Meanwhile, Back In The States…

29Jun08

If anyone has been wondering why I haven’t conjured any new posts for the past week, well it wasn’t just the usual laziness or sleep deprivation. No no. As it turns out, I was out of country. Stateside. Braving the confines south-of-the-border style, living it up in the land of Bush-Cheney and painting New England red. Or something along those lines. Did I have a good time? Yes I did. Connecticut is an alright place. The people are friendly: I found myself in pleasant conversation with strangers more than once and actually witnessed folks holding doors for other bipeds. All in all, the trip was a generally pleasant experience. The bad? Well, I discovered that Rolling Rock’s pleasing aesthetic extends no further than the outside of the lovely green bottle… sure, that painted-on label and blurb about tendering “this premium beer for your enjoyment” sounds all fine and dandy, but it does nothing to disguise the fact that this beer smells and tastes like a week-old blend of rotten vegetables and dishwater.

I also discovered that a city the size of New York is not for me. Dang. I mean, I can see the appeal… I think. But I’d need more than a day in order to fully grasp its magnitude. Experiencing such a place as the average tourist really does the city no justice. One day in NYC is akin to going to a Chinese buffet, gorging oneself on sweet and sour chicken balls within the first five minutes, then spending the rest of the time there in a daze of nausea and regret, cursing Chinese cuisine when, really, all you had was a dumbed-down, highly mediated version of the the genuine article. Harlem was cool, with Lenox Avenue and the Apollo, but the rest of it just seemed like a giant mall full of the same people you’d see at a mall anywhere else in North America. Same stores, same skinny-jean-clad people, but with more filth, odour and garish sidewalk signs. I’ve heard this lament from longtime NYC residents — that the Guiliani/Bloomberg New York is a whitewashed Disneyfied representation of its former self catering purely to Wall Street’s interests, but I really can’t say, having never been to the old New York. So who knows? But I would have liked to have made a pilgrimage to CBGB’s while it was still open.

Late to the party as ever.

So, we rode around on a tour bus for most of the day, looking at objects high above and far below, with billboards as the only eye-level attraction. All in all it was sort of disappointing, but I don’t really know what I was expecting.

I was simply ill-prepared for the sheer scale of a city that large. I mean, I found Montreal sort of imposing at first, but quickly adjusted to my surroundings. With New York, I was in a perpetual state of vertigo at every intersection, met with rows of buildings in every direction for as far as the eye could see, stacks of brick and limestone extending to hazy infinity as though a couple of demigods got into a stacking contest and didn’t know when to quit. The architecture was interesting, with fine examples of both gothic and art-deco, but after five or six hundred examples of anything it all starts to look the same.

And oh! The urban sprawl. We took the train in from New Haven and the concrete became interminable as far as an hour and a half outside New York City. Strip malls, housing projects, overpasses, terminal-grey office towers, billboards and landfills — all of which one would expect in an area with such saturated population density.

But expectation and reality make such different impressions, do they not?

Other than the big apple, the biggest impression made upon me by this country was the change in bumper stickers since last year. Sure, there were still the occasional Bush-Cheney leftovers from last election, but for the most part there seemed to be a major shift in the adhesive sentiment of New Englanders. For every “Support Our Troops” sticker, I observed two or three of the “End This War” variety and even a few peace symbols scattered here and there. In fact, I see way more yellow ribbons around here on a daily basis than I did anywhere in New England, although this may have something to do with the disproportionate number of Maritimers currently being killed in Afghanistan, as well as the fact that one of the biggest military bases in Canada is located mere kilometers from where I currently sit. Regardless, I found these discrepancies to be rather unexpected.

Of course, Afghanistan and Iraq are two completely different situations (since, you know, they are also two completely different countries), but there is seemingly no mention of Afghanistan south of the border, despite the fact that US troops make up the majority of the international contingent currently deployed there. Bigger fish to fry, apparently.

But Americans don’t limit themselves to bumper stickers. They’ve really taken to hanging banners off overpasses — something I don’t recall seeing last time I was there. There were banners of all stripe: the usual POW-MIA, the genuinely touching “welcome home [insert rank and name here]” variety, as well as one just outside Hartford that read “Impeach Bush and Cheney: Nixon Did Less.” Progress? Perhaps. But it’s easy to voice such opinions when the perceived light at the end of the tunnel is mere months away. Where were these dissenters prior to last election? It only took them eight years to get on the same bandwagon as the rest of the civilized world.

Sheesh.

My favorite, though, was a message scrawled in permanent marker across the back of a semi trailer in Massachusetts which read “A message to the traitors: Your game is going down… Who is stalking who?” I’m not entirely sure whom this was addressed to, ‘terrorists’ or Democrats, but either way, I laughed out loud upon reading it. Regardless, the evil doers had better take heed… at least whenever they find themselves at a truck stop, taking a leak before checking their load of fertilizer.

In conclusion, the average American is ‘good people’ in my estimation. Well, they’re certainly no worse than the rest of us. Sure, it’s easy to get irritated at them for being so comically ignorant of the outside world, but put yourself in their shoes — they’re no different than you or me, they just practice their own brand of nationalism; a brand which happens to be enforced by an homogenous culture of commercially driven mass media and the most powerful military in the world. But they seem to be waking up to the reality that maybe not all is as it seems. During my day in New York City, the biggest topic of discussion among regular folk seemed to be the recent dissolution of rent stabilizing legislation and the ongoing process of gentrification among former working class and lower class neighbourhoods, whereby tenants who would have formerly paid six to seven hundred dollars per month in rent will now be expected to shell out a minimum of fifteen hundred each month for the same dwelling. ‘Fair’ market prices.

But what in this market driven world is fair, outside of love and war?

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