Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Only the Lonely

It has been a while- a hell of a while in terms of my life trajectory- since I last lived in a city. I  pulled out of my Jersey City (motto:if you could live inside of an actual turd it would be preferable) apartment in the fall of 1989, packing a three-month-old first son, Noah, an Irish setter mix, Bailey, and our paltry possessions into Monica's 1986 Honda Accord and taking off for 23 years of small town and country living. I have a photo of city-departure day somewhere- me standing in the little park across the street from our dismal apartment, holding fragile Noah in a front-side baby holder. I can rekindle them in my mind- the predictable steps- from living single with Chris and then Trey in Midtown Manhattan, working days, drinking nights. The lure of night clubs and notoriety gradually revealed as insubstantial and hollow. The intriguingly lovely strangers turning out to be merely fellow lost and lonely seekers. And next, stepping outside of the fashionable zip codes into the welcoming and secure arms of Monica, the simple joy of sharing a life with her dog, stepping (stumbling? falling? leaping blindly?) into marriage and then fatherhood.

Leaving Jersey City was easy, since by 1989 I despised everything about daily life: the hassles of commuting, the noise at night, the trash and rats on my doorstep, the obese upstairs neighbor who angrily stamped on our ceiling the moment a three day old Noah began crying at night- the infant thing brought all of the awfulness to a head. The one night Monica and I tried to troop into the city to show our faces at a friend's post opening party, we spent over an hour getting there, the elevator doors opened, Noah began wailing, we waved a congratulations to our friend, the doors closed and we dragged our silly and embarrassed new parent selves back across the river home.

Our small rented home at the tail end of the St. George peninsula through the winter of 1990 provided a landing spot, as if on a lovely distant planet. I went to work where I was the only man on the floor with a college degree, and Monica stayed long days with Noah and Bailey, many days her only adult contact a few minutes with the Port Clyde postal lady.

Landed and lived for 23 years. Another story.

But this. This Phnom Penh. It is small in some senses, but growing rapidly. I read today in the Cambodian Daily that the population has doubled since 1998. That in 1998 1 in 20 Cambodians lived in PP and today 1 in 10 do. Around the edge of the city are the garment factories where the greatest percentage of women work. They come, as they do in poor countries all over the world, seeking opportunity, a better life for their children.

Speaking of which... when they have open application days at my school, when I show up on my moped  at 7:30 am and there are 10 - 15 women, dark skinned, in dingy clothing, on bikes and cobbled together ancient mopeds, hoping to give their children a better shot, and I know 99.9% of them will go away disappointed...those are the days when I think my heart will break from the strain, when a dark cloud passes over the joyous sunniness I embrace each day as I work with my 47 students.

But this- what I set out to write about when I started this- the particular loneliness of a city. I remember it exactly from New York those many years ago.
If I were in Thailand, up in my bare concrete room with the geckos and the flies, writing a blog entry, I was alone but calm. Here, by contrast, I sit on my deck- still sipping a Leo beer from Thailand- and below is the glittering neon of "The Classic Night" night club (never been), the shouting of friends in the street below. In my immediate neighborhood there exist probably 100 bars and restaurants. The promise of life, of the possible. I know if I go out I will spend money and find very little satisfaction or real distraction. I could say it is because I am an old geezer, but I believe it has always been so for me. It harkens back to high school on Friday afternoons- where would the action be? How could I make sure I was in on it? And of course 'the action' was lousy and dissatisfying- like the Limelight and Nell's and The World in NYC in 1988. Inevitably the thing I like to do best is simply drive around the city. Get some breeze going and just move after the gridlock of the daytime traffic.

It will be interesting to see how this changes over time. In a year from now, will I choose to stay in the city? Will I find new digs closer to the school in a village or on the river?

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