Freedom Beyond Words

Always lettin' you know there around...

Always lettin’ you know they’re around…

Hello Everybody,

Luis and I watched the three helicopters hover in the Hollywood night – their spotlights aimed down, on a location further west on Hollywood Blvd. Thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah echoed off the bungalows and apartment buildings along Carlton Way. To the right of us, Luis’ crazy drunk neighbor stood on his balcony and sang wet alcoholic syllables to the choppers, waving his hands in the air as if he was conducting a symphony.

“A group of about 40 protesters set up shop in the intersection of Hollywood and Highland,” said The Great Warrior – a friend and neighbor (who’d rather me not use his real name) – as he walked up to us. “They got ’em out of the intersection, already. But they’re not taking any chances, they’ll be flying around all night.”

The choppers had broken the thick, heavy quiet air that had draped the city for the last 28 hours, since the George Zimmerman Verdict came in from Florida. In truth, the thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah’s of the choppers eased my mind a little bit. The amoshperic thickness had sunk beneath my skin, and I’d begun to feel a bit anxious.

Flashback – 28 hours before, Saturday evening. I’d been writing all afternoon. Finishing around 7pm, I decided to hop on the old facebook to see what’s happening. As I aimlessly scrolled down my timeline – waiting for a friend to wow me with a meme or witty, ironic status – I began to notice words like “Justice!” and “Sickening!” in various statuses.

to beSlowly, my stomach sagged as if a lead bar had been placed in it. I left facebook, headed to the dreaded CNN. There it was – ZIMMERMAN NOT GUILTY. I tried to read through the whole article but I can’t read all the way through mainstream news articles anymore. But the font and size of ZIMMERMAN NOT GIULTY said it all. facebook urged me to come back to it, but I retreated to MLB.com and hid out behind the box scores of Saturday’s baseball games. But baseball’s a slow game and facebook cought me. It’d taken only minutes for the hot bed of opinions to break out into full-scale Vitual Civil War. Finally, I found the strength to pull the Internet’s barbs from my brain and went outside for a walk, into the thickening quiet air.

At first, East Hollywood appeared the same. Next door, old men talked on the sidewalk. The old mumbling lady across the street sat on her stoop, held out a can of food to me – like she always does. On the corner of Sunset and Serrano, drug dealers were being discreet and wino’s writhed in the pleasure-pain of brutal enlightenment. Women carried bags of groceries out of Food 4 Less, or wheeled large laundry carts filled with clothes. All night girls hung out by Bill’s Liquor. But LA faded away as I walked further into my own head. Thoughts about the possible rammifications of the Zimmerman verdict raced around my skull like roller derby girls – clawing, banging into each other and falling to the floor as other thoughts cheered them on from behind a chainlink fence, reveling in bestial lust. Before I knew it, I was several blocks down Sunset. I didn’t even notice sun go down. The sky hung in a confused hue between black and blue. The green and red lights along Sunset were a lit a runway leading to a dark whorish place, so I turned around and went back to the bungalow.

free humanityOnce there, I robotically, obediently jumped onto facebook. Blood covered the battle field. Fearful, hate bullets shot back and forth. Even those threads where everybody was on the same side – either side – felt combative, friends bludgeoning each other with agreement. Witnessing anymore massacre would certainly lead me to drink, so I logged out of The War and played my guitar loud and hard against that thick, heavy quiet air.

But those choppers brought sound back to the city, on Sunday night. Choppers would continue to fly over the city the entire week. As soon as one flew away, another came on. Thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah…

Tuesday night, I was walking back to Hollywood from Silverlake when I noticed a woman talking to a chopper in the sky. She wore a pair of huge red and white sunglasses and spoke in the usual Hollywood transient babble. However, as I walked by, she turned and looked right at me – the streetlights bouncing off the big sunglasses – and said, so clearly, “What’chu connected to, crackerman?!” I had no answer for her. She kept her gaze upon me for a quick moment longer, then turned and continued her discourse with the chopper. But her question echoed in my mind as I walked on, making for a rather existential journey back to the bungalow.

Revolution Books

Revolution Books

Wednesday, I found myself standing outside of Revolution Books, on Hollywood Blvd. On the sidewalk was an advertisement for a screening of a film called BA Speaks: Revolution, Nothing Less! I went inside for details.

“Hello,” said a baby-boomerish lady who’d approached me, immediately after entering. I told her I wanted to know more about the film. She handed me a postcard and pamphlet with the details.

“Tell me,” she said, smiling, gently, “how do you feel about what’s going on in the country since the verdict?”

“I think everybody’s scared shitless of each other,” I said.

“Mmm, hmm. Well, we think now is absolutely the right time for a Communist revolution in this country.”

