May 21, 2015

26 days later

So this is what has happened in the past 26 days:

I have been to four countries on three continents. I woke up in Ponca City, Oklahoma City, Stuttgart, Munich, Amsterdam, and Yokohama. I bought coffee in Atlanta, beer in Detroit, and Turkish delight in Istanbul. I passed through Schipol airport in Amsterdam four times.

I put in four days at the office, most of them working late. I think I spent as many hours in layovers and international flights as I did at the office.

I have been devestated at the loss of one of my Grandmothers, and delighted by the opportunities to see so much of my family. In these 26 days, I saw my father, my mother and her husband, my surviving Grandmother, my brother on two separate occations and in two different continents, all of my aunts and uncles and cousins on my mother's side, my cousin and his family on my dad's side, and all of Saori's immediate family.

I got approximately 5 hours of sleep, total, in that time period. I have done a lot of scrambling and been more than a little scrambled. I am counting my jet-lag in days since I am still mentally a city behind. After I left my blue blazer in Ponca City, I bought a new one in Stuttgart the day before yesterday, specifically to wear to Dew's wedding. Yesterday, I forgot to pack it for the flight to Japan. This is the second time I have forgotten to grab my jacket in 26 days. At least this time I will have it when I get home. And given my past 26 days, I can almost forgive myself for it.

Flea Markets to Massimo Dutti

Saturday is the big day to shop in Stuttgart, so I took Tay first to the weekly Flohmarkt (flea market) in Bismarckplatz. Tay really enjoyed looking at the selection of junk and treasures and ended up picking up some old prints. He spent a long time in the stall, carefully picking out the ones he wanted. When he finally settled on one, he beckoned me over and quietly asked me if I could negotiate on his behalf: the print he wanted was priced at 18 euros. He had only 12 euros on hand. I said I would take a stab at it. I told the shopkeeper that Tay liked the piece, but that he had only 12 euros, and would that be an acceptable price? The shopkeeper drove a hard bargain. He sold it to us for 10 euros, so that Tay could use the remaining two euros to buy himself a cup of coffee. Oh, Germany!

We took our two Euros to Cafe Planie, which has good ambiance, the best cakes in town and the worst service. A few tables away from us, there were soldiers in piked helmets still waiting for their check. Anyway, we all got coffee and cakes and then we decided that since I had forgotten my blue blazer in Oklahoma that we should go jacket shopping. It is a good thing we all like to shop.

So we ran around for a few hours, popping in and out of various stores, and I found some places and pieces I could wear. Tay ended up picking up some new shoes at "Maximum Duty." Lastly, we stopped by the grocery store, where I picked up some live mussels for dinner.

I cooked up the mussels in an easy and traditional butter and wine and cream recipe, and we ate them with french bread for dinner. Tay packed up, and we all got a little shut eye until 4 AM when I woke everyone up so we could say goodbye. I called Tay a cab, hauled down his 66 pound suitcase, and sent him off to the airport.

I really miss him. Just today, looking at a bunch of graphic tee shirts at UNIQLO, I thought, you know, Tay would love this place. We went once, to the London store, but they didn't have anything like these ones. And Tay is not really a graphic tee guy. But still.

Amsterdam to Stuttgart

Our last day in Amsterdam was a bit of a wash. Saori and I had not slept well that night, Tay was having problems logging into his timesheets account and needed to use an internet cafe, and we had to clear out of the canal house by 11 and store our luggage at the train station. So we didn't end up getting to do so much. We had wanted to do either a canal boat tour, a harbor tour, or a bicycle tour, but the first had huge, huge lines, we couldn't find anything about the second even though we went to the pier where it was supposed to depart, and as for the third, we were all too tired.

So we ended up getting some Dutch pancakes, which are like regular pancakes, but made with marijuana. Actually, they are somewhere between crepes and American pancakes; just joking about the weed. I had mine with cheese and it was really good. We killed the rest of the time last minute souvenier shopping before we jumped on a train back to the airport.

We have to come back to Amsterdam, there's too much we missed this trip. No bicycling, no modern architecture, no canal boat rides. Thankfully, it's pretty accessible from Stuttgart.

The language was surprisingly accessible. Spoken, it's still strange and sounds like the Sweedish Chef from the Muppet Show, but written it is very understandable. Supposedly between German and English, it actually it works a lot like phonetic German, with a more simplified grammar. It felt a lot more modern. Actually, coming back to Germany, it made me feel like I was speaking an archaic language.

Flight back to Stuttgart was easy, sadly no Best Class flukes this time, and we cabbed back home and I made us leek and potato soup for dinner.

May 20, 2015

Amsterdam day 3

A day or two after Tay arrived, I brought him to Palast to hang out with my coworkers there and I got some advice from Lys who had been over to Amsterdam recently. She told me that they had spent basically two entire days and seen two museums (the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh musuem) because of all the lines to get in.

So before we took off for our trip, I went ahead and booked our tickets online. It was kind of a pain being tied to a particular place and time, but let me tell you, we walked right past all the lines, straight into the museum like we were VIPs.

Expensive though, each ticket was 17 Euros, although probably not paying much less after waiting in line for hours. My biggest tip for Amsterdam this trip: book your museum tickets online.

