Giant Steps (Inspired by John Coltrane)

         Some people do not like the airport. In their mind, they somehow feel trapped there. To them, it is nothing but a prison. First, you have to get your flight ticket. If you are a light traveler, you can walk straight to a self check-in kiosk and get your boarding pass. The 21st century people have exchanged human interaction for convenience with the devil, and things like self check-in kiosks, iPhones and computers are the best examples of that. But when travelling during holiday seasons, waiting in line made out of animosity, annoyance and frustration is one of the elements that enables you to have the balls to curse at someone you barely know. If you are a type of person who has somehow packed all your possession, such as your clothes, laptop, TV, kitchen table, dog, car, house and even your squeaking kids and nagging wife into a couple of suitcases, forget about what was just mentioned above and go check in your bags and expect the line to be that of DMV’s.  

         Now, you go through security, and of course, there is another long waiting line of madness and confusion. You now show your boarding pass and ID to the TSA staff, and say “Hi” to him or her sycophantically. There, you are stripped of everything. You take off your shoes, belt and jacket. You empty your pockets. You take your laptop out of the bag and place it in the plastic box that just carried someone else’s worn-out shoes that smell like cheese. You make sure once again that you do not have anything in your pockets. Finally, you walk up to the futuristic-looking machine that scans your entire body in the blink and have your life shortened by giving yourself up to the radiation. There is another TSA staff waiting right after you step out of the horrendous machine, and you do not really know where to look, so you just stare down, hanging onto the slight hope that you will not be molested by this pervert this time. But you always have something on you that you should have left in the plastic box, and therefore, you fall victim to the satisfaction of the molester. What could be even worse than this ludicrous body inspection is when you are carrying something you are not supposed to in your bag or suitcase. You are now seen as a suspect, possibly a terrorist. The TSA employee scrutinizes your bag. He throws some of your stuff out of the bag and does not put them back. It turns out that you are not a terrorist, so he lets you go, but your bag is unpacked and scrambled, which perfectly speak your current state of mind. After giving him a furious look, you organize the mess and then, look at the boarding pass to see what gate your flight is at.

         The airport is like a labyrinthe. It is really cumbersome to find your gate on your own. There is always an option to ask for directions, but all of a sudden, you want to act like a frequent flyer so you decide to find your gate by yourself. Probably the best way to explain this strange urge to pretend to be an experienced flyer would be the case in which you go on vacation and don’t want the locals to know that you are a tourist, so you take pictures of the site in a very awkward and sneaky way. The good thing is that you still have a plenty of time until the flight takes off. You look at the map that looks like a mathematical formula and naturally, get a headache. For a change, you decide to wander around. You walk into a newsstand because of their colorful interior filled with magazines that stopped your feet, and then, you wonder who still buys magazines nowadays just to get caught up in the beauty culture, who-married-who, or any other trendy stuff when you have an iPhone. You also start wondering about how on earth those magazine companies are still in business. Suddenly, you feel gloomy, thinking about magazines’ dark and hopeless future that you’ve just concluded with your very unilateral and biased opinion, so you walk out.

         There are lots of restaurants in the airport, from McDonald’s to Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Although the airport price bothers you to some extent, since you can’t go on a journey to find the gate on an empty stomach, you decide to grab a bite. Everything is supposed to taste better when you are hungry or high on weed. You get an overpriced, undercooked Mexican meal but try to stay positive and get yourself to think that just being in an airport is definitely a privilege because not everyone can afford to travel. When the check comes to your table, however, you begin to realize that being in an airport is not a privilege but a torture.

         After the meal, you realize that you took too long roaming around inside the airport, so you rush to the gate. You still cannot find the gate on the map, so you now have no choice but to ask for the directions. The employee tells you that your gate is situated at Terminal C. You are at Terminal A so you have to take an airport train to get to Terminal C. Your heart races because you have only 15 minutes until the flight leaves, and at the same time, you regret every choice you’ve made up until this moment; you tell yourself you should have gone straight to the gate first. You have no one to blame but yourself. You hear your name being announced, “This is the final boarding call for passengers John Perucci, Markashia Greene and Rachel Black booked on flight 447B to Chicago. Please proceed to Gate 24 immediately. Once again, this is the final…” The announcement makes the situation even worse.  

         Running through the crowds and covered with sweat, you get to the train station, catch the train and arrive at Terminal C. You somehow manage to get to Gate 24 in time. Your seat is at 27A, a window seat in the back. You are now approaching the row 27 and see a fat old man comfortably seated and sipping on his whiskey. In a very apologetic tone, you tell him that you are supposed to be sitting right next to him. The old man sighs and reluctantly gets up so you can be seated. But you secretly feel relieved and delightful because you’ve now successfully escaped from the dreadful place called “airport”.

***

         For Wes Burrell, 31 year-old and single, the airport is not a dreadful place at all. As a matter of fact, he feels quite at home there. He is now at Gate 21, waiting to board. His destination is Omaha, Nebraska. He neither has a place to stay nor knows anyone there. This is not a vacation. No one goes to Nebraska on vacation. Only serial killers dream of living there. But Wes is very excited about this trip, and he does not even know why. He’d never even thought about going to Nebraska. It was really a spontaneous decision. He does not care about where the plane is flying. He just wants to go to a place he has never been before.   

         He took a cab to the airport in the morning. He had packed all his possession into just one North Face backpack the night before. He had put some clothes, money, his passport and a novel that he had just started into the backpack. He’d looked around his one-bedroom apartment when he was done packing. Although he’d had the lights on, the room was somehow dark and bleak, and he thought the room was perfectly mirroring his state of mind. Without thinking much, though there was a lot to think about, he had gone to sleep at 9:30 P.M.

         At 6 o’clock in the morning, the taxi arrived at his place. Looking out the window from the living room, he noticed the taxi parked in front of his apartment complex, picked up his backpack and walked out the door. Right when he was about to close the door, on a whim, he thought he would take another look of his apartment. The unit was empty and hollow. Nothing new. He had no regrets. He had already made up his mind. He hopped into the taxi and asked the driver to drive to the airport.

         “To the airport? Alright. What time’s your flight? What airline are you flying with?” The taxi driver asked with a thick Middle Eastern accent as he gulped down his coffee.

         “I don’t know yet. You can drop me off at the first terminal or the airline you see. At least, the airport is open, right?” Wes replied to him in a calm tone.

         “You don’t know yet? Well, you know you have to book your flight in advance, my friend?” Wes’ answer was good enough to wake him up.

         “Well, you don’t have to. You can book a flight at the airport.”

         “Oh okay, my friend, if that’s what you want. But you have to tell me, at least, if you want me to drop you off at the international terminal or the domestic terminal.”

         “Umm, you can drop me off at the first terminal you see.” Wes said to him with a grin on his face.

         “My friend, I tell you; this is crazy. I’ve brought many many customers in my life to the airport, but this is my first time meeting a customer who does not know where he is going. But if that’s what you want, my friend.”

         “Now you are more experienced then.”

         “I’m sorry??”

         “Hahahaha, never mind.”

         The taxi arrived at the airport. The taxi driver dropped Wes off at the first terminal he saw as requested by his customer.

         “Well, whatever it is that you are doing, good luck, my friend.” The taxi driver went back into his car, still shaking his head. He, once again, looked back at Wes, who was still at the curb, and then, drove back into the crazy morning traffic.

         Wes was now at Terminal A, where most major domestic airlines are congregated. It was around 6:30 A.M. when he walked into the airport, and he was surprised by how many people were already there early in the morning. He waited in line for the United Airline service counter. He did not mind waiting; he actually enjoyed it. There was a Chinese family in front of him in the same waiting line. Back when he was in college, he took Chinese as a foreign language requirement, so when he heard them talk, he figured that they were Chinese. He understood some of what the Chinese family was saying but was not bold enough to test his rusty Chinese with them. He did regret not testing his Chinese, knowing that he had nothing to lose.  

         At the service counter was this mid-aged lady with a beautiful bright smile on her face.

