Wednesday, June 6, 2007

the 2o Dollar Question

"You're always advertising Texas," said the olive-skinned woman. "You say you love America. So why are you in Vienna?"

It's a good question, asked with a smile.

Suddenly it's the opening scene of Detour (1946), and I'm Tom Neal, the innocent man, wrongly accused. A low-angle spotlight splashes on my face, the background dims and....ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space.

Why am I in Vienna? Who's asking? Sometimes I'm talking to people who have never been over there and don't want to go. Sometimes I'm talking to Americans who wish they could leave the US. Sometimes I'm talking to Americans here who wish, desperately, that they could go back. Sometimes I'm talking to people that are moving there with all the dreams and aspirations that adults can conjure.

My answer--my story--varies. The truth comes out in greater and lesser degrees. The truth is I got sick of only seeing some of my friends twice a year, because we were all so busy. Actually, I was so angry and disgusted with what the Bush Administration has done to the country I do in fact love. The Gods Honest truth is that it was time for a change. Frankly, the "quality of life" (a funny phrase, if you think about it for a second) is higher in Europe. No, wait...we did it for our daughter: everyone knows education and healthcare is better over here. And so forth.

I guess I always try to be honest about the place itself. The US of A, that is. But it's like talking to a kid--you tell them some well-chosen fragment of the truth. For people who are going to America to live happily ever after, or those who go with no illusions, or for those somewhere in the middle, that is, for people who dream, despite themselves, of a better life in the USA, I try to convey the brutality and hilarity and awful poetry of the land. Sometimes I even think they understand me.

Usually the lights come up, I get that grin, and I tell them the real truth. "Why am I in Vienna? Well...I fell in love with an Austrian."

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