Category Archives: Canada

LL Encounters The Canadian Healthcare System

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“Let’s do the weekend plans simultaneously,” says The Scientist. “You book tickets for the waterslide park for tomorrow online while I call the mountain for the Sunday morning rock-climbing trip.” “Sure,” I say, flipping open my laptop. But before The Scientist can dial out, the phone rings. I hear one word: “Ambulance.”

To date, each of the kids has been in the hospital for his own birth and for each birth that came after his, if any, with one exception. Cool J was rushed–in The Scientist’s arms–to the ER after falling out of the attic and then showing signs of head trauma 2 years ago (the kids love to reminisce about it — they both remember exactly what scene they were up to in Star Wars 2/Attack of the Clones when The Scientist came home to see how Cool J was, and Cool J, not a puker, sat up and projectile puked all over The Scientist).

Today it was LL’s turn. He had been playing Capture the Flag at camp when he coincided with one of his opponents. How that head-to-head crash turned into a giant open wound on LL’s forehead I don’t understand. But it was obvious that he was going to need stitches. So for the second time in our parenting lives, we rushed to the ER.

We rushed — and then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And. And. And.

At one point the nurse approached us, though it turned out she wasn’t looking for us, but for the Agudah kid also sitting in the waiting room. I guess all we Jews look alike.

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Cool J, LL, and the kid who was apparently interchangeable with LL

After 6 hours, we complained. We accused the hospital administrators of favoring the Francophones over us. We said that people who came up with similar or lower triage scores were being taken to the doctors first. We said they hated us because we spoke English, because we came from the US, because we didn’t have medicare cards, because we were noisy. They were unfazed. “Please sit down,” they said. “The doctor will be with you shortly.” Sometimes they said it in French, and sometimes in English.

Another hour went by.

When they took us into a room and put LL onto a bed, we thought our waiting was over.

Then we waited.

Not that we didn’t keep busy at all. We did dance competitions that LL judged:

Cool J performing the winning dance. LL awarded him with the "Stanley Cup of dance competitions."

Cool J performing the winning dance. LL awarded him with the “Stanley Cup of dance competitions.”

We swiveled in the swivelly chairs. We lowered and raised LL’s bed to give him a ride. We looked on the charts to see which doctors had big hands and which had little hands based on their glove sizes.

And finally, the doctor came.

LL didn’t mince his words. Before the doctor could finish his introduction, LL cut in. “Why did we wait for 8 hours?” he asked.

The doctor, who could see on LL’s chart that the boy was coming from the US, used the opportunity to give LL a thorough response. “In the United States,” he said, “You would see the doctor much faster. Much faster! You would see him and go home. That would be great, right? But it would only be great if you had money. You see, if you didn’t have money –lots of it to give to the insurance companies or the doctors who charge much more there– you wouldn’t be waiting because you would never get the treatment. Do you know why? Because that’s how they do things in America. If you’re rich, you can have everything, but if you’re not, you can go home with a hole in your head. Here in Canada, on the other hand, we don’t ask how much money you have. We treat everyone.”

LL: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Am I getting stitches or what??”

He did:

FrankenLL

FrankenLL

And the doctor, who was very nice, and explained everything in careful detail to the kids, did a great job of it.

By the time we got home, LL was in high spirits, his hours of waiting behind him. He was excited to tell his story. Canadian system, American system, whatever.

We called my mom. “Gramma–Guess what? I got stitches!” Before she could recover from her heart attack, he continued: “So isn’t that good, because now I can be in the NHL because now I know what it’s like to get stitches. I got my practice and now I’m ready! I’m so happy! Bye, Gramma!” All’s well that ends well.

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This Vagabond Life (Day 31 and counting)

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It’s Day 31 of the month–and of our lives as vagabonds.

After packing up everything we own and sending it to storage, we departed our princely town on June 30, and we have been busy! We’ve spent weeks traveling the continent. We’ve stayed at country houses and city houses and hotels and motels and in our palatial tent (as palatial as tents come, anyway . . .) . We’ve been seeing mountains and fountains and lakes and moose and elk and bison and geysers and hot springs and canyons and tall towers and waterfalls and shopping meccas and bears and a Cubs game–

This fellow greeted me on my bleary-eyed amble to the bathroom for my morning ablutions. If you think I backed away slowly, pretended to be big and scary, or zapped him with bear spray, you overestimate my woods smarts. I ran for my life.

I probably should have moved Baby MoFo a little further away from this bit of wildlife rather than snapping pictures …

Too much damn traffic. It’s worse than NYC around here!

We’ve been going on magnificent hikes and boat rides and elevator rides and bike rides–

Is this freaking gorgeous or WHAT?

And we’ve been doing a heck of a lot of driving.

Pinch caught on camera

The driving is something of a challenge. Our home rule is 30 minutes of screen time a day (iPad, TV, computer, and Wii all count), but we tend to be laxer on the long drives. After all, although my friend Anna Oh believes kids can be kept entertained for hours on end with a roll of tin foil (think of the possibilities!), I see no evidence of such vast creativity in my kids. We play Geography and Brain Quest and word bingo; they color and write in their journals; they nap and snack and fight; and when they get bored of all that, they watch DVDs. It helps with everyone’s sanity.

The downside is this: whenever I ask them what their favorite thing has been thus far, they reply, hesitantly, because they know what answer I don’t want to hear: “Do you mean other than screen time?” And then they scramble to come up with a suitable answer (“Does eating ice cream count?”).

And when my friend asked them what their favorite activity has been–asked them, that is, when I wasn’t around–they told her frankly: “Playing Wii at our cousins’ house!!!!”

So you might wonder, as I wonder, if I am completely wasting my time taking them on adventures across the continent when clearly this–

Looking at the “grand” canyon below–

is less interesting to these boys than this:

Bliss

Another year, another home for the Perambulatory Professors/Wandering Jews

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A soon-to-be happy 9th anniversary to The Scientist and me! Here is a hint as to how we’re going to spend our anniversary:

Some people get married, buy a house, and spend their lives in it. Maybe they move once or twice. In 9 years of marriage, we have moved a few more times than that.

Here I was at our Southern apartment complex when we were newlyweds:

Southern complex, 2003

The next place, a total of 567 shared square feet, was a little less luxurious:

Northeast urban condo, 2004

But a year later we were in a nicer home, with 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a patio, and a winter view of the river:

Suburban Northeast townhouse, 2005

And then our jobs took us really really far away–into the Canadian hinterlands–where we dropped back down to one bathroom. The condo was OK–we were grateful to find a place in a province where it is both legal and popular for owners to choose not to rent to people with children under the age of 18. Here I am  with Cool J in the oven and latkes on the stove:

Canadian Hinterlands condo, 2006

We got two years off moving in 2007 and 2008, so in 2009, we had to move several times. When we subletted a furnished place, we had access to other kids’ playthings, to the delight of our own kids, whose personal cache of toys has long consisted of Lego, Lego, and more Lego:

Canadian Hinterlands sublet #2, 2009

Luckily, we ultimately landed in the ultimate house:

Canadian Hinterlands Dream House, 2009

But sadly, that didn’t last long. By the end of 2010, we were packed up again and ready to go. We found a house with one bathroom (for the now 5 of us!) sandwiched between a House of Prayer and a Urologist (The Scientist chose to go to neither). Here are the boys and their cousins in our current house (Messy? You try having 7 kids stay in your 1200 sq ft house!):

A Princely Town Duplex, 2011

And here we’ve been installed for a whole year and a half. A lifetime! But alas, all houses come to a quick end for us, and a couple of weeks ago, The Scientist walked around our house, studying it thoughtfully, and at last declared: “OK, I’m done with it.” And so we all are, it would seem.

On to the next adventure, and to our new house, which I am calling The Nut House, owing to the series of nut-named streets in the area, and for no other reason at all! (3 nutty children? irrelevant!). The Nut House has a small, overgrown backyard, no parking (not even on the street out front), and an uphill when you walk out of the front door that is going to kick my butt when I’m on my bike, but it does have 2 bathrooms (woohoo!!), and my kids’ all-time favorite house-feature, an “upstairs-upstairs.” It’s a bit bigger and it’s nicer than our current house, and being the wandering jews that we are, we embrace the new adventure (moving is fun! moving is fun! moving is fun! Repeat ’til the page is full, printer, or, um, blog).

Pictures of the Nut House in a Princely Town, 2012, are forthcoming . . .

Oberservation: Dressing the part in the Land of Duddy Kravitz

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Duddy Kravitz and the unfortunate Yvette. He stood for the money-grubbing Sec Jews, she for the anti-Semitic but victimized French Canadians. Missing only in this picture of Laurentian life is the Orthodox icon, who in Duddy's time and by Richler's reckoning was not a young mom or dad with a dozen kids filling the playground by Lac des Sables, but the old man whose time was almost up. In the book, the country house Jews were made up of "the short husbands with their outrageously patterned sports shirts arm in arm with purring wives too obviously full for slacks, the bawling kids with tripledecker icecream cones, the squealing teenagers, and the grandfather with his beard and black hat."

Bullet-proof stockings, silk shmatas on their heads or pared-down-for-the-summer shtreimels, clothes that are long, loose, and often quite lux, the Chasidisshe Jews here wear many layers, despite the hot, humid summer air.

Cool J and a Chabad camp

LL among the 'lidges

Mini putting with a maxi family: our boys wait patiently behind a family of 11

Not so the Sec Jews. These are the ones that got to camp with LL and Cool J. Some are Shomer Shabbos, some strictly Kosher (some less so. Says one camp mom to another: “I was going to join the kids hiking today, but I’m fasting, so it’s probably not a good idea.” Replies the other: “Oh, for Tu Be’shvat?” The first: “Not quite.”). But all are Sec, surely, beside the Bobovers and Satmars, for whom they appear not even as Jews but rather a bunch of shiksas and sheygatzes. This group is made up, primarily, of ladies polished and groomed (their men, for the most part, back in the city, earning the money for that polishing and grooming). In their athletic apparel, they appear poised, at all moments, for a jog along Lac des Sables or yoga sur la plage.

Meanwhile, the French Canadians, with cigarettes dangling from their lips and peroxided hair, hold court by the lakeside casse-croute in their string bikinis and heels, calling to their one or two children (such measly families–such a switch from Duddy’s time–now the Bobover kids dominate with their 12 or 15 or 18 children, and the Secs don’t do badly with their 3 or 5 or 6). “Loic! Aurélie!” The children, boys and girls, wear their hair long, and these same children, boys and girls, are often only clothed below the waist.

And so, in the land where people are supposed to be divided into linguistic groups–Anglophone, Francophone, Allophone–they are instead separated by their apparel: the Chasids wear a lot, the Sec Jews wear Lulus, the French wear little.

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Can Jews Go Camping (not at the Hilton)?? Hashem says: No way.

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Modern Man: Jews Don’t Camp

When the idea occurred to us to go camping–to pack up our three kids, all under 5, and one under 5 months–not only the Jews thought we were nuts. But it was the Jews who were bewildered. Since the big camping trip–you know, with Moses and Tzippy and, if you’re a Jew, as legend goes, you too–Jews have supposedly been turned off to the whole tent-under-the-stars thing. Except for, maybe, the Israelis. They’re hardy folk. In any case, we were determined. We even invited The Molahses: Mushroomhead, Fennel, and their kids, Carrot and Zucchini, another (sort-of/part-)Jewish family, to join us (Mushroomhead is a “California Jew”; moreover, the Molahses are Northern Californian twig-eating organic vegan hippies–how unJewish is that?? Although I have, in truth, seen a very lovely Magen David atop their Christmas tree . . . But alas, that’s mostly Mushroomhead’s mom’s attempt to put a little Yid in her kid . . .). The Molahses and the Princess-Scientists, geared up with firestarters and new sleeping bags, and just a wee bit of fear: off we went, ready to explore the Canadian Rockies, one of the most glorious places on earth.

Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park

A brush with wildlife

The Twig-Eating Vegan Hippies in their Hippymobile

On the drive, we're reminded that MAN has moved (part of) the mountain.

