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Wearing your origins on your sleeve

It’s an old-style coat hanger.Wire, the big triangle with the spiral twist just below the hook, the kind of coat hanger that can’t help but make you think about the archaic piece of machinery that probably twists straight wire into hanger in one single but elaborate motion.

The wire probably comes off a big spool, gets bent around a round-cornered triangular die, and then, in a quick three-turn ballet, the hanger is completely formed.

And yes, this is a column about — in part — a coat hanger.

A particular coat hanger.

This one has a paper sleeve over it, yellowed now with age, and red letters: it says Wesch in a kind of script that would have seemed almost New Age 40 years ago. Below that, it says 33633 Woodward Avenue, Birmingham, Phone 248-644-7044.

A Google Maps search takes you to Birmingham, Michigan, to the Wesch Cleaners drycleaning business — still the same phone number, but its name is in a new font. Google Streetview shows you a fashionable stone-clad building with a sharp burgundy sports car in front.

Wesch is right next door to a realtor’s office; there’s plenty of parking. The company’s website says its been in business for 50 years; the same website says absolutely nothing about just how the hanger has made its way to me. There is no hint at all.

And that’s the part that troubles me.

A lot of Atlantic Canada hinges on the familiar. In parts of Newfoundland, you are spotted in a small town as not being from there within minutes of your arrival. In St. John’s, on a downtown walk of more than five minutes, you meet someone who knows you, or knows your wife. In Wolfville, N.S., it’s easy to see the comfortable handoff between neighbours and acquaintances everywhere from the supermarket to the pizza joint.

Now, you can make the argument that is all about the theory of six degrees of separation. (In Newfoundland, it often feels like three — your son’s girlfriend turns out to be the daughter of your co-worker’s favourite neighbours — and in Prince Edward Island, it seems like a mere two degrees. “Who do you belong to,” or, essentially, where do you fit, is an acceptable question in parts of rural Newfoundland.)

Sometimes, I feel caught by the strands of this particular commonality. It is a blessing and a curse: go to Toronto, and you can swim through crowds of people while remaining completely anonymous, sucking in information without ever getting drawn into an accidental meeting with someone you know.

As comforting as it is to fit, sometimes it’s better to use the eyes of an outsider.

It used to bother me more, the importance of where you came from and how you fit in. Now, I suppose, it rankles less because I’m not trying to elbow my way into a spot anymore. For better or worse, as a tooth, I’ve found my space in the jaw.

But it occurs to me I’m now having that same dispute, from the other side, right inside my closet.

All right, infiltrating hanger, how did you get here? Fess up: who do you belong to, and how did you get from Michigan to me?

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic Regional columnist. He can be reached at; his column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in TC Media’s daily papers.

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