Ram's Blog

Monday, May 29, 2017

Walls and Bridges

Indra's lightning cleft the mountain
Water poured from Shiva's head
A river flowed into the valley
Vishwa-karma, build us a city

A bright roofed palace to shine in the sun
A great temple carved from living rock
Every person should have a place
And every place should have a purpose

The making of a city is not for one man
But assistants, crew chiefs, workers, and foremen
Of all these helpers, there was one favorite
Kshitija-mitra built the bridge

This story exists in many versions and forms
In one, the bridge is a mighty success
Acclaimed by man and god alike
Till Vishwa-karma, in a jealous rage
Curses his student, saying to him
Each bridge you build will stand on its end
And there on its end it will become a wall

In another it is not a commission of the gods
But a gift to his wife, that goes horribly wrong,
And her curse to him is the walls of her silence
To which he is bound forever long

Every time I build a bridge it turns into a wall

I looked at the ruins
Of the land bridge to Lanka
I swayed on a foot bridge
With the Indus below
I walked a pontoon
In the midst of the Yamuna
These may be bridges
But this is not my bridge

My bridge must be more
Than a way one could cross
It should be, above all
A place for people to meet
To sit, to converse, to enjoy the breezes
Of the river as it flows
Below your feet

Rocks and rubble and
Stones and rubble and
Mortar and rubble and
Rubble and rubble

Every time I build a bridge it turns into a wall


h/t B. Shivkumar

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jammin Johnny B.

Jammin Johnny B. was a guy I knew in high school. He was a couple of years behind me, but he was part of the same social scene, and we hung out quite a bit.

The biggest reason was music. He was by far the most talented/advanced musician in our crew. He always played the guitar leads while the rest of us tried to keep it together on the most rudimentary, repetitive backing parts - 12 bar blues, Down By The River, Hey Joe, Tales of Brave Ulysses, I'm Waiting For My Man - songs with no changes that you could learn by watching someone's hands and could be "stretched out" to 10 or 15 minute epics.

He also had the best gear of any of us: a black and white American Strat and some kind of silverface Fender amp. He also played piano, but when he played piano there wasn't anyone who could manage the lead parts, so he usually played guitar.

The other pull to hanging out with Johnny B. was that his mom was pretty cool. We could get high, smoke cigarettes, play music as loud and as late as we wanted to, and if someone wound up crashing on the couch she would feed us breakfast and send us back to school in the morning without an undue amount of threats or lecturing.

Their house was pretty nice - way better than his single mom should have been able to afford on a town librarian's salary. I knew that his dad had died several years earlier and that we didn't talk about that, so I assumed that there was some kind of life insurance money that they were tapping for living expenses.

The endless jams eventually ended - the rest of us got good enough so we didn't need to watch John's hands to learn the songs, and John got into more advanced stuff - he would want us to back him on "My Funny Valentine" and the rest of us would be like "no, let's play I Wanna Be Sedated". Another reason was that John really didn't enjoy drugs and the rest of us really did enjoy drugs - he wasn't a dick about it but there were different sets of motivations in play.

College didn't go as smoothly for Johnny B. as it did for most of the rest of the crew. I think he started out at one of the hippy/granola private schools - Hampshire? That didn't work out, so he came home. Then I think he went to Berklee for a while, but after a few years he was home again, and by then I had moved away and didn't see him that often.

Almost entirely second hand after this point, but depression became a severe, unrelenting problem. He was in and out of institutions and the occasional status reports of "oh yeah, he doing great, he moved out to X and he's doing Y" became a steady drip of "yeah, he's still .../aw man, that sucks".

I guess they had exhausted the avenues on medications and were trying more radical treatments to get Johnny B back. Last weekend they were running electro-convulsive treatments on him, but then his heart stopped and they couldn't get it to beat again.

The funeral is tomorrow but I'm 8 hours away and have a couple of trips to airport(s) to pick up the family as they return from spring break so I probably won't go.

