A Job Interview

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When they ask me what I’m good at, I don’t know exactly what to tell them. In fact, I tell them that I did a little bit of this and a little bit of that, some phones calls here and there, shelving of the books, marketing the sales of memberships. Just the bare minimum in their eyes.

“So what else do you do?”

What else do I do, or do I sit around on my ass all day when I don’t do what they’re expecting me to say. It’s tough to sell yourself, but if you have guts and the prize in your eyes, they wouldn’t be asking these questions.

The prize in your eyes: tall, handsome, decisive. I’m neither of these three shits. I’m a little on the short side, but I do have a reach that could put a motherfucker to the ground. Handsome? I guess ruggedly interesting is a better word. Decisive? Well I’ve been known to make a decision or two, and rethink if those decisions were really the right choice.

But as a matter of fact, I don’t sit on my ass all day. I stay behind a computer screen and bleed from my fingertips. Well, that’s a bit hyper sensational. I actually just try to make sure I get into a rhythm. That’s what I’m good at – adapting. If you give me the right set of directions that I’ve never followed before in my life, I’m sure as hell going to try to follow them. If you tell me to fly out to you just to do an interview, you know that I’d greyhound it across the country if I couldn’t afford the plane ticket. And in the process, I’ll talk to the strangers at the bus stops and ask them “What are you doing?”

This one time when I was on the amtrak, a lady sat next to me. For some reason, I just had this feeling that she wanted to say something but didn’t for the first leg of the trip. When we stopped at our second stop, she turned to me and asked me where I was headed.

“I’m going to D.C.”

“Oh yeah, what are you going to do down there?”

“I’m going to meet with my brother and sister. We’re going to spend time with each other.” I pause. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them.”

Then she tells me about herself. She’s from Jersey. She’s an art teacher. She raves on about how there’s not much where she lives. In fact, she’s on a trip herself. She’s headed down to North Carolina. She’s stopping in D.C. too, so that she can meet with her friends and drive down to the south towards Myrtle Beach.

“I’ve never been to Myrtle Beach, but I hear it’s nice and cool,” I tell her.

She laughs out loud, then exchanges even louder words.

Then the train conductor comes to us, and tells us to look at the sign above in the aisle. It turns out that we’re in the quiet car, and we’re supposed to keep quiet.

“What’s life without getting into a little trouble,” I say.

For the remainder of the train ride, we talk in whispers and learn more about each other.

So, I guess the point is. I can adapt. I can keep quiet if you tell me to. I can take a train to wherever you are, or a bus to wherever you want me to be. If you need me to sit on my ass all day, let me. If you need me to bust someone’s chops, give me a chance. I can certainly talk a person up and see what kind of person they are. I can tell you exactly where they’re headed and what is on their mind.

Just give me the job and let me show you. I’m the chameleon of your dreams.

Man of the House

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There are a lot of people here at the airport terminal today. All the seats are filled with men and women and loved ones sitting next them. There are even more of them that are sitting alone in a circle against the wall, playing cards and showing pictures of people in their wallets. Outside the terminal building, a few smoke cigarettes. They wear their desert camo. So does my father, because the man’s shipping him out today to fight for us in the middle east.. I don’t know who ‘us’ is but the knot in my stomach makes me feel like this isn’t right.

“Be good to your mom,” he tells me. “You and your brother are the men of the house now.”

Pops says this with his usual demeanor: straightforward and as if it’s his last words on earth. My sister’s not here today to see him off, otherwise I would turn to her and see her shake her head at how dramatic pops was being. She’s at college out west, but she wishes she could be here.

Instead my brother is here. He’s graduating high school this year, so he’s really going to be the man of the house. We didn’t get to hang out a lot this year, because he works a lot and he is going to graduate. This was one of those days where he took off to see Pops off.

I nudge brother. Most of the time when I do nudge him, he turns to me and says an inside joke to diffuse to tension, like “look at me mustache!” while holding his two pointers under his nostrils. He doesn’t budge.

“Stop it,” he says without looking at me.

I stop it and turn to mom.

Mom’s silent too. She drove slowly on the highway slowly before we got here. When I looked out the window during the ride, it made the grass at the other side of the highway barrier looked dead. It didn’t sway in the wind like usual. It was just a bunch of dead blades of grass that no one ever cuts.

I look around the airport terminal from where we sit. I look for any friends of mine. I see one classmate that has been in other classes – not really a friend, just a face I always see. He doesn’t look like his usual happy self. I also hear his baby brother or sister crying. It cuts through the room, which makes everyone silent.

There’s something very wrong with the picture. All is quiet. There are no more conversations. Soon, all the men and women in camos turn their attention to a man in an important looking cap. He stands in the middle of the terminal. He’s talking to someone who stands next to him, telling him something in silent. Then he turns to everyone else and starts talking.

“We will be boarding soon. Make sure to tell your loved ones farewell and hug them tight. It’ll be a long six months soldiers! Remember their touch for until you come back!”

The soldiers stand up and begin lugging on their backpacks and their drab supply bags. Their boots squeak. Their crisp uniforms ruffle. They have not touched foreign soil just yet.

Before we help Pops carry his things, I ask my brother and mom when he’s coming back.

“I’ll be back soon,” he says. “Remember to take care of your mom.”

Then, like a timebomb ready to burst, I wonder why Pops has to go. My friend’s dad doesn’t have to go. Was it because he was ranked higher? Was it because he was a coward? It just didn’t make sense that a man with callused hands like my father could not get a break, while my friend’s dad stays back pampering his greasy hair. I think t about his cheeky smile, the one he must have because he was staying home.

