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…

To Me Through Me To You Through You To…

Hello everybody…

The weekend before last, I went to hear Menri Lopon Trinley Nyima, a Rinpoche – or Tibetan Lama – teach on the religion of Yungdrung Bon, a Tibetan religion predating Buddhism.

Tibetan or Aztecan???

Tibetan or Mexican prayer flags???

At the center of Menri Rinpoche’s lecture was the nature of the Red Garuda, a diety central to Bon. The Red Garuda represented energy and power, bestowed wisdom and protected one against obstacles and poisons. Several times during the two-day teaching, everyone in attendance chanted the Red Garuda mantra together, over and over, at a low, vibrating pitch…

HUNG TROTA YA GARUNA TRITONG HARA NYELOYO SO THUND DU 

Menri Rinpoche said the mantra liberates the chanter from suffering, and opens them to the fiery energy of the Red Garuda, therefore empowering them. With the power of the Red Garuda emanating into them, the chanter may then emanate that energy outward, to relieve the suffering of others, or to wish good will, in general.

Every time we chanted the mantra, the same process – for me – would occur. First, I’d find the chanting soothing to my being, as my chest, throat and head gently vibrated. But after a while my voice would tire, and rise in pitch. After losing control of pitch, I began to stumble over the syllables. I would then speed up, trying to get back on track with everybody else. After catching up, I then over corrected – tried to chant the mantra perfectly – to make up for stumbling off the mantra. I kept messing up, the harder I tried. At that point, I’d grow frustrated and give up, altogether. Then I’d cool down, and start reciting the mantra again, very simply, which resulted in my reciting the mantra very clearly. I would coast for a while, one clear and loud repetition after another. But as soon as I became aware of how good I was chanting, I began to wander when Menri Rinpoche would hit the bell to signify the end of the chant, at which point I’d feel the vibration in my chest again, then my voice would tire and I’d mess up again, then get frustrated and give up again, cool down again, then start over again, simply, recited clearer again…etc. After several cycles of this, Menri Rinpoche finally hit the bell – its ping cracked all things solid in my psyche. A zingy feeling flowed in and through me. Everyone looked around, at each other, as if we’d been magicall beamed there from another place, far away. And there was Menri Rinpoche, in the front of the room, smiling.

“It is long, life mantra,” he said in his low, quick, quiet voice. “Many time, all day. You sing 1,000 times in a row…you can say it to yourself, quietly. Or sit, meditate, very loudly. It has tremendous healing power. Red Garuda comes into you, to heal you, bring you success, then you send to others.”

Light and the Spirits

Light and the Spirits

The following Thursday night, on Halloween, I went with The Great Warrior to West Hollywood to take photographs of the gigantuanormous parade and party held there every year.

“It’s insane,” said The Great Warrior, as we walked deeper into the human stew of ghouls, drag queens, devils and squadrons of bubbly college girls in skimpy lingerie skipping passed couples dressed as Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke grinding on each other as glittery thonged unicorns cantered after robots and cowboys and men dressed up as ketchup and mustard bottles and too many Waldos and Jack Sparrows and cats and foxes and parents yanking along their kids dressed as superheros. “500,000 people will be here tonight.

20131031_202215By 9pm, Santa Monica Boulevard was shoulder to shoulder with happy freaks. I stood up onto the median and looked down the street – nothing but heads bobbing around, with the occasional drunk or two barreling through the crowd, jumping and howling at each other. Over by the endless row of skiddo-cans along the sidewalk, was some kind of protestant preacher shouting ”turn or burn” rhetoric through a megaphone. But all the decadent darlings merely danced around him, reveling, reveling, reveling. Further on, there were Hare Krishnas, singing, dancing and slapping tambourines. Wonder Woman and one of the Waldos danced with them, unaware that they were, in fact, dancing with real Hare Krishnas and not some joint fraternity/sorority costume “happening”. I got back on the street and made my way over to The Great Warrior who was photographing a giant drag queen. Thousands upon thousands of painted faces inched toward me – twice as many giant, black pupils, glossed over, closed in. A buzzing palpable energy thickened any empty space between people. Voices and action blended and everything spun around like a kaleidoscope. Soon, it became too much of a hassle to move in any direction other than the slow lurch down the street, as if the collective energy was propelling us to some final giant cosmic appliance deep in the center of WeHo. Somehow the Great Warrior and I managed to scrape our way to a side street and left, just as the first ambulances of the night roared, nearer and nearer.

The following events occurred the next day – Friday – and are better explained in reverse chronological order, and sprinkled with lyrics from various songs by Lou Reed

…the mother, her little boys, the gang bangers and I exited the subway train and filed onto the escalator at the Hollywood/Western stop.

“Shit!” continued the angry gang banger. “I been on the streets for two years now and ain’t got popped yet. Ni#$ga f@#ks with me tonight ni#$ga gonna die!”

