The Situation Thus Far

April 16, 2010

Dramatic title, I know.  Really, I just need to write something, anything here and I’m sick of being negative so I’ve by and large refrained from posting anything at all.  It’s hard all over, as the saying goes, and I’m trying not to spread my black moods any further than I absolutely must.

It’s difficult.

There’s a lot I’d like to write about, but without a resolution I really can’t make a story of it.  I’m going to give it a shot anyway, but it’ll probably come out sadder than intended.  No matter – I’m home, got here 3 weeks ago give or take, and I’ve finally carved out a niche in the ole’ homestead.  My room, the one that was mine 5 years ago before I moved out, had become the storage warehouse, semi-permanent office, guest room, and who knows what else.  When I first got here it felt kind of like moving into a mausoleum to my childhood – old trophies, diplomas, bags and boxes I never unpacked; the whole schebang.

Try moving back into your parent’s house after being a wandering bum for a year plus – it’s like attending and presiding over your own funeral, the one everyone else skipped.  I couldn’t do the “here’s your whole old life, the one you never were all that excited about and now can’t stand” thing at first – just getting up was paralyzing.  I’d wake up surrounded by boxes and just close my eyes again, hoping the next time I opened them I’d be in Colombia or Guatemala or even my shithole casitita in Honduras.  No avail.

Still, I’m not so hopeless as to be controlled by my own mess – I just kept living out of my backpack the last weeks as I tore the hell out of the room – shoved 20 years of kids books, schoolwork, paintball shwag, boxes, bins, photo organizers, sacks, socks, dressers into “attic,” “donate,” “toss” piles and now I’m sitting quite happily in a room that is pretty much the cleanest in the whole house  so long as I ignore that one corner where all the art supplies I don’t know how to deal with are.

The hallway full of pillows, blankets, TVs, monitors, and boxes also requires a certain blind eye…  Small victory, but it was weeks in coming.

In this atmosphere I need the small ones to keep me sane, because the big ones just aren’t coming.  I came home to a warzone – there is just no nice way of saying it.  Parents not talking to kids, one brother locking himself in his room all day and wandering the house all night.  Arguments in proxy, anger and fear and hopelessness everywhere.  The love was gone, and nobody seemed to be looking for it.  I hadn’t realized just how bad things were until I was thrust into the middle of it all.  Things are bad.  They were worse when I got here.  That’s my small victory.  Talking is still minimal, there are still angry outbursts, a recent death in the family, our car  carrier trailer got stolen, things are broken and nobody has time to fix them… It’s rough, but we’re making due, and that crucial family cohesion is coming back bit by bit.  Doesn’t make me feel any less of a shithead for leaving right as things started going downhill.

The job hunt is a joke.  Every day I throw applications into the abyss, expecting fully that they’ll never return.  Once every few days I get a near-automated response and that cruel mockery just sends me raging.  Nobody is hiring.  I’m damaged goods in the eyes of corporate America – all the same things that made me an ideal employee in the traveler world, being bilingual, having a wide variety of experiences, being adventurous and open-minded – those all work against me here.  “You left before,” the unspoken accusation, “why would you stick around in our awful entry-level positions that sap the life out of you for peanuts?”

Good point.  Why would I?

The ball and chain.

A credit card debt bomb, fuse slowly inching down, sits at my feet.  Frantic actions are being taken, giant Hurt Locker-esque suits being donned.  Chase is dumb enough to offer me another credit card, zero percent for a year?  Guess what BofA?  Fuck Y’all I’m going with the cop out!  Cain in Nicaragua, eat your heart out – this is your debt-rodeo riding strategy to a T.  Small victories.  Still, with no income the minimum payment is a wall of solid granite looming, and my steering is locked, brakes are out.  I’m heading for a collision and can’t keep my head above water.

Postponing the inevitable, hoping for an out – I feel like that’s all I see going on around me these days.

People are really fucking grim!  We don’t smile in the USA, not on the level of slum kids or homeless men, nor on the level of street tailors or beggars in the streets of Nicaragua.  We’re so unhappy that I can’t help but feel it – a one-two punch in the gut – hollow eyes and a frown as you drive past.  Nobody walks, the people live inside in Southern California, in the beautiful sun.  It’s all just so foreign to me, I can’t bear it.  Where are the adventurers?  Where are the rebels?  What happened to the happiness of being broke and outside, the joy that comes with just doing nothing?  The people here don’t have it.  They wear rebel T-shirts made in sweatshops, listen to the indie bands in the cars they still owe payments on, keep their eyes straight ahead and heads down – don’t make any sudden movements.  It’s like everyone is on their tiptoes because daddy is drinking and we don’t want to make him angry.

I’m such an outsider now that I can’t even find people to talk to about these sorts of observations.  The vast majority don’t notice because they’ve never known anything different, the few who do are cowed into submission by the sheer mass of the topic – “Things sure are fucked up around here there days, aren’t they?” – you have to sneak into discussing the topic, slide around the edges, paint the elephant’s toenails but for fuck’s sake don’t anyone point out that he’s standing here in the room with us!  There’s just a general desire to turn a blind eye to the basic truth of what’s going on here.

Americans have forgotten what it means to be free.

Freedom requires danger, and we’re so risk-adverse that we’d rather run to our trucks than set off fireworks in a field.  I’m looking at you, guys who fled the festivities a couple nights ago because we fired 2, two, dos, one-two rockets off into the air!  BANG theeeeewwwwBOOM and that’s it.  The police might come, sure, but if you’re so worried about the cops finding you and arresting you for shooting off firecrackers that you actually bail a party…  What’s the point of living any longer?  You’re worried about losing your job?  Perhaps the question needs to be asked – where have all the jobs gone, that you are so terrified of losing yours?  Where did those bailout funds go, if not to keep Americans employed?  Why do the top 10% own 50% of the wealth?  Where’s my bailout?  Hard questions, but until we look at root causes we’re just going to permit our government to give the rest of our money to the rich.  So long as we’re divided, so long as we’re convinced the poor are the ones getting handouts, we’ll never question the order of things.

My brother freaked out at me the other day for giving a handful of change to a dirty guy sitting on the freeway offramp.  “Please.  I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need it.” reads the sign.  “Thanks brother,” he says, the first real smile I’ve seen in a  week on his lips.  “You have no idea how little people give these days.”  My brother next to me yells – “Don’t give him all that!  Look at all those quarters!  He’s faking it, he could just get a job  if he needed money.”  I see his eyes, hard and dark, and think of long days  spent smoking cigarettes and drinking instant coffee to keep the belly full.  He doesn’t get it – he’s never known anything else – the TV tells him that the homeless are dangerous, the beggars all fakes and liars, and who is he to think otherwise.  We all believe our programming until we step outside of it and see the Potemkin village for what it is.  Fear, anger, ignorance, bred on lies and false histories – I  can’t help but feel that this place is going down down down unless some voice of reason and sanity can step in.  The racism and rah-rah USA blow up dem terrist undercurrent is terrifying.

If Barack Obama can be tarred as a socialist (hahahaha really?  Fucking hell…) and Justice Stevens as a liberal lion, then Ronald Reagan becomes some champion of the left, because he was more liberal than both of them.  He was a crazy right-wing nutjob in his day, and now he’s to the political left of Barack Obama.  What hope is there for reason and honest discussion when the far-right party is being tarred as socialist by the fascists?  I think Frank Llewellyn wins my heart today by pointing out on CNN that Sarah Palin was the most socialistic candidate in the 2008 elections.  I only wish that more Americans would get outside the states and see what a real live socialist looks like in the wild.  Err wait, as I was told recently “I don’t care what they do outside the country – they’re not Americans!”  Right, you get em.  The old jingoism still knocks me for a loop when I see it.

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to get super-depressing and ragey  in this?  Whoops.

The shining light of this whole return has come from a good friend I knew since Kindergarten.  He and I have taken up hiking, bouldering, free rock climbing, and just hanging out – it’s pretty much all that keeps me sane these days.  When you’re 10-15 feet up a rock wall with nothing between you and hard ground except that knobby rock in your hand and crack you wedged your left foot into, there’s no thinking.  There’s no debate.  Only action remains at that point, only exertion and climbing and breathing and the next move.  It’s my style too – personal accomplishment, no point to it really, and it requires a certain strain of insanity that I find rather endearing.  Endorphins, Adrenaline, a healthy dose of fear, sweat; shake over ice and serve cool.  It’s the sort of cocktail I’m all about these days, given that I’m too broke to buy booze.  Ah well, I could do to be healthy for a while.  That’s the happy-haps for me now, and yes, I really just did write “happy-haps.”  Sometimes it’s just one person or one small gesture that makes all the difference.  I only hope mine work so well.

Oh, and the internet is EVERYWHERE.  Seriously strange.  I’d gotten so used to it being tiny little pockets strewn across the world like gems, and now there’s a 10 foot wide deadzone in the far end of the house and everyone complains.  Funny stuff.

