I’m tired now.
I woke yesterday morning and found out that I was out of marijuana, and I was not liking it, not one bit. So, I drove east, past the CATIE grounds, out of Montalba, towards the place I thought I could get some. Driving all of that way just to get grass is a hassle, but I’d begun seeing it as a means to ‘stirring things up a bit’, and break out of patterns. It’s like building random chance occurrences into the plan.
That’s what I smugly told myself, passing the turn off to Tres Equis, gazing down into the Reventazón valley, on the left. Even in the grey overcast light, it’s beautiful, but when you get down into it, the going can be tough.
It was heavily overcast and raining intermittently as I went over the top of the mountain pass. I hit the new highway at the stop sign in Siquirres. I pulled into a gas station in town. I checked the oil, and made sure everything was running okay.
It was still running hot, but it was alright. I distinctly remember deciding, at that moment, to get the radiator flushed. I had just about everything else ‘fixed’, already.
I pulled out of the gas station, accelerating hard. I picked up speed and went straight into the passing, and oncoming traffic, lane. It was a double solid, but there was no one coming. I came around a corner to get past toxic black plumes coming from a much worn out tanker truck, grinding it out, well under the in-town speed limit. I had a good head of steam; I was already close to 100kph with my foot on the floor, so I’d be by it in an instant, anyhow.
But around the apex, I was staring straight ahead into a radar gun, held in front of a pair of aviator glasses, over a broad and increasing grin. It was like a sucker punch to the solar plexus.
I pulled over, on to the shoulder right away; there was no doubt about the situation.
As he approached through the heavy mist, his features became clearer in the side-mirror. Still smiling, he swaggered up to the window. I felt the beads of cold sweat running down my back.
All I could think about was hating that fucking hunk of junk, the god damned car, one fucking disaster to another. I should have unloaded it by now.
There was another car still back there. It must be a busy spot for that kind of business.
I concentrated on breathing, slowly in, and slowly out. I was consciously trying allow my muscles to relax. I could feel a slight easing of the tightness.
I met his grin with a level gaze, as relaxed and cooperative as best I could manage.
“Buenos dias,” he started with, and then followed with the normal questions. Where am I from? How did I get here? Oh, you drove that thing all the way here, from what country? Muy frio, non? <<Don’t you love our beautiful country?>>
<<I love it here.>>
<<We don’t have to hurry about so much, here. ¿Where are you going to, in such a hurry?>>
I told him, as best I could, in Spanish, that I was going to the east coast, hoping to get a little bit of sun on my soggy, puckered flesh. He seemed to like this answer; he said he thought it was a good idea. He told me that just because it was cloudy in Siquirres, didn’t mean it would be cloudy on the beach. <<Going to the beach is a great idea. You do that.>>
He pulled out a menu of violations, and starts ticking them off: speeding 50+ kph, inside city limits, that means the fine is doubled, lovely, in a no passing zone! That means it’s tripled! He whistled between his teeth, and grunted, keeping back a laugh.
Someone who was driving by honked their horn. The cop looked up, paused, then pointed at him, smiling, <<you still owe me, Little Balls.>>
The guy pulled over. The cop walked over to the beat up little van. I saw them engage in lively and cordial-looking conversation. They talked, in animated fashion, for fifteen minutes. The drizzle was getting heavier the whole time. With my window rolled down, my hair was soaking, water streamed down my face. I was a bit surprised how it soothed me. I felt a strange sense of appreciation of the moment, and the abandon to just sit there and feel the rain fall upon me.
Finally, he sauntered back to the window, and looked down at me, as if he’s trying to figure out what to do. I was undoubtedly fucked, and resigned to it, but oddly I couldn’t feel any of the expected malevolence, not even a symbolic measure of it. It was strange, but I didn’t fight it.
He took my documentation, and went back to his car.
Ten minutes passed. My anxiety increased. I recognized the ploy; this was, ‘the sweat’, where they leave you waiting, in fear, so that the extortion is clean and easy.
It must have been another fifteen minutes before I saw his door open in the rear-view mirror. He paused, leaned in and took something from the passenger seat. As he walked towards me, I saw that it was a newspaper, which he held above him. The rain had been steadily, almost imperceptibly, getting harder and harder. It was pouring as he stood there at the window again.
His smile was washing out, but I could still see a residual grin at the corners. He explained, patiently, almost ceremonially, how dire my situation was. “Su situación es desesperada.” <<Normally, under such circumstances, the car should be impounded. …>>
<<… this fucking rain; fucking whore!>> But he was laughing. Without another word, he turned and walked to the car that was already there when I was pulled over. He got in it. I could see him talking, smiling, laughing and shaking his head.
I rolled up the window, leaving a crack open, so the windows wouldn’t fog too much. Where I wasn’t wet from the rain, I was soaked from sweating. I remembered a similar pattern when Johnny and I got stopped in La Paz, on the Baja. But in comparison, the stop in Siquirres was verging on comical, like a parody of an actual extortion. I was hoping my credit card could contain the financial damage. It seemed pretty straight-forward that bribery was the preferred outcome for him, and I could bribe the guy my cash dope money; but I just don’t know how to initiate the negotiation. I was reconciled to my fate, ready to go to the station, and get the car impounded. I reckoned that I might be able to get another grand out of the credit card. If I could get the money out of it, I’d continue with the plan to go to the coast, but I’d get even more grass.
Then there was rapping at the window! I hadn’t noticed him walking back to my window. It snapped me out of the manic calculations about my likely fate.
I opened the window, wondering what the cost of my inattentiveness would be. He asked about Canada; ‘what do I do there?’ He took notes, though I don’t know how, it was pouring rain. He went again. The rain poured in; I’d rather get soaked then have it up, and he waiting. I wished I could just ask him ‘how much?’
Then he was back. He handed me my documents, soaked from brief exposure to the rain. He reassured me that just because it is raining in Siquirres, it doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be sunny on the coast. Then, for the first time in the encounter, he spoke English, “have a good time.” He threw me one last wry smile, then he walked back to his car, and got into it. I could see him take his hat off, and then shaking the water off it. He honked as he pulled away at speed, gravel shooting out behind him.
It took me a few minutes to shake off the ‘out-of context’, ‘what-the-fuck’ disorientation.
Very briefly, I considered quitting, and turning back to Montalba. But somehow I knew that actually going to the coast was necessary for my redemption.
It was perfectly clear when I got to Puerto Antigua.
It was clear when I woke up on the beach, at first light, this morning. I didn’t see a cloud until I reached Limón in the afternoon. There was a stoppage on the highway heading back to Siquirres; it was last light when I pulled into the parking spot in front of Casa Gringo, a couple of hours ago. I ate some left-over casada, then rolled this fat, double-length joint.
I brought it, with a beer, out here to the couch on the front porch.
There is nobody about. I light the joint and lie back along the couch, sipping beer between puffs.
I feel sleep pulling me down into another consciousness; I welcome it. The sharp sense of pending disaster that has been gripping me is fading into a strange, contented acceptance of my situation.
* * *
I’m awake. It’s late. It must be past noon. I’m hungry. I pull on some clothes. I walk out, across and along, towards the foot bridge across the river, at the west end of San Rafael. Across it and down a narrow alley, I go. I emerge onto the main street, south of the tracks.
