Sunday Morning

Upon arriving in the huge, landlocked country of Mongolia—more than seven times larger than Great Britain—you may be taken aback by the runaway developments in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Ever since some of the world’s largest gold and copper deposits were discovered, some within 70 miles of the city, Mongolia’s economy has taken off like a rocket…But then you hear that more than half of the 1.4 million people in the capital still live in settlements dominated by gers (a traditional style of yurt, like a domed felt tent), sometimes in shockingly simple conditions…

As soon as I ventured out of the city and began bumping across the level, otherworldly steppes of Mongolia, in fact, I realized that nothing I’d seen in 40 years of traveling across Asia could compare with its great, heart-clearing stillness. Within 30 minutes of the hyper-malls, herders will welcome you into their gers to share a feast of marmots, roasted sheep and freshly boiled goats’ heads, much as they might have done in the time of Genghis Khan, the warrior who masterminded the Mongol Empire in the 13th century. If the horsemen who rode all the way to Europe to extend that empire were to return to their ancestral spaces next week, they’d feel right at home.

Part of the special beauty of rural Mongolia is that it redefines everything you thought you knew. A road, I realized as soon as I was jouncing past Bronze Age burial mounds, is a red-dirt scratch across the void; a sight is a jeep the size of an ant, inching across the horizon. A town in the steppes could pass for a subway station almost anywhere else; once, after hours of nothingness, I stopped at a ger camp to find that it also served as a meditation space, a car-repair shop and a leather-tanning workshop. No wonder. Gazing out miles and miles in every direction, I could catch nothing but emptiness—vast enough for the mind to go anywhere (or nowhere at all)—and the sound of the wind, whipping in my ears…

Mongolia haunts a visitor as few other destinations can. After I’d returned home, the power of stepping out of my luxury ger in the Gobi to be met by a 74 million–year-old volcanic outcropping, the eeriness of knowing that dinosaur bones were all around, had gotten inside of me, like a shared dream I couldn’t shake.

In a world flooded with distractions, Mongolia returns one to something ancestral. The clock has little meaning here. Days turn into an ageless cycle of random moments, scanning of the heavens, simple meals, long journeys. Often I didn’t know whether I was traveling into the past or the future. I could simply tell that this was a place that everybody would recognize, if only because it’s somewhere lost inside most of us, lodged like the people we once were and might one day again become.

~ Pico Iyer, excerpts from The Heart-Clearing Stillness of the Mongolian Countryside (, February 27, 2018)


  • Inspired by Maggie O’Farrell in “I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death“: “When Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was read to me and Alice sighs, “Oh, how I long to run away from normal days! I want to run wild with my imagination,” I remember rising up from my pillow and thinking, yes, yes, that’s it exactly. The school trip showed me that it was possible to ease this longing, to sate it. All I had to do was travel. After he had sailed around the Mediterranean in 1869, Mark Twain said that travel was “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Neuroscientists have been trying for years to pin down what it is about travel that alters us, how it effects mental change. Neural pathways become ingrained, automatic, if they operate only by habit. They are highly attuned to alterations, to novelty. New sights, sounds, languages, tastes, smells stimulate different synapses in the brain, different message routes, different webs of connection, increasing our neuroplasticity…I sensed this, at an instinctive level, at age seventeen. That unassailable flood of novelty, the stimulus of uncharted territory, the overload of the unfamiliar, with all synapses firing, connecting, signalling, burning new pathways. I have never forgotten that bus ride from the airport into the centre of Rome, my first sighting of the city. And I have never lost the thrill of travel. I still crave the mental and physical jolt of being somewhere new, of descending aeroplane steps into a different climate, different faces, different languages. It’s the only thing, besides writing, that can meet and relieve my ever-simmering, ever-present restlessness. If I have been too long at home, stuck in the routine of school-runs, packed lunches, swimming lessons, laundry, tidying, I begin to pace the house in the evenings. I might start to cook something complicated very late at night. I might rearrange my collections of Scandinavian glass. I will scan the bookshelves, sighing, searching for something I haven’t yet read. I will start sorting through my clothes, deciding on impulse to take armfuls to the charity shop. I am desperate for change, endlessly seeking novelty, wherever I can find it. My husband might return from an evening out to discover that I have moved all the furniture in the living room. I am not, at times like this, easy to live with. He will raise his eyebrows as I single-handedly shove the sofa towards the opposite wall, just to see how it might look. “Maybe,” he will say, as he unlaces his shoes, “we should book a holiday.”
  • Photo: Frederic LaGrange – “Still Waters.” A full moon rises over a pond near Buir Lake in eastern Mongolia, near the Chinese border.

Flying South Southwest to DFW. Non-Stop. (Not Really)


7:39 a.m. I have an hour to kill waiting to re-board and I’m searching for a photo for this post. I find it on a site titled “Under Heaven.” Isn’t that a coincidence. The photo is a near replica of the skyline that I see from the waiting area at Philadelphia International Airport. A patch of bluest of blues. An orange strip lining the horizon. Sun beaming in through the floor to ceiling windows. A Monday Morning Wake-Up Call. I live. I live. I live. I live.

7:15 a.m. The flight attendant states the estimate for the aircraft repair is one hour. We are asked to take our luggage and deplane. Because 1 hour is an estimate and you know how these things go. But, no one, and I mean no one is complaining.

7:00 a.m. It’s silent in the cabin. I mean Silent. It’s a long approach to the runway. Back wheels bump bump on the tarmac. Front wheel taps to follow. Reverse thrusters slow this 183,000 pound Airbus A321 bird. Whatever thrusters are, I’m grateful. The passengers begin to whisper and the plane taxis to the gate. I’m grateful for Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell. Rocky. Steak & Cheese Sandwiches. The Eagles. All of it. 

6:44 a.m.  The Captain comes on the intercom. “I have control of this aircraft.” And he stops. WTH does that mean? As opposed to being not in control? Noted that he didn’t say: “this is a routine maintenance issue.” I steady my hands, both trembling. No! No! No! No! I’m not ready to leave yet. I’m not looking for a room at the top of the world tonight. Four Seasons. Westin. Marriott. Red Roof Inn, anything. But not there. Not now. Not yet. [Read more…]

Riding Metro-North. With Holy Cow.

Morning. Today. 5:01 a.m. First train to Grand Central.

Dark Sky reports 33° F, feels like 25°.  Feels like: Not Spring. March 5th.  Spring backward. Falling and stumbling forward.

I wedge myself into a two seater, nudging the occupant awake. (Same occupant who was sprawled across two seats).  He’s annoyed. I’m annoyed that he’s annoyed. I’m way more annoyed. 

I glance up at the few unfortunates standing in the vestibule. Now they should be annoyed.

But for the low throb of the annoyances, and the giant overhead heaters blowing through the vents, the train car is silent. No talking. No whispering. No paper shuffling. Nada. Silence.

It’s as if Jack Kornfield blew the whistle and yelled Go: “It was the silence, stopping and taking a breath, opening the heart, seeing that the whole planet, and everything on it, is holy.”

And at that moment, the lead-weighted shoulders are freed.

The soles of the feet, through the leather soles of my lace-ups, feel the vibration of the steel of wheels on the steel of the tracks, bumping along with the rhythmic skip of steel on steel at the ties.

The seat under me is soft and shifts with each rail tie.  The train car rocks, my body sways ever so slightly left and right and then back again. My knees gently knock on the seat in front, first right knee then left.

Feet, knees, palms, seat — sensations are elevated.

I close my eyes. Drift off, and float along on Kornfield’s holy train.

His holy car. Holy Cow.

I awaken to the conductor’s announcement: “This station is Grand Central. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”

Meditation? Nah.

Mediation is not for real men.


Riding Metro-North. Delayed, but it could (always) be worse.

Wednesday morning. 5:46 a.m. I step out, lock the door and step it to the station.

8 minutes to the 5:54 am train to Grand Central. A six minute walk. Tight.

I’m a few hundred feet away and the overhead speaker signals a five to ten minute delay. Naturally.

  • 6:00 a.m. No sign of the train.
  • 6:10 a.m. I set my bag down. No sign of train. Other commuters stir impatiently.
  • 6:15 a.m. No sign of train.  A second wave of commuters stack up on the platform waiting for the 6:16 am. train.
  • 6:25 a.m. No train.  Announcement over the speaker announces further delays due to “police activity.” I check Twitter for a Metro-North update. 10-15 minute delays, my a**.  I keep on reading…and the edge comes off. Slip and fall? Jumper? Heart attack?

