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…

The Reward

Hello Everybody…

Surely some kind of metaphor.

Surely some kind of metaphor.

A couple of weeks ago, my buddy, Scott, asked if I would build a chest-of-drawers designed to fit into a specific space in his house.

“Sure,” I said. Then I drove out to his house in Pasadena, took measurements.

“Oh,” said Scott. “Make sure you take the measurements of the doorways and hallways. I had something built for me one time and the builder couldn’t fit it in the house!”

I took the measurements of all the doorways and the hallway, then Scott bought me lunch and as we ate I sketched out a design to his liking – just within all the measurements taken. Then I gave him an estimate.

“Sounds great,” Scott said. We went back to his house and he cut a check, handed it to me. “See you in a couple of weeks.”

Well I sought gold and diamond rings

My own drug to ease the pain that living brings

Walked from the mountain to the valley floor

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

(Lyrics from My Beautiful Reward, by Bruce Springsteen)

20140209_142912A few minutes later, I waited at a red light, peering through the heat waves that made the San Gabriel Mountains dance before me. Hmm, I’ve already been paid for the job. I rarely get paid-in-full before building. The check swelled in my wallet, made me sit lopsided. When I got to Hollywood, I went to the bank and deposited the heavy, bulbous check – a process which felt very weird, disrupting the flow of my blue-collar blood. The as-of-yet unearned money also felt weird to spend, the following week. But I spent it nonetheless. I was low on money and I had bills to pay.

From a house on a hill a sacred light shines

I walk through these rooms but none of them are mine

Down empty hallways I went from door to door

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

The next weekend, I bought oak plywood and took my time cutting out all the pieces of the chest-of drawers. After the last cut, I stood back and viewed all the individual pieces. I hope it all fits togetherIt will…trust the math.

Tuesday, I began assembling the drawers, making sure all the pieces matched up perfectly. If they didn’t, I took them apart, shaved a little of wood here and there with my wood file until I had a fine fit. Next, I sanded and stained the drawers. Ah, look at those beautiful drawers…cough. I cleared my throat, certain it was merely sawdust. Then I coughed again. Then another cough. A lingering tickle remained in my throat the rest of the night. When I awoke the next morning, I was caught in the grips of a full-on cold.

20140211_155323By Thursday, the cold was raging. My progress slowed as I began assembling the main structure of the chest-of-drawers. I couldn’t find the rhythm that led me to Zen Mode. There was much starting, stopping, and the project remained work. There was no harmony. Everything was a distraction…

…the mailman, the couple next door fighting, the couple next door having sex, the bubbling of hot grease and smell of fried food in the late afternoon, Spanish language, rap music, Tejano music, the car horns and squealing tires of rush hour…

…just as the first patrol of police helicopters hovered over Hollywood on Friday evening, I stood back and surveyed the chest-of-drawers. The piece of furniture seemed much larger than my measurements. I took out my tape measure, double checked the length, width and volume. It should fit, but it looks so huge. I imagined carrying the piece into Scott’s house, through the front door, into the hallway, rounding the corner into…what?…rounding the corner into…uh, oh…rounding the corner. I neglected to take the measurements of a corner from one hallway to another hallway that led into the room where the piece would live. But if it fits through all the hallways and doorways, then, theoretically, it should round the corner. Trust the math.

Trust. I’ve learned to trust over the last several years, but it still is one of the harder attributes I’ve had to practice. Doubt sprung from deep down in the well that the piece would, indeed, round the corner. Trust the math. Trust the math. Trust…cough, cough, cough. Oh, f#$k it. Just do a good job. At this point, you can undo anything. I went inside the bungalow and heated up some quinoa and forced myself to eat it.

20140213_161310Serrano peppers, cilantro, garlic, onions, you should be very tasty, but I can’t taste you, I mused as I shoveled forkfuls of the quinoa pilaf into my mouth. My nose ran and I sneezed, coughed. Night had fallen and the view out the window was black night accompanied only by soft Hollywood noise. The kitchen light painted sharp yellow over the dishes in the dish rack, the stove, refrigerator and my forearms. Groceries, bills, parking tickets, etc. My money’s spent. I relocated the remaining pile of quinoa from one side of the plate to another. And I’ve already been paid. There’s no money at the end of the job. No reward. I got up and scratched the uneaten quinoa into the trash, washed the plate. What if it doesn’t fit. WHAT IF IT DOESN’T FIT, TODD?! I switched off the kitchen light and made my way down the hallway, imagining pushing the chest-of-drawers down it. How can I keep living this way, I thought. With no security, from job to job, jumping from one lily pad to the next, with no idea where the next lily pad lay. I turned on the light to my room. Stop looking at the Big Bad Future, Todd. Just do a good job.

Well your hair shone in the sun

I was so high I was the lucky one

Then I came crashing down like a drunk on a barroom floor

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

I spent Saturday sealing all the pieces with polyurethane. As I waited for the first coat to dry, I set my alarm for 20 minutes and tried to take a nap. I was tired from coughing. But when I lay down, I couldn’t doze off, so I lay there with my eyes open…

…and watched my life passed before my eyes. Still frames from childhood to Now, as if someone were turning the pages of a family album in front of me. I saw things I did do, things I didn’t. My chest cavity sounded like a tire rolling over loose gravel, every time I exhaled. I’m hollow. There’s just a few pebbles inside. Hmm…I haven’t written a blog for a couple of weeks. I’m bereft of anything to say. I’m done writing. The room began to glow a bit, a little brighter at the apex of each inhale. What am I if I never write again? Cough, cough. My vision faded in and out. What if this is it? What if I died, right now? What if everything gently fades out for good? How do I feel about that? Am I satisfied? Am I satisfied, Todd? I…I…I think I…The alarm went off. The photo album slammed shut. I got up and went back to work.

20140215_191318I finished the job just as the sun was setting on Saturday. The rich, shiny wood shone in the golden light. A strong, beautiful piece of work. I built this? When did I do a thing like that? I put a blanket over it, cleaned up, took my tools inside, then I went out for some ice cream.

As I walked back to my bungalow, East Hollywood felt like a foreign land. People walked different, as if gravity were stronger or weaker than it had been the on Friday. The sound of cars motoring down the boulevard rang in the key of F-Sharp instead of F. The air hit my skin in a way I’d never felt before. A weeks old pile of human feces that’d stood just outside of the entrance to an open lot had mysteriously disappeared. The “L” in the neon sign of the Hollywood Premiere Motel had been repaired. For months, it read, Hollywood Premiere Mote. But now the “olly” in Hollywood was burned out, so the sign now read, H—-wood Premeire Motel. I walked toward the marquis as if I were navigating by stars. Or has it always been Motel, not Mote, and H—-wood, instead of Hollywood? Am I the foreigner? Was the pile of shit never here?

Tonight I can feel the cold wind at my back

I’m flyin’ high over gray fields my feathers long and black

Down along the river’s silent edge I soar

Searching for my beautiful reward

Searching for my beautiful reward

20140215_173955On Sunday, I delivered the chest-of-drawers to Scott’s house. My palms sweated in anticipation of maneuvering the piece around the curve in the hallway. I coughed, sneezed, my head pounded as I pushed, lifted and twisted…

…it fit just fine. I laughed in relief. Math is good, I said to myself. Math is pure, like string music, like supernovas. We should trust math.

Scott was very pleased with the final product. He also cut me another check for the extra time it took to build and for the extra materials I had to purchase. Then he tipped me generously. A nice, pretty, fat number graced the check. It felt good in my hands. But not as good as it felt sliding the chest-of-drawers around that corner.

“Thanks so much,” said Scott, as I left. “Hope you feel better soon.”

“I’m sure I will,” I said.

Be well…

So Close, We’re Already There

Hello Everybody,

The other day, I ran into the Vine St. Girl at a cafe in Hollywood. She looked the same as always: dirty clothes, dirty face housing fire-green eyes, hair styled like a cavewoman’s in a 1960s television skit.

20140201_205734-1It’d been over a week since I’d seen last seen her: in the middle of a sunny afternoon, she was being carried across Vine St. by a man, screaming and flailing both arms. Foam spewed from the 24oz beer can that she was holding. Cars whizzed by the pair in both directions. Her struggling caused the man to veer in front of an oncoming car. The car swerved, then stopped. The woman driving the car rolled down her window, shouted something at her, at the man, then reached back and opened the car’s back door. The Vine St. Girl shook free of the man, threw the beer at him then jumped in and the two woman zoomed away. The man crossed the street in a manner like that of a child lost in a mall. When he reached the sidewalk, he ran hard to a corner then disappeared. So I was relieved to see The Vine St. Girl was OK, after that incident. And though it’s clear to see she’s fallen on hard times, she always seems to have a smile on her face, when not being kidnapped.

We waited in line next to each other at the cafe. After she asked the man behind the counter at the cafe to sell her two cigarettes, she turned her green eyes to mine, then began speaking through me to something far behind me in some language spoken by a higher species from a Cosmos a few Big Bangs back. I noticed similarities in the language, to ours, but the tongue was ultimately, absolutely undecipherable. So I just smiled back at her. She grabbed the two cigarettes and walked by me, out the door, and continued to babble as she stepped out into the Hollywood of the current Cosmos.

Later that night, I needed some beef jerky so I walked over to the all-night Walgreen’s on the corner of Sunset and Western Boulevards. In front of me at the checkout counter were two woman with a grocery cart full of panty-liners. They lifted armfuls of them out out of the cart and onto the counter.

20140201_203853“Can I interest you ladies in any a our specials on da countah?” Asked the old woman working the register, as she waved her hand across a display of assorted chocolates in the manner of a showgirl working a 1960s automobile convention. She wore deep red rouge and lipstick, and a fake mole. The deep creases on her otherwise pale face were as black as dark matter. The wrinkles broke her face up into fragments like shards of glass on a fun house floor. “Come aahn, dudn’t some chocolates sound good tonight? Special two-for-one.” The two women said nothing. The old clerk took a deep breath. “Alright, den. Well, buenos noches to da two a ladies.” The women smiled, shook their heads, walked out the store with the panty-liners.

Down one of the aisles, a vampyrical bone-thin transvestite deadlifted a case of Coca-Cola from a display and waddled up behind me. She twitched as she held the leadened case of sodas, her eyes darting around fast, like a bird’s. I moved up the counter so she could set down the case.

“Excuse me,” said the old woman, “can I interest either of you two fellas in our special two-for-one chocolates?”

“No, that’s ok,” I said.

“No, thank you,” said the transvestite.

“Come aaahn! Dey taste real good.” She leaned in closer to us, spoke lower. “You see, da clerk dat sells de most candies gets a gift cad at de end of da month.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m broke, so I want da cad. So therefore,” she continued, in showroom pose and with a sexy, wispy voice, “can I interest you two gents in some sweet candy?” Then she burst out laughing. “Oh, I tell ya, you gotta keep it fun, you gotta keep it fun, guys. Or else…” she mimics a pointing a gun to her head, shooting herself. “Right? You can’t get too serious…” she points out the doors into the East Hollywood darkness, “…one day you might get eaten up out dere by a cockroach. Or, by some giant baby on a big-wheel who forgotta who ring her bell as she’s coming at ya!”

“I’ll come in tomorrow and get some candy,” I said.

“Awright, you know I’ll be here. I’m always here…” she widened her eyes and continued in a Transylvanian accent, “…on the grrrrraaaaaveyaaaarrrd sheeeefft, mwah, ha, ha, ha…” Then she handed me the jerky, reached over, grabbed the transvestite’s coke. I left.

20140201_190902The night was thick. Dew had brought the streets to a shine. All was quiet except for the distant howls and screams of The Unfortunate. These voices always seem to be coming from another dimension, for every time I’ve looked in the direction of these howls and screams I find nothing. If I see anyone, it’s usually some solitary figure wandering about the boulevards like a monk who’d been silent for centuries or a zombie practicing abstinence. When focusing on such a figure, the howls and screams disappear, completely. Only when I look away and break my connection to those around me do the howls and screams resume. That is, at night. People are shouting all over the place during the Hollywood Day.

The next morning I took a hike up the big hill behind the Griffith Park Observatory. After I reached the apex of the hill, sweaty and breathing hard, I rested for a moment on a little bench on the trail. Then set my clock for twenty minutes, crossed my legs, rested my left hand on my right hand, focused on a cone hanging on the branch of a pine tree, then began to meditate. Breathe in, breath out, breathe in…Soon, the roar of the endless line of school buses on the road below me began to fade, the giggling junior-high students already on the trail dissolved, and even the bright chirps of birds soon disappeared. After a while, everything was gone. Only the pine cone remained, dangling in Nothingness.

