Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Chapter Two: The Opening Act

Collins entered the room wearing shorts, sandals, and an old T-shirt. He was carrying a very thin book in his hand - his latest work. Not exactly the stuffy dress and lengthy text the people in attendance had expected to see.

"Thank you for coming," he said. "This story is called The Rant. As you can see, it's a short story, something new for me."


Carlton was not American. It didn't matter "what" he was, or rather, what piece of dirt he and his ancestors were born on. But he wasn't American.

He was there though. He stayed with three different families while studying at a University in a place too small to be a city, but pretty big to be just a town, and just a few hours' drive from two major American cities.

When his own family asked him what he learned in America, he told them nothing of the University. Instead, he told them how different the families he lived with were from the families he knew in his homeland.

He told them they didn't act like families they way he knew them.

The first family he met was just a mother and son. There was another son, and a father, who live 45 minutes away in another town. The kids alternated houses every other weekend to see the other parent. They did not get along. Neither did the two parents. Carlton wondered the entire time how they ever loved each other enough to create a family, and then dissolve and fragment it.

All of them were extremely kind and spoke to him as an equal part of the family, and not nearly as separate a part as they did each other. Carlton enjoyed the six months he spent there, even if he was constantly confused by the relationships that surrounded him. Though he was strangely comforted by the thought that he was no more confused than anyone else.

He moved to another family when his first family moved themselves. The mother and first son moved another hour's drive away from the rest of their "family" in the opposite direction.

The second family was much more cohesive, though he never experienced that himself. They were much more religious than the first family. They went to church every Sunday, anyway, and had Bibles in the living room, the sitting room, the den and the office (it was a much bigger house).

Unlike the first family, the mother, father, and their two daughers and one son were much colder to Carlton, though indirectly, he thought.

They must have thought they were being very open-minded people, because they had such bright smiles that seemed to mask their fascinationv- like that of some zoo exhibit - with an feigned interest when they asked him strange, invasive questions about his "homeland" and his "people."

He had never thought about his "people," but he knew they meant his friends, family, and the people at home who were as much strangers to him as most people in the United States.

He answered their questions uneasily and asked nothing of the Bibles, chairs that weren't for sitting, towels that weren't for drying hands, or the father's obvious alcoholism. He realized he liked the first family better.

Still he was happy. He was still at a good school and more than provided for while far away from home. Again, though, he was moved to another family when the father's alcoholism became a problem and the family couldn't house him anymore.

The third and final family with which he stayed was perhaps the most normal, though Carlton wasn't sure what that meant.

Father, mother, son, daughter. They lived in a big house - big enough, though not as cavernous and cold as the last family's - and they had a large TV that let them watch any TV show any time, and a very nice cars, even the two kids, who were teenagers.

They seemed happy and were very accepting and inviting. Carlton felt comfortable there and liked his new, new, temporary home. But something once again was strange about the place, or moreso, the people. They seemed hollow, just empty. There was nothing too them. Conversations over dinner consisted of the past few days television broadcasts, blog posts, events at school and work, and plenty of weather commentary.

The part of the trip Carlton most looked forward to in the beginning was talking to real Americans about real issues. Finding out what they really thought, and dispel the hearsay that was previously all he had to go on for what regular Americans were like.

That never happened. He tried to bring up things like how to properly administer a representative government, the separation of church and state, modern parenting, even homosexuality. The most he ever got was a few echoed opinions the family had heard on Fox News or the Daily Show, when the conversation quickly dissolved to the last South Park episode, though never to the underlying social message, just outrageous gags.

They were jaded. Jaded by their things and what they thought they were expected to be doing. Carlton eventually gave up and focused on his studies. Sure, he found some of what he was looking for on campus, but he wondered if everyone else went home like he did and went back to the same jaded state.

...After finishing telling his story to his family, he sat in front of the new TV his parent bought while he was away and flipped one of the two or three stations that broadcast American shows. He decided there was nothing on, but watched anyway, thinking he was bored and should find a snack.

Suddenly he sat up and wondered, what had happened to him in America?


Collins closed his book and said to everyone, "I'm not going to take any questions. Not because I don't feel like answering them, but because I won't have any answers. I want this story to be taken as is."

..."Next week Gavin Jillson will be our guest. He'll be reading from his latest book, a fiction published just weeks ago and is already breaking onto bestseller lists. He has asked that all I say about it is that the title is A First Draft of History. I look forward to seeing you all next week."

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