Blackhumouristpress's Blog

December 14, 2009

Il Fait Chaud

Filed under: Uncategorized — blackhumouristpress @ 11:43 pm
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Il Fait Chaud

I don’t remember it ever being this hot in Canada. I’ve had to adjust again to this

archaic standard of measurements. Feet, yards, miles and Fahrenheit. I think we stopped

using them up in Canada around 1980. When the British abandoned their own system,

we figured it was time to get sensible too.

It was almost nine in the morning and I spent the night at my girlfriend’s

apartment. She lives in a village called Oak Park, which is directly ten miles west of the

giant buildings that make up the skyline of downtown Chicago.

I stepped outside in a fog. The fog is in my head. I tossed and turned all night. It

was way too hot and too humid to get comfortable enough to sleep. I tried freezing my

sheets and taking a cold shower, but that only helped for a little while. If I slept, it was

fleeting and felt as though I never descended to that deep level where you dream about

sitting on a teeter totter across from Abraham Lincoln. I kept looking at the digital clock

and listened to the ceiling fan make a clicking sound at one second intervals. My

girlfriend slept like an angel in my Québec t shirt with the phrase underneath that reads,

“Je me souviens”, which is I remember my French heritage. She is African-American or

black and I am a blend of French and Irish. I have difficulty sleeping in extreme heat

even if I’m naked and she has no problem sleeping in a t shirt.

The roof of the eighty year old apartment building, is flat and is covered with

black tar and tiny rocks. When the temperature exceeds ninety degrees Fahrenheit, the

roof heats up like a hot plate and makes life on the third floor inhumane. My girlfriend

doesn’t believe in air conditioning. She thinks it ruins the vintage feeling of the

apartment. She tells me constantly that there was no air conditioning in apartments or

homes in the pre-Depression era. I have asked a few people old enough to remember that

era and they told me on extremely hot nights, they would go to Lake Michigan and camp

out near the water. With crime being what it is today, such a thing would not be safe. I

told my girlfriend this and she just shrugged her shoulders. She smiled at me, well rested

and a bit frisky and I told her that I would not be spending the night again until the

weather gets better unless she gets air conditioning. We separated this morning a little

cold towards one another on the hottest day of the summer.

America, just celebrated it’s independence from Great Britain last week and since

then the weather has been beastly. The air conditioning stopped working in my minivan

and so even though I showered less than an hour ago, I already have that not so fresh

feeling.

I checked my voice mail and had three messages before nine in the morning. My

job is to face people who are angry and disgruntled. I work for a developer who buys up

old apartment buildings and converts them into condominiums. My job is to answer

complaints of new owners who have discovered shoddy work.

Call number one. First message was from an irate homosexual named David who

left me a message at 6:15 this morning. If I had not turned off my phone, he would have

been the first voice I heard this morning.

David was able to marry his partner in Boston a few years back and refers to his

partner as his husband. David is a stay at home wife.

“Listen, Luc! I need you to come by this morning and look at the damage to my

walls! I have mold growing in my closet and I am highly allergic to dust and mold. I

have been suffering all night. If this is not taken care of today, I will be spending the

night in a hotel of my choice and I will send you the bill via certified mail. My husband,

who has to work early, was up with me half the night due to my asthma … My walls are

alive with living spores. If I do not hear from you today, I will be going to the village.”

Message two from a trust fund child who has never worked a day in her life and

calls me on a weekly basis to complain about everything. Today it was about noise.

“Luc? This is Mrs. Watkins… Look! Something has got to be done about that

woman upstairs and her two goddamn racing dogs. She owns two greyhounds which she

bought from a society that attempts to save former race dogs. Well I have news for you;

they’re still racing. They chase each other around all night and she is a night nurse and

has no idea what is happening. I have asked her to buy oriental rugs and she just tells me

that she prefers the look of hardwood floors. I’m at my wits end. I’m not getting sleep.

I cannot concentrate during the day and I’ve had problems with migraines and ulcers. I

need to know how you will resolve this.”

Message three. Somebody removed someone’s lock and then took out all of their

belongings from a storage locker in the basement. The man who called happened to be an

attorney.

“This message is for Luc! I have called twice now and the next correspondence

will be through the courts. My belongings are scattered all over the laundry room floor…

Okay… This has to be resolved one way or another… Okay. You were supposed

to mark all the storage lockers and it was not done… Okay. Our board specifically asked

to have laminated placards, 3X3 in size, stating clearly who’s locker is who’s… I need a

call from you today… Okay. I would really appreciate it.”
Um… Okay.

