Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Day 195 (228 Regained)

In Taipei on February 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm

You spend a morning spitting up bile into the toilet and you begin to wonder how you’re going to be able to count this day as worthwhile in your hypothetical list of the worth of days. Your laundry is saddled up at your side and you’re going to read and try to get unharmed into the dark that means the next day is near. File this day under recovery, then. Sometimes the worth of one day straddles the night and justifies forty-eight hours of life. Still, that this thought has occurred to you reminds you—maybe even tells you for the first time—that you get satisfaction from life on the basis of your days. That those are your units, and that if each one can matter, then the cumulative thing will take care of itself. That the year and the day are tied. That the worth of the day is fueled by how well the year seems to be proceeding. That time, time, time.

Just then, a car sneaks up behind you. In the narrow alley, it can’t squeeze by you and your hulking laundry sack. You think of shrugging it off. It’s his problem. Then, though, something gets into you and you dip into the next available space between parked cars, clutching your bag and pausing until the car can rumble by. The driver waves at you in sincere thanks. Wow. That feels good. Some scooters scoot by. You recommence with the walking. Hey. Look at that. Parents are out biking with their kids. Kids squeak around the dirty streets with helmets and training wheels. There’s recreation, being out for being out. It’s a holiday. Wow. Look at that.


Day 194 (Nei Shuang Xi)

In Hash Runs on February 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm

There’s this chair in the middle of the restaurant and there’s this plaid-shirted kid on it being presented with a mammoth plastic circle of beer, and the kid is you, and your first thought is of where the thing came from and what its purpose is. Your second thought is that, oh no, you have to drink the whole thing. Your third thought, as cold beer runs down your chin and chest but mostly down your gullet and your stomach expands with unprecedented haste and you pause for a moment to recollect yourself, is that there is a direct correlation between your stopping drinking from the originless plastic circle and the replacement of cheers with catcalls. Your fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh thoughts are unrecoverable. Your eighth thought, as the kid that is you steps bloated from the chair, is that, wow, you did it without falling off the chair or otherwise failing. Your two-thousand seventeenth thought, pillar-like in a haze of unrecoverables, is that the failure comes later. Ah.

Day 193 (What to Do with Talent and Centers of Energy)

In Taipei on February 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm

This is what you should do when you are really good at something and you are at a party. The smartly dressed Taiwanese man, thick black glasses and black hair, skates backward pulling a train of twenty people around the crowded ice rink. He is clearly a virtuoso. The passengers on the train hang for dear life onto the waist of the people in front of them. They love going fast. They go faster than they could ever go under their own steam. Then the virtuoso starts weaving in tight little turns, and the train is whipped around with zest. Their are excited shrieks. Somehow everyone manages to hold on. And then no: a pileup in the middle of the ice. Everyone is laughing.

This is what you should do, I’m telling you, with your talent. Find a group of people out to have fun. They’ll be milling about a little confused, because they go to these centers of energy because things happen at them, but what is in fact happening is only the confluence of many people looking for the same, invisible event that they themselves are constituting. Then take your talent and with it harness a crowd and pull them along and let them sip freely of it. Help them do things they couldn’t do without you there. Have fun, because you’re at the forefront of this line of chuckling people. Everybody is in flow.

Day 192 (The Sort of Vision It Is Socially Acceptable to Ignore and How to Use It)

In Taipei on February 25, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I do this thing where I stare at my book more rapt than I am. Where I refuse to acknowledge my peripheral vision. Where every word matters, and nothing else. Because there is this custom—something of a law, really—that you get up from your seat when someone feebler than you would like to sit down. For me, that is nearly everybody. And so I can rest on the thirty-minute train ride to and from work only by sacrificing that little part of my heart reserved for random acts of kindness. The Sunscreen Song says, Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. If that’s so, I may want to buy a plane ticket soon.

In my present peripheral vision, there waltzes a long skirt of gold and red folds. I stare studiously at my printed words. It can only be, I think, a monk. In a matter of time, someone will stand up and allow them to sit. With elderly people there is a ninety percent chance of someone yielding their seat. With monks, we’re talking one hundred. But the train doors shut, and the train takes off, and no one offers. I am flabbergasted.

I begin to make up a story, all the while bent toward my book. I have not seen these exact colors on a robe before. Rarely are they so gaudily decorated, in fact. This monk may be one of a disapproved sect. A Christian, or a Zoroastrian. Something exotic and faintly evil to the vague Buddhists and Taoists of this country. The figure stands stoically. He is probably used to this. The estrangement, the unmurmured disapproval.

The train stops a few stations later. The monk proceeds off. I look up, in the interval before I must again ignore the onslaught. Goodness! I’m taken by surprise. She’s just a woman, dressed in a long red jacket and a long yellow skirt. Simply some lady with a strange sense of style. My mind’s fiction knew it was a fiction, but my synapses are rocked by the revelation. How weird to devise a world and for it to not match up, even in one point of billions, with what turns out to be the case.

