Driving I-95 North. Private One-Hour Conversation.

Tuesday.  It’s late. It’s been a long day. I glance at my smart watch, 4,500 steps, well short of 10,000 target. Should have walked across town and taken the train. No you shouldn’t have.  Air is heavy. Feels like mid-August.  My head swims from the second glass of red wine. I walk half way up the block and back, while I wait.  4,935 steps. Well that’s Something.

I’m in back seat of car. Phone rings. Work. The call carries on. Something is off.  Antennae go up. I can feel him. Driver is listening. I’m conscious of my words. I shift to deeper code, quickly end the call, and set the phone in my bag. I sit quietly. Irritated. No privacy anywhere. Rude.

It’s silent in the cabin, air blows cool. Tension seems to rise a few clicks in the silence. You’re just tired. It’s all in your head Pal.

He breaks the silence.

“Sir, what is it that you do?” I’m wary about my response, but I respond, and at 100,000 feet. He’s not getting anything out of me.

“How long have you been doing it?” I respond curtly.

“That’s a long time.”  At this point, I feel I need to take control of the conversation.  “Why do you ask?” [Read more…]

Sunday Morning

Why is it any more ennobling for someone to claim to be a person of faith rather than a person of doubt? I like people of doubt. I like people who question what the hell is going on. St. Thomas is my favorite apostle, even if he was wrong. Galileo smelled a rat, and he was right. It doesn’t matter what you believe; it only matters how you behave. Or as it so succinctly says in Christian scripture, “Faith without works is dead.” Believe what you like, but this is what I believe. God, if there is one, speaks and expresses Herself through a group of people who the great becardiganed philosopher Fred Rogers called “helpers.” […]

Helpers are people who try to make life more bearable for those who are suffering. They are people who try to clean up the mess, are tolerant of the weak-minded, and resist those who would exploit others for their pleasure or profit. […]

So if I have a religion it’s in appreciation of helpers, whoever they happen to be at the time. I’ve tried not believing in God, but that’s just as hard as swallowing all of the liturgical mumbo jumbo. I don’t know who or what composed our universe, but I’m not sure that matters anyway. I suspect that any real spiritual peace lies in simply being a decent human being. Or at least trying to be.

~ Craig Ferguson, from “The Helpers” in Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations (Blue Rider Press; May 7, 2019)


Portrait: AT&T Performance Arts Center

Walking Cross-Town. Just Magnificent.

Tuesday.
10 a.m., I’m heading for a morning meeting in Manhattan.
I exit Grand Central station onto Madison, and head down 47th.

Light mist turns to a sprinkle.
Then drizzle.
Then, Wow! Rain in sheets.

Sidewalks are filled with Suits, morning shift shop workers, and tourists, loitering. Umbrellas spring open, mushroom caps blossoming in a time lapse video.

Walker in middle of sidewalk, sheltered with a giant golf umbrella. He does not shift left or right. His umbrella clips me in the shoulder as I try to pass, tipping his umbrella into mine, rain soaks my pant leg.
Really?

Walkers, giggling, three a breast, each carrying an umbrella. I tuck into a store front to let them pass.
Seriously people?

Walker, approaches me directly ahead. Mid sized umbrella. I walk on right side (This is America!) He refuses to shift lanes to his right. I slide left to avoid him, and dodge oncoming foot traffic – glaring at him as he passes.
Hey Man from UK, Etiquette! Drive on the right side of the road!

Walker, dead ahead, 10 steps. Smartphone and umbrella in his left hand, cigarette in the other. I slide between him and the building on the right, when he lifts his cigarette, the embers catching my coat. I jam my umbrella into his to brush off the ash, and he’s jostled into another walker.  He shouts “Excuse me!” as I pass.  I glance back. Cigarette hanging from his mouth. Light build, short. A Ferret. But who’s judging?

I smile, shake my head, turn my back to Ferret and keep walking, my right hand scanning my coat searching for the burn hole.

I stand at the stop light and wait, lifting my face to the sky. The rain has let up. The Walk sign turns, I step off the curb onto the crosswalk. I don’t see the puddle pooling in front of the street drain. My foot sinks into the cool, filthy, rain water which fills my right shoe.

Damn it@!*$

I limp into the building.  The wet sole of my shoe squeals with each spongy step on the marble floor. The wet sock and foot slide back and forth inside the shoe.

I step into the elevator. Breathe DK. Breathe. Amazing. You’ve managed to work yourself up into a full lather in a 12-minute walk across town. You’re Elmear McBride’s Magnificent:

Magnificent, somehow. To give in. Wreck yourself so completely. The beauty of it.”


Photo: Metro.US

Walking Cross-Town. With Cigarette.

Dawn. Manhattan. 6:10 a.m.

I exit an early morning train.

The Up escalator from the tunnel in Grand Central Station to Madison Ave., is down, again.

Commuters, a wolf pack building at the bottom of stairs, jostle for position before funneling into a single line formation up 70+ stairs.

My Apple Watch silently counts steps, counts heart beats.

I’m looking down, stepping deliberately, not wanting to take a header on the concrete steps. The alternatives (to a header) were awful: clipping the heal of the man in front, or flopping backward into the Pack, both scenarios setting off Dominos. Rubberneckers would pull out iPhones to catch the scene, photos later sold to the NY Post and run in the afternoon edition. “Dummy Triggers Dominos, Sends 20 to hospital. Grand Central exit to Madison closed for the morning as Paramedics clean up the carnage.”

A soft morning light beams ahead, a few more steps. I exit without incident, not without anxiety. What’s the bloody rush?

Winded. [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 N. With Lav #1.

airplane-black-and-white

I just didn’t know. Or perhaps I didn’t care to know. Or maybe it’s just not possible to know. How could you possibly know?

