Pickers’ Cup—maybe the most fun I’ve ever had.
The new year has already had me clean up several kinds of faeces, including human, off of the snow-covered ground. It has had me see the reproductive organs of two single, middle-aged, grey-haired males, both dropping their pants in places that would not be deemed appropriate by a court of law. The new year has seen me drag a half-conscious man from a snowbank into a building to escape from a -40 degree Celsius Saskatchewan windchill. Two thousand fifteen can’t come soon enough.
Seeing penises does not make me a better person. I have a rewarding job, people often tell me. If this is the reward, then you must have an odd sense of payoffs. Nice to be able to make a difference, others claim. If the difference is that I get paid to ensure people don’t freeze to death on the street, then I claim that every citizen should somehow participate in this difference.
Later in the same day that I dragged Leon into the coffee room, I was walking to the library in the early evening darkness. A plastic bag was fluttering in the wind, but caught under the packed snow of the street. I bent down to grab the bag to put it in the proper receptacle, and had a flash of my action earlier in the day; dragging a man, foaming from the mouth, into his proper receptacle, that being Carmichael, and shortly after that, a police cruiser. I fleetingly feel shame in comparing Leon to a plastic bag stuck under road snow, but then again, this is how the man is treated. His proper receptacle is one of three locations with a span of three blocks, Carmichael, detox, or cells. The system has made his proper receptacle sanitized State-run facilities of oppression. An extermination hidden behind poor State-run social programs. I despise dragging a man, normally on crutches, grabbing him from under his armpits, as though I am hauling a piece of meat in a slaughterhouse (I couldn’t decide if this or leaving him lay in a snowbank was more dehumanizing). I despise calling the the undertaker, his hearse a police cruiser, but it is, through much experience, the only thing I can do in the current system of care to make sure Leon doesn’t freeze to death in the outdoor cooler. Passed around from under the armpit until he eventually dies and the program of cultural genocide continues.
Heartbreaking. Tragic. After calling in on a single person fifteen times, after two penises, after several species of shit, it isn’t heartbreaking or tragic. It ensues rage. It ensues rage for the reason that those who dictate these people’s lives through policy, through programming the state and public mentalities, are uninformed. Those of them who are informed are often purposefully-distant, economically- and socially-conservative tools of the State. Leon, they see as an inevitability, a ‘well-we’ve-come-this-far’ colonial stepping-stone, as a financial burden. And only when Leon can be seen as less of a financial burden, by proving to them that their system of oppressive police systems, court systems, correctional systems costs more than treating Leon as if he weren’t a bag caught in a snowbank, but as a human, only then will they listen. Only then will they consider his humanity. And when he becomes a taxpayer and not a leech off of the system, then will he be truly rehabilitated, and the program of forced assimilation continues.
Those are the two outcomes, deliberate and purposeful.
But Leon will never rehabilitate. He will likely never sober up. He will likely die in a snowbank, as he told me he wanted to, while he laid in a snowbank. And at his funeral, if the State were to attend, they would eulogize him by absolving their responsibility to help such a person and say that they offered him supports but he just couldn’t sober up. Because his addiction was the reason he was homeless and unable to rehabilitate—not the fact that he was the victim of a multi-generational genocide planned and carried out by several levels of government, and assisted in the apathy of the general populace. No, he was always fond of drink, they’d say.
Conservatives are not heartless, and progressives aren’t flawless. But conservative politics are heartless, based on and committed to a market-driven capitalist system that leaves people who cannot help themselves out in the snow, whether their supporters know it or not. If they do know it, and feel that it is neither the role of government, nor their role as citizens is to bring justice to the marginalized, then, well, they are as selfish as their politics. An ideology where an accountability to the market trumps an accountability to a human being is frightening when one looks into the already dimming future. And progressive politics are utopian, equally as damaging when they are bred in a bleeding-heart ignorance. Selfishness and ignorance, we are bound by thee.
