Sunday, February 11, 2018

Filled with the Spirit: The conclusion

If you, dear reader, are of the artistically inclined approach to culinary adventures you will have, indubitably, attempted to separate an egg yolk from the egg white without using a  plastic marvel of the egg separating art but instead have chosen to suss out the bimodal internals of the chicken seed by using simply the shell itself.  Have you attempted this, as I am confident you have, you may have met with some startling early success.  Eventually however, as is the case with all egg separators, there will come a time when shifting the egg white from the yolked half of shell you will become blindly over confident.  You will reach for the stars in your haste and overtip the dominant hand to coax the belligerent globule of white into the waiting empty shell.  In that moment of carefree nonchalance maybe you will cry over your shoulder, "Oh yeah I do it this way all the time."  Or maybe shift your hips a bit to some smooth cooking jazz.  You are indeed the master of the universe. Then your confident heart freezes in doubt and terror as the desperate eggwhite, clutching precariously to the yolk strikes out with its sinuous membranes and the egg yolk begins to slip.  Your heart stops, time seems to freeze, you have lost all control of your hands as you helplessly watch the yolk slip into open air.  Thankfully it is going to fall into the awaiting open shell already filled with separated egg white.  You see it land unevenly on the edge of the shell, you attempt to tip the lower shell outward gently to preserve the yolk and your dignity.  Then, as by some cruel machination of oological malice, the yolk slips, falls, and breaks amongst the food waste and sullied dishes of your less than meticulously maintained sink.  The yolk seems almost whole but the streak of yellow racing towards the drain, old oatmeal like islands of mockery in the river of despair confirm to you that all hope is lost.  The shells remain frozen in your hands as the white also falls unnoticed by your dead eyes staring mindlessly into the distance.

The booking officer of the downtown police precinct was consulting with a sergeant when they both looked up to see Andromeda Crab enter the station under the cautious gaze of Officer Grizzly. 

"Public Intoxication for this one, was going to see the mayor," [guffaws all around], "Figured a few hours in the tank should clear things up for her."  The Sergeant returned to looking at the stack of papers in his hands as the booking officer prepared for a new guest at the cinder block motel.  "Going to save the world, she said, 'Extremely' important news for the Mayor's ears only."  With that the Sergeant looked up, expectantly, and curiously deep into Andrea's eyes.  This was the moment she had been waiting for, her one chance to let the truth out before wasting precious time in the drunk tank.  And the egg hit the sink.

The moment passed.  The Sergeant took his papers and returned to his desk.  The booking officer shuffled some papers.  Andrea pulled the trinket out of her pocket.  The shine and swirl was all gone.  Just a cheap trinket from the dollar store. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Filled with the Spirit 3

Most of us who have the benefit of having our High School days behind us look back and see that they were not, after all, the best days of our lives, though the lonely and overworked staff of the establishment continued to tout it as such.  The past is, as the Greeks said, in front of us as we back into the unknown future.  It is framed on the shelf, remembered poorly, and filled with sweet reminiscence and chest compressing regrets.  It is static, safe, and preserved.  To fly forward, as it were, back into the crystalline past is not something that the human mind is designed or acculturated for.  It is a shock not only to the cardiovascular system; and in the case of Andromeda Crab the digestive system, it is also a debilitating jolt to the mind.  Andromeda was full of carbs and pork fat, the caffeine beginning to coarse through her system and she strode confidently out of ShoeHorn's FlapJackStack, the brass bell on the door triumphantly announcing her arrival into a world that had just met its match.

The warm sun shone on her griddle-food flushed face and she began to strut down the street, ready to save the world.  She passed a few noble citizens, eyes cast down to the pavement, but she had bigger fish to fry and in our marvelous age of mass media telecommunication she knew she had to go straight to the top.  After only a few steps however her strut degraded to a saunter which degraded into a shuffle.  The bright morning sun pierced to the depths of her hung over mind with a cleaving pain that quickly expelled the authoritative posture of righteous justice and salvific fury.  Her confident, bright eyes quickly turned into a one eyed squint as she edged sideways up the sidewalk.  One hand on her throbbing temple she made her way, more slowly now, to save the world.  She wanted so badly to lay down, to rest.  She would have cried had she not been so afraid that sobs would bifurcate her brain into neat hemispheres.  The TV station now seemed like a distant mirage, a dream of extraordinary distance 5 excruciating blocks away.  As she leaned against the rough brick facade of a shoe repaireman's shop ("Save your sole with Jesus Peletero"  Hours: T 10am-12pm TH 3pm-5pm) she saw an officer of the peace standing wide legged at the next intersection in the shadow of a giant Greek revival edifice. 

As she approached she saw the giant white marble structure before her was, indeed, City Hall.  She had made it to A top, if not THE top she intended to go straight to.  With the police office overwatching traffic it was as if she had her own escort, a personal entourage as she brought her treasure of revelation to the world.  Grateful for the shade cast down from the huge government building, she stood up a little straighter and headed towards the granite steps across the street.  The moment her booted foot stepped down on black asphalt she heard from behind her a confident, slow but sharp, "Excuse me, miss?"

Andromeda turned around: one foot in the street, one foot on the sidewalk and saw the officer was looking at her with the casual curiosity of a bear waking up from hibernation.  "Good morning ma'am.  Where are you off to this morning."  Suddenly Andrea was painfully aware of how this whole situation looked to the officer: A hard partying, partially inebriated woman was shambling towards city hall.  Whatever her intentions, if City Hall was her destination something needed to be said.

"I'm ssorry offfisser.  I know what thiss looks like..." {suppressed burp] "...I have something very important for the mayor.  We are all in danger, the whole worldsss in danger.  I need to see him...right away.  You can esscort me if you like."  And with that Andromeda Crab turned and took a step across the street.  And with that Andromeda Crab felt a hand upon her shoulder.  And shortly after a stream of words in which "Public intoxication" were two and "Not seeing the mayor today" were a few more she finally received her police escort along with another change in destination.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


I wrote this a few days ago but I still think it is true so I'll post it.  This is not a diary of my own family life, we avoided some of these trends, but it is a collection of observations from my own family and those individuals and communities that were around me as I grew
Yesterday I experienced the closest thing to prejudice that I probably ever will.  Now I'm not in any way claiming to be a victim of prejudice.  I'm a cis-gendered straight white male in his 30s, I'll be just fine.  What I found interesting was observing the process and noticing how it made me feel.  While talking with two baby boomers, "Millennials" come up.  The one speaker was remarking on how a student of hers wanted to be given credit for a wrong answer because the student had put in the effort of answering.  Then the other speaker told the joke, "You know how to confuse a Millennial?  Show them a first place trophy."  I get it, I even think it is funny, but I did think it was strange to tell Millennial jokes like a millennial wasn't standing right there.  But I've also noticed this happen when someone tells a "Mexican" joke in front of a Mexican like they haven't heard it before.  I've probably done the same thing when I was young, insensitive, stupid, and ignorant.  I also thought it was funny that 2 boomers, the generation that handed out these participation trophies, are the ones having this discussion.  But I'll come back to that later.  I made a quick jest to try and change the topic before I stumbled onto my generational anthropology soap box.  In response to this Speaker One said, "Oh I know, I know, but you are the exception, you have a work ethic."

Now that hit me two ways.  Way number one was that I felt a little proud after the pat on the head from my elder.  I had somehow beat the odds and made something of myself in spite of my generational cultural baggage.  This feeling quickly turned to being irked that I so quickly and easily allowed myself to glow after being patted on the head.  But secondly I was a little peeved that making something of yourself was the exception to the rule.  We live in a country where quite a few of the most powerful, most wealthy, most influential people are millennials.  I would be interested to know if any other generation in the last 100 years was as involved in shaping their culture and economy in their 20s & 30ss as millennials have been.

Afterwards I thought about how I have seen these backhanded compliments being used on people who suffer real consequences of prejudice and it got me a bit fired up.  "It's great to see someone from your background become successful."  "I'm so happy to see a black father engaged with his children."  Now I know, being a white person of extraordinary privilege, that these people of extraordinary privilege are trying to say something positive and encouraging with these compliments.  But these compliments, the racial "you look so pretty when you smile, you should smile more" statements serve to further re-enforce the systems and mindsets that create the inequalities that justify the statements in the first place.

But this is not what I wanted to write about, what I was churning through my head as I went to bed last night.  Talking about micro-aggressions and well intentioned prejudice seems to trigger too many people.  So I wanted instead to provide what the world has been waiting with baited breath to hear, my view on Ustatian generational anthropology.

Lets start at the turn of the century.  You have a generation filled with tangible fear of the coming modern age.  From J.R.R. Tolkien to the Spanish Modernists you see a growing fear of the world of smoke and machines.  A steam punk dystopia grinding humanity between its gears of industry, cities wreathed in black smoke, and slick with oil.  This is the generation of great disappointment.  The marvel of the world's fair and the coming of a new age of humanity had given way to the fire, mud, and blood of industrialized warfare.  Gone was the glorious empires and the next step for humanity.  In its place was senseless slaughter, the desperate hedonism of the roaring 20s, and the bleak hunger of the Great Depression.

Next we have the greatest generation.  If not having actual memories of the Great Depression they were definitely shaped by parents who had raised them in hunger and hopelessness.  World War II came in the blossom of their youth and they answered the call and died by the droves.  It is good for us younger folks to keep in mind that as horrifying the losses of Vietnam or the terrors of the modern wars have been, about 3 times as many soldiers died in combat in WWII as Ustatians have died in combat in all the wars since.  It was a huge blow to the population and the psyche of this country.  And the Greatest Generation earned their title in that war.  Serving with honor and bravery to stop the spread of genocidal fascism.  That is undeniable.  Was it a war filled with mistakes and senseless slaughter? Of course.  But it was probably the last war that could be easily argued as being "good", maybe ever.  Now the survivors of this war came home to factories emptied of man power and a broken world economy hungry for Ustatian goods.  And so they worked and thrived.  I saw a comic this last week of a man in 1950s garb saying, "It's pay day.  I'll get some dinner and then buy a house or something."  The ease at which a white man could get a good paying job, buy and pay off a house, and live debt free have not been seen since.

But the Greatest Generation was not without their faults.  Raised in the desperate straights of poverty their childhoods were not always happy.  Child labor, alcoholic parents, abuse, and deprivation mark the stories of many of the early lives of that generation that I have talked to.  They were not trained to be nurturing and loving parents, especially the men, and with many of them coming home from combat with what we would now call PTSD they didn't tend to grow into it.  Something interesting to me is how many of this generation were pretty great grandparents though they struggled fiercely in the parenting department.  Maybe a softening of age, maybe learning to do it better 30 years later, who knows.  But the shock of hearing what my parents' experience with their parents was in comparison to my own experience with my grandparents I'm sure I share with many others.  And so the WWII generation came home, worked, lived, drank beer and watched football.  They bought sweet cars, houses with white picket fences, and saved tons of money because they hated to spend it in case the terror of '29 came back to haunt them.

And they had sex.  Lots of pent up, heal the internal wounds of combat sex and had children by the droves.  And those children lived in wonderful Leave it to Beaver homes.  Or not really.  I haven't talked to many Boomers who had childhoods like the Andy Griffith show.  Radio and Television were their escape from emotionally distant if not abusive alcoholic parents trying desperately to build their dream life and sooth the wounds of poverty, war, and abuse.  And their parents built up comfort and security by big savings accounts, a nice car, and a nice house.  But their children grew up seeing piles of wealth you couldn't touch and in the midst of an exploding materialistic culture they grew up resenting the comfort of their parent's generation.  None of this is morally judgmental, just my observations.  I don't think the Greatest Generation were horrible parents because they were horrible people.  They just didn't have a lot of tools to deal with the lives they had lived and the 35 children now running around their feet.  So Dad came home, turned on the TV, drank a beer, and looked forward to getting away and fishing on the weekend. Mother put on her pearls, snuck vodka neat from the liquor cabinet, and waited for that promised trip to Bora Bora.  They were broken people surviving as best they knew how.  But they raised a generation that was deeply unhappy with the lives they had been given.  The 60s and 70s are the proof of a generation that was discontent with the current order.  Some of those changes were good and needed to happen.  But they were the chants and protests of an angry generation who had wanted something from their parents that their parents could not give.  And as the Greatest Generation came into power and continued to horde resources and make war, which is what they were conditioned to do, their children despise them for it.  And the Boomers were called lazy and transient and idealistic.  Interesting.