Not asking for mojo now - he's dead, nothing to be done about that. And honestly I don't think there was ever a point where mojo would have made a difference - there was something wrong with his brain chemistry and we don't know how to fix that.

But I miss him, and I wish we could go back up to his attic and play those endless jams just one more time.

RIP JB

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Question of Agency

I was raised in a house where we never said Grace. My father did, however, invariably thank the cook for preparing such a wonderful meal.

The Fantasy of Fifty

The women stayed up past
Their self-appointed bedtimes
The men they drank well past
Their self-apportioned quotas

And we talked of this and that
Deep into the night

(She said)
You guys look just the same
Which seemed a little strange
As many years have passed

But when I looked
I saw that it was true
These are the faces that I knew

Back when our kids were small
At soccer in the fall
Or at the camporee

The sparks fly up
The flames die down
But the coals keep burning red
Until the morning

How could this come to be
This quirk of memory
Has time been standing still

Has familiarity
Buffed our faces free
Of all the things we’ve shared

Or wiped away the masks
That flatten out our pasts
Affording us a glimpse
Into each other’s souls

The sparks fly up
The flames die down
But the coals keep burning red
Until the morning

In the bathroom light
My eyes are deep and dark
With bags as black as coal

I was so surprised
When I looked into my eyes
I didn’t know myself

It’s the fantasy of fifty
The fantasy of fifty

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Here's to 2005



So, what happened in 2004?

Well, none of the important things changed:  same wife, same kids, same job, same house. 

Laura got a new job, working in the Budget Office of EPA. 

Arvind is four.  He started the year still liking Thomas the Tank Engine, but then he got into super heroes: Superman, Batman and the Superfriends, watching the tv cartoons and reading the comic books, hitting up his parents and grandparents for ever more elaborate super hero costumes and pyjamas, refusing to wear anything but a super hero costume (accessorized with the appropriate cape, natch) to school or to bed.  As soon as we had gotten up to speed on the lingo and had acquired sufficient super hero clothing so that we were not doing laundry every night, he, of course, moved on, leaving us the state of uncool parenthood where I expect we will be spending most of the next twenty years.  Now he is into PowerRangers and Scooby Doo.  I’m sure by Spring it will be something else.

Ravi is 18 months.  He has picked up all the human-type skills, like walking, talking, eating solid food and watching tv.  He thinks Arvind is the coolest – follows him around and imitates whatever Arvind does.  Ravi now enjoys Thomas the Tank Engine, so hopefully we’ll get another round out of the super hero stuff as well.

The house has a new coat of paint, new steps, and additional flowers/bushes/ground cover.

We traveled quite a bit this year, mostly short visits.  We went to Rhode Island in February, to Manhattan for Padma and Salman’s wedding in March, to Lancaster County, PA to see Thomas the Tank Engine and Amish people in April, to New Jersey for JJ’s 60th birthday party in May, to Chicago in June, to West Virginia and Virginia in July to see steam engines and Harini/Umesh/Avinash, to Rhode Island in September and to St. John, USVI for a week of sunny relaxation in December.

I was reading Greek history early in the year: Herodotus, Thucydides, Arrian and Plutarch’s Life of Alexander.  I had moved on to Roman history (Gallic Wars) in Latin when I started biking to work which severely cut into my reading opportunities.  I read some Jane Smiley, a Paul Bowles novel, a book of I.B. Singer stories, and I finished Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems while we were in St. John.  No writing except for some song lyrics.

I got a 20GB mp3 player this year, so I have spent a lot of time moving my music collection onto the device.  The CD’s went fairly quickly, but the analog 2/3’s of the collection takes almost twice real time to transfer, so I have many hundreds of hours left in that project.  It is nice to listen to things I haven’t heard in many years, but I am finding that the audio fidelity has declined significantly in the interim.  No original music this year, although I am hoping to put something together in 2005.

So what else.  I rode my bike 10 miles to work most of the summer/fall, which was great.  The route took me along the C&O Canal, the Potomac river, the monuments and the mall, and my mp3 player came in handy.  I played soccer most of the year (twice a week in the fall).  No tennis.  I watch a lot of European soccer on Fox Sports World and RAI.

