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kimchi_7

Objects do not speak. In rare circumstances, they appear to speak, in tones our ears are not trained to recognize. These apparent attempts at communication, the apparent tonal exchanges, are understood as “sound.”

Cell phones do not speak. But the manual input that took place the night before, the scrolling and pressing of 6:00 am, empowers it with an apparent voice. 6:00 am hit, so the hand-held device spoke, apparently. Incessantly. The repetition of a singular tone, so perfectly spaced yet alarmingly disorienting, triggers a host of other sounds – rustling sheets, creaking springs, groaning mouths.

Coffee does not speak. But the brewing process gives it a tongue, or tongues, fuming along with every ounce of vapor. The kettle hisses lightly, its lid rattles unevenly, to no particular pattern. The grinder is more unforgiving; you will not miss that voice. Even more so than the alarm, the Burr grinder penetrates the solemn morning kitchen like a freight train. Perhaps the most delicate of sounds is birthed when the fresh grinds bloom, in the womb-like cone filter, rising steadily but in no hurry. As the bloom dies down, like a deflating souffle, its bubbles burst, and the vapors that say “hey, this is coffee” permeate the several cubic feet of airspace surrounding its deflation.

Subway stations do not speak. But the unforgiving ticking of the internal clock resuscitates the concrete blocks and steel rails that make up these underground Batman caves. Up and down the escalators, on the “fast” lane on the left, shoes and pumps click sporadically, hurriedly. Eyes dart to and fro, wrist watch to cell phone, back to wrist watch. Coughs here and there, chatter elsewhere. Central Command blurts out something over the speaker, only to be buried in the business of busy-ness. From afar the tunnel illuminates, the train announcing its arrival with a not-so-authoritative honk. Again, the doors fail to shut on the first try. Bells go off, and the doors re-open, re-close, re-open. Hear the eyes roll. Newspapers rustle, and someone’s Beats headphones blast beats that sound like that other song with beats. Phones ring, “I’m on the metro, I might lose….” Lost. Doors closing.

Sidewalks do not speak. But the season tickles it just enough to evoke giggles and sighs. Summer comes, and the sizzling summer sun beats down on K Street. Old partners and young associates, seated outdoors in the one of many kitschy cafes and bars, chatter about and clank wine glasses. Autumn comes, and the orange and golden brown leaves lightly tap the sidewalks at the end of their descent. Visiting winds roar through the fallen, twirling them left and right, choreographing their every move, conducting their every sound. The chatter and wine glasses are no more, as if the winds have hushed them indoors, muting them from the sidewalks. Winter comes, and the leaf chimes are no more. The visiting winds sound empty, their howls become prolonged symphonies with no interludes or arias to speak of. The shoes and pumps, the clicking of heel to cement, accelerate and become sharp staccatos. It’s cold. Spring comes, and, well, spring comes. Alas, through all this, one sound fails to change. The lone saxophonist at the subway station continues his hymns, wrong notes and rhythm and all.

Offices do not speak. But the paycheck is the meth that powers the addiction, and more meth. Keyboards click, stop, and click. Outlook chimes, and more Outlook chimes. The printer sounds like it has a cough. The stapler has a weird soothing effect, but it has more to do with the physical motion of stapling than with the sound. Debbie, please come to the front desk. Debbie, please come to the front desk. Another motorcade. One, two, too many motorcycles, cop car, cop car, Suburbans, two more; is it Obama? Who gives, the siren is just as annoying. Outlook chimes. Printer coughs. Knock on the door. Keyboard clicks. More Outlook chimes. Damn, Bill Gates.

People speak.

From daybreak, people enable objects to speak, apparently. People empower objects with voices, apparently. Immersed in sound, people decline to differentiate sound from noise, floating along with their alarms, their grinders, their subway trains, their Outlook chimes. Immersed in noise, people cannot differentiate sound from sound; everything is the same, repetitive. Immersed yet unaware, unwilling. Unable.

