Who wants to smoke in the stairwell?

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I usually take the stairs from our sixth floor apartment to go to the first floor. I like the walk down in the morning, and up back to the apartment in the evening. It’s healthy. But what is not is the smell of the cigarette smoke in the stairwell. 

Cigarette smoke smells different outside, as air slices its thickness off, splintering them in various directions. Smoke is injurious, thick or thin, so most public parks are now no-smoking zones. But when you smoke in a corridor of a closed structure, the thick white stays, and can travel up and down through a stairwell.

We’ve seen No Smoking written in faint red on the grainy walls of the stairwells, on each floor, of the high rise building. The illegibility may have been the invalid excuse for the smokers who have long taken their drags there. Then a time came when the building management issued a warning, a print out, which said: It is not permitted to smoke in the stairwells. A print out pasted on each floor. 36 floors. 4 stairwells. 

Permission? Reveler tenants continued to smoke, though the warning was much legible. 

Nobody has probably been able to catch these smokers red-handed. How, is a question. None knows their smoking schedule, and the odor lingers after the smoker has long left for his abode. Why don’t they smoke in their abode? They love their family to death.

Last month, the management issued another warning, a print out, which said: It is ILLEGAL to smoke in the building. 

ILLEGAL. Yes, in caps. Severe warning it is – so two print outs for each floor. 

The word illegal worked. Yay!!! Smokers after all were law abiding tenants otherwise. Soon the smoking zone outside the front lobby swelled. There was no smell in the vertical shaft, for a fortnight.

This morning the odor was pungent in the stairwell. I slowed my steps down, each foot soft and investigative in its motion. I reached the first floor. I saw him.

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He was in the corridor, his back facing me. A cigarette was burning between his fingers, and the strong wind outside hurried the smoke in.

He had opened an emergency door — wonder why no alarm sounded, would have alerted the doorman — and had his right foot in as a door blocker. Fahrenheit was negative, and he was wearing a t-shirt. He’d come prepared to smoke in the corridor.

“Sir, the stairwell is filled with your smoke,” I said.

He turned around, his raised brows made his eyes bigger, his foot unmoved. “Really? But I’m smoking outside.”

“Are you? The wind’s moving in.”

“But my puff is going out.”

“Sir, I live on the sixth. I could smell your puffs there.”

He took two steps out, still holding the door. The corridor – chillier than before – continued to suck the smoke in. “Look, I’m outside now.”

“Are you? Thanks a lot.”

The last I glimpsed him, he had an awkward posture: right hand on the door, left fingers and the fag in shivering rhythm, both feet tap dancing as he fought the chill, his t-shirt ballooning behind him. 

The weather was punishing, and for all his hard work, he was still breaking the law.

 

You gaze, I glance, we gape

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It’s a fact that universally, men look at women more than the other way round, at least evidently. It’s a fact again that men stare at women — and women stare mostly when they know they’re being stared at, by men.

I’ve been careful about how I see and observe others. Most, including me, do coup d’oeil as it may be the smart way.

In today’s time, when eyes flutter at people as much they do at smartphones, it’s important to know that people watch you watching them. The safest soul you could look at without offending, is the one you see in your mirror – where – though neither is offended, you decide whether the reflection grins or frowns.

Have you heard about a man gazing back at a woman because she gazed first? Not that it doesn’t happen, is unlikely to be a routine.

When we step out of our homes we may forget what we’ve come outside for, as we take in images and motions of multiple moods. We may fulfill what we set out to, but these emotions drain and dare us along the way.

Some thoughts:

1. Women look at men too, but there’s patience (and permanence) with which they process their image, unlike in the other case where a man’s processing of a woman may be quick, as though he has more images to capture. Why do men goggle at women when they know their gaze is not welcome? Worse, why does he wait until she tells him to mind his eyes that he gets the message? Perhaps he wants the message.

2. Sometimes you may not be looking at a person, but at a bag or a hair clip, noticing how prominent they look on them. But the ones who’re gaped at in the process may have a wrong idea, which is natural.

3. When we wear t-shirts with captions on them we know people will read us. If my t-shirt says something and a woman (a stranger) reads it, taking her time, I may not (am not supposed to) be offended. But if this happens the other way, it becomes an issue.

