Mark Twain

December 2, 2010

There’s a famous Mark Twain quote about the purpose of traveling being not to see the foreign world, but to return home and see your own country as a foreigner would. Now, Mark Twain himself was a pseudonym – a shadow of a real man – and there’s every possibility in the world that this is just a pseudo-quote being mis-attributed to someone famous: perhaps I’m just showing off my own ignorance by leading with the possibly fake words of a fake person. Regardless, in my experience there’s a lot of truth in that sentiment, and so I’d like to write a bit about the strangeness of America from the point of view of one who lived outside her boundaries long enough to notice.

 

It’s a hard subject to broach, because Americans are VERY touchy about our country – it’s as if we feel we must defend her like a kid sister whose honor is at risk. I don’t quite understand that, so I won’t pull many punches, but the ones I’m leaving out are the ones that I know will offend just about everyone without adding much to the discussion.

 

Outside the US, Americans have a near-universal reputation for being fat-assed, fat-headed, boorish, uneducated slobs. Several times out on the road I was complimented in this sort of fashion: “Wow, you sure are smart(well-educated/well-read/polite/in shape/etc) for an American. That little sting at the end lets you know that you’re different, that you’re exceeding expectations or something. It gets under your skin a bit, but not nearly so much as the average American abroad does. They’re just so goddamn blatant, so obvious and in-your-face… It’s like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” except with a 40′ neon sign floating over his head reading “RIGHT HERE MOTHERFUCKER!!!” Once I was out for six months, the average American stuck out in my mental radar only slightly less than the average Israeli, and believe me, that’s not a compliment at all.

 

It got to the point where I avoided Americans out of hand, not just because they didn’t have much worth talking about, but also because I didn’t want that guilt-by-association that comes with hanging out around the loudest, most obvious attention whore in the room. You all know the guy – he’s making a shitshow of himself, doesn’t even realize it, and in the process offending half the people around him while the other half search for a polite exit. I’ve even BEEN that guy once, arguing loudly with an Israeli in a crowded hostel. Ruined family dinner for a dozen people, made a complete ass of myself in front of some friends, and for what? Some pissing contest about Palestinian genocide and the right of all humans to live without a gun barrel down the throat. After that, I learned to keep my opinions under wraps a bit better.

 

Problem was, not many American travelers took the same tack, and I can think of enough instances of American tourists ruining the show for everyone that it makes me uncomfortable to associate myself with group at all. Whether it was racist jokes in English-speaking Belize, mocking half-Spanish in Antigua, or the every American in the entire nation of Costa Rica; the Americans I met who didn’t offend and annoy were so far outnumbered that I – like most adventurers – wrote off the whole damn nation.

 

What’s that they say about stereotypes? I’ve always heard that stereotypes are what they are because they’ve enough gems of truth in them that they become self-reinforcing. You see enough dumb fat Americans throwing money around and it just writes the narrative all by itself. There are some notable exceptions – I mean, I ended up falling in love with an American girl and we’re fast approaching a year together (if living on opposite coasts can be be considered “together”) and there are some truly fantastic Americans I met, befriended, and will forever be indebted to, like S&B out in OK. Still, I digress: my point is that Americans have an absolutely abysmal reputation abroad, and it’s mostly deserved. As a country, we don’t know dick about foreign politics, history, or the effects of our military on the rest of the world; we don’t speak foreign languages very well; we’re richer than anyone, and flaunt material wealth worse than most any other culture; and what particularly irks me is that we have this terrible habit of pushing ourselves – our culture, our language, our customs, values, and worldview – onto the world around us almost unconsciously, and as a result create bubbles – little USAs – in which we live our lives.

 

With all this negative reinforcing, I dreaded returning home. Even with my family suffering, with my friends waiting, with my entire old life calling out to me, I stalled, bobbed, weaved my way home because I knew I wouldn’t like much of what I saw. Colombia ended up saving me in that regard, not only because I found one American who went against every conception I’d been building, but also because that country is pretty damn modern – the difference between Bucaramanga and NYC is one of scale, not type. Sure, I went from mountaintop paragliding school to concrete jungle, but I was flying about a 600,000 person city daily and dancing in the clubes most nights. Certainly the transition from rural Honduras to the USA would have been more jarring. As it was, I’m really lucky to have had those intermediate steps into the country, because without them, without her, without the crazy half-cocked roadtrip across the country, I wouldn’t have seen anything I liked in this place.

 

Here’s what I remember of my first days back in the US – it was freezing cold, I had no worthwhile clothes, and I spent all my time hiding indoors. Coffee shops, mainly, with 25 or 40 other young people, all in nice new clothes, all with brand-new laptops, iWhatever, designer bag. Guys with chic purses infinitely less useful than my ratty old bag casually hitting on girls with designer shades worth more than everything I own, all while sipping $5 lattes. I have lived in entire towns with thousands of people and less overall technology than a cafe with 25 people in it. I remember blowing 2 days living expenses on a single meal for two, knowing it was the best (cheapest) I could get, and feeling guilt for being poor – I never felt that traveling, not once! I befriended taxi drivers, bodega owners, and waiters – anyone who would speak Spanish with me – because my English was strangely accented and halting. It took a few days to find the right words consistently. I remember stepping into Whole Foods for the first time, seeing an entire floor of fruits and vegetables, and almost falling down – I still can’t do supermarkets. The abundance of food is so scary, so viscerally uncomfortable, that I end up running into these places, grabbing whatever I think I need, and fleeing as soon as I can.

 

Abundance in general is unappetizing. I’m unable to make decisions between thirty brands of soda or 200 toothpastes. When I’m with others I manage to force it down, but alone I just stare – how the fuck does anyone decide what to buy? How can there be so much of so little? These things are so trivial, and there are so many people starving in the world… I do not understand what made it OK to stock so much food that it goes bad and must be thrown away, while a thousand miles south there are kids huffing glue living in alleys and stealing to survive. It does not compute, and much as people try – patiently, then exasperatedly – to explain to me how it’s all fair, and how everyone would do it if they had the chance, I simply do not understand. I hope I never do.

 

We all own cars, even those of us who scarcely drive. If not for work being 15 miles away, I would never drive my car, and realistically I could just hitchhike, or take a bus. I’m simply being lazy because I can. There’s shit for mass transit out here, but that’s mostly because there’s no demand – my 16 year old brother bought a car before he even got a license, and he’s not in the minority. If I was a space alien, and I came to California knowing nothing about the culture or the planet at all, I would assume cars are the dominant species and human beings their prisoners. Think about it – from above, the whole place is a grid of roads and giant highways connecting the parking lots of the world. Driving home from LA the very first time after getting back, I remember counting 16 lanes across the freeway – 16 fucking lanes! – Holy hell man… That’s so damn incredible that I cannot believe it just passes for normal among the hundreds of thousands of people who drive it every single day.

 

I guess everything becomes normal once you see it often enough, but it’s just like that bastard arrow in the FedEx logo – once you see it, it can’t be unseen. After seeing the world outside, I can’t unsee the spectacle of America. All this wealth, all this abundance, and yet… what’s missing? Why isn’t anyone smiling? We’re certainly not dying – just looking at all the fat people around, I know that we aren’t starving. There’s nobody forcing guns in our faces, the corruption in our society is manifested by bankers fucking over the entire economy, not politically connected mobsters running over kids in the road and getting off scott free. The problems of our corner of the world, while definitely serious, are so much more subdued than in – for example – Central America. So why aren’t we happy?

 

Is the veneer slipping? Have people started to see the emptiness at the core of this way of life? I wish that was the case, but truly, I think the answer is so much simpler: we have everything we’re taught to want, but can’t pretend we have what we need.

 

Abundance robs us of truly appreciating anything – this is true of the psychological and the emotional just as much as the material. I can’t begin to express how it felt to watch Avatar in 3D in Spanish after not watching a movie in 9 months. It was like being transported into the future and dumped off there for a few hours, and I’ve never before or since been so wrapped up in someone else’s fantasy. I’ve since seen the movie in English, and a hundred other flicks besides, and never come close to that same experience. Right now there’s a movie on in the background – a pretty decent one too – and I can’t give a rat’s ass about it. I’ve watched three movies this week. I have constant Internet access. I see my family every day. I can reach out to my left, pick up my phone, and call damn near anyone I know or have ever known, jump on Facebook, Skype Australia, or take a picture of my goddamn nuts and post it as a landscape of Iraq, and yet I can’t appreciate any of it! It’s always available – food, drink, fun, family, contact, all of it – there’s never a shortage, there’s never a danger of it not being around. Without shortage, there is no way to know what you have.

 

It’s not just me – the difference between me and most Americans is simply that I’ve seen the other side, and I refuse to take all this extravagance for granted. I think that if people could see how rare this abundance is, they might be a hell of a lot happier with their lives. I mean, if you understood just how much effort, how many resources, how much energy and work went into that new laptop or those fancy new shoes, you would love them as I do my 8 year old sneakers or my little netbook here. The lack of what we find most dear is precisely what makes it enjoyable when we do have it. In this land of instant gratification, material overload, and wild consumption, it’s just not possible to love things as you would nearly anywhere else.

 

I don’t mean to preach – I’m not some fucking saint. I can feel all the love being sapped out of me the longer I’m here. I can’t sit and eat 2 eggs and savor the bites like I once could, because a dozen eggs is less than the average table tips me at work. The first night I came home and slept in my bed, I almost died – this is incredibly comfortable! I have sheets with a thread-count, a pile of quilts and pillows that I once felt were necessary. I remember one night in El Salvador sharing this same size bed with three people: right now I’m lying sideways on it and my feet are still off the ground. The thing is, I don’t even think about it at all unless I force myself to. It’s just my bed, you know? Never mind that the Cerrato family sleeps four to this same size mattress every night, never mind that most people on this planet will never ever sleep on anything so nice – it’s always here, and so it’s just my bed.

