First, let me just say that I'm annoyed. I can't sleep. Someone in the shanty town underneath my bedroom window ("Oh, the UP slum," said the driver who brought us home from the airport on Monday) has been having a raucous birthday party for hours now. They started with firecrackers, which I have decided are ridiculous, adolescent, and unnecessarily male. Then they progressed to singing "Happy birthday to you" over and over again, at random intervals. They're also burning things that are smoking up the atmosphere in my bedroom and making it hard for me to breathe, even though I've taken an allergy pill.
Now it's raining. And even that natural impediment is not sending the revelers inside. If anything, it has incited them to set off another barrage of firecrackers.
Ironic, then, that I wrote the following earlier this evening, thinking mostly about the costs of modern(ism) and big cities on the psyche...
Looking for Dave on Tuesday morning, I called the house via Skype and listened to the phone ring and ring, until finally my voice answered: "We're not home right now. Leave a message."
Was he walking the dog? I imagined him striding briskly down Reed Street, then Oregon, then Oneida, then back up Reed, the mile-long block, the air already turning October brisk, his ears reddening a bit, the leaves overhead rustling and drying, getting ready to burst into color and then fall.
I left a message, something like "Hello, it's me. Just wanted to tell you that we love you, that we got home safe, hope you're out enjoying the evening, maybe walking the dog. I'll be online for another 45 minutes or so, checking email, if you get this message."
After messing around on Facebook for far too long, and learning that everyone in Green Bay and the surrounding area suddenly hates Brett Favre (what has he done now?), I tried calling home again. Got the same message.
Where is he? Then it hit me--everyone hates Brett Favre because he's no longer the Packer quarterback. Now he's the Vikings' quarterback, a turncoat traitor throwing for the enemy. Monday night football back home, everyone huddled around the electronic hearth, screaming, drinking beer, pounding each other on the back. Dave must be over at Brad and Diane's.
I called Brad's cell. He'd pick up--Dave was iffy with the cell. Who knew if he'd even taken it with him? But Brad can be counted on to take his cell with him wherever he goes, and, if it's humanly possible, to answer it.
"Hello?" Brad said. The sounds of revelry crowded around his voice.
I'd hit the motherlode. Everyone was at KC and JP's house, watching the game: Dave, Brad and Diane. I got to talk to everyone nearly all at once, as if I were already home.
"Are you going to be sad to come back to boring, white middle class America?" KC wanted to know.
"Let me tell you a little secret," I said. "I will be very glad to be home. Give me boring, predictable, white middle class small town life," I said, "where all the crises are small." A man throwing his cigarette butt out of the car window: jerk! A long line at the Target register. The small red *bing* of the engine light coming on in the Toyota. The pilot light going out on the hot water heater. A trickle of water snaking in over the basement floor after a particularly long fall rain. The dog chewing on a favorite pair of shoes, eating the expensive wool socks.
I've learned a lot about myself over the past going on 5 months. One of the things that I've learned is that I'm old and set in my ways. What's more, my adventure gene flickers--there are moments when I'm awed by the scope of the world, by its sheer variety, the sizes and shapes and sounds and tastes of it, and there are moments (usually coming right after) when I'm terrified by its overwhelming particularity. Perhaps I miss my white, middle class, midwestern American tribe, the vast herds of us grazing in supermarkets and shopping malls in our brand name jeans and unmarked T-shirts, our hair predictably coiffed, highlighted in haloes around our innocent blank faces. Maybe I want to be surrounded by the similarly guilty, our food divided into large portions, hermetically sealed, poverty hidden behind concrete walls and polite facades.
Our visit to Bohol showed me that I'm not a big city girl. I like the slower pace of the countryside, the province, the "povertyesque" of the small, neat hut with its scratching chickens and single white pig rooting under a gnarled tree. Life moves a little more slowly. The faces that come at me smile, the skin around the eyes wrinkles, and the grin doesn't slide into a grimace. People are poor there, certainly, but their poverty doesn't cut into me like a knife, doesn't slice down to my quivering, silly core.
It occurs to me that my mythical homeland may not exist. I turn on the TV and am bombarded with apocalyptic imagery. It seems that the earth no longer wants us, at least as we are. It's chewing us up with earthquakes, burning us clean with wildfires, vomiting us out with tsunamis, spitting floods on us. I might want a land that only exists in memory, the imagination, a kind of nostalgia that's sickeningly sweet.
Or maybe Manila is, in some ways, more real, more alive--and thus more threatening--than Green Bay or De Pere, Wisconsin. Here the costs of the slow, middle class float of home are more apparent, our semi-ignorance, our dazed complacence, our small bubbles of self reality like astronaut's suits to protect us from an airless moon. Haven't we somehow contributed to this city with our consumerism, our restless shopping? Manila is the city gone supernova, like the Mexico City of my childhood. People crowded on people in the worst conditions, squalor, mounds of trash, decay and death jumbled together with screaming children, babies, men and women sleeping on slips of cardboard under dirty overpasses, traffic snarled into itself like matted hair. Desire and despair, hunger and greed, are the hum, whistle and honk, the odd music, like a mechanical sea, that fills our ears. The modern city builds and builds until it implodes.