Mni Wakan Oyate

Hello Everyone…

Last Friday, I left the farm and headed west on flat, flat, straight, straight Highway 2. When I got to Devil’s Lake, I pulled over, called my friend, Matt.

20140725_204641“Turn south on Highway 20. It turns into Highway 57 when you pass the casino, and that’ll take you straight in to Fort Totten. You’ll know you’re there when you see an old water tower and a new water tower being built next to it. You’ll go past those, then come to the tribal high school. Turn left after the school. After a while the road turns into a gravel road. You’ll veer left and you’ll see the rodeo. Once you pass the rodeo, you’ll see the pow wow.”

I was a little late on my way to the Spirit Lake Nation’s annual pow wow, but, “don’t worry,” Matt said, “this thing’ll go on til midnight.”

Highway 20. Highway 57. The casino. Two water towers. The high school with FORT TOTTEN SIOUX across the wall in giant letters. Paved road to gravel. The rodeo. Then a sea of parked cars. I parked, opened the door and walked toward the distant sound of drums, somewhere beyond the cars.

The pow wow took place an high meadow surrounded by a rolling sea of green hills. Shaded seating surrounded an open grass circle where all the action took place. I arrived just in time to see many old Indians dressed in old American military uniforms, marching slowly out of the grassy area. Two men in front of the procession held an American flag and the black POW-MIA flag. When the last old fellow marched out, the announcer said of the PA, “Alright, let’s give a loud, proud round of applause to these verterans!”

Matt found me.

“Did I miss much?”

20140725_204531“No,” he said, “just the grand entry and the veterans. Oh, man, and this guy running for the state legislature. Jeez, he came out and spoke and I’ve never felt a more uncomfortable silence. Pandering out here…” Matt shook his head. “Oh,”  he said, looking behind me, “there’s Johnny, one of the drummers we took to New York for the art exhibit I was telling you about.” Matt waved. “Hey Johnny!”

“Matt, hey,” said Johnny. Johnny was tall, stood straight and had a large hard belly and long pony tail and wore a t-shirt shirt and gym shorts. “How’s it goin?”

“Good, Johnny” Matt said, “yourself?”

“I’m good, workin, you know. Drivin a truck.”

“Good, they takin care of ya?”

“These guys are. The people I worked for before, goin all the way to Florida and back…they only paid me $500. Hell,” he slapped his belly, “I ate more than that on the trip, ha ha! Hey, here’s my son, Johnny.”

Matt shook little Johnny’s hand. Little Johnny was as tall as his father, but skinny and had a smaller ponytail.

“Look,” eclaimed Christine, big Johnny’s wife, little Johnny’s mother, “isn’t he as tall as his father!! Gonna be 17 years old in-”

“Five days,” said little Johnny.

“Can you believe it, Matt?” Asked Johnny. “He’s already as tall as me. Gettin old, man.”

“Our daughter’s already gonna be 21,” said Christine. “And I’m already scared. She know’s where all the bars are.”

“Are you drumming tonight, Johnny?” Asked Matt.

“Maybe tomorrow.”

The next drum circle began to set up behind us. Big Johnny, little Johnny, Christine, Matt and I went over to it.

20140725_211358“Did Matt tell you we went to New York?” Johnny asked. (Matt works for the North Dakota Museum of Art, they took a drum circle to New York the previous year), “We went to the top a that Empire State Buildin. It’s tall, man.”

“Have you ever heard one of these things up close?” Matt asked me, about the drum circle.

“Nope.”

“It’s gonna go right through you.”

“So New York’s big, huh” Little Johnny asked me. “My dad says it’s big.”

“Well, yeah,” I answered. “There’s a lot going on. But it’s also a lot of people crammed in a small place. To me,” I looked up at the sky, down on the hills, “it feels bigger out here.”

Johnny shook his head. “My dad might get to take me to Chicago this summer in the truck. But I wanna go to New York someday, too.”

The drumming started and we all found places to get a good view.

“Alright ladies and gentleman,” said the announcer over the PA, here is the group, Yellow Snow!” The announcer chuckled.

Everybody around me chuckled. “Yellow snow,” said Matt, “get it?” I chuckled.

The men drummed softly, at first. Their voices were subdued, some sang in a low pitch, some in a high pitch. Then the drumming escalated into a hard driving cadence and suddenly all the voices shot up to a high, shreaking pitch that goes through a body like razor sharp icicles. Then the voices dropped, except one that maintained the incredibly high pitch. By itself, the voice sounded like it’s own entity, something unfound that dwells just on the edge of Reality’s Shine. Then the drumming softened and the voice faded down to the others – its disappearence leaving a hollow space in my chest. Then it all happened again, and again, the drumming and the voices rising and falling as if the song and the world came to me from far away on gusts of wind.

“Let’s go get an Indian taco,” Matt said.

20140725_205618As we made our way – along the various booths selling dream catchers, blankets, t-shirts – toward the food stands, Matt stopped to shake a hand here and there. Matt is white, but grew up on the reservation. His family had homesteaded in the Spirit Lake area before the land was allotted for the reservation, so, “my family’s and a few other families’ farms were grandfathered in,” Matt said, taking long, loose comfortable strides. Matt was home.

“Hey Sam Ann!” Matt swerved through the crowd to shake a woman’s hand.

“Matt!!! Oh my god, how are you!” They hugged.

“Sam and I grew up together,” Matt said to me, then turned back to Sam Ann. “My dad says he’d still adopt you in a heartbeat.”

“HIs dad,” Sam Ann said to me, “told me that every time he saw me.”

“How’s the girls?” Matt asked.

“Oh, Matt. I’m gonna be a grandma.”

“What?! Which daughter?”

“Both! Both of them, can you believe that? Oh well, I’ll be a young, fun grandma at least!” She looked around, then back to us. “Oh, I tell you I need a cigarette. Hey, have you heard…”

Behind Matt and Sam Ann, a young man in Army Dress was milling about, standing straight, his hat tucked in the crook of his arm, stretching his neck as he looked through the crowd. After a moment, his head jerked and he smiled. I turned toward the direction he was looking. A tall, large bellied man wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts was standing up in a crowd of other tall, large bellied men wearing t-shirts and gym shorts. He was smiling, too. The young soldier went over and shook hands with the man and the hands of all the other men. Then he relaxed his shoulders a little, sat down.

Matt and I grabbed our Indian tacos – a hefty portion of bison and lettuce atop a bulbous piece of fried bread – and weaved our way through the crowd, toward the pavillion, running straight through the cigarette cloud coming from a group of teenagers adorned in skull caps, black pants and heavy metal t-shirts.

“I’m guessing not many people make it off the reservation?” I asked, after we sat down.

Matt shook his head. “Naw. But more do than they used to. At the university (University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks) there’s a woman going to law school. Back in the 80’s or so, when I was a kid, that was unheard of. And some who did manage to leave are moving back to the Rez. The schooling is improving and there’s also a renewed focus on tribal traditions. But pretty much everyone you see here will never leave.”

20140725_204656A dozen men dressed in bright colors and feathers moved out onto the grassy area. When the drumming began, they started dancing. Their movements mirrored the drumming – feet softly tapping the earth, then stomping hard when the drumming came on harder, as if they were trying to crack the earth with each step. Every now and then they’d leap in the air as if they were trying to catch the shreaking voices. Then soft mincing with still torsos and relaxed arms when the drumming and voices softened together. All the men had their own distinct dance, but matched each other in intensity with the rise and fall of the song. The song finally ending on one final, Earth shuddering downbeat. All the dancers remained frozen in their last pose for a moment. Then they relaxed and the crowd applauded. The men shook each other’s hands, walked off, their chests heaving.

Later in the night, a gawky teenage boy in traditional dress except for a pair black horn rim Buddy Holly eye-glasses led a drum circle of equally gawky younger boys wearing t-shirts and gym shorts. The skinny group of kids swung down hard on the drum with sticks about the same size of their arms. Their faces contorted, as if they’d tasted something sour, when they went for the higher notes. Older folks stood around them, proudly, filming them with iPhones. After they came down hard on the last beat, they held still, caught their breath, then looked up at the crowd around them. During the applause, an older man walked up to the teenage boy with the glasses, grabbed his shoulder, squeezed it, stared in his eyes without saying a word, then walked away.

“Let’s give those boys another large round of applause,” said the announcer. “Now, we’re about done for the night. But I want all of you to not forget to head down to the casino tonight and have a good time!”

“Is that Arnie?” Asked Matt, as we were leaving. The short, fat indian wearing a cowboy hat approached us.

“There’s Matt!” Arnie exclaimed, then shook Matt’s hand.

“How’s it going, Arnie?”

“Aw, man…I need a drink!”

“What?! I thought you’re supposed to be on the wagon?”

“Jesus, Matt, can’t you take a joke?” He pointed to his cowboy hat. “You see the hat, the hat means I’m workin, not drinkin…but come on, man, you’re a Rezzie, you know how it is.”

20140725_204422-1Down the hill. Passed the dark rodeo arena. The highschool. The water towers. The casino. Highway 57 became Highway 20. Long, straight Highway 2. It was past midnight, the world was only the size of the reach of my headlights. It was a lonely world, with only the odd pair of headlights coming in to my world then leaving to resume the chase of their own world. But the thunderous drumming and those shreaking voices kept going on inside me. When I got to the farm I killed the engine, sat in the dark. I couldn’t even see the the dash. Then I stepped out of the car and stood still in the smoke-thick darkness for some time. The drumming. The voices. Cool moonless night. Then I looked up and gradually the entire sky was alight with stars. The drumming. The voices. The Milky Way fluttered so softly in a line from the Northeast to the Southwest. I like…I need…the big open sky. I need to see the twinkling stars clear down to the horizon, in every direction. To keep me reminded that I am amongst the starts, not separate from them. Not separate from anything.

Be well…

 

IT MEANS FOX

Hello Everybody,

A few evenings ago I was driving back from visiting my friends, Matt and Laurel from the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, when I saw something moving in the road. I thought it was a rabbit hopping along the road until I got closer and saw it was a baby fox. Wow, a fox! A baby fox. I slowed down. The baby fox scurried to the left and to the right as if he was unsure of where to go. I stopped about ten feet from him, got out, watched him. He turned to me and froze. His pointy ears and wide eyes were very large for his little head. He kept his eyes on me as he moved about, uncertainly. He had none of the swift, smoky movements like a fox.

20140701_201051I gazed over the still-green potato fields on either side of the road. I didn’t see a mamma fox around. The only things out there other than potatoes were the irrigation sprinklers going phft, phft, phft, phft…and maybe the hum of a tractor, maybe not. I turned back to the fox. Hey there little fella, where ya tryin’to go? Tryin’ to go BACK somewhere? To go TO somewhere? Or did you lose your momma and you’re just scared? He skidded back from me a bit. It’s alright, little guy, I’m a friendly…gee, it’s good I have Matt and Laurel and the rest of the folks at the museum to visit out because after a few days alone out here I’m talking to myself and to the animals and trees and everything else as my thoughts swirl to a thick cream that I have to crawl through but ultimately get lost in and am I speaking out loud or am I thinking this?

The fox finally skidded into the ditch on the right side of the road. I watched his bushy tail bounce in the high grass until it disappeared. BACK? TO? Or just running? I scratched my head, pondering those possibilities. Such a poor little young fox…I scratched it again…lost out there…I scratched my head yet again…alone…then I scratched my arm, slapped my leg. The mosquito’s had found me, so I got back in the car and resumed my drive to the farm-house in McCanna – 35 miles west of Grand Forks – where Laurel and Matt and all the great folks at the NDMoA have set me up for my artist residency.

“The house was built in 1920,” Matt had told me, when I first came through North Dakota. Matt is the director of the Rural Arts Initiative at the museum. “Margery McCanna parent’s built it. Then she inherited and spent the summers out here until she died. She was a good friend of Laurel’s, and bequeathed the house and 10 of the surrounding acres to the museum.”

