Archive for the ‘ TheByteWeek ’ Category

A Bus Station in St. Louis (TheByteWeek Issue 19)

Catching a greyhound might not have been the smartest idea I’ve ever had

The cast couldn’t have been more diverse if they were arranged by the most liberal of Hollywood agents. The setting couldn’t have been more cliche if it was choreographed by a jaded screenwriter. The plot couldn’t have been more bare-bones if it was concocted from the mind of a blockbuster director itching for his first short at the coveted drama genre that so fuels the minds of critics and film buffs alike.

Granted, any critic would have seen through the film’s attempt at being progressive, if only because a bus station in St. Louis doesn’t necessarily lend itself to what is typically considered high-brow literature. A more cynical reader might even suggest that the film allows itself to revel in stereotypes simply to serve the diverse cast of characters that it features.

In this bus station in St. Louis, on a dreary, dark, dismal, and wet Saturday afternoon, we find ourselves in the presence of the usual suspects. An older black grandmother from Chicago. A middle-aged, wannabe politico itching for his chance at the big leagues. A woman caught in a sordid love affair with a man across the border. A backpacker. A daughter. A woman suffering from an undisclosed mental illness. A recent university graduate heading home after a vacation. Oh, and the ex-con 11 days out of prison – if his angry ramblings are to be believed.

The setting: a departure terminal separated from a main concourse by the invisible barrier created by an open doorway. On one side, friends and family wave goodbye. On the other, friends and family board and disembark, looking ahead to the possibilities, but looking back at the lives they leave behind.

The conflict: A bus that’s two hours late. Correction – a bus that’s four hours late. And then, a bus that never shows up, and an alternate route on an unreliable charter through four different cities, two countries, and at least five chances for everything to fall to ruin.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that this was the scene of a drama.

On Saturday, May 7, 2016, I tried to catch a Greyhound bus from St. Louis to Chicago to Detroit to Toronto. Contrary to what the route might suggest, the trip was divided between two separate buses. One bus from St. Louis to Chicago, and one bus from Chicago to Toronto.

The St. Louis-Chicago bus was scheduled to leave at 2 p.m. local time. After six hours on the road, the bus would promptly reach the Windy City at 8 p.m. Following three-and-a-half hours of layover, the Chicago-Detroit-Toronto bus would depart at 11:30 p.m. All in all, the trip would take approximately 22 hours, and I’d be back in Toronto on Sunday, May 8, 2016, at approximately 11:30 a.m.

Except the bus to Chicago didn’t show up on time.

Which wasn’t a problem for me, the woman caught in the love affair, the daughter, and the older black woman native to Chicago. For the daughter, Sarah, and the woman, Shawna, a late bus meant arriving home in Chicago later than planned. Certainly, this would be an inconvenience, but nothing that couldn’t be rectified with some well-earned sleep.

For the lover, Emma, and the recent graduate, me, a late bus to Chicago meant less time spent waiting in a concourse late at night. In fact, when I was told that my bus was two-hours-late, I smiled, because I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait as long for my bus to leave to Toronto.

Dear reader, know that it is not the man who sells his flock that is smart, but the man who waits to count his profits after the transaction.

At 4 p.m., our group was told that the bus hadn’t yet left for St. Louis. Understandably, our smattering of souls grew anxious. The ex-con in particular decided to remind the audience that he’d only recently been released after serving a three-year sentence. When it finally got to be time for him to complain to Greyhound’s customer service personnel, he adjusted his story and suggested that he was actually in for five years. Suffice it to say, no one challenged the man for fear that his tales might not be bloated boasting after all.

At 4:15 p.m., the group slowly moved towards a counter staffed by a man who can be no older than 25. The 25-year-old is young, but his face was weary. He carried himself with the worldliness of a leathery hippo who was clearly too old for this s**t.

The line grew in length as everyone settled into a state of active dissociation. As it turned out, the bus to Chicago wasn’t the only vehicle with a minor problem. The bus to Indianapolis, for example, did arrive, but it left without four of its payed passengers. In comparison, the bus to New York also decided to endorse a different candidate for the nomination.

Don’t even get me started on the bus to Little Rock.

When I finally made my way to the front of the line, Trevor – the 25-year-old leathery hippo – listened to my concerns.

“Listen, man, I need to get to Toronto by tomorrow,” I explained, calmly.

“Oh, yeah, I don’t think I can do that,” he began, alerting himself to the despair growing in my heart. “But let me see what I can do to get you back.”

Eventually, he presented me with my options:

“I can get you from here to Columbus, to Cleveland, to Buffalo, to Toronto,” Trevor said. “And you need to make up your mind fast.”

Four cities, four layovers, four different buses, one hour layover in each city.

At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure how precisely screwed I’d have been had I taken the ticket, but I’m certain now, and I was certain then, that Greyhound – in their infinite wisdom – would have been unable to efficiently get me back home within the promised 25-hour time-frame that Trevor outlined.

Call me cynical, but if they had managed to bungle something as simple as St. Louis to Chicago, I didn’t trust them to be able to safely get me to Toronto via Columbus, Cleveland, and Buffalo.

There was nothing else that Trevor could do for me, so I took the adjusted ticket. As I walked past Emma, and Shawna, and Sarah, and the ex-con – who is named Gilbert, of all things – they told me the stories that they hadn’t shared when we were just fellow passengers.

Emma’s from California. She was going to a small-town in Ontario to see her boyfriend who she lives with for six months of the year. She’s got two adult kids from a different relationship. She’s happy with her boyfriend. Emma had been travelling from California for the past week, because Greyhound had managed to offend Emma in no less than five cities in the past seven days. She was forced to wait 24 hours for a new ticket once; St. Louis ended up being the second time that she’d spent the night in an unfamiliar bus terminal.

Stanley, the wannabe politico, didn’t tell me where he was from, but I could smell that he hadn’t showered in three days. He’d been subsisting off a diet of terminal junk food and the scant Internet that he’d been able to scrounge off of the terminals that gave him their Wi-Fi passwords. Unsurprisingly, his 11-inch MacBook Air carried a full charge.

Shawna didn’t have much of a story. She’s a nurse. She’s got grandchildren. She’s got children in Alabama who she visited. Now it was time for her to get back home – time for her to get back to work. Granted, she liked Alabama, though Alabama hadn’t seemed to like her very much.

I must mention that, before I met Shawna, she was carrying a polite conversation with a well-connected businessman. I say well-connected because his cellphone was charging through a power outlet, while his smart-watch charged through his tablet. I know the conversation between the businessman and Shawna was polite, because I was eavesdropping. At one point, the businessman had even asked Shawna how she felt about her church.

“Quite satisfied with my religious service provider, thank you kindly” Shawna replied.

An hour after I’d met Shawna – an hour into the delay – she told a 17-year-old to pull his pants up, or else she’d “whoop his ass so hard he wouldn’t need to pull them up.”

The 17-year-old smiled politely, and promptly pulled his pants up. Clearly, he didn’t want to find out how Shawna planned on fulfilling her end of the bargain either.

I digress.

I got my ticket, my new friends told me their stories, and I promptly called my mother for help. 15-minutes-later, I’d been booked on a flight from St. Louis to Minneapolis Toronto for 9 a.m. the next morning. Because we booked the flight almost half-a-day before departure, the ticket only cost $200. My Greyhound ticket cost $120.

The next morning, I woke up early, got to the airport at 6 a.m., checked in, checked in my bag, got breakfast, waited at the gate for an hour-and-a-half, and took off on time. I reached Minneapolis for the layover, waited three hours for the flight to Toronto, and took off again, on time. I reached Toronto – tired, of course – at 5 p.m. that day. All in all, the ticket was well worth the $200.

You truly must believe me when I say that I love buses. Buses make sense to me. They’re extended limousines, piled high on big, powerful wheels that carry rectangular prisms filled with people of the world, all over the world.

Buses are efficient – they go where cars don’t and they go where planes often won’t. With effort, time, and a driver’s license, almost anyone can travel almost anywhere in a car. But with money, time, and patience, anyone can truly travel anywhere in a bus.

