Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/the-big-and-easy
long to return to America but didn’t always. How do I know I long for it? Because I dream about it incessantly. And here in Florida when I step outside the office where I’m working, or the home where I’m staying, I feel a joy of a doubleness, that I am both real and yet doing precisely what I am so overjoyed to be doing in dreams: walking a quintessentially American street or campus.
It wasn’t always this way; back in 1995 a seminal moment was at Aaron’s place in Florentin, the south Tel Aviv neighborhood. He had a roof flat then and as I looked north to nearby Shalom Tower I said to myself and anyone who’d listen that this is the skyscraper I want to see out my window, not the Empire State Building. That sounds a bit bizarre to me now, but it’s true. I did feel it. Or at the very least, I said I felt it. In fact I got an inkling of that feeling again half an hour ago, as the possibility has arisen that I could indeed get back here to stay, and briefly I stepped out of longing-to-be-here mode and into actually-being-here mode. Suddenly the things I find endearing as a visitor I suspected would soon become unendurable. The gold decals on the backs of cars, a tackiness one simply does not see anywhere else in the western world. The blandness of the way people dress (ghastly words like “slacks” and “chinos” come to mind). The horror that is the typical cup of coffee. The fact that it’s aesthetically acceptable to be encompassed by stripmalls and to drive everywhere for everything (though obviously that is not the case in places such as Manhattan and San Francisco).
But there is much more here than the merely endearing. The housing is so spacious and humane, so big and easy. There is an aesthetic that I love and find beautiful, a norm of proportions. I don’t really understand why I find this beautiful, and I can completely understand why a European would find it atrocious. There’s an ad running on British TV for BMI Airlines which consists mainly of a very happy and satisfied man driving in the rain through a nondescript badlands American street, traffic lights hung from poles, wooden electricity pylons, that really captures the pleasure I’m talking about. It’s not just an ad campaign, it’s real (which is why it’s such a good ad). And yes, how bad the ads are here, if I want to add to the litany. How it’s considered looking good to appear to be a waxy plastic effigy of a human being. How they are obsessed with having everything be low-fat and yet all are fat. Yes, the usual litany.
But America is best for the immigrants, for those who have to work to get to it, rather than those born into it and have their spirit killed by the blandness and ease, thinking that this is the way things are, rather than a relatively recent achievement.
I speak meaningless cliches. I can’t really pinpoint the feelings to convey them, perhaps because they are so personal and meaningless, merely the emotional effect of having had so many dreams of being here. And yet I was here for five whole years, a time plenty long enough at the age I was to feel like forever. Obviously I stopped dreaming of walking in America when I always walked in America. What were those dreams replaced with?
Perhaps that’s all it comes down to. It’s like sex: When I’m here I am released from dreaming about here, and that allows me to dream about something, anything else.
The moon is shining through these tropical September clouds, directly above a neighbor’s palm tree, and it’s completely full. An airplane is landing at the nearby airfield. The little waterfalls in the garden are falling around me. The kids have gone to Blockbuster to get a movie, from air-conditioned house to car to store and back again. I’m wondering how long after the delicious chicken in oyster sauce dinner I will wait before breaking out the Ben & Jerry’s Heath Bar Crunch. Suddenly I am not lethargic and exhausted. It’s not just writing this; it’s sitting outside. People around these parts are almost never outdoors. Nor do they drink coffee, and when they do, it’s barely coffee. They’re able to function this way but I can’t. I’m working under the assumption that the air within the office, since there are no windows (really!) is deoxygenated, hence my lethargy. Back at Tichborne St my office window is always open, always. Adam’s windows—we never close.
I can’t help but feel a little European smugness and superiority here. I’m trying not to, but for the first time I can understand why Europeans look down a tad on Americans. Their stage is grand and magnificent, as are their achievements and ambitions, but daily life seems lamed by a compulsive denaturing.
The last time I felt I observed a lack of human dignity was in Italy, visiting Hilary at a seaside town in Tuscany, watching an older man park his car. Everything seemed cramped, shoddy. Here I intimate something similar but caused by very different reasons. The La Quinta hotel next to the office. It’s a cheap hotel but no doubt spotlessly clean and more spacious and decently appointed than a European hotel would be at three times the price. And yet there’s something sad about it.
I ramble, unable to reach what I mean, perhaps because what I mean is an almost meaningless jumble of contradictory thoughts that are less thoughts than incomplete attempts to label fleeting tumbling emotions.