Written in April 2010

It was spring and In other lands bees began pollinating blooming flowers. Fireflies blinked and twinkled in backyards while tiny children chased after them giggling in the night. Loving parents looked on with smiles from immense panes of glass. Large white clouds in the shapes of tiny rabbits, teddy-bears, and friendly dragons blew on soft breezes sprinkling light mists over the morning sunrise. Wind chimes dangled from the hums of soft voices. Colors radiated from nature, humanity was as beautiful and innocent as my childhood. I dreamt of seasons, of grass, of mountains, and of peaceful lonely canoe rides down the long rivers of my Independence. I cherished my rights-my desires to go where I want- when I want. I was leaving for spring, I was lucky. Kuwait,on the other hand- was oppressively hot. Sweat ran down the brow of the laboring populous. The sun was a large orange-brown disc that oozed damaging rays. It felt broken, over worked and overused. You could hear the heat, the awful monotonous throbbing of the heavy non-empathetic sphere. Where seasons stay still and dead, for there is no anticipation and no waiting.

On April 15th 2010 I left for the airport to catch a Kuwait Airlines flight to Mumbai/Bombay, India. It was early in the morning and I waited amongst a crowd of Indians, like cattle we struggled towards the gate. We trudged with slow heavy feet scrapping our way closer and closer. Skin, old and worn, creased with each frown. I cannot remember their individual faces though, they were one, together soaked in melancholy. Quiet murmurs came from tired broken travelers like the tiny buzzing of maggots. Luggage was made of taped garbage bags, pendulously slung over sweaty dirt smeared button down shirts. Parts of their beings fell off like jumping lice. They tried so hard to discard those memories of loss and pain. Soon the filth began to funnel slowly like slugs through a meat grinder as our hoard oozed sludge onto the floor. Their raw, malnourished bodies emoted a pungent and awful smell that accosted my nostrils. These people, these travelers, were milked for everything they had emotionally- but it was during this great exodus that their sadness was apparent and almost perfect.

Upon boarding, anarchy was thrust between the aisles and over the tops of the seats. Bags were flung into the storage compartments, people began yelling in tongues- dialects from subcontinental India. Frantic, freedom was upon them, but even though everyone had been given a seat it seemed that they didn’t realize that all they needed to do was relax, sit down, and wait because soon they would be home. Like animals breaking from their cages, a zoo unleashed.  It was then an arab flight attendant looked at me with large eyes and said, “these Indians are crazy”. I agreed at the time but later I was to realize that these humans craved freedom.

After the massive rush came to a close the sound of seat belts clicking reverberated off the cocoon shell of the plane. A large Indian man fell into the seat next to me. Breathing heavily, he struggled to grab his seat belt at first but after shimmying his large posterior around he succeeded. He sat back, fixed his shirt, and turned towards me with a brilliant smile of perfect white teeth. He had a neatly trimmed beard, combed hair, clean clothes, and newly manicured nails. “Hello”, he said in perfect english. “Hello’’, I responded. We then remained silent for several minutes during and after take off. Excitement flowed and flickered from the back towards the cabin as the landing gear retracted into the plane. People began to speak, quietly and with a sense of eagerness. I did not understand a word but I gathered they all spoke of home, India- their great mother-Their springs, summers, autumns, and winters. I imagined whole families gathered in waiting for their arrival where meals cooked in ovens and over stoves. I imagined the smells, the smiles, the colors, the tastes. I began writing in my journal vigorously as my imagination came over me like a drug.

