Mental Gridlock

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Wicked strong – Or, how I came to love Boston despite the bombs.

I awoke this morning with a resplendent vigor. A symphony of ideas, dreams, and hopes orchestrated by unyielding optimism. More importantly, this vigor, it has a sense of immediacy –that sort of invigorating urgency hinted at, but ultimately unfilled by your first sip of morning coffee. Carpe diem bubbly, bottled fresh in New England. Coursing through my veins, it ignited individual blood cells, one by one, with an enticingly foreign fury.  It’s been creeping up from within my bowels for quite some time, held back by a pesky paralyzing cork in the recesses of my mind. At last, that cork has succumbed to sabrage (the bad ass art of guys who pop open champagne bottles with swords), and I am unleashed.

You see, I am a Bostonian. I didn’t know that until very recently. Not truly. I’m a suburban southern transplant who’s never really felt any sense of community – other than the friend circles I’ve stumbled into over the years. But the aftermath of those two blasts on Boylston—only two blocks from my girlfriend’s apartment—has, oddly enough, infused me a healthy dose of idealistic passion. You know the kind that used to be associated with being an American.

I’m going to confess something that you may not digest well initially. I haven’t been proud to be an American in quite some time. Eleven years, seven months, and some odd days to be precise. The tragedies of that day sent the country into a state of fear-based paralysis/blissful ignorance. At least to me. I wasn’t there. I was safe and sound over a thousand miles away transfixed by the flicking glow of incessant sensationalist media coverage. In response to very real, visceral tragedy, America lost itself in its own machinations. But this paragraph is neither here nor there. It only acts to flesh out my base state going into the events of Patriots’ Day in the Commonwealth.

I’m also not going to indulge stray thoughts about conspiracies, militarism, police states, etc. Such statements are distasteful, offensive, and disrespectful to the character of Greater Bostonians. Is it disturbing to see policemen walking the streets of Boston with automatic weapons? Yes. Of course it is. Have I entertained the thought that it was overkill? Sure. I’m not naïve or stupid. And I sure as hell am a skeptic. But I’m speaking now to praise the spirit of the people.

If the events in New York a little over a decade ago quashed my rampant idealism, then the character of Bostonians in the face of these crises has, at least temporarily, lifted my defeated malaise and propelled me into a sort of tempered enthusiasm.  I’m very enthusiastic about humanity right now. People reacted immediately with compassion. Not paralysis or fear, but instead the townsfolk opened their homes and their hearts. They bonded together not to attack or discriminate, but to help each other. People who just ran a marathon ran several more miles to donate blood and help those in need. Without hesitation. People in harm’s way put themselves further in danger for the purpose of aiding complete strangers.

I’m not entirely sure how the ensuing manhunt was portrayed to those outside, but from within it was not an exercise in fear-mongering, but one of conviction; the conviction to catch a criminal who would and did hurt innocents. And you know what, they caught him. Inexplicably everyone bonded together –policeman, salesman, and janitorial man—to apprehend fear before it had the chance to take hold.

The most curious thing happened afterwards too. Some people felt sympathy and compassion for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. What could possibly drive two young men to do this? What was our part in that? It takes courage to feel sympathy for those who kill innocents. Anger alone – though certainly justified– is the easy way out.

After the voluntary lockdown of the cities and towns including and immediately surrounding Boston proper, people didn’t hesitantly sneak out the door. They went out to the bar, to Dunkin’ Donuts, to the Common. They laughed together.  They embraced each other, and had the gall to not only return to business-as-usual, but to be even more friendly and appreciative of one another. The city’s public space was overflowing with people living. It was almost as if the Sox had won the pennant after being three games down.

In less than your average work week, Bostonians were put through the full gamut of human emotion. And we didn’t falter. Or flinch. We didn’t lose ourselves to crippling fear, nor did we allow our pettiness to lash out in irrational anger. We stood together. We endured and reevaluated  We determined that the most important part of living is that stranger sitting beside you. The rest is bullshit.

So please excuse me while I vigorously seize this bubbly. I’ve learned that tragedy is inevitable –whether it be public or personal. Life itself is essentially tragedy. The ancient Greeks knew this. They also knew a thing or two about comedy. Mourn the loss of innocence.  For the love of God, mourn those needlessly killed by those who are lost. But don’t call it terror. Don’t let anger get the best of you. And show compassion not only for your neighbor, but for everyone. We’re all pretty much the same, and no arbitrary line drawn by those of who fancy themselves a “nation” can truly separate us from one another.

