That German Thing

Two years ago, in February of 2018, I went to a family wedding in Naples, Florida. My family is large and friendly, and any time a lot of us are in one place, we talk up a storm.    At one point during the festivities,  I was having a conversation with… well, I don’t remember who.  I think it was my aunt, and she put a fairly innocuous question to me.  Two years later, I don’t even remember what the question was.  What I remember is that my answer started with some version of, “I lived in Germany for three years, and…”  Ten seconds later, I was just cringing.

Even now, two years later, I am still wincing at what a pompous, self-important blowhard I can be.  That sentence, “I lived in Germany,” comes out of my mouth way too often.

OK, yes, I did live in Germany for three years.  I’ve been back in the US now for six years, though- twice as long as I was away.  The urge to bring up my time abroad in almost every conversation is a giant lurking, looming thing.  It’s like a pressure valve that I can’t properly close, and it threatens to spew garbage all over nearly every interaction I have with another human being.  It’s infuriating to me.  I replay conversations in my head afterward, over and over, beating myself up about things that I said when I would have been better served saying nothing at all.

My good and dear friend Charlotte wrote a post back in January of 2018 pondering whether being an expatriate was still part of her identity even after being back in her home country for more than three years.  One particular section from her post got me thinking:  “Now I’ve settled down in my life back here. I still feel years behind people my own age, and feel like this is the “this is what you could have won” section of a gameshow.

When Charlotte wrote her post, I had also been back home for about three years, and I was already feeling many of the same feelings and doubts.  Repatriation can be kind of weird and stressful.  I’ve said many times before that living abroad can be like pressing a giant pause button on your life, and it’s easy to feel like the rest of the world went on without you while you were away.  I commented on Charlotte’s blog that I had a similar post in mind and that I would write it soon.  That post is this one-  I’ve been writing it in fits and starts again and again over the last two years, without ever finishing it to my own satisfaction.*  I’ve kept a browser tab open to Charlotte’s post ever since, and I’ve re-read it many, many times, noting different parts of it on each subsequent re-reading.

The plain truth is that my time as an expatriate changed me.  How could it not have?  Packing everything I owned into eleven large boxes and moving five thousand miles to another country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t have an apartment waiting was a huge adventure.  My brief German life is a major part of the fabric of my current identity, and it’s never far from my mind.   My time there allowed me to grow and become a better person in ways that I didn’t understand fully until I was back home.  I am absolutely not the same person I was before I left, and in some ways, I think that expressing that is a big part of why I keep harking back to my time in Germany.    That doesn’t make it sound any less pretentious when I hear myself saying those four words- I lived in Germany–  for the millionth time, though.

I saw one of those artsy motivational images recently with text that said, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”  It hit home because this particular worry and frustration has been living rent-free in my head since I came back to the US in late 2014.

I worry that my constant need to tie my current life back to my experiences in Germany is a personal failing.  I spiral through feelings of doubt: Have I become boring?  Am I living in the past?  Is there some deeper psychological failing that keeps me talking about that time? Why do I talk about the past so much- is my present life that uninteresting?  I suspect that I won’t know the answer to any of these questions in the very near future, so I turn my attention toward managing the symptoms instead of fixing the root cause.

In recent months, I’ve been trying to find ways to make the same points during conversations without tying it back to my time in Germany.   While talking about living in a place that is colder in winter than Florida, for example, I’ll just say that “I’ve lived in a place with real seasons,” or “I’ve lived further north than this.”  Sometimes the conversation rolls around to beer and the various types thereof.  I like to say that I became an accidental beer snob because of my time over there, but now I mostly try to just talk about the suds themselves without bringing my personal experiences into it.  This is absolutely impossible if I’m with friends in a German restaurant, though.  When I have a nice order of Sauerbraten and a cold Dunkel in front of me, my stein- and my urge to talk about Deutschland-  runneth over.

It would be better if I had no need to interject my experience into the conversation at all, though.  That’s the dream.  Keeping my stupid mouth shut and letting other people do the talking is what I aspire to do.  Now if only I could remember the question from two years ago that started this whole thing…

Do you have any topics that you can’t leave alone in casual conversation?

7/52

* – This post is still not completed entirely to my satisfaction, but finally publishing SOMETHING about this after two years will be a great relief to my Checklist Brain.   And, as a bonus, I can finally close the tab that’s been open to Charlotte’s post for the past two years.

There’s No Place Like “Home”

Last week, I found round trip airfare from Orlando to Atlanta for this year’s Dragon Con for only $136.  I posted it to BookFace, saying something like, “The moment when you spot an INSANELY good rate for Dragon Con airfare, but you don’t know if this will still be your home airport. ::sob::”

To my vast surprise, several people had a “wait, what?” type of reaction, and a few messaged me privately to ask if I was moving away from Orlando.  I mentioned in my new year’s post that I was contemplating a move out of Florida, and I’ve been talking incessantly about the possibilities with a few people, so it never occurred to me that so many of my friends would be in the dark.  (Clearly, I need to get more of them reading this blog.)

To address the question more directly:  I still haven’t decided for sure if I’m leaving Florida.   Or where I’m going if I do move.

It’s really difficult to break through the inertia of staying in one place for a while.  I’ve moved twelve times in the last ten years, but I’ve been in this one place for a little while now, and it can be difficult to pick up and go for the thirteenth time.

What I have decided with certainty is that when my lease ends this summer, I don’t want to stay put.  I don’t really like my apartment, for one thing.   Also, it’s fricking hot here.  And it would be significantly hotter in South Florida.

The climate here isn’t the only thing to be considered.   It’s been years since I lived in a place that “felt like home” to me. When I came back to the US after my time abroad, no part of South Florida felt quite right; I felt like a stranger in my own home town- more than I did in Germany.

I traveled back to Germany twice after I moved back, once for work and once just to visit.  During both of those trips, I had the uncanny feeling that I had only just left a few days before.  Aside from a few familiar restaurants closing and new ones opening, and aside from Jenny and Robert’s children getting taller, everything felt the same.  It felt like I had just left, and it felt like no time had passed at all.  I was incredibly comfortable there.  Not so with my return to the US – everything here felt kind of alien to me.

I’m not suggesting that I want to return to living outside of the United States- I absolutely do not. (Although if my job wanted me to be in the London office for a while, I wouldn’t say no.).  What I am saying is that when no place feels like home, it’s difficult to feel settled.  I genuinely don’t know where I want to be.

For where to go next, I have a few main considerations:

  • Is the temperature colder than Florida for most of the year? (Not bloody difficult!)
  • Is there cool shit to do?  Especially the music;  how’s the concert scene?  Is it a constant flow of activity there or do they roll up the sidewalks at 8pm?
  • Is there decent public transportation there?
  • Do I know anyone in the area? Friends or family?
  • Can I get a decent apartment there without blowing my spleen out on rent payments?
  • Is there a variety of delicious food options?

I’ve considered a number of possible destinations.  I’ve considered eastern New Jersey, with easy access to New York.  I considered Austin for the music scene, but moving from a swamp to a desert is not my idea of cooling down.  I also thought about Portland and the Pacific Northwest, or the Raleigh-Durham area, or Atlanta.   My work is completely remote, so I can theoretically work from anywhere.  In practice, it’s best if I stick to the same time zone as the main office in New York;  I am NOT a morning person and moving west would mean working earlier.

The top contender at present is the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area.  It ticks every box I just listed, and then some.   DC has easy access to three airports and the most useful part of the US rail lines.  It has a pretty useful metro system, and a constant flow of things to see and do.  The weather is a lot closer to what I actually want.  I’ve got a few friends and a really nifty cousin there.  Despite having no firm decision to move, I already have tickets to at least four concerts there this year.  I also have a fervid desire to go to at least five more events that were announced, but until I learn to clone myself that isn’t happening.

So yes, I’m leaning that way.  Still, the decision is not fully made.

Florida is not without its advantages, and I would be remiss to ignore the things I would be leaving behind:  An established social scene with a lot of friendships that I would miss.  Easy access to the theme parks.   Having sorted out which doctors to see in the area. (Finding new doctors is just a pain in the ass.)  Tijuana Flats and Publix.   Being only about a 70 minute drive from my sister, and only a few hours away by car for most of the rest of my family.   Being able to comfortably wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year.