You must understand my point: In the almost 200,000 years that humans have managed to survive on this blue marble we call home, the idea of a mechanized mode of transportation capable of efficiently carrying 10 to 50 people from place to place remains, to me, one of the most incredible inventions ever conceived.

I, however, am no blind devotee to busing and buses. I recognize, as well we all should, that buses have a tendency to fail. They break down. They’re routinely late. Obviously, without a trained driver, a bus is nothing more than a home for the patient and the willing. Granted, a bus makes a cozy place to take a long nap, but there’s no force on Earth that would rationally suggest that a bus makes a comfortable place to live.

I digress.

I love buses, and I love busing. In fact, I’d be so bold as to suggest that I love all public transportation as a whole. Personalized forms of travel are largely elitist. Even ignoring the environmental reasons to avoid a car in favour of a bicycle, the bicycle itself is still emblematic of the great divide between those who have and those who have not – between those who can and those who simply can’t. Case in point: I rode in a train, plane, and bus well before I learned how to ride my bike – reductio ad absurdum, notwithstanding.

I can afford to travel on my high horse, however, because I have choice. I have agency. I chose to take a Greyhound bus because it was cheaper and because I like driving through America. When the bus failed me – and when circumstances seemed like they were going to fail me again – I made a single phonecall and did what I should have done from the start. For me, the choice to take a bus wasn’t based off of a need to save money – a circumstantial obligation to decide between travel and dinner. Instead, it was based off of a desire to have things my way. The moment that circumstances changed, I was able to pivot and successfully find my bearings.

In short, I had a choice.

Emma, Stanley, Rachel, Shawna, and definitely Gilbert did not have that choice. They were forced into their circumstances because their circumstances presented unavoidable options that were ultimately found to be lacking.

My “friends” at the bus station couldn’t take a plane to where they needed to go. They couldn’t call their friends or family, exhausted and on the verge of tears, to bail them out. Quite the contrary, the bus was the only way that they were able to travel from their places-of-origin to their respective destinations. The bus, quite simply, was their only choice.

The dramatic part of me believes that they’re still in St. Louis to this day – waiting for a bus that will never come. The pragmatic part of me recognizes that they no doubt navigated through their other options. Megabus, for example, is a carrier that travels through St. Louis. In fact, the Megabus from St. Louis to Chicago – a ticket that only cost $24, instead of the $84 that Shawna had paid – not only arrived on-time, but it departed on-time too.

The moral to this story is obviously one of choice and privilege. Be grateful for what you have, and never forget those who find themselves in circumstances more arduous than your own.

It’s either that, or never take a Greyhound when you can take a Megabus instead.

A Week Without Hot Water; How I Learned to Love the Basic Luxuries (TheByteWeek Issue 18)

Date: November 10th, 2013

TheByteDaily

A Week Without Hot Water; How I Learned to Love the Basic Luxuries (TheByteWeek Issue 18)

The normal human body temperature is 37°C; limits are +/- 0.5°C, but I must make the point that the average healthy body temperature for every single human on the planet is close to 37°C. This internal temperature exists on a very fine razor’s edge and a few degrees Celsius in either direction is often enough to tip the balance and make an individual incredibly uncomfortable. This isn’t to say that the body can’t handle extreme external heat or cold, because it can, but once the body’s internal temperature changes, life becomes uncomfortable.

Thankfully, because of the inconsistent distribution of humans — a species that literally spans the globe — we’ve all become accustomed to varying levels of external comfort. What we should be able to agree on, however, is the idea that hot water — whether for cleaning or otherwise — is intrinsic to our existence. I write to make the point that no human should ever have to exist without hot water for bathing, cooking, or cleaning, and anyone who argues that water doesn’t need to be That hot hasn’t gone a week without hot water.

In developed nations, the average person spends approximately 10 minutes in the shower. Without taking the environmental repercussions into consideration, 10 minutes in a warm shower can be relaxing, calming, and comfortable. It’s enough time to enter dirty and leave clean, and it’s more than enough time to shampoo, condition, use a loofa, and shave. In those ten minutes, the average person sets their water temperature to 40.6°C, which one will notice is 3.6°C higher than the normal body temperature. One will also notice that 40.6°C is the average hot water temperature, and it’s true that the real number might be higher or lower depending on the person.

In those ten minutes, using water set to a temperature of 40.6°C, humans are decadent. We sing, we dance, we rehearse arguments we’re never going to have, and we clean ourselves. The first three minutes in the shower are safe moments. We wash away the day’s tribulations at night, we prepare ourselves for the day in the morning, we stand still and let the healing properties of water help us overcome our fears and insecurities. Minutes 4-10 are dedicated to cleaning and returning to a state of comfortable zen. Then we’re done.

Cold water showers don’t take 10 minutes.

Cold water showers aren’t set to 40.6°C. Cold water temperature is determined by the outside temperature — it’s water that hasn’t been heated by an internal water heater yet. In cold climates, cold water can be close to freezing; Anchorage, Alaska’s average cold water temperature is 3.7°C. That’s 33.3°C less than the normal body temperature, and is a whole 36.9°C less than the average hot water temperature in developed nations.

I found that my body took 2 seconds to realize that the water was cold; it took 15 seconds for the shivering to become uncontrollable. After half a minute I couldn’t stop shaking, and after 45 seconds I lost feeling in my extremities. At a minute I realized that my heart rate was racing and it then occurred to me that my body thought it was under attack. 15 more seconds and the headache kicked in; the cold water, and the fact that blood was rushing back to my chest to allow my heart muscles to continue pumping caused the amount of blood in my brain to drop substantially.

A minute and a half and the headache became a migraine. I’ll pause and mention that warm clothes, warm milk, medicine, and six hours were all it took to get rid of my headache.

During all of the time in the shower, my breathing was erratic due to the shivering, which ironically only made things worse. Breathing is important for maintaining homoeostasis — the body’s natural increases and decreases — and staggered breathing reduces the amount of oxygen we inhale while messing up the amount of carbon dioxide we exhale.

I was effectively choking myself.

Two minutes after I first entered the shower, my face and head muscles were so constricted that I didn’t realize that I’d gotten cold water in my ear. Normally, water enters your ears regularly throughout much of a shower, but the difference between warm and cold water is the effect it can have on your sense of balance. Hot water doesn’t do very much — it’s effects are negligible to the point that it really can be said to not do anything at all. Cold water, contrarily, if run through the ear canal can lead to headaches, infection, loss of balance, vomiting, temporary hearing loss, and permanent deafness.

Our ears do more than listen. Liquid within the ear works alongside our cerebellum to assist in maintaining balance and posture. That liquid exists at 37°C, and if cold water happens to interact with the ear canal, the liquid’s temperature eventually lowers causing a host of problems that begin with falling over and end with deafness.

After two minutes and 15 seconds, I concluded my shower. In that time, I got wet, used soap, cleaned off the soap, nearly asphyxiated, and I gave myself a migraine that lasted six hours that took careful treatment to rid myself of.

This was on the first day.

Ignoring the obvious physiological ramifications, I found I was soft-spoken, quiet, exhausted, easily irritable, and not at all willing to perform any activities other than curling up with a warm blanket in bed.

It’s true that the human body is resilient; it can acclimate to a variety of different conditions, including cold water, without resulting in serious permanent harm. I also admit that hot water is a luxury, but in no way do I believe that it should be anything less than an expected necessity. Ignoring the future fresh water crisis that the world is going to face, hot water should be a given for every single human on the planet.

Not fulfilling this basic requirement — not allowing one’s fellows the basic luxury of hot water — is and should be tantamount to a universal human rights violation. Hot water is undeniably a luxury, but it shouldn’t be.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC(EK)

A Temporally Impossible Space in Canada; Thanksgiving at the Farm (TheByteWeek Issue 17)

Date: October 25th, 2013

 

TheByteDaily

 

A Temporally Impossible Space in Canada; Thanksgiving at the Farm (TheByteWeek Issue 17)

 

It’s 8:00 in the morning and I’m awake. As I remember that it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I realize that I’ve spent the majority of my weekend alternating between studying physics and playing Pokemon. I smile to myself, wondering which avenue was better spent pursuing, before the gravity of time pushes down on me. I shower, and get myself ready for the day, keeping in mind that I need to be done by 9:00; if I’m late I’ll never hear the end of it. I fell asleep on a long drive before – once – and I’ve learned the importance of an awake, if not alert, front-seat passenger.

 

Clean, and barely awake, I eat my breakfast.

 

The drive from the city to the country is a commentary on the state of developed nations. Every piece of road is divided between modern design sensibilities and rustic throwbacks to a bygone era. The highway is new but the forest is old; the trees are looked after by various municipalities but the ground has been here for countless generations, through impossible lifetimes, and infinitely changing histories echoing sentiments of the natural past.

 

Roadsigns are meant to better the road but the drivers remain as reckless as when Ford first introduced his Model-T. There’s something to be said about the consistency in which vehicles throttling at over 27.8 m/s (100 km/h) manage to avoid total disaster.

 

As we drive out of the city, I introspect on the subtle shifts in architecture. Office buildings that belong to large multinational corporations staking claim to foreign and local markets turn into large suburban homes filled with similarly happy and differently unhappy families turn into farmland and enough agriculture to feed the majority of the country. Fourth largest out of 13 doesn’t mean very much until I remember that the fourth largest province in the second largest country in the world is still significantly larger than many countries in total. Ontario is large – large enough that it’s distinctions are noticeable and land is able to retain its architecture without giving into modernity.

 

I’m going to the farm today.

 

It’s not just any farm, of course, and it’s not my farm. It’s belonged to a Canadian family for over 40 years and it’s a reflection on the nature of change and the nature of change in Canada. We perceive time as linear when it’s really more like a series of random shifts in particle movement that somehow collides into something coherent that we categorize as forward motion. Time doesn’t move at the farm; it’s always a sunny Sunday morning even if it’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

 

The farm shouldn’t technically be possible; it’s a perfect amalgamation of pre-World War 1 agricultural Canada and post-Information Revolution 2013.

 

It’s Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables if those two things had the same setting but took place in modern times. The farmhouse is old, and it creaks and gives way like every good childhood memory, but it’s strong and reinforced with a tensile strength found only in machined titanium. The sink is old, but the bathtub is new; there’s a modern washer and dryer powered through modern AC/DC electrical technology in a bathroom that’s decorated with larges splashes of pioneer dreams. The kitchen is filled with toys that once belonged to the now fully-grown children still doing the dishes after dinner; the kids aren’t just alright – they never left to begin with. They got an education, live their own lives, have their own families, but once they’re back home time ceases to exist for them too.

 

There were also actual pies and tarts cooling in a window sill next to an espresso machine out of Star Trek, which I thought was charmingly anachronistic.

 

We’re completely out of the city now. I’m awake – against my desire to not be – and the sun has decided to acquaint itself with the forest. It’s autumn, of course, and the natural cellular respiration cycles of any non-Boreal tree is coming to an end, and they do so love putting on a grand show. I imagine directors would enjoy working with trees if trees had the capacity to act out Shakespeare; trees have bit roles in a large planetary drama, yet they enter and exit each scene with such panache. On-stage, they only attempt to better the scene, never trying to take away from what any other actor does. Now it’s time to bow out, but they’re leaving in style, and we’re the ones who will clean up after them thank you very much.

 

Driving through another small town, there’s a nonsensical welcome sign – as we leave we’re told to “Please call again.” Paved road soon becomes gravel which quickly becomes dirt. Farms are on all sides. There’s a bridge overlooking a creek, and enough passing-by pick-up trucks to shoot a Jason Aldean music video. Things seem familiar even though I don’t entirely remember them, but that’s only because of how familiar everything always seems when you’re seeing it for one of the first times.

 

Finally, we get to the farm. At least, we get off the main road that leads to an inroad that leads to the farm. We get to the farm and it looks the same as I remember it, except this time it isn’t winter so there’s corn growing. I know how I’m going to spend Thanksgiving weekend. I’m going to do exactly what you’re supposed to do on the second Monday of every October. I’m going to be with family, and though I can’t possibly lay claim to any members of the families I’ll meet, I’m going to be treated like family. I’m reminded of Marc Cohn’s trip to Memphis as I step through the front door and greet the men who I’ll call uncles, the women who I’ll call aunts, the children who I’ll call nieces and nephews, and the elders who I’ll call grandparents.

 

The farm isn’t mine. Neither is the hammock in the backyard, nor the shed filled with supplies. The kitchen, dining room, bathrooms, living rooms, solarium, bedrooms, and piano will never be mine.

 

I’m not a Christian child either, but man I am tonight.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-SC(EK)

The Cannon; A Chilling Tale of Painting an Archaic Monstrosity (TheByteWeek Issue 17)

Date: March 25th, 2013

TheByteDaily

The Cannon; A Chilling Tale of Painting an Archaic Monstrosity (TheByteWeek Issue 17)

 

I painted a cannon on Friday.

 

Well, that’s not entirely true.

 

On Friday March 22nd, 2013, I painted Old Jeremiah, the University of Guelph’s resident cannon.

 

I stayed up all Thursday night picking my courses for the next school year’s semester – because they needed to be perfectly coordinated with the amount of sleep I hoped to achieve, in addition to the minor I hoped to declare – and decided that, since I was already waking up at 7 AM to submit my selection, I’d stay up all night. I suppose that, simply put, I stayed up late picking courses, and decided to stay up all night to round everything off. Consolation lies in the fact that I submitted my courses at precisely 7:00 AM, and had the return address pinged at 7:01 AM.

 

I got my courses in exactly when the submission forms opened. Yay me.

 

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t need pull an all-nighter for any reason whatsoever – I could have easily found placement in all of my desired courses, and I wasn’t even on the first cannon guarding shift in the first place. Instead, I decided that it would be perfectly logical to stay up all night, just for the fun of it, and I also decided to tag along the first cannon guarding shift to keep my friend company.

 

We left our respective rooms at 7:12 AM and arrived at the freshly painted cannon at 7:19 AM. First watch was from 7:30 AM until 10:30 AM, at which point my other friend would arrive and continue guarding the cannon until sunset. We were to start painting at 7:10 PM which, based on Google, was sunset.

 

Before I continue, there are some things I should mention about leaving a perfectly heated building at 7:12 in the morning, especially when it involves walking out into -5 degree weather (Celsius, for any imperialists out there). Even with a duvet, warm coat, gloves, a hooded sweater, warm pants, warm socks, and warm shoes, padding still isn’t enough to prepare you for exactly how monstrously shiver-inducing it can be.

 

We froze at 7:12 in the morning, because it was 5 degrees below freezing and felt worse with the incredibly present windchill. We froze, until I decided to remedy the situation by buying three pairs of thick socks to layer myself.

 

Interestingly enough, two or three pairs of thick athletic socks do nothing for extremely cold weather, which is why I decided to further remedy the situation by returning home to add two layers of pants. By 8:30 AM, I was wearing a toque, a hooded sweater, warm leather gloves, a long sleeved shirt, sweatpants, pajama bottoms, jeans, three pairs of thick athletic socks, and a pair of poorly chosen Adidas SuperStar II’s.

 

In retrospect, the shoes were a terrible idea.

 

The watch, which I frequently compared to the Night’s Watch, continued throughout the day, with the only solace of warmth being two classes – at 11:30 AM, and 2:30 PM – in addition to frequent trips to Raithby House, a duvet that became progressively more ruined as the day continued, and a nap from 4:30 PM to 6 PM at which point I was dutifully called back to continue my watch.

 

By 3:00 PM, I’d been awake for over 32 hours, and despite the chilling cold that continued to linger about me, the night’s wake had taken its toll.

 

Of course, there are rules to painting the cannon; rules that every student has ingrained into them by their RA’s, cluster leaders, professors, degree advisors, and friends. First: The cannon can only be painted between the hours of sunset and sunrise; the cannon cannot be painted when the sun is up. Second: The cannon must be guarded at all times; an unguarded cannon is a free and open cannon. Third: Once a cannon’s painting has concluded, the guards must remain lest the Second rule take effect.

