Archive for October, 2011

downwind of a traffic light


A lumbering man. Middle-aged. He plods down the street at an easy but determined pace. Unassuming, with a slight belly that bespoke too much beer and not enough cardio.

It’s not 8 o’clock yet, but it’s that time of year when the sun sets sooner than what you’d like, and you know that in a little while you’ll be driving home from work in the dark. He’s bundled up against the chill in a vain attempt to fight off the cold, when he suddenly stops. He looks up. And he doesn’t move.

A minute passes.

His head moves to face a new direction, and I can only assume his eyes follow. Stars. Clouds. An eternal blackness, sans the glow of the traffic light serving generously as his backdrop.

His mind is not here. I don’t want to know where it is. This moment is his, and my disturbance would be akin to taking a paddle to the back of a meditating monk’s head – he might have achieved a form of nirvana, or a semblance of inner peace that many of us can only hope to attain, save for my interference.

I sit in my parked car, fully intending to drive somewhere but, not wanting to disturb his reverie, I sit and I watch, hearing but not listening to the sibilance coming from the radio. The engine hums.

I feel somewhat like an intruder, but the phrase “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind and so I stay.

Another minute passes.

The traffic light changes. Aside from adjusting his feet farther apart to maintain a degree of comfort, he stays motionless. White tennis shoes. Worn bluejeans. A fall jacket and a Cleveland Browns snow cap. His breath mists.

He comes back to the moment, looks around briefly as if he had forgotten where he was, and continues on down the street. Then he stops again. His eyes go skyward again. He stands motionless. Again.

I’m not sure why it occurs to me at that moment, but I know that for some reason the still frame of a middle-aged, pot-bellied man standing on a suburban sidewalk gazing at the sky, backlit by a traffic light I hate to get caught at, will forever stick in my mind.

He lumbers on.


caught between worlds


It’s an interesting dynamic, the position I find myself in these days. I’ve only recently found that I no longer fit any particular mold. Better yet, I can no longer pretend to fit any particular mold.

Before, I had a socially respectable and acceptable office job, worked the traditional 9-5 lifestyle, and for all appearances I thrived in this Midwestern working culture in which I had immersed myself. I fit a mold. Granted, it was one I didn’t care to be a part of, but I played my part and I played it well. I threw myself into my work, I made appropriate social and personal connections, and I gradually moved upward in the white collar food chain.

When I went out somewhere and got introduced to someone, I would tell people where I worked and could watch their eyebrows raise in a moment of genuine curiosity as they told themselves, “This guy’s secure. Must be doing well. Who’s that hottie across the bar?” It’s a natural phenomenon for the world to judge you based on your occupation. It’s a form of identification:

A: How’s Jeff doing?
B: Great! He’s working downtown at the science center!
A: Well good for him!

A2: Hey how’s [insert name here] been?
B2: Funny you should ask! S/he just got a job in [insert city here] as a [insert title here]!
A2: Oh, how wonderful!

The only other things that affect social status as much as occupation seem to be marital status, babies, and geographic location. Your occupation serves as a method by which people can identify you, discuss you, and categorize and file you away for future reference.

How do you get categorized by people when you have no occupation?

the nicaraguan chronicles

I recently spent nine days in Nicaragua, bouncing around from city to city, hostel to hostel, meeting dozens of new people from all over the world. When they learned that I’m only traveling for a week, they ask me what I do back home in Cleveland. I’m still struggling for that perfect answer. If I say I cook, they assume chef. If I say I work at a bar they give me an idle “Cool” and dismiss me. If I say I just quit my job and am currently working on writing a fantasy sci-fi series, they say “That’s awesome! Have you read Harry Potter?”

It’s funny…I thought I would fit in with the transient hostel-jumping, world-traveling, lost-soul crowd that I found in Central America. Truth is, I’ve never felt more out of place among people than I did at these hostels. Maybe it’s because I expected to fit in so well. I always try to go into something with no expectations, but failed miserably on this point. I went in with the expectation that “these are my people,” and came back with the stark realization that I have no people.

I’m in il purgatorio della vita, and there’s no place I’d rather be.


The next ten blog entries will be entitled “the nicaraguan chronicles” and will detail my first international trip to a country that’s not Canada. Stay tuned and hope you enjoy!

stay hungry. stay foolish.


This post was inadvertently inspired by a few people:

  • My dad
  • My cousin
  • A friend of a friend
  • Steve Jobs

You’re bored already, but stay with me on this one.

In the space of a mere two months, these four people have had near-death experiences…or died. I may offend people with this post, but quite frankly, I don’t give a shit. I talk about death on a day-to-day basis on this blog. If you don’t agree with me, your problem, not mine (but I’d still like to hear from you why you disagree! Love me a good debate).

1. My dad contracted a bladder infection that went septic and spread to the rest of his body, gradually shutting down one organ at a time. He soon realized his body was giving out on him and went to the hospital, where he spent the next week laid up in a bed on antibiotics, receiving diagnosis after diagnosis of what people thought might be wrong with him.

2. My cousin, literally a week later, had a terrible accident and broke a femur, six ribs, and punctured both lungs. The ICU bed swapped my dad for my cousin, and another round of visiting hours began.

3. A friend of a friend, to whom I once gave a ride home nearly four years ago, was killed in a terrible accident at the age of 25. My age. Your age – if not now, then at one point. If not at one point, then soon to be. So young.

4. Steve Jobs…what more needs to be said. An amazing individual, to be cliche. A visionary, to be more cliche. But a man as cliche as Steve Jobs may be, is the type of man I hope people will call me.

a glimpse of mortality

Near-death experiences occur daily. Death occurs at more frequent intervals than even that. This forces us to face a cold hard fact: we are not immortal. The question then, the real conundrum to which we have lived 10,000 years and never uncovered a universal answer, is “What is the point?”

Nobody knows. Not your local pastor. Not mommy or daddy. Not your priest. Not your instinct.

So what do experiences like the ones I listed above have to do with where I’m going with this? One of the core concepts of my life philosophy is that we’re consistently getting closer and closer to where we want to be as moral, graceful human beings (ASIDE: at the same time it can be argued that we’re departing further and further from our humanity given technological advancement and overpopulation, but that is to be argued and assessed in a later blog post).

Near-death experiences, and the experience of the living in dealing with the dead, should take us closer to this universal realization, should enliven us. The former, enriching our lives by recognizing the fact that every moment, literally every moment, could be our last. The latter, killing us a little inside, but forcing us to live that much more vivaciously for that which was lost and cannot be recovered, only affectionately remembered.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.