Monday, April 23, 2012

Breakfast at Starbucks

When I sit down to watch a movie at home, I often need to press the pause button so I can get up and fetch more coffee, another piece of candy or a new glass of wine. The moment I do, I'd notice how the mess of on screen characters suddenly freeze, struggling so hard to rush forward that they leave motion streaks across the silver screen.

*             *             *

When I don't have morning meetings, conference calls across the pond, or morning classes at it is the case more recently, I'd sometimes try and sneak away to Starbucks for a moment of stillness amidst all the commotions in my life.

Not that Starbucks doesn't have its own commotions. Far from it.   This morning, I had only a place to stand outside on the patio.  Most of the seats caught some of the morning rain, and the tables inside buzzed with discussions or meetings of one sort or another.  So I stood by the fountain they recently put up, nibbling on my chocolate croissant and stared into glasses, sidewalks and people. I felt a bit like Holly Golightly as she stared into much more expensive windows, even though nary a single pearl encircled my neck and my outfits were not nearly as black.  A slight mist settled in just as I did, along with a small crowd.

Like that pair of students, middle school or maybe younger, walking side by side sharing an ipod with one ear bud each.  They walked with the confidence and synchronization of a single spokesperson, all black outfitted with bright white wires outlining their contour and their steps.

Or that runner, pushing a baby stroller of twins.  Her babies were no more than a few months old, but she looked to be ready for her next marathon. Her friend, an office worker in a neat pinstripe shirt and gray slacks, gave her a hug and an admiring look.  Their walked in nearly one after another, but they parted soon after in opposite directions.

The white haired retiree struck up a conversation with the older couple sitting on the outdoor chaise.

"Hey did you hear about this new show they are doing in Huntington?"

His tiny black terrier sniffed the couple's pug and made nervous but cheerful circles amidst the tiny new group.

"No!  When is it going to be?  ....  You know, we did hear about this new wine tasting venue up there, it's supposed to be really neat."

Their faces lit as they talked, even under the shadow of the giant umbrellas directly overhead.  It was a typical morning in coastal San Diego, gray, misty, and cool.  The sun hid just beneath the surface of the marine layer, so you can still stand outdoors and see without squinting.

I stood there observing them, noticing how they moved with a speed of fullness and yet a stillness that left a mark for those watching.

*               *                 *

I often wondered what Holly was thinking in that opening scene of the movie, watching an empty street before Manhattan woke up and joined her in the daily rush. In a way, she was standing at the start of the movie, "play" button not yet pressed, all were hidden and the promised unfolding of a great story lying just beyond the lift of a finger tip, or two.

I supposed she might also have been thinking about other things - glamorous things and those not so much - like parties and hang overs, changes and the future, or about panics and desires, or hungers and loss. But in movies or in real life, I'm glad they left some things unsaid; so my imaginations can fill in the blanks.  I stood there, crossing the threshold of wishing and hoping, admiring at the peak of thanking and believing.

The sun finally rose, unleashing an abundance of light onto the canvas of life, illuminating both stillness and motions in me.  Dreams recede and hopes rose, along with those cool breezes in the morning mists.  In the light of the day, grayness revealed itself as a calm and pleasant background for all things vivid, lively and momentous. 

And just like that, I rushed forward again, leaving a streak of motion behind and no longer on "pause".

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Tough Boy - Lou's Story

I woke up with a jerk.  It was dark, cold and noisy. My body moved, vibrated and shook, and I couldn't stay still though I tried.  I told myself that I wouldn't get sick, that I was a tough boy, just like mom always told me.

The smell of chicken filled the train cart along with that of onion, garlic, spice and ripened fruit.  Earlier when the train stopped, everyone crowded underneath the open windows, their bodies pressed against the grimy exterior of the train and against each other.  Merchants with little more than a bicycle and a basket of food pushed things up through the window, trusting whomever catching it will render payment upon consumption.  I thought about grabbing something but I decided against it eventually.  I was practically covered with shoppers hovering and stretching over the window anyway.  So I pretended to sleep until I really did drift off under that cave of bodies.

The night air had long chased away the heat and stale air surrounding me earlier. I was so hungry my stomach felt pressed into my ribs.  I rose to sniff the air, filling my lung with the oily scent.  But it made me gag, and I shivered from the chill which made my teeth chatter.  So quickly I shrank back into a tight ball and retreated into the dark corner against the window.

I remember vaguely that I waved away aunt Lana yesterday.  She was in such a hurry, so I could barely catch a corner of her face, and a patch of her scarf, before the crowd surged into the cart like disturbed waves swallowing a tiny raft.  I didn't know her well anyway, but grandma was sick and grandpa was busy, so she got the task to see me off.  We drove for miles to get to the train station on the border of the city.  Our county was too small to have a train station.  She had errands to run, chicks to feed and pig pans to clean, so she was off as soon as I turned into the cart and gave her an over the shoulder glimpse.

I was excited to be going home, to see mom and dad.  I wasn't a fan of my annoying little sister Sophie, but I didn't mind her too much either.  I didn't mind much of anything, because I was a tough boy, just like mom always said.  When they put me on the train last year to go see grandma and learn Korean, I was happy as a clam.

What five year old boy wouldn't be excited for a chance to live in the country!  I ran with the dogs, filled up on fresh eggs every morning and enjoyed the pampering of aunts and uncles and cousins.  I didn't remember much about the train ride here,  but that just meant it must had been OK.  Maybe I was cold and hungry too, but hey it was pretty short and I got to see outside whenever the daylight came around.  I also got to see lots of people, carrying everything with them.  From roosters in a straw cage, canvas bags and cardboard boxes, to children with thin fingers and tiny wrists like mine trying to grab onto anything that kept them from flying all the way to the head of the cart.

So I feel pretty lucky and luxuries to be sitting down. Uncle Bob must have pulled some strings to get me a ticket with a seat.  I would be in Beijing in just one more day, and then mom would bring my favorite dishes to make up for the trip.  My mouth watered at the thought of mom's tasty soups.  My eyes watered too, at the thought of mom and her soft voices.

But oh, I wasn't crying.  I was a tough boy, just like mom always said.


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