Thursday, December 31, 2009

Turn the Page

A peaceful birthday, I’d say. Everything in moderation, as you wisely taught me. No excesses today, I promise. Fruit cake in the morning with elders and stories that come with lots of sighing. Earmuffs on and steady on the treacherous sidewalk I walk with her offering my arm for support, while she tells me what my estranged cousin has been up to. Ah stories. I miss them all, as I miss everything that’s past tense.

After that, a walk in the park followed by a problematic attempt to get coffee somewhere on New Year’s Eve. All doors closed but our tongues quite open and lively, so we’ll sit and talk about men and love and all this rigmarole of life once more. Men are stupid, she’ll say, and I’ll laugh wholeheartedly at her thesis in which she wholeheartedly believes. And are we, distinguished females, any different? Resolution for 2010: find out.

A subway ride, with little boy sitting across from me ogling me with resolve. He is wondering why I am holding a rose. He whispers the question to his mother, she sits there silently looking at me. I look up from my book and meet her furrowed brow, as if she’s pondering or she consummately dislikes me. Cheer up, woman, it’s New Year’s. And it’s my birthday.

Of course, there is someone who calls too late. Someone who forgets altogether. Someone who pretends to forget. And really, perhaps I’d have spent tonight with you if you weren’t so histrionic and sloppy. If there were anything genuine coming from you rather than irreverent, irrelevant passes I already reprimanded. Do you even listen? We could drink wine and watch artsy movies, comment like in the old days, you’d see that there are other forms of caring aside from lewd ones. But I give up tonight. I’ll be where I am wanted, not because of hormones or loneliness or doubts of self-worth, or to increase the attendance number. I’ll go where I am wanted quite honestly. Guilt and atonement be damned, I’ll put them in the 2009 trash bag.

Wait – they are clamoring for me to open the champagne. We are starting the countdown. Fireworks sound like it’s the end of the world. It’s not the end, people. It’s just another day. It just happens to be the last day of the year. But we don’t get so worked up about the last day of every month, do we? The date is nothing but a number, and so is age. I am just informed that I am older. But I don’t feel it. Do you hear me, baby? I don’t feel it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ghost Town


How many times have you told me to come over for New Year’s? How many times have I asked you not to get me any present? It’s clear by now that we don’t understand each other. There are things you can only talk about with me, you say. But I find it as unfair to be somebody’s confidant as it is to be more than one person’s dream girl. Naive souls, I’d say, and at this point I’d positively have to tell you how high school you are, even at the cost of your irritation. But no, you’ll beseech me, you know. Oh, you know I am all that. And I’ll say you know nothing, and we’ll argue like this all night, because there’s no putting us in each other’s shoes, not for a second.

Well, why did we crowd to see the people in the past? Because I miss you guys! their plastic voices sound, and you know that’s not the reason at all. We came to point fingers delicately and laugh with gusto. Look at that blonde! Ha ha ha! Didn’t she use to have bigger boobs? Ha ha ha! In the meantime I’ll certainly be pierced by disapproving looks from the girls, since I’ve decided to be once again one of the guys, but sorry girls, what was I to talk about, boys and make-up? There is only one flavor of nonsense I’ll swallow in one night, and I’m afraid it was accounted for when I agreed to come to this carnival.

It’s ridiculous how we choose to meet in the same places, go to the same cafes as before. Not even their tearing down that perennial McDonald’s at Universitate will stop us, we’ll find another to have profound talks that are just like slicing the sausage, as she’d creatively compared. What kind of metaphor was that, anyway? We analyzed too much poetry in our days, it drove the meager sense we had into mutations of the fabulous. I leafed through old notebooks and was in constant jaw-drop to discover the last page, which is a kind of school epitaph for any respectable student. Saccharine lyrics, bad cartoons and curlicues, a cheap escape from scholastic boringness. Did I really write the name of some guy on four pages? I’m sure you’re wrong, she’ll say embarrassed, and she’ll burn it all to get rid of the evidence. Hand me the matchbox, will you. What – is there another way to deal with the past?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

In Foreground

Not to forget. This is the primal purpose of writing. Mine, at least. I’d forgotten Bucharest, like one forgets the name of an actor. What is it, Tom-something...? A momentary lapse of memory and then it comes back, in pieces that put together make a memory. One memory, like a page from a book I am leafing through without much interest. One, like a drawer with things thrown potpourri inside, that has to be forced to close so we seldom open it because, well, things fall out. And it’s just too complicated.

The subway has been renamed. I almost missed mine because a nasal voice in the ceilings spoke a destination I hadn’t heard of. But I hopped in, at the last minute, long after the conductor had informed that the doors were closing, and he probably scolded me under his breath, seeing me in his rearview mirror. Names with communist resonance have been replaced by benign names of abstract concepts and anonymous pedagogues I learned of when consulting the encyclopedia of Romanian relics. Fears are always in the names, the wrongs ignored, should there be no veneers thrust in our faces for dramatic reaction. If we don’t see them they’re not there. It’s always names we have to fight. Words. We have swords for those, different tiles to cover up old titles of subway stations. Or not even that – adhesive bands will do, as I’ve seen. We’re damn brave when it comes to words. And then we’ll say, as if it’s always been this way, that this train is traveling to “Precision!”

After I saw you to the bus station, left you with the precious books I brought you, I walked home. High Heels cafe is as stilted as its name advertises, the windows a moving caricature of authenticity. People inside talk hungrily, affectedly, as if they’re saying witty things, making funny jokes. Their partners are playing along, responding with hilarity at the prompts, faces stretched from ear to ear, meanwhile checking their watch under the table. To get to the eerie tunnel that takes me to my street I pass a sex shop. Neon lights spell its name vertically. They have redone this one too, I see, in all glass windows, candidness that says we’re not so prudish after all.

The eerie tunnel’s now only an alley, for two thirds have been occupied by a new edifice, a makeshift house for the workers who are drilling down the road. There’s a sensor light on the corner of the house that lasts exactly two seconds. In the quiet darkness of the grey tunnel the light scares you more than a human presence would. And then my street, albeit now throttled by tall new buildings, is an eerie tunnel in itself. Hot steam comes out of a sewer, dissolves into the cold air, and as I walk through it for a couple of seconds it envelopes me and I’m warm. And then my nose turns numb again, liquid forming at its tip, and it’s getting ready to snow, which it does the next morning. Now it’s winter proper, I suppose, even in this city that’s, in all its foibles, the antipode of pure white.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Airheaded


This is me. This is me eating bread. I close my eyes and hear Shreeti informing me, ingenuously, that there’s cold rice in the fridge, if I want some. I’m way past strangeness, I know. I open my eyes and I’m back here, on Europa’s horn, dipping bread in butter, yes, dipping it alright. Alexandra does not agree with what I’m doing, as I know very well. But what she wouldn’t give to be here eating this soft, fluffy French bread with this fatty, authentic butter, this I know too.

I am on the fifth floor of an apartment building which we will leave soon. We live close to the airport and I often hear planes passing overhead, they rush with an unbalanced sound around them, as if the sky’s vibrating and they’re struggling to equalize. In the dark it is a tickling sound, as if it’s me who’s leaving, safely, so I imagine myself on my way to something and I relish the thought, even though I don’t really like to travel. But in the day time the arrival of the planes reverberate in quite different tones. There is a primary school next door and our balcony overlooks the school yard, where children play during recess and cheer loudly, with infantile sounds and merriment. If you don’t know what they are, the planes sound like waves. Ripples of water coming with elan, breaking against the shore, fragmented in smaller and smaller waves that abate slowly. The laughter of children overlaps with this ambiguous noise and there are moments when I could swear that the beach is right outside the window. Children are playing in the waves, the sea is prodding the shore. It reminds me of Rollercoaster Tycoon, that marvelous addiction I managed to debar myself of, the guests yelling in awe and wonder and the aquatic rides doing their number with jazzy, mechanical sounds. So this is what I hear when I sit here eating bread.