The Van Gogh museum did a good job at contextualizing his artwork and trying to show who he was and how his ideas, mental state, and artwork evolved over time. Looking back, it was actually quite a tragic arc. There were only two blockbuster works on display: one of his "Sunflowers" and "The Potato Eaters." Only, the potato eaters had finished their meal and left early: this most notable early work was currently on loan.

We wandered around some more after leaving the museum, picking our way through areas we had not shopped before, looking through antique prints and lithograophs at one store, glass bottles at the next. On a quiet and sunny side street near the Golden Bend, I saw a flamboyant and expensive looking but eccentric shop selling what looked like a mix of high end antiques and ecclectic furnature. There was also a coffee menu. Our interest piqued, we all trooped inside, scrupulously careful not to touch anything and asked about the coffee. It turned out they were a kind of combined teahouse\decor shop, and we were encouraged to sit wherever we wanted, for example, on the gray suede setee, or at the wooden table for sale. We opted to sit outside where they shook off the furs on the bench facing the canal. The shop keeper brought out an ornate silver tray with our drinks and a single orchid flower. I opted for a premium tea which seemed to fit the character of the place better, but Saori and Tay both ordered iced coffee drinks which were served in crystal goblets along with a bite of cake.

We sat and chatted a bit in the late afternoon sunlight- all of the trees along the canal had flowered a few weeks before, and now the air was filled with the papery petals of the tree seeds, carried along by the wind. The ridiculous decadence of the drinks and service and location was perfect for the moment. Actually the three of us sitting there enjoying our drinks attracted a lot of attention from passers by, whose foot traffic seemed to please the shopkeeper. She took a photo of all of us enjoying our drinks.

We continued on to the Van Loon house museum nearby. Van Loon was one of the founders and owners of the Dutch East India company. His family and descedents still own the large canal house which was meticulously restored with period peices to reflect how the wealthy oligarchs of the city lived in the golden age of Amsterdam. It was an easy and tranquil visit. No guided tours, just wandering through a few rooms and the lovely garden.

Sitting among the Queen of the Night tulips, we picked out an Italian restaurant and Tay called them up on my phone to make a reservation. We wandered around more in a new part of the town to kill time, and I popped into a liquor store and bought a earthenware bottle of Kornenwijn which is a kind of very old fashioned and tradition Genever, the precurser to gin.

The Italian place was fully staffed and run by Italians. It was crowded and bustling and the wait staff seemed to delight in near misses with each other and the guests with plates of food. The menu was only in Italian, although our waitress was happy to explian words we didn't know. We split a carafe of wine and munched on the best fried calimari I've ever had, before moving on to our main dishes. We finished up with a limoncello cake and tiramisu, although the limoncello cake was the clear winner. We were at that restaurant at least two and a half hours.

After dinner, we worked our way over to another gin bar called Oolofspoort or something like that, close to the red light district. I went to the bar and said bascally that we didn't know much about Genever and what did they suggest for three neophytes. I got three very interesting and good spirits. My favorite was the 1 year old Genever, although the older, wooden cask conditioned Genevers were a lot smoother and more like brandy.

After a round of drinks, we were all tired, so we took Saori back to the house and we all passed out.

Amsterdam day two

The second day, Tay found us a great breakfast brunch place in the middle of the city called Gartin. Even though it was Wednesday, at 11 am, it was still suggested we make reservations. I'm happy we did- everything was delicious. A cosy but bright space with a few tables, fresh house made jams and jellies, luxurious coffee and teas. I ordered the Eggs Benedict Royale which is basically eggs Benedict on a bed of rucola, and smoked salmon instead of ham. Incredibly delicious, it ranked for all of us as one of the best meals of the trip. We bought two jars of canned jams to take back with us.

It was chiller than we had expected, so we made a slight detour to do a little shopping first. I bought a loop scarf on sale from Espirit while Tay picked up a pair of jeans from H&M.

Tay also picked the Amsterdam museum which was just around the corner. The first part of the museum is a really good and thorough introduction to the city, with very well done multimedia presentations which begin with a nearby artwork or historical map, and bring it to life and tease it apart.

We saw the courtyard of the Beguines, a pleasant and tranquil little community of row houses which used to house a charitable group of pious unmarried Catholic women.

We shop shop shopped all over, but mostly in the Nine Streets area and around the ring canals. Actually, most of our trip we just walked around a lot and popped into various Olliwanderish boutiques, twee antique shops, and trendy clothing and houseware stores.

For dinner we had an excellent Indian meal although it was difficult to order without a common metric of what constituted medium from spicy. I was harshly cautioned against ordering the lamb vindaloo. But it all ended up delicious and spicy enough for me.

After dinner we wandered around some more and tried to go to one of the famous gin bars around the city, but for some reason, probably the proximity to the red light district, it closed at 9 pm just as we were walking in. Undeterred, Tay ferreted out a great beer bar for us, where we found a table and several excellent beers from Holland and Belgium. Once again, we all returned to the house a little tipsy from our endeavors.

Amsterdam day one

What a lot of great memories from Amsterdam! When a decade ago Chase and I sat down in rural Oklahoma to plan our summer Eurotrip, I campaigned against the city in or itinerary, since all I had heard about it was its infamous red light district and loose drugs policy.

What a shame I missed, but then I don't think I would have appreciated it as much as I do now. My first reaction on leaving the train station was "this is a city for people who love cities."

