So, today’s been a rather odd day. And, I mean the strange kind of odd - not nearing the level of Stranger Things, but certainly working its way there.
It started off well-meaning enough, on a day that I didn’t even register as Veterans Day until much later after the fact; and in that sense, I guess it really is true what they say, about hindsight being 20/20.
So in any case, kindly put on a tin foil hat and a light rain jacket (just in case) and proceed to follow me down the rabbit hole – at least on a surface-level investigation – just this once, on Veterans Day, 2022.
I woke up pretty early in the morning, around 8 or so. I lounged around a bit, just chillaxing and lying around in my bed, still in that dreary eyes-half-open state of mind that heralds the early morning, and before I knew it, my dog joined me and hopped on top of the bed in a rather surreptitious fashion. She curled up beneath my feet, and I remember feeling half-awake, like stuck in some sort of weird limbo, as if my feet were half on and half out of the bed. I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming or fully and mentally present in the real world. And I remember thinking that it probably doesn’t matter too much anyway, at least for the brief interim of the early morning.
So I kind of nodded off to sleep, or tried to anyway. I didn’t have much luck, so I decided to tear off the bedsheets and stretch out - this was around 8:30 in the morning. I went downstairs to the wall-size window – and yes, the glass was a wall, and yes I’m still trying to find the right word to describe it – beside the front door and noted dimly that it was raining. And not just the average kind of rain, but honestly it was pouring down pretty heavily. I remember still feeling half-awake even though my eyes were definitely and uncontestedly open. I checked the weather on my Apple Watch in a tap or two, and found out that it’d probably be raining well into the morning and possibly even until 10 AM.
I got badgered in a sense to take my dog for a walk in the interim when there wasn’t any rain - a brief time of about 10 minutes or so, right around the same time. I was still in my pajamas, and in this case it meant a flimsy light-blue shorts that barely went past my knees. Anyways, I decided to YOLO it and opened my closet, and grabbed a thin light but darker blue jacket and zipped it up. A light rain jacket was also put on top of my dog to shield her slightly, right around this time. I put the leash on to her, put on my socks and shoes and grabbed my AirPods Pro, and opened the front door and made my way out into the wide and dreary morning day, not really expecting to be welcomed in any sort of warm embrace.
So suffice it to say, we actually didn’t get very far. It started up again pouring down, the drenching kind of rain which most certainly feels like someone upended a somewhat murky lake and ran it through a monumental sieve in a truly painstaking and laborious fashion. We weathered it for a while, but then the hood came off my dog’s head and I could see that her face and head was almost certainly getting the brunt of the insistent downpour that had suddenly and without delay picked up again. So after a while of trying half-heartedly to nudge her on, I was grudgingly forced to accept the cue and pull her back to our sheltered home, as it was clear she wasn’t about to take any more of this rain nonsense in any case. Once inside, I promptly and posthaste proceeded to remove the harness and leash off her lithe medium-sized frame, as well as the rain jacket via a tiny clasp squirreled away at the nether end.
I didn’t eat any breakfast at around this time, even though it might have been a great idea. I remember feeling acutely more famished as the day dragged on, which made a whole lot of sense if you stopped to really think about it. My stomach didn’t rumble at me or anything, but I felt a slight insistent pressure like it was silently but surely berating me for not taking the best care of it. I remember feeling it only dimly, like it was relegated to the back of my mind. A firm, but dimly acute pressure, like a phantom limb was feeling sore or something along those lines.
Instead, I decided to have an early morning shower. At around 9 in the morning, I headed downstairs and booted up my work laptop. I pressed my fingerprint on the Mac laptop as I often do, and it sprang instantly to life. I remember thinking that might be more than a tad insecure, in case someone accidentally or otherwise cut off my finger and placed it on the small, rounded square box with the biometric “touch and away we go” capabilities. I’m honestly not giving away which finger it is, for a very real and rather irrational fear that someone might very well attempt that, but I’ll just drop a hint that it’s not your typical finger that most Mac users would make a beeline for. And at this point, I can’t help but wonder if I really should clamp down and zip it about that. This is probably a good breakpoint to pull down the show curtains for an impromptu intermission, to be honest.
So anyway, I logged in to my laptop, opened a new browser tab window to augment my already impressive list of browser tabs, and decided to surf StackOverflow for a while, searching for any recent updates or anywhere I could dip my head into the doorway and interject with a, “well, actually…” – something like a Sheldon or “Aha!” moment, I guess.
