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Stanley, I was raised in a tiny Canadian town where I could get away with it
May 5, 2010 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Kaitlin Fontana goes to New York to write for a magazine. Then she goes back to Canada and tells us about her experience.

It’s not uncommon to find yourself somewhere familiar here, all of a sudden. I begin to love the backbite of it: I am a stranger to this city, but it is not altogether strange to me. All I had to do to know this place was spend years watching it on a screen.

She also writes for Spin and Maisonneuve. The Walrus was discussed previously.

Are there differences between Canadian and American usages of the word 'shit'? Maybe.
posted by hydrobatidae (63 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
(example: “Who is the Canadian equivalent of REM? ” I settle on Sloan)

No, no, no. It's The Tragically Hip. Everyone knows that. Citizenship REVOKED!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:56 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


[M]y room is small and dark, with only a well-used mattress in the corner. A single-pane window in the lower half of the wall overlooks the patch of dirt that passes for a backyard. In its centre is an iron stake set into a concrete pad. Attached to the stake is a heavy-duty chain, and at the end of the chain is a beautiful husky named Spirit.
I sure hope she wasn't paying much for this room!
posted by Flashman at 10:05 AM on May 5, 2010


I shower. I dress. I want coffee, but there’s little in the way of such comforts around here. Since my late-night arrival, I have discovered that a) there are no coffee shops here, b) my new nickname is “Lovejuice,” and c) I live around the corner from the Marcy projects, where Jay-Z grew up, and where he filmed the video for “Hard Knock Life.” I am the only white person I see on a regular basis. There was another white guy in my house, but he quickly tired of all the fighting in the owners’ suite, below his. The landlady wouldn’t give him back his damage deposit. He moved out overnight.

All of this is rad. Go back to Canada, you clearly don't understand Brooklyn.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 10:08 AM on May 5, 2010


Oh and by the way, every corner has coffee. That's why they call it the corner store.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 10:09 AM on May 5, 2010


Jesus Christ she couldn't find coffee in Ft. Greene??? And if she's the only white person she sees, she must not have left her room EVER.
posted by spicynuts at 10:15 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh c'mon, Sloan is WAY better than REM.
posted by basicchannel at 10:16 AM on May 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


well, crap... now I'm gonna have to go to NY to rescue the Husky....
posted by HuronBob at 10:17 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is Bare Naked Ladies the Canadian version of?
posted by spicynuts at 10:23 AM on May 5, 2010


... she must not have left her room EVER.

Well, that would have drastically reduced the number of times she could use 'I' in a sentence from approximately eleventy-bumptillion to something approaching tolerable.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:27 AM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


“Spirit is gone,” he says. Gone. I think of that Monty Python sketch. The parrot. Left? Flown? Shuffled off this mortal coil? Which? “Spirit is in Alaska, at an animal preserve.”

I think about this for a moment.

“That kid,” he says, “the one that moved out in the middle of the night. He called animal control.” And then: “Spirit was 100 percent timber wolf.”

looks like you're in the clear, HuronBob, or you're off to Alaska?
posted by heeeraldo at 10:29 AM on May 5, 2010


What is Bare Naked Ladies the Canadian version of?

Whatever the American equivalent of XTC is.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:29 AM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq, you're not helping.
posted by spicynuts at 10:32 AM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I've got a joke about Haiti."

Eh?
posted by darth_tedious at 10:38 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


She's no Joan Didion.
posted by availablelight at 10:45 AM on May 5, 2010


She's unexpectedly coy about who Famous Writer is.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:45 AM on May 5, 2010


Jonathan Safran Froer lives nearby. But he's married (BA HA HA HA HA HAHAH AH)
posted by spicynuts at 10:47 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is Bare Naked Ladies the Canadian version of?

Seriously, it's a bit hard. They started out as a fun, nerdy party band -- in 1993, they were Canada's TMBG or close enough. Then they seemed to fall down a gold mine and suddenly became super popular, which dialed down the quirk value while upping the coke quotient.

So if you can think of a talented but not genius novelty band that suddenly got huge and managed to hang on, producing slowly diminishing returns but never quite absolutely sucking, there's your current equivalent.
posted by Shepherd at 10:52 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought it was pretty clearly Chuck Klosterman?
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 10:53 AM on May 5, 2010


(example: “Who is the Canadian equivalent of REM? ” I settle on Sloan)

CANADIAN FAIL
posted by KokuRyu at 10:53 AM on May 5, 2010


(Famous Writer, not the US version of Barenaked Ladies)
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 10:53 AM on May 5, 2010



So if you can think of a talented but not genius novelty band that suddenly got huge and managed to hang on, producing slowly diminishing returns but never quite absolutely sucking, there's your current equivalent.


So, The Beatles it is.
posted by spicynuts at 10:57 AM on May 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't know anything about New York so I will join in the Sloan ≈ REM outrage. I mean, what the shit, Sloan?!
posted by threetoed at 10:59 AM on May 5, 2010


No, no, no. It's The Tragically Hip. Everyone knows that. Citizenship REVOKED!

Oh man, that's exactly what I thought, too. Of course it's the Hip. Sheesh.
posted by jokeefe at 11:07 AM on May 5, 2010


I suppose my life would sound this tedious if I wrote about it.
posted by maxwelton at 11:10 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whatever the American equivalent of XTC is.

Oooh, no, that's wrong. The Barenaked Ladies and XTC don't even belong in the same universe. Show me a single XTC song that references Kraft Dinner with ketchup.
posted by jokeefe at 11:11 AM on May 5, 2010


If she couldn't tell the difference between a Husky and a Wolf, I doubt she was from Canada to begin with.

I'm guessing she was from Columbus, Ohio.
posted by HuronBob at 11:13 AM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


So if you can think of a talented but not genius novelty band that suddenly got huge and managed to hang on, producing slowly diminishing returns but never quite absolutely sucking, there's your current equivalent.

Devo, then.
posted by msalt at 11:32 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, another question, what's the American for Kraft Dinner with ketchup?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:48 AM on May 5, 2010


There's not one thing about New York City in the whole damned article! You could write this about any large city in the world. Astonishing that she got not one tiny hint of the flavour of this place...

Part of her issue I think is that she doesn't seem to have many interests - most people show up here and are immediately going to shows or making shows or pushing forward on some variety of interests, and soon get swept up in the group...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:51 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


what's the American for Kraft Dinner with ketchup?

Ronald Reagan's School Cafeteria Special.
posted by spicynuts at 11:55 AM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


"I'm guessing she was from Columbus, Ohio."

Pardon me, but as a current Cow-Town resident, I can certainly tell the difference between a Husky and a timber wolf. I kind of doubt that guy had a full-blooded wolf, anyway - at most, it was probably a mixed breed.
posted by HopperFan at 11:55 AM on May 5, 2010


This thread is exactly why it's a good thing we got rid of the image tag lo those many moons ago.
posted by spicynuts at 11:59 AM on May 5, 2010


“The second album from New Jersey’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” begins the review I might have written,

FAIL
posted by Nothing... and like it at 12:02 PM on May 5, 2010


Comparing The Hip to REM is sacrilege. Or at least treason under Canadian law. She had it right with Sloan.
posted by Brodiggitty at 12:13 PM on May 5, 2010


It can't be Devo. Their deal with having developed their own weird and frequently deliberately offputting philosophical system seems too different from Barenaked Ladies'... gosh, I'm not sure exactly what the right words to use here are, but "simpering eagerness to please" seems to come close.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:16 PM on May 5, 2010


When I read articles like these, I get hopelessly lost and impatient. My reading skills are terrible from a lifetime of limiting my reading to trashy fiction books and social science assigned reading. And those train wreck confessionals they publish in the NY Times.

Is there a name for this particular style of writing? I feel like I come across these and I get so impatient to figure out what's going on and then I have no idea what happened when I get to the end of it.
posted by anniecat at 12:17 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"simpering eagerness to please"

Dude, that is like the Canadian National Motto.
posted by spicynuts at 12:17 PM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


What a quaint little blog she has there. Girl's got potential.
posted by Kskomsvold at 12:19 PM on May 5, 2010


Oh neat, she's writing a book about Mint Records. I'll probably buy that.
posted by threetoed at 12:25 PM on May 5, 2010


I spackled my anus with magic - terrible terrible magic - as I stepped off the airplane in Ontario. Me, a yankee, fresh off the plane from NYC. I wanted to announce it to the world. Shout it. Cuddle my nuts with my earlobes.

I get in a cab. My cab driver's name was Kevin. I try to get friendly by telling him a joke about flatulence. I tingle with flatworms of anticipation. I ask Kevin if he ever watched DeGrassi. My mom used to force me at gunpoint to watch Canadian television. I seen all of 'dem greats - DeGrassi, Kids in the Hall - That episode where Jimmy gets shot is off the heezy.

Kevin is offended. I thought I could get away with talking about DeGrassi because I come from the bucolic urban hamlet of NYC, a city where you can get away with anything!
posted by orville sash at 12:25 PM on May 5, 2010 [15 favorites]




"Spot the huge, glaring error."

The Late Show is Letterman. Please send you're prize to my PO Box in Hell ლ(-_-ლ)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:28 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll flush it down now, OC.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:37 PM on May 5, 2010


It's okay, orville sash. Everybody gets one. ;)

This really did read like a series of blog entries, with a few second draft modifications welding the piece together. But it's still interesting in its way, for those of us who wonder what the big city is really like.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:39 PM on May 5, 2010


Is there a name for this particular style of writing? I feel like I come across these and I get so impatient to figure out what's going on and then I have no idea what happened when I get to the end of it.

It's the style formerly known as "bad".
posted by storybored at 1:55 PM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


okay, I am posting this mainly to shut up the part of my brain that's decided that, no, really, EVERY Canadian band has to have a U.S. equivalent and vice versa. okay and maybe it's because something I read here has messed me up forever, I dunno

Barenaked Ladies 1.0 was the Canadian They Might Be Giants. Post-getting-inexplicably-big Barenaked Ladies is the Canadian Weezer.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:32 PM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seconding anniecat. Maybe it's drilling the idea of theses and argumentative structure into myself and everyone around me, but this meandering, overly self-reflective writing style just leaves me confused and vaguely annoyed, but it seems to be very popular.

Give me a good plot or clear argument anyday.

Bare Naked Ladies c1992 were definitely TMBG flavored, and the Hip are so REM-like in their sound that I have trouble telling them apart at times. That's not saying that the Hip are derivative -- I wouldn't be surprised if it was a mutual influence thing, and both are very good, though I prefer Spirit of the West.
posted by jb at 2:35 PM on May 5, 2010


Post-getting-inexplicably-big Barenaked Ladies is the Canadian Weezer

I'll go with that. Because I hate Weezer, mostly.
posted by jokeefe at 3:02 PM on May 5, 2010


I also find irritating this newish convention of breaking up sections of a piece by throwing kind of tangentially related quotes into the mix ("Yeah, the river it spoke to me. It told me I’m small, and I swallowed it down", for example.) The first time I saw it I thought it was a pretty nifty device, but now it just seems like a lazy way to try and shoehorn some sort of frisson in between your paragraphs. And explicitly invoking Joan Didion does not help her work at all in comparison: just check out the opening paragraph from availablelight's links above: "When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was." It's like a whiplash compared to Fontana's kind of mincing, pulled-punches sort of prose. And says more about New York than her entire article does.
posted by jokeefe at 3:10 PM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is this something that I'd have to be Kaitlin Fontana to care about?
posted by k8lin at 3:23 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Post-getting-inexplicably-big Barenaked Ladies is the Canadian Weezer

You know what? YES.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:29 PM on May 5, 2010


Is this something that I'd have to be Kaitlin Fontana to care about?
posted by k8lin at 3:23 PM


Looks like even Kaitlin doesn't care about it.
posted by msalt at 3:36 PM on May 5, 2010


I thought it was a fairly interesting and humorous account of her experience. The fact that it doesn't seem to match any of yours seems to count as a drawback; snark is cheap, writing is hard, and NYC is more than just any one person's version of it.
posted by hermitosis at 4:21 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


snark is cheap

But some of us come here for the snark.
posted by kanewai at 5:16 PM on May 5, 2010


My mom used to force me at gunpoint to watch Canadian television. I seen all of 'dem greats - DeGrassi, Kids in the Hall - That episode where Jimmy gets shot is off the heezy.

That's not real Degrassi, that's from the abominable Degrassi: The Next Generation! You're lucky Kevin didn't punch you in the throat*!

*Also known as a Neepawa Tickle.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:59 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Were it only that I could favorite that 100 times, Alvy
posted by orville sash at 4:12 AM on May 6, 2010


I've been biting my thread-shitting tongue, but, shit, I can bite it no longer. Isn't this shitty kid-from-small-town-moves-to-NYC trope awfully played the shit out? I can't see what's so shitty special about this one. She has a shitty apartment, has brown neighbors (the HORROR!!), works a shitty job in journalism/arts/media because it's New York and that's what you do, and has troubles with shitty men. The shit she experiences, or at least what she describes, is far from novel and how she describes it is also old shit.

Am I totally missing something? Is it because she's a special Canadian snowflake that this is fascinating?

I won't be totally surprised if this comment gets shitcanned, but I AM awfully confused.
posted by knile at 6:54 AM on May 6, 2010


HEY GUYS! Ok I thought about this overnight and I had an epiphany:

Barenaked Ladies = Spin Doctors.

Yes??
posted by spicynuts at 7:16 AM on May 6, 2010


Yes.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:04 AM on May 6, 2010


knile, since I posted the link, I guess I'll answer.

Initially I started the post with some sort of defensive 'this is just a typical young-person-writes-about-their-life story' but then I decided that that was going to set a tone (a tone I see in the comments anyway) and I'd rather just put it up there. Sure it's not the most amazing story ever. But it hit a couple chords with me as another Canadian that has moved to the US.

I liked the juxtaposition of living in a place that was vaguely familiar and then totally alien. When I visited LA I felt the same way. Every time I turned the corner, there was a building or a street name that I recognized. I would walk around with songs in my head because their lyrics referenced where I was standing right at that moment. But there were a lot of things there that reminded me that I was visiting a foreign country. Part of it was growing up in Canada and being bombarded by US culture; I really thought that the two countries would be more similar. Where I grew up in, there really weren't that many minorities - it was a bit of a shock to go to a place where all of a sudden I noticed my race. It did feel like I was the only white person around, even if that wasn't literally true.

So maybe it's not your thing but really I don't get the snark. Can you not see that someone might enjoy it? For example, I know that Didion is a 'better' writer but I have to say that I like Fontana's prose better. Probably because I've grown up reading that kind of writing but I'm not going to say that there something wrong with Didion. I love reading about people discovering places for the first time so I'll probably pick up Didion (and hope I get into it this time).

Plus I did enjoy the Canadian equivalency game - one I've been made to play many times. Who would be the American Blue Rodeo? Great Big Sea? Tragically Hip? Totally agree on Bare Naked Ladies (remember when they were banned from playing because of their racy name?) = Spin Doctors.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:55 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where I grew up in, there really weren't that many minorities - it was a bit of a shock to go to a place where all of a sudden I noticed my race. It did feel like I was the only white person around, even if that wasn't literally true.

After I moved to the states, I also began to notice my race more. Because I moved from Toronto, which is extremely multicultural and multi-racial, to a relatively small city which was primarily European-American or African-American. The lack of other races and the historically tense race relations in the place made me so much more aware of myself as white, even though my specific environment was whiter than that I had grown up in.

Part of my experience was a Canada-vs-America issue, but another part was simply big city to small city; I wouldn't have felt the same way in most of New York City.
posted by jb at 11:02 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Barenaked Ladies = Spin Doctors.

I don't have any numbers to back this up, but I feel like the Barenaked Ladies have been somewhat more successful than the Spin Doctors ever were. You Can't Tip A Buick's "They Might Be Giants/Weezer" comparison definitely seems more fitting.
posted by antifuse at 10:12 AM on May 13, 2010


There's definitely some Hootie & the Blowfish in there, too.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


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