Thursday, July 26, 2007

That Old Canada Rag

Lunch time at work usually means escaping to one of the 6-7 eateries in the area. Our lunch room is relatively puny in comparison with the amount of people who work here, so if you’re in need of quiet or escape, you must drive to another menu venue. Most days I cart along the NYT, WSJ, or some magazine or printouts from the daily postings of Michael Blowhard, Whisky Prajer, or Mr. Sgazzetti. God forbid I’m dining alone with no reading matter! Wasted time!

Today was a most confusing day in the morning so I drove to an eatery sans paper. Luckily my vehicle, specifically the trunk area, is well-stocked with the important stuff, namely quarts of oil, liters of water, metric and inch socket sets, 2 complete changes of clothes, including shoes, a collapsible chair, 3 umbrellas, a blanket, enough maps to launch an expedition, and books. Paperbacks, really, which were duplicates of hardcover versions stored in the house. Please, don’t ask. It’s a long story; well, actually, it's a series of long stories.

So, as I was troving through the different bags in the trunk, I came upon Thin Ice, an engaging autobiography by Bruce McCall. I’d read this book about 8 years ago and I’ve picked it up on quite a few other occasions to re-read certain passages or chapters I’d "post-it"ed on my first run through. The first ¾ of the book is outstanding. My interest wavered through the last 60 or so pages as both the author and I lost our wind. But the first 120 pages or so? Absolutely devine. Bruce McCall of the Norfolk County, Ontario McCalls is quite funny and insightful as he illustrates his youthful days in Simcoe, Ontario, just over the border from the US of A., before he becomes a grown-up and ventures south to eventually wind up as a writer and illustrator for the New Yorker magazine.

If you’ll excuse me, here’s a lengthy excerpt from the book (all painstakingly typed by yours truly so throw me a bone by reading it through. Or, why don't you just print this out and go to lunch. Go on. You need the break.

"I grew up in a world where the average Canadian would rather be trampled by the R.C.M.P. Musical Ride than be found publicly admitting anything American to be superior, or even much good. Nobody, not even the most rabidly anti-American Canadian nationalist, could or would deny the economic and cultural facts of life that all but swamped our nation in Americana. But that didn’t mean Canadians had to like it. That would mean accepting and even liking Americans, and wait just a minute, eh? If the general attitude of Canadians toward their mighty neighbor to the south could be distilled into a single phrase, that phrase would probably be "Oh, shut up." The Americans talked too much, mainly about themselves. Their torrid love affair with their own history and legend exceeded-painfully the quasi-British Canadian idea of modesty and self-restraint. They were jammed permanently in extroverted high gear, confident to the brink of, if not over the edge of, arrogance; strident, take-charge, can-do----fatiguing. There was about the American style something, indeed plenty, that jarred the Canadian love of calm. Americans spent far too much of their vaunted energy out at the extremes of feeling. They were forever bursting in spasms of insufferable yahoo pride or all too publicly agonizing over their crises.
The patriotic Canadian should keep his distance, then. Snuggle in the warmth and safety of British institutions and customs and attitudes that have always underpinned Canadian life, lending it dignity and order, helping shield it from the obnoxious blowhards forever yelping and banging and partying, way past bedtime.

This was the view of the Americans I had breathed as part of the very air of Simcoe and Canada since infancy. Evidence that ours was a superior civilization was obvious, at least to us: We had the Imperial gallon, two-dollar bills, Mounties, the more scenic part of the Niagara Falls, grade thirteen in high school, a governor-general, Eskimos, three downs in football, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, our Deanna Durbin in Hollywood and our Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, in London, and permanent private pipeline to Buckingham Palace.

And yet,
even by age eleven I was beginning to secretly backslide. I had begun to find myself privately questioning my faith and putting it to the test. I was beginning to wonder if, despite all the evidence, Canada was really so inherently superior and the way of the USA really so inherently intolerable. I was feeling the first pangs of envy arising from a strong and growing suspicion that not all that far away, over the border, the average eleven-year-old American kid was having lots more fun. From all appearances, indeed, being first in fun was part of the American boy’s birthright.
Reminders were as plentiful as the comparisons that inevitably followed. American kids got whistles, rings, glittering prizes in their cereal boxes; all we got was cereal. They could goggle at page after page of color comics---"Prince Valiant", "The Katzenjammer Kids", "Smokey Stover"---in their Sunday papers; we didn’t even get Sunday papers. The comic book, that archetypal American expressive form---splashy, loud, rowdy, and manic, boiling with superheroes and super-villains, a TNT charge to the boyish imagination---had only a pallid, pathetic Canadian counterpart. The few Canadian comic books were black-and-white, vapid, and hopelessly wholesome. American kids, as I vicariously feasted along with them via the comic-book ads, guzzled Royal Crown Cola, rode balloon-tired Schwinn bikes with sirens and headlights or deluxe coaster wagons or futuristic scooters. They shot pearl-handled ca guns drawn from tooled-leather holsters or Daisy (It'll shoot your eye out) air rifles, wore aviator goggles, flew gasoline-powered model airplanes. American kids even had their own exclusive boys' mail-order department store in the form of the Johnson & Smith catalog. Rushed to your front door C.O.D. from Racine, Wisconsin—-ventriloquism kits, genuine onyx signet rings, whoopee cushions, treasures Made in the USA.

But not for me; not for Canadians. In the fine-print legalese, in the radio announcer’s dream-smashing disclaimer, four words would serve to keep every son of the Maple Leaf empty-handed and brokenhearted, with his nose pressed enviously to the glass that separated him from the delirious ongoing American carnival of plenty and fun: "Not Available in Canada." "
(from Thin Ice, pp 7-8)

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