20140130_122716But everything was also still there, and I came to the realization that I was not separate from anything. I’ve felt this kind of thing before -written about it – but every time I sense it, it’s as if I’m coming to the realization for the first time that I am merely part of a giant event. Not even a part, I’m thoroughly stirred into the Big Soup, as are you and everybody and everything in Existence. But it’s not something I can hold onto and use for another day, it’s something I have to come to realize everyday. REALIZATION – Finding The Real. When I fail to Realize The Big Event, I slip into the Artificial Self. By identifying as a seperate being, I attempt seperate from the Big Event. But separation of the Self from The Big Event is impossible. It is delusional to think one can, and when delusional thinking comes in contact with Reality, suffering ensues. Therefore, letting go of the Self leads to, ah this is so simple…Life’s a piece of cake…at that moment, I became aware that people were staring at me when they walked by. Through their eyes, I saw my Self: jogging pants, sweater, hiking boots, sunglasses, sitting cross-legged with my hands together, staring at a pine cone. I quietly laughed out loud. The old clerk was right. My alarm rang. I hiked down the hill back to Hollywood.

When I got back, I saw my neighbor, Edith, outside her bungalow, on the phone. She’d just finished washing her family’s clothes in the driveway, hung them all up to dry on the barbed wire strands that run atop the wall separating our bungalows from the neighboring apartment complex. The smell of detergent lingered. Times were hard for Edith & family and apparently getting harder, because I used to see her at the laundromat. By the doorway to her bungalow was the chair on which she gives her husband, Miguel, a bath. Miguel was paralyzed from the waist down, from falling off a ladder on a job site (see the Jamberoo: Oh The Ramparts We Are). Aside from family bread winner, she’s his caretaker, 24/7. Edith sat on the step, leaning back against the wall, speaking tired Spanish into the phone. When she saw me she leaned forward and waved.

“Ola, Todd…hello.”

“Hello, Edith…ola”

“God bless you.”

“God bless you, too.”

I’m not sure which God she meant, because – though she wears a Christian Cross, I sometimes I see her in the driveway, huddled in the corner, burning sage, or something like sage.

“Yeah, she practices that…what is it…” The Great Warrior told me one time, “…oh, Santeria. She’s really been into it since Miguel got hurt.”

20140131_135822-1I went inside, cleaned up. When I came back out Edith was gone. The clothes fluttered on the barbed wire in the wind like ghosts killing time in ghost prison.

Down the street, I ran into the old lady that usually offers me a can of corn every time I see her. But this time she stood in front of me on the sidewalk, holding a broom, though she still stared into me like she always does, as if she knew me but didn’t know me. The neighborhood leaf-blowers had finished for the day. One fellow was loading the leaf blowers onto the truck, and another was sweeping up the leaves on the curb along with the empty prescription bottles that find their way on Serrano Ave. He looked up at me, then to the old lady, rolled his eyes, shook his head and continued sweeping. When I turned back to the lady, she’d moved on, sweeping the driveway as she walked, her gaze up and far away.

A little later I saw the Vine St. Girl, crossing the street with an older man. She didn’t move in her usual manic rhythm. More so, she looked very lucid and walked with intent, like someone walking to their car after work, or to a cafe to meet someone. She still wore the ragged clothes, but her hair was a bit more tame than usual. Just like that, she seemed so unknown to me…as if I’d gotten her wrong. And I did. That’s what I get for trying to get her in the first place.

So close, we are already there...

So close, we are already there…

That evening, on my way back to the bungalow, the sun hung just above the palm trees, glazing East Hollywood with tear inducing pinks, blues and yellows. The obese homeless lady that’d recently taken up residence at the corner of Sunset and Western sat Indian-style, smiling at something in the sky. I looked up to see hundreds of seagulls flying above us, squeaking and squawking across the pink-blue-yellow sky. Ah, we are near the Ocean, I thought. It’s so easy to forget the Ocean is so close. I looked back down on East Hollywood and it was beautiful – the suffering and our subconscious aching to let go of it and come together. All of it. And we are so, so close to The Ocean.

RIP Phil

Be well…

Batter Up!

Hello Everybody,

Last Friday, I built a traveling collapsible throne for a friend of mine who hosts several Bon-Buddhist lamas throughout the year (See the Jamberoo: To Me Through Me To You Through You To…), who come to the United States from India to teach the tenants of Bon.

20140117_171309I worked outside my bungalow – sawing, screwing, sanding – as the neighbors blasted Tejano music out their windows. The neighborhood glass and bottle collector clicked and clacked about his work all day. When a woeful ballad would come on the radio, the collector’s clicking and clacking slowed as if he remembered someone he wished he still knew but knew he’d never see again. But then a faster song with mucho whooping and ahyayaya’s would come on, and the collector’d forget about that someone. But of course, there were more sad songs, and more cans and bottles, more memories…but ¿asi es la vida, no?

In the evening, after the neighbors turned the radio off, I was still going at it, sweating, covered in sawdust. The day’s hours dissolved, rather than ticked by. I peered through the thickening darkness of the neighborhood. All was calm, just a low hum of traffic and somebody shouting, a distant motorcycle, abulance. As the last sliver of sunlight slipped below the rooftops along Carlton Way, I heard the jingling bells attached to the shoes of the Court Jester of Time. I was a day older, just like that.

I delivered the throne to my friend on Monday, then devoted the next few days to The Ship’s Recorder, the play I’m rehearsing (click here for tickets!). Here’s the synopsis:

In this play about European expansion and cultural clashes at the dawn of the 16th century, a fictional world of magical realism materializes. The plot loosely borrows from the narrative structure of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and is rooted in language and events from the discovery journals of Bartolome de Las Casas, Christopher Columbus and Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. These chroniclers traverse a shipwreck story that probes the psychological depths of their brazen entitlement and utter disorientation. As the characters navigate dreamscapes informed by Taino and Mayan cosmologies and contemporary archeological and historical findings, poignant reflections on early struggles for human rights on the “American” continent emerge.

athoua2-283x300I play a Cristobal, the Christopher Columbus-like character hellbent on finding a western passage to India, refusing to believe there isn’t one. He’s well aware of other explorers who’ve all but proven such a passage doesn’t exist. His refusal to face facts only propels his lust for riches and power, to the point his men begin to mutiny. As the play proceeds, he roams about, beset with blindness and arthritis, but with an even more twisted and dark mind. Finally, Cristobal is caught and restrained by Alvar, a white explorer who’d “gone native” and befriended the Natives. But instead of rejoicing, Alvar sadly prophetizes:

An entire continent is waking up into a haze they call America. Soon, more than Spanish alone will be here. They would, without hesitation, take what they can, work people to death, and continue this bloody abomination.

