Past-Me Versus Future-Me

Below is the text from my first ever Medium post. I’ve cross-posted it here with some notes that aren’t found on the Medium version. Kudos to Vikram for putting it on his publication, Absurdist.

It’s a piece of writing I did while in New York last year. This style grew from a fascination with stories that seem to live in the grey area between fiction and nonfiction; and is the result of experimentation with writing a first-person journal in the form of prose. I didn’t originally intend on posting it on this blog. However, after reading through it again, I realized it accurately captures a side of me that this blog usually doesn’t see.


I awake to a beam of light focused squarely on my left eye and the faint sound of drilling outside my window. I turn over and hit the home button on my iPhone. It reads, “12:28 Friday, September 26”. I had slept through the morning.

The night before, I looked at my watch at least three dozen times. Every time the waitress came around, I would think to myself, “Just a few more minutes, and I’ll go home” and then I would sit back as my friends ordered another round of drinks. It wasn’t until around 2:30 a.m. when I finally stumbled onto an uptown N train.

Normally, whenever I ride the Subway, I imagine it transforming. During rush hour, Subway cars morph into cans of sardines, riders packed tightly and standing perfectly still as if they actually were suspended in some kind of brine. In the afternoon, trains transmute into parks, with kids swinging between the bars and the elderly gossiping.

At that moment however, the train felt like the aftermath of a party gone wrong. Bleary-eyed girls in tight fitting cocktail dresses staggered in from the platform with high heels in hand. A latino man who clearly had too much to drink was bent over clutching his head while his friend lay back snoring with the top three buttons of his shirt unbuttoned and his tie loosened around his neck.


When we stopped at Queensborough Plaza, nearby passengers slowly emptied onto the platform and started waiting on the other side for the Flushing-bound 7 Train. I pulled out my phone, reduced the screen brightness to conserve the 17% of battery that was left and checked Google Maps to find out how much longer it would take to get home. The app suggested that the next train would arrive at 3:11 and I would reach my Airbnb at 3:56. Not wanting to spend another eternity on the subway, I began swiping down past the increasingly complex and time-consuming methods of going home and stared at the last one, “Get an Uber, 22 min”. “Fuck it” I thought to myself. “I’m tired, and I don’t want to wait another hour to go home.” I hit request and started walking down the stairs to get into the UberX.

I wasn’t just sabotaging Future-Arun by going to sleep late, I was wasting his money.

That was last night. This morning is different. I look back at my phone. Below the time are the words 改善 (Kaizen, meaning continuous improvement) centered in a red circle, a background I had made for myself a few months before.

“Kaizen,” I thought to myself. “Arun, how are you supposed to continuously improve if you wake up so late in the day?”

It’s an all too familiar conversation with myself. While cubicle dwellers in Midtown are going down elevators to pick up their Seamless orders and children at the elementary school down the road are enjoying recess after lunch, what am I doing? I am laying in bed. To make matters worse, it’s now too hot outside to go on my morning run; and, I won’t be able to make it to my coworking space in Manhattan until 2pm at the earliest.


I instinctively try to wash away the feelings of guilt and failure by mindlessly processing email and watching YouTube. 30 minutes later, I finally drag myself to the shower and return to find only one shirt and one pair of underwear left on my shelf of clean clothes. I had thought about doing my laundry at least 10 times in the last few days, but never actually acted on it. Now I have no choice but to get it done today. It’s yet another case of Past-Arun sabotaging Future-Arun.

I grab lunch at the Dosa Hutt, walk to Mr. Machine Laundromat to scope out their drop off service, buy a bag to put my laundry in, walk back to my room, stuff my laundry in the bag and then walk all the way back to drop off my laundry. I have a pleasant conversation with the owner of the laundromat while she weighs my laundry and takes my $11.50. “Come back after 9 p.m.” she tells me. I stuff the pink receipt she hands me in my left front pocket and walk out the door onto Kissena Boulevard.

I look down at my watch.


There isn’t that much time left until dinner. “Work can wait” I tell myself. I had anticipated that I would feel this way and already have my camera with an old Canon tilt-shift lens attached to it slung over my shoulder. I start walking north on Kissena towards Downtown Flushing, stopping every block or two to take a few photos. As I finally reach Roosevelt, a thought that I had earlier in the week resurfaces. “I should go to Whitestone and visit my old neighborhood.”

I lived in Whitestone during the summer between freshman and sophomore year while working for Mass Electric Construction Company. Although it’s a typical, unremarkable suburb, it had grown on me during my 3 months there. Oddly though, I had never visited it even a single time since I left six years ago.

I continue walking north on Main towards the bus stop for the Q14 bus that would take me to my old home. I finally reach the Citibank where the bus stop should be but it’s nowhere to be found. As I stand in the precise position I did on so many occasions in 2008, I realize that some things have changed. The harlequin colored Onitsuka Tigers I wore on my feet are now replaced by a pair of black leather Vivobarefoots. In fact, my entire outfit is now black, exchanging blue Levis and colorful print shirts from Malaysia for a pair of black synthetic pants and a black fitted t-shirt. As I look around, the images from my memory fall away, revealing the present scene. The bakery behind me has been shuttered, the space still waiting for a new tenant. Another two shops have been replaced by a bubble tea shop and a Starbucks. Yet some things are still the same; the church across the street is still there, its spire towering above its surroundings. The Joyce Leslie looks unchanged with two signs in large yellow lowercase letters attached to its orange-red facade. Still, I see no lollipop-style Q14 bus sign or even a trace left of the pole that used to be there.

I pull out my phone and begin typing “Q14 bus” and the first suggestion is “Q14 bus cancellation”, confirming my suspicion that the whole bus route had been nixed. I learn in the first Google result that the line was canceled in 2010 and replaced by the Q15, which picks up riders on Roosevelt. So, I turn back and start walking again. While crossing Roosevelt, I’m overcome by the smell of lamb encrusted in chili powder and cumin as two teenagers walk by with skewers in hand. It’s a taste that I have been addicted to ever since I first went to Xi’an Famous Foods back in May. I hurry to the source, the Xinjiang BBQ Cart on Kissena.


I wait in line as a young Chinese man ahead of me orders his two beef skewers. When it is my turn, I tell the vendor “羊肉“ (lamb). She smiles in a mix of astonishment and delight and asks me “几个?” (how many). I tell her “一个” (one) and lean back on the wall of a nearby building.

I’ve been using Mandarin around Flushing more and more since I got here a few weeks back. Usually, some sort of stage fright prevents me speaking anything other than English, but this trip has been unusual. It’s as if the fact that I won’t be here a few weeks from now has imbued me with a fearlessness that allows me to do and be whatever I like.

As I fish a dollar bill and quarter out of my pocket to pay for my skewer, I notice the young Chinese man, now leaning on the same building to my right open his mouth as if to say something to me. He makes eye contact and says “Your Chinese is pretty good.”

“Thanks” I tell him. “I only really know how to order food or ask for directions.”

He laughs, and we strike up conversation for a minute or two while we wait for our meat to finish cooking.

The vendor asks us “辣 吗?” (spicy?). The man says “对” (yes) while I nod in affirmation. The seller hands him his beef skewers and hands me my lamb one. The man and I say bye to each other and head our separate ways.

As I begin my walk back to the Airbnb, I realize that speaking another language has given me a new power. Not only did it allow me to easily communicate with the BBQ vendor, it opened up a conversation with someone who otherwise wouldn’t have batted an eye. Those hours studying for Chinese character tests and practicing speaking during drill sessions finally paid off. All this time I was thinking that Past-Arun was sabotaging me.

Maybe Past-Arun isn’t so bad.

When I wrote the first draft of this piece, the words continuously flowed like a river from my mind into this document. It was as if scattered ideas came together and crystallized like little self-arranging magnets. Mysteriously though, when I finally reached the point where I was to start describing my walk around Whitestone (the original subject of the story), the words stopped. I intended on finishing it the next day. Instead, it lay as a dormant text file on my work laptop until I rediscovered it a few weeks ago.

What do you all think of this format? I think that it allows me better tell stories and reveal facets of myself that otherwise don’t surface.

Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank Chris, Dustin, Chuan and Vikram for reading through earlier drafts and providing feedback.