Pops gives us all one last hug. He doesn’t say much, but he just keeps on putting his hands on our shoulders. His hands feel heavy on my shoulder. It makes me think about the guitars he’s played in his life, or the times he held hands with my mom. He lets go and walks towards the line that leads through security. He’s near the end of the line, so my mom, brother, and I watch as the line dwindles down.

Soon enough, it’s his turn to walk through the security gate. My brother puts a hand over my mom’s shoulder, and she leans her head into him. I let my arms hang loose. I still feel his hand on my shoulder. Before he walks through, he turns look over his shoulder to give us glimpse. I feel my feet ready to run to him, but my brother puts his hand on my shoulder.

He disappears, leaving one last glimpse for us to keep.

*

When mom drives home, I keep my eyes closed. I don’t want to look out of the window. There’s nothing out there anymore. Maybe a few cars or a planes in the sky. Then, I think about Pops in his airplane over the fields. He must be in one of those planes where the seats are nets and the windows are right behind your head.

I wonder what he must see outside his window when he finally sees out the window through the clouds. I wonder if he thinks he sees our car from the window, and pretends to reach out at it as if he had the hands of God. I wonder if he prays, watching over us like an eye in the sky.

And I wonder if he closes his eyes, thinking about the ifs of life. What if he wishes he could rewind time when we were all just babies Stupid babies that have no idea what the feeling of loss feels like. I imagine he wants to watch us all grow up again.

I wonder if he still feels the weight of his father’s hand on his shoulder when he tells him “You’re the man of the house now.”

44 Days of Education

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It’s been 44 days since I’ve written something, and quite frankly, that’s a problem.

To be honest, 44 days where I didn’t write something out of my own pleasure. For the sake of an undergraduate education, I have to sacrifice what I believe to be the most basic form of humanization for my own sake. At the same time, school has given me the illusion that I can use lofty language. That the thousands of dollars that I’ve spent on a tuition gives me the right to say whatever I feel is necessary, elevating me to a higher moral relativism that succeeds anyone else who attempts to read.

It’s kind of not true. In fact, I’m not any better than anyone. I’m just in that same old routine as the person that doesn’t talk too much in class, or that one person that blows their nose too loud, or the person that tries to say what they want to say but it doesn’t come out just right. I am one of them, and they are all a part of each other. Who likes writing essays for someone else’s digression anyways?

So for the last 44 days I’ve been trying to figure out what David Foster Wallace talked about in his Commencement Address to Kenyon in a speech he made in 2005. In that speech, Wallace attempts to posit a significant amount of wisdom through the idea of what Truth really is. For a bunch of undergraduates graduating, thinking that they have it all figured out when they really don’t (somewhere along the lines where I stand), he states that “the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.”

While it’s true that sometimes thinking on your own is the guiding light that you should abide by, I can’t help but feel that indoctrination of my professors yelling at me to “cite 4 to 7 sources” to drive at a point that I want to make. In the case of Wallace’s speech, I feel that there is a great amount of wisdom to draw.

For instance, I’ve been trying to really get through to a professor that I have this semester, really trying to get his attention to see that I have some great points to consider. However, sometimes the truth in such a situation is that some people just have their own choice to choose what they believe. In my opinion, this sort of education is that I am learning through a professor’s choice of his own beliefs and philosophies. If I choose not to do so, and focus more on trying to express my own thoughts and opinions, I won’t succeed in his class.

In fact, I’ll write out one of his assigned essays, thinking that I hit it out of the ball park, and receive it back with the dreaded red marks on each page that would make Edgar Allan Poe rethink if he had enough violence in his own narratives.

What I hope to respond to is not the people I have to respond to for a letter grade, but to my own self. At the end of the day, I am an individual with a selfish, instinctual need to make sure that I am okay, that I have a bowl full of oatmeal to eat in the morning. Outside of academia, I want to try to understand this Ptolemic center of being and realize what other things that I need to work on for myself. I don’t want to focus on the strengths so much, because to build an image of my own strength is subject to its own unraveling.

Outside of academia, I want to just explore what it is to use my voice and share it with others.

As a closing thought, or paragraph or two, I want to turn my focuses on the microcosm that is the classroom. It’s an intimidating place filled with other individuals who will make sure they have an extra step ahead of you. It’s a minefield that promotes a great energy that makes a person believe they are better than the person that is sitting next to them.

Just think about this situation. You have been sitting at a seat for the last 3 months, knowing that it is your place in the classroom. It is a comfortable place for you, because you have great sight of the board and you have enough space to participate in discussions. When you come in the next day, the guy that you have been having class disagreements with is sitting in it. And when you try to hint at the fact that he is sitting in your seat, he doesn’t even look at you. You cough, he looks deeper into his book. You scoot your desk, he scoots it further. You sit next to him with thoughts of loss. He sits next to you with thoughts of victory.

And even if you haven’t gone through that situation, think about how it feels to keep on raising your hand and not having Professor X call on you. Instead, she calls on Student Y.

Sometimes in these situations, you have to remember that the person who stole your seat probably didn’t think he was stealing it. Sometimes you have to convince yourself that the Professor didn’t call on you simply because you’re not in their line of sight. All of these scenarios could be taken with a grain of salt, or perhaps be called unrealistic, but when you start to focus on the beauty of how energy and attention shifts outside of your own centric-mindset, you’ll realize that you’re part of a greater and higher mind. To exist in the classroom, behind a computer, or outside of the discussion, at times dehumanizing, can be an opportunity to change your mind and consider how connected you truly are with anyone around you.

You’re the center of your own universe, but when you take a step back, you see that your universe is filled with people other than yourself. In fact, that’s where the fun begins.

