The Pipeliner’s Dilemma by Luis Galindo (Echoes From Other Hobos, #1)

Luis Galindo

Luis Galindo

He stopped the truck and threw it into park on a dirt road just after The Universe punched him in the face. It was as though someone who was sitting next to him had reared back and struck him across the jaw line, so clear and startling was the revelation.

He’d been working on the pipeline for several months now – an outfit called King Pipeline. His younger brother had got him the job, even managed to secure him a place on his crew in those first months. They worked together in the chemical plants and refineries of Pasadena and Channelview. It was good to work with his brother. He enjoyed it very much. But his brother had recently been sent to head up a new job in New Orleans, leaving him alone to work with men he did not know on a cattle ranch on the outskirts of nowhere while living in a cheap motel room in Goliad, Texas.

He’d started on the pipeline in the early Summer of that same year, a month after graduating from a university on the East Coast with an Master of Fine Arts in fakery and disguise. He’d vowed that he’d never take another job where he’d have to shower after work – just a few years before, sitting in his apartment in New York City with his friends, proposing a toast, “Here’s to grad school boys and to never having to lift shit for a living again.” But since then he’d done much lifting, continued lifting and had been lifting heavy objects until just a few moments before The Cosmos had tried to give him a knock out blow in the cab of the work truck which he now drove.

He’d just completed a ten-hour workday on the Polinski Cattle Ranch where he and the pipe gang were laying half a mile of thirty-two inch pipe, which was to be pulled underneath the Colorado River then used to transport natural gas to its final destination. Where that destination was he didn’t know or care.

As he sat in the cab of the work truck alone, a mile away from the main gate of the ranch he began seeing things in a different light and thinking things with a different means of process. The truck, the sky. The whole world seemed very familiar yet strangely different, more wondrous than it ever had, before this moment. And in a voice as clear as his own he heard the words, You could be happy doing this for the rest of your life. Maybe.

The sun was setting and it streaked the South Texas sky with swaths of purple, pink, orange and blue the likes of which he’d never seen before in his life. Cattle grazed lazily on that vast stretch of land. Pecan and Mesquite trees dotted the ranch as far as one could see to the south. Small flocks of birds winged through the twilight. Though the truck’s engine was off the radio still played low, but clear. It was a country music station and the song was pure honky-tonk heartbreak. Steel guitars cried and a man’s voice pleaded. The song, as far as he could tell, was about loss and moving on. Hands on the wheel. The enormous silence underneath absolutely everything – the light, his breath, the tightness of the muscles in his back and his legs all the way down to his steel-toe boots. All of the world, there, in that perfect moment. Precise. He was there.

Maybe I could do this forever? Maybe this is all I need? Maybe working hard, making money and living in motels until the right woman came along would be alright? I could pay off my student loan, buy a new truck, buy a house and be an eligible bachelor with something to offer. Hell, I might even quit drinking and doing drugs. Then he thought through the whole list again.

Could he give up trying to be an artist? Could he really work this way for the next thirty years? Would this be enough to sustain his spirit, his comfort level, while his loftier ambitions were put on hold? Could he pretend those ambitions were not there? Could he continue pouring vodka and pills on his problems? Would the fire that burned inside him be extinguished long enough for him to build an escape route to this life?

He thought of the long days of work. The sun or the cold beating him down one millimeter at a time. He would be beaten a little smaller every day. He thought of the intolerance of some, not all, of the workers on the crew, the bosses, the bosses’ bosses until it became one long chain of ignorance and fear. A chain of hate forged in the cold fires of the inability to reach out, to try and understand another human being. How many more “fuckin’ wetbacks” could he hear before exacting revenge?

He thought of the woman he might meet. Would he meet one that really loved him? One that read Thomas, Cummings and Shakespeare? One that would tolerate his penchant for carousing until the small hours? One that would stay?

Thought after thought, possibility after possibility. Scenarios from what he thought a normal happy life might look like flooded his head. Scenes with women, first dates, bank managers, car dealers, dentists, in-laws, doctors, children, little league games, all of these things filled his mind at once like some dry and desolate water tank with a rusty and reluctant valve which now broke open and flooded the parched and dry receptacle of his mind with hope and wonder. He looked at his reflection in the side-view mirror. He saw the face of a man he thought he knew staring back at him. A man only slightly familiar, like some distant cousin met only once or twice in childhood.

The sun had almost disappeared and the brilliant colors from a few moments ago were almost gone like ribbons being taken down after a birthday party. Deep indigo and lighter blues remained, hanging there in space like towels on a clothesline. He turned the key in the ignition. The engine started right away, a low loping murmur. He put his right foot on the brake, shifted into drive, released the brake and slowly made his way down the dirt road towards the ranch gate and its lock.

He arrived at the gate, put the truck in park and killed it. He got out, unlocked the gate and swung it open away from the highway which was just a few yards in front of him. He got back in the truck, started it, drove to through to the edge of the highway, got out and went back to shut the gate.

Before he returned to the truck he stopped and looked left on the highway then looked right. There was no traffic, no wind, nothing save the lights of the radio towers that dotted the horizon and what few stars had begun to shine. Time was swollen, pregnant with what The Universe had just revealed to him. Was it The Universe, or him? His own fear, intolerance and inability to reach out and understand another human being, namely himself?

He stood there in that dense stillness. Maybe this life isn’t so bad after all? Maybe I don’t need to be an artist? It could be this simple all the time. The distrust of these ideas made his shoulders tense. He drew a deep breath and sighed it out.

He needed a drink. He walked back to the truck, reached under the seat and pulled out a plastic pint bottle of vodka wrapped in an oil cloth and stored in a plastic bag. He unwrapped it and looked to see how much was left. A little less than half. Just enough to get him to the liquor store and refuel and to make the music on the radio sound better. It would also serve to help him forget the decision that was put to him, if just for the rest of the night.

He unscrewed the top and took a long hard pull. The jet-fuel vapors in the nose and the sweet burn down the throat were all too familiar to him now. He’d been drinking and drugging hard for a year now. It felt exactly right and completely wrong at the same time, like playing himself at chess and pretending not to know what his next move would be. He screwed the cap back on and shoved the bottle, rag and bag under the seat again. He got in the truck, put it in drive and headed west on the highway towards Goliad in the quiet night. The vodka had loosened his nerves like a hot bath and he turned up the radio.

The Universe had revealed itself, punched him in the face. The only question left was would he punch back and how hard? He pressed the gas a little harder and watched the needle on the speedometer rise. Night was now completely upon him and he wondered what he would do.

© 2014

The Scottish King in LA

The Scottish King in LA

Luis Galindo is an actor and writer. He is an ensemble member of Independent Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles, currently playing the title role in Macbeth, and the role of Jaques in As You Like It, in their summer festival in Griffith Park. In the Fall, he’ll serve as a guest artist/lecturer at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Pipeliner’s Dilemma is part of his upcoming book, Electric Rats in a Neon Gutter – Poems, Songs and Stories from the Cities of America – due out in early 2014 via Jamberoo Press. Luis is from Texas.

Billy Shakes And America’s Last Downtown

Hello Everyone,

I caught a cold last Sunday and spent most of last week laid up, caughing, sneezing, wheezing, reading post-modern liturature, watching documentaries about the dawning of robot intelligence and contemplated mortality. At some point, during this period of infirmity, I thumbed through Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It (which also happens to be Independent Shakespeare’s next production in Grifith Park this summer, go to iscla.org for the schedule!). The play has one of those famous speeches that we’ve incorporated into our Western DNA:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

Griffith Park, every Thursday - Friday @ 7pm thru Labor Day!

Griffith Park, every Thursday – Sunday @ 7pm thru Labor Day!

