So meta. Gaza. Hamas. Israel. Jews. Palestine. Arabs. Shalom.

Change will make a nice addition to my story. Actually, it will make it fascinating. Really.

* * *

I

Coffee shops lose their charm in Chicago summers. Navy Pier, and it’s intrusion into Lake Michigan feels so bone-scrapingly romantic, it makes me wonder why love making has not been legalized here. I used up so many heart beats, sitting right here staring at the water, it’s a shame. Some moments shit lonely and some with truly delicious company. Tonight, I want something different for company’s sake. Peace?

Probably.

II

Luke was roller-blading next to me. I was biking. Together we were aiming for our favorite spot in the park dodging dogs, punk kids, punk dogs, Bohemians, Bohemian dogs, nuts, indifferent lovers, people too terrified to walk in a straight line, women in stiletto heels — all a study in human diversity for us Psychology major students.

From a distance I could see that the white Hydrangea bushes stood lonely. Regulars at the park would know there is an invisible “Reserved” sign on this piece of the earth just for us. “The Lincoln Park Kaffeeklastch”. Deanne had given us the name way back in high school.

Keira and Teresa were waiting for us.

I got off my bike and dropped it making sure no part of it hit the concrete. Then I crushed the grass underneath me as I sat not so gently.

“Wish you biked instead of roller-blading dude. This shit is annoying.”

“What is?!” He said.

“Lake shore drive is best experienced when biked.”

“Nah! A biker’s life is pretty lonely.”

“That’s your opinion. And I have mine.“

“Haven’t you seen the emotions I can evoke in people while doing what I am good at?”

“Case in point?”

“The mom clutching her stroller with one hand and pulling her other kid close to her, so I don’t sweep him off the trail, that’s priceless.” He laughed.

Like prayer time, we gathered here Friday evenings. Celebrations are always happening on the lake. I turn green when I think of all those parties I have never been invited to and all of them I will not be. Private and commercial boats tear the waters as they set out promising breathtaking views and amazing date night experiences. Some lucky bastards, they must be.

Our agenda has always been the same. Gang up, talk without the need of microphones, eat street food and go find a watering hole that is open atleast until 4am.

I sat at an angle where I could see Keira but she couldn’t see me unless she craned her neck to the far right. I liked it that way, that’s what secret admirers or boyfriends who have been dumped but still-in-love are programmed to do.

“So what’s new on Reddit, Teresa? Something earth shattering I hope??” Luke didn’t need any prodding to start a conversation.

“O.M.G. You have to see this cute baby orangutan!! Her mom had died when she was hours old and she was very lonely until they moved her to a zoo up in Ohio and now she has bonded with a surrogate mother! Isn’t that cute?”

“Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww” Luke teased her.

She faked a mean mug.

“What? Aren’t you glad I asked?
Forget it, so, how are classes? Anything worthy of your time and attention?”

“Guys, school is stressfull I tell ya! I have got a psychotic Prof this year and I am trying to get on her good side.”

“Just that one you talked about last week?”

“Yup, the rest of them are not bad.”

“Damn it, some people just need to be tamed. Keep watching me, you will figure it out!”

“I feel psychotic people feel better around calm and laid back people so I think she should be OK around me the more she gets to know me.” Teresa said.

“You are obviously judging from your own experiences!” Luke is the quintessential joker on the team.

Maybe he will make a good mentor too.

“I have to be honest here Teresa! This one deserves an L.O.L. for Luke!” Keira giggled.

“For my part, I am dreading campus recruitment! Chris told me to get into this Computer programming shit. This is where the big money is and some crap like that. My parents made sure I didn’t make the same “mistake” as he did by taking up English major. Computers and IT suck man! iPads on the other hand are handy, you know what I mean? They leave a spare hand for you to do whatever with it.“

“Arrrrghh, cut it out!” Teresa jumped Luke.

“Hey, tell me this Sanjay. Shrineewaaas? Is that a common Indian name?!”

“Srinivas. It can be if his family comes from my part of the world, you know South India…?!” I paused as if to get Keira’s approval on what I was going to say. She was looking for something in her tote and seemed hardly interested.

Feeling dejected, I had continued. “For example it is as common as John!”

“But John is common regardless of which region in the US you belong to!” Luke argued.

Sometimes, I scare myself. I talk like my dad; of course, he does talk like this all the time. WITHOUT HAVING A CLUE.

Now, Keira was applying sunscreen from a glass bottle. The bottle said Thieves. She stole my heart, she too is a thief. I surprise myself with cheesiness around her. It’s a psychological mystery what this girl has managed to do to me. Always. Still does.

Keira and I looked at each other briefly. She caught my eye. Maybe she wondered if I was thinking of sex? Not that it would not be entirely untrue, of course.

“Look here punks, the man of the evening is here!!!” Aaron walked into the middle of the purple blanket that I was sure was Keira’s, his Bohemian look intact.

He looked like he added a few more beads around his neck, with the beard growing longer; he seemed to have kept pace with it so it would not outshine his bead necklace collection.

