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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Launching a Northern Spectacle

January 15, 2000

It was a hoax, wasn't it, Peter Novak, that artificial northern light thing?

The story you highlighted on January 10, that NASA was going to project their version of the aurora borealis into the southern sky at precisely 11:43 PM, was just a ruse to see how many of your listeners were paying attention, right?  Well, my used-to-be-favourite morning person, I have to tell you, it worked.  This hard-bitten, cynical, worldly old columnist hung upon your every word.  How lovely, she thought.  Northern lights, those banners of pink and mauve and delicate green, calming to a troubled mind and delightful to the eye, and on demand?  It seemed too good to be true but, by golly, if they were going to go to all that trouble to put on a show, the least she could do was saunter out and take it in. 

So it was, in the middle of the night, long after her husband had sought his well-earned rest with beguiling blandishments that she join him, she dressed in three layers of clothes and lumbered half a mile out to the middle of the bridge, where she stood transfixed in the -25 degree temperature with a 20kph wind ruffling her corrugated blue flesh, staring at the southern horizon until her eyeballs froze and her rosy-red kneecaps seized up.  Then she sat on the snow encrusted bridge abutment until other portions of her anatomy glaciated, and watched some more.

And for what?  Nothing. Nada. Zippo.  Unless, of course, you count the raunchy winking of a brilliant blue star who wanted to know what a nice old girl like her was doing, hanging around on the bridge at that time of night.  Or the sidelong glances of Tia, her ancient red-haired travelling companion, who thought it was pretty dumb to be out walking, after midnight, out in the starlight, when they could both be hunkered down in the straw of their respective beds, but was too polite and loyal to say so outright.  Or the blatantly curious looks of the drivers who passed her, standing or sitting, in her parka and scarves and snowpacs, out there in the dark, in the middle of the damn bridge, in the middle of the damn night.  Had they stopped to check her for an explanation - or a pulse - what would she have said?  "Oh, heh, heh, heh, just watching for the northern lights.  NASA's launching them, you know, on the southern horizon, about 20 degrees..."  and her voice would have faded as the motorist cranked up his window and accelerated the hell out of there, leaving the Crazy Lady - at least, they THINK she was a lady, hard to tell with all the fur and feathers and the hat pulled down over the forehead - and her dog, just sittin' there, waitin' for the launch.

Now, the good Lord knows that I don't like to complain.  With the displacement of a BC Lions' linebacker and the disposition of a spruce tree, I tend to muddle through my days with a minimum of fuss and bother.  No one messes with me much and I sort of steer clear of hav- ing to make declarative sentences.  (Except to Phil, of course.  But he needs several declarative sentences from me just to help him get through his day so that doesn't really count.)  And I want to tell you, it's not always terrific but I get along.  Mostly.  But lately,   certainly for these first two weeks of the new year, it's been harder.

First of all, there was the GST.  By the time it got here, it had been in our consciousness for two years.  Would we, wouldn't we have it?  Should we, shouldn't we register?  Was it, wasn't it fair?  We'd heard it all and most of it was in one ear and out the other; we wouldn't have to worry about it until 1991; and besides, chances were the Tories weren't going to be able to bring it off.  Then Brian, going with some obscure small print, fiddled with the ballast in the Senate and then it WAS 1991 and there we were, trying to remember all we'd heard and read, trying to separate truth from rumour, trying to get answers from people who were still writing the directions. 

Then, the fact that the day of the GST dawned right in the middle of the longest, coldest snap in recent history didn't help.   Having to pay tax on top of the call-out charge for starting a frozen vehicle, on top of being docked an hour's pay for being late for work, on top of having a frozen patoot from standing around in office clothes at -40, seems sort of last-strawy, don't you know.  And with a recession settling in for the long haul, unemployment rampant, the Middle East in a crisis that worsens, even as I type, to say nothing of all those New Year's resolutions down the tube before the ink was even dry.....

Dammit, Peter.... I NEEDED those lights!!

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