I began my research into manhood and masculinity.
I avoided the informal network of blogs, websites, and internet commentators that focused on issues relating to men and masculinity, in opposition to feminism. I decided to start by reading the entries on a website written by a relatively gentle and nostalgic Mormon man and his wife.
I thought about examples of contemporary masculinity.
It seemed that fathering children, protecting the family and the community, and providing resources for the family and community were the core masculine requirements, in days gone past. That had changed with modernity and technological advances.
I wasn't very good at protecting my family, although I did provide for them a little bit. I had also helped somewhat in the procreating part.
My reading revealed that, because of technological advances, in the modern world, a good man wasn't really much different from a good woman.
My reading also revealed that the concept of honor had temporarily continued to keep men behaving in a manner conducive to a smoothly functioning society even as the traditional responsibilities associated with their comparatively larger size and strength had disappeared, but once the concepts of honor and shame evaporated, masculinity increasingly became associated with behaving in an independent and reckless fashion.
I read: Most of the time our culture focuses on the idea that manhood is just an irrelevant cultural construct, and that men should shake off the shackles of masculinity’s outdated pressures and damaging demands.
It was true that, in my social and intellectual circles, masculinity was considered almost entirely negative, in theory. In practice it was still considered sexually exciting by many, or by most.
A question was: what would happen if society and or technology failed or broke down, and the traditional attributes of masculinity were needed again? Could they be recalled, resuscitated, and resurrected?
The gentle and nostalgic Mormon quoted an anthropology professor named David Gilmore.
“In most societies, the three male imperatives are either dangerous or highly competitive. They place men at risk on the battlefield, on the hunt, or in confrontation with their fellows. Because of the universal urge to flee from danger, we may regard real manhood as an inducement for high performance in the social struggle for scarce resources, a code of conduct that advances collective interests by overcoming inner inhibitions. In fulfilling their obligations, men stand to lose — a hovering threat that separates them from women and boys. They stand to lose their reputations or their lives; yet their prescribed tasks must be done if the group is to survive and prosper. Because boys must steel themselves to enter into such struggles, they must be prepared by various sorts of tempering and toughening. To be men, most of all, they must accept the fact that they are expendable.”
I read that dangerous things, like riding motorcycles, or even vices like smoking tobacco, had an inherently masculine aspect, since they showed that the man who engaged in them was not so concerned about protecting his own life that he would hesitate to protect the lives of others.
I was constantly trying to protect my own life.
I did a lot of reflection on this. Growing up, I had seen my lack of masculinity as a sign of superiority, until I realized that I needed it to attract sexual partners. I then spent 20 years in the odd world of non-heterosexual feigned masculinity.
I decided to order some more books on the topic. I was very conflicted.
In opposition to all of this, Asaph and I continued to attend a parenting class, attended only by mothers.
In order to avoid charges of sexistly dominating the conversations, I rarely spoke.
Another father briefly joined the class. He was a Soviet Jewish immigrant with a slight accent; presumably he had arrived in the United States during his adolescence. He reminded me of a Soviet Jewish immigrant I had known from Japanese class when I was in college. He had had heavily greased-back hair and had worn an over-sized leather motorcycle jacket and tight black jeans. My friend Nicole and I had always laughed when he said the words "小さい ブタ" with his thick Russian-mixed-with-New-York accent.
But the man in our mothering class wasn't the same person.
The class also contained a French woman of Tunisian Jewish background, a woman who had immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands as a child, two normal American women, and a Canadian. The class was taught by a beautiful woman who advocated a parenting philosophy based on the principles of attachment theory in developmental psychology.
I realized that it was sexist to mention that she was beautiful, but she was.
My research into masculinity and manhood was analogous to my subscription to several magazines related to outdoor recreation. My real life involved no outdoor recreation, and no manhood or masculinity.
The sun kept moving north.
Our kids resumed swimming lessons.
We went into Central Park for a birthday party.
It was a lovely bright spring day, considering.
We had some trouble maneuvering in the snow.
The icicles were melting in a picturesque way on the Swedish Cottage.
We watched a performance of "Jack and the Beanstalk". I was surprised that the old fairy tales were still permitted to be performed. The giant had the accent of New York City and the surrounding area, which I found inappropriate. I wondered if the character of the peddler had been intended to be a Jew.
Afterwards we all crammed into a small area for pizza.
I didn't eat any, of course.
The family whose children (twins!) were having a birthday was moving to California. I showed our daughter how to flush a public toilet while holding a paper towel, to avoid direct contact with the flush handle.
Our son had mixed feelings about the pizza.
We headed home.
Even though the Jewish holiday of Purim (פורים) had passed, Asaph had arranged for us to go to an Israeli Purim event held at a little-used synagogue. We arrived early, and I thought it was going to be fine. There weren't many persons in attendance. We sat and waited for a bilingual performance related to the holiday to begin.
But people kept arriving, and arriving, and arriving. I thought of the fire codes.
After a long period of waiting, the room was packed with pushy Israelis. A woman started to sit on me, and when I backed up, a man behind me yelled at me for crushing him.
I was miserable.
After the excruciatingly long performance, which our children somehow enjoyed, even though it had been 90% in Hebrew, we were invited to go into the basement of the building for crafts and snacks. But my panic only increased when we went downstairs and I beheld the mass of swarming and writhing humanity.
Asaph said that we could leave.
Later he used the term "עם הארץ" to refer to the others in attendance, although he had actually helped organize the event and had received some sort of certificate at the end of the performance, accompanied by loud applause.
Later that week one of the Israelis I had met called out to me on the street from a car. She was extremely friendly.
I didn't remember her at all. Everyone had looked the same to me.
I took our son down to the left-wing synagogue at which we had a membership to attend a service for children.
He was the only child.
I read something interesting in a book while he played with cars.
I walked us slowly back home through Chelsea.
We passed the troubled seminary where I had lived as a young person.
We passed a restaurant and bar owned by masculine journalist Sebastian Junger.
We walked along the river. The ice was gone.
The view had changed significantly in only a few weeks!
Asaph attended a conference full of pushy Israelis.
I took the kids to school.
I read something interesting in a book while the kids attended a "spring fair" that Asaph had organized.
They seemed to have fun.
We took the kids to the dentist. Our son had a cavity! At age three! We felt awful.
There was a brief setback, season-wise.
I can't take it! I thought to myself. Little did I know what was coming.
The effects of the white squall melted soon enough.
Flowers finally appeared.
We took walks.
This had been my favorite time of year, in my young adulthood.
But I had become too impatient for light and warmth to enjoy the subtlety of this transitional period.
I wanted it to be June 20 every day.
We headed to the airport at an extremely early hour. We met our paid childminder, Audra, and her granddaughter there. We boarded a plane.
I made a bad choice in my in-flight entertainment.
We landed in Palm Beach, Florida. Audra and her granddaughter went off to visit relatives in Fort Lauderdale while we prepared to drive to my cousin's winter home in Vero Beach.
Our daughter kept saying that she was about to become carsick, so we had to stop very often. It was a bit frustrating.
Finally, we arrived! We were shown our luxurious accommodation.
I tried to think if I had ever stayed in such opulence. The Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen? The Oriental in Bangkok? Neither rivaled my cousin's winter home in splendor.
We had the two-bedroom guest house to ourselves. There was also an additional pool house.
I peered at the main house from the room that I shared with our son. I made Asaph stay with our daughter, since she required too much maintaining.
I felt like I was in a kind of Roman villa.
Although some aspects reminded me of Las Vegas, Nevada, a city I had visited twice in the early 1990s, once by air and once by car.
Even though we had all eaten from the gigantic basket of expensive packaged snacks in the guest house, we went over to see if people were having breakfast.
I had trouble finding the refrigerator.