But then there are the parts of living here that are less thrilling.  For example, the great social scene I just mentioned is largely centered around a bar scene, which means lots of beer intake.  (Some people would call that a plus, now that I think about it.)  Also, having to wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year to remain comfortable while still sweating is miserable and uncomfortable and kind of sticky.

And Orlando doesn’t feel like home either.

I don’t know if a new city will be any better, but I do think a fresh start would be really good for me.   I’m not worried about making friends in my new location, because I’ve moved to a new city sight-unseen a few times now, and I was able to find a tribe there each time.   For an introvert, I’m really quite friendly and sociable.

And hey, at least I won’t be sweating in January.

When is the last time you moved?  Was it a difficult change?

6/52

Music History: Firsts

I love music.

This may be the most understated thing I will say all year.   Long-time readers of this blog probably figured out a long time ago that most of my non-work trips start with me going, “Ooh, a concert I want to see!”    I’ve talked a great deal about music on this blog already- I’ve talked about They Might Be Giants, and Leonard Cohen, and Eurovision.   I ‘ve posted about musicals in general, and about Starlight Express and A Chorus Line in particular.   I’ve also talked about my first ever concert (New Edition), and about my memories of the Ghostbusters soundtrack in that glorious red plastic Arista case back in 1984.

And of course there’s a page on this blog that I keep updating to show the artists that I’ve seen play live.

I’ll say it again:  I love music. I need music.  If I don’t listen to music for a while, I can get downright cranky.  It’s as vital to me as breathing, and I go to concert after concert after concert for the love of music, even though I hate crowds and I have a fair amount of travel anxiety.  I can’t not go. (FOMAC, or Fear of Missing a Concert, is an entirely different blog post that I may come back to later.  Shut up, it’s a real thing!)

With that introduction in mind, I want to talk about music throughout various parts of my life.  I’ll start at the very beginning.

My earliest memory of music, any music, was all the way back in 1978.  I was five years old, and I remember being in some sort of a school or daycare center or something along those lines- it wasn’t a usual place for me.  I was waiting near some other kids while we picked up one of my siblings. The kids I was hanging out near were playing with original first-generation Star Wars action figures. I remember they made me be C3PO. While we played with the Star Wars toys, there was a radio on.

There were two songs in heavy rotation on the radio at that time, and they were the first songs to ever penetrate my tiny little head.  Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air.”

Those two songs played back to back. I can’t remember ever hearing music before that day. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember it.

I also recall the very first album that I ever owned.  When I was ten years old, there were advertisements in the back of comic books that said that if you sell stuff from their crappy catalog, you could win prizes.  This company sent an army of tiny Willy Lomans (Lomen?) door to door to sell magazine subscriptions, Christmas cards, pecan turtles, and wrapping paper.  With enough sales, you could get yourself a tent, a bicycle, or any number of other “fabulous prizes.”  It took a hell of a lot of sales to get anything substantial, but in 1983, I used my hard-earned prize bucks to get a voucher for a cassette tape from one of those music places like Columbia House or BMG, only not quite as obnoxious. That first album?  I was grooving to “Future Shock” by Herbie Hancock.

I had seen the video for Rockit, of course, and the kicking-pants robots made me want to dance.  Or something.  The entire album turned out to be really phenomenal, but I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much in 1983 as I do now.

My mom got me the second album I ever owned- we were in a Richway, which was sort of like the larval form of the retail chain now known as Target.  Richway’s parent company sold all of their stores to Dayton-Hudon Corporation around 1988, and that company closed all the stores, stripped them for parts, and then reopened most of them as Target stores.  The specific Richway from this story is actually some other non-Target store, according to Wikipedia.

But I digress.   We were in Richway, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1984.  It was an amazing day for eleven-year-old Steven because not only did I get my first transforming toy there, a red Gobot sports-car named Turbo, but  Mom also bought me a cassette of Rockwell’s first album.   Again, I was familiar only with the first single released, a popular song called “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which had Michael Jackson on backup vocals. The rest of the album was a lot of fun, though, and I still listen to it sometimes.  “Obscene Phone Caller” was always one of my favorites songs, even though it would be years before I actually understood how pervy the song really is.