I get some cold beer at the booze store.
At the next door down there is a place that roasts chicken in a big glass oven. I can see flames blazing high. A thin man, thirty or forty, grabs a hose, and sprays down the fire. Thick steam, mixed with the smoke, rises from the pit.
“¿Está el bombero?”
<<Fire is bad. Smoke is good. It puts the flavour into the meat, and, it lowers the heat to the good temperature.>>
<<I want to get a chicken. ¿If I eat it here, can I drink beer?>>
<<I don’t serve beer.>>
<<I have some with me.>>
<<Yes, you can drink it. Please sit down. ¿A chicken, is there anything else that you would like?”
I can see greens in a large bowl. <<¿Is that salad?>>
<<Yes, that’s a green salad. ¿Would you like some of that?>>
<<Yes, please. That’s exactly what I would like. Nothing on it.>>
<<No problem. ¿Would you like some bread with that, too?>>
<<Yes. Some bread would be good, please. ¿What kind of wood do you use for that fire?>>
<<I get sugar cane root. It’s full of energy. It burns hot and slow. It’s good.>>
<<You have an accent.>>
<<I’m from Argentina.>>
<<Argentina. You have beautiful women, there.>>
<<¿And you, where are you from, you have an accent, too?>> He smiles.
<<How could you could tell?>> I grunt a couple of chuckles, <<I’m from Canada, hombre.>>
<<¿From Canada? It’s very cold there.>>
<<Right now it is; at least, that’s what they tell me. ¿But it’s also cold in Argentina, no? ¿There are times? ¿Winter, no?>>
<<No, no. ¿Who told you that?>>
<<¿What about Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, it must be cold there, in the winter?>>
<<Yes, it’s true. But nobody lives there. Just a moment, please.>> He turns to a woman, who’s just appeared behind the counter. He instructs her to prepare my order, and to serve the customers who have started to queue behind me.
<<I’ll go, and let you do your business.>>
<<No, it’s okay.>> He’s busy taking three chickens off of a skewer. He says to the girl, <<One for the gentleman, over there>>, he nods to a man standing behind me, <<and the lady wants a half, with a salad.>> He returns his attention to me as he works.
<<I know a restaurant in Malaga, Spain,>>, I say, <<run by an Argentine; it’s a… ¿How do you say it, fry? ¿No, grill? He cooks meat, especially beef steak. He imports it from Argentina.>>
<<Yes, it’s the best meat in the world.>>
<<That’s exactly what he says. His name is Gustavo.>>
<<¡That’s my name!>>
He reaches his hand over the high counter; we shake.
<<Pleased to meet you, Dean.>>
<<Same here, Gustavo, it’s my pleasure. This Gustavo, in Malaga, uses olive tree roots. He said in Argentina, he used cherry tree.>>
<<Yes, cherry tree is a good wood. It burns very hot, very long. It’s full of energy. Good smoke. The sugar cane root is good, too. It is also full of energy, but it doesn’t add the flavour equal of the cheery tree.>>
Just then the flames flare up again. Gustavo hoses it down.
<<It’s hot in there.>>
<<It’s perfect now.>> He points to a thermometer on the side of the oven. <<Good smoke.>>
I can see that the woman has set a table with bread and salad on it, in the small tent dining room. Gustavo is cutting up a chicken. <<This is yours. It’s best right now.>>
<<Thanks, man. Thanks very much for the talk.>>
<<Let me know how the chicken is.>>
I nod, and walk over to sit down. I crack a beer and place it on the table. I can see the young woman picking up the chicken, smiling at me. She approaches with it.
I start eating a fork-full of salad. It’s plain, mostly lettuce, some cucumber and carrots, but it’s fresh. I put some olive oil and vinegar on it, sprinkle a pinch of salt, and take another fork full. She sets the chicken down in front of me. I crunch through the improved salad, smiling at her as she withdraws. The salad has further stimulated my hunger. I feel the craving rise up in me. I take a piece of bread; it is plain, and white, but it has a decent crust. The smell of the chicken fills my senses, now. I pause. I feel the saliva glands pumping and have to suck it back in so I don’t drool.
Flavour explodes out of the meat. I concentrate to try to eat slowly.
* * *
I’ve been seated for less than five minutes. I sit back in my chair and breathe.
She sees me, and comes over. “¿Todo bien, señor?”
“Gusto mucho, gracias señora.” I smile. I can feel my heart beating, and the air going into, and then out of my body. I vow to slow down. I drink the entire untouched beer in one go.
“Ahh.” It’s not so cold, but it’s hitting the spot.
Some other people sit down in the tent that is the small dining room. I can see it’s starting to drizzle; when the wind shifts, I feel the cooling effect of the spray as it touches my skin and immediately evaporates, taking a little heat with it. I crack the second beer with the bottle opener on my key chain, and down about a third of it in a gulp. My focus returns to the chicken that I know has no chance of survival as a ‘left-overs’.
Gustavo looks over from skewering some chickens, and lifts his head, <<that didn’t take too long. ¿How was it?>>
I smile giddily, “¡qué bueno!” I hold up the bottle towards him then pour the last half of it down my throat. “Está perfecto. No recuerdo mejor. Gracias.” I feel high.
“Bueno. Con mucho gusto, Dean. Con mucho gusto.”
I keep looking at him while he works on, putting the skewer of chickens in to the hot oven, locking it into the right spot then turning on the motor which turns the six skewers around. He grimaces against the heat as he works. There’s sweat on his brow when he finishes the twenty-second job. He looks on just long enough to ensure that the rotation is correct. He looks down at the fire briefly, then up to the thermometer.
Now he’s pulling the chickens off of the skewers that he’s taken out. There’s a line up of customers. The small dining room is, now, almost full.
I can see that he wants it to be good.
“¿Algo mas?” It’s the woman, yanking me out of my reverie.
I smile up at her. “Uhh?… Nada hoy. Cuánto cuesta?”
I pay up and thank her and Gustavo.
I’m out on the street. I feel high. I see all the motion and activity, as one watches a movie.
I recognize how happy I am, which further accentuates it.
* * *
A bus is momentarily delayed in the traffic, in front of me. I remember Alura suggesting to me that I would enjoy it if I were to visit the sepentarium, down the road. I walk over to the door and he opens it for me; I get on the bus, ask him how much, and pay. <<¿You go past the sepentarium, yes?>>
I take a seat. The bus follows a route out of town that I don’t remember. The town thins; buildings become random. He calls over his shoulder, <<here it is. Over there.>> He gestures in the direction with his head.
I get off, and walk in, hardly slowing, to pay the admission price. There are several sorts of snake that can be seen, many of them capable of killing, but not all.
A man, inside a glass enclosure, demonstrates milking a large snake. He holds it by the head and squeezes; the venom drip into a vial. He discusses it and other facts conversationally, as he does it. He has an English accent, <<while more than five hundred people get bitten each year, in Costa Rica, there are only a few who die from it. Costa Rica is blessed with a large variety of snakes, both venomous and otherwise. Costa Rica has one of the most advanced anti-serum production facilities in the world. The sepentarium is part of a national program to obtain the venom, from which the anti-venom is produced.>> He milks on.
He says he has been bitten dozens of times, but since he knew the type of snake that bit him, and they have all the anti-venoms there, he’s healthy, and has had no lasting effects.
I’m bored. It’s all like a trailer for a documentary on the topic. I just can’t get any real traction on it. Oh well. I walk out to the road to wait for the bus. There’s a thin overcast, but a can feel the hard sun through it. It is hot.
I see a red and white truck coming down the road; it looks just like Phil’s. I hang my thumb out. The truck pulls over to a stop. I move towards it, and it rolls further down the highway a bit, and stops again. I can hear him laughing. Hay-ho, Dean let’s go.”
“Where yuh goin’?”
“Back to Monty. You want a lift?”
“That’d be perfect.” I slam the door closed, behind me. He pulls back on to the road.
“Takin’ a look at the snakes?”
“Yeah. Alura said I should check it out. I just got here, maybe fifteen minutes ago. I’m not really in the mood for it. The gringo milking the snake…”
“Is that his name? It seems cool, but I’m not into it, right now. What are you up to?”
“Snakes are smart. Normally, they’ll always try to get away from a big, stupid, clumsy, definitely dangerous, human. Yup, they’re pretty smart. There’s about a thousand bites a year, mostly on the plantations.”
“Sugarcane. Yuh see,” he places a cigarette in his mouth, and then, with the same hand, the right one, he lights it up, and takes a drag, “the sugarcane attracts the rodents, like candy. The rodents attract the snakes, so many, it’s about a hundred times the density of the rainforest that was there before they ripped it down to plant the cane.” He takes a deep puff, holds it a second, taking thought, perhaps. He blows the smoke out. “In the forest, the snake can hear you a hundred yards, metres, away, a long way away. They go to where you’re not. No problem. But in the sugarcane plantation, their territory is about that big.” He holds his hands about a foot apart, and looks at me, “like that. Not much.”
He gets his hands back on the wheel, in time to take 45 degree bend left, avoiding the embankment, on the far side of the thin shoulder. “They’re all fucked up, defending their little patch from the next fucked up snake, on every side!”
“I just say, ‘drive’ man,” intently looking forward at the road, until broken by the crack of a smile.
He continues, as if not having heard me, “It’s not natural. So when the dumb-fuck, lumbering, bootless idiot human comes blundering through the patch, they have nowhere to go, they’re blocked in on every side. Of course they do the only thing that they can do, attack. Defence.” He blows the smoke out.
We’re pulling into Montalba. “Just drop me anywhere, dude, anywhere that’s convenient.”
“How about a drink?”
“Do you have black-label at your place?”
“Yeah, I must have some of that, somewhere.”
I keep a bottle of the black label guaro stashed; so when I feel like it, I can once again try to figure out the difference between it and the regular, ‘red-label’ stuff.
He pulls a hard right, into San Rafael, and parks behind the woody shark.
“How’s the wife?”
I open the gate and go in. I grab an unopened bottle with a black label on it, two glasses, mostly clean, two limes, some ice from the freezer in a bowl, and juggle it back to the porch. Phil stands, smoking. For a split second I think it’s Mick; they have the same weathered Celtic colour and features. But Phil is even crustier; his teeth are worse, he smokes more, and drinks more. There is strain in his eyes.
I hand him the bottle. He grunts and nods, cracks the cap as I place the glasses down, and pours the two without lowering the bottle. I place the bowl of ice down.
“Salut”, I say back.
“That good.” He nods his head.
“What’s the ice for?”
I look at it, curiously. “Force o’ habit I guess.” I take a cube out and crunch on it, while he reloads the glasses.
“That’s the good stuff.”
“I can hardly tell the difference. Is this one a bit smoother?”
He nods and says, “it also has a better taste.”
I smile, on the edge of grunting out a chuckle, “guaro.” I take mine and knock it on his then down it. I take the bottle and look at the label, ‘Guaro’; that’s all it says. I laugh, and reload the two glasses, without raising the bottle, on the pour. “I’m glad you like it.” I nod.
“Someone told me stories about you chasing your pussy, upstream in class four, or something.”
I pour two more.
“The old man has a little patch right on the Reventazón; it’s nice.”
“How was he about it?”
“I get along with them, fine. No problems there. A gringo comes along who can provide for their daughter, improve the prospects with honourable intentions…”.
I point at him.
“I used to go up the river almost every night.”
I can feel the booze going into my system, from my stomach, into my blood stream, out to the extremities and my head.
I walk to the kitchen and I grab a bottle of carbonated mineral water, and take it out to the porch. Phil is finishing his cigarette. “You want some?”
“No thanks. I… I think I might have to eat?!” He pours another guaro for himself.
Then he says, “I got some bananas in the truck. Would that help you out?”
He steps out and returns with a bunch of them. They are small, but there has got to be forty on this bunch. “Will that work for you?”
“All of them?”
“Yeah, I got plenty.”
I assess my ability to eat them all before they expire, “yeah, I can do it. Thanks.”
“These are real.” He takes one, peels it, and eats it in two bites. “That’s a banana.”
“From yer place, on the river?”
“Yup, that’s all I eat. Hey, can I have some of that water?”
I hand the bottle to him. He chugs back, then he eats another banana.
I take a banana.
I can see that he is restless.
“My wife’s been on me to cut down smoking and drinking.”
He sits down on the couch and looks at the copy of ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’. “Are you reading that?” He picks it up, and leafs through it.
“I just finished it. I love it. I’ve always wanted to know about how humans went from hunter and gather societies, to this, … where we’re at now. Take it and read it, if you want to.”
“I’ve read it. Yer right, it’s a good one.”
“You, read?” I snicker ceremonially at the cliché.
He picks another banana from the bunch, “totally organic. No chemicals on genetically modified plants. Nobody got sick growing them.”
“People get sick? Still no organization behind the labour?”
“No, not since they brought the army in to put down the organization last time. This is the original banana republic.”
“So what’s happening with the sick workers?”
“There’s a class action suit, filed in the states, of course. It couldn’t work down here.”
“It’s just like before, except this time, the army is of lawyers. The corporations are counter-suing anybody associated with the lawsuit.”
“Maybe they’ll disband the lawyers, like they disbanded the army.”
“Just the thought of it makes me feel optimistic.” I laugh earnestly, aloud.
“Like the weather. This ‘La Niña[i]’ is why we got so much rain this year. I’ve been here seventeen years. Normally it’s on a cycle of twenty-seven years. This is the second Niña in four years!”
“It’s good if you like the water high, though.”
“Yeah, but the bread and butter is the sun-seeking tourist. They get here and they say, ‘but it’s raining’.”
“What does it do in a rainforest, anyways?”
“They still want it sunny.” He reflects for a moment, blowing out cigarette smoke, “it has been good this year.”
“So, what’s worse, working on a sugarcane plantation, or on a banana plantation?”
“If you wear the right boots in a cane field, high boots, yer probably okay. But they’re mucho precio,” he rubs his fingers together.
“And it don’t pay very good?” I’d often looked at the sugar cane plantation workers along the run between Paraiso and Montalba; one time, by first light, I saw one getting up, it looked like he’d slept there.
He shakes his head, “nada, mas o menos.”
I pour another two guaros, “yuh want some smoke?”
