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 0ยบ 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.