Wednesday, September 3, 2008

For Joe Who written way back when

King Tut and Joe Clark
With Joe retired from politics, the truth can now be told about why his short-lived government fell in 1979. Commentators at the time ignored the evidence I attempted to lay before them then, but the facts are still in my possession. In early December of 1979 when he was still Prime Minister he visited the King Tut exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I know because I was a maintenance worker there. A week later, his government fell.
People remember the Mississauga train derailment and poison gas threat that saw the forced evacuation of much of that city. What they don't seem to remember is that it happened the week after the King Tut exhibit passed through the city on its way to Toronto. What befell Mississauga, befell Joe Clark.
Never having been a Tory, I nonetheless became one of the few people I knew who liked Joe Clark. I remember hearing him talk about Canada as a community of communities, and somehow it sounded so much more livable than the ideas of centralized federalism and creeping republicanism. I could envision the creation of a cooperative commonwealth within a community of communities. I didn't agree with the Charlottetown accord, largely because I thought it debased Clark's idea of Canada into a community of provinces, which is not at all the same thing, I think of it bioregionally, watersheds.
The reason I liked Clark however was less abstract than that. I met him him during his visit to the King Tut Exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. With my broom and long-handled dustpan I could walk into the exhibition area whenever I felt the urge to see the King and study his eyes and then make my way around the long lined milling masses, scooping up the debris they left in their wake.

The day the PM came I was sweeping up in the lobby when he and his entourage came out the exhibit exit. He began signing autographs and his aides and bodyguards were only letting school kids near him. They brushed me aside when I tried to get the Prime Minister to sign the triangle of plastic where the bristles of my broom conjoined. (It was the only thing I had for him to sign.) Joe however said, "Where's the guy with the broom...?" and there I was.
Afterwards I shellacked the signature and created a little card explaining the circumstances. I hope the broom still hangs over the door to the maintenance room in the sub-basement of the AGO.
As I said, while I attribute the fall of Clark's government to the curse of Tut, I'm not so sure I attribute the curse itself to Tut. In those many hours in front of the death mask, all glory of gold and lapis lazuli, the black eyes lucid in the calcite glitter, If there was a curse that traveled with Tut, it was not coming from the death mask. It came from one of the smaller funereal artifacts that sat off in a case in another room of the exhibit, a malignant thing in a room where an older woman ... well, never mind....

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