Humanity

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Outside the Museum of Royal Houses in Santo Domingo, this ice cream vendor was eating his lunch in installments, for he was ready to sell his cones and bars at the sight of the oncoming steps. Those steps might not lead to him, and he could only hope. He took another bite, and when he heard the click of my camera snapping this pic, he looked up at me hoping my steps might lead to him, which they did, and I had a vanilla cone.

Since his food depended on those sales, I wondered if he’d ever eaten his food in peace. When I asked him, he struggled with English, but managed, “Sales, Peace. One cone, more? please.”

Photo Challenge

The Dying Weeks of Summer

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Today, I was in a Starbucks in Town Square, which is a 2 minutes walk from my apartment. Though not spacious, the coffee store — a part of a high-rise — sits on the first level in a corner by the Hudson River, and has a restroom that remains open to all. Restroom only for Customers is absent here, unlike in most other coffee chains. So, people frequent, sometimes in hordes, if not for coffee then to relieve themselves.

As I’ve been frequenting this and two other Starbucks coffeehouses – both 5 minutes away in opposite directions – this remains my first stop for the stimulant, where my favorite spot inside is a corner at the far end of the store.

So after I bought coffee in my tumbler, I hastened, walking straight a few steps before peeking at my right to see if the brown chair and table at the far corner was occupied. Luckily not, so my laptop was to be in the esteemed company of the power socket and WiFi.

When I sit in this corner, I see: to my left is the restroom – the second most frequented space in the store – and I watch people walk toward me and turn so they wait in line if the restroom is occupied; the bottom half of the wall lining the length of the passage is wooded and it matches the brown hue of the chairs and desks; the top half is an off-white coat suggesting completeness, while the ceiling – an unadorned stretch of pipes and cables – infuses an ambiance of rawness. Next to the restroom is the Employees Only room, where stocks of beans, muffins, croissant, cheese danish sit fresh on iron shelves; and though the room stays locked unfortunately, the employees go in to also change their dress when their shift is over.

The more professional they look wearing green over black with a Starbucks cap crowning their pride, the more casual they step out of the room and sashay around when it’s time to head home. Men and women, young or old, wear ganjis and shorts, on several occasions than more — when, in the dying weeks of summer the weather’s skin-friendly and women, in particular, look hot and glamorous; to the extent that I remember a girl who had an extreme makeover and I called her, in my mind, Skimpy Dudette; and who would, I had seen, welcome customers with a “Hello Sir,” but wear casuals and she’d shoot “Cya Dude” if somebody said bye.

And I’ve reckoned that like the restroom instruction Employees must wash their hands … , their might be a stockroom instruction too, that Nobody must slide a pound cake into their shorts.

To my right is the big stained window, which frames the picturesque view of downtown Manhattan and the part of the Hudson River where rich people dock their yachts.

I was sipping coffee and staring at the screen of my computer when I watched the dying rays of the setting sun, almost dead in their reflections off the mast of a yacht – a three level luxury – docked very close to the window. The ripples on the river, serenely pallid under dock lights, moved in the direction of the sun, which, now devoid of its rays, must look magical.

I glanced at the bottom of the yacht and saw a head pop out of the first level; a yacht cleaner he was in a white V neck and yellow pajamas, with a piece of cloth in each hand, which he replaced with a muffin in his left and coffee in his right. His Starbucks cup made me think weirdly as to when he’d come to the store to buy the beverage since it would’ve taken him 10 minutes of a U-turn walk from where he was to the paying counter in the store. However, if I could open the window that Hurricane Sandy couldn’t break, he could walk in to the store in 10 seconds. He shifted his half-eaten muffin to his right hand, holding it along with his coffee, leaving his left to wave at me. Why, I thought.

I was certain that his gaze locked mine, and his hollow cheeks and wrinkled forehead suggested he might be in some discomfort: an urge, I thought; an urge to relieve, to be precise.

His right hand was free now but he used it to grip the pole of the US flag tied to a railing, in an army posture – as though only he could negate an unexpected drone attack – while his left hand continued to beckon to me. His urge suddenly seemed to purge, and he jumped, and stood motionless too, making me curse the insensitive yacht owner who probably locked the restroom in the yacht, so poor souls like him disobeyed the nature’s call. What world are we living in?

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I was helpless, but soon he wasn’t, and his face glowed under the orange sky, and his smile appeared to grow into muffled laughter, and he blew me a kiss – which I straightaway rejected – and when he blew me another, I thought enough was enough. But when I watched him closely through the blurriness of my contact lens, I learned that his gaze, its line of sight, was angled a few inches away from me, in fact over my head, to a target perhaps to my left. Just then Stevie Wonder crooned I Believe on the jukebox, and I turned my head to my left, and there she stood right outside the stockroom, blowing kisses back, which again went over my head, and I rejected them too.

But when Skimpy Dudette smiled at me with a compassion that I’d made a fool of myself, I decided to look mature, and when I opened my eyes wide after a few blinks, she had disappeared, with a pound cake perhaps, for the lover, who was also not there, anymore.

The Mysterious Black

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Your walk’s a pretense; your whole being is: there’s no connect to your core.

You focus so to be sentient of your realities, but the fruit of that labor is sour, as there exists flavor only to your superficiality. It’s all a farce, a mockery of your making.

How long will you remain shallow, is a question you can’t answer, for your answer is drenched in shallowness. You miss the magic of the nature; and though nature responds during nights and days, you revert only at nights when you’re in sync with the subterranean depths of your existence: when you’re alone and nobody’s searching for inefficiencies.

You teach and are taught that this world is also defined by the ubiquitousness of its inefficiency, but your contribution to it is profounder; and boy, how much you hate yourself. Your part and your role, you believe, pollute like nobody else’s, and you take responsibility, as your admission is confession too.

You’re the thick black smoke that leaves the dying gray ash, and you don’t disappear, permeating your surroundings and bringing into its fold the scorn of humans, and sometimes animals’ too. One could sprinkle water on the silvery ash and stop the smoke, but your black smoke will fight to survive, and no words of persuasion could cast a sprinkling effect.

You’ll remain unchallenged — you’d like to — and will wait for more pain to be infused, as you know no other way to survive.

And you see pain right there, in mysterious black, and you know you have to be ready, and you are.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts

This shot was captured from inside the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic. The National Pantheon was originally a church, but today it serves as the final resting place of the nation’s honored citizens.

The guards and the flags were in the resting place – their colors dim – and the heat of the summer, the white light of which, made brighter the white walls outside, where life under the blue sky struggled and survived for another day.  The roof provided rest while the open drove mortals to seek shade.

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Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Between

How an evening when the sun is about to set, waits for a period of twilight to author its piece of bliss, will transition to dusk when the river would reflect a different hue and the ripples might be less visible, and more admirable under the moon’s directive.

When the earth revolves and the time ticks, there’s a sense of doing and undoing marking people’s consciousness – the phase of the between is on a flow attempting to look and feel better.

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Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra

In the fading twilight, the Caribbean Sea lends a calmness to a noisy park in Malecon.

The musicians showcase their skills so they earn some Dominican Peso and spend it on dinner for their family in the poverty-stricken nation. The three ladies, a gentleman and a child seem to be a family of their own, and though the ladies would love a musical start to a romantic night, sparing pesos may not be an easy decision when there’s the child and possibly more to bring up – and the gentleman on the left is the initiator of looking-elsewhere triggering a look-elsewhere reaction from the others.

Drama comes in handy when in a money-burns-a-hole situation. And the performer wearing the brim hat looks elsewhere too as he understands better the futility of their collective tune.

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Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

Since we can take this challenge in an abstract direction, I thought of these two pictures, on the day of my son’s first birthday, when I tried to capture us in the mirror balloon.

Though we were in our living room, the balloon images brought us closer. The images shelter us so we love, trust and protect – and we may live in a wide wild world we’re sheltered.

My son’s confusion doubled when I held the balloon and clicked the selfie.Image

After I released the balloon and it went up to the ceiling, I tried placing the iPhone camera at a typical angle to capture us both. You could see him standing in the play yard, and me bending enough to be in the image.Image

Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story

More than a decade ago when I was in Amsterdam, I learned about Sinterklaas.

When we were out in the evening, I saw people swarm a corner circling a figure, and when they were making space for others to circle, we saw the figure – with white hair and full beard, wearing a red chasuble and a red miter.

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Though Sinterklaas looks like Santa Claus, he’s Saint Nicholas and a very Dutch character. Legend has it that Sinterklaas originally hailed from Turkey and was a well respected man loved by all. The feast of Sinterklaas is on December 6, but the evening of December 5 is when gifts are given to the loved ones.

Weekly Photo Challenge

When Elevator Becomes A World Of Its Own

We live in a 36-floor apartment building in a multicultural complex.

Each floor has 10 apartments, so a rough total of 360 apartments. There are four elevators in the building, and each elevator can hold up to 1500 pounds – so taking an average of 150 pounds each, 10 people may be the limit.

But then there are strollers, carts, luggage, bikes, which may not affect the weight, but they eat up the space.

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In last five years, I haven’t seen any of these elevators carrying more than the allowed pounds of weight. You can reckon when the lifting device has been cramped enough, leaving no space for more than 10 people.

When there’s rush in the peak hours, people wait in line to use the elevators. After the first man in the line has pushed the button lighting the up arrow, all of us look above the elevator doors, exercising our necks for the moving red numbers to see which elevator does an Usain Bolt. Once an elevator has won gold, courtesy demands that we wait for the people already in it to exit – much like we see in metros and subways though there this courtesy may be least adhered to, but here I’d say 90% may pause for the passengers of the vertical-shaft-cage to come out, and 10% may hurry, mostly the first two in the long line, showing urgency.

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Here are 5 instances in last 5 years I’ll remember for a long time:

1. When there was a line of about 9 people waiting at 6 in the evening, I saw this fine gentleman – after an extremely busy day perhaps in a demanding Fortune 500 company – walk up to the first man in the line, ignoring the other tired ones from perhaps poor companies who continued to wait. And he ended up being the first to walk into the elevator after it had opened and people had walked out. The irony was, I’d been the 9th in line and all the 8 before me including the unauthorized 1 made it – and though everyone was hurt at the discourtesy of this Fortune gentleman, I was bruised.

2. At 3 pm when it was not rush hour at all – no soul around – elevators were ready like instant coffee. I had a cart full of grocery to take up to my floor. I’d stepped into the elevator and when the door was about to close, a child, whose footsteps I’d heard only at the last moment, punched his hand in the gap of the closing door, therefore opening it. And he stood there holding the door for his mom who had possibly told him to punch the gap while she was still 15 seconds away. When she appeared she was pushing a stroller with a 1-year-old in it, followed by her another son who was maneuvering a grocery cart. I smiled and made space for them by moving to a corner which was a mistake, but then I had no option because the stroller, the cart, the mother and her two sons china-walled me from the door. There was no excuse-me or sorry from them which was fine, but what was not fine was – they had to get off at 34th while I had to at 6th (and we’re not talking about streets here) – and it pained them as much making space for me by exiting at 6th with all their belongings – and when the mother frowned at me, her eyebrows became linear because her flaring nose had twitched.

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3. When I was in the elevator with about 7 people descending to the first floor – and before we could step out of it, a lady walked in and pushed the button of a certain floor she’d wanted to go. She was either an alien or had a misunderstanding that she was invisible. Her perfume was Chanel which attracted some of the men to her – and since only a day before that I’d met the Fortune gentleman I thought she could be the Fortune lady. The two folks including me who were stuck behind her, had to wait for all including the ones under the spell of her fragrance to exit before we could.

4. Most look like known strangers in the elevator. You may have seen them all these years but only recognize them from the elevator. And if you see someone on a particular day, it’s improbable that you see the same person the second time the same day. But a 10-year-old boy was in the elevator for 30 minutes, cruising up and down in the peak hour. Not just me, a lot of known strangers saw that known stranger. I’d gone out to buy some milk and had seen him going down with me, and when I went up he was there again in that very corner, unmoved and staring at nothing. We see this often in Light Rail when people who may have nothing better to do buy a ticket for $2 valid-for-2-hours, and they use the transport for the entire duration of its validity, purposelessly. So on my way back up when I smiled at him before exiting at 6th, he answered a question I hadn’t asked – ‘This is my way of busting the school stress.’

5. When a genius got into the elevator from the 2nd floor to go down to the 1st, he’d mistakenly taken the elevator that was going up since he’d failed to notice the up arrow. The two men who were already in the elevator – one had to go to the 36th and I had to disappear at 6th. The genius had no choice but whoosh all the way up to the top floor, check the oxygen level there before swooshing down to his destination. Quite a journey! And I must share, there are four staircase exits on each floor and it’s only 10 counts of steps from the 2nd to the 1st, and the genius was also brawny like Rambo.

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Having said these, it’s fun to be in the elevators as we get to see several nationalities and cultures, who become known strangers, and who may be thinking about their respective countries while in an elevator in the US – and what’s manifest is some unvoiced communication broadcast from within their borders.

Keeping it real, and raw!

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