Thursday, June 5, 2008


I am not a rebel. I've never thought of myself that way, but that sobriquet has often been thrust upon me, sometimes from some surprising sources.

I have almost always had long hair. At this stage of my life, I get the "quaint old hippie" tag and it doesn't bother me, there is some truth in that. I started growing my hair out pretty young. I had long hair in Grade 6. This was the late sixties but in the schools I attended in a small eastern Ontario city, I was usually the only guy at that grade level with long hair. I've always been a doodler, I like cartoons and I did a lot of that in school; one day in Grade 6 a teacher nabbed one of my doodles and confiscated it. It was a hippie cartoon, a guy that was just a hat, a big nose (Ringo Starr like in its enormity), a Zapatta mustache and long hair. Years later, in high school, when were preparing our university applications, the guidance counsellor gave us our school files and told us to go thru them and discard anything we found detrimental. Collette, my school teacher wife (there's irony for ya) informs me how wrong this was but the guy did it. And there it was. My hippie cartoon, attached to my file after all those years. A teacher or principle had written a comment on the file "Over identification with counter culture characters"

I found that funny. Counter culture. That term had .. and still has .. little relevance to me. Counter to what? When I was young I didn't see my long hair and bell bottom jeans as rebellious, I was just emulating what was around me. My oldest brother Edward was a hippie, he lived at home when I was young, he gave me Beatles records and took me to see biker movies and that is what I knew. I don't know if my mother liked long hair and beads and sandals but her house was filled with them and she never openly objected. So that is what I knew. That was my culture.

I grew up in a very free flowing kind of environment. We weren't religious. We sure as hell were not the middle class. I had no father. In our house I didn't think much about these factors but when I was out in the world, it was often shoved up against my face. It always surprised me. But what really surprised me, what often took me aback and put a frown on my face, was the concept that there was some overriding culture that you could be counter to. I always knew that people were different from me. Other kids had dads, other families had money, other mothers did not swear, other brothers did not pay attention to you and give you guidance. I knew that. Why couldn't those people get that?

On some level I knew that I was, that my family was, different but I didn't spend a lot of time brooding on it. Yet others apparently did. When I was a kid some people hated my long hair; they hated it. There would be a snarl on their face and invective on their lips. I never got that. You hate me because of my hair? Not because of who I am, or what I do, but because of how I look? It took me a long time to realize that people are afraid of what is different, they have an existence that they often did not themselves choose, and they do not want to think about any alternative. Fear of change, I guess. Like, I only ever ate red apples, that yellow one over there scares me. Weird.

So, people applied this "rebel" tag to me and although I never really agreed with it, there it was. I knew that in the eyes of some people, I was a rebel. Generally, these people were older, from another generation. I knew that many of these people must have gone thru some period in their lives where they had experimented with change, that they had tried new things but at this point, they only liked what they liked. Fair enough. What catches me by surprise, is when people younger than myself, find me oh so rebellious.

In my early twenties, in the late seventies, early eighties, I did some hitchhiking. Went across the country twice, once with a girl I was seeing at the time and once by myself. On one of these solo excursions I was camping at a commercial site in New Brunswick. The place had a laundry room and I was catching up on the essentials. I met this couple from New England, I think Maine maybe. They were about as crew cutted and and freshly washed as Ken and Barbie. I was a little grubby, I was living on the road, but this was one of the points in my life where was my hair was short. These two looked at me like I was the wild man of Borneo. They were telling me about some campsite in Maine and how all the young people loved it and that it was "groovy" (trust me, that particular expression was pretty dead at this point in time) and chuckling at all this youthful craziness. The kicker .. were were probably the my age. These two came across like the Cleavers in the early 1980's and they were certainly no more than a couple years older than me. That sticks with me to this day: What the hell happened to them.

This phenomena has kept repeating itself. It became quite self evident when I went back to college. I first returned to college in Kingston in my mid twenties. I was pretty much the oldest person in my class. We had some punks, a semi goth girl, some biker rocker guys ... but once again, I was a rebel. In one of our media classes we had a lecture from some people in radio. I was raised on radio, and I always knew that it was a business, I loved it for the music. I saw the commercial aspect as a necessary evil, that the real purpose of radio was the music. Ok, so I was naive, fucking sue me. The good folks giving the lecture saw the music as some kind of unpleasant necessity, like a pimple on a perfect commercial complexion that cannot be removed cuz it would only result in puss and blood. Fine, this was their business, I get it, and I was in a marketing program. What really got me was that my younger classmates, many of whom lived and died by their music, ate this up like hash laced Pablum. Well, of course, it was all about the money, and although I spend every night listening to the same record, we all know that the only purpose of music was to make someone rich ... I could not remain silent (yeh, like that surprises those who know me) and I got into a little discussion with our hosts. At the end of the lecture, one of the women turned to me as I went out the door and she smiled and said "Keep on fighting, rebel" Turns out we were the same age.

This happened again when I came to Toronto to do television studies at Seneca college. Yet another media lecture. This is around 1986/7 now. Female professor. Discussing TV commercials. And her stating how much the media portrayal of women has changed over the years and that the old image of the "house wife" was dead and gone forever. I choked on my coffee. I pointed out the endless array of current TV ads featuring the young woman, all alone in her home, surrounded by her laundry and her dirty dishes and smiling like a happy, freshly Tasered Stepford wife. The lady professor disagreed. And so did my classmates. In that lecture hall I was the oldest student by at least three years. And every single one of them thought that the portrayal of women in the commercial media was lightyears advanced from the previous decade. Of course, I gently tried to dissuaded them from their point of view, all 56 of em. At once.

So I became the class rebel. Again. I really hadn't meant to. I was just pointing out the obvious: What we see, we should think about. And what we see we should not always accept. One of the quotes that defines my life is from Juan Ramon Jiminez: When they give you ruled paper, write the other way. Ray Bradbury used it to open Fahrenheit 451. That always seemed just so simple to me; there is more than one way to write the same sentence on the page, you have your way to do it and it works for you, so don't be shocked when someone else does it differently.

So, let's get to the point of inspiration for this post. What inspired my thoughts of rebellion and rebels? It was my lawnmower. Yup, my lawnmower. My old lawnmower finally bit the dust. And my lawn is getting high and I live in a lovely, middle class neighbourhood in central Toronto. I have a leather clad biker dude living next to me and his yard is filled with weeds and I do not want to present that image to my neighbours or even myself.

So I went out and bought a new lawnmower. Cuz my grass is too long. I still have my ponytail, but I can't let my gas grow. Fuck. I am such a rebel.

1 comment:

Elizabeth McClung said...

I would have liked to have seen you in that class. Take them on. I mean, we have films about having or being nannies, which people 100 years ago were familiar with (my grandmother was brought up by 'the irish girl' who was the nanny). So yeah, we're really moving ahead, go rebel go!

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