America, abridged

In rural Pennsylvania I drank cider by a bonfire while people yelled “Fire in the hole!” and launched flaming pumpkins from giant catapults and then boy scouts rushed to put them out with shovels.

In Washington, DC, I killed time in a Salvadoran bar, waiting for Jeremy to finish band practice. The waitress and I conversed in Spanish. She asked how I could travel so much and not miss my family. She couldn’t go home and see hers: it wasn’t just about money, it was about not having papers. She said that if I didn’t manage to contact my friend, I could stay with her and her aunt in Maryland.

I got a lift from Washington to Dayton with a woman who was on her way back to Manitoba. The journey took eight hours but she wouldn’t accept any money for petrol. It turned out she had grown up in the Mennonite town that Miriam Toews described in A Complicated Kindness. She said that she could speak Low German but that it was pretty useless. “I can speak backwards,” I offered. “At least you can communicate with someone.”

I had decided to try not kissing anyone for a year. I got as far as Ohio with that plan.

I walked into a bar in Indianapolis with my rucksack, and the owner sent over drinks on the house because a couple of bands I’d never heard of had cancelled their gig at the last minute. “John Dillinger used to come here,” said my host, a disarmingly cute conspiracy theorist. I nodded like I knew anything, and thought to myself: Four? Or Escape Plan? He drove me to a house on the outskirts of town, a work in progress that had been classified as uninhabitable. It was like the houses in the dreams I’ve had all my life, expanding: when he moved the boards and mattresses that were propped against the walls, they revealed doorways leading to more rooms. I slept on a couple chunks of foam in a cold, bare room; killed time in the morning by studying Polish until he came downstairs and apologised for waking up so late. “My bad,” he said. Outside, a mountain of bin bags filled with leaves awaited an ambitious composting project. He took me for brunch in a Mexican diner and then saw me off at the bus stop.

In Chicago I met up with a friend of a friend, an activist. Green tea turned into dinner and drinks in a pub till the small hours of the morning. We put the world to rights. “Hey,” I said, “we’ve spent several hours together but we’ve only just started using the word ‘dogmatic’ and I think we should throw it around some more.” She smiled shyly and then said, “My place is kind of a mess, but you’re welcome to come home with me if you’d like to.”

I went home with a girl in Somerville, Massachusetts. In the morning we lay in bed talking about ligers and the time she went to Canada for three hours. I wondered how long it would take before her bruises would fade. I wanted to see her again but I didn’t know if she was interested in a repeat performance. I cooked risotto for everyone and when she tried to summon me into an empty room I declined before I realised what that probably meant. But it was okay: my time in the States was ending, and it was what it was. My time with her, my time with everyone. I could be sad about leaving or I could be happy about all the experiences I had had, and I chose the latter.

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4 responses to “America, abridged

  1. Haha… I really enjoyed reading about your venture across the states.

    Here’s my offering for language/place:

    http://conversationswithacardinal.blogspot.com/2011/04/i-value-my-life.html

    • Thanks! (I’ve just edited your link so it works properly, FYI.)

      Your jeep journey takes me back to a taxi in Bulgaria, in which I was giving serious consideration to the potential for killing my friend, who was sitting in front of me in the passenger seat, if we crashed and I pitched forward … We compared notes afterwards and she’d been thinking about that too. Seat belts, how I like having them around.

  2. yes to the dogmatic line. and the couple chunks of foam. and to bedrolls and invites to sleep on top pompey’s pillar. nice to read you (via language carnival). i will come find you again.

    sherry o’keefe

  3. Hey, nice to hear from you again! I’ve enjoyed reading about Montana, too. I would like to go to that bar.

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