Clueless in America. Chapter 54

This chapter was gratefully sponsored by contributors to coffee fuel. If you would like to sponsor a chapter of  ‘Clueless in America’, please click on the button.

54. Betsie’s Homecoming.

It is always hard saying good-bye to good friends. The friends that we were leaving this crisp cool Wisconsin morn’ I met over a table-tennis table on a Philippino island. It was this very table-tennis table and its American competitors that taught me that Americans are good people and that I had a lot to learn from them, and especially their encouraging attitude towards sporting opponents. So it was somewhat with a melancholic heavy heart that we headed south. Betsie, on the other hand, seemed to be bouncing down the road full of excitement at the prospect of heading home. When we crossed the invisible border back in Illinois she instantly started singing.

We more-or-less had to drive due south in a straight line then hang a left or east into Auroa. There were no turns on that straight road, the map said so, however we managed to find one and take it. The official line is, ‘We made a wrong turn on a straight road’. Poor Betsie, she seemed more than a little bit keen to get rid of us. We asked for directions and were once again pointed south. We still managed to arrive in Auroa early so stopped at a supermarket. In this supermarket I purchased two of the most useful things I have ever bought. They travelled home insulated and protected amongst my soft clothes in my bag, and are now treated with the utmost respect in our home. These two things really were America’s gift for me. I simply do not know how I have managed to survive for so, so long without my turkey baster (155) and my chook thermometer(156).

We met up with our friends in Auroa and promptly went out to their favourite local restaurant. It was Greek or Italian or something like that. Upon receiving the menu I aggressively hunted down the burgers, knowing that I could only be disappointed now that the La Crescent standard is part of my vocabulary. The burger was still pretty darn good, and so was the company. We left with the hope of returning in the morning for church. We visited one more friend in a cafe close by before venturing home or should I say, before venturing to Betsie’s home.

Betsie was excited, but I promise you I was not. Chicago’s roads are bumpy, overcrowded and generally terrifying for this lil-ole Kiwi. By the time we left, it was dark, the map needed to be read via flash-light, both navigator and driver were tired and I was sick of driving roads that I had never been on before.

With great relief we arrived back at the start in Elmhurst. We did not have Franklin Graham or a Care Net dinner waiting for us, just gladly the comfort of our friends and their home. Betsie on the other hand seemed to wait until we had dragged out of her our last Wisconsin souvenir before, if I am not mistaken, locking her own doors and letting out a very large sigh of relief. She not so quietly settled into her own driveway. This night she did not need a US military sticker to keep the parking police at bay.

We rose kind of early in the morning, grabbed our coffee and walked out to Betsie. Betsie did not look impressed, but on the account that we were not carrying lots of bags, she humoured us and let us drive her back to Auroa and church, we only got lost once on the way. Church was in a building that perhaps was once a beautiful old stately home. We spoke a little in the service, received some prayer, caught up with old friends and acquaintances, then high-tailed it back to Elmhurst, spring-cleaned Betsie, filled her tank and did one last gift shopping trip. I am ashamed to say that it was at a Wal-Mart.

It was this evening that the seed for the idea of writing this story was planted. My friend took me to an Italian sandwich restaurant to buy some take-away. He being well aware of culture-shock and cross-culturalism prepped me in advance. He worked out what we wanted and told me what number it was. The plan was I just needed to ask for, well let’s say number twelve, pay and leave. This was my last night in America, so keeping things simple seemed perfect to me. The restaurant was way cool, it was set up like a fifties American diner, not too dissimilar to the one in ‘Happy Days’. I was like a kid in a candy store just gawking at all the memorabilia. By the time I got to the counter I was lost in another world, when suddenly a smiley, gawky, pimple-faced teenager asked me in a overly friendly voice ‘What would you like to order?’ I panicked as I was snapped back into twenty-first century American life. Being well prepped I blurted out ‘Twelve thanks, gi’me a twelve’. Relieved to get that over and done with, I logged off and shut down to the sound of a frantic, pimple-faced teenager in a red waistcoat wanting to know if I wanted fries and a drink with that. I was too tired and lost it. Going through my mind was ‘How the hang am I supposed to know if these are included in the price or not?’ But all that came out was a blood curdling cry for help in the form of shouting my friend’s name in hope that he would come and rescue me. Even though I actually got his name wrong, like a knight in shining armour with a hot Italian sandwich in his hand, he came to my rescue and cleaned up my mess. I had finally lost my patience for this beautiful country and realised that I needed to have a holiday from America. As we left the restaurant I thought, ‘I gotta write this crap down’. Little did I realise that I would be sitting in a snow laden Baltic cafe eighteen months later feeling rather lethargic finishing off my second to last chapter.

