Thursday morning. The guy gets on the 128 with a dangerous swagger and I think he may be trouble. Cigarette tucked behind his ear, dark glasses and about eight days on his face. Inked tree trunks for arms. Camo pants and a t-shirt of some metal band that I’ve never heard of. Headphones blasting the rat-a-tat stop-start of speed metal. He taps his foot to the beat and is oblivious to the fact that his volume is disturbing everyone around him (I can hear his shit over my music). His air is one of don’t fuck with me…or else. It’s a type of over-the-top male aggression/bravado that makes me chuckle. It’s such a stupid show, in my opinion, and accomplishes precisely the opposite of its intent. I’m perched in my usual spot: Back of the bus, curbside. He sits in the middle of the back seat, directly to my left. Although there’s a seat between us, he’s splayed his legs so far apart that they almost touch mine. We arrive at Westmount and the guy gets up, heads to the back door. It’s then that I see the back of his t-shirt. It says, in 150 point Times all caps: JESUS IS A CUNT. I instantly bust out a conspicuous guffaw. The guy glances back to me and I stop just before his eyes catch mine. We look at each other for a second. For a split second I think maybe this guy is gonna come back and pummel me. But he doesn’t.
Of course it’s just a t-shirt. On the other hand, we live in a society where t-shirts go far beyond utility or adornment. A clever or offensive t-shirt can be a statement, and because it’s an informal form of dress, it can provide insight into someone’s personality or politics or sense of humour. Informal dress is truer, if that makes sense1. At the same time, a t-shirt is not a compelling distillation of anyone’s life or philosophy. A t-shirt declaring Christ Almighty to be a cunt is a ridiculously over-the-top statement; one that seems so utterly disingenuous simply because it was purchased and designed to offend. Doubly so when it is donned by a guy who clearly displays the reptilian remnants of the human psyche, i.e. aggression, dominance, hierarchy. I’d like to have sit down with this man. A tete-a-tete on philosophy and the message that we each put into this world. I’m not condemning his t-shirt philosophy, if it can be called such. I may not agree with his statement (I doubt even he truly agrees with it), but he’s welcome to say it and everyone is welcome to comment on it. What I would say, however, is that this world does not need more harshness and bigotry. We’ve got plenty to go around. Prejudice and intolerance may be part and parcel of the human condition, but we can do better than crass statements on t-shirts. We’re capable of much greater thoughts, statements and gestures.
I spend the rest of my day thinking about this man and his t-shirt. Would I ever have the courage to ask him about it, me the always silent observer? Would he have the balls to discuss it rationally? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll see him again some day.
1 I firmly believe that man’s natural clothing state is boxers and a muscle shirt. Maybe a bathrobe. One day, I’ll wear my bathrobe to work.
City Sundown, April 2007
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?