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If We Didn't Have It, We'd Have to Invent It

Canadian Thanksgiving

by DAVID Ker THOMSON

"Free-range turkey,” I muse to Liam in the very present tense of several weeks ago.  We stare at the small blue-tinged skin of the creature.  Someone has cut off her head and then, perhaps seeking to flesh out the meaning of the word “overkill,” bound her legs. 

“Not free-range enough,” we conclude.  Otherwise, what’s she doing here?

If your head’s big enough to hold an inkling of freedom, you should act on it before you lose it.

Five hours later the virtual head of the turkey is turned to me in some cosmic dimension or other and sets its implied beak in such a way as to convey rebuke during dinner, which is a harvest feast traditionally held in honor of the larger nation-state to the south.  

I ignore the bird and focus on Eva-Lynn’s end of the table.  She’s reminiscing about her previous boyfriend—it’s the topic of the evening, possibly a part of the general air of thanksgiving.  This old boyfriend was and is a short and successful Jewish carpenter who lives in the same city we do.

Robert is telling our end of the table about the dangers of estrogen in soymilk.  I prod my chest speculatively.  There’s still muscle under there, but a sensuous carapace of fat has re-contoured the arrangement.  I’m a recontour, thinking up stories about my body.

Robert’s wife is a Turkish Ashkenazi Jew, sexy but not a full-figure gal.  Perhaps to goad Robert, she expresses interest in Eva-Lynn’s old boyfriend.  “What’s he up to these days?” she asks.

“About 5’ 7”,” I call down to that end of the table, to general sniggers.

“I might get breasts,” I add to Robert’s soy/estrogen conversation, to hide the fact that I might already have them.

“I might get them,” says Robert’s wife, not to be outdone by my modest hoard of sniggers.

Possibly not in the same conversation, someone says, “it’s the little things we have to be grateful for.”

Luckily Liam’s not in the room at that exact moment to poke my chest and say ironically of my claim that I might get breasts, “might?”

It’s some comfort to know that any old thing Liam has to say is more important than any thing at all that some politician in leaderville has to say.  We live under democracy, but we don’t have to be a part of it.  It’s a social contract forced on our people at the edge of a bumper, the dark pupil of a guntip, the arc of a truncheon, all of which we know well.  But still we live our lives.

The lifespeech of Liam is a thousand times more important than the patter of pols.

“Jebiah is my third-best friend,” Liam’ll go, for example, and I’ll scrupulously enter it in the record and ignore anything the leaders have to say.  “So who are your first- and second-best friends?” I’ll say.  And he’ll be like, “those places are currently vacant.” 

The other day I was spending some time in Queen Video with the family and the dog, trying to come up with something we could all watch.  Eva-Lynn shows me the candidates that we’ve agreed on so far: Anne of Green Gables and Zombie Strippers 2. “Well, that’s good for Canadian content,” I say.  It’s a rare moment during which I speak aloud the name of the aggressor nation-state.  “Canadians make a lot of zombie films,” I conclude about the two DVDs. 

Coming away from Queen Video with two candidates is like democracy.  No one wants either of the candidates but apparently we’ll all settle for a double negative: nobody doesn’t want these candidates enough to just say no.

“Time to make your own feature-length,” I say to Sebastian (14) the budding film-maker.

When I’m not having an adventure or sulking about something, I write a column for a political space in the nation-state to the south.  The biggest spaces have to taper their information towards the money, to configure their orifices to match the spigot, but this space doesn’t have enough money to amass a temptation. 

Still, it gets a quarter of a million readers or more, which isn’t too shabby for an unbent space.  It’s a weird fit for someone like me who doesn’t believe in politics.  “What does a one state solution really mean?” the paper might ask.  It means that people who can’t hyphenate have taken over the world, I think.  It’s the little things we have to be ungrateful for.

Maybe you’ve never wondered how to write “first- and second-best friends,” but note the correct form and be amazed.

The thing about politics is that it’s decayed to content and wouldn’t understand form if it got bitten in the girdle by it.  Lack of proper hyphenation might not sound like the end of the world, but it’s part of the same idea, that new wine can be put in old leaky wineskins, to more or less quote my favorite Jewish carpenter, a man of some stature.  Good content, bad form.  This is the heart of our critique of progressives.  So for example my columns appear next to those of senators, presidential candidates of the sort that deliciously upset the candidacy of the frontrunners, and economists with good advice for economies, if you’re into that kind of thing.  Fine figures of men, I’m sure.  Plugging their good ideas into that sad form, western democracy, a sort of international rape club. 