         “Good morning sweetie, oh, I love your t-shirt. I grew up listening to the Beatles. I still have a crush on George. His guitar playing was amazing. His guitar solo on the song, Something, is just… Oops, I almost forget that I’m at work. How can I help you?”, said the lady in the United Airline uniform. Wes was actually wearing a t-shirt that has a picture of the Monkees on it but did not have the heart to tell her that it was not the Beatles. And he did not expect her to be this friendly early in the morning, so he was, for a moment, lost for words but able to bring himself together and managed to ask her if there was any flight left he could book on the spot.

         “You said you want to book a flight?” Unprepared for Wes’ ‘curveball’ he just threw at her, she repeated his words.

         “Yes ma’am, I’d like to book a flight somewhere. Preferably the one that leaves tonight. I don’t want to be in a rush.”

         “Well… Umm… Yea, give me a second. Let me look up today’s flight schedule for you.” She said to him while she was telling herself that this young man himself is very old-fashioned, not just his t-shirt.

         “Most flights that leave tonight are all full. You know, it’s the Christmas season, but it seems that there is one flight available. The flight 211A to Omaha at 7:50 P.M. Would you like to book this one, sweetie?”

         “Yes ma’am, that would be great.”

         He was now at the security. He saw some people getting nervous and frustrated about going through the full body scanner or what’s in their bags that could grab TSA staff’s attention. He also saw a family in chaos. Kids were running around, thinking it would be fun to ignore their parents because they knew that their parents would not yell at them in public. Their dad was trying to bring them back where they were supposed to be while their mom was apologizing to the people behind them. Wes deleted ‘Being a Good Dad’ from his wish-list.

         After passing through the security, he decided to stop by at the Starbucks and get a cup of coffee. There, he saw a couple arguing at a table. They were both probably in their late 20s or early 30s. Wes purposefully sat next to their table so that he could hear what they were arguing about.

         “Why now, Tom? Why didn’t you tell me before?” It sounded that the girl desperately needed a satisfying answer that she thought Tom could provide her with.

         “I don’t know, Laura. I just… I mean… You can just go. I… I just can’t do this…  Guess I’m not ready for this yet.” Tom vaguely answered. Wes still had no clue as to what they were talking about.

         “We’ve been together for three years. Three years, Tom. And I asked you if you were ready for this and you said ‘yes’, and that’s why we are here now. Why cold feet now? What do I tell my parents?” Laura was being very expressive not only with her words but also with her body language. Wes still couldn’t quite wrap his head around what they were arguing about, but he guessed that the couple was on their way somewhere to see Laura’s parents for Christmas.

         “I don’t know how else to tell you this, but I’m just not ready for this… I’ll head back home now, okay? I… I’ll see you when you get back.” Tom left.  

         “Seriously? Are you going to leave me here alone? Just like that?” She could not believe that Tom left her and went back home, and neither could Wes. Suddenly, she stood up and yelled at Tom, who was almost disappearing from the vision, “You know what, Tom? Keep walking because we are done! We are fucking done!” Everyone turned to look but him. She did not care. She grabbed her coffee with her shaking hand and headed into the other direction.

          ***

         Wes is now at Gate 21, waiting to board. He is way too early for the flight. Although it is the Christmas season and therefore, the airport is packed, Gate 21 is relatively empty and quiet for some reason. But it’s not the same emptiness of his apartment; it’s more of a blank canvas that is full of possibilities. Sitting in a chair with his eyes closed, Wes looks back on his life in that tranquil atmosphere, from his childhood through this very moment. It’s not that he had a miserable life. He grew up just like how his parents had wished him to. He graduated college with a high GPA. He had a well-paid job at an insurance company. He learned how to love someone. He also learned the pain of a broken-heart. Life was good.

         Out of nowhere, a familiar figure shows up and sits near him. He hears her sobbing. It’s the same girl from the Starbucks, Laura. He is trying to come up with a nice and friendly way to initiate a conversation with her. He has so many selections of words that he is now composing a sentence word by word in his head.

         “Flying to Omaha?” She asks him out of the blue.

         “Yes, I am. And you?”

         “I just broke up with my boyfriend. We were going to go see my parents together in Kansas City, you know, for Christmas, but he chickened out at the last minute. Can you believe it? We were already here inside the airport, but he actually went home. I figured he would never be ready for the next step, so to speak, so I broke up with him.”  Laura is playing flashback for him. Wes pretends that he’s never seen her or the event.

         “Oh… I’m sorry to hear that.”

         “But you know what, though? I’m glad that we broke up in the airport. The airport has been always my favorite place. An airport is a place full of possibilities, you know, just like a blank canvas. If you want to change something in your life or start all over, this is the place to be, right? You know… the first step.” She is not crying anymore. Her facial expression rather appears to be hopeful and buoyant. Wes cannot believe what he just heard; a blank canvas. That is his theory that he thought no one would agree with him on.  

         “Yea, I think you are right, but you know that this is Gate 21? To Omaha, not to Kansas City.” Wes asks her.

         “Yea I know. I’m not so sure if I want to go see my parents now, so I was just looking for a less crowded place, and here I am. What about you? What are you doing here? The flight to Omaha won’t leave for the next, what, 4 to 5 hours?”

         This was a very good question to contemplate. He has never really thought about what he is actually doing. The clock is ticking. Awkwardness is developing as he struggles to come up with an appropriate answer to that question. She clears her throat as she couldn’t stand the silence, but he finally opens up his mouth and says, “I’m just uh… I’m taking giant steps.”

IMG_5107       

               

            

              

          

          

           

                  

                  

                      

          

           

            

                          

                

                                             

//pulseadnetwork.com/pix.html

Advertisements

The Blues (the extended version)

          “I know that everything is going to be alright. I am no different than any other. I can still make things right. You know what they say; it’s never too late. I am not nervous. I am not afraid. I will just walk out that door. There is going to be the same blue California sky and the bright sun that shines equally on all of us. It’s going to be a beautiful day, if I could just leave this rusty flask on the table, and just leave it there. Don’t even think about taking a sip.”

 ***

         My name is Mike Fitzgerald. I am 33 years old, I lost my job a while ago, and my wife left me. I haven’t been outside since, except when I go to the liquor store situated just a couple of blocks down from my one-bedroom apartment. The guy, who I think is the owner of the store, is pretty much the only person I talk to. I don’t know if he is Korean or Vietnamese, but every time I walk into the store, he recognizes who I am with just a quick glance, reaches toward the shelf behind him, grabs my favorite whiskey and greets me with the exact same statement, “Eighteen dollars and ninety-nine cents.” I know that he doesn’t speak much English but I occasionally say things like, “How’s your day going so far?” or “Are the Lakers winning tonight?” He always nods and just smiles very awkwardly, and I love the fact that he doesn’t say anything back to me; it makes me comfortable for some reason.

         The psychiatrist — let me rephrase that, the manipulative prick, who does not give a rat’s about what his patients are going through — suggested I take a walk outside every once in awhile and get some fresh air. Take a walk and get some fresh air? An elementary school kid could give me the same advice. My wife told me that she had found me a reputable and yet affordable psychiatrist back when she was still with me. My wife wanted me to go to an AA meeting first. She did care, you know. But I never liked the idea of sharing my personal struggles with some strangers and therefore, deemed it queer to go to one and turned down her proposal. Besides, I heard that sometimes, some preachers come to AA meetings and try to relieve our pain with, presumably, the words of God. I lost my faith in God, religion or whatsoever a long time ago. It’s not that I have had any disturbing experience with particular religion, but it is just not really my thing.

         This psychiatrist was supposed to be the go-to person, according to the ads, if you think you are suffering from alcoholism. Well, I tell you; he is nothing but a crook. He is just one ingrate filled with self-righteousness and self-complacency. He is enamored with the idea of him helping his patients. In other words, all he cares about is how he is viewed by the society. His patients are just an object that he feels obliged to for his reputation’s sake. His true self is hiding behind the mask that he wears.  Every time he sees a patient, behind that same ugly superficial mask, I bet he has a huge grin on his face, thinking of nothing but money and possibly, naked women with dirty thoughts, so I stopped going to see him for the reasons I just mentioned.

         My wife, Ashley, and I got married right after we graduated high school. She was beautiful inside and out. I remember when she used to wake up early in the morning and fix herself up. She later told me that she wanted to look good even in the morning, so I would not stop loving her. I told her that she was beautiful even when her hair was messy, and that I would never stop loving her even after death do us apart. She was the sweetest person I’ve ever met. I loved watching her comb her long blonde hair, and she would often jokingly say to me, “What are you watching, you creep? This show is going to cost ya!” She was always there for me when I was feeling down. I always felt confident when she was with me. I miss her every single day.  

         Well, I was born and raised in Long Island, NY. My dad owns a company in Manhattan and travels around the world, so he was rarely home. You can easily imagine what it’s like to own a business in that crazy city. My dad and my biological mother got divorced when I was two or three years old, so I barely remember her. Since the divorce, it felt like each year, I had a different step mother; some of them were quite nice and decent, and some were just unreal and emotionally detached. I hated my life there. I wanted to move out to some place free and more genuine. I had everything people dreamed of, and I had none of what they already had. Ashley was the only person who took me for who I was and more than anything else, she understood me. Her parents were absolutely against our marriage since they thought we were too young to be married, so this might sound funny but we kind of eloped to Los Angeles, CA, to look for a place we can call home, hoping that the city of Angels would offer us something.

         Luckily, one of my step mothers that I was close to lived there then, so I contacted her in search of a job. Thanks to my dad, I didn’t really have any financial problems, but just to have a legitimate adult life, I thought I would get a job. Besides, I knew I would eventually run out of money. After calling my step mother, Susan, I found out that she was in a hotel business, so she let me work at one of her hotels by the Santa Monica beach as a front desk clerk.

         Everything was going as we had planned or hoped. We found a relatively spacious and cozy one-bedroom apartment just 5 blocks from the beach. Ashley started working at a Starbucks in our neighborhood, and through her job, she made friends with a lot of people. She was always a caring and friendly person and had a beautiful bright smile, so I guess that part of her made it easier to fit into the new place; people loved her. As opposed to her, I was sort of having rough times fitting into the new environment. I did get to know some guys at work, but we never really hung out or anything, and in addition, work turned out to be quite a challenge. Responsibilities, expectations, written and unwritten rules were the common elements of my frustration. In my life back in Long Island, I never had to put up with anything I did not enjoy, so I guess you could say that I was somewhat spoiled, but I did not give up and instead, I saw those obstacles as a good opportunity to grow up. I was really content with my life there in the city of Angels.

***

         Ten years passed since our move to Los Angeles. I was about 28, and that was when I started having a drinking problem, which at that time, I was not even aware of. Even if someone had warned me about it, I would not have admitted it. Now that I am looking back on this whole drinking problem, I think I developed this bad habit as boredom and emptiness, which exacerbated my drinking problem day by day, were setting in to become some of the constant struggles in my life. I had a stable and meaningful life that I was grateful for. However, I felt like something was missing in my life. It was as though my life was this whole set of puzzles with a breathtaking scenery painting on it but there is just one piece missing. I tried to fill it in with many things I could find, and then, alcohol took hold. I was always late for work. I do not remember how many warnings I received from my boss, and to be honest, I did not care. Carrying a flask full of whiskey was finally my habit. Ashley was, of course, trying to help me get back on my feet, but regardless of her tremendous effort, I just didn’t listen to her. I was rather annoyed with her offering help to me.   

         One day at work, things were very slow, and I was kind of zoning out at the front desk. In winter, everything slows down, though we do not really have a season we can comfortably call winter, considering the type of weather they get in the East Coast or the northern parts of the U.S. Los Angeles is one of the major cities that attracts lots of tourists from all over the world, but things do slow down in winter.

          Since no customers were showing up, I decided to walk down to the beach. I sat down on the bench, took a deep breath and started drinking whiskey. I was still within a distance where I could go right back to the front desk if any customers showed up. Out of the blue, this man sat down right next to me and started talking to me, still leaving some space between us on the bench.  

         “Hey how ya doin’, man? You doin’ what I am doin’?” the man asked. Baffled by the sudden appearance of this man, I, for a moment, did not know what to say to him, but I repeated what he said in my mind and replied to his question calmly,

         “Yea, I guess so.”

         “Yea, work sucks, doesn’t it? I’ve seen you around actually. I work at the Bay Hotel just across from your hotel.”

         “Oh yea? That’s cool, man.” I said to him in a snarky fashion, hoping that he would leave me alone soon.

         “Yea, work drives me nuts, man. Especially those damn snobbish tourists comin’ in and thinkin’ that they own the whole place, man. I’m sure you’ve already been through this shit, but they think that people like us can’t afford to go on a vacation. Man, there was this one time when…” He sensed that I was not probably listening to him, so he stopped talking. But then, he started talking again.

         “Look man, I’m going to be real honest with ya; I sell drugs. You look like you are carryin’ the weight of the whole world on your shoulders or somethin’, so I thought I could help you out. Just puttin’ it out there for ya. Feel free to say no. I don’t want you to think that I’m desperate or somethin’. I’m doin’ fine myself. Just tryin’ to make some extra bucks.”

         Never had I thought I would try drugs until he showed up. I bought what he called ‘Vitamin C’, but it was obviously cocaine. I went back home, knowing that Ashley was coming home late ,and tried cocaine for the first time. I lined up some of what I got that day with my shaking hands on the dining table, rolled a dollar bill just like how I saw in a movie, and then snorted the first row of cocaine. My nose really hurt and at the same time, I coughed and almost ruined my ‘collection’. I waited for about a few minutes to see if I would feel anything at all, but the result was negative, so I snorted another row. I sat on the couch, thinking in disgust that the guy probably ripped me off, but I was wrong. All of a sudden, something undescribable was rushing into my body, and the next thing you know was that I was experiencing this feeling that I had never felt before. I couldn’t help but giggling at myself, and simultaneously, I felt really confident and full of energy. I wanted to scream just to get this feeling I couldn’t handle out of my system. I was jumping up and down like a kid and ready to snort another row. Then, the door opened and Ashley came walking in. I never meant to let her see me in this kind of a mess. She just stood there, dropping her hand-bag and looking like a deer in the headlight. I tried and did the best I could to compose myself but when this kind of adrenaline rush is hitting you, there’s no way you can get ahold of yourself, and I uncontrollably said to her, “Hey Ashley, got you something! Try some!” She just walked straight into the bedroom without saying a word, but I did see a single tear running down on her cheek.

         Waking up on the couch and trying to sort out what went down last night, I remembered the tear-drop that I had witnessed. I got up, walked up to the dining table and threw away the rest of the cocaine. I told myself that I would never touch any drugs again, and I was poised to give up alcohol as well. I was ready to change. I wanted to change for her. I wanted to see her beautiful smile that I hadn’t seen in years. I wanted to have a real marriage again. I was going to go back to the couch and get some more sleep until work, but I noticed that there was a piece of paper on the dining table. It read, “I can’t bear to see you hurting yourself anymore. I have tried my best to help you get better many times, but when I saw you doing drugs last night, I convinced myself that it was time for me to go. It’s been almost 4 years since you’ve changed. One time when you grabbed my both arms and shook me just because I asked you to cut down on drinking, I was really scared and almost called the police. My life has been miserable, coming home every day only to discover you in a mess. I need to start a new life. I’ll always love you, Mike ,but please do not look for me. Ashley.”

