Thursday, August 28, 2003

Night Running in Central Park

9:55pm at night, Central Park is still, languid even from the deflated heat of a summer day gone to darkness. I will remember always these solitary runs as moments of urban tranquility, almost alone in a city of millions with nothing but nature and trees to surround me. Up the hill towards 72nd Street east exit is always a line of horse carriages that tread an easy loop back around to the Plaza Hotel at 59th Street; the horses are reminder that the city is much cleaner and better scented (arguable?) than past century's New York, but I'm quite certain that the spirit of the city is the same.
This night on my run, Bebel Gilberto's silken Portuguese soothed through my headphones. The mood was smoky, and I could only close my eyes in succumbing to the feathery sense of V******'s lips to mine. I must admit distraction tonight among the trees - and not because Mars is closest to us this night as in 60,000 years (on the southeast horizon, an event I will miss while asleep in my bed). No, the park drifted into the "nostalgie" of Bebel's plaintive cooing, and I was no longer jogging, rather chasing the electric memory of beautiful V****** standing coyly at her apartment building's front stoop. Funny, I remember now talking with her of fat cats (literally, her cat was 20 pounds) and then those lips and smooth cheeks that I framed with my hands, kissing her for a moment to slip into a dream. So late, both times darkness, somehow Bebel's music flowed the nights together into one sensuous dance through the park, around Sheep's Meadow and past the lake with Calvert Vaux's fountain at its base of steps down to water's edge; the street lamps gilded my memory of the overlapping nights, bathing my reflections in soft shadows and leafy remains.
Remiss to let the moment end, I closed my eyes as I finished the bottom loop (once was enough this evening after earlier dinner burdened me with cramps and fatigue) to see beyond my memories for some residue of the enchanted moments. The images were all there, resident now with other memories from Paris, Milan, and San Francisco; my mind was alive with fresh memories and the celebration of moments worth relishing. Smiling softly, I slipped into the trees and out of Central Park back into the glorious city.

Free thoughts on an Uptown train

Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to write. Nothing, thought spent on fatigue, work, distractions, and maybe random thoughts not worth quoting. The urgency to write is not there, clarity lost amidst the shuffle of the "daily grind." We are all slaves to something.
So tonight, I am forcing urgency. I have allowed myself 5 stops on the R train uptown (before my stop) to capture thoughts of the day. And this is my only thought - at least for writing. There are thoughts of sleepiness, V***** and her sweet lips, work that overhangs constantly and underwhelms my senses, and this lifeless response to the GMAT. I guess these thoughts bundle into something - throw in also, by the way, Jen's wedding in SF (invited by S**** at the end of the month) and E****'s birthday tomorrow night down in Chinatown - but I'm not finding it. Besides, my last thought is my last stop and a Central Park run.

Sitting on an uptown train, 25 Aug '03

Recollections of the NYC blackout

What a charged moment. Writing in the dark, high above Times Square, I only see the silhouettes of a light charade that is usually the HSBC sign, Nasdaq swirling ticker, and the US Army Recruiting Center. Now, it is all black, at the mercy of the sun which skirted off to the west to leave this proud city in an anticipated state of lascivious fun. I can only see bandit cars throwing light shadows from their headlights gliding slowly down Broadway into the shouting maelstrom. It seems that there are several police cars patrolling the same streets - they flash by every fourth car - but it is the uncertainty of a New York night without artificial lights that scares (perhaps excites?) me most.
Because above all else, New York is a city manufactured with the lights of a million dreams of human ambition writ large as the usually-sparkling Times Square promenades. But once the lights black out, there is raw human energy left, a different sort of human desire that finds its expression in more base forms. It is the soul of humans beneath the facade, beneath the glamour and veneer of well-lit placards. Tonight, New York has become that side of human motive manifested.
Even still, the passing cars and the trickling stream of headlights ennobles the city with a certain frankness and nostalgia that is charming. Suffocated by a lack of air conditioning but also stripped merrily of cellphone coverage and robot chatter, New Yorkers reverted to a simpler form of interaction in the streets. Just as the last major event in 2001, New Yorkers were bound together in a difficult if unique moment that inadvertently brought everyone together.
This time, the result was like spinng clocks back 100 years ago, when electricity was a novelty still and telegraphs were a thing of the industrialists and super-rich. We were all walking the streets in scatter-brained unison, talking to our neighbors and sharing the bustle of a certain experience on a less-than-ordinary day. In that moment, I rejoiced to share a genuine moment with 8 million strangers self-chosen to live a life of hopeful ambition on an island of palpable opportunity. Simple moment, simple living.
For all the optimism, fear, and anxiousness that this unbelievable night suggests, it is truly and certainly a New York moment.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Journey to the end of the night...and then what?

