me why the government was watching her. She kept going on then called me a Communist. There was another man who walked into the building and kept staring at me and telling my female colleague how nice she was. He kept trying to make me push him, he said that he would really enjoy it if I pushed him out. It’s creepy when you’re in the situation, but afterwards we always laugh.

The Varsity

At that point did you actually feel threatened?

Johnathan Warna

I didn’t personally, I was more so feeling protective of her [Warna’s female colleague]. We were calling campus police non-emergency, and it took over 15 minutes to get through. I just kept saying “the cops are coming” and he looked at me knowing they didn’t get the line yet. Then we called the actual emergency line and it took them a few minutes to pick up as well.

The Varsity

What is your sleep schedule like? Is it hard to switch back and forth? Does it affect your personal/social life?

Johnathan Warna

It definitely does because we don’t have a set schedule, it’s not even rotating, it’s different all the time based on peoples’ changing availabilities. Then midterms and exams change things a lot too. Some weeks are worse than others, and it makes it difficult planning things. For example, if I want to go out on Saturday, but I have to work 4–8 am on Sunday. It’s not really realistic to go out and stay up for it.

The Varsity

Do you enjoy working at night?

Johnathan Warna

Its a simple job, you get to see a lot of people coming in and out, and its not demanding so you can do school work. But sometimes I feel like it would be nice to have a work study job with a more flexible schedule.

The Varsity

Do you feel like you get to see different version of campus?

Johnathan Warna

For the first two years I lived on campus and my job was in my basement. But now that I’ve moved, if I am leaving work at night its interesting to see students in a totally different mental space. You see people with their big backpacks who are commuting. It’s more than just kids getting drunk between residences.

~

Whether the benefit is financial, time-management, convenience, or simply the nature of the job, people who make a living while you are dreaming seem to have one thing in common: they don’t mind staying awake, listening to the quiet of the city, and seeing the best walks of shame available on our beloved streets. They get to see a world we either don’t see at all, or forget the next morning when the headache fully sets in. So, next time you run into a cabby, bar-back, night patrol, or 24-hour attendant, wave to them and smile, because they see you and the city at times generally reserved for faint memories.