On Building Again
So, it’s been a while since anything was posted. It’s not that things haven’t been on a roll since last summer. I got to spend some time in Brazil and the West Bank and reacquaint myself with some wonderful, welcoming, big-picture people and places. Really top notch stuff for me. 10/10, would recommend again. I tried to keep up with writing and documenting, but was constantly nagged by a feeling of either irrelevance or incompletion by the time I got around to putting anything out there. I really don’t want this to be a collection of ‘hot takes’ either.
Anyway, things move fast, and what is really my excuse now? Apart from the soul-crushing, apocalyptic anxiety about the world being, essentially, closed, I don’t have any excuse not to put something out here, on a kind of travel-oriented blog. But I’m not about to brag about any alleged or illicit “outings” taken during covid times. So, bear with me if these two halves don’t make a whole:
In November last year, I took a job as a bartender on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It wasn’t exactly what I went to college for, but it paid the bills and, additionally, ended up fulfilling an innate desire to meet new and interesting people. This particular neighborhood had its fair share of long-term residents who lamented the ‘changes’ they saw happening around them. Paradoxically, these changes involved lots of tall, shiny condos getting built, accompanied by a general sense that the area was emptying out, with fewer old hang-out spots–restaurants, nightclubs, bars–and people than there used to be. It’s a specific kind of urban decline that is not associated with blight and poverty, but rather a transition from a lively, buzzing, ‘hidden gem’ into something more polished and perhaps sterile. White people problems, maybe. But someone’s home, story, and ultimate transformation nonetheless. It quickly became amusing and oddly fulfilling to get to know regulars, each with their own habits, quirks, afflictions, affiliations and preoccupations. You saw the neuroses, the infighting, the politicking and hobnobbing play out in real time: so-and-sos beef about such-and-such, from last spring…you know–all over a vodka soda or amber ale. We also had great wine, I am happy to announce, and I handily learned the recipe for the right cocktail at the right time.
I am also happy to say that, over time, I grew more confident in managing what became my bar. A 20-something with more degrees than could do him much good, I got to lay down the law. Well, okay. I was really more like an umpire who gets to make up some of the calls as they go along. Is this cool? Is that okay? Am I too loud? Are they looking over here? Do you think she likes me? Accompanied by the occasional “Yer outta here!” on my part. I got into a few animated discussions about what counts as “Upstate New York” (honestly, TBD) or whether “Me Too” has gone too far (it hasn’t). Sometimes I just played the roll of a generic youngish person vis-a-vis some technology conundrum, as if I could read or write code (I can’t). The takeaway from the time spent there was that my job and my work ultimately reaffirmed my love of knowing people, perhaps despite my tendency to try and live in my own world. My colleagues also provided an unshakable support which I hope I justly reciprocated. In a short six months, I met many lovely, wild, worldly, and caring people, and went on a type of journey everyday I stepped behind the bar, depending on which combination of characters would throw open the dark red velvet curtains that were our front door. Before we closed down, many people had exchanged their info, happy to maintain our connection beyond the singular place where they knew me best. That connection fuels me with love and warmth to this day, and I am grateful. Many more came to say goodbye on the last night we were open, and to sit for one last round, with me, and with each other.
So, this is getting long already, and I still haven’t managed to get to the point. That chapter has closed. From it, I took my share of life’s experience. And now, we are once again facing the void, perhaps a little darker and more ominous than the ones we’ve faced before, and with SO MUCH more free time. It really comes down to my perennial habit of having to ask myself, “What’s next?”, when the answer usually involves uprooting my livelihood to take on a vocation that doesn’t exactly match my, ahem, background. True to form, I managed to find a job that will, in a few weeks’ time, fling me to a faraway place to start something brand new. Something to take a crack at. It’s on an island again. And now the world has changed.
Faced with new and (almost) insurmountable barriers to flying, something quite unfamiliar to me, I have come to realize that my travel is so much more than a habit or a hobby. It is a coping mechanism. It is therapy. It is really just a reflex. I do it without thinking. It became my identity. It was my blueprint for growth and connection. And, recently, it has harmed me. It got me sick. It could have killed me. But when I think that I would literally rather roll over and die, than have to live in total fear of the world, I’m reminded that I’m not alone here. I cannot act or make decisions in this void. I could get someone else sick, too. Or harm someone who loves me. Someone who didn’t make my choice, but still suffered as a result. It runs counter to the sketchy, self-affirming ‘philosophy’ I have built for myself in recent years, in trying to be.. everywhere. And I guess any new growth, will have to come from how I learn to live in this new world, smaller to me than ever before.
I need a new blueprint. For now.