Why I feel so lonely—this in response to my wife’s unasked question this morning at breakfast—is that every time I make a serious policy suggestion around here, everyone thinks I’m joking. Like, son, empty the dishwasher. Hilarious.
Just for the record, I really did think that our faculty meetings at Franklin and Marshall College would have gone better in the buff. Would have cut down on a lot of the posturing, and probably cut the meeting times in half, too. I was ready to go first.
Nowadays we live in Canada, for all the usual reasons. Also because of the fact that my head in America was becoming a suggestion box, where the combined effort of all these loose bits of notes was a sort of epic thought crime. I’d even been called in for questioning by the Illinois State’s Attorney, not for the crimes I’d committed, but for the ones I hadn’t. It was getting hairy.
Still, we stay in touch with America. For example, forty percent of our electricity here in Toronto comes from West Virginia. I have little postcards from my old Appalachian Trail days up beside each switch, and I invite my Canadian friends to perform mountaintop removal by depressing the rocker panel. By now the kids have probably worked their way across the state line right up to my old friend Joe Bageant’s place in Winchester, but the device is sixty percent heuristic, in any case. My students up at the university, when I have any, are impressed by this simple definition of heuristic, but we remain fully clothed.
Another thing about living here is that when people in Toronto sort through their garbage, what they can’t use they send to Michigan. Sort of like the opposite of what Detroit’s been doing to the world all these years. We’ve got bins marked compost, recycling, and Michigan. Last week my parents stopped by with an extra bottle of mayonnaise. They’re not big on refrigeration, my folks, so we sent that one off to Michigan. Figured it wasn’t worth the carbon to rinse the bottle with hot water. Clearly a mistake, but who you gonna call?
Just for the record, I should mention that my parents live in Dayton, Tennessee, and have over one million miles on their Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon, the one with the more substantive 400 cubic-inch V8 legacy, which has a pretty good bit of juice. That mileage is a one with a lot of zeros and then some stray digits at the end of the string. I advised them to seek an advertising deal with the parent company.
I’ve written an important series of articles for the popular Toronto Star, even though I noticed that the travel editor had used the word “charming” to describe a canal in the low countries. The newspaper rejected the articles. I sent them to Michigan. That’s travel writing. Lately my sense of target audience has been shifting towards a subtle desire for approval from militiamen, and I’ve stopped making jokes about Michigan which involve mittens. I’ve changed all my passwords to charming so I can get used to typing it.
Toronto, Jesus. Never thought I’d live here. Our people on both sides have been here since the Ojibway reluctantly edged over to let us snuggle under the covers—that is, where our people weren’t already the Ojibway—but I didn’t know that anyone else knew about Toronto. When we were kids we used to visit, fresh nugie imprints in our scalps from sentimental Somerville bullies who didn’t want to let us leave Boston, and we’d be singing, wo-oh, To-ronto, never been there but I’d like to go. I secretly liked it but didn’t tell anyone, like how you like to sniff the front of your underwear. It was so family, like a den, and like loving Jesus inordinately. You told other people as a dare you set yourself.
Anyway, walking in Toronto this morning. Noticed again this poster of a woman in a wheelchair, the kind that reminds you of your own more or less functional legs. In big letters on the poster, Don’t Drive, and in little letters, drunk. I guess, because fortunately my eyes are bad enough I can’t see the drunk. Don’t Drive’s good enough for me. But what I’d like to say is, if you do find it necessary to drive, could you at least, as a responsible citizen, consider the merits of driving drunk? Another way to say this is, knowing what driving is, how could you possibly not drive drunk? Or as I put it to myself, what kind of fucking society do we have that people can drive without getting tanked? You get in those things and screw the planet a thousand ways to Sunday, and you don’t even think about keeping something in a paper bag to ward off the demons? Jesus.
I don’t drive much, if at all, what with me being just as self-righteous as the anti-environmentalists say I am, though I like to think of it as charming. I wear a full-face American football helmet whenever I do drive, which gives me a lot of incentive to stick with shank’s mare. Also, you can store your brew right up there by your face.
I told my friend in the parkour community that my right knee’s enough of a trickster figure that I’ve given up jumping on my neighbors’ roofs, but that I used to be able to run across streets in Montreal making use of the tops of moving cars. Said to him, you’re young, why don’t you look into these new pedestrian-friendly Hondas? Got an airbag in the hood, so you can hit someone at forty miles an hour and not kill them. Now that’s a fucken hybrid, he said, maybe a little too enthusiastically. He’s doing some early recon work with parked Hondas, seeing if he can get any loft out of one of them, and he’s going to get back to me. I had this sneaking suspicion, though, that instead of fighting cars, he was maybe looking into getting one, with Honda now bringing gaming up to a whole new level. Kids, don’t try this on your wii, I tell the boys, and the suggestion is filed behind empty the dishwasher.
So, you going to make me come up there and show you what your car costs the world? You want, what, some more figures? I’m loading the dishwasher here myself, okay, so I’m not in a good mood. Go google your own frickin figures. Don’t forget to factor in the Sixth Fleet, as the Irish historian Iain Boal puts it. Me, I’m getting to the age of the lumpen proletariat here, everyone I know’s got a lump of something and the technicians are sorting through it to see if it’s cancer. We don’t talk about lumps the way we didn’t use to talk about pregnancies until they were out of the first term—you want to know if you got something viable or not before you get bragging rights. Stick that fact in your muffler and smoke it. What part of this isn’t worth getting drunk over yet?
Okay, here’s another true one, worth at least three inches of Jack Daniels on your next trip to the Winn Dixie Loblaw’s consortium. Took my nephew two and a half years to die from his last trip in a Honda, out in Seattle. Well of course he was the smart one, top grades and all that. You know how these stories go. The kid was still stunningly beautiful hooked up to the machines. Nothing that didn’t heal within a month except a little damage to one eye and the cerebral cortex. That kind of damage, the hands go back like a boxer gathering himself for a punch. So anyway, these two gorgeous technicians, goddesses barely older than the boy, came in every day and wrestled with him on the bed, getting him to extend his limbs. They were backlit towards the mountains—you could see the Cascades out there between the pert cones of their breasts—and they wore these flimsy hospital robes, sort of gossamer or something, and my nephew at sixteen was a tall strong man with a great patriarch’s beard that grew visibly every day, the last of his life coursing into that luxuriant flourish. And these three on the bed, Christ, anything more like a clash of titans too stunning and erotic for a mortal to behold, well. Selah, as the good book says. You want figures, I got figures. Just my nephew’s priest and me sitting there watching this, two men in black, and we were thinking we’d lost our youth long before that, so what was there left to crush? God called me to be a witness a long time ago. I didn’t know that one of the things he’d make me see would be his own death.
Memo to Michigan: Don’t cry for me, Detroit. I’ve driven my share of Chrysler Imperials and ’67 Chevies and Isuzus which were Detroit under the hood and sedans that were Japan under their hoods, and I’m not pointing any finger I wouldn’t point at myself. Just sorting through some of the karma here and if I have anything good I’ll send it your way.
Soon as I get out of the kitchen I’m going to go paint a little American flag onto the Michigan bin. Maybe have a little big-man cry, and then get on with it. Stop moping.
–Dufferin Grove watershed, Toronto
DAVID KER THOMSON’s most recent “anti-something” article is at Lewrockwell.com. He is taking a year out from the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto to write a history of American radicalism since 1637, entitled “A”. He sandblasted uranium tanks during the Ford administration. He can be reached at email@example.com