FROM THE ARCHIVES
You know those moments that remind you that your life is nothing more than a slightly more boring version of the Matrix?
To the man riding his bright pink bicycle in the street. It was your average women’s cruiser bike with a basket and with fenders, and the whole, entire, complete thing had been spray painted a very confusingly dull shade of bright pink. In the course of a few days, I have seen him in several neighborhoods throughout the city and I have to consequently ask myself, as any sane person would, whether he is the spirit itself of the city.
To the two middle aged women sitting on the café at the foot of the Gracia hill sitting hunched over their two cups, talking and peeling oranges. As I walked by, I was hit in the face with the smell, the beautiful virus-like permeating wall of colors that happens when anyone near you so much as touches an orange. It was obvious they hadn’t bought them from the café (and even if they had, I prefer to think that they hadn’t and that they were generally not giving a toss about it). While the event itself was nothing more than two friends sitting over coffee sharing an orange, it gave me a vaguely proustian jolt. Once upon a time, I read a book that spoke very briefly about mediation (I think) and in which (perhaps) the author recalled when (maybe) his master (if that is actually a thing in zen Buddhism) explained how eating an orange delighted all the senses (…except hearing…so never mind) and was the ultimate representation of the true and simple pleasures in life. I don’t even like oranges, I just eat them occasionally simply to not feel awkward at breakfast, to avoid scurvy, and as a substitute for cocaine. Whenever I do eat them, however, I enjoy the hell out of them.
2013, NOB HILL, San Francisco, California
This is not a good piece.
I don’t like anything about it, really. It puts me in a terrible light while at the same time managing to be a really cheesy story about something that’s been told time and time again. But hey, it’s honest.
As I was walking up the comically steep, ninety-degree hill to my apartment while trying to step in time to what was reverberating from my headphones, thereby looking like I had learned how to walk the day before, I saw a very enormous dog. He was sitting on the sidewalk, and he was in the shadows, almost as though he had sought it out, in the same deliberate way that a cat would have avoided it. As I got closer, I noticed that that this dog had a person crouched behind him, who then acknowledged me with a tip of his head. This person was skinny, bearded, and was wearing a fishing hat that was shaped just wrong. He wore a t-shirt, and oddly, a hoodie underneath it; I remember how strange this seemed at the time. By wearing his shirt over it, he had foregone access to the kangaroo-like pocket and hand warmer that comes tandem with a hoodie (very useful on San Francisco nights), and he would have been just as warm wearing them items the other way around, if not warmer. He must have just really wanted to show off his Joe’s Crab shack t-shirt that day.
If you’ve ever lived in any large city that has both an upper class and sources of heat on the street, you then know the extent to which you have to turn a blind eye to everyone who has lost everything, and learn to walk the fine line between empathy and nothing. The homeless problem and people’s reaction to it is a touchy subject in San Francisco. After working a few months in the idyllic utopia lovingly known as the Tenderloin, it had all become very calculated and deliberate for me. I noticed everyone, on some level because I couldn’t help but look, but I would also hope that I forced myself to be hyper aware of each face I saw on the street in order not to lose too much faith in myself. I did have to learn to, in a way, forget them, in order to not lose faith in…well…everything else.
In this particular case, I found that I couldn’t not pet this dog. Before I could even take off my headphones, in fact, he walked up to me and just leaned against my legs, like a battering ram covered with stuffed animals and ShamWows. The dog was so large that I almost fell over. Seemingly content with having pushed me over to the right a couple inches, it then stumbled back towards his person.
Almost without thinking, I started talking to said person, maybe because he hadn’t tried to talk to me first.
Here are some things I found out:
The person’s name was Bobby, and the dog’s name was Cody.
Bobby had had Cody since Cody was ten days old, and Cody was now eleven.
Bobby had made his slightly deformed fishing hat with his own two hands out of leather he found over the years and dental floss.
Bobby had been a “drifter” for 11 years. He explained that this was because he had also been a sniper in the military, and after trying for over a decade, he was just now able to get on disability.
Next week Bobby was moving into his first apartment (in eleven years, remember), by AT&T Park. I’ll give you my most eloquent description of Bobby’s soon to be new neighborhood: rich, richy, rich.
Bobby’s kids, who had been taken away from him ten years ago or so, were then going to come live with him, just in time for him to get to try to raise them as teenagers. He previously had raised them “on the road, also as drifters” as he put it. I carefully sidestepped the thought of my own childhood dreams of living in circus tents and in trains equipped with nothing but a bandana and a stick over my shoulder (just being honest here, guys). Realistically, that must have been terrible.
Bobby was only going to stay in this shiny new apartment for six months, because he and his “lady” were going to buy a bus and travel the country.
Cody, that I can only describe as being the muppet love child of Old Yeller and Air Bud, was wearing an American flag bandanna. He was wearing this bandanna as a testament to the fact that, although Bobby had needed (and not received) disability for eleven years, the government had regularly paid for Cody’s vet visits. The government had, at least, financially supported Cody, because Cody was a service dog. In fact, Cody had gradually taught HIMSELF to be a service dog, because Bobby got seizures. Bobby said it was ok, though, that the weed helped. Conveniently, weed also alleviated all that came with the stage four terminal stomach cancer and severe PTSD.
My reaction after hearing this is similar to what I am experiencing now as I write this sentence, and a fairly common one at that – best described as a complete inability to decide whether to try to offer some hypocritical optimism/empathy with a tentative “I’m so sorry” or to acknowledge the ridiculous harshness of this man’s life with a simple “…damn.”
Realizing I was too stunned to do either and maybe needlessly worried that my reaction would come off as pity, I snapped into action and swiftly regressed into the comfortable territory of bad humor. I told Bobby he was the happiest man with PTSD I had ever met, and it was probably because of his awesome hat. Thankfully for me he graciously laughed, pulled out a bottle of cinnamon whiskey, and took a pull. We talked about the legalization of marijuana for a bit (after having lived ten years in Colorado, people who meet me tend to just to gravitate towards the subject).
I told him his life was awesome, and it sounded like in a couple days it was going to get even better, and then I went home. And here I am.
I gave him the three bucks I had.
It wasn’t at all enough, and I still wish I had had something more useful to give him.
If badly retold, I suppose all of this could seem like some guy’s story to get me, the girl prancing around San Francisco with a bike messenger bag and an iPhone, to give him money. I suppose the long list of Bobby factoids fits the bill for being delivered dispassionately as a monologue, and they could easily belong on a piece of cardboard followed by God Bless. But I did, and still do believe him. He was probably the happiest person I had met in weeks, and he didn’t ask me for a thing, but rather gracefully didn’t refuse the change I awkwardly handed him.
I’ve found a resolution to the conflict of my blindingly privileged naivety and the impossibly positive attitude of someone who I’ve just described as a cartoon character but who is very, very real. As with the little moments people forget to remember, this little stitch in reality was real and it was a cliché.
Maybe if I ever start writing again I’ll turn this into a story. I’ll give it a moral along the lines of “stop bitching because there was this guy, once, outside my apartment, who was dying of stomach cancer, had seizures, suffered from PTSD, had been on the street for more than a decade, but was content to get to hang out with his kids, his dog, and to travel the country in a bus with his lady, (and I quote) and ‘to eat the pot cookies she makes.’”
Too long? It could also be “dental floss is the best string to sew with,” if you prefer (‘cause it actually really is).
I’d probably just write him a really happy ending, though.
To the well-dressed woman standing on the sidewalk looking up across the street and whistling. As I walked up behind her I followed her gaze to an enormous white Great Dane sitting in a bay window, looking back at her through net curtains. After a few seconds, the dog freaked out and started barking and growling and snarling. She smiled sheepishly at me as I walked by.
To this tiny poofy dog driving a really cool car that I’m not able to identify because I, however, am highly uncool (or I am at least not as cool as said tiny poofy dog).
2012, BORGO DORA, Torino, Italy
What should have been the first post, and essentially the event that inspired this blog in the first place.
To the man standing on the corner of Via Vittorio Andreis, looking very much like he belonged in the blue-collar, non-italian neighborhood that I was visiting my sister in. It was cold, and grey, and the skies looked very soviet in Turin that day, and there was still some snow on the ground. As I looked out from the balcony, concealed in a shroud of my own cigarette smoke (delicious), I noticed said grown man hiding behind the wall, gleefully peering around the corner every so often. He bent down, made a snowball, tossed it up and down in his gloved hands (as one often does with fresh snowballs for no apparent reason), peered around the corner some more, and waited. I waited with him. Who was he waiting for? Was it a kid? Was it an adult? Was he really going to toss an inner city, grey and yellow snowball in this person’s face?
Time passed. No one came. He looked very slightly defeated as he tossed the snowball on the ground and walked away, and I was left wondering what the hell had almost happened.
