It’s been quite a long time since I’ve updated this blog with anything meaningful. But the website just got an overhaul, what do you think?
Today a Haley House regular– the math teacher who’s on disability and needs our help keep him fed, he said to me as I toiled over boiling eggs, “You made the cut. You’re part of the Haley house now.” I took that as the highest form of praise. I’ve been serving at the Haley house, a soup kitchen that is more like a family, for a bit over two weeks. I come in at the crack of dawn, usually without any sleep because I’m a diehard nocturnal, and feed the homeless. And now I want to share some stories because I feel as if I’m qualified.
I’m an excellent chopper. They give me pounds upon pounds of onions, potatoes, and peppers. In moments they are julienned, diced, and sliced as needed. Chopping is a great job because it’s repetitive enough to get into, but not repetitive enough to get bored of– after all there is a razor sharp knife just inches away from delivering an amputation. I get to spend more time listening– to the roar of happy chatter, the man who comes in and quietly plays the piano, the sound of eggs snapping and sizzling on the grill. And then there’s the singing.
Every once in awhile a song will come on the radio, usually something old with a bit of a beat, stuff I’ve never heard before. It’s usually jazzy. The men who are waiting in line, or sitting, they’ll hum along. They’ll snap their fingers and say “man, I remember this jam, this is a great jam.” And they’ll turn up the speakers and smile big as they quietly sing to themselves– not loud enough to be truly joyous, but loud enough to let you know they’re happy. I love to make them happy.
Bill was wearing sweats and a low cut sweater. It was something like 35 degrees outside. A sprinkling of chest hair poked through a wifebeater, and a thinly knotted twine necklace wrapped around his gaunt neck. With a sparsely toothed smile he asked, “Can I get a jacket?” To which a lead volunteer started to respond with the usual answer about Fridays before Bill broke in again, “I know you give out clothes on Friday, but I just got out of prison yesterday and I don’t got nothing.”
Moments later he was wrapped up in a thick down jacket with wisps’ of feathers poking out the sides. He smiled at me and I asked the question that had been burning in my mind, “How long were you in for?”
He launched into a story about a police officer, a fist fight, and a total knockout. About seven years behind bars, and his newfound freedom– his plans for the future, and most importantly– his daughter.
“I know I’ll find her again. God will bring her to me.” He asked me how old I was and then looked me up and down after I responded. “She could be your girlfriend for all I know. She’s your age, June 28, 1986 she was born.” I nodded and wondered if I was seeing any orphans. I don’t think I am.
My most important role at the Haley House has nothing to do with food. My job is to listen with the utmost patience. I listen through rants about God, through theories about all sorts of insane things like how to solve global warming with salt, through sad stories about living a life homeless. By not undermining, judging, characterizing, or drawing any conclusions about the people I meet I allow myself to be open to every individual. I do not allow myself to show discomfort, I don’t fidget; I don’t make any assumptions in my questions. I just listen. Because I feel like it helps– by taking a moment to stop and listen I am allowing a bridge to be built between myself– someone with everything, and them—a people with close to nothing. And that is what the Haley House is: A place where the divide between social classes is lost and everyone is treated as equal. And that is a beautiful thing. You can’t judge at the Haley House, because if you do you will be proven wrong—again and again.
Sam was walking around with a bowl filled with orange juice. In it was a piece of meticulously peanut-buttered toast. My guess was he was marinating his toast in OJ because he was crazy. Finally—my stereotype of the crazy homeless had come to life! It had been a week and a half and I was beginning to wonder if there was such thing as a crazy homeless person. Sure—there were the eccentrics, the mildly loopy, the chatty cathys’, and the murderously angry. But I wouldn’t go as far as calling any of them crazy. But Sam, and his breakfast soup—now he had to be as nutty as the crunchy peanut butter that was spread on his submerged toast. I laughed to myself, proud of validating my assumptions and went back to work.
“Can you put this in the blender for me.” Sam asked me as I made my rounds cleaning tables. He was sitting around coffee cups filled with mashed up food. He was sucking up brown ground up food into a giant plastic syringe. I watched him fumble in his shirt with his dirty cracked hands. He pulled out an IV port, stuck the tip of the syringe into it, and I watched as he simultaneously blew my mind and drained a syringe full of breakfast into his gut. I gingerly took a bowl filled with peanut-buttered toast and orange juice, delicately dumped it into a blender, and pulverized the concept of drawing conclusions or judgments about anyone ever again.
No Content in this Gallery
If you’ve ever been to the “Beastfolio” tab at the top it’s a bit misleading. It used to offer an e-mail address if anyone was inquiring enough to want to download a 60Mb portfolio. And who would want to do that?!
Anyway, please meet beta version 1 of my new online portfolio, visit it here:
I became familiar with the work of legendary photographer James Nachtwey when I stumbled upon the movie “War Photographer.” This incredible man has given his life to informing people about the realities of war. Risking his own life, and witnessing atrocities of a scope and scale that I can’t even begin to fathom– he is truly an individual who believes in serving a greater good. For as little as my endorsement means to a man of such character– he is a hero to me.
I’ve discovered TED– an annual conference that believes in bringing “Ideas worth spreading” into the public’s eye. If any single group exemplifies the idea of “changing the world” it is these individuals– the smartest, the brightest, the most capable people who all share one thing in common: a vision or idea that can change the world. I aspire to be of this ilk, if not in this lifetime– then the next.
Claude Lelouch (born 30 October 1937) is a French film director, writer, cinematographer, actor and producer. In his 1964 film C’était un rendez vous he drives a Ferrari 275 GTB through the morning streets of Paris.
A gyro stabilized camera captures his 8 minute trek from city block to city block as he speeds in excess of 140km/h. This piece touches my creative soul. The ending is astounding.
A text message from an almost complete stranger told me to take the Green line to the far end of town– to leave my house at eleven. The amount of mystery was numbing. A train I had never been on, a destination I’d never seen, a girl I had met only once– and for only a brief moment. But when eleven rolled around the evening moved like destiny.
My pockets, packed with credit cards, money, a notepad, and a pen. With the thickest jacket on my shoulders, and music in my ears I boarded the elevator. I fell for 9 stories. Out of the front door and into the night cold I moved. I rushed past evening goers and down into the pit of the Green line subway. I smashed my way through a crowd and stood neck deep amongst a mass of Friday partiers. We swayed quietly through the tunnels as the train slipped from stop to stop– the fabric of our jackets touching, a girl who smelled like cinnamon mixed with the exhaust of the subway.
A girl and a boy squeeze aboard. He finds a handrail to hold onto, and she wraps her arms around him, “I’ll just hold onto you.” she whispers to him.
I pushed my way out of the train at Northeastern University. I made a call that was not answered. So I sat and waited patiently.
It’s four AM and we’ve arrived at their apartment– her and her roommate. We managed to walk for miles and chat about most everything and seemingly nothing at the same time. They give me ice for my ankle, they give me a granola bar, they bring me a pillow and some blankets, and they offer their floor to me. I thank them. I tuck them both in and tell them they are worthwhile. As they slept I wrote them a note: “Thanks for the great evening.” I shutoff the light, I leave.
A taxi pulls up as the front door to their complex closes behind me. “How much?” I ask “Under 15” he says in a thick accent. The seat is still warm. It smells like a rich oak mixed with pipe tobacco. It is soothing; it smells like the wisdom from an aged man. The driver turns up the music– a beautiful Haitian chorus fills the backseat. We run red lights and take fast turns. He makes it home well under 15– only 11. I give him 15 anyway. He turns to me as I edge out of the car and with his wise Creole accent he says:
“I get you there like it was your destiny.”
There were two girls standing in front of me and the instructor, in a sincere tone said, “You both can’t dance with him.” To which I replied, almost whimsically, “we could try.” A little more standing took place before one shuffled off and I was left to attempt the Salsa. It’s a good thing we didn’t try, because it would have been a disaster. Now let me tell you something– I am only good at dancing when I’m intoxicated, and I think it might have something to do with impaired judgment. There is a musical bone in my body somewhere, I can play guitar, but get me on the dance floor and my feet end up knotted and limp like spaghetti. I can’t quite explain it. Following instructions and following a beat, two requirements that elude me. As I tried to follow the footsteps I kept tripping over myself and reversing steps. And this is the Salsa we’re talking about here, it’s not that hard. Left foot forward, right foot up, left foot backward right foot back, and left foot up. I have it in my head, the concept is there— but making my body listen is much like asking a dog to tell you a bedtime story– it’s not going to happen, and if the dog even makes an attempt it’s not going to be very soothing.
So I made a lot of apologies for myself, and spent a lot of time laughing. It was good fun. Unfortunately I never looked a single dance partner in the eye, I was too busy watching my feet. So much for that idea of female interaction; Maybe next time.
Salsa class was at the end of the day. It was the very last segment to a very long day. I woke up early this morning 20 minutes before my interview with Greenpeace. I called in and rescheduled, then proceeded– after hearing that I’d have to work five days a week for six hours a day trying to get people to sign up for Greenpeace (for 12 bucks an hour mind you) to negotiate my way out of a job offer. I would consider myself the perfect person to be yelling at strangers from a street corner getting them to do something for me, that’s like my forte. But not for six hours, and not for five days a week. They wouldn’t let me volunteer! All I wanted was to volunteer! Not some day job! Do I look desperate?!
So it was back into the tunnels with me– the subway has lost a bit of its allure. How things change in 24 hours. I did come up with a brilliant idea: in Boston the subway is called the T. I want to have a Boston T party. How appropriate is that!?!? It will either consider of a sophisticated re-enactment of Englishmen dressed as Indians tossing tea from open subway doors at subway stops. Or it could be a bit more metaphorical and we can hire a DJ; get down and funky subterranean style. Either way, it’s probably been done already.
At Kendall/MIT station I made a hasty departure from my day dreaming. It was time to visit the Mecca for engineers. I said a short prayer to Newton and Einstein asking for forgiveness for only getting past Algebra 2. Then I cleansed my body and soul with a chicken, ham, and swiss cheese crepe from the crepe factory. As I ate I stared at the educational environs that lay before me. MIT has been a place that has only lived in my imagination. As a child I read about the school and fantasized about being there, about playing with all of the equipment, building gadgets, designing new technologies, and interacting with the best and brightest. MIT was truly a glorious place in my mind’s eye, and as I witnessed it’s vastness in front of me for the first time I was delighted. it’s ingeniously designed buildings, the students milling about on the sidewalk, the cute girl who was sitting next to me talking about what it was like being a neuroscience major at MIT (consequently she was having boyfriend problems as well which struck me as odd, you’d think they’d have developed a way to engineer themselves out of bad breakups. Anyway I digress.) I was in a state of heaven.
I could not enter the campus after that crepe. It wasn’t enough. I know it seems silly, but to me, this was Mecca, and I was not yet worthy. So I went to the Broad institute instead. Yes it is part of MIT, but it’s the Broad Institute, it needs no other name. A gentleman in line at the creperey mentioned I go in and check out some of the equipment on display. And of course the front doors were locked. I peered over at the cute secretary sitting gingerly at her desk and I knocked on the window, motioning for her to let me in.
“Did you forget your badge?” She said.
“No I don’t have one.” I replied with Candor. “I’m here to look at the neat stuff.”
“Well sir it’s past hours and if you do not have a badge you cannot see the showroom. I’m sorry.”
The rest is tedious and tremendously entertaining but let’s just say that I am now the proud owner of a new fact: “Boston girls like to make out with hot guys. All you have to do is dance with them.” Also: a new phone number burning a hole through my pocket. We’ll see what I do with that.
I WAS FINALLY WORTHY OF MIT!
So off I went. I had no idea where to go. I just started walking onto campus. And what do I spy, a mere four hundred feet down the street? The MIT Media Labs. It was if the hand of Feynman (the most playful of famous quantum physicists) was guiding me to the holy land of exciting research and edutainment. I didn’t even blink. I walked through the front doors like I owned the place– and straight into the Lifelong Kindergarten group.
The MIT Media Labs are pretty famous. Started in 1984 to put together technology and media a lot of startling achievements, and people, have come out of that place. Ever heard of Rock Band? Guitar Hero? Yeah the guys who invented that graduated from the Media Labs. It’s like this interdisciplinary world where art and science get mashed up into brand new things. The program was practically tailor made for a person like me– someone who can’t sit still.
I fell in love. It was exactly what I want to experience: A place where the ultra smart get together and play. There are little projects all over the place. Weird homebrew WiFi enabled cameras dot the ceilings, strange suits padded with all sorts of electronics, students and teachers sitting around and just chatting about the possibilities. If you’ve ever seen a James Bond movie and been introduced to Q’s laboratory– this was that place. All sorts of strange and unique high tech experiments were going on all around me. The place was playful, full of energy, and inviting.
I talked to a few people, but I wasn’t ready to sell myself yet. I need to read more about the different groups and get a better background on the place. If I play my cards right it just might be my new home for the next couple of years.
Have a look: http://labcast.media.mit.edu/?p=27
And yeah… I’ll probably try salsa again.
AS HARD AS YOU CAN
FOR WHATEVER YOU BELIEVE IN.
Welcome to iamkosta.org
I was the only Gringo on the soccer field, and I was happy with that. I was a benchwarmer at first—thank God, the guys who were playing were practically professional. Bench warming is fine; I’ll take that over a soccer ball to the skull any day.
It cost exactly 1500 colohns or 3 dollars to play a game of soccer. I was there with the managers of the hotel, Gaiya. I had been staying in their beautiful accommodations in southern Costa Rica for the last three days and I had accidentally asked them what their plans for the evening were; they exclaimed “Football!” before I could say “no.” My shoes were being inspected for worthiness: “Too heavy, no good.” I thanked them and asked for my orange and yellow Nike’s back. They were starting to smell. In Costa Rica if something gets wet, it tends to stay that way then rots. I heard a story about a kid who lived in the jungle—he had to walk 45 minutes to get to school, and in order to mitigate the rotting away of his books he wrapped them in plastic, then placed the book in a bag of rice, then sealed the bag with tape. Tedious, but necessary.
The indoor soccer field was exactly 6 months old. This was the first indoor game for the team I was playing with, and that was a good thing—they were just as anxious as I was, except for entirely different reasons. Before I left to go play soccer, my dad, who has been traveling with me through Costa Rica, stopped me and said, “Kosta, I’m really worried you’re going to get hurt. Please don’t get hurt.” I found this fascinating because he was completely indifferent when I was about to go out to a discotecka at 10 pm, located 30 km North of our hotel, with two complete strangers who may or may not have hated Americans and were promising me a good time in an attempt to get me out into the jungle so they could tie me to a banana tree on a Dole plantation and pelt me with guavas. I digress…
Our T-shirts were yellow or amarillo depending which language you prefer. At first I heard it as “armadillo” and was slightly confused at what an armadillo was doing in the jungle, but I’d seen stranger things (the transsexual in a wedding dress wearing a crown while slow dancing to old techno the night prior comes to mind). The shirts read “Ojachal”—the town in which everyone was from. I was at first proud to be sporting the armadillo colored top, but then I wondered if there were any gangs in Costa Rica, and if I was wearing something equivalent to a “Bloods” t-shirt.
We started playing. For the first half of the match, I was benched, which was just fine with me. We scored three points, and they scored two—it’s interesting to note that the other team had a serious fan club up in the stands. When they scored, the crowd went wild. When we scored, I yelled and clapped but sat my ass down when I realized nobody else was joining me. I wondered if I should cover the “Ojachal” on my shirt to avoid any gang wars.
Our goalie, Edgar, just happened to be my best friend in Costa Rica. He’s 43, has a wife, and a little boy whose name has escaped me and is probably never coming back. He has worked at our hotel for 8 years and speaks more English than I speak Spanish but not enough to cause me embarrassment for my inability to pay attention to new words. “How do you say food again?” I say with a mouth full of steak. “Oh yeah, comida—I asked you that before we got the food.” Edgar, my best friend goalie, wanted to swap out with me. He pointed to me to come out on the field. I pointed to the guy next to me and mouthed “him?” hoping that I was just there to pass the message along. Edgar firmly shook his head and mouthed “You.”
I trotted out onto the field with the synthetic grass crunching under-foot and thought about how nice it was to know that I wasn’t going to find myself knee deep in mud if I stopped paying attention to where I was putting my feet. There’s something about mud in Costa Rica—it is everywhere, and it wants to be on you.
Sandro, one of the professional soccer players instructed me on my tasks as a goalie, “See line?” He pointed to the half circle around the goalie net and informed me, “No hands outside of line.” I nodded. I played soccer for six years as a kid, and I was well aware of the rules. Hell, my mom was a soccer mom complete with the minivan packed with lawn chairs and water bottles always ready should the occasion arise. I kept up the facade of being incompetent to lower everyone’s expectations of me. I wanted to be as close to zero as possible, so that when the Gringo fucked up, it wouldn’t start some sort of soccer riot. Soccer may be globally appreciated, but it’s not that big of a deal back home. For instance, I recently heard the story of the guy who accidentally scored for the opposing team during the World Cup and was killed a week later for his mistake. Yeah, I know it’s a little bit much, but when everyone except you speaks Spanish, the only thing left to do is fill in the blanks—and I have a very active imagination.
I wish I could finish this story by boasting about how I saved the day and how each passing soccer ball was deflated by the lasers in my eyes before having the opportunity to score a goal. But I don’t have lasers in my eyes, and I think that is to my detriment. I also have this tendency to close my eyes when speeding objects are traveling toward me, which is again to my detriment as soccer balls need to be watched in order to be caught. I let 2 goals slide by me, but I deflected somewhere around 9 using what was probably magic.
We won the game and to celebrate the first win of the season, we went to a local bar and had some beers. I didn’t have any beers, but I did have a chicken Caesar salad. A player asked to try a piece of chicken, and then told me, “It’s dog. No good.” I agreed with him, told him I preferred cat, and remarked that it will have to do for now.
Edgar and I got to chatting and had a very tedious conversation where we tip-toed around the words we didn’t know. He explained to me how he grew up in the jungle with no electricity, no fridge, and (because I had to ask the obvious questions) no TV. He has 4 brothers and 4 sisters. His father built his house, and his mother was a baby factory. He had his first girlfriend when he turned 20—this was because he lived solely with his family and no other eligible chickitas were to be found for miles—that was his excuse, at least.
As he finished his beer and I finished my Caesar salad, he told me about his house. His father-in-law had given his wife the plot of land, and he and his brother had built the house by hand. This impressed me. I explained, “In America, people take out a loan that they are supposed to pay for 30 years, but they get greedy and re-finance after the first year to buy a jet ski/boob job and consequently own nothing but keep paying the same interest over and over again.” This made no sense to Edgar. I chuckled as I began contrasting the slightly-above-average American who thought interest-only loans were a good idea with Edgar, who makes two dollars an hour yet owns his house in full because he built it.
Edgar had earlier stated that he would have liked to show me his casa. I was, of course, flattered because even though I’d only been here for four days, I still had not made it inside a Costa Rican or “Tika” house. I see them everywhere. Their corrugated aluminum roofs, wooden or concrete frames with cloth used for door frames, thin foundations and seepy looking windows intrigue me. Most of them screamed home-made, but they all have this sort of inviting nature—they seemed to be saying “there’s a happy family and good food inside of here, and our mosquito nets will save you from malaria.” Some of the houses were nicer than others, but it’s pretty safe to assume that most people in southern Costa Rica make the same 2 dollars an hour just as their neighbors do. The more extravagant houses were strictly the result of raw talent.
We pulled into Edgars driveway at about 10 o’clock. A little yip yip dog scurried out front and began to bark. I resisted the urge to punt and instead patted. As the dog licked my hand, I took a look at Edgar’s home, and I was genuinely struck by the beauty of his little house. The front door was stained a light red, and the outside was stuccoed and painted white trimmed in pink. I took off my shoes at the tile entrance and was greeted by a very excited 7-year-old boy.
On my way to Edgar’s, I’d made a quick pit stop at the grocery store. I asked Edgar what his wife and child liked, and he pointed me to some yogurt kept in the refrigerated section. As we entered Edgar’s house, I tried to pawn the yogurt off, so he could give it out to his family, but he was having none of that. I pulled the two bottles out of the bag and gave one to his wife and one to his child. They looked genuinely impressed—as if nobody thought to give them yogurt as a gift before. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of it. The mother and child said “Gracias.” The child practically yelled it. His mother gave him a small bowl, and soon his mouth was smeared with yogurt. I wondered when the hell this kid was supposed to go to bed. Shouldn’t his teeth have been brushed by now?
I was given the grand tour, and it was quite grand, especially for a house that was built by hand. The bedroom and living room floors were all tile. The kitchen had a small stove, the fridge was fully stocked, and the bathroom was broken. You could see how the house had evolved—it was explained to me that the kitchen had been built first. It was by far the least elaborate room, the windows had cracks in them, the floor was un-tiled and green, but as you moved from the kitchen you could almost read the story of the house. Edgar had hand painted the trim around the doors—a bright green. The dining room had a beautiful table that “cost $600” which is a huge sum of money for a guy who makes 2 dollars an hour but was probably a wedding gift or something. The child’s room was immaculate which freaked me out a bit—kids rooms aren’t supposed to be clean. We pulled out English flash cards and stopped for a while to play. Edgar’s son knows more English than I know Spanish! He was unstumpable.
I won’t bore you with any more details—but I have to say that I have never felt so impressed. I was invited to this beautiful home that had been built by hand, by a family that didn’t—and still doesn’t—own a car. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.
“How old are you” I asked. The scrawny kid with black hair that covered his eyes couldn’t be much older than 18. No one looked older than 20– they were baby faced, and the whole night was awkward like prom. “Sixteen” he said in a voice so perilously squeaky you couldn’t help but believe him. “What are you doing out here? What are any of you kids doing out here? It’s two in the morning. Aren’t your parents worried about you? Let me guess, you told them you were spending the night at someone else’s house… Snuck out of a window…”
He nodded and looked down at the ground– as if my chastisement mattered at all.
The all-ages-dive-bar/club that I had inadvertently found myself at that evening was closing. The children, drunk, high, and freshly clothed from Urban Outfitters stumbled to their cars and made their way home. I was still in complete and utter awe that a place that could serve booze to babies even existed. I quizzed a bouncer about it: “Oh yeah man, it’s crazy. And their parents drop them off too! A mom in an SUV just dropper her little girl off a minute ago– she was dressed all hoochie, and like, her mom just drove off… It’s crazy.” The bouncer was 28 and we both exuded our dissatisfaction at our self-imposed “look but don’t touch” policy. “Yeah, the girls who are even our age– they have the mentalities of sixteen year olds. They’re fucked up. You don’t even want to talk to them.”
The squeaky 16 year old kid I was quizzing. He looked up at me and smiled “You got a cigarette?” His buddy chimed in, “Yeah you got any smokes?” And as I picked my jaw off of the ground at the request it happened. “BANG BANG BANG BANG” I smiled. Someone had some good fireworks. The teeny boppers are pyros too. And then everything changed. The whole crowd that was ahead of me, some fifty kids, they turned towards me and started running right at me. Panic.
A boy in a black jacket with a black pistol in his hand. He rounded the corner and fired down the street. “BANG BANG BANG BANG.” Sequential shots with intention. He was but 150 feet away from me, I watched the flames leap from the barrel of his gun. The shots rung off of the walls of the near by buildings and echoed down the street for the whole neighborhood to hear.
I ran. Everyone ran. And as we ran shot’s ceased, tires squealed, and the whole scene died. Hundreds of kids disappeared into the night. The bouncers even got into their cars and made a hasty departure. I kicked beer bottles in an empty lot for awhile and wondered about the possibility of imminent death should some crazy teenager with a gun round the corner and decide to shoot me. I was obviously defenseless. What could I do? I could dazzle him with my charm… I made my way back to my car as the sounds of gun shots replayed in my head, like a song. I walked to the street where he had fired from and the glint of bullets caught my eye. Hollow point 22 Remingtons.
I got in my car and drove. I stopped at a 7-11 and bought a small bottle of milk. I went home, sat down, and had a bowl of Special K and pondered my existence.