“Happy Effin’ Canada day! WOOoooOOOOO”
The voice ricocheted off of the low rises along 6th street, bouncing off the sidewalks, and into the air. There was no response but the ambient hum of traffic, and birds uttering their intermittent music. After all, this was noon, not midnight. He must have been at it all night, and without sleep. He was rumpled, like an empty chip bag twisting in the wind.
I could see the guy staggering toward me, lurching into the street and crossing it happily and on a dubious trajectory to the other side. I felt that pins and needles thing do the watusi up my back. Drunks are either boring and charming, or surly and dangerous. And sometimes the one can turn into the other, and without warning. You just never know.
I could read the situation pretty easily. He had Canada Day off work. So, he decided party extra hard the night before. And now in broad daylight, something in his brain told him that he couldn’t keep partying forever, so it made his feet leave party central, vaguely toward home. Everyone has that little voice, like a little homing beacon, in the back of their heads, even when (perhaps especially when) we’ve gone past our limit, chemically speaking.
“Happy effin’ Canada Day, bud!,” he offered. And then, he extended a hand.
Shaking a drunk guy’s hand can be a bit dicey too, of course. Again, you never know. But, since my Spidey sense was on amber alert and not red, I decided to take his hand. It was surprisingly warm. Usually inebriated persons have cold and clammy extremities. Not this guy. His system was used to it, I guess. But, I decided that amber alert was just about right for this fella.
He told me his name. I’ll call him Dave.
“Happy Canada Day, man”, I replied.
He uttered a half-laugh, and then let his face sag into an expressionless stare. When he spoke again, he looked just past me over my shoulder, speaking to a phantom “me” just a few inches removed from where I was actually standing. His eyes were milky blue, and his skin was the color of white cheddar.
Dave staggered just past me, and stood just outside of the bus shelter, a bit too close to the curb. And I asked him if he was alright.
“Yeah, man. I’m frickin’ fine. I just came from an effin’ party, man, for effin’ Canada Day.”
“You live around here?”
“No! Eff, no man. I would never effin’ live here, man …”
I laughed at that. I guess he didn’t want to have to deal with the local riff raff. “Fair enough,” I said.
As is the custom of the advanced level imbiber, he moved from one subject to another on a dime, and asked “What country would you rather live in?” The question was non-rhetorical. Drunk people never ask rhetorical questions. Ever notice that?
“I love it here,” I replied.
He spoke as if I hadn’t said anything. “I’m effin’ proud to be a Canadian. This is a god-given frickin’ country we live in, man. It’s a free effin’ country where we can do whatever we want. Not like in the Third World, where they see you and [pantomime sniper] BOOM!”
Then, he staggered around to the other side of the shelter where another bus rider, hidden from my view, was greeted with a “Happy Effin’ Canada Day, man!” followed by some muted exchange. I suppose my Amber Alert was still in effect when I heard him bellow again: “HAPPY EFFIN’ CANADA DAY! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.” Dave’s roar must have sounded like the “1812 Overture” to those in the lowrise apartments across the street, whether they were facing hangovers or not.
There was a pretty young girl standing behind me, lost in her iPod. Dave rounded the corner of the bus shelter, and spied her. “Hey, girl…”.
I intercepted. “I don’t think she can hear you, man. She’s got her earphones in. So, Dave. You were at a party …”
“Yeah, man. But, I left y’know ’cause, they were doing [pantomime snorting], and I don’t get with that shizz, man. I mean I’ll get drunk, but …” He trailed off. And then he introduced himself again. And again I took his hand.
The bus grew in the distance, and was soon pulling up to the curb. And Dave whirled out, a crooked smile on his face. “Do you need a frickin’ bus ticket, man?”
“No thanks. I have a pass.”
“Yeah, thanks anyway.”
When we boarded the bus, Dave took his seat near the front, wedging himself in between to riders, and across from several more. I took a seat at the back, as the dialogue, or rather monologue ensued. The line in The Who’s “Who Are You” — “I remember throwing punches around and preaching from my chair” — seemed to apply. And everyone got to hear how great a country Canada is.
This was the scene and soundtrack all the way to 22nd Street Station SkyTrain Station. And when we got off the bus, the WOOOOOOOOOO followed up the escalator to the trains above. And Dave slipped into the stream of people of the country he loves so well.
It was a strange encounter, but not uncommon, with the jester, the mad fool, being foolish, yet in some respects speaking the truth. This is a great country. It is a place where various points of view are considered. It is a country where strangers can meet on the street and converse freely, and where generous impulses, like sharing bus tickets with a stranger, are pretty common too. Insights like these can come from the strangest places, whether they come on the day of our nation’s birth or not, or whether they come from crowns or court jesters.
“Remembrance Day ~ Canadian Flag eh!” Pete Williamson @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.