After recovering one day from Munich, we jumped on a Germanwings flight which, for some reason, bumped the three of us up to the "Best" class catching all of us off guard. We were in the front row of the plane, acres of legroom, and the stewardess brought us a menu full of prices first and asked us what ever we wanted, we could have, free.

Tay did a double take as he rapidly tried to figure out which was the biggest and most expensive item on the menu but pressed for time selected a can of Pringles and a beer. The hostess cheerfully asked him to let her know when he wanted another one. It was great, it felt like flying in a limo.

Anyway, flying between EU cities is really easy and fast: there is tighter id checking and security between US states. Rolled off the plane, grabbed our giant common bag, and caught the train to the central station.

Amsterdam reminded me of many cities, with the best of each: the canals, and every step a picturesque photographic moment of Venice, the vibrant multicultural urban life inhabiting old buildings of London, the piratical looseness of tiny alleys, red lights and dark wooden bars, thronged with tourists of old New Orleans, the clean and straightforward public transit systems of northern Europe.

We walked to the AirBnb canal house we were staying in, right on the canal in the old brewers area at the top of the ever hipster Jordaan. We had the entire place to ourselves, our host, Christian the carpenter, ran the place as a business. The canal house was only one room wide anyway, so he tore out the top floor partitions and installed a bathtub in the bedroom. Cute, and it opened the space up, but no privacy. No doors in the place either, apart from the front door. Privacy emerged from the separation of all the floors, by ever rickety and more vertically inclined stairs. Tay slept in a loft accessible only by a ladder above our double bed, tucked up in the apex of the roof amidst the beams. It felt a lot like living on a ship.

We shared a wall with the tiny but busy cafe next door at the corner and on the other corner, the most chill and unobnoxious [weed] coffee shop I saw in Amsterdam.

The bar around the corner where we wanted to grab our first drink we couldn't get anyone to wait on us. Life moves slow, I understand that, but I'm not going to kill an hour to put in an order for a beer.

Tay kindly acted as our restaurant consultant, picking out an authentic Dutch place for our first night, and also to check off that box since we read that authentic Dutch food is about as exciting as potatoes and sausage.

We walked along the canal rings to the restaurant, the 30 minute stroll made longer by our stopping to take photos every 90 seconds. Amsterdam is really just that Twee. It is a fountain of Twee, a hipster Disneyland where everything is as adorably aged, and the guy in the tweed vest living above the fair trade coffee shop really makes a living making barrels for the craft brewer down the street.

The restaurant turned out to be in one off the big tourist streets, filed with Argentine steakhouses (which were everywhere, everywhere, what the hell??) , "Authentic British Pubs", and American food. We were seated next to a group of middle aged Brits on holiday, who were trying to control the volume of their inebriated men.

The food was actually better than we'd been lead to believe, sausage and potatoes yes, but still good, and distinctly different from the typical German fare I'm used to.

We wandered back the long way through the red light district. Actually we had a hard time finding it at first. Upon finding it and waking through, Tay and I were a bit underwhelmed. For me at least, the Red Light District of Amsterdam was something you whispered, that brought up visions of a hedonistic den of sin, a writhing and hallucinogenic city dripping with smut. It was more like no pants day at the Olive Garden, but not as kinky. I think I was more scandalized as a teenager at the mall Spencers Gifts.

We joined the gawking tourists (actually, it's really hard to miss the red light district, given its location in the center of town) and wandered past dozens of backpacker oriented coffeehouses and a few dozen red lit windows. With the Spartan tiled cabins and the bored and listless looking women hanging out in underwear, it looked more like they were waiting for their clothes at the laundromat.

We stopped at a bar for another beer on the way back home, at The Gilded Gaper, which featured Victorian era medical illustrations and apparatus, plus tons of old carved wooden heads of turban-hatted Indians? Arabs? sticking out their tongues.

Stumbled back and took turns hanging out the dining room while we bathed upstairs with the showerless tub.

May 11, 2015

Munich Sonnentag

The best way to get to München is by ICE train. It`s a direct shot from Stuttgart, roughtly two hours in quiet comfort, from the heart of the city to the heart of the city. It´s also really really expensive. Say, $60-$80 normally.

Fortunately, there are a few bus lines that also make the run, for less than a third of the price, and only an hour more of travel. So sunday morning we got up early, packed, and cabbed it over to the Zuffenhausen ZOB (central bus station) about twenty minutes from the house. Actually, the price of the cab ride was about half the price of the ticket to Munich for all of us.

The cab driver did a U turn after dropping us to wait for passengers. When he saw us walking up the stairs to get some coffee, he rolled down the window and shouted after us, pointing, ¨BUS!!¨
Still too early for me, I didn`t realize it was our driver and shouted back ¨No thanks!¨

We were too early, so we got a coffee from the bus station bar/cafe where some people were already ordering beers, and got back down the station to board. The driver scanned our barcode and we jumped on board. It was a long forgettable trip. Three hours went by ok and I played a lot of super-breakout. Tay and Saori napped a bit. We stopped outside of Ulm and in Augburg before pulling into the bus terminal near the central station around noon.

