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Perfection

Parsha This week: Vayechi. [I need to read it but I’ve gotten distracted because commentary is always easier to read than verse.] It’s the last book in Genesis, which in its body moves from Adam and the fall through Noah, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Joseph.

Yanki Tueber, a Chasidic columnist, offers a light commentary on Genesis when he compares the six major figures above to six forms of perfection. Adam begins perfect only to seek imperfection, Noah exemplifies a sort of rules-based perfection (given detailed instructions, he built the ark), Abraham is perfected through the love of G-d, Isaac is perfected in selflessness, Jacob in harmony, and Joseph in action.

This, of course, points to something more interesting and tragic. Using the broadest of brushes (no really… it’s that broad), we can see Genesis as a transformative book that begins when perfected (but static) man is driven out of paradise. For the rest of the book, the better fraction of man—exemplified through the patriarchs*—seeks G-d in the midst of social and moral upheaval, first by following all G-d’s laws (Noah), then by seeking G-d out of love (Abraham) so intense that it leads to loss of self (Isaac). All too late, however: man is cast from the garden and is forced to define its role in creation, first through harmony and the synthesis of social structure (Jacob) and finally through participatory action in the larger outside world (Joseph).

What a perfect—if overly generalized—sense of a kid thrown out of the home, forced to make his way in the big city:

I’m sorry, I’ll follow the rules, I love you, look, I’m not even self-important any more, okay, I can do this, okay, here I am.

There are two lessons in this:

First: perfection, which was a static (or at least unconscious) thing in the Garden of Eden, has become dynamic post-fall. Perfection is no longer limited to a single form and so our ideas of perfect behavior or perfect people fall short as they converge on the concept of perfection that favors Adam and Noah-like stasis.

Second: just as the Patriarchs reflected a spark within the wash of their own culture, so there is a tiny spark in each of us that moves from perfection to perfection, seeking to return to the home, seeking G-d first as the child who will follow the rules but offers nothing, then through gnosis, and finally as an entity standing separate and self-aware, ready to build something new, to participate in creation, to offer a gift back to G-d even as Paradise itself recedes in the face of the world.

*Okay, I’m using this term a bit loosely.

Hacienda

I’m supposed to be working now but the network is down in the office and I’m back at the house and I’ve just smoked my first ever cigar and J- just sent me the following letter.

“So I found your at last! Found your dad´s email on some random Google search and hoped that it would somehow would lead to you. So many old friends have faded into the shadows. Glad I´ve found you. I´ve missed you too.

Since I last you Life has given me a wild and wonderful adventure. — and I separated about three and a half years agao. We´re still best friends and are still very much involved with each other, but we have our own lives as well. It´s a bit complicated but it works for us. After I left him, on a whim and gut instinct, I moved to a small town in southern Colorado for 2 years. I then spent six months traveling around the world (New Zealand, Thailand, Taiwan, China). Unfortunately I had a broken for the last three months of the journey, but such is life. After spending the summer in England (back to the festivals) I´ve finally returned to southern Spain. SIx years ago, when it was still affordable, —- and I bought a small-holding here: about two hectares of terraced land with a few old buildings falling apart. Bit by bit we´ve been doing it up. One of my great passions at the moment is natural building: mud, clay, lime, straw and stone. I love it. So that last few months I´ve been busy building – converting chicken house into guest rooms and creating a lovely bathhouse (next project). It´s beautiful here. Up in the mountains on the south facing slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. In the distant you can see the Mediterrainian (on a very clear day you can even see Africa). A lot more foreigners are moving in but there still a strong sence of Spanish peasant life. I quite enjoy the simplicity of it all.

Hope to be back in England in May. And then if all goes according to plan, return to the States in June – you know, I never thought that I´d return to the States, but it´s been good for me. I actually bought a bit of land in Colorado – in the same little town I first went to. Crestone it´s called. Interesting mix of cowboys, hippies and rich Buddhists, with a handful of random individuals like myself. I´m hoping to build myself a little strawbale house there. Well, that´s the plan, but plans sometime change – well, regularly change. I´m a bit of global gypsie trying to manage on a shoestring. So far, I can´t really complain.

There´s so much more, but it´s a start. I´m in town at the moment at cyber cafe. It´s market day and I need to buy a few veggies”

I really miss her. She was the first real or almost real relationship in College. Always more adventurous than I was, or with more ability to pay but not count the cost of her plans, she worked for a year at Dunkin Doughnuts after college and then took off for India. I did not hear from her for two years and then she turned up in Germany, and then in Britain and then in Spain and back in Britain for the summers. In the past week, Rocky- one of my best friends from High School who I have not seen in six years- contacted me as well.

It’s odd that an email can give my day a new context and even though she is still completely distant and even though I know that until (and if) we go on a new set of adventures I’m really dealing with the afterimage of a life that has now disappeared; it’s for a second as if I’m back breaking into old houses and gadding about with the cone Jellyfish in the Saint Mary’s river with her or back driving late at night through sketchy neighborhoods in DC and Baltimore, before Kim and New Mexico and the run to Chicago to ask Berry to marry me before I chickened out when I got up there and before DC and Kathleen and the lazy mornings after the long drives to the farm in VA.

Sculpture

Drove Ryan over to the auto repair shop this morning. He sends his cars to a shop run by the father of a student in one of his science classes. It’s a small shop behind the Lowes Theaters in Fresh Pond. Outside the bay doors you can see one of apparently dozens of massive sculptures, all of which are cut from large (this particular sculpture was at least 16ft long by four feet wide) steel sheets; all of which feature designs that would not be out of place in the Watertown Mosque. Mechanic and artist, I’m not sure which activity comes first but he is a very good mechanic. Ryan told me that he holds gallery shows in the car repair shop. I’m going to try and attend one.

Traffic was hideous on the return from the shop. 30 minutes for two miles of driving. I’d like to see more people commute to work on horseback, if only to see the office go quiet when Bonnie from accounting steps through the double doors, posture slung low at the hips, boots grinding into the wood floor in front of the reception desk.

Back in the office today, a copy of the McKinsey Quarterly report on China to my left. I’ve been given an opportunity to get back into China studies (well, somewhat back, I’m illiterate in Chinese and this presents a very solid bar to expertise) which is something that I have not thought about since college.

Cabdrivers

(6:50PM) I’m on the Acela from Philly to Boston and there is no internet access on the train. The conductor has just walked by collecting tickets and the transportation safety administration has required conductors to do random identification checks and since:

– I no longer have a photo id
– and the woman at reservations refused to sell me a pre-reserved ticket without id
– and the quickticket machine that I resorted to had all sorts of dire warnings about the TSA now requiring id placarded on it
– and I’d already evaded one id check when I took advantage of some confusion in the station to walk past the pre-boarding gateway id checker

I’m hoping that I don’t get checked.

I left the meeting in Fort Washington early in order to take a cab from the boonies of Pennsylvania to the 30th street train station in Philadelphia and the cabdriver, after assessing traffic along the toll highway, decided that it would be better to travel back to center city without using any highways at all. He drove getaway car-style, hurtling through red lights ‘cross the back alleys of north Philadelphia [Juniata Park, Hunting Park, Nicetown, Fair Hill] while telling me about his year in Boston (back Bay, with his parents) and six years first in Brooklyn (near the GW Bridge) and then in Manhattan (in St Marks—8th street and 2nd Ave— which was not as clean as it is today). He went back to find his landlord in St. Marks, asked about the rent for his fifth floor walkup and was told to add 2 grand to the monthly rent that he was paying in the 1980’s.

Some of the neighborhoods in North Philadelphia have not changed since the 1950s. All the details are complete, down to the old cadillacs and the thin, neon woolworth signs.

This has been a great evening for cabdrivers. The cabdriver from the Train station back to Logan airport has just recommended his cousin’s Italian deli, down the road from Russo’s. He has also given me a recipe for braised rabbit.