I didn’t have a whole lot of good fortune, so luckily at around this time I got pinged to help out with a work-related issue. I focused heads down and attentively was able to resolve it without much trouble. I remember the other guy who had contacted me in a group chat thanking me with a heartfelt thumbs up 👍 reaction on Teams. Heck yeah bro, right back at ya. I’m glad to be of assistance, anytime and any place. Well, if I get pinged even off hours, I feel obligated to help out, long as it isn’t something that can wait or something my team members can’t assist with.
I went out to brunch, at around 12, since I could feel my stomach about to throw up it’s arms like it was on a workman’s strike and start to rumble like a great “salt shaker” earthquake at any moment, telling me that I’ve put it on the sideline for way too long and it deserves a modicum of attention at least.
I agreed with that sentiment whole-heartedly, so I made up my mind to change into sweat pants since I was feeling rather chilly, and put my sneakers back on again. Grabbed the ol’ trusty car keys, and then without further ado, keyed it in. My Hyundai Sonata 2020 model sprang to life, and away I went, speeding along like a slowly aging race car driver who still remembers how it used to be in the golden days, as the golden days are invariably the now days. Heck yeah, bro.
And let there be no doubt cast at all: it is, altogether, eternally glorious to be living the prime of your youth.
I headed to Blend Coffee Bar in Ashburn and specifically in Southern Walk Plaza, since I’ve heard quite a bit about it, and decided it was finally about time to check it out and witness firsthand what all the buzz and high praise was about.
On the drive, I started unexpectedly shivering and rather uncontrollably. I remember thinking heck, this has never happened in my life before. Well it might have when I was young, but nothing like I could ever remember. I even turned on the AC for warmth after realizing that I had it set to “low” setting temperature, even in the winter time - something like around a breezy 55 degrees or so, If I had to hazard a guess. Hey, I’m a cold-blooded person I guess - not altogether unlike a wondrous man-sized reptilian creature.
I fiddled around with the AC for a while, wrestled it with a half a mind as I was still trying to concentrate on driving like a somewhat decent person, and eventually was able to lock in the warmth. Heck, yeah. A slow, languid warmth filled me up, clocking in at around 75 degrees or so – again, it bears iterating: no temperature readings that I could see. Now that hit the spot, but I still found myself shivering, and worst of all I couldn’t put a lid on the unconscious full-body tremors even in the slightest. It’s like I was hitting an invisible, assuredly impervious metal wall, and nothing I could do made even a miniscule scratch or dent. I remember thinking that was a little worrisome. Like what if I shivered pretty bad at the wrong moment, as in a sharp turn, and crashed into the thin metal stripe on the shoulder side – that would really not be good at all. Luckily, I guess I was overthinking it a bit - nothing really discernible transpired on that otherwise uneventful trip.
The traffic was light, and thankfully my uncontrollable shivers and tremors did not adumbrate or translate in a negative fashion to the slightest, in regards to my driving ability on the road. I was still the reigning, undisputed champion in a monumentally epic yet unofficial tournament, where the grand title and prize was purely ceremonial in every sense that mattered. To assign names to the unspoken shadows in a darkly-lit hallway merely on a whim, I was the hitherto born and renowned linchpin of the highwaymen; the infamous, vagrant Desperado King whose name was but a whisper, and whose tale of ill-begotten renown was ubiquitous and feared by all.
I was an incumbent Benevolent Dictator for Life in these respects, and nothing could ensure or bring about my downfall, for as long as I willed it so. And, for the present moment – I wished for my reign to endure, to last forever, as was eternally my birthright. I still retained the peerless title of “king of the hill”, and I was implacable - nothing could knock me off the high seat, or bring about my fall. I was ironclad, impervious as a stone wall against steel-tipped arrows; at least, as long as I willed it to be so.
So driving ability, unchanged for the most part. I still shivered every now and then, and for some reason it wasn’t something I could just “turn off” by sheer willpower alone. I remember there were some orange and white-striped traffic cones every now and again, as construction was an ongoing effort in this day and age. Sometimes there were one-lane roads, but most of the times there were not. I drove with a steady hand at all times. “Steady hand” – that makes me think of the Asian (Japanese) guy, the Heart Surgeon with a most interesting backstory from The Office. Great show, by the way. Now I’m not sure if it was one or both hands that I drove with.
