Monday, September 30, 2019

Safe Travels

The first thing I thought when I boarded a bus to take me home from work today was that the guy sitting closest to the door looked weird. His eyes just looked strange, and I didn’t like the way that he looked at the person who had boarded the bus prior to me. There was a seat open next to this strange looking guy, but I decided not to take it for obvious reasons. Instead, I walked to the rear of the bus and took a seat next to someone there.

When the bus began to move, I took out my phone and began reading the online Cliff’s Notes for Hemingway’s short stories. I had just begun to read the criticism for another of the stories when I was interrupted by the man sitting next to me. He had taken one of his earbuds out of his ears and was holding it toward me, like an offering. He wanted to know if I would like to listen to his music with him.

At first, what this man had just done didn’t even register; I was too busy trying to figure out whether I knew him not. He was in his early 20s, had red hair and glasses. My first thought: “Oh, no. I just want to read my Cliff Notes in peace. Did I just sit down next to someone I know?” But then I realized that in fact I did not know this person; I did not know this person and yet for some reason he had just asked me if I would like to share his earbuds with him and listen to music!

“I’m fine, thank you,” I said, declining the offer.

“OK. Safe travels,” he said. He then put the one earbud that he had had held up to me back into his right ear.

Though I was shocked that a stranger had just asked me to listen to his music with him, the words that he used after I had declined his offer soothed me -- “Safe travels.” In fact, I kept repeating this phrase of his over and over to myself, almost like the recitation of some mantra, and doing so neutralized any feelings of awkwardness that the interaction had produced in me.

It wasn’t until I had gone back to my reading that I caught a whiff of alcohol. When my seatmate had asked me if I’d like to listen to music with him, I hadn’t smelled any alcohol. But now after he had opened his mouth to speak, I did, and that made things clearer for me.

I do admit that before having smelled the alcohol I had created a story in my mind about this man and why he might have asked me to listen to music with him. Perhaps he had seen me reading a text in English and was listening to music with English lyrics and for some reason, some crazy reason, thought that I, a total stranger, would like to listen to his music with him.

But now it was clear. This man had been drinking.

When I got off the bus, I made sure to say bye to my seatmate in a hearty fashion. After all, he had wished me safe travels. But he didn’t reply. He didn't even look up.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Chess Game

I'm super proud of the following chess game, maybe the most proud out of any chess game I've ever posted on my blog. Reason being . . . well, there are a few. After the game, when I analyzed my moves with a computer, the computer said that I played with 93 percent accuracy. That is really hard to attain, no matter how hard one tries. Also, I played with a lot of patience. I first dealt with and repelled many of the black threats to the queenside before turning to black's kingside. Often when one plays chess, one wants very badly to attack. However, in certain positions one first has to concentrate on defense before doing so. Also, I have studied the opening that is played in this game, the "Sicilian Defense," for many years, and I was able to apply a lot of my knowledge. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


I can still remember how my 3rd grade classroom looked. It was a big room with desks in the center not in rows but in islands. We sat at islands made up of about five desks. Some of the desks faced the blackboard, which was in the front of the classroom, some faced the windows, but from all of the desks one had a good, clear view of the blackboard.

On the walls of the classroom there were displays featuring work that we, the students, had done. Some of the best art projects were hung up at these displays, as were top-scoring quizzes. There was a sheet of oaktag on one of the walls, the one next to the cubbies, and on this sheet of oaktag was a list of all our names, and next to our names, stars. For every “100%” we got on a spelling test, we would get a star. I had always thought how easy it would be to steal stars away from other students and put them next to my name, but never did.

The teacher we had for 3rd grade was Mrs. Bell. Mrs. Bell was nice but she was a person who could be stern. You didn’t feel like you could just do whatever you wanted in Mrs. Bell’s class. I remember one time I was with my mom near a local bank and we ran into Mrs. Bell, and I thought that perhaps I would be in trouble, but Mrs. Bell said nothing bad about me to my mom, and the whole interaction went off without a hitch.

In those days, the teachers in the elementary schools were almost religious about checking homework and Mrs. Bell was no exception. When we wouldn’t do our homework, she would write it down in her book as an “X,” and if we got enough “X’s,” it would affect our report card. The fear of getting an “X” was enough to make me think twice about not doing my homework, and to the extent that I can remember, this system of Mrs. Bell’s was mostly successful.

