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the state of the civilization

Responsibility One

critical nonfiction by Kurt Halliday

we're at The K.O. Corral.

Fella with a big hat has his binoculars leveled at the tanning salon across the street. Most of us figure he's watching his wife.

But when a skinny little guy all browned up, with a big black mustache, stumbles out feelin' pretty good about himself and the INS - Immigration and Naturalization Service - is right there to deport himů

Jean says: "Jeez - dis is Canada, too, hey!?"

Manley and She-ler sorta look around.

"Jean," says Paul. "You're supposed to do something!"

"Eh, buddy-boy! You ain't in duh warm chair!"

"Hot seat," She-ler says.

"'Ot seat!" says Jean. "What would you know!?"

Then a black Jimmy pulls up right outside.

"Oh-oh! It's doze accursed black Jimmys again!"

She-ler: "He thought he was just seeing those."

Manley: "I told you. Give him the little purple ones first."


In comes a quiet white-haired suspicious gentleman in an expensive black suit with a throw-away plastic valise under his arm.

"He used to be in real estate," says Jean.

"Mr. Commissioner!" says Paul.

"Now he's in Ethics," says Jean.

Fella with a big hat swivels, string tie and all, and binoculars us good for maybe ten seconds while the mustache opposite's being loaded into some Jimmys.

Then the Commissioner says he's here because people asked for an overview. Of. How it really works. What. It's about. In. Reality.

"It's party time!" hops Jean.

"No, it's not!" sips Paul.

"It's really not!" Manley kinda does his Beaker thing, there.

"You back-benchers keep your heads down!" bounces Jean.

Paul holds the waitress off with that Bay Street smile.

She's so held-off, in fact, she don't approach the Commissioner or get anywhere near the string-tie man.

And everybody can see that string-tie and the Commissioner are working together. That they have to exchange eye-signals to know which way to go. That they need regular back-up.


The Commissioner gets off to a start of some kind. He wonders rhetorically what responsibility is. Is there a thing - responsibility - such that we can point to it directly, as a whole, in its own light? Or. Does responsibility occur in maybe a context or two? Personal and social, say. Or moral, legal and causal.

"Hey!" twitches Jean. "It's for duh Cause!"

Causal responsibility, the Commissioner points out, is "where I or we have made something happen, brought it aboutů perhaps knowingly - "

"That's where," sidelongs Jean, "they got you. I mean. You got them."

Fella with a big hat takes his eyes off the Jimmys and turns to look right at our table, knowing the waitress is there, ready to provide back-up if necessary, and he catches Paul's eye, tipping his hat politely in one meaningful move without any smile a-tall.

Kurt Halliday will be survived in Kingston, Ontario by two near-novels, eighteen sorta-stories, creative non-poetry, wife Janet Anderson, sons Ross and Geoff, three cats and five computers

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