 

The worst possible outcome for any painter is seeing the cannon they spent hours guarding disappear because they had to run to the washroom. Shifts are mandatory, even during the winter months, and it’s a common misconception that people working with deadlines will return a lost cannon. As anyone can imagine, we were working on a deadline, and we needed to have the cannon painted for Saturday the 24th, because it was being painted as part of an ad-campaign for a project due Tuesday the 26th.

 

Having a cavalcade of tours use my friends and I as perfect examples of spirited university students gleefully awaiting the chance to paint the cannon didn’t help the chilling situation. At one point, I remember toying with the idea of chucking a frigid ice-ball at the group – not hoping to hit anyone, but simply hoping that it would force the tour to move along. I’m not sure whether the tours had luck, logic, or cold-induced-frailty to thank, but nothing was lobbed in anyone’s general direction. I maintain that it would have been well within my civil rights to do so, though I do digress.

 

On any given day, I’m already a cynical enough person to spend time with. On Friday March 22nd, 2013, between the hours of 7:00 AM and 10:57 PM, I was a cruel, vengeful, malicious, and frozen force of pent up wrath. Hot chocolate and food made me less mean. A group of teenagers placing their bare genitals on the cannon as a part of some pointless, meandering scavenger hunt made me reconsider my ice-ball approach.

 

I write about my experiences for two reasons.

 

First, it expands upon my belief that circumstances are incredibly important, and bad environments do a lot to contribute to the production of bad people. I wouldn’t say that fault lies entirely in one’s environment, because latent personality is also incredibly important in determining why an individual may act in a certain way, but it’s incredibly important nonetheless. The cold made me a more aggressive and less congenial person, but it was my personality, logic, moral/ ethical code, and choice that stopped me from throwing frozen chunks of water at anyone I deemed a nuisance.

 

Second, it’s a good way to educate potential cannon painters; just because one might believe that it’s a fun way to spend time with friends, this isn’t necessarily the case. Personally, I hope I never have to see the cannon ever again – an impossibility to say the least. If one chooses to ignore my warning and one insists on painting the archaic monstrosity, choose a warm day to paint the unable-to-fire device. Wait for the school year’s warmer months, preferably September or October, or even late April, when there’s a greater chance that it won’t be -5 degrees outside.

 

Most importantly, my third reason is to warn anyone who dares to take the so-called challenge of showcasing their spirit: If you choose to paint the cannon, guard it at all times and never leave it alone.

 

We left the completed cannon at 10:07 PM.

 

The next morning, vandals – that is to say, individuals who deliberately took advantage of the fact that the cannon was unguarded – used their hands to wipe out every single word in our original message, and left nothing but the word “Violence” and our original base coat as proof of their work.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

It Was a Fascinating Trip; My Last Day In New York City, and a Discussion of Repetition, Interest, Stagnancy, and Movement (TheByteWeek Issue 16)

I originally planned for this final article about New York City to be published on July 31st, since my last day took place on the 30th, but circumstances arose and a momentary case of writer’s block managed to aid in delaying the publication. To be succinct, my last day had me visiting the Jackson Heights neighbourhood in Queens, attending a short film festival at the Queens Museum of Art, returning to the MoMI for a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s well-known thriller Vertigo, and ending my day with dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I was hoping to spend some time in Central Park – the entire day actually – but the film festival seemed far too compelling to pass up, and though the offerings were less than enticing, I don’t regret attending it.

The event featured a few short films from the Kashish-Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, a four day event held in the city of Mumbai every year. The selections opened with a short documentary detailing the prominence of homosexuality in India, featuring several prolific and key players in the movement to bring awareness and legality to their cause. Though the introduction was reminiscent of many PBS specials, it was undeniable that the presence the documentary held was well felt by the crowd, especially since the feature was shot candidly, with attention only being paid to the members of the movements, their reasons, their motivations, and the facts, never antagonizing one group or polarizing another. I will admit that the documentary was the highlight of the selections, with only one other short film truly catching my eye. The remaining few were an amalgamation of cliched writing, poor directing, disappointing editing, and even worse acting.

To say that the features were amateur would be an understatement, though the core principles of storytelling were still intact – the only problems the directors seemed to have was utilizing these principles in a meaningful and interesting way.

I’ve commented on the difference between a cliche’ and a trope, and I stand by my statement that a story doesn’t need to be told in a new or different way as long as the end result is interesting to experience. It’s easy to misunderstand and misconstrue this statement as contemptuous and an insult to artists the world over, but my point is not that there isn’t such a thing as a new story, or that artists and creators don’t need to challenge themselves – and those that experience their work – by attempting to create something fresh. Instead, my point is merely that art needs to be interesting, fascinating, intriguing, and enticing to both the creator and their audience in order for it to encompass any derivation of the word “Good.” The directors, and their writing staff managed to grasp the main tenements of storytelling, but simply failed to do anything interesting with them – not new, but interesting.

Repetition is even more important to understand in order to recognize that there’s nothing wrong, and there is certainly no shame in repeating themes, ideas, or opinions in order to tackle them in interesting ways. Alfred Hitchcock, a director, writer, producer, and filmmaker renowned for making thrillers that instilled fear in the minds of their respective audiences often used similar themes throughout his entire repertoire, choosing to repeat ideas in order to influence his audiences in interesting ways. Certainly, he created new work, and used different plots to interest his viewers, but the core principles of his work were always the same; his goal was to inspire fear, and though his films aren’t scary by 2012’s horror-show standards, audiences in his time, and mine, were, and are, aware that the plot devices he uses – in addition to the directorial choices he made – are universally known to send chills down one’s spine.

Excluding the fact that Hitchcock’s main purpose was to instill fear, his films also often focused on illuminating the supposed weakness of the female form, and almost all of his films feature a female character receiving justice for her deception, or decision to sin. Whether his reasoning was personal or otherwise is beyond my scope, and what must be derived is that he chose to repeat this theme in almost all of his films, for whatever reason. It doesn’t dilute his work knowing that he repeated himself in any way, since the original goal remained intact; to this day, Hitchcock’s films are regarded as fantastic thrillers that deserve to be analyzed, critiqued, and viewed.

Ultimately, Hitchcock’s films, including Vertigo, are interesting.

This human desire to be kept interested and intrigued extends far beyond the realm of film-making or art, and Hitchcock or the directors at Kashish are in no way the only ones forced to combat interest. It’s undeniable that humans actively seek to be fascinated in every aspect of our daily lives with concepts like boredom or ennui being regarded as matters that require dissection and analysis to eradicate and eliminate. We don’t want to be bored because we don’t like to be bored for the simple reason that standing still or not moving is a psychological and physical impossibility. I’ve often brought up the topic that the only path to move is forward, with difficulty needing to be overcome, conversation needing to be maintained, opinion needing to be provided, and ideology needing to be challenged and discussed.

Not doing so is strange and an abdication and resignation of the most basic human desire to know, despite the fact that adamantly maintaining one’s stance on an issue, and issues in general, requires just as much movement as stillness. It’s humourously paradoxical that stillness is nothing more than the equal balance of movement, especially since the two paradigms are entirely contradictory. Clearing one’s mind for meditation or concentration doesn’t eliminate movement, it merely changes the focus to another more pertinent topic that occupies a more important and more interesting spot in our collective cerebrums. It changes the focus and scope of movement by providing the illusion of stagnancy and stillness.

Whether through a film, or a vacation in a once visited city, or even taking the bus instead of flying, ultimately, any matter of movement is a matter of stagnancy and stillness, any discussion of novelty is a discussion of interest and the appropriate application supposed novelty. I don’t digress by saying that my trip to New York has revolved around these concepts; everyday I spent walking and exploring the city was a day spent exploring a new environment to discover something interesting – if experiencing a novelty wasn’t the core idea to begin with. My vacation is now absolutely and irrevocably over, but the point is that, for a few fleeting days, I overcame the psychological and physical stagnancy that I’m seemingly predetermined to struggle with until the inevitable end. My vacation is undeniably over, but the memories I’ve gained and the experiences I’ve accumulated will always remain interesting.