Ever since I failed the NaBloPoMo challenge I’ve been wary of this blog. It’s become the protagonist of my nightmares. It chases after me, catches up and beats me up. Could I be seeking more sources of validation? Could I? Every thing that’s convivial’s sooner or later infected with seriousness and here I am, one more thing I have to worry about. I wish I’d bring this back to where it was only a place of thoughts, a desultory collection, when nobody read what I wrote, when I didn’t start sentences with “My blog...” Some light things are better just being left light. Did I even understand the concept? Could I be taught?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Echoes


There is a special smell in that house. Not an ugly smell. Not smell of old people. It’s her perfume, her hand cream and smell of clean, of scrubbed, not of new. I wonder what they are doing now. I imagine them as peeved about this unyielding rain as I am. She is in the kitchen, knocking wooden utensils about, pots clamoring for want of space. She’s wearing the plastic bonnet that hangs on her forehead, on her glasses, pressed hair sticking out of it in tufts. She pushes it back with her clean wrist. I say she looks medieval and she shoos me out of the kitchen. “You’ll catch smell of food,” she says. And then she embraces the “good” coats in the hall-stand and takes them to the other end of the house, lays them on the bed in a distant bedroom, lest they catch “food smell” too.

He’s in the living-room, sitting cross-legged on one of the two side-by-side armchairs. He holds the newspaper as you’d hold a map. Through thick brown-rimmed glasses he peruses important pieces of sport news, I am sure. No, I’m wrong. It was economics he was reading. Should it surprise me: as if he doesn’t spend every day teaching that to an amphitheater of students. If I don’t make an audible noise he doesn’t detect my presence until I’m in the middle of the room. “Whatcha doing?” he asks. “Looking for something to read,” I say inspecting the bookshelves. Then, inquiring: “Have you seen Foucault’s Pendulum?” He ignores his paper to look at me, then at the bookshelf, a considering look. I’ve already moved to the other bookshelf, too fast to follow, and in a microsecond declare with satisfaction: “Found!” “So fast, you are,” and it takes him a moment for the sudden changes of situation to register. I crash in the armchair next to him and read the preface. Curiously he peers into my book, newspaper paused. “Umberto Eco,” he enunciates, then “Ecco,” with an Italian ring. “Ecco!” he chants. I laugh. He with his newspaper, I with my Ecco.

She speeds through the living room on her way to the balcony. She is going to water the geraniums. “Why don’t you turn on the TV?” she says in passing, seeing us both sitting there in silence. Cold air is now coming through the open balcony door, numbing my toes. “Nah,” I say. Then I follow her to the balcony to see what she does.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Four


Will I walk the long road?
We all walk the long road... *


There are four cardinal points. Borne of the East I head West, a genuine person of contrast. I’ve been wondering today about eschewal. Immigration is a big eschewal, and so is vagabondism. When we run from something we head in the opposite direction, with the caveat that we don’t always know what that antipode is. We understand distance, that much is elementary. Where would you like to work, she asked me. I don’t know – far. New York, Chicago? No, I was thinking Montana – or Seattle, even. Do you like rain? I don’t know – I’d have to try it for a long time. There are a lot of things I’ve left to try...

I told her yes, I’m looking forward to graduating. Why. For the same reason that Thoreau left Walden, I answered. “It seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.” She laughed. I don’t expect her to understand. And here I stand at the carrefour of thoroughfares, one busier than the other, and I’m still drawn to obscure little alleys. The compass wavers and careens, aberrantly, more and more to the West. It calls, like a lonely wolf, like a long road.

* Eddie Vedder - Long Road

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Three


Aller guten Dinge sind drei. *

We hurry across the road that should be called Church Road, considering how many such edifices lay along it, but is actually called something else. It is the Styx that we traverse toward places that, although within a stone’s throw, make us feel we are off campus, a wonderful feeling sometimes. There are three of us, the exiles who roll their Rs, the Eastern Europeans. On the other side of the traffic cosmos we meet another trio, fellow students, whom we ignore. They do the same.

In the fluffy chairs at Starbucks bleak thoughts surge and envelop our nebulous minds. We realize how busy we’re kept in this “school,” that we don’t have time to think about gloomy realities. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s coffee that brings them back, blast it, this intoxicating harbinger. “When I was in the hospital this summer,” she says, and it’s not until I hear these words so simply stated that I feel fortunate, grateful for things I’ve taken for granted. What is a good body? A body that doesn’t hinder you from doing the things you want to do. If I am real good, will I be young forever? Will I, Santa?

Darkness is pervasive, now as present inside as outside. We tread through the thick night in quasi silence ruminating, glee somewhat amputated by too earnest a conversation. We chase gloom away with trifling topics that turn, invariably, into serious ones. We’ve gone rabid tonight. “They don’t tell me when they go out anymore,” she says blankly. “Last year it would have hurt me, but this year, this year I just want someone to talk to.” Just like that, a playback of a former version of myself, and I want to offer some reassurance that I never had then, some kind of promise that I know I won’t keep. What could I say? “I’ll come to visit.” That’s not true. “There’s Facebook.” And of what use is that? So instead of lying I admit the scarcity of her options, I steer her toward the only sane path I’ve found for myself: “There are always the profs, you know.” She knows. And on this final note we part. The last vestiges of Eastern Europe left in this prestigious institution, two almost alumnae and one halfway there, the most resilient, but I suspect also the loneliest, of all.

* (German) All good things come in threes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Two is


All alone, or in twos,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall. *

How many families I have.
How many chances I think people should get.
How many fingers I raise in class when I’ve something to say.
How many times I’ve been broken up with.
How many passions I feed.
How many people I trust.
How many countries I’ve lived in.
How many books I carry along when I go out.
How many clubbing nights I’ve had in Macon.
How many twos are in my age.
How many scars I have.
How many it takes to tango.



* Pink Floyd – Outside the Wall

Sunday, November 1, 2009

One


We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other...*


One was the prefix of my age before all this madness started. Fall, vacillating between amber and grey, breeds melancholy. I miss being twelve, when the difference between the sexes was merely a technicality. None of that “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” crap. Pragmatic children we were. I like to play with Lego. Got Lego? I’m yours. Yours, until somebody shows up with more Lego. And then I’m gone. Bucketsful of plastic polyhedra, geometry in pieces, cocktail of primary colors enough to steal anybody’s mind. The little people aligned with their disposable hairdos, braids or bangs or red devilish curls. Restive fingers mix-and-matched torsos and hair pieces and heads. From the great Lego massacre a large unisex population emerged, so we built a large bus and shoved them all in it. It never occurred to us that the Lego people would rub against each other in a less than innocuous way, or pick-pocket their peers. It was so elementary then. Lego people riding the bus. No agendas, no stealthy foes or amorous carnival.

And now? Now there is a protocol for everything. Even for poetic things, with poetry itself submitting to the frivolous, compromising its esthetic accoutrements.
For spontaneity. Now we have so much to say that we no longer pay heed to obstacles of form. They bore us. And so does romance. What credibility is left to romance when we convey maudlin facts with emoticons and announce we’re engaged on Facebook. Expediency and productivity concern us deeply, dating is a conveyor belt of fiascos and successes that end up, invariably, in fiascos. The praxis of love has changed, but has its nexus too? Independence has a component that blinds, success too bright perhaps, fools us that we stand so tall on iron legs. I need no one, I proclaim. Come on. Longing is everybody does, the object palpable or merely envisioned. When veils come off, claims dismantled beneath the heavy reality that defines each of us, a truthful definition, all that’s left to do is to carry each other, because nobody is strong all the time. And “I need you” is not a shameful thing to say.

