He was a big man in every way, both tall and wide, and when he spoke any corner of the café not occupied by his considerable build was effectively filled by the sheer volume of his voice and character. He took only a second, upon entering the room to decide where he was going to sit, and only a few more seconds to install himself at the table where Andrew Jackson and Grant Toews were having a quiet morning coffee.
“Howdy y’all,” he said. “Fine mornin’.” He extended a large, beefy hand in Andrew’s direction. “Name’s Carpenter,” he said, “just up from Texas. People call me Carp.”
Andrew shook the extended hand. “Andrew Jackson,” he said. “People just call me Mr. President.”
Carpenter looked confused for a second, then laughed, a big, hearty, booming laugh. “Good one,” he said. “Nice to meet you Mr. President,” he added, then turned and extended the hand towards Grant.
Grant shook the hand in turn. “My name is Grant,” he said. “Welcome to Canada.”
Carpenter laughed again. “Don’t tell me,” he said. “Yer first name’s Ulysses and they call you Mr. President too!”
Grant smiled. “Nope,” he said. “Grant is my first name. My surname is Toews. People call me Grant, except for the checkout clerks at the Safeway. They call me Mr. Toews.”
“Grant it is then,” said Carpenter. “I ain’t much for formalities.”
“I can see that,” said Andrew. “What brings you to Manitoba?”
Carpenter raised his eyebrows. “Is that where I am?” he said. “Good to know. I’m on my way to Saskatchetoon fer a weddin’. Niece of mine is marryin’ a Canadian fella she met at a rodeo in Santa Fe… eh?” He laughed again. “That’s what y’all say up here, ain’t it?”
Andrew shrugged. “Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t,” he said. “And I think you mean Saskatoon. But that’s OK. Saskatoon is in Saskatchewan so it’s an easy mistake to make.”
“Yeah that’s right,” said Carpenter. “Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I am finally fulfillin’ my childhood dream of visitin’ a country that was invented by Dr. Seuss,” he said. He picked up the coffee cup that the waitress had placed in front of him a few moments earlier and took a sip. “Wow,” he said. “That is a powerful brew.”
“We have a saying up here, eh?” said Andrew. “Drinking American coffee is like building a dam beside a river.”
“Why is that?” said Carpenter.
“Because it’s dam near water,” said Andrew.
Carpenter laughed again. “I’m beginnin’ to see why every other comedian I see on the television is Canadian. Apparently every other Canadian is a comedian!” He turned to Grant. “No offence,” he said. “We can’t all be funny.”
“None taken,” said Grant. “Anyway, my wife thinks I’m hilarious.”
Carpenter studied him for a second. “I can sort of see why,” he said, then paused and took a slightly more serious note. “Can I ask y’all a question?”
“Sure,” said Andrew. “Fire away.”
“I was watchin’ the television last week and they were interviewing this author guy, the one who wrote the movie “Independence Day” among other things, and he has a new book out called Canada. So the interviewer asked him what he thought about Canada and he said that every time he goes to Canada, when he crosses the border he feels like the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders. So I figured I would see, when I crossed the border, if I felt the same way.” Here Carpenter paused for a second, then leaned forward in a conspiratorial way and continued almost in a whisper. “I did!” he said. “I felt this crazy sense of peace and serenity! My question is, why do you think that is?”
Andrew and Grant looked at each other.
“Maybe it’s because we’re all unarmed,” said Grant.
Carpenter looked shocked. “Really? Y’all are unarmed?”
“Really,” said Grant. “Unarmed.”
“That seems awful dangerous,” said Carpenter. “How can y’all protect yerselves?”
“From what?” said Andrew.
Carpenter looked stumped for a second. “”Everything?” he said. “Don’t y’all get Fox News up here? Ain’t you afraid of the Terrorists and the Communists and the Nazis who are plottin’ to take over the government? Not to mention the Democrats who already have?”
“We get Fox News,” said Andrew, but nobody watches it.”
Carpenter looked at him in disbelief. “So y’all are just sittin’ ducks?” he said.
“Pretty much,” said Andrew.
Carpenter pulled an American $5 bill from his pocket and slapped it down on the table. “Well, thanks very much,” he said bitterly, getting up and turning on his heel. “There goes my sense of peace and serenity.”
Andrew and Grant watched him go. When he got out onto the sidewalk Andrew raised his coffee cup and saluted him through the window.
“Happy Canada Day to you,” he said.