To say Canadians and Americans have a complicated relationship is to suggest the Trump presidency has been somewhat controversial.
Back in the late Seventies (the “Dark Ages” as kids today refer to that period of history) I spent a lot of time in Toronto (“The Big City” or “TO” as it was known throughout the sleepy hamlets of the Niagara region) with relatives. For a “small town” kid like me, nothing could compare to Toronto in the Seventies. Yonge Street smelled like thick, black exhaust, weed, urine, dirt cheap hookers, street meat and broken dreams. And the people responsible for creating those odors were just as diverse: junkies, hookers, pimps (I just thought they were the hooker’s “boyfriends”) metal heads, punk rockers, preppies, cinephiles, even nerds like me.
I loved it.
My Toronto family lived in a sprawling townhouse complex where something was always happening. Poor/middle-class people are never boring, kids. My cousins and I were heavy into irony at the time and so our favorite thing to do was leave the complex behind and walk to the corner store, located in a massive mini-mall. This was during an economic golden age – compared to these days at least – when a few dollars was a king’s ransom for a kid.
And yes, there is such a thing as a massive mini-mall. Shut up.
But back to my childhood: with two dollars I could buy the following at Mac’s Milk, which was a chain of convenience stores located all through Canada: fifty one-cent packs of gum (I wouldn’t poop right for a week after that) a glass bottle of Coke (none of this recycled plastic crap for us, we wanted our beverages in a container you could whip at things after you emptied it) six Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, a length of rope, a grappling me, (get it?) industrial work gloves and a ski mask. Yes, afterwards we would become junk-food-scarfing cat burglars. It was awesome.
Anyhoo, one particular visit to Mac’s was memorable for more than just the huge haul of gut-rotting candy and pop I walked away with. On this day we encountered a neighbor whose American cousins were hanging around outside the store like a pack of Yankee hooligans. These guys were dressed from head-to-toe in denim. (The socks must have been uncomfortable as hell, to say nothing of the underwear) These guys were massive, the product of an assembly line rather than a womb. These guys were quite fascinated with Canadian customs and merchandise.
YANKEE COUSIN #1: Why are you Canadians so weird?
I was with two of my female cousins but he addressed this question to me directly. For some reason people always thought I was the smart kid. They had no idea…
ME: Uh, I don’t know…
YANKEE COUSIN #2: Seriously! Your milk comes in bags, you faggots!
And yes, we also drink blood and danced naked around a roaring fire while wearing snow shoes and worshiping various Pagan gods.
It’s a trippy scene but we like it.
These four young guys from the other side of the border were having none of it though. They were convinced all Canadians were brain-damaged souls who would never have survived without constant American intervention. “You’re our retard cousins from across the river!” was how they tactfully put it.
YANKEE COUSIN: #3: And your milk’s not only in bags… it’s actually made for homos!
My cousins and I just looked at each other in amazement. What were these guys talking about? I should have known better, but I charged ahead anyway.
ME: What are you talking about? Our milk’s not for… those types of people. (I hated terms like “homo” and “faggot”. Still do)
YANKEE COUSIN #1: It sure is! Says so right on the bag!
We thought about it for a moment and then realized resistance was futile. Here’s why:
As you can see, while my life certainly became more interesting when I became a bellman it was always miles away from boring. Incidentally, if you’re still not convinced the Seventies were a wild and wonderfully-trippy time to be living in Canada, check this out:
Longest thirty seconds of my life. This commercial messed me up bad and I wasn’t alone.
See you in the lobby, kids…