I’m tired of penises and I’m tired of calling the police on people whose only crime is nearly dying outside. I’m tired of participating in a system of oppression. I’m also tired of my ignorance that leaves me helpless in offering change to a system so badly flawed. And if I got an education, I would be tired of dealing with politicians with track-blinders on, and a Social Services system designed for the likeable, sober, employable, white homeless man you saw as a kid in the PeeWee Herman movie—designed for the eradication of a culture that represents the opposite of a consumption-based existence. And if I got an education and participated in the reform of the system, I’d likely be tired of something else. Probably tired of living in the dregs of socialism.
The next day, over a bowl of chilli, Leon and I compared tattoos. He stuck his hand up my t-shirt sleeve to get a better look at mine, then he pulled up his leather jacket sleeve to show me his—four of five dots on his forearm that he did himself before the tattoo gun broke and he couldn’t continue. It was an eagle, he said, flying free in the sky. He gave a toothless grin, took his chilli and crutched his way to the north coffee room of his community-run receptacle.
I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I go to civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every colored boy becomes a star
But don’t talk about revolution
That’s going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
My faith in the system restored
I’m glad that the commies were thrown out
of the A.F.L. C.I.O. board
I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
as long as they don’t move next door
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
The people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can’t understand how their minds work
What’s the matter don’t they watch Les Crain?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I read New Republic and Nation
I’ve learned to take every view
You know, I’ve memorized Lerner and Golden
I feel like I’m almost a Jew
But when it comes to times like Korea
There’s no one more red, white and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I vote for the democratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I attend all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
I’ll send all the money you ask for
But don’t ask me to come on along
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
-Phil Ochs, I’m a Liberal
The couple’s great aunt’s cat is at the vet for depression treatment so she just won’t be able to make it this week. The couple’s trip can’t be postponed. They try to think of anyone, anyone at all, who might be free and able to water their plants, feed their dogs, shovel their walk, get their mail. They’ve heard from a friend of a friend about a professional housesitter that does it for nothing more than their week-old groceries.
(Queue quirky music, video clips of a man using a blender with no lid, dogs eating chocolate and shitting on the new couch, the door wide open at 2am at night, the security alarm blaring at noon on a Tuesday.)
You’ll never want to leave the house again, for fear of THE HOUSESITTER.
Despite the horrific nature of that tagline, this film would be a comedy, not unlike the 1992 film featuring Steve Martin and the lovely Goldie Hawn, except when I walk around topless in the movie I don’t excite a nation of men. Or perhaps I do, who knows.
For reasons that I can only hypothesize, I have become the city’s most reliable housesitter. I’ve looked after peoples’ dogs and cats, spider plants and snowy driveways, sump pumps and furnances for a better part of the past year, and though I am a responsible young man, I believe I am the primary choice because I am the only single person left in this town. Being twenty-five in a conservative location means your peers have been married since before you started your first real relationship, one at which you failed miserably. It means that when you crave to go for a beer on a Monday night to engage in social activity and to vent about the health inspector at work and about how demoralizing it is routinely dealing with rejection, you drink one alone while thinking about your one true love; your job. It means a pathetic existence.
My housesitting record allows for a psychologists dream, something out of another horror movie, where the housesitter walks around and pretends to live the lives of the vacant homeowners; happy and in love, with several dogs and nice things. Dressing up in the homeowners’ clothing and reenacting family suppers. It allows for me to get out of the muck and mire of single living to pretend I am a contributing member of society and not just an angry hypocrite. Mostly it allows me convenient and unending connection to the internet.
I’ve been housesitting for a day and already set off the security system. Today got a call from a friend out of town. He needs a place to stay. Last time he needed a place to stay, I was housesitting somewhere else. For the same reasons that I have become Regina’s Goldie Hawn, I become the default host for out-of-town guests. Though it may be denied by most married folk, something changes when they have a permanent, sexually-intimate, bound-by-law roommate; you just can’t crash there on a random weekend anymore. You can’t just drop in unannounced. The couch, now immaculately set and freshly scented, just isn’t for wayward, unshowered guests anymore, unless of course, those guests are housesitting for you.
