A quarter-Canadian from Cleveland explores his roots--and melts your face with joy.
There's an idea most Americans tend to learn as children. The idea that their country is the "best." But this never stuck with Dave Hill, even though he was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. His grandfather, you see, was from Canada (Clinton, Ontario, to be exact). And every Sunday at dinner he'd remind Dave and anyone else within earshot that it was in fact Canada, this magical and mysterious land just across the mighty Lake Erie, that was the "best."
It was an idea that took hold. While his peers kept busy with football, basketball and baseball, hockey became the only sport for Dave. Whenever bacon was served at home, he'd be sure to mention his preference for the Canadian variety. Likewise, if a song by Triumph came on the radio, he'd be the first to ask for it to be cranked up as loud as it would go. And he was more vocal about the vast merits of the Canadian healthcare system than any nine-year-old you'd ever want to meet. (That last part is a lie, but hopefully it makes the point that he was so into Canada that it was actually kind of weird.)
In later years he even visited Canada a couple of times. But now, inspired by a publisher's payment of several hundred dollars (Canadian) in cash, he has travelled all over the country, reconnecting with his heritage in such places as Montreal, Moose Jaw, Regina, Winnipeg, Merrickville and of course Clinton, Ontario, meeting a range of Canadians, touching things he probably shouldn't and having adventures too numerous and rich in detail to be done justice in this blurb.
The result, he promises, is "the greatest Canada-based literary thrill ride of your lifetime."
About the author
DAVE HILL is a comedian, writer, musician, actor, radio host and man-about-town originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but now living in New York City in a totally sweet apartment with a party deck and everything. He is the author of two previous books, Tasteful Nudes and Dave Hill Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and has written for The New York Times, GQ, Salon, The Paris Review, McSweeney's, The New York Observer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, VICE, Guitar World and a bunch of other places. Comedy legend Dick Cavett called Dave "a major figure among American comic writers, past and present," which is pretty much the coolest thing that has ever happened as far as Dave is concerned. Dave has appeared on such TV shows as Inside Amy Schumer and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, hosted for HBO and Cinemax, and performed live comedy around the world. He hosts The Goddamn Dave Hill Show on the WFMU radio station in Jersey City every Monday night. Dave is a frequent contributor to public radio's This American Life. He is also a musician who currently sings and plays guitar in the psych/garage rock band Painted Doll, the extremely extreme Norwegian black metal band Witch Taint, and the power pop band Valley Lodge, whose song "Go" is the theme to HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Excerpt: Parking the Moose: One American's Epic Quest to Uncover His Incredible Canadian Roots (by (author) Dave Hill)
A Brief Message to You, the Attractive Canadian Reader
There’s an idea most of us Americans tend to learn when we are children. I’m guessing you’ve heard about it. It’s that our country is the “greatest nation on Earth,” the “land of the free and the home of the brave” and all that. We’re spoon-fed the belief that absolutely no one outside of the United States could possibly have it as good as we do; not only that, but almost anywhere else on the planet, we’d probably be thrown in some damp, dimly lit, poorly decorated dungeon, flogged with an expired sausage and subjected to an endless round of mother jokes--or worse--for even thinking about enjoying life the way we do, each and every day, without even really trying. It’s a notion that’s reinforced in school, at home, on late-night TV commercials for used-car dealerships of exceptionally dubious integrity, and just about everywhere else until it’s pretty much burned on the brain.
While it would seem most Americans swallow this idea whole, some never questioning it for even a nanosecond their whole lives, it never really took with me. You see, while I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, my grandfather was from Canada--Clinton, Ontario, to be exact. And practically every Sunday at dinner, he’d remind my siblings and me and anyone else within earshot that it was not America, but Canada, this magical and mysterious land just across the mighty Lake Erie, that was, in fact, the best.
I can’t remember what reasons my grandfather gave to back up his claim. He might not have even had any. But just saying that Canada was the best would have been enough, considering he was the patriarch and, therefore--according to general unwritten rules of the patriarchy at the time and/or unwritten rules regarding who gets to sit at the head of the table without a fight--was usually allowed to be right about everything. Regardless, I bought it hook, line and sinker. I suppose to my young mind it was just a package deal--if I loved my grandfather, then I must also love Canada and accept my grandfather’s view that I’d been living in a relative shithole this whole time. Or maybe I just figured it was a surefire way to make it into his will. Either way, it wasn’t long before I began to accept the reality that I was a guy living in a land that was both literally and figuratively beneath Canada. I bit my tongue as I said the Pledge of Allegiance before class each day in elementary school, and throughout my formative years I would mumble politely at best during the national anthem before sporting events.
The notion of Canadian superiority quickly spread throughout most areas of my young life. “Alex Trebek,” I’d think as a child basking in the pale glow of the family room television set. “Now there’s a guy who really gets it.”
Similarly, while my peers kept busy with football, basketball, baseball and other decidedly inferior--and non-Canadian--sports, ice hockey became the only sport for me. I signed up to play in the local youth league and watched every game our local cable television provider dared to broadcast. For me, Don Cherry’s voice was the voice of God, and his sportcoats were totally reasonable. And my working knowledge of all the obscure Canadian towns my favourite NHL players came from was impeccable. You could bring up Flin Flon, Manitoba, for example, and I wouldn’t even flinch.
“You gotta love the Bombers’ chances,” I’d respond. It could have easily been considered a form of autism by modern medical standards.
It didn’t end there, either.
Whenever bacon was served at home, I’d be sure to mention my preference for the far more delicious Canadian variety, which to the untrained American eye simply registered as a form of ham. Likewise, if a song by Triumph came on the radio, I’d be the first to tell you to crank it as loud as it would go so I could feel the prog tinged hard rock in my chest the way the almighty trio of Rik Emmett, Mike Levine and Gil Moore had no doubt intended. And whenever the subject of health care was brought up, I was more vocal about the vast merits of the Canadian system than perhaps any other nine-year-old you’d ever want to meet. Okay, I’m lying about that last part, but hopefully you see my point--I was so into Canada that it was actually kind of weird.
All of this began to fade, however, when, sadly, my grandfather died shortly after my twelfth birthday, and I suddenly found myself with no real Canadian advocate in my life. Sure, there was a kid from outside of Toronto who had transferred into my elementary school around that same time, but seeing as how he wanted nothing more than to quietly blend in with all the other kids in suburban Cleveland, my attempts at engaging him in a conversation about, say, the goings-on in nearby Crotch Lake, Ontario, or the unseemly side of the southcentral-Quebec poutine industry, for example, were either met with resistance or ignored entirely. Before long, I became just like most other Americans and allowed myself to drift into a state of willful Canadian ignorance. Suddenly, my grandfather’s homeland, which I had until this point in my life considered to be a vast, culturally diverse, largely moose-friendly utopia only a few hours away by station wagon, was no longer something to be celebrated, but something to be feared or, perhaps even worse, dismissed altogether.
“After all,” I figured, “we’ve already got Alan Thicke and Pamela Anderson down here--what the hell else could those Canucks possibly have left to offer?”
Over time, however, my Canadian roots could no longer be denied, slowly bubbling to the surface of my very being the way I’m guessing maple syrup does if you try to boil it or something. And questions also began to arise.
“Who are the Tragically Hip, and what exactly do they want from us?”
“What is curling--and, perhaps more importantly, why is curling?”
And, last but not least, “How could a country so close to the United States manage to be so very different from us?”
As I barrel into middle age, probably the last years of my life in which daily moisturizing will produce any results whatsoever, my desire to reconnect with my Canadian heritage and answer these and other distinctly Canadian questions only grows stronger. And, let’s face it, if Canada and I are gonna dance, it should probably be now; because, in just a few short decades, a day trip to some sad casino outside of Niagara Falls with the other diapered and heavily medicated residents of whatever retirement facility I wind up getting dropped off at in the middle of the night might be as good as it gets. If I want to make things right with my grandfather’s homeland, it’s time to get cracking. And while, sure, it would be well within my rights as a typical American to just stick with the plan and remain blissfully unaware of the many nuances of your fair country until my death, don’t I owe it to my grandfather to at least try to get some sense of what he was so proud of all those years ago around the dinner table--and, who knows, maybe even get to know who he was a little better in the process? I tend to think so.
I suppose, as long as we’re on the topic, it might also worth be mentioning that, as I sit here writing this, there is a hate-spewing game show host in the White House, and the idea of living, you know, literally anywhere else on Earth but America grows with each passing tweet. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t one of the millions of Americans who, on the night of the 2016 US presidential election--in an effort fuelled both by a desire for self-preservation and Scotch--helped crash the website that tells you how to move to Canada. And while I promise you that the focus of this book won’t be on how America is on fire and I and a lot of other Americans just think it might be nice to, you know, maybe take a little trip across your border and talk things out with you guys over a peameal bacon sandwich, a case of Molson and a carton or two of Canadian Classics, it would be impossible not to have the T-word creep into mind at least occasionally as I write. My apologies in advance.
Lest you be worried that things are definitely about to get a whole lot cozier up there, however, fear not--as much as I ask myself whether it might be the perfect time to move to Canada, this great land my grandfather wouldn’t shut the hell up about, I’ll try to ask myself (and whomever else might listen) how America, and perhaps even the rest of the world, might try to be at least a little more Canadian every once in a while. As best I can tell, it certainly couldn’t hurt.
It suddenly occurs to me at this point that you might be wondering exactly who I am. I’m glad you asked. My name is Dave Hill and, as hinted at previously, I am an American person. I should probably also mention that I am a comedian, author, musician, actor and radio host, and that, together, all of these things have garnered me a measure of fame in the United States that has made it nearly impossible for me to walk down the street, shop for groceries or even stop off at the plasma donation centre without imagining that at least someone I encounter is probably wondering whether they have, in fact, seen me late, late at night on basic cable television, for a few seconds at one point or another. My fame in Canada, however, does not even begin to approach this level, which is exactly why I’m the perfect guy to write this book about your country. My Canadian anonymity (or “CA,” as I shall refer to it in the pages that follow should it happen to come up again) allows me to slip into your country almost completely undetected, just a regular guy with offbeat good looks, flawless hair and a light yet intriguing fragrance that keeps you coming back for more, going about his business like it’s no big deal at all. Keep a-moving, everybody--nothing to see here.
Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say that is what you are about to read is, from where I’m sitting, the definitive book on Canada written by a non-Canadian. I have travelled your land extensively, rambling north, south and other directions as I drink in its endless wonders and, more importantly, see things in a way that you, the Canadian, will never, ever in a million, trillion years be able to, no matter how hard you try.
However, in case you’re now under the impression that you can go ahead and set all your other books on Canada on fire, perhaps as part of some bizarre late-night ritual involving airy garments, wayward livestock and a complete disregard for the neighbours, I must stress that, while I certainly won’t stop you from doing that--and, in fact, would very much like to be around for that sort of thing should you decide to do so--this book is by no means exhaustive, comprehensive or complete in its inquisition or analysis of your fine nation. In fact, if I’m being completely honest, when I agreed to write the thing, my publisher just gave me five hundred bucks (Canadian) in cash and told me to have at it. To my credit, however, I know how to stretch a dollar, so I have managed to cover a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively, and in the pages that follow, I’ll tell you as honestly as I can exactly what I have found.
And now, before you turn the page and dive right into what I am confident will be the greatest Canada-based literary thrill ride of your lifetime, I’d like to get a couple last things out of the way.
While I realize that you are probably expecting me, as a typical American who grew up in the eighties, to come out guns blazing with all sorts of Bob and Doug McKenzie-isms in the very first chapter, I, as a proud quarter Canadian, am quite simply better than that. I am also well aware that--despite the fact that those guys are awesome, hilarious and exactly what the typical American assumes you guys are all exactly like, 24/7--you are probably as sick of all that as I am of hearing people quote the “Hello, Cleveland” line from This Is Spinal Tap at this point. So, fear not--while there will be plenty of name-calling in the pages that follow, hoser will not be among them (very much).
Furthermore, while my original plan for this book was to simply wax philosophical about why Canadians say “sorry” (pronounced--well, you know) all the time until I hit my contractually agreed-upon word count and call it a day, I realize you guys have probably had it with that by now, too. Also, as best I can tell, Canadians say “sorry” kind of like us Americans say “excuse me”--sure, on the rare occasion, it can actually be used as an apology, but more often, it seems to be used to convey all sorts of other things, even something along the lines of “fuck you” if you say it just right.
And finally, I realize that you, and perhaps even other readers of this book, may not, in fact, be even slightly Canadian and are now paralyzed with the fear that what follows is simply not for your eyes. Rest assured, however, that I have been careful to write this book in a manner in which any and all connoisseurs of fine literature, regardless of their nationality or geographical coordinates, will be able to enjoy again and again until their sudden and mysterious death.
And with that, I now ask you to kindly turn the page.
I stand on guard for thee,
"Who could have guessed that the wisest and funniest book about Canada ever would be written by a comedian and badass guitar hero from Cleveland, Ohio?" —Malcolm Gladwell
"Dave Hill is one of the most hilarious non-Canadian, non-women that I know." —Samantha Bee
"One of the genuinely cherished days of my year is the day a new book by Dave Hill comes out. Mercifully, for those of us who find the usual wait for a favourite author a trial, Hill has delivered his latest work of laugh-out-loud, expert humour in the nick of time. . . . If you're looking for an ideal book that makes you turn down soirées and tweetable events just so you can stay home and chortle, then Dave Hill's Parking the Moose is exactly what you need." —Dick Cavett
"What Malcolm Gladwell, Samantha Bee and Dick Cavett said." —Janeane Garofalo
"Dave Hill rocks! His book is a fun ride through Canada. Jump on board and give it a read." —Randy Bachman
"When I was a little kid, my American cousins would make me say the phrase 'out and about' over and over again so they could laugh hysterically at my Canadian accent. I wish this book had been available to them. It's a whole lot funnier than 'oot and aboot,' and they might have even learned something about their great neighbours to the north." —Stephen Brunt
"I laughed a lot reading this book, I gotta tell ya. It's very well done." —Steve Paikin, The Agenda, TVO
"I loved your book. Laughed out loud. And it takes a lot, actually, to make me laugh out loud." —Mutsumi Takahashi, CTV News Montreal
"I was laughing out loud on many occasions in your book. It's incredibly funny." —Jeff McArthur, The Morning Show, Global Television.