Friday, December 28, 2007

A little bit of information super highway can be dangerous

I was in the CVS on Spring Garden St. getting some pictures of Peru printed for my Mother. The man at the counter was flipping through them and ventured a guess on where I had been.

Elderley Gentleman: "That high plain, where you were, what's that called?"

Me: "Machu Pichu?"

EG: "Yeah, that's the one, they found some whale bones up there, if you can believe it."

M: (Absently, feigning interest) "Wow, that's incredible"

EG: "It's only incredible if you believe in evolution."

M: (At this point he has my full attention.) "Oh yeah? It's from the flood?"

EG: "Yes it is. I have learned a lot about a lot of things since I got a computer."

M: (Disengaging, slowly...) "Well that's really interesting, thanks so much."

EG: "Have a blessed day."

Friday, December 21, 2007


Of course, while I have been here, lots of people ask me what happens after Peace Corps, and I cheerfully tell them the truth: I have no freaking clue. Of course I have ideas, there would be ways to stay in Ecuador or ways to extend this period of travel in another part of Latin America. Presumably, there are jobs for which I would be a convincing candidate in New York or DC or some part of North Carolina. But these are only ideas, and as of yet I have no strong feeling about what the right move would be.

Riding the subway, walking the streets, I remembered how it felt to live in the city. But I found myself here, feeling very much like I used to the first day back from vacation. You know that sense of peace and well being and ability to put things in perspective that goes away about halfway through the third day after you go back to work? I suspect that taking up residence again there woul be like the life-scale version of that. Right now, the part of my brain that was always occupied with work, social life, apartment details, where to buy groceries that day, how much I spent on dinner last night and what have you, is curiously still. And I thought: if I could live in New York without it generating the list of complaints, anxieties, and heachaches that New York seems to produce in me then I could really enjoy it. It would be a great place to return to.

What I note is an absence of a distinctly unpleasant feeling that I often had for many years while living there. Something like guilt, a nagging sense of having let many people down, of having done things badly or shoddily. I do feel preoccupied with things in Ecuador the collective I have been organizing, the complicated details of my friends' lives in which I am much too involved, but there is a safety valve. When I go in August or whenever that happens, my responsibility and ability to be affected by them simply come to an end. And right now all those challenges seem remarkably far away and short lived. I suppose the question is how to design your life so you feel that way anywhere.

Lord knows how to do that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Winter, trees, food, and light

Mainly, this week. I ate. I will leave it at that.

I did go jogging every morning but one. If I never had a day job, I would be super athletic. Today and yesterday, I went down Second Ave. to where it become Chrystie and followed it out onto the Manhattan Bridge. I do love that part of town, the way you see where it was Puerto Rican, but before that Jewish and before that who knows what and then you pass into China Town in a part which was once Little Italy, and of course most of the Lower East Side is terribly gentrified, and there is a ginormous Whole Foods on Houston, cause apparently the the one at Union Square isn't sufficient. But its still charming retaining its edge even with all the boutiques and cafes.

I passed the warehouse where a friend of mine lived back in the day on the corner of Chrystie and Grand. It wasn't zoned for residence, their roof deck was bathed in fumes from the industrial dry cleaner below, their neighbors were a brothel and a sweatshop, and they ended up moving out because a man broke into the apartment while his girlfriend was sleeping there. Still it had its own urban gritty new york story charm, the entire episode. He now lives in Europe and I miss seeing him here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Back home side

New York. I love that city. I was walking around Herald Square with my backpack on wheels, looking at the people, looking at the Christmas mania happening around me. It's like no place on the world. How could I think about not going back, I thought in that moment.

Then I waited an hour and forty five minutes for a bus to Boston, simply because it didn't occur to the people in Port Authority to tell me that the ticket for a 5:30 bus they sold me didn't actually mean there was a bus a 5:30. And I remembered how enormously complicated everything is here.
In Ecuador this kind of thing should be attributed to cultural norms having to do punctuality, efficiency, and customer service. In New York it should be attributed to everyone being an asshole.

Now I am in Cambridge, a charming city full of excellent cuisines from all over the world, stunning late afternoon winter light, and a river I can jog by.


Three weeks between one vacation and another went by in a flurry of writing reports, drafting bi-laws, making lots of pumpkin pies for people, lots of bickering between my friends, workshops on homophobia that someone had to give and who knows what other details. I ate crabs from the shell and kept up with my jogging. The time to go to the states was forever getting closer but I didn't ever really have time to get excited about it until I was on the plane to Panama.

To say good bye a couple friends of mine I went to sing karaoke. It was one of those plans you have always pending until someone Yeah. This is the night we go. The place turned out to be a little disappointing. It was smokey and full of big groups of men without dates and no one would take our song requests for a really long time. Everyone, especially the men, were singing the most sentimental ballads ever thought possible. The microphone got passed around tables and people sang from their seat, an arrangement I only can describe as merciful. I chose Brian Adams' Heaven (sentimentality and all) and was a conscious of the expectant rustle when a song in English came up on the screen. I have had some bad moments singing with a microphone in front of people. Once in college, I sang in front of A LOT of people, and once in a karaoke bar and it was scarring. So I don't want to sounds too arrogant but this was different. And I could hear my little voice coming out of the speakers and knew I had them, my audience, my fans in my pocket. When I finished there lots of cheers and some kid came over to congratulate us. I finished my set with Mama Mia, following the wise cues of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.