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.

 

The Wrong Side

June 3, 2010

There’s 2 sides at least to every issue
and I’m sure that each has merits
but my nation picks the worst (or seems to)
and I don’t know how to bear it.

In the game of global politic
the stakes are high as ever
the world is grinding down to shit
with American hands on the lever.

Across the world apartheid reins
a million and a half in the cage
would anyone please try to explain
why we’re on the side of the captors?

Oil slicks the size of nations
set loose by reckless corporations
we have the strength to rein them in
if the politicos weren’t paid-for patsies.

Obama, Osama, who’s worse for your mama?
Who fights the bigger war?
Who takes your rights, privacy, money?
Piece by piece by little piece.

Give up freedom to fight those who would steal your freedom.
Who is the real terrorist here?

One slain in NYC is worth more
than one in Kabul.
Or Baghdad
Gaza or Tehran.

How much more?

A little girl
or a wedding party of dozens
destroyed by remote control.
Is that how to react to terror tactics?

If the one with the gun
to the head of her sister
must shoulder the blame of her actions.
These sister nations all have bloody hands.

Still…

Doesn’t the one who always sides
with violence, funds oppression
courts authoritarianism over freedom
bear the blame a little more?

What if she is the one passing out the guns?
The one with the biggest armies
the most bombs
the biggest stake in the status quo?

Sister America, you’re on the wrong side!
Sister America, you ARE the wrong side.
Sister America, you hold the world against the wall.
Sister America, you must fall.

If we are all to live.

This one will probably get me some heat. Before you react, claiming I hate America, I’m acting unfairly, don’t see this in perspective, use too much hyperbole, realize this – the biggest player in the game (in this case politics) is the one who makes the rules that all others must abide by. Iran, China, Israel, Russia, Britain, everyone must play by American rules right now, because we have the biggest guns and the best capacity to wreck everyone’s day. It’s been this way ever since we took over as global hegemon from the Brits, and will remain this way until another country arises that can take us in a fight. I’m betting on the Indians, honestly.

In this present moment we are the strongest military in the world, and are very open about using that capacity to achieve our goals. It didn’t start with Bush – Clinton bombed and shot cruise missiles at his share of the world – Bush the elder had his Iraq adventure, Reagan his secret wars… it goes back a long while. I would make the argument that we have been at some sort of constant war since the Spanish-American war in 1898! Warfare is our primary means of international relations, of maintaining our position at the top of the hill.

We need war to keep our cheap cars, cheap TVs, cheap oil, low taxes. We’re addicts – to consumption, to abundance, to waste, and to the warfare that underlies it all. We hold the world at gunpoint and reap the resource reward. How else do 5% of the world’s people get to consume 25% of the resources? It isn’t because we’re free and they’re not. It isn’t because we have some god-given right to all this abundance. It’s schoolyard tactics, nothing more – we are the biggest, meanest kid on the playground and until another, bigger kid (or some sort of Karate Kid) comes along to knock us around, we’ll remain atop the dirt pile.

It isn’t just, fair, or equal – lip-service values that every American needs to profess to be taken seriously, but ones unsupported in our nation’s history. Before the ink dried on our Constitution, the revolution was betrayed – equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness were not, are not, for any except the privileged. Doubt me? We’re suspiciously absent from the French Revolution, leaving Thomas Paine, mother of our country, to rot in jail, and the revolution to fail. Then we funded Napoleon in exchange for land that wasn’t his to give. Haitians were so inspired by our example that they too threw off their colonial masters and became the second republic in the hemisphere – we ignored them then, and have actively worked against their subsequent democratic movements to this day. We massacred a continent’s worth of peoples, destroyed entire cultures, stole homes and lands from every group we came across in our mad rush to the Pacific. At least some of the survivors have casinos now, right?

The Civil War was northern manufacturing against southern agribusiness at the core, with the respective elites of each society vying for influence. The north won out through blockade and systematic destruction of the south’s biggest economic advantage (slave labor) and as history is written by the victors, so did the official account blur out the economic underpinnings and slap on a facade of human rights. Abraham Lincoln put it well – “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that” War in industrialized society is about power – I can think of very few exceptions, of very few wars where one side at least has not been motivated by gaining power. (Money, land, people being expressions of that power.)

Peering through the lens of costs and benefits, as any good Capitalist ought, America has made spectacularly good returns on her wartime investments. The Mexican-American war, instigated by and pursued almost entirely by the USA, gained us a coast-to-coast empire. The Spanish-American war earned us a global network of naval bases for pennies on the dollar, and sunk one of the world’s faltering empires in the process. We fought a dozen small wars in Central America against weak republics, gaining a century of dominance, control over the Panama Canal Zone, and another resource pipeline from these subject states. In World War One we made our money selling to one side of the conflict, then jumped in to fight the last 6 months against shattered Germany and come out as victors. In World War Two our isolation from the fighting and scorched-earth policies in Europe and Japan led to a stunning victory – a near-monopoly on world manufacturing capacity, and no one to oppose our cultural and economic dominance save devastated Russia. From an investment standpoint, nothing we did before or since can compare with the returns on World War Two. From that conflict we became the world’s imperial master, and every fight since has been a holding action to keep ourselves on top.

The problem is that we’re losing now. We’re broke, owing money to everyone, importing nearly everything. We built up the foreign markets so well that it became profitable to manufacture everything overseas instead of simply importing the resources and making things here. Now we sell knowledge, education, and guns. Lots and lots of guns. We sell them to our allies, to neutral parties, to enemies when it serves some aim or another. We arm the world, in exchange for mountains of cheap goods – an arrangement that has no foreseeable problems or future consequences for anyone. Oh wait, that’s not right… THEY’RE USING THEM AGAINST US?! Who could have seen that coming? The height of folly has been to first drive ourselves into reliance upon far-away colonies, then to build for them the infrastructure and armaments necessary to throw off our yoke. How long before the nations of the world tire of sending us their minerals, their oil, of using their labor to build our entertainment devices? How will we oppose them when they rebel?

It is a cycle in every empire I have ever heard of for the central power to grow and thrive and gain until it is fat, bloated, weak, and dependent on its long-stretched tendrils for survival. At that point another power, be it from within or without, topples the empire and after a period of turmoil and infighting, another power arises somewhere within the system. Looking at the Romans, the Dutch, the Venetians, the Spanish, the Brits, the Russians, and now ourselves – the similarities are there, the biggest difference is our possession of a huge quantity of doomsday weapons. None of the previous dying empires had such a trump card, and as such there is no real precedent to our decline. We’ve certainly gotten more violent, more willing to use torture, assassination, remote-controlled killer drones, undeclared war, accept civilian targets; time will only tell what the American people are willing to accept in order to maintain the social order. If we’ve already accepted torture as necessary, racial profiling and religious violence as means to our ultimate end, and constant war as the way of the world, there is truly no telling what America’s next move is.

We have a situation where any strong, charismatic leader can have near-singular power over the nation, and while Barack Obama is not that leader, can you see the possibility of another him, but stronger and with malicious intent, as leading our country down the path to immolative global war? Certainly the power exists, as do the means – it remains to see whether the American people will demand their leaders take the sensible route – laying down the motorcycle, as it may be – or will continue our collective push toward totalitarian annihilation – and run us all face-first into the brick wall.

This is why I urge America to fall from our high mount – we cannot sustain it without destroying all we once held dear. There can be no American empire without slave labor and an owner class, without the rescission of freedoms, without constant violence to put down unrest, without surveillance and police state; without becoming the very sort of evil empire we portray ourselves as fighting against in film and popular culture. The transition will be rough, surely – perhaps it will be the greatest challenge of the American people, to put this out-of-control machine to rest – but only by acknowledging our internal problems and the fundamentally inconsistent manner in which we live our lives. We will come out of it stronger albeit poorer, and the whole world will benefit.

It begins, however, with us. With this generation. We must stop taking the prosperity for granted, stop charging our lives on credit cards, stop supporting the very things that hold us in this perilous position. Our food must come to us down traceable routes. Our power must come from sustainable sources. Our basic necessities must be produced locally, within a day’s travel preferably, if we are to stop relying on foreign powers with no interest in our well-being. We cannot live sustained on oil and corn (really, more oil) and propped up by our military power. Stop supporting the financial industry that owns our government, stop voting the same corrupt politicians into office, in fact stop voting and start participating. There is no substitute for a good angry protest in terms of inciting change. It is foolish to believe that pacifism and inaction, blog posts and angry letters will ever change the world so well as taking on your elected figures in person. This country was designed so that the highest authority would be the people, but it is run as if the only ones that matter are those with the money and influence to drive events directly. Does this stem from “them” corrupting the process, or is it because we have stopped caring, dropped out, and chained ourselves to TV, microwave dinner, iEverything, stable wage-slavery? When did you last take any action to better your society?

Every people have the government they deserve. Our ancestors faced harder problems than we do today, and came out better. If we wish, as a people, to survive and prosper, then it remains our responsibility to do so. No elected official, no president or congressman, can do that for you. No vote will ever change the world. If we want to leave a world, a country worth living in to our children, then it remains our responsibility to push for that. The status quo is unsustainable. The center will not hold.

I welcome any commentary, but please be prepared to back it up.

American Politics is…

April 23, 2010

Two dogs, scarred up, bloody, slavering and mangy – they’re fighting tooth and nail, just tearing each other apart.  Off to one side sits a nice big bone, the sort junkyard dogs will fight to death over, and there’s nothing stopping these two mutts from going all the way over the prize.  Who can blame them?  It’s a great prize, and there isn’t another dog around to steal it from them while backs are turned. A few have tried, fewer still succeed from time to time, but by and large it’s just these two big dogs duking it out over the scraps of something much larger.
The thing is, that bone used to big a fat T-bone steak, and while you and I were watching the dogs fight, taking sides and cheering like it’s some sort of fucking sporting event, a few guys came in and took the meat right off that bone – right off all of our bones.

Why do we keep looking toward two stupid packs of attack dogs to represent us?  Doesn’t anyone realize that their fight is a big farce?  No matter who wins this time, there’s always another round, and while we’re supporting and rooting and fighting for our side, the guys with the big guns and full pockets will just keep eating the steaks, and leaving us to fight for scraps with the junkyard dogs.  Anyone else tired of picking between two meaningless choices, and having this passed off as some glorious freedom we’re so lucky to have?

A Lot of Bad Poetry

January 3, 2010

I found this old notebook from my other life tucked between some books in my bag – I’d thought it lost for good. The first half is from one of the worst parts of my life – uncertain, hopeless, questioning, searching in the dark. When I found it again almost a year later, I was a different person – happier, lighter, and more certain. Reading it now, front to back, is like charting my own development. I’m hoping that by laying out some selections, I can find something underneath the sorrow, hurt, growth, renewal, and rebirth – some nugget of truth, some message hidden, and if not that, then perhaps just an interesting read. The italics are (mostly) my present thoughts, interpretations, details, whatever.

This poem is the first – page 1 of a dark time, reflected, I think, in the themes I chose throughout.

August 9th, 2008
What do you do when your god is a whore?
I break down on my knees
as tears fall to the floor.

This isn’t lament, but reaction to truth,
A vision of beauty,
blocked out since my youth.

God as a man – what a cruel fucking joke!
The chicken never lived,
til it sprang from the yolk.

We deny ourselves god, in all of her names.
Drown soul in vice,
on others put blame.

We too much fear love, never leave ourselves bare.
Mask true smells in foul scents,
chemicals in our hair.

We hide from ourselves, but blame it on others –
Everyone sees through you,
especially mother.

Embrace our whore god, for she brought you alive.
Accept into your heart,
what you knew at age five.