 

It’s the same for most everything. Earlier today I snapped at my mom because she interrupted my computer game and train of thought. I routinely get irritated because my family members are invading my space, because they dare to force their way into my idle time. What the fuck is that, right? A year ago, right about now, I’m at a little beach hostel in El Salvador, sitting and smoking joints and just wishing I could see my parents, terrified I’m losing their faces. I actually freaked out for a while because I hadn’t spoken to either of my brothers in months. I tracked down Sim cards in ever country I visited, spent precious finite dollars on credits to call them long distance, and drank up every word they said. Skyping home was so rare I only got to do it a handful of times, and several times I was crying after ending the call – not sadness, but just because I was so happy to see that the people I loved were still alive and remembered me. Yet here I am a year later being short with my mother because she dares to come spend time with me. It’s almost like we can’t appreciate anything until it becomes an ordeal to have it.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason I see so much mindless consumption all around me here – people trading out clothes by season, always focused on the new phone, the next gadget or outfit or gizmo. We all are afflicted – unable to truly understand what we have – and when you combine that with the barrage of “YOU AREN’T HAPPY” ads in every possible medium, it’s the recipe for a dissatisfied people constantly searching for the next high. That’s the best metaphor I can write for it – we’re a nation of addicts, chasing that moment of pure satisfaction when we finally have it, with “it” so loosely defined that psychowarfare advertisers are able to bend us to this or that or the other product. Consumption is accomplishment, buying is succeeding, acquisition is the end goal. The problem is that once you have it, there’s no fun any more, and so we drive onward to the next high – that’s addiction at the very core mate, no joke.

 

With all this stuff, all these toys and goodies, Americans are still unhappy – I judge this based off the same index I use everywhere I go – are people smiling? Are strangers laughing or frowning? Take Honduras, for example: while I was there the country had a coup, and the interim government suspended the constitution. Like an idiot I crossed the whole country that day – the people I saw were all frowns, worry-etched brows, inward-turned souls. I managed to hitchhike into Nicaragua that day, slept overnight, and woke up to smiles, shouting, laughter – night and day from the other side of the border. Happy people show it in the same ways everywhere I’ve ever been, and if that holds true, people here aren’t happy. I think it’s safe to say that simply having (goods, close ties to family and friends, a secure life free of want) is not the key to being happy.

 

No; having isn’t enough. Having and appreciating – that’s the ticket. Without perspective, lacking the realization of just how fortunate we are to be in this place, with all these unspeakable luxuries, it all turns to ash. Think about it – how many kings, how many emperors, ever could call across the world? How many noblemen ever had electric lights or refrigeration, enjoyed tropical fruit after their French dinner, then listened to their Aussie friend’s band streaming across the Internet? Goddamn none of them did! Do you think it’s possible to appreciate modern medicine enough? We bitch about healthcare, but a hundred and fifty years ago they would have bled you out to treat that fever, or stuck leeches on your face to cure that nasty cut. And when is the last time someone invaded your home, burnt it to the ground, and claimed the land as their own? We are in the lap of luxury never before seen on this earth, and we’re either too stupid or too complacent to realize it. Perhaps that’s a big part of why so many people here aren’t happy. I hope so, because then the fix is easy – just go somewhere else, volunteer for the unfortunate, then come back home and bam – situation resolved.

 

And yet…

 

And yet…

 

That’s not all of it.

 

There’s another issue here entirely – the issue of what we’ve lost in chasing all this abundance. Community is gone, that’s for starters. One thing I never realized before leaving the US is that community is not a place (or a shitty TV show!) – community is a group of people who know and support each other. Some of the communities I’ve been around, I was lucky enough to become a part of, and that feeling makes up for so much hardship in life. The feeling when you go from the open market to the corner store to the central park and then the bank and meet no fewer than 20 people who know you and want to know about you is indescribable – I haven’t been able to find it here, and trust me: I’m trying. I guess the closest feeling is from my coworkers at the restaurant, but even that is more superficial and detached. Case in point: the other day I realized one of the other waitresses was unhappy and hiding it, and so I tried to get her to open up. The look I got… it was as if I’d slapped her, but all I’d really done is pry past the comfortable surface. In America, we put up barricades between ourselves and the rest of society, and rationalize it a thousand ways. At the end of it all, what we’ve lost is a network of allies and friends and loving relations so deep and wide that nothing we’ve possibly gained could make up for it. That’s a big part of why people feel so unhappy and alone.

 

We’ve also lost an appreciation for the free and open things in life. Think about it – how many people do you know that regularly explore their world? I’m talking long walks, climbing a hill, going into a part of town they have no purpose in being in and just wandering. I count myself among the very few who do, and even with a focus on it, I still rarely manage to get out and ramble – really, deeply ramble – more than once a week if I’m lucky. That’s such a huge loss! We have beautiful parks, wonderful beaches, gorgeous open spaces, but they’re all so unused – the people are gone, stuck to screens and TVs and jesus, it’s 3am and I’m red-eyed staring at a computer screen! We’ve gotten so caught up in the society we’ve built that it’s dangerously close to a prison for the mind. If we don’t get past that, turn off Angry Birds, cut out the TV reruns, and just get outside into this beautiful world, then we’re just going to pass that horrible practice on to our own kids, and then what? This world can’t afford another generation of self-focused in-lookers.

 

Alright, last point, but this one is a doozy – it builds on this last point, about looking outward. My biggest problem with Americans is that they don’t ever look outside their borders to see the effects of their actions on the rest of the world and it’s peoples. Those shiny cell phones and SUVs, those beautiful new clothes and that fantastic meal all came from somewhere, and increasingly that somewhere is far away and dirt-poor. If you’re upgrading your phone every two years, eating meat every meal, driving a block because you don’t want to walk, and then leaving your AC on instead of cracking the window, then I’m sorry to tell you, but your grandkids will grow up to spit every time they say your name. The resource abuse of this nation is sickening, absolutely revolting, and it’s driven by this blindered ignorance of cause and effect.

 

Here’s a quick one – cell phones require rare minerals to function. Those minerals come predominantly from areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war-torn nation where rape is used to control populations, AIDS is endemic, and child soldiers are the norm. These resources, largely taken through companies and organizations controlled by US corporations and the US government, are removed in a manner that leaves almost nothing to the people who rightfully own the minerals being extracted. They are then shipped to China, refined in terribly toxic processes, and shipped to another factory that forms the components, which are themselves assembled by people who work 15 hour days and make less in a month than you would in a couple days at minimum wage. After all this, we ship the phones across the entire planet on container ships that could politely be called the most environmentally damaging vehicles ever created, at which point they’re driven all over the country and sold to you, the consumer, only to be abandoned a year or two down the line. At this point they’re bundled up and sold to India, where 5 and 6 year old children burn them is giant piles to extract the same precious metals that got all those Congolese women raped. Oh, and the kicker? These Indian kids use their family’s cooking ware to burn the phones because they can’t possibly afford another set of pots.

 

All this, so that we in the US can replace our perfectly good phones with the newest, hippest model. Rape, violence, environmental destruction, slave labor, more environmental destruction, off-shoring of US manufacturing, depletion of very rare and precious resources, and the deterioration of unknown numbers of lives, so that you can have the newest phone. Be honest – when you replaced your last phone, was it broken, or did you just want a new one? It’s not like we couldn’t extract US rare earth minerals, manufacture the phones here in-country, and design them to be modular and upgradeable from the ground up. No, it’s simply cheaper to do it abroad, and because we’re all willfully ignorant of the costs of our toys, we aren’t willing to pay more to do things the right (by which I mean humane) way. We’d all benefit! That’s the terrible tragedy of it – we’d all be better off if we simply did all this here in the US and didn’t export the damaging bits to countries that can’t fight back against economic imperialism. Ignorant, uncaring people will be the death of us all.

 

It’s not just phones – where do you think oil comes from? Why do you think gas is cheaper here than nearly anywhere else? Do you think those Arab states are democratically deciding to give us all their resources out of the goodness of their hearts? No – we prop up terrible dictators who oppress their people so that our nation can have their finite resources without the population getting their just share. Why do you think we’re in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and giving weapons to Israel and selling them to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and bribing Turkey and fighting economic warfare against Iran, anyway? It’s so that American politicians don’t have to raise gas prices or explain to the American people that oil is a finite resources and we’re already past the peak extraction rates – in short, we’re risking world war so that Americans don’t have to conform to reality. We have the military and political power to do that still, so rather than face the bitter truths of this world, we simply steal, cajole, extort more than our fair share of the dwindling pile, and cross our fingers for the future. It’s the problem of the commons, taken global. I’m not saying we’re the only ones doing this, but as citizens of the imperial power, we’re certainly the (current) biggest beneficiaries.

 

Everything has a price, and someone must pay for everything we get in life beyond basic needs. If you’re on top of the pile, as we are right now, then you can make someone else foot the bill for a time. However, our nation is broke, our military is overstretched and losing an unwinnable conflict, and our leadership is bought and paid for by the same people who thought dismantling our entire manufacturing capacity for a quick buck was a great idea. This way of life is completely unsustainable, and one day it will come crashing down on our heads. Or really, on your children’s heads, because we’ve probably enough steam to ensure that we get ours before it all falls down.

