Tanks a Lot
It was 15 November 2018. A cloudy day, +10C. Leaves had fallen all over my west side yard and the stairs down to the back deck for the first time since we moved in here. I mean, they fell every year but usually their falling was aided and abetted by a strong westerly wind which made sure they landed in a galaxy, far, far away, but not his year. This year a cold snap and a couple of calm days and just like the Monty Python sketch, first one, then all of them fell in one despair-driven mass suicide clump. Five bags I collected, just from the stairs and sidewalk.
I heard what I thought was a chopper go over. Looking up, expecting to see a CG red chopper I saw a Herc. A Herc on approach to, I assumed, the Niagara Falls Int’l Airport, home of the US Army National Guard. I imagined a conversation on the flight deck:
“So this is Canada.”
“Yep. Nice place. And on a clear day on this approach you can see both lakes, the river, the Falls. Everything.
“No one is shooting at us.”
“No. They’re our friends.”
“So far. Just wait.”
Then they were gone into the clouds.
I looked down the street to the east and saw, several hundred meters away, something I had seen before in other places, but always on a pedestal and never here on my street. A tank. A solitary tank. A big tank. It turned onto Ursula Ave and drove down the middle, having a difficult time navigating between the cars parked on each side – something everyday drivers had issues with – but by being real careful and real slow it made it to a clear area. It stopped about a hundred meters away from me. The hatch opened and a helmeted khaki dressed person stood up and looked around. I put down my rake, took off my gloves and walked towards it. I was the first to notice, I guess. I approached to Tiananmen Square position and distance. Expecting a Canadian flag to adorn it somewhere I was surprised to see a US Army logo.
“Hi.” I offered, arms in the ‘universal sign of peace’ position.
“Hi,” he offered with rifle in the ‘don’t fucking move’ position.
“What brings you to these parts?” I asked.
“He said invade, so we invaded.”
“Funny. Nothing on the news about this. You checked your phone?”
“Not allowed to. We got orders from command. A surprise attack.”
“Orders to invade Canada.”
“Canada? A surprise attack in a tank.”
“Yep. We all do our part.”
“So this is where they told you to sit?”
“Yep. Got a view of the whole city.”
“Yes. Better than last week.”
“Still not great.”
“Well, there’s a park at the end of the road. More room. To turn around and stuff. Watch out for the swings.”
“Oh yeah. There’s trees.”
“Well I guess I’ll stay here.”
“School bus will be along any minute.”
“You know how they can be.”
“Oh yeah. Trouble.”
“Well why don’t you pull ahead into the park. No one will ever know.”
“Naw. I better stay here.”
“Well don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
A door opened and my neighbor Pat hollered out, “What’s going on?”
“Invasion by the US.”
“Oh. OK. Thanks.” Pat went inside again.
Several people walking their dogs came by. They ignored me and the tank. I saw several faces peek from behind curtains. An elderly woman came out onto her step and yelled something. I had to go over closer to hear her. “Ask them if they want some tea.” I told her thanks but they looked like coffee drinkers. She went back inside.
A car came along and stopped behind the tank. After a few seconds a horn blew. Several times. Just toots, really.
“You better move. You’re in the worst possible place. You really should go down to the park.”
“Here comes the school bus.” The horn tooted again. “Now it begins.”
“Shit,” he said. He shouted something to the driver inside and then a “Look out” to me. I moved to the south side of the street. They worked the tank back and forth, gradually off the center, to the north side of the street.
The driver, a young lady, waved politely at the tank guys as she passed and pulled in a few houses down the street. The bus stopped in front of the tank. Three kids, phones in hand dismounted and ran to their respective homes, ignoring us and the tank.
“So you know anything about the Canadian military?” he asked, pointing the rifle away from me.
“How long before they show up?”
“I don’t know. The nearest full-time military unit is Trenton, across the lake.”
“I went to an air show there once. That’s a long drive.”
“Yeah. They don’t do that anymore. Besides, it’s all Air Force.”
“No way. Those effing briefing notes were wrong.”
The rifle disappeared somewhere inside. “You Leaf fans are all alike. Wouldn’t know a good hockey team if you saw one. Which you won’t, til the Sabres come to town.”
“Actually, I‘m a Canadiens fan. At least they know how to play the game. Usually. There is a Reserve Artillery Unit in town. But it’s Wednesday. They’ll be nobody there until Saturday and even then, maybe not.”
“Listen. This could be a long day. Why don’t you pull up in front of my house and park it and come in, all of you, come in for a coffee.”
“I dunno. Doesn’t seem right. The book says invasions are supposed to be met by opposition.”
“I know. But this thing is bigger than this street and it will be a long time before anyone cares enough to show up here. They can’t even get the snow off this street cause they don’t know we exist. You want attention you’ll have to go down to Glenridge Avenue and block the road. That’s what I’d do if wanted to create a fuss.”
“You babies. You don’t know what snow is.”
“You from Buffalo?”
“Oh yeah. Sorry.”
He disappeared inside and came back a minute later. “All right. Let’s do it.”
They parked in front of my house in the spot usually taken by neighbor Frankie, except he didn’t park on the sidewalk too, and all four of them, youngish guys, all from the Buffalo area came in. One had a man-pack radio. He left it by the door, volume turned way down and despite my insistence to the contrary they all took off their boots. Lucie made them coffee. Heather and Ceilidh came home, were a bit surprised, introduced themselves and then disappeared to their studying. We sat and looked out at the city as the light faded. They strained to make out the CN Tower and other features across the lake.
We ordered pizza.
Around eight thirty one of them came back from bathroom and held out his phone to the others. “It’s a joke. Someone in HQ sent out a text to all unit commanders saying the President had ordered an invasion of Canada. Ours is the only unit that responded.”
“Damn mouse movers!” someone offered. “Well, we should get back home,” the Boss suggested. Grumbles. I heard grumbles.
“Hey! Wouldn’t it be cool if the Leafs and Sabres were playing tonight?” I blurted.
We looked it up, “Well they’re not.”
“And the Canadiens are idle today too.”
We watched Cowboys and Aliens instead, on Netflix. None of them had seen it before.
They left at midnight.
One of them got Heather’s number.
This could still end well.