Heart of the Machine

Somewhere in the heart of the Machine. Somewhere between the teeth of the autonomous gears that rotate effortlessly, with an effervescence known only to the creator of the Machine. Somewhere floating within the chasms of society's greatest fears, we stand tall.

The air is rare as we glide through the fog of our cloudy vision. Spiked with doubt, our sights are not as clear as they once used to be. Whatever happened to our innocence? What became of our sinless lives? Did we lose our way when the road split, or did we miss that left turn in Albuquerque?

The rain intensifies and your cable signal is weakened. The wind picks up and the trees dance with a fervor unrivaled, a ferociousness unsurpassed. Bats soar through the night, flapping their wings in unison. The moon pulls at the ocean, the waves push the vessel ahead. Nothing is constant.

The internal pain becomes external. The external beauty isn't mirrored internally. You lay motionless in the tub, your fingertips mimic prunes, enhancing your grip as evolution shows itself once again. The Machine is resentful, fearful, and nervous.

You choose not to wish upon a star, for you wish to become a star. Fame & fortune, glitz & glamour. Limos and legs for days, caviar and cabriolet cars for nights.

The ladder you climb doesn't get you any higher. The rungs aren't stepping stones to a life more complete. But every step you take keeps the gears turning, lubricated by your sweat & tears, as you are left no choice but to fight your fears.

You were always on your own.

You choose to be your own worst enemy so that you may become friends with those who despise you. You focus on 2 negatives making a positive, but while you're celebrating, you forget about the third negative. This fluctuating atmosphere is caustic. This irritating biosphere is toxic, not unlike the fumes from the Machine.

We have become hostages to the approvals of others. We have become prisoners of our own decline. What's left of our effort is relegated to ridicule and satire. Is it ever gonna be good enough? Seems like that benchmark is defined by those who put in the least amount of work, but possess the most amount of clout.  It may last, it may not, but the past won't be forgotten, the future won't be forsaken.

If only we could pinch & spread our perspectives. If only we could drag sadness away from our hearts and paste happiness. But the Machine won't allow it, won't consider it. A reset does not bring back your loved ones. But the tenacity of a rose rising through the concrete breeds confidence.

There are seeds everywhere. There is hope everywhere. Give it time, give it space. Give it all, sacrifice once more, and with eyes wide open, define and refine yourself, somewhere in the heart of the Machine.

A Surfer's Memory

"Memory of this still reminds me of you.  Memory of this still reminds me."

Fleeting. Forgotten then remembered. Capable of so much, yet seemingly weightless and lighter than moonlight. They are formed and forged without your intervention, they are fused in the depths of your deepest thoughts, there are too many to count. There are too few that last forever.

The shocks absorb the undulations of the old and beaten road beneath the car, the current flowing through the filaments below the leather-bound chair, giving warmth to our bodies, giving comfort to our fears. A sudden change from green to yellow results in a burst of supercharged acceleration where some kiss their fingers and relay that affection to the headliner for a luck they consider to be "good."

Her reaction is the same, but the gears are moving. Naturally lubricated, always in sync, and in perpetual motion she rides on. Her tan legs dangling in the saltwater surrounding her surfboard that's keeping her afloat. Buoyancy--you're doing it right. The shoreline rises & falls as she remains motionless. The current quietly dancing on the ocean floor below, admiring the view. Remnants of sand can still be found in her auburn hair. One by one the grains slide down towards her wet shoulders glistening in the summer sun Way Out in the West.

And in that moment her eyes close and she wishes August 28th, 2011 was never a day, but she can't recall many nights sweeter than the 27th. Her life forever changed, a new direction for the worse, a turn into darkness and despair. Will the light ever shine again? Will love ever come again? You can try so hard to fit the pieces that once fell apart. You can try. You can always try, but to succeed the parts must comply.

The sunset is the only sign she needs to bring herself back to her sandy home, where there are no walls, no locked doors. Around a bonfire she sits, the wind reminding her she's alive. And as the wood turns into ash, as the heat fades away, the creation of memories comes to a close. But the book isn't finished, merely a chapter. An autobiography that writes itself in a virtual world where paper & ink serve no purpose. There are no pages to flip.

The frequency of the crashing waves in sync with the rhythm of her heart, a faint echo of a dolphin momentarily wakes her from the tranquil dream occupying her thoughts. As the morning sun rises and the ambient temperature increases, the activity of the central nervous system intensifies, culminating in a sudden moment of hope and optimism. She is awake. Ready to take on the day, to take on life with all its trials & tribulations, and to reflect on the past with eyes on the future. No fear.  No regrets, except one.

And when all is lost to the winds of change and time, the memory of this will still remind me of you.

A Letter for Mom

I remember the days of our struggles, though the struggle was really yours; I was merely along for the ride, often adding to the difficulty of living in the 1980s. I'm sorry I ran away from the bus in Istanbul on our trip to get our visas, but I'm glad we caught the robber who attacked the bus driver.

A year later our true journey began, just me & you. A small apartment with 1 bed, and you gave it to me, made it mine. You slept on the uncomfortable couch and decades later your back aches because of it. I bugged you incessantly when you needed a well-deserved nap on that white couch. I was just bored. I hid chocolate under the cushions, and when I forgot one time during the summer, I flipped them over to conceal the stains. I thought I was so clever, but I was simply buying myself time.

We didn't have a car at first, but that didn't stop you from taking the bus to get groceries while I cluelessly stayed home and watched cartoons. A sudden smile would emerge at the sound of the key entering the lock. You'd kick the door open with both your hands full of heavy plastic bags just dying to rip apart, your face covered with sweat and smog from the City of Angels. I should've helped you then.

I'm terribly ashamed of when I asked you to carry me on the sidewalk because I was "tired" one summer day. Such a lame excuse for a 6-year-old.

The early mornings, the smell of tea brewing in the kitchen, the same walk to the grey elevator and the descent into the garage that sometimes served as my own personal playground. The daily routine of taking me to school and my shameful request to drop me off before the main entrance because our cheap Datsun 210 with faded paint couldn't compare with the Corvettes and Jaguars driven by the parents of my classmates; the ones that made fun of me for not being at their level. That's quite alright...I'll take a seat on a higher level of dignity than wealth any day.

Remember how the front seats were ripped and you covered them with black t-shirts since that's all we could afford? I do, and I even remember the panther on the passenger seat. And now? Now you ride shotgun on heated silk Nappa leather seats in a German sports sedan. It's 'cause of you.

I'm glad Lanai Road had a good afterschool program, allowing me to stay till 6 pm and easing your burden of keeping me preoccupied. A familiar "beep beep" would beckon me to say bye to my friends, leave the handball court, and come racing down to you in the parking lot. You'd greet me with a hug, a kiss, and a container of fresh fruit. Gotta eat healthy you said.

A quick ride home, a quicker supper prepared, and off you went to continue working, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I never mentioned it then, but I knew why you had to leave: it was to survive. But sometimes the loneliness would be too much to bear, and I'd lock myself out of the apartment and walk down to the lobby and chat with the guard. I wish I remembered my conversations with him (I'm sure they were deep), but I'll never forget the circular headlights of the Datsun. My mom was home. I'm not scared anymore. I can sleep now.

You had a solid reputation of having a powerful voice, and it was merely a matter of time before someone would ask you to sing at family gatherings and parties. You'd say no, you'd pretend you didn't feel like it, you crushed their hopes, but moments after the mingling restarted, their whispers were suffocated by the words you sang. It's as if the world stood still as everyone just sat and stood in awe, some closing their eyes and enjoying the sound waves bouncing off them. I'd foolishly put my hands over my ears and pretend I didn't like it. And now? Now I write and sing my own songs, but my voice doesn't come close and lacks the fortitude that emanated from your chest. It's not even an apple falling far from the tree, it's an orange that is forever bound to the branch, limited in talent and range, but unwavering in desire.

Mother's Day, 2006. It was May 14 and it coincided with my graduation from Illinois. When we met outside after the ceremony, when the rain clouds had given way to sunny skies while the asphalt remained damp, I told you I didn't have much to give, just a dedication of my degree and thesis. You broke down and I rue my unwillingness to break down with you. What was I afraid of?

I always thought those tears were due to the absence of my biological and surrogate fathers that day, so thank you for reminding me during our conversation 24 hours ago when your voice traveled thousands of miles through space from the other side of this planet.

In essence it was the culmination of all of your hard work: the sleepless nights, the multiple jobs, the myriad of sacrifices you made that undoubtedly shaped me into who I've become. And as long as you're here and long after you're gone, I shall continue to be the son you're proud of, but know that your pride is surpassed by the admiration, respect, and love that flows through my veins.

It's what keeps this heart beating, now and forever more.

Drive

Though the sun has set and darkness has risen, the night is still young. Still a teenager waiting for an opportunity to throw a wicked house party when the parents are gone for a romantic weekend, ensuring their mood is good and their sense of suspicion is at bay.

The light emanating from the high intensity discharge bulbs is shining bright with a soft hue of blue, illuminating the highway that spans the American Pacific Coast. Shards of glass sparkle on the shoulders, souvenirs of past accidents and mishaps. The moonlight is tiptoeing on the crests of cold waves, crashing on the soft sand, bringing minute changes to the landscape we all take for granted.

Between peaceful, small towns, the environment is dark and lonely. There are no street lights to guide me, no traffic lights to stop me, but I continue ahead, following the solid double yellow lines that sometimes break up in dashes, allowing a swift and effortless pass thanks to forced induction.

As I activate cruise control at 77 mph, I listen to Ms. Overton as she's seductively yearning for me to put my love and arms around her. And while I'd relish the opportunity to do so, 'tis only her voice that is present; her flesh resides across the pond. A sense of tranquility overwhelms me and I momentarily ponder what would happen if I ceased to exist at that very moment. Would the universe even notice?

Just then, the dim lights on the outskirts of my destination appear. Just then, I snap back to reality, I cancel cruise and downshift to 5th and introduce my throaty exhaust to the creatures that roam these parts.

The exit appears, speed is reduced, and I snake my way through town at a leisurely pace. I have been here before, I know my way. At the lobby of my lodge, I am greeted by an elderly man of Irish descent. He informs me of my choices for hot beverages, he points out the pristine pamphlets, he raves about his continental breakfast, nothing more than coffee & cake. Nothing more is needed.

The room is small, the bathroom boasts an industrial soap dispenser with its twin in the shower, though that one is labeled "soap & shampoo." Say what? They're the same thing? What is this sorcery?

I chuckle as I wash my face with warm water, then dry it with a towel that's been washed a million times plus one. The shoelaces are untied and I hop on the bouncy bed, laying there for several minutes as I stretch and look back at the journey I just finished. I'm thankful for having the means to enjoy my surroundings, to experience another small part of Mother Earth. You can drive your entire life and not see all there is to be seen, and though your eyes cover a much grander area from 32,000 ft, the relationship is cold, just like the ambient air. There's no feeling of connection, just a fleeting glimpse of flat lands, blue oceans, and snow-covered mountains that you'll forget the next time you blink and moisturize your eyes.

It's not always about the length of travel, nor is it always about costs of transportation. But it is undeniably about the experience, and I for one often choose to steer and blaze my own path. I choose to use the third pedal and determine my own RPM, choose to navigate at my own pace, choose the sounds that occupy the cabin, and choose what is and what is not worthy of parking in neutral.

I choose to drive.

Leave Me Alone, I'm Eating

It's the postseason in Major League Baseball. It's time to contemplate what sexy outfit you'll be wearing at the end of the month, knowing full well society will deem it acceptable and pass judgment. And it's also time to get ready to bounce and move your body to the sound of electronic dance music in the heart of Hollywood.

Within the confines of its legendary walls and its sparkling chandelier from yesteryear, I engulf the blonde beauty before me to protect her from the errant asshat who threatens to occupy our private space. As I listen to the music, I close my eyes and let the booming bass pulsate my chest. Rays of neon light dance in space in perfect harmony with the German beats as they fail to penetrate my shut eyelids with all their photonic might; thank for you playing, try again.

As the show ends and the night draws to a close, the crowd scatters like an army of ants that's just been discovered. The food trucks are outside, waiting for the masses to come and feed off their greasy food that always tastes better after midnight. But instead of dining on the gum-stained sidewalk, we make our way to a place that never closes: Norm's.

Comfortably situated in a booth and eagerly awaiting an early breakfast, I begin to notice an interesting situation developing across the room. Male, late 40s, well over 2 bills, and enough grease in his hair to lubricate an entire revolution. He's sporting white shoes, white pants, a light pink shirt with--you guessed it--a white collar. On his way to the little boy's room, he noticed 2 young ladies sitting at the table just before the bathroom doors and decided to chat them up, because clearly they're looking to give out numbers at 2:30 am; eating is really just a bonus.

