Saturday, February 28, 2009


Relying upon the tiniest fractures in my mental health, I compare myself to born rock stars and insist that I, too can be an artist.
My comrades and their personalities loom over my memory. I hear them speak, and continuously imagine how I’d respond. We interact like diffuse call signs that inhabit a signal of such intensity that it bleeds over into neighboring frequencies. Spasmodically, the quiet is interrupted by a voice, albeit heard or imagined, and I conclude that it’s good to hear voices. It turns out that I do listen to people. Listening to others hasn’t always come naturally. For many years I lived in a bubble; not even fear was enough to corral me fully into the community of those who communicate in subtleties. It was as though I were separated from the world by a protective membrane that reduced the significance of people’s messages. For me, many things people said carried little importance. Fear ultimately needed drugs to help jar me into wakefulness.
It took more than a few good trips to get me going. First was braving the company of other people, like Halloween when I was nineteen. I put on clown make-up and we went downtown. Generations of the Moscow circus dripped into me from the collective unconscious as I cocked my head to the side, rolled my eyes and waved hello to people. When we headed back to the car that night I looked at all the pink glitter spilled on the sidewalk and lamented the end of the magic, only to find the ground had falllen away and I was happily balancing for dear life on the thin trail of sparkle that held me aloft. And there was more. Monogamy. Sex. True contact with another human being was an epiphany to say the very least. By learning to appreciate a woman, despite all our differences, I learned to be a man. Beyond the innocent trips, however, were waiting experiences that would take the breath out of my lungs and the blood out of my belly. There was the first bad one, which was pure. I suffered from raw, unparanoid anxiety. All I had to do was come down. Much later, after enjoying more of the sort of trip that transforms a life came the really bad ones. More than once I saved myself from permanent psychic emasculation thanks only to the terror that had paralyzed me before before I could seal my fate. Through a laborious process I came to understand that listening attentively to what people say could be a powerful technique.
Drugs isn’t what creates a star. Nonetheless I’ve come into contact with many starchildren where drugs are to be found. In such places alliances were formed, some few of which even survived the light of day, and still endure. Such relationships exist as proof of inspiration beyond hallucinogens; I have verified the existence of such a life. I anticipate reaching that point any moment now.
In the past there were friends who practiced their art without ever caring for a drug. Few artists intimidate me because my greater fear is instead of those who have never needed anything to expand their vision. Taking acid helped me separate myself from them. Fucking superartists be damned.
Contemplating stars becomes tiring. I heard that since the seventies there’s been an increasing number of children born with extra strands of DNA, even with psychic powers. I’m the starchild among starchildren who chose to enter life one hundred per cent human, with no cosmic advantage. So then, for me awareness of the truth is more like a memory. I’m afraid to draw on the magic of the world around us, afraid my touch isn’t delicate enough, that when I try to part the veil and reveal the painting of energies beneath the surface that it will only tear like an overstretched polymer. The fear of sobriety is the fear that my cherished insanity has burned down to the embers. Feelings of inadequacy stem from the sensation that I have quite unfortunately found myself to be whole.
There is a friend who seems broken within, harmed irrevocably in one massive strike, early on in life. Since arriving in our city she has become a veritable legend, and I have adored her. The woman’s soul has sustained a trauma, and the energies that escape from it react violently to the exterior world. They form a cyclone of atom-splitting force. Like a shooting star, her life is like a path of fire, seemingly destined to skid along the atmosphere of our world with her dramas and elogies. The power within her surges in constant augmentation because of an error. Her mind has not been able to compute the total effect of what she once had to suffer, even through so many years during which she’s gathered such formidable intellectual strength. Now it is the total effect that she has on us that we cannot compute.
I’m glad that nowadays I can at least envy my friends their glamour. Back when dance clubs where awe-inspiring and I believed in appearances I could stumble right by the starchildren without ever realizing that we actually coexisted. It took me years to observe who were those that made themselves into the princes and queens of Saturday night. Way back there was a fellow I believe was of old country nobility. Like a gothic godfather he granted audiences in a private spot at the end of the bar. I recall the night I entered the restroom where he was conversing with another, a sort of punk general of the old crystal meth regime. I know nothing of their personalities and believed their personas down to the quick. I didn’t even eavesdrop on their chat as I pissed, for that would have been a lack of respect. I wasn’t just clothes. My girlfriend from those times had been friends with the godfather (who wasn’t so old) and they had come up tripping together. Whatever I believed about him was less than first-hand and more than a reputation. Sometimes I can’t imagine who the real stars might be. These two guys I remember were really just a couple of geeks like me who understood all the same sci-fi and role-playing game references. The difference lies in the subtle degrees to which each of us has suffered. It remains to be seen if starchildren truly suffer, or if only they know how to suffer with true dignity. Between the fellows I remember and myself, one has only to gauge the magnitude of the glamour that surrounds each of us in order to determine the exact degree to which our spines have been respectively twisted. We’re similar in so many ways that one could extrapolate the nature of the derision we’ve been dealt by observing our posture in various social situations. Do I stand up straight at a club? Do I stand up straight at work? Does a cigarette in hand excuse a hunched neck? Possibly. While I have come to enjoy a bit of proper mystique by this point, I know what has had to happen and what I’ve had to put myself through in order to gain access to some power within.
There is an inner being of pure light that is protected within a shell that is ultimately vulnerable. Some of us have been sheltered. The egg is cracked, battered from outside until light escapes. Pure, evolutionary drive is what pours forth, and it is of a nature meant to be contained. With no recourse but to bathe in it, abused startchildren who know not how to properly heal themselves begin to evolve uncontrollably, and by the time they have found equilibrium of their personal volition they have become like superbeings limited only and particularly by the state of their imagination.
The wise among the surviving starbabies have learned. It is nothing less than our dream-mind that makes any meaningful thing possible. Their lives have been determined by the wishes they managed to make in a distant past. Those among us who do not prefer bitterness may remember what our wishes were, the old ones, from when we wished hardest.


