There’s a guy who goes back to the old country on a regular basis. His plan is to work here, in America, and live there, “at home”. Because, according to him, that is where you can truly live. Here, in the good old US of A, he says, your life seems to have been shut down, as if you’ve been put on hold indefinitely; here, he says, you can’t get past the secretary whose advice is always the same: to wait, wait, wait. “What am I waiting for?” he complains, “there’s nothing to wait for anymore, the train has left the station a long time ago. The train, the bus, the plane, the life.”
Another one lives here and works there. He likes is more here in the US, he says. He cannot stand the whole package that awaits him in the old country, the chaos, the anarchy, the apathy, the aggression, the vulgarity. Here nobody is interested in him, nobody wants anything from him, here nobody cares about him and his story. And that suits him perfectly. The only problem is that, being so completely anonymous, transparent and invisible, he cannot get any work here. So he goes “there” to work. There, he says, he has something that vaguely looks like a career. Here, there is no career and there is no him, as if he didn’t exist at all. So, when he’s done “existing” there (and making some money in the process), he promptly comes back here and throws himself into the comfortable nonexistence. “That’s the best thing about America, the fact that it’s so big”, says he. “You can get lost forever and be sure that nobody will ever find you.”
A woman is having a typical middle age crisis that got mixed with the emigrant crises. She is angry with everybody in the old country. She hates everything there. The people, the customs, the politics. She became a fervent Republican and a passionate American patriot. Her house is filled with miniature American flags. She speaks “our language” (that’s how our people cautiously call their language – naming it would automatically involve politics) with an American accent. Just as she speaks English with a Slavic accent. From a rural housewife she became a rich lady of rank. Money (her husband’s) bought her self –confidence and contacts with other, similarly rich ladies who are involved in respectable activities called fundraising and charity work. She dyed her hair red, she works out in a health club every day for two hours, she has massage two times a week, she did all the obligatory face lifts and tummy tucks and Botoxes. Right now she is ready to undergo a procedure known as “vagina rejuvenation”. “I’m so excited”, she says in English with a heavy accent, winking conspiratorially.
Another guy went back to college. In his fifties, he sits in the classroom with young twenty olds and studies Japanese. He’s proud of the fact that in two years he has learned so much that he can read Murakami in original. Otherwise, he works as a security night guard. He rents a cheap studio apartment in the same building. “I became smaller here. I need less and less, as if I’m slowly ceasing to exist. If it weren’t for these Japanese lessons, I would think that I became somebody else, someone who I don’t know, someone who I don’t understand, someone who doesn’t share anything with me, any of my interests or my character traits”, he says.
A woman changed her name. She was called Dzenana, now she’s Joy. She has the same job here as she did there. She is a manicurist and a hairdresser. “It’s all the same, but a hundred times better”, she says. “I mean, you can make so much more money. And what else matters anyway?”, she says. “If I get a craving for baklavas, I go to the Armenians. If I get a craving for kebabs, I go to the Bosnians. Everything is covered. In any case, fuck nostalgia. A pure waste of time”, she adds.
There’s a guy who cannot get out of his bed anymore. Nobody calls him any longer. Neither does he call anybody. He watches movies on countless TV channels every night, then sleeps during the day. He tries to write, but that too is beginning to seem increasingly pointless to him. He works occasionally, all kinds of jobs, “the worse the better”, “just so I don’t have to think”. “I needed to come to this country, the most “positive” in the world, to discover that I’m a one hundred percent “negative” and depressed”, says he. “In the old country we were all melancholic, cynical and depressed, so you couldn’t really see who’s who. Here, it’s all clear. And when it’s clear, it’s also much easier”, he says, lighting his twentieth cigarette in the last half hour and sitting in his old, torn and slightly smelly pajamas.
Another guy made a lot of money “there”, he doesn’t want to disclose how he did it and you can’t ask him that anyway (it’s not polite to ask those questions, who knows why). Something vaguely connected with the war, but it doesn’t matter and who cares anyway. The important thing is having it. How it was acquired, that’s important only to the rigid pedants and the envious losers. Now he’s investing it here and watching it grow. And grow. And grow. “It’s fun,” he says cheerfully in excellent English, “it’s just so much fun, this money thing.” He has a young American trophy wife, a huge mansion in Beverly Hills with platinum doorknobs and marble floors and a grandiose staircase that the “trophy” likes to dramatically descend in her one of a kind Stella Mc Cartney dresses while he smokes Cuban cigars with his male company of mostly ex-Yu provenance, nostalgically remembering the good old communist times.
One guy is “doing great”, another one is “about to make it any day now”, a woman is “tired of everything”, another one is angry with the whole world. One guy is putting together a list in his yellow pad of all the people to whom he plans to send a note before his suicide with only two words: “Fuck you” for the people here and “Jebi se” for the people there. One woman is “drowning in work”, one guy is “getting by”, another one can’t wait to go back, yet another one says: “nevermore”. One woman has cancer, another one does yoga every day and claims it’s saving her. A third one has a young lover and claims that’s saving her. Another one has a baby at forty five and claims that’s saving her. Another one just got a divorce and claims that saved her. One guy shoots guns, another guy skis, the third guy surfs, while another guy has been writing his memoirs for the past fifteen years. A woman is maniacally writing lists of the projects she would never start. A guy has shot a dozen movies in his head so he lost interest in actually shooting them. One guy was a professor, now he’s a waiter. One woman was an actress, now she’s a housewife. One guy was a camera man, now he’s a teacher. One guy was good-for-nothing, now he’s a multimillionaire. One guy was a director, now he produces wines. One woman was a prostitute, now she’s a rich widow. One woman was a hairdresser, now she’s a hairdresser. One guy was happy, now he’s desperate. One was desperate, now he’s indifferent. One woman was young and beautiful, now she’s old and tired. One guy became a lama and lives in Tibet. One was crossing the street and got run over. One woman was writing and then stopped. Another one was acting and then got tired. One guy was talking and then stopped. That one has been keeping mum for years already. Maybe he’s the only one that has the answer.