Friday, December 2, 2011

About a water pump

Here I am, trying to write something at Starbucks. Part of my ten-step back-to-writing plan. I remember an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie moves in with Aidan, and discovers all the inconveniences that come with togetherness. A writer with a deadline, she has to relocate to a local Starbucks to write her column, since she can’t find peace in her own apartment. She used to think, she says, that those sojourners in coffee shops, mugs of coffee by their side, silver apples glowing on their laptops, were posers. But now, in her predicament, she realizes they are just people who recently moved in with someone. She meets their eyes, smiles, and empathizes.

And so it goes. I’m here for pleasure rather than necessity. Walking here is my daily cardio work-out. I walk fast, trying to drown out the noise of cars revved up, of rude honking, of the loneliness of walking in Albuquerque. Unless you are clad in some type of athletic wear, some Adidas or Nike or Pearl Izumi gear that justifies the activity, you feel you’re trespassing upon some unwritten code of conduct. Walking, for the sake of it; for zero emissions; for exercise; for slowing down and looking around; for a change. Locals don’t understand it. They slow down by my side, roll down their windows and offer me a ride, honestly wanting to help. I still can’t get over it. For thousands of years people have walked without asking why, and it’s only now, in the 21st century, that we’ve reduced this antediluvian praxis to an athletic niche. You have the bikers, the runners, the rock climbers and... the walkers (and the power-walkers, but they are just walkers with pent-up anger).

The pair that sat down on the sofa next to me talks as if they are either slow or positively crazy. They are mother and son, both seemingly addicted to meth or some such mind-numbing agent. For the past half an hour they have been laboring to look up “auto repairs” online. But they are stepping on each other’s toes like an old married couple who loathe each other with a passion.

“Mom, get me a chocolate scone!” he demands before even sitting down.

She starts to protest, but he raises his voice, sounding now like an overgrown, hormonal child.

“Mom, get me a chocolate scone,” he clamors a few more times as if he knows for a fact that Starbucks has bore and nurtured a chocolate scone destined precisely for his highness. He looks about seventeen, a tall and ponderous American boy raised on hamburgers and deep-fried delicacies. With an apathetic, unfocused gaze, as if his eyes are almost rolling in his head, he accosts me.

“Excuse may, what’s the Way-Fay called here? His teeth extend over his underlip rodentlike.

The mother is in her mid-fifties and flaxen-haired. Dark shades cover half of her face and she makes no sign to remove them despite the nearing evening.

“They don’t have a chocolate scone,” she says after having inspected the pastry window. “But they have a huge chocolate chip cookie.”

They proceed to negotiate, the son insisting on his predestined scone, the mother touting the oversized cookie, their voices overlapping, indistinct. I know every one in this coffee shop can hear them even though they’re pretending not to.

“Just sit down here,” he commands suddenly. His voice sounds like a digitized whine. He reminds me of Beavis and Butthead – even the shape of his head matches. And the mother, I’m almost sure I’ve seen her in Breaking Bad as the crack-whore who dwells at the Crossroads Motel downtown.

“No, I’m not getting you anything to drink, sorry,” she says stiffly.

He must have asked for a beverage while I spaced out. All right, now I’m curious. You come to Starbucks but you don’t get drinks. What could they have come for? The pastries? Hah. Is she trying to cut down on sugar? But then a cookie is out of the question. Does she not want to spend too much? I smile at my own naivety. For any sane American, eating expenses are not to be tallied, doubted or given any thought. So it can’t be that. By this time I’m absolutely riveted with curiosity: why the embargo on drinks?

Finally, they connect and are now typing away into a search engine. Meanwhile, the mother has brought over two large chocolate chip cookies, wrapped separately. Last time I was paying attention, they were talking about splitting one. Two large cookies, but no drinks. How enigmatic.

The mother has now turned to calling auto repair shops. A timing belt is the object of interest, and she wants to know what it will cost. Earlier today, Pep Boys tried to rob her blind for the item.

“How much did he say?” the son demands.

The mother looks at her idle phone as if expecting it to deliver the right answer in the form of a prophecy.

“No, he’s talkin’ about a water pump, too.”

This is her answer. The same inane conversation repeats itself identically.

“How much did he say mom?”

“He’s talkin’ about a water pump, too.”

Hardly a conversation, but rather two separate conversations played at the same time.

To my joy, they’ve now decided to move to another table nearby. I can still hear their exchanges. A cat could make more sense than these two. It seems they’re each talking to somebody else, someone in their head.

“If we was in California, I’d’ve gotten it cheaper,” she says with a loud snort.

“Mom, you’re sittin’ on the cayble.”

“What, baby? He was sweet-talkin’ me. He was talkin’ about a water pump, too.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Negatively mad

What makes a photograph? I mean – what makes you stay, not look away. Is it the colors, the technique, the subject, the lighting, the unexpected factor? I am asking myself this because I’m contemplating a new photo project. In this project, I take photos of mundane objects in the house and try to make them poetic. A rudimentary keyboard, for instance, with the black trapeze keys rising in perfect order like soldiers, each one holding up a coded flag, all backlit in a discotheque of neon colors. Something like this - only in images. Fernando once told me a story about a class he taught, where the students, with their cameras, were locked in a classroom for several hours and were asked to produce their final class project right then and there, having as subjects only the items in the classroom. They came up with the most brilliant things. The lesson is that limits challenge us and stimulate creativity, leading us to talents we didn’t even know we had. It’s definitely a hypothesis to which I am partial.

But really, I am not trying to be one of those would-be artists, you know the kind, who explain their would-be art and prompt for oohing and aahing from the audience. If I am a good artist, I should at least hope that I wouldn’t have to explain my art. How am I different from a poet, who formulates the lyrical with words and vernacular fireworks? I strive for the same, but use another medium. So then, if the poet’s verbal imagery limps, not lending itself easily to be conjured in one’s imagination, then the poet probably stinks. And in the same way, if my photography makes little sense without my profuse attempts at explanations (where I use tangled abstract words and run-on sentences to mystify the audience, who will nevertheless nod spastically as if they grasp everything so thoroughly), then, well, I must stink as a photographer too. Yes, it really is that black and white.

I have yet again spent the entire day indoors. Such days, when I am cloistered in my tower, are more numerous in my life now. Here’s how the idea for this new project was born, sitting at this table quite simply and boredly, eating a carob-chip cookie that I made myself. I spend so much time looking at these objects every day, and in my dejection they are even more trivial than their mundane design and purpose have already cursed them to be. They are beyond dull and nondescript, they are irritating and exasperating, and they are angering me. I could just stand up right now, get closer to this haughty chair and smack him one with a hammer, just to show him! Serves you right, chair. Or! – tomorrow, when I wake up, I could arrange the blinds just so, make a studio out of the sunrise light and find some inspiration to take a portrait of this chair, as if it is smiling. You see? It really is a challenge. But wait, don’t call the funny farm on me just yet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A year after

November. A sensitive time for me, a sort of purgatory. This year the topic for December is “aging” – as it is every year, thanks to the relentlessness with which the world celebrates birthday anniversaries. Perhaps we should mourn them instead. I briefly glanced over here last week, with dread rather, and it happened to be November 11, exactly a year since I wrote my ominous last post. So I became even more resentful of myself, if that is even possible at the moment, and resolved to write another post the same day, an anniversary post, if you will.

Evidently, I failed. One cannot simply sit and decide to write, as I knew too well. Words don’t come easily, and even less so when they’re rusted with disuse, as are mine. I’ve tried to discipline myself and attempt one of those spartan challenges, where the gratification of an impending need is conditioned upon the completion of a less desirable and more arduous task. I browsed for ideas through the cliche hand-holding techniques they teach you on Yahoo. No breakfast until I write one page (but I am hungry!). No shower until I come up with one story idea (but I need one!). Puerile as I find these things, they might be the only way I’ve left to marshal my now-slothful mind into some sort of constructive routine.

Halfway through the first paragraph, I did prepare breakfast. I toasted wheat germ, mixed it with some yogurt of a dubious expiration date (but I wonder if yogurt could ever go bad, since yogurt is already milk gone bad, in a sense), and with dried cranberries. But I am still writing. A satisfied stomach feels good, the yogurt did not kill me, the heater purrs happily next to me like a napping cat, no life-threatening things have happened lately. Life is good. Nathan and I arrived at this conclusion yesterday, when we summarized that: we have enough food to eat, we have all our limbs, our minds are healthy and we do not live in North Korea. So we are lucky. And then Nathan made one of those jokes that hardly make sense even to himself, something about grandma’s house, if I remember us playing there when we were children. Then he looked at me with a dumb smile, as if I’m supposed to understand something arcane within. Many of these jokes do, for all their randomness, become prophetic in some way, as most ambiguous things are, and little did he know that I was thinking of precisely that, of grandma’s house and of being young and careless. Neither of us has yet figured out how to be an adult, I suppose, and so far we both find adulthood rather disappointing.

And since my talents are becoming less numerous and I lack a photo of my latest feats, as befitting a resurrection post, I decided that the pizza I made last night could well fall under the “feats” category, since cooking, unlike writing, is still something I am good at. Entirely-home-made pizza with whole wheat crust, evil pepperoni and wholesome vegetables on top. Goes well with a nice Chardonnay, by the way. Thanksgiving is coming, so in the spirit of being thankful, I am happy for pizza and wine, for being alive and for having not lost my marbles yet.