It’s a weird thing, to be sick in the middle summer in Southern California, amid so much warmth and sunshine. Anytime I ventured out, I felt as if “UNCLEAN” had been marked upon my brow – an infectious threat set loose upon the season. Then, whilst I lay low with the chills in the middle of the day in the dark shade of the bungalow – as the lawnmowers, ice-cream trucks, sirens, and screaming East Hollywood street tramps compose summer’s song just outside my window – I felt like a child lunger too weak to play with all the other school children out here in the Wild, Wild West, left to gaze at all the Life out the window, until Death.  Here’s more of the speech:

His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part…

Exile in Downtown?

Playing his part?

Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies, As You Like It comes across as a rollicking whimsical tale, yet the threat of banishment, danger, heartbreak and even complete doom are never far away – like real life. Of course, goodness, virtue and hope are equally nearby, but, oh, how easily do we characters seem to forget that. Especially when one is exiled to a dark sick room in Hollywood – or the Forest of Arden, banished from court, like Jaques, the character who delivers the famous speech. Here’s more of it:

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.

Jaques is a rather melencholy fellow. He doesn’t want to be so glum, but he just can’t seem to find the answers to life that he’s looking for. The search has led him to a dull despair. His fellow exilers try to cheer him up, but he only sinks further into gloom:

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Remind you, this is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Sure, there’s jokes, a clown, poems carved into trees in the forest, music, general hullabaloo and tomfoolery, love and all that stuff, but the undertones of As You Like It are entrenched in Existentialism – in fact, it can be argued that Shakespeare invented Existentialism in its literary form. Based on my limited knowledge of Shakespeare, I’ve come to the conclusion that he wrote no comedies or dramas, he simply wrote everything. But everything’s a lot to handle when you’re sick in the dark, and I began to take on – willingly – the melencholic demeanor of Jaques. Luckilly, by Thursday I started feeling better, and was able to crawl out from contagious exile and live again.

To the Sun, their God.

To the Sun, their God.

Friday, I rode the subway to downtown LA. A few blocks from Union Station, I began to hear drums. I followed the beat to El Pueblo de Los Angeles – an old restored section of the city – sandwiched between Chinatown, Little Tokyo and City Hall. There, I found a troup of Native American dancers, gyrating to the beat of the drum. They were decked out in full costume, sweat dripping off them as they twirled, jumped and sang in the hot afternoon. Many people surrounded the dancers – watching, applauding everytime the drums stopped. During breaks, each dancer would stand next to a donation bucket.

“It is Aztec,” one of dancers told me, breathing heavily, “we were Aztec, then we were Spanish you know, then Mexcian, and now…well, we,” he put his finger on my chest, smiled, “we are all the same.” He looked out at the crowd. “All of us are the same. But when we dance, we don’t dance for anyone,” he caught his breathe, then pointed to the sun, “we dance for god.”20130802_150144

From there, I made my way to Little Tokyo, just southeast of City Hall. I always find it humbling to walk down a street, unable to read what any of the signs or marquees are advertising. For a moment, I couldn’t find one English word, and I began to feel a tingly lost at sea feeling. But I kept floating and soon English words began to creep into the store windows. But moments later I wound up in front of an American Apparel, a Pinkberry, etc, and…BAM…back on hard American land.

From Little Tokyo, I carved my way through the heart of downtown LA, along gridlike streets with tall glass and concrete buildings, hustlers, cops, shoppers, office workers, panhandlers and of course, both the mute and prophesying classes of the homeless. Then I got to Broadway between 2nd and 8th Streets, what I call America’s largest flea market. Bridal dress boutiques, menswear outlets, jewelry stores, music shops, religious iconography stores, shoe stores and liquor stores occupied the crumbling storefronts. Mustached men with slicked back hair spoke Spanglish into a microphone out on the sidewalk…Reeboks y Nike y Adidas, para only $29.99!!!…advertising as as far out as their mic’s cord will let them. Day laborers handed out flyers. Clerks lazed about on the sidewalk until a customer went into their store. Spanish music flowed out onto the street. Shoppers flooded in and out of the stores. Crazy drunks stumbled across the street, singing to Dionysus. Scabbed junkies swung about like lynched corpses. Young, dirty kids joyfully ran to nowhere. A vibrant scene.

