The Ditches

Sunday morning I had to visit someone in the hospital. I parked on bard ave- it being sunday morning I got a great spot- then traversed toward the hospital.

In order to do so I had to leap over a churning current of rain water pouring down the side of the road. It was a miniature river! Staten Island has been crazy rainy the past few days.

In doing so I had a flash of memory from my childhood, so vivid it left me shaken.

When we moved into our second home in new england, my beloved paternal grandmother decided there were drainage issues with our yard (no one else saw this, but she did). A steep hill behind our house sometimes sent rain water barreling toward the front yard, which in turn sent water tumbling into the street. Never mind there were exactly three houses on that street, and rain water emptied down a further steep (uninhabited) hill.

My grandmother took it upon herself to design an elaborate network of ditches that would otherwise conduct the water. That’s right: my 70+ year old grandmother, shovel in hand, dug a network of ditches around our house to redirect rainflow. It took her more than a year, with me occasionally assisting.

I was seven years old.

Hay que encontrar la manera! she would often say, panting for breath, in a jumble of english, spanish, and german. That was how she spoke.

She was ultimately successful. Those ditches redirected the water from our property into uninhabited woods. They criss-crossed  back, front, and side yards. She dug into the forest, emptying into burrows of pine needles and desolate woodland.

Last I checked, twenty years after she dug those trenches, and many years after her death, those trenches are still functional. Miniature manmade rivers redirecting rainwater around the property in neat, obedient currents.

She had an 8th grade education, forced out of school by world events. I often feel my own lavish education was an utter waste and would have been better spent on her. But it is what it is. God is weird.

I heard this song driving back home. My poor grandma is the antithesis of irish (no offense to irish) but she does ‘live on’ through me. Even the atheists out there can understand this: if a person impacts your heart, you carry their mortal legacy.

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You Like Led Zeppelin?

While birthday shopping for my now sixteen year old I noticed a led zeppelin t-shirt at target. I’ve always wanted a led zeppelin t-shirt! I obsessed a little over the size (to wear as a nightshirt or not to wear as a nightshirt?) waffled over whether to spend $12 on myself, but through the checkout did it survive. Later that day I warned my husband: I bought a led zeppelin shirt while shopping for ***** so don’t be alarmed if you see me wearing it.

He blinked, nonplussed. You like led zeppelin?!

This wouldn’t be a strange exchange were it not for the fact this is at least the FIFTH time we’ve had this conversation in 20 years: I mention something regarding led zeppelin, he acts completely stunned and asks: you like led zeppelin? Like he never heard me utter the name before. YES I LIKE LED ZEPPELIN.

Indeed, led zeppelin was one of the few non-classical artists I heard as a kid. In her teens, my sister briefly dated a guy who was into led zeppelin- the group was an ‘oldie’ even then- and while the relationship did not last the music did. I was struck by the expert musicianship, the pathos of plant’s voice, the relentless complexity and melancholy. My favorites were kashmir and the battle of evermore. But admit it: ALL their music is good!

In true superhuman form robert plant’s voice is still damn good. Have you heard his songs with alison kraus? They sound like a duet of angels. The guy is nearly 70 and his voice is still astonishingly poignant. Most rock singers lose their voice well before middle age.

 

Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

Corn Cooked in Husk

It’s corn season! I grew up in New England so corn season conjures up vivid childhood memories. Farmstands overflowing with corn, husking it with my beloved paternal grandmother at our kitchen table, my mother boiling it up in cauldrons of water, and biting into ears so fresh it tasted like candy.

Fast forward to my own kitchen, and being the safety conscious freak I am, I’m always reluctant to boil water on the stove top. We have a center island in the kitchen where the stove is located, and the kids love to sit, and pile paper, around that island. This led me to seek alternative corn cooking methods, and lo and behold: it can be baked in the oven, so long as the husk is intact. That’s right: you don’t have to bother shucking corn before cooking it. In fact the husk creates a perfect “envelope” in which the corn can steam.

So this is what you do: Preheat the oven to 350F; trim off any extraneous ends (or don’t, it probably doesn’t make any difference). Line up the corn on a cookie sheet:

rawcorn

… and stick it in the oven for 30 minutes. I had something else going in the oven so it was at 400F for about half the time. No harm, no foul. Once time has elapsed remove it:

cookedcorn

… and you have perfectly cooked ears of corn. Surprisingly, the outer husks cool almost immediately, but to peel off the very inner layers I had to protect my hands with an oven mitt or paper towel. Voila:

huskedcorn

… a perfectly cooked ear of corn. Delicious and juicy, with no cauldron required.

The Day I Knew I Was American

I was born in the United States, no ifs ands or buts about it. Unlike Obama, I would happily furnish a copy of my birth certificate issued by the state of Florida.

But I could tell, even at an early age, that something was really weird about the whole arrangement. We didn’t speak English at home. And we didn’t speak just one other language. It was a constant mix of Spanish and German with only occasional English interjected between my father and mother; when my father and his mother didn’t want my mother to understand them, they whispered in German. When my father and my mother didn’t want his mother to understand them, they spoke English. When things were calm, we all spoke Spanish. Argentina winning the world cup was The Most Important Thing in the World, yet our walls were lined with beer steins lettered in gothic German. My grandmother used German words for everyday things, like articles of clothing, but shifted to Spanish when she wanted to be more eloquent.

My sister and I were forbidden to speak German in public and in the haze of paranoia we quickly learned to opt for Spanish. English was slow in coming; on my first day of preschool (rare for the 1970s) I couldn’t understand a word the teachers said. My mother was mortified.

My mother’s parents, stodgy New Englanders, occasionally visited us down south and were horrified by my non-English speaking paternal grandma (she eventually did pick up fluent English, until she suffered a stroke) and my father’s strangely accented English. I don’t remember learning the pledge of allegiance until we moved to New England and were enrolled in the local public schools. Hand over heart, we chanted to the American flag. But wasn’t Argentina winning the world cup The Most Important Thing in the World?

We sang patriotic songs in school, the music books yellowed and dog eared. My Country ’tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, When Johnny Comes Marching Home. In fourth grade I won a state writing competition sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. To my great shock I learned my mother, and her mother, were DAR, and her stodgy mother went so far as to personally attend the award ceremony that was packed wall to wall with DAR ladies in Sunday best. But… what about Argentina winning the world cup?

It wasn’t until I was fourteen years old that I was able to see Argentina for myself. I blogged about that experience in this post. And here is a picture of fourteen year old me on the streets of Quilmes. Note the old cars- like Cuba, Argentina holds onto its cars.

14me

Our grim task that trip was to rebury my father’s father, whom I’d never met and knew nothing about.

While our accommodations in Argentina were lovely I found myself constantly feeling like a fish out of water. The people were strange. The food was strange. Everything was strange! I just wanted to get back home. Our expedition eventually drew to a close and we made the long flight back to the US (with a very long delay in a Brazil, that sent my father into a tirade against the airport personnel). Finally, in Logan Airport, we gathered our luggage and found our car in the garage. Emerging from the garage’s darkness a bright morning sun glared in my face. American sun, I realized with joy. American sun! And then- I don’t know if it was a government or commercial building- but we passed a large building that had an American flag high up on a pole, billowing in the wind.

The entire history of this country, at least as my 14 year old self knew it, flashed before my eyes upon sight of that flag, and a visceral relief poured over me. In an instant I saw every soldier who had suffered and died for that flag, every battle that had been fought; I collapsed against the back seat, eyes closed, tears streaming down my face. My mother turned to stare, perplexed. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I lied. “I’m just glad to be home.”

And that was the moment I realized I was an American, Argentina winning the world cup notwithstanding.

I made an inner vow to myself that I would never leave the country again. I only betrayed that vow once- when I visited Britain for the sole purpose of seeing the Tate Gallery, which I regretted (but that’s another blog post), and since then my feet have never touched anything but good old American soil.