“Thanks, but I’m gonna have to get back to work, go to the take out and make sure everything’s okay. That fuckin’ Goldie!”
I laugh thinking about his antics, “he’s good.”
“Yeah, that’s cool, but the insurance adjustors don’t appreciate it.”
“I like him too, and he’s good, there’s no doubt about it.”
He holds up his drink. I knock it, and pour mine down. He pounds the glass down on the table, sharply, “ah. Thanks fer the hospitality.” He takes the cigarette box from his breast pocket, takes a cigarette and lights it, without once looking at what he’s doing.
“Yer, welcome. Pura vida.”
“I feel better. I love it here. That’s why I’m here. If everything were to blow tomorrow, I’d be fine with my little patch. I’m in good with the neighbours, and they’re in good with me.”
He moves to the gate and places one hand on it, “come over anytime yuh want. Seeyuh lader.” He’s out the gate in a puff of smoke.
“Hey Dean, we’re gonna have a real nice trip down the river, taking Julia. Lee is catering it. He puts on a really nice spread. Let me know if you want to go on it.”
“Thanks, man, I will.”
* * *
It’s raining. I peer at it. I’m happy to be here, dry, out of the rain, though I can feel the mist; it drifts past the bars, deftly defying gravity.
The thought of defying gravity makes me remember my whimsy to try to go kayaking directly from the casa. I’d imagined it kind of like “Paddle to the Sea” [ii]. I thought that I could carry the boat to a nearby tributary of the Reventazón, just down the street. Then take it through to the river. Then if that goes well, who knows, maybe all the way to the sea, later?
I gather all of the stuff I need by the front door. I put on the silk long sleeve shirt, and polypropylene long johns, and pull on the shorty wetsuit, and booties. I stuff the boat, and haul it out, then throw it up, and hold it over my head. I walk down the street, across one, then down again, past Jane’s place, and down the embankment to the little river. I navigate around the debris, dumped at the end of the street, and rest the kayak down on a discarded toilet at the water’s edge. The water has an odour to it, not strong, but not nice.
I sit in the boat, on the water, at a good push-off point. I batten down the skirt. Okay, that’s good enough. I push out. It looks good. The first bend, and… a steel grate, where the river goes.
I unload on the left, where I can hold of the bank, get out and load the stuff back into the boat. I carry it up the embankment, slipping a couple times in the mud. It’s the road going out of town.
I cross it. But there’s no river, over here. I carry the boat perpendicular to the highway, in the direction the river was last heading. I can hear it ahead.
Past a small lane, there is a spot for me to get in. I get back in. It still takes me five minutes to get in and go.
I can see the river goes for a while, at least. I pass a small rapid, “yee-haw!” It was a very small rapid. There is quite of bit of debris, but the places where people have dumped, decrease in frequency.
Here’s a tree over the stream; I have to bend forward to get under it. I come around the corner. There’s another grate.
I stop and unload, again. I pull the boat up, to a secure spot.
Without the boat, I go up the small embankment, and look around. There is no sign of the river. I listen; I hear the highway, not too far to my left, but I can’t hear the water. I walk in the direction that this river was flowing in, about thirty meters. I stop and listen, but I can’t hear anything above the rain; it is raining heavily now.
I go back and gather up the gear in the boat, and heave it up, over my head. I take it up, out of the embankment, and aim north-northeast. I come to the highway and walk along it towards town, then go through the back residential roads, and home.
I take the boat, with all of the gear still in it, through the house and into the back yard. I hang the gear under the back awning, and turn the boat over. I walk in the kitchen and get a glass of water from the tap. I pour a second glass, and take it with me to the shower. But stop sort, thinking better of it, and roll a joint.
I smoke it on the back porch, under the awning.
I get in the shower and soak in the suicide shower head heat.
* * *
It’s dark. From my vantage, on the couch on the front porch, the streetlights glow with halos around them. I have an empty feeling inside. I hear Nuria nattering away next door. I don’t have the gumption to even try to decipher it, but it somehow reassures me, so that I don’t feel the need to worry about anything, at the moment.
She herds her family inside. It’s so nice and quiet, now. The rain sounds nice. Someone speaks with a raised voice, inside a house up the street.
There’s a rumbling sound, getting louder. I recognize the low grinding, diesel engine sound, but I can’t place it… Then I remember, oh yeah, it’s her’s, isn’t it?
They come around the corner at the top of the street. It comes slowly down the street then pulls in behind the station wagon.
“¿Dean Cassady, qué te paso?” She laughs from the driver seat.
They pile out: Adrian, Angelika, Scott, then she, Inger. I walk out onto the wet sidewalk, barefoot; it’s warm.
“You look strong, Angelika.”
“What does that mean?”
From the corner of my eye, I notice Adrian making a face. Scott smiles. Inger scowls mockingly, “yeah Dean, what does that mean?”
I keep my eyes on Angelika. She looks good. “It means, ‘you look strong.'” I take a step towards her, and place my hand on her biceps, “strong is good.”
She flexes it, then pushes me back with her other hand, ” ‘kick your ass.”
“Oh yeah?” I’m happy to see her smiling. I turn and embrace Inger. I smell her spice. She hums a low hum. I let her go, but keep her gaze, “hey, tanto gusto.”
“What about me?” Adrian, moves toward me and gives me a hug.
“You want a drink?”
I look at Scott, he’s shaking his head, smiling wryly. He walks in last. I clasp his hand as he strolls in, “good to see you, dude.” I accompany him in, “how’s the bike?”
“Perfect running order.”
“It’s a… six-fifty Nighthawk, isn’t it?”
“Nice. Those eighties models are bullet proof, aren’t they? Did you come straight down here, or did you take a scenic route?”
“Pretty well straight down. I made a few stops along the way, working a bit, when I could get it lined up.”
“What kind of work did you get?”
“Building web sites. That’s what I started out doing, at Inger’s.”
“And now look at you?”
He laughs, “if you only knew.”
Adrian walks down the hallway, “bring enough out for everybody.”
“Where’s the booze?”
“I’ve never seen it like this, so clean! Oh my God, Dios míos! How did you get it like that?”
“Nuria got me a Marte, from up the street.”
“She did a good job.”
Adrian yells from the kitchen, “where’s the booze?”
I head down the hallway, glancing at her over my shoulder as I go, “yeah, it’s nice. What do you want?”
“What do you have?”
This seems so much more complicated than it needs to be. “I’ll think of something for you.”
Adrian is sitting at the table eating some cold chicken, from the fridge. “This is good chicken.”
“I’ll make it up to you. I’m starving.”
“Okay, Bub. I know the feeling. That’s why I always like to keep some on hand. But I don’t remember…”. I open the door on the cupboard where there should be some booze; it’s more stocked than I thought. I take one guaro and one rum, and place them on the counter. I take the second last Steinbrau, a Bavaria, a two-litre bottle of cola, and some limes from the fridge, and a small bucket containing ice from the freezer. I grab a knife from the counter.
“Hey, d’yuh mind grabbing me a beer?”
“Yeah.” I do mind, “Don’t take the last Steinbrau. What’s your story anyways, why you down here.”
“‘Uh, heh, heh, heh, spanking the monkey in old man Anderson’s shed. Heh, heh, heh.’[iii] I’m down here on a work term.”
It makes me laugh, full on. “Ahh, that’s a great work term gig. How’d yuh get it? ‘Huh-huh-huh-huh.’ 40 ”
“I just applied. The money’s not so good. Inger is neurotic, but it doesn’t bother me.”
“I like her.”
“Some people…” He’s shaking his head slowly.
“What school did yuh, uh, do you, go to?”
“No shit? One summer I had a lifeguarding job at a condo down the street from there. It’s nice over there. I used to ride my bike all the way from Kitsilano, about… fours days a week. It was a nice summer, not too much rain. In fact, it was a drought! ‘Hey, stop spankin the monkey, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, ass wipe.’ 40 How do you like working with Angelika?” I raise my eyebrows as I collect the booze.
“’Stalking is cool, heh, heh, heh.’ 40 Yeah, she’s okay. I knew her at school.”
“She goes to the Cap College?”
“Like I said, ‘stalking is cool’40. Yeah, she goes there. I didn’t, like, hang out with her, there. I saw her around; it’s not that big a school, ‘butt wipe’40.”
“Oh. For some reason, I thought she was American. … Not in a bad way.”
“’Heh, heh, heh, uh, Beavis, huh, huh, like, stop spankin’ the monkey. Heh, heh, heh, heh.’ 40 ”
I walk out to the front room. Javier has appeared at the front gate. “Hola, Dean. ¿Cómo te va?”
“El Cubano! Right on.” I put the stuff down on the cushioned chair, and open the gate. The dour, sulking Luc has come along with him. I turn to him and offer my hand, “¿Cómo te va?”
He grunts a greeting; we shake hands.
“We come for a party, man.”
“Oh yeah, I’m just finding out about it.” Now that it’s on, it seems okay. “Perfect timing.”
He says, “you know there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.”[iv]
I laugh at the quote from the movie, to cover my surprise. We embrace.
Adrian walks down the hall, holding his arms out, one hand holding a beer. “What about my hug?” He walks past, to the porch. I hand Javier a beer.
“Luc”, I look at him to see if he wants one?
He shakes his head, and points to the guaro.
“Pronto. Uno vaso está allí.” I nod to the cupboard cabinet in the front room; there are glasses scattered on the high shelves and the counter. He nods back, and bumps into Inger, moving to get one from the shelf herself. He waves it around, absently, in the conversation, as I watch on, waiting to pour.
“Is that for me?” I hesitate. Somehow I didn’t notice Angelika’s approach.
Before I can respond, Javier steps in and greets her “Angelika.”
“Javier.” She accepts his embrace.
“Yes.” I look her in the eyes and hold out the bottle towards her.
I can see Scott eying the last one I’ve brought. “Here yuh go, Scott.” I make exaggerated motions to alert him, then toss it to him gently, across the room.
He catches it carefully, “thanks.”
“Oh, you may want this,” I open Angelika’s bottle, “excuse me, mi amor”, and toss the bottle opener to Scott, who’s waiting for it, by the time it arrives at him.
“Hey, man, I brought you something.” Arturo is standing outside the gate with Linda, holding a tall square bottle containing blue liquid. I walk out to the porch and open the gate. “I got it at home, man. You gonna like it, I think.”
I’m gonna like it. “C’mon in.” I hug Linda. “Hey, babe!”
Everyone greets the newcomers. Linda keeps going, down the hallway; over her shoulder she says, “I’ll be back in a sec.”
Arturo pours three from the bottle, into glasses he’s taken from the cabinet.
“Salud.” I down mine.
“Nice. Gracias hombre.”
“Con mucho gusto, hombre. I remembered you told me the story about the mescal in Oaxaca; so when I was home and I saw this stuff, I thought of you; it’s mescal azul! Very fino.” He downs his, and smiles.
“Now I’m ready to party.” Linda’s back. She has a capped beer bottle in a front pocket of her jeans, and an open one in her hand.
Arturo calls Luc, and joins him in conversation. I rejoin Angelika and Javier.
Linda says, “hey, Ing, you got one of those for me?”
Inger is pouring a long guaro into a tall glass. “You got a glass?”
“There’s ice and limes, on the chair”, I say.
“Mi amor.” Inger comes over and inspects the stuff on the chair. She takes the pop, limes, ice and knife to the small counter on the cabinet. She comes back over holding the guaro in one hand and the loaded glass in the other. She kisses me on the cheek, poking her hot, wet tongue on me, as she does it. She smiles and looks at Angelika, as she pours the guaro into the glass.
“Fill me up, Baby”, Linda says, holding her glass towards where Inger can easily pour it.
Angelika returns the look from Inger with no change to her expression, but when Inger returns to the party in the corner, her eyes narrow and she breathes out, shaking her head once, ever so slightly.
Javier notices it, too.
I look her in the eyes and smile, and grunt out a low, soft laugh, trying to lighten her. She smiles, rolls her eyes a bit and gulps down some beer. Javier breathes gentle laughter, looking at her. Angelika says softly, in a low voice, “you don’t want to know.”
I pause, looking at here. “Adrian mentioned you go to Cap College? Are you from the ‘Couve? For some reason, I thought you were from the states.”
“No shit?! That’s one of my favourite places.” I look at Javier, “have you ever been there?”
Javier says, “where is it?”
“Didn’t you say you lived in Vancouver? How well do you know it?”
“I was there for a couple of weeks, Whistler for a week, and a few weekend trips.”
“Oh. Well, the harbour is actually the mouth of a fjord. Further east, more inland, past Vancouver, fjord forks, basically at a mountain. Deep Cove is on a northern arm. From above cloud shrouds, a deep green coniferous carpet descends down the mountains that enclose the bay, all the way, into the water.” I make hand motions for the mountain, hand flat at a steep angle down. I clap my hands together, and laugh. “It IS so fucking cool.” I turn to look at Angelika, “I love it there; isn’t that the place?”
“It rains quite a bit.”
I smile at her.
She cocks her head slightly.
“I want to meet you there. I’ll call you, when I’m coming.” It’s not as if I’d planned to say it like that, but after it having come across my lips, I can’t help but think of the sexual connotations, and calling out at climax.
She looks at me as if she heard what I was thinking! I laugh, unabashedly in my innocence.
“Well, I’m out of here. This soap opera is too much strain on my heart,” Adrian announces as he strides in from the porch.
Angelika looks over at Inger, and says, “I’ll go with you. Thanks for the beer, Dean.”
I nod slowly, “anytime. Where are you gonna go, can we hook up with you a little bit later?”
“I’m gonna go home. It was a bit of a day.”
Adrian snorts low, glancing at Inger. “The dragon lady”, he says softly. “Let’s go amigo.”
“Seeyuh Dean. Seeyuh Javier.”
Inger comes over to us. Her face is pink. She laughs out loud, “call when you’re coming”, then shakes her head, giggling.
Luc says to Javier, <<I go to meet the cuties. ¿Are you coming?>>
<<I’m staying here, for the moment. I’ll see you later, maybe.>>
Luc nods once, turns, shakes my hand, and strolls out.
“Hey, I’d like to stay, but I’ve got to go and see my kids before bed. Are you going to be here?”
“I don’t know.” I look at Javier, “what’s your gig, dude?”
“Tunes. Then, who, knows? Whatever.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll have a party… maybe this week. You’re going to come for sure aren’t you Dean?”
“Sooner or later, I’ll come for sure.”
“Well, call me when you you’re going to come.” She laughs, again.
“You’ll figure it out.”
“Bueno.” She laughs. “I hope so.” She kisses Javier, and then wraps her arms around me, pulling us together, and kisses me on the lips.
She turns to Scott, “you want a lift?”
“Bueno, let’s go.”
“That was a short party?! Can you give us a lift Ing?”
“Sure Lyn, let’s go.”
“See yuh, Dean. See yuh, Javier.”
“Adios amigos”, says Arturo.
“Vaya con Dios.”
“Thanks for the aqua azul, hombre. Come back and help me drink it.”
“What do you have going on now, Cassady?”
“Uh… Same thing I had on before this party happened, nutin’. Just adapting to its existence, as the environment changes.”
I hear the diesel rev up, outside. I walk out and wave them off. Inger honks the horn, it sounds like a tractor-trailer. She guns it pulling out of the parking spot, causing a cloud of black diesel smoke and noise.
“She is a dragon. … I like Angelika.”
“No kidding, eh?”
“Yeah, I know it’s obvious.”
Javier picks up the copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”[v], from the couch. “One of my favourites.” He starts to thumb through it.
“Yo, tambien. I read it continuously from start to end.”
Still looking through the book, he looks up and says, “oh yeah?”
“I was living on Bondi, in Sydney, it was January or February ’94, I think? The dancer girl left, back to Canada.”
“Oh yeah, what kind of dance?”
“The kind that makes hard, healthy bodies.”
“My twin brother is a dancer.”
“No shit? Me too! I mean, I have an identical twin brother, but he’s not a dancer.”
“What’s he up to?”
“I don’t know what he’s doing. He was in Toronto when I left. He got a baby girl in October, but the family situation didn’t look too good at the time I left town. I digress. The dancer, ahh, but I had a great time with that one. Dance? Kind? It was like, ‘modern’ dance; expression through human movement. You must know this stuff better than me, ‘modern dance’? She was a wild one, not afraid to walk her own path, you know what I mean?” I pause. “Yeah she left, braking my heart. But I was staying in Sydney, man. I loved that town, and living in Bondi… No shortage of beauties there, man, and you know how you hate it when they show up and women go with them, just because of the exotic accent? Well, I was the mysterious foreigner there, with the exotic accent.” I laugh thinking about how the implausibility of the exoticness of my accent. “There was no trouble meeting women, there, and then… no problems. It’s a really great city, and part of the world.”
“I lived in a house, just off the beach. There was a copy of that book sitting there on the coffee table, the whole time I’d lived there. Of course I knew of it. One day, on a whim, just to see what the big deal about it was, I picked it up; I read until I passed out. I woke, I ate; I shitted and pissed, I surfed one hour a day, and I read that book, until I finished it.”
“I lived with these three POME[vi]s. Brits, you know? Every Brit I met there complained about the place; right up to and including when they were dragged, kicking and screaming, on to the plane to send them home.” I laugh. “All of the doormen in the city were Brits. We never had to line up to get in, anywhere. That was handy.” I’m practically lost in reverie; what was the point, oh yeah, ‘Zen and the Art…’.
Javier is looking at me intensely, “what was it man? What was it?”
“Has it ever happened to you that you saw something written down, and organized, about something that you’ve been thinking about for a long time? You’d thought it through a lot, and then you see a parallel framework that you didn’t have before, and realize, maybe for the first time that someone else has had similar feelings and thoughts? It validates what you’ve been on the verge of knowing; do you know what that’s like?”
“I can see that you know what it’s like, my friend. But there’s more to the reason.”
“’Quality’, I like it a lot. It was around that time in my life, when I was in Sydney, I knew something was happening; and now, in retrospect, I can see that it was when I started becoming… what I am now. It was a different direction.”
He’s concentrating, saying nothing.
“I started to see everything with a double vision, one in the way I had been used to seeing it, and a new way, at the same time. Then a big global consulting practice, contacted me. I needed the money, so I took a gig with them; it was supposed to be permanent, but I only lasted 23 days. I made a bit, but… I guess it was pretty harsh; I didn’t think about it too much at the time.”
“Dude.” He nods.
“That book! It gave me a framework to understand how all the pieces related to one another. It was crystal clear when it clicked into place. Then every second at that job, I felt it. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to hide it. They like their guys to be totally bought into the system.”
Javier resumes looking through the book. “I like it, too.”
“Dude, I got something for you to hear.” I go inside. He follows me. “I’m gonna rev up the destroyer, too.”
I find the Blind Melon CD, and play the first track, a cover of ‘The Pusher’[vii].
The player hiccups. I adjust the volume, as high as it goes on the low-end computer speakers.
I replace the water in the destroyer, and load a bucket.
‘The Destroyer’, is inscribed on the front of the welded PVC piping of various gauges, with holes and tubes and water reservoirs, standing staunchly, about a foot and a half feet tall.
“I think I remember Dave mentioning some guy who’d lived here previously, an engineer, I think he said, who made this thing.”
“‘The Destroyer’ has been here as long as I’ve been coming here. It was definitely here last year.”
“I think this stuff comes from Venezuela.” I fire up the grass, with the archetypical suctions noises of the air draw, bubbling away. I blow a lung full across my vocal cords, “it’s like island shag, with the saltiness in it. It’s compressed, but it’s very resinous…” I continue heating it up, and inhaling another lungful. It makes the blub-blub-blubbing sound, until, “… it’s resinous, like… high mountain weed.”
I hand him the contraption.
He takes a few hauls, and says, “I don’t smoke that much. But the combination of this”, he holds it up slightly, taking another lungful, “and this”, he breathes the smoke out in a cloud, “works quite well.”
I look around for my beer. “No beer. You?” I take the bong, and finish the ashes in the bucket.
“Yeah, I’ll have.”
I place the bong on the floor, and stride down the hall to the kitchen. ‘Soul One’[viii] starts playing.
I bring three beers into the front room. “I love this tune, man. ‘She was my soul one, and yuh know, she was the only one, yes she was…’[ix]”.
He picks up the guitar and emulates the chords.
“That’s exactly it, there. That… that’s it, man! You got it!”
* * *
The last song on the second Pearl Jam album[x] begins. “Salud.” We cross glasses. “That’s my favourite one, dude. That’s my favourite Pearl Jam song.”
He shakes his head up and down slowly, “Mine too.” He snorts a laugh, out.
“I got that album in Bondi. I remember, I was buying The Stone Temple Pilots album, on CD. I didn’t have a cd player, but I didn’t want to waste my money on a cassette tape. I bought a blank at the store because the guy working there said he’d record it for me. He said he’d put another CD on the second side of the cassette. I asked him to put Vs.34 on it. That’s how I first got that album. That was the first Pearl Jam album that I got.”
The song fades. Javier is going through the booklet for the Jimmie’s Chicken Shack CD, ‘BYOS’[xi]. “Yeah, that one.” I reach over and pull the CD out of the case. “I got that one on the way down. That’s my favourite band. They’re from Maryland, Annapolis, I think.”
“So what was this stuff you did at the consulting firm? What happened with that?”
