Tag Archives Boulder

Low Decibel Foreboding

Posted on 1 min read 63 views

I’m obsessed and terrified with dying. When I was young, like most young people, I never thought I would live long enough to become old. The difference is that the feeling has not left as I’ve slowly moved towards middle age. It’s not that growing older has been harder than I expected, because in many ways it’s been softer, it’s just that this low decibel hum of foreboding that has always lived with me hasn’t disappeared. When I was twenty-seven my daughter was born. That same year, I remember thinking that I would die when I was thirty-seven. I told a few people that, and it was greeted with an understandable level of patronization and smiles. And so I don’t think about it often. But when I do, it seems as real and present as the first time it barreled towards me.

I thought about it today. The terrifying part wasn’t that I could still feel it there. The terrifying part is that I’m much closer to that point, but still far from where I want to be.

South Boulder

Posted on 2 min read 58 views

I woke up staring at the ceiling. There were stains in the panels. Not terribly noticeable, but small light pools where water had gathered at one point. Another part of the ceiling sagged noticeably. They were all things that I should have noticed before, and yet they had attracted my attention for the first time. And in that I felt sadness, because I was only noticing these things now, after so many years here, and when I was so close to leaving.

I’ve never struggled to say goodbye to a home before. I’m usually ready to move on by then. But thats not the case this time. I know it’s time, but it’s a struggle, and as I dressed after getting out of bed, I felt tears well up in my eyes. Outside, it was sunny, with light clouds, and a view of the Rocky Mountains. When I was younger I was repelled by Boulder. Coming here in college left me feeling like being on the outside looking in, as if there was something everyone was a part of, that I couldn’t understand.

Now being here in Boulder brings me some degree of peace. I spent more of my adult life in this house than in any other place. It saw more versions of me than any other home. And if they weren’t the formative years, they were the most important years. I raised my daughter here, and lived alone here after she was gone.

I’ll miss my friend and roommate, who moved in, after my family moved to Germany. He cooks dinner, watches weird shows with me, and keeps me up to date about the Denver Nuggets. He made it feel like a home again after it had become a museum.

I’ll miss the small work room in the basement. Where it was quiet, simple, and always had enough light. I’ll miss the bedroom that was always cooler than the rest of the house and that helped me sleep. I’ll miss my coffee shop, the cafes, and the late breakfasts on weekend mornings. I’ll miss how close it is to the Flatirons and NCAR. I’ll miss the bike path that traces the creek, and leads through the simple and beautiful Boulder neighborhoods.

But more than anything, I’ll miss it because I’m saying goodbye to the little girl that would play in the backyard, and run into my bedroom in the morning. I’ll miss our Saturday morning ritual where we would walk to the small branch library to play and read books, and then the grocery store for bagels and chocolate milk, and then finish at Martin’s Park to play on the playground and throw rocks in the creek. This home is inextricably linked with her childhood for me. And her childhood will leave. I don’t have a choice in that. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less. And so I don’t want to leave, but I have to.

Ultimate Sex Survey

Posted on 1 min read 65 views

In line for a coffee, I notice a free local Boulder magazine called Rooster sitting on a rack near the barista. On the cover is a wide-eyed drawing of a girl in a small referee outfit, cradling a baby that appears to be wrapped in a burqa. In the heading is written, “Ultimate Sex Survey”. The entire cover is weirdly sexual, and concerning, because I find it concerning. I can’t tell when this type of thing started to make me squeamish. When did sex start to make me awkward? It pours out of everything now, much as it did when I was young, but it seems so disheartening. A familiar recklessness that’s finally lost its control. When I was in the middle of it, it was like standing in the center of a storm, everything spiraling and deliberate. The things we used to do in public bathrooms send a chill down my spine. Were we really that young?

Collections – Nowhere

Posted on 8 min read 57 views

Germany, Iceland, Denver, Boulder – 30

What magic there once was in Europe seems lost to me forever. Even Iceland is gray, miserable and suffocating. Physically, I’m depressed and grimy. My laptop was stolen in Amsterdam, but that happened a week ago, and I quickly moved passed it. An expensive mistake on my part, that’s all it seems like now. Instead, the malaise is a spread of realization. The time to play, and be happy, has passed. Now it’s seriousness in life, career, and the care for those around me. However, Europe had seemed to escape these symptoms of growing older.