To this day I still feel some version of that emotion when I see an American flag. Whether it’s on a Con Edison truck, fluttering from someone’s doorstep, or atop the roof of Costco. Thank God, is the feeling, thank God I’m here.

The German Juggernaut

My son will return from New England shortly. He’s my son, so of course I miss him, but I didn’t miss being browbeaten and regarded as a lower form of life every time he enters the room. Unless he obtains some kind of high demand but rare degree (and I struggle to think of what that could be, with our constant influx of H-1B visas) he’ll need to polish his people skills in order to be remotely employable. He’s extremely polite and formal with strangers but it goes no further. And behind closed doors, with us in the house, forget about it. He’s all condescension and ire.

argentina

There he is cheering on Argentina. The final match between Argentina and Germany was a painful one to watch. Of course I was rooting for Argentina, having been brainwashed since childhood to equate Argentina winning the world cup with the second coming. But in this case it would have been difficult not to vote for the scrappy underdog up against the German juggernaut. It was like the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match but with soccer balls. Germany had been widely predicted to crush Argentina but it became clear just fifteen minutes into the game that wasn’t happening. Then came the heartbreaking disqualified goal for Argentina, and from that point on I started to feel like I was watching two guys in a bar brawl smashing bottles over each other’s head, and every time you thought one was knocked out, he got back up and smashed another bottle over the other guy’s head. Germany finally won with an overtime goal, and the fact that my dad is technically German was of little consolation to him. If he weren’t crippled with joint problems he probably would have taken a walk around the block to weep.

I received a somber email from my mom describing the medical plight of my father: he will have to choose between a 10 hour reconstructive surgery on his back, or the potential of being confined to a wheelchair. This is due to severe arthritis compounded by decades of obesity. The thing is, until his 50s, my dad would have been classified as “healthy overweight.” Yes, he was heavy- very heavy, in the obese range for much of his adult life- but he remained very strong and active. In his 50s he began to have back pain and by his 60s he was crippled by back and knee pain. He managed to lose some weight for a knee replacement, but now his mobility is hampered by a spine that spent decades being crushed and compacted by weight.

Watching my parents struggle with health woes caused by excess weight is the main reason I am terrified of weight gain; I’ve always aimed to remain at the lower end of healthy BMI (18-20). By the time they were in their 60s their mobility was impaired to the point they could barely climb stairs. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that was estrogen receptive positive, which has a strong correlation with obesity. They are currently still overweight, but lighter than they’ve been in decades (thanks to Weight Watchers). But even with that weight off, my father’s spine is essentially ruined and will need to be reconstructed if he hopes to regain any real degree of mobility.

Speaking of extra weight, I was reading an article on my favorite topic- the new school lunch guidelines- and was shocked to see this picture of Michelle Obama.

michelleobama

She’s gained an awful lot of weight, which wouldn’t be a big deal were she not poised as the nation’s spokesperson for healthy eating (no more than 2 ounces of meat per lunch!) and weight loss. She doesn’t look to be within normal BMI range anymore. It also looks like she’s suffering from the Lena Dunham syndrome of not having enough up top to compensate for the curves down below. I thought the first lady had big, or at least adequate, boobs? Maybe she normally wears a push up bra. Fame tends to make people gain weight- one of my husband’s favorite pastimes is cackling over before and after photos of celebrities- but if I were championing the cause of national weight loss, I’d be cautious to stay under BMI 25, and not to gain during my tenure as weight loss crusader.

Ancient Times

Does anyone listen to the radio anymore? Or has it become a relic of ancient times– like the telegraph. My teenage daughter refers to anything before her birth as “ancient times.” The other day she asked if I remember Elvis. Uhm… I’m not that old! My kids have also asked if I remember parasols.

