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“Well, son, Waco was a complicated, nightmarish tragedy, one that pitted U.S. citizens against their own government. Dozens died, including women and children. Following the conflict, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms made ‘dynamic entry,’ an option of last resort.” I tried to give my son a sense of why both sides might blame the other. His reply: “But because it’s the government, there’s nothing you can do if they’re wrong.”

“No, that’s wrong. You can sue the government. That’s why the judiciary is a separate branch. We have the rule of law here.” My son was silent. No snarky comeback; I was getting through! Yay, America!

But, of course, it’s not that simple, and Dad, who didn’t know about Son’s newfound cynicism, wasn’t about to let me get too rosy. He told a story about a woman who had only just now won a court settlement from the government on behalf of her father, a Vietnam vet who was dying of throat cancer brought on by his wartime exposure to government-deployed Agent Orange. (See what I mean about conflicting feelings?) She’d spent decades fighting for justice.

I winced and whispered something to Dad about not feeding the beast in the backseat.

Dad clued in. “Of course, the man did finally get justice.”

“Right,” I answered. “It can be horribly difficult. But it’s possible.”

—Matthew Lickona

America Likes a Bubble Butt

I’m 5'2", and I weigh approximately 135 pounds. This is a good 25 pounds heavier than I was, say, 15 years ago, when I graduated from college.

All of it went to my ass.

I go through phases where I run a few miles at a time, several days a week, either prepping for bikini season or for a visit from my 5'4", 100-pound mother (who, at 65, works out at the gym four days a week and runs the other three days). But no matter what I do, my backside remains. Luckily, the bigger it is, the more my husband likes it. He’s one of those guys. It’s no surprise, then, that I married him immediately upon my return from a two-year, self-imposed isolation in Japan — the land of the flat butt.

This morning, while out for a jog, I passed a man, 50–60 years old, pushing a cart full of aluminum cans and plastic bottles. I paid him no mind until he called out, “Look at that! Girl, you don’t need to jog!”

Only then did I wave, smile, and think, This is why I love my country.

I had lived in Brooklyn for ten years when I decided to move to Japan to teach English. I was fed up with the cement, the trains, the pressure to be hipper than hip, and most especially the men who, shall I say…overappreciated…my form — out loud, every day, and to such an extent that, depending on my mood, I sometimes answered “Fuck you” to a simple “Hello.” But it’s a bit more complicated than that; after 18 years in Boise, Idaho, where my “bubble butt” vied with my frizzy Afro for top spot on my list of insecurities, it was those same Brooklyn males who made me believe I was All That. And I really did believe it. Until I moved to Japan.

The Japanese town where I lived was tiny, and futile as it was, I tried everything I could to keep from standing out:

I was on time everywhere I went.

I rode my bike with my knees turned inward, just the way every Japanese woman does, in an effort to appear modest, I suppose, even while wearing pants and even while on the exercise bike at the gym.

In public Japanese bathrooms, it’s an embarrassment to hear anyone do anything, so many stalls are equipped with a button you can press to cover up any noises you happen to make. The first such button I encountered read, “sound of flushing,” and being yet unfamiliar with the courtesies of Japanese restroom etiquette, I assumed it was the actual flusher. Imagine my surprise when the stall was filled with the sound of flush, but nothing happened. I later discovered that even when there is no “sound of flushing” button, the modest thing to do is to flush the toilet first and then quickly do your business while the sound of rushing water hides your noises. I don’t mean to be crass, only to make you understand that I became quite Japanese in my effort to pretend that when I was in the stall, I was doing nothing at all.

When I laughed, I covered my mouth in yet another subtle show of modesty, though occasionally I forgot and guffawed with my head thrown back and my mouth open. Most people looked away forgivingly.

That’s the thing about the Japanese. They do not stare if you do something wrong, and if they do, they are so discreet about it that you don’t notice. Because of this, I did for a while believe that I had done such a great job of blending in that people no longer noticed me.

Then one day, I caught a schoolkid making fun of my ass. To the delight of his friends, he bent forward, arched his back, and walked with his tiny little butt sticking out behind him. I might not have caught on, except that when his friends saw me looking, they all quickly shut their mouths. For a few harsh days I wallowed in insecurity. I wore only clothes that covered my behind. When I heard people laughing, I just knew they were laughing at the size of my rear end, and my only defense was, Please. Where I come from, this is good stuff. I never said this out loud to anyone, but I whispered it in a one-two step-rhythm everywhere I went You got the good stuff, girl. You got the good stuff, girl.

The worst part about it was that I was a grown woman, and I thought I’d left all my insecurities back in my 20s. So much for that. I’ve since come to terms with the fact that I’m not one of those people who doesn’t need anyone’s approval or praise to know I’m a beautiful woman. Clearly, I do.

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Altius July 2, 2010 @ 3:19 p.m.

I loved this compilation -- so many great takes on America, from a rock-and-roll road trip, to bubble booties, to thoughtful treatises on the ups and downs of patriotism.

Thank you Laura McNeal for explaining the depth of the anit-Americanism, anti-Westernism, and guilt-peddling nihilism that goes on at the average American university. The irony is, all the tax payer money that's given to universities makes it government-sponsored anti-Americanism.

I feel for Patrick Daugherty in his disillusionment, and for Matthew Lickona trying to explain to his son why America is admirable. I think Barbarella's Dad and Mary Grimm's parents are onto the answer: America, despite her faults and mistakes, is admirable because the freedom to study, work hard, and practice one's faith and one sees fit is guaranteed here. That's something to be proud of. Even Melissa Wiley's take on parks points to the benevolence of America. You may not have a yard in Queens, but there's a park you can take advantage of. And people from all over the country and world congregate there. It's a microcosm of our country.


Jay Allen Sanford July 2, 2010 @ 11:17 p.m.

I love these "multi-contributor" features, where various staffers and local writers are invited to create short essays around a central theme. They usually revolve around holidays, but I'd like to see multicontrib overviews on, say, hot-button social issues, or more local-centric compilations like last year's "What I Drink and Where I Drink It" cover story --


Kenneth July 3, 2010 @ 8:21 p.m.

I thought the first piece by Laura McNeal was very well-written.


normofsoutheuclid July 4, 2010 @ 9:31 p.m.

Patrick Daugherty speaks for me! Author/historian Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" is the benchmark for a coherent version of American History. I recommend it to all.


I Am Stardirt July 4, 2010 @ 10:16 p.m.

Patricks book is a must read for everyone. American history from the perspective of the men, women, and children who died for the industrial revolution. Sadly, as much as our technology has changed, our understanding of justice for all has not kept pace.


Robert Johnston July 15, 2010 @ 3:31 p.m.

It used to be "Let A Smile Be Your Guide." Now it's "Let A Sneer Be Your Guide."

The only person who looked halfway decent sneering was Billy Idol in his music videos!


But, this is what our society has become!

Hubris ante nemesis! (Hubris breeds nemesis!)



philosopher3000 July 17, 2010 @ 5:29 a.m.

It strikes me that this compilation of stories comes from true Americans, I can see myself in all their stories. I especially like Melissa Wiley's playground peace, and Patrick Daugherty, you are not alone.

But where are the stories of those who drop bombs from 30,000 feet via predator drones, or get million dollar bonuses for shot-selling derivatives? Where are the Americans who lobby for no-bid government contracts and submit corporate patents on DNA, or perform the duty of political representation via campaign contribution, and the public relations men of Wall Street who spin the media? These are the most successful Americans, where are they? How come they don't write their guilty little patriot lies and expound upon the good old days? Why don't we read their comments here? The silent inferiority of their lives betrays them.


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