Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Woe, Canada

As plenty before me have no doubt discovered, Thomas Hardy was wrong: You CAN go home again. And you can do it pretty easily, too, when you're motivated. Even if you're flying coach through several time zones while toting a barely housebroken toy poodle as carry-on.

When all you've thought about for the last couple of days is going home again, panhandling Hare Krishnas at LAX give you a warm fuzzy and the smell of smog at 2:00 am fills you with the kind of loony longing that napalm did Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now."

When you're just plain homesick, even the "me-no-speaky-English" parking lot attendant who can't explain the extra 219 miles on your ostensibly "garaged" car's odometer doesn't bother you - much.

Nor does all the middle-of-the-night traffic which, under any other circumstances, would have you snarling, "Where are all these *%$#@ people going at this ungodly hour?!" but which you now regard with Zen-like detachment: "My, there sure are a lot of clever vanity plates, aren't there?"

Leaving home; that is, hitting the road, seeing how the other half lives, going on holiday - traveling, in short -has long been one of my favorite things. Coming home; that is, unpacking, wading through bills and/or other bad news, and reentering a housekeeper-less, mini shampoo-less, room service-less norm has long been one of my least favorite things - even when I've come home from places where there was no such thing as room service; places where I screamed "ugly American" without saying a word; and, yes, places where the very water is considered a weapon of mass destruction.

Which makes my recent, dare I say, triumphant, return home all the stranger. After all, it's not like I'd been in Yemen or on the Ivory Coast, gauchely throwing greenbacks at any quaintly-clothed native or gun-toting rebel who'd let me take his picture. I'd never even left the continent, for Pete's sake; I'd merely gone to Canada. Canada! A country I'd always had a soft spot for, had always been reluctant to leave, and in which I'd always found something new to love.

I loved it for spawning Neil Young, the Crash Test Dummies, and Donald Sutherland; for having the prettiest currency in North America; for its wide open spaces - so wide, it hardly noticed when we divested it of Alaska.

I loved it for Maggie Trudeau, whose Studio 54 antics helped push Miz Lillian and Brother Billy off the front pages for a while. I loved it for its kindness to conscientious objectors, but what I loved most was the Epcot Center aspect of it: veddy British in the west; tres French (its "other" language, in fact) in the east; a virtual Frontierland in the middle, and socialized medicine everywhere.

Ironically, it's that very aspect that made me run for the nearest airport last week.

It's as if they can't decide what they want to be when they grow up, but still expect us, whether tourist, subject, or citizen of the republique alike, to play by the rules - whatever those are. They seem to change from city to city.

Just when you thought Toronto, for example, had settled on being Western Europe, it goes all Eastern bloc on you: In 2004, anyone caught smoking a cigarette in a car with a child under 19 will be cited and fined for "abuse."

Yet, elsewhere in the province, a serial sex offender, thief, and convicted drug dealer, spent less than a total of two years in jail. Upon his latest release, two days before Christmas, he broke into an elderly couple's home and attempted to rape the wife as her husband slept beside her. No "fascist" three strikes law in Ontario, no sir.

News reporters across the country refer to Al-Qaeda as the "alleged perpetrators" of the terrorist attacks on the United States. An article in the Toronto Star went so far as to say, "...following the U.S.'s actions (a snippy word for 'behavior) against the Al-Qaeda network it blames for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

'It blames?' What, are we accusing the wrong guys?

Long the most overtaxed people on Earth, with levies imposed on everything from taking up space to breathing too much air - socialized medicine doesn't just grow on trees, you know - Canadians have been flocking to the Great White North's newly legit casinos in droves. Why the rush to sink billions of severely deflated (but still darned pretty) currency into U.S. made slot machines? Gambling winnings, believe it or not, are the only thing in Canada that isn't taxed.

Worst of all, medicine is no longer free; it hasn't been for years. Health care, says Parliament, is going private.

And they say our chief executive is a moron.

Note to Canada: Call me after you've decided what you're going to be when you grow up. In the meantime, I'll be spending my greenbacks elsewhere. Maybe even Yemen, which at least has the decency to hate me to my face.

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