As he strikes up a conversation with one of the damsels in distress, I overhear her name: Kira. Early 30s, long, auburn hair, a short white dress symbolizing either her innocence or the basis of attraction for Mr. Douchenozzle Turdface III (DT3). One after another, she's inundated with questions while keeping her arms firmly crossed across her abdomen. Whether DT3 was listening or not is a mystery, for he was leaning against the wall and shamelessly staring down her dress and salivating over her supple breasts. Creepy to the extreme, seedy as it seems folks.  

Across the cold, barren table, Kira's friend sat alone, pretending to be preoccupied by the contents of her mobile cellular telecommunications device. For a while she was kept company by one of DT3's wing men who apparently came from a Fonzie look-alike contest. Unable to handle the immediate rejection, he quickly scampered back to his sanctuary. But that didn't deter DT3 from continuing to harass Kira whose resolve would not be broken. 

For a solid 15 minutes this pathetic effort continued and shattered records of desperation previously witnessed by this guy. No, she's not interested in the balance of your checking account or the diameter of that fake Rolex you're wearing, though I recommend keeping it somewhere safe where no one can see it, right next to your dignity and sense of respect.

No, she's not going to join you and your posse regardless of how "large" your table is, though it's fair to assume it's inversely proportional to the size of your one-eyed trouser snake. But seriously, since when did table sizes become the basis for pickup lines?

And yet, despite his incessant badgering and his deplorable imploring to convince her that he's worth her time, Kira, who gained my admiration, never surrendered, never gave in, never gave up.

Churchill would be most proud.

Con te partirĂ²

It's that song you immediately recognize while simultaneously being clueless as to what Bocelli's singing about. You might even sing along, humming to the melody, swaying back & forth like those affluent Europeans who listened to him in the front row at his Portofino concert. I wonder if they tipped their waitresses and tried the shrimp?

Regardless of how familiar you are with the song, you and everyone surrounding you will know the moment of farewell; you'll sense the feeling of departure; you'll know with absolute certitude that it's time to say goodbye. I experienced that moment recently as well, having to prematurely say goodbye to fellow co-workers & friends as I take my first step towards a new chapter. The actual, face-to-face farewells have yet to occur, though they're looming in the distance. We all know it's coming, though undoubtedly some don't really care; just another young engineer who started his career at the company and decided to move on. Good riddance? Let's hope not.

Let's hope for "good luck." Let's hope for goodbye.

But how many will stay in touch with me? How many will ask about me in the future? How many will think fondly, reminisce, and hopefully laugh at some silly comment I once made? I often wonder about such questions, especially about those who've left me in the past. Do I think about them as often as they think about me? Does it really matter? Should it really matter? I think so.

Calling it a "legacy" seems disingenuous to those who've truly had one; the John Woodens, the Dr. Kings, the Norma Jeans, the Jimmy Hendricks of the world. But merely calling it "memories" seems too weak, too insignificant. Perhaps it doesn't need a name, maybe it's just an amalgam of stories, comments, actions, and written words that shall hopefully withstand the test of time & technology. It wasn't done on purpose, but it most definitely was done with a purpose.

It seems like for every new friend you make, you lose touch with another; as if our capacity for friendships has a limit. And it's not the number of friends on your Facebook page; it's not the quantity of contacts in your phone or rolodex. It's the ones you make an effort to see, traffic and lack of sleep be damned. The ones whose birthdays are in your mind, not in a calendar.

It's the ones you can be silent with for half a year, then pick up right where you left off and continue to offer support and a patient ear.

The ones who picked you up from the airport when you flew home engulfed in uncertainty, worry, and doubt, and who sat beside you in your darkest hour. The ones who helped you off the ground as you fell to your knees, because there was nowhere else left to go.

The ones whose hands you held as you spun in circles on the grass as the unknown, random band played on stage, and their music--though loud--was suffocated by your collective laughter.

The ones who helped you move when no one else would and stayed with you as you eclipsed the 44th hour of being awake.

The ones who politely asked if they could punch you in the stomach in high school, because that's how you say hello in the 10th grade.

But let's not focus on the decreased frequency of the encounters, rather relish the opportunity to start reminiscing and looking forward to new adventures, stories, and beginnings. Let's remember some goodbyes are temporary, even a formality at times. And though it may sting, it creates the opportunity for a future embrace when the smiles will be wider, the anticipation higher, and the joy of witnessing your friend and rekindling the friendship becomes so great that it creates a memory by itself, one that would not have been possible if there was never a time...

A time to say goodbye.