Sunday, November 9, 2008

Processing Culture Shock

Okay, that picture has little or nothing to do with the content of this post, except at the end of it, I tell about him being a joyful thing to come home to. His name is Yeshua – he yelled so loud for food that I thought the walls of Jericho could fall down. I eyedropper fed him from 12 days old until I got him onto a bottle, then started on solid food three days before I left, just before he was six weeks old. I couldn’t bring him home, but I’d have liked to.

This post is a letter I wrote to some friends while I was away on my trip. I was gone for a month, staying in northeast Texas. About a 25-minute drive from Tyler, which is closer to Shreveport than to Dallas. I was staying with a friend who builds knives, and there was a gun and knife show in Tyler the weekend after I got there. The timing was important. He’d never tried to sell his knives like this before, and I went to help get things polished and sharpened, and tagged, and make business cards, and mind the table.

Lots of times, I felt like an alien from outer space. I’m posting this with a few updates – it was written on the 5th of October, to people I know well. There’s language in here I use, but not on the blog, and there’s language in here that I’d never use, except I’m directly quoting other people, ones I’m glad I don’t know. Now you know – here be dragons. The rest of this was written within 24 hours of it happening, while it was fresh. Oh, and it’s long, too.

If I'd grown up in the country, my life experience would be different, but I grew up in the city, mostly. Just outside the city -- lots of forest around, but owned by the Conservation Authority, so you could walk in it, but you weren't supposed to change it in any way. And Dad had a cottage in Muskoka and went fishing, and I'm used to that, but never hunting. My life experience with firearms is this: Grampa owned a shotgun and kept it at The Lake (summer home on Lake Ontario at Niagara-on-the-Lake) and once, when I was maybe eight, he shot it over the lake for effect. And then I guess it went back to the house when they sold the summer home, and the next time I saw it was after he died, when Dad had inherited it. He was giving it to Uncle Jerry, who did hunt, and it was standing in the dining room the day Jerry came to get it. Dad had put it there and that was fine, and Jerry picked it up to take it to the car, and MacDuff, our German Shepherd (who'd never seen a gun before either, and was unfailingly gentle, unless someone was gonna hurt the kids) was ready to take his arm off. So Dad carried it to Jerry's car, and Jerry drove away with it. That's it. My whole life experience with guns.

In Canada, firearms are restricted and registered, and you can't carry them around in public. If you're driving to the shooting range or going hunting, they're in the trunk of your car. Cops have 'em, but even those are discreet. People have shotguns and rifles for hunting, and hand guns are pretty much illegal unless you’re a cop.

So, just being at Bob's was already, different. I got in the truck one day after we'd been in the supermarket and moved the kleenex box on the seat and there was his handgun under it. I was looking for beeswax to do knife handles in the cupboards and there's boxes of ammunition in the kitchen cupboards, and I've seen long guns in the house, and dunno how to tell the difference between a rifle and a shotgun, so I dunno what I saw. The other night coming home, we hit a little armadillo in the driveway somehow -- neither of us felt anything, and he saw it when we were getting out of the truck, before I did. You could see how badly it was injured, and I said, 'You can't leave him like that,' but the little thing had died before he came back outside. And that was the first time I really understood why I had to know how to shoot if I'm to be able to live up north. There was no other kind option.

The gun and knife show was so out of my realm of experience; it was like a fantasy novel and I just found myself transported to another world, and hated a lot of it. There were handguns and automatic weapons tied to the tables, and signs up saying they had to be unloaded and tied so they couldn't be fired. What they were for -- handguns are only for shooting at people -- just kind of radiated at me, and I was, I couldn't even walk past the tables and look at them. I got to be able to spot those tables, and take a different route through the hall. The guy at the table behind us had a handgun in the back of his belt; there were people walking around with long guns in their hands and over their shoulders, and I found the people walking around holding handguns in the palms of their hands really scary. Some guys had multiple holsters and guns, and ammo belts. Sunday there was a guy who looked military to me, with a padded vest and just tons of pockets and weapons on his belt. It bothered me a lot, seeing women with handguns and short automatic guns. There were people carrying around plastic boxes, that I am familiar and comfortable with -- my husband had several of them for carrying cordless drills and things like that in -- and then I realized what people were carrying in them at the gun and knife show.

The long guns didn't bother me so much, esp. if they had a lot of wood in the stock. In fact, there was one guy who had some that were just beautiful. I went back to look at one in particular three times yesterday, and then this morning I told Bob it had dropped a hundred bucks in price overnight. It was still $1,300. But I didn't even know what it was -- rifle or shotgun, exc. it said 12 gauge on the card, and I thought that was a shotgun -- just googled the maker's name and that's what they make. I guess when it's time for me to need one, I 'druther have one that I liked aesthetically. And these aren't intended for killing people, and that made it easier.

I've stopped being scared of knives, because I've stopped thinking of them in terms of weapons, but there were lots there that were intended as personal weapons against people. Bob's got those little bearclaw knives, and they're pretty as jewellery. Saturday there was a woman who was looking at a lot of the knives, and she said of the bearclaws, 'It's a good personal defence weapon for a woman -- no-one could take it away from you.' Well, sure they could, if they had a gun, or were prepared to bust up your fingers for it, and I guess if he was okay with raping you, he'd be okay with that too. And I said to Bob after -- it reminded me of being told, 'When you're worried about what other people are thinking of you, remember that mostly they aren't.' There was a lot more fear, an assumption that someone would want to hurt you and you need to be able to, not just defend yourself, but make a pre-emptive strike, than I'd understood there'd be. I don't understand that kind of fear, and fear's been one of my best things most of my life. She'd said she didn't have enough money and would be back today and took his card -- but she didn't like that the one knife was called a Mill Bastard cuz it was made of that kind of file and he left the mark on it, and we think she looked at the website last night. Believes in Jesus in a way neither of us does, and Jesus doesn’t like people who use the word “bastard,” even about a metal file. Bob said he thought she'd see the prices were lower than on the website and not fuss about 'em again, and then we saw her a few times and she never came down our aisle the next day -- he said she'd seen the website and decided we were communists, and I said, "Yeah, it says so on the website, but it's prolly us likely being perverts that bothers her more." It was funny -- she was so friendly yesterday, and avoided us like we were Democrats today. He is, of course, and I would be if I lived here.

And then, there was racism. I'm not telling you there's none in Canada -- there is. But I haven't encountered anything like this. The man who was to have the table next to us got sick, and the organizers didn't want empty space, so we spread out, and the guy behind us, who sold holsters and gun belts he makes, did too. He had a shipment of 'Nobama '08' teeshirts, with an underneath line about stopping the change, or something. Takeoff on the Obama campaign line. So, they were right beside us, on a table with Bob's knives, and people thought we were selling the shirts, and overwhelmingly, they approved. There was a federal election going on at home too, and I'm used to politics -- this stuff woulda been okay if it was just politics.

But in about a 10-minute space I was walking around and there was a guy with miliary memorabilia, he had uniform patches and things, and there was, front and centre in his display case, and big, a Swastika. Nazi memorabilia. Then I came back to the table, and there was a guy wearing a 'Beat the Hell out of Obama' teeshirt, buying one of the other guy's, and they were telling each other a joke they both already knew, about St. Peter greeting Obama at the Pearly Gates, and asking what he'd done in his life and he said, 'For the last 15 minutes I got to be President of the United States.' And they laughed.

And then another guy came along, and was talking to Bob, mostly, but me too, about the election campaign, and well, if anyone said he was prejudiced he was, and he was too old to do it, but if Obama's elected, someone's gonna assassinate that nigger bastard ... Bob was being a lot more polite than I wanted to be, but I'm so far out of my element I kept my mouth shut. Bob got him switched onto the handgun on his belt instead, then, thank God, someone came along who really wanted to look at knives, and I could interrupt that conversation and the guy went away. We were kinda afraid he was headed back in our direction later. For the next morning, I'd decided what I COULD say, if anyone started it again, but another vendor near us got sick last night, and the guy behind us moved his fucking teeshirts farther away from us and no-one said political or racist shit directly to us again. Maybe, I just needed to be prepared with an answer -- I can use it again while I'm here, if I need to. I’da simply said, “I’m not from around here and where I’m from a man wouldn’t use language like that talking to a lady. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy looking at the guns for the rest of the day.” We didn’t have any guns at our place. And if that hadn’t been good enough, I’da said, “That was in Canadian. It translates to, ‘Shut your filthy mouth and get it the fuck away from my table.’” I was glad it didn’t come to that.

