I couldn’t figure it out. Was there something on my face? Was my fly open? I hadn’t made it halfway across campus from the bus stop and three friends had already stopped me to ask how I was doing.
I was fine, as far as I knew.
But I was starting to wonder.
It was February of 2002. I was living and going to grad school in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Life was going well. I had a nice place to live, plenty of money to buy food and wine, and lots of new friends.
Though there wasn’t a great cultural divide between Chicago, Illinois, where I’d lived before crossing the border, and Hamilton, only a seven-hour drive away, there were some differences. Enough that I could feel the thrill of living in a different country, but nothing difficult or even inconvenient.
My first six months in Canada, whenever I met somebody new, they’d ask me where I was from in the States. The last three words were always there.
I was obviously American, not Canadian.
More recently, though, the question had shortened to “Where are you from?” and I got looks of surprise when I said I was from the US.
Somehow I’d picked up on something and shifted my body language or my accent or my I-don’t-know-what.
Maybe it wasn’t anything I’d done. Maybe some chemical in Alexander Keith’s Pale Ale or Tim Bits had accumulated to a critical level in my tissues and I was emitting a Canadian-type pheromone.
Whatever it was, I’d begun to feel like a local. Walking across campus that morning, though, I started doubting that feeling.
Something large was lurking in the zeitgeist, and I had no idea what it was.
I deviated from my usual route to duck into a washroom. I performed a thorough check—my fly was up, my underwear weren’t showing, there were no holes in my clothing. No large wounds or pieces of food marred my face. No signs reading Kick Me adornedmy back.
Feeling good about myself, I slipped outside, hurrying a little to not be late for class.
The feeling lasted all of ten steps.
“Hey, Jim.” It was my friend Mike. He looked worried.
“Morning, Mike. How you doing?”
“Fine, buddy, fine.” Mike fell into step beside me.
“How are you?”
“Mike, I’m fine.”
I stopped. “Mike, you gotta tell me. What’s going on? You’re the fourth person to do this to me today. Why is everybody worried about me? Do I have cancer or something?”
Mike’s eyebrows knitted together. “We’re just worried about you is all.”
“I get that, and it’s nice of you all, but I have no idea why everyone is worried about me. What’s going on?”
“You’re okay? Really?”
“Yeah, man, great. I just can’t figure out why everybody thinks I’m not.”
“Well, you know, we won the game and all.”
I’d been working on my thesis the night before. I had no idea what game he was talking about.
“I did hear some honking and shouting last night,” I said. “I wondered what it was about.”
“Yeah,” Mike said, “that’s cuz we won.”
“What did you win?” I asked.
The look on Mike’s face shifted from concern to disbelief.
“We won the gold,” he said, as if it explained everything.
I was aware that the Olympics were happening. In fact, I’d discovered the quiet joys of watching curling. I enjoyed the shouted instructions, the frantic sweeping, the calm of the stone gliding down the ice, the chain reaction of collisions when it found its target.
But curling, even in Canada, didn’t seem like a big enough deal to explain this morning’s constant welfare checks.
“Help me out, Mike. What’d you win gold in?”
“Hockey!” Mike said, his face alight. “We beat you guys for the gold!”
“Ah, that explains it,” I said. “Congrats.”
“I can’t believe it, Mike said. “You really didn’t know.”
“Mike,” I said. “I’m from California. Hockey’s not a big deal for me.”
The look on Mike’s face shifted from disbelief to something like distrust.
Clearly, I wasn’t as Canadian as I thought.
©Copyright 2020 by Jim Latham
Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash