I went to the Yaya Centre, a relatively upscale shopping center just outside town near Langata, but not as far as Westlands. I had to buy a plane ticket to Zanzibar. This was late 2006, and I think Kenya Airways didn’t have online booking yet.
In Yaya, there was a wonderful little shop with all sorts of fresh produce and the finest selection of herbs I’d seen since my time in Kenya began.
I made sure to inform the cashier, a middle-aged Indian lady, and presumably the proprietor.
“Thank you very much,” she said as she wrapped up the little bundles marjoram, chives, italian parsley, and sage. “Are you a chef?’”
I chuckled a bit, since many people I know still think I am one. “I was,” looking somewhat off into the distance, but in a past life.”
The lady was handing me back my change as I said it, but she stopped, retracted her handful of whitish shilling notes and brassy coins. Her brow furrowed, and her eyes looked deep into mine, astonished and simultaneously quizzical. “Really?” she asked, “how do you know?”
We got back from our short, 10 day trip to America on April 19th after two full days of traveling. Here I am over a month later, and it feels like a distant memory, something that happened ages ago.
After spending the morning at the office, wrapping up a little mess, I barely made it home in time to pack. My boss had sent a driver to my place to confirm the end of the issue, and he hung around bothering me about buying him a phone and picking up all my guitars while I tore around the living room looking for my American Passport.
Though our driver arrived on time, a graduation at a university held us up before we could get to Mombasa Highway. We made it to the gate just in time
The Girl and I landed in Dubai at midnight with an 8 hour layover. We headed straight to Souk Madinat Al Jumeirah and had beverages in the company of eastern block courtesans until the bars closed just after three. We hit up a MickeyD’s for some McNuggets and high tailed it back to the Airport just in time for me to purchase some Johnnie Blue for the old man, some Cubans for our golf outing, and a couple keffiyehs for the bros.
3 hours later we landed at JFK and dashed into the city for dinner with Biff, Toonz, Varn, Schecht, Jav, and Woody and a brief snooze at the W Times Square. The Girl took off to Michigan the next morning, and I hopped in a rented Chrysler and drove to B-town on my way to Ithaca for a recruiting trip.
I knew the drive from Manhattan by heart, but getting out Queens was not as easy as I thought it would be. Taking the Linden Street exit off of 22 West was strangely haunting, by eyes weary from the night before. Driving past Spring Garden, my old elementary school, all the way down Montgomery St, I mirrored the walk home I took nearly every day from 1990ish to 1993ish, except in a strange vehicle.
The place seemed smaller than I remember it.
I mean, everything did: the size of the houses, the width of the road, the strip of side walk tracing the curves of the road, everything. As I neared the intersection at Arlington, I slowed down and pulled off to the side of the road.
They weren’t expecting me, but I figured what the hell. Why not drop by to see your former neighbours of 16 or so years unannounced?
A cup of coffee, scrambled eggs, a toasted bagel with cream cheese and a massive slice of breakfast ham was my first mom-cooked meal in as long as I’d been away. It was wonderful. I recounted some of my experiences, looked at pictures of their new granddaughter, and enjoyed the company of familiarity. Well, even more than familiarity: family. Their sons and daughters were—are—my brothers and sisters. It was only a short visit, as I had to get on the road, and in touch with some old friends.
Driving past Liberty High School I popped open my laptop and pulled up Keithus’ and Meathead’s phone numbers, hoping they still worked. Both screened their calls from the unknown 917 number and called back while I was calling the other one.
We met at the Bethlehem Brew Works. They had some lunch, and I had some home-town-brewed beer, a little disappointed in the lack of Yuengling. We laughed a lot, got caught up, showed each other pictures of our girlfriends and pretended that it hadn’t been a nearly two years since we’d seen one another. We talked about who was still around, who had left, who was dating who, who got married, who was gonna get married, who got pregnant, and who got knocked up. We recounted the crazy shit we did between the years of 1996 and 2000, the concerts we went to, and the hell we raised. After two hours, we said our goodbyes. I walked back to my car a little more heavy footed than when I had arrived.
I still don’t know when I will see my old friends again.
I could barely keep my eyes open on my way up to Ithaca, but I kept my promise to the Neighbours that I would visit their son and one of my best and oldest friends in Scranton. I rang and knocked but no answer. I shrugged and looked out at all the Hillary signs lining the the street. I got back in the Chrysler and arrived in Ithaca as the sun was cresting over the lake. I was exhausted, but I kept my promise to meet up with Nnamhor that night. Nnamhor, I hadn’t seen since I sold him my Gibson Les Paul so I could buy a flight to Vegas four years ago. I think I fell asleep on his couch as the Miller High life coursed my intestines and he kicked me out.
The genius that I am, I thought I could sell a trip to America not two months after the four week vacation in the states over Christmas if I did some recruiting.
I did recruit. It was fun being on the opposite side of the table as I owed so much to Cornell Career Services. But I did some other things in Ithaca. I bought and iPhone (since we couldn’t find one at the 24 hour Apple store in Manhattan) and promptly jailbroke it. I saw some of my old professors and even gave a brief, reluctant, bleary-eyed talk in a class. I saw GradCumPhd and I saw Chinsky. I sang Karaoke at my old haunt, Ruloffs. The same DJ was still there. It only cost me $10 to get in the rotation. I saw the guy who ran the bar I worked at and who tried to fire me. I enjoyed that he was still there. I had oysters and Guiness at Maxies, my favourite Ithaca restaurant. I gave a young student some advice on how to get into the hospitality technology sector.
It was everything a trip to the Alma Mater should be, and at the same time everything it shouldn’t. I didn’t feel like an alum, I felt more like a guy pretending to be a student. I could walk the halls without looks from professors or students. I still don’t know if that’s good or bad.
The whole ordeal was over too soon.
Or not soon enough.
It was a strange thing being back to my home of 18 years, and my college home of nearly four for the first time in one-tenth and as many years respectively in a so short a time. It’s strange the way a familiar place bring memories streaming back into one’s mind. To walk the same streets of cities and halls of building where so much took place, makes the happenings of long ago more vivid, and more recent.
Now, I probably shouldn’t've, but I had to.
Scranton was on the way back to NYC. My flight was at 8:00ish to Bama, and I had plenty of time.
So I checked in with Kav again.
We had some wings and some Yuengling. Kav had dropped into the City my last night in town over Christmas, so it wasn’t a year and a half since I’d seen him, but it had been a long time, regardless. We talked about jobs and life and women and politics and the usual bullshit and trivia that makes Kav a legend in his own time.
Back on the road, a few hours later, somewhere in New Jersey listening to talk radio on the Sirius Satellite receiver in the rent-a-car, my laptop died, and along with it went my directions to LaGuardia. I’d always entered Manhattan Via the Holland tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel. Here I was given a choice between the GW bridge or the Lincoln Tunnel. I tried google maps on my phone and burned through about $10 of GoPhone credit.
I figured rather than driving through mid town, I’d take the bridge.
Traffic hit before I even got onto an onramp for the bridge. It’d been years since I’d taken the bridge and arriving on the banks of the Harlem River, I had a moment of panic, ‘am I still in New Jersey?!’
As the minutes ticked by and the cars inched along, I tried to get by bearings from street numbers, remembering that I’d have to get to Queens, so the street numbers didn’t really matter. I was cutting it dangerously close.
I got sick of waiting and took an off ramp to who knows where. Another toll booth greeted me and I caught a glimpse of a sign to “AIRPORTS.”
I switched to a hard rock station and grooved to the music the rest of the way there
I got in line at security with time to spare even after filling the tanks, returning the car and checking in.
I slept most of the flight and stumbled in daze through the Atlanta airport or where ever the layover was.
Arriving in Huntsville, I was immediately reenergized seeing my mom waiting outside the terminal for me. We went straight to Ruth’s Chris and we had some wine with my older brother, my dad, a Knight of the British Empire, and some worldly scientists including a couple there who had been sneaking me beer when I was 18 at the Kona Brewing Company and one dude from Australia who begrudgingly defeated me in traveling the farthest for the occasion.
I tipped each bartender $20 for staying open past midnight and they took care of us in turn.
It was good to be with family
OverEducatedBabySitter and I had a little whisky on arrival home and we retired for the night. Our girls were arriving the next day. I slept well at the home, despite it being a home I’d never really known.