Bathroom Wars

There is a trash can beside the flat panel television in the hotel room and the hotel has stopped putting plastic bags in each trash can in favor of a piece of paper, which is a great idea. I like it because it reduces the function of the trash bag to its simplest component and solves the core problem facing a trash can (the junk that you throw out will stick to the bottom) while getting rid of at least three extraneous problems (trash bags take up more space, how do you store the trash bags for each trash can, trash bags billow up and prevent people from putting as much trash as humanely possible in each can). The only time this won’t work is if someone decides to go deer hunting, captures and cleans a deer in the room and leaves the innards—which would stain the trash can—in the trash. I suspect that the trash can would get thrown out and the cost would be added to the already enormous surcharge incurred by the state of the bathroom

Speaking of the bathroom, the room uses an old school showerhead (1980’s massager showerhead, dingy off-white) which makes me think that there should be roller skates hidden around here somewhere.

In the tub, the hotel has placed a hand towel, soap and shampoo. The shampoo is made by a company called Physique and it features the greek letter sigma (Σ) at the top. This makes me think that the shampoo has either escaped from a fraternity or is the sum of all other shampoos. Shampoo qua shampoo. Shampoo researchers decided to take samples of all other shampoos and cram them into this tiny bottle. Right now the apple cranberry grapefruit extracts have formed a power block and are fighting a rearguard action against the German “Science-based” shampoos. The German shampoos are working on a new secret conditioner-based death ray but the herbal shampoo spies who know about this have been captured and are even now forging fake German shampoo passports in a camp behind the enemy lines. The battle is joined, cannons are firing away, tanks, troops, chain guns, mines, grenades and then-bang- the entire shampoo universe is tipped upside down, lathered and rinsed into the Fort Washington sewer system.

 

License

This is supposed to be an entry at 10:00 pm but there is some trouble with my username and password so it is getting stored in email. I’ll post it when the account resolves itself.

I’m supposed to be writing an article on some medical diagnostics but right now I’m in the lobby of a Marriott Hotel in fort Washington PA and I’m distracted. There are three Guido’s at the desk next to me, trying to work out something on the hotel computer. Directions to New Jersey or the secret of fire. I can’t figure out which. They all have moustaches and leather jackets and heavy Philly accents and I wouldn’t be out in the lobby but the Marriott seems to have no wireless service.

But that’s really beside the point. The real point is that I managed to lose my license at Logan airport and this means that I’ll be taking the train back north to Boston tomorrow night unless the train requires id, in which case I’ll be taking the bus, hitchhiking, stealing a motorcycle, stealing a bicycle and walking in that order. It’s one of those not-nightmare-but-heavy-on-the-annoyance scenarios. The average American has his picture taken 2,000 times per day but license and passport are arguably the only two pictures that contain a slice of your soul.

Fort Washington, Pennsylvania is about the most convenient place to lose a license but then I’m not sure about getting a new one since my passport, which expires in 2007, is my only viable form of id. As far as other forms of id are concerned, I need to get a new copy of my social security card and to do that I need a copy of my birth certificate. I lost the only copy of my birth certificate six or seven years ago (this is what I get for keeping it in a FedEx envelope in a pile of discardable papers near the bookshelf) and the original is in a filing cabinet in the middle of small windowless (I imagine) office in Westfalen Germany. Now I think to myself that I can’t get on the plane to Germany without a license and so no license no birth certificate no social security card no license and that completes the cycle (or it will, once my passport expires– I’m glad that this is happening in 2006 and not 2007) but a more reasonable scenario could go: need more than passport to get new license. No other id. No license. Passport expires in 2007. No trip to Germany no birth certificate. At that point I disappear entirely from the face of the earth and spend the rest of my life eating Gila monsters out of a gutter in Escondido, California.

But that’s just me obsessing. I’ll bet Gila monsters don’t even taste so bad and cooking…that totally denatures the poison sacs along their jaw lines.

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