20140714_215251“The McCanna’s were one of the first bonanza farmers to come out here,” said Laurel, curator of the museum and Matt’s aunt, “in 1881 on the Homestead Act. In those days, a bonanza farmer would come out here, throw all his money into farming several thousand acres and they either made a huge profit and began a farming empire, or making a huge bust and heading back East a loser. A bonanza either way.”

I spend my days out here like this: wake up around 7:30, load up on coffee, have breakfast, meditate, have a little more coffee, spend the morning and early afternoon shaping up a novel I wrote about the time I traveled all over America on a Greyhound Bus…

*** It’s called It’s A Long Ride, Man and is due out late 2014, early 2015!!! Stay tuned for details!!! ***

This is my second residency with the NDMoA, second stay out at the farm. This time I’ve also hired me to fix the windows in the old house. Some of the windows have jammed in their frames, having been painted shut for decades, because the window frames have shifted as the house has settled, or for other reasons. I spend the afternoons and early evening working on the windows. The labor offers a welcomed shift of psyche after having my head in the book all day. I sand, scrape, chisel, oil, paint, moving from one window to the other. After I make a pass by all the windows, I start again, one room to the other, seeing which ones swing open, which ones are still sticking. After I make a few passes in a room, I clean up the windows and frames and touch them up with paint.

The other day I was working on a window in the master bedroom, upstairs. Through the window, I saw the wind whipping the tops of the trees around the house. Their trunks were still but the high leafy branches swayed drastically to the left and right like pom-pom’s shaken by giant petrified cheerleaders. The tree nearest to the window was a birch, the leaves of which are dark green on one side and light green on the other. The leaves fluttered fast from light green to dark green, making my view out the window look static-y as if the world’s rabbit ears needed to be turned slightly to catch The Great Frequency. I grew dizzy as I watched the leaves sway and change color, I turned away, rubbed my eyes. When I looked out the window again I noticed just how much the old tree was leaning.

20140717_124538“Pretty much every tree you see in every direction was man-planted, “Matt had told me, “The birch were planted out here when the house was built. So, almost 100 years ago. They planted them around the house to keep from going crazy from the wind.”

“Oh yeah,” said Laurel, the wind was maddening for the settlers. It was brutal, the wind and the cold and the storms without any shielding. Alcoholism was rampant. The men would disappear. The wives would be left alone out here, or left with a family to try to keep together. There were many suicides. My great-aunt came down with my grandpa from Saskatchewan in 1906. She killed herself out here.”

Very little of the wind makes it through the trees, at ground level. Many times a day I’ll walk about the grounds and let the sun hit me. The still warmth calms me and I am far from madness. But all I have to do is look up to see the tops of those trees, blown so hard like they’re about snap sometimes reminding me of the madness that’s just above my head.

After finishing up the windows for the day, I cook supper. Matt’s parents had butchered a steer and hog over the spring and he gave me several cuts of both. I’ll throw a little salt and pepper on the meat, throw it on the grill. Matt also maintains a garden on the farm, and in the evenings I’ll pull up some spinach, onions or swiss chard, clean it, cook it. Cooking’s always been a hassle for me, in the cities, when eating’s simply something to get out of the way. But out here, it is part of my day, part of my life.

20140717_190106Prepare, eat, clean. I like the process. I take my time with it, and do it whenever I’m hungry. It’s nice to eat when I’m hungry, not when I have to. It’s nice to be writing and get an idea for the windows and leave the laptop and pick up the wood chisel, as nice as it is to be working on a window when I get an idea on the book, and I head to the lap top. Or, stop it all to pick up the guitar. At all times of the day song lyrics and poetry flow into me and I immediately and I run to the note pad and pen in the kitchen. About 70% is just scribble, but the other 30% I will read or sing in front of anybody. I’ve got a strong connection to The Big IS out here. No, those rabbit ears don’t need to be adjusted, leaves are supposed to flutter in the wind, and the dizziness is just clarity. The shifting leaves is the clear view. And when it’s time to eat at 5pm…6pm…10pm or whenever, I look over my plate and feel truly grateful for the abundance. I give a thank you to The Big IS. Then I look at he clock on the stove and laugh. Ha, ha, silly idea, ‘time’.

Last night after supper, I built a fire, like most nights. Like most nights, I brought a book and my guitar out with me. But I ended up just staring into the fire for hours, like most nights. The chaos of my mind rages through the flames like a storm. I grow calmer. Sure, memories surface, but they tend to burn up quick. There’s nothing about the future – those thoughts, fortunately, are much too flammable and burn to nothing in an instant. Calmer. It’s just my infinite mind and the flames and strong, pure feeling of existing. I follow the thin plume of smoke straight up into the old leaning birch tree. The plume of smoke rises through the branches and the dark green then light green leaves, into the dark blue where that maddening wind ushers it into the indigo sky and it disappears. Hmm, the first stars are out. Calmer still…

20140712_220012I look down from the night and follow the smoke plume down through the branches and leaves, straight down into the fire that is smelting with my mind wherein the little fox appears. Hey little guy. Did you know in Old English, ‘Todd’ means…oh, you did? Hmm…so tell me, are you going BACK? TO? Or just running? The little fox answers. I laugh. Good answer little fox, good answer.

Be well…

Views Along The Way

Hello Everybody,

I headed up the 101 Freeway toward Hollywood to check my mail one last time before I headed out of town. I had an artist residency in North Dakota, was hoping a check would be in my mail box – Hollywood’s my official address – that I could cash before I left. There wasn’t. But there was an envelope from Covered California, the state’s version of Obamacare. I opened it to find that I was indeed covered…for the month of March, 2014. That was good to know. I hopped back in my Jeep Cherokee, pulled back onto the road and settled in behind the wheel as I headed out of town.

20140627_110101Santa Clarita. Palmdale. Lancaster. Mojave. I followed Highway 14 northeast into the dry, hot land to Highway 395. When I reached it, I turned, heading due north. Every now and then 395 shrunk 2 lanes. I’m out in the country, I thought, lazilly steering around each curve with one hand on the wheel. Finally. It’s good to be Out There. Things is slower here. Hey, if I needed to pull over and take a piss, I could. Nobody else would even pass by, probably. Even someone did…phshaw!…what would they care?

To my left, little foothills steadily grew into the towering Sierra Nevada Mountains. I rode along side the ridge for hours, until I turned onto Highway 120 into the mountains and toward Yosemite National Park, singing Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again…

…goin’ places that I’ve never been, seein’ things that I may never see again…

I paid the price for admission, drove deep into the park, parked, walked around. It was cold, I put on a jacket. But the sky was cobalt blue with just a smattering of cotton ball clouds and the sun heated the side of your body facing it. Although crowded, the park was heavy with quiet. All the visitors walked about slowly and silently as if they were just another species of pack animal. Some were in couples, groups or were solo like me. Collectively, our wide eyes gazed up at the sheer cliffs, the bulbous stone peaks, peered out over wide meadows where Serenity floated just above the land like morning fog.

20140627_154624I wanted to stay a little longer – possibly forever – but the sun had begun its nosedive to the horizon and I wanted to get a little further down the road, so I walked back to the Cherokee, crept down the winding road leading out of the park. Curve after curve, the temperature got warmer. When I pulled out onto 395 summer was raging again. A few miles past the Yosemite entrance, I passed an SUV on the side of the road. Three girls ran out from behind a bush, toward the SUV, pulling up their shorts, grinning. See? Nobody cares at all

Just before I reached Carson City, Nevada, I got the feeling that I could drive all night. Then I hit the wall of exhaustion that always comes seconds after that feeling. I got a motel room and slept.

The next morning, my friend Laura from Helena, Montana, said I could come visit her if I was heading up that way. So I headed that way.

Kit Carson!

Kit Carson!

Eastbound on Highway 95 through Nevada. Beginning there and continuing through Idaho and Montana, the roads were populated with many bikers – old men on loud Harley-Davidsons, dressed in leather. Some had their wives, or lady friends with them. They rode in packs, pairs and solo. Hands high on the handle bars, their long gray hair flowing back into The Past as they faced the future and peered into it with sunglassed eyes trying to find some clue as to what the freakin’ Past may have been about. Take all my hair, read the expression on their faces. Every last one for all I care…

20140628_124801-1

A little passed Elko, Nevada, I took State Highway 225 northward. There, I rode out of the desert into high, grassy rolling hills with occasional mountains. On both sides of the road were public lands – so said the signs – that belonged to you and me and everybody. But when the sun was an inch above the horizon I rolled into the Shoshone Paiute Indian Reservation. I rolled down the windows and the fresh evening air made me tired. I had no clue where the next motel would be but when I came upon a lake I noticed a sign that said I could pay $6 – slip it in a box next to the sign – to camp on the lake for the night. So I did. Then I drove down a steep dirt path to the lake’s shore. It was a very pretty lake. Blue glass. I stood on a rock at the shoreline, gazed across it to the beautiful yellow-green hills and the snow-capped mountains just beyond. Hmm…that’s strange. Snow on the mountains. Damn near July in Nevada. Weird. Just after the sun dipped below the hills and shadows started to blanket the land, I felt OK about everything…about the World, who I was and where I belonged in the World. I fit just fine. I’m just fine, after all these years, everything’s just fine. When the sun set, I was ready for sleep. I laid out my sleeping bag in the back of the Cherokee, crawled in, peered out the window. Gee…snow caps. July. Nevada.

20140628_194643I awoke at 2:30am to the yelps coyotes. The view out the window was filled stars as if I were in a spaceship looking down at the lights of some city on some planet. Then I realized I was shaking. I was cold. Too cold. I curled into as tight a ball as I could, the sleeping bag up to my eyeballs. One by one, the stars disappeared. Two hours later, only about five were left hanging in the morning sky. I crawled out of the sleeping bag, into the drivers seat, started the engine. The temperature read 39℉. I stared at the world through the windshield, through the cloud of my breath. Yep..snow f#$kin’ caps alright. I drove up the dirt road and back onto 225.

Cows walked across the road here and there with no fear, as I motored through the reservation. Little calves ran after the mamma cows, nipping at their udders. Bulls mooed deeply at me. The highway followed the winding Humboldt river. Steam hovered above it as if the river’s soul was trying to leave it and go somewhere else. Frost covered the blue-green grass along its banks until the sun popped up over the hills and melted it. Junky Jim Walter’s Homes sprinkled the landscape, surrounded by one, two or three clunker automobiles. But all the Indians appeared to be sleeping in. It was Sunday after all.

20140629_043228At Bruneau, Idaho – a town with just over 300 inhabitants – I stopped at a country store for some coffee. Three old men were sitting at a table and they turned and stared at me as if I was a raccoon that’d just wandered into their kitchen. After a while, one of the men stood and hobbled to the counter.

“Coffee?” I asked.

“Right there,” pointed the man. I went to where he pointed, poured a cup. “Where you headed, young man?”

“Helena, Montana.”

The old man straightened his back and Jesus! He is the size of a f#$kin’ statue! He looked out the window, then down on me. “How you gettin’ there?”

‘Well…”

“Cause you don’t wanna go through Mountain Home.”

“I don’t?”

“No. You don’t wanna go to Helena from here but I guess you have to now since you’re here. What you do, is when you get to Mountain Home, you take the first right, then you take the first right after the Wal-Mart. Two rights. That’s all and that gets you to the Interstate.”

The old man was right. Two rights later I was on the Interstate. That evening I pulled into Helena. Laura guided me to her house by phone.

“It’s so good to finally meet you!” She said as she hugged me.

I’d known Laura only via instant media – a friend of a friend. But only minutes later me, her and her boyfriend, Garret, were conversing like long lost friends. We never stopped talking even through dinner and the walk after, and through the drive around Helena after that.