Memory is a fickle beast oft times. I know that I usually only drive with my left hand; but faced with an X-factor in this scenario – that is, wrecked by tremors that went over my head and past my control – I do not know if I relied on both hands for the driving. I think part of the way I did. I must have, but as I said, memory is a tricky thing indeed. There are times when I feel that it hinders more than helps me. I can never seem to direct it, to ride it and control it so that it takes me where I need to go, so that it shows me the things I want so desperately to see. I can liken my Memory to a mammoth long since driven mad by the world and everything around it. Or alternatively, a mythological creature like the World Serpent, popularized by the exceptional God of War series and remake. A wild, primitive force of nature, beyond any hope or chance of human control, ancient and powerful beyond imagination. Now hold on – I know I didn’t just describe Godzilla with that alone.
Anyways, let’s make like greased lightning, and follow me to my ultimate destination.
Southern Walk Plaza, where the bold letters of Blend Coffee Bar is neatly writ and nestled – nearly drowned out within a sea of store names on both sides, I might add – is located in the altogether unassuming heart of a quiet and un-happening suburban area; the parking lot at the time was similarly quiet and nearly nondescript, and even the parked, stationary traffic was light and unobtrusive for the large part. In a neat row situated directly anterior to the joint in question, there are an adjoining line of marked spots which is most explicitly reserved for solely its customers; and indeed it was here that I ended up parking, as I understood and appreciated it as essentially a free parking spot – in a world where paid, hourly street parking zones are an increasingly common occurrence, and public parking garages are too few and far between. My memory is a bit hazy on this, but if it serves correct, and given that I had ample time to do so, I proceeded to reverse-park with the most welcome aid of my car’s rearview camera, which honestly makes me question why my car can’t reverse-park itself; and also, wouldn’t it be insanely cool if it indeed was able to do so.
Fast forward to when I entered the coffee joint, purely in the interests of time. I was still pretty dazed by the shivering incident, and hence was a while before I took in the scenery and read through the menu with my sharp yet bleary eyes. After a long couple of minutes thinking about it (that was easily a quarter of an hour by itself by my estimation) I settled on something called an Egg Sammy and a rather interestingly named latte, which contained chocolate, caramel, and mocha if memory serves correct.
The latte I ordered, the Milky Way by the way, tasted pretty damn good. It had a (pleasantly) earthy taste to it, and the light and dark mocha flavors came together rather enjoyably and played well off each other. I remember thinking: heck yeah, I could get used to this. I mean, hopefully not to the point that I don’t appreciate the taste anymore, but it was most certainly better than the Cocoa Mocha latte at Dunkin’s at any rate, which I also have a predilection for.
I headed immediately to the anterior of the shop. There was a pair of swinging hammock-like chairs, and a rather imposing sofa which look pseudo-ancient. I hung out in the back for a while, on the couch. I remember I had ordered the Egg Sammy – what I mistakenly thought was named the “Sunny Sam” at the moment, and for some time afterwards – though it turned out to be just an English muffin sandwich with a crisp, golden omelette and spinach and some kind of semi-spicy sriracha sauce in the middle. I remember thinking, I could probably do better, and it might be a bit cheaper if I did opt to go down that route as well.
I was still shivering pretty noticeably at this point. Hopefully no one noticed me, or if they did they did not appear to care too much. I remember thinking that sat just right with me. I popped on Spotify and listened to a few songs on the weekly suggested playlist. The songs were halfway decent, but certainly nothing I would write home about, or heart and add to my liked playlist. They were calm and soothing, definitely better than middling fair in any case. Or maybe I had a bad enough headache that I couldn’t concentrate on the sounds to begin with.
I was about to leave, then I realized I forgot my AirPods case, so I hightailed it back without even stepping foot out of the tiny up-and-coming joint. Now that’s some pretty good reflexes, and not half-bad thinking at any rate. Looks like I’ve still got the brunt of my youth and seemingly eternal “young blood” running deep in me. I got curious looks from a lady who was slightly older than me, who was upright and gazing intently from across the small coffee table where I had left it, and I nonchalantly returned the gaze and snagged my white rectangular and slightly rounded case off the polished wood table, and slowly sauntered out of the place with nary a care in the wide world.
At around this time, I thought about staying so that I could get some work done on a coffee table in the lounge area of the joint - as I’d brought my work laptop in my backpack, that made perfect sense really; and maybe I could, very well, hunker down and try to get some work done. But then I felt like the ambiance wasn’t exactly right for me, and also I had a pretty bad fever running at this point, so I doubted I could focus all that well on work-related stuff. I’d probably end up goofing off anyway and doing only a small part of my tasks, which wasn’t a good thought to be had. As I said, the atmosphere was not right, and it felt like something was off about it, though I couldn’t put my finger on the exact thing.
So I keyed in again, and this time I headed off to the Ashburn Library, which I’d never been to before, but I’d heard many great things about, and seen some photos of the interior design and how the study area was set up. I thought, it’s probably time for a change, might be best to soak in some fresh new ambiance. It was about a 7 or 8 minute drive. I remember I got there and it was still drizzling slightly after a fashion, and the parking lot near the entrance of the library was almost completely deserted. That by itself should have given me some clue, but hey it was a slow day, and I thought the rain was slowing down some things, like maybe the employees would arrive a bit later as they were stuck in traffic somewhere and somehow. So I parked and then I got down. And damn, my fever just wouldn’t seem to let up - it still had me squarely in its grasp, and wouldn’t let go.
It was at around this point that I noticed there was an SUV outside the library (directly on the curbside near the sidewalk) with two young girls sitting and chatting with each other. I remember thinking, hey they’re probably just teenagers, so I almost certainly shouldn’t be bothered to approach them. I headed to the entrance and tried to pull (and then wrestle) open the door. It wouldn’t budge. Then I read the sign - which said it was closed on this Nov 11th, Friday, for the election. I felt pretty stupid, but I hung around there for about five or ten minutes.
Oh, and once I saw there was an older lady walking a small dog. I remember thinking I probably should have said “hi” at the least – but I didn’t – and although I didn’t make up my mind to smile, I nodded slightly as she did walk past. In case I didn’t mention it, I am a rather introverted guy at present, though I am trying to improve and trying to be more outspoken and approachable in general.
Eventually, the SUV that was parked on the curb drove off first, perhaps eager to be out on the road and get ahead of the worst of the heavy downpour, and that prompted me to get back into the safety of my own car, as even with my light jacket that was decidedly not waterproof, I was quickly getting drenched even in the midst of the light drizzle that had started up now and again.
Fast forward to when I was back home, as nothing else here is really of import in the grand scheme of things. The driving back was only slightly an ordeal due to the pitter-patter of the rain and the windshields that seemed to do their job more often than that; and I had a slowly raging fever and I think I was still shivering slightly on the way back, but there really is nothing I could do about that. In any case, the trip back was just as eventful as the one heading the other way.
I signed back into my work laptop, doing a cursory glance at the bell for any notifications I might have missed – there were none. I dipped in and out of Teams on my laptop and trying to wrestle with an unrelated issue with user authentication which I confess I did not have an idea/clue about. Sometimes there are great unsolved mysteries but on a much smaller scale, like grains of sand, and you don’t have the willpower or time to sift through them and sort them out. It honestly feels like finding the eye of a needle in a haystack. So I fiddled with it for a bit, poked my neck into the entrance of the doorway, and peeked through the keyhole to get what I could, and then get out.
I presented what meager findings I was able to manage with the tightly concentrated and focused admin powers bestowed on me, and yanked on the thin thread of personal connection to sort of huddle and do a quick brainstorm session on what could be wrong. I called in a small favor to (vicariously) peek through the keyhole in another floor of the same mansion, and was granted the thumbs up.
After the altogether brief consultation, we were forced to confess that we were truly back to square one, and had no idea about where to go from here. Sometimes it is like you a small worker ant in a huge and prosperous empire, and you hold only the humble and lowly janitor’s keys to the entire kingdom. Well, enough said about that in any case. The team member I briefly chatted with seemed appeased in any case - it was not a pressing issue, and likely could even wait until the great migration to the “cloud” next year - a bit of a misnomer because our server was already running on the cloud, albeit not in the exact place we wanted it to stay at for ever and ever.
I got pulled then into another issue, pertaining to the automation of an employee’s photo upload, which tips it’s hat to a newer and Non-human Intelligence, and harnesses the awesome power of machine learning and AI to crawl through an image and gain intimate knowledge of what an innocuous JPEG file truly represents - a well and truly spectacular thing which I feel we are blessed to have in this day and age of emerging, idealistic technologies.
I struggled and wrestled with the problem for an hour or two, and even deployed a stack to the pseudo-production environment. I’m afraid that’s a bit of a long story, and a rabbit hole we don’t have the luxury or time to go down. But long story short, all the lights lit up as green. There was no forest fire to be had, just a long smoldering smoke.
So I determined that the back end automation was running smoothly as expected, chugging along like a well-oiled machine. There was nothing to fix or see here, just faint shadows and impressions of something, like an ethereal phantom presence stumbling around in the pure dark. Oft times it is best to let some sleeping fiends lie as they are.