The Grand Central Market, downtown LA.

The Grand Central Market, downtown LA.

The Grand Central Market  – an intersection of Chinese and Latino foodstands – takes up most of the area between 3rd and 4th Streets. The whole scene reminded me of the downtown LA portrayed in the movie Blade Runner – cramped, sweaty and loud, where the Chinese and Spanish languages blend into one – the odd English term popping up every now and then. Ah, I thought, as I waded through the humanity between butcher shops, produce bins and taco and dumpling stands, Philip K Dick was right. This is the future. America is blending and will continue to blend until it’s base only faintly echoes the cultures it’s made up of. Now, just who in here are androids?

To Dionysus...

To Dionysus…

Of course, I don’t believe the robots walk among us, as they do in Blade Runner…yet. I was confident all those participating in the commerce of the Grand Central Market were made of flesh and blood. There we were, playing the demanding roles we must play between birth and death, gracefully flawed, holding on tight to all we know but ultimately letting go in small increments, in order to continue performing. It’s easy to see the spectrum of life – that Shakespreare so clearly captures – in places like The Grand Central Market. People are forced deal with each other face to face, touch each other. It’s when there’s a lot of space between the giver and the taker that we often find ourselves in the wings – observing, not acting, just dying.

It’s murky now, but we will mix into One…whether we want to or not.

It’s murky now, but we will mix into One…whether we want to or not.

Saturday night, I went to Griffith Park and saw a performance of As You Like It. Independent Shakespeare Company does a hell of a job with the play – it’s a very tight, energetic and soulful production. The actors run about, falling in love, longing for love while singing, wrestling, conjuring and in the end all the lovers find each other, get married and dance. But there is no love or nuptials for Jaques. He leaves the celebration to pursue The Duke Frederick – the man responsible for his banishment who’d experienced a blinding spiritual experience and abandoned court and wandered off to be a monk. As everybody gayly prepares to go back to court, Jaques takes his exit – towards the darker woods of the forest – in search of his own awakening – the kind that has to be found outside of court and kingdom, outside of all he knows. This is the last we hear of him:

So, to your pleasures:
I am for other than for dancing measures.

To see no pastime I what you would have
I’ll stay to know at your abandon’d cave.

Funny thing is, Jaques, with all this weighty existential pondering, is not even a lead character in the play. He’s just a supporting character. Just like the rest of us.
Be well…

The Bad View Of Tomorrow From Behind Today

Hello Everyone…

The projectors are rolling...

The projectors are rolling…

Last week, I spent a lot of time looking at the back of people’s heads – on the bus, behind the wheel waiting for red lights to turn green, in line at grocery, hardware and art stores. I didn’t see a lot talking – or communing in other ways – with anyone else. But I saw a lot of thinking. Or, I chose to see only their thoughts – their silence. In each little head in front of me was a miniature IMAX theater screening Le Grande Epic – but interpreting it differently. Behind the skulls of all the little heads, I saw lists of things that needed to get done that day. I saw worry over the possibility of some of those things not getting done that day. And, I saw the weary mixture of disappointment and consolation stirred by the fact that some of those things would have to wait until tomrorrow. That is, if the Great Projector didn’t break and our little IMAX went black – the only sound being Le Grande Epic spooling off the reel and falling, hollowly, to the floor.

When I am angry and tired, I tend to interpret Le Grande Epic as some kind of mockumentary-farcical-drama – comedic when I expect it to be serious and sad just when I think I’m going to laugh. Real people play puppets who the lead character can’t control. The lead character sacrifices himself over and over to spite his enemies – enemies impecably disguised as true friends, so well disguised, they treat him ill in no manner, whatsoever – those devious foes. It’s a bad film, to say the least. But when I’m angry and tired I proudly wear the lead actor’s thorny crown, and place the thoughts I want to see into all the little heads before me.

The beginning...

The beginning…

Why so angry and tired, you ask? No real reason, although I felt a little overworked, which was to be expected. The first show of Independent Shakespeare Company’s season in Griffith Park – She Stoops to Conquer – opened on Thursday, and all involved pushed through much exhaustion to get the show running. Producing a show is like herding cattled through a pencil sharpener. In the beginning, you can’t even see the pencil sharpener, and the bovine hoard moves along like a slow deep predictable river. This goes on for some time, and for a while time seems to be in abundance, even maliable. Then the pencil sharpener appears on the horizon – shakes a little from the pounding of hooves – so we work a little faster, longer, but we don’t go crazy. But suddenly – as if two or three weeks were completely cut from Time’s thread – the pencil sharpener is exponentially approaching. And – before anyone can do anything about it – the pencil sharpener is pulverized by the first hoof of the first cow, and only then do we think that maybe driving cattle through a pencil sharpener wasn’t the greatest theme to follow for a theatrical production. But we stick with the idea, for it is too late to change. We seek solutions – theatre magic – to make it appear as if cattle really are being driven into a pencil sharpener. This happens usually about a half-hour before the curtain goes up for the first show which, absolutely, must go on.

All shows are like this – to lesser or greater degrees – in my experience, and I have to say She Stoops to Conquer was a lesser degree or two than usual. But as opening night approached, the the time between searching for solutions, finding solutions and building those solutions amplified the electric currents in my head to sizzling levels and frazzled some brain wires.

But last week also offered a few moments of serenity and stillness. Tuesday night, I stumbled into one of these peaceful interludes, after the tech rehearsal started. In the calm, I was able to regain a sense of presence, to find the moment. The rehearsal started just after dusk. The hot day was gone and a cool invisible blanket covered the meadow. Not half an hour later, I was wearing a hoodie to keep warm. A few groups of people had wandered to the meadow and sat down to watch the rehearsal. Another group was having a party atop the abandoned bear cages of the old LA Zoo. Every now and then they would shout, cheer at nothing in particular while waving flashlights in all directions. When darkness had fallen, the lighting techs started to tweak the lighting. The light onstage flickered, shut off, brightened as the actors did their best to incorporate what they’d rehearsed onto a new stage. I felt far away from everything.

Watching the watchers watch.

Watching the watchers watch.

A technical rehearsal is a profoundly human portrayal of the human condition. The actors act, with no one “on-book” to feed them lines they can’t remember. They search their tired brains for the next word like grasping for life vests in blacknight water. Just as they are about to sink below the surface, another actor picks up somewhere further into the script and they continue on. They shake off the mistake and move about the semi-lit stage – getting used to costumes as they stumble further into the landscape of the writer’s mind. They a vague sense of this world, but the reincarnated souls of the characters obey the rules and do not inform the actors in which they reside. As the rehearsal continues, a few more pieces fit together. The show looks almost complete, as if one more spell by the Great Theatre Witch needs to be cast. A candelabra breaks, flowers fall out of a vase, and the sword fight looks a bit sloppy, but that’s the way it goes. Maybe things will be a little tighter tomorrow. At a certain point, the only solution is tomorrow. You don’t take groceries out of the bag, put them on the shelf, then put them all back on the counter and start checking out again if you bitched at the clerk. And the bus driver’s not going to turn around if you miss your stop. It’s just “sorry” to the clerk and a longer walk home – and you’ll be damned if you’re so cruel or absent minded tomorrow.

