Tuesday, May 23, 2006

And days seem like weeks

We, the congregation, were sharing the peace before partaking in the Eucharist. I approached her silently, partly of my own volition, partly from the urging of another who kindly meddles in the affairs of others. And she just grabbed me, wrapping her arms around my back and I enfolded mine about her shoulders.

As we stood there embracing I tried to recall her last name, I’d never learned it. I didn’t know her age, where she was from, how many siblings she had or what her future aspirations were. She was the girl I met a church and occasionally ran into in Clark Park, she always greeted me with a smile and a completely unnecessary, but welcoming scream—she greeted everyone in this way, even strangers.

But here she was dampening the shoulder of my shirt with her tears. I didn’t know why she cried at the time. Later I found out her partner of two years had left her, and speaking of that moment at church she said, I just felt like I wasn’t enough, I’m still not, I suppose.

*

The choir director was crying when I walked into my first choir practice. Members of the choir had been hassling me for at least a month to come to practice, despite my insisting that I didn’t have that kind of voice, if I had a voice at all. But here I was, my shirt still a bit damp from earlier and another person was crying.

Sorry, she said wiping her cheeks, it’s just something I can’t but cry about. For much of the practice she smiled at us, animatedly telling us how we should hold ourselves, how we should shape our mouths to produce the best sound. Okay now let’s just hear the tenors, she would say, okay now altos and sopranos together, good, very good, it sounds so beautiful in my ears. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

But in the moments when she flipped the page or rummaged for a new sheet of music her face contorted to this grimace, not ugly just sad. Her eyes would glisten with waiting tears and all of us watched her fight her sorrow and lose in those brief moments of monotonous movement.

*

I wonder if they’re an old couple that’s still in love or if this is one of their first dates, I mused aloud to my fellow server, watching as the man leaned over to kiss his date between bites of his meal.

Them, the polish server asked, No they not on first date, they cheat on their spouses with each other, What, They come in here all the time and always ask to sit at that table because you can’t see it from the door, always the same table.

I think some look of horror must have crossed my face, or that my silence hung with questions. They are bastards, no, she said, I always wonder how they go home and be with people that they no longer love, I mean they loved their spouses at one time, why else get married, why do they not just tell them.

I don’t know how they can be with themselves at times, I said, something like that, adultery, must come back on them when they’re folding clothes or doing the dishes or something like that, Yeah, I call that a moral hangover, later that man is going to wince, she said, when he remembers kissing that lady with Tilapia in his teeth.

*

I hesitated in sending it to you, the thing I wrote for you; in my message I told you as much. I sat there countless moments remembering the recent sleepless nights, the empty stomachs, the tired eyes. I studied what I had written, what I had promised to send to you even though the circumstances had now changed. I knew that the story before me was a part of me, I’d made the page tepid with my figurative blood, sown pieces of a nonexistent soul into these sentences with words, but I wondered whether it mattered. I wondered what was unique about the sorrow that found form in this syntax.

Everyone hurts and feels pain, sorrow, affliction, but we all want our own to be greater, more acute, or at the very least different. We want others to misunderstand our particular plight. We desire some level of loneliness in our trials because then it means something, then it matters. When we think of how many have suffered this same exact thing, wept for the same reasons, our burden become lighter, shared as it is with so many others. And we miss the burden because we’re not working as hard, and if we aren’t working hard we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve to feel this way, and this feeling doesn’t matter.

My vanity wants this to be such a unique, piercing blow but the weapons of memory have grown dull because it almost seems like the events of the past no longer exist…

I read through everything twice, thrice. I try to see it through your eyes and predict what sections those eyes will linger on, what grammatical structures will cause them to fill with questions, what words will keep you awake and make you feel like the walls of your room are collapsing inwards.

I press send because in this moment, this instant, it all matters to me. I send hoping that with the message gone this particular moment will pass.

In your response you say, what a fantastic story.

Indeed, it is a story.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oh well...

Here's what the 666 sign is actually about. Maybe if I had and subsequently watched tv I might known earlier but alas. It was a fun exercise anyways....

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Things I struggle with

A large, black billboard stands blank except for plain white writing spread across in the center.

6 + 6 + 06
The Signs Are All Around You

Sharing the sky-space with this announcement is a Claritin Clear advertisement: “There’s clear and then there’s Claritin Clear.”

_______________________________

Turning right from 43rd street on to Market, I meet this sign during my morning run. I stop and study it, looking for a small note in the corner to indicate who paid for this apocalyptic, self-referential message. But the sign bears no signature of authorship; just the message exists at the northwest cusp of University City. Of course it arose from somewhere, someone wrote, designed and published this billboard, and being only a half-mile into my run I had plenty of time to imagine its creation.

