Tiny Moments of Joy: Say Sue Me at Landet

I thought I’d share a little peek behind the curtain today: what, exactly, do I do in my free time? When I’m not helping to organize the Stockholm Writing Group, Stockholm NaNoWriMo, or reading? Once in a while I go and partake in culture, like Busan-based surf rock group Say Sue Me.

Say Sue Me performing to a packed room at Landet Restaurang in Stockholm, 2018.

I took this photo during their encore, “Let’s Don’t Say Anything.” I don’t have any other pictures from the night, because I’m short and because I’d rather spend a concert listening to the experience rather than trying to document it.

Life is hard. I’ll take what tiny moments of joy I can get.

Den mörka portalen and NaNoWriMo

My Saturday was extremely literary! A member of one of my critique groups has, after years of hard work, self published the first novel in a planned trilogy. The release party was at noon at Marabouparken, and I stopped by to give my congratulations and enjoy a little bubbly to celebrate Den mörka portalen. It is surprisingly heart-warming and gratifying to see yourself appear multiple times in the author’s thanks.

Shot of the author's thanks (in Swedish)

Once under my own name, once as “Stockholm Writing Group” (the writing Meetup I organize), and (if I’m feeling generous) even a third time as a fellow redkatör and korrekturläsare, though I work in English and not in Swedish. Still, editor solidarity!nan

The venue was also lovely. When your park is named after one of the most famous candy companies in Sweden, it sets certain expectations (see: Hershey Park in the US), but it was actually quite understated. Dare I say…high brow, even?

A slate walkway and some statuary at Marabouparken on a rainy, overcast day.

As it turns out, Marabou no longer owns the property. It’s a bit of a misnomer.

After that I was off to help plan this year’s NaNoWriMo. Have you signed up yet? You should! And if you’re in Stockholm, you should come to the kickoff! We’ll have fika and pep and writing activities to get you all fired up for November. And, of course, my lovely face. Can’t wait to see you there!

Moving!

An auspicious confluence of happenings means that my sambo and I spent last week moving house! This is amazing. Our new place is a huge improvement and once the dust settles I’ll be all kinds of productive. (Seriously. Nothing like leaving your new, comfortable, spacious apartment in a cozy neighborhood to clear out the last things from your tiny, crappy apartment in an overstuffed crappy building to realize just how dåligt the stämning really was.) But for now we’re still unpacking and I’m catching up after a week of “move everything that wasn’t ready in time for the movers” plus three days of “the last tenant never even used the Internet so no one knew it was broken or how to fix it.”

Meanwhile, here is a street performer who was out in the centrum in the blazing hot sun last weekend. Swedes are a tough crowd; she was a good sport. It was the perfect way to spend our first weekend in our new neighborhood!

A hula hooping street performer standing on the shoulders of two men, spinning one hoop around her waist and one around each arm.
Toni Smith performing in Bagarmossen.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 19.5: Boston, MA to Stockholm

I say “19.5” because with a flight out of the country in the evening, this wasn’t exactly a whole day in Boston. I spent a smidge over 24 hours in town, so should that count as two days?

I woke up a little before Diana’s alarm and futzed around a bit on my phone. She showered and got ready for work, and I got dressed in my lazy bum traveling clothes and we were off.

My morning wasn’t too eventful. I dumped my travel bag at the station, and then spent the rest of the time I had until burritos with Diana and Walter writing in Boston Common and then wandering through the botanical gardens.

The Massachusetts state legislature on a sunny day.
Much State. Very Legislature. Wow. So Government.

 

A plaque commemorating the dedication of the Boston Common, gold text on a black background set in a white marble facade.
I appreciate the bird photobombing but not dude in the fannypack.

 

A zebra on a carousel

A fountain in Boston Common on a sunny day.

It was SO. HOT. that day and I very much wanted to jump in any and every body of water I saw. Fountains, duck pond, the little kid wading pool…all of them.

All of this was right after Nazi demonstrations and protests and tiki torches and all of that good stuff. (I picked a helluva time to be back in the US!) It was a topic of discussion when we were at dinner in Old Orchard Beach. Seth (Walter’s boyfriend) was amazed that Nazis would even dare to turn up and show their faces in Boston, of all places—the city is so progressive and liberal and etc.

I shook my head. “Nah man, what I’ve heard from non-white friends of mine who live there…it’s a different experience.”

There were leftovers of protests and rumbles on the Common.

"RACISM WILL NOT WIN" in pink and white chalk on black asphalt.
The text spraypainted on the ground reads “Racism will not win.” We can only hope. =/
Close up of a monument to The Pilgrims in Boston Commons, with graffiti: "$ IS POWER X FREEDOM I$ RESISTANCE"
And on this monument to I guess the Pilgrims? “$ IS POWER XFREEDOM I$ RESISTANCE.” I don’t know if I hold entirely with that logic, protest artist. The first half, yes. But I don’t know it’s connected to resisting or freedom. Maybe “resistance is freedom”? Otherwise you’re maybe putting the cart before the horse.
A Civil Mar memorial to white officers and black rank and file.
Civil War memorial to “white officers” and “black rank and file.” It feels like a lukewarm attempt at Black History TM by throwing them in with the white officers but on the other hand if they fought together, shouldn’t they be memorialized together?

I finished my writing and my photo-taking and wandered in the direction of the public gardens, because I guess that’s what I do on vacations now?

A sign for the Boston Public Garden, founded 1837. City of Boston Department of Parks and Recreation. Martin J. Walsh, mayor.

Purple and pink roses in the Boston Public Gardens on a sunny day.

Overheard in Boston:

“The flowers are dyin’ ’cause they don’t water ’em.”
“They do water ’em, every day.”
“Why are they dyin’, then?”
“‘Cause of the sun.”

Purple hyacinths and other flowers in the Boston Public Garden on a sunny day.

A pond in the Boston Public Gardens on a sunny day, lined with weeping willows. A duck boat tour is turning around a small island in the middle of the pond, and a goose and some ducks are swimming in the lower left corner in the shade of a willow tree.

More overheard in Boston:

“MOM! A duck bit my thumb!”

There were a couple buskers out in the park. An elderly Asian man playing what I think was an erhu, and then a hip young white dude with a tenor sax: “Careless Whispers,” “What A Wonderful World,” etc.

A tree with an interesting pattern in its bark on a sunny day.

I wandered over to the burrito place to meet and Walter. It was a take-out place for nearby young professionals, and since I was eating with young professionals, that meant there was no place to really sit or any time to really talk.

We said our goodbyes and I walked around the city a bit, despite it being SO. HOT., because I figured if I’m going to say that I visited Boston, I should have at least seen some of it? The other times I’ve been in Boston, I’ve been sequestered away indoors at anime conventions so I wanted to say that I had actually been in Boston. Or whatever.

Psychadelic-style street art on a utility box: guitar outlines with different stained glass-like images against a backdrop of abstract color swatches.

A light gray cupid and sun stenciled on white concrete. The cupid has the planetary symbol for Venus painted in black on its wing, and another alchemical symbol painted on its groin.

I was due to meet another friend, Amy, at a marketplace in the afternoon, though I turned up quite a bit early so I could browse around a bit and enjoy the air conditioning. I bought some yarn for one of my knitter friends back home, and picked up a business card from American Stonecraft. I love rocks, and I love New England, and this is exactly the kind of thing that my mother-in-law loves, so I’ll probably buy something online for her birthday or Christmas present. (Probably a coaster or two.)

Pots of sunflowers at an indoor farmer's market.

Once in a green time a flower
Oh, fell in love with the sun.
The passion lasted for an hour
And then she wilted from her loved one.

A cash register with a sign on the tip jar that reads 'SCUSE ME WHILE I TIP THIS GUY and features an image of Jimi Hendrix shredding.
I appreciated the tip jar humor but was fresh out of any cash at all by this point. Nor did I feel like buying some nuts, even as the guy behind the counter was really friendly and offered me some free samples. Womp womp.

Amy did the very smart thing and brought GAMES because two people with low-key (and sometimes not so low-key) social anxiety need all the help interacting they can get! Or at least I do, even if meeting Internet friends is always less fraught than I expect it because it’s not like I don’t know them at all or anything. Although I was still a bit of a traveling mess—piecey hair, clothes chosen for comfort rather than fashion, indescribably sweaty—so props to and everyone else that day for spending time with my unattractive self!

After we got chocolate and chatted a bit and I saw some Andy pictures I hadn’t before (ATTACK OF THE FIFTY-FOOT TODDLER!), we played a couple rounds of Hanabi, which I sucked at but enjoyed nonetheless and have since added to our small roster of games (Munchkin, Dixit, Magic: The Gathering).

After that it was off to the station to pick up my bag, which I had to pay some extra for by all of ten? fifteen? minutes. Ugh. Nonetheless, it was worth the convenience. I had a hell of a time finding the bus to Logan, and then the check-in line for Norwegian was FOREVER LONG. It wasn’t as stressful as it would be if it were my flight going in—I had no pressing plans back in Sweden that would suffer if I got bumped back a few hours or even a day—but it still made me anxious. The family behind me, on the other hand, realized they had the wrong passports, and it was a rush of phonecalls and sending out teenage son to meet dad and etc. to fix it. So someone was having an even more stressful wait than I was!

We boarded on time, though, and everything went smoothly. My layover in Copenhagen was slightly shorter this time around, so I didn’t try to do any more exploring. I just hung out at one of the terminals, charging my phone and letting my boyfriend know that I would be at Arlanda in a couple of hours.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 19: Walden Pond and Escape Room in Boston

We hit the road early the next morning, while Theophanes’s brother and his girlfriend and her nieces were still asleep. First order of business: a picture of this thrift store sign, which caught my eye even on the delirious and sleep-deprived drive up in the middle of the night. Unless Mildred Wymen was really into Stephen King? Orthography is hard!

Then breakfast at a greasy spoon and we were off to Concord!

I was originally going to bus down from Maine to Boston, but Theophanes  volunteered to drive and do Boda Borg with me and my hostess with the mostess in Boston, Diana. I broached the subject of stopping by Walden Pond on the drive down, since it wasn’t too out of the way and I didn’t know when I’d be in New England again. (I mean, I’m sure I will be—I just don’t know when.) She puzzled it over in the GPS and agreed, since it wasn’t ridiculously out of the way. It just would have been a little far for a day trip from the cabin.

It’s really hip these days, at least among the people I like and admire, to hate on Thoreau and Walden. And I guess I get it—he was only able to stay at the cabin as long as he did because of the good graces of other people and he was an obnoxious houseguest to boot, he’s maybe (even inadvertently) the foundation of modern American libertarianism, he was kind of a pompous ass, etc. etc.—but for a weird, thoughtful kid in high school to read about this dude being weird and thoughtful by himself in the woods was reassuring. Even as I drink tea and continue to use a doormat.

I was surprised to see so many parents of very small children trying to do the educational, dutiful thing and go through the assorted signs and the replica cabin and whatever tourist center is also on-site (we didn’t visit it, though). Maybe I’m underestimating kids, but I don’t think a 6-year-old is going to be super interested in, or at least appreciative of, someone living by themselves in the woods. I’m pretty sure they just want to go swimming in the damn lake.

I have to admit, sometimes a cabin out in the woods sounds like the most appealing thing I can imagine. We peeked inside and it was easy to imagine me holing up in such a space for the rest of my days. Maybe in a place a little bigger, only because I’m less stingy than Thoreau when it comes to books worth holding on to.

It was then very weird to see that the plot of land where he went to live simply, away from people and society, so filled with people. In addition to all of the signage and statuary and sites associated with Thoreau, the pond itself is now a local swimming hole. The sound of people talking and laughing and splashing in the water was the background sound for most of the trip. Incongruous, but at the same time, maybe it’s better that such a spot be appreciated by the general public rather than forgotten.

(I still did my best to get this picture of the lake without any people in the shot, though.)

There were also these assorted illustrations from some kind of Walden ABCs book where I’m not sure if it’s actually for kids, or a kids’ book for adults (a la Go the Fuck to Sleep), along the assorted paths. This was by far the reach-iest one of them all:

and I, when we saw the first one (“C” or something), started speculating as to what they’d do for the trickier letters. I thought “X” would be for “fox,” but no. “Z” either was or should have been “zephyr.” I was right, though, that “Q” would of course be “quiet.”

If the pond and the museum-type stuff was relatively packed and full of people, the site of the actual cabin was mercifully quiet. Theophanes pointed out that many of the trees in the area were fairly young, so one wonders what happened to the patch of forest between when Thoreau was here and when the site was discovered in 1945. (Or perhaps it was never actually discovered; perhaps that’s just a random spot along the lake that they decided to declare Thoreau’s Cabin in order to give visitors something concrete to experience.)

People also left little stacks of stones next to the cabin. For me, this is something people do in Korea (maybe East Asia?). I saw this all the time, especially in temples; from my understanding, it’s part of a folk Buddhist tradition that has to do with making wishes or requests. (Do ones this small still count as cairns?) For example, here are some I saw by Cheonjiyeon falls in Jeju in July, 2012:

And an anonymous Korean woman building one at Bulguksa in Gyeongju, January, 2010:

And yet maybe last year or two years ago, my crunchy granola friends started sharing articles like this one, as if making those tiny towers had suddenly become a widespread Thing in the US as well. It was certainly a Thing at Walden, anyway, and I left my own, because it’s a way for me to connect my time in Korea with the places I visit elsewhere.

Other people left messages or drawings on stones, which I hadn’t seen in Korea. (Though at temples, you can buy a roof tile for X amount of won and leave a message on it.)

The weather was warm enough that by the time we were back at the lake I was regretting leaving my bathing suit in the car; Theophanes as if reading my mind, said, apropos of nothing, “I’m going to take off my shoes and dip my feet in.” I followed suit. The rocky shore of the lake made the barefoot journey less than appealing, but the payoff was worth it. The water was ice cold and stung pleasantly at the myriad mosquito bites I had acquired at the wedding (open-toed shoes and a knee-length dress means lunchtime for bugs). We stood in silence for a while and watched some small fish come and dart around our ankles. I splashed some of the water on my arms and face and filled up a tiny pocket of my heart with the experience to draw on later, when I feel like garbage. I also picked up a white piece of something (quartz? marble? I’m a bad junior geologist, guys!) as a souvenir.

When we used to visit Emerald Lake State Park as a family, I (and maybe my brother?) would always want to take home a rock or two from the bottom of the lake. Dad, a former Boy Scout and adherent to the “leave it better than you found it” ethos, would always make us put them back: “What if everyone took one? There’d be nothing left!” (I totally managed to get one out with me once, still, when I was maybe eight.)

The thought crossed my mind as I washed the grime off the rock and dried it with my shirt: “What if everyone took one?” I’m an adult now, and that means I get to violate Boy Scout prescriptions on nature preservation whenever I want!

Diana had been anticipating watching the eclipse with us (this was the day of the eclipse), but we ended up spending it at Walden instead, which I’m kind of okay with. Spending a significant astronomical event at a site that’s personally meaningful is a pretty okay way to spend it, in the end.

Another friend from the wedding, Walter, wanted to meet up in Boston once he knew that’s where I was going, but he couldn’t make it out in time for Boda Borg, so it ended up being just me, Diana, and Theophanes. This was probably for the best—they say “up to five” in the groups, but anything more than three people would have been cramped, really. It was my and Theophanes’s first escape room and I suppose we did OK, although the first room we picked was obnoxious and we couldn’t get it. Fortunately, it seemed to be way harder than many of the other rooms, and we still managed to solve a few puzzles and pick up a few stamps.

Before Boda Borg was Vietnamese food and introductions. Afterwards was boba tea and farewells. Theophanes was off to her mother in Rindge, not super far from Boston (certainly closer than the Maine cabin). and I spent the rest of the evening with Diana watching The French Revolution episode of The Supersizers Eat and talking about stuff. I left most of a six-pack of Yuengling (I am trash and love my regional PA trash beer that would be prohibitively expensive and thus pointless to acquire here) and the last of my roadtrip music (Black Masala, Gangstagrass, and I think also Galactic?) in exchange for an autographed stand-up album. Before we hit the hay, I solidified plans with people the next day: lunch with Diana and Walter, then later meeting up with a blogger buddy  before the long flight home.

And like the other Maine parts of my trip, Theophanes also wrote about it. There are a lot more pictures of Walden and some more details about Boda Borg over on her blog.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 18: Old Orchard Beach, Portland, and Fort McClary ME

Since the cabin was about two hours from Old Orchard Beach, we hit the road relatively early for bagels and other goodies at Aaron’s aunt’s house. Everyone else had made plans amongst themselves;  Theophanes and I had decided yesterday to visit the International Cryptozoology Museum. One of my Hamilton friend’s boyfriend has been there before: “It’s just, like, two rooms of stuff, and this guy following you around, telling you how Bigfoot is real. One of the display is, like, a GI Joe doll standing next to a stuffed beaver to show how large giant beavers are supposed to be.” He laughed and shakes his head; Theophanes and I looked at each other like YESSSSSS. That is definitely what we’re doing next.

Her GPS didn’t have an updated address for the International Cryptozoology Museum, which unbeknownst to us had moved to some old warehouse unit behind the Greyhound station, so we had a nice little wander around downtown Portland.

That’s a long fellow you’ve got there!

It was a cozy little wander full of graffiti and politically-minded stickers.

I felt at home here; I could imagine myself in Portland (if I ever wanted to leave Stockholm). As I texted my friend back in Austin: “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland ME, too.”

For our one and only actual stop in downtown, we visited The Green Hand and despite the incredibly temptation I resisted the urge to buy books. Still, I wanted to get something, so I bought a little High Priestess pin and a ton of postcards.

They very conveniently had a poster by the register with directions to the new location of The International Cryptozoology Museum, so we realized our mistake and (after a fight with the parking garage) were able to rectify it.

We had a little trouble finding the museum once we were on the warehouse campus—we literally walked right past it and didn’t see it until we turned around—but we were still there before closing. It was everything I love in a tourist trap: weird and kind of grubby but incredibly enthusiastic. It’s situated in a weird place; it splits the warehouse room with a fried chicken restaurant, so we had to walk through another place to find the entrance. (It has its own door, too, but on the other side of the building.) We watched the little introductory video by the founder first (Loren Coleman, no doubt the “creepy dude” mentioned earlier), then I paid for our tickets and we explored.

The first floor is a riot of assorted mounted weirdnesses—this is the “hoax” section, which the video explains is included because the founder wants you “to be critical and skeptical.” It includes Fiji mermaids and Jackalopes and so on.

And bits about assorted species once considered mythical that turned out to be real: mountain gorillas, etc.

The infamous GI Joe (actually an Indiana Jones action figure) and beaver.

Upstairs is dedicated to hominids and the founder’s little shrine to himself and assorted cryptid kitsch.

The museum It reminded me, a little, of The Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA, in that these are both vanity-ish projects that are kind of the crystallized, refined essence of what makes their founders tick. Only The Museum of Jurassic Technology isn’t really self-aggrandizing about it and is much more about “here’s this stuff I like!” The International Cryptozoology Museum is a little more, “Here’s me, and here’s the stuff that made me famous.” Anything that made him famous: an overhead LED light that was used on a camping trip when he potentially saw Bigfoot, the computer Coleman used to write his first book on cryptozoology, that sort of thing. A wall-mounted TV plays a video of his appearance on some show or other (but we didn’t stay long enough to find out if it loops).

 

 

They have a photo op set up, and naturally we availed ourselves of it.

I spend my last remaining pocket change on a postcard in the gift shop and we decided to try to the deep-fried PB & J food truck we saw while we were trying to find the museum.

Everything sounded really good, or at least really interesting; I settled on a sort of sample platter that’s half a regular (deep-fried) PB & J and half something called a S’More: no peanut butter or jelly, but fluff and something vaguely Nutella ish. We chatted for a little bit with another customer, who was maybe itching to talk to people and so when he heard me give my name for the order opened up with a story about a woman he knew who was named, for real, “Katherine Katherine.” We talked about unusual names and doping in sports and NASCAR and then our sandwiches were ready, so we took our leave and give them a try.

The cook in the truck helpfully pointed out which sample was which; I decided to start with the s’more sandwich since the PB & J seemed to be the flagship standard. The s’more one was an absolute delight; the PB & J less so, if only because the jelly seemed to have more or less evaporated with the heat of the deep fryer, so it was essentially a warm peanut butter sandwich with powdered sugar on top.

But the s’mores one was SO DAMN GOOD.

Hunger sated, we headed back to the car to decide what our next stop for the day would be. Theophanes  had a couple suggestions, and we eventually decided on Fort McClary because it was the closest one to us. It was still an hour away, about, but we had time.

Some people from your childhood, if you meet them again as adults it’s weird and you have nothing in common with them anymore and you struggle to understand why you were ever friends to begin with. Maybe sometimes you kept an inseparable circle of BFFs. Visiting Theophanes with is somewhere in the middle. Thanks to Facebook, we’ve more or less kept tabs on each other, though we never interact one-on-one. But in person it’s fine, and it’s not weird, and it’s like: here’s this person who’s known you, if not always very deeply, forever. We drove a lot and what could have been long, uncomfortable car rides with a virtual stranger are perfectly comfortable. Silences occur and are natural, but most of the time there was easygoing conversation.

We poked around Fort McClary without paying the “suggested donation” because we’re rebels. This is all you need to know about Fort McClary:

“During the Civil War, plans were drawn for large masonry forts on major rivers, but advancement in weapons caused them to become obsolete before construction was completed. The huge granite slabs on this site remain where they lay when work stopped.”

