Walking. Old Town Barcelona.

August, 2006.

Barcelona.

Family vacation, using accumulated points for airfare and hotel.

Complimentary breakfasts included chocolate croissants. Buttery flakes melting on tongue, chased by the Sweet, ever-so-smooth, French chocolate.

Our late morning destination was Old Town Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter.

Large blocks of cobblestone line the narrow passages, buildings overhead offering shade, a cool respite from the summer heat bearing down at mid-day.

Cobblers. Cheese shops. A bookstore with Bibles in the window. Small cafes. Shops selling beads, necklaces and over-priced souvenirs, Tourists lingering.

Our pace, My pace, was quick. Rush, to see, to get to, to do. Next. Next. Next.

19 years later, I’m flipping through images on the internet, trying to retrace those steps and replay that one hour of Life in Old Town. I’m frustrated, not finding the right images. Memories fray on the edges and now at the center, old photographs left out in the mid-day sun.

And regrets, always hauling the weight of Regrets, why I had not savored those steps (and let my Family do so), rather than greedily gulping them to get to the Next.

It was yet another Meg Rosoff awakening: “I can tell you that you will awake someday to find that your life has rushed by at a speed at once impossible and cruel. The most intense moments will seem to have occurred only yesterday and nothing will have erased the pain and pleasure, the impossible intensity of love and its dog-leaping happiness…”

I often awaken to this same moment in Barcelona, on quiet Sunday mornings like this one.  I’m walking Old Town. Slowly. I can hear my footsteps. Hear my breath.  Feel the slight autumn breeze on my forearms.  And I’m swamped with a yearning to replay the moment, and regain that intensity of that feeling.

I need to go back.

And do it right this time.


Photo: epepa.eu

Flying AA 5240. With Grace.

It’s a head cold that won’t release.  Thurs, last week, I wake with a scratchy throat, a cough, and a certainty that this, this thing is sliding, and sliding fast. And it does. And it did. And it’s still here.

I take inventory.

Air travel. Hands laid down on arm rests, where hundreds of others set down exactly in the same spot. American’s Clean-up crew, not enough of them, mop up major spills. Most arm rests sit untouched by the cleaning rags, or maybe they are touched, with the same rag passing from one arm rest to the other to the other. Petri dishes, waiting.

Airline club. I brush away crumbs of food on the seat and the arm rest. Coffee cups, soiled napkins, all sit stacked on the side table. One cup, 3/4s full, has a lipstick tattoo, and a fingerprint, a thin film from hand lotion leaving traces of her DNA. I shift in my seat, the freshly painted Quiet room can’t hide its fatigue from the thousands that pass through the day. It groans, Give me your Tired, Your Hungry, Your Rich, all sequestered in this Oasis a few minutes before boarding. Passing our crumbs, paying it forward.

Long term rehab facility. Walking down the hall. Avoiding a stare in each room. Ventilators pumping oxygen. 24×7. Pumping. Pumping. Why is she here? Why is he here? Does she ever get out of bed? How does she not get bed sores?  I turn the corner to my Brother’s room. A roll of the dice and he’s here. Here. Inside. I’m Outside. His roommate. A Veteran. (?) Amputee. It’s Veteran’s Day on Monday. Our eyes connect. Good morning I offer. He never responds. He has no bowel control. The Help pulls the thin curtain. It’s OK Sir. No problem. Just turn a little to the left. The smell of disinfectant fills the room, and burns its tracks.  On the flight home, someone has passed gas, the smell detonates in the cabin, the young lady in the seat next to me buries her head in her sweater and whispers: “Disgusting.” I’m brought back to Rehab. Just turn a little to the left Sir.

It starts in the head, the slow drip of fatigue slides like lava and builds, from sinuses down to the toes.  DayQuil every 4 hours. NyQuil before bed. Bed. Sleep. Work. Bed. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

This morning. I flip open the smartphone. 26° F, feels like 22°.  And it arrives. Why now, I can’t explain.  Anne Lamott’s ‘mystery of Grace.’  Mucous secretions streaming. This air I breathe. This thick comforter, and the warmth that it offers. This miracle of being here, in this moment, in all of its fog.  I’m Grateful. For all of it.

And, I’m not moving, not from here. Not from this spot. Not today. Not until noon.


Photo: (via Endless Summer)

Truth

In “How Steam and Chips Remade the World” (op-ed, Oct. 19), John Steele Gordon remarks that “a man from half a century ago would surely regard the . . . smartphone as magic.” As one of those men, who keeps his phone more off than on, I disagree. Driving cross country as a 19-year-old in a beat-up car with only $50 cash and a gas-station map, without interstates, was a magical experience. Magic today would be a young person doing the same, or finding a parent who would let them.

~ Stephen Borkowski (Pittsburg, Texas). In letters to the Editor. (wsj.com, October 24, 2019)


Photo: Ansel Adams, Desert Road, NV 1960 (via Newthom)

Walking Cross Town. Small gestures with big tailwinds.

