We were standing up on the balcony at Globe, Charlottetown’s latest attempt at something resembling a nightclub, watching the shenanigans below. Laura was pointing things out to me from our vantage point, things I’d missed during my months and years away. It was an anthropology lesson of sorts, but filthier:
“See that skinny girl down there?” Laura pointed. “She’s fucked so many guys she’s literally bowlegged.” I had to laugh through a grimace. Meanwhile, across the country, Canada’s great white hope, Sidney Crosby, was scoring the winning goal in a shootout against Switzerland.
Laura’s husband was the DJ at Globe, and the music was the only thing that wasn’t grossly offensive. Dance hits from the 90s blared out of the speakers, sad stuck desperate people grinded on the dance floor and I looked down on the scene wondering who the fuck comes home to P.E.I. in February?
Canada is a big country and I now live in the middle of it. I was born on an island, though, a tiny dot on its eastern shore. P.E.I. stands for Prince Edward Island – the smallest province in this massive country. Charlottetown is its capital, and the town I was born in. I guess the best way to describe it is like this: my hair dresser in Montreal once asked me whether people from P.E.I. are weird the way Stephen King characters from Maine are weird, and the answer is absolutely, yes.
I came home on a whim; I missed my family and the plane tickets were dirt cheap.
February is our most brutal month.
In the winter, the only fear I have walking these streets alone, drunk, at night is getting hit by a salt truck. In the summer, the only fear women have walking alone at night is hostile men with bad haircuts.
All year round all any of us fear is being stuck here forever.
This February, most people in the country were looking westward to Vancouver, and the big bloated overblown money suck known as the Vancouver Olympics. With my characteristic bad timing, I went east. Don’t get me wrong, the governments like to waste money down here too, but somehow it seems less offensive. Still, it’s a pittance compared to the amount the country spent on a phallic torch that didn’t really work for Gretzky to light.
At least it only stormed once all week in P.E.I. A windy and wet Nor’easter. I was too hungover to notice it much. The storm had blown over by the time Sid the Kid scored the game winner, by the time I was half-drunk at Globe listening to Laura’s amusing yet depressing commentary.
Even though Laura’s stories were getting juicy, the glow sticks were starting to hurt my eyes and I suddenly got that claustrophobic feeling I eventually get in all Charlottetown bars. I kept looking down at the girls in their silly heels, drunkenly spilling their dignity on the dance floor, then looking down at my own feet, at my mom’s old brown winter boots that I’d shoved on my feet on the way out the door.
The chest pains were kicking in, and nothing was funny anymore, so I headed for greener pastures, for Hunter’s Ale House, where my brother was playing guitar in a cover band. They played good songs, his band, not your typical overplayed bar staples, you know, the Van Morrisons and the Bryan Adams, the Counting Crows and the ‘Blow at High Dough’s. His band plays Crowded House, old Foo Fighters, new Pearl Jam, old Tom Petty – the era somehow seems crucial and serves some kind of curatorial function.
The guys in the band, my brother included, are probably too good to be playing on this night, at this bar, in this town, but that seems to be a pattern in towns like this.
There were maybe twelve people there when I arrived at 12:30, and eight of them were the drunkest people in the world. They weren’t young and awkwardly, trashily attractive drunks like the kids at Globe; they were harder-edged, older, harsh-looking, even in the dark and my brother looked half-amused, half-disgusted to be playing for them.
But the Olympic highlights were playing on the big screen beside the band, and I kept one eye on the TV and one on the tottering few dancing out of time to Weezer tunes. I watched Sidney Crosby, a hockey player I’ve never really liked, score the game winner over and over. It struck me for the first time that Sid the Kid is starting to look like a grown man, and I was pleasantly surprised.
People in the outside world think Canadians don’t get embarrassed by their own country. They think it’s a dubious distinction reserved only for Americans or North Koreans, but they couldn’t be more wrong. This entire Olympic debacle – from the shitty opening ceremonies, the lackluster athletic performances, the death of an athlete, the waste of money – has been consistently embarrassing to me. Tonight, though, I’m feeling a twinge of patriotism for two reasons: a speed skater from London, ON and a hockey player from Nova Scotia. Christine Nesbitt was behind the pace in the 1000 metre race, and I watched her pull every last bit of energy from her toenails to win in the final lap. It was a pretty incredible sight.
At the bar, when they tired of showing Crosby best the Swiss goalie, they played Nesbitt’s win over and over, and the boys in the band dedicated their last tune at quarter-to-two to Christine.
“This one’s for Christine!” the big burly drummer yelled and counted them into, “Running Down a Dream.”
Snow shoveling is either a cure for a hangover – sweat it out, you know? – or a punishment for one. It’s what I was doing Friday morning, the day after Crosby’s big goal, the day after the last vestiges of homesickness for this city were vomited out of me.
There have been days when I say to myself I wish I could take my whole family with me back to civilization when I leave, and then I add the beach, and then I add my dad’s boat and my childhood home and a whole slew of other things to the list and then the light bulb buzzes on and I go “aww shucks, it ain’t so bad here” and I think fondly of the things I left behind, and I even entertain the notion of moving home, buying a house by the sea and then, and then, and then – and then I wake up to the cold reality – this place can’t be my home, I was not meant to stay here.
Sure I could move home and buy a house, but what I am going to do with a house? Talk to it? Get it to entertain me? More likely I would fill it with furniture that I can’t afford but buy anyway, watch hockey in it and eat chips and get fatter and fight with my mother in it on the weekends.
Ultimately, I’m worried I might end up a character in one of Laura’s stories, those homegrown stories of pettiness and sheer misery that always manage to have a funny side to them.
It kind of makes me want to fall down on the floor in hysterics, but as culture critic Heather Mallick once said “Canadians don’t do headlong: our forte is mute distress”. Still, I want to make a scene but find myself completely incapable of doing so. I can sit in a bar and lose my drunken mind jumping all over the place when Sid the Kid scores a goal but I can’t just fall down in a pile over the tragedy of this whole thing. Mute distress. That’s it, that’s all we’ve got. A cold and snowy Island in the North Atlantic only makes us even more mute and distressy-er. So we tell these terrible stories about each other, usually at bars, usually talking loudly over blaring music. Usually, we are dressed for the occasion, in cheap sparkly tops, the only thing you can buy at the mall here, the land that fine department stores like Hudson’s Bay Company long ago abandoned.
Just once I would like to stand outside in the middle of the night in the middle of a snowstorm, with snow whirling around my head and wind blowing my hair, making me look treacherous and beautiful like a character in a Russian poem from the 1800s, and spew a dramatic monologue – just pitch a fit, really, while using big words – that would change the world, or at the very last, change the Island. And maybe I could do it, if it wasn’t for all the fear and all the salt trucks.
Read more about Alix here.
Read more about Jake here.