Nevertheless, I remember a new rule that Mrs. Bell instituted after enough students had repeatedly failed to do their homework. Instead of coming around to check to see if we had done our homework or not, Mrs. Bell said that she now wanted us to come to the front of the class, where she would have a desk set up, a desk separate from her main one. We were to come up to that desk, where she would would be sitting, and show her our homework. If we hadn’t done our homework we were still to come up to the desk, and it would be there that we would report that information.

Obviously, this new system was designed to strike fear into our little hearts. It was one thing to tell Mrs. Bell that we hadn’t done our homework as she passed around the class with her marking book. It was another thing entirely to have to stand before her and report that we had not done what we were supposed to have done. How awful that would be, I had thought many times, having to report your dereliction of duty to the teacher while the whole class listened on!

In fact, it was the fear of such embarrassment that lay behind an act of subterfuge I carried out one day in class.

You see, in order to prove to Mrs. Bell that we hadn’t done our homework while waiting for our turn to be called up to her desk, she had told us that she wanted our homework always to be signed by our parents.

Normally, this was not a problem, but on the day that I actually hadn't done my homework and needed to do it while waiting for my turn to come to her desk, it was a big one.

After finishing the homework -- I think it was a spelling assignment -- I sat at my desk and wondered what I could do. Well, there was only one thing to do. And that was forge a signature. But there was an inherent problem with this idea. My mother had a flowing signature, with curves that were graceful if not flamboyant, and I would never be able to reproduce such a thing. However, my grandma had been up in New York visiting us from Florida and I had remembered how she would often talk about her arthritis. I didn’t know what arthritis was, but I knew it was some kind of disease of the bones, and I knew that it was painful. I also knew that it could affect the way a person wrote, especially if the person had arthritis of the hands. So, on the top of my homework I wrote in all capital letters, as straightly and as neatly as I could, “ANNA.”

Finally, it was my turn to go up to the front. After handing over my paper to Mrs. Bell, I waited a few beats before explaining that the reason why my grandma had written her name in such a strange and primitive way was because she had arthritis. I remember thinking I was going to be caught. But, instead, Mrs. Bell just checked my homework and didn’t say anything, and I was able to return to my seat in due course.

It wasn’t until many, many, many years later that I realized how brilliant I actually was that day.

The Relationship Is Over

This is just a little writing exercise. Enjoy.

One day while walking downtown I ran into a person I knew, and we began to talk about his relationship. He told me that he and I probably wouldn’t see each other again for a long time because he was getting ready to move to his girlfriend, who lived about 500 miles away.

I told this person that I was very surprised that he was moving away because he had always told me how much he loved the city that he and I lived in. He said that he knew, but this arrangement he had worked out with his girlfriend was for the best. His girlfriend, he said, had children who still attended grade school, and she had a job that required her to work where she currently worked. He said that the plan would be to live in this new city with his girlfriend for some time and then to move back to the city that he and I both lived in and loved. Again, I was surprised by the news, but I wished the man the best of luck.

A few months later, I saw this man again, again by chance. At first I hadn’t even remembered our conversation about his plan to move, but then it dawned on me: Wasn’t he supposed to have moved away? I asked him what the situation was.

“That’s not happening anymore,” he said, referring to the move.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because the relationship . . . It's over.”

“What? Really?"

“Yup, it’s over. The relationship is over.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

Chess Game

I'm very proud of this chess game. Even though it ended after my opponent made a blunder, I feel as though that blunder was the product of all the pressure that I put on him throughout the entire game. I have the white pieces.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


When I was in high school, I knew a girl named Amanda. Amanda was really sweet. On my birthday during my sophomore year, she surprised me in study hall with cupcakes that she had baked for me. Before that, I don’t think any friend I had ever had had ever baked for me, and the gesture obviously made a big impression.

I remember one Saturday night during my sophomore year, I went over to Amanda's house. She had a den and I remember that we sat there, listened to music and talked. The only song I remember listening to that night with her was Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but it was a wide-ranging conversation. I do remember that we ordered Chinese food and, unfortunately, it got me sick.