Narrow enough to approximate current fashion without reaching it, Kimmy’s rectangle glasses perch awkwardly on her thin head, befitting her personality more than her appearance, much like her perennial topknot of leaf-brown hair. Her binder is about six inches thick with papers and books she’s insistently asked to borrow from her teachers. Kimmy is content to work and prefers to play and executive role in the decision-making process. During class she pursues clandestine Spanish studies, paging through the textbook she keeps in her lap more as a polite signal that she’s working apart from the others than as a vain effort to hide it. I decided to lift the pressure on her solitary pursuits last week when she impressed the other students in her group with her capacity as a secret weapon. They won the jeopardy game on Friday, much to their surprise because she was able to methodically sound out five and six syllable words without double guessing herself.
Her soul comes to us from across recent generations, like an old lady whose spirit not long ago inhabited a body on a Highlandtown stopp, skinny in old age and able to speak without dropping the long cigarette from her chapped lips. She probably lived on until death finally landed the killing blow, swiftly and after several attempts. Reborn for the twenty-first century the Ebonics speak has subsumed the east Baltimore strain of our distinctive Maryland diphthong. Kimmy talks tough and pledges to protect her friends in the traditional language with which the black girls decree. Still, when she’s relaxed and occupied with some sort of task like erasing the board, she sputters off contentedly out of the side of her mouth, turning her head back just enough to throw her speech at us like a well-aimed lugger and I can see her washing ground-floor windows instead, prattling away with neighborly familiarity on a string of anecdotes meant to demonstrate wisdom and experience beyond her age. I can see her with a well-earned face of wrinkles and a Benson & Hedges menthol one-hundred dangling from a dry lip as she does so.
I haven’t once seen her wear her hair down. She keeps it long, connoting some sort of vitality to her ego. It seems to exert all the strength it can muster in its effort to gather up the stray strands of hair and shoot them out of the elastic tie like a geyser. Unruly, stubborn strands fall loose around Kimmy’s ears and down the back of her neck, refusing to be tied back for the sake of appearence or comfort. Occasionally Kimmy reminds us that her personable demeanor is not to be taken for granted. With reasonable regularity comes a day when she declares her meds have been screwed up and refuses to pick her head up off the desk, or she comes to school out of uniform and makes sure we all know it even if she had something to gain by staying quiet. Even if she’s mad she’ll pass by the door a couple of times to make sure I duely refer her to behavior intervention. Other times she forgets herself for a moment and smiles sweetly. A young woman shines past her funny glasses through the acne in such moments, and briefly, we glimpse some future incarnation.

