Summers Ago

Summers Ago

He remembers standing on E 63rd St, Upper East Side. They’d gotten out of a checkered yellow cab; he counted out $55, which was the standard fare from JFK those days, plus tip and handed it over to the driver. The city was loud, humid and had a congested feel and smell. He exhaled deeply, looked up at the skyscraper lined sky, took it all in. He was terribly excited. This felt different, even thought he had been to the City before, different than all the other experiences. Not lived before, nor visited since.

The apartment building had a concierge/doorman, which, as they were to soon discover, meant that if a doorman was ever present at his post, he would sometimes hold the door open for them, but would always look as if expected a tip. The apartment complex also had, unheard of luxuries apparently, an elevator and a laundry room on their floor. They entered their apartment and looked at each other and laughed. It was all of 400 sq.ft. and furnished with cheap furniture. The rent was staggering, more than three times what they paid for their apartment back home in the Midwest for a place three times this apartment’s size. They peered out the windows and marveled at the street noise.

All he wanted was a shower and some sleep after the flight. She would hear none of it.

She dragged him out into the heat. They turned right out of the building and wandered aimlessly and with no plan in particular. They had no maps, no GPS- phones during those days had none. 300 feet later, they found an Indian restaurant, thrilled to find one so close to “home”. Little did they know then that had they walked the other way to Lexington and a few blocks south, well, give or take 20, they’d find a ton of much better Indian places to eat in “Little India”. They ate their meal and resumed their jaunt. They found a grocery store, again excited that it was walking distance from home. They bought bread, cheese, cereal, milk, flowers and some beer. At that time, Sapporo was his favorite beer- he would prefer its taste in tall aluminum cans rather than a bottle. He loaded up his stash.

The next month was a whirlwind. She’d leave early for work and walk her way to her office on 42nd St. He would wake up late to find her already gone. He would switch on the TV to watch CNBC; he was big into trading the markets those days; to catch the commentary. Eventually hunger would kick in and he would get restless of getting cooped up in the place. A dash of milk and cereal in a plain white bowl and off he’d go. Sometimes he’d join her for lunch, but more often than not he’d be late or she’d be with her colleagues. So off he’d go to explore on his own. Always heading south from the 63rd, picking any Avenue at random. Each Avenue had its own distinct personality. Lexington was narrow and busy- it had markets, with vendors selling vegetables, ethnic foods from every country imaginable, trinkets, magazines, flowers. Park Ave was wide, upscale, snobbish, with luxury car dealerships and a couple of great bookstores. Fifth Ave was very touristy, with Tiffany’s, the Trump Tower and Bergdorf Goodman. The Streets were shorter pitched, the Avenues were spaced much further apart. There was always a subway to duck into were he to get tired of walking, the fare was a grand $2 to get anywhere.

In the evening he’d join her outside her office. They’d made a pact- one she suggested and one which he had no problem agreeing to. All the money she made, each and every one of her generous paychecks, they’d blow it all up, right then and there. He was on a sabbatical, which meant that he was not getting paid during this time off from his work. There was also rent to be paid back home, but they didn’t care. She’d gotten a score of good internship offers including this one and this one had been her second best choice. Her first preference had been one in Connecticut; that was more prestigious and would look much better on her resume. They’d discussed about which one she should pick. It was rather simple to him- he saw how her eyes lit up every time they talked about the City. He asked her one question. Later, when she looked back in life, which one would she regret not taking? The choice was clear.

And so they proceeded to burn her money up in style. They’d watch Broadway shows such as Chicago. They’d go to the Lincoln Center for Mozart concerts. They’d dress up for these events and were often the youngest in the crowd. The older couples would watch them lovingly and with some amusement. They never purchased anything at the expensive stores on Fifth Ave, but it was always fun window shopping and people watching. They’d then eat at all kinds of places. Every day, she would be poring over City Pages hunting for a new place to eat. They’d show up, the promoter or maitre d’ would take one look at her and give them the best tables. He’d be ordering $14 Cosmos and Manhattans, drinks he wouldn’t ordinarily touch or pay so much for. She would order a glass of wine and get drunk or pretend to get drunk after sipping a teaspoonful. When the waiter would come over with the check, he would point to her and loudly proclaim- “She’s paying!”. She would just roll her eyes, smilingly say “You Ass!”, reach out for her credit card and fork it over. They’d meander around the Lower East Side and then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. He was experimenting with his new camera, tripod and all and enthusiastically took pictures of the East River lit in the rising moon, as the trains shuttled across and boats lazed downriver, ignoring her petulant pleas to get moving. Home would sometimes be only 6 miles away. No problem, they’d walk it off, or sometimes take the Green line back if it was too late, falling asleep in each others arms the moment they hit the bed around 1 am.