Our hotel was on the other side, a bit of a hike, but we got there. H+ Hotel is located in the middle of a large, seedy neighborhood on the less classy side of the train station. The street was a colorful mix of cell phone stores, translation centers, strip clubs, bars, and ethnic restaurants, mostly middle and far-eastern. Tons of middle easterners walking around, Turks, gulf Arabs, Indians, Eastern Europeans. The hotel was nice though. The room accomodated the three of us although Tay had to sleep on the fold-out couch. The only thing they forgot was an extra towel for the third guest, and toilet paper.

We dropped our stuff and crossed the street to a Lebanese restaurant for lunch. It was really good! We ordered Lebnah with olive oil, some cheese quesadilla things, chicken schwarma, and a variety of drinks, and I think our bill still came out to be less than $40. Tay also ordered a salty watered down yogurt drink which tasted exactly as it sounded and we all took turns trying to appreciate it.

Tay wanted to go direct to the city center platz, but we convinced him to make a detour to Lenbachhaus, a recently renovated (and very nicely done) museum of artwork, mostly focusing on pre-WWII German modernism and expressivism in painting. Lots of work by Paul Klee and Kandinsky. I was really happy we went. From there, we walked to the city center and the ¨virtual alien market¨ where of course, everything was closed because it is sunday. What did we do all day? We mostly walked around. We probably spent about an hour at the museum, but by the time we got out and downtown it was already late afternoon. We shopped around for a good beer hall. At Zum Paulaner, we wandered through the Disneyland of huge beer halls, lederhosen clad waiters carrying giant sausages and pretzels, and an Ompah band playing lustily in the bandstand for the hordes of tired tooking tourists at the wooden benches.

We ultimately decided to get dinner and drinks at the main Augustiner restaurant. It was a LOT quieter. We sat under a wall decorated with a Greek nautical motif and oystershells under a glass canopy. We were all not that hungry but ended up splitting two meals of various fried and baked meats and potato dumplings and some really good white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. After dinner, we were all just really exhausted so we decided to make an early night of it at the hotel.

We tried facetiming mom for mothers day, but because of technical difficulties, we decided to try her again later. Slept restlessly, filled with bizzare dreams.                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Follow the Lederhosen

Saturday morning after a pancake breakfast and a lot of coffee, we sat around and planned out the final trip details of Amsterdam, namely finding an apartment from AirBnB. After we hammered out those details, we all got dressed up for Fruhlingsfest, the biggest spring festival in Germany. I wore my special shirt and Tay happened tob bring his blue gingham check, which was perfect. Saori lent him her big felt hat and after we downed a few beers we caught a U bahn over to the fairgrounds by following the people in Lederhosen.

It also happened to be a home game for Stuttgart, so the trains were packed with a mix of Lederhosen, Drindles, red tricots, and red and white scarves. Fruhlingsfest is always the same, but the day was a little less packed. We grabbed a beer, and strolled around the fairgrounds until we got to the Dinkelacker tent, where we were able to surprisingly, get a seat almost inside the tent. Tay and I both ordered a Mass of beer (about 0,8 liters) of the Fruhlingsfestbier, a strong Marzen. We also munched on french fries, chatted with a bunch of people from Frankfurt who were also there for the fair, while Tay went on a beer-fueled intensive discourse on the American penal system to a Swede sitting across from him, while trying to fend off the random questions from the group of kids next to us.

We all ended up fairly boozed up but nobody was stepped on or had beer or any other bodily fluid splashed on them so I would call that a pretty good visit. We did poke around inside the tent a bit so Tay could see the crowds dancing on the benches and singing. Tradition!

We caught the U bahn back home and stopped to grab a pizza a late night kebab shop down the street. At home we chowed down on the pizza and fries and everyone drank a lot of water. Saori and I went to bed relatively early and Tay actually stayed up to chat a bit with Chelsea, mom, and dad. It was a great saturday.

May 10, 2015

On writing

These blogs have become bloated and bogged with minutea, but at least I am trying to keep them free of overblown rhetoric.

For me, nothing passes the time better than writing, so with lots of travel, there are empty hours to fill in bus terminals and airplane middle seats.

But writing is also a mind dump- it calms me down and helps me clarify my thoughts.

But it also tampers with experience and reality. Something happens to you. The event itself changes you, and it is inprinted in a certain way. But when you remember it, your mind emphasizes certain parts, mutes others, and spins and edits it. When I record a memory in words, I must articulate feelings, senses, impressions, plus the background overlay of my own mental state at the time. All of this must be edited down, compressed, put into words which have themselves particular meanings and connotations different from how other people may shade the same word. When I articulate, the force of words re-writes and hardens my own memories, like I am making a photocopy of a photograph of a cloud.

To articulate a memory is to alter it, but for me, it is worth it to gain the use of the memory through repetition. I have to remember the event, write it, and then often I read what I have written, giving me an additional three times to process this event and see how it fits into the larger narrative.

Four workings days in May

My month has been a little all over the place. Two weeks ago, I jumped on a flight in Stuttgart to the US. I got back to Stuttgart late monday night this week, and picked up Tay ar the airport wednesday night.

That was a small adventure for everyone involved. Tay had booked a cheap flight to Germany through Turkish airlines, flying out of Chicago. Tay lives in Indy, and decided to save some cash by taking a bus. The problem was that Tay timed it exactly so that he would arrive in Chicago a little over two hours before his flight.