“So, where are you from?” the man asked. I put my pen down ,thinking, “oh man, not one of those flights, this guy is going to talk my ear off, or maybe he’s just being courteous, or maybe he will tell me something I cared more about then just cordial blah, blah talk. Maybe, just maybe, he was going to tell me about his family, his home and the gathering that waited for him on the other end of the runway in Bombay”. He actually was going to tell me a lot more than all of that, a lot more.
I looked up to his large concerned eyes. “he actually cares? he seemed sincere”, I said to myself. “ummm, I’m from New York City”. “Oh, nice, nice, beautiful place”. “oh, so you’ve been?” I asked. “ha, no, but that is what I have read”. “Where are you from?”, I asked. “Hydrebad, I’m an electrical engineer living in Kuwait, or- I was”. “You were? What do you mean?” “I just got out of prison and now I have to go home, I have been deported for visa reasons”. “What!? Really?” “Yes, look around you, we are all deportees on this flight, you might be the only non-Indian on here”,he said. His large eyes shrunk a bit with self pity and deprecation, he was a humiliated with his situation as he looked down into his lap. “This poor man”, I said to myself. He then spoke again, “So,….what is it you do? What are you writing about?” “Umm, I’m a writer, this is my journal and I’m writing about my trip to India. Umm, do you mind if I take notes as we talk?”I asked. “Umm”, he looked uneasy. “I won’t use your name, you can speak with anonymity, I promise”, I interjected. He then eased a bit and began to speak again. “Do you want to know what really goes on in Kuwait, Do you want to know what I have been through?”

“Yes, I would”. He then began his horrific story.

“I’ve lived and worked in Kuwait for over twelve years. I work hard, you know. I’m educated as well. Someone flubbed on the paperwork and then I was locked up for ten days in jail. They beat me like a pig.”  Sighing in malcontent he took a moment for introspection as I sat in silence.

This man had been taken off the street and thrown into a van and hauled to a local police station where they kept him for over ten days. He told me of no phone calls, no lawyer, just a cage. People  were trapped behind vertical iron lines of sliding doors that echoed down long grey corridors. I pictured him on the cool concrete floor grasping the bars with his sweaty hands trying to hold on while he was pulled by the legs. Visions of a large platinum key entered the lock as batons struck him over his head and on his arms and legs. His bruises became dark pools of deep blues, greens, and purples.  Small gashes spewed shades of crimson tides like minuscule magma flows- his anger built up inside. His internal Earth stricken- damaged and polluted forever. His emotions became toxic as they ran off into pool-less waterfalls drowning into nothing never to be found again. He slowly begun to loose hope as blood ran from his nose, spit dripped from his mouth, and tears poured from his eyes. I pictured him among groups of animals; the rabbits, the teddy-bears, and friendly dragons, beaten and rounded up for slaughter. Childhood innocence was gone as my teddy bear sat in my attic weeping. The cages cried as outside laughter deafened the prayers from within. It was then that with giant footsteps God slowly walked away from this modern-day Sodom and Gomorra, along the coast of the Dead Sea, disgusted.
I did not know how to respond to what he said or even comprehend what I had imagined. I didn’t realize that I would meet someone like that, someone who was willing to tell a stranger such horrible personal stories, especially in transport to India. My hand then began to burn from the incessant hammering of journal writing while he continued with shaky sporadic strums of vocal chords.

“Kuwait?, …Kuwaitis?…I have this one thing to say,…money doesn’t spoil you, you spoil money. It is all the same, the cemetery, you share with a pauper. Even a broke man from Detroit gets himself a casket, you come naked, and sometimes you go naked, but the truth is, your dead”. He then cleared his throat and with muffled focus looked towards the seats in front of him. They became blurred masses of rectangular shapes. Locked in place, he was back in an internal epidermis prison. It seemed he was thinking deeply about what he just said, or he just realized the meaning of what he had said. It was at that moment he finally acknowledged his life was a tragedy. It was his passport, his skin color, and the timing of his birth that made his life tragic. But right before the plane landed, he told me to write down three words. He said to me with a bright smile, “Shai Geeta Gun”. So on a clean white page I scratched it down across the emptiness, Shai Geeta Gun. “If you ever get in any trouble in life those words will help you. Just say them out loud and all will be better, you will be reborn”.

The pilot soon came on the load speaker and announced our arrival into Bombay. We hit the runway and with screeching spheres of rubber we came to a slow halt surrounded by cooling layered clouds of burnt tire. Deportees, a broken man, and myself, an ignorant traveler, were wrapped in the cocoon of the fuselage. With silk woven tightly together, the plane broke open and we all emerged like butterflies leaving our old vessels behind. Each beautiful; each an individual spread its wings and took flight painted with markings- perfect patterns, and distinctly pronounced personalities. The sky was dotted with traces of brilliance as the stars’ imprints slowly disintegrated amongst growing light. Women were draped in brilliant blues, radiant yellows, magentas, and orange. Smiling. Their cloth, soft, wrapped around their delicate skins. It was like a burst of color from their happiness that exploded through the tiny windows. Pupils began to shrink from the bright lights of color. My eye became a pond of blues and greens as my iris smiled under the ambiance of their joy. I felt like a child once again, eager- on a cool spring morning running through tall fields of grass chasing butterflies. Out of reach they took to the immense cool purple sky above. The sun peaked over the horizon as laughter reverberated off my eardrum. The noise was deafened by the flapping of their wings in newborn excitement. The wind from their movements brushed my hair back. Large clouds began to take shape in imaginations once again as I rose from my seat and peered up at the spectacle that was their birth- they were all free, newborn, and lucky.

So, like children-fireflies, we all will play tag in the summer darkness. Shadows grow and fall masked by obstructions riding on wings into the distance. All becomes lost in the blink of an eye- as we move towards the future in blindness and fear plowing and sweeping the air to each side in our wake. False wishes- when all is left to the imagination of waking up from sleep and seeing ghosts that never existed.


First published in Bazaar Magazine in July 2010 in Kuwait

Theroux writes in his prologue in Ghost Train to the Northern Star, “You think of travelers as bold, but our guilty secret is that travel is one of the laziest ways on Earth of passing the time.” I began to read this book, as negative as the beginning was. It made me think, “Am I a traveler?” “Do I think this way?” I sort of became a traveler by accident. I didn’t grow up and dream of distant lands, I just read about them or watched movies about these journeys. The journeys I had no cares for, yet as I grew older even in my young age leaving America was quite simple. I fell on this decision almost over night. I was fed up with my life, bored, and angry. I, like so many others had dreams and ambitions of becoming something larger, living larger, thinking larger. I graduated from college and there I was moving with the advertising rat race. Trying to keep up with the latest designs and designers. Self absorbed in a look and how to look. Which car to drive, where to live, which kind of woman do I want to date. Did I find that traveling was easier, fold the time, pass the time between the drinks, long sleep, and awe-inspiring spectacles of different cultures?

My life in the past several years has been a bag of spontaneous decisions that have snow balled into something else, grander- maybe, difficult at times, yes. But it seems that my decisions have taken a horrible turn from the American logic. I needed to conform to what is American. American as apple pie? American as McDonalds, American as the stock market? No, American as go to school, come into large sums of debt, loose sleep over loans that exceed $100,000. Get a job, begin to pay the loans, still live paycheck to paycheck and wait for the next raise, buy a house and car, meet a women, get married, have spoiled little brat kids(“daddy, daddy buy me this and I want that”) and prepare for a mid-life crisis. I was already going bald and could see my mid-life crisis on the horizon. I was only twenty five, the rest of my life in front of me and still felt empty. “Is this it?” I asked my self on a daily basis.

