Canada & me

I remember when I realized the world had truly gotten smaller. About ten years ago – maybe more, but I’ve learned that everything seems “ten years ago” these days even if it was 2 or 22 years ago – I was visiting my old small hometown in Finland and an old friend of mine told me that Deep Purple was going to play at the sports arena in town.

Deep Purple? In our town? Surely there must have been a booking error. Deep Purple was a legendary band we only read about on the pages of Metal Hammer (if somebody could find a copy of the magazine in one of the two kiosks that carried such magazines).

Back then, all I ever wanted to do was to travel to Canada. That’s when Terry moved in our house, pinned a huge Maple Leaf flag on his room’s wall and hung his maroon Fort Qu’Appelle Falcons baseball hat on the lamp.

Even if there was no Internet, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Pinterest, naturally, I had always k that the world was out there, somewhere. I watched Happy Days and Dallas, and the world came to me as foreign hockey players, first on TV, and then at a rink near me as Canadian import players – none of them more impressive to me than Mr. Frank Neal of Toronto, Ontario, Canada who played with a long stick and sported an impressive moustache, and Marcel Dionne of Drummondville, Quebec, Canada who – according to Dad who had read about him in the paper – had the strongest forearms in the world.

Well, there was The Kid. That’s what Wayne Gretzky (of Brantford, Ontario) was called in a feature in an NHL game program a friend of a friend of Dad’s had somehow got his hands on and passed on to this kid. In the years between my getting the story and 1985, I read everything I could find about the Kid (who didn’t stay the Kid for much longer before becoming The Great One). My school books were littered with my pencil drawings of “99” and imitations of Gretzky’s autograph.

Anyway, the summer of 1985 I was introduced to the music of the man behind Summer of ’69. One day, Terry received a padded yellow envelope from Canada and inside it, there was a black, unmarked cassette. That wasn’t special or even especially intriguing in itself. After all, I don’t think Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “The Great White North” album Terry had with him had been marked, either.

The fact that the tape was unmarked bothered me more than not knowing the titles of Bob and Doug McKenzie’s comedy bits – and since we didn’t have Wikipedia, I complained about that to Terry. Frustrated, he walked me back to my room, put the tape in to my boombox and pressed Play.

“It’s not that hard,” he said, as he listened to the first song and picked up the title from the chorus: One Night Love Affair.

And that’s how we listened to Bryan Adams’s Reckless album, Terry telling me the title, and me, writing them down in a notebook Dad used at work, with his photo and contact information in the top left corner. Interestingly, the one song Terry (or we) got wrong was The Summer of ’69. We called it “The Best Days of My Life”. Also interestlngly, that had been the original title when Adams and Jim Vallance wrote the song.

The Terry returned to Saskatchewan, and the flag came down the wall. Heather of Up With People stayed with us for a few days the next day. She was Canadian, too, Her job with the group was to do local PR and sing backing vocals to Eurythmics’ “Would I Lie To You”.

After her group left town, I went to see Back to the Future starring that funny Canadian, Michael J. Fox, that I knew from Family Ties. (And by then, I kept track of all Canadians so I knew).

And he was so cool. He skateboarded, I didn’t. He was a slacker, I wasn’t. He had a girlfriend, I didn’t. He had a cool vest, I didn’t. He wore suspenders, I didn’t. (Not until after the movie). But, he was also short, so was I. He had a cool JVC walkman, and so did I, and when the movie ended, and I walked to the hockey arena to watch a game, I was both Marty McFly and the Canadian kid playing him.

Then I left town. Went to Bryan Adams’s shows in Helsinki, bought his albums, bought Alannah Myles’s album, Glass Tiger’s album (with two Adams-Vallance songs), the Canadian flag with me, sometimes on the wall, sometimes not. 

I came back to our small town for summers, and holidays, and once helped the newest Canadian hockey player in town to get his apartment in order. I helped him rent videos and “install microwave ovens” and move refrigerators and colour TVs as the Dire Straits sang on the radio around that time. Stu and I got to be good enough friends for to feel comfortable calling him to see if he could help me find a job – in Canada.

He could. To make a long story short, that summer, I drove from Orillia, Ontario to Newmarket to catch a Lee Aron (of Belleville, Ontario) show at a club. And I spent July 1, Canada Day, in Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario, listening to The Pursuit of Happiness and Tragically Hip. And I visited Terry, now in Vancouver. Also, Frank Neal was in the cubicle next to me.

Back home, I met a Canadian guy at the hockey rink. Andrew was a Torontonian and a big Maple Leaf fan who idolized Börje Salming and Inge Hammarström. We played rink bandy together, and I even recruited him to play hockey with my Division III team, and we became friends so much so that his house was one stop on our family’s road trip across North America.

Before Andrew left town, he gave me a Toronto Blue Jays baseball hat, with the words “Party on” embroidered on the back. Because I made him think of Wayne Campbell of Wayne’s World. That’d be Mike Myers from Scarborough, Toronto. The funniest man alive.

I know Wayne’s World by heart, and I often quote lines from both Back to the Future and Wayne’s World to my friends and Wife and Son and Daughter. Every year, I listen to one specific Mike Myers interview in which he talks about his childhood in Canada.

And then Andrew left town, and I got a job at the Canadian Embassy. I had originally applied for a job at the British Embassy, but while I apparently was the right material to be in Her Majesty’s service, I was still Commonwealth material.

Peak Canada?

I think peak Canada comes in August when Someday Jennifer, my debut novel comes out in Canada. 

I’m back in the small town, visiting Dad, riding my bike around town like I used to back in the day (when Deep Purple was a legendary band we only read about on the pages of Metal Hammer if somebody could find a copy if the magazine in one of the two kiosks that carried such magazines). 

I take Son and Daughter and Wife around town, following my old footsteps: sports store, (where the) record store (used to be), the market square, (where) Dad’s store (used to be), the river, the market square, the beach, the hockey arena, the school, the market square, and I show them where the old hockey rink used to be, my bike route to school, and where my buddies used to live. 

And as I’m writing this, there’s a young man sitting at a table about five meters from me. He’s glanced at me a few times because he’s noticed that I’ve looked at him. 

Except, I’m not looking at him. I’m simply fascinated by his hat.

It’s a Toronto Blue Jays hat.

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