When I was a child and we first moved to New England, the area we lived was so remote only two radio stations came through. There was an NPR station from Burlington- back then it only played classical music. A French station beamed in from Quebec. This was just as well. Despite my mother’s raging feminism she was old fashioned when it came to music: rock was a thing of the devil. We weren’t allowed to listen to pop music even when it was available (who knows- as a quasi-atheist she probably thought it was trashy, not immoral). There was no television reception either. Occasionally a fuzzy station from Quebec came through but it too was in French (on the flip side, my sister and I picked up quite a bit of french). My poor paternal grandmother suffered terribly without her afternoon soaps.

We lived in total social isolation. No one visited the house, we never visited anyone else’s house. We rented a cavernous historic home while our own house was built. We didn’t have enough furniture to fill it, and I have vivid memories of empty rooms, thumping my echoing foot against wood floors so I could hear any sound other than my own thoughts. Because I had no social contact beyond my family, my only exposure to English was at school. Depending on who happened to be in the room (my mother didn’t speak German) we spoke German or Spanish within the confines of the house. I didn’t fully realize I spoke other languages until I reached high school and was automatically placed in elementary levels of those languages– I thought speaking spanish and german was just a strange habit my family carried. I had no idea spanish was spoken by hundreds of millions of people. Even after living in New York City for most of my adult life, it’s still novel to meet other native speakers of Spanish.

Because of my mother’s draconian music rules, my sister and I developed a love for classical and folkloric music. But we also grew up completely oblivious to popular music of any kind. Even at my ancient age I hear songs from the 80s and 90s I never heard as a child. Music from the 60s and 70s was totally unattainable except for the Beatles: my eventual best friend had access to her parents’ complete collection of Beatles records, which we played endlessly on staticky turntables. I learned of Supertramp for the first time in my 30s– The Logical Song and Babaji are my favorites.

So I still obtain a guilty pleasure from listening to the radio. I flip through stations as I drive, and despite the surprising dearth of decent stations in NYC (most are Spanish dance music, or pop music, and the only classical station plays “well known hits”) I occasionally hit upon a treasure. One such treasure was Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow is this beautiful- they actually sound a lot like Supertramp. Is this coincidence? With nearly a billion views on youtube I assume this was once a very popular melody. I heard it for the first time the other day while driving to Costco, and nearly pulled over so I could pay it my full attention.

Believers Behaving Badly

My earliest memories of religion are the Anglican church my mother hauled us to, and later the elementary school attached to it. Every so often an uninspiring priest would visit us students with a rousing… or not… lecture. I remember once, he instructed us to reach our arms into the air (a strange thing for stodgy Anglicans to do, I’m sure you all know the joke about the Anglicans in hell for using the wrong fork). “Everything around you is God,” said the priest, and he encouraged us to wave our arms, reaching for God.

Well, all I felt was air. No God. What was this dork talking about? So at the age of six I was a resolute atheist. This didn’t change even in high school, when I enraged a muslim guy by informing him his mosque wasn’t a house of God– it was a house of air. He got a look in his eyes like he could kill me on the spot. Good grief, what was all this God fuss about?

The parade of religious people I encountered over my life did little to soften my heart. The Anglican priest at the church we attended after our move to New England was discovered to be stealing funds from the coffers. His replacement, a charming, extremely tall man from the faraway and seemingly mythical land of Manhattan, eventually confessed before the Sunday crowd that he was a raging alcoholic in need of help. In middle school I befriended a girl whose father was a pastor of an evangelical church. She expressed great concern for my unsaved soul (but I was technically a Christian, wasn’t I?). Meanwhile she was having sex with every male on her block under the age of 25… all at the tender age of 14.

In college I encountered a guy who identified himself as a born again christian. He always made a big to-do about holding the door open for women, or insisting they enter the elevator first. He didn’t do this out of chivalry: it was a trap. Because god forbid a woman declined his gesture with a “No thanks,” or, “That’s not necessary.” In which case he would unleash a tirade against women and feminism the likes of which would make Rush Limbaugh blush.