My first stop was at a Jiffy Lube. I stopped there for an air conditioning recharge

and they told me that my system won’t hold the Freon. The smallish blue collared man

with really yellowish teeth and a tattoo on his neck of a spider, seemed almost pleased to

announce this. He looked like a transplant from the deep south and had a twang to his

voice that one finds as soon as you reach Chicago’s southern suburbs.

“My best advice to you is to sell this thing… Better yet, hang on to it. It’s a

collector’s item. They stopped making Plymouth a few years ago. You can fix this up

and sell it in like twenty years,” said the man with a foolish grin as he picked at his

yellow teeth with a toothpick. His hands were very dirty too. I was thinking that a good

strep infection would take the smile off his face.

Now on top of the problem of my vehicle’s incapability to keep Freon, I got into

an accident a year ago and my fan got crunched. On hot days in heavy traffic, I would

have to run the heater on high to relieve some of the heat from the engine. Picture the

nearly hundred degree temperature Fahrenheit and then a heater blowing full blast while

the traffic is dead stopped. I was praying that this would not happen but low and behold

there was a ten foot patch of street being repaired on Harlem Avenue. The cars queued

up for over a mile. When I got up to the spot where they were working on the street,

there was a black man with a shovel while three fat white men stood around watching. I

wanted to scream at them. I was sweating profusely now. The back of my shirt was

soaked and I had wet rings under the arms and a line running down the middle of my

shirt. I was already crabby and it was 9:30 AM.

I stopped at the hardware store and listened to a cashier talk on her phone for

nearly five minutes. She had huge thighs and was wearing polyester pants with an elastic

waist band. I could not imagine being so fat that conventional pants with zippers and

buttons, would not fit. She had a face that was so bloated that her eyes disappeared when

she smiled. She pulled back her hair like a Sumo wrestler and had mutton chops. She

had a pretty strong moustache going on too. I must note that her nails looked flawless

though. She hung up the phone and looked at me as if I had been eavesdropping.

“Is there something you need, sir?”

“Yeah, I could really use some air-conditioning. Do you have any window units

left?”

She laughed and slapped her enormous thigh that looked like two of mine put

together. Her eyes disappeared and the skin under her chin shook like Jell-O. I have to

point out that Americans are the most obese people in the world. We have Tim Horton

donut shops on every corner and yet the people in Canada are not so grotesque. I wanted

to snap at her for being so insensitive and rude. Instead I just looked at her blankly.

“You people never do the smart thing and buy something like this in the winter…

You’ll probably need a shovel during a snowstorm… I think we got a few left but the

BTUs are low. You’re gonna have to sleep right on top of it to stay cool…” she said as

she giggled.

By 10:00 AM, I had to deal with two really ignorant human beings that find

humor in discomfort. I could only hope one day to be nearby in a lawn chair with a six

pack when misfortune hits them. It would bring me great pleasure. It is but a fantasy.

I got to the first building where the homosexual called. He was waiting at the

door with his hands on his hips. His hair was bleached white until it was blue and was

spiked every which way as if squirrels had wrestled upon his head. He had really hip

horned rim glasses that one could tell were just glass, no prescription. He had a smart

assed comment too.

“Were you running in your work clothes? Your all sweated up. Do you want

water or a towel or something?”

“Um… I’ll be okay. Can I see the damage?”

There was a tiny bubble on the ceiling that had a tiny blotch of spores. This spot

was the size of those fifty cent coins with John F. Kennedy’s face on it or a two dollar

double loony coin in Canada. This is what was causing this person to have asthmatic

conditions? There are people living in shacks in seventy percent of the world with no

heat, air-conditioning or in door plumbing and this guy is crying about a spot on the

ceiling. I called the janitor and had him clean the spot with bleach and then called a

heating and air conditioning guy to look at the unit on the roof. The man insisted I take a

bottle water with me and so I did.

Without boring you with the details of problem solving little insignificant things

that mean nothing in the larger scheme of things. I went back to my girlfriend’s

apartment to put in the unit. I carried it up three flights of stairs. I continued to perspire.

I fought with the old window that had probably been painted a hundred times in the past

eighty plus years. I had to hit it with a hammer to get it to open with the humidity .

I placed the unit in the window and held it with my right hand and pulled on the window

which was stuck in the open position, with the other hand. The hammer was on the bed

and I could not reach it and hold the unit in place. I needed another two inches to reach

it.

I kicked the bed until it fell to the floor. As I was stretching to reach it, the air

conditioner started to slip away and fell three floors to the cement path below and broke

in numerous pieces. I didn’t know if I should cry or punch a hole in the wall. I almost

began to cry in frustration. I just lost $200.00. I got downstairs and the janitor was

stupidly looking up at the sky as if a bird possibly shit it out. I walked by as if I didn’t

know what happened. I really wanted to just stop everything I was doing and just go to

the beach.

I got to the car and realized that I had locked my keys in the apartment. I was

really ready to punch the window of my car but instead I asked the janitor to let me into

the apartment. He gave me a bit of a hard time.

“Are you on the lease?”

“No, it’s my girlfriend’s place but I stay with her half the week… You’ve never

seen me before?”

“Oh yeah… Oh yeah… That one girl… On the third floor, right?”

“Right, right. The tall girl of African descent.”

“Right, right.”

Oak Park is overly politically correct. It has the highest percentage of

homosexuals per capita in the country and I think for that reason, everyone is very careful

to not say anything to offend or discriminate. Between two white dudes, saying that

someone is black should not be too difficult. At any rate, I got my keys. The janitor

stood in the doorway and shook his head up and down while making a frown with his

mouth and squinting his eyes. The apartment was spotless.

“Very clean! That’s a nice surprise.”
“They don’t live in trees anymore… They’re much cleaner than they used to be

when they were barefoot in the bush or picking cotton.”

“Oh no! I didn’t mean to insinuate nothing… I’m really sorry sir.”

I felt bad then. This guy was going to spend the rest of his day worrying about

whether or not I would call his boss to report race discrimination. I couldn’t let him think

that was going to happen. He was nice enough to let me in.

“Don’t sweat it, I’m just having a tough day. I just dropped that A/C unit laying

in the courtyard… I have no air-conditioning in my car and I didn’t sleep last night.”

“I have some at one of the other buildings that someone left. I’ll give them to

you… No problem, sir.”

I always feel sort of sad for old men who call me sir. I’m under forty and he’s

over fifty. He should call me kid or son or dude but not sir.

My brother remained in Canada. He lives outside of Toronto and runs the

Zamboni at a rink. He plays hockey six days a week and sits up in the bar above the ice

rink and watches other hockey games. He has a really pretty wife that was his high

school sweetheart. They have a little boy and my brother is so happy. He told me that he

secretly wants his son to play for the Habs ( Montreal ) instead of the Maple Leafs. That

had more to do with the fact that we loved our grandfather. My mother’s parents

lived in Quebec and spoke only French to us. We spent nearly every summer with them

up in a small town called Chicoutimi which is about two hundred miles north and east of

Quebec City. Nobody up there speaks English. My mother got a job after college with

Air Canada since she was bilingual. She met my father in Toronto where she was

working at the time and the rest is history. In any case, I bring up my brother because he

is happy and not hurried. He never went to college and never wanted to. He coaches ice

hockey, plays it and works at the rink. His whole life is hockey and he loves it. His wife

loves it. They live very simple. If my brother were here he would commandeer the car

and drive straight to Lake Michigan. My grandfather, who was exactly like my brother,

would have done the same thing. He loved to fish. He fished everyday after retiring.

Grandpere would wake in the morning and give my grandmere a kiss and say, “Il fait

beau…” and she would say in her grouchy way, “Non. Il fait chaud…” My grandfather

always said it was beautiful and my grandmother would declare that it was too hot. I

found myself mumbling a few times to myself the same words that my grandmother used.

“Il fait chaud.”

I ran around the rest of the day like any other worker ant does. I did my part for

society and worked hard to keep the wheels of the giant machine moving. I dealt with

hornets, squirrels and rodents inside of units. I dealt with mold and dog shit. I mediated

between a woman with two racing dogs and a woman who hates animals. I watched

plumbers unclog drains, toilets and sewers. I went up on hot roofs to find the source of

leaks. Nothing unusual and the same sort of complaints will come tomorrow. The

difference is that on no sleep, it is difficult to face the world. I don’t know what would

be worse, to not sleep or to not eat. I know now know vividly what no sleep is like with a

good dose of frustration.

I finished my day at a condominium board meeting where people without much to

do, agonized over the cost of cleaning the carpeting in foyer versus new carpet. I needed

clothes pins on my eyelids to make it through the hour meeting with people who

averaged eighty years of age. I felt like getting up and saying something very frank.

“Listen! You are very old and have very little time left on this earth. Worrying

about replacing carpeting versus washing it, should be a minimal thing in your lives. Go

to the zoo. Go to a museum. Go see a play. Look for people you used to know sixty

years ago and stimulate your memories with things you haven’t thought about in ages.

Enjoy each day as if it were your last because one day really soon, you will be gone…

But the carpet will remain.”

I didn’t say that. Instead I looked at an old woman who instructed me to get three

estimates for new carpet and three for carpet cleaning and they would discuss and choose

the best course of action. I thought about all the things going on in my life and hoped to

heck that mundane things like carpeting, would never stir passion within me. With global

warming, wars, nuclear proliferation and starvation in the world, how could we be

worrying about carpeting, air conditioning, mold spores, dog shit and storage lockers?

When you don’t have to worry about survival, you can turn your attention to many things

that mean very little.

I was too tired to go to my apartment across town. I was going to take a cold

shower and go to sleep before my body heated up. I walked in to my girlfriend’s place

and there was a window air-conditioning unit in the living room and another in the

bedroom. It was in the sixties in the apartment with very low humidity. The janitor found

two units and installed them for me, free of charge and without killing them in the

courtyard below. It was the nicest thing to have happened to me all day. I owed the guy

a huge thank you and a gift card to Starbucks or a local restaurant.

I went to bed that night and my girlfriend put on flannel pants and socks to go

with my Quebec shirt. She pulled the comforter up to her chin around her head and

poked her nose out. I laid there in my hybrid underwear that is neither a boxer nor a

brief. It is neither 100% cotton nor 100% spandex. I laid there smiling ready to sleep

like I had not slept in a long time because I had not. I was almost excited. My girlfriend

whispered to me.

“It’s cold…”

I whispered back in French.

“Non. Il fait beau…”

August 3, 2009

Wine with the Prime Minister

Filed under: Uncategorized — blackhumouristpress @ 4:24 am
Tags: , , , ,

After 225 years of French rule in North America, a battle on the Plains of Abraham ended all that. A general for the British by the name of Wolfe, defeated a French general by the name of Montcalme at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, New France was named Quebec. France was left with two islands near Newfoundland. The British sought to have all French inhabitants assimilate into British ways. In 1774, fearing that the French citizens of Quebec might team up with George Washington and company, the British passed the Quebec Act which recognized French law, language, culture and the Roman Catholic Church. Assimilation was impossible after the passage of that act. French culture continued in Quebec.
In October of 1995, the 30th to be exact, the future of Canada as we know it presently, was being decided. The province of Quebec was voting on a referendum to decide if Quebec should be a sovereign nation. Two weeks before the casting of the vote in Quebec, the sovereign vote was ahead in the polls by nearly five percent. The night of the election, everyone was on the edge of their seats, in Canada only.
93% of eligible voters turned out to vote making it close to 4.7 million voters in Quebec. 53,498 people out of 4.7 million were the difference in Quebec becoming a sovereign nation and seceding from Canada. Most of the 53,000 people were foreign born non-French and non-English speaking immigrants. For the Parti Quebecois, it was a defeat to be sure. There to this day are grumblings and strong feelings in Quebec about going it alone where French could be spoken by French without having to ever speak English. Where stop signs would forever say Arête and any Americanized, English words would and could be abolished once and for all. The preservation of French culture would have been mandated by law instead of the French and English that now exists in the province of Quebec. Not very interesting? Not many people took notice outside of Canada at the time and today not many know that the future of Canada was being decided the day before Halloween in 1995. But this really is not the story. The story is the story within the story, which is usually the case. It’s not the substance that mattered it was the drama and tension as a result of the referendum.
To protect his identity and to keep me from being sued, I have altered the name of the Parti Quebecois member of the Canadian House of Commons, representing an area not far from the Ontario border in Quebec by the name of Etienne Cadeau.
Etienne was short and portly. His dark hair was receding and he had a large gap between his two front teeth. Etienne had a gift for being able to talk to anyone about anything and seem interested. It is a trait which is necessary to be a politician.
Mr. Cadeau was born and raised in the Atlantic coast city of Gaspe not far from where Jacques Cartier planted a cross for France back in 1534.
Etienne’s father was a fisherman and his mother raised nine children. Etienne was an above average student who went to Laval in Quebec City and became a lawyer. While is college, Etienne met and married a woman by the name of Jeanette who was born in the city of Gatineau, not far from the nation’s capital of Ottawa in the province of Ontario.
Mr. Cadeau left the Liberal Party to join the Bloc Quebecois in 1990 and became a member of parliament representing a region of western Quebec. Things looked good for those that wanted sovereignty for Quebec. Mr. Cadeau saw himself as a possible candidate for the first president of the Republic of Quebec. He could be the French George Washington and forever live on coins and paper money. The night of the election, Etienne watched the results from a bar that was frequented by French Canadian politicians and other various separatists. On the wall were pictures of Rene Levesque and Charles de Galle, the French Canadian flag and the words, “Je me souviens” which translates to mean in English, I remember or I remember my French heritage.
As the hours passed, Etienne and others became more drunk and disappointed. Etienne sat at a table with other MPs of French extraction that were looking forward to a new nation for North American Francophones. It became clear late in the evening that the referendum had been defeated by a 50.6 to 49.4 percent. One percent of the province was the difference. Etienne was so upset that he threw down his Canadian money with the English queen on it and staggered out into the night. The air was cold with a hint of winter that was about to come to that part of Canada. Etienne got into his Citroen that he imported from France and drove towards the bridge that would take him across to Ottawa where he lived during sessions of parliament.

Bill Stowe was a descendant of people who once lived in the colony which became the United States of America. They were loyalists and wanted to remain loyal to the crown. After the colonists gained their own country, Bill’s ancestors moved north. Over the course of two hundred years, Bill’s family never bred much with people over other persuasions. There was a Dutch woman and a Flemish Belgian man who married into the Stowe clan. For the most part, they were of Anglo-Saxon stock.
Bill had played hockey and was a stand out in the Ontario Hockey League until one too many concussions sidelined his career and forced him to seek other means to an end. Bill became a police officer in the OPP or Ontario Provincial Police.
Bill grew up in Ajax which was about 50 kilometers from the city of Toronto. Upon being hired into the OPP, Bill had to move to Windsor near the Detroit border and then all the way to Cornwall near the Quebec border. It had been five years that Bill had been living and working for the OPP near Ottawa. Bill liked Ottawa.
Bill sat sipping Tim Horton’s Coffee and talking to a fellow trooper on the citizen band radio about their men’s league hockey team that was taking a trip to Calgary to play against other police teams from all over Canada and the United States. The team to beat were the Mounties from near Edmonton. They had won the tournament three years in a row. This year, Bill’s team got some fresh blood. Two young rookies just got done playing in the Ontario Hockey League and were more than capable of helping the Ottawa OPP.
Coming off the bridge that leads from Hull, Quebec to Ottawa, Ontario was the black Citroen. The Citroen’s wheels screeched as Etienne cornered. It was on Queen Elizabeth Street that Etienne cornered too fast and slammed head on into a lamppost. Bill had followed the screeching Citroen with Quebec plates, ever since the bridge. Etienne sat banging his head on the steering wheel of his car that was cleaved right up the center of the car. Etienne was able to start the car again. He put it in drive, thinking that he was in reverse and knocked the lamppost down onto two other parked cars. One of the parked cars had just some dents on the hood but the second one had the ornamental head of the lamp, resting on the front seat of the sedan after it had ripped through the windshield. Etienne got out of his car and kicked and punched as he swore in French. Unbeknownst to him, Bill walked up and flashed a light in Etienne’s eyes. Bill spoke first.
“Sir… Don’t move. I want to hear from you what just happened,” commanded Bill.
“What happened? I will tell you what appened… We lost our chance to be our own nation by less than one percentage point. Eef we aad won dee referendum, ah would not be eer raht now speaking to ahn English speaking cop een fucking Ottawa… Fucking dumb English prick,” said an inebriated Etienne, while staring at the light of the flash light.
“Sir, I need to know why it is that you were driving so fast that you lost control of your vehicle. Calling me names is not going to help you right now, eh? I need to see your driver’s license…”
Etienne had set his wallet down on the chair besides where he was sitting at the bar in Hull. Nobody would steal the wallet and it was probably being held by the bartender at that moment. Etienne let the officer know what had happened.
“Ah can geeve you the name and number of the bar een Hull. Ah left eet on a chair next to me… Een any event, I ham a MP. I leeve on Queens Street when I ham not leeving en Quebec,” said Etienne.
“Sir… I’m going to have to take you in to custody,” said Bill.
Etienne did not go down without a fight. He swore and punched Bill. Bill could be heard on the radio, calling for backup. Three other troopers showed within a minute to detain the member of the House of Commons. Later that morning, under the light of day, Etienne was released from OPP holding pen. Reporters from papers all over Canada as well as the CBC camped out to get a comment from the drunken driving Member of Parliament. Etienne refused to speak English. In French he made a statement in the form of questions. Here is the English translation;
“If I were an English speaking member of the House of Commons, would I have been arrested? Do you believe this is another symbolic statement by government officials that the French citizens of this nation will always be second class citizens within Canada? You need to answer these questions. The people of Quebec have voted by the thinnest of margins to remain part of Canada and who were the 50,000 who put the no vote over the top? Not French speaking citizens of Quebec whose lineage dates back three hundred years to France… That’s all I can say right now…”
A sharp witted columnist who had a syndicated column in English language newspapers throughout Canada commented on the incident. That more than anything else, fuelled the smoldering fire. In Quebec, separatists began to smash windows of businesses that had English sounding names. A five second film clip showed a group of separatists singing in French and burning the Canadian flag. The scene looked more like the taking of American hostages in Iran than something that could have happened in Canada. It was at that point that the prime minister had to step in.
Jean Chrétien, the 20th Prime Minister of the country which is Canada, tried to calm the situation. Luckily for Chretien at the time, there were no reporters around when he was told about the situation. He did say in French, “ Il est tres stupide…”. It wasn’t clear if the situation was stupid, The drunk member of parliament or the OPP police officer. In either case, the press was not present to hear the prime minister. The situation escalated without any help.
Jean Chretien, understood that even though the referendum had failed, the country could still be in crisis due to an individual incident that was quite symbolic; French discrimination from an English heavy hand. Chretien had invited the two men in question to meet on the Plains of Abraham to drink a bottle of wine from the province of Ontario and another from the province of Quebec. Red wine would be drunk by the three men from each province in a dark wooded room that overlooked the St. Lawrence River from the Chateau Frontenac. Bill Stowe, Etienne Cadeau and Jean Chrétien sat in the room and discussed the whole situation and the situation that occurred from the situation. Before both bottles were finished, the conversation turned to ice hockey. Bill graciously declared that Maurice “The Rocket” Richard was probably the best hockey player to have played the sport even though in his heart bill believed it to really be Gordie Howe. Etienne declared that the best player was difficult to declare but that it might have been Gordie Howe since he was able to play professionally into his fifties even though Etienne really believed the best of best was Maurice Richard. All men declared by the end of meeting that they would do all within their abilities to keep Canada intact. Seven years later at the invitation of the prime minister, Etienne and Bill watched Canada win the gold medal for Canada. The two men with lumps in their throats, stood as the national anthem played. Both men sang the words in their own languages as the flag was raised above all others in Utah. It was a proud moment for Canada. Oh Canada…

