After completing one round trip I consider a change of direction.
BROOKLYN, New York- I remember the last time I came into New York City with the intent of sticking around for a while. It was 2008; I had just called off an around the world bicycle journey because I decided to finish my last semester of college and get a degree — even though I knew, rather correctly, that I’d never really need it. My plan was to just keep riding eastward, to Turkey, to wherever else, but then I got an email from some girl that I met in Central America a couple of years before. She told me that if I came to NYC she would let me live in her closet and would bake me apple pie.
I interpreted closet to mean bed and apple pie to be a euphemism for … something else. This was enough to get me to ditch the bike.
This girl was something different. She had cure dimples on her cheeks and wore polka-dotted dresses. She did things her own way, didn’t really care what other people thought, and couldn’t be bothered to join any bandwagon. She had this strange cool to her that made people respect and sort of look up to her … and it drew me in immediately.
Some years went by since we first met but I never really forgot her, so the possibility was worth a called off journey … There would be more journeys but would I ever have another chance to have time with this person? Probably not.
However, when I arrived in NYC my new plan seemed foiled from the start. When I met her again for the first time in two years she was dripping sweat, as it was summer and she decided to walk to me rather than take the subway. I negged her about being soggy with sweat, I told her that she was shorter than I remembered, and I named the mole on the side of her neck Elroy in a five minute span. A fantastic start. She then informed me that she didn’t have a closet, so I would have to live somewhere else and she baked me an actual apple pie — like the kind that you chew and swallow.
So much for poetics.
I tried courting her for a few weeks after this — bringing in mixed Inca Colas with rum to class and going on ice cream dates — but eventually gave up. I told her that I had a crush on her two times point blank and she rebuffed me. I tried kissing her one night on the Brooklyn bridge but she squirmed out of it. We went to a fortune teller who informed her that she would soon be impregnated by a musician. She went on a date with some little Asian dork who made music.
I gave up.
I went over to her apartment one day to tell her so. We ended up taking a nap instead. We didn’t come out for 24 hours, but when we did we were together, and that’s the way we would stay for the next eleven years.
I’m back in New York City. I’m with Hannah. Our two kids are with their grandparents. It’s just the two of us — an arrangement we haven’t had for a decade. Our memories of New York are of just walking around hand in hand. We didn’t have enough money then to actually go inside anywhere — we lived off of $2 egg and cheese on bagels from Pakistani street food carts. We have a little more money now, and we can actually go inside of restaurants, sit down, and order something. Not bad.
My wife’s plan in NYC for is to do her final internships to knock off her AMI Montessori certification. My plan is to hang out with her like we did in NYC in 2008…I mean, work.
I’m supposed to be looking for a job. The objective is to evaluate the possibility of setting up a semi-permanent base of operations here. This means applying for staff positions at newspapers and magazines, finding a place to stay that we can afford, and schools for my two daughters — i.e. becoming a part of the real world, which oddly seems interesting and new.
I haven’t done any of it yet. Well, I asked a Reuters reporter to let me know if any interesting positions come up and I hung out with a friend who works for NY Times Magazine, but this was more just to make it seem like I’m actually trying to get a real job than anything else.
Honestly, I haven’t applied for a job in a decade.
Getting a real job and leasing an apartment in the USA seems like an insurmountable set of tasks — way more difficult than working for myself and traveling perpetually. However, this is a set of tasks that almost everybody in the world does on a regular basis. It’s normal. Most people live in the real world.
I’ve successfully skirted the boundaries of this way of life. Travel started out as an escape that turned into a reality. For me, getting a job that you have to go to everyday and having to ask someone permission to do what you want with your time seems obtuse and extreme. Do people really spend their lives like that?
Why do I need to cross this boundary? Why can’t I just keep doing what I do? Because my work the way I do it is hit and miss: some months I feast and others I starve. A regular salary is sometimes a good thing if rent is due on a certain day each month.
Why am I thinking of setting up a base of operations in the USA? Because my wife wants to go back to work and the kids want to go to school. Sure, we can do this abroad — and we have — but that has its own array of additional issues and compromises for my wife and kids. Kids don’t like travel, they like vacations — they like friends and family and school and not having to start from scratch every three months.
I can do my work as I do it with a base of operations anywhere. It doesn’t matter if my family is in the USA or Bangladesh, I will still travel out, do my projects, come back, and process them. So this is really about what is best for them, and Asia, Africa, and Latin America does not check these boxes. Europe would be clutch, but my wife and kids are still waiting for their Polish citizenship to come through — it’s tough to live in the EU when you’re not a citizen of a member state.
I’m writing this and talking myself out of the idea. It is easy to change your lifestyle when things are going well. I’m not sure if I want to know what’s on the other side of door #3.
While I’m not sure where this stint in NYC is going to go what I do know is that the round trip back here– from NYC 2008 to NYC 2019 — was the far better than I ever could have dreamed up at the onset. I ended up with a wife and two kids all while keeping the wandering life fully in-tact. My wife gave me a test the other day to see if I’ve learned anything during our journey together:
We were in a bakery that had literally hundreds of different types of cake and other sweets available in a ridiculously long display case. She turned to me and delivered her challenge.
“After ten years of marriage can you pick out what I would choose from here for myself?”
I walked down the row and back — I looked over birthday cakes and cookies and brownies … shelves and shelves of every type of desert.
“Yes,” I replied. “You would get the marbled cheesecake.”
I supposed I’ve learned something along the way.
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