* U2 - One

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Abrasive


“Alors,” I hear her through the vent between the rooms. She punctuates her speech with Alors, the voice so shrill and ebullient that I’m grateful for this stabilizing sound. Alors. In my technical cave I am out of sight. I hear their maladroit stutters in French, their scribbling in notebooks, pro forma. But they cannot see me. They are playing a song, once, twice, five times. The tune catches and my eye is now grabbing through the vent, trying to see the name of the song. Is it written anywhere? I listen to the lyrics: la liste des choses que je veux faire avec toi. Google is my friend. Thirty seconds and I have it, playing silently in my Youtube. Je sais je suis trop na├»ve... La-la-la. I’ve a new obsession. I play on repeat until my shift is over.

A screen is all I know. The world becomes a display that flickers, a skirmish between eye and fancy. You should get out more, I tell myself half-heartedly. But it’s just like Bill’s plans, Bill’s myriad plans that are consummate chimeras, theoretical unlikelyhoods. So I sit here and build platonic solids out of white card, stick the tape on the inside for neat effect, and I think of all the stuff I’d do if I were not pinned, by noxious infrastructure, to this chair. How I wish that we were given education for the body as we are given education for the mind. It seems to be education for the butt, actually. An endurance test. How many hours can we sit down and listen. How many years. I am being schooled in liberal arts and I think that what I am performing best at is Sitting. My diploma will attest that I graduated summa cum sitting, which is to say that I’ve spent so much time fastened to a chair that I deserve to be praised.

And they ask why I will not hear of grad school.

Stories are fugitive, skeletal. They shine for a moment and then leave me, inchoate, and I unable to keep up with the pace of reality I wither in my cocoon and go back to the computer, where all my work is. Work that others give me to do. How much more work is there to do in the world? If I stay up all night, will I finish it? Will I be free then from this enslavement to the screen? I feel myself softening, caving in like a paper in water. Detrition builds. When this extrinsic reduction becomes intolerable there will be fracture and depression and drama. Then, I will start up again. My story is in want of moderation. But there can be no temperance in a world where there is so much sitting. Have a seat, she says, and breathlessly I retort that I would rather stand, so she looks at me as if she finds me odd. How could she guess that I am going mad. How could anyone.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Target


This is my new dalliance. Sunday mornings, when the dorms shudder with snores of indolent students and the churches swarm with the promptness of the pious, I go to Target. The first time I went to the Target in Macon I was indirectly repelled, because at checkout I read on the cover of People magazine that Britney Spears loves to shop at Target. But they did have cheap m&ms, which always lulls me. I did not return, however, until it dawned on me that it stood a nice bike ride away. Just demanding enough to leave you short of breath on scorching summer mornings, when the hills of Edna Place swell up into ever viler monsters that must be defeated, always lower gears and aching knees and never resignation.

So the circle and dot is today part of my weekly program. I am already familiar with the museography and know where to find each thing. I conduct myself through the isles with the grace of mermaids, for I feel quite at home in there as if it were my private cave. I try on things, which normally bores me to death. But Sunday morning the fitting rooms are empty and lonely, so I put on ridiculous garments and waltz solo along the corridor between the rooms like a harlequin. Nobody’s there to see me.

In theory I don’t buy anything. But invariably I end up picking something off a shelf and paying for it, something insubstantial like tea or, yes, m&ms. Partly I find it unsatisfactory to leave a store empty-handed, and I’m well aware that I don’t need things, but given that I’d like things, a transaction has to occur, however small.

But this Sunday I ended up going home with a blue sweater. A baby blue boucle sweater (if you were a fabric-fetishist like I am you would know what boucle is and how fantastically warm it is) for which I will not justify myself, suffice to say that I wanted it. Arriving to my palace-dorm room with three closets, however, and opening one of them to be drowned by my overflowing collection of vestures, I had to recant. The blue sweater had to go back.

As I drove to Target in my blue car, the blue sweater slouched poignantly in the passenger seat, I thought titillating things. I have never returned anything before. The solicitousness in retail, peculiar to America only, makes me stand in awe. Diffidence has kept me from taking advantage of these unprecedented paths until now. So here I stand, before two women who are folding things without particular enthusiasm, declaring proudly that I want to return a blue sweater. One of them calls me with an outstretched arm. I remove the despondent creature from the plastic bag and hand it to her. “Way too blue for me,” I offer. She chuckles, and so does the other woman. She asks me how I want my refund processed. I answer. The other woman catches my accent and asks at once: “Where’ you from?” Always amusing, the reactions that “Romania” educes. “Wow...” Both remain dreamy for a full second, surveying me like I’m a brochure for exotic holiday destinations. “Do you like it here?” she asks me, and happy to know the right answer to this one I rejoin “Sure! What’s there not to like?” “Yay!” one of them says and the two of them rejoice, that I’ve validated their homeplace with my European sacred seal, that I’ve deemed their country more appealing than my own to live in.

And this reminded me, so painfully, of a scene in Belk some three months ago, mother and I at the register paying for the matryoshka set of suitcases that she got, making smalltalk with the two boys who worked there. They asked us where we were from, mother’s verbal presence making it so much more difficult to camouflage my foreignness, and we told them. It was exactly the same reaction, a dreamy “Wow...” and wanderlust wafting in their eyes. It made me think about Steinbeck’s conversations with people he meets along his Travels with Charley odyssey, locals who tell him that they’d like to “go” too. And the child who begs him to take him along, cozens that he’ll earn his ride cleaning and cooking and whatever need may be. Such were the two boys at Belk looking at us as if we were Martians, asking us with their eyes to take them along, wherever we’d go, promising they’d earn their fares. “I want to go to Romania,” one of them said seriously, and then mother said something that was silly and gratuitous and displeased me: “You will, someday.” Like one of those things they say at the end of mawkish movies. I wish she hadn’t said it. The boy will probably not travel anywhere farther than Mexico, and if his possibilities should expand he’d surely choose something more “occidental” than godforsaken Romania. Well, so much for dreamy youths.

We spoke at length, Maria and I last year, about poor students, mostly black, who don’t know to point Europe on a map, who don’t know what the capital of Iceland is, like we do. We – who can do math and speak in full sentences, we who every winter fly home on tickets bought by parents. The smart ones, the internationals. We scoff at them, they who remain in the ignorance in which they are born, such degage criticism we offer.

But really, when is one supposed to learn geography when working at Target, folding things all day to feed how many, perhaps, as many as our extended families in Romania. Ignorance not chosen but rather borne, like a cross, while in the background imagined journeys and remote dreams smolder away. Is this not what movies are for, simulated adventures for the poor, the busy, the overworked or the demure. For the people who work at Target or Belk, who sleepwalk home at night with one wish: to sit the hell down. Unreasonable? I don’t think I’d want to open a book either, or study a map. I think I’d like to space out for a while, maybe stare into a screen that tells me nothing intellectual, and hit the reset button on myself so I can live through another day. That’s what I’d like to do if I spent my life folding things. And the highlight of my day would be a girl with an outlandish accent who’d bring back all the chimeras I’ve worked to silence. She’d tell me how great it is to live in the States and I’d avow how I’ve warped things into gloomy, how it’s not so bad after all, especially since a European says so. And out of the blue, under grayscale October sky, the day’s a little brighter.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Ride


It always comes down to weather. Moody, you’d call me, but actually it’s only echolalia of nature, this is what I’m made of. Build, therefore, your own world, Emerson exhorts and so I do. Today’s gray but not rainy, still but not bleak, chilly but not harsh. It looks like it’s ready for something to happen, something of note. So we wait. There’s that smell in the air, that heavy smell that The Toad told me was from a paper plant nearby and Bill told me it’s what Georgia clayey soil smells like in a sitting pond. Balo told me that she always thought it smelled like the garbage they forgot to take out. It’s perception that drives the schism between people, unconditional loyalty to our own symbolism what exacerbates these rifts. What smells to me like odyssey smells to you like gasoline that’ll take you to the mall. What smells to you like garbage smells to me like vespertine walks along the Ocmulgee river, at length expatiating on how unbecoming it is for Otis Redding’s statue not to have any eyeballs, and promising that I will fashion him some out of bubble gum. “I won’t let you do that,” you said solemnly and I, defending the argument, “But he’d be able to see us!”