Laura and Garret

Laura and Garret

“Oh, look, there’s the old theatre where Mark Twain spoke,” Laura would say or something like that, in between our deeper ponderings about Life…not work, or ambition or goals or anything about who we thought we wanted to be, but Life – as a whole, you, me every living thing and inanimate thing in The Universe – contemplating what exactly IT all was and where IT might be headed. “And there’s some preserved cabins from back in the mining days.” Then back to Life. By 1am we were back at Laura’s, deep into the subjects of Free Will and Illusion, and the catastrophic consequences if Humankind achieved mortality…and finally to the inevitable discussion of the haunting notion of Computer Intelligence. I’d been awake for 21 hours.

“I think I need to sleep.”

The next morning, Garret, Laura took me to breakfast.

“This is special,” Garett said. “Here we are, we didn’t know each other and now we know so much about each other.”

“And it just took a day,” said Laura.

“This is real living,” I said. “I think.”

“This local artist and I have been working on something together,” Garett said. “He makes sketches and I hand them out to strangers that I get to know. Would you like to have one?”

“Absolutely.”

“And would you like to give it to somebody you meet on your travels?”

My first thought was, Oh, no. You see I’m gonna be real busy, working on my book, and doing so many other…

“Absolutely,” I answered. “I’d love to.”

Who am I gonna give it to?

Who am I gonna give it to?

“It was so wonderful to get to know you,” Laura said, in the parking lot as we hugged.

“Absolutely.”

“Please come through again, anytime. And maybe we’ll see you in LA,” continued Laura.

“Absolutely.”

Laura and Garett walked to their cars, I to mine. I had the sketch in my hand and…life just keeps going like water spilled on a table. Until I evaporate or drip off the edge…I got in and started the engine and took Highway 12 straight through the heart of Montana, witnessing staggering beauty along that road that I could attempt to explain to you but you’d have to take the drive yourself to truly understand it.

Dakota Territory

Dakota Territory

The next morning I took Highway 2 into North Dakota. The land flattened with every mile. I passed through one tiny farm town after another and thought of my own farm town home of Orange Grove, Texas, way down at the opposite end of the country. Then I thought very fondly of my childhood. It was a good childhood, when I look at it all these years later. I saw it all, crystal clear. Those real, real memories. Who knows if they really happened? Who cares? There I am, a little kid…

Fortunately, the wind was blowing across Highway 2 at about 30mph. I had to negotiate the wind like a sailor on a skiff, which kept me from sinking down any deeper into the Great Ocean of Memory.

Be well…

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Les Confortables

Hello Everybody,

“Theatre’s all about change,” said Sean, my boss over the weekend, at La Mirada Center for the Performing Arts, in La Mirada, California. I was one of many fellows hired to load in the set to the musical Les Miserables. “It’s just that we just keep doing the same shows over and over.”

Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.

(The above quote and the following quotes throughout are from Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, on which the musical is based.)

20140525_214359The set was a rental, around ten years old. For a decade in theatres all over America, the set has been loaded in and set up so Americans could sing along to the titanic story of crushing poverty, desperation, love and redemption. From sea to shining sea, countless theatre-goers know the songs by heart. It’s one of the most popular musicals of all time.

“I’m bored,” said Mark. The two of us were told to hold a giant wall in place, while three or four other guys figured out how to attach it to another wall,”so I’m gonna tell you a whole bunch of dirty jokes. All right, here we go. Hey?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you know what a soggy biscuit is?”

I didn’t. He told me. I won’t tell you.

“Hey?”

“Hmm?”

“You know what a pink sock is?”

I didn’t. He told me. I won’t tell you.

“Hey?” I asked.

“Hmm?” he replied.

“You know what a dirty gas pump is?”

He didn’t. I told him. I won’t tell you.

The straight line, a respectable optical illusion which ruins many a man.

Our jokes were depraved, horrible, but the time passed a little faster as we fired one joke off after another. Fast time is welcome when you’re standing around all night, with one hand on a wall, shifting from one aching foot to another. Waiting around is 75% of a load in. The other 25% is when the hernias, pinched nerves and stress fractures occur, by pulling some incrediblly heavy and awkward set piece up or down or left or right or off a truck, and everyone’s in some precarious position with and arm or foot or face in danger of being crushed and the piece shifts and creaks and comes your way and you see your arm, foot or face crushed in your head which triggers a little tingle in your arm, foot or face and you curse and say I’m not gonna do it! This is too f#$kin’ dangerous! I’m only getting $13 bucks an hour and no insurance! For God’s sake I went to f#$kin’ college! Hey you, BOSS with the salary and benefits?! Either you come and do it or find a safer way! You are just about to shout all of this out loud, it’s on the tip of your tongue, but the guy next to you says it. Then everybody backs away from the set piece. Sean takes a deep breath, shakes his head, thinks for a moment and figures out a safer way as you and all the other fellows grumble, not gonna do it, not worth it for a stinkin’ musical…

But Les Miserables isn’t a stinking musical, it’s considered one of the best. And the book it’s based on is considered one of the best pieces of literature from the 19th Century. Hugo’s novel takes place in the years leading up to the June Rebellion in France. It begins with the protagonist, Jean Valjean’s release from prison. Immediately, he runs into obstacles, due to his criminal past. His first night free, he can’t even get a room at an inn. No one will give him a job, he’s only met with disdain. So he resorts to crime to get by. After a little time goes by, he assumes another identity, goes straight and prospers with his own business. There’s many plots, love and all that – over 1,500 pages worth – but ultimately Valjean cannot escape who he is. Or, more so, society won’t let him escape. At the end of the novel, Valjean winds up taking a stand – and losing – with other wretches of society at a barricade on a street against the French Army.

20140410_184025-1“Aw naw…” replied Adrian, another fellow helping with the load in, after we were instructed to lift a heavy platform over our heads, crawl up ladders, and slide the piece several feet over and attach it to a wall, “…I’m not in ta dyin’. You guys are always tryin’ ta get us ta do thangs da wrong way here. We gonna find another way ta do dis or we ain’t doin’ it at all.”

Sean took a deep breath, shook his head, thought for a bit and found a safer way.

 Let us study things that are no more. It is necessary to understand them, if only to avoid them.

That night, I drove back to LA in the slow, winding red lava flow of car lights on I-5 North. It was Memorial Day Eve, and many people were heading back home after a day of communion, barbecuing, drinking and drunk driving in honor of all the soldiers who paid the ultimate price for the USofA. Cars swerved in and out of lanes. Cars changed lanes without blinkers, others drove long stretches with their blinkers on. Motorcycles materialized in my rearview mirror out of thin air, zoomed passed me. At steady intervals were the blinking red and blues of a California Highway Patrol car. As I’d pass by, I’d slow down, though I wasn’t speeding. Then I’d do a mental inventory of what I had in the Jeep. I had no contraband in the vehicle or on my person, no guns etc. But old guilt dies hard. Jesus, relax, your clean, been clean for a while. Yes, but still. But no. But. But what? Shit, I’m too tired and sore for $130 bucks. But you need the dough. But damn. But damn nothin’…keep your eyes on the road, there’s another cop.

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Jason. Good father, good friend.

The next day, my buddy Jason and I installed a wooden fence atop the brick barricade around his friends’ – Alex and Rob – backyard. We got there in the morning, surveyed the situation, then left each other to do different tasks. Memorial Day did not let us down, the sun was high and hot and the sky was blue. The sun steadily moved across the sky as I mounted wooden posts into the brick, leveled them. Jason was right behind me, cutting and affixing wooden slats onto the posts.

After lunch, Jason’s wife Jennie, dropped off their daughter, Vivienne. Alex spent the afternoon wheeling little Vivienne around in the stroller, around the pool, down the driveway, down the sidewalk along the street. When Alex pushed, Vivienne was quiet. When he stopped, she’d cry. Jason would give Alex a break every now and then, hold Vivienne in the shade, popping out into the sun from time to time, gently bouncing Vivienne in his arms, saying things like, “sorry, buddy, but I’ll be back on it in a second.”

To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.

But Jason’s fatherly duties had no bearing on our progress. It was a smooth job. By 5pm, the fence was up, giving the backyard a resort-like atmosphere. Maybe some tiki torches here, some kind of plant thingy there, a bar…

Jason and I jumped in the pool to cool down. After a few laps from end to end, Jason got out to change Vivienne’s diaper. I dog paddled to the middle of the deep end, took a deep breath and went under, letting out my breath just enough to sit on the bottom of the pool. I wiped the sand and wood grit from my arms, then let them float beside me. The were sore from drilling into the brick. I had bruises on my chest, from pressing against the drill for more force. My fingers were raw, had splinters in them. I closed my eyes and listened to the low hum in my head. Then the water disappeared and I was suspended in a substance less than Nothingness, void of time or gravity. Then I disappeared, became less than nothing…then I went up for air as if breathing were merely an option.

There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.

The next day, I went back to Alex and Rob’s to remove an old chain link fence that surrounded the pool. I snipped off the chain link, cut the steel poles from out of the concrete deck, chopped them up with a grinder, bagged it all up for the scrap metal men. Then I stripped down, jumped in the pool. After a few laps, I sat down on the bottom of the pool again. I brushed the metal shavings out of my arms, let them float, closed my eyes and waited to disappear. But I didn’t. I just sat there until my lungs were about to explode, then darted up for air. Then I jumped out, dried off, got dressed. Rob paid me and I left.

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After depositing the money in the bank, I turned my feet toward an El Pollo Loco to get something to eat. The sun bore down hard, the El Pollo Loco sign squiggled in the heat waves, just above the horizon. At a bus stop bench along the way, an old black homeless man had barricaded himself with dozens of plastic bags containing his belongings. Containers of half-eaten meals lay scattered about the plastic bags. His feet stuck out from the plastic bags – scabbed, bleeding, swollen with long cracked yellow toe nails. Traffic zoomed by and heavy exhaust lingered at the bus stop. How many breaths has he had of this shit? Either not too many, or way too many, because he was smiling as he held his beady eyes upward and babbled with the sun rays rushing toward him and bouncing off his shiny bald head. Beside the bench, two bums sat with the same countenance as the empty beer cans that lay around them, rolling to the wind from the traffic. I could see the next bus approaching, jittery through the heat waves, but it wasn’t the kind of  bus that could take these three bums where they needed to go.

A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.

I entered El Pollo Loco, went to the counter. A clerk was waiting for me. A bum stood at the counter, mumbling about chicken wings.

“Good afternoon, what would you like, sir?” asked the clerk.

“Hmm, lets see…” I said as I perused the menu above her head. “I think I’ll have the-“

“Oh, no…yep, dey say a chicken wing is $2.18 you ladies owe me a chicken wing,” said the bum. The clerk was ignoring him, looked like she’d been so for some time.

“I would like a spicy-“

“Yep, dey say a chicken wing is $2.18 now the other day I didn’t get no chicken wing so now I need a chicken wing cause dey $2.18.”

“…a spicy chipotle burrito.”

“The combo?”

“You do the countin’ now dey $2.18 so you ladies owe me a chicken wing-“

“SHOO!” exclaimed the clerk and waved her hand at the bum.

The bum stopped speaking but stood there with the same wide open eyes. Then he tilted those eyes slightly downward. Then he turned around, left. “Damn, dey $2.18 say they $2.18 owe me a chicken wing…”

Gentlemen of the human race, I say to hell with the lot of you.

“Yes, make it a combo.”

I sat next to the window and ate. A latino teenager came up and sat just on the other side of the window. He pulled a beer bottle and plastic cup out of his back pack, poured some beer into the cup, took a sip, stared into the El Pollo Loco.

