2:54AM, Thursday night / Friday morning. The lobby of an upscale hotel. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
The lights are dim and low, but the internet is still working. I'm not sure if it's the flu or whatever, but I picked up some amoxacillin and took 500 mg. If it's bacterial, that'll kill it dead. My friend and colleague recommended I take probiotics as well to counteract it, so I had yogurt earlier and will try to grab some Korean kimchee tomorrow.
Lil Wayne and Robbin Thick are playing in my little white headphones.
My hands up, my hands up
They want me with my hands up
While walking earlier, the bright moon shining through murky clouds struck me as particularly magnificent and I had an idea for a poem about about John Brown and John Wilkes Booth. It turns into a long Wiki-walk about the American Civil War, and I'm this close to getting the poem finished but can't get the ending right.
It's not so aggravating, though; just writing four-fifths of a poem is an accomplishment. Most of the time I can get the ending right later.
Oh, what's that to my right? A man, maybe... 34 years old?... is sobbing in a woman's arms. He's wearing an upscale white branded t-shirt, and he's the tears are flowing and he's shaking.
Where did they come from? How long have they been there? I'm lost in General Sherman and Robert E. Lee and Reconstruction, and music.
I think they want me to surrender
But no, I can't do it
But no, I can't do it!
I take stock. I reckon -- I got a pretty sure sense of it -- that (1) they're together, and (2) that she was screwing around with another man in some form or fashion.
I don't know how I know. But I know.
And then I say to myself, "That's odd and really presumptuous of me. I'm probably wrong, even. It could be 10,000 things."
The poem just won't end correctly. I'm trying to write, "But the last Act hasn't concluded"... something... Sic Semper Tyrannis!... Lincoln ascends to sainthood and doesn't ever fall into perpetual command (FDR) or face the difficult balancing act and fall into corruption (Grant)... his death grants him sainted immortality, an icon of America unsoiled by trivialities, dying on the grandest stage after accomplishing his mission... that government of the people, by the people, and for the people...
...damn it, I can't get it right. I'm going to play some Chess.
A tense and evenly matched opening, fast pace, but I blunder in the mid-game. It's trending poorly, but I make up for it with some of the best rook play I've ever done. I go from the brink of losing to the brink of winning, and then I run out of time. Ah man, it's just one of those nights. Still, good rook play. That was a weakness of mine before.
The man to the right slaps the woman and throws her to the ground.
What the fuck? Did that just happen?
He's holding her on the floor, and they're shouting at each other.
They're like three feet away from me. This is unfolding as though in slow motion.
It feels like a long time, but it was probably only a few seconds before I react. I take the laptop off my lap, and set it to my left on the bench I'm sitting.
I roll my neck, wrists, shoulders instinctively. Inhale. Exhale. Vigilance. Combat mode.
Now, this is tricky. Obviously motherfuckers can not be beating women around me. On the other hand, this could be some sort of lover's quarrel where I'd be in for a world of hurt if I try to intervene.
I'm running the scenario through my head quickly, and my mind keeps keying in on a glass of whisky on the little table they were sitting at. It seems ominous, as if it's going to be thrown, or perhaps smashed over someone's head (mine?), or -- best case scenario -- only knocked over into a mess of sticky liquor and broken glass on the floor.
This calculation isn't so logical, it happens pretty fast. A third Mongolian man shows up, maybe 37 years old?, before I commit either way. He knows both of them, and starts dragging the man off the woman in slow motion. They know each other, all three of them.
Two female staff from the front desk show up and just stand there watching the scene unfold, not saying or doing anything. That's... interesting.
The younger woman notices the glass of whisky, and perhaps our minds think alike -- she calmly edges around the melee, and picks it up, and carries it to quite a distance away.
Eventually the third man, the 37-year old, gets the spurned boyfriend (fiancee? husband?) off the woman. He gives him a, "What the hell is wrong with you?" shove in the back, but it's not unfriendly.