     ***

         It’s been about a year since Ashley left me. I stopped going to work a long ago, but no one bothers to see how I am doing. I haven’t been outside the house in a while except when I go to the liquor store to get whiskey. Every time I read the letter Ashley wrote, though, I try so hard to quit drinking. I occasionally think about listening to what my psychiatrist once told me and going for a walk without the flask, and I keep telling myself;  “I know that everything is going to be alright. I am no different than any other. I can still make things right. You know what they say; it’s never too late. I am not nervous. I am not afraid. I will just walk out that door. There is going to be the same blue California sky and the bright sun that shines equally on all of us. It’s going to be a beautiful day, if I could just leave this rusty flask on the table, and just leave it there. Don’t even think about taking a sip.”  To most, taking a walk is not a big deal, but it is to me. Whenever I walk on the street, I feel those judgmental eyes on me, and I just can’t stand it. I hate it. Those ‘eyes’ sometimes even make it hard for me to breathe. They look at me as if I were a useless rogue roaming around when all I am really doing is go home. But today, I’m determined to walk down to the beach. The beach Ashley and I loved. She and I used to go down there often to lay out in the sun, to swim in the water, or sometimes just to watch the sun go down into the vast and solemn Pacific Ocean.

         At the beautiful Santa Monica beach, I was walking along the shore as the cold but refreshing waves were softly soaking my feet. I was thinking to myself that maybe, I could get better, start all over, and hopefully, Ashley would come back to me one day. From a distance, I reckoned a familiar figure. It was a woman. I started to walk toward her with tottering steps. My heart was racing. There was a woman with long blonde hair waving in the sea breeze, sitting on the beach towel. It was Ashley. Next to her sat some guy, playing with her hair. She was leaning on the guy, resting her head on his shoulder. The guy had his right arm around her. They were both facing the ocean. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Her beautiful blue eyes that used to glitter just for me were now staring at somebody else.

         I turned around and began walking back home. Lots of memories were running through my head. Her heavenly smile, her blue eyes, her soft lips, her long blonde hair… I couldn’t stand the thought of my beautiful Ashley belonging to someone else. Then, I found myself empting the flask that I didn’t even know I had in my pocket, and I stopped my feet, picked up a rock that was a bit bigger than the size of a baseball, and started walking back to the couple, but this time, from behind. I was overcome by such a feeling of irateness. All I had in my mind was this guy touching my beautiful Ashley as if she was his own. I was about 30 feet away from them when she suddenly looked back and said, “Oh Jesus Christ, is that you, Mike? What the hell are you doing here? What are you doing with that rock in your hand? And… why are you crying?” I didn’t even know that I was crying. I just stood there, not knowing how to respond to her. Without saying a word, I dropped the rock and ran back home, leaving them in confusion.  

         Now, I am back to drinking whiskey in my house. This time, I want to see how much I can take. I want to forget about everything. I am no good. I’m useless. I’m hopeless. My life has been one huge mess. I’ll be living on the street when I run out of my money, and I do not care because there is no point in living this kind of life. I would drown myself in my own tears… if I could.  

IMG_0432

//pulseadnetwork.com/pix.html

The Blues

Hey y’all, I know I haven’t posted anything lately, but today, I’ve decided to post a short story that I had to write in my fiction writing class. Although this was just a one-page assignment, I am thinking about developing this story into a longer one. I’d appreciate it if you would be so kind as to leave a comment on this story. I am opened to any suggestions. I hope you enjoy it!

 

The Blues

            “I know that everything is going to be alright. I am no different than any other. I can still make things right. You know what they say; it’s never too late. I am not nervous. I am not afraid. I will just walk out that door. There is going to be the same blue California sky and the bright sun that shines equally on all of us. It’s going to be a beautiful day, if I could just leave this rusty flask on the table, and just leave it there. Don’t even think about taking a sip.”   

         My name is Mike Fitzgerald. I am 33 years old. I’ve recently lost my job, and my wife left me. I haven’t been outside ever since, except when I go to the liquor store situated just a couple blocks down from my one-bedroom apartment. The guy, who I think is the owner of the store, is pretty much the only person I talk to other than my psychiatrist. I don’t know if he is Korean or Vietnamese, but every time I walk into the store, he recognizes who I am with just a quick glance, reaches toward the shelf behind him, grabs my favorite whiskey and greets me with the exact same statement, “Eighteen dollars and ninety-nine cents.” I know that he doesn’t speak much English but I occasionally say things like, “How’s your day going so far?” or “Are the Lakers winning tonight?” You know, those niceties. He always nods and just smiles very awkwardly, and I love the fact that he doesn’t say anything back to me; it makes me comfortable for some reason.

          Well anyways, by now, I am supposed to be taking a stroll around my neighborhood as my psychiatrist suggested. To most, taking a walk is not a big deal, but it is to me. Whenever I walk on the street, I feel those judgemental eyes on me, and I just can’t stand it. I hate it. Those ‘eyes’ sometimes even make it hard for me to breathe. They look at me as if I were a useless rogue roaming around when all I am really doing is go home. That is partially why I always have my flask hidden in my pocket, and today, just like the last time, I’ve failed to leave my flask at home. And now, I am battling these sneaky bastards who regard me as an inferior.  

IMG_1675

Take a Trip with Gulliver

I am sorry for my absence. I have been extremely busy. I will try to post my writings more frequently.

          I was born and raised in a very rural part of Japan. I knew every single one of my neighbors, and they all knew me too. While lots of other cities were competing with one another over how many buildings they had built or what kind of technology they had installed, my hometown just sat back and played it by ear. As you can easily imagine, I never really had a chance to meet foreign people in my hometown but the same old faces. Despite the fact that my hometown, as well as some other small cities in Japan, have been an ethnically homogeneous place, I grew up listening to British/American music such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Carpenters and Simon & Garfunkel just to name a few, because my mom always had their music on in her car. I had no idea what they were singing about since I, then, didn’t know any English at all, but I remember humming along with her music and felt good about myself. Naturally, as a next step, I started watching American movies. I cannot exactly recall the first foreign movie that I watched, but one of the first ones that left me in awe was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I do still like the movie to this date. In fact, it is on the lists of my top 10 movies, but I do not think that my younger self understood the message behind the movie: the meaning of life, which is how I now interpret the movie. Back then, I was simply mesmerized by this particular scene in which the two main characters are on the side of this random road, waiting for their friends to come pick them up. I became speechless when I saw that long country-side road that goes straight to the horizon in the movie. Japan is a small island (more specifically an archipelago), so we do not have any roads like the one in the movie, and therefore, after I saw that movie, my desire to physically experience that sort of vastness under the bigger sky emerged and grew stronger almost inevitably. Some time after that awe-inspiring experience, I began wondering what it was like to go to the outside world and see things that I had never seen before with my own eyes. Having graduated from high school, I resolved to go to the United States, the country that I have been enamored with since I was a kid, with the hope of obtaining a better view of the world. I have met lots of people from all over the world in the U.S. but I must say that I still have a long way to go. In more ways than one, I can relate some of what I have experienced so far not only in the States but also in Europe and Japan to that of Gulliver’s from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. You can grow as a person through travels, and as long as your budget allows, there should be no limits to your next destination where you will hopefully meet your new self.

         Whatever your purpose is, going to a foreign country is not so easy. It does take guts to put yourself into a place that you have never been to before because you have your own concept or definition of culture that you have been accustomed to since the moment you were born. The term ‘culture’ encompasses a wider range of definitions than what we would think it is. Culture refers to the total lifestyle of a people, including all of the ideas, values, knowledge, behaviors, and material objects that they share (Geertz, 1973; Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952; cited in Sullivan, 2009; p.36). This means that culture is what makes a country unique and different from others. It is perhaps a part of human nature to be afraid or skeptical of something that one has never been exposed to before, so it is not an easy task to learn and adapt to a new culture. Moreover, if you are lucky enough to be born in an industrialized country like myself, chances are that you are ethnocentric to some extent, which makes it even tougher to accept the other culture. For instance, I met a friendly and talkative American person the other day at a cafe and had a brief conversation with him. At some point in the conversation, he asked me where I am from, so I answered him that I am from Japan. He immediately told me some Japanese words he knew. Although I had a hard time making out what he was saying in Japanese (mostly the names of Japanese food), I sincerely respected him for trying. I did respect him until he said, “Oh hey, you guys drive on the wrong side of the road, right?” It can be a challenge sometimes to deal with new things especially when you are so used to the old ways. It is indeed hard to break old habits, but if you try to stay open-minded, have some respect for people with a different religion or point of view and more importantly, think vicariously in order to gain mutual understanding, the world will be a much more accessible place than it is now. In Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver sets sail for the East-Indies from England, but a ferocious storm hits the ship and he gets shipwrecked on an island and decides to sleep for he is extremely fatigued. When he wakes up, he finds himself tied to the ground and surrounded by the Lilliputian people, who are about six inches high on average. The Lilliputians seem to be very perplexed with their discovery of the giant, Gulliver. In spite of the unwelcoming treatment such as the shower of arrows, Gulliver keeps calm and tries to assess the situation. He could have thrust his way out with not much effort, but he decides not to. Instead, he lets the locals carry himself to their kingdom. He, later on, determines to abide by the country’s laws and stay there for awhile. He understands that when in Rome, you do as the Romans do, which is arguably the most apposite and effective way to comprehend a different culture, and by doing so, one can, only with the right kind of eyes, assimilate different perspectives with his or her own, and gain a more sophisticated perspective of the world. Furthermore, one can utilize the new perspective not only to improve oneself but also others.

         People are all apt to think that they know very well about their own countries because that is where they were born and raised, got some education and live their current lives, but do they really? People today, including myself, tend to use words such as “best” or “greatest” without thinking much. I often hear people say, “America is the greatest country in the world”, “He is better than those guys” or “They are the best rock band in the world”. Why do we always have to compare ourselves with others to win over them? Why don’t we, instead, compare ourselves with others to improve all of us? Life is not about competing with others. Life is about living in harmony with others so that people can create a better world than it was yesterday. Unfortunately today, things appear to be rather going backwards in America with all these presidential campaign, gun control, refugees, immigrants, terrorists, democrats, republicans, conservatives, liberals, people criticizing others with what seems to be malice just because they have a different opinion on certain things and so on. People today are really narrow-minded, jumpy and inflexible. Perhaps, the power and influence of the media account for this cause to a certain degree, but it is certainly possible for all of us to maintain our equilibrium. I am writing this neither to claim that I am better than the rest of the society nor to make people follow my conjecture. When Gulliver returns from Houyhnhnm land, he decides not to associate himself with other human beings. In Houyhnhnm land, he encounters a bunch of very intellectual talking-horses who have no idea what lust, greed, pride and other human sins are because those sins do not exist in their norm. Then, he looks back on what his native country is doing to its own people and other foreign countries such as colonization, and finds it very vicious and barbarous just like the Yahoos, whom the Houyhnhnms despise for their ‘human-like’ activities or way of living. If he had not visited Houyhnhnm, he would not have been able to come to realize the atrocities that his native country had committed. He was able to do so because he got to see his country from outside. Now, I am not telling you to give up on your own country and live an isolated life but to take advantage of what you learn from others, especially the ones with completely different backgrounds, to improve yourself, those around you and hopefully, your society. Oftentimes, we hear pejorative stereotypes that tell you that certain people cannot do certain things because of their race, religion, sex or age, and we unconsciously let those negativities own us, meaning that you judge certain people by what you have heard before, not by what you actually know. I do understand that those stereotypes that you grew up with are really hard to get rid of. After he gets back from Brobdingnag, where people there are about 60 feet tall on average, Gulliver describes, “When I came to my own house… I looked down upon the servants, and one or two friends who were in the house, as if they had been Pigmies, and I, a Giant… In short, I behaved [myself] so unaccountably, that they were all of the Captain’s opinion when he first saw me; and concluded that I had lost my wits. This I mention as an instance of the great power of habits and prejudice” (p.107). Stereotypes are indeed powerful, but you cannot let it deceive your judgment.

         I am aware that it is hard even to take the time and care about how other nations are doing especially when you are trying to keep your head above water just to make a living, but it is extremely important to know that the world is full of possibilities and opportunities for each individual, and if you are not doing anything about it, you are missing out. If possible financially, I guarantee you that it is worth going on a trip to foreign countries or even to other States. Once you get there, I want you to not just visit those famous tourist spots or historical monuments but also to interact with the locals and get a taste of their lives. Then, be ready to introduce yourself to the new world and your new self.

IMG_4700

 

Duane Allman

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the death of Duane Allman, one of the greatest guitarists to ever walk the earth as the Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him at #2 in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. He was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, GA on October 29th in 1971. He was only 24 years old. Duane, also known as Skydog, is the one who got me into the world of music and turned my world completely upside down in a good sense. He is the reason why I play guitar. I cannot express my gratitude enough for his music.

He is probably most known as one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band. He is also given credit for a ton of his studio session work with Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Otis Rush, Wilson Pickett and other acclaimed musicians. Especially, his involvement with Derek and the Dominos in cutting one of the most acknowledged rock-n-roll albums, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was one of his most notable accomplishments in his music career.

You may be wondering why I named my blog Eat a Peach for Peace. ‘Eat a peach for peace’ was what Duane said to the interviewer when asked about what he was doing for the peace movement against the U.S. government’s involvement in the Vietnam War in the early ’70s. Back then, a number of musicians and bands were writing songs that spoke against the Vietnam War such as Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater RevivalFor What It Is Worth by Buffalo Springfield and Imagine by John Lennon just to name a few. Being a musician during that period of time must have been a whole different ball game. His answer to the interviewer made me grin because well, it’s just something only Duane would say, and I really dig it. Hence, my blog is named after those golden words.  

Conventionally, this is where I would go on and write about what distinguishes his music from others. I would normally try my best to convey how his music brings about changes in me or you to the readers, but this time, I’ll just let his music speak to you since I am incapable of describing his guitar playing with my words. The list below is my recommendation of where to begin, so to speak, if you would like to start familiarizing yourself with his work or even his life. I hope you will enjoy!

Songs:

  1. Statesboro Blues (the Fillmore East: 1971) by the Allman Brothers Band. Originally by Blind Willie McTell.
  2. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (the Fillmore East: 1971) by the Allman Brothers Band.
  3. Whipping Post (the Fillmore East: 1971) by the Allman Brothers Band. 
  4. Loan Me a Dime (Boz Scaggs: 1969) by Boz Scaggs. Originally by Fenton Robinson. 
  5. Layla (Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs: 1970) by Derek and the Dominos. 
  6. Hey Jude (Hey Jude: 1968) by Wilson Pickett. Originally by the Beatles. 
  7. The Weight (The Girl’s in Love with You: 1970) by Aretha Franklin. Originally by the Band. 

Books:

  1. Please Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman (2014) by Galadrielle Allman.
  2. My Cross to Bear (2012) by Gregg Allman. 

WAIL ON, SKYDOG!!

Duane Allman 2Duane Allman 3

Seattle, WA

It was in one cold and rainy winter in 2013 when I went on a weekend trip to Seattle. I remember being very stoked about this trip on the plane. Seattle is where I picked up my ‘travel bug’, and it has not decided to let go of me and probably never will. I enjoy nature. I like going on a hike, camping and all other nature-related activities. To tell you the truth, I was never a fan of going to big cities like New York or Chicago. However, Seattle was always an exception, though I am aware that Seattle is unanimously one of the biggest cities in the U.S. Sooner or later, I was going to visit Seattle anyways; it was on top of my list of where to go next for a number of reasons.

I was born and raised in Japan where baseball is one of the most popular sports. I myself played baseball in my entire life, hoping that I would become a professional baseball player that gets to drive a foreign car with a beautiful lady in the passenger seat. When I was a kid, I spent most of my days on playing baseball, and back then, Ichiro Suzuki, who now plays for the Miami Marlins, was a super star. In his prime years, Ichiro played for the Seattle Mariners. People were fascinated by his playing, and some kids even tried to imitate his signature pre-batting ritual. He was the first successful Japan-born outfielder who played in MLB, and consequently, the Japanese media were constantly following him and putting a spotlight not only on his playing but also on his daily life in America. Some film production companies created documentaries on his life in America. I actually got a chance to see one of those documentaries. The one I watched mainly focused less on Ichiro’s playing and more on struggles and obstacles he underwent as a Japanese person living in a foreign country, which makes more sense because what did affect his playing emerged from his everyday life that he had to alter and adapt. For a guy who had already established his status as a superstar in Japan, it must have been quite a challenge to start from scratch, but it could have been worse if he had not been in Seattle, and now, I know the reason why after a couple of days of stay in Seattle.

