Ask me about self-publishing your blog or continuing an abusive relationship, and I will give you hope. I can’t think of a bad decision without wanting to buy it dinner, maybe spending a year together before we grow too different and are only in it for the sex. If making bad decisions was like space travel, I’d be settin’ my sights on Uranus right now, boldly going where angels fear to tread.
My latest bad decision was a doozy: let’s go to Canada for spring break! Or, let’s find the only country nearby that’s colder than Boston, but without the awesome things that other cold countries have, like vodka or beautiful women or bankruptcy. (In Iceland’s case, all three.) Instead of choosing Toronto or Montreal, which might have mitigated my folly, I chose Ottawa, which is exactly like Rhode Island except it has French subtitles and no Ivy League university.
If instead of being ruggedly handsome in a 600-pound way I were dorky, good-natured and Rowan Atkinson, this could have been a ‘Mr. Bean’ episode. I didn’t have a suitcase so I picked one up from the trash. ‘Why would anyone want to throw away perfectly good luggage?’ I thought. En route to the cab, two wheels fell off. Oh well, Batman has the same problem in ‘Dark Knight’ when his car turns into a motorbike. At the airport, the handle detached: a problem that even Gotham’s greatest hero never faced.
Once on my way, I realized that the Canadian Air Force was using the good plane that weekend, leaving Air Canada stuck with a beaten-down tin can with propellers on each side. When we had to land, the pilot asked us to lean a bit forward.
Ottawa itself isn’t so bad. It’s like any American suburb, but the chains are ‘Twilight Zone’ versions of American stores. We have Urban Outfitters, they have Urban Frontiers. We have Dunkin Donuts, they have Tim Horton’s. We have soap-on-a-rope, they have boats-in-a-mall. I swear on this: this is a city known for having seven miles of river freeze up, and in the middle of winter (which is any month except July), they had all these boats on display at Place d’ Orl’eacute;ans. (That is what Canadians call one of their malls.) I wasn’t alone in not understanding this marketing campaign though. I was standing around, admiring man’s inscrutability, when someone asked me, ‘What is this, a boat?’ I confirmed their suspicion as to the nature of the marine vehicle. ‘Yes pal, it’s a boat.’ ‘But what is it aboat?’ Arafat: ‘It’s a boat! What else can it be?’
Death of my life and sacred blue, I only figured out what Jarett’eacute; Canuck was saying much later.
So Canada’s pretty much like a left-handed America. Or rather, a right-handed America trying to write with its left hand. Or maybe not. I’m just viewing it with fractured expectations. We’re the ones who make it awkward for them: sharing such a long border with the greatest country in the world means that you’ll always be judged by that alone. (I grew up in Bangladesh, and I feel bad for setting such standards for India!)
I’m kidding. Canada’s not that bad. They have the right ideas for what to do with French fries (poutine), they have state-sponsored healthcare, they have maple syrup. The women are heart-stoppingly beautiful. Their money has cute names like ‘toonie’ and ‘legal tender’.
Perhaps what America should have done, instead of messing around with countries nobody’s ever heard of, is invade Canada. We’d gain interesting cheeses and a thousand-mile skating rink. We’d be next door to Russia on a much grander scale. The Coen brothers could write movies about the new coldest state. Best of all, we’d end all existing racial tension and pick on the French. Who wouldn’t want that?
I’ll tell you who: nobody. Why? Because Canada really is the perfect neighbor for us. We share a border with a bunch of peaceful smiling people who are friendly enough to not want war, and smarmy enough to not ever want to be American. Canada’s like the perfect roommate: you don’t have to hang with him or take him to every party, but he’s only mildly embarrassing when you do. You can use the embarrassment as a counterpoint to show off your own greatness, which in America’s case is a decadence unmatched since Rome, the justification for a Mickey D’s on every block and television shows like MTV Cribs. Our failures are grand, like Michael Jackson or the war on terrorism. Canada accepts our brashness, our loudmouthed bravado, our crass consumerism, and smiles in friendship, saying ‘Eh?’
And if we ever invaded Canada, Bryan Adams would become one of us.