Thursday, May 31, 2012

January 21, 2008


Pink cultured marble tiles.  Swirled in white with spots.  Footprints on the walls, thickly covered with ordinary grime found in ordinary train stations.  Fingers on the windows, the dripping dew stuck on a collision course with the handles.  Heavy jackets and tennis shoes---scarves, long pants, and shivers.  Yesterday's rain left puddling under the creeping fog.  The trash needs to be emptied, at least a few days ago.  The slow, necessary draw of a frigid Monday morning pulls the pawns slowly across the board, while the kings and queens sit idly by.  Impatient paces crowd the platform, yearning for heat on the ice-cold stage.  Tall, stylish boots arrive, faces wrapped with care to battle the elements.  Workforce warriors.  Tickets in hand, breathing in, breathing out, counting each step along the way.

On the train, crumpled newspapers, abused by many eyes drift from seat to seat.  Blurry images fade into moments past behind the frost as the citizens catch a few extra minutes of sleep before beginning.  Dry yellow paint and core board flood the walls of the small room temporarily shared by the now-patient, and contently warm huddled masses.  Green, poorly designed standard fabric chairs fill the car with an absence of essence.  The train begins to slow, but the sleeping eyes do not open.  The books begin to close, but the eyes remain moving.



Looking out the window of the train--dripping down the line.  Passing lights and clicking sounds disturb the tranquility I find behind the stained glass.  Worn, market-bought shoes with broken laces mingle with rich relatives--suits, dreadlocks, coats, beanies, book bags, and Chanel purses convening in accord with the must of everyday life.  Poorly kept floors reveal the intentions of uninterested hands--blistered by sweat, poverty, and low pay.  Acquaintances feign interest as familiar yet wholly unknown faces pass them by as they wait.  There lies no distinction between a hard day's work and a hard day's shopping amongst the commuting herd.  Stars hiding in the glow of fluorescent beams somehow manage to survive as voices, loud and soft, boil the sticky air yet leave nothing in their wake.  Conversations conducted in cowardice lie pressed against the panes, straddling the precipice.  A dank perfume of sweat and dust plagues the crowded rows.  Fictitious friction draws eyes to one another and back again as the long, slow wave begins to roll once again.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A-Train to the Beach...

The fact that you can just hop on an A-train and eventually end up at the beach is just another part of living in NYC that I never saw coming.  I mean, seriously....what doesn't this city have?  I never in a million years would have associated chilling on a beach with the New York City experience.  But after what most would say is quite a long ride by NYC standards (1.5 hours) Manuela, Ciara and I wound up at beach #98 or something like that, randomly picking a place to hop off the shuttle train and try to find a spot among the thousands of beach goers on Memorial Day.  The fact that they number their beaches is another facet of New York life which represents that stereotype that everyone associates with it-but I'm sure that beaches themselves have no place in that typical stereotype to which even I had fallen prey.  Luckily for us, and completely unbeknownst to us as well, a very nice and quite talkative lady on the subway let us know that it was the first day that the beach was even open this year.   On the beach we found that the temperature was much cooler than it was in the city, which was a huge bonus because the temperature on the streets is ridiculous at this time of year.  I can only imagine how much worse it will be in August.  The water and waves were nothing special and there was a lot of small seaweed floating in the surf, but the scene itself was real gem. 

The beaches in NYC are "divided" with these old
remnants of piers from the past--creating daydreams of
what life used to be like in America's busiest port.

But the thing that continues to catch my attention about New York is the diversity of the people who you find in just about any corner of the city that you go to.  On our way to meet Ciara in Astoria we happened upon a street fair full of food from all over the world-Indian, Columbian, Mexican, American, Greek, etc...complete with all of those places accurately and proportionately represented with people who actually come from those places.  Once we got to the beach, it seemed as though that very street scene had tagged along with us for the afternoon.

These kids were actually quite well-behaved--although
the one the right had some seriously ridiculous tatoos.

