Agnes Shaw and the Extraterrestrial Politics of Ecstasy
We’re having ourselves a municipal election this November and with the resignation of our incumbent mayor in criminal disgrace, we are told that the race for London’s top job will be wide open in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. True, the incumbent won’t be getting back in but whoever replaces him is going to be someone who’s already imprinted themselves on our political consciousness. One current and one past councillor (Matt Brown and Roger Caranci) have announced their candidacy and clearly have the best chance. Leading the longshots would be very well known (some might say, infamous) developer Arnon Kaplansky. But so far there are also at least nine other candidates who’ve coughed up the $200 registration but do not have a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning the big prize.
The very dark ponies in this race include: Aaron Brougham, Tae Khun Ha, Paul Cheng, Steve Gardner, Donna Kelly, Jim Kogelheide, Dan Lenart, Alexander Main and Dennis Perry. There’s a long-ago Reform candidate in that list, as well as an apparently sincere environmentalist who’s primarily out to raise awareness. At least three of those candidates ran for mayor in the 2010 election, were ignored by the media and the electorate alike and have returned for another round of indifference. Why do they do it? They’re setting themselves up for months of abuse and humiliation. Perhaps one or two of them are on missions from God, the success of which cannot be measured by anything so earthly and grubby as a ballot count.
Or perhaps, I dare to hope, one of them might be taking their marching orders from elsewhere in the cosmos? That’s right. Whenever I scan these lists of long-prospect mayoral wanna-be’s, I sigh and remember the legendary Agnes Shaw-Cowan-Mehlik (1924-92). It has become de rigueur nowadays for aspiring mayoral politicians to tell us that they have a ‘vision’ for the future of London. But the magnificently ditzy Agnes whose great motivation in running for all of her many campaigns was to attain the authority to build a landing platform for UFOs full of aliens who told her they wanted to come to London . . . well, she was a visionary of the old school. She was a visionary who could take her place at some celestial tavern, knocking back ambrosial brewskies with the like of St. Augustine or William Blake, and hold her own.
In his lifetime St. Augustine repeatedly responded to the voice of God telling him what had to be done and I’m confident he would recognize a sister-of-the-soul in Agnes, tirelessly working to accommodate the touristic demands of her alien buddies. William Blake was always concerned about the dry letter of the law and its destructive effects on all kinds of human energy and impulse. I’m sure he would’ve taken a keen interest in one of Agnes’ last campaigns when she said (without ever quite explaining what she meant by it) that, “What this town needs is a municipal sex bylaw.”
I first became aware of Agnes Shaw during the provincial election of 1977 when, heading in to my job as dishwasher at the original Auberge du Petit Prince, I couldn’t help but notice that she had stapled Gestetnered, one-page flyers on every single telephone pole on Maitland Street between Dundas and King – her very own neck of the woods. In a sort of smudgy picture in the top right corner of the page she was wearing an elaborate corsage and an exuberant smile and the headline announced that Agnes Shaw of 345 Maitland Street was going to be “YOUR NEW PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA.”
That was the only time, so far as I know, that Agnes made the mistake of running for an office that wasn’t relevant to an election. But she was doing so, she said in her flyer, on orders from her extra-terrestrial managers:
“The Space Ship I ordered at the 1975 Provincial Election will be here in 1978. I feel we should prepare a welcome for the UFO’s who will bring my Space Ship. Will someone donate the land? It is to be 180 feet. Rooms at the Holiday Inn for as many as will be coming. Dinners at the Holiday Inn at $1,000.00. Is there anything else you can think of for UFO’s to do? The UFO’s would not think of letting someone who wasn’t worthy to be your Prime Minister. So in the 1977 Provincial Election they had me run as your NEW PRIME MINISTER of Canada.”
I wrote Agnes a letter after that election expressing my condolences that she didn’t get in and advising her that her chances would certainly improve next time out if she actually ran for a seat that was being contested. I loved the warp and weft of her mind and wanted to hear more from her and to make sure I did, I inquired to whom I should make out the $1,000.00 cheque for dinner with the aliens. She said that I should make out the cheque to her and that the details would be firmed up “when my Saucer comes in.”
From then on in, Agnes always aimed for the Mayor’s chair in civic elections and perhaps I deserve some of the credit for that; maybe a co-managing credit with her aliens. The remarkable thing about it is that up until 1991 when she ran her last mayoral race, she always managed to make it up onto the podium with all the other, shall we say, credible, candidates during the debates. There was one debate at South Secondary School in the early 80s where her big opponent, the incumbent Al Gleeson – bless his heart – was persuaded to give Agnes a lift because the buses were on strike and she couldn’t afford a taxi. (How one would’ve loved to crouch huddled in the back seat to eavesdrop on their discussion en route.) At one point during that debate, I remember her gesturing over to Al and airily referring to him as, “That man, Dennis.”
For almost twenty enchanted years Agnes Shaw-Cowan-Mehlik (there was a frenzy of marrying in her last decade, and also a charge laid against her for running a bawdy house in contravention of the City’s own ‘municipal sex bylaw’) was able to work the outer fringes of London politics and was accorded a level of attention and regard by the media and the public which is unthinkable today. Partly, it was a gentler, more accommodating time. But I think it also helped that Agnes was one of a kind and not one of a herd of candidates who didn’t have a hope.