December 6, 2018

lost cat

Earlier today I was doing something that is pretty unusual for me.  I was walking on the far western side of campus, in an area I’m not all that familiar with.  That’s because my office, the writing center I manage, and those places I most often frequent are located on the east side.

Suddenly, in these strange surroundings, I found myself face to face with a student.  He was a tall boy who had to look down on me.  His mouth opened and out came a question:  “Can you tell me where Brazos Hall is?”

When students ask me things—and they often do in my line of work—I almost always have a satisfactory answer for them.  In this case, though, I was dumbfounded.  I sort of cast a frantic look about and said, “I’m sorry but I don’t really know.”

At that precise instant, a coed who’d overheard our exchange stepped up to us and said, “It’s over there.”  Then she pointed in a northerly direction.

The young man smiled, thanked us both, and took off toward his desired destination.

On my way back to my office I started thinking about this encounter.  The more I thought about it, the more upset I became.  Why hadn’t I known where Brazos Hall is?  After all, this is the place I work!  It’s like the world I inhabit five days a week!

I like to think that I’m a kind of explorer, but in this particular instance, I seemed not to know much about this campus.  And this made me feel really disappointed with myself.

The key phrase in the previous paragraph was “I like to think.”  I like to think that I am curious and explore a lot, but this most recent experience, where I didn’t know something that I clearly should have, raises doubts about the veracity of the way I talk about myself when others ask me what sort of person I am.  Does this mean I’m not the person I claim to be or think myself to be?  Do I need to reassess what I think I know about the sort of person I am?  Have I gotten lazier?  More accepting of the idea that I know so little?

There is certainly some evidence to suggest that I get around and have discovered a lot about the world and my surroundings by exploring.  For example, I have lived in five countries—often under very difficult circumstances—and that takes guts.  Cowards don’t move off to live in countries like Poland, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt, and they don’t travel, as a tourist, to as many off-the-beaten-path places as I have without having at least a bit of moxie.  But that period is now in my past.  I returned to America about three and a half years ago and haven’t left since.  I’m starting to think I’m beginning to look like the kind of person we think of as “rooted.”

I’ve had this job for nearly a year and a half and I still don’t know where Brazos Hall is!  Clearly, when it comes to this college, I’m rooted in my little part of campus.

While writing all this I’ve made a vow—to get out more.  To go to places that are off my beaten path.  To find Brazos Hall all by myself and to go inside the building and look at it closely, to know its every nook and cranny.  I want to know how many floors it has, what color its walls are painted, how it’s laid out.

If I don’t do this with Brazos Hall and with all the other places I haven’t yet seen—despite having been here long enough to know the place backwards, forwards, and sideways—then I’m going to feel like a failure.  I’m going to feel like I’m no longer the Troy I once was.  And I’m going to wonder where he’s gone.  (Is he dead?)  And, if he is, might he somehow be resurrected?

 

 

December 4, 2018

fear

For many years I suffered from “white coat hypertension,” meaning that my blood pressure would spike when I went to see a doctor—any doctor—for any sort of reason.  This happened, of course, because I found going to such places–where the smells of illness and disinfectant hang heavily in the air–to be very frightening.

You might think this sounds like a pretty weird phobia to have.  On the other hand, a little cursory reading on the internet shows it to be a fairly common one.  I suppose that makes a whole lot of us pretty weird.

Fear of doctors and going to see them is rooted in the fact that we mostly only go to talk with such people when there’s something amiss in our bodies.  Thus, the physician’s office is a place where one goes in mostly expecting bad news and is usually not disappointed in this respect.  Plus, one does things in clinics and hospitals that one almost never does in any other context.  For example, how often is a person asked to pee into a tiny plastic cup or is approached by an individual with a syringe who then proceeds to inserted said sharp object into one’s vein to suck blood—a vital fluid—out of one’s body.  Or how frequently is an individual required to stand partially or completely naked in front a complete stranger to be squeezed, poked, and prodded by fingers and a variety of cold, metal instruments?  To top it all off, nurses and doctors have a long history of asking really embarrassing questions.  As a matter of fact, I recall going to a clinic a few years back for a bit of a stomach problem and having a lovely woman with a stethoscope hanging around her neck ask me, with a perfectly straight face, “Are you very often flatulent?”

As far as I can recall, she was the first and only person to ever ask me, pointblank, about farting.

I am thinking about doctors and my fear of them because I had the first part of a physical examination about one week.  As is normally the case, it was a pretty unsettling experience.

