Saturday, June 13, 2009

Notes from home

June 4: Arriving home
I was waiting for this big Wow moment, waiting for a realization, an appreciation of the enormous difference in quality of life, hitting me like an air blast at the border.

But that didn't happen. Little things were strange.

People movers, those large conveyor belts that cost God-knows-how-much money to run, just so we can walk a little faster. That's funny.

And then, at the tiny airport in Montevideo, Uruguay, there was an upstairs cafe and waiting area, and while I walked around it, looking for a plug that didn't look like a pig's nose, I stopped in front of this sliding glass door. It was frosted, all for but a clear strip at eye level, for looking in, and for looking out, perhaps, at those looking in. There was an etching, something like "VIP Club."

Through the clear glass strip I saw a man in a leather chair reading a newspaper (he must have been very important), another watching CNN on a flatscreen. I saw two young woman behind a beautiful wood welcome desk. I saw sculptures set on cut-in shelves. Behind the glass it was calm as an aquarium.

I had this impulse to set down my bag, walk over to the glass, and shove my face against it until it mushed up and gave all the important people a good look up my nose. Then maybe I could blah blah blah my tongue on it, the way I saw this little Paraguayan baby doing to a bus window, that made me laugh. Then, right when I had everyone's attention, I could make a big raspberry fart sound on the glass.

It would at least give everyone in there something to talk about, and a bond, beyond just being important, of having survived this brush with the outside world. But I didn't set my bag down, or leave saliva on their very important glass. I just went to the non-important person cafe, and sat in a plastic chair.

It's not that I'm better than them, or that I wouldn't have sat in there if I was a person with the cash to do so. It's a protest against those status symbols we all accept as normal. For instance, if the etching had said "The people with an extra 500 bucks club," I bet it would have been empty. These things are not real, and you will never be safe from maniacs with funny faces and farts noises, I want to say. The glass isn´t even made of glass, it´s made of a make-believe wall that separates the rich and the poor and keeps them from realizing they are exactly the same. Well, what will happen if we stop believing in it?

So I'll just be one person who doesn't play along anymore, in the Status-for-Sale game, who doesn't believe that people with more money should be glass-encased and labeled as more important than others.

June 5: Where's my medal?
I keep feeling this urge, how embarrassing it is really, to reap that promised benefit of Peace Corps service: recognition. When I got my first Starbucks frappachino, I almost said, "Oh, I'm so excited, I haven't had a frappachino in a year." And then the woman at the counter would surely play along, saying, "Oh really? Why not?" And I'd play it down maybe, just saying I've been living abroad or something, and she'd ask why or where and drag it out of me, that I would say, "Oh, I've just been in the Peace Corps."

And then maybe she'd call her co-worker over, to meet this real-life Peace Corps Volunteer, and they'd put their elbows on the counter, their chins in their hands, and ask me to tell them tales of my adventures, while a line of non-awesome people formed behind me.

"Will there be anything else?" they ask, after I've resisted. "No," I say, "thanks."

June 11: My Indie Home
I had this moment at a Paraguayan party a little while ago, where I just longed to be in my own scene. I wanted my own dancing, my own music, my own culture.

I danced around my Asuncion hotel room when I got tickets to Bon Iver, my favorite new band whose music has been filling my little house all year while I cook. And the show was everything I dreamed it would be.

Indie kids! There they were, lined up outside, just like back in Gainesville,when I'd go see my musical buddies play. Indie kids, with their ironic mustaches and tight jeans and thick-rimmed glasses and tendency to make me feel like maybe I, too, should have a sleeve tattoo. Indie kids. How I've missed you.

At the show, I drank Coors Light (not as ironic as PBR, but close). There were two women, one with a bull ring nose piercing, canoodling next to me the whole time. The musicians were not pretty boys with dance moves and light shows, they just played beautiful music and made jokes. The place was familiar, and it's good to be home.


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