A whitewashed basement with dark, wooden support beams running down the center. A group of four people gather in one corner, the only sounds are the gentle hum of the fluorescent lights overhead and the quiet whir of two ceiling fans. For a few moments the assembly sits in silent, disturbed contemplation—coming to grips with the importance of their small gathering. Perhaps they ponder the impetuous of their thoughts.

Eventually a man in a faded white shirt and tie, an insurance salesman who works in center city, clears his throat and speaks, it’s necessary, it’s something we have to do. People need to know.

A younger gentleman in a yellow t-shirt with red writing that says “There’s hope in Jesus” echoes this sentiment, leaning forward in his chair placing both sandaled feet on the floor, it’s inevitable but people don’t realize it. It’s our duty to tell people what’s going to happen, it’s what HE commissioned at the end of Mark, go and tell the world, we sin when we withhold knowledge from the world.

He flips through his weathered, leather-bound Bible and reads from Revelation, ‘If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His Number is 666.’

A frail, old woman dressed in various shades of purple with her head properly covered by a floral cap cries silently through her thick glasses, it’s so sad, so sad.

We must embrace it, it’s the Lord’s bidding, we’ve only to deal with our responsibility to spread the news, the insurance salesman says, rebuking her sorrow, let us rejoice in the glory of the Lord.

Amen

I’ve bought the space for the sign and formatted our message, they’ll put it up in two weeks, chimes in the final member of the group, the organizer, the humble leader, a teacher of math at northeast school. The others nod, reveling this good soul’s good work.

Come, says the salesman, let us get to the purpose of this meeting. Let us pray that our work will not be in vain, let us ask the Lord to bless our venture and to keep our place among the chorus of angels.

And so they convene with the Almighty. Two weeks later, two city workers in grey jumpsuits plaster the message on the billboard in the middle of the night. Completing their task they pause for just a moment before climbing down. They ponder this message in the vibrant lights of the city, confused and unaware of their integral role in the God’s glorious scheme. Do they know, each in the group of four wonders in quiet the moments before sleep, how greatly they’ll be repaid in the coming afterlife?

I purposely ran by the sign again the next day, once again stopping and studying it’s anonymous presence. Realizing as a stood there sweating before Mark’s deli that sells fortys of malt liquor and hoagies, that I was fulfilling the group’s goal. I was thinking about it, and now I am writing about it.

Later that day a non-descript white van with two loud speakers mounted on it’s top drove past my window as I translated The Iliad. As it passed the van had a number of questions for me.

Do you know Jesus? Do you know whether or not you are saved? Do you know you’re personal savior, the one that one will redeem you in the approaching end times? Do you know Jesus?

I am a self-professed Christian, but I don’t really know Jesus. I don’t understand God, and struggle constantly to rationalize my irrational belief and affiliation with an entity through which man, with fumbling worship, has caused such grievances through time. I certainly cannot foresee what God will do on June 6, 2006. If the world does end in some quick, burning burst of white light I’ve no idea what I’ll do. If I have time, I’ll probably simply smile.

Until then I'll study for finals, write about CRM and try to not feel like I'm a character in Don DeLillo's novel White Noise. Only occasionally contemplating the complications when I see his face in the morning in the window.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Random and Vague Connection

My Job

The company I work for provides technology consulting for any company that desires our services. Therefore we can help Company A better manage their supply chain, establishing better procurement guidelines to realize savings through direct spending. Through these added savings and the more efficient use of time that our services create Company A can obtain a competitive advantage over Company B. Enthralling stuff, I know.

However, we can, and often do, the exact same thing for Company B, without batting an eye. Through what I write I relate how Company A can defeat Company B in the new, ever-developing global market with our software solutions, and vice versa.

Also, we use different software solutions from different, competing software solution companies to solve the same problems for either company. I've on one occasion explained in writing how Software Company A can better solve a problem in Customer Relationship Management. On another occasion I've drafted a fact sheet that states that Software Company B's solution better tackles the issue of Customer Relationship Management than Software Company A, who just a week ago I said had the market leading solution.

It's not really a question of who my company is loyal to, were obviously not loyal to anyone. But should the concept of loyalty even exist in the global world of technology consulting?

Homer

In Book IX of the Iliad the Trojan woman, in mass, beseech the "dreaded goddess Athena," begging her protection for their brave husbands waging war against the terrible Acheans.

In Book XXII, Achilles, an Achaean Greek, and Hector, a Trojan finally face off. Achilles, determined to kill Hector because he slew the dear Patrocalus, is aided by the Athena. She decieves Hector by keeping his spear-aid within the walls--meaning that when Hector casts his spear against Achilles he's left only with his sword, a serious disadvantage since Achilles is still well with spear.