But now, practicality has made short work of the memories I had of Prague, Madrid, Istanbul, Berlin, and the other dozen or so cities I used to “know”. Europe has become a place like any other. My pulse doesn’t quicken with anticipation when the plane lands. Instead, I think of how long it will be until I can fall asleep in an uncomfortable bed.

No single factor is to blame. Working in Prague brought me joy. But the thought of taking a job in Germany is suffocating. I’ve spent too long being the boss, even if a middling one. I have a taste for it now. So I’m trapped in a situation with more closing doors than opening ones. And for the first time ever, both age and circumstances, have turned against me. And then there’s that guilt, the guilt about being happy that I’ve carried with me ever since I was little. If I did manage to kick it for part of my 20s, then today it’s back in full effect. I feel it in every action, and the repercussions those actions have upon the people in my life.

On the plane, everyone is covered in blankets and sleeping, even though it’s early where we came from. I fill out an immigration form, and visualize the small international terminal of the Denver airport: a scarcity of passport control stands, two baggage carousels, and a waiting area with Russians huddled outside, watching for their arrivals.

How did I end up back in this city? I left college, and Denver, behind with Clorox still on my hands from cleaning at 4 am. I drove 12 hours to a new life in Chicago, and never missed it here. College was brutal, beautiful, and monumental. But Denver was never home. Now I consider spending the rest of my life 30 minutes away, in Boulder, which I used to detest. I’ve become docile, and I find this place comfortable and pleasant.

I dream of made up memories.

I’m in a pretentious bakery and delicatessen, and become furious because they tore down the restaurant that was there before. They ask me to leave. I sit outside and remember detailed scenes: taking girls on dates here, calling lost loves from the tables. I feel as if I’ve lost a part of my youth. And as I wake up, I realize that all the elaborate and detailed memories have never existed.

My eyes are always bloodshot. I don’t know if it’s the computer screen, the dry air, the restless sleep, but they never have the clear quality they used to.  Maybe it’s another effect of age? But I refuse to buy that yet.

At least the days are distracting. I work late and read HP Lovecraft, Poe, and Bierce to fall asleep. When I spend time with friends, we watch movies and regurgitate the Economist. All things designed to distract. Because I know what will come out if I don’t keep busy.

When I wake up on the plane, I think we’re in the middle of think clouds. As I come to, I realize they’re not clouds, but that the ground is completely lost in opaque snow. It reminds me exactly of the opening to a short story I had written nearly a decade ago called, Coming Home. Except that had taken place in Minnesota in the dead of winter, and this is Denver. It had been 60 degrees when I flew out 3 days ago.

Somehow despite the complete blanket and continuing snow, it’s the most on-time flight I’ve had in years.

If someone could freeze this moment: 30 years old, standing in an HM with blaring music, a sweatshirt in one hand that’s 10 years too young for me, and a latte in the other, it might be the definition of a mid-life crisis.

It’s not a question of how I got here; even if the years are muddy, the days are very clear. I’ve become what I wanted to be, and if I’m being honest with myself I expected it to feel like this when I got here. But there’s much less quiet dignity in loneliness, and instead just a general dullness and confusion. I would say things have become less bright, but my eyes have taken on a new sensitivity that has me wearing sunglasses all the time.

The girl at the counter stares me in the eyes when I check out. Young, very young, and light blue. I’m unsure how to feel. I’m unsure what the eye contact means. I don’t even have an idea of what I look like in her eyes.

Ironically, I’m sitting in a bar, when for the first time in a week my mind comes into focus. I look at my fingers. The cuticles have been chewed off. On the fingers are cuts that have reopened and bled through the Band-Aids. My clothes are noticeably stained with what I think is coffee. My lips are broken, and I can feel the bags under my eyes. I run my hand through my hair, it, at least, feels kept.

I’m two drinks, into the first drinks, I’ve had this week. I wonder what the rest will feel like. I can’t place the events of the past week. There are some moments: resting my head against a medicine cabinet, the public urinal between speaking engagements. But most of what I’m left with is a feeling- complete exhaustion.

I remember at that moment that my daughter has the flu, and I feel guilt. Guilt for where I am now, and guilt for how little I’ve been there for her.

I try not to cry when I’m saying goodbye to my daughter. It tastes like blood in my mouth.

I’m at a hole in the wall coffee shop on Blake Street in Downtown Denver. There are two sharply dressed Europeans, with small carry on bags for a flight. They move between English and what I think is Russian. I realize that I still miss Europe, and it seems strange that two people sitting at an espresso bar would bring that out in me.

My mind quickly goes to thoughts of ex-girlfriends. Nothing sordid, in most cases it’s a struggle to even try and remember their faces. I think more of the locations, the music, the smells and sometimes the touch of sleeping next to someone in an oddly shaped bed. There’s not much left for me there, but it’s good for these rare moments where I find myself with nothing to concentrate on.

She used to hate my apartment; she called it the ivory tower, which is sort of apt. The thought of that never depressed me until recently. Now, I can only return late at night, when the Denver skyline looks beautiful, and hides the shit tan, red, sand, rock, gray, dirt, brown, mixed with whatever the fuck garish color palette they used in the 70’s, during the city’s previous boom.

Nothing in New York is ever as it seems to me. I doubt I will ever love this city, because the fanatical love that most people have for it makes the task overwhelming. I’ll never know it as well as everyone else; it will never reveal its secrets to me. Yet, I come here, and a little of the onion is peeled off every time. It’s a softer city than I ever knew it to be. People live in such close proximity that everyone is always in a mild state of annoyance, yet most people are willing and open to making connections with others. It’s unlike Minneapolis today, or the Denver of my college years.

This bar has taken a turn for the worst. It was a nice bar when we entered, nicer than the average Chicago bar, and seedier than the average Manhattan bar. But the night’s descended into orderly nothingness. Is this what it means to be waspy? Is this white trash? People pair off into disgusting twosomes. Someone in the group next to me keeps screaming the word ‘goy’. As I reach for my drink, a couple falls on top of me. An indistinguishable hand traces its path up my jeans. Did I ever like this shit? And if I did, what the fuck is wrong with me now? I’m fully aware that the problem could be me. Everyone is descending into hell, and it’s stupid to assume I’m the odd one out.

Out of the blue, an old girlfriend from Prague calls me. She was always very happy. And again, she tells me that she’s happy. But she doesn’t sound happy. She only mentions that she feels older, that she’s looking at new jobs, that she moved to apartment by a large lake. Berlin would be a tough city to get older in.

She’s going on a holiday to New York, and invites me to come join her. I tell her I will. I don’t really have much else to say. It seems like ground that’s been tread many times before. There were so many years when I would have loved to have had that call. I thought about that call every day, sometimes every hour. And then when it finally comes, you’re not sure why, and there’s nothing left to feel. Afterwards I eat a sandwich, and then go to a friend’s birthday party. It isn’t until late the next day that I even remember that the call happened.

I leave my grandmother’s house in Fort Collins. As I leave, the conversation ends with my family discussing if she should move to assisted living. I’m the only who appears to feel strongly that she should stay in her home. It’s not an old house, or the one from my childhood, but she keeps it immaculate, and it’s comfortable, and it’s close to the church where she volunteers.

There’s a hole in me that seems to be growing larger. I haven’t unconditionally loved anyone for a very long time, but now it’s returned in the form of my daughter. However, it’s not fair to put something so important onto someone so young. So it ends up pouring into work, into friends, and it’s just like learning to walk, or to speak, or some other skill that’s needed to exist. You’re trying to learn how to survive, by learning how to live without them.

Collections – If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now

Posted on 12 min read 45 views

Prague, Dresden, Boulder, Kansas City, St. Petersburg – 23

As I’m cleaning my apartment I find a small notebook that was left by the person before me. The first thing I notice when I open it are the pages full of numbers. Some have names beside them, others have countries. The hand writing is small, neat, and clean.