Then the Boomers started to have kids and things changed quickly.  The Utopian dreams of their youth were exchanged for the security and safety that they had so despised in their parents.  But where the children of the depression saved their wealth the children of untouchable wealth splurged it.  The Greatest Generation had given their children what they wanted most: safety and security.  Their children, in turn, gave their offspring what they never had.  Piles and piles of stuff.  Where the Greatest Generation had an excellent factory job that turned 40 hours a week into all the comfort they had ever imagined, the Boomers in the slinking economies of the 70s and 80s had to work themselves to the bone with long hours to buy the toys they wanted for themselves and their children.  And so they were gone.  Children grew up with keys around their necks on a strand of yarn and came home to empty, pristine houses filled with toys and comfortable abandonment.  Parents showed up to chew out teachers and host extravagant vacations so that their children would not know the rigors of their childhood.  They protected their children from the cruel world but were never home to show them how to live in it.

Where the previous generation had been present but emotionally absent the boomers were emotionally more available but physically out of the picture.  They came home with their good intentions to eat a quick dinner at their desk to wrap up their finance reports.  Their boats spent all summer in the driveway because they never had the time to enjoy them.  And surrounded with everything they ever wanted they tended to spend most of their evenings, like their fathers: exhausted and depressed in front of the TV.

Now the Millennials come on the scene.  The factory jobs of their grandfathers are gone, the cheap college of their parents a dream, and the thriving job market moved overseas.  I had many friends who were promised lucrative careers that were almost completed outsourced in the 4 years it took them to finish college.  And without the promised 6 figures they had been guaranteed, the gamble of a significantly more expensive education sent them back home to their mother's basement.  Yes our generation has a reputation for being low in grit and tenacity.  But this is not without its causes.  A plush comfortable life filled with video games instead of parents.  Participation awards from coaches who were never quite good enough themselves in their own father's eyes and couldn't bear to see the same sadness in ours.  We were promised a life of luxury and then handed an economy that was stripped of its jobs but still carrying the weight of the highest college cost in recent history on our backs.  Raised without having to fight for anything we were then thrown into the Colosseum of life. We were told to fight our way out by the very ones who had, in the best intentions, protected us from the rigors of training for it.  Who had only ever fought for stuff and not for us.  They did exactly what they wanted from their parents.  Stay at work so you hit me less and come home to only give me toys.  But that dream was empty and left children just as empty as the generation that had dreamt them.

And just as each generation resents the dreams of their parents we as Millennials resent the material thirsts of our parents.  We want to actually live our life instead of dreaming of using a boat we never have time to play in because the payments are too high.  We want to have families and spend times with them because ours never did.  Our the pain of family is too fresh and we don't want them at all.  And we don't know how to fight and work and suffer because we never had a chance at it before.  Are we still responsible for our lives and decisions, absolutely.  Are we still responsible for our failures?  100%.  Just don't be quick to blame the cookies for not turning out if there is flour on your hands.  And don't forget that the culture is changing, just like it did when you were in your 20s and 30s.  The values are shifting, once again.  Some for the good and some for the bad.  Give us a chance to learn to fight and you might just be surprised at what we can do.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Filled with the Spirit: Part 2

Andromeda Crab stumbled out of the alley into the blinding light of the morning sun.  She was still hungover, still being torn apart inside, and insatiably hungry.  These three driving forces were pushing her into divergent directions: To lay down, to shout from the mountaintops, and to eat the largest breakfast the nearest diner could serve her.  She didn't know which way to proceed so she looked around her for the easiest goal to accomplish.  In front of her stood an old brick building which read ShoeHorn's FlapJackStack and she knew which of her three pressing needs would be addressed first. The small bell on the door rang as she pushed through the door and smelled the comforting aroma of a hot griddle, potatoes, and fat.  The place was small with a line of booths against the wall to the right and the bar running down the middle facing the kitchen against the left wall.  The 5 or so diners were face down in their meals and the air was filled with sizzle, clink, and chew.  Andrea was frozen, standing in the doorway, in a dream of comforting satiation when the smell of roasted coffee beans filled her nostrils and she sat down at the farthest booth and opened up a menu.

"Coffee will do the trick nicely", mumbled Andrea under her breath and started riffling through the listing of local fare.

A note for travelers wondering this great nation.  Consuming breakfast at a local establishment is a treasured tradition among all classes of Ustations.  Depending on your geographical location and the desire for the local denizens to live in safety and comfort will generally dictate at what sort of establishment they will break their morning fast.  In high-falooting circles this meal is often referred to as brunch.  Brunch is generally considered a wonderful opportunity to not only eat very small portions of artistically arranged food but, more importantly, an excuse to drink alcohol with breakfast.  Since Brunch is a combination of two separate meals there is a premium for this convenience and eating your breakfast and lunch together will usually cost you 3 times what it would have cost you to eat them separately, but again...alcohol.  The working class will usually opt for establishments which can be described as holes-in-the-walls, local joints, and greasy spoons.  These, like the one Andromeda is currently eating at, tend to be smaller operations and tend to have, in fact, greasy spoons.  They are not places where one "watches one's cholesterol" but tend to avail the customer of an opportunity to consume massive amounts of calories for a low price.  Some of these are exactly what you pay for.  Simply because it has the allure and questionable food hygiene of a diamond in the rough does not mean that it is, in fact, a diamond.  It may just be the rough.  But occasionally a traveler will stumble upon a true treasure where the price of the food does not justify the quality of the meal.  Not everything will be good but something will be excellent.  For example the breakfast sausages served at Rubin's on Loraine Ave in Cleveland, Ohio (although this tends to be the very top crust limit of the greasy spoon sphere as the tables are clean, there is no duct tape on any of the upholstery, and none of the waiting staff seem to billow cigarette smoke from their clothes).  Finally we have the suburban classes.  These breakfast eaters tend to sit in 2 separate categories.  Living in the suburbs generally assumes that one is attempting to cast an illusion of one variety or another over their life and this is reflected in their breakfast choices.  The first grouping will pretend that they are in deed high-falooting themselves and will eat at a suburban brunch location that offers the high prices of a real brunch provider but the convenience of not having to "go to the valley" as it were.  The food quality is not as high but one hardly needs to drive on the freeway to get there.  The second category of suburban diners eats at locations that offer the allure of a local joint without the health and safety violations.  Although one will tend to not stain one's clothing by sitting in a booth at these establishments, the prices will be higher and the food cookie cutter.  The real prize, if you are in one of these chain driven economies, is to find a location that used to be a greasy spoon but has grown into a respectable establishment but is not franchised in any way.  A prime example being The Way Station Coffee Shop in Newhall, California.  At any of these establishments if you are hungry, hungover, tired, and possibly have just completed a journey through both space and time always order something with the word "farmer" in the title and a coffee.

"What do you want, hun?"

"I'll have the Uncle Homer's Farmer's Breakfast...and a coffee." 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Filled With The Spirit: Part I

On October 3rd, 2017 KTWO: Montana reported the story of Bryant Johnson.  Bryant claimed that aliens had filled his body with alchohol to send him 1 year back in time to warn that the end of the world was near and the aliens would arrive shortly.  Humans should leave the planet as soon as possible.

This is not his story, but he was not the first to be sent.

Andromeda Crab woke up this morning like she woke up many mornings: in an alley, leaning against a dumpster, completely unaware of where or who she was.  Not knowing who she was tended to pass.  With a name like Andromeda Crab your self identity tends to have some sticking power.  But the where, that was always tricky.  She covered her sleep squinty eyes as the alley filled with the blaring red and blue of a passing emergency vehicle before fading back to the dull yellow of an old sulpher lamp reflecting off of the pools and puddles around her.  The buzz of the lamps, the dripping of last night's rain, and the distant noise of the city gave Andrea few clues to her geographical location.  Even with the clear indications of recent rain she was completely dry besides her back and the part of her denims that were touching the ground, those were soaked through.

"Wherever I am, I haven't been here long," was the thought that tried to pry its way out of her mind and mouth.  But the claws of her hungover brain kept the thought from fulling forming while a sound halfway between a mumble and a growl was the only thing that left her lips.  As she staggered to her feet, leaning against the rusty blue dumpster she saw something shiny fall from her pocket and clatter onto the broken asphault.  Staring at it quizickly she tried leaning over to pick it up but only succeeded in vomiting.  Thankfully for her, and for you dear reader, she completely missed the shiny object with her exuberant reminiscence and after a few moments resting her sweat sodden head against the cold dumpster she was able to focus again on the object at her feet. It was silver, almost like a locket you would find at the dollar store, filled with a swirl of peacock green & blue.  The center had a pearlescent shimmer like wet paint.  She was almost afraid to pick it up and even quickly glanced at her jacket pocket to see if it had left a trail of wet pigment where it had fallen.  But her jacket was clean, of paint anyway, and with puffed out cheeks, blowing lips, and bulging eyes she reached down to pick up the shiny trinket.

It is a more strange aspect of the human condition that drives us to pick up whatever we have dropped, even if we don't know what it is.  That one sock from the armfull of laundry which we will sacrifice an entire load of clean clothes for in our naive confidence to be able to maintain the load in our arms and somehow, holding the clothes with our chin, using our feet and one free hand, to try and get the thing which we have dropped.  We will go through a box of junk from an old lady's house.  We will confirm the contents are nothing of value and carry it to the dumpster waiting outside.  If one trinket falls out the bottom we will stop, put down the box of trash, and pick up the thing that got away and, more likely than not, put that one piece of trash into our pocket.  Maybe it was an old screw, the stem from a broken wine glass, or a shredded piece of newspaper but we will keep that piece of litter.  Do we keep it because of its defiant will to live?  Did we like the ring it made when it hit the ground?  Maybe it is a momento of the hard work of cleaning out a dead lady's house.  But I believe that it stems from a deep, ancient, evolutionary drive to pick up anything that fell, because... well... you never know when you might need it.

Many times in the coming days, weeks, years did Andromeda wish that she had not, in a her drunken haze driven by an ancient compulsion, pick up that shiny bob lying on the grimy, rain soaked alley. That moment she wished he could have back.  But instead of just straightening up and shambling out of the alley into the approaching dawn light, she reached down to pick it up.  And the moment her finger touched it, everything changed.

Adrea's mind swirled and raced.  If you have ever seen an old science fiction movie's depiction of hyperspace travel, or watched any old movie where the main character had a trippy flashback of memories, you will know what Andrea saw.  Outside her mind everything was blurry, distorted, and hazy.  But inside her mind, the moment her finger contacted the peacock tricket, there was terrifying clarity.  The images that swirled she new were real memories.  The fear that filled her was measurable, sharp, and the thing she feared almost tangible.  It was like waking up from a dream into a nightmare and Andrea did not like it one bit.  Her body reacted to a mind full of memory and panic by emptying her stomach once again.  The dischordant state between her drunken body and her vibrant mind seemed to want to biforcate the two part of her.  There was a tearing sensation deep inside her brain and her body froze in that alley, all alone, like a hare spotting a child with a slingshot in the snow.  She looked like she was about to run down the alley screaming.  She looked like she was a marble edifice never to move again.  She felt like the fiery boned prophets of old.  Then again, thankfully, everything went dark.

