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U2 and Forever Hope for Freedom

By | Short Story

Last summer, when my fella asked me how I’d feel about going to see U2 on their 30 year anniversary tour for the album, The Joshua Tree, I responded by saying, “If I don’t cry during that show, I’ll know that my soul has truly died”.

Thirty years ago, “With or Without You” was the feature slow song at my Jr. High Homecoming dance. I was 14. I held to the edges of the school cafeteria, in fear of doing or saying anything not acceptable of the most dangerous of my peers. But when that song came on; you know how it goes, the one guitar comes in like a little, distant chiming bell, the bass enters and lets you know that this is serious, and then The Edge enters and pulls at your heart strings like they were his guitar. By the time Bono’s  vox moves into the spotlight, you’re swept up in the longing and the depth.

And you give yourself away.

The room spun with little flecks of light and my awkwardness was momentarily suspended, replaced by a music-trance and the sense of love and hope. Not so coincidentally, I was, asked to dance.

The year was 1987. I got a CD player and with it a copy of The Joshua Tree, for Christmas. If grooves could have been worn into that shiny little disc by the laser focus of my total attention! Everyone seemed to like U2 after that album, at least everyone that I knew. But I LOVED them, and even if you did too, my story is a little different.

In 1988, my friends and I went to see the documentary “Rattle and Hum”, as soon as it was released in Miami theaters and then again and again. I cried through the entire Red Rocks Amphitheater part. My teen angst hadn’t quite hit yet and so, I didn’t exactly know why it felt so deeply meaningful, I just felt it. And it felt good to be allowed to cry and feel what I felt.

I immediately went out and bought two of their previous albums, War and Unforgettable Fire and fell even more deeply in love.

I turned 15 that year, which brought about my change, in more ways than one.  I had been breaking under the heaps of pressure to fit in, in middle school. I already knew what would happen if I didn’t. Out of sheer fear, I studied the pages of 17 magazine, smeared on a thick layer of foundation makeup every day and did my best to disguise the fact that I only owned one pair of Guess jeans. I smiled, hid how I really felt and was so so afraid, until an unlikely hero, my drama classmate, hippie, girlfriend, exposed me to a way of being that looked a lot more like freedom. A personal exploration was underway and it needed a soundtrack. The Madonna, Phil Collins and Beastie Boys of my music collection weren’t it. The likes of my favorite band, U2 might have held the keys to the meaning of life and I was ready for them.

I listened, from inside of my own room in a home increasingly filled with limitations and disapproval. I made my mother listen with me once, hoping that it would bridge the ever widening crevasse between us, like it seemed to do for space between who I ‘really’ was and who I used to be. I prayed The Joshua Tree would at least remind her of a universal dream of freedom, because that’s all I really wanted, freedom. She just wanted her “normal” little girl back. She didn’t seem interested in freedom, especially not mine.

It was one empty night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

That summer, I was happily shipped off to summer camp, with a fresh, puffy-paint peace sign on my t-shirt, in honor of my new mantra “peace, love and happiness”. Nestled high in the Colorado Mountains, at the familiar Anderson Camp I decided that I would, for the first time ever, familiarize myself with who I was when I was not being pushed and shoved by the people that I loved, to be someone who they wanted me to be. Amidst the open landscapes, the beautiful mountains, and the mountaineering types who ran that place, I felt some of the freedom I yearned for.

She is liberty and she comes to rescue me.

Peace signs, hearts, yin-yangs, anchs, and fairies covered the walls of my bunk, and were drawn on my jeans and in my journal. They were my totems to living freely and differently. I often skipped instead of walking and put flowers in my hair. This new way of being was on a different plane than campmate drama, which was present right away. As the hippie girl, I was the obvious outcast. The thing I had recently feared most was happening and I’d never imagined that with my headphones on, I could care so little.

If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
Let it go
Surrender
Dislocate

Wide Awake.

I enjoyed being alone. In my downtime, you could find me on the hill by the creek listening to my walkman. To the tune of my favorite albums that I’d burned onto tapes, I wrote in my journal about the spirits in the stream, had chats with the chipmunks and found faces in the cliff walls. With my forehead pressed against the glass of the old school bus window, a twelve hour ride to a whitewater rafting put-in became a pilgrimage through the great desert, to where the streets had no name.

I guess that I looked like I was having an interesting time, because within a week, campmate contempt turned to curiosity, which turned to appreciation and by the end of the 4th week, it was dawning on me that something new was happening. I got secret notes from girls who wanted to tell me how much they liked me. I got “you’re my favorite” from counselors. I was voted “the most desirable” by the oldest boys’ cabin. I was possibly the most popular girl at camp. I was just living into who I was without all of the trying and without care for consequence. I was just suddenly brave enough to be me, to my own tune.

Desert sky
Dream beneath a desert sky
The rivers run but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight

Summer camp ended and I brought the feelings with me, for a bit. At home, I was actually farther and farther from free, the more I expressed myself. My ideas were criticized, my wears were ridiculed and I felt completely rejected by my own family. In less than a year, my love of freedom called for war. I was grounded, often. I started running away. I was put somewhere to keep me “safe”, which was basically an expensive form of imprisonment that was partially covered by insurance. They had my head examined.

When war was present in Ireland, U2 started singing about and came to America. Where could *I* go?

How long, how long must we sing this song
How long, how long

In my continuing search for freedom, I lost touch with U2. Their proceeding albums had a song here and there that would grab my attention, but I just didn’t connect with them like I used to. As I came in and out of authenticity with myself, and was once again heavily influenced by my peers, I criticized them for being “sell outs”.

Even as many other albums became my favorites, I never gave up listening to those three U2 albums. Hearing them would still seize my emotional attention, but without tears. In the process of sorting through all of the emotions, which ones are and are not appropriate as an adult, crying-for-music didn’t seem to make the cut.

The storms will pass, it won’t be long now.
This love will last, this love will last forever.

Before 2017, The Joshua Tree, 30 year reunion tour, I had never seen U2. I had a feeling that it would bring something back for me, but with a measure of skepticism. So many things from youth are better off kept safe from our adult critic and I worried that this show might ruin my beautiful and sacred memory of how they inspired me to stand for something, all of those years ago.

So my critic decided to review the show before I even experienced it.

I thought, “Maybe I was just full of hormones then and the remaining bits of emotion I feel are nothing more than sappy nostalgia. Maybe Bono, with his sunglasses all the time, no matter what the reason, was some kind of rock-star narcissist. They turned kinda pop-y, you know. And what’s with all of this American patriotism? It’s no time for that! Maybe if they play something from Unforgettable Fire, I could cry. Maybe.”


On September 19th, 2017, we showed up at the University of Phoenix Stadium early to get a spot, up close. I had dressed in something that I later realized my 15 year old hippie-self would have been quite proud of and it stood out, in a very casual and mainstream looking crowd of people. As we held our spot, close to the stage, I looked around at the vast interior space and as far as I could see, there were faces that held the same anticipation that I felt. Clearly, this band had made a big impact on everyone in some unique way.

Primed by quotes and prose on a huge screen, displaying the main messages of hope and freedom, specifically in America, the room turned red. U2 didn’t launch right into the featured album of the night. First, they played four songs, all from those previous two albums that I spoke of earlier. Just before they played their third song, Bono spoke to us for the first time. He told us that we were going to create a rock and roll show together, with emphasis on “together”.

‘Cause tonight, we can be as one
Tonight, tonight

They were on a mission to unify a divided US. He said, “We will find common ground, reaching for higher ground. … We have to stay awake to dream … even in God’s country.” And then they played “Bad”.

And I bawled and didn’t really stop until the show ended.

I’m wide awake
I’m wide awake
Wide awake
I’m not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no

My coverage of that night’s show isn’t what this is about, but I will say this: every sound was perfect, just as beautiful as I remembered and now, so real. I watched and listened in awe of their confidence, calm stature and zen-like delivery. It was clear that they unshakenly stood for what they believed in and never gave up hope for. Magically, they transcended any current controversies about those ideals, at least for the night. They opened our hearts and made the forever hope of freedom, unity, and compassion a shared experience for all of us.

They’ve re-inspired me to live my truth, especially in the face of opposition, and stay the path to higher ground. I could see it in the faces of this audience that their magic worked on more than just myself.

One love, one blood
One life, you got to do what you should
One life with each other
Sisters, brothers

And just like that, I’m gooey for music again.
—————-

For a far less personal, but very accurate and thoughtful writeup in Phoenix New Times about the very show that we experienced, see: U2 Brought The Joshua Tree Back to the Desert

How am I not myself?

By | Uncategorized

dambrackas-nose-sm.jpg

When I was 15 years old, some special papers were signed and I had a nose job. I didn’t want to wait until I was old enough to consent. I wanted to get fixed like my mom had, ever since I was 10, when she told me that I could, “as soon as you’re old enough,” she said. For five years I was stuck with a face that was wrong and ugly. But it wasn’t ugly like my mother’s face had been; I always thought that her old nose was a good fit for her pretty face. I was on my way to having my father’s nose. To this day, it is the most prominent feature on his face. “A nose like that is OK on a man”, they would say, “but not on a girl”. My brother’s nose earned him the nickname “Beek”, and he seemed somehow proud. It was meant as an endearment, uttered by only his closest friends.

My new nose was a huge relief. I could finally turn any direction in pictures. I could look at people without worrying that they were staring at it. I destroyed any photographs that showed it, in its full glory.

I just used my photoshop skills on a picture taken just yesterday. Looking at what I would have looked like, I see an attractive, happy and confident woman, with a larger than average nose. “Maybe she’s Eastern European or something.”

The Deep Dive

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dive

It was 1999. This chick Michelle was staying with me for a little while, maybe a month, making collages out of old 50s magazines and drinking cheap wine, on most days. I was just going about my normal life, sort of accommodating her adult, artistic development and enjoying her company. One night, we were in the living room smoking weed. I knocked over the bong, or maybe she did. I panicked and recalled what my mother showed me once, in order to preserve the immaculate white carpet in her upper-middle-class home. I quickly gathered all of the supplies that I needed to save the stained, 15 year old carpet, in that shitty rental, which would later be leveled to build condos. I got down on my hands and knees, poured water over the spill and furiously began squeegeeing diluted bong juice into a towel that I had rolled up at my knees. I was just high enough to have zeroed in on this, my only mission. There was a sudden break in the action and I looked up at my friend, who sat on the sofa. She was just staring at me with a tilt to her head, like she’d never seen anything like it before. I tried to play it all off like every decent person that cares about the place they live in does these kinds of things. But inside, I was terrified that there was a neurotic force born into me, that I might never fully be free of.

Mishaps, perhaps!

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I have had what seems like a wild series of misfortunes in the last day and a half. I sort of love stringing these events together in my head, ready for the first chance I have to tell the story of everything that went WRONG. I have an impulse to tell the story to everyone and anyone. Why? To entertain them and to share… ok, to complain. And I do. I tell it in a way that it seems unreal. Storytelling gets me fired up, so in a sense, misfortune gets me fired up. And the craziness just keeps coming. And the story gets better and better.

In the midst of it all, there is also a noticing. I notice the kindness of strangers. I’m thankful for the privileged life I lead, money that shoots out of the ATM, my self employment that these mishaps have little impact on, my independence and lack of dependents and so much more. I notice the pleasantness of the moment. After all, when do I get to sit in the sun, interact with strangers, walk on East Colfax, take the light rail from Golden?

New neuropathways fire and form, creating that sense of novelty and adventure and causing a joyous break in the routine that is a regular day for me. Normally, I’m alone, sitting in the same room, day in and day out, staring at a computer screen, impulsively checking my Facebook feed for a little burst of dopamine.

I’m going to tell you what happened, but instead of complaining and instead of telling you only the good parts of what happened, I’m going to tell you the whole story, in short.

This is how I’ve been getting my jollies since Tuesday night.

Tuesday Night
Flat tire. OK, call a friend for a ride.
Friend has a gig at Larimer Lounge. OK, drive the van on ice to the birthday party!
Drive to 627 S. Broadway for Anja’s Birthday… right address, wrong city. OK go eat alone and do a drawing of the bar from the corner on a receipt and leave it with the tip.
All dressed up and no place to go. OK, spontaneously see Brett Harrison (who buys me a beer) play with “Alright Alright” at Larimer Lounge!

Wednesday morning
Take the tire to Big-O. Tire irreparable. OK, put the donut on the Golf and take it in for new tires!
The wait is really long. OK, walk a mile to Crossfit Parkhill and get an awesome workout!
Get back to find out that they won’t sell me 2 snow tires. OK, throw a small fit!
Call other stores who confirm that insurance companies have forced them to stop putting only two snow tires on cars. OK Drive to my long awaited car repair appointment in Golden on the donut!
… and get picked up by my friend Beth Heller, taken out for Pho and given a warm bed. Awwwwa!

Thursday morning
Beth’s car won’t start to give me a ride to the light rail. OK, walk to King Soopers to get cash for my ride, and have coffee from Starfucks!
Barista recommends Call-a-Ride instead of the bus. I call them and wait. OK, sit in the glorious sun and practice a lovely Buddhist meditation!
45 minutes later and Call-A-Ride hasn’t called me back. OK, call again!
The call back happens and the guy says walk across the street and take the bus. Fine… Beth calls and says my car is working now. OK!
Arrive at Lightrail via Beth and the train is there, but I don’t have a ticket yet. Sweet! Learning curve with time crunch!
Seat myself on comfy train and begin texting to plan a ride home from Five Points when the battery on my phone dies. OK, whip out the computer and write this lovely story about how mishaps = adventure, learning and joy!

Posted while seated in Union station while charging my phone, on the last leg of computer battery, because I brought the wrong computer charger. Maybe I’ll do a drawing while I wait.

You “should” Let it Go

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Letting go, maybe a little late. My office bookshelves have been filled with “shoulds”. I’ve never been a design intellectual. I felt like to be a good designer, I had to be. When I was offered over 100 books on design and marketing from an editor who was leaving town in 2002, I quickly picked them up and filled my shelves with them excited to become design smart, or at least to look that way to anyone who visited. They have since filled my office shelves along with a couple dozen newer books that I’ve bought and barely read since.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of gems in there. I did learn a few things from perusing them over the years. Some of them were awesome reference books when I started and ran a roundtable for graphic designers through AIGA Colorado, over 8 years ago. However, more than 3/4s of them have filled my visual landscape, for what they represented and who I am not. I would open some of those from time to time, but I wouldn’t read them. Instead I would scan the chapter titles and the pictures, in a trance of internal struggle between who I am and who I could be.

Now, 13.5 years later, I’m 100% willing to accept what I’m passionate about and release the rest. As I browse them for the last time, removing pressed flowers, photography test prints, doodles and some legitimate bookmarks, I can feel it in my body what I’m attracted to and repelled by. Ironically, that’s the thing that they had the most to teach me.

Life is too fucking short to not just delve into what you love. And if you love as much as I do, there’s not a lot of room for anything else.

Day Two – Cairo tours

By | Egypt 2015 | One Comment

2015-09-16 20.42.31Day two: August 16, 2015 started after finally getting some decent sleep. Five hours of shuteye felt luxurious after the level of deprivation and stimulation that I experienced on day one.

We were off to visit the churches, mosques and temple(s) of Cairo, and planned to finish with a tour at the Egyptian museum. I made sure I had plenty of scarves; no amount of heat would have me showing skin in a mosque. While we waited an hour for the fellas to get on their merry way, I put in a word with Abdo to make sure that we wouldn’t have another Sphinx-like time shortage at the end of the day.

I specifically said “we don’t want to get to the museum at 4pm when they close at 6, or something”.

2015-09-16 02.47.08On the Road

The drive to Cairo was uneventful other than the insanity of daily life on the streets there. The mini van had curtains, to help keep it cool, but there’s just too much to see for comfort to take precedence.

I noticed that many of the buildings along the highway have these pieces of rebar pointed up, as if they were trying to keep gigantic pigeons off of them. Come to find out, they were actually the beginnings of the next story. Cairo is perpetually going vertical.

2015-09-16 00.27.27Most every apartment building was dotted with random units where the balconies featured full colored paint jobs and murals. Sometimes there would be an explosion of color, as if neighbors were inspired by some friendly competition, like in US suburban neighborhoods that blow up with lights, during the holidays.

We hit a traffic jam, which we wasted no time navigating around. The driver did this easily, but my knuckles were white. The mini van barely stopped before it found its detour, driving over a median, then going the wrong way into distant oncoming traffic and finding an on-ramp that we used as an off-ramp to the frontage road. As I started strait ahead, the driver pointed out of his window at the twisted semi-truck, the smoking wreckage that had stopped up the traffic. I covered my mouth in shock and tried to look away before I could see any dead bodies.

Citadel of Cairo

2015-09-16 01.33.29We entered Citadel and the second thing I noticed, after how close we were to the huge and iconic place of worship, was the quiet. The 6 of us stood in front of the Mosque at a distance to get a good view of the architecture, while Abdo told us in semi-comprehendable English about its history. I covered my head with one of my scarves and made sure that the other one completely covered my shoulders. I felt pretty conservative when I saw other female tourists with their heads covered, paired with short shorts and flip flops. While we listened to Abdo’s spiel, a small group of young men gathered and waited patiently. They wanted pictures with Richard and Jordan. They asked politely and Abdo reluctantly took a break to allow it. I figured that they might have mistaken two, good looking, well put together men for movie stars or something.

We moved around the space and found our way to the inside of the the mosque built by/for the guy that stole all of that limestone from the Great Pyramid, Muhammed Ali Pasha. Abdo said that he did a lot of great things, but in my opinion, he’ll never live that one down. Or, I guess I mean, he didn’t!

We entered, our shoes in hand, mouths open, aghast at the beauty of the space. We were immediately approached by a group of young Egyptians who seemed fascinated by us. Abdo had us sit quietly in a circle on the floor of the historic space to give us more of its history, and annoyed this time, he waved off any and all of the Egyptians that wanted our pictures.

Once he was done talking, I gladly posed with smiling young people whose beaming faces were hard to say ‘no’ to. Plus, it felt kind of flattering. Group after group took turns posing with me. As I looked around for my friends, I noticed that each of the 5 of us were doing the same thing. After accommodating about a dozen photos, myself, I started to say ‘no’.

I found it almost impossible to get a good photo of this breathtaking space, because the most beautiful aspects surrounded us in every direction. It was hard to capture, say, the ceiling, because it was so close and so grand. I did manage a good pic of a huge chandelier, which I’d love to find a wiki about. A gift from the French, or something(?). I loved the way it showed it’s age, but was still well preserved.

2015-09-16 02.10.16When we exited, we left through the opening that pointed out towards Mecca. From the rooftop where we stood, beyond the outermost bastion we could see the whole of Cairo, although I’m sure that greater Cairo circled us. Off in the distance we could barely make out the Pyramids of Giza through the smog, but only because Abdo pointed them out.

Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque

Citadel contains 3 mosques and a couple of museums. Each were built at different times, with varying architecture and uses. The whole space was tourist central and we were continually asked to be in pictures.

An Islam advocacy group had set up display, some propaganda inside of Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque. Large words promised that women of Islam were treated as spiritual equals to men. I couldn’t help but think of some of the unmentioned aspects of Islamic gender “equality” that weren’t quite as tourist friendly.

Inside of this mosque, I noticed one of the interior walls with shapes that once were windows, crudely blocked off. I asked our guide and he explained that they were covered up when the city built a highway, just outside. How sad it is to see a society’s lack of consideration for its own history. Maybe the population explosion was just too hard to keep up with. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that decision was made after Cairo began loosing tourist money.

Cane Juice pit stop

2015-09-16 02.54.35Between Citadel and Coptic Cairo, the van made a sudden stop on the side of the road, or as our guide would say, “rood”. Abdo jumped out and opened our sliding door, handing each of us a frosty mug full of “real cane juice” from a little shack. Richard and I discussed the pollution content of this chilled and special treat, a conversation he closed when he said convincingly enough, “they probably don’t like the taste of city water either.” We toasted and chugged. Jordan had two.

Coptic Cairo

I’d be lying if I said that I wanted to keep on this historical tour of holy places. Abdo was into it and really impressed upon us the idea of how many different religions were practiced and accepted in Cairo, by showing us a ton of places of worship in Coptic Cairo.

It was clearly important to the Egyptians that we have a good time, see lots of open mindedness and tell our friends that Egypt is safe. Their livelihoods and survival depended on it.

2015-09-16 03.44.16What stood out was Abu Serga and the journey through a long, sunken corridor with a small market in it to get there.  When we got to the doorway of this partially underground church, it had clouds of dust coming out of it, along with the sound of sledgehammers and wet saws. I thought that maybe we wouldn’t be able to see what we’d come to see, after all. But Abdo stepped in and we covered our noses and mouths with our shirts/scarves, as we passed through the restoration work. We saw the famous mural and even more importantly a little row of steps descending to where THE Mary and Joseph came for refuge with their little baby Jesus, in like zero BC. The church was built there in celebration or honor of what was once the cave where the young family hid.

2015-09-16 03.58.33We also visited the Hanging Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue, where I embarrassed everyone by taking an illegal picture, because I didn’t see the sign.

Out to lunch

Abdo had his ideas of where to take us to lunch that day, but we took matters into our own hands and ended up at a place that Lonely Planet spoke highly of. We found a parking spot amongst what looked like a traffic jam, but were just a whole lot of double parked cars on the street. The little restaurant was perfect and we ordered all of the traditional Middle Eastern delicacies and then some, avoiding anything raw. We drank bottled water and bottled beer.

caferiche

After lunch, Abdo warned that we should probably head strait to the museum from there. A few of us were sure that a quick Turkish coffee would be a worthwhile delay. In order to take in as much of Cairo culture as possible, we decided to hit the nearby famed Café Riche. We were seated and a quick coffee order turned into a long long wait. I was blamed for ordering mine as a “French Turkish” which Abdo recommended when I asked if they ever steam milk in their Turkish coffees. I wish I hadn’t. The old old old waiter looked absolutely disgusted by my request. I tried to unorder it, but it was too late. When it arrived, I did really enjoy it. It was delicious, despite the spit that everyone promised me was surely lurking in its creaminess.

The Egyptian Museum

We arrived at the Egyptian museum, bought our tickets and checked our cameras… at 4pm. It was clearly the late start that I had feared. Rumor had it that we had two hours before they were to close. We quickly moved through rows and rows of statues and sculptures and other ancient belongings to see the pieces that Abdo deemed worthwhile. My Lonely Planet suggested that it’s best to reserve a full day to see what the museum had to offer, but that two days would be better.

The place was stacked with artifacts. There were entire rooms dedicated to sarcophaguses aka sarcophagi!

sheik-el-beledI think that my favorite was a statue of Kaaper. I wanted to sit with that for a while and nearly lost the group in my delay.

I was absolutely amazed as I was being reminded of how much more ancient egypt contained than I remembered from art history class in college. The films I’d watched before my trip focused more on archaeology.

After climbing some stairs and on our way to King Tut’s room, we were told that the museum would be closing in 10 minutes, a whole hour earlier than we’d expected. Eyes wide open, we studied every little detail. I was in complete amazement as we saw the remains of the young Pharaoh, his famous mask and belongings that seemed like something you’d find in much less ancient times. I was so confused when I saw metal knives, painted metal jewelry and chains. When I originally learned about ancient Egypt, I guess that I didn’t realize how impressive it was.

I almost cried as we were ushered back out to the street, strategically planning how I might return before our flight departed to Aswan the next day. Jordan urged us to give it up, because “we are about to spend a week seeing all of the places where this stuff came from”. Travel can be good at reminding you to seize the moment and let go of expectations.

2015-09-16 08.35.07

Pool before Happy Hour

The day before we were too late for the pool, so this day I was bent on getting a dip in before they closed it. The main pool of the Mena House Hotel had just been covered by platforms for the wedding they were preparing for (part of all of that noise, the morning before), so we visited the one in the new addition.

2015-09-16 20.54.30

The pristine pool was probably artificially cooled, because it was super refreshing considering the consistently hot climate. I took off my coverup and dove in head first, feeling relieved as the thin layer of Cairo’s heat and smog was rinsed away from my body. As soon as I came up for air, I heard a man saying that the pool was closing. I pretended not to notice him, even though he seemed to maybe be speaking directly to me, and immediately went back under, holding my breath for a long time, in the calm of the deepest part of the shallow pool. Richard and Jordan joined me for a few splashes. We toweled off together under a waxing crescent moon set against a bright/deep blue gradient, Egyptian twilight, set against a silhouette of palm trees. It was a view fit for clip art or stock photography, if I had a better camera.

The water evaporated quickly off our bodies, in the warm air and it felt so comfortable to just be outside that night, half naked and barefoot. I felt incredible. The three of us padded around on the concrete grounds, exploring the addition. Another huge and very modern restaurant had recently been built, but didn’t look like it had yet opened. We studied the design, layout and scale, wondering where all of the money came from and if and when people would actually be eating there.

When the topic of what to do for dinner came up, it was then that I realized that what I called our “meat lunch” was still sitting heavily in my surprisingly swollen belly. I thought I might skip dinner, and I did, more by accident. I laid down for a nap after my shower and ended up calling in my cancellation, a no-brainer trade of social plans for a long night’s rest.

Egypt, Denver to Giza, Day 1

By | Egypt 2015 | One Comment

2015-09-14 19.38.17It was Tuesday, September 15, 2015 in Cairo, Egypt.

I arrived 5 hours later than I was supposed to and wasn’t exactly sure if my guide would still be at the airport. I was nervous based on Lonely Planet’s warnings of aggression and a 90% chance that I’d be groped at some point on my trip. When, I saw my name on a sign immediately after stepping foot out the door, I did a happy dance, and tripped over my pant leg.

Abdo, our guide, waited for me for 5 hours. He greeted me and I felt safe and comfortable immediately. He took my bag and led me to his little car. It was a long drive to the hotel, which was in Giza, across the Nile from Cairo. We hit the highway directly, which at first, didn’t seem all too different. Big highway, big billboards, some palm trees. Kind of like California! Abdo explained that it was never this calm except for late at night. It was 1:15am. He took advantage of the space, like sleeping in a king-sized bed alone, and drove straddling a white line.

2015-09-14 00.48.33The highway was non-stop lined with buildings, in varying condition and packed in close. At one point, I noticed rows and rows of identical buildings that looked like brand new construction, without any sign of occupancy. I got flashes of the vacant and dark corridors between the buildings, as we passed at 145 KPH. I was dumbfounded by the depth of this concrete ghost-town of perfection. “What the?” I asked. This was the first of many times that I’d hear Abdo say, “I just told you…”. His accent was a challenge for me. I’m one of those people that puts the subtitles on when I watch British films.  I listened more closely and he explained that these places were built for the large population. “They keep building them” he said, “but there still aren’t enough”. “But they’re empty,” I said. He explained that the population in greater Cairo is 30 million and growing, which is hard to fathom. I understood the concept the same way I understand why they just keep building apartments in Denver. It’ll make sense some day, I guess.

Giza at Night

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 9.42.45 PMThe streets of Giza were my first peak into the chaos of this place. They were hustling and bustling, even at that hour. We turned down the street of the hotel which was very brightly lit. There were shops open and local men on the street wide awake and shouting a bit. I don’t know what that was about.

The Mena House Hotel is a historic palace with a gated entrance. When we arrived we turned off the car for security, while dogs sniffed it. Later Rudy would say that it was because it’s better for the bomb to go off at security than in the lobby. The gates were opened when the car didn’t explode. Walking into reception was a little like walking into the 19th century, but also like the 1970s, as there were mirrors on the ceilings. Although thoroughly remodeled, they were thankfully careful to retain that old world charm and mix in some modern from the time.

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http://www.menahousehotel.com/

I said goodnight to Abdo, who told me that he would be back in 6 hours to pick us up for the Pyramid tour. This was news to me. I was delirious with exhaustion, having only dozed off for multiple 10 minute spells, across gate area seats at the Frankfurt airport earlier that day… or was it the day before? I hadn’t really really slept for about 33 hours. I would need to make the most of the next 6 hours with committed deep sleep.

The First Hotel Room

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from menahousehotel.com

They took me to the new section of the hotel, outside of the palace, in a golf cart; my bag was in a separate golf cart. My room was much nicer than I’d ever felt deserving of staying in, especially alone. “This is just for me?” I thought.

Pyramid View

I was taken out onto this 4th floor veranda and pointed out “the pyramid view”. The smog was so thick and the floods in the garden so bright that it was hard to see anything. I squinted, searching grayish darkness and came up with nothing, for a full minute. Suddenly, I saw a hard line, at an angle. Following it up and up and up, I adjusted my perspective. It was right there! Much closer and larger than I thought possible. I had been looking right through Khufu’s Pyramid for something much smaller on the horizon. I squeeeeed with excitement and jumped around a little, for the bell hop’s entertainment and my own release of energy that I had been building for, what seemed like, ever.

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View of the pyramid from the courtyard below my room in the morning.

When left alone, I noticed a bag on the table. A gift from Richard and Jordan, the hosts of this trip, a sweet welcome note attached to a bottle of Champagne. As tempting as it was to pop the cork, I needed sleep not a hangover. I called the front desk for a 7am wake up call, showered and laid out my clothes for the next day. It was 2:45 am, before my head hit the pillow.

The next two hours consisted of self soothing, sleep-inducing techniques, weird noises, thermostat translation issues and eventually, me on the balcony with an open bottle of champagne, watching 7+ workers, carrying and hammering and clanging away. They were building something metal in the courtyard below. Since I wasn’t going to be sleeping, I climbed over the balcony railing to sit with my bottle and an unobstructed view. It didn’t feel like 4:30am. I sat in the darkness of the New Moon, at the brink of dawn and beheld the greatest pyramid of all time, built 4,500 years ago.

After about a third of the bottle, irritation crept back in and then disbelief when added to the noise was some very loud music. Like really loud, amplified terrible singing in Arabic! Feeling courageous (champagne), I  yelled, yes yelled, down “you know I can hear everything!!!!”. The clanging stopped, the amplified singing stopped (unrelated to my yelling, it turns out) and a golf cart headed in my direction, blinking it’s headlights. I went inside and fell asleep while practicing my complaints for the front desk in the morning and crying just a little (it’s a sedative).

