27 April 2012 § Leave a comment
I would love to say that Florida is a wonderful place. It’s not.
However, it is a good place to crash for a few days, to stay with friends, perhaps go to their wedding, and meet some of the people that help their world spin. Three times in three years I have used Miami as my landing pad – once in the first days of a broken long-term relationship, and twice returning Stateside from vagabonding abroad. In every case I’ve been broke and headed for Alaska. Now is no exception.
I rode the dog here for school – and a girl – eight years ago. It was a twenty-two hour bus trip from Albuquerque. I wore a leather trenchcoat, carried an electric guitar and pulled a rolling duffel bag without wheels. We hit Texas the first night. When I got off the bus, three poorly-dressed men tried to sell their shiny jewelry. Bracelets, all. Thinking of the dreamy female somewhere north of West Palm Beach, I made the mistake of asking how much. A fellow passenger, a mustachioed cowboy with a paunch that said he’d been off the ranch for too long, put his arm around my shoulder, told the men to fuck off, and led me away. I thanked him later, but didn’t say that I’d already given one of the men seventeen dollars for a bracelet. I feared he would have scolded me.
Many such lessons have taught me similar since. I’ve stopped handing my money out to strangers without souls.
In Louisiana, I started a ten-passenger debate on the historical merit of Christianity. My most fervent opponents were the fat cowboy and a young man who’d two weeks earlier gone AWOL from the army. They were both on the run. Turned out the ranch hand was a truck driver instead. Before life on the road, he’d been a teaching priest at a Catholic school in Florida. I lost the argument on more than faulty logic. The army guy told me to read more books. Sometimes I still follow the advice.
The conversation turned to music. With men, it usually does. At the time, I was playing guitar upwards of six hours a day. (It frustrated me still that I wasn’t any good at it.) The cowboy-priest-trucker told me a story about one of his students, from years before.
The kid was a guitarist, about to graduate from parochial school. He also played hours and hours a day. He played so much, he skipped school and sleep to work on a riff or a scale. The priest asked the musician to perform for graduation. He gladly accepted, and nailed Hendrix’ ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ in the gymnasium, spot on.
The other teachers hated it. Threatened to keep him from graduating. They told him “evil rock music” was a negative influence on everyone.
Student felt terrible, said the priest, until the mentor went to his house and announced at the family dinner table how awesome the performance was.
The guitarist was Mark Tremonti, of Creed and later, Alter Bridge.
The more you travel, I theorized, the fewer degrees of separation between you and the people you want to come across.
At the time, it seemed important.
I arrived in Florida 21 October 2004. The next day, I wanted to leave.
Monday I depart.
24 April 2012 § 2 Comments
Kim, Jas’ in-four-days-wife-to-be, returned from Vegas raving about everything but the weather. She dropped no clues about her party. That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? Leave your Vegas stories in Vegas?
This morning she woke up angry. We hadn’t cleaned the house.
Nor had we finished drinking.
Three nights ago, I was a strip club virgin. (I’m not going to get into why, because only other men and ex-girlfriends seem to want explanations as to why I, at nearly 26, had never participated in retail sex entertainment.) Now, not so much.
The dancers amused me. They paraded around tables, up and down stages. Tux-clad bouncers stood at the stairs, took girls’ hands to help them manage platform shoes. To appear gentlemanly. A radio announcer said to pick our favorite for a dance. That two songs were one low price.
Jas’ brother, Justin, whose countenance said he’d done this a few times before, had explained the rules on tipping and lap dances: “Bring singles with you. And no licking.”
It’s funny how people follow their DNA. A group of Indian men all stared in the same sad way, bad haircuts and young bushy mustaches curious, eyes deprived, entranced. They tossed dollar bills at their countrywoman’s feet like garbage. Undid the top buttons of their shirts. Sweat bullets. I considered the difference between appreciation and waste.
Above another stage: a man I recognized vaguely leaned on the handrail, smirk sketched. I’d seen those eyes before, on wanderers and travelers who’d just found what they now had to have. He gestured with his bills for the dancer to come closer. He caressed her back, side, and torso, quick, with impersonal fingertips, as if she, with her dyed black hair shiny, artificial, were a souped-up Honda Civic at a car show. Ignition empty.
A girl sat on my lap, whispered her nickname into my ear. Her straight bangs auburn brushed my eyelids. “Seline,” she said with a lisp. “I like your style.” She tipped the bill of my hat with an affectionate smile.
