Homecoming

I thought that coming back from the States was going to be hard. Returning to site after Early in-Service Training (EIST) was a nightmare. For all of us, I think. A full week of depression, malaise. Couldn’t get work done, couldn’t write, couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to see people in town. But the States has been easy. Leaving friends and folks was tough. Both times, riding the metro out to Reagan from DC and letting my parents go and checking in at Detroit International, all the way through to getting on the bus in the city to come back here, like I was toting a sackful of rocks behind my navel. But once I hit my house, my stifling room, and my sopping bed, not a pang.

It might be that during EIST you’re with people who so well understand your situation, or that you’re still it Mexico when it happens, that it’s part of service and so more keenly felt when you’re back in site, in service. Being in the US was another world. Something apart enough that it couldn’t touch me here. Not in the sense of reverse culture shock. The Peace Corps and volunteers will go on about that, and maybe when I haven’t been back for more than a year it will hit me too. But Mexico is too developed, too unlike a regular site for service to present a totally different culture. What I felt there was something subtler.

Part of it was coming back to college for a little while. I stayed with my uncle and aunt in Virginia for a spell, like I did every weekend the summer before I shipped out, and I stayed with all the guys I lived with that summer too. The people I saw in DC were all college friends, from the year before, my year, and the one after. Because my buddy Eric’s dating a year younger, I ended up going to her awards ceremony and through their largesse (and that Brian Baum had a spare suit) I went to Senior Ball a second time.

They've gotten prettier since I left

They’ve gotten prettier since I left

So a real repeat of what should have been an uncapturable past.

 

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Levantine Speculation

Anyone who’s following my Twitter, which Twitter informs me is ‘nobody,’ will know that all summer Maya and I have been having brief cynical discussion about current events, and there’s an idea that’s come up a few times now: Lebanon, conflict in. Maya put together a tight piece on the refugee population in that country (about one-third of the entire population, combination Palestinian and Syrian) and how they’re treated natives somewhere between inhospitably and with outright hostility, and that, since the populations are going to be there awhile (the Palestinians have been since the 1940s), the only sane thing to do would be to bring them into the socioeconomic fold of the Lebnen proper.

Thanks, David Roberts

Which, as I understand, looks like this

Her suggestion makes even more sense when you consider that unassimilated Palestinian refugees played a not-insignificant role in the Israeli invasion and subsequent civil war in the 1970s. Radicalized refugees got involved with Lebanese internal conflicts and made war on the Maronite Phalange, which yadda yadda simplification helped bring the Syrians in to ‘restore order,’ different refugees began launching attacks across the border into Israel, Israel invaded up to Beirut, dabbled in genocide under Sharon at Sabra and Chatila, more simplification, boom Civil War.

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T Plus Negative Five

Getting down to it now. I know I keep saying that, but we’re at staging minus five. Not a big number. It’s gloomy out on the deck, and DC’s early autumn has crushed all hope of toasting up in preparation for the Mexican sun. Querétaro isn’t particularly hot, but I was into the spirit of the thing. The ever-running rivers of sweat are gone, along with the DC summer’s egalitarian and intimate damp. But I can drink hot coffee outside now, so there’s a plus.

It's a less moist experience this way

It’s a less moist experience this way

There are a few decisions this week, two of which are worth writing. First, this blog. The Peace Corps has no problem with volunteers publishing on assignment, but the extraneous material I’ve got here might be a bit much, and I’ll have to decide how and if to quarantine it after I’ve talked with my country director. So we’ll see about that. Second, I’ve got to sort my life into take and not-take, and of the not-take, into queath and not-queath. Everything I’m leaving that isn’t personal documentation can be queathed on someone—it’s a matter of finding the right friend to queath on. If you’ve ever seen something of mine you’d like to borrow for two years or forever if I forget, drop me a line and it’s yours to keep maybe.

I’m breaking the off-topic into its own post today, so uh…nothing after the break.

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Letting Go

I’m worried about missing things. Or at least I’m sad about it. Melancholy. Prematurely nostalgic. Something like that. I’m going to be gone a hell of a long time, and I’ll be far farther out of touch than I was when I was in Spain. Not to mention busier. It’s all sorts of things. The first I had to overcome was the idea that all the shit I’d be doing here for 22 and 23 and 24 would be worth staying for. A summer spent in DC doing what I always do in DC (mostly nothing) has helped to disabuse me of that idea. Still, stuff remains. I won’t be here for the next two Hobbit movies, for instance. Neil Gaiman just came out with a new book, and since I haven’t got it or time to read it this summer, chances are I won’t know what it’s about for a couple years. Ditto every book I might have picked up. I can’t imagine English book will be as hard to get in Mexico as they were in Spain, but it won’t be as easy as, say, here. I might not see the end of this season of the Newsroom for a very long time. I have to call all these things up one by one so I can see how petty they are and let them go.

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There’s a Gif at the End of the Tunnel

Gloomy and post-precipital on the deck today. DC has been unseasonably cool, and I’m far from hating it, even though it makes chilling on the deck chillier than it ought to be.

Truly a noble subject

It’s boring out, so here’s an artsy shot I’m working on

It’s getting down to it, folks. In twenty-two days, I’ll be flying out of DC and into the sun, stumbling around Mexico City International, hopping a bus with “carry-on snacks provided by Peace Corps Mexico staff,” and heading to Querétaro. Emails about PST, Pre-Service Training, have been flying thicker and faster, and the number of acronyms has skyrocketed. COTE, for example, is the Calendar of Training Events, although I like to think I’ll call it the ‘calendar.’ Ditto my TAP, or Training Advisory Packet. Maybe I’m being too hasty.

I know I’ve described this whole ramp-up to many of you like camp. I idolised my saxophone teacher in high school, and when he said I ought to go to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp (the very same band camp they spoofed in American Pie), I informed my parents that I’d be going. When the week before arrived, I was nervous and desperate to finagle a way out of the commitment (both times). But after the awful site-read madness of auditions, I always had a great time. While my anxiety is piling up along with the emails, I know things will settle out once I get there.

I miss band camp

Like I did when I was here

What’s helpful is that all of the orientation materials read like they did before I shipped to Spain, and the process feels familiar. Today I had my moment, the one where I realize it’s going to happen and soon. I was smoking and speaking Spanish to myself, because that’s what I do when I’m alone and about to go to Mexico, and I got done and was chuckling to myself, and I said: ‘Well bud, looks like we’re going to Mexico.’ It would be hard to overstate how important that dumb admission was. I’m pumped, I’m excited, I want to know what my Adult Experiential Education Spanish Interview Proficiency Level is, and more than that, I want to start using it. We’re going to Mexico.

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The Old Lie

This is another one of those days when I was too insomniac the night before and too lazy the morning after to catch the sun. So while I’ve missed out on toasting myself, my time on the deck has been agreeably shady today. If anyone’s wondering why I keep updating you on the state of the deck, its because I hope that wherever I end up writing in Mexico will be a little more visually interesting, and the pictures will give you a better sense of my day-to-day.

This deck

Today I’m on the deck

I’m going to talk about saying goodbye again, but this time it’s about saying goodbye to places. You know, trying to give yourself a big send-off, really trying to live up to the last few days, see everyone and everything that makes a place your home. I’m bad at that too. For one, anyone who’s been to one of my parties knows how well they go. Ditto for bar nights, excursions, and outings. What’s more, with half the people that mean home to me out of the picture, it’s hard to really hold a get-together to say goodbye. With Gebeily, Martinez, Guyton, Rice, Lujan, and God knows how many others off in parts unknown, a farewell in DC can’t be complete.

I don’t have the cash, the fortitude, or the partying acumen to make my way to enough cool bars and clubs and venues to have a last real go-round in the city either. It’s never been my bag, as much as I would have liked it to be. But the real reason that wouldn’t work is that DC isn’t really my home. Not the whole city, anyway. Love or hate the fact of it, but since my folks left Detroit and Akron and moved to China, Georgetown is the only home I’ve got. Not the neighborhood, the school. And the last time it still had any chance of being home to me was graduation weekend, when the mass of familiar faces was making its final appearance. I find myself taking long unnecessary walks, constantly panning and scanning, ogling campus like the open-mouthed summer program kids and trying to catch a whiff of what the last four years smelled like.

And taking really bad photos

And taking really bad photos

Georgetown now is full of naïve and unbearable high school students that make you hate them and wish for just a second that you could be that dumb and that excited just to be here again. But you can’t, and they aren’t us, and their Georgetown isn’t mine, and my shot at saying goodbye is long gone.

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Adieu, Adieu, to You and You and You

Porch time’s a little more hospitable today.

See how there's shadows and stuff

See how there’s shadows and stuff

The heat’s gone and been replaced by an autumnal cool that I’m perpetually up too late to enjoy. The reason that I could be so tardy to the writing porch is also the subject of the post today: unemployment. Up til now, I’d had fairly regular work at the T. Box of DC M St fame, and would be two hours into a Friday evening shift as of time of writing. Unfortunately (or not), I got a call from my manager around noon to let me know that we never had the legal go-ahead to serve food upstairs and that they wouldn’t need me for two weeks. Fourteen days is a long way to go without income, and as the chasm stretches in front of me, I can’t help but thank the Peace Corps, because no matter how intimidating or challenging it’s going to be to go abroad and start a life from scratch, it’s better than unemployment. And the Corps gives me a chance to wait out our crisis, with the option to put in another two years of procrastination with a Master’s program. Sweet!

I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised about the Box. That the owner hotboxes his office on the reg, that our white wine thefts are the sole responsibility of his wife, that if you talk to any ten bartenders in this city, one has a story about him being a shit, that both of his restaurants have been shut down for health code violations in the last month, and that the AC upstairs has been raining into the mold colonies in the ceiling for more than three years without even the most jury-rigged repair all speak volumes about the business practices in place. But uh, more time for me, I guess.

Moving onto topic, I’ve got a bit of saying goodbye to do, and I’m not going to do it. Not that I don’t want to or that I’m afraid, but because I’m bad at it. Always have been. All the feelings, the heartfelt, touching stuff that needs to be said, the pain of loss and separation, the anticipation of long gulfs of time without the ones I most love, all that only ever hits me way after the time for it has come and gone.

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Private Myth and Public Virtue

Here’s the first of my extraneous essay postings. It’s a bit I did last fall that my betters at the Corporate Action Network didn’t like. I think it’s okay.

Cinncinnatus abandons the plow for the dictatorship of Rome

Cinncinnatus abandons the plow for the dictatorship of Rome

The whole ‘you didn’t build that’ kerfuffle may go down as the dumbest argument in this election cycle — yes you built your business, no you didn’t build all of America’s infrastructure, go read the speech, there’s literally nothing to disagree with — but it brings up an excellent point about responsibility and debt to society.

Phony individualism is ingrained in the American psyche, carved there by the mythification of frontier life and men like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. But Lewis and Clark were supported by an expedition and the modern American has been buoyed his entire life by a vast confluence of state and society. Any given American CEO may be an exceptional man or woman, but transplant either of them at birth to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and it’s a fair bet that their prospects will have narrowed somewhat. The discrepancy is due to the state — a system of infrastructure and public goods supported by taxes that are by a developed standard mild — and to the society, which values hard work, which put those men and women on top of their firms because of their merits and not their family or guns, and which supplied every employee under them at their companies, every exceptionally productive person that lets them make the kind of money that they do.

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Pack, pack

Porch time. NPR tells me that the heat wave has broken, but I suspect their offices just have better A/C than mine.

It’s going to become obvious, I think, that this is (will be) as much a personal blog as a Peace Corps travelogue. One because no matter what they have me doing, there’s no way it’ll be worth two years of regular updates, and two because I have other stuff to write about that nobody’s going to pay me for, and this is as good a repository as any. Especially since nobody (excepting the faithful-to-a-fault Alex Guyton) will be reading it regularly, and I won’t have to worry much about who sees what, an ixnay from my country director aside. So in the coming forever, be aware that there will be (may be) off-topic posts, although I’ll try to keep the categories straight for the benefit of literally no-one.

Anyway, packing. I am not excellent at it. In Scouts, Dad and I spent the first thirty minutes of every camping trip on the road, figuring out if what we had forgotten was nonessential or if I’d be spending my week giving new life to a pair of increasingly fungal socks. I don’t know if I’ve packed sober for anything in recent memory—the stakes have never been high, and I usually haven’t started before the night-before sendoff. This time around, I’m looking to put my life into one large hiking pack, one medium rolling duffel, and one typewriter case that weighs more than my mom.

