to those who think my life is awesome: it is.

28 March 2012 § Leave a comment

A couple of months ago I went to Panama City with Heather and Victoria, the axis-shiftingly beautiful 18-year-old we’d had a foursome with a couple of nights before. Jennifer, the other girl from the rum-party, didn’t feel much like the long bus trip and three days in the hot city.

I needed new shoes, better shoes than the two-sizes-too-small skate shoes I bought in San Jose. The salesman, Richard, a pushy but friendly cat from Limón, flirted with my friend Eli while I tried on shoes. I wasn’t jealous though, because we both got ourselves into stupid situations in order to practice our Spanish skills, and anyway she’d be leaving the mall with me. I learned that from the glint in her sad mahogany eyes when she nudged her ‘I’m-married-but-if-I-weren’t…’ elbow into my ribs.

Heather and I used those three days in the city to shop and to ‘work on our relationship.’ She was doing more working than I was. She’s like that. We ate ice cream and good food, of course, because one does not eat inferior food whilst with Heather, and our kind host Gabriel, for whom I still have not provided a couchsurfing reference, showed us around town, carted us around shopping (where I eventually got my shoes), showed us the Canal (which likely makes more money off tourists than passing ships), and even let us join him on a drug deal. Talk about a cultural experience!

From his 13th story apartment, high above the dark city with streets full of roaring diablos rojos – red devils – school buses painted with fantastic, colorful designs, souped up to ridiculous horsepower with charming chrome, that squeal brakes for whomever might want a ride, pavos (turkeys, the guys who take your bus fare and tell the driver where to go) hanging out the doors to whistle at potential fares – I leaned over the railing and didn’t reach very far back into my head for the part of me that told me to jump. When Gabriel came out with my drink, he said jokingly that I shouldn’t. I took the rum and smiled.

Panama City reminded me of what I liked about Miami, which wasn’t much. Gabriel liked to drive and smoke his marlboro reds, windows open to the hot highway wind, so we did a lot of that. He was a great guy, to show us around like that.

In Miami, circa 2005, I rode around with my friend Jason at the helm of his once-beloved Acura RSX while he smoked his marlboro reds, summer heat and black metal filling our souls with whatever more they could carry, which then didn’t seem like much.

In retrospect, most of what I liked about South Florida ceased to exist once I got out of his car, bound for the train headed back to West Palm, and black metal and two a.m. NPR couldn’t save me there.

Life got better when I figured out that the more me I was, the more others were them. It was not a one-time lesson: even on wordpress, the more honest and open I am, the more hits the site gets. Isn’t that a strange coincidence? Only a couple of times has it worked against me, and only once have I received a phone call from a friend in tears concerned for my mental state, or for a sordid history I’d laid out. I wasn’t sure which, but the call was a positive one.

I’d rather not get much of a response at all, to be honest, but it feels good when it happens. For example – today as I sat in Ed’s office procrastinating so I didn’t have to write the 300-word travel story for some big-name competition (deadline: three days, entry fee: way too much), a Canadian gentleman walked in and introduced himself. For a while he and Gish talked about unimportant things, and I ignored them.

Later on, as the man with the Canadian accent justified his career in the Alberta Oil Tar Sands to me, perhaps because Ed seemed interested in telling him stories I’d heard before and I wanted to change the subject, I let a video of Buddy Wakefield’s poetry silence the rest of the room, as the short bald man’s work usually does. I take a perverse pleasure in riling up Gish’s emotions: to see him angry amuses me, and to see him moved to tears reminds me to hold a little more hope for the world: even sharks cry. It doesn’t take much to push his buttons.

I needed to go to yoga, so I got up to leave, and the man whose name I’m a little sorry I don’t remember (I was ignoring you for my work, sir) offered to give me a lift to town. We talked obligation for masks on the three-and-a-half minute drive, and as I got out to run to yoga, I shook his hand goodbye, was a pleasure meeting you, etc., and he didn’t let it go.

A few weeks on the road with his parents through the American West taught him what he needed to know about life, and I was glad the lesson had come so easily for him. Personally, I walk around with a chalkboard to take notes, and erase it when something useful comes up. But he held my grip, and I held his, and he tried with his Canadian might to convince me that sometimes it’s better to lay low, to stay off facebook and to not smile so much, because people ridicule and scream and cry about the guy who smiles all the time. I think he saw that as the end of the line.

I held fast to my idealism, let him believe that I believed I was a poet too, even after watching Buddy, and told him without much context to be more who he was, that others would be better for it. I shook his hand off of mine to set him free.

Not that it mattered. I’d been talking to myself.


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