Posts Tagged ‘income inequality’

Trendy City Cats

April 8, 2019

soundtrack

1974

The Beatles will never get back together again is what we hear on the car radio for five hours, as we’re driving to my Dad’s family in Victoria City, the capital. His parents live right in the center of the historic downtown  which, at the time, is full of young, scruffy adults with long hair who wear loose beige clothing, pay little to no rent, and provide the smellscape with organic substances to counteract the smell of lead in the gasoline.

I escape a boring television day to visit the next-door neighbors, the Boudreau family. They live in the mirror of my grandparent’s two-story townhouse. Their grandfather, Erwin Boudreau, is always around doing jigsaw puzzles and sneaking sips of gin from under the kitchen sink.

Even though Erwin (Mr. Boudreau to me) grew up in the Acadian Peninsula speaking only French, his parents named him Erwin after one of the biggest entrepreneurs in the region – Erwin McKacey. Virtually no one in his village could pronounce his name properly, so they called him Wing.

Granpa Wing’s namesake, Erwin J. McKacey, inherited some money selling land that was taken from the Tic Tac First Nations, and over time, his family managed to claw together local monopolies in copper mining, gasoline distribution, logging, and mass media, and was considered a hero by his own mass media empire. Which is what everyone watched.

In my grandparent’s day, people believed that naming a son after someone rich and famous might mean that this boy might get to finish at least grade 5 and weigh at least a hundred pounds at adulthood. This kind of thinking is sometimes called Cargo Cult thinking. Erwin McKacey lived to 95 years despite his lifelong obesity, and his monopolies turned both Steel City and Victoria City into tangles of highways, suburban lawns, and strip malls surrounded by monoculture forests sprayed with dangerous chemicals every year.

In any case, Jimmy Boudreau, the grandson who’s around my age, is taking me on a tour of their townhouse on a rainy day. I just found out that Jimmy has no idea who Erwin J. McKacey is while we were talking. His parents own a VW van, and feed all the local wild cats in their coal shed porch. At any one time, there are between 20 and 40 cats eating snacks and using  their porch and backyard.

The smell of cat urine, coal dust, and a dank mystery smell (pot, I suspect), greets us as we enter the back porch. Opening the inside storm door, Grandad – Wing Boudreau – is standing with a full glass of gin and some anti-depressants in his hands.

ducks

1899

“This new generation only understand trends! They can’t think for themselves!”

I guess we walked in on a rant. I love old person rants! Erwin Boudreau was born in 1899, so his rants often have a turn-of-century sense of urgency.

“That screen door is useless! They saw someone’s cheap new bungalow had one, and so they had to have the same damn thing. As seen on TV! Cripes, what a mindless generation of tube heads. Just like that van. Hippy’s gotta have a van even if they can’t afford the gasoline for it! I should have forced them to play outside when they were kids!”

The tube is what we  call the TV we watch every day as a family. I can’t believe he’s insulting such an important and pleasant influence on every family I know. For me, this is like mocking God or capitalism.

“Your family are the worst, Qatzel!” He smiles while popping two orange pills into his mouth. “Suburbia, big car, company man… your parents are just following trends they saw on TV. They never saw a trend they didn’t want to follow!”

This is where Jimmy’s mom pops in and drags Wing back to his room to do jigsaw puzzles before he causes too much harm. We enter the kitchen now that he’s gone. There’s a piece of string art on the wall, and a pet rock sits next to a box on a shelf. The kitchen wall is a mural of a rainbow over Niagara Falls, and the whole scene is accentuated by the red-orange plastic chairs and table. The radio is blaring in the kitchen, and the television is blaring in the living room.

“I’m trying to talk my parents into buying me Levi’s this year,” I confide to Jimmy, just as a way of changing the subject. He nods like he knows why.

Just then, the overwhelming stench of cat urine and coal (and pot) forces us back out into the yard to play where the rain seems to have stopped.

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The Rust River Swimming Hole

December 8, 2016

steel-city-fruit_swimhole

soundtrack

(dedicated to my mother)

Grover McToll moved to Rust River – a comfortable suburb of Steel City – after it had been mostly filled up with bungalows and lawns. So the neighbors looked at his arrival as one-more-car and one-more-lawnmower noise. They hated him before even meeting him.

He built his large bungalow in eyeshot of the Rust River swimming hole, a private waterfront lot whose owners allowed their immediate neighbors to swim there when they weren’t using the beach themselves.  They didn’t tolerate outsiders though.

Grover himself never went swimming there or let his kids swim there either. He was way too aspirational middle class for something so savage and white trash. But perhaps to prove his value to his neighbor-a-phobic neighbors, Grover used to police the water hole, especially at night, to make sure no non-neighbors used it. Now, there are no waterside public parks in Rust River whatsoever, so the stream of teenagers looking for a place to smoke a joint and go swimming kept him and his police friends very busy. He saw himself as a kind of property value protector whose target was savage teens smoking dope. And trust me, most of the teens in our suburb were savage.

scf_swimhole_private-prop

My best friend at the time, Jimmy McPiper, never learned to swim. Neither did his brothers or sisters. His family were too poor to go to the beach, there were no public pools, no swim programs at our schools, and there was nowhere in Rust River where you could swim for free even though all of Rust River is, at most, a ten-minute bike ride from the swimming hole. There were actually no natural parks of any kind in Rust River, the “green” of Greenwood Drive was found on the lawns and in the money wasted on trampolines and board games.

I sometimes wonder if suburbia was created to make sure no one got to enjoy nature.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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