Yesterday, since it was deliciously autumnal outside, I beseeched Nemesis (since we’ve developed a species of friendship I decided she must have a name) to take me on a ride to Lake Tobesofkee, at least that was the plan, a tour originally mapped for 70k which ended up reduced to 50, for reasons that I find somewhat humiliating. As a parenthesis, my firm-framed friend has been named after the goddess that delivered the reckoning for arrogance to the Greeks. She replicates this image quite well, for more than once I’ve seen her rehabilitated in the eyes of other bikers who had illusions of outspeeding, since she’s only a mountain bike after all, and not a fancy one either. She has been goaded, on occasion, to keep presumptuous drivers in check too, especially those who want to turn right on a red light and surmise, naively, that she’s not part of traffic. This reminds me: I’ve got to get a horn. All things considered, I’ve found Nemesis a fitting name, for other mythological reasons as well, but I won’t burden this story with them, especially since I think there are some things that ought to remain between my bike and me.

So I went, westward past the interstate, where the road narrows and climbs steadily, then climbs steeply, and what I wouldn’t give for a bike lane sometime, a little ribbon of asphalt that’s all mine. But this is Macon, after all. Further up, the road is edenic, with orchards on each side, miniature farms and tractors, and yes, a kid doing stunts on a scooter in his back yard. Hardly any traffic at all on a Saturday morning this far from the city. People are gorging themselves at Chick-fil-a, out for a movie at Amstar, having brunch at Starbucks, leaving this marvel to me, all to me, and how I jubilate and chant for universal shallowness. Following the map in my head I count the imaginary miles, more going downhill than uphill, since when I’m climbing I have a hard time focusing on anything else than trigonometry. These hills of Macon are such nuisances sometimes, as they worm their way onto the surface of the earth in a demented sinusoid that drains and drains, my shirt wet before I’m even 10 miles into the trip.

So at this point, where at the top of an agonizing hill I find deliverance in a road sign saying “Estes,” where is where I’m supposed to turn, I realize, like a fugitive flash of intelligence, that I can well hear the chain of the bike. Now, from my scarce experience with these animals I know this to be inauspicious, much like doing a headstand and hearing my back cracking, that’s when I know that I should stretch more often. Then I remember, an epiphanic flashback, that I never oiled this bike, and that I adopted it following a long period of idleness in Bill’s sunroom. Knowing Bill and how much he actually applies all the activities he plans, I’m not sure in fact whether the bike has ever been oiled. So here the mystery is elucidated, why it’s so hard to pedal, why I feel life squeezed out of me with every hill, and as I palpate the viscera of my Nemesis (so fitting the name just now) and my hand’s still clean, grease consummately absent, desperation enters.

Pulled over I muse, study my map, quickly improvise a shortened version of the trip, not considering for a minute going back, for I’m sure living with myself after such a failure would be impossible. So I climb on, chain parched and plaintive, but this Estes Road is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and I forget all about my distress. Sun sifted through the trees, corrugated patterns on the grass. And a horse, two horses grazing, not even looking up as I pass with all my mechanical noise, they are in their own world and this space has no place for me, I’m merely a peripatetic observer, and even if I wanted to stop I could not.

After Estes reality is nauseating, busy thoroughfare with rushed drivers. And a dog! Yes, halfway up I see a dog sauntering toward me, quite an exotic character around these places. The traveler is a Pit bull and I’m going uphill on a thirsty bike, so precaution advises me to proceed on the other side of the road for a while. We pass each other, he seems to consider me and dismiss me as part of the landscape. Cars honk insanely as they see the itinerant animal and finally, someone elicits more traffic noise than me. On the same road a mattress leans against a mailbox, covered in flies, and I really can’t help but stop for photos. I’m goaded by a similar image later on, but quickly rebuffed by canine guards, so I snap one fast before their raucous threats turn into action.

There was a point when I actually considered giving Bill a call, a casual call to check if he’s around, if maybe he feels like driving a little out of town, where, oh nearby, nearby, not far at all, and it’s not that I’m in trouble but I’d really like you to see this route I’m taking, so bucolic, and maybe... give me a lift? And it’s right at this moment, providence and her sleight of hand, that a troupe of race bikers passes me. I know that they do this on Saturday mornings, but I didn’t imagine I’d run across them like this, so nakedly, at the intersection of Maynard Mill and Shi, when I’m in such an unflattering position and they’re so fast, and polyester-clad – some topless – and lofty somehow, going downhill at the speed of light, a flock of birds in full flight. Twelve of them perhaps, pedaling compact, and as they pass me they ask, each one of them, if I’m all right. And I, holding my camera which I’ve produced I don’t remember why, probably as an excuse to stop, nod reassuringly and pretend everything’s fine although it’s not, the chain getting drier with every mile and it’s palpable, especially in my thighs that scream with horror at what I’m doing to them. But for this fraction of a second, while they pass, everything will be just fine, I will look contemplative and impossibly fresh-looking, and they’ll have something to talk about as they continue downhill.

Coincidentally that’s my path too, Shi Road that is, so I blast after them and as I discover it’s all downhill, steep hills that anybody’d be downright crazy to climb in the opposite direction, so I slide with my brake pressed hard and still I fly. But well, these Southern lands are treacherous and whenever there’s a reprieve I know that there’ll be hell to pay later. And this happens soon, on Zebulon, where hills get the last sap of me, sometimes stepping out of the saddle and wondering if I’m dead or alive. Photos are no longer in the program. And still, there’s a mailbox in the shape of a school bus, so I have to stop for a minute to get that on film, and before I depart two bikers pass, struggling with the rough climb I’m descending, a he and a she. He, in the lead, salutes and smiles and I respond. She is behind and I wait for her to pass me, eager to say hello since she’s the first female biker I’ve laid eyes on in Macon, but catching sight of me she speeds up, visibly clenched on the bike and fierce to catch up with her man, and she does not so much as glance in my direction, even though I’m three feet from her. It’s OK, I tell her in my mind, women don’t usually like me. I’m not upset. But in reality I’m bothered.

It doesn’t matter how I got home, does it? In truth, it was one of those trances that we wheedle our bodies into, to go on automatic pilot while our mind meanders through other places. That’s how it was. The pain’s all gone now, after a good night’s sleep of seven hours, a royal treatment for me, really. Oil the fucking bike, a green post-it says. But now the world of Java awaits again, weekends crumpled into dialog with a compiler that argues with me about syntax and makes me want to pull my hair out, which occasionally I do. All this code, I loathe it. And even if you’re there to tell me what to do, to bring equanimity to my dementia, to give me a saintly hand out of quicksand, code is still something I suffer through, like purgatory, which I’ve the power to curtail at any moment, yet I don’t. With Java I feel dead. With Nemesis I feel alive. That’s just me and, don’t I know, it’s high time I stopped betraying both with this specious stagecraft.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Phobos Claustrum


Once boundless, the sky is framed today. A tiny Polaroid blemished by vertical stripes marks the boundary between freedom and its skeleton. Timelessly I sit in expectation until the sun, for a glorious and fleeting moment, traverses my viewfinder. Under its warmth I melt, the specter of me alive again for a respite until purgatory returns for yet another day. The moment’s gone and icy walls close in on me, brandish their bastions in warning. My boiling mind notwithstanding, I am resigned to being trapped.

But the more circumscribed the body the freer the mind, it seems. For now the opacity of things has cleared and from turbid waters I see clear bottoms. I am a pendulum poised in revelation. Perhaps it is one of the great ironies of life that captivity makes ethics so much more obvious. Without oscillation time ceases its flow and stands still. The same day repeats itself ad infinitum, a well rehearsed act by the cold, the grey, the vertical and the geometrical conspiracy in this mise en scene designed to hijack my mind. But I’ve yet to yield to insanity. There is still much to read, and although this living is by proxy and anachronistic at that, since I’ve a penchant for the classics, it is the only kind of traveling I’m allowed. However meager for this ravenous wanderlust, I’m afraid stories will have to do, for now.

