Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gravitational Bull

Putting the 'family values' in 'horrendous, unstoppable nuclear apocalypse'
A funny thing happens when you get more than 120 miles outside of New York City....you stop giving a shit if you ever go back.

This is not to say I don't love it here, cause I absolutely do. I'm usually the first to jump all over out of towners, pointing out that we have culture and shopping and taxis and comedy and theater and a park. I love bragging about how I don't need to leave the block to find every single thing I need to survive and how I can have pizza, laundry, and a questionable Craigslist masseuse delivered to my front door without even having to put on pants. Practice note - Dear Lonely Planet does not condone eating pizza without wearing pants: mangia at your own risk.

But this past weekend, I broke free of NYC's gravitational tether and took a road trip with the 'rents down to the University of Virginia. My lil bro was graduating, so I went to go support him and yell inaudibly as Pomp And Circumtance blared through hastily assembled towers of speakers. Truth be told I also went down cause I knew I was gonna get in a night of college-style fun, but ostensibly it was cause I'm an awesome brother. During my hours of down time, strolling through Monticello and learning from my father what ginko biloba leaves look like, the wash of calm that exists in nearly every non-gotham washed over me. Stress melted like so many shreds of mozzarella on the slices I wouldn't be eating at 4 a.m. that night; anxiety flowed down like the trash water I wouldn't have to jump over to cross the street.

What was this strange sensation I was experiencing? Could it be...peace? Could I actually live in a place outside of the East Village of Manhattan and not go crazy with boredom, finding instead the simple pleasure of, oh, I dunno, dog ownership? Might the two grand a month I was spending on rent be put towards an actual house that has a yard and a bbq out back that will most likely not be peed on by a homeless person someday? Good lord, I thought to myself, New York is killing me!

Don't start hatin' on me or say "oh Eric, now that you're thirty you're slowing down." I'm just as ridiculous as I ever was! I've attacked the work hard / play hard dichotomy with aggressive zeal ever since I found out you could drink and still get good grades my Freshman year of college. Well, Bs, at any rate. But it was once again made clear to me that I really don't have to do that! Sure, the Onion covered this territory a while back with their aptly titled "8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live" but I needed to see the forest for the trees for my eyes to open.

I'm sure after a few days I'll start thinking about how I'm happy I don't have to drive places, knocking out my current thought that I wish I had a car with a/c to get around town. After two weeks I'll tell myself I couldn't live without walking to a comedy show, a burlesque show, three happy hours, a Cuban sandwich place, and an all night diner without turning off of Avenue A, but for now I'm just annoyed that I have to pay 7 bucks for a beer while I'm doing it.

In a month, I'll probably regret ever claiming I wanted to leave this place. NYC is my home and I do love it, but I gotta wonder if it's only cause I'm not living more than 120 miles away.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Circle Is Now (Somewhat) Complete

Tell me about it...my boss is a real ball buster too.
Fear not, friends and well wishers, for this is not the end...just another step along the way in an ever expanding path that's taking a lot longer to traverse than I originally planned. The good news is that after 10 months of living off of tax returns and quarterly dividends I'm working again. Temp job baby! We're in the black!

Well, for the week anyway. Over the past few months I've been keeping myself pretty busy with such fun activities as 1) desperately drafting cover letters, 2) quietly sobbing when reviewing my checking account balance, and 3) telling myself that this is progress towards my ultimate goal of transitioning permanently into human rights advocacy. Having yet to score even a single interview to show for my efforts is teeth-clenchingly scary, and now I find myself back in a law firm setting doing some lawyering stuff just like I used to back in the dizzle. My friends being the ever-supportive cast and crew that they are have said fun things to me like, "back to your old unhappy self, huh?" and "you realize you're never going to leave there now, right?"

Thanks guys. Powerful, uplifting messages.

So while it may be progress, I'm still not quite there yet. When I took a hammer to my life last Fall, I set out to accomplish a bunch of things, and I'm still working at that whole career transition one nearly a year later.

But I also set out to start writing more, and my goal was to start getting stuff published. And as of Sunday night, I did it! Thanks to some great editorial guidance and a slightly more serious platform than I normally operate on, I put together a pretty kick-ass article about my experience in Peru during the 2006 presidential elections. It's got humor, drama, politics, pisco sours, you name it...you can check it out here:

Everyone Cheats, by Eric Noah Feldman, at The Hypocrite Reader

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go clean up and get ready for bed, cause (sigh) I have a big day at the firm tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Grift That Keeps On Giving

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
~ The rental insurance agent, when asked about replacing my stolen iphone ~

Friends of the blog may recall that earlier this year, my iphone was stolen. Well, stolen is such an ugly word - really it was more that a security guard in an upscale Malaysian hotel rifled through my bags while they were in "locked" storage, removing my laptop and iphone, then ultimately returned my laptop to me after he uploaded to it pictures of himself and a short pornographic film of him nailing his girlfriend.

Sadly, the iphone was never recovered.

Along with my good pal Shwa "Player Hater" Losben, I spent my last hours in Asia running around Kuala Lumpur filling out police reports and bitching to various hotel officials in the hopes that I would get some kind of reimbursement for the value of my glorious smart phone. The unrequested acquisition of a homemade sex tape on my desktop bothered me less than the sudden loss of all my Plants Versus Zombies accomplishments, but in either case I wanted justice. I wanted to be made whole for my troubles. And as of this past weekend, the wrong is righted.

A few months of cross-border negotiations led finally to the filing of an insurance claim by the hotel for their little ooops-my-bad, and they wired me the value of my stolen phone. All in all, they were actually pretty helpful throughout the process, even if it did take a few months of back and forth. This fortuitous cash infusion coincided with me FINALLY getting my old Samsung P.O.S. exchanged for a shiny iphone 4. I thought I could never love a piece of technology as much as I loved my old iphone, but I was wrong. New iphone is like getting a second puppy who can fetch the paper and bark the alphabet while the first puppy suffers from arthritic pains and needs to be held upright while defecating. Old phone, replaced and forgotten.

Needless to say, I rushed to get my phone set up right when I got it Sunday evening, so I plugged that bad boy in to my laptop (complete with the homemade Malaysian videos as evidence, should it ever be needed), and to my surprise it offered to restore my old phone settings for me. Could it be? With the press of a button, could all my settings be restored, pictures recovered, contacts replaced, Plants Versus Zombies cheats re-unlocked? It absolutely could have been... had not that damn security guard already updated my laptop with his stupid iphone settings.

My first clue that something was amiss came when iphoto popped up on my computer displaying 9 pictures of the thief himself, staring at the phone in an attempt to customize my gear. I knew I was really in trouble though when I saw the 10 hours of phone calls this guy made to any number of his 85 contacts that he added. Among the dozens of hotel employees and managers, some of whom helped me fix up this whole mess, one named popped off the page and caught my eye - "My Lover Sha". Finally! A name to the...well, I would say face but you never actually see her face in the video.

I had to chuckle as I plugged my phone back in and wiped it clean of the security guard's evidence-stockpile that he left behind. This whole ordeal was so ridiculous and drawn out that when it finally ended, I was just happy to bury it and move on...especially given my new "never-have-I-ever"trump card, "never have I ever seen a Malaysian homemade dirty movie".  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Working Out Difficult, Overrated

Working hard < Working smart
 I finally ran out of excuses. Any attempts to blame a lack of home base, a dearth of viable options, or lingering cost issues have faded...the stars have aligned and there is simply no reason why I can't go to the gym now.

After my half-baked attempts to work out in Sri Lanka failed miserably, I reduced my entire workout regimen to a handful of situps between swigs of ayurvedic tinctures that promised to make me skinny and healthy. Shockingly, the aged berry potion I purchased from the "doctor" in Kandy didn't magically make me lose 30 pounds as he promised, but I took the failure in stride...hell, even some roadside miracle tonics don't perform up to standards. But cmon, this was Sri Lanka after all, so I gave myself a free pass on fitness until I returned to civilization.

Friends of the blog may recall that as my time in South Asia wrapped up, I made a New Year's resolution to do 10,000 pushups in 2011. I wasn't about to let everyone down, so when I settled into my comfortably white-washed life in Geneva, I kept pace and am proud to report that I'm well on my way to meeting my goal by year's end. Sadly, however, I took this somewhat minor accomplishment as a sign that my body was improving itself despite the kilograms of falafel and gnocchi I was pumping in to it. As a reward, I gave up on even attempting to join a real gym or go running outside or anything silly like that. No, I was contempt to drink cheap Swiss pinot noir, crack out 50 up-downs and contentedly fry up some garlic for my "healthy" pasta dinners.

Sadly these blissfully excused days of laziness have drawn to a close. I've got a dresser and a shower to call my own, and there are plenty of cheap or even free work-out options in and around NYC. So finally this past week, armed with freshly washed gym shorts that had seen little action that hadn't involved watching Hulu from a desk chair over the past 8 months, I laced up the cross-trainers and hit the gym. 

And the second I hit the gym, it hit back. My back hurts. My legs hurt. My arms? Well they don't hurt that much but they certainly aren't at 100%. It turns out that doing almost no physical activity for three business quarters atrophied my body such that after just two days of diligent gym-going, I'm calling it off today so I can rest. Possibly also so I can take an ice bath. Alarmingly, despite 4 total hours of gym so far, I haven't seen the drastic physical transformation I had expected; nothing that a deliciously heavy pasta dinner can't cure though.

Today might be a loss but come rain or snow or sleet or shine, I'll be making a concerted effort to get my butt to the gym at least 3 times a week, hopefully even more than that. If nothing else it will seem like a nice way to feel productive while I fail time and again to get a job.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Off Of The Couches And Into The Streets!

Lego Rome wasn't built in a day
63 days.
It took me 63 days, return date from Geneva to today, to actually get into a somewhat normal living situation and off of random people's couches. Granted, there were some mitigating factors at play that dragged out the process, including being unsure of my permanence in the country at first, the sudden nature of my leaving The Continent, and a complete lack of certitude as to my eventual landing spot. Any immediacy in settling on a sub-par sublet was eviscerated by the amazing reception I got from all my friends, many of whom offered me keys, room, and board, all at the low low price of the pleasure of my company. Without a reliable budget or even a geographic focus, I was truly forced to embrace the nomadic lifestyle of a couch surfing corporate wash-out, replete with rolling bag full of unlaundered clothes, constantly asking the world, "what's the wireless password here?" Truly, it was a harrowing process and the extremely long delay in landing a new sublet was due to a million outside factors beyond my control.

Either that or I'm just a lazy bastard. Personally I think it's the former, but I could feel murmurs rippling through the crowd that suspicions of the latter were fast crystallizing. I'm still recovering from the emotional and physical toll that my recent adventures took on me, soul and body, and I did myself few favors given my lifestyle in the two years leading up to fleeing society. Hell I barely remember the first 30 days after I got back, mostly due to exhaustion and needing to sleep for a week just to get back on my feet. I needed some time to slow things down, take stock, and rest before getting back to it. But 63 days??

In 63 days, rabbits, foxes, and kangaroos can successfully reproduce. In 63 days, if you count for only 8 hours a day at a relatively fast clip, you can count to a million...three times. 63 days is longer than the Falklands War, the Indo-Pakistani War, and the 6 Days War...combined. And hell, it only took the Apollo 11 astronauts three friggin days to get into lunar orbit! Now, as a matter of course I believe that the marketplace of ideas should decide belief and that we must balance all the facts before making any decisions, but the numbers appear to be stacked pretty solidly against my near-glacial pace of house hunting.

Despite my stutter-start failure in getting my rear in gear, at least I am finally making some progress. I'm all set up in a new West Village spot for the coming weeks, and after a quick trip to visit my parents and steal every ounce of unclaimed food in the pantry I should have enough food to last me at least through the weekend. The job hunt is slow but I'm registered with the proper temp agencies and eventually will make one of these assignments work. And possibly best of all? Last week I got new jeans! Yup, things are looking up, to be certain.