So the gods of the Natives simply shake their heads, stop Time and try again, reshaping man from paste made from corn and water. Maybe this time

Each night after rehearsal, I’d drive down Sunset Blvd to the bungalow, my head still swimming around in the play. I’d have one hand on the wheel, staring down the long, long row of red and green lights down Sunset. All other lights in the city seemed to go out as if those lights never existed, excluding the dull, lifeless glow of the lights of Kaiser Permanente hospital…and the novacaine-blue light of the Church of Scientology which stood high like the palace of some seemingly sweet young raja but who secretly acted out devilish, drepraved scenarios on his subjects, burying their bones deep in the palace walls. But after passing both hospital and church, I was back to zooming down the dark void…red, green, red, green.

20131217_221826After arriving in Hollywood, I’d engage in the predatory act of parking. Down all the streets, cars crept about like giant steel beetles. One by one, they’d scurry to the nearest vacant space as if it were a hole leading into a giant dunghill, dodging red-eyed midnight crazies sucking on 40s of malt liquor with dirty duffel bags hunched over their backs. On the curb, pale hookers wearing fishnets tried to look discreet but not really, talking on their phone like they were preoccupied, but always giving you a little eye-play as you passed by. Over and over, block after block. Finally, after enough cursing and whatnot, a space across the street appears in the oncoming fog. Speed up, u-turn, back in. The great primal act achieved, for another day.

Thursday I had the day off, so I took a long walk in the afternoon. I let thoughts drift, away from the play, from work, etc and soaked in warmth of the sun. Before I knew it, I was walking north on Vermont Ave, the heart of the Los Feliz neighborhood. A cool breeze whispered down the shady sidewalk lined with quaint clothing boutiques, artisan shops and outdoor cafes.

But a curious thing happened on Vermont Ave. I kept seeing the same couple, over and over. The man wore sneakers, a black shirt, blue jeans, sunglasses and his forearms were covered in tattoos. The woman wore short shorts that sat at the hip, a billowy blouse, scarf and sunglasses. They walked ahead of me, gabbing away in syllables I couldn’t discern, incorporating lazy, vague arm gestures. But I also saw them on the other sidewalk – across the street – walking in the opposite direction, gabbing away, wearing the same apparel. I looked straight ahead again. They were still in front of me too. Then I saw the same couple walking out of a comic book store. And, I saw several of the same couple at a sidewalk cafe, mumbling the same syllables. There were more, still, walking in and out of the matinee showings at the movie theater. Black shirts, blue jeans, hot pants, blouses, scarfs…sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses and the same tattoos on all the arms. It was as if Los Feliz was in some kind of Huxleyian nursery that cranked out these clone couples.

Suddenly, the thoughts of all these clone couples became audible. And it was the same exact thought!

We are different from everybody else.

The couples repeated the thought over and over as they walked about comfortably. They had no pasts, no childhoods. They existed permanently at the dawn of thirty-ish, white affluency, and as far as any future was concerned, they’d only raise their eyebrows above their glasses as if to hint that…well, how bad can it be, whatever happens, right?

20140111_114543When I came upon a strung out kid decaying on a bus stop bench, I thought, Finally, an individual! He smelled like the inside of a dumpster. His eyes never closed but they weren’t open, either. Is this what individuality does to us? Seemed like a high price to pay. I was a bit glum as I walked away from the poor creature, but sadly relieved to find the same exact strung out kid on the next bus stop bench. Then the next…all with the same thought…

Nobody knows what it’s like to be me.

The thoughts of the clone couples and clone bums grew louder, but never louder than my own…

I’m a brilliant writer with something new to say.

I picked up the pace to get away from all the thinking. But when I caught my image in a cafe window, I stopped. There I was, in my Levi’s and work shirt, Chuck Taylor’s and cheap knock-off Ray Ban’s I bought solely for the reason that they looked like the kind worn by Hunter S. Thompson. Beyond my image, clone coupIes sat at tables, shoveling forkloads of salad into their gullets. A waitress moved in and out of me. For a moment The Universe was only that window. Then the air-breaks of a city bus phooshed behind me. When I turned around and my loud thought was gone. The clone couple’s and the bum’s thoughts, gone. I resumed walking, turned east on Fountain and headed for the public library to check out Philip K Dick’s The Divine Invasion. I hoped, wiith a child’s Christmas morning excitement, that it was available.

It was, but before I could get home and start reading it I ran into a buddy of mine.

“Hey, d’you hear about Gerald?” Gerald was a mutual buddy of ours.

“No. Uh-oh.”

“Yeah, he OD’d last night.”

Suddenly, the copy of The Divine Invasion weighed only as much as a feather.

“Heroin?”

“Yeah. He’s in a coma in Burbank.”

“All the way out in Burbank?”

“I know, right. They say if he comes out of it, he’s gonna be a vegetable.”

20140112_144011

Another one crossed over the mountain…

I wish I could say that Gerald’s overdose was something different…that it was a profound act of individuality. But of course it wasn’t. That happens every day. Every. Day. Gerald looked and sounded so good the last time I saw him, a week ago. “I feel so good this time,” he’d always say when I saw him, or something like it. He’s a big, jovial strong fellow, too. Too bad strength has nothing to do with it. Because addicts are fucking strong. They’d cross a mountain range to get high. Gerald did that. I knew him in Hollywood and he literally crossed the mountains to a needle in The Valley. Ok, so they’re called the Hollywood Hills, but come down to the flat boulevards of Barrio Hollywood and look at those hills, with the white Hollywood sign shining in the sun, the cliff side houses with balconies and glass walls and palm trees that tickle God’s toes. From that angle they may as well be the Himalayas, as seen from the distant viewpoint of a Buddhist monk on his throne. The monk smiles sadly, shakes his head as The Universe whispers, Man will always cross the mountains, man will always cross mountains, man will always cross the mountains…

“I just wanna be there for my son,” Gerald would say. But Gerald climbed a mountain and yet again Someone’s son, Someone’s parent, Someone’s sibling, Someone’s lover or whoever happened to the The Apple of That Someone’s Eye couldn’t keep Someone clean. And now Someone’s just another Somebody lying in a hospital bed over the mountains in a coma far away.

Friday, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my license switched over from New York to California. I took a number and waited for the female computer voice to call my number…

Now. Serving. F177. At. Window. 17.

Now. Serving. F178. At. Window. 9.

Now. Serving. G286. At. Window. 3.

Now. Serving…

…with many other Angelenos with names like Rosie, Michael, Lisa or Hector but each time a number was called one of us would stand up obediently as if these number had been assigned to us shortly after the Big Bang, then dance a vacant waltz toward the window to which we were instructed.

“Ok,” the clerk said, after I showed her my license, passport and filled out a form. “You’re all set. Now, you just have to take the written test and you’ll be good to go.”

“Written test?”

“Yes, you didn’t know you had to take a written test, did you?”

“No.”

“Well, you do.”

“Well, no problem, how hard can it be?” I smiled. She smiled.

I failed the test. By one damn question.

“It’s alright, honey,” said the clerk who graded my exam. “You can take it again on Monday.”

Chin up...there’s always tomorrow?

Chin up…there’s always tomorrow?

As I sulked toward the building’s exit, I heard my dad yelling at me from far away, about failing the test back when I was 16 – failed it twice. Then I relived every single strikeout from my baseball playing days. I heard the voice of the first girl who ever called me ugly, too, booing me as I walked back to all those dugouts. But the memories of failure dissipated just after I left the DMV and stepped out into gray hazy day, when I realized that I did, indeed, have another chance. I just hope Gerald does, too.

Be well…

Gee, It Really Is A Carnival

Hello Everybody,

On January 5th, I arrived in LA after traveling for the holidays. That evening, when I made it back to the bungalow, I opened the door to find my roommate, The Great Warrior, having a few beers in the kitchen with a friend of ours.

20140111_194847“How was Indiana?” I asked the Great Warrior. He got back from his hometown of Lafayette, Indiana, the day before.

“Well, not great…and it got worse. My mom passed away while I was there.” He looked down, took a deep breath and hissed it out with a sad little laugh. “It’s weird, I only choke up when I tell somebody.”

The Great Warrior’s mother had spent the last few years in a nursing home in Lafayette, as Altzheimer’s disease steadily conducted it’s onslaught on her mind. Every Monday, he’d skype the nursing home and talk with his mother, if she was able to. Graduallly, he’d taken charge of her affairs, paying her bills, was the liaison between her and the nursing home.

“I was at my dad and stepmom’s when the nursing home called. I got there, went into her room and there she was. But hard part was when I went back into the room later that day to get her things and her body wasn’t there.” Looked down, deep breath, hissed it out. “I’m going back at the end of the month for the memorial.”

The following week was a long quiet week for The Great Warrior. I’d walk by his room to see him working on the eulogy, sifting through stacks of photographs or curled up in a ball, sleeping but not really sleeping. Every now and then he’d come out for a cup of coffee, pace or stand in the doorway staring a million miles into the cobalt-blue California sky. Then more photos, writing, sleeping. Then more coffee, pacing, staring. Then night. Then morning and more coffee, pacing, staring, photos, writing, sleeping…

“Hey, check this out,” he said, holding an old, black and white photograph. “My mom. I’m guessing she’s about 20 years old there.”

The Great Warrior’s mother had porcelen skin, black hair in a pixie cut and her big dark pretty eyes stared up and to the left, far away to something that she so very much hoped would happen someday…surely IT must happen someday, right?…I looked up to The Great Warrior. I may have been staring at an old photograph, but he wasn’t holding a mere picture. He wasn’t even in the room. He was with his mother, my guess was that the two of them were putting their heads together trying to determine what exactly did, and didn’t happen in the ever shapeshifting Past. Then, suddenly, he re-entered The Now with a deep breath and a hiss, walked down the hall, went into his room.

20140110_165712A traveling carnival came to East Hollywood last week, setting up in a parking lot of a hardware store that’d recently gone out of business – on the corner of Sunset and Western Boulevards. A plethora of withered carnies draped in billowy, tattered clothing permanently caked in grease, moved about slowly like an army of last harvest’s abandoned scarecrows as they assembled the rides and booths. At the bus stop at Sunset and Western, The Vigilant Congregation of winos, wackos, drifters and drug dealers stood, gaping with deadened bewilderment at the carnies…Geea carnival, here? Well, alright…

One night, I walked by the carnival to see long lines of little Mexican-American boys and girls pecking at huge bales of pink and baby blue cotton candy as they waited in long lines at the rides. The screams from the little boys and girls already on the rides pierced the cooling night air like glass-cracking thunder. The tip tap tip taps of the shooting gallery served as a cadence to the evening.

Nobody knows the trouble I seen,” sang an old Black carny at the throw-a-ping-pong-ball-in-a-cup-and-win-a-prize booth, “nobody knows but- hey girl,” he shouted to a woman standing at the booth. “I know, you’s tryin’ figure out the trick of it, ain’t ya? Well, they may be one, but’chu gotta go to Carny College know it, ha, ha…” The girl walked off. “Hey! Come on now, I need a player! It’s so easy! Ha, ha...nobody knows the trouble I seen…”

...but Jesus

…but Jesus

All along Sunset Blvd, Mexican-American men and women grilled chorizo y peppers to sell, along with glow sticks and flashing pinwheels. Customers walked about, eating from one hand and held, with the other hand, the hand of a kid holding the hand of another kid holding the glow stick or pinwheel. The kids in the middle cried because they didn’t have there own glow stick or pinwheel. At the bus stop, stood The Vigilant Congregation. These Nowhere or Everywhere men and women stood like sculptures as the flashing lights bounced green, blue, yellow and red off their Nothing or Everything faces…Gee, IT really is a carnival? well, alright, then…

One afternoon last week, The Great Warrior and I were tossing a football around in the narrow driveway between our bungalow and the neighboring apartment complex – he’d begun to feel the need to leave the bungalow a little bit each day, in between coffee, pacing, photos, writing etc. It was a youth size football, which came out of our older, larger hands in a very wobbly manner. We kept adjusting our grips with each pass, to get a better spiral.

