Late fall is kind to us in Boston, partly cloudy and near 60 degrees. Everything is supposed to be dead, the foliage succumbing to the arriving winter, but life hangs on, the trees still with multi-colored leaves, the green grass, a few blooming roses in the garden. This morning I am running on a course around the Boston Fens, a large park with a community garden, a soccer and softball field, a basketball court, and arching bridges going up and over the small bodies of run-off water from the Charles River. The weather is breathtaking on this, my fourth birthday in New England and the only one on which I have been able to run outside. I was going to write an essay similar to this one last year, but it was far too cold to run outside and running on the treadmill beneath the overhead TVs displaying news about… More…

It was a bright yellow table with four sturdy legs. White flowers arched gracefully across its shiny top. Two panels, attached by hinges to the main panel, hung on the sides. Without them the table was square. When the panels came up, the table morphed into an oval-top.

But its best feature was the price. At $5, it had my name written all over it.

I was a newly minted immigrant in this country, on a mission to cobble together the basic household items I needed as a student. A sleeping bag I had brought from India served as my bed. My tiny room had a built-in rectangular closet for my clothes. Reneé, my roommate, had just driven me to a department store where I purchased a fan (for $10, which turned out to be a great value; we still use it 16 years later) to minimize cooling costs…. More…

“For the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.” — Isaac Bashevis Singer

One morning recently I woke up and found I no longer wanted to eat meat. It seemed a sudden and unaccountable distaste. I had seen the images and read the books decrying animal slaughter over the years, and they had provoked the predictable sense of horror but no change in my eating habits. Why would I now, for no apparent reason, see things differently?

I’ve asked myself this question, even hoping that my newly acquired aversion would dissipate. I’ve always found vegetarians annoying. There’s nothing that can reduce the pleasure of a steak dinner like sitting opposite someone eating stir fried vegetables. I didn’t want to be the person who got the vegetarian option at the wedding and whose entrees were served first, with the kosher meals, on the airplane. I don’t travel in vegetarian circles. Sure, people… More…

Alime Sadikova was one of the smartest, most ambitious young women in Jizzakh, and one of the smartest, most ambitious women I had ever met. She was the first to learn English in her family — encouraging and helping her younger brother who was studying on a grant at a high school in Colorado at the time — and establishing her own successful language school in Jizzakh called En Course, where I taught. She would later receive a Fulbright scholarship to study at Texas Tech in Lubbock, but on the day after the En Course disaster, she had a quirky and tactless way of explaining my failure. She told me that I had been dumped. Again.

“Are you serious?” I said, shivering as I spoke on the public telephone in my host family’s… More…

 

One of the few Peace Corps pamphlets I ever read came to my home in Arizona about three weeks before my departure to Uzbekistan. I don’t think I read all the way through, but it told me that I should only bring what I could carry, so I arrived in Philadelphia for a three-day staging event before I would leave the country for two years with relatively few belongings. “What You Should Know About Uzbekistan” said that Uzbekistan got very cold in the winter, it being one of two doubly landlocked countries, the other being Liechtenstein, causing the seasons to be very extreme, with winters often below freezing and summers exceeding 100 degrees. But the hot Arizona summer of 2003 made me regard the prospect of cold weather as a down-right lie: I… More…

 

 

I spent an hour this morning on the flat roof of the church where I am the pastor with a can of tar, searching for a hole. It wasn’t an obvious hole otherwise I would have found it the last time I was on the roof. I’ve been on this crummy roof so many times I’ve created the La Brea Tar Pits up there. I continually ask God to heal my leaky roof, but God’s answer is, stick with the tar. I bet you are wondering why I do this. It’s really very simple: My church is small, I am the only employee, we struggle to pay our bills every month, and if I waited until a volunteer can make the time to do the work my Sunday School kids will experience Noah’s flood first hand. I… More…

 

I became very dizzy while watching Cloverfield in the theater last year. I sank into my seat and muttered, “Oh man, I don’t feel too good.”

“What’s the matter?” my friend Geoffrey asked.

“Taiji,” I said. “I think I may have a bruised rib from taiji.” Even the kids in front of us had to turn and see what was so funny.

Everyone knows “tai chi” — it’s that arm-waving thing old ladies do in urban parks. The Whole Foods yuppie crowd swears by it as a way of learning how to “relax.” Taiji quan (same thing, somewhat more accurate transliteration) started out, however, as a powerful martial art. I started looking for a martial art to practice a few years ago and observed a few classes. I met lots of athletic types, and a few… More…

 

 

It was never my intent to spend $650 on myself, by myself — at lunch, a credit-card-statement reality made all the more painful by the news, weeks later, that the U.S. economy fell off a cliff and that the reliability of my livelihood had suddenly come into question. I am by all definitions a “foodie,” even though I dislike that term. Yet compared to the foodies who got me into the situation of spending such a lavish and obscene amount of money on a meal for one, I am a but a lightweight, a middling palate, a common snacker.

Yet even if the slight sting of buyer’s remorse would last months — indeed, I still wonder today whether I should have spent that lewd sum — the food high I experienced burned brightly for at least 24 hours and… More…