The cool darkness grew heavier during the second act. The actors moved about the stage like Scooby Doo and the Mystery Gang. I walked from side to side, behind everyone – checking out the stage from all directions to see if anything needed to be fixed. I noticed the back of everyone’s heads again. There was the director, Melissa’s head, Marcos’, Liam’s and Cassady’s – the interns – heads, and there was the back of Cat’s head as she viewed the show on a ladder next to a light, Laura’s – the stage manager’s – head. All were watching the same production, but their views of the world unfolding in front of them were as vastly different as they were as individuals.

The coyotes in the park began to call to each other. This excited the gang of flashlighted humans above the bear cages, and they began to shout and howl back at the coyotes. For a simple quick moment, there was absolutely no difference between humans and coyotes. Then suddenly – as if on a timer – both packs of animals stopped howling. Slowly, I began to hear crickets. Then, softly, the voices of the actors reached my ears. I became aware that it was really cold, despite the hoodie I was wearing. As I rubbed my arms to warm myself, a very old memory came back to me. I was sitting in a movie theater in Corpus Christi, Texas – I was around 7 years old. There was a clock jutting out of the wall, to the side of the screen, near the exit. It’s hands were illiminated – just before 3pm. I remember’d thinking that time didn’t matter as long as the movie was playing. Time – with it’s brutal potential to hover like God over us – could be obliterated as long as we continued to tell Our Story. That was about as Cosmic as I got last week.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:30pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:00pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

She Stoops to Conquer opened Thursday night. I heard people really loved it. I would think so. It’s a big, busy, fun farce that has a lot of heart and it’s performed and directed really well. You actually believe you’re seeing the cattle enter the pencil sharpener. Some things came together perfectly, some didn’t, but the things that didn’t were probably not even noticed by the crowd. And any mistakes that were noticed were hardly minded at all. My friend, Claudia – a performer in the play – lost her skirt onstage. It got caught on the door. “The crowd got a good laugh when I slowly pulled offstage from behind the door,” she said. How do you start over after something like that? There’s only tomorrow.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

The Light behind Reality.

The Light behind Reality.

That’s the famous sililoquy in Macbeth, spoken by the title character. Macbeth is Idependent Shakespeare Company’s next show of the summer. It opens next week. It’s much heavier, much darker than She Stoops to Conquer, but immediately after humanity’s last recorded syllable, all our dramas and comedies will have appeared to be the same tale.

I fixed a few things on the set before the show on Friday, but left before the curtain went up. The heat of the day had gone, but the concrete at the bus stop released all the heat it had absorbed during the day. It was that dusty end-of-day summer heat that – even without a speck of dirt on your person – sinks into every wrinkle and crevace on your body and makes you feel nasty. I praised all the All-Mighties when I boarded the air-conditioned bus, then stared at all the little heads before me with all those little thoughts and all those little tomorrows. But for some reason, I slipped into Dark Yesterday. Soon, I was thinking of ways I could’ve made the set better. This, that, not that, or even that, Jesus, that would’ve been much simpler, you idiot! From there – naturally – I began to think of ways I could’ve treated ex-girlfriends better, then to things I should’ve told my father and close friends before they died. Then came the flood of a million other shoulds and shouldn’ts until I found myself reaching out in the blacknight water for life-preservers of memory – those moments when only just words were spoken and just actions were made in the moment.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

I couldn’t find those moments, however, and when the bus stopped, all I had to save me from the stagnant waters of The Past was a young Mexican-American mother with a boob hanging out of her blouse. I let her exit the bus before me. She was holding an infant – and with one arm fastening child-to teat, and the other lugging her grocery bags, baby bag, purse and stroller, she stepped out on the curb and waited for another bus. She wasn’t even home yet, she had at least one more bus to go. Or, maybe she wasn’t going home. Maybe her tomorrow had already begun. Wherever she was going, she looked too busy juggling that baby to be stuck in The Past.

Be well…