“How’s the eulogy coming along?” I asked, threw the ball.

“It’s not,” said The Great Warrior, after catching the ball. “For some reason I can’t think of any memories of her when I was a kid. None at all.” He threw the ball. “I’ve been going through her book, though.”

Catch. “She wrote a book?” Throw.

Catch. “Yeah. I feel horrible because I never read it when she was alive. I’ve had it for years.” Throw.

“You can read it now.” Catch. Throw. Our spirals were slowly improving.

“I’m trying to go through it, to maybe find something to talk about.” Catch. “But it’s a historical romance tragedy.” Held the ball to his eyes close. It was getting darker and he wanted to make sure his knuckles were on the right seams. “It’s a shame. By the time she finally had it they way she wanted it and was ready to begin the publish process, her mind…you know…” Throw.

The pass had a tight spiral, but was high and wide. I jumped up, caught it, nearly running into the cinder block wall of the neighboring apartment complex. I took a look into the sky and noticed the evening’s first stars were shining. It was too dark to throw anymore. “We should got to a park next time,” I said, following The Great Warrior inside the bungalow. “Then we’ll really be able to throw.”

“We should do that,” he replied.

20140114_194418Later that night I took a walk through Los Felis. The nearly full moon hung high in the clear black sky like a bright fresh mothball that I could easily pluck from the sky. The still, brightness of the Moon seemed to accentuate the twinkling of the stars near it, flashing in blues, whites and reds as they visually telegraphed their cosmic histories.

“See!” screamed a tweaking hipster from out of his long crinkled beard. He was standing in front of a line of people at a taco hut on the corner of Vermont where Hollywood Blvd turns into Prospect Ave. “I was about to tell you and you…!” He moved his body about in some weird kind of dance, slapping his thighs every now and then and pointing into the night. “But you keep hanging up…” he doubled over, laughed…”keep hanging up!”

The Moon brought down chalky white light on the scene. Nobody at the taco hut paid attention to the screaming fellow. Frowning people weating nice clothes and earbuds feeding them the numbing nectar of their smartphones passed by him like phantoms. Unfazed, the fellow kept screaming at whoever it was that hung up on him.

mystery

mystery

As I walked on, I kept seeing The Great Warrior’s mom, staring up and to the left at that marvelous and scary mystery before her. But from my view, it was nothing really mysterious at all: birth, youth, some good stuff, some bad stuff, older, a baby boy, divorce and some more good stuff and bad stuff, a twenty-something year old son. Friends, friends drifting away, a little more good stuff and not so good stuff. An thirty-something year old son. Getting older, new friends, friends passing away, a book. Then the tricky, perforating of the mind. Then death, and a forty-something year old son to eulogize her. That’s it. Life is simple. But when I look up and to the left with that same long stare as she has in the photograph, it all gets marvelous and scary. All I can see are the flashing lights of what must be exhilarating rides…surely they must be, right?…one ride after the other.

Be well…

The Little Bull Ran

Hello Everybody,

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare about an hour before my flight. It was Christmas Day, so I thought it’d be a lean travel day. I was wrong. The airport was packed. The four throbbing lines at security bottlenecked at the only two scanning docks that were open.

310293_10150297449076733_308672359_nOn the air was a general worry of missing flights. A woman in the line next to me would tiptoe, stretch her neck to gaze at the line in front of her, shake her head, then turn around, tiptoe and look at the line behind her, then shake her head again. The fellow behind me kept pushing up against me, huffing and mumbling to himself.

Throughout the lines, divorced mothers and fathers stood in line with their kids, who they were shipping to their ex-wives and ex-husbands for Second Christmas. The parents would stay with their kids until it was time for them to go through the X-ray chamber. Then they’d stand off to the side on their tiptoes, making sure they put on their shoes, belts and coats, grabbed their carry-on. One by one, each child waved goodbye, then disappear into the terminal. One by one, the parents left with the same expression.

It took almost the entire hour to get through security. After I got my shoes, belt, coat back on, I grabbed my bag and fell in with the hurried mob to the gates, and got to the gate just in time to board my flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. From there, I would catch a plane to San Antonio and home. I found my seat, sat down, closed my eyes. I was cold, feverish and had a rather tubercular cough. I’d slept very little in Chicago and was very tired but couldn’t sleep. I opened my book, but couldn’t commit to read, either. So I simply, blankly occupied my allotted space in The Universe until Charlotte.

At Charlotte, there was a mad, collective rush to get off the plane. Angry, anxious passengers shoved their way down the aisle. “I gotta get to my connection, dammit!” exclaimed one bull of a man, as he pushed through the line like a fullback. “I’m trying to get off this damn, plane, baby,” he said into his cellphone. “But everybody’s clogging the line up.”

The flight attendant just shook his head. “They’re holding all the planes, sir, so please-“

“You told me I won’t miss my plane,” the passenger growled back.

“You aren’t sir, so please-”

“You better be right.”

Soon, the man barreled into the end zone and off the plane. All the little step-kids stood in the aisle, with their carry-ons clutched against the chest, their eyes size of silver dollars, helpless in the bubbling froth of impatience. “All of you are gonna make your flights,” said the attendant. “No need to worry at all.”

I wasn’t worried. I had a two-hour lay over and felt like shit. My feet were cold and my face was hot. I hadn’t eaten but wasn’t hungry. I’d dumped so much coffee and Dayquil down my throat that I shook like Katharine Hepburn in her later years. So this Christmas, and what have you done...” I sang silently. Another year over

Very disturbing cracked plaster dog in my mom’s backyard.

Very disturbing cracked plaster dog in my mom’s backyard.

My mom picked me up at San Antonio that night around 9pm. I walked out of the airport into the warmer and more humid weather and finally shook off the Chicago cold that’d grasped me with its icy talons. By the time we got to my mom’s house in Jourdanton – 30 minutes later – I was finally ready to sleep.

I did very little but sleep over the next week. When I’d finally wake up, I’d drink coffee with my mother and my sister in the living room. My my teenage niece and nephew would wake up a little after I would, go to the kitchen, grab a poptart, then disappear. My sister’s newborn baby girl, Arabella Rose, would be locked into her swing. Muzak played from the swing’s mobile as she gaped at the world, speaking in gaga language. The world she appeared to see seemed a world filled with much more wonder than what the rest of us saw. She’d escalate her gagas every now and then, looking at me as if she’d made some discovery, and that nothing whatsoever was more important for me to know than this discovery – such a simple yet profound discovery that not only me, but my mother, and sister, and the entire world needed to know. She gaga’d and gaga’d until her eyes grew red and wet. Then she’d cry. Then she’d fall asleep, grow older and forget the discovery.

One day – I’m not sure which – I walked out of my mother’s little subdivided neighborhood, crossed Texas State Highway 97 with all its fast 24/7 oilfield traffic, walked past the giant peanut factory with it’s loud fans blowing hard, then down a little dirt road where farmers and ranchers dumped dead wild hogs they’ve shot on their land. That day there was a fresh pile of about 5 dead hogs. Only their eyes had been eaten away, probably by buzzards. They were still bloated and their legs stood straight out like they were balloons for some kind of upcoming parade through Hell. A few days later, after their bellies had popped open, the entire countryside would smell of rot. Bones of hogs that had faced the same fate were scattered about the ditches alongside the road, with all the empty beer cans.

547592_10150629176076733_1975193_nA little further down the way, I hopped onto another road that ran alongside a pasture. A herd of cows grazed at the fence line. They all looked fairly young with blue, numbered tags on their ears. You’re all gonna be chopped up and on sale at grocery stores by Spring…

The cattle meandered in the pasture peacefully, but as I came upon them, a little black bull looked up, stared at me. One by one, the other cows stopped grazing, stared at me. Then the little bull made the decision to trot. Then the others trotted behind him. I kept walking. Then the little bull moo-ed, began to run. The others ran. Soon the entire herd was stampeding down the fenceline to the corner of the pasture, where they stopped, began grazing again. When I came closer to them again, the little bull looked at me again, ran again, down the other fenceline. The others did the same. They stampeded hard all the way to the next corner of the pasture, where they stopped again. Grazed peacefully again. Ground up, slapped into a patty and grilled on a summer afternoon…

On Sunday, my flight back to LA  was delayed. Dreary passengers hung out in the waiting area next to the gate – headphones, iPhones, laptops – looking to be in no hurry to reach their destinations. But when one man made his way to the gate – to be first in line when they called general boarding – others quickly followed him. Then more and more did the same – including me – until we formed a giant throbbing glob of humanity. When it was time to board, the airline rep picked up the intercom…”Ok, at this time we’d like to invite all first-class ticket holders to board, all first-class passengers only…” Three people boarded, the glob throbbed closer. “Ok, at this time we’d like to invite all premium ticket holders, all premium passengers only…” A handful of people boarded. The human glob inched its way to the tunnel, condensing into a dense force, nearing the point of singularity and utter calamity…“Ok, at this time we’d like to invite all passengers seated in Zone 3, passengers in Zone 3 please…” until, fortunately, the glob ruptured like a boil and we began to ooze down the tunnel, into the plane. “Zone 4…” Ooze. “Zone 5…” Ahh…

Growing stronger.

Growing stronger.

It was a long, smooth ride to LA. I was ready to get back West, ready to rehearse the play I’m in, ready to keep writing, ready to line up some carpentry work and get 2014 rolling. But I was still tired, too. The cough was still with me, though it seemed like ages ago I was slipping around the icy streets of Chicago, on Christmas Eve. A real fatigue had anchored into my bones. But somewhere over the great desert of the Southwest – passing by so tiny below me – I accepted Wintertime. Just keep going. In the Spring would come a new energy. In the Spring we’ll be strong again. New calves would’ve be born by then, too, running for their lives from fence to fence until…

Be well…

Chicago Goes On…

Hello Everybody,

The subway lumbered south to Union Station. It was the morning rush hour, most of the seats were taken. Most passengers dozed or stared into space as the train swayed side to side, except a gray-haired, plump lady wearing glasses, a patchwork dress, turtleneck sweater and a wallet necklace. She paced next to me in shiny white orthopedic shoes.

Blurry LA rainbow...

Blurry LA rainbow…

“Excuse me, ma’am?” I asked. The lady looked down at me. “Would you like to sit here?”

“Oh, no,” she replied.

“Are you sure?”

“Oh, yes, thank you. I like to stand, I like to stretch my legs.”

I resumed my weary gaze, swayed with everybody else. The lady held onto the perpendicular subway handle that ran from the back of my seat to the ceiling. She twisted a little with each jerk of the car.

“I’m going to Union Station,” said the lady, leaning toward me, looking me straight in the eye. “Are you going to Union Station?”

“Yes.”

“I’m taking the MetroLink 902. Are you taking MetroLink 902.”

“No.”

“What are you taking? Are you taking Amtrak?”

“No.”

“You’re not taking Amtrak, what train are you taking?”

“I’m taking a bus.”

“What bus are you taking?”

The lady’s sharp voice carried throughout the car. A few people had begun to look our way.

“The Fly Away bus,” I said quietly.

“Is it a fast bus?”

“I hope so.” I was running late.

“Where are you taking it?”

“To the airport.”

“Oh, are you flying?”

“Yep.”

“Which airport?”

20131112_160150The fellow across the aisle opened his eyes, rolled them, sighed heavily, then looked at me as if I had a responsibility to silence the lady. But I felt helpless, as if I’d been fated to meet this woman at this particular spot in Spacetime. Nothing was gonna stop her line of questioning, so I simply shrugged my shoulders, smiled at the fellow, and said, “LAX…the airport.”

“What plane are you taking?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what plane you’re taking?”

“No.”

But I did know. I was flying to Chicago via Spirit Airlines. I’m not sure why I lied. A growing urge to come clean and tell her the truth began to gestate deep inside me, but before it could get born the lady’d already moved on and began asking another passenger down the car if he had the time, and, “What kind of watch is that?…You like that watch?…I have a watch…I wonder if your watch is better than my watch?…But my watch is pretty  good…I’m taking the MetroLink 902, are you taking the MetroLink 902…”

The doors opened at Union Square and she scooted off to become another piece in the city puzzle. I swam my way into the current of commuters and headed to the bus docks, hopped on the Fly Away. About a half-hour later, I was herded and prodded through security, and managed to get my boots and belt back on, and skip to my gate in just enough time to find that my flight had been delayed. General chagrin and Christmas panic ensued around the airline representative.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the representative, “we’re just waiting for a mechanic to come take a look at the lavatory. Hopefully, we’ll be boarding shortly.”

