When I got to the corner of Brunswick and Bloor around 2:30 last night, the mass of club-dressed kids was leaking over the curb and into the street, and a circle was building around a few guys who seemed to think they were in a mosh pit. They'd run in off-kilter from the edges of the crowd, throw a wide, aimless punch, and stumble to the other side of the gap like a medieval joust with a half-dozen opponents at once. Some people grabbed and held others, restraining them to make for easier targets, but most just stood there with their cellphones out, recording what will no doubt be the #1 story in homeroom on Monday. Across the road, I gaped as the circle fell apart and individual fights began to break out all across the sidewalk. Rubbernecking drivers slowed down, and I overheard fragments of someone passing by as he joked to his friends, "what you need is an old white dude with a camera ... in their natural habitat".
I didn't know what to do but shout as the brawl escalated in front of me. When I was a camp counsellor, I learned how a loud voice could at least pause a fight - a dominating shout can snap the engagers' attention away from each other, and away from their own aggression.
Then, a short-haired guy crossing Brunswick Avenue in an Ed Hardy jersey was blindsided by someone running up from behind. They threw a closed fist into the back of his neck - that oh so vital spot where the spine reaches up to its command centre - and the kid in the jersey folded to the asphalt, where his forehead slammed to the ground and he lay motionless.
I dodged traffic, and ran across the street to get beside him - there was a lot of blood over his face from a cut above his eye. A few others hurried over, and one lifted the jersey kid's head. I was in the middle of telling him not to move his friend, as a spine injury could be made worse, when a noisy clatter of metal drew my attention. On the opposite corner, someone had picked up the folding street sign from Futures Bakery, and was swinging it wildly around him. The noise that had grabbed me was someone tumbling into the bakery patio, colliding with some unseen chair or sign. Another kid was already lying passed-out on the sidewalk there.
The pandemonium carried on; every time I looked up or down the sidewalk, there was another dark heap splayed out on the cement. Those that had been wielding their phone cameras quietly dissipated and left to catch their buses home. Gradually, small groups began to collect their injured friends to be carried off. Just another Saturday night at The Brunny.
The crowd had come from Toronto's infamous Brunswick House, a venue with a reputation for two things: its putrid atmosphere, and its willingness to serve underage kids (though it's also well-known for over-serving its patrons, and recycling alcohol). It's one of the oldest pubs in the city, and has repeatedly been shut down and reopened under new management. They received 185 police visits in 2011-2012, culminating with the short-termed instatement of Toronto police constables, and a 2013 declaration from city officials that, due to the frequency of violence and theft taking place around the pub, it will be under serious police investigation.
Throughout all of the violence last night, The Brunswick bouncers stood quietly on the front steps of their establishment, refraining from getting involved, mediating or breaking up any brawls. I suppose as long as the fight isn't happening inside, it's not their problem. Bodies full of their piss-water beer collided with one another, with pavement and neighbouring businesses; noses broken, teeth chipped and consciousnesses lost. But if it's not inside their front door? Not their problem.
Standing on my apartment balcony an hour later, unable to sleep and watching the ambulance lights on the street below, the image that haunted me most was of a different savagery - a pencil skirted girl, wearing too much make-up in heels too tall, bent over and screaming threats at the passed-out heap of another kid. Are those my neighbours? I don't know what they were fighting over. I don't know who crossed whose line or threw the first punch. What I do know is that there's no way the night would have gotten as fiercely brutal as it had if the members of that crowd weren't as belligerently drunk as they were.