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An American heading south

Falls Church, February 2 — Alone, inside the house. For some reason, the electricity is out. Tortured, the fuse box yields no answers. Through the plate glass dining room window, a winter rain. Everywhere, the sky is gray. Your mind is divided in two parts, against itself. The world seems naturally split into coexisting contradictions. They confuse rather than synthesize the universe. A tangible uncertainty fills your lungs. Uneasiness like water rising. Audible breathing.

In a week, you leave for New Zealand. A space in California, a few UCLA games, is the only separation from the wonderful unknown. There you will assume the duties of columnist-in-exile. (Or so they tell you. You wonder whether to trust your editors. You hire spies.) The electricity comes back on. You wonder if you will see any sheep.


Princeton, expensive, cold, conservative, hypocritical, has been temporarily left behind. Already, it recedes beneath the veils of the past. The urge to gloat, a sense of loss. You will miss some friends, the basketball team's big year, the impersonal buildings speaking of an investment of self. Princeton is a hard lump in your throat. An annoyance you do not want to get rid of. In New Jersey, classes have started – so has Dillon ball. Ponder this today as you sit on the couch, keeping watch over the idiot box.

Cars on the wet road. You used to know this town, its streets, the people in it. Every homecoming is a departure now. America has made you this way: everything is simplified until it cuts the flesh. There are only two sides to every issue here. Everyone is razor sharp, clean-cutting you into one camp or the other. This is no longer home. Nor are Princeton or the road ahead. Choose one to call your own. Wondering whether you really hate this place. Where is your girlfriend?

America's cultural attention span rarely allows a move beyond simplistic duality. Either, or: the prevalent discursive boundaries, semantic ties that bind. Because of this, leaving the States feels like abandoning them, disowning the past. You feel dissected. Most disturbing is the thought that this conflict is fabricated, that this choice is not one. Going abroad does not opt you out of American life, you do not disown it by going away. You might like to.

Thinking about life here . . . More than anywhere on earth, the United States founds its public discourse on sports, the paradigm of competition. Notice that none of our contests end in ties; even the world's game, "soccer," is brutalized in its U.S. incarnation. If all else fails, we are ensured a shootout. You feel life here always asks you to take sides, to be engaged. Every spectator of American political and cultural life is not a mere observer but a fan. No one is allowed neutrality.

A pit in your stomach. There are so many dividing lines, defining you into an existence other than your own. Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, Packers/Broncos. This is how your existence is boxed in: choices presented as though inescapable, as though they matter or are the only ones. They all go into the standings of your life.

Time for lunch. Peanut butter (crunchy) on celery sticks. Eating, you understand there are no such choices, no resolution. Two opposite things can both be true. Embracing both is not ambivalence but an admission that reality is more complex than a grid in the newspaper. Life is not fifty-fifty; there is no line between love and hate. (Fidel is the best thing that ever happened to post-Columbus Cuba. Castro is a ruthless dictator, a son-of-a-bitch). (You're ok. You are an incomparable moron. You will miss nothing, and even that which you hate). You wonder what the weather is like in New Jersey.


Examining yourself, the desk at which you sit (slanted, too rigid). This is the baggage you take with you to the Southern Hemisphere, the vehicle through which you will see (and attempt to tell) New Zealand. It is all you have; hopefully it is enough to escape the stereotype of the Ugly American. You know that in many ways, it fits you very well. You gather that of yourself which you will try to email back to Princeton every few weeks, and head out. Around the corner, a building houses the local discount CD store. It is located in the basement.

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