I burned through my agenda in basically one day, so I started my second day in Lund with a long sleep in and then took a walk through Stadsparken and Lund at large to enjoy the sunshine.
I got a tip from a friend on a good crepe place, so I ambled over in that direction and got a crepe to go. It was a good tip and a very good crepe, so A+.
I ambled a bit more, since the weather was still good, and picked up snacks and some boxed wine for my later weekend plans. (Zoom drinking: pandemic hobbies.) I discovered a few stores and places to visit tomorrow, after the tour of Lund cathedral I had planned: an international bookstore, an open mic at a place with the very clever name “Cafe och Le.”
I wrapped up the night with a take out pizza, since it was Friday and old habits die hard, and then nosed around the hotel a bit to see if I wanted to use their sauna.
Verdict: I don’t like Swedish saunas as much as Korean ones and I would be better served by a really hot shower in my own room. I did just that, and with my hair toweled off a bit I went downstairs to read The Stone Sky in the hotel lobby. I was hoping that the fire that had been going before would still be lit, for those good good cozy vibes, but alas it was not to be. Still, pleasant to have the white noise of people conversing (the lobby opened directly into the hotel bar/restaurant) and I read until I was ready to nod off right there on the couch.
I didn’t want to fly anywhere during a pandemic, and it was a bit embarrassing to be a jävle stockholmare who had never been beyond the greater metropolitan area even after seven years of living here, so I decided this was the year to take the train out of Stockholm and visit other parts of Sweden. This time around: Lund and Göteborg.
I sprung for a hotel room in Lund, a full on grown up suite hotel room with a kitchenette and plenty of space ALL FOR ME. Deep in my heart I’m still a slummy hostel rat, but during corona I don’t want to bunk up in close quarters with other people traveling so I dropped the cash for the fancy option in a hotel built in a converted locomotive shed.
Once I had settled in for the night, I set about putting together an agenda for the rest of my visit. The thing I wanted to see most was the Nasal Committee, a collection of plaster casts of assorted famous noses. This sounds a bit weird when I put it like that; it’s not at all a serious exhibit but a long-running joke that started in an award acceptance? commencement? speech by a Swedish comedian back in the 80s and now here we are today. Amongst the actual noses from living people, you also have entries like the Sphinx (“mysteriously noseless” according to its little catalogue write-up), Tycho Brahe (complete with the brass bit like he had in real life) and the eel, Anguilla anguilla.
The botanical gardens were along the way from my hotel room to the museum, so I took a wander through there to appreciate the flowers and fresh air, even though the weather was a bit overcast.
The botanical gardens also adjoin a cemetery (which actually had a pair of goth kids smoking by the entrance, bless) so I had a fun time investigating the headstones. Like Stockholm, no graves were particularly old, but unlike Stockholm a lot of them had the deceased’s career listed. The most noteworthy one was a PhD. She worked too hard for that doctorate NOT to have it proudly listed on her grave!
The Cultural Museum was a quite a bit larger than I would have expected, with several buildings and open-air exhibits. I ended up exploring several other areas as well.
After the museum and a bit of a walk, so I decided to see if the Mexican place I passed earlier was open and taking drop-in customers. It was and they were, and for Mexican food in Sweden it was pretty good, definitely a cut above the usual crappy tacos.
It was also blessedly empty so I didn’t feel too much like I was tempting fate: it only started filling up when I had finished, so I paid and got the heck out of Dodge.
After a couple hours of futzing around in my hotel room (drinking loads of tea, getting some reading done) I decided to futz around at a bar instead. Most of them looked too nice to go there alone (and a bit too crowded), so I eventually ended up at good ol’ Bishops Arms, drinking beer and reading Ice until closing. On my way home I nearly got taken out by a cyclist coming too fast around a corner, but in the end I was fine and he ended up eating shit and wiping out so I ended the night with a good laugh.
One of my literary friends, Yousef, suggested we do Bloomsday in 2018, a suggestion we finally made good on in 2019. Yousef is also an immaculate planner so I left all of the scheduling and eetail work to him, and he didn’t disappoint. Following his lead I stayed at Barry’s Hotel, which turned out to be a prime location for us and which was both comfortable and cozy.
The first day off the plane was a bit of a whirlwind of long-overdue hellos after six years of separation, finding the right bus, meeting up with our third travel companion, Ian, and getting dinner and drinks and settled into our hotel rooms.
On the second day, my dirtbag body woke up at 5:30 am and wouldn’t go back to sleep and that was my life. I browsed the Internet, enabled data roaming on my phone so we weren’t reliant on spotty wifi, and then went downstairs for tea and breakfast: a proper Irish breakfast full of meat.
Yousef and I trash talked MFAs until Ian turned up at our hotel—then it was time for a tour of Trinity University, including the library and the book of Kells.
Then we made a beeline for Oscar Wilde and Offbeat Donuts, though not before dropping in Swenys for a live reading from Ulysses, the very last chapter. People were in seats that were in a line snaked along the tiny little chemist’s-cum-bookstore. Everyone had their copy of Ulysses out and helpful event/store clerks proffered us extra copies open to the right page if we wanted to read along. (We declined.) Things began with an elderly woman who read quite well—you got the impression she’d read this portion quite a few times. The last chapter is one I like better as well, though I’d like it a lot more with more than eight periods…! She finished, and the next reader stumbled through his bit, which is when Yousef and I ducked out.
After Oscar Wilde and donuts, Yousef had a Dubliners walking tour. I could have crashed it but instead opted for taking the tram back to Sweny’s, where I picked up another postcard plus the infamous lemon soap.
Once reunited we made the pilgrimage to Hodges Figgis. We only had two hours until it closed, which was not nearly enough time.
“I’m glad I’m in a bookstore with people who won’t judge me for my habits,” Yousef said over the giant stack of books he was carrying. He had enough books to fill up a stamp card in one giant shop. My haul was much humbler, partially because one of the three books I found was 78 goddamn Euros! But it was a fairly academic text on translation that neither Stockholm library nor the university library carry, so I figured why not.
Afterwards we tried The Pig’s Ear, but it was fancier than we were prepared for so we left and opted for a more casual steak place (so much steak!). We started with Thai spicy chicken wings and I couldn’t help laughing.
“Thai food after book shopping, just like in Korea.”
We rounded out the night with a lot of beers at Mess Maguires and then it was the end of day two. Tomorrow would be Proper Bloomsday.
Like every other day of the trip, I was the first up and spent an hour or so on my own, reading and writing up travel notes.
“Sorry I wouldn’t commit to a time for the museum last night,” Yousef said when he got downstairs. “But it’s my vacation and I just want to sleep in.”
“No, I get it. Breakfast?”
“Just the continental today, I think.”
Yousef had toasted peanut butter and Nutella, while I had corn flakes with raisins and some Nutella and jam on toast. When he went to pay with his Emirati debit card, the clerk asked a tentative question in Arabic and a brief exchange and introduction followed.
“I knew he was Egyptian,” Yousef said as we strolled out of the hotel. “I could tell by the accent but I didn’t want to say anything.”
Our first stop was the Dublin Writer’s Museum. The thinking was that we could visit there first, learn a little bit, pick up some names or titles that might be interesting, and then go book shopping. Originally we wanted to go back to Hodges Figgis, but we ended up spending more time at the library than anticipated and since we had a tour to make at 1.30, we opted for Chapters, which was closer to the Joyce center.
A lot of the writers I noted were slightly too old but still insufficiently “classic” to be found at Chapters (which, unlike the other two bookstores we had visited already, didn’t have a separate “Irish literature” section), but I did find a couple of 20th century women writers who had been featured.
Back at the Joyce center, Yousef gave me a little bit of friendly ribbing about not buying a ticket (“They were all sold out when I went to finally buy them!”) but it’s not like there were any ticket takers or handstamps so I just told the guide I was here for the 1.30 tour and that was it. The tour was a short walk and covered Joyce’s biography as well as particular spots from Ulysses. A film crew from a Farsi station on the BBC was on our tour to report about the event, except I would have never guessed or known that if I had been by myself but Yousef made a point of asking what they were filming for, and at the end of the tour he gave the producer? director? his email address and she promised to send him a link to the clip when it aired.
We had about an hour to kill before the readings, and debated carrying our book shopping with us or dropping it off at the hotel. We opted for the latter, and good thing we did, because later that evening it started pissing down rain (Ireland!) and we would have been drenched.
“Did you have a good day?” an elderly gentleman asked me as we left the hotel. I must have looked absolutely panicked, because he continued:
“We saw you leaving the hotel this morning. Have you had a good time so far?”
“Oh! Yes, great.”
“It’s not over yet,” Yousef added.
“No, the night is young and so are we!”
We still had enough time to do a quick souvenir and gift shop. I picked up whisky cordials at Hotel Chocolat and Yousef asked if they carried anything with Baileys. No dice, but the girl at the counter suggested one of the tacky tourist tchotchke shops down the block, which was conveniently on our way. I also picked up some Baileys cordials, because why not, and then we grabbed a seat for the readings.
The whole reading was very femme and very queer, which is fitting for an event during the high holy month of Pride. The readings were interspersed with a singer performing songs from the book, which was a good call to break the monotony. Not that it would have been monotonous otherwise, but the singer was quite good so if there had been a couple duds in a row you could count on something a little livelier soon enough. The highlight of the entire event, which was a good two and a half? three? hours was a Senator who also happened to be a Joyce scholar reading from the bit with Bloom masturbating on the beach, complete with all the appropriate intonations, and then concluding his selection with: “Nothing like a spot of masturbation on a beautiful summer day!”
Ian was supposed to join us for the reading, but he took a different tour and ended up getting absolutely plumb lost, so we didn’t see him again until the cabaret show at 8. We made a beeline for the restaurant Yousef most wanted to try on his list (assembled for him by an Irish coworker who really put her project manager all into it and gave us a good selection), and by now it was getting a little chilly and I was in a light dress with no stockings or leggings and wanted to get inside.
This restaurant was BBQ and of course, since I was wearing white, I made a bit of a mess of myself. The food was worth it, at any rate, and I was glad for something warm.
The only cock-up was a mistake in the program. Our last event for the night was a cabaret performance that looked like it started at 8 and ran till midnight. We got to the venue at 7.30 and waited for the doors to open…and waited…and waited…in the downpour that I mentioned earlier…while all the while the crowd grew larger. When the doors finally opened at 8 (which was what the program should have noted but didn’t), there was such a huge crowd and such a bottleneck at the desk that it still took ten or fifteen minutes to get everyone in. We grabbed a round of drinks and waited for the show to begin.
It was worth the rain and the waiting, though. I grinned and laughed so much my face hurt, and the acts were all really good, and really creative takes on the material in Ulysses (with varying levels of poetic license taken with the source). Ian even got called on to the stage for one of the audience participation bits, which was to use a piece of sandpaper to remove as much pink paint from a toilet plunger as you could in five minutes—again, masturbation.
“I’ll hold your drink if you get a picture of this,” I whispered to Yousef a few seconds into it, and he handed over his Beamish and then did one better by capturing it all on video.
“Blackmail material,” he said with a grin when it was over.
During the intermission we talked about US politics with a woman in costume, complete with a “Votes For Women” sash (you saw a couple of those throughout the day). I stood Yousef another round of drinks and told him:
“This is a fucking delight. You made an excellent choice with this, thank you.”
Because much as the tour was a good tour and the readings were excellent, the cabaret was next level. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t going in with really high expectations. I was expecting a kind of cringey but endearing amateur burlesque thing, but it was so far beyond that.
The second to last act was a dance routine inspired by the “Ithaca” chapter, specifically the part where Stephen and Leo go outside to take a piss and look at the stars. The lights dimmed even further and a dancer in an outfit and long scarves rigged with lights performed a routine to an orchestral version of “With Or Without You.” The effect certainly didn’t cost all too much to make—take a string of LED Christmas lights of decent quality and attach them to your fabric properly and that’s about all you need—but it was genuinely captivating, and that plus all the emotional intensity of the last few days and the disappointment at having to leave the next morning got me to crying, so congratulations I’m someone who cries at dance performances now.
Ian didn’t have to be up quite as early as us, so he bid us good night and we went on our own back to the hotel. We checked into our flights and figured out our gameplan for getting to the airport. Cab fare wasn’t outrageous, so we decided to hell with it, we’re on vacation. Plus Yousef had just a small backpack and a couple of flimsy paper bags, but a million books to fit in there: all easier to manage in a cab than on public transit.
I had a larger bag and fewer books, so I got everything packed away easily before I went to bed, set a bunch of alarms (paranoia!), and curled up for the last night in my posh bed at Barry’s.
I didn’t oversleep, of course, and begrudgingly I went downstairs to check out and order a cab. I sat with one of my books—Cocktail Bar—and messaged Yousef to let him know I was up and that our cab was coming in an hour.
“Cool. Just trying to strategically back four bags of books into two.”
At ten after nine I knocked on Yousef’s door to make sure everything was cool. He didn’t answer, but I could at least hear him packing, so I retired to the hall and waited for him to finish.
“Need any help?” I asked when he came out.
“Nah, it’s okay.”
We had enough time for some morning tea and discussed the events of yesterday (best and worst readings, how good the cabaret was) and the merits of city-based literary festivals.
“I wonder if New Orleans does anything for A Confederacy of Dunces,” I said. “Or maybe that would be grim, considering what happened to the author.”
After tea, we decided to head outside and wait for our cab. The desk clerk, a friendly middle aged woman with a husky cigarette-y voice, came out with us to…make sure we didn’t get into the wrong one?
“So where did you guys fly in from?” she asked.
“Well, I’m in from Stockholm,” I offered when Yousef hesitated.
We talked a bit more about the weather and how Yousef would rather the weather in Dublin than the 50 plus degrees C in Dubai, until she spotted our car and ushered us across the street.
“Thanks for visiting, safe travels back!”
We breezed through security—not sure if DUB has its shit together or if we just picked an unpopular time to fly— and finished all of the check-in stuff by 11 or so. Our flights weren’t until almost 2,so we had plenty of time to kill. Yousef did some last-minute souvenir shopping and we had some breakfast. What we really wanted, and hadn’t been able to find in all of our restaurants, was a proper stew, so we just bided our time until the restaurant downstairs started serving lunch. What the restaurant billed as a “casserole” ended up being extremely stew-y, so mission accomplished.
I had a long schlep back to my gate once Yousef’s flight was off the ground, so I didn’t have to sit for too long until we started boarding. An animal rescue group, Dogs Without Homes, had been on my flight on the way over and sure enough, here they were on my way back, easily identifiable in their bright sky blue t-shirts. The flight back was uneventful; I read a good chunk of Cocktail Bar and, even though the flight was just a couple of hours, snuck in a quick nap.
Would that I could just create an imaginary city with everything and everyone I love from all over and then just never leave. Alas, stuck here in this material realm, limited by the laws of space and time.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was a cozy little wander full of graffiti and politically-minded stickers.
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.
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.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we saw Walter and Seth?” L asked as we tooled around, looking for a parking spot. I don’t know if he said that because he’d already seen the two lanky figures, one blonde and one brunette, ahead of us or if he was just idly wondering, but there they were.
“That’s totally them,” I said, and waved my arms as we drove past. Maybe L honked? Somehow we caught their attention and they wave back. L found a place to park and we spilled out to say hello. Bucky with her family (baby Luca, husband Joe) and Becca with her boyfriend were also wandering around, so we stood and caught up in the middle of the sidewalk.
The last time I was in Old Orchard Beach was in 2008, at the very beginning of June, or maybe the end of May. Tourist season hadn’t started yet and everything was largely abandoned. It felt like we had the whole town to ourselves. I couldn’t imagine it being any kind of major travel destination.
In the short drive around with L, I could see there are a lot more people than the last time I was here. Parking along the street was pretty crowded (maybe it was wedding guests?) and a steady trickle of cars passed us by as we talked on the sidewalk. We didn’t see anything of the bride (Shufang) beforehand, but we caught the groom, Aaron, and the groomsmen (and groomswoman) to say hello and introduce ourselves.
The ceremony was brief and bilingual, with Aaron’s dad reading some bits in Chinese and Shufang’s father reading some bits in English, and mercifully free of tepid Bible verses. (“If I have to hear ‘love is patient, love is kind…’ at one more wedding,” L had grumbled on the way up. Saved!) They exchanged the rings and everything and, for the third time, they were married (they’d already had two weddings in China: one more or less ceremonial and one legal). In my head I made a joke about how does this mean they need to get divorced three times if they want it to stick, but I thought better of it and didn’t say anything. Everyone left the venue to the tune of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as rendered by a dude with a guitar, and we had a few minutes to kill before the lunchtime reception at Joseph’s By the Sea. L wanted to head to the beach, and I did too, so after we stopped for some coffee with Becca and her boyfriend, we wandered towards the shore.
I hadn’t been to a beach in ages, so it felt really good to take off my shoes and get some sand between my toes. L and I both went right down to the water and got our feet wet. He was wearing long dress pants, so it didn’t quite work out for him like it did for me in my knee-length dress.
We walked back to the reception, L soaked almost all the way up to his knees.
“Do you want a towel?” Becca asked. “We have one in our room.”
“Nah, I’m fine. It’s just water. It’ll evaporate.”
The reception wass at a mixed indoor-outdoor space, a restaurant that had a porch and then patio leading down to a lawn overlooking the beach. (Hence “Joseph’s by the Sea,” I guess.) L and I milled around and ate at a table on the lawn, accidentally separating ourselves from the rest of the Hamilton crew and spending the lunch with the bride and some of her friends instead, chatting about public health and economics.
Then it was time for wedding party photos. They took some photos of the bridal party on the little wooden porch, and during the photos of just Shufang and Aaron, a parasailer drifted by, in a huge skull-and-crossbones parachute. I immediately remembered Aaron as he was in college, plaid pants and a Misfits t-shirt; there couldn’t have been anything more appropriate to suddenly fly over his wedding. I’m sure the photographer tried to keep that out of the shot, though, which is too bad.
We joined everyone else back on the patio after the toasts, and the cake was cut and the dancing began. There were a few short family dances to Aselin Debison’s version of “Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World” and then everything really kicked off with “Ballroom Blitz.” No one danced at first, except Aaron and Shufang. I was a few drinks in by now and fidgeting in my seat. After maybe thirty seconds I couldn’t stand it anymore and rushed the dance floor to keep Aaron company. He grinned.
“I always want them to play this at wedding receptions and they never do,” he said-shouted over the music. “I told the DJ I wanted this song at least. I don’t care about anything else.”
The rest of the playlist was equally danceable and we danced our collective asses off. L even got a chance to use his contradance powers to save the day when no one could remember how to do the electric slide. I always assumed it was like a collective racial memory; that a large enough group of people will just know how to do the electric slide, but nope.
All the Hamilton people drifted out to the lawn for a breather. The photographer wanted to get some photos (“Great, when everyone’s all sweaty from dancing?” I complained mostly to myself) and so we crammed into assorted group shots in between conversations. All that taken care of, L decided it was time to drive back to Albany soon (eight hours in a car for four hours at a wedding? I guess…) and so he and Walter and I ducked out so I could drop my bag in Walter’s car to make sure it didn’t end up back in Albany.
When Walter and I got back to the restaurant, it was clear that the rest of the reception was beginning to wind down. The restaurant needed to start getting ready for dinner, so by 4 p.m. things had more or less wrapped up. We returned to the motel and I hopped into a closet to change out of my dress and into a tank top and bike shorts. My thighs were on FIRE.
I wanted to know what we were doing next so I could give Typhani a heads up, and eventually we decided on dinner. Things took a little negotiating and research, since both Becky and Becca have Celiac’s and thus restaurants need to be reliably gluten-free. After all of the appropriate preparations are made–changing clothes, setting up baby playpens, using the bathroom–we left. We had a little trouble finding the restaurant. It was peak tourist hour along the boardwalk, and we were swamped with swarms of people and families, loud music, signs announcing beer specials, and kiosks hawking typical beach tourist gear. I had sudden flashbacks to the boardwalk shops at Rehoboth Beach, where my family vacationed every summer for years.
After some finangling and Google maps and asking a traffic crossing guard, we managed to figure out where we were and how to get to the beach shack/diner-y place Becca we had settled on. Typhani had a heck of a time trying to find parking, but she managed to squeak in right after we order. The food was filling, though not particularly memorable, and we talked and joked away for a couple of hours.
There were plans to go to some bar or other after dinner and hang out with Aaron and his friends. But first I had to go back to the motel and get my bag into Typhani’s car. Becky was there before us, getting Luca settled and still coming down off whatever fight she’d had with her husband before dinner. I gave her a good, solid hug and then Typhani and I were off to the afterparty.
Oh good Lord, it was TOO MUCH. Now my long day was starting to hit me, also paired with Typhani and what I knew about her own sensibilities. The loud sports/dance bar with fog machine and lasers? Not her scene. And it wasn’t feeling like much of mine, either. But I said hello to Aaron and introduced him to Typhani and congratulated him, and he let us know that there was a breakfast tomorrow morning for everyone courtesy one of his aunts. We hugged goodnight, and Typhani and I were officially on our way to the camp in Pittsfield. It wasn’t as long a round-trip drive to make as the drive from Albany to Old Orchard Beach, but it wasn’t a short one.
“The camp” is really a prefab little cabin, but it’s surprisingly well-designed and roomy-feeling (and solid-feeling) for being what it is. The property belonged to Typhani’s grandmother and used to house what she described as a crazy, rambling shotgun shack that kept having additions added to it, with light switches outside of rooms and wobbly stairs that went up too high and then had to descend down again. But it had burned down a while back and Typhani’s mother used the insurance money to get the cabin. I dumped my bag in one of the two bedrooms and fished out my gifts: some Söderte and my copy of Journal of a Solitude.
“I think you’ll really like it,” I explained as I handed it over. “It’s about a woman who just spends a year living out in the country, just writing.”
Typhani is big into the homesteading and farming movement, and by her own admission she was on the verge of getting the farm she had set up with her ex to finally turn a profit when he dumped her. The plan now is set her nose to the grindstone and get her own homestead and community farm up and running herself, but these things take time, especially considering her invisible health struggles. In the meanwhile, I thought May Sarton could keep her company.
Typhani also has a gift for me: a little clay owl magnet that she made:
We stood around and chatted for a bit. It was close to midnight by now and I was feeling a little delirious from exhaustion and dancing. It felt like I’d been up for days. Exhaustion and dancing also meant I was sweaty and gross, so I hopped in the shower and heat blasted all of the grime right off of me. Nothing like hygiene to make you feel human again.
“How many bucks do I feel like?” I announced when I come out of the bathroom. “A million.”
With that, I bid my hostess good night and collapse onto the brand-new bed.
This day ends up being long, to the tune of 20 hours long: I got up at 4 am and I finally crashed at around midnight. It was basically two days crammed into one, so I’ll split it into two parts.
A insisted at the close of last night that she’d be up to say goodbye, but of course she wasn’t and I knew she wouldn’t because she’s an exhausted mother of two children, so I wasn’t surprised. I managed to make it out the door without leaving anything behind, except Her Smoke Rises Up Forever. I didn’t realize that for a while, and when I finally did I was a little sad because I get sentimental about books from friends, but I already have other books from Noah in my library (The Fifth Season, Harpo Speaks!, Name of the Rose) so I wasn’t as heartbroken as I might have otherwise been when I finally realized what had happened.
“I absolutely do not trust myself to drive on any leg of this trip,” I told L as we get ready. “Driving myself? Fine. If I eat it, whatever. But you’re a dad now. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened. I’ll stay up and keep you company, though.” Which is a bigger deal promise than maybe it sounds because I can fall asleep in cars at the drop of a hat.
It was still dark when we took off. The only other cars we saw were trucks and tractor trailers. Every time we passed one, I held my breath and tensed up. I trusted L; I did’t trust truckers on the road at 4 am.
“The one thing I really wanna do on this trip is get breakfast at a proper greasy spoon truck stop diner,” L said early on in the drive. “A place where you can sit on stools at the counter. I can’t do that with the boys. I was thinking we could find one once we get to Massachusetts.”
“Omigod, yes. Sweden doesn’t do diners. That sounds perfect. My treat.”
We hit Mass at around 6 in the morning, and after a little futzing with the GPS we decided to try a coffee shop in a strip mall. I was wary, because it’s hard to have a proper diner in a strip mall, but coffee is coffee and you want the driver on your road trip to be as awake and alert as possible, so I took the compromise.
Except it wasn’t a compromise, and inside it was a proper full-on greasy spoon, including the low-budget Americana decor.
Yes, we got to sit on stools at the counter. L was pleased as punch and so was I.
“If this isn’t nice, what is?” I thought to myself, and for the half-hour or so that we were relaxing and having a proper roadtrip breakfast, I could forget about all of the stress and awfulness going on around us.
The glass display counter by the register had some baked goods, because of course, and so we each picked out a donut to have as a snack later as I paid up. The shelf behind the register also boasted a number of teas; in addition to the usual English Breakfast and Earl Grey, I spotted THIN MINTS TEA.
“Holy crap, they make thin mints tea now?!”
The waitress gushed. “Oh yeah, it’s great. Here, take a bag. Free sample.”
“Aw, nice. Thanks!”
Spoiler alert: it’s a pretty tasty tea.
The sun was up now. It was weird to think that it was 7 am and we’d been up for hours. Bolstered by our food (diner food is magic, I’m pretty sure), we continue northwards. There were other cars on the road now; it felt more normal and less lonely and apocalyptic. Once we hit Maine, we pulled over in a rest stop to have our donuts and change out of lazy driving clothes into proper wedding clothes.
This was when L realized that the pants he meant to wear, with the cigars he bought for the occasion, were at home, but the good news is he had everything else, including another pair of dress-y pants in the car already, so it wasn’t a sartorial emergency. We also realized that we didn’t have the address for the church and since neither of us had data on our phones, I put in a call to A to do some Internet sleuthing for us.
“Hi sweetie!” A chirped. I was calling from L’s phone.
“Hi sweetie yourself,” I joked back. She laughed.
“Oh, hi Koba. Everything going okay?”
“Yeah, peachy keen. But can you do us a favor and look up an address for us? The invitation only has the address for the reception, not where the ceremony’s going to be.”
“Sure, just a second.” I could hear her negotiate with the oldest over use of the tablet, and some wondering aloud about if the place she found Googling was where we were going, but eventually she found it.
“Sorry I wasn’t up to see you guys off. I totally meant to, but…”
“Nah, it’s fine. We left super early.”
“Well, have a good time! It was good to see you. That was a good talk we had. It’s a lot to think about.”
“Anytime. It was good to see you, too. I’m sure I’ll be around again at some point. People can’t stop getting married.” Four more friends from this college crowd aren’t married yet and I can safely assume I’ll be invited to those weddings, plus Noah’s if they decide to take that leap. Plus the odd assortment of friends I have outside of Hamilton. “Have fun with the boys.”
“I will. Bye Koba!”
L had estimated the time for the wedding ceremony wrong, but in our favor: he was planning for 10:00 am, not 10:30. “Oh, sweet. Then we have time to get some Moxie!”
I laughed. “Yes, definitely.”
We found the nearest grocery store according to the GPS and L helped himself to the remaining cases of diet Moxie left on the shelf, four in all. He knew that an anniversary present from A arrived in the mail the other day, but I had no idea if he knew that it was Moxie. Well, it’s not like it’ll sit around unappreciated, I thought.
“Someone likes Moxie,” an older woman remarked quizzically, confused over why someone would stock up on so much regional soft drink. Diet, at that.
“We don’t have it in Albany,” L explained, and the woman maybe nodded or said something, I forget, but we made a beeline for the checkout, loaded up the car, and returned to the church-adjacent neighborhood to find some parking.
We’re up early to see L out the door to work. A makes some eggs and toast for breakfast, and we have some of the Söder to go with it and wake up from the late night. After some art and doodles, the oldest wants to have a puppet show, and I keep both boys distracted for long enough with Monkey the Dentist and Giraffe the Doctor that A has time to jump in the shower and have a few minutes to herself (until the youngest gets some serious separation anxiety and I drop him off to be in the bathroom with Mom).
I also have a fun time reading to the oldest, because I love reading anything, even if it’s kiddie picture books for the five thousandth time. I chat with A over the boy’s head when he’s deeply involved with a book himself, though we never get back to the topic of friendship and time. Once in a while he wants some quiet, or he wants attention, and he yells at us: “Stop talking!” After numerous incidents, A lectures him a little about having patience and waiting, and that’s the last “Stop talking!” for the rest of my stay.
We also read through a book about dragons, and at the end it mentions Komodo dragons. One of my students has family in Sri Lanka and has visited on and off, and told me once about seeing a Komodo dragon on temple grounds, where it was allowed to just hang out and be a Komodo dragon because you aren’t allowed to kill anything near the temple. I bring up the story with A, and she mentions that oh yeah, when she worked at the zoo she got to get up close and personal with a Komodo dragon, close enough to touch it.
Cue the meltdown from the oldest.
“NO MOMMY DON’T TOUCH THE DRAGON”
All the days I’m there, he doesn’t go down for a nap in the middle of the day, so as the afternoon drags on he gets a little overwhelmed and fussy (which makes dinners a little rough going, but we bribe him through with alternating reading pages and having bites of food).
While the youngest (still an infant) is down for a nap, I go out for a run in the park across the road.
I jump in the shower to wash off the sweat and grime when I get back and air out my workout clothes on the porch. A offers to wash them with the family clothes, but I figure they’ll be fine with some fresh air. A smart move, as it turns out: a stray crayon ended up in the wash and while nothing was ruined, it made the process a little more stressful than usual. It stressed A enough already; if a guest’s clothes had been involved, it would have freaked her out even more.
But the big event, in between books and arts and crafts and puppet shows, is the oldest’s favorite TV show: “the moon show.” “The Moon Show” is just his name for it, of course; can you guess why he calls it that? A hint:
“Do you know what Miss Koba’s favorite TV show is?”
“The Moon Show!”
I don’t understand what about MST3K can possibly appeal to three-year-olds but there you have it. We don’t make it through the entire episode before L gets home and it’s time to start getting ready for dinner, but enough that I’m satisfied. After dinner and baths and bedtime books, the three of us sit down to a classic MST3K episode (a fond Hamilton favorite: Eeegah!), which ends up being background noise while and I (with input from A) break down how the new season compares with the series and give voice to our assorted little nitpicks (I think Jonah comes across as really nervous in the host segments; A misses how cheap the props used to look). We don’t make it through the entirety of Eegah!, either, and this time everyone heads to bed much earlier.
L has taken a half day off work the next day so he can be home and hang out with us a bit, and also talk to the guy from the solar panel company who’s coming to evaluate the best place to put more solar panels. That means he’s also home in time for lunch, which is pierogi, one of my absolute favorites. I’m touched that A remembers—especially when she has absolutely no way of knowing that I haven’t had any in ages. What Sweden calls “pirogi” are really pirozhki and now if I want any I have to make them from scratch myself instead of getting an acceptably tasty ready-made version. I read a bit more from Her Smoke Rises Up Forever during the afternoon, while L plays with the oldest. We also putz around outside on the slightly crooked swing set.
Dinner is a bit of a hassle, again thanks to lack of an afternoon nap, but “eat, then read” bribes (tonight’s book is The Missing Piece Meets the Big O) get the job done. Everyone is a little rushed because we’re expecting my high school friend Fox, along with her boyfriend, for company and board games, so it makes the oldest’s fussiness a little extra trying. But everyone gets shuttled off for a bath and bedtime stories successfully. Instead of helping with bedtime stories like I did the last couple nights, I set to work sweeping up veggie burger bits and washing dishes.
Fortunately, Fox and her boyfriend are running a little late themselves, so we have plenty of time for snacks and board games and adult company. This even though L and I have an early morning tomorrow: a four-hour drive to Maine the day off the wedding. We won’t have a lot of margin for error!
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.
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.