Saturday, July 26, 2003

The Lives we Lead

Sitting at dinner on a Friday night, I met the owner of a restaurant who wandered through the major Asian cultures - Chinese, born in Korea, married to a Korean that was born in Japan, ultimately finding her way to Chicago and now running a successful Chinese-sushi place in Lincoln Park. Her grandfather fled to avoid the Japanese occupation of China. Her father fled the communist take-over of North Korea. Her ex-husband, the Korean who is Japanese by culture, emerged from a coma last month in Osaka after heading there to make his way out a mid-life crisis. He will most likely return to the US to live with his ex-wife, being that his brain hemorrhage has erased memory of the last three years or difficulties with her - as far as he knows, they are still happily married - and her compassion carries past the present into all those years of memories and three kids.
In the midst of the storytelling, I realized again that this restauranteur was just another person in the big city with a fantastic life's story. We all have stories to tell if we let our lives follow themselves as they wander through the world. Interesting enough that it is happening all around us, all the time. If we can take a moment to open our perspective and bask in the living around us - our friends, neighbors, even passers-by - we can better appreciate the human experience and wander in fascination.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Heavy Eyes

I just cannot stay awake, the sleep hangs heavy over myself, especially my eyelids. They fall like stones thrown into a lake, rippling into interlocking eyelashes and smoothing out into relaxed cheek muscles. Then, with a start, I try to open my eyes again and lift the weight. There is some success, but the victory is hard-fought before the eyelids try to shutter the eye again under darkness.
This seems like an easy thing to do, just keep the eyes open, but lack of sleep will force one to waver; besides, later evenings bring judgement to not only the eyes but also the hands, legs, and head. Judgement comes every day and reaches the same verdict every night - whether the body is ready or not. Here I pose, heavy eyes, trying to fight the inevitable and it is a losing battle - the hands give out to produce a sprawl of d's across the computer screen. It must be time for sleep...

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Got Pittsburgh on my Mind

I cannot seem to graduate from the travel, planes, and rainy days of the east coast this summer. Torn between San Francisco and New York City on a cross-country tug-of-war (NYC is pulling more strongly at this moment in time), somehow I wandered into Pittsburgh, then Chicago this week. On a Tuesday night when rain lined up every plane on the runway at Laguardia airport in NYC like a Wal-Mart parking lot, I waited 1.5 hours in confined space with nazi flight attendants and snoring passengers boxing me in. This was after 3 hours sitting in an airplane terminal, looking for ways to creatively pass idle time (as if I needed any more time to do that). Then, I arrived in Pittsburgh.
I could recount the late-night check-in, the smoking room once at the destination, the three hours of sleep, the awkwardness of acting as one of the "Two Bobs" of Office Space during the day at the remote meetings, and ulimately, the delay in getting out of Pittsburgh. I am better apreciating the flavor of regional pespectives and customs of different people within this country, laid bare by contrasting Manhattan and suburban Pennsylvania in a sleep-addled swoop. Thankfully, I don't live around Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

By Chance

There are days when fate intervenes and offers another chance to resume former possibilities. Projecting what could have been, people return from long absences to mark new terrain in one’s life, settling into a different pattern unlike the one that was experienced before. New circumstances but old faces, as if to challenge what might have been with what actually is and could be.
This weekend was the start of a hypothesis on past encounters painting fresh lives. Saturday was V*****. V***** was a girl that I had met almost one month before at a bar – and then later at an after-hours party. We both had a bit to drink and found ourselves together much later in the night, intertwined at the lips and hips. I was pretty sure that I had given her my contact details, but she disappeared without a trace. It seemed a one-time encounter of a great New York night out, but she re-emerged that Saturday evening on the bottom loop, same classic smile shining through the mid-evening light. She came bounding down the path towards S**** (new friend?) and I as we headed up towards the Great Lawn for the 150th celebration concert. I glimpsed in V*****’s direction and held my gaze; she turned her head, too. For a moment, we looked at each like estranged children from a dysfunctional family; then, she called my name to see if I remembered. I certainly remembered her name and that wattage smile; we both stopped and chatted briefly before I finally got her contact details. I don’t know what will become of this encounter, but here is hoping perhaps there is another meeting at another place with far less alcohol – and far more intrigue – involved.
Sunday was M*****. M***** was a good friend from UCLA, a jazz guitarist that I had not seen in five years since our graduation from university. On a pristine summer afternoon, I enjoyed brunch with my friend M*** before meeting another friend, T***, at Dos Caminos on Park at 26th. T*** was watching her friend E**** perform, an ex-marketing chick who was now singing Brazilian bossa nova classics for a luncheon crowd. As M*** and I walked to the back of Dos Caminos – noticing T***’s wave as I had not seen her since our very brief encounter at a happy hour in Mid-town one month before – I looked yonder behind T*** where E**** was singing. Beside her, with guitar in hand and huge smile, was M*****, playing away as olden days. After all this time, he was there, same position as I always remembered him, and the memories came flushing back instantly; we resumed our friendship again.
I spent the afternoon re-connecting with M***** after four years in absentia; our conversation whittled away afternoon hours in Madison Square Park. In the moment, I was intrigued as to the possibilities of building another life with familiar people such as M***** from a different time and place. We become older and mature ourselves in particular ways; whether one month or five years, living leaves its mark. Our lives are constructed with new people and places in mind, hurtling onward at its own trajectory with the characters for the parts as the parts are created. The characters then exit right for the characters of the next scenario, as the multi-act play of experience carries on to its conclusion. When these past characters return for future acts, it makes one wonder what lies anew for old friends.
Does our past haunt us with what comforts us, to ease our fears with familiar faces that keep us from the future? Or does our future result from past and present without prejudice, mingling our living days with reminder that new things come from old, always, whatever the outcome. By chance, I will find out.

Celebrating 150 Years of Central Park

On a clear, brilliant Saturday evening, when the big sky held court to intermittent blinking planes and the Big Dipper, New York’s Central Park celebrated its 150th anniversary. The night was a beautiful finale to a celebratory day of events, as New Yorkers arrived throughout the day, 250,000-strong, to show their appreciation for the planned, 843-acre park that Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux built. The president of the Central Park Conservatory estimated that 25 million people enjoy the park annually, a stunning figure for any tourist destination; the park, though, is quintessential New York City.
I enjoyed the Great Lawn’s culminating concert with a friend on this fair evening; Marcelo Alvarez and Salvatore Licitra promoted their new album “Duetto” by showcasing their tenor voices on several famous arias and other songs from the album. Customary for a New York summer evening in the park, we brought a blanket and some food (sandwiches and fresh fruit), then wandered the great expanse to find a place to camp ourselves for the coming dusk.
From the constant energy and motion of the city, Central Park is the sanctuary that welcomes New Yorkers into nature. Marshlands before shaped by Olmstead and Vaux, Central Park is now a well-designed collection of lakes and open spaces, bridges, baseball fields, fountains, groves, and playgrounds – everything one needs from a park, intended for everyone. And this is the beauty – all New Yorkers share in its pleasures, rich and poor, especially on the weekend when the park is teeming with chortling children, doting parents, and the rest who are reading the New York Times.
As the darkness fell on this brilliant day, I reflected on my own experiences with the park – running around the bottom loop, journaling beneath the Shakespeare statue at the start of The Mall, bantering with friends while people-watching at the Pond, eating a deli sandwich and enjoying the sun at the Sheep’s Meadow, and drifting into beautiful music on a calm evening at the Great Lawn. I thought about the typical day that I was spending on the park’s anniversary – running at noontime while dodging the masses meandering on the paths, eating lunch while making phone calls on a park bench near Central Park South, and the sweet concert on the Great Lawn under the stars.
I allowed the lilting Italian of the operatic pieces to wash my mind of thoughts, better to experience the sweet taste of mango on my tongue, and to ascend into that big, clear sky of opportunity as I closed my eyes. The stage seemed to float on the rise and fall of “Nessun Dorma” sung in harmony and force; Marcelo and Salvatore commanded their voices with such composure, symbolizing the hope that the visionaries of 1853 put into the idea of building an urban oasis central to one of the greatest cities in the world. 150 years has carried Central Park as strongly as the two tenor’s voices on this night, and both park and voices kept their promise under the big sky.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Quickly now leave the office

