After a month abroad, reentry into American society is inevitably going to be experienced as a bad trip. Screaming children, lousy music, conspicuous patriotism and religiosity among one’s countrymen, time bled away in cars. The south shore of Long Island is no country for old Dharma Bums. I love the food, and the beaches, and the proximity to Manhattan — but this place that my extended family calls home is in most respects the cultural equivalent of a Superfund site. As I noted a few days ago, however, Eden remains in potentia all around us. That sense of possibility is the one worth keeping at the forefront of our collective imagination going forward. (Plus the sunsets here on the water these last few nights have been fabulous.)
Colored flags lift and flap in the air above a parking lot as I ease myself back into the patterns and rhythms of life in the United States. People here seem hard-shelled and prickly, the air between them charged with menace. But the sun is out. The sky is clear. Allowances have been made for potted plants and beleaguered trees amid rows upon rows of strip malls. Hulks with tattoos order breakfast sandwiches at deli counters, but birds still sing outdoors, despite idling motorists, in the silences between waves of traffic. Next thing I know, we’re in crisis mode: an afternoon visit to a pool thrown into disarray when a nephew bangs his head on a diving board while attempting a back flip. Within a few hours, he’s back home with eight staples in his head playing Fortnite on his Nintendo Switch.
Aggro roadways, Trump paraphernalia, landscapes crusted with ill-gotten wealth: up from these like a seagull I rise and take flight. Goodbye America, and good riddance. The mere fact of you bankrupts the world of justice. No theodicy could ever correct your persistence there on the other side of the Atlantic, burning the earth, melting the poles, laying waste to all prior ways of being. Yet here I am, a product of this spoiled history: an American abroad.