Tagged: thoughts

Like Them

Just me and F, cruising down the highway. Car full of music, snacks, and overnight bags; my socked feet rest on the dashboard.

I’m spying on the families in neighboring cars, making fun of them all.

Identical families in identical vehicles running off to identical rental properties to have identical vacations. Dads with polo shirts and reflective sunglasses driving the family vehicle, while Mom rides shotgun, staring hypnotically ahead at the infinite road stripes. Uninterested kids melting from boredom in the backseat. An occasional disgruntled mother-in-law is sandwiched between her mouthbreathing grandkids in the backseat, boring a hole into the back of her disappointment of a son-in-law’s skull with her iron gaze. A family’s worth of bicycles jimmy-rigged to the back of the vehicle, impeding their rear view.

Cutting off drivers on the highway to hurry to some banal destination, just to eat overpriced rubbery seafood and subpar waffles, and sit on a lackluster beach while your kids lament about missing their carbon-copy friends. Take a few washed-out, blurry photos that end up sitting in a shoebox to collect dust until after the funeral.

In other words, livin’ the middle class dream.

I wonder.

“Are we gonna be like that someday?”

His right hand moves from the wheel to my knee and tenderly squeezes, eyes straight ahead. “Maybe.” Suddenly, a clueless errant driver weaves into our lane. F’s face hardens as he grips the wheel and hits the brakes to avoid them, all while muttering uncouth things in French. (Roughly translated, it’d be something like: “These unfortunate gentlemen are ill-informed about the art of driving; ’tis an act better left to those more capable of doing it.”)

I make a silly face at the driver as we pass them by, and I burst into laughter at their confused expression.

No, we’ll never be like them…

+

We arrive at Scampi, our friends’ home near the beach. When we pull up to the house, we’re greeted by Mama and Papa, holding bright-eyed Baby 3. Babies 1 and 2 run outside to greet us, in a dust storm of blonde hair, blue eyes, joyous shrieks, and general excitement at receiving visitors. Papa is happy to see F, to increase the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio in the house, and Mama is happy to chitchat with me in English. Fresh beverages fizz and glasses clink to herald our arrival. We catch up with our friends while Baby 3 coos and giggles, and Babies 1 and 2 twitter about in a show-and-tell flurry of sparkly princess stickers and bold finger paintings.

Dinnertime approaches, and our tummies growl. The men stride into the backyard to start the fire for our barbecue.

I hold a hand to my empty stomach and look out at F.

Someday, we know there’ll be something more in here.

Herd

8am train.
My own little slice of hell.

It’s the morning business rush; the 9am-ers position themselves along the platform, discreetly eyeing the competition.

The train wheezes into the station, and all order is lost. Herding themselves in front of the door, they commit the cardinal sin of train travel: Never impede passengers trying to exit. Those poor saps barely escape before the herd lumbers on, in search of fulfilling their primal need to sit down. The tense scuffling of feet, exasperated sighs, desperately roving eyes and sudden acrobatic manoeuvres at the sight of an empty seat… I have to admire the organized chaos.

In summertime, add in oafish commoners with ill-fitting cheap sunglasses who lug too much baggage onboard, along with their cross-eyed hyperactive children. Solo travellers scurry on to find an empty pair of seats, plop down, then protectively seat their hardside luggage next to them. I walk by, and they avoid eye contact.

It’s a 15-minute ride. I think I’ll survive if I stand.

I try to read, but I’m distracted by the flutter of conversation around me. Banal conversation, rehashed. Kids, weather, job. I burrow deeper into my book.

Suddenly I catch a whiff that offends my senses, emanating from the miserable latrine. My nostrils are burning. Good God, have these people no shame? Passive-aggressive territoriality at its lowest. How dare they subject the rest of us to the injustice of smelling their beastly morning constitution? Is this what freedom looks like? Forcing others to suffer the indignity of inhaling their ungodly coffee-fueled evacuation…

 

We approach our destination, and these bovines elbow discreetly toward the door. Self-important squares need to be the first off the train. Underlying message: “I’m more important than everyone else here.”

Indeed, we are at the center of our respective universes. Every morning at 8:24am, there are a hundred supremely-important universes fighting an imaginary battle for a prime position on the livestock transport line.

The herd shuffles forward, hooves clacking in the urgent rush. A self-herding mass, headed straight for the abattoir.

 

My heart bays: I don’t belong here.

Steady

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(4)

Tense aggression in the heat of frustration. What to do? My body can’t take this explosion of anger, I’ve got to have a physical outlet. Stupid Barbie, why don’t you do what I want? I hate you. Bite, clench hard. Quickly take a look. It’s all bent. Why did I do that? Now she’s ruined.

She still lives in a large plastic bin of forgotten toys in a basement, frozen smile, frizzy hair, and deformed hand.

 

(12)

School bus. Meekness puts me on the radar, makes me a target.

Get out of my space, get away from me…

Through my geeky spectacles, I’m seeing red. I wish I wasn’t alone on this bus, I wish I had a forcefield of friends to protect me. Body recoils, hotly tense. I hate you. I want your ugly, mocking smile to go away. My fist jumps out like a snake from the bushes, and connects with a hollow thunk. The bully facade crumbles to give a glimpse of his true face: a confused pre-teen boy who desperately needs to be cool.

I escape from the school bus, and soon after I notice small rocks dancing at my feet. Turn around, and he and his friend are throwing their parents’ decorative landscaping pebbles at me. Very tough indeed. I speed-walk home, tail between my legs.

 

(16)

I’ve learned that “no” is a question of interpretation. “Leave me alone” communicates an invitation for more undesired attention. My pathetic defenses have been exhausted. There’s a key to surviving here that I just don’t have. Why don’t I have it; how do I get out of this?

In class. Day after day, explicit sinister whispers chip away at me. I wish I could take my skin off and disappear. One after another, ugly comments meant to do what? Wear me down, violate my comfort; I’m tired of it. What did I do to deserve it? Tension, heart is boiling again. Stop fucking with me. I didn’t ask for this.

Teacher leaves room, and I can liberate the Me that lives inside, vibrant and angry and electric. The current extends out from my hand, slices around to meet his face. Jaw wobble, sharp intake of air, now I’m tingling. I plaster on a smile, eyes forward, like a good little scholarly robot-mannequin.

 

(30)

A student is going on the offensive; they’ve taken constructive criticism personally, which has led to aggression; at least, that’s what it feels like.

Needles in my skin, chest is hot. Voice and hands want to tremble.

I’ve given my professional opinion, and this poor sap feels the need to retaliate, and turn to the typical cheap ploy of ping-ponging their insecurity back onto me. I’m not having it. This time, I’ve got a full arsenal of words at my disposal. With firm professional efficacy, I defend my position and steer this person out of my space.

 

Same internal response.
Different course of action.
Growth.

Snapshot: Wise Guys

Thursday night is party night.  Leaving work, I hear echoes of music and rallying cries that hasten the merrymaking.  I walk past a troupe of university-age men.  A cloud of scent slaps me as they pass by:  fresh laundry.

I imagine their mommies lovingly washing their clothes at the weekend:  scrubbing their pit-stained t-shirts and skidmarked undies.  Fold the laundry for their little boy, give him a kiss on the forehead and send him back to school.  They wipe a tear away and wonder where the years have gone.

Meanwhile, their little prince is out trolling with his carbon-copy friends.  They don’t speak–they grunt out slack-jawed dopey nasal duh-duhs while they pound beers and try to score chicks.  Flaccid, sullied masculinity.  With a whistle in their step, these stellar knuckleheads stroll along, in tandem and with intention.

 

These thoughts accompany me to the station, and I ride back home.

Snapshot: Lost

The man I had seen in the same café the day before passed by on his bike.  “Can I help you get somewhere in particular?”  Bashful, I replied, “No, thanks; just trying to get my bearings, is all.”  He poked his head toward me.  “Huh?”

“I’m trying to get my bearings.”

“You mean, find out where you’re at?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.  Good luck with that.”

 

He pedaled away, leaving me alone with my map.

 

You can’t find your way around if you haven’t decided where you’re going.

Day 0

Sunday was day 0 in Amsterdam.  I never count the day you arrive as a full day.  You’re lost and disoriented, cars and trams beep, bikes plink bells at you, men seductively catcall in multiple languages, you’re surrounded by hordes of idiotic bumbling tourists, and you hate yourself for being one.

