Monday, September 15, 2014

A Knock at the Door

It’s 4:00 on Friday afternoon. I’m in my bedroom getting ready to go to a wedding at 5:00 when my doorbell rings. Half-make-upped, I open the door. It’s a man I’ve never seen before, maybe early 40s, wearing a black sports coat over a white polo shirt, black pants, and black dress shoes.
“I am so sorry to bother you,” he says with a chagrin smile by way of introduction, “I was wondering if you’ve got AAA*. I’ve locked my keys in my car.”
“Sure, I’ve got AAA,” I tell him. “I’ll call them for you.”
“I’m Melissa’s boyfriend, Melissa from upstairs,” he calls after me as I start to shut the door so I can go get my purse. “I’ve seen you around.” The only people I know who live upstairs are guys flutters through my head, but then I think Maybe he’s talking about the people I don’t know who live on the other side of the building.
As I hold my AAA card in one hand and my phone in the other, I ask him to write down the information about his car.
“Where is your car?” I asked him.
“It’s at the UPS store on Atlantic Avenue,” he tells me. “I feel like such an idiot. I'm really sorry to bother you, but I appreciate your help.”
Atlantic Avenue? That’s like four miles from here! I think. Did he really walk here from there? Wasn’t there someone else he could have called before getting to my apartment complex?
“That’s far,” is my only comment. He scribbles down “2014 Honda Accord” on the piece of paper I offer him.
“Don’t you have to be with me when AAA comes?” he asks, a little nervously.
“The last time I used it the person with the card had to be there.”
“Nah, I don’t think so,” I tell him. “If they know where your car is, that’s all that matters.” I start to dial the phone. We’re still standing outside in front of my apartment door, the door itself shut tight behind me. The phone starts to ring.
“If you need roadside assistance, please press one,” says the automatic recording. I press one.
“Thank you for calling Triple A, this is so-and-so, are you in a safe location?” intones the customer service associate.
“Yes, I am. I was calling about – ”
The man immediately interrupts me. “Uh, thanks a lot for calling,” he says, “But I guess I’ll just go see if I can find the maintenance man.”
“ – never mind,” I tell the woman on the phone. “Everything is OK. Thank you!” I hang up and look at the man. But he’s disappeared down the stairs.
           
I go back inside, lock my door, and call the front office.
“Hi, this is Jaimie,” I greet the woman on the phone. “Do you know if there’s a
Melissa who lives in my building?”
“Melissa? Not off the top of my head,” she says. “Why?”
I tell her about the man who just came to my house.  She asks for a few more details, and then says, “Yeah, he shouldn’t be here. I’ll send someone out right now to find out what’s going on.”
A few minutes later I get another knock at my door. It’s the maintenance man. He wants to know what the guy who came to my house looks like and what he’s wearing. I tell him, and he runs off.
            Meanwhile, I finish getting ready for the wedding, step outside, and lock my door tight behind me. On my way out of the parking lot, I see the woman from the front office locking the office door behind her. I don’t see either the maintenance guy or the AAA guy.

As of Sunday night, I still don’t know what that scam was all about, but I do know that it left me feeling suspicious and on guard. I’ve had weirdoes come to my door before, but that was in Japan. I don’t like to think that they’ve followed me here.

*for friends in foreign countries who don’t know, Triple A is a road-side service company that helps you when your car has a flat tire or runs out of gas or something. Or if you lock your keys out of your car. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Permanence and Temporality, the Two that Plague Me

It’s like this. I bought a car in 2012. I’ll pay it off next year. But for it to be a financially wise decision and not an economic sinkhole, I should keep it for ten or twelve years until it breaks down irreparably. Then it will show itself to be a wise investment. (Other financially wise moves involve putting more money into my IRA, paying off my student loan debt in double increments, and getting a roommate to lower living expenses: all much easier said than done.) But all of these financially wise decisions seem to hinge on one thing: me staying in the United States. And that thought, frankly, terrifies me.

It’s not that I’m planning on moving out of the country in the next few months. But I’d like to have the option, the ability, if the desire ever arose. It was doable – albeit difficult – to say goodbye, pack my things away and move to Japan back in 2010. Could I do it again? Argentina, Chile, Mexico, England, Canada, the UAE . . . is life long enough to live everywhere I want to? 

But things are good here in Raleigh, so very, very good. I’ve got my feet on Carolina soil again. I can support myself and pay for my beautiful, colorful apartment that holds all of my worldly possessions. I can visit the majority of my relatives at the drop of a hat. And I’ve got an amazing set of friends stretching all across the state who have proven themselves a loyal, supportive, understanding bunch. Why would I want to be anywhere else? 

At the same time, I remember a conversation I had with my sister a few days after returning from Japan in 2012. “What if you moved to Raleigh and stayed there for the rest of your life?” she asked me. “What if you settled down there and never left?” Without even letting her finish her question, I shook my head vehemently: “Never, never, never! I could never stay in the same place for too long!” I wonder if it was really Raleigh itself that scared me, or the thought of staying in one place permanently. I think it's the latter. 

Perhaps other people in my generation are going through the same thing. We are quite content in the present, but afraid to commit ourselves to any one thing. We switch jobs every few years, we move across the country, we escape into graduate school. No longer is a house with a 30-year mortgage and a lifetime career at the same organization a blessing. No, permanence seems to petrify us. So we race around looking for the next best thing, thinking frantically, "Is this it? What else is there?"

Maybe it's just a matter of semantics. Shall we call it stability or inertia? Am I caught, trapped, stuck, wedged irreparably into an existence I can’t get out of, or rather am I stable, safe, secure, established? It's the same thing, just seen through different lights. 

Last weekend I went to my hometown (Littleton, NC) and enjoyed the time in the country, drinking a morning cup of coffee on the wide front porch, watching the sun go down over the lake, seeing the stars come out with no streetlights to dim their glow. But would I go back to it . . . forever?  

I feel sometimes that I want mutually exclusive things. I want this:


And this:


This:


And this:


This:



And this:

What do they say, don't worry about the future; enjoy the present? All we have is now? 



Monday, July 28, 2014

Trust in the Lord of the Journey

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally, impatient in
everything to reach the end
without delay.

We should like to skip 
the intermediate stages;
we are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually -- 
let them grow.
Let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that His hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete. 

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ma Vie d'Amour

I was dating this one guy and it didn’t work out. . . and then I got a crush on this other guy but that didn’t work out, either . . . but man oh man, would you look at me now!

#1:

Summer 2013, ESL Registration night, 6:30 p.m.: A group of five swaggering, laughing Iraqi 20somethings takes the English placement test. Three go to higher-level classes; two are put in Level 1, the class I teach. My co-teacher and I spend the semester alternately admiring our two students’ incredibly stylish, not-bought-in-America wardrobe and lamenting their lack of consistent attendance and concentration the days they are there. Three weeks into the semester, they both drop out, presumably to do better things with their time. Their Level 4-5-6 friends stay on throughout most of the semester, and we exchange pleasantries in the hallway for the rest of the term. That fall, none of them return to class.

Fast-forward to a Saturday night a year later. I’m at a Middle Eastern cafĂ© in Raleigh with some friends, sitting at an outdoor table on the crowded patio, sipping cardamom tea and savoring a piece of delicious knafeh. I keep thinking the guy’s face at the table next to mine looks awfully familiar, but it takes another hour before I can place him: the Level 4 student from last year whose friends were in my class. Before I leave, I go over to say hello and ask about my old students (apparently they got married). We talk for a few minutes (a bit stilted: Level 4 is conversational but not natural), exchange telephone numbers (ostensibly so he could find out about the next ESL registration dates) and say good night.

Monday night my phone rings:

“Hello?”
“Hello! This is L. How are you?”
“Oh, hi. I’m ok. How are you?”
“Good, good. What are you doing?”
“I’m about to go to bed. What are you doing?”
“Going to work.”
“I’m sorry. Are you celebrating Ramadan this year?”
“What?”
“Ramadan.”
“Oh! You know Ramadan?!”
“Yes, I know many people who keep it.”
“Oh! Excellent. Jaimie, I have question for you. But I am shy.”

(Pause.)

“What?”
“Do you have boyfriend?”

(Silence. Thought composition.)

“Well, I don’t have a boyfriend, but there is this guy I’ve gone on some dates with . . . ”
“No boyfriend?”
“Not . . . really . . . ”
“I am looking for serious. I want marry. I like you. I want wife.” (Well, at least he doesn't beat around the bush.) 
“But you don’t know me. I don’t know you."
“But I saw you last year in school. You are good. I am good.”
“Oh. Well . . . um . . . I don’t think I want to get married this year. Also, I’m not Muslim.”
“No Muslim, no problem! Last week I talked to my mother. She said, I want American wife, no problem. Christian OK.”
“Um . . . ”

Luckily, he had to go to work then, so our conversation was cut short. Perhaps it will be postponed indefinitely.

#2:

All of my students have my phone number so they can call if they’re going to be late or absent. Last Thursday I talk with Jose, a 26-year old from Honduras.

“Teacher, I sorry, I working a lot. No class tonight.”
“That’s OK. I’ll see you Monday. Good night!”
“Wait, teacher!” (switch to Spanish) “What are you doing on Friday night?”

(!?)

“I have plans.”
“And Saturday?”
“I'm sorry, Jose, we are not going to go on a date. I’ll see you on Monday." 

He calls again on Saturday.

“What are you doing?”
“About to go out with some friends.”
“Oh, OK. You like dancing?”
“I haven’t gone out dancing in four or five years . . . ”
“Let's go!”
“Sorry. . . ”

Next time he calls, I guess I just shouldn’t pick up the phone.

#3:

Would I really write something serious?!


Friday, June 6, 2014

How I'm Not Going to Go Crazy This Summer

1. Uber-organization
2. Amazing friends.

One of my students—a 25-year old from Jordan—works from 8:00-5:00, comes to my ESL class from 6:30-9:30, then goes to a different job from 10:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m. Not every day, but enough days during the week that he's half-exhausted while he's in class. He says he gets by by drinking lots of coffee. Thank God, my life is nowhere near that hectic. I'm still sleeping eight hours a night.

This summer, though, I do have a lot going on. Since my usual teaching partner at Wake Tech got married and moved away, I've been asked to take her place for the summer. This means that instead of teaching two nights a week I’m up to four, in addition to my regular 9:00-5:00, where I'm teaching a few classes, too.

Needless to say, this is great for my bank account, but not so much for my social life. All of my students are easy-going and eager to learn, characteristics that make going to class fun, but I'm still not a big fan of leaving my house at 8:30 in the morning and not returning until 10:00 at night four days a week. I'm missing out on Monday night Mystagogy class, Wednesday night meditation, and Thursday night live music in the park all summer, not to mention adequate time hanging out with my friends or opportunities to go on romantic dates with the hoards of men who are after me (ha very ha). I'm reminded of the years going through grad school while working full-time: what seemed an endless cycle of work-class-homework-study-sleep.

But I made it then and I'll make it now. I've got a good rhythm going on: yoga in the morning, yoga at night, running or walking in the afternoon, a ton of work in between--and friends who give me all their love and support.  

I've been blessed beyond measure to have understanding friends who work around my awkward schedule just so we can spend some time together. Whether it's meeting at lunchtime or after work to have a picnic in the park, bringing dinner to my office at 5:00 (leaving their own job early just so they can get here on time!), or getting together to catch up in my brief hour between jobs, my friends have shown me that they are some amazing people. For this and so much more I am grateful. 

On top of this, I've got one big(gish) vacation planned every month of the summer to balance out my work load: a weekend in the mountains, another weekend in Beaufort, and a third at the Outer Banks. There's a lot to look forward to.

So, to what shall I credit my lack of insanity this summer? Good friends, a good schedule, and a lot of yoga. Oh yeah, and sometimes a glass of wine. 

Until next time . . . 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mix Tape for Joanna: August 2000

My freshman roommate in college was this girl named Joanna, a very normal girl who wasn't exactly sure what to do with me, the one who dyed her short hair blue and wore Chuck Taylors. Before we met face-to-face, I made her a mix tape so she'd know what kind of music I liked; soon after we started rooming together, she returned it to me with pursed lips and a terse, "Thanks, but it's not my style."

Playlist:

SIDE A
1. Heather Nova: London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)
2. Remy Zero: Gramarye
3. Screeching Weasel: Cool Kids
4. Paula Cole: Saturn Girl
5. Dave McCants: Psalm 27
6. Linda Ronstadt: Adonde Voy
7. Jewel: Life Uncommon
8. Mike Scott: Bring 'em All In
9. All Star United: Thank You, Goodnight
10. Smashing Pumpkins: To Sheila
11. Tabitha Fair: Psalm 24
12. Frifot: Stars/The Glutton

SIDE B
1. O.C. Supertones: Supertones
2. Insyderz: Awesome God
3. Belly: Judas My Heart
4. Supercalifragilisticexpialidotious
5. MXPX: Do Your Feet Hurt?
6. Des'ree: Kissing You
7. Ani DiFranco: 32 Flavors
8. Jewel: Gloria
9. Waterdeep: Holy
10. Five Iron Frenzy: Handbook for the Sellout
11. 7 Seconds: 99 Red Balloons
12. Tori Amos: Pretty Good Year
13. Nada Surf: Popular

What I want to know is, how could she not appreciate all that sweet Christian ska mixed in with punk rock and 90s alternative music? I mean, what is there possibly not to like?

