Living as an expat in this particular era of American exceptionalism is like having a nosebleed seat at the monkey circus. If you squint hard enough you can see the feces being flung around, and hear echoes of the squawking, bleating and screeching way down below. But there’s distance between yourself and all that chaos, so you sit there horrified but largely unaffected.
It’s a lucky break being in London right now. But not as lucky as all those millions of other Londoners who have the luxury of looking at America as disinterested third parties, no more important a place than Germany, China or France. Sometimes I’ll sit in a pub and look at these Londoners, and wonder what it must be like to not have to think about the ongoing theater of the absurd happening back in the States.
I only have my imagination and a few overheard pub conversations to go on, but I thought I’d give it a shot. So, I wrote the following one-act play, entitled “And Ample Waves of Rain.” You may be seated……
Scene: A neighborhood pub in southeast London, 8 p.m. of a Tuesday (“of a” being a phrase some Brits drop instead of “on a”).
Barry, Emily and Donovan are sitting at a corner table having pints. Tottenham Hotspur are playing Arsenal on the telly. Barry is a retired lorry driver whose London roots date back at least 700 years. Emily is a divorced, 30-something office assistant whose parents came from Liverpool. Donovan, a native Londoner of Jamaican and Irish descent, is 40-something and installs home wi-fi and electronics systems for Virgin Media.
Barry (reading a copy of the Daily Mail): So, you seen where the president over there in the States caught the COVID? Bloody foul thing, that. Can you imagine it? A bloke like that catching the COVID, as if he drives the 381 bus to Peckham instead of leading the free world and whatnot? Dreadful business.
Emily: A right shame.
Barry: Indeed. A right shame.
Emily: Hard to spare tears, though.
Barry: Is it now? And what makes you say that?
Emily: Flittin’ around with no mask on, going about to rallies with all them bloody tossers. Hard to summon up much sympathy, all things considered.
Barry: No sympathy, is it? Can’t spare sympathy for an old man in ill health? And not the fittest either, what with a diet of Big Macs and chips and Colonel Sanders and like. Could shed a few pounds, couldn’t he? Imagine it was your own Dad.
Emily: My own Dad won’t leave the flat unless it’s for the pub or takeaway at the Fish & Chips. Has me drop off his Guinness once a week and bring him the shopping.
Donovan: Lucky bloke, that.
Emily: He doesn’t see it that way though, does he? No, he expects it, like he’s bloody Prince Charles. I’ve a right mind to cut him off, but he is my Dad then, isn’t he? And the president over in the States, Trump. Been getting’ the royal treatment all his life, hasn’t he? Makes you start expectin’ it. You know they took him to the best hospital, gave him the best treatment, the best medicine? Then he gets out, says COVID, it’s no spot of bother. Nothing at all to worry about. Go about your lives as normal.
Barry: Right good advice, that.
Emily: For bloody morons.
Donovan: Now they wonder if the other bloke in the election might’ve been infected during that mad debate. What’s his name, used to be Obama’s second in command? Joe Bilan?
Barry: John Biden. Was the chancellor under Obama, wasn’t he?
Donovan: Biden, right. Only they don’t call it chancellor in the States. Assistant president, innit? Not beloved by everyone, Biden, even his own party. Say he’s a bit of a geezer, a bit old fashioned. Tony Blair like. Me niece, lives in Boston, she says Biden is, what’s it, beholden to the corporate interests. I say, “Better than the other bloke though, innit?” She says both are rubbish, both wankers, not gonna ring the chime for either one, gonna wait for the revolution and whatnot. Me niece, there’s one for the books. Got the tattoos and nose rings. Goes around in a Che Guevara T-shirt. Can’t please the young folk, can you? Full of hopes and dreams, innit? Waitin’ for the good ship lollipop, all that.
Barry: John Biden. Used to be with the American parliament, wasn’t he? Been running for president since BoJo was in secondary school.
Donavan: Me niece, she texted the other day, said Trump don’t even have the COVID. Said he’s fakin’ it. So’s he can get sympathy ahead of the vote, or distract from his problems, foul the election, skip the next debate. Pretend he’s conquered it with the bleach cure. And then there’s others, say the socialists give it to him on purpose. Biological warfare, like. You imagine?
Emily: Jesus, the bloody Yanks. They’re all mental, the lot of them. Don’t know which end is up anymore, do they? Got a ghost behind every corner, don’t they?
Donovan: You got to admit, there’s a lot of bollocks comes out of Trump’s mouth, innit? Hard to trust him.
Emily: There’s a lot of bollocks comes out of any politician’s mouth. He’s just 10 stone better at it than everyone else. You didn’t hear such conspiracy rubbish when BoJo caught the COVID. We all knew he caught it. Of course he did. Bit of a dim bulb, isn’t he? Bit of a clown. Been more of a wonder if BoJo hadn’t caught it. Probably caught it whilst playin’ with those bloody model trains of his. Don’t know where those trains been, do you, who’s been getting their bloody fingers all over ‘em? End of the day, anyone can catch COVID, can’t they? Supposed to wear the mask, aren’t you? Social distancing, all that. But blokes like BoJo and Trump, they think they’re Superman.
Barry: Bit disrespectful though, innit? Going on about Boris Johnson like that? A good man, trying to make England stronger, return its glory. Like Trump over in America, innit? Make America Brilliant Again. They’s both proper blokes, you ask me. Tories, fighting for the real England, the real America.
Emily: Are you bloody serious?
Donavan: Only they don’t call ‘em Tories in America, do they? Republicans, innit? Cut from the same cloth, though. Tories, Republicans. White folk prattlin’ on about law and order, military might, isolationalism, economy, the Bible, whatnot. Very keen to close the borders, all that. Just like the Tories.
Barry: Right policies, those. England for the English. America for the Americans.
Donavan: England for the English, is it? And who’s the bloody English, then?
Barry: Those that was born here. Those that respect the crown, the rules.
Donovan: Havin’ a laugh, are you? Me own Nan and Pops wasn’t born here. Got coaxed over during the war, when England needed black folk to help do the work back home while all the Tommies were off fighin’ the Krauts. You think me Nan and Pops should go back now, that it?
Barry: I’m only sayin’, England for the English. Give the jobs and the dole to the English, not the bloody Pakistanis, not the Bangladeshis, not the Somalis, not the West Indians. Take care of your own, first and foremost. All these immigrants, crowding up the bloody flats and schools, not enough room for those that was born here anymore. Stay well in your own countries, is my opinion.
Donovan: Bit odd you only mention brown and black immigrants, mate.
Barry: I don’t much fancy the Bulgarians or Polish either, if that gives you any joy. Same problem in America, innit? Mexicans pouring in across the border, need to build a bloody wall just to stop it. Seen it on the telly. Now, you take Trump’s wife, Martina. Like she says, they’s rules and whatnot on how to become a citizen. But the Labour party over there….
Donavan: Not Labour. Democrats.
Barry: The Democrat party over there, they don’t care about the rules, do they? Martina Trump….
Emily: Melanie, I think’s her name…
Barry: Melanie, Martina, what’s the bloody difference? Point is, folks ought to follow the rules. The way Melanie did. She didn’t sneak over the border in the dead of night to become a Yank. Flew over, probably first class. Had all her papers in order.
Emily: On a bloody supermodel visa, likely. If she’d been five inches shorter and 30 pounds heavier she’d had to queue up like everyone else. Be scrubbing a hotel bathroom now.
Barry: No need to drag her into this.
Emily: You dragged her into this.
Donovan: She also got on about the Obama birth certificate, innit? Questioning where he was born and like. And here a woman from, what’s it. Slovakia, like? Now she’s bloody keen to tell others how they’re supposed to enter a country she wasn’t even born in? Reminds you of the English, don’t it?
Barry: And what’s all this got to do with the English?
Donovan: All them British ships going round the world conquering other lands and whatnot. The sun never sets on the British empire, all that. Funny, they wasn’t worried about England for the English back then. It was India for the English, Africa for the English, America for the English, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Scotland, the West Indies, all for the English. And now it’s all of a sudden, we know we conquered you and whatnot, but could you please leave?
Barry: Can’t live in the past, mate. Then was then, now is now. England can’t keep taking in all them immigrants. Not enough room, not enough jobs, not enough dole. Just like the States. America for the Americans. Is why Trump’s so popular there, innit? Gonna Make America Brilliant Again. Why all them Yanks voted for him.
Emily: More Yanks voted against him.
Barry: Bollocks. How’d he get to be president then?
Emily: The way it works in America. You don’t have to win the most votes, do you? Just the right votes in the right places.
Barry: That’s madness. You’re mental, luv.
Donovan: Nah, she’s right about that, mate. He didn’t get the most votes. Won’t get the most votes this year, either. Might still win, though. A mad system, innit? Electorial college and all that, what me niece called it. Electorial college.
Barry: College? Like a school, all that?
Donovan: More like a voting system, innit? Certain states get certain votes. Some more than others. Can’t say about the particulars of it. Call Melanie Trump, maybe she can set you right.
Barry: A pretty bird, though. Can’t deny that.
Emily (rolls her eyes): And for that she has a right to prattle on about immigrants, because her pretty Mum handed her down a pretty face? Now you sound like a yank, Barry.
Barry: Don’t slog off on America. A true ally, that. Oh beautiful for spacy skies and ample waves of rain, Ray Charles like.
Donovan: What do you even know about America?
Barry: Been there, is what I know about it.
Emily: When did you go to America?
Barry: Been to Florida, haven’t I? Me and the missus. Must be five, six years ago. Seen the Disney World, the Epcot. Seen a couple alligators. Caught the football team there, only they called it soccer. Not the most skilled lot, if I’m being honest. Poor touches, not enough ball movement, no instinct for the counterattack.
Emily: You seen alligators?
Barry: Massive geezers. Bite your arm off, won’t they?
Donovan: The Yanks are rubbish football players. Good at basketball. Rubbish at football.
Barry: Don’t have the training, do they? Our lads could teach ‘em a thing or two.
Emily: The American women are good at football. The best in the world, aren’t they? It’s the American boys that’s rubbish. Remember that.
Barry and Donovan look at her, think about saying something, decide against it.
Barry (rising from his seat): Well, going for a piddle and a pint.
Donavan: Grab me a pint, mate? Cheers.
Emily: I’ll take a Guinness, luv. Don’t forget the hand sanitizer. And keep your social distance.
Barry: Right. Hand sanitizer. Social distancing…
He walks off, stage right. Emily and Donovan sip their beers.