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Dear Sandi Seel,

Two weeks ago the Cubs won the World Series.  Ever since they clinched they’re spot, winning the National League Title, I have worn a Cubs hat every time I have left the house.  As I write, I am still used to being able to claim some amount of good victory, such as the National League Title, but to this moment I am still comprehending that they won they whole thing.  We have to rethink our familiarity with loss.

As I watched as much of the Series as I could, before and after evening work, in a Chicago-leaning dive bar in Greenwich Village, on an iPad in the dressing room, alone on my couch texting certain close friends and family while taking it in on a tv, I felt like I was relearning, or maybe just learning, the joy of community and fanhood and live events that millions of people subscribe to weekly.

There was also a moment, in the third or fourth game, set in Wrigley where the loss of that match started to set into reality.  Something wafted into a smile on my face.  I felt lucky that I knew what it was like to look at that old, analogue scoreboard, sitting a bit stiffly in those hard seats, enjoying the momentary camaraderie of the people around you regarding the estimable loss to the smell of peanuts and popcorn and probably spilled beer, before you all slowly headed back to your cars parked for a premium price in someone’s garage in the neighborhood.

Whenever it was revealed that I was a Cubs fan in those few weeks, I always felt proud that I could legitimize my origins a bit by saying, “Yup.  Grew up going to games with my Grandpa.”  That’s true.  And I’m always glad for those memories.  Some of my fondest, earliest and most regular memories of that park though were you taking me, several times, a friend of my choosing in tow, to sit third row behind home plate – seats I could see on the television as I watched historic moments unfold in that stadium not accustomed to winning.  Back in those early 90s, I recognized the players from my cards and Starting Lineup figurines by their faces we were so close – Sanberg, Dawson, Grace.

Thanks.  Just writing this, I’ve got another big smile on my face.

On the night of final victory, when the game unfolded like a suspense film, I sat enwrapped as I never am in a sports game with Hope and old college friends in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  I was texting with Mom, Bill and Sarah.  Henry managed to stay up through the eighth inning before falling asleep on Billy’s lap.  Bill roused him when there was a rain delay at which point the sleeping kid unwittingly unleashed his own rain delay all over Bill.  I, for one, love that in baseball, the winning moment could be a simple, routine thrown out to the first baseman.

Now, they’ve won.  They’ve won the whole thing.  Grandpa lived 82 years and never saw it.  Uncle Bill listened to their last Series appearance on the radio in a college dorm in the 40s.  This year, they beat Cleveland, the only team that could have hit confusingly opposing heartstrings for him.

Among the other news in 2016, particularly the strange wave that would take over our headlines, concern and stability a week later, I’m pretty darned glad for that one.

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope the California sun is shining warmly and that the ocean is still the ocean.

Love always,



Hot summer

When the air is a bit dirty

But the sky is still blue

And the planes fly through

They look like ghosts.

looking through the kitchen window

A cardinal sat perfectly still amidst a hovering wash of yellow leaves.

late fall

I love trees.  And I enjoy when all their leaves are fallen.  You can see further.

Quiet Monday

Dear Sarah,

It was hard to say exactly how it became clear, but as we stepped out of our new little apartment and onto the streets on the first day of the National Holiday week, there was something undeniably…holiday…about it.  The city was not preparing for work.  A small, gray haired woman managed a pole twice her size to calmly hang a pink comforter on a clothesline soaring above her as the breeze touched it lazily. The people on bikes looked about them with grins, observing their surroundings, riding in little packs we hadn’t yet seen in Shanghai.  Some shops were open, some closed. 

Adam shared with me that it was estimated that 700 million people would be traveling in nearly two days – twice the population of the US all at once.  We weren’t sure if we should expect surging crowds or a ghost town.  Perhaps it all balanced out and people just switched location.  We, too, were on our day off that first Monday, and so we wandered the streets with the people and smiled at the muted sidewalks and sat for long coffees.  There was somehow an invitation for spring cleaning and staying near home in the no-longer-heavily-hot daylight of monsoon season.



Return To China

Dear Aunt Pat,

I was offline for twenty-four hours, which was a gift; a certain, quiet thrill; an act of faith.  I boarded a plane in Queens for a journey over the north of the earth hoping to eventually end up in Hope’s company at a bar near her work in the Jing’an district of Shanghai.  I had a transfer in Beijing where they took my duty free purchase and I almost left my passport. 

It was in the cab finally in Shanghai, racing down the highways with the windows opened after showing the cabbie my destination in a script that is utterly cryptic to me, that the industrial smell hit my nose and the small pang of pollution touched the back of my throat, and I realized with a sudden, deep smile that I was back in China.

It worked.  After a bit of banter and a generous tip to the driver, gratefully received, I rounded a corner with all my luggage into a small courtyard bar and found Hope with friends.  We embraced and toasted negronis and then she walked me back through newly mysterious streets, my luggage clattering on the cobblestone sidewalk, down the short lane and up the dark wooden stairs to her temporary, high-windowed apartment in Shanghai.

Along with the delight of unexpected familiarity, being back in a land I had no vision of returning to a year ago, there was also the complementing delight of being somewhere utterly new.  Especially in the first few days, though it continues two weeks later, walking a single block feels like being a genuine explorer, stepping curiously and courageously into the unknown.  I would venture forth, feeling like I was really pushing the bounds for the day, until realizing how short the return trip home was.  In those first days, I took fewer pictures, but remember the shallow petite storefronts that seemed to have no door, just a missing wall revealing someone’s steaming kitchen; a woman crouched on a bucket cleaning off a chicken bone looking keenly around her; men lounging in lush chairs or lawn chairs as the afternoon heat passed slowly indoors and out and the objects in their shops remained static; a back alley soup establishment with a crowded table out front; an unusual block of low buildings with its first floor storefronts boarded or cemented or cinderblocked into permanent closure, the windows above open and uncertainly vacant. 

At least in the case of China for me, I did not quite know what I had seen or experienced the first time around until I saw it again and recognized it.  The most immediately memorable icon has been what at least one guidebook simply refers to as Chinese architecture, typified by large sets of residential towers, exactly the same in their group, regularly looming over any horizon near or far.  There is something about their incessance that was familiar, but also something familiar in their particular aesthetic. They seem to always claim a pastel tone that has been browbeaten by the soot of the city.  There is something also lego block-ish about them, I think due to the repetition of a visible air-conditioner for every unit and the commonplace poles jutting out from each terrace for drying laundry.  When I wonder where the additional billion people of China live (a billion more than the US), I think, “Ah, here.”  When Hope and I took the train to Hangzhou in my first week there were also notable stretches of these buildings in what appeared to be the outskirts of the city. 

The other aesthetic piece that seems to be undeniably Chinese is the beautiful gray alleyways speckled throughout this modern metropolis.  There may be a shade of red brick along one side; and the accents of color from hanging laundry, plastic buckets or dustily twinkling bikes always seem to catch the daylight just right.  In those alleyways, what feel like sudden windows into a quieter and calmer China, suddenly everything is pedestrian size, arched in clotheslines, puttering with watchful residents and soft, shadowed doorways.  As I searched for our new apartment a week after my arrival (found on AirBnb, technically illicit in China), I passed more than one lane and took photos of a few, always feeling a bit invasive for doing so.  When I found our street number, I was suddenly walking down and through one, to the very end, hanging a left deep within the city block, stepping through someone’s shared kitchen and up well-worn wooden stairs.  I found the keybox and let myself into our new one-room abode where Hope will continue to stay several months after I am back in New York. 

And so it feels like we’re getting a little step into an older China, one with a bit more texture and humanity.  It is impossible for us to blend in as we walk the many thresholds past our neighbors each day who seem to hold varying degrees of welcome and skepticism towards us.  From within each alley, the light is as beautiful as I hoped it might be when gazing down them from the street.

Though Shanghai is also rightfully known for its soaring skyscrapers, a modern skyline that continues to grow by the day, it’s these humbler architectural components that give me the delight of feeling far from home.  And it is a wonder to be sharing it with Hope.

Lots of love to you and Bill,


During That Meeting Regarding Neverland


While you were sitting in that Saturday meeting for the both of us, the one with the adults oscillating between stress and delight of how to make theatrical Neverland over plenty of language and cultural hurdles, I wandered in the bright noon sun.

I’d gotten the day off to adventure.  I went to the Beijing South train station and handed the ticket agent my note written in magical code.  The next train wasn’t for four hours.  I hit internet stumbling blocks at Chinese Starbucks.  So I enjoyed the classical music with my book, but then went wandering.

I realized suddenly in the bright fall day, that for all my little depression about being here and isolated, all I needed was a good, aimless walk.  I walked along the vast and blank boulevards, highways, taxi stands and security entrances that surround transportation hubs.  I memorized the roadsigns when I turned and took the sidewalk below the overpass. I aimed towards pedestrians and found a dusty Chinese-French bakery.  I got a wifi network with the business’s Mandarin characters and pilfered enough internet to get your messages about the meeting (descending into minutiae by that point) and to let my host in Nanjing know when I was due to arrive.

A childlike man came up to me, perhaps a teenager that the village took care of as he wandered the streets.  He tried his language on me, and when he came up short he scooched in next to me on the small, outdoor step I’d settled on.  We exchanged some hand gestures, particularly a pinkie-finger pointing down that is still a mystery to me.  I had my phone out.  He pointed to the back wanting to see its tag, saw the “S” and said it was a 5.  Proud that I knew my numbers, I tried to explain that it was a 6S and the difference between a 5 and an S.  His hands were worn, his fingers and nails bruised. I unlocked the phone and handed it to him, somehow figuring that the things were made here so maybe he had more of a right to know about it than I did.  As he fiddled with it, he handed me his grubby water bottle as an offering with no guilt. I took a sip and realized I’d just had my first hard drink of the day.  He opened the app with the panda icon and we did a couple of beginner Chinese exercises together.  That was not engaging for long and he handed the phone back.