 

In the end, I have my own delusion – I like to pretend that the prevalent unhappiness and discontent I see all around me is the start of a mass revolt against the emptiness of modern America. I prefer to hope that we can turn this sinking ship around and still make it back to shore. It’s not true – we should have started in Carter’s era – but you know what? I need this. I need to hope that this country won’t keep fighting in 75 countries, won’t keep consuming 25% of the world’s yearly resources for 4% of the population, won’t keep conforming to all the same terrible stereotypes that the rest of the world mocks us for. It’s not true, but it keeps me from abandoning my family and friends and moving off to New Zealand to be a shepherd for a little longer.

 

I’ll stop here – there’s no real point in going on about the uselessness of our politics, or the echo chamber we call news, because nobody here wants to hear it. If you agreed with what I’ve already written, then you’ll keep agreeing to the other bits too, and if you don’t, then you’ve already gone off to do something else. Just know that you’re being lied to constantly by every channel, by every magazine, by every billboard and sign spinner. You Don’t Need Anything More Than You Need To Survive. The sooner you get that into your head, the better off you’ll be in this life – but then again, that’s just this foreigner’s opinion.

 

Job Hunting

April 17, 2010

Today’s topic is job hunting.
Job hunting can suck a hard one.

I don’t really understand what employers are looking for, but I definitely don’t have it.  I have a few guesses at what they’re looking for – maximal work for minimum pay, fanatical devotion, one guy was asking for masseuse training of his personal assistant – but by and large this whole job hunt is a shot in the blackness.  Or really, a machine-gun volley into the pitch dark night judging by the volume of applications I’ve been tossing out lately.

Why was this so much easier in Central America?

For all of the technology, effort, and wording that goes into these online job boards, automated application processing servers, and fine-tuned exacting postings, I would have hoped for a lot more in the way of results.  I got my last two jobs in a matter of days simply by going door to door and asking people whether they knew of anyone hiring.  Bear in mind this was in unknown towns, in Spanish mostly.   Sure, I tried getting jobs online through message boards and traveler forums, but hardly anyone I ever sent a resume to or wrote a nice letter even gave me the courtesy of a reply.  Jobs came from personal connections, friendships made, cigarettes shared at the right moment. The formal job channels just don’t seem to work as well as the informal.

I wager the same is true here in the US, but I really wouldn’t know, because I don’t know even where to begin.  There aren’t really business districts here, just shopping centers, and that’s exactly where the informal strategy doesn’t work.  Going door to door at local restaurants was fun for an afternoon, but after a handful of instances I gave that up right quick.  Why?

Q: Hi, do you have any open positions?

A: Umm, No.
This No is a very special no, because it comes with a glaring  stink-eye, the sort you give your dog when he rubs his ass on the carpet or a homeless bum who dares show his face around decent company.  It’s the sort of look that is designed to say “fuck off asshole lowlife shitface dirtbag” but instead just tells me that this is not the sort of place I want to be working.  I get it.  I understand.  New employees means competition, lower wages for you, another mouth to feed off the dwindling money trough.  It’s not a hard equation, but it definitely doesn’t encourage me to keep barking up that tree.

I’m not pretty enough to get a job in retail or bartending.  At least those industries are honest enough to admit they’re looking for “attractive young females” who are willing to submit a recent headshot.  Drag, because I’m pretty good at that sort of mindless stuff.

I think part of this comes back to my resume – people read “Central America” and think “crazy third world hellhole” which leads them to immediately discount anything I did there.  “No way is running a bar in Guatemala at all relevant to anything here!”  Bigger than that is the competition here – there are a hundred or more applicants to any position, and many of them are 30 years old with ten or twelve years relevant experience.  My adventure stories and run-around lifestyle is a liability compared to their stability and reliable work history.

A philosophy degree, a pile of odd jobs, and nothing much more than that – not a winning recipe to get hired.  Not when 20% of young people in the area aren’t employed.  Not when a solid 10% of the working population of the country is out of work.  Not when I still would rather do something meaningful like write poetry or tell stories than scrub floors for minimum wage.  I think I broke myself for this whole normal life thing, and while a big part of me is ok with that, the pocketbook isn’t.  Hence why I’m sitting on the couch on a Saturday night instead of heading out for a night on the town.

You know what though?  I had my fun, this is the part where I pay my dues.  All else fails, I still have the nuclear option – I’ll just buy a sailboat and flee.  That’s a good life decision, right guys?

Madrugada Rambles

February 1, 2010

I can’t sleep any more.

It’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. This shouldn’t bother me so much – I rarely know what I’m doing.  I’ve spent nearly a year flying by the seat of my pants, doing whatever seemed right in the moment, just living day to day as I saw fit.

It was wonderful.  Truly fantastic, if I am to be honest with myself.  Finally, in the unknowing, in the not planning, I had found a life that made me truly content, happy in the most basic way.
And now that’s over.

It wasn’t my choice – it wasn’t anybody’s choice.  Things just change, ebb and flow, with time.  The universe just does this, and it isn’t our place to whine or bitch about it.  Life back home, the life I left behind, abandoned like a prom night baby, walked out on and never looked back; that life caught up to me again.

Debt was a big part of it.  Family drama is a much bigger one.  People I love need help, and I can perhaps give it.  I might be a freer spirit, a selfish prick living a life based on doing on what makes one feel content and fulfilled, but what sort of complete shithead would I be to walk away from family?

Don’t answer that – I really don’t want to think about it right now.

There here it is, all of these thoughts – am I ready yet? – where will I go? – can I even work in the US? – won’t I just get trapped? – how the fuck will I even eat? – can I, this me, be happy there in that past me’s life? – all this shit, nonsense, worry, pain just rattling around in my head, and I’ve lost my coping mechanisms.

It was easy to quit smoking when I had sex on a regular basis.

All the little things that I take particular joy out of in this life, like singing into the wind in the back of a speeding pickup truck, running into the ocean with my pants on just to float out in the waves, spending an entire day walking circles aimlessly around a bustling city, making lifelong friends over coffee on a small couch, then saying goodbye forever – those sort of things didn’t happen before.  Those sort of things don’t happen in a place where the magic is dead.  Where is the place for someone like me in such a hard, rude, fast place as the US?  People who write poetry and sit around all morning watching the clouds pass by aren’t exactly in high demand.  Where is the productivity, the value, in any of the things I enjoy doing?  What if I just don’t want to become another wake-eat-work-shit-sleep automaton, desperately throwing myself into hobbies, activities, to pretend that I have some sort of meaning in my life?  Where’s the fucking place for that, huh?

Nowhere.  There is no place for that sort of bullshit.

Not in fast-food, fast-cars, fast-forward, faster-than-last-week, can’t-get-fast-enough modern society.  There’s no slowing down there – just full speed ahead until you shatter into a million pieces on the bricks, and everyone says fake shit and sheds crocodile tears over your corpse.  There’s nothing for me when I go back.  Not when I’ve sworn off the advantages of a self-destructive society.  I don’t want what it has to offer – the exact opposite is what I’ve found happiness in.

Is it possible to do what I need to, but also what I need too?

I’m being  a brat about it, honestly.  Just sitting, self-pitying, being a rock.  Me, the guy who tells every tourist, traveler, vagabond in their final days before returning to jail “go 110%, right into the final seconds, so that instead of sitting on that plane regretting the things you didn’t do, you’re that smelly, exhausted-looking guy all the other passengers whisper and point about, but secretly envy.  Live so hard, and so well, that you burn it all up in what you enjoy.  Have the best damn time you can while you can, before you’re stuck back home.”  I truly believe that, and yet I’m just loafing, lying around and wasting myself away.

Why can I give such good advice and then refute it in my actions?

It’s just – well – honestly, I didn’t see this end  coming so abruptly.  Whereas most people have a set date to leave, I haven’t had to plan anything, have deliberately avoided planning anything, since last February.  I tried to a few times, sure, but whenever you plan, you end up doing exactly what you planned to.  There’s no mystery, no adventure, no intrigue or desire or despair, pain, spontaneity, laughter, love, or authenticity to it.  You just do a list of shit, check the boxes and move on – it’s like having sex with your hand, or watching a movie.  There’s the barest outline of what you really want, but the reality, the truth, isn’t there at all.  I just got tired of fooling myself, and vowed no more plans.  Until now, that’s never been an issue.

Everything changes.

Now I need to plan something, or I’ll just be fucked completely whenever I get home.  I need a job, a life, money, an escape route, and above all, I need to be really goddamned sure that I don’t get stuck in that country any longer than absolutely necessary.   And I’ve forgotten how to even do!  What, do I make a list or something?  Should I start brainstorming, strategizing?  The most important decisions I’ve made in months have been decided by coin tosses, bets, sealed with kisses or handshakes.  Job hunting means walking door to door asking if people have work.  A resume?  That’s an insult to even ask for!  Just let me work for you, and if I’m not good enough, throw me out on my head!  What sort of fucked up system decided a contract was needed for that?

I’m used to a better life, that’s the real problem.

Make no mistake, life is better down here.  Simpler, poorer, rougher, harder, but better nonetheless.  It comes to a few things, I think.  People know each other, for starters.  They know their neighbors, who is fucking who, which dog belongs to whoever, when the neighbor’s  kid is going to have her baby, who was kissing in the park last night.  They talk, they keep up on the local goings-on, and they don’t isolate themselves from reality.  In the US, I lived years without knowing the first or last names of people who lived 20, 30, 50 feet away.  No idea who they were at all.  I’m certainly not the only one.  People know each other, and it shows in every interaction.  Further, they trust each other.  I was in a bakery today, buying a sandwich, and everything was on display right next to the door.  Not behind any doors, not covered by cameras or sensor tags, just loaves of bread, rolls, buns of any sort, sitting right next to the big fuckoff roll-up doors.

