This weekend, Jim and I found ourselves in a piano bar in the “New York, New York” casino in Las Vegas. The two piano players were working the crowd pretty hard, not playing any songs in full unless they got paid. The going rate seemed to be about $20 per song early on, increasing as the night went on.
At one point, someone requested err bought “Proud to be an American”, and the lead player stirred the crowd up:
Piano player #1: Who here is American?
Piano player #1: Who’s proud to be an American?
Piano player #1: Everybody else, well I guess you’re unintelligible.
I didn’t understand what he said, but it sounded lightly derogatory. I thought that was a shame, that it might make the non-Americans uncomfortable.
I was thus very happy and proud of my husband when he filled out a request card (accompanied by the requisite $20) that said, “Please play O, Canada in honor of Canada Day.” I thought that was a nice gesture to our friends up north who have been so nice to us.
When the request percolated to the top of the pile, however, the lead player played it to the crowd as an affront to the United States. I was stunned. He then made some deragatory comments about Canada’s military, implying, “You better not insult the U.S. because the U.S. could go kick Canada’s ass any day.”
The lead player quickly got someone to pay up $40 to play The Star-Spangled Banner. Player #2 played “good cop”, and got Player #1 to agree to play O, Canada if Canada would pony up $41.
We didn’t bite. Partly because I had a suspicion that the price for O, Canada would get raised indefinitely, but mostly because this was never intended to be a competition! Jim got the request card and wrote, “This is an American game” and we left. (I thought he should have taken his $20 back, but he didn’t.)
I wonder if they understood his comment. They probably took it as meaning, “This game is rigged in favor of Americans, so I can’t win, so I won’t bother trying to compete.” Instead, what he meant was, “Competing like this is something Americans do. Canadians do not value one-upmanship.”
As we left, they were singing God Bless America. I think from now until forever, when I hear people say, “God bless America”, in my head, I’m going to hear them saying, “God bless America, but fuck every other country.”
I thought about writing a disappointed letter to the casino management, but Jim pointed out that the piano players were just playing to the crowd — that they simply reflected the sentiments of the crowd.
P.S. I later realized that incident in the bar revealed not one, but two ugly things. Not only does American patriotism exclude any respect for other countries, but in America, everything is for sale.