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City Without Cars is All Around Us

The Transformers

by DAVID Ker THOMSON

"You haven’t heard of the Transformers?” asks Sebastian.  His height in feet is six, his grade, eight, shoe size, eleven.  Like he’s not a transformer himself.

“No.  What’s the general category?  1960’s toy train hardware?  General knowledge?  Films—that’s it, isn’t it?  Modern films.” 

“Who hasn’t heard of the Transformers?  You and, I don’t know, some kids in Africa.”

“What are their names?  I’d like to meet…”

“Point is,” says Sebastian, “it’s these sci-fi movies about these evil aliens that have turned themselves into cars and are destroying the world?”

“They’re trying to say that’s fiction?”  I shake my head.

“I’ve grown this much since we moved in,” Liam says, spreading his fingers from the bottom to the top of his brain cavity.  Oh-oh, I think, a nine-year-old with a brain.  Better get on that.

Later we’re paddling north on Rusholme contemplating hanging a Louie on Bloor, but the water main’s not that broken.  Bloor’s a reef.  Liam’s in the twelve-foot Old Town but I’m cheating a little by pulling him on my bike.  I see some American redwhitenblue in the distance—Canadian pigs do love their American cars—but by the time I’m off the reef and back into clear water we’re slowjaysimpsoning south on Rusholme with pigs in tepid pursuit.

“Just what exactly are you doing?”  The question at my elbow is close enough that I can smell donut breath, undertone of steroids. 

What are we doing?  I’m all over that strategy, the old lure, the snappy-answers-to-stupid-questions routine.  The what’s-it-look-like-we’re-doing comeback.  Not going to get me that way.  “Ah, so you’re a skeptic in the fundamentals of ontological perception?”  I stick to explaining what a canoe is.  Suggest that maybe it’s Miller time and we’ll be coming in off the river now, eh.  “Yeah, you do that,” says Steroid.  His partner shows us how he can make the back of the car shrink according to the laws of perspective, and we go “phew.”  Few seconds later there’s just silence and a bit of car wake.  

Liam records the event in his new brain for future consideration.

“Our people were canoeing this creek for five thousand years before some bozo buried it forty feet down and called it a street,” I say to Liam.

“Our people?” 

“Their doing that for five thousand years—that’s how we know they’re our people.”

The water in the “street” is three inches deep.  What I’m thinking but not saying is, the water main’s not that broken—yet.  Plenty of time to have a crack at daylighting that poor creek down there.

Later I’m on the roof with my Book of Calamities.  The pro-torture senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, shrugging off photographs of the victims of Abu Ghraib, has apparently said, “you know they’re not there for traffic violations.”  

But of course they are, I’m thinking.  I think it into the computer for twenty-second-century “readers”—and yeah, even now we know that word’s a bit old-fashioned, just for the record. 

Of course they’re in places like that for traffic violations.  The world is ground under by American lust for violent trafficking of all sorts, including the literal kind that leads to literal traffic.  American wars are only partly for oil but they are entirely about America’s freedom of violation, its liberty to violate whomever, whenever, world without end.  Anyone trying to prosecute a case against this license will be cut down on the principle that prosecutors will be violated.

Oppress people for three generations and it starts to look natural.  By the fourth generation, it seems like destiny made manifest.  A hundred years can seem like forever.  But the worst oppressors are still just a scab that can be sloughed off.  We’ve been here for thousands of years.  There’s time.

DAVID Ker THOMSON lives in the Dufferin Grove watershed of Toronto.