Bear in mind, this is a city of over 1 million people.  We’re not out in the countryside here.  Any asshole thief could walk right in and load up on free food, and probably even the cash register, since the employees were nowhere near it except when people were paying.  No, not here.  People don’t steal from their neighbors – not from people they know and care about.  And even if they don’t, it’s just not done!  Better to give people something, any day.  I could go for days, but let’s just concentrate on this for now – they have community here.  They have pride in their surroundings, know their fellow humans, respect each other.  You don’t see people stealing cabs, making old folks stand on buses, pregnant women lift ANYTHING.  They see the other humans around them, and live as if everyone mattered.

Try finding that at home.

I don’t know what to do, what I can do, but I do know that I will be just about the worst American in a while.  I’m giving away everything when I get back – everything I  can live without.  Considering I’ve been living from a backpack for a year, it won’t be a small pile.  I’ve been an ignorant, materialist, self-centered pig most my life, and it took this whole other life to realize it.  I can live just fine off of rice, beans, bread, and eggs.  I don’t need fancy designer pants.  I don’t need more then 3 pairs of any pants, really.  I don’t need heaps of things.  Really, all I need are friends, love, adventure, and the very basics of human comfort.  It’s not a tall order – the trick will be remembering it in the mindfuck and bustle of the corporatist world.  I guess I’ll just have to see how well I can hold onto my self and my values in the belly of the beast.

Keep smiling, and never let the bastards keep you down.

I’m going to bed. -k

What is a New Year?

January 1, 2010

What is a new year, anyway, but another day?

I know that everyone is has been getting excited about the whole New Year’s celebration, end of the decade, holy-shit-2009-sucked-eggs thing, but I just can’t get so worked up about it myself. It might be because I woke up this morning with some awesome stomach ailment, necessarily tying me to a toilet by a “oh god oh shit oh fuck runrunrunRUN!” 2 minute leash, or it might come down to my whole New Year’s plans falling into the toilet, but I think that it’s quite likely because people use New Years as an opportunity to start over fresh, to throw old emotional baggage in the back of the closet – a year’s end enema, if I must be so crude – and yes, yes I must! The difference is, I imagine, that I’ve been trying to use every day in much the same fashion as most people use Dec 31st – to get shitfaced and wake up the next morning with a clean slate. More seriously, I have been trying for months now to get better at getting over my own past – analyzing my mistakes, learning what I can from them, then tossing them to the wayside so that the next day may start off fresh.

It doesn’t always work, because there are of course necessary connections between yesterday and today. The reason I am here and not hanging out getting hammered with my friends in Los Angeles can be traced to a whole line of yesterdays and a pile of decisions, each running linear into the next. I cannot help but for some of my options, some of my opportunities to be constrained by what happened before. Still, I have choice – the freedom to do what I will of the options presented, and to live my life as I want within the constraints that exist. I could hang around, let emotional baggage drown me, mourn the loss of Peace Corps, friends, money, love, the bad decisions, the injuries real and imagined, and just sit paralyzed, but what good is it? What will that get me, what do I gain from focusing on what I cannot change? It’s a recipe for a sad life, lived poorly, and I refuse to take any part in it. Yes, I fucked up – quite a lot in fact – but I just can’t bring myself to waste energy caring about all that. I try to cut my emotional chains every day, and while the first time is so damn hard that it makes you dizzy and leaves you crying in a pile, it gets easier. Now, doing it so often, I feel liberated by the very act of consigning my past to crazy stories and the mental shitcan.

That said, it’s the last day of the darkest decade I’ve lived through – not for me, for everyone – from the United States’ turn to tyranny and warfare to my family’s personal struggle against demons, bureaucratic idiots, hormone imbalances, mental illness, disease, cancers, and what-have-you, to my friends and their fights for control of their own lives, to the basic battle of humanity at large, to eat, sleep, live, and maybe smile every once in a while. The aughts will not be remembered kindly, I wager. You can feel it in the air, here in Nicaragua, but from all the way back home as well, via the internet. Witness the struggles in Iran for self-determination to see that the hope of this time of year can reach ahistorical proportions. All of us, it seems, are ready for something new, for a breath of fresh air, for a chance to let this all go and move on to another life.

And it certainly is possible – we’ve the means to start living anew tomorrow – if we can find the will, then we can create the universe again on January 1st. I’m interested to see where it all ends up – what changes, what remains, who ends up where. I feel a strong current of rebirth in the air, not just for tonight, but for the coming years and months and [time period here] – it’s not like I’m Nostrafuckindamus – everything is in flux, constantly, from the quarks on up. No, predicting change is like predicting that the Earth will keep turning and rotating the Sun – a winning bet damn near never day. What I see more than that however, is the exciting proposition of people actually wanting things to change, drastically, and working toward it. Perhaps it is my imagination, or my position in a community of travelers, artists, writers, and ex-workers, but the atmosphere is electric, palpable excitement oozes from the walls like that pink shit in Ghostbusters 2, but instead of turning the baby into a demon child, it leaves us all feeling refreshed, excited, ready to set out for unknowns and great adventures. I hope it is not constrained to just my own peers, because the effect on all of us rejuvenating – the 75 year-old backpackers, jaded old hippies, nihilist gen-Xers, all the way down to the idiots like me. We’re ready for something big, and so as I set out to the unknown – a new continent, a new country, another transformation, flying high above Columbia – not a coke reference! – as I set out for whatever waits, I hope that everyone else is as excited about, and ready for, the new world that awakens with us tomorrow.

Drink some water, wear a condom, don’t believe anyone who benefits from what they are telling you, and for fuck’s sake – Smile! You’re alive, now act like it! Love -k

PS. As for a New Year’s Resolution(TM) I’m going to spend the next month and a while, until I care to, completely substance-free. Pot was easy to drop, I’m down to 1-3 cigarettes a day, but the boozing is something I’d like to cut away from for a bit, so for Columbia, I’m going straight-edge. Inappropriate location for it? Perhaps, but cocaine is not my drug anyway, so I think I’ll be alright.

Running A Marathon

January 1, 2010

At times the urge to do something crazy just overtakes me, and I can’t do anything until I’ve satisfied it. Most times it turns out great, but occasionally everything goes wrong. This is the story of one of those times.

2pm – It doesn’t make much sense – I’m sitting in Flores, Guatemala, resting in a beautiful island town after hiking 150km in 6 days, climbing Maya ruins, sleeping outside, and generally abusing my body in the Peten rainforest of northern Guatemala. I’m tired, beaten, feet swollen and blistered from my too-large boots, and more then anything I just need a good night’s sleep. Being me, I decide instead to see if I can make it from Flores to Leon, Nicaragua in 24 hours. It’s only 4 countries – how hard can that be?

After the necessary laundry, packing, and my first shower in 7 days, I buy an overnight bus ticket to Guatemala City, and resign myself to a shit night’s sleep in a bus – I strongly dislike “luxury” bus rides, much prefer hitchhiking, but I’d asked town earlier in the day, and there didn’t seem to be any long-distance truckers – my main form of transport – leaving Flores in my direction, and with so few stops between Flores and the capital, that option wasn’t working for me. Running out of options, I swallow my pride and lay down 160 Quetzales – damn near $20 – for a bus ticket across the country. “Too rich for my blood, but sacrifices can be made later,” I told myself at the time. Had I known just how right I would be, I might have just stayed in bed.

8pm – Friends come into town that night, so instead of resting, writing, and mentally preparing for the journey ahead, I throw that plan out the window to drink tequila shots and say goodbye to Mara, the beautifully unattainable Dutch woman I played machete-ball with in Antigua when we were both sick in bed. She tells me stories about monkeys pulling her hair and cleaning up shit all day – animal rehabilitation clinic – and I gush about the crazy ruins and latest adventuring. After she and her coworkers go barhopping to celebrate their night off, I make friends with some fire spinners and dancers fresh in town from some massive raves in southern Mexico. Their stories of hallucinating in the jungle complement my tales of bribing my way into archeological dig sites quite nicely, and right before I leave a disheveled man in a “repression no es seguridad” homemade T-shirt throws a full pack of Payasos – the cheapest cigarettes in the country – at me. “You might need them,” he tells me, and his gaze is so piercing that I can’t help but to look away before long. I did just resolve to quit, but hey, the guy might be right, so I slip them into my shirt pocket, shoulder my bag, and walk out into the night. Adios Los Amigos, and to my new friends as well.

10pm – The marathon starts off without much fanfare. I climb into a waiting taxi with 3 other travelers, bags in the trunk, and hang my head out the window in the cool night air. I really need a haircut, but it blows in the wind deliciously. At the bus station we pile out, buy tickets for the 11 o’clock bus, and I leave my bags with some Dutch guy while I water the pavement between some parked cars – no way I’m paying 2Q to pee in some hellhole bus station bathroom. Sacrifices. At 11 we all climb into the bus, tequila works its magic on my battered body, and I drift off within minutes.

Sometime during the night – I wake up with an electric jolt as the bus driver slams on his brakes and swerves wide right. From my seat at the left-side window I see a pickup truck and semi race past, neck-and-neck, on the 2 lane road. We’re practically in the dirt and the pickup shoots between the 2 behemoth vehicles without a care in the world. Good old Central American drivers. I’m too jazzed up from white-knuckle fear and the adrenaline enema to sleep again, so I stare out the window at the pre-dawn world – small houses, tin roofed, windows without glass, barbed wire fences in front of lush rolling hills – same as anywhere down here, I guess, and from my position behind the glass of a speeding bus, I feel too detached – it’s a movie, Central American Homes, and it’s none too excititng either.

