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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Things from Omaha  §

© Mawhamba | CC-BY-SA 2.0

One begins a 2,200-mile journey having made endless preparations for comfort and safety. One finishes a 2,200 mile journey having forgotten about all of that and simply pressing, pressing.

— § —

The highway overpasses in each state have unique appearances that differ from the appearances of those in other states.

— § —

The new Motel 6 rooms are infinitely better than the old Motel 6 rooms. Instead of being relics from the Reagan years, these are relics from the Johnson years.

— § —

The best rest stops in America are in the midwest and plains states, where they are both a way of life and a community resource.

— § —

Pizza delivery is clearly the most popular motel food in America. It is those pages that are always torn out of the yellow pages and it is pizza delivery chain coupons and images that adorn the side tables and electronic keys in travelers’ lodgings.

— § —

Dogs love the road. They love it.

Things from Youngstown  §

© Nyttend | Wikimedia Commons

After the Poconos, Youngstown seems a lot like “civilization.”

— § —

It is impossible to comprehend that the Poconos was only yesterday. In the meantime, we have experienced a vehicle switch, a trailer switch, an unloading and a loading, and a hurricane. We woke up in a primitive, rustic motel miles from anywhere and are stopping for the night in one of the most modern hotel rooms I’ve occupied.

— § —

The iPhone 4 doesn’t cope well with inverter-powered AC.

— § —

There is a fine line between normalcy and precarity; sometimes the normal veneer of precarity is torn away for a moment and you are terrified. Later, you wonder if that is really what happened. Did you overreact?

— § —

A 10-foot truck is almost exactly twice as big as a 5×8 trailer. The cab of a GMC truck is not exactly like the cabin of a Volvo V70.

— § —

Never believe a mechanic when they say they will be done “today for sure.” Even if they are a very nice mechanic and offer you free food, drink, and rides.

— § —

Darkness doesn’t exist in NYC. Darkness is everywhere throughout the rest of America. You can’t see in darkness.

— § —

Don’t ever dawdle or step out to “ask your husband” about taking the last available room; someone is likely to rent it right out from under you.

— § —

Lost a day somewhere.

— § —

Okay, lost more than a day somewhere.

— § —

After a certain number of miles, the road fades into unreality and the passenger cabin becomes a little capsule hurtling through abstract space and time to make way for conversation.

— § —

There is, in fact, not much to say about Youngstown.

Things in the Poconos  §

© Pocono Candle

The Poconos are full of hurricanes and New Yorkers fleeing hurricanes.

— § —

There are no places in the Poconos, only trees and spaces-in-between.

— § —

If you want to buy a bottle of beer in the Poconos, you must climb to the top of a hill beside a two-employee airport where you’ll find the only place in town that has a little beer fridge—an ancient Chinese restaurant.

— § —

In the Poconos, mechanics want to be your friend and they offer to call you and invite you to places and to help you with your personal problems.

— § —

In the Poconos, you’ll find stores that specialize entirely in candles, with over 12 rooms full of candles, surrounded mostly by forest. They will ask if you dog wants water and offer you free fudge.

— § —

In the Poconos, you’ll find little strip malls in the middle of endless tracks of nowhere containing only day care centers and halal food.

— § —

In the Poconos, your motel room comes with free cotton swabs, though you have to organize them yourself.

— § —

In the Poconos, you will lose precious time, which seems to be what every small town on earth is really for.

— § —

In the Poconos, you will have a great time, despite missing your family dearly and being, by all objective measures, in a long-forgotten corner of the universe.

Eastern philosophy? Social science?  §

Over the years I’ve learned that while I experience the world and everything in it in a tremendously nuanced way, most people experience the world in a very different, much more unitary way.

For most people, the world is a series of objectivations that can be judged, in context, to be either good or bad.

For me, the world is a field of possibility that is culturally divided into objectivations (that include things like contexts), all of which are both good and bad.

— § —

In response to this, others tend to suggest that I overanalyze simple phenomena into endless nuance because I want to think myself an intellectual, a.k.a. an academic.

They tend not to accept the converse possibility that the reason I have ended up becoming an academic is because I tend to see endless nuance and not simple phenomena, and academics provides me with a forum in which to think and act as an agent in the world in a way that legitimates my own phenomenological experience of it—i.e. that academics feels like home, not that I’m trying to build a home in academia.

— § —

It’s also endlessly fascinating to me (and something of an exemplar of precisely this phenomenon) that the experience of the world that I just described is seen in some quarters as eastern mysticism of the most vulgar kind, and in others as dialectical analysis, “scientific” thinking of the most high kind.

It is, of course, both and neither of these at once. QED.

— § —

This particular bout of reflection proceeds from the dual sense that what we are doing here in our lives this month is at once both a tremendously commonplace thing that is relatively safe, with predictable outcomes, and little practical influence on our emotional and social lives, and at the same time a tremendous, even world-shakingly massive undertaking of a very rare sort.

Again, both seem true to me, and I feel both things at the same time.

— § —

At times like this, even the meaningless manhole covers in the street take on a deep significance. But of course, they are still the meaningless manhole covers, and I realize this, too.


Things Before a Move  §

The pre-move includes the shipment of books using third-party services, because they are too heavy to bring along any other way. The USPS offers “media mail” service that is reasonably priced. By the time all is said and done, we will have sent approximately 1170 pounds—more than half a ton—of books from New York to Salt Lake City via media mail.

— § —

We weighed a lot of options related to moving:

  • Leave everything behind.
  • Send everything via {insert odd discount service here, like Amtrak express or Greyhound}.
  • Hire a moving company.
  • Rent a shipping container that someone else will drive across the country.
  • Rent a truck of some kind and tow the car behind it.
  • Install a hitch on the car and tow a rented trailer.

In the end, we opted for the last choice.

— § —

It’s not that I’m having second thoughts about driving cross-country in a car with a trailer behind me and my oldest friend (Carlos) alternately driving and/or riding shotgun.

It’s just that I’ve never done it in this car before.

Our previous car had been to something like three-quarters of the U.S. states. It was reliable, though it leaked, and very mechanical. I knew it inside and out, and I knew that if anything was to go wrong, it would be either a minor roadside fix or relatively cheap to fix it. It felt, too, like an old friend.

This new car is something of a stranger. I don’t know anything about its temperament or what it keeps hidden from me.

You don’t really know people until you’ve shared a lot of crises and a lot of miles together. In this way at least, people and cars are very much alike.

— § —

My final classroom week is ahead of me.

For most of my life—at least since I was a young teenager—teaching at the university level has been my goal.

Now, after having done it for four years at some very highly regarded universities, I am about to leave it behind.

I don’t know when—or if—I will ever be back.

I don’t know how I feel about this right now, either. I suppose I am a little bit numb. I do know that I need a break, but I don’t know the nature of this break or whether the break is a permanent state of affairs.

Que sera sera.

— § —

Speaking of, this is one of my ten-month-old daughter’s favorite songs.

Her grandmother, who is staying with us, has it on her iPod, and will begin to play it without notice. My daughter will pause whatever she is doing and listen, enrapt, transfixed, caught out of time.

Her grandmother will silently cry.

Sometimes when I see this, I secretly wish that I could silently cry, too, though I think I’m incapable of doing it.

— § —

Moving has a strange teleological quality about it.

Unlike, say, buying a car, or visiting a new state, or even winning a scholarship or getting admitted to graduate school, with moving the preparations always somehow give you the impression that “Everything In My Life Has Been Leading Up to This Moment.”

It’s never quite clear why that might be, or what the nature of the moment is; it is only clear that a certain amount of reverence and maudlin indulgence is unavoidable.

— § —

Boxes rated at a 65 lb. burst strength should probably not actually be used to hold 65 lbs. worth of goods (say, books).

To do this is to tempt fate.

But then, on the other hand, those of us that do things like live in New York, have babies as graduate students, or drive cross-country with a trailer hitched to a station wagon and a pit bull in the back seat are professionals at tempting fate.

We are licensed and bonded.

— § —

We’re doing this just in time, before bridge tolls go up to $12.

I can’t think of a single car-friendly bridge in the metropolitan area where we’re going. There are one or two overpasses and one or two pedestrian bridges, but that’s it.

The only body of water is the saltiest inland body of water on earth, and the “bridge” that leads to it—the only one in town—is actually more of a dike consisting of dirt and rocks and curving gently inward toward an “island” for several miles.

— § —

When I came to New York, I was:

  • Young
  • Determinedly single
  • Reckless
  • A writer without a contract
  • Ambitious

Now, leaving New York I am:

  • Middle-aged
  • Committedly married
  • Judicious
  • A professor without a contract
  • Grateful

— § —

New York has not been good to many of my friends. Or rather, I have not been good to my friends while I have been in New York.

New York has a way of doing that to people; life is so complex if you’re not one of the global elite that it’s a miracle anyone manages to maintain any ties or realize that time is passing at all. It’s a bit light near-light-speed space travel. For everyone else outside of your context, time moves far more quickly than it does for you.

While it seems for your life as though no more time has passed than the blink of an eye, for the rest of the world you have been away for many irretrievable years.

What I Won’t Miss  §

Yeah, I’ll miss things. But there are also categories of things and some distinct idiosyncrasies of the place that I won’t. For example…

Grocery Store: Shelf tag reads $2.99/each, price tag on each item reads $4.99/each, scans at the register at $8.99/each if you notice it, and the manager has to be called to fix it—after you wait for 20 minutes for someone to wander to that corner of the store and check for you—with angry New Yorkers complaining the entire time about your holding up the line.

Subway: It’s always when the subway car is standing-room-only that you hear, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us…” Ten minutes later, doors still open in sweltering, humid, smelly underground heat, you remain standing, immobile, with your face in an armpit and and a random briefcase corner stuck in your ass, hearing for the tenth time, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us…”

Car: You come out and find a parking ticket on your windshield for failure to display your meter payment receipt, and as you swear at yourself for forgetting, you look down and realize that it’s right there, prominently displayed in the window. Once again you take it home, copy it, and mail it in for a “by-mail hearing” only to find yourself paying the ticket anyway two weeks after that.

Fifth Avenue: The semi-homeless semi-vagrant in the filthy, smelly shirt says “Afternoon, sir!” to you as you pass each other, and though you ignore him and keep walking, he decides for some reason that you are the One Person In New York That Understands Him, and for the next ten minutes he follows you, telling you repeatedly that “I like you, yeah, you’re all right!” and that “I’ve always been known as Hershel the Boa, because I’m like a snake, sneaky and I can smell well, which gives me a advantage when I’m transactin’, like I have a extra sense in a different organ, like a completely different organ. You know? I know you do, I can smell it, see what I’m sayin’? That’s why you’re all right!”

Manhattan: You brought $20 in cash for a couple hours’ parking (and spent $10 on bridge tolls getting there) but once in the neighborhood you find that a couple hours will cost you $28, so you swear with indignation under your breath and begin trying to find noncommercial street-side metered parking. Half an hour later, thanks to traffic you’ve managed to go exactly three blocks across Manhattan (and all of them were double-parked and commercial anyway). You decide to give up and pay the $28, just as soon as you can make your way around this block and back the three blocks in the other direction to the parking lot. Shouldn’t take more than another 30-45 minutes and an additional $20 in gas.

Apartment: You’re busy sitting at your kitchen table paying your $350 electrical bill (for a one-room apartment with fuses so small you can’t run most major appliances) but you have to stop when the lights go out, something that happens in concert with the explosion beneath the manhole in the middle of your block…again. You decide that since the lights are off, you’re going to go out, but you find that you can’t get in your car and drive away because three Con Edison trucks have precisely blocked you into your oh-so-luxurious street-side spot. One has even given you a nice dent putting down its stabilizer. Thanks, Con Edison!

Park: The holiday walk in the park would be great, except you keep stepping on stray pizza slices, piles of Chinese take-out beef and broccoli, and half-eaten hamburgers as you pick your way down the path between trees amply hung with last summer’s now fading and hole-ridden stuck kites, like season-appropriate ornaments. Eventually, you give up, pick your way back home, let the dog eat the the twelve-course meal off of the bottom of your shoes, and go to bed to the sound of teenage drag racers in muffler-less Hondas on 21st Street.

Corner of the Block: The conversation with neighborhood acquaintances turns to money and they complain that “The job would only have paid $300 thousand, I mean, can you imagine having to live on that? In this town? I turned them down flat.” Using your adjunct lecturer’s salary as a basis for comparison, you do your best to imagine, but fail miserably.

Restaurant: You’re sitting in a restaurant and a guy walks in with a parrot on his shoulder. Ten minutes later a woman walks in with a dog in her purse. After the parrot attacks the dog and they both erupt into yells between tables, you find yourself eating amidst the din and reflecting on how it all sounded like the beginning of a pleasantly dirty joke until the yelling started.

Out and About: You need a restroom. This is a problem, because between the subway ride and walking home from the station you are 40 minutes away from your own. After a great deal of walking about, inquiring, and pleading, you finally find a bodega that will let you use theirs if you buy at least $5 in goods. You pay a $3 ATM fee to take out $20 and buy $5 worth of 4-year-old beef jerky only to find a seatless toilet in a closet the size of a coffin that smells like a refugee camp and a cigarette factory in one. As you walk out with shoes sloshing from the one inch of water on the “restroom” floor, you realize that it took you 45 minutes to find it.

Home and Away: You take a walk through Manhattan to relieve the stress that you feel about the time that you don’t have and the tight budget that you’re on, but by the time you return it’s six hours later and you’ve spent $200 on Very Unique (Though Overpriced) Things That You Know You’ll Never Have a Chance to Buy Again in a series of Independent One-of-a-Kind Organic Import Boutique Shops. You top it off at an overcrowded bar with a $12 Mass-Market Beer That’s Even Overpriced At The $2 It Costs In The Grocery Store, largely to help you forget what an undisciplined consumerist one helplessly becomes in New York.

Mechanic: You go to have your annual inspection done, but they tell you that they can’t get to it right now, so you need to leave your late model car for six hours. You take the subway home and call in six hours. They tell you that the car won’t pass as it is. You ask what’s wrong. They tell you that in order to pass the inspection you need new rims, new tires, new breaks, new rotors, a new muffler, new wipers, a new exhaust system, a replacement horn, a new windshield, a new blower for the defroster, and a new cylinder head. You can’t take it somewhere else to have it inspected, of course, because New York State law requires you to pass at the same shop where inspection initially took place. After some negotiation back and forth, you settle on new tires, new wipers, and a new blower, which they say will take another day to complete. After six days of three follow-up calls per day, your car is finally ready, and your annual inspection (and related “repairs”) only cost you $3,000. As you drive away, you try the wipers and now, strangely, the wiper handle turns on the blower. You try the blower control and the wipers go. When you return to the repair shop, they tell you that they can fix it, no worries, for only the cost of labor, and it will only take a day…

— § —

Okay, there’s some exaggeration here.

But not as much as you’d think if you haven’t lived in New York.

Moving  §

For something like the sixth or seventh night in a row, I find myself laying in bed while struggling to write something meaningful.

There is, in fact, something meaningful to be written. Of this I am convinced. Finding it, however, has become a larger and more complex project than I had anticipated.

— § —

We are moving.

Not just to a new apartment.

Not just to a new state.

We are moving to the opposite end of the country.

Almost nothing in immediate daily life apart from the three of us—mommy, daddy, and daughter—will remain the same.

— § —

The reasons for this can be many if we think far too much about it, but in fact if we allow ourselves to be simple and true, the reason for this is quite simple:

We are no longer happy in New York.

This problem has been brewing for a very long time, but at some point early this year, we crossed the threshold from “we are more than 50 percent happy here” to “we are less than 50 percent happy here,” and by the time this summer had come around, we were probably more like “10 percent happy here.”

After a long plateau that hovered just around the “balance” point, happiness vs. unhappiness, we entered a sudden and steep period of decline.

New York fell out of favor and out of logistical possibility, both at the same time, in a matter of weeks. Exponential collapse, if a slight abuse of mathematics ban be tolerated.

— § —

We decided this about three weeks ago now. There are, at the same time, about three weeks before we go.

The act of turning this ship (i.e this family, this financial organization, this individual and set of individual identities) around has been a herculean task. It is not so easy.

We are constantly tempted to allow ourselves to suffer. Sometimes we do, without meaning to.

We also look forward to the change a great deal.

— § —

I think of all things what I want to focus on as “what I will miss” is somehow embodied by the pork bao to be easily had in Flushing and Chinatown.

Bound up in this inexpensive Chinese junk food is every dimension of this city—the multicultural melee, the financial extremes and nuance, the cultural diversity, the indulgence and the austerity, the frustratingly and joyously quotidian mix of the normal and the exotic, the crowds, the individuality, the freshness and the staleness, and most of all, the unpredictable-yet-seductive-and-delicious urbanism of the place that can’t be separated from a hidden undercurrent of ill health and indulgence.

— § —

Moving is a transcendental experience.

I say every day that “there are so-and-so many days left before we go” as though this has some ontological meaning that the human mind is actually capable of grasping.

It isn’t, as a matter of fact, and it doesn’t.

The fact is that in three weeks’ time every single sensory experience that we have on a daily basis will be transformed, will be other than it has been. Every single familiar input will be missing, and every input that we do have will be new

The geography will be different.
The demography will be different.
The economy will be different.
The geology and meteorology will be different.
The very air and sun will be different.

We will be much closer to outer space, where we’re going, yet much farther away from the sea; much closer to nature yet much farther away from society; much closer to financial viability yet much farther away from financial opportunity.

And so on.

— § —

Thing is, all of this is talk and chatter.

In reality, this is impossible to comprehend.

It takes on the character of a fable told about giants or a category of knowledge and power long lost to human kind or an ageless, but not nameless threat that lurks in the night, just beyond the boundary of vision, for all eternity.

In short, it is exhilarating and joyful and terrible and unreal. It is also, and by the same token, the rightful property of the world of mythology, as a confrontation with with myth is the only way to properly approach or endure it.

— § —

Mythomaniacs, my wife used to call people when we first got together. I suppose, having now begun to experience the process of moving, that I must be one.

For surely we now threaten to encroach on high ground long held by entire Jungian battalions.

— § —

August 25th, 2011: Last Touch of New York