It was a conversation over a couple of glasses that I had with a friend that changed everything – and I mean everything. I wasn’t thinking outside the box as I normally did as an artist. I wasn’t the run of the mill kid that did exactly what his parents said and did. So I looked at a map beyond the vast borders of my country, breaking the perimeter. There is so much the world has to offer and I, already, with years of unconscious decision making, I was already making logical-illogical decisions made off of these things I call “Americanisms.” Now that I have been gone for some time and yes, I have gone back to my country to reboot – my family, my friends, and even the small things like pizza at the corner store dripping in grease, then my heart slows. My only friends are my books, my passport, and my camera now. How much more does my passport have to say than those weekends I had in New York and Philadelphia, “what do you do for a living? Married? Kids? Did I tell you my wife and I painted the living room, we should have you over so you can see,” ummmm, pause – breathe, “I think I’m busy.” But as I travel, the first questions I always receive are somewhat the same, “where are you from, what do you do? Married? Kids? But, I did paint my apartment, you should come and see.” Humorous at best, but as different as most cultures are, the same questions come, just in a different language, a different tone, and in a different setting. Korea? The same questions. Europe, the same, South East Asia, and even the Middle East. The thing now is that I want to hear stories that drive me, inspire me to keep going. I want to listen; I am an American who wants something a little different. But as the world becomes smaller and when it comes down to it, three out of ten people I meet are writing a book as well. I have, in a way joined a different type of rat race. Some things have even become a pissing contest with these people/they are mist rains, not seasons. “Where have you been? What have you seen? Where to next? I’ve been here and I’ve been there.” Who cares, right? Only the people that I left back home. They care, right?

I left everything. What I have learned is that my Americanisms have become more apparent. Growing up the way I did, molded from a pop-culture fabricated by shallow minds has in some ways remained with me. As much as I despise these platforms of entertainment, thinking, and ways of life I am still part of it. I wanted to leave all of it but I still brought it with me, years later I am still haunted by these thoughts but an unusual pride has grown. This is who I am and yes I am American. I still hate pop-culture; which is no problem. I have learned that these people all over the magazines and television shouldn’t dictate what a true “American” or “Americanism” is. I shouldn’t be embarrassed to be an American. I am not my government and I am NOT pop-culture.

Does America have culture? Years ago I strongly said NO! But as I have experienced more my answer has become a strong yes. Yes, America does have culture. Lots of it. I didn’t see it when I lived there but living away from my home I see it everyday, in myself

It also seems that traveling has changed…..Steinbeck opened the world to positano, Hemingway in between a lot of booze wrote some brilliant stuff, some people paint, some take trains, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, some cycle from country to country, what is so special about what I have done, what am I doing? These questions I ponder every day. What will become of all of this? Will I become that guy who all he talks about is traveling, will I become a father and the only advice I can give is to “talk to your mother about that because I just don’t know how to answer these questions. Just talk to your mother because at that time in my life I was in the Middle East, living that different life.”

Have I become numb to my own country, lazy and walked away from the difficulties of success that I was creating. Manifest destiny (they used to say)? Or have I taken the difficult road and decided the next step for myself and not the normalcy of staying in the same city or town for the rest of my life. Or, and this is difficult to even write; am I scared to go back home? Have I reached that point where my home has become foreign to me? And foreign has become home.

I go home once a year excited and ready. Bags packed weeks in advance as my passport waits to be stamped in anticipation. I take that long journey home through layovers, time zones, three microwaved meals, bars, pointless conversations and then I arrive. Home?

I have conversations with people and nothing has changed, or everything has changed. People have gotten older, gotten married and had kids, bought a new house and a new car. Some of their children I have not met and going back they now have a three year old,- changed jobs or lost jobs. I go back to this frame of a place each year, the snapshot I took before my departure. My checklist of all the things that at that point in time were normal, are all out of skew a year later. Some on the other hand stayed frozen in time, and I think that what has and had not changed is history. When I sit with friends we can reminisce, our stories of growing up have not changed and will not change ever, no matter how much the world and as people we grow or decay. Have I changed? Conversations with family and friends certainly have. Is it because our interests have matured, changed? If I remember correctly four years ago my interests were all the same but my opinions on the world have changed drastically. Change, I almost hate this word now. Change has become routine/status-quo.