It seems that the day just rips along like a motorcycle race; somedays, I just pause at 7:30pm and think what exactly I did for the day. Perhaps it is because my job does not feel particularly useful at this point in time, so progress does not translate into satisfaction, only consumed hours. My only reprieve is spouting some written drivel before I go home from work - which is when I am writing this little puffery.
So it begs the question - what exactly did I do today? There was a lot of wasted time, but it was wasted because I was not motivated. I was not motivated because I was tired (and not quite passionate about what I am doing), so I was slow in finishing what I needed to finish. And the internet is a great distraction. Now, I am listening to Belle & Sebastian for a little angst.
That pretty much sums it up. Oh yeah, and I talked to my team, had a meeting with some Marketing folks, reviewed two documents thoroughly with some revisions, uploaded 6-7 photo albums online, helped an old neighbor try to get a job, wrote this puffery, listed some action items, defined some stakeholders for the project on which I am working, thought about several topics somewhat intensively to develop some concepts, and generally brainstormed.
Perhaps this is the problem - I feel useless because I am being creative, but my creativity is consumed by a work project that will have some interesting results but lack of importance in my mind. Not that my co-workers see it that way, neither my managers who salivate for selling this or that, or having some power or another. I, on the other hand, have little invested in it, which makes it less stressful but less fulfilling at the same time.
So there you go - that is work for you. That is 7:30pm for you. That is fatigue for you. That is Belle & Sebastian for you. That is writer's puffery for you. It is time for me to go home for the day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Waiting for the Subway

So much time is wasted waiting for the subway, and it is never clear how or when the next train will arrive. The anticipation kills the mood for efficiency and pace, so one waits in a cloud of lethargy. Looking both ways for an omen (or a train), the trick is to listen for the pulsing tracks. This is closely followed by the searching flashlight of a glare that winds around the corner (for some reason it seems that every train rounds a corner to center itself at a subway platform), and then the head of the subway rushes out of the darkness.
The train arrives - this is when the excitement begins. There is a sniggling to the closed doors that pause and open; the standers-by approach the doors in wandering rates of emergence from lethargy. A knife line marks discovered terrain for the exiting passengers; they open that incision for a brilliant second before the swarms close the gap. The energy ripples away from the train, old passengers rushing off and driving the hopeful new passengers careening down the stairs towards them, like a magnet to the open doors now freed; the new passengers pound through the door, then on the door by the new passengers now just stragglers and sprinters who miss the open door opportunity.
Not until the cabins are chock full of human freight does train rush off around the corner and down the track to the next stop.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Working Late Ditty

I don't like to work so late,
It's something that I kind of hate
In the office half past eight -
I hope to Petey it's not my fate
That every night I'll have to sate
My other Desires with this crate
Of crap, working - perhaps debate
With others drivel of this...oh, i'll berate
The ones who piled this on my plate!

Blah mail

I never receive any good mail anymore. I realized this after receiving a postcard from a great traveling friend - Le Maroc (or Morocco to non-French speakers). In the structured compartments of images on the postcard's front, there was another world foreign, displaying itself in sandy and flowing robe fascination. The more amazing part was flipping the postcard to find a person's handwriting - so rarely seen in mail received today. Magazines and credit card solicitations are too pinpoint perfect to even have a soul (not to mention that computer-generated, emotionless typeset), but in the penstrokes on the back of a postcard, I see imperfection and excitement. More important, I see care and affection in the extra thought required of a friend who happened to remember me by sending a small placard with collage of mosques and white beaches and turbans. Refreshing - and quite an infrequent pleasure - to receive something more than blah mail.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Running to Marina Green

