Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pieces Of Moe

It was cold outside and the snow fell so heavily that Moe could hear the individual flakes drop as they hit the ground below. He opened the wooden door to the old, familiar corner tavern where he had spent many a night pouring over his thoughts while sipping on a whiskey or beer. Tonight would be no different.

Inside, it was warm. A musty and moist smell hung in the air; musty from all the years of service and moist from the snowy wetness dragged in by tonight’s patrons. The place exuded a worn, but warm and relaxed comfort. Vintage knick knacks decorated the shelves above the bar. An old-fashioned cash register nestled among the backlit liquor bottles completed the look. The place was pretty quiet tonight. Miles Davis was playing softly in the background. A few customers were scattered about. Moe walked to the end of the bar, where he took his usual seat that gave him a good view of the entrance so he could watch people coming and going, which was something he enjoyed.

The bartender walked over, and acknowledged him with a nod. Moe ordered a Guinness. He liked the dark, foamy, richness. It allowed him to think, and that’s what he needed to do tonight. Think. He felt as though he needed to reach some sort of a decision. There was no urgency or real decision to be made, yet he felt as though his life needed to take a more defined direction. He reflected back on some of the significant people and moments in his life to derive some inspiration. He contemplated his love for music and the outdoors. The handful of solid friendships he had developed, and the three women he had loved in his life.

He thought about the time when he had tried to sort it all out by writing a song to symbolize each of those people and special moments shared in an attempt to make them more tangible. He struggled with their elusiveness, and he had the idea that if he could somehow write a song that would capture and represent each person and the truly significant moments in his life, he would be better able to grasp the feelings they stirred in him, to make some sense out of his past and gain direction for the future.

Some of the songs he wrote came out exceptionally well, and he was very pleased. Yet others, no matter how hard he struggled with them, he simply could not get right. He wondered if that was significant in some way, if struggling with a particular song also meant that he had grappled with defining that particular relationship and what the relationship ultimately meant to him. He compiled the songs, all 14 of them, onto one CD. He named the CD "Pieces of Moe" as that’s what he felt it was. All the significant pieces of his life, compiled onto one CD. Moe had no aspirations for fame or fortune with this CD, and he did not try to get it released, even though he was very talented and had a true gift for making music. He simply used the CD to gain some insight into himself to establish a firmer footing for the future. He thought about Pieces of Moe now as he sat at the bar, quietly sipping his Guinness.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


She was a fascinating woman. Not particularly attractive. In fact, she was pretty average looking. Yet, there was something about her that was mesmerizing and she had a way of captivating your attention to the exclusion of everything and everyone else around. Her appearance was entirely unremarkable, except for her long, waist length, strawberry colored hair. Her face was plain and she never wore any makeup. She dressed casually in jeans and tee shirts with prints of various humanitarian projects she had been part of, and carried a back pack that invariably contained some new, obscure, and highly intellectual book she was reading. She read extensively and attended workshops that most people had never heard of, such as ice cream socials with naked women reading poetry on stage.

I tried to put my finger on what it was about her that was so alluring, but it was an elusive quality. It definitely had to do with her intellect and the things she would say, or perhaps it was how she said them, the way she would formulate her thoughts. She had a tendency toward an anxious character, and at one point she needed to take medication to help calm her nerves. She didn’t like how the medication made her feel and explained that it was "like apathy in a bottle". It dulled her senses, made her feel numb, and she eventually stopped taking the pills.

She spent a great deal of time talking about one of her ex-boyfriends. They had enjoyed a very intense physical relationship and she would often say how, even though it had been years, she could still sense his physical touch. She referred to her ability to feel his touch after all these years as her "kinesthetic memories". Granted, that is probably the correct technical term for what they were, but who uses that kind of everyday language? She did, and it was her way of expressing herself that utterly intrigued me. She would take any mundane opinion and make it sound like the most exotic idea ever conceived. I really admired that about her.

