Trade Winds

You are free, and that is why you are lost.

The night air was warm, even hot, but the trade winds brought a breeze and the spray of the ocean waves splashing onto the walkway showering me with a mist of effervescent salt spray ensured I stayed cool. I paused for a moment and took in the scene. It was pure magic, as had been many of the moments of the trip, the lights reflecting across the dim water of Kailua Bay, the soft bustle of tourists and street vendors, the occasional car or moped passing. It was also one of the few moments I had been alone the entire trip. My companion, Brenda, had been wonderful and agreeable for the most part. Though, she had been occasionally mopey when there were setbacks. One of the setbacks was she didn’t do well with walking, which is something I personally relish. Still, she was the opposite of my ex in many ways. When my ex-wife faced a setback, regardless of the cause, I was to blame and all of her frustration had to be taken out on me. Brenda turns inward and takes personal responsibility for any negative emotions she has, but she also then tends to believe that I’ll disapprove of her mopey-ness and it makes her even more mopey. She feels she comes off as a bitch for being particular and having weird pet peeves. Admittedly, I can find them irritating at times, but she is accepting if I don’t cater to her every desire. But, here we were, she didn’t feel up to making the half mile walk back from the restaurant, so I was going to get the car solo. Not a big deal in my mind, but I know it weighed on her a bit. Personally, it was nice to get a little alone time.

The night walk was full of life contemplation. I met thoughts and memories which hadn’t had opportunity to manifest with the continual vacation activities. Every young woman I saw in a bikini with a tight, lithe body brought thoughts of Sierra, and all she represented. The ironic thing, was that I was having the best sex of my life with Brenda. We made love 3-5 times each day, often in a row and had to urge each other to put on clothes or we would never get out of the hotel room. Where we really shined together was without a doubt in the bedroom. I appreciated that she is a beautiful person as well, but, let’s face it, beauty is taken more and more for granted as a relationship goes on. We had hit our six month mark this night. The energy, excitement, and momentum, the newness of our relationship was petering out. The vacation plans had been made almost a full month ago. It was a crazy, spontaneous plan when I found some cheap flights online.

I was beginning to realize that cheating has little to do with actual sex. Often, some of the most thrilling times are just being with someone new and attractive. Getting close to them, feeling the anticipation. And yes, sex is the ultimate culmination of all that, but it isn’t the ‘why’ in many ways. Because, truth is, I was having incredible, wonderful sex, and more than I could handle practically. But, still, I was tempted once more. I was tempted to get on dating apps or strike up conversations with girls at the bar. Brenda was the opposite of my ex-wife, but still I was somehow, someway wanting more. This scared me because I was realizing that I don’t see how I could ever be satisfied. It is like I am doomed to use up a relationship, sucking the life and energy out of it like a vampire then moving on to the next victim. In the game of life and relationships, how do you decide when to hold your hand, and when to fold it? Cheating is a kind of escape. Just like in cards, you think it gives you the edge. You can have your cake and eat it too. Keep the things you love about your venerable, aging relationship, and enjoy the fullness of a new, fresh one on the side. But, it isn’t right. It isn’t true or honest, and it is dangerous for you and them. You are toying with someone’s heart and life, and you find out, your own as well.

I reached the hotel parking lot and opened the door of the white convertible Mustang parked between two palm trees next to the stairs up to our room. With the top down, I rumbled into the restaurant parking lot and picked up Brenda. We kissed and took off through the empty streets, just aimlessly driving. We talked a little. Brenda took off her shoes and massaged her sore feet. We left the little seaside town and drove off into the moonlit night, hearing the chirping sounds of the island wildlife come alive as we drove down the road. We put on the radio and I opened it up and let the engine roar down the hill, Brenda laughed and put her hands up to feel the warm night air rush between her fingertips. This truly was the best vacation I’d ever been on, it was just what I needed. But, how could I be so free, but feel more lost than ever?

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Orphan Soul

Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.

“I’m going to hop in the shower, you guys good?” I asked my sister and brother in law.
The small apartment only had one, small half bathroom, so these communications were essential to prevent household consternation. I had found my bathroom routine had started taking longer and longer after my divorce as I had gradually perfected my grooming habits. It wasn’t just to better attract the opposite sex. Now it was a meditative zen ritual. It was a time to focus on myself and explore my inward thoughts and get in touch with my body.

The ethereal steam from the shower soon filled the bathroom. I had the timing down to a science now. I filled the sink with hot water and began soaking my badger hair shave brush while I brought the shower up to temperature and placed my towels strategically. Next, began hair and scalp cleansing. I had finally found a shampoo and conditioner set that worked well for me. The clean pepper-mint scent was off-putting at first, but now I relished it, especially with how it made my hair feel: silky, smooth, flexible, and healthy. Next, I exfoliated and cleaned my body with shea butter black soap and then cleaned my ears and face. Carefully patted dry. My shower takes 7-8 minutes for thorough cleaning.

Out of the shower, I begin shaving procedure. I have to allow an extra 10 minutes today to shave my genitals since it had been over a week at this point. I’d switched to a double edged safety razor 6 months ago and never looked back. The heavy handle and cheap, sharp blades provided me a great, smooth shave with good economics and a nice dose of nostalgia. I usually allowed 20 minutes for my face and beard which require a little more shaping, trimming, and treating. First comes the hot towel, then pre-shave soap, then I create a rich lather with a bowl of citrus and almond scented shave soap and my brush, then 2-4 passes across the face before rinsing and applying witch hazel lotion. Then the beard trimmer comes out and uniforms the beard length.

I wait to take care of the hair until after I’ve dressed. Today was a lovely warm afternoon, so I laid out a pair of cotton boxer briefs, grey heathered shorts, textured blue short sleeve button up, and leather boat shoes. Before dressing, I doffed my towel and applied eau de toilette to several choice locations. I had chose my signature scent after painstakingly going through dozens of testers, it was fresh and musky but not overpowering with a hint of spice, fragrant of the ocean and salt. It made me imagine being the captain of a merchant vessel returning from an exotic land with a laden ship. My hair has been an ongoing project with my barber, gradually evolving since becoming single. The undercut had become more extreme, sides have gotten shorter, the top got longer, but this last time I had it shorter again, went with a taper in the back per usual. I finally found two hair products I enjoyed, a pomade with strong hold and medium shine for a more formal look, and a matte, medium hold cream for daily use. I used the cream, with a light scent of cinnamon and vanilla, and a styling brush to put my hair into a quiff, and then made made for the door, only pausing to slide a pair of acetate wayfarers on to shield my eyes from the sun’s rays. The air outside was warm, not a cloud in the sky, but a nice light breeze brought the fresh sea air to my nostrils. I looked good, smelled good, felt good. The world was perfectly shaped, and I was going to pick-up my girlfriend for the weekend as had become customary over the past 5 months.

I hadn’t expected to be with this girl as long as I had. I was expecting a Tinder hook-up, and ended up with a girlfriend. She kept me hooked though, and not in a bad way. Things eventually fizzled with Her sadly enough. It was bitter-sweet, but mutual. We realized, it just wasn’t going to happen and we needed to get on with our lives. I got back into the dating game without anything holding me back. At first, I was really only looking for hook-ups to ease back into things. That’s how it seemed to start with this girl, we’ll call her ‘Brandy’. Brandy was a bit older than my ideal. Let’s face it, I am a man-child at this point. I feel like I missed out on so much, so I felt I needed to date younger women while I still could. I was thinking early twenties, like Sierra and Ann. Brandy was on her way out of her mid-twenties at this point. Also, had a bit more weight on her, though not nearly as much as my ex-wife. While I certainly found her attractive, it isn’t just looks that keep me around. And it also isn’t just that sex with her is more mind-blowingly amazing and intense than it had ever been before, and that even 5 months into the relationship less than 5 times a day when we are together is a rarity. It is also her personality and interests. We could do everything together, even those niche things that I never thought I’d find anyone who would be interested in them but me. And she is sweet, overly-polite, caring, kind-hearted, sensitive, and just ever-so-slightly needy. And she possesses a dirty, politically-incorrect, silly, weird sense of humor that I find quite endearing. While some of our tastes didn’t match up just right, they were differences we could at least celebrate. The biggest problem, is that we live far apart, and she doesn’t have a car. So, we try to spend the whole weekend together to cut down on driving.

The drive is a good time for me to enjoy an audio book though. I was working through Moby-Dick or The Whale with fresh ears recently. Having not read the great American novel since high school, it was enlightening to hear with ears that had grown some in the past decade and a half. Though a tale of savagery, carnality, and brutality, it also makes the scenes of beauty and humanity all the more stark and brilliant. In many ways, I felt like I was on a voyage of discovery of my own. But, seeking myself instead of an elusive White Whale.

There was something different about today. Everything seemed fresh and new, I was new as a spring morning in bloom. I realized, this is how I had pictured things would be a year ago when I got divorced. I had made my vision a reality even if I hadn’t been able to picture all the details. I had shaped myself into the man I had always wanted to be: attractive, handsome, clean, cultured, contented, versatile. I balanced my personal life, work life, and parenting life with grace and ease. I loved my son, I loved my job, and loved my friends, relationships, diverse interests and hobbies. As I pulled up to my girlfriend’s place I realized that something didn’t quite fit though: my girlfriend. She just wasn’t what I had pictured. She was pretty, even beautiful, but not the kind of beauty that would turn head’s and make other men green with envy. She wasn’t vain like Sierra. She didn’t have the narcissism. She didn’t have the youthful, crazy, hedonistic immaturity. She was what I hoped to find later: someone with staying power after I’d “sowed my wild oats” so to speak. But, I couldn’t deny that when I was with her I had all the certainty in the world that no pleasure could ever be greater. She really was an amazing lover, and we had loads of fun together. But… in that moment when I pulled up to her house, I had this stark memory of what it felt like to be with Sierra. That pride, that feeling of accomplishment of being with someone so young and beautiful. I had hungered for that ever since I lost it. I still didn’t get that with Brandy. I realized that I still wanted it all, and nothing less. It was so care free, so du jour, of the moment. After having spent my life hoping for heaven and deferring earthly pleasures for things that would last an eternity, I realized how much I craved the short-lived indulgences, and the sweet memories they left. Sierra was still a diamond in my mind. If I could combine Brandy and Sierra into one woman wouldn’t that be perfection? Or is that even possible. Aren’t they oil and water in essence? If you must choose between the two, don’t you choose the relationship that has a shot at lasting? Or is it safer to have planned obsolescence? I realized I was exposing a very uncomfortable part of my soul. It was tender still, and it made me wonder if I was just afraid of the commitment or of just squandering what little youth I had remaining. The truth is, nothing lasts. I’m just chasing after the wind.

I sat, paralyzed in the drivers seat. I was tempted to just drive away. But, I knew I’d be turning my back on the best relationship I’d ever had. How good is “good enough” for a relationship. When you decide that enough of your needs and wants are met? When you have zero doubts? I doubt that. I’ve never had zero doubt or no reservations about anything in my life, even Sierra. I realize, I am just beginning my voyage. Every time I think I see the mist of a whale spout in the far distance and arrive at its place I realize how much farther yet I have to go.

I didn’t drive away. I used the key she had given me just last week, and I went inside, and just as I imagined it would be, being with Brandy was pure, unbridled bliss. But, why do these fleeting longings still torture my mind and make me uneasy when I’ve never been happier?

Sunbeams Are Not Made Like Me

Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.

I slept very well. The silence of the generic hotel room was in sharp contrast to the constant noise of my sister and brother-law-roommates and the next door neighbors. I got up, brushed my teeth, showered, shaved, combed, dressed, put on my shirt and tie. With my overnight bag packed, I switched off the light and headed down to the lobby to check out.

The “ball room” was practically empty when I arrived, about a dozen men and women in business attire milling about with hushed voices. I strategically picked a table next to the side entrance that lead to the buffet, apart from its ideal location, it was identical to the others: clad in a black table-cloth, with a stainless-steel pitcher of ice water at the center, and a heavy bottomed glass face down on a coaster at each seat that read, in large, friendly letters: ‘Sit. Think. Relax.’ At the front of the room was a projector and a PowerPoint pulled up with a title, date, and bunch of government and private entity logos. I unslung my laptop bag and settled in. I was alone this trip, no colleague accompanied me. As the room filled up, I felt the distance between myself and the strangers in the room grow.

I did my best to focus and take notes. The day dragged on. I texted with Her, called my Grandmother who I’d be meeting later, hob-nobbed with a defense contractor, a chemical manufacturer, and an aeronautical engineer during the stuffy business lunch. During the breaks I’d walk around the hotel outside, enjoying a fairly cool day in Silicon Valley. It was a nice break from the grind to take a business trip. Really, there is nothing like a seminar on government-imposed regulations to get one pondering the meaning of existence. Certainly hearing about part such and such point such which applies to such with exception such and such gets one thinking about metaphysics, semantics, etc. I realized that I hadn’t been this alone with my thoughts for this long for quite some time. You never feel more alone than sharing an afternoon with a hundred persons you’ve never met and will probably never see again.

I hadn’t seen my grandparents since the divorce. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My Grandma sent me weekly sermons, Christian articles, etc. She’d made it well known to me that she loved me, even if she was disappointed with how I ended my marriage. But, most of all, she wanted the sweet little Christian boy back. When I showed up at her doorstep after my seminar, she had a smile, hug, and a kiss waiting. The thing that amazes me about life these days is how everything is pretty much the same, but I’m different. Grandma’s house and Grandma and Grandpa are relatively unchanged from last year, but my entire outlook and perspective is different. It was bizarre being there sans wife and son. But, other than that, all seemed relatively the same. Grandma tried to spoil me from the second I was inside her home. “Are you hungry? How about a sandwich? I’ll make you a mocha freeze and here are some cookies…” She really was the sweetest lady. I remember my wife and I talking about how we always looked up to my grandparents as our model for how we wanted our old age to be: active, hospitable, loving, up till late, possessing a real lust for life.

After dinner, Grandpa was feeling a bit sore, so he sat down while Grandma and I took a stroll around their mobile home park. We talked a bit about my sisters, and my father’s cancer.
“My sisters never really got over losing mom,” I said answering my Grandma’s question about how they were regarding long past death of my mother, Grandma’s daughter. “Every year on the day of her death they are a mess, they cry and cry.”
“I get a little weepy myself whenever I think of her.” Grandma said.
“I know what you mean, but I think the difference is, is that my sisters never got out of the mourning process. I mourned my mother, I was disillusioned, angry, and then I made peace. Now I just miss her. My sisters, they are angry sometimes still, they feel it is unfair that others have a mother, and we don’t.”
“It isn’t. Life isn’t fair. But, what can you do?”

I knew the conversation would eventually get to God. After years of being a resolute Christian, it was so interesting to be on the other side of the fence. It was freeing in ways though. I felt the constraints on my thinking had been lifted. It used to be so rigid, I realized I’d put myself into a corner where I had to believe that the majority of people in the world were just dishonest with themselves in not acknowledging God as I saw Him. Really, this thinking is incompatible with the way I view the world and people. Everywhere I go, I feel I’m always running into myself. I saw myself in the people at the seminar. Even if I don’t get to know them, as soon as you dig beneath the surface you see that each person is not so different from yourself, they live, they breath, they have hopes and dreams, they get up to face another day, and tell themselves ‘good days are still ahead.’ I see myself in my Grandma, and Grandpa, and sisters, in my ex-wife. And in Her. We are specks in an ineffable sea of the blackness of time and space. So limited in our knowledge. I don’t blame anyone for turning to God for answers, not one bit. A divinity with a view of it all to tell us what it is all about, to give us meaning for our existence is a wonderful thing to have. I feel I can’t have that anymore, it limits me too much, for me it is disingenuous to claim I can have faith at this time. The limits of reason and information will not allow me to rest easy on the Bible being a solid foundation to follow. And, I’ve never had a spiritual experience to rest my convictions on. It is also impossible to explain this to my Grandmother in a way she can accept. I know, I was in her place not more than a few years ago. It is simple confirmation bias, you accept without question the pieces that support your position, and you have to explain away the small threats to your faith, because as soon as the cracks form in the foundation, it is only a matter of time before the rest follows.

As in most religious discussions with Christians, the usual appetizers and main courses were served as we walked: teleological argument, moral argument, textual criticism, case of the empty tomb, martyrdom as evidence, and barring all those, you always end up with a dessert of Pascal’s wager. I know, I’d served them to my atheist guests on many occasions myself, and now was on the receiving end of them from my Grandmother as I knew I would be. I gently answered them with counter-arguments. The problem with my current state of agnosticism, is you are always left hungry, counter-arguments provide no satiation, they only negate what little food for the spirit there is. It is human nature to want to know. We thirst for knowledge, even a false knowledge. It is hard to restrain oneself from the delights and allure offered by empty arguments and false promises. I used to gorge myself on them in their many forms, and offer them to my non-believing friends as Eve offered Adam the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, perhaps the Christians have it all figured out. My Grandma could be right, after all. So could the Buddhists, and pagans, and Jews, and Muslims. I’ve decided it isn’t my place to assume one way or another. Ultimately, we all live in a world of fantasy of our own devising. Do I know if there is a God? No clue. Is there objective morality? No idea, but I still live my life as if there is. Is there life after death? Don’t know, if there isn’t, doesn’t that mean that when we die it is no different than if we’d never been born? What is the purpose, what is the meaning of life? The only seemingly consistent answer I can come up with is to seek good things. Even the Christian admits that they are righteous on earth so they can have good things when they die, deferring the pleasures of sin for the joys of heaven. All everyone wants is to experience good. And I feel the good is self-evident and hardly warrants explanation. We all love the close bond of family and friends, the feeling of good health, the joy of art and stories, the satisfaction of helping others, the sensation of making love. It isn’t hard to figure out what is good, even if sometimes we have to defer good things so we can enjoy a higher sum total of good. We only differ in our ways of going about achieving these ends. But, we get through each day believing a net good outcome is heading our way, even if today may be filled with trouble. Perhaps in that way, we all have faith. We came to the end of our walk and stood on the porch.
“Well, you know where I stand, I’ll say no more,” Grandma finally said, drying her tears, I knew it was heart-wrenching when someone has gone and changed on you, and not for the better in your mind. “I’ll always love you, and that’s that.”
“I know, Grandma, I love you too.”

We left it at that. The rest of the evening progressed as evenings always did at Grandma and Grandpa’s since time immemorial, we played cards, then watched an old movie, and said goodnight. I know that my Grandmother only brings up religion because she loves me and wants good things for me in this life and in the next. At the end of the day, we have to part ways on how to achieve that. I still don’t have the answers I continue to seek. But, I feel that at least I’m closer than I’ve ever been before. I’ve stopped dogmatically stagnating. My vision seems much clearer, the clouds have vanished away and I can see farther, but not far enough. That isn’t to say that one day, I may come back to Christianity, but, at least, if I do, then it will be in truer faith than I had before. Until then, don’t expect me to lie.

El Bueno, El Malo, y El Feo

“Yeah, he wouldn’t get out of my way so I could smack his bitch, so I broke the fuckin’ bottle of Hennessy on his head…” She sat across from me and animatedly told her stories while giggling at regular intervals.
The bar/restaurant was upscale, with windows overlooking the harbor and bay, it often hosted the local yacht club lunches. It was filled with finely dressed patrons and servers. The secret was they had been doing cocktail and appetizer specials in the evenings to try to liven up evening business, margaritas tonight, served in fancy crystal tumblers on the rocks with salted rims and fresh limes for garnish. The last time I’d been at this particular spot had been with my wife in December, or January was it? We’d had martinis and oysters I remember. So much had happened since then. My younger cousin, Joanne, had been in town pretty regularly for work lately and we’d kindled a bit of a relationship. She came from a radically different background from myself, growing up in the rough inner city. We looked almost nothing alike, her dark skin was of Latin descent from her mother’s side. One thing we had in common was a thin frame and overly-youthful appearance which was characteristic of my family. I regretted that I’d never spent much time with her or my uncle and aunt, so much so that a month ago she was pretty much a stranger to me. They didn’t really come to visit much until recently, and we only visited them a handful of times. Joanne always felt that she was a bit of an underprivileged black sheep within our family. She didn’t really reach out to me until the recent events, between my marriage going in the shitter and her uncle/my father’s declining health. She was honest with me, she thought I was boring before she heard about what I’d done. To her, and everyone else, I was just a straight-laced, mild-mannered, Christian man before word reached them that I was apparently a big ‘sex fiend’, picking up random women and indulging in profligate living these days. Neither of us really thought we could have much in common with this cousin we hardly knew. Turns out we were wrong. Spending time with her has been an interesting psychological case study, seeing how she and I are incredibly similar but grew up in radically different environments. Sometimes I hear her talking, and it sounds like me, sitting across from myself, but a ‘me’ that grew up in a very different world.

Her phone on the table buzzed, the name ‘Feo’ appeared on the screen, Joanne frowned and let it ring.
“Ugly, huh?” I remarked.
“Yeah… he’s the one.” Joanne laughed nervously.
“Sorry, I try not to look at other peoples’ phones, but couldn’t help but catch that one, haha, too funny.”
“It’s Ok, it’s like 10:45, he’s probably drunk. I forgot to turn off my location, so he probably thinks I’m on a date.”
“He’s the one you were involved with long term then? How have you been with that, still feeling down?”
“Yeah, but it’s Ok. It’s like you and your wife, she still loves you I’m sure, so it hurts, that’s how it is with me.”
“Do you really think so? She hates me so much, I just can’t imagine it.”
“I do, she hates you and she loves you, and she hates loving you, haha.”

The restaurant closed at 10, but they let us stay late and drink and talk while the staff cleaned. It was a very enlightening evening. Once Joanne had two margaritas in her she did get a little loose with the information. I learned things about my uncle and aunt I’d rather not have known. I learned many things about her own personal struggles. She had made many mistakes in her life, several of them criminal, but, like me, she was a slave to duty, refusing charity and trying hard to stand on her own two feet. She could be kind and generous to a fault at times, but you also didn’t want to cross her, lest she kick your ass or slash your tires or both.

“People are weird as fuck around here. Like, I’m used to getting honked at a bunch of times walking on the street at home, it’s like, I get it, I honk for a nice ass too sometimes, haha, but here guys actually pull over to try and talk to me, it is super creepy.”
I dragged off the blunt we’d rolled, blowing the sweet smoke that smelled of a mixture of tobacco and cannabis, flicked the ash into the cup in my cup holder, and handed it to her.
“Seriously? Well, I just don’t typically have men pull over and hit on me,” I chuckled wryly.
We’d parked by the beach, looking out at the harbor lights, it was past midnight.
“Well, I don’t know, you might. I don’t know. Men are just jerks. Well, I guess girls are jerks too.” She laughed and took a deep drag and exhaled.
“We’re all jerks. Scumbags. Really, nobody can be trusted and relied upon. You think you know people, I thought I knew myself, but look what I did, I destroyed my wife’s world. I loved her, and I destroyed her.”
She sat smoking thoughtfully for a moment, her face illuminated by the blue glow from the stereo, before handing me back the blunt.
“You give yourself too much credit. What you did to her was fucked up. But, you didn’t destroy her world anymore than she did. Sounds like her expectations were too high. You’re not a scumbag, you mean well, you’re taking responsibility, but you’re still a man.” I puffed out and carefully handed her the almost-spent blunt, while she continued, “My father isn’t a scumbag either, even though sometimes I’ve wanted to think he is. I used to put him on this pedestal when I was younger, then one day he told me what he’d done, just like you, and it rocked my world. I wasn’t ready to believe my father was just a man, but he is. Before that, I felt that perhaps I could live up to the ideal, I felt I had something to shoot for, but now, I don’t think so, nobody lives up to it. I just wish I hadn’t found out.”

Apocalypse Now

Sid tried to keep the usual routine, he kissed his wife, Cynthia, before he left that morning but today she clung to him just a bit longer than normal. She’d begged him not to go to work, but he insisted, even with the world in utter chaos, he was going to stay the course as if tomorrow would come, what more could he do?
“Despite a resurgent economy and population boom, scientists warn of an impending environmental catastrophe related to the recent heat wave– runaway record temperatu– the administration continues to assert that there is no cause for alarm– no Larry, I don’t think you understand, the president is a lap-dog of corporate interests– ‘the carbon and ethanol aren’t to blame, this is the inevitable heat death of the universe we are talking,’ ‘you mean the great baker in the sky or God theory,’ ‘I prefer not to read into the motives of a supernatural entity far beyond our capacity to understand, but yes, evidence does suggest a purpose to reality as we know it…’–” Sid sighed after perusing every channel and finally turned the radio off as he drove into the city, traffic was brutal enough day without listening to the issues du jour.
Could the heat truly be more unbearable than it was the day before? Yesterday it was 120 in the shade. The city’s towers seemed to spring up towards the sky faster by the day, tenements, and businesses, trying to cope with an ever-budding overpopulation. At least there were fewer protesters and doomsday prophets taking to the streets with their signs: “the end is nigh”, “Global warming is real”, “Big Ethanol is to blame”, “stop the carbon dependency”, “the Great Baker is punishing us, turn from your sins.” Sid honked reflexively, then finally realized that the vehicle in front of him hadn’t moved for a decent while, in fact, the entire road was at a stand still. He rolled down his window and was greeted with an unbearable flash of heat.
“Hey, buddy!” He called out the window at the car in front of him, looking carefully, he saw no movement, just a head resting against the steering wheel in the shimmering heat.
Sid looked about, the city was strangely silent and still, not a sound could be heard. It really was happening, this was the end. He tuned the radio, but it was static dead air.
“God, its hot.” Wiping sweat from his brow, he felt woozy, his mind sluggish, he noticed the last couple protesters on the sidewalk slump over, overcome by the rising heat, the thermometer on the dash read 140, he fought to keep his wits, but finally accepted his fate, and closed his eyes, “Cynthia…”

I love baking, particularly bread. I find it very soothing. The feeling of the dough on my hands, the flour coating the work surfaces, keeping an eye on the timer, inspecting the dough, seeing it bubble and rise, the sweet smell of fermentation, the fresh baked smells from the hot oven, the crack of the hot crust as it kisses the cooler air for the first time. Of course, sometimes I wonder what the yeast think of it all. A bread baker’s goal is to manipulate time and temperature to elicit the most flavor out of the simplest of ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. The last ingredient, of course, is living. A culture of millions of eukaryotic microorganisms work through a ball of dough much like humans have spread across the earth, consuming its vast resources and energy, building up civilization, and producing waste products. Yeast consume those complex starches in flour that our taste buds can’t make sense of, and break them down into things our taste buds can understand like simple sugars, and also waste byproducts like carbon dioxide (which give bread its rise) and ethanol (which give it a bit of an edge, but generally more desirable for beer than bread). A baker performs a careful balancing act, trying to maximize desirables (like sugar and carbon dioxide) and minimize non-desirable flavors (like ethanol). Yeast need food (flour and water), and warmth, so the baker carefully nourishes them, helps them bud and grow, and then throws it all in the oven at the precise moment at the height of their “civilization” before waste and pollution have taken over. Once in the oven, the growing heat on the dough will cause a massive population boom for the yeast, giving the dough what baker’s refer to as an “oven spring” as the dough gets a final rise, before the yeast are all overcome and killed by the heat and the dough hardens and solidifies into a delicious, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside substance we call ‘bread’. Of course, imagining yeast as intelligent creatures that build a civilization and then exterminating it in a terrible heat holocaust certainly makes bakers out to be monsters. Really, these small, unthinking, single cells are the simplest form of life, far lower and less intelligent than plants. So, it is really just my imagination that runs wild when I’m working away in the kitchen, imagining the middle aged-yeast Sid making his morning commute on the day the dough is thrown into the oven and it all ends for him and his kind.

Seems I’ve been pretty busy lately. Work has flown by. It was nice this last weekend to get some baking done, nice break from the monotony of it all. Seems I keep getting caught in mental ruts where I just can’t make sense of life. I struggle continually to find meaning, I think largely because I’ve abandoned my past world-view and preconceptions that used to tell me what to believe and feel. I think that is why my imagination runs rampant. It longs to understand, to probe the far reaches of the universe for answers.

The campus looks like a warzone these days. Summer construction projects in full swing, the college of business looks especially fortified with trenches and fences running around it, it is quite the maze getting to the side entrance these days. A couple times I’ve run into small bands of Antifa thugs, wearing bandannas from their nose down like thieves out of a western, except in black hoodies and jeans, with a black banner, and wielding blunt implements of destruction which only adds to the ambiance. They’ll generally be turning up to protest a lecture or event and try to intimidate non-true-believers they run into, but they’ve generally been relatively harmless, still, I’d feel more comfortable if they’d at least take off the masks and stop carrying weapons, they are almost as bad as what they claim to oppose. I don’t like Virginian Nazis anymore than they do, but c’mon, that’s thousands of miles away. We don’t have white supremacists on this liberal campus complete with trigger warnings and safe spaces, if they want to fight skinheads they should join up with the Mexican gangs a few miles south. I don’t much care for politics, it is enough to try to figure out me without having to worry about solving society and environmental ills. Perhaps I’m selfish. Or perhaps I’m cynical and just don’t believe the myths we are told about how we can really make a difference in the world if only we’d just care. Perhaps the whole world’s gone crazy, perhaps the great baker is about to shove the whole ball of dough in the oven. But, I’m going to keep going like tomorrow will come, because I believe there is still flavor left to be had.

Player Two

But I didn’t understand then. That I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.

Jim’s office was in disarray when I walked in. It was summer cleaning, a student assistant picked through and organized graphics adapters and RAM DIMMs on the desk in the corner. Every surface, including the floor, was covered with hardware and equipment, computers, servers, tablets, uninterruptible power supplies, network switches, cables of every sort. When I walked into his office in the corner, he acknowledged me without looking as usual.
“Hey, come over here, I’ve got it powered up,” he said walking past me into a long room next door that served as a computer lab with two parallel rows of brand new iMacs all the way to the end of the room, which stood in sharp contrast to a massive beige IBM server tower laid on its side on a red hand cart with an even more massive green monochrome cathode ray tube monitor sitting atop it.
A UNIX shell prompt was open and had just finished dumping all the file systems into a tarball.
“What a monster, but looks like we finally have it backed up huh?” I said.
“Yup, I had to put it into a private network and dump the files onto an NFS share, here ya go,” Jim said handing me a flash drive.
“Great, Ben just wants to make sure every storage device is removed before storing this stuff.”
“Well, he’s the boss, you know how these lawyers are about making sure we cover our asses.”
To shut the sucker off you had to actually run a shutdown program to halt the system before hitting the hard power switch. It took us a few moments of poking around on the chassis to pull it open and remove a massive host controller hooked to an even more massive 100 MB hard drive.

Jim and I pushed the laden cart across campus in the summer heat. It was surprisingly crowded that day, milling crowds of incoming freshmen being led about on tours in preparation of the swiftly coming first day of school. I didn’t realize that I’d signed up for plenty of heavy lifting and moving while doing this audit, but short on student labor during the summer, it has fallen to Jim and I to do most of it. We carted the beast to the college of math and lugged it high onto a shelf in the back corner of a storage closet, and handed Ben’s assistants the hard and flash drives. I was sweating by the end of it despite having loosened my tie and rolled up my sleeves.
“Jason, your package came in as well,” Ben’s assistant told me as I was leaving, she handed me a small brown parcel.
It was welcome, I knew this meant I had an excuse to head by the data center on the way back and cool off in the air conditioning. I’m still appalled at the lack of security at the campus data center, this would never fly back at my office. You can just walk in, sign a sheet and be lead past several locked doors into the actual data center and have them unlock any caged rack, no checking of ID’s or verifying of identity. The man on duty certainly didn’t know me from Adam, but I told him my name and that I need to get to the Office of Research’s rack. The blowers kept the center of the room a chill 60 degrees, while the venting from the server racks kept the edges twenty degrees warmer easily. Luckily, my business was with the front of the storage area network, I took my time.

I’m beginning to wonder if this crazy schedule is worth it. By the time I leave the deserted campus at 7 pm, waiving goodbye to the lone custodian in the hall, I’d been working for practically twelve straight hours. My father is home from the hospital, so I told him I’d come see him for dinner after work. He needed some help with his computer of course, but that gave me a chance to get out of the room and exchange some messages with Her before and after dinner.

I realize I’m pretty grumpy now by the time I get home. My sister and brother-in-law are generally pretty jovial, and I try not to let their pedantic loud discussions of Star Trek lore get to me. Neither of them have worked in practically two months, living off of the generosity of their family landlord rent free, what I pay them in rent, and their disability checks. Makes me feel like a bit of a sucker for working like this, but I do have myself and family to support. Well, the extra job is only until December, hopefully, and I can always quit it if it gets to be too much, the extra income will certainly be nice.

My sister was good though to finally give the bathroom a good cleaning, I’d been paying her extra to do my chores for me, even though she owed me for the vet bill for her poor dog who had a few too many table scraps that didn’t agree with her. I took my shower, but the cleaning didn’t change the fact that water still pooled in the bottom of the shower and that the pressure dropped right about when you’d get to the perfect temperature, so you had to either turn it up a bit too high, or down a bit too low. So, as typical I’d turn it up and feeling my skin burn while my feet were cold standing in a pool of cold water. All the same, I still felt much better after a shower, shave, and comb.

It was 10:30 pm by the time I finally shut my bedroom door and sat down for a few moments of leisure to wind down at the end of the day. I was too exhausted to think, much less read, or the like. Times like these that I find myself gravitating towards a familiar activity, something that is so ingrained in my muscle memory that it doesn’t require any serious thought but still manages to be mildly stimulating and calming. So, I pull out the Super Nintendo and play some old cartridges from my childhood. I popped in Super Mario World, it had been a while, after all, since I’d played this old standby. I was surprised by the wave of emotion I felt after pressing Start on the title screen. The first save game was the ongoing game my wife and I had been playing. But, now I’d lost my player two. I wouldn’t delete it, but I couldn’t play on it either, so I just started a new save. I keep cursing myself for how nostalgic I’ve been. It seems I keep coming across things that make me think of my soon-to-be-ex wife. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, but she really was my best friend for so long, even despite our many issues, and I miss her terribly.

I could play this game in my sleep, jumping, hopping, flying through every level with impunity, nothing touching me. It was a soothing, zen-like way to wind down my brain, like somehow it tapped into something primitive and natural, allowing me to escape all care and thought and operate on pure instinct. In some ways, I felt like that ancient IBM relic we laid to rest today, I needed a shutdown program at the end of the day. Super Mario World was the game of my childhood. Donkey Kong Country was the game from my wife’s. Funny to think that while I was sitting in my room playing my Super Nintendo on a Sunday afternoon all those years ago, my future wife was doing the same thing in her room. Building those reflexes, every button press like a dance. Remembering ever power-up and the location of every secret and ever extra life. We’d each play each other’s games. She carried me with her DK skills, and I carried her with my SM skills. I remember having to transfer lives to her in our SM games, I always had an abundance, and she was always running out. And, really, vice versa for DK. It was silly, but it was nice having that mutual respect for one another, we could complete one another in that regard. It was a shame we couldn’t operate in our marriage, particularly in our sex life, as we did playing video games because you couldn’t find two more compatible game players than us. But, I have to get by without my Player Two from now on.

Stardust Memories

“Let us work without reasoning,’ said Martin; ‘it is the only way to make life endurable.”

The parking lot sure brought back memories. All the spots marked “Reserved for Doctors”. Luckily, I found a visitor spot with relative ease. I remember when my wife’s and my car had been parked in this lot for a whole week. I remember coming out of the hospital, exhausted, shambling like a zombie through the street lamp lit parking lot in the dead of night to make a quick drive to the drug store for a few essentials since we hadn’t planned on spending a week in the hospital, living in the mother and baby ward while our son lay sleeping in the neonatal intensive care unit. I remember coming to this lot every week for months on end, carrying a pillow and holding my pregnant wife’s hand as we went to our birth classes. When Saul had brain surgery, I had parked here and walked in to console his crying mother in the lobby. So many memories. I was born in this hospital, my son was born here.

Locked the car and walked to the carpeted lobby. I knew the halls well, it only took me a moment to find the room. My father lay in a hospital bed while my step mother sat by his side, she got up to give me a hug and kiss as I walked in. I squeezed my father’s hand, and he looked at me with glazed eyes and told me he was glad to see me through his slurred speech. I had never seen him in a weakened state before. The abdominal surgery had really been a tough one. He still wasn’t aware of his prognosis, the doctors had found cancer on his liver. But, one thing at a time. Recover from the surgery, then deal with the harsh reality of cancer. It had claimed my mother’s life 8 years earlier, I hoped it wouldn’t claim my father’s, but after my mother died, I figured that was probably the worst thing that could ever happen to me, so since then I’d never worried about a thing, and I wondered if I ever would again.

My family had fallen apart over the years. Divorces, religious divides, death, deep wounds from misunderstandings. But, my father’s illness had at least brought people together. I saw my uncle and cousin who I hadn’t seen but a few times in my life there in the hospital room. It was nice to catch up with them. My uncle had aged, he was a long-haired, ultra relaxed version of my clean-cut, high strung father. My cousin, she’d grown up. For some reason, I couldn’t remember her as anything other than a teenager, now she was in her mid-twenties and had become a young woman. She reminded me more of her mother than her father to be honest, she kept him a short leash especially when he started asking impertinent questions of the nurses.

I was glad to get out of there. I drove a few miles out of my way to the coast and found Saul at his boss’ house.
“Fuck dude, I’m sorry to hear about your dad, I remember when he came to see me for my brain surgery, he’s a good dude.” Saul could generally be sympathetic.
He suggested we go get some beers and some dinner, so we walked down the street to a sushi bar.

“She rubbed her clit on my face for like five minutes…” Saul was telling me about his recent jaunt to the Chinese foot massage place next door, recommending his experience highly.
“That’s great man.” I said.
Even the sushi chef who generally managed to maintain no expression finally had to crack a smile and start laughing at some of Saul’s shenanigans. We became fast friends; it wasn’t surprising that he was a pothead like Saul. They talked about dabs and mothership and the recent cannabis festival. He dropped a free tuna roll off for us, while Saul teased one of the waitresses for her odd name. She took it in stride.

We ate and drank our fill, Saul picked up the tab since I’d covered him for months until he finally got paid this last week. We stopped off at the liquor store for some cheap cigars and smoked on the way back to his place taking in the evening air. We couldn’t be more opposite, me in a shirt and tie, and Saul in his t-shirt, shorts, and sandals with dirty, unkempt beard and hair. We talked about days gone past, women, jobs. Saul was still determined to never get hooked again in a relationship. It reminded me of my old plan. That if I had ever been free of my wife I would stay out of any serious relationship for a while. I’d get my kicks, and avoid falling in love for some time. That plan went out the window when I fell for Her. Now here I am emotionally involved with a woman, hooked. Saul insists I may never see her, that I should just get out there and play the field. Perhaps he’s right, but I enjoy my intimacy with Her, I’m not willing to trade that right now for a meaningless roll in the sack. I feel like I’d be trading it, maybe I’m just a fool, no, I know I am. How silly is this, I was married and felt no guilt to cheat on my wife. And here I was now, single, but in a long distance relationship with a woman I’d never met and felt more devoted than ever before. In any case, it is what I want right now. Time will tell, one day at a time. No doubt there are new pains that awaited me, pains of loss, of relationships, of family, but hopefully fresh joys and love that I cannot even comprehend. I thought back to those street lamps above the hospital parking lot, like dim stars as my wife and I walked beneath them; she was gently holding her pregnant belly while I opened her car door. There was so much anticipation, everything was so clear then, I’m not sure what we had, it was love, not really romance, but love, warm and special, united in purpose like I’d never felt before. The car seat sitting in the back seat already secured and in place, her telling me how much she is craving a burger and fries, and who was I to deny a pregnant woman? Gosh, I gained forty “sympathy” pregnancy lbs which I promptly lost within a few months of living with next to no sleep, sitting up with a baby in my arms at three in the morning like clockwork, looking through the shade up at the stars. I have fewer answers than ever before.

Don’t Take it Away

If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?

The days have been long recently. Work starts early in the morning, I leave the house at 7 am. If I don’t go out I return home at 7:30 pm, and in bed hopefully by 10 or 11 to get some sleep before doing it all again. The weekends are a welcome reprieve from the grind. I spend the better part of Saturday with my son, and then Sunday is either time to catch up on errands and chores or to get some R&R in. The paycheck from the second job will hopefully be worth it all.
“But, this schedule doesn’t leave much time for quiet contemplation,” I thought to myself sitting in the den downstairs in my old home.
I had reluctantly agreed to stay two hours passed my son’s bedtime so that my ex-wife could catch a movie with a friend. She gave me the standard prohibition:
“Don’t have anyone over.”
I’m not sure why she still tells me this every time. It was as if her words would cast some sort of magic to make such an act taboo. But, it hadn’t stopped me before, and it certainly wouldn’t stop me if I was as evil as she said I was. She was certain I was sleeping with half the women in the county the way she told it. Everyone seems to think I get way more action than I do, especially after my ex had gone blabbing to anyone who’d listen about how badly I’d wronged her. And she was right, I had wronged her horribly beyond belief. I hope it will be the biggest regret of my life. If it isn’t, then I’m not looking forward to what else life has in store for me.

It is so weird and alien to lose a partner. Hardly 4 hours of the day would go by without some kind of contact between my wife and me. A check in, how is the baby, how are you, how is the day going, what’s the plan. There was that dialogue, that sharing of life. We had arguments, disagreements, and issues. But, if we’d had a bad day, after the baby was in bed, we could generally agree to pop some popcorn, put a fire in the fireplace, open a bottle of wine or grab some beers, and sit down and watch one of our favorite movies. It hadn’t been all bad. Then, suddenly, it was gone, like it had never been. I didn’t know my wife anymore, and she didn’t know me, we were strangers now. In some ways, I didn’t know me.

This wasn’t my house anymore. My sister, who now lived downstairs, had decorated the den quite differently. I sat there with the baby monitor and ate a plate of microwaved frozen burritos, an unwelcome guest, and babysitter to my own son. I passed the time as best I could, watched a couple episodes of Star Trek: TNG. There was the one with Q where he grants god-like powers to Riker. Riker finally learns the lesson, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Once Riker gave into using his powers, the temptation was too great, they had to be taken away, or he’d lose everything he held dear, he’d become a monster. I understand Number One, once I had a taste, I couldn’t resist either, and I became the monster.

A little light reading of a paperback novel I’d brought after that. The ex was running late, very late. Too tired to read, I dimmed the lights, and unzipped the hard shell case I carry my headphones in. I’ve been an audiophile for a time, ever since I bought my first pair of nice headphones in high school. When I heard how good they sounded in the hi-fi store downtown, I couldn’t resist. They were are pair of Grado Labs SR80’s. After that, it was headphone amplifiers, lossless digital audio, vinyl, gold plated oxygen-free cables, digital audio converters, etc. But, age loosens those old pretensions a bit. I mean, I honestly can’t hardly tell the difference between a 320 KBPS MP3 and a FLAC vinyl rip. Furthermore, I struggle to tell the difference between a V2, V0, or even a 168 KBPS in some cases even listening carefully with a high end pair of headphones. Don’t tell all those people that I used to thumb my nose at, with their ubiquitous white Apple earbuds, hyped Beats by Dre, and overpriced Bose sound systems, but I’ve gone soft, leaving my snobbery behind, hell, I listen to Spotify mostly, and I hardly miss spending hours meticulously ripping vinyl and CD albums to FLAC. The old Grado SR80’s had been slept on by my wife a few too many times while she was pregnant, the cables were damaged so that one ear popped constantly and went out sometimes, and the headband had a broken piece and came apart constantly. I did manage to replace the ripped up ear pads with some vibrant foam yellow ones cannibalized from a pair of Sennheisers and cut custom holes cut so they’d fit. But, lazy 30+ year old me doesn’t feel like soldering cables like his 18 year old self, and so I laid the old cans to rest in a bin in storage for another day down the road when I want a project. And went and got myself a new pair of Audio-Technicas. After a suitable breaking in, they sounded glorious. I pulled off my glasses, put the cups over my ears making the world go suddenly deathly still and quiet, and hooked the gold cable to my phone.

How long had it been since I just sat and listened to music. Usually, music is just a kind of soundtrack to my life. LoFi for relaxing. Classic rock and pop for the drive and come down. Ambient for detail work, scripting, and programming. Jazz and classical for those lazy afternoons and weekends. This particular night though, I just closed my eyes and listened. Sometimes, you just have to select an old favorite album or perhaps one you hadn’t heard before and immerse yourself in the artist’s work. I selected an old favorite, A Night at the Opera by Queen. It’s amazing what you miss when music is background. This album is like a magical diamond, frozen in time. Mercury’s wide ranging vocals, the timbre of his piano, May’s sizzling guitar. It all just comes together, every track a tour de force in its own right, from the jarring “Death on Two Legs” followed by the playfullness of “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”, to the relentless rhythm of “’39”, to the soulful dramatics of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The album may have not changed since 1975, but every time I listened to it, it was a different experience. I identified with the hopeless dissociation of “Bohemian Rhapsody” during my latter days of high school. “I’m in Love with My Car” was a bit of an anthem for my days driving around in a beat up old Honda. “Good Company” was just always good for a smile and sing-a-long.

I finished the album with a few minutes to spare before my ex-wife finally made her way home over an hour later than expected. At half past ten, she opened the door. I gathered my book and headphones, she apologized curtly for being late, asked when the dogs had last been out, and I made my way out to the car to go home and sleep.

Sunday Coming Down

My mother had to abandon the quest, but managed to extract from the restriction itself a further refinement of thought, as great poets do when the tyranny of rhyme forces them into the discovery of their finest lines.

The chain link fence was now overgrown with vines, I hardly recognized it and almost missed it while driving down the road. I pulled off and stopped in front of the old gate, I had to search carefully for the latch reaching through the crawling vines and leaves, I swung it back and drove my car through. How long had it been? At least eight, nine years. More? David, my sister, and the dogs came out to greet me as I pulled the car up to the small cottage. I climbed out and was greeted by a German Shepherd mix who nuzzled my hand begging for a pet and a scratch behind the ears.
“Who’s this new guy?” I asked.
“Binxie, just got him.” David replied, smiling as he walked by my sister’s side.
“David, you look well, good to see you again!” I shook his hand.
“Likewise, so do you.”
My sister’s ex-boyfriend hardly looked a day older than when I last saw him, but he had to be in his late sixties by now, maybe older. He had new glasses, round black thin wire frames, distinguished, but modern, they complimented his thin, diminutive frame. He was bald as always, without facial hair, but never had much in the way of wrinkles. I had been wary of the man when I heard he was dating my sister all those years ago when we first met. I think an age difference of over thirty years would give anyone pause, but he won me over with his calm, gentlemanly ways. It goes to show from how he treated her, and by the fact that they are still good friends all these years later with my sister now married to Robert.

Inside the small cottage, the air was cool from the fans and air conditioning. On the outside, the place didn’t look like much, a small one bedroom place, but inside was modern construction, high ceilings, hardwood floors, and high end furniture and appliances that belonged in a million dollar home. Symphonic music played over the state of the art sound system hooked to a record player in the corner.

“David, could you please make some coffee? I’m feeling like I could use a little pick me up.” My sister asked sitting down at the kitchen table.
“Sure,” David got up and went to the counter.
“Would you mind making Jason one too?” She asked, before turning to me, “You have to try David’s espresso, he roasts his own beans now.”
“Really? That’s awesome, well, if it isn’t too much trouble, I’d like one.”
“Of course,” David replied priming the steam wand of his espresso machine.
David was a man of passions. When I first met him it was cigars, luxury watches, and literature. Earlier in life it had been politics, film, and jazz, and like me, he played guitar and piano. Later it was Apple computers, smartphones, and tablets. Then it was stargazing with a computer controlled observatory he built. Now it was coffee, espresso, and photography; his cottage was now adorned with his incredible framed works. It seemed he’d never stagnate, always becoming an expert in something new, and then moving on once he’d mastered it. I remember him sharing his passions with me when I was just a teenager, he always managed to get me interested in all of them. I never intended to copy the man even though I did admire him in many ways, but somehow I found myself gravitating towards the same hobbies and interests. More than anything though, I tried to emulate his manner. He was always calm, collected, articulate, polite, and equitable.
“Hmmm, this is Beethoven, but which symphony… two? I know it is an early one.” I said.
“Umm, let’s see…” David walked to the record player as the machine heated the water “Close, it’s three.”
“Figured, seems to me his symphonies really changed after five.”
“Yes, I believe you’re right, my personal favorite is six.”
“Mine too!”

He set an espresso cup in front of me with creamy foam topped with coarse grains of cane sugar.
“I should have said, David, Jason prefers americanos,” my sister said.
“Nah, this is great, I always enjoy a good latte.” I interjected.
“Good, this is all I make these days, sugar latte, I learned a special roasting technique from a cafe in Portland, the roaster suggests roasting the beans hot until first crack, then reducing the temperature and slow roasting…” David described the technique with the usual calm, even tone he always talked with, but when he was talking about something he was passionate about, there was no mistaking that glint in his eye and warm undertone in his voice.
It was one of the finest lattes I’d ever had. But, to be perfectly honest my ex-wife made the finest lattes and espresso creations I’d ever had. She had been a barista for five years already when we started dating, and I remember sitting there in the coffee shop during her shift, reading a book and she’d come by and bring me a custom creation with a kiss and smile, I don’t think David could ever match that with any roasting or brewing technique.

After the symphony ended, David pulled out Kind of Blue from his LP’s. The vinyl pop came through the speakers as he set the needle down, then piano, bass, and Miles Davis’ trumpet came through softly. It was a nearly perfect afternoon, relaxing in that cool cottage with good company and epicurean delights, escaping the heat. It had been as perfect a Sunday as possible thus far. It started off just right. I slept in, woke to Her’s text. We video chatted for over an hour, but it is never enough. I love seeing her smiling face, looking into her beautiful eyes, and the sound of her voice warms my heart. Sadly, things in her life aren’t perfect, but neither are they in mine, but our relationship is a source of incredible sustenance. She feeds my romanticism and love as no one ever has. She’s sexy, and funny, and cute, and I never get my fill. We plan to meet in just a little over a month, she’ll be flying out to see me. I couldn’t be more excited to finally meet this woman who haunts my thoughts, dreams, and fantasies. I was practically glowing by the time we got off the phone.

Having spoke with Her set the tone. It brightened me up, put the spring into my step. I put on some music, made a breakfast of fried eggs and sourdough toast, then took my time selecting a button down shirt, chinos, and casual loafers. Around noon I drove into the city to my friend’s place. It’s a nice house on the south side of town rented by an bunch of old friends from high school. The summer air was warm, not a cloud in the sky. I walked in and found Big Al relaxing on the couch in his shorts and tank top. I’m not sure why we still call him Big Al. Average Al would probably be more accurate since he lost the weight. He had bulked up in terms of muscles too, and was now fighting in the amateur MMA circuit. He was covered in tattoos from the neck down, we couldn’t be less alike apart from both having beards. We sat out in the spacious back yard in lawn chairs in the shade of tree and had cigars and beer while listening to old country songs, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, and the like. It was a bit of a tradition. Big Al and I shared a love of premium cigars and quality microbrews. The conversation was simple and clean, we talked about the old days, old friends, surfing, playing golf, antics and anecdotes. I melted into my chair, feeling every worry and stress melt from my body. It had already been a great day when my sister texted me and said to come meet them at David’s for dinner.

And there we were, Robert finally joined us as we finished off the Davis and were consuming some Sonny Rollins while David spoke of his days playing in various bands in the LA jazz scene in the 70’s. We changed into swim clothes and walked out into the heat. David’s property was inland, near the vineyards on the edge of town, he had several acres. The cottage was very new, I remember when it was being built, custom designed to his specifications. Next to it sat his parents house, I remember when his father died, but his mother still lived there, now well into her 90’s. There was also a small barn where David’s new Prius was garaged, and a chicken house and other old farm buildings. The centerpiece of the property was a palatial Spanish style hacienda and a matching servant’s house next to it with a pool out back. I spent many summers visiting my sister there when she and David lived there, and for a time my other sister and mother lived there with them. Now it was rented out, but we could still use the pool. I could still remember the interior layout. There was a large kitchen, two bedrooms downstairs, a drawing room, dining room, and the library with big antique leather chairs and mahogany shelves lined with books where we used to sit while David smoked fragrant cigars and we talked about science fiction (he instilled a love of Star Trek and Douglas Adams in me), philosophy, and theology and sometimes we’d play chess. Upstairs was an office, and three more bedrooms with balconies overlooking the pool.

The pool was heated, but slightly cooler than the ambient temperature, which was welcome. We swam up and down enjoying the water. Binxie would come lick me if I came too close to the edge, but he was too afraid to dive in. I remember warm summer evenings sitting out by the pool and falling asleep laying back in a chair and waking up to see the bright stars overhead and eventually the sun peaking over the mountains. It felt good reminiscing. As the evening went on we ate a nice dinner, took a walk down by the lake, and watched a Woody Allen film.

I kept thinking it had been a nearly perfect Sunday. Sometimes we think we could make something more perfect by having it tailored to exactly what we want. I felt the day would have been more perfect if I could have shared it with Her, and no doubt that would have been wonderful. But, if we could shape the world into what we want it to be, would that really achieve a greater perfection? I could also wish for a million dollars, to see my son every day, to somehow not have cheated on my wife and have it all ending in a messy divorce, or to repair the damage I’d done to all my relationships. We just have to accept the restrictions placed on us and make the most of them. Great symphonies, poetic verses, works of art are often created within a set of rules and restrictions. We live in a reality where we don’t always get our way and must extract refinement from the hand we are dealt. Despite all, the Sunday made me miss Her, a woman I’d never met, but all the same, my soul was satisfied knowing I’d done all I could for the time being. In that regard, it was a perfect Sunday.

Dreamgild

…and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

We have barred the gates, and still they come. Drums, the drums are a constant reminder of our impending doom. They’ve taken the courtyard, their black banners fly from cruel spikes atop the Towers of Dawn & Dusk, the spikes ornamented with the severed heads of the towers’ dwarven defenders, their mutilated bodies strewn across the ramparts like discarded refuse. The archers and crossbowmen in the towers hadn’t been prepared for the din, and cold, crude blades that took their lives one by one in those horrific early moments of the assault on Nåzomoltar, still when they found themselves overrun, they had fought valiantly to the last dwarf, and accepted death with the stoicism that is a credit to their race. Asmel Degelidrath had watched on in helpless horror as the goblins swarmed atop the towers, seemingly indifferent to the hail of arrows, and silenced the defenders. She had prayed desperately to Reg, the god of loyalty and oaths, but she knew Reg’s answer when her husband’s headless body was thrown down from the Tower of Dawn onto the ramparts below, she could make out his bloodstained homespun tunic beneath the leather breastplate.

The vast goblin mob just outside this bastion of rock deep in the bosom of the earth could be heard occasionally howling for blood, our blood. Asmel bandaged Iden Kissenokzam’s foot which was missing a few toes from the clash with the goblin vanguard in the side tunnel. They had just been a few diminutive whelps, fodder to weaken the dwarves’ resolve before the goblin veterans arrived to strike the finishing blow, but they’d fought with the viciousness of mindless beasts before being put down by the axes, swords, spears, and warhammers of the dwarven militia that had held their ground in a shield wall as wave after wave of screaming, gangly, grey-green bodies poured through the narrow corridor, twisted nightmarish creatures, things of bedtime stories dwarven parents tell their children, clad in armor made of bone and iron wielding swords, knives, spiked clubs, whips, and sometimes nothing but their wicked claws and sharp teeth. Three brave dwarves had fallen, and a dozen more had been wounded. There was no time to mourn the dead while the wounded had to be tended too, not that it hardly mattered, they’d all soon be joining their fallen brothers and sisters if the pounding on the makeshift barricade in the side tunnels was any indication, soon the goblins would break through and the carved mountain halls would run red with the blood of dwarves and their human and elven guests who huddled inside, a sacrifice to Armok, the god of blood who forged the world on his anvil in the time before time, before even the ages of myth and legend. Asmel almost regretted, and not for the first time, leaving The Ponderous Mine with her husband to seek their fortune at Nåzomoltar, “Dreamgild” in the common tongue, a fledgling outpost in the foothills of the Vaulted Mountains. They’d faced many hardships in the journey, and worked hard as millers for The Lustrous Key, the small company of dwarves that founded Nåzomoltar 9 years before.

“It’s too late, Asmel, our strength has been broken. Nothing can be salvaged, and we can’t flee. The main gate and the side tunnel are the only ways out of the mountain, we are trapped. I’m sorry it has come to this.” Iden’s grizzled face was grim beneath his braided beard matted with blood, he was the leader of the expedition, the mayor elect of the small dwarven settlement, this fate weighed harder on his conscience than anyone’s. “Our time in this world is dream. Ever we seek new claims in the hills and mountains, we strike the earth, we dig, and build, and practice our crafts,  we make merry and raise our families, but to what end? To what end indeed? Aye lass, it is something we dwarves never ask. When we die we sleep in the earth beneath the mountains, hopefully in cold tombs among our fellow dwarves and the wealth we’ve created in life and not skeletons strewn about our halls murdered by violence and our wealth stolen, but either way, we do not go on, we sleep forevermore. Is it all for nothing?”
Asmel tied off the bandage, looking down at the cold cavern floor as Iden spoke.
Finally, she looked up at Iden with her copper eyes and replied, “Dwarves do not ask.”

I watched grimly as the drama unfolded on the screen, having lost all hope, soon the green ‘g’ letters broke through the side tunnel barricade using the brute strength of their mountain troll and flooded into the mountain, each dwarf, human, and elf they made contact with exploded in an expanding sea of red pixels that stained the surrounding walls and floors that I had carefully carved out and designed to house the industrious inhabitants of the mountain. I watched sadly as they made their way to the hospital where Iden, Asmel, and the remaining dwarves lay hiding. Poor Asmel, she loved cows for their haunting moos, geese for their formation flying, valued family, and enjoyed a good meal of roast alpaca and fox tail millet beer; she always dreamed of creating a great work of art, but now she never would. I couldn’t bear to watch, I hit ‘Esc’ and ‘Succumb to the invasion’ and confirmed the deletion of my saved game. I leaned back in my office chair and sighed. My addiction to Dwarf Fortress (fine if you have no idea what I’m talking about) had grown in the past few months. I started a new game as soon as the old one ended in dramatic ruin (as they always did), whether from goblins, titanic beasts or horrors, starvation, flood, disease, or something I haven’t even thought of yet. I feel like each game is a learning experience, The tragedy of Dreamgild would live on in the poet’s verse and the bard’s song, and in my mind as a lesson of what not to do. I was always learning something from those simulated dwarves, sturdy creatures fond of drink and industry, listening to their thoughts, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, seeing their simulated lives play out in a simulated fantasy world, often my decisions deciding if they lived or died and achieved their life goals along the way. I know, none of it is real, they are, after all, just flashes of electricity stored on memory chips following an unpredictable algorithm even if they give the appearance of life. Is it merely a glitch that we ascribe meaning where there is none?