This is a time of sheer amazement for me. As an anthropologist, I’ve spent years watching and studying humans – and frankly, I am completely dumbfounded by our collective stupidity. This is especially true in the United States of America – and let’s be very clear – it’s not fair to refer to it as America – because we seem to be much more stupid than the other people who live in the Western Hemisphere.
The stupidest president presiding over the stupidest people on the planet is calling for them to pack churches on Easter and gently encouraging people to resist social distancing or self isolation so as not to negatively impact the economy. Yes, by all means go back to your minimum wage jobs without health insurance, put yourselves and your family at risk of death, and rack up more debt by paying everything except rent with credit cards because that is all the cash you have.
Head to a Florida sand bar party and fly your Trump flag proudly as you high five virus carriers. Vote again for those awesome GOP and Dem Senators who want to bail out banks and airlines but have no problem with you being homeless in the time of COVID-19. Grab them bootstraps.
For the life of me, I’ve never understood how anyone could vote for a party who’s initials stand for ‘Grand Ole’ Party’ – they might as well just call themselves the Kurrupt Kullexion of Kristian – it’s no secret that the Repulicants have long been racist, corrupt, and anti-freedom unless you can buy the privilege.
And yet, even if we acknowledge that 50% of the country are buffoons – we are still left with a lot of buffoons outside of that. How in the world did the Democrats manage to lose to Trump? How did they manage to not support a President with both houses of congress and let a bunch of retarded nay-sayers block Supreme Court picks, key legislation, and more.
The Senators and Representatives can’t all be that stupid, can they? And whether they are or are not – the fact that they managed to get into office in the first place says everything that needs to be said about the electorate – we are collectively much more stupid than we think we are. Individually, that probably holds true as well.
So, keep riding for the brand, fools. Keep working for the system so you can change the system, idiots. Keep supporting the status quo so you can change the status quo, buffoons. As for me – I quit.
I saw this very simple tweet this morning – and it gave me a big a-ha moment. Many Yang supporters are upset that Andrew Yang didn’t make the bizarre cut into the DNC’s debate this evening. They were carping about it on Twitter and a sort of typical Democrat responded “Andrew Yang isn’t a Democrat. He’s a libertarian with socialist leanings.” Man, whammo – that hit me in the sweet spot.
I am a Libertarian socialist and while I wouldn’t describe Yang as a Libertarian socialist by any real definition – the commentor was right about one thing – Andrew Yang is not a Democrat. I’m sure that’s why I like him. Who are the Democrats? Biden, Buttigieg, Kloubuchar, Hillary, etc etc. I would have loved to see Hillary become the first female president back in 2016 – not because I loved her as a candidate – but because I want to live in a country that will elect a woman president. Simple as that.
Bernie (Democratic Socialist) was right about this country not being ready to do that. That’s because the United States is a backward nation filled with man-splaining buffoons and the women who enable them. We all know it, so we might as well own it. That’s why Trump won. He’s the ultimate man-splainer – doesn’t know what the fuck he is talking about but goes on and on about it as if he is the foremost authority on it. Other man-splainers voted for him, their wives and mothers voted for him (cause the women of man-splainers enable that shit their families and by proxy enable it in others). Yeah, there’s a shitload of racism and race-fear as well as religious-fear among the man-splainer tribe too, but in general – they’re less racist than they are idiotic.
So yes, Andrew Yang is not a Democrat. Just like Trump wasn’t a Republican – though he has now shaped the Republican party around himself – which would be an admirable accomplishment if the Trump Republicans weren’t so deplorable (sort of like the desire to admire Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor without liking it or the strange admiration many have for Hitler’s creation of the Third Reich without liking the genocide, racism, or atrocities or even acknowledging the act of how Daesh swept through Iraq and Syria without supporting the acts, etc – it’s a tricky thing to explain but sometimes there is a genius quality that can’t be denied even in the most evil acts).
It’s a shame that in the US we are limited to only Democrats and Republicans – because frankly – both parties really suck.
