Agenda Reveal

Fifty-two weeks, fifty-two blog posts, and more than 52 000 words – enough to fill all the pages of a young adult novel. Not a particularly coherent young adult novel, to be sure, but a substantial body of work nonetheless.

TFiOS
I could write a book like this, but about the Chilean transport system and thoughts on why sneezing is awful.

Now, as I see the year coming to an end, and with the shore of 2018 looming on the horizon, I don’t expect to give up writing blogs permanently, but I do want to at least take a brief respite from it. Be that as it may, I can’t properly put down my pen just yet. Mostly because I don’t use a pen to write. I write on my laptop. It’s all just ones and zeros, really. But  before I stop typing, I first want to take a look back at the year that was, and also offer a brief glimpse of the future.
I began this year by setting out a list of resolutions, expectations, and predictions I had for 2017, and all in all I think the year turned out pretty well. I wasn’t as naked as much as I’d hoped to be, but I did continue with improv and I attained and surpassed my goal of running a marathon. I joined a book club, albeit briefly, and I wrote.

I wrote a blog a week, as intended. But I did not develop a fluency in writing as expected. Most weeks, I would find myself sitting in front of my computer screen for hours on end with nothing to show for it. There were times of frustration, and on multiple occasions I thought to myself, “This is it, isn’t it? This is the week when I fail to publish.”
What I did learn was the importance of having the space and time to write. I still have no desk in my apartment, and almost all of my blogs have been written with my laptop perched on my lap or in noisy coffee shops. At times, I’ve even had to write using only my phone. In those situations, inspiration does not come easily or quickly. Writing fiction this year has been all but out of the question. So I didn’t learn much in the way of how to write, but I did learn how not to write, and my life is one that is not conducive to writing.

With that in mind, and now that the obligation of writing a weekly blog post has passed, it is time to look towards the future. Three years in Chile has, I believe, been quite sufficient, and now it’s time for me to move on and to expand my horizons. So in February I will be leaving Chile for good and moving to South Korea, where I will continue working as an English teacher.

Pink and Blue
It’s a…
Pop with Flag
…sovereign East Asian state!

It was a decision which took the greater part of the year to come to, and I am certain that it is the right one. I won’t go into the terribly involved and convoluted thought process which brought me to this conclusion, but in short, Korea will provide me with a decent salary, stable work hours, and enough free time to pursue my own passions. It is a step towards better things for me, but in order to get there I first need to pass through that agonizing ordeal of saying Goodbye to those I so love. I will miss Chile greatly, and the people I have met here will remain in my heart forever.
The goodbyes have already begun, and here I begin another: Goodbye, Dear Reader.
Thank you to those who have kept up with my writing throughout the year. Thank you to everyone who has ever spoken to me about the things that I’ve written. Thank you to everyone who has said to me, “I read your blog.” Time is precious, and I’m grateful to everyone who has expended some of their valuable time reading my work.
So many stories remain untold, and many exhilarating memories will fade into undocumented oblivion. But I won’t be gone forever. I’ll pick up the writing again soon enough. The next two months are certainly going to be eventful, and will warrant their own blog posts. I also intend to begin a new blog about my experiences in South Korea. I’d be a fool not to document those. And who knows? Maybe, if I’m lucky, when I get there I’ll have my very own writing desk.

Thanksgiving
The people in Chile are good people
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My Imagined Me

I’m thinking of taking up smoking, and here’s why.

I was born an introvert, too terrified to answer a phone or talk to a stranger. Interactions with unfamiliar human beings required rehearsed lines and zero eye contact. I was content to spend my evenings reading in my room, and would be struck numb with fear whenever I was tasked with returning library books or buying bread. I could visualize the conversations I wanted to have, or the way I wanted to behave, but I could never bring myself to talk or act the way I imagined I could. Gradually, I began to recognize a separation in the way I was and the way I perceived myself:

There was the Real Me – the introvert, too afraid to remain in the company of others for more than a few moments at a time. The one who was unable to sustain a conversation. The one who smiled at everyone in an attempt to avoid conflict. The one who never knew what to say or what to do with his hands.

Then, there was the Imagined Me – the extrovert, the socially confident one, the funny one. The one who moved gracefully and always looked you dead in the eye while saying exactly the right thing. The one who was unafraid to start a conversation, unafraid to linger, unafraid to put his hand on the shoulder of someone he’d just met. My Imagined Me was always better looking than me, better dressed, and more adored. He carried himself better, and had a magnetism that I wanted but was too afraid to grasp. Whenever I went out, I could always see him clearly, on the other side of the room, laughing with a group he’d just met, or flirting successfully with a gorgeous woman. A curious detail about my Imagined Me is that he is always holding a cigarette. He holds it down at waist level, or away from the people he’s talking to, but sometimes when he speaks he moves his hands, drawing pictures in smoke. Somehow, he makes it look cool.

Constantine
And not in the angry, aggressive way that John Constantine makes smoking look cool.

The frustrating thing was how perfectly attainable it was to become my Imagined Me. I did know what to say, and I could imagine how to conduct myself. My Imagined Me was right there, always a few seconds in the future, showing me what to do. All I had to do was to make the choice to become that person that existed so clearly in my mind, but I would always veer away from that choice at the last possible moment. I chose silence over charm, awkwardness over presence. I knew that I could never be as cool and natural as my Imagined Me, but at the very least I could pretend to be him.
I was seventeen years old when I first heard the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it” spoken in earnest. It was said to me by a shy singer who had enchanted an entire ballroom filled with elderly holiday makers.
“Fake it ’til you make it,” she said, “and eventually you’ll learn that you’re not faking it anymore.”

I took drama in high school, and that went some way to showing me how to fake certain behaviours, but only up to a point. I was still terrified of people, and would avoid interactions when I could.
After high school I worked as a waiter, and that forced me to interact with adults. I hated every moment in which I had to meet a new guest, but with every interaction I became slightly better at faking confidence, and got closer to becoming my Imagined Me.

In university, I was still afraid, but in that new and exciting environment I put renewed energy into impersonating someone that wasn’t me. By then the idea of my Imagined Me was clearer and better defined, and I made a concerted effort to inhabit that person. I took dancing classes, and that gave me a certain control over my body that I hadn’t had before. I performed in a play, and modelled in the art department. I pushed myself to be in the public eye as much as possible, to teach myself to get comfortable in it. This gave me a certain type of confidence, but it was unbridled and lacked finesse. My charisma was explosive. It would start strong and then fizzle quickly. I became comfortable in groups but cowered in one-on-one conversations.
In my mind’s eye I could see my Imagined Me doing the things I was trying to do, but better, and always with a cigarette in his hand. At times I could engage people in conversation – total strangers even – but my enthusiasm and interest would evaporate after a minute or two, and I’d make an excuse to leave. As cool as I looked from the outside, I was still nothing like the charismatic version of myself I could envision. He had his cigarette; I just bit my nails.

Tony Stark
Pictured: Me introducing myself at a house party.

After university I went and taught English in Thailand. That helped me get over a lot of anxiety, and for long stretches I forgot that I was faking anything at all. But still, in the wings, I could always spy my Imagined Me, better looking and with better hair, and smoking.

In Chile I have been teaching adults, and that has been quite the challenge. I’ve spent my life fighting the notion that I am a grown up, and now my job involves having one-on-one conversations with other grown ups as if I am one of them. These sessions can be up to two hours long, and I spend every moment of them fearing that they can see that I’m not a grown up at all. I’m a terrified child, with hands that shake and nails that have been bitten to the quick. But I figure that as long as I pretend to be my Imagined Me, they’ll never notice.
I now feel closer to being my Imagined Me than ever before. He is right in front of me, so close I can touch him. I have learned his habits, and his turns of phrase, and I’ve learned to impersonate him for long periods at a time. But when I socialise I still see him there, cigarette in hand, and I think to myself, “Maybe I should take up smoking.”

Gatsby
Even though I compete with him, my Imagined Me always wants the best for me.

Bless You

I try to see goodness in everything, but I cannot learn to love a sneeze.
“But it feels so good!” some people protest.
“It’s one eighth of an orgasm!” say others.
Well, to those who leap to the defense of sneezes, I say: You are wrong. There is nothing redeeming about a sneeze.

The most obvious thing to despise is the sound. Goodness gracious, but what a disturbance! What a disruption! Imagine, if you will, that you are in a peaceful setting. A restaurant perhaps, or a cinema. Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone in the room decides to loudly and carelessly scream out the harshest curse word they know. How offended would you be? I know I’d be taken aback. Not only is it disturbing and obnoxious, but it also means you need to ask the person to whom you were speaking to repeat themselves because you were too distracted by the person shouting out the F-word at the back of the bus.

Mr Bean Sneeze
Blasphemy! – “Gesundheit”

The harshness of the sound aside, it is also an impediment. In school we are taught that in the moment in which a sneeze takes place, our entire body stops functioning. That alone is frustrating enough, but it also means you have to cease what you are doing so that the sneeze can produce itself. Conversations have to be halted, Netflix has to be paused, and the food that you are cooking needs to burn as you step aside to allow your face to explode.
It’s difficult to recover immediately. Normally one needs a moment to allow one’s senses to re-calibrate after our brains have been blown around. If you’re like me then you’ll also need an additional moment of apologetic self-loathing before you can carry on with your life.

I, for one, do not like the way the world smells after I have sneezed. To me, everything smells like the inside of a vacuum cleaner. Everything is dusty and musty and unpleasant, and it takes a good few minutes before I stop noticing it.

Then, of course, there is the physical fallout from having sneezed. Quite often a tissue needs to be sought, a nose needs to be blown, and then hands need to be washed. A sneeze sets me back at least a minute of my life, and I find that infuriating. I feel as if my nose is a spoiled pop star, and I am its mistreated butler, having to stop what I am doing in order to attend to its whim at any given moment. I am also one of those people who sneezes whenever I step into sunlight. This makes leaving my apartment in the day time a nuisance. I feel sorry for my friends who have to walk out into the world with me, and I am grateful that they are not as upset by sneezing as I am. If I had to date me, I wouldn’t.

Pollen
There is a sinister side to spring

I cannot remember when I first developed this deep-seated hatred for sneezes, but I’m fairly certain that my loathing has grown as the years have gone by. Perhaps my hatred has become reinforced by my friends showing sympathy every time they or I sneeze. But I do know that my contempt for sneezing is not a put on. Even in the solitude of my apartment I curse loudly every time my nose attacks me.

One result of moving to another country every few years is that I cross paths with more people than I normally would have if I had remained in one place. As time passes, these people move around as well, and gradually I have built up a network of friends that spans the globe. I truly love the people I have met, and I am sorry that I’ve brought the curse of sneeze-bigotry into their lives. You see, Dear Reader, I do understand that sneezing is a natural process, and no one should ever have to atone for it. But in that second and a half that follows a sneeze I go into a red rage. My fists clench and I become overwhelmingly angry, and then the moment passes and I am friendly again. But my friends have recognized my fury and they have taken to apologizing to me whenever they sneeze. Often they will hurry out of the room so that I don’t hear them. I have come to realize that when people sneeze in my vicinity they immediately look to me to see if I noticed. My friends have often admitted to me that my bias has made them so self-aware when they sneeze that they will apologize even if I am not in the same country as them.
While I am flattered that I have friends who are so concerned about my happiness that they have taken to modifying their behaviour around me, it makes me sad that my hatred has become contagious. Now, all around the globe, people are apologizing after sneezing, feeling guilty that somewhere in the world, someone hates them for what they have done.
Add this to the ever increasing list of reasons to hate sneezes.

Pollen Riots
Pictured: The infamous Pollen Riots

How to raise a child

It amazes me how much children need to be taught. They can cry and flail when they are uncomfortable, but beyond that they need to be shown everything. Everything. They need to be told to close their mouths when they chew, to wash when they are dirty, to walk around puddles and not through them, and to clean up after themselves. They need to learn to step aside for other people, to look ahead when they run, and to moderate their volume. Where do you even start to explain all of those things? It seems like far too much effort.
That said, I do sometimes understand the desire to have a child of my own. When I see children screaming on the metro, or talking far louder than is necessary, or running around in crowded spaces without paying attention to their surroundings, I always think to myself, “I could raise a better child.” I often fantasize that I will one day have a child of my own – a boy, let’s say – and I will call him Erfurt. If I have a girl, I will call her Erfurt too.
Erfurt will have empathy. That’s the most important thing. Erfurt will also have spacial awareness. When walking down the street, Erfurt will know not to take up too much space on the sidewalk. When we’re in the shops, Erfurt will be mindful of the people around him. He won’t run around too much, he won’t stumble into shelves, he won’t scream. He’ll learn to respect other people, to be humble, and he’ll learn wit. He will learn about bigotry and discrimination only when he’s old enough to understand that those are bad things.
Now, considering I have spent most of my life avoiding children, and that I don’t know the first thing about how to raise children, you might think that all of this is easier said than done. However, I have devised a fool-proof method that will ensure that my child grows up to be a good person. So, Dear Reader, I present to you my essential list of things to expose your child to in order to turn them into perfect adults:

