Sic transit gloria Zanta
October 12, 2012 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Zanta (previously, previously) was a fixture of the streets of Toronto for several years. Zanta (b. David Zancai) was a muscular, shirtless man in a Santa hat who entertained passersby for years and he was the subject of a 2007 graphic novel and a documentary film. His absence the last few years had been noticed and commented on. Zanta (or someone pretending to be him) launched a Twitter-based mayoral campaign in 2009 but he had been quiet since then. The Toronto Star reveals today that Zancai is alive, living with his mother and being medicated for his schizophrenia.
posted by ricochet biscuit (25 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Poor guy, I hope he continues to get help and support.
posted by arcticseal at 3:04 PM on October 12, 2012

I had always wondered about him when I saw him around town. He may have been entertaining and a "character" and so on, but I also wondered about his health and safety when he was doing endless knuckle-pushups in the winter on Toronto's frozen sidewalks. I'm glad to hear he's gotten help, but also saddened to hear that his meds have dulled his life.
posted by LMGM at 3:10 PM on October 12, 2012

Yeah, the Toronto I know has lost Ben Kerr, the Festival chain, much of Queen West, This Ain't the Rosedale Library, Lichtman's, the Eglinton, the Uptown, the Diamond, Richmond's Trading Post, Sanctuary, Ted's Wrecking Yard, Mimi's, the Living Well, and now Zanta. It has gained Rob Ford, Dundas Square, and a lot of Starbucks and a wall of condos.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:33 PM on October 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

Having just moved to Toronto after a 6 month stint in 2004, I have mostly been going WTF at all the condos for the last year.
posted by Damienmce at 3:48 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If Toronto's not careful it'll be as boring as Vancouver within the year.
posted by docgonzo at 4:00 PM on October 12, 2012

I'm glad Zanta got help. I saw him once. He screamed something at me and began to move towards me in a swift, aggressive way. I didn't respond and veered away from him as I walked, and then he just walked on by me. He could be frightening, especially to a woman walking alone at night.

The Shaky Lady has also disappeared from the Toronto scene, though in her case that's addition by subtraction.
posted by orange swan at 4:00 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It has gained Rob Ford,

You can probably trace that back to having gained Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:21 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're interested in Toronto history and ephemera, do not go to the Vintage Toronto webpage and do not browse the photo collection. (You will lose hours.)
posted by docgonzo at 4:38 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Zanta sometimes intruded into a commuter's personal space on the Toronto subway. He was interesting and diverting, but the essence of freedom in a modern society is the freedom of personal choice for whether you wish to interact with someone or not, and in that sense he was annoying, and sometimes disturbing.
posted by ovvl at 4:40 PM on October 12, 2012

The before-and-after pics in the Star article remind me of this Bob the Angry Flower cartoon.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:48 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The graphic novel Zanta: The Living Legend didn't come out in 2007-- it was just released this month. In fact, the launch is happening on Oct. 18th. I saw a review copy & it looks great.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 5:34 PM on October 12, 2012

Mea culpa: I haven't lived in Toronto in almost a decade so I misapprehended the status of the graphic novel.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:38 PM on October 12, 2012

I feel bad for his kids, growing up through all this. And the quote:

“I’m taking these medications — I don’t even need them,” he says. “I just take them to keep my mom quiet.”

It's even sadder when you think that that's a 44 year old talking. His poor mom.
posted by batgrlHG at 5:54 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I asked him for an arm wrestle once, as I figured he'd be one of few people strong enough and crazy enough to give me a challenge. He declined citing health insurance issues and pointed to his elbow. I like the guy personally and glad he's getting help.
posted by spacediver at 6:02 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

He was interesting and diverting, but the essence of freedom in a modern society is the freedom of personal choice for whether you wish to interact with someone or not[.]

I could not disagree with this more. You might have some vague approximation of that in a suburb, but you just don't in a city, and it's definitely not "essential".

In 2006 I came to Toronto from Ottawa for a job interview. I'd lived in Ottawa most of my life, and this wasn't not my first visit, but I really didn't know the city all that well. I wanted the job, though, so I put a fair bit of work into getting ready for it, and I was a little bit nervous about the whole thing - the job, the move, all of it.

It was a chilly day, and I found myself in a half-full subway car on my way to Yonge and Eg. fretting about stock questions and useful answers when somebody in sneakers, surfer shorts and a Santa hat, and not a damn thing else, walks in. I had no idea who Zanta was, but there he was, calling me "girlie", telling me to check out his arms (emblazoned with a "Z" that had clearly been self-applied with a sharpie) before he started doing pushups.

He was, to his credit, pretty buff.

I decided, right then, that I had to nail this interview, that I had to move. Ottawa is a public-service town; there's not a lot interesting there, really, nothing compared to this spontaneous weirdness I that was seeing right here. This is a city worth living in.

I got the job; I live in East York now, and I wouldn't go back for the world. I love it here.

Thanks, Zanta.
posted by mhoye at 6:06 PM on October 12, 2012 [31 favorites]

Thank you for reminding me why I love cities, Mike.

Thank you Zanta, too.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 6:14 PM on October 12, 2012

Really interesting character. The Zanta persona even has a comic book-esque origin story!
posted by mediated self at 7:48 PM on October 12, 2012

From the Zanta Wikipedia page:

"Zancai's lawyer has responded by saying that Zancai is "entitled to be as strange as he wants to be" and has defended his right to make use of public spaces for doing pushups."

I had a handful of interactions with him in his Zanta days and he always brightened the moment. This is a sad story. Maybe some people are better off uncured?
posted by 256 at 9:22 PM on October 12, 2012

Last time I saw Zanta was about two years ago, down in Kensington. He was pretty out of it, even by Market standards. He certainly is entitled to do pushups in public spaces, but I'm glad that he is getting help also.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:39 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes but. Isn't the essence of freedom the idea that as long as we aren't hurting anybody, we should be allowed to do as we like? Seems to me that this man's happiness has been seriously curtailed in the interest of Normal.
posted by RedEmma at 7:43 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if his "happiness" was really enhanced by losing custody of his two year old child, being in jail multiple times (including two birthdays), being able to access public transportation and banned from large swaths of his city, leaping from a moving car and other injuries sustained from his activities and gradually losing his support system. Some mental illnesses are so severe that leaving a person untreated and hurting themselves (let alone all harrassing the women - mostly elderly - that he directed his rage towards) is crueler than giving them a life they have control over. The romantanization of "madness" while ignoring the real pain that severely psychotic people are in is no kindness to them.
posted by saucysault at 8:14 AM on October 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yeah, there's a fine line between "amusing local character" and "untreated mentally ill person" and most people laughed when he was the former and ignored him when he was the latter. Thankfully he has the medical support he needs in Toronto.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speakers corner closed, Mark Dailey dead of cancer, Zanta lost to the public eye.
posted by Algebra at 11:58 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

We sometimes have an idealized fantasy of the "Holy Fool," who society looks out for, but is left to explore their own visions or passions. The reality is that people with mental illnesses are more likely than the general population to be the victims of violence or exploitation. Additionally, in the case of criminal offenses, the justice system is more likely to incarcerate someone with a mental illness for offenses that might otherwise receive lesser sentences. This is often in lieu of appropriate mental health treatment, which is in many cases not available as a tool for the courts.

Also, untreated mental illness is often terrifying for its sufferers, even if we don't necessarily observe that side of a condition and its symptoms in public.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:45 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

It reminds me of this excellent earlier comment; the amusement he would give strangers for a few moments had a high cost to both himself and those who loved him.
posted by saucysault at 4:27 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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