Light streaks the sky, the sun grudgingly pokes its yellow head above the hills, and the world begins to come to life. Women and children and men going about their lives, chickens and cows and dogs stirring, and slowly life stretches, shakes itself out of slumber. How many more times in your life will you watch the world awaken? I want to be a part of it all, but I’m stuck on my side of the speeding glass wall, and the world flees out of sight – I have somewhere else to be.

I have no idea what time it is when we get into Guatemala City, but the place is bustling with bodies, choked with traffic, and everything smells like diesel exhaust. I want to cover my mouth and nose with something to keep out the choking fumes, but my handkerchief is still covered in my blood from a pocketknife accident, and somehow I think a bloodstained rag over my face might make me even more of a spectacle then I already am down here. At the bus station everyone climbs out, my Dutch friend takes off to Antigua, and shoulder my bag and start looking for my next ride.

Unfortunately, this is a private terminal, meaning the only buses that leave from here belong to the company I rode in with, and I’ve had enough of private buses for a while, so after consulting with some of my fellow passengers in sleepy Spanish, I learn that yes, there is a public bus terminal nearby, but it’s 10 blocks, and this is a bad part of town. “Get a taxi, you’ll be robbed,” is the consensus of the people I ask, and so I head outside to face the bane of my existance – taxistas.

The reason I hate taxi drivers so much is that their business revolves around ripping off ignorant travelers for huge profits – I’m not saying everyone does it, but it is most definitely a major strategy. They’ll rarely take you where you want to go, charge you double if they can get away with it, and it’s a situation where they hold all the advantages – how can I possibly know what a fair price is to ride across town when I’m not even sure where I am or where I’m going? If you’re getting a taxi in Central America, especially in capital cities, just resign to getting charged the Gringo Tax, and let it slide – no use getting upset about something that doesn’t matter. I find a taxi driver that isn’t actively yelling “Hey boy, where you goin’?” at me, and ask him if he knows where the public bus terminal is. “Where you go?” he asks in broken English, and I respond in Spanish that I want to go to the nearest, biggest, bus terminal, stressing several times that I do not, under any circumstances want to go to a station with luxury buses. We talk a while, he wants 50Q, and I want to pay twenty-five. He laughs, says forty, I respond with thirty. He turns and pretends to walk away, and I let him get all the taxi. Finally he turns and says he’ll take me for thirty-five, and I agree, throw my bag in the back, and hop in.

Negotiation accomplished, I sit back and hope he’ll take me where I’m asking to go. We talk about the usual things – him: where I’m from, where I’ve been, why I’m in Guatemala, me: where he was born, if he’s married, how are his kids – I have this conversation a lot because it helps to establish a bit of confianza with people around you, and it reminds me that we humans have a lot in common no matter where we’re from. His name is Carlos, was born in Chichicastenango, he’s been married for 5 years, and has 2 young sons and a daughter, in case you’re wondering. He also drives like the devil himself is chasing us, which it doesn’t take many questions to figure out. We weave perilously between buses, trucks, in and out of traffic. At one point, driving the wrong direction on a divided road, I regret that the seat belt was taken out of my side of the car. Carlos isn’t wearing his either, so at least we’ll go down together.
6:15am by Carlos’ dashboard clock, we pull into a driveway and he gets out, leaving the motor running. It definitely isn’t a public bus terminal, so I watch him walk to a nearby door and speak to a uniformed man there – Strange – Carlos gestures over his shoulder at me, and the man laughs about something – What’s so funny? – I see the other guy hand Carlos something that looks like money – oh no, this shit is not happening – and Carlos walks back over to the taxi and opens my door.

(In Spanish) “What gives Carlos? Why are we stopping here?”
“This is the station for buses to El Salvador. Your destination.”
“Where?”
“Here,” he points over his shoulder at the door with the uniformed man.
“Where? I see no buses.”
“The bus comes soon, go inside and buy a ticket.” God-fucking-damnit!
“Is this a direct bus station?”
“Yes”
“Why did you bring me here? I asked specifically NOT to come to a direct bus station.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did!” I’m livid, because this sort of shit happens constantly down here – taxi drivers get pay-offs to bring unsuspecting tourists to high-end hotels, expensive restaurants, and private bus terminals instead of their destinations, and most people don’t have the Spanish to argue. It’s a con game of the highest order, and I carry around a mental list of businesses I will never visit, simply because I know they pull this shit.

I climb out of the taxi, glaring at Carlos, and move to grab my bag. He pulls me by the shoulder and puts himself in front of the door. “Pay me,” he demands.
(In English) “Fuck Yourself.” (In Spanish) “No, you didn’t bring me where I asked to go.”
His look gets uglier, “Pay me gringo.”
“That guy by the door already paid you, thief.” I shouldn’t have said that.
“Thief?!” He’s pale with anger. “I’m taking your things if you don’t pay.”

We stand there for an eternal moment, locked in an angry stand-off, until the uniformed man from the door comes over and asks what the problem is. “He’s robbing me, and you’re paying him to do it.” My overheated comment just brings the two of them onto the same team, and they piously deny any wrong-doing. Fuck it, this is going nowhere. I grab my small wad of bills, take all the lowest ones and the coins and hold them out to Carlos. “Here you are friend, your money. Enjoy it.”
“This isn’t 35Q.”
“I don’t care.” I drop the money onto the pavement, coins scattering, elbow past him, throw the door open, and grab my stuff. I’m shaking with fury as I walk out to the street corner – no way I’m going to satisfy them by taking their bus – and begin asking passersby where I can find the public bus station. Quickly I learn that I’m fucked as there isn’t a major terminal in this zone of the city, the nearest city bus station is at the market 6 blocks away, and it’s dangerous to be in this area with a backpack like mine. “You should take a taxi” I hear over and again. Because that worked so well the first time. I swallow my pride again and head into the private bus station. Do you see why I can’t stand taxistas?

I pay out the nose for a direct bus to San Salvador, and comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ll be a country away in only a few short hours, and possibly make it to Nicaragua on schedule this way. The bathroom is the stuff of nightmares – no seat or lid, a piece of the bowl missing, green, brown, black, red(?!) streaks. The stench socks me in the face and steals my lunch money. I laugh the whole time I’m standing there. Back out in the main station, my bag is thankfully where I left it, and I notice a huge stain down one side – the baggage compartment is never clean, and I’m not going for style points, but it feels wet, so I open the top and investigate the damage. Everything on top of the bag is wet, fuck, my leather jacket is covered in clear liquid – what is this stuff? I run my finger across the jacket, sniff it cautiously, and smell mint. It tastes of alcohol and menthol. Suspicious, I open my medical bag, and yep, the small plastic bottle of rubbing alcohol I use to make my wounds hurt more is torn down one side, and the contents have spilled everywhere. For the first time I read the label, and apparently I bought menthol rubbing alcohol unaware. At least everything I own will smell fresh. I spread my clothes around to dry out a bit, but soon it’s time to board, and so I throw minty-fresh clothes back into my bag and go. “It has to get better from here, doesn’t it?”

7:30am – Another bus, this time with assigned seats and the coldest air conditioning I’ve felt in a while. I wrap my jacket around myself and try to sleep, but between the food sellers and cold I can’t manage to drift off. I have one unread book left, so I read disintegrating pages of Civil War-era letters, which is interesting only in small doses, and spend the rest of my time trying to see the outside world past my slumbering neighbor. I’m awful at riding in buses. A pretty young girl selling chilis rellenos walks past, and I buy 2, plus a bottle of water – if I’d known it was going to be my last meal for 30 hours, I might have gotten a third, but they’re delicious nonetheless.

Eventually we reach El Salvador, pile out, and do the passport thing. I had changed almost all of my money earlier, but I change the last 42Q to $5, and then we’re off again. The bus TV is playing some dubbed Jackie Chan flick, and I fall asleep as Jackie is using a Lamborghini and a samurai sword to rescue a kid in a wheelchair from some assholes with a giant hovercraft, and don’t wake up until San Salvador.

Sometime around 11am someone is poking me in the ribs, and I open my eyes to some cute kid giggling. I smile at her, and she says “we’re there” before running off. I stretch, look around – the bus is empty except for me and the driver, who smiles understandingly at me. I thank him, climb down, and thankfully my bag hasn’t walked off without me. From there it’s a short taxi ride with Roberto, who loves that we share a common name, is 21, unmarried, and has no kids that he knows of. We get along fine, laugh a lot, and for $4 he drops me off at the central bus station I’ve been at a few times before. I have to piss like a racing moose, but just as I’m walking into the station my bus rolls by, I chase it to catch a ride, and off we go again, crammed like sardines, backpack sitting on my very full bladder. To distract myself, I start up a conversation with the couple sitting next to me, and that’s when I learn that the bus ride is 3 ½ hours long. Sweet merciful fuck, what a ride.

5 hellish hours later we finally arrive at the next town, and from there it’s only 40 minutes to the border. I’m so grateful to get off the bus and find some sweet, precious relief, but I’ve barely hoisted my bag before the Frontera bus rolls by and I’m chasing after it waving my arms. Sorry bladder, take another one for the team.