Oh, I thought, it’s that kind of revolutionary bookstore. I looked around, on the shelves. Yep, there’s a picture of Mao, on the wall over there. And there’s one of Marx.

“Feel free to watch as much of the film as you wish,” said the lady. “But we’d love for you to come to the LA Central Library on Saturday. We’re going to screen the entire six hour film.”

I was able to preview the movie – which is a filmed lecture by the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, Bob Avakian. In the 10 minutes I saw, he talked passionately about the systematic oppression throughout the world of the poor and of women, the criminalizing of  Blacks and Latino’s in the USA, the eltism of the rich, America as a world empire. I was interested to see how the lecture developed. I smiled at the baby-boomer lady and told her I would be there Saturday.

Sunset Blvd can be a Spacewalk.

Sunset Blvd can be a Spacewalk.

Thursday was a paranoid blur. Choppers swooped overhead constantly. Thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah. I felt a kinetic negative energy on the sidewalk, which seemed to affect the homeless along Sunset Blvd more than anybody else, like they were Tesla coils relaying some dark knowledge across LA. A very tall, blonde dirty lady jerked up and down Sunset, screaming, “I MAY BE PARANOID BUT REMEMBER HE TOLD US SO!” over and over. It was a hot week, yet she wore three or four layers of clothing, carried three bags on her arm. She scribbled away in a yellowed notebook as she shouted and walked. Thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah. I came upon a toothless, 40ish male wearing a white stained jogging suit, pulling a laundry cart that contained all his belongings. The cart only had one wheel on it, would tip over everynow and then – clothes, shoes and other things would fall onto the sidewalk. “AHH! Man, can you believe it? I got a $800 wardrobe right there, RIGHT THERE!” He came up to me, pointed at the cart while grinning at me. “Hey man, lemme tell ya, when I start thinkin I start reactin…and I’mma bad reactor, man.” Thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah. A transgendered female – cuts and bruises all over her – sat on the curb of Sunset, eating peanuts from a dirty and crumpled Jamba Juice cup. “HA! I’mma what you call a San Francisco wide-ass muh-fuh. Colin Powell and the Holy Ghost done got up in t’me.” Thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah. Later in the day, I ran into the tall blonde dirty lady again with all the bags. “I AIN’T PRETENDIN NOTHIN…NOTHIN…NOTHIN.” Thwah, thwah, thwah, thwah…

Later, in front of the Church of the Blessed Sacrement on Sunset and Cherokee, elderly men and women waited in line to get free canned goods and clothes. I weaved through the slow, hunched bodies and tired eyes and came upon a storefront advertising, Eckankar: The Religion of the Light and Sound of God in the window. They met every Friday night at 7.

“What we will do tonight,” said the man who ran the Eckenkar service I attended on Friday, “is sing the prayer, HU, together for about 20 minutes. Now, we say prayer, but it’s just one syllable…hue. We don’t pray for things – this to happen or that to happen – because God knows what we need. And we say God, though we don’t believe in a god. But it’s as good any other term. Oh, and it says, worship the sign out there, but we don’t worship because well, there isn’t anything to worship. We just sing HU. That’s basically all we do.” He laughed. “The mind is a machine, kinda like a record player stuck in a groove. HU frees us, gets us off that one groove. It’s soul travel. HU frees our souls from our bodies, and we can travel any where in The Universe. Mars…even.” He laughed. “We sing HU to visit where we came from…to know God. Or, whatever you want to call it.”

Soul travel?

Soul travel?

Only two other people showed up. The four of us sat in a circle, closed our eyes, took deep breathes and belted out HU, over and over. Everybody’s breath was different, so our HU’s were staggered – there weren’t any gaps of silence, our collective HU was constant. Each of us also began ours HUs in different keys, but we’d quickly, naturally slip into harmony. Now, if you go online and look up Eckankar, you will find it to be called anything from a legit new age religion to a scam thought up by a crackpot. But there’s something about making noise in a cirlcle with other people. Pretty soon, HUUUUUUUUU was Everything. The back of my eyelids were far from simple black. I was staring at something vast and unamable and soothing and motherly. Then we stopped HUING, sat quietly with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, we looked at each other for long periods of time with no urge to speek. Then it was over. The whole thing took 30 minutes. I walked onto Sunset with a loose gait, relaxed shoulders. I heard the choppers, but they sounded far away, meaningless.

On Saturday, I went to the film screening of BA Speaks: Revolution, Nothing Less! I didn’t stay for the whole six hours, only three. But it was three hours of Bob Avakian relentlessly, passionately speaking out against the abuses of power throughout history, zoning in on the capitalist-imperialist oppresive rule of the US government. But he spoke just below shouting level, and he used the same vocal inflection the whole way through. Soon, every sentence sounded the same. That monotony became this kind of dark mantra rooted in the horrors of Humankind. Over and over, era through era…the same oppression. The same hand motions, the same staccato rythm, the same loud voice…

I drifted away, deep in that third hour. All I remember about that time was the cool dark of the room. I heard clapping now and then. And I heard Bob Akavian speaking, but the words stopped defining his ideas. His voice was merely a blunt echo throughout the room, back and forth from all directions. When I snapped out of it, he’d moved on from Man’s atrocities and finally toward his Plan – arguing that a Socialist dictatorship would be needed to make sure the dictates of communism were upheld. But by this time, he looked tired, sweaty, spoke laborously – as if he was at the mercy of his words, enslaved by a language already spoken. I got up and left the library, certain that the language needed to articulate Humanity’s freedom from the fearful hatred of itself has yet to be created, and would have to be created outside of everything we know. That is a matter of evolution, not revolution.

The kind of view a public library offers.

A good view.

But I damn near made it to Mars with HU.

Be well…

 

Space Travel Will Save Us

Hello Everybody,

Just insert your own caption.

Just insert your own caption.

Last Monday, I was walking through Wino’s Alley on Serrano Street toward Sunset Boulevard. A couple of winos were laying on the the sidewalk ahead of me, their bodies curved to fit in whatever shade was available, on the sidewalk outside the Food 4 Less. Across the street, against the wall of Bill’s Liquor, three other winos – babbling, drinking, seeing things I couldn’t see – kept counsel on the other side.

“BLAH!” Exclaimed one.

“Blah, blah…blah,” Said the other consolingly.

“Bl…bl…bah, blah. Blah. Blah,” Conceded the first.

“Blah, blah,” said the second, shaking his head in affirmation.

“Blah?” asked the third, who’d been destracted by a sunray.

It was an unusually clear day. To the north, the beautiful Hollywood Hills could be seen in sharp detail. Mini-palaces with big shiny windows and large balconies teetered over the sharp drop-offs of the bushy green Hills. Palm trees popped up in clusters here and there. The Hills looked so close in the smogless sky – floating in the heat waves of the hot day. It was as if the visage was projected out of the brain of the sleeping wino just ahead of me – a good dream about The High Life in 3D. The wino lay there – a crumpled up pizza box for a pillow – covered in grime from his gray hair to his one dingy sock next to a spattering of unidentifyable, dry organic matter. At first, I thought he was dead. But just after I leaned in for a closer look, he twitched slightly, as if an angel nudged him, or a gnat flew in his nose.

...perchance to dream...

…perchance to dream…

Across the street, one of the babbling winos crushed his empty 24oz. beer can and threw it in the gutter. His gin-blossomed face went blank as his fine day suddenly got hotter and longer. He sat in absolute disgust, listening to a slow clock ticking somewhere, pretending not to hear the howls of the dogs of despair that would be on him by evening. His two compadres babbled on. They still had some booze left. Their day was still Just Fine.

I found myself anxious, later that afternoon. My job in Los Angeles – building the set for Independent Shakespeare Company’s summer play festival in Griffith Park – all summer long folks, go to iscla.org for the schedule! – had finished up, for the most part. I’d been spent the last few days writing and trolling the internet for writing jobs, adding up to a lot of computer time. By Monday, I felt as if I’d just crawled out of one of those cryo-jelly pods like Keanu Reeves in the The Matrix, just after he took the Red Pill. Now that I was back in the carnal world, my body needed to move, so I decided to hike up to the Griffith Park Observatory – up in those Hills of that wino’s dream.

Just beyond the entrance of the park, people of all kinds lounged in the thick dark-green cool shade the park offered. Frizbees, picnics, books. A group of Buddhists meditated. A group of Muslims prayed towards Mecca. A steady flow of couples, joggers and dogs and their owners moved up and down the trail leading to the observatory. I joined the assembly line and headed up the switchback trail.

The idle time had taken it’s toll. I was sucking in air as I neared the observatory, sweating profusely. The sweat had a consistency of thin oil, and burned my eyes as I humped it up the hill. Everybody else looked fine. There were too giggly girls just ahead of me, talking about there dudes and what they ate for lunch. Behind me was a young couple, both wearing capris, skipping along, talking to each other like lovers do.

Halfway there...

Halfway there…

“Well, that’s a bit of history that they don’t tell ya’ in school, isn’t it?” said the girl.

“I know, it’s crazy, right?” replied the dude.

“You’re so smart.”

“Ah, well, you know.”

About two-thirds of the way up, there was stony water run-off that served as a shortcut for the more adventruous pilgrims heading to the observatory. I ascended the steep incline – slipping now and then, catching myself on rocks to stay upright – and crawled up to the last stretch of the switchback. Sweat stuck to my hands like hamburger grease. My shirt and jeans were soaked and covered in dirt. There was a tree by the trail and I went under it – my wet clothes cooled me in the breezy shade. A few moments later, the young couple in capri’s walked by, nuzzling against each other. They looked un-alone, un-worried, as He directed She’s attention to various parts of the city.

