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The Real World: Keeping It Crazy

1 Dec
You may recognize Mohammad.

You may recognize Mohammad on this year’s Christmas card.

In the words of John Mayer…

Welcome to the real world,” they said to me
Condescendingly
Take a seat
Take your life
Plot it out in black and white
 

I now live in an apartment.  I drive a car.  I don’t carry toilet paper in my pocket.  I drink “chocolate glazed donut” flavored coffee.  No, I haven’t been on any jungle walks lately.

Yes, crazy stuff still happens to me.

It is now called my job.

ATF

I am a good shot. At the three foot range.

For instance, [above] was my first day at work.  As you may recall, I left the Appalachian Trail because my dream job landed in my lap.  I’ve been at work for several months now and… I love it.  I literally wake up stoked to go to work.

I’m a prosecutor in a very dangerous city on the east coast (that has recently been likened to a “war zone” by the local paper, readers of which are counting down the “shooting days” left in the year).  

I prosecute violent crime… i.e., guns, drugs, etc. and also an individual who inspired last month’s Halloween costume:

Yes, that individual is a bank robber.

Yes, that individual is a bank robber.

I haven’t been blogging lately, in part because I’ve been trying to figure out (1) how to prosecute violent criminals and (2) how not to get shot in the process.

But also because I’ve been lazy and because I feel weird writing about my real life… i.e., the lady at Trader Joe’s who told me to “rot in hell” (because of my bad parking job… yes, it was pretty bad) and the night I ended up at the cigar lounge smoking my first, second, and third cigars ever (which I later learned were called “Acid Blondies”… yes, when I went to order one, I was confused and asked for a “blondie on acid”).

I will try to do better, folks.  In life and in more regularly posting to this blog.

As for Bojangles, he is at home and looking for a full-time job, though in the interim he’s had the opportunity to return to his first love: cutting down trees.

Bojangles 1

Yes, cutting down trees is as dangerous as it appears in this picture.

Yes, I was there and cutting down trees is as dangerous as it appears in this picture.

Lucie Kerouac

29 Jun

 Below, my attempt at Kerouac-style stream of consciousness.  [Otherwise known as frantic scatterbrained late-night typing sans editing.]Jack Kerouac Making a  Face

McAfeeI was at a bookstore in Perth, Australia at the end of last year when my eye caught the Warhol-esque cover of Jack Kerouac’s On the RoadOn the Road, of course is Kerouac’s memoir of his travels across America that has come to define a generation – namely, the postwar 1950s “Beat Generation.”

And the thought first bubbled in my head: Is my adventure kinda like Kerouac’s?  I mean, it too is rebellion of sorts against societal norms that insist upon conformity.  It’s a search for meaning in my life, a longing for something to believe in, a hunt for a compass heading in the life ahead.  And I’m doing it in my own, uniquely American way – you know, equal parts individualism, conquest, and self-discovery.

Right?  It’s the same unabashed pursuit of happiness – a year of capturing memories like fireflies in a jar on a mid-summer night.  But realizing that, even when that’s your only aim in life, you still have to deal with a whole lot of gnats dive-bombing into your eyeballs and skeeters chomping on your exposed (and unexposed) flesh.  Oh, and — as the case may be — disease-riddled ticks.

I picked it up, but I didn’t buy Kerouac’s book – because as much as our journeys are the same, they are different.  Kerouac is not me, his trip is not mine, and his generation is not mine.  Kerouac’s trip was a rejection of the postwar American Dream – a gray flannel suit job, a wife, 3.4 (?) kids, a house, and a picket fence.  He divorced his wife and went on a mad hedonistic rush through sex, drugs, jazz, and alcohol.  “Wild and unrestrained!” boasts the cover.

My trip is not that – a full-scale rejection of society – but a quiet, contemplative pondering of how I fit.  Kerouac’s trip was mindless; his writing only maybe held together by some so-called “stream of consciousness.”  But my wanderlust, while perhaps rooted in the same thirst for a flood of emotion, is an ache – not a mad addiction. Continue reading

No More Tonsils, Way More Pain

10 Jun

Cap and Gown

So last Wednesday was the big day.

I dropped Bojangles off at the Trail.

And went into the surgery center, where they hooked me up and fiddled with me.  I remained remarkably calm for reasons unbeknownst.

Then they started to wheel me into the operating room, and my Dad began bawling.  Big, heaving tears.  “Dad,” I hollered back, “Get it together.  The only part of me you’re not going to see again is my tonsils.”  I caught my last glance of him as I was pushed through the double doors.  The nurses were patting him on the back.

The good news is that, according to Dr. ENT, my surgery went great.  He was beaming when he explained to my teary-eyed Dad that my extracted tonsils were cryptic like coral reefs – and filled with bacteria pus balls politely called “tonsil stones.”

If you count surgery day as Day 1, today is Day 6 of my recovery.  And there’s a reason I haven’t posted yet.  It’s because I haven’t wanted to be depressive.  You see – as I was warned – getting a tonsillectomy as an adult FREAKING BLOWS.  I’m not going to go into all the details, but even without any complications (which hopefully I will continue to avoid), it is miserable.

I live from Percocet to Percocet.  My throat is raw as a slab of beef.  Swallowing is like my worst Strep throat times ten.  My ears scream in pain.  Everything in my throat region is swollen, to include my uvula – that little pink thing that hangs between your tonsils – which now touches my tongue.  I can’t talk.  I eat only applesauce and watery mashed potatoes drowned in gravy.  My mouth is coated in white fur that tastes and feels nasty.  Coughing fits due to mucus drainage keep me awake at night and leave me sore.

I’m trying to drink lots, which is one of the few things that seems to help.  I’m sure I’m going to turn the corner on this thing soon – and, in the meantime – I’ve just got to fend off the urge to wallow in self-pity. (Watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians usually helps with that.)

Oh, also, I literally just texted Bojangles for an update.  “How are things going?”  His response:

“I have a sore throat.”

Yeah, I’m going to go crush up another Percocet now.

Never a Dull Moment

3 Jun

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So yeah, that happened. I felt like pond scum over the weekend – feverish, malaise, nausea, and like my neck was in a vice.  Leaving the apartment for an Indian food buffet almost did me in.

Then yesterday morning I woke up with a full body rash and swollen, painful lumps in my neck. Dr. ENT declared it an allergic reaction to Bactrim, my latest antibiotic (a sulfa drug). It’s not a typical allergic reaction per se but a delayed kind that strikes 7-10 days after you start the medicine. Basically, your body produces antibodies in response to foreign proteins in the drug. Those antibodies bind with the proteins and form immune complexes, which do fun things like enter your blood vessels and provoke inflammatory responses.

So I had a fun return trip to Dr. ENT.  The highlight was him sticking a creepy crawler down my nose into my throat to check on the swelling down there.  We’re hoping high-dose prednisone – a steroid – will knock it out and that we can still go forward with the tonsillectomy tomorrow.

In the meantime, Velcro the puppy goes in for his own surgery today – to get neutered. Exciting times around here!

And, sensing the brewing sh*t storm associated with having two surgery patients and my fretful Dad under one roof, dear Bojangles may finally hit the Trail again. The plan is for him to keep hiking during the next 3 weeks, likely covering the 270 miles between where got off and Harpers Ferry, WV (essentially the halfway point). I’ll meet back up with him in Harpers Ferry upon my recovery, and we’ll head north. Then, later, I can return to hike the section I missed.

But for now, I’m just trying not to go crazy.  Dr. ENT yesterday morning: “How is your breathing?  Are you breathing okay?”

Me: “Yes.  Until I think about it for too long.  I am developing a freaking anxiety disorder over all of this.  I’m going to need a referral to a psychiatrist.”

Dr. ENT: “Well at least you weren’t still on the Trail.  Then you would really have problems.”

Touche.

No Rain, No Maine

5 Apr

Day 15 – 8.1 miles
Day 16 – zero day with Dad!

Slogged through heavy rain and mudslides 8.1 miles on Day 15 (Thu. 4/4) into the NOC in Bryson City, NC. Was soaked and freezing:

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Then my Dad got into town and took us all (Puffy, Postman, Bojangles, Staph, and me) out to dinner… And then breakfast the next morning…

Taking a zero with Dad today in the awesome cabin he rented here at the gateway to the Great Smoky National Forest. We’ve already hit up the outfitters, the grocery store, the pharmacy. Phew!

So far, life on the Trail is just cool. I’ve seen and heard and smelled some crazy things, such as:
– woman peeing in gallon-size Ziploc bag to avoid going out in the rain
– Bojangles and Postman’s “vitamin regime” which includes 4 ibuprofen every 6 hours (when his watch alarm sounds…)
-People cooking by setting antifreeze on fire in little pie tins
-CONSTANT chatter from the menfolk about “chafing in the balls”

Anyway, some more photos…

Sunrise in the woods:

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Walker, Puffy, Postman, and Bojangles on Siler Bald:

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Walker and Puffy at Wayah Bald:

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Early morning dew in the woods (photo credit to Bojangles):

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Lessons from the Halfway Mark

16 Mar

No, I’m not halfway done with the AT.  Supersonic speed still eludes me.

What does not elude me is the march of time.  I’m halfway done with my year off — or, as I’ve dubbed it most recently: “my one year escape from the real world.”  “So, like, what would you say you have learned?”, the voice of my Aunt Leslie booms through my cell phone receiver as she crunches down on a Medifast bar.

Looking out a bus window in Australia.  It captures perfectly this feeling that the world is whizzing by, and we're just trying to grab a piece of it.

Looking out a bus window in Australia. It captures this feeling that the world is whizzing by, and we’re just trying to grab a piece of it.

