It would be obvious for me to say the scenery has changed–I have, after all, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to live in the New World, home to the Grand Canyon, the Big Apple, the Big Easy, The Notorious B.I.G. But outside of the American penchant for pennants, the many overhead power cables criss-crossing older neighbourhoods and various other things I’ve pointed out in previous posts New Jersey isn’t all that different to the United Kingdom. It’s drier, true; it gets hotter and colder as the seasons pass, but it’s greenly wooded in places, paved with motorways in others, and though it’s perhaps a little flatter than I’m used to it ramps steeply as you head towards the mountains, which are a grander than any of Devon’s tors but wouldn’t look completely outside some of Britain’s further afield ranges in Scotland and Wales.
The radio stations are strange, blaring as they do an odd combination of Bible-thumping sermons, banjo-twiddling country, daffy American rock and cutting edge pop music, every song from which was created by R&B producers who stumbled across rave sample CD-ROMs circa 1994.
The food’s a giant leap in to heart attack territory where the snacks that sound inedible and those that sound too good to be true are separated only by the narrowest of arteries. Being a foodie that’s one area that’s going to haunt me down the line, once I have the opportunity to browse the trash-packed cabinets in the freezer section at my leisure. Thus far I’ve been too embarrassed to examine each and every variety of Eggo frozen waffle (at which the modest Englishman inside me drops his monocle and exclaims “Dear boy, you mean there’s more than one kind?”); I can assure you, this will not always be the case.
The biggest thing for me–the strangest thing I’ve had to deal with–is the extended cast of characters I’ve dealt with knowing in the future I’ll see more of them than I do my own immediate family. Like a revamped sitcom–Campfire Burning: The American Class–all the old familiar cast have been relegated to guest appearances, and replaces with new models who do their best to fulfil big shoes but always end up looking and sounding wrong.
Things weren’t always like this. When I first met many of them I never realised they’d come to play such a large part in my life, a part for which many of them haven’t yet–but will–had screen time. I know I’ll be seeing more of Lindsay’s cousins, her aunts and uncles–her whole extended family–but when I first met them they were simply cyphers, an ambulatory backdrop to be otherwise ignored. I was too scared to say anything to them and lurked behind Lindsay like a lumpen shadow, leaving her to speak on my behalf. Though she can still speak for me now pretty soon I won’t have that luxury; I’m a US resident, not a holidaymaker, not a visitor, but someone who’ll live here for the rest of his life, who’ll have to deal with whatever dreams–and nightmares–may come.
It’s always awkward meshing two families together when getting hitched, or even meshing two friend groups together, the lads and the lasses, each secretly disdainful of the partner to whom their friend is now engaged. While our families fit rather snugly into one another–my parents love Lindsay’s uncle and aunt, who put them up in their home on few days’ notice when we all visited America for the first time–we haven’t so much combined our friend pool as I’ve adopted hers wholesale.
And it’s a forced adoption, not one willingly chosen. I’ve met only a few of her friends and while for the most part they seem like decent people there are one or two whom I downright despise. “Be nice,” she warns when I let rip into a particularly hated friend with a tongue so sharp it could slice time into milliseconds. I’ve hated her for so long, it’s unlikely I’ll ever change my opinion.
Unlike on previous stays with this one being permanent this girl will need to know how much I hate–or at least understand that I don’t want to go to her parties, go out to eat with her, spend couple time with her and the poor unfortunate so lack-witted he married her. Not everyone can get along with everyone else; as she normally spends so much time hanging out with my wife, sooner or later she’s going to notice just how reluctant she is to bring her limey husband out with her for movies and nachos.
In my new supporting cast, she’s my nemesis, my villain, the Newman to my Seinfeld, the Bester to my Garibaldi. She’s the idiot character from another show, Ursula from Mad About You now guesting on Friends where she’s nowhere near as popular as she feels she should be.
I wonder how many other people have these kinds of consistent hate figures in their lives, who’ve been brought into them by loved ones as if in retaliation for finally finding happiness.
I’m scared of meeting my wife’s other friends. I’ve met a couple–always briefly no matter how often–and they’ve seemed nice enough, but it’s easy to be nice in short periods, isn’t it? Even I can manage that if given enough warning. As we’re still in the honeymoon period of me moving here (where we’re both trying to cram in as much of everything as we can, always worried that I’ll be going home soon) it’s difficult coming to terms with knowing these people are part of my life now, not lurking in the periphery but there eternal, front and centre.
Nina, Lindsay’s oldest friend is one of these new cast members I’ll have to get used to. They’ve known each other since kindergarten, I believe, and though they’ve had their ups and downs and long times, no see, they still catch up with each other once in a while. Lindsay describes her as a late bloomer, a geeky, awkward girl who went away somewhere and came back a popular pod person. Looking at old year books she points Nina out, saying “I can’t believe how Indian she used to look”; these days, hanging out with orange-skinned trout pouters in her Facebook pictures, she’s part of a clubbing in crowd who, if their txt spk OMG msgs are anything to go by, are clearly not on her intellectual level. I like to think the main reason why she still talks to Lindsay the physicist is that when she’s not getting Jager bombed and fist pumping the night away her brain craves the intellectual stimulation only her lifelong friend genius can provide. Teeth bleached unnaturally white, always wearing her makeup game face, so thin hugging her is akin to cradling a baby bird in your hands, she’s about as far from that gawky Indian kid as it’s possible to be without getting gender realignment surgery. I like Nina, but it’s weird knowing as the two of them have grown into their late twenties together, so she’ll now be part of my life, cropping up like a bad penny whose appearances are all the same welcome.
Then there are Matt and Alina, the couple whose wedding we attended shortly after my arrival, who are already planning their own spin-off series which may or may not involve moving the United Kingdom or joining the Peace Corps. They are what Lindsay hopes will be our ‘couple friends’ with whom we’ll enjoy fondue and have dinner parties. It’s a shame that Alina’s path is already diverging from Lindsay’s, seeing as they seem to have gotten on so well in such a short space of time. It’s odd thinking we might ever have couple friends to do couple things, but if we’re going to have fondue before they vacate the country, they mightn’t be the worst people in the world to have it with.
I am, of course, fooling myself. The Campfire Burning show was cancelled at the end of last season, to be replaced with a new show in which it’s me who’s the guest star, not anyone else. I’ve become supporting cast in my own life, leeching onto my wife’s friends and family, going to places that have meaning to her, living her dreams. I’m happy to be here but I don’t have my own group of friends, not yet, and if history’s anything to go by I never will. I’ve met people on previous visits whom I get on with but they’re still friends of friends rather than my friends, made by me.
And my parents and sister live on the other end of a telephone line now, like the callers in Frasier. Once they were stars, now they’re also-starring. Their replacements aren’t replacements at all but new characters it might take some time to get to know.
I hope I’ll like this new show. The old one had its moments but like a long-running soap, after a while I kept watching because I had to, not because I wanted to. With a new cast, a new setting and a new life, only one course of action remains to me.
Coming up next on Campfire Burning: the rest of my life. Stay tuned to this channel.