Late tuesday night my time, Tay texted me that his bus was going to be delayed- by an hour and a half. There was a slim chance he was going to make his flight, and Tay was wondering if they would just put him on the next flight or reroute him. I replied that he probably would lose the ticket.

There was a flurry of activity on Tay and dad's end, who was also working on the logistics. Tay finally got through to an agent who told him that if he missed his flight, they would credit him the cost of the ticket for the next flight he wanted to take, which of course, would have been close to double at the last minute what he bought it for on sale months ago.

Dad managed to book Tay on the next flight out of Indy to Chicago, so Tay booked it to the airport from downtown. That flight was delayed too, due to weather in Chicago, but at the end of the day, Tay made all his flights.

At the airport in Stuttgart, he didn't pop out of the international arrivals like I expected. An hour after the flight landed, still no Tay and all the baggage had been unloaded and people were clearing out. Had he been detained by customs? Did he leave his passport on the plane? Was he stuck, for whatever reason, in Istanbul? I calmed down and reasoned that Tay was a seasoned international traveler, a grown man, and a trial attourney. He would be ok. I found him at the domestic EU terminal exit waiting for me, for which I was very glad.

When he came through customs and immigration, they were grilling him about what he was doing and who he was going to see. He didn't have paper tickets for his return flight or my phone number or address since it was all on his phone and of course his phone was dead. Tay told the immigration officer that I was waiting for him outside, so she walked him out the waiting area. No Alec. Tay attemped to make some small talk with her for about ten minutes while his phone was charging, and finally was able to show her the ticket info and my info.

Before she left, she concernedly asked if he was sure I was coming, and I found Tay shortly after. We caught a cab back to my apartment and set up a pallet for Tay to sleep on under the dining room table, which we covered with sheets to make a little sleeping fort.

Saori cooked us up some sausages and a fixed a salad, so we happily munched on that. We dug up an old iPhone and a sim card, and roughtly outlined a schedule for the next day before we all went off to bed. We were all exhuasted.

Thursday, I met Tay for lunch at the beer garten by the hauptbahnhof, the same place where I met dad a little over two weeks earlier. We ordered spatzle and sausages and fleishkase and some beers. Tay liked the Schwabian food ok, but he was not such a fan of the radler beer I was drinking. Actually, I even hesitated to order a mix of beer and lemonade- despite the hard drinking culture, Germans do not like to mix business and pleasure in this way. They want to do their work in a working environment and drink in a drinking environment. The whole concept of an office happy hour where you drink at would would be a strange concept for them. Actually, the longer I work over here, it doesn't really make sense to me either. Why not just quit work early and go to a bar?

Anyway, Thursday night, my coworkers invited us to Palast for a drink beacuse the weather was one of the best of the year, one of those days where everyone in the city comes outside to enjoy. So I swung by the house and picked up Tay and some bottles of beer, and we went to Palast together. We caught up with my coworkers and plopped down on the concrete to make our own little drinking circle. It was a really novel drinking and socializing method for Tay, but I think he got a kick out of it. Saori came out too to join us and she brought a few more beers as well. We all ended up drinking a bit more than intended, although I had some good conversations with a young Italian guy about the risks of giving lifts to hitchhikers.

There is a system of hitchhiking in Germany which extends into other neighboring countries, called the BlaBla car(d?) and what it is you register online, and say where you want to go and when you want to go. Then drivers looking for someone to help with gas and passing the time, can go on and contact people to ride with them. I was skeptical at first, but apparently the system works pretty well. Saori and other people I know have used this system without any problems, other than a few last minute cancellations but I have heard it's pretty rare. Anyway, the Italian guy is a driver, and he usually tries to find passengers on his trips to Italy and back. The problem is if he takes someone who is an illegal migrant, if he is caught, he can be charged basically as a human trafficker. So he has to be scrupulously careful about checking the documents of people he's picking up.

Anyway, it was getting late when we left, so we stopped by one of the best kebab shops in town nearby and caught a late metro home.

Friday was really rough. I was hungover, ill, exhausted (remember, I still havn't had a good nights sleep in about two weeks at this point due to jet lag, travel, late nights, drinking, etc.) and I had to finish a model at the office before I left for the day. The problem with the model was that the floorplans kept changing which changed the facades, so I wasn't able to really model the building until around 5pm. I ended up working until about 8pm, alone in the office, until my boss came back from his trip to Italy. I explained what I was working on and he said we could discuss it on monday. I realized at this point that nobody had told him that I was going to be taking three weeks off in the middle of a very heavy competition schedule. He was not happy about it, understandably. "Who was so irresponsible to give you the time off?" He asked incredulously, in his joking-but-not-really way.

He quickly recovered, however, and wished Saori and I the best on our trip and to enjoy Japan, and especially to enjoy soaking up the Japanese architecture so that I would be charged up when I came back to the office.

When I got home, Saori was setting up the grill with Tay. I got the fire going and we planned out the rest of the trip. We decided that it was going to be too expensive to try to hit Amsterdam that weekend, and too expensive to combine with Berlin. Instead, we opted to compromise with a day at Fruhlingfest in Stuttgart, an overnight stay in Munich, and three nights, four days in Amsterdam after I found some screaming tickets on Germanwings.

I slept really well friday night.