At the border, I join the thin stream of people crossing to Honduras – not a lot of demand for it these days – and $3 later I’m back where it all started, and the familiar electric tingle climbs my spine. It’s not my home anymore, but I still tie a lot of memories and love to this poor country where everything went wrong for me. Just then I want to slap myself in the forehead – everything on this side of the border crossing uses Lempira, not dollars, and of course there isn’t a free bathroom to be found. I have to find a money changer, practically wetting myself, negotiate a rate that doesn’t completely rip me off, and finally, finally I can go take a piss.

Just kidding – I can’t find a bathroom, so I start asking, and everyone points me further down the line. Life is turning into farce at this point, the sort of comedy so painful it’s funny, and so when an ayudante from one of the buses starts badgering me, asking where I’m going, I just roll with it. “Guasaule,” I tell him, “I’m crossing Honduras to Nicaragua, and I want to cross at Guasaule.”
“That bus left already, you have to go to Choluteca.”
“I can’t stop overnight in Choluteca, I don’t have enough money left.”
He shrugs at me, “there is no bus, you have to go to Choluteca.” and makes to grab my bag.
“No thanks, I’ll hitchhike.” and I twist to pull his grip off my bag. Stabbing abdominal pains ensue. Oh yeah, that.
“Do you know where I can find-” but he’s already gone, running back to the bus as it pulls out of the lot. I really hope he’s lying, or I’m sleeping on the border tonight.

5:30pm – He wasn’t lying, as it turns out, but it took me getting conned, robbed, and extorted to be sure of it. After I find a bathroom and pay 5L to take possibly the most satisfying leak of my life, I skip out of the little tienda, buy a soda, and find a line of microbuses. They have to be going somewhere, so I start asking down the line where everyone is going, and if anyone knows where I can find a bus to Guasaule. One young man tells me his bus is headed to Guasaule, so I follow him, throw my bag in the back, and ask him what it costs. “100 Lempira” is his reply, and it seemed reasonable enough. He starts talking to the driver, and I’m starving but broke, so I smoke a cigarette and start a conversation with Niko, this 5 or 8 year old kid sitting on the back bumper of a truck. He speaks some English, so we practice a bit – I ask him questions about him and his family, and tell him never to smoke cigarettes because they make you ugly and kill you. I’m sure it was convincing

After 15 or 20 minutes of this, the driver starts his engine, I say goodbye to Niko, and hop into the bus. The ayudante asks me for my fare, and I hold out a 100L note. He grabs it, but instead of climbing into the bus starts sprinting across the road, hops a concrete barrier, and slips between a couple parked trucks. “Where is he going?” I ask the driver.
“I don’t know,” is his uninterested reply.
“Isn’t he your ayudante?”
“No. I don’t have a clue who he is” One smooth motherfucker, that’s who.
“Where is this bus going? Guasaule?”
“No, just down the road.”
“Oh.”

I climb out again, drag my bag over to some steps, and sit down. Mental cigarette time – The sun is setting, it will be dark soon, and there are no more buses or minibuses, no transport at all except from private vehicles. I could hitch I guess, but that gets dramatically harder once its dark out. I don’t have money for both a hotel and a bus, so if I do find a place to sleep – not a great proposition in this sketchy border town – then I’m pretty much going to have to hitch from here to another town with a bank. Plus, that ruins the whole “lets do this in 24 hours” game, so we’ll keep that as a last option. What I really need is a friend.

6pm – Luckily, I’m pretty good at making friends, and I’m not halfway though my cigarette when a young guy, looks about 20, sits down next to me and asks if he can bum a drag. “Have one,” I tell him, “they’re terrible.” We laugh, I light him up, and that’s how I met David, the first guy to really save my ass here. Turns out he’s a transit worker, is in charge of making sure international truckers fill out the right forms crossing into Honduras. He knows everyone on the border, where the trucks are going, where they’re coming from, and which drivers are likely to take hitchhikers. He also thinks my story of getting ripped off is hilarious, and says he’ll be glad to help me out. How’s that for making friends?

We finish our cigarettes, he tells me to wait around until he talks to a few people, and so I doze against the wall as David proceeds to tell absolutely everyone about the dumb gringo who got robbed of 100L by being so trusting. Everyone loves it, and I’m a local celebrity among the daytime drunks and young kids – the village idiot, more or less. I’m starving, and I have 134 Lempira – $6.70 or so – which could get me a good meal, except that I have to cross a border still, and might have to pay my driver for his help. I can’t afford to eat. I light another cigarette and think about something else.

Half an hour later David comes back, and tells me he has found 2 possible rides for me, which sounds great except that they leave at 8 if they can get through customs by then. This isn’t fun anymore, and knowing that I still have hours, 5 or 6 of them, of just travel time left leaves me feeling pretty lifeless. Still, what else can I do? I smile, thank David, and hand him a cigarette. He works nights, so officially he’s off work right now, and so we sit, talk, bullshit, and pass the time as best we can with no money or energy. After a while, another guy comes over, sits down, and starts asking me where I’m staying tonight. “Nowhere, I’m leaving in a truck in an hour or 2.” He doesn’t like my answer, keeps insisting I stay at a hotel, not just any hotel, but the one he’s recommending me. “Come on man, you don’t know how dangerous it is here – I do. I got shot 7 times.” and at that he lifts his shirt to show 7 bullet holes in his chest, stomach, arm, and one far to close to his dick for him to have shoved it in my face like he did. “Wow, lucky you lived.”
“Yeah, and I killed the fucker too.” wonderful…
“That’s, that’s good. Why did he shoot you.”
“Because I’m dangerous.”
“Oh. Ok.”
“Hey, give me money.”
“What?”
“Money.”
“What?”
“Give me money, I’m hungry.”
“I can’t – I have only a little bit, and I need it.”
“I need it too, come on man, give me money.” He’s pouting – what sort of gangster pouts?
“No.”
“If you give me money, I can protect you.”
“From who?”
“Dangerous people.”
“Like you?”
“Like me.” He flashes me a wicked smile, the sort you see on someone who enjoys causing pain.
“Here.” I give him 20 Lempira, and his whole demeanor changes.
“Wow man, thanks a lot! I’ll be right back.” And with that he goes running off around the corner.
I turn to David – “That was the weirdest thing that has happened to me all day.”
“Yeah, Mike is crazy.”

20 minutes later Mike is back, beer in one hand, cell phone in the other. “Here man,” he tells me, “I’m gonna hook you up. Do you have a pen?” I give him one, and he scribbles his name and a phone number on a piece of paper. “This is my old boss in Tegucigalpa. He can get you anything man – drugs, girls, guns, anything you want. Oh man, you’re so lucky I’m your friend man. Just tell him Cholo is your friend and he needs to help you out.” I look at this bit of paper, at Mike’s goofy grin, and back at the paper again. “Really?” “Yeah man, it’s cool – he’s loaded. Anything you want.” I shove the paper in my pocket, and thank Mike, tell him I’ll keep the number in mind. He bums another cigarette, David takes one too, and a passing drunk asks for one, so why the hell not? Cigarettes all around. We sit, smoke, and Mike bails right afterward, promising over and over that he’ll be right back, that he just needs to do something and oh yeah, if the guy who robbed me comes back, he and some friends will kick his ass and get me my $5 back. I never see him again after that, thankfully. I just give David a tired look and shake my head. What a day.

Around 10:30pm, after 5 mindless hours at the border, I finally catch a break. A trucker headed south to Managua is willing to give me a free lift straight to Leon, and so I thank David profusely, give him the rest of my cigarettes, and take off – still owe that guy back in Flores for giving them to me – sure, lung cancer might suck, but they helped me skip dinner. I try to start up a conversation with the driver, but he isn’t having any of it, and the passenger just keeps telling me I’m too gringo to understand him, so within 15 minutes I’m passed out completely, and don’t wake up until someone shakes my leg.

I startle, sit up too fast, feel faint, recover. The driver is looking straight at me, and telling me that he’s sleeping here, so I need to get out of the truck. I thank him, hop down, and set off into the bushes to take a leak. It isn’t until I’m done that I realize the passenger was a hitchhiker too.

“Hey gringo, you going to Nicaragua?”
“I was thinking about it. You?”
“Yeah.”
“Where is it?”

From where I am, we’re just sitting on a road somewhere, and since it’s an intersection, I have no idea which way to go. Thankfully my new friend does, and so we walk and talk and sweat in the warm night, hoofing it south to the border. He tells me that his father left before he was born, an American man who lives in Florida, and that once, when he was 14, they met. His father promised to bring him to the USA, but after 12 years he’s never heard from the bastard again. I tell him he’s better off without that sort of shit, and he agrees, but tells me the biggest insult that anyone ever did to him was that his father gave him $50 out of nowhere when he was 18. “$50!” he tells me “Fifty fucking dollars, and he doesn’t talk to me my entire life? What do I do with fifty dollars?” I can only shake my head and make a mental note to always, always wear condoms.

A while later, it’s the middle of the night, the stars are gorgeous, and the border crossing is unfortunately closed. We bang around in the office for a while, but even though the lights are on and the computers too, there’s nobody answering, and so we just walk across the bridge, and presto, we’re in Nicaragua. My Nico friend gets a bit spooked – “Did you see that guy?” No. “The one with the machete?” I shake my head. “Do you know what a machete is?” I point to the one hanging on the side of my bag. “Oh.” We walk on in silence. “I hope we don’t get robbed,” he whispers. I laugh inappropriately, too tired for all of this. Things are ridiculous – I’m sneaking into Nicaragua across the wide-open border with no money, walking right past an army base, and this guy is worried about thieves? I tell him that we’ll be safe, and we walk on a bit longer while he talks about his father.

