- Life and Its Flows
My mind drifts, aimless and without resistance. Along the currents, I’m borne towards distant banks of wonder. In these moments, when placid waters of thought lap at the shores of my consciousness, I am often washed over with a profound wonder at the complexity of life on this planet.
Not just the flowers and trees, life mammalian and avian, not even to say cephalopods and cetaceans. More, in these moments of idle drifting through the ripples of profundity, I am lost at the thought of all the lives currently being lived by homo sapiens. The depth, the complexity, the sheer detail that is contained in the existences’ of seven billion people.
I know the Germans call it ‘sonder,’ but think of the immense amount of data that it would take to catalog even the most minute detail of this group of animals. Favorite color, their opinion towards socks, what color pillow they’d like if the market was giving away free pillows.
It floods my mind with details innumerable and incalculable. And while that rouses my wonder, I often try to understand the greater from examples. To think of people who tonight sleep in a certain apartment or dwelling. How was their commute today? Did they remember to brush their teeth, if that was possible in the first place? To think of everyone at that level of normal is incredible.
Sometimes when I’m feeling these notions I like to go for a walk, or if my neighborhood has grown stale, I watch one of several videos people record of them simply going on a night walk, which I greatly prefer to the gaudy day. It astounds me to see the quotidian played out, the mundane made into art by the simple act of being lived.
So many deep questions, the very depths of existential dread just washed away in the action of living life’s most normal activities. Confucius would be proud of meaning found in the rituals of life.
What I think leaves me the most awestruck is how unbelievably beautiful it all is. Simple act of being quietly alive is so incredible I am almost brought to tears to see such daily life. Nothing put on, nothing for show, just buying milk at the supermarket, or hanging laundry on the line.
I remember once sitting on the back balcony of my apartment in Bangkok, these sorts of utility balconies are perfect for sitting in wide-eyed wonder of this phenomenon. I could see several apartment buildings from my spot. All clustered near mine, with spaces lit in fluorescent beauty. You could see balconies full of random objects, hear TV shows and arguments, and admire the simple functioning of life. No acting, no pretension, just a normal night of humanity. The daily was made holy by those who enacted its activities. The breeze of heaven itself dried the clothes fresh from the wash, and cooked chilies wafted up to the heavens as our offering from below to those enthroned on high.
It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
- The Bird Calling in the Rain
A bird calls in the rain, I would imagine its feathers are wet. A terrible night to be a bird outside, though I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Maybe it’s better for the bird to be out and about at this hour, in this rain. Maybe its prey are all still, waiting under branches and eaves, waiting for the drops to cease. Maybe its predators are similarly ensconced, biding their time until their nocturnal hunts can again commence.
Strange to be an animal, but to be one so thoroughly domesticated that I forget what rain does to my fellow creatures. Maybe not forget, per say, but to see a night out in the cold rain as automatically uncomfortable, unpleasant. Something to be avoided, and if experienced, spoken about with firm emphasis on adjectives describing the bad parts of the experience.
I wonder what my ancestors would have thought. Not my immediate antecedents, but those folks way, way back in the day in the Great Rift Valley. The first several generations of anatomically modern humans. How would they have viewed rain? I’m assuming they had some sort of shelter. Leans to, or tents of some sort. They could have been fairly sophisticated, a proto yurt or early teepee.
Perhaps the progression of weather was just seen as something so natural it wasn’t assigned their words for good or bad, it just was. It was something to be adapted to, something to account for, but not something to have an opinion of. I would imagine it was pretty cool, from a wonder point of view. Suddenly water just magically fell from the sky. That had to be pretty far out for them. I’m sure they had some pretty interesting mystical explanations. I, and probably every anthropologist ever, would love to know what those stories were.
In the modern day, typing on my computer in my cozy cabin in what would naturally be a pretty inhospitable place, I forget that I am the same as those far distant grandparents. We are the same species, with the same mind and capacities. So easy that fact is to forget with all the bells and whistles of today.
And when a bird calls in the night, above the patter of the rain and the rustle of the leaves. I wonder how much that bird would prefer to be in my warm home. All the while not even knowing if I truly prefer to be in this warm wooden structure. Perhaps the freedom I associate with winged animals could be accorded those to those of us of the bipedal persuasion- if only we let go of the fetters of civilization, and walked the ancient path of true freedom.
Perhaps civilization was not the best decision, even with its creature comforts. The freedom of an unbound life might very well be worth the deprivations. Or it could very well suck a big one. The bird will never know an avian civilization, but will I ever know primordial humanity? And if I do, am I prepared to learn what wisdom might be gleaned there?
- The Year of Lead and Water
The streets of Yangon flood in the monsoon. I was once in a cab that up and floated for a few feet in the turbid water. I was on my way to work one soggy morning. I took a cab every morning. I hated it. I hate taxis, and I double hate taking taxis in countries that don’t do the whole meter thing. Every morning, bright and early, I had to negotiate with some money hungry fucker who saw a foreigner and saw dollar signs. My work paid for the taxi, there was no public transportation to speak of from where I lived to where I worked, and they were cool with paying for it. Even though it wasn’t my money, it was the principle of the thing.
One day after my negotiations, perhaps made more contentious because I was standing in water, in a rainstorm, and the taxi driver realized that. We headed out towards my work, through the new traffic of Yangon. The city had prevented the import of cars in any significant numbers till about a year before I moved there. The city was in no way equipped for this new phenomenon of the private car. Traffic was already bad, though manageable. From what I hear it’s exponentially worse now. We turned on to a street that was a line of cars in both directions, slowly moving through what could have been a lake traversed by lines of those weird aquatic cars. We slowly crept along into deeper and deeper water. The cars and trucks going the other way kicked up wakes in the brown murky waters. I watched as the water slowly crept up the sides of the door, but by some miracle the doors seemed to be more or less water proof with only a small amount coming in.
I knew the engine would die if the tailpipe ended up below the water- or at least that’s what I’d been told. My mom once had a car die in a flash flood somewhere between KC and Lawrence, Kansas. That’s what she claimed: you can get through if the tailpipe stays above the waterline. Well there was no way that was going to happen here. Like clockwork the engine started to sputter and the orange battery light came on on the dash.
Now I wasn’t in danger, and I’d imagine my job would be cool with me coming late due to such circumstances. It wasn’t exactly unheard of. As the engine began to die a truck drove by and picked up a strong wake. I thought this would be the coup de grace for the car, but in a moment that showed how poor my knowledge of hydrodynamics is, the car floated like a big weird surfboard as the wake came by. For the few seconds we were floating the cabbie and I seemed to come to a mutual understanding of confusion mixed with concern. We returned to terra ferma in a slightly higher place on the road and the engine stopped sputtering. We looked at each other and laughed a nervous- what the holy fuck just happened- laugh, and we set off towards my job.
On our way there, though, I saw a Burmese Army soldier directing-ish traffic. Mostly he seemed overwhelmed at the task. This was usually a job for policemen, but maybe with the flooding he was voluntold to take care of it. He was soaked to the bone, and, by all appearances, was miserable. That made me smile. Not that I take joy in human misery, but this was the Burmese Army. A force that was at that time (And again now) still in control of the country, and though it was paying a lot of international lip service, it was still most certainly brutal. Seeing one of its members soaked made the whole adventure worth it. That and it’s not everyday you go for a sail in a taxi.
- On Clarity
There is a certain clarity of mind, unique and true. I find it hits me when I am on the open road, or when the sun and wind tussle my hair and fill my soul. I last felt it on the bed of a dry lake high in the Andes. In the distance thunder boomed and dropped snow high in the pass. Below the wind whipped and the Austral summer sun shone bright on those of us below. The clay colored cliffs and sparse vegetation showed the rain shadow that covered this area. The thunder that boomed in the distance would be only one of three times this year that such a sound would echo down these valleys.
The lake bed was dry, the spring melt had been less than usual and a large section of the azure waters remained in the distance, here it only cut channels in the hard mud on its way to reflect the clouds in mirror finish beyond.
At the end of the mud, where it tapered into the water in brown edies, I stood and took a deep breath. The wind whipped the dirt and sand, and my hair flowed in the air currents. My skin was alive and my heart soared above in the turquoise fermerment with the enormous sun and the first waves of puffy clouds that would bring the rain to the thirsty plants.
In that moment I felt a clarity of thought I sorely lack in the world of man- or at least in my present location. I get it standing in the door of a moving train, which BsAs does have, though I don’t get it here as much, the trains aren’t as safe and my guard is up too high. In the rice paddies of central Myanmar on the line between Yangon and Bagan I felt it. The train rattled and the hot wind licked my face with smokey humidity. As the farms gave way to palms and sand near the fields of temples I could feel that sweet clear mind.
In those moments I feel life, I feel alive, I feel part of the great chain of being that unites all members of my species, all species, all life on this wonderful spaceship we share as a ride through the cosmos. I do not despair at the conditions some of my brothers and sisters face, nor at the might of evil, nor the banality of cruelty or the damage of ignorance. I accept these facts and feel that though the path is long, the task difficult, it is an opportunity to become great through its defeat. I feel my feet upon the road of a journey, one that has defined life since it formed in the primordial ooze and upon which it will continue long after I have passed from this form. I feel surefooted, which I have never been otherwise. I feel that I can walk this journey. That feeling, that high, is the dragon I chase, that feeling. No drug can, or at least has reproduced it- though even if one could I don’t think I’d try and replace the real thing.
This is the moment I wish to make into my life. It is this clarity I seek.
- Pondi Hotel
The song reminded me of a hotel in Pondicherry, India. I had walked from the bus station to the hotel via a coffee shop on the waterfront. I was thrown by just how much French was spoken in the former Gallic colony and had wandered in absent minded wonder around the streets. A rainstorm, indicative of that time of year, caught me off guard and I hid out under some eaves trying my best to stay dry. When there was a pause in the deluge I made a break for the hotel.
When I arrived the owner seemed to be surprised. He’d tell me later I was the only person staying in the small hotel, it was off season and not a popular hotel even in better times. When I walked in the door he quickly put on some very stereotypical Indian hindu devotional songs. I liked it, but when he learned I lived in Mumbai he seemed a bit embarrassed about it. Most guests wanted the ‘authentic’ experience, a guy on a business trip from the west coast was not his usual audience.
I often think of the song, I really enjoyed it. As much as the owner took me for a seasoned Mumbaiker, I still was a sucker for the tourist stereotypes. Any music would make the process of checking into a hotel better, and good music even more so. I meant to ask him what the name of the song, but it slipped my mind and I never got the chance.
Sitting in a coffee shop not dissimilar from the one I visited the morning I went to the hotel, but now on a lakefront in Patagonia, I heard a song that reminded me of the hotel’s welcome track. It wasn’t the same, noticeably different in fact. The original had a male singer, the new version a woman. Something, though, seemed to be the same. ‘Vibe’ would be one way to put it, but an inadequate description. Something like the essence, perhaps the ether that notes flowed through.
I looked up from my book and stared absentmindedly out the window at the cool wind rustling the pines. I felt the material of my hoodie and the denim of my jeans and my skin yearned for the tropical humidity of India in the monsoon. The dry mountain air blowing down from the Andes, sparkling clean as it was, could not quench the desires of my nostrils for the damp, mossy smell of a fresh wave of rain born of the Bay of Bengal and dumped over the streets and banyans.
I wonder what separates me more, the six years time or the thousands of miles of distance. The same eyes glimpse the world, but refined ever so slightly, worn smooth by a galaxy of extra images. The same brain takes in the day, but now they compete with more data to find an empty place to be stored, to be forgotten.
A white, fluffy cloud blocked the sun and cast a huge shadow across the calm azure of the lake, beyond, the mountains gleamed in virginal beauty. My heart ached to sit on the bare concrete of a balcony in the heat of the day, watching sheets of rain fall, heart beats punctuated by rolling thunder.
- On Showering and Sleep
I always take a shower in the evening, before bed. I like to be clean before hitting the sack, and the shower does the trick nicely. I’m luxurant about it. I take my time, shampoo and condition; make sure I’m clean from ass to tea kettle. It’s nice, one of the daily rituals that keeps me on an even keel.
The paradox is that it’s an energy boost. Right now, a few moments before I get in the shower, I’m fatigued. My eyes are heavy and my attention span is short. My tolerance for humanity, even shorter. I’ll come out of the steam in high spirits. Now it’s nice to go to sleep feeling happy, but it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to know it probably prolongs the process of arriving at a dreamscape.
Now I can sleep sans shower, and I often do when I’m out in nature. There it doesn’t molest me nor leave me feeling dirty. Here, in the sweet sterility of my domestic domain, I do feel dirty if I haven’t washed off the day’s dirty and grime before crawling between the sheets. It helps keep the sheets clean and nice too. Supposedly it’s good for the skin- though I am far from an expert on that.
The crux is that I also take a shower when I wake up, and that gives me my initial boost of daily energy. The cobwebs of sleep fall away quickly and I am able to start my morning well when that water greets my face. I like to round it out with some cold water, cold as she’ll go, right at the end to shove my now frigid ass out into the world to get done what I need to.
Perhaps it is this cross purpose, to relax before sleep and to jolt awake, being demanded of the same activity that crosses the wires. Not sure. Maybe it is what I do around those times, in relation to the shower, that sets me wrong.
Either way, I’ve always loved a good shower. Never to be done at length or in excess, but to be enjoyed in brief style. I take pride in the efficiency of my movements and in the order that I have down to get myself clean. Mornings its shampoo in, soap cover, brush teeth, mouth wash, rinse everything, with the water getting progressively colder between each step, and a few seconds- long as I can handle honestly, at real fucking cold. Evenings I add. Soft pick teeth before the shower, then shampoo, soap up, rinse, conditioner, brush teeth, mouthwash, rinse. I’m quick and efficient either way. And I emerge clean and happy either way.
I have no idea if my shower habits are good, as refined and precise as they are. I might have just perfected the perfect solution to the wrong question. Not sure if the way I do things is best in an overarching way, despite their effectiveness in focus. Perhaps I’ll vary it up. Fuck it, why not.
For now, though, the gentle mist calls.
- Singapore Parents
Hot Damn. I was watching a news report on a 40 year old autistic man in Singapore, and holy shit his parents are good people. They were honest about their struggles, but found good in every situation. They found it positive, saw their boy as beautiful, caring, loving. The father even said it was a blessing to have him at his age. A profound thought. A recognition that at a younger age it was no doubt a challenge, but that in the end there is a silver lining of sorts. But more than that, their son is loved, is found worthwhile, and is human- human in that all children are challenges in their own way, some more, some less, but in the end all can have worth to the family.
Shit, someone must have been chopping onions, I was tearing up at the end. How wonderful that fate gave a difficult child to such good people. Now I don’t know them, they could be far from how they presented themselves, but they sure looked like the real deal. The way the mother spoke so candidly, and the father, in his brief sentences, so lovingly. I hate to imply, much less say, that any human, any couple, any mother or father should be burdened unduly. Life is a burden in the best of circumstances, but if any one must carry a heavier load, I’m glad it fell upon those with shoulders broad enough to withstand the weight.
I know that all parents of austic kids don’t get happy endings. I know that that condition is a broad spectrum and that guy is probably fairly moderate. The severe cases are a complete other story, as would be the mild. I hope, though, those parents are far more like the average parent of such a child than what I fear might be the case, particularly in places that don’t have the facilities to educate them- though Singapore absolutely does.
I remember when I was young the weird kids were picked on but the autistic kids were understood. Even in the cruelest of situations, they got a pass, and rightfully so. I’m glad I witnessed that, and proud that even at our shittiest, we the teenage hyenas knew they were off limits. I saw even better treatment in Thailand. I had a kid in my homeroom that had something, we guessed autism, but none of us were experts. The other students, and the teachers writ large too, made sure this kid was taken care of. I was really heartened by this, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t give some kids participation points on their grades to make sure they were rewarded for their kindness.
In the face of so much trouble in the world, I often feel so small, so powerless to change anything. To see the effects these parents had, those students had on just one life, is inspiring. We can’t all be heroes, but we can all be human and find within our humanity compassion and empathy. That costs us all nothing, and the benefits reaped are magnificent.
But shit, it’s been awhile since a five minute news story has left me in tears, but I’m happy to have shed them. I hope ten thousand happinesses to those people, and I hope at their age I can be held up to their stature and stand tall.
- Song of March
My headphones vibrate a song from my youth. It played on the tinny speakers of my mom’s station wagon as we traveled with the windows down to the public pool on warm summer days, and months later when a late dawn broke on a snow day as we slowly made our way over freshly plowed streets to the best sledding hill in the area. Retrospection is impossible given such a song, though I wasn’t really a fan of it as a kid- neither the song nor retrospection that is. The song was a little above my paygrade, though the sweet R&B melody was nice, it even references snow now that I hear the words again.
The idea, though, of retrospection is one that sticks in my mind like a burr. It itches and pokes with a voice wondering how today’s world will be viewed by my future self- touching wood that I am given such a luxury. Though I was mostly oblivious of the greater world from my perch on the vast and wide tall grass prairies of my youth, I do remember some things. My opinion of them, if I even had one, though, is lost to the sands of time.
