Sunday, October 31, 2010

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck



I'm very happy to have read this book. This book has marked the beginning of my reading to better myself as an English major. Since I am such an honest man, I will gladly give thanks to fellow blogger and IRL friend SillyHats (http://thought-bulbs.blogspot.com/) who recommended I give Steinbeck a try one day at our local Borders. Although Mr. Steinbeck has never been a stranger to me, it would be untruthful to say that I've known and been familiar with him. My first--and previously only--experience with his writings was the ever so popular Of Mice and Men. It was a required reading for my high school English class, meaning roughly eighty percent of the students felt contempt and apathy towards it. I enjoyed myself and thought it was a nice book. Thus, with this reputation of John Steinbeck in my mind, I felt my friend couldn't be wrong in recommending him to me.

After skimming through his novels with their bright, orange spines, I finally settled on the autobiographical memoir, Travels with Charley. It had the most interesting to offer: A non-fiction memoir about travelling, observations about people across the country, and plenty of monologue from Steinbeck himself. As opposed to his other books, Travels with Charley is about the author pouring his thoughts straight out onto text. The book does this in a nice and orderly fashion; related passages of text are grouped together in a nameless series of "chapters." As you read, you begin to pick up on his pattern. He often starts by talking about the journey itself including the roads he travels, the cities and landscapes he passes, details about the particular state he is travelling through, etc. Eventually, one of these topics will lead John onto a tangent on something very insightful about people, our way of life, and subjects that borderline philosophical. I find it necessary to note that these rants can often be nostalgic about the past, before freeways and unnecessary luxuries, before coffee didn't suck and before everything was "tasteless." Mr. Steinbeck is an old fashioned man about those sort of things. His thoughts and conversations with the people he meets are also worthy of note.

From these monologues, I found Steinbeck to be a very admirable man. He is truly a manly man, but also a refined and well spoken gentleman. The manliest of men, in my opinion, is one who can keep his composure at all times, but isn't afraid to get stern when necessary. One of my favorite parts has to be one John explains his view on the dilema of old age, stating that the man of the house becomes a child when faced with the pain of aging and a visit from the doctor. Despite his own old age, Steinbeck is well aware of the risks involved, taking them "as a consequence, not as a punishment." In response to the older men who decide to take it easy, he says the manliest thing I've ever read: "... in my own life I am not willing to trade quality for quantity. If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It's bad theater as well as bad living. I am very fortunate in having a wife who likes being a woman, which means that she likes men, not elderly babies."

There was some other awesome stuff too, but I haven't got the drive or the patience to finish. I conclude though by saying that Travels with Charley: In Search of America is an interesting read about a manly man and his dog travelling through and attempting to discover a younger America.

Friday, October 29, 2010

White Wall

I startle myself awake from my light nap when I realize I had dozed off. I glanced at my white, digital wrist watch. 4:40 AM. I yawn and rub the tears out of my eyes. "The things I do to get out of the house..." About a week ago, I found a college notebook shoved between some book shelves at the library. There was a large crease through the center and the corners of the pages were bent and folded; the vestiges of previous ownership. The pages were tinged with a musty yellow that contrasted against the scribbled blue ink. The words ignored the college rule lines and flew across the paper in a whimsical yet intricate pattern. The tail of the lowercase “e” slithers its way into the bottom curve of an “s“; the lowercase “i” merges into the backbone of an “n,” leaps over a hump and spins into a circle, wraps around itself, and depletes it’s momentum with a hook and became a lowercase “g“. Upon reading what was actually written, it became evident that I was holding nothing more than the scrawling of a madman; I was compelled to read further. The first passage described the steps to triggering some sort of phenomenon. What exactly would happen was not provided, but the directions could be summed up as such: Lean into a white wall at exactly 4:44 AM and something apparently supernatural would happen. The rest of the notebook was filled with similar stories and myths. I didn’t want to be a bad sport and immediately dismiss it all as nonsense; I like to be open minded about these things. I decided to give it a try. So here I am, sitting against a long white wall. The giant, cement slab beneath me is cold with the night's air. There is no wind and not a single star shines through the veil of darkness above me. My zip up jacket is enough to keep me warm for now.

4:42 AM. The particular wall I've chosen to conduct my experiment at happens to be in the playground of the elementary school I attended as a child. It’s also out of sight (to avoid any unwanted attention). After I settled at my post, I quickly realized the memories I once held had expired. The plastic slides and painted railings of a new playground no longer stained your palms with orange rust like the old jungle jim. The monkey bars and balance bars were uprooted and replaced with a speckled path of recycled tires, paving a path through the sandbox to make room for a boring row of just swings. Even the drinking fountains and the pipes connecting them have been replaced. I let out a large sigh and look up at the cracked, box shaped lamp cover above me bolted onto the ceiling. The transparent box has become clouded with a jonquil yellow and provides support for a complex series of cobwebs, both serving as artifacts to establish the box’s age.

My nostalgic trance is broken and I’m suddenly falling backwards, and it’s followed by the familiar sensation of leaning back too far in your chair. That's impossible though. I’m leaning against a solid wall! I try to regain my balance to find which way was “up,” but it‘s no use. Am I physically tumbling backwards, or is it just in my mind? Reality as I see it is rapidly shooting across my field of vision from top to bottom, twisting around in a looped and infinite animation. I can feel my hands on the concrete, though. I‘m still on the ground. I can’t remember where I am or how I got here, though. Had the world always been this way? How long have I been trapped in my mind like this? Suddenly, I remember my watch. My watch is attached to my arm, which is attached to my body, and my body is me. My watch is the foundation of my existence. As long as it is there, then it means that I am and have been here. The highly familiar and routine sensation of looking at my watch is an artifact of my existence that can prove that the world wasn‘t always like this. I wrestle against my mind and focuse my vision on my watch. Yep, it’s there alright. Knowing it’s there hasn’t helped my situation as much as I thought it would, though.

I‘ve come to accept the fact that I have no idea what is going on. My anxiety has settled down, and reality is no longer spinning. In front of me now, expanding infinitely from left to right is a row of eight foot high concrete triangles positioned like teeth in a zipper, their insides slanting towards the center at a forty-five degree angle. Tucked between the gaps of each triangle is a soft, neon green glow, and illuminates a path as far as I can see. As I observe the scene, the triangles in the distance slowly lag behind like the twirling of a rope; it feels very alive and fluid with my movement. I suddenly feel very disturbed and claustrophobic. I’m sliding into one of the spaces between the triangles. I can’t move my arms or legs. I continue to struggle, but it’s no use. I’m absolutely horrified by the realization that I might be stuffed into this space for eternity, and there’s nothing I can do about it. As I slide deeper into the crevice, my pores open and become prickly and hot. I’m itching so much that I begin to sweat. The fear of something worse than death haunts me as I slip further and further into the crevice.

I open my eyes after what feels like an eternity. I’m suspended in a void of completely white space. There are no traces of depth or distance. There is only nothingness, and nothingness is everything. I slowly float upwards. My skin begins to crackle and darken. The moisture in my body is being depleted. My vision turns to white and my senses fade away. My skin, my clothes, my entire body becomes black like ash. I have dried out and become an intricate sculpture of brittle carbon. Every atom in my body separates, and I burst into a shower of coruscating sparks. The result is horrifying but beautiful. Each spark propels itself into a different direction and drifts to the edge of nothingness. I startle myself awake from my light nap when I realize I had dozed off. I glanced at my white, digital wrist watch. 4:40 AM. I yawn and rub the tears out of my eyes. "The things I do to get out of the house..."


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another 100 words

During the unemployment following my forced departure from Subway, I had a group interview with Levi‘s. The only memorable question asked was, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” The “business-casual” gangster next to me answered he would be a tiger, because he’s fierce and competitive. My answer was a bird. A bird can go anywhere it wants, travel alone or in a flock, and enjoy life. I didn’t get the job. I think that answer was partly why. Someone might say I’m stupid for answering honestly, but I’d rather be honest to a question like that.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

100 Words

When I was young, I remember seeing an episode of a short lived cartoon spin-off of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” What I remember from the episode was the main character exploring some snowy Asian mountains in search of a set of ancient dolls that could grant you any wish. Although I was skeptical at first, I figured they wouldn’t lie because the whole Ripley’s franchise was based on questionable truths. I decided I would fly to this country, trek through the dangerous mountains, and battle the freezing cold. When I found those dolls, I would wish for a Playstation.



Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Uninstall

The universe is a random occurrence. It just did. Humans are not special; their arrogant way of believing so is selfish. It's a childish attempt to make sense out of what they don't understand. Humans also used to think the Earth was the center of the universe; believing that we're the center of creation is just as foolish. Where you are right now is all because of a series of random events that happened since the beginning of time. Science tries to analyze tiny bits of this universe and make sense of it all by finding patterns which I think is very admirable. Rather than coldly accepting what a book says as fact with a closed mind, science is trying their best in a losing battle to figure out the mysteries of the universe.

I think the retarded amount of coincidences and random chances that build up our lives and existences is a much more beautiful theory to live by than "God dun it." Saying God made everything is really ignorant to me and the all the progress mankind has made. Think about how snowflakes are formed. There's a really incredible, amazing and lengthy process of how snowflakes are made. Putting God's name on it and saying he made them is a slap in the face for that act of nature, and anything else that's given credit to God's doing.

The universe is far too complex and beautiful to be explained so simply.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Kisamas



You'd better fucking believe that's the truth.

"I'm just not cut out for this... I don't have the right mind for it..." I can't stand losers who say that crap about themselves. The only reason you'd ever fail at anything is because you're tired of trying and don't want to work hard anymore. Are you the guy that gets screwed over no matter what? The guy that always fails at everything? No matter how hard you try you always get the short end of the stick? Yeah, that's what it's all about: Being THAT GUY and still fighting until you can't fight anymore. And then you fight some more. It's not a matter of whether or not you have what it takes to win it; You either try until you win, or fail because you gave up. No matter what you choose though, make sure it brings you happiness. That's the only thing that matters in the end despite what anyone else tells you.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Goodwill (Revised)

Some time ago, I was carousing on the college campus of the lovely city of Santa Barbara with a couple of close friends and a few acquaintances. My fun came to a screeching halt when I was apprehended by the police only moments after cracking open my first beer of the entire night. I barely had enough time to put the cold aluminum to my lips to taste the bitter liquid before I heard someone shout, “The cops!” Acting almost on reflex, my knowledge from espionage movies took over and I casually turned around, placed the beer can next to a car’s tire with one fluid motion while simultaneously walking away as if nothing happened. I wasn‘t as smooth and inconspicuous as Hei from “Darker Than Black” though, because only seconds later, a big meaty hand firmly grabbed onto my shoulder, turned me around, and placed me on the curb. I was actually quite buzzed already from taking sips of other peoples‘ beverages, but Officer Bertuzzi didn’t seem to notice, so I was only cited with possession of alcohol. My scheduled court date was postponed for several months, and I finally received word that the city of Santa Barbara decided to transfer my case to the county of my residence, Ventura. I assume it is most likely because they're much too busy busting other kids for the exact same thing, or for black tar heroin, or whatever new trend may have arisen at UCSB during my absence.

Lucky for me, I was no longer required to appear in court but instead was forced to choose my punishment: either 10 hours of community service or a payment of $100. I was extremely grateful that the $100 payment was not mandatory. I would simply die if I had to confess to my parents that I spent the money I earned from my seasonal employment at the GAP on an overpriced anime t-shirt, two grams of the latest hallucinogen that is surprisingly still legal, and a shoddy pipe. Three weeks later with a "push" from my father, I contacted the local Goodwill and set up my first 5 work hours. Most people would find the idea of working for free in a musty old store full of donated clothes and junk absolutely horrid, but I saw it as an interesting experience to meet people and maybe even understand more about the world. That would be nice.

My first assignment was to reorganize and fill the VHS shelf in the video/book section. It seems easy, but it's actually really tricky when they want you to put videos on a shelf that has no more space for them. You have to get creative and lay them on top of the other videos. I take my job very seriously and do my best to accomplish the task at hand, even when it’s impossible. On an unrelated note, there are at least 5 extra videos of anything with Tom Cruise in it, the most popular being “Jerry Maguire.“ After that, I had to go through the entire store and collect empty clothes hangers from the clothes racks. Apparently I wasn't properly doing my job, because one of the workers came and had to help me. She was a short, stout woman who scrunched her face on one side, as if she were trying to wink really hard. The first time I had met her, I had come to the front desk and was just about to ask where I was to empty my cart full of plastic hangers. She spoke first and asked, "Oh, are you working here...?" The only requirement for our uniform was a blue shirt and black shoes, so it wasn't entirely odd for her to be asking that question. Of course I told her yes, but afterward I wondered how she would have responded if I had said otherwise. "Me? Oh no, I just come here during the day and collect carts full of plastic hangers." I didn’t say that though obviously; I’m not too fond of sarcasm and she might have believed me.

As I continued my seemingly endless endeavor of fixing and collecting hangers, I had some time to really think about things. For one, no one really cares about anything here. As an "employee," you're not expected to actually put out effort. There's no sales goal, and you don't have to badger people into buying credit cards. It's also not required, or even recommended, to ask customers if they need help. And speaking of customers, those who frequent thrift stores seem to be much more talkative and down to earth. One elderly woman in particular was interesting: she told me her hobby is coming to the thrift store, buying dirty clothes, and giving them back to the store after she's thoroughly cleaned and even repaired them. My best guess is that she’s been a house wife for her whole life, and now with her children grown up and living on their own, she probably grew accustomed to the chores she once did and maybe even resented. Maybe I could have gotten to know her, and I could visit her once a week and hear stories about her children, possible grandchildren, and the days of her youth while we wait for my recently washed clothes to dry on a clothesline across the backyard. I’m not that crazy though, so I merely went about my business and picked up more hangers.

I also saw a woman in her late 20's who was unfortunate enough to be riddled with scars on every bit of her face. I felt bad for her at first, and then I felt bad for pitying a complete stranger purely because of her looks. She could lead a very happy life for all I know. I hoped so. Despite peoples’ kindness, life is too cruel to people like her. I don't think I believe in God, but I hope she does. Without God, people like her might not have the strength to continue living. It sounds judgmental to assume she would question ending her life just because of some physical flaws, but I know for a fact there are people who have taken that route. Even if I don't believe in God, I'm glad the concept of him exists to give others strength when they need it.

The real fun happens in the back, though. Donators come with bag loads of tired clothes, sometimes never even worn, and objects that probably meant something at one point but were now all equally considered junk. I imagine each object had its own story, and maybe even contains an aura of its past owner. Some of these items will be thrown on the shelves and be purchased where they can have another chance at life . The rest of the items though are so useless, so arbitrary, that I can‘t help but question why these things are still allowed to be manufactured. I’m not a pollution activist by any means, but our landfills and our space on the Earth is being taken up by useless garbage like Christmas decorations, McDonalds happy meal toys, and things that simply were never used. But when you're the one sorting it out, none of it matters. We regard all of it equally as crap to be thrown in the back of a storage bin. As my coworker, who I'll call "Mike" taught me, "Just huck that shit in the back." Mike was probably my favorite coworker. He's average height, has a round head topped with short hair and a little blonde mustache that sits above his tobacco stained teeth. He knows this job sucks, but he tries to have fun with it. He does this by non-verbally showing me the MILFs, destroying the damaged items, and farting in the parking lot. He taught me the only prejudices we hold are towards holiday items, baby stuff, toys, and exercise equipment. People get pretty mad sometimes when you have to explain to them that no one's going to buy Christmas items during any time other than December, or that no one wants their dirty car seats. Quite frankly though, we don’t really care, because when you’re the one doing the job it’s all junk.

You can't let the people donating know you feel that way, though. We try to show some care when taking the objects by placing the bags and boxes gently on the ground, but once they’ve left the parking lot, their Lincoln Log set and that bag of whatever gets hucked as far back in the storage bin as we can toss it. Throwing overstuffed bags of clothes can be tricky when you don't have the technique down. If you don't throw it in the right spot, hit the ceiling, or don't throw it far enough, the bag will topple over and all of Grandma's clothes fall out everywhere in the storage bin. But, as with any routine task, no matter how simple it may be, you often acquire a skill for it that only comes from the experience of doing it more times than you can count. Eventually you learn that arm bags, tote bags and purses can be thrown like Frisbees. Certain fold up chairs are thrown like javelins. You don’t even have to be that creative though, just huck it in the back.

After we finally fill up a storage bin, no one knows where it really goes. Apparently the bin can be bid on in an auction at charities, not unlike a giant mystery box. The contents are then usually analyzed for any other valuable items before finally being sent to a third world country or to others in need somewhere. The only things that stick around are the Lego blocks, that AA battery, and the other unrecognizable pieces of debris that get caught between the door and the rubber seal. They're like little artifacts untouched by time, trapped just outside the cycle. They'll continue to collect dust and will always remain in that crevice until someone who has nothing better to do will run their finger down the crack, remove them from their cozy space, and toss them away like another piece of trash.