In the front of the notebook there is a poem about 9-11, a rant to a newspaper, and a laundry list of neo-conservative national actions, including withdrawing from the UN and NATO and reinstating the Monroe Doctrine. This little number is also in the front:

“As an American who has lived in Europe for more than half of my 45 years. For those who ask if Americans should identify the problems which cause the widespread hatred of America in the Muslim world I can say this: I, and I think most Americans, can not be bothered. I would only say that America does what it dreams is in its interest. America’s interests are freedom, democracy, peace and wealth. Those who hate us for them can go to hell and we should help them.”

Apparently people like this do exist. And if I knew they existed, I would never have guessed we would have shared this flat.

—-

As a result of applying for a Czech Visa, I have been to Dresden three times in the past five months. Each time I’ve had only a couple of hours so I can’t say I understand the city, but you can feel it there: the people are nicer than in Prague, but I wouldn’t call them friendly, simply tolerant, which is all you can ever hope for in Prague.

There is a little bit of woe. They’ve been unlucky in the way things broke apart, but the city has been rebuilt well. Certain parts show the history of Communism, others the War, but it’s clean except for the graffiti. Many of the buildings in the center are constructions of new and scorched black bricks. I was told the black bricks are originals from the firebombing. It looks like patchwork. The blackened bricks being picked up and placed wherever, with new white stones interwoven when needed. The people, on the whole, don’t seem to be attractive. Many are overweight with plain faces, their t-shirts too tight so that it shows their stomach stretching out in front of them. They dress better than the Czechs, but only marginally.

I go to bed around midnight; my alarm goes off two and a half hours later. There is that moment of indecision before I pull myself up, eat a muesli bar, and drink a red bull. The Czech foreign police- my visa finally came through, now it’s my turn to stand in line to have it validated. I’ve only heard horror stories. Even a good visit wipes out an entire day. I feel nervous; I have something that borders on a fear of lines.

The first tram comes a minute early and speeds off as I’m an arm’s length away. At the Florenc metro stop I can’t find the correct bus and take a taxi. I’m in line behind a circle of Mormons by four a.m. They ask me to join them. I hesitate. They have on the traditional Mormon missionary dress, sans bike helmet: black slacks, white button ups, ties, and name tags; some have back-packs. I accept, it will be another three and half-hours before the doors even open.

“Where are you from?” they ask.

“Minnesota.”

“I’m from Minnesota too,” one of the kids with glasses says.

There is pushing at the front of the line that is already several hundred thick.

“A woman came around with a list before and we put our names down. I don’t think it really matters; they didn’t work here or anything. The police aren’t going to come and put everyone in order.”

“Honza, is there a Honza here?”

There is more pushing from the front. The whole confrontation is being orchestrated by some big, greasy Ukrainians/Russians. It’s easier to call them Russians, more slang names.

“It looks like they are trying to put people in order from the list.”

“No one’s going to care about that list,” I say.

The crowd surges backwards. The Ruskos are driving into the crowd with their shoulders down. The Mormons are big Midwesterners, and put up a good fight, but there aren’t enough of us. A Russian steps out of the crowd and pushes me. I smack his hands away and he backs up. I raise my hands, palms out in defeat, and say ‘I’m going.’ I move out of the line and he doesn’t try to continue pushing me. I watch as the Vietnamese people next to me are being literally shoved down the small flight of stairs behind us.

From outside the line, the Mormons and I watch the same fights over and over again as the Reds find everyone on their list and put them in order. They look out for their own, and the front is full of Russians. Most show up while the line is being formed.

“If they do ever get to us, you can say that you’re with the church and join us.”

I don’t have the right dress, but amazingly after an hour of pushing the Russians actually find our spot in line. We are hundreds of people away from the door, but there is relief in finding a place. At six, the police come and put everyone into files of two. The line stretches for a hundred meters around the corner. We start moving at seven-thirty, and are inside the building by nine-thirty. I’m number 597; visa registration starts at 500, after two hours of being open they are on number 520.

The waiting room is over-crowded and muggy. There aren’t enough chairs so I stand. I take numerous walks, usually joined by members of the Church. They are required to travel with another missionary at all times so there are always three of us. The numbers move slowly, but the missionaries are good company. They speak Czech well, and have a number of entertaining stories. Their Czech Republic is very different from mine. They never try to convert me; instead they have a genuine curiosity about how I live.

“Is the night life very good here? I feel it’s really quiet in the Czech Republic.”

“It’s very good, but it starts late, and you have to know where to go. There is a party every night of the week if you are looking for one,” I say. I offer to show them some of the bars, but they explain that they have to wake up at six-thirty, and go to bed at ten-thirty while on the mission.

“Do you have a lot of one night stands?” the boy from Minnesota asks.

“No, not really. I mean some, but usually it’s not one night.”

“Two-or-three night stands?” He asks. In different lives we could have both found happiness, had our situations been reversed.

There is a fear that usually comes when you’re leaving a place. A fear of spending those last days alone. The last night can be low-key, but it’s horrible to go quietly in the days before. There will be a period of peace when you are home, and you have to be tired to enjoy that.

I spend the last days with a twenty-two year-old former student who is small, sweet, and cute. She likes me, perhaps too much, but we tell the other that we are glad for the time that we spent together, and we take conciliation in the possibilities of the future.

We walk around the City during the day. From the top of Petrin Hill, I can look down on the City. Prague is a red city. The roofs of the buildings create a sea of red, dotted with green from iodized bronze, which stretches until the communist housing projects sitting just below the horizon line.

When it rains outside her hair curls into blonde waves. They frame her dark steel-blue eyes, making her look young, innocent, and Czech. Spending time with her is a very nice way to leave a city.

On Sunday morning I left Prague; I don’t know how long I will be gone. Before leaving I wrote messages to myself in a beer garden in Vyšehrad:

Tomorrow I will leave for the States. For a long time now I’ve been jealous of the people that can continue to call Prague their home. I will miss this place very much, but it’s not the first time I’ve left. The foreigners in Prague are transient; it’s a stop on the way to somewhere else. But I felt that Prague was home the first time I moved here three years ago. And I felt it again when I returned to it in September. Each time after, stepping off the plane whispering to myself, ‘welcome home.’

Everyone comes here hoping to find something. This is what I know as I leave: I’m 23 and my hands shake, I enjoy teaching, I have several minor addictions, I like to read and I like finance, I like some drugs and I don’t like others, I sleep best in the middle of the day and I like the sunset but hate the sunrise, I drink coffee with cream and no sugar, I fuck up every relationship but it’s not so simple, I have an almost constant feeling of nausea, and in the mornings if I’m not too hung-over I feel euphoric.

When I come back it will probably be under different circumstances. This may be the end of my life as a teacher. It felt like child’s play, a year of vacation, something fun every night. It’s probably for the best, that borrowed time was starting to catch up with me.

I’ve felt in transit these past weeks. I spent time at home in Minnesota. I was in a mood to be left alone, and was. In Denver I visited with relatives and college friends. It was also quiet, and I wanted that less.

I picked up a truck in Colby, Kansas, and drove it across the state to Kansas City for work training. Next week I begin a sales job in Illinois.

The Western part of Kansas is flat and empty, even more flat than Southern Minnesota. The East gets greener, and I drove in peace underneath the wind farms that cluster along I-70. Many of the turbines are built on the base of hills next to the road so that all you can see are the blades spinning level with the car.

To live out of a bag is pretty natural, but it’s frustrating carrying it from the car. I pass time in my hotel room watching too much television, and eating at nearby chain restaurants with a book. I drive now, when I would have walked in Prague. But even if I wanted to walk, I couldn’t. The streets are too busy with traffic to move across.

“The girls here are pretty, but something is not right,” I tell my friend, as we walk through a farmer’s market in Boulder. “They’re in good shape,” I pause and scan the crowd, “but I remember them being more attractive.”

“Like in Europe?” Sarcasm. He is sick of hearing about it.

“Uh yeah, but I meant Minnesota. It was a nice surprise how many cute girls I saw. These girls have better bodies though.”

“Minnesota pretty.”

“What’s that?”

“Pretty face, big body.”

“Hm… yeah, that might be true. I’ve known a few.”

I look again at the girls. They’re dressed casually, sun-dresses or high shorts with a t-shirt, clothes that show thin legs, tanned red instead of brown from the high altitude and dry climate.

“They are pretty though,” I say.

The way I remember Kansas City is as a physically dry city. The City of Fountains, and the first time I visited the City there was a draught and the fountains sat empty. I thought the City was ugly, hot, and brown. Now it’s green, with better bars, and girls that are prettier than I remember.

The air in the farm fields outside Kansas City is wet. I feel like I’m suffocating. I try to stay up-right; it would be bad for the youngest guy to go to his knees. Despite the moisture in the air the ground is dusty, and kicks up light brown dirt onto my Levi’s and Tiger shoes. I’m inappropriately dressed. Not well enough for one half, and not farmer enough for the other. A pair of Dockers and brown shoes would help.

As we were driving to the farm plots, they tell me about Chiggers. Tiny bugs, too small to see, that burrow into the skin and suck blood until they’re full and drop out. I spray Off! along my beltline and ankles to prevent chiggers from getting into my boxers and up my legs.

“You itch until you bleed,” they tell me.

 

I’m forced to exit on highway US-36.

“There is water on the road,” a tan and skinny construction worker with a sun-blister on his lip, tells me in Macon. “Go south, and then take 24 east.”

In a small town called Monroe City I stop for gas.

“Hi, does 24 eventually meet up with 36?” I ask the middle-aged woman working behind the counter in BP.

She pauses for a moment. “It joins up ahead.” She motions to the left. “I’m not too good with directions. I’ve never been anywhere besides St. Louis. People have been asking for help all day because they’re routing them through here.”

I thank her and go out to the car. I follow her directions and become lost in the countryside. I stumble dumbly for nearly an hour until US-36 appears out of nowhere like a mirage.

I’m being taken through the farmland of Illinois. In the acres of corn, sometimes beans, you get used to your reflection and color in the side-view mirror. When I drive I’m stirred from caffeine. Too much and the caffeine makes me sick enough that I can’t sleep until the early hours of the morning. The hotels all have the constant hum of an air conditioner. This one has a white bedspread. It’s the same room, different town, same breakfast, but a different television set.

From a Cruise through the Baltic:

In Russia, without a Visa, we can’t stay in St. Petersburg at night. We’re given ‘shore passes’ in the morning for our tour, and we return with the group in the afternoon.

It’s foggy in St. Petersburg, and makes the city seem small as the buildings disappear next to each other. There is a smell in the air like boiled vegetables and dirty rain. The outside of the buildings are streaked black. Our tour guide is sweet and talks quickly. When we cross the street she stands in front of our group and says, ‘I’ll take the hit,’ as we force traffic to stop at the crosswalk.

My allergies are acting up and I take a Zyrtec. In the Winter Palace Hermitage, I fall asleep while standing. I stare at Rembrandts, Davids, Van Goghs, and Davincis, and all I can think about is sleeping. The Palace is beautiful in an opulent way, with green and gold, instead of the traditional yellow, coated walls. I drift in and out for the tour, and recover at lunch with espresso and vodka shots, in a former embassy where angels in chariots ride across the ceiling.

During the day I read Palahniuk’s Rant in the ship’s library. At night I play craps in the casino, and get drunk on the vodka-sodas they bring me. In the computer lab I can’t log onto the wifi, and I kick the desk until I fall over backwards. A server from the next room comes in, and tells me she has called security. I threaten to give her rabies.

My father grabs my arm. “Look out the window,” he says. “You could make this trip a hundred times and not have a clear day.” I stand up and move to the right side of the plane.

Below is Greenland. The mountains are white, with brown roots trailing out from the center and into the ocean. Icebergs surround the shore in the water.

I take my seat, but people continue to stand and look outside. After another ten minutes I stand up again. I only see clouds now, until I realize that I’m staring at an ice sheet so white that the only way to recognize it is from the slits of translucent ice that occasionally cut through the opaque white. It looks clean and alive, but there’s nothing living down there.