Of course, a variety of exams were given, including an EKG.  Before the test took place, I was asked to remove my shirt and undershirt.  While doing so, I became painfully aware of how hairy my torso was.  In addition, I looked down, once I was half naked, and took note of the flabbiness of my midsection.  I considered, for a split section, sucking my gut in but wondered how long I’d be able to hold it like that before my face turned blue, raising additional medical suspicions.  I had been left all alone in the examination room to ponder my physical imperfections.  After five minutes or so, a nurse wheeled in the EKG machine, asked me to lie, face up, on a terribly cold and elevated examination table.  She started sticking what felt to be suction cups to my hairiness.  To pretend that none of this was happening, I stared up at the ceiling and began to fixate my gaze upon the light fixture. The machine was turned on and something started happening, although that something made no sound or gave any other signs that it was operating.  Luckily, after a very short time, the exam was completed, and she told me I could cover my embarrassingly white flesh as she wheeled the contraption out of the room.

After a few minutes the doctor came in with my file in hand.  He began to thumb through pages of information about me.  I was acutely aware that he likely knew more about me than I know about myself.  I’m pretty sure my white coat hypertension came back at that moment, but not being hooked up to a sphygmomanometer, it was nigh impossible for me to know for sure.  I could feel my face flushing, though, which was a pretty clear sign.

 

November 8, 2018

old-man-watch-time-160975

I always arrive at work at 7:50 a.m.  That’s ten minutes before I have to officially unlock the writing center door, turn on the lights, and open up for business.

This morning, at approximately 7:55, I made a quick trip to the men’s restroom.  Actually, I’m pretty lucky in that it’s located just a few feet away from our center.  (There’s a lot to be said for convenience.)  Anyway, when I stepped into the place, there was a man just finishing up his business at one of the urinals.  As soon as he zipped up and turned toward me, I noticed that he had a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth.  Seeing this prompted me to ask, “Multitasking are you?”  He found my question humorous.  I know this because he began to smile when I put it to him.  He then walked to the sink, spit a wad of froth from his mouth, and thoroughly washed his hands, face, and brush.

This rather inconsequential encounter in the john got me thinking about how busy our lives are.  It was both a little humorous and a little sad that this fellow couldn’t focus on either peeing or brushing and found himself having to do them simultaneously.  I hope it doesn’t come to the point that we have to carry around little pocket-sized planners to schedule our bowel movements.

Having lived in other countries I can say for a fact—at least it seems certain enough that it feels factual—that life in America is more hectic than in other places.  There’s always someplace to be, some call to make, a bundle of bills to pay, a job that needs doing.  The rich manage all this by hiring secretaries, managers, publicists, maids, nannies, and so on.  The poor manage this by going insane.  Those that don’t go crazy turn to the bottle or some other form of escapism that’s bound to be at least a little self-destructive.

I haven’t entirely figured it out yet, but I feel pretty certain that there’s some sort of relationship between living under a pretty hardcore capitalist economic system and the sort of panicky feeling I often have.  I’m not sure why that’s the case.  (Maybe it’s because we say that time is money in America?)  I wonder if people who live in more socialistic countries aren’t just a little calmer.  My guess is that they are.

I’m going to spend the rest of the afternoon—after I get all this stuff done that needs doing—thinking about this question of capitalism and anxiety.  There certainly has to be a connection.  I’m positively sure there must be.

 

October 30, 2018

I lived in Egypt from 2008 to 2015.  That put me in the country during the 2011 Revolution.

After the Egyptians flexed their collective muscles, others, including the Americans, were inspired to follow suit.  (Everyone remembers the Occupy Wall Street movement, right?)  Activists squatted in Zuccotti Park just like the Cairenes had done in Tahrir Square.  Then the movement metastasized.

Eventually, though, the occupiers dispersed or underwent a metamorphosis.  (Energy of that sort never fully disappears.)

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Zuccotti Park and Tahrir Square.  And I’ve gained some insights about what happened in those places.  For example, I’ve come to see revolution as a metaphor. It is a kind of human flowering that occurs even during a drought.  Actually it occurs because there’s a drought.  That makes it very ironic.

Revolution is an ending.  It is a beginning too.

It can also be seen as an expression of that which can’t be fully expressed.

M****** Wanted to Ride Me Like a Donkey

A few days ago I started penning  a memoir as a way of coming out of a period of creative dormancy.

This post–the part that follows this intro–is an excerpt from that not-yet-titled autobiographical work.

