I’ve been back on American soil exactly twenty-four hours (eight of them in blissful Xanax slumber) and this is what I’ve observed. The usual things: America is big and rich and profane, but things generally work better and faster here than in other places. By “things” I don’t mean ideas like happiness or democracy, but things like public transportation and plumbing.

You can’t tell who’s American and who’s a foreigner just by looking. Anyone here could be American, and anyone here could be from someplace else. This fact has already been used to advertise the services of a bank. In fact, the bank’s clever ads were lining the very hallway I walked down on my way to the immigration hall, where they waited with rubber stamps to re-admit me, so I could assess the state of my union with these United States.

As the Homeland Security Guard scanned my passport, he asked where I’d gone, and what was the purpose of my visit. I paused for a moment. The purpose of my visit? The purpose? Of my visit? To find out what’s at the end of certain roads. To glimpse the tiny, squirming bodies of three newborn puppies born on their mother’s first birthday. To take the purest and finest and rawest of fish and other fine substances into my body and let them work their magic. To ride a moto up and down the same stretch of the Pan-American highway, running an errand that quickly turned into a wild goose chase. To get stoned with my best friend in one of the seven wonders of the world and sit on a precarious ledge laughing at the parade of tourists. To lie on the beach about three kinds of high and drunk with my other best friend and laugh at things that may or may not be funny. To ride half an hour into the desert with to sit in a pool of sulfuric mud with both of them and take the cure of its murky waters. To become a godmother. To wait out a rainstorm smoking alone in an Incan tomb. To drink Jim Beam Black in a rooftop hammock. To finally see the way that Pink Floyd album synchronizes with The Wizard of Oz. To mix a couple dozen martinis and drink all of them straight, but some of them on the rocks as well, the big giant rocks of a field through which children sometimes ran and frolicked. To treat the sunset like a concert and the sun like a temperamental rock star. To go on a series of stoned shopping sprees. To stay up all night and fall asleep in the street of a town where there aren’t any gringos at all. To eat very thin slices of raw alpaca meat on toast, to eat cocaine gnocchi. To buy a bathing suit of a brevity not normally worn in the Northern Hemisphere. To improve my Spanish. To watch clouds blow across a glacier. To serenade a bemused taxi driver with the better part of Joni Mitchell’s Blue. To get a really good deal on a custom-made leather jacket.

“Tourism,” I said.

The Homeland Security Guard waved me through without welcoming me back. I like it when they at least say, “Welcome back.” I always say, “Thank you,” while silently thinking, “This empire will fall in my lifetime and one day you’ll work for us, sowing the fields of fine legal drugs and dismantling all the subdivisions, blowing up all the unseemly architecture and cleaning all the rivers, one by one.”

America is a place where words sometimes fail to describe the reality of the situation, but there are certain answers to certain questions that keep the line moving along.

Since I came back to America, my only travels within the city have been up and back on North Sixth Street. There’s a new expensive boutique on North Sixth Street and a real estate agency where another expensive boutique on North Sixth Street used to be. I thought an expensive boutique was the highest form of evolution a storefront in this neighborhood could take, but I was wrong. Real estate agencies are the true endpoint. Soon the blocks will be solid with real estate agencies, and they’ll simply buy, sell and rent one another.

Every time I go away, the neighborhood changes in my absence. One summer I returned from my travels to find the neighborhood overrun with fratboys and the girls who love them, but that was several years ago and they’ve long since blended in. Now I’ve come back from my travels, on the national holiday that marks the end of summer no less, but I can’t find in it me to feel any outrage or shock. The entire waterfront of this neighborhood has been sold to developers, and the new real estate agency has a tiny, precise model of a luxury condominium complex in it. I never thought I’d miss the old real estate agencies with their handwritten signs advertising overpriced rentals, but now I do.

America is a place where one form of insidious destruction disguised as progress can just as easily give way to another more overt and unstoppable one.

Since I got back to America, all I’ve eaten has been some hummus, a handful of very low-dose Xanax, a large Korean meal and a whiskey, neat. All I’ve made is a color-coded weekly schedule of how my livelihood is to be wrangled, scammed and otherwise earned for the next little while.

America is a place where we have a vast choice of things to consume, provided we can make enough money to buy them, and we sometimes need pills to get to sleep at night. Or dawn, as the case may be.

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