The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

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Ants on FDR

Posted on August 31, 2013


I’m writing this on used-up hospital papers. They’re used-up by incoherent scribbles created by my dad, who is very much dying. He is sustained with wires and tubes, like a robot. A robot in search of an incoming signal and desperate for us to perceive his outgoing one. But we’re all failing, each in his and her own way.

This time, his room is directly above the FDR highway. A window facing south is new for us. Usually he has a direct view of Astoria’s low industrial buildings. It’s a nice vista for the early sun. Dusk from this vantage point is not worth mentioning. But then the city flickers on, like christmas lights slowly igniting, making up for the lack of stars above.

It’s from these windows that I like to watch the ants crawling around. Where are they going? Are they in love with someone? Are their lives amounting to what they want? Do they know that everything we do and don’t do amounts to something? I don’t much care where they’re going, but I desperately wish them the best in life.

For the ants resting in this ICU, I wish them all the best, too.

But my window is one of trillions. My face – framed by steel and glass, sad and sober, looking out onto a world beyond that pushes ceaselessly, mercilessly forward – but one of billions. The ants carry on fearlessly. FDR, New York’s east side artery, moves eternally on. The cars, the taxis, the grocery vans and garbage trucks, they all have places to be, things to do, money to make, children to get home to and hug, dinner to warm up. Beside it, the East River, gray and sluggish, flows south towards the Freedom Tower. And the city surrounding these vessels hums its usual song.

Road Trip Brain

Posted on August 25, 2013

We sailed through California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, clipping Montana and Arizona along the way. No mind-numbing traffic, rolls of hay for days (each scene could’ve had its own frame, entitled The Great American Landscape), blocks of bright green surrounded by seas of waterless yellow, decrepit road-side shacks, small places with big stories, ordinary towns at the base of extraordinary mountains, deep red and pink. This was the America I hadn’t known. We ended up spinning over 3700 miles of road in twelve days. Exponential tire rotations. Twelve tanks of gas. From San Francisco to DC, then practically back again. And yet it feels like nothing. One hundred miles pales to 1000. Before, as many as fifty would’ve been a big affair. Three…

The Life and Death of a Kite

Posted on August 20, 2013

The Life & Death of a Kite

In Memory of Joe Kessler

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The life of a kite is beautiful but tenuous. Great effort must be put towards its flight, even more should it thrive and soar. A kite needs ample care. You must give it wind. Continual tugs and pulls, caressing the line so that it catches a gust and doesn’t falter. You need to run; a kite needs energy. So run very fast! Run so fast that the kite becomes an extension of your body. So that you share the same heart. What you do on the ground matters very much in the air, especially for the life and death of a kite.

Grand Tetons

Posted on August 18, 2013


For billions of years, heat and pressure and volcanoes and sediments and wind and water and plates worked together unceremoniously so that we could one day have mountains like these. And then you forget about America’s inane media and backwards politics, about its injustices and tragedies. Because when there’s a rock like that in front of you, there’s little else to do than to stand there, mouth gaping, and make space in your head for something much bigger.

Atomic City

Posted on August 17, 2013

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Listen, it’s like this. Cold War enthusiasts will have a spot in their hot hearts for a place like Atomic City, not even a blip along the road halfway between Arco and Blackfoot, Idaho. Once a hub of America’s latest and greatest nuclear activity, it has since given way to the quick-cooling nature of fiery arms races.

The City has twenty-seven residents, only three or four of whom still work. The bar serves as the terminus for all things relating to the outside world, namely the post office and the long-gone gas station. Inside, the bar is a shrine to America’s booming years. Neon signs, novelty ash trays, retro toys and collectibles sit along the wood-paneled walls collecting dust until someone new is curious enough to take a closer look. The mustachioed cowboy pictured, Dwayne, in fact owns the bar and a whole block of Atomic City, the front and center dirt road adjacent to the racing track where small groups gather every summer to drive in circles, and he’s in the process of selling his land to no buyers. He’s a retired operational engineer at the nearby hidden plant, looking to rid his territorial burdens and join his lady in Blackfoot.

But I suspect no one will see turnover in Atomic City. I suspect that its twenty-seven retirees will each quietly go away and the place will live up to its pending status as a ghost town. Even now it’s more of an oddity than an actual zip code. Eventually, the only trace of its noble past will be the radiation that lingers on through the whistling wind and dust.