“Ha!” exlcaimed the man next to me. “Broken shitter.”

But the delay was miniscule, and soon all of us were run down the cattle chute and into the cabin, stampeding to our seats. I sat in the last row, by the lavatory – the working lavatory.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said a flight attendant over the intercom, unfortunately, the lavatory at the front of the cabin will be out of service for this flight. Please use the lavatory in the back.”

20131113_204426More and more people began to board. Families bargained with other passengers to get seats together. Passengers hustled down the aisle to find a place to stuff their bags in the dwindling overhead space. People voiced their concern to the attendants that being delayed anymore might cause them to miss their connections, that they MUST NOT MISS THEIR CONNECTIONS! The attendants just smiled their hired smiles and told them everything would be fine.

The plane was up and away quickly. As soon as the seatbelt sign clicked off, people formed a line at the bathroom. An attendant scooted around them to begin asking patrons if they wanted any, “Purchases?” while holding a menu close to her face, “Will you be making any purchases today, sir?”

“Coffee is considered a ‘purchase’, huh?”

“Yes, sir? Coffee is $3.”

“Fine. Credit or debit only, huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

She ran my card, then another attendant came out of nowhere and handed me an 8.oz cup of coffee. I nursed it like it was the last drops of that electric-life-water in the movie Tron. After the attendants made their way back from taking all the orders, one cracked open a book and sat down to read, the other took a nap – her head bent at a drastic angle against the curvature of the airplane hull.

Soon there was another line at the lavatory – there would continue to be for the duration of the flight.

“Do you guys mind,” snapped the attendant, slamming her book shut, “standing behind that line?” She pointed to the carpet line separating the cabin from the lavatory/storage area. Her smile was the same, but it now looked like a threat. “Personal space, you know.” She turned back around, resumed reading. The other attendant was out cold, her mouth slightly open.

The seatbelt sign flashed on as we began our final descent, but there was still a line at the bathroom.

“Please return to your seat, sir,” requested the flight attendant to a man who did not immediately return to his seat.

“Sorry, but when you gotta go, you gotta go,” smiled the man.

“Well, it’s not like I can make you do anything,” smiled the flight attendant.

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Broadway and Lawrence, an old familiar intersection of my life.

Suddenly, I became aware that the cabin was much colder than it was at take off. I shivered as I bent over the sleeping passenger next to me, to look out the window. The land below was covered in snow. The sun was setting and a faint dusting of shiny yellow covered the white ground. The buildings on the edge of Chicago appeared – first only a few, then more and more, then suddenly the flat sprawling metropolis spread out all the way to Lake Michigan. When the sun dipped below the horizon, the city turned gray. White plumes of smoke or exhaust rose here and there, as if The City was some kind of industrial Yellowstone with some mysterious infernal source boiling below it. But the surface looked hard, frozen. I lived in Chicago for about 3 years, ten years ago. I’ve only visited it a few times since. But my view of it has never changed. You gotta be mean to live here, I thought, mean, numb, running from something or lost on some kind of chase. You gotta be OK with the streetlights coming on at 3:30 in the afternoon. You have to build a relationship with Cold and Darkness to live in Chicago – or know of no other way to live. Sure, the summers are nice here and quite warm. But how many people have you ever heard talk about the Chicago Summer?

We landed at O’Hare. As we taxied to our gate, our sleepy-eyed attendant brushed her hair from her face, picked up the intercom and told us to, “We hope you enjoy your stay in Ft. Lauderdale…………………….Oh! Chicago, sorry! Merry Christmas!”

Then the rush of the passengers to get off the plane. I sat and watched. I didn’t want to get off the plane. Every time I make it to Chicago, I don’t want to step out in it. Besides, it was 6˚F.

But of course, I had a great time, despite the freezing temperatures, like I always do. I stayed with old friends, we broke bread together, we didn’t sleep. Everybody looked older but the same. There were new buildings where old buildings used to be, new business in old buildings, but Chicago still felt familiar. Everywhere I turned was a memory. Truthfully, I have more bad memories of Chicago than good. My memories of the Windy City serve as proof of survival more so than fond reminisces. But I laughed a hell of a lot during my stay, as I have during all my visits. Maybe that’s all what survival’s about.

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Appropriate metaphor for my self-delusion during my Chicago years.

Around sunset on Christmas Eve – after leaving a friend’s house – as I rode an eastbound bus down Division Street, the memories came alive. The city grew darker. Ten years dark…unemployed, unemployable except for little jobs that I found whilst wandering through a hazy fog of alcohol and drugs with low visibility and even less rationale…the bus was occupied by a handful of old black, bent men in work clothes that all seemed to know each other. They all had gray stubble on their chin and balanced rolled up ski caps just perfectly on the top of their bald heads. They were tired, but joking around. Further down the street, we passed by where the old Cabrini Green Housing Project used to be – once considered one of the worst projects in the nation. But now there’s nary a trace of it left. Now, it’s all newer, angular condos at market price…I ended up in Cabrini one night, two fellows took me there. God knows why (I know why). One of the fellows knocks on a door. It cracks open, two wide eyes poke out from the darkness behind the door. They peer into me, then to one fellow, then to the other, then back to me. He lets one fellow inside, shuts the door. God knows what happened next (I really don’t know)…the black men and I got off the bus at the intersection of Clark and Division…I used to live here, a block away, I see the building…nite girls and panhandlers outside the check cashing place. Thin dark ghosts roaming the parking lot of the grocery store…broken teeth back then, ramen noodles, lost phones, late rent notices, lost keys, broken doors, confused and angry looks from friends, desired loneliness, then one day where are all my friends???

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But there were always moments of sunshine…

It was one of the darkest periods of my life, the year I spent in that neighborhood. I felt stuck back then, permanently stuck. I couldn’t see beyond the city. Little did I know that only months later I’d be whisked away to New York City. It took me years to find my way out of that city too, but at least the winters weren’t as bad. Of course, now I live in LA – just another city, just as easy to get lost in, but the weather’s quite lovely there.

I hopped the Red Line subway at Clark at Division, north to another friend’s house…another friend, friends, friends…in Uptown. Soon the train popped above ground and I was above the streets, looking out into The City. Day was now night. The sun keeps on rising and setting, winter keeps on coming and I keep moving through Time with no control over anything whatsoever.

Be well…