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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This is The End.

I always did like the way Nicki made such a ... succinct (shall we say) exit. And here I am, dragging out my goodbyes and my final tenuous tethers to China, to my time there and this long discursive digest of what it meant and continues to mean. It's time to put this chapter behind me for good; if not China entirely, then China circa 2006-2008. This isn't so much closing the book as it is more like shuttering this volume, placing it back on the shelf, and reaching for a new one. One that I am writing now, one that may or may not be accompanied by a self-obsessed blog.

So: Nicki left before me, just days before in fact; I left Jilin with James and Jim similarly eager to leave, while Kevin remains there, at least until summer; and Aaron is in Zhanjiang, preparing to assume a bigger role in Maryknoll. Congratulations are in order, because I can't think of a better person for that job, other than the man currently doing it.

Today, and I hope until the day I die, memories from China and my travels in Asia randomly bubble up to the surface, a smile blooming on my face as they break through the surface of my conscious mind, like spotting an elusive whale or a rare fish brilliantly leaping out of the murky calm, dazzling you with profound happiness and awe. I can hardly believe all that I saw and did and experienced during those two years, the stories I have to share and the memories I will forever treasure, and I am grateful to so many people that helped me along the way. And I've gotta say that I'm really grateful that I had the foresight and stubbornness and sheer will to take that first step and get on the plane. It was a move that felt half brilliant and half insane, and it's up to you to decide which.

I would like to thank you, reader, and readers past and present, for taking the time to humor me by reading these posts that I spent far too much time polishing. This blog was never more than a butcher shop of vanity, but while keeping the folks at home informed about what was happening to me on the other side of the planet, I hope I was able to offer some insight, however brief, of worlds some may never see.

In a final self-referential nod, I really do think I said it best when I first left Zhanjiang, when I first tried to put this past into words: you too, dear reader, can do this. You can teach, you can travel, you can make your life the meaningful and fulfilling adventure you always hoped it would be. And you should do it, too; you should kick your own ass to do it.

Well ... I'm back. That's it! Thanks for reading! And who knows what will come next? It's a magical world, Hobbes 'ol buddy ... let's go exploring!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cool Things Happen (and Matt is Very Late)

2009 is damn near a month old and I haven't even talked about one of the coolest things to happen in 2008: Jim Hartzel and Cecilia Baldino went to Marriage Camp, and came back Jim and Cecilia Hartzel.

The event was December 20, and in the words of many, "it was awesome." An unexpected delay in Jim's friends from Minnesota resulted in me being able to actually join them all down in Atlantic City for Jim's pseudo-bachelor party. With the term at Del Tech over and a little scheduling kung fu, I found myself scrambling to put Jim and C’s gift together and get on the road before I missed the debauchery.

Of course, I use debauchery loosely and "pseudo" freely, because Jim’s too much of a good guy to do that tragically generic bachelor-party-and-strippers thing. Not that there weren’t strippers—on the contrary, there were, Atlantic City’s finest and/or most conveniently located—just that Jim was off losing money in the casino, being what I’ve heard people say is a “good person.” It was his drunken celebratory-cigar-chomping friends, humble narrator included, that did the mental jujitsu of justifying the obligatory bachelor party trip to the strip club, sans bachelor.

But before the casino and before dinner at Hooters and before the gambling and the late-night decadence, we met in our hotel rooms, sipping Fitz’s Homemade Margaritas. You can make them at home, too: all you need is green Hawaiian Punch, whatever alcohol is handy, and a very loose definition of the word “margarita.”

Fitz and Billy get the night started right.

The secret ingredient is alcohol.

Good to not-be-in-China for this!

Barkeep! Give me your finest in ghetto margaritas!

Fitz pours a classy beer.

This is as bad as it got. Honestly.

Oh yes.

I found myself stumbling into my hotel room and collapsing in a bed, I think it was mine, around five in the morning; and through some power that I'm almost (but not quite) ready to attribute to some supremely powerful deity, I woke up to my 8:30 wake-up call and got Twan, Minnesota Buddy #1 (Bubba, he said was his name, but you and I know that that’s a lie), and myself off on the road before nine. Twan had to get up to the hotel in King of Prussia, PA early; he had to get there in time to meet up with Jim, go back to Jersey to get Assorted Wedding Stuff (AWS); and I was just the man to get him there. I was really into Wilco at the time and remember playing the hell out of I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Twan did not care for it.

So it was a slow night of talking and reminiscing, sipping slow drinks in the lobby bar while spending some good quality time with my old college buddies. It sounds weird and something a guy in his forties would say, but I hadn’t much of these guys since college, what with China and all, and it was good to reconnect. The next morning, the weather frozen and bleakly cold, we made our way over to Villanova for the wedding.

Fitz and his girlfriend Sara Beth. She takes good care of him, and you can barely notice the Downs.

My pictures from the ceremony are crap. This'll have to do. Can't say I've seen too many brides in my day, but damn if Cecilia didn't look absolutely stunning.

At the reception ... something tells me we're going to, yes, here it comes, wedding montage, GO!

What lovely ladies you have there Jim!

Look who kinda cleans up nice!

Don't know why, it was a total accident ... but I love this shot.

Mac and Steph, me and Keiff ... practically a double date.


So ... so not suave.

Ladies and gentlemen, the class of 2006.

Ladies and gentlemen, a bunch of bums from Minnesota or Montana or something.

More dancin'!

Mr. and Mrs. Hartzel, newly minted and gettin' down.

The wedding, in short, was great. Awesome. Amazing. All those words that you hear used to describe things like nachos or a movie you liked a lot, but their true meaning is really reserved for moments like this: when friends come together, strike up old conversations, hang out for the first time in months or years and act and feel like they never missed a beat, all in the name of seeing two friends come together in this marriage that just felt so right, so predetermined, a story ending the only way it could. It was great to see my old friends, great to laugh with them and talk with them, and it was great to see Jim and Cecilia become Mr. and Mrs. Hartzel surrounded by them. I felt the ripples of this wedding begin all the way in China, from when Jim and I drove up to Boston on a rainy summer weekend in '07 and he told me he was buying the ring and planning the question ... and to see it done at last ...

... the end.