I found a very old notebook of mine (very old as in all of seven years). Some years are longer than others, as I often say, and those few have been nuts.
For example…seven years ago I was a college student at a private Christian University, full of ideals, ideas and a general sass. I was a communication major, having recently arrived from a junior college in Kentucky. I was actually exiting my poetic phase—having done the whole “teenage angst, set to prose” bit, and was about to begin the blackout years where I didn’t write much of anything.
So I was surprised when I noticed this raggedy, mashed thing. I figured, “Why not post a couple?”
I’ve included a couple about winter to mess with Uber peeps Adrian and Sarah. Haters. Hooray cold weather!
Ode to non-nature
I do not mix with nature
It does not take me in
I deplore its dusty trappings
And they gladly wash from me
At last, to autumn!
O autumn breeze, you are a wond’rous thing!
That men in hours long and hard
can find cool comfort in your arms.
And I, for one, enjoy the cold,
that your evening whispers hold.
Watching distant campus path lights
Small beads of light burn brightly there
They light the way and light the stair
They wink in turn when passers-by
walk from chapel’s steeple high
And one for winter
The lake holds its breath
in a crystal mirror of the land
The trees undress for winter
and drop notes for my attention
The wind reserves its sprints for brighter days
As now a mere whisper of the cold
draws out a curse
The branches sway in autumn
Are they ashamed? Standing naked?
Do they drift to sleep, their gowns released?
Free at last, to rest?
Ha! Funny stuff.
Ahhh, I’m finally starting to settle into a routine.
The apartment has been lived in for nearly two months. Morning rituals are set. I rise at nearly the same moment every day. Roommate Adrian’s cat does her “pounce on my feet” thing every morning once my radio sounds. Cute.
There’s a rhythm at work. Class in the morning, lunch, grading in the afternoon.
After arriving home in early evening, there’s the run/weight thing for an hour/hour thirty. Then more grading until 10-ish. Then the free time before bed.
For as hopelessly impulsive as I am, I find a lot of comfort in routine. Not that I’m a glutton for excessive work loads, but if there’s a general pattern of tasks and time, I grow at ease, knowing what to expect during the days. It’s how I got through Iraq with its seven-days-a-week schedule, and even how I got through Hood with the “we expect you here at night and weekends” approach. Getting a groove helps a lot.
When things like new mandatory PT hours at work come into play, I’m surprised at how frustrated I get, having been removed from my normal pattern. I never saw myself as one of those OCD types, but I might have more of that in my makeup than I’d originally thought.
I don’t sweat small, temporary changes, but I’m not a fan of larger mix-ups—things like moving, daylight savings time (make me run in the dark…thanks America), etc.
Also adding to my general serenity is my growing comfort with the paperwork side of work. I’m obviously not as quick as many of my coworkers, but I hope I’ll shave some time off of my evenings for the occasional weeknight out. I still haven’t experienced the full-bore blast of grading our “feature” assignments, where students turn in exceptionally long stories. I’m sure there will be some later nights, but I’ll get those times down too. Just practice, I’d imagine.
So maybe it’s the muscle relaxers talking (fyi, trying to “max” on a Nautilus machine just tears muscle), but I’m definitely feeling the calm, healing light of the universe and all that crap.
Do you ever have conversations in your head?
As a kid I used to make up scenes and play them out all of the time. Sometimes they’d be centered around school, with me as the guy not being teased, or some other empowering bit. Sometimes they’d be fantastical, sci-fi or some such. Maybe they’d play off of a movie—so that it would end in the way I wanted it.
The routines could get quite lengthy. I’d keep myself up at night, working through a climactic bit. I wasn’t always necessarily the hero of the story, but I was there. It was fun to invent stories. I’d get carried away an exaggerate a lot as a kid.
Later, when I was working in a Maryland public library at 15, I’d spend whole days not talking. To keep my mind occupied, I began to author whole worlds in my head. The idea was to develop them into full-fledged stories later on.
The unhealthy part of the whole practice is inventing everyday conversations that don’t happen. I could see myself doing this more and more back when I was in Texas and didn’t have many people to talk to. It was sort of scary, actually. I worked and worked, retreating home for an hour or two before sleep, just to begin again. The drive home would be quiet. The apartment would be quiet. Meals would be quiet. Weekends would be quiet. I’d stay quiet all the time. Work was work, full of stress and things to keep the commander happy with. I’d just sit. A couple of years went by.
But in my mind whole episodes would unfold—not any sort of self-aggrandizing fantasies, but just normalcy. Just friendly bits, jokes, some back-and-forth banter.
I still do it. At work, during lessons or whatnot, I still invent parallel conversations. I haven’t found a use for them, so they just spin off into the rest of the day not remembered.
So I’ve gotten quite good at prepared conversations. I have a few saved up. Unfortunately the timid, scared white kid still holds back during moments of execution. I don’t know why that is. I have wonderful five-seconds-after perception of what to say, which causes a bit of lag in action—seen as, well, inaction. Eventually I’ll get out of the NCO business and just be a normal guy. I don’t think it will matter as much then.
Random? Yeah, a bit. Just another aspect of a dude, I suppose.
My computer is broken. Partly. The part that takes my nights away is broken.
I have the habit of spending time with games. After the grading is done, when there’s no Netflix to watch, when the scant few hours before bed persist, and the pang of “should be doings” hang in the evening, I click away at some animated mass of gunfire and pulsing music.
Which leaves me quite engaged, if rather creatively unproductive.
Thus God did smite my machine in the twilight of yesterday and left the superfluous video-gaming portion inoperable. And that, in turn, brought me to you.
Uber peeps Adrian and Sarah are out, living it up. I was chained to the dining room for most of the evening, but have time, at last, to do something. What? That’s the question. I’m alone with Salmons, and there’s naught to do but read and learn, think and grow, write and sigh.
There is that bank situation. There is an ongoing project for work that could use some attention. There are a dozen books ready to be poured through. Ah, and “the book” itself to begin writing.
Looking at the wall of apartments across from our balcony, most windows are lit. There’s a small snapshot of a hundred lives, arranged like a set of flowers, each a blossom of character. I wonder what they’re doing.
I might leave the computer broken for now. I just need to learn to do more, I think. There might be a future in being productive. You never know.
Alright. Money thing first, then some reading. Oh! There’s still some preparation for class tomorrow. I guess that takes priority.
Glad that’s settled.
At last! Colder weather.
Tonight I stood on my balcony, eager to taste the recompense of my long-suffered summer. There I beamed a smile into the brisk sizzle of the evening rain. The wash of cold air tumbled in through the open windows.
It was beautiful.
I felt like a farmer, welcoming a conquering army. I was liberated.
The thousand-mile front of winter air slowly plodded into our town as like a slow, irresistible juggernaut. Push on, dear troops! Take hold of this land and fortify yourself with frost and mist. Strip bare the leaves and crunch them underfoot. Mask the sun and draw the sunset ever earlier in the warmth’s reproach. I will gladly wear the thicker threads that you demand, stomp my feet and rub my hands for warmth, feigning protest at the brisker bite of air.
I have felt my share of suns, perspired ten thousand hours in the deserts far from my home, felt the persistent musk of summer as it clung to the Texas winter. It is time, at last, to chill.
Come rain, come snow, come long, dreary gray. I am ready.
Might even break out the turtleneck if trends continue.
There’s just something about the rain and cooler air that I love. I’m spoiled in that I have heat to warm myself, I realize. But there this comfort in sitting, comfortable in heat and clothes, looking out into the wilds of unfriendly climes. Whether its rain or snow, wind or cold, I feel at ease. Even when I’m out in the stuff, camping or sitting, shivering in a humvee before a mission, there’s still this promise of warmth and that same relaxing feeling.
Compared with summer, where I’m constantly uncomfortable, clammy and unable to strip (damn the military and its “regulations”!).