“Uhh… ? Hmm. Uhh…. I was a ‘consultant’.” I chuckle at the infamous vagueness of the description. “Uhm, I specialize in this, uhh… It’s a method of decomposing how stuff gets done in an organization. You look at everything that gets done to deliver a product or a service to a customer, every step is decomposed. So you can look at it across various different levels; you know, ‘the big picture’; but since you have it also at increasing levels of detail, you can get under the high level dysfunctions, and see if you can find a… ‘root cause’?!” I laugh at the buzz-word work-lingo. “Then you look at every step, and you say, ‘does the customer want this?’ ‘Is there any other reason that we’re doing this?’ ‘How can we get more of what the customer wants into this?’ They always want to do it for less money.”
“So I was talking to these guys in Sydney; I loved it in Sydney. Of course, I never questioned my assumption that I’d be working in, or at least, based in, Sydney. And I get the gig; it’s juicy enough; I take it. Right away, the moment after I signed the contract, they tell me I’m moving to Melbourne, to build up the Melbourne practice.”
“How was Melbourne?”
“Too much like Toronto. I hated it. Hard to meet chicks.” I pause, thinking about it. “Actually, I never figured the place out. When I was working, I’d leave at 6 a.m. Monday morning to fly to Adelaide. Then, I’d get back to Melbourne at about nine-thirty, ten o’clock, Friday night, tired. I didn’t know anyone there; I didn’t have anything set up, like, no sheets on a brand new futon. You know what I mean?”
“During the week, in Adelaide, I’d work twelve hours a day. I’d leave work and run to the hotel, get my workout stuff on, and jog over to the gym, workout, then jog back to the hotel, so I could be there in time to order dinner before the hotel kitchen closed for the night. After I ate, I’d crash after five minutes watching the television.
At one point I did the math. I remember it. I was flying around a lot. It was mid-week. I was either going to Sydney, from Adelaide, or back to Adelaide, from Sydney. There was the in-flight magazine, the cover story was for some place, north of New Zealand, east of Fiji; I think it was called Niue. It looked so good, dude! I’m wondering, `when can I get to be there?’ Then I thought, ‘what good is it going there, if you have to come back to this!?’ It would be good, but then… So, when can I get to be there? Like, really there, for a while? The cost of doing the work was starting to look like it included all sorts of bullshit public behavioural accoutrements that I needed to perform, as part of my association with the firm. The trajectory started looking like twenty years or so hard labour, acting in a way that wasn’t I.”
“At that time, a senior partner pulled down about a hundred and seventy, and perks. That seems pretty good, but you’re working all the time! You will never get the slack to let it all slide for a couple of months. You gotta take power vacations to places that can accommodate power vacations. They are homogenized, and sterile. Money buys you out of risk, and therefore the need to be innovative, or adaptable; the things that stimulate learning and growth. With enough money, you buy your way out of risk.”
“But risk is the thing, man! It’s… somehow necessary for humanity. It’s somehow necessary to make the magic happen. And even though I didn’t see it as clearly as I’m describing it to you now, I knew that I would have to give that up…. .”
“I thought, ‘fuck’, what am I going to do, work until I’m sixty-five like that?! In the end, it’s not that much money.”
“I remember looking down from that high, glass office tower window, to the streets below. Dusk approaching. Most of the homebound rush hour was over. I could see the last of them, long shadows scurrying to get away from the place. I stopped believing in it, then.”
“The living death. Collect shit until you die. Keep the economy cranking around.”
“Yeah, that’s it! What a fucking crock! Hey, but you don’t have hardly any shit, Homes. Do you got a place somewhere, some secure bail pad? What do you do?”
“I got hardly any shit, at all. If I find out about something going on, some place I haven’t been before, I shed whatever I can, get there any way I can, and live it a bit.”
“Yeah, that’s it.” He holds up his empty glass. I pour most of the bottle into his glass, and a mouthful into mine.
“Fuckin’ eh! Mucho gusto, hombre. I’m glad you’re here, dude. It’s great to know you.” I knock my glass to his, and down my mouthful.
“Dude”, I hold up the Jimmie’s Chicken Shack CD, “this is a little bit mellower than the earlier stuff. D’you want more beer?”
“Yeah, I could go for another.”
“I’ll take care of it, Mang.” I walk towards the kitchen, stopping in the water room to piss. It streams out of me for a minute. I yell, “you only rent it.”
As I come out of the toilet, he’s coming down the hall, “what’s up, man?”
“You only rent it, dude. My rents up.”
I go and get two Bavarias from the fridge, and grab a two-litre torpedo of soda water. I walk back to the front room. As I emerge, Javier starts the CD. The guitar starts up, acoustic at first, then the electric pounds out, ‘If I get my feet back on the ground, there’s some things I’ll take advantage of…’[xii] Then it breaks into more rhythm, ‘… But lately, I’ve been lost inside your song… …I should have known better, than to stare into the sun…’.49
“I love this.”
Javier bobs his head up and down listening. “I like it.”
“It’s the best, man.”
“I admire your life, unencumbered with shit. I brought a boatload of shit down here with me. What an anchor and chain!”
“We are trained from birth, by unsuspecting parents, even those of a decidedly alternative demeanour.”
“Yes! It’s supposed to get you happiness. That’s what I could no longer overlook!!! The devoting of all my time and effort in pursuit of the money, to get all that shit, even though I never quite understood why I needed much of it, was never gonna make me happy! It was a lie. I couldn’t overlook the lie anymore. The last doubt, keeping me in the game, blew then, and I could no longer see it for anything but what it is, slavery.”
“It’s a prison.”
“In one’s own mind. I saw some piss-poor people, while I was coming down here. Especially, I have to admit, in Nicaragua; I really liked Nicaragua. The people I met there were nice. But some of them were really poor! This guy from the Mosquito Coast was going to sell the rags he used as pants to get enough to feed himself for another day. And the system to brain wash people into consumerist zombies is affecting the people in the third world, too. It’s brain washing to value oneself by the things that can be shown to the world, and reflected back; so one can think that other people recognize you, as significant, and… of worth. People down here get the download from the television; they’ve seen enough to know how unlikely the prospect is. But they still dream of getting it, all the same.”
“But here’s the point, man: they were real people. These people I met coming down here, they have struggles; they have to make decisions every day that could affect their day-to-day survival. That guy, George, from the Mosquito Coast, he was really there, not just pretending to be; he didn’t have the luxury of that kind of self-deception. The existence is completely different from having to decide which ‘power-vacation’ spot to go to: some exotic south Pacific island or Singapore for your one week off?”
I put on the fourth track of The Tragically Hip, “Road Apples”[xiii]. “This is a Canadian song.”
Javier has cozied back up with the Seagull[xiv]. He finds a pick on the floor.
“…can’t enjoy the luxury,
The bass is nice.
“…the shape I’m in.
Can’t enjoy the luxury,
He experiments, trying to find the closing bars.
“That’s it, dude.” I take the CD out, and put in ‘Dusk‘ by The The. “Matt is twisted. I like that. Do yuh know this stuff?” I put it to the fourth cut[xv]. The piano begins…
“What do yuh think?”
“The mass, sighing and heaving, quivering in the night, herded, prodded and pecked, moves only in the places, faces, and traces as the leading light of the television insists. These are the common experiences, dramas and sitcoms, whatever they might be, unifying the nation in the burning desire, the fire, to consume. The heaving, deceiving herd, sacrificing their own along the way, in the name of the common good, continue to consume; consuming obsessively, depressively, marshalled along the way, at a pace not of our own choosing. Right now. It’s way out, but that’s what it is and that’s where we are.”
“You move with little friction, don’t you?”
“The concept of ownership of anything, even your own body, is a complete delusion. Why pretend to own it? When I think of an experience I want to have, I go.”
“Time, the most valuable thing. People are being trained to give it up, and never get any back, for their whole lives! All that effort is being harvested.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“What I can to make it more likely that the good things will survive.”
He strums a few times on the guitar. I get up and walk towards the kitchen; I feel like wine all of a sudden. There’s a bottle I opened yesterday, cork on. I grab it without missing a beat, spin around, and smoothly back out. “The Germans have some expression, ‘beer before wine, that’s fine…’ You know that one? Then it goes, something like, but ‘wine before beer’ that’s… that’s… bad.” I start laughing at it. “‘Wine before beer, that’s something to fear.'” I’m trying to think of the words in German, but I can’t remember the last word. “It’s something like that.”
I pour it into two plain glasses.
“I’m a quarter German.”
I hear the uniformed vigilante blowing his whistle as he rides down the street. I move towards and through the door to the porch. “Does this guy go by your place?”
Javier comes out to the porch as the guy rides down the street, whistling, “no, he doesn’t come by, but I know him. His name is Antonio.” He says ‘Antonio’ loudly, calling to the guy. He looks up, a bit startled. Then he recognizes Javier and waves as he rides by.
“Let’s walk by a bar.”
“I’m gonna roll one, then we go.”
He’s got the copy of “Zen…”42, “take your time, Dean.”
After a piss, I roll the joint in the kitchen. I take it out with two glasses of water. I hand one to Javier. “¿Agua?”
He nods, and drinks few gulps down. He’s holding a page, with his thumb.
We walk out from the casa, go north, bend around to the west, then right at the first street, across the unused train tracks. We walk along the rail yard wall, westward, on the street that would be Avenida 0. The market is held here, most mornings; I wonder what day of the week it is?
On the street before the main road, the highway running through town, we turn north, parallel to it, on I guess what would be called Calle 0. It continues, past the first street, as the western boundary of the park. We track a pair of beautiful ticas, maybe eighteen, or twenty. I feel fine. We’re strolling. It’s a perfectly typical Montalba night atmosphere, twenty-three, twenty-four degrees Celsius, damp, so that the breeze could chill you from the sweat you shed a minute ago. It has a really peculiar feeling about it. The smell, carrying across the dampness of the air, pleases me. The women cross east, then north, into the park. It’s a busy corner, especially for this time of the night. Maybe it’s a Saturday? We cross diagonal, and make up some ground. It seems kind of late for this type of parading; it must after 1 a.m., though I’m not sure.
He looks at me, “this isn’t about the kill. This is about what is now.”
We get to the centre of the park; the women take a hard left. I come to the intersection and turn towards them, but stop walking. I suck the air in through my nose to try to catch a whiff. “Ahh, I like the smell, but let’s go north.”
He’s looking west, “yeah… north. Okay.” We walk north, along the main, central, path.
“That place, at the top, to the right.”
“I like the smell of this place.”
We get to the curb at the road, pausing, I look at Javier, to my left. Palm leaves from a tree, hang above his head. “I don’t really need to go there, you?”
“No man. I’m passed that.”
“Keep the book, man.” He holds it still.
“It’s a special book for you.”
“It’s like… paper and ink. You know what I mean? The knowledge is special. If you get it back to me, no probs.”
“Amigo mio. Claro.”
“Pour seguro, está con mucho gusto.” I hug him, “amigo, mucho gusto. See yuh, dude. Pura vida.”
I turn back and walk southward on the central path, towards the gazebo in the middle of the park.
“Amigo,” he calls me.
I stop and turn back.
“‘And what is good Phaedrus,
And what is not good –
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?‘[xvi]”
“Ah, dude, exactly so; ça y est!”
I continue on my way. It feels good to be close to these trees. All the green makes me feel good. I past the grand stand and head back in the direction that we’d come into the park by. I stop and sit down on a bench. The green is so nice. There’s still a bit of traffic; a pair of ticas stroll by. I suck in the air to smell it better. Though there is noise, some of it, from the perimeter of the park, discordant, it’s very peaceful, here.
I look up. I can just see a few stars through the haze. I haven’t seen very many really clear nights in town. I feel a chill. I get up and move along a westward path. Across the street from one of the karaoke bars, I cross the street. I look at the entrance in the small mall, thinking about my options. I continue walking southward, on the sidewalk across the street from the park.
I’m restless, but tired. I remember the joint and spark it up. The thick smoke pours from me like brimstone from a dragon.
As I navigate back towards San Rafael, I can’t help but think that I’m floundering; I don’t know what I’m accomplishing. I’m still chained, the only difference is that now I can see the chains.
[i]. “La Niña”, is a weather pattern abnormality associated with cooler than average ocean temperature, which, for North America, generally causes above-average rain fall, though precipitation in the southwestern and southeastern states may be below average, and more moderate than average temperatures
[ii]. “Paddle to the Sea”, Bill Mason’s short film, 1966, 27min 59s, based on Holling C. Holling’s book of the same name.
[iii]. “Uh, heh, heh, heh, …”, this references the MTV cartoon, “Beavis and Butt-head”, by Mike Judge, airing March 8, 1993 to November 28, 1997
[iv]. “you know the difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.”, this is a cinematic quote/paraphrase from the The Wachowski Brothers, 1999 release, “The Matrix”
[v]. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, 1974, by Robert M. Pirsig,
[vi]. “POME”, according to http://www.urbandictionary.com: pronounced “pomm-ee”. Originally an acronym for the status of inmates sent to Australia: ‘Prisoner of Mother England’. At first used by the English to describe Australians (as anyone Australian must, obviously, have come from prison), now in a strange reversal, used by Australians to designate anyone from England.
[vii]. “The Pusher”, 1968, Hoyt Axton, this version, by Blind Melon, from the album Nico, 1996
[viii]. “Soul One”, by Blind Melon, from the album Nico, 1996
[ix]. “Soul One”, song lyrics, by Blind Melon, from the album Nico, 1996
[x]. “Indifference”, Pearl Jam’s second album, Vs., released October 19, 1993, last track on the album.
[xi]. “BYOS”, or Bring Your Own Stereo , by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, released by Island Defjam, 1999
[xii]. “Spiraling”, from the album, Bring Your Own Stereo , by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, released by Island Defjam, 1999
[xiii]. “The Luxury”, by The Tragically Hip, from the album Road Apples, released February 19, 1991
[xiv]. “Seagull”, a Canadian manufacturer of excellent hand-made guitars, founded in 1982 by Robert Godin, in the village of LaPatrie, The Eastern Townships, Quebec.
[xv]. “This is the Night”, by the band The The, from the album, Dusk, released by Sony Records in January 1993
[xvi]. “And what is good Phaedrus, …”, this quotes the dedication preceding the beginning of the text-proper for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance