I walked into our apartment building after my Hebrew class. There was a nondescript woman of subcontinental descent in her early 30s standing at the concierge desk. A woman with blond hair in the synthetic New York fashion of roughly the same age was speaking to her in a very unhappy manner. An apparent friend of the blond woman was pulling on her arm to encourage her to leave. The subcontinental woman just stared at her blankly.
I assumed, based on my re-education, that the blond woman was making some sort of racist assault on the subcontinental woman.
I went up to get my package. I gave my apartment number to the man behind the desk. The subcontinental woman started at me.
"You look like a moron," she said.
"I'm sorry?" I asked. I was sure I had misheard.
"I said you look like a moron," she said again, more clearly.
"Oh," I said.
"Hey, moron, did you find my package yet?" she said to the guy behind the desk.
"Not yet, ma'am," he said.
I was nonplussed.
Another tenant walked up to the desk.
"Oh, look, another moron," said the subcontinental woman. Then she walked away.
The blond woman returned.
"What is wrong with that lady?!" she said to the man behind the desk.
He seemed afraid to say much. "She is not a nice person," he said, in a New York accent. He kept his head down.
"Maybe she's some sort of performance artist?" I offered, jokingly. "Maybe she's filming people's reactions to her saying stuff like that?"
"Are there cameras around here?" said the blond woman. She looked up at the ceiling, nervously.
"No, I was just trying to come up with a charitable explanation," I said.
The blond woman seemed confused. She walked away.
I got my package and walked to the elevator. The blond woman was there.
"That woman was really crazy, wasn't she?" I asked. This was back when that word was approved for daily use.
"I heard that she's some sort of performance artist," she said.
"No, that was just my attempt at a charitable explanation," I said.
"What?" she asked.
I just stopped talking.
I reflected on the more than 16,469 days of life I had lived. I decoded to take a plunge.
I formally severed my ties with organized Christianity. Many were shocked and disappointed.
I just wanted to do what made the most sense for my family.
It was nice not to have to feel constant love and benevolence towards all humankind, but I knew that I would miss the liturgical incense.
I watched a short film about winter.
That season was arriving.
I read: The spectacle of the priests splattered all over with blood and oil may be a repugnant one to the modern imagination, but for the ancients both the clear olive oil and the sacrificial blood were thought of as purifying agents.
I consumed a lot of olive oil, but very little sacrificial blood.
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. I thought.
It was getting darker and darker, just like in the previous year.
I was always late to our parenting class, which was not court-mandated.
The Upper West Side mothers in the class sometimes made us feel bad, like when they revealed that they didn't give their kids fruit juice, a sinful beverage at that time that we nevertheless allowed our children free access to.
We learned to just describe things about our children, instead of making positive or negative judgements. Instead of saying "what a pretty picture you've drawn!" you were supposed to just describe what the child had drawn.
When our daughter came out wearing an adorable selection of clothes one morning, I remembered to simply say, "I see a girl wearing a selection of clothes!" If I told her she looked adorable it could ruin her for life, apparently.
The holidays arrived.
Faruq came to visit! We went out to a fancy bar co-owned by the one-time sexual partner of the son of American artist, author, actress, heiress and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, who was herself a descendant of American business magnate and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt.
It was great to see him, as always. He was still young, although he was getting older, at last.
A time of terrible insomnia began. I slept many nights on the floor outside the children's room, because I imagined that I heard them crying otherwise.
It led to many problems.
I had read in Sebastian Junger's War that American soldiers in Afghanistan had to take sleeping pills to sleep, otherwise they just bolted awake every few minutes thinking that they heard incoming fire.
But I couldn't take sleeping pills without putting the kids in danger.
Our children received a very cheap Chinese-made gift from Audra, our paid childminder. It was a sweet gesture but it filled me with sadness.
I was counting down the days until the solstice, because that meant I could start counting down the days until the equinox.
We drove, with the children but without our paid childminder, to Ohio.
We had planned to stop overnight in Pennsylvania at a limited-service roadside hotel in a small town near the Maryland border once known for medicinal springs, then known for nothing. But Asaph had relied solely on the space-based satellite navigation system to find his way, and I fell asleep for an hour or so. When I woke up we were being directed to the center of a cornfield in the north of the state.