That evening we went to what we in churchianity call a home-group. This is just an excuse to fellowship together and study the Bible. It was a fitting finish to Christian America. Lovely people in a lovely house worshipping their God together in the freedom that their forefathers came seeking. In a sense our final hours in America were spent participating in one part of the American dream. Afterwards feeling uplifted and loved we were driven to the airport. Not the other one, but this time to O’Hare. We said our farewells to our friend, even Betsie seemed genuinely sad to see us go, then we entered the terminal.

Tune in next week for the final chapter.

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 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.

Clueless in America. Chapter 51

This chapter was gratefully sponsored by contributors to coffee fuel. If you would like to sponsor a chapter of the ‘Clueless in America’, please click on the button.

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.

Clueless in America. Chapter 50

This chapter was gratefully sponsored by contributors to coffee fuel. If you would like to sponsor a chapter of  ‘Clueless in America’, please click on the button.

50. Come Hell or High Water.

Well it was not hell of course. It was church, maybe the chapter should be called ‘Heaven or High Water’. It was Sunday and Sunday is the day that millions and millions of Christians traditionally skip their way along to church and this morning we were part of that universal clan. Once again it was so cute being with pastors on a Sunday morning, they seem to get so pleasantly focused, whilst their kids just seem to be pleasantly unfocused.

Now the previous Sunday we went to a church that had survived many a fund-raising drive. Well this church was a little different, they were in the process of being given a building(142) and not just any building, but simply the coolest place in town. They were being given a down-town night club. From what I saw of down-town Green Bay, there isn’t really that much to talk about, wide streets and light coloured buildings, which for America could be considered old. Though to be fair, I am not one hundred percent sure that I was actually in the down-town.

The outside of the building was irrelevant, it was the inside that said ‘Yes this the kind of church that I want to go to’. Immediately upon walking through the doors one got the sense that this was something else. The sense that this is a re-used, recycled building. The sense of a down-to-earth   abode. The first thing that caught my eye was a bar or at least an ex-bar. This is America, where the church and state are joined at the hip and alcohol is the bane of the church, so naturally unlike some of their European counterparts, they did not sell alcohol. However, like all good American churches this bar had coffee, numerous bits of paper promoting stuff and of course the foyer had the obligatory toilets.  It was cold inside, but felt like God and felt like church. We, having arrived with the pastoral family were early. Nevertheless we grabbed coffee and headed into the meeting room. If we go to church in heaven, this is exactly what I expect the inside of the church building will look like. It had booths!!! I kid you not, it had a grandstand kind of thing with booths lined up on each tier. Each booth had great big shiny seats that flanked three sides of a table, leaving the front empty so that we, the congregation, could have an unobstructed view of the stage. These booths were so big and so cosy that we could hide in them. The room in itself was large, airy, and dimly lit. To the right and the left of our boothed grandstand were pool-tables, unfortunately they were covered, but imagine how cool it would be to play pool and listen to the teaching. There was a dance floor at the front, but it was mostly covered with chairs around coffee tables. And of course at the front of the dance floor was a space for a worship team and a pulpit. I was secretly hoping that the preacher was going to turn up the music, spin the disco ball and boogie out his sermon. I was disappointed.

A building in itself does not constitute church. What undoubtedly one hundred percent constitutes church is her people. And this church somehow had lost its cookie cutter, her people were not identical clones of each other. Some were big, some were small, some were rich, some were poor, some were black and some were white and some looked good and like me, others did not. This church seemed so normal that it was almost weird. And best of all, I could hide in my booth, be shy, be a ‘nigel’ and watch everything pass me by. The worship was good, the teaching was good, the only thing was, that no one really reached out and made the effort to include this shy person. Afterwards I spent a long time standing in the foyer sucking my cappuccino, just hoping that somebody would be interested enough to talk to me. No one did, but it didn’t matter. However I loved the place, it smelt like God and if it was any more not-together, it would have practically been Christ-like. And to put the icing on the cake, the pastor’s name was Bill, how inconspicuous and cool is that?

