Michał Kozłowski Wait­ing for Trudeau

Pansy shoes and power suits on Par­lia­ment Hill

Geist - - Geist - MICHAŁ KOZŁOWSKI

Aot­tawa cou­ple of months ago I was in

and went to Par­lia­ment Hill hop­ing to ob­serve Ques­tion Pe­riod. It was late fall and the air was frigid; the news that morn­ing had fore­cast the first snow­fall of the sea­son. At Cen­tre Block, a few dozen peo­ple were wait­ing in line. Within min­utes of my ar­rival, a Par­lia­ment Hill em­ployee, a young woman whose coat bore a sil­hou­ette of the build­ing in front of us, an­nounced that Ques­tion Pe­riod was full, but we were all wel­come to stay in line to see if any­thing opened up. A stout guy in a leather jacket turned to his friend and said that it was be­cause the PM him­self is sup­posed to at­tend to­day and then the two of them slipped out of the line. A mid­dle-aged guy in an over­coat said to no one in par­tic­u­lar that this never used to hap­pen when Harper was the Prime Min­is­ter and then he too slipped out of line and be­gan the long march along the gi­ant lawn in front of Cen­tre Block and up past the Cen­ten­nial Flame, around which a group of kids hud­dled for warmth.

I was de­ter­mined to wait it out, so I pulled out my book and set­tled in. I had come to Ot­tawa to at­tend a meet­ing of pub­lish­ers, cul­tural bu­reau­crats and MPS. In prepa­ra­tion for the meet­ing I had been dis­cussing with a friend Han­nah Arendt’s writ­ing on cul­ture and en­ter­tain­ment in which Arendt pro­poses that en­ter­tain­ment in­creas­ingly threat­ens to erode cul­ture through the re­mak­ing on a mass scale of art ob­jects into eas­ily di­gestible forms suited for mass con­sump­tion. My friend sug­gested that the same process is at work in the po­lit­i­cal sphere, and that pol­i­tics has come to oc­cupy the space of en­ter­tain­ment, as most re­cently ev­i­denced by our own Prime Min­is­ter, the one who was at­tend­ing Ques­tion Pe­riod that very day, ap­pear­ing on the cov­ers of fash­ion mag­a­zines and a re­al­ity TV star be­ing named the Repub­li­can can­di­date for the US pres­i­dency. Then I heard a ma­tronly voice say, where did

you get those pansy shoes? I looked down at my own shoes and then up to see the speaker, who was a mid­dleaged woman in one of those brightly coloured puffy jack­ets; she was wear­ing a pair of brown leather boots in the style of rid­ing boots favoured by eques­tri­ans, a sport that seems par­tic­u­larly suited to Ot­tawa. The woman in the rid­ing boots was ev­i­dently ad­dress­ing her son, who had on a pair of blue can­vas sneak­ers. You’re a big guy, she said, you need big rugged shoes, not lit­tle pansy shoes.

At this point the crowd shuf­fled for­ward, and along with the woman in the rid­ing boots and the young man in the can­vas sneak­ers and a cou­ple of mid­dle-aged guys in var­sity jack­ets, I fi­nally en­tered the foyer of the Cen­tre Block, which was filled with se­cu­rity guards di­rect­ing traf­fic, RCMP of­fi­cers rush­ing in and out of the build­ing, men with white hair and dark suits and women with big hair and skirts and blaz­ers strid­ing con­fi­dently through se­cu­rity; young men and women in tighter suits with lan­yards around their necks stand­ing around; a flut­ter of ac­tiv­ity that was am­pli­fied when­ever the door was opened and huge gusts of wind ripped through the foyer.

The se­cu­rity guard, a pudgy guy in his for­ties, asked, are you to­gether? What about you? You? He was point­ing at the peo­ple in line. Okay, he said, you’re go­ing to wait here for a mo­ment and then I’m go­ing to wave you through and you’re go­ing to walk along the wall here just like that and then you’re go­ing to see those fine gen­tle­men over there, belts and jack­ets off, pock­ets empty.