“Oh, that’s it, way over there?”

“Yeah, way over there, isn’t that cool?”

“That is so cool!”

The bounced up the trail like Raggedy Ann and Andy. Renewed with vigor, I followed.

20130714_170202The observatory is closed on Mondays, but many people were there, laying about on the greens in front of the entrance, peering out from the observatory’s balcony. I shouldered my way into the crowd on the balcony and looked over the city. Los Angeles sprawles so far out it finally just disappears, like there’s only the city and there’s never been anything else. I could see East Hollywood from the balcony pretty clearly. I could even see the corner of Serrano and Sunset. I couldn’t see the wino’s. But they were there.

Next to me, a girl held her smartphone to her ear, smiling to herself over what she was hearing. On the other side of me, a woman subconsiously put her arm around her husband – or whoever he was – as they stared out to the west. Behind me, a happy man carried his happy little son on his shoulders. Behind him a guy was taking pictures of his reluctant girlfriend on the concrete walkway, where there is an ebedded, brass diagram of our solar system.

Its all just stuff, spinning around.

Its all just stuff, spinning around.

In the center of the diagram, is a little brass dot, representing the sun. Then you have a brass circle representing the orbit of Mercury around the Sun. Then you have one respresenting Venus’ orbit, Earth’s, Mars’. There’s nothing after Mars for a while – you have to walk several pace before you come to Jupitor’s orbit. Then there’s Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and then there’s poor, demoted Pluto. When I was little, Pluto was a planet, I thought. Suddenly, I was rocketted back to the first grade, learning the planets in a little small town classroom with my childhood friends. But I was back in LA almost instantly, sweaty, older, and a long way from that little classroom.  When I was little, Pluto was a planet…a planet…

I walked back to Earth’s orbit, stared at it. Looking down on it, it was an incredibibly simple place, planet Earth. Spins around while circling the sun, that’s all. I thought about what that astronaut said…

If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried.  Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut, second human in space.

Well, that’s nice, but that’s not what I was thinking about…

Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there. Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut; interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.

Close, but nope, wasn’t him, either…

This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we’ve got. Scott Carpenter, Mecury 7 astronaut; speech at Millersville University, Pennslyvania. 15 October 1992.

Not quite, but we’re getting closer…

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small. Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 Astronaut, first man on the moon.

THUMB!!!! THUMB!!!! Thanks for the hint, Neil Armstrong! Now, this is what I thought about…

We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you can put your thumb up and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself—all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself. Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 astronaut;   In the Shadow of the Moon.

So simple.

Simple…

By the time I descended the hill and got back to Hollywood, it was dark. I walked along from one dark pocket of shadow to the next along Hollywood Boulevard. The sidewalk was sprinkled with panhandlers, charged from the energy of the night into a near euphoric state. They almost looked happy they rattled about, their thin frames swinging inside their baggy clothes…say man, you got a dollar…bus fare…listen, I’m outta gas…I just need a fu#$ing quarter, man…ok, how about 20 cents? Man, what’s 20 cents?!

Sorry, buddy…sorry, buddy…sorry, buddy…

“Hey what’s up, man?” asked a different kind of voice coming out of a shadow.

I looked to my left and saw an old, black ashen hand sticking out of a shadow, holding a nearly full pint of gin. The bottle glowed in the streetlight, the shiny liquid sloshed around. I peered into the shadwow. The old man sat in a wheelchair, rubbing his abdomen as if to soothe the open wound caused by the jagged, sharp scales of the craving that crawled in and out him. But the craving seemed to be pacified for the time being, for he sported a large, gaping smile under his blooshot eyes. He held the pint higher, to me. He looked so happy.

“Say, wan’chu have a drink wimme?”

His smile was infectious, so I smiled back. But I didn’t answer. He leaned closer.

“Come on, man…drink wimme.”

The gin was strong. I lingered in its bouquet long enough for it to start smelling real good and perfect and absolute and the only thing I’ve ever wanted.

“No, thanks, buddy.”

As I left him, he reached out to grab me, just missing my arm.

“Hey, come on, man! HEY! HEY!”

“I’m sorry, buddy…”

Then his smile broke and on rushed the despair.

“GODAMMIT, MAN. JUST TALK TA’ ME!!!”

See me?

They’re still there…

There was a wounded brutality to his voice. But after he shouted, he looked down at the ground. Tick, tock, and the howls growing nearer. But he was laughing when I made it to the corner. I turned around. He laughed, took a long drink, then laughed some more. The dogs of despair had passed him by, and his night was back to being Just Fine.

Be well…