Labor Day

“Hate. Love. Those are names. Rudy. Soon I am old.”

I felt a tear welling up when I read this line. A son that lived but eleven days, yet so thoroughly consubstantiated he walked by his side for the rest of his life, an antithetic ghostson by presence to an undead fatherhood. I took another sip of the coffee and thought what the point is to think these derivative thoughts and delineate these derivative lines. Joyce paraphrased Shakespeare and yours truly paraphrased Joyce, in precipitantly diminishing returns. And this apparent ice Americano at 32 was apparently made from instant powders. The waitress made it in an instant with tap water and ice cubes and Voila! In which instant she did not have time to stir it but did provide me a straw to work it so I draw the saturated slush from the bottom with the said straw and instantly I was wired and came online like a flip of a switch but it tasted like bona fide tap water on ice the rest of the way. As I sat here waiting for the ice cubes to transfuse into more tap water I dearly paid for and rightly deserved, outside the window the gray morning air unfolded the evidence of a thunderstorm at night, with waves of thunders and lightnings but not enough rain to match the fanfare. In these prophetic rains I tread with the only pair of dress shoes already worn and torn, obligingly proceeding to fall. Ready or not here came the prodigal son, the other half of allotted years in tow, lived and consolidated. Thoughts choking full and heart resoundingly empty:

“Just a friendly word of caution, we are liable to loose our precarious balance like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like ‘O Poldy, Poldy, you are a poor old stick in the mud! Go and see life. See the wide world.’
Like plunging facedown into puddles of black rainwater.”

“But is that really the spirit of Labor Day? Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Look the rain has stopped as we speak.”

“It’ll come again. Bank on that if you can’t bank on anything else.”

Shed your summer skin.

“You must change your life.”

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“Dancing with the Morning”

There is it again, that “nip in the air.” Crueler than the cruel mornings with glittering grey flapping in the air, in dull gray smog walking alone in the direction of the highest tower, a pillar of salt by daybreak where the sun died in its infancy. A gray morning without the haughty nobility of grayness: “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean, the world has grown gray from thy breath.” Transfixed in the unwavering gaze of the gray-eyed goddess, the city lies in waiting. A catastrophe slowly brewing in the gray area of the sleepy conscience, or maybe just too much coffee, too many cigarettes, too early an hour.

On 32 gliding with unhurried frolics of the guitar, waiting to take off soaring at that blissful moment when the flute kicks in. A perfect manifestation of the vision of a bird, a flight not in an iron cage, by wings. A visualization of one flight over “the peerless panorama of Ireland’s portfolio… of bosky grove and undulating plain and luscious pastureland of vernal green”. Ungirdled freedom with a definite destination. An antidote.

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Pack a day

It felt like I opened my eyes to yesterday. The whole pack of cigarettes was knotting in my throat, taxing a toll on each breath I began to draw. Tried to force a cough in the bathroom, ended up with two dry gags and a thin trace of blood in the sink. I stared at it for a while trying to decide wether I’d prefer it coming from the throat or the lung. Then I brushed my teeth and went back to bed.

The next moment I was tearing the plastic wrap off another pack and officially declaring it a fresh new day. What’s ice coffee without cigarettes but of course I’m officially quitting for real after I finish this pack. Today I’m reading a book I threw in the shopping cart sometime last year just so I could qualify for free shipping. It’s pretty corny, starting with the title. The author had this terrible habit of using two adjectives at a time, always linking with a comma and both ring equally hollow. “…an alert, tactful glance”, or “his quick, intelligent face.” If not this, then adverbs when there is no need for one: “a look about him of deep calm”, “the sun burned down riotously bright,” and “in his face there came to be a brooding peace”, all in the matter of a paragraph. I mean who writes like this, except for me? I was reminded what the court conductor said of Mozart’s new opera in Amadeus: “too many… notes!” She mentioned Mozart in the first chapter too, spelled it as “Motsart” to make it, I don’t know, more credible? “The maestro said it was Mozart but it sounded like bubblegum.” It’s almost too much to bear, bright and early in the morning. It’s shaped to be a bad day. But I keep at it, maybe I finish it today there will be a fresh, new day tomorrow.

At lunch table I saw it on the news that Robin Williams killed himself. Didn’t Philip Seymour Hoffman just ODed a few month ago? At this rate Paul Giamatti probably won’t make it to Christmas. I made a mental note to listen to “Vesti la giubba” again when I get back to my desk.

4pm I repaired to 32 for my daily meditation on being laid off. It’s like kind of a reversed prayer, the hope is that if I spread the certain amount of agony it is liable to cause over the matter of months, it would not materialize one day and hit me on the blind side.

On the subway I read a New Yorker article on Nina Simone. It turned out to be a perfect antithesis of Dr. Copeland in the morning. The article gave a detailed account of the composition of “Goddamn Mississippi”, although the terrifying rage she tore through in that performance hardly needs any footnote or background story. But somehow I think after that first night, every time she performed this song again it diluted the raw rage a bit, until it eventually became just “a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet.” Another self-realized prophecy. I closed my eyes in that smelly car and played that song in my mind again, down to the uneasy light laughter from the audience. It went well with the rheumatic clankings of the train.