The journey is over for now, and though it was a repetition of a previously made trip, I must mention the fact that the repeated quest for interest never really ends. Until, of course, The End.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Three Days Left; An Ode to the City of New York and A Brief Summary of My Time So Far (TheByteWeek Issue 15)

It’s a city that wakes up at night, assuming that it ever really does sleep. It’s a city of people who love where they live, and who love that they’re a part of it. It’s a city of opinions that celebrates expression, and dedicates itself to promoting ideas and possibilities. It’s a city that’s almost definitely filled with problems and troubles, but it’s a city filled with new ways to try to solve them. From what I can tell, it’s a city that people actually enjoy living in.

Honestly, New York has been leaving me absolutely fascinated; the people I’ve met have been nothing short of extraordinary, the things I’ve seen have both startled and intrigued me, and the places I’ve visited have done absolutely everything in their power to avoid boring me. I’m not even talking about the historic places, or the museums, or the even restaurants, shops, and bars, I’m referring specifically to the ordinary stuff. The people on the street who I would never get a chance to talk to, much less get to know on a personal level. I’m talking about the day to day events, and the ordinary people who don’t show up on television, online, or in most forms of mass media. The people who pay their taxes, go to work, have trouble staying in touch with friends; the people who enjoy their Saturdays and Sundays, and the people who don’t always have something happening – the regular crowd, as it were.

I’ve spent everyday of my vacation, except for last Friday and today (another Friday), going out and exploring the “Famous” parts of the city – I’ve been to the places that tourists are always instructed to go, I’ve been to the smaller places that the guidebooks claim are “A genuine slice of New York,” I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge just to see what it’s like, and I’ve been at Times Square caught in the rain twice (so I’ve already done two things romantic comedies set in this city force their protagonists to do). I’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art, FAO Schwarz, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I’ve seen the Apple Store on 5th Ave., and the flagship store for Toy “R” Us (only because they bought out FAO Schwarz sometime back), and I’ve been to Staten Island too (I barely spent anytime there, of course, because I went so I could ride the ferry and see the other islands by boat). I’ve seen Wall St., Washington Square Park, I’ve gone to Columbia University in the City of New York, and New York University, not to mention the time I spent admiring part of The New School’s campus in the Union Square Area.

I’ve spent everyday on a subway train watching as people have asked for help, money, and support, been ignored by the people around them, given us all a dirty looks, and climbed a train on the neighbouring track to spin their tales once again. I’ve even had two homeless people ask me to buy them pizza on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, which I genuinely thought would never happen in my lifetime. I’ve witnessed some of the most formidable people say some of the craziest things in some of the most random places – I say seen because I’ve tried to avoid those conversations, for obvious reasons. I’ve been to three press screenings, toured The Village’s segment of Hudson River Park, I’ve spent an hour lost looking for a Train, and I’ve had some of the best Indian food and some of the worst shawarma ever.

My point is, in nine days in New York City I’ve done a significant amount, and yet, territorially, I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing. I’ve walked more in these past few days than I’ve done in a significant amount of time, and yet I’ve gotten absolutely nowhere in this city. Everyone I talk to brings up another place I should visit, another sight I should see, another bakery I should enjoy, and more restaurants whose stocks need to be thoroughly reduced by unsatisfiable appetite. This city doesn’t end, and I suppose my only point is that it’s daunting, and strangely exciting, knowing that there’s still so much more to do with so little time left.

So far, I’ve spent time in the company of everyone from writers to economists to critics to homeless people, and the consensus is that New York City is one of the best places in the world; suffice it to say, I do agree, and I’m excited, if only a bit disappointed, for my next three days.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Birthday Parties, Pujas, and Press Screenings; My Fourth and Fifth Days In New York City (TheByteWeek Issue 14)

I’m in pain because my feet hurt. I’m almost certain that I’ve burnt my legs, arms, and neck. My feet are covered in blisters, and my legs are surging with an excruciating amount of pain. To top it off, I look like a raccoon because of the glasses I was wearing throughout the day. I also feel indestructible and, redundantly, invincible because I just walked across the Brooklyn Bridge twice – to Brooklyn from Manhattan, and back. I’ll admit that this isn’t a major milestone, but I’m going to bask in my glory and accomplishment for just a little longer; taking into account how little I exercise, how little I actually go out for walks, and how out of shape I am, the Brooklyn Bridge is my physical Everest – my psychological Everest is another subject entirely.

These past few days have been spent, in one way or another, experiencing moments of great emotion and circumstance, beginning with the 50th birthday I had the pleasure of attending on the 21st, the pooja (Hindu prayer ceremony) I attended on the 22nd, my first ever press screening that I experienced on the 23rd, and today’s trek across the Brooklyn Bridge and back. Suffice it to say, I haven’t spent very much dilly dallying in this city, and my days have been filled with a significant amount of movement and campaign.

I digress however; the 21st was one of my first planned days and the itinerary had me visiting Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and the Highline, a former railroad track converted into a public park based in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. As anyone can surmise, my original plan was to visit the Highline and then move towards Chelsea or the Meatpacking District depending on the weather and my state of exhaustion. The actual park is absolutely spectacular and can honestly only be described by saying that it’s exactly what it sounds like; the park is about a mile long (about 1.6 kilometres), was a former train line and has been converted to serve as a public park – there are benches, lawn chairs, lounge beds made out of wood, a water area for children to play in, several restaurants and cafes, performers playing trombone and other brass instruments, and an insane number of tourists that I only contributed to. Honestly speaking, my favourite part of the park was the amphitheatre dedicated to looking at the street below – a raised series of benches help form an auditorium that overlooks a portion of the street with a glass facade in front of the seats.

I concluded the afternoon by having lunch at The Park, an interesting concept where the dining room leads into an open air atrium that leads into a private lounge, used for special events, and the Meatpacking District’s street side. Lunch was delicious, and I’ll admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the ambiance; at first I thought the restaurant’s design was fascinatingly gauche, but I changed my mind once I sat down and relaxed. The entire design was earthen and physical, with a strong emphasis on browns and darker colours to bring a very relaxed and Terran feel to both the atmosphere and the guests. I’m flourishing, of course, but the point is that the restaurant looked good, and the design was quite remarkable.

That evening I attended a birthday party in Brooklyn, spending the night among academics, intellectuals, and those well-versed in culture, philosophy, and intellect. I’ll spend no time denying the fact I was definitely worried that I wouldn’t fit in, though, as is becoming the norm, “Fitting in” is in no way a problem. The hosts were welcoming, the guests were inviting, and the conversation flowed throughout the majority of the evening. The party fascinated me in that it took a very emotional and sentimental turn once it came time to deliver the necessary speeches by the necessary people – the host, and “Birthday boy,” as it were, received everything but a standing ovation from almost everyone at the party. I mean to say that he was quite loved, and that his welcoming attitude was spread well amongst his friends and close companions. It intrigued me simply because it grew to be so emotional instead of jokingly so.

The following day began at 7:30 in the morning to catch a train that would get me to Times Square at 8:30 for a 9:00 showing of The Dark Knight Rises. My review is now available, and I’ll spend no more time on the subject than is necessary – it was a good film, and that’s all that needs to be said about that.

My evening on the 22nd was spent attending a puja – a Hindu prayer ceremony – for an acquaintance moving into a new office building and beginning a new part of her career. At first I considered dedicating an entire article to my experiences, but I quickly realized that, unlike the Iraqi wake, there wasn’t anything incredibly revealing in the ceremony. It was fascinating to attend my first puja, and it seemed hilariously anachronistic for the pundit to have been using a Gefen Honey Bear, but there wasn’t very much that occurred during the ceremony that drew an immediate reaction from me. Indeed, much of the ceremony was spent in silence, allowing the pundit to pray for the health and well-being on the individual and her business, but an equal part was spent breaking character to laugh or share in a joke among the other attendants. I suppose the fact of the matter is that the event wasn’t solemn or mind-boggling like the Iraqi wake – it all seemed rather standard, apart from the fact that it was a Hindu ceremony praying to Ganesha and Saraswati for good luck, good fortune, and good health.

I regret having to sound so mundane, but I suppose that’s an important fact to draw from the evening – despite it being my first puja, it didn’t feel any different than any other major prayer. The familiarity was overpowering, right down to the family members joking with the holy man, the attendants knowing little about the actual proceedings, and everyone seemingly enjoying themselves and struggling to hold back sheepish giggles during a very important and traditional event. It’s humanizing knowing that the core qualities of tradition extend far beyond the boundaries of culture and ethnicity, and it helps to know that no matter the age of the individual, fumbling a certain phrase of prayer can, and will, always be considered funny. It also helps knowing that holy men, regardless of their ethnicity, cultures, traditions, and genders, will always attempt to draw out an event to greater lengths than anyone around them can deem necessary – I had no idea, but apparently the pundit repeated a certain phrase far too many times.

The 23rd had me attending two press screenings as a guest of a film critic/ writer/ journalist that I had spent an evening with sometime ago. Allow me to paint a picture of fear: attending a press screening as guest while having absolutely no credentials apart from writing for an almost nonexistent blog that receives less traffic than U.S. Route 66. To top it all off, I had the pleasure of sharing the same room as the first critic who gave one of the most anticipated films of the past three years a bad rating, so I definitely wasn’t in a room with bit players in the film industry. Reflecting back on my fear, I don’t particularly know what I was so worried about – I suppose I was saying something so horrifically wrong that I would be shunned from society, but now that I think about it, I doubt I’m even capable of saying something so devastatingly vulgar. The fact remains that I spent much of my time viewing Celeste and Jesse Forever wondering what I was doing in a Sony Plaza Theatre screening room, and the remaining time trying my hardest to not draw attention to myself by restraining my breathing.

I’m speaking with hyperbole (in hyperbole? I feel like that’s the kind of mistake I was trying to avoid), of course, because I wasn’t afraid to the point of not breathing, but it’s the overpowering sensation of unimaginable talent that gets to a person – especially a small time blogger. Hilariously, I was so nervous the first time that, walking into Broken Lizard’s The Babymakers, my worries had vanished. An overwhelming sense of calm washed over me, and I was far more relaxed. That being said, I feel like enough attention can’t be drawn to the fact that I casually (in the most abstract sense of the term) attended two press screenings. I say this with all the gusto I can muster: go figure.

In all my time writing reviews, I genuinely never thought I’d ever actually attend a screening of a film, guest or otherwise, well beyond it’s release date in theatres.

In a sense, these past few days have been filled with more than tedious emotional circumstances; instead, they’ve been filled with gratifying personal moments, small victories, and overcoming relative amounts of panic, terror, and fear in one way or another.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Letting Each Moment Leave Us Breathless; My Second and Third Days In New York City (TheByteWeek Issue 13)

Coming back from the Museum of the Moving Image, I’ve learned three things in these past few days; first and most importantly is to not leave a backpack containing a laptop, charger, two notebooks, and three pens in an art gallery during an auction for pieces created by South Asian artists. The story behind that series of events is actually quite straightforward, though the important news is that the plot culminates with my personal belongings returning to me the next day. The second lesson is that weather is highly unpredictable, and no amount of planning or foreshadowing (quite literally, in terms of precipitation) can stand as a reasonable warning towards an incoming rainstorm. Finally, I learned that, while life is made up of proverbial moments that leave us breathless, we must actively make sure that we enjoy each and every single one of these moments instead of thinking about the moment in passing as a faded memory. Furthermore, we must insure that we don’t spend the rest of our lives trying to replicate a moment for whatever reason; I’ll return to the final lesson later, though, considering my ability to retell events in an interesting way needs significant work.

The 19th of July began with the knowledge that, at some point during the day, I’d be attending the Indo-American Arts Council Benefit Auction at the Aicon Gallery on Great Jones Street, at approximately 7:00 PM. Knowing that arriving to the event on time would require skillful planning on my part, I decided to spend the day walking in the Union Square area and not risking it. Around lunchtime, I was informed of the Strand Book Store on 12th St. and Broadway Ave.

As anyone can imagine, I made it to the bookstore and spent an hour taking it all in; reportedly, the store houses over 8 miles of books (about 12.9 kilometres), and quite frankly I’d believe it. I didn’t particularly spend very much time tracking down an individual book, but instead chose to browse the shelves, taking note of the publications I found all while making sure to take note of anything that seems interesting. Over the course of the hour, I managed to find books from the mid 1850’s, both available for sale and otherwise, all the way to current day (though finding “Recent” books in a bookstore doesn’t seem like a very monumental feat). I realized quite quickly that, if I didn’t continue on soon, I’d spend the rest of my life in the shop.

Continuing on Broadway Ave. I found myself entering forbidden planet, a comic book shop that coincidentally seems to be the graphical equivalent of Strand; I didn’t ask anyone for confirmation for fear of shattering my already fragile dream however. Not very much time was spent in forbidden planet, and I continued along Broadway until I arrived at 6th Ave. (changed in 1945 to “The Avenue of the Americas” by then mayor Fiorello La Guardia to “…bring grandeur to a shabby street…”); in all honesty, I wouldn’t have paid very much attention to the street had it not been for the name, and realizing that my curiosity had gotten the better of me I continued along 6th Ave. to discover what secrets it held. Sadly, the name appeared to be merely for show, though if I’ve been misdirected by own observation I’d be more than happy to return to rectify any existing error.

I did learn about The New School though – it’s a liberal New York university founded in 1919 as an institution designed to encourage understanding and knowledge – and I was utterly fascinated by the philosophy that students are to choose and run their own courses (with certain input from academic advisors and professors). To prove this point, the student at the front desk at the school’s welcome centre pointed out that one of his courses included a subject named “Games 101,” a course I later noticed highlighted in the school’s Wikipedia entry (any similarity is, without a doubt, entirely unintentional I’m sure).

Without being disingenuous or needlessly sarcastic, I must say that I’ve been fascinated with The New School since the moment I learned about its existence a few days ago. It seems quite interesting that the school focuses on its students instead of its monetary and financial gain, and the fact that the education is the focus and not the prestige of its graduates is refreshing. Following my brief time spent talking to students and security guards at The New School’s welcome centre, I continued walking around the area until it was time for the Aicon Gallery event.

Before I continue, I’d like to mention that I was apparently only a few blocks from High Line Park, and the Meatpacking District and would have ventured there had I known of my proximity. Ironically, this all ties into the ultimate point on moments, though I do digress. My second day in New York City ended with a delicious dinner at Schiller’s Liquor Bar. Granted, I also ended my second day forgetting my bag filled with almost all of my important technological equipment (really only the laptop), but I digress once again.

So far, I’d spent my first day trying to not be a tourist, all while accomplishing the sole feat of being a tourist, and I’d spent my second day having no plan whatsoever. I decided on my third day to fix these mistakes by spending time doing what I should have from the start – setting out with a planned destination in mind, instead of wandering around a city aimlessly. Ironically, the day I decided on that, I completely missed the fact that I was standing in front of the Flatiron Building. There is an explanation for this; having forgotten the bag, I’d arranged to retrieve it the following day, and exiting the 23rd St. subway station, I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the street names so I could get to the right building where a mutual acquaintance works. As consolation, I got my bag back quickly, but didn’t notice an important New York City landmark (for both tourists, and otherwise). As far as not wandering around aimlessly, and going out with a plan, I was focused on going to High Line Park, and sneaking in the Meatpacking District if I had time – first however, I was intent on finding lunch.

I noticed the line for the Shake Shack simply because it was so long – at first I thought it was two or three separate lines, but I realized my mistake soon. I suddenly found myself caught between two schools of thought; I wanted to try the burgers to see if they were really as good as people were making them out to be, but I didn’t want to waste too much time. Considering that it actually took me 45 minutes to get through the line and order, I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision at the time, but the burger proved me otherwise.