And now, (I) picture myself back in my room, with the thin blankets drawn over me, trying to soak in as much warmth as possible to stave off the fever that seems to be assaulting me from all directions. The following section here will be for my admittedly febrile thoughts, which I jotted down whilst I was in the peak of my fever. I have not edited them much since typing them out with all-thumbs hands on a small iPhone screen, while still shivering occassionally as I did so, typing away with all my everything, in a desperate attempt to ward off the hangry, stirring darkness striking away at the walls of a mental fortress, chipping away at it slowly - bit by bit, piece by piece, like a tired lumberjack sending chips of wood flying wildly, every which way.
At times like these when I am safely sequestered albeit with a burning fever and headache, with my hands eternally feeling cold and numb with some sort of third degree frostbite, I can’t help but think about the paths I’ve taken, the roads I’ve gone down in this tired and lonesome life that I have been grudgingly granted. Sometimes it feels like I shouldn’t have gone down the roads that I have, I can’t help but thinking that I should’ve gone down the roads more well traveled, more worn with years and tried and tested and true.
But then I truly feel like deep down I’ve always been a truly eccentric guy, and that inevitably means I’ve taken the roads that honestly it sometimes feels like no sane living person would have ever taken. And I guess I’m not sure which side of the fence I stand on that - maybe I’ll never really get over the choices I’ve made, or the uncanny and winding forks in the road I’ve sometimes inevitably and sometimes consciously taken.
For better or worse - I am a man, shaped by the choices and the decisions I have made. Almost near half of them are choices that I well and truly regret, with all the core of my being, and then some; I can liken it to, if you can follow the curious chain of thought, some wild and unspeakable beast deep within me, tired and hurt after being caged and locked away in the darkness so long, starts screaming hoarsely in the eternal and purifying blackness, after it has audibly wept for so long.
I am exactly like that misbegotten, long-forgotten beast, a most perfect simulacrum if ever there was one spawned in all of existence. It’s pain is my pain, my anguish and remorse is it’s anguish and remorse. It hurts like a mother trucker, and sometimes I want to unleash the poor and wounded animal, and let it loose into the wide forest and welcoming world. But I never do, because I know it’s not time for it yet. The world is not ready for it. Maybe it never will be, and I guess in a strange sort of way that’s ok. I mean it hurts, but I guess sometimes you can’t change the way things are, the way that things continue to be.
I honestly feel, it is rather unfortunate that Veterans Day fell on a Friday this year. I’m not sure if that’s a recurring thing or not – my gut instinct tells me that is not the case. The underlying reason here is that I actually much prefer Fridays. In fact, Friday is one of my favorite days in the week – next to Tuesday.
So, this mentally- and physically- exhausting experience was a bittersweet moment in that case – truthfully a lot more bitter than I could have even anticipated. It sort of destroyed my vision and expectation of Fridays, but at the same time it was a temporary thing – like a hurricane, just passing by, destroying a large section of a home along the way. A major setback, but that’s all it was: a setback. That implies that there is room available for one to bounce back, to make a come-back. Nothing is forever. In the grand scope of things, everything is transient. It has to be, no matter how bleak and hopeless it can seem at times.
In any case, to make short a long story, I found out that the symptoms I had experienced - fever, headache, and uncontrollable tremors, so on - were actually a pretty bad adverse reaction to a vaccine I had been administered on the day before, or a priori for all you Latin afficionados, right in the heart of the bustling Fairfax/Herndon area (no, not really).
This vaccine in question was meant to safeguard me against the unlikely scenario that I contracted Tetanus – a life-threatening infection I have yet to read up on, but which I understand is rather devasating on the human body.
On rare occassions I hear it said on a proposed solution, whereby the “cure is decidedly worse than the disease”. Now clearly it might be stretching the truth a little to affirm that notion, and I am not given easily to hyperbole – so we will settle for, yes, it was pretty damn inconvenient.
The icing on the already precipitous cake, is that this vaccine was actually required due to my graduate school requiring me to be up-to-date on my vaccination records - so I suppose that you could say, I was forced to take a vaccine, that made me sufficiently sick enough to the point that I was basically knocked out for nearly an entire day.
A truly strange and aspiring cautionary tale, here today on this Veterans Day – Friday, November 11th, 2022. Watch out, Stranger Things - today we tipped our hat, yet slowly but surely - just as the proverbial turtle catches up - we’re comin’ for ya. Might be any day now, forsooth.