Sunday, December 20, 2009

Back On the Wagon

I fell off the wagon today for a little while. It happened while I was shopping for cookie ingredients on Centre Street, on the way to a cookie-baking get-together at my sister's house. I was feeling proud of myself because I managed to get my car out and on the road all by myself, despite a dump of about six inches of snow that would have kept me house-bound for days if I were still in New York. Two teenage girls came along as I was digging my car out, and they offered to help and gave me suggestions (such as, “if you dig one front wheel out, you should be able to pull out.”) So I was feeling pretty happy and good about my fellow Bostonians when I went down to Centre Street, found a spot outside the grocery store, and parked my car while I went in to grab a few ingredients for the cookies.

But when I came out of the grocery store, I found a policeman there who had just finished putting a ticket on my car, and this is when I fell off the wagon. As I picked up the ticket and went after him to ask why he had given it to me, I had a moment of feeling very, very sorry for myself. I just moved to this city, I don't have friends here, I got turned down for a job back in New York last week that I was excited about, I'm living off unemployment, and now the parking ticket that I can't afford to pay. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. I asked the policeman in the most polite voice I could muster why I had gotten the ticket, and he said, “Emergency snow removal. It's all over the news.” I started to cry and choked on my words as I asked him how much the fine was.

I drove over to my sister's with tears streaming down my face, and simultaneously gave myself a talking-to. “Refarling, you have absolutely no reason to feel bad for yourself. This is unacceptable. You have a master's degree in education, your boyfriend was an asshole who you're better off without AND he is soon going to be replaced by a better boyfriend, the job in New York wasn't that great anyway, and you're lucky to be receiving unemployment money. You had a fantastic vacation last week, and now you're off to spend Christmas with your wonderful family. And, as if that weren't enough, you get to go spend the afternoon making cookies with your great sister and her awesome friends.”

And I was right. I am really lucky for all these reasons and even more. People in Boston are very nice, as evidenced by my sister's neighbor, who, when I arrived outside her house with red-rimmed eyes, kindly offered me a shovel to dig myself a parking spot. As I type this, I have, literally, a pile of adorable kittens lying on me, as well as a very cute bird nearby who (now that La Moustache is out of the picture) is dedicated heart and soul to me. I have amazing friends throughout the world who would welcome a visit from me anytime, and I am making new friends in Boston. Really, it doesn't get a lot better than this, and it is just plain silly to feel bad for myself when I have so much going for me. And best of all, parking tickets in Boston are about $70 cheaper than they are in New York.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How the Other Half Lives

I moved to Brooklyn six and a half years ago after I graduated from college. I chose Brooklyn because my Canadian visa had expired and I couldn't stay in Montreal, the town I had been living in for the past few years, and because a friend in Brooklyn had an apartment available for sublet. I've loved living there, but sometimes I've wondered if perhaps I should be making life decisions more deliberately, not just letting myself be pulled along by the current. I'm laidback and content by nature, and while these are generally good qualities, they can lead to some laziness in the life decisions department. I heard Michael Chabon on the radio recently say that he's a lazy, happy person, and everything interesting he's ever done in his life he did because his wife pushed him to. I could relate, and it made me think that in the absence of such a partner I need to challenge myself and not let myself to fall into a rut.

I moved to Boston with this in mind, knowing that I could move back to New York if I want to, and that trying out life in a new city could only broaden my horizons. Lately, a cohort of my family has been pushing me to move in the opposite direction, toward the great wild western state of Idaho. My grandmother moved from the Camas Prairie to upstate New York in her late teens, and fled back west some 30 years later at the earliest opportunity; she succeeded in convincing two of her three children to move back with her, and has never quite accepted that her oldest son, my father, is an East Coaster. Only one of her seven brothers and sisters died outside the state, and he died in Utah, which is basically an outlying suburb of Boise. My family there are devoted to the Idaho way of life, and my grandmother told me that if I move out there, I would never come back. My cousin Hunter told me I am welcome to move in with him rent-free, and I'm sure he'd be willing to lend me a pickup truck if I need transportation.

With this generous invitation in the back of my mind, I traveled to Boise last week, where my affable uncle picked me up at the airport and brought me to a hot dog restaurant, remembering that when I was twelve I loved hot dogs. Everyone there kept telling me how easy and comfortable life in Idaho is, and it's true. For much of my visit the temperature hovered barely above 0º fahrenheit, but you could go for days without noticing. One travels from the house to the SUV in the garage without having to suffer a single shiver. My uncle's family has an enviably congenial rapport and spend much of their free time together; I easily joined in their activities. We spent the day last Saturday tailgating a football game (a new pastime for me). My uncle purchased a used bread truck a couple of years ago with some friends and outfitted it with a flatscreen TV, my cousin Hunter pieced together a firepit to keep us warm, and my older cousin grilled chicken wings. Friends dropped by to partake of the hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps. I could care less about football, but it didn't matter; watching the game was secondary to the socializing. It's a cultural experience everyone should have at least once. (If you're interested, let me know and I'll hook you up.)

The following day, Hunter, Grandma and I headed East to the family's ancestral home on the Camas Prairie to visit my 89-year-old great uncle Perry, who continues to singlehandedly run a wheat farm. When we asked him how he's passing his time these days, during the off season, he said he's waiting for the snow to arrive so he can shovel it. However, he's also using his free time to catch up on current events: he has a map of the Middle East hanging prominently in his living room. Hunter brought along an elk liver he had shot and wanted to share with our uncle, who has lived in the same house since the 1940s; he built it with his brothers after they returned from World War II, and his mother lived there too until she passed away in the 70s. Next door to his house is the crumbling remains of the house where he and my grandmother were raised by their stoic single mother. Hunter checked the ads in the Camas News and informed me that there are several teaching positions available in the area, as well as a pig-kissing contest, and everyone told me that Perry would be happy to have me move in (I like kissing pigs almost as much as teaching.). On the way home we stopped for a visit with my cousin Clem, who showed off his most recently restored '56 T-bird and posed for a picture with it. He's a retired principal, and he listened attentively to the sad tale of my teaching woes. I almost forgot while looking into his understanding eyes that he voted for John McCain, opposes abortion rights, and may have more in common with Todd Palin than he does with me.

I ate more fried chicken and gravy in Idaho than you could possibly imagine, along with a whole lot of other food. (And yes, I ate a hot dog too – my first in about 18 years.) I have to say that I enjoyed it, and I could imagine spending my Saturdays tailgating with my cousins, joining them for brunch on Sundays, and probably putting on a few pounds in the process. Life is pretty good in Idaho, although I'm not sure it's the life I will choose for myself. I'm beginning to suspect that you can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but it's harder to take Brooklyn out of the girl.

Next stop after Idaho was Victoria, British Columbia, home to my college friend, her Japanese husband, and their baby. I wasn't even thinking about moving there, but I couldn't help but reflect that I could probably get used to afternoon high tea and shopping at Mountain Equipment Co-op pretty easily, too.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ghosts of Relationships Past

Last week I traveled home, along with everybody else in this country, to spend Thanksgiving Weekend with my family. I was a little on the skinny side when I arrived, due to a post-breakup decrease in appetite, but found that, when I weighed myself every morning on the bathroom scale, I weighed a pound more each day than I had the previous day. By the end of the weekend, I was more or less back to my normal weight. Green Bean traveled with me and was happy to get lots of attention and to have free reign of the house, and was also appreciative that he's been forgiven for preferring La Moustache to me in the past. There were a couple of semi-close calls, but I managed to keep him safe from my parents' obese cat, Kiki, thanks largely to Kiki's unmaneuverability and slow reflexes.

While I was home, I had a brief visit with my oldest friend, Ms. B, who moved back home from New York a year and a half ago, built a house, had a baby, and transformed herself with astonishing rapidity into an adult. When we had a moment to ourselves, she told me something surprising: “If I were you, I would call up L'Artista. It's probably not the right thing to do, but I would if I were in your shoes.”

Up to that point, I had not allowed this thought to cross my mind. L'Artista was my first serious boyfriend. I met him when I was 18 and had just arrived in Florence, Italy for a semester of painting lessons, where he was my 28-year-old painting teacher. He was charming, handsome, hopelessly in love with me (as I was with him), the most amazing cook I've ever met, and a disaster when it came to committed relationships. Still, he was scrupulously honest about this last aspect of his personality, which puts him several notches above La Moustache in my book. He took me for rides on his Vespa, painted numerous paintings of me, and cooked fabulous meals for me and my friends. We embarked on a meandering, romantic relationship while I went to college, then moved to New York and began my life. It should have ended there, when I grew up a bit and began to want a real partner, but L'Artista got carried away by his own romanticism and began musing about moving to New York and starting a life together. I chose not to heed his earlier warnings, and we talked about this possibility for over a year, without making any discernible headway. My patience finally began to wear thin, and the situation culminated one day on a bus in England; during a discussion about our future together, L'Artista got up, ran to the bathroom, and was sick to his stomach. This was too much for me, and I ended it. As soon as I did so, he told me he was ready to move to New York and get serious about me. HA.

Since then, L'Artista has maintained his romanticism, and continues to call me “amore” in sporadic e-mails that I rarely reply to, and muses about what it would be like if we were to see each other again. The thought is terrifying and, I have to admit, enticing. I e-mailed him in September to wish him a happy 40th (!) birthday, and told him about some of the difficulties of my life lately (though no mention was made of La Moustache, since I had a feeling he would get ideas if he knew I am single). He e-mailed me back several times, and finally wrote a note saying that my silence was beginning to worry him; he asked me to let him know if everything was okay. Angry and embittered against all men, I wrote back a cryptic e-mail saying that I was fine, I just didn't need selfish people in my life at that moment, or maybe ever. I composed the e-mail rapidly, without thinking, and wrote it in French because it seemed like too much trouble to find the words in Italian (even though I often chat online with old friends in Italy with no language problems). I quickly hit “send” before I had a chance to reconsider.

The response was fast; a hurt L'Artista shot off four e-mails asking what he had done wrong, and if it is a crime for him to tell me that I am important to him. I suspect that he's forgotten all about his role in encouraging me to hope for more from our relationship. I didn't reply to any of these missives.

There is a fine balance when it comes to memories of past relationships. Too good a memory makes it impossible to move on, and too poor a memory leads one to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If given the chance, I feel sure that L'Artista would do it all over again with me, right down to vomiting in the bus restroom; absent that opportunity, I imagine he is making similar mistakes with other people (I flatter myself that I am still his first choice). Four years after the last time I saw L'Artista, I like to think that I am a wiser, better person because of that relationship. And despite his 40 years, I have a feeling I'm a lot wiser than L'Artista. For that, I am thankful.

Drawing of me at age 19 by L'Artista

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Post-breakup reading material

A few weeks ago, I surprised myself by picking up “Eat, Pray, Love” from my bookshelf where it had been gathering dust for several years, and beginning to read it. It's one of those books that I was always sure I would hate just because it is so popular, along with “The DaVinci Code” and “The Kite Runner.” If I actually read them, I would probably love them just as much as everyone else does, but I prefer to maintain my self-image as someone who does not have mainstream tastes. If I can spot more than five people reading it on the subway, it's off my reading list.

Nonetheless, I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert's book because it is about a subject I relish these days: a painful divorce. And I loved many of the details in the beginning: her disastrous rebound relationship, the depression she suffered from for years after the breakup, her guilt, how she found herself penniless and homeless in her mid-thirties.... Bizarrely, I found myself getting angry at her as I read, since in her breakup she played the role of La Moustache. She was the one pretending to be committed to a relationship that she wasn't actually committed to at all, and even went so far as to try to get pregnant, praying each month that it wouldn't take. And guess what she did to try to get over the whole breakup experience? She went and traveled the world for a year. How cliché.

Midway through the book, while she's meditating in India, Gilbert forgives herself for what she did to her ex-husband and comes to terms with the divorce. (Really, Elizabeth? Already? Don't you think you deserve to feel guilty and miserable for at least another year or two?) I could see the writing on the wall: we were getting to the third, “Love” section of the book, and she was going to go to Indonesia and meet an amazing boyfriend and have lots of sex with him. I lost interest and put down “EPL,” vowing never to pick it up again. (I'll consider seeing the movie though.)

After that, I turned to the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. The first book in this series is called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in English, but its original Swedish title is “Men Who Hate Women.” As far as I'm concerned, the latter title is much more appropriate, and could even be the title for all three books: “Men Who Hate Women, Parts I, II, and III.” The books are filled with one misogynist after another, and these are not David Letterman-style misogynists. These are the kind of misogynists who rape, kill and torture women, regardless of whether their victims are their own daughters, wives or sisters. In the third book, there's even a scene in which a character tries to recall whether he killed a woman or not, and is unable to; that's how casual it is. One victim's father and brother conspire to shoot her and bury her alive. A sadistic lawyer who is assigned to be guardian to a ward of the state rapes her. Policemen regularly refer to women as “bitches” and “whores” and other, worse words that I prefer not to repeat. I could go on; the three books are each well over 500 pages, and they are chock full of these details. It's enough to make one become a misandrist (and vow never to go to Sweden).

But the satisfying part is how all these men get their comeuppance. This skinny, 90-pound, tattooed girl goes around and, with a little help from some other good guys, makes these jerks suffer. She kicks the asses of armed thugs who are three times her size. She nails her brother's feet to the floor. She uses her intelligence and amazing computer skills to outwit high-powered, corrupt politicians and businessmen. And, just for fun, she gets a boob job. She's like a bizarre Swedish superhero with really bad social skills. They're not great literature, but they're an awful lot of fun to read.

Any suggestions for what I should read now that I'm done with the trilogy?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last Exit

A couple of weeks ago, I talked to my landlord in Brooklyn, Big Guy, about moving, and asked him if he knew any movers. He quickly volunteered one of his vans and a couple friends for the job. And so it was that two days ago La Moustache, Big Guy, and a few neighbors loaded my remaining possessions (after being carefully culled through to fit into my new limited quarters) into Big Guy's van. The next morning I hugged a tearful Moustache goodbye for the last time, and Green Bean and I drove off in my little green car.

Big Guy was not available to accompany me to my new city, so he entrusted the job to two of his friends, Corleone and Jesus. I don't know Jesus too well, but Corleone and I go way back; he was the first person to give us a tour of our apartment, he was there for the lease-signing, and he's been a constant presence ever since. I was glad to have him with me on my journey out of New York, and happy to see his face when I stopped for gas midway through the trip and he came knocking on my car door to say hi.

Corleone and Jesus teased me that I drove too slowly, and they also had the benefit of a GPS to prevent them from getting lost in this maze of a city, so by the time I arrived they had been hanging around for a good half hour and had had plenty of time to assess the situation in Boston. At first, they were none too impressed. “Where are the pretty girls at??! There's no one around!” they told me. “You're not gonna last here two months. You'll be back in Brooklyn in no time.” They went on to compare my new neighborhood in Boston to “WAAAAYY out in Queens, or maybe Long Island.” I told them that not too long ago this neighborhood had had a bad reputation, and they responded, “Yeah, it's mad dangerous around here. Like, that guy on the bike is SPEEDING! Crazy! And look, that lady over there is jaywalking. Somebody littered over here! Call the police!”

After unloading my belongings, settling Bean in, and saying a quick hi to the kittens, we headed out to an Irish pub before the boys headed back. It was at the pub that their opinion of Boston began to change, due to the large portions and low prices of the drinks. They were also impressed that it was 5 pm and the bar was pretty full. As Corleone and I downed a few drinks and Jesus rolled a joint, the conversation turned to La Moustache. Corleone and his girlfriend of four years, the mother of his adorable son, split up recently, and I asked him what he did to feel better. He told me that he really didn't feel so bad since their breakup was amicable and they still spend a lot of time together, but it was helpful to “call Tanya, Danielle and Jessica.” He recommended I try the same technique.

I told Corleone and Jesus about the painful last few months, and they initially defended La Moustache. They said every man is afraid to settle down, and after his trip he'll surely come back to me, begging forgiveness. After I told them more of the story, though, they agreed that he had been unfair to me. I briefly considered giving them a few extra $20 bills to slash the tires on the Monster, but decided against it, and instead asked them to give him some dirty looks for me before his departure. They promised they would do so.

We walked out of the bar and headed back to the van, and Jesus lit his cigarette and offered it to me. I took a quick puff and handed it back to him, but he refused it, saying, “Take at least three. You need it.” I followed his instructions and breathed in deeply, enjoying my last taste of Brooklyn.

Friday, November 6, 2009

True Love

There is someone else who will be devastated by La Moustache's impending departure. Someone who, like me, considered Moustache to be the love of his life, and who is entirely dedicated to him. That someone is our little pet lovebird, Green Bean.

We bought Bean nearly two years ago, in February 2007. We purchased him at a pet store in the far north of Manhattan, where English is like a second language to Spanish. The people in the shop used gestures and broken English to explain how to take care of him. Given his origins, I wanted to name him Pollito, or Little Chicken in Spanish; La Moustache voted for Poupoule, which means the same in French. We kept going back and forth like this, but finally after a week or so we were able to agree on Haricot, the French word for bean.

When you purchase a parrot at a pet store, it does not come tame, and Green Bean was no exception. He was terrified of us, and clung helplessly to a pinata toy hanging from the top of his cage, refusing to come out. I sat next to the cage and talked to him and read him the newspaper, and La Moustache enticed him out with yummy seeds. It took a long time, but eventually Bean came to trust us so much that he lets us pet him like a cat, turning his head from side to side appreciatively and closing his eyes. He likes to cuddle under our chins and snuggle down for a nap. On weekends, we used to enjoy lolling around in bed in the mornings, and would bring Bean in to play hide and seek with us under the covers.

At a certain point, it became clear that he did not love us equally. There is a reason, of course, why lovebirds are called that. Green Bean had made his choice of mate, and it was not me. He was happy to spend time with me when La Moustache wasn't around, but the instant he arrived in the door, Bean flew to him like a moth to a flame. Moustache took to calling him “my little glue” because of the way Bean stuck to him. Not only did Green Bean want to be nearby, he wanted to be as close as humanly possible, and would dive inside Moustache's sweater and crawl around happily in there, occasionally poking his head out of the neckhole like a prairie dog before diving back in.

Lovebirds have some funny mating habits, and Green Bean tried them all out on La Moustache. He wanted desperately to express his love by regurgitating his food to him. The first few times he did it, we wondered if he was having an asthma attack; he would sit on Moustache's shoulder and dry heave, panting heavily and hoping against hope that Moustache would finally open his mouth to receive Bean's gift. Lovebirds also have a mating ritual called “the clicky dance,” which Bean does for Moustache at least once a day. He demonstrates his prowess as a mate by flapping his wings and calling out loudly and by moving his body quickly back and forth in front of Moustache, sometimes running and sometimes hopping. At the same time, he makes a clicky sound with his beak. The clicky sound is apparently very sexy to lovebirds, but the downside of it is that the vibrations from the clicks make him itchy, so he has to pause his dance frequently to scratch his face. Again, when this first started we were not sure what to make of it, and wondered if we should call the vet.

One day I was home alone, and was thrilled when Bean started doing the clicky dance. I texted La Moustache excitedly to let him know that Bean finally considered me to be mate material. A moment later I realized the sad truth when Bean mounted on a plastic toy ball and attempted to mate with it as it rolled around awkwardly beneath him.

Green Bean is sad when either of us goes away, and even when we are only gone for the weekend he welcomes us back excitedly and affectionately. I wonder if he thinks of us when we are not there, and how he will feel when he realizes that Moustache is not just away for a few days.

I am moving to a new city shortly, and am facing the prospect of being a single mom to our little bird in a place where I don't have a lot of friends who I can use as birdsitters. For a time, when I thought about how difficult it would be to take weekend trips or even stay out late at night, I considered finding a new home for Green Bean. Ultimately, I decided that this would be unthinkable. I recently purchased a travel cage for Bean, and checked Amtrak's pet policy (not a problem). I hope to be able to take lots of weekend trips and bring my little one along. And who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and find a roommate who will like him and be willing to take care of him sometimes. Plus Moustache is pushing for joint custody after his return - we'll see about that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I promised myself that this blog wouldn't be all about La Moustache. He doesn't deserve to be the subject of my blog, and I hope to move on soon and write about more worthy subjects. Next week I'll be hanging out with a litter of kittens in my new apartment in a new city, Moustache will be off on his voyage, and it will be easier to pretend he doesn't exist. But right now it is awfully hard to think about anything else. Somehow the fact that a school I was supposed to work at is threatening to sue me and is (falsely) accusing me of taking computer equipment is like a punch from a baby mouse compared to the painful public demise of my relationship.

I announced to La Moustache yesterday that I am going to be on Oprah. In my fantasy Oprah will thoughtfully ask me about the horrors that have happened to me recently, beginning with the injustices that I lived through as a first grade teacher in a nightmarish Brooklyn public school last year. In an outraged tone, she will question me about the end of this traumatic year, when I was offered a series of dream jobs that fell through one after another. How as this difficult period dragged on my boyfriend became depressed and gradually transformed from supportive and comforting to an empty shell, and how the situation culminated when my final job offer fell through and he was so emotionally absent that he lied via text message and told me he couldn't call me because he was in a meeting. How I decided I needed to go away to Europe to convalesce, and how upon my return my boyfriend asked me if I would travel the world with him, then abruptly changed his mind and announced that he would be doing the trip alone. Finally, she will ask me about the effects of the media circus surrounding my now-ex-boyfriend's voyage.

Following this moving conversation about my suffering, Oprah will open her arms to me and hug me to her. Oprah's hug will be heartfelt and comforting, and I will tear up a bit. Oprah will pull back, offer me a tissue, and then resume the hug as the crowd claps compassionately. Finally, toward the end of my time on her show, she will hand me the keys to a new car. No, not a Land Cruiser, a Prius. Oprah knows that I don't have the slightest interest in owning a Land Cruiser. The audience will roar their approval.

I spoke recently with a Wise Woman who helps me navigate the intricacies of life, and she gave me some advice: I need to hitch up my britches and start protecting myself. That means not Googling articles about La Moustache in the news, and not reading comments people post about how cool his trip sounds. Not perusing lists of people who have donated money to help him pay for gasoline. Not checking his blog or his Twitter, and not glancing out the window at his Monster. I am good at protecting myself, and I know how to do it. Most of the time, I have great powers of self-control.

I did really well with this the day after our conversation. Not a single click on his website or a peek out at the driveway. However, over the weekend it has felt that I would need to be buried under a glacier in the Antarctic to avoid mention of the Great Adventure. Three days after Moustache's article came out, I thought the media was ready to move on, but it turns out that the weekend is when newspaper travel sections come out, and things were just beginning to heat up. Mutual friends are posting it on Facebook (and then immediately getting blocked by me). My friends' parents are calling them to report having spotted it. Moustache is spending his days talking on the phone to television producers and literary agents and answering e-mails from adoring fans.

Dutifully trying to follow my Wise Woman's advice, I asked La Moustache kindly not to mention any news about his trip to me. However, I later amended my request: If there was some news that I likely would hear elsewhere, like if Moustache were to be the subject of a reality TV show, it would be easier to hear about it first from him. As an afterthought to emphasize my seriousness, I threw a block of Gruyere forcefully on the kitchen floor.

But recently some of the media frenzy has taken a subtle turn and honed in on our relationship, briefly mentioned in Moustache's article and leaving much to the imagination. One website put the piece on its homepage and for a time (I've been told) attached the description, “Man leaves girlfriend and job to travel around the world.” How many comments did it receive? 902 and counting. How many did I read? I didn't count, but probably in the neighborhood of 830. I know, not very good in the self-control department. Many of these comments were about me, and a handful were actually insightful. Naturally, others were offensive. Today Moustache met with a TV producer who is interested in doing a show on the trip, and is interested in our relationship. He envisions a scene of us Skyping on Christmas day. Let me tell you, if a television station ever gives me airtime, I will have a thing or two to say about La Moustache, and I seriously doubt that the words “Merry Christmas, darling” will be involved.

(In an ironic little twist, this same producer suggested that La Moustache could make a killing through corporate sponsors, and specifically told him that the outdoor clothing company where my father is a vice president would surely be happy to give him tens of thousands of dollars if Moustache would don some of their outerwear. Little does he know that the chances of this happening are even less than his happy Christmas scenario. As my father said, “Over my dead body.”)

It feels very strange to have people I don't know speculating about me, and particularly strange that my self-involved ex is controlling the discourse. I am thankful that this is all anonymous. I'm looking forward to cozying up with the kittens in Boston, and thinking that a vacation to Antarctica may also be in order. If Oprah tries to reach me, let her know she can find me there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Indiana Jones

La Moustache is a journalist. He works for a well-known wire service. So, I probably shouldn't have been surprised when I saw the headline, “How one man is preparing to drive around the world.”

Moustache's article got picked up by USA Today, Yahoo! News, ABC News, and local newspapers across the country. People from coast to coast are reading about how “It is scary to leave your girlfriend, your career, your apartment and people you know to have a year of waking up in unfamiliar places.” They are looking at pictures La Moustache took of himself checking the engine of the Monster and folding out his rooftop tent. And they are thinking that this guy is awesome.

In his blog and in the article, La Moustache frequently mentions that some people think he's crazy for leaving his job and undertaking this trip. As far as I can tell, he is referring to one person: me. Everyone else thinks he is courageous and adventuresome. Comments on his blog and article include the following:

Fantastic!!!! I envy you. What an adventure. I've been to many of the places you mentioned, but not the way you are doing it. I admire you for it and hope you have a fabulous time!!

Salut Indiana Jones, Bonne chance pour ton tour du monde, c’est génial!

Godspeed, my man!! May your adventure be a great one, and may the 'hairy' parts be things to laugh and/or brag about. There will be a lot of us following your adventure, and rooting for you all the way....

Good luck to you! I look forward to reading more about your adventure throughout the year. My husband is being deployed overseas for the entire year of 2010 and this will give me something to look forward to reading about as the long year drags on! I wish I had the guts to do something like this:)


Thursday, October 22, 2009


I was on my way down to my garden to harvest my heirloom tomatoes for dinner recently when I ran into my downstairs neighbor, Pink. Pink is my landlord Big Guy's nine-year-old daughter from a now defunct relationship, so she's only my neighbor part-time. I took advantage of her presence to enlist her help with my tomatoes, and she happily tagged along, pointing out the red ones and wondering out loud which were too ripe to eat and should be left behind in the soil.

When we were done, she trudged up the stairs behind me, hands full of tomatoes, and politely asked if she could come in for a visit with Green Bean. Bean is my and Moustache's pet lovebird, and I like to use him as an excuse to invite the neighborhood kids up for visits. It's not his favorite activity, but I enjoy having them come in, pepper me with questions about him, and nervously allow him to perch on their shoulders (actually, I'm not sure who is more nervous when this happens).

After feeding him a few seeds, Pink and I settled into my kitchen so I could start working on dinner. I gave her a glass of cider and put her to work making tortillas, which she turned out to be a natural at. She talked to me about school, telling me the escapades her classmates get into, and asked if my students ever act in similar ways. When I told her that I'm not working at the moment, she told me she wished I could come teach at her school, but wisely advised me that the time to find a job there would have been over the summer; by now, a month into the school year, they had enough teachers.

It was only after we had been working for half an hour or so that she told me why she was having a rare midweek visit with her dad: her mom was in the hospital, giving birth to a new baby sister. Pink reported this casually, then burst into tears. Her mom wasn't due until two weeks later, and while she was excited about having a sister, she wasn't ready. She thought the baby should have waited until the due date. She wanted to be with her mom, but was also upset because when she called her aunt she could hear her mother crying out in pain in the background, and she was angry with the baby for putting her mom through this. I told her how great it is to have a sister, and shared stories of my friends' birthing experiences (not the graphic ones). I told her that I was sure the doctors knew what to do to make sure her mom and new baby sister were safe. After a while, her brother came up to tell her that dinner downstairs was ready, and Pink left with a tortilla in one hand and a cookie for later in the other. I continued solo with my tortillas.

When La Moustache and I moved in together, I gave up a charming, pricey little studio on one of the most desirable blocks in Brooklyn. I was half a block away from Prospect Park and dozens of amazing bakeries, restaurants and bars were close by. My street was lined with stately brownstones, and neighbors included famous writers, actors and politicians. We moved to a new neighborhood a few miles away, and were able to get a spacious apartment for much less than the two of us had been paying together for our studios. The downside is that nearby restaurants mostly serve fried chicken, the delis are devoid of organic milk, and the closest place to get a latte is a mile away. It was a difficult transition for me. I missed my warm croissants in the morning. At times, I felt out of place and intimidated being in the minority as a white person on the block.

Moustache and I gradually got to know our neighbors, who turned out to be kind and welcoming. When it was someone's birthday, we would come home to the offer of a celebratory glass of cognac. I took to spending a few minutes each evening when I returned home from work chatting with neighbors who congregated on my front porch; as time went on, the minutes stretched longer. We invited a few neighbors over for dinner a few months after we moved in, and La Moustache made his specialty, boeuf bourguignon. Midway through dinner, Big Guy expressed his appreciation and his happiness that we had moved in, finishing with the unintentionally humorous statement, “You two add a lot of color to the neighborhood.” He wolfed down two slices of my apple cake and asked for another one for the road so he could “really get into it”; this started a tradition of me baking him an apple cake each fall.

Big Guy and his brother Little Guy, a mechanic, took particular interest in La Moustache's purchase of a red convertible Chrysler LeBaron, and I started calling them the Car Fairies because of the way they magically fixed any issue that came up. If we ever forgot to move it to the other side of the street on cleaning day, they would take care of it for us. One morning, while backing out of the driveway, I hit the brick gate on my way out, and the driver's side mirror was left dangling by a few wires. At the end of the day I came home, showered, and by the time I came out to drive over to my friend's house I found the mirror reattached. When I started driving to school every day last year, I would drive home and park the LeBaron face-first in the driveway. An hour later, it would be facing the other way for easy exit (this may have been related to the earlier gate issue; they never said so, but my backing-out skills had proven to be weak). The LeBaron finally died last February, and Big Guy offered to loan us his BMW for emergencies. After a year of living here, I still missed the croissants, but it started to feel that the tradeoff was worth it.

An hour or so after Pink left, a timid knock came on my door. I opened it to find her smiling broadly with the news that her new baby sister had been born. I gave her a hug and told her she'll be a great sister. I didn't add that I'll miss her when I'm gone and am sad I won't hear stories about Pink's prowess as a big sister, but I think she knows.

Portrait of me and Bean by Pink

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's My Party

I am standing in my kitchen, looking down through the second-story window to the driveway, where my Parisian boyfriend and a friend of his are wrestling with a gigantic cardboard box in an attempt to remove its contents. It's about the same length and height as a refrigerator box, but not as deep, and inside it is an equally gigantic tent. They are standing next to a Toyota Land Cruiser, the top of which the tent will eventually be screwed onto. The tent is to be my boyfriend's home for the next year, and he, the tent and the Land Cruiser will leave our driveway in a month and a half and drive around the world (except for places that are not navigable by car, like oceans, where he will ship his new life partner and fly to meet it).

Six months ago, La Moustache and I were spending our weekends visiting open houses. He had gone to the bank and gotten pre-approval for a loan for us to buy a brownstone together. My hopes and dreams for our future included such projects as traveling to Brazil, planting carrots in the garden behind our future brownstone, and dressing up as a Hasidic Jewish couple for Halloween (we live just south of the Hasidic section of Brooklyn, and I became inspired one day while watching a Hasidic couple cross the street). It did not include a record breakingly-early midlife crisis, or the portable shower and toilet that are now sitting in my hallway. Nor did it include La Moustache's' spending the money that was intended to be a downpayment on a house on a trip around the world.

The cherry on top of my predicament is that at the same time that La Moustache made this decision, I lost my job. I'm an elementary school teacher, so usually at this time of year I am so busy laminating labels, planning lessons, and organizing book bins that a boyfriend could leave me and I'd hardly notice. Not so this year. My job fell through at the very last minute, as I was in the process of putting the final touches on my classroom, leaving me with an abundance of time to sit on my couch and contemplate how I ended up living with a mentally unbalanced person for three years and never realized it.

Since then, my mood has been swinging around wildly like a ship's lantern in a storm, reminiscent of my adolescence. At times, my fury knows no limits, like when I ripped up postcards I sent to Moustache and threw them on his bed, or the day I intended to give him a kiss but without fully realizing what I was doing sunk my teeth into his cheek (hard enough to leave a mark, but I didn't break the skin). While he was outside working on his preparations one day, I snuck out of the house, hoping he would return to find me gone and be left wondering if I would ever come back; instead, I returned two hours later to find him still outside, hard at work. Other times, I cry pathetically, hoping against hope that he will comfort me and tell me it has all been a bad nightmare. There are moments when I am overwhelmed by desire to spend as much time with him as possible, and sit in the driveway keeping him company while he saws wood to make drawers for the Cruiser (which I've nicknamed the Monster). I spent an entire afternoon this way recently, pretending to read aloud the FAQ section of a Lonely Planet guide to circumnavigating the globe. Here is a sampling of what I “read”: 

Q: Is it safe to take a trip around the world?

A: No. If you decide to do this trip, be forewarned that you will almost certainly perish. If you are not done in by Dengue-fever-spreading mosquitoes in Africa, run into a deadly scorpion in South America, or get a fatal STD from a prostitute in Eastern Europe, you will surely commit suicide before the end of the year out of loneliness and desperation.

Q: Will it help or hurt my career to take this trip?

A: It will damage your career irreparably. Everyone will realize that you are insane, and no one will be willing to employ you again, ever.

Q: What kind of food can I expect to eat during my travels?

A: Be prepared to be extremely flexible in your diet. At times, particularly in remote parts of Asia, the only foods available to you will be insects such as moths and spiders. It is considered rude to squash them before consuming them, so you will have to eat them alive. It is also possible that you will need to traverse areas of South America where you will be forced to eat dog feces to survive.

Q: Is it better to undertake the trip alone, or with other people?

A: This is a tough question, and you will need to make a decision about what works best for you. On the one hand, traveling with friends over long periods of time and in close quarters can be extremely stressful. Sometimes people get into physical altercations with their traveling companions, and friendships rarely last beyond the final destination, if they last that far. (One young woman recounted to us that she was kicked out of the car in the middle of the Sahara Desert by her former best friend, and had to drink her own urine to survive 10 days before she was discovered by a group of Berber herdsmen.) On the other hand, as mentioned above, if you travel by yourself you are at an extremely high risk to commit suicide. Furthermore, guerillas and bandits often target lone travelers; people traveling this way have been known to be beheaded in remote locations, and their decapitated bodies were not found until over a decade later.

Q: What sorts of preparations do I need to do prior to my departure?

A: Take out an excellent life insurance policy. Other than that, there is really nothing you can do to prepare for such a dangerous, foolhardy trip.

Rather than trying to fight this resurfacing of a teenage mentality, I have decided to go with it. In fact, my new mantra is: I can do whatever I want to. Fate has dealt me a harsh hand, and given the circumstances, I have no obligations to anyone but myself. If I feel like eating chocolate for breakfast, sleeping on the couch with all the lights in the house on, or reaching into my pocket, pulling out my car keys and pretending to shoot La Moustache with them, I can. (Like biting, fake shooting is surprisingly satisfying. It gave me new insight into why my six-year-old students engaged incessantly in such battles.)

Is La Moustache crazy? Did I live for three years with someone who is profoundly self-centered, and not realize it? Has he always been this full of himself, or is this a side effect of his selfishness? Is it possible that I was correct in my feeling that he was a kind, loving boyfriend during our years together, and is now acting out of depression-induced desperation? These are the questions that run constantly through my mind, keeping me up at night and making me exhausted even when I've spent the entire day immobile on the couch. I'm trying to let go of them and accept that I can't know the answers now, and may never fully be able to answer them. In the meantime, I'm off to take my second bath of the day, accompanied by a big bowl of ice cream and only occasionally interrupted by the roar of La Moustache's saw intruding through the window.