Now, that's not to say that there weren't a few drawbacks to the day that I hadn't normally seen in my travels elsewhere....For example, we saw what seemed to be a group of gang members and most definitely underage drinkers vomiting and passing out in the sand next to us, right in the middle of the several families and couples who had come to get out of the big city heat.  Or take for example the group of 20 young urban kids who shared the subway car with us on the way home.  One of the girls in the group, who couldn't have been more than 17 years old and wore a huge white and gold polka-dotted bow on her head (making her look like a rabbit) that decided she would get very pissed off at one of her supposed "friends" (who was male) for accidentally stepping on her foot as he passed by her on the train.  She then proceeded to push him and subsequently hit him over the head with a cane from another nearby passenger-right in front of more than 50 others on the train, some of which were young children.

However, the overall experience was something that I hadn't expected to find here in NYC...and I have to say that it changed my mind a little bit where I hadn't expected it to be changed.  But we have to take the good and the bad together--and as usual here in NYC there is an abundance of both.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lyrics to "Fences"

You put up all these fences,
That you dont have the foundation to hold,
You litter all your senses,
With holes along the road.

The sun beats down upon you,
Take the time to see,
That if you make it follow you,
You'll always have a shadow at your feet.

       You could start your life today,
        Cause we're not getting any younger,
       There's another way,
         You'll have less less time when you are older.

Stuck here in the shadows,
Strain to hear my voice,
The wind beneath the willows-keeps telling me,
That I dont have a choice.

So westward from the lighthouse,
On some eastern sea,
I stumble through the wilderness,
In search of me.

       You could start your life today,
        Cause we're not getting any younger,
       There's another way,
         You'll have less less time when you are older.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Jess Ross Grogan
August 12, 2006—2 AM
San Giovanni in Persiceto, Italy

An Unexpected Turn

The silent air rising up from the fields stung our faces as we barreled down the remote highway of the Italian countryside.  On our way home, the alcohol fueling my train of thought had allowed me to succumb to the depths of an attitude of causeless jealousy for the angel behind the wheel.  I had regretted my previous words and the aggressive punctuality of them in response to those around me.  The smell of the crops and their stagnant irrigation canals permeated my thoughts as they ran alongside us in the illustrious glow of the full moon which chased us home.  The taste of cheap beer and pizza still rang clear in my mouth and tightly wrapped my palate so that I held my tongue to prevent my breath from escaping into the dark, cramped cavern of our vehicle.
            “Are you mad at me for something?” she calmly sang, with a perfectly balanced hint of subtle defensive dictation, allowing each word to be softer than the next.
            “No, of course not,” I replied.  But she knew better and so did I.  She had grown used to my critical behavior and unnecessary shifts in temperament long ago and I secretly regretted forcing her to have done so, but in that moment I would have never admitted it.  I felt guilty.  I had become quite touchy when she had openly disagreed with me earlier that night about some senseless, empty conversation we were having with her group of friends about a topic which I could not now recall.  But unlike the memory of words past, the feeling stuck, and now I was faced with climbing back out of the hole which I had dug for myself and into which I had sought refuge from those who I had assumed were attacking me without reason.
            In my vague, drunken stupor I had wished that she were in America, in the company of my friends, so it might be different.  And for what?  So I could do it to her in return?  What a pathetic  sentiment clogs one’s mind when they lose control of the ability to think considerately!  I realized the error of my ways, and turning to look at her realized again how much and why I was so in love with her.  Sometimes in a relationship it is quite possible to neglect the foundation of the relationship itself due to the harsh reality of complacency which sets in both eventually and inevitably.  Forgetting how much you love someone is, in my opinion, and, as seen from the perfect hindsight which is shared by all lovers, a prime and often habitual motivation for treating them in a way which you had previously swore to them that you wouldn’t.  
            She could have lashed out at me and put me in my place, hastily shoveling the dirt which I had excavated from the hole right back upon me, holding me hostage against my own pointless actions.  Instead, she had pulled me out and brought me back to life, just as she had always done.  What a pitiful triumph one finds in revenge, I thought.  I finally began to comprehend how someone can triumph with love and understanding, never journeying to the vile depths of what seems to be justifiable recourse.  That is, to me, real love.  To use the fire within to warm rather than to burn.  To control the storm of emotion which accompanies everyday interaction and to strive to keep the levy from breaking.  I wanted to be just like her—and it hurt me to realize that I wasn’t.  Still, it brought me back to life once I recognized that she loved me anyway.
            We arrived back home and slowly climbed out of the car into the densely humid night.  Before opening the front door of the house I strode forward to meet her hand at the lock.  Slipping my hand around her waist inside her jacket, I grasped her as though it would be the last time—the soft curve of her torso tormenting me exponentially as I gently bowed my head in resignation into the fold of her neck and shoulder.  She caressed me, and understood.  No words were needed to express the feelings boiling inside me as I struggled to regain some semblance of dignity, lost within her world. 
            Eventually we made our way into the house and went to sleep.

