AMERICAN DREAM

Wanting to experience Cuba is a silly, romantic notion
It could just as well have been the Amazon, or Mars

We gawk at The Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
It’s beautiful pink tower watching over Sancti Spiritus
The Assemblea Municipal with its Roman columns
Peach in the Caribbean sun
We meander among the statues and gardens in Plaza Major
Look up to Che’s noble countenance
Atop his Jeffersonian mausoleum

We declare entire towns World Heritage Sites
Fill them with our monuments
Reassuring monoliths that define
How we see ourselves
As if we have built Mount Everest

We saw something similar in Dehli, Kathmandu
Bangkok, Juarez, Chiapas
Pedi cabs, bicycles, donkeys
Surrounding us in a chaos of purpose
Yaks, horses, fantastic trucks
Motorbikes and all manner of quaint utilitarian carts
Transporting hustle, bustle and hope
Everywhere everyone afraid of each other’s intentions
Of being taken advantage of
Of Losing
Creative energy desperate for the American Dream

Except Cuba is arrested development
A communal society of scarcity
Less buyer beware than we are all in this together

A street vendor hawks his wares
And when we throw up our hands
He patiently tells us it is a national holiday
Gives us directions to a wonderful festival
A young couple walks quickly up behind us
Follows and eavesdrops
Latches onto us
Takes us for dinner and dancing
A boy on a bicycle chases down our car
It is obvious we are lost
So he leads us through a labyrinth of narrow winding warrens
To the casa particular we have booked for the night

It is a dark stairwell
Small windows
Jungle flowing over the roof
Claustrophobic
We cannot bear to enter

Walking along a canal
The sunshine reflects gloriously
Off the pastel surfaces
A motorbike accosts us
Peter?

A young boy smiles welcomingly
Pressed against his father’s back
The man’s friend booked our room
In this fine man’s, this fine boy’s, home
We have made other arrangements

He is crestfallen
His son looks at him quizzically
We apologize, hand him ten CUC
He does not want to take it
His eyes ask
How can we live together
If we do not mean what we say?

We are bound more by what we cannot fathom
Than what we can see we have in common
Tiny insulated tribes cowering
In air conditioned houses and cars

Our small plane touches down in Nassau
All of us who can come and go as we please
Disregard our matronly stewardess
The plane still our taxi
Hustling and bustling to be first

She claps her hands
As if rapping our knuckles
We look up to her
Like the son looked to his father
I wonder:
What did the man tell his boy
About the American Dream?
And she answers
What is wrong with you people?

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My UnAmerican Holidays

I live in a country full of all kinds of people

A country based on freedom, on the idea that I have an inalienable right to my own belifs, and the right express those beliefs without being persecuted.

I understand this means my next door neighbors, those worshiping in a church down the street, across town, in another state, from another culture, don’t necessarily share my beliefs.

And I by living here I have explicitly agreed to co-exist with all these diverse individuals, groups, cultures, freaks, bozos, ignoramuses, deep and shallow thinkers, those who love and hate me, for whatever reasons.

So I extend respect to all my fellow citizens, and I tolerate them, and expect them to tolerate me, even when I’m irrascible.

By definition then, we are a tolerant nation. This experiment in tolerance has worked quite well, producing the best place to live on the planet. Not just at the moment, but the best place to live as a human being in the entire history of the human race.

Not only am I proud of this, but profoundly humbled. Why am I so lucky? Why is it I was born a white male in the mid-twentieth century in America? What did I do to derserve the life I enjoy, the wonderfu;ly diverse people I share this life with, the unprecedented opportunity to learn from all these people that tolerate me?

At times I have to compromise my beliefs in order to allow others that disagree with me to tell me what they think, why they think what they think. Yes, I have to allow the laws I live under to govern me. Often I grit my teeth at perceived injustices that I think are unnecessary.

And I am humbled in the knowledge that others have to grit their teeth to tolerate me.

All this makes me happy.

I have one simple request. If you do not want to tolerate me; if you disagree with me so much that you think I should conform to your way of thinking; then you should move somewhere else, because you are UnAmerican.

It is UnAmerican to not tolerate me. It is UnAmerican to not take my views into account. It is UnAmerican to not compromise or take me and others who don’t agree with you into account.

If you want to live in a society where you don’t have to compromise (I don’t really think such a society exists) then move somewhere else. I can suggest a couple of communist nations. Or perhaps you can discover a time machine and go to Germany or Italy in 1938. There was quite a society in Espana in the 1400s that might work well for you.

But if you decide America is where you want to live, I welcome you. Just keep always in mind that by living here you agree to compromise, so we can all live a better, more fair, more just, and more fulfilling life together.