Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The Last Time I Was Here, They Overthrew the President.
We got back from our roadtrip in the early evening. We came into our apartment and it had that sealed up smell that living places do when they’ve been left shut up for a while. It smelled like orange peels and some kind of wax. I couldn’t tell if this was how we had made it smell or if that was the way the room smelled without our interference. I opened the windows and we started to put everything away. It didn’t take long because we didn’t take much with us, just two bags really. We had cleaned out the car at our last stop at Gina’s parents’ in Arcata. There was still some firewood in the back seat. I must’ve gotten that stuff back in Montana. These split logs, I had taken them through 5 states without even meaning to, really. I left them for Gina’s dad in the garage. Intrepid, traveling logs. After dumping our bags out and wadding our clothes back into the closet, I ordered a pizza. There was no food in the house and the smell and warmth of a hot delivered pizza would make the place feel more like home again. After the noise of the wind cutting past the car on the highway for two weeks, it seemed really quiet in the apartment. I could think of nothing to say. While eating the pizza, we decided to watch something on the computer. Since I don’t know anything about TV we just watch Pete and Pete because that’s the last thing I remember liking. It’s never until I start watching an episode of this show that I remember I’ve seen them all fifteen years ago. I know how they’re going to end. So does Gina. She falls asleep before the first one ends and I stay up and watch three more. I knew how they all ended. We had the next day off. I had to take the car back, but it wouldn’t be too difficult. One last ride even if I wasn’t going anywhere. The weather was nice and the XM radio was finally playing something agreeable. I drove across the Bay Bridge. It smelled like fog and exhaust on the under deck, but the air was clear. It was disorientating to smell something and not see any trace of it. The only time that ever happens is when you can smell snow before it falls. It’s dark outside and all the lights are on inside. You can’t see anything but something pulls your attention away from the TV or the kitchen table, a wet and empty smell, like what I imagine space smells like. Snow? Outside its cold, cold enough to snow, but there’s nothing on the ground and the night is clear. The first snow that sticks always waits until you’re not watching. I exit from the invisible fog of the Bay Bridge, drop the car back off at the Oakland airport and begin the convoluted process of taking a bunch of shuttles around the airport complex, each one of them crossing the area that I drove through to drop the car off. By the time I get to the BART station, I’ve crossed the same intersection 4 times. But I’ve got the ghost story I brought with me on vacation and never opened. It’s engaging and it’s nice being on the bus. It’s nice not driving and sitting in the back. It’s like being a kid. When I found out I was going to Armenia, I was standing outside my apartment on Mack St. in Arcata. There was a redwood right in front of the living room window. The letter announcing which country I had been matched with had been sent to my parents’ house. My mom called and I stepped outside to talk to her. It was cold, February. It smelled like snow. I lit a cigarette. “It says Armenia.” My mom informed me, hesitant, not sure how I’d take the news. “Armenia, or Albania?” I asked, wanting to be sure before I went to the library and checked out everything they had. “Armenia. It says Armenia.” I had no associations for Armenia. The name meant nothing to me. I knew it belonged to a country in the Caucasus, part of the CIS, but my imagination had no fodder, Khrushchev houses were about all I could imagine. Maybe goats, maybe mountains. It took me a day to see the goats and mountains; I spent the rest of my time there trying to look beyond them. “Asuncion, it says Asuncion.” I told Gina after I had gotten the e-mail matching me to a program for the English Language Fellowship. “It’s in Paraguay. I’ve been there before,” I continued, “it’s not really that interesting.” I thought back to the border-crossing, the trash in the highway median, a McDonalds and a bunch of green sodas in the supermarket with gurana in them. “From what I remember, it was kind of like Argentina.” I put my head down, mentally comparing the Argentina I knew with all the places that I could’ve gone, tropical places, exotic places in parts of the world I had never seen, but Paraguay? Damn, it would be just like turning around and going back to Argentina. I remembered Gina and me sitting on a bus driving out of Buenos Aires. “Do you think we’ll ever come back here?” She had asked me. I took one last look at the place, at the parillas, the cartoneros, and the boliches. “No,” I said and shook my head. “No, I can’t see why we would.” I had meant it and here on the screen: Paraguay. “Wait,” Gina breaks my depressing chain of thought, “wasn’t Paraguay the place you were really excited to see when you went there on tour?” “Yeah, it is a really interesting place. I mean, it’s really overlooked. There’s hardly any tourism there,” I replied, remembering how I had been excited to go there back when I was traveling for work back in Argentina. “You were only there for a night, right?” Gina says, sounding as if Paraguay interests her much more than it does me. “Yeah, it was an interesting place. There were lots of illegal wires strung up downtown. It looked more like Georgia than Argentina, but I’m sure they’ve got Fernet and bidets there. You know a lot of the same things.” “I thought you liked Fernet and bidets? After we left you were constantly complaining about how uncivilized the rest of the world is because it’s not equipped with bidets and you pay ridiculously high prices for Fernet here, I mean back in San Francisco.” Gina corrected remembering we were still in Oregon. We talked about the Paraguayan possibility for the rest of the evening. The more we talked, the more interested I became. Before we went to sleep, I was talking to Gina about the place like I was trying to convince her it was the best place on earth. She switched her tact and tried to calm me down. Reminding me that we hadn’t actually gotten the position yet. I shouldn’t get too excited and start assuming that we were definitely going to Paraguay. I still had to have another interview. Before I went back to work, I had a phone interview with the US Embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay. They called me at 8:30 in the morning, so I did pretty well. I always have better phone conversations early in the morning. I feel more relaxed. After the interview, I had a little more coffee and then went back to work. I met Gina after work for a drink. I had stopped at the library and now had a book about Paraguay with me, with another on reserve when it came in. I talked about what I had read in the book and made all kinds of wild assumptions about the place and the job. “Just wait until you see if you’ve actually got the fellowship.” Gina cautioned while I was pointing out a passage for her to read in the book and spilling my beer all over the place in my excitement. I didn’t expect any news, but I thought I’d check my e-mail when I got home. They had sent the message 5 hours earlier, only 3 or 4 hours after my interview. I was invited to accept the position of English Language Fellow in Asuncion, Paraguay. I told Gina and she was as happy as I was. I wrote back immediately to accept the position and then we went out to have a drink. Outside, the streets were quiet. There was a wet smell in the air, but the sky was clear. Scarcely back home, we were already planning on leaving again. On the way down to the bar, we talked about Paraguay. I imagined what it would be like with no goats and no mountains.