My Father’s Journey Begins

My Brother-in-law wakes me at 3 a.m.
Lying on the floor at The Bird House
“You should come downstairs”
Megan and baby Sylvia are sleeping in the bed above me
“Your Dad stopped breathing”
I lift myself out of Ambien sleep, foggy and null
As I walk down the stairs my head becomes clear
Dad is there waiting for us
I take his hand and tell him how much we love him,
That we will always love him
That it is OK to walk the path of the ancestors
The Yaba Soore.
We take his hands and kiss him
As I kiss his chest I feel his heart beating strong and fast
He’s warm and I kiss his shoulder right above the temporary tattoos of his two Fentanyl patches.
I walk outside, look up at the stars in the ice night. Orion has set. The deer are sleeping in a hollow in the woods. The Interstate hums and throbs over the rise
I take a drag from my vape pen – I developed the habit in the spring, worrying about him.
Walking back into his room I am overcome with grief, sobbing and hugging my mom
“It will be alright. Love you.”
Dad, I hope you are hanging out with your friends
The old guys from Boni
The mask-makers
Drinking millet beer and telling stories about the people you love
We will always tell stories about you, until we meet you again on the path of the ancestors

Different Soil

The land heaves to meet the sky
An arch of sandstone and limestone
Washed away by a quarter billion years’ rain

Among the scarred hilltops and ridged remnants
In a green valley in the wilds of Penn’s Woods
I sense the transience of my position

Where I come from I was certain
Of many things which are just as untrue
The words, clinging to the heels of my feet as I tread Iowa Avenue’s sidewalk

As you breathe, there, you feel them
Words pass through the membrane of your lungs
Dissolve in the blood and cross a barrier to saturate your being

Breathing here, the oxygen is the same
Knowledge and wisdom flow through the valley
But I miss the words

The Part of Me That Could Cry

All text and images copyright (c) 2013 by Nicholas Roy. All rights reserved. No duplication or reuse without written consent of the author.

Gilbert Street, Iowa City, Summer
Gilbert Street, Iowa City, Summer

I remember crying easily as a child. When a grandparent or family friend died, I remember crying for a long time. In high school, I remember sobbing in the stairwell because I got a C. I had a long bout with depression between the ages of 8 and 22.

By the time I was 25, I was dangerously overweight, from eating, from the depression. I remember thinking: I’m going to kill the part of me that is sad. I don’t know how I did it, other than to say that through some force of will, I stopped being depressed, and I lost about 140 lbs. I have kept the weight off and have not been depressed for over 10 years now.

Evening summer sky above an Iowa prairie
Evening summer sky above an Iowa prairie

This afternoon, I came the closest I have since been to falling back into that despair. My wonderful wife is across the ocean doing her research. I have not been able to hug her in over two months, and there is more than a month left before she is back. I’m in a new place, with a new job. The new job is the hardest I have ever had. I’ve easily been able to think my way out of tough spots in jobs before, but this new one challenges me in ways I have never been challenged before. I miss my wife, my parents and my friends.

The sun sets over an Iowa tallgrass prairie
The sun sets over an Iowa tallgrass prairie

This afternoon, I missed Skyping my wife because of a dumb problem at work that really isn’t a problem. I haven’t Skyped with her in nearly a week. I missed her going to bed by 13 minutes. I know, because I have the Facebook chat record to show it. I was driving home when she messaged saying she was going to bed. I was so angry at myself for missing this chance to see her face. I was so angry and so sad. I felt the welcome point of a dark gray cone of despair1 puncture my sternum from the outside, the point pressing against my heart. I felt the tears well up inside. I let out a muted shriek of disgust and pity.

And then it was gone. I did not cry. I could not cry. I had killed that part of myself in order to save the rest of me.

My Parents' Garden
My Parents’ Garden

1 Dark gray cones of despair are about 8 inches long, with a vertex angle of roughly 10 degrees.  They are nicely Gouraud shaded.  Yes, I saw the cone.  It was a “Donnie Darko” moment.

Differences Are Interesting

My wife and I just moved from Iowa to Pennsylvania.  I was born in far northern New York, but we moved to Iowa when I was only a few months old.  Although I’ve spent time in Europe and West Africa, I have never lived anywhere but Iowa for more than five months.  I’m finding that what I miss the most is, obviously, seeing my close friends nearly every day, being able to visit my parents any time, and running in to people on campus who I know whenever I walk around.