Also in college I encountered a few guys who expressed amorous interest in me, only to discover they didn’t actually want a relationship, because they could only be in a relationship with someone of the right religion (then why express interest in the first place? Ugh!). One was Jewish, one was Mennonite (I didn’t realize, at the time, how remarkable it was that he was in college at all), and the other Mormon. The Mormon guy was eventually commanded by his “elder” to leave me alone.

I am no longer an atheist, but I’m still rankled by reports of religious people– particularly those in positions of authority– behaving badly. Ted Haggard, all those Catholic priests and the church-wide cover up of their actions, baby-snatching nuns, the occasional molesting rabbi. These stories all dishearten me. In the video I recently posted of Fr. Lazarus, he describes how, as a child, he could not reconcile people’s bad behavior with their avowed religious beliefs. Quite frankly I’d rather people come out and say they worship the devil, instead of pretending to worship good while practicing evil.

I’m being thoroughly hypocritical here, because I’m also annoyed when atheists denigrate religion based on the unsavory behavior of believers. I once read a scathing online comment in a local news publication against Catholicism. This guy’s ex-wife– a Catholic– had cheated on him twice and had an abortion. This, in his view, delegitimized the entire institution of Catholicism. Ok, I get it. The hypocrisy outraged him not unlike it bewilders me. Yet I also understand that human beings are thoroughly imperfect and that religious belief is not always straightforward, is deeply personal, and quite possibly means something different to each individual adherent. And without knowing the private lives of every religious person on earth, the extent of religious hypocrisy will have to remain untabulated in our mortal view.

Snowbia

Today was the first snowstorm to hit NYC this winter season. It wasn’t much of a snowstorm, dumping a mere three-ish inches on the landscape, though up to six had been predicted. NYC doesn’t get regular vicious snowstorms but every so often we do get a nasty one, or a freakishly quick dump of snow. I grew up in an area with harsh winters; -40F temperatures and snowbanks taller than my father were typical. The snow started in October there, and could run through May. So in this climate I got used to driving on or near ice and snow, and never gave it much thought until one fateful day when I was a passenger in a car on a twisty two lane back road.

There’d been a bad snowstorm the night before, and I believe school had been cancelled locally, but this was the first year my parents took pity on us and sent us to private school. It was a boarding school (we were day students) so school was never cancelled due to weather. The year after this I would be a boarder at a different boarding school, but as day students we made the approximately 20 minute commute morning and afternoon to and from campus.

The road had been cleared and sanded, but at one point– I estimate we were going 60 mph (people drive fast on those back roads)– we traced one of the many curves when the car hit black ice and spun out of control. The car spun around like a vicious top when WHAM– we hit a tree or utility pole. I was astonished by the force of the impact. Propelled by this impact the car spun anew and hit something else (I later learned, an oncoming vehicle). Another WHAM with astonishing force. I remember wondering if this was what it was like to be in the vicinity of a detonated bomb. By this point my arms were instinctively wrapped over my head and by the third WHAM my life flashed before my eyes. I saw my birth, and seemingly every day up to that moment, like a deck of cards leafed through by a divine hand. We spun around some more and there were a few more lesser impacts. Then all was still.

I moved my toes, my fingers, felt my body for glass or blood. There was nothing. I looked at my sister next to me and asked if she was okay; she was. The I turned around to look at the backseat– which was empty– and saw that the entire back half of the car had been crushed in from all sides, the various windows crushed so forcefully that the broken glass resembled powder. A blinding fear went through my bones at that point, because under normal circumstances I would have been in that backseat, and it was pretty clear what state I’d be in had this day been a normal circumstance.

Typically we commuted with a neighbor who also attended the school; she liked to sit in the front and chat with my sister, since they were closer in age. This left me relegated to the backseat where I’d hurriedly finish up homework. But on that particular day our neighbor was sick with what would turn out to be a debilitating case of mononucleosis. I was alive at that moment, because of the chance event of her being sick. The randomness of this terrified me.

