The Other End of Sunset

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Decisions, airplanes, and bar brawls

I'm sitting on a plane, flying Southeast, headed to do a radio interview and to visit some staffers. I am listening to Mary-Chapin Carpenter. It's dark outside. It's difficult to avoid being depressed.

A friend of mine told me that my more recent postings were "more me" than my earlier ones. I was surprised. I thought the early ones were the clearest, funniest, and most offbeat, and that I've gotten steadily more pedestrian. My friend disagreed, saying that at first, although funny, they were clearly "written", whereas now OtherEnders can hear my voice as they read. I assume that all of you who read this know me, know my voice, my odd accent, and the weird way I tilt my head when I laugh. For those of you who don't, trust me, it's a sight. Anyway.

The nice couple in the row in front, and to the right, of me, are watching the DVD of The American President together, laughing, and kissing at the romantic parts. I love that movie. I know, guys shouldn't like romantic comedies. Deal with it. They look happy.

I decided to craft this posting not from a topic - my usual writing plan - but rather from a feeling. It's easier to write with a topic. It organizes the flow. It is the woof around which I weave my thoughts, yielding something recognizable at the end, but still with irregularities, like a really good Persian rug. Writing from a feeling is more like balloons released after a wedding (instead of rice, bad for the birds), flying into the bright blue Oklahoma sky, spreading out, endless. Unlike the relationship. Free.

I'm fairly anxious about just talking. But one must face one's fears, I guess, so let's release that balloon, and see where it goes.

What's the feeling? I'll tell you: I'm bummed.

I've got a sinus infection (and a resultant cough). I'm flying something like 30,000 miles in the next 30 days. Many of my friends have left Northern California for one reason or another. My closest friend hasn't been on IM with me in weeks. (I know you are reading this, bro, you better ping me!)

The flight is very bouncy. Adds to my overall good mood.

I had 5 people comment on my hair today. Not "you are having a great hair day", which would have been odd enough, but rather comments like "hey, no hair product today", or "wow, I didn't know your head was that flat!" Another person commented on my shirt - "it's fuzzy!" So, tell me, Fair Reader, are those compliments? General engagement strategies, hoping that my well documented sense of humor will flare up with some totally off-kilter response? I'm usually good for a self-deprecating joke, kill 'em laughing, you know. But for whatever reason, today, they weren't there.

Or, maybe, today, I wasn't there.

Do you ever wonder how you got here? Did you make the right decisions? And how do you know? And, I guess, does it matter?

And, man, Mary-Chapin Carpenter has never had a cheerful thought in her life, I think. Great artist, but really not the right music for me to be listening to just now. Such cheerful lyrics as "I want a place to call my own/That you have never been". Uplifting, I must say. Anyway, back to the morbidity.

Sidenote, I sat in a meeting today with a guy that I respect more than just about anyone in the world. He used the word "moribund". Correctly, I might add. Damn. I was impressed. I mean, really, it's not easy to construct a sentence that includes the word "moribund" on the fly and have it work. I'm right to look up to this dude.

I had coffee with some folks the other night, who spent two hours asking me all about my life's decisions - why a degree from Princeton, why did you leave RAND, why that financial services company, and so on. It was endless. I kept waiting for some cheap lawyer trick, from a bad Matlock episode, showing the dire consequences of my decision in {insert year here} on {insert random person here}. Sure, that's not likely in a friendly professional coffee, right? But also remember, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

However, they were very pleasant - one of the people said he was "fascinated" with me. I hope that doesn't mean like a zoo animal. And the other guy was wearing a very nice sports coat. I might buy one like it.

I just changed to listen to Molly Hatchet, "Flirtin' with disaster". Much more uplifting - in some warped sense. Kind of like "Live fast, die young, leave a pretty corpse." Or something like that. OK, this won't do either. Time to make a sharp departure. OK, N.W.A. here we come.

Sidenote 2: I'm writing this post in Microsoft Word. Apparently my grammar is terrible, judging from the number of suggestions it wants to make. Could be true, but it certainly does sound like I talk!

When I was in Beijing last, I almost got in a bar fight. I kid you not. I'm neither violent, nor particularly imposing. I mean, really, me? Seems unlikely. But it happened. I was at a nightclub with several friends after work, and there was a guy who was standing really close to one of my female friends. I mean, like, really close. Like as in "don't you think you should propose to her now" close. She was uncomfortable, and kept trying to move away, and he kept following her. Finally, she moved across the space, and stood behind me. Apparently, this dude took this as an affront, and decided to deal with me. Ok, I don't speak Chinese, and his English wasn't great, and it was very loud at the club. He talked at me, in English, for a few minutes, glaring at me. I just stood there, feeling his anger wash over me, feeling like the only guy at a lesbian bar, feeling totally confused, and fairly annoyed at his interrupting my evening. Finally, he stuck his finger in my chest and said "this isn't America". Well, yes, that's true, but really, leave the chick alone.

No, I didn't say that - I just stood there, trying to look fairly disinterested.

The guy was clearly trying to decide whether to punch me. And I was trying to decide what I would do if he did punch me. And trying to figure out who I was going to call to get me out of a Beijing jail, since I'm sure it's not legal to punch somebody in a bar, and I wouldn't be able to explain myself at all when the police stopped me. I mean, there's a consulate, right?

Ok, I haven't thrown a punch since I was a teenager. But I'm bigger than you, and taller than you, and you are really drunk, dude. And I don't believe in fighting fair, I believe in winning if it comes to it. This isn't going to work out well for either of us. And, most important, the girl wasn't interested, and it isn't ok to pick on people who are smaller, weaker, than you are, even if you think should be able to.

But the weirdest thing was that at this nearly violent moment, I felt totally at peace. I know what happens next. I know what decisions got me here. I know what to do. I don't want to do what's next, but I'm not going to let you abuse my friend. She didn't do anything to you, neither did I, and the next decision is yours, my friend. After staring at me for a few minutes, he walked off. I have no idea if I won or not, but my friend was safe, I didn't go to jail, and I suddenly didn't feel like hanging out there anymore.

Was that the right decision? Is her discomfort my problem? Should I have decked the guy, on principle? Am I less because I just didn't want to hit him (or get hit - believe me, it hurts).

As I vomit all this emotion, it becomes clearer to me. I'm strung out about making decisions. I'm making too many, and I'm worried I'm not getting them right. Is this emergent clarity the reason that extroverts talk? Is this how it feels to them? It's an odd feeling to me, my introverted self.

I think this is my least favorite post so far. Regardless, it's my balloon, floating away, carried by the currents of my mind and my life. If you find it, sign it, and send it back to me, ok? It'd be interesting to see where it lands.

Hope your taxi smells better than this one...