Thoughts: On the function of Social Media

Recently, the whole controversy of Jennifer Lawrence’s leaked pictures has made me think of the function of social media and my relationship to it. Although this piece isn’t necessarily about the ramifications and the changes that will occur due to what happened to a celebrity, it is about me trying to figure out why the heck we even consider posting things on the internet.

What does it all mean?

I don’t have an answer. Just thoughts. Scattered thoughts that are akin to all the click bait that  

As an occasional blogger, I feel that it is somewhat of a responsibility to keep on writing and exploring ideas. It’s a travesty to sit around and call yourself a writer if all you do is munch chips while you lounge on your couch.

Being a writer requires that you are always on your toes . . . and on your ass in a chair hunching over, typing away until you reach the sweet spot. 

 

 

This is no different from the position that I was elected to recently: Social Media Manager. Last spring I was elected as the Social Media Manager for the Olivetree Review, the literary arts magazine at Hunter College. Whether this is an admission of pride or just good fortune is up to the reader to decide. What can be said is that understanding social media is tough.

It’s an open field where discussion is the field of play. To put it bluntly, you’re either a troll or a whiney millennial. It’s a playground where George Mead would observe children at their play stage.

I remember being interviewed and being asked for ideas on what ideas I had to ensure solidarity. I pulled answers from the top of my head that made sense in the media world. 

“What are some of your ideas?”

I want to find content that is interesting.

“What can you provide for the staff?”

I want to contribute and help oil the wheels.

Is this me being sarcastic? Absolutely not. I mean every word and dictate every response. That is what an honest person does: gives what he or she can offer.  

Fast forward to when I received the position, my mind ruminated with a number of ideas. While I don’t look for lewd pictures of celebrities to spread all over the internet, I try to at least think like an internet reader. 

Like any good doer, I made a list of ideas in my notebook for this position.

A question of the day. Are you a poet or are you a novelist? Here is a chapter of an cut chapter from this book. 

Half of them I have already used and the other half are on the floor in the cutting room. My expectations of having an endless well of ideas to revel in parched up before I could even take another sip.

Which has led me to the question: What is the function of social media? 

Am I to generate readership to a magazine that is published once a semester? (One that is filled with great art, poems, and prose writing?) How am I to gain an audience or generate activity if no one is reading work that hasn’t been published yet?

Seeing that activity is what is needed to be generated (as along with views per day), the biggest challenge is finding interesting content until the wait is over. 

The challenge is trying to keep any reader thirsty while they wait for something promising to arrive. 

 

One of the first steps was I went to the previous Social Media Manager for some ideas. For privacy purposes, I will omit his name. We have been recently acquainted due to are frequent interactions during the semester. I first met him when I was trying to find someone to speak to about joining the OTR. I shook his hand not knowing I would ever see again. That was the case until my last class that day, a nonfiction workshop class where we both participated in bearing our soul to the class through memoir writing. 

Needless to say, he was the person to reassure me that “Everything will be alright.” He added: “I had a lot of ideas, but the reality of actually running things is that your ideas and what you want to do have be accounted with the constraint of time.”

It’s good to know that I wasn’t the only one with that challenge. 

Finding content was the game. Exploring ideas and places would be the catalyst.

I checked out the Olivetree Review page, the one that I would manage in the next semester, to study some content that had been published in the past. A lot of the content looked like the sort of things that I would like to ready. 

But would anyone else like to read it as well? 

This is seen under the published post which reads: “This post has reached 100 people.”

Reaching 100 people is a good goal I thought. 

So I looked up one of the most read publications in the nation, or New York to be more fair. The New York Times. 

The Times didn’t disappoint. However, it made me think: is the fact that “this” or “that” article on the NYTimes what makes content worthy? What prestige does this article have over one on another site.

I quickly closed the webpage and went to the next step: Google.

“Cool literary Stuff.” I clicked enter. 

Like a good meal that takes time to cook, the results didn’t disappoint. There were many articles and pages that boasted one liners. My finger itself itched to click on some content to check it out. The ceremoniously essential “20 list of literary somethings” on BuzzFeed; the inspirational list of literary things on Pinterest; the staple “ten books you should read before you die.”

Lists on lists that continue on battling for supremacy. I copied and pasted a few sites to be referenced in the future. To be honest, I wanted to just write the lists myself. 

 

 

The first post I did publish was instructed by the President of the OTR himself. I was instructed to condense a message written by a representative of a volunteer organization that endorses the after-school program for kids in elementary. It reached 94 people. 

This was the highest I had ever reached in reaching people. Every thing else became less read.

The next post, “A list of to-reads,” reached 44 views. 

The next post, a blurb for an open mic, 20 views.

The next, pictures of writers, 34 views. 

 

You might me reading this and wondering “What the hell is this kid even mean?”

Like I said, this wasn’t supposed to be about Jennifer Lawrence. 

Random thoughts at 10:57 P.M.

Being whipped in the head by something that isn’t physically there, and being hit over and over again until throbbing emerges: that’s what I’d call an existential crisis. Or maybe the right word is boredom.

Thinking back to the time when I did study solipsism and phenomenology and all that other stuff, it’s come to my attention that knowledge of anything doesn’t really lead to a more satisfying ends. Life is arbitrary and you can’t measure your existence based on whatever is in the books. You’ll be given news that’ll shatter your heart. You’ll hear things that change the way you see life.

Why am I picking on knowledge? Because it’s what compels us to know anything or do anything. You certainly couldn’t have woken up today without the knowledge of the waking world. Perhaps it adds to the question of whether or not waking is an inherent thing. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But if the dream world was all you knew, then I envy you.

In this day of one up-manship, knowledge leaves you wanting more to feel better about yourself in comparison to a peer (or the guy or girl you hate really). You have to know this or that in order to feel competent. Growing up never sounded so cool. But I’m only half kidding.