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That’s my t-shirt.

But wait. A girl is wearing a captioned top. A man in a formal suit, with lust on his mind, reads it. She’s probably fine; another man, shabbily dressed, with purity in his thoughts, reads it. Isn’t he a certain lech?

Which I always maintain — how you dress and how you think are two different worlds. I don’t read captioned clothes. Are they to be read?

3. There have been situations when a man sitting alone in a corner is teased by a group of women, frolicking nearby. They may stare at him, giggle, and chatter about him – which is healthy – but not to an extent where the man realizes he’s become a tool of their taunt. He may get offended, but won’t react, as that might mean discourteousness?  It won’t be appropriate at all if a group of men do this to a woman. The point I’m making is, not every man can ignore being ridiculed.

The outside world is full of strange faces and expressions. Some faces are attractive, some expressions are not. But it’s easy to be trapped in its varied lure.

It’s not a crime to be attracted to, so long as the other person is not uncomfortable in your presence. And since most culprits are men, there’s a saying, which if applied, can drill some sanity in:

Seek respect, not attention, it lasts longer.

Faces and hearts

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I see faces, aching
for acceptance, I feel hearts,
prepping for penance.
Acceptance and penance, use them
They’re voluntary, mean them.

An old, homeless man wobbled
Waiting for red to turn green
When a taxi hit a puddle
His soaked shirt stuck to his skin.

The car shrieked to a stop, the driver,
his teeth glistened as he laughed.
The man’s eyes lowered, the poorer,
he stood there as the car moved.

The breeze was cold and wet
The man walked, then paused
He had no cash or check
He walked, and stopped.

Night glowed, as stars assembled
He, on a bench, slipped into his dreaming
Someone patted him, and whispered
I’m the driver, he said, you were forgiving.

Both ate sandwich the driver brought
He scanned the man, a certain deja vu from before
The man had stood, the driver remembered, between him and a gun
Look at the scar, the man said, from the bullet of ’84.

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The driver’s eyes swelled with tears,
the man’s with pride, and both hugged,
then smiled and sighed
Who said acceptance and penance have died.

But I see faces, aching
for acceptance, I feel hearts,
prepping for penance.
Acceptance and penance, use them
They’re voluntary, mean them.

Alabama Assault

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Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old man, who traveled to the US from India to take care of his grandson, is temporarily paralyzed in a Huntville Hospital in Alabama. He’s brown, doesn’t speak English, and walks in the morning. But on Feb 6 his walk – within a week of his arrival from India – ended up in tragedy not only for him but also for his family, and Indians in general.

We’ve been in the US since 2008, and have been impressed by NYPD and NJPD officers, in the way they talk, respect and are alert. We have not faced a single issue with them nor have we witnessed their being unfair with anyone — and hence they command our respect. But there have been instances in the recent past when police behaved in ways that failed to meet the high standards and expectations of their institution. Which has made us sit back and notice, for we may also be a future target, though it’s unlikely.

Not many incidents involving Indians come to mind where they were the target. Two incidents that made news (which didn’t involve law enforcement) are: the attack on an Indian by a 9/11 revenge-killer within a month of the WTC attacks — Mark Stroman, a white supremacist, had shot and killed Vasudev Patel at a petrol pump in Texas; the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin left 6 people dead — Michael Page, another white supremacist, was the killer who later shot himself in the head. Yes, the white supremacists target anyone who’s not white.

Like there are fringe elements everywhere, they may exist in police too. These are some officers – perhaps 1% of the total force – who may act differently, not conforming to the rules, and whose racial sensitivity is inadequate. The fear is: are these fringe officers – which I say at the risk of sounding rude – also white supremacists in disguise, as they don’t seem to harm innocent white people? Black police officers harm blacks though. Listen, we don’t want harm. Peace will do.

All the officers are recruited on merit undoubtedly, but their worldview, and how sensitive and culturally tolerant they must be, matter, as much choking and tasering do. Be it the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, or the chokehold death of Eric Garner by Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island — though the officers exercised caution rightly, they took a certain misstep. Which in the case of Eric Garner was true since he’d cried several times, in his dying moments, that he was not able to breathe.