Waking up in the same alley on the same day forces the mind to experience a particularly strong sensation of deja vu.  But the smell of her own vomit and the dumpster's contents warming in the morning sun brought a confirmation of the reality of her memories of the wee hours of that morning.  Worse she saw the peackock colored trinket there by her feet.  That part most of all she wished was a dream.  She strained her mind to convince herself it had never happened, it was false, but her mind held the reality of it close like a child clutching her charred teadybear, standing on the lawn, watching her house burn down. And although Adromeda Crab had lied to herself most of her life she was unable to lie to herself now.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Hyderbadia: The Conquering Stillness

The fog hung over the city with a damp & smothering presence as Sruti ran through the tight alleys and passageways. The sweat poured freely from her face dripping with the dew as she darted between cover through the warren of the Hind quarter. She smiled as she heard the curses behind her as the hulking officers of Peace and Justice Corp battled through the detritus of poverty that lined these narrow passages. She grinned as she heard a particularly colorful aphorism as she turned into a dark passage and ran, full sprint, up a flight of stairs towards the top of an old prefab. Once she had gained the rooftop she leapt over the gap between where she ran and the adjoining building before the Korpers would have a line of sight between the buildings to the dark lit night sky illuminated through the soup by the gleaming towers of New City beyond. Once across she doubled back home, passing silently above the officers’ heads on the rooftop above. She entered her home as quietly as she could, flushed with excitement and the adrenaline of the race but her efforts were in vain as the click of the flat’s locks rang through the apartment and a stern, “Sruti?” echoed through the hall. Sruti sighed and leaned against the wall as she slipped of her boots and pulled off her rain soaked dupatta & jacket. “Tali?” she said as she entered the small kitchen. “How was your day mama?” “Don’t ‘How was your day’ to me, wilful girl! Where have you been? It is nearly midnight & your placements are tomorrow!” Sruti tried to hide a groan under her troublemaker’s grin but she wasn’t sure if she was entirely successful. Being the 4th child and second daughter there was not nearly as much pressure on her to do well on the placement exam. Even if she did well her family wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of apprenticeship of school that a placement could earn her. She knew she would do well enough on the test to not bring shame on the family without placing the burden of added family expense that comes with a high ranking. But she usually was able to make a show of studying for her concerned mother who stubbornly held on to the notion that enough high marks among her children was all that was needed to secure them a brighter future than they had had. Ignoring all evidence from baba’s life to the contrary. “Shopping.” Replied Sruti as she focused on removing the items from her bag. “Shopping?! I sent you shopping 5 hours ago!" Her mother was not happy. The kind of anger that spouted from a marriage of frustration and concern. “What is his name?” “Jeera.” Sruti replied as she continued to empty the bag of its contents. “Jeera? What kind of name is that? You know how important your studdies are and to waste your day before placement exams with some ganj shooting punk named ‘Jeera’ the night before the biggest day of your life in totally unacceptable, Sruti, you need to take this more seriously.” “Don’t worry mama, I’ll be fine,” said Sruti as she gave her mom a meaningful gaze. “What do you mean you will be fine? Why are you looking at me like that?” And then just as she was drawing breath for the tirade she saw it. There on top of the pile of rice, atta, and onions was a small bag of jeera seeds and a few thin green chillies. “Where did you get that?” said her mother, filled with fear and hope. “It was on sale,” Sruti lied. She hadn’t thought through this part. This is where she had just planned to slip away. “Sale?” her mother questioned, her fear mixing now with rage at being lied to. “For sale only? Jeera is never for sale. What did you agree to do for this? I’m sure if we just returned it without taking any seed then and explain maybe they would take it back. We can ask Sri Rao to help us.” Sruti hardly even remembered what jeera tasted like but that didn’t matter. Three years ago baba had brought home 1 g of jeera for tali’s birthday. He must have been hiding away precious credits for months, maybe even years. Instead of cooking with it Mama would just sit in her chair and suck on one seed after the children had gone to bed. Once each of the children had been given one as well as mama reminisced dreamily about having jars of jeera and other spices and dumping them copiously into every meal. Eating food that was so full of flavor and heat that the Hind restaurants down town had to tone down the flavors for the citizens to even be able to eat it. She spoke of meals Sruti had never even tasted and Mama had last had as a girl: fragrant Dum Biryani, creamy Dal Makhani, spicy chicken Tikka. Jeera become the taste and smell of better times long gone for the family. Invoking Masala lemonade the dream of better things to come. “Mama, I didn’t promise anything. I found it okay.” “Where?” “...on the counter at the spice market…” “The spice market counter? You stole this? My daughter is a thief? Have things become so bad that you would bring dishonor on your father, your whole family, for this...this luxury?” “No one saw me okay? The korpies didn’t even get close to catching me. There’s no chance anyone could ID me.” Sruti knew she may have spoke too much, too soon. “Korpies were chasing you? Peace and Justice Corp knows about this? Beti, what have you done?” “Peace and Justice Corp knows about nothing. All they know was a girl was in the market district and they wanted to know why I was there. I couldn’t well interview with them with a bag of jeera in my pocket and no cred rec to account for it. THAT would have brought dishonor on father.” She was losing her patience, Tali was not nearly so grateful as she had been in Sruti’s mind when she had hatched this now obviously mad plan. “Oh, okay my wise daughter. I see now. Instead of shaming just our family, you decided to bring Peace and Justice Corp onto our whole community. On the elders and our friends. What if Peace and Justice Corp decides to investigate our homes and communications? Do you think these homes all follow regulations if the whole block is turned over? Event the chilies in the window are not licensed. How many such unregulated crops and goods are here in the prefab? We could afford the fines for the infractions. Could the Komanapalis? Could the Reddys? Go to bed, study, but get out of my sight.” And with that Mama began weeping into her dupatta and Sruti slipped into her room she shared with her sisters. Dragging the boulders that filled her stomach the whole way. Sruti didn’t study much that night or the next morning. She quietly got dressed and after quickly snagging 2 vada she headed out the door. She kept her head down and covered as she headed into the main street to head through the crowds on the big day. She