“Thanks,” I told her, “but it’s not my party.”
My ratio of entertained:disgusted reached 50:50 about midnight. We went to Lauderdale, drank fishbowls of liquor, watched perhaps the only band who’s covered Tool and succeeded, and on the beach talked about what we knew until the sun came up.
My best friend is getting married, and I need to buy a suit.
21 April 2012 § Leave a comment
I feel disappointed that my friend Jas gave up on audio engineering.
We both studied at SAE, not together but in succession, then followed the music and occasionally worked together. The peak of our collaboration was in the studio we pieced together with cables, mixing boards, and imported beer. The result was an album, Kampfstoff LOST, a mix of martial-industrial compositions made mostly by Jason, who has the potential as a musician to write film scores and symphonies, to conduct for orchestras, what have you. The album was never popular – it wasn’t meant to be – but was an achievement nevertheless, and represents for me, if anything, a good set of Saturday memories, mixing and writing and drinking. Not always in that order.
When I left Florida, 90% of the studio gear went to his place. Technically, we were to “split it,” and when I’ve visited in the past, one or two projects have gotten half-finished. Otherwise, our gear sits unused in his guest bedroom. The console tape from my last session (two and a half years ago) still lay across the faders of the old analog board, and his once-beloved AT4040 condenser microphone is still attached to the same sad round base stand it has been since 2006.
For years also I have done nothing with my education in audio. I followed the music out from behind the scenes, away from the studio, and out the door of the business I pretended to want everything from. I went traveling to find where and why it had escaped me. When I ended up back to university, I found something that I love more than setting up drum mics and emptying the ashtrays of rock stars.
And so has he. He went back to school, too, and is about to finish his degree in computer science. Yesterday he explained to me that writing code and completing a program he’s designed gives him the same satisfaction and sweet accomplishment that he got out of writing music and finishing a song. That computer science, in its own way, is another form of music. It is his music – one he can make money from. (He could have made money from composing, but perhaps code fits him better.)
Why am I projecting onto him?
This is why: I am disappointed in myself for giving up engineering. I was fired from my jobs, and never jumped back in. By walking away from something I’d worked for as hard as I did – I held down four jobs on top of freelance live sound (a subtle form of self-punishment) – I felt as if I was quitting on myself.
I had never been sure that it was my calling.
That’s a lie. I knew it wasn’t. I just enjoyed it. It felt like my then-relationship did – that if this is the best the world can offer me, I’ll take it, even if it doesn’t fit what I’m set out to do. So, until something better came along, I made the best of it.
The next something better didn’t have the glamor of Music attached at the rear end to show off to the people I met, but Travel has its own frailties and loveliness. Writing, too, has its perks and downsides. For example, once again I have to sit in front a computer and do productive things. Wherever I land, I should not have an internet connection, because that would be bad for writing. Maybe I just need more self-control.
Jason’s move gave me permission to follow through with mine. He found another dream and pursued it. That was Rainier’s sage advice for those who find themselves with all their dreams come true: dream again. He said it came from his 11-year-old son before he died. Rainier says it a lot, hoping someone will listen.
It baffles me that I attach myself to some of my pasts and not others. Granted, some have been really fucking cool, and others not so much. At many turning points, after working toward something tangible and finding it, I think this is it – the good times are over, that I will never again have a new set of memories and stories to employ, to tell, to relax into my mind with. As soon as I accept that, I let it go. I don’t need it. That period invariably becomes one of those new sets of memories.
One of those turning points was on a mild winter night some eight years ago, walking along Donald Ross Road with Emily. We talked about how living in the past hurt the present. It was more her telling me that I could not live the obituary of summer 2001 anymore, that there was more to life, that something came after, and why couldn’t I see that? Something about doing big things. In retrospect, I took what she said that manicured Florida evening, packed my bags, stuffed boxes, and moved into the future instead.
For being present then would have meant harder work than for which I was capable. It would have meant accepting that maybe I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, that maybe I should go to a real college after all, or that I should travel like I really wanted. But I’d hitched myself to Music, and refused to let it go.
I needed to graduate SAE, work in music for a while, and make it through the hardest parts of life and relationship to come to being me. All the while I was proud to take the difficult route through everything. Still am. I never listened to anyone who thought their advice could help. Though it may have been wise, and may have applied, I saw no value in a lesson if it was taught by theory alone. That they went through it didn’t matter.
Or did it? Did I listen to lessons from good stories? I must have. Aesop’s Fables and those told with morals and lessons didn’t fly far above my head. Reading them, I rather liked to think that the sun and the wind really did battle over a guy walking down a road, competing to see if one can get him to take off his jacket, and the other to put it back on. There was a moral at the end of the story, I’m sure of it, but all I remember from the end was that it got so hot that he went for a swim in the river to cool off. Did another cool wind come after that?
Of course. They always do. I’m a traveler, and learn things daily.
20 April 2012 § Leave a comment
The last thing I want to do, today of all days, is write up another logical and sound argument as to why Marijuana Should Be Legalized. Articles like that always come up around the 4.20 holiday, in blogs and syndicated opinion pieces written by cheeky thirty-somethings from New York, Boulder, and Seattle. They name at least one popular strain, investigate the origins of “4:20”, and someone, in typical journalism fashion, will drop the numbers. Pot gatherings on the quads of CU Boulder and UC Santa Cruz, as well as the inevitably receive mention
We are obligated to do these things, year after year, friend’s arrest after busted party, day in and day out. Otherwise, the Powers That Be will stop listening. They will fill that silent void with control tactics and propaganda that implies that jumping off roofs is smarter than smoking a bowl. Now, cool as Parkour is, it’s a strange thing for the government to endorse, and shows, in yet another ridiculous demonstration, how ludicrous the “drug war” has become. Governments are the only fighters in this war – their enemies are businesses who concern themselves far more with shipping and sales than battle tactics, but I’m sure the occasional cartel Don knows his Lao-Tzu.
Anyway. I’m not calling for the legalization of marijuana; not this time. I’m just going to sit here in my luxurious condo in Fort Lauderdale and lament the fact that so many people are willing to stand for Legalization of Marijuana, but are unwilling to fight for their most basic rights, to vote in political elections, to protest effectively. Take your weed with you, and figure out what you believe, regardless of what they say, or who pushes you around.
All that being said, if it’s for you, smoke weed every day
30 December 2011 § 1 Comment
well, okay, not yet. but I’ve been thinking about my past holidays recently and found something amazing: on new years three years running, I’ve found myself on the blue coast of a beach town in some part of the world where, not too long ago, I never, ever, thought I’d visit. Miami brought in 2010, post travel. Zadar introduced 2011 to me in an Irish pub tucked into the depths of a Croatian castle, a New Zealander across the table from me and a Mexican tequila between us. Now, I don’t want to pretend I’ve got any sort of foresight, but I’m in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica right now, Sonambulo is about to play, and I’m not planning on going anywhere before next week. (The Sonambulo thing is a sidenote made to promote a great band and a little jealously, because once you hear them, you won’t want to stop). It’s kind of hard to put into words right now – which is why I’m silently sitting at a computer in an American bar, where I’m sure not to say a word to anyone, typing in a font I can’t even read, but – life is wonderful. And it is what I’ve made of it. Somehow, with all that _____ and _____, that I did _____ with and wanted ______. There’s no room for those words, not right now, not here.
I know what I’m still missing, or at least I have an idea. The boat ride up to Witch’s Rock in Santa Rosa told me some things I needed to know:
quit the expectation.
learn to communicate better, because otherwise you’ll never know what you’re agreeing to.
if you want to do something, fucking do it already.
and the seacave around the corner from the infamous Four Seasons where high class celebrities (whom here will go unnamed) pay boatmen two hundred dollar tips like yesterday, and did I really need to know that she’s here? I don’t care,.but I hope she’s having a good time, it told me some things, as I underscord the island with a poem to listen to its echoes and waves, it put me in the middle of the crashing waves, the ones which take the crabs away, wash them to somewhere, else, where the algae lives, where the Life is, where only the day before on another set of outcropped lavarocks I sat above, on the safe and secure and lifeless surface where no tide reached but in the first signs of spring, which is ambivalent and might not exist here.
Recently as yesterday, I was watching life below me happen, watching the struggle and the swell come in, and sometimes it seemed like forever before it went out again. Life under it could have been happening, or drowning. It didn’t matter which. I wasn’t in it. And yesterday, in a place I thought was somewhere else, I walked through that tunnel and found my untakencareof foot hurt yet again under the strong sun, and when I came out of it, at my tico brother’s polite request, I’d rid myself of the frustration of not being able to understand people who spoke only to me.
on stage a couple of months ago, I read a piece to a crowd which contained people whom I’d hoped to graciously insult with one line:
some things don’t break when you throw rocks at them – like people who talk because they never learned how to listen.
