Authors: Stephen Reid
Tags: #LCO10000, #SOC030000, #BIO024000
A hundred years ago, Shawn would have faced his victim and his village in a longhouse. Restitution would have been part of the determination. Shawn would have been punished and the circle would have been damaged but it would not have been broken.
In Eden Robinson's story, her uncle Mickey has just landed on the doorstep after a long absence. He's been “away.” Uncle Mickey is wearing a “Free Leonard Peltier” T-shirt. But as Uncle Mickey begins an overnight boat trip, taking young Lisa Marie up to the traditional oolichan fishing grounds, I suspect that out there amongst the seals and Kermode bears, where the dark water laps at the stone beaches and bleached logs stick out like old bones, that Uncle Mickey will not be denied his process, the one that existed there ten thousand years before the first iron bar was ever poured.
SUALLY A BOBBY PIN LYING IN
a puddle on concrete wouldn't make me stop and stare in wonder, but there I was, dead in my tracks. Maybe it was because the puddle was on the caged-in roof yard of a maximum security segregation unit in Matsqui, a men's prison.
Maybe it was because last week I went to bed with seven women. Of the seven, I had met five previously at various social functions. One of them I married. Each of them lies between the covers of a tantalizing little book titled,
Desire, In Seven Voices
, a collection of essays edited by Lorna Crozier.
Although the introduction alludes to all sorts of mystical connections to the number seven, I have put my own spin on it. I have been using the book the way a convict puts an X on the wall, an essay to mark each passing day. A week of women.
Monday, I was in a cool blue room with Evelyn Lau; Tuesday I blushed with Bonnie Burnard as she wrote about the hard evidence of desire. On Wednesday, I fell in love with Shani Mootoo's tender admissions. Thursday, I had dinner and went to Paris with Carol Shields. On Friday, I wanted to eat the snow off of Lorna Crozier's mittens. It's Saturday and I'm driving with my wife, Susan Musgrave. She's got the top down and she's over the speed limit. I wanted to smoke a cigarette afterwards. A Number 7 of course.
As I bent to pick up the bobby pin, I remembered I was being closely observed by three young women in uniform on the other side of the smoked-glass office windows. The bobby pin was my
red wheelbarrow/glazed with rainwater/beside the white chickens
Most of my free life has been spent in the company of women and their objects. I grew up with five sisters and the quintessential mother. I'm married with two daughters, and our house is usually filled with their girlfriends, most whom treat me as their confidante or other dad. Even four of our five cats are females. But I'm still trying to get used to being guarded by women.
One of them comes to open the grill with a key the size of a garden trowel. My yard time is up. She is polite, so am I. We have formed the relationship. I'm an old con, in every sense of the word; a deferential drop of the eyes gets me through all the gates in any prison, except the front one.
I have a relationship with all three of these guards. They are the day shift, in charge of the fifteen or so segregation prisoners. I am not in seg per se, I work up here. I serve the meals, I wash, fold, and issue the laundry, and I mop the floors the women walk on. I've come a long way, baby.
Female guards are the most professional within the Corrections community. They must not only be guards, they have to be guarded. When one of them summons me for a chore or a lockdown, she addresses me by last name only. I know their names by the tag pinned to their blouses but I avoid using them.
When they give me a pat-down search, I blush. There is nothing sexual, nothing intimate, about their hands on my body. I blush because this touching makes us all less human.
These three young women in another setting, would be friends of my daughter, or neighbours I would wave to as they passed by on their bicycles, or even students in my writing workshops. Sometimes a bobby pin in a puddle on concrete is the saddest object.
I like solitary, but I like this better, working up here. I have the relative quietude, but also a bit of freedom. And I've got a cleaner's closet to which I can retreat. I keep a chair in the narrow space between the washers and the dryers on one side, and the shelves filled with puffed wheat, tins of brown sugar, and boxes of styrofoam cups on the other. It's there, in my little cubbyhole, between the smell of warm towels and toasted cereals, where I read and try not to think.
A critic once described me as someone who thinks things. It became a household joke. Whenever I would be staring off into space as if the grief of the world were on my shoulders, and a visitor would ask “What's the matter with him?” my wife would answer, “Oh, that's just Stephen, he thinks things.” But my best thinking got me into this cubbyhole: I pick up my book and turn to the page I left off at.
I love writers for what they do. These women's essays touch me in the most intimate ways of all, yet the words jump over gender and make me, for the reading, a little more human.
The buzzer on the dryer sounds. Another cycle done, time to fold towels. Tomorrow will bring Sunday
who can predict where Dionne Brand will take desire.
I tuck the little book in amongst the pile of towels just as a key raps loudly on the door, followed by a female voice.
Reid! Food carts
. It was her way of letting me know it is time to serve meals.
Come Monday, with
depleted, I'll have to find a new book. Maybe there's one out there titled
Amnesia, in 6,570 Voices,
one to forget each passing day.
HE LAST TIME
, Jimmy Carter (who, by the way, would have known how to properly treat Saddam â he would have built him a new house) was the President of the United States. But hey, fuck the war and fuck the decline of the American presidency; what is of real significance here is the demise of pubic hair on American women. I had my first gape score at a centrefold in a lot of years and whoa and behold! Miss April got no hair down there!
I flipped to the other pictorials only to discover they all wore the same prepubescent vertical smile. I know these models have to be at least twenty-one to win a staple through their nipple from Hef, so how come most sport none, or very little, pubic hair? Even those who retain a thin wispy line have a
that looks more like a “Got Milk” commercial than the garden patch of a grown woman.
I have been in prison for too long, haven't viewed erotica for even longer. I sense that something of great social and cultural import has passed me by. Where did all those dark and curly Bermuda triangles disappear to? And when? It's like I fell asleep one night, and, in a reverse Rip Van Winkle, the whole continent got busy with the shaving cream. But an even more meaty question stared out at me from between the legs of this new fashion mode. Why?
Why, since I last looked, have pubic hairs, at least the public pubes, been clipped, cut, tonsured, trimmed, shaved, depilatoried, mowed, and mohawked? Perhaps G-string thongs and ittier-bittier bikini bottoms have moved women to narrow even further that thin middle line of modesty. But bikinis of all sizes have been around since Frankie danced with Annette and only a slight cropping was all that's ever been needed to make a wedge suitable for the viewing audience. And when it comes down to the G-string, modesty is no longer even in the movie. So why have all the nether goatees been so ruthlessly and utterly hacked into nothingness?
It is only the nothingness that is new to me. Women I've known have always had a penchant for pruning. I once had a girlfriend who shaped hers into a heart for Valentine's. I knew another who clipped her fiancÃ©e's into a diamond on their engagement night, and then there was an all-girls band in the '70s who contoured theirs into little guitars. But this modern vogue, this movement toward clear cutting, is a whole other slice of the honey pie.
Young women who like a clean line must, at least in part, inherit their crisp aesthetics from computer era imagery. Sort of a Laura Croft imitation. Or maybe it's global warming. There are evolutionary raisons d'etre for body hair and one of them is warmth. Perhaps with the earth temperature rising there is just too much heat down there in the pearly kitchen. How then do we explain the bare labes of those northern girls, especially the ones living above the 49th parallel? Do their lips stick to the crossbar in sub-zero weather? Surely in a country where the national symbol is the beaver, the pelt is not going to become extinct?
In another evolutionary trick, hair south of the navel is there to trap pheromones in its tangled locks. Pheromones are those little dancing musk devils produced to attract the opposite sex â in the case of the female body, to lure the unsuspecting male of the species towards her cave. Perhaps women who shave are making a statement. They choose not to trap men with a beguiling scent, opting for a more open, more conscious and less subliminal means of attraction. If true, some would have to ask themselves hard questions about perfume.
Pubic hair also acts as the local police force: it's there to serve and protect, to prevent friction and act as a buffer. But with the advent of the female jock strap, hair does present a feeble sort of protection. Some women may see it as simply obsolete.
Whatever all the different reasons women are trimming, there is one I know to be true. It is because their sexual partners prefer them that way. This is some cultural/generational preference I am not getting. Maybe my generation just didn't convey our wishes.
Something else changed with the young and the restless. I didn't grow up with Sex Ed classes being about AIDS and hepatitis and all the STDs. I didn't learn in grade six that condoms were as necessary as looking both ways before you cross the street. What is there to say to a generation of young lovers that has been taught sex is death, that there is a deadly virus lurking behind every bush? Small wonder they are not looking for a mystery lair. They don't want to peer through the undergrowth, nor their garden to be secret. They want a visible and clear shot at whatever they are getting into. Maybe it is the search for prepubescence itself because, at an even more subtle level, theirs is a generation that loses its innocence at a way too tender age.
After my initial shock and bewilderment at seeing Miss April with the southern isosceles of a ten-year-old, things have gone from bad to worse. I have since learned, while out in the compound talking about this phenomenon to a new generation of cons, that it is now common for young men to shave â and I'm not talking five o'clock shadows here. It's some sort of buff image trip. I been in the weight pit off and on for over a century, and I believe if you aren't bulked like Arnie or at least be flexing muscles in the professional ring then you got to be like fireman calendar gay to be waxing the hair off your body.
The boys in the gym have tried to convince me that clean shaven bodies are more attractive to the opposite sex, but I'm not even going there. Overly hirsute men are a turn-off for most of the women I've talked with, though I have heard of those with fetishes for thick back hair (they call these men “Bears”). Knowing that didn't make me want to jump into a barrel of Rogaine and neither will I now go soak in a vat of depilatory cream, even though I believe this new body gloss is much more than a fetish or a passing craze.
The trend is hooked to something deeper, caught up in a culture that has been relentlessly exposed to the concept marketing of an ideal human body. We have been sold on buns of steel, six-pack abs, cosmetic implants, and total makeovers ad infinitum. The perfection of body image seems within our grasp and we have come to see the ideal as more real than our own.
In the age of sophisticated software, a perfect design can be achieved with the simple click of a mouse. But is it real? Or is it the same virtual perfection we are trying to click on to in our lives? What makes us human, what keeps our worlds real? It can be found in the imperfection of our bodies, in the imperfect way they move through this world.
Our bodies are made to be lived in, so celebrate your nicks and scars, adorn the skin with tattoos if you like, manicure your pubes to your heart's content but always remember the rounded tummy or the small droop in the imperfect breast is the one with soul. If I were you, my little playboys and dixie chicks, I would guard my imagination â and most of my pubic hairs â against the onslaught of virtual beauty, because when the party is over and the morning light finds you alone in a spinning bed, afraid you might be flung off the edges of the earth, a thick swatch of hair might be all you have to hang on to.
T 9:45 EVERY MORNING THE MAIN DOORS
to A27 open and a crowd emerges. Most of the men are already rolling cigarettes from their green MacDonald tobacco pouches, not wanting to miss a puff from their fifteen-minute smoke break.
I wander off in another direction, down another corridor. I go to the library, not for a reading break, but just to be amongst books. Prison, in its simplest terms, is about not giving up, and not giving up requires respite.
The library here, fittingly, used to be the chapel. Taped to the double glass doors is a “Take One” folder filled with photocopies of the daily crossword. I don't take one, but a friend of mine, an avid puzzler, wrote to tell me I was last week's answer to “17 Down”. Another high point, my life reduced to a clue in a crossword.