During my first week of university, back in September of 1986, SFU set up a number of booths in the Academic Quadrangle where all sorts of vendors could set-up shop, catering to the wet-behind-the-ears first-year crowd. Student credit cards, cheap dentists, bus passes, discounts on numerous things. One that caught my eye was Cypress Bowl; I was an avid skier back then, and they were offering a heavily-discounted season’s pass for students. $120 for the entire upcoming ski season. The quick math on that indicated it to be a no-brainer. I’d have it paid off in a few weeks, for a ski season that’d hopefully last 6 months.
There was a catch though… it was a restricted pass. Only good for daylight hours, and not on weekends. Monday to Friday, dawn to dusk — and that suited me just fine; my intention was to ski outside of class… before or after (and, as it turned out — on particularly sunny days — during) school. I had Tuesdays off, and only morning classes on Thursdays. And Fridays, done by noon… plenty of time. SFU to Cypress was about 30 minutes.
They took my picture (with a fancy Polaroid that printed two of the same), kept one and created my pass… logo, picture and name, all professionally laminated. And since it was restricted, as per above, the word “RESTRICTED” stamped right across the face of it, in bright red letters.
I wore that thing out. True to my word, I paid it off in weeks — I was up there at least twice a week, usually 3 times. That turned into 4 after I dropped a course that was nowhere near as engaging as flying down the slopes.
Curious thing though… when you’re skiing, and you get to the chairlift, there’s that 10 seconds of time when you’re next, and you shuffle-up to the marker, awaiting the chair to scoop you up. During that time, you usually have a 1 or 2-sentence discussion with the chairlift operator -the “Liftie”.
“Hey, what’s up”
“Have a good one”
“It’s icy, eh”
That sort of thing. Well, that would be typical… but for some reason, with me… I’d always get, “Oh, hello! And how are you doing today? Are you having a good day? Is everything OK?” — some version of that. “Yeah, man, it’s all good…” I’d say… but think to myself… well, that was weird.
One particular day, months into this, I got to the bottom of the hill, and joined the lineup to the chairlift… and noticed, ahead of me, a group of intellectually and physically-disabled individuals, many of them with an accompanying care-aid. And then a few more of them, having made their way down the mountain, drifting in behind me in the line-up. And all of them had the exact same pass I did, “RESTRICTED”, boldly planted on their own, individual, professionally-laminated passes.
Oh…. now I get it. Now that makes sense. I watched ahead of me as these folks made their way onto the chairlift… and then it was my turn. And before I could say a word, there was the Liftie, a very nice older lady… 2 inches away from my face. “Oh, you’re going up all by yourself! Good for you! Have fun, but be safe!”. Well, thank you! I certainly will!
Amusing story, but if the lesson of it hasn’t hit you yet — with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the stomach — it’s this: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.
There’s a lot of book-cover-judging going on these days, and perhaps I’m a little guilty of it. I painted the state of Michigan yesterday with a pretty broad paintbrush, and it’s unfair to do so. The majority of residents of Michigan are not government-defying white-supremacist gun-toting swastika-tatooted Covidiots. They’re just normal people, and if the state were a book, those normal people would be pages 689 or 472 or whatever, any white page with black letters, indistinguishable from all the others. But the cover, that’s what you notice, and that’s what we see when the majority sit back and don’t make their voices heard (or seen). Michigan, in fact, is a good example of that. Back in 2016, that state was a given…. it hadn’t gone Republican since 1988, and Hilary Clinton had it in her “checked-off” list. All polls pointed to a Blue state, and when many voters stayed home and didn’t bother voting, guess what happened. By a margin of 0.23%, the state, and all 16 electoral college votes, went to Trump — a significant piece of the unexpected, complicated and surprising election result.
It’s the bright cover that gets the attention… the squeaky wheel that gets the grease… the tall trees that get the wind… the nail that sticks out that gets pounded down. So many versions of the same thing. In Spanish, “El que no llora, no mama”, with reference to crying babies: “He who does not cry, does not suck.” — that seems to lose some meaning when you translate it. On the other hand, perhaps it gains a different one…
Dr. Bonnie Henry keeps saying the same thing over and over, to the extent it might one day become the provincial motto: “Be kind, be calm, be safe”. It’s working well around here, and it’s probably working well elsewhere, but we never hear about it because the Covidiots take front and centre stage, and that’s what we judge. But they are the cover to a book that has a lot more to it; a book that is far from completion. We are writing the chapters as we live them. One day, we will judge that book — as will history — by its contents. Not its cover.
But if one day I write a novel, the title of the book will be “Stephen King” — in that familiar Stephen King font, Scary Times Roman™ or whatever it’s called. That will be the cover. Actually, let’s make it better… “Stephen King”, in that lettering, “Pandemic,” in a smaller font just below it. And far below that, in the tiniest font allowable, in the most transparent colour possible: “a novel by horatio kemeny”. All of this text overlaid on top of pandemic/apocalypse art: viruses, guns, militia, flags, doctors in masks, burning hospitals in the background. That thing would fly off the bookshelves and be #1 on every best-seller list on the planet… before anyone had a chance to say, “Hey… hey wait… what is this crap!?”.
That book, you’re allowed to judge by its cover. But that’s the only one.