After 225 years of French rule in North America, a battle on the Plains of Abraham ended all that. A general for the British by the name of Wolfe, defeated a French general by the name of Montcalme at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, New France was named Quebec. France was left with two islands near Newfoundland. The British sought to have all French inhabitants assimilate into British ways. In 1774, fearing that the French citizens of Quebec might team up with George Washington and company, the British passed the Quebec Act which recognized French law, language, culture and the Roman Catholic Church. Assimilation was impossible after the passage of that act. French culture continued in Quebec.
In October of 1995, the 30th to be exact, the future of Canada as we know it presently, was being decided. The province of Quebec was voting on a referendum to decide if Quebec should be a sovereign nation. Two weeks before the casting of the vote in Quebec, the sovereign vote was ahead in the polls by nearly five percent. The night of the election, everyone was on the edge of their seats, in Canada only.
93% of eligible voters turned out to vote making it close to 4.7 million voters in Quebec. 53,498 people out of 4.7 million were the difference in Quebec becoming a sovereign nation and seceding from Canada. Most of the 53,000 people were foreign born non-French and non-English speaking immigrants. For the Parti Quebecois, it was a defeat to be sure. There to this day are grumblings and strong feelings in Quebec about going it alone where French could be spoken by French without having to ever speak English. Where stop signs would forever say Arête and any Americanized, English words would and could be abolished once and for all. The preservation of French culture would have been mandated by law instead of the French and English that now exists in the province of Quebec. Not very interesting? Not many people took notice outside of Canada at the time and today not many know that the future of Canada was being decided the day before Halloween in 1995. But this really is not the story. The story is the story within the story, which is usually the case. It’s not the substance that mattered it was the drama and tension as a result of the referendum.
To protect his identity and to keep me from being sued, I have altered the name of the Parti Quebecois member of the Canadian House of Commons, representing an area not far from the Ontario border in Quebec by the name of Etienne Cadeau.
Etienne was short and portly. His dark hair was receding and he had a large gap between his two front teeth. Etienne had a gift for being able to talk to anyone about anything and seem interested. It is a trait which is necessary to be a politician.
Mr. Cadeau was born and raised in the Atlantic coast city of Gaspe not far from where Jacques Cartier planted a cross for France back in 1534.
Etienne’s father was a fisherman and his mother raised nine children. Etienne was an above average student who went to Laval in Quebec City and became a lawyer. While is college, Etienne met and married a woman by the name of Jeanette who was born in the city of Gatineau, not far from the nation’s capital of Ottawa in the province of Ontario.
Mr. Cadeau left the Liberal Party to join the Bloc Quebecois in 1990 and became a member of parliament representing a region of western Quebec. Things looked good for those that wanted sovereignty for Quebec. Mr. Cadeau saw himself as a possible candidate for the first president of the Republic of Quebec. He could be the French George Washington and forever live on coins and paper money. The night of the election, Etienne watched the results from a bar that was frequented by French Canadian politicians and other various separatists. On the wall were pictures of Rene Levesque and Charles de Galle, the French Canadian flag and the words, “Je me souviens” which translates to mean in English, I remember or I remember my French heritage.
As the hours passed, Etienne and others became more drunk and disappointed. Etienne sat at a table with other MPs of French extraction that were looking forward to a new nation for North American Francophones. It became clear late in the evening that the referendum had been defeated by a 50.6 to 49.4 percent. One percent of the province was the difference. Etienne was so upset that he threw down his Canadian money with the English queen on it and staggered out into the night. The air was cold with a hint of winter that was about to come to that part of Canada. Etienne got into his Citroen that he imported from France and drove towards the bridge that would take him across to Ottawa where he lived during sessions of parliament.

Bill Stowe was a descendant of people who once lived in the colony which became the United States of America. They were loyalists and wanted to remain loyal to the crown. After the colonists gained their own country, Bill’s ancestors moved north. Over the course of two hundred years, Bill’s family never bred much with people over other persuasions. There was a Dutch woman and a Flemish Belgian man who married into the Stowe clan. For the most part, they were of Anglo-Saxon stock.
Bill had played hockey and was a stand out in the Ontario Hockey League until one too many concussions sidelined his career and forced him to seek other means to an end. Bill became a police officer in the OPP or Ontario Provincial Police.
Bill grew up in Ajax which was about 50 kilometers from the city of Toronto. Upon being hired into the OPP, Bill had to move to Windsor near the Detroit border and then all the way to Cornwall near the Quebec border. It had been five years that Bill had been living and working for the OPP near Ottawa. Bill liked Ottawa.
Bill sat sipping Tim Horton’s Coffee and talking to a fellow trooper on the citizen band radio about their men’s league hockey team that was taking a trip to Calgary to play against other police teams from all over Canada and the United States. The team to beat were the Mounties from near Edmonton. They had won the tournament three years in a row. This year, Bill’s team got some fresh blood. Two young rookies just got done playing in the Ontario Hockey League and were more than capable of helping the Ottawa OPP.
Coming off the bridge that leads from Hull, Quebec to Ottawa, Ontario was the black Citroen. The Citroen’s wheels screeched as Etienne cornered. It was on Queen Elizabeth Street that Etienne cornered too fast and slammed head on into a lamppost. Bill had followed the screeching Citroen with Quebec plates, ever since the bridge. Etienne sat banging his head on the steering wheel of his car that was cleaved right up the center of the car. Etienne was able to start the car again. He put it in drive, thinking that he was in reverse and knocked the lamppost down onto two other parked cars. One of the parked cars had just some dents on the hood but the second one had the ornamental head of the lamp, resting on the front seat of the sedan after it had ripped through the windshield. Etienne got out of his car and kicked and punched as he swore in French. Unbeknownst to him, Bill walked up and flashed a light in Etienne’s eyes. Bill spoke first.
“Sir… Don’t move. I want to hear from you what just happened,” commanded Bill.
“What happened? I will tell you what appened… We lost our chance to be our own nation by less than one percentage point. Eef we aad won dee referendum, ah would not be eer raht now speaking to ahn English speaking cop een fucking Ottawa… Fucking dumb English prick,” said an inebriated Etienne, while staring at the light of the flash light.
“Sir, I need to know why it is that you were driving so fast that you lost control of your vehicle. Calling me names is not going to help you right now, eh? I need to see your driver’s license…”
Etienne had set his wallet down on the chair besides where he was sitting at the bar in Hull. Nobody would steal the wallet and it was probably being held by the bartender at that moment. Etienne let the officer know what had happened.
“Ah can geeve you the name and number of the bar een Hull. Ah left eet on a chair next to me… Een any event, I ham a MP. I leeve on Queens Street when I ham not leeving en Quebec,” said Etienne.
“Sir… I’m going to have to take you in to custody,” said Bill.
Etienne did not go down without a fight. He swore and punched Bill. Bill could be heard on the radio, calling for backup. Three other troopers showed within a minute to detain the member of the House of Commons. Later that morning, under the light of day, Etienne was released from OPP holding pen. Reporters from papers all over Canada as well as the CBC camped out to get a comment from the drunken driving Member of Parliament. Etienne refused to speak English. In French he made a statement in the form of questions. Here is the English translation;
“If I were an English speaking member of the House of Commons, would I have been arrested? Do you believe this is another symbolic statement by government officials that the French citizens of this nation will always be second class citizens within Canada? You need to answer these questions. The people of Quebec have voted by the thinnest of margins to remain part of Canada and who were the 50,000 who put the no vote over the top? Not French speaking citizens of Quebec whose lineage dates back three hundred years to France… That’s all I can say right now…”
A sharp witted columnist who had a syndicated column in English language newspapers throughout Canada commented on the incident. That more than anything else, fuelled the smoldering fire. In Quebec, separatists began to smash windows of businesses that had English sounding names. A five second film clip showed a group of separatists singing in French and burning the Canadian flag. The scene looked more like the taking of American hostages in Iran than something that could have happened in Canada. It was at that point that the prime minister had to step in.
Jean Chrétien, the 20th Prime Minister of the country which is Canada, tried to calm the situation. Luckily for Chretien at the time, there were no reporters around when he was told about the situation. He did say in French, “ Il est tres stupide…”. It wasn’t clear if the situation was stupid, The drunk member of parliament or the OPP police officer. In either case, the press was not present to hear the prime minister. The situation escalated without any help.
Jean Chretien, understood that even though the referendum had failed, the country could still be in crisis due to an individual incident that was quite symbolic; French discrimination from an English heavy hand. Chretien had invited the two men in question to meet on the Plains of Abraham to drink a bottle of wine from the province of Ontario and another from the province of Quebec. Red wine would be drunk by the three men from each province in a dark wooded room that overlooked the St. Lawrence River from the Chateau Frontenac. Bill Stowe, Etienne Cadeau and Jean Chrétien sat in the room and discussed the whole situation and the situation that occurred from the situation. Before both bottles were finished, the conversation turned to ice hockey. Bill graciously declared that Maurice “The Rocket” Richard was probably the best hockey player to have played the sport even though in his heart bill believed it to really be Gordie Howe. Etienne declared that the best player was difficult to declare but that it might have been Gordie Howe since he was able to play professionally into his fifties even though Etienne really believed the best of best was Maurice Richard. All men declared by the end of meeting that they would do all within their abilities to keep Canada intact. Seven years later at the invitation of the prime minister, Etienne and Bill watched Canada win the gold medal for Canada. The two men with lumps in their throats, stood as the national anthem played. Both men sang the words in their own languages as the flag was raised above all others in Utah. It was a proud moment for Canada. Oh Canada…

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