America is wide awake, and dreaming glorious dreams

“You are such a shy person,” my husband said as we drove home from a long, pretty good concert this evening. “You stammer and get red whenever you meet a stranger. How is it you manage, time after time, to get into these loud, public brawls?”

Well, alright, there is all that Irish in me, and that might explain some of it, but my husband has a point and it makes me wonder about the vast difference between shyness and timidity. It is true that I hate meeting new people. I don’t hate the people, I simply hate meeting them. I hate not having a fluid grasp of all the social cues and niceties (there was quite a raucus, barbarian quality to my immediate family and early formation and so the social graces simply do not flow, at it were…)

However, for all of my shyness, I am not a timid woman. Rather, I tend to speak my mind too quickly when an interior censor would be advisable. It happened again tonight, at a YES concert at Jones Beach Theatre.

At intermission, as the roadies set up for the band, my husband left me to get a soft drink and I stood and looked appreciatively around the venue. Two men were also enjoying the play of full moonlight on water and we chatted amiably. One of them pointed out the VIP area, which looked comfortable and seemed to provide a wide variety of refreshment. The other fellow said, “it’s not worth the money, unless of course, you’re writing it off at Halliburton!”

Out of nowhere, perfect strangers talking, and this utterly stupid remark goes forth, and I cannot help myself, because I’m so sick of the mindless hate-zone so many people have fallen into without even realizing it. Calling on my limited gifts for diplomacy I say…I believe I said this and did not sneer it…”Yes, that eeeeeeevil corporation, Halliburton! Yes, they would just write off VIP tickets, wouldn’t they? Not like the rest of those companies throughout the nation and the world! Heck, not even like the corporate owner of this venue! Only Halliburton would write off entertainment. Halliburton, hiss, hiss!”

Things went downhill from there. I had to listen to how stupid America is, how materialistic, how shallow, how superficial. I heard that the Europeans were so much more sophisticated, so much more laid back, so much more soulful than Americans. “They are simply of a higher caliber, altogether,” one man sniffed at me, “than Americans. Although they are, perhaps a tiny bit too class conscious!”

“The beauty of America,” I said quietly as I tried not to explode, “is that anyone of any so-called class may ascend or descend to another simply by virtue of how much drive, energy and imagination they have, and how hard they are willing to work!”

“There you go,” the other man said, “it always comes back down to this idea of hard work – it’s so pathetic!” His voice began to rise. “It’s always about the time-card with Americans, it’s always about the job, about getting ahead, about the elite, it’s never about leisure, or family or art!”

I almost choked. America not about art? I looked about the amphitheater, old and graceful, surrounded by water, part of a Robert Moses-designed public beach. It is a little gem of community ownership. There is nothing at all elitist in the brickwork and copper architecture, but there is art. We were attending a rock concert – an artform descended from Jazz, the quintessential American music. The place itself is a testimony to imagination and hard work. I thought of all of the families who – when the beach was being designed and built in the early part of the 20th century – had a breadwinner employed by the venture. I thought of the houses and cars that were able to be acquired because of the jobs the design had created, and the tax revenues from those jobs which went toward building Long Island’s excellent public schools and public works.

The very beach on which we stood had been for many the motor which drove acquisition of wealth, education, lessons in dance, music, tennis, all of which fostered additional, continuing excellence. I saw all of this and thought about the everyday people who had punched their time clocks day after day to build such a treasure, and I felt such a sense of pride and admiration well up inside me that I couldn’t speak for a moment. When I could, I turned to the fellow and sputtered and stammered something that – were I a little more fluent – would have amounted to this: “Look around you. Are you blind? Look at America! This venue seats 14,000 people, on a waterfront, surrounded by something natural and wild that we worked to integrate! And it’s not here to serve elites who take themselves and their money seriously! This is a crowd of suburban people who worked hard all week and don’t particularly feel the need to go into Manhattan to affirm themselves or their lives when this excellent and beautiful theater is right here! You think Europe is so much better? More soulful, did you say?” I shook my head. “Both spiritually and philosophically, Europe is asleep, because it wants to be. But it’s a terrible sleep, because it is a sleep without dreams, and everyone knows that sleep without dreams leads only to madness and a terrible decay. At least America is not asleep.”

In fact, America is wide awake and bustling and busy and creating and building. Yes, I know, the hard work idea again…but a body at rest stays at rest. America is wide awake and moving and even still, somehow, she dares to dream. America is dreaming, even now.

My husband returned and lead me away, back to our breezy seats and the music. But the conversation with those two men stayed with me. And so has that sense of pride.

I expect those two gentlemen who so loved Europe over their own country are the sort to laugh and applaud the demonstrations and hate-filled displays which will be all over the news this week as the Republicans convene in New York City and the more extreme (or addled) members of the opposition do their best to insult, shock or harass the visitors. They won’t get it. They won’t see that the people being subjected to this classless treatment are the people who dream of public beaches with landmark towers and who build them while they sweat in blue workshirts. They see materialists groveling for a paycheck so they can buy something for their lover or their kids, and they sneer at it. I see a country that understands that what is not moving forward it is growing stagnant, a people who instinctively understand that a bridge and some beaches, and a pleasant environment and appropriate infrastructure, and music under the stars are good things and blessings – things which feed our souls, that these things do not add up to an environmental travesty that has made them impure.

I may hate meeting new people, but I love Americans. I love them with all of their faults and follies, because I know Americans; I know this one thing: there is greatness of spirit within them, and one needn’t stammer to meet them and know it as well. God bless ‘em all, I say, even the ones who don’t understand what a gift they have been given. God bless America.

And welcome to NY, Grand Old Party.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Nick

    I know that this comment is really really really late, but I was browsing around when I saw this post. The two subjects in your post remind me of two professors I have. They are from the UK and Germany. Both talk about how bad America is and all the usual stuff, how much better Europe is, besides the whole colonial thing. But both of them rushed to get their US Citizenship just as soon as they could. :P

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  • benning

    Ahhh, you were magnificent, Dear Anchoress! Wonderful!

    What a nice way to start 2006! Glad you reposted this. :D

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  • Anonymous

    lah dee dah