My coworkers on this TV show, who are almost exclusively Canadian, have been friendly and welcoming. So have the other people I have run across in Toronto, for the most part. One exception occurred at a suburban movie theater, where a woman wheeled on me and said I was standing too close to her in the ticket line. That one was just weird.
The other happened when I checked my cell phone during a screening of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” I know. Guilty with an explanation, your honor. I do not want to miss an emergency call from home because my phone is off. I had it on vibrate, and it’s not like I was playing “Minecraft.” Not good enough for the guy behind me. He interrupted the conversation he and his buddy had been having since the trailers began to tell me to turn off my phone.
Several people have gone out of their way to tell me everything that is wrong with America, as if they have been gunny-sacking their resentment for a lifetime, waiting to meet an actual American, so they can unload on them. Maybe they think that because I am living here, I must be “one of the good ones,” who does not mind people trashing his country. It is surreal, being surrounded by people who kind of look and sound like Americans, but do not think like them and don’t seem to like them all that much. Sometimes I feel like saying, “You know I am one of the people you’re talking about, right?”
The other side of the coin, or loonie (the Canadian dollar coin with a picture of a loon on it), surfaced in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The same people who bashed the U.S. with no apparent concern about my reaction went out of their way to express their condolences. A particularly poignant example was a barista I have befriended at a local coffee bar. He never missed an opportunity to tell me how arrogant and bullying we are around the world. When I ran into him the day after the bombings, I fully expected him to gloat about the U. S. getting a comeuppance.
Instead, he rather sweetly told me how sorry he was about the bombings, as if they had happened to me personally. I think he wanted to tell the whole country how sorry he was for our loss, but I was the only one there. For a moment he wasn’t a Canadian who resented being forced to put up with a nouveau riche, gauche neighbor. It was as if Canada and The States were brothers who fight a lot and may not even like each other that much, but will go to the wall for each other against anybody outside the family.
My barista friend surprised me again with the violence of his feelings. He was furious that the police killed one of the alleged bombers. He wanted them both taken alive so somebody could torture them (strong language omitted). It was kind of shocking to hear this sentiment from a guy who derided America for charging around the world, getting its way at gunpoint. I do not agree with him, though I understand the urge.
It got me thinking: Now that a little dust has settled, what would constitute justice in this case?
I wonder if retribution would help the populace heal. I was in a sports bar when the news broke about Osama Bin Laden’s death. It was wall-to-wall televisions showing different programs. Within seconds, they all switched to news coverage. Management switched the biggest screens to a news channel. The customers were riveted. You could have heard a pin drop during the initial stories. Most people in the bar cheered when the president came on and made the official announcement.
The atmosphere in the bar became buoyant. I felt, more than anything else, a strong sense of relief and also release, as if I had thrown off a weight I had forgotten I was carrying. Since Bin Laden’s death, that weight has not returned. I do not like admitting it, but I confess to feeling more confident about our ability to defend ourselves. The U.S. feels a little less like the aging, overweight fighter who hasn’t kept up with the tactics the new kids are using. I wasn’t crazy about the vindictive glee, both mine and others’, when Bin Laden was killed, but it did make me feel better about the World Trade Center events.
I have never believed that an act of retribution contributed to a feeling of justice served, yet it did for me in the case of the perpetrator of one of the more heinous acts during my life. A barista in Canada who wears a keffiyeh as a fashion statement wants one in response to the Boston bombings. I do not agree, but I do understand. More than that, I empathize, which frightens me. It is disturbing to confront how much of the primitive still lurks within me.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.