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…