January 4, 2011

A friend wrote this to me and asked if I might put it somewhere – something about about not wanting to offend friends and family. I haven’t changed any of it, and I rather like the sentiments, so why don’t you take a minute to reflect on the good ole Christmas spirit?
I have a confession to make: Christmas…really bothers me.
I mean, yes, there are the usual erudite bah-humbug reasons why Christmas is ridiculous: most of us aren’t really practicing Christians, the commercialism and competition surrounding gift-giving, the beautiful ideal that is never quite reached that leaves someone, without fail, weeping at the lack of perfection…I’ll spare us the rest of the rambling list about lies to children and poor translation of customs and symbols that has led to the Disney circus parade of characters that swarm over us in a dizzying tornado for just over a month each year.
What I WILL talk about, the part that bothers me most, is the rottenness of the warm fuzzy core of Christmas. More than Little Baby Jesus, Christmas is supposed to be about family and togetherness. It never really was about Jesus anyway: it’s a celebration after a year’s harvest. It’s a time to kick back amid the bounty of a year’s hard work and indulge in a little excess and catch up with people as the busy earth breathes a sigh after birthing of her muchness and prepares to roll over to sleep for a bit.
We get together to celebrate our successful journey through a year and to fight seasonally affective depression in the darkest part of the year. We remind each other that the growing season will return and we praise the sun for consenting to give us just a little more light every day.
We have lost any of the original relevances of our yearly celebration and most of us don’t miss it because that is not our reality anymore. Fine. But the sickness that plagues us now is that we don’t celebrate a job well done, we celebrate our yearly shortcomings and pray to the gods of plastic items that they will somehow help us assuage the guilt we carry for the sin of being too busy to have meaningful exchanges with people throughout the year. We hope that we can purchase something of value, since we’ve failed to make anything of value ourselves.
Our Christmas, with all its stress and expense and etiquette is a thick and glittery plastic sham that we uphold as a sacred social contract: You don’t call my bluff and I won’t call yours. But that emperor has no clothes, friends! Plastic crap and other novelties given under quasi-duress do not create a meaningful exchange.
My brother and his wife (who doesn’t really like me, I don’t think) dutifully got me a present because I am a box to check on the family list. They do not need to get me a present. I don’t really need anything or merit anything just because it’s Christmas, anyway. And besides, they have a new baby girl and Amber quit her job in November, so I know that the money can go to other things. But they did as we
all do: they wrote the list of all the people they are obliged to get gifts for, searched the corners of their minds for some quirk of mine, and went searching for a deal on something – not too expensive but jazzy enough to pass – that would fulfill the responsibility to get someTHING for all blood relatives, even those that have been off in other countries and on the other side of the state for some years now.
The want that gift to communicate that they ‘know’ me. That ‘knowing’ must then represent a bond and a connection. We still know each other, right? See – I know you like tea and art, so I picked out these TWO Thomas Kincaide mug/tea gifty set thingies! (It must not matter that we only see each other if I happen to talk to my sister on a day that they’ve actually come to town). It was the same with the other side of the family – I got a novelty chocolate-making set that is good for approximately 2 oz of prepared chocolate from my fiance’s sister. God help us.
I do not want to demonize my brother or my sister-in-law- they are fine people just trying to do the best they can at being adults. And I know there is a wealth of criticism reserved for those ingrates who would “look a gift-horse in the mouth.” A gift is a gift, right, and one should accept it graciously – that’s what we’re taught. But I think we’re taught that because gift-giving is so often not just wrong-headed, but wrong-hearted. THAT is the problem I see. Giving gifts just to check off the names on the list, or even giving gifts to make up for a year’s lack of meaningful interaction isn’t really giving at all, is it? It’s more like plastering a bandaid on a finger that isn’t cut or, worse yet, shoving a mug/tea gifty set into the hands of a guy who’s just lost a phlange…or his wife – it’s inappropriate. And while that kind of gift-giving may require some kind of monetary sacrifice it doesn’t actually represent love, thought, craft, work, or celebration of much of anything – at least, to my eye it doesn’t.
You see, I don’t WANT a novelty chocolate kit, even if it is Fair Trade Certified. I despise Thomas Kincaide and the cookies that came with each plastic-wrapped set contained milk whey and I’m lactose-intolerant. And I can forgive the whey and the novelty and be happy that these guys were thinking of me and trying so hard to find a match for me and a thing so I would KNOW they were thinking of me. But the unspoken burning truth on my tongue is that I do not WANT things from the people in my life. I don’t care about manufactured crap – in fact I rail against it constantly. Instead, I would like to spend more TIME with my brother. I want him to know just how much I love him and I wish more than anything that I could help him understand me, make me less of an uncomfortable anomaly to him (and the whole stinkin’ rest of the family, if I had my ‘d’ruthers). I WANT to be able to talk more easily with my sister-in-law…like maybe dig up some of the misunderstandings of our early relationship and settle them instead of pasting over them and pretending everything has always been dandy. I want for her to see that me just being me and living and breathing and having opinions isn’t any kind of judgment on HER. But I’ll likely not ever receive any of those gifts; instead I’ll forever get novelty crap that doesn’t even really suit me.
I say this, and I’m going to follow it with a truth about myself that will seem self-righteous, but bear with me: I do the best I can to make gifts for people at Christmas. I figure if I’m going to participate – and, hey, I have to admit that, for all the reasons it’s bullshit, I still like being with people and sharing good food and catching up – if I’m going to participate, I’ll do it on my terms and in a way that feels deeply satisfying. It helps that I am always hijacked and taken over by my right brain in the autumn.
It wakes me up at night and compels me to create. I meditate on the essences of the important people in my life and create things that I present to them at Christmas gatherings. Granted, I am bothered by twinges of doubt and embarrassment that my gifts won’t be understood, that they’re ugly, that they’ll never be used; my packages always look strange and out-of-place…sometimes they are foods or oddly-shaped, bizarrely-trimmed bundles or just naked products amongst the neat and glitzy packages and bows. But people always seem to like my inexpensive hippie-gifts best, and I think that it’s because my gifts represent a culmination and a connection and a communication – from my essence to theirs. It also demonstrates a sacrifice of time and creative energy that mass-produced landfill grist just doesn’t possess. I received a painting from my mother-in-law that she had done from one of my photographs. I was so – touched?, astounded?, overcome? – that I could hardly speak. In her way, she had used her art to give a nod to mine. THAT is a gift that is thoughtful, loving, meaningful, and, in a true sense, an offering of oneself. I think that’s what Christmas is supposed to be.
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Rebuttal to Myself