We alternately poked around for pictures, enjoyed a view together, or stopped and shot the breeze. We quite possibly scared a couple of dudes away when the subject turned to birth control and periods. I watched the boats in the water and thought about Murder, She Wrote and drank in the smell of the ocean.

Somebody had it in for Sir William Pepperrell!

RIP Granite Wall

It’s a small and unremarkable park, but it does have a lovely view. I can understand why someone would be honored by a memorial bench here.

We decided to leave when the sun started to go down, since we still had a long drive back to the cabin. By the time we get home, Theophanes’s brother, girlfriend, and her nieces are already there. We knew that they were going to be staying overnight that night, so it wasn’t not much of a surprise; we just didn’t know what time they’d be arriving. For it being such a small cabin, though, it didn’t feel cramped with all of those people. Theophanes and I are beat (we did a lot of walking), but we hung around and chatted a little bit about our plans tomorrow: driving to Boston, Walden, Boda Borg. Neither Theophanes nor her family were really familiar with the concept of escape rooms, so I explained.

“I hope they let you out if you can’t solve the puzzle,” the girlfriend joked.

We needed an early start the next day, though, and we were seriously bushed from our adventures. We didn’t talk for long until we said our goodnights and collapsed into bed.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Days 12 – 14: Bethlehem, PA to Albany, NY

My time at my parents’ is winding down, but I still feel like it wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do. Now that the books are sorted (FINALLY, FOR REAL) and packed up, it’s time to mail them. I also have some other things I’m shipping back to myself, mostly jewelry-making supplies and gifts for other people.  I run into the patriarch of one of the families I’ve known from church forever, who’s mailing a cell phone charger back to his son. We chat a bit, the way you do with people you went to church with your whole childhood.

I also get in a few good hours with Best Chemist Friend and her boyfriend at their place, catching up in real time and enjoying some (non-alcoholic, for me, since I’m driving) drinks and watching her cats.

When the time comes for me to leave, as in leave the Lehigh Valley, there’s a little confusion over how I’m getting to the bus—is Mom dropping me off? are both parents? is Dad around?—but it goes smoothly. I say bye to Dad, and the usual goodbye ritual:

Rub noses, touch heads, give a kiss, a hug, and the other side

Which we did every day when he left for work when I was little, and then we do every time I leave on a long trip (or just, um, leave these days; these aren’t “trips” that I’m taking abroad).

The last time I took one of these buses to NYC, there was a scheduling mishap and I ended up arriving hours later than I had planned. But this time the full bus actually radioed through and the overflow bus was there to pick us up just a few minutes later. Success!

I had messaged another college friend now in NYC about hanging out or getting lunch while I was in the environs, but between an international wedding, a work trip, and a death in the family, things didn’t hook up and that’s 100% fine. So I spend my morning at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, familiar and reassuring in its kind of grossness. I’m still reading Journal of a Solitude, though I also crib the free WiFi to putter around on Facebook and gchat.

I get bumped up from a layover bus trip to a direct bus, so I don’t have to mess around with changing at Kingston. As usual, the ride is ugly all the way through New Jersey and then gorgeous in New York. Sometimes I think about where I’d live if I had to go back to the US, and New England (and New England adjacent) is top of the list. Did I go to college there because I loved it, or do I love it because I went to college there? Hard to say.

My ride, an Internet friend from high school who grew up in the area, relocated to Arizona for a few years, and is now back in Albany, picks me up and gets some Swedish candy for her troubles, and we go out for really goddamn good Thai food before she drops me off where I’ll be staying in Albany, with two friends from college, L and A.

A delicious-looking Thai red curry on a funky square white plate.

Everyone is on a tightly choreographed schedule. My ride’s boyfriend will need the car soon, so there’s no chance to wander somewhere for dessert (cider donuts!) and give my hosts a little extra time to get the kiddos down; coming directly to their house from the bus station instead of getting dinner with my ride would have plopped me there at Peak Chaos. We’ve timed things juuuuuust right.

I knock on the door and L answers.

“Koba Commander! Your timing is perfect. If you had been here, like, ten minutes earlier, you’d have met a room full of naked men.”

(It’s bath time with L and the boys.)

I go upstairs to say hello, and I sit with L and and the oldest son (now 3?), and we read a few stories before bed. A sings the youngest to sleep in the other room, like actually for-real sings a lullaby. Kids to bed, the grown-ups sit in the living room with some tea. I dig out my thank-you gift: some Söderte, in bags because I figure busy parents don’t have time to mess around with tea diffusers and etc. The whole conversation is a weird overlay for me; I’m reminded of my parents’ college friends that we saw sometimes. They had kids around my age (and my brother’s age), and they were just over in Jersey, so it made sense for visits to happen and for the children to get shooed out to spend time together while the adults caught up.

Now I’m living the life I remember my parents living, kind of: I’m visiting with college friends who have just put their kids to bed. I’m just coming from a little farther away than Jersey. Adulthood. I forget what we talk about, but L ducks out the earliest while A and I keep talking about grammar and mathematics and things, but also a lot about friendship and how it changes over time and, naturally, assorted college memories.

“But like, that part of our lives is over now. We’ve been out of college longer than we were in it.”

A is an absolutely lovely person, and one of the things that’s lovely about her is that she has a combination of profundity, kindness, and no filter. She can get right to the heart of an issue, accidentally phrase it in the bluntest, gauchest possible way, and then realize how it might come across after the fact and feel awful and immediately apologize. When she goes on to say that her college friendships have become essentially dead and meaningless, she immediately catches the implications of what she’s saying.

“I mean, I’m happy to see you and I’m glad you’re here, Koba—”

“No, I know what you mean.” And that’s when I start thinking about Arrival and “The Story of Your Life” and my perception of time within friendships as being eternal and circular and many-layered, counter to what sounds like a very Zen approach (“I’m the person I am NOW, not eight years ago.”) that A has.

There is some irony in the fact that we are having this conversation about the ghosts of our past and the temporary whatever that was college with our mugs of tea resting on a cheap, wheeled table/drawer thing that L found while “suite shopping” (dormitory dumpster diving) to outfit the suite we had for our junior (A’s senior) year at school. Some things never change.

But sleep comes for us all, and since we’re the adults who will be in charge of a pair of little ones in just a handful of hours, eventually we have to pack it in. A goes upstairs and I collapse on the dangerously comfortable couch.  Never enough time; always too much to talk about.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 11: Bethlehem, PA

My baby-est, littlest cousin—my maternal aunt’s only child—turned 21 this year.

I was 10 when she was born, and I remember thinking to myself, “One day she’ll be 10, just like I am, and I’ll be 20.” At the time, it was barely fathomable to me that I’d ever be an adult (or that the wriggling red mass I was looking at would ever be “big” like me). I don’t remember if I had that same thought when I turned 21: “Someday Haley will be as old as I am now, and I’ll be…even more of an adult.” It’s a thought I could easily imagine myself having. In any case, that’s the reality of it now. She’s 21, and a junior in college—a period in my own life that doesn’t seem ten years ago, and yet it obviously was!—and before you know it she’ll be in her thirties, and married (or not!) and a mom (or not!), and I’ll be even older…

Speaking of my family, Day 11 of the trip was dedicated mostly to lunch with Mom’s side of the family. This would normally include Haley, but she was at the shore, so not this time.

It was a Sunday, and Mom suggested that I could go to church with her before we leave for lunch, and I more or less gracefully dodge that bullet.  I spent most of that morning doing some more cleaning and then reading by the pool.

Some books in my collection I had been clinging to since high school or thereabouts, because I really wanted to read them (or maybe more accurately, really wanted to be the kind of person who would read them), but could never get around to it. One of those was the Illuminatus! trilogy omnibus; I ditched that one because I’m definitely no longer a 14-year-old girl with a crush on a pretentious snob of a classmate. Another was Journal of a Solitude, which I bought at a library sale (the library that’s now reaping the benefits (?) of my book hoarding tendencies) on the premise of “woman alone in the woods.” This was right after I had AP English Language and Composition and fell in love with Walden and so a lady version of the same thing held a lot of appeal for me.

I decided to take a break from the boxing and the repacking and the sorting and sit with Journal of a Solitude out by the pool. It was summer, so it was basically peak beauty when it comes to the flowers and the landscaping.

A clear blue in-ground swimming pool with red-orange tile edging on a sunny day, with flower bushes and green trees in the background. Green flowering landscaping featuring black-eyed Susans and a bush with pink flowers.

Not pictured are my absolute favorite flowers: some huge red hibiscuses just off-camera to the left in the first photo. But they had their moment before my trip and so there was only a couple of sad, drooping blooms left by the time I arrived..

This time Journal of a Solitude stuck with me, really stuck. I finished it on the bus to Albany and ended up giving it to Homesteader Friend, my host in Maine, because it seemed like exactly her thing. I was glad I held on to that book for as long as I did, because I’m glad I finally read it, and I hope Homesteader Friend gets something out of it herself.

Black and white cover of May Sarton's "Journal of a Solitude," a shot of an empty desk with a typewriter, lit by a lamp from outside a window.

Anyway, Mom only took the time to change out of church clothes and then we were off to visit my grandmother at the senior home for a little before meeting everyone else (my aunt, my brother and his wife, and my “aunt” Doris) at the restaurant. My grandmother just turned 90 this year, and she’s still “with it,” but has it a little rough getting around. Her hearing also isn’t the greatest so you have to slow down your speech by a third (and also crank up your volume by a third). We talked a little bit about how I’m doing in Sweden, and how she’s glad that I’m not in Korea anymore.

We had lunch at an Italian place that my mom and her sister habitually take their mother out to, because it’s close by and it’s easy for her to maneuver and they have food she likes. There were enough of us that we had a large table in the back to ourselves. I had a lot of the same conversation again with Aunt Donna (actually my aunt) and Aunt Doris (my grandmother’s best friend and accepted friend of the family): what I’m doing in Sweden, good thing I’m not in Korea anymore, etc. I also get a very belated birthday card.

Aunt Doris was keen to know what life is like in Sweden, and it was hard to know exactly what to tell her. Everything about my life is pretty banal and not that different from the US, except that I don’t drive. I landed on the story about going to the doctor on New Year’s Eve to get a small piece of metal out of my foot and how it was less than $10 US for a quick (but necessary!) visit that took all of five minutes. The conversation was immediately sidetracked by the insane state of the American health insurance system and how much that kind of visit would cost with their respective insurance plans. We also talked about my brother’s Instagram, which his wife hates (“anyone who doesn’t know you or your weirdo sense of humor will just think you’re an idiot”) and which, according to Aunt Donna, Haley loves (“she gets it, John, she thinks it’s hilarious”).

