Last Friday night, I stumbled into my apartment sweaty, tired, and mostly sober from the bus ride home from a downtown bar. Actually it was an old American Legion that moonlights as a music venue. It was the first time I’ve ever had my name on a list to get in anywhere, so it didn’t matter that it was an American Legion. My roommate Christyn and I picked a bad night to go out, the bus to the bar was hot, packed, and filled with men going to drink and see Mexico play Panama. The return trip was stuffed with the same guys coming home, sweatier, stinkier, and more boozed. Christyn stood against the window while I braced myself in front of her with both hands pressed against the wall. It wasn’t fun but there was a little breeze from the window and my mouth was still smoky from the house mescal.
Running the next morning I felt like I was breathing fire. I ran early because we were supposed to be picked up at ten to go to our boss’s mandatory all-day birthday party. I struggled running through the wooded trails and glared at running groups who thundered past me smelling fresh and liquor-free. I took a shower when I got home and shoved eggs down my throat ignorant that Mexican time meant I had three more hours of free time ahead of me. I started into Notes from Underground and just when I was getting into it I got a text that our ride was outside.
We left around one and wound our way to the family mansion/farm a couple hours away. It was a hot day with scattered rain that turned the backyard into a jungle, and I made good on my promise to Christyn to sweat and eat until they took the food away. After the food was inevitably taken from me, I helped bring chairs up to the porch where the remaining guests reconvened and ate more dessert washed down with steaming hot coffee. It was a good day and the car ride home left me with a lot of time to think.
I’ve noticed lately how people congregate and talk to people of similar social standing, class, education etc, and that for the same reasons some people’s words and conversation are given more or less weight than others. To be more specific, it seems like people are always trying to talk up, forgetting that up is an illusion that we create. This mentality shouldn’t bind us, and if the technological revolution had any potential for positive change, it should have blown apart this smokescreen. Instead we continue to erode our relationships and humanity through iphones instagram facebook and twitter while maintaining the social stratifications this technology should bring crashing down. We obviously want to talk to other people that stimulate us, but to assume that prestige, education, wealth, or culture could limit the infinite complexity of a human being is absurd. This isn’t just a feel-good abstraction on life, it’s insane and limiting to deny the complexity and interest of another human being.
I thought hard on judgment again as I swam through a thick poisonous smog for my Tuesday afternoon run. After dodging in and out of traffic for the fifteen minutes it takes to get to the park, I snaked around the track and ran straight up the backside of the mountain. It’s on a path that I’ve been beating myself up on the past few weeks. The trail is a steep dirt incline for about four minutes, then it turns left and keeps climbing on an even steeper incline for 2 more minutes, then it reaches a ridge and turns to the right to continue up an even steeper and rockier incline for the final push, another minute and a half. It doesn’t matter how slow I go, I shred my lungs just going up without stopping.
As I was making the final ascent I ran past an enormously overweight older man who was walking slowly up the hill. I didn’t think much about it and kept running out into the forest, winding my way in and out of the woods until my stomach told me it was time to turn around. I looped back through the trails but found myself running down the same steep dirt path I came up on and past the same old man who I ran past on my way up. I saw that he was walking laps of one of the steepest trails I’d ever run on. Not only was I impressed by his training technique, which is probably the most effective way of man of his build could get a cardio workout, but I was reminded of the madness that it takes to judge one another, which I most certainly did as I ran up the hill for the first time.
I was eating a cheese sandwich and grapes on the top of a small pyramid in the middle of a park near my apartment a few nights ago, and when I looked out over the city I saw smog in the distance rolling into the mountains like low hanging clouds. When I looked in front of me, the air seemed crystal clear. It reminded me how easy it is to forget that I live in a fishbowl of my own experience. The fundamental beauty of living in a foreign land is in this opportunity to climb outside my fishbowl and look back in at the world.
Sometimes though, the world pulls you back in, like the other day when I noticed a boy playing hide and seek with me while I was working out. He was good so for a while I didn’t notice we were playing. I think I was doing some stupid looking jumping thing I recently invented when I saw a shadow fall behind a tree. After 10 or 15 minutes, I caught him sneaking around the tree and grinned when he saw me; he smiled back and I thought that was it. As it turns out, Jose Martin had more social grace than me, so he walked up and introduced himself while I was panting with my hands on my knees. We went through the normal pleasantries of exchanging names, birthdays, and birthplaces, and then both went back to working out. He made a fast friend when he commented on how tall I was, that I could reach the pull up bar without jumping, I told him I get that all the time. He even had the decency to pretend not to see when I stepped in dog poop.
If I want to live my life with my eyes open, I will often have to dig deep and forgive myself my own humanity and if I can forgive my own shortcomings while being privy to every reason I could possibly have for my own actions, how is it that I find myself so easily judging the behavior of others? Barring actions which humanity has for centuries held as violations of what it means to be a person, withholding judgment as much as possible seems to be much more rational. Unlike the sharp pain that I get in my lower back signaling dehydration when I’ve been running for more than a few hours without any water, the evolutionary advantage conveyed by judgment of others is twisted by our migration from caves to the 21st century. Making time to be with people gives me more than anything else in the world and judgment impedes this. I got choked up today saying goodbye to Rosa and Raquel, two of the women who work at my boss’s house/the office. They gave me hugs and promises that they’ll save me homemade Dia de Los Muertos mole for when I come back. Those to women are not only my two best friends in Mexico, but they keep me healthy by sneaking me food when I come into the kitchen to heat up my cheese sandwiches.
After work I jogged back down to the dilapidated park where I do push ups and pull ups, set my watch and keys down, and commenced my meditation on pain. I was shortly joined by two tatted-up guys my age who sat down a few feet from where I was working out and immediately started doing drugs. My whole reduced judgment philosophy fell into flux as I noticed that they were literally just doing drugs and staring at me. After a few more minutes of awkwardness I walked up to them, said hey, and continued my workout. They seemed chill enough, so besides making sure they were never at my back, I continued like I would have. However, as I jogged back home I thought about how judgment was one of the most confused remnants of my caveman brain. I’m trying to deal with this confusion by separating judgment from the necessary and important act of observation. That being said, living in Mexico City constantly reminds me of the staggering advance of civilization, and living in my brain constantly reminds me of the monumental sluggishness of human evolution.