I don’t know just where I’m going

But I’m gonna try for the kingdom, if I can

‘Cause it makes me feel like I’m a man

(From Heroin)

The other bangers were appealing for him to cool down, as we ascended the escalator. But the angry fellow was white-hot and ready to go. He ran to the top of the escalator and with the bright blue sky as his backdrop, turned around, held up his hands and shouted, “Shit I been goin’ through the pain since I was 12 years old…I don’t lose a fight, n#$ga! I never lose!”

Waves of fear, pulsing with death

I curse my tremors, I jump at my own step

I cringe at my terror, I hate my own smell

I know where I must be, I must be in hell

(From Waves of Fear)

…as the dancers loaded the drums and costumes in a pickup truck, I headed to Union Station and took the subway back to Hollywood. In the train, a group of lanky gang bangers held court. One kept bouncing around, very angry, and shouting to us all that he was going to kill somebody. A woman with two very young boys sat across from me. The oldest boy, about five, stood with his nose to the dark window, licking a lollypop. In between licks, he asked, “Mommy?”

“What?” replied the mother, who was wiping the younger boy’s mouth.

“I love you.”

The woman looked at the boy, quizzically, then laughed. “Well I love you too, baby. Just don’t put your tongue on that window.”

“Why?”

“Cause they’s germs on it.”

Resonating through infinity...

Resonating through infinity…

The boy looked at the dark window for some time. Then he leaned over and rubbed his lollypop on his mother’s bare arm.

“What the hell’s wrong with you, boy!”

The boy laughed. The mother wiped her arm and began laughing.

“You just wait,” she told the boy. “After you go ta’ sleep tonight, I’m gonna let the mole people come in an get’cha.” She looked over at me and laughed. “See what I gotta put up with all day long?”

Heavenly wine and roses

Seem to whisper to her when he smiles

(From Sweet Jane)

At the Hollywood/Western stop, she picked up her purse and the younger son, told the older son, “Hurry and get off before the doors close and stay there til I get off.” The boy did. “Come on,” she said on the platform, “grab my hand.” The boy did. I followed the them and we followed the gang bangers to the escalator…

I am tired, I am weary

I could sleep for a thousand years

A thousand dreams that would awake me

Different colors made of tears

(From Venus in Furs)

…the elderly couple had stopped laughing by the time we reached Union Square, as if the previous moment of joy had never happened. They were both silent as the woman unlocked his wheelchair and pushed, slowly, without expression, onto the platform and toward the elevator. I took the stairs up and out of Union Station and headed to the Dia de Los Muertos Festival that was taking place at Pueblo de Los Angeles – one of the oldest sections of LA.

There, busloads of schoolchildren ran around throughout the courtyard, their faces adorned in skullpaint. Makeshifti altars surrounded the courtyard, covered with pictures of loved ones, Jesus candles, wine bottles, hand written poems of lament and freshly baked bread. Skeletons and death where everywhere, but there was no overall Western dread of death. People were simply missing people they loved, remembering them, and inviting the dead to visit. And most people were having a good time.

No language...

No language…

In the courtyard, I caught a performance of an Aztec ritual for honoring death and rebirth. The performers wore elaborate costumes with headdresses, their faces painted as skulls. They blew conches, saluted the sun – twisted, spun, bowed and jumped to the beat of intense drumming. A force emanated from the action of the performers and drums. That force thrust inot and through me, connecting me to the dancers and to the audience and to Everything that’s ever been or will be. That force thundered through the heat of the cloudless day, into space, emanating beyond all concepts of God, echoing ever further into The Mystery, beyond the grasps of our words and language and philosophy. When the drums stopped, the dancers bowed, then walked around with buckets and asked the audience for money. Then they cooled off and smoked cigarettes in the shadow of a giant statue of the 18th century Spanish king, Charles the Third. After stomping the butts on the ground, they took off their costumes, wiped off their makeup and began packing everything up…

If I could make the world as pure

And strange as what I see

I’d put you in a mirror

I’d put in front of me

I’d put in front of me

Linger on, pale blue eyes…

(From Pale Blue Eyes)

And I feel just like Jesus’ son...

And I feel just like Jesus’ son…

Around noon on Friday, I hopped the subway and headed downtown, to the Dia de Los Muertos Festival that was taking place all weekend long. At a stop along the way, an elderly woman wheeled her husband into the car. It looked like his left leg had recently been amputated – the stump was in a splint, wrapped in gauze. The woman struggled to wheel him to the spot reserved for wheelchair passengers, knocking his stump against the seats and the wall. The man winced in pain as she did this and they exchanged growls at each other. Finally, she locked his chair’s wheels, then leaned against the wall, panting. After catching her breath, she leaned closer to the man and spoke something in Spanish. He turned to her, frowned at her for a moment, then laughed loudly. Then she started laughing and they both laughed together.

Oh, it’s such a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it with you

Oh, such a perfect day

You just keep me hanging on

You just keep me hanging on

(From Perfect Day)

RIP Lou Reed…thanks for emanating to and through us while you were here.

HUNG TROTA YA GARUNA TRITONG HARA NYELOYO SO THUND DU…

…to you all and be well…