Every year on June 24, the Canadian province of Quebec celebrates its “national” holiday, La Fete de St. Jean Baptiste. Booze is drunk, fireworks are launched and people raise their fist in what is arguably the strongest show of inebriated national pride for any territory on the face of the Earth not officially a nation.
This year, while celebtating St. Jean with hundreds of festive Quebeckers at a raging house party in suburban Montreal, I overheard a friend, Anais, say something to the effect of: “Elle a shagé avec lui, pas plus” (Translation: She shagged him, nothing else.)
Now this piqued my interest. I pushed the dirty shagadelic thoughts of a celebrating Quebecoise from my mind and thought to myself: Did Anais just use “shag” as a French verb? In the past tense? I’m not sure about you, but back in my day, when we learned French in school, they never taught us how to conjuagate the verb “shag.” No, in the wonderful French-learning world of english speaking public school, shagging was definitely out of the question. Even in the past tense.
Fast forward to four days later. I’m in New York minding my own business and finishing up the remains of my 99 cent McChicken on the side walk on some quiet street in the West Village when who do I see? None other than the man responsible for a generation of native French speakers who euphemistically describe faire l’amour, Mike Myers.
So, of course, I stroll up to Wayne/Austin/Dr.Evil/Shrek et al, shake his hand, praise his work, get a pic and provide him with a business card for this website. All in all about the most surreal and awkward 60 seconds of my life. Funny how one minute you can be lost in your own thoughts enjoying low-priced processed poulty and suddenly happen across the reason every single person on earth knows every single word to Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. It’s not every day you meet a living legend. But some days you do. Or did. There’s that past tense again.
Anyhow, Mike’s probably the most normal guy I’ve ever met. Scarily normal. He was even with his wife who stood on the corner, tapped her her toe and checked her watch. Eeerily normal, but in an absolutely unforgettable kind of way.
Did I tell him about his linguistic influence on the masses of Quebec? Alas, no. I forgot. Call me evil if you will, call me not worthy if need be, but remember, be thankful for good old words. That’s the beauty with writing words instead of speaking words: Forget to bring up that fun little anecdote about some random overheard french conversation during a chance encounter with a multi-talented pop-culture influencing cathphrase creator? You did! Well then just get yourself in front of a computer and fire the words in there exactly how you imagined. And this time, include the word “alas” without receiving an Austin Powers-strength judo chop from a man wearing a wedding band.
And, be able to write, “You put the wrong emPHAsis on the wrong syllABle.” while completely alienating all but the hardcore Mike Myers fans.
That’s the sweater I got from Ben and Judy. I know, amazing. This sweater was my ticket to a free lunch in Boston. How you ask? Ah, it goes a little something like this:
Previous to my encounter with Ben and Judy I’d made an apointment with a fellow named Ezra Dyer in Boston. Ezra’s a writer for The Improper Bostonian, Automobile Magazine, Esquire and probably lots of other stuff. He’s, like, one of the best funny young writers I’ve seen yet, totally. Go to his website. It’s good: http://www.ezradyer.com
Anyhow, I rolled into town to chat about some stuff with him. I got absolutely rocked on parking. $16 for 90 minutes. It’s pretty lame to show up for a lunch meeting without enough cash on hand to pay for your meal, but Ezra eyed the loon sweater and came up with an idea. No, make that a scheme. “Hey, I think I’ve got an idea. It’s win-win. I’ll pay for lunch. Here’s the deal: we’ve got a little space that opened up in this issue of the Improper, you wanna come back to the office, take a few pictures and have 85 000 copies of you wearing a loon sweater printed and placed on newsstands for the masses of greater Boston?” Ezra knew a good marketing strategy when he saw it. Twenty minutes later we’re back in the offices of the Improper Bostonian making bi-weekly regional magazine history. I didn’t get a modeling credit, but the free lunch was more than enough to seal the deal.
There is such a thing as a free lunch, you just need to cloak yourself in waterfowl themed sweaters and get ripped off on parking to get it.
Thanks Ezra, and thank you Mr. Loon.
If anyone’s in Boston, hook Ezra up with an iced coffee. He loves ’em.
The first two postcards took six weeks to deliver. My plan was to deliver the next three in a mere six hours. A hat trick. Well, that’s how it was supposed to transpire.
Think of the most cliché South American Chuck Norris-enticing hilltop drug lord compound you can imagine. Now add a rugged Toyota to your vision. Weston Massachusetts, just west of Boston. I’m not sure if the addressee, ‘Rice’, earned his money from the cultivation of coca leaves on the hillsides of remote Columbian valleys, or went the legal route, but one thing was certain: Rice had cash. Tennis courts, swimming pool, three car garage, the whole kit. (Actually, I didn’t see the swimming pool when I was there, but saw it on the satellite photo when I google-map searched the address. So it’s there all right, believe me. It can be seen from space. . I’d give you the address to prove it, but I’d probably put myself into about-to-get-sued-by-high-priced-lawyer territory.) I looked around to make sure Chuck Norris didn’t lurk in the trees ready to pounce with a Delta-Force III like attack on the compound. Chuck was either busy filming infomercials for suspect exercise equipment manufacturers or can hide extremely well. I knocked on the door.
“You must be Rice.”
“No, I’m her father.”
“Oh, I see.”
“She’s down in New York for the week. I’ll let her know you dropped by…”
“Thanks for dropping it off for her.”
So Rice was a kid on holiday with her mom in New York City. Dad was on the phone and didn’t seem like a chat. Be on the lookout for yet another dodgy piece of exercise equipment hawked by Chuck Norris on Late night TV.
Just over the border into New Hampshire sits the quaint little town of Lee. Lee is fortunate to sit within the state that has ‘Live Free of Die’ as its motto. ‘Live Free or Die’, top shelf as far as State mottos go. A bold attention grabbing motto if there ever was one. Apparently Lindsay and Catherine have the same attitude when it comes to postal service. They didn’t pay for postage, and proved it by answering the door with their living bodies. Actually, Catherine’s daughter, and Lindsay’s sister, Brooke, sent the card for them. She lives free too.
Brooke posted the card a few months before on a tip to the Galapagos and Peru. Catherine and Lindsay were excited and surprised to have somebody actually come and deliver their card. Catherine looked over at me, absolutely beaming, “You know, we were at the postcard barrel too, on a separate vacation a few weeks after Brooke. We hoped her postcard would still be there, but I guess somebody took it.”
“That’d be me.”
“You know what else though? We put another postcard in the barrel with this address on it. We got back here after a month traveling through Ecuador and when we checked the mail, our postcard was already here.”
“That sort of takes the fun out of the barrel.”
“You can say that again.”
That sort of take the fun out of the barrel”
“You don’t have to tell me twice. We we’re hoping to meet somebody like you!”
“No, thank you. This was very nice of you.”
Maybe they saw me holding my car keys, or the fact that I’d told her twice, but the drop off was short. I was Maine bound after only a few minutes. On the way out of Lee, I noticed a sign that indicated all persons under 18 years of age must wear a seatbelt—State Law. Faced with the choice between living free or certain death, I unclicked my seatbelt. A few minutes later I crossed into Maine and grudgingly buckled up after seeing a sign that said: “Click it or Ticket: Maine State Law. Freedom would need to wait for another day, duty called; there was another postcard to deliver.
Now, I really wanted to deliver postcard number five before it got too late. I looked at the address: Standish Maine. I checked the blue digital clock, licked my finger and held it up to test the wind direction, made a quick calculation, and stepped on it. Today’s other deliveries were appetizers, this was the Maine course.
Standish appeared through the windshield at 9:30 pm. I made it in record time without hitting a Moose–not that I had any close calls or even saw one, it’s just the sort of thing you imagine happening while speeding recklessly through the Pine Tree State at dusk. Never ask for directions in Standish Maine. Gas station, pizza joint, hot dog stand, ice cream shack, you name it. All useless. “I don’t know, I don’t live here, I just work here.” The number of respectable door-knocking minutes left in the day became fewer with each dead-end response. In a last ditch effort I went to the grocery store, cracked open a local street atlas and found the street I needed. About half a mile away. I could get there before it was too late. If I didn’t hit a moose.
I rolled up to a darkened house at quarter to eleven. Either nobody was home or they were asleep. Or used reading lights.
If you fold down the back seats, and a 1990 Toyota Corolla station wagon becomes an instant tent. I never thought Maine was cold in June. My sleeping bag sat on the shelf back home. I froze. If you’re shorter than 5 foot 10, I’ll rent the car for $20 a night–with a pillow. And a toque. It might be chilly.
I woke up with the warm sun around 6:30 am and drove to the house. A man, presumably Ben, stood at the doorway with a warm cup of coffee. I stumbled out of the car into the blinding sunlight, a disheveled toque-clad sleep-deprived wreck still shivering from the cold of the night, “Hi, I’ve got a postcard addressed to Ben and Judy.”
“You got our postcard? Great! We put that in the barrel a few months ago.” He extended his arm, we shook hands and said, “I’m Ben, Judy’s downstairs.” He sized me up and added, “Do you want a coffee?”