For my part, I was glad that the topic of the most common name amongst First Generation South Asians had come to an end.

Aaron talked as if he and Keira were alone in the setting. “I have heard that Sanjay has taken an early retirement from your heart. I would be so honored to be in your dreams. It’s the middle of September already and pretty soon it would be freezing up here in Windy City. One has to gather all means of keeping oneself warm.”

“No way, shut up!”

“What can I say? It is tough to hide my enduringly charming ways!”

I said. “Give him a chance. He wants to leave a trail of youthful indiscretion just like Mandela. No one remembers your faults if you go ahead and become a great man. It always makes for a true redemption story.”

“But what he did affected his family a lot, his 13 year old son was killed in a road accident.” Teresa sounded hurt.

“Stop editorializing everything! You are not the group’s mom and Nelson Mandela’s son’s death had nothing to do with the freedom fight he led on!” Luke got defensive for a person he would never meet.

“Let’s get a selfie guys while the sun is still out there. Come into the picture, Sanjay! We will get one more when D gets here.”
It was clear Keira was trying to be civil after she dumped me.

Mind games and complex human relationships.
All, a woman’s prerogative.

She wasted no time posting it on Instagram.
“What should I call it? Chillin with my homies?!”

“Hanging out with my pathetic ex in an Ellen’s Oscar night inspired selfie.”
She lifted her chin to stare at me. This time I stared back standing firmly behind my suggestion. It was hard for me not to blink, I had bent down on my knees towering her for the picture. But, I stayed put, because the situation seemed to demand a war of words.

“Oh my God, wait, Deanne is pinging. She is already in the park; I can’t wait to catch up with her!!” Teresa interjected. She has a habit of being the wrong person at the right time.

Meanwhile, the others had moved onto looking at other pictures on Keira’s account.
“Can I see?” Luke peered into her iPhone.

“Wowzers. Who the heck is this female and why the heck haven’t I seen her around campus till now?! I can almost picture her and me, happily ever after birthing kids cuter than North West or South East or whoever that latest Kardashian chick is!!”

“Are you in therapy?” The girls had said the same thing almost one second after another.
“Actually, that is a good reminder. I have to book tickets to The Therapist! Have you guys seen it? I heard the movie starts off with a bang, this one dude is trying to light his dick on fire!”

We all spotted Deanne walking towards us beaming. It was good to see her. A non-combatant/victim from a war-torn country. She looked pretty good for someone that fit that description.

“OMG, it is soooooooooooooo good to see you guys!”

“Wow girl, you look good, nice and refreshed!” The three girls did a group hug.

“Hey Aaron, that reminds me, your handle! What is your gaming handle? That game of Drones is badass!” I almost bit my tongue as soon as I said it.

“Huh?” He seemed preoccupied fiddling and adjusting his shorts while sitting down. At this vantage point, I could see far reaching into his long shorts and that made me uncomfortable. If he were a magician, he could be storing some pretty dangerous animals up there in those cracks.

I had begged for God to give me a change of scene here.

“That is seriously not funny guys. I just got a little chunkier because of my grammie’s yummy sweets! My love handles need no special mention!”
Deanne’s face was pinker than usual.

Seriously not funny. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

“Cheer up, D!” The three girls group hugged again. Never in need of a reason to hug amongst themselves.

“Dude, dude, let me confess, I have been on it forever, my handle is ‘NightLove’”. Aaron revealed a dark secret about himself.

“Mighty grand my friend, mighty grand.” Luke sounded pleased. I was surprised he was even paying attention to what we were talking. He was still staring at the phone at this virtual chick he was just smitten with.

“On the topic of love and appreciation, since we are surrounded by Mother Nature, we have to thrive in her lap, don’t you think? The unending stretch of green under the clear blue sky of Lincoln Park during the few precious weekends nature has given us to breathe is very alluring.” His loud voice had masked whistling sound.

“Holy cow! What the F*ck, that shit sounded like a torpedo?!?!” I said.

“Dude!! F*ck you man, that smells like horse shit!” Luke said.

“Look, just fart into the grass like the rest of us. No need to crank your ass like that!” Teresa laughed.

“OK, OK, that was a classic Freudian slip! Sorry!”

“Seriously Aaron, that sounded hideous!” Keira was holding her breath literally. How long had she brushed those bangs for them to make such an angle with her forehead? How long did she pout in front of the mirror to realize that she is a stunner? The straw fedora always covered her hair and her forehead gently while keeping her nose and lips in full view. Her lips. Lips that were so ….

“Turd!” Luke jumped and held his right foot near his chest and looked at his shoe unapprovingly. “Man, these dogs and their shit is literally killing me! The dog owners should be neutered!”

“Hey, before I forget, I had a question to ask! Sorry Deanne but I need to know. Just give me like a quick news bite on the subject. What happened in Israel or wherever you have been stuck because of this war?! Is that off limits, or can I ask?” On the topic of celebrity mish-mash and what the latest entry on Urban dictionary is, Teresa’s clarity of thought is amazing. On the matters of worldly affairs, it is a different story.

“No, it’s all good, you can ask. The FAA has lifted its ban on US flights to Israel, but flights from Israel have not seemed to have a problem. Abba, Hebrew for father, fell sick right after we got there. And mom also wanted to stay back until he was in the clear. That’s all.”

“Oh really, so there is no fighting, streets lining up with dying people and all that bloody stuff that they show on CNN?”

“Nope, not really. Our areas are middle class sections and mostly residential. The poor youth are bought over by the bad guys — so to speak, to bomb the rich dudes. We are almost always left out.”

Her answer made me recall what I am studying in class. Following a traumatic event people experience different emotions and respond to it in their own ways. She sounded like she was in denial or having serious withdrawal symptoms.

“Since we are talking about off limit topics, I would like to present my question. Who has been staying up late to watch NSFW videos and can you share the links with me?”

“Oh, shut up Aaron!” Girls always took turns mothering the group. It is a huge responsibility after all.

“So meta. Gaza. Hamas. Israel. Jews. Palestine. Arabs. Shalom.”

“Wow. That was uncalled for Luke Weinstein!” Keira sounded like her vigilante self.

When you are distracted by something that is so easy on the eyes it is easy to think that the world is a place that is easily conquerable. All the problems can be blamed on a momentary lapse in judgement?! Impairment by seduction?! Can that be the phrase to describe it?

“How does it matter, think about it, seriously. It is all the same, they all mean almost the same thing right? Let’s get honest, I just can’t change the world on my own. My mom already complains that I look like I carry the weight of the world. Well, my suspicion is that she doesn’t understand the symptoms of hang over all too well.“ Luke sounded cornered but still confident.

“Chill girls, we all have good intentions about understanding different cultures and the world map. After all, we are all self-proclaimed ethnologists, but just a little unsure of what happens across the globe on a daily basis.“ I really did not have anything else to say.

“Lennon said it well. ‘We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.’” Aaron sounded preachy.

“No sweat bro. I got this. This is a piece of cake for me. Unlimited text, it’s my NEED and not a WANT. Just like that people all over are the same, just that their NEEDS and WANTS are different. That’s all!” Luke justified further.

“Come on, y’all, you are making me guilty for being alive!”
Deanne sounded like she was living with guilt and shame.

I felt as if she was confused, not sure of which emotion to settle down with.

“180 degree change of topic here please. I got you all a few things from home.” Nazar or the Evil eye was something that wards of evil, it’s a cultural belief she mentioned. It looked like a shiny piece of metal in the shape of a giant ear ring. She stood up solemnly and went around the group and dangled it on top of Keira’s head.

“Smoking hot and hopelessly sexy..!!” Teresa cheered. “Sanjay doesn’t that look like Lord Shiva’s third eye — the one that he opens for destruction?”

Sure it did, on Keira.

“OK, how about we think of something that will change the world and make it more peaceful.” Luke tried to distract us from the hotness topic to a hot one.

Women are fakers , serial nurturers and perennial distractors. Deanne had already started handing us out something else from her bag. Novelty snack varieties she claimed — kebab, stuffed grape, hummus and Rumi cheese flavored chips. There was no single finalist that we favored, we munched down everything with equal greed.

“We can do something to change the world, can’t we, many a powerful Facebook statuses have changed lives. Haven’t they?” Teresa is so gullible; it makes her shine like a star of her own universe.

“Yep, you are right, even troll commentary looks pretty legit when posted onto Wikipedia.” Luke took the biggest hit note of the day.

The gang collectively chuckled.

“Hey guys, I like to hit it up if we don’t have any plans. I am tired!” I really was.

“The night is still young, my old man.” Aaron was not giving up yet.

“OK, fine, are you ready to rock?!”

“You are such a hustler.” Luke said picking himself up and acting as if he was interested in folding Keira’s lawn blanket.

“Let’s hit Marquee, please!!” The girls always made plans and we followed. No surprise.

“Yeah, let the bar expedition begin!” I gave in.

“Hey come on you guys, it’s like herding cats, trying to get from point A to point B with you!” Aaron played the part of the big kid.

(Back to) I

In most parts of the world, tonight, families of the three airplanes lost in the skies are crying their guts out to feel the touch of a limb or two of their loved ones, at least for one last time.

William Hazlitt sticks with me on this. The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings.

There is something fundamentally wrong with not being accountable.
We have freedom to speculate on anything. Or most times Google can help.

Army tankers on the ground can speculate what a moving object flying above 33000 feet, if it is an enemy fighter plane or a plane carrying 300 “non-combatants”.

The drone missiles in the sky can speculate about terrorist territory on the ground and bomb school yards full of children.

Speculation is rampant.

Praise the Brain, the life of a memory however world-changing, earth-shattering and momentous, is uncompromisingly short-lived. It would be nice to be able to change the world. Really.

* * *

CREDITS:
Luke Weinstein
Sanjay Kanakala
Deanne Roth Navon
Aaron Stuart
Teresa Zhang
Keira Stan

* * *

What disclaimers? This is pure fiction. Let’s get back to our lives.