Archive for April, 2009


April 28th, 2009


My music education began in Austin, TX.  And now, a fortnight later, I am in New Orleans, LA, basking in the sweet sound from the instruments of street musicians.  This morning, in true New Orleans outré fashion, a band comprised of six young adults who could not have been more than twenty years of age took to the streets at 3 A.M. playing trumpets, trombones, and drums.  Within the blink of an eye, a throng of people crowded around this magnificent display of brass.  There was more energy there than any concert of 10 magnitudes greater.  The feeling was ineffable.  It was music done grassroots style – arms were flying in ecstasy, torsos were moving like flowing water, and feet were shuffling as if it were 1969.  Words weren’t needed for unity.  The drumbeat transcended reality.

A good lyric or tune can comfort and console, incite anger and outrage, inspire and encourage, or impart knowledge and wisdom.  A song has the power to remind us of a loved one and dig up remnants of a past long forgotten.  Many times, it is unforgiving, making us relive memories we secretly tried to tuck away in a safe box.  For many of these street musicians, music is all they have left.  It is their blessing and it is their curse.  I am reminded of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, a poignant tune that I imagine some of these artists must breathe and feel.

So I’m just gonna sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Look like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, yes

It is with these street musicians that I can appreciate the most.  And best of all, it’s free.

Light the Night Walk

April 18th, 2009

Upon arriving in Little Rock, AR, I passed by Light the Night Walk, an event hosted by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to raise money for cancer research, education, and patient services.  Walking past this must have been ordained, because I immediately canceled plans to hear a spoken word poetry reading, and, with less than two hours before the event, decided to walk the streets and start fundraising with the first stranger I met.  It was very ephemeral.  Within the hour, I was miraculously fully funded, with an overflow of cash.  And though it was for a good cause, I loved the frisson of soliciting money from strangers, never knowing if my attempts for support were feckless.  This must be how a salesman feels, always on his toes, adjusting his tactics according to body language, in the attempt to establish rapport with the potential client to seal the deal.

Amidst the fundraising, I came across many who retorted the same exact excuse: I’m sorry, but I have no cash on hand.  I daresay that the majority of these were blatant lies, perhaps out of fear that I was a con man.  I am gathering public opinion on whether or not one would do the same thing in this scenario.  The poll is completely anonymous.  Please answer honestly.

Would you tell a solicitor that you no cash on hand when you actually do?

View Results

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The dream

April 13th, 2009

I have met a handful of vagabonds on my journey and all of them share the same story – they have chosen this path.  Indeed, they have chosen wisely.  In the words of Georgia O’Keefe:

I always felt as though I walked the edge of a knife, afraid to fall off. So what? What if you do fall? I would rather be doing something I really wanted to do.

In the high pressures of Silicon Valley and beyond, one chooses his own vocation, whether that is one with the highest pay, one with the most prestige, or one that supports the family.  It is unfortunate when one works at a job that he loathes merely to maintain a high standard of living.  It is equally unfortunate, where, when one hears of a colleague or neighbor who makes more, desires himself to be at least on equal footing so that he can “get ahead” of the game only to sadly find out that the cycle repeats itself in a more furious fashion.  By then, the person is headstrong in his ways and finds it extremely hard to let go of his grandiloquent lifestyle and even continues on the unsatisfactory job that has left him in a state of inanition, convincing himself that one day, the problem will solve itself and that in the interim, the weekend will dissolve all worries.  For him, the work week is too long, the weekend is too short, and Monday seems to always come too quickly, but all is okay because better linens can be afforded, faster cars can be driven, and finer foods can be consumed.  Why should one submit to the feet of societal pressures only to be chewed, mangled, and spit out?  Thoreau elucidates this well:

… but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system – and so it was broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day.  But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.

There’s a commonly used ice breaker called “The dream job”.  In the past four years that I have played this game, I have met only one who is living his dream.  All others mention of jobs that they wish they could be doing, and I suspect that four years down the line, few will have taken steps to make this dream job a reality.  The majority of the conscious weekday hours are spent working.  Don’t succumb to a mediocre existence and lull in misery over a paycheck.  Follow your dreams.

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April 10th, 2009

I met a gentleman named Dennis in Nebraska that said this to me:

You from Cali?  What are you doing out here?  All there is here are cows, corn, wheat, and a bunch of alcoholics.  I no longer drink, so I’m moving outta here (sic).

To experience what the Great Plains and surrounding areas had to offer, I spent several days during the week working at a horse ranch and farm.  I shoveled manure, fed livestock, drove a tractor and Bobcat, and learned the intricacies of grain as well as the upsides of farming.  I am wont to think that the man fits the job and not vice versa, but the job beckoned me and drew me in with its simplicity.  It was dirty.  It was foul.  It was serendipity.

Though I have physically labored in previous jobs, working on a farm was different.  It was therapeutic – I received a great sense of gratification knowing that my body was aching after work, and, though hectic at times, found it to be quite soothing and tranquil.  Doctors should recommend a couple days working on a farm instead of a weekend getaway at the spa to destress.


Homeless shelter

April 6th, 2009

A couple nights before, I nearly froze to death in Dodge Hill, the windiest city in America.  Last evening, I sojourned at a homeless shelter to escape the bitter cold, after a wind advisory was issued.  Though I am beholden to no one, I am thankful for the ecumenical efforts to provide overnight shelters to indigent transients.  Without such a place, I would be forced to suffer through another miserable night, an experience that I hope not to relive anytime soon.

I understand why homeless shelters are so popular.  They have decent food, entertainment, and toiletries.  In true American spirit, I had overabundance of pork chops, green beans, and an interesting white bean soup, providing me enough calories for the entire week.  It was a great reprieve from the canned food and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I consumed during the past fortnight.

I just dropped off a homeless man at a truck stop and am currently waiting for my car door to be repaired.  A gust of wind forced the door to open at an angle beyond the normal range of motion, causing a gap while closed, and, whilst driving at higher speeds, makes noise reminiscent of a whistle that is as irritating as nails on the chalkboard.  I am lucky that repairs in Kansas are less than half of what they are in California.  Minimum wage can afford one a much better standard of living here – even a wheat harvester can afford his own dwelling.

Life in Kansas is satisfactory.  The countryside is beckoning me to stay a couple more days.  I just might oblige.

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Moral ambiguity

April 5th, 2009

I am walking the fine ethical line.

Take this scenario:

You enter a hotel and use the bathroom not as a patron, but as a guest, because fate dictates that you cannot hold your bowels, and you must use the closest facilities, which happen to be inside this hotel.  It is indubitably clear that nothing is awry here.

Now, let’s suppose that coffee is sitting on a table, which happens to be next to the restroom, but also adjacent to the open dining room that is widely accessible to you.  Free coffee, you say.  Why not?  The person who entered into the hotel before you picked up a cup.

Suppose now, that the dining room has food – fruits, pastries, soda, and other delectable refreshments, and suppose that you are now extremely hungry after completely emptying your innards.  Simple, you say.  There are plenty of places where you can buy food.  But what if you have no money to go elsewhere to fulfill your fleshly desires?  Would you be at the mercy of your appetite?

Extending this scenario once more, suppose that you booked a room at this hotel with your companion and that breakfast is not included with the stay.  Your friend decides to wake up early and shell out $10 for breakfast while you, in your pitiful state, decide to sleep in.  If, on the way out from the dining room, he grabs an apple for you to eat, is it wrong for you to accept it?

This simple illustration has massive repercussions.  What is theft?  What if survival dictated that you steal?  Is there a right answer for the above dilemma, or dilemmas that are mildly more complex than a straight line from point A to point B?  Though the fine line of truth is razor thin, may it not be only the prude that reserves himself to answer such ethical questions.  It is the folly of man to not raise himself above instincts and it is but a positive hindrance to the elevation of oneself.  To propose a decency any less makes us no better than the savages of humanity that we shun.

I find myself in increasingly difficult situations where I must make a sensible effort to determine if my actions are in the right and if my conscience accepts them.  At the present moment, I am in a hotel piggybacking free wi-fi it offers to guests.  Is this wrong?  Let wisdom and scruples be the judge.