The AirTrain from JFK airport passes a large American flag, maybe thirty feet tall, an edifice reminding me that I'm back in America. Every airport has overly officious immigration officials and a feeling of empty hope. One can spend an entire holiday in many countries without laying eyes on a single national flag, yet this is unthinkable in America. The red, white, and blue monuments are beacons, their prevalence a distillation of the national spirit.
A minute or two past the flag I looked down into a neighbourhood of depressed and depressing backyards. In one of the lots, held fast in a jigsaw of different vehicles, was a green Hummer. Somehow the oversized military SUV was a sharper reflection of America than the towering flagpole. Their juxtaposition brought to mind the shifting double shadows cast when one walks under streetlights.
While I was occupied with my thinly profound thoughts two men engaged in an enthusiastic conversation about something called "UPW." A subsequent Google search revealed this to be a "live 3 ½ day event" titled "Unleash the Power Within" teaching you "how you can surpass your own limitations to achieve your goals, improve the quality of your life and build lasting greatness." The younger man, an ex-financier, told the story of how he had recently attended UPW, along with multiple other courses with similarly acronymic names. Using adjectives like "raw" and "sick", he told of how the instructor cautioned attendees not to "do anything stupid" for two weeks afterwards. However, this daring Wall Streeter paid no heed to his master's words and proclaimed that he had moved out of his apartment, quit his job, and broke up with his girlfriend within twenty four hours of completing the course. "I thought my head couldn't get any bigger, but it did."