Friday, July 28, 2006

Ask Mr. Writing Person: Tree-Lickers Discover Falafel Mallets

Editor's note: I usually fix up misspellings, but Mr. Writing Person made a couple that I just had to leave in. Besides, for one of them, I'm not sure he didn't really say it that way, assuming he really had this conversation, which he swears he is not making up.

Greetings, dear Philistines, and welcome back to Ask Mr. Writing Person, the only Internet column to win the 22nd Century Best Classic Column award three years in a row. [Ed: He has yet to write the winners, but rest assured, it will happen.] Today, Bartholomew Wicker joins us from Mormon Bar, California. He has a question I'm sure most of you have asked yourselves before.

Q. How do I write about a place I've never been?

A. You've come to the right person, young Philistine. I've been to Italy, England, and Singapore. I've visited Henry VIII himself, I saw the Tajma Hall before the famous hall was added, and I helped hang the hanging gardens. Yet for all of my travels in time and space, I've never been to Vancouver.

Q. Really?

A. In fact, I've rarely stepped foot in Canadia. However, my copy editor has recently been there, so I can write about it exactly as if I had accompanied him.

Q. Oh! Just grill him enough, right?

A. Just enough to get the basics, Barty. After that, you extrapolate. For example, he told me about this fine Lebanese restaurant he went to for a falafel, which is a pita sandwich made from fried garbanzo beans and pickled squid manure. My copy editor wasn't there at Christmas time, however, and so if I were writing a Christmas story, I would need to fill in. I might extrapolate that, at Christmas time, this particular restaurant sells fa-la-la-la-lafels, which feature chunks of minty Christmas candy.

Q. They do? How can you be sure?

A. Wouldn't anybody do that? It doesn't matter too much, anyway, as long as it sounds authentic and probably captures the spirit of the place.

Q. I see.

A. I'll finish up this answer by writing a fictional account of a trip there so you can see how it's done.

Q. I can't wait!

A. You won't have to. Here it is:
Vancouver is hauntingly beautiful, a coastal city in the shadow of a really big mountain. The mountain is so tall, in fact, that they haven't bothered to name it, which is why you won't find it on a map. They just call it "THE MOUNTAIN," and if you found "THE MOUNTAIN" written on a map, you'd think it was a misprint.

Everywhere you look, there's a Canadian flag flapping in the breeze, right under the flag of Quebec. The country's flag features a large maple leaf, a symbol of rag-time music, which blared from every pub and church in the area.

Oh, the churches! Every corner had a church--Canadians must be the most religious people ever made. The Church of Canadia, which was formed in the 16th century when Canadia's King Rick VI wanted to divorce his wife and the United States Pope (who was Joseph Smith at the time) wouldn't let him do it, is the official state-endorsed church. (They'll stone you if you attend a different one.) Marble polar bears guard the entrance of each--but you wouldn't know they were polar bears until you examined their paws. They were all holding bottles of Coke.

While I was there, I dropped in on Bob and Doug Mackenzie. They gave me a bottle of beer with a baby mouse in it, which is apparently a Canadian delicacy. I haven't opened the bottle yet. By the way, everyone drinks beer, all the time. I attended a Church of Canadia service where the minister took a swig after every hell fire or damnation. The sermon got really good near the end, and the congregation, which was also plastered beyond all rational belief, really got into it.

It's a beautiful town. In places where cities are usually concrete jungles, they've got all sorts of vegetation, but mostly maple trees. (Even back alleys and airport runways are lined with maples.) My first stroll down Granville was quite a shock: at nearly every maple along that street was a Canadian, beer bottle in hand, licking the tree. It's apparently a popular pastime. (A common greeting in Canadia is, "Oy, tree-licker... eh?") I tried it myself, and it wasn't bad--just a little rough on the tongue.

Curling is Canadia's official sport. Because they don't allow guns, people tend to walk the streets carrying curling mallets, which they use for self-defense. A few psychopaths carry knives. It doesn't matter too much, however, because if you get carved, one of Vancouver's thousands of roving doctors will patch you up in no time. I had a roving doctor remove a corn. He was very professional and didn't charge a thing--health care is free in Canadia--but I tipped him a bottle of beer. He drank it while patching up the man in line behind me, who had a critical knife wound.

Vancouver is packed with restaurants. I swear they jam them in there with giant ramming rods. Every other one is a gelato place because Vancouver hosts so many first-generation Italians. (Gelato, by the way, is meat-flavored gelatin made by boiling a pig's head, chilled and served on a waffle cone.) One night I had Greek food, and they served breaded Mon Calamari, which they import from a galaxy far, far away. As our server set the plate down, he said, in melancholy tones, "Many Bothans died to bring you this appetizer," which I suppose is a Greek cultural thing. I thanked him and tipped him a beer.

Canadian money has more coinage than ours. They have one-dollar coins called "loons," and two-dollar coins called "toons." Their five-dollar coin is called a "foon," but they're quite scarce. Canadian dollars are worth a lot less than United States dollars. Most people bought sandwiches at lunch time from money they pushed around in wheelbarrows.

I could go on, of course.

Q. That's amazing! I never knew that Canadians were a bunch of tree-lickers!

A. Well, I did extrapolate that from facts that I knew, but I'm fairly sure it's correct.

Q. Do they really carry curling mallets everywhere?

A. In this case, I'm not sure. For all I know, they curl with falafels.

Q. Shouldn't you be more sure of your extrapolation?

A. Do Canadians curl with falafels?

Q. No.

A. How do you know?

Q. I--

A. You don't, and that's why it's perfectly safe.

Q. But you can't defend yourself with a falafel!

A. That's why I picked curling mallets, grasshopper.

Q. Genius.

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