"This isn't our hotel," I said.
Luckily we were able to transfer our non-refundable reservation to a different outpost of the limited-service hotel.
We relocated the children into the room without problems. They were happy.
I regarded our view in the morning.
We arrived at my brother's house in the early afternoon.
We had been telling our children that my brother's family had acquired baby chicks since the prior summer. We immediately went to the coop.
They were no longer chicks.
My nephew Zack showed our children.
It was nice to be out of New York, although the setting was a little bleak. Our son wanted to play outdoors.
I procured booting.
Our son played on my brother's family's playground equipment.
We went over and examined the chickens, whose coop was heated and furnished with piped-in music.
We evaluated the compost.
We peered at the small pond that nature was trying to expel from the landscape.
It was a rather grim setting.
I convinced the boy to come back inside the house.
I took a walk by myself to the end of the street.
New houses were going up in the fields. It was a pity.
I walked back.
It was Christmas.
A quasi-Indian meal was made.
Things didn't seem very festive.
Asaph, the kids, and I all slept in one room together, in bunk beds. I took one kid, he took the other.
It was kind of fun and cozy.
There was a frost in the morning.
It didn't last very long.
I continued reading a book about non-heterosexual young Jews in Italy in the 1980s.
I was concerned about one of the presents my nephews had received from their parents.
Without the children, Asaph and I drove to visit my mother's grave.
I looked over at the hospital where she had died. Or, technically, the hospital where she had been diagnosed before being moved to a hospice facility next door that was run by the hospital.
I went into the cemetery's office to use the restroom, since I had had several coffees.
The smell of the tap water reminded me of something.
We drove by the so-called alternative high school I had attended.
We had left the kids with my sister-in-law, nephews, and a local babysitter. My sister-in-law sent a photo to me while Asaph and I were doing errands.
The local babysitter was a beautiful blond girl who had been home-schooled by her Christian parents.
After purchasing $800 in thrift-store clothes for the children (no item had cost more than $6), we drove back.
We had plans to visit Mary, the woman who had given birth to our children, in Chicago. We decided to organize a brunch with my father and my brother's family at a pricey restaurant that we always loved to visit when in town. It was known for organic, free-trade coffee and crowds.
As we waited in line, I observed a sign that read: DO NOT SAVE A SEAT UNTIL YOU HAVE ORDERED AT THE COUNTER. But then I saw a male human person come in behind us and quickly put his coat and a newspaper on a table that had become empty.
He was dressed in the manner of an admirer of an English rock band formed in Crawley, West Sussex, from the 1980s when I attended the so-called alternative high school. He wore a long, black, thrift-store coat and his dyed-black hair was sculpted with hair-stiffening products. It was hard to determine his age, but he was definitely not in high school.
As we waited with four children for a place to sit down, he sat at a table for four all by himself.
He was only having coffee.
I felt a rage. I felt a rage that was made worse by the fact that my Midwestern nature would not allow me to do or say anything. If I had tried to speak, I would have screamed incoherently.
Eventually we were able to find a few separate tables for our group.
I could feel the rage destroying my body and mind. I looked over at him occasionally.
It was even more enraging because he looked like someone who could have easily been scared away. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't even ask Asaph to do it.
It was one of the times when I wished I were Israeli.
We drove to Indianapolis.
I demanded that we find an expensive hotel in which we could use the restroom.
We were able to pass for big spenders.
They were preparing for the New Year.
We drove into the night. It was not fun to drive with toddlers across the Midwest in winter.
We finally arrived.
It was good to see Mary, her fiancé, their two children (an infant and a toddler; we called them Squashy and Squishy), and Mary's teen-aged son from a previous consummation.
I ate a beef stew with an unbecoming level of voraciousness. They kept a kosher kitchen.
The next day we went into the city.
The plan was to visit a large indoor aquarium.
All of us went. There was a very long line stretching outside the aquarium. I started to have a bad feeling.
It was a cold day.
I kept thinking of the mobs of people inside the aquarium. The mobs of children.
Taking our children to use the restroom.
Watching them put their hands in their mouths.
The microbes. The viruses.
I started to feel sick.
We finally made it inside. We were ordered into a holding pen while a representative of our group was told to go buy the tickets.
As was my way, I waited until the last minute.
"I...I...I don't think," I said.
"What?" asked Asaph.
"I don't think I can do this."
Asaph was furious, but he immediately steered us towards the door. Mary was more furious.
"We're going in because we've already paid for parking!" she yelled. She wasn't happy.
Our children fell asleep as we pushed the strollers across the frigid lakeside parkland. Literal and figurative chills were in the air.
We came to an ice skating rink. We went into an overpriced restaurant adjacent.
Our son slept in the stroller while our daughter ate some overpriced french fried potatoes that were covered in a sauce we had to scrape off for her. Asaph glowered from across the table.
"I'm sorry," I said.
We walked back wordlessly to the parking lot to meet up with Mary and her kin.
"That looks like the Israeli Knesset," I offered.
We had kosher pizza with Mary and her family for dinner back at her house. It wasn't tasty. There was no reason that kosher pizza had to be tasteless, but the only people willing to make kosher food were the kind of people who couldn't really cook.
At one point Mary's son Squishy started to cough. Then choke. We all stopped eating to watch. Then he vomited. Everyone sprang into action.
I ran to the kitchen to throw away my pizza and to usher our kids downstairs to her furnished basement.
When I came back up Mary screamed at me.
"He doesn't have a stomach bug! That was just from his cough!"
She called her Thai childminder, whose Siamese-scripted toothpaste I had noticed in the bathroom, to confirm that Squishy had vomited the day before under similar circumstances.
"That doesn't actually reassure me," I said.
I went to throw away the trash. When I opened the outdoor garbage container, a small mammal of some kind -- hopefully a squirrel -- jumped up and squealed at me from within. I threw the plastic bag of trash onto it, slammed the lid shut, and ran back to the house.
It had been a disturbing day.
The next morning I eyed the supposedly cleaned high chair with suspicion.
We left to go buy some food at a kosher supermarket.
Our daughter fell asleep in the car, so I went in with our son.
I noticed that the magazines were dressed modestly.
It was actually a regular supermarket that catered to Orthodox Jews, so there were a lot of non-kosher items. I kept trying to buy kosher items that were from regular brands, but it got exhausting trying to find them so I just ended up going to the specially designated kosher section.
I picked up a can of kosher tomato paste. It read: PRODUCT OF CHINA.
I did not want to eat food from China.
I bought a packaged dessert from Israel that had played an important role in recent protests.
Later we drove to an event that I had been led to believe was a winter arts fair. It didn't sound too germy to me.
We passed some famous sites.
When we got there, it wasn't a winter arts fair at all. It was a winter carnival, swarming with young children.
I had to stay.
I tried hard to smile, but Asaph could tell that I wasn't happy.
We went to eat ice cream in a filthy food court afterwards.
The evening passed without incident.
The next morning we were to drive to Asaph's cousin's house near Cleveland, Ohio. We got a late start as I had trouble procuring a kind of artisanal beer that my brother had requested.
It was frigid as we headed across northern Indiana.
"Oh, we are so close to Michigan!" I said.
We tried to stop at an outlet mall, but it had very little indoor space. Our children ran to an outdoor toy, but then screamed when their hands froze against the metal.
It was unpleasant.
I bought a hat.
We continued on our way.
We listened to the soundtrack to an American computer-animated musical fantasy–comedy film over and over and over, to keep our daughter from having a complete meltdown.
We passed familiar landscapes.
Asaph's cousin, his wife, and their three children were extremely nice and welcoming.
I ate chicken so-called tenders with great gusto, to Asaph's disgust.
I presented Asaph's cousin's wife with a bottle of wine.
"Oh, maybe we can enjoy this after the kids go to sleep?" she asked.
She didn't understand that Asaph and I were required to go to sleep with the kids.
Which we did.
We slept in their son's room. He was in early adolescence.
There was a dusting of snow the next morning.
I packed the car.
We headed back south.
We were to spend the rest of our trip at my father's house, but our daughter had a meltdown near my brother's, and we contemplated just stopping there.
But we drove on.
It was relaxing to be in my dad's house. He had now lived there almost as long as we had lived in the house in which I grew up.
My dad had repainted the room where my mother had spent her final days before going to the hospital and then the hospice.
I found some primitive toys from my childhood.
And from my adolescence.
I slept by myself in my mother's room while Asaph and the kids slept in the partially furnished basement.
The sun rose late.
My Lutheran aunt and uncle had a New Year's Party.
The food was tasty, although most of it was pork.
My dad made an outdoor fire that night.
I found a publication where my right-wing economist grandfather had been referenced.
The next morning we were to head back east.
We went to stop at my nephews' hockey game.
I showed our children the ice resurfacer.
Our son ran through the empty arena.
Still, it wasn't fun.
I wanted to stop when we had gone as far as planned, but Asaph wanted us to press on. I insisted that we stop for the night.
When we entered the hotel room, which was identical to the room we had stayed in on the way over, our son said, "This is a really nice place!"
The next morning it was snowing.
We crept along well below the speed limit.
It was agonizing. There was no way we could stop; there was nowhere to stop.
I had grudgingly agreed to visit at a museum and visitor center geared toward familiarizing guests with the history and products of a brand of artists' supplies best known for its crayons.
It was a madhouse. I stood by with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
We got lost trying to enter Manhattan, owing to the space-based satellite navigation system.
Our nanny was detained in the Caribbean, because of a death in the family.
We took care of the kids. Asaph took them out.
I kept them at home.
We got back into our routine.
It started getting colder.
There were hints of snow.
I had heard on a local television broadcast that February was the snowiest month for New York City.
I cursed the darkness.
We did what we could.
A worker was killed in our building while working on the elevator. I found out about it from a local news station. The building never issued an announcement about what had happened.
Kids in the building had been told different stories about why the elevator was out of service.
It made me feel strange, observing this lying to children to protect them. I would soon have to do a lot of that myself.
I fought back seasonal depression.
The city was gray.
Our kids seemed unaware of the gloom.
I didn't know how much more I could take.
I tried to go to the gym every day, but I barely did anything. It wasn't like during my youth, when I would do a full chest workout with free weights, then a full leg workout, then run for thirty minutes at eight and a half miles per hour, then come home only a few hours before midnight.
Now I just paddled on a stationary bicycle for 30 or so minutes while watching news broadcasts.
Our children's birthday arrived. We engaged in a quasi-traditional hair-cutting ceremony.
We included our daughter as well, owing to feminist sympathies.
We arranged for a small party at their preschool.
We took our son to the barber to complete his haircut.
We had debated whether or not to take him to one of the decadent children's barbershops on the Upper West Side, where the kids were entertained with a variety of distractions while the parents were overcharged accordingly.
Instead we just took him to the grumpy Bukharan Jews who cut Asaph's and my hair.
We continued with our parenting class. I was reminded of a comic strip from childhood.
You weren't supposed to tell your kids you loved them all equally.
We still couldn't see the sunset.
I kept going to Hebrew class.
I became obsessed with a song by a formerly ultra-orthodox Israeli woman whose parents hailed from Egypt and Iran.
I took walks at lunchtime.
I was basically just waiting out the winter.
I knew that things were sprouting in Israel, at least.
Finally, the sun appeared at its setting again.
Change was around the corner, I told myself.
Then, a massive snowstorm was predicted.
It ended up not being a big deal.
Work was cancelled anyway. I watched the sunset from our dining table again.
I wondered if I would get a suntan.
I saw a photograph of my childhood neighborhood from a few years before I moved there.
I felt a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loved.
I missed Ohio.
I wanted our son's hair shorter. I worried that he had begun to resemble American actress and 1960s and 1970s talk-show guest and game-show participant Jo Anne Worley. So I took him back to the barber.
He had refused to wear the apron or bib to catch the hair as it was cut, so on the way home he started screaming about how badly he itched. I had to rush him to the bathtub the minute we got into the apartment.
We had the predictable false thaws.
I realized that I was writing almost exactly what I had written the winter before.
Did anyone else notice this? I wondered.
Is anybody listening?
Where did we get this toy? I wondered.
I trudged to my classes.
Bedtime became a challenge.
I had a very boring life, I thought. Except for the wonderful magical journey of engaged parenthood.
We kept trying to have a party at work, but it was repeatedly cancelled by snowstorms.
I kept my eye on the sun.
Every day is getting longer, I told myself.
The end of the day was later and later.
I was shocked to discover a feature on my smartphone that had been monitoring my behavior.
I checked the weather in Israel many times a day.
The sun kept creeping its way up the New Jersey horizon.
At the same time it got colder and colder.
Asaph had arranged to have a large birthday party for our children one month after their birthday. My brother, his wife, and their two older sons came to visit. We found them a sub-let in our building.
It was basically too cold to do anything.
Asaph had arranged every aspect of the party. I had done absolutely nothing.
It was quite the extravaganza. He had hired two non-threatening clowns to lead activities. They didn't wear clown make-up, although the female clown had a lot of mascara around her eyes.
Both clowns appeared to be hungover.
It was a great success.
I woke up early the next day. I was riding with my brother and his family back to Ohio.
We headed out relatively early.
We stopped briefly for gas, which I paid for.
"There's no self-service in New Jersey!" I lectured.
I got to sit in the front seat with my brother.
I hadn't felt this relaxed since our trip to Mexico.
I dozed as my brother drove slightly above the speed limit.
We paused briefly to use a filthy restroom.
Asaph required stops every 90 minutes or so. And he also drove under the speed limit. So trips took a long time. But my brother and his family barely ever stopped.
This trip was going faster than I could have imagined.
My sister-in-law engaged in a conference call for her work from the back seat. Even though she was a nurse and her job should have had nothing to do with mine, I could hear her using all the same technical buzzwords that I had to use, owing to the way that computer software now dominated every industry.
Go-live. User acceptance testing. Sandbox. Use case. Instance. Knowledge transfers. Gap analysis.
We stopped at a fast-food restaurant to get lunch. Everyone was expected to eat it in the car as we continued to drive.
I, of course, didn't eat anything.
I didn't even drink anything.
I had to admire my brother's driving skills.
My nephews occasionally fought in the back seat, but it didn't bother me. It wasn't my problem!
We stopped at a strange gas station to get ice cream.
Of course, I didn't eat any ice cream.
I called my dad to have him drive up from his house.
My sister-in-law's mother was there with my youngest nephew.
My dad and I had dinner in the restaurant where I had last eaten with my mother. It was basically empty.
We went back to my dad's house and I started sorting through old memorabilia.
I soon got very sleepy.
I had slept so well! With nary a care in the world!
I found a photo of my best friend from college, and our mutual friend who was now near death from a motor neuron disease. The photo had been taken in Death Valley, with a real camera, and developed on paper with chemical solutions by my best friend from college.
I found an identification card.
I took a break from sorting and cataloging to go shopping with my father.
I spent the rest of the day frantically going through boxes.
I found photos of my brother as a baby.
Of my brother, as a child, with my cat, as a kitten.
A photo of my brother and me in a glacier in Switzerland that had certainly long since melted.
A photo of my father's younger brother when he was in the navy, sitting with my grandmother. He had apparently not been taught that it was oppressive for men to sit in such a masculine, spread-out fashion.
A photo of my mother's older brother.
A photo of some unknown ancestors.
I found an album of photos that I had never seen before. It appeared to contain photographs of the young man who was my mother's husband before she married my father.
I had known about this previous marriage since I was quite young, as I had discovered my parents' marriage license in a filing cabinet. But my mother had only admitted it to me a few years before her death. I had spent nearly 40 years knowing about this but not daring to ask.
The man was very young at the time, and quite handsome in the old-fashioned Midwestern American manner.
One photo was quite startling.
I had some trouble sleeping after viewing it.
There was a new snowfall. My father and I drove into the historic center of the town where I grew up.
We went to a different branch of the restaurant where we had encountered the post-punk/new wave/goth table-hogging patron two months prior.
They had changed out the coffee to be even more fairly traded.
I did not care for it.
I walked around my father's house before one last burst of sorting and organizing.
The backyard was peaceful, although sound from a nearby highway could be heard.
I discovered a 20-year-old can that had contained a Japanese soft drink that I had bought in order to show my uniqueness.
My father and I had decided to start the trip back to New York in the middle of the afternoon. Just when I thought that I had finished sorting all of the boxes and we had packed up the car, I found another box of memorabilia.
We just put the box in the car, and I promised to sort it in New York.
My father didn't drive as quickly as my brother, but we made good progress.
The streets had menacing names.
We had decided to take the southern route.
We had minimally acceptable weather.
I remembered how, in high school, I had referred to the state of West Virginia as "the West Virginia", like the West Bank of the Jordan River.
That was kind of weird, I thought.
We entered an area where there was significant evidence of hydraulic fracturing.
We stopped for chicken and biscuits.
My father did not use space-based satellite navigation systems. He rarely got lost.
I read to him an article that discussed the dangers of space-based satellite navigation systems.
I hated technology.
We stopped at our limited-service roadside chain hotel.
I checked the weather in Israel in the middle of the night.
It was cold when we woke up.
I checked out the swimming pool before we left.
My father and I had various levels of success in having discussions and conversations.
He had reached an age where there was a lot of yelling involved in talking to him.
Mostly it was fine.
We stopped to use the restroom. It was nice not to have to worry about toddlers. I observed the workers, who seemed to be sad.
Two tunnels! I noticed. But no trains.
I looked longingly at the many barns decorated with so-called hex signs.
We passed some towns with comical names.
We entered the New Jersey.
Traffic got busier; cars got fancier.
My father stayed for a few days.
He spent one night at the opera.
Then he left.
A Hebrew month associated with the end of winter began.
It was still too cold.
The winter seemed endless.
There were more thaws.
I was happy about a pair of boots I had purchased at full price.
The routine resumed.
Our parenting classes got more interesting.
Our daughter vomited. Finally! I thought.
The temperature got a bit warmer.
I knew that spring was coming.
I was ready.
Give it to me, now, I thought.
I walked along the river.
I thought of the Great Plague of London, during the winter of 1665 to 1666.
I remembered something that had happened on one of these boats during my dissolute youth.
The first day of the month of March arrived. I consulted the window.
On the weather report they said that it was the first day of "meteorological spring".
I went with the children to deliver Purim (פורים) baskets (משלוח מנות). Upon each delivery, our son would say: "Happy Birthday!"
It was slightly too early, according to Jewish law.
Near work I noticed that an old restaurant was going out of business. They hadn't changed much over the years.
I dodged icy puddles.
The sickness that had afflicted our daughter spread to our son.
I kept breathing.
We went to a Purim party at the synagogue.
There were activities that our children were not interested in.
We were not able to stay to hear the scroll: the only book of the Bible that did not mention God (except for one other).
The next day our offices were closed again.
I still had to take the kids to daycare.
I ate the seasonal pastries myself.
I had the television on.
I went to pick up the kids.
I decided that I would start to research the subject of masculinity.
It was very removed from my life.
But I thought it was interesting for a variety of reasons.
I had always been considered and considered myself a relatively feminine man. I had somehow acquired a group of non-heterosexual friends in my mid-30s who were relatively masculine, for non-heterosexual men. A small number of them appeared to be repressing their natural femininity, but not most of them.
I had since lost all of these friends, but I was still a non-heterosexual male person in a same-sex relationship, and I was raising a male child and a female child.
My non-heterosexual Jewish female psychotherapist told me that I was bringing a "mommy" element to our parenting.
This was interesting if there was any significance to gender (the older term had been "sex"; "gender" had been confined to fountain pens in French). The prevailing culture was divided and subdivided on this issue.
Asaph and I got to go out to dinner to a Mexican restaurant, and we saw a pretty dog on the way home.