From the present era I hope my opinions remain. I hope I can look back and see at least a few correct. What pokes most of this personal burr is what will look so glaringly obvious that seems so opaque now. What even will, from the spective of years in future, look inevitable, so inevitable that one could hardly imagine anyone thought otherwise. Think of how, in 2020 we view the collapse of the Soviet Union. Though I grew up in the post-cold war world, I was born one year before the Berlin Wall fell. Even when I was a kid the adults in my life spoke as if they all knew that that concrete abomination would tumble to the strains of David Hasselhoff. I am quite sure, though, the day I entered the world not a single one of them would guess that it would be down before I spoke my first words or that the Soviet Union would be completely dissolved as I opened presents at my Grandma’s house Christmas eve on my fourth Christmas.
The world of March 2021 is so turbulent, it feels like a chord that refused to resolve, yet crescendos as if some great sonic statement is imminent. I wonder what that hit will be, what sonorous melody will come out of it, or what mournful dirge. And more than that, I wonder what it will seem like in retrospect. Will it all seem so obvious? Or will the resolution really come out of left field? Covid was really an odd one that few will reasonably be able to say they predicted, but will future evens be the same?
I wonder what songs will make me think of now, and what memories I will have paired with them. I hope in whatever future I listen to them, it is better than today.
- Space Disco National Anthem
My buddy once sent me a song file with the sole description “If they ever open a disco in space, this should be its national anthem.” In addition to being the best description of a song ever written, it was the perfect frame for the song.
At the time I was living in one of the nicer places I’ve ever called home. It was a 4th floor apartment in a nice building. A studio, though on the bigger side, on the north east corner of the building. Windows in two directions, even one in the bathroom. The window facing the street was fogged, which is common in that city, but the larger one was clear as day, looking straight at a building so new it was not yet fully occupied. My desk faced that window, with a couch up against the long wall behind it. The bed was against the north side of the room with the fogged window above. The room was heated via the floor, which was novel for me, but the standard way in Korea.
It was right after I moved in that I received this message. The girl who had lived in the apartment before me was super clean, and I had yet to crap it out. It was perfectly decorated and extremely comfortable. It was paradise and it was all mine. Winter had come to Seoul and the window above my bed let in a thin waterfall of cold air, I’d bundle myself in my thick duvet and lay under the cascade of cold while the rest of my body was warm. It was instant relaxation.
On this night, per what I presumed from the description, this song needed to be listened to loud and in the dark, though out of concern for my neighbors loud would have to be via my headphones. When night fell, I showered and crawled into bed. I pulled a chair over and put my computer on it. I turned on the visualizer that iTunes had at the time. I tilted the screen up hoping the patterns would be reflected as a sort of poor man’s aurora on the ceiling. It didn’t really work, but it was close enough- with the reflected lights of passing cars and sparkles from the snow covered city below, it worked well enough for my purposes.
I pushed play and was immersed in a flow of notes. I guess if this is presumed to be a national anthem I should stand, but that seemed a bit too much and my bed was way too comfortable. I floated on a cloud of sound between the window’s cold jet stream and the floor’s warm front. The sound was perfect, a beautiful blend of highs and lows, nothing compressed. The tone of the singer’s voice was rich and the faint patterns on the ceiling danced in spectral glory.
Even today, years later, I can close my eyes and see that moment. Feel the cold on my face, the warmth on the rest of me, and the pure joy of jamming to a great song for the first time. Strange what memories we hold sweet and dear, but some of the best are those that can be instantly recalled with the first few notes of a melody.
I was watching a youtube interview, or actually a series of youtube interviews with people from what the creator termed the underbelly of society. Now underbelly is a loaded term, but here he means it in the ‘vulnerable’ sense. He referenced Churchill calling Italy the soft underbelly of the axis powers. In this sense, he finds the interviewees amongst the most vulnerable in our society.
One of the most intelligent questions I’ve ever heard is ‘How does this impact the vulnerable?’ It was a question I heard used by a wise man to describe his political philosophy. He was ideology agnostic; a person who has a heterogeneous and varied political philosophy. The crux of his beliefs is that simple question. Anytime a new idea comes his way or a new proposal is proposed he asks how it will impact the vulnerable?
Watching these people, people from all manner of situations, all manner of ages and places in life, united only in their vulnerability was gut wrenching. My heart broke with each word, with each story they relayed. To hear their voices, ripe with emotion or a hollow lack thereof, was mesmerizing. Not in the way of some sort of suffering porn, not sitting in my stuffed chair in my climate controlled apartment looking down my nose at their station in life. It was mesmerizing in that they exist at all. I’m not so painfully naive to assume that prostitutes, addicts, and criminals exist but it feels like they almost become statistics for those of us who but by the machinations of fate and happenstance do not interact with them every day. To put faces, and a diversity of faces, to them is to see one’s own failings to empathise and assist, and to hold one’s self weak for this failing.
A comment described this channel as a crash course in empathy and I think that is a far more eloquent take on it than I could produce. I would never wish to meet a soul that looked at these good people, and I do mean good people, and turn a blind eye echoing the beats of a hardened heart. I know I am not the epitome of empathy, I’d give myself an average score all things considered, but holy hell did I feel it swell, rising within me and overflowing in choked back tears as I heard them recount their stories.
I feel that modern life is often so devoid of empathy. It is a hollowness in our world that has the trademark thud of all cavernous spaces. The curmudgeon in me channels the luddites and says it is the internet and the anonymity of being able to troll without consequences have rewarded this very opposite of empathy with social esteem. As much as I’d love to condemn that symptom and forget the disease, I cannot. The true disease, though, I can’t pin down. Is it our social circles have evolved beyond tribe size and our ability to care goes down logarithmically from the maximum number of people we can personally know? Is it that we are, perish the thought, a cold and uncaring species by nature? I would guess the causes are as diverse as there are humans, nearly 8 billion unique reasons for our failings.
My brows can not furrow this problem away and my intellect is insufficient to understand the problem in its entirety much less propose any manner of solution. I can merely listen to some moody songs from my childhood and sit in my chair heartbroken. And perhaps, if it is up to me to decide any great decision, consider the vulnerable first and foremost when I do so.
- And What a Year it’s Been
This smorgasbord of writing is one year old. It was founded on the 29th of February 2020, and with the passing of the 28th to the 1st, it turned one. Of all years to start something like this, 2020 was sure a weird one. Perhaps in a moment of foresight I thought I would do something special for a special year, just the particular kind of special was out of left field.
That’s not entirely true. When I first started this my buddy had just visited me. He lived in China and was able to extend his trip by a couple weeks due to the initial lockdowns there. The virus was on my radar, but I didn’t think Argentina, down here far below the equator, would really be a part of the story. I guessed the rest of the world would have minor outbreaks, the limited news out of China would be heartbreaking, and life would continue unabated.
I was partially wrong. The world had the exact opposite of a minor outbreak, and life didn’t continue unabated. The news out of China, my former home, continues to be heartbreaking as genocide runs ranpant and the government breaks a beautiful civilization on the wheel of relentless totaliarianism.
I have no idea where the next year will take us all. The event horizon of the future has grown so close, so very near to my eyes’ focal point that I wouldn’t dare a prediction. Today, though, is a beautiful day here in Buenos Aires. The enormous vault of the sky is a memorizing azure as it stretches from the river to the pampa. The sun is warm and the trees sway gently in the summer breeze. The future will arrive in its own time and in its own way. Today is to be enjoyed in the way it arrived, all by itself.
Until that future arrives, however it does, I will remain hopeful. They say it is darkest before dawn, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you the hours ‘till daybreak in the dead of night. I don’t know how long the present troubles will trouble us, but eventually it will end and sunny days like today can again be taken in as they once were.
I’ll keep posting until then and well after. But keep the mask as a souvenir.
- Future, Be Not
I guess I’ve always imagined a moment in my life that hasn’t yet happened. I doubt it ever will really. Perhaps some version of it. Perhaps something similar enough I pause and wonder if it is close enough to count. The moment isn’t anything spectacular. Hell, I’m sure I could just do it sometime. I’m not sure I could get the feeling right- what I imagine is more than just a set and a series of actions. It has an atmosphere, a vibe, without which it would be incomplete.
The moment involves me sitting at a bar. The bar is high in the air, in a district of tall buildings, though not necessarily the tallest building around. The bar is well appointed with a fancy wooden bar and a huge wall of assorted extoic bozes behind the barman. There are huge windows all around showing the surrounding scene. It’s a snowy night, cold and blustery. The buildings beyond the windows are highlighted, glowing in the night. The storm is intermittent, though, and the periods of snow are mixed with patches of inky sky- stars invisible due to the city’s brightness. I’m sitting at the bar in a nice suit and tie, tie loosened, shouching a bit on my bar stool. I’m sipping a good bourbon, high proof and amber in its glass. The bar is not crowded, though not empty. There are lots of empty seats at the bar, but I’m not the only one sitting there. There is music, perhaps sax heavy jazz, though I don’t really pay much attention to it.
I think I read about a bar in Osaka that fits the bill well, I think I’ve been to a party at one in Seoul too. Hell I think there are alot of bars in many cities all over the world that could be cast in the role. All you need is skyscrapers, good bourbon, and the occasional snowstorm.
The mood is the hard part. For some reason in this dream I’m always lonely. I’m alone at the bar, granted, but the feeling is deeper than that. A sort of mellow quiet, sad but not overwhelmingly so. No dread nor depression, no existential terror, just a quiet sadness. Maybe a Christmas spent alone, just the barman and my drink. Perhaps the memories of someone catch up with me and alone at the bar is better than alone with my thoughts. The dream is just me sitting there in my suit, fitting in in such a place, enjoying, in a calm way, the warmth of the bar and the warmth of the booze. I just sit and think, sipping on my drink from time to time.
I have no idea of why I dream of this melancholy situation. Perhaps deep down those sorts of moments are cathartic, fertilizer for enjoying the good times. Maybe deep down we all want to be alone in a fancy bar in a snowstorm and just live our moment of loneliness, present and aware of what it is. Dreaming of being lonely in an interesting local is probably better than knowing that loneliness will find us in mundane places far more often than exotic ones.
I’ve always found a certain beauty in solitary loneliness. Being lonely in a group is tiring, the weight of social situations where outward you are in a group but inward so very alone is hard. Loneliness felt in solitude is more real, more poetic, and in a certain way more beautiful. A heavy heart is one you notice beating. A wounded soul is one who reminds you of its presences. Solitude for me is always a fertile field for thought and more often than not, not a lonely place to be. I usually enjoy my own company. Those moments when solitude and lonely mix are thankfully rare, but I always savor them in an odd way. Pleasure pain, meaning from emptiness, calm from sadness.
If I ever find myself in that bar, perhaps I’ll smile. Not all dreams come true, often it’s better if they don’t, but sometimes it’s ok for the sad ones to become real. I hope I learn something from it. I hope it is as beautiful, as poignant as I imagine.
- Mornings, Weird
The strange moment when dreams slip into the bright reality of morning is an odd transition. Often jarring, set to a soundtrack of a blaring alarm. The fantasies in technicolor imagination snap to a reality a bit too bright and too real.
I’ve always had a vivid imagination, both when conscious and un. I’ve been lucky enough to have a vivid dreamscape almost every night. More so if I wake up a few hours before I really need to and go back to sleep for a bit. That hour or so interval is a psychedelic trip into some weird situations. With the egregious amount of water I drink during the day, a habit I picked up living in the tropics, I often wake up early to drain the main vein. Returning to my bed, I sigh thinking I’ll never get back to sleep and feeling I’ve been cheated out of precious sleeping time. With that thought still on the proverbial lips on my conscious mind, I drop off to sleep and am quickly dropped into something weird.
The nature of the world, the situation or the particularities vary each time. No overarching theme here, no greater pattern or narrative arc that I can discern. Cynically I would say it’s just a screen saver while my mind finishes processing the information from the previous day, but hot damn if it isn’t interesting. The places that the mind can go when not tethered to reality are pretty amazing. Amazing enough for some sages to question the reality of our waking existence, postulating that it is the real illusion and the dreamscape is reality.
That moment where the two meet though, particularly in that sudden, jolting, alarm clock induced collision is bizarre. The reaction of the weightless feeling of whimsy smashed with the cold hammer of morning is one my brain has never taken lightly. I keep my alarm on a table away from my bed so I must rise to silence its annoying tune. The cold floor on my bare feet, the phone’s screen not responding to my touch, the moment when quiet again returns but now I’m vertical and a bit dazed. A muddled ‘what the fuck’ is about all my brain can conjure up, along with trying to put the pieces of this reality together so the day can be approached with some degree of decorum. Sometimes I’ll do some weird task right away, guided by an almost dreamlike impulse. This morning I put the dishes away from their overnight birth on a drying rack to their place on the shelves. Why I did this immediately after turning off my alarm is weird, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
This feeling fades as I fold my body into a stretch after a piss but before my shower. I grip the cold porcelain of the bathtub and feel the bending stretch through my back and in my legs. The smells of the toilet waft up and blood flows to my ears. I count to thirty in a foreign language, stand and stretch the other way. My mind is picking up steam now and thoughts are beginning to fall into more predictable places. By the time the shower water hits my face and the dive response kicks in I’m back to reality, often regrettably though. Call me crazy, but moments stumbling around my apartment in an illusion induced daze are interesting, and an allegory for my life at large at a minimum. The peace of the shower, though, is a nice comfort, and a good bookend to the weird start to the day.
- Dystopia Forest
I love cities. Perhaps it’s a cringe, a product of growing up in a small one. My hometown, Kansas City, is a city. It’s in the name for fuck’s sake- but only barely so. The metro area barely tops two million and it has a decidedly provincial air. The sort of place that takes pride in having ‘small town vibes with big city amenities’ despite having neither. Leaving that glorified Midwestern truckstop, I craved cities. Real cities. Crowds, subways, name recognition. I’ve ticked off population centers, names that go at the top of lists for most dense, most crowded, biggest. I’ve commuted in Mumbai and Beijing, vacationed in Sao Paulo, drank in watering holes in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, and hiked above snow covered Seoul. Of the biggest, most notable, and most crowded, I’ve lived in or at a minimum spent significant amounts of time in almost all of them. The city I call home is no slouch either, 14 million is far from small.
I’m starting to think, though, I might have been mistaken. Maybe my tastes have grown or mellowed as I’ve aged. Maybe I always saw myself as a city guy and felt I needed to earn my stripes. Now that I wear them with pride bordering on pretension, I may have moved on. Nature is what calls to me these days. I discovered hiking in mountains surrounding some of these huge cities, but real nature, the undisturbed, unspoiled kind has captured my heart. I now find the greatest joy in finding the most out of the way, beautiful places. With the same passion I chased the crowds I now seek the tallest trees, the biggest glaciers, and best stargazing spots.
Normally I would chuck this up to the evolution of taste with age. The music, books, style we like change often for the better, particularly for those of us who grew up in the vast, featureless regions known as the blandlands. What has really evolved, though, is something philosophical. A deeper question regarding the very nature of cities, and the potential folly in the endeavor of their creation.
So much, good and bad, of cities reflects the ideologies of man, again both good and bad. Slums and skyscrapers, dehumanizing edifices meant to glorify power, soulless spaghetti balls of freeways, all represent in steel and concrete the thinking of the powerful. One can’t help but notice so, so many mistakes. Even in the best run cities, the cities that claim to be the most livable still end up fucked in their own way. I guess the best laid plans and the folly of good intentions are at play here, but there might be more. What if the whole idea of a huge city is a bad idea from the start. Maybe it is so against the natural state of man that we can only get it to be ‘Ok’ for most people, and this alone would be an incredible achievement. Only ‘x’ amount dehumanizing might really be the goal of something that exists to the contrary of who we are as people.
If this is true, which I suspect it is, I feel I have two paths- to abandon this ‘civilization’ for the comforting bosom of nature, or embrace the deeply dystopian and learn to embrace its cold fist. Of course nature seems manifestly better, but perhaps the glow of streetlights and the sound of police sirens is more interesting. I have no doubt meaning could be derived from both. I would imagine too I would find happiness in both, the sick fuck I am. Perhaps a mix, which I’ve done in the past few cities I’ve lived in, is best. It’s a question I think all of us must ask ourselves at some point, and each person must answer for themselves. Polluted air and wild times or fresh air serenity. Strange the choices of modern Homo Sapiens.
- The Champagne of Bottled Beer
Once I had a strange encounter at a party. The beverage of choice at this party was a classic Midwestern university favorite- Miller Highlife. Now this beer is known as the ‘Champagne of Bottled Beer.’ This is both the marketing slogan and the tongue in cheek name for what is otherwise a pretty shitty beer. If one were to peruse the finer beers of the United States it wouldn’t be counted amongst them. Now it is far from the worst, that needs to be said, but it ain’t good by any stretch of the imagination. If your goal is getting drunk and you’re not flush with cash it can be a pretty good way to go. I’d go with others, but it’s not a bad call.
Now at this party a girl who seemed far too sober for such ideas tried to convince me that it was beer flavored champagne. When I responded with what I thought was manifestly obvious, that the name was a marketing slogan. She vehemently differed. She was from Milwaukee, hometown of said beer, so she was an expert. There, in the Miller factory, which incidentally I’ve taken a tour of, they take champagne, add beer flavoring, can it, and sell it in deer hunting themed 30 packs.
It is possible I missed that part of the tour. It is possible for various misguided and honestly whimsical reasons someone might make beer flavored champagne. I don’t know what these reasons would be, though I’m sure economics isn’t one of them. The price point alone would seem to indicate the absurdity of taking a more expensive product, making it noticeably shitter, and selling it for less money.
