Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Two weeks ago I became a home-owner.  The feeling was like emerging from the pool after a series of underwater acrobatics.  Slightly disorienting, but with a feeling you went in the right direction.  Of course I’m not completely on dry land; now I will also have to tread water in order to maintain my property (and my mortgage).  But I can still inhale deeply, tilt my head back, and relax in the knowledge that I own the space around me.  While the native American in me has an inherent disdain for the term "mine", as far as legal rights go, I have to admit it's pretty sweet.

We are almost unpacked.  Only a few odds and ends: a couple of things for storage, a disassembled lamp patiently waiting on the hearth, our paintings.  When I have no stuff, moving is a breeze.  Point in case: when I moved to Japan out of college, what little stuff I had was thrown into a suitcase, and the rest was sitting in storage in a house owned by my best friend's sister.  Well, actually… there was also a box or two in the basement of a different house - a cozy house in Cambridge I had lived in with four roommates.  There was also all of my possessions at my mom's house in Cincinnati ... but if I had been able to ignore that stuff for four years, I could easily ignore it for another one or two.

So, my friend’s sister, the house in Cambridge, my mom’s house, and my suitcase.  That was it, the sum total.  The night before moving to Japan (or maybe the morning of - I can't remember), I packed the suitcase, crammed other necessaries into a carry-on duffle bag, and boarded a flight for another country.  The song the “Molly McGuires” strikes me as appropriate for that particular set of circumstances… since I’ll never see the likes of that again.

The part that resonates with me still, as I grow older and reflect on the inevitable accumulation of stuff, is that besides deodorant and the infrequently used personal item or two, I did not lack for much in Japan.  This was surprising, since I had given the whole process about as much foresight as my decision to follow my high-school girlfriend to college in Boston, giving up a full ride at a state school, my friends, and my parent’s support (not to mention the hefty post-graduation sum my dad was offering me to stay in Ohio).  During the course of that adventure, similar to the move to Japan, the stuff part seemed to work itself out.

For my Boston migration, I had to take my stuff with me in a two-door car, in a single trip.  The move was supposed to be, and was in fact, for four-odd years.  Because it was against my parents' judgment, it was one of the only moves where I didn't have the good will of other to rely on for help.  Fortunately, I had two things going for me: I still had a car, and I had almost no stuff.

Of course, like most privileged first-world brats, no stuff meant that my two-door car was practically ready to pop. Indeed, had you tapped on the hood hard enough, a computer cable might have snaked out of the rear bumper (I'm sure it would have appeared as disquieting as it sounds).  Said college-era computer rested in the bucket of the passenger seat, above a nest of speaker wires, documents, and toiletries.  Upon arrival at my apartment in Boston, I found that the can of shaving cream tossed haphazardly into the mix had been completely emptied, and over the course of 12 hours the gel itself had either dried or frozen, since my computer, which was stuck to my backpack, which was stuck to my toiletries bag, was coated in a rock-hard layer of the stuff that didn’t come off until a thorough scrubbing.

In some past / future life, I must have either been a sailor or a Star Trek ensign.  In those times, storage space was pretty unnecessary. Besides a closet for those spandex-inspired uniforms (certainly in the Star Trek life, and possibly in the sailor life as well), and a pad-locked drawer for the taser (because every taser should be pad-locked), storage space was pretty unnecessary.  If you did happen to need something specific, that's what the replicator was for.

What you didn't see were huge suitcases where they kept all of their earth-stuff that they quite frankly didn't need.  Whatsmore, I am fairly certain in that past life, like this one, I was quite content.  Perhaps because of that (can I blame it on a past life?) when I have to move stuff, actual stuff, and there's no getting around it, I am just about the most inept, disorganized person you have ever met in your life.

At this point, when I look around me, there are certain things that I’m less flippant about than I was before.  For example, the composite countertops are treasured.  The two sinks, with their constant smirk of privilege, are appreciated.  The sofa, my comfortable chairs, the teal stool I splurged on for my wife at the antique store in Brooklyn for her birthday… these things I can’t just throw in a car.  In fact, the whole home, including the immense amount of energy that went into acquiring it, making it legally mine, and working to make it perfect, is something I couldn’t pass off to a friend or flippantly disregard (at least not yet… I still have a few years before the hobo urge strikes me and I pack up that polka-dot rucksack).

In the meantime, I should really unpack the rest of my earth-stuff.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What I think about when I'm not thinking about sex

It might just be that time of night, but recently all I can think about is drinking and work.  All the time.  In every situation.  When I'm home in the evening, I think about work.  And then I think about drinking.  When I wake up in the morning, I think about work, then I go there, and think about drinking.  When I'm drinking, normally all I'm thinking about is drinking, and not work, which hopefully means I'm not an alcoholic.

Of course I also do the obligatory modernesque activities and cultivate a couple of interests that define a professional man in his 30's living in the city, such as cooking, exercise, weekend excursions and the obligatory hobby (*ahem*).  But at the end of the day, quite literally, I'm not thinking about that new Point Reyes hike we stumbled upon last week, or what kind of clothes I'd like to buy.  I do think about food, which can actually be quite dangerous if I'm working from home and the cookbook is on the top of our bar.  But as soon as I eat, which is usually right after I finish working, thoughts of food flutter away and I'm left with alcohol, and work.

Tonight I finished my most important work early, which for me means before 7:00 (I think it was 6:59 to be exact).  That meant I was home, fed and entertained by an episode of Mad Men prior to 9:00.  Even assuming I would make it to bed by 11:30 - which is a stretch - that still left me with more than two hours of time to kill.  I could always veg-out with a video-game, but I'm 30 for Peat's sake... surely I could find something more worthwhile to consume my time.  Still, the options seemed limited.

I look at the preceding paragraph and the first thing that pops into my head is how I would feel if my future child were to read that.  I imagine it would be somewhat disheartening to him or her, that dad really had nothing better to think about in the evening than drinking and working.  The ironic thing is that I'm sure, no... dedicated to being the type of father that is engaged in his children's life to the point where they see me as more than the caricature of myself I'm alluding to here.  Hell, even the fact that I have a sense of irony has got to make me somewhat interesting to them, at some point.  The problem is, I'm just not sure what to do with myself until then (which is an extension of not knowing what to do with myself tonight, I suppose).

For a while during law school I had an idea to go to Somalia and learn about Somalian culture and pick up a little of the language and then come back and start a business consulting with shipping companies on how to avoid pirates.  I'm serious.  I called all of my best friends and told them about this idea.  I figured I could get some funding, and get on the first Hargeisa-bound flight to Somaliland that I could find.  Even in hindsight, it was (and probably still is, until word gets out), a fucking brilliant idea.  An American who lived with the pirates, and knows how to avoid them?  I've already been a consultant long enough to know the value that experience brings to the table.

The pirate thing, for the month-plus that it consumed me, was more than just an idea - it was a distraction and a dream rolled into one.  It was similar to how I wanted to open up a petting zoo for little animals when I was a child, and would lay in my bunkbed for hours thinking about all the people who would come to the zoo to hold the hamsters and gerbils and possibly even newts.  I even had the costs accounted for - $100 was what I reckoned it would cost to start the whole thing up.  Probably a bit on the low side, even if it was the 1980's, but the point was is this was something that kept me up at night, and consumed my time.

I'm a perpetual skeptic of those who say that we lose our passion as we grow older.  I don't think we lose our passion for taking bold action as we age, although I don't see myself moving to Somalia anytime soon.  Instead, I think we become more aware of the amount of work that would go into it, and the creature comforts we would sacrifice to pull it off.  Which is why the house-hunt that is currently consuming my life (and my wife's) is not evoking the same level of blind excitement that it would have, say, when I was 20, assuming I had the means at that point.  In other words, it's not that I don't have exciting things to occupy my thoughts; it's that much of what is exciting eventually turns into work.

At this point a lightbulb might have turned on.  "So when you say you're thinking about work, you really mean that you're thinking about how to make things happen!" (this is directed at the three readers who have made it this far into the essay without going off for a drink of their own).  And to you, I respond, no, it's pretty much just about work.  Like for example, I think about whether my boss would let me move to LA, where the houses are cheaper, or I think about whether I've pissed anyone off recently or who makes more money than I do.  And then, predictably, I get tired of this, and start thinking about drinking.

This is the point when, being an adult, I go and grab a beer.  Or a second one, in this case, which is coincidentally probably a good time to wrap things up.  There will be more on all the interesting tidbits I've conveniently dropped during the course of this posting later... such as where I go on my weekend excursions, what kind of father I'm really hoping to be, when I'm planning to assume that role, or how much that petting zoo actually would have cost.  Stay tuned, brave reader, stay tuned.


I realize that one of the aforementioned readers who made it this far into the post might be my mother.  If that's the case, I hope that she understands, and maybe even appreciates that most of the references to drinking and thinking about work are literary hyperbole.  I have a number of leisure interests besides drinking and work, such as travel, abstract wire sculpture,  reading, and engaging in satanic orgies the company of dear friends.  So don't worry, I have plenty of healthy habits to keep me occupied, when I'm not obsessing about my job and longing for that next beer.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Right before I got back on the boat, after passing aisles of knick knacks and cheap souvenirs stacked in haphazard heaps, I stopped and bought a Cuban cigar.  On board, I spent twenty minutes smoking it in the wood-paneled library-esque cigar lounge situated just off the casino.  In addition to being the best twenty minutes of my cruise (except for the part where I was almost hit by a mock pirate ship while snorkeling in Aruba), it also gave me a chance to reflect on the strange feeling I had experienced a couple of days before that, a feeling that only be described as one of death, creeping up on me.

No, nothing to do with the mock pirate ship that almost ran me over, snorkel and all, while the tourists on board snapped pictures and pointed.  This feeling came upon me slowly, after a trip to the panoramic gym situated at the bow of the boat, after I had returned to the private area aptly called the "Sanctuary", which separated us from the other passengers by at least two barriers and one attendant.  Sitting in the extra-plush chair, looking out through the (strangely) blue tinted glass at the ocean beyond, a feeling of minor dread washed over me.  It was as if a small piece of my spirit had just detached, and floated away into the ether to rejoin the energy force that separates this world from the next.

Or, more likely, it was just  the norovirus kicking in.  You see, there was an outbreak on the boat.  Dozens of passengers who were naive (or ill) enough to see the ship's doctor about their condition were being quarantined in their rooms, while the rest of us whistled merrily on our way while working the posterior muscles through repetitive clench exercises.  Once I noticed that my stools had adjusted to our watery surroundings by imitating their consistency, the thought of exacerbating my already-horrendous cabin fever by getting detained in my actual cabin was enough to overcome any minor feelings of guilt I might have had about spreading the virus.  I was convinced that everyone and their convalescent mother (who was probably the source of the outbreak, bless her grubby little fingers) had contracted the virus, but wasn't telling.  Why then, should I?

Back in the cigar lounge, which ironically was probably the cleanest place on board the ship and therefore the least likely to exacerbate my rinovirus (bet you can't say that while keeping a straight face), I puffed away on the best $8 dollar cigar ever, and wondered how I had ended up on a cruise in the first place.

To be honest, I never expected to find myself on a cruise.  I always thought that the best depiction of people who go on cruises was the spaceship in Wall-E where people ride around on floating chairs and spend all of their time eating.  It's not that I hate the bourgeoisie - I have a communist cousin who has elected to represent our family at those events - but I do hate anyone who treats another human poorly, and cruise ships are rife with guilty parties.  At one point my wife and I were sitting at our lunch table watching a woman, another passenger, try to get the attention of the server, who was taking an order at another table.  As if she were a character on Downton Abbey, the hideous woman repeatedly pestered the server, who was obviously helping other passengers, until she finally put down her pen and walked over to the woman's table.  When the server reached the table, the woman arched her back and said shrilly "Do you really expect me to shout to get your attention?"  It was as if I was watching a very bad play, about very bad people... and it was a scene that repeated itself time and time again over the seven day voyage.  By the end of the trip I was tempted to start coughing on the desert tray on purpose (although I did not), to provide some needed oomph to a karmic power out there that obviously wasn't doing its job.

The funny thing about the outbreak (for those of us with sufficiently dark senses of humor) was that it happened simultaneously with what the Captain of the boat described as the "worst weather in 20 years of sailing the Caribbean."  It was truly awful.  If you spent half your morning in your room on the porcelain chin-rest (yes, it was a nice boat), it was hard to say whether it was due to grandma's germs in the jello, or because the boat was auditioning to be the Costa Concordia.  Although I don't get motion sickness, in hindsight I might have gotten some relief - and still avoided being imprisoned in my room - had I gone to the medical center complaining of wobbly legs, rather than wobbly buttocks.

Although I'm long over the norovirus, the memory of the cruise lingers on (notably in the injury I suffered to my leg in that gym with its blasted panoramic views).  I appreciated the opportunity to experience a cruise, but sometimes the memory of gazing out through those blue-tinted windows comes to me like a whispered word, mostly in the evenings, often accompanied by a feeling of homesickness and missing the ones that I love. Even though it would have been interesting to go out (dramatically) by being run over by a mock pirate ship, I think I'd prefer to end up aging slowly, at least to the point where I can be taken on a (second) cruise, and create my own norovirus outbreak by sneezing surreptitiously in the casserole, then watching in delight as the bourgeoisie succumb, and the staff smile knowingly as the boat rocks back and forth, while I puff slowly on my cigar and enjoy the moment.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

the measure of a man

T.S. Eliot may have measured his life in coffee spoons, but I prefer Scotch. Besides the fact that I normally just pour my coffee from the can straight into the espresso maker, I only have a few coffee spoons anyways, so it would be awfully hard to measure anything longer than a day or two with them. I suppose I could line them up, and then keep picking up the last one and putting it in front of the first one, but that would be silly. I think instead it's easier to use something you are actually going to accumulate over time, which is why I'll measure my life in bottles of Scotch.

You may argue that measuring my life with an alcoholic beverage would give short shift to my childhood years (at least the first 15 of them). That's true, but it's not so much the days of my life we are counting here, as much as the progress of my life as an adult, Scotch-drinking male. This pretty much renders childhood moot. In my early and mid-20's I drank whiskey, but never held on to a bottle long enough to say I was "accumulating" anything. I think the only thing I accumulated during those years were infectious agents that replicated inside the living cells of my hypogastric region (although only the most common little buggers, thankfully). My mid- to late-20's then was getting married, law school, and kicking off this thing that has become my career. All wonderfully exciting events, and each a journey in its own right, but it wasn't until I turned 30 that I really began to step into myself and feel out the kind of person I had become.

A person who drinks Scotch, that's who. At some point during that transition from an adult-in-training to a full-fledged member of society, I realized that I would always need to have a bottle of Scotch on my liquor shelf. Never mind that said liquor shelf is currently only my flat-screen TV box covered with fabric and turned upright (space constraints), or that the bottle of Scotch that currently sits on top is only $20… At least there's a bottle, and it isn't empty. Whatsmore, it hasn't even dipped below the non-respectable 5th of a bottle, at which point I'd feel obliged to finish it up quickly.

In fact, that's one reason why bottles of Scotch are a perfect way to measure the progress of your life. When I look over at my TV-box, er… liquor shelf, I feel a sense of pride that I've managed to grow out of my more impetuous years long enough to hold on to a bottle of alcohol, at least for more than a week. Even if it is the cheapest Islay Scotch available at Trader Joe's, it's still a sign that I've moved on from youthful overindulgence, at least as far as alcohol is concerned (and as my friend Neil, who introduced me to the varietal would agree, it's also a proof I have taste). Hell, we even have half a case of two-buck-chuck tucked away between the TV box and the stove. Next thing you know I'll be finding beer in the back of the fridge.

Proof of restraint aside, the other reason Scotch bottles are such a good measure of my adult life is that eventually the bottles will accumulate. Nothing to force with a spending spree at the liquor store... just something that will hopefully happen naturally. And as it happens, each bottle will earn its own story, potential bragging rights, or at least the opportunity to compare different tasting drinks.

When I was almost twenty and barely just beginning to acknowledge the adult world, I was invited to taste a couple of Scotches by the admired father of a then-girlfriend. Along with one of his younger coworkers, we retreated to the bookshelf-lined walls of his office. Like conspirators, we huddled around a particular bookshelf that had been converted into a shelf for various bottles, the names of which read like mysteries, histories and adventures. The power of a good Scotch collection is not something to underestimate!

I remember being in that office the better space of a half hour, which at that point was a record for conversing exclusively with grown-ups. I sat on a short plush stool, listening to my girlfriend's dad tell the stories of these extraordinary bottles he had accumulated , all the while sipping the subject of the tale. Being 20, I was thrilled to be drinking anything in public, but what I appreciated even more than getting buzzed in front of my girlfriend's parents was the glimpse into that man's life that our Scotch tasting allowed. Trust me, when someone shows you an ancient bottle of 12 year Scotch with a cut-out George Washington-esque picture of themselves taped over the logo, you know you're getting a taste, pun intended, of something that has mattered to that person on their own personal journey.

So in a way, the one bottle of $20 dollar Scotch on my TV-case turned bookshelf is a story in its own right. If nothing else, when I pour a glass for a future guest, I can at least say that I wrote a blog post about that very bottle. Barring the unexpected onset of alcoholism, I'll eventually expand my collection, and maybe someday I'll sit down with the lucky lad dating my own daughter, and share a few drams. Before I intimidate the hell out of him so that he never comes back, I'll have left him with a few good stories.

In the meantime, in all the space between now and that hypothetical moment many years in the future, there's plenty of time, and hopefully plenty of bottles to measure it with.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

april fools

On March 31st of 2011, I called my brother Ben at approximately 11:00 Pacific Time, which meant in Ohio it was already April Fool's Day. I didn't stop to think that his live-in girlfriend, Diana, would be woken up when I called. I didn't consider that they had an incredibly yippy dog that would probably wake up too, and then keep them both awake with its incessant barking. I didn't even consider that my planned joke was so ridiculous that Ben would never believe it unless he was half asleep... Okay, maybe I did consider that last one before I woke him up at 2 am to tell him the aliens had finally made contact.

It was one of those happily rare walks home where I had left work late enough that the streets were deserted. Because San Francisco lacks the foot traffic of New York, where I lived for several years, it's also a little scarier at night. One of the things you learn to appreciate about people out and about at 11 pm on a weekday (which New Yorkers surely take for granted) is that you rarely feel uneasy, even in some of the sketchier neighborhoods. In fact, I think sometimes crime is worse in the "safer" neighborhoods where everyone is tucked away for the evening by 8 or 9, but that's the subject of another blog post that I'll likely never write, so you'll have to figure it out yourself. Either way, I rarely feel afraid walking from downtown to Nob Hill at night, due to the large number of insane people who are always nearby.

It might help to understand that here in San Francisco, what we lack in numbers, we make up for in crazy. As Chris Rock brazenly but confidently asserted, "Yeah, I said it!" We might not have the all-hours crowds of New York, the 24 hour economies of Tokyo or Osaka or the comforting gas-lit streetlamps of Cincinnati, but if I were to be assaulted at night by some thug on the downtown streets of San Francisco, I feel confident that as soon as I started to scream for help, at least half a dozen other figures, slumped in doorways or wandering the empty streets, would begin to yell or scream themselves. Whether out of anger, empathy or annoyance, the cadre of crazies would doubtlessly begin to rise up out of their sleeping bags and cardboard boxes, turning down the NPR on their hand-cranked radios or closing the Kafka novel, and try to figure out what all of the ruckus was about.

As a result, I felt emboldened. In a way, calling Ben in the middle of the night for the ultimate April Fools joke, was my own personal SF crazy person moment. To the casual observer, I would certainly qualify: literally shouting "Oh my God, oh my God!" into the phone. I continued to shout until Ben was up and thoroughly disoriented. Then the icing on the cake... "Turn on the TV!"

What was I thinking, yelling at the top of my lungs, as I trekked uphill through the streets of downtown? To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced madness hadn't temporarily(?) taken hold. "They've arrived Ben, they've arrived!" I screamed. I might have added something about how they were talking to Obama... "right now!", but I had worked myself into such a frenzy by that point that my memory is foggy.

As a way of background, it's very important to understand here that my brother Ben is the ultimate April Fools participant. His past successes, of which there have been many, probably have something to do with the fact that he's a good planner, and that he's determined to follow through. It follows naturally, I think, that his Halloween costumes are usually top-notch. He had fooled me the year before, in fact, by telling me rather hysterically that Diana, his girlfriend, was pregnant. It wasn't until I had suffered a minor heart-slash-panic attack that he began to laugh and told me it wasn't so. I think that my own forced hysteria about the "aliens landing" was do-able not because I had temporarily gone insane, but out of my desire to show him that two could play the "everything-is-more-believable-when-you-say-it-in-a-panicked-voice" game.

"What, Aaron? What are you talking about?" He started to ask, before I shouted "Oh my God!!!!" into the phone with such urgency that I must have woken up Diana, since he had to briefly explain to her that no, in fact no one died, but it was quite possible that the aliens had landed.

I think when he finally got the TV on, I knew that I had won. I wanted to make sure I said "April Fools" before he realized he'd been had, so I yelled it into the phone as soon as he confirmed that the emergency White House broadcast was not, in fact, on every channel. Afterward, I cracked up nonstop for the next five minutes. At some point he hung up the phone.

Now it's one year later. The emotions, of course, are mixed. At the time, he vowed revenge. I'm not sure if it was on his own behalf, or on behalf of Diana, who ended up getting three hours of sleep that night, right before a major meeting. Maybe it was because he was half-asleep, or maybe he hadn't heard me say "April Fools", but he ended up convinced that aliens in fact had made contact that night. If he hadn't spent most of the year in jail for calling the White House repeatedly, demanding to see the evidence for the "covered up alien landing", I would feel a little better about the whole thing. As it is, it's been 18 hours into April Fools day, and so far I haven't heard a thing.

At the same time, if they give him access to a phone, maybe he'll come up with something. Maybe he's become a crazy in his own regard, but spending the last eight months in and out of detention facilities has surely given him time to think up some doozies. To be honest, I can hardly wait.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

meditations on a logo

The airline's logo is a winged circle with a heart inside of it. For the time being, let's refer to the airline, which will remain anonymous, as "SW". Actually, there seem to be two varieties of the logo: one version where the circle is sprouting wings, and the other where a winged heart is flying in front of a circle. I'm already confused.

Logos are the most condense, and thus necessarily precise form of communication from the company to the consumer. In this case, I struggle to comprehend what SW is hoping to convey. The heart, the near-universal symbol for love, is prominent. I assume that this is meant to communicate the fact that SW loves its passengers. The circle around the heart could represent some sort of protective aura, a suggestion that SW will preserve your heart both figuratively and literally (we hope) with some sort of protective shell, or maybe even a force field. Since this is the same anonymous airline that actually lost a section of the ceiling a couple of years back, this metaphor might be somewhat disingenuous.

In the flying-circle version of the logo it appears as if the heart might be trapped by the circle, in which case the message is that SW, once it has your love, will never let it leave. Instead, it will pursue it aerially, where it has the advantage. Under this interpretation, the flying heart version (I'm still not sure why there are two) could be the kinder, more progressive logo, one that protects your heart while letting it fly free.

I wonder if, during the logo development stage, anyone suggested that the wings be replaced with a parachute. This could convey the message that SW is there to let us down gently, even if they do break our heart. Gentleness is not a trait you see often in a company, so this could make for an interesting angle. Of course, in the event that we actually needed a parachute, this might be confusing, especially considering that the logo is embossed on the back of every seat. I can imagine passengers desperately tearing wads of padding out of the seats as the plane rapidly descends, looking for the parachute hidden within, only to realize, too late, that the logo had lied.

In that case, the winged heart might be the more appropriate logo, communicating the lovely but potentially naive idea that everyone gets to go up, after going down.

Footnote: Naive as that last idea may be, considering that I'm on an airplane, and that it's been shaking worse than a wooden rollercoaster for the last 15 minutes, maybe that's the interpretation I'll go with. At least until we land.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

people i want to know

I was walking behind a man heading up Bush street. In this case, heading up literally; I live in Nob Hill and my walk home is a climb of several hundred feet over a handful of blocks. As we ascended, me about three or four paces behind him, I realized that he reminded me of a friend from law school whom I had known but never been particularly close with.

The way we walked up the street together was anthropologically interesting. Although I walked behind him, occasionally we would draw up next to each other before a crosswalk. For those of you not familiar with San Francisco, this is a city where people tend to wait at crosswalks. Although the adopted New Yorker in me protests, I tend to follow the rules myself, if only because safety in numbers doesn't apply when you are the only one in the street. So, I stopped beside the familiar but unfamiliar man and waited for the walk light to turn green so he could pull ahead of me again.

Walking down -or up- the sidewalk is a funny thing when you put two people together, moving at approximately the same speeds, and going in the same direction. Studies show that social interaction can exercise your brain power as well as exercise or hobbies. For me, when I meet another person on the sidewalk, I might as well be running a marathon while studying Japanese. It's particularly exhausting in the morning, when every person I meet on the sidewalk is a potential ally, competitor, [temporary] crush, person of interest or serial killer. It's all I can do to pretend to ignore everyone who passes me by.

Standing next to someone going the same direction as you and trying to decide who goes first is its own kind of mind game. Don't act like you don't think about it... you are walking somewhere and some person in similar physical health and stature comes up alongside you. The sidewalk might be big enough for two people literally, but unless you are running a three-legged race most people wouldn't last more than a moment or two walking straight alongside a total stranger in public.

It's hard to say what happens in those few moments when both people realize they are on a similar trajectory at a shared velocity. Is it a power struggle? A flirtation? Do we size each other up sexually, or try to discern status based on dress, or the way we carry ourselves? Am I over-thinking things?

In this case, with the man on the sidewalk who reminded me of the person I knew in law school, but never got to know as well as I wanted, I hung back for a few seconds as we started walking across the street, and took up the rear. As we moved forward down the street, moving in the same direction, at the same speed, but steps apart, I found myself thinking about my ex-classmate, and wishing that I had made more of an effort to get to know him. Not that this prompted me to catch up and extend a hand to my companion - let's face it, that would have been weird. But it did make me think about what kind of friendship might have been formed, had we been moving at less of a parallel and more of a concave route, a collision course toward forced recognition of each other and our place on the universal sidewalk.