That day, I was frozen like a banana on a stick and generally pretty unhappy before seeing these few minutes into this person’s life. There was nothing outwardly eye-catching about him, he was physically average, not particularly attractive nor ugly and I doubt we would have had very much to talk about had we ever had the opportunity to. We might not even have had a language in common.
There are some things that everyone does, that everyone appreciates, that everyone reacts to the same. This is regardless of culture, language, gender, religion, whether you think my blog is awesome and funny or not. The one thing that matters, though, is whether you think anyone is watching or not.
To the clown sitting on the metro platform at Drassanes, applying his stage makeup, using a mirror rested on his portable speaker. As the metro briefly stopped at the station, I poked Alina. Look, I said. There was a father and his two children sitting behind the clown. One of the little boys had climbed up on the stone bench behind the performer and was watching him put on face powder as if he were swallowing swords or juggling snakes. The clown was acutely aware of this, and kept catching the boy’s eye in the mirror. He’d smile, pull a face, reach his hand behind him to playfully shoo him away. The boy would excitedly back off, then slowly inch back forward.
I remember when I was a kid, I was walking down the street and holding my mom’s hand. I must have been about 5 or so. We walked by a nun, who, differently than many other kindly looking old Italian women, smiled at me as I walked by. I was so touched by this gesture at the time that I’ve always kept a warm place in my heart for nuns (you can tell I wasn’t raised catholic).
I wonder if this experience will always stick with this little boy. Ridding the world of its fear of clowns I suppose, one child at a time.
To the owner of the room filled wih books and birds on Carrer Tapioles in Barcelona, which was always closed but lit from inside when I walked by, and swelled with the mechanical sound of chirping. One morning, I passed by and there he was, grey haired and cardigan clad, speaking to an equally grandfatherly buddy of his.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I noticed you keep birds. What do you do?”
“Well,” he answered, “I keep birds.”
He let me inside while his friend watched with amusement, and showed me the walls lined with cages as one might line walls with books. “Do they have names?” I asked.
“Yes, greenfinches, robins..”
“No, no,” I interjected, “I mean like Jordi and Maria.”
“No,” he answered. “They’re only birds, and they’re not for sale. Goodbye, beautiful.”
If Love Actually was inspired by watching people embrace and slobber all over each other at airports, a goddamn Hollywood never ending “trilogy” (or whatever the young kids pulling the strings up there are calling it these days) should be made about bus stations.
Mind you, this is Greyhound I’m talking about, not your average public transport deposit. It could all only happen here. In Europe, train stations are more or less like airports now. Meanwhile, in the States, they’re like novelty museums that yet again, perhaps inspired by a slightly more noble sentiment, people use as a focal point for tear soaked goodbyes and missed connections and fate and all that junk. I, for example, saw an Amish family at a train station in Denver, once (true story).
What train stations are is nothing, what they once were is what are airports have become, and what airports have lost is what is the Bus Station. All the young and beautifully broke, the old and broken, the invisible families and the non-divisible individuals all gather here. People with strollers, people wearing more scarves than necessary to use as pillows, people sleeping on unplugged massage chairs and charging their phones on the outlets, college students still drunk from the bus ride, along with the weird tight knit community that are the cross Europe bus drivers, they’re are all here. There’s still a fog of travel and of not knowing what the hell is happening, the deliriously confused and tired expectancy of a trip that may well be terrible (the bus ride certainly won’t be that exciting)…but…it might not.
This is for all the people continuing to obsessively share pictures saying things like “It’s the journey, and not the destination, that matters.” I always wanted to take a Greyhound trip somewhere when I was in the States. While at first, after hearing stories, I just resigned myself to having AGAIN idealized something mundane, and that it was more like a long boring car trip with a scary bathroom incorporated, I am incredibly glad I eventually did. I mean I suppose it’s more or less like a road trip without the glory. However, a road trip is essentially only ever fun (come on, you know it is. Chevy Chase says so). And if travels, no, journeys, back in the day were bleary eyed hours and days of not knowing whether something would break, whether you’d meet someone terrible on the way, whether inclement weather would nearly kill you, then it has been maintained here. Obviously, on a bus you’ll (probably) live, and there’s little to no risk of being moored on a mountain pass and having to eat your fellow passengers (…probably), but it’s the uncertainty that remains, and that’s what’s important.
The one thing I can add to this, which heavily detracts from my bus rant is that all of this is encompassed way, way more in a good old fashioned train hop or hitchhike. Hats off to you, traveling kids. The world is at your feet, one potentially miserable voyage at a time.
A bit late, but true nonetheless.
