I’m writing this at a cruising altitude of 34,000 feet, currently over the state of Kansas. I looked out the window to see if it looks like a sculpture, but all I can see are clouds. Three feet to my right, the ambient air temperature is -65 degrees Fahrenheit. I have chosen a New Order album from Delta Airlines’ in-flight selection. Electronic signals are passing from my armrest, up through a white cord, creating vibrations in my ears, which are stimulating my neurons and eliciting an involuntary, but not unwelcome, emotional response.
This week has been one of hard work, little sleep, some reading, and some self-reflection. No major earth-shattering discoveries, only the subtle reawakening that can come from seeing another side of the country, a hundred stripmalls, and a dead man’s coral garden paradise.
Monday, I flew from Sacramento to Atlanta, then on to Miami, Florida. I started reading Dune on the plane, so my mental landscape was filled with the harsh desert sands of Arrakis as I stepped off the plane into the tropical city filled with palm trees. The air in Miami is heavy, laden with the water that falls from the sky daily, collecting in puddles, ponds, and pools all over the land, and evaporating when the naked sun manages to peek through the constantly swirling array of partial cloud cover.
Tuesday, I pulled myself out of bed at what felt like 4:15 a.m. I stumbled around in the dark, showered, blow-dried, then worked my way through the array of buttons, buckles, belts, straps, stockings, and shoes that are required in order to transform myself into a “professional”. I walked into the office, and was directed to a room where there was loud 70s music playing, and an assortment of people pretending to have fun, even though they were at work. Many of the people were sincere in their desires to have fun, though on the part of the company, the primary motivation for “fun” is, of course, to drive productivity and make more money for the company, and I think it would be foolish not to keep this in mind when attending these functions. In my short life as a “working professional”, the thing I have learned the most, maybe, is that the real explanation for most anything at all that happens in business can be found by following the money.
Wednesday, I ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant with a woman who talked a lot about how terrible the waitress was because she didn’t speak English well and didn’t smile enough. The woman then asked the waitress questions about the food, changed her mind several times, then ordered. When the waitress brought the food, she complained that there were no almonds on the plate, even though her final choice had been a dish without almonds. It was uncomfortable.
Thursday, I spent half my day in an office with people who were mostly polite and seemed interested in what I had to say. I spent the second half of my day in an office with people who clearly saw my presence, my message, and my entire department as an inconvenience. I spent the evening (maybe an hour and a half) driving around the Kendall, Miami, Coral Gables area, which I have decided will henceforth be known as the LAND OF A THOUSAND STRIPMALLS. Seriously. I have NEVER seen so many stripmalls in all my life. It’s worse than a stripmall on every corner. It’s more like, there are ENTIRE stretches, a hundred blocks long, beginning to end, entirely made of stripmalls, with an apartment complex or a housing development peppered in. And they’re peppered in the way that someone who doesn’t like pepper very much will pepper things. (You’ve seen this. The person who peppers their eggs, because they feel it makes their eggs more “sophisticated” somehow, or who puts pepper in their alfredo sauce, because “the recipe calls for it”, but they don’t actually like pepper, so they use so little of it that if you tried, you could count the specks and it wouldn’t take very long at all.)
Friday, I went to the office for a little while, showed a few more people how to use a few more internet tools, until I felt that I had overstayed my welcome on a very busy deadline day. Then I got in the car, and drove to the Coral Castle. One man’s vision, made real by years of work and tools made from old car parts. A personal sanctuary built up in the cover of night, to shade his skin from the burning sun and soothe his heart from the memory of a love that never was. Ed came to the United States from Latvia after his beloved left him at the altar because at 26, he was “too old”. He was five feet tall and weighed a hundred pounds. He slept on a board suspended from the ceiling of a two-story building made from blocks of cut coral, and lived out his days there, in his house of organic stone. On Friday, there was a warm breeze, and the clouds moved through the sky, sometimes parting, letting the sunlight through to shine on the garden plants, which glowed wherever the light touched, until the clouds moved again, shifting the warm greens and browns into shades of blue-green and brown-gray.
I left the garden, with a vision of a tiny old man, sweating and working in the open air, moving great blocks of coral, mapping the stars and the sun and the skies, shuttering his windows when the storms came, and sitting in his reading chairs on days just like the one I enjoyed. Chairs perfectly carved to fit his body, in a coral rock garden perfectly created to fit his soul.
View from one of the carved chairs: