[Disclaimer: You are about to consume the ramblings of an extremely jetlagged personage. But I won’t make excuses.]
I’m spending this month of July in the US. It’ll be my first summer month spent in Oregon in… I can’t remember how long. Years. And my first 4th of July on US soil in ages.
Channeling the inner Lady Gaga here:
Oh say does tha-aaat star span-gled ba-ne-ehrrrrr yet waa-aaaaave….
O’er the la-andnd of the freee-eee and the ho-ooome of the gaaaaaaayyyyyy…..
I mean, brave. Spending the fourth at home on American soil in the place where you grew up gets you contemplative. It’s funny to be an expat—
Love it or leave it, dem Americans cry shrilly and I think, yeah, you fucking said it.
Couldn’t love it so I left it.
I voted with my feet.
All those people who threaten to move to Canada? That was me. (Except not Canada. I don’t like maple syrup that much.]
I said, if I can have it better somewhere else, I’ll do that. I moved away from America years ago without ever looking back. I miss my family; I miss the place where I grew up; I miss buying Slurpees and Mexican food, but it was the right decision for me.
When I come back though, especially now in the summer, especially during the 4th of July time, I see the beauty of it. That’s what exile does—you see everything that is fucked up more clearly, but you also see the beauty.
We walked last night in the city with my cousin A. He’s pretty much the embodiment of some great American spirit. I want to clone him and repopulate the states with his clones. Funny, friendly, capable. Smart. Talk no shit and take no shit. He parks his car in the industrial area and we walk across the Hawthorn Bridge to get into Portland. On the riverfront below, a couple is getting married on the very pier where they filmed ‘The Dream of the 90s’ song from Portlandia.
Though my Portland was more the one Gus Van Sant showed in “My Own Private Idaho”. Rainy and a little derelict, with fragile hustlers hanging in the damp shadows. My Portland had River Pheonix and Keanu Reeves falling asleep in each other’s arms by the deer statue downtown…
A and I walk now into the big Starbucks on Pioneer Square (apparently the first time A has ever been in a Starbucks in his entire life o_o) and ahead of us, a street kid with a beautiful neck, burnt shoulders and jeans split and rotted up to his knees collects his paper cup of Tall mild. He pays with change all smaller than quarters.
A spits: This fucking Starbucks. Just a bunch of people seeing Paris Hilton with her stupid little dog and her stupid latte and saying I need a little dog now and I need blonde hair now and I need a cup of Starbucks. Well fuck Paris Hilton, fuck her dog and fuck Starbucks!!
I grin at him: I won’t judge you for your guns if you won’t judge me for my Starbucks.
We walk downtown with our fucking Starbucks, bums folding in for the night in doorways and clubs with crooning folk music streaming out. The people here look more interesting than people in Munich—they dress like the would take a risk.
We talk about what is wrong. What went wrong. America is like the relative you hush hush about in another room. Remember the times before he went crazy? We talk about guns—the gun issue—A tells me about this family incident I’d never even heard about. Apparently on one of his previous stays at my house (A hails from California) he’d shown my dad his gun and my mom had walked into the room with my dad holding a gun. Ape shit is a serious understatement. She started screaming at him in Hungarian so A said he hadn’t a bleeding clue what she was yelling at my dad. At some point though, his eyes welled up (my dad’s, not my cousin’s).
He says now, I have no idea what she said or why she went off like that. I told her later I was really sorry I had ever showed him the gun, and that I wasn’t trying to get him into this shit, he had just asked to see it—and that she shouldn’t talk to him like that in front of me. I just don’t want to see that.
I tell him, you gotta understand, a lot of Europeans just can’t ever understand this gun craze. They believe it is one of the prime symptoms, if not diseases, in American culture. For my dad to be holding a gun… to her, it was probably like he had become as sick as the country.
Andy shrugs. I know it sounds fucked up, he says. But this is what our country is founded on. The right to bear arms, the right to liberty and happiness. The right to freedom.
I say, Freedom? You can’t even drink a beer on the street here. That’s the problem. People are under the illusion, the delusion, that they are more free than any other people in the world. And that’s just not true. It’s fucking 2013 and they’re still arguing about whether or not a woman has a right to her body or not—this a country where people get followed and shot—in the name of self defense!
I feel bad saying shit like this the day before 4th of July. Like dissing Jesus before Christmas. A sighs, he tells me I’m right in some ways—people in the US are NOT free. But, he goes on, when you’ve been fed this your whole life, you believe it. You WANT to believe it. And you want to keep your guns to fight for it.
Me: America has more military power than the next ten or whatever countries combined, and people want to fight an unjust government with handguns?
Andy: At least I’ll have tried.
There is a humbleness and a beauty in that last statement. At least I’ll have tried. I feel humbled… and shut up.
I don’t want to bring up another gun control convo I had once, with an ex boss in the sushi bar I worked at. You shoot a lot of shit making sushi for sheer boredom. He said to me:
Do you know that your country (as in the US) would die the moment war ended all over in the world? Because it is a country that can only survive by pushing guns and weapons and violence around the globe. That is the only industry left in America. No wonder every American is so crazy about guns, the government must push this rhetoric because it is how they stay alive. How does that make you feel?
I tell him, they won’t ever remove guns though, because of the constitution. It’s a right of the people.
So what, he rolls his eyes. Another Americanism that baffles foreigners sometimes is this morbid obsession with the Constitution.
So what if it says that, he says, just change it. And lately, I feel that way too.
Fuck Paris Hilton, fuck her dog and fuck the constitution. The cornerstone in the architecture of plastic freedom.
Separation of church and state? Hell no. The constitution has achieved a place in most Americans’ minds that is BEYOND Biblical. You’d think Jeezy Chreezy himself had written those Bill of Rights, not a pack of racist white guys. But A and I aren’t talking about guns anymore, so I don’t say anything. You shouldn’t blaspheme on the fourth. And I can stop my mouth, but I can’t stop my brain.
Love it or leave it, so I left it. I want to love it still, I feel the urge to love, it can be so hard though, to love something you cannot understand.
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