Muckraking at its best, the space showcases writers who find the nasty on a gallery of rogues who inhabit what is called politics and provides irrefutable proof that one’s first instinct, to lean clear of electoral politics altogether, was spot on.  If Mr. Brown is out of town killing Mr. Black, don’t hop on pop.  Don’t tell Mr. Brown he can come back to town.  That sort of thing.    

The best-known alternative presidential candidate, someone my parents used to complain about as a harbinger of evil when I was growing up, writes for the space.  He can’t be getting any younger, now that I think of it.  He is ethical and smart.   His content couldn’t be better.  But thank goodness he’s been trying to get into the wrong form.  He’s not going to get elected into the corrupt power club he claims to want to join.  He’s never going to get a crack at running more efficient and less costly wars or at such frivolities as a transportation infrastructure, as if the planet needed any such thing, let alone safer cars. 

In any case, we need to make cars more dangerous, not less.  What good are restraint systems in the cabin of cars when they are not in the hearts of drivers?  City cars that killed their drivers instantly upon entry to the vehicle would be far safer than the cars we have now, which scatter death upon the just and the unjust alike. 

Death transmitters for city cars should be built into the front of all streetcars and subway trains.  Why honk at city automobile drivers who block the tracks when you could blow them up?  One should think pragmatically.  But I ramble, as the flaneur said.

Isn’t the message of Thanksgiving that we should stop giving our thanks away so witlessly?  The age is corrupt.  We are forgetting how to be ungrateful and shall soon lose the instinct of vigorous remonstrance.

The time has long since come for urban leftists everywhere to gather for a pint at the sign of the tree’d pothole, or to sneak quietly into each other’s homes in the urban forest, to remember all the little things in life for which we truly ought not to be grateful.  Exhibit A, the destruction of the trains linking small towns all over Ontario.  Exhibit B, no time for drifting along the rivers linking small towns all over Ontario.

Here along the south coast of what they call Canada, we can see that America over there on the other side of the great lake.  Same ecosystem, different nation-state.  They’ll be digging into their ungrateful turkeys a month after the south-coasters have tipped the last fowl bones into the compost.

Gratefulness, eh?

Have you heard the one about how the powers that be are x-raying cars now, violating the rights of drivers? 

Well, here underneath democracy, we ask:  what rights?  Drivers are idiots.  These are the people who pay no attention when an ambulance or fire truck is desperately trying to get through.  Last winter I watched a hundred drivers in front of my house rehearse precisely the following maneuver at the stop sign (or rather, the sign that reads, because it’s close to my house, STOP DRIVING): step one, speed confidently up to intersection coated in black ice; step 2, skid sideways through intersection.  Lather, repeat. 

Only one driver in the hundred did the obvious thing, which was to take her or his foot off the brake and get one tire up onto some dry pavement, and none did the even more obvious thing—leave the car sideways in the intersection, throw the keys into a snowbank, and never, ever touch a car inside city limits again.  I’m not kidding:  I counted a hundred drivers.  I’m just standing there in the present tense of timeless horror, wondering how stupid city drivers can be.  No wonder that people who can’t drive but think they have a right to blunder anywhere in the city at the controls of their blunt object would also think they should have a right to vote in their private, screened porno booths to acclaim the form of democracy as it slides its bulk over anything in the way.  If such people didn’t have Thanksgiving, they’d have to invent it.  Life is good.  Jump in the contempt box, intimidate some kids playing street hockey, honk at some damn skateboarder, vote, grab a movie, jack off, defecate.  Life is good.  Voteville is an orgy of defecation, of relinquishing, of casting off and away.  

You can do anything you want in the porno booth, and there aren’t going to be any consequences for you.  Do anything you feel like—it’s on the house.  Relieve yourself in a plastic bag, masturbate, vote for the lesser evil, vote green, pee in a bottle.  Why not?  It’s not what you vote that matters for keeping the system running, but that you vote.  The king is dead—long live the king in the heart of every voter of voteville.  Hop on pop.

