Monday, May 01, 2006
Lost In Translation
Because I seem to keep having these odysseys, not just “adventures” or journeys.
My scared little ectoplasm moved out of its familial shell and flew to Atlanta. It was OK, except I do not like Atlanta, Sam I am. Too much concrete, no feeling of time or place or context.
I was in Buckhead, which is supposed to be a nice area of town, again, too much concrete, not designed for walking, and the scourge of Americana in the form of homogenous chains: Starbucks, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, the Corner Bakery, Staples, yawn.
Weird asymmetrical crooked hotel, with everything too narrow and at a tilted slant. Overly perfumed room. Lavender! A gargantuan bed, an indecipherable clock radio, a gargantuan TV, “fancy” spa bath products, institutional shower curtain, a loud A/C, a shitty view—again tilted, slanted—of the driveway, a large asymmetrical building and the Corner Bakery.
Inhale the: LAVENDER! Is that supposed to be classy or something? Asphyxiation by LAVENDER inhalation.
Lunch outside at the Corner Bakery—mozzarella and roasted red pepper sandwich. It was good. Sitting outside on the patio at stainless tables, pretending I was in LA. Hot, sultry, outside, confusing—what am I doing on Peachtree Street of a Tuesday afternoon? Iced herbal tea at the hotel afterwards with colleagues.
Work—set up, exhaustion, dinner in room—way too oily salty vegetarian pasta dish with a glass of Chardonnay. I overtipped the bellman. He feigned tears.
Next day bright and early—I have to write a report of this two day meeting WHICH MEANS I have to actually pay attention to every single thing for two straight days. I think I got carpal tunnel syndrome. In my brain.
I could write a doctoral thesis on the psychology of meetings.
This was a very liberal group of people—Harvard, Stanford and U Penn were very well represented—and yet I found some of them to be so nauseating after a fashion. Like the liberalism became this horrendous ostentatious, dare I say, elitist badge.
Kids, here’s what I thought: I thought no WONDER Republicans make fun of liberals. We’re NAUSEATING sometimes.
I guess I was mad that people were epitomizing every single liberal stereotype—the slightly wacky groovy aesthetic—the Harvard prof with the rumpled brown linen jacket, the John Lennon glasses, the wrinkled khakis. The genial smile with crinkles around the eyes, the anecdotal evidence of reading to his kids in the morning, please imagine red wine dinner parties and Moosewood cookbook lasagna. Add garlic bread as needed. See wife crying in shower. Pass the ice cream eaten directly out of the container. Add Kevin Kline, Glenn Close and William Hurt, stir, lather rinse repeat.
Then there was the “radical” sprightly sprite—see bad Woodstock flashback. He’s the “imp” who alluded to “something he smoked.” Ooooooo so outré! Wears the standard issue red tag faded Levis—WHAT A NONCONFORMIST!—and let’s us all behold his iTunes playlist on his laptop. It flashes up on the screen. Please be impressed with fabulously “cool” musical tastes. Cue the Grateful Dead.
I turned to my colleague and said, “Why doesn’t he just put on Beethoven?”
When the Dead came on, I think something short circuited in me. Like I had given him the benefit of the doubt up until then and then I just thought, “Fuck it.” The 10,000 Maniacs were also heavily represented on the playlist. Stop snoring.
Are playlists our new way of defining ourselves? Because what irritated me was that we seem to be counting on these dumbass “signs” and “signals” to define what we “are.” And I just don’t think it’s that simple.
I detected an overwhelming smugness too, which I didn’t like, because it represents a hypocrisy to the whole liberal ideal. I think you have to be a liberal in word and deed and I think showing a playlist with songs that were counterculture and cool 30 years ago is a kind of lazy shorthand for “I am relying on the music and message of another generation. I have no originality. I am frozen in the era when I evolved. See: the 80’s.”
The second night I ventured forth, in an effort to give the concrete jungle of Atlanta a second chance. I definitely felt like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. I just sort of levitated to the MARTA train and looked at myself in fluorescent reflection in the window. I emerged at Peachtree Center. Dark concrete, light concrete, a Hooters, fat slow tourists.
I ended up in the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton in a Holly Golightly move—I knew it was the only place that would soothe me. And it did, in a way. Talk about Lost in Translation. Like you can take the Ritz Carlton out of New York—but I’m not so sure what happens to it when it gets to Atlanta.
There was a flat screen TV above the beautiful chandeliered bar—a black woman pianist tickled the ivories in a lovely, genteel, self-effacing fashion, I ordered a $13 glass of pinot noir and “light fare” chicken quesadillas. The service was slow. Guests were wearing jeans. I was not.
I left and went back to Buckhead. I watched a documentary on Billie Jean King on HBO. It was amazing. Then I watched a documentary on the Bunny Ranch. Now THAT was truly amazing. I became addicted to HBO. I also watched Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren and was transfixed. Jeremy Irons—old and reliable—still scrumptious.
The next day the meeting slouched toward a conclusion. The psychology of meetings dictates that people use these kinds of phrases, which make my flesh crawl: “when the rubber meets the road,” a “beautiful dose response result,” “having said that…”
I got on the train and went to the airport. I got motion sick on the train. I was way early for my flight, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be as close to the craft that would transport me home as possible. I bought Rolling Stone (BECAUSE the cover had a picture of George Bush in a dunce cap. I wanted to be cheered up. It worked), Harper’s, Newsweek and lifted a Travel and Leisure from the seat next to me.
The flight back was on a mosquito sized Delta shuttle puddle jumper, waiting dramatically on the tarmac. I felt like Ingrid Bergman, as I think we all do when we walk, windblown and dramatic, toward the cone of a parked airplane.
I got on board. Looked at my ticket and then looked at my flight companion.
I’m not being mean because he was the NICEST man in the universe. And that’s a good thing because we were enmeshed—flesh to flesh, full body lock—for the quaint two hour flight back to DC.
When I rolled out onto the tarmac again, at a slight angle, I thought it might be too dramatic to, you know, kiss the ground, but I THOUGHT about it.
An Ethiopian taxi driver whisked me home. MZA came out to the curb. The taxi driver smiled. I told MZA he was from Ethiopia. We talked about an Ethiopian restaurant in downtown Silver Spring.
I thought about categorizations—me, stereotypical Foreign Service brat/Peace Corps volunteer, reaching out, talking to the displaced? Or just a humanist wanting to connect?
I hope it is purely the latter, without any labels or role playing. |
Cynicism is another word for reality