I’m sitting at the airport. In Cincinatti. My hour long layover turned into a three hour layover. I barely even noticed. I was sitting next to the gate with Life of Pi, when I suddenly realized there were a lot of concerned, perplexed people standing around me trying to talk to the desk lady. Apparently there was a mixup and a flight crew was not arranged for our flight to Albany. They had to find another one, and they’re arriving from Louisville before 4:00.
It’s already 4:00, however, and although the screen says we’ll be boarding at 4:00, we’re all chilling still. That chilling became quite literal with some mysteriously cold air that recently started blowing around our terminal. A door must be open somewhere.
It’s not so bad, having a layover. I wouldn’t want to spend the night here. That’d be super rough. But they were really cool about giving us meal vouchers for the food court, since we’ll be waiting a while. I used mine at Chick-fil-A. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten there. The box of chicken nuggets I ate said the “all breast meat” was fried in “peanut oil, which is naturally free of trans-fat and cholesterol.” And what about the chicken? Did that breast come from a magical, happy kingdom of free-range chickens roaming a lush countryside, eating a normal chicken diet of grains and insects? I doubt it. It tasted like it was fed on processed corn, steroids, antibiotics and cow guts. It actually wasn’t that bad. Just a little soggy from grease. It did taste like America.
This morning I arrived at the Salt Lake airport in time to see the enormous group of outgoing missionaries, which lined the different gates hogging all the payphone space. They were all flying to Cincinatti, a main hub for transfers. Andrew Wing was one of them. He’s Ethan’s brother. That was a surprise. I listened to him and his companion awkwardly contact a tired-looking woman from Northern Virginia. They talked about lots of stuff, thankfully none of which was the first vision. That might’ve been a little too uncomfortable for me. I mean these guys are fresh out of the MTC. Three weeks in brainwashing spirit prison can often destroy all natural tact and common sense about talking to real people. Andrew, or Elder Wing, gave the woman a pass-along card before she boarded her plane, as a souvenir. Not wanting to disturb their conversation, I waited for my own opportunity to talk to Wing. He didn’t know who I was, but I recognized the red hair and freckles and deep inhaling laugh. And his tag said Wing. He had to be Ethan’s brother.
I talked to him while we waited to board. He made some odd comments about Ethan enjoying being naked and how he likes Cami a lot more than he likes his brother. Such overwhelming affection for an older brother. I wonder what Seth says about me. As we parted Elder Wing made sure to tell me to tell Ethan he contacted someone in the airport.
We just got news our flight will be delayed until 5:00 now. Splendid. I didn’t really have any plans, except maybe a dip at the hotel swimming pool. I did plan on reading up on interview questions and preparing some impressive responses. There’ll be plenty of time for that I’m sure.
My flight from Albany went pretty fast. I sat next to a woman with a five month old daughter, almost as fat as Samuel. It made me miss Samuel terribly, even though I just saw him last night. It feels like much longer! I’m used to greeting him first thing in the morning, or rather, being greeted by him and his tired, beaming morning grin. I’ll see him Friday.
The baby cried a lot. Luckily I had my i-Pod and a good book.
I think my life philosophy is this: do what you have to when you have to, and if you don’t have to do anything, do what you feel like.
I finally arrived in Albany at 7:52. That is almost four hours later than my original ETA. We didn't board our plane until about 5:45, almost six. But it went by pretty fast, honestly. I was reading the whole time, in another world, and I was relishing my uninterrupted time with that book.
I sat next to a man who had obviously had something to drink before getting on the tiny connection airplane. He was dressed pretty nicely, so I assume it was a little more than beer. The odor actually took me back to the cold nights in Ukraine.
Across the aisle sat a gentleman whom I’d noticed in Salt Lake. His carry on luggage was a pair of ski boots. He’d hit up every major ski resort in a week. Who has money to do that? He was also reading Life of Pi, coincidentally. He wasn’t as impressed as I was; he was still bogged down by the lengthy descriptions of Pi’s conversion to three major religions.
My plan was to be tough, resourceful and economical and take public transit to my hotel. Good thing I didn’t. It was a lot further than I thought. I actually snagged a taxi outside the airport. And, change of subject, I didn’t think it was that much colder than Utah, despite the humidity.
The taxi was a van. My taxi driver was named Harlan. He was raised a Jew, married a Roman Catholic, and raised three agnostic children. He talked a million miles an hour in an incomprehensible New York slurred accent, but I thoroughly enjoyed that he called me "Sir," frequently. He was all over the place in our conversation, but the unifying motif of his speech was tacking on the words, “and that’s the extent of it” or “whatever” after every sentence. We talked about everything from a female cardiothoracic surgeon he once drove to Albany Medical to the History of Mormonism to his father’s near scrape with a colostomy to the Banality of the Human Condition. I liked Harlan, and was delighted that my fare cost five dollars cheaper than the estimate on Marriot’s website.
We’re still playing the Road game. It’s amazing how good certain foods taste when you’re hungry. Like yesterday, Ashton pulled out a box of corndogs we’d bought at Costco months ago and offered me one. Normally I would stick my nose up in disgust and say something about how Michael Pollan would be appalled. How could anyone eat such a dubious meat product, most likely pig, but possibly cow brain, chicken guts or roadside carrion, no doubt fed on Iowa’s corn surplus and heavy doses of antibiotics, rammed on a stick and battered with more government subsidized corn, deep fried in corn oil . . . How could anyone actually ingest something like that? None of those things went through my head, however, because the hungry feeling in my stomach overrode reason and logic, and the natural man could only be sated by not one, but two corndogs. Some good things have come out of this game, however, like learning to make bread. We haven’t bought bread for about a month, and I was really starting to crave some carbs. Ashton and I made rolls last week, but now we’ve run out of eggs, so we had to make something else. Turns out we had all the ingredients for this wonderful bread the Martins showed us how to make. Quinn e-mailed me the recipe and I made some Tuesday night. Those loaves only lasted a couple days and I had to make more on Saturday. It tastes phenomenal, and I don’t think I can ever go back to store-bought bread.
On Thursday I got an e-mail from BYU saying I was eligible to work in the lab again as a non-student. My professor had put in an appeal for me and we finally cleared all the hurdles. This came as very happy and welcome news, since I was starting to feel more and more guilty about not working the last few weeks. It’s been very relaxing, not working, and I love hanging out with Ashton and Sambo, but I feel like I’m failing in my important role as a provider. The only downside to this re-employment news was that I would have to shave my beard. I had officially made it four weeks on Thursday without shaving, my personal best, and I was starting to look quite grizzly. Unfortunately I still needed to get some paperwork signed and delivered on campus and there was no way they would do it for me without a beard card. So sadly the beard had to go. Naturally, as I shaved it off I did so in steps, photographing each one. I started with a pencil line beard, then a 17th century Musketeer goatee, then a dirty hippie soul patch and mustache, and finally, just the circa 70s "porn" stache. I was going for Wild West or Lt. Jim Dangle from Reno 911, but when I wear my pseudo shapka I look like a Russki, which works for me. I have named my mustache Omar, as in Omar Sharif of Dr. Zhivago.
For the last while Ashton and I have been playing a little game. I jokingly call it “The Road,” after Cormack McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The game is that we have to eat all the food in the house until we either a. run out of food or b. I get a paycheck. Being unemployed has taught us how to scrimp better and not to splurge (although I had to make some exceptions for Ashton’s birthday). We haven’t really felt poor or exceptionally destitute, but we have felt the pressure of being responsible with the money we do have and trying to pay off our debts. We also know what it's like to hit the bottom of the bank account. We’ve successfully cleaned out the fridge and eaten most of the fresh stuff, and now we’re moving into the food storage. We’ve been going about three weeks without buying groceries, except one gallon of milk. I call it “The Road” because the man and son in that book move from farmhouse to farmhouse looking for food, and they occasionally hit the food storage jackpot and then glut on the stuff they find and keep moving. That’s how I’m trying to look at our little food storage game – a game of survival. Thankfully we won't have to fend off cannibals.
On Wednesday we went to the Springville art museum. It was my first time and I loved it, especially the Russian collection. When we got back from the museum we met up with Alpha to make yoghurt. That’s right, we made yoghurt. She brought over a quart of milk and a packet of freeze-dried bacteria starter. We boiled the crap out of the milk, and tried forever to get it to 185 degrees, but I don’t think we broke 170. Then we put the pot in a sink of cold water and cooled it down to 110 degrees. At this temperature we added the bacteria and threw the pot in our oven to keep it warm. We let the bacteria incubate for four hours, and when we pulled it out of the oven we were greeted by the familiar aroma of culinary bacteria. The partially digested dairy goo had a tangy taste, and looked and tasted and smelled like yoghurt. But the texture was off. It was chunky and liquidy and didn’t give me that smooth pudding sensation that I love about yoghurt. I guess that’s what you get from the manufactured fake stuff. I tried adding blackberry freezer jam, which gave it a nice flavor, and a big dollop of honey. I recommend the honey. Ashton absolutely loved the yogurt, which surprised me, I'm not going to lie.
Yesterday we had a wedding reception in Centerville for Ethan Wing. Quinn and Violet knew the girl he was marrying from Spokane and wanted to carpool up with us. We decided it would be fun to stop at Tony Caputo’s in Salt Lake before the reception and try the fine chocolate. Quinn and Violet are always raving about it and have shared with us generous samples from their own chocolate collection.
We got there around six and Quinn spotted his favorite employee Nick over behind the cheese counter. Eventually Nick came over and Quinn told him we wanted a quick fine chocolate crash course. Nick was delighted to have new chocolate disciples and for the next hour expounded to us the evils of Lindt, Hersheys and other “cheap” chocolates that are packed with polyphenols and sugar and cocoa butter, and the magical properties of Chuao cocoa beans and the way high quality cocoa beans carry the flavor of the soil they are grown in. We tried chocolates that had hints of blueberries, peat moss, mushrooms and cigars, and let the intensely flavor packed cocoa melt in our mouths.
Apparently Amadei, based in Italy, is the current king of chocolates. It sweeps the Academy of Chocolate competitions every year. Nick gave us a taste of the gold medal bar, the best chocolate in the world. It’s named “9” for the nine cocoa beans used in the blend. Apparently the French said you really can’t get away with anything more than six beans, but the Italians stuck it to ‘em with nine. It tasted pretty phenomenal. Then he shared with us an Amano, the bronze medalist from this last year’s contest. It is actually made by a guy from Orem, and is the finest chocolate to ever come out of America. It is made with cocoa beans from Madagascar, and it was definitely one of my favorites. After that fine chocolate education we headed up to Centerville and had a great time catching up with friends and eating reception refreshments.
Last week I failed my Russian competency test miserably for Vangent. I still have a job with them (I hope) but I won’t be getting the language differential pay until I can pass that test. So I’ve busted out all the old Russian study stuff: verb flash cards for the bathroom and reading Russian Liahonas. I’m also watching films in Russian and writing down useful phrases from the dialogue. In general I can feel it coming back fast, which is encouraging, but I’m realizing that maybe I was never super proficient in anything other than conversational and gospel Russian. Now I want to know everything. That way if medical school doesn’t work out, I can also go back and get a quick Russian degree and go work for the CIA as a spy. Last night Ashton said I was talking in my sleep Russian. That’s a good sign.
"Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil. They give us, now and then, some of those luxurious sterile emotions that have a certain charm for the weak. That is all that can be said for them. They are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account."
That's from Lord Henry in Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. I thought it was amusing, if not completely cynical. It seems like a lot of people are cynical about New Year's Resolutions, as if it was a complete waste of time to even make them. Even though I know I won't accomplish many of them, I still feel an irrestible compulsion to make them. Maybe it has something to do with my list-making obsession, but I think it has more to do with really wanting to be a better version of myself. And it's not like January 1st is the only day in the year I set goals. It's just a convenient time to reset the slate. I also though it noteworthy that most of my resolutions this year were roll-overs from last year, indicating that they really are just ongoing goals, and maybe 2010 will be the year (or at least the decade) where I finally pull them off!