Moraine Lake

The Okanagan

Perfect? Glorious? Formidable? Indeed. Despite the rain, despite the near-zero (Celsius) temperatures, despite The Scientist feeling weak from a lack of hardy meat, we were doing awesome. We had successfully camped in Revelstoke, successfully collected our firewood and lit our campfires and toasted our marshmallows (“Do you know you’re eating a horse’s hoof?” 6-year-old Carrot asked 5-year-old LL, to which LL replied, “YUMMMMMMMM.”), successfully slept through the nights in our new cozy sleeping bags (apart from The Scientist, who was either romantically attached to the sleeping bag he used at the religious sleepaway camp he attended as a child–or was disinclined to buy a new one for another reason . . . but a couple of nights in the Canadian Rockies air was enough to send him straight to MEC on our arrival in Victoria, cost irrelevant), successfully hiked and canoed and had, in short, fun.

On The Scientist’s birthday, we were camping in the Okanagan. Cool J woke up, made himself a little mud puddle, and rolled around in it. It was hard to believe he had turned 3 the day before. A 10th percentile boy (up from 3rd!), he was still a little and cuddly and mushy baby. And dirty as hell. I pulled off his sleeper and bedtime diaper and scooped him up to throw him under the shower, two campsites away.

The little piggy about to turn on the faucet and create a mud puddle to roll around in

From the campsite between ours and the shower, I saw a couple sitting on logs, hacking away as they smoked and downed their 4/5 of JD. I paid them little heed–Cool J and I were singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star together and giggling as we sang–but a few words came my way: “Disgusting . . . what the fuck . . . ” As their discussion went on, it got louder and louder until I heard “NOT EVEN A FUCKING DIAPER!” and I finally realized it was about my child. I turned. “Do you have something to say to me?” I asked. The man: “Yes, you disgusting fucking bitch. How could you let your child be naked? That’s fucking gross.” The woman: “I’m a mother and a fucking good one and I would never fuckin’ leave my kid without a fuckin’ diaper.”  There were more nasty nasty words slung at me (and my child–classy). At first I tried to explain that I was steps from my campsite and his clothes were filthy and I was putting him right in the shower, but the abuse continued. I stopped explaining. I got mad. I threw a few rude words their way. They were, I thought, not half as impressive as those of the ever-so-eloquent couple (drunk at 9am), but they weren’t pretty. They shut up. I felt triumphant. I had rebuked them, and clearly they had lost the battle. Don’t you try to win a wordfight against an English PhD! Yeah! I got you good, you trashy losers! I washed that little baby until he was squeaky clean, and we set off for a day of wineries and water-fun. The sky was threatening, but it didn’t rain. The Scientist’s birthday was a lovely day.

As we pulled up to our campsite in the evening, tired but cheerful, however, the first thing I noticed was the pool of water around our tent. “I guess it rained here,” I said, thinking in terms of microclimates. But how micro was this climate? Had the rain shot out of a single cloud that hovered directly above our cloud, like a laserbeam? It didn’t seem likely. I opened our tent to investigate.

Remember the faucet Cool J had played with? The hose attached to it was hooked into the back of our tent. During our 6-hour absence, the water had been running into our tent, soaking everything we own. Trapped in our tent, sealed tight, the water reached up to our waists. I had won a wordfight. Yet in the language of the trashy assholes–and she a mother!–we had been fucked. I had won a wordfight and lost a giant, fucking war.

Can Jews go camping? Hashem gave us a clear answer–well, Hashem and the human refuse with no sense of the camping code, and little sense of humanity, –which was no. Next time we attempt to camp, perhaps we’ll try the Hilton. Or the Fairmont. There’s always the Fairmont.

To children, all adventures are exciting. Cool J delighted to be spending a night in an RV since everything we owned had essentially drowned.

Baby MoFo and LL bedding down for the night while their mom and dad wring out their belongings

The Banff Springs (a Fairmont): our future campsite

Bagel Anyone? The Story behind the Story

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Re: Bagel Anyone?, you might have been wondering about the title. To bagel. As in, to indicate yiddle mcfiddleness to one you suspect of same. Like when you turn to a stranger and mumble something about the chazzerai they’re serving at the diner you’re in, or conspicuously flash that chai pendant you usually hide beneath your collar. You make a comment about the real reason that Baby couldn’t date Johnny (hint: it’s not because he was a dance teacher) or the implicit ending of Keeping the Faith (spoiler: she’s converting). You switch from calling your baby “sweetie pie” to “bubbelah.” Loudly. Just as my gas station attendant turned to the guy who pulled up behind me the other day and slapped him on the back, calling him “compadre,” without knowing the man’s name or story, we too can often intuit a fellow neshama. Or so we might think. I can’t take credit for the term “to bagel.” Somewhere, in the fashion world, oddly enough, a style mountie knows the origin. Let’s hope he sees this post and gives credit where it is due.