I didn't have exactly the same taste as my cousin.
I went to wake Asaph, so that the maid could clean our rooms.
We played in the pool. A very attractive young woman -- a girl, really -- came over to help babysit my cousin's children. There was a large staff, I noted.
Why couldn't every day be like this day? I wondered. But, of course, I knew why.
We went to the beach.
"Look! Holes!" I yelled.
I wanted to record the moment.
This was much better than a filthy and overcrowded squalid New York City playground.
Although we did find some trash on the beach.
We went back to the house to wash up.
I was hoping that we weren't taking advantage of my cousin's hospitality. It was possible that we were. I thought that probably we were.
There was a storm.
We watched from air-conditioned comfort.
Our children still engaged in instinctual squatting.
The rain was ferocious.
It was scenic and atmospheric.
Our children played with my cousin's children, in spite of the age difference.
I inquired about the material used to make the roof tiles.
It was just concrete, owing to local regulations related to hurricanes.
We were to go have dinner at "the club" for their weekly pasta bar. I didn't ask too many questions about the club, but we were told that we needed to dress a bit more formally. I had only brought one well-worn knitted polo shirt; I had no other shirts with collars.
My cousin examined what I had. She decided that they would not be adequate, so she directed me to her husband's large closet.
I picked out what I thought would be the most appropriate for me, an inoffensive and nondescript short-sleeved Madras shirt, but her husband insisted that I wear a loose, flowing, lime-green silk shirt instead.
I thought that I looked awful, especially with my sun-burnt, middle-aged face.
When we arrived at the club, I felt ridiculous. The dining area was crowded with affluent and handsome blond people in clothing that, while as colorful as what I was wearing, was much better fitting. I felt like a downmarket clown.
We ate delicious pasta. The large dining rooms were open to the ocean on one side. It was loud and cool, with a comfortable breeze. People were walking from table to table, greeting one another. It was the kind of experience that, as a child, I would have loved.
Later we went into a sort of game room with the children. There was a 12-year-old boy who was like a caricature of a spoiled rich kid, talking loudly about various matters to some rapt younger associates.
I fantasized about knocking over his plate of cake, which he had placed precariously on an unused billiards table. But I didn't.
The next morning we had to prepare to leave.
I wasn't happy about that.
I wanted to move in permanently.
I thought of my mother.
The plan was to drive to Fort Lauderdale, where our children would spend the night with Audra at the home of her relatives.
It took us a while to arrive.
It was not an affluent community. The contrast with our previous destination was quite marked.
Our children didn't seem to mind. They were happy to see Audra and her granddaughter.
Asaph and I drove into Fort Lauderdale, where we were to spend the night without the kids.
I was a bit shocked by the shabbiness of the place that Asaph had chosen. I was also embarrassed by the decoration.
We went to meet our friend Mark, and his longtime companion.
We ate at a popular restaurant I had eaten in several times before, even though I had only been to Fort Lauderdale once.
The food was edible. The location was lively.
We then went to get some sort of frozen food product.
Asaph insisted that we drive to an unseemly location out of town.
It was a place where older persons could buy the temporary attention of young, muscled men. Even the person who took the admission fee was a young, muscled man. Asaph, who was of course wearing shorts, pointed to a sign that read NO SHORTS and asked the young, muscled money-taker if it was a problem.
"No, that's just for women," he said.
Asaph thought the place was extremely fun, and he applauded each new arrival on a central stage, where the young men danced in various stages of undress, up to and including no dress at all. I, of course, couldn't stop thinking about weighty matters. The young men seemed genuinely interested in the older (and old) men in various stages of decrepitude: smiling, winking, rubbing their shoulders, and then going off to give so-called [the upper legs of a seated person] dances in private rooms. What were they thinking? Sometimes the older men were so hoary that they needed assistance walking. How were the young men such good actors? I couldn't fake anything.
I thought of Penélope Cruz, physically repulsed by her older lover (played by José Luis Gómez), in Los abrazos rotos.
How long until I was just like these old men? And that was if I was lucky!
I thought about the tragedy of the human condition.
"Hey, look at that guy! He's so hot!" said Asaph.
I looked. Indeed, he was.
We had to leave in the morning. I drank coffee at the bar. The person next to me was complaining to the bartender of a high fever. I was too scared to change seats.
As we left, the police were responding to a complaint.
I thought about something I had read in the September 1970 issue of Harper's.
They are different front the rest of us. Homosexuals are different, moreover, in a way that cuts deeper than other kinds of human differences—religious, class, racial—in a way that is, somehow, more fundamental. Cursed without clear cause, afflicted without apparent cure, they are an affront to our rationality, living evidence of our despair of ever finding a sensible, an explainable, design to the world.
We went back to pick up our kids from Audra's relations.
We were having a complicated day: a drive with the kids to Miami Beach to visit some acquaintances of Asaph's and then to visit his grandmother, then swinging by Audra's relations' house for a third time to pick up Audra and her granddaughter, and then all of us driving to Orlando.
We arrived at Asaph's acquaintances' apartment.
They were a male Israeli same-sex couple with two children (not twins) from gestational surrogacy. One of the kids was an infant; a monolingual Spanish-speaking nanny was also present.
They had a nice view. They smoked cigarettes on their balcony.
One of the Israeli guys worked for the agency that determined who was Jewish enough to immigrate to Israel.
Our daughter bossed their son around in his room while our son sat and played quietly. It was a nice enough time. I drank more coffee.
Next we drove a short distance to Miami Beach to visit Asaph's grandmother. Asaph's aunt was also there.
They were thrilled that we had cut our son's hair. Asaph's grandmother had considered our letting it grow for three years to be a form of what Jews called "idol worship".
I drank some more coffee. Then we left Miami Beach to go back to Fort Lauderdale.
We started driving to Orlando. I read a book.
Our daughter had a fit of rage or hysterics, so we stopped at a rest area.
Asaph started breaking out in hives. But he hadn't touched anything, or eaten or drunk anything. It was something in the air. It was Florida.
We got back on the road, singing songs from musicals very loudly to distract our daughter, while I kept examining Asaph's expanding rash as he drove.
I thought that Florida was very beautiful, in the places where it wasn't overdeveloped with housing, which were few. It was like a tropical version of the Midwest.
We kept singing and singing, as if our lives depended on it.
We arrived at the resort in Orlando where we had stayed several times previously.
Asaph went immediately to buy antihistamines. I bought some soda, and was reminded of upcoming events.
The next morning was chilly.
I walked to the grocery story in the cold.
I saw hot-air balloons in the distance.
Israeli friends of Asaph's (who were some kind of scientists in Texas) had arrived overnight. They had a daughter older than our kids and then a younger son.
We showed them the features of the resort. We had a fun day.
The next day we all woke up very early to go to the famous theme park. The sun was rising; I was nervous.
We parked and noted the location.
We took some kind of trackless train to the entrance of the park. I noticed that we were walking on bricks with names inscribed thereon. I wondered if they were graves.
Asaph had planned our visit to maximize our pleasure.
Whee, I thought.
There were crowds. I kept trying to focus on my breath.
I appreciated the aesthetics of a ride that I remembered from my previous visit, in 1973.
I wondered if the displays offended contemporary cultural sensibilities.
It was all very pretty.
I felt considerable nostalgia for the simpler times of my childhood.
We had a lunch reservation. Our obsequious waitress of unclear origin (she had a distinct non-Anglophone accent, but her name tag read JENNY) brought us everything we requested with impressive speed.
Evidently there were parades all day, but the staff and everyone had to act surprised and delighted for each one.
Our daughter fell asleep, so I took our son to ride a little train that went around the park. He wasn't happy.
"I wanted a blue train! This is a red train! And it's too loud! I want a blue train that is not too loud!" he hollered.
I couldn't comfort him.
