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  LIFE AS A LOSER #146: "STAY AT HOME XENOPHOBIA."  
   
   
 

We're about to go to war, it appears.

I will offer no opinion here as to whether or not we should be going to war; the people who make the decisions on such affairs know infinitely more about the circumstances than I do, and any comment I would have on the matter would be nothing more than self-righteous, uninformed grandstanding. (I could sit here and tell you I am for peace. In a related story, I am also for grandmothers, daffodils and cute puppies. These are equally meaningful statements.) We are going to war, it has been decided, and there's not a damned thing you or I can do about it. So don't sweat it. It's happening. Strap in. Grab some popcorn.

 

 
 

No, what confuses me about the notion of war is, well, who the opponents are. To me, Iraq - which, according to news reports, is a real functioning country, with actual humans who grow up there, and raise families and bicker and squabble and laugh and hug and have penis insecurity and eat and sleep and pass gas and are bored at social functions where they don't know anybody - might as well be Tattoine, Narnia or Atlantis. It is similar in this manner to England, Chile, Antartica, Mali, Guatamala and Mars. I am aware of the existence of these places only through hearsay; I know of them the same way I know of polygamists, Coolio fans and simultaneous orgasms. People say they're out there, somewhere, so, I dunno, I guess they are.

You see, I have never left the 48 contiguous states. All right, that's not quite true. Last summer I made weekend visit to Montreal for a wedding and an Expos game. But counting a place where you can watch baseball played on Astroturf as a "foreign" country is like calling My Big Fat Greek Wedding an Oscar nominee: technically true, but come on, who you trying to kid? Like almost 80 percent of the population, I do not have a passport, nor do I have any intention of applying for one in the near future.

The rest of the world is a scary place to me. Not because the people are mean, or uncivilized, or even any different at all. It's just that they're so unknown. I have enough trouble figuring out what's going on in my own country; figuring out the rest Earth has to offer would take more lifetimes than I have to spare.

My roommates love to travel. In the last year alone, they've gone both to Japan and Ireland. They've been to Egypt, and Norway, England, and a ton of other places I've only heard about from the Olympics. They absolutely adore traveling, and they come back with millions of fascinating tales of other lands. I could listen to them forever (as long as they bring back duty-free smokes). These trips bring them much joy, and you can see how exuberant they are upon their return. Bully for them. But, ultimately, they do always come back.

I'm lucky. My roommates aren't the obnoxious ones. You know the type. The ones who just can't stop talking about their summer in Prague. The ones who snort at "American Idol" and "Joe Millionaire." The ones who are always trying to convince you soccer is a legitimate sport. The ones who, anytime they disapprove of something they've observed in American society (sexual mores, television violence, proper dental hygiene practice), shoot up their noses and say, "Well, it's totally not like that in Europe." These are the same people who go to Ireland to get in touch with their heritage and wonder why people who are really Irish look at them so strangely. The same people who rail against the cheesy-let's-go-to-Disneyland-and-the-mall! Americans yet spend most of their time on overseas trips standing with a bunch of other Americans, taking pictures. The same people who talk about their open minds and have never been west of Philadelphia or east of Las Vegas.

There is so much to see in this country. It's so different, everywhere. It is astounding to me that people in New York or Los Angeles can actually refer to the rest of the nation as "flyover country." At the risk of sounding like a Lee Greenwood song, I mean, think about how many different climates and terrains and inhabitants we have here. Think about how wild it is that Utah, Vermont, Kentucky and New Jersey are in the same country, under the same rules. I could travel across the United States for 20 years and not even approach half of what there is to see. We have the world's largest ketchup bottle in Collinsville, Ill., a museum devoted to mummified corpses of the insane in Philippi, W.Va. and a yearly testicle festival in Clinton, Mont. Jeez, what more do you people want?

Plus, we have professional baseball here.

And let's not get into differences of law. When I lived in Los Angeles, I received various offers to make trips to Tijuana, or other Mexican destinations. I always demurred with the simple explanation, "I don't want to accidentally do something illegal and end up decaying in a muddy cell with four men named Hector." That sounds intolerant. It's not meant to be. It's quite likely that Mexico, and England, and Cuba, and China, and Belize, it's likely they have perfectly acceptable and fair systems of law, due process and the rights of the individual. But I don't know. Here, I know the law. I know what's acceptable, what isn't, what will get you laughed at, what will get you shot. But somewhere else? Man. Maybe there's a law on the books there that calls for the death penalty for failing to wash your hands after urination. I doubt there is. But I don't know. Haven't these people seen Midnight Express? Shoot, I don't even like to go to Texas.

We live in a country that can hide from the rest of the planet. The rest of the planet sees that as a problem. They're probably right. But we have that luxury. If we wanted to be in step with the rest of the world, we shouldn't have planted our stakes on a continent so far away from everyone else. Our country is Howard Hughes, alone in an airtight room, paranoid about germs, growing a three-foot long beard, rich enough to enjoy the privilege. We might not be right, but darnit, we have the right to be wrong. It's a right I'm damned proud of, and a right they'll have to pry from my cold, dead hands.

An argument could be made, I suppose, that leading a somewhat by-rote column like this one with a rather flip, vapid reference to war, a topic of immeasurable gravity, is insensitive, or even moronic. And, yeah, this whole column has a cowboy, don't-tread-on-me timbre that is likely out of step with your typical urban sophisticate, or even anyone with the smallest measure of planetary perspective. But, of course, I'm an American! I don't even know any better! Wee! Look at me! Yay! USA!

*BT*

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