Monday, September 27, 2010

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled bowlers...

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk in the woods. Well, first I went for a drive to get to some semblance of woods--such is the price of suburbia, with all its convenience and cleanliness. There's a rails-to-trails project a couple miles from my house: in one direction it's well-maintained, almost sterile, but in the other direction it's rougher, and, after skirting the backsides of various industrial buildings for maybe half a mile, it edges away from a pretty dramatic ravine. Several much more primitive trails run down into these lowlands, following the power lines at first. "Wow! Are those crickets?" I wondered alloud. No, just the buzzing high-tension wires. Again, the strange hidden costs of suburbia.

One of these trails quickly disappears into fairly thick, relatively untrammeled woods. I followed it for maybe a mile as it meandered around deadfall, through half-dry creeks, and among stands of birches straight out of Ansel Adams. The whole time I walked I kept hearing what sounded like a softball game up the hill to the northwest. I'd discovered on a previous exploration that one branch of the trail led to the bottom of a vast mown hill leading up to a playground, so I wasn't too surprised by the cries.

When I took one of the trails up the hill (across the boggy bottom from the mown one), it led me out of the woods and abruptly into a softball field. But rather than a bunch of middle-aged white guys slugging it out, I saw two dozen Indian men playing a heated game of cricket--complete with regimental stripe sweaters, matching trousers, and, on a couple players, wide-brimmed hats or turbans!

To me, this was magic. I don't have a clue about cricket, but it's thrilling to see the game invented by our former masters being played by their former servants in a place with no direct connection to either. Given the recent boiling over of the immigration debate, I'm sure some would find such a scene unsettling. I can only suggest to them that it's precisely such incongruities that make this country great. I've been all over the world, and I've never seen anything anywhere else that even comes close to this degree of cultural "swirling." You'll see Chinese restaurants all over the place, and French cultural centers in those countries they once colonized, and little pockets of immigrants in major cities worldwide. But the "wrong" people playing the "wrong" game in the heartland of the "wrong" country? Only here.

Dark-skinned men with foreign accents boisterously playing an unfamiliar sport look a little strange in the quiet 21st century suburbs. But this is probably how my own ancestors looked 100 years ago, drinking their foul-smelling "barley-water," eating sausages made from god-knows-what, and dancing to their odd 3/4 time music. I can only hope that a century from now the Indians will be as well-integrated as the Germans are today, and they will get to look on in puzzlement at some other group of fresh-faced foreigners bringing some other new custom to the great American table heavy-laden with its ever-replenishing buffet of traditions.


  1. Did you take these photos with your iPhone? I'd recommend the novel Netherland--about the post-9/11 immigrant cricket scene in NYC--except it's one of those annoying non-novels where nothing ever actually happens, largely because the narrator doesn't realize he's suffering from PTSD (begging the question of whether the author realizes this either?) and exists almost entirely inside his own head, as he's too depressed to interact in any meaningful way with other people, so not really worth slogging through 400 pages of his dreary internal monologue just for the few cricket scenes.

  2. Yes, for the first time ever, Hard Sleeper features original photos by Your Humble Narrator and his SuperPhone. (Actually, I have a few photos of Gambia on my old phone, but it's so complicated getting them off I haven't bothered.) I even got a video of the cricket match, but it was so far away (and the file so big) I didn't bother posting it.

  3. I can’t decide which I like better, the interesting train of thought (which is like the literal trails that led you to a surprise) or the excellent pictures you paint. This is certainly one of my favorites of your posts, maybe Number #1. But it’s not a competition. Is it? That too would be very American (supposedly).

    P.S. I tried playing cricket the one time I was in England. I don’t remember much about it, except that the Brits were very friendly and forgiving. Well, I must add that it felt almost as slow playing the game as it was to watch it. Maybe I’ve repressed a lot.