After I arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I took the train to the hotel located only about fifteen-minute walk from Downtown Seattle. It was fairly easy to get to the downtown area from the airport. All you have to do is take one Sea-Tac train from the airport and in 30 to 40 minutes, you will get there. When I was on the train, I sat by the window so I could see outside better. As far as I can recall, it was about four o’clock in the afternoon when I was on the train, and it was already getting dark. On my way downtown, I saw some residential areas, and the first impression I got was that the people in Seattle live in harmony with nature. Seattle is situated in the Pacific Northwest where it rains frequently, and as you can easily imagine, the city is rich in water and greenery, which are the two major sources that generate clean and tasty air. Seattle is the most evergreen and industrialized city in the world, and that would be the least hyperbolic way to describe the city.

As I was getting closer and closer to Downtown Seattle, I noticed that there seemed to be something colossal standing so elegantly in sight. Never had I thought that Safeco Field would be the first one to greet me in Seattle. Safeco Field is a huge and well-structured baseball park that can strike you with awe for it is built so sublimely. At the same time, I began to wonder if Ichiro had felt the same way as I did then when he saw it for the first time. As much as I wanted to get off the train and get as close to it as possible, I brought myself back to my senses and went on to find the hotel to check in.

I checked in at the hotel, left my stuff in my room and started exploring the area near the hotel. I did not have the intention of going far from the hotel since it was already late. When I walked out of the hotel, a cold howling wind blew through my body and I told myself that I was not in California anymore. I also realized how much I had missed winter. When you breathe in cold air, you feel that the air you just breathed in is sinking into your body and being absorbed, and when you breath out, you get to see the air that was in your system. Then, you feel alive, which is the most unexpected and yet, gratifying feeling you can experience in a very cold and dismal winter in Seattle. After I went through what seemed to be a delusional moment and took a quick stroll around the hotel, I finally understood why some of the most influential musicians and rock bands such as Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam and Nirvana just to name a few, were all originated in this here town. The influence the city can have on people is immeasurable and beyond words.

The next morning, as the hotel front desk clerk suggested, I walked to Pike Place Market. The market is full of creative and entertaining things such as a funky record shop, a magic supply shop, a local beer brewer, fancy sea food restaurants, groovy street musicians and so on. You could easily spend a day there without running out of things to do. If you are a coffee addict like me, you cannot miss the first Starbucks that is located right by the market. You always have to expect a long waiting line there since it’s one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Seattle. When I was there, right in front of the store, there was a violinist playing very soothing music. I tossed a dollar into the box, and in return, she gave me a heavenly smile for a moment and kept right on playing her alluring music that is worth way more than a dollar. I felt a bit ashamed but went into the store anyways. Inside, there is actually nothing special or outstanding, but you do sense that this is where it all began. It’s worth paying a quick visit to the store, considering how many times Starbucks has saved your life with their coffee.

Now leaving the market behind and off to Safeco Field. I had to walk about a mile to get to the baseball park. It usually takes approximately fifteen minutes to walk a mile, but in Seattle, it took me two hours because of the fun distractions on the way. I had to stop by at a very large aquarium, a souvenir shop where I witnessed a Bigfoot and some other unique stores. It was as though Pike Place Market per se was representing the whole city for you can find amusing things just about anywhere in Seattle. At some point, I realized that I had to get going before I fell prey to the famous saying; curiosity killed the cat. I knew that Safeco Field had some kind of an event going, though I did not know exactly what the event was about, so now, I was in a hurry. At Safeco Field, there were tons of people for the event. After I purchased a ticket, I went inside. The most fascinating part of this event was that those with a ticket were allowed to proceed not only to the bleachers but also to the field and the dugouts. When I was on the field, somehow I felt nostalgic with the fresh smell of grass mixed with a bit of sea breeze. The field brought me back to the time when I had to give up on my dream of becoming a professional baseball player due to my shoulder injury. I was working my fingers to the bone everyday to become a better pitcher and did not do much of school work for I was not so good at multitasking. After the injury that wrecked my dream, I was lost, not knowing what to do with my life. I had never imagined that I was going to face that sort of tragedy at such an early stage of my life. Looking back on it, the ‘tragedy’ was just a part of the process of being a responsible adult. Overall, Safeco Field is a perfect place where you can get together with your family or friends, watch the Mariners kick some bud and have a good time.

Right before the sunset, I managed to get to the Space Needle. You know you cannot leave the city without checking out the Seattle’s icon. This might be the watchtower that Jimi Hendrix was singing about in his song. From the top, you get to see the whole city glittering like diamond clusters, and behind the city stands Mt. Rainier so magnificently. I somehow made it to the observation deck by the sunset. As the sun went down, the city naturally changed its color. For those who were in the city at that moment, it was just another day for them, but when you do see the beautiful sunset whose diminishing light determines the end of the day, you are left with either one of two feelings: happy or sad. This is the thing about sunset. For instance, when you are having a bad day like your girlfriend or boyfriend left you without saying a word or you got fired at work, from time to time, you find yourself looking at the sunset, hoping that doing so will get you back on your feet again. Sometimes it leaves you feeling encouraged, and other times, it leaves you even more devastated. It seems to me that no one can quite figure out what it is with sunset. Luckily, that day, I felt the warmth on the inside after watching the sunset from the top of the Space Needle, and I was speechless the whole time.

Seattle and its vicinity have a lot more to offer, but I just did not stay there long enough to see it all. In the beginning of this post, I mentioned that Seattle was on top of my list of where to go next. Now, Seattle is on top of my list of where to go back next. Rock on, Seattle!

IMG_0197 IMG_0198

IMG_0214 IMG_0206

IMG_0268 IMG_0269

IMG_0221 IMG_0223

IMG_0261 IMG_2022

IMG_0378 IMG_0243

IMG_0232 IMG_0231

IMG_0394 IMG_0418

IMG_0321 IMG_0327

IMG_0328IMG_0329

IMG_0336 IMG_0355

IMG_0273 IMG_0277

IMG_0275 IMG_3513

Keep Portland Weird: Portland, OR

The moment I arrived at the airport in Portland, Oregon; I was welcomed by something unusual. It was a slogan that said, “Keep Portland Weird”. I had no clue what that slogan was all about, and in a way, the slogan added another reason to why I was in Portland: To find out what that slogan means. So my trip began with this unexpected riddle assigned to me.

This trip was supposed to be a weekend getaway. I just needed some fresh air. I dealt with enough big city madness, so I thought I deserved a little break. Perhaps, in retrospect, I did not know how to appreciate what I had: a decent life in LA, a beautiful girlfriend with whom I lived together back then and the fact that I won the opportunity to play on my college baseball team. Everything seemed to be going well, but I just got an itch to indulge myself with a weekend trip. I have to confess; I have the travel bug.

I was pondering upon where to go on a weekend trip. I literally thought about picking a place on the US map with my eyes closed, but I did not want to end up going too far from California, so I decided to think smarter. I looked at some neighbor states, and the state of Oregon caught my eyes simply because I had never been there. At that point, all I knew about Oregon was that one of my all-time favorite movies, Stand by Me, was filmed in Brownsville, OR. For your information, the railroad tracks that the kids walk on in the movie do exist there to this date! I remember wanting to go on an adventure desperately after watching that movie for the first time. My summer vacation was just around the corner and I think I was about nine-year-old then. I tried to convince some of my close friends to come along with me and explained how fun it could be to go somewhere we had never been on our own. However, none of my friends were interested in the recruitment to the gang in which the only member was me. They’d rather play video games in their air conditioned rooms. Some of them even told me that they had to ask their parents to give them the green light first, and in disappointment, I said to them, “If you are going to ask your parents if you can go on a trip by ourselves, I’m pretty sure they are going to say no!”. So as you can imagine, no one showed up, but I was still on fire. I had bought the gears needed for the trip. I had packed my backpack with some snacks and water. I was ready. I was a rebel without a cause. No one could stop me from going on an adventure, or so I thought. Well, I chickened out. Still, I slept out in the tent in my yard just to put out the fire that was burning inside me. That night, with thousands of mosquitoes attacking the rebel in his slumber, the little Masaki was left with no choice but to go back into his house and call it a day. A bittersweet memory from my childhood.