If – Rudyard Kipling

If
“…And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”


On the first night that I bring Erfurt home from the hospital (or foster home. Who knows?) I will lay him in his cot, pull a piece of paper from my pocket, and read out Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” in its entirety. I will continue to do this every night until the rhythm of the words has worked its way deep into Erfurt’s mind. And as he develops speech I will teach him to recite the poem himself until he knows it by heart. I’ll explain that the poem is a little bit dated, so when Kipling says “pitch-and-toss” he really means any endevour where the outcome is uncertain, and when he says “be a man,” what he really means is “be a good person.”
It will be the mantra he recites to himself in times of conflict, and with those verses he will grow up to be a well-rounded, mentally strong human being.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! – Dr Seuss

Oh the Places
“Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you”


By the time Erfurt is about ten years old, I expect that he will already have garnered a natural curiosity about the world. I will nurture this curiosity by reading him “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” at least once a week. This poem will give him the confidence to be independent and brave, the humility to accept loss, and the patience to withstand moments of stasis. Hopefully, as Erfurt starts reaching adulthood, this poem will develop in him a fiery curiosity about the world. It will encourage him to reach beyond his comfort zone and try to surpass his own expectations.

The Breakfast Club – John Hughes

Breakfast Club
“Do you think I’d speak for you? I don’t even know your language.”


Teenagers are a different race of human beings entirely, and I suspect that in his adolescence Erfurt might start feeling restless and anxious and unsure of his place in the world, despite what Mr Kipling and Dr Seuss might have already taught him. Therefore, as Erfurt enters puberty, I will see to it that he watches John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club” at least once a month. I’ll want him to know that the way he is feeling is okay, and that he doesn’t have to make his home inside the box that adults put him in. I’ll want him to discover that if he feels lost, it doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. Hopefully The Breakfast Club will teach him that if I have difficulty understanding him, then that is my own shortcoming and not through any fault of his own. And hopefully when he goes off to forge his own life in adulthood, he won’t forget about me (Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!…)

 

And, always in the background…
Everybody’s Free (The Sunscreen Song) – Baz Luhrmann

Sunscreen
“Do one thing every day that scares you”

“Everybody’s Free”, also known as the “Sunscreen Song,” is often attributed to Baz Luhrmann but was actually written by columnist Mary Schmich. Nevertheless, Baz is the one who set it to music and made it the cult hit it is today. Now it is the message read out to graduating students as they begin their journey into adulthood. But I’ll see to it that little Erfurt understands the message of the Sunscreen Song while he’s still young enough to appreciate his youth. I want Erfurt to be a child who loves himself for who he is, has patience with those who offer advice, and who makes an effort to know his parents.

 

If children were dogs, I’d definitely know what to do with them. But as far as human puppies go, I’m kind of at a loss. At the very least, I hope that this list of popular influences will be enough to turn baby Erfurt into a fully grown adult that I can be proud of.

Pros and Concierges

Within the apartment buildings of central Santiago there exists an uneasy truce between tenants and concierges. These gatekeepers are the guardians of our safety, the custodians of calm, the keepers of the peace. No visitor, postal service worker, or pizza delivery person can even get close to you until they have gone through the fellow at the front desk. They are the mediators between you and the chaos outside. They mark your comings and goings, take note of who your friends are, and stoically witness you stumbling in at four in the morning. They say little, but they see all.
I have encountered, and defeated, many concierges in my time here, but there have been none who have filled me with quite a sense of foreboding as the one who guards the narrow lobby of my current building.

Bruce Campbell
At one point, a concierge was Spiderman’s worst adversary

When I first met my concierge, I concluded that he was not long for this world. His sickly pallor and straggly hair gave the impression that he was a man slowly letting go of his earthly body. His hair hungered for a brush. His clothes longed for the laundry. The first time I laid eyes on him he struck me as a filthy man, and beyond that I gave him no thought at all. I simply made myself at home, and waited for him to die.

But he did not die. A few weeks after I moved in, I came home one day and discovered that my concierge had obtained a haircut. The change in his appearance was so drastic that I slowed my pace to get a better view. For the first time I could see his face clearly. The neatened hairstyle, trimmed to a grey bristle along the back and sides, threw his countenance into sharp relief. While aged and lined, his face didn’t look half bad. The thin silver glasses that enlarged his eyes to a ludicrous degree now made him seem academic, intelligent.
A few days after that, I noticed that he had found himself a leather jacket. I would have thought it incomprehensible that a fifty-something man living a sedentary life would be able to make a leather jacket look good, but somehow my concierge was able to pull it off. In open defiance of all the odds, my concierge was starting to look healthier.

Brando
Pictured: My concierge after getting a leather jacket

I soon learned that my concierge was a man of noise. I would enter the building at odd moments and catch him humming tunes that, I surmised, he was composing on the spot. At times he would sing unintelligible songs at a volume far too loud for the small lobby in which he was encamped, his gruff voice sounding like a car pulling into a gravel driveway.
Probably the most distressing aspect of his nature was the cacophony produced by the unnatural machinations of his being. Often as I crossed the lobby from the elevators to the front door, I would hear him heave an exhausted breath from his lungs, stale air scraping phlegm up from a gnarled throat. Sometimes I would hear him clearing his throat for such long intervals that I believed he was timing it to the tune of the Imperial March. Once, as I stood on my balcony on the tenth floor of the building, I heard him sneeze. It was a sneeze to end worlds. It was less an expulsion of air than it was an open-mouthed howl. Moments after he had wailed out that ungodly sound I felt the concussion that followed the blast rattle up the elevator shaft and tremble the ground on which I stood.

Glass Case of Emotion
Pictured: My concierge sneezing

It is my habit to avoid conversing with my concierges. I came into this country not knowing how to speak Spanish, and at that time I fell into the habit of keeping relations with concierges as non-communicative as possible. Even as my Spanish skills have progressed, I cannot shake the quirk of being unable to speak to the man behind the desk. Every time I enter or leave a building, the best I can muster is a feeble “Hola” or “Hasta luego.” But in an attempt to broaden my range I have also taken to echoing the words that concierges say to me. If they say “Buenos días” or “Buenas tardes” then I will repeat that phrase back to them. My current concierge has noted this and, although I cannot prove it, I suspect that he has turned it into a game. He rarely acknowledges me, and when he does he chooses his moments ever so carefully. Some might say that he is simply slow to react, but I am convinced that his comments are timed to fluster me and break my stride.
Sometimes I will be on my way out of the building, and as I pass by the front desk I will tip my head and say, “Hasta luego” without adjusting my speed. I receive only silence from him in return. I reach the front door, twist the handle, and push the door outwards. As I plant one foot outside he calls “Buenos días” to me in a loud, breathy sigh.
In that moment, I am caught off guard. Suddenly I feel as if my “Hasta luego” was rude. It’s like saying “See ya later” when I should have said “Good morning.” So to make amends I turn my body, which is already outside the building, and weakly croak “Buenos días,” but before I can finish saying “días” the door has already swung closed, and my words are nothing but fog against glass. Through the door I see my concierge. He hasn’t even looked up from sorting the mail.

Me and my concierge
Pictured: My concierge and me

Fate Like Potatoes

Give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time, and it will eventually write the words of Shakespeare. Or, so it is said. On the other hand, give one bachelor his own apartment and a handful of months, and he will inevitably blow something up.
Of course, like any responsibility-denying adult, I cannot take full credit for what happened. I am simple one cog in a vastly complex machine, and it is impossible to know what the other cogs are doing until everything lines up in a way that blindsides your life and sets it off on a bit of a speed wobble.

Monkey Typewriter
Technology has come a long way. Who uses wooden chairs anymore?

When my kettle blew up, my first instinct was to blame the potato, but I believe the chain of causation goes back further than that. I could point my finger at my friend, who was going out of town for a month and had to give away her potatoes so that they wouldn’t be wasted in her absence. Or I could blame my stubborn pan which had become difficult to clean. But if I really give it some thought, I believe the chain of events truly got started when the light bulb in my kitchen burned out.

Light Bulb
I have since replaced the light bulb. There it shines, an angelic halo.

My kitchen is situated in a tiny nook that receives almost no ambient light, so when the bulb blew it was quite a task to get anything done in there. My immediate, lazy solution was to use my space heater as a substitute. The heater has three bars that cast a bright orange light when it is turned on, which was perfect for my temporary needs. The best place for it was on the tiny piece of kitchen counter next to the fridge, where my kettle usually sits. In order to free up an outlet so that I could plug the heater in, I unplugged the kettle and moved it next to the kitchen sink. And that’s where the kettle stayed.