After lunch, Mom and I stopped at one of the vineyards between my grandmother’s and home. We don’t get a bottle but I get a wine slushie, which I sipped for the rest of the drive home.

There was more cleaning once we got back home. The books were basically all done by this point; now I was up to my eyebrows in knick knacks and mementos. I also tried to get together jewelry stuff to either mail back to myself or to give away to crafty friends. The whole time I was home it simultaneously felt like I didn’t have enough time in the day and that I also didn’t get anything done, the worst of both worlds. But now Musikfest was over and there was nothing left for me to do except take care of my stuff and see Best Chemist Friend.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 5: Austin, TX to Bethlehem, PA

The weather for my Monday flight out is appropriately dour and unpleasant: overcast, drizzly, and just plain “blah.” It matches my mood.

I’m up half an hour before everyone else, so after I triple-check what small amount of luggage I have, I sit out in the living room with the cats and read some more James Tiptree, Jr. while the rest of the household wakes up and does their thing around me. Things move quietly and efficiently until Noah gets the text alert that my ride to the airport’s arrived. I say my goodbyes at the door, but then an idea hits Noah.

“I’ll come out with you. I just realized that the driver will probably be looking for me, since I called for the ride.”

I’m reminded of our goodbye in NYC last October, when it was Noah disappearing into an Uber to the airport and I was the one left behind. On that equally gray morning, after hugging out our goodbyes, I had hung by the open door and watched him disappear down the stairs with our host, only for him to dart back at the last minute for a last hug. This time it’s me vanishing into an Uber for the airport.

We meet my ride at the curb, a cheerful woman in early middle age. I swing my larger bag in the back of the car. Noah pulls me in for one hug then, and then the “one more hug” trick again right before I step in the back passenger seat. After that, he lets me go for real, and I get in the car.

It’s the price you pay to pull up stakes and move to another country. Facebook and Skype and email help, but they’re not the same. And some people translate better online than others. Noah is markedly worse than others. That’s probably what makes our goodbyes so heavy.

On the plus side, I have a pleasant ride to the airport. It’s weird talking to human beings for no reason again; it’s weird how comfortable I am doing it (after stony silences in cabs and Ubers in Stockholm and NYC). Is this my inner American coming out? Is this who I’ve been all along?

No, it’s probably just being in Texas. Extroversion acquired via osmosis.

We talk about music festivals: how much money people can make off of SXSW, how busy it can get, how small Musikfest (on my to-do list during this trip) is by comparison, even though both festivals have been running for about as many years.

Musikfest 2013. Image courtesy the official Lehigh Valley Flickr account.

I check in at the airport without a problem and see again that I’ll be among the last board. Whatever. I make it on board and text Noah and my mom to let them know that everything went according to plan.

The weather in Newark is equally crummy and I’m convinced that we’re going to hydroplane into the back of a tractor trailer or get sideswiped or anything else on the way home. I’m no longer used to car rides on the highway in inclement weather; is this a small sign of my own de-Americanization?

Obviously we make it home just fine. I get Priscilla, my indestructible-except-for-her-hinges laptop, up and running (how many months of updates do I need to install? too many), check in with my sambo on Google Hangouts, and then begin the long work of culling my library yet again. I work on the project off-and-on for the next few days; eventually I’ll have five(!!) boxes of books for the Riegelsville library.

Riegelsville library

I take a break for Jeopardy!, because I’m a nerd, and then decide on my course of action for tomorrow: library and ‘fest.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Austin, TX, Day 4

It’s my last full day in Austin and I try really hard not to be sad about it. Fortunately that’s easy, because today’s the day we go to Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio and see the bats!

Everyone sleeps in and I’m the first up, again. I’ve finished Stories of Your Life and Others by now (I finished it while I was waiting for the bus to/at Book People yesterday); my eye catches a James Tiptree, Jr. collection and picks that up.

“Take that with you,” Elizabeth says when they wake up. “I’m basically holding on to those books to give away to people.”

Noah and Elizabeth decide to take advantage of the rental car and do the grocery shopping for all of the heavy things (read as: kitty litter). I follow along, because I really do genuinely like wandering around grocery stores, even if (like my trip with Elizabeth yesterday) there’s no giddy quality of planning and anticipation involved.

After we bring the groceries back (and make a quick run to the store to find a misplaced “bag of bags”), we decide to try to get lunch in town before the drive out to San Antonio. The places we check have incredibly long waits, though, so instead we get some macarons and a turkey and cheese sandwich (for me and Noah to split) and head straight to San Antonio and decide to eat there. Noah consults with a friend via text about the best tacos in San Antonio, and he responds: “Rolando’s Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord.”

A podcast interview with Eddie Izzard fills the silence on the long drive; a Texas state lawmaker (who both Noah and Elizabeth recognize, since they both work in the Capitol) drives very aggressively, ultimately passing us on the right, and Elizabeth and Noah both shriek in inchoate rage. (Apparently she’s a garbage politician in addition to a garbage driver.)

We get to Rolando’s Super Taco without incident. We took the “Jesus is Lord” part of the text to mean that really, they’re awesome tacos, but then when we arrive we see it: bold text, professionally painted on the side of the building.

The tacos are, indeed, super. And the water glasses are comically oversized. (“Welcome back to America,” either Elizabeth or Noah says when a “Jesus, this is huge” reflexively escapes my lips.)

Stuffed to the gills, we continue to the cave, which is a jaw-dropping tourist trap of truly American proportions. I suppose when your cave is in the middle of uninhabited ranch land, you can spread out as much as you like; there are two different gift shops, some kind of zip line attraction, a maze, gem panning, and even a cafeteria.