This will be my second autobiography.  The first one was called Blue Yonder.  It was never published even though I sent it off to several literary agents in NYC (and elsewhere) and was able to generate considerable interest.  M****** K******–I don’t remember the name of the agency she worked for–strung me along for months.  She liked the manuscript but requested a few rewrites which I completed.  She also asked me to write up a book proposal.  Again, I obliged.

I sent the proposal off and she took a long while reviewing it.  She came back with a critique of my marketing plan.  She asked me to do a little research on how to market a work of nonfiction and then resubmit the proposal.  Being the good boy that I am, I did all that she asked.

To make a long story short, she eventually, after giving me the run around and building my hopes up, sent a cursory rejection note.  This had been the culmination of months of work on my part and lots of to and fro emailing.

This whole experience taught me lessons.  For one, my writing is good enough.  (She even told me so.)  Secondly, her sole reason for rejecting me was rooted in the fact I hadn’t proved to her that I could be a good salesman.  By the way, I never, not once, not even in the initial query letter, promised that I was an experienced hawker of books.  (Isn’t it asking enough that one be able to write one?)  Wasn’t she supposed to do something other than contact the publishing houses after I’d put years of labor into the project?  Her webpage promised that she would be with her authors every step of the way.  Did she really mean that or were those just pretty words?

What M****** wanted was to ride me like a donkey.  I was supposed to carry her to the place where all the money could be found and then she would jump off my back long enough to fill her saddlebags with dough.  Had I signed up with her and had book sales lagged, I sure she would have taken out a stick and flogged me on my butt along with digging her spurs into my flanks.

Anyway, I’m ready to try again, but not with M******.  The first couple of pages of the first-draft of this second attempt can be found below:

***

My heart is untroubled, and my face wears a permanent smile.  When I close my eyes and try to visualize what I look like, in my current state, I see myself as a contented Buddha-like character, sitting with crossed legs under a lotus tree.

I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, as well as beating around the bush.  I’m trying to say that I’m in one of those rare good places in my life where everything seems to have worked out perfectly well and now, as a result, I am truly happy.  I don’t know if this wonderful turn of events happened because I was able to engineer it to be so or if it’s the result of pure dumb luck.

Most of the last two years—up until about four months ago—have been damned hard, and I was, during that period of darkness, not at all feeling blissful.  Looking back at my recent past, I could say—without being guilty of anything that even remotely resembles exaggeration—that I’ve just come through hell.  On my trip through the fiery pit, I got a bit singed but wasn’t wholly reduced to ashes.

My story starts on the evening of July 2, 2015, the day I landed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas, and was greeted by my father and stepmother.  I hardly remember my arrival in Texas’ capital because I was so exhausted.  I’m sure that the three of us talked about how my flights had gone and other inane subjects while we waited for my two pieces of luggage to find their way onto the baggage carousel conveyor belt and then into my hands.  We then made our way to my parents’ parked car, loaded my suitcases into its trunk, and drove the whole kit and caboodle to Georgetown, Texas, a beautiful, smallish city that’s located just up Interstate 35 about half an hour or so.  Once in Georgetown and at my folks’ place, I went immediately to bed and slept the fitful sort of semi-slumber I always have after completing one of my international sojourns.

This particular trip had been a really long one.  I’d started it in Cairo, Egypt, and had passed over portions of three continents—Africa, Europe, and North America—and two significant bodies of water—the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  I’d had a long layover at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport where I wiled away the hours awaiting my next flight by wandering among souvenir shops and looking at tiny, plastic versions of the Eiffel Tower.  My movements through said shops bore a strong resemblance to the way a zombie might wander in a post-apocalyptic landscape.  On a side note, many people who travel by plane have the good fortune of being able to sleep aboard those big birds as they cruise high above terra firma, but I am not blessed like this, which means that I always have to find ways to kill time.  Often, while on board, I achieve this by drinking as much alcohol as my belly and bladder can hold.  This method is tried and true for me and I took full advantage of it as I made my slow way over land and sea…

 

 

Hoot!

owlsI’ve always been a collector.  I can’t even remember when, precisely, this habit got started.  As a very young lad, I owned several hundred—it could have been as many as a thousand—stamps from many countries of the world that I would diligently paste into albums, using those little hinges that could be purchased in variety stores.

Over the years, you name it and I’ve obsessively acquired it.  I went through a period when I was interested in porcelain objects that had the worlds “Occupied Japan” stamped on their undersides.  I then got into refrigerator magnets and spent hours shopping for them on eBay.  I currently have a couple of dozen beautiful Middle Eastern rugs on the floor of my apartment.  I remember how much pleasure it gave me when I acquired each one.  Honestly, if I had an unlimited supply of greenbacks, I’d probably become something akin to a hoarder.  The feeling I get when I simply hold one these highly prized objects in my hands is hard to describe.

Having said all this, you probably will not be surprised to hear that I have been buying owl figurines—made of every sort of material that can be used to manufacture such a creature—for a great many years.  In fact, my collection is so extensive that I don’t even have all of them in my possession.  Many are stored away in boxes in closets inside houses that belong to a great many relatives.

My interest in owls began as a result of an interesting encounter I had, now a couple of decades or so back, with a real live bird of this sort.  This “meeting” (of the souls?) happened while I was visiting my maternal grandparents who happened to reside, at that time in their lives, out in the country, a dozen or so miles to the west of a little Texas city called San Angelo.

Just after breakfast, on the second day of a four-day visit, I announced that I wanted to take a walk, so I bundled up—it was a cold, wintry day as I recall—and then left the house.  I wandered for an hour or so.  My walkabout took me down forsaken country roads that meandered here and there and then petered out, becoming little more than footpaths in the process.  I breathed the crisp country air in and exhaled clouds of steam.  I looked up, studied the sky, and wondered if it might sleet or even snow.

During such a moment of speculation, a voice in my head said, “Turn around now and have a look at what’s behind you.”  When I did so, I saw an enormous bird—I didn’t yet know that it was an owl—perched on the limb of a dead tree, not more than ten feet away.  The creature had its back to me, and it stayed like that for several seconds as my eyes fixated on it.  Suddenly, its head swiveled around and I saw two large and seemingly inquisitive owl eyes peering at me.  The two of us held perfectly still like that, staring at one another, for what seemed like a long time.  The bird abruptly blinked, maybe three times, let out a preternatural hoot, and then flew away.

About ten days later, while wandering around in a junk shop, I bought my first owl.  Before deciding to make the purchase, I held the thing in my hands a good long time, checking it out for imperfections.  I found none and the price was right.  The rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

 

Our Saturdays and Sundays

estate liquidation

When Azza and I moved from Cairo, Egypt, to San Antonio, Texas, USA, we didn’t bring a lot with us.  Actually, I take that back.  We transported a hellacious load of boxes, via a cargo container that was loaded into ship that had dropped anchor in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, but that lot didn’t include much furniture.  So, when we set up house in SA, we lived a Spartan existence for a while.

We did not despair about our lack of furnishings.  Instead, for months now, on weekends, beginning early every Saturday morning, we rise and shine to make the rounds at garage sales, yard sales, parking lot sales, estate sales, and any other kind of retail enterprise, large or small, where folks hawk previously owned goods at affordable prices.  We learn about these buying opportunities via the World Wide Web, on this site and this one.  We also locate them by sheer accident as we drive around and through the sprawling metropolis that is San Antonio.

I have to admit that this sort of shopping beats the hell out of a visit to IKEA or some such place.  I am particularly fond of estate sales even though I always feel a little sinful—that might not be exactly the right word, but it’s close—while picking up and handling a family’s once-cherished possessions.  Poking my nose into their bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, dining room, kitchens, and private crawl spaces invariably leaves me feeling a bit like an impertinent ogler.  For example, if I walk into a home where the owner had an obsession for footwear—there are plenty of houses that are simply stuffed to the rafters with an obscenely large number of pairs of women’s shoes—I always feel like I’ve discovered a family secret that the inhabitants would have preferred not to have become common knowledge.

shoes

Estate sale shopping is always a little sad, too.  I invariably run across wheelchairs, walkers, and packets of unopened adult diapers, the tell-tale signs of deterioration and demise.  I often find that my eyes fixate on these items as my mind tries to conjure an image of the person (or persons) who used them.  I then turn away and wander into a new room, one where the walls are decorated by dusty black-and-white photos of people I’ll never know and who are probably long gone and forgotten.

Not long ago, while the two of us were walking down the hallway of a particularly large house that was simply bursting at the seams with stuff, Azza stopped me dead in my tracks by grabbing my arm.  “Troy, promise me one thing,” she said with a troubled look on her face.

“What’s that?” I asked her.

“When we die, you’ll never let anyone open up our house in this way.”

“OK,” I said.

She then let my arm go and we continued moving from room to room, picking up a few purchases as we went along.