It is the Fourth of July and radio station Nova 93.7 in Perth is hosting Independence Day Throwback, playing songs like Party in the U.S.A. and We Speak No Americano. I just dropped off the kids at a week-long theater camp where they are rehearsing Beauty and the Beast. Due to what I’m guessing is a licensing issue, this is not the musical with Cogsworth and Lumière. Instead, this version features a fidget spinner salesman, a painter, and a pack of wolves singing Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf.
Before I head to the Nedlands Library to park myself in one of their study carrels near the comic books, I drive further down Stirling Highway to make one quick stop.
Stirling Highway runs through the western suburbs of Perth like a scar on an otherwise lush landscape. A seemingly endless array of mattress stores, pizza restaurants and outdoor furniture warehouses, Stirling is a commercial strip that could be plucked out of any sprawling American suburb. I’m looking for sparklers, and I swear there is a party supply store somewhere around here. I sing along to Empire State of Mind.
I am the first customer of the day at Party Town and the gentleman on his knees tying together red, white and blue balloon arches looks happy to see me. 2Pac’s California Love is blasting and the man stands up and says, “G’day.” He has two silver loop nose rings in his left nostril, and is wearing a navy blue beanie with a white pompom and a wool sweater with pine trees and the New England Patriots logo. I ask if he has any sparklers and he walks me down an aisle past pirate costumes and feathered boas. I select both the regular and long sparklers and then ask if they have anything else for the Fourth of July. He says of course, and I wonder if there’s a party supply store anywhere in the U.S. with a section dedicated to Australia Day. I look at the flag garlands and stars and stripes tablecloths and tell him I’m not feeling that patriotic after all. “I get it,” he says as we walk to the register.
The man in the beanie was in the states last year for vacation with someone he refers to as his “then-girlfriend.” They went all over – New York, Boston, Detroit, New Orleans, and Lake Tyler in East Texas. He tells me this as he rings up my sparklers. “In the north, we met Clinton supporters and in the south we met people who were going to vote for Trump. Quite a diverse lot you have there,” he said. “We were in Texas two days before the open carry law passed. We went to a bar and my then-girlfriend talked to a guy with a rifle slung over his shoulder.” He shakes his head and laughs. “Was a rabbit going to run across the floor?”
“Nice sweater,” I say, as I hand him a twenty. “My husband likes the Patriots.”
“I follow the Patriots and also Oregon State,” he says. “I’ve been a fan of American football ever since I was a kid. Like it way more than the AFL to be honest with you. Went to a Patriots game against Philly last year. Unfortunately they lost but the place was going off. Blokes had those long puffer jackets. They kept buying us beer because we’re Australian.”
The phone at the counter rings and he ignores it. A woman with frizzy hair clutching a mass of gray plastic convict chains runs to the front to pick up the phone. “Party Town,” she says wearily. “Yes. Yes we do.”
The man leans over the counter and lowers his voice. “I feel more at home in Boston than I do here,” he says. “Americans are the nicest people.” He pauses and looks wistful. “They’ll sort it out,” he says finally.
I drive to the library, sparklers next to me on the passenger seat. Nova is playing Lady Gaga’s The Edge of Glory, which seems like a stretch but I sing along anyway. It starts to rain and I hope it stops by the time the sun sets tonight. I want to take the kids outside and talk about America as we sign our names in the air.