I’m certain that I’m not alone. I have no retirement plan. There is no windfall waiting for me. No inheritance or IRA sits patiently waiting for my time of need. I have enough debt to keep me awake at night from time to time. No social safety net protects me or my family from a very hard fall – a fall that could be triggered by an accident, an extreme weather event, or sudden political chaos – all of which could be imminent. I am sure that I’m not alone in my social insecurity and the dark pit of hopelessness that looms around each and every corner. This is the unpleasant American Dream realized – constant dread of financial disaster which is coming whether I like it or not.
Is it my own fault? Certainly I have made many of the decisions that have brought me here. I could have stayed in the Marines for twenty years. I could have gone to University right after graduating high school in 1990 instead of going in the Marines and deferring a degree until 2008. I could have stayed in a number of careers that didn’t bring me joy -I could have pursued a management career in hospitality, I could have remained an Air Traffic Controller, I could have stayed a stock broker or an insurance agent, I could have stayed in Hawaii after graduating and taken any job that might have been available at the height of the recession, I could have stayed in radio, I could have persevered in a tech career after the dot-com bust, and so on. I second guess my life decisions all the time. I made them, I live with the consequences – but there is no going back. At the time, I made the best decision that I could and did what I thought was best for my future. Usually, those decisions had very little to do with finance and much more to do with things like ethics, spiritual beliefs, and an awareness that life is transitory and if I didn’t take the time to live while I was young, I would someday be old and regret that I had not. My life is worthy, my experiences a joy and comfort, and my integrity mostly intact.
But this is the United States of America – the country I was raised in was a country formed by revolutionaries and shaped by organized labor. A country with laws to protect workers, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the insane and handicapped. We were supposed to have social security and peace of mind in our old age. I’m not old yet – mid-life at worst – but I don’t see any sort of retirement or ease of living in my American future. I see a nightmare. For two decades now, I’ve seen senior citizens filling the low wage workforce – working in jobs that in my youth belonged to high school students. Senior greeters at Walmart and Senior fry cooks at McDonalds. In the 1970s and 1980s – I remember people having retirement parties when they reached age 65 – When was the last time you heard about someone actually retiring? Yes, it happens in government and maybe in some other isolated fields – but not in my world. I have some friends who will retire – but not many. Most of us will have to scrabble until the day we die for enough to pay our insurance, buy prescriptions, pay heating bills, and buy food. That’s the fate of the majority of us in the United States.
I don’t know why, but I thought we were better than that. We’ve elected billionaires who have put millionaires and billionaires in charge of the public protections and we’ve gotten what we pay for. And when you elect billionaires, one thing you can be sure of is that they want everyone to pay. There is no public safety net. There is no protection for workers. There is no future for this country except for increasing oppression against the working class and the poverty class until the pressure becomes so extreme that it explodes. We are already seeing the vents of steam jetting from the cracks – and there is more of that to come.
At some point, the United States decided that taking care of business was the best way to take care of people. That point happened somewhere between the 1950s and the 1980s – it was a gradual erosion of the New Deal until suddenly, we found ourselves living in a society where there is no longer a deal at all except perhaps for The Art of the Deal – from nurturing to shystering and exploitation.
I find a strange comfort in beating myself up at not having made the right choices – but if I had made different choices, I could easily have found myself in worse conditions than those I live in now. The Marines and ATC could have led to an early death from alcoholism, radio has merged and consolidated until only the most talented are able to achieve careers, I could have been a dot-com has been, or a real estate tycoon who lost everything in the recession, the soul sucking work of selling stock (let’s make money from this war Bob!) could easily have led to suicide, and the list goes on. There’s really no reason or purpose in beating myself up over the past.
The future though – it is that which worries me. I cannot see a future that I want to be a part of in the United States. I cannot see a future that I want my child to be a part of in the United States. When I attempt to see the future here, I see tragedy and hardship. I wanted to come back to my country and succeed. I wanted to come back to my country and find a future I could believe in. I am trying. I am really trying to see past the storm on the horizon. From my perspective though – it just looks like it will get worse and worse and worse with no prospect for a sunny day.
Here’s something interesting – since coming to the USA I’ve gained nearly 30 pounds. That’s in 1 year and 7 months – I went to the doctor the other day and she informed me that I was officially obese. It wasn’t really a surprise – I’d felt the change in the way my clothes felt, my body felt, and my face and belly looked in the mirror. I’d mentioned it to my wife several times “I think I’m getting fat” and like a good husband she would insist “Ridiculous, so and so is fat and you aren’t anywhere near that guy – you’re not fat” It felt nice, but I knew the truth deep down under my new layer of blubber – I was fat. I was obese.
Lots of things contributed to my new found obesity. American food for one – in Morocco and Turkey we were eating fresh vegetables, a fair amount of chicken, and sometimes some lamb or beef. The vegetables in the USA just don’t have the same satisfaction as those in Europe, Asia, Africa or even Hawaii- I’ve noticed that we eat more and don’t feel satisfied. I suspect that’s because of genetic modifications and chemical additives in processed foods – mind you, we don’t eat a lot of processed food. Our USA diet consists of vegetables, a lot of chicken, and sometimes beef or lamb – but also we will sometimes have Macaroni and Cheese or frozen pizza – we are far from fast food junkies but we do sometimes grab a burger and fries or hit taco bell if we are out of town (there’s not one here in Reedsport)…I really think that the additives in those portions of processed food have been affecting us on a cellular level. Then there are portion sizes – food in the USA is just bigger – all the way around it’s bigger. And then there is dessert – in Morocco – ice cream was a treat, cookies were for special occaisions and there just wasn’t all that much candy around – I’ve got a sweet tooth, I always have. In Morocco I would sometimes buy a bag of candy and gobble it all down in a sitting – I’ve done that here too, but there has really been something different about it.
Then there is movement – we didn’t have a car in the other places we lived…here, in the USA, you have to have a car unless you live in an urban area which we don’t. We no longer walk – not even the walks to the Souk – part of it is that there really isn’t very much interesting to see here – I have to admit, we moved to a boring little town and everytime I take a walk I run into the town scumbags. We have bikes but the same thing applies – last time I took a bike ride I made it about two blocks before having a confrontation with annoying little shitheads in the park – you may remember that story. And – we have opened a business which requires me to sit around most of the time – I earn our living either working on the computer or selling things from our shop. It was funny – in this past year when I would start an excercise routine or a change of diet – something would come along and siderail it – I suppose that’s normal when you have a wife and young child – but it wasn’t just that – I was on a nice running regimen and injured my ankle – that healed and I began a morning run on the beach (which I had to drive to) where the sand was mellower on my ankles and knees and then our car died (and we didn’t have the cashola to fix it). I started waking up early to do yoga but the earlier I woke up the earlier my daughter woke up and she wouldn’t let me do the downward dog (or anythng else). I know excuses – the currency of fat people, the lament of the obese.
So there it is – I became fat because I became undisciplined in my portions, diet, and excercise. Time for a reset. My reset is a 10-day master cleanse lemonade detox diet.
I’m on Day 6 right now. I’ve done the master cleanse several times before – the first time it was perhaps the hardest thing I’d ever done. For those who don’t know here is the skinny on this –
Over the course of 10 days you eat no food. You can drink as much water as you want and have approx 6 cups of lemonade made with 2 tbsp fresh organic lemon juice, 2 tbsp organic grade B maples syrup, 1/10th tsp of cayenne pepper, and pure water. So, I haven’t eaten in six days.
The second time I did the master cleanse I was in University working on a heavy course load and I have to admit – when I’m fasting I have a much higher level of clarity than when I am not. That fast was difficult but not as hard as the first time. I lived alone and was single and emptied my cupboards and fridge before I did the fast. That was back in 2008.
I’ve tried a couple of master cleanse fasts since then – but living abroad I had a hard time finding maple syrup of the right quality – shortly after moving to the USA I attempted a master cleanse and failed – it just wasn’t going to happen – my wife and I were both going through our own versions of culture shock and my head just couldn’t stick with it.
This time though – the house is full of food, my wife and daughter are eating their meals, and here’s the thing – I haven’t eaten in six days but for some reason this is easy. I wonder if my body is just feeding on my blubber and that’s why I don’t feel sharp hunger pains, psychologically it’s easy too – maybe because of that visit to the doctor, that moment of realizing I had just crossed the line into the land of my countrymen, the nation of the obese. I don’t know.
I do know that this is my reset button. At the end of this fast I will no longer be obese (actually, even as I write this I’ve gone back to not obese – I’ve lost over ten pounds in six days) but as with all crash diets – that weight will easily come back if I don’t change the way I do things. So, I’m going to change a few things…
After this master cleanse I am going to regulate my portions more closely, I will avoid sweets and processed foods (most of the time), and most importantly I am going to make excercise an essential on a daily basis. I want to feel good and to live an enjoyable life – that’s hard enough to do without being obese. Don’t you think?
I used to have a dog. My dog was well trained and I took it most places with me. The dog was loved and well cared for. Still, I recognize now that I wasn’t a very responsible dog owner – unless I was someplace where people might be walking – I would let the poop stay on the ground. I didn’t keep my dog on a leash, generally – because she was well trained and would come when I called, heel, etc.
I tell you that so that you have some context for this bit of a rant. I’m not much of a dog person any longer. It’s different when the dog is yours and you’ve raised it from a pup, spent years with it, etc – I know that – but the relationship I see between Americans and their dogs is something that makes me a little bit sick these days.
I go to people’s houses and find dog hair everywhere, I see people kiss their dogs on the mouth, I see people letting their dog lick their mouths, taste their food (and then the people eat it). I’ve been into houses as an insurance agent, a guest, or a picker where the smell of dog piss is so overwhelming that I want to vomit. People have their little dogs pee on pads that soak it up – but which don’t soak up the smell. I’ve been served food by hosts with dogs who didn’t seem to notice that their dog’s hair was in the food.
People let their dogs jump on me, lick me (it’s licking, not kissing), and harrass me.
Now, recently, I have people walk into my antique shop with their dog in their hands or even worse, on a leash without asking so much as a by your leave. I’ve had guests show up at my house without mentioning they were bringing their dogs (fyi – Lola is the only dog allowed in my house – all others must stay outside).
I understand it’s your dog. I understand you think of it as a member of your family. And I don’t really give a shit. It’s a dog. Dog’s aren’t particularly clean. Pigs are particularly clean and I don’t want a pig to lick me, jump on me, or come in my house or shop. Dogs are not as clean as pigs – I don’t like your dog, we might as well get it out of the way. I may not like your kid either, for that matter and you probably shouldn’t bring them into an antique shop either unless they are restrained or very well mannered and behaved.
I don’t have any desire to get another dog. If I do – you don’t have to like my dog just like I don’t like yours. Now – quit making me deal with your dog’s spit, hair, shit, or piss –
I was at a loss as to how to nicely tell people not to bring their dogs in my shop – my solution was to hang a sign in the door – “Licensed Service Dogs Welcome – All others please wait outside” I bet there will be more than one that ignore the sign…I will definitely ask them to leave after pointing out the sign.
I know pickers. Man, I know a lot of pickers. I know glass pickers, gun pickers, fishing pickers, fish pickers, antique pickers, advertising pickers, and toy pickers. I know nose pickers, too. No se pickers? I know pickers. I read about the economy of the USA and how jobs have increased but those jobs are mostly part time or less than average pay at a time when prices are higher than ever for gas, food, rent, and homes. All of that has led to a huge number of people turning to non-traditional ways to make money – among them, working online with blogs, websites, and online business along with pickers doing some serious picking.
I’ve been helping friends with garage sales and holding a few garage sales of our own as we get ready to move and I can tell you that the first twenty people to any garage sale are pickers that are either wheeling and dealing on their own, own a shop, or sell the stuff on Ebay. As a matter of fact, most of the rest of the people who hit garage sales are selling on Ebay, Amazon, or Craigslist too. While almost all of them complain about the rising cost of things at g-sales, due to g-salers using Ebay to look up prices, I would say that there has probably never been a better time to be a picker.
The reason? Baby boomers were hoarders of the cool stuff their parents left them and they are dropping off like flies now. In addition, those boomers whose parent’s still were alive, are mostly dying right now too. It’s sad, for everyone – everyone except the pickers who are loving it. On the table are vintage antiques from the 1890s to the 1940s plus tons of the ultra-hot Mid-Century Modern furniture, Modern Danish furniture, and incredible Mid-Century glass, ceramics, and decorative items.
Ebay and shows like American Pickers, Pawn Stars, and Storage Wars may have encouraged millions of out of work Americans to join the picker force thus making the picking more competitive and educated sellers about what they have so they don’t give it away, but is that very terrible? Not really. The reason is that the internet and those shows have also made millions more collectors and the education of sellers is a good thing – unless you think it’s cool to pay struggling families low dollar values for high-end items. Personally, I don’t think that’s cool at all. I’ve always tried to be fair when I buy stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say – “Hey, I think I can sell this for $100 so maybe you should charge me more…” but I do say “Hey, this thing might be valuable – are you sure you want to sell it for a dollar?” and a couple of times “Hey, don’t sell this before you check it out.” It was painful a few times..I found a signed Hawaiian Ukulele from the 1920s that was for sale for $100 and insisted that the owners check it out – It was worth nearly $12,000! I really wanted that Uke, but I couldn’t afford the higher price…still, I don’t think I could have afforded the bad karma from knowing I was stealing it either.
Still, I have ended up with some amazing bargains. Most of the time, people just want cash in hand and since there are so many pickers and collectors out there now – there is a market for just about anything cool you might buy. I bought a monkey wrench for $8 yesterday at a thrift store (by the way, no need to tell thrift stores that something is valuable) – it’s selling online for nearly $100 – but I’m not worried if I don’t sell it – it’s a working monkey wrench! I love that…btw…never mind Old McDonald sitting on a fence – I’ve washed it…
Anyway, it’s a picker, collector, and seller heaven right now – which is funny, because aside from that, nobody seems to have any money at all.
Just as I’ve had to shed clothes that no longer suit me or fit my needs, I have often had to shed labels that no longer are suitable. I wrote some time back about why I cannot , in good conscience, describe myself as a Muslim. Yes, I converted, but that was mainly because I had to in order to marry my wife. My conception and belief in God is such that it doesn’t matter what label I choose, they can all fit or none of them can, but I certainly don’t pray in a prescribed way five times a day, I’m not fasting during ramadan, I eat bacon, I drink alcohol, and – well, I’m sure you get the point. I’m not a Muslim – though I am a man on the path of God who frequently submits his own ego to the expressed will of the divine – but that’s another story.
Through my teens, twenties, and even into my thirties – I was very much able to describe myself as an anarchist. For me, as for many people, the term was more of a statement of what I was against than what I was for. I was against the use of force by a coercive government, I was against bureaucracy and taxation without representation, I was against tyranny by the majority, I was against centralized control and decision making that left the individual out of the process. To some extent, I can still say that I am not a fan of those things. If you had asked me what I was for, I believe I would have said I was for personal responsibility – I still am. I have simply come to the conclusion that Santa Claus is more plausible than a society where all members take personal responsibility and act in a mode of enlightened self interest.
That is what has changed. In travelling the world, studying diverse cultures and history, and meeting countless people – I can say that I am pretty certain about one thing.
THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE GIVEN A CHOICE WITH NO IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCES WILL CHOOSE IN THEIR OWN IMMEDIATE SELF INTEREST REGARDLESS OF LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES TO THEMSELVES, OTHERS, OR SOCIETY AS A WHOLE.
A simple example is firewood. If there is one tree that provides wood for fires and no one regulating it, you can be sure that the dead wood will first be harvested and hoarded, then the accessible branches will be stripped, and then someone will come along and cut down the rest of the tree. Those who held back to share are left in a position where they must now buy what was a community resource and there is no longer a tree to provide dead wood next year. That is the true tragedy of the commons. You either grab as much as you can while the tree is standing or you end up beholden to those that did. The idealist is left to complain and theorize. What a bummer.
The only way to prevent the tree being looted is to have the threat of force i.e. enforcement which can roughly be translated to government. Government, when it comes down to it, is a body of enforcement whether it is a dictatorship, a democracy, or something else. Someone has to carry the stick which will be used to enforce laws for the common good – it can be an individual who appoints themselves through brute force or it can be an institution created and backed by the people. Government, i.e. an enforcement agency, is essential because the majority of people are either unwilling or unable to make decisions that extend beyond their own immediate self interest.
The problem, of course, is that the government itself is much like the tree. It can also be stripped and looted. First someone comes along and takes all of the dead wood, then someone a bit stronger comes and strips the branches, and finally someone comes and takes the rest of the tree and the rest of us are left beholden to them. It’s a much more dangerous situation than being left without wood though, because the government can then be used AGAINST the people for the immediate self interest of those who have seized control. At that point, the people are either forced into serfdom or when conditions become completely unbearable, they are forced to rise up and seize control of the enforcement agency from the thieves who have stolen it. Such was the case in the Arab Spring, the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution. In fact, every popular revolt is such an uprising against unbearable conditions.
The challenge at that point is to create a system which has protection against thugs seizing control. This is the point of our checks and balances in the USA. The President is kept in check by the Supreme Court and the Congress, the Congress is kept in check by the Judiciary and the Executive, and the Judiciary is kept in check by the President and the Congress – at least in theory. Also in theory, all of these bodies are directly accountable to the people. The problem, is that when we allowed corporations to lobby and interfere in elections, lobbying, and appointments – we were giving the wealthy people behind those businesses a bigger axe to cut down the tree with. Suddenly decisions were being made that were of greater benefit to business than to individuals – short term decisions that lined pockets at the expense of our future. That’s the problem, that’s where we stand now.
Given all of that, I can’t describe myself as an anarchist. We need a government. We need a threat force. We just don’t need a government and threat force that is working to make us all into serfs. The current government is killing the future for us and our children, grand-children, and generations to come. By favoring business over education, profits over parks, and the needs of the few over the needs of the many – our government is slowly screwing our backs to the wall – they are stripping the tree right in front of our eyes. At what point does common sense dictate that we stand up and defend the tree of liberty?
It’s only been two weeks since I arrived back int he USA, bringing with me 9 bags, an Arab wife who has never been here, and a 20 month old daughter who is also fresh off the boat. The visa process, as I wrote about previously in Smooth Living and via social media was a year long process of forms, griping, and headaches – but we made it through that. I bought our flights through Emirates airlines and we flew from Casablanca to Dubai and then after 7 hours in the beautiful and mall-like Dubai International Airport – we flew the long haul from Dubai to San Francisco, California. At this point, it might make sense to share a couple of my Social Media updates:
Tired. — at Dubai International Airport (DXB). (April 17, 2013)
#microvictory Flew over the North pole, saw the tallest building in the world, and brought my family to the USA. It’s been a hell of a day. (April 18, 2013)
Back in the USA after a long time away….we freaking fucking made it. Hell yeah..now…not sure what. (April 18, 2013)
And so, my more than four years all around the world and my round the world trip of epic proportions came to a close. I wrote a bit of how it felt on Vagobond in The End of Vago’s Journey.
One of my best friends, Jeremy, provided us with a hotel to decompress and get over jetlag the first two nights. I fell in love with San Mateo, the peninsula, and Coyote Point while we tried to adjust to the time schedule. My brother was in San Francisco visiting my sister and so we had a mini-family reunion where, for the first time, our kids (with the exception of my brother’s three eldest) all mingled. It was a child fest as Jazzy, Ava, Elijah, and Sophia ran around and went nuts playing while we ate bacon and eggs for dinner. Bacon, was one of the things I missed most along with maple syrup and so my sister thoughtfully decided to make our dinner a breakfast instead. My brother had waited for us so he could offer a ride up to Redding where my mom and her husband live – I hadn’t intended to leave the Bay Area so soon but it seemed like kismit so after just two short days – we piled in his big truck and drove three hours North. I hadn’t wanted to go to Redding so soon but my mom had never met my wife or daughter and since her husband is a master mechanic, it made sense to head up there, get the visiting out of the way , buy a car, and then move forward to finding a job and creating our American life. They told us we were welcome for as long as we wanted and so my plan was to catch up on my work, arrange some interviews in the Bay Area, find a car with the approval of her husband, and finally to head back down and find a house. Three days seemed like it would be plenty.I told my wife to leave most of our nine bags at my sister’s since I figured it would be a short stay anyway.
My brother and his family stayed the first three days and it was a very nice pleasure to have all of us together. My mom’s husband was pretty patient as his normally quiet house and kingdom filled with kids and grandkids. During those three days, it wasn’t very possible to get anything done. The women folk were visiting and I was searching through used cars on Craigslist and realizing that everything in the USA, especially cars in California had become much more expensive than when I left. I’d thought I could find a beater that would run well for $1000. For $1000 there were often not tires or running engines included. I began looking in the $1500 range – it wasn’t much better. My mom had been buying baby things for us and she loaded us up with a playpen, high chair, toys, stroller, the works. She and my wife were hitting thrift stores and by the time my brother left Redding, we had more stuff than we had left at my sister’s and it felt like we had more than we had in our house in Morocco. My mom had hurt her back several months before and went to daily physical therapy sessions. I’d forgotten that without a car, you can’t do much in America. I walked six miles to a Best Buy because there was no bus and no taxis that I could find and saw only two other walkers on the way…both homeless. My laptop had broken somewhere between SF and Redding so I needed a new one…turned out Best Buy didn’t have what I was looking for so I ordered a Chromebook from Google and had it delivered. Fuck yeah. Online shopping and the USPS. Awesome. Two days later it was in my hands. Getting simcards for our phones wasn’t as simple as it is everywhere else in the world, but I managed to get us a couple of T-Mobile prepaid phones and one of the sim cards worked in my GSM smartphone, though Hanane’s was locked. Finally, on Friday, after 5 days in Redding, I had the chance to go look at used cars. I’d found a couple that seemed like they might work, a 95 BMW and a 72 VW Bus.
My mom had the time to drive me out to the boondocks to look at them. I just needed a car. I was going crazy in Redding and feeling like a prisoner in my mom’s house. The BMW was $2000 and the VW was $2600. The advantage of the bus was it was a VW bus, it ran well, I could work on it, and being older it was exempt from California’s smog laws. My stepdad hadn’t taken any time off work so he wouldn’t be able to look at a car until Sunday and at that point, who knew what would happen, I needed to just do things on my own. The BMW had a broken (cracked) front windshield the owner said he would fix for $130. I checked out both cars, test drove them both, and decided that the BMW was the safer car for my family. I offered him $1500 and he took it. Next began the process of getting the car smogged, getting insurance, and changing the registration and ownership – nightmare. It didn’t pass the first smog test $30. I took it for a little tune-up $100. I bought some maintenance items $30. I took it back to the guy to get the window fixed $130. I took it back to the smog and it failed again $30. I took it to a mechanic who told me it would pass after changing the o2 sensor $290. I took it to the smog shop – another fail $30. I did a little bit of complaining and finally it passed $30. I changed the registration $202. I got insurance $143. And suddenly, there it was, a high mileage but legal and well running car for a grand total of right around $2300. That’s what it costs to get a car that is safe, runs, and looks halfway decent in California. About the same as flying three people halfway around the world. Airfare, visa, car – and our savings is looking very very battered. I needed to find a job.
Then, on the edge of being victorious. My mom’s back had big problems. A social media update might express this best:
In the past 24 hours I saw the American Healthcare System in action. Holy shit…completely fucked up, and yet, great medicine. My mom had to have emergency back surgery. The surgery went well and she is recovering well… but to get to the surgery required an ambulance where the paramedic was scared to touch her and made her move from her bed to the gurney without his help (presumably because of lawsuit fears), the ambulance dropped her off at the emergency room where they put her in a fucking chair (with a major spine injury!) for 13 hours while she waited to be seen by a nurse, a doctor, or an anaesthetician…one nurse came and guided her in breathing but for the most part they ignored her as she moaned and groaned and cried in pain. Finally when she began vomiting from the pain, they gave her some drugs and then she had to wait another 6 hours for an MRI because the MRI machine broke so they had to take her to another hospital…after that the neurosurgeon came and from then on, everything was incredible…top notch treatment, care, surgery, and, inchallah, recovery. The problem was the nearly 24 hours between emergency call and treatment and the careless disregard which she and everyone else in the emergency room were treated with…like Leonard Cohen said, America, the cradle of the best and of the worst…(April 27, 2013)
This was the same period I was having the smog issues with the car.
I see that the healthcare sucks, that public transportation outside of major metropolitan areas sucks, and that as a result Americans are forced to buy expensive cars and subsidize the auto and health insurance industries as well as the oil industry through being wage slaves to support their auto, transportation, health, and insurance costs – that the need to work all the time makes people eat less healthy foods thus increasing health issues, and that in general when I take a walk, the only people I encounter walking are either homeless, mentally ill, or on drugs. I’ve only been back ten days and already someone I know from high school was shot, my mother had to sit 13 hours in agonizing pain in the emergency room, and I’ve had to shell out about 1/3 of my savings to get a shitty car, make it pass inspection, and insure it…Wow. God bless America…. (April 30, 2013)
Two major surgeries later and a stint in the ICU and mom is recovering. Not the homecoming we expected but we were willing to stay and help out with chores, cooking, and other stuff- we figured out though that her husband just needed his house to decompress from the trials and efforts of taking care of my mom. Poor guy has a daunting task ahead of him. Mom’s recovery will be years with at least six months before she can walk again. With the car ready and mom stable, we decided to give him some breathing room and came down to Sacramento, where, as luck would have it, friends needed a house/cat sitter. And now, two weeks on, here we are with friends, with car, with place to stay, and with America ahead of us.
I’m considering a new direction and project in my life and work. I’ve never been keen on the American dream or being American (aside from the passport) – but as I get ready to come home and bring my immigrant family with me – I realize, maybe I never gave the USA the chance it deserves. I’ve never taken the time to indulge in watching spectator sports or being a team fan. I’ve never tried to climb the career ladder, I’ve never indulged in great american past times…
When it comes down to it…I’m as much a foreigner to America as my wife who has never been there yet. Especially since I’ve been away these past 4 + years while technology and social conventions have totally changed the face of a country that I knew in passing to a country I feel like I don;t know at all.
My perspective is incredibly fresh. I know little to nothing about America or being American. To be completely fair, I left America when I left the mainland back in 2001. Hawaii has never been and will never be like the rest of America. No professional sports teams, not the same patriotic fervor, not the same vibe. So, in reality, I’ve been away from America for more than 12 years (with a couple of visits in the first 8 years I was away).
I don’t know if this would be of interest to anyone – but it seems like an opportunity for me, my Arab wife, and our 19 month old baby to discover the America that we’ve never known. To write and blog about it. To learn things from real Americans. To dive into everything I’ve spent my life avoiding…football, college basketball, rodeos, pilates, marriage counseling, shrinks, TV dinners, office politics, watercooler chat, sitcoms, Applebys, gun culture, pop stars,and all the things that I can’t think of and don’t know about America.
This is an opportunity to share the real America with the world. Real American’s are probably laughing at my list but that should give you a clue to how clueless I really am about my own country. Imagine how clueless the rest of the world is? I’ve met a lot of people all over the world and been astounded at the ideas they have about my country…who knows? Maybe they are right and I’m the clueless one (I am for sure but I suspect that they may also be mistaken.
Let me know what you think of this idea. I’m considering setting up and launching a kickstarter project once we arrive in the USA. In the first weeks we are there we will be reconnecting with family and friends…if this idea gains some legs…after that we will embark on a journey to discover the true culture of America with you as our tour directors.