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His gaze looked to be an amalgamation of wrath and exhaustion. He rarely blinked his eyes. His raven black hair lifted from the wind every now and then. His black shirt was stained with sweat rings about the neck and armpits. Holes in the knees of his pants. He took another drink. His eyes went through me and everybody behind me. I got the feeling he didn’t believe any of us thought he existed. He took another sip, dug around the backpack. Oh shit, this guys gonna pull out a gun and shoot us all…spray us with bullets just in time for the evening news. Why would you think such a thought? Because it’s not a crazy thought anymore. The kid pulled his hand out of the backpack, zipped it up, walked inside. He left his beer on the sidewalk! Yeah, he’s gonna kill us. I was really nervous. But, god, I don’t wanna be. He went straight to the bathroom. Did somebody suspect the last shooting? Did somebody feel this way last weekend, at Isla Vista? Did somebody know they were gonna die and just sit there? The kid came out of the restroom, pulled his iPhone out of his pocket, stared into it as he left El Pollo Loco and walked deeper into LA.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise...

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise – Victor Hugo

At first I was relieved, then I felt ridiculous. Hell, that kid couldn’t have been a mass murderer. He was just a poor kid. In this day and age mass murderers come from the suburbs, the progeny of economically viable parents. They plot their carnage from college dorm rooms, with air-conditioning and wireless internet. They spout their manifestos to a virtual world via YouTube then commit very real murder in the streets, schools and theaters. No longer do they look like Charlie Manson – a transient, born into bastardy from a drunk teenage mother, who couldn’t jump out of his social caste and therefore murdered some rich people in The Hills. Today, it’s the kids who will have the opportunity to live in The Hills that are doing the murdering. It’s a much more classier coming of Helter Skelter.

If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.

Wise words, Victor Hugo, you tell us how to find what’s wrong with us with that quote. But you tell us where to find salvation when you say…

If you are stone, be magnetic; if a plant, be sensitive; but if you are human be love.

Be well…

Thanks to all who’ve helped me keep El Jamberoo going!

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Little Simple Things

Hello Everybody,

Last week, I boarded a flight from Los Angeles to New York City. I sent a last message to Dan, my friend and director of a filmed version of Richard the Third I was to act in, while there.

On plane. On time. See you in 6 hrs.

I turned off my phone. The rest of the passengers boarded, sent their last texts, turned off their phones, settled in for the flight. But as we waited to taxi to the runway, this message came over the PA…

20140427_141435“Ladies and gentlemen, we have word our 1st Mate is stuck in traffic. Looks like there’s some wildfires wreaking havoc on I-5. We are currently trying to find another pilot to take her place, but until then we must ask all of you to deboard the plane and wait at the gate for further notice. But it looks to be at least an hour before we can board again.”

Off plane. Delayed. Who knows when.

Back in the terminal, I sat next an electrical outlet so I could charge my phone. A few passengers hovered over me, rather irate now that we wouldn’t be landing in New York until late in the night. I wasn’t, because Dan texted back…

Will track ur late ass. Get here when u get here.

45 minutes later, I received an email alert telling me my flight was delayed 45 minutes ago. That’s helpful, you silly little machine. At the gate’s kiosk, a passenger argued with the gate attendant who kept smiling and uttering statements anchored with the words force majeure. The passenger was bald, the pate of his head glowed red. He wore the remains of a business suit, sweated through it as he shook his phone at the attendant. But the attendant held her smile…force majeure…so Baldy walked away, dialed a number, then shouted into his phone statements anchored with the word f#$k.

An hour and a half later we were in the air.

“For couple of years there,” said Dominic, who sat next to me on the flight, I pulled in like a hundred grand. Then a couple of years later it’s back to setting up tents at weddings. Catering.”

Dominic had been watching the movie, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, through the little viewing monitor on the chair in front of him. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, was playing on the screen in front of the passenger on my other side, but he’d fallen asleep. Little Hobbits fought the fire-breathing dragon in front of their sleeping audience as if movies weren’t made for people, anyway. The guy sitting in front of him watched The Wolf of Wall Street, but he was drunk and just kinda moved his head around as Leonardo DiCaprio and Co. screwed the fools of America out of millions until they drank, snorted, f#$ked and wrecked themselves into prison and money went on being made as if it didn’t need Us to make it. I was watching Her, a beautiful movie about heartache and moving on and falling in love with an Operating System. Well written and well acted, the movie’s frighteningly foreseeable. The drama unfolds in a Los Angeles set somewhere in the near future, but not yet the LA of the film, Blade Runner. Throughout the movie, more and more people are seen cooing into their computers or listening to the sweet nothings of The Cloud from their ear pieces.

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When the movie ended and the credits were rolling, I took a look around the cab and saw everyone plugged in to the screen in front of them. I rubbed my eyes, unsure if I was still watching the movie or not. I noticed that Dominic had paused Captain Phillips sometime just after the evil black pirates had taken Christlike Tom Hanks hostage, ordered him into the escape pod, and jettisoned into the sprawling blue ocean. Dominic was staring blankly at the illuminated screen.

“Couldn’t get into it?” I asked.

“Uh…I’ve seen it before, so…” He shrugged his shoulders.

Dominic was from Ohio, been in LA 10 years. He liked LA but didn’t know if he wanted to live there anymore, but of course, didn’t know if he wanted to live anywhere else. And, of course, didn’t know what he’d do Anywhere Else.

20140519_222132“That’s good, man,” he said, “that you gotta real skill, building things. Me, I’m catering, waiting tables, bar-backing and whatever I can when I’m between films. It’s such a hustle, man. Everyday. Everything’s always up in the air. I’m supposed to act in and oversee the production of a film my friend’s been able to put together, as soon as the money comes through, which is supposedly soon. At least that’s what I’ll tell my brother I’m visiting in NY.”

Dominic and I exchanged info at the baggage claim and bid each other farewell. Will I ever see him again? Will I not? It seems a simple decision to make, seems I have all the power to say yay or nay. It seemed a real possibility that we would indeed meet again, just before I turned and headed to the taxis, just before I pulled out my phone, texted Dan…

Getting cab. Be there soon.

…just before another email alert popped up telling me that my flight will arrive at JFK late, just like it did. But Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? may as well have been the riddles of Taoist Monks. Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? as a cab came approached. I stepped into it helplessly, a being guided by an incomprehensible fate.

The view inside a memory.

The view inside a memory.

I spent Friday walking around New York. It was a cloudy contemplative day. Strong memories came to me at every corner. But they came in blurry. I couldn’t recall a single, specific moment of the 10 years I spent in New York. Block after block, the harder I tried the blurrier The Past became. So I gave up trying to remember and when I did I realized New York City was the memory. The honking horns. The ambient roar in, out, over and underneath everything. This is all a huge part of meThe walk lights flashing, the stopping and going of people and traffic. The endless chatter that no one on the street seems to be speaking. Everyone walks with shoulders tensed, mouths slightly open, their eyes behind fixed protective expressions, their gazes falling upon a point of distant calm through the vast realm of chaos. Wires running out from their ears, pumping The Cloud into their brains. A huge part of me...

Rain drops began to fall from real clouds, and the rivers of humanity on the city’s sidewalks flowed harder to the subway drains. I helplessly flowed down the drain and was spat out in Astoria, Queens where Dan lived. The wind was hard and knocking down awnings and whisking trash all over the place. Then came the hard rain and in seconds I was soaked, through and through. The rain came in from the side, so I held my head to the opposite side as I negotiated the storm, glancing in one eatery after the other. It was evening now, and the Fridaynighters ate and spoke with silent mouths, leaning close together and smiling in dry clothes just a thin pane of glass away from the biblical deluge through which I trudged.

31st Street, below the elevated N,Q train line was river. The sewer drains were clogged with plastic cups, plastic bags, plastic bottles. The water rose over the curb. The roar of the rain and wind and trains pummeled my consciousness. My soaked hood flapped about my face like hound dog ears. I felt my Self disappearing into just a moving shadow seen only on the edge of the headlights of passing cars.

20140516_175352Then the rain stopped. The wind stopped. The city was now calm and quiet. Smokers crept outside of bars. One smoker saw me, let out a one-syllable laugh, tapped another smoker on the shoulder, who looked at me, laughed the same way, took a drag. Then they turned to each other, huddling in a cloud of nicotine the made all by themselves.

I got to Dan’s, threw my soaked clothes in the dryer, put on some warm, dry clothes, kicked back and relaxed. Sleep was fastly approaching when my phone chirped out another email alert: Flash Flood Warning!

But there was nothing but sunshine the next morning. I ate breakfast by the kitchen window and let the sunrays warm my skin. The same sun would rise over Los Angeles a couple of hours later, 2,500 miles away. The same sun but a different shine. One spoonful of yogurt and granola after another, I kept thinking a hard thought, I don’t miss New York anymore. I love it, but don’t miss it.

After breakfast, I hopped the Long Island Railroad out to Ronkonkoma. There I met up with Dan and the rest of the cast and crew of Richard the Third. I played Clarence, imprisoned by his brother, King Edward. The first scene we shot was mostly a long monologue through which Clarence describes a nightmare he’d had the night before. He dreamt he escaped prison and sailed with his other brother, Richard the Third, across the English Channel. But Richard knocked him over board and…

Lord, lord, what a pain it was to drown!

What dreadful noise of waters in my ears.

What ugly sights of death within my eyes.

Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks,

Ten thousand men that fishes gnawed upon,

Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,

Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,

All lay, scatter’d in the bottom of the sea,

Some lay in dead men’s skulls, and in those holes

Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,

As t’were in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,

Which woo’d the slimy bottom of the deep

And mock’d the dead bones that lay scatter’d by.

 

I rode back to the city with Ben, the costume designer. Ben’s been a friend of mine for over 15 years, since Texas, and we’ve been working together off and on ever since. We began to chat – as Ben drove us out of Ronkonkoma – about old times, new directions, etc. Conversation was easy as we cruised down streets that could have been anywhere in the USA. One-story houses, small green lawns, one tree on either side of the sidewalk leading to the front door, an SUV or sedan in the driveway, the occasional rusted, dusty and dented sports car parked on the curb. Georgia. Minnesota, Texas…

Public toilet in Anywhere, USA.

Public toilet in Anywhere, USA.

…then we drove down a street we’d already been on and Ben hit the brakes, stopped in the middle of the road. He huffed and puffed and picked up his phone, and spoke, “Get Ben home.” The kind lady in the computer agreed, and led us to New York City.

On Monday, I met up with my friend, Lauren, in Central Park.

“Yeah,” she said, “I got fired from the restaurant, sublet my apartment and have been crashing on couches ever since, getting some clothes out of storage every now and then. It’s great. I feel it now, Todd, the freedom you have.”

“Well, I’ve been feeling it for 4 years now and don’t know how much more of it I want. I’m broke, and I gotta do something about that, or more of what I’ve been doing, or more of whatever–“

20140519_203305(0)“You’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine. See, it’s not just you or anyone of us, but all of us. We’re all highly unstable. Pluto may not be a planet anymore but it’s still a powerful force on us. Right now, it’s squaring up against Uranus. Those are two powerful forces. Pluto’s a slow mother#$king tugboat of hell and Uranus is lightning. They’ve been at it for a couple of years but next year they’ll stop going at it. Then our paths will be clearer. This is all crazy shit happening at the end of a larger 13,000 year cycle. During that time, Humanity has been defined by brutality. It hasn’t been pretty. But we’re about to enter a new age of Man…you know, the Age of Aquarius (rolls her eyes)…a time when we’ve gotten all the rape, murder and rule out of the way…a time of great enlightenment.”

My phone in my pocket was warm on my skin. An app was running. An app’s always running. The phone’s always running. Always. Everywhere. At once. Always will. I stood up. “I have to pee.”

“Oh god, I do too,” replied Lauren. “I mean, I’ll probably have to be wheeled to the toilet I have to go so bad.”

Almost there...

