Home (language) away from home, a raccoonaccount

Wash and I have been spending a lot of time on our own lately. To tell you the truth, neither Wash nor I have ever needed very much alone time in the past. I grew up with two older sisters, a social mom and a very caring stay-at-home dad, and moved on to live with other people ever since. Wash was the fifth of five baby raccoons born from a wildling mother and a movie star pet father, you don’t want to get him started on what it means to share a room…

So while we do appreciate a couple of uninterrupted hours of Netflix, watching stuff, we’re pretty much okay with having someone around to engage with. Well, at least we used to be. These past few days Wash and I have come to recognize the quality time spent on our own can posses. There is so much more space for your mind to wonder if it isn’t occupied by another person.

However, after a while too much of a new thing can be bad for you sometimes, so I dragged Wash away from Netflix and out into the world again. I poked around for some fun stuff to do in Portland on the internet and wound up finding  something to sooth our heartache for our now second home country. Portland, it seems, has a rather big German community, with German-American schools, German lifestyle magazines, German Stammtische and, to Wash and my great delight, the annual German Film Festival right around the corner! But what kind of a German-American would I be, if I only went as a spectator and not also get involved as a volunteer.

Rocking the volunteer look (though my awesome badge is missing in that ensemble). Got to keep the t-shirt!
Rocking the volunteer look (though my awesome badge is missing in that ensemble). Got to keep the t-shirt!
They've got some pretty cool stuff still going on till Tuesday!
They’ve got some pretty cool stuff still going on till Tuesday!

So on this weekend, after a pleasant email exchange with the very kind and funny organizer of the event, Yvonne, Wash and I spent the last two days will calling, tearing off tickets, asking people to keep moving, chatting with other volunteers whose German was better than my English, and watching films in my other native languages.

One of my duties as a volunteer at the German Film Festival, getting that Condor plane up it the air ;) (they auctioned off tickets)
One of my duties as a volunteer at the German Film Festival, getting that Condor plane up it the air 😉
(they auctioned off tickets)

The German Film Festival will continue for another two days (until Sep 29th) without me, as university duties and my very bad cold keep Wash and me from helping. It was nice however, if only for a few hours, to be reminded of the fact that other people actually speak German, too, and that it is not something Wash and I just made up.


We boldly went… alone, a raccoonaccount

We boldly went… alone, a raccoonaccount

Wash and I have been very vocal on one of the major reasons for coming to the States. As you probably know by now, it was in great part so we could feel a little closer to our late fathers. Both of them passed away when we were still on the butting edge of becoming the people we are now and it gets us down pretty often to think about how they will never see what we made out of that awesome kick-start into life they provided us with. A lot we do, we do in the hopes that it would have made them proud of us.

Last week, Wash and I did something that would NOT have made our fathers proud of us. It would have made them turn green with envy! You see, our fathers were gigantic, complete, undeniable… trekkies. A condition they passed on without mercy to their children.  Wash and I warship science fiction as the best fiction there is, no matter what medium it comes in and we have spent a great amount of private and academic time researching and producing in the genre. Genetic likenesses are nothing compared to the passion for science fiction when it comes to reminding us of our fathers’ connection to us transcending death.

Being trapped in a country that has only now that we left arrived at the conclusion that science fiction is mainstream-level cool, the one thing Wash and I have never managed to do before now was go to Comic Con. No difficulty imagining how tickled-pink we got when we heard Portland had its own Rose City Comic Con going on only two weeks after our arrival! Maybe you will have some difficulty imagining how hyperventilatingly excited we got when we learned that Nichelle Nichols was going to be there! For all those who don’t know (shame on you!), Nichelle Nichols played the amazing Lt. Uhura on Star Trek- The Original Series.

And we got our picture taken with her!

OMG OMG OMG Wash got a fit of the giggles after Nichelle Nichols hugged us and just fell over!

When it comes to describing why we adore her to the extent that we would pay $30 dollars to get into comic con just to see her, another $40 just to have a picture taken with her, and an additional $5 just to get a cover for the picture so it wouldn’t get bent, we are truly at a loss for words.

Meeting Nichelle Nichols and getting the chance to talk to her, even if it was only a brief exchange, was by far the highlight of our day at Rose City Comic Con. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t get to spend even more money:

Our loot of the day. Don't ask me how much I spent, please, I don't want to add it all up.
Our loot of the day. Don’t ask how much we spent, please, I don’t want to add it all up.