Late to bed Tuesday night, following long return flight from Phoenix.

Late jump Wednesday morning.

4th morning train to NYC.

Light misty rain.

And, Terry Tempest Williams continues to lay tracks.

In the end, it’s rarely the large gestures that count, it’s the small ones.

My antenna is up.

On train, a middle aged man gives up his seat for a lady. She’s not young. Not old. Not pregnant. He just does it. And stands for the entire 55 minute ride.

At Grand Central Station, Construction worker, hard hat under his arm, looks behind as he crosses the threshold of the exit, sees me coming, holds door open. I was several yards back. Let’s say 10 yards back. Rare occurrence. It was a conscious act.  Everyone is exhausted with political attacks, the lack of civility. How about some decency today?

And the gestures, small, keep coming.

Flight to Phoenix. Elderly lady sits in aisle seat. Not her seat. “Would you mind taking the window seat.” She gestures asking him to lean closer: “I have a bladder problem.” He slides across and takes the window seat. “No problem.” She exhales.

Susan out for a morning walk in Phoenix. She returns to tell me “the most unbelievable story.” I roll my eyes. Can’t wait to hear this.  She comes across a lady walking “Sunny”, a Golden Doodle.  Lady asks where we’re from. Susan explains. “Here to visit my husband’s younger brother. He’s hospitalized and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.” Lady pauses to assess the receptiveness of her planned gesture.  “I’m sorry to be so forward, but would you mind if I said a Prayer for him and for you.” And then proceeds to reach for Susan’s hands, and Prays.

I walk across Fifth Avenue. It’s 7 a.m. E.S.T. and 4 a.m. in Phoenix.

He’s sleeping now, machine pumps oxygen into his lungs.

I stand waiting for the cross walk sign to turn.

I look up, light drizzle brushes my face, three flags flap over a major hotel entrance.

I inhale deeply, and then exhale, and this Agnostic fires up his own Prayer.

Breathe Bro. Breathe.


Photo: Mine with smartphone. At Times Square yesterday morning, at the end of my cross-town walk. NYC awakening.

 

Driving I-95 South. Baptized without God.

5:33 am. Friday morning.

Google Maps signals 17 minutes to destination. Smooth ride, cruising down I-95 South. Truckers, insomniacs, and DK listening to Audible, his book on tape. More Terry Tempest Williams, her new book, Erosion: Essays of Undoing.  Terry’s way in my head, and beyond, and yes, we’re on a first name basis now. “Our undoing is also our becoming. I have come to believe this is a good thing.”

The Heads-up Display on the windshield flashes alert: Object ahead on highway. It flashes an alert again. I tap the brakes.

A wind gust blows leaves across three lanes. I exhale.  Wonders of technology. Car warns you about objects on highway, or if you veer outside your lane. I’m listening to books on tape, beamed from the cloud. GPS tells me how long to the office. And I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

The car wobbles over uneven pavement. 4000 pounds of car, wearing grooves into the asphalt, with my back and forth 4-5 days a week.

Read somewhere from a survey that 85% of us wished to travel more.  And that one in 10 Americans surveyed say they have no interest in going anywhere.  Welcome readers, to Me, I’m on top of this stack of 10. [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. Seat Selection Psychology.

I’ve noticed.

It’s happened enough times, to notice. Is it only me that notices these things?

Typically off peak trains.

I’m early.

I take the window seat, in a three seater. Always a 3-seater. Always the window seat.

I don’t place my bag on the seat, a Welcome mat for other commuters.

Train car begins to fill.

Ladies. Men. All colors, sizes.

They take a quick glance.

And they pass.

They’ll crowd into a two seater across, in front, behind. Or a three seater in front, behind.

The car reaches capacity,  and he (or she) will approach,

look up and down the car,

and take the seat.

But why?


All of the seats already had an occupant, which meant I was going to have to position myself next to a stranger. In a different mood, I enjoyed this game: one had ten seconds to scan the occupants and select the slimmest, sanest, cleanest-looking person to sit next to. Choose wrongly, and the fifteen-minute journey into town would be a much less pleasant experience—either squashed beside a sprawling fatty, or mouth-breathing to minimize the penetration of the reek emanating from an unwashed body. Such was the excitement of traveling on public transport…I stared at the floor, my mind racing. Did I … did I look like the kind of person who ought to be avoided in a game of bus seat selection? I could only conclude, in the face of the evidence, that I did. But why?

~ Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.


Photo credit

Riding Metro North. Stones, truths and time.

Sunday afternoon

I’m sitting on couch, wrapped in a soft hand-knit throw, reading Rachel Cusk’s new book “Coventry“: “I wanted only to be allowed to stay where I was; all weekend, the feeling of Sunday evening’s approach was as cruel and meticulous as the ticking of a time bomb.”

Weekend dripping away.  Work enters consciousness. Calendar. Meetings. The unfinished business.

Monday morning.

8 a.m. Dentist appointment. X-rays. Open wide. The pinch of hard plastic on the soft tissue inside of mouth. The squeeze of metal on molars.  The heavy cloak of the x-ray protective vest weighing on chest. All triggers the gag reflex. Then, cleaning. 48 minutes later, I’m released. I get up. Vertigo. Can’t find my footing. Woozy.

Cusk: “It is the body of a nearly forty-nine-year-old, but it doesn’t feel that way. I have never felt myself to be ageing: on the contrary, I have always had the strange sensation as time passes that I am getting not older but younger…This is not, of course, a physical reality.

I pay, exit, find my car and enter I-95 traffic in right lane. And stay in right lane, following traffic. Semi trailer to my left, an arm’s length away.  Decal below his rearview mirror trimmed in silver: “In memoriam of Armando.” Son? I stare at the lettering a-r-m-a-n-d-o, it slides closer to me. I return attention to the road in front. Damn it, it’s me! I turn the wheel right to veer back into my lane.  Cob webs heavy. Tailings of vertigo from Dentist chair. Fading sleep medication. So that’s what it’s come to. Old man in right lane, following traffic. Since when have you followed traffic, in the right lane, followed anything, or anybody? [Read more…]

Driving I-95 S & N. Money For Nothing.

Hasn’t happened. Ever.
50+ years.
Not a single time.

I’m stuck on I-95 S. Frustrated. I was up early, planned to be ahead of the morning rush, way ahead, and now, here I sit. Nasty traffic, snarled. Waze signals delays, and more delays.

Need a mind set shift. I type Dire Straits in search box. Because dire it is. That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it / Money for nothin,’ and chicks for free.

Nothing for Free. Stupidity is expensive.

Traffic is at a dead stop. I grab my briefcase from the backseat and rummage through it again. Nothing. What makes you think it will be there. You went through it twice at home. And your Suit jacket from yesterday and the day before. And your pant pockets, from three days. And the hamper. And the floor in the closet. And your other bag. And the kitchen counter. And the car. The trunk. The glove box. Under all seats, and between seats. And the side pockets. A sweat droplet glides down your back, your forehead glistens.  55° F and you’ve just about had it for the day. 

I inch forward in traffic.

I call the office: “Could you please check under my desk? In my drawers? Call lost and found? Call the restaurant hosting the work dinner Tuesday Night?”

I call home: “Could you check my Suit pockets again please? My desk drawer? My other bag? Under the cushions on the couch? The drawer in the night stand? The floor under the nightstand?”

I’m sure with two different sets of eyes, they will find it. I’m sure.

I sit in the cabin, in traffic, in silence, and wait. Nick Flynn: “We are made of waiting –…”

Traffic inches forward.  WTH. Is everyone in the State of Connecticut parked on I-95?

Both calls come back. Nothing.

I’m sitting in my first morning meeting. Mind is gone, Away. Replaying the last 2 days, hour by hour. Or was it three days ago? Forgetting many things of late. A harbinger of things to come?

Rattled. [Read more…]

Flying AA1330 on A321S. Need Another Day.

First flight out of Dallas. 6:36 a.m. on-time departure.

Foot traffic unusually light at DFW, as are the lines at Security and at the Gate.

Ah yes, September 11. And, the morning of September 11th.

Pilot gets on the intercom, and announces that we’re flying on an Airbus A321S. 168,000 pounds, 450 mph at cruising altitude.

Plane unusually quiet. More seats empty than usual for this flight.

Pilot dims the lights in the cabin.

Cabin is silent as the plane taxis up to the runway.

It’s dark in the cabin, my seat mate snoozes. Me? Restless. Churning.

[Read more…]

Waiting. At The Star Market. Trying to Bend the Image.

7:05 am. Stamford station.

I’m waiting for the 2151 Acela to Baltimore. Overhead board flashes On Time, Track 2.

There are two empty seats adjacent to a scruffy, long bearded old man. He’s wearing a heavy jacket, way too heavy for August. A rollerboard stands to his right. His head bowed, sleeping. You’re asking for trouble. Find another seat. I look around, and can’t find another seat. I catch others watching me, judging, ‘The Suit won’t come near That.’

And Mind, ever so efficient, calls up a Marie Howe poem, The Star Market:

“The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday. An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps. Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them: shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay..Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself…stumbling among the people who would have been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands and knees begging for mercy. If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought, could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?”

He lifts his head, turns towards me and stares.  I freeze.  The Others are now watching. I pause, and make my move.

I take the seat next to Him.

Others watch for a moment, eyebrows raised, and then go back to their smartphones. Did you do it because you wanted a seat? Or because others would think less of You, or that you didn’t want this Suit to meet their expectations? Or because you didn’t want Him to think you thought any less of Him?

There’s one empty seat between us. But there’s tension in the gap. He turns to look at me, I can feel his eyes on me. Here it comes, Can you help me out with a few bucks, Sir?”  

He sits silently. [Read more…]

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