Back to the main story now; though I wanted to go to Brownsville and explore the filming locations, since I did not have a driver’s license yet, it was impossible to get to that area without a car. So instead, I chose to fly to Portland. The city offered me more than just a weekend getaway. I took a train to the hotel in downtown Portland from the airport. On the train, I kept thinking about the slogan that I saw at the airport for it gave me an immense impression on me. Normally, you would try to come up with something delightful to hear when you were given a task to create a slogan for the city you live in. Maybe, I was just missing out on the context because I didn’t live there. I settled down with that conclusion for a brief moment.

Finally, I got to downtown Portland. Every time I hear the word, downtown, I picture a bunch of business buildings, people in a hurry and some clothing stores and restaurants, but here in Portland, things are a bit different and unique. The city is filled with green scenery, fresh air and friendly people. Willamette and Columbia rivers run through the city, and people in Portland love to go for a walk, run or bike ride along the rivers. I was there in April, so I got to see cherry blossoms by the rivers. When I was walking along the river and saw cherry blossoms with a beautifully structured bridge in the background, I thought to myself that this picturesque sight right here was exactly what I needed to blow these accumulated dust out of my mind. I stopped my feet, took a breath, cleared my mind and began walking right on.

If you happen to be a book-worm, you may be familiar with Powell’s Books. It is headquartered in Portland. I am someone who thought Barnes and Nobles was the only bookstore in the country, so I did not know about the bookstore, neither was I looking for it. I was lucky enough to find it anyways. I walked inside the store, and my honest first impression on the bookstore was a profanity, in a good way. I thought I walked into a labyrinth. To my understanding, there are two stories and one basement, and it is hard not to get lost. I could easily spend a whole day in the store. There is no book you cannot find in this store. ‘Nuff said.

Portland Saturday Market is something that you can never miss when you are in town. The Market is absolutely entertaining with crowds and souvenirs that demonstrate the city’s uniqueness. You’ll encounter some hippies playing peaceful music, tourists taking pictures and locals having a blast with their pals. You don’t really have to be doing anything actually at the market. Just by being there, you get to be a part of it. You get to enjoy and feel the merry and funky vibe that exists only in Portland. If you are over 21, you don’t want to leave the city without trying their local beers that the city is known for. Their beers are absurdly good.

In the end, I was unable to find the answer to the riddle: what the slogan was all about. People there were friendly, their local food couldn’t be better, and the city had this atmosphere that words can’t describe. Yet, I can’t figure out why on earth they labeled the city in such a manner. It has been almost two years since this trip, and still, I cannot seem to wrap my head around this riddle. Now, it just feels weird.

IMG_0524 IMG_0523

IMG_0518 IMG_0535

IMG_0644 IMG_0594

IMG_0598 IMG_0645

IMG_0552 IMG_0612

IMG_0572 IMG_0549

IMG_0642 IMG_2023

IMG_0588IMG_0629

P.S. Be sure to check out this cellist if you can see the link in the picture above! He really played his music with his soul.

Americans Speak American; Neither English Nor Spanish

  It is a very well-known cliché that the United States was founded and developed by immigrants. Indeed, the very first immigrants mostly came from the United Kingdom and other European countries, though the Native Americans had already settled down in the country. Those who first came to the U.S. spent many years on trying to build an independent and majestic country in which they had been dreaming of living. Today, Americans live in the land that was founded upon their ancestors’ effort and diligence, and the U.S. has become the country that leads the rest of the world. That is a fact. As mentioned above, immigrants played a huge role in founding this country. Although those who immigrated here first might have built the cornerstone of the nation, those immigrants who came over later surely helped the country thrive as well. That is why no one can really dispute the fact that the U.S. is a melting pot. However, somewhere along the way, immigrants changed the way of being immigrants in the country. In his article, Too Many: Looking Today’s Immigration in the Face, Steven Camarota mentions, “Newly released census figures show that the foreign-born population reached 31.1 million in 2000 (including some 7 to 8 million here illegally). This is by far the largest immigrant population in U.S. history…” (529). As he states, the population of immigrants is incomparably larger than any other period of U.S. immigration history. With the increase in the number of immigrants came the change in the environment. The change can be interpreted as problems actually. The remarkable problems are the number of illegal aliens, higher crime-rates and drug traffic just to name a few. Despite the many problems with immigrants that people can easily come up with, there seems to remain the biggest problem that people tend to forget: Language barrier. Through language, people communicate with each other. Without enough communication, people would be lost and isolated from others. Some immigrants, especially the ones from Latin America and Asia, do not have the ability to speak English, and as a matter of fact, they do not even try to learn either the language or culture. At this rate, the distance between Americans and immigrants will only get further apart. As a solution, there needs to be an environment where immigrants feel the necessity of learning the language, American.

  As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. This is a universally acknowledged saying that is contrary to what today’s immigrants are doing in the U.S. Here is the situation that is very common in the States; If an immigrant from, say, Armenia did not speak English, chances are that the Armenian immigrant would have tough times living in the U.S. as one can easily imagine, but if there was an Armenian community, as long as the immigrant stayed within the community and got to know same kind of people, he or she would be able to make a living just fine without merging into the American society. There are lots of communities like this especially in big cities like Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago. This is the environment that separates them from the majority, which results in taking away the opportunities to learn the language. While it is one’s choice to be willing to learn the language, Americans do not seem to bother with those who do not even try to learn the language and actually let them be whoever they want to be (Hanson 326). On the other hand, it is too late to find out whose fault this is, and there is no point in pointing the finger at the government or immigrants. What is blatant here is that this environment needs to be fixed.

  In his article, Preference to Speak Spanish at Home, Edgar Sandoval wrote about this Hispanic lady named Hipolita Rivera who resides in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. He describes, “Over the years it has become easier for Rivera to thrive without being fluent in English. Wherever she goes in the Lehigh Valley, she finds more and more people who, like her, prefer to speak Spanish” (A1). This case is obviously not limited in the Lehigh Valley but all across the country as one can hear the news about immigrants pretty much everywhere. Again, the United States is widely conceived as a melting pot, but the truth is that the U.S. is not melting very well in the pot. Foreign communities and Americans who allow immigrants to build their own are the considerable factors that indulge those immigrants. Breaking up those foreign communities, therefore, is one way to get immigrants to blend into the society whether they like it or not. In this environment with no foreign communities, immigrants will have more opportunities to be exposed to the American culture and learn the language, which makes them Americanized quickly. Thus, they will be able to contribute to the society because as opposed to immigrants staying within their own communities, they will have a better understanding of how the society functions. Another benefit of breaking up foreign communities is that Americans too will have a better grasp of difficulties that immigrants have or had, which reminds the natives of where they come from.

  Another solution to get immigrants to learn the language is the implementation of the English exam. The U.S. government should require “all immigrants” to take and pass the English exam that emcompasses Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing specifically when they apply for the citizenship. In an ideal world, there should be no exceptions under any circumstances, but in reality, there are some people seeking refugee or asylum who should be allowed to stay in the country because their lives are in jeopardy. In any case, it is still crucial to make the English exam mandatory when applying for the citizenship. All international students are required to score certain points on the English tests such as TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in order to study at American colleges. This test includes Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing sections, which are the four necessary skills to be measured to see if one is capable of communicating with English-speakers. The one like TOEFL would be the most apposite exam. Once again, communicational ability is what keeps immigrants in the society, and without it, the situation will remain the same or get worse than now. Yet, not every immigrant is gifted to learn a foreign language, and furthermore, the English language is a very hard one to learn. In their article, English Tongue is the Hardest to Lick, Hawkes and Henderson state, “Learning to read in English is harder than it is in any other European language, a study in 15 countries has shown. Only Danish comes close” (6). Hence, Americans should give immigrants chances to learn the language by offering them English lessons or classes that are relatively affordable or even free. Hopland, in her article, English Classes Give Immigrants a Route Into the American Way, says, “Some people question spending tax money to teach English to immigrants and visitors. Daria Imbeault, coordinator of the Adult Basic Education program in Universal City, said such programs enable people to lead a productive life… ‘These visitors often turn into immigrants. And isn’t this the way to help them embrace our ways and an understanding of America?’” (B1). She is absolutely right. Equal opportunities should be given to all people including immigrants especially in the country founded by immigrants.

   Immigrants are bound to keep on coming to the U.S.  Some immigrants come here, dreaming of becoming a MLB player. Some might have fallen in love with the American culture after his or her first visit and decide to become an American. Some just might have to stay here for their business. Whatever their reasons are, learning the American language is the first step to becoming a citizen and also, it is the most essential step that gets them into the circle of Americans. After all, there is the most important thing that all immigrants in the U.S. should keep in mind; Americans speak American; neither English nor Spanish. 

IMG_2668

Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA.  God Bless America!

 

Malaga, Spain

“My mom always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get'”, said Forrest Gump played by Tom Hanks in the movie, Forrest Gump. Indeed, Forrest. You couldn’t have said it any better than that. Life is full of surprises. Life can overwhelm you with joy, and at times, it can underwhelm you to the point where it feels like you have lost the purpose in life and want to start questioning the meaning of it. You start off as a baby, learn how to behave like others, begin to go to school, graduate from a college, find a decent job, get married, have kids, and the next thing you know, you are now a grandparent. At some point in your life, you find yourself asking the same old question, “What the heck am I doing here?”. Why we are here is what we’ll never know.  

There is no such thing as immortality, though some people argue that your larger-than-life accomplishments could be carried on by upcoming generations in perpetuity, and I’m with them on that. In Japan, people look forward to spring perhaps more than any other people on the planet because they get to see Sakura, cherry blossoms in Japanese. Yes, there are cherry blossoms all over the world today, but the Japanese people see them differently. Cherry blossoms come into full bloom usually at the beginning of April, and only a week after the full bloom, they start falling from the trees. The Japanese people find beauty in Sakura’s evanescence and oftentimes, compare Sakura to life. Life is indeed short but undoubtedly a blessing just like Sakura. You don’t want to have any regrets when the end of the line is on the horizon.

Life is unscripted, and because it’s unscripted and left blank fortunately, we all get to be a writer of the movie, Life. And I decided to make a “movie” by spending my whole lifetime on living it to the fullest. So far, my trip to Malaga, Spain has been one of the most buzzworthy scenes in my movie, which is still a work in progress. Malaga is a province in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. It’s situated in the southern part of the country. Geographically, it is really close to the African continent, only 190 miles (300 km) from Morocco, and as a side note, the internationally famous artist, Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga! Malaga is filled with friendly people, calm atmosphere and historical buildings. The moment you arrive at Malaga airport, you’d feel like you’ve finally made it back home from which you’ve been away for such a long time, and when you leave the city, you’d get a nostalgic feeling. In the city, no one is in a hurry. People really take their time there in a good sense. They know how to make every minute of their lives count. There are no stressful traffic, no people yelling at one another or no city madness that you are probably used to by now if you live in a big city. Malaga is still a big city, though. But it definitely has a different vibe from the ones in other big cities such as New York, London or Tokyo. When you are roaming around the city, you can’t help but sense the abundant histories in each street and building. In my opinion, a history is not all about how old it is. For instance, some people cluelessly conclude that the U.S. has no history, for it has been only about 250 years since the country’s independence from the U.K. It is clear that the U.S. is relatively a new-born country compared to the other nations, but in such a short period of time, this country flourished significantly like no other and has become a nation that plays a major role in the world. Besides, an American history textbook sometimes can be thicker than, say, a French history book. My point here is that history is about what kind of stories, value and perspectives it can convey to people living in different times. Malaga is certainly a city that can offer those aspects mentioned above and therefore, one of the best places to visit for history enthusiasts. There, streets and buildings were willing to share their own stories with me out loud and I wasn’t even on acid!

I’m going to be very honest with you, the reader. I did not know much about Spain before. Never had I thought about going there either. All I knew about Spain were bullfighting, soccer, flamenco and paella. By the way, some Spaniards have been trying their best to abolish bullfighting since lots of people view it as a barbaric and crass event. Today, you can see bullfighting only in limited places. Now back to the story; I met these four Spanish amigos, Aitor, Jessica, Marina and Carla, at the language school called MLI (Mentor Language Institution) in Los Angeles. We were communicating with each other in broken English. Despite the fact that we were from two different countries, we hit it off almost immediately. We had a blast. It wasn’t until then that I became intrigued by Spanish culture and the country itself. They added a new country to my list of the countries I want to visit. So after we all went back to our own countries, I decided to pay them a visit in Malaga. I’ll never forget about all the fun times we had together!

185593_10150400336564829_745229828_10715604_6696310_n 229645_10150400333309829_1543306_n226124_10150400337164829_2001187_n 281242_10150400345279829_745229828_10715754_1163026_n250204_10150400360319829_745229828_10716055_3593541_n284409_10150400350994829_5945689_n

Photo credit to Marina

Special thanks to mi amigos! I’m blessed to have you all in my life!  ¡Muchas gracias!

11992441_10154193412539829_1507530285_n

From left to right: Aitor, Jessica and Marina

The City of Angels: Los Angeles, CA

Hey y’all, it’s Masaki here! In the previous post, I briefly introduced my hometown. This time, I’d like to touch upon where I am currently situated; Los Angeles, CA.

Movies, music, fashion, beaches… Whatever you name it, you’ll find it here in the city of Angels. People from all over the world come over here for numerous reasons because this is a city with tons of  potential and opportunities. This country might be still in a recession, but you certainly do not feel that people here are struggling to get through a day; in fact, it is quite the opposite. I cannot provide any scientific or statistical evidence to back up my statement above, but having lived in Los Angeles for four years, I can assure you that Angelenos are pretty much laid-back people except for the time when they are stuck in traffic. Traffic here can be disastrous as LA’s traffic was ranked as the worst in the whole nation according to the most recent survey done by USA Today. For your information, the worst traffic title holder was Honolulu, HI for a long time. In LA, if you have to go somewhere around 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, just don’t. If it is an emergency, you might as well bring your couch, TV and some popcorn because it is going to take a decade to get to your destination. Interestingly enough, what causes traffic in LA is one mystery that no one has figured out yet. It’s not even elucidated in the Bible!

Enough with the pejorative comment. Now, let’s move onto the brighter side of LA.

There is one thing I want to leave you with today, but before I get to the main topic, I have to make it clear that my blog today focuses on the well-known cities such as Santa Monica, Venice, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Long Beach, for I reside in one of those cities.

LA is a huge and unique county. What is in vogue in LA whether it be fashion or music, usually spreads around the world quickly. In other words, you get to live a cutting-edge life. It surely feels better to live in the future than to fall behind the times with a flip-phone in your pocket. However, if you wish not to get caught up in the culture of “the newer, the better” like me, you can stay the same; just the way you are. No one will judge you for the way you are. If you had a judgmental personality, it might be quite a challenge to live here because this is a very exotic, international and heterogeneous city where people with different race, religions and cultural backgrounds live together. It is as though you were hearing the harmony of culture here. That is why you encounter very distinctive things such as California roll (American style sushi), the celebration of Cinco de Mayo (often mistaken to be Mexico’s Independence Day by Americans) and even Spanglish just to name a few. These are what cultural assimilation has brought about. I don’t remember who said this but “wherever you look, there is always something to be seen“, and that’s the beauty of LA.

Although there are more things that I’d like to mention, it feels like, for now, I’ve summed up pretty much what it’s like to be in LA. Later on in my future posts, I’ll talk more about specific and detailed aspects of being in LA. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. Until then!

IMG_3160  IMG_3466IMG_0428IMG_1193

IMG_1195  IMG_4577_2IMG_2033

IMG_2984 IMG_3026 IMG_1754