I was at a bar with my girlfriend for her co-worker’s birthday. It was a pretty quiet night of drinks and discussions with people I’d never met before. At some point, though, we heard glasses banging rhythmically. The people at the table next to us had started to sing a sea shanty. I never really expected to experience a bout of singing like that in a bar, and I especially never expected it would be with a shanty. It wasn’t a song I’d heard before, but I was actually the odd one out, as most of the people at my table started singing along. I watched, stunned, as our table and theirs formed a chorus, belting verse after endless verse about life in Halifax. They didn’t even stop when someone from the table next to ours dropped and shattered a glass they were banging, nor when the waitress came to sweep up the shards. If my girlfriend didn’t look equally as confused, I would have thought I’d been experiencing an east coast flavoured fever dream.
When the song finally finished – or when enough people finally gave up on singing the whole thing – the Maritimers between our two tables exchanged niceties. Their conversation didn’t go far, though, and they all returned to their respective tables. But, I started to pay attention to the people from the other table, those mysterious instigators of song.
There were four guys. I couldn’t guess their ages, since they all looked like they were 15 going on 50, but based on their clothes and the way they carried themselves, I assumed they were in grad school. One sported the reddest sweater vest I’d ever seen and had facial hair that told me he’s wanted to be a professor since before he could stand. Another wore a yellow jumper and, though he looked like the young, plucky stowaway the captain takes a liking to in every movie about sailing, he also had on a wedding band. The third was balding and seemed so at home wearing his messenger bag I could swear it was sewn onto him. The fourth guy wore a dress shirt that was too formal for this bar, and he was noticeably the only person of colour at his table. I was also the darkest-skinned person at my table, but there was something about their table that gave me comfort in seeing the diversity. Otherwise, they’d come off as the kind of guys who maintain an alt-right blog in their spare time. My girlfriend and I instead agreed that they come off more as the ghosts of a long lost crew of Nova Scotian sailors.
As the night progressed and the drinks flowed, we all stopped paying attention to the other table. It was a surprise, then, when our conversation was interrupted by the unmistakable sounds of rising conflict and argument. We tuned in just in time to hear Dress Shirt speak in a scorned, accusing half-yell.
“How dare you make fun of the French in my face?”
He was speaking to Messenger Bag and standing, as best as he could, despite how drunk he clearly was. Messenger Bag was also standing, leaning back to avoid engaging Dress Shirt. Every time Dress Shirt spat a new accusation, Messenger Bag would shrug and gesture exaggeratedly to the waitress currently giving him his bill, as if to say that none of this was his fault. The waitress wasn’t looking at any of them, as if to say she didn’t care to intervene in their bullshit.
“You call yourself a Canadian? You’re not a real Tory,” Dress Shirt snarled with a slur. “How dare you make fun of the French?”
“I’ve made jokes about the French with you a million times,” interjected Sweater Vest. “You didn’t have a problem then.” Dress Shirt didn’t pay any attention to him, and stayed fixed on Messenger bag.
“How dare you make fun of the French? In my face!”
Everyone at my own table had stopped talking. We were now too busy trying to not laugh at all of this. “In” his face instead of “To” his face? Insulting someone by calling their status as a Canadian into question? We didn’t look at each other for fear our stifled snickers would become joint bellowing laughter.
Dress Shirt started insulting Messenger Bag with Québécois slang, spoken in a thick French-Canadian accent. When he switched back to English, repeating the same accusations, Messenger Bag said nothing. He nodded curtly in a tell-me-how-you-really-feel sort of way, but the way he clutched his shoulder strap betrayed the fact that he preferred flight over fight.
“You’re not a real Canadian,” Dress Shirt spat again. “And you’re sure as hell not a good Catholic!”
That was almost it for my table. A number of us audibly snorted from the effort it took to not laugh out loud. We held it together, though, long enough for Messenger Bag to finish squaring up with the waitress and for Dress Shirt to finally sit back down. Messenger Bag put on his coat and moved to leave. He stopped to lean back over his table and deliver his last zinger, his final blow before the mic drop with which he wanted to close the argument.
“You know, I can see now why our condo kicked you off the condo board!”
Louder snorts erupted from my own table.
The night continued. Our table drank more while their table conversed reservedly. At one point I had to use the washroom; Sweater Vest was leaving the washroom at the same time. He held the door open for me and let me through with the kindest smile. It was such an earnest show of politeness that I felt bad for laughing at him and his friends. Sure, they come off more like an alien interpretation of what it means to be adults, but there’s no rulebook for growing up. If sea shanties, over dressing, and condo boards make them happy, then I guess I’m happy for them.
I will, however, be accusing all of my friends of being bad Catholics like it’s the worst of insults.