Get Hip Record Store
Get Hip Record Store, Pittsburgh, PA
with Tom Heyman
The Grey Eagle
The Grey Eagle, Asheville, NC
with Tom Heyman
High Res Photos (please credit)
Europe: Chris Metzler / firstname.lastname@example.org
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Bombs Away Dream Babies...
Visiting Tucson last summer, I attended a demonstration in support of the so-called DACA kids and flashed back to some of the students I knew at Tucson High in the 70's. Being a white boy who voluntarily bussed himself across town every day to attend classes, I had little knowledge of life in the barrio, so I thought I'd ask my buddy and sublime singer-songwriter Fernando Viciconte what it's like to be a "DACA" kid.
You grew up without papers in LA, how much fear did you have of being deported?
I grew up undocumented in the 70’s and the early part of the 80’s. My parents and I feared being deported every single day. I was constantly told by my parents to not discuss my immigration status. If I was asked, I was instructed to just say that I was a citizen. I grew up in Pacoima (same town as Ritchie Valens), and immigration raids were pretty commonplace back in the day and the fear of deportation was legitimate and justifiable, so we lived with a healthy dose of fear and caution at all times.
Couldn't have been many other Argentinians around LA in the same boat, or were there?
There actually was quite a large Argentinian population in Los Angeles at the time. I remember my folks and I would regularly attend Argentinian social club events at city parks, which revolved around eating massive amounts of red meat and empanadas. My folks made many lifelong friends through this organization, but they also met more established Argentinian immigrants that tried to take an advantage of my parents by threatening to notify “La Migra” if they would not work for a lower wage, or if they complained about how they were treated in the work place. Mexican Joke: When there is lightening in the sky, an Argentinian thinks that God is taking flash photos of him.
Did you have Mexican pals you could relate to? Other nationalities?
Yes, Pacoima was and still is primarily a Mexican and Chicano neighborhood. Many of my first friends were Mexican or of Mexican descent but to my surprise at the time, the majority did not speak Spanish. Most kids in my neighborhood refused to speak Spanish because they did not want to get discriminated against, they just tried to assimilate as quickly possible. My parents could not speak English, so I became their main translator. I was always embarrassed and/or scared when my parents and I spoke Spanish in public because I did not want people to know that I was not an American.
Does all the current DACA news give you PTSD?
Sure! I feel for these families and especially, I feel for these kids because like myself, they didn’t choose to come to this country. All they know is life in the USA. Like many of these Dreamers, I was traumatized by my illegal status and I was permanently made to feel like an outsider because I am not an American and I am also not an Argentinian. Immigrants in this country have always gotten the shaft, so I should have not been surprised by the current DACA situation, but the elevated level of cruelty by this current administration has even surprised me.
Are you glad you grew up in LA in spite of it all?
Yes, I am glad that I grew up in LA because of the cultural diversity that I was exposed to. I met people from all over the world that had similar immigrant experiences, so it made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that I was not a criminal. You can disappear pretty easily in LA, it’s a great city to begin a new life, so I think that my folks made a good decision in making LA their Plymouth Rock.
You went to a very hardcore Baptist school, how did they approach your situation?
I started going to Faith Baptist in Canoga Park in 1980 and we finally got our green cards in 1982 (we immigrated 1970). After getting my legal residency, I still kept my status a secret. I was already called a wetback and a beaner by the white kids because my name was Fernando, so I had absolutely no intention of giving the bullies more ammunition by letting anyone know that I had a Green Card.
So the administration never knew?
The administration never knew and I had no intention of sharing any info with them. Many of the teachers that taught at my school had graduated from schools like Bob Jones University, which did not allow black students until the 70’s and did not allow mix race relations until 2000, so I did not think that they would have been too sensitive to my illegal immigrant plight.
What about UCLA, you were legal by then?
Yes, I was legal by the time I attended UCLA and by that point, I gave two fucks about what anyone thought about my previous illegal status. I became more politically enlightened and rather than hide, I became more active in Latino groups and social causes. UCLA was the polar opposite of my previous educational experience.
Define a Dreamer for me if you can, not the romantic stuff from the progressives or the demonization from the racists. Who is a Dreamer?
A Dreamer is a child that was uprooted from his homeland and was not given the choice of where he was going to live. A certain part of the Dreamer will alway always feel like an outsider. In my opinion, a Dreamer is a person living in a cultural no man’s land who will always be in search of his true identity. That being said, I think they just want to be allowed to work and raise a family without the fear of being separated from the ones they love, so they are just like everybody else.
Last question, did you know Colonel Tom Parker was undocumented?
I did not know! Do you think Elvis knew? I bet Elvis didn't because if he did, he probably would of had Tricky Dick deport the Colonel once he got wind of all that money he was stealing.
Yeah, back to Holland to face murder charges... >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Confessions of a Failed Misogynist
To the best of my recollection, I have never hit a woman, but I have committed rape... at least by my own definition. I was young, and so was she. We had been fooling around for a month or two, although I had another girlfriend at the time. Anyway, one afternoon I made her have sex when she didn't want to. Yes, she could have screamed, or poked me in the eye, but that doesn't change the fact that I dominated her into having sex emotionally and physically. We continued to see each other for a time and never spoke of it, the nature of shame I guess. Not long ago I found her online and apologized but didn't ask forgiveness, why make it worse? I'm not sure if she remembered exactly what I was talking about (my indiscretions were wide and varied), but she got the gist of it and was gracious in the extreme. That's more than myself, or any man really, deserves.
Of the four of us growing up, I was my mother's favorite, and maybe that's where it all started. As a middle schooler I could walk in reeking of beer, tobacco or weed and she wouldn't smell a thing. Neighbors would call complaining of this or that and she would believe me, not them. Obviously some sort of male privilege was at work here that I used to my advantage. At school as well I kept getting away with all sorts of shit, boys will be boys, but something about it all stunted my maturation. I became overly antagonistic, and the self-loathing later turned outward towards the few women that I truly loved. Do I regret my behaviour? Sure, especially the one incident above that has stayed with me all these years. It's who I was and still largely am, a rattlesnake defanged.
My misogyny was varied and manifested in different ways, some subtle, others less so. At the bookstore, if torn between two titles, I would buy the male author over the female. Somehow I found my way to Flannery O´Connor and Joyce Carol Oates despite it all, but don't ask me how. Music as well I leaned XY, someone as independent minded as Joni Mitchell didn't stand a chance with me, I preferred the more corralled yet defiant Marianne Faithfull. Nina Simone came later, a revelation. Like any good white liberal I romanticized all black women from Aretha to Angela Davis, but that was more political than anything else, and I still admire them to this day. Same with early Jane Fonda or Gloria Steinem, I dug their politics first and their beauty second, but still I viewed them through a sexist lense, the irony lost on me.
In sports, perhaps only women tennis stars did I admire more than their male counterparts, oh and gymnasts and ice skaters too, but of course all three sports have been sexualized to more than a degree. I'm certainly not the only young male who beat off to Dorothy Hamill's glorious ass as she leapt and twirled in Tokyo. With tennis, I always rooted for the cuter and more ethnic Evonne Goolagong to beat Chrissie. I disliked Billie Jean King because she would have none of that nonsense and played the game like a man. What that means now, I really have no idea, progress for sure.
As an adult, I was emotionally cruel to the women I loved, then enraged by their inevitable betrayal. I lived with my first real love for seven years, then was married for almost two decades. I did get some good songs out of both relationships, and they remain my muses to this day. In fact, I dream of them nightly and often one face will morph into the other while trying to help me with some difficult situation or another, and I'll awake shaken and distraught and completely alone. That's what happens when you fuck up irrevocably, you lose everything but your sentiments.
This all changed after my brain and marriage broke seven years gone. I went on some anti-psychotic medication and have lived alone ever since. The Buddhists say the end of desire is the end of suffering and I reckon that's true. I no longer actively pursue women and have to remind myself to masturbate occasionally to keep prostatitis at bay AKA priest's disease. Whether my interest waned due to the medication, my age, or a combination of both I have no idea. What I do find extraordinary is that I now can finally be friends with women with no sexual overtones getting in the way, a huge relief. I realize now how much I missed out on by excluding half the population through my own ignorance and prejudice. How much I was personally responsible for versus biology or the culture at large can be debated, but I never allowed myself to be racist in the same way I was sexist... certainly the stigma was far less for the latter whether in a locker room, office or cocktail bar.
Recently the news is all about a President who is unapologetically and irredeemably sexist. Undoubtedly he has been in all sorts of situations behaving in ways that demeans and degrades women. That his presidency follows someone who demonstrated the exact opposite is beyond sad, to use one of his favorite words. That any woman could have voted for him is confounding, then again self-loathing is not restricted only to white males, but to all who take advantage of their fellow human beings overtly or not. So much of all of this is vestigial behaviour left over from the jungle, survival of the cruelest. I'm very happy my own son displays none of my misogyny, the opposite in fact. How that happened is mostly due to his peer group, the greatly maligned millennials. It's time to hand the keys over to the kids, who aren't hung up on who's gonna drive, and we can finally put this bullshit to rest. It's too late for me, but not for them, let's see what they can do to make the world a better place.
I'm the son of an immigrant to the United States as is my own son. Both my father and my son's mother came from very modest beginnings and decided to become "naturalized" (strange term) citizens out of a sense of obligation I guess, or perhaps a pragmatic desire to have the same rights as everyone else, at least on paper. Both are more "American" than I am, having lived the immigrant experience from start to finish. To get by, both worked low-paying jobs at first, then slowly raised themselves up through education and hard work. Both enjoyed contractual/union job security with good benefits but had to stay flexible for that and move to where the opportunity was, a very American idea. Their respective accents were seldom a source of derision, in fact their foreignness often helped them in social situations. In short, the country embraced them and they both believe they have done much better in their adopted country than they would have back home on two different continents.
My own story is less sanguine. I dropped out of college at 18 to play in a band. Shortly thereafter I got busted for a felony and fled to a large city where I worked in warehouses alongside immigrants legal and otherwise. A few times I started school again but could never put more than a few classes together at a time. Later, the music and drugs took over but what I really wanted to do was write serious fiction but didn't have the patience or humility. In my thirties, I wound up back in my hometown painting houses, then got a professional job in an office that sucked the soul right out of me. In short, I had every opportunity to live the "American Dream" but decided otherwise, nobody's fault but mine.
I have a hard time believing that any white male living in the United States is a "victim" of anything in the greater sense. If you don't like the way globalization looks from West Virginia or Ohio, imagine its charms in Oaxaca or Mali. Putting angry white males in Congress who obstructed a very capable black President from helping the "common man" with jobs, education and healthcare was a strange idea. Now that their chosen fascist billionaire is in place who will the white males blame next for their woes? Certainly not themselves, that would take courage and intellectual honesty, two things in very short supply.
Lest one thinks I'm just another elitist, all I can say is I live by my wits on ten dollars a day and have just enough stashed to last me through Christmas. Come the new year, I'll be in the same boat as millions of other less fortunate immigrants all over the world, with the notable exception that I can always return "home" to the world's richest nation where middle-aged males who look like me are still at the top of the food chain and the bombs being dropped are on the football field and not on schools, hospitals and markets.
As for my son, he's eligible for a 2nd passport and might have his own immigrant experience waiting. That he would have to leave because of the rise of domestic fascism is beyond ironic and too sad for words. That he would leave only to witness the return of fascism in the "old country" of his mother is something I don't want to consider but is entirely plausible. Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide...
I was sober once, I mean after childhood, from 1993 to 2003. That's right motherfuckers, ten fucking years clean, better listen to me! Sure, whatever... give us your experience, strength and dope but don't step on it none, okay?
I really liked having my mornings back, that was the best part. Getting in shape was nice too and I shaved a few strokes off my game walking miles and miles chasing a little white ball. That led to a job in an office and what I refer to as my missing years, just like Jesus. Unfortunately, the world hadn't changed and I was expected to go along to get along, accept life as it was or I'd get strung out again and we all know what that means: "jails, institutions and death!" Only trouble is it's all bullshit, or most of it anyway.
The "therapeutic value of one addict helping another?" Fair enough, we all need someone to lean on, that's for sure, but it all kinda goes wobbly after that. The problem with sobriety based 12 step programs is the data just ain't there to support all the public policy love. Five to ten percent efficacy rate for treating addictions, no modality does much better than that. In fact, the highest percentage of success is no treatment at all, people stop or modify their destructive behaviors by themselves everyday, surprise surprise. Still the rooms are full of certitude and platitudes: "your disease progresses even if you aren't using", "you're not responsible for your addiction but you are for your recovery", "some people are sicker than others", "my best thinking got me here" and my favorite, "the program is perfect but its members aren't." Say again? It's all watered down Calvinist and Oxford Group teachings and really needs to be called out by those that study this stuff scientifically (happening more and more), or better yet, a documentary like "Going Clear" would really piss the thumpers off and incite some real debate.
Here's a thought, "double dippers" like Obama's current drug czar Michael Botticelli should separate their personal beliefs from public policy and operate based on facts, not the dubious Big Book. Drug courts sentencing addicts to AA or NA meetings is definitely not cool or legal (but beats jail); why not offer a variety of treatment options, not a one size fits all approach? Harm reduction does benefit society, free needle exchanges and subsidized methadone should be de rigueur but often run into resistance from the "recovery community" since this is society "enabling" addicts. Let's spread those treatment dollars around and offer people coming out of detox more than a list of AA meetings and folksy mantras, some sort of life purpose perhaps besides just staying clean?
Look trudgers, if you're happy I'm happy, just don't program speak to me like some sort of Jehovah Witness for Dr. Bob, or worse, that Drew creep. Your snarky comments about this person or that being in denial (talk about denial!) or including me in your world view just because you saw me at a meeting once thirty years ago is a total drag. Remember "attraction not promotion?" What about "live and let live?" Sound familiar? Don't get me wrong, there are many wonderful people who truly believe in this stuff and whom I adore the world out of but I'm tired of the sanctimony. I'll try not to throw up on your shoes if you just keep your beliefs to yourself, fair enough?
Which brings me back to me (of course!) and why I decided to start ingesting mind altering chemicals again after a decade of blinding clarity. The main reason is I missed it... beer, wine and weed are three of the greatest things on earth, hard cider a close fourth. I also grew tired of living a fear based life. In my thirteen years "back out", I've never had any real desire to do heroin again, and cocaine was always some sort of idiot's drug to begin with. Meth? You got to be kidding. I don't use anything during the day and smoke a little weed at night, usually a couple of puffs after a few drinks and I prefer the lighter strains of my youth to keep the black helicopters at bay. I hate hangovers and do my best to avoid, not always successfully. Is it healthy to drink every night? Probably not, but they might argue with you in France or Italy. Russians? We'll just leave them out of this discussion if you don't mind.
Now I'm not saying I'm a "normie" or anything so call off the intervention. I did wind up in the nut house when my marriage imploded but what the docs wanted to know was not what was going on lately but where had I detoured years before? The best I could figure was when I became a "productive member of society" and kept my expectations low and reasonable and lived "life on life's terms" I stopped being who I am which is basically a crazy motherfucker who thinks art trumps reason every day of the week. I was encouraged by the shrinks to be myself again, bang a gong or something. Since then I've done some decent creative work, become even closer to my son, and pretty much accepted that a "borderline everything" guy like me (according to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) should probably live alone and be grateful for the few great friends I have. My mistake was not quitting drugs, but stopping myself from living life on my terms, as we all must do regardless of any humility mumbo jumbo from whatever the source. Will things end well for me? Can't see how, but surviving by one's wits is not for the squeamish. So that's it, no big deal, your mileage might vary and no, I won't be going back to the rooms anytime soon, that shitty coffee nearly killed me.
Recently I spent 33 hours at Newark Liberty Airport trying to get back to Mexico City from Europe. It was an odd trip from the start with the innocent Dutch waif at Amsterdam's United Airlines check-in convinced she had snagged a master criminal/terrorist because I could not provide her with an airline ticket showing myself leaving Mexico within 180 days. "Six months is a long time dear, I'm sure even a gimp like me can walk to a border with weeks to spare". She eventually agreed to let me get as far as Newark and arriving there I felt rather hopeful that I would be back in DF by 10 o'clock that night. I settled in and started watching the Democratic National Convention that was on CNN everywhere. I like my America in small measures nowadays, an afternoon in United Airlines' Terminal C was not an unpleasant thought by any means. Little did I know...
Except I did know. Six weeks prior my son had flown on this exact same flight and had been delayed six hours after a 30 minute thunderstorm hit Newark. A week later my 84 year old Dad had also suffered through a United flight due to the ground crew over-fueling a plane then waiting three hours to remove it. He later had no wheelchair waiting for him on a connection at DFW after being reassured that one would be provided and had to hobble terminal to terminal or miss his connection. United Airlines has been voted the worse airline every year since its merger with Continental and no wonder, stories of its negligence and malfeasance are legion, especially among musicians. My own hopes disappeared when a large weather system hit the Northeast right around my late afternoon boarding time. Next came a series a delays with the flight finally being canceled at midnight. Customer service lines to be rebooked were 4 hour waits, Europeans with crying kids and no USA data plans were in big trouble because internet connectivity in the terminal was barely existent due to an awful service known as Boingo. Weighing my options, I put myself on standby for an early flight the next morning, the earliest I could get a confirmed seat was a day later. I figured if I couldn't get out in the morning, I would put myself on a flight the next day and try to get a room in Newark close to the Ironbound where at least I could drink some decent wine and eat nicely charred meat at one of my fave Brazilian places. I had so far spent 12 hours in purgatory.
Newark's Terminal C is an homage to the completely deluded United Airlines corporate culture as filtered through the Byzantine and corrupt Port Authority. It's as if they thought that the terminal itself would be a sought after destination with its overpriced brand stores and restaurants that pretend to be more than food court fare but really aren't. Further faux sophistication is on display with all orders (no cash accepted!) placed through fixed iPads that are constantly telling you how great United Airlines is. What management fails to understand is the constant gate changes, delayed/canceled flights and surly staff create a counter-narrative that infuriates its customers when presented with such over-the-top branding. Currently this includes their equating themselves with the Olympic ideal after paying millions of dollars to be "Team USA"s official airline complete with an "up close and personal" movie shoved down one's optic nerve throughout the terminal and on all flights. Good luck in Rio, you stupid bastards. Financial services such as United Airlines credit cards are also constantly hawked with shills wandering the terminal looking for easy marks. It's as if the company has completely forgotten what its actual business is, namely flying people from one place to another in an efficient, comfortable and safe manner. In the news, United's obscenely paid CEO had recently undergone a heart transplant when what he really needed was a functioning brain.
Being on the road for the past month, I had purposely ignored world events from Oaxaca to Istanbul with varying degrees of success. Now I was itching to get caught up on the upcoming election and whether the Democrats could hold on to the presidency. Outside of a very loud shirt for sale (next to a pink Hillary one) there was thankfully little sign of Trump anywhere. Sanders supporters were visible however, watching CNN and muttering about all the deception and lies. Transfixed by Michele Obama's speech, I saw a tough lady determined that her husband's legacy not be denied by some orange flavored psychotic clown. Fair enough, but what really struck me was how similar the Democrat's pep rally in Philadelphia was to this glorified mall I was trapped in that promised things that just weren't true, had never been true, will never be true. We all know that any individual who constantly reminds others of their personal greatness (outside of Muhammad Ali) is really just a narcissistic shitheel, so why do we allow transnationals and their bought politicians to treat us like idiots? All this money United Airlines and the DNC spends on marketing themselves, why not just be what you purport to be instead of blowing smoke up all our collective asses? United and the DNC's vision of themselves are completely estranged from reality, both are bloated and ineffective organizations that have forgotten why they exist, what their actual role in society is. Both have set up rules that benefit the top echelon at the expense of the drones. Looking around the terminal at all the first world refugees (at least for the night), I wondered how much money this was costing them while United was saving every penny it possibly could and offering virtually no assistance or even decent advice. How much is the DNC spending in Philly I wondered, not to mention the never-ending campaign itself? As I heated up the temperature of the terminal kept going down and down, fortunately I had a soccer jacket but many were dressed in only shorts and tee shirts. It was going to be a long night, a drink or three was probably in order.
At the bar things improved. They were getting ready to close (it was after 1am), but as a few of us drifted in the Peruvian manager decided to serve us and even keep the kitchen open for burgers at least. He was a very cool cat with a hip demeanor who was obviously liked and respected by his employees who hailed from Haiti, Poland, Patterson and beyond, a typical tri-state area workforce. My fellow customers had flown in from Liberia, some city in the Middle East (he wouldn't say), London, Frankfurt... the usual mix in any international terminal. We all were astounded at United's complete disregard for their customers and compared notes as to itinerary's and strategies on how to get the fuck out of here. What I started to notice and admire, and which would continue for the next 20 hours, was the camaraderie that flourished under admittedly 1st world inconvenience but still major pain in the ass conditions. For instance the young dude from the Middle East put the Liberian's burger on his card when the latter discovered he couldn't use cash. "What am I gonna do, let my brother starve?" We talked of other travel nightmares, our collective global experience, how politicians and their corporate masters are always behind the times, holding the world back, serving the very few who can afford to join their club. Wandering out to the terminal a few Anchor Steams later, I saw strangers commiserating, sharing snacks, lending warm clothes to one another. It was amazing that in lieu of any sort of responsible caring reaction by United Airlines, the people themselves were providing basic necessities for each other. Maybe we all still got a shot at this thing called civil society if we are simply left to our better natures, without all the patriotic gibberish and corporate mindfucking. Exhausted, I collapsed on a ice-cold steel bench right outside the TSA screaming area. A few hours rest was all I needed, it would soon be morning if not in all of America, then at least in Newark.
Waking up stiff and cold I headed to the thankfully clean toilets. I brushed my teeth and shaved, then got very lucky after a nasty encounter with the gate-prick on my overbooked standby flight. After hearing him offer 500 dollars to anyone willing to be bumped for a detour to Houston first before connecting down to DF, I approached his highness and asked if I could do the same, forget the 500 beans. "Absolutely not" he thundered. "But dude, my flight was canceled last night, why does a confirmed passenger on this flight have more rights than me?" "You are a standby passenger, take it up with customer service!" "You mean back to the line of death?" Beyond pissed, I asked another gate agent if there was a supervisor around and she pointed me in the direction of a tall blonde in normal street clothes hovering at gate C-102. Explaining the situation, she immediately got me a confirmed seat on the same canceled flight from the day before although online I could only have been placed on standby. "You know my saviour, I remember Continental as being a decent airline, it must be hard to work under such conditions after the merger." She looked at me startled, then softened, "how did you know I used to work for Continental? You have no idea how difficult it has been, I spend my time apologizing to people all day long, I had to go into therapy."
I wish I could say it ends there but it doesn't. The afternoon flight was delayed as well, a "minor maintenance issue". The plane itself was ancient and sitting on the boiling tarmac waiting for a few no-show bags to be taken off (maybe they had committed suicide the night before?), the temperature inside the cabin rose and rose due to an inadequate AC system. A desperate young mother stripped her infant of clothing and rushed her through first class to get some ice to cool her down. The flight attendants and pilots kept apologizing but no free booze or food was offered later, headquarters would fire them for being so kind. The video screens kept showing the same Team USA flies United Airlines Olympic trailer followed by instructions to swipe a credit card to get Direct TV of all things. Most wanted to just turn the damn thing off but couldn't figure out how. After finally taking off two hours after boarding, I ordered a well deserved half-bottle of decent California Zin and a tapas snack box and finally relaxed. Starboard there was a beautiful sunset and as the jet carried me south and homeward bound I thought of all the real refugees in this world that weren't nearly so lucky, that their nightmare was just beginning. How did we all get so far from home?
Rock 'n' Roll Disease
Like all illnesses, food poisoning has its own rhythms and rituals, the most obvious of which need not be described. Perhaps one detail, I use my left hand to both wipe and purge, so surely I am reinfecting myself over and over again no matter how much I wash. After an hour of dry heaving I give up and return to bed to die, if only. There I hallucinate and ruminate, sleep is impossible and a man's life gets reduced to a few sips of water and a sentence or two of Querelle and the rest of Genet's degenerates.
The previous night started at a dirty ass rock club, the kind of place every major city should have, but few do anymore. It is run by a self described anarchist who had recently been shut down for not paying tribute to the local corrupt powers that be. He is smart and crafty and does not like me much, why I do not care but completely understand. The club's entrance is street level and after paying the toll one climbs the stairs to a dank pit (yes, counterintuitive, but the main room does feel "down" like a basement) where several bands will play for the next 5 hours or so. There is nowhere to sit, the bathrooms are rank, personal comfort is not the objective here. One tiny bar hovers in a corner and sells only beer and water. Money has been spent on the PA however, and the techs that run it are behind glass in the back of the room like scientists observing a large Petri dish overflowing with bacteria. The club holds maybe 250 people and every time I'm here it is packed.
I hang out front at first, speaking bad Spanish to the few friends who put up with it. Cops troll by (lights always flashing) looking for open containers but we're too crafty for that. The whole city smells like weed but there is none being smoked here, the club is under constant surveillance by one faction or another. Argued truth is what happens inside and this is a country of accepted lies. The anarchist is as white as I am and if others turn their back on class and privilege like he has, well that could be very dangerous indeed.
I make my way back upstairs to watch the first band and they are very good. They play garage rock with an organist front and center, very much like that great band from Boston in the 80's. I mention this to a young musician friend but he just shrugs, he would know the 60's originals but not my generation's take on things. No pasa nada, the circle keeps spinning and clubs like this keep history alive while forging a new way ahead. I squeeze my way to the front, grab a beer and slip behind the backstage curtain, no one cares if I belong there or not.
The next band goes on and I watch them while sitting on a drum stool. There is no real backstage, just a cage behind me to lock shit in if it gets left behind. A fan is blowing but it's hot and fetid. The crowd loves these guys who play a kind of psychedelic Ital-Mex western music but on a level beyond cliche. Their leader is a serious composer and guitarist who invites me up to sing a couple of songs. The crowd tolerates me like a juggler at a traffic light and after forgetting a few lyrics I'm relieved most don't speak English. Afterward, I feel the elated exhaustion of an old man who really shouldn't be swimming past the breakers anymore but has made it back to shore.
The final band is the previous one plus two percussionists and a theremin player. They play cumbia like the Brits played the blues: distorting the melody and exaggerating the beat. They have a different crowd and many have left with others arriving to dance the night away. The cumbia junkies are older and wealthier, many high on this or that. The relentless rhythm drives the women crazy and they can't stop moving, the club takes on a smell of pussy and sweat. I watch their asses but not with any real lust, I don't know how to dance anyway and could never really fuck longer than a typical pop tune. It all looks like just too much work and I finally take my leave.
Walking home I let the city embrace me. There is little street lighting and every guidebook would advise against what I'm doing. The sidewalks are full of kids returning home, the metro closes at midnight and taxis often triple their rates this late at night. Coming across three wooden picture frames of different sizes leaning against a tree, I grab them for my bare-walled studio. The frames remind me of my lost family, I start to cry a little and a great hunger wells up that needs to be met. I pass street stall after street stall that offer various delights but none meet my fancy and by the time I do stop I realize it is the very last place I should eat. Regardless, I order my demise and savor nothing as I chew, the microbes are odorless and tasteless, nature at her most devious. I will be deathly ill within a few hours.
Food poisoning and rock 'n' roll have one thing in common, they both can purify the soul. Puking and shitting cleans one out like nothing else, as does a beat that swings relentlessly, resetting internal clocks to that of the sun and moon. We need to be reminded occasionally of our animal nature, just a cunt hair removed from the caves and jungles of our ancestors. Don't forget fermented drinks became essential because the water was bad, you had to get fucked up a little to stay alive. I'll be staying away from street food and nasty rock clubs for awhile, but I can't stay away forever. When things get too certain I'll be back, curious as ever and ready to die all over again.
A Week in Paradise
I have come to paradise seeking answers. It is a tourist destination, it hardly matters where, only that the bad stuff doesn't happen here, it occurs across that river or over that mountain. Soon there will be a new highway and everything will change. I am interested in this but I have to be careful. I am safe as long as I don't spend too much, or get too drunk or sunburn, or ask too many questions.
I am sitting in a restaurant, modest, clean. I have been here a week and am thinking about leaving in the morning. A man plays guitar only adequately but has a beautiful voice, people applaud after every song. I am a little drunk after watching a big game in a bar named after a foreign city to make tourists comfortable, at ease. I had been drinking exactly five beers there every night, a temporary fixture to break up the monotony for the regulars. I am good at listening after a third beer, my earlier bluster replaced by an inquisitiveness that charms the locals into revealing fact disguised as rumor and gossip presented as fact. Here, everything is true and everything is a lie, believe what you want, you have the right to create your own reality, but only that. I eat my food and listen to the singer and think about the last few nights spent drinking and learning things I thought I wanted to know.
At the bar the bartender's name is Ricardo. He is from another country but has lived in paradise for twenty years. We didn't talk much my first couple of nights there, but I observed him and decided he was from either Italy or Argentina. He speaks three or four languages and puts everyone at ease. He drinks a beer roughly every 45 minutes, a brand not for sale in the bar. The owner knows this and doesn't mind, he also drinks this private beer but poured into a glass, whether out of preference or propriety I can't determine. The owner is also from somewhere else and tells me the bar has changed hands three times in as many years. I don't ask why because I know why, or think I do. The new highway, or more specifically, the promise of one.
My third night in the bar a young woman comes in, also from somewhere else. She hadn't seen Ricardo for several years. They talk about people they know, who is still around and who is gone. Most have left, off to other paradises in other countries. Ricardo tells her of a motorcycle accident, how his face had to be completely rebuilt. I am amazed because he looks normal, he must have received excellent care. He says he lost all his teeth, is nearly blind in one eye and deaf in one ear and that this last year has been one big black hole. He explains that he never goes out anymore, just to work here at the bar, his therapy he calls it. She finishes her beer and tries to pay but he won't let her. She gives him a big hug and leaves.
Ricardo knows I was eavesdropping and when there is a break in the game I ask him if he has family here. He tells me he has a daughter whose 15th birthday is later in the week. I mention my son who is two years older than her and just had his own birthday. He takes a drink and speaks of another younger daughter and then, almost as an afterthought, he says his oldest daughter died a few months before. How old was she I ask? 19. What happened I wonder? Ricardo gives me a sharp look, before I can apologize he says he doesn't want to talk about it. I murmer something about a parent's worst nightmare and he gets himself another beer. The moment passes, he comes and sits down at my table and we talk of other things.
Sitting here now, in the modest and clean restaurant, and eating a rather poorly prepared local specialty, I am grateful I had not asked Ricardo about a doctor who was murdered a few months back. This incident had intrigued me no end because he was well known in the community and widely admired. The victim had saved many lives through his surgical skill, a specialist in trauma surgery. A photo had run in a regional paper of his body lying on a dirt road with one of his eye balls detached, quite gruesome. I had a feeling his murder was related to the new road, there had been many home invasions recently and people were being terrorized. It's the highway I thought, people are being chased away to get their land and businesses, has to be.
Tonight was Ricardo's night off. I had gone to the bar as usual to watch the final game. A regular was there whom I had exchanged pleasantries with two nights before. He told me he was trying to sell his modest home, he was sick of paradise. I mentioned Ricardo's oldest daughter and he told me she had been murdered. Do you know about the doctor he asked me? Well it turns out, Ricardo's daughter was one of his girlfriends, she and another girl were murdered after the doctor's wife hired her daughter's gangster boyfriend to do the grisly deeds. The doctor had been tortured for hours with an icepick before dying of shock. What about the girls I asked, were they tortured too? The man just shrugged and went back to the game.
As I finish my meal and drink one last beer, I think I know what happened. Ricardo had his awful crash and was operated on by the doctor. During the post-op recovery Ricardo's oldest daughter was in charge and had frequent meetings with the doctor who became smitten with her and gave Ricardo extra attention and care in order to impress her. They started an affair that enraged his wife, she knew of another girl as well. She complained to her daughter (from a previous marriage) who told her boyfriend, who then offered his lethal services. The highway had nothing to do with it.
Here in paradise things happen, then they happen for another reason, then they never happened. The last twist is the surgeon's wife is also a doctor who makes life and death decisions on a regular basis. Perhaps she grew tired of this and wanted to make one more mortal call before starting a new life as a hotel owner or restaurateur. Maybe they had been offered a decent price for their property and he refused, infuriating her. Maybe she was set up by the daughter's boyfriend. She currently sits in a cell somewhere but no one believes it will be for long. Her husband's murder made the papers but the killing of Ricardo's daughter did not, nor the other girl. Maybe it never happened and justice, like the highway, will never arrive.