Happy Birthday America, you don’t look a day over two hundred fifty years old. I know that it’s a couple of weeks late, but sometimes, I can barely remember my own birthday.
Now, I know I should be waving a flag like every other person, and that’s all well and good. But sometimes, I can’t help but wonder. I wonder if all the fighting we’re doing is honestly worth it. I mean, not so much with the invading of countries, covert and otherwise. Wait, maybe I do mean that.
Let me start over…
Every so often, I need reassurance. And not what the nightly news spoon feeds me, I’m talking about the honest to goodness, first hand witnessed accounts. I need some, any indication that we as Americans aren’t the complete scum of the universe. Spreading Democracy across the globe to the areas that need it sounds like a great idea. On paper. But it hardly translates into a ‘thank you’ when on the day they announce US troop withdrawal from Iraq, they celebrate by blowing up yet another car bomb in a crowded market in Kirkuk. Maybe it was a going away present; one for the road, as it were. Spreading Democracy across the globe to the areas that need it sounds like a great idea, like Catholicism. Democracy might be a little easier to swallow if it were offered by a true Democracy, rather than a Republic shoving it down their throats with a business end of an M4 assault rifle.
Here’s the thing, I hate feeling like this. I hate being bullied into feeling patriotic. I hate feeling that if I’m against the war in Iraq, I’m a flag-burning, dope smoking, sandal wearing, tree hugging Liberal, and that’s just not true.
I have never burned a flag.
I hate feeling like I’m anti-American as soon as I ask questions or criticize. I hate the possibility that a big black van can come for me at any minute, and I could be erased from existence in a matter of seconds. Maybe it’s because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool “Blue Stater” who is living in a “Red[neck]” state.
Or maybe I’m giving myself a little too much credit.
For a moment, I thought about not posting this part and going straight to the point of what I’m blogging about. But then I thought that self-censure is about as un-American as not taking the time to actually write about it.
On the other hand, that was never my intent. I am American. I know I am. I can feel it in my bones. I can taste it in every cheap, greasy cheeseburger I shove down my throat. I can smell it in the exhaust fumes from the piece of shit Chevy idling in front of me at a stoplight. My point is, every time I start thinking like I just spent 48 hours straight of being brainwashed by Fox News Channel, and I should feel guilty if I’m not waving Old Glory from the moment I wake up to the minute I hit the pillow. Every time I start to Redneck up, I have to pause.
I have to wonder if the rest of the world thinks we’re all Ugly Americans. I have to know how our tattered foreign policy is faring. I need some, any indication that being American ain’t so bad. So far, this is what I have…
Many years ago, a friend of mine was waiting at the airport. Not for a ride. She was the ride. She was hosting an exchange student that year from Saudi Arabia. My friend was a Phi Beta Kappa, so as would be expected, she spent the better part of a week polishing her greeting; practicing in the mirror, familiarizing herself with custom, maybe rehearsing a greeting in Arabic. The student she was hosting was female. Not that the fact that she was female has anything to do with anything, but among the countless other attributes that my friend possessed, she was a Feminist. So that means along with an open mind and open heart, there had to have been a tiny, hidden ember of rage burning inside her. Somewhere. A tiny glowing ember being tended by the reality of oppression.
The day came. As the story was presented to me, and as predicted, she was still nervous, still reciting and practicing. Now, which airport she was being picked up at, I’m not quite sure, but it was a major hub. Since we both resided in the Northeast, I’m going with Boston International; with its expensive franchise restaurants and gleaming monuments to Capitalism like au bon pain and the now extinct Sharper Image. The day came, and she was talking to herself as passengers deplaned. Her guest wasn’t difficult to spot, she was the one whose every distinguishable feature was erased by a burka, save for her eyes. Somebody, somewhere is blowing on an ember.
There she was, fresh from the desert. Although she was standing as still as possible while her husband/father/patriarchal figure gesticulated some sort of laundry list of rules, the darting flashes from her eyes where as impatient as a thoroughbred waiting for that post-time bugle. My friend kept her distance until the man turned around and got back on the plane.
Soon it was down to business. My friend and the exchange student took their first steps toward each other, their hands extended, those first tentative smiles creeping to their lips. “Hello. Welcome to America.” Was the paraphrased line my friend wanted to tell her, but all that came out was, “Hello. Welcome toooaaaAAAHH!..” Immediately, the exchange student grasped my friend’s wrist and dragged her to the nearest GAP with the urgency of a parent finding a place to reprimand a child in a public place.
“Um. Okay. Soooo…?” The apparent confusion of my friend was not enough to deter her new guest as she tore through stacks of perfectly folded blue jeans, looking for that perfect pair. Once her quarry was found, the burka on a mission flew to the nearest dressing room. What emerged a few minutes later was no longer a shapeless apparition, but a woman. A woman of form, of shape, of flesh and bone. A woman who was beaming; tears of joy streaming down her cheek as she did a happy dance in front of a mirror, as if she hasn’t seen herself before. And more than likely, she probably hasn’t. Thank you, America, for making blue jeans synonymous with freedom in the world vernacular.