Dark Kitchen
See? Tiny, dark kitchen nook

A few nights ago, I decided to roast a potato for dinner, having developed an affinity for them after my friend had given me some a few weeks previously. The only problem was that the pan I used to roast them had lost its non-stick properties a long time ago, and therefore required quite a scrub to get it clean. For this purpose, I had purchased some steel wool, and after scrubbing the pan clean I left the ball of wool by the sink, next to the kettle.

The next day I arose groggily and put the kettle on for coffee. Once the water had boiled, I lifted the kettle from its stand, poured water into a mug, and moved to replaced the kettle on its stand. As I completed this maneuver I noticed how an errant strand of wool had uncoiled itself until the tiny end of it was resting right on top of the connector that supplies electricity to the kettle. My reflexes were slow, but even as I put the kettle down I thought to myself, “That piece of steel there is probably not safe,” and then my apartment exploded.

Potato
This is partly your fault, Potato!

There was a loud popping noise followed by silence. My fridge had stopped humming. The annoyingly loud extractor fan in my bathroom had stopped buzzing. Even the recently-replaced kitchen light bulb had gone dark, and I smelled fire. I lifted the kettle back up and saw that the tip of the steel wool had caught fire like an environmentally unfriendly stick of incense. I stared at the flame quizzically until it died on its own, and then I careful set the kettle back down on the counter, far from the smoking steel wool, and went to check my fuse box. A few switches had tripped, so I flipped them back up. My apartment remained dark and silent. I felt like Bilbo in Gollum’s cave. In the distance, I could hear my neighbour’s music. Evidently they still had power.
By that point, the sun had come up sufficiently for me not to need light in the living room. Plus I already had my coffee, so for the time being I did not need electricity. I sat on my couch and stared at my laptop which was now no longer connected to the internet because the modem had no power. I ate my cereal, drank my coffee, brushed my teeth, and left for work.

As I went about my day, I considered my options:
1.) I could ignore the problem and live out the rest of my days here without electricity.
2.) I could blow my neighbour’s fusebox so that they would be forced to take the initiative to sort things out.
3.) I could ask my concierge to turn the power back on at the main switch.

Obviously, Option 3 was out of the question. I didn’t know the Spanish words for “switch” or “main switch” or “to switch something on.” It was an insurmountable obstacle.

I was sorely tempted to try Option 2. It had a Tom Sawyer-esque cleverness to it, but I didn’t really know how I would go about sabotaging my neighbour’s electricity. Perhaps I could try disrupting the whole building? But that might cause me to fatally damage myself, or even get into trouble with the police.

Option 1 seemed possible. My oven is gas powered, so I could still cook food. I could turn my phone into a WiFi hot spot so that I could use the internet on my laptop. That’s all I really needed. It would cost a fortune in data, though.

As my day progressed, the options circled around in my head, and I slowly came to the realization that I would have to eventually seek help from the concierge. So when I returned to my building, I greeted the concierge, went upstairs to my apartment, and waited the appropriate amount of time it would have taken for me to put my things down, get changed out of my work clothes, make a cup of tea, and then accidentally blow myself up. I put it at fourteen minutes, which is also about how long it took me to look up and memorise the Spanish words for “switch,” “main switch,” and “to switch something on.” Then I went back downstairs and threw myself dramatically onto the concierge’s desk.

“You would not believe the disaster that has just this very moment befallen me!” I wailed. “Not fourteen minutes ago, while attempting to make myself a cup of tea, a short circuit occurred and knocked out the power to my apartment! I tried switching the power back on but nothing happened. Would you please be so kind as to switch on the main switch?”

Dramatic
Accurate re-enactment of me talking to the concierge.

Actually, what I said was more like, “No electricity. Accident. Switch main switch to switch something on please?” Thankfully, the plucky concierge was able to find meaning from context. He produced some keys marked “Luz” and bade me follow him back up to my floor and towards the electricity cupboard there. It was an awkward elevator ride. To break the silence I rolled my eyes and chummily said, “Main switch, eh?” The plucky concierge remained passive.

After that, my life improved swiftly and dramatically. The concierge found the electricity closet, flicked a few switches, went downstairs again, flicked some switches there, then returned and flicked one final switch which lit up my apartment once again. A problem that had stretched out for five hours had been solved in ten minutes.

