Truly, I’ve always had a hard time talking about myself in the first person, so what follows comes as quite a shock to yours’ truly. I have found it much easier to describe what I have done or lived through as if telling a story about someone else. Talking about other people makes easy confident talk. I’m not exactly alone in this. Think of all the things people say about the Young, or the Restless.
Oh I can’t believe what those ratty ingrate hooligans did to that Starbuck’s in Seattle what a mess they ought to
Or the news. There’s the poor, the rich, the welfare cheats. The homeless, the women. I am storyless, and happily so. Opinionless, until I type in the key word to initiate the search
that never fails in these informative days to yield utter pages. Sheer pages. This is not a cliché because I am not a writer. I am a spy.
Spy is too glorious a word.
I’m an informer.
And now a confessor, and this is my confession.
Years ago there was a scandal about an informer on the government payroll who was revealed to have infiltrated a Neo-Nazi organization. He had helped build the group up, had befriended some of the leaders and had urged on certain activities and had helped the group achieve certain odious objectives. The revelation that “our tax dollars” had gone to building the fascist movement in Canada created a stir, typically brief. But it had other, less sensational effects: it cast a dim light on my chosen profession, and my peers and I felt momentarily scorned, demeaned, and, worst of all, illegitimate.
This latter was too much to bear. Imagine the bit and big players of a small yet global industry doubly imperiled. Risking exposure at every turn, and then slammed when they actually do their job well. Legitimacy was the one thing we all pursued, however shyly, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. It certainly wasn’t the money, which was never grand. Our tax dollars are spent in denominations truly more grand than the small bills we pocketed.
My chosen profession? The professionals choose you. An arrest, a questioning, a feeler sent out.
I was young and I needed the money.
Informers make bad spies, always eager to talk and impress and ingratiate. To prove worthy. We are sub-spies, like angels under their arches. With our own pride, mind you, and our own shaky camraderie.
It’s piece-work, to be sure, and, being so, very much like any other job in the current economy. I’d say. Though, for security reasons, our contribution to the GDP never gets acknowledged, which irks a few.
We all like to do our bit.
Toronto, 1993. My roommate dragged me along to a demonstration outside an empty office building. On a Saturday. My late morning coffee and The Globe and Mail left behind to die on the cluttered kitchen table in the half-empty student co-op we lived in, my beautiful steaming black pool of need unmet and getting cold. Other people’s fingers all over my paper.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered, what can you do about the way things are? Tuition goes up.
More police than protesters. The event got silly and three students got on the wrong side of the line on the sidewalk and were, how to say, treated roughly in front of the others. Typical. The demonstrators got huffy because they were, poor unfortunates, believers in the Charter of Rights and – before you knew it the police had arrested six, including yours’ truly.
Who was only objecting to the policeman who had punched him in the neck for no reason. Who dropped to the ground with a smack. Who was charged with “assault police”.
Who is to this day amazed that the media, broadly speaking, gets continually away with using that same caption: protesters clashed with police.
Whose amazement is turning to respect, however grudging, and confusing.
But still, the caption remains rather uninformative. If you ask me.
“So you’re an anarchist.”
“Is Harold your leader?”
Rinse and repeat. Inspector Cousins, Nat to friends or suspects when he plays good cop, was unsatisfied with my answers. He talked about the challenges and joys of rock climbing and told me there were ways to play the game and I wasn’t playing it right. He then gave me his card.
“Call me if you ever want to talk.”
“We can have coffee.”
I was secretly elated. My uncle had been a cop, in Ottawa.
I slipped the Inspector’s card in my reclaimed wallet as I made my uncertain way out of the station. Into the small cheers of unknown comrades waiting outside. Feeling guilty, feeling less than legitimate for something I hadn’t even done yet.
Not the last time.
I was born in 1971, so it’s not my fault. I don’t know any other world.
I confess: I haven’t been to church, ever.
I have purposefully isolated myself from my family.
I sometimes use styrofoam cups.
I often have lustful thoughts.
I buy newspapers only to scan the headlines for the key words of my profession. If I can’t recycle I leave the paper on the bench or the seat or the table so that others may reuse.
The small matter of my fallacious resume.
A too-keen desire to please and be approved.
The larger matter of a brother I avoid.
But in all of this I am indignant of one small thing: my so-called double-life is not so rare or shameful or large in the total calculation of the gross domestic product of the Canadian people.
To lead a double-life today is not much. It is lifestyle-lite, really. When you consider the multiple personality order of the day.
Shall we add it up?