Call this a philosophical jibe, a throwaway, a stream of consciousness, but let me be more specific. I’ve tried to learn as much as I can in order to amuse myself and convince myself that it’s worth noting. If anyone has the knowledge to defeat the absurdity, the angst and tension of life, let me know.

The dynamic mind knows no bounds!”

The truth is I’m okay with scratching at the surface of a boundary. It reminds me that I need to go from my comfortable state and explore a scary dark territory, I.E. being a grown up. It also tests me to work within a framework. Except that’s something a labrat would say. It’s summer all I want to be as free as a Sunday lunch for children at the Greenstreet buffet.

As a sidenote, boundaries. Boundaries are interesting. They could be as simple as the minimum word count on an English paper. There’s an incentive to go over a limit in any given paper for brownie points and to squander the other 29 competitive students in your class, but sometimes writing the 1500 word minimum could test one to find the answer without rambling on to 3000 words. Hell, a thousand word limit to this blog could be condensed to 500 – but setting a goal is sometimes healthy.

Which leads to the next point. What is the goal in defeating boredom? Is it to exceed your state of being? Is it to break even with the negative feelings that one is feeling? Is there one static point of defeating boredom or are there a dynamic set of options to beating it. One thing’s for sure, there are many different results.

Sometimes it leads to arrested development: for example, skateboarding; no matter how hard I try to learn all that technical, flippy, insane stuff that kids do nowadays, I can only manage with the basic tricks.

Some times I am led by my own motivation into a false sense of accomplishment. I’ll film a video (without any screenplay or words to help) thinking that it will be an artistic achievement that’ll make Kubrick rise from his grave to want to shake my hand for finally succeeding him. But in all honestly, a two minute film about me brushing my teeth, reading a book, lounging around, and eventually staring out of a window is a harrowing look into the reality of my mundane life.

Some times I read a book that is interesting at first, but I am stunted by the fact that the novel takes place more inside the protagonist’s mind as opposed to the external setting that he encompasses.

No matter the amount of literature, film, music, and image that gets me through the day, it all becomes dust the moment something, or rather nothing, is there to pester me. The knowledge of voracious reading and participation is zilch. Sometimes, most of the time, it’s always there to bother me despite my attempts to find peace within myself. Maybe that’s the goal. Find peace in one self.

Just have fun” most will say. “Have fun and it becomes less about growing and advancing and more about being in the moment to feel the air hit your face, or the idea touch your brain.” Sure, this would work if it weren’t for all the adult responsibilities that are breathing down my neck. Hence, the purity of time – the most perfect gift that you could give to yourself or anyone that you love. I need the time to have fun first.

These activities, might I add, supersede the idea of bad faith: the fact that I practice good faith in trying to do as much as I can with as little time given is my little morsel of trying to find humanity – what Truffaut would probably label as defeating boredom.

More specifically, observe the following.

In response to his wife, Christine Darbon, being bored, Antoine Doinel responds:

What do you mean, bored?” he says with disbelief. ”I don’t know what boredom is. . .There is always something do do. I can cut the pages of a book, or do a crossword puzzle, or make notes. I wish each day had 30 hours. I’m never bored. I can’t wait until I’m old so I’ll only need five hours sleep!’”

               – Antoine Doinel (Canby)

Perhaps the reason of doing anything is to combat boredom and find humanity. Maybe because I’m a bloody writer, it’s an attempt to forget that I’ll never find glory in a postmodern society that emphasizes meritocracy. Of course, many others would disagree and say meritocracy doesn’t exist, but to an existentialist that doesn’t mean shit. Ideally, the self is above institution . . . but it is never above the reality of the institution. You’re still going to get the boot to the head. Everyone at one point of their life will be subject to crunching numbers, tapping keys, and having unimportant conversations. 

To be honest, what does this even all mean? 

Point B

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I had a dream last night that I had met someone without a face. Surrounded by a glow everything about it was alluring. What was most satisfying was knowing that I reached it.

Of course the bells rung and I opened my eyelids. The image stays plastered on the chambers of my memory, which would resonate with me throughout the day.

I put my hands on my lips. They’re dry. I squint in the morning dark. The 5 A.M. shadow envelops me. I can only see the blinking coming through blinds. Drivers in their cars below are headed to point B, forgetting about point A. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Forgetting.

Comfortable commutes are nonexistent. From the time a person wakes their Point B is somewhere else. The bumps are sure to be there.

In the back of my head I kick myself for sleeping late, because I had a train to catch in less than an hour. I didn’t know what was going to happen that day except that I would fall asleep to repeat the next day.

Which is why I’m thankful that I didn’t die today. At least that’s what the point of waking up is: the opposite of death. I don’t know when I’ll die. But I’m comfortable with lounging my legs at the end of the bed, feeling the fan blow against my toes. Somewhere in my mind I’m on Deer Mountain, trekking against a gust.

I still remember when I first climbed on Deer Mountain. I held my head up high with my chest out. I had thought I had become more of a man for the day. Of course physically I did not have the mountain man beard. In my mind I’d look like a Paul Bunyan and have my own folklore about how I overcame treacherous conditions.

Yet it’s the morning. I’m still here in bed wasting time. I still have to get to where I have to be later on.

I get up and walk to the window. All cars stay still. Traffic becomes a war of attrition. I feel the pull of tension. There’s a great responsibility in driving those little machine machines. You have to take care of yourself and make sure that no one is trying to cut you off too soon. The rear view window might be fogged up because your car’s heater is zilch.

Sometimes it’s good to live in a city with a train. You wouldn’t have to drive the car again. Still looking out the window the train zooms past the traffic, forgoing any cluster.