expected the students to have the bedraggled look of a nervous child with the weight of their entire future resting upon their shoulders but she did not expect the same fidgety weight on the faces of the adults as well. Her instincts went on high alert that she realized everyone looked like jungle rats when Tenduaji was on the prowl. The people were scared and she had rushed out the door without listening to the news, which is not a good survival strategy for the prey. Outside it became immediately apparent what was causing the concern. The streets were lined with Peace and Justice Corp officers and they did not look like they were given “community building” orders this morning. Of course the Peace and Justice Corp officers didn’t usually have CB orders in the Hind quarter. Sruti started studying the ground she walked on as she made her way to school Weaving through the silent populous was strange on this street. Normally so filled with people calling greetings and hawkers promoting their wares. A young girl of about 4 was walking with her mother just ahead of Sruti and the tangible tension was making this young one jittery. She began to speak loudly and start rushing ahead and her mother quickly hushed her with a grip that Sruti felt on her own wrist several paces behind. The child began to whimper and the mother hurried her steps to get the young girl into the safety of indoors before a full scale meltdown occurred. Moments later a yellow striped Korpie transport came rumbling down the street blaring it’s loud speakers. “Congratulations students on this beautiful placement day. Peace and Justice Corp has increased its presence in this community to ensure the safety of young scholars on this most auspicious day. Good luck! Study is the path to success.” She could hear this looping message fade away in the distance as the the once pristine vehicle rumbled down the dusty street. A block away from the school building Sruti saw a crowd of Korpies gathered staring menacingly out into the street just ahead of her. She quietly crossed the street and began perusing a fruit market stall to try and convince her that she was looking for jack fruit instead of simply crossing the street out of fear. Very quickly she heard a commotion and she turned to see Kiran’s father being lead out of the prefab by several officers. She saw Kiran looking on from the doorway to the prefab, his face filled with worry and terror. “Go ahead on to school Kiran,” his father called over his shoulder, “I’m sure this is a misunderstanding. Do well today Kiran, I’ll be home before you are finished with your placement.” Kiran just stared at his father with wide eyes brimming with uncontrollable tears. Kiran was the top scorer in Sruit’s class and his father an upstanding member of the community. His Chai shop was a center of Hind quarter life and discussion. Out of the gathering crowd Sri Rao pushed through to the front. “Please officers, what are the charges here? I am sure that we can discuss the cause of this disturbance,” stated the ancient elder. His voice, though tremulous with age was still strong and direct. He approached the Peace and Justice Corp Liaison who was overseeing the arrest. “Liaison Williams, so good to see you this morning. What is the meaning of this commotion on this of all days?” Liaison Williams ignored the old man as though a stranger, even though they met almost daily to discuss the happenings of the quarter. “Liaison Williams, please, let us discuss what is happening here. The people are nervous and clearly agitated.” “Please step back citizen, it is a criminal offense to prevent a lawful arrest under the section 277 of the municipal code,” was Liaison Williams’ only response. “Sir, thank you sir for being so dedicated to the preservance of peace in this community but what are the charges that Mr. Bodhu is facing for this arrest?” Again no response as the officers looked past the elder into the gathering throng. As Mr. Bodhu was brought to the front of the crowd to be loaded into an arriving transport Elder Rao placed his aged hand on the officer leading the detainee and turned to him and said, “Please one moment officer, let me discuss this one moment with the Liaison before you continue.” With Robotic efficiency the Liaison pulled out his pistol from its holster and said, “Please step back citizen, it is a criminal offense to prevent a lawful arrest under the section 277 of the municipal code.” “Please Liaison let us discuss this.” Instead of removing his hand the Elder seemingly unconsciously positioned his body in front of the arresting officer while looking at the Liaison with gentle eyes, pleading for some kind of dialogue to prevent the arrest. Mr. Bodhu cried out, with more desperation in his voice now, “Kiran, please hurry to school, we do not want you to be late on placement day, beta.” As Sruity watched Kiran slowly make his way down the sidewalk constantly glancing back towards his father with deliberate and failing steps she heard a loud crack and looked back to see Elder Rao’s body crumbled on the ground. She froze, silence descended on the crowd as her pulse pounded in her ears. She forgot all caution and decorum as she sprinted down the road towards home as a wail erupted from the crowd and the sound of energizing shock clubs erased the momentary silence. The angry sounds of screaming and pain faded behind her as she raced down the road. Sruti burst into her apartment weeping. She paced about the entry way clutching her shirt to herself, wiping her hands on her pant leg, only to discover that she had wet herself at some point in her escape. “Hello?” called her mother’s voice from the kitchen. “It was….It Was….” was all Sruti could make out in a hollow voice before falling to the ground into a pile of tears and anguish. Once Sruti had calmed down enough to the point where she could communicate with her mother she explained in fits and spurts what she had witnessed in the street. Her mother’s face went pale and her eyes began to dart around the room, the room that had felt so safe this morning brought little comfort now. Their community which was their refuge in this giant city no longer a sanctuary but a ghetto. A trap. But placements were too important and now Sruti was already running late. She must go to school and take her test. She must get back to life as usual. She must find her way back to yesterday. But the path to school did not lead to yesterday’s happier memories. It passed by a piece of blood stained dirt that was far too much to have been caused by the dying elder’s body alone. Her path lead her to a future instead of a past. News travels fast in a community like the Hind Quarter. There was not a single individual in that city walking under Peace and Justice Corp’s omnipresent gaze that didn’t feel like a hunted animal. Like a mouse reaching for that piece of cheese because they were starving but knew either the hunger or the trap would kill them eventually. Maybe that eventually was today. Even Sruti, normally so carefree and casual couldn’t help thinking that this year’s placements were simply a way to collect the students for their extermination. This was supposed to be a student’s most important day in their scholastic journey but for Sruti, who had not given much weight to the testing 24 hours ago, now positively did not care about it at all. It was simply an even more unsafe feeling situation than she felt like she would have in the streets and warrens of the prefabs. This once well manicured government building in the middle of the quarter had an even more imposing prison aire today than it did on most days. Sruti made her way to the auditorium where testing would be taking place. She took a seat in the already crowded room, she was one of the last students to trickle in. Usually students who are taking a major, life altering exam have the green faces of nervous and anxiety. Today it was replaced by blanched and wide eyed fear. After logging into her terminal she waited while the "Please Wait" animation danced in the air directly above her terminal station. She cautiously glanced around the room to see who had made it. She saw the girls from her prefab whispering nervously a few rows down from where she sat. She didn’t really get along with that click and didn’t really care for them at all but she couldn’t help feel a bit of pity that their normal high pitch bird-song gossip was replaced by darting glances and harsh whispers. Then, on the other side of the auditorium she saw Kiran. Having grown up with Kiran she had often noticed that while waiting to take a major exam he would sit with his legs shaking with energy as he stared intensely at his station, moving his mouth to memorized facts that he had been studying the night before. Slightly rocking, inaudible mumbling to himself, preparing himself once more to take top honors in every scholastic activity he applied himself to. Today of course was different for everyone but for Sruti, carefully watching Kiran was the most terrifying thing she had seen on this horrible day. He sat at a station halfway up the auditorium instead of his normal seat front and center. There was no nervous energy bouncing his legs under his station. There was only a death-like stillness. His eyes staring into the throng of students across from him but seeing nothing. His mouth hung slightly open and his skin was pale and sallow. His station did not have the animation shaking disembodied pixels in the air in front of him. He had not even logged in. Suddenly a large face hung over the audience as the New City Minister of Education and Thought Ways began a pre-recorded message. “Welcome students. We at City Hall would like to congratulate you on your hard work on reaching such a momentous day. We want to congratulate you on your hard work so far but to also remind you that your future and the future of this quarter relies on your work today in helping to become a valuable, productive, and safe citizen of our great city. We know that you have all overcome such tremendous hardships to reach this point in your lives and we are so proud of everyone of you who has overcome the negative influences in the Hind Quarter and risen above the limitations of Hind culture. We commend you and urge you to continue to grow and bring peace and prosperity to your communities. Study is the path to success.” Sruti had first heard that message 7 years ago when her oldest brother, who had a near perfect memory, came home from his placement exam and proudly recited it to the waiting family. Now the recording, with it’s slightly out of fashion clothing, helped to remind Sruti of what an afterthought the Hind quarter was to the rest of the city. During the message she looked over at Kiran, who continued to stare into the distance. Not even noticing that the animation had begun and still obviously not logged into his station. He would be marked truant if he did not log on and several students were cautiously whispering to him, urging him to log on before it was too late. The buzzer made its shrill cry through the auditorium and the terminals lit up with the first problems of the exam. Still Kiran sat in his seat, still and silent. It was no wonder that he took today hard. Harder than anyone else. The unknown fear of having one’s father arrested and the embarrassing shame that would have caused anyone, especially on such an important day as this, was almost measurable in the community. But for Elder Rao to have died in the process of that arrest. To have died because his father was arrested, that deep pain was totally unknown. Who in the community was directly responsible for the quarter losing one of its most revered and valued leaders. A man who would often spend time in Kiran’s father’s shop. A man Kiran had orbited around most of his life. Like a moon without its planet. Sruti began working through the problems that were displaying on her station. She looked around and although a few students were attacking their stations with the usual zeal of hard trained adolescence, the others seemed to lack their youthful enthusiasm. Many had gazes that wandered off to the corners of the auditorium or, like Sruti, spent a lot of time watching the other students. It was impossible to cheat in the placements and so she could see everyone working on their own individual problems. The testing program was highly intuitive and the test evolved and adapted to each student’s known and measured aptitudes and interests. Kiran would normally be starting off with problems that Sruti couldn’t hope to answer even at the end of her exam if his terminal were on, but it was not and he sat there like a tree in a field. She could see the other student's furtive, darting glances at the renowned scholar wondering if he would ever move again. The testing lasted for hours and Sruti was finally starting to get caught up into the normalizing rhythm of testing, working on some physics problems, when a terrified shriek shook the whole room out of their scholastic meditations. Sruti looked at the source of the scream and it was a girl, 3 rows down and slightly to her left who she did not know very well. It was difficult to understand what had caused the commotion and she sat, pale as a ghost, pointing across the room. Sruti followed her hand to the other side and quickly saw the only source of motion in the whole room. Kiran sat at his desk repeatedly jamming his thumb into his already bloody eye sockets. Even the students sitting next to him had become so enthralled in their exam they had not noticed that this was taking place at first but one by one they followed the horrified fingers of their fellow students across the room and one by one they also began to scream in incomprehending horror. Almost instantly several Peace and Justice Corp officers came down the steps in the auditorium and grabbing Kiran by the arms hauled him back up the stairs and out of the room. His eyeless gaze still fixed on a distant vision. A slightly overweight office worker came down the stairs as soon as the guards had cleared the doorway. She made her way down the stairs nervously but stopped when her high heels started slipping in Kiran’s blood on the steps. She looked down at her feet and blanched, as though she had not realized what it was she must have slipped in. She stopped instantly and dry washing her hands called out in a shaky voice, “Due to unforeseen security events your placement tests have been rescheduled. You will be alerted via SMS as to the new time and location of your placement tests. We...are..sorry..about any inconvenience this may cause.” Her speech began to stumble as her mind began to process what it was exactly that her white high heels were slipping in underneath her and so with a quick and short cry she turned and quickly, although obviously unsteadily, made her way up the stairs and out of the room.


Teachers.  We have all had them even if we didn't attend school.  Many of us have been shaped tremendously by them.  Some of my best qualities and some of my worst have come from their time in my life.

My first great teacher was in 6th grade.  Which really is a travesty.  After speaking to other people I have found that I have been incredibly lucky in my wide assortment of great teachers.  Unfortunately none of those were in the first 5 years of my education.  I wonder what kind of lasting damage could have been assuaged had I had a great instructor before then.  I wonder what kind of life I would have lead had Mrs. Blackwell not taught me in 6th grade at all. 

By the time I reached the 6th grade I had gone through a few major transitions that didn't do me any great favors except for the fact that they lead to me a group of astonishingly great friends.  I attended a private school in Kindergarten and first grade as I lived in a "tough" neighborhood at the time.  I don't really know what that meant.  Many of my friends say I live in a "tough" neighborhood now.  The cynic in me says that this probably just meant that many of my peers had I gone to public school would have been brown more than I would have been in physical danger going to public school.  The private school I attended was, I imagine, a more psychically and spiritually dangerous environment but it did, from an early age, teach me the religious cynicism which has served me well over the years and what I consider one of my defining traits.  I also had to actually read and communicate what I read starting in kindergarten, which also stood me in great stead through my life.

After moving to the suburbs in the second grade it became quickly apparent that the high academic standards of the atrocious private school and the year I was held back to meet them meant that I was a head taller and a grade ahead of my fellow scholars.  So about halfway through the year I skipped up to third grade.  Many people would think that this was a significant honorary advancement for the young student but it had really just taken a very insecure, and now obese, nerd from one new environment to another.  I had gone from just starting to make friends to be all alone in an environment where the peer groups were already established.  It is not entirely coincidental that this was the year that I started consuming volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia like other kids consume twinkies and read The Hobbit for the first time.  Books show much more compassion than children tend to.  So although I cemented my social position in this strange year as never being the popular kid, it also ensured that I was the most well read.  I stumbled into learning cursive halfway through the alphabet and my penmanship, never something to write home about in the first place, didn't fully recover until I re-taught myself to write in college.  Both of my teachers this year were not bad teachers, and I really think my 2nd grade teacher cared about me and my academic success, which is why she initiated me skipping grades in the first place, but very little of that year do I remember except for the books and the constant feeling of embarrassment and isolation.

Fourth and Fifth grade I met Kurt and Cory who were better friends than I deserved and helped me to make many less and much less severely bad life choices than had I not met them.  What I forsook in quantity of friendships I more than made up for in quality.  I had the same teacher both years in a split classroom.  In the crystal clear hindsight of adulthood I can see that the elderly teacher had trouble maintaining two distinct lesson plans and a large class of malcontents.  Those two years primarily left me with a seething bitterness towards that woman who could never see anything good in me that took years to dissipate.

Then Mrs. Blackwell came on the scene.  Mrs. Blackwell rode rodeo and would come into class with the rattlesnake she had decapitated with a .45 revolver while feeding her animals at night.  What really made Mrs. Blackwell stand apart from the teachers I had up to that point was the fact that she made a shocking number of her students care, in large part because she did.  Instead of relegating me to the trouble makers corner as most of the school staff at this point had done, she put me in the advanced mathematics and reading groups.  I wrote the first thing that ever made me cry as I wrote it in her class, and saw the tears in her eyes when I was made to read it to the class.  She was the first teacher I took risks for.  Not because I wanted to be one of the great authors that I spent so much time reading, I was going to be a heart surgeon after all, but because I wanted to give her back material that cost me something.  Reading that story now it is utter garbage and I can't for the life of me see why it made her cry but the story, like her influence, never left me.

Most of my jr high teachers I hardly remember.  In large part because I was too busy feeling that strange uncomfortable anxiety that is the burden of so many in those years.  But I had a few standouts.  Mr. Tracy, my 7th grade English teacher, I think actually liked the things I wrote, even if they tended to be simply be mediocre sword buckling adventures.  He made me memorize a poem for the first time, Poe's Annabel Lee.  I have Poe's complete written works on my bookshelf today because of that poem.  My 7th Grade history teacher, though I don't recall his name, told my parents I marched to the beat of my own drummer which simultaneously reinforced my incredible feelings of isolation as well as soared my heart with a strange pride. 

Some of my teachers through those years were not so great.  My 7th grade math teacher wouldn't allow me to take algebra because I was bored in her class and had a C because I never did the homework, even though my test grades were among the highest in the school.  She lacked Mrs. Blackwell's insight and I lacked the tenacity to make that happen anyway.  My 8th grade history teacher encouraged my class to make fun of me when I naively tried to correct what I thought was her misspeaking in front of the class.  She was just wrong, however, and allowed the class to laugh at me teaching me a valuable lesson in keeping my mouth shut.  A lesson I have actively practiced nearly as much as I should have.

I had an assortment of very good teachers in High School who were able to look past the awkward smart ass in me and see something else.  For them I am eternally grateful.  They afforded me all sorts of privileges and opportunities that I would have completely bypassed had I had more of the ordinary sort of instructor.  The good ones almost, but not entirely, erased the damage of the bad.

It amazes me now at how much those moments, those few memories which have survived the years, have shaped me.  The only reason I try to write at all are those times that the Blackwells, Tracys, and Kilmers out-scream the voices my less wonderful teachers left in my head.  Now as a dad I am all too aware of the things I say in a heated moment that I know no apology will erase the stain of.  Those great teachers have instilled in me a desire to help those smart ass kids who are simply bored, not bad.  But all the while those other voices try to argue for my shortcomings, my laziness, and my insecurities.  Luckily for me (on top of some pretty seriously helpings of privilege and means) I have come to the place where I have a decent job that gives me the time to sit down and write these thoughts down.  My only challenge now is to point my children and others down a path that will hopefully surpass my own.  Hopefully I can provide a few voices that will someday argue for their greatness, their courage, their kindness.