May 4, 2015

The eternal return

I really should have picked better flights. I rushed through the booking, I was flustered, and concerned especially after Saori tried to pay for them but couldn't and then I had to go through the entire search and booking all over again. But what is done is done.

Saturday morning we met up with Grandma Loretta at the airport and transferred over my suitcase and stuff to mail. We caught up at the Cracker Barrel for breakfast and I said my goodbyes to mom and Larry.

Grandma drove us back over to her condo and I checked out the background of some people who were wanting to shoot movie at her empty Blanchard house. I got a name and checked out IMDB. It was a legitimate outfit actually. A small, independant production team which made small dramas and comedies, no clue as to what the outlet for this stuff is. The plot of this movie is that a country girl returns to her stifling childhood home after failure in the city, and then falls for her brother's fiancee. Anyway, we drove out to meet them at the house. They were three californians, younger than I am, who had driven across country and had apparently been in the area for a few weeks rounding up talent and production crews, and scouting for locations. They took a lot of photos and told us they would let us know.

We ran a few errands and then back at her condo, I helped her put up a pegboard wall in the garage to hang her tools. Afterwards, we ran up to Edmond to see Josh, Endera, and thier 7 month old baby, Jett. They live in a nice little suburban tract home. Not quite my kind of thing, but it's close to Jeff and Ashley, and not too far from Andera's parents either.

Jett is a huge, happy baby. At 7 months old, he is above the 95 percentiles for weight and length. He also looks like a pure Perkins: stubby little bear paw hands, those sleepy Perkins eyes, strong square chin, and built like a football player. He is going to be a big guy. Totally regular, totally open and friendly. His parents adore him, perhaps too much. They both admit they still fight over who gets to hold him.

Perk the pig is suffering for the attention. He was locked up in a pen while I was over there, and I imagine he doesn't get out much these days. Andera wants him gone, but Josh is having a hard time getting rid of a pig he raised from a piglet. And what are they going to do? The only one interested in taking on a full sized porker is someone who has sausage casings lying around. The most humane thing they could do to a family raised animal is to put it down. It's still irresponsible, but I too have foisted my animals on friends and family when I moved overseas. Plus, they are doing so much right, its hard to fault them.

Anyway, it was a good visit, and I was really happy they made time to see us. Afterwards, we drove by a long line of chain restaurants along the interstate and I could just not muster up the requisite excitement, so I proposed going back to the BBQ joint close to grandmas. It was really OK this time. Wish I had ordered something else. Anyway, it was something authentic and local.

Back at her house, I re-balanced my luggage. I came to the US with a duffel and a man purse, and returned with a 50 pound suitcase in addition to the stuff I came over with.

The next morning, Grandma took me out to breakfast at Jimmy's Egg and we chatted for a bit before she dropped me off at the airport in Oklahoma City. It was really great to see her. Don't do that often enough.

The trip back was mind-searingly long. I had an hour to kill before my flight out, then there was a five hour layover in Atlanta, followed by a 10 hour flight to Amsterdam, followed by ANOTHER five hour layover before my flight to Stuttgart. I was so exhausted I slept at least five or six hours on the intercontinental flight, which helped a lot with jet lag. Saw a tiny mouse in the Amsterdam airport, and also drank the smallest of Heineken beers at one of the many airport bars. While I was there, I picked up a guide to Amsterdam.

But after a taxi ride and a grueling trek with my 50 pounder up the six flights of stairs, I finally got to set my bag down and take off my shoes and socks. Saori had laid out a plate of cookies and tea for me when I arrived since she was still at work. Seriously good to be home.

After the funeral

The funeral was Tuesday. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday went by in a blur of cleaning, eating, sorting, and a million tiny errands and repairs.

I took on the office and the task of sorting through all the papers and files and photos. There was a ton of old family photos stretching back four generations, from a 1890's photo of Betty's grandfather all the way through this year. Too many too keep. I sorted out the most interesting and highest quality old black and white photos and also pulled photos of Tay and I for dad since he doesn't have any albums from our childhood.

I was ruthless. I tossed marriage certificates, no longer valid deeds, high school diplomas. If I saved every scrap of paper, we would be counting family geneological data by the crate. None of the children wanted anything. Probably the only person interested in all that stuff was uncle Bill, who is pushing 85 in Florida, and I'll probably end up taking his geneological files too.

What I really want to do is get all this stuff scanned and organized into a coherant narrative, with photos and family trees and personal narratives. I think I have Ethleen Peacocks autobiography, and I also have the audio interview of Grandma Betty and what her childhood was like. At the very least, it will all be together,  and when I die, my grandchildren can pull out these old photos as they are sorting through my stuff.

The powder room toilet had a small leak, so Tracy and I made a run to Lowes for some parts and I took apart the toilet tank and reassembled it. I dealt with the painter who was trying to figure out who was actually in charge of this circus after David and Brenda left. The Jacuzzi tub switch was broken so an electrician came by who happened to have been an old high school classmate of Tracy.

We shredded about 40 pounds of various sensitive personal documents, including old income taxes, bank statements, insurance information, etc. The last night we were there, mom found an entire new box of income tax statements that they had to haul back to Phoenix.

Larry bought the car. Grandma had arranged everything so that when she died, control of the bank accounts and the house and actually most of her assets, would transfer immediately to Brenda's control as executer of the estate. The car was not- I called it the "probatemobile" and our two lawyers seemed to enjoy calling it that.