[Read more…]

Flying Over I-95 N. In Magic Kingdom.

Is that Magic Kingdom? Disney? Yes. Were you there? No. But Yes, in gusts of memories as I sat in a large ballroom at the J.W. Marriott in Orlando, listening to a speaker discuss “Cybersecurity in the Modern World.” Fastpasses. Teacup. Turkey legs. Splash Mountain. The monorail train ride to the park, Eric’s favorite part of the trip. The body aches, as I carry him on my shoulders along the parade route so he can see over the crowds. It’s a Small World (afterall).

It’s the late afternoon flight departing from Orlando — the 5:41 p.m. on jetBlue #1694.  “We will be boarding in a few minutes. This is a full flight. We are oversold and looking for volunteers to take the next flight.”  A morning flight was canceled “due to inclement weather in New York.” Why ‘inclement?’ Why not ‘bad’? Or ‘stormy.’ Or ‘wintry.’

A large crowd mills around the gate, impatient. “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the other by the time I finish this song.”

Mom’s, exhausted, shoulders slumped, have large bags slung over their shoulders. They watch their children run around the waiting area, others are consumed on their handhelds. Dad’s sit and watch loops of CNN on the overhead TVs.  Moms, Dads, kids, holiday, Disney and then me — the Suit, work.

We board.

We lift off. [Read more…]

Driving I-95 N. With Raheim.

AA2263. DFW to LGA. Early Friday afternoon, start of a long weekend, Board flashes: “Delayed“.

It’s been a long week.

Sorry about the delay folks but we were late arriving in Dallas and we had a minor repair that we had to take care of. We’ll see if we can make up time.”

He’s makes up time.

The giant steel bird, a Boeing 737-800, does a slow gentle turn over Manhattan, the Empire State Building is adorned in red and green holiday ribbons, the stage lights of Time Square light up the hulking scrapers, the grid layout frames up the streets and neighborhoods.

The plane tilts its wings softly, leaning in towards the city. Here pal, get a closer look at the Big Apple. Whaddya think, cool right?  I’m a drop of water, a drop in something so vast, so incomprehensible…

The video monitor on the seat signals 10 minutes from destination. Altitude: 8,000 feet

A text messages flashes: “Sir, my name is Raheim. I’ll meet u at Upper Level. Text me.”  I text back: “Haven’t landed yet. Didn’t check luggage. Should be ~30 minutes.” Indicator flashes: “Read.”

Miracle. All of it.

[Read more…]

Riding Metro North. One Car Short.

Thursday morning.
33°F. Feels like 23°F.
Out the door at 4:50 am to catch the 5:01.


Directly across the street: new Neighbors. Young and DINK.  First things first. No curtains up, yet bright, white lights were carefully hand strung and evenly distributed across their bushes. The evergreens throw shadows on the front door. I pause. What was that? That softening, that load lightening ever so slightly. ‘Tis the season.

I board train. No open seats. At 5:01 a.m.?  Conductor announces that the train is one car short and apologizes. $15.25 for a one-way Peak ticket to Grand Central (Yes, Peak at 5:01 am.)  $15.25 and you get the privilege of standing. And standing for 55 minutes. Sigh.

I stand in the aisle, as the vestibule overflows with commuters. I set my bag down between my legs, grab the seat support, being careful not to brush against the passenger sitting in the seat.  I hover over him. He feels it. Nobody likes this.

We’re five minutes into the commute. I’m restless. I’m tired. I’m anxious. I’m not going to make it. [Read more…]

Driving I-95 S. With Kramer.

It was Thursday night, the ride home from the office.  The gauge was reading less than a quarter full, 40 miles remaining in the tank.

It would take no more than 5 minutes. My body gently leans right to encourage the mind to turn onto the exit ramp on I-95. But I’m hungry. I’m tired. I could stop. I should stop. I don’t stop. I’ll get up a few minutes earlier and fill-up in the morning. I see the towering Mobil sign in the rear view mirror. I take another glance at the gas gauge: 39.5 miles  I will regret this.

Yesterday morning, I’m in the shower preparing for work. I’m running the mileage tally in my head. 36 miles in the tank. 15 miles to the office. 15 miles back. No gas stations in the vicinity near work. A 6 mile cushion. Tight.

