Numismatic dysphoria - Macleans.ca

Numismatic dysphoria

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I think it was a case of horror victorianorum. I mean by this, that horror which even nowadays is felt by almost everyone who visits a display of Victorian stuffed birds under glass, for example, or of Victorian dolls and dolls’ clothes.

I was thinking about the Toronto Transit Commission, and those metal fare tokens whose decades-overdue decirculation is causing so much trouble, and I suddenly realized that David Stove’s memorable coinage captured my feelings perfectly. I do believe photographs of the tokens actually make me a little nauseous. They are somehow redolent of… of rotting boardwalks, rusting fairground rides, oil-gummed old farm equipment. Black-and-white venereal-disease filmstrips. Bad teeth. Waxed moustaches. They represent the past obtruding onto our world. A dead hand grasping one’s throat.

Is this madness on my part? One would assume that living in the West makes one particularly sensitive to horror victorianorum; you don’t develop the psychic antibodies against creepy old buildings or folkways. I use public transit in my city, and I’m accustomed to thinking of it as miserable and irrational. But it has some of the virtues of modernity. It is easy to plan a trip; Edmonton Transit’s website is not pathologically user-hostile, and unlike Torontonians, we didn’t end up behind Fredericton and Walla Walla in the queue for access to Google Transit. Moreover, unplanned service interruptions are rare, despite the climate. Whenever I read or hear about Toronto public transit, and I mean absolutely every time, I just want to hug the first deadbeat dillweed Edmonton municipal worker I can find and buy him a big coffee. A triple-triple.