In 2007, Albertans likely will go to the polls. We asked three writers to imagine the province five years from now, when the new government will have served a full term. Each writer was assigned a different party.
This month, Eugene Stickland depicts Alberta after five years of Tory rule.
I am in the garage. It is raining. It’s the middle of January and it rains and rains. No snow again this year. They say we may never see any snow again this far south. Go figure.
I am living in the garage of some friends of mine. We fixed it up a bit. They had some old furniture and we tacked some cardboard between the two-by-fours for insulation. There’s even an old carpet with some kind of stain on it. It’s not so bad except when it rains, and it’s raining today.
If nothing else I can smoke in here. Cigarettes just went up to $25 a pack but I have a source, a native guy I helped out a while back. He says don’t ask any questions, and I don’t. That’s pretty typical around here. No one asks questions anymore.
My wound is festering and it throbs. I stepped on a nail I guess and the nail must have been rusty and otherwise dirty. I went by the Ralph Klein Memorial Health Centre one day but there was a lineup a mile long. I asked a guy in line how it works. He had a big bloody towel pressed against his face. He said he didn’t know for sure. I said I didn’t think I could wait. He said he’d put a nail in his eye at a job site, and that he’d have to wait.
But what about the money? He said his boss gave him the name of someone to ask for. I asked him to tell me the name. He said he couldn’t tell me. I said without that name I was afraid I would have to pay and I knew I couldn’t afford it. He said at least you don’t have a nail in your eye. Point taken.
I walked back to the garage. A guy in a red Hummer almost ran me over. Twice. He came back for me a second time. He and his girlfriend were laughing. She was pretty. I tried to ex-plain that because of the wound on my foot I couldn’t cross the street fast enough to get out of their way. The guy threw some change at me. Forty-seven cents. I limped away as if I wasn’t going to pick it up, but after they drove off I circled back and picked it up.
My journey to the streets and subsequently to the garage was gradual but swift. I had been waiting on a grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. They kept saying any day now, you have been approved by a jury of your peers, your cheque is in the mail. But it didn’t come and it didn’t come and my landlord finally said he could be renting my place for thousands of dollars more a month than he was charging me, and I hadn’t paid him for some time on any account.
Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not sitting there waiting for money from the AFA. There was a leaked memo from the government we all heard about saying that from now on, the only culture the government would support would be agri-culture.
There was some talk that they were going to roll the funding from the AFA into a new agri-culture complex somewhere out near the Saskatchewan border. The plan as I heard it was to retrain some of the artists in the province in the area of livestock maintenance. As a senior artist in the province, it was rumoured, I would be trained in the area of animal husbandry. Not only that. I’d be given a stall to live in with fresh hay once a week along with a hot meal every day or so.
As it was explained to me by a friend who grew up on a farm, this would involve assisting the bull in his efforts to mount and subsequently roger and impregnate the cow. “Roger” obviously isn’t the official term. How would I know? The whole idea of being anywhere near those snorting grunting beasts just scared the hell out of me and I never pursued the opportunity, generous as it was on the part of the government.
I had a lot of friends in high places, once upon a time. Millionaires, some of them. I thought I would be okay. I didn’t think they’d let me fall. They did, though. I’m not sure why. There’s a collective greed, a mass hysteria around this place these days. A mixture of fear and greed. A small-mindedness. We always said it was because the generation that grew up in the shadow of the Depression had learned to hoard things. Always hedging against the rainy day. But now their kids are worse than them, if anything. They look to me like children in a sandbox who won’t share their toys. When I look deep into their eyes, I feel I am looking into the soul of a child scared shitless of life itself.
I got in trouble for saying things like that, that’s why I only write these things in my diary these days. I got fired from the two jobs I had. People said, Why don’t you just move back to Saskatchewan if that’s the way you feel? This is Alberta, this is the apotheosis of the capitalist system. Maybe they have a point but they say it’s worse in Saskatchewan and it looks like they’re about to form the first-ever native government and I don’t know how well they’d treat me—last I looked in the mirror I’m pretty damned white.
They say there’s now over twenty billion dollars in the Heritage Fund. No one knows for sure. They say one of the big oil companies made over ten billion dollars in profit last year. There’s money around, but they all say they’re waiting for a rainy day.
Well, I’m back in my garage. (My mentor left two new cardboard boxes for me, so there is still goodness in the world after all!) Nice as it is in here, the rain is leaking through the roof and the dampness seems to make my wound throb all the more.
If anyone were to ask me, I’d say the rainy day is here.
Eugene Stickland is a Calgary-based writer. His play Sitting on Paradise was running at Calgary’s Epcor Centre at the time of publication.
This article was originally published in May 2007.
You can find other articles that have resurfaced for the election here.
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