Read an excerpt from Whimsy State
In Whimsy State, or the Principality of Outer Baldonia, A.J. Demers imagines what it was like when three fishermen declared independence from Canada on a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1948. Yes, this is absolutely based on a true story! The fishermen went on to create their own Outer Baldonia identities, currency, and laws, and even eventually declared war on the USSR. Whimsy State is full of laughs as we meet the three fishermen and see what kind of rum-fuelled history-making shenanigans they get into.
In this excerpt, we first see Flo, the secretary of Russell Arundel, an American lawyer who bought Outer Bald Tusket Island while on vacation in Nova Scotia. Then Russ and his fishermen friends Ron and Elson have a few drinks and make a big jump from discussing fishing regulations to operating their own principality!
SCENE THREE: FLO
Russell Arundel’s small outer office in Washington, DC. Florence McGinnis, Mr. Arundel’s secretary, is sitting very straight at her desk, which is impeccably clean and organized. FLO is filing her nails until the phone rings and she answers.
Flo: The office of Russell Arundel, barrister and solicitor, Florence McGinnis speaking, how may I be of service to you? I am sorry but Mr. Arundel is not in at the present moment. No, I am afraid that he will not be in tomorrow either. No. No. Mr. Arundel spends much of the summer at his resort chalet on his private island in Canada. Yes, it is a wonder how anything gets done. Yes. Yes. I agree with you completely, but since the completion of his chalet we have hardly seen him this summer. No. Yes. No. No. Well I suspect that he will return sometime in September after he is done with his fishing sabbatical for this year. It would be best if you call back then. Thank you.
SCENE FOUR: DRINKING WITH THE PRINCE
RON and ELSON are sitting inside the stone hut with a roaring fire burning. The floor is littered with beer cans, rum bottles, sardine cans, and general garbage. The three men are drinking rum. RUSS is sitting near the fire and reading a Yarmouth Herald. RON is in the middle of telling a fishing story. The three of them start out tipsy and drink throughout the scene to the point of drunkenness.
Ron: . . . and it had to be seven feet from fin to tail, and that would make it thirteen, fourteen foot easy—
Elson: A fourteen-foot bluefin? In these waters?
Ron: Yeah!!! I was bringing it in nice, slow, right easy ’cause I knew it was gunna be the biggest anyone’d ever seen—
Elson: You knew?
Ron: Yeah. I knew. Could feel it on the line. Now it was the kinda day you dream of, sun, a few clouds to keep you cool, a little light breeze. It wouldn’t have matter a’tall if I’d a bite or not ’cause a day like that you’d sit for hours. But then, then the breeze suddenly died and everything went still. Creepy still. No wind, no waves, the line slacked off like . . . like . . .
Elson: Like my interest in this story?
Ron: No. It’s like everything just held its breath. So I started to reel in. Light at first, just to test it, and then a little more and a little more. Right easy. Clouds seemed t’disappear and the sun on the back of my neck was burning but I didn’t take a hand off the rod, and then just as I thought I’s bringing her in—boom—the wind come up. And then that line pulled again. Harder than ever. Sweet humpbacked Jesus it pulled. It pulled and the line started to smoke so’s I couldn’t see the rod in my hands. And that fish was running so hard I thought the chair’d pull right off the deck. Then waves started t’crash and the sky turned heavy and black.
Elson: And the story turned thick and full of bull—
Ron: The bolts on the chair groaned against the deck plates, the hull sighed and popped. The rain tore in sideways from nowheres. It was like the ocean itself was pulling against the line . . . and the line was pulling out fast as I ever seen, the fish pulling and pulling, pulling like . . . like . . . like a devil fish—
Elson: A devil fish?
Ron: Look, would ya stop interrupting? You’re worse than Ma.
Elson: It’s just that—
Ron: D’you want to hear this story or not?!
Russ: I’ll drink to your devil fish.
Elson: If I want to hear fairy tales, I can listen to my daugh- ter’s bedtime stories.
Russ: Drink to the fish.
Ron: We listen to your stories.
Elson: Yeah, but I catch fish.
Russ: To the devil fish!!
Elson: But it’s just—
Russ: To the fish!!
Ron: The fish!!
They raise their glasses—ELSON reluctantly.
Elson: The fish.
Russ: The size of the fish doesn’t really matter. What matters is the size of the story, and I think that’s one hell of a story.
Ron: Here here.
RUSS and RON drink.
Elson: It’s just—
Elson: I just—
ELSON goes to speak
Elson: Sorry. Get so much naggin’ back home it must rub off on a person.
Elson: Aw hell. It was a good story. But if we’re drinking to a devil fish we’re going to need more rum.
He drinks down his rum and gets up to get another bottle.
Russ: That’s the spirit.
ELSON pours new rum.
Elson: To no more nagging.
Russ: Now here’s a story I can’t believe.
Russ: Your government. The federal government is going to open fishing rights up off the coast here to the Spanish.
Ron: They can’t do that.
Elson: Let me see that.
ELSON grabs the paper and reads.
Wouldn’t wipe my arse with that paper.
Ron: Can they do that?
Elson: Course they can! When I was writing for the Breton Post all I covered was corruption—
Ron: Upper Canada!! Ever since Confederation they been stickin’ it to us—
Elson: No one thinks about those of us that use the water, and the province won’t lift a goddamn finger. This is gunna destroy fishing for the rest of us. Those big boats are gunna come in here and—
Ron: Commercial fishin’? You’re talking commercial fishin’?
Elson: Yah. Commercial fishing. Nets and trawlers and big boats stinking up the place.
Russ: It’s inevitable. Economics and progress.
Elson: I’ll give them progress right in the—
Ron: Province’s going down the shitter.
Elson: Everywhere’s the same. Give people power and they’ll abuse it?
Ron: I don’t know. We could make better decisions on our own.
Elson: Course we could.
Ron: (inhales affirmatively) Yah.
Elson: Course we could.
Ron: If we ran the country we’d make sure that those Spanish didn’t come around here with their nets and their trawlers and their . . . their bullfighting—
Russ: Now that’s a damn good idea.
Ron: What is? Bullfighting?
Russ: No, no, no. But you’ve got it right.
Ron: I was just saying—
Russ: We should form our own country? Separate.
Russ: Yeah and then we could make all the rules.
Ron: Ha. Ha. Yah!! That would be great. No taxes. Or regulations. Let’s do it.
Russ: And no fishing rights for the Spanish!!
Ron: And no bullfighting. Poor damn bulls. Down with bullfighting, up with sport fishing!!!
Russ: Here. Here.
Elson: Wish it could happen, but Nova Scotia would never separate—
Russ: No, no, not Nova Scotia. Us.
Ron: What do you mean?
Russ: I don’t mean Nova Scotia. I mean us. Our island. Outer Baldy here.
Ron: Can we do that?
Russ: No people ever found freedom without strife and struggle, but I say that we the citizens of this island declare ourselves a unique and separate nation.
Elson: You can’t do that.
Russ: Why not? People have been declaring themselves free from dictators since the dawn of time. Free from the oppressors who give away our fishing rights. Free from madmen and villainy. Free to be . . . free.
Ron: So how do we separate?
Russ: We put it to a vote.
Ron: Just set up a country on our own?
Russ: Well we’re going to need a two-thirds majority just to make things proper and official.
Elson: Ah. What the hell. Aye!!
Russ: It’s unanimous then. I declare this island the newly formed state of Outer Baldonia. To Baldonia!!
Elson: But do we have to be a “state”? It sounds too political. I don’t want to be too political.
Ron: The Federation of Outer Baldonia!!
Elson: Too conservative.
Ron: The Commonwealth of Outer Baldonia?
Elson: Too . . . liberal.
Ron: How ’bout a republic?
Elson: Too touchy-feely.
Ron: Grand Duchy?
Russ: What about the Principality of Outer Baldonia?
Elson: Yah!! Ron: Yah!!
Elson: Okay, who gets to be the prince?
Russ: All of us! We’ll all be princes!
Ron: Prince Ron.
Elson: Well we’ll still need someone in charge or all hell’ll break loose.
Ron: Should we take a vote? Make it official?
Elson: Russ bought the island, so I nominate him.
Ron: I second that nomination.
Elson: All in favour?
Ron: Aye! Elson: Aye!
Elson: That’s a two-thirds majority. All hail Prince Russell, Prince of Princes.
Russ: Well. Well thank you, and I must say that I accept this honour in the spirit in which it was given. And as my first act as head of state I declare Prince Elson Boudreau as High Chancellor of Outer Baldonia with all the rights and freedoms therein, and Prince Ron Wallace I name as Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary.
Ron: Plenty potent airy? . . . Wha?
Russ: It’s a diplomatic agent invested with full power or authority to transact business on behalf of our fair motherland.
Elson: Means you buy the groceries.
Ron: Oh. Okay.
Elson: Well, your lordship, what is the next order of business?
Russ: More rum.
Elson: Hoorah for the Prince of Princes.
Russ: We shall notify Her Majesty’s government that the independent nation of Baldonia officially recognizes the sovereign nation of Canada and pledges to support our sister nation and closest neighbour in the event of dire disaster. However! Baldonia must declare that the fishing rights in the coastal waters off Baldonia belong solely to the fishermen—
Ron: Ah! Admirals. At sea can we be admirals?
Russ: So ordered. Admirals.
Ron: Admiral. (inhales affirmatively)
Russ: But there should be something more to show off our greatness and naval power.
Ron: (grabbing his belly) Ah yes, navel power.
Elson: How about four-star admirals?
Ron: We’re better than four stars. How about five-star admirals.
Elson: Six-star admirals!
Russ: Eight stars! And not a star less for you two fine princes.
Elson: Well then I guess as commander in chief you should be a nine-star admiral.
Ron: Here. Here.
Russ: Graciously accepted. And we declare that the fishing rights belong to the admirals—
Ron: Thank you, oh prince.
Russ: And that all Spanish are hereby banned from our waters except in cases wherein they will be admitted for the sole purposes of sport fishing and/or drinking and carousing, et al., et al., etc., etc., et al. In perpetuity.
Elson: Agreed. Ron: Agreed.
Ron: And no bullfighting!!
Russ: So decreed. My good peers, we have entered into a grand day. A new light has risen in the night sky and its name is Baldonia. From this day forth let all men who enjoy freedom—
Ron: And fishin’.
Russ: And fishing be forever guided by the leading line that we fine princes set forth. Now I entreat you all to pass the bottle and let us drink to the Principality of Outer Baldonia, may she always prevail.
SCENE FIVE: CBC
Voice-over: (with some static) CBC Radio Trans-Canada Network. News from Halifax. Three fishermen on a small island some sixteen miles off the coast of Yarmouth have declared independence from Canada. The tiny hopeful kingdom is only three acres and declared independence only ten short months ago but has already extended a diplomatic olive branch to Canada. The three princes as they are known have written a formal letter recognizing Canada as an independent state. The tiny island nation has also issued a royal proclamation banning all commercial fishing and bullfighting in their waters. For CBC I’m—
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