I met up with Asaph and our daughter. I took her to a more futuristic version of the red, loud train.
She liked it.
I had some time alone. The whole place was very nostalgia-inducing.
I was surprised that sections of the park had not been dramatically altered to conform to contemporary political and cultural sensibilities. European youthful male imperialism still seemed to be a dominant organizing principle.
The captain of our jungle cruise expedition in 1973 had shot a pistol into the mouth of an animatronic hippopotamus.
"Right between the tonsils!" he had said.
"What are tonsils?" I had asked.
I was generally impressed by the craftsmanship of the various buildings and their decorative flourishes.
Why couldn't it still be 1973? I wondered. Or maybe even earlier.
I watched a woman in hijab (حجاب) purchase some plastic snakes.
The Israelis were going to stay much later, but we wanted to go home.
The parade arrived. Our daughter liked the music.
We went to sleep, and then we woke up.
The palms and palmettos of Florida evoked intense feelings of nostalgia, possibly prompted by syndicated television shows from the 1960s that I had watched in the 1970s.
Landscapes that I would have found intensely depressing in 1991 seemed happy and cheerful, even though I still hated sprawl intellectually.
I went for a run to the edge of the development.
I wished that it was 1965 and that I had a home in Florida.
I walked to the grocery store again.
I felt like I was at the age where I couldn't be bored.
The next morning we left, on a jet plane.
We had to hurry out to Long Island for Passover dinner upon arrival in the grim New York metropolitan area.
I was reminded of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (نسيم نقولا طالب):
Consider religious dietary laws. They may seem irrational to an observer who sees purpose in things and defines rationality in terms of what he can explain. Actually they will most certainly seem so. The Jewish Kashrut prescribes keeping four sets of dishes, two sinks, the avoidance of mixing meat with dairy products or merely letting the two be in contact with each other, in addition to interdicts on some animals: shrimp, pork, etc.
These laws might have had an ex ante purpose. One can blame insalubrious behavior of pigs, exacerbated by the heat in the Levant (though heat in the Levant was not markedly different from that in pig-eating areas further West). But it remains that whatever the purpose, the Kashrut survived ≈ three millennia not because of its rationality but because the populations that followed it survived. It brought cohesion: people who eat together hang together. Simply it aided those that survived because it is a convex heuristic. Such group cohesion might be also responsible for trust in commercial transactions with remote members of the community. Simply, people who eat together hang together and dietary laws help in enforcing a group cohesion. This adumbrates our central idea: that rationality cannot be explained by conscious verbalistic explanatory factors; it only be what aids survival, avoids ruin. Rationality is risk management, period.
The consequence is that beliefs should not be judged on whether they are epistemologically true or false, but primarily in whether they allow survival. Belief in Santa Claus is therefore rational if it prevents people from dying and not rational if they cause extinction.
The evening passed without incident.
Our son wasn't thrilled with the temporary dietary restrictions.
Spring was progressing.
I took a walk in the park reading a book -- on paper -- by Joan Didion. Walking while reading became a pastime or hobby.
One difference between the West and the South, I came to realize in 1970, was this: in the South they remained convinced that they had bloodied their land with history. In California we did not believe that history could bloody the land, or even touch it.
It was not yet apparent that a drought was in the future.
Although the rains had already begun to slow in March.
I witnessed an attractive man in front of me surreptitiously scooping dirt into a plastic bag and then carrying it away.
I became obsessed with walking.
We ate with some friends in our building who were moving back to Israel.
I felt apprehensive around them. You never knew what an Israeli would do.
I went to my dermatologist to have a wart removed.
He took out what looked like a blowtorch. I looked away.
I didn't have the extra money for the many cosmetic treatments he offered that were not covered by insurance.
He was my age but looked much younger, owing to the self-administered procedures. I remembered when I had had some mild laser treatment of visible blood vessels around my nose on the occasion of my 40th birthday. My mother was still alive, and she was shocked by and at my vanity.
I found a post card that had been written to my mother. I couldn't believe the penmanship!
No one wrote -- as in handwriting -- like that anymore.
I read a book about the Greek-Turkish population exchange.
A passage about the existence of crypto-Christians in the Ottoman Empire shocked me.
In his secret crypt, the ‘mullah’ apparently carried out scores of baptisms and weddings, perpetuating a world of extraordinary and subtle deception. The crypto-Christians – as patriarchal in their social organization as all Ottoman communities – had a system for ‘taking’ brides from their fully Muslim neighbors. Once the marriage contract had been sealed, the Muslim girl, rarely more than fourteen years old, would undergo a secret baptism, overseen by her future in-laws, and then be forbidden all further contact with her blood family. At the same time, the crypto-Christians would avoid ‘giving’ their own daughters to fully Muslim families if at all possible. As Anthony Bryer, one of the greatest academic experts on the Pontus region, has pointed out, this community had found a way of breaking the process whereby Greek Christians in Anatolia progressively lost ‘their language, their religion, and their daughters’ to the Muslim Turks. Instead of ‘giving’ daughters to Islam, they reversed the process, albeit by an elaborate and exhausting form of subterfuge.
We went to a party to commemorate the ending of Passover, but it was held too early in the evening to be in accordance with Jewish law. The hosts were Australian and South African Jews who had lots of kids and crazy accents. It was very stressful: a girl dressed like a princess kept screaming that her "tummy" ached.
Then something happened that caused me to have to run out of the party and go home by myself.
I missed my mother. I had no one to call. No one anywhere in the universe.
While engaged in an errand, I passed the spot where I had decided to move to New York, during a visit in 1997.
I often wondered if I had made the right choice.
Asaph and I had a dispute. We agreed to meet at a secluded park to discuss. On the way there, my phone ran out of battery, but Asaph was waiting for me to call him to tell him that I had arrived.
I eventually approached a young woman who I thought would let me borrow her phone, mindful of my white male privilege: she might assume I was an undercover policeman who wouldn't hesitate to beat and or imprison her, or worse. But she claimed to be happy to let me make a call. She had a symbol associated with the Middle East on the necklace she was wearing, but she had a very clear accent affiliated with the Spanish-speaking populations of the Caribbean.
It was a great place for spies; a loud fountain made conversations difficult to record.
It had a 1970s-era feel, since an attendant would reprimand people who put their feet on the chairs, but smoking was permitted, and even encouraged.
I was so wary of how everything we did was being tracked and recorded.
I read a book about the 1970s and 1980s in New York.
It was quite shocking.
The only photographer I really knew was Robert Mapplethorpe, now living just around the corner from us in a loft on Bond Street. Usually, I only saw Robert at night at the Mineshaft. Once we tried to have a sex date but whatever self-administered hallucinogenic date-rape drug I took made me think Robert was the devil and the chill paralyzed me. I superimposed him in my mind against an onyx Lucifier bust in a corner of his living loft and photographer’s studio.
Asaph and I had an appointment at a shadowy agency. I walked there from work.
I was reminded of my early years in New York.
They had mostly been good years, overall, except for some persistent lower gastrointestinal tract issues.
I stepped in to the Spanish Cultural Center, fondly remembering the many classes I took there.
I remembered breaking into sobs on the phone with Centfocs when I had been shown the film Volver in one of my last classes.
Asaph and I were subjected to a somewhat brutal interrogation before being allowed to enter the shadowy agency. It involved multiple menacing men grilling us over and over. Had we not simply been standing in front of a bulletproof glass window trying to access the agency's waiting room, it would have been intimidating, but we could have just chosen to turn around and go down an elevator to escape at any time.
Suddenly, they became satisfied with our answers and we were allowed in. There wasn't even a metal detector. Our meeting at the shadowy agency was with a very young and extremely cheerful woman who was anything but shadowy.
Or was she? I wondered.
I walked back to work.