On a weekend morning, after the sun claims the sky - but before the tourists claim the streets - San Francisco and its bayside playground beckon runners to water's edge. Some do not hear this call over the din of their morning-after headaches, others dare not tempt the hills on foot for fear of falling; a few, though, give chase to big chunks of asphalt and parkland for benefit of their heart and lungs. The benefits are spiritual, too, when the morning light bathes the Golden Gate Bridge in a nostalgic yellow tone (remember, the Golden State?); introspection happens in the moment when the lungs conquer the fear of running and gain a second wind. For me, this moment happens on the Marina Green.
To get to Marina Green, I start at the fringe of Fisherman's Wharf, jogging down Columbus Street to Beach Street. On the corner of Beach and Hyde Streets is the Buena Vista Cafe, famous for its Irish coffee; the Hyde Street cable car line ends opposite the cafe. I pick up pace to whoosh past the Maritime Museum, shaped like a cruise ship at the base of the cove that accepted the first ship sailing into San Francisco (known at that time as Yerba Buena back in the mid-18th century, before the indians and Spanish were marginalized by the stampede of the Gold Rush). If I look behind me - which happens from time to time - I see Alcatraz; it is the only preparation for confronting the hill that separates the wharfs from old Fort Mason.
Up the hill, the road twists and offers a view down over old military storage houses and that golden, Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The postcard view is interrupted by the heavy breathing coaxed by the winding hill, but the hill flattens in a park that allows one to catch a breath - and the first gusts of wind off the bay. Somewhere in the park is a statue shaped like a circus ring announcer, addressing the city back up the hills, but the run falls down afoot to those storage houses by the water and the "Single Safeway" grocery market on the left. Parallel to Bay Street, the path curves to and fro before gushing onto the quarter-mile grassy, Marina Green; at this point, two miles from where the run started, the bay winds gust more fiercely to remind the yachts in the anchorage of the strength of the sea. Along the Marina Green, there are others "footing" and walking, some clustered at the staggered bars to complete their pull-ups on the fitness path that courses all the way to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are some that harness those fierce gusts in large kites that dance hundreds of feet in the air at the lead of their skillful hands. I only circle the Marina Green - now with my own second wind - and return up the hill into the park above.
Through the park, past the nameless statue as circus announcer, and onto Bay Street, the countdown of streets occurs until the plateau falls back down to the sea again - Polk Street, Van Ness, Hyde farther on, where the hill cascades down into Columbus Street. I know I am nearing the finish when Leavenworth Street splits the hill in two, further steepening the descent into the Tower Records shop at the Bay-Columbus Streets intersection.
From there it is a direct route to Lombard Street, where Cafe Sapore tempts with its scones and environmentally approved coffee (grown under tree shade, organic as coffee gets) - another time perhaps, for the espresso is delicious. As I walk up the hill to wind down from the run, the tourists are just starting their march up from the wharfs to find the "windiest street in the world" and to see what all the hullabaloo is about. They will point and take pictures as I branch away and up the stairs into my flat, sitting on the couch to catch my breath, remembering the Marina Green and the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning sunlight.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Sunny Day Bay

There is a certain energy that winds through the office near happy hour on Friday late afternoon, like the feeling of the last few minutes of school before summer break. The work is done for the week, the bags start to pack with computers and pens and notebooks, and people start to smile again. Sometimes, there is actual laughter in the office.
Outside, the sun is shining in San Francisco today. The bay sparkles something special, if one can avoid the snarled traffic painting the bridges. For me, this is no worry - I walk home, through the Financial District and down Columbus Street through the middle of North Beach. I know I am close to home when I hear the Powell-Taylor cable car clanking down the hill, last stop headed for Fisherman's Wharf at the base of Bay Street.
Now, it is Friday late afternoon; my bag is packing with its own pens and notebooks (soon, computer too). I am smiling as well. I can feel happiness soon to think of the sun at my back walking past Vesuvio and City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Street (I may stop at Cafe Puccini for a caffe' or maybe venture all the way down to Lombard Street for Cafe Sapore). There is little else quite like a glorious, pleasant, sunny afternoon in San Francisco when the work is done and the bay is sparkling to compliment the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges.

Fito, Fito

A-lle...alle, alle, alle...Fi-toooo, Fi-toooo...A-lle, alle, alle, alle...Fi-toooo, Fi-toooo...
The chant forced itself throughout the 300-strong crowd, gaining momentum as the majority-Argentines surrendered to the passion of a piano-playing rock legend from the homeland. It was a Wednesday, typical New York night, and Fito Pae'z was playing SOB's.
I had not heard of this cultural icon before my evening with a co-worker and her father; her four friends - all Latin Americans - knew, though, as their lips shadowed the Spanish words spitting from Fito's microphone. The crowd, too, transported themselves beyond the streets of Manhattan into the leafy avenues of Buenos Aires, with the magnetic Fito in all-red suit (and bright red lace-ups to boot) pounding away on the keyboards and performing his time-honored repertoire known to all by rote. Even as it was discovered that some of the set was culled from the his newer albums, the front row did not stop their-arm lip sync to the stage, regardless of song.
During the encore, I lost myself somewhere in Argentina too, which is not unlike Italy and its exuberance for song and dance. With everyone grooving and letting their arms rise to the beat, I remembered nothing but a smile. Happiness is simple as the chants of a Latin crowd.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

One Day, One Journey

Today is a day like many others; there was some work activity, a time for reflection, desires that ebbed and flowed before finally catching an unlikely, forgotten interest, some rest (but not enough), and general cleanliness. It could have been another day, maybe yesterday; it will probably be tomorrow. From proximity, it seems hardly remarkable, faintly contributory, and grossly routine - and I don't even technically live in New York!
Yet behind the day, there are several days combined that begin to tell a story, with countless small acts that compile a colorful mosaic of experiences; the accretion is the thing, for under the weight of a sack of days (months and years strung together) is a more meaningful story. Lost in the minute contribution of a day is the magnitude of the journey, a more substantial revelation than is found in the action item list and email box of a day-to-day office job.
Can every day be its own journey? Perhaps if one has the proper attitude to assemble a day's perfunctories into its own glory, then yes. I find this hopeless, though, because it is the day, with all its monotonous routine, that slowly accumulates the necessary living space to account for a fruitful journey. It is in the daily act of living that our existence is confirmed, the daily paper shuffling, keystrokes, subway rides, ticking clocks, mobile phone rings, computer hums, air conditioning whirs, hallway chatter. It is crossing Madison Sqaure Park and its center fountain after work, walking past Times Square throngs for the hotel, and running in Central Park. It is the people all about us, intersecting with our own daily routines that is vibrant. It only takes one monotonous day on top of another to sway the journey.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Tropical Heat

Again, the heat blankets New York City, just like weeks past as the summer finds its traditional mid-point after the early-July national holiday. This is the summertime for which everyone waited long months piled under snow, blasted with rain, winter never losing its grip even through April and May. Suddenly, it is summer's apex, and all the memories of whiteworn avenues have dissipated into the sweaty haze of an underground subway stop; I am dreading my march into the depths of the city for the train uptown.
This heat provokes reflection on Louis Celine's book, "Journey to the End of the Night", whose protagonist (himself as the author) forgoes return to WWI (he was on medical leave from the front) for a one-way ticket to French West Africa. Sent to one of the interior outposts, he lives a few months as a sloppy, malaria-ridden public administrator in the middle of Africa. His description of the oppressive heat, bugs, sickness from exhaustion and bad water (if there was any at all), and interaction with the natives (always pounding tom-toms after dark and screaming mad sex) somehow conjures sympathetic reaction when languishing through the park. NYC will not be confused for Africa, but in these hazy days the feelings of tropical lethargy are palpable from those passing in the streets.
Our minds only need subtle trigger to remember other sights, events, places; we live in our recollections anyway, as senses overwhelm the realities that truly surround us. In this way as I reflect on current readings, NYC has become engulfed by tropical heat.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Monday Morning

The fatigue that lowers Monday morning becomes especially acute while waiting for an airplane at the city terminal. In the departure area, with others sitting by, chatting idly, sipping coffee (mostly Starbucks), anticipation cannot shake the drooped eyelids and weariness that binds arms and legs in chains within a Houdini box. Slowly submerging into this closed box, chains all around, tiredness drags the body down by placing assured pressure on the temples and forehead. There is little chance for escape except for taking more sleep; unfortunately, the long march through day is deterrent to such pause for respite.
The only hope is for the wait to pass more quickly, anticipation giving way to work activity, distraction from the fatigue and heavy eyelids. Distraction loses for a moment the Houdini box that still binds one in fitful turns, until one can allow submission to the bedchamber for pitiful rest. After full night’s sleep, plane far behind, Tuesday becomes a better day, and the body performs the trick of shedding the locked chains of the Houdini box.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Reading Writers

A ripe bunch of dreamers, writers are. My aunt gave me a collection of essays written by contemporary writers (Joyce Carol Oates, Saul Bellow, Alice Walker, etc.) from the New York Times, essays from the series, "Writers on Writing." The "big contemporaries" write about inspiration, dialogue, fictional forms, "the craft", motivation, phrasing, teaching english, loving literature - anything and everything about writing. Being brave, excellent writers, they traipse through random thoughts with extreme clarity and use functional words when big ones might do better. They take minutiae and exalt its detail, then swing through "big-ticket items" of purpose in a sentence and leave the lessons in the barrel of details. They do this in a matter of 3-5 pages, whose genesis is either hand- or type-written (not so many computer users among the big contemporaries). They do this sporadically when the mania of storytelling takes its deathly grip and does not let go until it is released and barren, exposed on the page.
I find the exercise they describe invigorating and frustrating, but I wonder how their struggles and resulting output are universal as they tempt the imagination. Their sensations apply to all artists alike - some just happen to inhabit the imagined world more frequently and intensely than others. But the struggle is the thing, and amidst its tension emerges the certain story, a coercion of the imagination with enough motivation to wrestle it from the shadows of the psyche. Cruel, though, that once imagination is captured, it becomes a degree of ridicule and misunderstanding, since the exposed imagination of one (remember the sacrifice for its clarity?) is the intrusion on concealed imagination of another (whose formation is only confined to the mind and much less threatening).
Perhaps, it is each writer's imagination articulated that unlocks the commonality of our collective imagination; they are merely the messengers that carry it forward amongst us. Dreams are all different, but they share the same value - as childish and beautiful as catching butterflies. Some, like the big contemporaries, just know better how to swing the nets.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Reflecting on the "Pursuit of Happiness"

Living in the United States, 4 July represents the birthday of America and associates patriotic feeling with notions of liberty, freedom, and the like; the catchphrase from the Constitution - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - sums the essence of American values. Peculiar, though, the happiness thing - America is the only country that explicitly states this pursuit in its constitution. Why is happiness an inherent right? What sort of happiness is protected? How can happiness be protected when one person's conception of happiness almost always overlaps and conflicts with many other people's conception of happiness?
Inevitably, Americans must be unhappy so that happiness can be pursued (pursuing happiness means desiring happiness, which suggests that happiness is something that has not yet been attained); ultimately, it is our own personal happiness that really matters, damn the rest. So we are protected by our American values to be ourselves at whatever cost and to blame others for keeping us from this constitutional dream. It would seem that the US has evolved more into itself than any of its citizens would care to realize.
I will not argue it, only resign myself to the devilish conclusion that results from pondering the constitution on America's birthday. And I will apathetically pursue my own happiness at some fireworks celebration later this evening, with a cocktail in my hand and a pretty girl at my side. American dream...

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Summer Afternoon

It's lucky that work offers a bit of a pause to walk around the block - NYC is great on a calm summer afternoon, mid-80's (high 20's celsius), sun, and sundresses, short-sleeve shirts, and sandals. Union Square after lunch was a bazaar of people (when does NYC stop being its bazaar of people, really?), others with the same idea to enjoy some basking before the thunderstorms rejoin the skyline at the end of the week. When you look up to the sky and see the Empire State Building gleaming sun rays like a Jazz Age dream (never mind that the tallest building in the city was built in the middle of the Depression), what else do you need except a summer afternoon siesta?