Saturday, August 8, 2009

Things That I Found In Margaret Atwood's Garbage

Back from a six-month trip to Africa, I decided to take a stroll around the Atwoodian neighbourhood at the foot of Yonge and Davisville. It doesn't really have a name, but us Torontonians sometimes call it Atwood-ville, or The Finger Lick. What was I doing on the dark continent? Surely it must have been something altruistic, something nice and pure.

I tanned. Ate yams. I dug one well, but did not hit water.

Mostly, I was engaged in some artisanal diamond mining. Most of what I found I kept. The rest went toward Alice Munro's mortgage.

No...Really, I was doing research for my dissertation: Black Canadian writers go to Senegal: a corn roast.

So I get back to YYZ, pick up my car from the vault of Pearson's long-term lot, and drive into the city. What do I find? A garbage strike. Garbage piled everywhere; rotting garbage from Spadina-College all the way south to the last Pho Hung Noodle. Fucking Chinatown: an incredible amount of cabbage and ginger tops just sitting there on the curb. But I credit a group of UofT political science grad. students who led an "earth-greening" expedition from the Spadina JCC all the way down to Kensington Market. Many of their bicycles were later reported stolen.

I walked into my favourite liquor store, and was told that if I wanted a bag, it would now be an extra five cents. I said that was a "fucking joke," and was told that Margaret Atwood had reacted similarly when told of the levy.

"How is Peggy?" I asked.

"She hasn't been in since the garbage strike."

"The garbage strike? There's a garbage strike?"

"It's been on for weeks. Ridiculous, huh? I only wish I made what those guys make. And all the old record players they find...They keep those. The bed frames, too. What the hell else do they need? Like they're sick eighteen times a year? I don't even get it."

So there was a garbage strike in my old city. The homeless had built garbage igloos. Everything had decayed in my absence.

I immediately walked over to Atwood's house to say hello; to tell her about my trip.

Her small lawn was covered with garbage. Garbage bags everywhere--there must have been at least fifteen. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. A neighbour came out--an older woman whom I'd met before--and told me that Atwood was away for the weekend. Somewhere out in Barrie or Orillia picking wild blueberries at a friend's cottage for a "jam session." Yeah, well, that's Atwood.

With nothing left to do for the rest of the afternoon, I sat down on her porch and started tearing through her garbage. What the hell had she and The Big G consumed over the past few weeks that would create so much solid waste?

The first bag had mostly cans and pickle jars, with some old tubs of coleslaw and potato salad. I guess it was recycling that wouldn't fit in the overflowing blue-grey bin. Had she put out a deli spread for some friends? Who knew.

The second bag had old US and Lucky magazines. A lot of people think that 'cause Marg's such an activist, that she's not into feminine gloss. That's not true: Atwood loves Mischa Batron; wouldn't miss her if Joy Kogawa herself descended with a rare edition of Eli Mandel's Foot, Feet, and Feeties: A Poetic Odd-iss-ey.

The third bag was dental floss, bagged hair, and some broken Hot Wheels toy cars. There were also some pictures of Atwood at a Colin James concert.

No used condoms, but many, many dried apples tied together with string.

After that third bag I kinda felt bored. I ripped open the other twelve bags, spread their contents on the sidewalk, and walked over to Harry Rosen. All of Margaret's secrets revealed, I bought a new tie.

No, I'm not too happy to be back, but what the hell can you do.

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