What's to become of the next 63 days? From where I'm sitting, seems like it takes about 48 days to sail around the world using only natural forces...but I'll settle for getting dental insurance.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Come With Me, Sir

For God's sake, please don't cut the blue wire!
I don't pretend to understand the system used by TSA and various border patrol officers for investigating suspicious characters as they cross international boundaries, but up until a month ago I at least put up with its decisions. Well, in so far as it never stopped me from moving about the world unfettered and un-patted-down. It was a nice existence wherein I had the audacious self-entitlement to brag about my mobility to those less fortunate. My friends in the foreign service who always get stopped received comments like, "weird, I always go right through even though I've been all over the place!" My road-weary brothers who constantly find delay got flippantly delivered sucks to be you's, and pretty much everyone else was told, "hey, it's just a random thing man, whatevs."

Whatevs, my left butt cheek! In the past month I've been stopped on three separate occasions, and I do believe that my dumb luck has done run out.

When leaving St. Thomas a few weeks back, I got pulled aside by TSA for a thorough pat down and pants inspection that was really more of an annoyance than an invasion. I was traveling light, so the security folks got to see a shabbily dressed single man traveling alone from the tropics to New York City carrying only a notebook, a wallet, and a packet of sugar-free gum. If that doesn't scream "red flag" than I don't know what does, but the freedom to not carry on a carry-on is a luxury I'm not about to trade for the world. The only other time I was stopped in the past, the TSA lady had a bad reaction to the cat hair on my bag, acquired from a recent visit to my parent's house, and my impromptu bag inspection became a move along sir. No harm, no foul. The St. Thomas folks were a bit more intense, and dare I say competent, in their screening, but they were both wicked friendly to the point that I wanted to fill out a positive comment card afterwards and tell their supervisors they had actually brightened my day.

I got a granola bar instead.

But I tell you what, a week or so ago on my trip to Montreal, the Canadian border patrol really knocked me down from "optimistic patriot" to "skeptical dissenter." Driving up with famous rock star and friend of the blog Shwa "I Just Want To Cuddle" Losben, we two fairly clean cut and upstanding young gentleman were grilled at the border both entering and leaving the frozen north! Already a bit behind schedule, we itched to get into Montreal and get our party on. Sailing through the first border check point, the car was filled with innocently dropped wow that was easy's and a series of unfortunately timed comments about our national security being in jeopardy if this was how they were going to handle things. Boy oh boy was that misguided.

Not two minutes later, we approached the second border checkpoint, and following a quick grilling by the border guard we found ourselves detained at the checkpoint security station. Quietly we sat, awaiting whatever random fate was to befall us, me having a serious need to hit the bathroom and Shwa a serious need to find out why the hell we had been stopped. By the end of this interaction, neither need would be met.

In the drab, portable office-in-a-trailer sat two seemingly bitter border guards, each grilling a separate Canadian couple about their various and sundry US purchases and subsequent failure to declare said purchases. One particularly ill-spirited border guard had apparently seized one woman's engagement ring, purchased in the US over a year earlier but never declared upon entry, and released it back to the unhappy couple only after they begrudgingly relinquished a 10% of fair market value tithe-qua-penalty. Shwa and I were now certain that they were going to nail us on some kind of ridiculous excise tax despite the fact that our carriage lacked any sort of marketable goods. Then came our turn, and the questions were shot rapid fire in our general direction, ultimately uncovering only that we were in fact completely legitimate travelers with valid passports and absolutely zero inclination to do anything but spend American dollars in their stupid country.

During this inquisition, a litany of aggressive WTFs came to mind, including:
- Excuse me, do you think we can get some answers here?
- You know, out bilateral investment treaties pay your salary
- Are you a Pisces? I bet you are, cause all the Pisces I know are fucking assholes

Thanks to an impressive display of self-control and general fear that we'd actually be locked up for even looking at them cross-eyed, I kept my tongue holstered and my potty dance to a minimum. I didn't dare spend any more time in that woebegone shed of misery...best just to get out of there and defile a Tim Horton's up the road.

Amazingly, we got stopped again on our way back through the border to the US! Convinced that I had been flagged because of my recent travels around the world, I asked the border folks what the hell was their problem (in a nice way of course), and unlike their north-bound counterparts they politely took a minute to treat me like a human. "I guess it's just bad luck, these are really random. You guys didn't do anything wrong, and I really do hope that this doesn't dissuade you from coming back up to visit Canada in the future." Once again, I felt like filling out a positive comment card and letting his supervisor know that their border guards were putting smiles right back onto all the faces they had moments earlier ripped them off of. I suppose two out of three positive experiences with border patrol wasn't that bad, and they deserved some kind of recognition for their good work.

I got another granola bar instead.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

You Get Out What You Poutine

Dream come true, or night ruining train wreck?
"Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it"
~ Your annoying roommate who thinks he knows what's best for you ~
Have you ever thought you wanted something so badly that you would change your plans drastically just to get it? Shifted your entire vacation schedule to make sure you see a hallowed church or glorious ancient wonder of the world? Well that's how I felt about trying poutine in Montreal last weekend. While investing one of my many free days in a trip to Montreal, my travel buddy and friend of the blog Shwa "Slow Jam" Losben asked me how I wanted to spend our big day out Quebec's white-washed Gotham. Without doubt or hesitation, I demanded merely that we see Old Montreal and check out the poutine selection. History and snack food, that's what I'm all about.

Poutine, for those who don't know, is a big pile of french fries, smothered in brown gravy and covered with bits of squeaky cheese curd. Needless to say, this was going to require another pass on my no-dairy policy and at least two lactaid to ensure my personal safety. For the whole day Sunday, we asked every local we met where we could score the best poutine in town - general consensus was La Banquise, a short cab ride from where we had spent most of the afternoon day drinking and engaging in enlightened discourse. Predictably, what started with a meaningful conversation about the distinctions between macro- and micro-level morality over a pint of Boreale devolved into a pissing contest about which one of us was smarter over happy hour shots of Jack Daniels. With both the weather and the conversation turning stormy, we hopped a taxi and handed the nice man behind the wheel a piece of paper with La Banquise scribbled on it in Sharpie. As Shwa was quick to point out, I dropped into my broken "not sure if you speak English" English, and I asked driver, "you know this? Can you drive there yes?"

"Yeah I know it, hop on in guys," he shot back in perfect diction.

The meter ticked up at what appeared to be an alarming pace, and a bit of panic helped clear the clouds in my head left behind by our impromptu bar crawl. We've been driving an awfully long time, I thought to myself. This poutine better be friggin' awesome. After a rainy exit from the overpriced cab, we got seated pretty quickly at the super tacky and super busy La Banquise, and my compatriot and I settled quickly on splitting a large original style poutine and a couple of brewskies. My fork shaking with anticipation, I dove in head first as soon as my prize arrived on the table, unapologetically shoving three full spoonfuls into my face before coming up for air. I leaned back. I savored.

I hated it. How this was possible I knew not. Apparently I had incorrectly assumed that because each element of this delightful mess was in and of itself delicious, the mixed whole would be triply amazing. To be entirely fair to the dish, perhaps it suffered from a bit of "anticipation failure" as much as it was itself a disappointment. Once it was built up in my mind as the greatest thing ever, the very purpose of my visit to a foreign country, it's hard to really live up to that hype. At that point, my poutine needed to be extraordinary simply to meet my most basic of expectations. Such is the danger of building up your travel expectations without really knowing what you're getting into - for all the people that see Angkor Watt and oooh and aaah with joy, there are assuredly just as many vacationers that meh and sigh.

Granted, being saddened by the site of a hallowed 800 year old Khmer temple mountain is a slightly bigger let down than receiving middling poutine in the frozen north, but it still sucks to get exactly what you want only to discover it sucks.