It doesn’t matter – she cares not what you do.
Just give her your heart,
and she’ll always love you.

The following are from the days after my whole life disintegrated – a house full of friends disappeared overnight, I came home to find rooms empty, and everything quiet. Living alone in a 6-bedroom house, one that had once been so vibrant, so fun, and knowing that I’d soon leave so far away – It nearly broke me. I was to move to Bolivia in mere weeks, and the doubts and fears that come with such a change were overwhelming.

August 10th, 2008
They’ve taken it all –
all my things,
my whole home.
And now that they’ve left,
and I sit here alone.
Not sure how to
feel,

like an accident victim –
Eyes sting and ears ring
I can’t quite feel
pain.

Everything so empty,
when I live in this place
No deep thoughts in my head,
and I just burnt my face.
Boiled spoon,
metal on face,
I felt myself sizzle.

I deserved it,
I earned it,
I’ve been drinking so
hard.

My friend Jack keeps me warm,
As I sit in my hole,
curtains closed,
pen in hand,
and I draw on myself.

Just random symbols,
or notes to myself.
Things to remember,
a big call for
help.

I’ve never been good,
at living sans purpose.
Waiting makes me edgy,
too much quite makes me nervous.
Excess then withdrawal,
that’s my self-prescription.
How I live now:
Solitary self-deception.

Keep it hidden,
bundled inside –
this isn’t a bad life.
I’ll hang on for the ride.

Lookie, I can be political too.

August 11th, 2008
Russians in Georgia,
shooting up kids.
The world’s pot boiling over,
spilling over the lid.

America moves –
ships blockade the Gulf.
Whole world picks up arms,
they circle like wolves.

Just one spark!
Strike a match,
watch the planet ignite.
Descent into madness
bloodshed,
violence,
strife.

Who’s going to light it?
Burn six billion lives
I bet it’s our fault,
think further still –
The rest will all know it,
but no one here will.

We’ll blindly wave flags,
as our brothers all die –
as our families bleed
as the whole planet cries.

All the news channels play
the same patriot tunes.
The masses sing along
to the cadence of drumbeats,
each a heart slowly stopping
blood spills to dry earth,
and breath
rasping
fades.

Not one of us
or a thousand
but everyone together.
United we die,
while in life we all squabbled.

Bitch and moan
fight, argue,
shoot, stab, kill, poison, burn.
Choking on our own blood,
and I can taste bile,
feel the life ebb.
Know that this was our fault.

Hug your kids,
kiss your lover,
We all die in the end.

Cheerful, eh? I was immersed in global politics, obsessed with the teetering international situation, watching John McCain and Sarah Palin present their case for fascism, and unable to remain hopeful that Barack Obama was going to do anything substantially different. All I held out for was escape – another life in another place – a chance to cut a lifetime’s baggage away. Call it the “cut and run” approach to dealing with one’s problems. Interesting foreshadowing of the Peace Corps implosion in this one.

August 15th, 2008
What is about this time of year? It’s like the air’s alive with change – I fear the writing scribbled on my wall, it says “you life ends this fall.” I know that it’s true – just don’t want to believe. Don’t wanna think, can’t let myself, it just brings me down – but this is the end of my time here in town.

Say goodbyes while you can, I’ll leave without a sound. No whisper – disappearing act – you won’t see me around. My time has passed, now I must go, and that just brings me down.

I smoke myself to sleep these nights, alone in this big home. Torn between “can’t wait to leave,” and “I can’t wait to roam.” I’ll miss you all so bad, all the things we’ve done. All the drunk wild nights, memories I can’t recall – no matter where we do end up, I’ll always love you all.

So say your goodbyes while you can, cause I won’t stick around. I’ve so much left to do in life, my feet don’t touch the ground.

While I zig-zag cross this earth, and hopefully off it too, I’ll think back to the life I had, and regret none of it. To all my friends and drinking pals, I pour this one for you. I’ll keep you always in my heart, just please remember me too.

The Truth (undated, August?)
Like a hollowpoint bullet,
the truth rips through your head.
Blows out your mind,
leaves you for dead.
Didn’t expect it,
or maybe you did,
the truth feels the same –

The truth feels like shit.
The truth feels like life.
The truth feels like reuniting
with the love of your life.

And what is the truth
That rips through your brain?
Decoding nerve impulse
it says “we’re all the same.”

Four words, one sentence,
but it just can’t sink in.
Ten thousand years fighting,
still we never win.
So long as we divide
on color, race, creed,
we’ll never have peace,
never get what we need.

There’s no fucking difference!
I just want to scream.
For no other reason
To see who gets what I mean.
Turn your heads round people,
shake out the lies,
think for yourself,
Open your eyes!

Go meet your neighbors,
make friends who think differently,
smile at the world,
see the truth staring back at me.

Notice how all of this just sits on the same rhyme scheme? There’s not much variation in content or style, and I noticed it too. This is about that, I think.

August 19th, 2008
The creative well of the world has been running perilously low. The aquifer is depleted, and the product is getting harder and harder to pull out of the ground. We’re not doing anything new, haven’t for ages, and it’s wearing through the gilded lie of America. The shabby state of affairs is spreading even to me. I can’t think of anything new or different, and so now I’ll go back to staring at my empty home and bare walls.

I took another blow August 23rd – sitting in my back yard, patting myself on the back for having finally finished cleaning and repairing our rental house, selling most of my possessions, quitting my job, and putting the final touches on that clean break I wanted, when I got a call from the Peace Corps. My program had been canceled, the organization was pulling out of Bolivia, and I was in limbo again. “Don’t make any sudden lifestyle changes,” said the voice in my ear, but there wasn’t a life left to change. This might be best described as a pep talk to myself.

August 26th 2008
These past few days have been such an emotional drain on me – it can barely be described. I’ve been on the verge of tears, consumed by fears, tearing my hair out – the unknown looms over me, but losing independence is what really terrifies me. Living with the family is either going to kill me or turn me back into a stooge. Fuck. God Damn it! I love them – I love them more then anyone, but there is no common ground between their lives and mine. I’ve no strings left tying me down, I’m free to live wherever, whenever, however I so choose. Instead, I’m trapped at home, no ability to roam – mother FUCK!

At least I’ve got my creativity: must keep exercising my spirit or I’ll lose that too along with my wings, my things, and the puppet strings of college life. Never thought I’d miss it this badly, considering how much I hated it while I was there. Quite a scare – I’m not strong, I don’t want to be alone, yet I don’t dare walk my own path. Time to start daring and take back my own life – I’ve left it in the hands of others and blind fate, striving in vain, always arriving too late.

The bullshit stops here: I am the only one I can count on to live my life. Breathe, exhale, hold. Let the spots come, the pain in my lungs, discipline, strength, just stay calm. I won’t die. I won’t die. I can’t die. Too much left to see, to fuck, to be. Stop wasting my life, and just let me be me – let me see – I am free.

That last bit is a lot better on paper – watching the words get wavier, sloppier, more frantic – the whole last paragraph is nearly illegible, and I passed out facedown on my desk after “I am free.” Bit insane, come to think of it…

The other thing I struggled with was my ongoing clusterfuck of a bad relationship. I wish the following was true, but I wasn’t that strong – it took my running off to Central America to finally end our mutual self-destruction.

August 26th 2008
I told you I’d stop writing you letters, and I don’t intend to renege on that. Even though I love you, I have to face the reality of things – you don’t want me the same way I do you. We will always be close, but I can’t keep praying and hoping and crying and smoking that things will get better. You’re not worth this pain, this constant agony of never being the guy you want, but being close enough to see and know that I’m not that guy.

It’s slow, agonizing, evil torture, and I refuse to put myself through it any longer. I quit. I love you, and I could happily spend my life with you, but you don’t love me back, and I just have to face that. I’ll try not to cry over you any more, or at least not where you can see. I miss you already, and I hope you’ll be happy. Don’t come for me, I won’t be coming back anyhow. Thanks for helping me understand love and heartbreak. -k

If only I could have been that strong outside of a notebook. August 26th includes this near-illegible scrawling, written over a few joints on the tar-paper roof of my parents’ house.

Rooftop Thoughts
(1)I smoke alone on my roof as the world sleeps below. It’s like comedy, just less funny – the good bits fly off in a puff of smoke. Nobody knows! I’m hidden in plain view, the danger adds to the pleasure. Disobedience manifested in self-destruction. Pleasure in the poisoning, rebellion of the basest kind. I gain nothing from this crime, just ashen lungs and wasted time. Still I puff, and (warm inside) the smoke and flame bring me false pride. “I’m doing it!” the body cries, “I’m breaking rules! I’m being free!” Stupid way to make my point, but still I suck the small white joint
(2)Puff puff, french inhale – the smell is acrid, sweet, and stale. Hold my breath, ignore the pain, tortured lungs cry out in vain. Now let it out and close my eyes, feel wild magic rush inside. My body drinks the cool night air – the odor lingers in my hair. A breeze tugs wisps of illegal smoke, disguising all hint of my midnight toke.
(3)A law is broken, but no crime done – just controlling my own life, trying to have fun. I slip inside, throw off my clothes, stare down at black and filthy toes. Fuck it – I can’t care tonight. The bedsheets don’t put up a fight. So naked ass and dirty feet, sweat and tears, and fresh washed sheet, all twist in one sad tangled mess, and now you see me at my best.
(4)Back on my back – in my usual way – I long for sex or a new day. Tired of alone and desperate poor, missed opportunities piled outside my door. I’ll get a girl, that ought help some – but who wants to fuck a poor depressed bum? I feel pathetic, I don’t even try – inaction backfires, sticks in my eye. Lucky me, I’m out of pot, so perhaps tomorrow I’ll have my own thoughts. Goodnight world, please wake up sane, and mystery girl – I’ll dream your name.

Raw, isn’t it? I must confess, I don’t know how these are going to be received by anyone – too emotional, drawn out, dull. Still, I look at them proudly, because I see now how much better off I am. That’s something, right?

This bit, under the stupid accents idea, is about the weight of one’s past. I’ve since learned differently – there is no reason, no ability for your past to control your present beyond your own choice do allow it.

August 28th 2008
I should just pretend to have an accent. Be foreign everywhere I go, forever an outsider, but only in my dreams. Really, I belong to the world, and I’m forever tied to the experiences I’ve had. Still, girls dig it, so perhaps…

There’s a big gap here – 2 weeks, where the only writing is a miscarried wreck of a sketch comedy series. If you ask me, it’s not that it was a bad project, but it turns out that severely depressed people choose subject matter that most people are uncomfortable with – a man dropping out of his life to hitchhike, panhandle, steal, and refuse to work is so far outside the comfort zone of most people, especially when everyone else, the “normal,” working members of society are portrayed to terribly. A pity. I found out that someone had already done it just a few months ago – the book is called “Evasion” and you can get it free online. Fascinating read.

It just struck me that only in the simple 4 bar abcb scheme, at that point in my life, was I able to write candidly about myself, and my feelings. Such, it sucks, the rhyming is repetitive and annoys me, but for whatever reason there is much better clarity in it then my other scribblings. I’d forgotten that.

September 13th 2008
I’ve been breaking my promise to write out my life – to pour out my high points, my lows, and the strife. I want it as chronicle, so someone can know. It’d be such a pity to let it all go, to do all the work with nothing to show. I guess it doesn’t matter. I won’t amount to much – too hung up on missing you, too far out of touch. Can’t relate to anyone, I feel so far removed – I don’t know why I try so so hard; I’ve nothing to prove. So fuck this melodramatic shit – I’m done trying to pretend! – I guess I’m going to keep writing my thoughts. Hope it comes out right in the end.

September 14th 2008
Depressed again. She’s back in town, and I want to see her. Probably shouldn’t, but I miss the hell out of her, and I’m weak. Also – sex.

Yeah, gave in to that – here’s the result. It has my favorite Kerouac metaphor too – I think I’ve used it a few other times.

September 15th 2008
Then we turned at twelve paces, for love is a duel, and the feeling washed over me, merciless but true. “This is the end for us,” said me to myself – I bottled foul truth, left to rot on the shelf. We couldn’t bear face it, but both stood there still, both our heads full of poems, but our mouths standing still. Slowly turned on a heel, we both walked away, left everything unsaid, bricked up feelings in the catacombs of the head. You walked back inside, and I choked back the pain – the flame flickered and died, and I begged for rain.

Of course, like any mutually destructive relationship, that was a lie – it certainly didn’t end there. This next part though: scarily true.

I hide depression so well that nobody suspects me. I’m an undercover agent of misery – outwardly cheerful, killing myself softly. I don’t want to spread it, or hurt anyone else, so I self-mutilate inside, where no one can see.

Another Peace Corps delay. I had been holding off on making friends, doing anything while living at home, because I was sure that the leaving process would begin again soon, with all the attendant pain and misery. When I learned I definitely would not leave in 2008, I went reeling off into another circle of my personal hell.

September 19th 2008
I lap up their stories, hungry to feel that fullness which comes with being alive again. My own (illegible) is dry, for I am between chapters. Bookmarked, on an end table gathering dust. Bored with being boring, and desperate for some attachment. The flotsam of life becomes my obsession – dull gossip and never-ending arguments. I justify it as a time-filler, before my adventures begin anew, but the deadline pushes back again, and I know I ought to find a real life here. I just don’t want to admit defeat – so close to running away, only to have it all fall to ashes. C’est la vie, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

We all want to be in love, but those of us who aren’t will settle for any attention we can scrounge up. We may all be inherently alone, but that forces us to reconcile some terrible truths, and so we all try to find someone to lean on – just to make living more tolerable.

Hey, at least I called the financial bailout pretty well – perk of having no life: you can do some pretty spot-on, albeit cynical analysis.

September 21st 2008
It’s funny to see someone like Henry Paulson talk about how giving $700,000,000,000 to investment firms and banks to pay off their gambling debts is helpful to the average American. The gall it takes to go on TV and say “No, the payments won’t be limited to debt, yes, the executives of these companies will get massive payouts, and no, there will be no direct benefit to taxpayers for their TRILLION dollar investment.” What bullshit!

Let me get this straight – These same fatcat fucks, with their 7 years of record gains, must now be given our tax money to pay off their losses? What happened to the American people when their mortgages went to hell, when their jobs disappeared? “Tough luck,” we were told, “They should have seen it coming.” They gambled – they lost – that’s how the market works. (but only if you’re poor, as this new move shows.)

So now we see it happen, unfolding in fast-motion – the rich stand to lose money, so they yank the leashes of their lapdog congressional leaders, and call in their debts. And what debts they are! Groupthink and short-sighted profitmongering have driven all the big players to invest in the same markets, and now those markets are crashing.

The question now is whether the American people will stand for this transparent money-grab by the rich crooks on wall street. My guess is that sadly, they won’t care enough to speak up. The money-changers and printers, the real leaders of America, will line their pockets again and go right on spending our country into poverty for their benefit. By the time Americans are mad enough to act – to throw bottles and bricks instead of standing in free-speech zones waving cardboard signs – there won’t be anything left to fight over.

It breaks my heart that getting drunk and puking on the floor was literally the highlight of my month. God, what a life…

October 10th 2008 – Sweet October
A new month, and I return to my notebook. I have no new news to report, save that I’ll be out of debt by mid-November. There is something to be said for living at home and working all the time, even if it’s boring as fuck

Speaking of things that aren’t boring as fuck – I spent this past weekend in LA drinking my face off. Here’s how it goes down: Friday night I drive with Kel, we hit LA around 10pm. Commence drinking. Chad and entourage show up, we hide-and-seek in the apartment, Kel kicks ass. More drinking, lots of fun, whiskey shots, and we’re out. Oh, and Garrett and I scream politics while the smokers kill themselves slowly.

Next day, Kel, Chad, and I are up early, breakfast at Denny’s, hit the liquor store and refuel. I accidentally stiff the Denny’s guy but don’t realize until later. Pocket change buys us drinks, and then off to the pool. Commence horseplay and drunk. The Santa Barbarians show up, it feels like home. Beer pong until the wee hours, I get ripped and pass out in front of the back door. A good time is had by all. (I think!)

Next morning, 4am: I’m up, clean, shower, finding shoes takes a while. Get Kel up by 5, we’re on the road by 5:30. Hungover. The road swims in the fog, my head far cloudier. Home by 6:45, in bed an hour, off to work by 8:30. Terrible day, but I thrive on this life. Wouldn’t trade it for the world: I can’t believe that I’m going to be giving it all up by February (or so they say…)

I’m glad of very few things like I am glad that I “gave this up for the world.” Drinking myself to sleep versus climbing mountains and exploring Maya ruins, chasing women, hitchhiking… wow! It’s been a pretty formative year. More political crap, so skip this next one if you’re uninterested. This one is particularly relevant with Obama.

(undated)
People hate to admit that their leaders are corrupt and dishonest. They won’t accept it, will go to great lengths – lie to themselves! – in order to stave off this reality. WHY? I think I finally know the answer. People must make another decision if they accept that their leaders are fucking them. Namely, one must decide whether she will act, or whether she will roll over and pretend that none of this concerns her. People like to assume that they are good and true, but the live by one’s morality is infinitely easier if one just buries her head and ignores the problem entirely. When faced with a problem, an opportunity to be a fighter, they shirk their duty. What will you do?

What I did, and will continue to do, is run off, leave that whole mess behind, and not spend another second of my life on the “duty,” “obligation,” or “honor,” of fighting for my country. Let’s face it – your politics are boring as fuck, because they’re not relevant to my life – I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t recognize nations as having legitimacy in the first place, don’t live by their laws, don’t grant them they authority to rule over me. I can’t fix the system without being a part of it, but I can refuse to participate, can live my life, by my rules, and find so much more joy – why would I bother taking part in their games when I can make up my own?

October 3rd 2008
Loved her for ages,
was too shy to ask.
Too little, too late,
now our ship’s passed.
Clinging to threads,
of what we once were –
now I love our memories
more then I love her.

I wrote about religion a few times, so here’s that:

October 8th 2008 – Religion is the Problem:
I’m seriously disturbed that there are so many uneducated, racist, bigoted, violent, hateful morons in this country. Watching them on TV, burning effigies, marching around with guns, calling for the assassination of a presidential candidate on Fox because they don’t agree with his views – I’m truly afraid for democratic institutions in this sort of environment. What causes people to attach themselves blindly to a team, a cause, an ideology, and relentlessly attack anything that contradicts their view?

What I think it comes down to is the basic Christian/Jewish/Islamic/Evangelical/Fanatic/Religious worldview – they all believe that they have the <<*TRUTH*>> the ultimate, complete, and total answer to everything! Honestly, it is that basic premise, that each faith claims to hold the eternal word of supreme, omnipotent, omnipresent GOD, that leads them to hate.

They are incompatible, not only with each other, but with reality, with science, with the basic workings of the universe – but it doesn’t matter to the faithful! Each being indoctrinated in their separate worldview, taught to believe and never think, they are forced to choose between their “truth” and the compromises of coexistence with those who do not share that faith.

Consider – each group’s view is uncompromising. They have the word of GOD after all – how can one compromise the infallible world of the almighty? These groups cannot peacefully coexist, and without peaceful coexistence, the human race is doomed to perpetual conflict and bloodshed – for what? So that ancient books of superstitious fables can be revered as false idols? So another generation of children can be lied to, have their minds warped, become indoctrinated to hate, so that their brains can be forever shut to the beauty and truths in the world around them?

Enough! Enough! Religion, like racism, bigotry, prejudices of all sorts, the hatred of the other, all the primitive tribalist remnants of ancient man, must be stamped out before humanity can evolve past this earth. If we do not lose our false faith and the hatred that must come with it, we will be a plague released upon the universe.

October 9th 2009 – Regarding Religion:
People claim that they need belief, or perhaps that others do, but have you ever considered that people “need” what they have been brought up, taught to need? Would they still think, “God lives” if they hadn’t been told since birth that every aspect of their lives was set in motion by this all-seeing, all-knowing, unimaginable bogeyman? I propose an experiment – raise a child to worship an unimaginably great flying space asshole, one which violently shit out our universe last week sometime. What do you imagine will happen? What if we did that a few billion times, over many centuries, and tortured, raped, murdered, and killed everyone who disagreed and dared say so. Wouldn’t that view become mainstream, accepted, another respectable religion in the grab bag?

We all mock the outliers, but when a group grows large enough to influence society with their beliefs, they are legitimized. All it takes is time and tenacity – Scientology will be a respectable faith one day, unless we start calling people out on their irrational and false assertions. The older the faith, the less scrutiny we put it through, but the fact is, we don’t accept ANYTHING thousands of years old without scrutiny, unless it is contained in one of a few “sacred” texts. A scientist clinging to the work of Aristotle as absolute truth would be mocked mercilessly, and rightly so, but a priest who preaches literal interpretations of books of fairy tales is lauded for clinging to his beliefs. They are gospel, these old rags, their errors ignored – they are untouchable, and you’re traitor or intolerant if you point out the gaping flaws. Let me put it here – fuck your god, fuck your book, fuck your inability to think, fuck your religion. There is nothing controlling you except the limitations you place upon yourself, so just wake up and think for yourself.

Not too shabby, considering how doubtful and uncertain I was in my personal life. As evidence, here’s the only autobiographical entry I’ve found in a while.

October 18th 2008
Today was all work, but I didn’t earn much pay. Worse – I know my ideal life, but I know not the way.

I have such vivid memories, but when I write them down it’s so hard to get the feel across. It all comes out 2-dimensional and monotone: Life on Valium, filled with wooden dolls and blurry-edged. Too many metaphors are worse then none at all.

It’s been too long since I wrote a diary, but I want to start again. How to begin – I’m stuck in SM, the purgatory, and I must pass through on the path to my third-world heaven. I teach swimming lessons to little kids, which is rewarding but pays shit, and I work at a swim store as well, which isn’t rewarding, and pays even shitter. Really, it’s a whole lot of busy work, a holding pattern keeping me constantly off of the places I want to land. Likewise, I’m still living with my family, which pushes me ever closer to the brink of insanity, in the form of a new womb.

So, with that as my base, where have I gone? I have no new friends, but a lot of acquaintances. I’ve no girl, but flirt like a champ. I dance Friday nights, and I’ve gotten quite good. Still, I feel so alone, so pent-up, so afraid. Like I’m wasting my life in this brackish backwater, friendless yet needy, impoverished and greedy. I can’t sleep for the nightmarish dreams, and I’m writing in prose to conceal what I mean. I’ll put it here plainly, for no one to see – I’m miserable, hate my life, and the grief’s killing me.

This was scribbled in a margin:
I love love, crave feeling, like the touch of another.
Someone to kiss me, one to call lover.
I’ve actually found one – of course I must go.
My heart tells me I could marry her, but I’ll never know.

I really ought to title this whole thing “portrait of a miserable guy” and paint in in grey. I’m a little embarrassed I ever felt this low, except that I still remember how it felt. The thing is, I face a lot more pain, disappointment, fear, and failure now then I ever did then – I didn’t do anything at all! – but I’ve just learned to never let it stop me. I push through the wreckage and keep moving, and in doing so, find the beauty hidden behind the hurt.

