Monday, April 27, 2009

It was time to make ready for dinner at The Jones. A hardy group of us would meet there after first having imbibed in that bottle of champagne Mr. Porthole had gifted The Mister at his birthday party.

More champagne cocktails at The Jones and then bottles of wine were drunk in short order. In my addled brain I imagined I could successfully employ the English art of the wind up. I thought I was actually beginning to get it, having had many run ins with English people who, with years of practice no doubt, practiced it on me. I never understood it and often had to reset my nose when I let it be pushed out of joint. The conversation, such as it was, wrested from coherence by rich food and plentiful drink, veered topically and one minute we were talking about Amy Winehouse, Paula Yates and the Daily Mail. Later, reflecting on the photographs from that night I realize I should have paid attention to The Mister’s warning eyeball-rolling when the subject got around to The Queen. He was clearly, yet silently, begging me: Not. The. Queen. (Note to self: “Your days as a Wind Up Merchant are so ooohva!”)

I have to say that I just don’t understand how when the subject of monarchy is brought up in even the most sober times it seems to strike a nerve, political predilections notwithstanding. The Mister’s family—leaning quite far from the left get practically apoplectic. Faces go red. People get shouty. Questioning the very nature of nursing a free loading monarchy in this day and age is met with, “You don’t understand. You’re American. The whole country’s tourism industry would fall apart.” I reminded my sister-in-law that France had a revolution and tourism didn’t suffer; that perhaps tourism could safely rely on good cheese and I much prefer English cheese. Add to that the spectacular countryside, history, and an exciting cornucopia of ethnicity. Though ethnicity is also a sore point to the monarch-loving, right wing. I am unhappy with the crushing advance of universal blandness, but still not fearful of other cultures. New York City draws tourists with its tall buildings and from the looks of it Leicester is getting more and more tall buildings for those rubber necked visitors who insist on looking up and never directly into the eyes of people around them.

But intelligent, cosmopolitan, and generously lefty friends at The Jones surrounded me and I was the stormy petrel in the flock, devoid of lambent wit. Bette Davis, as she did in All About Eve, would have intoned: “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” I somehow stumbled into a minefield and one minute I was winding up about the Queen and the next moment it turned into what was described to me as an all out assault on the English, every single one of them; friends, family, possibly even pets. I was insulting everybody and tempers flared and suddenly there was a shouty mess around me and it was demanded of me: “What have you done? What have you ever done?” I can’t say: “Do us a favor and lighten up,” because it’s stuck in my American throat and whatever I had done I had certainly deserved ‘her Majesty’s pleasure.’

Well, obviously my country is in a mess and had been under eight long years of Bush. (I contend it’s been longer than that, but that’s another argument that would include Bill Clinton and beyond. He has a high standing still, god knows why). I can’t even claim I did anything by actively campaigning for Obama. My choice of candidate, Dennis Kucinich, was railroaded off the scene and this time did not get on the ballot. I went into the polling place holding my nose; I voted on The Working Families Party ticket (headed by Obama/Biden) in an effort to get a real two-party system of government.

But reflecting on the evening’s debauch, it made me think about, well, what have I done? I realize I don’t actually think about what I do, I just do it. I’m a big believer in taking non-violent protest to the streets. It’s pretty much what The Mister and I did often and as soon as less than a month after 9/11 we were on the bus to Washington D.C. and we have gone on very nearly every protest in the capitol and at home in New York since. In the beginning it was scary as hell, and I mean really scary. We were a small bunch in those days. We’re talking about nervous anxious people, nervous hungry well-armed SWAT teams who would just as soon eat a protesting American, and we went, and we protested. I think if the record-breaking numbers who came out for, say, the New York Marathon, had come out in those first couple of weeks after the attacks the things we were protesting like the immediate loss of civil liberties, the heinous Patriot Act, a vile and unjustified war on a people would not have happened. At least not without a struggle. And the few times I could not get on the bus I spent the week before a protest stapling placards to poles and stuffing envelopes at the offices of United For Peace and Justice and The International Action Committee. The focus of protests has evolved and now I head down to Wall Street or Times Square.

Coming from the point of view of someone like me who really doesn’t believe that there is any facet of our government and its politicians that isn’t bought, (maybe apart from Kucinich and probably if one dug deep enough there would be something there too) it just made me think that my actions have sort of been a response to things. Losing my job and actively hoping to thwart self-indulged depression I signed up as a volunteer tutor in East Harlem and worked with a sweet African American girl for four years until her father decided it was time she attended the Muslim school. Discouraged by my country’s obsession with killing people and the horrendous state of our prisons, I gravitated to The Campaign To End the Death Penalty. I participate in the letter-writing, petition signing calls for many causes.

A blogger posted this recently in response to the media coverage of the recent right-wing driven Tea Party protest here: “How many of you were willing to stand up publicly and to declare that the fucking bush emperor was naked? People who DID stand up, and you can count them in the HUNDREDS nationwide, are the ONLY people I trust anymore in this joke of a nation.” Back home, looking for photos of the protests on the Internet I saw no massive numbers of police, no Robocop riot gear that threatened activists at the anti war rallies we had been part of.

I realized then that apart from a friend in Barcelona with whom I discuss politics and current events at some length, I rarely talk about weightier issues with friends in Leicester. We see each other so infrequently and e-mails are cheerily short, at best. I expect Americans will suffer the consequences of our government for years to come. The global economic collapse is pretty difficult to sweep under the rug. A recent article in The Telegraph headlined: “Wine sales in the U.K. plummet in recession.” You can definitely not blame that on this American. Making new friends at this age may be harder but that doesn’t mean I still can’t antagonize the old ones.

And we don’t have a queen.

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