After a while though, the hustle and bustle of the city became too much. The city was getting to him. He had to get away from it from it all, go back to his known calm home base, so he could think his problems out. The constant activity and excitement wore on him- the lack of sleep, especially since the Queensboro bridge emptied right outside their apartment and so the car horns sounded all day and night. He wasn’t in a happy place then. Their relationship was tumultuous, it would always be so, but that was not it. These were good times for them now. The City felt like a new start, howsoever temporary. However, his job, that he was taking a break from, was awful. It was a toxic environment, this much he knew after being away. The mere thought of going back there to work made him feel sick. Her career was obviously taking off and the sky was the limit, but his had stalled. Much to her dismay, he fled back to their town in the Midwest, in search of answers.

Once removed, he could see things clearly. He would walk around the lake, talking it out with her on his flip phone, which had an antenna. Good luck had intervened and things had begun moving his way. An old friend had managed to land a job interview for him on the West coast and they’d begun to investigate if she could follow him there. Being eminently employable, she just had to re-target her industries and perhaps it would all go smoothly. They were making big, exciting plans, of job changes, coast to coast moves, anticipating being closer to friends and family and the sun and beach away from this cold, lonely, desolate town they’d lived in. It was happy accident, Serendipity, which by the way is the name of great dessert place on the 60th, this confluence of events. Following a week long trip to California for his interview, which he aced, he accepted his new job offer, deferred his join date to after summer, put in his two weeks notice at his current place, wrapped it up and went back to the city to enjoy the rest of summer. The city had definitely gotten to him.

Saturdays were the best. The city would be a little bit quieter because the inhabitants would flee for the weekends on the tunnels and bridges, but it would still be chock full of tourists. Times Square was always crowded, day or night, shops and restaurants open 24×7. The city that never sleeps- it can’t afford to, the rent is too high. Diners where they’d gorge on fries and milkshake. Central Park, where they’d watch free, open-air Shakespeare plays enacted. H&M and Zara’s stores every couple of blocks. And she would have to visit them all, because according to her, the collection was different in every shop- being targeted towards the people who lived in that neighborhood. And who knows, they may have changed their collection since the last time they visited, which could be as recent as yesterday. The damage was never too high though, averaging $20. The thrill was always in the chase. And Daffy’s, on 34th, innumerable trips to Daffy’s. She picked him a colorful patchwork leather jacket on sale for $50 which he still has. Then eat street food and duck into a ubiquitous Duane Reed for a bottle of water.

They’d walk all through the day and eventually rest in a park. They’d find a bench and she’d take a nap with her head on his lap. She would offer to trade positions but he’d be too fastidious to lie down on the bench. So he’d sit up, pretentiously reading the Wall St Journal or Barron’s guide to the markets, on printed paper; remember, this was the pre-digital era. She’d have her forearm shield her face as she slept and be snoring gently. He would often wonder since then if it was possible to live the equivalent of a few lifetimes in a span of four short months. Looking back, he certainly seemed to have done so. As much as the City was having an effect on him, perhaps that wasn’t all there was to it. It would be hard to imagine the city without her, every single facet had her stamp on it. The experience wouldn’t have been even half as good had she not been part of it. Dozing and reading serenely in Madison Park, they were young and fearless; this was surreal. The hottest girl on the planet in his lap. He was happy. Understatement.

Then he’d feel her stir and she would catch him peering down at her through her long, jet black hair. She’d smile back, get up, yawn, stretch her arms. Then she’d grab his bicep and off they’d go to their next adventure.

Here’s to the City. And to Her.

Silver Bullet

Silver Bullet

It was love at almost first sight. He’d crossed oceans to see her. She was stunning but had a noticeably lazy right eye. Anxious as he was when it came to new relationships, he was afraid that she wasn’t quite perfect.

And then he climbed into her cockpit. The way she cocooned him- he felt warm and cool at the same time. Soft pliant surfaces where they were needed, concealing a hard, muscular body. Some are built for speed, some are built for comfort; she could do both, with a flair, if and when she wanted to, but she was really meant to mesmerize.

They got off to a rocky start. It was mostly his fault. He was in an unfamiliar land and didn’t know its ways and couldn’t understand its strange signs. She had her quirks that needed getting used to and he wasn’t quick to catch on. Plus there was a third wheel, a good old friend, who he’d invited along in the first place. To her credit, she was patient with him and forgiving of his clumsiness. Soon they realized that her home town, quaint as it was, was suffocating them. It was time for a road trip.

And that’s when they really clicked. It was a whirlwind romance and honeymoon. Destinations were sought and visited, miles were covered and scattered behind at breakneck speeds, but it was all about the journey. She was nimble and a sure footed dancer and much to his delight, took his lead really well. Strangers immediately warmed up to her, recognizing her place of origin from a telltale tag on her rather attractive rear. He remembered reluctantly leaving her in a strange place one night out of necessity and feeling relieved to see her hale and hearty as he checked in on her the first thing in the morning.

He brought her to his home. That’s when the jealousies began. Not theirs, but those of others. The small town VP at the small time company where he worked couldn’t stand it and tried to downplay her grace and worth. He went out and got a “trophy” of his own overnight and then came the comparisons. The two of them demurred to retaliate and just stood aside and smiled. You can’t give or teach class.

