If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter than you know I’m spending the week back in my hometowns. Plural because while Windsor, Ontario might be my spiritual hometown, the place where I became who I was, my geographical hometown is a town thirty minutes south of Windsor called Amherstburg. Lying on the eastern shore of the Detroit River, it really is the edge of the world as far as Canada is concerned.
Like most people who leave them, I have a complicated relationship with my hometown. Having been gone for three years only serves to remind me how out of step I was with the culture here. Or what passes for culture. That might be a topic for another post. What I want to talk about is that photo.
The past two days I’ve been taking long walks through town, partially to stay active while my gym attendance lapses for the week, and also to try to reconnect with where I came from, and take pictures for my new friends in Toronto, to show them where a charming and witty soul like myself came to be who he is. I took pictures of the Navy Yard Park, of Fort Malden [a certified historic site, best known for being burned to the ground when it was lost to the Americans during the war of 1812], and of various spots in town that have meaning to me, that summon certain feelings or memories.
I was not planning on taking the above photo, but I’m always floored when I see racism doubling as decor, and you don’t see tarbabies that much anymore, so I took a quick shot on my way past the house. This was in the ‘affluent’ part of town, along the water at the end of my parents’ street, which made the presence of the statue that much more disappointing to me.
I walked up the block and stopped in at the local convenience store to grab a slushed drink, since nothing soothes the godawful heat and humidity in this town quite like them. On my way out, as I’m exiting the parking lot, the car in that picture pulls up beside me.
“I need to ask you a question. Why were you taking a picture of my house?”
The face in the driver’s seat I recognize as one of the small town lifers I’ve seen around for decades, but never knew his name. Ill-advised tattoos fading on his forearm, mustache, hairline pulling back a little further than the last time I saw it, green work shirt held closed by one button in the middle. Strictly blue collar, probably bought his house years ago when times were better, when guys could make fifty bucks an hour working on holidays.
“I liked your landscaping. The statue, specifically.” I suck a slug of coke-flavoured slush through the neon green spoon-straw.
“The one in the front, by your mailbox. You want me to delete it? I’ll delete it in front of you right now?”
He’s sizing me up, now, but he’s put together why I was intetested. “No, I don’t want you to delete it, I just wanted to know what you were doing.”
“I wasn’t doing surveillance, man. No offense intended.”
He gives me one more up-and-down look, “No problem.” Then drives off.
I snap photos of things in Toronto all the time, no one ever cares. I snap one photo from the street, and this guy tails me and waits outside a store for me. If only he’d asked me why I wanted to take a picture of his statue. Things could have gotten really fun.
But they wouldn’t really. Because no one in this town would care that someone has got a “darky” on their front lawn, and any argument about its inappropriateness would be deemed irrelevant, oversensitive, too big city, too politically correct. But it’s racism, plain and simple.
And the saddest part? Given the ‘artwork’ one of our neighbours left in the basement storage of our house in Toronto, it’s not even a small town phenomenon. Never underestimate the ability of people to stun and disappoint.