Mexico Untitled #1

At the supply closet door one evening before my first class I noticed a new teacher standing contentedly to the side, waiting his turn. He stood solidly and offered a simple and amicable greeting. I could see he had a few years on me; he seemed unfazed about being in a new place. Ignoring all the reasons one might have to be nervous, he seemed to smile an acknowledgement of the awkward fact that he had appeared unanticipatedly. It was easy to say hello to him.
That same season a bunch of us guys and one lady ended up in new-level training together, which meant a lot of goofing off with the supervisor and making lude jokes in mixed English and Spanish. Once we performed a grammatical analysis of how the word for “asshole” could range in form across the various verb tenses. “Te estabas apendejeando” meant “you were being an asshole.” “Te habías apendejeado.” meant “you had been an asshole.” We all had a good time and around the middle of the summer I had a party. It served the ostensible purpose of celebrating some Cancerian birthdays, but any pretext that resulted in people showing up was adecuate.
Teachers, students and a few old friends from before my professional life showed up in numbers even before dark and patiently set to conjuring up the pachanga. I had not idea they would. They seemed only to settle in with each other and chat pleasantly to whatever music there happened to be; it was the time of evening for music in English, still. José Luis came with Mari, who was a funny girl and had been in one of my first classes. The early evening reached a peak just after sunset when everyone was standing and conversing excitedly; some people were singing. I remember José Luis threw his head back and laughed, returning to clap me on the shoulder and say how glad he was to have come. Later, once the drink was all being procured from a collective pool but before the hootinanny came the rock in Spanish. I’d heard it before. Some of the CD’s were mine but I had not quite caught on yet. A parellel universe of rock n’ roll existed and I had finally, inadvertantly pierced the veil in between. Understanding lyrics in another language sealed me in a surreal experience that seemed to doom my chances of ever having to lead a normal life again. I found my house inhabited by a spirit that was foreign to me, and it was content to be. José Luis said I should get with Sandra, a skinny girl whose braces belied her age. She was a great banda el recodo coach, dancing quebradito with me so that even our legs moved in unison. The party went on until the respectable hour of dawn.
José Luis had so much fun he said we should hang out more and I thought “cool.” After a session of training at the school once he even said we should take LSD some time. I thought “woah, that’s serious,” but realized I’d enjoy what he was suggesting. Running around the quiet cobblestone streets of Coyoacán, former site of Moctezuma’s aviary, seeing the organic nature of concrete and stone revealed. I said “cool, let’s do it.”