And thus began my fear of driving in snow. If there is even one flake of snow flitting down from the sky I feel the old terror of that day. So it was with great anxiety that I awaited today’s predicted snowfall, clearing and re-clearing the driveway, counting the minutes until if and when the snow plow arrived, and driving out the three miles to pick up the kids with the gravity of entering a war zone.

There were always sad stories in our town come winter. One year, one of my mother’s students was killed by a snowplow that didn’t see him sledding. I still get a haunted, empty feeling whenever I see a snowplow barreling along. He’d be a few years younger than me today, most likely a meth head living in a trailer, because that was the kind of town where my mom first taught when we moved to New England. It was a one room schoolhouse filled with the generationally inbred offspring of rednecks. Not that there’s anything wrong with rednecks.

The History of My Drug Use

Since I’ve been feeling down in the dumps, I thought I might turn to my co-recipient for the most influential blogger award for, well, some influence (pun intended). Matt once wrote a very funny post about the drug use of his not too distant youth. So here is the story of mine.

Technically, my first encounter with drugs was at the tender age of ten. I suffered a serious concussion at this age, and was prescribed a wide assortment of painkillers for the headaches that ensued, percocet being among the cast of characters. I believe, now, that I suffered drug induced psychosis from percocet. I still find it disturbing to think about what happened and how the painkillers impacted me mentally, but suffice it to say it was terrifying and disturbing for a young girl, especially a young girl who had absolutely no concept of drugs or their potential effects. The silver lining in this was that it put the fear of God in me concerning drugs, and I went out of my way, through adolescence and adulthood, to steer clear of any illicit drug use, save for a handful of noteworthy exceptions.

The Noteworthy Exceptions

In boarding school I befriended two guys who were drug enthusiasts. I don’t remember much else about them, except that they were both freshmen like me, one was fat, one was thin, and they were both from filthy rich families. One chilly afternoon they invited me to their dorm room (it was extremely forbidden for a girl to enter a boys’ dormitory). In that room they showed me their massive drug stash and assortment of drug paraphernalia. They took out a bong, which I’d never seen before, lit it up, and passed it around. I had no idea what to make of all this illegal activity but I was a good sport and inhaled, waiting for the magic to happen. But it didn’t happen. I felt different– light-headed, stupid, and I was laughing at things that weren’t funny. I remember wondering where bongs were manufactured and how they were transported to the US. I also remember being grateful neither guy tried any amorous gestures toward my person. But I didn’t enjoy the sensation of being stoned, and couldn’t understand why people would risk legal trouble to accomplish it.

A few years later I befriended the sons of a Soviet dissident who shall remain unnamed. This dissident had taken up residence in the area where I grew up, in part because it had an active Russian Orthodox parish. This gentleman’s sons were major potheads (actually I can only speak for three of the sons, I never met the youngest). They drove a sports car that was stenciled bumper to bumper with death metal skulls. I think we related to each other well because both our families had been transplanted across the globe (or in my case, half of my family, twice, from germany, to argentina, to the states). One of the brothers was articulate and bright, but the other two seemed none too bright, though maybe it was all the drugs causing their brain cells to close up shop. As the friendship wore on, I grew weary of saying, “No thanks, no thanks, no thanks,” every time a joint was lit. One day I finally said: “Okay fine, let me try it.”

So there I lay on the man-made beach of a local pond, smoking pot with the sons of a nobel laureate. They mused about the KGB and how they were always followed and watched on account of their father. I’m sure the KGB archives do indeed contain photos of these guys getting wasted. Maybe there’s even a picture of scrawny me in a bikini, joint poised in my fingers, skullmobile in the background. And yes, it was the same experience: light headed, stupid, slow. I remained unimpressed.

The third and last time was with some Japanese students I befriended in college. They liked to pack together in a dorm room, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the floor silently watching documentaries about the Japanese Imperial Army while getting stoned. Exactly once I inhaled with them and watched, in a dizzy stupor, men getting their heads lopped off with glimmering gunto.

And that, dear readers, is the sum total of my dealings with the drug world.