In Sureshbhai Patel’s case, a 911 call was made by someone in the Madison community, that a man he hadn’t seen before was roaming around. He added that the man was “black” and skinny, and that he couldn’t leave his wife alone at home with him wandering outside. The state of paranoia this country has fallen into, especially in the suburbs, is startling. There may be a thick line between paranoia and prudence. And there are colored people between black and white.

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Sureshbhai, who didn’t spend even a week in the US was plain curious about the community he was going to live in. He didn’t break into anyone’s house, nor did he have the intention. He felt as free as he would in his own country — both being open societies.

So, responding to the call, the police reached the spot and stopped Sureshbhai who was walking on the sidewalk to his house. When the officers questioned him all he could utter was “India” and point to the house he was from. He then started moving, thinking he could – as police in India don’t usually frisk people on streets – which raised officers’ suspicion.

Now, let’s say the officers’ suspicion was valid since he kept moving, and couldn’t produce an ID, though not producing one is not a crime. When someone is not able to follow English, any officer who’s culturally sensitive would understand how critical communication then becomes. They got his hands behind him, patted him down, and found nothing that was threatening. If a person is guilty, he’d stand still and surrender (in most cases), so he’s arrested without injury. Sureshbhai wasn’t guilty, so he kept moving.

Had he been in this country for long he wouldn’t have moved, given the police had grown suspicious. He moved, and officer Eric Parker said Do not jerk away from me again, or I will put you on the ground. Do you understand?

Sureshbhai Patel didn’t understand. Had he carried an ID with him it would have helped. (We carry our IDs wherever we go. The locals do, too).

When he moved again, Parker yanked his arm and slammed him into the ground. Had his hands been free he could have put them out to absorb some impact of the fall. The fact that his face and neck hit the ground first explains the situation he’s in today. He has limited mobility in limbs, is not able to move one leg, and would need cervical fusion surgery.

The police department took a while – after their cover-up attempt failed and amidst pressure from Indian community and some media – before they released the dash cam footage, which clearly showed Parker’s brutality. The officer was arrested, and later released on a $1000 bond.

When an officer makes a mistake, a view may emerge that he was only being cautious as he worked under pressure to ensure safety. But, what use does cautiousness have if it paralyses or kills an innocent civilian. The psychological trauma of the victim and family cannot be compensated.

Nobody is a devil here, but some cultural orientation among law enforcement groups shall help a “great” country like the US, which happily allows multiculturalism in, and boasts about their vibrancy, and yet doesn’t understand their basic feelings.

Toddler 2.0

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Our toddler son, like every toddler, proves through his acts that we are in the second decade of the twenty first century.

We may still be living in the thoughts of our past, which in my case I’d say, the prime years were in the last decade of the last century, when I passed out of school, did my college and started a regular job. My thoughts formed then. I’m not saying our son’s thoughts have evolved, but he like other children of his generation may be two decades ahead of us.

If we go by how he behaves now, I wonder how his parents behaved when we were his age. His interactions may understandably be different from how we opened up to the world as toddlers.

Vibrant technology

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He owns a Nabi tablet, and though he’s only 21 months old he knows how to use it. No exaggeration here, because I see many toddlers using it. Now, there are at least 70 apps on it and he knows what’s where. He uses his middle finger like I do to slide the tablet screen — and depending on how his mood swings, his finger punches a related app. He usually opens Web to revisit the nursery rhymes on You tube, or DrumsFree with a real drum kit and sound, or Burn the Rope that he’d close after the rope is burnt, or Fruit Ninja for finger-slicing the fruits.  So much touchscreen that he would – after a stint with the tablet – stand next to television and try to slide its screen.

Active aping

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He likes to be around when I vacuum-clean the house. The first time he saw the red vacuum cleaner and the sound it generated he was afraid, but got used to it gradually, and one day wanted to clean the house himself. Today when I was cleaning, he squeezed himself in between me and the cleaner – and when I had to stop him for he might stumble and get injured, he was upset without expressing it. Soon he brought his red scooter to the scene, moving it by its handle as though he was cleaning the house with it. He followed me with his scooter to the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, and to all the dust corners I vacuumed.

Attention hunter

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He wants attention all the time. When no activity is on, he’d just walk behind us seeking thrill. One day I folded my arms behind my back and strolled in the living room, thinking about the week ahead. He followed me with both his arms behind him though his hands weren’t gripped like mine. He brushed against me a few times so I looked at him — and he was upset when I sat down on the sofa later. After his attempt to have me stand up failed, he wanted me to sit down on the floor, but not on my knees or feet. My butt had to kiss the floor before he’d set himself down — a trick where he’d have enough time to stop me if I was getting up.

Rote rhymes

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Lots of nursery rhymes and his mother singing to him have helped him understand the tune, if not the words. But he sings Baba Black Sheep something like this, Baabba back cheap, avi vi vi voo, yech chir yech chir, thee baz full. The downside of watching these videos is that he’s started jumping on the bed to Five little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off… We sometimes feel he wants to fall off to imitate the monkeys. We’ve decided never to let him alone on bed or sofa when that song is being played.

Early riser

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Though he sleeps in his crib, he gets up at 2 every night so he could be with us on the bed.  He’s the one who wakes up first in the morning, and would crawl between us without being loud or nagging in hope that either of us would get up and take him to the living room, where he could run, ride and rhyme signalling a new day.

We may have behaved like him when we were toddlers, but the memories are cloudy. We are in 2015 and have much to learn from our son. He’s an advanced version, and doesn’t waste time.

Glamorizing death

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I happened to see the video where ISIS burned the Jordanian pilot to death in a cage. I happened to see some of the previous beheading videos, too. But I realized that watching these clips wasn’t a mere happening. I wanted to watch them. And I wasn’t alone, as millions including the POTUS watched some or all the videos.

Does that make us sick?

Though it’s made me somewhat insensitive to death, I’ve become more sensitive in reality. I see that I’ve developed a tendency to stop something from harming someone. My growing insensitivity to loss of life has made me more cautious and caring. I’ve begun to value life before we lose it.

What separates the latest burning video — which as per sources was shot on Jan 3rd, meaning the pilot was killed almost a month ago, and what the media extensively covered ISIS was doing in the name of swap negotiations with Jordan was fake; their talks had allegedly stalled because ISIS couldn’t prove that the pilot was alive — from the other mostly beheading clips is that you watched a man die a most gruesome death in a script-like setting. The video prides itself in its hi-tech cinematography and edits, armed-terrorist characters and shock-building slow-mo scenes, and a narrative arc where the antagonist meets his fate in the end. In a movie a well-stitched dummy is used as a villain when he’s on fire. Here, the man’s real who was doused in a flammable liquid and who waited with horror while a burning stream of fuel approached him.

Beheading videos shocked, but this one humiliated not only the man whose flesh melted in his final moments of agony but also their religion which both the killers and the victim follow. ISIS, with its shock-and-scare propaganda, adheres to Sunni Islamic jurisprudence but has interpreted it in a most un-Islamic way since burning people, whether dead or alive, is prohibited. Also ISIS which thinks Shias are apostates and must die, stems from their belief that Islam came down through followers of Prophet Muhammad, as opposed to Shias belief that it was transmitted through Prophet’s household. But the moderate Shias and Sunnis, which form the majority of Islam followers, are as peaceful as moderates of other religions are.

It’s not media’s fault when it shows what it sees. The choice to see and how we process the seen lie with us.

Anyone with an iota of conscience would agree that we can’t ignore this barbarism as someone else’s problem. Yes we are helpless, as we rely on our governments to make the decisions for us, be it foreign affairs or economy or wars. But we can’t expect a radical group fighting another in a foreign country to remain a local issue forever, since in due course given the flawed foreign policies the issue would spread like cancer and affect everyone, which it has begun to. The recent Charlie Hebdo attack by AQAP, and the beheadings and burn-alive by ISIS are waging a battle with each other to prove their brutal upper hand, while targeting a common enemy. ISIS, which seems impervious to fear, has been a clear winner so far.

In our limited reach as ordinary humans the most we can do is share as much graciousness as possible, locally. That is, if we cut through layers of pretense and become uninhibited selves. We the ordinary billions across race and religion can forge in our ordinariness a wave of optimism, and can fight our own demons by saving others’ souls instead of fighting their demons.

Extend a hand and spend some minutes, each one of us, locally. Because if terror can travel, goodness too, can. Call it wishful thinking.

And we don’t want to go to bed with images of gloom and death, but with possibilities of life while we are still alive.

The intimidation tactics of Verizon Wireless

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My first wireless phone carrier was Verizon. It was a prepaid connection, I had a Samsung handset, and the year was 2008. I still have their prepaid connection, sadly — same handset, different number. Between these two prepaid phases, I’d used their postpaid for almost four years before they arbitrarily and unfairly terminated it a few months ago. Now I’m dealing with their intimidation tactics through their collection agencies.

I’m a law abiding resident, and I pay all my bills.

Ever since smartphones invaded our markets and apps on these phones made life easier, things couldn’t have gone wrong. I was wrong, I learned.

I used Vonage (voice over internet) app on my iPhone to make calls to India, and had been using it ever since I had the postpaid connection. Vonage had told me two things right in the beginning: a) to tell Verizon that they disable my international calling, which I did, b) that I must be on a WiFi network to make those calls, which I ensured.

But some of the calls I made to India through the app were routed through Verizon network. Verizon then sent me a bill, to my utter surprise, for more than $2000 for those calls which should have been free for me, as I pay Vonage $50 every month for unlimited calls to India.

Three months of agony followed which included several emails, phone calls, conferencing Vonage and Verizon for hours, visiting Verizon store to give a Vonage letter certifying I’m a Vonage subscriber. During these three months Verizon excelled in their customer care, at least in telling me they’d find a solution in my favor.

Vonage argued that if Verizon disabled the international calling feature (which I doubt it did even after reminders), then even if Vonage app malfunctioned (which it never did), the calls shouldn’t have got through. Earlier, Verizon said I didn’t tell them to disable the international calling, but when it was proved that I had, they scripted a different narrative that even after they disabled it, calls were routing through their network.

Verizon blamed Vonage, not me – but it sent me notices through their debt collector(s) after I refused to pay the bill.

Imagine this:

1. I used the app for more than three years making hundreds of calls to my family in India, and never did Verizon ever charge me for a single international call before this.

2. I called my India numbers the way I know how to and didn’t do a single thing differently: I ensured there was WiFi, opened the app on the phone, dialed the numbers, talked, and ended the call. As simple as that.

3. How did calls go through Verizon network if they disabled international calling? If Verizon is not blaming me, isn’t it clear there’s a technical glitch at either Verizon or Vonage’s end.

4. Why is Verizon sending three debt collection agencies after me when one could do the job? Being a law abiding resident I was prompt in my response to these agencies, but they seem to leave my account midway. Do they worry that my explanation has logic and conviction, and therefore a single misstep could bring disrepute to them later?

The first agency sent me a polite notice that they understood how the economy was doing and how difficult it would be to pay bills (believing it was my fault entirely). Do they even know what I do or whether recession affected me, but I appreciate their kinds words. They further said that if I thought the payment owed was not justified, I could send them an explanation in writing within 30 days of receiving the notice. I sent my explanation similar to what I’ve written in this post. They were to get back to me with how they or Verizon found my defense and what their decision was. I never heard back from them.

Then a month later, in mid-December, I received another notice from another debt collector. The text was similar to the first one though it didn’t express sympathies for my situation, which I liked. They also gave me 30 days and I wrote to them instantly. I received their response two weeks later that they’d forwarded my letter to Verizon for their review.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a third debt collector. The lady on the phone had a threatening tone. She said I owed them around $2900, which was an additional $800 (collection agency’s expenses) to the first amount. When I said that hers was the third agency contacting me and that I’d received a response from the second agency stating Verizon would get back to me with their decision, her tone softened and she said, “Okay,” and hung up.

Just a while ago I received another phone call from the same third debt collector, and I lost my cool. I told a gentleman that I was already dealing with the second debt collector and was waiting to hear from Verizon for their review. I added that if his agency called me again I’d be forced to approach law enforcement. He said with a bit of reluctance that he’d put my number in Do Not Call list.

The last some months have been insulting, embarrassing and frightening, too. Sometimes I wish I made those calls deliberately in which case paying the bill would’ve been routine.

Why should I be made the scapegoat when I am not at fault? I don’t want to surrender myself to these big corporates who think intimidation tactics would work – as their swelling profits have seen them, done that.

Spiritual dessert

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A calming, bluish dusk at Santo Domingo, DR

Hasn’t it become a trend to label quiet places as serene, even if the ones labeling them are least peaceful as they fight issues within them and out. The moment we are out of a serene location which certainly pumped us up, the psychological upper hand vanishes under the enormous weight of life’s routine chaos.

It’s understood that all of us can’t be at serene venues all the time – at best once a year if we’re lucky. Hence we are served with “find serenity wherever you are” spiritual dessert.

But this dessert tastes bitter, the task is uphill, and the clock’s ticking. So either find reasons to bludgeon the issues and provoke reactions, or, find peace while issues bludgeon you. Playing a victim is weakness, and dumb, given life will come at you hard.

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As time approached sunset, Vondel Park in Amsterdam became quieter

 

When Silence Replaces Sex

Attractive Man Breathing Outdoor

Prostitution is illegal in the US, except in some rural counties of Nevada state — but it thrives as though it’s legal – not publicly, but in the alleys of the online world.

Websites like Craigslist and Backpage do what brothels and infamous streets used to do or are still doing discreetly. 70% of the women you see on these websites in their skimpiness – in New York City for instance – may not be locals and may have exceeded their tourist stay. Since you can’t solicit in strip clubs, strippers too sign up with these sites. The ad is carefully drafted to avoid a direct mention of the offer of sex. But most would state how much they expect to be paid for the different services, using the word “donation” for the time spent with them. As long as the girl or the john is not from law enforcement, everything ends happily. But if either is from police, it has to be established that sex was offered and money exchanged hands to make an arrest.

The fear of getting caught always exists, but the carnal desires potentially overtake these fears. The fewer the arrests, the more the web profiles, and the more the discreet hours paid for as donation.

I find this big abandoned well a treacherous trap that nobody should fall into.

First — anything illegal can’t be legal no matter how conspicuous they are in their vibrant presence. There might be johns who frequent these women and are lucky to have not been caught so far, but there might be a first timer, too, who meets a voluptuous woman – a police officer in disguise. How tragical!

Second — a piece of advice for the johns and the women in particular that condoms, which if they use, can only guarantee 85% protection. Though latex rubber acts as a brilliant barrier against STDs including HIV, the 15% possibility that it might break or slip off could be catastrophic if either has STD.

Third — you’ll be encouraging trafficking by employing these women (and pimps) for your eleven minutes of pleasure — since behind the lure of the tempting bodies is a world filled with pain and suffering.

Now the question is, how does one stop the urge?

Well, if you’re single, get a girlfriend – and if you’re married (I am), stay faithful.  Is it easy? No. So what does one do?  I don’t know.

Become one with your soul, perhaps?

Somebody I know from a writing workshop and who’s single signed up with a dating website, which was after he spent a good amount of time and money on Craigslist and Backpage ads. He’d taken a pledge – after his brother ferociously insisted – that he won’t surf those websites for fear of detention or disease, and hoped he’d find someone special on the dating site.

After a week he informed that though there were good, attractive women, none he lost his sleep over responded to his gentle online overtures — and those who did wanted to know if he had fetishes. The more time he spent on the site the better it dawned that half of those women were only purified versions from the infamous websites. These girls promised fun and secrecy, but were essentially looking for Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached “sugar daddies” who could pamper and spoil them, and give them five-star treats. Dignifying prostitution, if you will.

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The last I heard, he’d signed up with a Meditation school, and was happy to share that he was breathing well – both in and out. He wanted me to join, too.

Breathing skeletons

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I met these bunch of neatly-dressed skeletons at a Halloween party for children, which my toddler son thoroughly enjoyed.

My first reaction looking at them was, though they technically missed a soul their presence merged well with the rest of us in the hall. Rather they set the mood for the occasion (unlike other Halloween skeletons one may not find expressive enough).

Their smile was consistently endearing, but their eyeballs continuously warned that they’d been long dead. Stare at the balls (eye), you’ll know.

We may laugh at them and flaunt our superior lives, but when you engage in a bit of analysis you may ask how different we are from them. Dead and insensitive we too are in flesh and blood, but we are certainly breathing. We are good shadows.

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