Sunday, 12 June 2016


Sign ‘O’ the Times

We should close the windows at night but the cross-draught is a godsend. Shortly before six o’clock last Thursday morning Ann and I were awakened by hysterical screaming: ‘Fuck you! Eat my shit!’ One of our eccentric neighbours had gone postal in the dawn. Her back lane collection day blue recycling bag was being rummaged by a stranger seeking containers that might return a few cents’ deposit at a bottle depot.

A friend of ours who lives around the bend of our street experienced an imagined senior moment a week ago. He was mowing his front lawn. He stopped cutting to go into his backyard to get another bag for his clippings. When he returned his machine was gone. There was a nanosecond of self-doubt: ‘Wasn’t I… Didn’t I…?’

We recently found a plastic glove box wallet on our driveway. It had been flung like a Wham-O, side-armed with a wrist snap. Somebody’s 2004 Dodge Caravan had been broken into and we now possessed the owners’ manual and the vehicle’s maintenance history but neither the driver’s name nor address. Our Honda has been rifled, inadvertently left unlocked after unloading the fruits of our errands; the landline probably rang and distracted us - some disease marketer looking for money: Diabetes, Heart & Stroke, which type of cancer, what else have you got?

Ann’s noted that the sounds of our spring have been more sirens and car alarms than birdsong, rustling tree leaves and coyote yipping. The local volunteer who composes the Neighbourhood Watch e-mails has been busy. There are squatters in a neglected bungalow which is proximate to the grade school, the community hall, the baseball diamond and the soccer field. Hunters and gatherers roam the alleys. The information is helpful and tipped with common sense property preservation suggestions, if fretful for those who fear that nuisance crimes perpetuated by invaders will dance the neighbourhood into some Third World shantytown apocalypso.

Beyond blind adherents to warped ideologies, I don’t know much about criminals. There are amoral careerists, sleazy opportunists and desperate sorts driven past lengths they were raised to know are wrong. That can of worms is a bottomless five-gallon pail. What I do know is that hard times and an abysmally high rate of unemployment make for idle hands.

Alberta is tied or leading the country in consumer delinquencies: mortgages, car loans, credit card payments and whatever other debt is measured and quantified. The economy is stalled. The energy industry has been scorched, burned by endlessly running OPEC taps, the green lobby and boreal wildfires. This is the realm of the rookie NDP government, squalling and learning to crawl one year after inheriting bags of shredded ancien Tory regime documents. And to soothe this smoking wasteland, the NDP has legislated a near-universal carbon tax whose timing is less than ideal though it makes perfect political sense to get the ugly and necessary stuff out of the way early in their mandate. People have short memories.

There is a pervading sense too that the old ways are passing; that the good old days of boom and bust predicated by the gusher of Leduc No. 1 in 1947 just may be going kicking and screaming into the night. Change happens because it must, managing it is tricky. Recalibrating the provincial economy beyond the diktats of the energy lobby will take years. And that will be a complex play to stage because globalization and what pundits describe as ‘digital disruption’ have already made their spotlighted entrances. Why encourage or subsidize a failing industry? Why invest in buggy whips when you know Henry Ford’s making cars?

An old joke: ‘How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ Bank of England Governor Mark Carney alluded to this last week here in Edmonton while delivering a commencement speech to the University of Alberta’s Class of 2016: ‘Many of the jobs and even the industries of today will be gone tomorrow.’ In days like these it seems as if the future in its micro and macro forms is due to arrive sooner than expected; here in Edmonton we’ve glimpsed a pale rider approaching in the near distance. Screaming ‘Fuck you!’ from behind the manicured side of a backyard fence doesn’t strike me as the most constructive means of engagement.

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