My wife and I finished the final season of the FX series The Americans tonight. It was a bittersweet hour, honestly. I’ve come to love the show, despite the fact that the family you knowingly root for and grow to love are deep cover Soviet agents that are flipping US citizens to join forces with the Russians during Reagan’s pissing match with Gorbachev in the early to mid 80s. It wasn’t like growing up during the Cold War, but the 80s were a scary time between the USA and Russia. There was a nuclear scare, Ivan Drago, and Russians even invading a small Midwestern town where Patrick Swayzee and C. Thomas Howell helped defeat them. There was even the TV movie event The Day After where it showed what would happen if there was a nuclear attack(the other TV movie event V showed what happened when we’d become lizard people, but that’s for another story.)
Anyways, The Americans was great in that it showed this “American” couple with two kids, the nice house, the great job in running a travel agency(totally 80s thing), and yet they weren’t Americans at all. They’d come to America in the 60s to infiltrate our Capitalist lives and steal secrets for Mother Russia. It wasn’t cut and dry. It was a very complex series that spanned 6 incredible seasons with an amazing cast. Each season got better and better, and where loyalties lied got hazier and hazier. It was a brilliant run.
Afterwards, the wife and I took the dog for a walk. As we walked the neighborhood, me telling the pooch “No!” after the 15th pee stop I began thinking about The Americans again. Oddly enough, I sort of can relate to the main characters Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. Not in that I too am a communist sympathizer that wants to crush Capitalism, beat America, and kill Apollo Creed in the ring. None of that. More so in the act of hiding in plain sight. Assimilating with the norm and trying to fit in when everything in you says you don’t fit in.
Walking the neighborhood the neighbors come out and wave at me, as if they know me. I wave back smiling as if I’m one of them. They assume that since I have my nice house and a lawn I like to cut often and super wife and three kids that I’m probably just like them. That I’m a church-going fella that is scared of the brown men and want to make things great again(I’m not and I don’t even know what that other one means.) I like my walks, but deep down I’m not sure I’m supposed to even be there. Hell, even the dog was “pretending” to be more interested in urinating on their mailbox instead of getting the hell home, closing the door, and feeling the warmth and comfort of a wall between him and the world.
I don’t want to cause a fuss, so I just act as if those Trump bumper stickers and those cardboard Ten Commandments in the front yard of the house next door doesn’t completely freak me out and turn my guts into broken glass. It’s best to just lie and say “Sure I watched the game last night. What a real nail biter, huh??” The last time I had any interest in sports it was watching Hoosiers because I’d just seen Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet and I’d hoped for more of Frank Booth. All around me, people talk about their grandbabies, the NFL, hunting, watching This Is Us, county fairs, going to bars, stock car races, libtards, fake news, getting trashed on the weekend, their kids sporting events, Jesus, muscle cars, DUIs, credit card debt, taking a knee, emojis, Sunday Mass, LOLs, reality TV, America’s Got Talent and all I can think about is hiding in my basement. Instead I nod my head and robotically reply “Yeah.”
If I start talking about synth albums, Tarkovsky, graphic novels, Kurt Vonnegut, worm holes, multiverses, intellectualism, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, guitar tone, agnosticism, intelligent life on other planets, time travel, spiritualism, Krautrock, Henry Miller, the danger of Nationalism, ghosts, evolution, Better Call Saul, Mr. Robot, long walks, podcasts, 80s guitar shredders, Moebius, 80s toy commercials, 70s films, Wes Anderson, the dangers of organized religion, the Danish music scene, the Austin music scene, my favorite record labels, 60s-era Blue Note albums, Coltrane, Monk, Davis, Brubeck, Tyner, Shorter, improvisation, comics, writing, childhood, my kids, my wife, my dog, my parents and me….well, they’ll know I don’t belong. I’ll have to close the travel agency, abandon everything, and move back to Russia…
Oh wait, I’m from here. I grew up here. Born and bred in the good old Midwest. I’m a red, white, and blue sci-fi and Krautrock-loving freak. I’m not Philip Jennings, uber Russian spy in deep cover.
I guess people are just going to have to deal with my awkward, art-loving self. And I suppose I’ll have to occasionally comply and say things like “That’s too bad about your grandson, Mary. So when is his parole hearing?” and “Nope, I’ve never heard Luke Bryan before. Maybe I’ll check him out at the 4-H fair next year”, because that’s what we do here, in the good old USA. We don’t really “get it”. But dammit we sure know how to just “put up with it”.
That’s what “Living In America” is all about, folks.