An American in Berlin
19 April, 2017
A Berliner in New York, Part III
Right, so Part The third of my time in New York; and hopefully Part the Last as well. After lunch with Uncle Art, we dropped him back off at the factory/office. It’s always great to see that guy. That said, it’s also a touch bittersweet. You see him slowing down, you know he’s 90. God willing, he’ll be around for a long time yet. But you don’t take these visits for granted. It was important to me to see him while I was in, so I’m glad I got the chance.
He asked me at one point during the visit if I’m living in “East Germany.” And I honestly wasn’t sure if he just meant the east of the country or the DDR. My impression was that he meant the latter. So I started to say that it’s all just one Germany now. But than I realized that if he was going to ask about what life is like in Berlin (and East Berlin, at that), I’d soon find myself saying something like, “Well, things are pretty different in the East, actually.” Which they are. In the end, though, the conversation didn’t go much further than asking about my job and if I was happy there/here.
Anyway, as I said, it was great to see him. After we dropped him off, we drove down to Jersey to visit Aunt Cookie, my mom’s sister. As it happens, I’m probably closer with her than any of my other aunts and uncles. This despite the fact that she doesn’t travel anymore with the result that I only see her maybe two or three times a year.
But when I was living in the city, I’d usually call her about once a month or so. I was in the habit of calling during my walks home from work, which as a general rule was a great time to catch up with people. Anyway, I’d ring her up and our chats would usually last the whole of my walk, which is to say about an hour. So that was a lovely thing.
Anyway, we drove down – me and the ‘rents – for a visit; this was the Tuesday before I flew back to Germany. We had a very nice time. Just the usual catching up and joking around. She’s always excited to have company, so she tends to fuss over me/us rather a bit. I’m not generally one to be fussed over, but that’s her way and you’ve got to let her have it. And anyway, she puts up with my surly, sarcastic, deadpan ass, so I’m certainly not going to throw stones from my glass house.
Also, she’s great about respecting my boundaries. What I mean is, she’ll ask me any question on any subject, but if she senses that I don’t want to talk about something, she’ll dead it, no questions asked. So that’s something I definitely appreciate. Add to that the fact that I can speak pretty candidly with her and never have to worry about offending her. She’s good people. And as I said, it was a very lovely – if short – visit.
After that, my next stop was Queens, to have dinner with Flare1 and Garth. Shout-out to my dad for driving me to Astoria on their way home. Anyway, Flare is another one of these people I’ve known since High School; though we didn’t go to the same HS. She’s another one who fits the “friends as much as family” schema. Indeed, the family thing goes a bit further with her. See, I’ve spent every Christmas with her and her fam from 2010 to 2015. And this past Christmas, they Skyped me in. That’s a pretty special thing for me. I mean, they don’t treat me as a guest, they treat me like part of the family. And this past year, her mom, her uncle, her cousins, they all got on the Skype and said some variation of, “It’s weird that you’re not here; you’re a part of our Christmas.” That’s pretty fucking special. And for a Yid, it beats the hell out of Chinese food and a movie, don’t it?
When I got there, Garth hadn’t come home from work yet, so we had some nice one-on-one time to catch up. But it was a little different than the usual catch-ups. By which I mean, we’ve had a lot of the same experiences. She did a year in Spain, so she’s a) got the living in Europe thing and b) the learning a foreign language in a foreign country thing. She’s an art teacher now and has done ESL teaching in the past. So while there was of course just regular catching up, we also did a lot comparing notes, which was really cool; and not something I was really able to do with anyone else.
For dinner, we ordered in Chinese. Halal Chinese. Which, I mean, I fucking love New York. That was my first reaction, right? Like, where else in the world do you get halal Chinese food? My second reaction was, “Well, fuck, that defeats the purpose of getting wanton soup.”2 Garth Vader3 picked up the food on his way home, so we all ate together which was great.
Garth is lovely, gregarious, nerdy, jock-y, funny and wicked smaht. He also works for the city DEP4 doing waste-water treatment. Which is fascinating. He’s another one I just ask questions to and listen to the answers. I learned a lot about how the city functions, but a part of the city that we a) never see and b) take for granted anyway. It’s downright fascinating.
Well, it was a late night for both of them and you could tell they were both pretty tired by the end of it. So I didn’t stay too late, and caught a reasonable train back to the Island. But it was wonderful to see them. Two of the sweetest people I know. And I’ll tell you something else, they’re too of the best huggers. Seriously.
Wednesday I was supposed to have lunch with Heather (Keith’s wife) and the girls, by which I mean her two daughters and also Mike & Jen’s daughter, whom she had for the day. But in the event, Jen was able to come along as well. And then Murp surprised me by showing up too. We went to the Inn Between, which is the definition of classic with that crew. I normally get the wings there, because they make the best fucking wings. But I didn’t want to eat that the day before I was flying, so I opted for the chicken Caesar salad, which is also top fucking notch.
This was perfectly lovely. Though, as you can imagine, with three little girls at the table, it wasn’t necessarily easy to carry on an in-depth conversation. But it didn’t matter. It was just nice to have a little extra time with those clowns. And little Kelsey is just starting to become an actual talking person, so it was definitely fun to chat with her a bit too.
Dinner was at a pre-grand opening for a new Shake Shack on Long Island. Jo recently landed a big-deal job with the company, so she got us all invited to this thing, which was otherwise closed to the public. And yet, it was so fucking crowded! I have to admit, at first, I was like, fuck this, I don’t want to stand on a line for fast food. But the line moved pretty quickly, and it turned out to be pretty damned good. I mean, it’s Shake Shack after all. Also, it was nice to have the whole fam together for one last dinner before I split.
Afterwards, Justin came back to the house for a final few rounds of NHL; in which I totally thrashed him, btw. So that was great. For me. Which is what matters, right? No, but seriously, the game itself is only half the fun. The other half is just the sheer ridiculous of acting like idiots, yelling like crazy people and the general comedy that ensues from all that. But also I won. So, you know. Party all around, points all around.5
And that was my last night home. Next day, my ‘rents drove me to the airport. My flight was delayed over an hour, so they hung out with me for a while before I finally went through security. The goodbyes are always tough, no question.
But also, it felt a bit weird to be going back. Even with that crazy busy schedule, there were still people I didn’t get to see. In fact, after I published the first part of this post, I got an email from Amber being all, “Don’t come to New York and not see me.” Which, she’s absolutely right, and I immediately felt guilty. I also wanted to visit my old Jewish special-needs school, to see some of my old colleagues and students. I didn’t get to do that either.
So I left feeling like I didn’t have enough time, not seeing everybody I wanted to see. I also left feeling not at all rested. I mean, I basically spent the entire two weeks either drunk, hung over or sleeping. I really could have used a third week. But I also couldn’t have afforded a third week. So that was tough.
Add to that, it was a bit surreal leaving. By the end, I wasn’t sure if “home” referred to Berlin or New York. It was surreal leaving Berlin to go back to the states, and now it was surreal in the other direction.
Back in Berlin, I got through immigration with zero difficulty. Which is how it should be, but I didn’t know for sure. I was definitely playing out worst-case scenarios in my head with regard to my visa. But in the end, there were no problems. Well, other than the flight being delayed and it taking forever to collect my bags.
Amongst which was was a duffel bag filled with about 20 kilos of books; mostly Greek stuff. I mean, I’ve got a proper book shelf here, and it was distressingly empty. Also, how could I get back to work on Greek if all my books were across the Ocean? So now I’ve got my books here, and that is glorious. Also, my bookshelf looks amazing. But lugging that bag home was no fun. It was worth it, but it was no fun.
After dropping my stuff off, I went back out and grabbed a Döner for lunch. And since that is pretty much the most Berlin thing I could do upon my return, I mark that as the official end of my visit home and my official return to Germany. And with that, I’ll also end the official recording of my vacation.