When a city-dweller moves to a small town some suburbanites will warn them of the vicissitudes of the village life. These folks are well-meaning and usually have had some experience of living in a small community. If one takes the time to listen to their stories, usually the bone of contention is the lack of privacy coupled with gossip, sometimes malicious and sometimes benign but always annoying.
In counter-point to this, it will be noticed by a city-dweller upon visiting a small town that it has a friendly, congenial atmosphere and that the people encountered are warm, genuine folks. When the country cousin goes to the big city they will generally feel as if they had run into a solid wall of insensitive idiots.
Both are right and yet both are wrong. People see what they want to see, nay, what they need to see in order to bolster their own prejudices and convictions. This is heinously complicated by the fact that the majority of both camps have never taken the time to sort out what precisely are their own prejudices and convictions and rely on osmosis to do this task.
Many years ago I had the experience of being told the precise balance of my bank account in a small town by a complete stranger encountered on the highway while walking the ten miles back to my lodgings. When I moved back to the city, I was wrongly assumed to have committed every crime that happened to have occurred on the day of my departure.
Recently, my Filipina wife and I were in Vancouver in a Chinese T&T Supermarket. It was a random stop to buy a few unavailable ingredients for our country cupboards on our way to conduct other business. We had literally just exited the freeway and had been in our old stomping grounds for less than five minutes. When I walked over with an armload of goods to put in my wife's basket, a blue haired old Caucasian woman ambled down the busy aisle.
In a voice just loud enough for me to hear and while locking eyes with mine quoth grandma, “Well, well, well... a white man with a chink wife. They look just like monkeys, don't they?” She smiled like Dame Judy Dench at the Academy Awards Ceremony as I picked my jaw up off the linoleum. None of the thousand Asian people in the Asian store heard her nor did my wife. Only me. She paused and continued to beam a radiant smile. She pretended not to hear my soft reply.
After ten weeks of spending upwards of ten hours a day in the company of Dusty Bones, my young cat, we were walking to the mailbox one afternoon. He had been previously trained to calmly ride in a vehicle and has accompanied me fishing, hiking, sleeping, eating, playing, going to the grocery store and working around the house. He rides in a back-pack when he's tired and walks on a leash when he wants to stretch his legs.
This day we were on a new route to the Post Office and I hadn't brought the back-pack due to the shortness of the trek. Dusty has happily walked, leaped and run up to six miles on a single journey. Cats like to pause every few steps, especially when in new territory. To get them moving again takes a tug on the chest harness. On familiar roads, they will practically heel like a canine. Sometimes they will just plant their feet and play the mule.
That was Dusty's choice on the day I speak of and as I tried to goad him into visual range of a small flock of sparrows a few hundred feet ahead, I heard the voice of a well-meaning intruder. A female and probably near my own age. “Is the kitten hurt?” was the query. Her tone was that of a social worker addressing an unwed adolescent Yanomami single mother on Welfare in a downtown apartment. Disgust enrobed in treacle.
The use of the definite article “the” instead of the possessive determiner “your” was not lost on me and took the wind right out of my spinnaker. The woman didn't smile and looked at me as if I was on my way to roast on a spit an animal I had just stolen. I picked him up and walked on and as soon as we were free of her surveillance, Dusty walked like Lipizzaner stallion all the way home. When he arrived he helped himself to the butter dish when my back was turned and then sprawled out on our bed while I recounted the adventure to my wife.
Years ago there was a young woman one morning in the city at my bus-stop. It was about six AM and I was having a smoke while waiting for the same bus I had ridden to work for fifteen years from my last apartment. The woman marched up abruptly and said, “Hey Buddy! You can't smoke at the bus stop, eh.”
I had never seen her before. I told her that I had been doing just that for the past forty years and asked her where the sign was which said I couldn't. I then told her that it was quite possible that a new bylaw had been passed without any notice to the public, so I would agree to pace off six meters from the stop, which I did. She snorted and hauled out her little cell-phone and pointed the camera aperture at me as menacingly as she could muster and simply said, “I can call the cops, eh.”
