So here we are. We were met by two friends at the airport. Again, with these two we have that strange kind of relationship that develops through living and studying together. We had lived and studied with each of them for six months in Glasgow, Scotland. So seeing them at the airport was like greeting sisters. We were with people that we are familiar with, people who know the good, bad and ugly us and love us anyhow. This naturally means that I slip into a more care-free version of me. The version that wants to tease and be teased. The version that wants to waste hours in cafes and talk about absolutely everything and absolutely nothing, all at the same time. The version of me that sees something interesting, like a leaf on a car bonnet, and just wanders off to study it, oblivious of who is waiting for me.
Redding and California started the purging of Europe from me and Idaho started the re-installation of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Anyhow, from the plane to a Mexican restaurant, via the back seat of a little red car. The back seat of little red cars are just the bee’s knees for me. At school I was the second shortest in my class, but when in the back seat of little red cars, enjoying the sensation of my noggin’ bouncing off the ceiling, I feel as if I am the tallest. Suddenly I don’t have to rely on the speed of my tongue and legs for survival It is now the length of my punch that counts.
I don’t know what the car was. It was red, American and like seemingly all American cars, it was built for comfort and little else. Which works for me, ’cause when I drive to the dairy, I do not need hard seats and a hard suspension, I don’t need to corner at break neck speeds, I just need to get my milk and bread. Americans spend so much time in their cars that they may as well feel like lounge suites. Though in this case, the suite and suspension were so soft, that my head was beginning to spend more time on the ceiling than my butt was spending on the seat.
We arrived at the restaurant a little jaded from the day, tired, hungry and happy to be with our friends. It was one of those ma and pa Mexican restaurants that had sprouted up as part of a very un-Mexican strip-mall. Being a Monday night, we had the place to ourselves. Even though I had lived in Mexico and had somewhat of a grasp of the language, the menus were completely foreign to me. Basically I wanted hot chilli and corn tortillas and I struck out both times. It seems that the further the Mexicans venture north, the less jalapenos they bring with them. When I lived in Mexico sometimes jalapeno was hot enough to burn my lips. From memory in Texas and Arizona, they have excellent and hot Mexican food. As for corn tortillas, I ate them everyday in Mexico and ironically, the only place that I have had them since was in London, England. And alas good ole Boise is famous for its potatoes not its jalapenos, corn tortillas or for all of that, Mexicans. Plus usually it is not real Mexican food anyway. To me it seems as if most Mexican restaurants are serving Tex-Mex.
Having an almost-empty restaurant, the staff were content to watch the football on the television and basically served us and leave us alone. It was great, just what we needed, good food, good friends, no unnecessary interruptions and plastic cups. Ahh! Americans and their fixation on plastic cups and ice. If a European restaurant served plastic cups full of ice, they would be ex-communicated from their nation, their citizenship would be automatically stripped from them and they would probably be sent to a secret CIA prison in Africa. In prison, they would be taught just how similar it is being the victim of the dreaded plastic cups and the victim of water-boarding. I imagine the two forms of torture are very similar and I expect if your average Frenchman was given the choice of which of the two tortures he would prefer, he would pick water-boarding.
I have never been to Paris, but I have watched the BBC so I am qualified to have an opinionated monologue about it. I can just see the headline now. ‘French lorry drivers went on strike today in sympathy with the rest of the cigarette-sucking, wine-drinking public over the introduction of plastic cups in a back-street, no-name Mexican restaurant in Paris. Protesters, who were also protesting about having to work more than a thirty hour week, have been throwing Molotov cocktails at police in the predominately immigrant suburbs of Paris. When interviewed whilst on holiday in Switzerland, President Sarkozy is quoted as saying ‘This is a national tragedy but everything will be okay, because my new wife is a supermodel and I was allowed to take her to visit the Queen’.
I am serious that, if someone was ever silly enough to introduce plastic cups and ice machines in Europe, this would probably be the outcome. Nevertheless, call me a trouble maker, but since returning from America I have emailed my friend and asked him to send me some plastic cups.