The original guy calms down. It's over. The 37-year-old buddy is getting the sad/angry man out the frontdoor.
Then, the woman walks right up to the man, and slap/hits him hard in the chest.
And we're off to the races again!
He grabs her awkwardly by the head, and half-throws, half-drags her to the ground. She's shouting and crying, he's crying, the 37-year-old-buddy sighs before intervening again (though more halfheartedly this time), and the two front desk women stand there mostly stoically, partially concealing a slight amusement.
37-buddy gets his friend off the woman again and shoves him out the front door. He then offers his hand to help the woman up, and she glares hard at him. He sighs, rolls his eyes, and gives her a "Am I the only sane one here?" look. Her expression changes and she takes his hand and he helps lift her up.
He says something, but I don't catch it. I gather it's, "Don't start this up again! Jeez!"
They leave. Things are calm a moment, and then all sorts of shouting, and a door slamming, and a car alarm going off outside.
When I was 16 years old, I decided I was going to stand up for what I believe. I was going to speak up. I was going to break up fights, stop people from getting mugged, fight muggers, tell obnoxious people to cut it out, protect weak people, randomly ask someone sitting and crying if they're ok and if they'd like a Coca-Cola, I'd always be forthright and tell people what's going on, I'd try to help people in their lives, and otherwise just do the right thing.
I figured, most people are cowards. They watch terribleness unfold. The bullies, thugs, criminals, oppressors of the world gather resources to them through intimidation and corruption and crime. Without guardians of the world, evil rules. Without people willing to put their lives on the line, their hearts on the line, without people willing to break a hand to slug a mugger, without people willing to face down a mugger with a knife or get a brick thrown at them after cracking one of them hard... without people willing to shout at a mobster bullying McD's employees...
...without people willing to tell you your mistakes, so you can step your game up, so you can thrive, so you can stop making the same boneheaded mistakes...
...without people willing to stop women from getting beaten, muggers from getting someone, people who mis-use the law for their benefit...
...where would the world be?...
...and implementing this policy has cost me immensely in money, time, and lost friendships and relationships. People don't wanted to be helped; they want to keep running broken scripts. The blackhearted and soul-rotted react with no-holds-barred when their authority and positions are challenged. And the people who allow themselves to be victimized don't appreciate courage and intervention on their behalf, as they carry on perpetuating their bad situations for some mis-wired emotional payoff.
The car alarm finally stops and the fracas has vanished into the crisp night air.
Other people's problems? Yeah. Precisely.
I thought the same thing Sweeney, reminded me of the train piece.
I definitely relate Sebastian. I've made a similar adjustment in my thinking in the last year. I think you can open the door for people and give them the opportunity, but only they can step through.
Loved the longer piece.
You can't really help people who don't want to be helped. Just like you can't force someone on a diet. They've got to have the desire to change.
On the issue of broken cycles relating to abuse, Theodore Dalrymple, a doctor who worked in inner city prisons for over 10 years, has some great thoughts in his book Life At The Bottom:
"At first, of course, my female patients deny that the violence of their men was foreseeable. But when I ask them whether they think I would have recognized it in advance, the great majority—nine out of ten—reply, yes, of course. And when asked how they think I would have done so, they enumerate precisely the factors that would have led me to that conclusion. So their blindness is willful."
Read the rest: http://www.city-journal.org/html/9_1_oh_to_be.html
Love the writing.
Reminiscent of the long piece.. where you have coffee while watching the trains go by.
I hope the productivity run is going well.. it's been too long since I've read Ikigai.
March 10, 2010. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Late morning.
I pulled on my swim trunks, trainers, and a tank top and walked out of my little guesthouse room, sliding through the cramped restaurant strewn with tables, and out into the hot, dusty air of Phnom Penh. It's a hot day. It'll be good to swim after lifting weights.
I said, "No no, thank you" to the tuk-tuk drivers offering to take me somewhere in the city, pushed through the little crowd, and out onto the street. The streets in Cambodia more resemble alleyways than streets, and I navigate around people and vehicles.
I went down to the end of the street, turned left, and skirted along close to the local restaurants, half-tent half-storefront type places to get food. I stepped into the crosswalk, the Hotel Cambodiana rising in front of me. I check right and then left, and I watch left as I cross, watching for oncoming traffic.
A loud scream rings out. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
I'm on my way home for the first time since winter break. I'm sitting here, in an airport, waiting for my second flight to begin boarding. Most people find airports and travelling stressful (at least until they reach their destination), but I quite enjoy every aspect about it. Airports have great people watching opportunities.
I've travelled enough to know that if you miss your flight, sooner or later there's going to be another flight. On my way to Japan, my flight was cancelled because of a typhoon. I ended up spending the night in Korea. It was cool, the airlines put us up in a nice hotel, fed us an enormous amount of food, and I got an extra stamp in my passport and a great story to tell. I also know that security lines can be a pain, but if you're nice to the employees, you just might make their day. They have to deal with a lot of crabby people, after all. If the lines are really long and you end up sprinting eighty gates to catch your flight, sometimes the flight attendants are nice enough to give you a complimentary bottle of water. And if you're really lucky, your flight attendant is going to be absolutely hilarious. Every part of travelling is an adventure, so I like to relax, put myself in a corner, and watch the people walk by.
A mom holds a one year old baby, who drops his pacifier. The mom doesn't notice, so a college student wearing red Beats headphones picks it up and chases her down, and she thanks him profusely. The college student is on Spring Break, likely headed home, or to Florida, or California, or maybe to visit a friend at another school. The student turns and continues walking towards his gate, passing a businessman. The businessman is headed home after a long week at a conference in Texas. He is still wearing his suit and has his briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other. He looks worn. He sits down next to a teenage girl in a Red Sox cap. The girl is waiting for her friends who are using the bathroom. Her friends walk up to her and together the three of them walk to get in line to board their plane. In front of them stands a man in a military uniform and his family. The man carries himself proudly, he's so young, but he's honored to be serving his country. When it is the family's turn to get tickets scanned, the young man turns to kiss his wife, whispers "I love you" into her ear, hugs his three small kids, and says "Okay, see you guys in a year." He alone has his ticket scanned, and he heads down the jet way. No one in his family is crying, they've probably been preparing for this for a while, but one of the girls behind them in line has tears in her eyes. The wife and kids turn and walk away from the gate. They pass a woman in a wheelchair being pushed by an airport employee. The woman has just spent a few days visiting her grandkids, and she is chatting with the employee about everything she's done. A young boy in a Russell Wilson jersey accidentally cuts the woman off. "I'm so sorry, excuse him," says the father of the boy, "Go Hawks!" says the old woman. The father hurries after his son who gets in line at McDonald's. Another man is leaving the McDonald's wearing a pink Dora backpack, pulling a suitcase, and holding the hand of his daughter, who holds his other daughter's hand, who holds a happy meal toy in her other hand. They are running, rushing to make their flight, and they disappear around the corner.
I don't know if they made their flight. I don't know much about any of these people in the airport. I don't really know their stories. But every one of them was interesting for the brief moments that I watched them today.
Once I was on a short-two hour flight. All I wanted to do was put in some headphones, or sleep, or read a book, but I was seated next to a talkative old man. He talked to me for the entire plane ride, takeoff to landing. He told me that he was afraid of heights (not what you want to hear from the passenger next to you). He then told me about how he had been in the military, and had jumped out of planes ("Excuse me sir, didn't you just say you were afraid of heights?"). He told me about all of his training, swim tests and such, and then about how he was selected for a specific unit or group, something like that, and about jumping out of a plane for the first time. He was really scared, he said, and his instructor basically pushed him out. When he retired he had jumped thirty seven times. As I disembarked the plane, his wife caught up to me, "I'm so sorry, he never stops talking." "No worries, ma'am, it was interesting." I never would have heard his story if I had been sleeping or listening to music.