I learned two things that day: The first thing is that you don’t need to be fluent in a language to be understood. Most people just need a few key words and a context.
The second thing I learned is that all the micro-actions in our lives are like pieces on an infinite chess board, or the keys of a typewriter being struck by an infinite monkey. Eventually the chaos will lead to macro-actions that will blow your mind.

New Kettle
I also learned how much a new kettle costs.

 

Mind: The Gap (Part 2 – Seeing Angels)

If the city were an animal, then Downtown Santiago would certainly be the meatiest part – the buttocks, perhaps. This is the part of the city where the interesting people are, where protests take place, where change begins. It’s the place where the different strata of society pulse together in a steady rhythm, like a heart.

So, to reiterate, if the city were an animal, then Downtown Santiago would be the heart-buttocks part of the animal. I’m not sure which animal (I’m not a farmer), but it’s certainly a noisy one.

For example, let’s go to the intersection of two streets – Huerfanos and Ahumada. Here are some of the noises you’ll find:

The cacophony of shoes on pavement: “…Clopclopclopclopclopclop…!”

The melodies of street musicians: “…WORDS OF THE PROPHETS ARE WRI-…!”

The street vendors selling chocolate bars: “TRE’ POR LUKA! TRE’ POR LUKA!”

The repetitive call of the man selling copies of a newspaper called El Segunda: “Ssssssssss’gndahhh!… Ssssssssss’gndahhh!”

Segunda
A lot of sound comes out of that tiny man.

Sometimes, on very special days, there is another sound bursting above the general rabble. Near the corner of Huerfanos and Ahumada there occasionally stands a man with a Bible open across the palm of one frail hand. He uses his free hand to gesture to the passing public, or up towards Heaven. And he preaches.

He is a broomstick with flesh wrapped around it, adorned with a really old suit. He grooms himself as well as he can, but his outfit shows signs of wear. His cuffs are frayed, his shoes are tarnished, and his jacket is sullied. Despite these signs of attrition, he is a proud man on a mission – to deliver the word of God to the people, angrily.

Dancers
In the pursuit of happiness, some people dance

 

The Preacher has the ability to elevate his voice above the rabble, and to sustain that volume for what I’m sure must be hours every day. There’s a kind of vehemence in his voice, an outrage that the world is in the state that it’s in. He slaps his palm onto the open face of the Bible occasionally before reading a passage or two and then interpreting it for the hundreds of people who aren’t listening. Now, to be fair, I’ve only ever watched him for a few minutes at a time, but I’ve never seen anyone stop and pay him any serious attention. This makes me wonder just how much satisfaction he gets from his task.

Musician
Some people challenge puppets to musical competitions…
Puppet
…and lose.

I picture the Preacher waking up in the mornings. This man in his fifties or sixties, pulling on his worn-out trousers, buttoning his shirt up to the collar, pushing his slender arms into the sleeves of his worn out jacket. What does he think about, as he stares into his reflection while brushing his teeth? Does he think, “Today, I am going to make a difference”?

Does he have a wife who kisses him on the cheek as she hands him his Bible, proud of her man going to do God’s work? Or perhaps he lives with a sibling, and the sibling’s family. Does he have nieces and nephews who talk about their “odd uncle” who goes and shouts in the middle of Downtown Santiago for a few hours every day?

Maybe he lives alone. I can picture a man, stripped down to vest and boxers, spending part of his nights sitting on the edge of an ancient single bed, stooped, head bent, hands dangling between his knees, considering whether he had done enough today. Or perhaps he lies down on those old, squealing springs, tucks his hands behind his head, and smiles because he is satisfied that he has pushed more of God’s goodness into the world.

Here is a man who sees a world in peril and in his desperation to save it he spends his time shouting into the void. Here is a man with a contract with God and no one else. A man who sees demons everywhere, and who is trying to let the angels in. At the heart of it, I wonder this: In the pursuit of happiness, an elderly man foregoes a job to go out and get angry. So where does he gain his happiness from? Is it from the knowledge that he is being a good man even though no one else is? Or is it from the thought that maybe his words will fall on at least one set of open ears, and that maybe he has actually set the course of the world on a infinitesimally better tack? I truly hope that this is the case. I hope so from the bottom of my heart (my heart-buttocks). And if that is the thought that gives his mind happiness, then who am I to object?

Protester
For others, happiness is speaking up against injustice.