We sat, and I felt relief that I had nowhere to be, nor reason to pretend.  I thought, oh that we could have the patience and openness of the bum, a big, present heart.

He pointed to my phone then gestured like headphones.  I opened my music app and played near the top of the alphabet.  I showed him where the speakers were.  He held them up to his ear and started ingesting the rock beats of A.C. Newman with firm, full-arm points into space and emphatic, sporadic head shakes.  I enjoyed his curiosity trance, then suggested something new.  Ahmad Jamal held no interest and got a “mayo” (“no”).  I put on Akron Family and the tribal beginning had him serious and smiling again, until he got up and got me up and we were dancing on the street, kicking the air erratically like a late night in college.  Some spectator walked up and I didn’t give them much heed.  We had a bit of abandon-over-language-barriers there.  Maybe the audience presence made me choose a bit more fully that I did need to get back to the station to be sure I wasn’t late for my train.  So I coaxed the dance to an end and got my phone back.

My partner asked for 5…yuan it was clear.  We all want something, I was reminded.  I turned my shoulder a bit to mask my wad of traveling hundreds – suspicious they made me vulnerable or mean, and got him five.  I realized quickly that was almost certainly the cost of his next drink.  So maybe I killed him, but if we’d been in a bar I would have done the same.  The spectator was a smiling cop who seemed familiar with my partner and didn’t step in to me at all, but stepped closer.  My partners well-glazed eyes got lost again in the mundanity of the day.  I bid them farewell.

Oh that we could all have the openness of a bum, and perhaps the judgement of the sober.

Something like that, I thought as I retraced my path to the station.

I made it to Nanjing and played with a toddler who walked straight up to me upon arrival at my friends’ home.  After the child was asleep, the grownups all drank, including something potent enough to be in that grubby bottle.

More aimless walks please.

Glad we’re sharing this wondrous, strange trip together.



Beijing 1

Hey Billy,

Today, I sweat in my nice jeans describing the strange trials of that year in Brussels to Adam O as we walked in the shade of a long wall toward Tiananmen Square.

We had walked through the many gates and archways within the great length of the once Forbidden City and saw the urns where they kept coal fires going under their water in the winter.  Emergency fire extinguishers.  We then walked up the hill to a small temple on the same north/south feng shui meridian as the great palace and marveled at it from above.
After we sat down for a cappuccino in a western-friendly pedestrian street, we walked through the cypress trees in the park leading to the Temple of Heaven and talked a little about country music.

I learned today that Mao’s remains are kept in a crystal coffin and raised from a freezer for viewing during visiting hours.

We lasted the first few hours of the day without our masks, but eventually the dull headache and subtle stomach scraping became enough to relent.

You can see the sun most days, but in a dystopian way, where one may be tempted to stare directly into its perfect ember orb, filtered through smog.

We took our sneakers and backpacks to the fancy reservation for Peking duck.  Adam got a coke, I an orange juice.

He took me to the western grocery store in the embassy district where he lives, a ten minute walk from my hotel.  I bought a hard to find Belgian beer.  In China.

We walked and walked, like we do when we again meet up after several years.

Last night, I went out with the Peter Pan crew and delightfully expatted it up.  The night ended with us directly in front of the band of four Chinese musicians seriously rocking “Take Me Down To Paradise City”, then “Jailhouse Rock”, then “Hit the Road, Jack”.  We danced and sang and marveled at the cross-section of cultures all reveling in a perfectly shoddy way together.  Then the cab home took us in the complete wrong direction, and the driver then got out three times to ask other cabbies to read our hotel business card because his eyesight wasn’t so good.  Eventually we got back.

Tomorrow, we go to the Wall.

I still need to find a toy panda for Henry.



Waiting in the breeze for the train

I forgot my hat in the dressing room, so I wore my headphones to keep my ears warm.  But the Wilco album is finished now, so I am listening to myself chew as the stubble of my jaw scrapes against the acoustic insulation padding as I wait here for the train above ground.

I pretended to be a man in the early 20th century tonight, so I wore a tuxedo.  I pretended that the kisses I received were poisonous, and I enacted a disorienting curse in low light by hurling my body here and there.  Then I was killed by my best friend in a partner-dance-bar-fight.  Then I haunted him as a ghost at an imaginary banquet where everyone moved in slow motion.  Then I rearranged pretend trees on wheels.

When I was back to being me, I stretched and took ibuprofen and had a beer and chatted with smiles to various people who had played along in the pretend, and listened to a band with a string quartet play on a small stage surrounded by red velvet walls.

Santa Barbara

We have not closed the windows in this many roomed house all month, which is how long we have stayed here, in the wealthy place along the coast between the ocean, with its islands, and the mountains where there are sometimes fires.

from September 2015