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 gĂ©nial!

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.