November 6, 2010

So if you haven’t read the last post, I’ve been having a rough day in a bad string of days in a shit week… really it’s been a long, bad time for me for quite a while now. I really needed a night like tonight, one where I’m on, where I’m kicking ass instead of getting kicked.

 

I hadn’t hardly clicked post on the previous entry when I’m in my car and speeding off to work. 4:40 or thereabout, work at 5, and I’m late. It’s a 25 minute drive to work on a good day, and right now I’m stuck at the train crossing – it’s a great train, passes by the house precisely at the time when I’m guaranteed to get stuck behind it if I’m running late. There’s one chance though – I slam into reverse, cut into the non-turning lanes, hit the green and go. The train is on my left, our paths cross in about a mile, and I’m gambling that I hit enough green lights to cut her off at the pass. There’s 4 crossings, and at the first she’s right next to me. Second, she’s just behind me, we’re almost there, no, red light. Third I’m speeding, she’s stopping at the college, but it’s almost red again, and I’m sweating – hit the light, play speed racer, and it’s probably orange – no cops – clear sailing now, I’m through the crossing and already life feels better. Small victories.

 

I make it into work a couple minutes late, feeling instantly better when I see another coworker coming in late also – we’re both covering shifts, and at least we’re in good company. Almost all my favorite people are working today – the regular Friday crowd, plus some good substitutions. Bullshitting, setting up tables, and getting ready for the rush, I slip into work and let my mind go free. I’m really lucky to have this job – with all the stingy, angry restauranteers in the world, it has great ownership, a family feel, and a sense of camaraderie to it that is too rare in this industry. We’re an up-and-coming place, 4 months old today, and so the night starts out slow. We all horse around, trash talk, make friends with the guests. I think it says a lot about a business when the employees go out of their way to befriend customers, and take on duties outside their own. We all really want this place to succeed.