On the Nicaraguan side, it’s the same story – open buildings, lights on, nobody home. It’s beginning to feel like a cheap horror flick, honestly, and we’re giddy and nervous – where the hell is everyone? Do they really leave things so un-policed? We’re talking, Nico and I, and just then a voice out of nowhere scares everyone shitless. “Hey, you need to go get a stamp to enter.” Very threatening. We look around a bit, find a guy lying a hammock in a nearby tree, and he points us back toward the building we just entered. We protest, he won’t have it, and so we walk back into the building to immediately exit the other side and keep walking – tricky tricky… From there, we’re good to go, discussing possible rides or perhaps sleeping in one of the nearby buildings, but at the final guard shack we’re caught good and tight, and while Nico is good – he’s a resident after all – I have to go back and get a stamp. “It doesn’t matter if nobody is working, those are the rules, and no, I can’t come with and do anything to actually help you.” The response of a lifetime bureaucratic turdburglar.

I wander back, debate at each building I pass where I could possibly sleep, and have just decided on an open piece of concrete between two shipping containers when I see a body moving around in the immigration office – somebody has to be up. I shoulder my bag and take off at a trot – I’m beat, and this isn’t fun any longer, but my luck holds just barely – there’s a large hairy man in his wife beater and boxer shorts walking around, and I’ve never been so excited to see so much of such a fatass in my life. I hammer on the door a while, shout, and after about five minutes he gives up ignoring me and we go through the passport stamping game. Finally! I’m off at a brisk walk to see what Nico has gotten himself up to, passing the army base – tresspassers will be shot – when a man on the base, in full camoflage with a rifle, starts waving and hissing at me. “Chele, venga.” I keep walking a few steps. “Vengase ya!” and his voice says it’s urgent. I turn and walk back to him – there’s just no pleasing guys with guns – they think they’re in change just because they can put holes in everything.

“What is it?”
“Are you walking to Nicaragua?”
“Yeah, I’m hitchhiking.”
“It’s really dangerous here. Really dangerous.”
“Ok”
“I saw a guy get stabbed to death over there last week.” He points in the direction I’m going. “Blood everywhere.”
“Ok, thanks.”
“Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.”

Warmed by his good news, I creep a little bit more cautiously back to the guard shack, knife out but concealed – it doesn’t feel dangerous, but the guy with the rifle has me spooked – the words “this is fucking ridiculous!” blare in my head, and I’m too tired to shut them off. Nico is still there, lying outside on his bag, and the guards are nowhere to be seen. I plop down next to him, and ask where the guard went. “They’re asleep inside.” Nice. We watch the stars a while, trade phone numbers, and lie in the dirt. Hours go past, we talk a lot about nothing in particular, share the last sips of my water, and a piece of bread he had from somewhere. Time crawls.

2am? Later? Time has long since passed the point of relevance, we’re dozing, when I hear a diesel engine rumbling – the guards are waving a truck through the gate! We scramble up, and I run for the truck cab a few steps in front of Nico. The driver looks at me, starts to say something, then rolls up his window and drives off as I shake my head – tough break. Still, not 15 minutes later another driver rolls up, and this guy would be happy to take us. Nico climbs in back, we toss our bags in, and I’m shoved into the truck cab, sharing a bucket seat with the passenger – I never figured out why – there was a ton of room in back, but they insisted on it. The 4 of us roll out, a “most overplayed of the 80s” soundtrack blasting, and with conversation impossible, I fall mercifully asleep.

Aside from a few brief jolts and sudden stops, I’m pretty much out – either asleep or staring at the stars – the entire trip to Leon. The driver can’t hear me over the screaming music and engine noise, the passenger is pissed off that I’m taking half of his seat. I lean my head out the window and stare at Orion. I miss you Matt, but I love that I can look up and see you every night, watching over us. I wonder if you ever wanted to do something like this? A tear crawls sideways off of my face – I still miss him, still want him back, but at least this time I smile. He’d be happy to know I’m better then I was, I know that much. The whole group is, almost – there’s still two we need to pull back from the self-destructive edge – but perhaps as a group, the group Matt made so strong, we’ll be able to do it. One day… I drift off again, wind in my teeth, hair like a bad 80’s rock band.

3:38am – I wake up in the parking lot of an On The Run gas station, and the sign across the street says Leon 3km. The driver is parking, the passenger asleep on my shoulder. We’re adorable, I’m sure. Dried drool, pushed by the wind, has actually wrapped from my mouth around to my right ear, and I stink, and I need something to drink. I thank them both, offer my useless 100 Honduran Lempira as payment, but they wave me off. I jump down, grab my bag out of the back, and after sticking my head under a spigot behind the station, wander toward town.

4am – Taxis honk or flash their sirens, and I wave them off. I can’t pay for anything. One driver is a bit more insistent – he pulls over to talk to me, and refuses to speak Spanish. He can’t speak English. I don’t understand him, and I don’t care either. I keep walking, he keeps driving to match my slow trudge. “Me take you drive man! Taxi ok?” At some point I kind of flip my shit and just start speaking broken English right back at him.

“No taxi no ok. No me have money!”
“Taxi! Me drive you (he makes exaggerated driving motions with his hands above the wheel) to town. Leon?”
“No taxi. Me walk. No money!”

It goes on for a while. I walk, he drives, we talk. I’m not in the fucking mood. Eventually I stop talking, and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. He drives ahead of me a while, and right about when I think I’ve won, he climbs out of the taxi. Not good. My knife finds it’s way into my hand, the “leather punch” aka the “sharp as fuck part that fits in a balled fist” out and ready. This guy had better be stupid and overly helpful, or he’s getting a blade in the eye. I’m positively bloodthirsty.

As I walk up to his taxi, I try to defuse the coming storm – (in Spanish) Thanks for your help, but I don’t need a taxi – I was robbed at the border, I have no money, and I know where I am going tonight. I am going to walk, do not help me. Stay over there!” The last part is shouted, because he’s coming around the car toward me. “Stay the fuck away!” I shout, figuring that there is very little about that statement that doesn’t translate, especially when combined with my facial expression and stance. Apparently I was wrong, because he walks right up to me and grabs my backpack. “Taxi…” he starts, but I hit him hard in the chest. “No taxi – vaya a la verga, culero!” I’m yelling and looking for a rock – thankfully he backs off, looking hurt and confused. He goes back around his car while I stand there, blade out in one hand, chunk of concrete in the other, glaring daggers. He climbs into the driver’s seat and throws me one last sad puppy look before driving off. I wait for a while before continuing, and keep my weapons ready until I’m well into the town center. I have no idea if he was trying to rob me, hurt me, or was just the biggest idiot I’ve met in a while, but that guy unnerved me a whole lot more then robbery or extortion had.

Sometime after four I finally get to the front door of Sonati – 31 hours, more or less, since starting this marathon. I knock on the door, the night guard opens it, and lo and behold, it’s the same guy from before, and we share greetings as he lets me in. I’ve rarely been so happy to arrive anywhere as I am right that moment. I pitch my bag on the floor, fill my water bottle, and we talk a few minutes before he lies down in the corner to sleep and I – too jazzed to sleep – sit around through the predawn light checking my email, of all things. I’m actually too hungry to lie down, so I wander out around 6:30 to get a traditional plate, and that settles me – I barely drag myself home before passing out in the dorm room and sleeping the day away.

So that’s how that particular adventure ended – you’d better believe it was one of my worse ideas since I started traveling around down here, and that my bad decisions and utter lack of plans precipitated every one of the bad things that happened to me. Still, the end result is pretty impressive – look at a map and chart the route – Flores-Guatemala City-San Salvador-El Amatillo-Guasaule-Leon – four countries in one sprint, and in the end, all-included, it cost me about $37. I lost any financial records, so that might be total horseshit. I can’t look at the distances, being as I don’t have a map, but I think that’s worth a pat on the back. Really though, it was just training – after I find a way to leave Leon behind again, I’m going to be doing another hitching marathon from here down to Panama City, where I have plans to fly to Columbia (the whole boat idea fell through when it came to cost over twice the plane trip) and do a month of paragliding, reflection, writing, and wicked cocaine abuse. That’s all really – just a little tale of how even the bad times can be good, in their own weird way. Until the next time -k