But sound is here.

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12:12 12/12/12

It doesn’t mean anything. Just another tick on the second hand on a watch, another minute in a day full of minutes, another Wednesday like the ones before. Just another speck in an endless spectrum we call time.

But it does mean something, for this tick, this minute, this Wednesday, shall not return. That tick of the hand is forever engrained, immortalized somewhere in our distant memories as a speck in a finite spectrum we call time.

I once had two hamsters. When we bought them, my mom and I were told that one was male and the other was female, and that they would start reproducing mini-hamsters within weeks. Turns out the bastard lied to us; both were male, and instead of making hamster love, they ended up biting the life out of each other. Tragic story, really, but my point rests elsewhere: the hamsters’ plastic turn wheel. Turning turning turning, that constant, annoying squeak and rattle, day and night. Their beady little eyes either darting side to side or staring into infinity, as their twig-like legs peddled with no purpose or methodology to speak of.

Working life, a lawyer’s life, seems no different than two male hamsters trotting away on a plastic turn wheel. We are lost in the constant churn, deprived of all alertness as to what truly ignites our true purpose. Objectivity is lost, and subjective amusements paint our palette, defined as the willing ability to justify whatever the hell we’re doing. The abnormal becomes the new norm. Questions cease to be asked, as justification becomes acceptance, the lame way of comforting oneself from one’s inability to break the mold.

In some respect, this is truly a #firstworldproblem. Monotonous labor, be it physical or mental, pays the bills, and hoards of individuals would be more than ecstatic to have such paying jobs. Hamster wheel or no hamster wheel.

But dammit, let us not give up our given rights to question what we do, that endless stream of consciousness, poking and prying at the very purpose of life, what we are meant to do, what we were born to accomplish. This tick, this 1212121212 tick, has already passed into the past. History it is. 1111111111 ticked away last year, and in no speck of my mind do I recall what the hell I was doing at that moment in time. We assume the next tick will always be there, unfaltering, guaranteed. We live as if each tick is nothing more than the one before. We live as if time regenerates itself; immortality is ordained upon our own time.

I once read an essay comparing writing to a woman spreading her legs at the OB/GYN, or a man getting a prostate exam (I’m sure it was stated much more elegantly by the author). In short, she defined good writing as bare, open, uncloaked. Embarrassing and exposed, yes, but true. Genuine. No hiding, no holding back. Just you, just as you are.

Life should be no different.

As this one special tick approaches, I will remember the moment as the time when I mused about time. That moment my mind perused through fields and dreams of shattering the earthen pot grasping my very existence. There will be no 1313131313.

According to a prominent DC trade lawyer, who shall not be named, if one is to become a good lawyer, one must worry about everything, all the time.

One must constantly worry about every little way others can screw you, one must constantly worry about every little way you can screw others. Every sentence, every phrase, every word, every breath you take can be used against you down the road, and people will bring the forces of hell to screw you. Worrying, hence says the prominent lawyer, is lawyering.

Why the hell would anyone want to become a lawyer?

There lies the answer to the ever-sought question – why are lawyers so unhappy, all the time? Worrying, my friends, that’s why. You are paid to worry for others, so others don’t have to worry about getting screwed by the forces of hell.

In bed, eating breakfast, in the shower, walking down the sidewalk, in the coffee line, in the elevator – you worry.

Some are a natural fit to this phenomenon. Who knows, you might be gifted at worrying. A born-worrier! Oh through all the layers and depths of worrying, for worrying for lawyers is not one dimensional. There are two, three, four layers of ways others can screw you, so you must worry on, through all two, three, and four layers. It’s like the movie Inception – layer within layer within layer.

So, my friends, if you’ve ever thought of law school, ask yourself. Am I a good enough worrier?

Farragut West metro station is a congested toilet bowl. Swarming with dazed somebodys and nobodys, dark and light suits alike, marching monotonously towards the escalators, towards the light, towards the freedom of the outside world, but not really towards freedom, towards nothing, really.

