One of the earliest beliefs I still cling to in life is that I was born an American trapped in an Englishman’s body. That is the kind of story you manufacture about yourself when you grow up in a place like Liverpool in the 1980s. Back then, the city was apocalyptic. A rotting, dilapidated carcass in grim decline. When I first watched Mad Max, I thought the wasteland Mel Gibson braved appeared like an upgrade in comparison. When you live somewhere like Liverpool, you ask yourself a simple, yet powerful question on an almost daily basis: How on earth did I land here?
There are fewer than 3,000 Jews in Liverpool. A gaggle of doctors, accountants, and lawyers with the occasional dentist thrown into the mix for variety. Every family has some variation of a similar explanation to the above question. The tale generally begins with a great-grandparent fleeing whatever inhospitable, frigid, rotting-potato-stenched Eastern European shtetl they had tried to pass off as home, hotfooting it onto the steerage level of an ocean liner. Chased right up to the gangplank, in almost every telling, by a rabid band of Cossacks with murder on their mind. When that vessel stopped briefly to refuel along the way, their ancestors had been among the simpler-minded, dimmer ones who glimpsed the one tall building on the Liverpool skyline and believed they were staring right at New York City, their intended destination. Fatally mistaken, they disembarked and were left to eke out pennies in the English North West, rather than undoubtedly make their fortunes in that promised land filled with bounty and possibility, the United States of America.