Where Keith sits down for the first time in two weeks, taking advantage of the precious couple of hours in the afternoon when his son is fast asleep in his crib:
KIEFER: OK, Keith, let’s get started.
KEITH (bleary eyed): Let’s do it.
KIEFER: So, how you doing these weeks?
KEITH: I’m all right. It’s sunny today for the first time in some time.
KIEFER: What do you mean?
KEITH: Well, it’s been cloudy – and sometimes rainy – for the last little while.
KIEFER: I thought you moved to Massachusetts.
KEITH: We did.
KIEFER: The weather you speak of makes one think of…
KEITH (nodding head): Yeah, yeah. Of Vancouver. Old joke. Let’s put that horse away, shall we?
KIEFER: OK. Down to business now (looking at notes). You said last time that you were headed to Boston.
KEITH: That’s right. Been there twice now.
KIEFER: Nice. Tell us about it.
KEITH: It’s a pretty neat town. Lots of green space. Beautiful tree-lined boulevards. Parks by the dozen. Many of the old buildings are made out of solid red brick, so you have red and green all over the place. It’s kind of like Gastown, only much, much older and much more sincere in its age. It’s not faux vintage – it’s real vintage.
KIEFER: What are the neighbourhoods like?
KEITH: Well, there are a few different ones. Beacon Hill is the oldest part of Boston, built on a hill, of course. It’s wonderfully charming, old ivy crawling up the sides of the buildings, cobblestone roads that you can barely squeeze through in your modern vehicle, and tourists. Oh yeah, tourists everywhere. There are a few others as well, such as Bunker Hill, Back Bay, and a bunch of others that I haven’t yet been able to keep track of. Every neighbourhood has its chapter in Boston’s history.
KIEFER: Bunker Hill? Why have I heard of that?
KEITH: It’s basically the beginning of America, right at that spot. Some historians may differ on this, but in a nutshell, the battle of Bunker Hill is the first real battle that the American upstarts won over the mighty British, basically putting the ball in motion towards independence. People here are mighty proud of it, including the guy who was showing us around. All those names you hear – Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, George Washington, and so on – they’re all household names here.
KIEFER: Samuel Adams? The beer company?
KEITH: Yes, pretty big beer company. And great beer too. But let’s stick to the topic. Let me talk about something I’ve noticed here. The United States as an institution is mighty proud of what it calls its patriots – those who fought in wars, particularly the revolution itself.
KIEFER: How so?
KEITH: The people who fought in the revolution are enshrined in the history books and as statues. Our statues in Canada seem to be more of politicians and whatnot, whereas the statues here seem to be more of soldiers. Also, those who died in later wars seem to have local town squares and baseball fields named after them, and some have small memorials erected in their name with American flags and red, white and blue wreaths. The Second World War, Korea, you name it.
KIEFER: Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan?
KEITH: Not that I’ve seen yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me. In fact, now that you mention it, it’s interesting to go to Woburn town centre and see all the plaques with all the soldiers’ names on them – there are fresh names from Afghanistan and Iraq on those plaques. Also, in Boston, in the car, we passed by a young looking fellow limping through the street peddling cars for change. He was holding up a sign saying “DISABLED VETERAN”. Iraq? Afghanistan? Who knows? It’s a reminder, though, of the reality of this time in America.
KIEFER: I guess with the magnitude of both wars in the United States, you’re bound to see some of the effect on the local community.
KEITH: That’s right. In fact, last week, during my first few days here, I saw a pickup truck with a huge American flag planted in the back, and a Marine helmet and boots fastened into place at the back of the truck with a guy’s name on a sign. I’m not sure, but I’ll hazard a guess that this was a soldier who perished overseas in the Middle East.
KIEFER: Quite striking, I imagine.
KEITH: It is. As a Canadian from Vancouver, I’m not accustomed to seeing this sort of thing every day – the constant reminders of war, both past and present. We’re more apt to talk about war over coffee, but really, do any of us know anyone who has been on the battlefield? Not many of us do. Our sense of militarism isn’t as strong as it is in the United States. Ditto our nationalist pride. Here, the sheer amount of American flags everywhere is impressive. I have to admit, growing up, that it was difficult to comprehend and likewise, to accept, but now that I’m actually here, I’m looking at everything through a different eye.
KIEFER: How so, for example?
KEITH: Look at it this way. How did the United States start as a country?
KIEFER: Uh… Declaration of Independence?
KEITH: Yup. Go on.
KIEFER: George Washington, first president?
KEITH: Sure. But there’s something else.
KIEFER: Not sure what you’re getting at there, Keith.
KEITH: OK. The country started in violence. It started with a war. The people here took up arms and fought, literally, for their independence. That’s wholly unlike Canada. Our guys just shook hands with the British and – sort of – became independent in 1867. But we were still a dominion until we became a real country. And even now… we still have the Queen on our money.
KIEFER: Whereas, in the United States, it’s all Americans.
KEITH: Exactumundo. There’s a much stronger sense of self-identity here, a more overt pride in one’s country and one’s history, whether it’s real or exaggerated in mythology. We on the outside look at this and we call it arrogance, but let’s try and put that aside for a second. Forget that they’re those goddamned flag-waving patriotic Yanks, and try to think about why they’re this way in the first place. The Americans in the 18th century were a bunch of ragamuffins and farmers who came here in search of a new life after so many shitty years in their home country. Then they were treated like shit by the British in their new home. After a long time, outrage mounted and these farmers and ragamuffins got together and said, “Enough of this shit”, and did something about it. They grabbed a bunch of guns and told the British to sod off or face the consequences. There was no way anyone would have given them favourable odds to fight off the mighty British, who were quite excellent at warfare. But they did. At great cost, but they did the job. They demanded their own country, they took up arms against a much stronger foe and came out victorious. So, of course, Americans are proud. Why wouldn’t they be? And whenever someone dies for their country – as we’ve seen unfortunately all too often – they’re loved, respected, honoured, and above all, remembered for their great sacrifice. Hence, all the memorials, the statues, the flags, the red-white-blue wreaths, and so on. You know what I’m saying?
KIEFER: I think so. You’re saying all this stuff goes all the way back to the country’s origin, the grounds on which it was founded.
KEITH: That’s right. Also, there’s a quote I love from the movie Layer Cake: “You’re born, you take shit. Get out in the world, you take more shit. Climb a little higher, you take less shit. Until one day, you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what shit even looks like.” You could use that quote if you really wanted to criticize the United States. However, that could be a harsh way to put it. Still, there is a bit of truth to it. The United States was born taking shit from Britain, and then it grew up and became independent. And by culture and habit, its people have huge flags outside what seems like every third home on the street. Is it really a bad thing? No. To cite an over-used cliche, it’s a free country. People can do whatever the hell they want, and we shouldn’t have the gall to say they should live differently. The way America acts internationally may leave some things to be desired, but the way it lives within its own borders, in its communities, well, let’s remember that this is their culture. It’s not a war-loving culture, but it is a culture that holds up sacrifice and work ethic above many other things – even if it’s sacrifice in war times. I’m not sure if any other country sees their own war dead any differently.
KIEFER: All right. I think on that note, we’ll bow out and let our readers digest what you’ve said here.
KEITH: Fair ’nuff. Back soon?
KIEFER: That’s right. Hopefully sooner than later. Now, a note to our visitors – please fire a note to Keith with any intriguing questions or commentary you may have, and we’ll try and work them into a future interview. Over and out.