I could easily start a business of this. My entreprenurial side is just twitching with ideas, and these ideas do not stop at a professional and licensed housesitting service. Selling security codes and keys to local organized robbers. Publishing embarrassing information about people in the form of a coffee-table-book, like how long they’ve had cottage cheese in their freezer (over a year!). Selling used, and dirty, undergarments on the internet (there is a market for this). Sub-letting rooms for events such as Grey Cup. Selling pets to underground foreign food-markets and telling the owners that they ran away. Using their internet to download and record bootlegged versions of 1980′s movies, such as HouseSitter, and selling them out of the back alley garage. The possibilities are endless.
I love both hosting and housesitting but I am beginning to feel like I’m getting played. I live a pathetic life on purpose, for the most part, and housesitting is only making my pitiful existence wildly evident, and thusly, painful. This post, if anything, will scare the dozens of polite folk who have had me into their home into never asking me to look after their things again, despite my exceptional record and responsible demeanour.
They just don’t like it if you talk about their undergarments.
“Do you prefer summer, or shit weather like this?” the Brazilian man asked me on McIntyre Street with his eyes peeping out from a burly knit scarf.
I told him, and he coughed a laugh and called me a liar.
“Then what do most Canadians prefer, do you think, summer, or this minus-forty stuff?”
“Most Canadians likely prefer summer. Most of my friends left—”
“And went elsewhere. Yeah,” he interrupted me. He and I, likely making up one-third of the city’s total pedestrians of the day, stopped on the street and talked about mutual misery, or at least that is what he thought we would be talking about. I told him that I loved it. I just finished a bike ride to the outdoor rink where I played hockey on the only three-metre by three-metre patch of ice that didn’t still have grass growing through it. He told me that he liked the weather in Brazil, “one-thousand percent more than this,” and I don’t blame him.
One of my few optimisms is in that which causes everyone else’s negativity. I heard on the radio that this is a sign of sociopathy. One way or another I have become a person that instinctively finds the actions of the majority as absurd, whether or not this feeling is justified. I like the winter, but I like it more because it causes misery to a large percentage of the population. Though it merits conversation because of its indomitable power, it is not worth the endless crying chatter, the talk of thriving in a different province, the several trips to shitty resorts in developing countries. It is not worth the complaining. Nothing is. Peoples’ inability to deal with a climate that they have lived in for their entire lives is a side effect of having everything they’ve ever wanted since they were old enough to slurp on a nipple. It is unattractive. These are the people with homes and vehicles with command-start and $1000 jackets filled with the plume of geese and the ability to go inside a mall without getting kicked out. They truly, without a doubt in my mind, have nothing to complain about.
The winter does not threaten my survival—I don’t make a living where I could die, and I don’t have a living situation or addiction that may cause me to end up freezing to death outside. But those who do with whom I interact go about their daily business without much fuss. Because dwelling on it makes it significantly worse. And because it makes my days worse listening to it.
My friend from Brazil and all migrant companions have grounds for disapproval of the weather. They are here putting up with frostbite and chaffing thighs potentially for people elsewhere. They weren’t born into it. And though being born into a climate is not enough reason to love it, it is enough experience to know how to get through it without whining like the moronic family dog.
While biking to work in December, I waited at a stop light in the middle of the lane. A black Dodge Neon slid to a halt six inches from my right handlebar. The man fumed, rolled down his window, and yelled at me for holding him up for one block. I proceeded to call him a degenerate asshole. He asked me,
“So why are you even riding your goddamn bike in the winter?” to which I answered by stating my masculine supremecy over him and his teenage-girl car. But the question bewildered me in its ignorance and raw stupidity. If you are going to hate anything about this place, anything at all, please don’t pick on the mother nature, who we have abused and mistreated to the point of her trying to exterminate us with extreme weather. Please take note of the general small-town mindnedness of the general populace who surround us. This is something worth griping over, because somehow, in someway, it might be able to be changed.
See you on the ice-covered, snow-packed, gravel-sprinkled, 50-centimeter-rutted road, you annoying, lazy, degenerate prick.
I love winter.
Promptly at 12-noon each day, when lunch break begins, I turn off the radio. CBC Radio One is my daily deliverer of news and interviews, albeit news and interviews that do little to capture the truth behind current events, because, like all mainstream media, has reasons to not upset the prevailing order. Following Q with Jian Ghomeshi, the deified interviewer and cultural compass to the barely-left-of-centre young adults of Canada, and following the half-hour segment about medicine, Francophonie, or comedy, Saskatchewan’s most awkward radio host takes the reins on the aptly named, nothing-of-substance, Blue Sky.
Hungover in a van, clutching the natural hydration of a coconut water driving home from Saskatoon, we listened as people called in to ask questions to a Butterball turkey cooking expert. One-sixty-five Celsius in the breast and one-eighty in the deep thigh. Confident great-aunts claimed the greatest turkey dressing in the southwest of Saskatchewan and asked about the cooking properties of smoked turkey. Public broadcasting strikes again; getting down to the issues that matter to Canadian families—gluttony and blind tradition at all costs.
And now I am here, alone on Christmas day, just wishing that a call-in show about turkeys would exist once more so I would know where the hell the deep thigh of a 29-pound turkey is. Christmas makes me ill, and has consistently in my short life. This year I have been resting with pneumonia-like symptoms at the house alone, saving myself for the days after Christmas where work and friends will take another toll on me to ensure that I catch the dreaded fiction-defying double-pneumonia. Last year it was fever-hallucinations in the basement of a party house. When I was eight the family spent the holidays in Edmonton, and as I vomited though the holiest day of the year, my family rode rollercoasters at the West Edmonton Mall. I sat at home and pouted, the highlight of my day being a 600mL bottle of ginger-ale. Spending Christmas home alone hasn’t been as exceptional as that of Kevin McAllister, but it hasn’t been as miserable as people seem to think it would be. That is because it doesn’t matter. Being alone today is no different than being alone two weeks ago.
Talk radio has been playing continuously in my parents’ garage since far before I existed. It has just recently been a conscious part of my daily life, and only now, with a personal investment of months, can I really distinguish between shows. The production quality, the natural flow of interviews, the call-in shows. Rex Murphy’s voice is about as hard to mistake as his fossil face and recently on his own Cross-Country Check-Up I had the opportunity to hear five or six passionately uninformed Canadians weigh in on prostitution. I learned nothing except that ignorance is painful.
It is also inevitable. We are all unlearned creatures and will continue to be this way regardless how long we live. Ignorance isn’t inherently negative. It becomes harmful when the ignorant believe they are experts. Call-in shows celebrate ignorance by allowing the comfortable middle-class to weigh in on topics that are often foreign to them, and encourages them through polite recognition of their opinions. An opinion is irrelevant if it is ignorant. The democratic nature of such a forum is as imagined as that of a constitutional monarchy, for although it is open to the public, it purposefully alienates those it deems unimportant, often those who don’t pay taxes. And like the debates and propaganda in politics, these call-in shows only further people into their partisan stubbornness. When ignorance is purposeful, in a blissful attempt at self-preservation, it is equally as harmful. These forms of ignorance are harmful not to the ignorant, but to the subject which they are ignorant about.
As a person who has been labelled a vegetarian, I am currently roasting two of fifteen turkeys. I will not eat them, and the rinsing of their giblets and the massaging of their frozen breasts makes me ill. I am admittedly ignorant about cooking turkeys, and dammit, I’d like to keep it that way.
Christmas makes me sick for infinite reasons, all of which I will save for the next call-in show I hear, asking about family Christmas traditions.
When you finish reading a book and you know that it was one of the three greatest you’ve ever read, it is what I would, in my perpetually-single state, relate to the meeting of a soulmate. Likely better, because though the belief in soulmates is silly bit of fatalism, that book will remain in the library for at least a decade until libraries are shut down after the potash, oil, and uranium resources dry up and revenues can no longer sustain the economy and public services begin to close like Blockbuster movie rental stores after the plague of the internet. That’s love. Very rarely will a book make me cry, not out of despair or an emotional plot, but out of basic human discovery presented perfectly through dialogue. For me, this was East of Eden.