Realizing he is decieved Hector laments "Of late is has been more dear to Zeus and Apollo that I die, those gods who used to protect me."

Though Hector charges mightily with brandished sword, Achilles runs him through the throat with a bronze-clad spear of ash.

As he dies Hector prophecies: "My death will give birth to Divine wrath against you, Achilles, whenever Paris and Phoebus Apollo cut you down before the Scaean gates."

So again, the question doesn't seem to be to which side, say Apollo, is loyal, but should he even be concerned with loyalty.

Note: Yes, random, maybe a bit unconnected thoughts. And for those of you that can read Greek, I realize my above translations are a bit "loose."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Late Night Chinatown

After a suprisingly good Metric show the group of us found ourselves at "The Tai Lake" in the middle of Philadelphia's Chinatown at 1:15 a.m. There was a large family next to us, young children and all, celebrating the grandfather's birthday. They talked boisterously switching back and forth between Chinese and English.

We ordered a variety of things , all of which were delicious and having had a few drinks in us we we're quite vocal about out approval of the food. Or waiter, though the restaurant was busy, mainly stood next to our table and at one point I looked up and smiled at him and he smiled back and proceeded to say: "You not from here, right? You not locals."

For the most part he was right. Veronica was from Texas, Dan from Louisiana, Cherry from Georgie, myself from Texas, and only Tom was a born and raised Philadelphian. But before we could relay this laundry list of old homes our waiter added another element.

"You not from America, right?"

We were taken aback. I don't think any of us had ever thought we didn't look American, but I guess when you think about it what does an American look like? Of course at one a.m. we weren't going to get into such a conversation, and instead we asked our waiter to tell us what country he thought we were from.

The answers were quite interesting.

Veronica, who was born in El Salvadore, and has beautiful brown, deep brown eyes and nice olive skin apparently looked like she was from Russia.

Cherry, a born and raised southern girl, is tall with long blonde hair, bright blue eyes and very fair skin: she was also from Russia.

Dan, who has dark hair and darker skin looks like he might be of Greek descent, or Spanish as in from Spain descent. He apparently looked like he was nowhere...maybe Turkey our waiter said.

Tom, the born and raised Philadelphian, is from a strong Italian background. He's about my height, but much whiter skin and much more built. He definitely looked the most "blanco" right after Cherry in our group, but apparently he was from Pakistan.

And me? Originally from Texas, a mexican-american father, an irish-descent mother, darker hair and skin with bluish eyes, and short. "Oh you American, they all visiting you, no?"


Monday, March 06, 2006

The Repayment

Because of my proximity with the "Triple Deli III," which is more of a 40 oz. store, I often get asked for money. It's subsided lately because I've gotten pretty good at saying no to the regular alcoholics. However, if he asks, I do give money to Alfonso.

Alfonso, is usually in Chester's, the corner store, and always shakes my hand and asks me how my running is going. I can't determine whether he is homeless, but he's unemployed and wears basically the same clothes everyday. He's told me he's a mechanic still looking for work, which I choose to believe because I like him and want to think that he is actually looking for work.

I still give him money because of our first encounter.

"My running friend, let me ask you a question."

"Sure."

"I need fifty cents for the trolley."

He sort of caught me at a week moment and I had exactly two quarters in my pocket so I forked him over and watched as he ran to catch the trolley that had just stopped at the corner.

I've never seen him with the tell-tale black plastic bag in his hand and he always asks every politely and not every time. Most of the time he'll just walk and talk with me for a block or so while I go to school. One time he asked for forty cents and I gave him fifty.

"I pay you back my friend."

"Okay."

"I pay you back next week."

I didn't really believe him, and it didn't really matter. I didn't need that fifty cents. Sure enough a week rolled by and then two weeks and he didn't pay me back. I wasn't disappointed, which I couldn't figure out whether that was insulting to Alfonso or not. I mean are low expectations insulting? I still saw Alfonso most every day and we exchanged the usually "hello, how are you?" And he never mentioned his repayment and I eventually forgot about it.

Until last Monday. Midterm week was just beginning, I'd foolishly gone to Boston the weekend before and had gotten up quite early that morning to start studying. When the Greek began to run together on the page I decided it was time for a run. Coming back from the run I realized I'd gone too fast for too long and now all I wanted to do was go back to sleep, which was definitely not an option at this point. I'd already wasted too much time and knew I was in now way prepared for my two exams that afternoon.

I was turning the corner to my house and there was Alfonso.

"Hello my running friend."

"Good morning."

