Tag Archives: reality

on ‘Picking up Dirt’

Out for an evening run, I noticed an elderly looking woman standing in the driveway to an office building, hunched over, picking things up from the ground. It appeared as though she had dropped some change and was trying to collect it.

I trotted over, intent to help her recover whatever she had lost and get her out of the road. She was wearing fine clothes, and appeared to be in good health.

“What did you lose?” I asked.

“I’m picking up dirt.”


She looked up at me with an expression of honesty and kindness that somehow rebuked the crazy motive she had just announced for standing in the middle of the street.

“Well, that’s just dust from the asphalt, crumbles of rocks and stuff, I don’t think you’re going to get all that up. Why don’t you step over to the sidewalk?”

“NO, I’m picking up the STICKS. Those are from TREES, not the ROAD.”

“Hey, I’m just afraid you’re going to get hit by a car. This is a busy road, and it’s getting dark.”

She gestured around at all the empty office buildings – “Everyone is leaving! I am not going to get hit by a car. I’m picking this up because no one else does.”

She shot me a glare: “Are you an American?” she asked.


“Do you love Jesus?”

Feeling trapped, I began to answer, slowly realizing that my attempt to engage in neighborly assistance had somehow twisted into an exploration of the deepest fibers of my moral character. She tossed a few other strange questions at me, inquiring whether I had dinner, and what I ate, all the while grinning in a strange way.

Realizing that there was nothing I could do, short of trying to physically move her out of her current position, I jogged away, wishing her luck.

I made it back to my apartment, and attempted to turn the odd episode into a funny blog post. Ha ha, I met a crazy lady picking up dirt in the road!

I realized the situation wasn’t very funny, and that I was concerned about this person getting hit by a car, despite her condemnation at my refusal to declare love to Jesus in the middle of the road during a Tuesday evening jog.

I drove back to where she had been and noticed her bags still in the road, but her missing, so I phoned the police, on the basis that it was now dark and she was genuinely at risk of getting lost, or injured. They were familiar with her. I went on with my business.

I suppose I did the right thing, but now at work the next day, I’m still a little unsettled by it.

The woman appeared to be in her mid 70’s, which is a plentiful amount of years more than I have under my belt. When I asked her what she was doing and she said “picking up dirt,” I knew it was absurd, but she actually seemed to really believe that what she was doing had some great purpose.

If I flipped the context, and imagined someone very much younger than me.. say, 5 years old.. coming into my office today, and asking me what I’m doing. I would say “I’m trying to build a Chrome extension to run the Google BITE tool.” 

In the context of a 5 year old’s reality, I would be as absurd saying that as the old woman had been saying to me that she was picking up dirt.

So whatever it was she was really doing, I hope I didn’t interrupt it too awfully by trying to save her from becoming a pedestrian accident statistic.

to Robyn, on Being ‘Robotboy’

Hey Robyn!

I was just listening to your song, ‘Robotboy,’ and I thought I’d answer all the questions you had. I hope this response relieves some of your worry:

“Where you been?”

I’ve been at work, or at home, or any of the other various places I go. I make a determined effort to find new ground as often as possible, even if it’s just a little thing – a new corner of a room to stand in, a new place to eat tofu, or a new building that would look nice in a photograph. ‘Where’ is an interesting concept. Sometimes I think of ‘here’ as more than just the place I’m sitting, or what city I’m in. Could ‘where’ also be a place I’m thinking of? Is where just the few square feet around my body? Is it everywhere I’m capable of being within a certain amount of minutes?

“Are you lost again?”

Lost isn’t always a bad thing. Many oft-referenced quotes back this up, you know, about wandering and the road less traveled or whatever. There’s actually a book by Rebecca Solnit, called “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” that covers, in detail, the wondrous joy of having not a clue where the fuck you are, or where you’re going. So if you’re asking as a matter of concern, be sure, all is well!

“Will you find your coordinates home?”

Maybe Tomorrow… (Just kidding, that’s a Stereophonics song.) Really, I don’t know. What is home to you? Is home ‘wherever you are?‘ Is it where you’re ‘chillin outside with the people you know?’ Are you going to take me there, tonight? Are you asking me if I’m going to find my way, or are you specifically telling me to come back home? The problem with being a robot is that it takes a lot of data analyzation for us to get to the root of an inquiry. We have to really read into the core of a request to properly respond.

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Word Painting

On the road from Zhongwei to the airport, going to describe as much of what I see out the window as possible:

Women in visors walking in a field collecting something, putting in small plastic bags. Big red travel bus. Arch over entry driveway made of steel beams, diamond replica at apex, stone sculpture outside. Man on motorcycle. Main street of small town.

Large brown dirt field filled with power lines. One story brick lots, with broken windows, some with bamboo doors. Irrigated field with crops. Blue truck with open bed, contents covered by tarp. Modern SUV. Woman holding baby outside doorway, next to drying laundry.

Girl in yellow uniform sweeping lot of gas station with large primitive broom. Corn field. Woman riding bicycle with boy sitting on backseat.

White wall with phone numbers spray painted on in red. Road is turning shitty, van bouncing alot. Small brick hovels, probably living quarters for farmers.

Several yards filled with bags of fruits or vegetables, stacked head high. Police car. Man on motorbike with wicker basket on back. Iron bars on windows. Corn fields. Man in sportcoat holding baby. Women with red and pink head scarves. Men on motorbikes carrying platters of cement blocks. Skinny trees with white bark.

Police in uniform wearing hat, smiling, talking on cell phone. Billboard with photo of green field and blue sky. Bus shelter without walls. Row of shops with Western style balcony, Greek architectural column-reliefs. Canal. Several eighteen-wheelers parked outside empty shop-like place.

Woman in body suit, wearing face mask, carrying shovel. Parked dump trucks. Two and three story buildings with basement garage/shop front. Motorbikes parked outside shop filled with glass panels. Completely empty row of shop space with glass doors. Men and women in orange vests, facemasks, digging hole. Fields of yellow grassy plant. Mud and brick hovel. Numbers spray painted on overpass.

The blue sky poking through clouds, opening up. First time sighting in several days. Road sign for Yinchuan and Guzhong?

Girl face down on pavement, next to overturned motorbike, blood and brains splattered on road, teeth fallen out, dead.

Jesus Christ. Cars passing by as if she wasn’t there.

And then the blue sky, leaves on trees in cornfield reflecting sunshine. Maybe heaven for her. Now a field of dandelions.