The Last Hurrah

May 19, 2009

I wrote this in late January 09, right before life got crazy and I ran off to Honduras.  It’s not my happiest piece of writing, but it was a great trip looking back, and has some well-written parts, if I may flatter myself.  One of my other posts is contained entirely within this one, but that part was completed well before the rest, and I think it stands alone fairly well.  Hope you enjoy!

I have this battery inside me, and when it runs down, I fall apart. Life gets dull and the fire inside starts to ember and cool, and all of a sudden everything in my world falls to shit. I fight with old friends and family, get snappy and abrasive, and sometimes even fall physically ill if I let it die down. In order to recharge it, I have this constant need for randomness and chaos – perfect for a life exploring and partying, but not so good for settling down, being responsible, and living a normal life. This is the story of my latest adventure, my latest recharging, lest I forget it, and in case anyone is interested in what I’m up to.

This is a metaphor.

This is a metaphor.

First, a little backstory: I’ve wanted to take a California road trip for a while now – ever since I left Santa Barbara and known that I was going to join the Peace Corps, the idea had been rattling around in my gourd. The problems were money and time, and having neither, I let the road trip slide and resolved myself to working in SB for my last summer in the country.

So when my service got delay at the end of last summer, the silver lining was that I now had the time to take a wild trip or three and say goodbye to my good friends and family. I of course didn’t take advantage of this for months, the result of working 2 jobs, 1 of which was nigh-impossible to get time off from. However, I used my free time to plan out my travels, and the jobs got me out of debt and gave me a small cash pile to feed myself and my car. For a while, the thought of running away was literally all I had to look forward to – the Peace Corps was dragging its feet waiting for a new assignment to open up (Honduras, leaving Feb 24) and I really couldn’t stand San Diego. The town is too spread out, too Conservative (big C), and just too unfriendly. I found a kindred spirit in one of my coworkers, picked up a stalker and some friends from ballroom dancing, but by and large I spent the last few months with my close family or working my ass off. I’m not good at making new friends in the first place, and this suburban nightmare really didn’t help.

Anyhow, the battery was already running low, and the holidays didn’t help much. I worked too much, went without vices or companionship, and worst of all, my attempted road trip had to be aborted at the first stop, Garden Grove, because I got too sick and started seeing double while driving. By the time I had recovered, it was too late to head far, and I never made it past SLO and SB. Not that living with my old roommates for a week wasn’t a blast, but I didn’t get out on the road, didn’t see the world, missed half the people I wanted to see and didn’t recharge enough to pull myself out of the slump. Worse, I blew all my money drinking and living and buying shit I didn’t need, and for a while it looked like my plans for adventure had all turned to ash.

I got a lucky break though, as I returned home to find that an old employer from SB (Wedding/Event Florist, Worst. Job. Ever.) had finally mailed me my last check, only 4 months late. Along with a couple weeks running the swim store, I scrounged enough together to pay for another wild run up the state, and I started scheming.

Sunset over San Onofre

Sunset over San Onofre

SUNDAY: My plan was simple enough – I didn’t really make one. I hate planning vacations, simply because it tears all the chaos and impulsiveness out of life, and it just stresses me out. That said, I had a basic outline based on things I wanted to do, and the time I had off work.

The idea was that I would leave after work on Sunday the 18th, drive as far north as I could, hopefully hitting San Jose before I fell asleep driving. Over the next week I was to hit as many friends along the coast as possible, while spending 1/20 in San Francisco for the inauguration. (And really, where else aside from San Francisco was I going to find a whole town celebrating the end of a terrible era? Certainly not San Diego!) From there the plan got a bit fuzzy, but I knew that I needed to make it south to Santa Barbara by the 23rd for a masquerade and didn’t care what else happened. As it turned out, this was the perfect approach to the week ahead.

The trip started out right on schedule: I closed up at work, filled Sally’s fuel tank and my own, and hopped on the 5 North. Now, as anyone who has driven 5 for the long haul can attest, it is absolutely mind-numbing. Nothing for scenery, few real stops, a lot of cows, a few prisons, and hundreds of miles of open road. I love it, but I can’t blame most people for feeling differently. I love looking up and seeing a million billion stars splashed across the sky, and if you ever pass a driver hanging his head out the window and looking straight up on 5 in the middle of California, chances are you’ve found me. It’s not the safest way to drive, either.

Even loving solitude and stars as I do, there’s still a lot of vacant time to kill on a drive up the state. I’ve gotten a bit sick of my music lately – especially the stuff I have on CDs – and there’s a certain point where you lose a lot of the radio stations, get tired of talking to yourself, and you’re left to your own devices. I have yet to figure out how to write and drive without crashing, so generally that means bringing in some outside help.

I have this old flame, a girl with whom I have a lot of history; the person who made me realize what “love” actually means. Years back, I’d fallen for her hard, and she had liked me too, and we’d struck up one of those relationships between lost souls. She made me happy, and gave me a reason to live in some of the darkest points of my life. I like to think I returned the favor, but who really knows what goes on inside the heads of others? Our problem was distance – we never lived close, a 100 miles at best – and our infrequent meetings and long-distance longing weren’t able to overcome the terrible strain of the gap between us. Life got busy with both of us in different colleges, working at crossed hours, far out of sight. We started to fight, she found a closer guy, and I learned what “heartbreak” meant too. Long story short, we were right for each other in a world wrong for us both.

As to why I called her, out of anyone I know, it’s because we’re still close friends. The advantage of getting very close to someone who lives so far away is that you end up with a confidante, a soulmate who won’t judge you, or even if they do, can’t do anything about it. We’ve leaned on each other more times then either of us could count over the years, and I can usually count on her for a long deep conversation.

Lately though, things have gotten both worse and better between us. Worse in that we both know I’m leaving the country soon and paths are about to split, but better in that we have both admitted that there still is something there between us. The “L” word (not lesbian) comes up a lot more often as my departure comes near, probably because it’s easier to be honest with someone who is leaving your life, but also because the two of us have gotten a lot closer over the past months. Thinking about it, things have really just gotten worse – it’ll hurt all the more for me to go – but what the hell, I’m a glutton for punishment, and she’s always worth talking to.

So there I am, driving too fast up the 5 toward the unknown, voice from my past in my ear, and I’m in love with this life. I like to think I’ll die like this, and if I did, it would be the most beautiful way to go out. I think about death too much like art: the reality is nowhere near as good as what we imagine. I tell her that thought, and she says she understands; she always does. It’s all I can do to keep going north instead of cutting over to the coast to spend the night with her. I have to fight myself at every highway interchange – 126, 46, 42 – until finally I’m free of my sirens. She has to go out with her friends, she tells me, after I’ve passed my test of will. I can hear the disappointment in her voice, and in mine as well: we both needed a good fuck. Goodnight babe, we’ll meet up again soon. She hangs up the phone, and I’m left wet around the eyes, again to my own devices. I’ll miss her terribly when I’m gone.

I stop off in a no-name “town” somewhere north of the 5-46 exchange. It’s really just a couple of gas stations with built-in fast food dispensers. I can’t dignify them with the name restaurant, that’s an insult to too many shithole diners and truck stop watering holes. These are just gas stations for people as well as cars – open your tank, pour in some fuel, (87, low grade all the way) and hit the road again. I opt for some trail mix, chewing gum, and a red bull, which is still probably better than Taco Hell, in a starving-yourself sort of way. I’m too excited, nervous, anxious to be hungry just yet. Sally’s gassed up, I have a few snacks to chew on, and so off we go again. I glance at the dashboard clock – 9:30pm, 2 hours to go. I’m on the road.

The next couple hours are barely worth talking about. I sing sad songs and drive too fast, and the hours fly by. Sally does her job and my phone’s GPS makes it too easy to find Jake’s apartment in San Jose. Actually, the iPhone was a blessing this whole trip – the Bay area is insane in terms of roads and signage. Somewhere around 5-101 I was passed by a beautiful girl in an old Charger, and I fell in love with them both. We played around, passing each other, throwing winks and smiles, until I blew her a kiss and took my turnoff. Another life, perhaps, but for now I had somewhere else to be. I call Jake, find a parking spot, and somewhere around 11:30 or so, I’ve reached my destination for the first day.

San Diego to San Jose is not a bad drive, under 7 hours if you drive like an idiot, (I sure do) and I’m too wired to sleep. Luckily, Jake is the sort of guy who, despite working early the next morning, is completely ready and willing to have a good time. Further, he’s a party in-and-of-himself. If you’re going to go on an adventure in Norcal, a stop at Jake’s is highly recommended.

How do I describe Jake? Well, here’s how I met him this time: I’m getting out of Sally and stretching when this mustachioed hipster in a red leather jacket and flannel shirt comes over and greets me. His striking red beard has transformed into a handlebar mustache, he has hair like a beatnik, and he dresses like the clothes were designed for him. The guy is just cool – he makes me look bad just by being around, but at the same time, you can’t help but love him. If I’m Saul Paradise, he’s Dean Moriarty: the bad boy, full of energy, who all the guys want to be friends with and all the girls want to.. you know… be better friends with.

Not that he’s short of either friends or fucks, but the real thing you notice about Jake is his energy. Before the bags are even out of my car, he’s telling me a dozen wild stories, how he saw a Johnny Cash cover band, got drunk and shaved himself a handlebar, (looked hysterical) how he might have a gig with a band, the joint some bum gave him in exchange for a cigarette, and the girl at the pizza parlor across the street who wants to know if he’s down to just “fuck around.” Jake always amazes me in that while I have to go out in hunt of adventure, it all just seems to come looking for him. Plus, he’s the youngest in our group of friends, yet he’s the one with the stable job and responsibility. If life was possibly made for a certain type of person, Jake is that type.

Further, he has a fantastic apartment. It’s this little hole-in-the-wall off one of the main streets in San Jose, hidden right above the street, where you can look out the window and watch the whole world unfold beneath you. Great location, and the entrance is hidden right between a couple stores – if you don’t know it exists, the place pretty much doesn’t.

So I follow Jake up the stairs, and we’re carrying a ton of bags and boxes, not because I travel with too much stuff, (quite the opposite) but because I somehow got stuck with all of the left-behind possessions when we all moved out of our shanty in Santa Barbara. Of Jake’s, I had his old trumpet, alto sax, and a mic stand – Jake being of course an incredible musician; almost a one-man band.

Anyhow, here’s the scene: second story landing, middle of the night, two guys loaded down with cases and bags and odds and ends. Jake opens the door to his apartment, and all the familiar smells of our life together pour out. Beer, pot, a hint of mystery, bachelorhood. Fuck, for a minute I’m transported right back to our glory days in Isla Vista. It’s all I can do to keep myself from tearing up. I miss that old life so badly, even if I’ve since outgrown it.

We’re dropping stuff off in Jake’s sitting, dining, tv, recording studio room (did I mention it’s a tiny flat? It is.) and he introduces me to his neighbor, this girl Jessica, or Jennifer, or some name I’ve since forgotten, since that is my thing. We drink the last round of beers in the house, smoke a bit, fall back into our routine of inseparable friends living now separate lives. It’s both heartwarming and terribly sad that Jake and I can be at once so close, and yet interact so little. It says a lot about our friendship, but I always feel a bad friend for not keeping in touch.

Once the beers are drained we walk across the street to the liquor store for some more drinks. Outside the liquor store we pass a group of kids, probably 14-15, hanging out smoking cigarettes. One of them asks us if we can buy them a swisher – potheads starting early. I say sure, and Jessica takes their money. Inside, Jake and I go for the beer, Hefeweizens tonight, while Jess buys the cigarillo. The clerk almost doesn’t sell it to her, but she begs one out of him. They really ought to just let kids fuck themselves up early – the stigma drugs get in this country prevents anyone from acknowledging they exist, much less dealing with them rationally. We pass the kids their prize on the way out of the store, and walk the ½ block home. At the corner, we pass a guy pressure washing the sidewalk, and seeing the beer, he stops and flashes us a smile as we walk by. I think poor people are good people, at least to each other.

Back at Jake’s, we pass the night drinking a few rounds while Jake DJs with his record collection. He’s great at it, and we’re listening to the Stones flow into Cake rolling through Zepplin. I’m telling stories about our lives in Santa Barbara and about the Peace Corps, and Jess and Jake tell me about their good times in San Jose. At some point, I tell Jess that I’m going to run for president, and give them both a campaign pitch. I’m not even sure what all I rambled about, but I made a decent impression, I think. As Jess was leaving, she told me I had her vote, and to go change things, and I said that I knew that I did, and that I would. Around 1:30 or 2, Jake and I go to bed, and I pull the “foot on the floor, hand on the wall” routine to keep the room steady. I’m out of drinking shape, and it shows. I drift off on Jake’s futon, and dream of San Francisco to come.

The Famous Jake (and Kelly's foot makes a guest spot)

The Famous Jake (and Kelly's foot makes a guest spot)

MONDAY: Monday was a drifter day, and I spent most of it killing time before my Uncle was home and I had a place to go in San Francisco. Around 7 or so, I woke up dimly to watch Jake leaving, and we exchange farewells as he goes off to the real world. I nod off again, and pull myself out of bed around 9. I didn’t plan for today – nowhere to go, no plans, nothing – and so I waste the morning away getting high and doing calisthenics. ($5 word) Around 11, I’m debating food versus another beer, when a repairman knocks on the door and tells me that he needs to replace the fusebox and so he’s shutting off the power for a few hours. I beg 15 minutes out of him to shower, and then sit and watch him and another guy just on the off chance they’re not very dedicated con artists.

These guys… I don’t know their names, but they were Larry and Curly – just a comedy of errors and miscommunication. Larry, short, stout, bald, and bossy is trying to teach Curly, tall, pale, lanky, and goofy how to replace the box, but it’s like everything is being shouted through a small tube. If Larry says left, Curly cuts a few wires; if Larry yells stop, Curly almost cuts a hole through the wall with the sawzall. I almost offered to lend a hand, but I think they would have taken it as an insult. Instead, satisfied they weren’t going to steal Jake’s recording equipment, I walk down the street to the best little ravioli place in the world.

Just my luck – it’s closed Mondays – so I settle for Chinese across the street. Waiting outside, I’m struck by how much this part of San Jose resembles Main Street USA. The people walking, the architecture, the small-town feel; it’s a really cool place to hang out, and I’m considering taking a walk when the lady from the Chinese joint brings out my order. I came very close to forgetting my food!

Back up in Jake’s apartment, I’m sitting by his living room window watching the world and eating lo mein and writing in my journal. While I’m doing all this and silently laughing at Larry and Curly working, Jake comes home. Turns out he comes home for lunch, and I just got it without him – some friend. He goes for a sandwich, is back in 5 minutes, and we talk shop and eat. When he’s done, we say our goodbyes (nothing serious: I’ll be back in 2 days) and he heads back to work. I promise to make sure the workmen are done and lock up after, and I’m left alone in Jake’s life again.

A couple hours later, 4 or so, Larry and Curly finish fucking around and finally install the fusebox, and I’m on the road again. 280 straight through to San Francisco, easiest directions in the world. I make the trip in a little under an hour, and I’m soon pulling up to my aunt and uncle’s place.

Perfect timing too – as I’m parking I see Howard pull into their driveway and start to unload. Time for a little Uncle-Nephew bonding, and to be honest I’m not sure what to expect. We haven’t hung out much outside of family gatherings, but to be honest, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that he’s a much more fun and much less restrained person outside of those confines. I sure as hell am. We unload his van and my car, say our hellos, and go inside.

Howard and Wendy have a great old house in San Francisco: tiny, multi-storied, built before the age of pre-fabricated over-engineered homes. It has soul, like any old house, and the garage actually has carriage tracks from ye olde days. They’re lifelong activists, and the garage is a museum of old political signs and slogans. I see Mondale, No Nukes, Gay Rights Now, and a lifetime of causes staring back at me from the walls. They’re my kind of people, and their eclectic old house has always felt like home.

While Howard is taking a shower, I charge the gadgets, stretch out a bit, and generally kill time. I’m fantastic at it, because I’ll just sit and think deep for a bit, and before I’m through everyone else is ready to go. So sure enough, I’m only halfway through planning out a permanent Peace Coalition of activist groups to oppose AIPAC and the Pentagon’s handlers when Howard asks me what I feel like eating. For a second I’m at a loss but I remember that Devon, the only San Franciscan I’ve lived with, used to go on about Ethiopian/Eitrean cuisine, and so I ask Howard if there is any. He of course knows the perfect place, just a 2 mile walk, and so wallet, keys, phone, jacket, off we go.

It takes me only a few blocks to remember why I fall in love with this city every time I visit. The air, the crowds, the architecture all draw me in, but I think more then anything it’s the fact that I can walk a few miles and visit a dozen worlds. I can be a perfect stranger there, no matter how long I spend in the city. Different tongues, different faces, a sea of unknowns. For someone like myself, I can’t imagine a better place to spend my time.

We bop along down toward market, talking politics and art, graffiti and activism and parties and girls. My uncle is a cool cat, and he tells me stories about the changes he’s seen in the city over the years, and points out highlights as we pass them. He’s so damn organized and cool and on top of his game that I feel inadequate almost – I’d hate to plan things out like he does, but I can’t deny how well he lives because of it. We’re both fast walkers, like everyone here, and with the conversation and my giddy energy, we make the walk in no time.

The place we eat at, like most of the restaurants in the city, is a hole in the wall that I never would have found unless I was looking for it, or perhaps if I was using Yelp. It’s small, cramped, full of foreign smells and names and walking inside I might be in another country, or another world altogether. We take a small table off to the side of the room, and a young man in blue jeans and a white T-shirt comes over. Informal – I dig it. We get a round of blue moons, and my uncle orders a list of dishes I could hardly pronounce. I’m in his world now, so I just let him pick what we eat; not like I’ll do better by picking at random.

Our food! When it comes out, I’m introduced to a whole new way of eating. Everything comes on a huge plate, which it itself covered by a wide, flat, tortilla/pancake stepchild. It has a real name, I’m sure, but I’d rather just call it a pantilla. All our entrees are served on this pantilla, and to eat, you tear off a corner of the pantilla and pinch up food with it. It is the most informal and personal way of eating I’ve ever experienced, and if I was in charge, we’d eat like this every day. And the food itself made me feel bad for real Ethiopians and Eitreans, who I know for damn sure aren’t eating anything close to this delicious. Easily one of the best meals of my life, so thank you Devon and Howard both.

From dinner, we meander downtown to watch Slumdog Millionaire, which for the people who haven’t seen it, is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Seriously, go see it, and you’ll remember what a movie is supposed to do to its viewers. Between the culture, the juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, crime and virtue, and the mix of good and evil, the movie is just a pleasure in every sense of the word. Sure made me feel bad for watching the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still without gagging, I’ll tell you that. We had to get up at some unholy hour the next morning, so after the movie, we walk back home – 8 miles fly by when you’re in love with the world around you – and go to bed.


Across UN Plaza, 8am

Across UN Plaza, 8am

TUESDAY: Inauguration Day! I’ve never been happier to be waking up before 6 am in my entire life then I am today. Finally, a man who was never fit to be chief executive of his own asshole will be forced to stop deep dicking our nation and just be another moron private citizen instead. On a more positive note, I’m really excited that Barack Obama, a man I actively campaigned for, gave money to, and promoted as best I could, is going to be elected. He’s not perfect, by any means, but he’s smart, and articulate, and he LISTENS TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T AGREE WITH HIM. The combination of Bush being evicted and Obama being inaugurated got me up and at ’em at 5:45, despite the drinking, driving, (not together) and cold.

Howard and I drove down to U.N. Plaza in front of city hall by 6:30, and it was bitter cold. Despite this, there were already an easy 100 people there, setting up chairs, taking their places in front of the Jumbotron. We tossed our donation of socks and boxers into a container and took up places standing around aimlessly. A disheveled looking man came up next to me and asked if I wanted anything from the liquor store, “you know, champagne or something man.” I told him I loved the dedication but that I was penniless, and he wandered off. Half-true; this was shaping up to be my ultimate budget vacation, but I really couldn’t do bubbly at 6:45. What I could do is Coffee, and Howard and I headed to the Blue Dolphin, a little hole in the wall that my phone found. I had the best cappuccino of my life, served out of a roll-up door garage in an alleyway. Did I mention how much I love San Francisco?

We walked back to U.N. Plaza a little after 7:30, and by now the crowd as beginning to turn out. The hundred diehards had been joined by perhaps 300 others, and the Jumbotron broadcast was showing something inane while Andrew Card gave the Bush Administration a final deepthroating. There was a poster set up off to one side inviting people to write their aspirations for the Obama years, and I write “Dear Mr. President, try not to start any more wars, and end the corporate chokehold on American democracy, and you’ll go down as one of our greatest presidents” right in the middle and sign it. I wish I was stupid enough to believe it would happen, but hey, hope is in the air, and at least for today, I’m feeling the Obama fever.

The real festivities aren’t until 9 but around 8 the broadcasters stop wanking off and actually show crowd shots and the opening speakers. I find an open spot near my uncle, and watch Rick Warren and Aretha Franklin and all the rest do their thing. The crowd is really digging now, and it stretches across the plaza. Every shot of Obama or his family spurs loud cheers, while Cheney and Bush are roundly heckled. I spot dancing, smell weed, and everyone I look at is smiling and laughing. I’ve been in a lot of crowds, but never one this joyous or well-behaved. I got the feeling that people were just happy to have a leader they could trust, a man they could look up, and hold us as a standard. Maybe I’m just projecting, but President Bush is an embarrassment to our nation, and knowing that he was only minutes away from not being our President made the crowd giddy with anticipation.

Finally, 9am, zero hour. Twitter lights up, I get a few dozen texts, and I watch live in a crowd of instant friends our new president fuck up the oath of office. I love it – you know you would do the same in Obama’s place! There must be half the world listening and watching, and even a cool cat like Obama feels the pressure – although to be fair, Justice Roberts messed up the words too. That said, I love dada, and the random twist of the dry oath made me smile. The crowd in San Francisco loves it, every word. Right as Obama finishes, there’s a wild cry, a cheer of relief and excitement and longing and love. We’ve all been waiting for this for so long that to finally see it drives a lot of people to tears.

One moment I’ll never forget occurs right after Obama finishes the Oath of Office. Howard and I have been standing next to a young (mid-30s) black couple, whom I noticed mainly because the husband was very funny in his shouted barbs toward Bush, Cheney, Rick Warren and co. As the crowd is erupting in cheers, he turns to me and grabs me in a spontaneous bear hug, tears on his cheeks. “Finally my brother!” He yells, “Finally we’ve done it!” I laugh and hoot and hug him back, and for a moment we’re the best of friends. Then we release, and he turns to hug his wife. They vanish into the crowd a moment later, and Howard and I do a goofy little dance before embracing. The connection I felt with that man, whom I’ll never meet again in my life, was one of profound brotherhood, perhaps love even. We just shared a supreme joy, then parted ways forever. It was one hell of a moment.

After Obama’s inaugural address and Rev. Lowery’s Benediction, (let the red man get ahead, man!) Howard and I drive to his work. He has a beautiful office on Fort Mason, on the north edge of the city, but its too pretty out to stay there for long, so after I meet his coworkers, I need to get out on the town. Since he had to work the rest of the day, I found a transit map in a nearby hostel and took off to see what I could do to kill time until the inaugural balls that evening.

Wandering the city is amazing. From Fort Mason, I walk East, run to catch the 47 bus toward Market, and transfer to the F train toward the Embarcadero. I figure I’ll watch some skaters for a bit, since I’m short on cash, and I might be able to find some tourists to tag along with. Riding the cable car, I look out the left side and see that someone has changed all the signs on Bush street to read “Obama.” Love it! I pull the cord, hop out a stop after Bush, and hoof it back just in time to see a street crew pulling the signs down. I found out later that they had been there since the early morning, and that the city crews had left them up in honor of the inauguration. It was in the general feeling of the day, and I snapped a few shots of Obama street, and the “End Bush, Start Obama” sign posted at the end of the street before moving on.

Having no real goal, I wandered toward Chinatown, slipping through alleys, looking at graffiti and writing on the walls. Eventually I made it into Chinatown, and spent a few bucks on post cards and a box of dragon snaps to scare tourists. I threw 2 at a little kid who loved them so much that I just gave him the whole box. What can I say? I’m a sucker for kids. I think I built up some good karma from that one, as just one street later a young girl handed me a 20% off “Inaugurating Day” coupon at a local restaurant, plus free wontons and ice cream. Like I said, the whole town was partying.

After a delicious and cheap meal at a restaurant I never did figure out the name of, I found Jack Kerouac street (more of an alley) and the Beat Museum, but it was closed, and I ended up wandering northeast. I really liked this part of my day, because I managed to get completely off the beaten path, and just wandered neighborhoods in North Beach. I climbed some hills, found a few old cars, a stray cat that stayed just out of reach, and rested a bit on a hill overlooking the East Bay and the touristy parts of town. At one point, I scared the hell out of some lady, simply because I was deep in my own head and was following her too closely. (Had to apologize for that one!) With all the panic and activity and bustle of my life lately, it was perfect to get out of my world and just wander.

Eventually, I found myself climbing Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. I’ve been there once before, with family, but I really don’t remember much about it except that I wanted to go back to hitting golf balls into the bay. This time, I figured I could go to the top and take pictures, which was a great plan until I found that it cost $5, and I didn’t even have that. Instead, I sit outside on a wall and watch ships sail through the bay and scribble furiously in my journal. Nothing good, I just want to get thoughts on paper, along with some poetry. A pretty girl with a sad soul comes over and sits near me, and we strike up a conversation about how pretty this part of the city is. She’s open about everything except for herself, and when I ask her why she was so sad, she tells me it was none of my damn business,and leaves. I sit there alone for a while, then decide it really is none of my business, and get over her. She was beautiful though, and I hope she finds happiness somehow.

Leaving Coit Tower, I head west down Lombard toward something else. I’ve never really been in this part of town before, so it’s a relief when I run into the 10 bus headed East. Any port in a storm, and I take the 10 south of Market, almost to the airport. I hope off the 10 in the middle of nowhere, and just walk. I have no idea where I am, don’t care, and spend the next hour ignoring my map and just wandering North. It sounds weird and almost like punishment, but I live for this – being a stranger, invisible in a world too busy to notice me, is something I need to do from time to time.

If San Francisco has one glaring weakness, it is a lack of the natural world, and by mid-afternoon, I’m craving some ground cover that isn’t dirty or hard. I end up sitting in the Yerba Buena Gardens, shoeless in the grass, writing postcards and listening to Salsa music on my phone. I’m still giddy, even after walking all day, just because of the energy the city is projecting today. Everyone is happy, friendly, and helpful – I honestly didn’t meet an angry person all day. I think everyone was just glad to be out from under the reign of President Bush. Sitting in the gardens, I watch random acts of kindness around me: strangers joking and talking, people going out of the way to help each other. I just wish that this attitude would last, instead of burning out in a couple days when Obama breaks our hearts.

Howard calls me around 4 – He’s finishing up at work, and wants me to me him at Fort Mason at 4:45. I hang up, notice that my phone battery is next to dead, and hoof it to Market. From there I catch the F train (2nd time in a day) down toward the Embarcadero, spending my last $1.50 in the process. I ride to the far end of the line, doing some people-watching and checking out girls as I go. I hop out an exit before the turnaround at Jones because I see a sign advertising “Free Art” and I want a goofy gift for my aunt and uncle. After picking out a little piece of the city, I hoof it west along the shore, going barefoot and walking in the sand to rest my feet. All across the beach are written messages, conversations, hopes, dreams. The city’s good moods lay spread across the sands, and I added my own (“Peace now!”) before moving on. I jump a fence, jog across an idle construction site, and pop back out right on Van Ness where I began. Thus ended my day of exploration, and thus began my greater adventures of that night.

Kerouac "Street" was a disappointment.

Kerouac "Street" was a disappointment.

4:45 right on the money, (not bad for a guy perpetually late) I walk back up to my uncle’s building on Fort Mason. I try to call him to get into the building, realize that my phone is completely dead, but he sees me through the window and lets me in anyway. Howard asks me what I did in the city, I give him the rough account, and then drink capri suns and stare out the window while he makes a few last-minute phone calls. My feet hurt and I’m broke, but I’m deliriously happy, possibly from the dehydration. After he’s done, we lock up and get ready for our inauguration ball across the bay.

We end up leaving a bit later then we had planned, so instead of heading home to change, we drive across the Golden Gate to Fort Baker, a base I had no idea even existed until then. It’s a pretty cool place, hidden just east of and below the bridge. The base is decommissioned, but the officer’s club is used as a bar for special events, and Howard and his coworkers have enough play with the Park Service to get it opened for the night. There’s a little turn off just after the bridge, and the road meanders down and around until it opens up onto a run-down little harbor, with a few 40’s looking buildings and warehouses. Fort Baker is not much to look at, but this trip seemed determined to teach me that looks can be deceiving.

The plan, as Howard told me while we were unloading his car, was for a few dozen people to get together, watch the inaugural speeches, talk about our hopes and dreams for the Obama administration, and knock a few back. Later in the night a band, the ‘Blues Disaster” would blow a few tunes, and people might dance. Truthfully, it didn’t sound all that amazing to me – my uncle and his friends are easily 30 years older than me, and I figured I would be out of place and under-dressed at a high-brow party. How very wrong I was.

Howard and I ended up being the first people to arrive aside from the bartender, Leo. We clear out a dance floor, set up chips and munchies, decorate, and pop open a few brews. A few more coworkers show up, people set up a projector, and Leo and I haul some kegs up from the basement. The building is fantastic – a bar upstairs, with a studio and warehouse below. I go exploring in the warehouse and find 70 years of debris and history: piles of old machines, tools older then my parents, and everything needed to run an old navy outpost 2 generations ago. It could have been a museum, and instead Leo got to run the bar so long as he made sure nobody stole things or wrecked the place up. I tell Leo how lucky he is to run the place, and he just laughs and agrees.

Carrying the kegs upstairs is thirsty work, and so Leo and I drink pints of Blue Moon while we watch the Park Service folks arrive and set up their decorations. I hang streamers and carry in speakers for the band and generally work my ass off, but I’m full of nervous energy and high spirits and the movement feels right. I overhear Howard and someone talking, and his lady-friend (not like that) is saying that the party has exploded from a few dozen people to a few hundred.

Just then Leo’s other bartender, Kristin, shows up, and she tells Leo that her friend isn’t going to be able to come in and bus tables for the night. Leo’s none to happy, and they argue for a while about how they’re going to avoid running out of cups during the party, which seems to be getting wilder by the minute. I watch bemusedly and sip my beer, until finally Leo turns to me and asks if I’m down to bus tables for free drinks. I’m broke beyond a joke, so I agree wholeheartedly, and the deal is struck – cleaning tables in exchange for everything I can drink – and what a dangerous deal it is.

The party itself kicks off probably around 7, and people start pouring in. The initial theme of celebrating Obama gets abandoned like a prom-night baby, and the whole place disintegrates into a wild dance party. No one minds. The band is fantastic – they’re playing jazz, rock, blues, funk, reggae, covering anything you’d want to dance to. Howard strands me at the ticket table and gets down on the dance floor; I’m laughing too hard to be mad. Hes pretty good though! People are paying 3-4 times the donation asked, and they keep coming. I lost count about 120, but I never started counting at an empty building. I keep jumping off to clear tables, stealing drinks people haven’t finished, leaping over chairs, cutting through the dancers in a wild effort to keep up with the drinkers. Leo and Kristen are raking in money hand over fist, moving with a frantic efficiency that just barely keeps the place hydrated. People are drinking to get fucked up – no other way to put it. I’m watching 60 year olds down drinks like it’s Mardi Gras, and people older then my parents take 2, 3 shots straight off. The party is phenomenal, one of those rare occurrences where everyone is just trying to shake off bad memories and celebrate a truly great day.

I’m another 6 pints of Blue Moon deep when Howard finally relieves me at the front door. He ribs me to go dance, and I really don’t need much prompting – I’m out on the floor dancing with women twice my age, having a blast, high and happy. I keep dancing until Leo yells at me that he’s out of glasses, and then Kristen and I run around frantic to grab armfuls of cups and glasses and clear tables. The party keeps growing, and the dance floor keeps gobbling up more of the room. People are pushing tables toward the walls, old couples are dirty dancing, and I’m running and bouncing through the middle of it all, looking for girls anywhere near my age.

An aside here: women under 30 or so are by and large no fun when it comes to dancing. Older women love to dance, and will enthusiastically take you up on any offer, but the younger ones are either too shy or too haughty to accept. I really dig partner dancing, and I can teach ANYONE to dance if they’re willing, but I asked every young girl I could find to dance, and got turned down by all of them. I really don’t care – I just got out on the floor with the older women and had a blast, but it was downright depressing to see every girl I had a chance with sitting at a table watching bemused while the rest of us had a great time.

After a few hours, I end up outside on the balcony with a beautiful Japanese woman only a couple years my senior, talking world travel and the Peace Corps and smoking Camel lights. She’s digging my Obama shirt and hair, and I’m digging her eyes and her laugh. We click in a big way, or at least drunk me thought so. Just when it starts getting good, one of the Park Service guys comes up to me and asks me to help carry some shit down to the cars, and so I promise the girl I’ll be back as fast as I can. I am, but she’s gone, never to be seen again. I smoked those Camels for nothing!

Kicking myself, I wander back inside, do the rounds, clear some tables, drink another beer, and work my way back to the floor. By this point, the dancers are clearing out a bit just from fatigue and heat and I head straight to the middle of the floor and just start feeling the beat. It’s not something I’m particularly good at, but so long as I don’t think about how stupid I must look, I can usually pull off cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way. Within a couple minutes I luck out big time, and this gorgeous blonde dancing nearby looks over at me and bursts out laughing. I pull a couple moves, she kinda throws em back, and for the first time all night, I’m dancing with someone who couldn’t be my mother. At the end of a song, I grab her by the hands, pull her in close, and ask her if she’d like to really dance.

“What do you mean?” She asks a fair question.

“I can teach you to ballroom dance if you’re willing to follow.”

:I’ve always wanted to learn.” she smiles at me, and I know I’m in for something special.

I lead her through a country 2-step, something easy to learn, and a confidence-builder. She picks up on it fast, and within a few minutes we’re spinning around the room, laughing and narrowly dodging the few other dancers left. We foxtrot, run through the basics of swing, and also rumba. She’s great at following, and that’s really all you need if the guy can lead. The party is definitely dying down by now, and after a few more dances, the floor is pretty much clear aside from us. I catch Leo giving me a thumbs up over her shoulder, and I couldn’t agree more. This is pretty much exactly what I was after. The band plays their last song, we do a slow waltz, and when the music dies we keep dancing to our own beat as the party falls apart.

“So what now?” Her question surprises me – I was just thinking that it was a shame I had nowhere else for us to go, and she’s caught me off guard.

“I don’t know, really. I’m here visiting, so I don’t know where else we can go.”

“If you want to keep dancing, I know there’s an inaugural ball up in Marin. We could go crash that.”

“With you, I’d go anywhere.” It sounded less completely corny in person, I promise.

We bail as soon as we can say our goodbyes – or really, as soon as I can; I notice she really doesn’t know anyone there. I say goodbye to Leo and thank him for the job, he tells me to wrap it up, and I find Howard near the door, bidding the guests farewell.

“Howard, we’re going to head up to another ball in Marin. I’ll call you if I need a ride or anything.”

“Alright,” he says, “you kids are crazy – I’m about ready to hit the sack, and you’re going out to dance the night away.” He laughs, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

I zing back, “what does that leave out?” and we step out laughing into the cold damp night.

Walking toward the parking lot, I notice my dance partner is shaking with silent laughter. I ask her what the joke is, and she says “that guy, Howard, he called us ‘you kids.’” I must have looked clueless, because she keeps laughing and asks, “how old do you think I am?” I guess 28, and she almost falls apart giggling. “Sweetheart,” she gasps between fits of laughter, “I’m 42.”

“Really?” I’m floored.

“Really.”

“Well, I never would have guessed it.” And we keep on walking to her car.

Passenger seat, 90’s Volvo – We’re driving north into the unknown, or at least, into somewhere I haven’t the foggiest, a woman 20 years older then me driving, and me coming off a whole lot of drunk beside her. I can’t keep myself from staring; she’s gorgeous, and I still haven’t reconciled her age with her looks. However, I’m not a damned fool, so we talk about dancing and politics and the human spirit. She turns out to be one of those super new-agey chicks you find floating around the bay area, deep into energy and acupuncture and chi and all of the rest. I can’t quite believe what is going on around me, and I distinctly remember my subconscious bubbling up at one point and asking me “is this real life?” Still, we’ve gone this far and I’m not turning back, so onward we speed into the night.

To this day I have no idea where we drove, but a bit after midnight we end up at some hotel, resort, ballroom, something on a hill overlooking the city. We park her car and walk past rows of BMWs, Mercedes, and a few valets far better dressed then myself. Walking inside, our path is blocked by a very large bouncer, who, after a moment to consider a pair of disheveled dancers in jeans, lets us in at no cost. I tell him he won’t regret it, and we walk in to the dance party.

Inside, its all tuxedos and evening gowns and fancy coats and jewelry. I’m wearing an Obama T so worn out you can barely read it, shoes with holes, and jeans I’ve worn since San Diego. My dance partner is better by half, (at least she’s in a dress) but together we’re the worst-dressed pair in there: people actually stare and step back as we move into the room. We can’t stop laughing, and I drag her into the middle of the floor, shouting salsa steps over the hip-hop beats as we push into the mass of bodies.

Once there, we get down; salsa, west coast swing, rumba, two-step. I can’t believe how well this woman can follow! She’s picking up everything I’m laying down, and we’re lighting up the floor. Not meaning to brag, but you know you’re dancing well when people step back from what they’re doing to watch you. Either that or we stepped on too many toes and feet and legs and pissed everyone off! We spin and twirl and twist and flirt, dancing dirtier then I’ve ever dreamed with a woman twice my age. After an hour or so, we stumble off the floor and grab a couple waters, gasping for air and talking about how they ought to play something we could tango to. Too hot inside, can’t hardly think, so we make our way out onto the balcony.

Outside the view is gorgeous. The balcony overlooks all of the bay – the glittering lights of San Francisco, the bridges illuminated in twinkling yellow and white. Overhead, the heavens stretch eternal, and I say that to her as we lean out over the balcony. She laughs, tells me I’m going to be heartbroken my whole life if I don’t stop being such a damned romantic. “Love who you are, not who you would like to be,” I say, ripping off the Lawrence Arms as I slip an arm around her. She shrugs me off, gives me a knowing smile, and asks me to teach her how to tango. I turn wordlessly, grab her in the dance position, and let myself slide into the rhythm of the dance. I don’t know why or how, but I’ve lost this one, and the night just doesn’t feel the same after that.

After we dance a while on the balcony, she asks me if I’m ready to leave. I’m coming down off the drinks and the dancing, and my dogs are dragging; I’m happy to leave. We make our exit through the thinning crowd of fancy suits and gowns and walk out into the chill of night. She offers me her couch; I accept readily – there’s no real alternative. Dead phone, flat broke, far from home, and alone. We drive home talking about spirituality and faith, and the crime that is religion corrupting the human spirit. I doubt we made much sense, but we talked in that vein, excited, intellectual, honest, like good friends but not lovers, all the way to her house. We stumble in, she tosses me a few blankets, and I pass out dreamless on the couch. Thus ends my first fling with an older woman, wildly successful in every way except in bed.

WEDNESDAY: Early Wednesday morning I wake up smelly, sticky, and sore, not to mention thirsty as all hell. My lips are sticking together, so I stumble into the kitchen looking for a drink. Once again, I thank whatever instinct I have that wakes me up early in the morning after drinking just in time to get water. I can’t even count how many hangovers I’ve dodged this way. After a couple glasses of tap water, I wrap myself back up on the couch and snooze and stare at the crazy patterns on her ceiling, while I wait for her to wake up.

A few hours later, she’s awake and in the kitchen. I make a show of getting up, stretching, wasting time while I think of what the hell I’m going to say to this woman. As it turns out, she and I get along fine, laughing about the insanity of the previous night. She offers me a ride into the city, I happily accept, and so after I wash up a bit in the bathroom, I bum a ride back home. Somewhere along the way, between stories and comparing families, I look at her and say something I know to be true. “You’re in love with love, aren’t you?” That kills it. She looks at me, quiet, with something deep in her eye telling me I’ve cut too deep this time. She looks out the window, and I drop my gaze. She never answers, and we drive across the bridge and into the city in silence.

Mercifully I have to give her directions soon, and the rest of our ride is spent in calling out turns and trying to orient myself around town. “I hate this place,” she tells me. “When I moved here, I used to love it, but I realized that the city has no soul, no heart. It’s all noise and crowds.” I tell her I love to come visit, and she smiles and tells me that’s because I’m young, and the world hasn’t beaten me up yet. Finally we get to my uncle’s house, and I thank her for the ride. I kiss her on the cheek, tell her to keep dancing, and she wishes me good luck in the Peace Corps. We run through a few minutes of small talk banter to avoid saying the obvious “goodbye forever” that we ought to. Getting out of her car, I briefly hesitate, thinking I ought to ask her her name before we’re separated by eternity.

“Fuck it” I think, “it makes the story better.” I slam the door closed and don’t look back as she drives away out of my life forever.

I turned around from taking this picture and found a book in the gutter.

I turned around from taking this picture and found a book in the gutter.

After a shower and shave, the rest of Wednesday sneaks by unquestioned. I call Howard to tell him I’m alive, nap a bit, go for a walk, and spend most of the day lounging and reading a book I found in the gutter near Castro and 29th. Mid-afternoon my aunt Wendy calls me to get a ride home from the airport: she’s home from DC, where she was for the inauguration. I go to pick her up, and we swap stories until Howard gets home. After he’s back from work, we walk to an Indian Restaurant they’re in love with (for good reason!) and gorge ourselves on good food and good company. It’s my last night in the city, and I’m sad to have to leave – I know this is the last time I will be seeing my relatives for several years. However, the times we have had in this city, are a perfect last hurrah, and we part happily, with love in our hearts, and fond memories to carry us through until next we meet.

Once we’ve parted ways, and I’ve said my farewell to the city, I chart a course south back to San Jose. I’ll hit Jake’s place again tonight, on my way down to San Luis, and Santa Barbara beyond. Balling down the 280, I make fantastic time despite the rain; it’s nice that people in northern California don’t freak out whenever the sky gods take a leak. Just before I hit San Jose the storm completely opens up, and it suits me just fine. I ease Sally into town, and before long I’m pulling into the same parking spot I left 2 days before. I dodge inside with my bags, calling Jake as I do, and end up soaked to the skin by the time I’ve ran the half block to Jake’s apartment.

Turns out he’s not even home, so I sit outside dripping until the neighbors wander by. I must have looked in sad enough shape, because they stopped to ask me if I needed somewhere to stay. I waved them off, and after a while Jake came home with some gifts from a friend of his. The neighbors reappear, and we play old records and tell stories and joke into the night. The beer flows, I get told more guys ought to be like me for some reason I forget, and I end up sleeping on Jake’s other couch, thus keeping my streak of “never waking up in the same place twice” alive another daydiary entry

Looking out Jake's window, aka spying on the world.

Looking out Jake's window, aka spying on the world.

THURSDAY: Thursday I spent a lot of time writing – this story mostly, in notebook form – staring out the window, people-watching, smoking, wasting time. I take a walk around Jake’s neighborhood, wander into a thrift store, remember I’m flat broke, and mosey on home. Jake is off work around 3:30, so we take off for Santa Barbara once he’s packed and we’ve eaten. On the way out the door we grab a bunch of CDs, and ride down the 101 singing and talking about the screen play we’re writing together.

In SLO we stop to see my brother since my whole family is worried about him – he’s been depressive and quiet every time I’ve seen him lately, and I get the feeling he’s in a low point of his life. We show up Kenny’s house after dark and go out for sushi at some crazy-overpriced little joint. The food is great, but I end up paying a cool $80 bucks for the meal, everything I’ve saved for the trip and then some. Time to tighten my belt and live off a liquid diet for a while. Still, it’s great seeing my brother, and being a part of his life again. Once I leave for the Peace Corps, it’s the moments like this that I’ll miss.

After dinner I call my friend Lea to see what she’s up to, and since she’s one of those studious types, it turns out that she’s studying in the library. Jake, Kenny, and I head over to the Cal Poly library to bug her, and end up pissing off pretty much everyone in the building. None of us are the quiet or discrete type, so we end up racing up the stairs to the top floor, talking too loud, running through the stacks, and just being a nuisance. I don’t get to talk to Lea for long, but its good to see her, and I could see she felt the same. After sitting around joking and catching up for a bit, we try to find a way onto the roof, and once that fails (we were just sane enough not to open the “alarm will sound” door to get to the roof access. One last race down 5 floors, some yelling and swearing, and we’re off again. Jake and I drop off Kenny at his house, say our goodbyes, and keep on driving.

We’re far behind schedule, so instead of going on barhopping with some friends once we arrive in Santa Barbara, we’re mercifully allowed to not spend shitloads of money on watery drinks in loud nightclubs. Nothing against bars in general, but Santa Barbara’s aren’t worth their weight in drunk slutty STI-carrying coeds. We head over to Devon’s house, drink a few beers, watch TV, and catch up like the old friends we are. It’s more my scene anyhow. Jake calls the bed, so I end up sleeping on the slanted floor of Devon’s crazy old Victorian house. The floor is cold and hard, but after a day driving and a lifetime of sleeping where life takes me, I’m out like a light.

Jake in the Costume Shop. Why did they kick us out?

Jake in the Costume Shop. Why did they kick us out?

FRIDAY: Everyone starts coming out of the woodwork on Friday. Jake and I take the day slow since we’re broke, and spend a lot of time watching TV and waiting for it to stop raining so we can walk downtown to get food. Neither of us packed worthwhile cold-weather gear, so we’re pretty much trapped the entire day. We spend our time talking, brainstorming for the screenplay we’ve been writing together, smoking, and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I really like Devon’s house, because he inherited most of the furniture and decorations from our shared house in Santa Barbara. Being there feels like home, since I’m surrounded by my favorite things. Plus, his house is weird and poorly designed and leaning all sorts of directions – my sort of place. The bathroom and bedroom are right next to each other, yet you have to walk through every room in the house in order to go from one to the other. Both the kitchen and bathroom slant significantly to the east. The floors creak, it’s barely insulated, and it’s dark in most of the rooms. I love it because the place just stinks of character; it’s almost like the house itself is your roommate.

Around noon the rain dies long enough for Jake and I to get lunch and go walking downtown looking for masquerade masks. We strike out on the masks, but the sandwiches and pretty girls make it hard to be disappointed. Santa Barbara has a lot of strikes against her, but the beautiful people are out in force here. We eventually have to go driving to a real costume shop to find masks, but the payoff is this fantastic little shop – ornate costumes, masks of all variety, all for a pricetag I can’t imagine paying in this life. Still, Jake and I have a blast trying on masks, taking pictures, goofing around. That is, until the employees on duty got involved.

Two older women ran the store, and they were not amused by Jake and my antics. Several times while we were there one or the other came over and yelled at us for trying on the costumes, or taking pictures, or touching things, or breathing. Pretty much everything we did was wrong, but we were just trying to have fun! You can’t take creative minds, stuff us into a room full of inspiration, and then expect us not to touch anything. Between the crotchety women and the price tags, that place sucked the life out of us, and we left with a handful of dollar masks and our tails between our legs.

Back at Devon’s house, some of our other friends are arriving. Rad and Katie, not a married couple but hardly single, show up right about the time we get back, and Devon comes home from work smelling of coffee and cigarettes. He showers, the rest of us get comfortable, and soon enough Chad, his girlfriend Muey, and their friend Jamie arrive. Instantly the house is packed – 4 rooms and no doors works just fine for Devon alone or perhaps a guest, but the 3 of us was pushing it, and 8 makes the house feel stuffy and overcrowded. The girls get down to getting pretty, Devon comes out of the shower to a standing-room-only crowd, and we all start the ritual that is getting ready to get hammered.

Chad, Rad, Katie, and Muey (Pronounced May, call her Mooey and die) had made cardboard and photo-paper masks of each other, and the results were hilarious. They turned anyone into a creepy, empty-eyed, soulless version of one of my good friends, and who wouldn’t want that? We amused ourselves taking pictures and catching up, all while dodging between and around and over each other like an unimpressive circus act. I wouldn’t pay to see it, but the choreography was stellar. Thankfully, Jake, Devon, Rad, Chad, and myself made up 5/7 of our old Santa Barbara house, and the close quarters and lack of privacy have never bothered us. I don’t know what the girls thought of it, but presumably they didn’t care, or they would never have been hanging out with us in the first place!

Anyway, to cut this story to the interesting bits, we showed up to the party later in the evening and got down to the drinking. The masquerade was at the girls’ house (partner to our late, great boys’ house) and we all fell right into our old routines and roles. It’s both funny and sad how much we all play the same characters when the whole gang gets together. Kelly goes back to being a lush, drinking red cups of vodka and forgetting how to speak. RAD gets hammered and passes out on something, but doesn’t get written on or fucked with because he’s so well-loved. Lauren and Rachel are stars, somehow playing perfect hostesses while drinking themselves blind on cheap wine and “princess punch.” Chris and Trav, poor guys, came to the group of friends late, and they mostly skirt the party, smoking cigarettes, getting stupid, but never quite being “in” in the same way as some of the rest of us.

My role in the group is one I’ve never really liked. I play this wallflower guy who gets overly drunk, doesn’t know when he’s being overly creepy or weird, and who eventually bails on the partying to go do his own thing. Of course I could just change this, but this being my last party with this same group, I’m so desperate to taste the old feelings and emotions that I dive right in. By 11 I’m gone – between drink and tea I can barely feel feelings. Nobody even notices when I walk out the front door and wander the neighborhood. I end up walking a long while in the cold, kicking a can through empty neighborhoods. I don’t know why I’m in such a funk. By all rights I should be happy; surrounded by friends and pretty women, on vacation, at another party. However, I just can’t help thinking that this is all pointless, that it doesn’t matter what I do anymore, or who I meet, because I’m leaving soon enough and won’t see anyone again. It’s an awful world view, but I’ve been slipping into it more and more lately. I suspect it will get worse before I leave.

After a long circuit of the block, in a dark mood and a darker night, I walk back to the house drunk tired and still depressed. Worse, as the booze starts to wane off, I’m exhausted and spinning. I elect to spend the night in my car rather then go back inside, where I can hear my happy friends singing and laughing. I’m just too far down for them right now, and realizing that is perhaps the most painful part of this whole fucked-up party. I climb in the passenger seat, kick it back, and pass out staring at my torn up roof, tracing the old scars from moving, from drunk friends and good times; a visceral reminder of how much I once shared with these people I’m now leaving behind to go take another path, to adventure, self-discovery, and who knows what else. What sort of asshole ditches his friends to go live in Honduras?

About two am, maybe, I’m awoken by my concerned friends knocking on my windows. They’d come out looking for me after I hadn’t returned, and after they’d dealt with Kelly’s drunken self. I’m in no shape to get up at this point, drunk, half-asleep, depressed as all hell, and while I’m touched by their caring, I just can’t drag myself up and into the house. It takes a good while, some hitting, some swearing, and finally some good old-fashioned shaking, to get me moving. The shaking was a low blow for sure, but it does the trick as it makes me want to hurl, which I proceed to do straight into the gutter. Almost hit Jenn too, if my browned-out memory serves me. Luckily for me and her both, she’s a good sport and used to this sort of thing, and dodges my review of the night’s party. Someone says “Fuck man!” which is about what I was thinking as the bile and booze and I went our separate ways.

After I finished up, we made our way back inside, I took some good-natured ribbing, and found Kel mostly naked and mostly passed out in the main room. The party was gone, my friends having taken a cab back to Devon’s or made their ways back to various homes in Santa Barbara. All we had left were the girls, their guests, mom, and Kel and I, the ones too drunk to leave. He and I laugh at our stupidity and predicament, gladly accept blankets, and pass the fuck out for the rest of that too-short night. Weird scene, to be sure. Still, every trip has it’s dark side, and for me this night was most definitely it. I felt it pass, the darkness, and as I lay there half-awake as Kel sucked the oxygen out of the room (or tried his hardest to) I knew that things would get better just as soon as the room stopped taking sudden dives to my right every few seconds. Foot on the floor, hand on the wall, and it’s time for some shuteye.

"Chad" and "Muey" Arrive at the party.

"Chad" and "Muey" Arrive at the party.

SATURDAY: I’ll tell you this – despite a lifetime of experience sleeping and waking up on strange couches, floors, futons, hammocks, and the like, there is always something jarring and difficult about slipping back into consciousness dehydrated, hungover, and tasting vomit. Doubly so when there’s something, like a best friend’s snoring, that reminds you of a distant, near-forgotten part of your life. Lying there, eyes half-open and mind as well, I was thrown back into the my early college years when Kel and I were roommates and his snoring-choking-sucking routine was my lullaby every night, and my rooster every morning. It took a few minutes to pull myself out of that pleasant fantasy, and when I did I was unhappy immediately. The taste of last night’s booze, the smell of bile and sweaty drunk, and the angry pounding in my temples met me at the starting line this morning, and they weren’t going to let me get away easily.

A few hours, rips, and cups of water later, I’m feeling adventurous enough to wake Kel up, so he can do a lot of the same. The girls are stirring, and we put the front room back in order (sort of) as everyone prepares for the second half of our family tradition, the hung-over group breakfast and storytelling session at Cody’s, a little place across the street. In the old days, when everyone drank until they passed out, it was our best option to get edible food without anyone having to drive or be sober. Now, despite having much better choices available to us (Alfie’s what?) we still end up at Cody’s a lot, scarfing down omelets and coffee, bloody marys and country-fried steak if you’re Jake or Devon.

Remember how I said I was broke? Still relevant now, and a search of my pockets turns up $4 and change. Worse, my emergency cash, the “if I have to flee town” money, is in my car, along with all the change I’ve saved up over the years. I’m straight broke, so I do what every good American has been doing for the last couple years – ordered what I wanted, not what I could afford. Orange juice, coffee, fruit, sourdough toast, and 2 eggs over-hard with country-fried potatoes. The waitress takes our order, all 22 people, and I feel like a shithead until the food comes. Well, not that bad – I was still hung over and hungry, and that makes me mean.

After fooding and talking, reminiscing and drinking, the routine is done. The magic fades, the spell breaks, and people start to go their separate ways. Chad has to make it back home, so he and Muey say their goodbyes almost immediately. Brandi and her friends head downtown, the girls have work and homework, and the group collapses back into routines, obligations, and “real life.” I stiff the restaurant for my food, leave my $4 as a tip, and walk out feeling not even a little bad about it. The girl I would have felt bad about, but the restaurant has a few hundred of my dollars already; they can live without these 10. Saying goodbyes, I try to guilt Brandi, Lauren, Chris, Trav, and a few others into doing something that night – my last with them for 2 years – and head back to Devon’s to shower, shave, and lay low for a bit. The last week has been doing me in, and I take a much needed lie on Devon’s floor while waiting for Jake to shower.

More TV – something I shy away from at home, but it’s a good time filler when you’re recovering from a binge or 5. I can’t party like I used to for more then a few nights now; the old concept of partying all night, 5-7 days a week, for months is so beyond me right now. I have no idea how I used to pull it off. The best I can manage now is a few nights, a week maybe, then my body starts to fall apart on me and I feel something awful. I start to feel introspective, a death sentence when the trip is still on, and Devon, Jake, Rad and I make damn sure that can’t happen any more. We blast our brains out with something illegal, then sit around talking old times and past experiences. I’m supposed to leave by noon, but I don’t want to and besides by the time it rolls around I can’t drive legally. Using this flimsy excuse I decide to waste the rest of the day hanging out, reminiscing, visiting old hangouts, and by the time the late afternoon rolls around it’s decided that we’ll head to our old dive bar, play some pool, have a few beers, and I’ll leave tomorrow. Jake, Rad, and Katie leave to head up to Jake’s place, and so I say a heartfelt goodbye to Dean Moriarty and that’s that. Jake and I aren’t the sentimental type, but I felt awful watching him go and not knowing when we’d meet again.

So we do that thing I just described, and I get a lot of free drinks tossed my way, lose a few games of pool, and say all the goodbyes and meaningful things I couldn’t the day before. It’s a lot more my style then the bingefest the night before, and after a few hours we all split amiably, give last hugs, and I walk out of yet more of my friends’ lives. Looking back on it from this position a few months in the future, this was one of the hardest days of my life, and regardless of where my life goes from here, I’m proud to have had all of these people touch my world.

Devon and I head over to Brandi’s to hang out a bit, but she kicks us out early on so she can do something, which leaves Devon and myself lying in Sally the Saturn’s cockpit, too drunk to drive, with no way to get home, no way to move the car out of Brandi’s parking lot, and so we end up lying there listening to Minus the Bear for an hour or so and reminiscing. I don’t recall a lot of what we talked about, but I remember all the things I needed to say pouring out in a rush of word vomit. I was in shit shape, emotionally, physically, spiritually even.  After a while I drove very slowly and carefully the 2 blocks to Chris and Trav’s place, figuring that there was no way I’d make it all the way downtown, and knowing that we always had a spot on their couches.

The problem with this plan was that they were fast asleep and we didn’t want to wake them. The logical solution was thus to break in through their front window, open the door quietly, and crash out on their couches. The only solution really. As I remarked to Devon before passing out facedown, Chris and Trav are some of the only people who would be more upset by us waking them up at 2am then breaking into their house. After that, and a few minutes of Wall-E, I remember nothing else until morning.

SUNDAY: Sunday sucked. I’d overstayed my planned trip, still had no money, had to be home to work by midday, and was hung over like unholy hell. I stole a glass of OJ from the boys, left them a thank you note, and Devon and I drove to his place to shower, grab my stuff, and drop him off for work. I said goodbye to my surrogate big brother, gave him a bearhug, and drove out of his life, and my once-home, for the last time for a long time. I drove the whole way home with a lump in my throat, the same Minus the Bear album playing, unable to look in the mirror.

Made it home just before work, and walked into the swim store looking haggard, emotionally dead, and past the point of caring. Stepped seamlessly into my old “new” life, bit my lip, and kept my head down. I had done what I needed to do, said what I had to, and was left with more longing and answer-less questions then I’d ever had. I wish I could say that this trip was fun, but really the second half sapped all the life out of the first, and in the end all I could do was survive. I know better things are to come, but I never dreamed it would be so hard to leave this miserable existence behind. I guess we’ll just have to see were it turns out, but at least I know that if it ends up shitty I can always crash on a few floors and couches.

A few notes: I never slept in the same place twice. I never had sex. I did smoke a lot, drink a lot, and throw up on my shoes. I didn’t get to kiss Lea goodbye. I missed Kenny’s upcoming breakdown completely. Jake and I bonded like no-get-out. I wrote the last 2 days worth of bullshit on April 6, 2009 because it was too painful, so if it’s wrong chronologically or factually I’m sorry. Everything is as true as I can remember, so help me dog.

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It wouldn’t be my style to go too long without a random philosophical tangent that nobody really wants to read, and since this one was actually a class assignment in Spanish, it seems only appropriate that I write about my position on terrorism and terrorists for a bit. Plus, I’m sure it’ll make me some new enemies in the form of people who label me “naive” and “someone who needs to see the real world.” My preemptive response to you is that I’m living in a world much more real, much more difficult then you are, and I’m seeing the result of real terrorism, economic and political terrorism, every day of my life. Plus, I’m a million miles away, so your emotions aren’t going to reach me without losing their impact. That said, love to hear your responses on twitter (citizen_k) or on my blog, or at citizenk dot blog at gmail dot com. Bear in mind that if you are stupid, unable to argue logically, or use the terms “Nazi,” “appeasement,” or “post-9/11 world” in your response, I will definitely mock you publicly. So here we go, some random arguments on terrorism, terrorists, and the difference between a soldier and a terrorist.

First, I suppose we need a working definition of terrorism. The difficulty is that the word has become so commonplace in society today that it has taken on a variety of meanings. An accurate, non-fearmongering, non-anti-arab definition of terrorism can be stated roughly as follows: terrorism is a tactic of warfare (or fighting if you wish to raise the objection that warfare implies states and state-actors) that relies on instilling fear in one’s enemies, and one’s enemies’ friends and neighbors, in order to achieve one’s goals. An example of terrorism in practice would be a campaign in which a group of actors, state, state-sponsored, or completely independent, begins a coordinated bombing campaign of popular bars and nightclubs in a city, with the aim of reducing night life in their city. The reason for this course of action is unimportant to this example. The tactic of bombing popular areas filled with average citizens is employed not to kill those citizens, but to convey a message that all “average citizens” who frequent nighttime activities in the area are at risk. Thus, fear is used to influence the behavior of citizens, causing them to abandon the bars and clubs, and destroy the nightlife in much the same what that razing all of the buildings to the ground would have done, but cheaper, with less equipment and personnel, and without requiring superior forces. Thus let us add to the definition of terrorism a clause about cost, ease of acquiring desired results, and feasibility of use by small groups. Putting what I have written here together, a more inclusive definition of terrorism might be stated thusly:

Terrorism: a financially cheap and low-resource fighting tactic that relies on the instillation of fear in an enemy population to achieve one’s goals not by force, but by dissuading one’s enemies from behaving as they would normally would due to fear of retribution, harm, or loss, financial, bodily, or otherwise.

It is important to note here that the terrorist does seek fear (terror) as a goal, but instead uses it as a means to advance his goals, or to push a society toward the terrorists’ position in much the same way that a nation-state might use a “shock and awe” or “blitzkreig” campaign to instill terror in its opponent. In all cases, the goal is not the fear, but the paralysis, uncertainty, and unconscious behavioral modification that comes with a fearful state of existence. Those afraid are easily controlled and manipulated, and since this is not uncommon knowledge, the use of “terrorist” tactics, at least by this definition, are in widespread use today, and not just by the groups the US government labels as “terrorists.”

With this definition, who are the terrorists? The groups using terrorist tactics are myriad, but their goal, behavioral modification and self-limitation of freedom by the target group, is the same regardless of race, ethnicity, political affiliation, or means. The guerrilla fighter group that beheads all males in a nearby village because one member of that village aided their enemy is certainly using using terrorist tactics to achieve their goal. (Presumably to discourage other villages from aiding enemies of the group.) Moreover, this sort of activity is easily determined to be of the terrorist variety. However, what of less shocking, more commonplace examples? What is the lower bound of terrorism? Ought we restrict use of the term only to certain activities? Do actual results matter, or only goals? I will try to address these all in due time.

A more confusing example of terrorist activity can be found in the campaigns of baby formula companies in Latin America. Utilizing this area’s weak governments and even weaker corporate legal frameworks, these companies have spent decades on an extremely aggressive series of advertisements that portray mothers’ milk as unsafe, formula as a better substitute, and all but state that not using their product is harmful to the health of one’s infant. As a result of this, large cross-sections of the people do not nurse their children, childhood obesity rates are through the roof, adult obesity, cardio-pulmonary disease rates are skyrocketing, children suffer from weakened immune systems due to not receiving critical immunities from their mothers (which raises early childhood mortality rates) and the overall health, prosperity, and wealth-generation of these nations suffer. Oh, and some baby formula companies make an absolute killing, having convinced mothers to replace a better, free, healthier, naturally-occurring PART OF THEIR BODIES with an expensive, unhealthy, inadequate substitute. It’s awful, it’s inhumane, but is it an act of terrorism?

The tactic used in this fight (between mothers not buying their products and mothers doing so) is certainly fear. Fear of unhealthy babies, fear of being a bad mother, fear of doing something different then what the “experts” say one ought to. Fear is a central element to the campaigns to get mothers using baby formulas, and so in that aspect it definitely qualifies. The companies use no force to persuade mothers to use their products, and their goal is not the fear, but the behavior (buying baby formula) that this fear leads to. Thus, this sort of ad campaign appears to qualify under this definition of terrorism.

However, I would imagine that many people have a big problem using the word terrorism to describe the actions of these companies. This objection probably stems from the fact that it is very difficult to reconcile a baby being too fat, growing up with the resultant health problems, and dying an early death from an obesity-related disease with a person having their head cut off or being blown up outside of a nightclub. The means utilized in both instances is fear, but the intermediate means (what they do to instill fear) and the unwanted result (fat babies versus dead people) are vastly different, and that leads many people to reject the comparison. But are they really so different?

Is not the baby formula company responsible for the health problems, obesity, and early death of those babies raised drinking it? Shouldn’t the company be held, if not fiscally or legally, at least morally responsible for these problems? After all, their business is, in convincing the uneducated and gullible, through fear, to use a shoddy, expensive, and knowingly-inferior product in lieu of a perfectly good one that they already have, and they do so by preying on the love of every mother for her child. Without their interference, the incidence of women using formula in lieu of breastfeeding would most definitely be lower, if it occurred at all, which it wouldn’t if these companies didn’t persist in making their products. While on a single-incident basis this cannot compare to a beheading, or a suicide bombing, surely scale must come into play. Violent acts of terrorism, according to International Red Cross statistics that I cannot access because I don’t have regular Internet access but read a while ago when I did, killed several thousand people last year. How many people died in Latin America due to obesity-related diseases that stemmed from their early childhood? How many infants and young children died because they weren’t receiving the necessary nutrients and antibodies from their mothers? How many people spend their lives unhappy with their looks, with their bodies, simply because these companies decided to create a niche for a product that nobody should use save as a last resort, market it as a wonder-drug cure-all and make themselves rich in the process. I don’t have those statistics; likely nobody does. There’s no concrete way of measuring it, but from what I’ve seen down here, and from what I’ve read and learned, obesity is an epidemic sweeping the area, and early-infancy diet has lasting effects on the remainder of one’s life. While the actions of the baby formula companies aren’t flashy or gory, they are certainly fear-reliant and seek behavioral modification, and thus they are correctly labeled as acts of terror.

Now for something even more controversial. The actions of states in times of war, and oftentimes in times of “peace” are just as much acts of terrorism as those of the suicide bomber. The state uses fear in all actions during war in order to maintain discipline, patriotism, and a willingness to sacrifice in its people. This is not new – it stems from the tribalistic need to band together with those most like yourself in times of need – and tinpot dictators for all of human history have invoked threats of outsiders and those different to cement their rule. States are always guilty of using fear of “the other” to maintain their position at the apex of so-called legitimate society. I cannot stress this enough – fear is one of the great motivators, perhaps the greatest, and its use has been one of the pillars of every form of government that has ever existed on this planet. When times get hard, or when a state wishes to act in a way contrary to the wishes of its citizenry, it will invariably turn to fear to quell dissent and change public opinion.

The soldier is an instrument of fear. He is a tool by which the state can either maintain fear internally, or spread fear to other parts of the world. His job is not so much to kill, but to kill in such a way that he demolishes the power structure of the enemy in its entirety. When the soldiers have finished, those left alive ought to be willing to throw themselves at the feet of the soldiers and the mercy of the state because they fear for their lives and those of their families. This is why the crusaders slaughtered the populace of Jerusalem, why the allies carpet-bombed Dresden and incinerated Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, why the United States massacred Iraqi troops fleeing Kuwait in the first Gulf War, and used “Shock and Awe” tactics against Baghdad in the second. If one searched history, these examples are but drops in the bucket of state terrorism. The simple act of killing sends a message, surely, but the act of utterly destroying a group or location, not restricting violence to combatants and instead killing soft, civilian targets is intended to strike terror into the hearts of a people. By having its soldiers utilize the weapon of terror, a state can modify behavior, crush dissent, and pacify those whom it wishes to control. Terror insures true victory, true subjugation, of one’s enemies.

On the homefront, a soldier is a useful weapon in state terrorism as well. He serves as a symbol, both of the power of the state, and as an ever-present reminder to the populace of the dark, scary, dangerous world that he is protecting them from. The soldier reinforces the message of the state by his very presence, and that message is “the world is dangerous: be afraid, give your freedom to us and we will protect you.” The soldier is an instrument of terror against the people in his state as much as those in neighboring states. He is the face of the beast, the grinning pop-out skull in the haunted house, the gritty, in-your-face reminder of the power of the state. The soldier is used at home to quell dissent, pump up nationalistic thought, to make the people give away their rights instead of the state having to take them by force. Here again terror, specifically the fear of the other, is used to modify the behavior of the people toward that which is easier to control, easier to manipulate, easier to quash when it does not meet the needs of the state. The soldier is the most professional, most well-trained, most efficient of terrorists, and his brand of terror has the backing of a nation.

Two differences is normally granted to the soldier, first that he is merely doing as he is ordered to, and would face penalties if he did not kill, and second that his actions are legitimized by the state. Both of these differences do not hold up to examination, and ironically it is the state-centric legal system that supports my position. First, the soldier’s orders do not legitimize his actions any more then the terrorists’. Both face strong penalties (the terrorist possibly stronger) for refusing to act thusly, they both likely joined their organizations voluntarily (excluding conscription) and they both are beholden to morality regardless of their orders. This final point is proven beyond a doubt in the Nuremburg trials after World War II, where the orders of a state or government were found insufficient to excuse the actions of those on trial. International standards of morality, respect for the basic human dignity, and right to life were found to have greater authority then any state actor, and there were a fair handful of death sentences at Nuremburg. One of the great tragedies of history is that we, the United States of America, one of the nations most responsible for injecting the rule of law into international relations to prevent warfare, have publicly abandoned this position of late and reverted to the use of terrorism and armed force to enforce our opinions. (Not that we don’t have a history of this, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.)

To review: both the soldier and the terrorist are likely voluntarily affiliated with their organization, and if they are not, the terrorist is probably more likely to have been forced to enter service. (You don’t see many 12-13 year olds with AK-47s in the US army, but they appear all the time in terrorist organizations.) They both will be penalized for refusing to act, and since modern militaries rarely shoot/kill their own as punishment for disobeying, the terrorist faces higher penalties here as well. Finally, all fighters, state-affiliated or otherwise, are obligated under international law to morally adhere to a code which puts human life and dignity above all else, and thus both sin equally in their kills. (I would further argue that this is not a matter of voluntary association, but of moral obligation. The taking of another human life in all contexts except self-preservation is morally wrong.) Thus the defining difference between the two is that the soldier is tied to a nation, represents said nation in his actions, and is protected and supported by the power, reputation, and resources of that self-same nation. In return, the soldier is given a level of protection from retribution for his actions, a justification for killing, a shield to deflect his human guilt at his actions. Beyond these superficial differences, the function of both the non-state terrorist and the soldier are the same – to control the behavior of some group through threats and fear.

What then can we conclude about terrorism? I think the wise conclusion would be to realize that terrorists and terror tactics are much more commonplace then we would normally assume, and that we are ourselves subjected to all sorts of fear-based marketing, behavioral modification, and control on a regular basis. Further, with our (tacit) blessing, the nations of the world, especially the industrialized military powerhouses, engage regularly in terroristic tactics to control natural resources, quell the self-determination of peoples, and maintain their positions of dominance/legitimacy. Finally, the most important conclusion here is that terrorism is a buzzword, a phrase that is itself used to invoke terror, to manipulate public opinion, and to delegitimize one’s opponents. Thus, we must be very careful in whom we call terrorists, and not forget to examine the motives of those willing to label others with the term. One may call a group or individual terrorist(s) but that oversimplifies that such groups cannot survive without the support of someone – it would be more productive to examine whom is lending that support, as this will give a better idea of what sort of group one is truly dealing with. This will then lead to strategies of dealing with said “terrorists” successfully, using appropriate means, and without turning the local population against you.

Please question your leaders, for unless you are billionaire investor who has financed their campaign, they do not have your best interests at heart. Terror is not the exclusive territory of poor brown people with bombs strapped to their chest, and the governments of the world are far more adept at it then any of the terror cells our leaders pay trillions of our dollars to fight. Think about it.

Perfection

May 17, 2009

I have a problem with paying attention, especially in academic situations if the topic bores me.  When I get bored I either draw or write, and in this instance I wrote.  Not sure what inspired this, but I’ve been nostalgic for punk shows lately…


Perfection is only achieved on the point of collapse.

Punk shows

fighting in the pit

you run and you sing and you scream and you hit

slipping on beer, sweat, falling over other bodies

a knee to the temple, I see stars

you fall over me, we both hit the concrete floor

my nose starts to bleed, I can taste it

another guy, mohawk, no shirt

grabs you off me, pulls me up from the ground

wraps his arms around us both, and off we go

another circle, faster

knocking down other dancers

the sheer joy of it!

Pain and pleasure both blur together

I can’t stop laughing as the blood flows down my face

the joy is so much I hit a young kid in the head

he falls down so I grab him

and together we run

faster

faster

faster and harder

the song speeds up

the singer screams and spits

his loogie flies up and back, hits the guitarist

some kid jumps on the stage, and rocks the fuck out

jumps off before security can grab him

surfs across the crowd

I see someone steal his shoe and throw it at the band

the pit swirls grows larger harder faster

bodies and sweat and raw manic energy

this is the finale, this is the last song

we throw ourselves forward, spinning out of control

I’ve never felt such hate, such love

there isn’t anything except the moment

it’s perfect – right until collapse

The collapse.

We collapse.

It all falls down

the music stops

the feelings slip away

we can’t hold onto it

we can’t keep it going.

The feeling dies, the world turns back to shit

We slip out the back door and get drunk

but it never brings back the perfection of chaos.

Unfortunately, some of the content of it is. Because certain people within the US government have shown a disproportionate interest in the writings and goings-on of one citizen k, professional asshole and troublemaker, I’ve had to rope off the posts from the general public.

That said, access is easy – all you need to do is shoot me an email at citizenk dot blog at gmail dot com (or tweet me at citizen_k) and ask nicely, and I’ll send you back an email with the details whenever I’m next able to get online. Seeing as I’m currently living in the middle of Honduras, that might be a few days, but I like to think the stories are worth the wait.

Cheers,

-k

EDIT: Fuck it – I’ve taken all the passwords off – nobody will care I think, and if they do, well, hard luck.  This reflects far worse on me then anyone  else, to be honest.  Enjoy!

Peace Corps Diary #6

May 6, 2009

How’s this grab you for a goofy, lighthearted, somewhat inappropriate introduction: I’ve been kicked out of the Peace Corps. Here’s why:

Last Picture Taken Before I left Pespire, 5th May, 09

Last Picture Taken Before I left Pespire, 5th May, 09

An Abrupt Change of Course:

I don’t know how to write this; I’ve been staring at a blank page trying to begin for a while now, and all I can think is that I’m in some twilight zone, some alternate dimension, that I didn’t just get kicked out of the Peace Corps. Except I’m not. I’m out, gone, finished, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my friends.

The morning of 21st April, with no warning, no inkling that I was about to end my life here immediately, I got a phone call from the Duty Officer (the person we have to update with our whereabouts) which is really unusual. Generally it means that you’re about to get an answer to a question you asked, permission to go somewhere, or you’re in deep shit. I hadn’t asked any questions, I wasn’t going anywhere, so I knew that I was fucked, just not why.

“Hola”

“K, this is L. How are you?”

“I’m ok, getting ready for school. What’s up?” I’m late, don’t have time to chat.

“K, we need you to come in to Teguc. And bring all of your belongings.” What in the fuck?

“L, what are you saying? Am I in trouble?” What did I get caught for?

“I can’t say K, you need to come talk to T” (country director) I am so screwed!

“L, I don’t understand – what’s going on?”

“I can’t tell you K, I’m sorry. You’ll understand when you come in.”

“L, can you at least tell me what I need to pack?”

“Everything. When can you be ready to leave?”

“It’s 7:15 now? I can be ready by 9.”

“Cheke, vaya pues.”

And then the line went dead.

I sat on my bed and just stared. I wasn’t even completely dressed yet, had been rushing to get to school on time, putting on my pants. However, I couldn’t sit still for long, so I got up and started putting my things into bags. It was the worst feeling I’ve had in a long time; dread, fear, confusion, anger. What the fuck was happening? Why was I getting called in? What did they find? Do I have to leave? What am I not being told? I continued in this vein for a while, stumbling around, packing quickly, unable to stop my racing brain from jumping from one worst case scenario to another.

I told X first, since she’s my best friend here and I’d be one sorry son of a bitch if I didn’t let her in on what was going on. Host family found out next, or at least Don M and the house staff. My mother was at work already by 7:30, so I couldn’t tell her in the same way. M asked me what I would do if I was removed from the Peace Corps, and I told him I just didn’t know. Saint that he is, he offered me his house rent-free for a month, gave me a hug, and told me that God makes everything happen for a reason. I smiled, said I hoped the reason was a good one, and went back to my room to pack my life into the same backback, duffel, and laptop bag that I came in with 2 months ago.

It all just barely fit, and luckily I had X there to help me, though by help me I really mean watch and tell me how she’s going to miss my sorry self. Still, that helped too. The whole experience felt surreal by this point, and I remember sitting around afterward on my bed, with my pitifully tiny pile of possessions, and thinking that I’d blown the best thing in my life and I wasn’t even sure how.

Not that I couldn’t make a few guesses, but really I couldn’t think of anything that I’d done that would get me singled out by the Peace Corps for some sort of admin action. I don’t want to be one of those rumor spreaders, but the stuff you hear about going on as a PC volunteer is as hilarious as it is contrary to the big book o’ rules. And aside from a few minor indiscretions, I thought I’d steered the straight and narrow pretty well – I was one of the ones using the malaria drugs, mosquito nets, taking all his meds and making sure that I did every scrap of homework and reading. I called the Duty Officer to update whereabouts whenever I so much as went for a walk for too long, kept good tabs with my host family, did everything I could to keep myself on the white side of that gray line. Compared to some people I know of, I’d been a less-then-perfect angel. The beach trip was my main concern, but that went by the wayside when I talked with the other people who had been there with me, and they weren’t going anywhere.

Thus it was with a whole lot more confusion then fear that I loaded my bags into V’s Landcruiser, hugged my crying host mom goodbye, blew a kiss to Pespire, and left for presumably the last time. It was, looking back, one of the worst moments of my life. I didn’t quite cry, but I might as well have. My spirits were crashing, I was pretty much hopeless. And without even knowing why, I started dreaming about running away, ditching the Peace Corps and living on in Honduras without them. I could do it! I realized in a flash that all my training and all my classes had been for exactly this – to live on my own in Honduras without the help and guidance of the staff. It was a wildly silly idea, but it comforted me and kept me sane on the ride north to Teguc and my execution.

The other thing that kept my spirits up was V. He cajoled, told jokes, gave me strategies to keep Trudy from throwing me out, told me how all I needed to do was hold my tongue and I’d come out of it ok. I don’t know if he really believed it, but I do know that it kept me from flipping out, grabbing the wheel, and sending us careening off the mountain pass right into that gigantic dam the Italians helped build. (Or at least, that’s what the sign says) Still, it was a long, bitter, frustrated ride, as V and I went through all the bad things I’ve done and tried to figure out what, if any of them, could be sending me home. He was stumped too, and so after a while the conversation drifted to sports, to politics, to his family and kids. V is really a great guy, and writing this now I realize I have to thank him sometime over the next week for all his help. He’s really been the gallo mas gallo of our Peace Corps training, saving everyone’s bacon, driving our gringo army around, and just being a genuinely cool and funny guy. Sitting there talking with him, I remember thinking that I would miss V, just like everyone else I’ve met here.

Getting into Teguc, we passed V’s house, a lot of fast food places, and spent more time in traffic then I want to think about. I was starving for more, I realized. I’d gotten just the barest taste of the life down here and loved it, and now I was about to lose that love forever. I gawked, I stared, tried to take mental notes and pictures. I wanted to keep every second of this place forever, just as it was. In the back of mind I remember thinking; at least you’ve got all your writing… But that just made things worse, as I knew my book, the Peace Corps Diary that I hadn’t really named yet, was going to hell. Who reads a book about 2 months of Peace Corps service? Only the sad depressed writer, that’s who. “I’ve got to snap out of this,” I said to myself out loud. V looked at me and smiled. “You’ll do fine. I don’t know what’s going to happen in there, but if what you’ve told me is true, you haven’t done anything worth getting kicked out for.” I felt a little better after that, but only enough to keep myself breathing. We inched toward Peace Corps headquarters, and I prayed for a pileup collision, or maybe an act of God to keep us away.

No such luck. Around 11:30 we pulled into the back parking lot of the Peace Corps headquarters. V pulled into the gate as it slid open, and we idled between the now-closed gate and one of those drop-down arms like you see at railroad crossings as a guard with a gun popped the hood, checked for bombs under the car, and checked V’s ID. Never once did he actually look into the vehicle, so the giant fertilizer bomb we’d brought with us went undetected. V wished me luck, I left all my things in the car, and I walked into the main building. Here’s where things got interesting.

L met me in the front lobby, shook my hand, told me how sorry he was that I had to come down here. His face told me that I was gone, gone, kicked the fuck out, goodbye, but that it wasn’t what he wanted. I got the same looks from everyone else there. S, the front desk lady, the Spanish teachers walking past. Something big had happened, everyone knew I was going to be gone, and I still hadn’t even figured out WHY! L led me upstairs, and we sat outside the office of one Trudy Jaycox, director, Peace Corps Honduras.

I’d met Trudy before, well less met then sat through her speech on how she was a hardass, and rulebreakers were ruining Peace Corps, and how she wasn’t going to tolerate anything from us. X asked her a question on that date, and I forget the exact wording, but it was about whether Trudy’s focus was on the rules or on helping people. Trudy’s answer? “I run a tight ship.” So I figured I knew just about what was going to happen once I stepped into that office. I took a few deep breaths, drank a glass of water, and sat there in stony, creeping silence with L. He tried to talk to me a couple times, and I gave him noncommittal grunts, and he apologized again, and I felt really bad for the guy. It must suck to have to be in his shoes, doing the dirty work he doesn’t agree with. I hope I never have to do things I hate just to keep my job, because it’s pretty devastating, if L is to be an example.

After 5-10 minutes waiting, Trudy called us into her office, and as I walked through the door, this was her opener: “K, sit, I’ve got some bad news for you – you’re not going to be continuing your Peace Corps training, and you’re not going to be sworn in as a volunteer next month with your class.” She started to immediately go on, but I cut her off at this point. “I don’t even get a hello?” I asked, partly reeling, partly determined to throw her off her game. JC, the security officer, tells us at every session to change the situation, throw your attacker off her guard, get control. Here was a pretty good time to try to put it in action. So we exchanged pleasantries and inquired about each other’s health, which was absolutely ludicrous in the situation. I did love how confused it made L look though, along with Trudy.

So we sat down around her table, and Trudy asked me what I knew about the Cal State Fullerton Daily Titan. I told her that a friend had put some parts of my Peace Corps Diary entries in them, and asked her if this was a problem. Trudy responded that I needed to ask permission for this sort of activity, and I apologized, telling her that I had meant to, but the story had been published before I had gotten a chance to, and I was still trying to figure out who exactly I was supposed to contact. She ignored this, and told me that she was displeased with my language (exact quote, you said the s-word 2 times, and the f-word once.”) and that she had been further displeased when she went online to search my blog and had found it password protected. She asked me for the password, and I politely declined. She went on to say that she had done a series of searches for my name, citizen k, and had found my Twitter account. This, she said, was the bigger problem.

T-dog told me that she had gone through my Twitter comments and read many instances of profanity, vulgarity, references to alcohol and illegal substances, including, and this part was in a super-serious voice; The suggestion that someone ought to send you Marijuana. I couldn’t help myself; I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud. Part of it was the indignant, serious, borderline irate voice here, the other was the fact that I knew, being the writer, that she had read all of my inane, sarcastic, sometimes witty, usually stupid Twitter comments, and taken every single one at face value, and completely out of context.

This actually happened too – Trudy pulled out a stack of paper 150 sheets thick and dropped it on the table. “Do you know what this is?” she asked, as if it was a bomb, or some guilt-proving piece of legal evidence. “This is every Twitter message you’ve ever sent. I’ve highlighted all the ones that show inappropriate behavior.” And she had, which was rather impressive, though I did like the fact that she’d highlighted every tweet I’d ever done that contained swearing. This, it turns out, is a fuckload. The stack even had a coversheet of the worst of the worst, the marijuana joke, a few about drinking, one about being hungover, one about the awkward encounter with the 17 year old cousin (last email) and the one about how we all wanted Jesus to just die already after the Stations of the Cross. Minus any context, minus any desire to learn the stories behind these messages, with a focus only on rulebreaking and running a tight ship, it must have been some sort of damning proof of my lack of character, but to me it wasn’t even close. It was Twitter messages – I’ve said worse, and actually meant it.

Still, since she was making the decision and I wasn’t, I tried to reason with Trudy, to put the tweets in context, since 140 character sarcastic little word bombs leave a lot of room for interpretation. I walked her through the stories of a few of the quotes she had picked out, and even though I got L to crack a few smiles and laugh once, Trudy just sat there stone faced and frowning. “And you think this justifies your actions?” she asked in the tone of voice that tells you the question is quite rhetorical, you pathetic little piece of shit moron scum detrius. “Actually, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong here. I think this is a difference of opinion, and you’re kicking me out of the Peace Corps because you don’t like my language.” And sure enough, after another 15 minutes in which I offered everything from destroying Twitter, writing an apology in the newspaper, and sucking an unspecified numbers of dicks, she dismissed me from her office, telling me that I had a choice between resigning and being administratively separated, which is a nice way of saying thrown out on my ass.

Now, here’s the thing: there was a good deal of lying going on in this meeting, and for once I wasn’t the one doing it. Trudy didn’t tell me that only admin-sepped people can really fight the Country Director’s ruling. She told me that her decision was the only one possible given what I’ve written, which isn’t true, since the Peace Corps handbook pretty much says you’d have to be writing something crazily racist, offensive, anti-Peace Corps to be kicked out. No, really Trudy was kicking me out under the little clause that says “at their discretion, Country Directors can remove trainees from the program at any time.” This was a personal, discretionary sort of boot, but they all feel pretty much the same when they come in contact with your rear end. There were a few other lies too, like the fact that I had to leave the country immediately, that I couldn’t stay in Honduras, that I would be an illegal alien without my Peace Corps Passport, that the embassy would get involved if I tried to stay. Scare tactics and outright lies work just fine when you’re not given the means to defend yourself, and when your only potential ally is staring at his shoes and pretending not to be there.

I wandered around the Peace Corps compound for a while, called my dad, and decided to resign, since I might want to rejoin Peace Corps at some point (hooray lying Country Directors) and really because I knew I couldn’t fight this woman. From all the stories about her, I knew she’d thrown out people for getting robbed, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for breaking all sorts of petty and inane rules. My case was just going to be another future example of how truly off-the-wall mean and strict Trudy is, and how you need to keep away from her at all costs. Helping Honduras be damned, its the rules that really count down here, and don’t you forget it. So I went upstairs, told Trudy I would resign, and started the process of destroying the life I loved piece by piece. Then we went and got lunch together, and had a very civil conversation about how people don’t often get the right impression of others, and make terrible decisions based on these faulty assumptions. As you might guess, I chose the topic.

The only consolation I had in this chain of ridiculously complex and bureaucracy-laden events is that Moneybags, one of my close friends since that first gathering in DC (sushi and sake) was also ending her service, though of her own volition. I was walking shell-shocked out of the main office when I saw her sitting on a couch outside the medical building. We hadn’t seen each other since the programs split off to their different sites, and we gave each other the most deliciously confused faces. “What are you doing here?” we both asked. It was a very welcome surprise to have a comrade through all of this, and I drew a lot of strength from the fact that I will never let myself bring those around me down. Her presence made me act happier, which in turn actually made me happier, because psychosomatic stuff works like that. We really couldn’t do much that afternoon, save close out our bank accounts, get physicals, and return a few items, so we spent a lot of the afternoon and evening hanging out at the hotel, using our computers, catching up on each other’s lives and watching crappy American TV with Spanish subtitles. As far as a last night here could go, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I stepped out a few times to call people, took major advantage of the TIGO plan that gives you free texts all day after you send 10 of them, talked to probably half our training class, and received all sorts of support and well-wishes that I needed. I also got a cool 10 phone calls from members of my host family, all of whom asked me if I would forget them, if I would come visit, would I like to stay anyway without the Peace Corps… My host dad repeated his offer of rent-free living for a month, and made some generous offers about helping me find work. It was about this point that I realized exactly how much of a sad-sack pushover I was being. How in dog’s green earth was the Peace Corps going to force me on a plane after I wasn’t a member? They forfeited their right to do that, and if I wanted to stay, then nothing Trudy Jaycox could say or do was worth the hair on her upper lip about that. But did I want to stay?

There were a lot of compelling reasons not to stay, not least among them the fact that I was going to be without a job, without much money, utterly alone, and after this stunt, public enemy of the Peace Corps. (Trudy would make sure of that.) I also would have to rely on my nascent Spanish, accept that I was going to be very alone and very vulnerable, and figure out how to live without the support structures and safety net of Peace Corps. Was I up for the expatriate life? I certainly wasn’t prepared for it, but was I about to make a crazy run for the unknown? Money told me I was crazy, and that if anyone was going to run off and do something as stupid and wild as escape into Honduras and try to live, it would be me, which made me quite proud though it probably shouldn’t have. I thought about it a lot that night, sent out a text message to all my Peace Corps friends saying goodbye and giving my contact info, and resolved to sleep on it. Only to X did I say I was going to stay.

The next morning, 22nd April, I was up at 7 giving bags of my poop to a man in a lab coat. These he was going to test for viruses, bacteria, little friends I’d picked up, anything irregular. Money was there too, and so I got to witness a fantastic exchange between her and the doc about how one of her little jars of poop wasn’t fresh enough, and how she’d have to come back with another deposit later. Then he took our poop into the other room, and invited me to come have blood taken. What followed made every first responder and biology-knowledgeable fiber in my body scream in agony, revulsion and fear. This man proceeded to draw blood on me barehanded, without even washing them, then squirt my blood into a little tube, which he poured into a third tube and partly on the table. If that man doesn’t have the HIV already, he has a guardian angel or a magical immune system. He broke casi every rule of medical safety in one go, and I’m just hoping he didn’t pass anything on to me.

After that terrifying event, I walked (NOT ADVISED in Teguc by Peace Corps) the few blocks back to the Peace Corps office. There I met with one of the Peace Corps doctors, the one who had done my physical the day before. She gave me the end of service anti-malarial drugs, some advice on insurance, and my medical records. I was pretty much numb by this point, so after a half hour of nodding, signing papers, and getting my life back, I wandered back out into the courtyard of the Peace Corps compound, and sat around on a couch waiting for the staff to show up and let me finish the abbreviated, getting thrown out on my ass in the street version of leaving the Peace Corps. After a while I met with the cashier and found out that Peace Corps wanted all the money back that they’d given me a few days before. I had it, plus some, but I didn’t feel like giving it back if I was going to be living here, so I walked back to the hotel, grabbed a few hundred Lempiras out of the stash of 1200 I had, and paid that plus $5 plus my living/travel allowance of the past few days and was more or less squared away. All that was left to do after that was get my plane ticket and travel allowance ($50!) and take the long sad ride to the airport.

A, the same driver from the day before, and I spent a good 40 minutes in traffic talking about nothing in particular, sports, politics, bullshitting. I apologized to him for being in a terrible mood and he told me not to worry about it. I asked him if they always saddled him with the ex-Peace Corps members, and if they all got treated like felons or just me. He just laughed and we kept inching forward. By 11 we were at the airport, sitting outside the terminal. I said goodbye to A, hoping he would just drive off and let me be, but he parked and followed me inside the building. I sat in line to get my passport looked at, wasted as much time as I could, but A stayed right with me, a few feet behind and to my left, staying in my blind spot and never letting his eye off me. I was getting the full criminal treatment, and he was taking pains to make the experience as miserable as possible. Fuck it, I thought. Lets scare Peace Corps a bit.

When it was my turn to approach the baggage check-in, I smiled at the lady and proceeded to flip her world upside down. “Hi miss, I hope you don’t find me some sort of wild criminal, but I need your help with something. Can you make this process take as long as possible?” Her smile and cheery expression shifted from 5th straight into reverse, tore itself apart, and the twisted remains were very confused indeed. “Excuse me sir? Are you asking me to take my time here?”

“Yes, I want you to make this process take as much time as possible.You see, I don’t want to get on that plane, but the man leaning on the wall back there (quick jerk of the head in A’s direction) and some other people are pretty much forcing me.” Lets see how she handles this one.

“Are you some sort of criminal?” Yeah, that’s not the reaction I was going for…

“No, no, not at all, I just ran afoul of the rules of the organization I was a part of, and they’re shipping me home in a hurry. I’m hoping to stand here a few minutes, and when that man isn’t paying attention, slip out the side door.” Well, now its all out there, hope she’s one of the good people.

“I see… well, lets get started.”

To my utter amazement, she did exactly as I’d asked, taking a solid 5-8 minutes to take my passport, examine it like it was something fascinating, new, and possibly valuable, to read me all the information off of my ticket, to confirm I didn’t want to upgrade anything, to tell me about my flight. (Peace Corps sent me to San Diego via Miami, just for fun.) The other 2 lines open swirled past us, a blur of anxious travelers, efficient agents, and desires diametrically opposed to my own. I used the pocket shaving mirror my dad had given me before I left to watch A lean against the wall and stare over at me. About the time I was beginning to think that A would stand there boring holes in the back of my head forever, he got a phone call, and stepped around into a nearby hallway.

This was it! I thanked the agent, grabbed my ticket and passport, grabbed all 80+ pounds of my luggage, and did a fast little shuffle to the nearby door outside. Here it is, I thought, the point of no return, and I’m in too much of a hurry to even enjoy it. I was just about to step outside when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I spun around and A was there, looking at me profoundly puzzled. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked in the first English sentence he’d spoken to me in 2 days. “You speak English?!” was the first reply I could come up with. It was like that joke about the 2 muffins in the oven, or those 2 horses, or any other joke where the punch line is “Holy crap a talking ____!”

“I spent 2 days stumbling over myself talking to you in Spanish, and you know English?!”

“Yeah, but I thought you were trying to practice. Your Spanish isn’t bad.”

“Thanks.”

“Welcome. Where are you going?” Oh yeah, that.

“I dunno, but I’m not going home just yet. There’s nothing there for me.”

“I can’t let you leave. I have orders from Trudy to do everything short of forcing you physically to board that plane. I could lose my job.”

“I’m willing to tell her you tried your hardest.” Not like I gain anything by telling the truth to Peace Corps…

After a couple minutes, in which I told A what I was getting the boot for, and he expressed amazement that that was on the seemingly infinite list of things one can get removed for, we reached an agreement. I would give him my ticket and tell anyone who asked that he had done everything possible to keep me at the airport, but I’d slipped out without him noticing, and in return he’d give me 5 minutes before he called the office to report my disappearance. We shook hands, he wished me luck, and I walked out into hot sticky Teguc a free man, borderline broke, and strongly questioning my own sanity.

Outside I hailed a cab, loaded my stuff inside, and we took off for the only bus station I knew of that went South, Mi Esperanza. 80 Lemps it cost me, and I found out later there were at least 4 stops closer to the airport, but as I watched A watching us drive off heading North, I knew it was $4.25 well spent. Hit the bus station 10 minutes later, and boarded a bus leaving in 5 minutes for Choluteca. I pretty much had time to throw my bags aboard, climb into the bus, and it was rolling. Found a seat, and just then my phone rang. It was L, calling on the Duty Officer line. I answered reluctantly, only to hear him laughing. “K,” he told me, “I have never heard of anyone doing what you’ve done, and I don’t even know what to say. Are you going to be ok out here?” I told him I had money and friends, and with those two things I’d survive quite nicely. He wished me luck, laughed again, and told me I was pijo loco. I definitely was, and doubtlessly still am.

Turns out that I had gotten on a bum bus; bad transmission left us going 10-15mph through the mountains to get home, and the whole time the grinding gears and burning clutch gave me the distinct feeling that we would plummet off the next sharp turn and die a firey death in the (magnificent looking) valleys below. I stared out the window the whole time, smile plastered on my face, watching the world crawl by and angry motorists whip around us horns blazing. I couldn’t believe what I’d done, but not in a bad way. I just really doubted I’d go through with the plan, that I’d actually take a running leap off the deep end without my floaties on. As I was still airborne, it was todo pijudo, smooth sailing. I had no idea where I might be landing, but the sheer joy of being free blew in my face with the fresh air.

Hitting Pespire almost 3 hours later, I hopped out, pulled my bags out of the under-bus compartment, and staggered fully loaded into the town I’d left 18 hours earlier. It felt… different. This wasn’t my training ground, I wasn’t a Peace Corps member, I had no compelling reason to be here. It was just a place where I happened to know people, a safe place in a strange world. I dropped my things off at the house, showered, and felt the creeping edges of exhaustion, fear, and sadness setting in. The family wasn’t home, just Marie, the live-in cook/housekeeper, and though she was happy to see me, she had things to do. I needed a cigarette, a beer, and a friend, and luckily all three of those happened to be around, in the form of the most catracha gringa I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my short time here. Pulling out my phone, I called Natalie.