Pyramid tour day, ready or not!

My wake up call came way too soon. I feared that it would be a difficult, sleep deprived day, and on the day of the pyramid tours, which I’d seen as the highlight of this trip since January, when I booked my flight. On the bright side, almost two hours of uninterrupted sleep was glorious. I closed my eyes for just a moment and quickly fell back to sleep. Richard called me from breakfast 20 minutes later, jarring me directly to my feet. I donned my meticulously planned white pyramid-goddess-outfit, slathered on some sunscreen and met them for breakfast.

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The view from breakfast, wedding construction in progress.

The beauty of the grounds of the hotel was breathtaking, even if it wasn’t for those huge Pyramids as a backdrop. The excitement of seeing Jordan and Richard and the anticipation of the true start of our adventure filled me with energy and I knew it would be a glorious day, no matter what. Add a Turkish coffee and there was absolutely no doubt.

Jordan and Richard & how I found myself in Egypt

February 18, 2012, all dolled up for the Fasching Ball.

February 18, 2012, all dolled up for the Fasching Ball.

I thought you knew! Jordan and Richard are fabulously talented and driven friends of mine who have also been my most consistent and awesome clients, since the start of their business Vaudeville (site about to launch), in 2012. I’ve known them since 2008 when I met Richard in an acting class, in Denver. Jordan had researched a vacation in Egypt and decided to gift some friends the opportunity to join them on a week long cruise down the Nile, paid for. Feeling like I’d just won the lottery on the opportunity of a lifetime, I booked my flight, the next day. My trip included an additional week surrounding the float, which would start on day 4.

The breakfast buffet

The buffet, which spread through two connected rooms, inside a beautifully modern building (so modern that I can’t even find a picture on the internet) with tile floors, high ceilings and huge plate glass windows, was ridiculous. Eggs, sausage, hash browns. Fruit, salads. Pastries, croissants, toast, falafel, cereals. Cheeses, deli meats, yogurts, jams, olives. Fattoush, baba ganoush, hummus, pita. Noodles even! This would be the first of many smorgasbord meals to come. The ones where you fill your plate one last time, three times.

New friends

After breakfast, I met two of our other travel companions. Rudy is an abstract artist, originally from Mexico. I already knew of him because of his work with The Gallery at Vaudeville. He uses photography to create these fabulously colorful, abstract (sometimes illuminated from behind), large scale prints. My other new friend, his partner Chris, is an unassuming business baron. He seemed so relaxed for running so many business and properties of his own. A fascinating sweetheart.

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The wedding build as of Thursday morning.

Complaints department

I talked to the front desk about my night, but only after Jordan already had. It turns out they were building for a huge (bigger than you imagined just now, probably) wedding on the upcoming Thursday, the night of the day we were leaving. With a word of apology they upgraded me to the palace, where the rest of my crew was staying, without a charge.  I’d move in when I got back from the day.

And we’re off!

Abdo had been waiting for us, since just before 8am. We were ready by 9, a delay which would become the norm without some serious effort. We met our shuttle driver, spread out in the mini van we had to ourselves, and headed out of Giza to Saqqara, where the earlier pyramids were built. On the way, I took few photos out of the windows but lots of mental notes.

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A very tame picture on the highway, featuring a random roadside Ferris-wheel.

Passengering on the streets of Cairo was a thrilling adventure, on its own. One can try to relax, but every three seconds there was what seemed like a near miss happening right in front of my eyes. Cars drove between and around pedestrians and horse drawn carriages and jockeyed for position with mopeds, paying no mind to the lines in the road, traffic lights or signs. Cars had half-full gas cans strapped to their roofs, mini-vans with missing doors were packed with people, one baby hanging out of a passenger window and another pressed up against the hatch-back glass. Horns are constant, chatter between drivers, through open windows was a regular thing as they negotiated the next move, or offered critique to each other. The rules: If you stop, you loose. It’s kinda like roller derby drills. I think that I’d be good at it.

from a google search

The edges of the streets and canals in Cairo were lined with trash; there’s a waste and garbage management issue there. It’s like they’ve given up. I imagine it’s hard to have a different mindset when you are surrounded by filth. The air quality is so bad, it smells of smoke and looks like a light fog, all of the time. Maybe that’s what keeps the heat manageable in Cairo, I’m no meteorologist.

Imhotep & Saqqara

saqqaraWe arrived at Saqqara, once in the center of the capital of Egypt, Memphis. It’s basically an ancient burial ground. I’m not going to pretend to have an encyclopedia brain that captures and remembers historical facts, but in writing these memoirs, I’m seizing the opportunity to solidify my knowledge and understanding by referencing Wikipedia.

At Saqqara, the oldest complete stone building complex known in history was built: Djoser‘s step pyramid, built during the Third Dynasty. Another 16 Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation or dilapidation. High officials added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the entire pharaonic period. It remained an important complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.

Here we saw our first pyramids, up close. We climbed in and out of tombs and saw our first hieroglyphs, which I was in complete awe of.  The very first one that I saw felt so special and rare. I had no idea that as we entered the temple, I’d be surrounded by so many elaborate and perfect, in every way, relief carvings, full of stories, information about their lives and their gods.

2015-09-15 02.56.27Take a picture. Pay me.

Taking photos in the temples was forbidden, but the guardians there to prevent you from taking photos  alternately encouraged us to take photos. Confused at first, and afraid to see what would happen if I did, I didn’t. An especially aggressive guardian, a heavy-ish older man with a big grin, exposing his missing teeth, got Rudy to bite. Rudy took a picture and was immediately accosted for money and when he paid, urged to take another photo. The rest of the group was already moving on from that room  and listening to Abdo give us the complete low down. I hung back a bit, concerned. After the two of them disappeared around the corner, I alerted the group by saying “that one has Rudy in there, you guys!”. When he came out, he said that he’d given the guy $25 and got kissed! I wish I hadn’t been so shy and had gotten a photo of that man. I promised Rudy that I’d work with him to do a police sketch, but we never did.

We could see the famed bent pyramid in the distance, but because we had gotten a late start, we opted to skip it to spend more time at the Great Pyramid.

On the way, we passed by the carpet schools (there were many), a popular trade there, apparently. We were invited to stop, but decided to keep with the plan to get back to Giza.

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dining hall – photo credit Christopher Hill

Lunch break in Cairo

We stopped for lunch at a cafeteria, designed for tourists, it seemed. This buffet was not decadent. My first inclination was to go somewhere else, but as a group, we decided to stay. We talked about only eating things that reached a certain temp in cooking, but I really wanted something fresh. It felt needed. At the table, I boasted about my strong stomach as I ate my salad. Others followed. We all took our chances. We were instructed by our guide that he would pay for our meals and then we could pay him back, or we would get ripped off. The question still remains, about who would have ripped us off more, as it was not an inexpensive lunch.

In the bathroom, I tipped the attendant one American dollar, which must have been a good tip there because the 12 year old Egyptian beauty did this mesmerizing, head-only dance move for me when she saw it. She did not smile.

After lunch we stopped at the papyrus museum/store. We had a demonstration on the ancient paper, which was  fascinating. The sugar in the fibers, chemically bonds together when pressed for a day or so. This stop was more on Abdo’s agenda than our own, but what we learned there did come in handy, later in our explorations.

The Pyramids at Giza

The approach to the Giza Plateau was far less epic than I imagined, because it was basically where I’d woken up that morning.  Across the street from our hotel, we drove through a gate flanked with armed guards, chillin’ out, smoking cigarettes. We bought our tickets, one for entry, one for Khufu’s pyramid and one for Menkaure’s pyramid.

gizapyramidsAround the corner from the office, the Great Pyramid was only 100 yards away. Along that stretch we were accosted by our first of many vendors. Carrying scarves, carved or casted(?) sculptures of the Sphinx, jewelry and other things that Abdo called “not authentic Egyptian. Oriental knock offs.” He recommended against buying any of it. The vendors approached, first welcoming us. There seemed to be an order in that each one would pick a tourist and that tourist was theirs for the duration. The pressure to buy was coupled with a sincerely friendly and playful chat. They’d ask “what’s your name” and share their own, shaking your hand. When rejected, they would continue by giving you some ridiculously low price, like “you can have one, two, three, four, five, six… ALL for just one American dollar”. It was clearly a trick, and I didn’t go for it. I just made conversation telling my dedicated salesman that I wasn’t much into trinkets, even through I knew that he probably didn’t understand what I was saying. I thought that maybe if I distracted him, I could escape. A strong “La Shokran” were really the magic words. But only temporarily. “OK, maybe later!” they’d say.

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My White Pyramid Goddess Outfit! – photo by Christopher Hill

I’d thought that maybe we were seeing Ancient Egypt in chronological order that day, but Abdo’s reasoning for taking us to Saqqara first was to avoid the crowds. We only had two hours at the Giza Pyramids, but there was almost no one else there! Everyone I’d ever talked to about Egypt would complain that it was overrun with tourists. The death of tourism since the 2011 demonstrations was fortunate for us.

Khufu’s Pyramid – The Great Pyramid

greatpyramidOnce at the base of Kuhfu’s pyramid, Abdo gave us the scoop on the history. This pyramid seemed the most climbable, if you’re young and strong enough, because of the huge 3.5′ deep and tall “steps”. I wanted to climb it to the top, but apparently, that’s forbidden. It turns out that those steps were really only the underlayment for what used to be the pyramid’s surface. At one time, for 4 thousand years or so, there was a smooth, virtually seamless and gleaming limestone casing covering the biggest pyramid ever created (more than half of a mile around, if you trace the base). About 200 years ago the military leader,  governor and self appointed something or another of Egypt, Muhammad Ali needed some limestone for his Mosque. So, he took it! Never mind that four thousand years earlier, Ancient Egyptians and whoever else, managed to move the stones, weighing 2.3 metric tons each, 900+ miles and then place them absolutely perfectly, finishing this precious monument, which reaches 448′ into the sky. What is wrong with people!?! It makes me so mad…. Let’s move on.

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Me climbing in the Great Pyramid – photo by Christopher Hill

After a bit of history, we climbed up to the entry of the burial chamber. Guards told me that I couldn’t bring my camera in, so I handed it to Abdo to hold.  I ducked into the tight and narrow entrance and began my climb to the chamber, which was set high up and deep in the center of the pyramid, as opposed to the more usual placement, underneath. A board with cross bars underfoot, makes the long journey to the center manageable. Climbing up the original slick stone, never meant as a passage, once the tomb was sealed, would be a struggle.

from Wikipedia

The corridor was long, dark and surrounded by stone and even though it seemed cooler, it was more humid and I was instantly covered in sweat. You have to duck while you climb at first, but it does open up a little further in, to the relief of anyone with a touch of claustrophobia that might have made it that far. The deeper we went, the more I felt a sense of suspense, like something supernatural may occur at any moment. I imagined these things in my periphery and ahead in the darkness.

The chamber was small and a non-operational ventilation fan in the corner, leading to who knows where, reminded me of how grateful I was that we were the only ones inside. The walls of the chamber were without decoration. We marveled at the size of the stone, stacked to create the chamber and support the small entrance. Seeing it for ourselves, we agreed that it seemed impossible. We agreed that it was impossible. Its clean lines and lack of carvings or anything decorative at all, made it feel like some kind of stone machine.

I laid inside of the place where Khufu’s sarcophagus once was and sang a little wordless tune to hear my own echo.

In the corridor, on the way out, we did run into one other guy.

I could have sat on the lower stones of this pyramid at dusk for a while, but there was no time (damn Papyrus museum/store). We moved on to Menkaure’s Pyramid and my vendor was ready to greet me. They try to give you things, as gifts and insist that you take them. If you do, you have a very hard time giving them back. In a struggle to escape this vendor, Richard, “my husband” for the duration of this trip, came to my rescue. I draped the “gift” scarf over Mostafa’s shoulder and bolted.

Menkaure’s pyramid

Climbing down the shorter corridor into this smaller pyramid was really cool, but paled in comparison to the really big one, so I don’t have a lot to say.

Camel Ride

When we exited, there was a camel tour guide waiting for us. We tried not to look too interested at first, to avoid engagement, but it was too tempting. Abdo suggested  that it could be nice to take the camel ride around to the back of the Sphinx and have our photos taken at the panorama view. We asked Abdo what he thought a fair price would be, but he had a thing about not interfering with the process. The guys haggled and got the price down to $100 US dollars. They pushed for a better deal and were pleased with a new offer of 800 Egyptian Pounds. That’s when Abdo jumped in to remind us that 100 USD and 800 LE were almost the same thing. What a good guide.2015-09-15 CH9

I was the first to hop on my camel, who immediately stood up, as I screamed and then laughed. I don’t think that I’d ever been on a camel before. “Not even at the zoo when you were a kid?” Jordan asked. I didn’t think so.

I took this little video. It’s kind of a giddy, high-on-life and lack of sleep, selfie with pyramids and camels.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUnwg4IRIs4]

It was perfect until we reached the end. We were only able to see the Sphinx from the other side of a fence a good distance away and we missed the King’s boat, altogether. Our visit to the Pyramids of Giza, ended in a hurry with us getting ushered off the premises, just before closing time.

Upgrade to the Palace

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The view from my new bedroom.

From decadent to ridiculous. My new accommodations had a sitting room and two balconies. My previous travels, mostly restricted to couchsurfing and hostel dorm situations, paid off in my constant amazement on this trip and walking into every room like I was Little Orphan Annie. I’d heard that President Obama had stayed in this hotel at some point and when I saw my new room for two nights, I could have sworn that it was the one that he stayed in.

Salat

While I got settled, I heard some amplified singing again, but there was no melody, no music. It was the same sort of thing that I heard just before dawn. It sounded like it was coming from just outside, so I stepped out onto my balcony and looked down. I saw a group of men, one chanting into a microphone and it suddenly made sense. There was no yelling on my part, this time, or ever again. I was hearing Salat, Muslim prayer, of which I would hear many many more.

2015-09-14 23.51.03Cocktail Hour

We drank at the bar downstairs and learned that it what was considered the best hotel bar in all of Egypt and one of the best in the world. After that, we cleaned up and I got a call that Rudy and Chris were hosting a cocktail party for us in their room, before dinner. When I saw Chris and Rudy’s room, I realized that I was clearly mistaken about whose “suite” the president stayed in and I wasn’t even going to pretend to know that it was this one, 2015-09-15 CH1but the mirrors on the walls, the high ceilings, the woodwork, the huge bed, a living room sized for a middle class single family home and a private garden level veranda on the 10th floor (yeah, crazy), seemed like a good bet.

Indian Food in Egypt

After cocktails and a brief glimpse into the lives of my new friends, we went to the Indian restaurant in the hotel. Jordan ordered for all of us, with our blessings and we were delivered all of our Indian favorites, cooked perfectly and more plentiful than we could possibly finish, but that “the staff would surely enjoy later”. Another aspect of abundant living that this junket would introduce me to.

That, my friends, was just Day One.

Rainbows and Mud

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2015-05-23 19.24.16Yesterday, I got a bit stuck in the mud. I put sticks and cardboard under my rear wheels like some kind of a vanagon owning witch. No go. Help was promised and after waiting 2 hours, it didn’t come. By this time, all of the other 4WD trucks in the lot were gone. I got anxious. I decided that I might go backwards a bit and see if I could get any better traction. But that’s not the best idea, on hill and in a thunderhailstorm. In a worse way now, I decide it’s time to call for serious help. The tow truck was a 3 hour wait. I drank a beer for lunch, did a drawing of a tree and then saw a friend loading his car. I jump out to say hi. He and this other guy decide that they could push me to safety! It all happened so fast. I really didn’t want to go deeper into this marsh, but they were right, it was the shortest way to the road. This is where I knew better. The embankment was not passable. Now I’m deep in it. The tow truck arrives and tells me that he can’t help me. I hike back up to the house to charge my dead phone and figure out what’s next. One of the guests wakes up and says that he can help me, once the truck is done moving sound equipment. I help. I’m adamant that we need to either push my van back, or get a really long tow strap, because the ground is not stable enough to tow me from close range. Guys and their trucks!!!! So, what’s next? Their truck gets stuck. We call another tow company with 4WD. We think it’s over. 4 hours later, a third tow truck has to come and rescue the tow truck. I don’t even want to talk about the bill. I had a very bonding day with my new van. I even slept in her last night in my driveway. Canceled plans to go to the hot springs. Canceled plans to go rafting. Good thing that I’m one of those people that make the best of everything. So many lessons. Time to work in the garden!

Duality

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2015-04-16 17.27.45I painted this 18 years ago. It’s a self portrait that is almost always met with the adjective, “disturbing”. When asked who that is on my back, I’d say that it’s the real me; perhaps even more disturbing. I was onto my own game at 23 years old. I couldn’t really see from inside, how I’d become trapped, I just knew I was. I attacked this crafted version of self, imaginary guards standing by to make sure I wouldn’t break under my own critique, no matter how harsh. I was sure that I couldn’t truly express myself and the pressure was building. I can feel the pain of that in recollection. It’s easier now. These two have become close friends, despite their flaws.

Once forever love

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In considering a new painting, I revisited the memory, the poems, the drawings of an old lover. A young lover. The one I lost my virginity to. His ideas influenced my malleable young mind and educated a good bit of my reality. I thought he was a genius. I was in love. He discarded me after three loooong weeks. Years later he returned and our love was rekindled. He moved to Miami to “be with me” but also to escape the woman he got pregnant and the future he imagined would be inevitable, if he stayed. After a year and a half of what might have been the greatest adventure of my life, he left me, again. Of course this was a blessing in disguise; it turns out that a vagabond, alcoholic, writer was not who I was destined to spend my life with. For 3 years I wondered and imagined seeing him again. He tried to contact me once and I impulsively flushed his number down the toilet, in a moment of delirious self respect. And then he died. I just found his 22 year old daughter on Facebook. She has his eyes. I can tell that she’s the kind of girl that he would have been impressed by when he was her age. He would have been a proud father, had he ever accepted being one, or considered life a gift in the first place.