Life in between.

Turned in and read an article on Robbin Williams: “‘You’re only given one little spark of madness,’ he said. ‘If you lose that, you’re nothin’”. I remember thinking, as I took another deep drawn of the cigarette this morning, am I just another Dr. Copeland. A life with a baseline of steady flow of worries, but I lost the ability to be enraged a long long time ago, fits of blind angers on the phone notwithstanding.

Turned out the light and listened to “Vesti la giubba” again. Then a few more times. Stirred up only a trace of stale sadness but primed myself for another night of dreamless sleep. R.E.M.

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Borrowed life

When does mid-life crisis hit usually? I’m desperately looking forward to it. Don Delillo wrote a masterpiece basing solely on his fear of death, I’m counting on mine for maybe a last push before slipping into the inevitable irrelevancy. But not everyone gets inspired staring into the barrel of a gun like Borges’ Jaromir Hladík, most people just die without much ado. Hladík, fictional or not, lives on in that story, accidental immortality he did ask for and probably wouldn’t want, the other end on the spectrum of existentialism. Joyce was bitterly envious of some of his contemporary Dublin writers, whose works were commercial successful then but have since all been lost and forgotten. Their only footprint in history is the mentioning of their names in Ulysses and as footnotes in books with dubious names like Ulysses Companion. In Earthly Paradise Morris sent a group of knights to the open sea in search of immortality, they met a King on his way to a battle. The King invited them onto his ship and wished them good luck: “I might be the King but my destiny is to die in this last battle, maybe I’ll only be known to people in the future because I once talked to you on your legendary journey.” This perfect fusion of heroism and defeatism into to a coherent masculine personality is patently Nordic, in modern age they just produce bipolar disorder when they act together.

Literature overtune aside, is it more desirable to live in the history someone else created, or simply pass into oblivion? Same difference of eternity I guess. This morning I sat on 32nd floor chain smoking and listening to Rubinstein playing Chopin’s Nocturne. What was going through Rubinstein’s mind when he played that piece? To let the melody flow through his fingers, proceed with learned assurance and masterful control, a lasting achievement in itself but ultimately it is to live in someone’s immortality. A thousand steps below on the ladder of existence there is me, sitting and listening, wondering, over a cup of ice coffee that’s getting warm. L. Cohen pictured himself only a hundred floors down from Hank Williams in the Tower of Songs, essentially putting himself on a par giving the size of the thing it must be. I remember reading “One, Two, Three, Infinity…” by Garmov in junior high school and was fascinated by the notion that a sequence of infinite numbers can be a sub-section of another infinite sequence but at the same time has the same size as the containing sequence. Maybe time is not just a lonely linear progression, but histories for different races are like parallel running infinite sequences intertwining and encompassing each other, and in it every man eventually is pressed into a blimp. Maybe this will alleviate my bashfulness of the obession with Old Testament and the Norse mythology in a time when the Chinese language disintegrate in front of our eyes at an alarming (maybe only to me) rate. To live in a heritage patently not my own, to stuff into the bleakness of my everyday being with someone else’s glory.

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Bind me with seven green withs

The enormous efforts entailed in the sedated lifestyle of farming means it had to compete with the traditional ways of hunting and gathering in the early days of human history.

– Guns Germs and Steel

Of all the crippling doubts the most devastating: “Is this it?”

I guess I’m lucky that so far all life-changing events happened to me over a relatively prolonged period of time, a luxury it is to be able to ease into irreversible losses. This morning I was driving to work and the shuffle-play shuffled me into “Cosmic Call”, all of a sudden summer 2011 came crushing back into the confined space of the car and I was overwhelmed by a sense of longing. Longing for that peculiar loneliness. The days of Thom Yorke and Bjork, washed down by double shots of single malt in the crammed living room after coming back from work at midnight. Four years — it’s as if I came back as a spirit and the dust and smog just deposited in my lung ever so unperceivably until I finally substantiated into flesh and bone from inside out. Mother be proud, I’m now irrefutably a standup citizen worthy of a pinch of salt. Friends I had back in that muddled summer continue to post vacation and night-out pictures in their respective “moments”, seems I’m the chosen one tasked with moving-ons.

Johnny: “You know you told Spence last year I got myself into a happy relationship I could not get out of? I got out of it.”
Me: “It was condolence not a dare.”
Johnny: “Sometime I think I should just cut off my dick and be an eunuch for the rest of my life.”
Me: “Then you’d be just ‘ny’, like Prince turned himself into a symbol.”
Johnny: “But seriously, the fact I spelled ‘eunuch’ correctly worries me.”
Me: “no need to be dramatic, just quit the blue pills cold turkey and you are golden.”

Time now is compartmentalized and dictated by numerical goals to be reached at definite moments, never before was life so precise and precarious. A sense of purpose is indeed fulfilling, up to the throat and brimming. More than once I hung up the phone and thought to myself, what have got into me? What got into me was blood rushing in my brain and I switching into a robotic attacking mode. But point is I wedged myself so rigorously into the system I function on auto-pilot, seems arrogant in summer 2014 to have worried about not fitting in in summer 2011. But all signs point to another tepid second half of the year, which means turmoil on this side of the fence. Summer 2008,

Colleague: “what are you doing to prepare for the aftermath of the downturn?”
Me: “I don’t know… watching CLEs? You?”
Colleague: “I’m taking up archery and farming, cause New York City is gonna be a wasteland after we are through.”

