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.
There was an obituary that appeared in the newspaper a few days ago. The person who died was an adult male, almost forty-five years old. The entry had his name, birth date, and the date of his death. However, all other information had been withheld.The only other piece of text that was included was a single line; “Their pain has ended.” The lack of information is especially strange considering obituaries are often written by or with the permission of the family involved. I have asked around, but few people have been willing to comment on it.
Upon speaking with the family and talking with local police I was able to get some information. The following is from the testimony of the families eldest daughter of sixteen. It is important to note that despite the strange nature of her admission, she has been deemed sane, and has not be accused of having any fault in the death of her step father.
“I was waiting at the park when the man came up to me . He sat down on the bench and asked me how I had been. He used my name, though I had never seen the man in all of my life. He was very old, and smelled heavily of cologne. His suite was olive green and his eyes were slightly pink. He had dark gums and thin, pink lips. His skin was pale, and was very wrinkly. I didn't like his voice. It was like listening to glass speak.
I asked him how he knew my name. He wouldn't answer that, and simply asked me again how I had been. I didn't know what to make of him. He was talking to me like I knew him, but I knew I had never seen his face before. I was going to leave, but David had told me not to go home for at least a hour. It had only been a half hour, and I was beginning to worry about my sister again.
I told him I was fine, but something in the way he frowned at me made it clear he knew I was lying.