            It’s funny how the most important things in life are also the most ordinary—the things we take for granted.  We assign such large values to such trivial things, while our lives pass us by—like dropping a rock into a lake…slowly descending, without the knowledge or foresight to see the approaching end or its’ location.  Like such a stone, heavy with burdens bore from our own hand-picked destinies descended from the self-fulfilling prophecies we create in our lives, we wander—knowing not our direction nor purpose but breathing on the pure hope that someone will soon reveal it to us.  With hard shell we prey upon those who are far from allies to our enemies, praying to be recognized for being just in our actions.  We dream of how life should be—yet we rarely step out upon those thin limbs of aspiration, lest they break, leaving us to find ourselves unarmed in unknown territory.  Sitting contently, we watch those extensions of our lives sway in the gathering winds blown by another.  Complacent in our displacement, we pride our every move upon a provident allegiance to a force greater than ourselves, begging to ascend.  Our heart, a trunk deep with many roots, acts as a beacon to our soul—infallible to us, yet flawed by the same evil which lies within us all, filling us with such bitter confidence and fastidious expectation—hope.

Uncomfortable Sleep

Chapter 1

There arose from the ground an unusual fog, encapsulating the campers as they woke from their uncomfortable slumber.  It was cold on the mountain, and they were not prepared for the sudden change of weather which accompanies altitudes previously unknown to beginner hikers.  The chilly ground had made for a terrorizing bed in which to lie and their tattered, average sleeping bags and mats had been worn thin from the campers rolling attempts to find more relaxing positions from which to dream.  All had awoken at approximately the same time, like dominoes falling in a labored, reverse fashion.  They made a quick stew and some green tea from the bags they had stolen from the local sushi restaurant back home. After their fill, they loaded up camp, thoroughly "watered" the surrounding brush and set off down the hill into the small village which they had happened upon the night before. They had eaten, washed their faces, and were on their way down the mountain before a word was spoken amongst them.
The youngest of the three and by far the least experienced in camping and living simply, was the first to speak.    He was the most anxious to get back home.  He had grown very tired of living without his basic luxuries which he had previously taken for granted: running water at the pull of a switch, rather than from a hand pump which produced blisters and tired muscles; illuminating light at the flick of a finger, rather than the weak glow given from the embers of their campfires; the wonder of a microwave, a 24-hour grocery store, walls, fresh meat, milk, or the miraculous convenience of an automobile.  However, he had grown in a way in which he didn’t yet understand.  Being away from home for so long was too much for him, but it had forced him to come to terms with the reality of the most basic form of survival which had eluded him before.  “So how far ya’ll reckon the next town is?” he said suddenly.
His former college roommate, Lawrence, quickly snapped back an answer to him, irritated by the unanswerable and vague question that Jackson had posed.  “How in the hell are we supposed to know, Jackson?  Couldn’t be more than a few more miles, I guess.”  His tone displayed his suppressed and pent-up anger which he had recently developed for Jackson.  He felt Jackson had no place coming with he and his brother on their tour of Europe and he had secretly somewhat despised the presence of the smaller, less athletic, and much less trail-seasoned Jackson tagging along as he had so often done back home at college.  He had deeply regretted even mentioning the trip to Jackson late one night after ten or twelve too many and had regretted even more his reluctant acceptance of what he felt was an unwanted, and unneeded, obligation which had been forced upon him by his less-apt and clingy friend.
“Well sorrrrry, man!” Jackson cried, with a deep stretching of his words and a sudden remembrance of Lawrence’s true feelings toward him.  He too had recently begun to dislike Lawrence, especially his condescending tone and audacious manner in which he often barked orders to his less weathered follower.  Jackson, however much he hated to admit it, knew without a doubt that he had to succumb to Lawrence’s commands, for without his knowledge of the outdoor world around them, their trip would have been nipped in the bud long ago.
This was strange and unnatural territory for three young farmhands, freshly graduated from the community college in this and that.  A hiking trip through northern Europe had taken them a long way since they had began in late July and now they were quite ready to return to the sticky humidity of the Georgia swamps which they knew and hated but longed for now with unbridled passion.   The boots on their feet were worn, muddy, and they stank to high hell.  Their clothes had been run ragged and were thin from being scrubbed on various rocks in multiple streams along the way.  They were blistered, hungry, cut and bruised, and in need of a hot shower and some shampoo for their naturally dreadlocking hair, but their resolve to finish the journey never wavered, unlike the excited friendship and camaraderie they shared upon their arrival.  What a trip it had been!  But now they just wanted to get back home to their mother's tables and the comforters of their own beds which held that magic scent of home.