I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is a great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshalled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And This I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
-Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 13.1, p130-1
My discovery of Leanne Simpson has also begun a personal interest in Indigenous thought and storytelling. Her aptitude in both fiction and non-fiction is stimulating, and a genre-blurring project that presents the tone of a piece of work unlike I have ever experienced, specifically through the songs of Islands of Decolonial Love, is a remarkably refreshing experience.
“Reconciliation” is being promoted by the federal government as a “new” way for Canada to relate to Indigenous Peoples, and it isn’t just government officials that are promoting the idea. I have heard heads of universities talk about reconciliation; I have read journalists’ op-ed pieces; I have heard mayors talk about reconciliation as they open local Aboriginal events. But the idea of reconciliation is not new. Indigenous Peoples attempted to reconcile our differences in countless treaty negotiations, which categorically have not produced the kinds of relationships Indigenous Peoples intended. I wonder how we can reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship. Haudenosanee scholar and orator Dan Longboat recently reminded me of this, when he said that treaties are not just for governments, they are for the citizens as well. The people also have to act in a manner that is consistent with the relationships set out in the treaty negotiation process. If Canadians do not fully understand and embody the idea of reconciliation, is this a step forward? It reminds me of an abusive relationship where one person is being abused physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She wants out of the relationship, but instead of supporting her, we are all gathered around the abuser, because he wants to “reconcile.” But he doesn’t want to take responsibility. He doesn’t want to change. In fact, all through the process he continues to physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abuse his partner. He just wants to say sorry so he can feel less guilty about his behaviour. He just wants to adjust the ways he is abusing; he doesn’t want to stop the abuse. Collectively, what are the implications of participating in reconciliation processes when there is an overwhelming body of evidence that in action, the Canadian state does not want to take responsibility and stop the abuse? What are the consequences for Indigenous Peoples of participating in a process that attempts to absolve Canada of past wrong doings, while they continue to engage with our nations in a less than honourable way?
-Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back, chapter 1, p21
“This is just a question, but do you consider yourself at fault in the accident?” This was what the apologetic SGI car insurance employee asked me over the phone as I sat in the Frontier Gas Station/Greyhound depot in Revelstoke, BC. I said no, although I should have been driving slower, I should have gotten more sleep the night before, I should have put it in four-wheel drive, I should not have tapped the brakes in panicky instinct. The totalled Nissan Titan, the Rider Pride Truck of 2007, lay on the back of a tow truck in the Classic Towing yard. It is worse crashing a truck when it isn’t yours. When I was certain that the passengers were not affected by the crash, I cleaned pieces of the plastic bumper off the middle of the highway, throwing them into the forest in a stewing rage. After the testosterone-sweating police officer took our information and the tow-truck drove us to town, I left my brother and his girlfriend sitting with a garbage bag of their belongings waiting for the 3pm bus while I stood on the side of the road and stuck my thumb out.
The words of the pleasant German girl that I sat next to on the eleven-hour gauntlet Greyhound made sense in reflecting on the crash. “You experience more in life when you’re comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Inside of new experience is the place where one is able to improve.
Near death, if you want to exaggerate the crash to that degree, has been heralded to change peoples’ lives. I’ll always wear a seatbelt from now on, one would potentially resolve. I’ll finally ask out this girl because life is too short, I thought. If life is lived properly, near death should not change anything. It may cause new thought or appreciation. A person should not be scared into living the life they’ve always wanted to.
Individuals can be personally responsible for their faults. But are they at fault for the patch of ice that brought them spinning off a cliff? Our experiences can cause our faults, but dwelling on our faults, stewing in them, is regression. Once people realize their faults and wish to work on them, there must be proper supports in place; this is a responsible society. From an insurance standpoint, who was at fault is important to establish. But in working on the well-being of a human, who was at fault is unimportant. It is the asking for help that needs to be noticed.