I spoke about the building to Bill afterwards, he said that the first thing that they needed to do was fix the leak in the roof, then gut the inside, like get rid of the booths and put in more practical and and inclusive seating. The whole idea of gutting the inside of this lovely building left me feeling totally gutted, knowing that on my next visit that I may not be able to hide. We pastors seem to have a lack of understanding on how to pastor shy people and seem to think that everybody needs to be involved all of the time. Then again I think that it is a fair presumption that people come to church to worship God in community and that us shy people actually come secretly hoping that somebody will encourage us out of our shells. Anyhow I loved the church, because it did not have the crinks polished out of it; for me, it is through the crinks that I find God. Oh yeah a good drummer helps as well.

Anyhow, that was the Heaven part, now it is the time to move onto the high water part.

We ventured back from Green Bay to our Hartland empty nester friends. Once again it was an embarrassing trip for Betsie, due to the fact that once again we were blindly following Ronnan. Personally I enjoyed the Ronnan adventures. But Sharon on the other hand was totally frustrated by the thing. We still had it set on the shortest possible route. Which meant instead of Ronnan skirting us around Milwaukee on the major roads, it took us diagonally through suburbia. By now we probably could have driven most of the way without a GPS, but for me Ronnan was still a cool novelty and a sure way to get into trouble and not get lost. In this case we travelled through a snow storm, through endless traffic lights and instructions of ‘turn left in one hundred yards, turn right in fifty yards’. It was a miserable dark, slippery, snowy journey.

However the journey was worth it and our friends’ empty nest was as warm, homey and as all American as it could be. Before we went to bed that night we were encouraged to step outside into the snow and enjoy a hot spa(143). We at first somewhat reluctantly agreed. We were presented with warm bathrobes and pointed in the direction of a secluded balcony. Oh my goodness what a delightful treat this was. As soon as we opened the outside door of their house, we got blasted by a rush of cold snowy air. We slid our way across the snow laden balcony, took a deep breath, kicked off our sandals, chucked(144) our bath robe over the rail and carefully but quickly oozed our way into the piping hot spa pool. I so needed this hot/cold, prickly, bubble sensation, I could feel a million American service industry conversations leaving me.

I very quickly formed the opinion that one is below the poverty line if one does not have a spa pool attached to their house, therefore the government should step in and provide us all with our very own personal spa pool. But of course America or at least the ‘we-hate-healthcare’ version, does not want to be a socialist society, and thus cannot have a government funded spa pool scheme. Let me tell you a secret – ninety-nine percent of the modern world does not want to be a socialist society either. Every time I hear an American call New Zealand and many other countries socialist, I am offended. Let me quote for you from an American dictionary(145).


a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state


a: government by the people; especially: rule of the majority
b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

Hey, at least when we hold an election, the people with the most votes win, unlike George Bush versus Al Gore in 2000. Socialism and democracy contradict each other. The fact is we are both democracies, just different flavours of the same capitalist candy. The problem is when America’s newsreel stars start calling European countries socialist, we hear communist and many of us are still scrubbing those scars and shedding those shackles. You hotheaded-nobody-newsreel-stars, you have no idea what you are talking about and just how offensive you are.  And on that note once again I will climb off my well balanced high-horse.

Oh before I finish the chapter, I need to inform you that I regrettably and Sharon thankfully surrendered Ronnan back to her owner before leaving Wisconsin. For me it was a sad parting and I long for the day of either our reunion or when a cousin comes to visit our hapless Opel(146).

Oops, I also forgot to mention something very important. Our empty nester friends asked us if there was anything that we needed that we could not get back home. We had a very definite answer, we wanted what Americans rather embarrassingly call baggies. What this translates into in my English is plastic bags that are often about the right size to put sandwiches in. They have a fastening system that involves a zip that locks the bag. I would go into much more detail for you, but unfortunately I cannot because the company that makes the bags is preventing me from using their registered-trademarked name. This whole story was originally going to be about those bags and American society, but they wouldn’t let me use their name, so now in my writing I am left rather clueless in America. Oh well, they probably made the right decision; though I like the product, I am not a fan of supporting multi-national companies and probably would have taken the chance to have some fun at their expense. Next time you put your lunch into a bag with a zip, remember it was them who caused me hours of work to take their brand off my blog and out of my story. And thus the title ‘Clueless in America’ was born.

Tune in next week to learn about mad mad Madison.

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 donated to the writing of this posting of Clueless in America. This chapter was writtenn in Costa Coffee, Milngavie, Glasgow, Scotland.

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.