A couple of weeks back I watched Jeremy Paxman interview the writer (and famous Atheist) Christopher Hitchens, whom as you may know has cancer. Talking about his feeling that he was “born in the wrong country” Hitchens told Paxman that the question of why he so loved the United States was rather like the question of why he became a writer: it was unanswerable. But he said that from his mid-teens, “I felt the gravitational pull of the American planet,” even though he didn’t know why, as neither he nor any member of his family had even visited there.
I had the same experience, except for me it started a bit sooner, maybe at around nine or ten. I was wearing out a VHS copy of Space Camp and desperately wanted to attend the real thing (and get accidentally launched into space aboard a runaway Space Shuttle, just like little Max – a frightening young Joaquin Phoenix – and his Space Camp friends). Age 11-12: I was reading The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High, and desperately wanted to move to Connecticut and/or California, attend middle school and then high school, and start my own babysitting club and/or be the editor of my school newspaper. Even Point Horrors and Christopher Pike made me long for American soil, despite the fact that it seemed to be rife with murderers, ghosts and boyfriends who turned out to be dead. (This was in the pre-Robert Pattinson days, when vampires were slimy cold creatures who couldn’t help but violently suck your blood.) And during my Dawson’s Creek years, I wanted to be the one who got an Early Decision from an Ivy League because my SAT scores were astronomical and I was SUCH a fantastic cheerleader.
(Well, maybe just the SAT thing.)
Then there were the West Wing years when I wanted to work in the White House – but only for President Bartlett…
Being in America for longer than a holiday is like living on the leading edge of the world. This is especially true of pop culture – my favorite kind. Hollywood and national networks like NBC, ABC and CBS make a lot of TV and most of what we get of it takes time to trickle down into our Sky Digital cables. Movies come out sooner and maybe I’m biased, but nine times out of ten I prefer American book covers. But do you’ve any idea how much you miss out on as a TV, movie or book fan, just because you don’t live in the States? Big Author signings, talks and other events, “enhanced” episodes of LOST and movies that not only will never be released in IRL/UK cinemas, but will never even end up in HMV on DVD. And their magazine collection boggles the mind.
Another thing I love about it is its love of convenience. I’m not talking about drive-thru Starbucks, although I don’t need to tell you how much I love them too. I’m talking about how companies, products and retail outlets compete for your business because they know you have plenty of other options, and you won’t think twice about going to them instead. (As opposed to, say, some waiting staff I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with here in Cork, who throw menus at you, wait half an hour before they check if you’d want anything and then act like you asking them to bring you a coffee is the greatest imposition they’ve ever experienced.) This means better opening hours, loyalty cards, discounts for no reasons, coupons – and I’ll take the lot!
A convenience comparison that really stands out for me happened right after I returned to Ireland, when I needed to print a 450-page Word document. (I didn’t have a printer at the time.) The only option in Cork City seemed to be a place that did printing, photocopying and binding, and it would take them a minimum of three days to print out the document and they’d charge me a small fortune for the pleasure. In Orlando, there were two or three FedEx Kinkos within a twenty minute drive of my apartment – but I didn’t even have to go there if I didn’t want to. I could upload the document I needed to the Kinkos website, pay for it by debit card and have it arrive in my mailbox the next day. When I had to print out some Mousetrapped bits I met Kinkos in the middle, uploading them to the website and then driving over to collect them thirty minutes later.
And yes, these are the things that are important to me. (Maybe if I were truly an American and had to live with their laws, their lobbyists and their Glenn Becks, and I could potentially have to choose between my health and my house, I might feel differently. But I’m not and I don’t. And whatever you might saw about the current state of US politics, you cannot claim that the current Irish crop are any better. We’re bankrupt, remember?)
But what I love most about the United States is a serious thing: it’s a country of incredible possibility. This is the land of the American Dream where hard work is rewarded, all men are equal (and where they’re not, they’re working on it) and the journey from nothing to everything is not only possible but likely. It’s the nation that built the Hoover Dam, carved Mount Rushmore and landed a man on the moon. Its cities are magical movie sets, and its home to Hollywood. Its expanse not only makes for great road trips, but means that in just one country you get tropical beaches, great plains, snow-capped mountains, desert sands, Pacific cliffs and dense rolls of sprawling cities. Most of the fanciful things I (briefly) dreamed of doing when I was younger I could only have done if I was an American citizen (and even then…) because, let’s face it, they just get to do cooler stuff. They accept that failure is a place you have to hit on the way to success – this is why the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley did so well, and continued to try even after the dot com bubble burst. It’s an intoxicating environment in which to pursue your wild and fanciful dreams.
I’ve always felt the gravitational pull of the American planet, and I still do.
So please, America, can’t I just have a Green Card? Pretty please? I promise I’ll be good…
Bono tells a story which beautifully sums up the difference between the country I want to live in, and the in which I do. (Warning: serious paraphrasing.) When an American looks up at the mansion on the hill, he thinks, “Some day, if I work hard enough, I can be just as successful as that guy is.” The Irishman looks up at the same house and says to himself, “Some day…I’m gonna get that bastard.”