But now I look out of the window at a noon flattened and gray, how would a wasteland be any different?

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For some reason 猫猫 was a bit fuzzy this morning, so after breakfast Dad and I took him downstairs for some fresh air. The small garden was pleasantly cool at 8:30am, even though they hadn’t turn on that sorry excuse for a fountain yet. I brought “Professor Borges” with me, and sat under the tree reading the chapter on Coleridge. Borges sees Coleridge as a living (well, lived) manifestation of Frank Saltram, a life filled with frustration and vacillation, but mainly unfulfilled promises. I read the first few lines of his summary of the “Rime of Ancient Mariner”, and was about to skip to the next page when I heard Dad laughing at the other end of the lawn. I looked up, 猫猫 was pointing at the sky with his tiny index finger, and both of them were looking up at maybe some birds that had already vanished. Then 猫猫 said “O”! A crisp, perfect vowel. The only vowel he can manage so far but he got it down. I watched Dad laughing and remembered asking him at breakfast where he wants to have his birthday dinner tomorrow, he thought for a while and said “Something not too spicy.” I still remembered him loving spicy food, I guess the few times I sat down at dinner table with him in the last couple of years I just wasn’t paying attention. And I couldn’t remember seeing him so much at ease, in how many year? Ever since I came back to China, and before that it was over a decade of absence. But at least now I can go by this hearty laughter in the morning and that is not subject to change. I must have smiled imperceivably. Then as I watched his back when he helped 猫猫 tottering across the lawn, I came to realize I was watching him moving on into a realm that’s yet foreign to me, a realm free of weight of conscience, just pure joy and understanding, on the day before he turns 70. And of course 猫猫 will not be remembering any of this, he who hasn’t yet come into the world of men with a coherent stream of memories. So there I was, suddenly alone, left to bear a name in the sun, the keeper of the memory of a morning.

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“And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness.”

Eventually I came to realize we were just circling around in a radius of one or two miles: given the dull landscape below, we must have arrived already, waiting for landing. So I must have dozed off before takeoff and slept through the three hour flight in this upright posture: no wonder I had this burning pain in my neck, literarily. And it occurred to me this might be the last chance I get to lie flat on an airplane, and I missed it. The day is bright, I can see the two airport highways below sprawling into the distance until they dissolve in the thin veil of smog. The landing ten minutes later was rather choppy, it was rare for the wind to blow so hard on a summer day. The moment I dread most during a flight is the two or three minutes After the plane landed: turn on the blackberry and the red ticker of new emails starts jumping, ten, twenty, thirty… But Today it was eerily quiet, even for a Saturday: it went up to 2 and stopped. When I stepped out of the plane It was the acme of a high noon, the dry heat sucked in all the sap of living things and reflected nothing back. I ended up talking to a colleague on the phone on my ride back so I didn’t notice much else. Even relieved of the sense of urgency, I can’t quite shake off the habitual anxiety, so as soon as I got home I sat down at the computer and worked till it’s time to go to the airport again. In the process I remembered thinking vaguely, doesn’t matter how I did it, there is probably no right way to approach this. Years from now I’ll probably still remember this cloudy afternoon of two trips from the airport, when my then-past future was hanging by a thread that stretched into the indecipherable clouds that is tomorrow and the days after, just like the two airport highways I saw at noon from 30,000 feet above. How many people know “the road less traveled” is actually a poem of bitter disappointment?

I was crawling along the highway at 20 km an hour when mom called, “We are at the baggage claim.” So she didn’t have to circle in the air for 20 mins, matter of fact she’s a quarter of an hour ahead of schedule at least. “I’m still 10 mins away Mom.” 10 mins later she called again, “We are standing outside the pickup area 7.” While I could probably still see in the rear mirror where I was when she called the first time. “Five more minutes Mom.” When I finally pulled up the ramp and turned into the pickup lane half an hour later I can see my dad, standing motionlessly among the confusion of double-packed cars and tired people rushing along dragging luggage big and small. He was looking right in my direction but probably didn’t see me. And I couldn’t see where Mom was. From the distance I couldn’t quite see his face, but his stiff posture belied muted anxiety. When I was inching closer I tried to wave from the driver seat, but he was looking off in the distance, not knowing I was already a few steps away. Then I realized he doesn’t know how my car looks like, but he was standing off the curb leaning out, rather dangerously close to the moving traffic, and kept his vigilantly searching gaze. When I got out of the car he finally saw me, his knotted brows dissolved into relieved exhaustion, if only for a split second. He turned around to wave at Mom to come off the curb, he bent down to grab his luggage, and he hurried toward me: he was actually trying to do this three things at the same time, then he saw Maomao and forgot all about it. I stood by the car door watching him holding Maomao in his arm, and for a moment I forgot I was standing in the traffic as well.

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