Plastic cups and all, I liked this little restaurant and though I was a little jaded, I enjoyed the evening. When we had finished we jumped into the ‘little red car’ and bounced our way back to our friend’s house. It was lovely and was shared with a lovely dog. Our friend had obviously been hosted cross-culturally before, because she managed to answer all of our dumb foreigner questions before we asked them and in such a way that made our stupid questions look like the most important and intelligent questions ever asked by man, woman or beast. Sitting on our bed was a little box of treats waiting for us. They had been left by our other friend who also obviously knew us and knew what we liked. The only thing odd about this house was the predicament that the owner was in over a rather pleasant, duck populated storm water creek than ran along her boundary. She was not allowed to put a fence along her boundary because the local council, or whoever, have said, that ‘The space needs to be clear for them to come through with a digger to clear the creek should it block’. Sounds logical enough I guess. I just feel sorry for the dog who is forced to chase ducks while chained up. But I guess if there was a fence there, he would never see them anyhow. And finally I spent the wee hours of the morning listening to ‘This American Life’, and when I did sleep, I had a very sound sleep.
The next day was set to be a corker. I was excited, in fact so excited that I was fairly much so bouncing out of my gumboots with excitement because I knew that we were going to visit the America Bank. But actually it is not called the America Bank, I just made that up, call it poetic licence, but I ain’t going to give you the name of my bank and then sign this ramble with my name. So you will just have to be content with America Bank, okay?
Anyhow, back to the morning, I was first up again. No sooner had ‘This American Life’ finished than it was time to get up and experience it. Our friend had graciously asked the men at her work who she thought were my size, if they had any hand-me-down clothes and she had bags of them and hand-me-down CD’s waiting for me in her spare room. I am a bit of a greenie so I love anything that is good and second-hand. I spent the next forty or so minutes blissfully alone, trying on clothes and reading CD covers. The pinnacle, other than the Oscar Peterson CD that also starred the lesser known Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, was a man’s pair of jandels. Yay I could give away the girlie version and restore my masculinity. I did really appreciate the girlie ones, but… .
Speaking of men, meat was the next thing on the agenda. Bacon and eggs for breakfast. Oh Americans can sometimes get breakfast so right. I love cooked breakfasts almost more that I love French cheese or Italian tapenade . Both our other friend and the dog joined us for a long lazy, well coffee’ed breakfast.
So off we went, with me wearing men’s jandels, in the little red car. I sat in the front, because for big monsters like me it provided heaps of head and leg space. First stop was our other friend’s work or should I actually say her home. Why dang, they are the same place. She, being an artist, has her studio at home. Oh how envious I was! For years I have had my studio planned out in my head. I know exactly where my work bench will be, I know where the electrical sockets will be situated on the bench. I know how the room will be tiled in the centre and carpeted around the edges. I know what corner my computer will sit in, I even know where the printer will sit. I know where my easel will be, I know where my couch will be. I know where the coffee filter will be and I know where the coffee table and chairs will be. I know what paintings and photos will be on the walls and I know where the flat screen television sits among them. But alas at present, I have a metre by fifty centimetre, knee-high table on wheels in the ugliest Soviet style painted room that I can possible imagine.
Never mind, it was good to see her studio and her art. It was also nice to meet her parents. Her dad was rather scary at first. Then I realised that what was scaring me was the fact that he is a man who not only is secure in his faith, but was also confident enough to ask us educated, informed questions about what we are doing in Lithuania. Bizarre! I spent a lot of time thinking about the conversation and formed the conclusion that I was relating to his new world culture and looking at it through the culture of somewhat timid and pensive European men. Once I realised that, through my Kiwi culture, this guy was normal and just your average Godly man, then he became normal and not scary. Boise really was a bridge for me from my old world, European culture back to my new world, nothing is impossible culture.
Anyhow after that we visited our host’s workplace. She does something arty-farty for a company that designs the packaging for frozen food. The office was way cool, much, much nicer than our flat, everyone seemed to be happy, smiley people. It was that weird thing about Americans seemingly enjoying their work again. We even got a tour of their huge walk-in freezer.
From here we went out for coffee. The place was called Rembrandt’s. It might have been run or owned by a Christian or something like that as, it was a rather large church turned into a cafe. Because it was America, it was necessary to paint the inside of the building in rather striking bright colours. It is their new-world culture outlook on life that makes them do things like this. It is their ability, even in adversity, to see the brighter side of life. Americans generally speaking have a very positive outlook on life and it showed in this cafe. Whereas in Lithuania even the brightest colours are shades of brown. One year we bought these really nice bright Christmas cards and travelled to the infinitely brighter west for Christmas only to discover that the cards were actually drab, dull shades of brown. We spent large chunks of our Christmas apologising for what we had thought were lovely bright Christmas cards.