A few years later, when I was a senior and about to graduate, I asked Amanda to sign my yearbook. This is a tradition that we have in the U.S.: getting your friends to sign your senior yearbook. The unwritten rule of this tradition is that you, as the signee, must write a sincere message. I remember exactly what Amanda wrote. Apparently, during that wide-ranging conversation we had had that night, I had told Amanda that I liked being creative not only in one way but in many ways, and I never wanted to limit myself when it came to my creativity. Amanda remembered my saying that, and in her message to me wrote that she will always remember that night in her parents' den and how I said I never wanted to limit myself creatively. But the best was how she ended her message. With an imperative: “Don’t ever limit yourself, Chad.”

Friday, September 20, 2019

Break on Through to the Other Side

Standing in front of the grave of Jim Morrison in Paris the other day, a thought I had struck me.

Jim Morrison is buried in the Pére Lachaise cemetery, a massive burial ground located in the east of the city.

Many famous people are interred at Pére Lachaise (pron. pair-le-CHEZ), among them are Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Gertrude Stein and Edith Piaf.

Nevertheless, despite all the famous people buried at the cemetery, the grave of Jim Morrison is the only one that is walled off by Plexiglass.

Which was the thought that had struck me.

Standing there in front of The Lizard King’s tombstone, I thought, “Wow, out of the thousands upon thousands of people buried at this centuries-old cemetery, only the grave of Jim Morrison, a 27-year-old American musician, is walled off by Plexiglass.

It was an interesting thought, and after a while at the gravesite, thinking on this thought and others, I decided I’d had enough and to be on my way.

But I still wasn’t satisfied with this only-Jim-Morrison's-grave-is-protected thought of mine. How could it be, I wondered, that this guy, this crazy musician, out of all the people buried at this cemetery, is the only person whose grave needs to be protected by Plexiglass? How could it be that out of all these writers, politicians, poets, dancers, philosophers and architects only Jim Morrison’s grave needs to be walled off?

And then it hit me.

You can’t fuck to architecture.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Lying in my bed this morning, a thought I had struck me. Looking at my clock, which is near my bed and also displays the date, I saw that it was September 11th. Upon seeing the date, I thought, “Wow, it doesn’t feel like September 11th."

Other September 11ths, you see, had sort of felt like September 11ths. What I mean by that is, I had always been able to sort of feel the day, the gravity of it. I had always been able to place myself somehow into world events and reflect on what it had meant for it to be September 11th, another year later.

But not this morning. And that was the thought that had struck me. “Wow, September 11th just feels like any old date." But it’s not, which is why I thought I might share some of my remembrances from that day, 18 years ago. I hope you enjoy and appreciate the piece.

My very first encounter with the tragedy that was September 11th was the sound of my college roommate’s voice, waking me out of my sleep. Jake and I shared a small room on the second floor of a dormitory that was a part of SUNY Cortland, my college. I had been sleeping but was awoken when Jake, who had already turned on the TV and saw the news, said, “Dude, it’s World War III.” When I finally came to, I think I must have asked him what he meant and after I did, he replied, “The Twin Towers are down.”

I remember thinking to myself, “What?” But the funny thing is, right after Jake explained to me what had happened -- by then it was a little after 10:30 a.m. and both towers had already fallen -- I immediately comprehended it and understood it. There was no moment of, “No, this can’t be real.” Perhaps Jake’s original statement, “Dude, it’s World War III,” was more of a shock. That I needed a minute to understand. But reality set in incredibly quickly after I saw the footage on the news. Perhaps I comprehended everything so quickly because I still was able to recall the first time terrorists tried to destroy the Twin Towers, in 1993.

The next thing I remember from that day is a basketball court at my college. The administration had decided to cancel all classes, and many of us students didn’t know what to do. Being that we were in the center of New York State, about 215 miles away from New York City, we weren’t in any danger. We were in New York, but it was almost like we, the students, were a world apart. I remember the basketball court because that’s where Jake and I decided to go, to blow off steam, I guess. I remember that at the basketball court -- there were actually several of them, all adjacent to each other -- the sun was shining. Many people recall how on that awful day, the weather, ironically, was beautiful. About 25 kids were at the court, and even though we did play (or just shoot around, I’m not sure), we kept taking these big breaks to discuss the matter. I can’t remember the discussions, but I remember that court.