It's more fun than it looks

It’s more fun than it looks

I managed it for Spain for five months, but I can’t say I did much planning or paid heed to the ‘you won’t be able to get this or that abroad’ advisories. Whether or not I could get this or that over there, I lucked out and forgot only what was readily available. This time, I’ll be packing glasses and backups, ten pounds of flouridated teeth products that my dentist assures me I’ll need to keep the meth mouth away, one suit and more businesswear than I’ve ever packed before, a space-taking camera, a bunch of electrical converters, every English-language books I want to be sure I can access for the next year, and a fucking typewriter.

I'm a smart one

I’m a smart one

I figure that I’ll be able to take about half my clothes and virtually none of my shit. As far as the peripherals I am bringing alone, it’s typewriter, laptop, camera, and fly rod. My dad’s big on it, I might be able to show some folks the benefits of clean rivers or supplement my diet or whatever (not likely). By and large, I’m pumped. To divest, to reduce my life to irreducibles. I don’t imagine the initial purge catharsis will get my through my term, but right now I’d lose the laptop too if I wasn’t packing a digital camera and a worthless blog. If I end up with a computer or at least periodic access through work, I might try to ditch even that, since with the fans shot and a keyboard shorted into uselessness by a Georgetown slumlord’s faulty A/C waterfall, the setup’s a bit of a goddamned mess.

Wave of the future, right here

Wave of the future, right here

Plus since I’m a video game nerd, it weighs what the British call a stone, and if I can avoid throwing my downtime into Total War, I’ll be one step ahead of where I was in Spain. By the by, I just slapped what I though was a mosquito but was apparently a tiny wasp. Puta fucking madre, man.

My preoccupation with English language books might seem misplaced since I’m not moving to Uganda or the southern United States, but if Mexico is anything like Spain, I can forget about finding the King’s in a bookstore. And while after a semester at University got me ready for straight history texts, Spanish literature is as hard as it ever was, and I can’t imagine that as good as my speaking and technical grasp gets that work will put me any closer to Marques or Borges. Double that if I cant call up SpanishDict at a moment’s notice. Although if anyone’s got a handy dictionary of idioms and aphorisms that spans a middle, Caribbean, and South America’s worth of Spanish, let me know. Anyway, I think I’ll cut it short for today. I’m not working off stored material anymore, so my posts might find themselves looking like they actually belong on a blog from now on. Saludos, friends.

Goals

Back on the porch. The heat wave’s still going in DC, and I think we’re flirting with the big double-oh today. I’m definitely moist.

moist

This chair’s about to be

If I wasn’t such a lazy asshole I could have gotten some sun along with the ovening, but shadow takes over at the crack of two, so that was out of the question. I did manage to make it up for my important and relevant trip to Lauinger Library, where I received training on and then checked out a Canon Rebel T4i, which will be supplying all the pictures for this post except its own. I’ve got a chunk of security deposit from 3616 T that isn’t going to Mexican airline tickets, and I’m hoping to pick up a DSLR, also in the footsteps of our own Maya G. I won’t be able to afford a T4, but I think that’s okay, since Peace Corps safety and security training assured me that everything I own will be stolen at least one and one half times while I’m over there. They also differentiate two types of assaults by ’caused serious injury’ and ‘assailant required serious force to dislodge.’ There was no option for ‘volunteer only got beat up, like, a little bit,’ which was disconcerting.

I’ve been thinking a lot about keeping in touch. In all likelihood, I’ll be seeing the internet at least at work, and at the very worst every two weeks, and with that kind of timeframe, it would probably always be faster to send email, especially if the Mexican post is anything like its Spanish mother. Alex, Eric, and Danielle know that the trip through the royal mail was months long and anything but certain. All the same, people put stock in physical correspondence, and I plan to take advantage of that the entire time I’m away, currying favor one poorly typed page at a time. To that end, I’ve been compiling a dehumanizing spreadsheet of friends and acquaintances with dates of last contact, physical addresses, and personal data to mention, like my county treasurer used to hoard in his rolodex. ‘Inquire after Mrs. Johnson’s health. Unless unsure if alive. Two kids.’ It’s like my parents’ Christmas card list, but less mercenary.

All the important thoughts after the jump, because I’m terrible at this

Macbook Air

This is this blog post. I am an idiot.

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