Anyhow, to add to the pallet of colour were lots of large, bright and wild paintings. The furniture itself, tables, chairs and couches were all brown, but this only served to enhance the visual landscape. The room was well lit with the energy of a nation that thinks it can clearly afford it. And to top it off, on each table was a vase with not one, not two, not even three, but more bright yellow chrysanthemums in them. Oh the decadence, oh the visual stimulation, the popsicle paradise, the art, the light, the smell, the company and, and, and, I was yet to have coffee.
Now coffee. Coffee is a story. For those who reduce coffee to a mere function and mere drink or worse still, a mere drug are totally ripped off. It is the equivalent of accepting that God exists but not allowing him to work in your life. Coffee is a dance, it is a celebration, a ceremony. Coffee is enhanced by the surroundings, the company, the music and by the task that is accompanying it, for example, a good coffee with a good book or whilst painting or writing. The celebration, the dance of coffee, can really only be achieved with company and conversation. For me coffee is not about caffeine, it is about the glade of life that surrounds it. Coffee is always coffee and should always be treated as the excuse to live, dance and romance that it really is.
And speaking of coffee, this was America. America does not exactly have a good reputation for coffee and its obsessions with both weak and flavoured coffee are frankly distasteful. Rembrandt’s did have flavoured coffee or at least coffee flavourings and yes, their coffee was weaker than I like it, but at least they knew how to make it. Most of Eastern Europe insults the celebration by not knowing how to dance with it. Bog standard cappuccino needs to be served in a large cup, at least the size of a coffee mug, its foam needs to be no more than a fingernail deep. The centre of our universe, Vilnius, Lithuania, is just starting to learn this, but our city, Klaipeda, has yet to succeed in the dance. In my ignorance, in America I asked for a ‘large’ cappuccino. What came was a vat of cappuccino almost so big that it needed two hands to carry. It was hot, healthy froth and not too weak, served in a huge mug’ish kinda thing. It was great. In America big ain’t big, it is huge.
We were not sure if were going to get lunch and it was suggested that we buy something here to tide us over. So we did. Only in America could I substitute my main meal with a single cookie. I mean, all of the cookies, muffins, cakes and pastries appeared to have all been cooked one at a time in a single huge cake tin. That is how big they were, but of course I know America is way too capitalist and practical not to mass produce its oversized cookies. I suspect that if I went into their cellar I would find a small army of people slaving away around a cookie oven about the size of a house. My cookie kept me going until our rather late steam-boat supper. Rembrandt’s was a great experience.
From here we dashed up the road to my much anticipated America Bank. Just a look at the sign sent shivers down my spine. I did not actually need to go to the bank, our friend needed to. So goose bump flared, we pushed our way through the doors. After six years of banking with them, this was actually the first time I had been through their doors. I meandered through the building, picked up deposit slips, put them back down again, fondled a pen on a chain, walked and observed very important people doing very important things in their very important looking offices. This was better for me than Five Flags or whatever that theme park is called. I was lost inside the rhythms of my head when some lovely person wearing a name tag jolted me out with a ‘can I help you sir?’ Oh gosh someone was speaking to me in the America Bank, like a real person and they weren’t sharing me with a telephone. Oh the ecstasy, the rush, this was wonderful. My reply was ‘no thanks just looking’. Dah, I was like a seventeen year old trying so hard to impress a pretty pimply faced girl with elegant speech, that all I could succeed in was elevating myself to the position of fool. There are only two kinds of people who go into banks to just look. And they would be bank robbers and terrorists; did I want to be mistaken as one of these? No thanks, I have watched ‘Reality TV’ remember. And post 911 ain’t exactly the time to be doing a casual spot of bank tourism. I guess I should have actually told them the truth, I was indeed souvenir hunting, oh what I would have done for a America Bank pen, pad or money box, imagine the importance I would feel walking the snooty corridors of Europe with an America bank pen in my pocket. Then people would actually understand that indeed I am a really important person. I left the bank with the pinnacle of car cursed culture photos and that was of the America Bank drive thru sign. Oh if I had had a marker pen I would have loved to put a O, G and a H on that sign. Anyhow that was the first of my many blessed America Bank sorties. And yes just in case you missed it I did take my camera into the bank, I was a bank tourist, of course I would have my camera with me. PS one should never go to the bank directly after drinking coffee.
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You may have noticed some bracketed numbers in this chapter. These numbers correspond with explanations and definitions that are in an accompanying glossary. To read the glossary you will need to by the yet to be released book. Sorry 🙁
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