Friday, December 13, 2013

Perseverance Tastes like Strawberry Jelly

Dickinson College, circa not-that-long-ago, CE: Sitting at the ultimate frisbee table in the cafeteria one afternoon, I got myself into a hilarious little pickle. A friend of mine accidentally dunked his elbow in a bowl of jelly, (which was probably sitting there for alternative purposes to consumption, as we were deservedly loathed by the lunch ladies for food fights and other tactful mealtime shenanigans). As he reached for a napkin, I grabbed his wrist and said, “If you can lick that jelly off of your elbow, I’ll make out with you.” He spent the next eighteen minutes trying to lick his elbow, which is biologically impossible for most hominids. But most college kids are still easing their way into humanity – like slow steps into a cold pool of water. And as I gave him a final smirk and a condescending pat on the shoulder and turned to leave for class, my departure was stunted by an uproar (and a mildly strained popping sound). I wheeled around to find him rubbing his shoulder, but smacking his lips with the remnants of artificial strawberry stickiness on the tip of his tongue. He was smirking back at me, “I guess I’ll see you later. I think I’m going to go get a bowl of onions for dessert.”

I won’t bore you with the consequences of our bet; but the reason I am pausing at this landmark of maturity and tact on Memory Lane is because I was thinking of how with one great and final heave in the last seconds of his opportunity, he had accomplished the unaccomplishable. And earlier this week, I paralleled that feat in the Jerusalem housing market. I have been sleeping on a mattress on my host’s bedroom floor for three weeks now. He’d cleared room for me in the closet as if my stay would be longer than just a few days; but trying to fold myself into a two-dimensional existence to create as little consequence in my bachelor pad encampment as possible, I left everything in my suitcase and immediately, optimistically began calling on rental opportunities.

You can read about my efforts in my previous blog post, but for now let’s just say it hasn’t exactly been a cake walk. I won’t complain because the process got me oriented with the city. And my hosts have been so incredible. I’m staying with three guys in their 20s, all of whom are very unique, intelligent, kind, and hilarious. We chat about photography and philosophy courses they’re taking in school (college starts later here because of the military, so it’s very interesting to be back around academia (sans cafeteria food fights)). I assume they don’t mind my company because they keep telling me so in English, but when they speak amongst themselves, I wouldn’t know if they’re talking about the Queen of England or how females are solely responsible for deforestation given their exorbitant toilet paper consumption. But whether they appreciate my company or not, it is high time I find my own space and graciously return my host’s privacy to him. Which leads me to this week’s predicament…

I’d looked at a slew of apartments and my hunt had culminated in two options available to me. One was a huge apartment in a funky part of town about 15 minutes from the city center. My would-be roommates were three seemingly kind yet dweeby guys from the US and Australia. As set on this space as I was at first, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I would be creating a culturally-isolating Anglo bubble for myself. My alternative was a young, platonic pair that was getting an empty apartment near the city center. They’d narrowed their candidates down to two; and by their scheduling error, I went to meet them a second time while they were still having beers with my competition. The following hour was spent exchanging pleasantries and oozing as much awesomeness as I could in a double third-wheel group interview. I knew I’d won the guy over, but when I began to explain my work for a nonprofit that uses religious pluralism for environmental work, the girl cut me off after “interfaith” with “Aww, that stuff is bullshit.” Seriously put off but not seeing any other alternative, I forged ahead through the social sludge she’d placed at my feet to discover she was an environmental studies major…with a particular interest in sewage. We bonded over recycling, but I could tell that I lacked the charm and intrigue of my German neurobiology PhD student counterpart. I came home still feeling funky and trying to convince myself that I could make do in that apartment if I got to know her better and hung out more with the guy. It was like re-trying on a pair of pants that make your ass look great but the legs are simply too short. But winter is coming and I desperately needed pants.

Here is where my jelly-makeout analogy comes in: my final housing heave. I woke up the next morning knowing I had two options, one of which may not even be an option if Dr. BrainScientist von Shmoozer had anything to say about it. I reverted to my obsessive scanning of Craigslist, Facebook, Janglo and a few other apartment sites. I emailed three folks and against my better judgment of messaging anyone at 8:30am (they start construction out my window at 7:00am, so I figured what the hell – the world must wake up early here), I texted Rina.

Rina is Russian. Her husband, Jay, is an American who is home for an indeterminate number of months taking care of his mother in NYC. Rina keeps kosher, which I am learning to navigate; but she is not a fan of keeping Shabbat – which means we can turn on lights and make coffee on Saturdays. An economist by trade, Rina is currently pursuing a secondary degree in astrology. Rina was home that morning, so I trekked the two blocks from my current residence to pop in before work.

Another girl came to look at the apartment while I was there, and despite my empathy for every home-seeker in this town, I was turned totally cutthroat. I established a commanding presence, emotionally and physically standing my ground. Rina excused herself to answer the phone, and I gave the girl a tour of the home similar to that which I’d just received myself. When the girl asked to use the bathroom, I took a moment to cover a few more intimate details like move-in dates and deposits and such. When I took my leave, Rina offered me an umbrella. I secretly wondered if I could hold it hostage in exchange for six-months of a home, but I didn’t have to. She invited me for tea that night, and we made a verbal agreement that I’d move in later this week. Fast forward to Friday afternoon: I am actually supposed to be moving in at this moment, but instead I am snowed in and all of the boys are still snoozing. So instead, I am being patient with the world and satisfactorily munching on a proverbial, swinging-back-to-the-analogy-at-the-end-of-the-story slice of toast with strawberry jelly. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Not Relevant

It’s not relevant. That’s the translation from Hebrew to English for telling me over and over again that the apartment isn’t available. That it’s already taken. That they don’t want English speakers; short-term renters; secular, non-practicing Jews. I’ve followed my tattered map to nearly every district in the city proper. I’ve stared into the eyes of thousands of potential neighbors – some showing only their eyes between a head scarf and a cloaked bosom, and others averting theirs, snapping the curls at their temples away from secular distraction to the dutiful attention to God. Some automatically speak to me in English, sensing a brotherhood of mutual nationalities. Maybe I smell like America – like dog food and new car and personal space. Others ask me for directions in Hebrew. I tell them that it’s not relevant. Older women carrying groceries and angst walk along the market cobblestones, side-stepped by Israeli soldiers nonchalantly toting a semi-rifle and smacking their gum. I make my way to another apartment catty-corner from the market buzz. He informs me that the rent is through August unless they decide to tear the building down. But bureaucracy slows everything here. So it’s’ probably not relevant. I’m greeted by students who don’t bother to side-sweep the shopping cart full of trash blocking the door. “It’s not mine. It was here when I got here, so I don’t want to throw it away,” they explain. “It’s not relevant.”

Yoga studios and daycare centers offer exorbitantly overpriced rooms with set quiet hours so as not to disturb their classes. Orthodox practitioners explain how turning on the lights or stirring instant coffee defies the stipulations of Yahweh’s law set forth for the holy day of Sabbath. I sit between fluent Hebrew speakers, smiling and nodding when it seems appropriate as the host explains the laundry, the utility bills, and that while she doesn’t really mind having boys in the house, we should first consider the how such a volatile decision may impact our moral integrity. It’s not relevant. 

The computer repairman – a kind, young guy familiar with the sideways idioms of the English language – suggests that his secretary is in need of a roommate. “Actually,” he says when he hangs up the phone with her, “it’s no longer relevant.”

Wandering back from another apartment, I realize that I haven’t eaten anything besides a Hanukkah doughnut in the past 19 hours. A vendor stuffs a falafel , fries, eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, mango dressing, salsa, and tahini into a pita. After my third bite of the ethnic ecstasy, I pause to wonder if this is going to make me sick. I’ve been here before – I should know better about street food. The tightening of my lower abdomen is an instinctive reaction to an all-too-familiar trepidation. It turns out to be not so relevant.
I stare into the eyes of passers-by. They all live somewhere. How did they get there? I consider asking them how to find a house.

“The heart of the Old City!” the ad reads from Craigslist. “Just inside of Damascus gate!” For those who are unfamiliar, the Old City is divided into four quarters, though entirely under Israeli jurisdiction – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian. Damascus gate is in the Muslim quarter. One of my current hosts served in the Muslim quarter during his time in the army. “Maybe for you it’s ok because you are American. But I was afraid. They heard my accent. I mean, it’s safe. But the police – they can’t be everywhere.”

The renter comes to get me at the gate. “It’s nice, but don’t expect to get through here during call to prayer. Then I have to just go a different way.” I can see the Holy Sepulchre from the bedroom. Dome of the Rock from the balcony. And still, I have this lingering fear, injected by the racial divides as tangible as the holy, ancient ground I was standing on. I go back at night just to see how it felt. The air seems to shift as I cross New Gate into the Muslim quarter. Despite the defiant bustle of Friday night for all those not celebrating Shabbat, the gate is nearly deserted. I take a breath and walked through, suddenly struck by the stark contrast to the daylight world of the Old City. Where there had been spices, prayer rugs, loofas, tapestries, gummy bears, sneakers, falafel, pomegranates, beggars, tour group flags and slowly rotating meat, there is now absence and silence. Cats, overpopulating the city since those clever Brits figured out how to solve the rodent problem, dig into the trash piles left for late-night cleanup. One moans as it backs away from a gang of three. Two Israeli soldiers, halfway hidden by the shadows, pass their shift scrolling through their iphone photos. My chest tightened as three teenagers looked at me with a confused expression as if to say “what are you doing here?” What am I doing here? How do you see me? Will you see me differently if I open my mouth? Why do you see me differently? Is it the same reason I was told to fear you? Because someone told us to?

I’m not sure who is first to say it, but as I walk back up to the side of town I’m supposed to stay on, my program directors, the teenage boys, the Muslim taxi drivers, the Israeli soldiers, all but the blessedly blind expat already occupying the Bohemian alcove I’d never know intimately – collectively acknowledge that it’s not relevant.

And my search continues…

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Jerusalem: Preliminary Observations of Foreign Immersion

I’ve been here for about two weeks now, and I have done a bit of writing, but most of my attention has been dedicated to finding a home, which is still where most of my attention is dedicated. While I feel as though I’m skiing along the surface, trying to find somewhere safe to sink in, I figured I’d at least throw out a few preliminary observations of my life thus far: And I apologize - I don't have pictures yet - just gives you something to look forward to ;).

·         I’ll start with the housing aspect that I already mentioned - a somewhat productive yet increasingly unhealthy outlet for my long-repressed obsessive compulsive disorder, which causes me to spend hours perusing websites I can’t read for housing I can’t access. Apartment spaces are being bought up in a foreign market for extremely high prices, which leaves fewer and fewer options for students and the working class. There are dozens of independence-craving young people looking at every space. Every open house is like an interview, or a modern scene from Catcher in the Rye’s matchmaker. As an English-speaking foreigner who’s only here for a short while, I don’t exactly come bearing a highly-coveted dowry.

·         It was a quite sloshy surprise to discover that beer comes in two sizes only: 1/3 and 1/2 of a liter.

·         Schindler was the only Nazi buried in all of Israel. He saved over 1200 Jews through his capital enterprises during WWII. I can see his grave from my office.

·         Living with three guys – really not so bad. They say what they mean; and I have learned to internally repress every natural bodily function, which will be exceptionally useful if I ever decide to become a spy.

·          Keeping kosher – also not so bad…until you forget. And then it gets very complicated.

·         Apparently there are a wide range of wild animals in Israel: a couple of tigers, wolves, deer, hyenas, wayward camels that got sick of the trade routes and decided to hang out in the deserts instead, and an enormous bunny whose closest relative is the elephant and who climbs trees sideways like a crab.

·         The official food of Hanukkah is the doughnut. The holiday celebrates a sect of revolutionary Jews known as the Maccabees taking back the Holy Temple from the Seleucid (Greek) Empire when the Greeks tried to force them to worship pagan gods. When the Maccabees took back the temple, they found enough oil to last them one night; but instead it lasted eight. In celebration of this miracle, the doughnut represents a sponge in which revelers can actually absorb the holy oil into their own bodies. I’m not sure what the sprinkles represent.

·         Harboring generations of exile and oppression, and decades of 4 million tourists annually who stop abruptly out of confusion or reverence of some landmark or another, people here are quite firm about standing their ground. No one says excuse me or moves out of your way. Ever. In the name of assimilation and mobility, I have begun to employ my elbows like a true native. I’d say toddlers and little old ladies beware, but they happen to be my role models for this technique. 

·         Everyone knows their history – but unlike my American history buff comrades from the ultimate frisbee table who debate about Taft, Roosevelt and Hamilton of the last two centuries, my colleagues here walk the Old City, pita in hand, and debate whether Paul was a Roman or a Jew, and when Judaism split from Christianity – arguing about the holy details from thousands of years past that caused monumental shifts rippling across the entire world.

·         The roads, like Mandarin, can only be learned by memorization. They also change names when they curve or reach an intersection, and are spelled differently based on various mapmakers’ interpretations of the phonetic translation. There is no logical layout, and attempts at rational deduction to orient oneself often literally lead to vertigo. 
Map of Jerusalem. The little red box at 2:30 on the map is the Old City - a winding, square-mile walled city within Jerusalem. I got lost there just yesterday, actually. I work at the bottom left-hand corner.
·         The Old City (the original, walled city of Jerusalem) is divided into four quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian. They each have their own calls to prayer (to an unaccustomed ear, I’d describe the Muslim call to prayer as extremely loud and simultaneously eerie and magnificent), bells, or times and spaces dedicated to prayer - like at the Western Wall (the base of the Temple Mount where according to religious text, God gathered the dust to create Adam, and Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice. Also the third holiest site in Islam, the Mount has been under Muslim control - ie with the Dome of the Rock - since the 600s. Jews come to pray at the sacred base of this Wall, which is the last piece of the Mount that belongs to them).

·         The best falafel is in the Muslim quarter not far from the butcher with goat heads in the window. It (the falafel, not the goat head) comes in a pita pocket with hummus, French fries, tomato salad, and some sort of spiced salsa and pickled something-or-other. Tahini (pronounced like “teeny,” interrupted by an impulsive affliction of a sneeze or hairball caught in the back of your throat), is drizzled on top. Cobblestones in all quarters of the Old City become VERY slick when it rains.

·         Don’t be fooled by the $2.58 falafel, however. Life in Jerusalem is unG-dly expensive (heh. Sorry – I couldn’t help myself). Especially if you’re foreign – prices are jacked up everywhere if they think you come from money (read – are the offspring of an imperial society).

·         Real estate agents - if they don’t have a home for you, they will try to set you up with a home-owning boyfriend. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dating as a 20-something

Aside from worrying about the economy, climate change, deforestation in Brazil, civil rights and the debilitating schism in our political system, everyone  I know is getting all lovey dovey and twitterpated in preparation for the spring. Part of me is all “eww” and another part of me like “aww”. It’s one simple vowel that polarizes my insides.

I’ve tried not caring (but actually still caring, so then we’re back to the dueling insides conundrum).  I’ve tried dolling myself up and being more open to men outside of my traditional attractions. But then I just get hit on only by old men. And every time I tell someone that I have this weird thing where old men hit on me, another one hits on me. It’s like Multiplicity in a nursing home. I recently almost accepted an invitation from my mechanic simply because he had a few zits and wasn’t collecting social security.  But after sleeping on it, I decided we weren’t meant to be and concluded that what I really needed was an online dating account. I know there’s a stigma about it, but I’ve never been one to judge without first experimenting (except for drugs, Mom – I promise). I also have quite a few friends and colleagues who’ve used this portal of love to connect with their soul mates.

In embracing this new medium, my dating world has changed dramatically. Instead of wondering if that dude I gave my number to at the bar is a serial killer (normal question, right?), I now wonder if cerealkilla214 will email me back. I can shop for men, not unlike the old board games where you could switch the hair or the profession to concoct your two-dimensional dream boat. I can peruse the prospects like shoes at a BOGO sale. Would this one look good on me? Mmm, not my size. Professional, sporty, summer fling…what is it that I’m looking for?

But the problem with both dating and shoe sales is actually committing to the purchase. Do I actually want to talk to this person?  And meet him in real life?  It’s an interesting sociological study to examine what we choose to put out there in the world for others to see as a first impression. In the physical world, I can see right away if he has food in his teeth, or mange. But in the world of online dating, we have to read what these men elect to share about themselves and a few pictures of their choosing.  But ultimately in either realm I continue to come across wandering vagabonds whose life aspirations are nothing more than to live in the moment and to try their hand at sprouting seeds from their beards by lying flat for three days. One man listed under things he was good at, “distinguishing between Michelob and Bud Light with a blindfold on.”  THIS is my dating pool? And yet, everyone around me is chirping with new love, many of whom found one another on this same dating site and do not pose a risk to our gene pool were they to bear children together.

I plunge onward, and try to explain to my grandmother why I show up single to the weddings (double jordan almonds, duh) and regale my aunts with dating tales of silent meals, sock puppets and sad beers left unfinished after bolting through the fire escape.  The generation of our parents simply doesn’t understand the new arena we’re playing in. It’s not their fault – chat rooms were coffee houses when they were growing up, and partners actually courted a love interest rather than saying in a slightly slurred yet ironically demure articulation: “So, you like, wanna have a hangout?” or just assuming she would magically manifest on his doorstep with a movie and a pizza. The game has shifted, and now all of the hidden codes are on the internet. And I’m sitting on the outside, rapping on the Windows, trying to get someone to let me in. And our parents are looking over our shoulder saying "have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?" "Have you looked at the manual?" Maybe in the days of debutantes and drive-ins there was a manual, but like everything else in the 21st century, we now turn to Google as the guiding light with all of the answers. Dear Google, where are the code keys? Where are the cliffs notes and the courtship tactics of yesteryear? Where are the men who have a sense of direction and do not think belching is the language of love?

Time and time again I've heard that you can't find him until you stop looking. But the shopping opportunities are everywhere - the bars, dating sites and streets are like magazines and scrolling billboards and the occasional coupon clipping over a long, fuzzy weekend. This professional workshop I took recently helped explain that in order to identify you're goals, you  have to focus on the "how", not the "what". I'm certain that's relevant somehow,  but I can't explain it yet. And really I just wanted to slip in a token of sage advice for those who were naive enough to think this post was going to serve as a guide rather than a disjointed smattering of commentaries (when that's obviously Google's job). Until the next dating saga, that's all she wrote. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Avocados and Idealism

I noticed as I scraped the quarter of an avocado into my smoothie this morning that I was smiling with a guilty pleasure. I’d like to give credit for my blog title to high hopes and a profound interest in local food, but the truth is I just really like alliteration. Even for a non-muttering reader, alliteration smoothly rolls the words of a narrative across the mind, like the drizzles of caramel in a Twix commercial.

But maybe it wasn’t just literary coincidence…I sipped on my creamy green goo and thought back on all that avocados and I have been through together.  I ate them for lunch nearly every day in Mexico. The neighboring town of Atlixco had avocado ice cream, (not universally loved, but respected by all and adored by yours truly). The markets had avocados for $2/lb. – and not just the regular Hass kinds you pick up for $18 at EarthFare – sizes and subtle tastes that we Americans don’t even know about. Tiny apricot-sized avocados that have a minty aftertaste; monster avocados with stringy fibers and not as much flavor (but great for guac), and the ones we could pluck from the tree in the back yard (extra hearty due to the compost toilet we’d built around it).

They’re the ideal option for the stranded-on-a-desert-island-with-only-one-food-source scenario. Mom says eat your greens? Done. Need a serving of fruit? Protein? Fiber? It can be a dip, dessert , breakfast, topping, or peeled back and stuffed straight into the pie hole. But there’s one problem.

Because of their universality, avocados have bumped my standards in other aspects of my life. If one food can be all things to all people, why can’t a profession, a community or a partner? Avocados are why I am still searching for the profession that allows me to be both outside and inside; both in the states and abroad; to help make change at a grassroots and a policy level. If an avocado can do it all, why can’t I? Avocados prove that you can be luxurious and frugal, health-conscious and frivolous at the exact same time. Like my avocados, my partner can be sweet and savory. Avocados keep me holding out for the lumberjack who also cries at chick flicks. For the Australian musician who wants to walk across the north of Spain and learn cultural competency the hard way in Morocco before settling down part-time in Colombia and part time in San Francisco. For a feminist gentleman who likes to compost but isn’t so environmentally conscious that he’s willing to dumpster dive for a mattress.

Am I expecting too much from life? Every time I smear avocado and honey on my toast or slice into its buttery chunks to plop into my salad, I think no way - if one food can be super, so can I. I think it’s the avocados that help hatch my aspirations. And with every morning smoothie, I acknowledge my job to make them both maximize their potential for the day. It’s kind of a daunting task, but if it involves eating avocados, I’m in.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Airport Zen (Part Deux): The Screaming Baby

This post is an addendum to my previous entry. In my last blog, I talked about how I was all soothed and what-will-be-will-be and yadda yadda when I’m hanging out in airports. My return flight from California is a long one – I’ll be boarding, waiting, flying, de-boarding or waiting again for almost 15 hours. And typically I’m totally zen with that.  But today I am reminded of the one travel factor that would rip even a meditating monk from his realm of inner calm. The screaming baby.

*Please let me preface this reflection by stating that I am in no way dissing the parents who bring screaming babies on board. I’m simply expressing my emotional angst; I understand that you are doing what you need to do, and that you are suffering just as much as the rest of us. For the sake of stating the obvious, I hold you accountable for nothing more than bringing this child into the world and onto the flight, but don’t begrudge you for the pain your child or your fellow passengers are suffering. Do what you gotta do.

It’s funny because the baby about whom I (along with 108 other passengers) was incredibly wary was inconsolable during the boarding process. We all stood huddled around the gate eyeing the tiny person with the massive lungs and thinking the exact same thought – please don’t let them be on my flight. I passed mother and baby in the front row as I made my way to my own seat, managing to plaster myself against the back of the plane and (fingers-crossed) out of earshot of the baby. But the universe has a sick and twisted sense of humor. Like a bad Jackie Chan movie*, baby number two appeared two rows ahead, trapping me in the corner. (*Like the bad guys in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, the baby popped out of the darkness (or in this case, 37A), leaving me cornered, panting and with jumping as the only viable option for finding sanity and peace.) Baby number one has not made a peep (at least one that I can hear), while baby number two has been shrieking since I stowed my luggage in the overhead compartment, which may have shifted during flight.  

After about ten minutes, we began to prepare for takeoff and taxi down the runway. All too optimistically I hoped that the airplane roar and road noise would a) lull the child or b) drown him out. For a moment, it worked. At that point I silently prayed that we wouldn’t take off at all, but instead just keep doing laps around the runway at high speeds. We’re connecting through Chicago and O’Hare sucks this time of year anyway. But take off we did, and the thunderous bellow of the jets continued as we climbed above the city. I was temporarily distracted by the rusty desert mountains jutting out of the expansive cityscape. WWAAAAAAAAAAH. Oh. Right. The baby was now interspersing the most bizarre wails into his falsetto discourse. There was the “reeeeeer”’ of a Halloween cat with its tail stuck in a door and then a most peculiar shrill and panicked gurgling noise, just what I imagine it would sound like if a sorority girl accidentally swallowed a lizard.

As the knot in my stomach tightened and I could sense even my earlobes becoming tense at the incessant cries, my heart went out to the mother. I mean, clearly his cries were heart-wrenching and no syren’s song for her either; and she seemed quite uncomfortable sitting with the knowledge that in a tribal council decision of who would be voted off the plane first, there would be no discussion.

Then. Suddenly, it stopped. My stomach loosened (much to my neighbor’s chagrin), and my earlobes relaxed. The calmness reminded me of coming home from China, where toilets on the trains are holes in the floor and you have to squat and aim. Returning home, I marveled at the shiny marble sinks in restaurant restrooms, the advanced technology of the automatic flush, and the freakishly sanitary shiny toilet seats. But then, after about a week, the novelties wore off and one crapper was the same as the next. I know I sound like a cheesy movie or a Mitch Albom book, but you really don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. And thus, the amazing, fabulous, rich silence was taken for granted after just a few moments of peace. I stared out the window. I started to read my book. I closed my eyes and went on with the flight.

And now,  with this poor child quite vocally distraught once again, I write this reflection to the best of my abilities, with sweaty palms, shaky fingers and the fat fringes of my nervous system rapidly detwizzling themselves. I’m sure there’s a lesson the universe is trying to teach me here – finding peace within while chaos pursues without or some bullshit, but I might have to lock myself in the lavatory and rock myself slowly back into my senses to unearth it. 

Monday, January 7, 2013


I’m about to get all Love Actually on you, but I really do like airports. Once I get checked in, I find the whole process very soothing. My inner calm rises in opposite correlation to the turmoil around me. As we snake our way through the security line, families get themselves all wound up and business men stamp their shiny tasseled toes like they have a right to move more quickly through the line than the hippie backpackers in front of them. Parents start to harangue their children: if you hadn't let the cat out; if you would only have packed last night like I told you to; please untangle your sticky self from the lane divider and move 3 feet ahead with the rest of us – we’re going to miss our plane!  Whereas I tend to hyperventilate on a regular basis – running late for work, running late for a movie, the sudden realization that my life has no financial stability - it is ironically in the airport security line watching cowboys and lovers and families sending their daughters off to college and women in power suits clicking along the interminable corridors that I am washed by a sense of what-will-be-will-be. Where it comes from I couldn't say, but I work this sentiment like a toddler on his thumb.

Clearly I was too in the zone, though. After all of the announcements about staying on the plane if you’re heading to Las Vegas and thanks for flying Southwest, yadda yadda, I disembarked with all but 33 other passengers to catch my next flight. My next flight wasn't set to take off until 6:25pm, meaning a four-hour layover in Nashville; but lucky for me I checked the departure screens before heading off to placate my now roaring stomach. No flight to Sacramento was listed there, so I sauntered over to the ticket counter to inquire into my mystery flight to California. Ah, you mean I have to go through Las Vegas like it says right here on the ticket I didn't look at? I have to get back on the same plane? Oh, ok. No big deal – no one would even notice and I could find a new seat up towards the front. Except for the fact that upon reentering the aircraft, the attendant at the doorway got on the loud speaker to announce to the attendant at the back of the plane (and everyone else on board): #34 is back. She was confused. I repeat, Number 34 has returned to the plane. Passengers smiled at me softly with a pitying look as I trudged by them, clunking my briefcase on seat backs as I went.   

I don’t think I’ll ever weasel my way into the romance comedy scenario in which Ryan Gosling takes the seat beside me and proceeds to tell me his lifelong dream of saving the world through small-scale farming initiatives, at which point I tell him MY lifelong dream of saving the world through writing about small-scale farming initiatives (whilst married to Ryan Gosling) and we join the mile-high club, sip bloody marys, laugh our way to the runway and live happily ever after. So in the meantime, my what-will-be-will-be attitude makes me very grateful for the solitude of staring out at the landscape below, or the company of a little old lady who tells me all about her visit with her grandchildren. The couple I sat with on my trip to Las Vegas told me all about the terrain below, and kept unbuckling to let me look out the north side of the plane to catch glimpses of the Grand Canyon. I've never seen the Grand Canyon, and felt totally like a kid in a candy shop sticking my face very much in 18C’s personal bubble to see out of the tiny window pane. From up here the world looks invulnerable. Miles above the land it’s impossible to detect our smog, our plastic bottles and spilled oil. We’ll fuck it up for sure, but the world will be around long after we do ourselves in. The thought makes me smirk – we think we’re so almighty, but it’ll probably be the world (and the cockroaches) that have the final word.

The airport feels like an asylum from the reality. Some run through it, some are wearing too nice outfits to actually run but are glistening as they speed-walk to their gates. And like the scene of Love Actually, there’s a heightened buzz at the baggage claim where passengers reunite with family and friends and cross from the traveler’s portal back to the real world. California welcomed me with its nippy breath as I stepped from the threshold of a previous chapter. I dutifully took my place in the long line of wanderers looking expectantly into the bleary headlights, waiting for an agent to carry us into the night.