Quick – what's red, white, drunk, and impeccably polite?
Canada Day revelry, obviously. You may very well not know (or care) that, a mere three days before America's birthday, Canada has a celebration of its own – on July 1, 1867, the British North America Act unified the provinces into one very massive country. (Not independence exactly — full legislative control wasn't wrested from the British until 1982 — but still plenty of reason to party.) And celebrate they do, precise whereabouts be damned. That means even in NYC.
So Wednesday night at Mama's, a usually cozy pub at 3rd and B, at least four hundred Canadians — and a healthy number of wannabes and sympathizers — packed in for homegrown beer, poutine, and music. If you were lucky, that is: the wait to get in was at least forty minutes, the six kegs of Molson and Labatt were depleted in less than two hours, and the poutine, a French-Canadian staple comprised of french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, was gone in about forty-five seconds. (It was free.) At least the supply of music was inexhaustible. An all-Canadian rotation (Bryan Adams, Barenaked Ladies, Shania Twain, etc.) blared, though it was punctured by a heartfelt screaming of “O Canada” (with at least one French rendition) every twenty minutes or so.
The crowd came dressed for the occasion, even if it is, as one lumberjack shirt-clad woman remarked, “hard to look Canadian in the summer.” Hats were ubiquitous. Toques (knitted caps) and hockey team-logoed baseball caps were popular, though there were quite a few Russian ushankas, apparently for no reason other than to signify that Canada is cold. (Like anyone needs reminding.) There were countless hockey sweaters ('jersey' to the boorish American), and a few tees with the words “The Best Girls Are Canadian” emblazoned across the front. (One of these, I discovered to some surprise, belonged to a native New Yorker, who told me that her conscience was silenced by the drinks men kept buying her.) Someone was wearing a red and white lei, and at least a dozen young men had tied a flag around their necks, a lá Captain Canada. (Who does indeed exist, thank you very much.) And everyone, it seemed, was sporting a Canadian temporary tattoo. Jon Feldman, the organizer and the most hardcore Canadian not currently in Canada, had one on each cheek.
He began this tradition seven years ago, when he realized that his “stranded” countrymen needed each other. “Canadians were not finding each other in the city,” he said. “We have to stick together.” There's now over 1200 members in his “Canadians in NYC” Facebook group. Feldman also mentioned something about the importance of Canadian identity and autonomy, but I couldn't hear him over the crowd's enthusiastic and drunk performance of the theme song from CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.
Whatever conversation could be had was sentimental and nostalgic. People exalted Tim Horton's and pined for Shopper's Drug Mart. They missed good hockey coverage on television and Canadian humor. One woman expressed longing for the “socialist vibes” of Canada, while others grieved over American misspellings. But mostly, they drank and partied, and like good Canadians, were awfully inclusive. I had arrived overdressed — I stumbled across this party accidentally — but someone lent me his toque and Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, and we loudly reenacted a Bob and Doug McKenzie SCTV sketch (to hoots and cheers) after affirming our respective hockey affiliations (to boos).
Some guy who called himself the Ultimate Canadian, standing on the bench next to me, accidentally spilled beer on an unsuspecting patron below. He would have gotten away with it — the spillee had no idea that his shirt was now speckled with beer drops — but nonetheless, the UC stepped down and apologized with fraternal grace. The guy looked at him, felt the dampness on his back, then apologized right back.
Long live Canada.
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