Hamilton, Ontario
By David Stith
Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

[See Paul Brownwell's review for a different perspective on Hamilton, Ontario]

How do you solve a problem like Hamilton Ontario?

I remember our drive into the city – we were baffled by its tightness – we drove through a charred quick grove of streets: tight corners and buildings uncomfortably close to the road: I saw a woman speed-walking with a large backpack, a closed and boarded up M*cD*n*lds, piles of bloated garbage bags, and the night was thick around us in our car. Driving through an alien city is nearly always disconcerting. And in this part of Hamilton, with its wickedly unidirectional streets and narrow curves and unexpected traffic lights, with its stores that rose up and seemed to lean in over the road, I was afraid of the city. I was afraid of offending it by our foreignness. The world was feeling very strange: strange beyond Golden Arches gone black (which you must admit bodes all sorts of strangeness!).

First thing, I was the victim of a drive-by egging: Dark street, dark town, the lights of the Lebanese restaurant behind us, my friend Aileen and I made a quick stop at my car which was parked near the restaurant where we were intending to grab supper: we made for the front door and were about to enter:
me: oh! hold on Aileen…
Aileen: what, what happened?
me: something hit…look (points to sidewalk in proximity)…where?
Aileen: what is this egg (looking at ground)…what?
me: oh… (turning around, craning to see his own back) oh man…
Aileen: (laughs hard)
me: (takes off sweatshirt)
Aileen: (laughs harder, covers mouth with hands)
me: oh man! (holds sweatshirt out in order to assess the damage, looks down dark street)
Aileen: (laughs harder than David has capacity to appreciating: loses David’s respect)
me: (walks into restaurant. Aileen follows behind, begins to find composure)
End scene.

In my frazzlement, I may have insulted my waiter (that egg knocked whatever conversational cunning right out of me). I was paying for our meal, the waiter making good attempts at small talk: he asked me why we were visiting, where we were from… I leaned in, focusing on his hands, on the register (I think I was more focused on his hands than the conversation) and said “America…The Country.” Understand now that by “the country” I meant that I’m not from a big city. I guess I wanted him to know that I was out of my element: that his city was scaring me, but my courtesy by then had been replaced by distrust and surprise. I think I tried to explain what I meant, but by then he’d shrugged off the conversation and was dealing with the receipt-printing machine.

I developed a limp in my left leg, probably a muscular mutiny after our long drive from Houghton. In it’s way, though, my limp was fitting. I felt an empowerment, a swarthiness, like I’d lived hard, seen more than a man should see in a lifetime; by my nomadic resourcefulness I’d be immune to the fear of that place: I wore my limp like a purple heart, or a chest tattoo of a Dreadnought.

Our trip to Canada wasn’t entirely bogus – the show was great! Openers Pedestrian rocked the house to its foundation (I learned how to use earplugs!), with Shara joining them on stage for a couple minutes of exhilarating soul-rocking. They were only off the stage 5 minutes before the four members of Pedestrian and Shara climbed on stage again, reconfigured as My Brightest Diamond: Shara wore her shiniest silver dress, brightest thing by far in the room. And the crowd leaned in to listen. Shara exhilarated the worry right out of me, and by the time I left the venue, I was ready to love even Hamilton for making room for her music.

On our walk back to the car Aileen and I were nearly overrun by a white Canadian gang chased by a fleet of cop cars the wrong way on a one-way street (which is a frightening thing to see!: a bare street at 1 in the morning: the Christmas-tree-in-the-living-room glow of their lights apprising the dark buildings of their approach like some alien abduction…) One of the boys lost his white high-top as he ran –- it stood abandoned in stark hubris on the sidewalk. I drove over the shoe as I left the parking lot.

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