Some thoughts about my country as I get ready to leave it on a 16 hours flight, in the midst of a crazy week of elections:
- This has been the absolute craziest month in politics I’ve witnessed, and I was here in the states, certifiably depressed, for the Gore/Bush and Supreme Court debacle. I honestly don’t know what’ll happen next. We’ve had acrimonious aspersions, petty digs from both parties, gropings and emails, contracted walls and Weiner’s weiner, a suddenly keen and partisan FBI, Xi Jinping becoming a “core” leader and maybe staying on past his term, Duterte’s rancorous swears. Add Brexit to it all… can we just call this the black swan year of politics? What kind of world and what news of America welcome me when I land on the other side? I have no idea. I am the most anxious and uncertain I’ve ever been about a presidential election – it seems not just feasible but likely that the veneer of civilization we’ve operated under gets subsumed by a furious tide of bile and class anger in November. And yet, I would still never trade this tabloid heavy media circus for the eerie, placid silence of the censored societies.
- On the other spectrum of emotion, I can say without reserve that I’ve grown to truly love Brooklyn, and am glad that Jeremy Lin ended up here, even if he’s now on a terrible basketball team.
- I had the grand joy of seeing Walden Pond and Concord this break, and New England again in its deepest autumn colors. I don’t know if anything else in the world can make me as homesick for America as these sights and sensations, the crisp chill, the burst of color. It makes me recall how in Da Lat, Vietnam, Vietnamese fans of the season stripped the real leaves of their trees and glued on plastic fall foliage of red and orange. An absurd exercise, but one I can almost understand. This time around, I was lucky enough to bring my mother to see Walden Pond and Concord. She had never seen either places.
- Emerson wrote his essays and sermons while sitting in a rocking chair, as I found out in visiting his house. It’s a quaint, tiny thing, set next to a circular table, Quakerish in its unadorned simplicity. Nothing is worth more envy than Emerson’s daily schedule, I think. A walk in the woods around Walden Pond, a return to write and rock at his desk, chats with friends and family, retire in the evening.
- In Pawtucket, where the Red Sox’s affiliate farm team is based, there’s a great mill and museum that shows the beginnings of the industrial age in America: Slater Mill Museum. Go there and you can see the water mill crank turn all the machines that ran on this sustainable energy. The guide was also clear on describing the child and slave labor pushed to operate the moving parts of the apparently, highly dangerous machines, the fatalities and crushed limbs suffered by workers, the dehumanizing aspects of such mechanical production and labor during America’s burgeoning cotton age.
- My current favorite player on the Celtics and perhaps the NBA is rookie Jaylen Brown. I ran into him in the Prudential mall and had a brief chat, and found him to be super friendly and nice. He is, as it turns out, quite a polymath and interested in a whole lot of other things besides basketball. Everyone faulted him for playing forced, clunky basketball, driving too much, not developing a jump shot. He’s been rock steady, with flashes of brilliance so far. I claim all credit for his success this year, as on parting, I sent him off with fan encouragement. “I’m rooting for you, man. Good luck this year!” and, on first meeting him, eloquently expostulated: “Oh wow, Jaylen Brown! I was hoping they’d draft you, and they did! wow, Jaylen Brown!”
- Modern Halloween costumes seem burdened with the need to be pop culturally savvy, and knowing. Back in my day, you can just dress up as a shark, not “the shark in the Katy Perry super bowl video”, a buccaneer, not a “buck in an ear”, a king, not “King George from the musical Hamilton”, a witch, not “sexy vixen witch”. Costumes nowadays always seem to be a nod and a wink, or a clever pop culture allusion. In other words, it was easier for kids my age to dress up. I spent my first Halloween in America dressed as a crayon, which I suppose is still an American product, but one ubiquitous, common, and ever so easy to find a costume for. Ah, those simpler times.
- Two scenes in Brooklyn that’ll stay with me as I leave. One, seen last fall, a coterie of casual dancers, all races and ages, on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library. Dancing to tunes of the ballrooms of olden days. Nothing is as lovely as seeing grey haired grandpas foxtrot with their infant grandsons and daughters. Two, this morning, a gathering of parents and grandparents with their infants and babies in the woods in Prospect Park. I was jogging by, then slowed down to walk it, when I saw so many little people in my way. A father said, “It makes you feel like a giant, doesn’t it?” and I responded, “I had no idea there’s a congregation of little peoples here today!” and we both laughed. No matter what happens to this country this upcoming week, little moments like these make me miss living here, in the land that adopted my family of exiles, of which we are now members, no matter what happens to it.