Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tiles

A grid of square tiles fills the floor of my college bedroom: the intimate space I retire to after long days at the lab, where I trust my bare body to the covers on my mattress, where I allow myself to engage with my deepest thoughts and feelings. It is the area where I have complete control and sovereignty, which allows me to have comfort and the peace of mind that no one will encroach upon me. I am the boss. I am in control.

Not tonight. She is here. Haunting me in Cambridge. Her evil face plainly illuminated under the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. My sovereignty over all of the tiles has been reduced by the area occupied by her person. She will not move. She does not want to reason, because with her, there is no such thing, and she can never be incorrect. No difference in age can elevate my wisdom above hers. No tenancy over a space does not keep her from trespassing.

I beg her to leave my abode, but she refuses, re-anchors, and attempts to strike me with her left fist. Of all the wrongs she has committed against me, she stills feels like she is the victim, and feels within her right to encroach upon my living space in some sort of megalomaniacal counter-reaction. She clamps her teeth like a hungry wolf exerting chauvinistic dominance over my (now former) territory. She covers more tiles, and I imagine she wants to laugh at how many she is getting away with--laugh at how malleable and submissive I am.

I cannot sleep with her here. I need a diversion, so I gather my laundry in a sack and take it downstairs to wash. (This is my current apartment now.) Once I'm in the elevator, I realize that I've forgotten my detergent, but I decide to move forward. In the lobby, I abandon the sack and decide to check on the garage.

Several black SUVs are parked in disordered orientations. The garage is dark blue from the early morning (it must be 5 AM or something) and there are various tall blonde women loitering around me. I suddenly hear the song "Talkin' Baseball" playing in the background. My sister must be here with her softball team. I look for the characteristic decal on their vehicle but get misled by the ones belonging to the various Cal teams. I never find her.

---

I am at the dojo, testing for the next kyu, but forget an important word: Tatami.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Dive

After a warm, sunny hike by the beach, my friend and I sit down near a crag and watch the ebbing of the calm ocean waves. I tie a white string to a large brass rifle bullet and wedge the bullet into the wet dirt. The string tied to my wrist, I dive off the cliff into the water below, barely making a splash, and descend straight down. A snorkel tube makes the upside down descent more comfortable, and allows me to gaze mesmerized at the blues, oranges, and greens peacefully reflecting through the water. I don't stop the descent, because I think the string will pull me back up.

At some point I lose consciousness, and I awake realizing that the string had broken off at some point. Miles below the surface, the air lock in the snorkel is deteriorating, and I need to swiftly make my way back up. I make wide, pronounced strokes through the crystal-clear water, although I am mentally frantic. Reaching the surface, I climb back up to the top of the cliff, and see my friend. The sun is almost down.

"Gosh, you were down there for a while. I was wondering when you were gonna come back," she says adoringly, rubbing my back, although without a hint of concern at my well-being. She shows me the bullet in her palm, and, smiling, says this was a poor choice of rappelling anchor. We put on our packs and make our way back home.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Gorgeous Egypt

Packed clay walkway emanating from the shy red brick temple; it has a beige color with fine parallel scratch patterns as if made by a rake, albeit smooth and painstakingly rounded. The path is dry and desolate save for one or two grown white males with crew cuts moving on obnoxious electronic transportation gadgets. Shame on them for disturbing this photogenic tranquility in the baking sun. I actually try to take a few pictures with my smartphone, adamant about not having these weirdos in the background.

As the sun gets less and less overhead, I walk further and further down the path, admiring the sense of safety it instills in my person. I reach a perfectly flat desert landscape in the twilight, and the scene before me is breathtaking.

In the distance, on the dry sandy plane, coddled between two rolling hills, several massive golden pyramids are illuminated  along with a huge sphinx and other anachronistic yet stone-based skyscrapers. Awesome light from the titanic structures seems to have some divine source and creates a modest glimmer on the fine tiles of mica. It bounces between the structures, onto the sand, and onto me and makes me feel comfortably small in the midst of such a godly creation. The deadpan eyes of the sphinx seem to stare right at me, and although the stone beast is mighty, he seems to welcome my presence as student, as a learner. Perhaps he had laid down the path to lead me here? I cannot fathom the great activities taking place in those pyramids or skyscrapers, so tantalizing far yet within mortal sight.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cazo's

At sundown, a young Hispanic graduate student sits in Yali's café in front of her laptop. Something about her tells me she was probably just as nerdy as I was in high school, and perhaps just as awkward. Probably not the most fluent in Spanish either, and her skin has a middle range of brown. We had met before in a formal context, so I think I'll take a shot at talking to her.

"Hey! How are you?"

"Oh hi. Yeah, I'm doing good," she says, barely willing to turn her eyes away from her work, and barely able to evince the faintest smile.

"Nice, I haven't seen you in a while. How is your research going?"

"It's going good...." she continues to give a canned response that many grad students hold in the back of their pocket when the last thing they want to do is talk about work.

"Have you heard of that new restaurant on Shattuck? It looks super fancy. I think it's called 'Cazo's'? I've been wanting to go there."

The alarms sound in her head, and she retaliates, "Yeah, Ben and I had walked by a few nights ago. He's not very into that kind of food. But yeah, you should try it. It should be nice."

What the naming of names, my cue to leave is apparent, and I don't dare to drag on this conversation, no matter how abrupt. The purple light of Yali's blurs my vision and guides my broken heart back to Etcheverry. Not sure if I give a proper goodbye.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tree Tunnel

The glass paneled hallway that used to lead from Hayden Library to the main complex (Bldg 6?) was nostalgically important for its spectacular and spoiled view of the Boston skyline at night. It is now further north of its original location in a heavily amplified courtyard around what used to be the building filled with lonely chemistry grad students. It is much longer, and the reflected light of the overcast sky shines austerely through the glass as if paying respects to the dead in a marble temple. My blonde lover wears a black designer dress and red lipstick; I lead her down this walkway as she speaks no words but clutches my arm affectionately. I completely understand she is far beyond my league but I relish these precious minutes before they disappear; I pay no mind to the poor fit of my cheap suit. At the lower ovular extreme of the corridor, we look at building 66 as a few drops of rain fall from the sky. We kiss.

This lover must love me given all the patience she demonstrated in navigating the tunnels with my unimpressive self. These fantastic tunnels were dug under dormitory furniture and led directly to the root structures of trees in the national park miles and miles away. Forget any topological coherence; these were magical routes of escaping the hardships at the institute. I remember her crawling into the dirty, awkward crevice formed by one of these interfaces; all without complaint and all to spend time with me. Dressed in hiking apparel, we sat and enjoyed mother nature and spoke no words. We just enjoyed the presence of one another, and the fact that the other was alive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

So Far from the Pizza Place

J calls me and offers to meet up in San Francisco at some uncannily expensive pizza place. Pondering the implications of this encounter, I get distracted by three marines on the sidewalk in uniform carrying black plastic tubes. One is hat-less smoking a cigarette.

"Who is going to be there?" I ask.

There is a pregnant pause. "Why should that matter?" she responds.

I disregard the need to know, because I know who's going to be there just from the response. The person who stole her from me. "How long will y'all be there?"

"Uh...," she probably turns and asks her friend(s), as I can hear background noises from the restaurant, "maybe 30 or 40 more minutes?"

I'm not close but can make the last ten minutes if I leave now, I imagine, since I happen to be in the city. I agree to meet up.

This part of San Francisco is surprisingly less dense; it may not be in the city at all. There are diagonal parking spaces painted on the asphalt in front of plain warehouses. Some are clearly abandoned with years of disrepair, showing the effect of rapid construction with no financial follow-through. Probably happened during the recession. Not one human on the street. Squatters in vans. I walk by a beautiful marble sign advertising this particular district, and in the background is an unfinished commercial space with many wooden planks stolen and elsewhere extensive water and fire damage.

A small In-N-Out franchise near a less-popular donut store rests on an incline in this rust belt. Maybe I should bring them a burger? I decline, and descend the Aztec steps. I see all sorts of people wearing the white and red paper hats, in stark contrast to the urban decay in the periphery. The SF skyline can't be seen at all; just trees. Where is this?

I'm now stuck in a petty theme park. The monorail ride is a half-baked loop through hastily painted murals and drab groundcover shrubbery. It runs through an on-site fast food restaurant, with sauce bottles on the tall tables blending in wit the atrocious red and black wall paint. This is my excuse to look up directions to the pizza place in San Francisco. Some platforms offer an exit on the other side. This one is located uncomfortably close to the main loop of the giant coaster. After finding some way out of the theme park, I realize the time has already passed. I don't bother looking for the MUNI. I don't bother calling J back.

---

Throwing forks and knives at the middle school classroom bulletin board with the teacher in presence. Learning is certainly not the priority here. I try a fork but I miss. Chairs are stacked as the day comes to an end, but I am adamant at sticking at least one utensil. I manage to throw one butter knife through the legs of a chair into the wall. Despite this victory, I earn the glares of everyone, including the teacher (my 8th grade history teacher). Why am I an exception to having fun?

Apparently this was a kindergarten, because the teacher aide comes out to scold me and threaten an expulsion. She wears a 90's era blouse, skirt, and stockings, and shapes her blonde hair like some character from a Johnny Depp movie. I mention no wrongdoing, but she feels antagonized, and offers a few expletives in my direction. I threaten to retaliate officially for her verbal abuse. She disappears into the classroom shaking her head, infuriated.

---

At home, I am safe from the repercussions of the kindergarten administrators. Through the glass paneled front door, I see a small Asian boy walk up and touch the handle. I walk up to investigate, and I see X coming, holding a small take-home box and a white plastic bag. He hands me the items and then leaves with the boy (his son?) without saying a word.


I catch him on the driveway. "Wait, what's up? What's wrong? What happened?" I'm trying to figure out if I missed something important. A dinner with our professor?

His behavior and appearance is unlike anything I've seen before. (He is also slightly taller.) "You know what you did..." he tells me, his eyes sickly red and watery. The encounter runs no further.

Inside, I activate the ornate locking mechanism with its many machined brass elements moving in mechanical harmony.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Coffee Drink

A cafe on campus, an iced coffee drink in front of me

R and K are here with me and other unknown beings and they are happy

And I am happy to be with them and my coffee drink and other things

R offers to make me more coffee so I hand her the cup in front of me

From what I can see, she pours in some grounds and recaps the lid

No boiling of water or filtering at all, she does as she please

The liquid is bitter and gritty through the red straw

Sharp pain in the stomach caused by what I just did

A slow death while singing in Portuguese

Friday, October 30, 2015

Chain-link Hangar

I spy two white men in their thirties wearing plaid and black beanies smoking on the main rooftop of my apartment complex. I switch on the outside lights, and they rush and hide behind the stairwell, in a non-existent space, because they know they shouldn't be there. I storm outside to reprimand them, but there turn out to be others on the roof as well. These ones are dressed as stereotypical tech workers in need of a shower, playing music from a Bluetooth stereo. They scurry about randomly like gaseous atoms.

---

I leave towards the main road from Sparrow Drive, which functions as a private driveway to the unknown house I have just departed. I espy the faint shadow of a mountain lion, and make noises to possibly scare the beast away. The vague outline disappears to the left, but that side of the road is very steep, and its hard to imagine it could be used as a full escape route. Maybe the beast lies in wait? I hear the grinding of a bike chain somewhere on the main road running along the ridge of this steep area. There is a soft red flicker of a tail light, but that is all I see in the dense fog. Who was that cyclist? I make my way forward.

I climb a massive box-shaped hangar/shed-type structure made of chain-link fencing held together by cheap metallic fasteners of low-quality iron. The hangar consists of four structural poles dug into the ground and two parallel planes of fencing lying 70 feet above ground, leaving a crawl space 4 feet high in between. Thin, uncanny leaves have fallen from the surrounding trees and accumulated on the top mesh, providing weak shelter from the oncoming rain. God has just given me more time to find my white socks on the lower plane before it's too late and they are too wet. I waste a lot of time trying to find a suitable foothold on the flimsy structure before crawling forward. More and more drops penetrate the leaves. The whole thing feels like it will topple over. I don't know where I am.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Artisan Chocolate Kiosk

Running at full pace across a poorly paved parking lot like the one by Golden Gate Fields in the marina. I dodge puddles and concrete parking bumpers, and I jump over a 90's era blue Mazda that seems to intentionally swerve in my direction. There's a small quaint Italian restaurant at the extreme of the lot with a nice outdoor dining area lined by trellises of grape vines.

I pick up the chicken parmesan sub that I ordered online and I can't wait to eat it, although the restaurant seemed to have very few patrons and possibly a low throughput on the food in their kitchen. As I walk out, I see a stocky mafiosi harassing a man about an apparent misuse of words. He frequently references a standing plaque with all the acceptable combinations of prepositions and proper nouns, all color coded for particular ranks of individual. I start to believe this restaurant might be a front for some money laundering scheme.

---

There is a specialty chocolate and cigarette kiosk to the left of the franchise coffee shop. No one is in line at either, and I am craving milk chocolate with crushed almonds. I walk in front of the glass case with a menagerie of European imports and shamelessly high-priced yet generic-labeled organic artisan brands. Oddly, there is also a small library of budget paperback textbooks like the sort you would buy at Vick Copy. This is compounded by the uncanny arrangement of cigarette boxes in the background. This must be a strange duty-free at some airport.

A tall black man in his early 20s wearing a dark baseball cap runs behind the counter to re-assume his tasks after taking a break. He ties his apron and I feel bad because I'm actually not ready to order. "What will it be? Marlboro 100s?". "Uh no, I need some more time..." I take a few steps back. To spare the awkwardness of my presence, a solicitor comes carrying a courier-style backpack, and asks the vendor if he can take a survey. The worker responds plainly as he takes the clipboard, "Okay fine, that will be $7.50, cash only," as if this was a normal service conducted by the strange kiosk. I'm astounded these otherwise unseen polling agencies have resorted to such a questionable sampling procedure.

---

I am in the midst of a vert tight multi-point turn in the Valley College parking area. Dad is in the passenger seat and there may be a third person in the back. I manage to maneuver in three points and try exiting onto Rancho Avenue, but Dad stops me.

"Alex, you want to avoid the Rancho Avenue incline!" Dad says. He may be referring to the fact that the next U-turn is miles away, like the road next to Ocean Beach in SF. He tells me to park so we can instead bike the way there.

A tandem bike appears under me, and I'm worried because I think I have forgotten my cleated road shoes. However, I look down and see the pedals on this bike are normal. I start pedaling but Dad doesn't help me out. To make things worse, I feel like the tires are deflated. Approaching Mt. Vernon Ave, we come across a another cyclist who pedals even more slowly than us.

I drop off Dad and return to the Valley parking lot, searching for my car. (Crap, it's been a while; maybe I got a ticket.) It's not in the location where I thought it would be, and I begin to panic, believing it to be stolen. I look down the horizon to see a fractal distribution of parking lots on the complex plane.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Driving in the Hills

The last ten minutes of sunset graces the loneliness of the Berkeley Hills.

I'm driving my car along tortuous Grizzly Peak Road with my girlfriend in the passenger seat. She is stoic, and does not say a word, penetrating my peripheral with a neutral, ominous stare. I enjoy the sight of the pink and orange trees and the thrill of being so close to the cliff.

I start driving faster along Skyline Boulevard in the uphill lane. It's not as if I'm angry, but I am definitely feeling the onset of a frenzied mental state. The riskiness of my behavior becomes my raison d'ĂȘtre.

I start driving faster, cutting the double line on blind curves and getting very close to the fragile rail on the right separating Pinehurst Avenue from a shear drop below. I apologize to my partner for risking our lives, but I do not change this mode of operation. It's this insane feeling of wanting us to plummet from the edge, just for the experience.

She doesn't say a word.