Nobody wants a revolting revolution, so I'm going to have to market it well.
By Kevin Somers
Published February 26, 2007
I wanted to forget the revolution for a little while and get lost in the words of a book. I needed to put my mind elsewhere. The incessant headlines of Ottawa's corruption and ineptitude cried for change, but planning a revolution in Canada is frustrating and, at times, seemingly futile. A book is as good as a rest, so I went searching for one.
An unsung benefit of Hamilton's urban decay is the abundance of secondhand (if you're lucky) stores, which are ideal places for books: serendipitous findings and no sticker shock. I went to the Amity store on Ottawa near Main for a paperback which had been previously read, perhaps loved. Books at the Salvation Army are a quarter, but Amity gouges a loonie. Amity is near home, however, so that's where I went to hunt down a feast.
Thankfully, there are no paid-to-be-plucky greeters at real thrift shops, so I didn't feel like punching anybody out when I went in. I walked straight to the section where the shelves are lined haphazardly with literature of all genres and quality and started skimming titles, hoping something would jump out and demand to be handled.
There are always a lot of romance and self-help books, but they're useless. I was lucky: within a minute, I was holding a pristine copy of Agatha Christie's Peril at End House, A Hercule Poirot Mystery. Aside from an ink stamp on the inside cover that read Dog-Eared Books, Delta, BC, "Peril" was unblemished and all mine. Jackpot.
A good revolution requires a lot of plotting and I do some of my best thinking lying on the couch; sleeping or watching TV in loose clothing. Ironically, Active Wear! is great inactive wear, so with time on my hands, I went looking for a new pair of "comfy pants" to plot in.
Track pants are only five bucks at Amity, but I still find consumerism fraught with conflicting emotions: buying stuff keeps the economy going and it's nice to have, but what's the greater cost? Our world is dying of consumption, but this planetary scourge is the engine of human prosperity, so it's a dilemma.
Part of the revolution's objective is to lessen the link between contentment and consuming. Buddhists believe that desire leads to discontent and a person should be happy with what they have. It's sound, but is it saleable? For a revolution to succeed, everybody has to buy into it. Nobody wants a revolting revolution, so I'm going to have to market it well; a tall order because I hate marketing – the truth should prevail. With a revolution to plot and more moral dilemmas than you can shake a stick at, I need lots of loose, stretchy, thinking threads and time on the couch.
Justified, I went to the rack of leisure pants and flipped from one pair to another. As with finding the ideal book, finding a perfect pair of revolutionary pants is a matter of chance at a thrift store. Obviously, size and style are issues, but condition and cleanliness must also be considered when purchasing previously enjoyed pants. Most of the ones for sale that day wouldn't have fit or clashed raucously with my revolutionary good taste, but Buddha be damned, I was anxious to consume.
With some hesitation, I pulled out a pair of black warm-ups; the type with snap buttons up and down the legs. Basketball and soccer players on TV can be seen ripping them off before taking their position. Rappers wear them a lot, too. They looked comfortable: loose fitting and easy to remove; ideal for inactivity or spontaneous shagging.
Despite the obvious upsides, I wasn't sure. I've always enjoyed traditional cotton track pants of a single colour with an elastic waist and draw string. These pants were shiny and had stripes. The snaps were grinding at me, too. I hate doodads; more things to go wrong. From the revolution I'm plotting, to the government I'll be installing, to the shirt on my back, to the pants on my backside, Keep it Simple is the overriding philosophy.
Nevertheless, I held onto them and flipped through dozens more leisure slacks. Nothing else caught my eye, so I decided to try on the Eminem pants. The fitting rooms are at the back of the poorly kept store, next to the toilet. There are unattractive, handwritten signs all over the walls and doors: see staff for key, four items only, shoplifters will be prostituted, turn off the light. I wondered how much they saved by having patrons turn off one 60 watt bulb. I wondered if anyone else found it ridiculous.
Hopefully, my revolution will reduce our fetishlike obsession for energy costs and savings; it calls for an easy increase in alternative, cleaner, and cheaper sources of energy, like wind and solar. All new buildings, or existing ones that change ownership, will have to have solar panels installed and new subdivisions will need windmills.
With other (dis)incentives and initiatives, the revolution will provide the necessary genesis for investment in alternative sources of energy. It's an industry that will soon dominate like moribund big oil and we'll have a leg up. Hell, we'll have a leg over. Rainwater harvesting is also on tap and there will be taxes for passenger vehicles with more than 4 cylinders.