Day after day the skies were cloudy, but little or no rain fell.
The trees bloomed anyway.
Cool, cloudy, and dry was a strange combination, I thought.
Still, I was happy that winter was over.
The constant clouds gave the spring a melancholic aspect.
We drove to visit former co-workers of Asaph, in northern suburbs.
They only had about 25 minutes free before they had to go to a children's birthday party.
I admired their bathroom floor.
They walked us to a small municipally owned pond where we threw bread to ducks and turtles.
It wasn't terribly exciting.
We stopped by the house of a woman who was a friend of Asaph's father and stepmother. Something about the woman made me miss my mother intensely, even though this woman wasn't really much like my mother. But she seemed like someone my mother would have had as a friend; that was close enough. We played with our kids in her neighbor's enormous backyard. Her neighbor's children were afraid to come outside, as they had seen a large spider the day before. They stared at us from their bedroom window.
I wanted to spend all day in the house of the woman who was a friend of Asaph's father and stepmother. Maybe just lying on various pieces of furniture.
We headed over to the house of another one of Asaph's former co-workers for a different children's birthday party. It had gotten quite sunny.
I couldn't concentrate, or participate. The sun felt hot and good.
Our daughter, who had recently lost her fear of dogs, spent the entire party following around and trying to pet the three tiny terriers owned by Asaph's former co-worker.
We had a day of rain.
Near our apartment, a building erected in the 1960s was torn down. I predicted that all buildings built after World War Two would soon be torn down. They were almost always worthless.
We went to an Israeli Independence Day event.
I wasn't impressed, but the cool weather kept crowds away, at least.
We passed a building built after World War Two, wedged in between two that had been built before World War Two.
I had signed up for a spiritual retreat.
I took the train up north on a cloudy Friday afternoon. Once we got through the blight immediately surrounding New York City, we passed through the storybook Tudor towns of Westchester County.
The prevalence of litter slowly decreased. We were then asked to switch to another, more old fashioned train to finish our journey. I stared out at forests and streams. It did not seem spring-like here; it felt like winter.
We arrived at a gray terminus. I boarded a grimy shuttle bus and headed to the retreat conference center in tony Litchfield County, Connecticut. The driver was an obese man who kept shoveling handfuls of candies into his mouth from a large paper tub. He made several negative comments as we made our way.
It did not seem like April.
I headed to my accommodation. I was thrilled at being able to sleep through the night without having to worry about the kids.
There was almost no mobile phone reception.
The meals were all taken care of, although strict rules had to be followed.
I met a few nice persons.
Things finally cleared up.
It was still chilly.
I took a video of some goats for my kids.
I did some restful thinking.
I felt somewhat rejuvenated.
I had learned some interesting things.
I went back to New York.
I admired a simple building constructed before World War Two. Why couldn't these types of buildings be built anymore?
Asaph made us go to the park for a professional photo shoot. I was in no shape to be photographed, but the kids looked cute.
I noticed the state wildflower of Ohio, otherwise known as the provincial flower of Ontario.
I went to go buy the expensive global affairs and lifestyle magazine that I had been buying every month since it had been founded in 2007.
The magazine store had closed.
I had to go all the way down to the West Village later that week to get one.
It was hard to find books or magazines anymore. I was not happy about that. I hated technology. I made a vow to refuse to read anything written on the so-called internet.
We had a conference at work where I had to lead two sessions. They went pretty well, despite some low scores from the Ukrainian representative.
My walk to Hebrew class was now in broad daylight, owing to the tilt of the planet.
I ended up back in the West Village with our son on a Saturday morn. I peered into former places of renown.
Despite the lack of rain, the azaleas were in bloom.
Like many adolescent boys, I had developed a mild obsession with azaleas, as well as rhododendrons, that had only been cured by visiting the Callaway Gardens resort in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
We headed back along the river. The amount of pollen in the gray, dry air was incredible.
I got to attend a benefit dinner. I kept rolling my eyes throughout the entire thing.
I couldn't really believe in anything anymore.
Rain was repeatedly forecast but did not arrive.
We went out to Asaph's uncle's house in Long Island for a Sabbath lunch. Our daughter took a photo before we were required to power down all electronic devices.
We tried to play outside in their backyard, but malfunctioning sprinklers (and the religious inability of the family to do anything about it until nightfall) made it challenging.
We headed back, accompanied by Asaph's sister and her on-again-off-again boyfriend.
Asaph's sister had lost her ticket and was going to try to plead for mercy from the conductor. I told her that she would have better luck if she pretended to be single.
I walked home with our sleeping daughter; the thought of the vile subway repulsed me.
There were too few oases in this desert of humanity, I thought.
The kids and Asaph's sister went to play in a playground.
I traveled to the Upper East Side to attend a small party hosted by my rarely-seen correspondent and his wife, who had relatively recently moved into a new apartment.
It was nice to be at an adult event that didn't involve too many non-heterosexuals, or Jews. My correspondent's apartment was beautifully curated. I thought of Israeli-born illustrator, writer, artist, and designer Maira Kalman.
I took photos of some book jackets for future reference.
The next day I was to attend the religious wedding of Asaph's cousin. I had never been to a real Jewish religious wedding. I wasn't sure what to expect.
We hired a driver to take us -- Asaph's younger brother, his younger sister, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Asaph, and me -- up to a suburb founded by Huguenots on the Long Island Sound.
I was wearing a poorly-fitting rented tuxedo.
A whole meal was served before the wedding ceremony. The bride was announced with a fanfare of trumpets, and she went to sit, veiled, for people to approach her to offer congratulations. There was a separate area only for the men, where various Talmudic rituals were to be performed.
There as a good deal of singing and carousing. The marriage contract was read, and a plate was broken by the two mothers of the couple. This was all before the ceremony.
I went back to the area where the food was being served and the bride was greeting guests. The groom was brought in by a rowdy group of his friends, and he went to verify that he was indeed marrying the right woman, to avoid the mistake of the patriarch Jacob.
We then went outside for the ceremony. The seating was segregated by sex.
Unlike most Jewish rituals involving prayers, the ceremony was quite brief. There were, of course, no vows read: only the reading of the contract, in the Jewish dialect of Aramaic. The ceremony included something that Asaph himself had never seen before: the application of ashes to the groom's forehead.
The service was followed by sex-segregated dancing. The men got pretty wild.
The women were stereotypically more graceful.
The couple then sat in a special place and family members and friends did crazy dances in front of them to try to make them smile and laugh.
The segregated dancing only lasted for as long as the band was playing Jewish and Israeli music. Then it became more or less like a normal ethnic American wedding. Even though Jews weren't known for drinking alcohol, many people got quite drunk.
I thought it was interesting how little emphasis was placed on the personalized love story of the couple. It was really about the community, joining two new people together to create a new family.
I thought of when the Right Reverend Dr. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, had said, right before my mother's death: In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.
This Christian sentiment had clearly been taken through Judaism.
I left earlier than Asaph. I had been at the wedding for about seven hours, however.
The next day I returned the tuxedo.
I started studying maps of the current drought.
I looked at historical drought maps, like from the time of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
And the time of my mother's death.
I nervously watched the rain pass us by.
I wasn't sure why I cared, since I wasn't a farmer or gardener, and I knew that there was a lot of water in reservoirs and that East-Coast droughts -- unlike West-Coast droughts -- could end at any minute.
Still, the rains kept bypassing.
We got some drizzle.
I kept going to work. Every day I was filled with more wistfulness and more disdain.
I kept going to Hebrew class. I couldn't say either "wistful" or "disdainful" in Hebrew.
I went for a rare run in the park.
Everything was still green in spite of the drought. The sky was still gray.
I thought about all of the beautiful places that my parents had taken me.
I wanted to take my kids to beautiful places too.