– 12 –

 

“Your series was called Barn!?”

“Sure was.”

Larry Lansdowne was looking down at his notes, not at the camera and sure as hell not at his guest. If the Big L showed his annoyance, he no longer cared. Ever since Lansdowne@Nite bottomed out in the American talk show ratings his show had become subject to ongoing ridicule from his competitors, who lampooned his guests as has-beens, never-had-beens, would-bes and wannabes blabbering with an all-around nobody in front of a live audience of louse-infested street people.

This guy, Barney Bozaretti, was some former actor Larry had never heard of, slotted in as a last-minute replacement for a Bolivian ventriloquist who unexpectedly found a paying gig for the night.

“Actually I don’t remember seeing it, but you played the role of a patsy in an Italian neighbourhood, didn’t you?”

“Sort of. The show did pretty good too. We got some pretty positive letters. But halfway through the first season the network didn’t want to...”

“They dumped you halfway through the first season?” Larry looked at him for the first time.

“Well, I wouldn’t say dumped. I didn’t really care and then I got the dog food commercials...”

“Yup, you had quite a run for a while there. So what are you doing these days?”

“Well I just happen to be president of...”

“That’s right!” Larry turned to his notes again. “You’re president of Canada or something.”

“Quebec. Or as we say up there, kay-beck. It’s French.”

“French? Do you speak French? Parlez-vous français?”

“Oui. Yes, I do. But...”

Scattered clapping came from the half-full spectators’ section as the applause sign lit up to acknowledge this linguistic performance.

“Thank you, everybody, thank you so much. Thank you. But, as I was about to say, the English up there are just a bunch of Francophobes and...”

“That’s so fantastic it’s incredible! We’ll be right back with Suzie Fuckyou and the Emetics.”

It wasn’t the most conventional discours à la nation ever heard. Only four words of French were spoken, three of them by an American talk show host. But that just emphasized the new president’s appeal. Barney Bozaretti, an Italian-American who once had his own American TV show and was now the Alpo dog food guy, was really Franco-American. Which was sort of Quebecois. That made the rest of the Quebecois almost as good as the Americans and a damn sight better than the Anglos any day.

At first his announcement drew disbelief. After co-starring with a St. Bernard in a commercial filmed at a Laurentian ski resort, Barney called a press conference. A handful of local reporters showed up. Casually, with the low-key modesty of a real star, he announced that he had been born in Maine and his last name was really Caron, “which is French, you know,” while his first name was actually Bernard — “although unlike my co-star, I’m no saint, ha ha ha.” The reporters looked puzzled.

Then he dropped his bombshell.

“This is kinda an out-of-the-closet situation for me but it’s gotta be one of the proudest moments of my life. I am here today to announce that I am Franco-American. You know, French-Canadian, like. Kaybeck-wah.”

Stunned silence struck the small throng of reporters. Then they pulled out their phones and the tumult exploded. All across Quebec, TV and radio stations interrupted their programming; newspapers stopped their presses. Traffic froze as strangers called to one another out of car windows, young people danced in the streets, old women wept, drinkers rushed out of taverns, customers out of shops and workers out of offices as the entire province joined one huge, spontaneous party. TV cameras caught the mood of the nation when, backdropped by exultant celebrations, a young woman repeatedly and fervently kissed a little hand-held fleur-de-lis flag, stopping just long enough to proclaim: “For the first time in my life, I know what it is to feel truly unashamed.”

Centuries of degradation were wiped away as Barney Bozaretti allowed the Quebecois to realize their ancestral dream: to be recognized in the United States of America.

Sure, others had achieved success south of the border. There was the Cirque, which spent decades touring the continent with its heart-warming story of a government-subsidized clown whose child-like innocence showed up the hypocrisy of English-speaking white men. Then there was their singer, who topped the international charts several times.

But they were still Quebecois. Barney was different. He was sort of Quebecois, but really American.

The consequences proved dramatic, and not just because Alpo immediately became Quebec’s best-selling dog food. The charismatic leader of the Parti Québécois, who used to lead the Parti libéral du Québec before heading the Bloc Québécois until his leadership of Action démocratique du Québec (after briefly returning to the Nouveau parti démocratique du Québec), had just become Quebec’s president following the resignation of the charismatic head of Action démocratique du Québec to form a new party with charismatic former members of the Bloc nouveau démocratique and the Action libérale du Québec but who instead joined the Nouveau parti démocratique du Québec when a charismatic new leader teamed up with the charismatic former leader of the Parti Québécois libéral du Québec to create the Nouveau independent libéral démocratique et charismatique bloc parti du Québec libre.

But all bets were off once word got out that the Alpo dog food guy was Franco-American. He was offered the presidency immediately.

And not a moment too soon. It was a crucial point in the negotiations to bring Quebec back into Canada. Reparations had been multiplied and white guys were pulling double shifts in the factory camps to reduce the Quebecois work week from three days to two, enlarge the CBC a thousandfold and provide a federal government subsidy for absolutely any and all types of activity undertaken by a Quebecois. But those gestures fell sadly short of Quebec’s minimum requirements. Everyone on both sides agreed that Canada must do more, much more, to woo the most important part of Canada back into Canada.

Negotiations would resume shortly between the heads of the two states. Translators were already on standby to bridge the two solitudes represented by the new Quebec president who, despite what he told Larry Lansdowne, couldn’t speak French, and the Canadian Prime Minister’s Wife’s husband, who couldn’t speak English. He was Quebecois himself.

And a shining example of the magnanimity of his people, Mackenzie knew. Even though they had separated from Canada completely, permanently and unequivocally, they agreed to continue running the Canadian government, bureaucracy, Crown corporations and everything else remotely associated with government. For how could you have a French-speaking country without French-speaking people?

Seated in her fortified condo with sedated dogs snoring in the background, Mackenzie phoned the newsroom to compose her page one editorial: “President’s address a searing indictment of white Anglo male bigotry,” she recited as a white guy quickly typed. “Quebec calls out to Canada but is once again rebuffed. Centuries of oppression, stuff about their national humiliation. Poetry in their soul. Betrayed by Anglicanism on the Plains of Waterloo. Here’s a really good one, maybe the headline: It’s no accident that Canada rhymes with Ku Klux Klan. You fill in the rest. Make it good. I hear they’re looking for guys at Chernobyl West.”

Mackenzie popped a tranquilizer herself. Her nerves were shot. And no wonder. She was out there on the front lines, facing the enemy in all its stark reality.

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