An open letter to myself…

As I’ve seen such things posted by many of my friends as well as a myriad of others on social media, I’ll preface what I am about to write by saying this is not personal to any one of you, but…

What do people mean when they say we need to come together and unite as one people?

I say this with the utmost respect, but unite behind what? Or who? If our division is rooted in an existential crisis about what it means to be an American and what fundamental ‘American values’ are, how can we be passive? (I admit, open letters online will do little other than remind sympathetic friends who are fearful and worry that they are not alone). I’ve seen many iterations of the Lincoln quote being thrown around that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” But what of the second part of that story? We need to remember that he said this in 1858, threes years before the Civil War, in a debate with Stephen Douglas, who was campaigning to maintain the unity of the United States through a policy of placating the South in regards to slavery (and allowing for its expansion).

Unity is important. Striving to heal wounds and mend bridges is an admirable one. But fixing one bridge while standing by as the dam controlling the river it crosses is dismantled seems to be a dangerous one…

This is because, in the end, unity is an abstraction, an ideal we are doomed (and perhaps blessed) to continually fight towards. That’s because at the end of the day we will never agree with everyone else. And that’s okay. That’s part of life. Conflict in one form or another is rooted deep into the fiber of human existence. And while things will probably get worse for a lot of us in the time to come, some day it’ll get better.

Sometimes I wish people I disagreed with on things I consider fundamental truths would keep quiet, but then I remember, how will any of us grow, how will any of us develop, how will any of us truly come together – in unity – if we are too afraid or beaten down to write and say what we think?

16179830_10155751686264129_1334223739265793041_o.jpgGifford Beal, Armistice Day


If only the trains ran on time

The following was written on June 6th, 2013 in Buenos Aires. I have made some stylistic and grammatical changes since then.


The always broken escalator of my home station

The always broken escalator of the Castro Barros subte stop

Not long ago, I decided to take a little trip around Buenos Aires. I had been reading Paul Theroux’s railway epic The Old Patagonian Express and had gotten the idea that I could learn a little about the city and its people if I took a trip along the city’s subways lines with no real intention or destination in mind.

Theroux wrote in the aforementioned book that “travel is at its best a solitary enterprise: to see, to examine, to assess, you have to be alone and unencumbered.” Without the pleasures, comforts, and security that come with companionship, a person is best able – in his mind – to take in his or her surroundings without another’s subjectivity clouding their senses. He continues that in order to best see, hear, and feel the things that inspire us to write, “what is required is the lucidity of loneliness to capture that vision which, however banal, seems in my private mood to be special and worthy of interest.”

While waiting at the Humberto station of the H line for the train to my connection at Once (OHN-SAY), I had great deal of time to take in the sights, sounds, and unfortunately the smells of a bonaerense subway stop. As I left the tunnel that connects the Jujuy station of the E line to the perpendicularly running H line, I was surprised by the nature of this new stop. Unlike the quaint stations that line the city’s other five routes, this one was large and modern with right angles and glass dominating its large, open space. It gave off a vibe not unlike that of what one would imagine seeing in Washington or New York, rather than the crumbing pre-war Paris feel that much of this city gives off.

I therefore assumed, wrongly, that the line would run with a more North American sense of order and promptness. When I walked down to the platform, I was not all that surprised to see it filled with people. It was, after all, rush hour and the H line ends at the Once railway station at Plaza Miserere, where tens of thousands take trains and buses in order to commute between the city center and the outer reaches of Greater Buenos Aires.

On the other side of the tracks, there were only a few people. Most notable among them was a guy of about twenty in a Nirvana T-shirt air guitaring along to music that I could not hear. His fingers were pinched around an imaginary pick that he held between his thumb and pointer finger. I sat and watched him play, and in my ignorance of musical techniques began to debate with myself whether or not he was playing the guitar or in fact the bass. I concluded that as he was bearded, dressed in dark clothing, and lacking in the flair that I associate with a front man or guitarist he was playing the latter.

I turned away for a bit in order to let the man continue his ballad in solitude.

Not far from me was a girl standing at the edge of the platform peering into the dark tunnel, seeking a ray of light that would tell her that the train home was on its way. After she lingered there for a few seconds gazing into the black, she put her hands in her pockets and fell back onto her heels, backing away.

Above her head was a television showing images that are meant to entertain commuters. I saw her look up and smile. It was a pretty smile of bemusement that comes with resignation to things that otherwise would prompt disappointment or outrage.

Playing was a clip that as I saw did its job in entertaining, albeit not in the way the municipal government probably had envisioned.

It was a video of the opening of this very same station that had happened recently. There was some government official speaking about how the new and modern station would promote development in the historically underdeveloped southern neighborhoods of the city. The opening was a grand affair with music, tango demonstrations, and suited bureaucrats. All this elicited smiles and chuckles from the mainly working and middle class crowd around me.

As I continued to watch, a man of about 50 was walking in my direction with his arms outstretched and a large grin across his face. He gestured to the screen and called to his friend who was beside me. The men embraced in the traditional Argentine way, a kiss on the cheek and a hug. No masculinity was lost.

“How long have you been here?” the newcomer asked.

“At least a half hour,” he responded.

“Es un quilombo,” he remarked.

Quilombo, the African inspired word that is the Argentine equivalent of a shit show, is never what one wants to hear where he is trying to get home.

Only a few others were talking, though the tapping of feet and the checking of watches were rife. The impatience was infectious and I too grew antsy despite the fact that I had little right to complain. I had put myself in this situation and my curiosity to ride a line I’d only crossed had intrigued me. I had no real destination, besides home. This was, of course, just another day in B.A. What more could I expect.


A train finally rolled in to break the silence and the people of the station awoke from their despondence and edged towards the track. Their hope and newfound cheer quickly eroded as it became apparent that the cars were full and there was only space for a few brave souls to fight their way inside.

I was not, however, in the mood to struggle and squeeze. Someone else in this crowd surely needed a spot more than I. There were meetings to catch, kids to pick up, mistresses to visit, and games to see. They could have it, there was always another train. And I was perfectly content to read my Theroux and catch a few glances at the pretty girl twirling her hair.

The Nirvana boy was still strumming along uninterrupted. He was really starting to get into the music now. His arms were outstretched and I could see his face was squeezed in an introspective look of determination.

I once again began debating the guitarist/bassist conundrum. Before I could make a definitive conclusion, a train pulled into the station. Remarkably, it was much more empty than the last and I was easily able to enter a nearby car. While the station itself was new and clean in both its design and appearance, this car was anything but. It was, I could only assume with its wooden fixtures, glass headlamps, and faux-laminate seats borrowed from the older E line.

It was, as with so much of Argentina, an anachronism in the modern time. Like the Marxist worldview still used by many academics here, the antiquated train was a relic from the revolutionary era of the 1960s and 70s that has all but disappeared from the States.

Argentines, though, like to hold onto their past. If the adulation given to the Perons is any indication, one needs only walk down any street and keep an eye out for one of the million little stickers and placards that remind you that Las Malvinas – or The Falklands – are, have been, and always will be Argentine.

After switching to the A line at Plaza Miserere, I exited the subterranean at Castro Barros, my final stop. As I climbed the steps to the pockmarked sidewalk as the escalator was in its third month of immobility, I was struck by how the seeming chaos of this wild city seemed somewhat subdued. The choked up traffic was still impenetrable and the masses of people still swarmed the sidewalks going in every direction. Yet, I can’t say this frustrated me has it had before. Rather, I came to see that without this chaos I would have been unmotivated to carry out this little anthropological study in the first place.

In essence, what I found most vexing about Argentina was, I suppose, what I found most alluring: its unadulterated madness.

14 January 2014

So they say

6 Nov. 2013
Bloomington, Indiana

"So They Say"

“God damn, I could go for a cigarette. Just one, it couldn’t really hurt.”

Before texting, or really cell phones in general, it was the ultimate
awkwardness breaker. Instead of looking like a complete prick tapping away
at your iPhone, you could light up your sleek Zippo and take a cool draw
from a Lucky Strike. 

Gone are the good ole days when a smoke didn’t cause cancer, the Chinese
were starving, and a bottle of soda cost a nickel. When the winters were
harsh and kids still walked to school through miles of snowdrifts. Before
the hippies and protests and rock and pot. When capitalism was in and
communism was not. And you couldn’t say no, oh no you could not. Because
if you did, they might just throw you in, shut the door, and turn that
darn lock. 

“Those were the good ole days.”

Or so they say.

When men were men, and women were their servants. When gay people didn’t
exist but were shut in their fabulous closets. When blacks couldn’t vote
and when we turned the Jews back in their boat. And lest we not forget
about when marrying someone from another race was more illegal than taking
a toke. 

But really, have things changed so much for the worse? Have we not just 
changed Luckies for iPhones, jukeboxes for Xboxes, and Liberia for Syria; 
Polio and electroshock for AIDS and LSD? 

And you, sure as shit, aren’t about to give back your Internet and cable
for a radio and a weekly dance in a stable.

It’s all the same commercialism. It’s all the same crap. Why are so many
so convinced that only if we could turn time back, we’d be back on the
right track?

"But, things were simpler."

Or so they say.

Green and Gray

View from the farm of my family in Atessa, Abruzzo.

View from my family’s farm in Atessa, Abruzzo.

11 August 2013 
Adriatic Coast, Abruzzo, Italy
Somewhere near the mouth of the Sangro River

The mountains, the valleys
so green and gray.
The hillsides covered
with groves of
olives and grapes.

The River Sangro runs dry
in the stifling, August sun.
To cool themselves
the mountain people
drink their cool, red wine.

Nearly seventy years ago
these very same mountains
these very same valleys
saw war on the hillsides
and death in the streets.

The Sangro flowed red
with that of those who wore 
the green,
and gray.

Crimea, the Somme, Ia Drang, and Korangal

I certainly have been in a poetry mood as of late. This one, unlike most
of my others, was written from a point of view that is not my own. So 
disclaimer, I am not – nor have I ever claimed to– have served in the 
military or any similar function. I was messing around with some word 
play, and well, this kind of wrote itself over the course of three or 
four minutes.

The choice may have been inspired by some a collection of poems I have 
been reading (El otro, el mismo by Jorge Luis Borges) which contains a
few poems of people from different places and different eras reflecting 
on their lives and experiences.

This might evolve into something a lot longer in the future, so I will
be sure to put a note later if I ever get around to it.

Buenos Aires, 7 July 2013


that day
to die


every man


Buenos Aires

Typical Buenos Aires architecture

Typical Buenos Aires architecture

Buenos Aires. July 7th, 2013. Mansard roofs along gilded towers Straddled between Le Corbusier-esque concrete and walls of glass. Like a row of mismatched flowers. Cobble roads that act as dikes holding up Porsche Cayennes and motorbikes held together by rubber bands. Much like the sole-less shoes that walk along leather platform boots of varied hues. Don’t forget about those that sue to remind all you of those the junta flew and dropped deep down into the ocean blue. Contradictions, contradictions. That is the rule that governs this mixed-up, motley crew. Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires. Who are you? Oh, Buenos Aires I wish I knew. Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires. Will we ever learn how to tame you?

That Strange Brew

25 June, 2013. Buenos Aires.

Oh, my elixir of life.

You quench my thirst
and give me warmth.

Oh, my elixir of life.

You make me young
and feel quite hung.

You chase away my fear
like the risk of death
or of theft.
Like a bird from a storm.

Oh, my elixir of life.

You can be found almost anywhere:
the store,
a shore,
even in my old college dorm.

Oh, my elixir of life.


You come in all forms,
All styles
All shapes
All norms.

Oh, my dear elixir of life.

Where have you gone?
Will it be for long?
I hope I remember having you
at dawn.

Oh, my elixir of life.

Winter in the South

Nothing like some Marxist political graffiti to get you psyched for your class at UBA Facultad de Ciencias Sociales

Nothing like some Marxist political graffiti to get you psyched for your class at UBA Facultad de Ciencias Sociales

21 June, 2013. Buenos Aires.

Winter south of the equator is so bizarre.

Where is the snow?
The green,
the gold,
the red,
so bold?

No Christmas cheer,
Only lukewarm beer.

Where are the carols
and heralds of fear?
Sitting on their barrels,
spewing their fear.

“Do good, 
be good,
you should,
He would!”

“No presents
for you,
if you’re not
in your pew.”

A Buenos Aires winter is so bizarre.

The weather is fair,
no need to cover your hair.

But the grays feel grayer.
The winds, windier.

Without those bells

All you can do

is light a fire,
sing a song,
and wait for that ring: 


For the Kids

Young boy looking towards the sea through the ´Door of No Return´ at Elmina Slave Castle in Elmina, Ghana

Young boy looking towards the sea through the ´Door of No Return´ at Elmina Slave Castle in Elmina, Ghana

I wrote this essay as my last post in a blog I was helping to maintain for kids in New York City while I was studying abroad. The prompt was to discuss either an event or person who has inspired me to do whatever it is that I do and then somehow magically inspire the youngsters to be good students, stay out of trouble, ect ect. Note to self, try not to start inspirational blog posts for 8 year olds 10 minutes after getting home from Bomba del Tiempo… my Argentine friends will understand.

It has been said that the slightest flutter of an insect´s wings in West Africa can alter the air currents there in such a way that they can give birth to a small gust of wind that with time will reach the blue seas of the Atlantic. If, by chance, it makes contact with a small storm brewing off the coast of Sierre Leone or Liberia, this little gust of wind can be the missing ingrediant needed to push it farther out to sea towards the far way land of America. And, if the conditions are right, this little storm that was given life by a tiny bug thousands of miles away may in turn become a great and awesome hurrincane by the time it reaches the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

They call this theory the Butterfly Affect, aptly named for the animal´s seemingly gentle and peaceful nature. I am no scientist so I cannot comment too much on the validity of this statement. Nor do I wish to discuss in this essay such dastardly things as natural disasters. I do, however, wish to say that it quite a great metaphor for something that I firmly believe: that people´s actions— no matter how small, no matter how routine— can have impacts larger than anyone can ever imagine.

Growing up, as my old friends can attest, I was almost always the shortest kid in my class. When I was in seventh grade, I was tied for the coveted award of “Shortest Person in the Middle School.” While I fortunatly grew to the somewhat average (albeit still short) height of five foot seven inches, that never stopped me from being the brunt of jokes.

When I was in second grade, a few of these jokes upset me so much that I started to cry. Upon seeing this, the substitute teacher that day pulled me aside and asked me what was wrong. I told her what happened, and I mentioned that I was upset because people were making fun of me for something that I had no control over.

She then did something that I remember for the rest of my life.

She took me aside, grabbed a Kleenex and wiped the tears from my little face, and then bent down and placed her arms on my shoulders.

She tilted my head up, looked me straight in the eyes, and said: “It doesn´t matter if you are small. You know who else was short? Napoleon. And he conquered most of Europe.”

I had no idea who Napoleon was. I had heard his name on TV perhaps, but he was nothing more than a foriegn sounding name from a foriegn sounding place.

Nevertheless, I felt rejuvenated.

She then lifted her hands of my shoulders, stood up, and gestured that I go. I spun around and ran back to play with my friends, forgetting all about the sadness and anger that had gripped me just minutes before.

When I was getting ready for bed that night, I couldn´t stop thinking about Napoleon. I wanted to know more, I wanted to know how he did the things he did and why he did them.
I hopped out of my bed and jumped over to my bookshelf to look for my books on history. In them, I learned that he was a man from the island of Corsica who during the French Revolution rose from being a low ranking officer to the leader of great armies. By the first decade of the 19th century, his empire streched for hundreds of miles, engulfing country´s and lands that stood in his way. He did some great things, and some terrible ones.

And yes, he was quite short.

Out of this, I began to read more and more history. I wanted to know why Napoleon saw fit to invade his country´s neighbors. I also wanted to know why millions of people tried to stand in his way. In order to this, I had to delve farther back in time. I read of the Renassaince, of the Middle Ages. Of the Crusades and the Roman Empire. And even though recorded history stops, of the the Cro Magnon, Neanderthals, and the first people who came to the continent from Africa and Asia. Eventually, I got to the forming of our planet 4 billion or so years ago and then the forming of the Universe with the Big Bang.

And there, my love of history was born.

Fast forward nearly a decade and a half and I am know studying history far away in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the pursuit of my studies, I have gotten some amazing opportunities to put my talents to their best use. I have met some fascinating people and read amazing works of analysis and literature. I am attending college on scholarship and plan on graduating next May. Last summer, I had the great opportunity to travel to Ghana in West Africa and the United Kingdom to learn about the past and present day impacts of the historical Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

I cannot remember that teacher´s name, nor do I think she remembers mine. Over the coming years, she substituted for my class many more times, never really interacting with me more than she would with anyother students.

I doubt she has any clue how she changed my life. Or how her little gesture has helped to make me the man I am today.

Like an African butterfly, you have the chance to do things that can have great impact. Your words and actions may be like many little gusts of wind that go to sea only to be lost in the wide ocean. You can, of course, take the little difficulties of life and become like the hurricane that causes problems for those arounds you.

You also have another option, that of becoming a nurturing rather than destructive force. For every huricane that strikes the shores of North America, there are hundreds if not thousands of smaller storms that rain down upon the earth giving life to the orange groves of Florida, the sugarcane fields of Cuba, or the cotton fields of the Deep South.They quench the thirst of those who need it most: the people, animals, and plants who would be lost without their help.

In my life, I know I will fail. I will make mistakes, say things I should not have, and hurt the feelings of both those I care about and those I do no know. I am convinced, however, that if we all try our best we will all send out many more well intentioned gusts of wind than poorly directed ones.

You do not need to be a rich businessman, a great writer, a President, or even someone remotely famous to do great things. All you need is good intentions and hard work.

You can be someone who helps or someone who bullies; that is your choice to make. All I ask is that you keep your head up and strive for what is right.

And, with a bit of luck, you can really change the world.

Hopefully, for the better.

Musings over Pizza

Puerto Madero on an early, cloudy morning

Puerto Madero on an early, cloudy morning

I scribbled this poem down on a series of wax paper napkins at a Kentucky
Pizza parlor near the Loria subway stop here in Buenos Aires.
Not the exact one I visited

Not the exact one I visited

It’s not really any good, but the mere fact that I wrote did wonders for
my brain. Not only did it help clear my head, but it allowed me to think
about some stuff that I plan on writing about in further detail in the 
near future.

“Untitled” 9 May 2013

Sartre called it nausea;
for Kierkegaard it was angst.

My teacher said I needed to focus.
She told me not to let it go to waste.

It’d be nice if I could sit
"Sorry, but life demands work with haste.”

I don’t talk back,
I’d rather they not hear.

Just saunter on,
that’s my cheer.

Perhaps tomorrow,
the fog will clear.