A department store synonymous with American excess and, coincidentally, its shooting culture. Fortunately, they sell wine.
Today, August 29, is the anniversary of our repatriation. It's been two years since we came to these shores, weary from our long journey (okay, it was seven and a half hours from Heathrow to Dulles, plus another hour to our new home near the Potomac. But we had two bottles of wine on the plane so it SEEMED like a long journey, in wine years). I thought I would check in, let you know how I'm finding it here in former British colony of Virginia.
August is not the best month here. It's hot, humid, and hellaciously buggy. I found a grasshopper clinging to my wall this morning, apparently a harbinger of the coming plague, or maybe it just was hungry and had heard there was a trail of sugar ants in my kitchen. It reminded me of that first night, when right after I arrived here, I went outside in the dark, eager to explore my new environs, and a cacophony of crickets and cicadas greeted me. It was a sound I remembered from my childhood, a sound unique to the American South. It's a hot, sticky, invasive sound, not at all pleasant. I got back inside right quick and wished I had another bottle of wine.
I missed England already. They don't allow plagues there; Defra has eliminated them as surely as they've outlawed rabies. Yes, I know I used to mock Health and Safety; that was before I came to these Former Colonies and discovered 12 year olds could buy guns. Traffic lights are more a suggestion than a hard and fast rule. Or maybe the cops are too busy shooting unarmed civilians to bother enforcing traffic laws. The second time someone sped through an intersection after the light turned red, nearly hitting me, I decided I'd just wait a few extra minutes each time the light turned green, the honking horns behind me a small price to pay for safety.
Moving to suburban America from England probably feels like what the settlers encountered when they departed their wagon trains in the Wild West. I saw a man with a pistol strapped to his waist entering a church the other day. Maybe he was worried about wild animals—a cougar or a bear or a distempered raccoon. Or maybe he just wanted to protect his family from the other armed settlers, who regularly shoot up houses of worship and cinemas and schools, but fortunately I don't have any reason to go to those types of dangerous places.
People in America like to proclaim which tribe they belong to by papering their cars with bumper stickers. It's as if they think we care who they voted for in 2004. Maybe these are just the people whose children didn't make the honor roll so they have extra room on their bumpers. I don't put any stickers on my car; it's dangerous enough changing lanes here without asking to have a cap popped up your ass. "You're voting for Hillary AND you cut me off? Bang! Bangbang!"
Daily living is scary here, but fortunately there's box wine. I read an article that said boxed wines were actually pretty good. With memories of wine runs to France fading, I embraced this new concept and now keep a box of Cabernet on my kitchen counter, which now that I think about it may explain the ants. No worries; after a couple glasses I can't even see them!
If you can't cross the Channel and hit the Auchan in Calais, it's fine. Really.
One thing that's really good here: surgery. I've had three, the last two on my eyes, because why not? Americans are champions when it comes to consuming health care. Our surgeons are busy and well fed, and they live in great big houses called McMansions. There's a few in my neighborhood, surrounded by invisible fences because what's the point of obstructing the view of your brick and mortar retirement fund? None of those stately English walls and yew hedges here, preventing others from peeking into your front lounge! In fact, they don't even call them "lounges" here; they're living rooms, family rooms, and great rooms. (They're not especially "great," that's just what they call them once they reach a certain size.) I imagine my surgeons there, sipping box wine and reading up on the latest plague.
Plagues here are generally spread by mosquitos, which deserve their own special plague designation. (God probably hadn't invented them yet when he sent those plagues to Egypt, or else he'd have finished off the pharaohs with a cloud of aedes aegypti.) Lots of companies here claim to get rid of mosquitoes, since underground fences apparently don't keep them out. You can buy candles that are supposed to be offensive to mosquitoes, but just like the traffic lights, they don't seem to be effective at cutting your risk of death. Luckily I've got my own grasshopper now. I hope he has a taste for ants and mosquitoes.
I've also got a black rat snake that lives in the backyard. When I saw it I was so upset I almost went straight to Dulles to board the next flight for England, where there are no snakes, but then I found out they only eat mice, not Golden Retrievers.
I'm trying to make friends now. I've been to a couple of gun control rallies, which is where my tribe gathers. I've also joined a book club, another tribal activity. I'm thinking about attending a wine tasting at Wegmans, which is where my tribe hunts and gathers. The food here is colossally large: apples the size of a Swede (the root vegetable, not Stellen Skarsgård); zucchini the size of watermelons; cantaloupes the size of Mexicans' appendages, according to at least one political candidate.
Xenophobia is one thing I don't miss about England; there's plenty of that here. One prominent presidential candidate wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. I have a hard time figuring out why any Mexican would want to come here. Maybe they haven't heard about the mosquitoes, the questionable traffic laws, and the armed citizenry. Or perhaps they don't have box wine in Mexico?
I know it sounds like I'm not adjusting well. I should be further along with my assimilation after two years. I guess 24 months isn't enough to forget what I loved about Britain—the walks, the castles, the weather. Oh wait, I hated the weather in England. The endless rain, the cold summers, the damp winters—I wrote a whole book about the weather in England (well, almost a whole book). And the plumbing—how could I forget the annus horribilis, the plumbing nightmare that involved five plumbers, gained me a stalker and got an estate agent made redundant (or fired, if you prefer blunt Americanisms)?
Absence, that's how. It makes the heart grow fonder. Two years on from a leaking shower, a cracked toilet, and a freezing summer and my memory's dimmed.
Or maybe it's the box wine.