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.

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…