Next time you venture out, leave “society” at home and take a good look at the person next to you. They’re all the matters. Get to know them, not what they do.  Bostonians taught me that.  They taught me that life is not just about enduring hardship and tragedy. Living is about HOW you endure it. Lead your life with compassion. With integrity. For each other. And while acts of despicable forethought may disturb and signify an underlying societal sickness, there is hope for a cure as long we show compassion for not only those who suffer, but also those who cause suffering. As long as we maintain that mentality, we can mend any wound. That’s what I saw in Boston during and after the marathon bombings. That’s why I am proud to call myself a Bostonian.


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What’s the deal with air travel these days?

Way back when I was a wee lad, everyone loved to fly. There was an ineffable romance to the art of air travel. All of it. Airlines, airports, airplanes, and SkyMall. Pilots exuded an unrivaled combination of authority and sex appeal. Stewardesses – sorry, flight attendants – had clout and appeal equivalent to Hollywood Starlets. Airports were shrines to mankind’s triumph over its oldest foe: gravity. Even popular culture, with its non-existent attention span, made transit via airborne tin can comical, if not heroic and sexy. This was a mythical time when those cheap little pilot wings carried more weight in juvenile sewing circles than all of the Pound Puppies and Pokémon in existence.

I was THAT kid –albeit with a notoriously weak stomach. You know the one I speak of.  I was that jittery, curious would-be-adventurer who had to look out of the window at all times. I absolutely had to see the world through the eyes of a falcon. And then look down upon even the pinnacle of predators. To see the world as though it were comprised of miniatures was simultaneously calming and fascinating. Under the protection of the noble knights of Delta, I surveyed all and was intimidated by none. The world was in the palm of my pre-adolescent hand, replete with honey-roasted peanuts and a miniature can of Canada’s finest dry ginger ale.

But as they irritatingly have the tendency to do so, the times, they change. Airports have lost their sheen. Most of them have decayed into musty A-frame hangers, or at best, been reformed into austere surgeon’s lairs. Sailing the sky above has become routine. People have fallen out of love with air travel, much like they did with trains, radio, and the compact disc. No one is excited because they get to fly. They are anxious because they HAVE to fly. Blame it on novelty wearing off, budget cuts, LOST, or echoes of September 11th, but flying commercially no longer elicits the kind of glee it once did. People no longer revere pilots or flight attendants, they tolerate them.

To make matters worse, every passenger now has the fortune of being verbally accosted and interrogated prior to even entering the terminal thanks to the fine folks at the TSA. Look, I respect what you do tremendously Mr. TSA Man, but fundamentally air travel is a service. Try to be nice and respectful about it. Do your job with panache. Your intimidation tactics do nothing but fuel the cycle of anxiety and rudeness that commercial air travel has become. You are the gateway, and no one is going to be pleasant after security’s current business-as-usual attitude.

Honestly though, this bad juju starts with the passengers. It’s undeniable that an agent feeling up your great aunt is an asshole. But he’s an anomaly. Most workers in the airline industry are grumpy only because they have to cater to 500 variations of you daily.  So let’s lighten up, guys. Crack wise. Take a Xanax. Pound a buttery nipple or two. Let’s recognize that everyone involved in getting you from Flint to Beijing in under a day are there to make sure you are magically transported there in a soda can filled with at 53 crying children all the while maintaining a fake smile worthy of an induction into the Guinness Book of Records.

Maybe we’ll never again make torrid, imaginary love with Don Draper’s winged doppelganger the night before a flight. Perhaps that Hindenburg has gone down in flames. But let’s be civil and nice. Treat aviation junkies how we wish to be treated. Maybe then they’ll stop yelling and start smiling for genuine reasons. Then pilots will regain their wings in the eyes of the next 6-year old would-be-adventurer rather than being projectile vomited at. Flight attendants will then be able to enjoy a beer with you at the bar. Not on the plane because of your incessant frown. Heck, you might even surprise yourself and rekindle that dormant love affair you locked up with your inner child 15,000 air miles ago.

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My sabbatical is on hiatus.

Fear not, friends, for rumors of my untimely demise were erroneous. I’m back. For good. I had to go see about a girl. My inkwell was preoccupied running Foursquare mayoral campaigns at local libraries. Then I had to escape. Climb some mountains. Crawl some exotic bars in foreign locales. But that’s history now. The only thing that matters is from here on out. I have oodles of material and as my coffee mugs perfectly states, “everyone is entitled to my opinion.”