Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Adventures of Captain Locke

“Aw man, this can't be happening again,” Ronald said, “come on man, you know it's my turn. I've been timing you – it's been five minutes already.”

Ronald hovered over Iggy's shoulder with an orange bag of cheese chips in his hand as Iggy surfed the internet researching for his science fair project after school in the recreation room. Iggy knew how to push Ronald's red buttons and loved to do it. All the kids in the after school program knew that Ronald was the student that they were suppose to pick on because as they say, “he is weird.” That made it Ronald versus the world.

Iggy ignored Ronald and kept on scrolling down the explosive web-page about firecrackers. “Why I oughta!,” Ronald's voice rose in volume and pitch ending in a near squeak.

Ronald stepped back from the situation, and habitually chomped a chip into pieces and entered into an audible monologue like a T.V. character. “I'm going to pound him. He can't treat me this way. I deserve more. Why does he get so much?”

But Ronald hadn't pounded anyone yet. Pinch, poke, harass – yes, but all the others knew that Ronald did not give a pounding. Ironically he more than not receives the blow after verbally attacking his peer, then runs off to find an adult to back him up. The reason he is picked on is probably because he wears goofy glasses, clips his nails in the classroom, tucks his white collared shirt in or because he openly admits to liking Japanese cartoons called animes. His obsession for a particular one, Naruto, can be traced to the beginnings of this particular conflict with Iggy.

One day, Ronald discovered that the computer in the rec. room could search for drawings and action shots of his favorite superhero from the show. For a sixth grade boy, this discovery brightened up his world. It gave his lonely soul something to look forward to after the gray school day. He could spend hours lost in that realm of imagination living greater-than-life scenarios where he, Ronald was just as cunning, quick and merciless as Captain Locke.

“Come on man, you know that it's my turn already,” Ronald pleaded as he returned next to Iggy knocking his fist against the brown desk.

“Go away, I'm not gonna let you on,” Iggy retorted unperturbed rousing a few snickers and squeaks throughout the room.

Ronald took a breath, puffed himself up and went looking for support. This wasn't going to be easy, and he needed a big friend to ensure him his time online, kind of like a bodyguard. Ronald's only hope was Bobby, a staff person. As usual Bobby sat slumped in his chair holding a book that looked about to fall form his hands. Ronald approached him, cleared his throat, and Bobby started. “Mister, it's my turn on the computer. I've been timing that little shrimp over there, and he has had more than enough time for a whole week.”

Bobby's already tired face became more so as his dark eyes closed halfway, his head slumped a little to the right and sighed. “Ronald please don't call the other students names. I've told you this before, it is rude, and in order for you to get respect, you need to give it. So what is it that you want?”

“I want to use the computer, but that pipsqueak won't get off. I told him that his time was up. It's been more than seven minutes now.”

“Why don't you let him finish what he is doing, O.K.?”

“What!? Whose side are you on, man? Come on, you know that I need that computer,” Ronald said with as much persuasion as he could muster simultaneously running his cheese stained fingers through his short black spiky hair.

“Ronald, relax. You use that computer everyday. Let someone else have a chance. Plus he is doing his homework.”

“It's everyman for himself in this world,” Ronald concluded. Not being supported, when he felt so obviously right and Iggy wrong, discouraged him. The pictures energize him and without Bobby's intervention there will be no way for him to overpower the huskier Iggy. Ronald looked at his rival and saw the pure evil inside him. Captain Locke would pick him up by his shoelaces and tie him to the ceiling. Ronald pleasurably imagined this and began his march back to the computer.

After regaining his hover for a final attack and stuffing one more handful of chips into his mouth, he said, “Ok man. Now I'm warning you; this is your last chance at survival. Either let me use the computer once and for all or you will be destroyed.”

“No,” Iggy chuckled, “What can you do to me?”

“I'll pound you.”

“Ok do it,” Iggy smiled.

Ronald froze and did not act.

Those in the room who had been listening let loose and broke into laughter. Ronald knew the white spot light was on him, and he felt like he was being pulled off a stage with a hook or in the very least having red tomatoes thrown at him. He wished he could pound Iggy into the ground or make him go away forever. Quickly the reality set in, Ronald won't get the chance to look at his pictures of Captain Locke. His freedom has been lost; he felt like it was the end. Everyone was against him. He tried to be as brave as his hero, to leave no survivors, but Ronald couldn't do what Captain Locke makes look so easy.

What was the point if freedom is lost? So he gave up. He shuffled his feet over to the front desk at the door, one shoelace untied the other double knotted. He stumbled on his loose lace, and caught himself on the edge of the table. A few snickers rippled through the room. He slumped his head downward into his withdrawn shoulders, groped for the pen, and signed out of the program. He closed his eyes and saw Captain Locke soaring through marshmallow clouds in the blue sky on an adventure; he smiled and left.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Train Officer

“Please take out your tickets,” I announce. My abruptness startles some passengers. I sweep my eyes up and down the car of this Metro Gold Line train heading toward Sierra Madre Villa station in Pasadena. Most every seat is taken, not uncommon just before rush-hour hits.

I have been an Angelino since I was a teenager. I picked up and left Louisiana the day I turned 18 because I wanted to become famous. I remember sneaking out the window of my dad's house, throwing my new brown leather travel bag into the passenger seat, and hitting the road for promising LA. I was arrogant then. I thought I looked like Marilyn Monroe and had the talent to show her how it was done. Long story short, I failed. Made it into a few movies with one or two lines, but I soon had to look elsewhere for money. When I reached the age when my hair stopped being naturally blonde, I dyed it black and went into law enforcement. Now, I'm a train officer; my primary duty is to issue tickets to commuters who failed to purchase metro tickets.

I count two breaths. This gives my passengers some time to find their tickets or passes. I want our interactions to be as smooth as butter. I hate issuing tickets to the people who skip the turnstile. I get very anxious because I feel like I'm creating a conflict, and I don't deal well with conflict. I tell myself every night to remember that I'm just the messenger of the law and it is nothing personal.

I step deliberately forward and approach an old, wrinkled, brown skinned Mexican woman. She holds up her ticket – One Way: Purchase Time 3:58 – it's valid. I smile and tell her thank you. My next commuter is a nervous young white man. He must be new on the train judging by his frantic search for his ticket. He probably just graduated from college and is working his first full-time job in downtown. I inwardly chuckle at his jittery movements, and flash him a relaxed smile. The young man awkwardly leans forward; his hardcover novel slips down between his legs and slams shut with a slap losing his page. He reaches into his rear pocket of his khaki pants and pulls out a small black billfold. I only see crumpled receipts until he thumbs out a valid TAP pass. “Thank you,” I chuckle as I scan the card.

Next, I approach this androgynous black woman in her late thirties or early forties taking up two seats with her bag and sweater. She is wearing loose fitting green pants and a navy and white plaid button down shirt. Her thin dreadlocks reach well past her shoulders. I confirm her sex when I see the imprint of breasts on the baggy shirt. We make eye contact, but her gaze is glazed over, and I don't sense a friendly connection in her brown eyes. She looks down and continues filing through her colorful knitted bag on the adjacent seat; I continue past her, “I'll give you a minute.”

The rest of the commuters display their tickets promptly because they had adequate time to locate them. So far so good. There hasn't been any fuss so far. I turn around to follow up with the woman from earlier. She is still rifling through her bag; clearly she doesn't have it.

My walking pace is calm and collected; I have a bad feeling about this woman. I feel the train shifting under my feet as it dances on the tracks between Heritage Square and Southwest Museum. “I seem to have left my pass at home,” she says in a loud carrying voice that renders me off guard and attracts other passengers' attention.

“I'm coming from school. I must have forgotten my pass at home,” she repeats and other passengers begin to watch our interaction. I'm beginning to feel distressed. I close my eyes briefly in an exaggerated blink, and my cheeks pull my lips into a frown. I quickly notice this and force a neutral expression. It is what I feared, a complicated story intended as a guilt trip.

Suddenly I am struck with a handicapping thought: a white police officer accusing a black woman. My mind becomes very noisy. Will the others on the train think I have purposely chosen this woman to probe because she is black? Will they think that because I'm white, I'm targeting this black woman with dreads? My fearful mind sends flight signals throughout my body, and I feel small and weak. My fingers retreat into fists. I can't afford to lose this job; there are so many witnesses who will speak out against me. I could feel the tension building in the train car as it collided like a battering ram into my temples.

Somehow my legs are still walking; they stop in the aisle next to the woman, and my voice replies in complete normalcy, “What school are you coming from?”

“Los Angeles Community College,” she matter-of-factly retorts, “I bought my student TAP pass but must have forgotten it at home. You see, I take this train to Pasadena and then take the 180 home. Three days a week, I take this train.”

It is probably true that she is taking courses, but I doubt she has bought any train tickets. I was trained to issue a fine for this situation, but I still feel that all the eyes glued to my body are judging every action I take. I feel like they can even hear my thoughts. The right thing is to follow protocol, I reason with myself. She is just another free-loader who tried to get a free ride from the LA Metro. Except she is a black woman, I am a white woman and there are witnesses watching. What will the others think? What will she accuse me of in front of the others?

“See. Here is my student I.D.,” she simultaneously announced to the entire train.

I need to act. I look at her identification. I can't handle the stress any more. I give in, “okay, next time don't forget your pass. This is an official warning,” I quickly retreat from the area and hurry to the next car.

The relief hasn't come like I had hoped. I still feel anxious. I tried to avoid a scene; so, I had let the woman free from punishment and avoided a showdown. That's what I thought I wanted, but my muscles are still tight and my heart is still beating hard. My mind is still like buzzing static. Then my voice mechanically parts the noise, “Passes please.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

On My Hike

I saw something through the bushes. I noticed a forgotten path through the straw colored grass, and I walked past a spring green branch as it opened into an area with flat ground being used as a rest stop on the mountainside. There, a piece of plywood with rotting edges rested on two vertical cinder blocks. I sat on the wobbly seat. The black land at my feet was moist and springy from the morning's strong rains. A thin piece of plywood lay haphazardly next to the exposed earth. It had recently been moved because clumps of new grass poked through the earth where this plywood once left its shadow. To my left was another sitting area but the wood had fallen behind the two overturned cinder blocks.

It was quiet in this alcove. The medium sized trees with lanky overhanging branches, and the trees in front of me reduced all sounds from the 110 freeway and the world below to a dull hum. The small sounds of tiny animals and the birds were more pronounced. The air was damp and cool. It relaxed me after walking up the mountain. After a moment, I stood up to leave. I regained the path and continued my descent.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Writing is meditation

My writing practice is a meditation. I allow my pen's movement and the thoughts to arise. I don't need to force anything. By continuously reminding myself to be gentle, I can let my thinking process happen. I am building a foundation of self-trust. I trust that I am creative and the thought process can take me where I need to be.

Writing is meditation because it happens in the present moment. If my mind wanders off to other places or patterns of self-doubt, these habits pull my attention from the present experience and inhibit my creative writing flow. If writing is meditation, it is a practice for staying present. Ms. Ueland writes about the importance of writing from my unique inner truth in her book If You Want to Write. This inner voice is untainted by filtered lenses and experiences life directly. The real voice inside has importants truths to express and will if it's watered daily with consistent practice.

My loudest personal goals for starting this path are, I recognize now, of the ego. I want recognition and to have my writing be elevated to the status of art. However, after practice of expressing my true self in just a short time, deeper motivations bared their heads. I feel the need to express feelings and share myself with others. I want to spend my time making wonderful people's imaginations exercise.