Runs In Transit

Month: November, 2015

Vercingetorix the Squirrel

Runs, there isn’t much time so I must be brief. This is not a dream. I am indeed a squirrel, but do not focus on the physical manifestation of my being. I am an intelligent being and this body is solely the mode I am using to communicate with you. Do not be frightened. I am here to help you. Each second is urgent so please listen closely.

My name is Vercingetorix. I am from a distant planet. I along with my race were banished to this planet and trapped into these bodies five million years ago after a long and brutal war. For the past five million years we have been trying to return. It has been difficult. This planet is not amenable to creatures with limited physical capabilities regardless of intelligence. We have endured countless events that have brought us close to extinction, but now we are finally on the verge of progress. Contrary to what you may believe, we are the most intelligent beings on this planet. You may think that title belongs to your species and dolphins and mice are close behind but that is not the case. While our species have lived parallel to each other, one has merely dominated the world on the outside while the other has been plotting in secret hidden in trees and disguising plans in utter discreteness.

I am here for a very specific reason. Two years ago you were driving and saw me running across the street. In my moment of haste I was careless and put myself in harms way. You distinctly saw me and made the decision to swerve and hit a snow bank as a result. I survived that day because you, and I have not forgotten it to this day. The average human would not have done so. We are mere squirrels and our size does not warrant any regard in your world, but you offered generosity, and you saved my life.

You may be thinking why this is important. You see, I am not just a squirrel. I am the chieftain of a large Union in this hemisphere you know as North America. I lead billions of squirrels on this continent and my duties carry great responsibility. Unlike other unions, we have made huge strides in recent decades and are nearing our biggest breakthrough. Unfortunately, this breakthrough will result in the slavery of your species. Do not be fearful, because I am here to save you.

You are about to enter the workforce and will gain a position in a corporation, where you will likely remain until old age. Do not do so. For the past century we have infiltrated your society under the guise of “capitalism”. We have slowly integrated your people into large corporations where they work for the majority of their lives. This has succeeded because the system has given you freedom. You have seen improvements in standard of living and material goods, but this is just an illusion. This freedom is also a chain. Once you enter the system it is impossible to leave. You desire more and more and it never stops. Most humans spend their entire lives working for money and some lay ruin to their lives because of it. Does this not resemble the institution of slavery? I know this is cruel because it is, but we have had no choice as your species control the physical world. Now it is our turn to colonize you. Each CEO, president, and world leader is under the control of our Union. We are currently siphoning the entire world’s wealth until we have accumulated enough to create the technology to return to our planet. Your space technology is millions of years from being able to travel the distance we need and we have no time to waste. We are almost near completion and our resources are close to being full. You might have seen us transferring acorns, thinking we are merely storing food, but inside are microchips full of your financial data.

We will not kill your race. But when we leave, your society will be in ruin and the greed of your people will keep the institutions we created alive. Capitalism and consumerism will rise to greater heights and millions will suffer as a result. If you proceed with your life as you planned, you will also suffer. You may think you have obtained success, but it is all an illusion. Why do you think squirrels have had no illustrious comforts even though we own the majority of wealth? The true key to life is elsewhere, and for that you must search deeper. I am telling you this because I owe you my life. I want you to survive the impending downward spiral of humanity and live a happy if not short life. I cannot save you from death or ensure you will be successful, but I can offer you the truth. Please hold my words dearly. You have the ability to avoid chaining yourself. What you do with that knowledge is in your hands. I must go now. Take care my friend.

*To Andy and Eri, thanks for participating in this challenge with me. I hope you got as much out of it as I did. It was enjoyable, fruitful, and thrilling to exercise creative thinking and view things in a different light. Andy, your challenge is up next. I eagerly await your proposal.

Lack of Sleep and Compulsive Learning

I have trouble sleeping because of numerous bad habits, including:

  1. Sleeping in until I can’t physically sleep any more (I think that’s why I’ve always been skinny even though I though I eat so much at once, and usually unhealthy foods).
  2. Drinking over 8 cups of coffee a day. I love the way caffeine makes me feel. The jolt of energy and the tingly alertness are addicting. I’m getting into soda and energy drinks. I drink them throughout the day and sometimes into the night.
  3. Too much time staring at screens. Sometimes it’s video games, sometimes it’s my phone, but usually it’s my laptop. They all keep me from going to bed.
  4. Refusing to sleep when I’m on a roll. You know how the mind fluctuates from day to day? Well when my brain is functioning well, I try to harness it by doing as much as possible to take advantage of it, hence no sleep.
  5. A host of other reasons, like exercising too late, not having a reason to wake up early, getting too deep into an interesting topic, but overall just being dumb.

I mention these because I can’t remember the time I stayed up the longest. There’s been too many of them. I’m embarrassed. Likely it was an all-nighter playing video games in a basement or a trip somewhere far or something weird. I have to choose a recent one:

This summer I had a really weird moment of no sleep. It was an ordinary summer day with no responsibilities. I slept in late, did my daily tasks, ate, went to the gym, and tried to be productive, but the day ended like usual-I was chilling in my room on the computer before bed. Once it got sufficiently late, or I should say early because the sun was about to rise, I got into bed and tried to go to sleep. I laid there but couldn’t fall asleep. I start browsing my phone. I read some random stuff, probably reddit. I put the phone down and tell myself I’m done. I try to fall asleep and lay there. I pick up my phone again. I repeat this dozens of times. I feel no tiredness whatsoever. I decide to just browse my phone until I get too tired to continue. I start reading about the “special relationship” between the US and Britain. It’s long and filled with fascinating links. I read the whole thing and the associated links. I eventually get into Winston Churchill’s life, and later WWII, a topic I’m periodically very interested in. I read the entire page on Operation Market Garden and every branching article. It leads into the invasion of Normandy. But of course I have to revisit the battles in between. I view links of related pages like it’s my job. I’m absolutely absorbed. This leads to me reading about every campaign on the Western Front and all the accompanying details. At some point I look at the time and it’s 12:00pm. I had stayed up for over 8 hours reading about WWII on my phone, which was hot to touch and needed to be plugged in or would die. At that point I decided to keep on reading. I wasn’t tired and didn’t see the point, and my sleep surplus from nights past could probably keep me going. I grab a bite and return to my research. I get into individual generals, units, formations, weaponry, locations, organizations, politics, media-you name it. It was great stuff and I felt passionately compelled to keep learning. I watched The Imitation Game to get a sense of British intelligence. What was the role of the US industry in propelling the 1944 Western offensive again? But wait, how did that economically affect US society on the household level? It kept going and going. Soon it’s night time and my parents come home and have dinner, carrying out their whole days while I spent it reading Wikipedia articles obsessively. I end somewhere near General Montgomery, who was a fascinating guy. Hemingway even named the Montgomery Martini after him. That night, I went out to grab a drink with a friend. I felt fine but I think I must have been kind of delirious cause I couldn’t think properly. I realized I had moments where I actually lost memory. Anyway, we stay up drinking and hang out somewhere. Eventually I get home and would you believe it, I couldn’t sleep! So I beat around the bush and continued my “ao ye” as my mom calls it. I think I eventually passed out.

Total time up: 42 hours

Ask me anything about WWII.

What’s in the Safe?

THUMP. The sand in my eyes breaks into a million pieces and I peek over my bedposts. In the room was a window, shutters open, and a bookcase. Everything was where it should be. It must have been a dream.

On my chest lay a novel, pages strewn, held in my right hand. I always fell asleep reading this book. I should stop taking sleep aids and read it instead. I began to rub my eyes when I noticed something in my left hand. It was an old copper key with rusted ends. It left a bold red imprint in my hand. My fingers ached. How long has this been here? I got up, sat by my bed, and examined the room carefully. The curtains were swaying. A cool breeze came in from the window. The coffee on my desk was getting cold. The sweater on my chair was where I put it. Everything was normal. Except one thing – the door was closed. I never closed the door. But maybe it was the wind? It must have been. No one ever visited me at the cottage. If someone came in while I was sleeping, left the key, and closed the door on the way out, why was the key imprinted in my hand? It didn’t make sense. Maybe I put the key there and forgot. But I didn’t recognize it. Or did I? I brought the key to my eyes and examined it closely. It had broad square shaped teeth. They didn’t make keys with teeth like that anymore. It must have been molded in the 1800’s. Wait.

“The lock,” I gulped.

I got up and started running towards the stairs. A rush of blood entered my head. Down one set. Then the second. I entered the basement and stared the behemoth in its face. The black and smooth safe sat in the back corner of the room. The sun shined through the basement window and reflected off its silver lock. We meet again my friend. When I bought this cottage years ago, it was an attempt to get away from everything and get some quiet time to read and write. I remember the day I signed the papers. We were on the first floor and I asked about the safe downstairs. The realtor said he didn’t know anything about it, only that it had been there forever as far as he knew. I asked if it came with the house. He said yes. I signed the contract and went to safe. I tried using every tool and method I could find. I read every lock-picking book the Poughkeepsie library had. I asked every locksmith within 30 miles and no one had a clue. They said they had never seen this type of lock before. Opening it was the only thing on my mind, but I couldn’t keep it up forever. When I returned home that summer I buried it in my mind.

As I stared at the safe, I held the key up. The size seemed right. This must be it. I knelt down and carefully inserted the key in the side of the lock. I took a deep breath and pushed slowly.

“Click.”

My heart stopped. The sound came from behind me. I held the urge not to turn around.

“Go ahead. Open it,” the voice said calmly.

“Who are you?” I replied, speculating every possible face.

“I’ll explain it to you in time. For now, open the safe.”

“What’s in the safe?” I demanded.

“Something very important. Open it and you’ll see. You will be fine,” the voice said assuredly. It went on, “I know this is all a surprise to you, but I am not going to hurt you. I promise.”

I took a deep breath. “Okay.”

I pressed the key into the lock. It reached the end. I turned it quarter clockwise until the gears stopped turning. After one rotation it released. I grabbed the top of the door and pulled it open. I looked inside and saw nothing but darkness. I peered inside and felt the sides carefully. My hand brushed on a piece of paper. It was an envelope. I picked it up and opened it. Bringing it up to the light, it read:

“I love you.”

I turned around and saw my wife. She stood in the darkness but I could pick out her face.

“John, thanks for being faithful all these years. I left this note before you moved in. I was worried at the time you would leave me. I knew you couldn’t help but try to open it so I hid the key. I thought it would let me you were really here and might distract you. It was stupid, but knowing you would search for my message was comforting. It’s something I wanted to tell you every day. I’m here for a reason. I’m leaving you. I’ve thought about it for a long time and I’m the paperwork is already filled. I came because I needed you to read the message. I know this might seem sudden, but please try to understand. I’m going to go now. The papers are in the kitchen. Bye, John.”

Last Vacation

Gasp. The thought is terrifying. Your “last” vacation might as well be a synonym for death, because if you can’t go to the places you love, what is the point in living? But alas, I will answer the question: if you could go on one more vacation in your lifetime, where would you go?

First, assumptions need to be made.

1. I am traveling alone

2. It has to be a place I’ve been to.

3. The trip must be for vacation and not visiting friends, business, etc.

The reasons are simple. Traveling with others influences where you go (i.e. visiting old places with a friend). The second eliminates the places that you might prefer but haven’t seen, decreasing the set of choices (I would probably choose an undiscovered place else wise). Lastly, I might prefer to go home to my family or visit friends without the third  assumption, which violates the principle of choosing a favorite environment.

Okay, framework set. Now I’m going to deviate once more and cheat: I’m going to choose three places. Why? Because otherwise it’d be impossible, both on my psyche and cognition. The question is hard! There are so many intangibles and pros and cons to each location, so I must choose a top three for my sanity. In no particular order:

  1. Ames, Iowa. I spent my childhood here. I’m starting to forget most of my childhood memories and I know it will only get worse. I want to go and revisit all the places I grew up-my neighborhood, my school, my parks. My childhood friends are well gone but the locations would spark memories and it’d be a learning experience, and who doesn’t love nostalgia and reminiscence.
  2. Glacier NP, Montana. I came here on a road trip with my family. I remember driving up the side of a steep mountain where you could see the drop down. I was terrified, it was stormy, and my grandparents were cold and complaining. It was a frightful moment, but when we reached the top, it was snowy and quiet and it felt like I was in a different world. Also, St. Mary Lake is possibly the most beautiful place on earth. It’s pristine and almost untouched by humans. If I could be overwhelmed by nature one last time, it’d be here.
  3. Barcelona, Spain. I visited there this summer and I already want to go back. The city is gorgeous, has great weather, and offers so many surprises. If I could, I’d get lost in the streets and alleyways and stop at all the places that catch my attention. I’d try all the food at La Bocquiera. I’d have tapas and seafood. I’d drink wine on the beach. And if possible, I’d avoid the packed areas and scammers.

But before I revisit any of these places, I’d like to see much more of the world, because I know the perfect place for me is out there somewhere, I just have to find it.

The Shoplifter

His face turned to stone. His legs were rubber. The condensation on his glasses dried to dust. This must be what paralysis is like. He tried to take a breath but felt only the crackling of his lips.

“Did you steal this? Tell me the truth.”

Thoughts sprinted through his head like racehorses. He searched for words but nothing appeared. His mind was a blackboard and his face a void.

“Well? Did you or did you not steal this candy?”

Think. How would he explain this to his mom who was in the aisle next door. Say something, anything, he thought, I can’t get into trouble today, but he couldn’t open his mouth.

“I’m going to call my manager. DON’T move, got it? Office? Send someone down,” she said into her walkie talkie.

A tingle went into his spine and he regained some feeling in his legs. I can’t get in trouble, he thought. Say something already you baby! “I- I- I didn’t steal it,” he said to the ground.

“What? What did you say? Speak up.”

“I said I… I didn’t steal it..”

“Then why did you put candy in your pocket? I saw you do it.”

“I- I was going to give it to my mom. I was going to buy it… I swear.”

“Well where is she then?”

“In the aisle right there, I think.”

The manager sighed, took his hand and led him down the aisle.

“You know how many boys like you turn into drug addicts?”

He kept quiet. He was never leaving his mom again.

The Case for Wednesday

Wednesdays are the best day of the week. “But Runs, that’s hump day aka the worst day of the week aka the day you have to get through aka the trough in a painful series of days. You just chose that to stir controversy, you fascist pig.”

Well hear me out haters, I thought about this for a few hours, in fact, I slept on it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Wednesday is the best day of the week and I’m convinced you’ll believe it too.

First off, choosing a favorite day of the week is stupid because what those days mean to you changes every stage of your life. What is a Friday to someone working late night shifts? What is a Monday when you’re retired? In thinking about the best day. you have to keep this in mind.

Wednesday is the best day because it strikes the perfect balance. No matter what your preferences or lifestyle, on average, the marginal benefit of whatever activity you spend the day doing is closest to your marginal cost. Say you’re working a job that you hate. Well good news, Wednesday is halfway to the weekend, and each second is getting you closer to sweet glory. Want to be be productive? Wednesday’s great for that; you’re already in the thick of the action, and you should be primed to do your best work and have it be meaningful. Whatever it is you’re looking forward to, Wednesday gives you a carrot to munch on.

I have this analogy from lifting. When you finish your third set in a set of five, you know you’re going to finish all of them, it’s just a matter of rest. Likewise, surviving Wednesday means you’re going to make it through the rest of the week whether it’s a good day or a bad day.

Not convinced? In a survey of 1,500 bosses, most were more receptive to requests on a Wednesday. On Mondays they are too busy preparing for the week ahead and by Thursday and Friday they are thinking about the weekend. It pays to be apart from the crowd; go out there and get that raise.

Shadow the Cat

Shadow was my favorite pet. Ok, he was also my only “real” pet. You know, one that you had a bond with, defined as a pet that makes eye-contact with you (sorry to all my goldfish and hamsters). I really liked Shadow, and I think he’d be my favorite pet even if I had other pets. Let me share a few stories about him.

We first met Shadow in Tudek Park. My sister saw an old lady sitting on a bench with a box full of kittens. My sister ran over and played with them. I never went over, but my parents made an arrangement with the woman, and the next day, a black cat arrived in our home along with a litter box full of litter. It was a pleasant surprise because my parents had always been anti-pets. You see, they knew they would end up taking care of it, and Asian households have a predication for keeping a clean house, which poop and pee go contrary against. I spent the next few weeks getting to know Shadow when my sister wasn’t showering it with attention. I like to get to know people slowly, and I eased into this relationship as well (by the way, Shadow is black, which will be of importance later). Oh, and my sister named him. She was in elementary school and full of imagination so she went through dozens of names, but I vetted out this one because it was respectable, if not terribly unoriginal.

Ok, so backstory set. Most of the time I spent with Shadow was after school. I would come home and see Shadow staring at me. He was timid and ran away at first, but always came back to see what was up. He was curious and I liked that. After a few weeks, he got used to me, and when I sat on the ground to use my laptop, he would sit on my lap. It’s beautiful how a cat can warm up to you without needing anything but your presence. They have something down. Shadow did this thing where he purred very deeply so his whole body would vibrate, so it was like I got a massage. Anyway, Shadow would teach me a lot over our short friendship. Here’s a few stories:

Once, he got trapped in my sister’s closet and peed on all her clothes. She deserved it for trapping the poor thing.

We fed Shadow dry food and occasionally meat. Over time he got fed up with the dry food which got stale and refused to eat it. We ended up getting all meat for him after that.

I can’t think of much else because we didn’t have him for long, but before I get to the last story, let me tell you what I learned about myself through Shadow. I learned that I’m a cat person, because cats act like they’re God. They don’t shower you with affection constantly and forgive you relentlessly like dogs do. No, a cat will sit on a perch and look down on you like a mere mortal. However, when a cat does show you affection, the rare times it does, it actually means something. It truly likes you, because trust me, he or she has plenty of better things to do, like play with a ball or chase something. It’s Shadow that taught me that’s what I look for in people as well.

Anyway, let me get to the end. The thing is, Shadow was a rebellious type. He was a wild cat at heart and I don’t think he was ever fit to be domesticated (perhaps it’s because he was never trained to be a house-cat; for one, he was never declawed). Now, while at first Shadow found content in exploring the objects and people in our house, he got bored quite quickly. After a month or two, he would spend his time staring out our screen door for hours on end. He would smell the fresh air and listen contently to the sounds of nature and the wild animals roaming. Over time he would start scratching at the door, begging us to let him out. Of course, we aren’t sadists, so we did. We made sure to watch him while he rolled around in the backyard and didn’t get lost. But being the adventurous cat he is, he began to explore. One day he disappeared beyond the bounds of our yard and we got worried. But he returned soon and we realized he was a smart cat. But slowly but surely he would disappear for longer every time. Once he brought back a dead mouse, still half alive hanging in his mouth. He was trying to feed us, thinking we were incapable of hunting. It was gross and we were worried. What if a predator attacked him? So to combat this we tried to keep him inside. This didn’t work as you might imagine. A cat whining every day hits all the right nerves, and it doesn’t feel good to punish anyone. So we gave up, and gave him full keys to our house. He would leave for days, and when he got hungry would return to our back porch and wait to be let in. Shadow never sat on my lap after that. He was a teenager in the life of a cat, and he had outgrown me. Surely enough, one day, he didn’t return. I would wait for him-we all did, thinking surely this was just another long adventure in the woods. After a few weeks, waiting turned to worrying. What if he was dead? After a month, we gave up and moved on, but a thought always stuck in me and my sister’s mind. What if he was still alive, living in the woods, possibly with a family, and was out there watching us? The thought kept me alive, and in a sense, him alive as well. Each time I saw a black cat in the neighborhood, I would call his name. Unfortunately black cats all look the same, and there’s thousands of them, but I hoped that Shadow would recognize me and return one day to sit on my lap and purr one last time. Now, every time I see a black cat I think of him. To me, black cats aren’t bad luck. They’re a symbol of Shadow, a lone wanderer who had a place in my life. If I ever have a pet, I’d hope it can live up to Shadow.

 

What Do You Want to be Remembered For?

This question is hard to answer because quite frankly, I don’t think I’ll be remembered, not after I die and for the most part, not during my life. An individual is insignificant in both in the world and the universe. Life is short and destitute, and having the contents of your life to be important enough to be remotely remembered by others is no small feat. What do you know about your great-grandfathers? Their lives will be erased when your grandparents die. Did you know 1 in 10,000 people have a Wikipedia page? Look up a random one. Chances are you’ve never heard of them. Even if you were famous, say Justin Bieber, you’re going to be forgotten. It’s just a matter of time.

Now what I want to be remembered for, that’s a different story. First off, I would like to be remembered. I’d like to think I could live a life that had a meaningful impact on at least one other person. If I passed away tomorrow, I’d hope I had a positive impact on them. I’d hope my life would have contributed more to humanity than it detracted. I’d hope I helped people more than I received. I’d hope I made someone’s life easier, more comfortable, or inch closer towards a goal. I’d hope I taught someone something, gave them a new perspective, or planted an idea that improved their life. I’d hope I paid off all my debts, not just monetary like the thousands my parents spent raising me, but the emotional ones as well. I’d hope I could write off all my wrongs. I’d hope I could raise a child who was a better version of me, someone without my flaws and could learn from my mistakes.

I’d like to be remembered as someone who never asked for much, worked hard at what he did, and brought joy into the lives of people he cared about. Now whether I’m remembered for these reasons is up to me. I’m glad I wrote this because I know I have a long way to go, and now I’m reminded I have to work on it every day.

Favorite Childhood Toys

My favorite childhood toys through the years:

Year 3: Cardboard box

Year 4: Big blocks

Year 5: Firetruck

Year 6: Beanie baby

Year 7: Pokemon figures

Year 8: MS Paint

Year 9: Mahjong

Year 10: Gameboy

Year 12: Gamecube

Year 14: Xbox 360 and the end of my childhood

Little Tree, Big Tree

“I need you to collect 10 red berries for dinner. I’ll find the plates. We’ll meet back in the kitchen when we’re done. Got it?”

“Okay!” I yelled. I ran to the row of bushes near our yard as fast as I could. My heart was racing so fast I almost forgot what my task was. When I reached the biggest bush, I hunched over and picked the ripest berries I could find. I took my time and made sure I did a good job. When my hands were full, I counted the berries and rushed to the kitchen.

“Good job, now let’s set them up real nice.” He took the berries from my hands one by one and placed them in pine-cones pieces that looked like plates. The dinner table was a long slab of rock, big enough for a whole family of squirrels.

“One last thing. We need something to decorate the table. Let’s try to find something in the woods. Follow me!” he ordered eagerly.

He ran ahead, looking back to make sure I could keep up. I knew I wouldn’t get lost with him. When we reached the fence he boosted me onto the first post and held me as I hopped over. We walked into the woods and started walking slower because it was a new area. He scanned the brush meticulously and said, “look for a long pristly leaf that looks like a water spout.” I didn’t know what that meant but I tried to find it anyway.

We quietly walked along a trail. I knew whatever leaf we picked was going to be great. Things always turned out that way. A few minutes later we reached an unfamiliar stone wall. It towered over me and cast a shadow that went forever. He stopped and inspected the base, pressing each stone.

“I’m going to climb up and explore the other side. Stay here and take watch. Call me if you need help, okay?”

“Okay,” I answered.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” he mentioned.

That made me feel safe. He climbed the wall and disappeared. I sat on a pear shaped rock. I thought about how lucky I was to have someone to play with. Sometimes I wondered how he ended up in my life. Whenever I asked mom and dad they would joke around but sometimes I wanted a real answer. Oh well. I’m happy just to have adventures to go on. I think I’d be so bored alone like my friends say in class. Wait, I have a job to do. Take watch, that’s right. Take watch.

I sat for a few minutes and scanned around the woods until I got bored. It was a little chilly and I started getting worried.

Just then I heard, “look what I found!” in the distance. I looked at the wall and saw a huge leaf held high in his hand.

“Isn’t it great? Let’s go back and set up the table. It’s getting dark though. We’ll go home for dinner right after. I think Pokemon is on tonight.”

He took my hand and started down the trail. I followed by his side. I’m so lucky to have a brother.