I remember as a child I always craved for the sweets that were not on the table, however diverse the selection. To want what is absent, to summon back what is discarded, to detail people who leave and disregard people who stay, these are the symptoms of the contretemps between man and life. It occurred to me yesterday that I would have given anything for a ride down a water toboggan, that is what I lusted for. The yearning so strong, the possibility so bleak, that I felt I would have gladly relinquished a part of my flesh, a finger or an ear, to have this wish granted. Perhaps I am not far from insanity after all. In hindsight I figure that on the outside I would entertain similar yearnings for seclusion. What I wouldn’t give, I would say, for solitude and silence away from this racket of the city that silences my mind. Yet restored from exile thoughts run in hungry floods and it’s a challenge to tame them. The hand scribbles madly in the journal, now my vade mecum which I’d never part with, and here’s me doing one more thing I thought I’d never do.

Another day through the viewfinder, the sun shines with promise. Life is but an afterthought, but I’ve no regrets and as I shed my scales to this catharsis I’m prepared to receive whatever’s in store for me, since for any scenario I can imagine something that is much, much worse. Optimism, one more thing that deprivation breeds.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nobody's Business



Easter of yesteryear in bus 331. A pauper dozes in the seat reserved for handicapped persons. Opposite him, a coquettish redhead winces like the smell bothers her. In the back of the bus a rubicund gentleman looks through the window. Two crones gossip. The air, of an inebriated hue, hangs. Closed-eyed, the pauper twitches, as if chasing a fly away, then settles.

The city is dead. Through the window a nondescript germination happens. Bucharest is a city of Lego with little plastic men stabbed in the asphalt to dissimulate human activities. The bus flies past them monotonously, heedless of signs and traffic lights. My lids weigh heavy, sleep presses and I am close to surrender. But the bus takes a sharp turn and I am woken by a thud.

Eyes hurry to the front of the bus, where the pauper has collapsed on the floor. He lies crouched in the middle of the bus, his body inert like a wounded animal. I look around. The other passengers avert their eyes, the window presently more riveting than the obvious spectacle. I take two steps toward the human mass and realize that I cannot lift him by myself. With horror I wonder if anyone would give me a hand. The driver condescends a brief glance in the rearview mirror. Not his business, either. Lines of embarrassment dig into the faces of people. Would anyone react if I said something? Would they look at me if I yelled? Numb, the bus rolls on.

Still, the pauper lies lifeless on the floor. His clothes grey, his skin ashen, his cheek indifferent against the grey floor where microscopic grains of mica glitter in the sun. He looks like a child groping for a toy in his sleep. His feet remain thrown over the base of the seat. Urine darkens his trousers in rivulets and continues on the floor. Concerned, the redhead raises her shoes to safety. She does not look at him. All around people feign preoccupation. Men and women are absent. There are only their carcasses here.

Breathless, I press a red button. The doors open and I gush forward, like a frothing stream against a manmade dam. My limbs are made of gum. Movement disconcerts, stillness nowhere in sight. I speed up to get home, where there are colored eggs and family, and everything is well. In front of my building lies the corpse of a giant mouse on which flies feast, ravenous. How picturesque, I conclude, putrefaction in the most select quarters of Bucharest. My hand poised on the doorbell, I cannot ring. I stand paralyzed, with my disgust, my shame. I weather a disease that must be faced stoically to acquire immunity. And then I do the only thing that we can do in Bucharest to live in peace with ourselves: I turn my head.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Other Matt


He has forget-me-nots in his eyes. I noticed this when we were meeting at the swimming pool, by chance, two flip-flopped pairs of feet dragging toweled bodies in the outrageous hours of morning. He asked me something once and I rejoined, perhaps with a clever remark which made him laugh, and then I heard his thundering laughter too. I see him almost every day now and he is still as intriguing, even more. Forget-me-nots rest on me sometimes and he smiles at once, a celestial rise, and I feel as if he’s seen me shiver and given me a coat. “Thank you,” I want to say. “I’m not chilly anymore.”

He likes my take on Thoreau, I suspect. Under his score of “97” I roll down like a crepe and jubilate. But immediately I want to ask “Um – where did those three points go?” because old habits die hard and arrogance is another battle I’ve yet to win. So I smile and say “I’m glad” in a tone that’s not humble at all, but at least the intention’s there and I have to hope it counts for something. He collects his papers under his arm and proceeds toward the door. I did not imagine him as tall, taller than me, and so massive, a friendly teddy bear. Grayscale hair, pellucid eyes and blazing teeth, he is a tonality of the dark room variety, not a man but a portrait, an esthetic interest at most, because he does not really exist, not in this version I’ve collaged of him anyway. We are face to face now and I feel petite, so few occasions for me to feel this way.

“So, what are you going to do when you’re out of here?” So I tell him, I confess my disorientation, probably use some profanity, which pussyfoots into the conversation too fast to detain, but I feel that now is the time to be honest, so I throw the curtains aside and just talk. “But are you set on the States? he baits, the corners of his mouth quivering upwards. “For instance, have you considered Canada?” I cannot contain a smile, my face much too naked for this professional hierarchy that was here a moment ago, but now...? So in this mutual amusement in which I know he knows, he knows I know he knows, he tells me what he thinks is better in Canada and, while I take notes in my mind, the moment of information gives way to the moment of revelation, for the implications of his question are gigantic, an iron bridge across such taboo waters. He is a person and I am a person and we are talking, regardless of how many springs I have behind me or how many words I know, how much politics I understand. He’s read my writing and he knows there is something here, in this coffer on top of my neck, and he does not need more than this to give me a vote of confidence, intimated as it is. My status notwithstanding, he does not see me unfit to do as I do.

So here is my comeback, not a revenge but a comeback I say, one defense to stand against all previous gratuitous evaluations kept covert, under the tables where at surface level there’s only smiling and benign jokes. But it only takes one, doesn’t it, to have a majority of one, and it is still a fallacy to say that an opinion is truth because so many people hold it.

At tables there are always levels, I suppose, even though our chairs have us at the same height. But in the intellectual strata I am the troposphere, this is the consensus. And hereby I must step into the armor of the quiet and passive, because I am twenty-two and what could I possibly know about life or about a culture that’s not mine. According to the Adulthood for Dummies, 46th edition, children must not be allowed to dump their gibberish at our dinner table. You have nothing to say, Silvia, and it is easier to acquiesce to this profile than try to refute it. It makes things more comfortable, if not for you then for everybody else, and doesn’t the greater good supersede the individual, really? As fretful as I am for truth, as averse as I am to lie, I would parrot this cartoon of me, only to make everything easier, if only, if only I had your vote, at least.

Somehow in this simplification it always boils down to an inequality that’s negative across the spectrum except between -1 and 1, a narrow margin, as narrow as my waist, and because I look like this would be pretty much the only reason why a 39-year-old, for instance, would want to be with me. But superstition is not truth unless you believe it, and folklore will always be the intelligence of the many because, well, it is comfortable to think that life fits in stencils and that to understand new things all we have to do is look at old ones.

“Let me know how it works out,” Forget-me-not says as he saunters off, his innocent statement connoting more than what is obvious. So walking back to my dorm room, which although devoid of festoons and paraphernalia of teenage dramas is still the room of a student, I can only be a person. I am a person who considers the world and quite simply tries to understand, if interest and curiosity are the only arguments I can employ in this unpopular defense I’ve improvised. Considerations of status I would have never thought override the reality of artifact. It is all an honest man can do to negate slander, whether frank or oblique, not by rhetoric but with artifact. In the end what you are is tantamount to what you can do and I find that a fair equivalence. Everything that’s not certainty is faith, or promise as it were, a bet in a race where I think that this particular horse has a good chance to win. But there is risk in this speculation, I concede, and although I could really use your vote, which you’re withholding, I’ve yet to be defeated, even with a majority of one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Travelogue


Cobwebbed eyes measure the interstates. Borders are irrelevant, if not for speed limits. Seventy in the South, sixty-five in the North. We care less about life at the bottom of the map. Heat and dust and grapes of wrath have us moderately insane. The gas pedal whines with my wavering foot, but no matter. Press on. At the other end of the state Bill unfolds route maps and worries. I have gone itinerant on you and, considering my flighty nature, you know, it was bound to happen.