Or meet other cool people:

A popular costume this year. Can't say I didn't like a million Deadpools goofing around walking behind unsuspecting cosplayers.
A popular costume this year. Can’t say I didn’t like a million Deadpools goofing around walking behind unsuspecting cosplayers.

Some of the people had been in the business for a while:

Retired Wonder Woman was pretty awesome! Fun fact not on the picture: the effect earth's gravitation had on her boobs.
Retired Wonder Woman was pretty awesome! Fun fact not on the picture: the effect earth’s gravitation had on her boobs.

Some of them had been “people”, more or less:

It said I could hug it!
The Dalek said all it wanted was a hug!

But love and hugs, it seems, knows no boundaries:

Spreading the love across the galaxy
Spreading the love across the galaxy

Disclaimer: Cheesy part ahead. Even though Wash and I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go to comic con with us on such short notice, we didn’t feel like we were actually all alone. It will become one of those sadappy memories, more happy than sad, though.

Magic is might, a raccoonaccount

Wash and I have encountered an unforeseen, but rather funny (haha funny, don’t worry) if you think about it, obstacle about being a half American here in the States.

You see, even though we’re both fluent in it, speaking English in every day life a lot of times still feels like using some kind of magic lingua. If we speak the right incantation, the bus driver will sell us the right ticket. If we choose the right spell, the waiter will bring us the right order. If we get it wrong, well, we might turn ourselves into toads, accidentally. The trouble is that Wash and I are not yet so erudite in the magic lingua of this particular kingdom. It will happen sometimes that we ask strangers about something that we didn’t understand that is completely self-evident to them and they will look at us as if we were trying to make fun of them.

For example, I’m not very good on vegetables and fruits. I mean at knowing the English words for them, the eating part I sorta get. So when Wash and I went grocery shopping at Fred Meyer today we had to ask for some help at the self-checkout. I’ve only ever gone through self-checkout a handful of times at Ikea, so this is rather new to me, anyway. We’ve been avoiding it these past few days, but you gotta do it at some point, no sense in being afraid of it the whole time. It’s actually a fairly easy and self-explanatory thing to do: You simply scan the bar code of the items you want to buy. Wash and I managed to get through the whole process without help at least that far. Then we got to the produce. They don’t have a bar code to swipe. But like I said, the system is very user friendly, so I just pressed the “search by name” button and entered t-o-m-a-t-o-e-s. And voilà, all kinds of tomatoes showed up and I selected the cheap roma ones Wash and I had gotten. It all went well until we got to the Kohl. You might be laughing now, but I swear, we tried very hard, but Wash and I couldn’t remember the word for Kohl anymore. So we went over to the nice lady attending the self-checkout and asked, rather embarrassed, if she could tell us the name of this vegetable we were holding up to her nose. I don’t know if it was because I was asking such an unexpected vocabulary question, or the fact that I was also holding a stuffed raccoon in my other hand, but she definitely thought us weird, even by Portland standards.

I really hope they'll let us back in, it's so conveniently close to home.
I really hope they’ll let us back in, it’s so conveniently close to home.

Because, you see, Wash and I barely have an accent when we speak English. If we have a longer conversation with someone, they will eventually notice that something is off about the way we talk and about some of the words we use and ask if we’re British. (I was told that that is the general assumption over here if you speak fluent English that just doesn’t seem to be from around.) But Germany, or any kind of non-anglophone country has never been among them. So in those short, every day interactions, people will hear our somewhat American-sounding magic words and be confused about our confusion with them. I never thought I’d say this, but things might be a bit easier over here, people a bit more understanding, if we had a German accent.

I will never EVER forget the word cabbage in my life.

Cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage!
Cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage cabbage!

How to American as a half American, a raccoonaccount

Wash and I were both very nervous about coming to Portland. I think that’s not a big surprise to most. New country, new people, new life. And a lot of that nervousness we felt was actually about going away, just the two of us, alone basically, so far away from home for the first time. But a great part of the nervousness was also about the language and about fitting in with the people at all. We both feared that we might be spending the upcoming 11 months in emotional isolation, not making any real friends, only shallow acquaintances. When we talk to other people in Germany about this, they’re always very surprised to hear that, especially our apprehension about the language barrier. Because Wash and I are part German, part American and grew up speaking both languages.