Oh, I have been here, right here, and oh, so many times. I call up other memorable events:

  • Montana: Slash in red zone. Two-lane highway. No sign of anything. 5:30 a.m.
  • Florida Everglades: Slash approaching red zone. Thunderstorm, rain pounding on hood. Late afternoon.
  • Green Bay. February. Twelve miles from next Service Stop. Wind gusts push drifts onto freeway.
  • Northern Michigan: January. Snowstorm flurries. Slash approaching red zone. 8 pm in darkness.

Each was preventable.

All were avoidable.

All were not.

[Read more…]

Flying Over I-40 N. With Fitbit Step Challenge.

3:45 a.m. Alarm. Whoa. Laying flat on my back in darkness. Where am I? Not in my house. Not in my bed. Not on my pillows. Get a grip.

3:50 a.m. Grab iPhone. Check my position in the Fitbit Work-Week Step Challenge. On top at bedtime, slipping to 6,250 steps behind overnight. Irritating. Damn it.

4:45 a.m. Arrive at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Check in. TSA line. Security check. All uneventful. Check boarding pass: Gate C-14. Boarding, 6:15 a.m.

5:05 a.m. I walk. I step. American Airlines Admirals Club 100 feet ahead…soft seats, coffee, a Continental breakfast and 20 minutes of shut-eye. Stupid Challenge. Getting dragged into this stupid step contest by Rachel (daughter) a month ago, and I just can’t seem to Release. Three millennials and me, the Middle Aged Man who’s forgotten that he’s lost most of it. Release, Dummy. Eject. Three of the most difficult words for an Addict: Just let it go. I pass the Admirals Club, stepping heavily down the concourse, dragging my bloody luggage, wheels turning and with every fifth turn an irritating squeal. Gotta get my steps in.

In Week 1 (Oct 23-27), I fell behind the three young ladies, way behind – a whopping 42,228 steps behind on the final day – @ 2,000 steps per mile, do the Math. At 11:50 pm on Friday night, 10 minutes before the expiry of the last day of Week 1, I took my 42,228th step of the day to become the Week 1 Winner of the Fitbit Workweek Challenge – leaving the Millennials in silence, and me on the couch the entire weekend. But the message was sent, don’t be messing with Goomba, the Step-King.

(As to Week 2 and 3, we’re not talking about that. Let’s move on to Week 4.) [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 N. With Cotton.

  • 2:38 a.m.  Alarm set for 3:30, Body set to go, Now.
  • 2:40 a.m.  Check Sleep App: 4 hr. 30 min. Could be worse.
  • 3:50 a.m.  “Good morning Mr. Kanigan. You’re off early.” No sh*t.
  • 4:00 a.m.  No car. Check calendar. I’m 30 minutes early. Wow. Nicely done.
  • 4:15 a.m.  I Shazam R&B tune coming thru hotel pipes. Leela James. Swept away.
  • 4:50 a.m.  DFW airport doors open. Insomniacs, airport workers and DK stream in.
  • 5:50 a.m.  Walk concourses. (Yes, Plural.) Fitbit Counter: 4,033.
  • 6:05 a.m.  Board AA# 1150 to NY LGA.
  • 6:25 a.m.  “We’ll be cruising at 31,000 ft.  Flight time: 3 hours. Expect a smooth flight.”
  • 6:37 a.m.  Eye lids heavy. Leela on loop crooning thru the earbuds.
  • 6:40 a.m.  Drifting to Bradbury‘s “country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist.”

I’m flicking thru Netflix and spot him. Ray Liotta (Fields of Dreams / Goodfellas) in a 2016 movie titled Sticky Notes.  Papa Bear writes this on a Sticky Note to his daughter:

Whoever feels it deepest wins.”

I look out the window, and here we are…31,000 ft up and floating on fluffy, mountainous sized cotton balls.

Cotton balls. White. Cotton. Balls.

  • New cotton briefs. Stretch fabric. Contoured to snuggle it/them
  • New, cotton socks. Toes wiggle, happy.
  • Soft cotton twill Chinos, hugging the legs and thighs.
  • A velvety cotton, v-neck t-shirt wraps the chest and back.
  • A cotton button down shirt, hundreds of stitches, fitting just so…smooth.

“Whoever feels it deepest wins.”

Feels it deepest.


Notes: Image: Perception is reality, Andrey Kasay

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