A blur of spectacles flash before me every day, be it sirens in the distance, flash blizzards from the North East or the homeless. The sirens never seem to die, even as they approach the horizon, and the snow is torrential, heavy and undiscerning. The hopelessness of the homeless, who utter things like “have a nice day — and a better tomorrow” as they drag their feet past you, shaking an empty plastic frappuchino cup with about eighty cents in nickels and dimes is something I’ll never be ok with, no matter how many different cities I see it in. And it’s always worse on the metro, which they call subway here. I’ll have to remember that.
I sustain myself on a diet of bread and cheese, seemingly unable to break off from my European customs. Also, the coffee sucks, which complicates things. With such restlessness my darker thoughts form cohesion. My anger gives me focus. And then I open the wine. En vino veritas.
And all is forgotten.
Rambling down 6th ave on an icy night that bites and gnaws on any exposed flesh gives me more perspective than I care to have. The Avenue of the Americas, Times Square, Little Brazil, all the way down from Columbus Circle at the park. The people, their indifference to each other, bumps on the sidewalk here and there – I think somehow I’m already a part of this mob, inasmuch as I can ever be.
I’ve been walking among them like a zombie now for days. Still working on European time, I wake up at 2 am and go through the day on 3 hours of sleep for a couple weeks at a time, stopping for a few days between projects to explore the dark, to exercise, and run through my German language CDs. It’s the price I pay for leading a life with a foot on each side of the pond.
A friend of mine told me once that when you’re dealing with the Middle East, there’s no such thing as “staying on the fence”. There’s a parallel here, I just know it.
But I’m somehow outside of it all, it occurs to me. I stumble in between office environments in my line of work, jumping from meeting to meeting, from client to client. Never belonging anywhere I go, always carrying a visitor’s badge. Really what I’m doing is wandering through people’s lives, observing, noting…occasionally judging. I can’t help that — it’s an occupational hazard of life on the go, of those who live on the road. We may covet the sense of normality that most people have, but we judge the mediocrity of it. We may occasionally seek the comforts of stability but we always yearn for the excitement of spontaneity. We want to have our cake and eat it too.
But at some point we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone will have a normal life. Not everyone is capable of it. We will have to accept that the moment has come and gone many times to go down the familiar road that others do — a road that leads to routine, to tradition, to recognizable successes and failures. And we must remember that at every juncture we have chosen to veer from that path, even if it was at the last minute.
Should we ask ourselves why?
Of course. But when you start discussing reasons for things like that, you start getting into very ugly territory and people do not easily forget that kind of talk. You have to answer questions about what it would be like to feel like a part of something, even if it was something that a part of you hated, and leaves open a lot of flaws of a lot of people. Because then you’d have to put up with things like computer desktops with cats looking back at you, cups with stupid things written on them, like “Hello Monday”, and blurry pictures of people’s mediocre-looking children. You’d have to completely forget the idea of warming your feet on the radiator while drinking whisky out of a mug on a cold snowy Tuesday. You’d have to have a sense that clients and coworkers are more than just faces on a calendar week.
…and how is that worth my frequent flier points?
But maybe this problem is not entirely outside my scope of expertise. As it is I have a problem with the way I’m doing things, or the way I perceive them. I need to fix the way I’m doing things, or else find a new way to do it. In terms of what I would tell my clients, I’m spending too much time trying to re-engineer a bad process, as I often blame them of doing. Maybe it’s time to find a new process. Maybe it’s time to take some of my own drugs.
Sometimes you recognize wisdom in the most unlikely of places. Like, for example, Turkish digital projectors.
At a meeting in Istanbul I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath, my mind fighting to keep the lights on and the lids up. The voices in the room droned on and on about something I couldn’t have been less interested in but needed to be. I am, after all, a professional.
As the speaker wrapped up and the pace changed a bit I started coming to, my senses resharpening in the expectation that soon I’d be on a flight out of that place. But not before I noticed something on the screen.
The projected image was flickering and people were bothered by it. The speaker checked her notebook for a bad connection, and someone else checked the projector, smacking it lightly like a misbehaving child.
I noticed that no one had bothered to read the white text on the blue background of the shutdown screen that was flickering, which read: “The Lamp is getting old. Buy a spare lamp.”
Huh, I thought. I think I might be on to something.