The following morning, everyone went off to see the knight from the night before. I went to the airport to retrieve The Girl, and upon my return the house was full of Britons, specifically, Anj, Roz, Nic, and the Doc.
Now, when I went back to Michigan over the holidays, I met all of The Girl’s family. Her parents, brothers and sister, in-laws, nieces nephews, grandparents, the works. A lovely family, everything went as fine as fine can me. She’d met my immediately family, but this was going to be not only my dad’s sisters and my cousin, but every adult that ever knew me before 1990 and even a few thereafter. I was a little nervous, for sure, but she must’ve been downright scared.
I wasn’t worried about the extended fam. I hadn’t seen the Aunties and Coz since Scotland ’06, right before I moved to Kenya. We all met up in Inverie, just North of Mallaig, only reachable by boat, and tore through more wine and whiskey and beer than the little peninsula had seen in the past two years, I’m sure. It was an epic event and it was spectacular to see them so unexpectedly.
They figured they’d check out the house and the ladies preparing for the big dinner that evening, recognized them as family.
With the accents and what not.
I arranged a lunch with my Mom, raided the fridge for some bubbly and orange juice. We were just getting sorted out with beverages when my brother, and his girlfriend, heretofor EditorInChief, and we all enjoyed mimosas on the balcony. We had a great southern lunch and afterwards naps were had by all.
When I awoke, Art-History and his girl, heretofore OC, had arrived. We all prepared for the night. Little did I know, but the six of us, the three girls and the three brothers were all on display. By my logic, the old man had been to all the culminating moments thus far in our respective lives. How could we not show up for one of his? Who was I to complain? The Cocktails were free, the grub was good, there were so many friends around and it the first time our respective significant others had met one another.
Art-history and I would lament later how well The Girl and OC would get along. Although nothing did happen, we sure it was a recipe for disaster!
Every night we were there was a party. The first night, I think, was the trustees. It was a big dinner and we were all sequestered to the kids table in the back room. Me, The Girl, Art-History, OC, OEBS, EditorInChief, Nic and Anj. Crazy Uncle Mark couldn’t make it, so Anj was The Coz’s date. The second night, I believe, was the board: bitings and cocktails. The final night, saturday, was all the 300 or so friends that came down to Huntsville to see my folks.
The first two parties have, in memory, faded a bit together. They were mostly full of people I didn’t know, a few faces I recognized from the holidays, and as I said, we were on display. I think our individual successes as young professionals indicated a success on our parents.
Basically, we weren’t screw ups.
Well, not big screw-ups. I mean, Art-History basically realized that Mad Men are cooler than engineers and forewent an fulfilling and respectful career for strip clubs, deals made on handshakes, and cocktails in the office. OEBS, well, that Ph d just never really materialized did, it? And me? I couldn’t hack it at a real companies in a developed nations with service economies, so, well, we all know the rest. . .
There were the three of us, with our three beautiful girlfriends, the six of us pretty much the only people around under thirty besides the dressed-in-blue student hosts, and everyone knew who we were and wanted to talk to us.
“No no, I work is Des Moines. Uh-huh, yeah. Iowa. That’s right” I found the InMo saying as I repeatedly reiterated that I wasn’t in any danger in Kenya despite what someone had heard on CNN.
Funny, I used to tell people I lived and worked in Kenya, rather than Sudan cause of the whole ‘safety’ thing.
On the Friday, we all set out for a tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Center and learned all about the cool shit they do there. It was a total geek out and I loved every minute learning about spraying titanium dust into a vacuum chamber where lasers melt it into a shape fed to it by an AutoCAD file. Naps were wanted but we had to get ourselves into suits and the girls had to get all gussied up for the main event
The inauguration on Friday was pretty spectacular. Unfortunately Sir David, couldn’t be present thanks to American Airways canceling nearly every flight the day before. Our neighbour of more than 20 years, whom I had visited just a few days before filled the spot with a speech that was possibly more personal—perhaps less embarrassing—than the one Sir David would’ve given. Through tales of moving up the ranks from when they were both associate professors in the the eighties, it really gave the University an idea of who my dad really was.
The old man gave a rousing speech himself. If a CEO had given such an impassioned dissertation about the future of my firm, I’d've been impressed. Every speaker there seemed to think the world of my old man as well as my mom. It was pretty crazy to see and experience. I mean, these were my frickin parents, and there’s a three-star General saying that they’re both awesome?
I can’t imagine people standing up in front of hundreds and thousands extolling my exceptional work in integration and implementation.
Maybe that’s why my title doesn’t contain the word President.
Well, at least not yet. . .
The party that night for a bunch of strangers had a tremendous spread of food, but Me, Art-History and our sig-O’s The Girl and OC retreated up stairs so we could eat and imbibe in relative peace. Both Thursday and Friday we ended up at Mason’s Pub, the local bar in downtown Huntsville. We’d meet up with old neighbours, family, and friends all of whom had come from all over for the old man’s event. And he even picked up the tab.
I gotta say, to see the old guy jamming out till 2 in the morning was something else. I think he spent the last 15 years going to bed early to build up the reserves for that week. Hell, Friday night I had to drag him out of the place.
I never thought I’d see the day.
Aaaaaaaaand, I don’t think I will again.
Despite the late night, Saturday morning, we were awake at an unreasonable hour to golf.
I used to hate golf.
I mean really fucking hate it.
I caddied for 5 years and despite the money being incredible, I fucking hated that as well. I still remember an old guy calling me over the cart and me running over at the end of the round hoping for nice “off the cart” tip for helping him out. ”Great job,” said as he stuffed something in the pocket of my vest. I smiled and said thanks only to walk away and discover it was piece of trash.
No wonder I started working in kitchens.
Despite it all, I was looking forward to the golf outing. Golfing with my dad, my brothers, my Grandfather’s flask with with single barrel JD and the Cubans I smuggled in from the Middle East, I realized why the game is so great. I hadn’t spent four consecutive hours with these guys since, well, I can’t even remember. We shot the shit—figuratively and literally: I had a tremendously high score second only, I think, to OEBS.
To his credit, he’s a lefty, and he did play righty.
Not that it really mattered.
Well, none of it mattered. It didn’t matter that I had to line up to the ball at a 45° angle to compensate for a parabolic slice. It didn’t matter that we came in last place in the scramble. It didn’t matter the cliché of all of golfing while our sig-O’s went to the spa at the Westin. What mattered was the beautiful spring day in the south, wearing shirts with our dad’s name on the sleeve, we had hotdogs and chips and beers for lunch and we smoked cigars on the back nine. I don’t even like cigars, but it was great.
It was one of the best times I’ve had in recent memory.
Well, except for all those naked girls in Crete. . .
The caterers were already preparing when we returned from the occasion.
The party on Saturday was something to behold. This was the time for fun, as it was mostly people I knew. There were my old man’s past grad students and colleagues. There, that night, was probably the greatest collection of metallurgists and microscopists Alabama had ever seen. There were friends from Bethlehem, the parents of the play-groups, people from our parish while we growing up, and families with whom we travelled to Lake Seneca and the Outer Banks when were kids. Not to mention family from overseas,
And the Knight.
Sir David and Lady F-ing Christine had arrived shortly after the missed speech and he delivered it Saturday night on the grand staircase of the Lowe House. I don’t know exactly the qualifications needed to be a Knight of the British Empire, but if one facet is being able to engage an entire cocktail party and have the place roaring with laughter, then certainly, yes, Sir David deserves every bit of the honour.
The bros and I played a couple songs as a drum set from the music department had been loaned for the occasion. Ending with Sweet Home Alabama, we were informed by more than a few guests that we were much better musicians than Golfers.
Little by little, people drifted off. The event did not go as late as I had anticipated.
I think it was bittersweet for some of my folks’ friends. They were all ecstatic for the old guy and his success, and seeing the outpouring of admiration at the ceremony, seeing the the three of us together as friends despite our geographic disparity, and on top of it all, what a fine city Huntsville is, I think they finally understood fully why he would make such a decision.
Still I remember Kav’s mom during my unannounced breakfast visit. She was apologizing for a little mess because they were putting new windows in her house. She said she loved the new windows, but without curtains they kept showing our house.
Our former house.