The burger was cooked medium, meaning that the patty was juicy but it was somehow prepared in such a way that the juices didn’t dribble out of the burger and onto everything else. Quite the contrary, the meat was medium soft, but somehow managed to retain the overall fluid density of a well-done preparation – that is to say, the juices were there, but they weren’t going anywhere. The buns were prepared in such a manner that they were incredibly soft, and very warm, but not overcooked to the point that bits were breaking off into crumbs. At the same time, the buns were toasted to a golden brown and tasted, quite honestly, heavenly. Finally, the shack sauce was unlike any burger sauce I’ve ever had it was not too sweet, not too salty, not too thick, and not too creamy.

I was speaking to a friend earlier – discussing the overall structure and taste of the burger – and concluded that everything else we’d had was a subpar replica, a quasi-burger, that was incomparable to the creation manufactured by Shake Shack. I will mention that I was incredibly hungry, so obviously that influenced my train of thought.

Incidentally, this is also when the New York City skyline decided to cloud the sun and release the second round of the downpour that began on the 18th. I got very wet, and a bit cold, and decided to call a personal day; I spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging around here and there, taking short but leisurely naps for no reason at all. In summation, I spent the remainder of my Friday quite casually, until 7:00 PM when I went with two others to the Museum of the Moving Image for a viewing of Cabaret, the 1972 film adaptation of the 1966 Broadway production based on the 1951 play based on the 1939 novel. The film was absolutely magnificent; Liza Minelli provided a wonderful performance, Michael York was fantastic, and Joel Grey was terrifyingly sublime in his performance as Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub. My third day in New York City was remarkably lackadaisical, and my third night was filled with Cabaret.

Until now, I’ve touched upon my first two lessons; I’ve lost and regained my technological identity, and I’ve learned to never bet on or against an uncontrollable natural source – which only leaves me with my third and final educational sentiment.

These articles, and in many ways this blog, are designed as both a helpful tool, and a memorial journal of my ideas, experiences, opinions, and thoughts, and though it exists on a public forum, it is undoubtedly for my own pleasure entirely. It’s always been a fervent rule of mine that I’d stop writing the moment I couldn’t, whether this occurred due to natural reasons such as a lack of time or rational reasons such as a lack of ability, though until such a moment the blog will be a compilation of my individual memories.

In more than a few ways, I’ve dabbled with the notion of moments and events, and have come to the current conclusion that much of the time we spend experiencing moments is also spent trying to recreate memories from past moments. This isn’t to say that a married couple attempts to reproduce the moment they first met, or first declared their love for one another, as much as they attempt to reproduce the emotions of these moments. It’s an absolutely logical human reaction to want to be able to experience moments once again, though it’s less reasonable to compare and contrast events to events; the couple would quickly realize that, if the relationship had positively progressed, that the emotions are still very much present or that, if the relationship had negatively progressed, that they might not be present at all, though it’s undeniable that they’d discover a new moment to remember regardless.

Yesterday’s Aurora, Colorado shootings aren’t the entire reason for this sudden proclamation, since the idea has been rattling in my mind for quite some time, though they certainly are the catalysts for my sudden declaration of memory. Lives are lost, families are torn apart, memories are crafted and destroyed in an instant, and while the pundits and so-called “Intelligent and Educated” individuals drone on about the cause-and-effect of tragic events, human lives are forced to recreate and relive moments all while comparing, contrasting, and critiquing their past decisions and memories to see if they’ve gathered any meaning.

I lost my bag two days ago, and got it back yesterday, and now this memory is ingrained in my subconscious for whenever I’m capable of recalling it. In much the same way as the moment I realized that I had completely missed the Flatiron Building, this moment will be a reminder of this 11 day trip I’ve found myself on. These are individual moments that deserve attention, and instead of spending my time trying to relieve my past vacations in the city, I should be spending time making new memories (considering the weather’s unabashed randoms, I do have an excuse, however). Much like my past memories and experiences, the present ones deserve as much attention, pomp, and circumstance.

If there’s anything to take from this article, and if there’s anything to truly be gained from my vacation in New York City, it’s this: life is made up of moments that take our breathe away, but only if we stop and really let them leave us breathless. Otherwise, we’re just spending our entire lives trying to relive and recreate the past instead of enjoying the present.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

A Day Spent Losing Myself in New York City – Or Trying to, At the Very Least (TheByteWeek Issue 12)

Through a hilariously convoluted series of events, I’ve found myself back in the city of my Winter time escapades. For all intents and purposes, I’m in New York City for the next 12 days, and have absolutely no idea how to spend my time here. Before my possible plans, however, a word of advice to all travellers: pick the aisle seat. I know you’re going to want to look out the window and observe the breathe-taking views and scenery that will roll by, but try to fight off your desire for beauty especially if your journey finds you travelling for an excess of 11 hours in a bus throttling down several highways, freeways, and interstates. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in the position of being unable to move your legs from their initial position until the occupant of the seat next to your own wakes up. This is, of course, all assuming that the adjacent occupant does sleep; if they don’t you’ll be more than capable of moving around the cabin of your chosen mode of transportation. In all seriousness, however, my complaints are completely unfounded; getting to New York was incredibly comfortable (if not cramped in a completely expected manner), and was no trouble whatsoever.

As always, the so-called “Big Apple” is as inviting as ever, if not akin to stepping into a sauna surrounded by the Sahara dessert, if the Sahara was on the sun. Ironically, my complaints this morning made complete sense given that the temperature was like the Gobi, but as I arrived in Times Square, and began acting like a sight-seeing tourist a torrential downpour manifested itself, though I do speak out of chronological turn.

My day began with me having no idea how to spend it; deciding to board the nearest train to whichever destination that sounded the most appealing, I boarded the #7 heading uptown to Times Square (for the simple reason that I wanted to reenact the scene from every famous film based in New York City by standing in the “Centre” of the square, facing the New Year’s Ball). Noticing that the #7 passes through Grand Central Terminal, one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, in addition to one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – and one that I’ve never visited – I decided to give my journey some direction. At that moment, I concluded that I would spend my day doing two things: I would blindly walk around Grand Central Terminal and Times Square, all while trying my hardest to get lost. My reasons weren’t entirely remarkable, though the purpose was self-interest and not novelty; I got off the train, walked around Grand Central Terminal and proceeded to enter the main concourse.

It’s a shame, but I haven’t yet found the words to describe the grand hall that serves as New York City’s largest train station. Certainly, the words I have found fail to encapsulate the sensation of walking into the massive concourse to find that one’s mouth has become unhinged in awe. For some reason, it’s very easy to imagine walking into the concourse and ignoring the ceiling, architecture, and overall ambiance, especially if there’s a train that simply won’t wait on the other side of the station. In such cases, I do recognize that there isn’t time to stand in the centre of the concourse and look around for half an hour, as I did, but given my lack of genuine concern for time, I took full advantage of my surroundings. It’s interesting to note that the terminal building’s architecture is somehow both in stark contrast and in conjunction with the buildings around it. The skyscrapers that seemingly never end, built in a very modern design, manage to accentuate the terminal’s overall look.

Sadly, my knowledge of architecture is depressingly bleak, so I won’t make a show of discussing topics I don’t fully understand myself, but I’ll say this: the building looks stunningly ancient compared to the beaming towers that surround it and, as such, it’s very pretty.

Concluding the time I spent gawking at the Terminal, I attempted to get lost in a small portion of Manhattan. I decided to follow the green light and walk signal, never waiting for a light to turn green, always walking in the direction of an open street, first to get an interesting zig-zag view of the few blocks I travelled, and second to see if I could actually lose my way. Interestingly enough, even though I only followed green lights, and even though my sense of position didn’t extend past acknowledging street names, I managed to find myself back at the entrance of Grand Central Terminal. Through no attempt on my part, I somehow managed to travel from 42nd street, all the way to 39th street, passing through Lexington, Madison, 5th, and Park avenue, all the back to the entrance of Grand Central Terminal on 42nd street. After trying to understand how it happened, and deducing that it was nothing more than luck and coincidence that I wouldn’t have to retrace my steps back, I continued towards Time Square.