And then there’s a moment or two, when you cross that line, from passively aware or passively engaged to actually feeling. And perhaps you only feel when the suffering is so high, yours or others, that only just then do you begin to give-a-sh*t.

I’m seated in an exit row on an Airbus A3215, 1 seat back and across from the airplane lavatory: ~40” long x 34” wide x 75″ inches tall. Inches.

A Mother walks down the aisle. She grabs the back of one seat, and then the next, and the next, to keep her balance. The plane tips left and right in soft turbulence. She makes her way down the aisle.

There are two hands gripping the tops of her shoulders. She’s slight, maybe 5’2”, and stooped under the weight of the hands. The hands are owned by a strapping 14-year old who towers over her. Mildly handicapped?

She enters the restroom first, her Son doesn’t let go. She lifts one hand off her shoulder and turns to him. She slides her arms under his arms and begins to tug him in. Won’t fit. Not possible. Two full size humans in 40 x 34 x 75.

There’s silence, five minutes or so, which is interrupted by a toilet flush. She exits, pulling him out with her arms under his. She strains to extract him from the box, her face red, filled with rage.

She extracts him and pauses to catch her breath. Her Son claws after her shoulders to grab on as the plane tips. They head back up the aisle. She settles him in.

She comes hurrying back down the aisle.  And into the Lav.

It’s quiet again, now for 5-7 minutes. Then a toilet flush.

She exits. Her right hand dries her eyes, now red and swollen. She catches my glance, offers a forced smile, turns, and heads back to her seat.

You just don’t know. No chance. Not close.


Notes:

What are you going through?

All around me were strangers. I knew no one. And as far as I knew, no one had any idea what I was dealing with….As I turned away and stared at the Pacific Ocean through the little window from my seat on the plane, I was left with a bunch of grief and two big questions. What burdens are all the people on this plane carrying? And how would I treat them differently if I knew?

~ Carl Richards, from “Ask Yourself This: What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?”

 


Post title and post Inspired by: “I remember reading some works of Simone Veil, a French woman who lived in France during the war and she said there’s only one question worth asking anybody and that question is, “What are you going through?” ~Leonard Cohen, From Leonard Cohen interview With Stina Dabrowski (Thank you Make Believe Boutique)

Sunday Morning

A homie named Cruz spent his last dollars taking a Metrolink train sixty miles to Los Angeles from San Bernardino, where he had relocated his lady and newborn to avoid the dangers and desperation of his previous gang life. He had a part-time job but could not get his boss to give him more hours. Now he sits in my office, rattling off a list of the pressures and needs of his family. With no safety net in sight but me, he speaks of no food in the fridge, no lights, landlord looming, no bus fare. When he finishes this breathless account, Cruz stops, shaken and exhausted. He grows teary-eyed and says quietly, “I just keep waiting.”

“For what, son?” I ask.

“For the last to be first.”

~ Gregory BoyleBarking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship


Notes:

Walking Cross-Town. With an unsorted heap.

Hampl is not far from this mind. Hampl was there on my train ride to the city on Thursday and there with me as I walked across Manhattan to the office. And Hampl’s here with me today, early Saturday morning, as I sit in darkness, in silence, but for the tapping of keys, with birdsong easing through the open window bringing in the dawn.

Life is not a story, a settled version. It’s an unsorted heap of images we keep going through, the familiar snaps taken up and regarded, then tossed back until, unbidden, they rise again, images that float to the surface of the mind, rise, fall, drift—and return only to drift away again in shadow. Call them vignettes, these things we finger and drop again into their shoebox.

He shifted his legs as I took the empty seat across from him. Early 30’s. Two to three day beard. He smiled offering me “Good morning.” I’m settling in. How startling it is to be greeted with a ‘good morning’, a smile, a greeting on a morning commute. 

She was on the right side of 50. Anxious. She had to go. I mean really Go. She paced in front of the toilet. It was occupied. She knocked on the door. She knocked again. She stepped back and stood in the vestibule, waiting. She lifted her right foot, and then her left, and quickly repeated the sequence. She then grabbed her mid section and grimaced. She walked back to the toilet and knocked on the door again. [Read more…]

Riding Amtrak 2151-2172: Baltimore.

Five days gone. 4 memories remain. Freeman Dyson’s memory: Unreliable. Selecting. Rearranging. Forgetting. Embroidering. Inventing.

Scene 1: 

My assistant. So grateful to have an assistant. So grateful for her. Two introverts in well plowed furrows. “Are you sure, you want to go there and back same day? 7 hours on train, in 10 hours?” I look up. She knows the answer. There. Back. Exhaustion traded for sleep, sleep in my own bed.  Book it.

I’m waiting on the platform for Amtrak 2151 leaving at 7:54 am to Baltimore. It was for Dickens, and it was for me:  “One of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

Scene 2:

She boarded at Penn Station. Student. Maybe 20. She’s determined, bangin’ away on an old model MacBook Air. Wireless white earpods pumping in music, she’s bobbing her head. The cover of her notepad: Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Biomed? Engineering? Medicine? She snaps the laptop lid shut, turns her head to the window, leans back, closes her eyes and lets the morning sun warm her face. Confident. Ivy leaguer. At peace.

It’s Thursday, three days later, and I’m deep into Irvin Yalom’s Becoming Myself: A Psychiatrist’s Memoir. I wouldn’t be caught dead seeking therapy, but this, ‘this’ memoir is well within bounds.  I’m back on the train, Ms. Johns Hopkins sitting across from me, and me, I’m so Irvin Yalom, so wanting to repeat that trip: [Read more…]

Take the Test


Source: Ed Batista

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