I like Hamilton. I know that most people call it a smelly, dirty, run-down city, but that only describes most of it. The rest is a collection of excellent green space, beautiful architecture, fascinating history, and crazy people.
One of the schools where I work is located smack in the middle of the city. But before you start imagining a scene from Dangerous Minds, this one happens to be located in a fairly affluent neighborhood that features some of the nicest century homes you’ll ever see. It has a lovely playground, is attached to a city park, and is tucked away from the main road enough that there is little risk of getting run over while chasing down an errant ball.
As I was outside supervising a game of soccer, I saw a man wandering through the park. Her suddenly pulled out a point-and-shoot digital camera, snapped a few pictures of the sky, and then looked around excitedly.
“Dammit,” I muttered as he spotted me and hurried over.
Now there was nothing outwardly odd about this man’s appearance that would have tipped me off about his oddness. He was middle-aged, dressed in baggy khakis and a golf shirt, scruffy but not frighteningly unkempt. But as soon as he saw me, I could see it in his eyes. Profundity had struck, and he needed to share it with the world.
“Hey,” he said to me, waving happily. “Hey, look! Look up there! Look at the sky!”
I followed his pointed finger to look at the clouds.
“Do you see it?” he asked me, jabbing his finger at the sky. “Right there! Do you see it?”
I contemplated bluffing it. “Sure,” I would say, “I see it. Isn’t that amazing? Who would have thought that that would ever happen up there? Man oh man. What a sight.”
But what if he called the bluff? What if he turned to me and said something like, “So what does that mean to you? I mean, it’s a pretty specific thing, and I bet you have no experience with it, so how come you care? Crazy dirty knife attack!”
So, I allowed the meeting to play itself out.
“Sorry,” I said, “what am I looking at?”
“Right there!” he replied, pointing again. “Look, see the ball? And the player? He just kicked the ball. Just… like… the… kids…”
I looked out at the Grade 7 soccer game. I looked at the mass of formless clouds.
“And I got it right here,” he said, pointing at the camera.
It was only when he walked away that I realized that his camera was actually a juice box wrapped in duct tape.