16 February 2012

Funeral Reunion

[Background for this post: I graduated high school 35 years ago and have, for the most part, not kept in touch with any of the people in my class.]

Read an obituary in the paper; the mother of one of my old high school friends died. I decided to go to the wake, because I remembered her as a kind and friendly woman and because even though I hadn't seen him in quite a while, I wanted my old friend to know that I still remembered her fondly.

The wake was huge. It was held in an enormous, seemingly endless hall. The coffin, set on a dais,  was at the front, set up so people entering the hall could pass the dais and pay their last respects before running the gauntlet of the receiving line.

I passed the coffin and silently brought up some memories of her, and then said a final "goodbye." As I stepped away, I suddenly realized that the reception line was on the other side of a long, 3-foot-tall hedge and I would have to walk all the way to the end of the hedge, cross through a gap, and double back before going through the line and taking a seat.

I passed a huge statue of an angel on a pedestal. She was very biblical, wearing a long, flowing robe. She was in a standing posture with one leg slightly raised, her granite wings fully spread as though she were flapping them madly to gain altitude. She looked down at me and her face was kind and sad and loving and pitying and slightly smiling all at once. At the base of the pedestal were piles of tiny bones, so tiny that I knew they were bird bones. They weren't part of the statue, they were real bones, and they had been burned in a fire until they were ashen grey and as brittle as the thinnest and most excellent porcelain. Suddenly I thought that she wasn't looking at me, but at the bones.

I was still on the wrong side of the hedge as I passed the reception line. People in the line looked at me as I walked by. All of the people I had been good friends with were there and none of them had aged so much as a single day since I had last seen them decades ago. They smiled at me. I smiled and nonned in acknowledgment. 

I passed through the gap in the hedge, but before I could reach the line, my friend's father met me, filled with joy that I had come to the wake. He was huge - he seemed seven feet tall, with massive arms and a vast girth. He greeted me warmly and laughed his way through my name, then reached out and embraced me - pinning my arms to my side and utterly crushing me as he hugged and them stood up, lifting me at least two feet off the ground.

By the time he had released me, my friends were gone and the wake was grinding slowly to an end. I went out to the parking lot and it was a jumble of cars all jostling to exit. My friends were nowhere in sight.

06 January 2012

Movie Replay

Earlier this week, I watched a six-part Russian miniseries called НАРКОМОВСКИЙ ОБОЗ, or (in English) Narkomovsky Wagons. Set in 1941, it was about a seasoned Red Army soldier and four greenhorn female Red Army recruits who are ordered to deliver vodka rations (known as the Narkomovsky 100 grams) to the front lines. The trip takes days, and the group overcomes several threats on the way.  You can watch the entire series in one three-hour lump here. (It's entirely in Russian and German, with no English subtitles, but don't worry - the acting is superb and you will have no trouble following the story.)

Anyway, last night I watched the entire movie again, as a dream.

05 January 2012

The Space Station

A vast space station orbits the earth. It is the largest man-made structure ever built, my guide tells me as we step through the airlock from the transport ship to the check-in desk. This is an impressive fact, but I am more impressed that the station is made up entirely of shipping containers, welded together.

It's a stereotypical space station, as first envisioned decades ago by Arthur C. Clarke, and made famous in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It resembles a spoked wheel, with a circular outer ring connected by arms to a central axis structure. All made from discarded shipping containers, which were pretty much used "as is," complete with shipping company logos and registration numbers. It looks cobbled together and unsafe, but it must be okay because there are hundreds of people inside doing whatever people do on space stations.

On this station, what the people do are buy and sell things. The people living on the station sell, and people like me who arrive on the transports buy. It's a gigantic mall, with each container being a distinct and individual store. There are also restaurants and bars, arcades, casinos - every kind of commercial enterprise is represented.

I check into my hotel, which is an office fronting dozens of small shipping containers, each comprising a single rentable room, and I spend the rest of my time going from shop to shop, buying stupid junky bits of tchotchkes and culch.

03 January 2012

Endless Loop

0001> A round plastic disk, with five oval holes arranged along the circumference.

0002> Each hole fitted with a green plastic container which snaps in place.

0003> Rotate disk so the first container is directly in front of me.

0004> Container CONTENT = 0

0005> Remove the container

0006> Open the container

0007> Fill container with pills

0008> Close container.

0009> Return container to the hole and snap it in place.

0010> Rotate the disk to the next container

0011> IF ALARM = 1 THEN 0012 ELSE 0004

0012> END

28 December 2011

Dinner Crashers

Some friends are joining us for dinner and just as we are sitting down the doorbell rings.

It's Anthony Bourdain! And he's brought a black dairy cow and many bottles of eggnog with him.

We all get drunk on the eggnog (which is Anthony Bourdain Brand Bacon-Flavored eggnog and somewhat surprisingly good) and build a big fire in the center of the room. I try to talk Bourdain into letting us kill the cow with machetes and eat it, Apocalypse Now-style, but he won't let us.

The next day, my friends and I wake up with massive eggnog hangovers. There's no trace of a fire, or of Bourdain and his cow, but there are empty eggnog bottles and cowshit everywhere

27 December 2011

Tasty Slavery

I can't tell how big the warehouse is, because the only light is directly over my workstation. I know it has to be huge, though, because of the echoing sounds of boot heels on the concrete floor as my supervisors walk by to check on me periodically. 

My workstation is a long, smooth rectangular table, and I sit at one of the long sides. Off to my right, the table ends at the edge of a conveyor belt which slowly moves through an open oven. I'm surrounded on all sides by massive plastic tubs filled with fruitcake mix - mostly candied fruits and nuts with only a bit of flour and seasonings. It's my job to take handfuls of the fruitcake mix and pack it tightly into tins to be baked.

None of the tins are alike. There are round ones of all different sizes, ring shapes, and rectangles. I pack the tins until they are filled to the top with the mix, and then slide them to the right. They catch on the conveyor belt and travel through the oven to bake. I can't figure out how they can possibly all bake evenly, since none of them are the same size, but they do.

I work for hours. It's very repetitve, and every time I think I am almost done, someone walks through the darkness and leaves me more tubs of mix and more tins to fill.

26 December 2011

The GWB Conspiracy

I have discovered a conspiracy related to the George Washington Bridge. Viewed carefully, the architecture of the bridge gives the precise location of an abandoned uranium mine in a remote location of Upstate New York.

For months, I study everything about the bridge: the placement of rivets, layout of the suspension cables, the number of strands in each cable and how they are twisted, even the pattern of cracks in the roadway. The more information I gather, the more I understand how the patterns present in the bridge represent and correspond to geographical features that can pinpoint the mine. I am on the verge of a breakthrough - I know the general direction of the mine from the bridge, and I think I can identify its rough whereabouts.

But I need to work more quickly. There are two opposing groups in the wings - men from the US Government, trying to prevent me from finding the mine, and a terrorist organization that wants the uranium.