Somewhere in Tennessee silhouettes of fleshy mountains are etched in the dark. Tents bolstered by the stars ahead. Another hill and I am there, at the base of the behemoth, but after each pinnacle there is a chasm and my wheels hurry greedily within and fall, like fluff. This is the cardiogram of night, of any night: a sinusoid that changes its mind so inconveniently. Here goes the first can of Coke, half-spilled on my white peasant shirt, the remaining half tasting of sweet awakeness.

Kentucky. The anonymous Kentucky creeps in with no welcome signs, no special recognition. Exemplary modesty, one could say. I am carefully inserted into the envelope of heavy fog and sealed inside. The night is opaque. Hades is puffing his pipe in the Underworld, smoking us out. Not much for courtesy. One more Coke before I yield to these heavy lids.

The endless Ohio. I arrive in Cincinnati in its most glorious hour. All alight and angular, a man-made organism. It breathes into me as I pass. Eyes flung open, mind sharp, I drink. The streets are barren but life palpitates, dormant like a hibernating animal. Ahead, the highway is all mine.

Columbus is a ghost town to which I have no desire to return. Creatures that sleep so peacefully make me drowsy. Not a twitch. Another tab clicks, contents effervesce and I look but straight ahead, where the night shudders undecided. Somewhere in this endless Ohio I bully a guy in an SUV to make it clear that I am awake and he is hardly. Petty delights of this monotonous drive. As I pass I take a sip and my aluminum goblet glistens in the moonlight. He is looking, I know. Adroitly I slide and sneak back into the safe lane, my alacrity conceited for sure. In my taillights he drowns ignobly. Another exit, an orange dot intermittent and I’m alone again.

Sun enters before Cleveland, for which I am grateful. But this is when sleep catches up with me and goads, the poisonous rat, the light of morning notwithstanding, and I slide from lane to lane, describe infinity on the road. I yell at myself. Concerned, I pinch my arm. Another can froths. Right and left there is nothing to entice, the eyes still trapped in long exposures. Although I am nervous I can’t conquer this wayward flesh that softens. A city, Cleveland, please. Please, sooner.

Along the water everything is different. After the Endless Ohio Pennsylvania is a meteor, short-lived eye candy. New York would be too, if it were not for tolls every ten miles. A full tank of tolls. It is right when you gain some speed that you can see the yellow booths up ahead where petulant people hand you unfathomable cards. A wordless transaction. Except for Niagara: there they smile and wish you a nice weekend.

Two more tolls and I am there. Cars line up in Fibonacci sequence. Passports ready. Origin engraved on backs of cars. New York, Michigan, Ohio, Ontario. Georgia. I advance before I am called. A border gaffe for which I am heavily reprimanded. The driver behind makes room for me to back up, contritely. Everyone is looking. I blush pathetically. Behind her dark glasses the officer’s expression is murderous and she scolds me again. I melt with shame for this poor introduction. First time in Canada? she demands. And with this question a door opens, a sort of crevice to look though which I do, thirstily, like children who don’t have money to go to the cinema but love the movies. The pleasures we fight for are so much more delicious than those we get effortlessly. What is the contentment of an American living in the States compared to mine?

There is a stamp on the passport, reluctantly granted I suspect, but my paranoia sometimes misleads me. In any case there is a river I cross and then a road, just one road with two lanes, where I am informed that in Canada the speed limit is 100 km/h, which is 60 mph if my math skills are poor. After my brazen driving heretofore the sluggishness feels bizarre. I crawl lento in the right lane, the big trucks passing me, everyone passing me. I am doing the right thing, at least, and hereby I imagine that I atone for advancing before I was called at the border and disrupting the events. No, nothing will atone for that. I am not a person of good introductions, after all. Never have been. I am hard pressed to imagine that anybody ever liked me the first time we met. I am for patience, forbearance, for second chances. For this reason I am not in a hurry to get anywhere.

You drove to Canada in one day? he asks later. Well I’ve looked at these Americans, always ready to get up and go, essentially a bunch of nomads without roots, balloons without strings. There is plenty of risk in this constant Brownian movement, of course, but there is also beauty in the breakdown and the possibility of happiness is always more attractive than decided unhappiness. I learn too, see? Few things are impossible and they seem even less so when you are doing them. I am telling you, on the other side there is more light and less fear and seventeen hours behind the wheel feel like a pat on the back, if anything. There are much harsher things in the world. Much worse places to be. Much more unfortunate shoes to walk in.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pois(on)ed


“I want to get out of here,” she says as she devours her beloved hummus. And me? I am praising my plantains. I say nothing. What is she hurrying towards, I wonder. She is going to graduate school. Her decision is made, nailed down. Today she left for an interview in Arizona. She’s a smart cookie, she’ll do well.

My superfluous encouragements notwithstanding, there is no envy here. Only a few resolutions. I know less what I want to be than what I want not to be. One of my reinforced decrees: I am boycotting grad school. I want to be one of those crazy escapists who stand against academic inflation with iron legs. We are a small crowd, I suspect. This cause is doomed to begin with, quixotic like some artistic statement. Like sympathizing with Humbert Humbert, yes, as risque as that. Do you hear me, Bill? Humbert Humbert has my vote. No – shut up. I don’t care if she was 12...

I had to write about my revolt against career patterning because today I discovered the hand-outs that Mi Amor (forgive me, your moniker is so apt that I could not find another to supersede it) has left me. A resume, a list with questions commonly asked at job interviews, another mumbojumbo sheet with what to wear, what color of folder to have and other such rigmarole. I have also been scheduled a meeting, it seems, with our career advisor, who in the past has failed to reply to my e-mails and fulfill the promises that she herself, without my request, has made. I must come up with innovative ways to elude the encounter with this fickle character, of whose helpfulness I am sincerely skeptical. How do I wedge myself in these situations where I am surrounded by people who want to help me against my will, I don’t know.

And then, how do you explain to somebody who leaves you half a pound of brochures meant to enlighten you in your professional crusade that you don’t give a crap about all that. That Corporate America is as attractive to you as fried cockroaches. That – slap me – your type is more that of the freelancer, which is the fancy word for an artist, itinerant, hippie, hobo, that sort of thing. Maybe I can afford such arrogance because I am good with computers. After all, the nerd stereotype is the Google guy in Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops who saunters in and out of angular buildings as he pleases. What a joke, no? Everybody knows that I detest flip-flops. But that Google-guy archetype is not so objectionable, I think. Not at all. To Mi Amor, I am sure, it is anathema. I will tell her tomorrow to test the reaction. I will bring a glass of water too.

Making plans, how onerous a project. Can’t I just go with the flow? If I could only find the water on this parched soil of promised land where foreigners are, suddenly, persona non grata. We have had enough fun with this full ride, it has been decided, it’s time for us to slide off the toboggan and make room for the local variety of achievement. It’s a shame that achievement is not endemic to this place where I drag my days. In any case, my days here are numbered. They are the color of anemia, of sedate boring colors, probably the color of the folder I will be carrying when I present myself in my solemn deux-pieces for an interview to be a bean-counter. In the meantime, I am going with the flow, the imaginary stream that separates the worthwhile from the pedestrian.