"Hey how much do I owe you, fifty cents right?"

"Umm...yeah."

He proceeded to reach into his pocket and dump a load of change into my surprised palm. He then took coins back until I had fifty cents in nickels and dimes in my hand.

"There, I pay you back."

"Thanks."

I wanted to give it right back. I didn't need fifty cents, but I knew that trying to give it back would have been insulting. Alfonso continued on his way, patting me on the shoulder while my fist closed around the assorted change.

I battled with a range of emotions as I mounted the stairs to my apartment. I felt bad because I had automatically, and completely assumed that Alfonso was not going to pay me back--an assumption based on his outward appearance. I wondered if there was something about me demeanor, the way I came off, that makes people think I expect to be paid back in those situations.

At the same time I felt a complete elation with humanity--someone who was under no contract and who doesn't really know me (nor I him) paid me back. And it wasn't about money, it seemed to be about some sense of honor and respect for another human. He told me he'd pay me back, and he did, despite the fact that I didn't believe him.

In the end the elation won out.

btw -- the exams went fine.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

conference call

Every Thursday the North American marketing team has its weekly conference call at 4 p.m. This semester I have class from 2-4 on Thursdays, so I've been having to take these calls on my cell phone instead of the usual pay phone because I can't get to one inside quick enough to make the call.

It's not really a big deal, I get to expense my minutes for these calls and it makes the walk back to my apartment from class seem quicker. Usually I don't have to say anthing, it's the one hour I can put down on my time sheet where I'm not actually doing anything but listening. Working from home is great, cuts out travel time and never anything to complain about really, except I feel bad logging hours where I didn't actually produce something. It's not like other jobs I've had where I got paid for just being a body in the room at times, I can only log hours when I am actually physically and mentally doing something--except for the conference calls. I just have to dial in and sit back and listen to people talk in Acronymns--until today:

"Austin could you do me a favor? Could you take notes from this call and send them out to the rest of us later?"

"Sure."

Suddenly my free hour turned into work, relatively hard work because it's not like these people talk slow and it's not like I have any idea what they are talking about half the time. Plus I was outside walking home, and had no idea where to go to take notes. So I dash into Williams hall, the languages and humanities building, and desperately look for a place that is quiet and secluded. I find I small table on the second floor and plop down. Quickly pulling out my pen and notebook I begin to try and catch up on what has already been discussed during the call.

So please picture this for a moment. Here I am sitting in my brown hoodie (an all to prevalent fashion trend) pressing my cell phone against my ear with my left hand and frantically writing with my right, not saying anything. I'm sitting there silently writing.

At the another table a girl in a purple turtleneck sweater studies statistics with her white ipod earphones snug in there place. At the third table a couple (probably freshmen) are preteding to study but mostly cuddling. And there's me.

"We've really got to encourage the BU's to follow up on these stage 3 leads once we convert them from stage 2. It doesn't make any sense for us to put in all the effort when they're not following through."

My eyes drift to the girl's statistics book and my chest seizes up slightly as I remember taking that midterm in undergrad and getting to a problem I had no idea how to solve. I knew there was a formula for the problem but hell if I remembered what it was.

"I think we should allocate funds to advertise in specific airports. R., you'll probably want to focus on JFK right? Oh and maybe we can do something on NPR?"

"What's NPR?"

"It's a radio station. I've never listened to it, but it came up on another call I was on."

The couple is obviously in the throes of early love. He keeps brushing her hair behind her ears, and she dips her chin down and smiles, looking at him through the tops of her eyes. They hold hands coyly underneath the table.

"Oh C., tell them about the event we're going to have for Sapphire!'

"Oh this is going to be so cool. So we're going to take all the CIO and drive them to a show, and then afterwards we're going to serve them dinner and drinks!"

"That will be a superb networking opportunity. I think we will really be able to generate demand for our solutions."

I begin to think back to all the opporunities I've passed on to be able to sit like this couple. The opportunity to find myself so enamoured with a person that I don't care if some creep in a brown hoodie is watching me. I've passed on such aon opportunity so many times, both in the distant past and relatively recently. What's wrong with me? I'm sitting here being jealous of this couple's affection, but I never let myself have such open affection. I avoid it like the plague, I don't call the girl back, I think of one girl when kissing another.

"...that will be a really important event in April. Austin did you get that?"

"Of course."

I'm on the call long after the girl in the purple turtleneck and the cuddling couple have left. For a good twenty minutes I'm alone, silently listening to my cell phone, taking down acroymns such as MDM, ERP, IPO BCI, WBR.

The call ends. I close my notebook and pack it up in my bag.

And just sit of a few minutes. Just sit. Something I haven't done if a long time.