Some of it was kinda fun, and there were some people who were just a joy to meet, and had helpful information for Bob. Saturday I had a jar of beeswax and polished every handle except the antler and bone ones, and a bottle of Turtle Wax and polished all the blades except the Damascus ones after that. There were men, usually in their 70’s and 80’s, who'd make remarks to me about being careful around a woman with a blade like that, and I’d say, “Yeah, all the men have been real polite to me this morning.” They didn't want to look at knives, mostly. People had never seen the brass cable Damascus before and stopped to look at it and ask about it, and people who know knives said very pretty things to Bob and gave him ideas about places to go to sell his knives. There were some really sweet moments with little kids -- one was looking at one of Bob's knives, one with a wooden sheath, and his eyes got all big when he opened it and Bob just gave it to him. And there was a little boy, four or five, yesterday, with his Daddy, and he saw a knife in a pearwood stand, like the sword in the stone, and said, Daddy, what is it, twice, but Daddy didn't hear him, so I reached across and pulled it out and he looked like he got a puppy for Christmas. A couple of teenaged girls, who were clearly interested in the knives as ways to hurt someone, but generic someones, they weren't looking to do it today, and I wasn't above telling them what the other woman said about the bearclaws.

I walked around Sunday, mostly to go say hello to another knifemaker who'd talked to Bob and brought him a little block of bloodwood, to be neighbourly. There were some people there with a jewellery display -- pretty bracelets, like little cuffs, with the sides made out of the ends of matching silver spoons, bent, and in between a coin or a concho or something else. Mostly bracelets spin around so whatever's the prettiest part sits against the inside of my wrist and no-one sees it -- this can't do that -- I'd never seen anything like it and I liked one with a Statue of Liberty dollar in the centre. I went back to get money, and the man put an extra couple of chain links underneath where it fastened so it'd fit better. Later his wife walked past our table and we talked -- they're from Palestine, and they know who Bob's sister and her husband are, but don't know them. That was kinda nice -- to be able to introduce someone I knew first to Bob.

It was exhausting, and when we left after it was all done I felt like I'd escaped. I'd been singing, "We gotta get out of this place if it's the last thing we ever do ..." We came home, used all the really bad language we couldn't in a place like that with family standards for the vendors, and I fed the kitten again – he was just getting interested in more than just getting fed and cuddled -- he'd look around when he heard noises and just spent ten minutes rolling around upside down in my lap, wrestling and nibbling my fingers like he would his littermates, if he was with them. And he'd been grooming his paws a little. Good signs.

He was three weeks old when I wrote that. This picture was taken Thursday night this week – he’ll be eight weeks old tomorrow. I miss him and it hurts like a sonuvabitch. There'll be more about the trip -- I did really good things and there were other kinds of culture shock. This afternoon, my son's taking me to see Passchendaele -- I've gotta go get showered now.


Pagan Sphinx said...

Wow. I was riveted to every word. Getting out of your usual environment can be good but it does have its risks when it comes to having one's bubble burst.

Sometimes I can't believe that there are really people out there who are so hateful.

The line about the 15 minutes of being president...that hit me like a ton of bricks. I think I have a headache now, in fact.

Great writing, Kate.

Kate Morningstar said...

Thanks, Pagan. I was told to go write it down while it was fresh, and it was very fresh. And that 15 minutes of being President came just after I'd seen the Nazi memorabilia. It made me feel sick.

And at the same time, my friend was the vendor at the show, and they'd given really clear rules about this being a family event and not putting up signs, advertising that would be offensive. They meant no sex and we couldn't cuss, but the racism out in public like that was okay, and MAN! We cussed, but quietly, and then loud, in the truck, going home.

I'm so sorry about Prop 8 -- it's just plain wrong, and I hope the legal challenge works.

Kate Morningstar said...

Oh, and Pagan? I loved that callapygian nude of yours from Friday night.

Crimson Rambler said...

very evocative, thanks Kate!

Kate Morningstar said...

Hi, CR!! I was reading at your place about 2 this morning. It's feeling good to get back in touch wit people. Did you ever get a safe in your office? I loved your curate story.

Jan said...

Great writing, Kate. That's TX, but it's a part I haven't been so near to as you were. A little scary. No wonder my daughter left.

Kate Morningstar said...

Thanks, Jan. It really was different. I expect, in the spring, to be in Round Rock near Austin, for a couple of days. I'd hoped I'd have my own driver's licence by then, but Ontario's graduated licensing system means I can not. I can't do my test before 8 months of having a learner's permit; I can't drive between midnight and 5 a.m., and I can't drive with anyone under the age of 18 in the front seat with me. Like anyone would want to!!!

But, I'll keep in touch, and maybe we can SEE and hug each other.