Everyone who went to the house took stuff. Tay sent back a big box, Brenda and David sent back several. Larry bought and filled the car, and Tracy filled his car and rented a SUV to take stuff back with him. Velma wanted the kitchen table and hutch so Tracy and I ran around disassembling and reassembling heavy wooden furnature from the back of Uncle Bob's borrowed pickup. The cleaning lady took the cuckoo clock. The house was still filled with stuff.

It was funny and a little sad, all the things that were saved, assumably because someone might need or want something someday. We kept uncovering staplers, and complete sets of china that nobody wanted. It's a reminder to only keep the things that give you frequent pleasure or near-future use.

We interviewed a local estate sale planner who laid it on a bit to thick at times the 'liquidation with dignity' tagline. Having been to many estate sales I can tell you, there is nothing dignified about strangers haggling over things priced to sell. The problem was the timing as they couldn't squeeze us in for several months. The auctioneer came by too and everyone liked him ok. They both gave about the same low price for the white living room sofa. It sounds like both the estate sale and the auctioneer expect to get about $5000 for the entire contents of the house. The estate people get 30% of the sales. The auctioneer, $500 up front for advertising and then 25% of the sales or the first $1000.

Either way, the estate is not going to make much money off of it. And thats totally fine with them since either will make sure the house is empty and clean and none of us have to be there to take care of things.

The longer I stayed in Ponca, the more my allergies kept ramping up. Friday night, I was so miserable I turned down Mexican food at Enrique's, probably the chance I will have to eat there. My head was pounding, aspirin had no effect, my nose and sinuses were throbbing, my eyes and nose ran, and my stomach hurt. I took some allergy medicine and texted mom to bring me a neti pot on her way back. Got some immediate relief with the neti pot as far as the congestion went, and I felt a world better the next day.

Finally, we left a check for the painter, made one last sweep through the house, and left for the last time in two cars. I still forgot the blazer, despite all of our sweeps. It felt so surreal, to leave in the early morning without grandma there in her nightgown sipping a cup of weak coffee. I rode with mom out of Ponca in the rental car as a beautiful red sunrise rose up behind us.

Remainders

I am sitting on a plane to Stuttgart, after a five hour layover in Atlanta made more tolerable by the availablity of local craft beers. With every flight, I am called up to the check in desk and my credientials verified. Delta is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I am an American citizen who lives in Germany, and does not have a return ticket.

Anyway.

Grandma Betty left us a week ago friday. She did not want to go. She loved this world and the people in it. But it was not to be. Ultimately, she came to terms with what lay ahead of her with her characteristic grace and spirit of adventure.

I landed in Oklahoma City sunday afternoon where I met Tay and Larry who had driven down from Ponca to pick up me and my cousin Danny, who works as a stock trader in Chicago, transforming volitility into profits. I was a bit loopy from exhaustion and 20 hours of travel, and chattered intermittantly on the two hour ride into Ponca.

It was great to see everyone again, but especially mom whom I had not seen in about eight months. It had been years since I last saw Kim and Tracy and their kids. Mom pulled me into the master bedroom with Brenda and Aunt Kim, and we all picked out jewellry for Saori.

Sunday night, there was food at the house, but I do not remember who brought it. Everyone was already there save for Jenny who would be arriving monday. Danny had a hotel room to himself, all the children and their spouses slept in the various bedrooms, and I decamped on the leather couch in the TV room. Carrie had the office, which provided her with a bit of a sanctuary from the social bustle of the greiving household.

Monday morning, mom, Larry, Tay and I made a run to Braums to pick up breakfast. We ordered 20 breakfast sandwiches, plus fifteen orders of hashbrowns from the disbelieving cashier who drily asked if we wanted our order to go.

Brenda took lead of organizing everything. She dictated a list to mom of all the things we needed to do. Sell the car, find a realtor, paint the house, lne up the housecleaner, make duplcate keys for everyone, dispose of the house contents, cancel credit cards, phones, newspapers, and cable. Figure out what to do about Tina's trust. Sit down with the lawyer and go over all the financial estate and the will. Go through the house and handpick the things to keep, locate and shred sensitive documents.

She delegated and people claimed tasks. Since I was going to claim grandma's newish phablet, I took care of canceling the cell service, and took over for David in directing the painter.

Monday was really a blur. At one point, we went to the visitation at the Funeral Home. Her mouth did not look right, and neither did grandpa Cases when he passed away. They had dressed grandma in a light teal suit, and her gold earrings which I always associated with her. The casket was pecan, the same stain as her kitchen cabinets. It just looked right.

Later, the four of us played a few rounds of daihime which I won handily. For the crown, I used the "a case is better than a six pack" hat that someone made many years ago.

I think we had fajitas for dinner, that Tracy ordered from Chili's. The entire week, I slept terribly. Waking up with thirst, with jet lag, with bizzare dreams. Everyone drank a lot, especially sunday and monday night.

Tina called to say she was going to come. She drove up from Tulsa, a little less than a two hour drive. She arrived at the house half past midnight and called Brenda. Brenda told her to get a hotel room.

Sunday morning we ate reheated and uneaten breakfast sandwiches from the night before. We dressed up and went to the Woodlands Church, where they tried to stick us in a dingy old sunday school classroom before the service. We unanimously decided that it wasn't for us and trooped back upstairs and became part of the informal greeting group, welcoming people for the service.

I wore my dark navy blazer. Should have rented a suit. And gotten a shave and a haircut. Oh well. What's the quote about half of credit is just showing up?

I sat between Tay and Tina at the service. Her neice Patti, a minister in the same church in Indy, spoke as did her usual minister. I felt a special emphasis on faith, and the importance of her Church. The minister talked about the conversations they had in the hospital, where grandma expressed her simple anxiety about not knowing how to die, and how she led him in prayer. They played a snippet of her recorded interview with Patti's daughter, from a few years ago, which was odd and a little sad to her bright voice again. Jenny got up and sang "For Good" accompanied by the piantist. Lots and lots of flowers. Saori's boquet was front and center, and almost all of them were pink, which was one of Grandma Betty's favorite colors.

We sang a few songs, there was a short announcement about lunch, and that was it. I was a pallbearer. Once again, I joined my brother in carrying the casket to the waiting hearse. We waited around with the other pallbearers while people started leaving for the cemetery. In addition to me, there was Tay, Carrie, Robbie, Jimmy, and his son. Jimmie and I chatted about black powder hunting and noodling on the way. Our limo and hearse had a police escort to the cemetary.

I had worried because the forecast was rain, but the weather was cool and overcast, and steadily improved over the week to become the most beautiful weather I've ever seen in Oklahoma.

Let me tell you, caskets are heavy things. It's not so much the weight of the remains inside as much as it is all the heavy wood. Tay a really hard time with it, since I got the two Oklahoma hunters on my side, and Tay was just assisted by Danny and Carrie. But we managed. We stood in a line behind the casket while a very short service was given at the grave including the reading of a cloying 'native american' poem about being a part of the world and not really dying.

Actually, it was a nice service after all. It really doesn't matter which hymns were sung, or poems read, or even the content of the service. It was a gathering of people who had loved her or had been touched by her, and a time to mourn together. You really can't ask for anything more than that. Leave 'dignity' to those trying to sell you something, like the funeral home and the estate sale organizers.

We drove back to the church, where the sanctuary had been transformed into a dining hall, with long tables running the length. Grandma Betty had provided for a luncheon for her entire Church, which was catered by a local outfit who gave Casey a bit of trouble because thier phones were disconnected.

But they delivered. Ham, fried chicken, fried catfish, potatoes, green beans, fresh hot rolls, and lots of iced sweet tea. It was all reallly good. I was really happy that she didn't ask Chick'n Millie's to cater it.

We went back to the house. A few guests came by. Tay and Jenny and Danny had to throw their things together and jump in the car to catch their flight out of Tulsa. The realtor came by, and discussions with him took awhile. Uncle Bob brought over grilled steaks and his family who also came for the funeral. Amy and her husband provided the steaks.

May 3, 2015

Hope: reprise

Grandma Betty loved her children and grandchildren, but it pained her the way they had turned from the Church. I hope that at least she saw thier quieter, more personal faith in the Divine. I do not know what lies beyond the end, but I hope that it is something wonderous.

The hope of another life was in the heart, long before the "sacred books" were written, and will remain there long after all the "sacred books" are known to be the work of savage and superstitious men. Hope is the consolation of the world.

The wanderers hope for home. -- Hope builds the house and plants the flowers and fills the air with song.

The sick and suffering hope for health. -- Hope gives them health and paints the roses in their cheeks.

The lonely, the forsaken, hope for love. -- Hope brings the lover to their arms. They feel the kisses on their eager lips.

The poor in tenements and huts, in spite of rags and hunger, hope for wealth. Hope fills their thin and trembling hands with gold.

The dying hopes that death is but another birth, and Love leans above the pallid face and whispers, "We shall meet again."

Let us hope, if there be a god, that he is wise and good.

Let us hope that if there be another life it will bring peace and joy to all the children of men.

And let us hope that this poor earth on which we live may be a perfect world -- a world without a crime -- without a tear.

-Robert Ingersoll Rand

May 1, 2015

The bar

I tear up as I write: It's late. I'm sitting at the bar in grandma Betty's house, twisting on the old wooden barstools, and eating a bowl of ice cream. The freezer was empty, save for the last lonely carton from Braum's. Grandma loved ice cream. It hit me that I'll never eat at this bar again. It's a great bar, running the length of the kitchen.

It's always been a connection point in the house. I'd meet my brother or cousins here crunching their way through bowls of breakfast cereal, receive grilled cheese sandwiches from Grandma in the kitchen, pass dirty plates back to Grandpa washing dishes in the sink in front. At this bar I progressed from CountryTime lemonade to 7up to beer to highball drinks.

From this chair, I still still half-expect to see Grandma shuffle in from around the kitchen corner, and watch her light up in delight at seeing one of her grandkids.

But she's gone. And soon we will be too. Tomorrow, and early, we will leave this house for the last time. With a but of luck, the house will sell quickly and somebody else will own the bar. The barstools and the old parfait glass with the puddle of melted ice cream will be sold and scattered, perhaps $100 for the set of barstools, four parfait glasses for a dollar. Time to move on.

I will remember this bar.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...