The next tour leaves in about five minutes, giving us enough time to stroll over to the tour holding pen. This cave opts for the “tour guide at every station” model, which I like less than the “have a new friend and personal cave psychopomp for an hour” model, but given some of the hairpin turns in the path, I see why it’s run the way it is. I don’t fall, thankfully, though Noah almost does.

They have an obligatory photo spot, which Noah and Elizabeth resent—”even if they don’t sell your picture to you, they can use it in promotional material”—and so they strive to look as awful as possible when the flash goes off.

I shrug. “Joke’s on them. I’m not photogenic at all!”

The cave itself is spectacular and miracle of miracles, my camera phone manages to capture some of the magic. I lose my mind repeatedly on the tour.

“Thank you for indulging my weirdo nerdy interests,” I say as we follow the walkway back to the main tourist campus of shops and food. I still have OMG CAVE HIGH thrumming through my veins.

“You’d do the same for me,” Noah replies.

“What would be the equivalent? That Eugene O’Neill play, I guess.”

“Oh, yeah. Which one was that?” He stops to think and we both say, together, “‘The Hairy Ape.'”

We wait in the cafeteria for the bat tour to begin. There’s some short paperwork to sign, a waiver for something or other, and then we’re out on the patio for a short lecture on bats. The bat colony here are Mexican free tail bats; they don’t hibernate, so they haven’t been devastated by White Nose Syndrome like the little brown bats in PA. But the BCI volunteer touches on WNS, and other kinds of bats as well. She brings up the flying fox: “Do I have anyone here who’s six foot?”

“This guy is,” Elizabeth says, pointing at Noah. The BCI volunteer asks him to stand and hold his arms to demonstrate the wingspan of a flying fox. Elizabeth and I both crack up, and she snaps a picture of his demonstration. The volunteer moves on to other bat species and Noah sits down.

As we’re caravaning out to the cave where the bats will emerge, Elizabeth tells Noah, “I volunteered you to stand up because I knew you would love it. Everyone watching you? Perfect.”

The drive to the cave is surprisingly long, though we can’t be driving more than 20 mph, so that’s part of it.

“They could just be really efficient serial killers,” Elizabeth wonders as we drive. The rental car isn’t exactly made for off-roading; I think we all are fervently hoping that we don’t get a flat or suffer any other road maladies. The survives, and right away you can smell the presence of bat. Woof. It’s a short walk through the Texan scrub and then we’re at the mouth of a cave. Or not at, not entirely; we’re a few hundred feet back, separated by a gentle slope full of rocks and debris.

At ground level a few benches have been built to seat bat observers, and some artificial terraces. We make our way to the front-most ledge and sit and wait, while the BCI volunteer continues to inform us about the nearby wildlife and other bat facts.

We see a few flutters of individual bats here and there, and then eventually they’re out, like a bat vortex. They stream out and into some fields we can’t see to feed on assorted pests. After a few minutes of watching, the BCI volunteer announces that she’ll be leading people to the other side, right over the cave, so we can be right under the bats as they fly.

It’s a pretty amazing sight, though I’m mindful of the fact that we’re under animals and try to remember to not stand and gape with my mouth wide open. Don’t want to be a bat toilet!

“They look like an aurora borealis,” I say.

“There is a river-like quality to their flight,” Noah agrees.

Again, I think of Vonnegut: If this isn’t nice, what is? “Not everything is a total garbage fire,” I comment, and Noah just laughs.

On our way out, we can still see bats silhouetted against the clouds in the vanishing daylight. According to the BCI volunteer, they can hit bursts of speed up to 100 mph. With the right wind and atmospheric conditions, I guess.

We pull back on the highway and listen to a podcast Elizabeth wanted to try out, The Babysitter’s Club Club. It’s two guys reading The Babysitter’s Club books, one for the first time and one for the first time since childhood. It suffers the usual podcast problem: desperately needs more editing and/or more scripting, and much of the episode is full of only moderately funny banter. We all pick it apart a little, and then Noah puts on another podcast for the second half of the trip home: Pop Culture Happy Hour.

As we wind in to Austin, food comes up. Noah is hungry; Elizabeth isn’t. (She had a huge platter at Rolando’s Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord.) Elizabeth drops us off at the all-purpose eatery Noah and I had patronized for breakfast on Friday and goes home herself. Noah gets loaded vegetarian nachos (tofu instead of bacon!) and I get a cider. We sit and talk about everything important and nothing in particular: friendships, relationships, anxieties, veganism. There’s no postponing the inevitable, though: we finish the nachos and my cider runs out and it’s definitely time to go home.

 

“Should we wake you up, or do you have an alarm?”

“I’ll set an alarm. Have I checked in?” Weird to phrase it like that, but since Noah bought the ticket, he’s the one who keeps getting the email reminders from Southwest.

“Yes, I did that this morning.”

“Okay, great.”

A few minutes into me last-minute packing and double-checking everything, Noah drifts out of the bedroom. “Okay, so I didn’t actually check you in. I had the window open to take care of the airport cab, but I never hit the button. Should I send it to you, or…?”

I wave him way. “You can just do it yourself, it’s fine.” If my flight back is overbooked and I get bumped to a later one, I don’t really care so much.

“Okay. Night!”

“Night!”

My things are packed as best as they can be with me still in pajamas. I double-check my alarm (poor form to miss a flight someone else has paid for), and then drift off to sleep.