“It” ended up being a roadtrip south to San Pedro Tlanisco, which overlooked a valley, to the house of an old man. I remember the Mrs. offering a quiet greeting from the shady end of the room and my gentle reception of such, glad to receive it readily. His daughter prepared lunch and he brought out the morning’s harvest of mushrooms. It was a weekend, when trekkers ventured out from the city to trip. We chose the little jump-up pajaritos and don Nicolás said we’d be back by around four. I remember questioning his assessment.
We started down the hill, making sure to swallow every bit of what we ate, José Luis began to instruct me. It was my first trip with a guide. At the bottom of the valley we trounced through dry silt as the halucinatory effect took hold. I became tired and quietly frustrated so we turned back up the little stream toward a clearing, where José Luis bad me to sit on a rock. He sat on his and we closed our eyes.
I was in a gazebo made of distant sunset colors, perhaps of the same tones seen from behind an eyelid. Women, not of flesh but of soft light fell toward me as if fauning over me, and my fear was discovered and forgiven simultaneously as their hands came only close enough to affect me, but not to touch. Allow us to be women, they said silently, just allow us to be women. And when we opened our eyes I was calm. The sun neared its zenith, obscuring the rising land above and the Eagles’ Peak in white light. We stood in the clearing together but I paced, uncomfortable under direct sunlight and José Luis questioned why. It was a fair question, and it didn’t freak me out that he would ask, still I couldn’t respond. Not with fear but with acute nervous apprehension the present moment seemed to have me by the head. I craned my head against the sun as if it weakened me and stumbled around in the sand, aware of the futility of escape and still confounded at what to do with the present moment. It’s unsettling when one is suddenly abandoned by the comfortable distraction of the never-ending moment-to-come. I ended up on my knees wretching as if I’d eaten bitter cactus, but such was not the case. Yet I did perceive in the sand the arrangement left after the last rain. The grains remained where the water had left them, indeed where they needed to go as the water had been absorbed. It was not unlike a honeycomb, only more arbitrary, even like human development seen from the air. The larger patterns, such as would normally be obscured by atmosphere or cloud cover I saw here in the same, strange style of line-drawing utilized by the Maya and Aztecs. I felt to be in the land where the trip had been born, and had just pierced the veil, in the act of crossing the threshold.
José Luis, who had retired to the shade came back out after I finished wading in the stream and singing to the valley. Some former visitors to our clearing had arranged stones, in arrows and a winking smiley face. “Oh, that’s just like you wacky Maya,” I thought. “You clowns just winking and nudging the denizens of the next galaxy without a care in the world.”
I put my jacket back on and felt like a cartoon swashbuckler when I pulled my shirt cuffs out from under my sleeves and José Luis laughed. That was the second time in my life that putting back on a jacket brought me back to my self. I was well again, and at ease almost the same noonday sun. I welcomed its warmth on my head.
. The eagles cirlcing the valley and the peak named for them were visible now in the yellow light of afternoon, and my brother and I climbed like them, perching on craggy overlooks as we went. José Luis spoke of his wife-to-be and the house he’d build for her. I suspended myself over the path, back to one boulder and boots stretched out to the other, light enough to be carried on the wind.


My suegro was my girlfriend’s father and one of the last things he said to me was that he couldn’t shake my hand, and later he asked my word that I wouldn’t call her or the house again. I’ve always remembered that Casillero del Diablo is a good wine because he approved the selection. Few Mexican people seem to love wine, but Victor was inspired by Spain. His daughter would comment in passing that she’d like to take him there one day and I am only able to picture him being happily lead through the streets by his small, adult daughter in a genuine stupor of joy. He did shake my hand again when we said so long, likely enough because it slipped his mind not to. We’d drink wine around the kitchen-sized table in the living room at their place. There were often friends or relatives around on Saturday evenings and my girl’s mom loved to gamble with poker chips. We ended up reliving those days when we returned to Mexico. One night, after much wine Victor said to me “¿sabes lo que me gusta de ti, Joseph?” and I thought he was going to say I was unafraid to criticize my country. That was the night he had me pick up the guitar, but not to play anything.

My girlfriend’s sister played the piano, for which her father had gladly sacrificed. He played the classical guitar like an over-excited child, tackling the notes quickly enough that memory couldn’t escape. One of the public TV stations would air an opera every Saturday afternoon. I saw The Magic Flute and recognized the melody in “una furtiva lágrima” from a Speilberg film. I must have slipped when I mentioned once that I mused about playing the guitar. Victor’s daughters heard me and, completely ignorant of the delicate reverence I possessed for such a prospect, set to firmly encouraging me into asking him for lessons. I had known many musicians. Only such a delightful obligation would have convinced me.

For the year I was away I had practiced. Victor wasn’t listening for the melody when he put the guitar in my hands, and he was pleased. I didn’t comprehend what he said he liked about me. I remember understanding all the words and being confused out of anticipation of a compliment. I think he said I wasn’t afraid to call something for what it was; such a thing just didn’t seem plausible to me. Maybe what he was trying to say was that he knew I chose to see what was real in the world. For him, it was never in question. Even the day he came to take away his daughter’s possessions was simple. He had no harsh words for me.