Monday, July 23, 2007

Alaska on the brain

Tired of cooking all the time, last Friday I suggested we go out for pizza at Grandpa’s Brick Oven up the street. Walking through the marijuana haze and lulling herd of slovenly men congregated at the steps of our apartment building, I suddenly realized that I was ready to leave New York. Jennifer, who has lived here several years longer than I have, thought it was about time. And as we walked down the tumultuous street the world took on new spatial dimensions.

We’re thinking Alaska. Juneau that is. Jennifer has already checked it out on-line. They need occupational therapists. It’s close to Canada. But it isn’t Canada, so I can still work. Either at Alaska University, or maybe in a restaurant (though not for tips, ever again). There is no income tax. They pay people to live there. We could start over. With a big garden and fresh air. Just for a year or so while we finish up paying off our school loans before we move to China. We were just going crazy with all the possibilities . . . then today on our two hour ride back from Little Lancaster I mentioned that Alaska is the perfect place to ride a motorcycle.

Whoa. That’s going a little too far, I quickly found out. Fortunately we were able to decide to never buy a motorcycle unless we both agree that it is a good idea. Juneau is right beside the Tongass National Park an old-growth temperate rain forest, which according to National Geographic is an “exceptionally rich ecosystem that holds more organic matter—more biomass—per acre than any other, including tropical jungles. The Tongass represents not only the greatest remaining reserve of huge trees in the U.S., but also nearly one-third of the old-growth temperate rain forest left in the world.” I think it would be great to live next to so much natural life for a change. To walk out the door to the sound of birds and bite of mosquitoes rather than thrumming recurrent beat of distress from the rainbow underclass. I’d rather watch glaciers melt for a change.

Read a really great story about Tongass here:
Tongass Story

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Happy Jennifer

A couple weeks ago at the annual gathering of Stoltzfuses, an interruption in the flow of time-space where life slows to the speed of the river flowing greenly through Slate Run, Uncle Al (Huyard that is) said “You know sometimes I look at Rose and wonder what in the world she is doing with me,” (or something to that effect) then he turned to me “Do you ever feel the same way?” To which I blithely chuckled and stupidly said, “Well not when I look at Rose.” Al said, “Well I hope not, or we might have to have a talk.”

Well, we were having a talk, mostly for the benefit of Steve Horst who was standing there thinking about marrying his girfriend Bethany (which he might be doing this Saturday if I remember correctly). I blame my sleep-addled brain for my dim-witted engagement in the conversation at that moment, but thinking about it later, there are times when I look at Jennifer and wonder what in the world she was thinking when she picked me. As my long time friend Josh Schlabach once told me with regards to our respective wives, “It’s so strange that they let us drool all over them, and they act like they like it.” It is strange. So strange.

Tonight Jennifer and I went to a nice restaurant and ate nice food in our nice neighborhood. She ending her meal with a kalamata olive and a bit of hummus and grinning at the obvious glee I felt toward my apple and cinnamon crepe. We talked about how we decided to like each other, how much we have changed since we got a hold of each other, and how impossibly different our lives would be without each others presence. Jennifer told me that she just heard a story on the radio about what makes for a happy marriage. According to psychotherapists at the University of Iowa, couples in which the husbands are the fastest and most enthusiastic in giving in to their wives demands are by far the happiest. She thought that made women seem like “spoiled brats.” Maybe so. But I feel pretty spoiled too, often surrounded by a world of underprivileged men and women starved for her kind of affection.

Not just everyone can lie around on a tan couch and sing each other barely remembered snippets of “contemporary” Christian songs from the 90s and be appreciated late into a lazy Saturday night. Real gems like Sandi Patty and Wayne Watson duets, arias by Twila Paris, or ‘gasp’ country songs like “Don’t Tell My Heart, My Achy Breaky Heart.” Jennifer is the most entertaining person I know. I miss her when she’s gone; bug her incessantly when she is around. I love her so much, of course I’ll enthusiastically do whatever she demands (or talk her into demanding something else, if she’s acting crazy).

Uncle Al is right, it is strange that the women we love want to be with us. But I’m glad they do, I can’t imagine a better way to live. If staying in love, means doing what they want I can’t say that I mind all that much.

Hear the radio program here:
Happy Marriage

Sunday, July 08, 2007

At Home

Recently in my various writing attempts (some of which have not appeared here) I’ve been focusing on the death and despair I feel on the streets and in the general atmosphere around my place here in the upper breaks of poverty and humanity oozing like flesh over tightly cinched waists. But there are some things in this environment whose appreciation does not require mourning and a filtered gaze.

Like today when four of our favorite people came over to our place to help us with what has become a Saturday morning ritual: going to the local farmer’s market, where we smell, look at, and otherwise possess things pulled from the soil only this morning. Radishes which still hold some life; rather than the decomposing, dented red carcasses from Arizona available at our local “super”market. We make salads with those radishes and some fresh lettuce from upstate New York and a bit of cheese brought to us by some Amish Schlabachs from Ohio the other day and it is good. Things cost more, but somehow buying things cultivated by the hands that hand them to us seems to make it seem all right; even to a Bargain Hunting Mennonite. Maybe all those hated hours spent barefoot in the garden with Mom growing up in Ohio were more habit-forming than all those hours at “the mall,” Gabriel Brothers, and other fantastic stores of thrift and identity construction where things are made to be bought because of what they signify rather than their use-value. That and maybe the influence of people like Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben, Annie Dillard, Michael Pollan, and Terry Tempest Williams.

On Saturday mornings like this the man across the street sleeps in and forgets to blast his ghetto music at us, the mustached Irish men at the little deli with the antique cash register by the subway station open early are already arguing with each other happily, more often than not the sun is slanted just right to make the sky a deep limitless blue, the corner restaurant by the green market fills the air with the smell of bacon, and if Harlan, Marilyn, Eve and the other stubborn little girl conceived a few months ago come over Harlan and I talk politics and $300 hair cuts while passersby comment on the essential Germanness of Harlan's stroller and the cuteness of Eve.

Days like this give us an excuse to clean the house not so well but really quickly and the chance to try some new recipes for soup or Thai curry to go with our fresh bread, cheese, and salad and the apple cider we always buy and the flan I just made too with some fresh raspberries. Mixing together ingredients like these properly and sharing them with people I love fills me with a deep feeling of integrity. It makes me happy to be alive here; happy like a guitar in the hands of the guy who plays flamenco at the 116th street 1 train station on weekday mornings.