“So hey, I was wondering,” her voice squeaked while she talked. Not that she was a Betty-Boop type of character. Far from it. She towered, and if form followed shape, her alto fit. She just squeaked. It was one of those relationships where there was nothing there. I have no idea why it lasted as long as it did. (Actually, that’s not true, of course I do. She was a screaming hottie.) “if you weren’t doing anything this weekend, maybe you could come to my parents’ vacation home and hang out.” The squeaking almost became excusable, almost tolerant at the thought of a weekend full of sumpn’ sumpn’ in every room of her parents’ vacation home. That is, until she threw a cold, wet wool blanket onto my raging, red hot kinkfest by continuing with, “My sister and her fiance will be there too.” I have no idea why it lasted as long as it did. Okay, so maybe my convictions weren’t as strong back then and yeah, I did most of my thinking with another head. But I swear, this girl goes on and on and on about nothing. Every night. I don’t want another night of talking about the same old peccadilloes, let alone a whole weekend loaded with it. Sweet Jesus on a cracker I need to end it now, and do something a little more constructive (or destructive) with my life. End it now.
So I’m at the vacation home, and I’m thinking to myself that I just saw a sign post that read, “Welcome to Nowhere. If you lived here, you’d be home by now.” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a weekend getaway every so often, but having it in a familiar area of this galaxy would have been a whole lot better. Sure, she always seemed to me to come from Cape Cod or Hamptons stock, but the area that I’m driving in, I swear I just saw a mongoloid child in overalls tuning up his banjo.
Loitering was my pastime of choice before I became a father. My haunts of choice usually involved establishments that sold movies, music or books, which meant that more than likely, I wound up at Barnes & Noble. I loved hanging out in their music section. Sure, their prices were outrageous, but they made up for it by offering titles that I thought never existed, titles that I thought were out of print and of course, import titles.
Although I tried differently, I found it best to go in without a specific item in mind. If I entered this domain with a certain title, I would be sorely disappointed when I couldn’t find it, and then I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. On the other hand, if I went in totally clueless with what I was looking for, then I loitered like a kid in a candy shop. Albeit, an older kid.
So there I was, poking around in the Blues section, not looking for anything in particular, when I catch the conversation over my shoulder:
“Are you all set sir? I can take you over here.” I’m only half paying attention to this transaction. I’m not caring, yet it’s grabbing my attention more than the Blues section. The person that stepped up to the register was a rather stocky and silent Black guy with a rather tall stack of Cd’s. “Did you find everything you were looking for?” continued the register jockey. The lack of response led me to conclude that he only nodded in the affirmative. Several computer bleeps later, and she continued. ” That will be $120.36.” The man reaches into his backpack for his wallet. “Wow,” said the jockey, “you must really like Gospel music.” His response was exactly what I wanted to hear. His response influenced this blog entry. “Yes,” he said almost in a whisper, “we can’t get this music back home.”
“Oh really? Where are you from?”
“Lancashire, England.” He produced his passport to help pay with travelers’ cheque.
“Oh yes,” she said,”I see.”
“…we can’t get music like this back home“. I never got over that. Surely they have music shoppes in Merry Old England, and I’m sure if you were on the hunt for something in particular, you can find it. But imported American music? Does the extent of the genre cut off at Country Music (I wonder if Line Dancing is still popular over there)? I imagined underground enclaves of Christians in England singing Hallelujah the way it’s supposed to be sang like Eddie Izzard once pointed out. I imagined secret meetings of men and women getting together after their incognito revivals and wondering what they’ll be singing next week. Underground joy. The mind reels. Thank you America for being an influence in the best possible manner. Thank you for encouraging and manufacturing joy. Whenever possible.
Surely, it comes as no surprise as far as American music goes. The French may detest the sight of us whenever we order in their restaurants, but they’ll bend over backwards for a copy of the latest Jay-Z album. The French love American Hip-Hop as much as Germans love David Hasselhoff. Not surprising considering they’ve had a taste for American music since the Thirties and earlier, where they couldn’t get enough Jazz. Also,If you’re a band that’s set to be put out to pasture here in the states, there’s always Japan. They’ll always love you (btw Japan, you can return Tom Waits whenever you’re ready. That didn’t come out right. I didn’t mean that Tom Waits is done. Far from it. I just want this album reissued or something. Please?).
Japan and we have had a congenial trading of influences over the years as far as film goes. We make the Western, they reply with The Seven Samurai. We have Walt Disney, they respond with Osamu Tezuka. We wait with baited breath as children for the latest Star Blazers episode to come out…
They gather at friends’ houses to watch bootlegged episodes of South Park.