When you feel so at home in America you say whatever you want

Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:

    “You can cross,” Tim said, pointing to the lit-up stick figure in the “Walk” sign at 42nd and Park. “We have the white man.”

    Angela took Marcus’ hand protectively. She was less worried about cars than about more insidious things. “Can you stop saying that? It sounds racist.”

    We were in New York for the weekend visiting Adam.

    “How is that being racist?” Tim said. “The man is white.”

    “It’s racist to point out people’s race when it’s not relevant,” she said, speaking to Marcus, who’s overheard a lot of conversations about LePage and Trump.

    We passed in front of Grand Central, where there were some military personnel in camouflage with guns and dogs standing around.

    Marcus admired one of the dogs.

    “You can’t pet him,” Tim said. “It’s a bomb-sniffing dog. Or drug sniffing. I don’t know what particular skill set he has.”

    I thought Angela would freak out about possible terrorism but she seemed oblivious. She hadn’t even been upset when our flight was delayed for hours on the tarmac due to congestion at LaGuardia. She just sat quietly next to the boys while they played video games.

    “Are you excited about going to New York?” a kid across the aisle asked Marcus, as they played Fifa separately together. He was heading home from a school camping trip.

    Marcus hadn’t given it much thought.

    “You’ll like it,” the kid said. “It’s nice.”

    Enough said. Marcus continued playing. He didn’t look up until the flight landed, after hitting some turbulence as we approached the city. “Why do people clap when the plane lands?” he asked.

    “Because we survived,” Tim said glumly.  

    But Angela wasn’t upset about the flight and she didn’t get flustered either when we got pushed along in a crowd of people crossing against the light on 42nd Street despite the traffic cops trying to stop them.

    “You know what?” one of the cops called to the other, as we passed. “I hope some of these people get hit, I really do. They deserve it.”

    Since that kind of mayhem and disorder usually bothers Angela, I tried to distract her by pointing out other things.

    “Look at that beautiful tower opposite the Chrysler Building.”

    Naturally Adam was less impressed since he owns New York now.

    “The one that looks like a toaster? I always feel like putting an enormous piece of bread in it.”

    He was proudly pointing out other sights. “You should be looking at the church over there. The one with all the rocks.”

    “You mean the stone church?”

    He ignored me. “I live here. This is all mine.”

    “Actually it belongs to Trump,” I said. “They gave it to him through tax breaks.” Granted I was trying to make him feel bad since he dumped me for this town. “Although I have to admit those office buildings over there are so you.”

    What I wondered was when he was coming home.

    “This is where I’m going to be when I die,” he said. “Or at least, this is where my stuff is going to be when I die.”

    Angela usually objects to people talking about death around the kids, but she still didn’t say anything.

    We got on the subway heading toward Adam’s apartment. It was boiling hot and the AC was broken in our train car.

    “Would you rather switch to one with air?” he asked.

    I thought Angela would want to move, but she had no opinion.

    Instead Tim got to decide. “No, I’d much rather have one with less people.” Apparently he wasn’t into the spirit of New York quite as much as Adam. But you could see how much space was worth in the city because plenty of other people had made the same decision.

    At any rate, considering how small Adam’s apartment was, he could barely claim to be living in New York. And he didn’t seem to know his neighbors very well either.

    “Been riding your bike much?” he asked a guy locking a battered bike up in front of his building.

    “No,” he said. “I had a bike accident, I beat the guy up for smashing into me, and I got locked up for a week. And you?”  

    You’d think Angela would have objected to the bad example for the boys, who’d certainly woken up from their video games. But she was still unconcerned even when Adam was inspired to talk tough too.

    “I got pulled over myself a couple nights ago, so drunk I could smell myself. Since it was three in the morning they let me ride my bike home.”

    Then Ethan griped about not being able to bike anymore since he and Angela always have to drive the boys around for travel team soccer on weekends. “I wanted to opt out of travel team but the coach makes it like you have no choice if you want your kids to stay out of jail – it’s either travel team or drugs and prison.”

      Angela didn’t even interrupt that conversation.

    Finally they moved on to local New York politics.

“Hang in there,” Adam said, as his neighbor took off. “At least we’re not Sheldon Silver. He got 12 years.”

“Yeah, there are times when I’m really grateful I didn’t steal $4 million and this is definitely one of them.”   

We dropped our bags off at Adam’s and went to the Natural History Museum, the sole reason Angela had been willing to bring the boys for the weekend. The big attraction was the Titanosaur that had arrived recently from Argentina.

Tim was critical of it. “What about the Argentinians?” he said. “I guess they’re so hard up New York was able to buy it off them?”

But Adam wasn’t going to see his city maligned. “The Argentinians don’t care about the Titanosaur. All they care about is money. You’ve seen the pictures -- they’re always waiting in line to get their money from some bank.”

At that comment, Angela got a little annoyed for the first time all day. “That’s an interesting interpretation of economic crisis.”

But she really got angry when we went back to Adam’s apartment for the night and ran into his super. Seeing Adam with visitors, his super handed him a pile of subway fare cards, laundry cards, and prepaid debit cards.

    “I do this for people I like,” he said.

    When we were behind the door of his apartment, Adam threw them on the table. “He runs this building like a third-world country. You know how Russians are, they’re all crooks.”

    “How can you say that in front of the boys?” Angela said, furious. “You don’t even know where he got those cards.”

    Adam stuck out his chin. “I don’t have to be PC in my own home.”

    It wasn’t about being PC, Angela said, it was about adjusting his attitude. “You want to be like LePage and Trump? They’re so at home in America they say whatever they feel like saying whenever they feel like it.”

    That got through to Adam. For the first time all day he didn’t have anything to say. So Angela had the last word.

    “Just don’t be mean about other people. How will we ever get world peace if we can’t even get American peace?”

Last modified onWednesday, 28 September 2016 13:34