“I don’t want to drive when I grow up,” Liam says.
He and the century have entered their third lustrum, which is a rough Latin translation of the Soviet five year plan. In short, he’s eleven. The boy’s seen up close our struggles here at City Without Cars. “I’m not going to drive,” Liam goes, “I’m going to have a chauffer.”
He runs some rap lines with chauffer it and show for it, like he’s Biggie Smalls, and then gets down to the particulars of how long his limousine is going to be. At some point the limousine is so long he just leaves it parked between here and school and he can walk to school in it. Have a story about hard times for his own kids, who’ll probably have disappointingly short limos.
We live under Canada, the land of indefinite detention. In the cosmic imperium, as opposed to the Rand McNally, Canada is below America which is, in turn, under God. We bought a pile of brick here in a year of near-plenitude (marry in haste, repent at leisure), and soon I will have to go to what my dad used to call the rock pile?daily male labor that gets a certain type of recognition?to keep the bankers in Lexae. One lustrum, two lustrae, I guess, so: one Lexus, two or more Lexae.
Every morning my dad’d say, “off to the rock pile,” and seal the contract by kissing my mother, who stood on the third stair to be tall enough for the ritual.
Do men go to work to seal the deal on that high-class dumb hoarding whoredom, bourgeois marriage, or to mend their broken hearts? Capital’s got a nice fat niche even for our sorrow. As far as sorrow goes, well, I’ll tell you about an incident this morning with a very tiny pebble the exact same color as the road. The pebble’s in my pocket right now, in fact. A little keepsake. A longboard is to a pebble as Goliath to David. As soon as I hit the pebble, a well-muscled man my age on a bike came by, retrieved the longboard from some traffic for me, and gently suggested I wear a helmet. “Broken heart, broken head,” I shrugged. “Just trying to even things up.” “I know all about that,” he said. “All about it.” And he rode off.
This week I’ve been riding my bike with my eyes closed to see if I can have a vision that will postpone my life in the rock pile. You could try this if you like. After three seconds, you get this strange sense of peacefulness, and the light impressions on the back of your eyeballs begin to suggest certain possibilities. Only reluctantly do you unfurl your lids and lay claim to the land before you.
Still here, apparently.
Still emptying the dishwasher.
“Why the long face?” I say to my partner of twenty-three years. I look closer. “Oh,” I say, “it’s structural.” She smiles. Fine lines soften and lengthen laterally. Latitude. A face to launch a thousand Rand McNallies.
So what have you been up to? I invented kaiboarding the other day. In theory you could take three hundred sports or hunter-gatherer techniques, match them with all the other ones in the list, and invent nine thousand, or ninety thousand or something, hybrids in one day. But kaiboarding arose more organically. Except for pebble days, I have exceptionally good balance and an exceptionally bad knee, and need to experiment with mobility. Liam’s longboard is my land kayak (the ‘kai’ of kaiboarding rhymes with eye whereas kay might get said like the letter ‘k’.) An eight-foot spruce lance with a two-inch-thick shank, nicely sanded and shellac’d, and with a quarter inch of nail angled out at the bottom, would serve well as a land paddle. I wouldn’t really know about this last bit of equipment yet: to date I’ve just been using scrap lumber that I can break over my knee if I need to get onto a streetcar. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with my knee.
Going downhill in heavy traffic I keep the lance skimming along just above the mirrors of the parked cars so if someone tries to door me they can get a homeopathic dose of their own medicine. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. A jousting jester on College who’d rather die than go to work is a sight you don’t see every day. If through some compulsion to melodrama one were to weep amidst such a flight, the tears would be whipped away in the wind. Uphill, by contrast with such a knightly pose, a nice kayaking stroke is good. In a tight spot you can also do a Venice-style gondola thrust and offer free rides to the kind of strolling women who won’t break your heart.
I check the googley function just now?the word hoard as the Anglo-Saxons used to say?and someone’s hoarded my kaiboarding word, or near enough, to describe something I used to do on water when I was a kid. Humph. So I’ll have to rename here. Let’s call it street kai. Let it be so. I’m not even going to look it up. Street kai.
Writing, and the street, eh? Purview and bailiwick enough for this humble correspondent.
A reader writes to praise my canon. Not: that’s a nice little canon you got there. But: I never know what the point of your articles is. Counter-intuitively, his relief is palpable. In the garden, I palpate my screen to reinforce this impression, and some bugs as small as punctuation scurry out. The half crazed reader and the complementarily crazed writer nod to each other and smile amidst the din of capital; understand the paradox of being insane/sane in a sane/insane age. Inversion, perversion. Still, I insist to him that I have more points than a saguaro. I’m, like, prickly with points. Being a writer without a point would be a bit like being Bill McKibben, the environmentalist called in by the authorities when something obvious needs to be said or when the politicians want to hear how important they are. When McKibben writes, for example, that something “beggars the imagination”?as he did recently over at TomDispatch?you know he’s telling a truth that begins at home.
I’ve got more points than a compass or Tiger Woods driver’s license. Look here first for a point about Sikh values, for example. SIKH VALUES ARE CANADIAN VALUES, says a sign on a truck. The truck has no chassis skirt so it’d be good for killing children on corners. Personally, I see no reason to insult Sikhs like this. I mean, just because they have alternative taste in headgear. So what? It’s not even worth mentioning.
I made a point, said the blacksmith.
Or right here in the crotch of this saguaro, a pointed definition: the four-hundred-fifty members of what I call blue-man group are those Americans who have succumbed to street executions by police.
Points up the wazoo, is what I’ve got. And speaking of up things, why do people worry when they’re up the creek without a paddle? Shouldn’t they worry more if they’re downcreek?
And, well, it’s not a point, but does the apparently dense and heavy weave of Sikh headgear protect the head from falls on pavement? Are you going to get a question like that in the NYT? No, but you’ve wondered about it before, haven’t you?
Well, you never know what a day may bring forth, as my mother used to point out. I got goodkop’d yesterday by the buff sort of bluelad who’d usually be telling me to bend over or spread. I’m turning left onto Bloor off Clinton in the present tense of yesterday, with Liam on foot patrol nearby. I’ve got a good stroke going when I see the guy. He slows as he comes abreast. “That just a regular piece of lumber?” he asks. And when I nod he says “nice” and off he goes.
Street kai. Certified by your local occupying power police, the o.p.p. its own self.
As Liam comes over, I nod at the retreating cop and give my son a pointed look. Then I check the point break where the trucks and cars pass the light, where they begin fighting for a lane. Without looking at Liam, I form a picture of his face. Take it easy.
“Surf’s up,” I say, and I set off into the flow. I’m writing for my life.
David Ker Thomson is the inventor of street kai. dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca