Unmatched Freedom in Barbados

The pillars of the property stand before me as a brilliant white gate beckoning me to my ultimate relaxation. This gate subdivides the brilliant blue sky above and the lush greens around me. I am not at the foot of some garish opulence, but a structure that seems to harbor a secret, a private invitation.

I enter and am drawn forward by a color palette of whites, browns and soft grays that all feel instantly therapeutic. Yes the decor is minimal but its impact is maximal because while the whites relax me, it is clear a great degree of attention has been paid to everything. The archways pull me from room to room so I feel like I am floating into an elegantly constructed den of peace.

As I float I notice how appropriate the home feels for both a gathering of a dozen, or as a private respite. The home makes no commands of you.

And while the opportunities for activities before me are numerous; the workout room, the impeccable courts, Sandy Lane golf course just beyond the fence, it is the pool that demands the most attention. It is a significantly mellowing focal point for meals, lounging around or submerging myself in. It takes me from the edge of my awareness seemingly to the edge of Bermuda itself.

Every room requests my presence and whatever novel I have plucked from my nightstand. I meander amongst the 6 bedrooms, feeling the continuity but admiring the flourishes. The art that adds a new flavor at every turn.

Every chair, chaise and couch (inside or outside) provides a different vantage point. I meander, I sit, I drift off and return. I repeat the process.

I think tomorrow I will venture out. Maybe a day spent at Lime Grove Shopping Center, dinner at Tides (a restaurant that brings you as close as you can to dining by the sea), and then a cozy cocktail at Red Door. Perhaps a whole day spent at the Sandy Lane Hotel complete with spa treatments.

Or maybe I’ll contact the personal chef and have them recreate their favorites while I watch the sunset from the balcony, finishing my night with my own private film festival in the media room.

Somehow the decision making seems neither important nor imminent. All experiences are there if I choose them.

Casablanca invites me to experience and to create; laughter, memories and moments. It provides and sits back to watch me engage.

A vacation home can feel generic and somehow lacking in character. Casablanca defies all of that. It’s minimalism is it’s greatest strength allowing your life to unfold as it likes within the property.

This is Casablanca in Barbados. This is my blank canvas.

It’s time to start painting.

Tom of the Ardmore House

Our car rolls gently down the street to the cozy hamlet at the end where we see the sign:

Ardmore House B&B

The house itself is a single story, wide and white, with a beautiful red door that we could see was already open.

We pull our car head-in to the unlined pavement just in front of the low white wall that surrounds the property. I worry that we might not be in the right parking space. I look at the only other car parked in front of our B&B and think the better.

I put the car in park and turn it off.

We don't hop out and trot in to check-in as we normally do with hotels. We just sit there, quietly. Breathing it in, feeling the adoration swell within us.

There is a large yard which rolls down to the left of our B&B, trees and the faintest tops of houses beyond it. Rose bushes half-full with bright summer colors dot the lawn.

The low rumble of our Czech rental car that has enveloped us for the past several hours now seems a deafening memory.

Everything feels suddenly, cosmically still, like we've found a hidden exit off the space time continuum.

We leave our bags in the car and walk up to the house.

As we approach the front door Annie pauses behind me to bury her nose in the open arms of the juicy red rose of a multicolored bush that comforts the walkway.

It’s the kind of rose that would stop her anywhere. She tells me to smell it and I do. I lean in and innhale deeply. I pull back to process. Somehow this one smells unlike any I’ve ever smelled. Full without being overwhelming. I lean in again. The scent is enlightening.

We walk through the open red door into a small ante room where another door stands closed before us. I turn the knob and open it with a slight shove. We are in.

The smell is instant. Familiar and familial. Reminiscent of a long history lived in this place. More indicative of a generation than a specific structure. A small corridor in front of us, a sitting room to our left, the faint hum of a TV coming from just beyond us.

Annie closes the door behind us.

“Hellooo” I say in a 15 foot voice with a touch of hesitancy, not so much a question as a gentle announcement. Like I was someone returning to a place I’d recently left instead of arriving somewhere for the first time.  Feeling less like I was arriving at a hotel and more like I was reluctantly intruding on someone’s home.

And around the corner he comes.

Dark buttoned up shirt and trousers he favored one leg as he walks with the slightest limp to greet us.

This is Tom.

The proprietor. The man spoken so highly in the B&B reviews. The man who will take care of us for the next 12 hours, and as we will find out, largely by himself. The man who Annie and I will reflect upon constantly over the coming weeks.

I introduce myself and my girlfriend, each of us shaking his gentle, well worn hand.

His accent is different than the rest of the people we’ve met in Ireland. Not thicker necessarily, but older, out of step with what we’ve heard. It is the accent of a town that has remained relatively unchanged after years of transient tourism.

We summarize our travels and he points to the map on the wall next to him to guide us for our adventures the next day. Something he has undoubtedly done hundreds if not thousands of times.

He shows us two rooms, one overwhelmingly floral and one overwhelmingly pink, and gives us our choice. We choose the pink one for the size of the bed.

Tom sets off to make us a pot of tea.

He is so endearingly sweet I almost feet obligated to help.

As soon as he is out of sight Annie and I whisper sweet impressions to each other. A normal speaking voice seems significantly too loud in this space.

It is the first B&B we have stayed in while visiting Ireland.

It is the first one Annie has ever stayed in and the first one I have stayed in since visiting Salem, Massachusetts as a pre-teen.

That was a decidedly more commercial (if also possibly haunted) affair. It was an old victorian style house on a commercial street where we stayed on the second floor. My sister and I stayed in a separate room from my parents, a huge deal at the time for us. I remember activity and comings and goings that made it seem more like a cultural event, like visiting one of those places where actors play out the lives of people from hundreds of years ago.

Tom’s B&B feels less like a commercial enterprise and more like a home.

We quickly realize that while there might be other people staying the night here, they are currently absent.

We bring our bags in from the car and after a brief summary of local restaurants from Tom, and a confirmation of an 8 am breakfast time tomorrow, we are off for a peaceful and lovely evening.

The next morning we wake up and efficiently repack the few things we have removed from our luggage.

The house is unfamiliarly quiet. A stillness we haven't experienced in Ireland. A stillness we haven't experienced in months.

It’s the kind of quiet neither of us can remember hearing. We emerge from our rooms like cat burglars. I worry there is no noise from the kitchen. Did Tom oversleep? Did he forget? How will we wake him?

How can I get mad about a septuagenerian entrepreneur not waking in time to make me eggs while on a road trip vacation?

All of these frivolous thoughts leap into my consciousness as we walk around the corner into the dining room which is completely yellow.

And empty.

Each of the half dozen or so tables are made up and set, ready for patrons not yet awake.

Annie chooses a table next to the window. Probably as much for the view of the morning light as the freshly cut rose that sits in front of it.

She stares at the rose for a moment before reaching for the tiny vase and burying her nose in the flower. It’s real she says.

I wonder when he cut it, if he cut it.

Sounds in the kitchen assuage my fears. Tom is awake. Breakfast is in progress.

Annie and I whisper and giggle. We point out the clouds to each other. We look for the donkeys we saw next door the night before. I point out the cat across the way that leapt up to a windowsill to check in on it’s residents. It’s the kind of cat she would be walking up to right now if we weren’t sitting at breakfast. For this I am grateful.

Tom comes out of the kitchen with a small pot of coffee in one hand and a pot of tea in the other, his hands shake slightly as places them on our table.

Two Irish breakfasts he asks? We confirm. He clasps his hands together and heads back into the kitchen.

We hear oil sizzling, gentle movement of pans, a kitchen suddenly very much awake even if we aren’t.

Tom returns when we have finished. He asks us where we are from and what we do.

We tell him which prompts a discussion of a horrific event in the states from today’s paper. It is something I saw on the newsstand at the gas station that day before out of the corner of my eye. It is a harsh reminder of what a fairytale we are currently living.

Our conversation evolves and he tells us he started the B&B with his wife after their 4 kids had left the home. He tells us his wife passed away several years ago and he has continued to run the establishment himself. Managing the bookings, watching the email, cooking the breakfasts.

He tells us that things are different now, that he hires somebody to clean the bathrooms and change the linens.

He says something about 90 to 95 percent of people being something. I can’t tell if he said good or bad.

I wish now I had asked him to clarify. My heart preemptively breaks thinking about how hard this could be for him, about how people might treat him.

He tells us he coaches Gaelic football at the local college. I wonder what kind of a coach he is. Somebody so mild mannered and attentive.

Though nothing in his face shows animus, nothing in his mood shows exhaustion. He comes across as a man who has been doing this for a long time, as he always had, as he would as long as he could.

And somehow, without any prompting, I feel bad for him. Working so hard at such an old age, by himself, just to make his living. I feel bad for him and then I feel guilty for feeling bad. Is pity an emotion of arrogance or naiveté? He has managed well enough on his own, why should my emotions be so significant if at all relevant?

I feel myself starting to form the basis of some sort of learning. Something about hard work, and honest work. Something about just doing what you do without questioning it. Perhaps what I imagined his body felt like wasn’t accurate, that I imagined this life to be sadder and harder than it actually was.

I have no idea.

I want to ask more questions but we must be on our way. Tom wishes us well and we are gone.

On one of our last cab rides before we leave Ireland, we strike up a conversation with our driver who is on his last run of the evening. He has been driving a cab for over 30 years. He tells us of his 4 kids and a wife that passed away three years ago.

Cancer, he says.

At a red light he pulls his cellphone out of his shirt pocket, an older keypad style phone and pushes a button so the screen illuminates.

That’s her he says as he holds it over his shoulder for us to see.

She’s beautiful Annie says.

He pulls the phone back, looks at the screen briefly and kisses it before putting it back in his pocket, his sincerity disarming.

The light turns green. He pushes the gas propelling us forward.

Forever forward.

Wait A Day

We’re all guilty of it.

I’ll call you tomorrow.

I’ll send that to you on Thursday.

I’ll reach out next week.

Inevitably tomorrow, Thursday and next week pass, all without us doing what we said we were going to do.

It’s not that we’re lying per se. We are just communicating what we are going to do under ideal circumstances. Most times, we are not operating under ideal circumstances. We are operating in a life full of delays, interruptions and unplanned emergencies. And so the things we said we would do, don’t get done.

It’s an overestimation of our own abilities. And while it’s something many people are guilty of, it’s something you can change. The key is giving yourself a buffer.

It’s always easier to do what you say you are going to do when you actually give yourself more than enough time to do it.

That means, if somebody asks you to send them something, give yourself a cushion. If you think you can get it to them on Thursday, tell them Friday. Give your clients a time and strive to beat that.

It’s not news that it’s always better to surprise and delight your clients than constantly disappoint.

If you offer a timeline for when you can deliver something and your client wants it sooner, they will push back on their own. There is no need to pre-shorten your timeline. Why give yourself extra stress that nobody else has imposed on you?

