Friday, May 2, 2008

My Argument With A Guy Re: Tomson Highway

My father scored me two tickets to last year's Idea City, the Toronto equivalent of a literary/arts luncheon in Alec Woollcott's breakfast nook, and I was too ashamed to scalp both. So I went, scratching away the loss of the $450 offered by a guy in a Harry Rosen suit--a guy so Bay Street his watch didn't even have an hour hand. But I did manage to negotiate the sale of my extra ducat, taking nine fifty-dollar bills from a man wearing a porkpie hat. This guy looked like he was born for Idea City, his skinny jeans and leather trenchcoat offsetting a fine pale whiteness. He looked about forty, but he was reading Foucault's "Power." "What are you," I asked him, "PhD 18?" He just laughed at me. "I'm TA'ing my son's class, man. The $450's his tuition rebate."

About the Znaimer-spurred production:

I was there the day Tomson Highway spoke/played, and this story's about something that happened way back in the last row, along the aisle, where I like to sit.

Highway's one of the least factitious Native voices in Canadian writing. He's not Catskills-Cree (that's not pejorative, please) like T. King, he's not deeply mystical like Eden Robinson, and he's not as bleak as Jeannette Armstrong. None of those writers are bad--that's not what I'm implying. But Highway tells a story the same way Neil Simon would if he'd have been born in a tent in Maria Lake, Manitoba, in 1951. I believe that, but it's obviously just an opinion.

Anyway, as I was sitting, listening to Highway speak, a guy beside me leaned over and tapped me on the knee.

"Have you ever heard of this guy?" he asked.

"Sure." I'd read everything Highway'd done, including his Bronfman Lecture on mythology published by University of Ottawa Press.

"He's supposed to be an Indian."

"He's Native."

"Yeah, right," the guy said.

"Don't think so, eh?"

"He's bald!"

Highway is, in fact, bald. He has long brown hair, but a shiny, bare crown of scalp is visible from all aerial angles.

"Yeah, he is," I said.

"Have you ever seen a bald Indian before?"

I hadn't seen many Indians, and I told him so. "I'm from Toronto," I said. "I've never seen anyone born north, east, or west of Yonge and Eglinton."

"This guy's a fraud. I'm as much of an Indian as he is."

I sized him up. He was white, about six feet, chubby, with red hair. "Yeah, you've got a little in you."

"Pay $700 to see a bald Indian. Everyone knows: there's no bald Indians! I knew an Indian once who had so much hair he got a job cleaning pools. He jumped in, swam around, and filtered the water. Once they cleaned up the oil slick, everything was all right," he paused, drawing a breath. "Bald Indian! Next thing you know you're paying a grand to see a thin-lipped Jew."

Being Jewish, I was offended. "You paid $700?"

"A guy outside in a porkpie hat told me it was a deal. I'm just here from Vancouver for the weekend. You want Indians? We've got Indians. All kinds; not just the tall ones."

To my friend in the porkpie hat: I hope you spent the money wisely.

I'll see you next year.

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All Posts On This Site Are Intended As Juvenalian Satire. If They Veer Into Horatian Satire, That's OK Too. Just, Please, Don't Take Them Too Seriously. PhD Students Can't Afford Libel Suits. CUPE Doesn't Cover Court Costs.
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