Day 191 (Staying Dry)

In Taipei on February 24, 2011 at 10:38 pm

People say Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain. And don’t get me wrong. I like to run in the rain, if not dance, to sprint among glowing brakelights and/or soaked leaves and let the universe become one with me, the droplets sinking into my system, and vice versa. But in this city it rains every day, or every other day, or anyway, too often. And when you dance in the rain, you get wet. You can’t always be wet.

The practical version, I think, is this. It is the day after your birthday. You wake up warm and you have to get up and go out into the woods and grab the bull by the horns. As you gather your stuff, it begins to rain. Big, thick droplets pound the metal that overhangs your barred window space, a symbol here that traditionally means an uttered curse and the hassle of the rain gear you’ll have to carry around the whole day. But today, the sky-born thunks pick a bittersweet chord, resonating between neurons you don’t recognize. Yes—you got a new rain jacket yesterday. A Gore-Tex one. And today, you get to try it out.

Day 190 (Quantity)

In Taipei on February 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm

She’s right, what she said.

This is the best food I have had in six months. Spinach gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnuts. Angels cry when they see this sort of thing, nostalgic for life on earth. But I am filled with grief. No animals were killed in the making of the dish. No painful memories are revived by it. Rather, I look at the gnocco count. Twenty. There may be more. But the point is that they give an impression of countableness, they are few enough to people the bottom of the bowl in a single layer, leaving no gnocco stacked or covered.

My stomach’s eyes ogle. The prospect of this being all there is becomes palpable. Whew. Hold on. I have to convince myself that there are more important things. There are more important things. There are more important things. Still, the way the threatened emptiness of my stomach makes my soul cave in is disconcerting.

Like I said. I am an American.

Day 189 (Regardless of the White Person Across the Street)

In Taipei on February 22, 2011 at 10:44 pm

An old woman pushes an empty cart along the right-hand side of the road, although she seems to have hardly enough steam to get herself wherever she’s going. Her baggy shirt is floral and festive and her pants highwaters. She has on crusty plastic sandals. Her skin is wrinkly beyond wrinkly and tanned firmly brown. Her eyes are squeezed shut, and it’s a miracle she can see where she’s going, as that she can go at all.

Behind her, a man in a business suit is trying to stop her. He is gesturing in her direction and calling out politely. And alas, too softly, for it turns out she is hard of hearing too. Immersed in her Herculean efforts to proceed, she has no perception left over by way of which to be hailed. The businessman, youthful and tall, a counterpoint in every way to this frail, tough woman, knows that this is so. Gingerly, then, with no other options, he tiptoes up behind her and places her wide-brimmed straw hat back on her bandana’d head. She traipses on, unfazed.

Day 188 (A Science Experiment)

In Taipei on February 22, 2011 at 11:37 am

At two a.m. on the fumes of the day’s headache and an unblushing Shandy, the elements that compose a body walking steadily homeward separate themselves like oil and water.

All the way up in your thighs you feel the reverberations of your feet on the concrete sidewalk, shaking muscles meant for faster propulsion, like the distance runner’s equivalent of flexing your pecs in the mirror.

Your neck cricks to evaluate the security status on nearly every bicycle you pass, your own having gone to bicycle hell, and the main thing that keeps you from taking an unlocked one on the forty-minute walk is how you felt that time when some asshole took your front tire in St. Louis.

In your stomach rumbles late-night Chinese breakfast, bloating you and reminding you how there is a price for taste, though it is worth it.

Straight is your posture, compelled that way when you are walking in fourth gear, and when you downshift for a second, you see that your whole process of thought becomes more leisurely and less schematic, but home is far, so you quicken again and the features of you and of the night re-don their neon hats.

Day 187 (Xinpu)

In Hash Runs on February 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

The misty rain isn’t so important once the run is over and you’re replenishing and rehashing the checks and the marking. None of us are attentive to the shelter the beer truck provides even though some of us are shirtless. Running in a pack like that, we say, is fun. You kind of jockey back and forth. And especially when the marking is bad like that so you spread out and then you cluster up looking for the flour and you spread out again. We caught the hare! And we beat Rocketman. You know it’s a good day when you catch the hare and you beat Rocketman. We sip back on our drinks and shift from foot to foot. Six guys standing around absolutely exhilarated. Hearts racing after the heat of bare primitive competition. Cold rain be damned. A circle for a second of the communal thrill of after the event.

Day 186 (An Open Space)

In Taipei on February 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I wrench the hefty sliding door closed behind me. I’m barefoot. So is everybody else. I’m a noisy wad of fabric as I seek a spot to sit. I smash against a glass mirror that forms a wall and also, I am told, the door to the bathroom, so move. There’s a space near the center, though. I sit there and settle, my obnoxious backpack between my feet. I breathe.

Up front, somebody performs. All eyes are on him. He is saying poetry. Holy shit, he is saying poetry. The room is not dark like I imagined. It is lit, and people who are hip—not hipsters, but people who are unselfconsciously hip, actually hip—sit with passive body language and absorb. Oh my god. What is this?