The creaking escalators cheep churning and churching, transporting the somebodys and nobodys up and up. Perhaps moaning and groaning. Autumn is definitely here, you can smell it in the air, you can feel it in the wind, you can see it in the sky.

All of a sudden, as if in a dream, as if in that ephemeral place between sleep and waking up, the sound of harmonized brass soars through, ever so slightly, yet ever so majestically. Bach?

The 18th Street exit at Farragut West may still be a toilet bowl, but now it is transported to the Kennedy Center, or a local high school brass quintet performance, or anything in between. But ears are perked and necks are craned, wondering the origins of such harmonies, questioning their presence and purpose, their placement.

The trombone is flat on that F-sharp, and I cringe. Imbalance of chord structure is not acceptable, certainly not as I near the top of the escalator, breathing in the crisp air, the espresso aroma, the stress and solitude permeating the atmosphere. Damn trombone, you almost ruined it.

As I refuse a morning paper for the third time already, the earth is once again flat, and the toilet bowl is no longer. The marching continues.

The brass and the harmonies slowly fade as distant memories, lightly tugging at my jacket sleeve. Briefly, indeterminably, I hesitate, the melodies and counter melodies colliding with every force of organized thought. But with a shrug, I move on.

Bach moves on as well.

 

“Life is a whore. Whatever you do, you always get screwed.”

So said my seventh-grade clarinet teacher. Traumatic? Yes, to a docile pupil with virgin ears and no real life experiences to speak of, traumatic and daunting.

Life is probably not a whore, and in many ways, one can find ways to not get screwed at everything one does. But life is a grind. One would love to sit here on a gloomy Wednesday morning and write about a vacation in St. Barts, or peer through lush photos of delicious eateries at the hottest grub joints in town and around the world. Both are great things, but 98% of the time, either life clutches your balls or you clutch his. It’s a struggle.

Some of us were not born to wealthy parents, some of us have no privileged backgrounds. Some of us had to work part-time gigs just to get through school, some of us gave up our own lunch money to feed our siblings. Some of us chowed down on ramen noodles before playing in junior-varsity basketball games, some of us gladly accepted a bucket of the Colonel’s best from a kind neighbor.

The mountain top never seems to come in sight. We climb hills with different slopes, some steeper than others. We carry different loads on our shoulders and backs, some heavier than others. We have family and friends climbing alongside us, maybe trailing us, some more than others.

There must have been a time when getting bread and water on the table was the mountain top. That achieved, one would think that there was no slope to climb, no hill to scale. But life for many of us is more than bread and water. If I’m spending twelve hours of my daily life doing something, those twelve hours beg for a cause, a cause worthy of the struggle, a cause plentifully worthy of the climb. Not all of us have such pleasures. In the end, yes, it is about bread and water. Still.

As Nikos Kazantzakis put it in his travel account of Cairo, “Nowhere on Earth have I felt such violent and sensual contact of life with death. The ancient Egyptians used to place a mummy in the center of their banquet halls in order to look upon death and sharpen their joyful awareness of the tiny flash of their own life.”

There lies a partial answer to this struggle. Twenty-somethings do not discuss death. We are, after all, in our minds, immortal, infallible beings. We take to our beds at night, assuming that we shall rise the following morning. The question is never “if” tomorrow comes, but always “when”. I dare say this naive frame of mind contributes mightily to our misfortune.

Life is most brilliant when standing side-by-side with death. The sooner one grasps the concept of death and the afterlife, the more meaningful and fulfilling our everyday lives will be. Seventy, eighty, ninety years is no eternity. Our struggles, our hills and mountains, are no eternity. Fleeting, at best. A time will come when we twenty-somethings will face our mortal ends. When that time comes, we shall hold our heads high and pronounce that our mountains have been conquered and that our struggles were worth the climb.

Think twice about clarinet lessons.

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