This Starbucks is all reggae today, Bob Marley and the Wailers, what a nice memento for sunsets with sand, waves and Shaorma. Shake it off, quickly. Better not dig up the switch for nostalgia. Presently I must leap onto my Pegasus and propel myself back to the temple. And, like much of my existence, the ride is all uphill.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

High-flown or Crest-fallen


After four hours of forced sleep I stare at myself in the mirror. Eyes bulging froggily, hair hanging like straw from my scalp. Red dots around the eyes, burst capillaries from too many headstands. Punctuation marks dead-center, the freckles I always wanted. Why do you do so many headstands, he asks, and when I tell him that he spends too much of his life vertically he laughs. “But upside down is vertical too,” the smartass. Yes, but it is inverted, my infantile friend. Like a ketchup bottle. Ketchup? Oh, that he understands well.

Nascent To Do lists germinate under my pen between bites of apple. I sit at this desk every morning and count the minutes. I make an inventory of time. How long until I go to breakfast. How long until my morning penance. You are two minutes late, my friend, and yes it makes a difference. I have exactly 78 seconds to make a sandwich and storm toward the library gobbling it up. How long is this going to take, Professor? The clock on the wall defies me with smug delay while my watch insists for accurate time, obnoxiously. How long, how long.

My hair is tangled in my watch and I materialize into the Room With Fancy Chairs holding a cup of tea, arm suspended awkwardly in the air, ridiculous even for morning scenes. Are you OK, he offers, earnestly concerned, and I smile bashfully and curse in my native tongue and take my seat between two neophytes who make me miserable.

It is the second time he calls me high-flown and for the first time I mind. I do mind, yes. I refuse to litter my speech with the word “like.” I will not be one who tells stories that sound “So I was like...” “And he was like...” “But I was like....” “And then he was like...” I just don’t want to. So I am high-flown.

At dinner I make a sandwich again, as if in a hurry. It’s because I don’t have time to spare that I leave, yeah, that’s why. I survey the premises and there is no soul that I would sidle to, no face that invites me, not really. I sit briefly to compose my layered meal and across from me there is yet another person who finds me hilarious and she has a friend with her, so I acquiesce and perform for them both as they expect, and I leave them laughing with tears. As I walk away my face is blank and there is nothing funny, nothing really. But this has nothing to do with the fact that I leave. I run because I am in a hurry. That’s why.

Back in the chambers, another To Do list to slay and carry-forward, into never-ending future tense. I develop new phobias, of the future for instance. A few weeks ago at trivia we learned that the most common phobia in America is arachnophobia. What exactly is the phobia of, is it an aversion to many-many legs? Is that because Americans don’t like to walk? What a bizarre zone I’ve landed.

The light flickers in the bathroom and it is me again, yes it is me, only with sunken cheeks this time too. Whenever did I develop such angular features. The same red dots, polka dot tegument and laserbeam eyes. Time for another headstand. As I stand inverted I make plans to delve into Walden and deny reality all claims upon my consciousness, which means not to open the door unless force majeure. But I am wrong. Presumptuous, too. I read in silence and there is no knocking, no solicitude. Tonight no one needs a thing from me.

So on this hard floor where flesh finds finally respite from pain I discover the pleasure of horizontality again. I nestle into this serendipitous ataraxia and feign, with all my heart in the theatrical performance, that I am not as lonesome as I feel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bivouac in hell


He is dressed in pink today. He takes the laptop out of my hands without so much as an inquisitive glance. We have settled into a familiar silence around here. Broken? - Yup. It’s fixed, come get it.- Thanks. And there is always “I give up,” but that needs no words, it’s all in the air. I know, we are all overworked, Kelly said to us last week, and I remember wondering if those who dabble are as “overworked” as those who try to fix something. It depends on our unit of measurement, I suppose.

So I careen down the hall and seclude myself in the room that used to be a closet and is now a help desk. If I had been polled I would have named it helpless desk, since we are all helpless in there. Before the rigmarole and travesty we turn numb, like lifeless limbs, staring at each other and asking “So... any more problems?” A problem that is never fixed but perpetually patched is bound to surface some time, I suppose. All we can do is to become more adroit at ignoring it. Here, at least, we are doing well.

In the same manner of inertial complacence I stare at this screen and talk to it. I become one of those people who talk to computers as if they were fastidious humans. “Come on, computer. Please.” I roll my eyes and crave for a drink. My ghost in the holiday house extends a lanky claw toward the tequila bottle that I left, with unmistakable precision, under the fish tank. She gulps the anesthetic and sighs with her ethereal being. But I feel nothing. Nothing burns my esophagus and life is as bitter as ever. Eyelids open and the screen ogles me impolitely. Come on, computer. Please.

Last night while I meandered through the boisterous rooms looking for some machine to fix I came across this tiny creature who insisted that her computer hates her. You exaggerate, tiny creature, I said to her without letting her know how irksome her existence was. But she would not relent. Malevolent computer with a life of its own, full of hostility. Hates her, by god. A horse that would not let himself be tamed, is that so? Well, tiny creature, computers don’t do things unless told to. Perhaps the fault is yours for not understanding how it works. Perhaps. Do you even hear me?

Closing the door behind me I disfigure myself with a gigantic grin to shake off the irritation. And off to the next one. My computer hates me. If I hear this one. more. time.

Finally back to the temple, where I plaster up my face with pink clay and engage in my secret single behavior. Wait a minute – I don’t have that anymore. Last year I decided that the secret single behavior took too much time and too many cosmetics. It did not fit well with my future life as an itinerant. To be honest it would not sit well in my autobiography either. So I discarded it without second thoughts. Now I only do the clay. It freaks people out. It gives them something to talk about. And they need it.

It is more than fatigue that contaminates my existence these days. More even than ennui at my job as a versatile pawn. Ever since I saw that movie I do not seem to settle anywhere. Even as I am sitting the mind races, overheats, overthinks. I have not been on my bike for days. I wish that everybody could go to hell for a day so I could take off into the opposite direction. But there is no shuttle to hell. There is only one to the mall, every Friday at 6, and there was one to the Social Security Kafka novel today. Nothing else on the itinerary. So I sulk and with infinite reluctance lie on the floor to read soporific literature from ancient times. I do it stoically, mind you, only because when I am done I will have deserved to switch to my beloved Nabokov and end the day that way.

Somehow every day seems to end with a Russian.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not all who wander are dead


Through some conspiracy of celestial scope every time I sit at this desk to write it is Sunday morning. A time tunnel of Sunday mornings. Last night I spent it with Crevecoeur and, when my patience subsided, Nabokov. The former idyllic, the latter caustic. I weed through Nabokov’s tortuous prose like a turtle in brushwood, but still obdurate despite obstacles of form. You use too many SAT words, he says, and I say, man, you should read Nabokov, a little irritated but still patient with him because he does not understand that I do not do it on purpose.

As I paraglide through the pages I realize that I hardly need a dictionary anymore, here and there for things that refer to inanimate objects, like “crucible,” but this is only to be expected since there are not many crucibles in my life. How much of all this richness of language collapses into oblivion for lack of use, it saddens me. Words must be remembered on stray pieces of paper, on post-its, on documents on the desktop. I must retain them, for words are meaningful and beautiful, even SAT words, despite what anybody says.

Atypically early I brought the pages of the book together and Ada said goodnight, settled under her own weight on the nightstand. I sent my nightly epitaph and before I fell asleep I thought about the movie I saw today. Into the Wild. It finally dawned on me why Bill asked me four times “Do you really want to watch this?” and then implied that I would have to watch it alone. And I did. The best way to watch movies, if you ask me.

But it left me hollow. Words don’t come anymore, feelings either. The garments of emotionality stand at the gates, guarded, for fear of being brutalized again. Trapped, I feel a need to read Thoreau again, which I will today probably, since all I can do is read. Read and listen to this. As I listen I think about the guitar chords to play it and somewhere beyond mechanical perception there are thoughts about all the blog entries I will write about the movie. But still, words don’t come. Feelings either. I force myself to write four paragraphs just to prove myself I still know how.

London, Thoreau, Kerouac, Steinbeck, come back.
Please, come back.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kindle


“Can I sit with you?” she asks at 7.30 in the morning.

“Sure,” and the smile I put on is not feigned but earnest. I look at her and she glows somehow, it is not the blond streaks in her hair but something within. This is worth waking up for, I can tell.

We converse over bowls of soggy grits and mushy biscuit. She made the first step, I reason, so it is my turn to be affable. As I gnaw at carbonized bacon I ask if she is a freshman. Of course she is. “I’m Kendal,” she says. Silvia, nice to meet you. “Sylvia?” she clarifies. Whenever I inform someone of my name I meet surprise. Is it such an unusual name?

People here have me labeled as antisocial, I think, because I don’t sit to eat at busy tables and I always bring a book to meals. This comes from my early training in meal etiquette, which haunts me still. Don’t talk while you eat. Don’t chew with your mouth open. Don’t drink water until you’re finished. An American, of course, cannot understand this – neither the rules, nor my commitment to them.

Maybe they think that I am not very talkative, either. Oh god, how wrong they are. Tell them, Bill, how I talk like the radio, all the way to Savannah and back. “You are quiet,” Shreeti said to Mother. “Your daughter does not take after you.”

When Kendal sits across from me I switch into verbose mode. I push the edibles aside and want to know everything. Where is she from. An hour and a half north from here, she says, and she tells me the name of a town that I forget immediately. Oh, I know where it is! I lie, and relish at the content look on her face. She is majoring in Women Studies and is considering Chemistry too. How wonderful, I hiss. Thinking about the zealot feminists in that department and the no-longer-new 13-million-dollar Science Center that is our mascot, I say: “Those are the most interesting subjects to take around here.” Another lie, I congratulate myself. Well, what are you supposed to say to a freshman? “Don’t worry, it will all be over soon”? You say this in their junior year. When they are like this, nascent and pristine, you say “You’ll get used to it.” I ask what she thinks of the cafeteria and her cute eschewal is a reply that I could have anticipated. So that is what I say: You’ll get used to it. She understands.

Pointlessly she stirs with the fork in the grits and takes minute bites. She eats awkwardly, she knows that I am watching and is averse to this silence between us. She has bright, blue-green eyes emphasized with black eyeliner. What is that, a nose ring? Did she really have one or did I forge the memory? A freckled face, this I am sure of. Her hair is short, straight, with blond streaks. A flattering haircut, I appraise. “You remind me of Rory Gilmore.” She looks at me and her brow contracts in puzzlement, how adorable. A few seconds elapse until she gets the reference. “What – Oh! I love that show!” She finds that I paid her a compliment and I am pleased that my comment reached the target.

Well, Kendal, I must leave you. The 8 o’clock class beckons. As I say her name I wonder about the spelling and all I can think of is “Kindle,” but I know that it cannot be it. Of course I don’t ask. I will look it up in the e-mail address book later. I tell her that I like the name. She smiles, Rory-like. See you later.

I remember coming here, two years ago, a novice myself. I was scared of everything, always worried that I was doing things wrong. Surely I was not smiling enough. I was being rude. What a freak. These new people seem much more at ease, presumptuous even. Is it true, or is it a veneer and underneath there is bedlam. If so, did I put up such a persuasive performance of composure back then? I wonder. In any case: “You are almost out the door.” That is what you say to a senior.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To the hermitage, Godspeed!


I have an hour to write a post. Strange how my schedule changed so suddenly. From sedate reverie my life has transformed into demented running around. If only I were more flexible so as to adapt more comfortably to these abrupt shifts. It feels like plunging into cold water, needles and pins and my lungs lapsing into irregular suction. Breathe in, Silvia, the coach says, and he steps on my hands to make me let go and take off. So I do, I flap my flippers into blue cascades. Now let us see if I remember how to write.

Please, wait! the machine instructs me nervously and as the barrier lifts I thump the vehicle in first. I blast off and cut in front of the guy who drives parallel to me because I am a woman and he is a man and this is how things ought to be. For the same reason I park on two parking spaces, outrageously. Each time some karmic purpose brings me to the Atlanta airport I think about Bill. Bill, the perpetual vicarious traveler, always the one who waves to people who disappear along labyrinthine walkways marked “Have passport ready.” He is never the one who leaves. Never the one who arrives. It is always somebody else. Someone who waves back with gratitude and promises postcards. Bill waits until the silhouette is obscured by behemoth guardian figures and daydreams about those postcards. His little pebbles of the world. I want to go to Spain, he tells me. And to France and Sweden and Norway. And Nepal and China. And Romania and Bulgaria! And... Sure, Bill, I say, and I smile indulgently. Let me get my shoes and I’ll come with you.

As I wait, in the wrong place as usual, I build up nervousness. I snap out of it for one brief moment, as long as it takes me to realize that I am waiting in the wrong place. I storm to the South Terminal, the function of my nervousness reaches a maximum and then glides downward as soon as I catch sight of a Starbucks. Finally I am in the right place savoring a ridiculously expensive drink in large gulps and I wait. A little girl ogles me and starts to follow me around. We play hide and seek around the conveyor belt where the parade of luggage unravels. We are at the zoo of suitcases. A set of Barbie’s luggage. A hobo’s bundle. A businessman’s briefcase. All are present. I sit down on the side, next to a flight attendant. She is wearing a red uniform and smells like clean. Her luggage is the first to be spit out by the machine. She takes off to lunch in Atlanta, or maybe to sleep, maybe to another flight. The flight attendant, a perpetual half-traveler who sightsees in microcosm.

I turn my head and there she is zooming towards me, radiant and tempestuous. She is wearing new clothes and I examine them critically, as I always do. Welcome statements. Then, the luggage belt. So, which one is yours? It has a broken handle. Maybe this one? Well, that was quick. Don’t worry, I’ll carry it. Her wrist is thin in my hand, thinner than mine I think. It surprises me and I look at my hand to make sure that it is really her wrist I am holding. You’ve lost weight, I say. You think? No, mother, you are obese. Let’s go already, I don’t want to pay these people for parking. But first, take five for a smoke in front of the airport. The puff-puff corner is trashy. It is true that cigarette smoke always goes toward non-smokers. It tries to entice them, to convert them. As I inhale without intention the life of the smoldering object I think of home, of barrooms and time-wasting artifices. Sure, we can sit here and drink our coffee and make small talk, but the repertoire is not complete without the smoke, now is it? You could not understand, I suppose.

There is a traffic jam, there always is on this godforsaken interstate. In the space between two cars that travel three miles an hour my thoughts lay down on the hot asphalt to be flattened and canceled. I talk, but it is not me who is saying things. It is the trivial creature inside me, the one I am loath to live with and am planning to have killed. So, how did you travel? Was the neighbor annoying? How many times did you get up to go to the bathroom? Do you know that once I flew from Brussels without going to the bathroom once! I step out of myself and marvel at my deftness with platitudes. Finally, we are speeding up. It seems like we traveled to the other side of the planet. Macon – next three exits! she reads out loud. Yes, Mother, we are here. She reads every sign out loud. There will be no time to think this week, I tell myself. I have to write things down. Chick-fil-a! is exclaimed from the passenger seat. What was I thinking. Self-scolding is in order, I suspect. I am already having second thoughts about this. Wal-mart! is proclaimed from next to me, with a German “w” like this, “Vaalmart.” Yes, Mother. That is where we are going later. After you sleep. Aren’t you tired? How can you not be? You are sure that you don’t want to sleep? I race to the third floor to take the elevator down so it can take us up. It’s complicated, Mother, you ask too many questions. As she takes over my space, invades my nest with her cosmetics that stain my sink and the clothes that will invariably become mine, I think, god, it’s great to be alone. To be a hermit in my hermitage, how simple and wonderful. How is it that we don’t know what little things are worth until we lose them?