So, call me strange, but I’m going to enjoy the season. More importantly, I’m going to enjoy it NOT being 80 degrees in October any longer. Whether you are for or against Al Gore and his philosophy, warmer weather year round is a bitch. No thanks!
I’d much rather put on another layer than sit, stewing in ones I can’t discard. Call me crazy. Oh, I have to put on a jacket? Darn. You mean I won’t sweat all day? Drat.
Adrian, Adrian Girlfriend Sarah and I went to Olive Garden for lunch Saturday.
I remembered an article from Wired Magazine a few years ago where a technology was pioneered that could trap sound within the confines of laser beams, creating a sort of sound tunnel. The idea was that a sound wave could be directed to a human ear and no one else would be able to hear it. So, the article explained, something like a vending machine could call out to specific passersby with a personalized message, without broadcasting the tailored message to unintended listeners.
Don’t ask me why I remembered it at that particular moment–stuff just pops up.
I started talking about how something like that would be an amazing marketing tool, and, just like in “Minority Report,” a store could use an automated system to welcome a patron with a specific greeting.
Sarah wasn’t enthused. “I hate when people try to sell me things,” she said. “I think there’d be a lot of people who’d resist it.”
I wasn’t so sure. I tried to argue that the beginnings of this sort of invasive approach were already here, with spam and bulk mailings, and that the evolution of this micro-macro approach to broadcasting–where messages tailored to the individual could be sent out by the millions to greater effect, would eventually follow.
“Yeah, but spam can be deleted easily. People aren’t going to like stores being pushy,” Adrian said.
“But merchants could tailor recommendations based on your likes and dislikes. They’d know what you might want,” I said.
“People like their personal space. I don’t think you’ll see that sort of thing happen any time soon.”
We went on for a bit. Personally, I agreed with them. I thought it was sort of scary how invasive businesses might become, given the right approaches and technology.
However, if this country is going to stick with this capitalism thing, ever-increasing invasions of privacy to reach patrons with merchandise is inevitable.
Already stores like Kroger and Safeway use individual cards that offer discounts. What people don’t realize is that these cards track what you buy, when you buy it, and match it with your personal information to create a consumer profile. When this information is entered into a large database, merchants can tweak their business to maximize profit, tweaking supply and demand based on regional preference.
It’s commonplace. But why stop with just a profile that tells bulk mailers what to send you in the mail?
Why not use technology like the new Visa swipe card? Instead of scanning in a debit or credit card when paying for merchandise, a user just passes the card over a sensor strip. Bing! Done.
Why not put chips into those cards that can be read by store scanners when they enter the building? Poof, the store knows you’re there. The store knows what you’ve purchased, and what you might be in the market for. A personalized message is played on a screen, telling you that we have some new khakis that will go with that sweater you bought last week.
I, as a businessman, no longer need to rely on unmotivated teens to push my product. Hell, I don’t even need the teens. Automatic check-out stations and a security guard will do away with snooty mall teen workers.
Moreover, I could create a sort of preference profile for each user. A customer could interact with my business on my web site. I could do something like assign a color to that user, based on his or her basic set of consumer preferences (likes tweed or certain colors, for example). Then, as that card enters my store, a series of LEDs light up, highlighting the product that I think that customer might like, based on his or her past purchases (or what I want the customer to like, but that gets in the true origin of “cool” doesn’t it?). Those highlights, coupled with my personalized greeting, allows me to intimately connect with my customer, providing a relationship where the customer gets recommendations to make him or her look better, in exchange for store loyalty.
Hell, I could run with it and make it a little like MySpace. I’d put the men and women’s clothes together so the “Aqua” guys and “Aqua” girls could chat about how they like that type of clothing. I’d even beam conversation openers to that young man’s ear when I see him notice that cute girl.
Creepy? You watch. I’ll make it happen.
As we were leaving the Olive Garden, Adrian got a voice-mail from Optimus Prime. It was a prerecorded message, tailored to Adrian, talking about how his friend “Todd” was in danger of joining the Decepticons. One of the ways he could help fight the war was to purchase a copy of the movie “Transformers” on DVD, out this Tuesday.
“Isn’t that cool?” Adrian said.
I’m telling ya, people are going to want this sort of privacy invasion. All I have to do is entertain them a little and have them fork over the cash.
Aaah! the AUSA Convention—the place where companies converge in Washington, D.C., to rub shoulders with the generals and policy makers of the Army. New gadgets are showcased, hands are shaken, and deals are made.
Looking out across the floor at the hundreds of booths is quite a sight. Some companies have simple, straightforward setups; some incorporate videos and mockups of their wares; and some have elaborate structures with multiple floors and spinning logos overhead. Attractive young women are peppered throughout, who illicit the attention of the mostly male passersby.
The carpeted, plush motif of the floor and the cordial nature of the business-suited corporate representatives are beguiling. The din and atmosphere could be of any convention, but the huge combat vehicles and weapons arrayed throughout the floor clues the wanderer in that the business conducted here is a bit more severe than peddling toothbrushes.
“Thank you for your service,” says a smiling man, holding out a business card. I’m told this practically at every booth I pass.
Active-duty patrons are to wear their uniforms at this convention. Several higher-ups wear their fancier threads. I and roommate Adrian are in our ACUs.
These merchants know our ranks, probably, only one or two ask if they can send information regarding their products to our unit. Most probably realize we’re just there to ogle at the fancy gadgets and pocket free pens and posters. We’re not the high-rollers, the movers, the flag officers. We won’t have the authority to allocate a few million in tax dollars to buy products. Still, we’re treated well. They know we’ll go back to our units and rave about the new armor or acoustical gunfire sensors.
“Thanks for what you do,” says another, standing by an M109 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzer. “We’d like to invite you to an appreciation dinner, following the convention. It’s across the street.”
And we’re bribed with food and giveaways. Several of these parties rage after hours. I assume they serve as a forum for more intimate face time for the specific corporate hosts of the parties and the higher ups themselves.
Amid the catered food, the wine and endless stream of familiar “Didn’t I serve with you at such-and-such?” faces of military retirees, now corporate representatives, there is a lot of business to discuss. As for me and Adrian, we just grab food, nod and make small talk with the businessmen.
“Do you have a top-secret clearance?” one guy asks me.
“No, sir, just secret,” I say.
“Bah! I have four vacancies that need to be filled now! I would have taken you today.” Turns out he was a retired general, now a general manager for a firm.
This is what’s so freaky to me. There is a blurring of business and government. There is cross breeding between industry and the military. One feeds the other in an endless loop of conflict, innovation, invention, production and purchase. From a few of my “Didn’t I serve with you at…” contacts, I get the same reaction:
“The money is great! You should get out.”
I bet it is and, yes, I was planning on it.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of technological progress comes out of war. The individual gear we have now in the Army is much more holistic, protective, and compact than was the stuff we had 10 years ago—thanks to the constant fighting in this infinite War on Terror.
The high-tech bandages and other medical innovations are amazing! All of it is from the chit-chatting between parties at mechanisms like these conventions. It’s hard to poo-poo these sorts of meetings when enjoying the benefits of the innovations that result from them.
Still, I feel unease at the whole thing. War is dirty business. It’s so strange to see all the “toys” of armed conflict. It’s weird to watch all of the networking, casual demonstrations of lethal instruments and casual flirting between the attendees and attractive representatives.
Sunday night from the big weekend had Adrian, Sarah and I at the University of Maryland to see Ghostface Killah. Adrian is a Wu-Tang fan and since UMd. is just a couple of miles away, it seemed like a sweet plan to me.
I’m a happenstance hip-hop fan. My middle and high schools had a lot of hip-hop culture, so I spent a lot of my formative years listening in on the surge of talent from the 90s. I liked both coasts, so I probably couldn’t claim true “fan” status; but I jived with the music enough to recognize a lot of artists, including the Wu-Tang crew. I’d never actually been to a hip-hop concert, though, so it’d be a new thing.
We three went to a favorite bar near campus and teamed up with a friend of Sarah’s from school. We grabbed some food in the hour or two before the concert and talked music and college. It’s definitely a throw back for me to chat about classes and professors again. Last time I chimed in on those sorts of things, Uber Peeps Seth, Santino and I were thinking of ways to burn down Founders, a symbolic “center” of campus for our alma mater (and by “thinking” I mean figuratively venting frustration…I don’t need to be questioned for attempted arson). Since I’m old now I can say things like “Ah, I remember those college days.”
We walked across the campus to the student union. UMd. is big–like 30,000 students big. That’s larger than the town where I graduated high school. Likewise the campus is pretty large. It was a good walk, though, and eventually we got to the building. Along the way I was expecting to see other people heading our direction, but it was pretty deserted, save for the occasional pedestrian or biker.
We got to the student union, asked where the “grand ballroom” was and wound our way through to the concert. The opening act was already on and I noticed three things:
1. White bois.
2. Crappy acoustics.
3. Empty space.
Ghostface was later quoted in the university newspaper as it being the “worst crowd he’d ever performed for.” I didn’t blame him. We spent most of the time clustered around the center like a gaggle of penguins, stiffly swaying to the blaring rhymes. The hype-men did their best to get us to wave our hands in the air or yell, but, to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was Sunday night, maybe it was me not cool with being yelled at to shout, maybe it was the sparse crowd, maybe it was the lack of alcohol…regardless, I thought the night was a dud.
Tickets were free for students, I was told, and, although the gig was “sold out” in record time, apparently not many people took advantage of the show.
Thus endeth Sunday. Meh.
I’d been doing the weight thing downstairs for a bit before I made my way back to the apartment. Stepping in, I saw an already dressed roommate and his girlfriend, sitting on the couch.
“We’re going to roll out in about a half hour,” Adrian said, seeing I would probably need a shower and a few minutes of grooming before we left.
We were going to a place in town to see the Rugby World Cup. New Zealand was playing, and, since Adrian was part Kiwi, he wanted to cheer up his All Blacks properly at one of D.C.’s Irish pubs (appropriate since his other part is Irish).
We stopped off first at Sarah’s place so she could grab her running attire. She’d scored a ticket to run in the Army 10 miler—an annual race held in the D.C. area. I thought it was funny that the Army sponsored a 10-mile run, seeing as how a good 60% or more of the Army itself probably couldn’t run 10 miles.
After dousing myself with some soap and water, I put on some threads and joined Adrian and Sarah for the trip to the Metro. We picked a spot on the platform and took in the afternoon’s gathered attendees. The College Park Metro always had a mix of students ready to head into town. Even though it was still late afternoon—too early for the night owls, there was still a diffused gaggle across the waiting area.
The trip in was nondescript. The sun sat lower in the sky than I’d expected. Winter was upon us, I suppose, and the sun’s enthusiasm for the Southern Hemisphere in these months left us to harbor evenings somewhat suddenly after a the mid-afternoon turn of the clock.
One stop three stop, red stop green stop; and we’d arrived at Chinatown—our destination for the Irish pub in which to witness the game of rugby. Outside of the pub were signs for Guinness—not surprisingly, and one last door before we could enjoy the game…
Which, when opened, showed a completely full house and a woman standing near the opening, ready to check IDs and take money.
“You here for the game?” she asked, above the cheers and shouts from the gathered throng.
“Yeah!” Adrian shouted back.
“We’re a little full. You might want to try the *inaudible* down the street. They have *inaudible*… Cover is $20.”
Jesus. Twenty bucks?
“Okay, I’ve got us two,” Adrian said, pointing to he and Sarah. I took out my wallet and took stock of my financial status. The rugby viewing was the opening act of the evening. We were meeting up later with friends at a favorite club to celebrate my birthday. I had plastic, but still…$20?