I honestly thought the girl was fucking with me. Her earnestness, however, convinced me otherwise. She genuinely thought that not only was there such a thing as beer flavored champagne, that she was at that very moment drinking it. That at the very party she was attending, the guests were so absurd that they were taking this ill conceived and bizarre concoction and playing beer pong with it. More than all of this, in her world where the cans contained fucking beer flavored champagne that no one, not a single person, thought that the very idea of such a drink was straight bat shit crazy.
I couldn’t really argue with her. I gave the various seemingly low hanging fruit of ‘it’s a slogan,’ ‘champagne is a metaphor,’ and ‘who the fuck would make beer flavored champagne.’ None of these made even the smallest chip in the armor of her internal logic. She was convinced and I was astounded.
Sometimes when I’m lost in thought, on the subway or waiting for deli meat I wonder if she is still steadfast in that belief. If she is in a supermarket somewhere and looks at a sales display of Miller Highlife and thinks about that kid at a party who was too stupid to realize that the drink he was drinking was beer flavored champagne when it says it straight on the can. I wonder if she buys a 6 pack, takes it home and weirds out whomever she lives with now.
I guess I’ll never know, as much as I would be super curious to find out.
- Jan. 6 Coup
The porcine face of humanity has an awful tendency to resist makeup. The rouge and eyeliner just don’t seem to adhere. Lipstick too, always a shade off. This judgement isn’t one of taste, no. Taste can be rationalized, taste can be debated. Taste can be bad, of course, but in its existence as taste it has purpose, reason. On the hideous face of our most evil side, no amount, no artistry can make that visage anything by what it is- terrifying. Perhaps it can alter the terror, make it more visceral or full of suspense, but it cannot be hidden. To hide that face would be some feat, if it could be done, but it can’t.
This side of our collective face tents to rear its very ugly head in groups. Something a 19th century sociologist would blame on the collective shape of their skulls, or perhaps on the lack of love they received from their mother’s sallow duggs. In groups we abandon all reason, passion strikes deep and mayhem ensues. I understand why. Evolutionarily the whipped up excitement would have helped our band, or tribe hunt, fight, survive in a world terrifying and harsh. Those base tendencies strike deep, down though our layers, straight to our very core. Now too, in liberating strife or smash mouth ball games they are useful- the bravado they inculcate leads us to moments of rare courage too. That courage is fine. Ask the girl for her phone number, jump off the city wall into the murky moat, rev the throttle until the freeway becomes a blur and the wind a deafening howl.
This group courage, if I could even call it that, is nothing short of psychosis. In brotherly arms we strike off on a path- blind to whether or not it’s a good idea to strike off in the first place. God forbid the members of this group are bat shit to start with. Their crazy ideas spin round and round, gathering speed and imagined weight, till Mach number becomes fractions of light speed and a dipshit singularity forms. Its gravitational well far too strong for most to escape, its draw into oblivion unceasing.
I wonder where in the human soul there is space for hate. You’d think love and kindness, with their warmth and passion, would fill souls to the brim. Yet if even a page of history is evidence enough, hate finds room. It finds room and expands like some terrifying mushroom after the rain. I know this is true, it is beyond self evident, yet even with that knowledge, I don’t want to believe it. The idea of hate taking hold hurts me deep down, somewhere I am my most tender. That soft underbelly is pierced when scenes of hate are played out- and is ripped asunder when I feel hate’s spores float my way. Perhaps it is my own ignorance, but I can’t believe that anyone really feels otherwise- though the scent of the spores might just be too sweet and alluring for some.
Today was a day where our porcine face popped up sans makeup. A rare occurrence, as we so love to decorate this scornful countenance, but appeared it did. I felt the collective groan of people, the shudder of fear, the wail of pain. We survived so far, yet the memory of that face will haunt us, give us pause, and make us wonder. If it was so hideous indeed, how could we have ignored it for so long?
It’s strange that we all have an intimate relationship with paper we carry in our pockets. Everyday we need to ensure we have enough of it. Or that we have a piece of plastic that works some computer magic to give us more paper or can be accepted in lue of the paper itself.
Some places don’t use paper anymore. They use some fancy polymer that lasts longer. The idea, though, is the same.
All day long we give away pieces of our lives for it. Parents give away time with their kids. Lovers spend time apart, just for more of it.
Not that this is some selfish pursuit. The lust for this paper is necessary. We need it to eat, we need it to exist. For all but very few it is a necessity, an absolute necessity.
Those lucky few who don’t need it are the odd ends of the distribution. Either they have so infinitely much of it that it must seem to lose real value, or they have managed to never need it in the first place- perhaps in their society they have avoided it, but at the price of having very little in terms of what our modern world offers.
The fact we assign so much value to this paper is not surprising. As long as we have had civilization, a term that when sharing a dictionary with ‘genocide’ and ‘genital mutilation’ seems almost an oxymoron, we have used some form of this paper.
Coins at first, stamped then buried for the British Museum to display meliena later. Two coins for the ferryman, and two for the ‘Treasures of Ancient Greece Traveling Exhibit’.
Paper was first used for this purpose in Song Dynasty China. There is a poem from that era I quite like. It speaks of a festival in early autumn, it was one of the few times a year young men and women were allowed to, in modern parlance, hangout. Marriages were arranged at the time, and people didn exaclty ‘chill’ with the opposite sex before they were hitched.
A young ‘dude’ as I believe they were called then saw a lovely lady- a ‘fine piece of ass’ as it would have been said in High Song Classical Chinese. This young woman, though, receded into the masses and he loses her in the crowds of merrymakers celebrating the holiday.
He mourns the loss of beauty, a beauty that is ever receding. I guess we all mourn that receding beauty, be in the mirror each day as age slowly wears our edges soft, or as our dreams turn out to just be that.
I can’t help but think of the dreams we all have about this paper. We’ll all have stacks of it, it will solve our problems, if we just had a bit more then something would happen.
Now, as winter comes in colder through the windows I look at the bills. I look at the stately gentleman in the center. He never went hungry, he didn’t bear witness to his decline.
A year ago this very portrait could have bought me food for a week, now most people won’t pick it up off the street.
I throw it into the fireplace onto the embers. It will keep me warm, serve that basic need, even if the numbers on it are now ‘worthless.’
As his face is eaten by the flame I can’t help but wonder, if we once decided it was worth a lot, and now we, or someone, decided it’s worthless, can’t we all just decide to end this madness and make it worth something again? Why when there is enough must we suffer. Why are other pictures still worth a lot and ours not?
Strange that we all know that we could make paradise on Earth for all of us to share, but it seems that dream has receded into the masses celebrating.
I’m not sure what, though.
- Century Club
A blur passing by
Some large, others small
Remarked in passing
Those that don’t escape our view
That seem to lag
Almost dancing in our gaze
Mark our memories
Indelibly and temporarily
Markers on the mental map
Round numbers are remembered
For convenience’s sake if nothing else
Enjoyed, however, the same
Hearts joyed, souls enriched
In the vast dark ocean of life
A lighthouse beacon
- Carpenter Philosopher
Mozi was a carpenter philosopher. Or more accurately he was, in so much that we can tell, both a carpenter and a thinker. I think that is an interesting combination of activities. One that, frankly, I quite like. I like the idea that the skills of a craftsman and a philosopher go hand in hand. Perhaps in the studying or in the patient mastering of a craft one has time to think about life. Perhaps the honing of the skill on one’s hand goes along with the skill of honing one’s mind.
I’m not sure what the equivalent in the modern era would be- other than, obviously, a carpenter philosopher; those both still exist and are fairly commonplace. But for the modern age perhaps some sort of hightech skill- jet engine mechanic/philosopher sounds really fucking bad ass to be honest.
Continuing with our old friend Mozi, a good chunk of his time and subsequent body of work is dedicated to siege warfare. I find it wonderful, almost whimsical that one book would contain such desperate topics. Here’s how to live your life, and here’s how to build a fucking badass flaming bouder throwing catapult and a solid set of city walls. Perhaps I like this because it seems whimsical and weird- almost Monty Python-esque. It reminds me of when I was a kid, in the Catholic Church/pedophile sex dungeon that I went to on the regular they had an announcement at the end of mass: one particular day was St. Blaise’s feast day, and this chap was- come to find out- the patron said of throat ailments. As such they would have a- no kidding, throat blessing ceremony after mass. They had me at throat blessing ceremony, or actually they probably had me at “Patron Saint of Throat Ailments.” After the mass concluded and some hymns sung, an orderly line formed and we all went forward one at a time. The priest had two candles which he placed in an x, with one’s throat at the crux. Then a prayer which even the best Monty Python writers couldn’t come up with was said. I don’t remember the exact wording as I was trying my absolute best not to laugh but it was roughly invoking St. Blase’s blessing in general but particularly against “Ailments of the throat”. Of all the silly and surreal Catholic ceremonies I took part in, this was both the weirdest and best.
I think if the philosophy and siege how-to sections weren’t traditionally known to be two parts of the same book, people would find it ridiculous that they are together. I’ve always loved when books turn out like that, the sudden twist in plot, the more absurd the better. That and I am a huge fan of city walls, I would go so far to say that when I choose cities to live in, the presence of city walls is always a consideration, if not a strong one. Of course the more intact the walls, the better. What a shame that they aren’t really built anymore- or they aren’t built for the greater good, instead just to divide and hurt. But I guess no more barbarians at the gate, only racists to placate.
Potential titles for the modern day : The Dao of Exhausts manifolds / The Analects of high-bypass airflow ducts
- Hum Yes Well Then
There are moments of your life, glorious resplendent moments when you look around and feel the flow of life running through you. Those glorious moments when your perspective seems to shift into an orbit around you. You take in every sight and smell and feeling of the room or scene. You let the moment washover you and you fall back to bathe in its sweet feelings. These sublime moments- a personal sartori that don’t really lead to any great revelation, nothing special about life nor the human condition. In these moments you just are, you are you, you truly feel -viscerally- that you are the universe experiencing itself subjectively. And all is done with the knowledge that till your dying day, this moment will be burned to your memory. Age or injury can dim these moments, but if life flashes before you, it is these scenes that will be the chapters.
I had a moment like that in Wudaokou, Beijing- the university district, or at least it was then, that town changes pretty quickly so you never know. I went to celebrate the birthday of a now closed punk rock club. D-22 was the name, I think. Strange how I just said these moments are burned into your mind but the name of the club slips my mind at the moment. Ironic. The club is gone these days anyway, one of many casualties of efforts to purify Beijing from any elements that might be against Xi DaDa. For the birthday concert a band called Carsick Cars played. One could argue that they were the best indie rock/punk band playing in China at the time. It’s a big country so it’s tough to be sure, but if they weren’t the best, they were a strong contender. One of their most famous songs is called ZhongnanHai, named for the cigarette, that is in turn named for the compound where the Communist Party headquarters is located. The story goes that they were formulated in the early 1960’s specifically for ZhongNanHai’s most famous resident of that time- the Great Helmsman, the Red Sun in the Sky- Chairman Mao himself, though I’ve heard he was a committed Red Pagoda smoker, I’m sure such a gesture was made. By the time my sorry ass rolled up to the People’s Republic, Mao was full of formaldehyde and on display and Zhongnanhais had become the cigarette of youth, perhaps youthful rebellion, perhaps just the palliative for the struggles of youth. I always imagined the students in Tiananmen smoking them, and lovers that were my age sharing one in bed after passionate love making- I may or maynot have done this myself with a few daughters of the Middle Kingdom. But this song was an homage to this hallowed cigarette brand, this symbol in a land where most symbols are banned or tightly controlled. When the band struck up the tune, as their encore, I was on the dancefloor, which was the entire ground floor, above was a square mezzanine that covered the stage and the edges of the dancefloor. From up on high, when the song hit, a blizzard of ZhongNahai cigarettes floated down from fans who were throwing them on the crowd below by the carton.
I laughed maniacally and spun around as the snowfall of cigarettes turned multicolored in the lights as they fell and the crowd around me pulsated to the beat. I felt one of those respindate moments then. I felt my youth, I felt part of the brotherhood of man, I felt the beauty of music, I felt it all- and it was orgasmically beautiful. I managed, in my drunken uncoordinatedness, to successfully grab one of the falling cigs and light it up. As the smoke coursed through my lungs I felt beautifully alive. And I still smile thinking of it to this day.
- Mildly Phallic Cacti
There is a cactus that shares a desk with me. Together we watch the rain lashing against the window. The mid afternoon downpour hasn’t lost any of its fury, even after a solid hour. At the base of the window small streams of water trickle in, flow down off the ledge, and down the wall. It pools on the floor under the cactus’ and my desk. The early Fall chill seeps in as the day slowly marches forward.
My coffee is strong and bitter as I watch the rain in silence with the cactus. We both enjoy the chill and the moisture, or well I do, can’t imagine this is the type of weather that really suits a cactus. If it was sentient I would imagine it would marvel at such a weather event, it would share stories of the desert that it called home and how something like this would be a once in a lifetime event- though one that was far more destructive than pleasant. It would be awesome in the original sense, and I have no doubt the cactus would be in awe as the pampa was soaked with clouds that roll from here off towards the Andes far in the west, then up into the fertile lands of the north.
We’ve watched many such storms together, sitting in silence watching the drops streak down the pane and if it’s strong enough, flow in and pool underneath us.
I once read that to play country music one only needs a guitar and the truth. I feel these moments of thunder punctuated silence are some of the truest moments of life, though I don’t have a guitar with which to sing the truth I see. I only have a vaguely dick looking cactus I project my feelings and personality upon, to hear my silent assignations.
I can’t help but smile, though, as the coffee fogs my glasses then joins the cactus on my desk. These days of quiet reflection, be there here on the banks of the Rio de la Plata or in the jungles of Southeast asia or feet above the din of Mahim Junction station in the steaming heart of Heptamia, be they with or sans cacti have been some of the important moments of life. Moments when I, in my solitude, find moments of peace.
The hours will click by as the the planet rotates, the days too as we continue our elliptical voyage around the sun. In this moment, though, life is held in a pregnant pause, as if life holds its breath during such rain, pausing ’till dark clouds give way to clear skies and fair winds. I, though, relish these moments alone with the cactus on my desk, my quiet moments of sharing peace with a fellow creature of the universe. Different as we are, we are fellow voyagers on this azure spaceship, we even share some DNA. It’s nice to spend some time with my distant cousin, even if it is a bit prickly.
- Playing with 27 cards
I was watching a documentary tonight, or perhaps an interview is a more accurate description of what it was. The video had a man in early 90’s glasses, with shaggy long hair, smoking a cigarette telling the story of his time in Vietnam. The story was poignant, well told, and as with all stories of this type- heartbreaking. One metaphor I quite liked was he described his knowledge of the Vietnam war, while he was in the center of it as like trying to play cars with only 27 cards out of the 52. You can only do so well, more so if you weren’t told the rules of the game, that deficit would make it almost impossible for you to understand how the hell to play. He described the fog of information, disinformation, and confusion of the war as such, well that tied with the cognitive dissonance between the war as it was portrayed in the media, and what I can only imagine was the profound dichotomy between the life he knew before Vietnam, and his life there. I can only imagine how the idealistic life of the baby boomers, idyllic existence in the burbs, dates with Suzie Q and football games must have come crashing down when met with the realities of a country torn apart by war, a foreign culture, and an determined enemy.
I couldn’t help but think about how life works the same way. We are given- at best- 27 cards of the deck and told to play. At best we can get a general idea of the game being played, understand some of the rules, and try our best to make a good hand and do well. No one has all 52 cards, and anyone who claims as such is, if you will pardon the pun, bluffing. Honestly, for a huge part of our lives we don’t even get to see our cards, then we’re told how to play but our elders who are equally as ignorant, just hide it better. Then we try our best. We try to make sense of it, try to make our way. And like that young soldier in the field of Vietnam as the calendar pages of ’67 turned to ’68 and were soaked in the blood of both friend and foe, giving a terrifying new definition to “Tet,” we can try to figure out the chaos that reigns around us.
That analogy was illuminating. I liked the imagery it evoked, though for me it didn’t have the hopelessness of the situation in which it was originally used. For the soldier it represented the fear and confusion of the war, because someone was supposed to have all 52 cards, be it Westmoreland or Uncle Ho or LBJ, or even Tricky Dick with his secret plan. But for us in life no one has all 52, so perhaps it’s a bit more level a playing field. Well, hopefully that is.
The question is, then, how to get more cards, and how to play the ones one has best? That the interview didn’t cover, and I’d be weary of any interview that did.
- Midnight Bus
The outside of the bus is green, in a very local style. Buenos Aires has an esthetic from the glory days of Tango. Days when those nostalgic songs poured out of clubs around the city and trams ran over cobble stones. Lovers held each other on sweltering summer nights, sharing mate in mornings when the great vault of the austral sky hung impossibly high. Or nights like this when the winds of the approaching winter roll off the Andes and sweep across the city on their way to peter out in the doldrums of the South Atlantic.
The green bus with its retro paint job rolls up to the stop. It’s a fancy stop on a high density line, though the bus takes off on its own path after here. I hop on and tell the driver my destination. The doors close, three sets of them. With a jolt we begin our journey in earnest across the city. I make my way back to a seat in the raised section of the bus between the second and third door.
The busses here ply their routes 24 hours per day. A never ending cycle of busses running their paths across the teeming capital. The bus passes Plaza Italia and heads on to a wide, empty road. For the next several blocks you can still see the tram tracks in the road. They have been without trains for decades, yet somehow through what must be many repavings they have been left alone- silent monuments to a different time.
I look around the bus, at the interior reflected by the windows. The seats are mostly full, and there are a few standing passengers. I can’t help but wonder what they are all doing riding this bus at this hour- any 24 hour public transport must inspire the same question in all riders.
I boarded in a bar district. Most people who got on are in a similar frame of mine as I. The bar district is a bit on the yuppy side, so the revelers are not exactly getting wasted on box wine, though some like I could have had their fair of street beers or cheap bottles at parties.
Others range in age from teenagers to old people. Some look like they are dressed for work, perhaps some shift that ends late. Others seem to be perfectly normal- they’d look the same at this hour or at 3 pm. I watch this odd room travel down the road in fits and starts as it halts at stop after stop and accelerates to the next.
The 24 hour busses are one of my favorite parts of Buenos Aires. There is something special about these vehicles carrying people from destination to destination across the darkened city. Some must ply routes that are far from safe, others connecting one high class area to another, most though are like this one, a bit of both in the long arc it cuts across the city.
One feeling I always get in big cities is the overwhelming yet fascinating feeling that everyone has a life as rich and complex as mine. The Germans call it ‘sonder.’ In moments like these you feel it acutely. A bus of people all starting at different places and ending at different places. All probably just want to get home, some to lonely apartments, some to bustling houses, some will sleep in the arms of lovers, some alone, some in the arms of temporary lovers both free and paid for.
On these nights, between the booze, the green, and the community of the bus I feel part of humanity, and on nights of sadness which seem to never be strangers, it is greatly comforting. I’ve wanted to spend a whole night riding various buses just picking up the feelings and seeing the city glow in the night.
But they don’t allow beers on busses, well sometimes they do, but it’s a risk and, well, some experiences are best experienced in tipsy moderation and with cold beers saved for the end of the night.
I would have been one when it happened. Much too young to remember. When shots rang out under the vault of stars over the Gate of Heavenly Peace, I was probably swattled in warm blankets in a peaceful city half a world away.
When I was young I remember it being part of the collective conscious. By the time I knew what China was, I knew of the man who stood on Chang’An Ave that day.
That picture was what I saw, the white shirt, the green tanks. I saw it long before I understood what it was.
Honestly, I stood on the same spot he did before I really understood.
Today, again, a world away from that square I watched the day pass unremarked. Today of all days I even heard the People’s government compared with ‘just any other government.’ they’re all the same, right? Every government censors, every government oppresses, right? Same shit different name, right?
What bothers me to my very core is the idea that the Party may be winning.
I stood in Victoria Park, white candle wax running down my hand and tears running down my cheek as the multitudes stood in silence, remembering those not present- for whom that beautiful day in Hong Kong was denied.
Even that right is now denied, in the name of tyranny and quarantine.
Today, though, around the world my sentiments and tears are not echoed. Companies say the market is too big, others that it can’t be that bad, or that its bad but not their problem.
The Propaganda Department is getting savier and those in the west are lapping it up. Green Energy, bullet trains, 5G, but not horrific pollution, workers killed or enslaved, stolen technology, cultural genocide, pandemics, and over a million in concentration camps.
Why when some many monuments say never again and nunca mas does it still happen today?
Perhaps in the tumolt of pandemic and exposed protest by brave Hong Kongers the terrifying truth will be brought to light- The brave doctors of Wuhan and the umbrella wielders of the Fragrant Harbor are heros in the fight.
I cannot let the Party win. If the only thing I can do is hold the memory of the heros in my heart, then I swear that till my heart’s last beat I will hold them dear.
I feel this is not enough. I could educate, but I feel it is not enough, I could pontificate, but I feel it will fall on deaf ears.
Lu Xun said that hope is a road worn by the footsteps of many. I wish to blaze that path so that together we can walk towards the day when the Massacre will be remembered where the blood was spilt- when the Chairman’s corpse is replaced with the Goddess’ countenance.
The Chinese Communist Party sent in tanks to crush those that stood up. Their sacrifice passed the torch on to my generation. I want to bear the light- for them I must.
I must search for ways to fight the CCP like a thirsty man searches for water.
And we must be victorious.
- The Smokey Night
I used to sit out on my balcony back when I smoked. I’d grab a beer and head out when the power cuts plunged my part of Yangon into darkness. I went out there once to vent my anger at the coup that overthrew the Thai government. Well, not ‘the’ coup, one of the coups I should say.
One particular night the power was still on but I grabbed my laptop and headed out. The chairs were always coated in a perpetual layer of dust that I had to wipe off. I cleaned one and arranged the small table so that it would hold my computer and kept the bottle of beer parked in my hand. I put on some mournful Gordon Lightfoot rhythm and waited for the circle train to pass by.
That night, like many I passed in that tropical country, the moon looked down on me frustrated in love. The girl I was dating was always on my case and I couldn’t get the better of it. Distance amplified misunderstandings and she was mean even when we lived in the same city.
That night on that balcony it was Operation ‘Feel No Pain.’ The warmth wrapped around me as I drained the beers. I let the soft dull of the suds wash over me. I wasn’t reading, I didn’t really have any hobbies, just killing time and drinking. I laughed at that revelation and watched as some people pissed on the sidewalk on the other side of the gate from my building.
In a roar, the circle train rattled past, illuminated blue and yellow and green from within. It seemed to ooze ‘the tropics,’ but I knew from the logo on the circulating fans in the cars that these were old trains from China.
Sometimes at night, I’d wake the guard who watched the gate to walk out along the tracks. The trains stopped fairly early and there were reeds that grew in water that flowed in the stream beside the tracks. I loved to go stand on the small paths that had been cut between them and watch them sway in the moon and starlight. A city where electricity is constantly going off is a great place to see the stars and the moon is extra gorgeous. Orwell reflected on his days living nearby saying that the moon is more beautiful in Yangon than anywhere else on Earth, and I’m inclined to agree.
I’d walk to the convenience store, if it was open, and by more beer. Or there was a restaurant/bar that would serve me too. But no matter the drinks and their pleasant afterglow, that lyric would still echo in my head as I walked or stood amongst the reeds- long after I’d paused the song and close my laptop up on the balcony.
“Sometimes I think it’s a sin when I feel like I’m winning when I’m losing again.”
That was my life then, and in retrospect, I’m not sure if I was winning or losing or even what I thought about it.
“Sometimes I think it’s a shame when I get feeling better when I’m feeling no pain.”
Problem was I never thought that was a shame, but I learned that no girl was worth it. Even though she was a hard lovin’ woman who got me feeling mean. She wasn’t worth it then- pitty was it took me a couple more years to figure that out.
I walked out of my apartment and felt the breeze in the hallway. When we’d moved into this apartment, months before, I remember wondering what the open-air hallways would feel like when the warmth of late spring turned to fall and winter. I missed the transition, really. The last time I’d really spent any time outside the house was a week before, at the last vestiges of summer seemed to still dwell between the buildings and lay lazily upon the streets.
I felt a familiar feeling, we’d moved here in the winter. The air smelled the same as then, I’d thought it was just the smell of a new city, a new country, a new chapter of life. Now it just smelled like a cool breeze and a chance to be outside again.
The elevator came and I pushed the button for the ground floor. I looked at myself in the mirror and took a breath when greeted with my reflection. A man with hair a few weeks past a haircut, with a face mostly covered by a face mask.
The street scene was what I expected. A busy neighborhood completely deprived of people. Cars sat gathering dust, forgotten and forbidden to be moved. Leaves had fallen, covering the sidewalk and the gutter. The inhabitants, though, were none the wiser. All of us cooped up in our respective apartments, hands washed and special clothes worn whenever we entered or exited.
I walked down the street in the fading light of one day that I was sure would bend into the others- becoming part of a collective period of our lives. Something of a where-were-you-when sort of situation. Perhaps knowing the memory would become part of a fuzzy whole added to the scent of leaves that hung in the air- a city famous for nostalgia experiencing it subjectively and in real-time.
I walked the block to the small supermarket, the 100 meters a quarter of what I was allowed by law to travel, I carried my shopping bag prominently to avoid issue. I wasn’t just a flaneur, I was shopping. I was following the rules. Not that anyone else was on the street to care, but I guess even to a chorus of none appearances must be kept up.
In the distance, a siren wailed, perhaps on the main road 4 blocks away, perhaps further. Sound carried further now with little interference from the citizens. The night before I swear I’d heard a foghorn. We aren’t that far from the Rio and its port, but I’d never heard it before. It made us wonder if in the silence that late-night brought to the city if it’s melancholy tone had drifted this far inland and broke over the city like some sonic tsunami waiting to find high ground so that it can roll back to the vast and open seas.
At the corner, I took stock of a city on pause. The shops weren’t boarded up nor was there an air of abandon. Just an Austral fall day that people had forgotten to attend. A concert no one had bothered to show up to, a riot of earth tones opened to an empty gallery.
As I stood, enjoying what precious little time outside I could I turned around to see a bus trundle up the empty street. Its yellow and green exterior dancing as it went over a speedbump that I’m sure felt lonely and abandoned. As it passed me I noticed no one aboard. It continued on its path, driving to connect essential services, plying the streets of an imprisoned metropolis.
I remained on the corner for a few breaths, each sucked through my mask. Feeling that I was pushing my time allowed outside I sighed and crossed the street towards the market.
- Morning on the Range
There is a ritual I perform whenever I return to my hometown- the city on the prairie who I laugh about and whose dust I diligently shake from my feet when I walk down the jet bridge upon departure. Every time I visit its flat expanse on the banks of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers I have one action I do every time, without fail, completely in secret.
One morning, usually the first after I arrive, I wake up at dawn. I brush the sleep out of my eyes and walk from the bedroom where I stay, down the stairs and out into the dawn light. Upon opening the front door, I smell the breeze that has blown down from the Rockies and across the vast Kansas plains. I fill my nostrils with my eyes closed and look upon the city frozen at the fringes of night.
I like, if possible, to listen to a song called Steppe in Central Asia by the Russian composer Borodin. He wrote it to give an aural picture of the vast plains then at the fringes of the expansive Russian Empire. This song, though written about a prairie grassland on the other side of the world has always captured the feeling of such biomes- or it has for me on the American prairie, the Argentine pampa and while taking a winding slow train along the muddy and meandering banks of the Yellow River where the plains gave birth to the Chinese civilization.
I complete my breaths to the swelling of violins in solitude, letting the smells of my native tallgrass prairie fill me to the brim. This for me is the only sensation of ‘home’ the place gives me. It has never been my family’s cuisine, nor the sheets on the beds nor the soaps that have given the house its scent. No building in the Kansas City area inspires any feeling other than a desire to flee, nor does a sunset- in so much as there is one here, nor a snowfall nor the window shaking thunder booms of a tornadic cell. For me, it is just the smells of the plains that make this place feel like something of a ‘home,’ not just a place I lived as a kid.
In those few minutes on the front lawn of my parents’ house I feel connected to this place that I will forever be connected with. Any biography of me, even the most cursory of ones will mention place of birth, or place of childhood- and that place will be here. And as much as I might protest any real association with such a place, in those moments, breathing that air, I know this is indeed where I’m from, for better or worse.
After my breaths are done and the song as played it’s score to the final bar, I walk into the yard and grab the daily paper that has been tossed by the paper delivery people. I return to the house to read it over coffee. If someone is awake I mention jet lag and hold up the paper hoping that explains why I’m up at dawn and in the front yard. Some rituals are best kept personal.
- Drip coffee (ZZ,HA,PRC) 2018
The morning comes too fast most days. The still of the night lingers into the dawn hours. Where I live, this time of year, mist seems to hug the ground as the Sun begins to burn through the upper atmosphere.
Most of us in the city sleep soundly in our beds, cocooned away from the world. Perhaps some with a lover or two, some alone. Some share the bed but are the loneliness amongst us. The party-goers don sunglasses, buy one last beer from the shops and head home. We might see them at breakfast and smile. Those that party all night on Tuesday are to be respected. The sex workers are tired, as are the all-night factory workers, both have punished their bodies for the meager dollar while the world slept. All working behind the scenes of the great play, all ignored by the audience.
The dawn light that filters in our windows rarely wakes us. Perhaps we sense it and roll over with a grunt. Our mind is still dreaming of clouds, girls we haven’t seen since high school and old bosses that are back to order us around.
Our gentle repose, the rejuvenation is shattered by shrill sounds- from phones, clocks, from the very bowels of hell that emanate to wake us, startled, from our rest. Those hours passed too quickly we will think, perhaps that last show wasn’t such a good idea.
We all have our routine from here on out. Some start with breakfast, others have this timed perfectly so they could sleep a little longer, at the price of rushing out the door.
For me, my first stop, after cursing my phone and its mother, is my kitchen. Down the hall I plod, the atmosphere hangs heavy with the night’s chill; the sun has not yet graced the windows with its warming rays. Through my empty living room into the kitchen I walk, hands busy rubbing my face and hair, trying to loosen the ropes of sleep that hold my brain down to the pillow.
In my kitchen, the coffee maker sits on the steel countertop. A black little machine with one function. Each morning it is the first object I interact with. My girlfriend will get a message in a bit, my shower will wash me down soon, but it is the coffee maker with whom I first make contact. Every morning we stare each other down, both here to fulfill our purposes. However, its purpose is clear cut. What the hell I’m doing at this hour is debatable. Nevertheless here we are.
I grab some ground coffee and a filter. The filter goes in first. Made that mistake a few times. Then three scoops of coffee. The bag is lit by the first rays of the morning Sun to stretch past the building next to mine. ‘Sumatra’ it says. I bought it because I want to go hiking there, perhaps see an orangutan. The bag has a tropical rainforest theme. It’s covered in esoteric words that I only have a peripheral knowledge of. Arabica, full-bodied, Turkish roast. They had me at ‘coffee,’ the rest is merely decorative.
I pour water into the basin on the back. All the way to the small line marking how many ‘cups’ I wish to make. I’m not sure if that measurement is an actual cup, or just a ballpark. Either way, I fill it as far as I think I can, close the lid and turn it on.
I put both my hands on the counter and step back into a stretch. I look at the floor as I stretch out my back and legs. I seem crumbs and dirt. The tiles are cold in the mornings. My body aches under the strain. The coffeemaker makes a gurgling noise and I look up. It seems not to be doing anything. It looks the same before I filled it with the necessary ingredients. It gurgles again but then returns to the silence that grips my apartment at this hour.
I step forward and stand upright. The gurgles are becoming regular now and some steam gently wafts up towards the ceiling. A spider up in the corner goes about its daily work, somewhere I’m sure a cockroach is scurrying.
I sigh and head to the shower. The coffeemaker is off to work. I guess I should be too.
- Late Night
There is a certain pain I feel, or more accurately pressure I feel when someone talks to me when I’m tired. It’s as if the very tone of their voice is tinnitus for my ears and their every word is grating. The most beautiful sweet nothings could be whispered in my ear when I’m tired and I’d hear them as the cacophony of ten thousand car horns.
Often to avoid issue, I retire to bed with a book in the strong hope that I’m left alone and I let my brain soak up with words and wonder until the call of the open trails of my imagination become too strong to ignore and I put the book down and drift to sleep.
Now that would be the perfect way, but I swear to motherfucking god that without fail, since my god damn childhood, people think this is the perfect time to try to ask me about shit.
Now these fuckers don’t ask me as I’m getting ready for bed, or before I get in bed. They don’t even ask me as I’m getting my book out. No. These cocksuckers wait ‘till I’m a few pages in, settling into the story, then they’re fucking Jeopardy as a guest star on fucking Wheel of Fortune. And without fail, whatever they ask me is something that is not at all urgent and can easily wait until morning.
It drives me damn crazy.
I’ve been on work trips and coworkers will knock at the door, I’ve been a kid and parents come in. It’s like goddamn Pavlov trained everyone I know to bother the fuck out of me exactly when I’m perfectly not in the mood to handle their shit.
Now if I’m a guest in someone’s house they have free license and unquestioned questioning rights no matter the time. They can wake me up at 345 to ask me if I like ketchup. If I’m a guest, I am the very definition of deferential. If I, however, am in my house or my room or in a hotel room that has been rented to me, it’s not cool.
I, in my saltiest of moments, wonder what these people are thinking. Why on god’s green fucking earth would these half-wits think this would be a good time to try to interrogate someone? I never give a good answer anyway, or at least I get that feeling as they tend to ask multiple follow up questions.
Then, the gall of these assholes, they finally let me be and I return to my book and begin to let my mind wander- and guess who fucking returns with more bullshit questions. These motherfuckers. Sometimes this cycle repeats itself far more times than logic, manners, or even absurdity would allow.
God damn people with their goddamn questions and times I find to be god damn inappropriate.
Every time I face this I fall asleep muttering about how I’m going to move to an island and not let anyone else join me, and there- perhaps only there, I will be able to relax god damn it.
- And Away We Go…
This is the first post on this website. This is a project that I’ve been working on for some time- or actually that I have put off doing for some time. I guess it was one of those ideas that most of us have, something that would be ‘good to do.’ In the actual execution, though, the plan falls apart and put off until it fades into the background of life.
This site will have all manner of different writing, lots of material with little overarching organizational theme. It will be far from perfect, possibly full of mistakes, but it will be full of effort and enthusiasm for whatever that’s worth.
I have no idea how this will go. I don’t know if this will fade into the abyss of the internet never to be found amongst the millions of pages in servers around the world, or if it will be something that changes everything. But whether this collects digital dust or not, whether I post on it for a few months or for years, fuck it- it’s worth the try.
Today February 29th, 2020 this site is hereby inaugurated.