Sunday, November 06, 2011

Black Hats

Gros Morne
I wear a big, black leather hat I found in a roadside shop in Arizona a few years ago. I like it. When it rains, I don’t need an umbrella. When it’s hot, I take my shade with me. It gathers a few smiles as I walk down the street in Saskatoon and a smile is always nice. People need to be amused and I’m happy to oblige.
In Howard Jacobson’s 2010 Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Finkler Question, an Orthodox Jewish lad wearing a black hat and side curls is surrounded in the street by high school kids taunting “Look! It’s a Jew!” The difference between him and me (besides the side curls, of which I have an obvious dearth) is probably that when I walk down the street, most people think: “There goes one of us wearing a funny hat—amusing.” When the Orthodox Jew walks down the street in a black bowler, it’s: “There goes one of them in a funny hat; let’s knock it off!”
If you can get past frank dialogue about sex and the use of related words we’ve designated “smutty,” you might want to pick up The Finkler Question and spend some time with it. I won’t review it critically; a competent jury selected it to be the best of the novel-writing craft for 2010 and their judgment is good enough for me. It is at the same time a fascinating study of what it’s like to live in one us and them world.
And how us vs. them we’ve become—or have always been: Arian vs non-Arian; black vs. white; Arab Muslim vs. the West; real born-again Christians vs. false non-born again so-called Christians; Jews vs. Gentiles; conservatives vs. liberals vs. social democrats; the smart vs. the stupid; heaven-bound vs. the world; Americans vs. pretty-much-everybody else by now (except the Harper government). I won’t dwell here on the fundamentals of tribalism, of clannishness except to say that from a biological, anthropological standpoint, the instinctive needs for “us and them” come first; the methods by which we make the distinctions are inventions that follow.
For a more amusing description of this, just read Dr. Suess’ The Sneetches. It’s a much quicker read than The Finkler Question and probably even more insightful.
Or watch the World Series and listen critically to the words of the opening and seventh-inning anthems: God gave this land to me (no he didn’t; he gave it to the aboriginal people—you stole it from them) and God bless America, my home sweet home. Always with the: we, the chosen ones.
Meanwhile, in Rosthern the winter vs. summer distinction is being dramatized this morning by a few inches of snow and a minus three temperature. It’s interesting to note here that snow falls on everybody; it’s not clannish. I’ll be wearing my black hat today; it actually keeps the otherwise-unprotected top of my head quite warm. Knock it off if you dare.


  1. A friend wrote:
    Did you know that God Bless America was written during the 1812 war? Apparently this is so. I must say I used to like to listen to Kate Smith sing it at hockey games.

    I read the Finkler Question, (sort of). I thought the jury a bit daft.

  2. Another friend wrote:
    We enjoy reading your blog. I'm sure you'll cut a striking figure in your black hat! I like your attitude!
    Thanks for telling us about your snowfall! It's chilly here too, but no white stuff yet!

  3. Yet another friend wrote:
    Thanks George, you are always a highlight on a Sunday morning. See you in church.... maybe I can knock your hat off.