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Guelph Mercury Editorial

In the wrong hands, orange can be very scary

Sue Richards - Jan 28, 2004

This December, I became the foster owner of an orange and black striped, five-year-old female dog. Maeve looks like a small tiger with the large pointy ears of a dingo.

Maeve is from Texas. Her body language communicates total relaxation or a wiggly, waggy version of the Hokey Pokey. Walking with Maeve is like spending time with an orange sunbeam. She is warm and engaging, friendly and kind. All manner of creature seem charmed and at ease when she is around.

U.S. court-appointed President George W. Bush is a Texan of another breed with a different stripe. Bush has a knack for putting the world on edge, not at ease. He is difficult to pin down, unclear, intolerant and intensely rigid. Last February, he upgraded his colour-coded terrorist alert system from yellow to orange because, well, it's kind of hard to say for sure. But the results were clear. Immediately, the world felt much colder and less friendly.

At the time of the colour elevation, I was in Nashville, Tennessee, attending an international music conference with over 3,000 music-making delegates. Coincidentally, Bush was in Nashville for part of the same weekend, not because he is a music buff, but because Nashville was deemed a central place to fan the orange flames of fear that his administration was spreading across the U.S.

My official role at the conference was personal cheerleader for Guelph musician Tannis Slimmon. My job was to help Tannis get the attention of booking agents and music industry folks. Afraid of having my pompoms confiscated at the increasingly humourless border, I chose a simple yet effective way of gaining that attention. I wore orange. Just imagine my surprise when I found myself matching Bush's fashion statement for panic.

Orange gets noticed. Bush's orange alert flared across the U.S. like wildfire. Conversely, my orange vest was easy to spot in the sea of delegates. His use of orange drew alarm. Mine drew smiles and recognition.

The conference delegates responded to the alert news in predictable musician style. They put on an anxiety-laced concert of tried and true protest songs from previous times of trouble. I hummed along and silently thanked my parents for being Canadian.

Last weekend I enjoyed another musical experience and a different encounter with orange. I went to Orangeville.

The Headwaters Acoustic Music Series, which operates out of the town's beautifully refurbished Opera House, was hosting the tour-opening concert of Mae Moore and her guitar wizard husband Lester Quitzau. The frosty night was made warm by the orange glow of stage lighting and Lester's coral knit hat.

The duo's in-between song patter was as engaging as their music, especially when Mae wondered aloud what people from Orangeville were called and further suggested, "Orangevillians". Someone from the audience quickly corrected her and yelled out, "Fruits".

It's interesting to note that some of the most delicious fruits are orange. Over a dozen years ago, while on an overland trip to Mexico in a Dodge Ram van, I started a self-made diet I called 'fruit 'til noon'. Every day, I ate buckets of bright orange fruit with the hopes of improving and regulating my personal waste removal system. My fruity effort worked like a charm and I became a fruit til noon evangelist.

Long before colour-coded international panic alerts became hip, but after the introduction of fruit 'til noon, I went on my own orange alert. It started with a can of pumpkin-coloured paint and a dead white dining room and spread from room to room like fresh peach jam on toast. Now my life is liberally sprinkled with orange and its primary colour parents, red and yellow.

In one way, it's my Pollyanna solution for lightening up our sometimes muted landscape. But mostly I find comfort in orange.

Orange is the universal colour of safety. Orange is an attitude and a state of mind. And orange sparks creativity. When used correctly, orange communicates a need for caution and common sense. It warms and brightens up my day.

In the wrong hands, orange can be like a burning hot poker coming for your butt. It scares the heck right out of you.

Bush's terrorist rating system can go one level higher, to red alert. Red is the colour of passion. And, we all know that passion easily gives licence to outbursts of rage and bloodshed.

My American friends and customers tell me that fear is gripping their hearts. They claim that the government-controlled media serve a daily mono-message of Bush-generated paranoia which is leaving them feeling unsafe in their own country. They are becoming blinded by their fright.

Personally, I think a Canadian orange alert would be prudent and in our best interests. Let's drape ourselves in orange from top to bottom and apply extreme caution with all U.S. military and Homeland Security dealings. Frightened U.S. citizens need us to remain peaceful, calm and clear-headed.

But then, the pessimists among us would argue that the world is going to the dogs. If this is the case, then orange-striped Maeve gets my vote as recipient. Her sunny attitude would go a long way toward repairing the world's damage.

However, never underestimate the healing power of fruit 'til noon. It must be very hard to run a country when you're all bunged up.

Sue Richards is a social entrepreneur, artist and cultural animator. She is also a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board. Check out her Guelph Photo Blog.


Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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