To the girl in the dress walking down the street on a sunny day. I didn’t catch her face, but as I quickly passed by her in a taxi, what was probably one of the last gusts of summer wind pushed her dress up, briefly revealing her bright red unmentionables. While the most definite thing I remember about her is that she did, in fact, have hair (long-ish…I think…maybe), I could tell that she was, in fact, pretty. The split second was sexy in a very poetic, pristine way; one of those moments that belonged in an overly scripted black and white film, one where you would just have to imagine the color of the lace, structured like a Rube Golberd machine to be sexy – but unfortunately, the woman involved probably didn’t probably appreciate as such.
To the very sinister looking older man with the enormous handlebar mustache, that looked like it could orchestrate a holocaust for all the other mustaches and take over the mustache world. This was oh most definitely the real thing. He (the man not the mustache) was looming over an ice cream stand which seemed small, unassuming and threatened in comparison. He PSSSSTed very loudly as I walked by the church in front of him, thereby almost giving me a heart attack. I think the only thing which would have made him seem more villainous would be maybe a black cape drawn over half of his face, covering everything but his imposing face-hair and shifty eyes. Turns out he was only pssssting at his wife, a dumpy looking tourist with sandy hair and a toothy smile who responded eagerly in an American accent.
To the girl in her 20s standing in the never ending line to go inside the church, as I observed her, went from looking like every other person who has to stand in a line alone (a very obvious MEH) to looking so overjoyed, and surprised, that she just had to (somewhat dramatically) take her sunglasses off. Turns out it was a because of some guy bringing her ice cream.
The disco music (hmm) coming from the top window of an apartment complex in the middle of the day (HMM) of what turns out was an old folks’ home (HMM!).
I suppose the message here is obviously that ice cream is the meaning of life.
To ice cream!
To the young guy on the Metro Purple Line 2, who got on with a tiger-striped, gangly, enormous greyhound. He immediately knelt down next to the dog and started petting it, holding on to it, and generally calming it. Be it because the dog was a ferocious beast and it was one tender whisper in its ear away from savagely devouring everyone around it, or be it because it was neurasthenic and especially prone to nervous breakdowns on the metro, who knows. It sure was cute though.
To the all the old Catalan people who, on a daily basis, serve as a demonstration and reminder that the point of the many benches on Spanish streets is to just sit and to watch the world go by. It seems logical, I suppose, but I suspect that everyone’s forgotten. Benches now have been reduced to only to something you sit on, and nothing more. They have become a place to just park your ass down when your kneecaps get tired. Benches are no longer only for sitting, either: you have to be looking at your phone, reading a book, listening to music, talking to someone, or drunkenly hitting on people walking by (I am trying to cater to a larger reader audience, bear with me).
Maybe it’s something everyone should try. Find a bench, sit back, relax, and observe the world.
And just as I was wondering whether everyone was just too weird here, and that no one wouldn’t stand out enough to write about:
SANT ADRIÀ DE BESÒS
To the teenagers being teenagers who were yelling and being generally obnoxious and loud (to an old person like me), but were singing cante Flamenco, quite expertly, too. I suddenly felt extra uncool.
To the young guy in the suit twirling his binder on the tip of his finger like a basket ball for a stupid long amount of time and looking very whatever about it. The people next to him didn’t seem too blown away, either. I, or course, being as impressionable as a baby horse that doesn’t believe the word “gullible” is in this year’s edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, almost fell over in amazement.
To the guy holding a solved rubix cube walking down the street, talking to his friend (well, some guy. Or an enemy, perhaps. Maybe his father?? Could it have been himself from the future???). As I was wondering whether he knew how to use it, he started undoing it without even looking down, and it began whirling and glitching in his hands as if it were some futuristic clockwork standalone device. Hats off to anyone who’s found the patience to memorize the patterns – I’ve tried and it’s painstakingly intense.
The point is, it’s not the point to be weird. I’ve seen the smallest midget, amputees, people covered in tattoos, piercings, and with lighters through their earlobes (which I guess for me is normal). I’ve seen everyone from the age of fetus to senile riding a skateboard. When being weird is the norm, turns out human beings doing the same human things as always tend to be the most interesting of all.
Once, in Paris, I was having a no-good, horrible, very bad day, until I saw a girl in the street crying and trying to hide it. This immediately made my miseries and woes seem less severe, and so I skipped back into my friend’s apartment to tell her so. However, my pride in having found the happiness in my day was soon deflated, much like the proverbial blowup doll at a heroin addicted porcupine’s bachelor party. As I proceeded to explain what I had just seen, my friend warned me that you should never compare your hardship to others’, as you shouldn’t compare your happiness to others’, as you shouldn’t compare, well, yourself to others.
I found that to be both true and wise (much like the proverbial turtle that warned the aforementioned porcupine not to buy a blowup doll for his bachelor party and told him to try and lay off smack for once, jesus). You can, however, gain some perspective.
For example, yesterday I was having an enourmously sucky day. Think donkey-show in Tijuana sucky, and that’s about how bad it was. Since it had to do with money, the ATM was obviously an inherently stressful thing for me. Due to this, as I went into the little room between the street and the bank where the ATM was (if anyone else has a better way to explain it, go right ahead – I know you all know what I’m talking about), I was so concentrated on what I was sure was my impending demise that I almost fell over when I heard a voice.
“Excuse me – would you like me to move?”
(loosely translated from Catalan)
The point I am trying to make (I think) isn’t to gleefully go and compare one’s own financial situation with that of a homeless man sleeping in an empty room in a bank. That would be a dick move, and then other people can use this aforementioned dick move to justify their own, slightly less terrible actions, and so on and so forth for EVER.
It did remind me that if this guy sleeping on the ground, who had just woken up, had enough wherewithal to still be polite to strangers, I could probably handle my day without descending into madness.
To the Persian family sitting next to me at the airport when I was having a really, really, really terrible day. I am usually a little less prone to write about the people I don’t actually interact and become friends with, I will probably never see these people again, and the email address I wrote down will probably not only go unused, but possibly even not be understood to begin with. They spoke what was universes and eons more of English that I speak Farsi, so in three hours of communicating we got about five ideas across.
To their little three-year-old girl, Mariam, with the big gold plated earrings, the curly short black hair, and the enormous black eyes. To the dad and the mom who, come to think of it, looked nothing like her. To Mariam playing with a silk scarf she found on the ground, wrapping it around her head, and parading around like what all three-year-olds everywhere think ladies probably parade around, and the parents’ needlessly apologetic three-word explanation: “Iran…hijab…Islam.”
Then, the slightly weird moment when she started showing everyone her butt and rubbing it, like three-year-olds EVERYWHERE do, while still wearing her little hijab.
Complete communication breakdown when I tried to explain that some women in Morocco cover themselves as well, because in North Africa Islam is prevalent and many people come from North Africa and Maghreb in Paris (too much?)
Slight hope on my part when I remembered I had the internet, followed by, again, defeat, in realizing that when I translate something into Farsi it is then translated into script.
I can only assume that they weren’t Muslim, or at least not very, since the mother wasn’t wearing a hijab herself. As far as actual facts go, other than a few tidbits of their vacation time in Istanbul, I was only able to learn that the father drove a taxi in Iran. That’s around the same time as he dropped the word “dictatorship.”
Now, the last thing I want this to be about is ISIS versus ‘MURCA, a pity piece on a family that QUOTE ON BIG FUCKING NEON QUOTE “escaped the clutches of Islam and occasionally is able to travel to a more civilized western country, the poor dears.”
This is just to point out, as I will try to do with all of these instances, that you only get a few instances of a glimpse into someone’s life, and often times, those are the most candid and the truest. Just don’t assume anything, and you will at least be able to hold on to a feeling that you’re not alone, if someone takes the time to notice.
Khoob / خوابیدن – Sleep
Madär / مادر – Mother
Pedar / پدر – Father
To the boy in Beyoğlu who looked so Turkish and yet so western, wearing with Doc Martens and a black brimmed hat, crossing the highway with me in the storm, on that windy and lead soaked Istanbul afternoon. His hat blew away in the wind and he chased after it, back towards the cars, trying to snag it with his wood topped umbrella. He missed it several times and instead of flying into a panic he laughed, even as the light turned green, even as the cars came, until he finally caught it and ran back uphill.
To the woman with tight Bebe jeans and the revealing top who, as I noticed only as I passed by, was counting fuschia magenta prayer beads. The next figure I saw after her was a man unwinding his own black prayer beads from his small hands, and with a mustache so imposing it should be able to inspire all mustaches everywhere to abandon the dictators and the hipsters they are attached to, and go live on the faces of sailors and kindly old grandfatherly looking men like the aforementioned person. I wonder what they both wanted.
Teşekkür ederim – Thank you very much
Bir, Iki, üç, dört, beş, altı, yedi, sezik, dozuk, on – 1-10