I grew older and crotchetier. If I had had a lawn, I would have taken great care to keep it untouched by young or younger persons.
But, sadly, I had no lawn in Manhattan.
I wanted a lawn.
I read an article in The Paris Review from 2010 about French author, filmmaker, and poet Michel Houellebecq:
The disappearance of patrimonial transmission means that an old guy today is just a useless ruin. The thing we value most of all is youth, which means that life automatically becomes depressing, because life consists, on the whole, of getting old.
It was a summer filled with relatively meaningless slogans, the denial of human nature and reality in general, and the erasure of signs and symbols that were deemed unpalatable by the ascendant sinister elite.
I had always been part of the sinister elite, and I still wanted a gentler and fairer society and a gentler and fairer world. But I worried that we were on the brink of another cultural revolution (無產階級文化大革命). I worried about undermining the foundations of the structure on which we were all standing. I worried about unintended consequences.
I often thought of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Kejserens nye Klæder.
I wondered if people believed what they were saying.
I realized that my interest in the truth might, in the long run, result in my commitment to an asylum.
I wasn't afraid of reading challenging things, but I possibly read them too often.
I read the words of Desmond Connell Cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus of Dublin:
A profound alteration in the relationship between parent and child may result when the child is no longer welcomed as a gift but produced as it were to order. Parental attitudes would thereby be affected, creating a sense of consumer ownership as well as a new anxiety to win and retain the child's affection. The child no longer belongs to the family in a personal sense if it is radically a product rather than a person. So much of parental ambition has been invested in the one or two children that a properly personal relationship becomes problematic. This attitude of parents conveys itself unconsciously to the child, who experiences resentment against a parentage based on power and may produce the kind of teenage revolt we know so well. No child can be happy as a product: the child will find no meaning in a life produced by technology.
I consulted my smartphone and then looked up at the sky.
It wasn't raining. More lies from the elite sinister media!
It was the holiday that marked the beginning of the cultural summer. We went to a picnic at friends who lived nearby. Their massive building had a gigantic interior courtyard larger than many city parks.
We had a nice time.
When I tried to exit from the courtyard directly to the street to go buy some foil to wrap up leftovers, I was told by the guards -- self-styled small-town deputy sheriffs, really -- that, according to their records, the party we were attending was over and that I had to leave immediately. I wanted to point out that I could simply re-enter through the massive apartment building, have the doorman call our hosts, and then be re-admitted to the courtyard, but I just stared at them. One of them was a man approaching old age who had clearly been very attractive when he was young. He took his job protecting this courtyard very seriously.
I noticed that he was of Italian descent. I reflected on the many difficulties that the United States had had assimilating the Italians. It had been a lot of work. It still wasn't done, if you looked at New Jersey.
I was holding our son, who wasn't wearing shoes, so I asked if I could go back to get my things before being expelled from the grounds. They said that I could.
The next day I went downtown.
Roses seemed premature.
I wondered who, in the City of New York in the year of Our Lord 2015, had left flowers at a military monument.
We had a little bit of rain.
A colleague with Netherlandish connections had tried to brighten her desk.
I remembered how, as a child, I had tiptoed out to pick the lilies of the valley that grew in a plot of English ivy next to our house.
This was not typical behavior for a boy.
Asaph took the children to some sort of Israeli event that I refused to attend.
We had some real rain.
I had to admit that it was raining.
"I agree that it is raining," I wrote, via technology.
The next day we took the children to the doctor, owing to some fevers. The park, which had been green before, seemed even greener.
The photo I took seemed fake.
We received an unwelcome piece of correspondence.
It kept raining. I was happy. Although the humidity might facilitate fungal infections of the skin, I thought.
I hated droughts. I couldn't imagine living in California. Or in any arid place, really.
I preferred cloudy with rain to cloudy with no rain.
Although it did get somewhat tiresome. I thought of the reservoirs.
I felt bad about my perfunctory routines at the gym. I was probably losing 10% of my muscle mass per week.
But what could I do? This was the life of a middle-aged parent.
I went to my Hebrew class.
I would not be able to continue during the summer.
I had too many other obligations.
I tried to finish things up at work. I was a relic. I needed to go.
We went to Brooklyn, to visit friends -- or co-workers -- of Asaph's.
There were two children: a four-year-old and a one-year-old. The one-year-old occasionally let out an alarming honk of distress. I braced myself for the worst.
I didn't like other people's children. I took refuge in the bird feeder.
Their backyard was covered with a new-looking lawn and a couple of small trees. There was also an old metal tower that had been used for clotheslines back in the olden days.
Their neighbor, however, had a backyard loaded and laden with hundreds of flowering trees, bushes, shrubs, vines, and smaller decorative plants. There was a pond in the middle; we could see fish swimming therein. A charming outbuilding stood near the end of the property.
I saw an older man milling about.
"He's not very friendly," said Asaph's friends.
"Does he live there alone?" I asked.
"We never see anyone else."
I surmised that the single man must have been non-heterosexual to put so much devotion into maintaining a garden like that.
As we ate, I caught a glimpse of the man's face. I was shocked. It was someone I knew from my old church days!
I remembered a conversation we had once had about an anti-non-heterosexual article in an issue of Commentary magazine from 1980 written by Jewish-American journalist and author Midge Decter, who was also the wife of Jewish neoconservative pundit Norman Podhoretz and mother of Jewish neoconservative columnist John Podhoretz. I hoped that he wouldn't judge me by my Jewish hosts.
I went over to the fence and greeted him.
I had had dinner with him several times, and I had also seen him out on Fire Island. He was a model for excellent aging.
"Your friends moved in recently," he said, with an amount of disdain that was still detectable despite his attempts at repression. I knew that he had lived in his home for many years, probably amounting to several decades. Asaph's friends had moved into their place less than a year prior.
I was sure that he hated them, but we shifted our conversation to other topics and subjects.
That week I went to the dentist.
My dentist had had twins through gestational surrogacy a decade prior. The stress of raising twins had caused his relationship to fail.
I thought about that as I walked down West End Avenue.
The indignities of modern technology often abbreviated West End Avenue incorrectly.
It was not the western section of End Avenue.
That made me so angry.
I thought of an article by my idol Julie Hecht from a 2013 issue of The New Yorker: Every day I think of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, in his orange prison suit. I think about how he was right about technology but that’s not a reason to kill or injure human beings. Throw the machine against the wall or into the fireplace if you’re that angry.
But I used my smartphone in my Hebrew class to look up words.
What are words for?
Language is a virus from outer space.
I had lots of things in my head that were not of interest to anyone. I was a useless relic.
I came across an old photo of my parents and me.
Coincidentally, my father came to visit.
We went with the kids to Central Park.
It was a popular day. Many muscular and otherwise physically fit young persons who worked in finance were enjoying the summer weather.
I noted some anachronistic craftsmanship on our walk home.
Such things were not built or constructed anymore.
Everything built after World War II would be pulled down in my lifetime.
The following day, my father and I went out for a combination of breakfast and lunch eaten usually during the late morning.
I walked him back to his hotel room to admire the view.
We went to a section of the Bronx known for Jews for a picnic of non-heterosexual male parents.
I showed our children their garden.
"Carrots," I said.
"Green beans," I said.
"Lettuce," I said.
Our son took off all of his clothes and ran down a path. "Come back!" I yelled.
"Rhubarb," I said.
"Courgettes," I said.
Even though our hosts were nominal Jews, they served shrimp.
I felt more nostalgia for the summers of my youth, as I ran in Central Park, in spite of terrible plantar fasciitis and Haglund’s deformity.
If I never left the northern third of Central Park, I could probably continue living in New York, I thought.
I read a book by a conservative English philosopher who specialized in aesthetics.
I kept going to my fancy gym, even though I hated it and everyone who was a member thereof, with few exceptions. An empty elevator was a rare but treasured experience.
For reasons too complicated to explain, I had to spend a night alone in a nearby hotel.
Hotels in Manhattan, like apartments, were generally small, expensive, and not very nice. I inspected the room.
I went out to get some food. A family of four walked in ahead of me. I could tell that they would be trouble.
The wife was beautiful and fashionably dressed. The children appeared to be twins, and they were also handsome and dressed nicely. But the attractive and muscular husband had a swagger to him -- he was probably my age but was dressed in stylish and tight clothing -- that I knew would greatly inconvenience my food order. And, indeed, it did. He had many questions about the menu, and even got so upset at some of the responses provided by the extremely polite and obsequious staff that he demanded to "speak to a manager".
I stood there quietly waiting to place my order, thinking again about how hard it had been to assimilate the Italians.
I was eventually able to request my dinner.
Although his food was ready before mine, he inspected it and found it lacking. As I left with my lentil and avocado salad, he was saying, "Look, I got to feed my family"
I slept well.
We walked up to my friend Silvana's apartment for a Father's Day lunch, passing what had once been a college for women.
Our kids liked the balloons.
The far-north of the Upper West Side was largely unknown to me.
It wasn't so bad. I wondered what would have happened had I decided to attend Columbia University upon my graduation from high school. I'm not sure I would have even been admitted.
Instead I had stayed in Ohio.
I decided to return to my hometown for a long weekend.
I felt rootless. I couldn't stand the way no one wanted roots anymore. The more cosmopolitan, the better, seemed to be a key component of the Zeitgeist.
No one lived anywhere anymore, they were just "based" in New York or London or São Paulo.
I knew a sad French computer expert who claimed to be "based" in Phoenix, Arizona. It was where his wife's family was from and they couldn't afford to live in a first-tier American city.
I had accidentally purchased tickets for the evening, instead of the morning, owing to the non-use of the 24-hour clock in the United States.
It was always risky to fly to Columbus (Ohio) in the evening. Somehow, I arrived.
The next morning my dad showed me a place where he was thinking of moving.
"No way," I said.
I found a photo of him when he was in graduate school. Things were different back then. America was different.
We went to the grocery store that I had always gone to as a child. It had been renovated and was not as good. I remembered placing returnable glass soda bottles on a metal roller conveyor in the back of the store with my dad.
We went down to my uncle's house for a picnic.
My nephew found a frog.
It was humid and cloudy. There had been no drought here.
I looked at all of the homemade ceramic art pieces that my uncle had painstakingly showed me while my mother was dying in the nearby hospital several years prior.
My youngest nephew had recently broken his leg and was re-learning how to walk.
There was no family resemblance with my son.
My aunt mentioned that a metal tub she had used to store recyclables had recently been stolen from the front of her yard.
We went to my mother's grave.
I cleaned off the bird droppings that covered it, since it was under a fruiting tree.
We went to the park where I liked to go for runs. A large group of African immigrants were having a picnic. The women covered their obsidian constitutions with vibrant swaths of fabric.
A Mesoamerican man passed us with his six young children. "Buenos días," I said.
My dad and I spied a mink hopping along the trail. I was worried that it was rabid.
It kept getting closer.
The next morning we went to a breakfast place that had previously fallen out of favor with my parents. But it had since become the only place that didn't serve strange-tasting, shade-grown, small-batch, organic, fair-trade coffee.
It made me feel sad and nostalgic. I missed my mother.
We drove around the town in which I had grown up, looking at sites of interest.
I wanted to move back.
"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."
We looked for a more acceptable place for my father to move.
Maybe one day I could be based here, I thought.
We drove to downtown Columbus (Ohio). There were new, cheaply-made apartment buildings designed to appeal to the new, young, vibrantly multicultural city-dwellers.
I looked at the state government building where I had worked the summer after my freshman year in college. I had had to endure huge amounts of cigarette smoke and constant anti-non-heterosexual banter. Also, a woman I worked with had thought that my name was "Harry" for most of the summer, and I was too shy to correct her. There had been no vibrancy there.
We walked around the Ohio Statehouse.
It was a sunny day.
There was a memorial related to the Holocaust, which seemed unnecessary.
Columbus (Ohio) was trying to become a stylish destination.
We passed the theater where my mother's dance company had given performances.
We drove back to my dad's house. He picked raspberries.
We headed up to my brother's house in the countryside. My nephew showed me the chickens.
We tried to remove rainwater from a canoe.
My nephew drove me to the creek.
Like most rivers in Ohio, it was muddy.
My nephew was a better driver than I was.
I consulted my smartphone.
We went back to my dad's place. I noticed the framed picture above the fireplace. Weirdly, it was a print of The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Previously, a framed piece of Japanese paper that I had bought my mother in a shop San Francisco with a ruptured appendix had hung there.
The next morning I ate some blueberries before we headed up to the town where the college at which my mother had taught was located.
We passed through the Ohio heartland.
The heart of the heart of it all had been a slogan, once.
The town in which the college at which my mother had taught had a character not typical for Ohio.
I walked around an Episcopal church that was mostly used for non-religious events.
When churches fall completely out of use What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep A few cathedrals chronically on show, Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases, And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep. Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?
It was raining heavily.
We went to the building where my mother's dance studio had been located. I remembered going there when I had chicken pox and couldn't go to school.
I wondered how many students I had inadvertently infected. This was long before the vaccine.
I admired a new statue, of a person indigenous to North America prior to the European conquest.
The rest of the campus looked very English.
We drove by an Italian restaurant that I had loved as a child. They had served a salad composed of iceberg lettuce drenched in garlicky corn oil.
It had gone out of business.
We headed home on a road that we had called "the bumpy road" when I was a kid.
I had loved the bumpy road! I had never liked roller coasters, but I had liked the feeling in my stomach from the bumps on this country road.
We drove back to the street where I had grown up. I asked to get out of the car and walk. I was filled with a surreal sensation of nostalgic euphoria. It was like a dream where I was actually back in my childhood.
Of course, unlike during my childhood, there were no children playing in the street. There were no people of any kind visible anywhere outdoors.
I walked up to my old house. There was someone sitting in one of the front rooms, with his back to an open window. He was watching television. I was too shy to go knock on the door, but I was desperate to see inside, or even just the backyard. I decided that I would stand in front of the house until he noticed me, and then I would ask if I could come in.
He never noticed.
He seemed to be a fat person.
I went for a run.
I finally realized why some communities were hostile to pedestrians. I felt so stupid and naive.
It was light very late into the evening, owing to the time of year and Ohio's location at the western edge of the time zone.
I watched an Italian movie.
I liked it.
The next day we went on a walk with my uncles.
Small toads hopped along beside us.
We came upon a hawk.
It looked sickly.
In reality, I had mixed feelings about central Ohio.
It was a bit featureless and boring, even with its new vibrancy.
We were caught in a downpour as we all tried to go out for lunch. At the restaurant, each of my uncles (as well as my father) asked for a separate check.
We drove by my father's mother's old house. It was only at this point that I learned that my grandmother and grandfather had been divorced!! I hadn't known that!! I was 45 years old.
I had spent the night in that house alone with my grandmother exactly one time. She had had an elderly Labrador Retriever named "Sam", and she had served me tomato juice with dinner and biscuits from a pre-packaged mix for breakfast.
It was an experiment that was never repeated.
My flight was delayed, so we went for a while to a branch of the fashionable restaurant that we had loved while my mother was dying. I avoided the coffee.
The airport was being renovated.
I sat at the gate while the inevitable delays were announced. This was the reason why one avoided afternoon and evening flights. The person across from me seemed to think that he was the king of the world.
Finally we took off.
I tried to read an article making the case for same-sex marriage from a natural law perspective.
Everything was going well.
I kept reading.
Suddenly we flew into a thunderstorm.
The plane plummeted in a dramatic fashion. My club soda flew onto the floor. People started screaming. The African-American woman next to me raised her hands in the air. "Lord Jesus, please save us!" she yelled, over and over.
After a while the plane stabilized. I could see out the window that we were no longer in a storm. I tried to tell the woman next to me that we were no longer in danger, but she was praying so intensely that she couldn't hear me.
The next day, on the way to a medical appointment, I examined the Confederate flags I had heard were in a subway station.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority denied that they were Confederate flags. They said that they represented the crossroads of the world.
I took one kid to the old-fashioned playground.
I remembered how I had planted purple coneflowers in front of my childhood home. At the time, that was not customarily done. This was before wildflowers were in fashion.
I was feeling extremely nostalgic for my childhood. Then I watched a television documentary program about the 1970s in the United States of America, and it was filled with endless stories of mass murders and terrorist attacks carried out in the name of unfamiliar political causes.