Sarah and I gave each other a wide-eyed shrug at the cover before Adrian did a double take, “Wait how much?”
“Twenty. Two zero,” the door lady said.
“Oh, never mind,” he said and headed out.
We stood outside for a few minutes, amazed that they’d charge so much just to jockey for standing space among the bar, to say nothing about how much the beer and food normally was. Still, they had a full house so any debate on the price point was probably moot—why lower prices when the place is packed?
A little miffed and a bit put off, we walked down the street for a minute before deciding on a Spanish tapas restaurant. They had tortilla, which was a dish I’d recently learned how to make. I was in. That, a few other dishes and a hefty portion of paella, another dish I’d recently cooked, and we had lain a significant sponge for the remaining evening’s alcohol consumption.
Eventually, after burning through the original time allotted for the rugby viewing, we headed to DuPont Circle toward our mark for the evening. That in itself was a great time; but I’ve kept you all from work long enough!
The cat curls quietly on the carpet, exhausted from batting at moths through the balcony window. She sits, sighs and shifts at the sound of the doorbell from the next door neighbor.
Outside is black, dark, but peppered with orange cones of light that reminds nature there still lies an acre or two of parking lot amid the trees of the nearby park.
Not that the apartment towers go unnoticed, either; but, at least, without the street lights, there might seem to be the illusion that we sit on islands of man in the darkness of the forest. The rise and fall of wheels on pavement from the nearby highway lay soft, constant waves upon our shore. Without the lights, it just might work. Okay, without the lights and sporadic sounding of car alarms, it might work.
Earlier in the day I was running in the woods—well, nearby the woods. My affinity for picking up Lyme disease from Maryland ticks keeps my interest in frolicking at bay. I run, instead, on the paved road that encircles the national park, touching on the different picnic areas and campsites. I have a route that lets me log three or four miles in two or three laps—too routine for roommate Adrian. He prefers the trails. I prefer the known distance and pacing, but to each his own.
As stated, I was running, hugging the left side, along the painted white line. Surrounding me was the veil of nature, the border of the forest, past which lie all manner of greenery, buzzing wings, and strands of cobwebs. Acorns too! as they fell pitter-patter on the street around me.
Squirrels abounded, they scampered every few feet, no doubt a fan of the falling acorns. They didn’t seem too phased at this dude passing by. I’d also see deer here and there. They’d look and continue to munch on the grass. I stayed on my road, they stayed on theirs—imperceptible to me, but nonetheless.
The wind often blew these days. I don’t know if there is a season for breeze in Maryland, but the summer seemed a bit stifling—stuffed, humid air with no movement, no wind. Now, on the cusp of autumn, the branches sway again. Glorious.
The shimmer—the soft shimmer of the leaves in the afternoon breeze caught up scents of woodland floor—earth, leaf and twig. I’d run, a pat-pat-pat of my rubber feet against the black, unmoving worm of tar and pavement that wound through the forest.
I’d seen the maps. This pocket of forest in the park was rare. The city was far larger. But, for its, part, there was no visible protest from nature concerning the state of things. There was only the days errands to be run by the small animals of the woods. They stayed in their space and I in mine.
As I turned the final bend and started upwards toward my starting/finishing point, I came across a large flock of birds, who began to take flight from under the canopy and through the woods. They were black, darting shadows from the shaded forest floor. They startled me a bit with their hurried fluttering, flying through the trees, parallel to me. Up ahead they began to cross the road, breaking through into man’s path before disappearing in the woods on the opposite side. For a moment, I paused, my way blocked. Some of the birds let out a more-than-expected disturbing croak, damaging my calm. For a moment, I felt unwelcome.
Damn birds. Thank you Alfred Hitchcock.
Sometimes I wonder if nature has some fight left in it. It seems all but beaten here in the states. Maybe its claws aren’t so much made of industry, engineering and enterprise; but, instead, of time and persistence. Maybe, someday, there won’t be any lights, and the towers will seem like an isolated pocket among the reclaimed forest. Who knows?