 

Success means hard work, and once the place fills up, you’re slammed. We all help each other out, and so I’m covering a bus shift for one of the younger guys. It’s physical work, far more so than waiting – lots of lifting, carrying tubs of plates, garbage, glasses, ice – interspersed with waiter work – taking drink and appetizer orders, serving plates, schmoozing to kill time while some overworked waitress is taking another table’s food out – and then you’ve got to keep bathrooms clean, clear tables, sweep up messes, wipe up spills… At the end of the day, the bus is the guy keeping the chaos of a full restaurant from turning into a shitshow. You make minimum wage, but all the servers tip you out, and if you’re lucky you’ll double your pay like that – it behooves you to make everything run properly. Plus, you never know when the right conversation with a customer will make her night and convince her to bring the whole golf team over to try lunch next week. Since we all love the place, and want to see it work, the whole staff is pretty going full-out the entire time we have customers – no bathroom break, no cigarette, nothing while the rush is going on.

 

What this means is that we make up games as we go along – If you don’t have a break, you’d better be enjoying the work itself, and this crowd loves to talk shit. The kitchen staff bags on me, calls me “google” and asks me obscure questions I’m supposed to know the answers to. They rip into the dishwasher, each other, hit on the waitresses and hostess. Everyone plays along, the girls threaten to beat up the boys: even the cook plays a thug ass gangsta on TV. There’s no room for dwelling on problems when you’re busy, and this job is a full mind-and-body workout. No thinking… that’s a nice change. Moreover, every in this group is on their A-game all night long, and aside from one table that came in complaining, we sail smoothly through the entire evening. I even got to change a few kegs out and play with a couple of dogs. Taken all together, it was a good night’s work.

 

When the crowd dies, the waitresses do their tallies, clean their station and after a victory cigarette go home. The cooks spend an hour on preparation, cleaning, washing and scrubbing and hosing down everything. This is a fantastically clean place for how much food goes through it – our chef has the boys tear the whole room down to pieces and put back together every single night. Meanwhile, as bus I’m cleaning, sweeping, mopping, sanitizing the front end – the whole eating area, the patio, the entryway, the lunch counter, and then there are bathrooms to restock, silverware, napkins, the bus tubs and cart to clean. Plus, like every other Friday night there’s that one table that snuck in at 8:45 and is still hanging out drinking wine and having a great time, which would be great if we hadn’t closed an hour ago! The cooks start to head home, the table finally goes, and we hose down the floors and patio. Finally, 10:15, I’m off the clock. I say my goodbyes, head out into the world, and I realize how much I don’t want to go home just yet.

 

Luckily a couple of other guys are down to party – we have a prop 19 pity party, a round of beers, and a great conversation. I get to speak Spanish, we tell dirty jokes, and well, laughter really is the best medicine. That’s it really – I drive home listening to jazz, end up running into my mom on her way back from dancing, and follow her home. Glorious shower – I will never stop appreciating hot water – stop to soap, Parov Stelar playing spygames, say goodnights all around, and lay down to type this night out. I needed a victory, however small, and I’m glad to have it. Until the next day; goodnight world.

 

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.

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.

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

Raul

November 7, 2009

His name was Raul, and he was once an illegal immigrant to the United States.  He came into California, worked picking crops, taught himself English.  He fell in love, married, had 2 daughters.  He moved from picking crops to chasing traffic accidents and recommending ambulance-chaser attorneys to the victims – an extra-legal profession, to borrow Joe Klein’s Orwellian Newspeak.  Eventually Raul got on the wrong side of a cop, and was deported.  His wife and daughters remain to this day in the US, and Raul has not seen them since he left.  He rebuilt his life, began to work at a textile factory in Honduras, but that shut down when the owners decided it was easier to move operations abroad then to pay their workers $240/month.  He’s been unable to find work since, unsurprising in a country that suffers 30% unemployment and whose economy is driven primarily by remittances from the 1,000,000 Hondurans living in the US, and after that by textile manufacturing, banana, and coffee production.  An export economy to the West suffers deeply when the US and Europe aren’t buying, and to complicate matters, ever since the military-led Coup this summer, tourism has been flat-on-its-face dead, leaving this writer to conclude that 2009 will go down as the year Honduras got brutally beaten, shaken down, and left for the vultures on the side of the road, a not-occasional-enough event in this part of the world.

Really – when there’s no money, no work, your children are starving, and there are a very small group of incredibly rich owners in your midst, what would you do?  If you answered “turn to crime” then you’re spot on – the poor in Honduras have been driven inch by agonizing inch into the sort of activities that would get one labeled a terrorist and possibly French back in the US of A.  Everything from massive surges in gang and drug-related violence, kidnapping, smuggling, roadblocks, hijacking, bus and taxi robbery, pickpocketing, underage prostitution, child and female slavery, damn near everything you’d want to limit if your goal was societal stability is rising, and rapidly too.  Not only in Honduras, mind you – every place in Central America is seeing the same problems, the same trends, as the global economy sags like a 70-something social butterfly who fell behind on her Botox shots.  As the bigshots protect their own asses and their friends’ Wall Street investment firms, the people further down the line take the hit all the harder, and this part of the world is pretty near the bottom of the totem pole.  No one has credit, liquidity, savings to fall back on – most don’t have an extra tortilla or cup of coffee to spare, let alone money.
The rich will survive this – even if they have to sell the extra Mercedes and the lake house, they will make it through, keep sending their kids to the right schools, showing up at the right events.  The middle class (in the US sense) will live as well, though not without having to cut out the Starbucks a few times a week, perhaps put off the new TV or those cute jeans for a bit.  It won’t be easy – many people will lose their mortgages, cars, declare bankruptcy, but you’ll eat at least.  The poor, the real poor, the billion people who live on less then $1 a day – that sixth of the world is, to put it politely, fucked. Just like the last time, just like the next time, the poor take it on the chin whenever the Capitalist system over-invests in tulip bulbs.
Ok, so what does this have to do with Raul?  It seems a good enough time to reintroduce our protagonist.  When I met Raul, I was in Choluteca, Honduras, hitchhiking north to friendly faces and a roof.  He was lying in the street near the market, facedown with an arm stretched dangerously close to the choking line of buses, trucks, taxis slogging through the narrow dirty streets.  In his hand, a small bottle of Catrachito, cheap gut-rot liquor, hinted at the cause.  I didn’t intend to meet him, I just wanted to move his arm out of the road, but as I did so he sat up with a start, scaring the hell out of me and coughing booze-scented pleghm on his dirty clothes.  I convinced him to move with me, and we sat in the shade of a nearby shop and shared a cigarette.
“Why,” I asked him after he told me his awful tale, “why are you doing this to yourself?  What about your family?”
He spat in the dirt. “My wife does not receive my calls.  She told me that she is sorry, but she needs a man who can support the children.”  He put his head in his hands, wracked by sorrow but still too proud to cry openly.
“Raul, why drink?  Surely there is something better, no?”  I asked so many variations of this, brought in God when I had to, but nothing penetrated his dark clouded eyes.  There was one phrase he kept repeating that hurts me still – I’ll try to translate it as best I can.
“I have worked like a slave my entire life.  All my life.  What good is there?”
He stared at me, and I could only shake my head – I don’t know.
I don’t know anything – I came down here looking for reality and truth, and I’ve found bucketloads, but none that penetrates quite like the poverty, the hopeless, lifelong, humanity-draining poverty.  It isn’t just Raul, it’s nearly everyone – coming from the US I had studied the victims of our economic policies, but I wasn’t prepared for the sights I’d see, the people I’d meet, the guilt and helplessness I would feel confronted with it all.  The mind rages – there must be a better way!  We’re not trying to help these people – how could we when we don’t even know they exist?  The poor, starving, dying, have no value in a system that cares only for productivity, shaving costs, trimming staff – maximizing profits has replaced human decency, and we all lose.
And yet… I’m no better.  After our talk, cigarette, and a few mouthfuls of water, I bid farewell to Raul, mouthed “I’m sorry” to his pleading eyes and outstretched hand, turned and walked away.  I had a bus to catch, a friend to meet, a hot meal and a shower waiting for me on the other end.  There are a billion Rauls, a billion humans like you and me out there trying and crying and dying to live.  There’s a way to help them, the means exist, but the will – that’s where we fall flat.  There isn’t any profit in keeping the poor alive, at least not one comparable to corporate piracy and waging aggressive war, and so until we change this fucked up system we live in, the Rauls of the world have to die – the bottom line demands it.

-k

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