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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

Farewell to Leon

January 4, 2010

I don’t understand how I’ve gotten so attached to a place, a single city so quickly as I have, but there it is – I’m leaving Leon, Nicaragua in a couple of hours, and I actually ache with the realization that I might not be back any time soon.  What is it that ties people to locations so tightly, drags them in and wraps them up and makes it hurt – physically, mentally, emotionally all – to leave again?

I never intended to come to Leon, never even heard of it before I met a random traveling acquaintance on the Honduras-Nicaragua border.  Sjoerd, this crazy Dutch fucker, and I were hitchhiking south on a whim when we crossed paths with Mike.  “If you end up in Leon,” he said, “I’m staying there at the Tortuga Booluda.”  We had no intention of visiting, but hey, information is always appreciated to those of us who travel without plans.  A few hours later, after being chased around by drug dealers in Chichigalpa, we skidded into Leon after dark and without many other options, stayed the night.  And another.  And another.  We walked around town every day, did some drunken Michael Jackson karaoke, made friends, had a blast, and when we did finally leave it was only by tearing ourselves away from the sweet, easy, addiction of Leon.

It happened again, returning from Costa Rica to my life in Honduras.  And again two days later , chasing a beautiful Belgian woman.  A week later, looking for tattoo parlors and ending up in a part of town so run-down and gringo-unfriendly that a local man actually marched us out of the neighborhood to the nearest bus stop, and the gang-affiliated tattoo artist wouldn’t even let us talk to him.  It was so strange – every time I came to town it was “just for the night” yet I stayed a few, or a week, maybe two. Each time I left it was for good.  There’s a magnetism to this place, that much is certain – consistently good times don’t hurt, fun-loving and humorous people either.  The hoards of Scandinavians are an added bonus.  Perhaps it is just the memories that draw me back so consistently.

Still, when I left in August I wasn’t coming back – Leon had been great, but I was off to bigger and better things – or so I told myself until I found myself here again a month later, smellier, with more holes in my clothes, but welcomed with open arms nonetheless.  We’re dysfunctional lovers, Leon and I, always parting ways, pretending it is for real, but never meaning it in our hearts.  I left again, chasing a girl of course, went south to Granada, Ometepe, hitchhiked Costa Rica for a while, and when all of that ended, I crawled broken-hearted back to Leon, hoping she’d be so forgiving as to take me in again.

Of course she did – in her mercy she even gave me a new family at Hostal Sonati – sent an Irish lass to fetch me from the bus station and dumped me shell-shocked and exhausted into a big dorm room full of sinners, saints, artists, prophets, adventurers, lovers, and Dengue-fever victims.  Leon knows just how to heal me – one night turned into ten, we dabbled in debauchery as high art, flung minds, bodies, souls into the practice, spent nights in a blur, nights in a haze, forged lifetime friendships and love affairs timeless.

It was all I could do to get out, to flee before Leon consumed me and carried me off struggling into the night, to break me of my adventuring ways until I started a restaurant and a magazine and lived my life contented and happy – who would want that anyhow?  I fled to Guatemala, wrote a poem about it all, and again thought I’d gotten away from this dangerous siren.

It was not to be – another life ended abruptly, another love affair collapsed, and Christmas fast approaching – what else was I to do but come back to Leon, tail between my legs, to see if there was anything left here for me?  There was, of course, there always is if you’re willing to ask, but the pull was so strong that I’m still here fifteen days after I showed up.  I’ve canceled a boat cruise, pushed back paragliding, flirted with giving up the whole hitchhiking adventurer life just to stay here and hang out at the beach with Norwegian metalheads all day.  Today is the absolute last day I can possibly leave if I’m going to make it to Columbia on time, and I just don’t know if my heart is in it.

I guess I just don’t know how to treat a city like this.  My friends back home used to say that we weren’t allowed to have nice things, the reason being that we’d always do something stupid with them, but what about a nice city, a contented life?  Am I allowed to have one of those?  Something inside tells me no – it isn’t time yet – and so once more I shoulder my pack and prepare to head out of town.  I’m not kidding myself this time – I’ll be back to Leon – there’s no way I can stay away from the city that has brought me so many friends, laughs, good times and bad, love, tears, cheap drinks, live bands, great bars, stray dogs, street parties, and magnificently dangerous fireworks displays.  How could I?  Once this bitch gets hold of you, sinks her claws into you, there’s no escaping – I might as well admit that I like it.  So farewell Leon, you’re the best city in Central America, a hitchhikers’ oasis in a cruel, confusing life – don’t ever change!  I won’t know what to do with you otherwise.  To all you Leonites, I’ll pour one out for you if you’ll do the same, and when I get back, you’d better bet the first bottle is on me! -k

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