This American Life

Blogging is narcissistic, but so are goats it turns out.

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Goats taking a break from their weed abatement duties

My dull American life is making me have strange dreams. And I like it because the metaphysical me gets to experience surreal adventures, while the physical me must endure the humdrum that comes with living in a small, safe American town.

I am now a high school Spanish teacher, and I like it. I love it actually. I remember a time in which I sealed an intent-to-register check into an envelope to attend Baylor Law School. I remember my brother-in-law, a lawyer, said to me, “You are a creative person. Make sure you do a job that allows you to be creative.” Those are the kind of words that stay with you, like a movie flashback where you hear a faint echo in someone’s advice. Those words were a big influencing factor that pulled me away from law school and propelled me toward Cambodia, then Chile, then travels through South and Central America, and ultimately to a love for the Spanish language and Latin American culture. So rather than becoming a lawyer at the age of 26, I became a Spanish teacher at the age of 29, and I don’t regret a single moment. I don’t regret a single decision, even the really stupid ones that I look back on and think, “Wait, how am I alive right now?” And I get to be creative in my work every day. And teenagers fascinate me, and they say amazing things, and sometimes really offensive things too, but I love it all! Sometimes they’re too cool for me, but other times I catch their attention and I can see it in their eyes, and they ask questions that I never anticipated and it makes me want to put the back of my hand against my forehead and tumble to the ground, damsel-in-distress style. Their sporadic yet intense enthusiasm inspires me. It overwhelms and excites me. These are the things that make you want to be good at your job.

But the town I live in is dull. It used to be a farming community, but is now halfway overtaken by rich Silicon Valley tech families who have built giant, polished homes, all clones of one another, sitting in dry weedy plains or up on top of brown hills. So you get this strange juxtaposition of farmers and software engineers. Tractor meets iPhone.

I don’t really know how to answer the question of what people here do for fun. A middle school student explained to me the other day that she shows goats. That’s actually just what it sounds like. She raises goats, then brings them to these sort of goat-raising competitions where she lines them up and shows them to judges. Part of the competition involves picking the goats up so that they’re standing on their back legs to show off the muscles in their hindquarters. I guess that’s pretty cool. Unique at least. But I don’t know if you can really call examining a goat’s ass fun. Maybe you can. To be fair, I’ve never tried it.

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Not in the least bit camera shy

The closest thing this town has to an art scene comes from weekend concerts in the park, in which families sit out on blankets while their small children scream and run around, and cover bands play, well, covers of the kinds of songs you hear at weddings like “Play That Funky Music White Boy.” But at a wedding everyone is generally too drunk to be bothered. Here, the people who attend the concerts in the park don’t appear to be intoxicated, so I don’t really get it.

Yet while I may be a bit bored in this small town, for whatever reason, my subconscious is having a great time. Last night I had a dream that I was offered to be on a reality TV show in which the mafia (a very cliché Italian mafia complete with chubby men in suits) buys you a plane ticket somewhere, and you just go. You don’t get to ask where you’re going; you just get on a plane, land somewhere random, and survive. So in my dream I got on a plane and landed somewhere dusty, noisy and brown. I went to a public bathroom that was rundown and dirty. Then the mafia guys interviewed me and asked if I could tell where I was based on the toilets. I remember proudly saying, “Well, I know I am not in Europe because the bathrooms don’t have running water.” I remember they were impressed, like that’s something that only a seasoned traveler could tell you. I told them that I guessed I was somewhere in South Asia, to which they responded, “No. Wrong.” It turned out I was in India. I remember thinking, “Those dumb mafia guys don’t even know that India is in South Asia.”

Interestingly, I’ve always imagined India to be the kind of place that would trigger my crowd anxiety. I imagine it to be not only overpopulated but also overrun with tourists of the self-proclaimed enlightened variety. That’s the way everyone always describes it anyway. But in my dream, I loved it, even though I was almost struck by a bus full of people. And now I want to go. Now I wish the reality show from my dreams were a real thing and that I could just get on an airplane sponsored by rich mafia men and land somewhere arbitrary and try to survive.

But my real challenge right now is surviving this small town. Part of the problem is that my brain is still in Peru mode. When I see dogs, for example, domestic and harmless, I freeze up and say things like, “Stay. Don’t come near me.” To which they cock their comical heads, wag their tales, and come near me anyway. Nobody has ever kicked them before. They want to be friends. But my natural response is to panic and desperately call out to their owners, “Is your dog friendly?” People here don’t get that. They think I’m a freak. I always want to justify my seemingly irrational fear by saying, “I just came from somewhere with mean stray dogs.” But people here don’t really care about that either. They never ask follow-up questions anyway.

I’m not about to say that I miss the danger of Trujillo, and I certainly don’t miss the rabid stray dogs, or the noise or the pollution. But I miss the excitement. This town is too groomed. It’s the opposite extreme of my previous location. That’s not to say that there is no danger here, it’s just different. In Trujillo I didn’t like running at night because of the very likely possibility of being kidnapped and assaulted. Here I don’t like running at night because of the very likely possibility of being ravaged by a mountain lion. It’s just different.

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Posted along one of my running trails

This post doesn’t have a real ending because I haven’t reached a solution. I am suspended between adventure and the commonplace, searching for a balance.