“Ben and I are so excited that you actually came here to deliver the postcard!” cried an out of sight voice I took as Judy. She climbed the stairs towards the Kitchen. “We put two postcards in the barrel and the other one, if you can believe it, was mailed to us…” She rounded the bend and took one look at me with the instinct of a caring mother, “You look like you could use some breakfast.”
“So, why didn’t you show up last night?” said Ben.
“Oh, well I couldn’t find your place. Nobody in town knows where your street is. I didn’t get here till quarter to eleven. All the lights were out and I didn’t want to knock”
“You should’ve! We were up reading until after eleven. We’ve got reading lights. You could’ve slept in the guest house.” I bit my lip, recalled my frigid sleep, and as I sat down to a piping hot plate of breakfast, removed the toque from my head in a show of attempted respectability. Judy’s jaw dropped as she gazed upon the personal grooming catastrophe upon my head. She put the plate of toast on the table, placed her hands on her hips and shot me a stern motherly smile. “Kyle, would you like a hot shower?”
“Yes.” I replied, as if obeying an order.
Breakfast was unbelievable. Warm toast. Warm eggs. Warm bacon. Warm conversation. Hot coffee.
Their house overlooks the most stereotypical Maine landscape you can imagine. A picture perfect lake bordered with pine trees and rolling hills. The same lake that Judy helped clean up a few years back for a project that garnered her a medal of honor from the governor of Maine. Ben takes water samples on nearby rivers as a volunteer. Ben told me great story about a pair of loons he watches cruise around the lake. I looked across the table at Ben’s shirt. It featured a picture of a loon on the water with a title: Watchic Lake. I inquired, “Ben, is that Watchic Lake out there?”
“Yes.” He replied.
“Is that loon on your shirt the loon you were just talking about?”
This was getting better by the minute. Not only were Ben and Judy hospitable enough to invite me into their lakefront Maine home, Ben wore a t-shirt that showed the waterfowl viewable from his lakefront Maine Home. This was too good to be true. I’d just gone from being a frozen car-raggled scumbag to a guy with a belly full of breakfast in a warm house with two of the friendliest people of all time. As far as freelance postcard delivery goes, this was heaven. I felt like the next thing Judy was going to look over at me and invite me to stay for a week.
“So do you want to stay for a week?”, said Judy, without a hint of sarcasm.
“Uh, yes. Of course. Who wouldn’t? It’s just that I’ve got to go back home. My girlfriend’s got some stuff planned for us this weekend.”
“Well, the door is always open. Come back anytime with your girlfriend.”
Ben looked down at his shirt, then glanced up at me with a smile. “Hey, I think I’ve got another one of these shirts—would you like one?”
This was heaven.
Judy told me how she grew up in Minnesota, Ben in Connecticut. They met in California and then moved to Maine. Now officially retired, they spend much of their time traveling the globe, checking off places from their personal list. They’re the kind of couple airline executives dream about.
Ben came back into the room with a shirt in his hands. “Well, I couldn’t find a t-shirt, but I’ve got a sweatshirt with a loon on it. How does that sound?”
“It sounds like the best thing I’ve ever heard.”
He passed me a nice white sweatshirt that featured, as promised, a loon and the caption: Standish Maine. Judy looked over at me, “Hey, and you won’t freeze tonight if you sleep in the car.”
Breakfast was inhaled and Judy and I strolled downstairs. “Here’s the shower. Feel free to use our towels.” She then gave me a sly look and pointed down the hallway, “And right down there is guest room you could’ve slept in last night. A heated guest room.”
“Yes, next time.”
I looked past Judy and saw a map of the world on the wall. The map was absolutely peppered with hundreds of orange pins. Nearly every state was hit, as well as South America, Africa, Asia, everything. It was like a game of RISK and they were winning handily. I turned to Judy and asked, “Are these all the places you’ve been?”
Judy looked over at me, with her confident sly motherly grin and said, “So far.”
Gas to get to Shawinigan from Montreal: $10
Small serving of poutine to settle the nerves: $3
Priceless souvenir from the office of the Prime Minister: Well, priceless
“Dom, let’s go and visit the Prime Minister’s office.”
“Good point. Let’s go.”
That’s how it started. August 5, 2003. The dog days of summer were in full effect. We were bored. And hungry. All the best stories stem from indifference and an empty stomach.
We pulled up the office of the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien in Downtown Shawinigan, Quebec. The elevator was broken, so we climbed the stairs to the second storey. Tucked away in a little corner was the office of Jean Chrétien. It was easily the crappiest office I’ve ever seen. It made Money Mart look like a gleaming crystal palace. I loved it. It was perfect. How many world leaders can say they have their home office in a decaying rural strip mall next to a poutine shack? I can’t say I’m the most patriotic flag-waving Canadian of all time, but some things just tug at your heartstrings with national pride.
We entered the office and were greeted with a gleeful “bonjour” by the receptionist. I told her in patchwork French how I’d come all the way across Canada from Vancouver to see the office of the Prime Minister—not his flashy showroom office in Ottawa, but the real deal–the office he’d held for more than four decades. I asked if there was possibly a photo of Mr. Chrétien, perhaps an autographed photo of the Right Honorable maybe lying around the office somewhere for a big fan. She was extremely pleased to have such a proud supporter on the premises and told us to wait a minute, she had the perfect souvenir for us, les vrais supporteurs de Monsieur Chrétien.
She went to the back to find the perfect item that would satisfy our hunger for a nationalistic propaganda party-platform promoting souvenir. I looked over at Dom, “So this is the Prime Minster’s Office. Huh, what do you think?”
“I think it’s weird. Let’s go get some poutine.”
“Yeah, we will, but we’ve gotta get a souvenir first. The receptionist is going to totally hook us up.”
“She’s probably going to find some crappy picture of Jean Chrétien and put it in an envelope. I bet it won’t even be autographed.”
“What? You think?”
“Oh yeah, for sure. She just wants us to get out of here.”
“Dom, I came the entire way across the country to get here, remember? The least we’ll get is an autographed picture. The distance demands it.”
“No way. I guarantee you’ll get shafted. This office demands it.”
“Okay, I bet you a poutine that the picture will be autographed.”
“Oh, you’re on. It’s a deal” As she extended her right hand and added, “That’s about the best thing you’ll find in this building, hot gravy and curd cheese atop a mountain of fries.” I shook her hand and considered the statement. “That may be true, but there’s no way I’m leaving here without a good souvenir. You know what we need? We need an insurance souvenir–something real good that we can ‘borrow’ if we get the shaft and you win the bet.” I winked at her and searched the room with a pair of shifty eyes for the perfect item.
The walls were covered in large framed pictures of the Prime Minister with foreign dignitaries. Mr. Chrétien had met a considerable number of impressive people over the years. The most impressive picture was of Chrétien with Jacques Chirac. A large wood frame encased the timeless picture of Chirac’s right hand met with the right hand of Chrétien. The two elder statesmen had surely met many times over the years, this photo served as a testament to the strength of their personal relationship. Chirac’s grin was massive. He seemed to wink at us.
“Dom, is Chirac winking at us?”
“I don’t know, but it’s a funny face he’s got, that’s for sure.”
I gazed into the penetrating eyes of Chirac. His Gallic features had an uncanny intensity, even for a world leader. My gaze lowered from the framed photo to the desk below. Upon the desk sat a Canadian flag, brand new.
“That’s it!” I said in hushed excitement.
“I know what we need to do.”
“What’s that?” She asked in quiet suspense.
“I’m going to take this flag.”
“What? No, you’ll get caught.”
“Dom, I’ve got to, the situation demands it.”
“Kyle, you are not going to steal a flag from the office of the Prime Minister.”
“Just watch me.”
And she did.
The receptionist emerged from the back room with a triumphant smile on her face. “I’ve found you a very nice photo of Monsieur Chrétien. C’est une tres belle photo de lui.” I took the envelope, shook her hand, and said thanks. We went outside and opened the envelope. Sure enough, it was an 8 by 10 photo of Chrétien with his trademark grin. Belle, but sans autograph. Dom looked up at me, “Ha! I told you.”
“Okay, you win the bet, but I’m the one with a Canadian flag from the Prime Minister’s office.”
I paid for the poutine and we made our way back to the car. Dom was happy to fill her stomach, I was happy to make up for the lack of autographed photo.
Later that night, back at our place, Dom and I flicked on the news. Our eyes were met with the sight of Jacques Chirac and Jean Chrétien standing side by side. The President of France stood abreast the Prime Minister of Canada atop the observation tower at La Cité de l’énergie. The observation tower towers over the town of Shawinigan. It stands as a monument to Quebec’s electricity-generating prowess. As the news cameras flashed, we watched Chirac extend his right hand to that of Mr. Chrétien. The flashes increased to strobe-like intensity. Chirac glanced towards the TV cameras and a flash caught his eye, causing him to wink. I looked at the flag, then over at Dom, “Hey Dom?”
“Is that Chrétien shaking hands with Chirac at the top of La Cité de l’énergie?”
I reached my right hand out, grabbed the flag and raised it up to Dom’s nose. A massive grin broke out across my face, “Dom, did we just steal a Canadian flag right from under the nose of the Prime Minster of Canada?”
Well you know what she said.
Copyright © 2005 Kyle MacDonald