I know that many of these things will change with time – I will know more people here, I’ll make new friendships, but my parents will still be far away.  For me, that is really difficult.

I grew up in a small university city, and knew every road, location, pattern, sound, smell, image, time and context in intimate detail.  I had walked or biked nearly everywhere in Iowa City, and that was comfortable.  The sense of place and my sense of myself were deeply integrated.  One of the most valuable things for me about going to school at Iowa was that in my spare time, I would get in my car and explore Johnson, Cedar, Washington, Henry, Lee, Linn and Iowa counties in extreme detail.  I could drive out of town in any direction, for 200 miles, take any turn, and come back in to town from any direction I chose.  I would often depart town in the morning on a Sunday and come back late at night, my pump primed to write new poetry for class the next day.  Now I’m in a new small university city, but all those deep interconnections are missing.  It will take a long time (possibly the rest of my life) to rebuild them here.

I like this place, I like the few people I already know here.  I like the mountains, but I miss the gently rolling plains and the comfort of the way all the streets and roads are perfectly aligned to the cardinal directions.  I miss knowing interesting historical details about the place I live, like why “Blackhawk Mini Parkis called that.  I miss having a beer at Bo James or The Mill with friends. I miss driving past the airport where I learned to fly and remembering cleaning airplanes there with good friends who left town in the other direction a few years back.

I miss knowing that if someone had the last name Yoder or Swartzendruber or Stutsman, they were from the area.

I miss Kevin Olish, who died last year, suddenly, and was a familiar face and interesting guy at the Co-Op, always talkative, always with something interesting to say.  Once, I was wearing a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs t-shirt my dad had given me.  Kevin said, “I used to live in Santa Cruz, nice town!  Expensive town.  I like it here better.”

I’m sure I will get to know all sorts of characters and characteristics here in Happy Valley.  Over time, I’ll come to appreciate the unique aspects of life here.  One of the things I like most so far is how genuinely nice and helpful most of the people I have talked to here are.  That seems like a platitude, but it’s not.  It’s deeply not.  People here are, as far as I can tell, mostly just nice all the way to the core.

Identity In Transit

In my last job, one of the things that kept me up at night was the notion of electronic identity “in transit” or “on the wire.”  Specifically, I was concerned with protecting the electronic credentials of our customers from any kind of eavesdropping, spoofing or tampering as they were transiting the network at the moment a person entered them in a web form, login box on a computer, on their smart phone, or anywhere else they used their officially issued username and password.

Now I find myself in physical transit, from Iowa to Pennsylvania.  Along with that transition comes the need to re-prove who I am to a number of different agencies and institutions.  Those agencies are rightfully concerned with the prevention of any kind of tampering or spoofing of my identity in physical transit.  Along with that concern comes the need for rigorous forms of identity proofing and vetting in order to obtain new credentials.

Because I do this for a living, I knew the kinds of checks that were going to be required to prove my identity in my new location.  I was atypically well-prepared.  Before the movers arrived, I carefully packed all my incredibly precious, practically irreplaceable, highly combustible paper government-issued proofs of identity in a special box in the center of my car’s back seat.  Like a baby.  I knew that the checks to prove who I am to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would be burdensome, but I never really had the opportunity to experience them first-hand, and all at once, before.  Here are my experiences so far.  Please note that these experiences are likely nearly identical in every state in the union (thank goodness I didn’t move to California or my ability to drive would have been in question and I would have had to get fingerprinted!)

The Drivers License

I started with what appears to be the “intermediate certificate” in the trust chain rooted in US citizens’ birth certificates and social security cards: the state-issued drivers license.  This form of physical identity has the following attributes:

  1. It’s highly vetted
  2. It’s issued by a state agency
  3. It has your photo and signature on it
  4. It has your address of record on it
  5. Its issuance is rooted in more deeply-entrenched forms of identification
  6. It’s not so irreplaceable that you can’t carry it with you everywhere, like you can’t with a birth certificate
  7. You must carry it with you everywhere to effectively operate in the modern world
  8. You can’t get one if you don’t already operate effectively in the modern world

As such, most other forms of daily identity proof are rooted in the state-issued drivers license.  To obtain this, I had to drive 10 miles out of town (good thing I have a car and an existing drivers’ license) to a small building where I had to write a check (no cash or credit accepted – are government agencies even permitted to not accept US currency?) to the PennDOT and surrender my Iowa license, present a Social Security card (why?) and any of the items from list A and two of the items from list B:

A

  1. Birth Certificate with raised embossed seal (not a copy)
  2. Certificate of US Citizenship
  3. Certificate of Naturalization
  4. Valid and original US passport (not a copy)

B

  1. Tax records
  2. Lease agreements
  3. Mortgage documents
  4. W2 form
  5. Current weapons permit (US citizen only)
  6. Current utility bills

Note that were I any less than a fully employed and housed person of good means (I carry a passport, and can afford a safe deposit box in which to keep my social security card, birth certificate and passport) I would have an extremely difficult time obtaining a license or photo ID in Pennsylvania (which, were it not due to the action of the ACLU, would be required to vote in an election here.)  If I didn’t have an Internet connection or at least access to a phone, I wouldn’t have been able to determine what I needed to take with me beforehand, and might have needed to make multiple trips, in the car which I thankfully own and am licensed to drive.

Luckily, the address on my check was not required to match my Pennsylvania address of residence, doubly so due to the tear in the space time continuum that would have been caused by identity in transit issue number two:

The Bank

I like credit unions- they exist to serve the membership.  The credit union I currently use in Iowa is a community credit union, meaning it has a community charter, and anyone in the area (a huge area) can use it.  I can still use it because I have existing business with them.  I want to get a new account at a credit union in Pennsylvania because I don’t want to pay ATM fees for withdrawing cash here, and I need to get a safe deposit box to put my incredibly precious and practically irreplaceable, highly combustible paper government-issued identity documents in.  The credit union here does not have a community charter, which means I need to have proof of employment at my new employer to get an account.  That’s fine, I can just do that when I start work at my new employer.  Here’s the fun one though: the credit union asked for my Pennsylvania drivers’ license.  Imagine if the drivers’ license office had decided that the address on my check (no cash, credit or Trobrian Island yams accepted!) needed to match my official Pennsylvania address of record.

Car Title

These next two things are not technically personal identity issues, although they deal with the state-issued identity of my car, which is almost as tightly controlled as the state-issued identity of me as a person.  When I went to the credit union in Iowa (which owns the lien on my car) to ask them about transferring the title to Pennsylvania, they said “don’t move to Pennsylvania.  Anywhere but Pennsylvania.  That is the worst state to transfer a title to.”  I’m not kidding, that’s verbatim.  So, clearly that’s not going to be a problem.

Vehicle Inspection

Iowa does not require any kind of periodic vehicle inspection (this shows in many of the cars on the road) and does not have what the EPA considers to be an air pollution problem, so does not require California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification.  You can legally (and actually) buy a car in Iowa that does not comply with CARB specifications.  If you take your car to Pennsylvania when you move, it’s MY2008 or newer, and it doesn’t have CARB certification, it must have over 7,500 miles on the odometer or you are out of luck, I guess.  Perhaps you could just drive to the King of Prussia Mall a few times to run up the clock before your 20 days to register your car expires.  Of course, in your formerly non-coastal, more-polluting, non-CARB-certified, extra-dinosaur-burning-mobile, that would just cause more pollution, not less.

Neighborly Identity

For the past week, we have had numerous neighbors in our condo association stop by to say “hi” – this was nice the first few times it happened.  Now it is becoming clear that they are investigating whether we are going to depreciate their property values and/or throw wild parties all night.  We are a prematurely elderly, workaholic grad student/professional couple with no kids.  Hopefully they will figure that out and stop ringing our doorbell while I’m on conference calls.

The Grocery Store

Loyalty programs abound!  They are all slightly different and all have weird different rules.  To obtain today’s lowest price on spaghetti sauce, I had to create an on-line identity at the new and different (to me) grocery store and print out a temporary loyalty card on my laser printer, which I bought at Staples, with a discount, using another loyalty card, with another on-line identity.

I understand the need to do many of these things, even most of them.  On the other hand, they are extraordinarily onerous and not at all customer-friendly.  In some cases (voter ID laws) they are blatantly and intentionally disenfranchising of certain segments of society.  That’s a problem.

Update (4/13/2013) – Title and Registration

I don’t know what the credit union thought would be so difficult about getting the title and registration transferred.  Within a couple days of me sending a form to them asking them to send the title to Pennsylvania, I had a new title issued in Pennsylvania, plus my registration and license plate.  It was probably the easiest thing to do yet.