The title of this week’s post is a nod to the Gin Blossoms, one of those Nineties bands that was hot for a minute. The lead guitarist and songwriter had formed the band but, after struggling towards success for a while, the band decided to change direction. The lead and backup singers changed places, as did the lead and backup guitarists. The now former lead guitarist grew increasingly depressed about the new direction, so the label (doing what the band wanted but would not) withheld money from him until he quit and signed away his royalties. He did so. Then the band became an “overnight success” and he killed himself. The band’s next album was called Congratulations I’m Sorry.

With that depressing trivia to start off the entry, it’s my birthday today! 49. My own age never mattered to me all that much, though I do appreciate that I can still surprise people who think I’m in my thirties. That said, I think I feel my age more and more, or at least I think about it more often. Like the other day, when I woke up to find my right eye extremely irritated (it would remain so for another twenty-four hours), my first thought of the day was, “Well, got that to deal with, I guess.” As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m long past the age when weird body shit happens and goes away for no apparent reason.

Another significant way I’m reminded of my age is my relationship to others around me. My mom once told me that, back when she was in her thirties (and been a mother for over a decade), she asked her mom, “When will I feel like a grown-up?” to which my grandmother replied, “I’ll let you know when I feel that way myself.” I know I’m a different person than I was ten years ago, let alone twenty or thirty years ago, but I don’t really feel different. How can I? When I reflect on memories from my teens, I’m inserting my current psyche into that lithe, nimble teen body. Yeah, okay, I was never lithe nor nimble, but let me have this. It’s my birthday.

So while I don’t feel like a middle-aged man, it’s only natural to be seen as one. Whether I’m in a comedy club surrounded by rookies who are barely in their twenties, or with co-workers who aren’t much older, it’s no surprise that people aren’t falling over themselves to get to know Grandpa. Pair that with my own social retardation and I find myself getting worse, not better, at mingling. You should’ve seen me at my company’s kick-off this weekend. I pulled off a French Exit not once, not twice, but three damn times.

Anyway, onto what I’d actually intended to talk about this week, inspired by my day job. My co-workers include Iranians, Afghans, Syrians, and several others who fall into the lovely US umbrella of A-rabs. They often speak A-rab to each other. And working at an airport, I often have A-rab customers, and my natural instinct is to wonder when someone will leap across my desk and wrap their hands around my throat for US crimes, real or imagined.

When I moved to Sweden, I took a one-month long intensive course in Swedish. I got to talking to a young German guy and I asked him where he was from. When he replied, “Dresden,” I winced, then apologized. During WWII, the Allies (well, the US) firebombed that city, despite being well aware that it was a civilian target. The thought was, slaughtering civilians would sure be a great way to break their morale! I suppose it worked but it’s one of those means and ends things. I’ve heard there’s a park in Dresden that has a lovely hill- the hill being made of the ruins of much of old Dresden.

The guy was visibly surprised I knew about Dresden at all, then said he appreciated my response. He hadn’t entered the conversation with a grudge against Americans. This experience, and others like it, inspired one of my early bits.

“I’m from the US and, living here, I meet people from all over the world. I’m so used to apologizing, that’s how I introduce myself. ‘Hi, I’m Ryan, I’m sorry. Where are you from? Dresden? I’m sorry we firebombed your city.’ ‘Hi, I’m Ryan, I’m sorry. Where are you from? Kurdistan? Yikes. I’m sorry about the Gulf Wars, they were not well thought out.’ ‘Hi, I’m Ryan, I’m sorry. Where are you from? Bosnia? Okay, I am sorry it took us so long to get involved in your war but, in our defense, you have no oil. And look at the bright side! If you weren’t white, we never would’ve showed up.’”

I miss that bit.

I was reminded of all this a few weeks ago when, asking a customer for his passport and being handed Iraqi documents, I thought to myself, “Please don’t ask me where I’m from, please don’t ask me where I’m from, please don’t ask….” He asked me where I was from. I said the US and he lit up, wondered where specifically, why I’d moved to Sweden, said he’d been in the US recently.

Americans believe that everyone in the world loves us and hates us. Those things don’t go together. Maybe we think everyone in the world thinks of us as gods. Very possible, seems on-brand for us. I’ve learned over the years as an expat that foreigners don’t really think about us as often as we believe. Certainly not with the passion we imagine.

That being said, one of my Iranian co-workers just posted an anti-Israel comment on our office’s WhatsApp thread and I’m not touching that with a ten-foot fucking pole.