Sunday, November 23, 2014

Caught in a Silken Net of Happy Endings

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. - "Kubla Khan", Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He shew'd me lilies for my hair,
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
Where all his golden pleasures grow. - "How sweet I roam'd from field to field", Willian Blake

I think of "The Pilgrims", who kick-started what we know as modern America, as a dour mob.

Looking down their noses at anything that smacked of "pleasure" and preaching the benefits of hard work. Wearing buckle shoes and strange hats, the men growing corn, the women making pumpkin pies.

But then, my knowledge of 17th century American history is not all that good.

It is hard to imagine those dour settlers - Americans nowadays being seekers of pleasure. For although there is an impression held by many that Americans live to work, while most of the world works to live, I don't find this to be the case at all.

Americans live for happiness - a happiness that those not living here may find saccharin.

The love of happy endings in films, the Norman Rockwell paintings, the love of fast food, any food - it is all about being happy.

Along with searching for happiness is what can come across as over-politeness.

"Why can't they get to the point?" I used to think to myself when calling customer service with some complaint,  only to be greeted by a cheery voice asking me how my day was going.

"Hello, My name is Madison, thank you for banking with Chase. How are you feeling today? What is the weather like there?  I see you are calling from New York. I've always wanted to go there. And your accent -  English? No, Australian. Oh I've always wanted to go to Australia. What's the weather like there?"

It used to drive me into a blind fury and I'd snap back that all I wanted to know was the answer to the question I was calling about. I now realize it is just easier and quicker in the long run to answer their questions. To be NICE.

West Village, Manhattan
The icing on the cake. The need to look on the sunny side. Where else would margarine be branded "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter"? Or already sweet potatoes be served with marshmallows?

A blistery blustery night. The cab driver had dropped me two blocks from my destination due to the traffic snarl. The rain was bucketing down, the wind blowing me sideways. I was completely disoriented. I looked up searching for the lit-by-a-million-lights of Bloomingdale's fa├žade, but it was nowhere.

People were rushing in every direction, heads down, bent over, fighting the wind. I stopped a woman and asked her which way was Bloomingdale's. She turned and pointed me in the right direction, telling me I was on the wrong street. We were hardly visible to each other in the rainy darkness. I thanked her.

 Before moving on she smiled and said, "Oh, you are so very welcome."

Such a contrast to Melbourne Australia - my "home country" as Americans from other countries refer to their country of origin.

The last time I was in the Melbourne's city center - the Bourke Street Mall -  the only person who spoke to me was a weeping spaced-out poor-looking woman of a certain age. Actually it was me who spoke first.

"Are you OK, can I help you?" She told me her boyfriend had kicked her out after he had nearly beaten her to death and she wanted to go home to Mildura but he had taken all her money to spend on drugs. I asked her what it cost to go by train to  Mildura. She told me forty bucks. I gave it to her. She stopped weeping.

That evening I was out at a restaurant with friends and told them of my encounter. They stared at me and laughed. "Jeez mate, you fell for that chestnut? She was a junky. Come in sucker!  You've been in Yankeeland too long. You must be loaded giving away that kind of money."

"Glad I could amuse you. Thank you for enlightening me," I answered.

I waited for the "Oh, but you are so very welcome."

I am still waiting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kate, you have become a Yank. Really! And here all these years I've thought you had a case-hardened edge. I love it.

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