America the Weird

Visiting the u.s. is like landing on another planet

Rating: NNNNN

my theatre work has oftensent me adventuring south of the border, and after every trip I have to say America, even post-September 11, is truly a wacky place.I have, for example, actually walked the hallways of Oz. I’m referring to the first and largest recreational aboriginal casino in North America, on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Connecticut. It’s a large, imposing green structure rising majestically above the primeval forest as you drive along the highway. Because of its appearance and its obvious potential to fulfill dreams, the locals call it Oz.

Then there’s New Hampshire, whose motto is “Live Free Or Die.” It’s actually on their licence plates. Live Free Or Die. Those seem to be the only two choices currently available in that little pocket of New England.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, holds a special place in my heart. Every night for the three nights I was there for a theatre opening, there was a severe tornado warning. There’s that Oz theme again. I’d sit in my room looking out at the almost continuous thunderstorms and wonder where I’d wake up the next morning should God decide my hotel room was a trailer park.

But my most unusual memory of Tulsa is of a small bar I was introduced to. The main point of interest hung over the bar itself, about 10 feet off the ground — an absolutely huge moose head, complete with an impressive array of antlers. Over the years, the owner has managed to accumulate a collection of over 200 bras. They’re now draped over this moose. I guess you could say the moose has a nice rack.

If you donate your bra to the collection, you get a free drink. The owner says he washes them twice a year to keep the dust from staining them. Occasionally, a very hungover woman limps into the bar the next day to beg for her very expensive bra, but there’s a no-return policy.

A few months later I was invited to a theatre workshop in Wisconsin. There, the cast of the play we were working on decided to hold what they called “a Canadian party” in my honour. This mainly consisted of sitting around drinking some American-brewed Labatt’s Blue, eating Dunkin’ Donuts and watching a video of the McKenzie Brothers’ Strange Brew.

In my travels, numerous expatriate Canadians have enthusiastically introduced themselves to me, and it’s never long before we find ourselves pining for the unique Canadian experiences completely unavailable in the mighty United States. They all ask how I’m surviving with no vinegar on my french fries, if I managed to smuggle any butter tarts across the border, or if I remember how to make that singularly Canadian drink called a Caesar (if you try to describe it to Yankee bartenders they look at you like you’re crazy).

If you really want to throw Americans into a state of confusion, casually mention that you regularly vacation in Cuba. I’ve stopped many a dinner conversation by letting that small fact nonchalantly slip out. They react as if you’ve been to Mars.

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