I told her that with the average Vancouver Metro Police response time of twenty-six minutes, that she was welcome to wait for them but that the bus was nearly upon us. As we boarded the bus, I inquired as to the veracity of her claim. The driver said he was not aware of any new by-law and added that he smoked at bus-stops everyday on his breaks.
From the shrunken PBS warrior measuring the shells of pulp mill poisoned crabs in White Rock to the young lady offended by my son's naked three year old sun-browned buttocks playing on a beach in the Okanagan, these people come in both sexes, are of every race and can be found minding other people's business all over the world in thousands of languages and all the way back through time.
They form a percentage of any population. They are the children who didn't turn the light off, crawl under the bed and prove to themselves that there was no monster under there, save for their own imagination. The seeming boldness of their approach is in reality aggression born of fear of the unknown and unusual or displacement of the peer pressure created by our ever changing mass-media menu of what is Kosher this week and what is not.
Butter-stealing cats need a swat but usually get a hug. Self-appointed minders of people need hugs and usually get rejection. Five hundred years ago in Europe these types could get one clapped in the irons of the Inquisition and there are places yet today where similar mischief is wrought. If you enjoy looking at maps, it may interest you to know that Gerard Mercator was locked away in prison for quite awhile due to having his name added to a list compiled by anonymous fools.
He was released because the big-shots of his day needed his fine maps. The Mainland Catholics needed maps, globes, compasses and other instruments to facilitate the invasion of Protestant lands and the Mainland Protestants needed accurate maps and tools to win the lands back. Both sides needed ever more detailed new maps as time went by so they could conquer new lands and thus create new Catholics and Protestants. The English Queen wanted a big piece of the newly emerging pie that she saw projected onto the hand-engraved copper plates of the Master cartographer. Her young subject John Dee was a lifelong admirer of Mercator and much business came from John's advertisement.
As Mercator was ceaselessly minding his own business and honing his chosen craft, he became the best there was in his time. His name means merchant and he sold a mighty lot of globes and maps to a lot of people. He always had enough to provide for his family to live in decent comfort. His life and accomplishments are exemplary of the wisdom of work, dedication and minding one's own garden. The projection method recently used to map Mars is but one legacy of the quiet man.
So we will make our own updated map of sorts. A globe of human geography, if you will. We will show that the units which make up human populations on any part of our globe, if taken as a whole, consist of a rather stable ratio of the genius, the fool, the imbecile, the psychopath and the sycophant. When we assign a different symbol for each type and place these on our globe in their proper numbers and ratios we can bust an old myth. A myth held by the city-dweller and by his or her counterpart in the countryside.
People are not better nor worse in either environment. Your chances of encountering a fool are greatly enhanced in high density urban areas due to the sheer numbers. In the wide open spaces of the small town, while the ratios stay the same, it is much easier to discern the fools. This phenomenon was as true in Mercator's time as it is in ours. A Cherokee once said to never argue with a fool because a third person passing by will not be able to tell which of you is the fool.
Here below then is a Prayer, Eight Questions and Four Responses that I imagine have been in use since the beginning and will likely march on into our future. They are presented here in Latin, a popular language of the misty past. Please see my Satire section for a full English translation and supplemental translations of the Four Responses.
Libera Me Deus Ab Consilium Insipientibus.
De Octo Quaestionibus
Quid pretium hunc emisti?
Quanto est vestra salarium?
Quantitatem solvis menstrua?
Mundus pacem venire?
Ubi primum convenistis uxor tua?
Quomodo occurrerit tibi uxorem tuam?
Suntne illi novum calciamentis?
Catulus deterioratus est?
Tu librum conscribas?
Tunc tua res agitur!
Vade, et in tuum culus, pone harenae!
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.