The Red Sox won the World Series.  I thought I would never see it.  I cried, I called my father.  For my birthday, Arvind got me the DVD.  I still haven’t watched it.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Here's to 2016

A lot of unhappy things happened last winter: the house fell apart, I got reassigned to work for a sociopath, my dad died. It was stressful, and when bad things started piling up I needed some coping mantras. One mantra was "well, at least my dog still loves me". The other mantra was "you know, I think the Red Sox are going to be good next season". I spent a lot more time with this mantra, because baseball is a game of infinite possibilities and also because Appa and I had shared a lifetime of Red Sox fandom. So trying to fall asleep at night, and hoping to keep the sadness at bay, I would go over and over in my mind how the Red Sox winter moves could play out, successfully, over the season to come.

Then winter turned to spring, and we sprinkled Appa's ashes in Narrow River, and spring turned to summer, and I was unhappily unemployed, and through it all, the Red Sox sucked. It all went to shit: every bad possibility came true and every fail safe backup proved inadequate. I followed every game and they remained mired in last place.

And now summer has turned to autumn and uutumn has turned to winter, and it is finally time to say goodbye to 2015. The Red Sox have been active this offseason and, who knows, maybe in 2016 it will all work out.

And if not, my dog does still love me. So here's to 2016.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Houseplants

The story is that before I was born an office colleague gave my father a Jade plant leaf. The leaf sat in a glass of water on the windowsill above the kitchen sink in Kendall Park, and by the time I was born it had sprouted a small set of hairy, white roots. On leaving Kendall Park, to accommodate our growing family, the leaf was wrapped in a wet paper towel and deposited in one of the many moving boxes. When we arrived in Rhode Island the leaf was eventually retrieved and planted in the dirt of a small clay flowerpot. Having moved several times myself I find the wet paper towel survival story to be somewhat improbable, but not outside the realm of possibility. In any case, I have very early memories of that first Jade plant in a corner of the dining room and of a second Jade leaf sitting in water above the kitchen sink. They were watered regularly and periodically repotted and they grew into glorious bonsai-style trees which outlived him and are still alive today.

In my house we have one houseplant, a Christmas cactus. It has been with us a long time. I forget if it had to travel in the moving van but if not we bought it shortly after we moved in. It sits in the original plastic pot on a narrow windowsill in our too-small kitchen and I have never repotted it, just like we have never redone the kitchen. Still, I water it regularly and it is not unhappy. In fact, it blooms quite reliably at Christmas, lending an authentic festive note to the celebrations alongside the hothouse Poinsettias and the stiffening corpse of a Pine tree.

Arvind’s Biology class has been studying Mendel and tonight his homework involved Punett diagrams. Calculating the matrix cross-products takes him only an instant, but drawing and quartering the squares is a hard, laborious task. I watch his hands as he works and outside of the nails bitten down to the quick his fingers are precisely like mine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Mattress

The mattress is probably 45 years old. Queen size mattress with a box spring, a metal bolt-on frame, and a dark wood headboard. Amma might have replaced the mattress when they moved to the house in Kingston ten years ago but I doubt it. It is definitely the same headboard.

After Appa’s strokes they rented a hospital bed and Amma slept on a cot next to him. Getting the bed was quite easy – the order went directly from the hospital to the medical supply company to Medicare – certainly easier than lying down on random beds in the middle of the afternoon while wearing all of your clothes in the Mattress Discounters showroom. To accommodate the hospital bed the mattress and everything else moved to a somewhat precarious position leaning against the wall in the hallway.

Returning home after Appa died Amma didn’t want to sleep the in bedroom, so we left it alone for a few days. The medical supply company took the hospital bed back and I folded up the cot and put it in the closet. When Uncle Bill came he and I re-assembled the frame in the bedroom and moved in the mattress and box spring so we would have a little more space.

When Uma arrived I switched to the bedroom so she could take the study. The mattress wasn’t uncomfortable, but I still slept poorly amidst a series of bad dreams.