Last week I borrowed a tape player from work so I could go through this tape and a stack of others to decide if any of them are worth salvaging (i.e. buying digital copies of).

Man, I sure hope I get a lot of iTunes gift cards for my birthday . . .

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Of Love, Ice Cream, and Dim Sum: Notes from New York

I had originally planned to visit my friends in New York back in February, but after six hours of waiting in the airport, on and off the airplane twice, my flight was canceled and my money returned. I was so afraid of being massively disappointed again that I didn't let myself get too excited about planning the next trip. I half-expected that flight to get canceled as well; happily, it didn't.

During my first New York trip in 2010, I was able to check a lot of tourist attractions off my list: seeing the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Wall Street, Central Park, the 9/11 Memorial, museums, museums, museums. I had a fantastic time, but I was intimidated by the big city and never quite felt like I got out of the tourist bubble. I still don't think I could live there, but I know I am much more confident about visiting the big city now than I used to be (what with having navigated Tokyo and all). The only things I really wanted to do this go-round was eat, shop, and walk around. And that's what we did.  

I arrived at LaGuardia Airport at 8:30 on Thursday morning, took a taxi to Casey's apartment in Harlem, and we immediately began our day. By 2:00, when I went to visit another friend in Midtown Manhattan, I had already savored the cream cheese and lox bagel I had long been anticipating, taken a stroll through Central Park in the gray mist, wandered happily through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and walked 33 blocks down 5th Avenue.

(View from Central Park)

I've been watching a lot of 30 Rock on Netflix recently and wanted to see where the opening sequence was filmed. Michael took me to Rockefeller Plaza (just a few blocks from his office) and waited patiently for me to take pictures of the flags, the statue, the buildings, and anything else I deemed photo-worthy. Later, we ate burgers (go figure) at Bill's Bar and Burger, had high-class coffee at a high-class coffee shop, and nibbled on champagne truffles from a fancy chocolatier. 

New York reminds me of Japan, or maybe it's just that I can go to places in New York that I have never visited outside of Japan, like Uniqlo or Muji  I felt so excited to visit these stores again after almost two years without them. Thanks to Michael and Casey for their patience as I exclaimed over each individual item and took pictures of racks of white dishes with the same gusto I had when taking pictures of Chagall paintings. (I'm pretty confident that I took more pictures in Muji than I did at the MOMA.) It just thrills me to be able to experience those Japan-moments this side of the Pacific.

Continuing with the Japanese, Casey took me to a ramen shop for lunch on Friday, where the owners shouted a firm "arigatou gozaimashita!" after we ate, and to Chinatown for dinner on Saturday, where I ate more plates of dim sum than was healthy. But I definitely got my fill of the food I was looking for. I had also been hankering for a hot deli sandwich (there's something about having delis on every corner that I find endearing) and was able to get one for lunch.

The rest of my time in New York was spent wandering around Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn (eating ice cream and helping Argentinean tourists understand the menu), shopping at Goodwill, drinking whiskey at a pretentious whiskey bar, and hanging out with some of Casey's beautiful friends at Eataly on 5th Avenue.

The one downside to my trip was deciding to reconnect with an old acquaintance for the first time in four years: he kept me out bar-hopping with his friends until 4:00 a.m. Drunk folk trying to dance in a loud bar with bad music aren't all that fun to be around even when I've been drinking, too; I hardly drank at all that night and was ready to go home by twelve. I was struck by the loneliness that I saw: one guy (who introduced himself to me twice in his drunken stupor) told me he had just moved to Brooklyn from California and went out by himself at night trying to meet people. He made me sad.

I appreciate having awesome friends who live in awesome places, who can show me around the city from an insider's point of view. I enjoyed this trip a lot because even though I was carrying around a mental to-do list of places to go and things to see, it still felt relaxed. Maybe that's because I put more emphasis on hanging out with my friends than actually doing stuff. Like they say, it's not where you are but who you're with. Lots of love.