I like how Russians refer to Russia as “she,” like a ship. “Mother Russia,” they call her tenderly. Does America have a gender? With our aircraft carriers and concussion protocols and rodeos and Paul Bunyan figures, I’m inclined to say America is a “he.” But “father USA” feels ridiculous, perhaps offensive these days. Assigning a gender to our country is a quick way to get yourself clapped in the internet’s irons. Down below, where outspoken gender-insensitive patriots are treated to a cornucopia of Twitter shivs and blog shanks. The hornets of progress grease the guards, once you drop yours, in mentions and follows. Then they wait in the steam until you fumble the proverbial sensitivity soap.
I’ve seen a fair amount of this country I love. Right now, I’m on a train passing through Rhode Island with its marshes and inlets and docks that stretch out, offering a steady arm to boats that might otherwise sway themselves seasick. Meanwhile, nearby, upper-class boats stare superiorly down their noses, sitting high and dry under tarps like cling-wrapped bowls of unfinished ziti, awaiting the warmth of spring and the microwave, respectively. It is high tide and that makes all the difference: blues instead of browns, salty air instead of that mud-shit smell. I fold one leg over a knee and hold my book with one hand under the spine to complete my “portrait of the artist as a young man” self-image. I’m reading John McPhee who, as Cardi B might say, dog-walks me to school with each sentence.
Am I young man? For a few days more, I hope. Here comes thirty, barreling down upon me with a thousand deafening questions. I don’t feel thirty in the mirror; I feel it in my knees and elbows and in the swallow, now, of angry responses that once landed me in principal’s offices or on the receiving end of a local’s fist. I feel it in hangovers that seem endless. I taste it in the saccharine vestiges of a hair loss gummy stick to a molar. I checkmark it in the “attending” boxes of wedding invitations I never expected, grinding a pen point through the card with the resentful knowledge that I’m signing away hundreds in flights, hotel rooms, and wedding checks.
Here come the golf courses. We must be in Connecticut. In the parlance of comedians, Connecticut is the mecca of white people. We blur through local train stations, and all the towns seem to end in “port,” “ford” or “haven.” But a study published by some website that looks legit tells me Connecticut is ranked 21st in ethno-racial diversity (not bad). Out in the Pacific, Hawaii is the most racially diverse state in the country. Bringing up a monochromatic rear? Maine. Dead last. My home state. Our best basketball player ever is Nick Caner-Medley. You get the point.
Sometimes it’s nice to let your mind have a turn at the wheel. Don’t give it directions. This is the mindless stroll to nowhere that comes from a brain off-leash, hoping to tease out some semblance of a tune. Let funny have a day off. I hope it brought you the peace needed of a Sunday morning; I hope you read this in a bath, or paired with a hummus plate, but not both. Pita triangles wilt to mush in hot water.
Tomorrow we’ll be back to our regular-scheduled programming.