Wednesday, October 20, 2010



The Prairie
Even the ever-optimistic Michelin Green Guide Canada admits there is nothing to see in Saskatchewan. But it is not true. There is a majesty and grandeur in the endless prairie, the vast wheat fields, now tan stubble after the harvest, the distant flat horizons, the sunsets made fiery by the remoteness of those horizons. But there is something defeating, belittling in that vastness as well. No matter how far one goes on one's own two legs, one hasn't gone anywhere. One is trapped in place by the immensity of the spaces. That may be why the Saskatchewanese all have enormous cars and pickups. (The word "compact" cannot be translated into Canadian.) It is not to defy the vastness, defiance is not a Canadian thing to do, but to reassure themselves, to conceal their human impotence and even irrelevance in the face of the limitlessness of the plains.

Since nothing ever does, nor ever has, happened in Saskatchewan there isn't much for the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina (yes, it does rhyme with....) to display. So there is an extensive treatment of the geological history of the province and of the earth. At the end there is a reflection on the future prospects of Saskatchewan and the world. It is a we're-all-screwed warning about global warming, mass extinctions, and reducing one's carbon footprint. It is a tad over-stated but perfectly conventional and unobjectionable.

But on the second floor of the museum there is an extensive treatment of the wonders and joys of Saskatchewan's prosperous oil and gas drilling industry. It may be a variation on the Christian charitable notion of the left hand not knowing who the right hand is taking money from.

The Casino
On my way east I stopped at the Indian casino in Yorkton and went in both to poke around and to have lunch. The casino was much the same as Indian casinos in the US, lot of flashing lights, brightly-lit, flashing machines, the fake-excitement music, the thick carpets. What was so disturbing about it was that there were lots of people there. The parking lot was full. About two o'clock in the afternoon on Wednesday.

Almost without exception the people inside were playing slot machines. And almost without exception they were all old. Older than me and I have been retired for six years now. One woman was so concerned about protecting "her" machine from interlopers that she glared at me and pointedly placed herself between me and the favored machine as I walked by.

It was more than a little appalling. Slot machines are a completely passive activity. Gone is even the slight participation of pulling the lever on the mechanical "one-armed bandits" of yore. On electronic machines one inserts the coin and presses a button.

These were retired people immersed in boredom, people whose choices as to how to spend their days had ground down to either daytime television or slot machines. While it is easy to moralize and say that that is their choice and their failing that they had been reduced to such a flattened and tedious life. But don't people have some responsibility for one another? How could they be helped?

Literature, art, adult education, participation sports, even spectator sports, are all better than slot machines. But most of all, sex is better than slot machines. One can easily imagine old people turning an unblinking indifference on the prospect of reading Boethius' "Consolations of Philosophy", of a display of Fauvist canvases, of a course on the history of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, of ping pong or chess. But not to sex.

I think the only reason old people are not constantly in the sack is conditioning. We are told that we aren't interested so we believe it. We are told that no one wants us so we believe it. We are told that sexual exclusivity in marriage matters when it no longer does so we believe it. We are told nonsense fables about sexually-transmitted diseases that straight people are almost incapable of getting so we believe it. We are told that good girls don't so we believe it. We are told that we are dirty old men if we want to do it so we believe it.

My notion is that if the old people in front of the slot machines were getting laid a lot they would be rejuvenated and would put their loonies and toonies (dollar and two dollar coins) back in their purses. They would be hiking, playing badminton, reading books, taking courses in Photoshop, and writing the great Canadian novel.

Instead they are dying by stages, waiting to die.

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