We drove to central New Jersey, to visit friends Asaph had made years prior: a photogenic opposite-sex married couple with two beautiful children who were models, literally.
They had a beautiful, big, clean backyard.
I showed the kids a native songbird.
The weather could have been slightly nicer.
The virile husband owned a vintage sports car.
There was a gorgeous swimming pool. We waited until the rain passed.
Our son loved swimming.
Our daughter practiced firing rockets, a useful skill in the Levant.
I approved of their house.
It would remain standing for some time.
I noticed the political affiliation of our hosts.
We went to watch fireworks with old non-heterosexual friends in Asbury Park. We made our way through huge crowds and tacky entertainments.
Our son played with fire.
Everyone enjoyed the show.
Asaph didn't appreciate my judgmentalism. I liked to think of it as judgement.
The next day we went the country club in Westchester County where Asaph's former co-worker and her husband (and three children) maintained a membership.
I wasn't crazy about our children touching the filthy waters of Long Island Sound.
I took Asaph out for his birthday.
He was really getting old.
At work my overseas colleagues had to cancel a conference call in the middle, owing to weather.
I inquired at a silversmith about the cost of repairing a Palestinian coffee set that Asaph had been given. I was shocked by the price and was tempted to throw the Palestinian coffee set into a garbage can in the presence of the silversmith.
I had the impression that the quality of life in New York was starting to degrade again, owing to the latest mayor.
As I finished a run in the park, I could hear the hysterical squawking of a blue jay, or possibly several blue jays.
Then I noticed that a socially deranged man was taking his cat for a walk on a leash.
I looked through many of the additional items I had taken from my father's house.
Asaph had the children feed pigeons on the anniversary of his grandmother's death.
It was a very hot day, and we were heading out to deepest Brooklyn to visits some of Asaph's friends: a same-sex male couple where one was Israeli and one was normal.
They lived in a part of Brooklyn that was considerably less gentrified than the areas to which we were accustomed. Indigent persons of various kinds staggered and slept around an armory.
There house was immaculately clean and exquisitely appointed. They presented us with artisanal doughnuts that our kids refused to eat.
We eventually put the kids in their bedroom, where the television was located. I looked out the window to note the difference between their yard and that of their non-gentrified neighbor.
The kids liked a dog.
We attended a rooftop meal at the home of an estranged friend.
We had to crane our necks to see the sunset.
Asaph's mother came for a visit. We took the opportunity to visit her accommodations as often as possible. I even spent a night there.
Summer was in so-called full swing.
I guessed that I was happy about that.
I increasingly resented my employment, in spite of its generosity towards me.
My old friend who had been suffering from a motor neuron disease died.
So I arranged to fly to San Francisco for the memorial service.
For some reason it was only raining at the airport.
I waited anxiously.
The plane was filled with clouds of vapor. I asked if this was an intentional feature, since the lighting was reminiscent of a nightclub.
The attendant said that it was just caused by the air conditioning in the hot fuselage.
I arrived. I had to wait five hours until I could obtain a key to my college roommate's home, where I would be staying. His entire family was out of town, in various different locations. His wife had given the key to our mutual friend MiHi, the funniest person I had ever known, who worked in the so-called East Bay.
I walked around, with all of my heavy baggage.
I felt like a homeless person. Those were typical of the region.
I stopped in a fancy third-wave coffee shop to try to wake myself up.
The city was even fancier and cleaner than it had been on previous visits, to say nothing of when I had lived there in the early 1990s.
I finally met my friend MiHi, who was in possession of the keys to the home of my college roommate, his wife, and their two children. We ate dinner at a Japanese vegan restaurant.
This restaurant was like a foretaste of heaven. It was immaculately clean, and staffed entirely by elderly Japanese women, the best kind of human beings.
Since we were extremely hungry, we ordered huge amounts of food. The elderly Japanese woman who served as our waitress smiled with gentle condescension as she brought us more and more and more.
We ate too much.
I waddled back to my friends' apartment.
I saw little evidence of the terrible drought.
I arrived at the apartment. I went out to their back deck.
It was pleasant.
I went into the bedroom, where I fell into a deep slumber.
I woke up in the night to notice a visitor.
I arose early in the morning, owing to the time difference. I went looking for coffee. I saw people who worked in the technology sector boarding private buses to go to work.
Later I learned that the people who ran the coffee shop that I had patronized were assholish.
I took a very long walk.
I walked up the gigantic hill that separated the Noe Valley neighborhood from the Castro neighborhood.
I received an appropriately disturbing telephone call while in the Castro neighborhood.
I decided to walk towards Golden Gate Park.
Maybe I would reach the turbulent Pacific Ocean! I thought.
I walked and walked and walked.
I went to a coffee and lunch and dessert restaurant that I had enjoyed visiting when I was in my 20s. It had changed orientation and now served coffee, desserts, and burritos. It wasn't good.
I paid the non-resident fee to visit the botanical gardens in Golden Gate Park.
I declined a map. "I used to live here," I said.
I walked around.
I remembered how close we were to Japan.
I thought about California.
I went and sat and read a culturally inappropriate book.
Really, there was no evidence of the terrible drought.
But I thought about all of the redwoods that might soon be dead.
It wasn't a nice thing to think about.
I decided to walk back.
The Pacific had been too ambitious, I realized.
I lingered a bit in the garden.
It had been one of my favorite spots when I had lived in this city.
I passed a disturbing Australian flower that seemed to have evolved to resemble a rotting animal carcass. All sorts of insects buzzed around it.
Nature had many unpleasant elements.
I headed out of the botanical garden into the parts of the park that didn't charge an admission fee.
The park was cleaner than I had remembered.
I headed to the so-called Panhandle section.
It too was cleaner than in my memory.
There were still some people living out of caravans, but, without a bit of that, San Francisco wouldn't be San Francisco. California was the western terminus for any flight from one's problems in the rest of the country. But things were definitely tidier than I had remembered.
I walked back to my college roommate's house. His wife had returned from a camping trip with her son, their daughter had returned from girl scout camp, and my college roommate had returned from a business trip to London, England. We all got caught up with recent events.
The next day was my friend's memorial service.
It was held at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.
My college roommate spoke, as did my college's roommate's former girlfriend, who had since reverted to non-heterosexuality. My first boyfriend, from whom I was the least estranged of all of my former boyfriends, also spoke. His voice cracked as he held back tears.
Everyone seemed so adult. We were real grown-ups now.
I didn't speak. I couldn't speak.
After a short reception at the church, my college roommate and his wife invited everyone back to their house for more drinks and snacks.
My deceased friend was from a tiny town in Texas. His mother and sister had very strong regional accents that made them difficult to understand.
I was in favor of strong regional accents, in general. But even some of their vocabulary was hard to follow.
Because of the crowding, I decided to spend the night in a hotel. I used all sorts of new technology to procure a room and transportation thereto.
Once I arrived, I took a long shower, in spite of or to spite the drought. Then I switched on the television.
I didn't understand anything.
In the morning I inspected my view.
The next day I spent hours trying to buy two copies of a 2003 book by Joan Didion for my college boyfriend and my college roommate's wife. A former friend drove me around the city, looking for bookstores, which were now rare.
After many stops, I achieved success.
Before my flight, my college boyfriend, my college roommate, and I went to inspect the first apartment that my college roommate and I had rented in San Francisco.
My college roommate had been assaulted by the adolescent male children of our neighbor, so we had moved out. My college boyfriend and I had been inside the apartment at the time of the assault, but we hadn't understood correctly what was happening, so we hadn't opened the door. I had called the police; we had cowered in the bathroom.
Then we fled.
I waited for my flight.
I developed a severe pain in my wrist after take-off, so I couldn't sleep.
Later that week there was an event at my job, for the children of employed persons.
I felt like I got a lot of dirty looks after Asaph spoke Hebrew into his mobile telephone, but it was possibly paranoia.
We had arranged the next day to go to the historic and decrepit Coney Island to meet some friends. On the way there, in a borrowed or rented car, our son started complaining of strange sensation in his foot. He got increasingly agitated until he was screaming and crying in distress. Eventually we had to stop.
Only later did we realize that his foot had "fallen asleep", the way we described paresthesia in those days.
We attempted rides with the friends, but our son consistently had to be removed.
Asaph rode on the famous and dangerously ancient roller coaster.
After he survived, we walked around.
It wasn't as filthy as I had expected.
But it was still quite antiquated.
We drove to our friends' apartment in a more upscale section of Brooklyn.
The next day we went to an engagement party for Asaph's orthodoxly religious cousin. It was an awkward outdoor party of men in suits and skullcaps and women in fancy or revealing dresses, depending upon age and marital status.
Our kids and I hovered around a piece of rusty playground equipment.
The summer started ending.
Asaph and I had arranged to go to Provincetown, Massachusetts, without the children for a few days. I hadn't been there since childhood. I had always been put off by the seeming difficulty of the trip, even though many or most or all of the friends that I had had had gone there many times.
Our son vomited on me shortly before we left.
We walked around in Boston for around 40 minutes before heading to the ferry boat.
I admired the underground highways.
We walked in the heat towards the terminal. I was excited. The passengers were less non-heterosexual than on a ferry to Fire Island Pines.
We headed off.
I tried to stay outside, with my face facing the wind, but the force of the air was so strong that it was hard to catch breath.
I sat down and read. There were several wholesome opposite-sex couples on the boat, as well as a number of less wholesome-looking persons of various other kinds.
I supposed I was non-wholesome, for creepily taking photos of strangers.
We spotted our destination in the distance.
I couldn't wait! Figuratively.
The famous monument that resembled a minaret came into clear view.
We disembarked and walked to our accommodation. I felt like I recognized the place from my childhood visits!
Our accommodation bordered on luxury and was heavily air-conditioned, although it had several ironic decorative features to appeal to non-heterosexual men and their perverse outlook on the world; I didn't like that aspect.
We only rested briefly before heading back out.
We were close to the main street.
We went to a famous non-heterosexual establishment known for their afternoon parties. I had been hearing about the place for decades, it seemed.
It wasn't very crowded when we arrived.
"I thought there would be a pool," I said.
"Turn around," said Asaph.
All of the patrons were huddling in the shade cast by the adjacent and affiliated hotel accommodations. We didn't know anyone, so we talked amongst ourselves.
We had heard that it would be difficult to find a place to eat. We left early and found a seat at the bar in a very old-fashioned Italian restaurant. There were very few non-heterosexual patrons, interestingly.
The food was mediocre and expensive, but we were happy to have gotten dinner at all. A dignified woman in early old age sat next to us. She had an almost aristocratic air about her. She told us that she had lived in Provincetown year-round since her 20s, back when artists and bohemian type persons first started moving there. This eventually led to the massive gentrification that forced out most of the Portuguese fishing families.
We asked her what she did for a living in such a place.
"I work in the supermarket," she said, as she elegantly sipped her cocktail.
We walked around the town after dinner. The place was abuzz with activity.
There were still some vestiges of older times.
Most shops were for either upscale or downscale tourists.
I loved the regional architecture.
The town was so charming and well kept.
We went out to a non-heterosexual party for a while.
I was so happy to be in historic and distinctive New England.
We slept well.
The next morning I went down to the breakfast room alone while Asaph kept sleeping.
The food selections were a bit too complicated. Every dish had one unnecessary ingredient that prevented it from being completely enjoyable.
A man with a dyed goatee introduced himself as my "breakfast host" and then asked me if I wanted an espresso or a cappuccino, using a heavy Italian accent when saying those words, even though the rest of his speech indicated that he was just an American, or at least a foreigner who had arrived in the United States prior to adolescence. He was comically formal, which was nice and funny, at first.
A timid non-heterosexual guest asked indirectly and passively if they ever served eggs.
"Sometimes," said the breakfast host. That was the end of the discussion.
As we exited the accommodation to go rent bikes, a man fell off of his bike going down the hill right in front of us. Asaph sprang into action, as he often did, offering his services as a medic.
I stood by unhelpfully until actual medics arrived.
We rented bikes, bought some lunches at a gourmet grocery, and then biked to a well-known jetty.
I insisted that we walk its length.
Non-homosexual passersby greeted us as we walked; non-heterosexual passersby did not. They generally just looked down.
We arrived at the end.
A woman in hijab waded into the water fully clothed while I prematurely ate my lunch. It had been wrapped in paper and transported in a paper bag, owing to strict environmental laws. It was wonderful. I did drop some garbanzo beans by accident, but I pressed them into the sand with my toes. At one point I thought I saw a piece of garbage under the water, but then I realized that it was just a shell! It was just a shell!
A wave of euphoria enveloped me.
Everything was so clean! I felt so happy!
We walked back.
I observed a monument. I wondered if future Americans would care about such things.
We rode our bikes to a beach popular among non-heterosexual males. I admired the beautiful national park signage.
I hadn't realized that access to the beach would require walking a long distance through waist-high water.
Still, it was so beautiful! I felt full of joy.
We got to the beach. It was so clean! Only footprints marred the pristine sand!
I wanted to cry with love and gratitude for such beauty.
We met up with some friends. They were drinking rosé wine, even though consumption of alcohol was prohibited on national park lands.
I went into the water. It was warm and calm.
I couldn't believe how wonderful it was. I felt so proud to be an American.
That night we ate dinner with a friend from New York in a mediocre non-heterosexual restaurant. Everyone who wasn't non-heterosexual was often surprised when I told them that non-heterosexual destinations were known for their bad food.
There were similar comical breakfast antics the following morning, accompanied by food that was almost good.
We went biking through dunes. There were beautiful ponds, like paintings from the period just before art began to become awful.
I felt at peace.
I was somewhat surprised by how difficult I found biking. I was not in shape and also the bicycle seat caused me great discomfort.
I disapproved of some priority given to the metric system. That wasn't American.
We stopped for a drink.
Even the trash can lids were beautiful.
We continued on our way.
We arrived at a beach.
I advised Asaph to avoid the poison ivy. He didn't even know what poison ivy was. He didn't know anything, really, except for things related to interest rates.
This beach was even cleaner than the previous beaches, even though the previous beaches had been immaculately clean. It was as if new levels of cleanliness were being invented every moment.
I was so happy I started to feel sad, knowing that I would not be able to live my life in this place, like the dignified older woman who worked at the grocery store.
I ate my delicious lunch sandwich with a heavy heart.
We had to go back. We needed some shade.
We stopped by a non-heterosexual pool party held in an inexpensive hotel. I didn't care for it at all. I wanted to shower after taking a dip in the warm and oily waters.
We headed back towards the center of town.
I admired the late summer flowers.
We rested for a while in our accommodation.
We ended up having a delicious dinner. Our waitress was a beautiful young woman from a nearby town, even though most servers were foreign students from Slovenia or Macedonia equipped with special work visas.
We walked around and did some last minute shopping.
Yes, the place was very, very touristy, but it was just at the right level: not too lower class and not too upper class. And it still had some soul.
We went to another non-heterosexual party. We didn't really know anyone. People were much more American than people in New York.
However, at one point a foreigner came up to talk to me. He was young – under 30 – and not wearing a shirt. He said that he was from Germany and that, despite having light-colored hair, he was a member of that formerly proud nation's Turkish minority. He was very handsome, and I was briefly captivated. He told me that I was exactly his type. I got flustered and looked around nervously for Asaph.
As Asaph arrived, the young German of Turkish ethnicity revealed to me that he had a same-sex spouse asleep back at their accommodation, and that this spouse was 70-years-old
I was exactly his type.
I asked Asaph if we could leave to go eat pizza.
By the next morning we had become accustomed to the strange breakfasts.
We never spoke to any of the other guests, as was the way.
I couldn't stop talking to Asaph about how I was now so old I was considered a fetish.
We started packing up.
I thought about how I would miss the houses made of wood.
I would miss the wooden floors.
I would miss the brick walls.
I was momentarily distracted by something on the television.
We headed out.
We walked through the streets for the last time.
We stopped to have lunch with an old friend at one of the few establishments known for good food.
I ate a surprisingly delicious sandwich without even washing my hands! You didn't need to!
Our friend walked us to the ferry.
The air was so clear we could see Boston in the distance for the entire trip. Asaph had arranged to spend the night in Boston for what he said were business meetings. I took the train home.
When I went to pick up our children, I was told that our daughter had just vomited.
I left her with our paid childminder.
A few days later we all went to Fire Island Pines for a terminal visit.
We had arranged to stay in the same decrepit house as the year prior.
It seemed worse.
It had few charms.
I spent an hour or so cleaning the kitchen with chlorine bleach, even though a maid had just cleaned the entire house. But it was not to my standards at all.
We went to the beach.
Our son didn't seem to enjoy it that much.
We walked around a bit.
We went to watch the sunset.
It wasn't nearly as pleasant as Provincetown. The people seemed wicked and strange. And it wasn't as clean, of course.
It was hard to sleep, owing to heat and stillness.
I watched the sunrise.
We went to the beach again.
The beach was clean, at least.
I went to meet our paid childminder, and the girl she had taken care of prior to her employment with us, at the ferry. They played a joke on me and told me that they had accidentally gone to Cherry Grove. I didn't like these believable and mundane pranks that both Asaph and our paid childminder liked to play on me.
We arranged to go swim in the pool of some wealthy friends.
The kids had some fun.
We went to watch the sunset again.
I felt pretty confident that I would not miss Fire Island. That time in my life was over and done.
Our kids and the girl went to the beach in the twilight.
I couldn't sleep again.
I was seeing a lot of sunrises, I noted.
The heat came quickly.
We went back to the beach.
I did admire the cold, modernist architecture.
It concealed, and yet revealed, the depravity of the inhabitants within.
I thought about Alain de Botton's thoughts on architecture. “It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value.”
It was a clear day.
We could hear people drinking and cackling from the houses above us. I always wondered what everyone thought was so funny when I overheard laughter like that.
We headed to the ferry.
"I want to stay here forever," said our daughter as we sailed away. I was surprised.
Our paid childminder took the train home while we drove the girl back to the city.
My father came to visit. I decided to take the train up to New England with him, for a weekend trip to Maine. My father would then stay the remainder of the week up there by himself.
I felt lucky to be able to take this Atlantic train ride again so soon.
Even though we were not in the quiet car, I felt a bit embarrassed at how loudly my father spoke. Also, he often misunderstood what I said, and that created confusion that increased the volume even more. That was the way things had become at his age, and at my age.
We took the subway from Boston's South Station to Boston's North Station. Although the system seemed cleaner than that in New York, it was extremely crowded and unpleasant.
We were relieved to arrive at the commuter terminal.
The train was fuller than I had expected. We chugged along.
There was a joyous announcement when we crossed the border into Maine.
I followed our progress using my smartphone equipped with a space-based navigation system.
We arrived in Portland. An older man with a pronounced Maine accent picked us up at the station to drive us to our hotel. My father made small talk. The man talked a bit about the history of Portland, even though my father had been to the city many times before. He talked about how Civil War heroes had been given land around the city as a reward for their victories over the Confederates.
Would any new Americans care about that? I wondered.
We arrived at the hotel. We were told that the restaurant would close soon, so we had to hurry if we wanted to eat.
I took a quick shower while my dad went down to the restaurant. When I joined him I saw that there were no other patrons, although there was a rock band playing in the adjacent bar and lounge.
I slept well.
The next morning we ate breakfast in a different restaurant attached to the hotel. I made a mistake in ordering something that came with guacamole.
Maine was not known for its guacamole.
I noticed that the maids in the hotel were of northern European descent, although many had unfortunate piercings and tatouage.
Someone from the rental car company came to drive us to the rental office. We passed a Somali woman in full hijab walking down the street.
I wondered if she liked lobster.
The rental car man ended up just giving us the same car he had picked us up in.
We headed off towards Mount Desert Island, our destination.
We stopped briefly at a famous clothing and outdoor recreation equipment store, which was a bit of a letdown, like most things. We then headed on our way.
On the road I was reminded of some similar signage I had seen when I had gone with my family to Quebec in the early 1980s. In Quebec this animal was called orignal, a word unknown in France.
After three hours, we were almost at the island. My father briefly stopped to buy blueberries.
Somehow my father found out that the man selling the blueberries was from Columbus (Ohio). The man said that he had lived up in Maine for many years. The man's work was seasonal: blueberries in the summer, Christmas wreaths in the fall, shrimp in the winter, and something called glass eels in the spring.
He said that the Chinese loved glass eels, whatever those were.
I admired this man. He made an honest living from the fruits of the earth. He didn't earn his money doing something meaningless like private foundation grants management or tinkering with the interest rate.
We arrived at the resort condominium unit. I noticed a recipe over the kitchen sink.
I thought that this dish wasn't kosher.
We headed into the town of Southwest Harbor to get lunch.
It was very charming and pretty.
We ate in a restaurant that appeared to be run by European French persons, although there was a very good-looking young man of ambiguous ethnicity with a dramatic hairstyle in which both sides of the head were shaven leaving a strip of noticeably longer hair in the center wiping clean the tables. He was dressed in the manner of the so-called punks of the 1980s.
I enjoyed my sandwich.
We walked around the town a bit, then decided to drive to the famous town of Bar Harbor.
We found a path along the water.
There were many international tourists, many in hijab. In the past I would have liked that.
My father needed a restroom, so he left me to complete the walk on my own.
I read the informational signage.
I was somewhat shocked to see when prohibition began in Maine. I thought about the women in hijab.
As I walked farther and further, there were fewer tourists.
I wondered if I would dare to eat a lobster.
I thought it might be a bad idea.
My father suggested that we go up to Cadillac Mountain for a view of the sunset. We drove into one of the many entrances to the national park.
There was a man playing bagpipes at the top. He didn't appear to be collecting money anywhere, even though many tourists, from all of the nations of the world, many or most in hijab, stopped to listen to him play. The setting was somewhat Caledonian.
He stopped playing and made some jokes. The foreign tourists didn't understand. His accent sounded Canadian. He was wearing a pin indicating his support for the Jewish independent democratic socialist senator from Vermont who was running for president of the United States, however.
We went back to the car. Someone fancy had parked next to us.
We drove down the mountain, stopping occasionally for the views and vistas.
We went back to have dinner in Southwest Harbor. We chose a restaurant that seemed good. I noticed an unusual sign on the building.
The food was tasty and the ambiance jovial. Afterwards my father walked across the street to get some pie. I walked across the street to be with my father.
Our waiter was vaguely foreign -- maybe Serbian? maybe Montenegrin? -- but he looked like someone I had met once and so the question of who that was would drive me crazy for years to come.
The pie looked good.
We drove back to the resort condominium unit.
We ate some of the blueberries in the morning.
We went out for additional breakfast. We ended up at a strange summer fundraising venture: a social service agency that helped people during the winter served popovers -- light, hollow rolls made from an egg batter -- and oatmeal for breakfast for donations during the summer. Our hostess was around 12-years-old.
My father, being of ancient Scottish descent, did not leave enough donation.
We left just as a musical accompaniment began.
We headed out for the day's activities.
We stopped in a town that was all white, something common in Maine.
I peered into a church as services were beginning.
I was impatient to begin our hikes.
I photographed a scenic footbridge, although its proximity to a busy road made it less scenic than it otherwise could have been.
We drove to our hike and disembarked.
Everything was wonderful.
What was as glorious as this?
All around one saw majesty.
I thought of Marilynne Robinson's translation of Calvin: Nature is a shining garment in which God is revealed and concealed.
We went to a restaurant where I had eaten with my parents and brother shortly after my first ocular migraine, at age twelve. It had been called the Jordan Pond Teahouse back then, but the offensive word "tea" (茶) had since been removed.
There were many angry bee-like insects present.
Measures had been taken.
Our waiter was a Polish student named Kazimierz. After our meal, I went on a walk on the more difficult left-hand side of the pond; my father went on the easier right-hand side.
The walk involved a lot of apologizing to other hikers.
It wasn't easy, but it wasn't hard.
I thought about my past encounters with beavers.
Where is my father? I wondered, after around an hour of walking and apologizing.
I finally saw him in the distance.
I thought about how nature, untamed, was terrifying.
My father and I had a loud, cantankerous conversation.
He showed me a beach where my mother had swum illegally, while pregnant with me.
This made me happy and sad.
We drove to a house where my parents had stayed on a few different vacations before and right after my birth. They had befriended the parents of an insurance salesman they had met in Columbus (Ohio) and had gone on a vacation to their home.
I thought that this story might be missing some unseemly details.
We drove up to the house where a photo of me, as a one-year-old person, had been taken.
A tall and fit man my age was in the yard, while a Golden Retriever (a kind of dog) ran around. I explained our situation and asked if we could take a photo. He was very kind and agreed, with a strong regional accent.
He and my dad talked for a while, about the olden days.
We drove away, passing a street named after the family friends of my parents.
I used my smartphone to look up information on this family. My parents' friends (the parents of the insurance salesman) had been so-called second generation immigrants from Scotland. This meant that their parents were born in Scotland. I assumed they had chosen Maine because of the proximity and resemblance to Scotland.
We went for dinner back to the same restaurant we had been at the night before. My dad and I were like that. It was in our genes.
My dad drank some delicious wine that was not from Maine.
We went after dinner to have ice cream at the same place where the Serbian or Montenegrin or whatever who looked like someone that I couldn't figure out worked.
The next morning I drove us to a destination.
It was amazing.
We took a walk, carefully avoiding a national park service employee conducting a survey.
I found a rock that resembled Israel plus the West Bank and Gaza but minus the Golan Heights.
We peered at the incoming ocean.
I recalled the tidal bore I had witnessed in New/Nouveau Brunswick with my parents and brother in 1991, when I cried and cried because I had just left my college boyfriend back in Ohio and thought I would never see him again after flying from Cleveland to Bangor at the end of the summer after my graduation.
Then we ended up getting back together for six additional years.
I examined the natural rockery.
We drove to the lighthouse.
"Someone has blundered!" I thought. I walked out on the rocks to get a photograph. I could have easily perished.
We began the drive to Portland. I was flying back to New York, while my dad would stay in the resort condominium unit for another week.
We took a different route, although we still had to pass the guy from Columbus (Ohio) who trafficked in glass eels in the spring, blueberries in the summer, Christmas wreaths in the fall, and shrimp in the winter.
I enjoyed the mixture of British and poorly and or incorrectly transcribed and transliterated Native names.
The drive took longer than we had hoped. My father and I had had plenty of time for extensive awkward conversations.
We tried to have lunch in Portland, but most restaurants had already closed and were setting up for dinner.
We ended up eating in a brewery pub. We had a view over the smoking lounge of another bar, where we looked at the kind of people who drank and smoked in the middle of a weekday afternoon.
We stopped in a park before heading to the airport. It was a charming town.
The airport was small, new, and clean. It was like being in northern Europe.
I had arrived a bit too early. My plane finally arrived.
I wished that I could live in Maine, I thought as we took off.
Our flight arrived in New York 30 minutes early.
I missed America already.