I started off yesterday writing a thoughtful, elegiac piece referencing music. But the longer the day wore on, the more it wore me out, the effort of trying to be calm.
You see, we’ve had a tough couple of days here, me and my man (see how sloppy I’ve become?). (Blame the hangover and the sleepless night.) (Yes, they’re connected.)
It may amaze my American rellies, friends and followers (you can be two, or even all three) to know this, but we here in Blighty have been paying close attention to your hellish, drawn-out and frankly rather rude election campaign.
We’ve snooped on your TV programmes and dipped into your newspapers. We’ve read the commentary in serious UK papers and watched Channel 4 news (the best).
We’ve fumed at lies on Twitter, tried hard not to lose friends on Facebook. Well I have, the Prof is far too sensible to let the devilish antics on social media grind him down.
The end result is that we are depressed, despondent, disillusioned and many other words not beginning with D.
When I awoke on Wednesday, it felt like a re-run of Brexit day. As I feared it would be, in my heart of hearts.
I knew, if I went upstairs to the kitchen, I would find a grim-faced husband making tea. So I waited, kept off the lights, pulled the eiderdown up to my chin – and wished I’d not had that last glass of wine.
Then we sat, tea taking the chill off the truth he’d brought down with him: Trump had won.
There was no time to do more than commiserate with my American-citizen, Hillary-voting husband.
He dashed off to catch a train to London. I made ready to drive to a monthly freelancers’ co-working day.
There I let off steam. We all did. In turns and together.
No-one to tell us that democracy had worked and we should just accept it.
Or that Trump would be all right, you’ll see.
Or that most of that stuff about racism and sexism was just media bias and anyway what does it matter if he’s sexist or misogynist, that’s just personal after all?
A sad text pinged in mid-morning as I comforted myself with hot chocolate. ‘I feel numb,’ he wrote.
Arriving home as the day died, the oddest cloud had formed on the horizon, over the sea in the west. Like a scary ghost, the kind that’s really a blob in a sheet, its spiky sheet-arms reaching out to grab you. But the sheet was black.
The rest of the sky was a pale, watery blue.
Trump has won, I thought. Even nature knows it.
A few minutes later the Prof returned home and saw exactly what I saw. Spook-y.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised,’ I think I said, ‘if nature threw a tantrum tonight.’ Though I may have made that up.
Nature did. She howled for hours while the sky was crying (I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan, calling from his grave in Texas) .
But that was long after the Prof had returned and ditched his usual tidy, putting-things-away-of-an-evening routine.
Instead he went straight upstairs to our old stereo in the sitting room. Pulled out a 1973 album. Selected a track and cranked up the volume.
The song’s called ‘Sold American’ and sung by self-styled Texas Jewish cowboy (and detective writer and dog saviour and would be politician) Kinky Friedman, backed by the Texas Jewboys.
I replied with Leonard Cohen.* Democracy. Because by then I was angry.
The Prof (I won’t call him Tex any more, we agreed) was just sad.
When he finally spoke this is what he said:
‘I don’t know who I am.’
Out came the wine. Out poured the sadness, the anger, the disbelief, the hurt, the bemusement, befuddlement, bewilderment.
‘What is America? Who are Americans? Am I an American? Do I want to be an American?’
Now, I am sure at this point some people – possibly relatives – might be getting annoyed.
But, bear with me – our situation is not straightforward – and there’s another country to take into account here.
When we married, his parental units weren’t exactly wild about me, but when they realised we were going to stay in the UK it became serious.
It shook me a bit when the family began urging him to return to live in America because – believe it or not – we didn’t discuss it before we married. I’d just assumed …
Pretty big assumption, right?
Fast forward. We’re still here.
Worrying about money – and bam! Someone tells us Prof should have been doing tax returns all this time. For more than two decades. Even though he was a UK taxpayer.
Yes, two countries in the world require their citizens to account for their tax back home even if they’re living abroad and paying tax there. The USA and Eritrea (or so I have been told).
We sorted it out at the cost of sending a few hundred dollars a year to a New Jersey wide-boy – sorry, accountant. No, seriously, funny and efficient. It was a real relief the-British-variety-of-Prof wasn’t earning enough to have to pay back tax.
But long before this threat to his income emerged (and mine – we had to split our bank accounts) he had decided to become a British citizen in order to vote. Keep his American citizenship, but take his full part in British society.
It was an interesting process and a heart-warming ceremony (wrote about it here).
But that was before Brexit.
If I felt bereaved after Brexit (I did), he felt cheated (he was).
‘This isn’t the country I joined,’ he said. He has a brief but effective way with words when he’s upset.
Well, Brexit is forever. Perhaps that’s the one, not-as-bad-as-everything-else thing about Trump – it should be a short-lived thing…
But to return to the USA and money and citizenship.
I’ll sum it up rather baldly: if I die first, we keep debating, will he want to return to the USA?
Well, the money is certainly an issue. His pension fund would be subject to US tax.
But the bigger issue is, how would he feel about moving there, alone?
Which is where the ‘who am I?’ ‘am I an American?’ dilemma came in.
Watching what has been happening in the USA has not been an edifying experience.
I’d hope there are at least as many good, as not-so-good people in any given country – the USA included. But as a nation – how did it come to this?
How could so many affluent white men with education – and women, for pity’s sake – vote for a man who said the things Trump did, who did the things Trump has done, who promised the things Trump promised?
Don’t tell me! I’ve read a heap of explanations. Yet still I wonder.
Brexit has made this country feel like a grubby place, one I really can’t say I’m proud of any more. But living here we can at least help to make it better, stop it getting worse.
We haven’t a hope in hell of making a contribution to America taking back control of its manners, its decency, its culture, its tolerance…
One of the other pieces of music I hear in my head as we ‘look for America’, now, in 2016, is America by Simon and Garfunkel, from 1968.
While checking the date of that song I found, to my amazement, what America readers will probably already know.
Saginaw (as in, ‘it took me 4 days to hitch hike from’) is in Michigan, a state won by Trump.
Saginaw’s population decreased dramatically when automobile, and other manufacturing, moved out. Unemployment skyrocketed, though it’s settled down a bit now.
The ghosts of its industrial heritage are derelict buildings and many bear graffiti – specifically words from… America by Simon and Garfunkel.
I love that song, its questing, yearning poignancy. And perhaps if we were younger, if he were younger, it would be different.
But there isn’t the time left for us to sit on a Greyhound bus and look at the scenery and watch the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike and look for the real America.To help re-find the real America – wherever, whatever that is.
So, it looks, at the moment, as if the US passport might not be renewed when it expires next year.
And we will have to turn our efforts to making Britain great again. No. Let me rephrase that, making Britain kind, caring and pleasant again.
Thank you for your tolerance. Have a nice day.
PS. It became plain to me after some comments recently that though I know what I write, sometimes people will read what I don’t. Take their own meaning from my words. If you take offence from any of this please put it away swiftly, none is meant. I am deeply saddened by the world and want nothing more than to help make it a better place. And, by the way, I’m an optimistic pessimist. Despite:
*Yes, RIP one of my all time musical heroes, the master, Leonard Cohen. We bought this piece of his work several years ago and now I am comforted to have it on the wall, next to our old stereo, where last night I listened to ‘Democracy’. Tonight we will listen to some of his more romantic and spiritual songs, today I may re-read some of his poetry, out of ‘Death of a Lady’s man’. It’s been a very dispiriting week.