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n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Who knows what got into me? What it is that climbs in, sets up residence? What is the word I’m searching for?
Imagine this: Darkness set in three hours ago. Sister (A) is bent over, scouting out frogs in a sort of isolated curiosity she gets into (butt in the air, the intensity of “if you’re coming, then come, but don’t mess with the mojo and don’t ask for a slow down”). She has a flashlight in hand. We are both in sandals for the first time all day and our feet are screaming with the pleasure of being out of ancient rubber boots. Mother is in bed. The other girls on the tour are in bed. The crickets (sreeeeep) and the bats (shreee-chchchch) and the birds (cree-cree) and the frogs (chee-chee) are definitely not in bed. We are hunting in radii, rotating area and then sweeping around us. Two brown toads emerge out of the camouflaging leaves and I pick one up, very hard to do as it races the pace of a gladiola (there are trees out here that move faster, “walking trees,” as our guide tells us, which can move approximately 10 centimeters a year give or take, by getting fidgety, sending out new roots on one side, planting them, shifting the balance of its home—one might think of that slow move with boxes carried carload by carload—before erasing the roots tying it to the place it was before). The toad sits yellow-eyed and bumpy in my hands, a dry sponge on the palm, before we release it.
A goes to the bathroom, we have to find our way out of the garden through the dark, and I get the flashlight and look at what seems to be a yellow leech creeping through the bushes. The guide, E, comes and tells me that it is a slug, and I look at its slender flat body, pointed tips, and think how it doesn’t look like what I’d ever recognize as a slug. E moves a log for me and underneath is a 6-inch millipede brown-black and roaming. A comes back out of the bathroom, and E asks us if we’d like to go down the path and we would, because all day we’ve been running up and down paths in a row, toting backpacks, sliding on mud, swimming, everything but pause and look-see. And my head is full to the busting with words (canola tree, buttress roots, two- and three-toed sloths, yu-yung trees, avejas cortapelos, “cual es la palabra” no “que es la palabra,” termites, leaf-cutting ants, bromeliads, orchids, porno-trees, blood-tree, puyo, quecha, etc.).
We are in the jungle. Ecuador. Puyo which is the quecha word for mist, and while the day is clear, the night middle-temperatured, I am a in a form of puyo because something has crawled inside me. I’ll try to explain.
Starting on day two, we get up early are take a jeep to the river. E gets the jeep to take us because he has been marching Mother up and down slopes and her shorts are slathered in brown and she is sore and I am sore and the whole world of muscles feels good to have been let out of their city-sheaths. My head begs me never to let it go back to the city. Something clicks out there in the mud and rubber boots and rivers. But tired, yes, and we walk down a path, lifting our legs over the chain of leaf-cutter ants (they work 24 hours when there is no rain, because when the rain comes, it washes away the formic acid they use to mark their path and they get lost… one could thing of the Hansel and Gretal world of ants… so they run thousands left and thousands right, up trees, cut snippets of leaves and carry them back to their enormous cities, where they mix the leaves with their feces and create a mulch to grow underground mushrooms—one per different type of ant… queen mushrooms, soldier mushrooms, worker mushrooms—which makes up their diet. One should think not only of fairy tales, but of underground castles with white fungus food and the smell of fermenting greenery). We walk to the river and climb into a canoe with the head of a caiman (mini-alligator) carved into its bow, and our guide and his canoe-buddy pole us straight down under the eaves of the Sanguay volcano.
There are three volcanoes in the near distance – Sanguay, Tsungurawa (misspelled but close), and a small chain. They are all active with little mists floating off the top. But on the shores are waterfalls, and the river water collects to join the Puyo river, which collects to join the Amazon thousands of kilometers away, but we are floating and orchids line the banks and mother is behind me.
After this, we climb an incredible slope. Straight up, and I know that this is it for mother for the day. It is incredibly vertical with stretches of tall stairs that take me mini-steps to climb and I am happy for the exercises, sweating, panting, enjoying the way my sister screams up the slope like someone shot her from a rubber-band. At the top, I breathe, swing in a hammock and look at the incredible swaths of trees and rivers and mud and vines and flowers and bushes and mountains and everything sprawled out in front of me in a way that will never happen again. I breathe. Mother breathes, we all do.
When I have sucked it in for awhile, I wander around looking at the plants that spill out of the branches of trees. Epiphytes, some parasites, some symbiotes, but mostly one growing on one growing on one to rise higher. E comes and leads me around. Have you seen this one? Or this? He speaks to me in Spanish when he can, even though his English is better than my Spanish. His voice gets softer in Spanish. I could say there is a connection between E and me. Let’s explain that one this way:
He grew up in the jungle of Ecuador; I grew up in the jungle of Alaska. There is a strange parallelism in the way these two worlds work. The roads dusty and rutted, the rain and dirt, the trees and wide swaths, the hunters, something. E and I understand each other and it surprises both of us since we grew so many miles away from each other. When he marches down the path and points with his machete, I see myself doing the same. I feel like a guide watching a guide, smile to myself and think of that psychic who told me that in one of my early lives I was a sherpa. In another, a shaman. I would like to believe this, but what I believe the strongest is that I can imagine growing up here in the jungle, living a life not being scared of anything this lushness has to offer.
I can imagine and see E’s life, see how he sleeps on the ground one night when he is twelve – next to his brother and his indigenous friend—and has a boa constrictor pass over his leg slowly, licking and licking. So, E’s voice softens in Spanish towards me, and he likes to grab my hand and move me over to the trees, with his hand on my shoulder or waist, and tell me about the flowers.
When we walk at night, he tells me that you need four things to be a good jungle-walker. One: balance; Two: clear vision; Three: sense of direction; and Four: no fear of what the jungle holds. It only takes me three seconds to realize that he has pegged something larger than the jungle. Some karmic understanding of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water that we should carry in our feet and head and skin. Am I moving there?
After the viewpoint, we go to an indigenous house and watch a woman make pottery. We buy some stuff, go back, and then eat lunch. After lunch, we climb to our second night’s encampment, which is on the top of a hill way high looking at the volcanoes and trees. Mother and an Aussie chick stop there and decide to swing in the hammocks and feel the air and learn to play a flute-like instrument, while E is taking us to the second falls we are climbing to (yesterday he took us to the Hola Vida falls). Although A and I didn’t sign on to an “Xtreme Jungle Tour,” the other girls with us (twenty-one year old interns, young, one is a little whiny) did, and so Ali and I reap the benefit by being shoved crazy through three hours of jungle. We descend an incredibly steep slope and then walk up a riverbed, crossing and re-crossing it until an hour later, we get to a place where the water comes up to our thighs or waists and there is nothing for it, but to strip into our swimsuits and fill our boots with water. I am sore and tired but so happy I feel like something is swelling in me, I can’t quite peg it, but it never wants to leave and always wants to be just this sore and tired.
So, we wade for another twenty minutes and get to a place where we have to discard our backpacks and swim up a little stream-river, and there when we are through, is Hidden Falls, a pool to swim and dive in, a log for A and E to climb and jump off, a mini-cave behind the falls to sit under, and cold water cold water to shiver.
I ask my sister about this later, and she knows exactly what I’m talking about, so I know I’m not completely crazy. I’ve heard the term “natural high,” but I don’t like it, it seems so trite and High-School Health Class. It doesn’t explain the enlightening.
But when you hike for hours, get sore in an incredible landscape like and unlike any other place you’ve been to, and then dive into cold water and holler and fall around, and then climb a clay slope to dry off and change clothes, afterwards something happens. The vision is funky – for me, almost microscopic, focusing 10X magnified on everything around me – and my skin is absolutely the most perfect temperature known, my body glazes and glazes, and something inside blends and blends into the trees and flowers. That’s how I felt. Pushed up, like something crawled in.
Walking back, I find a rhinoceros beetle and we talk about trees and I grab roots and the jungle closes in tight and something holds and E smiles and A gets excited and laughs and… then we are back.
After that, I had no choice but to go out into the jungle at night with E and A, spotlighting the bushes, looking sharp-eyed and no-feared into the canopy as thing crash around us. What stands out is that there are thousands of spiders. This place is an entomologist’s dreamscape and an arachnophobe’s nightmare. We run into a white-bulbed spider with fur legs that E tells us is the spider in the Ecuadorian jungle that “hurts the most when it bites.” Apparently, if it bites you multiple times, or if you are a child, you can die. It creeps even me out and I have no huge fear of spiders. There are at least 50 other types of spider that E points out with his flashlight—my favorite is one that looks like an upside-down V with the devil’s face on its back. On a lighter note, there are also tree frogs, sizes of which A and I are still debating, cocoons, and thousands of stick-bugs.
As we get farther out, we hit a flat spot and E wants to turn out the flashlights. We do, and inch along slowly, holding hands. A has no night vision, so she decides to stop, but E and I walk along the path in the pitch-black for a while. There are glowing trees and fallen palm leaves, apparently emitting a gas that fluoresces. It is amazing… I grab a stick and carry it with me to light a way. E tells me that sometimes it is necessary to walk in the dark when a flashlight goes out or something happens; he’s sometimes crawled along a path to find his way home. He asks me if I’ve ever walked in the forest in the dark, and seems disappointed when I tell him that I have (I have, many times… Alaska!). But he also seems happier when I tell him that this is the first time I’ve done so in the jungle.
There is something light in the air, something incredulous at the idea that the world could be a dark place. Everything is cycle and food and spiders and walking sandal-footed with a stranger in the dark. I know for certain walking here that while I have plenty of fear, I am still a fearless person. I am happy as the night churns and spins its noise.
When we get back to the camp, I fall completely solidly asleep, but wake up several times in the night amazed even in my dreams.
There is a type of bee in the jungle called the Aveja Cortapelo. While it does not sting, it will burrow into your hair straight down to the root, and bite off a strand at its base. It will then roll up the hair and carry it back to its hive. It is black and sticky, extremely hard to get out of the hair, hurts when it wraps itself into your gnarled hair, comes out of its hive when you pound on buttress-rooted trees, and also makes your sister scream very loudly, run along the path a ways, flailing at her red hair in a very girlie fashion that you would never ever ever expect from a sister who could take on Rocky and kick some serious ass.
There is a tree called the Telefono de Selva (jungle telephone). It has long, wide buttress roots that sound like a deep thick drum punching out sound through the jungle. (Check to make sure tree doesn’t have hives up above).
None of us were going to mention it, but there’s also this tree that looks like a sex-shop’s easy set-up. In other words, dildos hanging down from every angle. Apparently, the dildos are new roots heading down to penetrate the soil and firm up the trees support structure. E gave us the technical name, but then grinned and said, “We just call it the Porno or Macho tree.” He wasn’t going to avoid the topic.
Unfortunately, mum got stuck in Chicago due to mechanical errors and had to fly into Ecuador a day late because she missed her connection. So, our whole trip was moved back a day. But I do think we did alright. Yesterday, we took mom river rafting on a Class III river (not too rough), and it was fabulous. Aside from being the perfect temperature… warm, cool, warm, rain mist rainbow, warm… the river descended through the mountains into the jungle area over some nice standing waves and rapids. I think A and I would have been okay with a few more rumble rapids, flipping over, getting lost a little, but for mom’s sake we took the “mellow” trip. I will, I think, never forget the sound of mom in truly hysterical giggles behind me after the first rapid we hit (within three minutes of launching) paved over us and send water up even my nose. Later, mom confessed that she thought that first rapid had just about done her in, and she was panicking wondering what we had got her into and how she was going to survive. But at the time, this manifested in laughter that she couldn’t stop, with one of our guides looking at her like… oh my god, what’s going on. It was a little addictive and A and I started laughing, which I think in the end helped to calm Mom down. Fortunately for her, the first rapid really was the biggest doosy and we were all good paddlers (A and I had fun competing to matched rhythms). I even heard our super-fun macho guide yell out to our Kayaker-support dude that he could take off because “ellas tienen todo,” or in other words, A and I impressed him just fine. I always knew we were water rats. So, the rest of the trip was “Forward Faster,” and “Faster Faster,” and “Stop,” until the guide pushed us over the side of the raft on a mellow stretch and let us float around in our jackets while mom laughed non-hysterical at us. So very very spoiled we are; we made just fine time with our one day less.
A and Mom are now traveling on their own to Cuenca while I teach for a few days. I have to admit I’m a little nervous to have them on their own, but I’ll knock on wood and feel confident in their skills as adults. When they come back, we are all going to the beach, where I know Mom plans on getting drunk with frequency.
All the crafts are beautiful… now that A and Mum are here, I find myself spending much more money. So, if there’s something anybody wants, let me know. Hats, knitted goods, bracelets from seeds, cloths, everything. On a semi-related note, I decided at the urging of mother and A that even though I am soon to be poverty-stricken in Chicago, I am still going to shell out to take a trip to the Galapagos. Who knows when I’ll have another chance. I’ll just charge it to the card.
Driving to Baños (from which any outdoor activity in the world can be organized, including our trip to the jungle and our rafting trip), we decided to take the “scenic” route… apparently a beautiful drive along the side of a volcano from Riobamba north. The street had very little markings (not unusual in this country), but we stopped and asked several pedestrians if we were on the right road. They said yes, but we then got lost as we hit several washouts. We went around the washouts, but ended up turning around when we hit a place where a truck was going over a crevasse on two wooden planks. Ali was game and laughed at me when I pointed out that our Jeep was rented: “What does that matter if we are dead at the bottom of a crevasse?” So, we went back to a little town where they told us that we were indeed on the right road, and they had been “working very hard,” and now it was possible to get to Baños on that road. Nobody thought to tell us, at any of our stopping points and questionings, that we would need ropes and carabineers to get across this particular hard-worked road, so back the way we came (a two-hour detour) and A was cussing out each and every Ecuadorian driver and yelling at us inner-car-tired-navigating-bastards by the time we arrived. Maybe driving in Ecuador isn’t the most relaxing way to travel…
(But I caught a bus back, and had to slap the hand of a man who tried to fondle me, who then pretended to fall asleep on my shoulder and at some point started burrowing and rubbing his chin into my shoulder blade like he thought I’d think the cuddling was cute. At this point, I yanked forward, let him fall, and leaned the rest of the time on the seat in front of me thinking resentfully about my encroached space. Fortunately this happened at hour 6 of the 7-hour trip and before too long I was jetting out of the bus into a taxi and then back home… so it’s all up in the air which mode of travel is best!)
There’s more to say, but I’ll say it later!
Monday, June 20, 2005
Voice = Neecie, who has been the only other voice besides Sparrow
It took Monsieur six months to figure out what the real business of the circus he had joined was. It took him only slightly less time to find a circus to join in the first place.
Once, everyone wanted to see the freak show. They wanted to ride the ferris wheel, buy cotton candy and make sticky-faced love behind the tents. During the big depression, when everybody was depressed and needed considerable cheering up, traveling circuses, while not common, were certainly more frequent.
It really isn’t that hard to understand. Everyone needs miracle in their lives; it’s what we live for, why we write books like the Bible to make us seem more important than we end up feeling when we wake up in the dead of night and ask ourselves the silliest question in the universe. During that hour’s silence, don’t we just pray for miracle, if not in a new entry, then in an indubitable realization that everything is drenched up crazy and real? That we can depend on this life.
And that was what the circus was for. Bright lights, giddy, beer and the opportunity to shoot balloons while the summer wafts crickety and bent-shadowed around us. We want the littered floor, the Diablo clowns, the bearded lady, something scratching out with a boo, releasing that deep reserve of adrenaline from behind the foreign dam. We want the structures to tumble, the greasy men to flirt with us and move levers that lift us higher than we’ve ever been before. Who hasn’t seen that scene in Dumbo—the one with the train screaming through the night, the tents going up in the rain, the straining heaves of men with sledgehammers pounding on wooden pins—and not been touched? We love people who work out in the rain. While not glamorous to do, certainly glamorous to think about. We live in their mystery, invent it for our own needs.
But, as Monsieur found out, after the depression ended, people just stopped looking for their miracle. They became taciturn and mellow. They felt like they shouldn’t ask for too much or maybe that bomb would drop, the one that would sweep upwards and out and create new miracle by burning shadows onto walls. You sometimes get superstitious about what is meant by miracle when you realize that intensity only comes in all forms, and how you have to pay for what you get. Anybody who has been loved in a passion knows that if it dies, it dies in a passion. Couldn’t the passion of life be the same? Yes, the fifties, when fear started canceling out the importance and people started locking up their houses even though nothing was really any worse than the thousands of years of primordial violence and primordial kindness we have grown up through like sprouts in the mud.
When you look at it this way, the sixties were downright predictable. People were wild with pent-up miracle-desire, and thus acted like twenty year-olds after years mourning a bad break-up. That is, humping and jiving any miracle they could find. Making God with shrooms and acid and whatever else filled that deep empty with potential answer. My father, the great doomsayer of modernity and youth, tells me that nowadays we have our placebo-for-ennui television, which spends great amounts of time on other people’s miracles and thus gives vicarious meaning to those too lazy to find it. But, as I like to point out to Taro, every generation has its own fight. Miracle-search can still be found in punk mosh pits, the dens of tattoo and piercings, the dance floor, yoga meetings, maybe down on the beach where everybody loves to go get drunk and scream loud. It finds itself in the way I escape from my new bedroom window at night, climb the plum tree that we were told rains fruit in August, and listen listen to the sound of every human being breathing and dying and being born and having sex and being beaten and hugging and everything. It finds itself in Sparrow’s flight and Fish’s tinkering. It finds itself in the sadness Muebla laps from the lips of spinners.
But none of that was enough for Monsieur, who had just been kicked out of his family for too closely resembling an epileptic or a chicken. He wanted something bigger than the routine search. He wanted to dedicate his life to insanity the same way that monks dedicate their lives to meditation. He had a crop, and what more signal could he ask for that he was born to do something similar to Superman or Napoleon or any of the hugess normal people tell themselves they can’t touch? On top of this, he had just finished reading a Flannery O’Connor short story and it injected into his head that the romantic southern circus life was for him. I mean, after all, he had a skill.
So, he hid in his best friend’s barn and started to practice.
Eleven months later, he was sitting down with seventy Mexicans to a Father’s Day feast. Monsieur had been learning Spanish, but was basically limited to understanding every tenth word and piecing together a semblance of meaning from that point. What he was understanding from his ten-percent forage was that Mexicans were crazy in love with parties and connections and making lots of noise. Those of you who have attended one of these parties as I have (being one-fourth a direct result of this particular fiesta) know that nobody can underestimate the power of a Mexican party. Latin Americans everywhere have taken up the gauntlet of the Native American potlatch; they will give better than any other giver has ever given in the history of givinghood. There is no greater generosity than those of my Latin lineage, but it is almost suspicious with its ostentation. Are they trying to have a good time, or are they trying to prove something? The apparent answer: who says you can’t do both at once?
Yes, Monsieur had spent five months scouring the newspapers for word of a circus, any circus, while pitching forkfuls of hay down from roving trucks on those types of days when sweat glands are seriously contemplating throwing in the towel. In order to survive these unbearable temperatures (having originated from the Midwest and traveled progressively hotter), Monsieur had been employing his crop for less ritzy feats of greatness. In the morning, Monsieur would go to the trough and fill up for the day camel-style. He’d start work with an internal cavern that closely resembled the embryonic sac we erupt from. (Indeed, he used to joke with Mafer that if she wanted to give up the egg, he could birth their children. They had a multitude of jokes discussing the way his throat skin would stretch over the form of the curled child, what it would be like for the baby to kick, just how far his mouth could dilate under the right kind of pressure, and how the breathing techniques their doctor recommended would need to be adjusted). His throat gurgled and sloshed and the other men and women working would advert their eyes under the impression that they were seeing something not quite decorous. Only the children would stare, and it would be that type of stare that starts staring, notices itself staring (especially when mom taps the cheek lightly but seriously), stops staring, and then continues staring in quick stare glances, the type where continuity between stare and look-away is created via imagination.
These were his days, and his nights were spent running down to the town, buying a paper, and scouring every advertisement, every editorial, every article for sign of his self-chosen future. And after two and half months of catching any kind of fieldwork that was handy, Monsieur finally came across an article mentioning the Maldano Cueva Rambling Show of Wonders. It didn’t particularly catch Monsieur’s attention that the article was regarding an unsolved murder that occurred under the eaves of the ring toss directly at the moment when the audience screamed at the Scary Part of the Tiger-Walking Act. Instead, what he noticed was that the rigmarole wasn’t exactly called a circus, which had better potential for him becoming part of a Freak Show. He spent the rest of that evening packing his bag and touching up on what he hoped would be his auditioning act.
As a direct result, Monsieur was shoving extremely frosted cake into his mouth six months later, while holding within his crop the seven jalapenos he had “eaten” to impress the family. It was a messy interaction of dietary juices, and he was starting to turn quite red and sweat as the family roared and blustered around him. In fact, he was starting to get dizzy.
When you’re dizzy at a Mexican fiesta, the best option available is to focus, second by second, on the minutiae of features surrounding. At that moment, Monsieur was repeating under his breath, “Don’t leave the party early, and whatever you do, don’t throw up,” at the same time he was noticing how his main boss, Jose Ricardo Maldano Cueva (Ricardo to the employees and Cardito to his family), was extremely extraordinarily fat beyond belief, and in addition, missing three teeth on the left side of his mouth. Monsieur wondered why he had never noticed such a fact before.
Next to Jose was the bearded woman, his wife, Marina, who had tucked her beard into her dress for the occasion. She was feeling gregarious and sexy, and was wrapping crisped pigskin around a tender cut, while laughing at her beer-blustering husband. And everyone else at the table—Mario, Max, Mariola, Maria Fernanda, Marita, Maritza, Mauricio, Maria Elena, Marlo, and Silvia—was either hijo or sobrino or tia or tio, except Monsieur who seemed to fit in, despite being relatively incapable of speaking Spanish, white as the underbelly of a dolphin, and at the moment, extremely sick to his holster.
Or at least that’s what I’ve been asking myself. These past two weeks have been adventures in too much and too little. Too much alcohol. Too little movement. That is, Guayaquil is the place of doldrums right now. Gone are the hot-air dragonflies. Clouds wrap white-grey around noise, and more noise.
But escape broods on the horizon. I’ve been preparing myself thoroughly, scouting out maps, pre-planning classes, writing syllabi, reading material for class, photocopying like a mofo—all with one big Huge skimming in so very quickly. Time flies when you’re having fun, or when you’re under the gun. One or the other.
The big Huge: Alison and Mum are coming down on Tuesday/Wednesday night. I get to make three trips to the airport… mother, sister, rented car. That’s right. I will be braving the streets here, and I’ve received a plethora of advice: roll up the windows, drive during the day, go very slowly and watch out for the maniacs, don’t stop if someone approaches, park in a guarded lot at night, avoid the potholes, don’t drive the mountains, take a bus, hire a chauffeur, have fun, keep your money divided up and on your body.
I’ve also been told to sleep under a mosquito net, good advice, I’m sure, as we will be traveling to the Ecuadorian Amazon… maybe rafting, definitely venturing into the jungle with a guide. I will tell you all that later.
In the meantime, I’ve been going out at night with regularity in order to release all the ache of sitting too much in front of a screen. And through this, I drove myself right up to the edge of sick, and spent all day yesterday wallowing around in a dizziness, sleeping, rolling, standing up and sitting back down quickly.
Last week was big-Tom’s birthday, and we went out with M, a woman who is leaving Ecuador soon to teach in the Arab Emirates. We went to “Fridays,” T’s chosen hangout, which most closely resembles Red Robins but with hats so embarrassing I wasn’t sure how the waitresses could stand to work there until T pointed out that they made more money at Fridays than at any other bar in Guayaquil. So, the venture was what Fridays always is for me… boring but with good company. I think I just don’t like going out to places where you can’t either shoot pool or dance. To hell with the chitchat; locale is 75% of my world right now since it’s hard to dig right on out of my head anyways.
The evening took on a better tinge when we went over to another bar, the place I most frequently go with T when he’s with his buddies S and G (shit-shooting). I’ve noticed that I’ve been hanging out in what is decidedly a man’s world; no really close female friends with me, although it was pleasant to have M around. In the mean time, T and I are becoming closer than I would ever have expected.
T is pretty good for me, I think. He’s so different from anyone I have ever met before and I would never have thought there was even the possibility of becoming friends with him, mostly because I’m a female-chauvinist and resent arrogance and manly behavior. And he’s a TV-watching, Gym-working out, Baseball-loving Midwesterner who is more of a guy’s guy than any other guy’s guy I’ve ever met. Definitely not metrosexual. But definitely not dumb by any stretch of the imagination, which is usually my mode of defense against most people who annoy me (haha). He studied history and law and I could see him alternating between annoying the hell out of my father, and getting along splendidly with him.
Big T still occasionally tries to persuade me to return to “the good side of the force,” as he describes it, which basically means he needs a girlfriend. But I temper this with a good dose of flirt coupled with a good dose of reality. I definitely encourage him to go out. In the meantime, he’s probably a little too sweet with me… buying my drinks like the good Latin American that he’s not, and dropping of presents occasionally (like a set of replacement maps for the ones I drunkenly left in the movie theater). He tries to hide all this by telling me he’s a dark bad man… similar in ferocious justice as Batman.
In fact, his favorite saying, which he does say in the most beguiling way imaginable is, “I’m batman.” I wouldn’t ever be able to replicate the cadence with which he whips out those three syllables, but let’s just say, they’re perfectly inflected.
So, yeah, he is a bit arrogant and would admit it with perfect candor. He takes pleasure in being a ball-buster as a teacher, and also in saying in a flat voice, “I am the center of the world. There is no other perception,” which inevitably leads to a deep metaphysical conversation that is bound to bore me as I already know how the saga goes, and also know that it’s a bunch of blahbeddy-blah for feeling isolated and lonely. We all know that’s the struggle, right? So, why discuss what should really be a challenge? But there I go, starting to talk circles I’m not particularly interested in. It really does me good to see how, from an outside perspective, the world doesn’t become more trustworthy when you don’t trust anything. What’s easier to see in others is harder to see in yourself. Anyhow.
So, we went out to this other bar in Urdesa, got tossed on the cheap beer here that knocks me out of my knickers (On a related note, I know I’ve been sounding a bit like a full-blown alcoholic in these entries, and I’ve been assessing the likelihood of this truth. While I don’t feel like a complete alchie, as I mostly write about what happens on the weekends, I am probably going to pare down after this particular weekend—in which I tossed back a couple, went to the new movie Batman, and then ended up leaving maps, getting further drunk and forgetting whether I paid for the bill, although I can remember bits and pieces in between. To tell the truth… that has never happened to me before. No matter how plastered I get, I always have been able to remember most of the evening. In strikingly clarity usually. If I can’t do that, then drinking is not for me. To tell the truth, I think I must’ve stumbled into some very bad rum). But back to that weekend. We were tipsy and happy and M and T were having what must’ve been a good conversation, while I resorted to my usual tipsy-action, which is drawing inked portraits and lines on napkins and coasters. Our next door neighbors in the bar started laughing at something T and M were saying and before too long we were joined by a couple of travelers from the Bronx and the Middle-east who then accompanied us to a dance joint where I danced badly to salsa and okay to reggaeton, which appears to be the version of Hip-Hop down here.
That night, I did stop at reason and was drinking water by one o’clock and shifting my bu-T by three. Twas a good evening. The next day, I got up early and drew a batman picture for T’s 31st and burned him a cd that I knew in all likelihood he wouldn’t like, but it’s the thought, right?
Two other things before retiring… one is being exposed as an infidel by the students in my Principles of Writing class. Who knew that not knowing the second commandment Spanish word for “neighbor” would allow a whole class to have a really good laugh at my expense. I just told myself that it was the sheepish look on my face. The other bit is to mention a couple of my favorite word-moments right now in Spanish:
Machu Pichu = Inca ruins of exquisite glory /// Macho Picha = picha is a word for penis and macho we know and love. (Ex: T’s going to visit Machu Pichu, not Macho Picha).
mareada = the word for dizzy, but also for tide (Ex: Marea baja, marea alta, estoy mareada hoy).
años = years /// anos = anus (Ex: Feliz Cumpleanos a ti!)
dolor = pain /// dolar = the American dollar
Coaster #35 (Strawberry Daiquiri)
de la historia; stained reflections in the black
mica of beer restings. in transience,
or all these transnational crossings we shake out of our pant legs
memory to drink to memory
i sit at this mica with my fled fellows
toasting to our yesterdays, reserving our right to reserve
for how many times must we run backwards?
the paddy lawyer dressed in a green alligator shirt
clean slacks; woman draped in patterns;
midwesterner standing and looking slightly up;
martinied kraut who tells me guns kill people
gets angry when I ask if we should ban knives
bats candlesticks pillows love
(it was only a questing question)
together we speak of comformities
or comforts, our own or the owners of
how many places will it take to come home?
it comes out that WWI was a family fight
the squabble of brothers and mothers, familiar alliances
anguishes that kept until anger
dally home dally home
i notice that boys always bounce light a certain way
and so do girls
who will knock a rock out of a wall
to show who’s found a rounder rock?
who will build on a shaky fence
just to share the base?
(and we can, can’t we?)
ask a traveler which direction they are going:
away or towards?
she’ll tell you
there’s always across
those transfers of fledgling flight
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
fiction, issue III
some of you said you liked Muebla and wanted more, or mum says she likes laughing. be patient, i really am trying to make a go of this one. my mind is also thinking a bit more on Monsiuer and Mafer, who I've decided is religious... sample thought pattern:
"I mean, all it took was one bite. One small chewed and swallowed bite. What happens when you eat one bite of the cake on the windowsill that your mom told you not to touch yet. A slap on the wrist? Off to your bedroom? Maybe if you have an abusive parent, you get beaten. Pero no, one single bite and every particle of the rest of our lives changed. All of us, proof of our one-nature. It just show what each of our actions is worth.
And God, yeah, in reality he's a chickmunk with rabies. He may seem smaller than we think, but when he starts charging, you can't help running."
Above me, a spider crawls. It crawls across the ceiling and I whistle an encouragement; I try to get the notes exactly so. Perhaps if I knew the words for it, the trill of the way one note follows another, perhaps if I knew anything except the fact that a spider is crawling over my head and I whistle and raise my hand with a pencil between fingers.
I close one eye, and without dimension I can follow that spider around with my pencil. I can push him from inch to inch, watch his movements shift from random to pushed. And he doesn’t know it even, can’t even feel that pen shoving him around. There’s a ten-foot safety span between him and me, and with my little gentle prods I can urge rather than squish him.
I’ve decided that I need to write self-help books. That’s my calling in life, I think. I will go around, from town to town, gathering little bits of information, ideas on what the answers are. I will be a retired gatekeeper; I will speak in metaphors and dialogues and people will follow me around. I will try to get them to go away, will hold a flower under the sun and tell them they could learn more from photosynthesis than from me.
The reason I’ve decided to become a self-help writer is that I need to figure out self-help. And what better way to learn than to teach. I can start by just jumping in, simply writing and flailing, flailing and writing. And then, as I explain those things to others that I just learned yesturday, I’ll start getting the bigger picture. It’ll start coming to me slowly, maybe with years, but a sense of all the little chinks fitting together… a piece here, and an imagined idea piece there. It will work, I’m sure it will work.
I’ll start by picking a rule, just a simple rule, and running with it. That’s the thing. It never matters what rule you pick, as long as you run with it and make a complete tautology out of it. Consistent errors soon become consistent pattern of syntax, stylistic quirk of brain. I will pick any rule. What rule will I pick?
I ask the spider who climbs along the ceiling in the hostel with stained paint. The hostel attached to a little toliet room with one of those hoses to wash your bottom. I always thought the hose was for the feet, but someone told me my mistake, and now I look resentfully at the hose because it’s my feet that stink, my feet that rot out the innards of my sweat-laden shoes, and not my buttocks, which I wipe carefully and without too much difficulty at this stage in my life. I shove the little spider into the corner of the hostel room, right up next to the window with the criss-cross bars that shape light.
I’m intrigued by the idea of shaping light. Really, when you think about it, light is matter not too unlike us. Just more diffuse really, and there it is floating around, thick enough to be shaped into slants and circles, drifts and screen-print, lacey curtain curls on the stained wall in this hostel where I lie on the floor in my hostel-skirt, feet propped up on the saggy-mattressed bed, looking up around, contemplating light blocks, thoughts, shoving spiders.
I feel so happy on the floor of a stained and musty hostel, silent and watching. The permission, temporarily granted, to be lazy, to lie here and do nothing more than walk my thoughts around the idea of being a self-help writer and what rules I’d pick to give to people. It’s just that first rule.
There was a Russian formalist, a writer, who said that it’s the job of artists to notice the way light sifts through lace, and to re-invent such actions. The action of photons. If I were a self-help writer, that would be my job. Re-invention. I’d re-invent the world, make it exactly as it is, but with one little change, one small one, miniscule.
I need a small microscope, or one of those silly scientific magnifying glasses, so I can look up at the spider and see if he is nodding his head at me, big grin spread across his black lips.
I have exactly enough money to be lazy for seven more days. I will probably give in and stop being lazy before that, stop pushing around my spider, stop washing my face with cold water, stop deciding upon the first rule.
I act as though the first rule is hard for me, but it really isn’t. It’s just the phrasing of it.
Two days before I left Muebla and Neecie and Fish and all the rest of the people that make yellow come to my eyes—yellow like a blur of sun, the first hit of moment as you walk out a door—I met this boy who was shut tighter than the belly of the earth. I met this boy who sat and listened to me. I spoke more than I usually spoke; in fact, I had a hard time stopping, and just babbled and babbled on. Then I would notice myself babbling and would comment on the babble, and the boy just blushed each time and said he didn’t mind. So I kept going; I rambed until two and then walked with him back to his car, a gentle brush of the lips on his cheek.
I think I was self-helping him, urging him on. I couldn’t help thinking when I saw the black of his eyes how everything hurts more when you don’t have a callous. Everything gets right in to the center. Maybe we fool ourselves that this callous will protect us, but sometimes, our skin just catches in a machine and the callous rips off like mica flaking from stone.
I told the boy about growing up with Muebla and Taro and his nictitating membrane flashed back just a second when I said at the end,
“Sometimes I wonder if the people who fall the hardest just haven’t fallen before. Those of us who have, learn to grow wings.” I’m not sure what I was telling him; maybe just that we survive, we survive it all.
I laughed at myself last night when I took my nightly bath, laughed at the silliness of my line. Pulling the water high up over my legs, I laughed and tucked myself in as if to a bed. Next to the bathtub, a glass of wine. Survival. Is that what we are really concerned about, or is that just what we wish we were concerned about? Life is so much easier when we are busy figuring out how to get food in the stomach. All I know is that I can never starve to death. I am 110 pounds, tiny as a breath, and I can never starve to death. Does that make any sense? I have had my body broken and sewn up by the rough hands of my mother, and I my body will never break.
I laughed at myself because when I ran my hands over my body in the bathtub, my hand passed over my thigh. And I realized suddenly that I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel my thigh. Here was this chunk of me, a chunk of this sliver body, and I could touch it, it was so near, but when I touched it, nothing. I think I got so scared I jumped up; it was hard to breathe for a few seconds, maybe just the steam. I grabbed my wine and carried it to the bed under the spider, set it down next to the candle that I had lit dripping in the corner. On the bed, I took several deep breaths, settled back, and ran my hand along my skin again. Just in that one little spot. I looked at it too, all the multitudes of leg-freckles bundled up under light blond furs. It was a little blotchy, a response to the stimuli of wine and bathwater.
This time, when I touched it, I still couldn’t feel anything, but there was something, that slight sensation that comes when you are feeling the idea of being touched rather than the action itself. What is the adequate response to that beside crying? Are we talking about survival? Is this the question? I think maybe a huge hard callous rubbed off last year and now is coming back, here and there, here and there to symbolize the way the lining along my spinal nerve is disintegrating slowly, unpredictably.
I don’t want to talk about it.
Neecie didn’t want me to leave Bville. She wanted me to stay at the old house I bought to keep my mother and family planted.
“Babe,” she said, “Everything in your life is changing. You need support. You need us around you.”
“But what is there to support? These changes will occur.”
I think what I wanted was self-help. I wanted to stop crying in the bathroom of Muebla’s house and pretending that any day soon, just because my family loves me, everything would get better. I wanted to move, to stop wasting each moment that passed untouched under my nose.
“Sparrow,” Neecie said, “there’s nothing wrong with you, with who you are. You keep saying you can’t feel anything, that you want to start feeling again. But Spare, you just feel everything so much you can’t sort it out, or talk it out, and so you call it nothing.”
My Neecie, the sixteen-year old sherpa. A girl so lonely she has to live inside everybody else’s throat.
I have seven days to be lazy, and as I push the spider around the cracked and yellow ceiling, I think of every person I carry inside me, inside this body that sings and whistles and steams, all except that patch of skin on my thigh that might be growing, might expand suddenly crazily at night when I’m dreaming that dream about living inside a spider’s eyes. I might just wake up and not be able to move, not be able to feel my leg. But this body can never break.
Monday, June 13, 2005
next stop (next stop?) someday
Basically, I will have from August 20th to August 30th to fly home to WA, visit family (and friends?), get me to a nunnery, reach Chicago, get "settled" into an apartment, and get "settled" into a non-existing job (haha). All this before the August 31st orientation to Chicago and the next three years of my life: The Chicago Art Institute.
Q: Am I beyond insane? Didn't I already do that grad thing, with somewhat sketchy results? (IV2: "sketchy:" is that what you call it these days?)
A: Jumblely, jumbley.
A: Isn't anything better than treading?
A: Don't you want to smell the charcoal?
A: Maybe. (maybe is maybe is maybe is...)
A: A little nonsense now and then
A: Carpe diem or Carpe die or Carpe Dios or Carpe diurnal or Carpe noche or
A: It's not what I expected, or dreamed, or wanted, or hoped, but...
A: Shaddup, you damn whiner, and just take the card: queenie of Hearts
A: Maybe. (is may be is may be is my may...)
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Ecuadorians are fanatics
my students tried first to explain to me that they would not be having classes on Wednesday because the Ecuadorian soccer team made it to the South American finals against Columbia. If they win this game, they are one of the four teams off to the World Cup. I was almost buying the whole no-class thing until I noticed the vigor with which they were striving to convince me that it really was a vacation. If something is an official vacation, no convincing is necessary.
So, once they were found out, they asked me if I would suspend the quiz and give them no homework. (I give a weekly killer quiz). I told them I'd talk to the administration, and the next day I came to class and told them that not only was I absolutely not allowed to assign homework or give quizzes on such an important soccer day, I was also required to give them an extra 20 bonus points for watching the game. They were buying everything until a few of them wondered aloud why they would get points for something they were all doing anyway.
Man, I have fun toying with students sometimes. I do need to get better at it, and never crack a smile too early.
Anyhow, they really are fanatics... the game is right now and televisions are perched everywhere around the campus: behind the cafeteria bar, in the International office, in the copy center, in the middle of the road. Earlier today, I had fun turning the game into a rhetorical situation in which they had to convince their disgusted and disinterested audience [me] that soccer really had important social and historical implications. What opportunities arise.
Unfortunately, everyone is as cranky as I was earlier (my alarm didn't go off, and I woke up five minutes before my bus was leaving and had to hoof it without coffee or breakfast) because within the first 10 minutes of the game, Ecuador gave up two goals to Columbia. Everybody is sweating... at least if they lose, I won't have drunk students tomorrow.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Donkeys, Pool, Che, and Rum
Quote of the Weekend: “Just hold that watermelon rind until a donkey appears.”
Is a fin de semana (weekend) an end, as the word “fin” would suggest, or a beginning, as the definition of Sunday as the first of the week would suggest? Or might it be a continuity?
Here at schoolie-land, I think we tend to consider the week as a workable unit, something that perhaps is later built off of, but is nevertheless its own hermeneutically sealed center of existence defined by the tic-clicks passed between its initiation (Monday) and its grand finale (“Friday,” whatever the Friday may be). I understand that this is the way life in the modern world generally goes; perhaps the phrase TGIF is nothing but an earmarker for our little human time-frames. But I also know that school has a way of emphasizing the unit, because you have X time to build to Y achievement, and X usually begins on a Monday and ends on a “Friday,” in such a way that,… say, House Construction… does not. Constructors could argue with me, but if I were to point out how X week gets re-arranged due to Rain while pouring the foundation, etc, my point might be somewhat grudgingly accepted. Time in the School-Zone is different.
A stronger example, of course, than the Construction-one is Farming or Fishing, both of which are dependent on the wily ways of nature to such an extreme extent that Weeks or Hours become laughable units.
Do I have a point? Good question; there is always the possibility that I’m just wagging the fingers.
Initially, my point was something along the lines of about needing an End to 11 days of pure toil and hell without remarkable pleasure or enjoyment.
Exception: going out and shooting the shit with some extremely shit-shooting fellows, two of whom speak like they’ve been lifted out of the Bronx and deposited in Guayaquil purely for my own amusement.
“Know what I mean?”
“Ja, nigga, I gotcha.”
“He’s da master of talking crap, man.”
S and G are two amazingly funny entities who I’ve hung out with, at T’s invitational pleasure, a couple of times. G told me the greatest story of his experience in a Guayaquil prison, even adding dimension by admitting that he was shitting-his-pants scared, a very un-macho admission for South American standards (or so my stereotyping mind would have it). But my favorite story was the one he told about when he first left New York, and came down to Ecuador with the self-appointed mission of getting laid ten times a day.
“I brought three boxes of condoms, and it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t easy either. I got slapped a couple of times.”
He also, somewhere along the line, contracted a rash “on [his] dick” that “was very red and nasty-looking, but swear to God, not crabs or the clap.” So, his grandmother noticed him inching around the house uncomfortably and made him drop his pants. At which point, she noted that something was definitely wrong, and insisted on taking him to the doctor. Doctor took a look at this rash (grandmother’s in the room, don’t ask me), and said,
“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“Nah, man. Ask.”
“Do you do anal sex?”
“Hell, yeah, if she’ll let me.”
At which point, the grandmother, who understands just enough English to get the gist of the English conversation, bursts into tears, and starts moaning,
“Ah, Dios, no. Eres un maricon. Dios no.”
Translation of maricon = gay man, derogatory term. Note, coming from the grandma who took the rash with svelte style and grace. Assumption, anyone?
Yeah, so over a two-week period of time, that was the highlight, and I admit, it was a large highlight, especially with a little beer in the system, the gentle lights of the Urdessa district, the little kids in Nikes selling flowers to gringos who pitied them and bought flowers for sus novias gringas, and the enjoyment of being bad and not at home grading papers. But it wasn’t a great highlight, especially with any number of tantrums transforming me into Hulk.
I’ve never been such a tantrummy girl. I don’t know what’s happening: a ten-year regression? Well, listen to my Thursday.
I knew that things were getting desperate, that I was exhausted, sick of bad papers (bad being the key indicator of my crankiness), finicky coffee pots, endless hours, paperwork launched on me unaware 5 minutes before my bus is leaving so that I am spending 9-hour days in an office, waiting waiting waiting, and not eating until I get home of course, which makes everything somewhat worse. So, I decided to hit the road, and asked L if he was going out to his little hostel near Montanita this weekend, and if I could join him if he was. He said yes, and I was ecstatic.
I went to bed early in prep for the 8 o’clock wake-up call (“we’re leaving at 10 o’clock at the latest”). I got up at 8:30, packed my bags,… and waited. I waited until 10:30, and then gave a call, apparently rousting L out of bed. 12:00 is the new time. I crunch fists into ears, the sounds of house construction, drills, hammering, etc., starting up and running near my bedroom. 12:00 rolls around, and a new text message… “bad hangover, it’s looking more like 2:00.” I hate flakes. I hate flakes. I hate, above all things on earth, people who flake out on you. Not the people, really, or I’d be friendless, but the act.
So, by this time, I’m cursing under my breath and thinking seriously of taking a Goddamn bus, just to be out of the cacophony and away from the place I’ve been for hours and hours and hours and hours of too-much. 2:00 rolls around and the new text message is “hangover is really bad. More like 5:00.” And that’s it. I smash my cellphone to pieces. (In my head, since I can abstractly recognize the folly of such an action and enact a modicum of teeth-gritting self-control).
So, then I go to catch the bus about an hour later when I realize that it’s pointless waiting on someone else’s hangover, and that you can’t trust anyone, just as Tom loves telling me every day. But right before I leave, I realize that my phone is still not working… receiving but never sending text messages, and so none of my messages to anyone have gone anywhere. So, I ask for advice from housemates and end up having my phone taken away from me in generous solicitude – the way of the house… (I’m really not being sarcastic here… they most certainly were being helpful and kind and generous with their time to sit there with my phone and try to figure out what the hell was going on.). The long and short is that I arrive at the bus station to find out that the direct bus has already left, and the last time I took the not-direct bus, I ended up having to pay a 20$ cab fare because the buses weren’t running anymore at the transfer pueblo.
So, back to the house in tears and humiliation and frustration and dislike of the human race, solemnly swearing never to talk to L again, or to patronize to his hostel, or to ever try to make friends again. Halfway home, I had the Realization.
When I was traveling with S in Europe, there were those, um, uncomfortable moments when I got wound up tighter than Alison in her childhood bankie (the one my dad had to cut the fringe off of to prevent Strangulation). And S, being extraordinarily resourceful and semi-impatient with my sullennesses, would settle the whole affair by going to the store and picking up a bottle of cheap green-bubbly wine, or cheap red sour wine, and shoving it unsurreptitiously into my hands.
By the time L and his wife rolled around my neck of the woods, I was seriously deep in a tasty bottle of rum and its alter-ego, Coke. And I wasn’t resentful at all! Maybe even embaressed of my bad temper and quick judgment...
Truly, truly the best way to launch into a weekend, an eternal truth that has me cringing about my potential alcoholism. But really, there’s no reason to Start something wrong, to make a continuity from one week to the next. Sometimes we just have to insist on an End to things, and make it happen, whether we are inclined or not. And alcohol helped me.
I had a delightful journey, only made slightly uncomfortable by the growing bladder issue. I sat in the back seat and chatted with L’s wife M (in Spanish, I’m getting better!). She just got back from a trip from Florida and NY. Ecuadorians love Florida and NY. Florida because it is almost exactly the same as Ecuador, and NY because, well, it’s NY (although they unanimously hate the weather). M used to own a business but doesn’t any longer, and L talked a bit about his plans for growing his hostel, and we stopped in a little town along the way and purchased fruit and fruit, and then we stopped in at a gas station where I relieved my bladder and rescued a grasshopper from having to die in a nasty-stinky human habitation instead of the grass (the hopper was on last legs… sure to die, but if I were to pick my place of death, it would never under any circumstances be a bathroom facility, and ideally would always involve the out-doors or proximity to a wood-stove). By the way, if you are wondering about the degree to which I remember this Huge Grasshopper Event,… as it is detailed in my head, down to the way the grasshopper was huge and missing one of his hoppers, and brown-crinkled like a leaf that has fallen away… well, I will just point you to the sure knowledge that I was very happy and drunk and on my way somewhere, always the best possible thing for me to be doing.
We stopped in another town and ate a meal L told me was great called “Seco de Gallina,” which was indeed very good, made better by hunger. I whistled at dogs scratching their fur, watched the kisses on cheeks, and smiled at people. I love looking, taking a good measure of something, and then slamming a smile out there like nothing else. It’s my new Ecuadorian technique… if I smile in this particular manner, Ecuadorians can’t help smiling back. The more cheeky my smile, the better, too. And it always seems like an interaction of genuine amusement at something Good to be amused by… not each other, but something, the way stars are always chuckling at us if we look at them long enough.
We arrived around 10pm in Manglaralto, which is about 4km south of Montanita, the big surfing beach that I visited my first week here. I was still tipsy and drinking, managed to sucker M into a pool game, only to discover that she wears a glove and gives bossy advice (I hate advice, for some reason it unnerves me until it pisses me off, and then sometimes post-pissiness, I play better because I’m striving to show that I’m an independent type player that needs no advice until it is asked for). But I had fun and stopped being pissy, and went for a midnight walk through surf, shouting drunk at K, who is an older woman I knew there.
She told me stories she’s told me before. Interesting. Lately, I’ve been stemming my impatience at being told stories I’ve already heard and know well, and instead looking for the why’s of story-repetition. What makes it so important? What’s not being said that makes it need to be said over again? I have this theory that we tell stories over again that we are still trying to sort out, or convince ourselves of something we’re not yet convinced of, to let ourselves know by sheer re-telling that we acted appropriately, or to turn the story, degree by degree into a fiction we believe. Maybe one day I’ll write a story that does that. Yes, I like the idea.
Something. A theory in motion. So: story repeats—she repeated the story about her father who is HIV and can’t come down to visit her. She repeated the story about being scared to open her mouth in the showers down here, and scared to take a shower as a result. And she answered my question back (Why?) the same way both times: because the water is dangerous here, and she’s not sure she won’t forget not to swallow the water. (I always refrain from commenting that the water here is not that dangerous!). And she repeated the story about her son doing much better in school than her. There were, of course, new additions that involved discussion of trial-separations, house-buying, etc.
And I was truly listening, but I was also spinning wild over the joy of being drunk on a windy dark beach in Ecuador. Sometimes, I like to pause and say that word: Ecuador. Miles and miles from where I’d ever expect to be. Parked right in an unexpected situation, and like any true survivor, not even noticing most of the time that I’m right in the middle of an unlikely and unexpected event. Every now and then, letting the surf chase you up the beach and wet your pants is a good way to remember that we are here. Here. And who knows what next?
Che Guevara, a nice piece of common black-white graffiti, watched on from a broken beach wall, hidden-mouthed and future-looking like always.
The next day, and indeed most of the weekend, was not all that qualitatively interesting, but nevertheless quite satisfying. I got drunk early in the day at L’s insistence. We talked about his experience as a refugee in America. Apparently, his dad was a governor under a 1986 dictator, who was apparently a moderately benign dictator who had nevertheless seized control of the nation via armed support. L’s father was part of the ministration, and they had to leave for 6 years when the dictatorship fell, and phone calls were threatening the lives of her children and people were tailgating their cars, etc. It was a nice conversation, that somehow ended up on the topic of disembowelment (we tried to trace the convolutions of conversation, but failed) and then ended by spitting me out onto the beach, where I walked along the shore and thought soft-sandy-footed on things I need to think soft-sandy-footed about. Pelicans. Men in trucks with their feet perched up on the windowsill, catching breeze during lunch. Girls giggling and bikinied. A woman with no bikini top on (scandalous here!). Salt. And me inside thoughts.
I then spent the rest of the day drawing, boogie-boarding, sleeping in a hammock, reading, playing pool, and in general enjoying myself.
Later that night, M’s extended family came because they were celebrating her cousin J’s 26th birthday. The rest of the evening turned into birthday cake, me drinking rum (but not enough to get drunk really), playing pool with J, who turned out to be very competitive and denounced my non-competitive rules (re-takes) as “trampas” or cheats. At that point, after playing with J for awhile, his family seemed to slowly decide that I was his Real birthday present and the rest of the evening was spent between dancing crazy-sexy in Montanita and having a group of Mothers/Aunts/Great Aunts encouraging me to “dance with their J, who is a very nice boy,” (but who couldn’t do much more than keep a beat, a fact that was redeemed by the fact that he knew it).
Nothing like dancing to boost the esteem. I received lots of comments, and lots of stares as well. What can I say? I love. Yes. Music love dancing. J told me repeatedly that, “nobody expects gringos to understand the beat, but I make him feel like the real gringo.”
Is that it? Yes, I feel beat. But also, I think it is just love. I never feel more happy or self-contained or privileged or loving than when I’m really dancing… not the self-conscious kind, but the real guts.
Anyhow, I made it home with nothing more than a kiss on the cheek and a content, and fell asleep.
The next day, boring stuff again… you know, boogie-boarding, walking down to Montanita, etc. Actually, the strangest thing was running into the girl I met in Cuenca, Selma, who was not supposed to be there, but was! Funny, but I had a limited time to chat with her. Mostly, I just enjoyed walking around in flip-flops on the dusty ground. I enjoyed feeling the lazy slow-down of places like Montanita. I enjoyed.
I also went to Dos Mangos, which was inland a ways, and bought some hand-made basket type stuff that was made by women in a collective designed to increase the economic affluence of a small, under-touristed, under-developed town where pigs and pups create holes out of dust-hills and yelp for love and attention as they scratch their flees. A sensation of having lived there before, of having gone barefoot mostly, and sat in the bars drinking and laughing with a group of people I’d known all my life. A sensation of making the living any way I could. I spend money in this place I’ve lived before.
Yah, so. My weekend… end to week. No, I tend to think of it as a Restart button. Pressed completely.
On the way home, we all squeezed into the back of L’s car… three heading home in the back seat this time instead of just me. But we clutched a watermelon between our knees (well, I did), and scooped its sweet-Ecuador innards out and juices and pelicans and white cranes and people biking and several pods of small dolphin-related whales riding the surf at La Playa de Bruhas, so named for the wicked undertows and turbulence tunnels. We scooped the sweet-innards. And when we were done:
“Just hold the watermelon rind until a donkey appears.”
Doing the paycheck gansta
The sensation of being totally vulnerable, like somebody can bump up against you and there goes one month’s worth of work, and one month’s worth of living off your savings.
The sensation of wad. Of pure unadulterated power of wad. You can fold it up and slip a money clip over it. You might lick your fingers and parse out a couple of bills. Yeah, Bills.
“Uh, yeah, I’d like only your finest. And I’ll probably slide a tip into your pocket.”
But what does one do with a wad of Bills? The sensation of unrefined fields of temptation.
There is something about taking a month’s earning into a bag, not a wallet (because it doesn’t fit) that makes you see the Life of Wad differently, what it is like like to hold that close to your body the result of all your movements, the distillation of your concerns and nightly obsession. Looking at it just a bit removed: oh, so this is what all that grammar was about; oh, so this is why I stayed up until two at night; oh, this is what result feels like. It makes you think about boiling sugar cane and purification processes that might leave you just a little heady. It makes you wonder about paper. About action. About paper action.
Give me the ATM machine, the slow accretion of spending, the sense of livelihood as one distance removed from life: abstraction: the epitome of work.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
continuation of "Swallow"...(Friday, May 20).... rambling free-association drafting thoughts.
The thing about Muebla is that she always had her holster prepared with the violence of truth, but never realized that truth finds a way to hide underneath the cliché’s and words people parse out in a way frequently more laden with the temporary than the eternal. Once, after a lifetime of her holster, I broke down and bought her a book on linguistics, signs and signifiers, and the uncommonalities of reference point; somehow I thought I could make her understand that we are all capable of many meanings at once, but she was highly insulted by my efforts and kept the book underneath our camper porta-potty until one day it disappeared with such surprising swiftness that I sat and mystically communed with language for several toilet journals.
What was it that made me realize? The moment, the second I saw it thoroughly? Perhaps it was the first time Sparrow fled home—a year, perhaps more of absence and fluctuating anxiety on all our parts. My mother would sit up at night, the camper awning unfolded and occasionally snapping as semi’s passed the road abutting our house.
Muebla had taken to parking the camper for months at a time, and we had been in Blaine for going on eleven months. So chairs were strewn out under the awning and our yard overflowed with flowerpots full of nothing more than intention, scraps of dreaming lumber that Fish collected in lieu of a job, a wheelbarrow with deflated tire, bed springs, trash bags, discarded tools with rusted holes, carvings—in short, every stereotype associated with that Type few actually claim membership of.
That night, I think I was beyond tired. I remember that. Fourteen years old, I was finally in that last ring of genuine hell before entering the numb grace of limbo. That is, I was almost done with junior high, but not done enough to avoid the snubs of future cheerleaders, the “boy, she’s got a fat ass” comments, the glances full of unreadable and cunning plans, the people cheating off papers, and the malignant tumors that walked every day through the halls, shedding off infected platelets at locker cells. That particular day had taken on the girth of torture, the elongated measurements of time that Einstein laid the basis for understanding: it’s all relative. Not a day, but a decade, similar to those days children tick off on advent calendars, desperately wondering if they have been as good as some fat man’s intangible expectations demand.
We moved so frequently really that I didn’t even have the buffer of a good friend between me and the evils of newly-released estrogen, although in my bitter moments, I was glad to suffer the solitude. During those times, “a good friend” could be more like an idea than an achievable creation, and to me, that idea seemed more of a machination designed to flush one out into the open. Thus, solitude allowed me the cover of green foliage, and usually if I just tiptoed softly enough over the twigs, few were able to spot me through my excellent camouflage.
That day though, I had used the bathroom to do what should never be done in a junior high. And although I had time to flush the low-pressure toilet twice, the third time was cut short by our PE coach intruding into the locker room and blowing the insidious whistle. Ms. G, a prancingly short Athlete (the worst characteristic to find in a PE teacher), was working us girls up to the Presidential Fitness awards, which included four forms of taxing the body: sit-ups, The Mile, flexed-arm hang, and sit-n-reach. I was horrible at all of them, which I of course blamed on moving frequently from fanatical-fitness districts to ain’t-got-no-fervor-for-nothin districts and then back again.
That month Ms. G was working us over on The Mile, which meant running a minute on the 1st of the month, 2 minutes on the second, and so on, until on March 31st she needed to route us out of the locker-room early in order to succeed in her mission to make us Physically Fit. Having been brought up somewhere between hippy, gypsy, semi-Buddhist Enlightened, and camper trash, I always wondered why Jr. Highs, which seemed in desperate need, didn’t invest in a Mental Fitness class in which we could recuperate from being constantly whipped to death by both PE teachers and each other. I figured that forty minutes of 360-crayon coloring would do wonders.
But I wasn’t so lucky. Instead, having run slightly more than two miles in a thirty-one minute period of time, I entered the locker-room dreadfully behind everyone else and found a group of highly-excited and tittering girls clustered around the three spartan toilets that composed the no-go zone. Tiffany was standing on the seat of one toilet, and her twin sister Kyra was on top of another. One stall, the one that I had faux-pax'ed in, was in between them with the door closed. Both of them were leaning over the stall walls to look down on afore-mentioned toilet, and when I walked in, Kyra looked up at me and hissed, “It was her.”
This is one of those phrases that lets you know the camouflage hasn’t worked today. Not much of a talker, I turned my back and made my way to the locker, trying to ignore the ruckus I had created. It doesn’t seem fair to have your bowel movements brought to the notice of thirty-three girls. But to tell the truth, it also did not seem like something that anyone would want to notice. That fateful day, I changed my clothes and listened to the following, and more, phrases:
“Doesn’t she know how to flush?”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“That is sooooo disgusting.”
To this day, I’m not sure why I was so mortified by such obvious war-mongering, but then I was young and even took offense when someone pointed out I was short, which was decidedly True.
Heading out of the locker rooms, dressed in my unfashionable baggy jeans, I couldn’t help pausing at the cluster and noting that Tiffany had found a broom and was trying to wedge the stick-end of it down into the stall, where I assumed she was trying to reach the handle. That sort of anger doesn’t come down on you frequently, but it arose, and before I left the locker-room, I gently shoved my way through the staring crowd, opened the stall door, announced “for the third time,” and flushed the toilet while shoving the broom handle out of my way. With that, I turned and for the rest of the day, wished I had someone I could just call and say “This is all Bullshit” to.
My imaginary friend would say, “Not in a technical sense.”
Yes, yes, I was tired that night when my mother curled up on a lawn chair, wrapped herself in a blanket, and started drinking to the sound of wind chimes and semi-trucks. Tired of crap, tired of my school, tired of not having my sister around to fill the function of imaginary friend. And so, I made myself a grilled-cheese sandwich, first scraping off the white grist that collected around the hardened cheese, and then went out to join my mother. For awhile, Fish was rooting through lumber, carting his hammer and nails from place to place, starting to hammer, and then abandoning tools in search of new tools. Muebla and I watched him, absently almost, the way it can sometimes be a relief to let the eyes rest on something you don’t have to interact with, but nevertheless vaguely interests you. Somewhere in the process, he lifted a burlap sack and discovered jumper cables, which he then carted off to his imaginary friend—The Buick.
Most of my parent’s offspring, particularly Fish, are really only explicable as products of a non-Catholic belief in the sins of neutering, or otherwise messing with beauty-creating genitalia. Eighteen-years old, Fish rarely budged from The Buick or his armchair, where he spent hours contemplating The Buick. I’m not sure what The Buick represented for Fish, but it seemed to provide limited outlet for his nascent talent, which of course was related to the genetics of our family. Of all of us, Fish is the one who constantly disappointed me; his skill—so wonderful—seemed to be wasted. But really, what is potential when you start thinking about it?
Just because you have a crop, doesn’t mean you have to share the contents.
And let’s face it, that was the day I realized how my mom’s crop had the potential to kill futures slowly, syllable by syllable.
Once Fish was gone, Muebla sighed and readjusted herself so that she was facing me. I found it uncomfortable, being the focus of my mother’s fickle attention and misery. Ever since Sparrow had left, she had dedicated herself to depression with a fervor that made the rest of her children left at home—Fish, Keri, Merlot, and myself—feel somehow inadequate, side-considerations. Did she see us? I wanted to ask. But we all knew the truth; she couldn’t see us. It didn’t make me feel any better to know that she couldn’t. Instead, it felt like a flaw in me; at fourteen, I wasn’t Enough. I wanted to do something to snap her out of it, to shake her, to startle her. I wanted her to comply.
But, as I was later to figure out with Sparrow, depression—whether genuine or self-centered or both—is not broken by longing. Depressives smoke their sadness, let its particular nicotine stimulate their memories. They chew sadness; its brittle crunch under their teeth is pure calcium that will re-enter their system when they swallow, and fortify their bones with dubious aid. They drink their sadness, spilling it on the counter when they’ve had too much. They eat their sadness, grow fat for their memories, choke on the cholesterol of fried compulsions. Without a doubt, support-groups should be called Sadness Anonymous rather than group therapy, because if wishes were fishes, or will alone was enough, the world wouldn’t need a sun, for Muebla as well as for Sparrow.
The distinction between Muebla and Sparrow was not subtle though, and perhaps was rooted in the oppositional qualities of their crops. Muebla held your words, whereas Sparrow held her own. Both could be violences, both held potential.
“What are you thinking?” my mother asked that night.
When crops run in the family, you think before you speak or give or dream. You parse out the various inflections and possibilities. You wonder when things will come back.
“I was thinking about you,” I told her.
“What in particular?”
“I was wondering if you’re okay. And I was wondering what Sparrow is doing.”
Okay, I’ll admit. I have no crop. I run tight with the moment. I hate holding on, holding back, holding up.
“Don’t mention her name, I can’t bear it,” was my mom’s short response. “I’m fine.”
“I’m sure she’ll call sometime. I’m sure she’s okay.”
Actually, I was more or less sure. That is, I knew she was still alive in body. Taro, our father nomad, had been traveling in Europe on his bicycle for five years now, and he called me a few weeks ago, told me he had heard word from Sparrow. He hadn’t actually seen her, but knowing she was in France, he left letters in each town he visited—sometimes at the mail boxes, sometimes with friends—knowing that the world was far smaller than we ever imagined.
“Last time I saw her, she was mostly quiet, but you know, her eyes. They said something. She thinks it’s my fault. When she was younger, she used to look at me with those eyes. So accusing. And there was that once when she was angry that she told me she would never forgive me for what we had done, she never would be able.”
Once my mother had started coughing things up, epileptic fits hit her hard. Her head bobbed, you could see her dredging forth the words, hurling them through her throat. The effort cost her—she would usually start crying—but maybe it was a relief too. I’m not sure. But the thing about crops is everything mixes together. I’ve noticed that it takes hard practice to sort the items in the crop, to decide what would be the best to chew at any one moment, and what would be the best to wait on. But more than that, the definition of “best” varies so much: tastiest? most bitter? most nutritional? most exotic? I’m not sure whether mom was able to choose, but sometimes it seemed to me that everything came out, lickety split, all the contradictions, and sometimes she’d almost purposely select the most bitter words to chew. She rambled on that night, fluxuating from side to pedulous side.
“But that night, she also told me that she didn’t want to talk to me. She wanted no word. Silence, she wanted silence. She didn’t want to talk about it. I never meant to be such a bad mother.” She paused then, and added, "But I don't know what she's ever given us. Maybe she's a bad daughter."
And that’s when I realized it. Just like that, a flash. Major realization about Muebla, or maybe crops in general. That which isn’t swallowed, isn’t digested.