I know what she meant. I could barely look at its bluish shuttered and storm-cloud-grey Cape Cod style shingles as I drove by. For her it’s a constant reminder her very good friends have moved away after living next to each other for more than 20 years.
I can’t fully understand it, though. No matter how much I try.
I’ve moved away from everything I never knew for as long as I can remember. From the friends I left at St. Anne’s when we moved to Sweden, the friends that went to Freedom High, rather than Liberty High. I grew out of the middle school clique of wanna-be thugs, the friends in the Grenadier band, when I decided to become a full-time pot-head. Up to going to school in NY, to spending my summers in LA, Columbus and NYC while most everyone else came home. Even disappearing to Las Vegas for two years, I started leaving behind my friends there as my job took me all over the country and the world.
I was constantly leaving.
I guess I have no way of comprehending friendships that build over a span longer than my entire lifetime. With my nomadic modus operandi, I wonder if I will ever know. I know Spaz and Box weren’t overcome when I moved to Africa. Spaz has a Dalí print of mine and Box has my amp and BC Rich Warlock. They were probably stoked that I left!
We departed Huntsville on Friday to Detroit. Art-History and OC were on the same flight as us and my mom was yelling at us to get out the door. I guess there was quite a bit of my mom yelling at us as we were always going somewhere, or getting ready for something.
Like I said, on display.
There were a number of other couples with whom we had partied the night before waiting when we stumbled up to the gate, Detroit being the Northwest Airlines hub many people came through.
Upon arrival in Detroit, we hugged and said goodbye to our friends and OC and Art-History.
Over Christmas I scheduled some time in LA and NYC on my own to catch up with old friends. Now that I had a ball and chain in tow, things changed. Considering what she just went through during the inauguration, it was only fair I go see her family. Part of me wanted to got NYC and party like a bastard, since I was still on a kick from the weekend, but the trip up north turned out to be just what I needed. We had home cooked meals and just hung out, her family and the two of us. Considering that my folks new home in Huntsville felt more like a township fire hall with all the parties that were going on, being in a home, a real home was just the ticket.
I think the most we did in those three days in Michigan was going to a Walmart for some supplies.
Ahh, American consumerism at its finest!
We drove down to Detroit after our lovely and relaxing time in Mt. Pleasant and were back in NYC before we knew it.
We had a hell of a time getting a cab to Times square from Jamaica Queens, and our flight into LaGuardia was late and we were flying out of JFK the next day. We managed to get a train to the bar on 44th about two hours late and saw Biff, Toonz, OEBS and Nic, who had come into NYC for a few days. She was staying with Matt and was probably gonna do some 5th avenue shopping. With the state of the American dollar and her salary in pounds sterling, it must’ve been like a giant half off sale.
Biff, being the proprietor of his own company, was the only one to get four AM Pizza with us at Joe’s in the west village.
We said our goodbyes shortly after and the cabbie got lost on the way back to the $99 Comfort Inn.
We slept a few hours and headed to the airport for our departure back to Nairobi via Dubai again. Having a hell of a time again finding a cab, I walked about a four block radius and finally managed to snag one. While we waited at the airport. While Calling our mothers and telling them we made it alright and were on our way, As well as better part of the previous of the 12 hours leading up to our departure, I couldn’t stop thinking about when we left NYC this past January.
See, I didn’t know I’d be back for this event. When I said goodbye to OEBS this past January I didn’t know when we’d see each other next. I had no idea it would be so soon.
And I had no idea it would go so fast
But our 10 day sojourn was not over just yet: We had 8 hours in Dubai to burn.
A 13 hour flight is extremely short with a 12-inch LCD and 250 movies at one’s finger tips.
That Valium is easily obtained in Kenya sans prescription also helps pass the time.
Wearily—sensing a theme here?—we got off a plane. Again.
Back to Jumeirah—again—but this time to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. We walked right past the lobby, out the back door and to the beach. Carrying out hand luggage with laptops and books and headphones and wearing jeans and sneakers, we dozed in the cool morning breeze under the shadow of the Burj al Arab. Around 10:30, it was too warm to stay at the beach in our clothes, so we had a little brunch at a beach cafe, and went off to the mall to go skiing.
After an hour, The Girl had had enough of the cold, though I kept going for a little. I was loving every minute of the cold, bolstered by the contrast of the morning at the beach. Skiing with her, I spent most of the time going down the hill backwards, offering instruction. She had been skiing before, but I no one ever took the time to teach her. Hell, if she’s serious about all this, she’s gonna have to learn sometime.
We bought a 22-inch HD LCD for around $200.
God, I love Dubai.
We were running a little late and were exhausted sp high tailed it back to the airport, falling asleep once again during the cab ride back.
Wiping the drool off my chin as we climbed into the Middle Eastern Heat for the last time in a while, we had made it just in time.
We arrived in Nairobi about 6 hours later, with not even a glance from customs as the I hauled in the monitor for my new media center. I negotiated a fair price for a cab ride back, and we arrived in our living room.
As it began, it was over.
I was not tired in the least, so I set up the LCD and watched a movie. And I thought about what just happened.
Summer vacation, Christmas morning, all these highly anticipated events that come and go seem to be over faster than they began.
When June rolls around, the days are long and the fall is infinity away. Fourth of July fireworks sear the sky and fade into a translucent smoke that remains in the air, shadows of the light, as blankets and folding chairs and dozing children are hauled back to car trunks.
Or Car seats. I’m not passing judgement. . .
The summer vacation to the conference or to the beach or to the lake is the last hurrah in early August, and by the time you get back, shiny brochures in Sunday’s paper are advertising the sales and there’s only so much time to buy new shoes before it all starts up again.
The inauguration passed by like a flash; a revelrous, raucous, and ridiculous flash, but flash nonetheless. We’s left the mansion with it’s 3 ice machines and stockpiles of food and booze and were back in our place with the slow to go water heater and the tiny fridge and the 24-hour guard service. It may as well have been September. But I wasn’t on vacation, for the flash of summer, I was working.
Not office work.
And it certainly wasn’t Sudan.
But the trip had been work, with so little sleeping in, and only three days in Michigan of not entertaining. Now that I was back, I had more work the next day.
I was back to being an Implementation Manager and not the globetrotting bad-ass of the first family of Rocket City.
As I sat there, melted into the couch, I realized that (primarily for tax purposes) I would not be returning to the US of A any time soon.
Just as a tiny pang of sigh hit, I also realized, self-assuringly, that I didn’t need to. The LCD monitor I bought was something small. An LCD TV in Kenya of the same size would easily have been $800, so I was stoked about my little purchase.
But it was more about what it meant.
In Vegas TV was one of the first things we got. Before, I think, we even had a couch. That’s what were gonna do now. We’ve already gotten some chairs, shit to put up on the walls. A bookshelf. Bedside lamps so I can read and she can sleep. Maybe soon a table and some chairs so we can have meals. Maybe a bed for the spare room. We’ll go to the open mike nights on Thursdays and barbecue on Sundays. Maybe I’ll get a Gym membership so I can stop lifting bottles of water and a motor bike so I can go riding with my buddies on Saturday afternoons.
Maybe we’ll get a big 4X4.
Maybe we’ll have a normal life; the kind of life that makes people yearn for adventure and daydream about something better when they find themselves living it. The life that you take for granted.
No, not you.
Not you either.
In the back there.
I’m talking to you.
I pondered, after our last departure, whether I was leaving home, or going home. This time around, I saw all the people from my youth who I had nary seen since beginning my professional internships that kept me away during summers. These folks were part of a part of me that I’d kinda forgotten about: being a kid and learning about the world and people. Now that I’ve got that all figured out, it’s difficult to remember a time when I didn’t. These folks; these specters of a life passed—a life that still continues—these folks reminded me who I used to be, because they all still seemed the same, though I am different, mostly that I’m a lot taller and hairier than I was.
Life doesn’t stagnate, it keeps moving and changing.
People get new jobs in different places, and loved ones die, and new ones are born and people age, but we still stay the same. Well, we do at some point. These surrogate parents were just as I remembered them. They were wonderful, and seeing them as well as as my family is what made this whirlwind American tour all worth it.
Especially, since I don’t know when I will see them again.
They all asked when I was coming back home.
I knew the answer this time around.
I flew home April 17th and watched a movie on my new media center