Amigos latinos – lo siento que este primera parte es en ingles, pero la majoridad de la gente que conozco no pueden hablar nada de espanol!  Por eso, he escrito un parte abajo para ustedes.  Feliz Navidad!
Dear friends, lovers, compatriots, comrades, respectable citizens, drifters, bums, and those simply unfortunate enough to have landed on my email contact list –
It’s Christmas, and I’m almost certain that means it’s the time of year to send out a thoughtful message, full of meaning, good cheer, and hope, to ones we love and care about.  Unfortunately, in my family, that usually happens in February, so I’m not exactly prepared to do it today, and because of that we’re winging it – stream of consciousness is my strong suit anyway.  Here goes nothing…
It’s my first time “alone” for Christmas – not truly alone, of course, but none of the friends I’m here with were friends before this summer, before my life changed so dramatically and suddenly – for the better I wager, but changed all the same.  I’m in Nicaragua again, using my last minutes in Leon to draft this letter, and by tonight I’ll be in a little place called Los Zorros – you won’t find it on any maps, 150 people in a fishing community, a lagoon, and a wide-open Pacific shore.  In a couple of days I’ll be heading south again, on a frantic rush toward Columbia via Costa Rica, Panama, and a long boat ride over New Year.  It’ll be an adventure, I’m sure, because everything is an adventure if you make it one.  There I’ll be taking Paragliding courses for a month or so, living on a mountain, reading and deciding what to do next.  My money is gone, practically speaking, will be truly demolished after February, and so I don’t know the next step, except that it will probably be a good story one day.
Enough of that sort of thing – I can’t focus too hard on future or past because they distract me from the present moment, and in this moment I have a bus to catch, a letter to write, a beach to run circles on.  I miss you all terribly – every time I let myself, my mind floods with memories of friends and loved ones – It’s good in a way, because it lets me know I still care, tells me I haven’t changed completely.  If I still miss you, I must not be a complete stranger yet.  Yet – that’s the operative.  I’ve changed a lot in the past months – living on the road, out of a bag, in Spanish, does that to a guy certainly, but coupled with a burning desire to change my own world, to reform reality in my own image, to play god in my own life, has led me to torch myself, to rise from my own ashes over and over – I average a 3 month lifespan now – 3 months from new life to the next, 3 months with friends, 3 months before I flee, give away my belongings, and start over.  It’s been fantastic, this fall from grace, this shedding of veils, this desperate search for the truth.  I’ve found inner peace, a recipe for true happiness, love, a muse, my ability to cry again, friendship and human kindness at every turn.  Not bad, considering I left home in February for a job – a job that, incidentally, made this all possible, by throwing me out on my ass in the third world.
I mean, what was I supposed to do?  Take their plane ticket, their $50 stipend, and just go home?  Fail?  Never.  They taught me how to survive, corrected my awful gutter Spanish, tutored me in “how to live” and accidentally taught me “how to survive” in the process.  I owe a great debt to the US Peace Corps, and to Miss Trudy Jaycox especially – if not for her ignorant, intolerant, downright idiotic decision to throw me out, I would never have had the opportunity – nor the inner flame – to take this leap, shed baggage, burn bridges, and leap – desperate – into the great unknown.  I’ve had the time of my life, and I owe it to someone who called me a young idiot, “culturally insensitive” to boot.  How’s that for a lark?  I’m still smiling about it, but then, I smile about most everything these days.  I’m happy with my new life, with my freedom and ability to move, happy that everything I own fits in a backpack, happy that I can do the wild, adventurous things that make me happy, happy that I’ve found so many others – crazy, hopeful, loving, wild, joyous – people like me, in a world where I’d almost given up hope of finding anyone like that.  It’s never bad to find one’s values vindicated, one’s way of life functional in the world – better than sex, to be honest.
I’ve met so many amazing people, travelers, teachers, poets, artists, musicians of every stripe, retired university professors eloping with their former students, hippies unrepentant after a lifetime of love and peace, anarchists, rebels, troublemakers, jokers, ex-workers, Dutch people, beautiful women, mysterious strangers – all the outcasts, misfits, those who can’t, or won’t live a life in a society they don’t like – the dregs of society, if you will, but it tastes like the cream.
These past months, 10 of then, as of 2 days ago, have broken me, reduced me to a heap of human rubble, and reforged me into someone stronger – they say that without constant challenge, the human spirit can never reach its potential, but I never imagined it would be so painful, so all-consuming.  The work is paying off though – I’m a better, stronger, lighter, more certain person then I ever was before.  I worry that those people I left back home won’t recognize me when I come back, but that’s a silly fantasy – this curly mop is pretty much unmistakable, as is the goofy grin beneath it.  What I mean though is that I’m not who I was before – more intense, less passive, much surer of myself – I might look the same, but I sure don’t act it…  Out here, in this world, it’s great, but when I try to picture cramming this self in to that life – well, it ends in fistfights most times.
This is rambling at its worst, because I’m talking too much about myself – its Christmas, and nobody is going to sit in front of a machine and read it when there are cookies and presents to be attended to.  What I really love, looking at this email, is the list of people I’m send it to – half the world seems to be represented, at least 10 or 15 languages, each representing a life, and each life conneected to mine in some way – people I’ve kissed, people I’ve cried with, friends from childhood, friends from last week, drinking buddies, people I want at my (never happening) wedding, people I’ve ridden around in trucks with, others who have really saved my ass when I needed it most.  You’re all a part of me, and I’m just honored to have touched your lives.  Thank you all for our interactions, our small melding of lives, and may you all find what you want under the tree this year.  Merry Christmas to all, and if me and my dirty bags come barreling into your life again someday, I expect we’ll just have to celebrate.  Kiss your loved ones, smile like you mean it, and tell everyone I say hello – if they don’t know me, well, they ought to.
I love you all deeply, and no, I’m not just saying that.  -k
Y finalmente… Feliz Navidad a todos mis amigos espanoles!  Lo siento para todo ese basura arriba – algunos personas de este mundo no pueden hablar el Espanol!  Imagine…  que loco no?  No tan loco como mi gramatica terrible y falta de accentos en este correo, pero, la realidad es que mi compu falta teclas para esos, y he olvidados las combinaciones para hacerlos – es como “alt” mas una pijasa de numeros, y a mi no sirve.  Si algunas palabras son confusandas, la mas ofensiva probablamente es correcta.
Pues, es la Navidad, y todavia estoy en Centroamerica.  Hoy salgo de Leon, Nicaragua para la playa al norte – un pueblito superpequeno se llama Los Zorros.  Una amiga vive alla, y su casa es menos que 20 metros de la playa!  Porque estoy incapable de planificacion, estoy un poco solo este Navidad, pero ojala que todos ustedes sean con tus familias y amigos – no te preoccupes en mi, estoy acustumbrado a este situacion, y si no tenggo amigos mios, pues, necesitare conocer a nuevos, no?
Me extrano mucho a todos ustedes – de mi familia anfitriona de Honduras (Gustavo, porfa diga mis saludos y Feliz Navidad a todo tu familia!  He perdido el correo de sus papas.) a mis amigos de Francia, Mexico, Catalania, Guatemala, y muchos mas!  Todavia no creo mis suertes  – conocer todos ustedes ha estado un de las cosas mejores de mi vida recentamente, y planifico mantener contacto con todos.  Vivan en un parte magico del mundo, y si puedo, continuare mi vida aqui por tanto tiempo que es posible!  En serio – antes de entre Centroamerica, tenia pena que los gentes del mundo eran muy separados, solitarios, y antipaticos, pero hoy se que ese fue solo una caracteristica de mis gente, de mi pais, porque aqui todos me traten como familia. Tu amablidad y carino me importa muchisimo – no hay las palabras decir que te debo, y por eso solo puedo decir gracias para todo – son un parte de mi vida, y mi corazon siempre.  Si puedo hacer algo ayudarte, o mejorar tus vidas, simplemente digame.
Que pase un feliz Navidad, y que toda pase bien en el promixo ano (si, te puedes reir en ese error!)
Con mucho amor -k

A short letter to Seth

November 21, 2009

I wrote this to my friend Seth in response to an email he sent weeks and weeks ago – cleaning out the ole’ inbox, and that sort of jazz.  Anyway, what it comes down to is that there’s a bit in the middle that I think people ought read.  Sounds pretty arrogant, but hey, wouldn’t be me without it.

Hey dude!
Man oh man, it’s good to hear from you! I’ve been pretty friendless for a while now, since we all split ways.  Not completely – I spent a few weeks with Veronique, met some great people in Leon, but it’s just not the same as the amazing time I had living with you guys.  Having real, true friends is a precious thing.
I’ve had a terrific and terrible time lately – just got evicted 2 days ago at gunpoint, and things have been crazy.  I’ve gone from having my bar, house, cafe, theater to suddenly being homeless and drifting.  I think tomorrow we head north to Tikal, then to El Sal, then Nicaragua, then Panama, then Columbia to learn Paragliding.  I’ve no idea really.
Anyway, I think that politics and the system are unbeatable, but they are avoidable – you can figure out a way to have that whole world influence you as little as possible, and be perfectly happy living as such, but if you devote your life to fighting against the system instead of fighting for your own goals, then you will become an empty shell, as corrupt and poisonous as the very things you’ve been meaning to destroy.  The trick is to drop out – stop playing their games, stop selling your life, and find out how you need to live to be happy and whole on your own terms, in your own world.  We all create our own realities, and to focus your reality  around beating “them” won’t work because they don’t exist – we’re all victims of capitalism, from the guy at the top feeling empty and hopeless because his money doesn’t  buy happiness to the guy at the bottom starving in the streets.  We’re all victims, and to try to turn society against one portion of it is their means, their methods.  The ultimate act of rebellion is just to work together, to love everyone, to refuse to hate. If you can do that – and it will be difficult – then you will truly be free in this world.
I’d check out crime thinc dot com if I were you, but all together-like.  Miss you bud, and I love you, as you already know.  I’d love to do business things, but frankly, I can’t right now because I’m too transitory, too gaseous and ill-defined to be of any use – I’d be in the middle of setting up some deal and just jet off to Brazil or some shit like that.  I will of course have to work at that, have to work at something eventually, but for now I’d rather live as a drifter off what little I have, and just run – run – run as far as I can from American society.  I’m happier like this.
I really hope you and Beck are well – sounds like work and life aren’t too easy right now, but I know you guys, and you’ll make it work.  If you have to stay in the states it might be more difficult, but for now, I think you deserve to be near friends and family and loved ones.  Just remember – if you’re not happy with your life, you ought change it, because nothing is more precious then our short time here on earth, and to waste even a second of that is to insult and degrade yourself.  Burn it all up, every ounce of your life and self, so that when death and the Devil come to collect their due, there will be nothing left for them, and all your love and energy will be spread across the world, scattered to the winds.  That’s how I try to live, anyway.  Like I said, miss you, love you, and we’ll talk soon my friend.  -k
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