Louis Ferdinand Celine is considered one of the classic writers of the early part of the 20th century - at least outside of the United States. A noted influence for writers from Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, and William Burroughs to Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, and Joseph Heller, Celine captured his rambling, dark recollections of life serving in World War I, searching provincial opportunity in West Africa, bridling ambition in New York and jazz-age, auto-crazed Detroit, and finally aspiring to medicine on the outskirts of Paris in the classic, "Journey to the End of the Night". This novel is his whopping story, cloaked in black humor and obscured idealism - one might not sense his anticipation for life under the sardonic disregard for common morals and values.
Celine writes about these exaggerated experiences while trying to fiddle with the riddle of living. What do people really want? Why do we subject ourselves to the passive pretensions that subvert our true desires? Who do people think they really are and who do they think they are fooling? He was "enlightened" by the Great War, bludgeoned by African malaise and disease, discarded by American capitalism, and blased by post-war Parisian peculiarities; mindful of his social state - self-inflicted poverty - Celine dishevels his surroundings in a sundry of perversities, nihilistic and womanizing.
Still, Celine admirably questions our head-long dive into pathos, our inevitable maturation (ironic, he would label it) and its unintended consequences, and ultimately our disregard and acceptance of the plights we face. We are self-interested and distracted, in some ways imprisoned by the contents of our minds. We pretend to care, but we don't, and then it is finished, as the character Robinson lethargically faces with his love, Madelon.
I found the disregard enlightening for the freedom of thought it reveals. Yet Celine has difficulty understanding the ultimate result of this self-possessing trap. When we get to the end of the night and find the hope vanished, why do we care to continue? And who would care anyway if we decided to proceed with our petty, little lives? Most do - which Celine and his embodied character, Bardamu, do too - and therein lies the discrepancy. When we reach the end of the night, all warts and pettiness accepted, what happens next? Perhaps there is hope yet.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Moments past youth

I was talking with a friend over lunchtime today, about the ways that people understand each other. When we are younger, we think so big for people and make them more than they are in hopes of a grander world; when we are older, we see people as less than they could be based on our experience of the world as it happens to be. In between, we evolve and become disappointed; eventually, we lose surprises.
Challenging as our moments passing might be, perhaps we should relish our understanding more fully - after all, we are just as fallible as the next person and our experiences ultimately result in hard-won wisdom. We also possess the ability to adapt and change in whatever direction that we care to change. We may have little control over the ultimate result, but we do have a choice nonetheless. In this condition of change and maturation, moments past youth offer a fascinating perspective into people and places that we better appreciate as time passes. The same sort of person we meet years later takes on a different hue because our experiences in between paint a different picture than before.
Youth, although supple and carefree, can also be ignorant and careless. We should thank the experiences for bringing us closer to appreciation and understanding.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Culture flow

