Clueless in America. Chapter 51

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51. Burglars and Thieves, Please do not Read.

From abroad we form the impression that America is a place of crime, everyone is being beaten, raped and homes broken into on a daily basis. Not only that, every bank is consistently being robbed, every car being stolen and every state official is corrupt. Okay I exaggerate a tad, but you understand. The fact of the matter is, America is a very different place. Most people are very generous, very kind and very giving. On a previous visit someone who picked me up hitch-hiking returned to our camp-site the next day to give us food and a ride to the airport. How kind was that?

In my very, very humble and personal opinion, when most Europeans talk about America, before they open their racist mouths, they need to fly to America and visit her everyday people. Then what actually comes out could be worth listening to. Also Americans who travel abroad, you could help matters a lot by doing two things. One: behave abroad as you do at home. Two: lower the voice a whole lot.

Something little known about America is that seemingly everyone leaves their houses unlocked and their cars in their driveways with the keys in the ignition. Our next port of call was not an exception.

We followed Betsie and sadly, but perhaps more peacefully, we followed MapQuest to suburban Madison. Our friend had given us his address, told us that the door was unlocked and to let ourselves in and hang out until he returned from work. Naturally enough in the absence of Ronnan, our trip was a lot smoother than expected, which meant that we arrived early afternoon. We dumped Betsie in the driveway and under the diligent eye of a clearly concerned neighbour we let ourselves in.

Now our friends had recently moved up from hot Arizona to freeze in Wisconsin. I am not sure if this is related to the fact that we could not find any photos of them on the wall. But for our first fifteen minutes or so we did not totally know if we were actually in the correct house or not. It was a tense time realising that the next time the door opened it could either be the police to cuff us or our friends to hug us. Eventually after much searching I found a pile of mail. Most of it seemed to be addressed to presumably a previous resident, but after guiltily fumbling through it I found a bill addressed to our friends. At last we could relax and bring in our luggage. The neighbour still had her I’m-going-to-call-the-police pose, but this time we didn’t care.

Now our friends are American and as I have said before, this means that they are inherently generous. So like so many Americans before them, they told us to help ourselves to anything in the fridge. Now American fridges are interesting places, they all seem to be overflowing with giant bottles and buckets of this and that. If I raided one of these fridges, I could take some of the contents south into Mexico and feed a family of six for about a week. The worst thing that would happen back in the home of the fridge is that their son might get into trouble for using too much peanut butter. Or in other words, there is so much stuff in these fridges that we could eat half of it and the average owner would never notice.

The point is, telling a Kiwi to help themselves to anything that is in the fridge is actually a culturally insensitive thing to do. We are too scared to help ourselves, we start thinking ‘What if I eat the very thing that they planned on cooking for supper?’ Or ‘What if I drunk the last of their juice?’ It is torture for us, especially when we see that tin of salted cashew nuts and realise just how good it would go with that can of Dr Pepper. Then we spend the rest of our stay salivating over what we could be eating but are unable to because we are too scared and culturally-bound to take our kind hosts at their word.

We were greatly relieved when our friends arrived home and our reunion could begin.

The next day we travelled into Wisconsin’s capital, Madison City. As far as American cities go, with the possible exception of my fading memories of New York, I think Madison could be my favourite. November in Madison was so insipid, dark and, well, tedious. This city seemed so insecure that it clearly deserved the role of being the pinnacle of Wisconsin. Not only that, the city was full of students desperately searching to be different and to find themselves, thus all ending up totally lost and looking the same.

I loved this city, even the leafless trees that lined the main drag seemed to be standing there looking apologetic. People dragged their feet as they walked, their heads were bunkered down against the cold, the regiments of homeless people anonymously and silently shuffled around in search of food, shoes and love. Madison was eerily quiet, randomly alternative and totally full of character.

I stopped at a second-hand clothing shop and asked the drab, dark, stern shop assistant if they sold bib-type overalls. His lifeless, smile-less reply was ‘We had ’em for Halloween, but sent them back afterwards’. When he answered he looked straight through me from dark lifeless eyes.

I walked into a nice enough student-infested cafe and instantly felt as if I had stumbled into a scene from the Matrix.(147) There they were, about fifty of them, all sitting, all drinking, collectively alone, all in dark drab clothes and all plugged into their laptops. I do not know what would have happened if I had somehow been able to turn off the electricity and kill all those batteries. Maybe everyone’s heads would have simply dropped into a collective lifeless slump as they awaited the return of their master. Or maybe they would have all risen up like lifeless zombies separated from the motherboard. Either way, I doubt anyone would have noticed.

Down-town Madison had two saviours for me, the nice bright man in the camera shop who was happy to sell me a one dollar pair of white photography gloves and the dude in the DVD shop.

If ever your life is particularly lacklustre, well then find a dour, poky book or DVD shop and ask the zenith of humanity behind the counter an impossible related question. Suddenly it will appear as if a whole new dimension of life and colour has rainbowed into the room. The picture of staidness, boredom and insecurity behind the counter will start radiating life and oozing confidence as it rants away about books and movies you have never heard of. They will cast their spell all over you and have you totally engrossed in their every word. Frowns will turn into smiles, ugly wrinkles will turn into beautiful dancing laugh lines, dourness will turn into happiness and the possibilities of life between the pages or on the screen will be overwhelmingly beautiful and infinite.

The second hand DVD store in down-town Madison exactly fits this description. It was dark, square and boring, with metal shelves displaying doggy DVD spines. The place was drab and uninteresting. Behind the counter was a twenty or thirty something year old man, looking totally bored whilst playing a computer game. He was wearing shades of black to match the wall of mundane heavy metal music that was being loudly pumped though the store. This guy seemed uninterested in life, the universe and everything and lightly bothered by my intrusion into his empty lair. I somewhat timidly walked up to the counter and asked, ‘My wife and I like ’24(148)’ and ‘Frazier'(149), can you sell us something similar?’ Then I stood, waited and watched. It was a truly holy moment as the darkness evaporated and light permeated. The frown lines on his forehead and around his eyes took on the tranquillity and texture of a Monet lily pond and as each part of his crusty exterior fell away, a beautiful monologue about a random tele series took flight. It was a truly baffling display of intellect interwoven with passion and knowledge. I walked out of the door with a comfortable grin on my face, feeling like a mainframe of knowledge on American television and carrying a bag containing box-collections of ‘MI5(150)’ and ‘House(151)’. The store truly was a remarkable experience of insecure beauty and majesty.

Tune in next week to read about walk through banking.

For past chapters click here. Or look on the side panel.

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!

Thank you so much to those of you who have been sponsoring ‘Clueless in America’, I really enjoy these writing times.

So far I have written in the Hotel Pagegiai cafe, Pagegiai, Lithuania, the Katiyas Tejai Tirgotava, Sigulda, Latvia, Chu Chus Cafe, West Kildbride, Scotland, the Tinderbox cafe in Merchant City, Glasgow, Scotland and Costa Coffee, Milngavie, Glasgow, Scotland,

Thank you so much for reading out for lunch. If you would like to contribute toward the running of out for lunch or donate money towards my writing projects, please click on the donate button. Thanks Kel.

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