My parents met in the 1970s in Germany as my dad was visiting some of his former army buddies still stationed there. They fell in love, they got married, they moved to California and lived there for a couple of years before they came back to Germany for good, all long before I was born. I grew up in Germany, only visiting the States on rare family occasions in my younger years. English was the family language for the most part, still, German was everywhere and thus has remained my main language for every-day interaction with the outside world.

Wash’s story is fairly similar to mine. His dad came to Germany as the pet of some long forgotten movie star shooting a film in Germany back in the day. His mom lived in a forest they were using as part of the set for their film. It was love at first sight.

So yeah, we speak the language of our fathers’ country, and we’re both not bad at it either, I think. (Getting a degree in English studies kinda helped with the skill-development.) But we’ve rarely interacted with people who didn’t at least know a little German, too. Especially not all day, every day, for 11 months. And yeah, our parents tried to uphold a bicultural environment at home. But that will only do half the trick sometimes. Both of us have been feeling somewhat out of phase and out of place and that is just all the more frustrating, because it feels like we should be able to do this, just like all the people who are surprised at our reservations about fitting in seem to think. We know how to German, but I think we still have to learn how to properly American.

A new friend of ours said something nice about this today. He said to us that we now had the opportunity to find and develop the American  part of our identities. It made it sound like we already have it in us, that we’ve just got to dig it out. Thank you for helping us feel, for the first time since we’ve come here, as if we might be at home here, too, James.

Now, I don’t have a picture to go with this blog entry (unless James would like to share the one we took together this afternoon), so here’s one of Sushi the white angora cat dressed up as a burrito.

Sushi the purrito. Random cat pictures are always a great filler.
Sushi the purrito. Random cat pictures are always a great filler.

Skype makes sadappy, a raccoonaccount

Wash and I skyped with home again today. Going away long term for the first time has taught the both of us that going away sometimes is, in general, a good idea. Raccoons and humans alike tend to get used to the things and people around them. We start to take them for granted the more time we spend with them and even though we might really love them, we temporarily forget that fact in the slog that is every day life. But when you know the moment you’re leaving is drawing closer, all the little things that usually annoy the hell out of you just don’t annoy you anymore, and every minute spent together becomes precious and intense. Until that absurd moment of saying good-bye suddenly creeps up behind you and you feel like you will never ever see each other again. After spending so many years together, and almost every day of them, too, 11 months apart is a concept very hard to grasp.

So thank the scientists for Skype! The good thing about Skype is, is that it has this weird power of creating the illusion of closeness, even though there is a nine hour time difference (source of a LOT of confusion btw.), so the heartache isn’t so bad at first. You get to talk to each other, you get to see each other, it’s almost like being in the same room, almost as if you hadn’t left.

Until you remember that you did.

Wash and I skyped with a dear friend of ours, Sushi, the white angora cat this morning. Wash and her go way back and I’ve known her for about 2 years, ever since she started living with my partner and me. I dreaded saying good bye to her so much, it didn’t even bother me anymore that she would sit in front of the bathroom door meowing and scratching every time I closed the door on her to have some privacy. She’s usually quite the talker, a very communicative one, telling you all about the day she’s had. It can be really difficult to listen when Wash and her go on and on about stuff. But when we skyped this morning she didn’t seem quite so happy to chat as she usually is.

Sushi the white Angora cat was being very uncommunicative over Skype
I swear, she just sat on the keyboard the whole time, not saying a word to us. At some point, she even switched off the camera.

You see, the bad thing about Skype is, is that it has this weird power of creating the illusion of closeness. I might be seeing her, I might be talking to her (if she ever talks to me again, that is), but we’re still not really close. I can’t touch her, I can’t cuddle her, I can’t feed her. And the cat had more sense than Wash and I, didn’t let herself be fooled by Skype. I feel like the second Peverell brother in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I have the power to bring her close to me (the Resurrection Stone/ Skype), but still she’s not actually with me.

To get over this sadappy feeling Skype always leaves us with, Wash and I got ourselves this fake sheep fur carpet on our trip to Ikea earlier this week. If we try very hard (and put on the sound of Sushi purring in the background that my partner was kind enough to record for us), it almost feels like we’re cuddling with Sushi. Except that the carpet sheds much less fur than that hairy little cat of mine does.