Some people need tight deadlines and unrealistic expectations to be productive. This article isn’t for those people.

This is for the people who get caught up in the trap of thinking the faster they can deliver something, the better it is for their client. Faster is not always better, especially if faster isn’t even a reality to begin with.

And of course don’t go the opposite way and give yourself a ridiculously long time to accomplish your task. Just give yourself room to grow, evolve, and delight your clients.

Managing expectations is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot referring to how businesses treat their clients. But really, what’s more important is to manage your own expectations first, so that you can more accurately and respectfully manage your clients expectations and thereby be better at doing what it is you do.

Train Travel

I took Amtrak up to see my sister in Boston recently.

It had been a while since I had taken a train trip that wasn’t the subway, It had been a while since I rode the rails to a familiar place in an unfamiliar way. It has been a while since I felt excited to not only visit Boston, but to travel there as well.

I had done the trip to Boston by bus more times than my motion-sick prone stomach cares to remember.

Perhaps that was why this time, this trip to Boston by rail was new and unfamiliar. The surroundings appeared to me the way train travel unfolds them; fluidly, coyly. 

I am somebody who forgets a lot. Not just things I’ve learned or the names of people I’ve met. I forget parts of life. I think we all do. It would be hard to operate as a person otherwise, remembering everything all the time.

But there has always been something about train travel that I loved so much. The seamlessness of moving from place to place. Of actually seeing your surroundings change. I observed it the first time I took a train in Italy from Florence to Siena.

Watching the urban dwindle to suburban to rural and back again. Seeing how structures space themselves out, lowering themselves to the ground.

Air travel is amazing and wonderful if not nearly as luxurious or revered as it used too be. But I have always contended it is very much like teleportation. You take off into the air and unless you make a conscious concerted effort to observe what little you can out the window and look down, there is not much to see until you are about landed again. You are too far away to truly observe the change and nuance. To see the places where people life and grow and do that get no attention otherwise.

When I travel by train it always amazes me how much there is to see. Even at 70 miles an hour I am fascinated by small towns I’ve never heard of, wondering how anybody found any of these places to begin with. 

What else have I been missing?

I find myself contemplating not the places I”ve wanted to go to, but the places I’ll never know about. It helps me rapidly realize how much more there is to living than the city in which i live. It is a city I love for sure, but it is a city which has slowly started to become less the center of my universe as it once was. For an aspirational and distraction seeking 22 year old the city was all the excitement I wanted, a city whose possibilities cosmically dwarfed any aspirations I thought I was having.

And while so much of that is still true...

There are only so many anythings that can happen sitting in one place. True, in so many ways, the city brings the world to it, loudly, gregariously.

But distance from places and experiences is often one of the greatest teachers I have for understanding my feelings about and relationships to those places and experiences.

Travel within a city itself can often feel like pin-balling, peripatetic and contained.

Train travel, while very much on a linear (somewhat) track, slowly unfurls and allows you to see what lays before you. Even if you are heading to a place you’ve seen before there is so much in the in-between. 

Nuance and subtlety.

I have all but sworn off travel by bus except for the most extreme circumstances. It’s not just the nausea I experience, it is the stop and go on a concrete landscape.

While roads feel carved through and cemented to the landscape train tracks snake themselves under roads and bridges, between trees as leaves run their tips along the tops of the cars.

Yes this reads like a love letter to trains.

But it is more a love letter to the opportunities for exploration and observation that train travel allows, the peaceful and paced seeking of new places and an escape from home.

It’s a love letter for motion and rest. For discovery and uncovery.

For taking the time to see things you have no plans to see.

Its a love letter to tracks. Being on them, crossing them, or forever switching between the two. 

You Ignorant Hipster

It started several weeks ago when I came across an article from the site Mother Jones entitled:

Lay off the Almond Milk You Ignorant Hipsters

A shocking title for sure. It caught my attention not just for the abundance of vitriol it seemed to convey but also because two years ago I switched from cows to almonds as far as liquid dairy consumption was concerned.

I was worried I had become an ignorant hipster without knowing it.

I won’t summarize the article for you here as I’d rather you form your own opinions on it if you are interested. You can also read the writer’s follow up to the backlash here:

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/07/people-really-almond-milk

But I will say that after I read the article I was angry and frustrated for reasons that felt more visceral than I could have anticipated.

My main frustration came from the fact that the article was written with a tone of what seemed tremendous snark and condescension. It presupposed many things, which I debated addressing one by one, but after weeks of thinking about I decided not to.

Regarding the article I will say just this:

I don’t drink almond milk because it’s trendy, or I think it’s healthier for me. I drink almond milk because drinking any more than 6 ounces of cow’s milk causes a reaction in my digestive tract I can only describe as volcanic insurrection.

My feelings about the article aren’t really about the specific points, the article itself, or even the author. They are about something I’ve been having all kinds of feelings around for some time. This piece merely crystallized them for me.

You see it’s really part of a greater frustration that deals with several things.

1.     Critical reading, or at least reverence of it, seems to be in great decline.

I was not an English major, I have not read most or even a substantial portion of the great literature in our culture. But I do read regularly, and I do think. And what I find most frustrating is how easily individual articles sway people to concrete opinions.

When I was a child my mother used to call me out for defending things I wasn’t necessarily sure were true. I eventually realized it was because I was and still am somebody who wants to believe. Fantastical stories, astounding facts and figures, they all help to firm up my resolve to defend something I have no vested interest in outside of being a staunch advocate of something I was proselytizing as truth.

As I got older I met people who looked at everything the complete opposite of me, one of my close friends specifically didn’t believe anything. He approached everything with a significant degree of skepticism, which also did battle with my worldview.

Eventually those two coalesced to help me form the approach I take today. Healthy curiosity with as much objective critical thought as I can muster. Sure it doesn’t always work, but it is at least a conscious attempt.

Our willingness to accept any single thing as gospel truth (perhaps even the piece you are reading right now) is dangerous as it leads to lazy thinking, which lead to lazy actions, which I fear, leads to a general disinterested inaction.

2.     Snark is everywhere.

This is not a new observation. But its perpetuation as a means of attracting attention, gathering clicks, or just standing out has become so prolific that it feels suffocating. I have become less and less likely to read articles with deliberately controversial headlines as I’ve come to realize it’s simply a way to hook me into something that rarely delivers.

I understand that as the collective voice of the Internet approaches a deafening roar it is harder and harder to make your own voice known. But I wish we tried harder. Instead of making accusations, telling people the 10 things they have to know, 20 things they never knew, or that they won’t believe what happens halfway through this video, I wish we worked harder to come up with accurate titles that summarized quality content.

Yes it is hard to be creative, but that it is why it so treasured. I wish so much that people would showcase their vulnerability and their honesty in their writing instead of their fear and their anger.

We are all gods and we are all hypocrites, we all have the potential to exist as everything at any time. But presuming to know why anybody is anything and then taking a strong public stance as such gets us nowhere.

3.     Our language matters.

There are so many words I wish were currently no longer part of our society. Nerd, hipster, yuppie, etc. Anything that is niche becomes hipster, anything requiring technical knowledge becomes nerdy. Continual blanket use of these words fosters a perception that is so far from reality that they cease to have true meaning and instead become replacements for actual well thought out statements.

Few amongst us would loudly celebrate being pigeonholed ourselves, and yet, we continue to do it to others. Categorization helps us to understand the world. But lazy categorization perpetuates stereotypes and fosters the lethargy that prevents people from actually learning and understanding how our culture and we continue to evolve.

I am as guilty of it as any of us. But we have to understand and believe that there is more to people than whether or not they code, drink almond milk, and live in Brooklyn. It is the same thing that creates sub categories which some might say are more accurate but I feel are no more necessary.

Just as the backlash occurred for describing ourselves not only as the job that we do, I wish for us to not describe us only as the interests that we have.

We are so much more than the sum of our parts; we are more nuanced and intricate than we are allowed to showcase. And it is in that, in our personhood, our very substance, interest, activity, expression, thoughts, and behavior that who we are exists. We are not titles but people, and I feel the more we look at each other as such the better off we will be.

My Lost Lady - Part 1

It started sometime after college.
 
Living in New York City and spending the majority of one’s time in Manhattan it is nearly impossible to avoid running into the 53 million (actual number) tourists who pass through this town every year.
 
They are in every neighborhood, and for whatever reason, easy to spot even if they aren’t holding a 2-foot square map fully open at arms length.
 
Walking to and from work I’d see them on the street looking around every which way. Looking up for street signs that aren’t always so intuitively placed. Trying to find out where they are. Trying to figure out where they should go.
 
I knew the feeling. I had been that person, although, not as openly. My backpacking trips overseas had found me incredibly paranoid of looking like a tourist (even though I did) and getting lost (even though I did) and I would discreetly look at a sliver of map I had folded meticulously so that I could continue to blend into the populous (even though I never did) and go about my day.
 
I was so paranoid of being taken advantage of or hustled. Plus, I wanted to figure it out on my own. It’s a skill and an adventure that is rapidly becoming lost on people of all ages, that of learning how to read, interpret, and understand a map.
 
I derived such a joy from getting lost and finding myself again.
 
What can I say, I love metaphors.
 
As I watched these tourists deeply involved in trying to find themselves, literally, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. For as much I had tried to be a competent explorer on my journeys I had received help literally dozens of times from people kind enough to help the sweaty kid in the 30-pound backpack comprehend a map.
 
Like that time in Italy where a man in a suite on his way to work brought me into a coffee shop and looked through the yellow pages to try and find the address I had, that apparently didn’t exist.
 
Or that one time I sat down in my seat on the train in Munich. I was settling in for my 8 hour, overnight ride to Berlin. I had taken off my bag and was getting situated when something told me to verify I was on the correct train.
 
I turned to woman sitting on my left and said, “This is the train to Berlin right?”
 
“Nope.”

As it turns out my train was across the platform.
 
And many, many more.
 
I took it upon myself to cross the discomfort divide and actually ask people if they needed help. Since I knew how scared I was asking people for help. Creating 3 second mental dossiers on everybody who passed. Does he look like he would know where the hostel is?
 
I started asking tourists if they needed help, if they knew where they were going.
 
About half the time, they didn’t.
 
Sometimes I’d be met with a “No no we’re fine thank you.” That came out almost a bit too rushed, reminding me in a kind of fond embarrassment of how on edge I used to be when I got lost.
 
It surprised me how many times people said yes, and asked for help finding a specific thing on the map.
 
Usually it was something easy; a specific train line, a museum, or a particular neighborhood.
 
Sometimes it was something more obscure.
 
And sometimes I gave the wrong instructions which I didn’t realize until after when embarrassment swelled out from my core, heating me up and making me feel so guilty for misleading people.
 
Then again, it wasn’t intentional, and it had definitely happened to me. Part of the experience I guess.
 
More often than not it was gratifying. It didn’t have to be people from Europe or South America. Many times, people from the mid-west stood on train platforms reading the fantastically misleading subway signs trying to figure out how to go three stops in the correct direction.
 
I’ve lived in this city 8 years and those signs still confuse me.
 
People tended to be very grateful and friendly. It made me feel good to help them, albeit in whatever small manner.
 
I am proud to say that this small behavior of mine started to rub off on my girlfriend, who several weeks ago observed a very lost looking individual.
 
The story she recounted to me:
 
I was standing in front of a Starbucks waiting for my friend when a guy walked by in one direction, stopped, looked around, then turned around and walked back where he came from, when he stopped again, looked around, and turned around again to walk back in his first direction where he stopped again. Three times he had passed in front of me looking really lost.
 
I thought to myself, Rich is always trying to help people out so I’ll give it a shot.
 
So I said to the man, “Can I help you find something?”
 
And he turned to me and screamed “NO!” and walked away.
 
I laughed when she told me the story, half with a feeling of sympathy for her and half with a feeling of “of course”. The time she goes out of her comfort zone to try and help somebody she get’s screamed at.
 
I encouraged her not to give up on tourists. We can be a skittish bunch.
 
That story was fresh in my mind last week as I observed a woman on the F train slowly descend into a quagmire of confusion about where she was, and where she was going.
 
I almost didn’t say anything… but I did. Naturally it turned into an extremely weird experience that lasted 35 minutes.
 
To be continued…

Twine Man

It didn’t help that several months prior I had seen a very well crafted and extremely disturbing movie about kidnapping, pedophilia and revenge.

It also didn’t help that at this specific moment in time I was sitting on a half-empty F train reading a critical analysis of that very same movie which was reminding me of all the twisted terrifying moments in the film.

An article like that puts you in a strange headspace, and I myself was already feeling a little creeped out.

So when I looked up and saw the very out-of-place man across from me measuring out arm lengths of rope I felt anxiety like interior goose bumps.

He had messy salt and pepper hair, and the large nose and ears that come with age. He was wearing a green cotton coat with too many pockets and a pair of Dr Martens laced with military precision.

He looked different, not homeless just a bit disconnected from society. Like he had been living in the same apartment for the last 40 years and hadn’t changed a single thing in his life since he moved in. Like his might be the car that had 8 months worth of newspapers piled up in the back seat. 

At first he was rifling furiously through his many pockets bits of twine and metal falling out. I couldn’t tell what he was looking for but he was out of place enough that he warranted my attention.

He didn’t seem frantic but he was moving quickly as strange bits of indecipherable this and that fell to the empty seats around him (surprise) and the floor.

He began measuring out the twine, of which there was probably ten feet which is when I became 100 percent positive he was going to strangle me.

Had he been in the process of mounting a Christmas tree to a car his moves would have appeared masterful and might have even been admirable, but he wasn’t tying up a Christmas tree.

He was doing them on the F train during the reverse commute at rush hour.

I was trying not to stare as this all took place 5 feet away from me but the longer his process went on, the harder it became to look away.

The article on nutrition in the NBA that I had begun reading became a lot less interesting.

He began threading the twine through the front two belt loops tying them closet together which seemed strange to me as he was already wearing a black leather built with flames embroidered or painted on to it (I didn't get closer enough to find out).

Even stranger still was that while staring down at his crotch as he tied the knot he didn’t realize his fly was completely unzipped, his pants wide open as though they were in the middle of singing a particularly long note of a song.

He finished threading his twine, cinched his pants and pulled out what I though was a Swiss Army Knife (to stab me with). When I saw the flame I realized it was a lighter that he was using it burn the twine so it would break.

Ten minutes into watching this guy and he already had two weapons.

I was not the only one who witnessed this, nor was I alone in my silence in saying anything. People playing with fire on the subway tend not to be easily swayed with rational discussion.

He then took off his belt rolled it up and put it in his pockets, a tool for a later kidnapping perhaps.

At one point early in the process he had dropped his twine and I contemplated telling him but then realized that he might be a strangler and I thought about how bad I’d feel if I had helped a strangler.

So I said nothing but he had noticed his loss and picked it up. 

After his pants had been tightened though still wide open he pulled out a sealed bag that said TOP on it. I fully expected him to unwrap a toy top and start spinning it on the seat next to him. It would not have surprised me in the least.

I wasn’t even pretending to read anymore. I was just openly staring and looking away when he looked up, which wasn’t often as he was 100% keyed in to what he was doing. He couldn’t care less about the rest of the train denizens thought of him.

It quickly became obvious that TOP was a pack of loose tobacco and he began the process of rolling a cigarette not on his lap but on the orange subway seat itself.

At first I was disgusted as I try to avoid touching as few things on the subway as possible, and certainly I try not to put anything that will end up in my mouth on a subway seat.

But I suppose gross is relative, as it probably doesn’t get much more gross sticking a burning tube of tar and cancer in your mouth.

Though I’m sure this wasn’t a debate the would-be strangle was having with himself.

He finished stuffing his rolling papers, rolled I up, licked the edge, sealed it, and then brushed the considerable amount of tobacco trimmings off of his clothes and onto the floor before quickly standing up and getting off at the last stop in Queens.

Thank god.

Because if he had gotten off at my stop I might have followed him just to see what happened next.

And that would have been a horrible idea.

Spontaneous Anxiety

Most of the time I give the impression that I'm cool and chill. My mind might be going a mile a minute but it doesn't show.

Except when it latches onto something that I can't let go of.

Like the other night when I went to go get pizza. Two slices of plain cheese with a Mug root beer.

I grab my meal and sit at a table facing the  door where a kid In basketball shorts and a sweatshirt who has been waiting for his food starts checking his pockets furiously.

Right away I know what this is. I know what's going on and I am completely unable to focus on absolutely anything else.

The kid had lost his money.

So now I'm obsessively watching him pace 20 feet back and forth while alternating sticking his hand in his four pockets.

Left leg, right leg, left hip, right hip. 

Over and over again while repeating the phrase:

This is impossible I just had it.

I know that situation because I've been there. The feeling of no sensation to sheer panic and confusion with absolutely no idea what to do.

I get it.

And I felt bad for the kid. I really did.

At first.

But after he had paced the length of he empty shop 10 times and checked his pockets dozens more I started to lose my patience.

Because what he was doing wasn't helping the situation at all nor was he doing anything to state his case.

His food was already ordered and he wasn't going to leave or say anything until it was ready.

I realize I am being a bit unfair. After all the kid was probably only 15.

But he had waxed eyebrows and that bothered me.

Back, forth, pocket, pocket, pocket, pocket.

I am chewing my pizza, I am swallowing it, but I am not enjoying it because all I can think about is what is going to happen when he finally has to tell pizza man what happened. There is a pit in my stomach anticipating this interaction.

The longer it goes on, and mind you it was from the time I started my first slice of pizza to the time I finished my second so ya know, not biblical lengths of time, but the longer it goes on the more angst I develop and the more I want to yell at this kid.

It'd obviously not on this completely empty floor and yes it IS, possible it's extremely possible so stop fake looking for your money and either say what happened or go find your money.

The situation was obviously heightened for me because I approach pizza consumption like an oversized javelina.

And being distracted from pizza is more severe for me than being distracted from other meals because I am fanatical about the temperature of my pizza. (the longer this goes on the more unflattering a picture this paints of me, I see that)

It is not hyperbole to say that I burn the roof of my mouth on pizza. It's probably due to the system I developed for eating pizza thereby enabling me to enjoy more hot pizza longer than your average pizza schmuck.

I just save the crusts for last since they aren't as hot anyway and don't require increased temperature to remain tasty.

I used to be more maniacal and order three slices to go but insist on eating one while walking to my apartment because I wanted to make sure I didn't waste time.

I DONT KNOW WHY THIS ALL STARTED!

I just wanted to eat my pizza while it was still hot.

So being distracted during pizza time, an already semi-psychotic eating experience on it's own, becomes a really severe circumstance.

Do you see where I'm going with all this?

Outside of pizza, my spontaneous anxiety has also manifested itself in other ways.

Like what bothers other people is starting to affect me. For instance if I see a woman on the train focused on something a kid is doing, I myself become obsessed with both the woman and the kid, in a mobius strip of distraction.

I become unable to focus because I become distracted by somebody else being distracted.

Its like like some kind of Anxiety induced butterfly effect.

I need to learn how to just look away. Out of site out of mind, kind of. 

The problem is I've convinced myself that my point of view on some things is extremely important so now I', starting to think my point of view on everything is important and I must observe it all.

Rational people reading this (which lets be honest, what ARE you doing here) might say something witty like

Relax

Or

Stop

I admire their courage and gumption. I sometimes worry that I'm one obsession from becoming completely unhinged.

Seriously its a fear.

I watched a documentary once where a man finishing his doctorate at the age of 30 suddenly snapped and started yelling nonstop for three hours a day and ended up in a mental institution.

I worry that might happen to me. That I too will go on rants about lost money and juvenile delinquency that drive other people mad and cause THEM to yell  for hours a day whilst I throw slices of pizza at strangers thereby causing an irrevocable chain of effects that turns the whole world insane.

::Deep breath::

I just hope I finish my pizza before it happens. 
 

About Cruising

 The people who talked about cruises were emphatic.

They said one of two things with reverence normally reserved for meteors or Beyonce concerts.

Or Beyonce riding a meteor.

You can eat as much as you want.

You can drink the whole time.

And while those are both things I really enjoy doing, I was also keenly aware that these activities took place on a non-stationary boat in the middle of the ocean.

Oh you barely feel it, I mean after the first day it’s fine.

It’s fine.

Sure.

These people were not me though. They had not previously thrown up inside of 3 trains, 2 boats, a bus, and a helicopter. Motion sickness is kind of my vacation/adventure albatross.

None of those experiences had lasted longer than a single day, so 8 days on a boat. The odds would not be in my favor.

Though honestly I forgot about my motion sickness until much later. When TripFilms reached out to be in the beginning of October and said they wanted me to film a cruise to the Caribbean for them at the end of the month AND I could bring a guest. I said yes before performing any substantive thought.

This is the way I operate when ice cream is presented.

I was committed, I had 2 weeks to pack, prep and begin imagining every possible negative motion sickness outcome.

Aside from what I’d read and what I’d been told, I didn’t really know what to expect. Who would be on the ship? What would the mood be like? What do people do for days on end in the middle of the ocean?

My answers came in short time.

The first thing that struck me as soon as land was out of site was just how massive the ship was. I kept saying out loud to myself, “we are on a giant building, in the middle of the ocean.”

The sheer scale of it was incomprehensible to me. And we weren’t even on one of the larger ships. When we pulled into St. Maarten we were dwarfed by the ship that pulled in next to us that held thousands more passengers.

It also became readily apparent who was on this cruise based on how fast certain people embraced specific activities. For example;

Sun Worshippers

These were the people whom, before the ship had even left the port and it was still 57 degrees in Liberty City (previously known as Bayonne), had already stripped to their bathing suits and jumped in pool.

These would be the same people who would, over the course of the next 7 days, spend hours upon hours poolside, from sunup to sundown, turning various shades of red.

They were there to sun and very little if anything was going to get in there way.

Drinkers

Anytime you have an all-you-can-drink package, people are going to come out of the woodwork to take advantage of it. And they did. It wasn’t uncommon to see somebody walking by with a martini at 9 am while you were on their way to breakfast. Perhaps they were having theirs.

These were also the same people who during the routine safety drill shouted loudly for anybody within 200 feet to hear; where are we supposed to get life jackets?

I softly whispered to her that they were in her room though I’m not sure that I should have.

The Eaters

Yes I am aware this will be not-so-subtly hypocritical as I suffer from an adrenaline spike any time I am near a buffet which is superseded only by the guilt I feel while laying on my side 20 minutes after eating.

But here were way too many people on the ship who didn't realize that stacking a bacon and sausage omelet on top of a pile of bacon and sausage should be a once a week thing, not an every day of the week thing.

So if you were on a budget eating on a cruise is like a dream come true. And if you are the type of person who prefers elastic waistbands to anything else, a cruise is also a dream come true.

The Groups

It was kind of fun to see groups of 10 or 20 friends gathering and spending time laughing and hanging out together. I really understood this. It’s hard enough to get people together for 1 night a year, never mind a whole week.

And to see such diverse groups partying and celebrating in the same space was also a pretty cool site.

The “Jammin' Cruisers” who wore t-shirts that announced their presence and spent most of their time in a specific corner of the pool deck laughing louder than anybody else.

The smokers didn't wear t-shirts announcing their presence but they sad around in a cloud of their own creation greying before my very eyes.

I wasn't even aware there was a large group of gay travelers cruising together until they all made their way to the center of the dance floor on the final night.

There were more groups as well. 

But perhaps the most poignant moment of the whole cruise came when I saw the parents of the wheelchair bound daughter having drinks together one evening.

And things became a little bit clearer.

Cruises or "Cruising" as those in the know tend to say, provides a lot of things, a lot of stuff, food, drinks, entertainment. And what they provide appeals to many audiences including those for whom travel is an extreme challenge, who are not fortunate enough to have the freedom to pursue anything their mind imagines.

For some, being on a boat where everything is provided for you, everything is close, and everything is handicap accessible, while still allowing you to travel the world, is everything they could ever hope for.

Decency

It’s 2000.

I’m in D.C., sitting on a dais with 19 other people on a stage facing out at a dimly lit crowd of 2,600, most from places I’d never been.

It is the single most important moment of my life thus far. At sixteen years old, after a year serving as an International Trustee, I am moments away from finding out if I will be the President of the largest high school service organization in the world.

My heart is racing at impossible speeds and I’m in such sensory overload that I feel at any moment I might scream out, faint, vomit, if not all three at the same time.

On the opposite side of the stage from me a routine presentation is taking place. The outgoing President is making his remarks. And then it is time. He starts his announcement.

“The 2000-2001 Key Club International President is…”

My heart beats a slightly sped up pace in tribute as I write this now. I remember much about the campaign that led up to that moment, individual moments of triumph and embarrassment.

Mostly I remember the exhaustion, the feeling of running on pure adrenaline, and always being on the cusp of nausea.

It was the campaigning that did it to me. Hours of speechifying, answering questions, and trying desperately, at all costs to get people to like me, and more importantly, believe in me.

There were 31 rooms, one for each district in the Organization. From New York to California, from California to Jamaica, all districts were represented by a contingent symbolic of their actual size. Some rooms barely had 20 people, others had hundreds.

We were given five minutes in each room. Half of that was used for our stump speeches which sometimes were listened to attentively, and sometimes completely ignored in anticipation of the more interesting section, the Q&A.

It was the most important and most significant set of interviews of my life. Even today on a regular basis I can regularly reference things I learned from that experience that I’ve never learned anywhere else.


I had prepped for weeks and months. Memorizing names, slogans, state birds, songs, facts, figures and more. I have always been bad at studying and looking back I realize I was motivated by an incredible desire and a terrible fear of failure.

I willed the information into myself, beat it into my brain and my memory because I wanted this thing so bad.

Most of it stuck, some of it didn’t. So by the time it cam for caucusing, for meeting the thousands of people who were either excited to meet me or extremely interested in tearing me apart, all that was left was me.

It was a case study in honesty, patience, trust, improvisation and wit. Everything happened in such rapid succession there was only time to listen, react, and then move on.

If something went wrong in one room there was no time to rehash or complain, we had to prep for the next. Sometimes we were running late, more often than not, everybody was running late.

All the time I had spent prepping and cramming had come down to letting all of it out in a handful of hours all so that I could lead an organization that had given me more than anything I had ever done in high school, introduced me to amazing people, and set me on a path that I might not have found otherwise.

I wanted it so bad. I remember sitting up in my bed at night praying for things like wisdom and courage and strength and piles of other adjectives that my brain reached for.

And then it was the week of, and the night of, and then the minute.

A pool of three had been whittled down to two, I from New York sitting on a dais trying my best to appear calm and collected despite the nausea and pimples that had showed up on my forehead that morning, my competitor a girl from New Jersey who was sitting in the audience, perhaps feeling just as nervous, but whom nobody could see either way.

And in the way that people talk about the silence that precedes a significant moment, an infinite pause occurred.

“The 2000-2001 Key Club International President is, from the New…

Jersey District..”

And some significant portion of those 2,600 people roared and screamed and jumped out of their chairs as my competitor found her way to the stage.

I remember a feeling of calm that came over me almost instantly. It wasn’t bitterness or anger, there was disappointment sure, but a kind of acceptance that was almost preternatural and that I wish was still possible at my current age.

Perhaps it is.

I stood. The whole dais stood and applauded.

She came to the stage hugged the current president and then worked her way through the dais hugging everybody until she got to me at which point we hugged wonderfully, furiously. It was a hug of congratulations, of mutual acknowledgement, of exhaustion.

And it was wonderful.

My life went on that next year to be incredible, I travelled, I met more interesting people, there were laughs and girls and pictures of hilarious moments. All of which led up to a full scholarship to college.

But really, this isn’t a story about me. It’s not even a story about the girl who beat me. It’s not a story about competition or Key Club or anything like that.

This is a story about decency.

You see, about 7 years ago I was re-watching the tapes from that convention. Reliving all of that glory that seemed to exist in an insular bubble of perfection. Trying to see if we all looked as godlike as we probably felt at that time.

And I watched the election announcement again.

There, sitting in my parents living room with the surround sound, I thought I caught something as the outgoing president hugged the new one.

Something he said was picked up by the microphone which the audience didn’t hear, but the camera did because the audio from the mic went straight to the camera.

I played it back again, louder.

And there it was.

Something more insightful and important than winning or losing, something decent and true…

Something that always reminds me of what that whole experience was about and what I really learned…

Something I flash on now and again that always warms my heart…

As they hugged and I clapped on from the other side of the stage, the current president whispered…

“Congratulations, go give Rich a hug.”

 

Advice On Starting a Business

It’s been just over a year since I left my job to start my own business but it honestly feels like three.

Not just because of all that has happened, but also because of all of the mistakes I’ve made. Luckily, I’ve been able to learn (relatively) quickly from those mistakes (for the most part). Now I present for your benefit, the nine most important things I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur.

1. People Lie

Sure they don’t want do. They might not be doing it on purpose, and they might not have bad intentions, but it just happens. They’ll say things like:

“I’ll call you.”

“We should connect.”
“I definitely need your card.”
But there’s a good chance they won’t, you won’t, and they don’t.

It’s part of interacting with strangers. We want to endear ourselves. We want to think that we have more in common. We want people to like us. People might even genuinely believe they are going to call you but most likely they are just trying to connect with you.

I’ve had people take my card that didn’t email me for three months. I’ve traded cards with people who said they definitely needed my services who then asked if we could connect the following YEAR.

It can be easy to take it personally but hey, it’s just business right? I don’t think so. I try to make the way I do business similar to way I live my life. I fail regularly, but I try to be aware of that.

2. Put Your Business Cards Everywhere

After attending way too many meetings where I didn’t have business cards on me, I realized I wasn’t always going to remember to leave the house with them.

So, one night, I took a couple of hundred business cards and started putting stacks into the pockets of every coat, suit, blazer, and vest that I own. It was extremely helpful.

Sure the less layers I wear the less likely I am to have secret business card stashes which makes summer kind of a gamble. But for the most part it’s a huge help.

If you can’t rely on your memory, void it. Make it unnecessary.

3. Getting Others’ Business Cards Is Better Than Having Your Own

People forget their business cards. They run out. They don’t have their new batch yet, etc. There are plenty of reasons why somebody you want to stay in touch with won’t have a business card. This is irrelevant. You have a phone.

If they don’t have a business card, get their information. Maintain a specific note just for writing down emails and phone numbers of people you want to stay in touch with. It’s worth it. You never know who is going to become a client, a contact, or even a friend. Let fate handle more important stuff than which you will stay in touch with.

4. Meeting People Doesn’t Have to be Hard

I should have remembered my mother’s advice when I started going to networking meetings.

Walking up to people, extending your hand and saying “Hi I’m ____ how’s it going?” is the easiest way to meet people. Granted in Kindergarten it failed miserably and the table of girls went back to talking about rainbow bright or whatever while I stood there with my hand outstretched for what seemed like a week and a half until I finally just walked away.

But as an adult it’s so much easier. I thought I had to make some silly joke or quip, or have some sort of an “in.” But really, it’s straightforward, to the point, and really quite simple. I wish 20 something single me had known this for meeting girls in bars. But then again had I been more successful with women I might not have developed all my interesting hobbies.

My point is getting to know people is no harder than letting them know you have a name and you want to know theirs. Anything beyond that is useless mental gymnastics.

5. Get Better at Listening.

You don’t learn, sell or innovate by talking all the time.

It can be strange at first because our natural inclination is to fill any and all silence that appears by talking about things we are doing, working on or thinking about.

It is far more productive to ask the other person questions. You’ll learn who they are, if you like them, if they have a service to offer you, if you can offer them your service. Ask them a million questions. You can learn something from everybody, even if you end up learning something about yourself.

“What if they don’t return the favor?” you might ask, well then, if they let you ask them questions for an hour without taking even a cursory interest in your business, they are probably not somebody you wanted to do business with in the first place.

6. Play Up

Go after the clients that intimidate you. If you land them that are amazing and it could change your business in a heart beat. Even if you don’t you’ll learn a lot more about the expectations they have, the skills you’ll need to develop, and the road you’ll need to walk in order to land them.

Nobody gets better by doing the same thing all the time. Embarrassing yourself in front of somebody important, screwing up a job you care about, and be humbled are all things that you make better in so many ways.

Being perfect all the time blows. Challenge yourself.

7. Stop Talking Once You’ve Made Your Point

This is one I like to forget weekly.

Again this goes back to our insecurity with silence. Sometimes you don’t need to say anymore. Sometimes people need time to think. Silence can be ok. If you’ve said all you had prepared, all you know, and you continue to talk the chances are very high that you are going to end up saying something stupid.

Good ideas need time to marinate, great notes need time to resonate, and smart people need time to process. Trust the quality and the substance of what you have to offer.

The inability to stop yammering comes across as unintelligent and insecure or incredibly self-involved. Either way, you don’t want to be around those people, or worse, people to think you are one of them.

8. Be The One Who Makes It Happen

What does this mean? I mean if you have a call scheduled, be the one dialing. If you are making plans, be the one who sends the calendar appointment. By taking on the responsibility you will spend considerably less time waiting, wondering, and forgetting. Own it.

A great woman named Danielle LaPorte always says, “Do what you say you’re going to do.” It is fascinating how many people don’t. You are always at least 50 percent responsible for every interaction. That’s the bad news AND the good news.

Moving is so much more rewarding than waiting. Pursuing and failing is impressive. Waiting and failing is common.

9. Go Places With a Purpose

It is amazing how often I meet people at functions or networking events who have no answer to the question “So, what brings you here tonight.”

Many times people will say, “not really sure.”

Really? Not really sure? If you’re not really sure, that makes me not really sure that I want to do business with you. Fake it till you make it.

I’m not saying you can control the universe but you can impact your surroundings. Purpose breed’s confidence, which attracts competence, which fosters substance.

That sentence might be bullshit, but maybe not. Be a person people turn towards instead of one they turn away from. I don’t care if you believe in destiny, “The Secret”, or some new agey philosophy that deals with mind control.

If you are trying to accomplish something you need to aim before your fire.

So there you have it. This isn’t everything I’ve learned, nor are they all things I always remember. But they are the things that stick out the most for me. And if you are starting your own business, or even trying to take a stronger hold of the things in your life, maybe they are helpful to you.

And if all of this is already common knowledge to you, congratulations. Now share what you know with others.

We’ve all got a limited, fixed amount of time here. Let’s use it to help move each other forward.

 

Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

I’ve a had a sort of out of body experience the last couple of weeks.

For two separate reasons, in two separate weeks, I couldn’t speak for a couple of days, and my hearing wasn’t that good. Thankfully, neither of the issues were permanent (I hope, I still can’t hear very well) but they were incredibly enlightening.

It started a couple of weeks ago when I had to have some stitches in my mouth. Yes it was painful and no I didn’t anticipate how painful it would be.

In fact even after the procedure I wasn’t aware.

Until the anesthetic wore off.

Then I was incredibly aware. It happened suddenly like the flip of a light switch.

No pain.

No pain.

No pain.

HOLY SHIT

It was eye-crossingly, body convulsiningly intense.

My doctor would ask me later if I had “reasonable pain management.” I kindly reminded him that he had suggested I take Tylenol, so I took that, and left out that the only thing “reasonable” would have been if he had given me a gallon of morphine juice to drink from every hour, on the hour for the next three days until the first of my dissolvable stitches dissolved.

The pain went from excruciating to tolerable with two very obvious side effects.

The first was that I couldn’t swallow without a sharp pain, also, due to the nature of the procedure, I couldn’t keep my mouth from watering. This meant that I was drooling pretty much non-stop for three days. And the only way to manage that was to keep a drool cup with me wherever I was.

Since taking a drool cup out in public seems to be frowned upon, I would just do a half spit half sneeze when I was walking outside.

Anybody walking behind me must have thought me troglodytic.

The other side effect was that talking was also extremely painful. It was possible, but only really slowly and at a very soft tone.

It wasn’t until my first interaction at a pharmacy that I realized how out of character this new voice felt for me.

I’m a big personality, full of life, gregarious even, and specifically so with strangers whom I think it’s fun to interact with. So when I got up to that counter and carefully cobbled together my sentence, the employee treated me almost… gingerly for lack of a better word.

I myself tend to mirror energy. If you are extroverted and playful and fun, I will usually be the same. If you are quiet and reserved, I will tone it down to match what you are putting out.

I’ve used to, well, terrifying people with my approach. I get it. It can be overwhelming. But it was extremely strange to be treated sweetly, tenderly.

I didn’t put myself in the position to have many conversations over those few days. Mainly because preventing drool while also forming sentences proved nearly impossible. And I’m quite aware how different the gentleman with the soft voice and the drooling gentleman with the soft voice are.

I was not out to make anybody feel uncomfortable.

It felt almost like playing a role. Like I was using somebody else’s body, or personality for a day. Stranger still was the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to instantly snap out of it, that this was my mantle until my mouth healed.

That person I was for those days almost seemed a bit easier to ingest for some. Less intimidating maybe? Not that I am some great planetary force, still, I can understand how introverts might feel safer than extroverts in one way or another.

Which is a perfect segue into the cold I’ve had for the last week.

I’ve been congested. It feels like I have a bag of tiny marshmallows stuck in my nose and lungs.

Everybody knows the feeling of being congested and feeling like your head weighs twice or three times as much as usual. What has amplified that feeling tremendously was the flights I took this weekend.

I went with my girlfriend’s family to a wedding.

The flight was easy, 2 hours with no bumps. Takeoff was fine, however the landing felt like this horrible pressure experiment on my ears. That feeling of sweet relief we get when our ears popped was replaced by this ever increasing pressure that was simultaneously painful and kind of muting.

It felt like I was wearing a crappy pair of noise canceling headphones.

I could still hear what everybody was saying. But I had to concentrate really hard to get it all.

It’s amazing how much we take for granted.

Like how we can be completely immersed in a task and carry on a conversation at the same time. Now, I’m sure nobody would say you are getting the full benefit of either, but still, it’s possible.

It was challenging. I could peruse a magazine and chat at the same time. I couldn’t gaze out the window and listen to the conversation at the same time. Listening, something I pride myself on, became kind of exhausting. It required so much attention.

I love being a part of the conversation, listening for opportunities to state my opinion or give a fact or crack a joke. That became less possible as I had to listen to closely that I wasn’t entirely sure I heard the correct sentence in the first place.

Being taller than most people didn’t help. Being at a wedding with a live band didn’t help either. It was another feeling of strangeness, out of body, like playing pretend.

It made me frustrated more often than not. And it wasn’t until the plane ride back that I started to equate my several days spent not speaking and hearing well.

It made me think of my friends whose day-to-day lives are like these. It made me think of how it continues to surprise me how much I miss the things I’ve never had to think about until they go away.

I always think about swallowing that way. Whenever I have a sore throat that goes away I try to focus on how amazing it feels to swallow without pain. And once in a while I will think of that and try to spend a couple of seconds appreciating that simple pleasure, as silly as it may sound.

So what’s the point? Who knows, beyond simple observations.

However, I think it speaks something to us being the sum of our parts not being a static thing, that just as who we are changes as we age, so do our senses, which continue to inform the person we want or can only be, for better or for worse.

 

Everything Is The New Something

I was looking in my closet just now and I realized something.

I have more shoes than sneakers.

It's the first time in my life this has ever happened. It definitely happened in the last year at a certain point. It might have been my journey into entrepreneurship that prompted it. Or it might have simply been a natural evolution of feeling older, or wanting my clothes to feel appropriate of how my age feels to me.

For whatever the reason, the amount of sneakers in my closet is now a fraction of an otherwise bloated amount of shoes.

The same thing started happening with pants this year as well. While I don't think my love of my jeans will ever fade (that might be a pun) I do know that there was time when all I wanted to wear was jeans, and now, sometimes I want a different kind of pants.

On the surface, this might all seem very superficial (if surface observations can be anything but) however, it all speaks to something larger and more prevalent I've noticed in my life recently:

The amount of grey.

I had a social studies teacher who told us about an interaction he had with a hippie once that went something like "Not everything is black or white man, sometimes it's just greyyyyy."

It's something I've always embraced mentally since the first time I heard it, it spoke to a sentiment that had been present in me for a bit of time at that point.

And it's that same grey that I'm realizing in several capacities as I get older.

For much of my life, being comfortable has meant finding the perfect outfit that I feel most comfortable in. For as much as clothes can make the man, I have hoped so hard for clothes to make me into something more than I've felt.

I have, for much of my life and even today, hoped that whatever I draped on the outside would alter the state of feelings for the better on the inside.

Many times it works.

It's amazing how a new pair of shoes or a well fitting shirt can do for posture and confidence.

The shame of it is we aren't allowed (via cultural norms) to just stick with the one thing that works for us and wear that for the rest of our lives.

For some fashion designers it works, but fashion designers get away with a lot.

There's a comedian who talks about why people's hairstyles stop changing as they get older. He says it's either the hairstyle of the last time that person got laid, or the last time some significant event happened in their life.

My style, and my hairstyles have varied greatly throughout my life. I have neither the time, nor the memory capable of recounting for you all of the interesting choices I have made to my appearance over the last 20 or so years.

And that's not what this is about either.

What I find interesting, and what I've been thinking about lately, is how for much of my life, what I put on the outside was very much a reflection of how I wanted to believe I felt on the inside.

And in the last couple of years, most significantly the last year, that has reversed.

I have readily embraced the amalgam of very significant emotions and feelings I experience and the way I want the way I dress now to reflect that, not determine it.

The great folly of our lives is that we think we are always almost arriving at a destination when we will no longer have to think so hard, work so hard, or change who we are.

The most intuitive of us, the people I like to spend time around, have made peace with the idea that we are always in a state of arrival at a destination that is always moving away from us.

So much of my life has been spent thinking, "If I could only just ____ then I would _____." Needless to say any time that blank happened, another blank was born in my mind or my heart or in the belly of my relentless cosmic indigestion.

My recent arrival at 30 was preceded by a tremendous amount of introspection and time spent alone contemplating what 30 meant to me and what is would mean going forward.

Many popular news outlets propagate social media with stories from successful individuals who speak of 30 being the time when individuals finally, FINALLY, can embrace themselves, who they are, and who they want to be.

And in a lot of ways I think that's true.

What interests me about my life, and my life moving forward, is being able to gradually let go of the things that are no longer necessary and grabbing ahold of those things that fill me, that fill my cup.

But here is what I am also realizing:


What fills my cup today, might not fill it tomorrow. And while having a closet full of beautiful lace-ups that I can wear to meetings, that make me feel more adult than I have ever felt, is fun, it is by no means permanent.

Shoes, like the support they give, are ephemeral, as are pants, as are so many of the things we fill our lives with. And while I'd love to look at my closet and think, man, I'm good on shoes for the rest of my life, thank god I'll never have to think about those again…

It's just not true.

And that's where the grey lies. The in-between in which we exist is filled with so much that requires observation and thought. And that is exhausting, sometimes overwhelmingly so. But I have started to come to terms with it (started, just barely started) and there is both a fear and comfort in that, that this is the way forward.

The future will be filled with more options, and more choices, and countless shoes. And that is perfectly ok because for me, for any of us, a destination is a virtual impossibility without death.

For as much as the grey can suck sometimes, it's also infinite in it's potential, in what it provides, and what it allows us to be.

And that is beautiful.

 

5 Years On... Now What?

I missed an important anniversary this summer.

It wasn't because I forgot it, I had a marked on my calendar, was aware of its occurrence  and told a few close friends. I didn't make a big deal of it, because, well I wasn't sure what to actually make of it.

July 26th marked the 5 year anniversary of my blog.

Big whoop right? At this point in our social history it's only inanimate objects and some gerbils who don't have blogs. In fact having a blog now is like having a tattoo, it used to make you stand out, now it almost seems to make you blend in.

I've talked before about how five and a half years ago I was reticent to start a blog, even the word itself activated bile in my mouth.

In our day and age, when everybody is aware of everything that everybody else is doing, the pressure to become a sheep can be unbearable, while the actual understanding of what it means to be that sheep escapes everybody.

I tried to focus on the simple idea that I just wanted to write. And that's been something I've tried to hold on to week after week. And it has been so many weeks.

Reflecting back on it now, it's crazy to think that I have written regularly, weekly, for half of my 20s, and 17% of my life.

There's almost nothing I have been doing that long, that regularly. And certainly nothing that has been that formative, that significant in shaping what I want to do, and helping me better understand myself and the world around me.

That wasn't the intention though, and like all great things in my life, actions with somewhat misguided intentions brought about unexpected and amazing results.

For the last 5 years I had really had only one goal. Write every week without fail. And largely I was successful. Minus the times I travelled over seas, or holiday weekends, I published. Every sunday night, and on lazy weeks, early monday mornings. And on really lazy weeks, late monday mornings. 

I will be the first to admit, when I have written, what I have published has not always been gold… or even silver. There have been bad jokes, half-fleshed out ideas, and typos. Jesus, the typos.

But I published, good or bad, week after week. It was about the craft, committing to it, forcing myself to dig deep and find things to write about.

And while it's not exactly coal mining, it hasn't been easy. And like anything worth it, it's what I have loved and hated about it.

Bloggers are notoriously neurotic about stats. Who is reading? What are they reading? Is anybody reading? What did they think about it?

Should I even be writing this? Does it even matter?

People writing business blogs or trying to create some sort of brand that makes them money can a/b test, and create surveys, etc. But if you're writing just to write, not concerned about ads, or making a revenue off something.

But if you're writing just to write, it can be hard to stay motivated if you don't have a lot of readers, or don't know how many readers you have.

So what's the point?

What do any of us write?

Better people than me have answered this question.

It's easy for me to see now that blogging led to essay writing, which led to screenplay writing, which led to stage play writing, which led to video contests, which led to web series, which led to professional video production, which led me to my current profession.

Five and a half years ago I could never have imagined any of that. Best case scenario I thought was I get famous and make money.

While neither of those things happened (directly) from my blog, they led me onward and upward to a more fulfilling experience.

And that's why lately I have struggled as the weekly routine of publishing a blog has lagged, specifically in the last 4 months. As my personal business, one reliant both on a tremendous amount of commitment to networking and creativity, has become a larger part of my life, the amount of time I spend writing, and thinking about writing has dwindled.

Sometimes my blogs (like this one) will go out later in the week, and sometimes I miss a week altogether. I find myself grasping a bit for meaning. Why did I miss this week? Why does it matter? I find myself questioning if I should be writing every week anymore, if I should keep writing a blog at all?

I know that in the beginning it was important to do it regularly, to teach myself a craft, to commit myself fully to something to see how it formed, how its as created, what it was like to live inside that craftsman's shed. Looking back I have to say I feel both proud and impressed. I have this journal of my life that I can always go back and reference even when the memories themselves fade, this wonderful history of a 20something easing into a 30something.

So after a half a decade of writing down my thoughts and feeling on everything from toilets to cosmology, I realize that while my love of writing is stronger than it's ever been, by relationship with it is changing. And that can be challenging, especially when people come to define you by one (of many) things that you do, when certain people expect a certain thing from you that doesn't always want to emerge from you.

Going forward I don't know what's going to happen, but here is what I am left with:

You (I) have to figure this out for yourself. You have to derive your own significance. You have to find a reason for yourself on why you write. If you're lucky you get recognized, if you're lucky you have followers, if you're lucky something awesome happens.

The luckiest of us have our lives evolve and enhance around the center point of our created words.

For some it's an end in and of itself. For some, its a means to some ends, and for some it's discovery, always discovery.

Something I pray it always is.

Pigeon Man

You've seen him before.

They guy in the park, clothes ragged and dirty, sitting on a bench surrounded by plastic shopping bags, the ground around him covered in bird seed, and of course the pigeons. dozens of pigeons all around him from his feet to his head, covering him like a flapping coat.

He's in every major park, in every city, in every country I've ever visited. And I've never thought he was anything except crazy.

And why shouldn't I?

Pigeons are gross. 

Well, I think that now but that wasn't always my opinion.

Pigeons had always been around, just like squirrels had. They weren't anything I gave much thought to… until my first trip to Italy.

I was 17 and upon my arrival I was completely baffled at how many pigeons existed there. I had wrongly assumed that pigeons were an American thing, native to our land.

I didn't realize that Europe's affinity for stone sculptures placed in the myriad piazza's that segment her cities make pigeons seem even more prevalent than they are in the states.

On that same trip we stopped in Venice to see the canals but I was just as fascinated by the pigeons there. Though no different looking than any pigeon I had ever seen before, they were more approachable.

Saint Mark's square was renowned for years and years for it's bird seed salesmen who would sell a bag of bird seed for a couple thousand lira (it's much less than it sounds) so that one could feed the pigeons up close.

I made a lot of strange decisions in my youth. Not the least was purchasing said bird seed so that I could have pigeons fly into my hands and jam their sharp little beaks into my fleshy palm.

As though they hadn't been well fed already.

It's a strange feeling, one that made me giggly and weirded out at the same time. It is all fun and games until a pigeon sits on your head and then it is quickly the most terrifying thing one could imagine.

Those little scratchy claws grasping a fistful of overly gelled hair.

Meh.

Terrifying.

Three years later in college, when I returned to Italy for the second time, I deftly avoided any up close interaction with the winged beasts. My gradually increasing awareness had clued me into just how dirty they were, how everywhere they were.

I also started noticing pigeon feet; horrifically mauled and often mangled looking quads often hopelessly caught up in dental floss and string and other such tanglements.

I spent a lot of time contemplating the universe back then (Read: staring off into the distance while listening to Dave Matthews and holding a bible sized journal). And often that universe involved contemplating the fates of pigeons. How did they survive? How did their feet get so… horrible? Did pigeons cry?

Like I said, pretty profound stuff.

But for as much as I disliked the look of them I was never harsh to them. I just kind of avoided them and shooed them when I could. I certainly didn't chase them throughout he piazza as little kids did, and I certainly didn't try to spit on them as my roommates did.

Side Note:

Proof that the karma is real:

On a trip to Siena my roommate, after chasing and then successfully spitting on a pigeon said aloud "I really want to catch a pigeon." Hours later he was shat upon.

Sometimes the universe works in not so mysterious ways.

It's now a dozen or so years since the first (and hopefully last) time a pigeon sat on my head. I spent less time contemplating them these days, I also don't listen to as much Dave Matthews.

But I walked past the pigeon man again this week. Sitting in Washington Square Park on a beautiful sunny day, pigeons as comfortable around him as if he were made of stone. Without turning my head I looked beneath the corner of my sunglasses and saw a pigeon upside down in his hands, crooked magenta feet sticking in the air.

What is he doing?

My mind of course assumed it was something weird, something strange. I presumed the worst.

It's amazing what we can see, what our minds can absorb in mere seconds.

My eyes focused a bit more clearly and as I strode pastI saw that he was trying to remove string knotted around the pigeon's foot with a nail clipper.

My heart dipped for a moment and a small wave of compassion fell over me for both the man and the pigeon. I wasn't overwhelmed, I didn't cry, but I had one of those moments of clarity where I thought, wow, who does take care of the pigeons?

It made sense why they were sitting on his shoulders and his head. Though it still amazed me that the pigeon trusted him enough to turn him upside down and snip at his foot with a non surgical tool.

Yes it was just a homeless guy and a pigeon but I'm obsessed with metaphor so hear me out.

We spend a lot of time imagining that some people are able to just take care of themselves, I know I've thought that about certain people, and I'm sure some people have thought that about me. But the truth is that even the strongest, even the whateverest among us need some kind of assistance.

Is that groundbreaking? No of course not. But figuring out how to notice who those people are, to pay attention to them, that can be.

Sometimes it's not the how but the what.

Sometimes even something as simple as an upside down pigeon can give us pause…

Can be beautiful.

On The Occasion of My 30th

Dear Mom and Dad

It's weird isn't it? Me turning 30 today.

To be honest I almost can't believe it. While I have spent enough time at every age contemplating my place in the universe, and certainly around the time of my birthdays the last five years, this one seems particularly unbelievable. I have a hard time understanding that I have been alive for 30 years.

I read somewhere an author talking about getting older and how he wasn't just the age he was at that moment he was every age he'd ever been. I like that idea, it helps me cope with the range of childhood emotions that regularly reappear in my day to day life.

But that's not why I am writing you this letter Mom and Dad, to rehash my internal emotions, or to tell you how weird it is to be 30. You both understand that and much more already.

I am writing to say thank you.

I bet it's surreal for you too, seeing me now, almost 11,000 days into my existence, 6 foot 2, living on my own in the city we lived next to our whole lives. Dad can this really be the same toddler who peed on your shirt that first trip to Disney world? Mom is this the same little boy who constantly asked you to bring him a cup of water after you said goodnight to his sister? 

In hindsight perhaps those two incidents were related.

It is weird for sure, being this age, in this body, in this place, with a head full of memories and yet a severe incomprehension of how I actually got here. While there were goals and dreams (and still are) there was no one planned route or guidebook (there still isn't). Of all the things that can go wrong in this world it blows my mind that I, that any of us, make it this far.

Surely I haven't been focused and attentive every minute of every day, taking careful note of where each choice and each decision would lead me. Like highway hypnosis I have maneuvered the vehicle of myself through obstacles and traffic with a sometimes complete unawareness of what I was actually doing.

Somehow I have made it through alright.

At every age I watched as people I grew up with cashed in their chips early.

The kids who started drinking around puberty, drugs in high school, or who chose not to go to college. And perhaps scariest to me, were the ones who managed to avoid all that but inexplicably refused to strive for something more. 

I believe in luck for sure, and I have had my fair share but I think the large majority of the credit is due to you both.

I have this conflict within me of having loved every minute of our family's life and yet I still don't really understand how you did it.

You both worked, sometimes doggedly, to provide for us things you never had and we never could have imagined.

Some people stumble upon good fortune every once and again, it sat with me always, like a golden fleece on my shoulders.

And wasn't because you were able to control every situation and every decision.

Quite the contrary.

It's even more impressive when taken into account how much freedom I always wanted and how much you gave me.

I always told you both that you could trust me but what credibility did I really have? What did I really know? What can anybody know at such a young age?

As I get deeper into early stage adulthood I find myself incredibly paranoid and over-protective over the kids I haven't even started thinking about having.

Between birth and now there have been so many potholes, so many. How did you know which ones to let me avoid and which to let me fall into? Did you really not know either? Was it all on gut instinct? Because there are plenty of people I know whose parents went on gut instinct as well and they didn't end up so good.

Or was there some sort of preparation involved? Was having Dana first the best prep? Did that prepare you for me?

We are similar for sure but different in so many ways. Had we been more similar in who we were I'm sure it would have been easier. But I imagine saying raising one child makes it easier for you to raise another is like saying Sisyphus had it easier the second time.

Because of you I have lived robustly. I have experienced a life I did not know was privileged until much later. I had unique experiences I took at face value but did not dig deeper into the significance of until years later.

We have eaten as a family in the most tropical of places and I have danced alone in the most exotic of piazzas. Both were because of you. You taught me how to operate in a world that had a seemingly endless set of changing rules.

You gave me enough freedom to feel independent but not so much that I could silo myself.

You shaped my world view while allowing me to create my own.

It is both what you did and didn't do that has made my life marvelous. It continues amazes me daily.

There are two times in my life when I have felt unbearably lost.

That time (or times) when I wandered off in the department store as a little boy and when I first started college. Both times you came to find me. The first time you brought me home. The second time you didn't. You let me continue on my own, even though you might have wanted to bring me home.

It took a lot longer but it was worth it.

I'd like to believe it was my college education, or travel, or my creativity, or something germane to my core that has created this life. But none of those things are even a hope without you both.

You asked me on my graduation why I cried when I opened that plane ticket you gave me to go anywhere in the world, the one you had bought with all of your saved up Airline miles. You asked why I cried when I had previously hinted that a ticket to travel somewhere was something I'd want.

It was because you had encouraged and allowed me to spend 4 years thousands of miles from home while you worried and wondered if I would be ok, only upon the eve of my return home to offer me a trip anywhere else in the world. The opportunity to go off again, and do more things for myself.

What could I have possibly done to deserve that? How on earth could some grades (mostly Bs but more Cs that As) and a diploma warrant such an act of selflessness and generosity? 

It's overwhelming, now and always, any time I think about every single thing you gave up and sacrificed so that Dana and I could have. I don't understand it.

Part of me wonders if it is because you were raised in a different climate, in a different time, but I also wonder if you both haven't been wiser than I am at my age.

I remember almost everything you told me, even if there were years in the middle where I seemed to forget or tried hard to ignore. Those lessons you taught they all mattered, it just wasn't always time to understand them yet.

I wonder how I got so l lucky. It certainly wasn't of my own doing. And I don't know if I believe in Dharma either because that would mean that I was still responsible for my good fortune based on my actions in a past life. And I don't think any actions could warrant such fortune.

Though now that I write that, I know that yours do.

Did you worry about who'd I become as I grew up? What I would like? Who I would befriend? Or did you always have an idea?

I absolutely cannot fathom what it feels like to have children who are now the age you are when you yourselves started having children.

I am aware that every generation at every age feels, for at least a little while, that they are experiencing feelings and emotions for the first time in history. I am also aware that there are traits and characteristics of yours that I don't remember consciously inheriting. They just suddenly appeared one day without my effort or attention, like how one gives no second thought to sitting down in a chair that suddenly engulfs them.

It is one of the saddest scariest and most beautiful traits of our universe that life moves only forward, which is to say that the only true way to express gratitude for the past is to nurture the future.

It's safe to say that I don't know if I would have a life as fractionally filled with wonder if I had any other parents. 

I have spent much time thinking about my life, our family, my first 30 years and I have still been left utterly useless when trying to explain my good fortune. And in the absence of understanding I am indeed left with gratitude, a gratitude so significant and present that I lay with it in bed every night as I nod off.

So on the occasion of my 30th I say thank you, for all of the times I forgot to say it or was too proud to, for all of the in between moments I never knew about but am still learning from, and for all that I will never know but will always benefit from…

Thank you.

Love always,

Richard 

Before the Sun Sets

Now before I tell you the story of how I got lost in the neighborhood that I've lived in for the last five years, I would like to say that even though I am proficient with directions… I sometimes struggle with angled streets.

Any time I have ever been significantly hopelessly lost it has almost always been due to an angled street. I don't mean some kind of slope where I'm literally leaning to one side, I speak of those streets in grid like cities that go just slightly on an angle so that enough time spent traversing it takes you to a place much farther than you anticipated.

New York City is about 80 percent grid and 20 percent slanted-kind-of-grid. From 14th street up everything makes sense. Below 14th street requires actual thought. The first time I really noticed this was in my early 20s.

I was walking around the West Village with a friend. We had a great dinner on a street I had never been on and then walked around for a while just chatting about life and soaking in the city, paying no particular attention to where we were meandering to.

After what seemed like hours of walking on the west side of Manhattan I was surprised to find us facing the East River. When I said that out loud (which is usually where I get into trouble, verbalizing my thoughts) my friend stopped walking, turned to me and said:

Richard… that's the Hudson, we're still in the West Village.

Oh.

I would like to say that from that point on I developed a firm and solid understanding of how to navigate the West Village, but that is not the case.

Not even close.

Not too long after that I was in the West Village after working the door in freezing cold weather for a charity event at a lounge and was meeting my male friend at a gay bar so he could introduce me to his straight female friend who was making out with a different straight guy when I got there.

This was not my ideal situation.

I had consumed several drinks before I got there and after I arrived, I had a few more.

By the time I left the bar I walked in what I thought was the direction was the subway.

Twenty minutes later I finally found the train, which was a shame because the entrance to the subway was around the corner from the bar. But angled streets and alcohol are a horrible combination.

Somebody should put that on a bumper sticker.

Anyway, my point is I have struggled with angled streets even in familiar places.

So a couple of months ago on one of thise beautiful early spring days where the weather is finally hoverin around tolerable, I decided to take a walk to a different part of my neighborhood in Queens. I almost always walk west, and the several times I travelled south I never ventured more than a few blocks.

This time, determined to see parts of my city I'd never seen, I left my phone at home, grabbed my iPod and just started walking south.

I walked along that road for about 20 minutes or so.

It was a very pleasant walk through a very suburban part of town that I had never traversed before. I was listening to a series of TED talk pod casts trying to get smarter as I soaked up the sun.

Upon coming to a main thoroughfare I made a right turn and walked for another 20 minutes.

I had "discovered" a nice thriving town under an elevated train. There were shops and restaurants and it was like being a visitor in my own city.

I thought if I just made another right and walked for 20 more minutes I would find myself parallel to my starting point.

And theoretically this would have been right had I turned on to a street that was a straight line and not a 45 degree angle pointing away from my apartment.

Forty five minutes later I'm in Jamaica Queens on a street that I know the name of but have NO clue where it goes. I have a hunch on what directions are east and west but I'm not so sure as to actually test my hunch.

A good sign that you are lost is when you end up on an overpass you don't recognize over a highway you don't know.

I was aware that I looked out of place. The guy standing on the overpass looking from side to side and turning around in circles is either a drug dealer or an idiot.

I was the latter.

Still, I refused to ask for directions. Not that anybody would have judged me. It's not like I was going to start out by saying:

Hi, I've lived here for 5 years and I make really poor decisions, do you know where I live?

I was just too proud. It's one thing to not know your neighborhood, but to publicly admit and verbalize such a fact, my porcelain ego couldn't sustain such a blow.

I pretended to be killing time, hanging out, just being a guy on the corner while still trying to formulate a hypothesis on where the hell I actually was.

I took a guess and started walking what I thought was west.

I eventually found a building I recognized in the distance and meandered my way towards it.

I kept running into dead ends but when I found the cemetery (usually not a good sign) I knew I was at least close-ish.

The funny thing is buildings in the distance are much farther than they appear. My  entire walk took about an hour longer than I would have liked.

But it was thrilling, an experience, a memory that would energize me and remind me how easy it is to lose my way and prevent me from making a similar mistake in the future.

Except of course, that 4 months later I would find myself in the same situation lost and standing next to a busy overpass Ina bad neighborhood in Seattle.

But that's a story for another day.

Before The Sun Rises

I don't often leave my house before the sun rises. My regular life does not require it. On the occasions that I do though, in addition to the unshakeable feeling of sleepiness I also get an incredible sensation of adventure and a memory of a quenched wanderlust.

It seems dramatic, no?

Perhaps it is, perhaps it's a bit too severe a description to describe an early morning. But it's the truth.

It all traces back to my days in my early 20s as a single backpacker traipsing the streets of Western Europe, Australia and South America.

I didn't have a smartphone or a familiarity with any of these countries beyond what I'd read in my Lonely Planet guide. And so I'd read up as best I could before setting out on foot into cities I had dreamt for years about visiting.

What I felt was completely new to me. 

It was the feeling of walking unfamiliar streets before the sun rose after emerging from an overnight bus or train ride.

Hungry, unshowered and with 20 pounds of my stuff on my back I felt adventurous, excited and scared and with a profound sense of purpose:

Find my hostel.

It wasn't a journey of great gravitas, looking for a hostel to check into, but it was one of singular focus. I had a goal and a map and only myself (and the frequent help of strangers) to count on.

Traveling to multiple countries during one trip the process would replicate itself every couple of days and that's when familiarities would make themselves apparent.

Cities are different before the sun rises. They are not lively things by nature, the life comes to them, out of doors, onto streets, tracing it, criss-crossing it, covering it. Before all that happens, before the footsteps and tires, before the tourists and suits, before a million pulses combine to form one, cities are just themselves.

Their potholes are sites and not sounds. Their parks are empty. Shadows don't move as quickly if at all.

The smell is new, singular, less a ravaging mixture of foods and exhausts and more a palate upon which everything else adheres.

Cool morning air makes things feel alive, smacking of possibility and promise.

Freshly hosed down sidewalks and streets let you hear the "squish squish" of your own footsteps, drops flying off the backs of your heels and hitting the backs of your legs to remind you how fresh everything is.

The smell, the look, the feel, it's all original. It's all new. And for me, then, it was entirely unfamiliar.

It is those thoughts that I think of on early mornings before the sun rises in New York City. I may be only steps from the subway on my way to a routine destination but I feel like I just walked out of a train station in Vienna, or Zagreb, or Santiago.

I was as ambitious as my strictly budgeted trip would allow. I craved adventure and feared confusion. For those reasons, I'd walk almost everywhere a city permitted. For as brave as I was to experience new cultures I was terrified of embarrassing interactions, of being branded a tourist, an American.

So with a backpack the size of a toddler containing everything I'd need for the trip, I'd walk. My travels were always in summer and backpack shaped sweat stains would quickly soak their way into my shirts as I'd huffed it over cobblestones and up hills.

Nobody thought I was a local. I was too green looking. Too out of place.

I marched on, getting a little bit lost, getting hopelessly lost, and sometimes stopping out of sheer exhaustion or pain.

I'm creating a story I'd tell myself. Even at the lowest scariest moments I was creating a story.

After all, I was thousands of miles from home, from anything I knew. I'd made it this far. I'd traveled an incredible distance to be then at that moment, I'd make it a little bit farther even if I didn't know how.

Even if I was hopelessly lost.

It goes without saying that we don't have to be lost anymore. Lost is not a place or an experience, it's a moment, a flash, a fleeting thought followed by resolution.

And I think about that, all the time. When I travel now in my own city or another. That the experience of knowing a city, of learning it, of knowing oneself through the mistakes made while navigating feels diluted.

That feeling makes me feel so grateful that I had the chance to travel the way I did, when I did. That I had the chance to get really lost, that I had to navigate complicated cities from maps the size of a credit card in a book the size of a bible. That I didn't have a single button on me that would tell me where I was or how to get anywhere. That fear and insecurity were so present while I traveled and that I tamped them down out of sheer will and desire to make myself into some worldly individual who had been, and seen, and done.

All of that, all of those emotions, all of those things that sit with such significant weight in my past, with impressive weight composed of my own pride, all of that surfaces now and again does battle with my gratitude.

But that same feeling of gratitude does not fully replace the craving that pops up now and again to get lost, the chance to feel that excitement I didn't know how to name when it was mine to experience.

I even seek out opportunities to manifest that feeling if I can.

And this is why several times this year I found myself almost hopelessly lost in major cities on either side of the country, including once in my own neighborhood roughly a mile from my apartment.

To Be Continued...

National Sticker Agency

I am well aware that the individuals who work at grocery store checkout counters and control our airports and borders have little in common except for the fact that neither make the rules that get enforced at their respective locations.

This I know.

I am also aware that a mix of both earnest hardworking Americans, and slightly less than earnest hardworking Americans work at these locations.

But regardless of either of these things, it blows my mind the massive oversights that occur when rules are put in place.

It all started with a banana.

I like bananas. And when I'm traveling they make a good breakfast to keep in the room because they are cheap, filling and they travel decently well.

So the day before I was going to leave Vancouver on a train to Seattle, I went to the grocery store to grab some food to eat on my 4.5 hour train ride.

Going 4.5 hours without food is not a big deal for most people, but I'm a child, and I need to eat every 2 hours otherwise my eyes glaze over and I turn into a slightly less aggressive version of the Incredible Hulk, kind of a More Significant Than Average Gangly... or something.

I decided to shop for my groceries around the corner from the apartment I was staying at. Just three blocks away there was a discount grocery store.

Which I will admit made me a little bit nervous that I was wandering into the island of misfit toys. Like I was going to find half empty boxes of cereal and cartons of MELK. However I will also note that my family regularly patronized the Entenmann's Outlet near our home in Long Island where soon to be expired cakes and pastries were sold, and I tell you, there was nothing wrong with that place.

Anyway, I digress.

So I went in and was pleasantly surprised at the selection of pretty healthy looking groceries. I grabbed a banana, a grapefruit, some bread and jam and a granola bar to eat on the train.

I get up to the counter and I swipe my credit card and the woman said something I didn't understand before she said it again

MasterCard?

No, visa. 

We don't' accept visa.

And I had a momentary brain freeze where I couldn't process what she said.

For years I have watched commercials for MasterCard and Visa and wondered why there were 2 different kinds of cards since every place I had ever been accepted both. 

Visa’s slogan was especially memorable:

“Everywhere you want to be.”

After my brain defrosted I was filled with a tiny rage.

Well god damn it I want to be in this discount grocery store in Vancouver right now! Never, in my 10 years of having a credit card had I been to a location at home or in 20+ countries abroad where I was told that Visa was not accepted.

I took a crazy shot and asked my new checkout nemesis if she accepted American Express?

She did not.

I kind of turned into a cranky baby at this point and said, “Well those are the only things I have.”

And I left my food on the conveyor belt and stormed out.

Not really stormed, more like just walked normally. But I felt stormy.

Seeing as I made no traction at the discount grocery store, I went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and stopped by the Whole Foods later that night.

This time I picked up some blueberries, a banana, and an apple. I managed to get the one banana not connected to his siblings.

It was more expensive I’m sure but I was still so angry at discount grocery store that I didn’t even care.

That night I washed my apple, and blueberries, took off all the stickers, and prepped it all so it would be ready to eat with no trash. I felt so responsible. I felt like I was some kind of forethought genius.

Cut to the next morning when I’m checking into my train. I get my ticket, clear customs, and am putting my bags through the metal detector. 

The metal detector man stops me after I go through the metal detector, points at my fruit and says:

Do you have a sticker?

Thinking he's talking about some sticker I had to get from customs to bring 3 pieces of fruit on the train, I started fumbling for my passport. Did I really need certification to eat fruit on the train? It wasn't like I was dragging a wagon full of tangelos.

He continued:

The sticker, where is the sticker on the fruit?

Oh, I took it off.

You can't take it on the train if it doesn't have a sticker.

But I just took it off?! (I whined)

Throw it out.

And I had to put my apple, and my banana, into the trash.

Had I been thinking clearly I might have asked if I could just eat the banana right then and there but my mind was so filled with grown up rage that the only thing determining whether or not this banana and apple set were acceptable was A STICKER!

Apparently Lisa Frank is in charge of border control now.

(That's an elementary school reference to the manufacturer of most childhood sticker which if you don't understand, I don't blame you.)

I was so angry for so many reasons that I started speed eating my blueberries on the train fearing that some other Fruit Gestapo would commandeer my hard fought overpriced fruit.

I had so many questions. What kind of sticker determined the fruit was fruit? What if I just had a separate plastic bag of blueberries, would they have been ok since each individual blueberry didn’t have a sticker? Did the stickers actually get scanned?

But mainly I was just raging, mainly because Visa wasn’t everywhere I wanted to be, and neither was my fruit.

Canada Is So Canadian

America has a penchant for believing itself to be the best.

I don't know when this officially started but it's too late to stop now because the odds that we are suddenly going to be OK with second place are nonexistent.

New Yorkers themselves have a reputations for being some of the loudest most verbal best-believeing-selves out there.

I mean the song doesn't go;

If I can make it here I'll make it, nearly anywhere else because there are some challenging places out there, am I right?

Regardless of whether or not any of this is true in actuality (as much as you can actually claim a region of a country to be the best at anything except maybe... the Olympics, and even then it's not necessarily fair because not everyone in america likes running or... being in shape) it's an opinion that is held by many people in the Big Apple.

Sometimes we aren't the best though. Sometimes things don't work. But it's all woven into our attitude.

 Part of this attitude is what we might call a brusk courtesy, that is to say, a fast pace which many can take as rude. This comes in the form of signs that tell you things are broken, closed or otherwise not functioning.

There is perhaps no feeling more frustrating than waiting for a train for what seems like years (20 minutes) and finally seeing one come down the track only to see that it is a construction train hauling trash to... wherever it is going.

The same goes for buses. It's a bit easier to see with buses since they approach slower and there is a big lit sign on the top that says

Out of Service.

It's a common occurrence.

Never mind the fact that as an infrequent bus-rider I find myself wondering, 

If that bus is passing us, would it be that hard just to pick us up on the way?

But let's ignore that for now.

The message is plain and simple. This bus is out of service. Take it our leave it.

So I was incredibly warmed and delighted on a recent trip to Vancouver when I saw a bus coming down the street that had just one word on it's lit sign.

Sorry

My eyes bugged out of my head but quickly returned after seeing the next line of the message flash.

Out of service.

I laughed aloud. They were apologizing for being out of service. Not that they had any reason too. But it was just such a wonderfully canadian thing to do.

Oh jeez, this is a bummer ey?

I absolutely adored it.

It was a similar sentiment to the one I experience on my flight up to Vancouver on a Canadian Airline when the TV of the passenger next to me stopped working. The TV went black, and nothing drives a person on an airplane crazier than in flight entertainment that ain't working.

Of course the people next to me were Canadian so when they called the flight attendant over to express their concern the conversation went like this:

Passenger: Excuse me, my daughter's screen isn't working

Attendant: Oh no, did you try the brightness?

Passenger: Yep.

Attendant: oh unfortunately there's not much we can do in the way of trouble shooting. That's a real bummer ey?

Passenger: Oh that's ok we'll just share earbuds.

I swear to you that is exactly how it went. 

What was so great was that the flight attendant was just as upset that the TV wasn't working. It wasn't a

Sorry nothing we can do.

With attitude and exasperation. No it was kind of a, oh that' sucks, wouldn't it be great if we could fix it? Yea, we can't though.

It was an attitude that was so infectious that by the end of my 4 day trip, I was starting to talk like a canadian.

Specifically in my conversation with my bus driver. 

Has been there a lot of growth in this part of town ey?

The open ended-ness of the speech is kind of wonderful. And I know why. It leaves open the opportunity to connect. It's not just, period, end of sentence. But a way for somebody else to contribute, to be involved, to respond.

The conversation is kind of always ongoing, nothing is ever 100% final, even if that means it's not the best.

And that's a big shift for me coming from New York where every single pizza, cup of coffee and burger in the city is THE BEST MOST WORLD FAMOUS IN THE FAMOUS WORLD.

It actually makes me angry a lot of the time.

Because I have anger issues.

I feel like there should be some kind of regulation. You can't call yourself the best unless some sanctioned body like Zagat or Popular Mechanics deems it so. You shouldn't be able to call yourself the best just because some Jacknut on Yelp really likes you.

Already in love with the people, the mentality and the way of life, not to mention coming into the country with an all out addiction to ice cream in general, I was walking along the water one day after lunch looking for a sweet treat when I saw this absolutely brilliant advertisement.

It's not definitive, it's not aggressive, it's just passionately optimistic.

And ya know what, if somebody called them out on it I wouldn't be surprised to know that they changed the sign to read.

Sorry, turns out we're not the best. Still tasty though!