REMEMBER THE slogan "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight"? Do you know where 54
is? It's the southern tip of Alaska. It's the precise point on the Pacific Coast where a Foreign Power has for more than a century blatantly interposed itself between the home of America's great Arctic North and the state named after our very Founding Father himself, Washington.
We've put up with this kind of insolence from a place called Canada for a long time, this business of us having to drive through a place called British -- can you stand it? -- Columbia, to get from Seattle to Anchorage.
But it looks like we're about to get a chance to fix that problem. We may soon get a shot at being not just the Contiguous 48, but the Contiguous . . . well, the possibilities can go as high as 60 or more, depending on which Canadian provinces and territories we allow to join us. Canada has a self-imposed deadline of Saturday to ratify the Meech Lake Accords, which spell out a new agreement for Canadian union that includes a certain "distinct society" status for French-speaking Quebec. Otherwise, it may be curtains for Confederation.
I am still firmly of the belief that Canadians are Canadians, and thus, some kind of compromise will doubtless be wimped out. But in the unlikely event that our brethren to the north wind up standing on principle, there is not a moment to lose. Already, Nova Scotia's premier has said that his province's best hope may lie in joining the United States. Clearly, we must figure out which pieces we want, so we can put in our dibs. And which ones we don't, so we can fob them off on somebody else.
Where we start is easy. We want the baseball teams. Both of them. In Washington. Yeah, both of them. You bet. We spent ourselves and our great-grandchildren into oblivion winning the Cold War. The least the Western democracies owe us is the Washington (ne' Montreal) Expos, and the Tysons Corner (formerly Toronto) Blue Jays. (As consolation, our neighbors to the north could get every U.S. hockey team.)
Then there's Niagara Falls. The Canadian side has always been the best part, aesthetically. We want the whole thing.
As for the rest of Canada, it is not true what the cynics say, that Canada, to Americans, is like outer space. Compared to utter vacuum, Canada has got lots of great stuff. We must, however, be selective. The state-supported short-story writers, admittedly, are history -- all those people whose last line is "He cast aside his cigarette, into the snow."
And we sure don't want Newfoundland. The Newfies are the people who are currently holding up a Canada-saving compromise. Even more than the Que'becois, they are the reef on which Canada may now break up. A Western foreign correspondent with extensive experience covering countries full of proud but dumb people was on his way to Newfoundland last week. Said he, "They're a proud people. But dumb. That's a dangerous combination."
The Newfies are what the people of North Dakota are, relative to the people of Minnesota. These are the people whose ancestors, when they sailed the cusp of the North Atlantic, hugging the shores of Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland, stopped before they got to the balmy climes of Maine.
These are the people who are saying, what the hell, eh? So we have a Canada sans Que'bec, eh? So what if that leaves the eastern end of Canada in the same position as the eastern end of Pakistan when it was interrupted by India, eh? Who cares if that makes Newfoundland into a hyperborean Bangladesh?
Newfoundland is Appalachia without the cultural amenities. Or the good-looking women. It is genetically inbred by the standards of Vermont. Forty-eight percent of the provincial budget is transfer payments from the federal government. Forget it. No way. If somebody's got to take it, how about Ireland? That's another place full of charming people who can't make a decent living until they leave their native land. Ireland is also closer to Newfoundland than is most of America.
Same goes for New Brunswick. This is a place where, near Moncton, the tourist attraction is Magnetic Hill. That's where, if you put your car in neutral with the engine and emergency brake off, it appears to be pulled uphill. People come from miles around.
Give it all to Ireland!
Actually, not all of the Maritime Provinces are worthless. You do want some of Nova Scotia -- the part near the beach. The interior, which in winter resembles New Brunswick, you give to Ireland.
Nova Scotia within a mile of the beach is heaven. It's Maine only better. About eight weeks out of the year. After a while you round a point and it's oh, yawn, another world-class, postcard-quality scenic vista. We will definitely take that. We have to. Cape Cod is full. Nothing wrong with Halifax that a little Provincetown can't cure.
Prince Edward Island, on the other hand, we'll take the whole thing. What the hell. It's small. It has drop-dead pink-sand beaches and incredibly cheap lobsters. It also has Anne of Green Gables. Fine. We'll take Anne, too.
After all, she won't have a Canada.
No way we're taking Quebec. She wants to be in our free-trade alliance? Fine. We'll buy all the hydroelectric power she wants to sell. In fact, we already do. That's what's keeping New England and New York State lit. No wonder the people of Quebec are feeling frisky; they're on a roll, having blitzed the world markets, selling North American technology, using U.S. methods, in French. That's a powerful competitive tool. A lot of places still wish to have their masses exploited by capitalists who speak something other than English.
So Quebec as a trading partner? Fine. A state of the Union? Forget it. I mean, would you give statehood to France? Get a life. America would end up with legally mandated tri-lingual cereal boxes. Have you any idea how big those suckers would have to be?
Quebec will be of two major uses to us in the future. One, it will forever inconvenience American op-ed columnists favoring bilingual education -- the way the collapse of the Berlin Wall has put a dent in the Institute for Policy Studies. Second, Montreal will forever remain the only place on the entire continent where it is impossible to get a bad meal. The Old City of Quebec, meanwhile, just seethes charm. We don't want to own it. But perhaps we could work out a summer rental? Meanwhile, we will gladly absorb Canadian place names. All of them. Moose Jaw. Medicine Hat. Lac La Biche.