Almost there…

The next day, I took the N-train to the 7-train to the E-train to the Air-train to JFK. Just before the train pulled into my terminal, I saw all of the borough of Manhattan Island clearly, completely. So small in the distance: the skyscrapers of the financial center downtown to the low buildings of Greenwich Village to the skyscrapers of Midtown and then the consistent range of mid-level buildings to the end of the island. A small simple city. The sun shone brightly upon it, as it will on all cities. As it has on all cities over the last 13,000 years. Cities built by a small simple species that almost has all the rape, murder and rule out of its system.

Be well…

Hey! What’s this?! It’s a donation button! Think El Jamberoo’s worth a couple a bucks? More than a couple a bucks? As many bucks as you can spare? Hey, I won’t stop you…but more importantly, thanks for reading. It means a hell of a lot.

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At Home In Forever

Hello Everybody,

Last week, I built a portable picnic table to be auctioned off at Independent Shakespeare Co’s “Vaudeville in the Park”, the company’s annual fundraiser for their summer productions in Griffith Park.

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Get tickets HERE!

I built the table out of scrap wood from previous ISC productions. A few cuts with a saw, some screws, some glue, some sanding and shellac-ing and VOILA!…a little table that folds up to the size of a briefcase. Unfold it and you and a few friends can sit around it, partaking of wine, cheese, little sausages, vegetables or tofu or whatever you desire, whilst taking in the love, laughter, pain and tears of a Shakespeare play. You can enjoy simple Existence in a park on a planet rocketing through a rapidly expanding Universe as the sunset, coyotes calling from the hills and the cool evening breeze rattling the leaves of the trees will make you believe that IT’s all moving much more slowly.

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Last Friday, I checked out ISC’s production of Romeo and Juliet in the company’s studio space in Atwater Village. Only 8 actors were tasked with bringing to life the soaring melodrama of Romeo and Juliet, which they do so to great effect, effortlessly changing into other characters – donning a mustache here, a hat there – in between dancing, masquerading, falling in love, joking around, duelling, getting stabbed, getting married, getting stabbed some more and getting poisoned on a set constructed from the remnants of the set I built for last summer’s Shakespeare festival. Over the last year, the set has served as Scotland for Macbeth, the English countryside for She Stoops To Conquer, the Forest of Arden in As You Like It, Paris for Cyrano de Bergerac, and now Verona for Shakespeare’s timeless tail of underage love.

20140416_103128A utility ladder served as the balcony where Juliet famously asks the stars, wherefore art my Romeo? For that moment, I believed the ladder was a balcony. Romeo answered her from across the studio on little wooden bench which serves as a convincing tree. Little cut-out starts hung between the two teenagers to serve as the cosmos. Eternity spanned between the ladder and the bench, and the two lovers had so much hope in their eyes I almost believed they’d really be able to reach across Space and hold each other forever. But the gravity of the hatred between their families proved too strong, and the star-crossed lovers ultimately fell to an Earth. Romeo ends up poisoning himself, Juliet stabbing herself over her dead starlover’s body on the bench that used to be a tree, now serving as a crypt. A few scenes before it served as the honeymoon bed, on which the two stars collided, pawed at each other with so much sweet lust. But that happy scene felt like it never happened by the time the two dead children were carried offstage and their parents were left to live with the consequences of their rivalry…or former rivalry, for the two fathers looked to be void of hatred at the end, in fact, void of anything. They walked offstage together, two black holes caught in each other’s gravity for eternity.

My friend, Erica, wonderfully portrayed Juliet. After the show the following Sunday afternoon, I went over to her studio apartment in Burbank to build a divider wall.

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Get tickets HERE!

“I have family coming to visit” she said. “I wanna break the space up just enough to be able to say, here is where we eat and where I sleep and here is the living room. It’s a teeny tiny place, but it’d be nice to feel that my home isn’t just one room, you know?”

Erica’s boyfriend Kevin – also performing in Romeo and Juliet – and I built the wall in Erica’s parking spot. Troy, the apartment superintendent, was repairing the railing on the second floor balcony of complex.

“Did Erica tell you, bro,” he said, after he finished working, “Erica locked herself out the other day, so I crawled up into her window to let her in…and some f#$king tenant, I don’t know who…yet…filed a complaint.” He was rolling up an extension cord, jerking the cord down the stairs. He had black paint all over his face and hands, clothes. “F#$king making this place nicer for people to live in, bro, and somebody does that? Shit…I don’t even wanna be here. I’m really an underwater welder. $80 and hour. But I got in a car wreck and ended up with this…” he lifted up a pant leg to reveal an artificial leg. “That’s the only reason I’m here.” He finished rolling up the extension cord and walked off, but seconds later he came back. “I mean that’s bullshit, right? Treating me like I’m some f#$king creep? F#$king right it’s bullshit, bro. You know, I can dive no problem with one leg, but shit…they won’t even let me drive.” Erica came down to see how we were doing. “He Erica?” Troy asked. “Can you give me a ride to the Red Line?”

Erica took Troy to the subway. By the time she was back, Kevin and I finished the wall. We carried it up the stairs, twisted and turned it until we got it in the tiny apartment. After a few adjustments, I mounted it to the ceiling and…BAM!…Erica had a wall in her home. The three of us squeezed into corner by the front door to get the best view of the place.

20140413_214154“Now it looks like I really have a bedroom! Kinda…” She said as she hopped over by the love seat that serves as a couch. “See,” she pointed throughout the room, “Eat there, sleep there, live here!”

A few days later, I hung out with my friend, Sean – also a friend of Erica’s and Kevin’s and member of ISC. A few months ago, he and his girlfriend found out they were going to have a baby.

“Granted…” Sean raised his eyebrows, cocked his head to the side, “…I’m not giving birth, but I’ve only felt a great sense of calm and love, since we found out. Where we’re gonna have the baby…they’re big believers on skin on skin as quick as possible. Like the baby comes out, and I open my shirt, and they put it him or her right on me, blood and all. They said bring an extra shirt. I can’t wait.” He raised his eyebrows, cocked his head again. “But four people were let go at work a while back, without notice. There’s not a great feeling of security right now. There never has been, really. I’ve always felt like any moment I’ll be let go, but now,” eyebrows, head shake, “you know, I…”

“I was let go by the restaurant,” my friend, Jason, told me, the next day as we drove around Hollywood. His four-month old daughter, Vivienne, sat in a car seat in the back – crying when we stopped, quiet when we moved. “I mean, I only took it because I had to travel so much with my other job. I thought I’d be nice to be home as much as possible, at least the first year of her life. It’s the first time I’d ever been fired from a job.” He pulled out his phone and began dialing a number on his phone. “I’m just gonna have to look in other directions to make money.” He looked in the rearview mirror. “She’s asleep.” He pulled over, slowly. “I gotta call my bank before it closes. My credit card was compromised and somebody in Connecticut’s been using it.”

Jason waited on hold for several minutes. By the time the customer service agent got back on the line, Vivienne had awoken, was crying. Jason told the agent what happened and the agent placed him on hold again. He resumed driving, Vivienne fell asleep.

“Oh,” he said, “did I tell you we almost moved?”

“No.”

“Yeah, to Echo Park. It was a real nice 2-bedroom. The owners liked us and everything. I was just about to call you to come help move. But they wanted way too much up front. For a week, though, we thought it was ours.” The customer came back on the line, and he pulled over. Vivienne cried. “Uh-huh…uh-huh…so, the bank is closed for the weekend, so…whoever’s got my card number can use it? Uh-huh…uh-huh…call another number?” Vivienne cried louder, Jason began to drive. “…alright, yeah, I guess. Give it to me and I’ll call them.” He quickly reached for a pen in the console, wrote the number on an envelope. “Thanks.” He hung up the phone. “Actually, it was a lot of stress and anxiety, hoping we’d get the place. I guess it worked out for the best. I don’t think we could’ve afforded it if we got it, anyway.”

20140419_135729I’d been looking for a new place to live, too (see the Jamberoo: Still Standing After The Great Shake) scouring the internet, walking around the neighborhood, calling any available apartment I saw. The rent in East Hollywood is skyrocketting, in perfect sync to the speed with which the Target Superstore on Sunset Boulevard is being constructed, which is in sync with the growing number of hipster bars, boutiques and cross-fit training gyms appearing on Hollywood Boulevard. A few months ago, I could afford quite a few places in the neighborhood. Now, most places were too expensive.

“The place was built in 1930,” said Patrick, the short, chubby superintendent of a bachelor-apartment building I inquired about. He sweated, panted as we rode up the tiny elevator together. “How many buildings you looked at with a elevator? But you’ll be using the stairs a good part of the time. Hey, it’s a elevator from 1930, it’s old, it breaks down.” We got out on the top floor and he led me into a tiny apartment. “One room, no kitchen except for the stove and fridge over there. Stand up shower, but hey, you get a great closet.”

The apartment was smaller than Erica’s. This is too small for me, I thought. And too damn small for the price they want! However, all I owned could fit in one corner of the closet. But what does it matter, if I can afford it? And I have all the room I need? And if I like the place, then…

“Listen, it’s Hollywoooooood,” Patrick said from across the tiny space. “This is a steal. You want it you can start now. But listen, I don’t want any bullshit, you know. You’re clean, you’re quiet, then we’ll get along. But you gimme bullshit…hey…I been a actor for 19 years, I’ll give you bullshit right back. So…it’s $125 to apply which, you know, I already like ya…and $900 a month plus all utilities, $500 deposit…”

…I could walk across the entire space in three good steps, my own little room in the world…

“For that you get a quaint, classy, classic place to live. This is Old Hollywood, you know. And look, the carpet’s brand new.”

…my own little place to call home, with new carpet…

“Oh, and no co-signers. I don’t deal with that bullshit.”

Damn.

20140410_184025-1I decided I would not get an apartment until the end of the summer, when I’ll have more money. Where’s your proof, Todd? What have you gathered from your life that convinces you there’ll be more money at the end of the summer? Till then, I’ll live in my car, since I’ll be traveling so much over the summer. Uh, what car, Todd?

For hours, I descended into internetland, hoping to find a low-cost vehicle that would get from place to place, in which I could store my belongings and on which I could load materials for jobs. Everything was A STEAL! that the owner was selling ONLY BECAUSE I NEED THE MONEY! that they HATE TO LET GO! that RUNS GOOD! but NEEDS JUST A LITTLE TLC! My eyes hurt as I hung suspended in the Paradox of Choice.

You are fooling yourself, Todd. You can’t afford a car either. No car?! No apartment?! Whadd’ya gonna do, Todd?! I looked away from the screen, cracked my fingers, then did what I usually do when I threaten myself with that question, I googled…

…jobs fishing boats Alaska…

But as much as I think I want to drift into obscurity in Arctic waters, I can’t do it right now. I have to be in New York in May to act in a film. I have to be back here in LA in June to build ISC’s set in Griffith Park. Then I’m in North Dakota for the month of July for an artist residency through the North Dakota Museum of Art. From there, I go to Chicago to act in a play. Then I’m back in LA at the end of August to strike the set for ISC. There’s simply no time for fishing.

20140418_183104My life has gotten real big and vibrant, with all kinds of cool shit to do. Friends keep popping out of thin air. Time flies these days and every now and when I grasp how fast IT’s all going, I quit being an individual and once again transform to stardust…my natural state. And stardust is eternal. I’m eternal. So are you. The settings change over and over and over, but IT goes on forever. And there’s always a ride, always a couch, out here in Eternity.

Be well…

New Old New Ad Infinitum…

Hello Everybody,

Last week, my friend, Mia hired me to build a table out of two old wooden doors. The doors were coated in several layers of paint, applied throughout several decades, except on the corners where the paint had peeled away, exposing brittle and cracked wood.

20140327_141854Stripping all the paint off the doors would’ve taken more time than was worth putting into the project, so I sanded over the doors until the dull gray topcoat of paint opened up in spaces exposing a white coat, then a pink coat, then a blue coat. Also, since I wasn’t stripping off the paint, I thoroughly sanded the edges of the paint around the areas of exposed wood – the smoother the edges, the better the seal I’d get with lacquer. Sanding took most of the morning. When I was done, wiped the grit from my reddened eyes, blew from my nose paint and wood dust that was older than my parents and stepped back to see that both doors had an uneven, yet consistent appearance.

Then I built the frame for the table, mounted the doors atop it, applied wood filler into the screw holes, and ate lunch with Mia as I waited for the filler to dry. After lunch, I sanded the filled holes down, made a pass over the doors with a brush, wiped them down with a damp cloth, then wiped them down with a dry cloth, in preparation of applying the lacquer.

20140328_154735It was a still, hot day with few clouds. The afternoon sun was blinding, reflecting off the lacquer as I applied it. My arms turned from tan to pink to red as I brushed. My face was caked with dust and dried sweat and my eyes were a little irritated. When I finished brushing on the lacquer, I rubbed my eyes, looked real close at the finished doors. By then it was the evening, and in the gloaming the doors glowed as if they had a lights inside them. The lacquer Mia had chosen was clear, but oil-based, so a slight amber tone came with the shine. The grays, blues, pinks and whites were so rich, so distinct, but all colors blended subtly with each other, like the inside of a seashell – it was hard to see where one color ended, and another started. And, the exposed wood at the corners appeared younger, healthier than its previous ashen, brittle appearance.

I was shivering in the evening breeze, as I gathered my tools. Mia came out and liked what she saw. I said goodby to her and walked to the bus stop. By the time my bus arrived, the job had lifted from my shoulders and exhuastion had set in. I slouched in a seat, tucked my tools under my legs. I felt like a real artist – transforming matter from useless to useful again. However, I felt no grand sense of creativity. In fact, as the bus jerked from stop to stop down Hollywood Boulevard, I became convinced that Creativity was an illusion. All I really did was simply expose and illuminate what was already there. I just happened to be open to what was there, and by being so, and trusting my own capabilities, a process of transformation took place. Art is transformation, not creativity…it is discovering what’s within something – whatever’s in front of you – and…holy cow…it wasn’t the doors that underwent a transformation, it was…wow…

20140328_154915Two days later I flew to Texas. My friend, Luis Galindo, was staging the first reading of the book he wrote and I edited, Electric Rats in a Neon Gutter: Poems, Stories and SongsThe book is a semi-damn-near-completely autobiographical collection of musings about love and loss and booze and drugs and hatred and sorrow and ghosts and injustice over several bruising rambling years – though, all the way through, Luis searches for The True, The Pure, The Light. The reading would take place at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, a city where many of the tales within the tale take place.

I landed in San Antonio, spent a day with my mom, sister and her family, then hopped in my mom’s car and onto I-10 East to Houston. I sped down the interstate, bobbing and weaving around 18-wheelers, slowing to the speed limit when I saw State Troopers on the horizon, then speeding up again after passing them. The drive was old, familiar, which was odd because it’d been over 16 years since I’d been to Houston, for a wedding…

…my friend, Matt’s wedding. I remember pulling into Matt’s driveway, walking into his house, cracking open a Budweiser…then cut to me standing outside of the tent where the party after the wedding was being held…swaying slightly, smoking a cigarette, staring down at the patent leather shoes that came with the rented tuxedo…they are too small and my feet ache…I drink dark wine fast from a plastic cup…I want more wine, but I don’t want it to appear like I’m The Drunk at the wedding…granted I am The Drunk at this wedding, but what other people don’t know won’t hurt them…I lift one foot off the ground at a time like a flamingo, gazing up at the night sky, then back to the tent, to see if I could make an inconspicuous dart to the bar...it doesn’t appear that a covert trip to the bar and back without being noticed is possibility, but it’s a mission I’m obliged to undertake…I finish the cigarette, walk to the tent…but everything goes black after that…I hadn’t been to Houston since, or seen Matt, for that matter…

20140331_155557Luis was waiting for me at the theatre. Throughout the afternoon, we went over the order of the pieces Luis would sing, read. Then I timed him as he rehearsed the pieces, to get an idea of the length of the evening. When he’d rehearse a song, he’d pace the stage, strumming his guitar as if the chords he played told him where to step…

 

From the song “Adios Chica Linda”:

I’ve been sick

and I’ve sure been tired

I’ve been up, down, below the ground,

I’ve been stoned, drunk and wired

I’ve had every occupation that a man can hold,

I’ve lost every single thing but my heart and soul

and I sure got a bunch of problems, or so I’m told.

Brian, the lighting technician, played with the lights to find a good tone for the evening. One by one, each light – pink, blue, amber – illuminated Luis differently, as if he was a different person in each light. The familiar songs and poems came to me from unfamiliar directions, like new things that sounded older. The lights bounced off his glasses and guitar as he paced around. By the time Brian finally found the right lighting – a combination of all the lights, naturally – Luis had transformed from a guy rehearsing to a man onstage.

“It doesn’t seem real, man,” Luis told me, after rehearsing. “Feels like I didn’t write any of it.”

“The good stuff always feels that way,” I said. “The real stuff is always humbling, scary.”

“Feels like it all came from somewhere else.”

“Well, it’s all you.”

As 7:30 – the starting time for the reading – neared, Luis grew more and more nervous. “I don’t get this nervous when I’m doing a play,” he’d say, or, “Shit, I didn’t even feel like this when I did Macbeth.” People began to arrive and Luis greeted everybody, shook hands, smiled. The crowd gave him something to do but also drove home the fact that everyone was there to see him. Every now and then he’d rumble passed where I was selling books and tending bar, mumbling, “Jesus, I’m f#$kin’ nervous,” under his breath.

The book is about a certain periods of Luis’ life from which, now, he’s very different. And today, he knows those versions of his Self better than when he actually was those Selves. Time has revealed those Selves to Luis, and he is able to see clearly the transformation(s) he’s undertaken over the years. But no matter what, that’s a lot of Selves to handle, and when the clock hit 7:30, Luis saw all the Selves he’d ever been coming at him. All he could do was walk to them and greet them because the audience was already seated and waiting for the show…

The Heart’s Tangled Jungle

He was a fearful hunter

in the heart’s tangled jungle.

He made preparations

for failure but didn’t show them.

Ever.

He ripped off time

and charged his wallet

and his watch

for the left over crumbs

of his unfinished business.

He would write promises

to God

to be good

and pure

but his scribbled notes

were unreadable

at the moments when it counted.

He walked through gardens

with his cousins

telling half-truths

as their grandma’s chiles ripened

and magnolias kept their mouths shut and the roses were busy

being perfect.

In those lonely moments

when there was no one to lie to

and no reason,

he would tell himself

that everything

was going to be alright

and the wind in his blinds and the Virgin Mary candles tried to tell him

the truth.

All the truth

for the lonely hunter kept the sun on his face but no light, no light no grace

to signify

that he

was walking,

talking

right.

…he was a little fast starting out. But he found the night’s rhythm and soon he had the crowd laughing, gasping, sighing, even tearing up with him at every turn. Luis commanded the stage, without the skin of a Macbeth or Galileo or Stanley Kowalski, or any of the other great roles he’s played, to cover himself. He was Luis, the simplest and most complicated character he could ever play.

Before we knew it, the reading was over, the free beer and wine was gone and the crowd had dispersed.

“The whole thing…none of it feels real,” said Luis, in the parking lot.

“It will tomorrow…maybe,” I said.

“Maybe. Alright, man, see you in LA.”

20140404_162934-1

The next morning, I headed back to San Antonio to spend a few more days with my family. I-10 was fast, fast, fast. Truckers hogged the blacktop as they made out with smart phones. Black and white State Trooper vehicles lay beached on the side of the interstate like killer whales waiting for absent-minded seals. Every now and then there were multiple troopers around a car on the side of the road – it’s trunk open, the troopers searching the car as a Latino or white trash couple stood frozen with their heads down and 2 or 3 children holding their hands and crying. I would pass by these scenes within group of speeding 18-wheelers as if I were seeking protection within a school or some giant industrial-grade species of whale moving at the speed of Economy! and too big and stong for the little Orca troopers to catch in open water.

I got back to my mom’s house, walked in to find my 7-month old niece, Arabella Rose, sitting on the floor, staring up at me. She stared at me the entire time I was there. She’d smile, wave her hands like a bird, shout, cry, burp all over one pastel blue or pink or white jumpsuit after another, smile again, etc…always staring.

bella

She does not like peas.

“It’s because you’re new,” my sister said.

“I was here just two months ago,” I replied.

“That may as well been 10 years ago to her little mind. To her, today, you’re brand new.”

Be well…

Still Standing After The Great Shake

Hello Everybody,

Early last Monday morning, I awoke suddenly. There was only a hint of gray coming through my window blinds and Hollywood was still and silent. I’m awake, wide awake, hmm…I thought as I stared at the ceiling…something’s about to hap-

20140324_163254First came the loud BANG!, immediately followed by an escalating rumbling. The windows shook in their frames, a million things in the room rattled, and dust and tiny bits of plaster fell on me like snow. I heard things fall and break in the neighboring bungalow. Oh, this is an earthquake. Cool, an earthquake…oh…an EARTHQUAKE!!! The f$#king world is moving underneath me!!!

I felt utterly helpless and waited for the file cabinet next to which I slept to fall on me. But alas, as soon as it escalated, the shaking subsided. Then came a most eerie, sustained low vibration of the Earth, lasting about as many seconds as the earthquake itself. Just after the low jittery hum ceased, the light in the hallway came on. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and joined the Great Warrior, my roomate, there as we crept down the hallway to the kitchen. He turned on the light, took a look a look around, squinted at the clock on the microwave.

“Jesus,” the Great Warrior finally spoke. “The power didn’t go off.” He took a look around the kitchen again, settling on the pots hanging from the ceiling over the stove. “And nothing fell or broke. Damn…and that’s definitely the worst one I’ve felt since in the 15 years I’ve lived in this bungalow.”

“I think I woke up right before it happened.”

The Great Warrior looked at me. “Like you knew it was going to happen? That may be true…” He turned his gaze to a tiny jangly sound over by the door. “Wow…take a look at that.”

I went over by the door. The Great Warrior’s keys were hanging from the dead bolt lock – we don’t have a real doorknob, so we keep the keys in the bold shut or open the door – swinging ever so slightly, but constantly without slowing down – back and forth like a pendulum.

“It’s still happening,” said The Great Warrior.

“I swear I think I sensed it, like a dog or a cat or bird or antelope. You know like the way it is when you wake up seconds before the alarm clock?”

“I know.” The Great Warrior was still looking at the keys swinging. “I think I heard blasts before the shaking, like before it rippled over to us. Of course,” he turned to me, rolled his eyes, “it didn’t wake me up. I was still awake.”

20130815_192518-2It wasn’t odd that the Great Warrior had stayed awake through the night. He hadn’t been sleeping too well over the past several months anyway, but the last few weeks he’d almost had no lengthy sleep at all. Most nights, I could hear him creaking about the apartment well into the wee hours. Long unemployment, a break-up with his girlfriend and the recent death of his mother were components of a force that turned the Great Warrior’s focus to a very deep part of himself – like looking down some stone waterwell where you can see nothing but blackness save for the occasional sun beam finding the ripples of the water way down below. His 45 birthday was in two days, and the unwavering hand of time held him by the neck and forced him to keep looking down the well. And based on the silent pacing night after night, the sunrays on the rippling water were rare occurences.

The keys finally stopped jangling. Then the Great Warrior turned to me and did something extraordinary. He smiled. The Earth…shook. It…shook.

I walked back to my room. I still had an hour and a half before my alarm would go off, but I was wide awake. I stared at the brightening glare through my blinds for several moments, until – from the dead quiet beyond the blinds – every single bird in LA began to chirp. Then I folded up my sleeping bag, got dressed and began the day.

Lately, I’d had trouble sleeping, too. Each night, I’d lie awake…1, 2, 3…hours approaching and passing like slow cars. I’d stare though the hole in my bedroom door where a doorknob would normally be – not many doorknobs in this Hollywood bungalow – and through the yellow light of the hallway I’d see the passing silhouette of the Great Warrior. Creak, creak…creak. He’d stop every now and then, and the pounding silence of Hollywood would rattle my brain as if I were hiding inside of the den of some great and snoring creature – more than lion, more than bear, a mysterious predator with a higher rank on the food chain than Man.

20140322_160348On one of those nights, the Great Warrior and I played a game of chess. We hadn’t played a game in some time, but we picked up right where we left off, which was with the Great Warrior leading me about 41 games to 3. Those three victories came on mistakes on he’d made, not due to any great means of strategy on my part. The key for me was to castle immediately, and set up a wall of protection around my king, and wait it out until he made the rare and coveted mistake. At times, I’d been able to be a little more cavalier, and knock out his queen in a trap of some kind, which gave me more confidence and allowed me to set up more offensive strategies, but that came only after I castling…

…but it’d been so long since we played. The Great Warrior had won the coin flip, moved a pawn out quickly, and by reflex I, just as quickly, moved a pawn. The moment I let my hand off the pawn I realized I should have moved a knight out front to clear a path between my king and rook so that I may castle as quickly as possible. The Great Warrior had begun his strategy – whatever it was – but now I was scrambling to begin mine, slipping exponentially into deeper peril with each move. I finally castled, but by then he had control of the board. There were two holes in the defenses around my king that kept me from using one of my bishops. Now I was making moves just to shut off all lanes to my king. My queen was useless. The Great Warrior had moved his queen out front and set her on the prowl, forcing me to hop my knights out of her way as his bishops waited to pounce my king. I had to use the two pawns around my king as…well…pawns – sacrifices to buy time. His queen took one of my knights, she crept closer, closer, then bam…

“Checkma-“

“I know!”

Then next night I came home and found the Great Warrior had already begun his nightly pacing. When he passed through the kitchen, I asked him, “How’s it going?”

“It’s going…OK,” He replied. I got something from the fridge, then sat down to eat. He walked back into the hallway and a few moments later he came back in the kitchen and began making grilled-cheese sandwiches. He was sliding the sandwiches across the skillet with a spatula when he said, “Actually, there have been some new developments in my life. I’m…well, I’m moving.”

“Yeah? Where?”

“Back home to Lafayette at the end of April. I’m gonna go back and get my master’s in Library Sciences. I’m gonna be a librarian.”

20140322_160008-1-1

After he spoke, he moved about lighter, like cotton drapes in a soft breeze. He was smiling that same uncertain smile he’d had after the earthquake. The light bounced off the yellow-green walls to frame a whimsical aura around him that also shone throughout the cluttered kitchen, down the hall, off its dented and patched-up walls, reflecting against the file cabinets housing yellowed files from a decade ago, illuminating the uninished paintings in the living room and gleaming off the bindings of books books books all over the place about painting about film about politics about god –  and the soiled carpet over the broken sagging floors and the holes in the doors and cracks in the walls and the bottles of cleaning products bought in bulk at Cosco still in their wrappers and broken or missing doorknobs all made sense. 15 years. Someone once 30 years old was now 45. Time. Time. I didn’t know the Great Warrior back when he was 30, but I’m sure he came here with things he swore he was gonna do but-

“Not really,” said the Great Warrior. “I thought I was a filmaker back then, but I was just running when I came out here. Then I thought I was a painter for a while, but I haven’t finished a painting in five years.” He flipped the grilled cheese sandwiches, looked after them like children in a playground. “I hate jobs. I hate lying to bosses to make them think I’m dedicated. I just can’t bring myself to go get a job, out there, anymore. The only job I barely came close to liking was when I was a librarian’s assistant in college. So…”

“I think its great, buddy,” I said.

“You’re not upset about having to find a new place?”

“I’ll be fine.”

He paced aound a bit, glancing at different things all over the kitchen, down the hall. Then he laughed. “I gotta month to figure out what to do with all this stuff. Jesus…” One at a time, he scooped up the grilled-cheeses with the spatula and slid them onto a plate. He sat down and took a bite. “It just…” he said, his mouth full…”didn’t pan out they way I thought it would, Todd.”

“It could be panning out better than you planned,” I said, relishing my wisdom, eager to dispel more, “and who knows, you may come thundering back to LA.”

20140324_175624He shrugged his shoulders, took another bite. We finished eating in silence. After he was done, he put his plate in the sink and went over to get the dirty skillet from the stove. Before he took it to the sink, he stared up at the other pots and skillets as if they were sacred icons representing his history – proof that the last 15 years really happened, that he really was in LAv – so Holy that without them the last fifteen years didn’t exist…that without them nothing before: college, childhood, Lafayette Indiana, birth, nothing at all, existed. Then without ceremony he grabbed the dirty skillet, washed it, put on a towel to dry and resumed pacing.

I watched the skillet dry for a moment, then turned my gaze upward to the pots and skillets above the stove. The hook from which one of the pots hung had loosened a bit as a result from the quake. But Earth wasn’t quaking that evening, it was just spinning around as normal. And the pots and pans hung still, like bells that had just finished sounding some message across The Land for all of us to hear, ringing through us all and taking a piece of each of us and resonating all those pieces of us further into space all the way to our Beginning and our End and even further…

Be well…

If Caesar Hath Lived?

Hello Everybody…

20140130_111940I spent most of last week brushing up my Shakespeare. My friend, Tiffany, teaches highschool in Pasadena and hired me and another actor to perform two scenes from Julius Caesar, then discuss with the students the process of rehearsal, etc.

The two scenes we are to perform are between Brutus and Cassius, two senators deeply concerned over the prospect of Caesar becoming the sole ruler of Rome. One of the scenes we are performing (Act 1 Scene 2) is where Cassius – who clearly is against Caesar ruling Rome – appeals to Brutus to search within himself so that he may come to the same view…

Cassius

Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?

Brutus

No, Cassius, for the eye sees not itself,

But by reflection, by some other means.

Cassius

‘Tis just:

And it is very much lamented, Brutus,

That you have no such mirrors as will turn

Your hidden worthiness into your eye,

That you might see your shadow.

Cassius’ curious talk both irritates and intrigues Brutus, and such inner turmoil lay at the heart of Brutus’ character. He is a man torn between love and loyalty toward friends (Caesar and Cassius) and for the good of Rome. He is a smart man, and senses a decision is coming, which pains him even more, because he also is a man who, upon making a decision, will see that decision to its end…

Brutus

For let the gods so speed me as I love

The name of honour more than I fear death.

Cassius

I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,

As well as I do know your outward favor.

Indeed, Cassius knows Brutus inside and out, and subtly steers his appeal away from the good of Rome and toward men the likes of Brutus and himself, i.e. nobles who have a lot to lose should an Emperor arise to take hold of the nation…

Cassius

Men at times are masters of their fates:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?

Why should that name be sounded more than yours?

Write them together, yours is as fair a name;

Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;

Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ‘em,

Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.

Now, in the namess of all the gods at once,

Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,

That he is grown so great?

Whether it was magical beef, magical pork or some kind of magical fowl, Shakespeare does not say. Beside’s it’s a moot point. Caesar was human, not divine, and no man should rule over all men. Brutus makes his decision, he will take part and execute Caesar for the good of Rome.

Brutus and Cassius and the other senators murder Caesar. Marc Antony whips the masses in a frenzy and soon the senators are fleeing, conniving and assembling whatever armies they can to battle Antony and young Octavius Caesar. In the end, Cassius and Brutus split, kill themselves, and Octavius becomes Emperor. After all that all that trouble, exactly what they didn’t want to happened, happened. And thus began about 500 years of Empire, from the seeds of deception, manipulation, murder.

“But come on,” said my roommate, the Great Warrior, “Rome didn’t fall, it just became the Holy Roman Empire. Empire has never ended, it’s just changes shape. Then it was the Spanish, then the French, the Brits and now us. But The Empire is still alive and well.”

20140130_111932-1During breaks from Shakespeare, I worked on my taxes, gathering receipts and check stubs, tallying up earnings and expenses, then entering them into computerland, eagerly awaiting for final number as if I were pumping a slot machine. Shit. I owed $257. I only made $10,000 last year, I thought, why the hell I gotta pay up?Even with the ‘poor man’s credit’? Oh, hell, render unto Caesar…

I e-filed and walked away. Whatever, I’m not ruled by money, so what… But seeing all my wages added up into such a small number played little tricks on my mind. Seems like I worked a lot harder to be categorized as poor. Am doing Life wrong, or something…

Thursday night I rehearsed a dance piece with my friend Rebeca. I don’t call myself a dancer, but I like to think I’m a good mover who can take direction. However, at the end of the evening, as we watched footage of our rehearsal – Rebeca records her rehearsals – instead of seeing the fluid, athletic and handsome adapter I thought I was, I saw a gangly fellow unsure of his movements – an alien from outer space, standing still as this graceful species of human who calls herself Re-be-ca performed some kind of ritual of communication around him. So.you.are.human, Re-be-ca? Take.me.to.your.ruler. My hair was long, I thought it gave me a wild, careless, rather dashing appeal. But it appeared just looked like messy hair, stringy. Re-be-ca…take.me.to.your.rul-

We don’t have rulers anymore, the graceful Rebeca replied, via telepathy, we have leaders that we vote for. We get a choice between two leaders. They say we can have more than two to choose from, but every election it’s two…

The first thing I did on Friday was get a haircut.

“How much you want cut off?” asked the haircut lady.

“A lot of it.”

She briskly ran the shears over my head. Hair fell onto the smock before me. There was more gray hair than the last time, just like the last time. Only $10,000 and all this gray hair…

“Thank you,” said the haircut lady, “come again.”

“I don’t know,” I says, “every time I come back there’s more gray hair on the floor.”

“Haha. Come again.”

20140124_142623-1I worked on the scenes from Julius Caesar until the late afternoon. Then I opened up Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. If you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, it’s about John Grady Cole and Rawlins, two teenage cowboys who cross the Rio Grande to find work in Mexico, in 1949. They hire on at a horse ranch where John Grady Cole falls in love with the rancher’s daughter, Alejandra. But soon after love blossoms, John Grady Cole and Rawlins are thrown in prison for stealing horses. That’s where I was in the story – around page 195 – where John Grady Cole pays a visit to Perez, the prisoner who is the unofficial ruler of prisoners, he who decides who lives or dies within the prison walls. Rawlins had just been stabbed and John Grady Cole wanted to know if he was alive, and if anything the same was going to happen to himself. But Perez just smiles, leans back in his chair, says…

You do me too much credit. There are three hundred men in this institution. No one can know what is possible.

To which John Grady Cole replies…

Somebody runs the show.

Perez shruggs…

Perhaps. But this type of world, you see, this confinement. It gives a false impression. As if things are in control. If these men could be controlled they would not be here. You see the problem.

From outside my window came the voices of one of my neighbors and a man who I’d never heard before. They spoke in hushed tones, as if they were hiding. The man was speaking about work. He never said what kind of work, but from what I gathered, I’m guessing he worked in computer maintenance or distributed water-cooler bottles to offices about town.

20140307_163247-1“Do you like it?” whispered my neighbor.

“I like it,” the man answered, “I mean I like dealing with the customers. But my bosses? Shit no. And, you know, I don’t wanna know what the lives of the other employees, or about their families. And the bosses can’t make me do none of that. I just wanna work and my bosses can leave me alone.”

“That’s cool I guess,” said my neighbor.

Another neighbor turned on his stereo, turned it up loud, and set a Tejano song on repeat, like he usually does. Then he started shouting in a high-pitched tone, like he usually does.

“For f#$k sake,” said the IT or water-cooler man. “Calm down over there.”

But the neighbor kept whooping to the song. After the day had faded into evening, the song was still playing, the man still whooping, like he usually does.

By then I was on page 230, after John Grady Cole and Rawlins had been bribed out of jail by the Grand Aunt of Alejandra. John Grady Cole sends Rawlins to Texas on a bus, but he heads back to the ranch. When he gets there, he confronts the Grand Aunt, who stayed behind as if expecting him to return. She told him that Alejandra was in Mexico City and that he could never be with her, and goes on to say…

When I look at my grandniece I see a child. And yet I know very well who and what I was at her age. In a different life I could have been a soldadera. Perhaps she too. And I will never know what her life is. If there is a pattern there it will not shape itself to anything these eyes can recognize. Because the question for me was always whether that shape we see in our lives was there from the beginning or whether these random events are only called a pattern after the fact. Because otherwise we are nothing. Do you believe in fate?

20140312_234016(0)The neighbor finally turned the off the stereo and quit whooping around 7pm, like he usually does. John Grady Cole took a moment to answer, finally saying that he does believe in fate. Over the next several pages, the Grand Aunt tells her personal story while intertwining it with Mexico’s. It’s a story of revolution in a time of high intellectualism and a determination to change the path of a people. But death, greed and deception flow throughs the story, crushing any idealism. She suffers much pain and sorrow in the story but the Grand Aunt speaks without sympathy for her or anybody, because…

There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was. It is supposed to be true that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. I don’t believe knowing can save us. What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and a love of blood and this is a thing that even God – who knows all that can be known – seems powerless to change.

I put the book down and went out to get some groceries. As I walked up Western Boulevard, I saw vague movements ahead of me on the dark sidewalk. I walked closer and noticed it was a skinny old black lady sitting on the sidewalk, legs stretched out before her like a child sitting in the middle of the flow at a daycare center. Several take-out boxes of food were spread out before her, along with her few belongings. She reached out at the air as if she was trying to pull the oncoming night toward her so she could wear it. Spit flew from her mouth as she vehemently hissed and babbled. Everyone on the sidewalk gave her plenty of room as they passed.

20140315_192222After I passed her, I realized it was March 15th. The Ides of March, 2070 years ago to the day that Caesar was stabbed to death by his senators. A sooth sayer on the street told Caesar to “beware the Ides of March” but Caesar wasn’t superstitious…

The last firery glow of the newly set sun was transponding some kind of  desparate warning. I looked back at the skinny old black lady, but once again she was only silent, vague movements in the dark as Angelinos kept passing by her and forgetting her.I turned east and found the full moon hanging just above Hollywood Boulevard. It was staring straight at the dying light of the sun, grinning and shaking its head, almost laughing.

Be well…

Storm Worlds

Hello Everybody,

A while back, I was walking up to Food-4-Less at Sunset and Western Boulevards where a bum was being ushered out of the underground parking lot by an employee. The old black, gray-haired bum didn’t give the employee any flack, and the employee appeared sorry to have to oust the old man into biting elements Wild Hollywood.

20140301_152820

“Don’t you have anybody,” the young clerk asked, “a family member who’ll put you up?”

The old bum walked ahead of the clerk, slow, hunched shoulders, his jaundiced eyes wide and blank. “Naw’all families what’s left i’back in Texas.”

“Sorry, man, but-“

“Izz alright…I’ll be gon’ now.”

The old bum lifted on foot in front of the other slowly like he was a character in a butoh or kabuki play. The employee followed just long enough to be certain the bum wouldn’t sneak back into the parking garage. But the old bum looked to have already forgotten he’d been in the garage, already forgotten Food-4-Less on Sunset and Western, already forgotten Hollywood. One foot…then another foot…eyes forward…

Friday morning, I awoke to the steady fall of rain. The blinds on my window were shaded in a green-gray hue, much different from the usual orange-yellow that was most mornings. There was usually a soundtrack of chirping birds, too. Of course, no birds came with the sound of rain, but at about 7am, the siren’s began. For the next hour or so, one siren after another screamed down the boulevards, sounds of cars skidding and symphony of horns produced a cadence underneath the emergency vehicles. I could see the skidding cars on the wet streets in my mind. For two days, LA had been in the grips of STORMWATCH ’14 – a collective warning by the local weatherpersons about the oncoming rains which were sure to severely compromise driving conditions. It’s beyond cliche that LA motorists can’t handle driving in rain…

20140130_122817-1“Yeah, it’s ridiculous,” said my friend John, as he pulled a sharp U-turn on Hollywood Boulevard, later that day, as we sped through Hollywood. “But you gotta keep in mind, when it rains out here…mountains crumble. The world falls apart, bro. Like reality dissolves.”

After hanging out with John, I went to a cafe where I ran into “M”. M had been in and out of homelessness most of last year, but seemed to be getting back in the groove this year. He’d gotten his old job back as a scenic carpenter, got a phone, new clothes, etc. But every now and then I go several weeks without seeing him and I’d begin to worry. Friday marked the end of one of those “several of week’s.”

“I’m alright,” M told me, then she shook his head, “well, no, I’m not alright. My demons came back to me a few weeks ago. They wouldn’t leave so two nights ago I broke into a construction site, tide a rope to a scaffolding and to my neck and jumped. But the rope broke and I fell…only hung for about 3 seconds then I hit the ground. I just laid there on the ground, saying, “why am I still alive, God? Why?”

“How are you doing right now?” I asked.

“Better than I was two days ago. But I still don’t know why I’m still alive.” He was leaning on a parking meter, looking out across Vine St. It wasn’t raining, but the air was wet, cool. “Maybe there’s a reason, you know…”

The rain picked up in the evening and fell through Saturday morning. By the light of the green-blue window, I worked on my friend, Luis’ book that I’m editing…

***ELECTRIC RATS IN A NEON GUTTER: POEMS, SONGS and STORIES by Luis Galindo goes on sale MARCH 10th!!!! Support independent publishing and order a copy! (Psst…if you want, you can already purchase the ebook on AMAZON HERE or on Barnes and Noble NOOK HERE!!!***

***And…keep your eyes peeled for a compilation of El Jamberoo posts in book form! Details forthcoming so stay tuned!***

On sale March 10th! (Or get an ecopy now on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com...

On sale March 10th! (Or get an ecopy now on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com

I thought about that old Texas bum that I saw at Food-4-Less Saturday morning. I thought of M, too, who was out there somewhere – under an awning of a coffee shop or liquor store, but maybe not. Maybe he’s just out in the rain along that long winding, painful road from Texas to Hollywood…that long winding, painful road from anywhere, where there’s no signposts of what’s ahead, where there’s drugs and alcohol and crime or nothing really too terrible at all but for some reason there’s still divorces or estrangement from family, firings from jobs, car wrecks and sickness and money never seems to comes in steadily, where the things you wanted and may have even needed are skylighted upon the horizons to the North or South as you continue to head West. You swore when you set out that you’d head in the direction of those things…swore aloud…but for some reason they’re off to the side…or worse…directly behind you, and you can’t recall for the life of you that you passed them by.

I finished work on the book and ok’d it for printing and online sales. By then the rain had stopped. The orange-yellow hue and bird chirps were back, so I put on my boots and headed to the Home Depot down the street to price materials for an estimate on a rabbit cage I was to build next week.

As I was approaching the hardware store, I saw a man standing out front of the Hollywood Star Inn. As I got closer, the man looked familiar, like…

“Bob Hawk?”

The man had been squinting at me, as if trying to figure out if he knew me, too.

“Oh my God, Todd Pate!”

“Jesus…Bob!”

I knew Bob back in New York. For years, I worked at a box office in the Theatre District in Midtown Manhattan. Bob came to all the shows there. We struck up a relationship and when I started getting my own plays produced…

“You know I saw everything you ever wrote.” He said, always said, every time he saw me. “You know, Todd, some of your plays were really out there…but I always sensed you were approaching some kind of edge with them, purposely, like you were seeking something on the edge. They were very exciting , even if some were…” He made a waving sign with his hand. “…really out there. But you were always looking for something…”

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time…

I was waiting for him to tell me more about this Edge, because it sounded like only a brilliant, dynamic, powerful…etc…kind of writer could reach that kind of Edge. I’d been working on Luis’ writing all morning, I wanted…no, needed to hear about how my writing goes to this Edge, that takes people to this Edge that, and how I may be the only writer in the history of Man who can take you to this Edge…

…but one sprinkle led to another and then the rain came and Bob Hawk and I ran under the awning of the Hollywood Star Inn. By the time he shook off the drops, Bob had changed subjects.

“So I’m out here for some work,” he said, ‘but I thought, if I need to be out here in LA, I’m staying a week. And I don’t care about the rain! It’s better than the cold in New York.!” A car pulled up, Bob’s ride. “Well, I gotta go.” He walked to the car, then turned around suddenly. “Oh, I’m not sure if you know, but that old building were all the bums hung out on 42nd and 9th, next to where you used to work. It’s gone. The whole corner’s completely torn down. It’s surrounded by the wooden fence but you can peek through the holes and see that they are building something new…probably a…” He held a hand high in the air. “…one of those big steel and glass things. But you can see the theatre clearly, and I think of you every time I go down there.”

Bob got in the car, they drove off. I headed toward the Home Depot. The rain was falling hard. The hardware store blurry as I approached it, as if I was crossing through a waterfall separating two worlds…into a world where I was a builder of rabbit cages. coming from a world where I was a writer approaching that Edge, the Edge. No…Bob Hawk and New York seemed more than one world ago. Way back behind me, several storms ago.

On my way back, I had to go to the bank and get rent money. Halfway there, as I walked down Hollywood Blvd, the rain fell the hardest it had yet. The roar of water falling and flowing drowned out all other sounds. Cars silently skidded at red lights, plowed through the huge stream of water that overtook the street – flowing down, to the west, taking the city to the ocean. Bums huddled under awnings, people ran down side streets with inverted umbrellas. I walked, soaking wet, too wet to run anywhere. The damage had been done. I strolled to the bank, pulled out the money, cursing my roommate for having the gall to charge me rent every month. The heavy rain continued on my way home. Thunder echoed every now and then. Well whaddya know,” I thought, “this really is a storm.”

By Sunday afternoon, the rains were gone. The sun made more than one appearance during the day. By evening, the city was clean and pleasant, like it just stepped out of a bath tub. The view of Mount Hollywood and the Observatory was unimpeded by smog or haze. The air was cool. I walked over to my friend’s house to get the keys to his car, so I could pick up his car in the morning, and get materials for the rabbit hutch on Monday morning. It was nighttime when I began my walk back home, I came upon a bum sitting at a bus bench on Hollywood Blvd. I smelled the alcohol from several yards out, before I could see him well. Over and over he’d let out something like a sneeze that he finished with a, “f#$k you…ah, ah, ah choo f#$K you! Ah, ah, ah choo f#$k you!…”

20140301_184242When he got all those out of his system, he resorted to traditional drunken babble. A car passed by and it’s headlights gave me a clear view of the bum. His clothes were damp and soiled. He was about fifty, bearded and nearly toothless. He also had two pair of handcuffs around his neck, worn like necklaces. I walked passed him, and moment later he came down with another case of the “ah choo f#$k you’s.” I turned around and watched him, just thinking that he’s not waiting for a bus. He’s just sitting there, sneezing and cursing. How did fifty or so years get him there? I walked on and he faded from my ears. The city was quiet, except for the coming and going of cars. They’d rush up, I feel their lights on my face, and they’d rush off. Then the dark and quiet again.

I’m ending this blog with that. Maybe there’s a little more to write, maybe not. But I have to get out the door and start building this rabbit cage. The window is yellow-orange and there are birds, even a lawn mower. It’s not a bad world out there today. One that’s pretty to look at, maybe. Pretty enough to keep from looking at the worlds ahead or behind, anyway…maybe.

Be well…