In the middle of a day so rainy and drear that it nearly made me rethink my ambivalence about returning home, I climbed to the top of a Park & Ride bus and headed to the next town south of Cambridge to visit a friend and her small daughter. Two boys, probably ten or eleven years old, followed me up the steps. Perhaps there's some adult protocol about letting kids sit in the front seats of the top of the bus, in order to get the best version of the illusion that you're about to crash into walls and oncoming traffic and pedestrians, but if there is, I disregard it. So, while I claimed the far right of the front row of seats, the two boys claimed the left two seats.
One boy was from the U.S., the other from the U.K.
Conversation snippet #1:
UK: America makes things up to prove you're right
US: No, we have more nukes, and that makes us right, so you'd better listen to us.
UK: That's not fair. That's bullying. That's blackmail. ... Anyway, no one's ever actually seen these nukes, have they. You're just making them up.
Conversation snippet #2:
US: I live near Camden, Pennsylvania, where like five people a day get killed.
UK: Yeah, what's up with that?
US: America is a terrible place.
UK: See! You just said America's a terrible place!
US: But we do a lot of things right.
UK: Name one.
US: We've got more nukes.
UK: But how do we know nukes even exist?
US: We used them.
UK: Right. You got lucky one time.
US: No, there were two.
UK: Right. You got lucky twice.
US Boy proceeded to deliver to UK Boy a lecture about history and current affairs--ranging from the reasons the U.S. used the atomic bomb, to the idea that what's really wrong with the world is that Mexican families are too big. To his credit, UK Boy said, "So you're blaming China's huge population on Mexicans?" UK Boy also rejoindered, later, by explaining that America is only what it is because English people came and colonized. "If it weren't for us," he said, "you'd all still be living in tribes."
That one slowed US Boy down, but not for long.
I found myself repeatedly on the brink of breaking in to correct these two young militarists, but I confess that I was dumbfounded enough not to know how or where to begin--especially since I also kept imagining how my friends-who-are-parents would feel if a stranger began berating their children, even in a constructive and non-belligerent way. Overall, no one came off well in this scenario: not them, in their cheery ignorance; not me, in my angered silence.
Tonight, my friends, I'd just like to say: Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
In 48 hours, if all goes well, my luggage and I will be on board a just-departed connecting flight back to my home state.
Tonight we had the weirdest sky I've seen in an age. I slipped out to the side street, in the rain, to get you a picture.