The woman in the puffy jacket said to her son, you should be­come a se­cu­rity guard, you’re a big guy.

The son said, you can’t trust peo­ple if you’re a se­cu­rity guard; I trust peo­ple too much.

Then the se­cu­rity guard started chat­ting with the two guys in the var­sity jack­ets, and at one point I heard him say, for Hal­loween one year I went as Hunter S. Thomp­son. Way I see it, it gives you li­cence to get bel­liger­ent. Another year, he went on, I went as a hobo. I rubbed some bike grease on my face, so I could say that I wasn’t wear­ing makeup.

Af­ter we had passed through se­cu­rity, we were pointed up­stairs, where more white-haired men in dark suits and big-haired women in skirts and blaz­ers were strolling around with fold­ers in their hands. Another se­cu­rity guard pointed me to a desk, where two more se­cu­rity guards sat, and when I asked them about at­tend­ing Ques­tion Pe­riod, they pointed me to yet another se­cu­rity guard, who pointed in turn to a line of peo­ple hud­dled be­hind a vel­vet rope. Ques­tion Pe­riod is full, she said, but you can wait there to see if any­thing opens up.

I got into the back of that line and set­tled in. The place looked eerily fa­mil­iar, though I knew I had never been inside any build­ings on Par­lia­ment Hill be­fore. Two women in their for­ties, wear­ing power suits, got into the line be­hind me.

—When I don’t have to worry about my mom I can cook a good din­ner. You know, ex­per­i­ment.


—Ya, when I was house sit­ting I could look at the recipe books and then go to Walmart but when I got into that damn store I’d get con­fused and leave with only two or three of the in­gre­di­ents on the list.

—You gotta write it down.

—I know that. You’re right.

—You ever read the in­gre­di­ents on cream cheese? You can’t even pro­nounce half the words.

—Ya, like my mom used to get Cheez Whiz.

—Oh I like Cheez Whiz.

—Or those Kraft Sin­gle slices. —Or that Velveeta stuff.

—The Velveeta I liked bet­ter than those slices. But not for your ham­burg­ers or for your grilled cheese sand­wiches.

—Now you can get Velveeta in those slices.

A few peo­ple slipped out of line, so I shuf­fled along closer to the front.

—Oh, and I’ve been mak­ing a bit of progress in my knit­ting. But I’m still hav­ing a hard time with ac­count­ing for rows.

—Oh, you just re­ally have to count right. But it might be too dif­fi­cult for you.

—I al­ready made one of those copy cats and Sarah has me mak­ing more for Christ­mas.

—Have you met Fiona yet?

—I have sus­pi­cions about Fiona. I don’t think that I trust her. I saw what ap­peared to be an al­co­holic bev­er­age at her work sta­tion.

—I guess she thinks her job is more im­por­tant than God.

—That’s like my mom. I said to her, get off those pills and start be­liev­ing in God.

Then it dawned on me why this place looked so fa­mil­iar; I had seen it on Youtube, it was ex­actly where the cam­era­man had shot from when he filmed the RCMP clos­ing in on the man who had at­tacked Par­lia­ment Hill a few years ear­lier, while the sound of gun­fire rang out.

At quar­ter past three, two hours af­ter I had joined the first lineup, there were only four of us left in line. Another se­cu­rity guard came over. English, French? he said. Okay, I just want to in­form you that Ques­tion Pe­riod is over. You can stand in line to see the gal­leries, but QP is over.

Michał Kozłowski is the pub­lisher and ed­i­tor-in-chief of Geist. Read more of his work at geist.com.

Movie shoot truck flower girl, by Fabrice Strip­poli. Shot with a Has­sel­blad Stel­lar. Queen West at Brock St. in Park­dale, Toronto, on Au­gust 10 at 3:14 p.m.

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