Democracies tend to point their guns at other people, and juntas point them at their own people, but at least in juntas you have rifles directed at voters so they can’t fall into the mistake of thinking they can do whatever feels good.

We say: caveat elector.  Electoralist beware of yourself. 

We say: make every day special—make every day Guy Fawkes Day.  It’s the little things that count.    

Hearing about a thing called a government x-raying a thing called a driver, I get a bit like my racist but amiable dad used to get reading about Italian mafia guys in Boston shooting each other.  An occasion for thanksgiving and gratitude.

I still drive out of the city (hey, I’ll give up vehicles of every sort if you promise to give up cars) because the politicians and, apparently, we the people, messed up the perfectly functional small-town trains, and I’m usually too rushed to follow the rivers, as people have mostly done around here for thousands of years.  But I have the grace to feel guilty, apologetic, and stupid when I drive.  It’s the least I can do.  If the FBI wants to marvel at my penis while I drive, have at it.  It’s the little things that make life worth living.  Big as their big love might be, those Mormon FBI guys might still not get enough at home.  In their evangelistic youth they do suggest a compelling paradigm of spiffy male coupledom.  Have you noticed that?  A mix of polite, gay, threatening, and sci-fi/fantasy.  Unless it’s me, they’re the kinkiest thing on my block.  Yes sir.  I make a point of persecuting them to give them extra points. 

And on the topic of surveillance, aren’t there something like 18,000 parking spots around that NSA?  You know the one I mean, off 95 between D.C. and Baltimore?  They still have that?  The National Spy-on-Americans association (you know that can’t be the right name, as it’s demo’ing correct use of hyphens).  Those people have to spend their time looking at something all day, and ogling the stuff in their neighbors’ trunks is as good as anything, to put it briefly.  Spend your life looking for trunk candy.  Once more into the breech!  It’s the little things.

My kind of people are willing to fight to the death for the kind of city we believe in, just like you old-timers who made the world safe for democracy and leaders in your breast-beating wars.  More importantly, we’re willing to snigger for it when we need to.  It’s niggardly not to snigger.  Sniggers are what the system needs.  It’s the little things. 

Death and sniggers, that’s practically our motto.  Can we take a moment during this season of family values and remember all the little things we have to snigger at? 

If more people had sniggered at democratic foolishness, we wouldn’t have come to this pass.  As for our people, many of us have died under truck wheels or while maneuvering off-rez in the city.  And many of us have been vacuumed up into the system for following the angels of our better nature and torching—and for legal reasons I remind you that I advise nothing here—suv dealerships.  We’ll let history judge who’s right on that score.

For my part, I know what it’s like to get the knock on the door late at night.  Dragged off into the dark a few years ago, threatened with ten years, at about the same time that my grad school cohort was getting tenure.  Ten-year/tenure.  Life under democracy.  It’s the little things.

At this time of spurious national holidays, of pageants of repression, let us at least be clear how ungrateful we are for democracy, for the form of sending our power elsewhere.  Clear thinking begins with ingratitude, the protestant instinct.  The spirit of iconoclasm is: no thanks. 

At our front door here on Rusholme in Capital City along the south coast, the rivulet that has been, for a century or two, a street, mutters softly through the iron grate that binds it.  Grate, ingrate.  This once and future stream.  Once-and-future will do.  New microfractures appear daily in the desert asphalt piled atop the flow of water to repress it.  Paving men come occasionally and press dark matter into the fissures. 

Soon, the stream whispers, soon.  What, to a stream, are a few centuries? 

A salmon came up the Humber this summer, I am told.  Perhaps the whole of our city is a utopian memory of fresh water held in trust in the deep fishmind of some distant salty ocean, a memory even now only slightly troubled by mercury, biding its time.  A memory like a prophecy.  The diaspora of all city salmon thrust from their homeland are creatures who are now the spawn, still living, of the grate-full dead.  Have their great grandparents passed on to them a map of the city as it should be and might be yet?  

As for me and my people, we have no non-pyrotechnic advice for you in your system.  We’re not going to pay attention to your democracy.  It’s bad form.

DAVID Ker THOMSON is an English teacher.  dave.thomson@utoronto.ca