They slowly worked their way down the remaining path leading into the remote town.   The air was stale and they could taste the faint stench of work from the factory on the outskirts of the tiny city.  James, the smartest of the group and older brother of Lawrence, drew out one of the six language guides which he had pocketed from the school bookstore before they departed and began a fairly ineffective and embarrassing struggle with some of the locals to try and locate the nearest train station.  Lawrence and Jackson, at the sight of this, drew their overbearing sacks from their shoulders and slouched heavily on the nearest wall which lined the grimy street.  They knew the time in which it had so often took James to force his question into a feasible answer from those who were rarely compelled to donate their time to listen to some American babble and meticulously butcher whatever language he was trying to pronounce out of his various phrasebooks.  Eventually, the hand signals and childish train noises he made finally shed some light upon what few would call a conversation and at once they were heading in the general direction in which the middle-aged passers-by had pointed.  They worked their way through the ancient streets of the city, striving all the while to suppress the odor which infected the surprisingly icy air of the valley.
Upon their arrival, they decided to have lunch.   Much better than the raw food and noodles which had served as their base sustenance for the previous weeks, the food was warm at best and different.  The three of them gulped down the bland meat and potatoes served to them at the railway cafe and bought a new pack of cigarettes.  With bellies full, they crept outside the smoke-stained cafĂ© and lit the cigarettes to which they had so anxiously awaited.  The weed and hash that they had brought along from their brief stay in Amsterdam had long since been finished high upon the mountain after a delectable meal of cold beans and pre-packaged tuna with hot sauce on crackers.
“Pretty good trip for you guys too I hope,” mumbled James from behind his silently hissing cigarette.
“Best trip ever!” piped up Jackson, trying to bring some much needed joy to their bland conversations of late.  “I can’t wait to get back home and show off all our pictures.”
“For what, to prove that we came?” cracked Lawrence in an obvious attempt to curb the enthusiasm of Jackson’s statement.  He realized immediately that his harsh reproach was wholly unnecessary and uncouth, but the crippling fatigue which penetrated every inch of his mind and body would certainly not spend any thought or effort to apologize.
“Whatever man”  Jackson replied in a mild, defeated tone,
James looked around slyly and seeing a train approaching in the distance noted, “Bout damn time…get your shit ya’ll, let’s go.”
They scaled the steep, unforgiving steps of the train car, only to find it nearing full capacity.  Lawrence, being the first of the group on the train, quickly spotted two seats on the opposite sides of the aisle, but on the same row.  Stealthily, he turned to his brother and gave a look which demonstrated his intention of him and his brother getting a break from Jackson.  They took the seats, and Jackson, realizing that he would have to sit by himself and feeling helpless in his new disposition, continued on, without a word, secretly content to have some peace and quiet from Lawrence’s harsh reproaches through four more train cars before finally finding what seemed to be the only seat left on the train.
They were finally heading east toward one of the larger cities where they could purchase a flight to return back home with what money they had left.  They stowed their baggage, drank the last of their water, and soon they had all succumbed to the comfort of the cloth seats of the train and were happily dozing for what seemed to them like hours.  Jackson, like the others, had found the seats to be a bit too confining and emptied the pockets of his dark-tan turned dirty brown dungarees which had seen him through the latter part of their expedition the rolling hills of Slovakia.
Jackson awoke suddenly as the train crept into a small station and decided that he would stretch his legs and have another cigarette.  Since they would arrive with only a short time to spare before catching their flight, it would probably have been the only chance that he had at a break from the stagnant smell of the rotten clothes and dirty stainless steel dishes which filled his bag-turned-pillow.  He exited the train, lit his cigarette, and had a sudden urge to use the restroom.  He spotted what seemed to be a sign for a restroom and hesitantly opened the rotting wooden door which led to what he hoped were the bathrooms.
The small bathroom was pungent with the smell of feces and ancient toilets.  The dank dust and grime which plagued the corners of each offset angle made him cringe at the sight, but at least he would be able to sit down and use the restroom this time, rather than crouch and hope not to soil the back of his feet and legs.  He made his business as quickly as possible and headed back out to catch the train after cleansing his face and hands in the metal sink which hung loosely from the wall, glancing at the chipped, rust- stained mirror to realize that he looked at least 3 times scruffier than he had initially imagined.  He kept his weary head down as he exited the station slowly stretching his trail worn muscles, preparing for a few more hours of uncomfortable sleep.  He was exhausted, not only of the trip which had claimed so much of his energy and effort, but also of the disappointing meals and of Lawrence and James obvious and natural alliance as brothers. 
He rounded the corner of the ragged, stone station and realized that the train he saw pulling slowly away from him was his own.  He raced forward, pushing and dodging his way through the sparse crowd, his face contorting with the evident horror which was soon to take place.  He leapt and bounded as fast as he could toward the fleeing train, his muscles stretching and burning more with every stride—but it was too late.  The train gained speed and left him, mouth open, out of breath and terrified on the platform.  He turned round hurriedly, hoping to find someone else there on the platform to help him, but saw no one willing to help or even look at him.  Then, feeling the sting of the curse which now dawned on him, his heart sank even further.  He suddenly realized the staggering dilemma in which he now found himself:  his wallet, train ticket, and all of his belongings were on that train.  Oh, how he kicked himself over and over for emptying his pockets before sleeping!  He stood there for the longest six minutes of his life, softly panting and staring into the bleak countryside surrounding the station.  Finally he muttered, "Well god damn it.”