For the record, I also can’t take credit for being Sarah. Or Pam. Or Leah. They’re purely fictitious. Characters who allow me to, in Tim O’Brien’s words, create story-truth when happening-truth doesn’t cut it.

But if you wanted to know the happening-truth that inspired my tale of bageling, here’s what really happened in the library:

I had been in this town for all of two weeks. Christmas wreaths seemed to grace every door. Many were stately, impressive, imposing. Despite being back in the New York area, I was feeling as Jewish as I had in Western Canada, where I taught The Merchant of Venice one semester and made the mistake of asking the class, before we began to look at the text, what the word “Jew” meant. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty, my friends. And to make things worse, I thought I would help them re-think their responses by outing myself as a Jew, but I think all I managed to help them do was apply the series of epithets they had offered a moment earlier to their teacher. Their teacher, the Jew. Just like Shylock.

So maybe I wasn’t feeling quite that Jewish, but I was aware of the mezzuzzah in lieu of a wreath at the entrance to my home and the fact that I was sending my kids across the state when a very good public school was across the street.

I’m in the library, in the little cafe there, sitting beside two older, patrician women. One wears her soft gray hair pulled back in a chignon; the other looks as though she’s just left the salon. The first wears pearls, the second a silk scarf. They are discussing Trisha Brown, which is why I begin eavesdropping. I know nothing of modern dance (“dahnce,” I hear them say), but it happens that Chanda once dated this particular choreographer’s son. I never got to know him well, but I fell in love with his Soho loft, one of those vast spaces in a converted warehouse that his mom got, practically free, back in the 60s. He also drove a cool car.

I’m so immersed in their conversation–and my own recollections of that famous mother, the fabulous flat, and the pimped-out ride–that I don’t even notice what one of the women notices: Baby MoFo has slipped in his high chair and his head is tilted back precariously. “Watch his keppy!” she cries.

The town appears WASPy. But, claims the mother of one of my son’s two busmates from his far-off Jewish school, scratch the surface of these WASPs and you may be surprised to find a Jew lurking beneath.

Sarah Smith, Pam Brown, and the rest of you, there’s a special place in the local Presbyterian Church cemetery for you with a gravestone that, in death, as in life, can bagel. It won’t have a Star of David on it, but it will, like the handful of other gravestones in the cemetery unadorned by a cross, bear a flat top that will be laden with pebbles, picked up by your loved ones, and left there to commemorate you, as Jews have always commemorated their dead.

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Living on the 49th Parallel: Unheimlich

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On Facebook this past Friday, I declared my contempt for the royal wedding. Or rather, what it symbolized. Yes, Kate Middleton is lovely (if, poor thing, she is forever forbidden from playing Monopoly), her dress was beautiful, and all those stand-up hats were a sight to behold!–

Princess Bea and Mrs. Posh: two examples of the royal wedding’s millinery madness 

-but as I self-righteously stated, the royal wedding is “a reminder that Canada is still, hideously, a monarchy and not a republic. That one day Will, the future head of a foreign state, will be on OUR money.” A phone chat with The Great White Chef–a friend in western Canada–as well as 32 comments on Facebook–revealed that many thought I was a cynic, that I should remember that I am a subject of the Queen (how dare she subject me! I do not care to be subjected to her will or her Will, and if I am to be, at the very least I should be able to work in her country without having to obtain a visa!), and that I should be grateful for “free” healthcare (isn’t that what those hefty Canadian taxes pay for?). GWC sounded triumphant: “Now you have confirmed what I have always suspected,” she gloated, “You and The Scientist are NOT Canadian at all. You never were. You’re Americans in a witness protection program.”

Funnily, she’s not the first person to say as much. It’s not merely my anti-royalist feelings, but also my accent, my love of Target and Amazon.com and Peet’s coffee and San-Diego-style weather, my frequent trips south, maybe even my religion (one student in western Canada told me that I was like watching Seinfeld reruns; another, a rare Jew, asked me in hushed tones if I, too, were Jewish, and when I said I was, he grinned ear to ear and whispered loudly, “That’s! So! Cool!”), my boredom with Canadian fiction (so much poetic language, so little action), my utter lack of interest in the North (one of our friends wrote a book and films documentaries about the extreme high Arctic; GWC and her husband, St. Paddy, spent 10 years living in Inuvik, in the northern Northwest Territories, where the sun sets for a month at a time . . . Wouldn’t it be funny if you were an observant Jew and accidentally got stuck there on a Friday in mid-December? Your Shabbos would be over some time in mid-January! Hope there’s an eruv! Hope you remembered to turn on the bathroom light!), my unfamiliarity with such words as “parkade,” “toque,” and “parka” (the latter two not quite unheard of so much as not used in my daily life!), my fear of the temperature dropping to -40 and hanging out there for days on end (-40 for 40!), that seem to mark me as “unCanadian.”

But how do I fare here? I am certainly not American. Admittedly, I am rarely accused of being a foreigner, but once I out myself, suddenly people magically hear an accent (“I knew I heard you say ‘aboot’!” What–I’m a Newfie?). They want to discuss how bad universal healthcare really is (“You have to wait, like, 100 years to see a new doctor there, right?” To which I confess: “I’ve heard of such things, but it’s hard to say.” In Canada, LL got nursemaid’s elbow, and we called up our favorite pediatrician and darling doctor-friend, the Flying Dutchman, who was at our house minutes later to fix it. The Scientist exhausted himself packing up our house, and our sweet doctor-friend, Mrs. 1950s, took him over to see our other doctor-friend at the ER, Dr. Jolly Green Giant. Ankle–twisted or broken? The Scientist scanned his x-ray over to a radiologist doctor-friend, Dr. Snarky, and got his answer in seconds. Moles? Already checked out by three dermatologist doctor-friends–none are cancerous, thank goodness!). Everything I say that is what they say is adorably wannabe-American (on the dance floor of the Orient Express, Jerusalem, 1993, bopping to “It’s Raining Men.” Poor Princess: “Wicked!!” Boston Boy: “Wicked!!!!!” BB: “Wait a minute–” –stops dancing–“Did you just say ‘wicked’?” PP: “Yeah! This song is wicked!” BB: “But only WE say ‘wicked.'” PP–stops dancing–“We say it too.” BB: “No way! You must have heard one of us say it.” PP: “No.” BB: “For sure! You did. That’s so cute! You’re like an American!”). And everything that I say that is not what they say is adorably Canadian, even if it’s not (Me: “Wow, there’s a huge lineup outside the CVS. You would think they’re giving away drugs today.” Boston Girl: “That’s so cute. We in AMERICA don’t say ‘lineup’ to describe a ‘line.’ We use ‘lineup’ to talk about what happens when you’re trying to pick out a criminal from a group of guys–that’s what we call a lineup. A CVS doesn’t have a lineup! Teehee!”)(“It’s not ‘Lego’ for the plural–it’s ‘Legos!’ Canadians are so funny.” Actually, Lego, a Danish, not American company, does not pluralize itself. They pluralize the bricks. As in ‘Lego bricks.’ For the record.).

With a zip code but a complete incomprehension of American healthcare (“THIS IS NOT A BILL. ER visit cost: $1,056. Your insurance paid: $223. You owe: $0.” Huh??), the more typically liberal biases of and voting rights in Canada but a disdain for the Canadian passport (why is there a unicorn on the front of my passport–am I from a fairy kingdom?, and why does The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada have to request “in the name of Her Majesty the Queen,” that “the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary”?), I am neither here nor there, not quite this and not quite that. I am “unheimlich” (unhomely, the literal definition, rather than “uncanny”)–a creature both familiar and foreign to my North American peers . . . kind of like this hokey unicorn:

Canada’s coat of arms: What’s hokier–the lion holding up a maple leaf or the unicorn?

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