When the Independent Republic of Ontario is the envy of the world, Dubya, Alberta, and Ottawa can kiss my Birkenstocks. If that's not satisfactory, they can kiss my ass. I got a little excited thinking about it. Then, I realized, I'm in Amity buying secondhand pants, and the glee waned.
I went into a change room and, after hanging up my coat and checking the floor for pins and needles, kicked off my shoes. With a shoplifter's swiftness, I swapped my pants for theirs and stood up. In the mirror stood a white, forty year old, underemployed revolutionary in $5 hip-hop pants, but I had to admit, they fit great. The elastic waist was snug around the hips and my belly rolled comfortably over. The legs were a good length and sufficiently loose fitting. I did a couple of half-assed knee bends to be sure. Ooh, they felt silky against my legs, and the price was right. An auctioneer somewhere in my head said, "Sold, to the revolutionary in the groovy pants!"
I took off the "new" pants, put on my old ones, collected my stuff, and went to pay. There were a few others in front of me and lines move slowly in some places. The cashier was a humourless woman of about fifty. Severe and unfriendly, she personified the downtrodden working poor the revolution promises to help and I felt like telling her about it.
I wanted to explain that in the 1960s a typical CEO earned 25 – 30 times what his employees did. That figure has risen to 400 – 500 times, depending on whom you read. Regardless, it's a revolting statistic. I'd tell her we need capitalists to get things going, and societies that try to eliminate human nature are deemed to collapse like the Berlin Wall.
However, there are public servants working in education and social services taking obscene amounts of money from the most needy. The revolution will ensure that the movers and shakers continue to move and shake, but they'll be in the private sector and they'll share nicely, too. An earning limit of 30 times will be legislated to ensure that everyone prospers together, only in varying amounts. We'll raise minimum wage post-haste, too.
I'd tell her if you're going to build anything well; a house, an economy, a society, you start at the bottom and work up. "You don't spend all your attention and money on the roof." She, a hard working woman, was part of society's foundation and shouldn't be neglected. I'd tell her how raising minimum wage would benefit everyone. Unlike a tax cut for the very wealthy, the lowest paid are more apt to spend a raise: the economy grows organically, the tax base is more secure, and everybody wins. It's perfect, except that it fuels more consumer demand, which we're trying to get away from, but it's a start.
Surely, she'd see the beauty in such a benevolent system. Of course, she'd have her reservations. "Revolution is a scary word," I'd say and assure her anxieties. "Don't worry," I'd tell her, "no one is going to be hurt, imprisoned, or killed. There will only be adjustments to positions and remuneration. Canada has been lovely and it worked beautifully for a long time, but that's in the past and a revolutionary can't be sentimental.
"This isn't a truly revolutionary concept, anyway. Quebec wants out, and it's the same in Newfoundland and the west. We should simply say, 'Good-bye, bon chance. Let's remain friends and keep in touch.' Ontario is going to be the greatest country ever."
I'd tell her about my plans to buy the tunneling tool they used for "The Chunnel" between France and England. I wanted to say, "We're going to build our own Chunnel under the QEW from Hamilton to Oshawa with trains, passenger and cargo, going each direction and exit ramps every five k. We'll never be stuck in traffic again."
She needed to hear about plans for education and health, too. Instead of billions of dollars in transfer payments out of Ontario, we'll make our new country great.
She'd want to know more, naturally, and how she could contribute to the revolution. It was all going marvelously in my head when I got to the front of the line. The glum lady took my items without interest, rang in the prices, and said, "Six dollars."
She didn't say, "Please." She didn't ask, "Is this on your Amity card, sir?" Or, "Did you find everything you needed today, sir?" Or, "Do you want fries with that, sir?" Or, "Can I have your postal code, please, sir?" Or anything. She had done her bit and that was that. My move.
I stood there considering what to do while she waited with her gaze fixed on the register. She hadn't looked at me once, but I stared at her. She was thin and hard. She'd seen little leisure in her 50-some years. She'd never work where smiles are free; she didn't have many to give away. She was beautiful there, though. Indifferent and without judgments; she didn't care that I was buying secondhand stuff at a crummy store. She didn't care that I was forty and getting silly pants. She didn't care about me and, I knew, she certainly wouldn't care about my stupid revolution. After two seconds of enthusiastic propaganda, she'd call the cops or worse, the manger.
I dug five twoonies out of my pocket and gave her three. There's no tax on used stuff, which is nice. She put my new pants and book into a bright yellow plastic bag that said Danny's No Frills and handed it to me without another word. I said, "Thank you," and left. It was cold and grim in east Hamilton, the epicenter of my revolution. Glad to have an old book and new pants in a bag without frills, I started walking home. My thoughts drifted to the revolution again and I shuddered at the odds.
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