For optimal effect, please read aloud in front of an enthusiastic live audience of your choosing.
It’s a beautiful morning. The kind of morning that makes you want to leap out of bed, put on an old record and wake the children so they can watch you shimmy.
It’s the kind of morning that makes you think of your childhood growing up in Cape Breton, and the only plaything you had was an orange. It was the orange that you had found months earlier in the toe of your Christmas stocking. You knew in your heart that it was your mother who had put it there. But to keep the spirit of Christmas alive… to keep the spirit alive in HER heart… you never let on. It was your secret. Just like it was a secret that you called the shrivelled orange “Cedric.” Cedric: your only true friend. Because there weren’t a lot of other children growing up in Cape Breton, and you, well, you were a bit of a weirdo.
It’s the kind of morning where you can’t believe that summer is halfway over. You feel… wistful. Happy. A little hungry. You want to get out there and seize the day. Like the way you seized the sausage links from the dog’s mouth that time the new neighbours came over for a barbecue and everyone ended up coated with relish. You could never look at your neighbours the same after that. Or relish.
You gaze across your garden, and you see the leaves of the tomato plants turned up to the sun like the faces of pre-schoolers singing their hearts out at an Oddfellows Lodge Pancake Bake. And you think to yourself, “Oh boy.” That’s all: “Oh boy.” But in that “Oh boy” is a promise. A promise that you will appreciate these moments when everything is magnified with good feeling. A promise to, yes, maybe eat those tomatoes instead of letting them over-ripen when you go on vacation.
It’s a promise to get in touch with your friend Dave, until you remember all the stories Dave posts on Facebook, the calamities and the mishaps. Stories you’re pretty certain are embellished. Either that or Dave is suffering some kind of arrested adolescence, some narcissistic need to be at the centre of chaos. Not to mention the fact that he’s still running some hole-in-the-wall record store but never actually seems to be at work. You think to yourself: Dave’s not contributing much to the economy and, come to think of it, you and Dave don’t have a lot in common anymore.
But most of all, it’s a promise to not go on Twitter this morning. Because you know there’s a man out there. And he’s going to ruin your day, and maybe your entire summer.
This man doesn’t even live in your country. He has no idea about the cod-shucking harbour men of Kiddlesack, Newfoundland, or the way Highway 62 through Myrtle Grove, Ontario smells like freshly sprayed Lemon Pledge. He’s never heard a thing about how the Ladies Auxiliary at Kenora’s Gordon Lightfoot Shrapnel Appreciation Centre posed nude for a calendar with endearingly hilarious results. And you can bet your bottom dollar he’s never come close to cooking a turkey.
And yet this man is sucking the life out of your summer.
This man is not even your leader. But simply knowing he’s out there – crass, lying, bigoted and boorish – it makes you feel worse about your fellow human beings than the time you left the car unlocked at the doughnut shop and someone swiped your brand new CD by the Be Good Tanyas.
You want to… stand up and cheer this great country of ours. 150 years old. What an accomplishment. Canada. If anything deserves celebrating, it’s Canada. But you find you can’t do it. Not really. Because this guy has shown that patriotism can be ugly and mean, like the time your Aunt Clara accidently got drunk on dandelion wine at the Methodist roller derby. It’s like someone promised you an apple pie but ran out of apples so they slipped slices of potato in there instead. Which sounds like something Dave would do.
And so you stand there in the morning light a bit longer, like a forlorn moose waiting at the town’s only traffic light. Because for a little while at least, you want to live in a summer world where folks still hold the door for each other, where communities get together for potluck sewing bees, where beloved public broadcasters keep telling stories, and where no one’s a big, fat jerk.
In the end, you pick up the phone. You give Dave a call. Unfortunately, Dave has dropped his phone into the cotton candy maker at the county fair. Shenanigans ensue.
I’m the ghost of Stuart McLean. So long for now.
*To my U.S. readers, I’m sorry this probably makes no sense to you. To my Canadian readers, I’m just plain sorry.
The radio signal from Toronto bounces over the lake, so I hear some programs while driving around, but I don’t know this particular ghost — McLean was akin to Garrison Keillor? Sometimes when I listen to the CBC, the focussed kibbitzing from the North is a little weird “Mom that guy in the plaid wool coat and toque is staring over the back fence again” “It’s OK dear, he’s just admiring the sugar maple” “It’s August, Mom, why does he keep the coat on?” “I don’t know, dear, perhaps poor circulation, but please keep stirring, or the meth batch will spoil” (from “The Big Book of International Stereotyping”) Please don’t let a rogue toxic turkey spoil your summer, which is probably almost over up there. What’s a picnic without a food poisoning/psychotic break episode once in a while, and there will be a stompdown monster barbecue at some point, we’ll have us a time. We’ll be done with greasy pig roasts for a while, and get back to strawberry socials and decency.
Do you have any of those Ladies Auxiliary calendars left?
Yes, he was sometimes described as such, like Garrison Keillor but less zombified. He died this past February, resulting in much national mourning. Canada is a weird country; we have so few icons, we are somewhat overzealous in our embrace (cf The Tragically Hip). But he was quite a storyteller and had a definite style. I once did an audio piece imitating his voice as the voice of Satan. It was Halloween… it was complicated…
Don’t worry about us up here. We’ll carry on in our smug, holier than thou way.
It’s one of many endearing traits, that it’s the Canadians who accuse themselves of smugness. It’s OK, man, once you hit 150 you should be less self-conscious, you’re entitled to celebrate a bit, and let’s call it “self-contented” instead. I just flipped open my high school thesaurus and every one of the quaint, nasty synonyms listed for “smug,” apply 100% to Wash. D.C. I’m sure I don’t have to list them all, you folks also seem to have a very retro un-American fondness for literacy.
The geek shall inherit the earth.
sadly, it does make perfect sense. i love this post, ross. and hate it because of the truth in it. i am lobbying to have trudeau take on a bi-country good neighbor leadership role, after our guy implodes into orange flames, all the while yelling, ‘nyet, nyet!”
Trudeau is pretty but, well, he’s pretty.
i have to have something to look forward to -)
Never apologize, especially for speaking the truth. Horrific shame runs rampant in “that other country,” believe me. I wish I could make a funny comment here, but it’s all so not funny where I come from. Help us, please!
We’ve got the lifeboats at the ready.
It makes sense. It’s beautifully written for what that’s worth, which is a lot. I feel a real remorse for the world based on our fool, and sadness for those who believed in him, and the horror of human potential. But yet, because I’m an optimist, I like to think that fruit isn’t pithed just yet. Even though we’re all feeling that, pithed.
The whole thing is a bit of escapism, narrated by a dead man who knew the power of small towns and sentiment. Tea and sympathy. Ipecac and empathy.
It’s cool. I was between coffee 1 and coffee 2 and think I missed that. We’re in Idaho en route to Montana. Everything has changed, even the birds are different.
Montana is the mostest. Stay out of the smoke.
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“*To my U.S. readers, I’m sorry this probably makes no sense to you. To my Canadian readers, I’m just plain sorry.”
You mean soe-rry.
Here, lemme give you the current Portland, Oregon, version of the above. It’s a forest fire smoke-filled morning. The kind of forest fire smoke-filled morning that makes you wanna sneak a photo of the abnormally dark orange sun heaving itself over the scorched horizon but you can’t because in exactly three hours, it will be too hot to even touch the garden hose anymore and all the hydrangeas you hope to save with prophylactic watering will have burst into flames. So, you get back to work.
You gaze across your garden, and you see the leaves of each and every plant turned up to the sun like the third scene in Faces of Death and you can’t believe summer is ONLY half over. Muttering and sweating, you crank on the spigot and stand amid a whining cloud of bloodthirsty mosquitoes while placing bets which one of them will be the first to find the square centimeter on your left ankle missed by the spray repellent that smells like burnt baby oil and lime.
And so you stand there in the morning light a bit longer, like a forlorn Weight Watchers drop out waiting at the town’s only Dairy Queen to open. It’s going to be 105 today….again. You wonder just how much crushed ice the cleavage in your new wicking sports bra can hold and you realize, once and for all, that there’s no good damned excuse not to finish those writing projects today.
That’s good. Real good. I worry about you folks out west. I really do. And not just in the usual way.
Answer: the second mosquito. The first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh mosquitoes chose to ignore the delectable centimeter of ankle flesh and serve themselves from the rest of my pale white leg buffet despite heavy DEET seasoning. Maybe expiration dates actually mean something on bug spray.
Thanks for the kudos, send snow.
Terrible to live through. Awesome entertainment from a distance.
You know you’re in hell when you start looking forward to the “cool spell” predicted in the upper 90s.
I understand paragraphs six through nine implicitly Ross.
That’s a decent batting average.
It helped to Google Stuart McLean. Now I kind-of get it. Was he like a Garrison Keilor kind of fella? Cod-shucking is just one missing consonant away from something unspeakably filthy.
Ha. Didn’t think of that. Just made that up. Fake folk!
Yeah, McLean was a storyteller. He had a definite style of telling his stories, and a distinctive voice. I edited this by speaking out loud, copping his style.
Wow – well done Ross. I was never really a big fan of McLean’s but your post is great.
I lived for many years just across the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, so had the pleasure of listening to Stuart McLean. I loved Vinyl Café and sure was sorry to hear about his passing much too young.
Me too. I saw him three times in performance. He was a charming man.