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Too many Lines

Steve Campbell

As you know, I study things. I watch people, and their behaviour. This probably came from my time at Queen’s, when I was a wanna-be engineer, and my roomie, also named Steve, was an ‘Artsie’. Traditionally, in the stupid ‘Frosh Week’ we, as brainless, terrified teenagers, were told to hate the artsies. We were also told to climb a pole coated with axle grease, surrounded by a pool of manure, in order to rescue a ‘tam’ nailed to the top of the pole.
We failed, but had the honour to be escorted back to campus in a cattle truck, where they hosed us down and sent us home. This was step one in my decision not to become an engineer.
Step Two was: Calculus. It just doesn’t mean anything. I watched chalkboard after chalkboard (they have cool sliding chalkboards at Queen’s!), and the answer is ‘5’. Wow! Six sliding chalkboards, and the answer is ‘5’? Five what? Five pounds? Five km? Number 5 on a roulette wheel? Number of women I could not possibly handle in a hotel room? What is it? My prof didn’t seem to know either, but he was extremely proud that he got the answer. This did not work for me.

It’s funny where life leads you, but it eventually takes you where you need to go. I was so bored with 100% math and science, I started reading my artsie roommate’s psychology books. It wasn’t Lord of the Rings by any means, but it sure as hell wasn’t calculus.
As a voracious reader from my early years (and eager to read something without numbers), I finished his psych book in two sittings. This was a problem, because Steve would use his newly-learned psych techniques on me, and I would say: “Oh, that technique is totally debunked in Chapter 7.” This infuriated him, but we got over it, and remained friends forever.

Why am I telling you this?
First, to tell you that I made a bad choice in my life. And I got over it. It hurt a lot. But I learned a lot. I was good at math and science, and can still do amazing calculations if I have a calculator handy. But it was not what I was meant to be.
When I went to Loyalist College, and fell into journalism, my past and present started to take form. I love people. I love their stories. And here I am. Happy. Sorry to turn the tables.

Thank you for reading that last part, but it leads me to this:
I am a people observer. Comes with the territory I now occupy. Sometimes things are comfortable, sometimes not. In tourist season, sometimes not. Because people are people, and some of them are real jerks. I just got wind of a party of seven who booked reservations at four restaurants (for seven people!) until they could decide which one they wanted to go to. Meanwhile, 21 tables were held in three restaurants, and turning customers away.
Having read the whole volume of Psych 101, I have determined that these people are what we call in medical terms, ‘inconsiderate bastards’.

Lines being drawn
Having clearly established my expertise in human behaviour, thanks to reading a book, and a degree from the Amazon Institute of Degree Giving, I see a Bad Moon Arising.
Hah! Bet you thought you could escape this, but you need to see what I see. We are drawing lines between ourselves. Mostly political, where the action is.

So to start, Here’s an anecdote from my cousin in B.C. He works on construction until he has enough money to quit. He has five friends. Whichever friend is working, provides the food for the rest. When my cuz runs out of money, he goes back to work. I asked him if he knew who the Prime Minister was. He just shrugged: “That means nothing to me. I don’t even know his name. He’s as far away from how we live – he wouldn’t even know us.” Damn if he wasn’t right.
We all look up and say: “Why doesn’t the government do something?” My cuz doesn’t even know who the government is. Worth pondering.
He also said, and I took this to heart:
“You’re B.C. You belong here. But you’re too Ontario to see it yet.”

And that brings me to my point
There are many, many, many people who are striving to get recognition for one simple thing: Who they are.
In many ways, this is a good thing. We now have a society that recognizes that our differences make us strong. I’ve always said that people love the County, not because we’re all the same, but because we’re all different. We share a friendly neighbourhood attitude, but the needs and goals of the north end of the County are radically different from those in the south end. Together, we are us.

Individually? I started writing columns (1869?) because I wanted to create conversations. It occurred to me that all of us meet to enjoy the company of people who act and think exactly like us. I’ve wanted to blow that up, and create conversations with others, who may not share your opinion. I’ve been loved and hated, but that’s the point. It’s about fostering discussions.
There are lines between groups like this, and they don’t want to hear anything that interrupts their dreamlike state of being ‘in with the in crowd’. Meanwhile, there’s voices we don’t hear, because they have their own crowd, and words that may not be ‘workable’ in our current society.
Outwardly, we’ve come a long way: We’ve acknowledged the crap previous generations laid down on our indigenous people. We even went to great lengths, as white people, to come up with a number of proper terms to call Indians. (Must have caused quite a chuckle in the native community, since they already had a name. It’s a shame no-one asked. That’s what white people do.) We embraced gays, figuratively speaking, way early on. My first gay clients remarked about how accepting the County was, despite our conservative reputation. I said, “We judge people by their character. If you turn out to be an a**hole, you will get what you get.”
Since then, of course, we have been visited by almost every letter in the alphabet; rainbow flags are flying, People who, in 1960, were suspiciously gay (can’t imagine their high school years) are now comfortably gay. This is a huge cultural shift. We even got two rainbow crosswalks in Picton, though that might have been a Third Grade work project.

The line comes again, because there’s an undercurrent waiting to surface. A few years ago, a friend of mine was accused of gay activity. The charges were dropped. But he had to endure truckloads of people shouting and screaming and honking at his house, and throwing things at his windows, day and night.
“Ah!” I said to myself. “These guys never had an opportunity to act, and then they had one.” Even though it was bogus, it was still open season on gays for that crowd. They’re the ones under the line. The ones you don’t see, because you don’t mix with them.
The County has prided itself in being The County. Here we are, together. But are we really? Is this ‘togetherness’ because we hang out with friends who have also built million-dollar houses? So everything looks okay.
Or we drink beers and have barbecues with our work friends, who truly appreciate a good steak. Or even a hot dog. Or we may scrounge up enough money to buy a can of ravioli at Giant Tiger, because that’s your meal for the day.
Count the lines I’ve drawn here: black/white; native/white; gay/straight; rich/poor; doin’ okay; desperately poor/homeless. Look at your world. Everybody doing okay? Sure, because they’re all you. Why would they not be okay?

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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