There are just two more things that I remember. I remember that later in the day, around sundown, I got a call from my mom. My mom wasn’t in New York when 9/11 happened; she was in Paris traveling with my aunt. However, when she finally did get me on the phone that evening, I remember feeling surprised after she told me she hadn’t at all been worried that I might have been in danger. I mean, I guess that makes sense, considering that I went to college, like I said, 215 miles away from Manhattan. But I remember having thought that maybe my mom had concocted a scenario where I went into Manhattan over the weekend or something. However, when I ran this idea by her, she said she thought that I was crazy, that such a thought had never crossed her mind. I remember my mom telling me that it had been difficult to get through to me on the phone because she kept getting that message when too many people are trying to use the lines at once: “All circuits are busy.”

The last thing I remember from that day is having talked with my friend Nina on the phone. Nina had been a good friend from high school and was living in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side, near the East River. To varying degrees, Nina and I had kept in touch after high school, but on that fateful day, I called her just to see that she was OK. I remember on the phone hearing a degree of fear in Nina’s voice -- which was strange for her, because she was often very cool and collected -- and her telling me, “Chad, there’s smoke everywhere.” She was about eight miles from Ground Zero, but of course there was still smoke by her, and that was the one thing that I remember her telling me, “There’s smoke everywhere."

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Walking a Fine Line

Maybe I'm pushing the envelope, or walking a fine line, with this next piece. But it's all just writing, and it's also a bit of experimentation. I hope you enjoy.

In 2004, I read the book “In Cold Blood” for the first time. “In Cold Blood” is about the murder of  a prominent family in the American heartland. The book is groundbreaking because of the way its author, Truman Capote, structured it. When the book opens, we are in the presence of two men. We are not sure who these men are. We are not sure if we should like these men or not, but we are in their presence, and after a while, we develop a type of sympathy for them. One man’s name is Dick and the other's is Perry. As time goes on, we start to develop much more sympathy for Perry. Perry is a sort of likeable misfit. He's not great at making decisions, so we can’t say he’s a leader, but he lives by his word and he doesn’t do anything immoral if he feels he doesn’t have to.

Eventually, we learn that Dick and Perry are the bad guys in the story, that they, out of greed and desperation, will murder the four members of the prominent family, the Clutters, “in cold blood.”

I mention "In Cold Blood," not because of the interesting way it was structured, but rather, because of one detail in the book that I’ll never forget. That bad guy, Perry, had had a lot of pain, a lot of body pain.  I forgot why, but he did, and in order to ease that pain, he used to take a lot of aspirin. But he wouldn’t take it in any old way. He would chew the aspirin. And he wouldn’t chew the aspirin sometimes and swallow it other times. He would always chew it.

I never forgot this small detail: that Perry chewed his aspirins; that he was in that much pain and that desperate that he chewed his aspirins.

Now skip ahead about 13 years, to 2017, to the last months of a 10-year relationship that I was in. I absolutely loved Maya, she was great, and, after all, we had been together for 10 whole years. But in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be no matter how much I wanted it to be, and Maya and I were fighting. We were fighting a lot. We were having the type of fights where I would say, "Look, that is white and Maya would say, "That’s not white, it’s off-white," and we would just fight about that. The fights were killing me and as a result of them, I would get headaches, lots of headaches, cluster headaches. Eventually, to try and get rid of these headaches, I would chew aspirin. And many times it worked. When you chew aspirin, the medication enters you your bloodstream a lot faster. I must have chewed aspirin at least five times during those final months with Maya.

Now skip ahead about two years, to January 2019. I’m in a relationship with Caro. Caro followed Maya. Caro had been super calm. In fact, that was one of the things that attracted me to Caro. She was very zen in many situations and she hardly ever raised her voice. When I met Caro, I was still having residual effects from the breakup with Maya: namely, I was still having headaches. But after a few months with Caro, the headaches stopped. That my headaches stopped was something that Caro would always ask me about and remind me of. She would say, “How have your headaches been?” and I would always say that they have gotten much better. But Caro knew what the source of those headaches had been, and every time she asked me, “How have your headaches been?” I felt as though she were really saying, “Isn’t it great to be with someone who is not as shrill as your ex-girlfriend?”

But then things started to go south with Caro. I won’t go into it, but the relationship started to give me major stress.

I knew that things had come full circle, so to speak, about one and a half weeks before Caro and I broke up. That’s because on that day, I stood in my kitchen with a glass of water in one hand and an aspirin in the other but ultimately put down the water because I didn’t want to wait that long. It was the first time I had ever chewed an aspirin while dating Caro. It was also the last time.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Chess Game

I'm really proud of this chess game of mine. (I have the black pieces.) Reason being, I recognised the opponent's threats very well and didn't crumble under the threat of them. Instead, I waited for my chance and took it. Move 29, Queen exchanges at a6, was a blunder for my opponent because it allowed my knight to reach g3 on the next move, and the check that my Knight gave once it reached g3 proved fatal. Still, a well played game on both sides.

Friday, September 06, 2019

High-wire Act

Below is just a creative little exercise in anthropomorphism. Enjoy. 

When I step in my stall shower and see a spider on the ceiling, I think to myself, “Look at that . . . a spider hanging by a thread.” I call it a “thread.” However, once I start the water and it begins to fall and rage to the floor and continuously flow down the drain, I look back up at that spider and now think he is up there on a tightrope, doing a high-wire act.

I watch him. He has started to move. He is not moving frantically, but he has started to move. From where he is, he should not be getting wet at all. Still, this is a raging shower and he must feel some moisture. I watch him. First he makes his way into the high, right-hand corner of the shower stall. Once he is there, I say to myself, “Smart spider. Go to the corner, that’s right . . . It’s safer there.” I soap myself up and wash my face. I look up again. The spider is still in the corner but he doesn’t seem content. Some of his legs are moving. He decides for some reason to pass right over me. I’m not exactly sure what he’s doing, but, darn it, he’s going for it. I personally don’t think he is going to fall. Millions of years of evolution have prepared him for this kind of situation. He’s moving. He’s directly above me. I go back to my showering. I’m not looking at him, but I’m imagining him. More specifically, I’m imagining him landing on my head. But then I tell myself, “Chad, is that a crazy thought or is that a crazy thought. Why would the spider want to come down closer to where more of the water is, and of all places, onto your head? That would be like trying to land a plane where the storm’s the strongest. Millions of years of evolution have prepared him for this moment. Do you honestly think he’s going to do something as stupid as land on your head?”

I look up. At first I see nothing, but then I notice that my spider friend has cleared the entrance of the shower stall and is now on the bathroom wall. He did it. He could have just stayed in that corner and remained dry. But something told him that he should do his hire-wire act over the most intense danger -- over the Grand Canyon, so to speak -- to reach greener pastures. And he did it. He did it because he knew he could do it. Millions of years of evolution had prepared him for the moment.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

An Encounter

In the summer of 2017, I began a relationship with Caro. I had met Caro in an aerobics class. Our first interaction was at the back of that class, by a wall on which the aerobic mats were hung up and stored. For some reason, Caro and I were the last two members of the class to get mats that day, and even though we didn’t know each other, we immediately began laughing the moment we came into each other’s vicinity. A few months later, we saw each other at a train station in a borough of Hamburg called Altona and began talking. The rest is history. 

One thing I learned very quickly about Caro was that she didn’t like to be idle. She liked doing things. She liked adventure; she liked travel. She liked to be in motion. I also learned that she expected me to be quite active, too, that lying around the house when the sun was out really wasn’t acceptable.

As such, it should come as no surprise that on one Sunday afternoon a few months into our relationship, Caro and I headed out on a day trip. For a while it had been fun to do things locally, but it was time for a change of scenery, or at least Caro thought it was, and in all honesty, I had no problem with going somewhere new. The place we settled on for that afternoon was Finkenwerder.

Finkenwerder (pronounced fink-n-VAIR-duh) is a rural township on the south side of the Elbe River, about 10 miles west of downtown Hamburg. There is not much in Finkenwerder. There are fields, apple orchids, places open for cherry picking in the summer and then apple picking in the fall, cross-timbered farmhouses and fenced in areas where sheep graze. Finkenwerder’s one claim to fame is that it’s home to an Airbus production site. The plane-making site, which has its own runway and control tower, is massive and is almost a city unto itself. 

Caro and I said that our plan once we arrived in Finkenwerder that day would be to take things as they came. Because Finkenwerder is best reached by ferry, we thought we would just take the ferry and see what awaited us. At the time, I had just gotten back into basketball, and Caro had played the sport in the past, so we decided to take a basketball with us on our journey. The idea was that maybe if we found a court we would shoot around.

When we arrived we stuck to our “plan” and just began strolling. I was somewhat familiar with Finkenwerder because I had taught English at Airbus for several years, and Caro was very, very familiar with Hamburg in general, so no matter what we were not going to get lost.

After a few minutes of walking, we came to the main thoroughfare of the township, a street on which one can find two-story houses made of brick, charmingly outmoded looking shops and a few restaurants. There really isn’t much in Finkenwerder, especially on a Sunday, so we jumped at the first chance we had at eating. We stopped at a restaurant and ordered pizza and ate it out front, al fresco.

After the pizza, we decided to keep strolling around and maybe begin to look for a basketball court. It was around 6 p.m. and there was still plenty of light, but the sun had just begun to go down, and though everything appeared pleasantly golden, it wouldn’t be light out forever. I’m not sure what Caro and I talked about as we walked, but I must have told her something about all the adventures and misadventures I had had teaching English at Airbus.

Eventually, we found ourselves on a side street, away from the thoroughfare. The street led to an apartment complex and I thought there might be a basketball court somewhere among the apartment houses. After weaving our way through the buildings on several narrow paths and finding nothing, we arrived at the end of a dead-end road that was flanked by two long, one-story buildings that looked like barracks. These barrack-looking buildings were actually outdoor storage units for the residents in the apartment complex. It seemed as though Caro and I were completely out of luck. But just then, I noticed that up the road there was a park and in the park a basketball court.

We were happy about finding this court and the small victory it represented, which makes what happened next all the more ironic.

Across the street we saw a man talking to himself. Or talking to us. It was hard to tell. What was clear was the man was disturbed. We had to walk by him to get to the basketball court, but Caro froze.

“Come on,” she said, “Let’s walk this way.” She wanted us to walk a little bit out of our way to avoid the man.

But I thought, No. We’re going to go straight on. We were the only three people around and I thought it would be safer if Caro and I just went straight through the danger, as it were. I remember a little bit of adrenaline going through me, but also not being all that scared.

And so Caro and I marched right on. I put my arm around Caro’s waist and we walked, and the whole time I looked the man in the eye, and not only that, I looked at him with a look that said, “Yeah, what the fuck do you want?” Essentially, I was going “all in.” I definitely did not want a confrontation with this person, but figured it would probably be safer to pretend I was 0% scared. Secretly, there was also a small part of me that wanted to impress Caro. There was a part of me that wanted to show her that she could trust me and could feel protected in my company.

As Caro and I walked, the man held my gaze and kept talking, but he also kept walking. Once we passed him, I looked back over my shoulder to see what he was up to, if he was going to do something weird. I wasn’t scared to look back over my shoulder to show that I didn’t trust the man; I didn’t.

When we got to the basketball court and were finally “out of danger,” Caro and I talked for a little about how we both didn’t like being in dangerous situations. I think I told her a little bit about some of the strange situations that I had sometimes found myself in, growing up in New York and how I had handled myself in those situations. I remember thinking that Caro didn’t seem too impressed with my stories. She also didn’t seem that impressed with my “brave” behavior a few moments prior. Instead, she seemed more upset, or frustrated, that things such as what had just happened can happen and that people can make you feel the way the man had made us feel. But there wasn’t any mention of my standing tall or of my taking her around when there was “danger.”

Eventually, Caro and I began doing what we had come to the basketball court to do, shoot around, and once we did, the negative feelings began to lift. After a while, I asked Caro if she wanted to play one-on-one. When she agreed, I thought I would win handily. After all, I had been playing basketball regularly again for about three months by then. But Caro was in better shape than I was. She was also tall and could play defense very well, and she had these amazingly long, Vishnu-like arms that seemed made for swatting. But, really, and most crucially, she was fitter than I was. Where I was huffing and puffing and pouring sweat, she was absolutely fine, and in the end, she beat me.