If I use all of my imagination, it's almost as if I'm cuddling with my cat.
If I use all of my imagination, it’s almost as if I’m cuddling with my cat.
Wash misses her, too...
Wash misses her, too…

Rain in Portland, we believe you now, a raccoonaccount

Wash and I have heard a few people talking about these spontaneous Portland showers and how crazy they are, both before and we came here and during three days we’ve been here so far. And I was all like, yeah, okay, rain. I’m from Germany, I know what rain is, no need to talk about rain to me. Tell me some cool stuff! Today, however, I got to experience my first authentic Portland rain shower downtown after my first short peek at PSU. And I still say, rain is rain. Though I give it to you, Portland, yours is quite impressive. As I left the library building there was all sunshine and blue skies. Next thing I knew, there was rain coming down from multiple directions at once! It mixed and twirled in mid air in front of the windows of the skyscrapers of downtown Portland.

Wash and I hiding out from the rain at a bus stop on 6th
Wash and I hiding out from the rain at a bus stop on 6th

The pictures I took don’t nearly give this spectacle enough credit. It was like standing in front of a gigantic waterfall for a while.

The most amazing part about it, though, was the way people treated this downpour. Sure, it got chummy at the bus stops for a short while. I myself jumped into the max to avoid most of it.

Wash and I hiding from the rain inside the max
Wash and I hiding from the rain inside the max

I got off two stops down, because I didn’t really want to leave downtown (and because I was afraid of getting lost. haha.) So I waited at the stop underneath a glass roof, together with a few other people and thought I’d wait out the waterfall alongside with everyone else. Except that I seem to be more patient with rain than the average Portlander is. The streets that were almost devoid of pedestrians and bikes as the rain had first started coming down hard, was filling up again after just a few minutes. Mind you, the rain was still coming down hard. People were just walking down the street as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

Here I stood, thinking that my next stop should include a shop where I could buy an umbrella and there they walked (and biked), no umbrellas, no hats, no jackets even for some, refusing to let the rain interfere with their every day life. I can get used to crossing the street when the traffic light is still red (a thing also done frequently in Portland), but walking around int he rain in t-shirt and hot pants while texting with my phone… Not so sure.

(I got tired of waiting around after a while, too. But I chose to basically run from bus stop to bus stop to stay mostly dry.)

Wash and I managed to stay fairly dry after that big downpour
Wash and I managed to stay fairly dry after that big downpour

Getting lost (downtown edition), a raccoonaccount

Wash and I got lost today, somewhere downtown, between 4th and 6th ave. Mostly we just wandered in circles around those few blocks looking for the number 14 bus stop back home. All we could find was the number 14 stop where we’d gotten off earlier that day when we’d arrived downtown. Turned out that that was actually also the bus stop we were looking for to get back home because the bus goes in circles. Another lesson learned about riding the bus in Portland, took us only about 1 1/2 hours to arrive at that conclusion.

That was the second time we got lost on that trip. The first time was when we got off the bus (in the front. ha!) and headed towards PSU. Only that we had no idea what direction PSU was in and with no internet to check, we just started wandering in a random direction. Fortunately, Wash’s animal instincts pointed us immediately in the right direction. Unfortunately, my human impatience made us turn around shortly before PSU would have come into view and head down the completely wrong way on 6th ave all the way to its end, which is far. Knowing my human shortcomings, I had planed in an extra hour for exactly such an event and managed, after asking for directions, to find my way to the rec center of PSU.

Wash's and my first stop at PSU, the PSU rec center (aka the gym)
Wash’s and my first stop at PSU, the PSU rec center (aka the gym)

But getting lost isn’t all bad. There are a lot of things you only notice when your senses are sharpened by panic and survival instinct (I was starting to get hungry). It’s also a great way of getting some needed exercise after sitting on your bed, skyping for three days straight, (not) getting over the jet lag. So Wash and I had a thorough look at the neighborhood surrounding PSU campus. Here’s what we learned:

  • 6th ave is LONG
  • There’s a veggie grill on 6th that I wanna try out (EDIT: I did try it out and it was awesome!)
  • people WILL stare if you pass by them five times within ten minutes
  • people WILL stare if you take random pictures of yourself with a stuffed raccoon after asking them for directions just seconds earlier
  • there are 20 Starbucks on 6th ave
  • sometimes buses go in circles.