I must admit that I do realize my first day spent alone in New York is reminiscent of most popular films based in the city – I plan on recreating the well-known scene from Woody Allen’s Manhattan looking at the Queensboro bridge sometime soon – though I can guarantee that the remaining portion of the trip will not be spent in such a way.

Times Square proved to be an interesting paradigm as it started to rain almost exactly as I exited the station. I say rain, though I feel that it’s better to describe the event as a low category hurricane hitting the city, reversing the temperature from “Hot as a solar flare” to “Relatively warm and enjoyable, despite the torrential downpour occurring in the relative vicinity.” Needless to say, I didn’t spend very much more time in Times Square, and considering that I dived in and out of stores, strategically of course, to avoid the rain, I did enjoy my time there. Much like Grand Central Terminal, the movies, films, and television specials I’ve seen were entirely unable to live up to the real location – it’s a beautiful amalgamation of consumerism at its finest, and is, quite simply, a sight to behold. Granted, it’s not so much fun when Ororo decides to unleash her mutant powers on an entire burrow, but the sentiment is capable of remaining despite the climate.

My day ended by eating some Thai food in a restaurant in Queens and typing this article. The rain has stopped, and, most likely due to, today’s short journeys have exhausted me. In any case, my first day in New York City has been, in a word, remarkable. I’m trying very hard to not produce lyrics written by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, if only because the time isn’t right; regardless, day turns to night, and exhaustion turns to sleep.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Death is Something to be Celebrated and Welcomed, Not Feared; An Evening at a Muslim-Iraqi Wake (TheByteWeek Issue 11)

Its not often that I document momentous occasions, though I’ve noticed that when I do, the event is usually culturally based; my recent trip to Vietnam, for instance, had me attending a Vietnamese wedding. These events allow for a global perspective, and a sense of human unity, because they’re important events marking growth and maturation. The wedding was the beginning of a completely new chapter in the lives of the bride and groom, and their families, and I was very lucky, and honoured, that they would allow a complete stranger into a very personal event.

Momentous occasions, however, are not always filled with joy, life, and mirth, and with the case of death, are often sombre, serious affairs that require control and tact on the part of the guests. Funerals, in this way, are quite lifeless, and the mere act or presence of happiness seems odd, inappropriate, and entirely tactless. In a sense, death is often the sole unifying event that can bring people together, and alienate them, simultaneously; while some may marry, and others not, everyone dies, regardless of age, race, gender, belief, or opinion.

Death is the ultimate release from pain and suffering, and is the single most powerful and meaningful event in any individual’s life. In every sense of the word, death is the culmination of decades of grievances, successes, disasters, tragedies, joys, and moments of life. These were the thoughts that occupied my mind as I entered the hall where the wake for a Muslim Iraqi man was being held; death is something we should celebrate, something we should accept, and something we should welcome, not something we should fear or tantalize.

The man had died of a long approaching illness, and was survived by his wife, and two daughters; a separate series of services were held in Iraq and Jordan, and one of the daughters (who lives in Canada with her husband) had returned to perform a final service for all those who hadn’t had the opportunity to pay their respects in the Middle East. I must confess that my expectations for the event were largely fuelled by images I had seen in pictures, and on television and film; having never been to any form of funeral or wake, I was expecting the colloquial North American service, with the grieving surrounded by friends and family, together in remembrance of a fallen friend.

What awaited me inside the hall was completely different from what I had in mind.

The hall was divided between the men and women (something I only speculated on, and something that was later confirmed to be traditional in Iraq) with seats on both sides of the room. Entering, my companions and I were divided based on gender, and I was sent to sit with the men who had begun to recite a verse in unison; they weren’t speaking, but were mouthing or whispering with their hands in front of them, with their palms facing up. I noted that the gesture resembled a person using body language to ask “Why?” but I later realized that they were holding up an imaginary Koran, and were “Reading and reciting” the verse from it; this was in stark contrast to the women, whom I noted were actually praying from a physical Koran.

For some reason or another, I didn’t receive the traditional salutation that all the other men received, but was instead given a handshake and a pat on the back. Sitting in the front row, next to some of the older men, I learned that when a man enters the wake, all the men are expected to recite, whisper, or mouth the verse that I noticed when I entered, perform the reading (or “Why?”) gesture, wipe their faces, raise their hands and say “May Allah be with you.” This custom, contrarily, is not true for women, for a reason that no one could explain; the women shrugged it off as another thing for the men, and the men simply knew that it was something that was always done, and something that was accepted and known.

Having no one else to talk to, I sat down in silence, and allowed the gravity of the situation to overpower me, and in doing so, noticed that the women had a different arrangement entirely. Their seating plan was circular, forming around the grieving daughter in a concentric pattern, with those emotionally closest sitting next to her. Furthermore, the women were praying from several Korans, and seemed far closer, emotionally. I surmised that this was due to the deceased himself; the man was the father of the daughter, and it made sense that she would receive more “Attention” than her husband. Later I would also learn that grieving women are expected to do so for seven days, while men only grieve for three. Once again, there seemed to be no explanation and, being a guest I didn’t press the matter further.

I simply sat down, and observed, noting that, had I not seen the Canada Post van driving on the street, and the faint glimpse of the Shopper’s Drug Mart across the road, I could have been in Iraq. The customs were identical and were entirely unchanged, and each member of the gathering understood that; for a moment, I noticed that the husband’s expression grew morose every time he looked in his wife’s direction, and it occurred to me that it was possible that maintaining tradition wasn’t as important as making sure his wife was dealing with her emotions as much as everyone around her.

In this regard, I was unable to remain objective; the separation between male and female did little to hide the fact that couples were separated, as well as entire families since young children were also separated based on gender. It seemed incredibly counter-productive to hold an event meant to honour the spirit of a passed friend and family member, and then proceed to dichotomize the entire group. Immediately I recognized and understood that it was a cultural point that I would need to accept; regardless, the audacity of the disjoint remained in my mind until dinner, when the two groups finally united to eat.

Of course, the daughter and her husband weren’t very hungry, and everyone else seemed more than ready to socialize and move on from their period of mourning. It crossed my mind again that this was how death should be treated; it shouldn’t be shunned, or feared, but accepted and welcomed. It should be something to look forward to, not something to avoid with great terror.

Then I noticed the picture of the deceased, and his grieving daughter next to it.

It was the first time that I got a clear look at either the deceased father, or the very living daughter. She was distraught, honestly, and seemed serene and calm despite her red eyes revealing that she had been crying earier. Looking at the large picture frame, wreathed in white flowers, with three lit candles in front of the image (one for each immediate family member he had left behind, I assumed), I realized that, to me, this was the only proof that he lived; a black and white portrait of the man in a suit, and his grieving daughter, who took turns at being quiet, and grievous were the only visible legacies the man had left. Momentous occasion or not, culturally based or not, Iraqi or Canadian, it was enough to humanize anyone, and everyone else was enjoying the very tasty dolma, and the even tastier hummus.

Ultimately, death is something to be welcomed and celebrated. It really is something to look forward to, and it is a release from illness, misery, and suffering. Death is the universal finality that every individual travels towards and, ultimately, through. Death is the ultimate release, for those who die, of course.

For those who are touched by the death of another, for those who feel death take away a father, or a mother, a son, daughter, sister, brother, friend, uncle, aunt, or anyone else, death feels and looks like the worst catastrophe, and most pointlessly devastating experience that anyone would venture towards, because it is the worst catastrophe, and the most pointlessly devastating experience that anyone would venture towards. Death is painful, rude, abrupt, thorough, and instantaneous, in every conceivable sense, and in every possible derivation.

It was as I left the hall, together again with my companions, that I learned that the father had been suffering for years from an illness and that his death, in the most literal sense was a release from the pain he had been experiencing. Despite this fact, I don’t think anyone had the heart to tell his daughter that his death was an end to his suffering, especially since his loss will last, hurt, echo, and resonate for the rest of her life. I still believe that death is life’s greatest positive, and should be welcomed, not scorned, but only under the right circumstances.

Regardless, even I must have respect for the dead.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK