15 October 2007

Disappearing Limbo

It's a slow Monday here in Chicago. The brown ring my morning coffee left in its porcelain mug patiently reminds me to refill it, but I've already kicked off the Cole Haan dress shoes Sivi picked out for me and stretched out my toes. Its been well over an hour since my phone has rung and, after spending my morning pointlessly surfing the world-wide web, I'm only now remembering the feeling of having a day job. My friend Dimlite wrote to me yesterday and said "man, your life is constantly in steady locomotion," and yes- fortunately or unfortunately- he's right. I suppose the bad thing is that I've hardly had the time to process much of it, leaving a Pandora's Box of sorts in my cluttered mind just as my boxed belongings top my bedroom and basement floors. But, since I spent most of yesterday tearing away at packing tape and dusting off the old, open shelves of my childhood room, there's no time like the present to let out all of the ghosts from my head and share them with you.

In the middle of this week's fall winds blowing red and orange leaves across sidewalks, today's afternoon sun hinted at summer, and mine can't possibly feel any further away. Adamah- my three-month excursion into the beauty of farm country- quickly transformed into an extended exercise in masochism. Don't get me wrong... I knew I'd be spending a lot of time around (potentially) religious, self-righteous, crunchy, politically-correct, just-out-of-liberal-arts-college, somewhat lost hippie Jews, but little did I know the extent to which this group of folks would make all of my nightmarish expectations come true. It's funny, too, because I literally thought I was losing my mind! Everyone was overly excited and wide-eyed, sitting around our filthy house giving each other massages, or listening to grating klezmer music on computer speakers as they made runny goat cheese. At the field, they'd hold hands, circling around a cucumber on a makeshift altar, closing their eyes as someone recited a cheesy monologue penned by an imaginary B-movie director: "We thank our Lord, HASHEM, for the all-powerful healing energy of the sun helping the seed to grow into the amazing cucumber before us." And then someone would "mmm," or there would be an "amen," and I'd gag while someone lovingly rubbed another's shoulder. Saturdays, everyone wanted to bang on the kitchen table and raise their voices in prayer for three-hour stints, eating cold leftovers that somehow always involved zucchini. You wonder why I'd visit the town liquor store just to make it through each painful weekend? And not even halfway through the program, there were emails and talk about a reunion! It had become the best summer of their lives, and I couldn't wait to get the fuck out of there.

Though, to be fair, I had small islands of solace: my little Sveta and her crazy Russian friends on the housekeeping and kitchen staff, the two musketeers Eden & Adam (without whom I would've definitely jumped ship), the head chef Celena who would steal me away for expensive dinners in neighboring towns, and various other smiles here and there who came and went all too soon. I had an odd, paradoxical sense of passing time: how could something go by so fast yet feel like forever? I was dark and beaten by the sun with dirt under my nails and an itchy scalp, yet the end of August still held feelings of melancholy for me.

I remember in the middle of a drunken midnight swim, I put my legs up on the pool side to lay face-up beneath bright constellations. I submerged my ears to muffle the girls' house music playing from their small radio (they were busy in the hot tub, smoking cigarettes and drinking kosher wine they had stolen from the kitchen). The meteor shower had ended, but I was still able to wish on falling stars and have a little conversation with the universe. I realized- though not for the first time- how grateful I was for the entire experience: the plants, animals, and sky; the wine & the smoke; the bullfrogs, crickets, and birds composing each night's soundtrack; the clicking of Sveta's jaw I would sometimes hold in place while she slept; the hill from the field back to the center that would make my legs burn every day; the huge golden retreiver at the package store who'd look at us with glassy eyes as we bought more vodka; nighttime drives to Wassaic; jumping into the pool during a lightning storm and torrential downpour with Adam, and our more-frequent screaming mikvahs in the river; the falls, the forest, and our field... And I thanked the stars for every roll of my eyes, because on each occasion, I grew stronger. I really needed everything that happened this summer, and bicycling home to NY- along with almost three hundred others- was the ultimate finale and unfinished goodbye.

I opted to do the century (one hundred miles in a day), though I can't say I trained well enough for it. Really, it was less the mileage than it was the two flat tires my borrowed hooptie bike sustained on the trip into upstate NY; I still finished in time! At the last rest stop before our major uphill towards Camp Kinder Ring, I learned of the unfortunate fate of two other riders: one was hospitalized with a coma, and another- a girl on my program- had flown over her handlebars and landed squarely on her face! I filled my water bottle with Powerade, took another bite of a peanut butter Clif Bar, and again thanked my lucky stars.

The second day of the ride was a different story. There were only 55 miles to go, and it was as if I couldn't pedal quickly enough. I repeated "on your left" as I flew by other riders keeping a leisurely pace, and was one of the first ten to reach the lunch stop twenty-five miles outside of Manhattan; however, parking my bike and walking to the picnic table, I noticed my right knee was really bothering me. I wanted nothing more than to finish the ride and see New York City for the first time in months, so I continued- foolishly. By the time I was in the Bronx, I had shooting pains, and at the entrance to the West Side Greenway, I was nearly in tears, pedaling only with my left foot. Who said I wasn't stubborn? At the Boat Street Basin on west 79th, I pulled in to cheers and welcome signs, then quickly found a medic to wrap up my leg.

There was a reception at the JCC on Amsterdam, but everything had ended as far as I was concerned. We had one last closing circle on its roof and my mind floated elsewhere, even with teary eyes looking into mine and "see you soon"s falling short of my heart. Tali (our superstar farm manager) had set up a booth with some of the produce we grew and jars of pickles we lacto-fermented, and it was then- limping past with all of my luggage- that I made a hasty reentry into the "real world." Eden helped me hail a cab, and its driver took me south on 9th Avenue, through my old neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen and towards my friend Clare's apartment on Bleecker.

Everything I saw in that fifteen minute ride- all the haunts nearby the one bedroom apartment I shared on 10th Avenue and 37th Street- told me a story. I had moved in there with Jordan McClean after three months in Williamsburg with Stuart, Olia, Kristianne and Monsieur Papillon (RIP), and when he moved away only a year later, Jamie took his place. And then Sarah moved in with the two of us, but that's a story for a whole other time... Anyway, I ran through a list of all the bizarre hustles I had done to get by, and all of the characters that made my life in New York over the last ten years so wonderful. Then, pulling up to Clare's door, Adamah quietly buried itself beneath all of those memories with each step I took up her apartment's stairwell. It reared its head over a few beers on her fire escape, but only as I repeated how I couldn't believe it actually happened! We went around the corner to Bone Lick Park and had $3.50 mojitos and margaritas, and I reveled in my middle-finger meal of pork ribs with a side of mac and cheese. After three torturous months in a kosher kitchen, breaking all the rules never felt so good!

I flew to Chicago the very next day, and spent a week and a half with my family, resting my knee and thinking about how utterly broke I was. We took a day trip to Elkhart Lake and Road America, and enjoyed sports car racing and delicious bratwurst like only Wisconsin folk can cook! When I wasn't with my family, I entered urban civilization with friends for the first time in months, and it took almost no time to become reacclimated. Meanwhile, people from my program were writing email threads to each other about how much they missed the goats and the farm, or how they were back in the city "where [they] didn't belong." I just manned the delete button.

I lived out of my duffle bag for the entire summer, and that trend continued throughout September and the beginning of this month. Everything I owned was stacked into a self-storage space off of the BQE, and I was left drifting in this enormous, transitional limbo. It was in August that I decided to apply for the JET program in Japan for next year and, due to a million reasons, I felt that staying in NY for the eight months before I'd (hopefully) make the move overseas just didn't make sense. And so, my last three weeks spent back in Brooklyn were a bittersweet goodbye.

I had slept two nights on Olia's couch before learning that the Arcade Fire were still on tour, thus leaving my friend Colin's apartment empty! So, due to an amazing stroke of luck and a good friend, I had an apartment all to myself for the duration of my stay- blocks from the G train and the best Bloody Mary in town: Enid's on Manhattan Avenue. I lined up maybe a little too much work for the first two weeks, but I really needed the cash! I modeled for a portrait workshop at Harlem Studio and did night classes at the Art Students League in midtown, leaving a small window during the afternoons to read in Central Park. My nights promised all of the usual New York hijinx around the city, and reconnections with old friends who were still baffled by my summer farming extravaganza.

Besides spending too much money on drinking, I was happy to return to the world of music. I was excited to see my friend Matt Lux play a beautiful set with Iron & Wine at Town Hall, and Stuart sat in with Celebration a few nights later at Webster Hall, opening up for Man Man. Joe McGinty whet my appetite for 80's karaoke at the Lucky Cat, and I even crashed my pals Harlem Shakes' rehearsal at their Williamsburg practice space (since Lexy was unfortunately feeling under the weather, I had a perfect opportunity to karaoke my heart out there as well, although, I really only understand every fifth word Lexy sings!).

Stuart is working on a new solo project called Super Human Happiness, and I had the pleasure of co-producing a couple songs with him over the course of my last week in Brooklyn. He and I began re-working some of his compositions, and finished a lot of session work including musicians from Antibalas, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Celebration, and a revolving cast of friends; I am really excited to see it all come together! It was a week of really long days and nights, and by the time my sister came in town on Friday, I was absolutely exhausted and not quite grasping the close of that chapter in NY.

It's only been a week since my return to Chicago, and I am already beginning to fall into a routine. My head is spinning with memories and thoughts of what's to come, and I gratefully bring the future's promise closer with each passing moment.