What was your first album?  Your first concert?  The first song you remember hearing?

5/52

Unanswered Questions, or an amnesty on polite-but-late inquiries.

During a recent group conversation on social media, a group of my friends decided to exchange non-Internet contact info in case of emergencies. After phone numbers and other details were swapped around, one of the people in the group said to me, “I FINALLY have your phone number!”

I would have been happy to give this friend my phone number at any time in the preceding year, had I known that she didn’t have it. Alas, we were caught in that weird social conundrum where you’re missing some piece of information about your friend but you feel like you’ve waited too long to ask.

This happens to me all the time, as it happens.  Usually, it’s people’s names.  I try very hard to remember the names of people who are introduced to me, but I don’t always get it with the first meeting.  Or the second.

With that in mind, I’m declaring an amnesty on all questions.  If there’s anything at all you want to know about me, even if you’ve known me for years and you’ve just been too polite to ask them, now is the time.  I will answer, within reason, any question asked of me.*  If your question is suitably interesting, I might answer it in the form of another blog post.  You can ask your question as a comment on this post, or in an e-mail if you’d prefer to ask me something privately.  The e-mail address is on the blog if you need it, to the right of this post.

* – If your question is dickish or WAY too personal, I might decline to answer, but I’ll be nice about it.

So tell me, friends, what do you want to know?

4/52 and a half

 

Memories of Chris, ten years later.

I realized while going through the remnants of my old blog that it’s been ten years since Chris passed away.   I’ve outlived a great many friends and loved ones, and some people leave more of a mark on you than others.  Chris was like that- he definitely made an impression.

I first met him in the very early 1990s on an accidental double date.  It wasn’t supposed to be a date-  Jade, one of my best friends at the time, wanted me to meet her friend Amy and arranged a meet-up at a local pool room. Amy brought Chris along, and we got on brilliantly.  After we all left the pool hall, we drove to the Lake Worth Pier.   Chris wanted to talk to Jade on the drive over,  so when we reached a stoplight, he got out of his car and knocked on my window.  A brief car switcheroo commenced, and we each drove the rest of the way to the pier in the other’s car.  This was the first of many shenanigans over the span of our friendship.

If you called Chris by his full name, he would say “the Topher is silent.”  After Chris died December 28th, 2009, from complications of pneumonia, that sentiment is truer than ever.

Chris and I were thick as thieves through most of the 1990s. We took classes together at PBCC, before it evolved into its current form. In 1994, we got an apartment in Boynton Beach and spent a year as roommates. We worked at Motorola together making the circuit boards for pagers.  He stayed on at Motorola when I left to finish my bachelor’s degree in Orlando.

A lot of who I am today was the direct result of my time with him. Being around Chris shaped parts of my personality.  Chris is one of the few people I have ever known with a music collection that was larger than mine-  we became fiercely competitive about the size of our CD collections.   It was all in fun, though-  there’s a ton of music in my regular rotation even now that I might never have been exposed to if not for him.

To this day, there are certain things that are indelibly linked to Chris in my mind.  There are certain songs, certain places, certain concepts that will always remain linked to him in my mind.  Whenever I see a Volkswagen Golf, or drive to South Beach near the former location of his favorite pizza restaurant in Key Biscayne, my mind drifts back to the past.

The memorial service was a traditional funeral mass, and I think Chris would have been terribly amused at how much the British reverend sounded like Rowan Atkinson. I kept waiting for him to say “…and the Holy Spigot.”  The only people I knew at the church were his mom, his widow, and my good and dear friend Lorrie. I’ve known Lorrie since middle school, but this was the first time that I’ve seen her in person in over a decade.  I noted a few days later how much it bothered me that it took the death of one friend to bring me back into the life of another friend.  Lorrie and I never fell out of touch again after that.  Even now, she’s a frequent concert-and-convention buddy.

But then, Chris was always a catalyst in my universe. The people from his world and the people from my world tended to get to know one another.  And quite a few of them miss him even now.

4/52

Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.
Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.