I still remember stepping onto the platform for the first time. It’s a weird feeling like a conqueror setting his foot on the sands. My first days in New York. At 75th Elderts Lane, I took a Jamaica bound train towards the east. I had not driven for the last year and New York was an opportunity to be careless.

My legs felt like jelly, as if they were a wobbly table. No seats were available. I stood at attention like an enlistee. And since then it was the same each and day. The delays, the bumps, and the wait were not in my hands. It taught me a great lesson.

My train would be coming soon. I closed the blinds and fixed my bed. It was the first time in days that the room temperature stayed still. I opened my door and walked to the restroom. Flicking the light, I see that my face is unkempt. There’s a hazy shade.

It had become apparent how departed I was from those days.

I still remember combing my hair for the first day of elementary. I’m rehearsing for a job interview. I’m looking at the pimples on my face. I’m writing on the mirror. I’m wondering if my face would ever be good enough for another person. I’m stepping out of the bus station in a new city wondering if she was still awake.

Almost instinctively I put my hands on my face, wondering why it looked this way.

Thinking about what had happened the other day I stared for a long time wondering how it happened. The best thing to do was to forget. Maybe I’d bring a book to read.

That one time I almost missed class

Writer's Note: Listen to Eric Clapton's Writer's Note: Listen to Eric Clapton's Reptile while reading.  while reading. 

Writer’s Note: Listen to Eric Clapton’s Reptile while reading.  while reading. (Photo by Samantha Neudorf)

I waited right outside the establishment that she interned. The guard stared at me from behind the glass door entrance. He must have thought I was crazy standing outside in an uncharacteristically humid autumn day. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through old messages as if I had an important email to answer.

When she got out, we walked up towards 34th street so that she could catch the LIRR bound towards the East. She lived out in Hempstead and attending Hofstra, which was accessible by blue beetle every hour only during the commuting peak hours in the morning and in the afternoon. Her class was at 6 in the evening, so you could imagine the rush that she had to go through every Tuesday and Thursday she came into the city.

“How was your day today?” I asked.

“Same old thing,” Sam said. “I ran around and did errands for the editor.”

Since she always had to catch a train within the half hour she told me about her day as we walked uptown. If we were lucky, we would be able to stop by the corner store to pick up a few goodies that would get us through our evening classes.

On this particular day, the Flat Iron on 23rd did not gleam with a stern brightness that could be seen from a few streets up. The wind picked up, bringing a certain heat that was not uncommon in the autumn. It was the same kind of humidity that followed you underground and made you sweat like a pig before its death.

I wiped the beads forming on my head with the sleeve of my coat. I turned towards her and noticed that she kept walking with an urgency. As always, it slipped my mind that we would be going our separate ways in just a matter of minutes.

“Did anything else happen?”

“Well, I talked to the other intern. Did you know she commutes all the way from Jersey?”

“Is she in school?”

“She’s taking a break.”

We stopped at 25th and waited for the green man to come on the scene. I checked my phone to see what time it was. It was 4:30, which meant I had an hour to get to my own class.

The crowd started to pick up the more we walked up. From 23rd to 30th the convenient stores emerged. Sam and I walked past the Trader Joes on 6th, and when the automatic doors opened I noticed that the line wrapped around the inside of the store. There was a YogurtLand further up that whispered for my attention. I stopped and asked if she wanted to grab a cup to eat. Then I looked at my clock again and realized that it wouldn’t be feasible.

We crossed two avenues over. Unlike uptown, there weren’t many trees that stretched over our heads. Old tenement buildings that rusted since forever ago stood like stoic statues. They were witness and testament to the history of the city.

As we approached Penn Station on 34th, we both held on tighter. The swarm of people flocked towards the underground station in hopes to find a seat to sit in for the lengthy commutes. Sam had hoped to snag one, because it took her a good hour and a half to get to her school.

I led her to the LIRR station and waited with her for the track announcement on the overboard ahead. When her station started to blink, she leaned in and gave me a smack.

“I’ll see you this weekend, okay?”

“Okay. Have a good class.”

“You too.”

After I bid her farewell, I exited the station and headed to the nearest E train, which was just a transfer and swipe away from where I stood. While I floated towards the turnstile, I thought about the readings that I had for today and whether or not I took the time to actually take notes. It was a good thing that the class consisted mostly of discussion, and if I was lucky, I could get by without saying a word.

The train would arrive soon and whisk me away to 59th street. From there I would walk nine streets up to my school. On my way, I could also grab a slice if I wanted to I thought. I leaned on the pillar and put my hands in my pocket. I felt the air hit the left side of my face. The screech of the train shook the pillar, and I straightened my posture.

As usual, the 4:30 commute proved to be as crowded as ever. I entered and went to the nearest open spot. I put my earphones in and let the music take over the sound of the train zipping through the city’s wormhole.

I changed the track and the music picked up on the next song. I let go of the rest pole that I was holding onto. Feeling the floor beneath me, I got a grip of my soles as best as I could, balancing the weight of my backpack with the speed of the train. The train jolted and jerked and eventually slowed down.

The voice over the intercom began to speak. I stopped my music and took out my earphones to listen.

“Someone ahead of us just pulled the Emergency Break. So everybody has to get off at 42nd street. We’re sorry for the inconvenience. But please do transfer to . . .”

The train car felt more humid than usual. I felt a full sweat bead slide down my back, and I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Deep inside of me, a little voice in my head started to scream.

I pulled out my phone. It was now 5:01. At this time I didn’t have any time to think about anything else but getting to class.

I jolted towards the next C train that was just a transfer away. If I went downtown one stop, I could transfer to the F that would take me to 63rd street. Then I would run five streets up to get to my school.

I tossed my leg into the door just as it began to close. The voice over the intercom began to speak.

“This is a Uptown C express train. The next stop is 103rd street.”

If it weren’t for the crowded car, I was going to toss my pack across the aisle towards the driver’s direction. The train rumbled at a fast pace and in between the coughing passengers, the rickety rackety of the train doors, and the crying babies, I checked my clock for my status. By the time I reached 103rd it was 5:15.

I scampered to the downtown C train across the track. When the doors closed, I felt the walls of train close in. The humidity had been chasing me since 19th.

The train arrived at 59th street Columbus Circle 5:20. From there I transferred to the F towards Queens.

But when finally got onto the train, the doors wouldn’t close. For what felt like an eternity, me and the sea of disgruntled men and women began twitching and fidgeting. The intercom began:

“Everyone step into the train so we can get a move on it!”

Still the doors stayed open.

“Everyone step into the train so we can start to get this train moving.

Still, it went on.

“STEP INTO THE TRAIN!”

The train became more humid. I looked at the doors close and never felt so happy to feel the smothering warmth of the outside world and its millions of people.

The F ran like a track runner at the last leg of a race. Although it is a crippled train in many ways, it trekked on towards 63rd like it was any other day. The doors opened, and I pushed my way through the blocking crowd. I saw that the platform was empty.

Clutching my bag, I sprinted towards the escalators at the far end of the platform. I ran up the first set and bolted through the second and third sets of escalators. The humidity welcomed me back to the surface, where I raced against the pedestrian lights. Whether it was a green man or a red man, I ran through.

Once I saw the sight of the school, I took bigger strides, and I even pulled out my ID to swipe in in time. Without thinking, I tapped my card on the sensor and ran up some more escalators in my school. To this day, New York’s love affair to the beloved escalator has never been more apparent.

My class was in the north building, which meant I had to cross bridges between the school. I ran past the crowd of students and even did a spin move that would make any professional waiter proud. The last obstacle, 4 flights of stairs proved to be the most crucial moment. I boosted myself up on the first step, and within 30 seconds, I was on the 4th floor. I turned the corner like PacMan, and ran towards the end of the hall where my class was at.

I crossed the ribbon and burst into the room like a messenger. I went to my chair and launched my bag to the floor. I pulled out my phone and read the time: 5:29. A number of messages were also on my phone, which I could not access underground. They must have been from Sam.

Looking around, Some of my classmates were not in class. I sighed and began taking out my notebook. My professor walked in with his usual demeanor and asked us “What’s up?” And for the very first time, I really did not have the breath and brevity to answer such a wonderfully broad question like that.

Mr. Hampa

Editor’s Note: This isn’t Mr. Hampa (but it sure looks like him)

As a student studying English, the one question that everyone tends to ask is: what are you going to do with it? Who are you going to be? It’s definitely something to think about, a loaded question really. Maybe a writer, maybe a student of life. All year I’ve contemplated this question as I took survey courses on the exposition of literary work spanning from the 14th to 20th century.

To be frank, I was even wondering what the relevance of literature or writing are in a postmodern world. How could the words of a literary canon that consists of mostly white men and women prepare for a world that emphasizes productivity in numbers.

Taking influence by other blogs and words that others have written – some that denounce the possibility of happiness as a writer, some that praise the attempt to humanize oneself – I choose neither to explain why I chose this route.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.31.10 PMTo be quite honest, it was all an accident.

More specifically, it makes me think of a time in middle school when I was sitting in English class, snoozing away Mr. Hampa’s lesson on grammar and syntax. To be fair, the man was in his 60s and probably felt just as bored as I was. I looked over at my classmate next to me. She had a copy of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It was the same book that had been occupying her desk for the last two quarters (we were in our third).

“Still?” I pointed at her book.

“Yeah, I just can’t seem to get through it” she replied.

Nowadays, in this social media age that qualifies curiosity on the level of stalking, I noticed pictures of her life in college: mostly hanging with her girls and enjoying the scene. It makes me wonder: did she ever finish that book?

Anyway, back to the topic, I was in class twirling my pencil and talking to my classmate. From what I remember, Mr. Hampa asked why we were having a tough time paying attention. He seemed to agree with this because he then switched to a different topic. He shuffled his papers at his desk that sat in the center at the front, right in front of the whiteboard.

“These are your stories that I asked you to write a few weeks ago.”

Everyone suddenly sunk into their seats.

“Yes, some of you need some work,” he said. “Trevor himself came to me last week so you should follow his lead.”

Trevor with his wire framed glasses and middle-parted hair left his mouth open revealing a pair of bucked tooth teeth.

Mr. Hampa continued on with the topic of Trevor, bookending his embarrassment by saying “Yes, Trevor wrote a wonderful piece on his experiences as a ballet dancer.

A few snickers scattered in the room. By the looks of his face, it didn’t phase Trevor. He held his frame in a straightened position as if he was on the stage ready to twist and twirl.

“And since you all are bored of the lesson right now, I’m gonna go ahead and read some of your work.”

Neil

Considering that Mr. Hampa’s lessons were usually dry, it was unusual that he would do this. But to be fair, he did try to do fun things – like that time he showed us “Dead Poet’s Society.” That movie left a bad taste in some our mouths, because Neil, one of the characters, killed himself near the end all because his father didn’t let him pursue acting as a career. His dad was Red from That 70s Show, so it wasn’t a surprise to me.

Mr. Hampa shuffled the papers around again and pulled one of the stapled papers from the pile like a magician in the street. He must’ve dabbled with card tricks back in his day. He cleared his throat and held silent finger up to his mouth.

“I remember when I walked her home . . .”

Oh no.

“It was after the middle school dance.”

No. No. No.

“I arrived at the school dance with my boys. There was Donnie, Marc . . .”

I stopped twirling my pencil. I put my head down for the remainder of the story. Whether it was a true story or not, I did not want anyone to hear it.

“When ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ started playing, I asked her for a dance.”

Hearing that made me want to curse my ears for even thinking it was a good song in the first place. After all she was the one who liked that song, so, technically, I liked it by association.

“When the night ended, she asked me to walk her home. I let my friends know that I was walking ______ home.”

That wasn’t entirely true. After the dance she went home with her friends to do who knows what. I went home and watched Attack of the Show and ate chips in my boxers.

“Before she closed the door to go back inside, she turned around . . .”

It started feeling hot in the room. I turned my eyes to the AC unit in the corner, but in the process, I noticed that everyone in class were sitting up straight. Instead of sinking in their chairs, they leaned forward to get another bit of what was to happen next. This was strange to me, because most of it was fictionalized.

Mr. Hampa continued reading the story.

“And she said,” he said with a pause. “I’ll see you later.’”

Mr. Hampa put down the paper and looked up. Then one of my classmates, not the one sitting next to me, blurted out:

“WHAAAAAAAT”

Another joined in.

“WHAT HAPPENED!?!? THAT WAS IT!?

“I’m afraid so,” Mr. Hampa replied.

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I scratched my head and looked at classmate next to me. She stared straight, not noticing that I was looking at her. It seemed that every one else in class was just as invested as her, even Trevor still in his swan-like posture.

“Who wrote it?” she asked.

“Somebody in class . . .”

“AHHHHHHH” everyone said collectively.

“Okay! Let’s go back to crunching grammar!” he said.

Before standing up to write on the whiteboard, Mr. Hampa turned his eyes towards me. He winked, stood up, and continued with his lesson until the end of class.

Maybe that’s what I want to do with my English Major one day.

Be Mr. Hampa.

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The Sweet Spot

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I like going to the driving range because I like hitting the life out of tiny golf balls. They’re meaningless pieces of matter, yet serve a purpose. Plain and simple. There is nothing more philosophical to it other than the fact that perhaps Bill Murray does it – and Murray is the Buddha reincarnated (or at least that’s the way I’ve seen him since the Groundhog days).

Sure, golf gets a bad rep. It’s a rich and elitist activity; courses are just a big piece of land that caters to the exclusive bunch able to afford to play 18 holes. It’s boring.

But over here, it costs about 5 bucks for 60 balls. That’s a good thing because I would hate to pay for my own. Could you imagine trying to pick up all the balls you’ve bought after whacking the crap out of them? That’d be like trying to fish for all the pennies that you tossed into a water fountain.

It also feels good. The way that I hold the iron wedge before I hit it. I feel like a man in control. And then, I wind back, keeping my left arm as straight as possible, holding the club near twisted body. Then a swing . . . and a miss! Let me do that over again.

I play it off as a practice swing. I start to practice my swing two or three more times as a way to recuperate for my hitting of a phantom. The air is such a touchy thing to swing at, because you never know if it’s going this way or that way.

Okay, I usually think to myself. Pretend your Tiger Woods trying to get a hole in one . . . or fifty for that matter. Just take a deep breath and think about all the shit you’ve been through. Take a swing out of life.

It’s almost as if it’s a practice of improvisation, the way that Coltrane say repeat “A Love Supreme” until the fade out of the song. I bop my head and mouth the words before I swing. I think about what frustrates me the most and start to channel that energy into the club like a piano player hitting major and minor chords on the green of his mind.

WHACK!

There it goes. The wind carries it to the east. I pretend that that hole is over there and that is where I meant to aim the whole time. This is easy, I think. The next 59 balls will go just like that.

WHACK!

But in reality, what is there to do when the frustration of feeling like a zero creeps up on you in your most vulnerable moments. One moment you’re on the toilet thinking in the morning, thinking about what the day is ahead. The next, the toilet doesn’t flush. Frustration comes in all different shapes and sizes.

WHACK!

The reason that I’ve been so frustrated stems from the utter fact that I am experiencing what my girlfriend has called “having a normal summer as a college student.” After all, for the past two semesters I’ve read nearly over twenty books and written over hundreds of thousands of words just to get a mark on it. The last thing I want to do is read. Yet I have to

WHACK!

The measuring stick for my self worth has vanished in the midst of joblessness and boredom. It’s been replaced by social media lurking and seeing almost everyone comparing their dick size by the amount of success they’ve been given.

WHACK!

I’ve gotten rejected by a bunch of employers! I’ve gained ten pounds! I lost a hundred dollars today! But really, why would failure matter anyways? It’s only success that people want to show.

WHACK!

It helps that I volunteer though. When arriving back home, I volunteered at the old library that I used to. I spent a good week there, going through inventory for three hours at a time. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. As you already know, it was the greatest week of my life – committing myself to a job that wasn’t really mine in the first place.

WHACK!

Then there’s the beauty of hanging out. I can count the minutes it would take to walk down to my friend’s place in the past. Nowadays, it’s more about counting the minutes I’ve wasted trying to find anyone to hang with. But it’s cool that I’ve found a family friend that I’ve hung with a couple of times. A brother from another mother if you will.

WHACK!

Yep, summer as a student is probably the worst existential crisis to encounter. After going to two different schools in the past, this third one is okay, but it’s administration system is a nightmare to deal with.

WHACK!

Didn’t I say I was going to do this? Now I’m not doing this.

WHACK!

My only friend sometimes seems to be a piece of wood that I ride down the streets. I’m terrible at doing tricks and the old grandmas stare at me with their piercing judgments. They think I’m going to steal their grandchildren, whisk them away into the sunset.

WHACK!

