Posted on August 9, 2018
Reentry: things that are freaking us out
Cheese curds. We now live in Wisconsin, where fresh squeaky pieces of cheese are coated in something delicious and deep-fried. To be clear: this is a basket of piping-hot cheese, to which you add more fat. It is tasty and amazing, but it’s also possible to cram a half a pound of hot cheese into your mouth in about five minutes. This should not be normal.
When you wash your hands, water keeps pouring out of the sink the whole time. Even when you’re soaping up, singing the happy birthday song in your head to make sure you’re killing off all the germs, the water just keeps coming. Sometimes, it’s even hot. That’s insane.
Traffic. People just sit around in their cars, not even moving much of the time. They can’t go into the back and make a sandwich. People spend hours of their day like this, and think it’s normal.
Streets and sidewalks are SO CLEAN. And wide. And smooth. How much money do we spend on this?
Kids have activities–music lessons, computer camp, sports. These activities cost a lot of money, and need to all wedge themselves seamlessly into a schedule. I’m remembering that I used to spend about 20 hours each year just planning out the kids’ summer–researching options, laying out the calendar, polling the Smalls for interest, coordinating with cohorts. This no longer seems like something a rational person should do.
American libraries are palaces.
We no longer care so much about Analyzing All of the Options. In the past, if we were making a major purchase, we’d do research for days–checking online reviews, asking friends about their experiences, looking up all the pricing options within a hundred miles. Now, after two years of having extremely limited options, we just get stuff. Did we get the best possible van, with the most options, for the least amount of money, that will last the longest and most improve our quality of life? I dunno. We just got a van. Similar actions are playing out with the car, new clothes, where we want to go to dinner. Turns out, none if this stuff is life or death.
Traveling down the street is a non-stop cataloging event. “That place is still here. Looks like this place folded. The Terrible Restaurant Location is still empty. Ooh, look–new bakery!”
We are still able and eager to strike up a conversation with any willing person we run across, and we fear that this skill will fade and we will lose the pleasure of these random interactions. In the last week, we’ve learned about a bank teller’s family car business, discussed the implications of online research with a librarian, met a fellow Minnesotan at a red light while we tried to direct him to a particular grocery store. Each of these little interactions connected us to the world, and were completely normal when we were traveling (especially in Spanish-speaking countries, when we were always looking for excuses to speak with locals), and are not common for most Americans, I think.
Dishwashers. How cool are they? Amazing!
One final incident that just happened, and illustrates how much my thinking has changed: today, F and I ran across a car accident minutes after it occurred. The driver had hit a big old ash tree, and the front end of her BMW was totaled. We pulled over, gently convinced her to stop trying to drive away, and tried to figure out how to help. I pulled her car out of the street, called her son on my cell phone, and offered to drive her where she needed to go. She’d hurt her wrist, her airbag had deployed, and she was obviously shaken up, but she didn’t want an ambulance or a ride to urgent care. AT NO POINT did it occur to me, hey: maybe I should call 911. Instead, my brain flipped into problem-solving mode like I was in the Panamanian jungle with another boat that had run aground.
Fortunately, another driver also stopped and reminded me that, hey, we have other people who can help this person. Once the police arrived, it became very obvious very quickly that, of course, my first call should have been to them. Turns out, this lady was on her way to pick up her Oxycontin prescription; she was undoubtedly driving impaired. She needed a professional medical evaluation by someone much more qualified than me. Giving her a ride home would have been extremely stupid on my part; and of course, it only crossed my mind as we were driving away that we were a hair away from being hit by her car instead of the tree. So, this is what it’s come to, folks–the hardwiring of my brain is clearly altered, and it’ll take more than a few months of pizza delivery to settle back in.