Canadians have every right to be leery of Americans. For example: a quick comparison of how a Canadian election is handled versus the years-long, money laden, vitriolic mess that is now a given for any US seat is downright depressing. To be sure, there is still plenty of yapping in the Canadian version of the process, but even in the race for prime minister the dust isn’t truly kicked up until the election is called. A couple of months later, it’s all over. So, while I was caught off-guard by my Canadian neighbor and her rather pointed comment (see part II), I could see where she was coming from.
As a side note: Canadian distrust isn’t confined to the southern neighbors. Plenty of ongoing bickering definitely exists within the Canadian provinces. Many British Columbians feel that their neighbors in Alberta should all get back in their pick-ups, to which their jet-skis are hitched, and drive back to Texas (where they apparently came from, or at least belong). Many Albertans feel their neighbors to the west are a bunch of dope-smoking tree huggers who vacation more than they work.
Most of the other provinces have fairly benign profiles. Apparently, no one can understand a Newfie, but that’s a more light-hearted critique. Ontario, the seat of federal power, is a toss-up that likely depends on who is in power. The one unifying thought seems to be a general bewilderment — bordering on dislike — for Quebec. The feeling is definitely mutual, though there’s the pesky question of how to pick up what is now a province and physically move it out of the middle of much larger country. Everyone in my family likes poutine, and we love our former neighbor – a Québécois if there ever was one — so I’ll leave it there.
After our time in Central America, where we faced a myriad of language and cultural barriers – and an occasional dose of racism – I hadn’t expected there to be much distance between myself and the average Canadian. Few in BC speak French, a relief for me, and minus some clothing choices and a complete lack of knowledge of some game called hockey (am I spelling that correctly?), a 6’2’’ full-bodied white guy is not an outlier.
That isn’t to say that we didn’t find new friends. In addition to a small, core group of long-term Canadian friends, we made a number of new ones and plan on returning to visit them all as often as possible, until they make us stop. I do think it’s fair to say that many Canadians we encountered are simply more reserved and less likely to strike up a conversation or friendship with someone they don’t know.
That’s a strange approach for someone like me who spent many years in the south, and then the very deep south — Costa Rica. One says hello to everyone you meet in Houston. It can even get awkward when you later pass the same person thirty minutes later but social decorum states that you again greet them as if it’s the first time (yes, even indoors). The same is very true in Costa Rica. It doesn’t necessarily imply that you’re going to be best friends, but not returning a greeting is a problematic.
This was not my experience in Canada, where a decent percentage of people either ignore a greeting, or reply with a withering look that makes you think they know you’re a renter, or American (or worse, both). Some of my Canadian friends feel my views are skewed because the residents of my former neighborhood believe themselves to be part of Great Britain. This affiliation, I’ve been told, explains the reserved nature of many interactions (but not the old lady who F-bombed me). In defense of my old Canadian hood, and with apologies to the Québécois , the Queen is still on the money and there’s still this Governor General position that defies explanation.
Was it all stuffy and awkward? No way, eh. Before the world shut down, we very much enjoyed the ability to access things we never would have seen in Costa Rica: amateur hockey matches, fencing lessons for Thing #1, a great variety of restaurants, kayaking for crabs, seal and otter watching and, of course, poutine. Victoria and indeed the entire island has an amazing array of parks. It’s a beautiful place, which is why I tried so hard to get there.
On the day-to-day front, my first wife, burdened with her studies, her teaching assistant jobs and another set of studies for the seven exams required for Canada to recognize her law license, spent her days in front of books and screens. I ran herd on Things #1 and #2, continued working on my novels, and made friends with most of our neighbors – a wonderful mix of folks from the US, Australia, and, of course, Canada.
Our rent house continued to experience rain in the garage. Other ailments continued to crop up. Our landlord, professing a lack of funds, grudgingly fixed only the most serious issues after elongated, painful processes. Our own renters, who had already worn out a couple of different people we had hired as property managers, announced that they were leaving Costa Rica only four months after moving in. My body began to fail me, and I began having dark spells of pain and nausea that were not easily explained. It started getting dark at 4:00 pm. These were not the salad days.
A little frazzled, we made it into the new year. My bride announced that she wanted to take Things #1 and #2 skiing. I had gone once already and immediately recognized that, at this stage of my life, skiing was to me what roller skates are to an elephant: a bad idea. I thought a little peace sounded nice, so I encouraged them to go spend a few days up-island while Wilson and I settled in to a pile of books I’d been wanting to read.
I awoke in the middle of my first night alone with a typical issue: I had to pee. The pressure involved made it a 50/50 proposition that this was actually going to happen in the tiny bathroom. I leapt from the bed and immediately stepped in water. I was, initially, grateful that the liquid hadn’t come from me. That elation passed when I turned on some lights and discovered that water was seeping in from: the back wall, the drain the laundry room in the floor of the laundry room, underneath the door to the garage and, eerily, from beneath the toilet.
In damage control mode, I tried to convince Wilson that he couldn’t help as I tried to move our things to higher ground. The garage, where a lot of our stuff resided, was a soggy lost cause.
The landlords never quite made it to over to help, but did encourage me to tear out all the soggy carpet, use my shop-vac to try and soak up the water, and to try not to stare at the mold. From their perch in Vancouver, Mr. Landlord, a lawyer who wrote emails brimming with details of his powers (a cape was definitely implied), declared that the house was great. Their lack of help and my declarations regarding the state of the house should not, would not, lead to a situation where we would be allowed to leave in search of a different, potentially habitable, home.
After I turned over the photos and details to the local housing authority, Lawyer-Landlord-Man suddenly remembered that he had another meeting, or at least a lunch. We were given permission to depart. The surrounding neighbors later told me that Mr. and Mrs. Landlord hired a contractor who drove an old corvette and provided nominal oversight of a crew of disheveled men. The guys huddled in the backyard each morning over a few, large joints (it is BC) and, as the cloud of smoke dissipated, picked up their tools and went to work. It is likely not an accident that they forgot to hook up the main sewage line when they finished their drainage work such that the next tenant awoke to find a pool of raw sewage in their basement bedroom. They moved out soon thereafter, and so it goes.
My victory over Lawyer-Landlord-Man left me giddy with success that soon bordered on hubris as I was able to find a total of two rent houses available in the general area. Buying our own home was still a non-starter as Canadian real estate prices continued to march upwards, and then there was that pesky 20% foreign buyer tax. I was happy to rent a place further out and simply drive our boys to their school in near-Britain each day, but the rest of the crew didn’t go for it.
One of the available houses looked great. Updated, clean, mold-free. Unfortunately, it wasn’t actually available for a couple of months and the open house (bidding war) was planned for the end of the month.
The other house also looked great, if viewed via the very outdated picture on Google maps. As it was only a mile away, I hazarded a drive-by and found it to be a odd mix of Tudor quaintness and apathy. Small dogs could disappear into the grass of the debris-filled yard. Plants grew out of the sagging gutters. Shingles from the roof were scattered about like ornaments.
I was stuck, so I pushed on. The new landlord (a rich person from Vancouver – told you!) let me meet the current tenant, who was nice enough to show me around. A couple of exchanges define the moment.
Me: “Is there a lawn mower or yard service? It doesn’t look like it’s been mowed in a while.”
T: “No, it hasn’t been mowed since I moved in.”
Me: “Ah, when was that?”
T (thinking): “About a year ago.”
Soon thereafter we arrived in the kitchen. I was elated to see a dishwasher, which we hadn’t had in floodlandia. I gently pulled it open and the entire dishwasher fell out of the cabinet and onto the floor.
Me (picking it up and pushing it back into the cabinet): “Wow. Sorry, I barely even touched it.”
T: “Not your fault. (long pause) It does that.”
Facing the looming deadline of the move, I decided to look past these faults and marveled at the fact that my bride and I would not have to sleep in the basement, and that Things #1 and #2 could be forced upstairs to live in a partially reclaimed attic. The walls were so steeply pitched that a walk without crouching involved only the middle 1.5 feet of the floor, but they were young. They would, I was sure, adapt. And, as my friend said, what are their other options?
I suppose I could have interpreted the hail storm that halted our move-in for an hour as a sign. We soon thereafter discovered that the house had an active rat infestation, likely aided by the fact that you could stand in the original, un-refurbished part of the attic and see the sky. Having no better option, I filled the holes with expansion foam. I caught myself almost pining for the moldy basement (almost). Our realtor friend came over, took in the list of woes and the lack of help from the new landlord, and muttered, “Jesus Christ dude, don’t waste your money buying lottery tickets.”
As it turns out, rent house #2 had two big things going for it: 1) it was one block from a sandy beach, and 2) the funky layout of the house actually gave some personal space to all involved – something that house #1 could never provide. This proved to be critical as, shortly after we moved in, the world fell victim to that little thing we now call Covid. Within a few weeks, the schools closed their doors and I became a very reluctant, completely unqualified, headmaster.