That was a good one. I switch clubs, and readjust the way it feels in my hands. If I use the nine iron, maybe I could get a little more aim at the target 300 feet away.  This club is a little heavier, but its size allows me to cut the ball a little more. It functions like a special tool in the kitchen, the kind of tool that will help get the job done. I place the ball on the tee.

THUMP!

There goes another one. It makes a different sort of shot. The drive looks more like a flyball than a homerun. But that’s the goal for me. I just want to hit a certain part of the field.

THUMP!

Murakami did, so can I. All he did was sit a baseball game. Once the hitter hit the sweet spot, he knew he could write a –

THUMP!

Damn it, that was close! I follow through and hold the position of the club over my back. Close but no cigar. All sizzle no steak. Where there is smoke, there is a fire. Stop if you’ve heard this one before.

THUMP!

THUMP!

THUMP!

I take a break. I look at the remaining golf balls that I have. There’s still a hell of a lot them in the bucket. For five bucks. It doesn’t get any better than this. I’m a bit tired. I should’ve stretched my arms before that first swing. I’m going to pay for that later.

I sit on the resting bench behind me. I watch the other people at the range continue to swing. I think about how my more swings I’ll be able to take.

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One Fine Day

Writing Challenge: Left Overs

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I had a conversation with my sister today about the memories that she had when looking through yearbook photos. The leftover pieces that she remembered from her days as a senior. It compelled me to revisit the photograph album that I had always been so afraid of.

I first opened up this photograph album was when I was just a seven year old in Hawaii. Knowing that I was just a baby in those pictures, it shook me to know that I didn’t remember any of the photos that were taken. It confused me that I was left out of a certain narrative and it was up to me to interpret and put together the pieces of the past.

Not even when I rediscovered it last summer did I want to open it up. I had remembered what happened the first time I did.

I decided to venture into my sister’s room in search of gold – which was candy back in those days.

I checked where I would have hid my own stash.

Behind the cassette stereo: no luck.

Under the bed: not even a pinch.

Almost thirty minutes had gone by. If “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was playing in the background, Charlie would have already had at least two chocolate bars in the runtime. That’s two more than me.

After I had dug through the sea of stuffed animals on the dresser, I took a break. I went to the table where her white, 5 inch Panasonic television sat. I reached for the remote but noticed that it sat on top of a lime green book next to the TV.

I liked reading so I picked it up, thinking it was book. I held it closer to my weight as much as a bowl of jawbreakers, but looked more like a binder filled with notes.

On the cover were the words ONE FINE DAY. Right underneath the bold letters read:

Never forget your gentle sentiments and your warm smile. We are pleased to welcome you on your visit to the country of memories.

The cover art was a group of animals such as a giraffe, bear, and rabbits, dance around in a circle in the forest. Maybe it’s a cartoon book I thought.

I slouched into the table chair with the album in my lap. I opened it up but not without breathing in a little dust.

COUGH! COUGH! COUGH! My lungs had become a chimney.

The pages were aged to a brownish hue. They creaked like a door being opened. I put my fingers and knew that the pages were too thick to be just a regular book. It was in fact a photograph album. The plastic covering inside produced the sound of a candy wrapper. I opened up the so-called treat.

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The first thing I noticed was a photo of a man and woman. The man wore a grey Baracuta Jacket like the one James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” The woman wore a chunky knit Cardigan that looked like a mixture of heather gray and white yarn. They held hands.

20140708_214858A few pages here and there, I saw the same man in a white suit. He’s a military man. He carries a guitar on stage. He’s was a folk singer. He wraps his arms around the woman and the children. He’s a provider.

The woman sits at a table with plates surrounding her. She’s enjoys food. She looks into the camera with the same set of eyes that she had since she was a teenager. She’s a woman. She pushes a carriage with the baby inside. The girl and boy surround her, each with cotton candy in their hands. She’s a giver.

20140708_214825The girl sits is dressed up in a green construction paper hat and yellow suit. She’s a dancer, a singer, and entertainer. She sits in between the baby and the boy. She’s a leader.

The boy leans her head on the girl. Its too heavy to carry. He’s a thinker. He toys around with a steering wheel. He’s an engineer. He doesn’t look into the camera and strays away sometimes. He’s a thinker, a wanderer.

Rushing through the pages, it was apparent that there was a baby was in most of the pictures. I didn’t know who it was nor had any clue why it kept chewing on its toes. It was a fat baby that was able to wear a denim jacket before it was cool. Who was this baby?

It sat around. It was carried. It was fed. It was carried by other people. It was just a baby.

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As I flipped further through the pages, the man and the woman began to look older. They didn’t hold hands like on the first page. They held the boy, the girl, and the baby.

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It was as if each and every photo connected the family, but disconnected their own individual stories. As for the baby, its story stayed the same. It cried, smiled, and cried some more.

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I skipped to the last page to see the end. There was no sign of the family except for the man. The woman’s face was not to be seen. The boy and the girl faces were blurred. The baby was no longer in the pictures.

When I closed the book, there was no noise. Not even a crinkle. Just the squeaking of the chair as I slouched down into a ball.

My head felt like a pretzel breaking. And I let out a weep. My cravings for sweets went away.

It wasn’t only until this summer that I decided to revisit it with adult eyes. And through it, the reason why I had left it alone all of these years still puzzles me. Sometimes I long for the days where it was simple. Other times I am glad to let the leftover pieces float around and be at my reach whenever I am ready to piece something together.

But I always feel anxious to open this particular photo album. I look around to find pictures that I have no recollection of. It’s almost like being an amnesiac. The scary feeling to know that at one point I was just a tiny little being, and now, I am a functional and flawed individual. The weird void that I did not get to experience or remember what may or may have been the some of the sweetest moments in my life.