Only under the heat of the spotlight and feeling the blood rushing to my face did I realize that I hadn’t written any of that about any of them. The crowd was quiet until I pointed to myself, humbled by my own comment. Then they made a noise which sounded like either agreement or empathy. It didn’t matter which.
I have some resolutions, I do. But I don’t measure life by years. Dates only help as they relate to others. however. I will learn how to listen. starting now.
2 December 2011 § Leave a comment
He smiled at the stewardess on his way off the plane. She blushed, said nothing, grinned. The thick Miami air rushed at him in the jetway, a blitz of deja vu and bitterness as a dying elephant sat upon him. A whole new set of memories.
Air conditioning on the Tri-Rail tasted like plastic. Early morning commuters filed upstairs, easch taking their own set of four seats until solitude ran obsolete. Americans and their fear of touch. He smirked and let his eyelids fall. Cellphone chatter echoed in the fluorescent, stalemoving air.
Benito cruised 95 southbound, convinced it was the road to hell.
I’d charge more than two coins to ferry souls through here, he thought. South Beach glowed orangewhite. Miamisky is never black, but looms Halloween at night, as cars with neonglowing chassis bump and groan, trunk locks uncertain security. Mamacitas in high heels and short dresses patrolled club lines while bouncers looked on, their sweetvicious smiles collecting attention like they were still playing pogs for keeps twenty years on.
He looked at his white tee and sighed. He had the shoes, but would have to find a sharp top to stand a chance in these trenches. Traffic was light for a Saturday night. Benito reached for the stereo.
The Civic bumped offbeat. Someone screamed.
Shit. Tomorrow was the day. Don’t fuck it up now.
He stopped. Sweat beaded. He got out. The beat went on.
You killed him, she said, apologetic. Sad. He stared at the flattened cat behind his car, shaded red in the tail lights. The sharp orange gleam spread. Bloodstained asphalt. The girl in the lowcut jeans and the lower cut top, a couple of years too late, stood next to Benito as people gathered. A slow procession. Most just looked on from patios and lines. A dead cat wasn’t worth losing your spot, after all.
Did you see it, she asked, finally saying something else.
If I did, do you think I would have hit it? He asked back.
Perplexion. She bit her lower lip. Her hair, a layered shoulder length and blonde fire hazard, kept still as she glanced left, then right. Benito didn’t move. He just stood there paying more attention to the sogn leaking from his windows than to the cat in the street.
Was it yours, he asked the girl.
No way. I don’t bring my cat downtown. How ridiculous.
She looked around again.
Maybe you should go, she said.
His vehicular catslaughter didn’t interrupt the night, which kept up the grind like a fierce Monday sun. Staggering, Benito got back in the car, bodystoic mindrace. Blue LEDs emanated from the dash, judgmental, unforgiving. A small crash of palm and plastic cut the light. The face of the stereo fell to the floorboard. He sniffed. Skin bristled.
Stop sign. City bus.
Traffic light. Red. red. red.
He lit a cigarette, dragged it into his lungs like fresh air, an old friend. The phone rang.
She lurched. The driver muttered. Gritted her teeth. Dash lights and dance music. She pushed in the clutch, turned the key. How hard can this be?
The car circled the grocery store parking lot like an eight year old discovering infinity.
Outside the night simmered. Ready to envelope anyone brave enough to face it.
Turnpike traffic flew along with high beams at ninety. Steady streetlights flickered in the humidity. July was not kind, now or ever.
27 November 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m a traveler. It had to happen eventually.
My sense of adventure clashes with my gutsense, and sometimes I make decisions that in retrospect probably weren’t the best. Yesterday, I did that, and I paid for it. Thanksgiving dinner was in a couple of hours (two days late, but in Costa Rica, who cares), and I had some time to kill. I went walking around San Jose on a graffiti mission. I wanted more pictures, I wanted to find more work. And I did.
Later, I stood at the bottom of a steep hill, at the dead end of a dirty street. It faded into the trees, but the view over everything south of San Jose was spectacular. I was having a moment when someone asked me in Spanish if I was lost. (mistake number one:) No, no, I’m just exploring. I walked up to the group of guys standing outside a shanty house (which wasn’t really suspect because there are so many here), and they asked me a few questions – what are you looking for, where are you from, do you smoke marihuana. My language skills in this part of the world are nothing to be proud of, but I have enough to get by, and this is how I learn – find people who don’t speak my language, so I can stumble over theirs.
One of them pulled out a joint the size of a sharpie marker. “You found the favela, mi amigo.” He laughed the sort of laugh bullies laugh when they’ve decided they’re going to crush you into a peanut. We talked about weed and Alaska and they asked me if I wanted to buy any. I told them I didn’t have any money, which was the truth, but maybe later, I said, trying to stay peaceful. There were three of them at first, but their number grew by about one per minute.
One of them was covered in symmetrical gashes and scars all the way up his arms and on his neck. A fresh gash across the bridge of his nose bled black. He wore a red shirt and a pony tail. Some of the cuts were green with infection. Later, when they demanded that I lift my shirt to check if I was wearing a wire for the policia, he demonstrated what they were saying by lifting his own shirt. I saw virtually no original skin on his torso. It looked like a tortoise shell, both in pattern and texture. His scardecorated body distracted me from what they were saying. Which at the time was really fucking important.
One of them took a phone call, and I said I had to go. Nos vemos, mae. I got about fifty feet up the hill before one of them called to me. I turned around, against my better judgment. This is where cultural communication gets complicated: the tico gesture for “come here,” or “come back” greatly resembles the one people where I come from use for “go away” or “keep going.” The problem was that I knew the tico gesture, and ignoring my screamingunscarred gut, I went back down the hill.
A very large and angry looking man showed up and with him, a few crackheads whose eyes seemed to be bottomless pits. They looked right through me to their next high, which the large man held out in my face in a sack of little white pills. Quieres?
They asked who I was. My name, what I did. Where I was from. Did I have a camera. Where was the recorder. Are you wearing a wire. Let’s see some identification.
I pulled my wallet from my pocket and handed the kindest of them my university ID. It seemed the least valuable and the most applicable. I told them I was studying here. I refused to understand their suspicion, and when the large man said something, I all but ignored him. The dude was not cool. They demanded I opened my bag. Bolsa, he said, gesturing with his hands the unmistakable movement required to open the backpack I had just closed after showing them photographs of graffiti in their neighborhood, abierto. I told them I wasn’t giving them anything, but I would open my bag if it would make them happy. One of them rifled through it, shook my water bottle and put it to his ear. He seemed satisfied.
What happened between that moment and when the large man grabbed at my backpack, I don’t remember exactly. I fought for my bag, just once pulling it away from him. The great amount of lard that was his stomach jiggled and shook. The guy was in a panic and I heard feet shuffling. They were seven or eight now, plus or minus the crackheads. When the large man reached into the back of his pants for who-knows-what, I decided to give up the fight for my bag and start the one for my life. I booked it up the hill, looking back only once. What I saw was not inspiration to stop running.
Six years ago, about three in the morning, Hallandale Beach, Florida: Hey man, you got a quarter?
I knew what was coming. Six or seven guys, all about my age, walked toward me along the Dixie highway, and I knew that my skin was the wrong color to be in that neighborhood, even during the day, unless it was in a car coming through at forty-five. My backpack, full of books and a laptop, got heavier when they got closer.
Nah, I don’t have —
One of them, who was then behind me, clocked me in the head and I fell down. My backpack protected me from their kicks, just enough. I yelled at them. What the fuck did I do to you? For some reason, I thought a fair judgment could only be made by me that night. They stopped for a second, and I got up and ran north. They chased me down, pushed me onto the cracked concrete, and a few of them began kicking me again. I don’t remember how long it went on, but I remember that 1) they didn’t answer my questions, and 2) a white car passed, going forty-five or so. Fast. One of them yelled “cop!” or “car!” (I couldn’t make out which), and they all ran south, leaving me bruised and bleeding on the sidewalk.
The car had, of course, not stopped. I got up and kept walking. I remember writing on my hand that I’d been jumped, and later, after wandering around Hollywood for a couple of hours thinking it was Jupiter, where I lived, 80 miles away) and eventually I asked someone in Walgreens where the train was. She sent me to familiar ground and my original destination, the Hollywood Tri-Rail station. I looked at the schedule. The first three trains were canceled. It was Thanksgiving morning.
Thanksgiving is a special holiday for me. If I’m alive at the end of it, I have something to be thankful for.