Seasons changed. Winters came often, both real and virtual, some were unusually long. She was right at home in them, all she needed was to change into snow shoes. They migrated west when it became too old and cold to live where they were any longer. Women, not many though, came in his life; she didn’t mind sharing. She was always there when they invariably left. She only failed him once and that too when she was really sick and even then she made sure he was safely out of harm’s reach before she stalled. Her doctors marveled that she didn’t even show normal signs of aging internally. He remembered thinking in what was once a dark period in his life that she was his Wilson from the movie Cast Away. Inanimate to all but him, should he ever lose her, he might all but give up hope.

He senses her, she senses him back and he senses her sensing him. She’ll throw an occasional tantrum or two now or then, but then she wouldn’t be interesting if she didn’t. However, when he’s tense on some other account, she’s on her best behavior and goes out of her way to distract him. They usually go places together, cruising along comfortably, without a care in the world, watching other fledgling, upwardly mobile couples, with kindness and affection. But sometimes he’s in an irascible mood. He warms her up a bit and then without warning, throws her hard into a corner and pins her down real tight as he winds up her engines. She squeals in protest at first, but then she’s all game. Her purr turns into a growl and then a hiss as she begs him for more, goading him on.

They plan to dance the night away.







I, Rock

I, Rock

I once sat out in the open. All day, all night. Watched the sun rise and set everyday, from the same place everyday. Pondered. My existence. Why was I here? Am I alive? If I am, what does it mean? What do I do with it?

Some would argue that that just couldn’t be. That I was incapable of thought. That a consciousness cannot be associated with the likes of someone like me. I smiled, benignly. Precocious upstarts, with their science and everything. So sure of themselves. But I do have a mother and she loves me. I’m perhaps a bit like her, maybe an exact copy of her. Perhaps not born out of cellular mitosis, as you understand it, but then your understanding means very little to my being.

The monotony of my dwelling would be broken by the rain or the wind or the fire or the river or the glacier. The external forces would move me, change me and leave me at a new destination. I learnt a lot from the moves. It felt good to be moving, it felt even better than reaching an actual destination. I learnt to swim, I learnt to dance, I came to appreciate music.

Then a preposterous thought came to me. Why must I wait for the ground to part under my feet? Why cannot I break out on my own, whenever I choose? What would it be like to fly?

Hold on kid, said my mother. You have the right idea, but you must be patient. Let me walk you through it. Actually, first you must learn how to crawl.

And so it began. My training. A thought restricted to thought no more; action an integral part of it. Vast amount of resources were pressed into service, Electromechanical, Chemical, Biological. Kinematics and Kinetics. Replication and Double Helices. Atoms and Molecules and even tinier particles you’ve invented so that they can be neatly categorized. As if. Mere tools, mere means, mere hypothesis, to explain my purpose, my journey. But all I really wanted to do was to fly.

And One Day I became aware. Of Me. Sentient. But that was a rather insignificant change. Just feedback added to my ever increasing arsenal. I was always me before I became aware of me.

Evolution, apparently.

I, Rock.

Lone Wolf

Lone Wolf

He lived in a modest house on a moderately populated planet. How he got there was an interesting story to be perhaps recounted later. He lived alone and was self reliant. Not that he didn’t have friends and family to lend an occasional helping hand, but he always operated under the assumption that he had none. This always made his life and that of his friends and family easier.

Time was his ally. It was continuous and constant. The sun would rise and set everyday- that was a given. He had built a routine around the diurnal cycle that kept him healthy, and more importantly, sane. He would wake up as early he could, but sometimes if that didn’t happen, he wouldn’t let it bother him. Simple breathing exercises to begin with while enjoying the silence of the calm morning. If the sky was clear, that was an added bonus; it’d immediately cheer him up.

Then breakfast, being careful not to load it with sugar, but not overly so. Then work. He was a mechanic and loved being near his dear machines. They were dangerous but never unreasonable. Machines always broke down and people were glad to have his services. He was not very social but always polite and very skilled at his trade and honest to boot, so he had no problem making a living.

Then after lunch, a check of his various stockpiles- medicine, food and fuel. Back to work, until it was time to wrap up for the day. Time to have a little fun. Perhaps play his guitar, perhaps show up on the dance floor to impress the ladies with some cool moves.

He knew well that the discipline was important. It didn’t matter what he did as long as he did it regularly. Always aware of the ticking clock. And grateful to be able to have it all.

Then one fine day, he knew he had to move. As pleasant as the place was where he lived it no longer felt like home. Neatly fitted all the belongings he wanted to carry into two suitcases. Important documents, clothes, some formal wear, mementos, letters and some photographs from the past before digital media became prevalent. His past lovers had left him no trinkets, although one of them had deliberately left him a piece of intimate apparel. He smiled- he wouldn’t need it to remember her. Four books. Some of the stockpiled medicines and food. Loaded them into his transport, which was all oiled up and raring to take off. Loyal beast.

He looked back into his house one last time as he held the door ajar. Clean and sparse, it had taken good care of him. The only thought in his mind was a “Thank you”. He bade it Goodbye.

He closed the door behind him and stepped out into the unknown.

Where he was going he didn’t know; it didn’t matter.

So long as he was easy in his own skin.