Afternoon With Tulip

A case of blepharitis (“zombie eye”) having nicely coincided for me with Halloween Day and having explicitly answered the question of what I’m going as this year, I put down my What Maisie Knew and went abroad to haunt the citizens of the empire.

Not that every day isn’t Halloween for nowtopians, but there’s nothing quite like a suppurating sore in one’s eyelid to free one from some of the more formal constraints.  My friends in the empire, who spend their time propping up the system and massaging it and voting for it and putting the best blackface on it, will no doubt find their worst suspicions about my frivolity confirmed by the day’s outing.  I am the very worst bit of froth.

Though I am a lowbagger and thus the lowest of even the lowly nowtopians, I lack the credentials of the best lowlies among us—Mike Roselle, say, who has just unleashed, with Josh Mahan, Tree Spiker, the definitive lowbagger manual.  I haven’t stood up against mountaintop removal like Roselle, but I have managed to be silly in forty-seven of the lower forty-eight, and that’s pretty low.

“What’s bluffer-itis?” asks Liam, age nine.  I’ve just shaved parts of Tulip, our Portuguese Water Dog or something, and now I’ve moved on to writing for CP.  Topiary, that’d been the guiding principle, of shaving the dog at least.  Also to try and get my mother to stop tactfully mentioning that the Obamas have a portie.  Such lovely creatures.

“What?  I didn’t say ‘what’s blufferitis’” says Liam, who notices over my shoulder that I’m filling my CP column with the remains of the day.

“You have now,” I say, continuing to type.  “And it’s blephar.”

“What?  I didn’t say either of those,” says Liam.  “And did you really go as a blind person?”

I nod.  “They lowered the bus and everything.”

I’ve been teaching a course over at the uni on sound, so I’ve been practicing some sound walks in the city.  Getting onto the bus through a crowd of people using only my ears and the guidance of Tulip had been an eye opener for me, acoustically speaking.  Try getting on and off a bus sometime without any support from your eyes.  Well, okay, blind people do it every day.  But they don’t have Tulip to help them.

“Tulip was prancing like an idiot,” I tell Liam.  “I finally had to hold her up on the leash and let her twirl.”  Pizza’d up, she’s pushing fifty pounds, so that must have been a sight.  “Workin’ dog, comin’ through.”  I started to sit in the lap of someone big, but after a while they weren’t there.  Then Tulip jumped into my lap.  See?

I’ve never voted in my life, but maybe that’s just because they don’t have porties running the show.  The classic cut is fully shaved hindquarters and poofed-up front half.  The effect: of one dog shoved inside another, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  My friends’d probably dig that, if their voting record is any indication.  In a portie world, the lapdog press could be a metaphor for something.  Hard to say what.

“Maybe this is your stop,” says the driver at the very next intersection, apropos of nothing.  The bus lowers and we take the hint, blind leading the blind down the stairs.  I wipe some eye juice on an adjacent car stopped at the light by sliding my face down the driver’s side glass, though I smile to rob the zombie gesture of offence.  At City Without Cars, friendliness is our guiding principle, when it isn’t a portie.

City Without Cars doesn’t have a website, doesn’t exist in the registered ontologies of the system.  We can’t be looked up, and we fully concede not only that we risk irrelevance in your system, but that we’ve fully attained it.  Our face doesn’t matter.  It’s just one of the faces of the half dozen billion people who don’t show up.

We’re everywhere but mostly nowhere in your tidy little political drama.  We didn’t vote for your war in here-we-go-again-istan because we didn’t vote at all.  We missed the boat, the show, the live recording, the whole shebang.  We’re a third-order threat—not the first thing that comes to mind, and not the second.  Remember us?  You gave us charity over in Africa—or was it up on Bloor outside the Chinese-Peruvian grocery?—and we weren’t grateful.

You mistake us if you think that because we are masters of japes we are any less masters of ourselves, or that we are not serious when we say we will have nothing but what tends to food and shelter and curiosity.  We have always had a good sense of what to do with chaff, which is to say, with most everything in the workaday world.

It’s such a nice day, this Halloween, that I bring one eye back on line.  Glimpsed thus, an old Chinese couple pole-harvesting a ginkgo in the flaxen aura of ten thousand butterfly leaves slips me over into poetry when I might have settled for gnomic headprose.  In this light the sign at the cemetery, usually so threatening, is restored to its original sloganeering luster: “Rest Assured: We Have Plenty of Space.”  Amongst the still lives and clusters of flowers, this still life: afternoon, with tulip.

Bring back the voluntary drift, we say on such days.  Follow the leader.  I take Tulip off the leash and I follow her as she follows a squirrel who follows a nut.  The social order is restored.

But the next day it’s November and red remembrance petals burst like exit wounds on lapels and chests of citizens.  Suppressions in the oubliette are leaking from the body politic.  Maybe the Chilean 9-11’s going to drool out crimson, or the way our side savaged Germany after round one and brought on Hitler, or maybe that bit about Hiroshima being for the Russians and not the Japanese, mon amour.

If you’ve gotten this far in any of our other essays, you know who we are.  It’s best to think of us as an occupied power.  Occupied with minor mischief, but what else?  You’re the registered empire, maybe you can answer that question.  You know what they say about idle hands.  Are you keeping us occupied enough?

DAVID Ker THOMSON teaches at Bard, the Dragon at St. George, and Victoria.  These are, respectively, a college on the Hudson, a high school at the St. George subway stop in Toronto, and the St. George campus of the University of Toronto.  He can be reached at: