Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Coming to America

All the children are blonde. The air is that kind of northern crisp and clean that I associate with autumn. The sky is so blue it hurts your eyes. The water glows. All the homes here seem to have flags, and when they wave, it seems like the colors will bleed out and turn everything red, white, and blue.

I feel like I'm in a movie about America.

I came home about ten days ago -- to a house that my great-grandfather built. I've been coming here since I was two years old. When I was a child, I used to wonder if the summers were a dream that I had had. Michigan is so different from Florida, especially this small town, on the small lake that feeds Lake Michigan. Florida is transient, strip-malled, humid, a hybrid of Old South meets retired New Jersey meets Cuba. Michigan is small town, traditional, full of 200-year old buildings, a Scandinavian-immigrant haven. And in thirty years, it hasn't changed much. I can see why I thought it was a dream when I was young.

China might as well be the moon for all its relevance here. But I've been away so long, America feels somewhat foreign to me. Okay, "somewhat" is inaccurate. "Quite" might be closer to the truth.

It's good to get back in touch though. I go to the local dive bar, Tuttens, and meet a guy in his 80s, Art. He's a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. But he says to me, "This government? Horrible." He's been involved in the party conventions since 1966, he says. He was a champion of Jack Kemp in 1988. A woman in the grocery store told his wife that they were traitors for not supporting Bush senior at the time.

It's a Friday night, and the bar is filled with young people who all seem to know each other. Apparently, my fascination with this 80-year old man makes me more appealing. I start getting hassled by some young women.

"Hey, who are you?" says an obviously drunk girl to my left. "I've never seen you before."

I say my hellos and then turn back to Art. He winks at me and says, "Nothing like aggresive women."

We talk for a long time, and then he leaves me with a stunner: "Well, my girlfriend lives up the road, I have to pay her a visit."

Not long after, I walk up the hill behind the bar with the drunk women and lots of their friends -- someone is having a house party. They light a bonfire in the yard, and put a mini-trampoline next to it, running and jumping over the fire. They jump deliberately close to the fire, as someone snaps pictures. A bottle goes around. Music blasts from the house. The night clouds over.

All I can think about is how this would never happen in China, and how freedom often seems to have little to do with politics and much more to do with culture, and how freedom has something to do with a people-to-space ratio...and how much I miss it.