Ummhh, well.  It’s hard to sum up the lessons of 4 months of solo backpacking Asia and the Pacific, 2 months of rehabbing my ankle while raising a puppy in the metro DC area, and a week-plus stay at a silent meditation cult in bumfart Canada.  But, if I had to try:

1.  I have learned… a few new prayers.  I’ve said a few during the last six months (except, I will note, during my time at the meditation cult when prayer was BANNED — yes, still traumatized; will write about it… next century).  A sampling:

  • “God, please don’t let me [expletive] up.”  
  • “God, please preserve my sanity in spite of the craziness happening around me right now.”  
  • “God, please sustain the lift beneath this airplane right now.”

2.  I have learned… that Thornton Wilder (whoever he is) said one of the truest things ever said:  “It’s when you’re safe at home that you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”  One of the great — and frustrating — truths of adventure.

3.  I have learned… to see myself differently.  Before (on an admittedly self-indulgent level), I pictured myself as a strong, independent person who has pulled it all together and, like a phoenix, risen from the ashes of life’s sorrows.  But now, when I look in the mirror, I see just another broken person, like all those who walk around me — the prostitutes and the johns and the vacationing families and the other backpackers (or, that’s who was walking around me in Thailand, when this thought first skipped acrossed my mind).  I am broken; we are all broken, in some sense.  And there is a unity in that brokenness that binds us together.  That feeling, racing through your veins, is the antidote to so much — expectation and perfection, fear and inadequacy, judgment and envy alike.  It restores our humanity.

4.  I have learned… the difference between confidence and self-confidence.  Before, I was confident in my ability to succeed at various things.  I strode into job interviews and dodgeball leagues with confidence.  But, I’ve realized, I lacked self-confidence because — if it came to it in the end — I couldn’t weather the storm of failure.  The disapproval of others was hail to my psyche.  It’s like: I bet on the racehorse and I piloted the racehorse, but — at the end of the the day — I didn’t own the racehorse.  Because I didn’t love it no matter what.

You can be really confident and yet lack self-confidence.  The latter — self-confidence — is the tricky one.  It happens at home underneath your covers after you’ve royally messed up.  Botched a work project.  Completely embarrassed yourself in a social setting.  Ate multiple pints of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting.

5.  I have learned… that — no matter what they say — you can’t enjoy the ride until you believe that everything is going to be okay at the end.  [Note: this is particularly true with airplane flights.]  Six months into this big journey to “figure it all out,” I have figured out little beyond the best way to get gored by a rhino and that Germans are good kissers.

Recently, I had dinner with a friend who queried me about how my life was going to look 5 or 10 years from now.  My reply: “I haven’t got the faintest, foggiest clue.  When I am able to wrest the drunk goggles from my face, I will let you know.”

She looked at me, and she said what I never really knew until she said it.  She said: “It doesn’t matter.  Because whatever happens,

You are going to have an amazing life.

You are going to do cool things.

You’re going to meaningful things.

And, most importantly, you’re going to be happy.”

Trekking through the Longji rice paddies of China.

Trekking through the Longji rice paddies of China (November ’12).

Did I Ever Tell You About…

13 Mar
  • The time, in Koh Pha Ngan, when I beat the boys in bamboo stick throwing?  I negotiated a “girl’s line” without disclosing that I had thrown javelin… in college.
Yeah, I know, red shorts was formidable competition.

Yeah, I know, Red Shorts was formidable competition.

DSC02011

  • The time, in Beijing, when I met a 19-year-old Californian boy, and we spent the day drinking the cheapest booze we could find?  This entailed at least two hours drinking in the aisle of a supermarket, and at least one hour drinking free samples at a wine shop.

Robbie was having the time of his life living in Beijing because every Asian girl there (hint: there are a lot of them) wanted a piece of him.  And so he was giving it to them…  The problem was that he actually fell for one but wouldn’t admit it to himself because she — shocker — wouldn’t commit to him.  He queried me about this phenomenon, all the while referring to this girl as “having gained a few pounds”, “not as attractive” as the other girls in his harem, and — of course — “crazy.”

But that was only the start of the day’s conversation.  It ended with me fielding reams of questions on how to please a woman.  Holy eggroll, 19-year-old boys are a piece of work.

DSC02417

“Robbie Love”

  • The time, in Xi’an, when I bought a tube of chapstick that I thought was on sale.  It turned out not to be on sale.  So… I returned it.  To complete the transaction, it took a sh*t ton of sign language, all six drugstore workers, and I had to fill out a novel of a form that included my height, weight, and father’s name.
  • The time, in Nepal, when I got a giant wart on the pad of my index finger.  Disgusting yes, but talk about freaking annoying.  Available remedies throughout Asia = flunk.  Liquid nitrogen in Australia and New Zealand = flunk.  Regular application of apple cider vinegar back home = worked like a champ.  Seriously, uh-mazing.  Try it.