What I mean by “catratcha gringa” is that Natalie had adapted far better to living in Honduras then most of the people I’d met. She’s the one who taught me Honduran card games, how to swear, knew all the local dances, and talked, walked, and acted like a local. She also happens to be the poolhall-frequenting, hard drinking, hard smoking, subversive type, which is exactly what I needed at this point. I knew she was in town teaching the WatSanners something today, and so when I called her to find where she was, it turned out she was done teaching, so we met in the hotel to drink a few beers.

We sat around for a few hours, nursed Port Royals (local Pilsner, one of the better local beers) and talked about the craziness I’d just pulled off. I guess the news had spread already, because she greeted me with “holy fuck you ran away at the airport?! I bet Trudy flipped!” Nic has her own issues with Peace Corps which aren’t important right now, but she definitely isn’t harboring an overabundance of love for the T-dog. We sat, she smoked, we drank, and we talked about what in the hell I was going to do next, having burnt all my bridges and taken the aforementioned dive into the unknown. After a while the other WatSanners showed up and we had a round. It was a good time, but I noticed pretty straight off that I was already being treated differently. Like I was damaged goods, like I was something that could potentially hurt them. Found out that they’d all been warned that I wasn’t allowed to be around Peace Corps functions, and that administration was gunning for me. It was my first taste of the unpleasant parts of being ex-Peace Corps.

Luckily Nicole made up for it and then some with her relentless cheerfulness, jokes, and general happiness at the havoc I’d caused. We talked some more about my getting a job and a visa while the rest of the group joked and chatted among themselves, and I was painfully aware of the fact that they’d formed their little circle of chairs excluding Nic and myself. Still, I was happy – I’d pulled off a great escape, was free, and had at least one great friend who was happy with me. A few beers later we parted ways, and I headed over to Carlito’s house to play soccer with the other half of the team.

I got a great greeting here, not entirely because one of the teams was down a man and they needed a 5th. I stepped in on the teacher/local team, and we ended up winning 3-2 with a great off-the-wall one-touch around Jesus into the back of the net, after a wild game in our little dirt and weed field. It felt good, the running, the playful ribbing, and I was in a fantastic high state, except for a little nagging pain in the back of my head. We parted ways, I stepped out to walk home, and as I made my way back I first realized that the little pain was spreading. Migraine. Well, there goes my evening. It was Katerina’s birthday party that night, but when I get one of these, I’m down hard for at least 12 hours. Quickening my pace I raced to make it home before the storm hit.

I barely made it home, vision streaking, brain aching, sweating heavily and with full body aches appearing with wild rapidity. I stumbled into the house, caught my second wind as the family approached me with hugs, smiles, and tears. Everyone was so amazingly happy to see me that I couldn’t help but to be glad as well. As it turned out they were all going to San Pedro Sula (biggest city in Honduras, to the Northwest) for some business dealings, and I was to have the house to myself for a few days. Then they left, quite suddenly, and I was alone again in the big house.

Well, not quite. The two girls were there, and it proved impossible to convince them that I had a nauseating headache and couldn’t see, so after 15 minutes of trying I gave up and said goodnight, and they followed me as I stumbled to my room, asking repeatedly why I wasn’t going to the dinner table. I couldn’t make them understand, not by telling them I had a massive head pain, not by saying I felt like I was going to vomit, not by any means that my jumbled brain could manage to put together. I barely made it into my room, remembered how filthy I was, dragged myself to the shower without most of my vision, took a pathetic attempt at washing off the sweat, dust, and mud, and more or less crawled back to my room to collapse naked and sweating on my bed. Marie spent the next half hour knocking on the door, and when I stopped answering the same question over and over, stuck her head in through the window and asked a few more times. I pretty much couldn’t speak after this, and I think that sticking her head through the window to see me nude and in the fetal position finally got through to her in a way my words never could. She pulled her head back through the window and I lay there spinning for an eternity before falling asleep.

Citizen K, Illegal Immigrant:

Here they have an expression, which might actually be part of the slang of all Latin America, “mojada” which means “wet” as in our own hateful “wetback” as in just crossed the border. For those of you that like knowing the roots of the words they use (probably just me) it comes from the fact that you have to cross the Rio Grande to get from Mexico into Texas. Hence, when you got into the US, you were mojada, and just happened to be an illegal immigrant. I had my own mojada moment right after leaving the Peace Corps, and it went a little bit like this:

Because I’d fled from the airport so suddenly, and so unexpectedly, I did happen to screw one thing up in my flight, and that was that I had left a small yellow sheet of paper, the immigrations and naturalization page from my passport, on the airport baggage counter. This came back to haunt me, as I was in the country on the Peace Corps’ passport, which 3 phone calls the previous day from Trudy, L, and others at the main office had made abundantly clear that I had to return NOW. So after a half-day in bed, I got up, ate, tried and failed once more to explain that I had not come to have dinner because I had a terrible head pain, and took the bus back to Teguc, back into the belly of the beast, back to Peace Corps headquarters.

It felt a lot different heading back in, because I knew that they had no hold over me this time. I smiled at the guard as I signed in at the gate with my now-useless PC ID card, and walked straight up to Trudy’s office. Nobody stopped me because nobody was there – it was lunchtime in Honduras, and that means everyone goes and eats a communal lunch, which is a pretty cool way of going about things. They definitely work to live, not live to work. Anyway, if Trudy was surprised to see me in her office again, she didn’t show it. We sat down and talked, and I asked her if she’d given any thought into reversing her decision to let me go. Thus began an hour of mental chess, a polite, calm, occasionally cheerful verbal battle to the death. I sweetly gave her business advice that really was a nice way of telling her nobody trusted her decisions. She told me that she was so very sorry, but the Peace Corps would have to charge me for the plane flight I hadn’t taken, because that just was how things went. I apologized for how I’d assumed Peace Corps would prioritize helping people over following rules simply for the sake of rules, and Trudy smoldered. I eventually got her to agree to have someone help me transfer my visa from my PC passport to my personal one, so I thanked her and left. Fighting a passive aggressive war is the stupidest thing in the world, but I had the concession I needed, so that’s something.

After that we parted ways, I met up with one of the women from the Peace Corps office, and she and a driver took me and my 2 passports to the immigration office. Here’s where things got a bit complicated. Turns out that that yellow page I’d left in the airport wasn’t necessary to change my visa from one passport to the other except if one’s passport stamp was smeared. Mine was. Also, a search of the computer for my records revealed that I had left yesterday on a plane to Miami, and my visa had been thus terminated. I was, the woman on the other side of the counter told me, an illegal alien, subject to a $125.00 fine I couldn’t afford, and required to leave the country immediately. It was just like the Peace Corps’ proclamation, except real and enforceable. All of this was final, I was told, unless I could find that yellow sheet of paper that proved I existed. Thus we headed to the airport, and I pondered a second wild escape in 2 days.

Arriving there, we found the United terminal completely deserted, since apparently there aren’t flights every day, and eventually flagged down a passing custodian to ask directions to the immigration bureau. Here we explained the situation, and proceeded to search through the yellow immigration sheets for every person who had left the airport the day before, which is how I know that 297 people left Honduras on United flights on the 22nd April. Went through every page, one by one, and nothing. I got really down at this point, and we did it again. Nothing. I contemplated saying that I needed to use the bathroom, and pulling off another escape at that point. As I was waiting for the right moment, one of the men from the office held up a sheet triumphantly, and sure enough it was mine. A quick visa transfer and I was good to go for another month, after which time I have to leave the country to receive another 90 day visa. Why couldn’t I have been kicked out a week later, after I received my residency card?

After a trip back to the PC office, said my goodbyes again, asked JC for directions to the nearest safe bus station, since he’s the best person to ask about that sort of thing hands down, and walked a half block to the bank to change some money. I gave the woman $50, got 940 Lempiras in return, and realized for the first time that I might be able to live quite a while off of my $250 all-I-have-in-the-world savings. Heading back outside, caught a cab, and traded life stories with a 34 year old cabbie named Dominic (this is a real name, value it accordingly) After he dropped me off at the station, I rode the bus home sitting in down the aisle, packed in front of a gassy old man doing the same, and next to a woman who didn’t seem to notice she was elbowing me in the head, because she did it quite often. Maybe someone told her gringos like that sort of thing.

I got home, second time in as many days, but this time was different. People greeted me in the streets, kids yelled my name to me, I ran into at least 5 people I knew on the way home. It was great. I felt a lot more stable, more at home, like I could actually make it out here on my own. I know not what the future may hold for me, but with friends, a supportive family (both here and at home) and adventures to be had, I’ll give it my best shot. After all, worst case I’ll run off and have myself a grand Central American vacation, and that is in itself pretty appealing.

My New Family:

So I feel a bit guilty realizing now that my host family hasn’t come up as often in my emails as they ought to have, but it isn’t because they’re bad – on the contrary, they’ve totally included me in their lives, to the point of calling me their oldest son and inviting me on family vacations – but because they’re busy as sin, working their faces off to keep up with the competing needs of managing a hotel, a chain of stores, and businesses stretching between Pespire and Teguc. I’m often working different hours then they, and in the evenings I’ve been spending much time with X, as we try to cope with the fact that each of us is going to be a 2-day bus ride from our best new friend for the foreseeable future. (Actually, we don’t KNOW this yet, but it’s fairly certain.) Anyway, I just thought I would toss in this little profile of the family members so you get a feel for the people I live with.

The first thing you ought to know about this family is that they’re patrons of the town. They have their thumbs in every pie, their tentacles spread to every corner of small Pespire, and they know pretty much all of what goes on, and control a fair bit of it. This isn’t a bad thing, just a relevant bit of knowledge that gives an idea of the what the family is and does. They’re busy people, and often we see each other only in the mornings and after 6-7 pm. They run their businesses, hotel, and spend their free time exercising or visiting family. They might be the wealthiest family in town (definitely the most visibly wealthy) but they’re not the idle rich – in the time I’ve been here, they’ve taken one 2-day vacation, and the other members of the family make up for it by dropping by to visit often. Yeah, busy, well-connected, respectable family.

The kids live in Teguc, where their attend school, university, or work. Like most Hondurans, they’ve had to go into the city to keep advancing in life, so the oldest son is manager of the family store in Teguc, the oldest daughter is married and living with her husband, the 23 year old daughter is at university, and the youngest son (who I see most often) is attending a private school there. The rest of the extended family lives in and around Teguc, mostly in the neighborhood I talked about visiting last email. Every weekend some of the kids, or occasionally large groups of family members, will come home, swim in the pool, play PS3, and complain about how boring Pespire is. I’d say something snarky about that, but I used to have much the same reaction to San Diego, so I’ve no room to talk. We all think we grew up in somewhere boring, because that’s our baseline.

What this means is that every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the morning, there is a flurry of activity, noise, and buoyant family members floating around the house. (Oh yeah, that’s a pun.) However, it also means that during the week I pretty much have to keep myself busy, because nobody is around. The majority of my days are spent either working, exercising, or doing what I am now, sitting in a hammock typing page after page or surfing the Internet in slow motion. Not at all bad, some days you just need to unwind alone, but I wonder how well it’ll suit me once all the other PC kids leave. At least some of the host families, X’s especially, have told me I ought to come visit. Time to integrate into my community to the fullest. Anyway, this is sidetracking to the extreme, but what I meant to write is that I really have been fortunate to meet this family, to have been put up in this living situation, to have been offered the kindness and love of a gigantic (20 sets of aunts and uncles!) Honduran family. We get along great so far, as the next part shows, and I can tell this is one of those life-long friendships they warned us we might get into early on in Peace Corps training.

Heart to Hearts with a Whiskey Chaser:

My host dad and I have developed a really healthy spiritual exercise that we follow at least once a week and it isn’t going to church, though we do that as well. We never consciously decide to do this, it just follows naturally from one of our conversations, and once the ball starts rolling, it’s pretty much impossible to stop. I’m talking about guy talks, the serious heart to hearts, where you, in a very manly way of course, tell each other just how grateful you are to have the other around, and then spend the next 5 hours talking about various subjects.

The key ingredient to this just happens to be alcohol, that glorious social lubricant that keeps the world turning and ugly people getting laid by people far prettier and far more desperate then themselves. We had another of these just last night, when I took a break from writing and walked down into the backyard to do some pullups. My dad was sitting under a tree with a Corona, and he offered me one as well. I took the last one out of the cooler, and while I was drinking it he disappeared upstairs and brought back a 1/5 of whiskey and a shotglass. My thought: oh shit, I’m not getting this email done tonight. What I should have thought: Well, here’s to spending tomorrow nursing heartburn and a hangover, and tonight blitzed out of my mind.

We then proceeded to take 6 shots of whiskey apiece, which I haven’t done since I was in those curious prime college years where your friends dare you to do stupid things. The difference being, I guess, that this wasn’t a dare, just a war against my stomach lining for purposes unknown. He almost poured me a 7th, but I told him that I needed to grab my swim trunks, and hurried upstairs to change. Got into my bootyhuggers and came back down to swim a few laps, when the whiskey decided it was time to say hi. We’d taken them quickly enough that the 6th was in the door before I’d finished properly introducing myself to the 1st, and so I swam a dozen laps (like 4 strokes apiece) to get my head clear. Then another dozen. I didn’t want to be this messed up, I remember thinking. I had plenty of things I needed to do. Still, pride is a powerful force, and social pressure to heed the wishes of the guy who is making your entire life possible is even moreso. With a bit of reluctance, and the general countenance of a man facing a firing squad, I swam back to the side, hopped out, and got down to the business of drinking.

The secret, incidentally, to drinking a lot of booze has a lot less to do with body size or average consumption as it does mindset. If you come into the drinking war secure in the knowledge that you have spent nights hugging the toilet, or passed out on a couch in some slummy house only to wake up covered in crudely drawn penises and “HOMO” written across your forehead in sharpee, or worse, thrown up in a girls’ mouth when the two of you were making out (way to go, other Devon!) then there’s a pretty good chance you will come out of it just fine. If you have experienced the terrible effects of a night of binge drinking, it gets seared into your brain, and every hard-fought night of keeping too much down, holding it together when you’re well past done, becomes your weapon the next time you’re swimming in booze. I’ve had enough rough experiences with alcohol to last a lifetime at 22, (sorry M&D, it’s not something I’m proud of) and so I can generally hold my own against most anyone.

Take my host dad. He outweighs me by an easy 50 pounds, and his age and experience ought to give him an advantage on me in this sort of contest. Still, every time we sit down to drink, its him who gets wasted, and me who drags him off to bed at 2 am. This night was no exception, and after a few more whiskey shots he got real open, and started telling me the most heartbreakingly kind things. For one, my dad uses “vos” to refer to me now, which is a verb form used only among close friends and family. To be “vos-ed” by a Honduran is a compliment of the highest order. He also told me repeatedly how much he cared about me, referred to me as his oldest son, and repeated his earlier story about how I was the one who made him trust white people again. Actually, I don’t think I’ve written that down so here it is:

Basically, the Peace Corps hounded my host family for 8 months to get them to accept a volunteer, because the family had had a terrible experience with their last one. She was impolite, didn’t like their food, insulted the mother, and generally spent as little time with the family as possible. After her, the family decided, and my host dad swore, that they would never host another Peace Corps volunteer. As my dad put it “I would never have another gringo living in my house. Never.” Anyway, they were worn down by 8 months of phone calls, visits, pleading, to take another volunteer. My host mom consented eventually only a few weeks before I arrived, but my host dad did not. He remained adamantly opposed to my living there even after I arrived. (This explains why I didn’t see him more then once in the first week.) However, he said that my humbleness and kindness made him reconsider a ban on all white people. As he puts it, God sent me to the house as a message to him not to be so hasty with his judgments. Really, the story is so much more vivid in Spanish; I do it no justice here, but it choked me up a bit, and still does, to know that he thought so highly of me. I’ve a lot to uphold here.

Back to last night. We drank well over half a 1/5th of whiskey, which is just a retarded amount, and hung out in the pool, with him telling me over and over how much faith and love he has in me, and me trying to say something even half as meaningful. Later we talked about his business, swine flu (sorry, that name is offensive apparently) and how I really need to get paid by the NGO if I work there. Finally, around 1:45, we staggered up the stairs to bed, stopping in the kitchen for a glass of wine to help us sleep, he said, and to knock me the hell out, as I thought to myself. I made it to my room, dropped my suit and towel, drank a lot of water, flossed but didn’t brush because I wasn’t up to move, and passed out mostly on my bed.

Diving Into Development Work Feet First:

The Friday after I left the Peace Corps, I had an interview with the meru meru, el jefe, the boss of a local NGO funded by the European Union. I don’t know a whole lot about them, except that they have very slow wifi that I spend a good deal of time stealing, and they seem to be involved in or in charge of all the community aid, organizing, and development work that goes on around Pespire. X and my host dad both put in a good word for me, and after my reassurance that I hadn’t been removed from the Peace Corps for anything seriously bad, J, the boss, offered to let me try the work for a week and if I could prove I was up to it, he would consider letting me stay on. It all sounded a bit vague for my tastes, but then, my whole life is vagary, unfocused adventuring, and flying along by the seat of my pants, so really who am I to complain?

I started Monday, 7am on the dot, at the NGO campus where the Peace Corps has been using their salon for its air conditioning and internet. We’ve (ack, its weird to talk about Peace Corps and not use we) I mean they’ve gotten a ton of help from these guys, and so I was pretty familiar with the place, just not what it was they actually did. I helped out with a wide range of activities, starting with a run down to the town of Langue (lahn-gay) to pickup up Leah, a Peace Corps engineer from the class before ours, and one of the most gorgeous girls I’ve met down here. Roddy, one of the NGO drivers, and I took the 45 minute drive down toward El Salvador, past beautiful rolling hills, to remote Langue. There I gave Leah a shock, walking into her local counterpart’s office where she was on the computer and asking in my best SoCal bro accent “is uh like Leah here?” (Her response: What are you doing here?! Didn’t they kick you out?”)

We drove back to Pespire, got our assignment from J, (sounds so James Bond) and set out on the worst roads I’ve yet encountered to San Juan Bosco, a remote community 20km and 1 ½ hours from Pespire. They’ve been trying to put in a water system for at least 3 years, but a lack of funding and a comedy of errors cut the last attempt short. We’ve been pulled in to update the project, and hopefully oversee its construction. First, we had to meet community leaders to get an updated list of who lived there, what buildings had been added, and what changes the community wanted added. It was the sort of thing that might only take a phone call in the states, but here we had to drive to town, find someone who knew the boss of the junta de agua (water board, water commission) then drive around looking for him, eventually finding him painting a house on the outskirts of town. He was a wizened old man of perhaps 60, strong in the hands and arms, in dirty jeans and a bloody shirt, the corner of which he was using to dab a large cut under his right eye. I gave him the emergency toilet paper I keep in my bag, and with that firmly pressed against his face, he set about telling us the details we needed. That 20 minute talk completed, we drove back to town to celebrate with pineapple juice, coke, or peach soda, depending on who you were. We thanked our guide and took the 1 ½ hour ride home, with me snapping pictures all the way. Lesson: simple tasks take all day, be patient.

On Tuesday I was supposed to head out early with Sam to visit local junta de agua members and drum up support for a training session on Wednesday, but he had other things to do in the morning, so mostly I dozed under a tree and updated my phone on their wifi network. After a good 2 ½ hours of this, and a lot of questioning my reasons for having come at such an early hour, and sweating profusely, Sam came back out from whatever he was doing and and we took a motorcycle into the back country. Or rather, he took a little 70s Yamaha and I hung on for dear life as we rode down the highway at 30 miles an hour and 18 wheelers flew by and slammed us with gale-force winds. Fortunately (I thought at the time) we turned off the main road fairly quickly, onto a dirt one that seems to be the turnoff for most of the communities to the South and East of Pespire. However, we took a new turn this time, and in short order we were bouncing, bumping, rocking, and dodging cows on our way down one of the worst roads I have ever had the displeasure of traveling.

For miles we worked our way down this rocky path, and I had the distinct impression that my brains were turning to jelly from the constant battering we took. It wasn’t nausea I felt, it was more a difficulty thinking, a sense of vision blurred by the vibration of the road, and a constant sense that I was one gravel patch away from falling off the bike in my loose-fitting helmet and short sleeves. At one point we stopped in a small town and drank cokes to get the grit out of our teeth, and I played with kittens so skinny they looked half dead. Overheard a great conversation between schoolkids too, part in broken English, about how it sucked to speak a foreign language because you never understood what the native speakers meant only what they said. I looked at them at that point and deadpanned “I know exactly what you mean.” Sam and I laughed, then resumed beating ourselves up after that.

The point of all this was to get people to meet up the next day for a training session on water systems, hygiene, maintenance, and administration. Really what this meant is that someone had to go around door to door to talk to people, make sure they were coming, and give them some advice on what to bring. It also meant that we drank a lot of offered drinks, sat around on a lot of porches, and spent far too much time on the short roads between small communities. At one point we got stuck in a tight spot on an uphill grade with a couple trucks coming the other direction, and had to stop to let them pass. This meant that after the trucks went by and the dust cleared a bit, we had to try and build up momentum again and climb the hill. Sam gave it his best, keeping the gear low, climbing steadily, but the hill was small boulders, and we were pitching and yawing all over the place. It got so bad that I was getting rocked slowly off the back of the bike, until I was just barely on the mudguard. I yelled at Sam, but just then he gunned it to climb another steep section, and I let go of him and tumbled off the bike. Nothing bad, a 2mph fall can’t do too much damage, but we had a good laugh and I spent the rest of day covered in dirt and looking like a guy who couldn’t ride a motorcycle. Lesson: Sometimes bailing out early beats hanging on tenaciously until it is far too late.

Wednesday and Thursday were almost identical; Sam, Ricardo, a SANAA (gov’t water agency) guy, and myself took a truck out to Espinal, one of the communities close to Pespire, to teach the class we’d been recruiting for the day before. Along the way we picked up half our students, and followed other trucks down the dusty dirt road. This meant that we, and especially the people riding in the bed, were completely covered in dust and grime by the time we started. I looked like a raccoon whenever I had my sunglasses off, and the site we went to lacked running water. We sat around spitting grit and sipping small cups of water from the 5 gallons we’d brought, and then set up the projector and my laptop while the audience trickled in.

Ricardo, the SANAA guy, started us off, and after a brief intro, turned to me and told the crowd “And here is K, an expert on water system design and maintenance.” Really?! I’d been put on the spot before, but water systems expert? I clean them, can probably replace most of the parts, understand how they work, and have minimal MINIMAL experience in the rest. It’d be like calling me an expert in economics because I devour a lot of books on the subject and read some very good blogs and periodicals. Anyway, it turned out alright because Ricardo had a whole USB drive full of presentations, slide shows, and videos, and so we really just kept switching between these, elaborating, doing group activities, and expanding upon the points already made. I ended up impressing myself by running the group through how to maintain a water system entirely in Spanish without looking or feeling like an idiot. It actually was pretty cool to be in the teacher position for once, and it helped that the people who came really wanted to learn. Lesson: sometimes you just have to throw yourself out there and see what sticks.

Thursday, since we were continuing the same lectures, was very much the same in most regards, except we switched the focus to admin work, which I know a lot less about. I mainly worked the projector and computer, and little eeepy (that’s a cross between my eee pc and eevee, from Wall-E) really got through her paces. Still, between discovering and reading all the hidden files (read, pornography) on Ricardo’s USB stick, working automatically with the projector, and reading every file type and random drive we plugged into her, she played a great village bicycle and never complained once. Way to go $400 computer. You kick ass. Lesson: Ubuntu makes Windows look bad, per the usual.

Friday was a holiday, Mayday, which the US doesn’t celebrate much because we’re scared of commies, but here it meant we didn’t have work. Instead I had a lot of fun with Sam rebuilding his semester-long project that had somehow gotten totally destroyed when his hard drive crashed. 6 ½ hours of Excel, Powerpoint, and recovering corrupted data, all the while trying to explain it in Spanish. Can I just say that I love how you can trick Windows into working with corrupted and recovered data just by manually changing the file extensions? Brilliant. No work though. Afterward I went to visit friends, play Settlers of Cataan, and home. That I guess counts as a work week, right? Lesson learned: as soon as people learn that you have some skill with computers, they suddenly begin to have problems. These problems will gradually escalate in intensity until you’re their network administrator. Gah.

A Night of Culture, Fine Storytelling, and Bindhi:

Just to prove my life isn’t all work and no play, I went with X the other night to meet some of the other friends she had made while I was writing overly long emails and playing UNO and getting hammered. These two had always sounded like an interesting pair, both development workers from Europe, one Italian, the other Belgian, and both a bit older and loads more experienced then I in the ways of the world. So I was happy just to tag along and see what would come of it all, and maybe even find a couple local friends out of the deal. Networking, you know, that whole “its who you know” schtick that you think is a load of crap until you realize that twit Tim Geithner (or however you spell it) is Treasury Secretary, and you cry a lot as the dollar loses value like I will lose weight the second I get Dengue Fever. So anyway…

Turns out that Marley, the Belgian world traveler-turned-NGO-worker, had 2 friends visiting from Europe, and Jake, the hilarious Italian guy with an affinity for going shirtless, was going to be cooking dinner. I was introduced to everyone, rapidly forgot names, and we carried a table outside to try and beat the heat, which kinda worked in the sense that occasionally a breeze would ripple through and dry a layer of sweat on us so we could build up a nice base coat. X had brought henna to tattoo each other, but instead we drank some delicious mix of guaro, pineapple, OJ, and ginger ale that was pretty much rubbing alcohol, but actually tasted great. If you can find some Guaro, which might not exist outside of Honduras, I recommend it highly. After that the girls (really X) had the bright idea of trying to make a “three-headed-monster” which is about 99.6% less sexual then it sounds. (The 0.4% is because someone got a foot to the boob.) Basically the girls tried to make stack of themselves that if it had worked would have looked kind of like 3 girls stacked on top of each other, or if you’re drunk enough and/or crosseyed, a monster of the three-headed variety. It worked great, as far as I’m concerned, because nobody took a header into the concrete.

Actually, before that all went down, we met the pet iguana, who was less a pet and more an iguana sleeping above the pila in the bathroom. He didn’t move much, but he was the life of the party. Then after the woman-pile, we got into deep conversations that the French girls (oh yeah, the girls visiting were French, worked for Kraft, and one of them was starting a 9 month tour of the world) kind of were able to follow, and at some point we all started wearing Bindhi, the little sparkly line down your forehead that you may recognize as being a Hindi princess thing, or if you’re me, you’ll still be unclear as to what exactly it means. I’m sure there are pictures on the Facebook. Anyway, it was a great time, and I discovered that spaghetti and tuna is actually awesome if you have a real Italian cooking for you, but if you cut it up he’ll act as if you cut a part of his heart out, ate that too, and claimed it needed more salt and/or garlic.

After dinner we got into a fantastic conversation about traveling, and it turned out that Marley had spent 18 months living out of her backpack, traveling the world, and sightseeing. She had a thousand stories, and with the rest of us chipping in, the girls breaking into Flemmish and French, Spanish and English mixing freely, it was one of the most enlightening and beautiful conversations I’ve been a part of. It was just so free, so open, so full of life and love that I didn’t want to leave, and we sat up talking until well past midnight. If only this sort of experience wasn’t so fleetingly rare, beautiful like a moment you’re nostalgic for as it is happening, this life would be so much the richer. Sadly, all good things must end, and so when the girls left the next morning for a few week vacation, and I headed to work groggy and disoriented from lack of sleep, it felt all the more surreal to have run into this group in the middle of Pespire, Honduras. I hope we’ll be fortunate enough to do it again sometime.

Crippling Bouts of Depression and Doubts:

Ok, so they’re not crippling, but I really like the way that title rolls off the tongue, even if it is misleading. Say it a couple times. That said, having thrown my entire life into limbo and run off seeking adventure and what-have-you has given me an ample amount of time to doubt myself. In addition, following my usual peaks of highs and lows, I’ve moved into one of the lows, so I’ve been extra vulnerable to just getting down, cratering into my own psyche. It’s been a struggle to keep myself moving, happy, and motivated these past couple weeks, especially as all of my friends here are moving into the site assignment phase of training, and getting ready to become full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers.

For me, the hardest part is that I can feel the gap between my teammates, my close friends, my comrades and I gaping wider every day, as the tidal wave of Peace Corps carries them on to the next stage of their journey, and I struggle with the mundane details of everyday life. They get to do the projects, build things, take field trips and play in the river, and I go out to the aldeas and teach community leaders how to repair their water systems. Sure, I’m doing good, and its great that I’m able to do the work I am, but that doesn’t replace the feeling of being part of something, of coming together with other motivated young people to work and grow and hopefully accomplish something big enough to matter. I just can’t help it – every time I’m around my friends, with their talk of site assignments, projects, where they’re going, what they’ll be doing – I just want to scream at the utter unfairness of it all. This was my life dream, the voice inside rages, and I’m watching from the sidelines, a bit character clinging to the edges of a story that once was his own. Maybe I’ll feel better when they’re all gone.

Most days, I don’t really interact with my old friends anymore. Our paths move in different directions, I’m busy with my work, them with their training, and so unless someone makes an effort we’re not going to run into each other. To complicate matters, my good friend Ms. Jaycox has made it abundantly clear to the staff here that my presence around them, around Peace Corps activities, around my friends will be at the price of their future service with the Peace Corps. In short, if I’m involved with them, and she finds out, heads will roll. I found out as much from the Program Training Director one day after we were playing soccer. It baffles me how someone can make this sort of a threat and not realize that all it can hope to accomplish is further damage to the program, to the Peace Corps, to Honduras. All because I wrote naughty words on the Internets, and then stayed around to work harder then anyone else will have to to try and help without Peace Corps assistance. Man, if people like me are the enemy of Peace Corps, then I would be fortunate if I had the same sort of enemies.

The net effect of all this is that my friends are afraid to be around me. They don’t say it, and if I show up where they are they won’t kick me out, but nobody aside from X has contacted me since I came back. It’s disillusioning to carry on a one-sided relationship with people, and after I realized I wasn’t going to get invited to anything anymore, I’ve pretty much given up being part of this same team. I feel bad about it, because I know friendships are never lost because of just one party, but I think that it says a lot about how our relationships actually were; I thought we were all friends because we were the same sort of people, but really we were friends of opportunity, like the friends you work with and then never see again after one of you quits. That’s the part that gets me down, that makes it hard to be around everyone, to force a smile. I’m not one of them anymore, and I never will be. They’ll go on, have their Peace Corps experience to live, to treasure, to tell stories about their entire lives, and I won’t have any part in that, except as a small footnote in the introduction, a face in a few photographs, and a little tangent about the people stupid or unlucky enough to get kicked out.

And Yet, Life Goes On:

I’m sitting outside today writing, and my host father keeps coming out to give me some company and another alcoholic beverage. So far we’ve had 2 beers apiece, a half bottle of wine, (in pint mugs, to keep it classy) and he just gave me a slug of whiskey that would knock me down a few pegs even if I hadn’t skipped lunch today to sit and write and get over my hangover from last night. (Yeah, and Peace Corps made a big point of telling us how much drinking is looked down upon here.) So I’m sitting here, munching on a carrot, drinking whiskey, thinking, writing. It’s a life I’m quite ok with, especially after the booze sets in. I’m starting to come to terms with not being a member of the Peace Corps any longer, and while I’m far from happy about it, I’m not going to let it take me down.

Everything has its yin and yang, and there is an upside to not being in the Peace Corps – I’m not held to the same rules, I can travel, I’ll definitely make more money. I don’t have to obey a capricious old woman who long ago forgot the purpose of the Peace Corps. I can stay out past 9pm. Maybe I’ll buy a pickup truck, if I can scrape the cash together. (turns out US drivers’ licenses work down here too.) I’ve been given my freedom back, and what I do with my life is no longer clear or straightforward. I’ll have an adventure, that much I’m sure of. The trick will be in finding out just which type. I’ll find out soon, I imagine, and that too will be part of the fun. I’ll keep writing it if you’ll all keep reading. And actually, since I’m not Peace Corps any longer, you can spread this one to your friends. I’d love to actually do something with writing, and this is one way to start. Anyone know a newspaper I can start writing for?

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