Stumble along on the sidewalk.  Clouds of marijuana smoke explode in tufts from the mouths of eager testosterone-ridden men.  They leer through the haze of the window and the weed.

Dragging my stupid suitcase, squeezing myself through narrow spaces between tourists, flattening myself against buildings to avoid bikes.  I’m squinting into the sun and scuffing my sneakers on the uneven pavement.  Bakeries are abundant and fragrant, and there’s music and movement everywhere.

I’m dazzled at this new, different city.

That feeling is reserved for Day 0.  There’s none other like it.

Thursday

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my buddy, the carrier pigeon

 

Walking through the vineyards on my way to the train station, my carrier pigeon buddy arrives to escort me to the station.  He coo-coos alongside me until we reach the threshold between nature and civilization.  There, his red beady eyes wink me a “Good luck.”  Thanks, pal.

 

Arriving in town, it’s one of those days where I want to say “Fuck my job.”  What am I, some kind of language workhorse?  I resent the fact that the corporate masters own my time, even if it’s just 5 hours today.  That’s 5 hours off my dreaming time.

All the same, I’m in town, and at least for now, I am indebted to my corporate masters.  Unseasonably cold winds tug at my coattails, and my head is pounding for an unknown reason.

I tiptoe erratically around the sidewalk, studded with trampled bits of dog shit.  No way am I getting my red leather boots dirty.  The cold air invades my nostrils and freezes my brain, aggravating my headache.  The fragrance of the first spring cherry blossoms irritates me even more.

The area around the train station is a lot better-kept than in other cities; no seedy sex shops or vaguely-disguised titty bars to be seen, no cannabis fumes in the air; just nondescript bistros that are a bit too antiseptic for my liking.  I peek into one, and a middle-aged cook eerily stares back at me, while he scrubs an already-spotless zinc countertop with a clean white towel.  Even their ashtrays are immaculate.  Freaky.

I approach the monolithic structure, the medieval castle, squatting in the middle of town.  Just across the street from its fat, monstrous towers sits another bakery, more modern with dark hardwood floors, and an alluring glow to its sandwiches and pastries that sit on deep blue-gray ardoise slate slabs.  I pick up a kouign amann, a Breton specialty:  it’s a crispy, flaky, buttery sticky bun.  The hammering in my head starts to subside when I take a bite of the luscious pastry.

As I chew and walk on, I’m peeking into chic restaurants, neighborhood barbershops, deserted bookshops and quiet upscale boutiques.  A stylish woman walks past, and the sickly sweet cloud of her perfume chokes me as she walks past, her heels confidently stabbing the ground with each step.  I catch myself feeling inadequate in her presence, and I think back to a former student of mine, who was a picture of perfection:  successful, affluent, immaculately dressed and coiffed.  Yet her eyes had glistened with desperation when she confided how deeply she regretted the direction in which her life had gone.  I wonder what happened to her.

I drop into another favorite spot, a red-bannered bakery run by a genial bald-headed baker, who always seemed to be dusting flour off his hands and apron in a cloud of magic.  His breads and pastries are some of the best in town, and I order a sandwich for lunch.  He grabs one off the top of the stack with his large hands, knobby and solid from a lifetime of kneading dough.

Finally, I slide into my favorite café, a neighborhood dig that’s clean, with a good atmosphere, and proprietors that leave you alone to think.  I’d like to think I’m becoming a regular, alongside the old salty Italian man who critiques the French and their politics between sips of red wine, rolling his Rs and calling everyone cons (dumbasses)…

I ease into the seat next to the door and order an espresso with water.  I catch a cool draft every time the door opens, along with a few wisps of cigarette smoke that sneak in.  I don’t mind.  I’m surrounded by rough caw-caw guffaws.  The server who’s about my age, the older couple that runs the joint, and the old-dog regulars; they laugh and gibe between bites of food, sips of wine, drags of cigarettes.  Like a goddamn family sitcom.  They’ve got nowhere else to be, except there, giggling and shooting the shit.  Hell, neither do I.

I realize my headache has ceased.

I’m satisfied with life in this moment, and smile into my hot cup of black coffee.

Just another Thursday.