Back on the train, James and Lawrence exchange a few sleepy glances across the aisles as they searched for sleep.  They began to wonder which was more comfortable: the hard, rocky ground from the night before or the constricting, posture-forcing squared seat which was obviously not designed with any regard to travelers wishing to catch a little shuteye on their way.  It was still morning, and the sunlight crept in around the threadbare curtains partially covering the eyes of the train. 
            James tossed and turned until he finally gave up, shooting a sharp glare at the old woman sitting across from him.  Something stunk, and he had good reason to believe that she was the culprit.  Her oversized knees took up way too much legroom in the cramped, stuffy nook of the four seats facing one another in which they sat.  Every so often, he would bump her knees or step on her black, crusted shoes, reluctantly apologizing repetitively for something for which he felt he owed no apology.  She fell to sleep, to his dismay, quite easily and the whistling of her light snores were heard only by him, ridding him of the possibility to read or write in relative peace as they cruised down the line.  The soggy meat and potatoes they had eaten in [the town] began to make his stomach twist and strained tilt himself subtly in order to expel the gas brewing inside him without anyone noticing.  He already stuck out like a sore thumb among the commuting rows of passengers and hoped to not draw any more attention than necessary. For once, he would be happy to return to work, however unfulfilling his job may have been.  Unlike his younger brother, Lawrence, James had no one to go home to, so his daydreams centered around his home and his work—and the dependable convenience of American life.
            Lawrence was content to have a few moments of silence, even if the pull of exhaustion was wearing his senses thin.  He knew that it would be over soon and he couldn’t help but fantasize about seeing his girlfriend again after such a long break.  He knew that she would be waiting on him as soon as he arrived at the airport and began to dream about the smell of her hair, the feeling of the curve of her neck, the soft crest of her nose, the way he interlocked his hands around her waist.  The thrill of touch had been nearly lost to him in the last month, as he and his fellow travelers had kept their space to themselves.  Eventually, he was able to drift off long enough for the train to speed away from his helpless friend, leaving behind any hope of finding him or realizing what had happened in time to do anything about it.
Here goes nothing...pun intended?