Today, in the vicinity of Ossington station I found a little shop that sold books and things. An alternative type shop. It was, well . . . political. Actually, I had dropped into this shop on an earlier trip to the Ossington neighbourhood, but today I didn’t recognize it. I had entered the store before I realized that I had been in it before, and that I had already spoken briefly with the owner.

She’s a little dynamo with tons of energy, the owner. We last spoke on the eve of her trip to Cuba; so today, I asked her if she had enjoyed her vacation. She said that she had, and that she should have stayed there. I asked why. “Because it sucks here, ”she said. She went on to speak glowingly of the people and their way of life. No Coca Cola jingles on the radio and TV. No big billboards. “They know how to be poor,” she said. “They sing.”

“We don’t sing?” I said.

“Not like they do. Not from the heart.”

She spoke about the low illiteracy rate in Cuba: “Everyone’s educated. Everyone has a degree. The old man’s got seven degrees of his own, you know. He’d cut out his heart before he closed a school, or slashed an education program. There are doctors and engineers working in the fields.”

“Isn’t that frustrating for them?” I asked. And she allowed that it was.

Then she went on about the health care system. How the doctors will come to your home, even treat you at the beach if you need them to. There are alternative treatments and herbal therapies. The herb’s growing all over the place, you know.

“I know that,” I said.

She went on: “That Helms-Burton Act is a laugh, you know. All those American tourists. And those cigars they smuggle back.”

“They must like us, the Cubans. For the little we care about Helms-Burton,” I said.

“Oh, they love us. They’d never mistake a Canadian for an American. They can tell just by the way we carry our bodies that we’re not Americans.”

“You don’t say,” I said.

A woman came into the shop and the little dynamo went to attend to her; I turned my attention to the book shelves and surveyed the plethora of Marxist material. The space was small and while browsing, I followed their conversation. The woman was an actress and had come to pick up some research material from the owner. The latter was producing a play for the twelfth annual Mayworks Festival, a socialist-inflected celebration of solidarity. The performance would feature the actress in the role of Mother Jones, and would draw heavily on material from the Ronnie Gilbert play, Mother Jones is Not a Magazine. Ronnie Gilbert is the legendary female presence of the great folk singing quartet, the Weavers. In the little dynamo’s treatment, the actress will read for about fifteen minutes from Gilbert’s play, and then field questions from the audience in her Mother Jones character. Having concluded her business, the actress left the shop.

Then the owner ran on a while about Mother Jones, and mentioned in conclusion that Jones had had a Canadian connection. Inevitably, the conversation came round to Emma Goldman, and I said, perhaps imprudently. “Another good old broad with a Canadian connection, eh?”

“Humph,” she said. And unless it was my imagination the conversation really ended right there. For all intents and purposes my politically incorrect remark had shut her up like aclam. She sat down, swiveled in her chair, turned her attention to her mail, and began to hum a song.

“There now. You see,”I said. “You can sing.”

She said, “I hum. I don’t sing. I sound lousy. Singing is good only when people sing together. Then you can’t tell how bad they sound.”

“The heart sings,” I said. “Not the throat.”

Song by committee! Humph.

(C) 2013 arne torneck all rights reserved
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