the diary thing 
celtic crossSHE WAS A YOUNG WOMAN -- a girl really -- and we both stood by the door of the subway train waiting to get off at Queen station. I wouldn't have noticed her at all except for the baseball cap, or rather the patch sewn onto the cap: a thick black cross sitting on top of a black circle, on a field of white, sitting in the middle of a red shield. The celtic cross, a neo-nazi swastika substitute. I'd recognize it anywhere.

She was wearing baggy chinos and a windbreaker and carrying a book. Short and slightly plump, she sported elaborate ear and facial piercings, with several well-polished, substantial earrings. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she walked up the stairs to the streetcar stop with purpose.

I followed close behind, mostly trying to get a glimpse of the title of the book she was holding. Out on the sidewalk, she took her place in the loose crowd waiting for the streetcar eastbound; she opened the book for a second, then closed it again and held it by her side. I still couldn't read the title.

The crowd was a typical Toronto urban mix -- black and white and asian, mostly women, all ages. It's a truly multicultural city, our hometown, and has been for decades. This girl, who couldn't be over twenty, had grown up in this town, I assume, alongside every kind of anyone, migrants and natives, every one of us as Canadian as the next one, no matter how long we've been here. I tried to imagine just what would have made her reject this eminently workable polity in favour of an aggressive racism that she felt she had to advertise with the badge on her baseball cap, there for anyone who recognized it to take it as a cue for a public show of support or rejection. An invitation for confrontation.

In the middle of the noonday crowd, most of whom would be considered offensive to the worldview of the symbol she was wearing, no one noticed, except for me, and I was trying to be discreet. I edged further toward the road, and nonchalantly craned my neck around, trying to get another glimpse of the book. It was orange and white, a deep orange close to red, a glossy-covered oversized trade paperback that looked almost new. I still couldn't read the title.

I was in no mood for a confrontation, so I left her there, just another random element in the disparate mix of people and prejudices that make up my hometown. As I crossed the street to catch the westbound streetcar, I felt that cold, tight grip on my heart, the same one I've always felt whenever I've encountered these little badges of hate, almost inevitably worn by a young person. I recalled, years ago, at this same station, getting off the subway with two or three young skinheads, one of whom had a discreet little swastika lapel pin stuck through the nylon of his surplus bomber jacket. I looked down, saw the crooked little cross, black on white in a field of red, and looked up into the eyes of the slightly pudgy but unmistakably intelligent face of the bespectacled young man wearing it. He fixed my eyes briefly, then looked away, continuing his chat with his friends.

I recalled the brief rash of young Polish skinheads who used to hang out at the disco down at the end of Queen, a few blocks away from the old apartment. All teenagers, they were also recent immigrants, from Lodz and Crakow and Warsaw, in the usual pegged jeans and boots and nylon surplus jackets adorned with eagles and broken crosses -- the usual Nazi tack. I tried to imagine the parents or grandparents of these hideous little brats, and how they must have reacted the first time they saw these hateful emblems worn by their own children. 

They must have felt like the Nazis who invaded their country and tried to enslave or eradicate them as "subhumans" had left behind, after their defeat, some kind of virus that lay dormant for years until it infected children whose grasp of history was smudged and rootless from years of propaganda, poor education and risible authority. Could it be that the restless aggression and vague sense of victimhood particular to teenagers is looking for -- and finding -- some kind of empowering solace in these darkly sinister emblems? To this day, I'm upset about those teenage Polish Nazi skins, even though they disappeared from the neighbourhood not long after they showed up. 

I try to hope that they were somehow made to see the sheer, self-abnegating stupidity that motivated them to wear those ugly broken crosses, but then I'll never know. All I know is that my heart goes cold whenever I see someone like that young girl wearing the paraphernalia of hateful belligerence. Even more chilling is the way they appear in the crowd, the crowd of brown and black and white and yellow faces, looking no different or anachronistic than anyone else, and then disappear again. 

Words like "virus" and "cancer" come to mind, but perhaps this is just too much metaphor. I'd like to hope that my society can absorb and neutralize this kind of destructive hate, that these young people with their simmering fury will one day see that their hatred is pointless and inappropriate, but this is an idealism that I try to keep to myself; it smacks of a naivete that feels inadequte. Mostly I'm wary and scared. I hate that ugly broken cross.

"Short is the road that leads from fear to hate."
- Giambattista Casti (1721-1804)
Gli Animali Parlanti

A little neo-nazi, a lifestyle revelation, and some politics.

WE HELD A BABY SHOWER here the other day, organized by K. for our friends Vicki and Greg. It was almost entirely K.'s doing, down to getting caterers and professional babysitters to take care of the nitty gritty of feeding thirty people and taking care of their kids, so they could act like adults for at least a few hours in the middle of the day.

I had to run off to a job early in the morning, so I came back to a nearly full house and children in the library, playing under the supervision of two women from the Cristopher Robin Agency. Once I was sure that they weren't pulling books down from the shelves, I scurried downstairs and spent a good portion of the party smoking on the front porch with whomever was taking a break from the no-smoking upstairs.

Everything went well, as far as I could tell -- G. and V. seemed happy with their haul of soft, brightly-coloured toys and sturdy little books, and everyone else seemed grateful for the food and hospitality. Upstairs, the kids spent most of their time playing with paints and chasing the cats around. At the end, while we were cleaning up, the babysitters -- one of whom is some kind of Montessori-certified teacher -- thanked us for being so nice, for thinking of activities and buying supplies ahead of time (all K.'s work, once again) and letting them eat. We were fairly shocked at the idea that they're often asked to work at parties like this, to give out food to the kids, but aren't offered food themselves. 

As they were leaving, one of them -- the head of the agency -- told K. that they'd be happy to work for us anytime. She looked around the room, at our desks and bookshelves, and said something we'll not soon forget.

"I can see that you're the intelligentsia," -- this said with a straight face -- "and not just members of the petty bourgeoisie."

K., gobsmacked, thanked her. Then came downstairs to tell us about it. Much incredulous laughter ensued.

The intelligentsia. I think I'm flattered.

MONTHS AGO, when the U.S. elections were just getting underway, I made my prediction:"Bush, with a slim majority." I always made sure I said this with a shake of the head and a grim expression.

Until a few weeks ago, I was certain that I might be wrong, despite my intuition. At the moment, though, it looks like Bush has the lead, and it's growing. America, it seems, doesn't like a smart-ass, and they especially don't like to see the geek picking on one of the campus good ol' boys. Gore's heaving sighs and pursed-lip rebuttals in the debates seem to have turned off the great "undecided" part of the polled electorate, who have shifted their sympathy to the none-too-quick but seemingly likeable Bush, despite him being a rich boy and all. 

It's just like high school, where no one likes a condescending browner, and no one can think of a bad thing to say about the dim but friendly rich kid, the one who might not ace tests or shine on the football field, but gives good parties. Hell, even the teachers pass him out of sympathy and courtesy.

Or at least that's how it looks. The fact is that very few people watched this year's grimly dull debates, and whatever they know they've learned through the media, who generally can't cast anything with a metaphor any more complicated than the high school popularity complex. I'd hate to think that this simpleminded coverage could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and end up electing Dubya as the world's most powerful student council president, but I can't shake the conviction that my prediction was right. 

I have a lot of sympathy for voters south of the border who can't bring themselves to vote Democrat this year even if that's where their sympathies have always been, who find themselves tortured by an urge to vote for Nader, even if they're sure that it'll split the vote and guarantee another Bush in the White House.

After all, up here in Canada, I'm faced with an election where I can't bring myself to seriously think of voting for the incumbent Liberal government, the one that shows all the signs of having bloated itself with pork-barrel, patronage and the arrogant presumption of believing the press about being Canada's "natural governing party". On the same day that they announce the election, Liberal members of a caucus looking into a new report on the party's ethical bankruptcy on the distribution of government funds decline to show up at a meeting, and deny it quorum. 

Now, these kind of stonewalling tactics aren't new in parliamentary democracies -- Canada's ruling parties have always played fast and loose with a system that allows them to call elections any time during a five-year term -- but they indicate a party that's spent too long in power to be remorseful about anything.

I don't expect my governments to be morally pure and ethically saint-like -- I'm not an idealist about politics, and understand that the average politician is an inherently corrupt being incapable of going through a day without making the kind of compromise we only have to make a few times in our lives. Still, I expect this kind of deviousness to be accompanied by at least a modicum of shame, and the knowledge that the electorate isn't the only machinery that can pluck them from the silk sheets of power like a baby bird. 

Since I still have a basic block about voting Tory, I'm contemplating a vote for the nearly moribund NDP party, always a lame duck federal entity. If enough people feel like I do, the inevitable scenario is a considerable loss for the Liberals, and a substantial gain not for either the Tories or the NDP, but for the current official opposition, the new Conservative Alliance party, led by Stockwell Day, a man who thinks the earth is 6000 years old.

Still, as someone who's valued nonconformity his whole life, I have to believe that no intelligent person votes as a group. You make your decision alone, and enter the voting booth alone. It only magnifies the feeling that your tiny, insignificant voice is to be drowned by the massed voice of a contrary choir, but I'd hate to vote like a gambler checking the odds. 

In any case, my choice in the national elections are nothing compared to the quandry I'm facing when I vote for mayor in the next two weeks. In a field of non-entities facing our annoying incumbent, the best choice right now is a drag queen who favours wearing police uniforms.

If only Americans had that choice.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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