In fact, we will unreservedly, unhesitatingly and enthusiastically take everything north and west of Winnipeg. No questions asked. Welcome to the club. You say you want two U.S. senators per each new state? (That actually is very close to being the sticking point for Manitoba. They want strong representation in a Senate worthy of the name, which the Canadian one is not.) No problem. Canada has the same population as California. That could work out to lots of new congressmen with funny accents, eh?
Here's our price. We insist that the New Hampshire primary be replaced by the Yukon Territory primary. Peter Jennings must return to the land of his ancestors to cover it in February. I want to see Sam Donaldson out there in the snows of Dawson when, at 11 a.m., it's still too dark to film outdoors without lights. I want to see Diane Sawyer do stand-ups in Inuvik, Iqaluit and Yellowknife, The Northwest Territories. Let's see just how bad Dan Quayle wants to be president. Even better, let's see how bad Marilyn Quayle wants to be president. Let's see her sink her jaws into some whale blubber for the cameras. This could be the most bracing tonic to hit both American politics and American journalism since the Andrew Jackson administration.
Sure, we'll take the Canadian Arctic. As if we haven't already. Even now the water under the icepack is full of U.S. submarines. Maybe we could sublease a little of it to Exxon. Why should Valdez have all the dead seals? Think of the possibilities for toxic waste dumps in the Canadian Arctic. Remember "The Blob"? Recall how the movie ends? They parachute The Blob into the Arctic, where the cold keeps it under control. Although nobody ever does explain why they bothered with a parachute. But, hey. Uranium tailings? Asbestos? New Jersey medical wastes? No problem. There has got to be more Canadian Arctic than there are environmentalists to protect it.
The Canadian prairie provinces? Sure. We're going to need a new breadbasket. We've screwed up the one we've got seriously enough. Not only are we pumping all the water out of the Ogallala Aquifer that underpins much of our Plains agriculture, but if global warming is real, and Kansas is headed desertward, we're going to need a new one. That would be Saskatchewan. Our new Banana Belt.
Speaking of water, it may all be frozen up there, but we'll suck every last drop. Stand by, Los Angeles, Phoenix. Help is on the way. For decades, there have been large gray men in large gray suits walking around California with rolled up blue-print maps calculating how you would get Canadian water to the thirsty metropoli along the Mexican border. Be patient, guys. Just six more days.
Alberta? Absolutely, we'll take Alberta. Alberta's one of the greatest places on the planet. The beautiful weather Washington had last week? Air you can see through for a million miles? That's Alberta air. Alberta is also more American than most of America. The Calgary Stampede is the greatest rodeo in the world. Chair-swinging cowboy-bar fist fights are still a time-honored tradition. Alberta is Texas with snow-capped mountains and nice summers. It has energy reserves at Middle Eastern levels -- oil, gas, coal, oil shale, tar sands, uranium, all there for the taking -- at, ahem, world prices. The West Edmonton Mall is the world's largest. It includes an indoor wave-making swimming pool so large it offers surfing lessons. Don't you love these people already? Great Americans.
Of course, they're going to need a few guns. For some reason, the Canadian government has always opposed universally arming its society with concrete-block-breaking assault weapons. But the National Rifle Association will be only too happy to help fix that.
Oh, by the way. There's one thing we should explain, guys. It's about secession. We have a thing about that in the United States. If you want in, remember: You ever decide to change your mind, we don't do Meech Lake. We do Antietam.
British Columbia? Sure. No such thing as too much Pacific coastline. Nothing wrong with the Queen Charlotte Islands that some asphalt, McDonald's stands and people in polyester aloha shirts can't cure. Okay, what does that leave? Ontario.
Ontario is like a Maryland crab dinner. Lot of good stuff in there, but most of it you want to throw away. Let's see, we've already plucked off the Blue Jays and Niagara Falls.
First of all, in Ontario we want everybody who does not speak English. The only reason Toronto is no longer the dullest city on earth is that it is no longer full of Anglo-Canadians. It is full of Hong Kong Chinese. And not a few Italians. All those guys get to stay. As soon as they memorize the Pledge of Allegiance.
Some other things are more complicated. Do we want the Mounties? They've got a worse civil-liberties record than the FBI, no small accomplishment. But they do look magnificent at supermarket openings.
What about CBC radio and TV? Full of America-bashers who want their jobs protected. Nice nature specials, but isn't that what the National Geographic is for?
What about the Canadian money? The paper stuff is really cute, with all those colors. But on the other hand, we could save a bundle if we no longer had to build vending machines that reject Canadian quarters.
Kiss Ottawa goodbye. We've already got Albany.
The thing you have to understand about Ontario is that it is full of Canadians who are not only Anglos but Easterners. Anybody who says "ooout and abooout" is automatically suspect. These are the people who came up with the unlikely idea of Canada in the first place. They had to. They were on the losing side in the American Revolution. They could have created a nation with the industry of America, the government of England and the culture of France, and instead produced a place with the industry of England, the government of France and the culture of America.
Our founding document wishes for "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Theirs calls for "Peace, Order and Good Government." We don't have a lot of that in America. They might not like it here.
Anyway, the train is leaving the station, as we say here down under. Time to tuck that "Eh?" tic into your old kit bag. And figure out where you're headed.
By the way, where is Meech Lake? Do we want it?
Joel Garreau, a senior writer for The Washington Post and author of "The Nine Nations of North America" and the forthcoming "Edge City" (Doubleday), is the descendant of 10 generations of French Canadians.