For instance, I distinctly remember one conversation we had. We were talking about sex and masturbation. Given her strong liberal convictions, I would have expected her to be highly in favor of masturbation, but she completely rejected the idea for herself. It wasn’t that she was against it in principle; it was just not something she wanted for herself. "I don’t fancy masturbation" was how she put it. Her reason for rejecting it was "I have a fetish for the enthusiasm of others". She felt that sex was just not enjoyable unless it was a shared experience and she’d rather abstain than enjoy the physical pleasure by herself.

I always looked forward to our conversations because talking with her was like unwrapping an unexpected gift, excitedly curious about its hidden contents. We would meet at our favorite coffee shop and talk for hours. But, she was one of those people you knew wouldn’t stick around for too long. An ethereal beauty or nymph that would soon fade and vanish into the depth of the forest and be gone forever. We enjoyed a profound friendship for a few months, until she drifted away and ultimately, disappeared. I’m not sure what happened to her, if she moved away or became absorbed by different pursuits. I haven’t seen or heard from her in years now, and I often wonder what happened to the woman who had such a fetish for the enthusiasm of others.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Of Pain And Pleasure

His fingertips were so sensitive that it felt as though his nerve endings had crawled right up to the surface and were touching his skin from the inside. Knock, knock! They were at the door, ready bust out like large, angrily looming and pulsating cartoon characters. At times it felt as if the nerve ending fairy from the Ren and Stimpy show was gnawing at his fingertips. The sensation was an amplification process akin to having your ear pressed up against a mega speaker at stadium sized concert. It was intense and painful.

It wasn’t just his fingertips; the rest of his body was similarly sensitive, but it was particularly noticeable in his fingertips, and as he played with his new notebook computer, which had a faintly prickled touchpad for a mouse, it almost hurt him to move his fingers over it. He wondered if others experienced similar discomfort when using the touchpad or if he was just too sensitive to the feel of the faintly raised dots on the pad. Curious, he could not help but ponder why someone had designed such an unusual touchpad.

His entire being was always too sensitive. Physically, he felt everything more intensely than others, and emotionally he was so closely attuned to even the slightest hints of affective changes within those around him that he could immediately sense when someone’s mood shifted, no matter how subtle. At times, he felt it was a gift to be so intimately in sync with those around him, and at times he resented it because he spent such large amounts of his emotional energy worrying about those around him. Most of those people were not as sensitive as he was and did not spend nearly the same level of energy concentrating on their own emotional states the way he was focused on their emotional well being.

As for his physical being, the last time he had made love to a woman, his entire body shook, almost violently, whenever she had run her fingers gently and playfully down the sides of his abdomen. He couldn’t control it. It just happened. She had seemed to enjoy the strong response her touch elicited in him, but for him it was a fine line between intense pleasure and physical discomfort.

Because he experienced everything with such intensity, he often found the average day exhausting, both physically and emotionally. As a result, he would withdraw into low stimulation environments where his senses would not be constantly bombarded and feel overwhelmed. This meant that he spent a great deal of time alone, or alternatively with one or a couple of select friends. But, because he spent most of his time alone, that’s what most people thought of him; that he was a loner who didn’t care much for people. This simply was not true. If anything, he cared more about people than they actually cared about themselves. He took all their feelings and sensations and internalized them as his own. However, since this was imperceptible to those with far less evolved senses than his, he was perceived as cold and uncaring.

He did not mind. He enjoyed his time alone. But, despite finding comfort in his aloneness, he craved human companionship and intimacy. It was something he struggled with constantly. In a society that idealized the pairing of mates, he often felt like an outcast. Because he sensed pleasure so intensely that it was bordering on pain, his entire being was intertwined with the polarity of deeply desiring emotional companionship and physical intimacy yet craving independence from any and all human interaction. He accepted that it was a battle he would never win, but that he would continue to be tormented by this internal struggle for the rest of his life.

At times, he would make a concerted effort to seek out a mate, but he would invariably find himself enmeshed in a relationship that he ultimately felt suffocated him. Emotionally, he would feel overwhelmed, and physically it was simply too much for him to endure. Sooner or later, his craving to be alone would win out and he would end the relationship, only to find himself feeling an island once again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


"I don’t like people," was the first thing he said as she sat down in his tattoo chair. She was immediately intrigued. She glanced at him and tried to gauge how old he was. But, he was one of those guys who could be anywhere from age 22 to 39 and there was no way to tell. She wanted to ask his age, but thought that might be rude. Before she could even complete her thought, he asked her how old she was. Caught off guard by his question, she said "I’m old". "That’s not an answer", he replied. He had a way of seeing right through her that made her feel as if she had to tell him. Reluctantly, she gave up her age. She felt as though he had stolen a deep, dark secret from her. It wasn’t that her age was a secret. It was just that she had wanted to hold onto that piece of information for a while longer, but he had pried it from her in an instant and without any effort. Meanwhile, she still felt it would be too forward for her to ask his age. She was irritated with herself.

She sat in silence for a while, then said: "I don’t like people either." He looked at her in disbelief. It was as if he thought that she had said that just to please him or win him over, which obviously wasn’t a tactic that would work on him. But, she had meant it. She really did not care much for people either. Although, in her case, this had been a fairly recent realization. She had always thought that she liked people, but what she had seen of them lately wasn’t pretty. She had come across a quote by Charles Haddon Spurgeon that captured her sentiments exactly: "You cannot slander human nature; it is worse than words can paint it."

She felt a kinship with the man who was now busy preparing to start her tattoo. It was her first tattoo and curiously she observed his every move. He made a casual comment to the other tattoo artist in the shop. They were the only ones working that night, and it was otherwise quiet in the shop, aside from the background music playing. They were talking about music. She listened in on their conversation and felt like a fly on the wall. While she was physically present in front of them, it was as if she weren’t there. She rather enjoyed that for a while. Being part of something, yet not being expected to participate. That’s how she liked it. Just being. Sitting quietly and observing. She took it all in, the whole experience.

She liked their sense of humor; it was of the snappy, sarcastic kind. Then they grew quiet. They both went on with their work; he busily filling up the little plastic ink cups with the various of concentrations of black. She enjoyed watching him and emboldened she finally asked: "How old are you?" Even though he had made her give up her information, he was not as easy of a target. "Guess!" he said.

"Oh shit", she thought. "I suck at guessing ages. If I go low, he’ll be insulted, and if I overshoot, he’ll be offended. There’s no way to win this." So, she responded with the same sarcasm she’d overheard and enjoyed during their conversation: "Five?" His tattoo artist friend laughed, and for the first time since she walked in, he smiled. "You’re pretty funny. A smartass. I like you." Suddenly, both men’s interests turned to her and they began including her in the conversation, frequently asking her thoughts and opinions. While she liked being part of their conversation, she missed being able to just sit there and gratuitously listen in on theirs.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Nerve

He motioned for her to remove her headphones as she approached her bike. Slightly annoyed at the interruption, she removed her ear pieces and looked up at him. He was the driver of one of the horse drawn carriages downtown. She had just finished running her errands in the beautiful sunshine, and was ready to head home. She wondered what he wanted; clearly he was not looking for directions. Now curious, she waited for him to speak. He asked if the bike she was about to unlock was hers. With maternal pride, she replied in the affirmative. Her bike was a pretty sad looking piece of equipment, but it ran well and meant the world to her. It gave her the freedom and independence she craved, and her bike was the one constant in her life. It had been with her through the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was her faithful companion. Sure, it looked like it had been through a recent battle, all rusty and beat up, yet it remained sturdy and strong.

When he spoke, the carriage driver asked her if that sad piece of crap belonged to her. Shocked at the insult he had just hurled at her bike so unexpectedly, she did not respond. She just looked at him in disbelief. He was a young guy, probably in his early 20s. Unabashedly, he continued to insult her bike, asking if she was really going to ride that thing, warning her that she should not because it would probably fall apart at any moment and leave her stranded. He told her that she should buy a new bike then he asked her if she had a good job that would allow her to pay for a new bike. He subsequently looked at the shopping bag slung over her shoulder and said: “Well, judging from that bag you’re carrying, I can assume you have a credit card, so why don’t you use it to buy a new bike?” She was stunned. She could not fathom that this total stranger, whom she had not bothered in the slightest, had the nerve to speak to her in such a rude manner.

She knew that her bike had seen better days and that it had never been of high grade quality in the first place, even as it was new from the factory. But, in a way that was what made her love it so much. She felt it embodied the beauty of urban decay, and she would fondly refer to it as her ‘ghetto bike’, but to have someone else disparage it in such a condescending way was unacceptable. Yet, still caught up in the element of surprise, she responded “Yeah, I know it looks like a ghetto bike, but it’s my bike, and it’s great. I love it.” Undeterred, he continued his tirade: “That’s not even the quality of a ghetto bike. If that were a ghetto bike, the rims would be shiny and not all rusty and dirty like yours”. Unbelievable! Not only was he insulting her bike, but he was clearly just judgmental and disrespectful all around.

Demonstratively, she turned her back toward him and proceeded to unlock her bike, at which point he asked where she lived. Automatically, she gave him the name of her neighborhood, but quickly regretted it when he made yet another disparaging remark “Ha, that means you’re going to have to ride up that hill. There is no way your bike will make it up that hill. I hope you don’t ride around in your neighborhood, because the bicyclists in your neighborhood will laugh at you. By the way, what’s your name? My name’s Ben.”

Seriously? Did he just ask her name? She could not believe this was his feeble and pathetic attempt to pick her up. She wanted to tell him that insulting someone’s most prized possession and faithful companion was not likely to be a very successful pick-up strategy, but she refrained from saying anything. Instead, she just hopped on her bike and rode home, her favorite tunes drowning out all of his insults. Soon, she found herself at one with the road again.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Common But Not Boring

"It may be common, but you are not boring", he said, referring to her name and her. She had always been somewhat self-conscious about her name, felt that its commonness made her plain and ordinary. That her name somehow defined her character and confined her personality to the dull category. In an instant, he had undone all of that. She liked him, but she did not say anything. Instead, she just looked at him in the dark against the glow of the computer screen, and smiled on the inside.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All Alone

When he came to us, he had been living in a nursing home for 27 years. He was 55 years old with schizoaffective disorder and a dementia he had likely developed from his longstanding illness.

He arrived at the hospital with cancer that had spread to his bone and lungs. He had altered mental status and his speech was so garbled, it was mostly incoherent. The first time I met him, he was confused and irritable, refused to answer any questions and yelled at me to get out of his room. The first few days with him were not very pleasant, but we soon learned that he really liked orange juice. Thus, we began to trade orange juice for information. In exchange for some orange juice, he would reluctantly answer our questions about how he was feeling, if he had pain anywhere, etc. He was still confused, unable to state the date or where he was.

As some of his metabolic abnormalities from the cancer were corrected, he became more lucid, and a very gentle man appeared. He was soft spoken and polite. His speech became more coherent. He revealed that he did not have any siblings and that his parents were dead. He also did not have any friends. But, as I was getting to know him, he shared that, years ago, he would go joyriding in his car with his friends. In fact, he had enjoyed it so much that it had been his favorite pastime before he ended up in the nursing home. A big smile came to his face when he thought of the time when he and his friends had gone joyriding. Now, he was living in a nursing home with no family and no friends. At the hospital, he had no visitors, no one who called or came to see him.

One morning as I was making my rounds, I asked him how he was feeling and he began crying. He cried silently, tears streaming down his face, and he clumsily licked the tears off as they reached his lips. With his toothless mouth, he responded quietly "I'm alright", all the while the tears kept streaming down his gaunt cheeks. That was too much to bear. I grasped his hand, held it, and struggled to hold it together. It took everything I had not to start crying along with him.

Soon, his mental status deteriorated again, and he became incoherent and irritable once more. Randomly, he would have a day here and there when he would be more alert and communicative. One one such day when I sat with him, he again reminisced about how much he had enjoyed driving around with his friends in his car, and how he could no longer do that. A crazy idea struck me and I thought about sneaking him out of the hospital to take him for one last ride in my car, windows open, the warm summer air hitting his face. But, I realized that I would probably lose my job if I did that. Then, I noticed that he was crying again, silently, large tears were streaming down his face. I held his hand and cried with him.