I caught a moment at work to pause and flip through some of my pictures on various websites, travels from the past few years in America, Europe, and Australia. There was a picture in particular that caught my attention from the streets of Berlin of a monumental granite portico that tended stolidly to the sidewalk (http://community.webshots.com/photo/11019681/11020623pTUCnTcPOc). The portico had a stern, chiseled countenance of Karl Marx at its apex, heralding a legion of the faithful into the foreground from points of obscurity; one had a flowing flag, others had bayonets, and all were men. As they reached the foreground, they showed themselves triumphant and guided, yet obilivious to the suppressed at the bottom of the portico.
The suppressed at the very bottom were three characters strongly sculpted but hardly clothed: the first a kneeling, compressed woman holding a baby with large, skeletal hands; the second a mid-squat, muscle-bound man reaching skyward to the throng in a crucifix position; the third another rippling man on both knees with outstretched right arm skyward, as if hoping that the marching throng directly above would reach out and carry him into prosperity and oblivion. The words at the very top, next to Marx's image were the following: "Es Lebe Die Soziale Revolution, Es Lebe Der Frieden Der Vulker" [It lives the social revolution, it lives the peace of the people].
Besides the momentary lapse to remember nice trips, I reflected on the passing cultures that have advanced across civilizations in various modes. Such an impressive image reminded me of the vibrancy and passion of a political movement that still has strong proponents in most countries, even if few governments maintain an overall system tied directly to socialism. In the parade of sculpted men was the embodiment of the obscure faces of thousands of peoples from hundreds of years, passing phantasms through history. Now, such people have their events recorded in textbooks, oral histories, literature, landmarks, and other human marking points, but many more are still faceless and forgotten, obscure as a random portico tending a side-street in Berlin.
Forgotten as a via promenade in Giovinazzo in Puglia; stones pounded smooth by 2,000 years of pilgrimage from southeast Italy to Rome, a city finding prominence in the 11th century before the Crusades claimed all its men and left its influence in almost 1,000 years of waiting. Many of those men never returned to their proud city and left it as remnant to further obscure faces, more landmarks and history.
Even still, the residue of these events and stories remains in the various forms that salvage the memories. Our collective memory forgets most things, however well we think we capture them. It is our heritage to leave nothing of this experience but what we now can gleam from our days of expression and living. How fresh and exciting it can be, and yet how unoriginal. It is not for us to change the world - it will change with our assistance as it will change beyond our trivial control - but for us to seep into the culture flow.

Monday, August 04, 2003

City storms...

...that keep following me across the country. From Chicago to New York City, the same storm chased me east - I felt like Charlie Brown today, with that storm cloud hovering right above my head as it did yesterday afternoon the same.
The booming was even more spectacular today - my perch was even higher from 18 floors above Madison Square Park. And in the moment again, I could see neither buildings nor sky - torrential rain conquered everyone with its horde of grey. The deafening thunderbolts streaked across the sky, navigating quickly around the buildings like taxis screaming down Broadway. In the moment, I was mesmerized like a child.
Unfortunately, the calm returned, and I was back to work for hours and hours and hours. The gray has remained hovering above the skyline near Gramercy Park, but the sky appears coyly to tempt it to memory. As always, there is hope yonder that the faint white wisps of clouds will grab the remnants of the day, and with help of the sun, paint the sky with the colors of sunset. I will watch for a moment before I work onward into the night.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Prairie Thunderstorms...

...washing away the expanse with fat drops, thin drops, breaking up the clouds while the lightning cracks apart the gray. Rumble, rumble, scattered amidst the lightning strikes, helps one to forget briefly that the rain is sometimes torrential. From the perch of a third-story apartment window in Lincoln Park, looking out above the many-colored bricks of Chicago, the violence is peaceful, almost meditative. Because the rain always prevails, there is a sense of hope that the lightning bolts will cease their terror, that the sky will fight its way back to azure wonder, and that the sun will shine again. The hope signals brilliant colors sometimes, especially at dusk, when the various clouds grab the reds and pinks and oranges and blow them up in velvety contours across the sky.
For the uninitiated, prairie thunderstorms are common during the summer months of the American heartland; even with their haphazard nature, thunderstorms are quite regular and soothing from afar. For a moment, when the thunder subsides, the quietude of the raindrops becomes the bridge to the contemplation of a thousand languid summer days, days of the heart's free roaming amongst the joys of life. Sometimes it takes violence to disturb the psyche into understanding and revelry of hope.

Friday, August 01, 2003

People and Satellites

Rotating in space, lonely as the clouds roaming the blue skies above, a satellite streaks the ether. Living without a soul is easy to do in this condition of statelessness, circling as ebbs and flows of the generations pass below. People, unlike satellites, are all fallible and inconsequential in the end – not so cold and continuous as a satellite streaking the skies, but also not so dispassionate to the degree of those well-fastened metal buoys emitting frequencies above the earth.
People are also imperfect and involved, something that a fabricated orbiter never takes as accusation in its looping spins high above the bloody plains of Africa and commercial frontiers of Asia. They can follow wandering, biting people if they choose but only through trigger of others on the ground in the melee. Well above the frayed ends of the earth, satellites circle and follow the sun at all times.
The constancy is alarmingly simple high above the blue splotches of sea; the large areas of green act as the battlefields for all kinds of wandering souls. People are the same again, and from the skies it is impossible for satellites to size up any of them, like ants building mounds up from the dirt of the world. The constancy seems just as simple down below the great expanse of the stars.
-sitting on a plane from Boston to Chicago, listening to Radiohead, and reading the USA Today