November 2nd 2008
A rhyme without verse is a curious thing. Like a quote out of context, or a song you can’t sing. People who read it are often confused – the lone rhyming couplet is ne’er seriously used. It’s a powerful line, a lyrical jolt, heart to pen straight to soul, a hit without pads when you’re caught unaware. The effect is, I think, magnified all the more when rhyme comes uncouched by the dressings of prose – the full brunt of the words connect, pretense being a luxury unafforded by unguarded rhyme. The ugly, naked, whole lies before you, and you must accept it as-is or reject the notion. There is no halfway with these rhymes – they are either loved or hated. They are the most direct link to the mind of another that I have yet found myself capable of creating.

“If the night be dark or bleak, or grating on the soul, then look only to the one you love, and she will make you whole.”

I can’t believe I actually used “ne’er” – still, I’m not really disagreeing with this, but I will say I’m rubbish at putting it into practice.

November 4th 2008
“I like your Christ. I dislike your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi

November 12th 2008
I’m finally starting to accept this new chapter in my life.

November 13th 2008
Never put the words “I’m finally starting to accept this new chapter in my life” into print, for the universe punishes arrogance. Today blew donkey nuts. I want pot, ‘shrooms, adventure, a drinking partner, or sex. Not choosy.

November 19th 2008
I wish the world worked as if people mattered. Like individuals were more then numbers, and money wasn’t king. Where happiness came from doing good, and not from buying things. In this crazy topsy-turvy world, there would be no blood for oil. No kids would starve in Africa, so rich men could grow richer. Those who had would give freely to the ones who need it most. Decency wouldn’t be synonymous with Christian dogma, nor equality mean “commie,” and no poor baby girl would ever have to die because a rich white man killed her mommy.

It’s too bad this world isn’t like my dream, because it easily could be. Without the rich and their hired thugs, what a beautiful world it could be. So if money is what you lust after, if Capitalism is your belief, then be forewarned – we’re coming after you, and all the world’s money can’t stop us. You cause the world grief, strangle the very planet, and until you and your filthy -isms are dead and buried, the world will never be as beautiful as I wish it to become.

The further I get from home, the poorer (monetarily) I become, the happier, freer, more joyous I find myself. I didn’t know it as I wrote this – though I certainly suspected it – but this world I wish for is absolutely possible – one must work hard, harder then ever before, to live without their rules and control, but what reward could be greater then the freedom to live as you please?

November 19th 2008
There’s a certain small beauty in being alone, but it’s lost on those who spend their lives in solitude. To do what you want, when you life, with whoever you choose is a wonderful way to live, but the freedom pales when it runs on forever. We all need to be wanted, we all want to feel love; by a boy or a girl, or creator above. And really – who blames us? We’re all social creatures. Dive headfirst into love, “give ourselves up to preachers. The ironic part comes when we’re finally together, and we realize we don’t want to live like this forever. Once we’re claimed we feel chained, like a picture now framed. The feeling, the moment, is captured and saved, but the luster grows softer, and the mind feels enslaved. Once the passion is gone, we long to be freed, forget our once-lonely selves, with those solitary needs. What’s my point? There’s none really – I’m just poking fun. Whichever path we choose in life, we long for the other one.

Robert Frost put it better.

November 25th 2008 – One Song Ride Home
The ride from your house
takes me only one song.
A few minutes of music stretch
last all night long.
Acutely aware our affairs are so brief
with Ted Leo in my ears
the wind in my teeth.
Too soon over and done with,
just as we’re soon to be –
a one song ride home
separates you from me.

The final bars fade,
pull up to my door.
Sneaking upstairs to bed
I feel like a whore.
Climb the stairway in darkness
my feet choose their course.
Sit, stare out the window,
smoke myself blind, hoarse.
Stretch a song a few miles
it feels neverending
but as for this poem,
right now it’s just ending.

The song I forget, but the band was Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. They’re not great, but the one track meant something to me once. I don’t remember because like all the other music that reminded me of her, I refuse to listen to it any longer – the past is easier to forget when you don’t dwell on the reminders.

December 3rd 2008
My love affair with driving draws to a close. I’ll miss Sally.

Sally is the car. She was good to me.

December 15th 2008
For an instant I saw a little Flower-man running around on my lawn. I blinked in surprise and he vanished, replaced by a flower swaying in the wind and rain. I liked the flower-man better.

Unlike the waking hallucinations I started getting months later from my anti-malarial pills, I’m reasonably sure that this one was just a figment of my imagination. I’m still a big fan of the idea though – little floral societies hiding in the bushes, playing macheteball and never forgetting to smell the roses.

You know that “day late and a dollar short” saying? I was always a step behind in my realizations – I did manage to capture that here though:

December 20th 2008
It’s difficult even describing these past 48 hours, so let me start at now and work back a bit from there.

I’m sitting barefoot and shirtless on South Ponto beach in Carlsbad killing time and braincells before I have to be at work in two hours. It’s rather cold, by southern California standards, but SLO didn’t get this warm the entire time I was there. You see, I just got back from a whirlwind of craziness, a road trip to San Luis Obispo where my living-in-sin lover lives (3x fast, go!)

630 miles, 8 hours in a car, all to see her for a day. Worth it. So worth it. That girl does something wonderful to me – whenever I’m near her I feel like I belong. It’s a totally foreign feeling to me. I just wish I had realized how important she is before I signed up for 2 years in the Peace Corps!

Anyway, I’m going to S a J full of W and watch the waves clean my mind out. I need a vacation from this emotional landslide. Oh, and for the record, I suck at sex – out of practice.

This is one of my favorites of the “bad poetry” category:

December 30, 2008
I don’t want to see one nation,
united,
standing free.
Nor a hundred smaller ones,
branching off the human tree.
Instead
I want to see them fall,
The governments of the world.
So people might act out of love,
not fear
of those above.

This ones makes me smile – I mean, yeah, it’s juvenile, but there is such a manic joy to the way we partied – complete shameless debauchery. I only hope that we’ll still be getting together and doing it when I’m 60 – if I’m 60.

January 1st 2009
This ought to be a time for self-reflection. Fuck that! In 2 months I’ll be stuck on my own with all sorts of time for that. For now, I’m exactly where I want to be in my life: surrounded by friends, between binges, healthy, alive, not alone. I am with my best friends, my family, my fellow souls. Jake on guitar, Street Fighter alternates with football, bong rips, and swimming. We’re unabashedly degenerate – living to glorious excess, reliving our best times, creating new ones. All the people who make me happy are around, save L, and the place doesn’t matter really – we could be in any shithole apartment in IV and we’d act exactly as we do now. Real People are the ones I belong with, honest, open, themselves without fear. In a society so bent around hiding ourselves, it cannot be understated how good this feels, to be myself. I miss them all terribly already – all that remains is for me to leave all this behind, and hope blindly that it will still be here when I get back.

Oh, and for the second time in my life, one of Kel’s girlfriends tried to have sex with me. Well, technically she only offered to “suck me dry,” but it was just one of those “seriously, what. The. FUCK!” moments.

I resolved to have a fling before I leave the US, but this wasn’t what I had in mind…

Topless beer pong was fun, but this girl pretty much started propositioning every guy in the room – was more then slightly awkward. Kel took it well though, just told us no pictures allowed.

After leaving the -ad’s house, I went north to SLO again, hoping to clear my head. I kind of went the other direction with it though – as evidenced:

January 3rd 2009
Days like today are the ones I can’t stand. Everything worked: went according to plan. Fixing the problems seems what I do best, but when there are none I want only to rest. I got what I wanted, right? I came to see you. But that wasn’t it – I wanted love too. So you gave me your love, and we had a fun time – all the right touching and chills up the spine – yet none of matters! We can’t change what comes. I might as well like here, or sit on my thumb. The fact is, I’m leaving, and you’re staying here. The future immutable, the ending quite clear. We work – that’s for certain – for whatever that matters. Stick a fork in us, we’re done, relationship on a platter. Yet I still can’t regret all the things that we’ve done – all the long sleepless nights, our possible son. I always will love you babe, though I may not stay true: know I settled for her, because first I loved you.

The writing gets less frequent from here – preparations for the Peace Corps, emotional turmoil, a general resignation to my life ending soon all conspire to rob me of creative juices. Reading these pages, it’s just a mess of stale thoughts, looped together in new orders, but there isn’t any growth or development. I wrote it like this at the time:

January 10th 2009
Really, I just want to go already. I’ve been stagnant for too long, treading water in this shallow end of the pool. I long ago put my feet on the bottom, and now I want only the signal to move on to something more challenging – deep-water spinals, ocean rescues, a storm would break the monotony. As is, the waves slowly crash, lulling me to sleep as my skills deteriorate for lack of use. Someone drown already! I need the practice.

Also wrote this later that day:

The problem I have with this life of mine is too little sex, too much alone time. Nobody’s hanging out, we’re just hanging in – it’s so meaningless! My soul is wearing thin.

The gradual withdrawal, from one life to another, is at this point a 14 month process – longer if I include the Peace Corps application process – and I’m just useless. The rest of January is bitching, except for one great road trip. (Which got its own posts, 2 of them) There’s also this, if you’re not sick of radical politics yet, this was a marvelous foreshadowing of Barack Obama’s desecration of our rule of law in America. Never did I imagine Obama to be the man who finally destroyed our legal system, but I knew it was possible – thus, this piece:

January 17th 2009
War crimes are state crimes. They must be, as war is always the action of states, though fought by individuals. In war the dispute, the causes of violence, and the prize at stake is always a matter of state (elite) interest. The poor bastards shooting each other do not have a personal dispute, but have been conditioned to internalize the interests of societal elites. What does a poor man, lured into the army by signing bonuses and a lack of other options, really have against a middle-eastern farmer, himself snared into fighting by the promise of eternal paradise? Without incentives from those with a vested interest in conflict, the individuals of the world don’t have any reason to fight for the causes of another – this has been true of all wars since civilization developed enough of a surplus population to support having them.

Therefore, the perpetrators of war crimes are the states themselves, or more specifically, the elites within those states. Without their selfish power struggle, disguised behind lofty causes and noble goals, there would be no war, and thus no war crimes.

This is not meant to excuse the actions of the individual perpetrators of horrific acts against their fellow humans, but to raise the point that their actions were, are, and always will be, motivated by elites and leaders within society – themselves too frightened to actually fight the conflict, they send the poor and desperate to die in their stead. The elites must thus share in the punishment meted in response to these despicable acts, for without their having caused the war, there would not be the environment in which to commit war crimes.

And should these crimes be persecuted? Of course they ought! For a crime purposely unpunished is no longer a crime at all, and a state crime left unpunished today becomes the state policy of tomorrow.

Imagine it thusly: a man grows to despise his wife, and conspires to kill her. He is caught after the deed, clearly guilty, and in his defense pleads with the judge to “let bygones be bygones” and to “look to the future instead of wallowing in the past,” for the punishment of his crime will surely bring up unpleasant memories in the community, and make it more difficult for everyone to do the very important work they need to do to keep life running smoothly.

Any rational observer, knowledgeable of the purpose of law, will reject this defense as both ludicrous and counter-productive. To pardon the clearly guilty for their crimes is to both give tacit consent to their actions, and to encourage them to act similarly in the future. The law exists to deter actions – without equal punishment to members at all levels of society, there is no motive to obey the law.

Yet this absurd defense is the same course proposed by our political and social elites in regard to their heinous crimes, offensive wars, torture, wiretapping, and destruction of civil and legal protections for the citizens of the world. Given their positions of arbiters of justice and protectors of the nebulous “public good,” these elites are in the unique position of being able to subvert the justice system and avoid punishment – a murderer cannot declare his act a state secret and change the law to place his punishment off limits, but a lawmaking body can, if the court system and president are willing accomplices. Without mass public pressure to hold these criminals responsible for their crimes, they and their successors will have learned only one lesson from their wholesale rape of the rule of law, namely that these acts are permittable and without consequence – so go for it! Today the third world, tomorrow the American people. (Edit: and now, with proper legal precedent, they don’t even have to hide it. Like Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, the message is clear – you are above the law, do whatever you want.)

Any obvious crime left unpunished sends the message that the action is no longer criminal. We cannot allow crimes of the magnitude committed – aggressive war, torture, indefinite secret imprisonment without trial, domestic spying and wiretapping, propaganda programs subverting national media, police action against non-violent protesters, the unraveling of the rule of law – to be swept aside, left to fester, and infect the rest of society.

An illness of this magnitude will destroy any nation, especially one beset by the troubles facing the USA. Please, together, for the sake of humanity, at the risk of plunging the entire Earth into a terrible lawlessness, let us persecute these criminals and scrub their foul taint from this ailing nation! The people of the world deserve no less then for the richest and most powerful to be held to the same standards as the lowest criminal.

Since I  wrote this, the Obama administration has taken a deliberate course against this sort of persecution – by upholding the dubious legal arguments of the previous administration, by continuing to wage wars illegally in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Yemen, by maintaining a torture program and secret prisons worldwide, by creating a tiered legal system that allows the president to indefinitely imprison anyone, for as long as he cares to, by continuing the domestic spying, immunizing elites against any retribution, he has done everything necessary to end the rule of law in America. I do not mean to be overdramatic – basic reading (I recommend Glenn Greenwald to start) into any one of these topics will yield the same conclusion I reached – that the law does not apply to members at the top tiers of American hierarchy.

From this I take the only logical steps that I can find – if all human beings are equal and free by virtue of their very humanity, then they are certainly equal before the law. If the laws do not apply to the rich and powerful, then they cannot possibly apply to me, and I therefore reject them. I doubt it will stand up before a judge anywhere, but that is the point – the judges are a weapon of the elites, and their purpose is to maintain the present striations of society. If I don’t recognize their laws (and certainly, I have never had any input into the laws that affect me, so they are not my laws) then I, by my virtue as a free human being, have every right not to follow them. In a society where the elites can have me imprisoned indefinitely, tortured, and executed in secret courts without ever having to prove my guilt or even give me a show trial, what does it matter if I follow every law or not? We are all vulnerable in a system ruled by men instead of law, and it is the business of all just men to to oppose injust laws.

Consider this my warning shot – I will not follow your laws, I will never restrain my actions based on threat of punishment, and will act as I see correct. I will not, cannot, follow an unequal system, for I have no betters, nor do you. To submit before a legal system based only on the fancies of the strongest powers around is folly – you place yourself their mercy. I may fare no better, but at least I will act for the right reasons, with the proper motives – mine.

Switching gears, 5th straight down to reverse at 80mph, and as my engine rips itself straight through the hood and skips across the highway, here’s something completely different:

January 19th 2008
Sitting in San Jose, Jake’s apartment. He has this fantastic window – overlooks the “main street” of town. Sitting in his living room, I overlook the whole world going about its business: moms with strollers, bums, old couples still in love, shoppers, eaters, friends, lovers commingle and pass through each others lives. Unbeknownst to them, I’m sitting a story above their heads, studying their movements. I try in earnest to expand our brief time together into a coherent view of the whole person – to know someone I’ll never meet or interact with – no small order. It’s silly, pointless, but it keeps me entertained. Maybe I’ll learn how to deal with people if I can see how they deal with each other.

Who is that girl? Mid-20s, dressed in black, with a tired face and a giant purse. She’s hurrying somewhere, eyes forward, face never turning to see the world she’s rushing through. I hope she’s happy – I pity her, perhaps underservedly – for missing life.

The man in the white Taurus needs to replace his brake pads – a lot of these drivers do – but his are especially terrible. I hear bare metal on rotor, and his brakes will rip themselves apart soon. How can he not hear that?

The girl with crutches exerts herself to keep up with her friends who walk too fast, heads together, animated. They don’t seem to notice her struggling. She’s frustrated at them, I can see it in her body language, but holds her tongue. A good friend, or just unwilling to speak out?

Parents with five kids – too busy to give any of them the time they need – I could never do that my children, or the next generation, or the planet for that matter.

So many passersby, cars, buses, traffic! The world is alive, dripping activity, energy abounds. Yet it is so compartmentalized, so isolated. Each acts as part of the whole, yet seems ignorant of her neighbors. And who am I to judge, hiding up here in a window? Seriously, hypocrite much? I ought to just -whoa

Angry bitch just came close to ramming a woman parking her car. “Stupid cunt!” she screams out the passenger window as she swerves unnecessarily and lays on her horn. So ignorant, so unaware of her surroundings or her own idiocy – there isn’t much hope for her in life – she’s dead already. Oops, “she” turns out to be an effeminate man with a ponytail and a shrill voice. Maybe he’s just bitter at the world?

A young boy, five perhaps, looks up at me from the car’s back seat. We share a smile – he’s the first to see me. People don’t grow up, just grow more closed, less creative, less tolerant, meaner. Most people die long before their final breath – I must remember to resist this process with my every atom – to never be a responsible, respectable adult. If I ever reach that point, it’ll be all over, and I’ll be another walking corpse.

This is life – freeform, creative, disorganized beyond the immediate moment. Each ought seek to do best in the instant, leave future to the dreamers, to be found out as it occurs, and past to historians, to be organized and studied until the meaning crawls behind the desk and out the back door to be lost forever. As one who thrives on chaos, it is intoxicating, but terribly sad. Life is meant to end, both on the individual and macro levels – We don’t look ahead to avoid disaster but to obsess on possibilities, don’t focus on the moment and miss life, dwell on immutable past. We plunge headlong into disaster, repeating the same mistakes, not daring to act as we desire. What an awful way to live – I must try my best to avoid it.

Beautiful girl in a brand new car, parking across the street. She’s digging through the piles of garbage on her passenger seat for what? A bag? No, a card – she seems like the less-than-organized sort. Disappearing into Starbucks along with my interest in her.

Bicycles everywhere. Another kid notices me. Time to hit the road, get out of this spectator role and live.

Full disclosure: I rewrote a hell of a lot of that piece – it was disorganized, scribbled, stream-of-crap, and I think it’s better this way. Couldn’t help but to change the mood of it though – much stronger, or ruined forever? Doesn’t matter, it’s done.

Here’s another entry that evolved into it’s own story:

February 1st 2009
Dad and I are driving to SLO to get Kenny out of jail. I guess he attacked his roommate, wrecked up their house, threatened people with a knife, and ran from the cops. What a shitshow. More details to come, but this isn’t exactly a surprise.

I still don’t have all the details – only he does, and he’s not talking.

A Love Letter to Dick Cheney:
FUCK YOU Dick! Go get waterboarded you sick torture-loving hypocritical rendition-masturbating fuckhead shitforbrains liar! May you die of rectal cancer while paralyzed and without painkillers, while an endless stream of your innocent victims spit, piss, shit, and vomit on you! May your name forever be synonymous with pathological lying and pure evil. “Dick Cheney” the idiot manipulator whose crimes against humanity leave him beyond redemption forevermore.

Curse you Dick – fuck you, dental-floss style – in the mouth and out the ass – with rusty barbed wire. How many children have you murdered today? And how much did Halliburton’s stock rise for it? Die slowly, burning, just so we can save you moments before death, painfully rehabilitate you, then feed you feet-first through a wood chipper! Fuck yourself just like you fucked over the human race!

I’ve made my point – now go die alone and unloved. You’re a traitor to your species.

I stand by it.

Toward the end, acceptance started to set in, mercifully.

February 5th 2009
I’m really happy where I am in my life today, which is funny because my life couldn’t be more shattered and falling apart. I just hope it calms down before I go into my darkness.

Plus, I had a distraction – someone I care deeply about was in worse straits then me, and my attention turned to helping him rather then myself.

February 12th 2008 no 2009
That’s the first time I’ve written the wrong year in ’09, probably because I’m nervous and my mind is elsewhere. I’m in the waiting room of Kenny’s shrink, waiting to be called in to talk with the both of them.

What worries me most is his reaction to what I’m about to tell her – how he’s not sleeping except during the day, playing too much video poker, not living, just barely surviving. His running away, threats of self-violence, short temper and shorter attention span. His claims that we “don’t understand” and that he doesn’t care about anything – how he can’t. If he only knew! I can’t save him, but maybe I can show him he’s not alone…

I’m going to show her the video of him from the night he was arrested – if anything will convince her he needs help this will be it. More later, I’m being called in – here goes nothing!

There went nothing – she wouldn’t view the video, refused to, and just put him on drugs. He and I never got to the level necessary for him to trust me, to believe that I did feel the same, and in the end I left with the situation unresolved. It still pulls on me – if I go back to the states anytime, this will be the reason more then anything else.

That’s the end of my writing before Honduras – I was too busy, too frantic, too scattered, and too wild to add anything else. Once I got in country I used a brand-new notebook (which I no longer have) to record my thoughts, and wrote out the Peace Corps Diary series of stories on my website. If you’re interested in those, just start with February 2008 and go from there.

In the meanwhile, my life got a whole lot better – I was happy, busy, had purpose. Occasionally I had pangs of longing, and in those moments I wrote, but by-and-large I found myself unable to do anything with poetry, with music, with anything truly creative. It was as if my sadness lifted at the price of my art, and for a while I despaired about ever finding it again – if sorry was my muse, did I even want to be an artist? Here’s one of the few exceptions from my early months in the Peace Corps:

February 27th 2009
Hey babe, don’t you cry.
Take a breath and dry your eyes
Things are sure to turn out right some-day
Feelings come and feelings go
melt away like fallen snow,
the world spins on and winter turns to spring.
Looking back you’re gonna laugh,
don’t take your toaster in the bath,
Bad memories will fade away with time.
Remember that we were in love,
forget the bad times just because,
There’s nothing you can do about them now.
So go outside – hold your head high,
Today’s the day that you might die,
Don’t be sad on your last day alive.
There’s nothing left for us to say,
I still love you, to this day,
And if you feel the same we’ll meet again.

I find it only mildly hilarious that the day I wrote this, we had a presentation with Trudy Jaycox, the country director of Peace Corps Honduras. The topic? Discipline and rule violations. Yeah – wrote a love poem while the lady who kicked me out of the program was lecturing us on how she kept a tight ship, and rulebreakers would not be tolerated. You know, I think one of us had the wrong priorities!

From here, the entries are scattered, irregular. Here’s the next:

April 6th 2009
Holy shit – has it really been a month and a half since I’ve written anything in here? Scary and sad both. My angsty self is slumbering, but with him seems to have gone my ability to write poems or songs. Also, I think I’m out of love with L – I still love her, but the distance and outright rejection has killed my desire to write about that subject.

Still, I have my blog, huge group emails, and a ton of journal entries. I guess that’ll have to tide me over for now.

“And we sat there, your head on my shoulder, talked, cried, and together got over each other. By the time we climbed out of my car, one last longing kiss was all that remained of the years of passion, love, betrayal, and heartbreak. As I sat and watched you drive away, I knew what it felt like to fall out of love.”

If I wrote a book about her and I, those would be the final lines.

I like this one too:

June 15th 2009
It’s crazy – I just read through this whole journal, and what really strikes me is how well it captures who I was in the intermission between college and Peace Corps – I can’t even write this way any longer, because I’m so different now, in worldview somewhat, but in happiness especially. I’m too happy to write poetry like this, and I have an interesting life, so now the politics, religion, and whatnot are further from my focus. I wish I could have it back without feeling so low, but what would I write about? It is a mystery.

What I will do though is put some of these up on the blog – worth seeing if anyone likes them, I guess.

Hey, I got around to it! Only 6 ½ months late…

After that, there’s a gap in this journal for months – the entire Casa Kiwi fiasco, hitchhiking Central America with Sjoerd, Chasing Veronique, and my epiphany of discovering my own happiness pass by completely unnoticed, because all of my writing from that period is in another one, the “Peace Corps Diary” volume. Man, I can’t believe I’m giving away all of the working titles – where’s the surprise going to be once I actually get around to finishing these stories? Nowhere, that’s where. A pity, but I guess it’s your loss anyway – I already know what happened!

Anyway, here’s some self-reflection, or what passes for it in this crazy life. Chronologically, it’s a few days after I wrote my “Ode to Sonati” and “I’m happy” blog posts and just before my “Beautiful Dream” – a day on the road, especially one right after some amazing experiences, will often drive me to write dozens of pages, poems, stories, and this was no exception. I mean, you try and cross 3 countries by public bus and hitch without music or a friend – aside staring out the window or making friends, what else can I do?

I love writing on buses, if only because I can’t help but to connect with my fellow humans on them – hitching you can avoid it, but on buses humanity tides over you, the sounds, smells, uncomfortable seats, yelling food vendors, curious staring children, and 100 or more people slammed into a ramshackle US school bus, painted wild colors and hooked up with a bumpin’ sound system – just don’t take those fucking directos, or you’ll miss the whole experience. How could bad 80’s movies or barely functional AC make up for the lack of 3-people-to-a-seat, traveling evangelists, and reggaeton? It can’t, that’s the honest truth of it!

October 23rd 2009
Here’s the scene – It’s Friday afternoon, 3pm or so, and I’m sitting on a bus headed to Guatemala City, off to start a new job in a new city, a new state too. (State as in nation-state, since this place is pretty tiny.) I don’t even really know what I’ll be doing there, except that it will have something to do with guiding or working for a guide company or just anything, so long as I can get paid and eating I’m happy. I just finished writing my whole other journal front-to-back, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing in this one – rather leave it pristine, a monument to the lonely heartbroken lost soul I was. The new, centered, happy me doesn’t belong. Still, I might as well writing in here, being as it is full of paper and I have no other.

Anyway, I was – fuck that pen, I write in blue now – anyway I was reading the previous entries and found it quite curious that in the last one – 6/15, the day before the Casa Kiwi disaster, that I mentioned how I could no longer write poetry, songs, that I was happy and thus had no subject matter. “I wish I could have it back without feeling so down,” I wrote – well, a glance at my other notebook, especially the newer stuff, should show that I’ve accomplished that goal. I’ve my poetry back, songs play out in my head, and I’m neither morose nor melancholy. In the past months I’ve touched upon my inner muse – not L for once! – and I’m learning how to – holy shit, lady across from me has a pair to cause whiplash – I’m learning how to channel emotion – to use it without being consumed. Does this mean I’m developing as an artist? I can only hope so.

I just looked at myself, and I serious resemble a homeless person – shit (cow) all over my pants, tears and holes everywhere, hand-me-down boots, paint covered and speckled with mud, blood, and something as yet unknown. I washed my hair for the week yesterday, shaved for the first time in days. I think this is day 5 or 6 in the same clothes, and they’ve just gotten dirty enough to be comfortable again. Bracelets adorn my wrists – no watch to be seen – cuts and bruises, a cracked fingernail, a wicked slice out of my left pointer, innumerable cuts and bruises – the evidence of a life well-lived. Oh, and the matching bright yellow handkerchief and shoe laces to round out the picture – I look like I feel – a ramblin’ man, well-traveled, a patchwork of places, styles, ideas – a work in progress, yet constantly here – Each instant can be frozen, taken alone, judged, graded, conclusions may be drawn – yet the whole is in flux – the me of today won’t be here tomorrow, tomorrow’s me will pop into being as he is needed.

Chance, adaptation, evolution – these things I feel occurring on a constant basis – I am improving as I learn what works, adapt, experiment. There is no failure, only different conclusions then those desired, and these we learn most from. Today I learned not to cross the Guate-Hondu border at Aguas Calientes on a Friday afternoon if you don’t want to pay a $10 cab fare. Yesterday I learned that exposure to insanely loud marimba at close range leads to audio-visual hallucinations, nausea, cold sweats, and a day-long headache. Some lessons are more useful then others. Another look at that woman – they’re just exploding out of her shirt, it’s not even fair…

There’s this too:

¡Oy gringo! ¡Hey chele! ¡Amigo! ¡Senor!
Se vende helotes, naranjas, gaseosas mi amor.
¡Comprela, barrato, rapido, aqui!
Tengo lo que necesitas – ¡precios mejores!
Up and down the bus aisles,
pushing in through the windows
Ey gringo, Ey chele, regalame un peso.
Tengo hambre, estas rico –
¿Por qué no me ayudas?
Dios te mira – en frente El sos.
The madness of begging, the old women selling –
products shoved in my face, down my throat.
How can I tell them –
and make them believe –
I’d give them all something
if only I had it?
“I’m not rich!” the mind screams –
No soy tonto gringo, ni rico estoy.
Mis bolsas vacios, como siempre, como suyas.
I bite my tongue, smile,
“No gracias,” my mantra.
The sad truth, la verdad,
mi situación no comparable a sus
and even if it was I’m still white
and white people must be rich
We’ve fucked this whole world –
where’s the dough?

Áéíóú ñ¿¡ – This was one attempt to make sense of the strange world inside buses – Sjoerd once said it was like the whole supermarket comes through during a long enough ride, and there’s something to that – the long lines of salespeople, the suave man selling miracle crème, vitamin injections, or toothbrushes, the preachers, the beggars. I remember one guy, who had what I thought was the best sales pitch of all – he just blew godawful racket from his harmonica as he moved from row to row, hand outstretched, and absolutely refused to move on until you handed him something – I think he got money out of damn-near 100% of the bus, but I gave him a book of matches.

In addition, it’s another step in my path toward writing in another language, which is, I think a whole hell of a lot more difficult then speaking in it. The sad truth is that I would write a whole hell of a lot more in Spanish if the accent-work wasn’t so damn tedious – alt-key combinations that change in every program, copy-pasting punctuation marks, and sometimes I just can’t bring myself to care – the Christmas letter for example, tells everyone to have a happy new anus, just because I couldn’t be bothered to make Gmail work for me. My bad.

I lose a lot of work just because of the timing – the perfect rhyme comes to me as I’m washing my ass, but by the time I’m dry enough to write it down, the whole thing has collapsed into the garbage pit, and I’m stuck wondering at how it could stink so badly.

October 27th 2009
I had a great poem in my head yesterday in the shower, but I wiped it clean out of my mind as I toweled off. It happens often enough that I want to scream – Fucking Remember! – but truth is, art is ephemeral, exists only for long as it is valid, as long as it ought. At times this makes it private, slipping away before it can be shared. Try as I might to hold on to the words, they break free and scatter, out the back door, under the bed – I scrambled after them, to no avail – I’m left holding the empty bag of my once beautiful thoughts and wondering what could have been . Afterwards, I beat myself up – what did it mean? What was I trying to say? And what – of all things – could have come out of my brain? I’ve thought too much, wracked my brain without avail, but today I went a different way. What if these aborted ideas exist to show me my potential, too urge me onward to greater things? I’ll treat them as such, even if it isn’t correct.

I still wish I didn’t forget so many ideas – the waste is staggering! Any time I’m not close to pen and paper, that I can’t drop everything and jot down something, I can do little except watch as the prose and rhymes and stories float through my mind and leap gleefully out of it, doing little backflips off the high-dive, and are lost into the great pool of nothingness. I think I’ll put a whiteboard in the shower, at least.

October 27th 2009
The body breaks down as it dies – cells slowly dissolve, systems stutter, choke, the engine grinds to a halt on accumulated debris, and the cleaners are too tired to care. In the end it isn’t violent, sudden death that sweeps over the majority of us, but a gradual weakening and decay – in short, a lack of maintenance of the aging machinery.

The body is a system of systems – complex in the utmost, composed of trillions of individuals, each aware only of what it needs to know to perform its small role. The similarities between the living individual and the living society are striking, and the two break down in much the same ways. As a society ages, the maintenance piles, the debts mount, inertia sets in. Some portions of society harden like arteries, impede passage of fresh blood, defy needed change. Without the ability to see beyond one’s individual needs – and don’t fool yourself – no one, no president, no prime minister, congress, parliament, king, has the whole picture or can act in the good of all – we protect us and ours. All societies, all individuals, must die unless they can replace worn parts, revitalize, renew needed resources. Death is not bad but simply necessary – the flip side of the coin of life – inseparable and necessarily so. Just as a society of immortals must run into severe problems of resource overuse, population overflow and extreme crowding – all necessitating totalitarian control individual freedom, so does a permanently stable society tend toward centralization, stagnation, striation, and the crushing of all that is different or new. Stability blocks development at least as much as it protects us.

Societies must die, like great rainforest trees, so that fledgling societies and cultures may spring from the undergrowth and add their own contributions to the web of life. We ought not mourn their passing, but celebrate their greatest contributions – which, one might note, often come early in their histories, before they have solidified under cultural or political pressure. In order to preserve liberty and further human and social evolution, the existing order must be fall – torn down if need be. That which follows will be better or worse, but we may be assured that at least in the beginning it will be different, chaotic, and from it will spring new ideas, inventions, poems, art, dreams, new people, new realities. Nothing in the universe is permanent, nor ought it be. Change is life is change.

And stagnation is death. I guess I’d better get moving.

This next one is for Tina’s dog Coyote, who died of some injury sustained while I was away – a friend passing though Antigua gave me the news, and since this dog was so sweet, so loving, I just had to write a bad poem about it.

November 5th 2009
Coyote is dying,
or dead perhaps –
I just heard the news
and wish I could do
Anything
except sit
and write
how much I wish
I could do
Anything
to help.

Losing a dog
like losing a friend
sometimes worse –
you always imagine
as a child
a best friend who listens
and loves
but never judges
and is always around.
That’s a dog,
and Coyote was one of the best.

Not exactly sure what
but something bad happened
to a big lover dog
and now I can’t sleep at night.

November 6th 2009
If the drunken stumble was an Olympic event, I’d medal for sure. Had a couple in a row lately, and I’m starting to realize every street is identical when you’re here in the middle of the night.

Yet another group of people compared me to the guy from Into the Wild but they’ve pegged me wrong – I’m a different beast. I don’t reject society, I reject your society. The western world, capitalism, consumers braindead and programmed, the stale odor in the gasping maw as it slowly chokes out and dies. I welcome its death, I work toward it actively. My gift to the world will not be the story of a life lived fully in line with nature. No, instead my story, my gift, will be to throw myself so hard at life that others will be unable to do anything except join me. I refuse to be an example – I won’t show you how to be happy or how to live – that you must find on your own – if you wish to join me however, I’ll gladly share.

The 6th was a writing day – I forget why – but there are pages and pages, political, angry, questioning, fierce. Some in Spanish, some in English, but I’m worried that this massive post is going toward the irrevocably dull. I highly encourage skipping sections you’re not interested in, taking what you want, discarding what you do not, and adding to all of it what is uniquely your own.

Later:
It’s impossible not to participate in their system here in Antigua. Just as impossible as at home, sadly, but the means are different. First, it’s impossible to buy anything, not in the smallest shop, that hasn’t been labeled, packaged, juiced with corn chemicals, and then examined, primped, pinched, tucked by the soulless shitsuckers in marketing until there is no resemblance between food and whatever the hell We’re eating. It all screams corporate domestication to me, whispers softly on the peace, love, understanding, happiness, sex appeal I can purchase at the low low price of – well, I don’t know, because I’m not buying.

There isn’t the money anyhow, but I’m not buying as much as I can get away with. Still – I’m buying because I have to. I’m st- fuck, I just got up because I’ve been craving something, anything, a cigarette, and bought a pack of gum made by an American multinational corporation – one of those immortals. Sure, it helps me quit smoking, but I feel like – Am! – a twat to have it. I should have just stolen it – at least that’s still pure. Still, I’ve almost cut consumption aside from the most basic of things, and still I consume too much! Food or cheap substitutes, water, coffee, tea, alcohol, marijuana, the occasional cigarette I bum, condoms, gum, Canada Dry snuck from the bar, soap, shaving cream, razors, detergent, electricity, Austrian vagina – that’s about all I consume these days. Oh wait – Ink, paper, plastic, metals are in my writing supplies, the packaging, chemicals, the list goes on forever. Point is it’s impossible not to consume their products and live here, because they own everything, make everything, and short of stealing it, I can’t get what I need to survive without buying.

Granted, I’ve cut down a lot – don’t even want new things, give away those I do carry, but try as I like I’m still stuck in their world, and getting out isn’t any more likely here then there. If I want to escape their fucked up system, the one that necessitates poverty, begging, makes no one happy, and consumes us all and our planet too, I’m going to have to blow a fat motherfucker of a hole in the walled garden, or we’ll never taste free air. Now I just look for how, and who, and where. The what and why I’ve got. -k

Last note for the moment – why is it that I’ve had better luck with women since I started to drop out and go my own way? Am I more attractive somehow, or am I just fulfilling their mysterious bad boy fantasies? How can I be sure to find a similar soul?

There’s a problem with words – with communication in general – that makes it all but impossible to pass feelings and thoughts from one to another. Words are so imprecise, have such subjective meanings, and signify different things to us all. Take “Love” for example: it can be used to express so many things, to pass so many thoughts into the world – “I love that new hat!” “Like oh my gawd, didn’t you just loooove the new Twilight movie?!” “I love it when you do that trick with your tongue.” “I love you.” “We’re in love.” and on and on it goes. How can I possibly communicate my meanings using these words? How can I communicate at all without them?

I wrote briefly before about how touch communicates so much better then voice, how the shiver under your lover’s fingertips tells her so much more then a mailbag of poetry and sonnets, how the smell of another person tells a life story, how the taste of a kiss beats a lifetime of writing love stories. Writing, speaking, words have no chance to express the same level of truth. Still I try, with imperfect words, because there isn’t a way to kiss the whole world, because there are plenty of people who I can’t tell how much I love them with my hands (and really, think of the lawsuits!). For people far removed, writing is perhaps the purest medium to share thoughts – more measured, accurate, then speaking – it takes a lot of work to write, and with more effort comes better, truer communication.

Sometimes I write in Spanish just for the difficulty of it – when I can’t find the right word, when I don’t even know how to say what I want, the struggle makes the product all the purer. Here’s the same sort of anarchist, anti-globalist sentiment as above, but in a language that still trips me up quite a bit.

Los colores son tan brillantes como los que son adentro tu corazon. Los exudes cuando haces las cosas que autenticamente reflexionan tu amor por la vida. Si no tienes este amor, o no trabajas para tu felicidad como la meta mas importante del universo, los colores se irán y con esos irá la punta vivir. Siempre haga que necesitas estar feliz, pero pienses siempre en si tus acciones, valores y piensas son de acuerdo.

Si no, cambie algo, porque sea mejor vivir un dia con paz internal que vivir 100 años en desacuerdo con tu espiritu. Recuerdes siempre – la vida es de tiempo limitado. Cada segunda peciosa, cada momento un regalo. No la bota en frente del televisor, ni trabajos que odias – la poder cambiar tu vida y tu mundo nunca esta más lejos que la distancia entre tus manos y tu corazon. Nadie conoce, nadie, cuales son las cosas mejor para ti mejor que tu. No politico, ni profesor, padre, puta, or pariente sabe como hacerte feliz – descubrir ese es concerte al mismo.

I wanted to write character pieces about each of the members of Cafe Te Quiero, but ran out of time when I was run out of my house. The only one I even started was Makanaki, our Rasta chef. Here’s that:

Makanaki the cook is my favorite character in this wild business venture of ours. A Belizean Rastafarian, a devout vegetarian, with a history of crack addiction, homelessness, and the teeth to prove it. From his leathery black hands to his eclectic wardrobe all the way up to the magenta-red-purple knit cap he eternally wears over long black dreads, Makanaki is one of the more fascinating individuals I’ve ever met. He’s a genius in the kitchen, no movements wasted, total concentration and focus. There’s a rhythm to his every motion, and the songs he plays in our cramped kitchen never fail to be delicious. He doesn’t speak it, but reads his French cookbook and pulls off some incredible creations, and on top of that, he knows where to find or buy anything in the town market.

Yet despite this encyclopedic knowledge of the city and command of the culinary arts, the overwhelming impression one gets from Makanaki is one of complete chaos. The guy jabbers on about anything under the sun in English, Spanish, Creole, Patwah, and it feels like our conversations work better when I start reacting based on his emotions rather then wording. Put another way, it’s like listening to a conversation already finished, and then just finding your part in it, because when he asks a question, you’d better give him the response he wants, or he’ll just repeat the last 30 seconds’ conversation over again until you do. He talks himself through every action, step by step instructions to life. We play the same album – Bob Marley’ Bob Marley – every day until six, when Tops turns on the main stereo and plays Bob Marley and Groundation songs until some customer wrestles control away. Makanaki preaches me the faith of reggae, love, Jah, and ganja – Jah’s gift to man, proof that he loves us.

“Its tru mon, padnah, dis is holy mon,” he pauses to puff, “You smoke – oh, so good! – jis a liddle mon, jus a liddle, poquito, a liddle. Too much joo go crazy, loco! Tops man, he crazy that loco, sitting ova der, wooo, wow loco! HAHAHAHAHAHAhahaha…” And then, suddenly pensive, he’ll turn back to the stove, and check bubbling dishes, stir one, and then “You know, Bob Marley, the musica?”
“Yeah man, of course.” I respond the same every time.
“You know das about Jah, right? About givin’ tanks tah Jah, you know?”
“Ya mon,” I say.
“So good, so good.”
“So good padnah.”
We make a good team.

One of my favorite things about Makanaki is his guitar – it is in some way a metaphor for the man. He found it in a dumpster, salvaged what he could, built his own parts out of scrap plywood, metal, and part of what I think is the surface from an old linoleum countertop. He’s loved her to death and it shows – parts of the body and fretboard are worn white from countless passes of finger and hand, while others are stained black with sweat, dirt, tears, and cigarette smoke. The strings, of which there are five, are constantly out of tune, and the effect of all this excess love is an instrument that might collapse if you looked at it too hard.

When Makanaki plays, it’s almost an affront to music – like hitting convention in the face with his dick, he does everything his own way, twanging and strumming, playing all over the place, no melody just plain feeling. Over this sound riot he sings reggae lyrics of his own devise, praising Jah, Jesus, “Oh Jesus Jesus, thank you lawd, o dank you Jesus Christ mah brutha lawd!” and praying for universal brotherhood. He’s chaos through and through, but I like listening to him play. It’s not a popular position. Maybe I’m just crazy enough myself to appreciate his work? That seems possible.

Anyway, the mystery of Makanaki, the reason I need to stick around and study the man lies in his ability to know – well – all of the hot young alternative girls. The man has some crazy Rasta magic that makes him well-loved by all and if I’m going to be stuck in 40 square feet with him for so long, I might as well learn a bit.

Looking back at it, I think his “secret” was just to be completely authentic – in every fiber of his body, Makanaki is truthfully and honestly himself. The sort of power that comes from that inner peace can be turned to whatever means you want, and if you’re into befriending young impressionable tourists, well, that can work out quite nicely. Makanaki – I miss you padnah – I hope we cross paths again. Also:

It’s amazing the way the threads of our lives connect. I’m drawn repeatedly back to new/boys’ house from here in my cramped Antigua kitchen, the dimensions and shape, the chaos and willful disrepair – it’s so weird to feel these small tugs when you least expect it.

I felt like a black and white movie stereotype one day:

November 11th 2009
I slept right through the celebratory minute of Armistice Day, which I think is the best way I could honor the end of pointless war – by getting a good night’s sleep.

Now I sit here at a small, smoky comedor, a just-killed plate of pollo asado off my right elbow, an empty glass coke bottle in front of me, and a standoff between two feelings – satisfaction and resentment – in the pit of my stomach. Really, I feel a bit like a character at this point leather jacket and shades sitting under 1950’s ceiling fans spinning gamely, soft static Spanish on the radio, looking out into the cobblestone and red tile of Antigua as two old women cook chicken and steak on a charcoal burner in the doorway and dry dishes with old rags. “Just rolled into town,” my character would drawl, “might stick around a while, might take off tomorrow. Only God and the Devil know, and I’m not even sure about them.” Then he’d relax, lean back in his chair, and flash a grin at the sheer insanity of it all. Sadly, the real me would have to translate that, and besides losing a lot of the impact, I think the God-Devil-I-don’t-know bit might not go over so well in Catholictopia. Anyway, the women are chatting in low quick Spanish, and the only other customer is deep into his own plate. I don’t blame him – it was delicious. Point being – the main difference between myself and the protagonist in a novel is that I don’t have the luck or skill to make every witticism stick when needed. Interesting idea though.

Back to that coke, now cleared from my table – it still bothers me, and I’d like to work out why. I know why I don’t like it – no mystery there. Big corporation with a history of worker, human abuse, murder, exploitation, greed, destructive behavior of all sorts, just to push a sugary bottle of sweet and health problems – no Sherlock Holmes needed to see why they’re on my shit list. Worse, they’re so fucking good at it! Everywhere I go, Coca-Cola has already been, “civilizing” the unwashed masses through diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay – the tip of the iceberg. Worse still, they’re omni-present in Central America, having displaced any local companies that might dare to compete – if there is a town of 50 people, and one of them runs a store out of her house, dollars to dogshit it’ll have a case of Coke.

Still, the reason why I’m really angry right now isn’t even for all of that. No, I’m pissed off at myself, because I took a bottle of this bullshit out of a freezer 30 minutes ago, opened it, drank it, and you know what? I fucking LIKED it! What the fuck! How can that even be? How can I, knowing all that I do, feeling as I feel about this world-destroying conglomerate nightmare? How can my I react as I do, with all those chemicals, corn products, and artificial preservatives, flavorants, caramel color?! How can my body enjoy this swill? How can I be so weak as to let my body make those choices for me? And what sort of weak-hearted, dull-minded bastard am I? An anarchist, a freedom-lover shouldn’t be this much of a hypocrite, so I guess it’s pretty obvious I have a long way to go. I’m so pissed at myself for this self-destructive behavior. Be it pot, cigarettes, booze, women, Coca-fucking-Cola, the internet, or video games, WHY do I waste my time on distractions when I have so much more to offer the world, and it me?

I don’t like having to ask that, but truly, it needs asking. I don’t have the answers to anything, but I know the method to find out, and I owe it to all of us to spread what little I can. Instead, I’m pursuing the long slow death, which isn’t a cause worth spitting on. I’m cutting as much of this shit as I can, starting now. I won’t be the slave of any man, and I sure as hell won’t let myself be controlled by my own base instincts either. To change the world, looks like I’ll be changing myself first.

So far, so good. It’s still a long road though – desires are strong, and we all need an outlet – I guess I’ll just channel mine toward the things I like best, the travel, women, adventuring side, and drop the booze and cigarettes and mindless entertainment. Drugs – the good ones – I’ll keep, on the once-in-a-while side of things, or maybe drop them too after I can get past drinking and smoking. Those are the tough ones, really. What social situation have you been in lately where people are sober? Not a whole lot where I am.

This poem I wrote lying awake in bed, more or less as it played out.

November 12th 2009 – Past and Future
I’ve a joy in my misgivings
and misgivings to my joy.
The life I live’s worth living,
but life is not a toy.
What’s the point to my existence?
Am I only out to play?
Is there a better route to happiness
then the one I’m on today?

As I lie awake here wondering
Why, and What, I think of you –
our midnight talks,
hopes dreams and fears
you always helped me through.
I’ve never had that since
you know – that honest, or that raw.
Too intense you called me then,
I was and forever am.
In secret, I think that’s what you liked.
Doesn’t matter – Earth turns –
we revolve past horizons and sight.
The memories fade with the distance,
and that brings me back to tonight.

Once in my life I could call you,
we just don’t work like that
any longer.
Any longer.
Any longer and I’ll lose my mind –
I’m reaching for the phone.
But wait! A body stirs next to mine,
pulls me back –
from old longings to the present moment.
Her soft warm hand
takes mine, pulls close
and I’m torn –
caught between a love that I’ve felt
most my life,
and the chance
of the one I’m now discovering.

I’ll lie awake a while still.

I don’t care what anyone else says, that’s among the truest things I’ve ever written. General rule – if it hurts to read, brings the moment back into sharp relief, burrows right into my core, then I’ve done a good job, and this one does all of that.

I found my notes from being on LSD – they’re sufficiently insane to post here unedited, so all the spelling and whatnot is probably intentional, and if not, how the hell would you know the difference?

November 12th 2009
I’m on LSD, and just this morning I made a drug-free pledge – “the whole weekend,” I said, “I won’t touch a drop, or a puff, or a toke,” and here I am, a tab of acid into what might be one hell of a night. So far, I don’t know how to describe the feeling – It’s sort of like my body is vibrating, and I can feel every string of the whole glorious orchestra flowing through my veins, rolling out in waves of shimmering energy from my mouth and eyes. I bite my lip and feel a joy so deep, electric I can only sigh at the sheer ecstasy of it. It’s a subtle drug, but pervades every nook, every small recess of my brain and body – it’s easy to function normally but impossible to feel normal. My mouth is full of cotton, my words come out on cushions, and all through I vibrate bounce along the strings of existence and very reality, spiraling downward through the drainpipes of the universe, clattering merrily along to the rhythms of a whole underground orchestra, one I neither heard before nor even knew existed until just.this.moment as I put pen to page. It burst forth into reality, flaming wings and noises of — fuck it, don’t know where that was going.

It’s as if the LSD itself is in control of the pen and all I can do is watch the words appear and try to remember to breathe. And bite my lip – that seems significant right now, more then a lot of other things. Clearly I miss L – that’s been bubbling up through my consciousness all day, but perhaps now, with this strange rush flowing through me I’ll get to the bottom of it. ½ hit left, and we’ve hours of fun to go ahead. I’m quivering – all nervous energy and who knows what else – raw potential! – we’ll see how it goes.

A few hours later –
This has got to be the worst rolled joint I’ve ever smoked. Except the last one. Except the next one. And yet, I see an angel in the smoke, twirling, dancing skyward before me, disappearing toward smoky ceiling. Except for the last one. What’s the difference? It’s all one big smokestorm. Breeding inhalation mixes the cloud, swishes it like fine wine, spits back into the air as if to say “I’m through with you.” It mingles back, smoke to smoke, ashes to improbably long dangly ashes, dust to well – dust. Fuck that analogy anyhow – never liked it. Put that down in the record, then strike it from it forever. Smoke angels, that was my point. I see them dance away, but stretching after them is no use – they disintegrate and fall away before your outstretched hands, smoke and angels both – intangible, ephemeral – like dreams – like everything worth dreaming about.

Later again –
I can see why this was such a revelation when it first came about, because I can see the sublime in every living thing. God – to be first, to have been there, here, everywhere! To feel this for the first time, to fly – it’s all I can do to keep myself grounded now. I need to go find my laptop charger, some drinks, and to hide all the valuables. This is going to be one fuck of a night!

And still later –
“Ok guys, victory cigarettes then we’re out.”
“Yeah man, sorry we can’t stay with you longer, but you know, real life.”
“Love you guys too.”
“Goodnight buddy.”
“I’m out!”
Just like that – hang up the phone, click off the skype video chat, and we’re a million miles, a lifetime apart, and I miss them more then I did before we started.

Yeesh – I can see a few good thoughts, or partial good thoughts, in that mess, but it was just a stream-of-consciousness nightmare – still describes the whole experience pretty well, all music and vibration and a sense of universal oneness – the poor man’s religious experience. I can certainly see the appeal in it, but I could never shake the fakeness of it all – the chemical shows through the whole charade – it tastes, feels, is man-made, though unless you’d had some experience with natural hallucinogens that might not be so obvious. Still worth having done, but I doubt I’ll do it again soon – there are just too many better things to do with my life then to spend my time on false, empty enlightenment.

Here’s a few random notes, scribbles, and a half-assed attempt at explaining my moniker, since someone asked:

November 17th 2009
Ma-Ka-Na-Ki
Vi-Shal
K
Tops
Kar-La
She-Ny
Ki-ri-na
The Peo-ple of Te Qui-er-o

Undated:
I want to be a citizen of the universe, and so I will. I disdain nations for the same reason that I don’t divide species based on race, creed, belief, or any other group characteristic – because no individual can possibly be reduced to any of them. We fatally weaken ourselves by dividing like this – only through uniting all our individual threads into a great human tapestry can we hope to join the enlightened species of the universe. I am only one thread – I represent no other, and none can stand for me, yet I am of the same cloth as all others. That is why I am a citizen of this world – that is why I am Citizen K.

November 22nd 2009 – Recap
Last night in Antigua, and I’m sitting, thinking, smoking, and just trying to reflect on the past month of craziness – and what a crazy fucking month it has been! I’ve found an enjoyable life, house, a job I actually liked, friends, an honest to god home, and it all just fell into my lap. I even met a girl I liked, pursued a semi-normal relationship, pushed some sexual boundaries, had a blast. Then we had the live music, crazy characters, wild parties, too much pot and booze, a bit of LSD, and made a very gratifying and developmental time of it all. To bring it to a climax, Vish from Sonati shows up and puts a Columbian adventure into my head. Then collapse – the police evict us at riflepoint, and now I’m leaving to El Salvador and beyond with $0. Why can’t I live a calm, normal life? Because I choose not to!

It wasn’t my last day in Antigua – not by a long shot. I didn’t write it, but that night I managed to convince a whole group of tourists that there was no real difference between prostitution and the western concept of “dinner-and-a-movie” dating except that one was honest (and thus better) then the other. “Girls, have you ever gone on a date with someone you didn’t like because of the promise of free food and something paying attention to you for a while? Boys – have you ever taken a girl out less because you wanted her then because you heard that she was ‘easy’ and would sleep with you? Aren’t those both exchanges based around trading something for sex, attention, and human contact? What is prostitution except for a more honest version of the same?” Seriously – what is the difference, except that one supports a whole lot more industries, and thus creates demand for my products, then the other? I don’t particularly dislike prostitution anyhow, so it’s a moot point for me, but if you’re going to argue for the immorality of people selling their bodies, I’ll be right there to contest that they sell nothing more then any laborer, then any wage-slave. Just doing my part for chaos and shaking the box.

The next bunch of pages are drawings – unfortunately not something I can easily reproduce here. In lieu of the actual works, I’ll just say that they’re magical – life changing – and liable to bring any hardened art critic sobbing to her knees. The scribbles, the smudged ink, the uninspiring subject matter and artistic errors – just incredible. I’ve got a bright future scribbling pen and ink drawings on bus rides.

I was stuck in Antigua for a long time, so there’s a lot more short musings, arguments with myself, and then a burst of poetry that sprung up in the next few days.

November 28th 2009
Simple living and high thinking – do only what you need in life, understand every action taken, and constantly analyze and refine yourself and life. Keep your head in the clouds, but only so far as your feet can be placed on solid ground when need be.

En Español – La mujer estaba bajando los pasos cuando yo estaba subiendolos. Me muevo al lado permitirse pasar, pero paró directamente en frente yo. “Estás mal chico,” ella dijó, interrupcionando mis pensamientos, “¿Como?” contesté, confusado y inseguro que yo se habia escuchado correctamente. “Estás mal chico.” “¿Por qué?” “Porque haces malas cosas.” Miré en sus ojos y realizé que no fue una broma. “Pues, a veces hago cosas malas, pero las hago para razones buenas.” Torné y sigé subiendo.

In English – The woman was coming down the stairs as I was going up. I moved to one side to let her pass, but she stopped directly in front of me. “You’re a bad guy.” She said, interrupting my thoughts. “What?” I responded, confused and unsure I’d heard her correctly. “You’re a bad guy.” “Why?” “Because you do bad things.” I looked in her eyes and realized that it wasn’t a joke. “Well, at times I do bad things, but I do them for good reasons.” I turned and kept going up the stairs.

That actually happened – to this day I’m not sure why – the woman was one of the housekeepers, and I can only assume she was referring to my habit of smoking on the third story terrace at night. Still, sneaking cigarettes on a balcony doesn’t quite add up to a “bad person” in my book, so maybe she had me confused with someone else? Perhaps I wronged her in a past life – regardless, I think my answer was just about perfect.

We’re almost done – hold on tight – the emotional roller coaster takes a bit of a dip again.

November 28th 2009
There’s something I should have told you,
that last night;
before we kissed.
I wanted to tell you
I love you
and today you don’t even exist.

We stood on your steps –
our last moments together
flames to lips, huddled close
in the cold.
I knew what I wanted
to say to you then,
but my words found no voice –
I was scared.

All that we shared to that point
was so beautiful, true,
a charmed we had
without issue.
We knew from the onset,
that we would soon part,
ignored it but a part always knew.

When together we came
to that dreaded last call,
with our hands intertwined
eye-to-eye.
I tried, failed, to push the words out.
The storybook ending
sometimes turns out a lie –
all things fall apart in due time.

December 3rd 2009
I sit here at sunset, on this empty beach, and all I can think of is you. I don’t even know you, not sure who you are, but can’t stop myself thinking – it’s true. We met for a moment, were just crossing paths – it makes me miss you all the more. I’ve been alone now, for such a long time – I’m not even sure what is real. All that I now is this: You’re in my head, and I can’t shake the feelings inside.

If I could just have a second, I’d pull you in close, our lips would say what we both know – there’s something between us (I can’t call it love!) Connection is there all the same. But each day I sit here, you’re further away, and our time together grows dim.

As the sun’s light does fade, on this fast-spinning planet, you go places that I can’t chase. How can I catch you? Our lives aren’t the same! Perhaps it’s best just to let go. Crumple this note – throw it into the sea, and then I’ll have only my dreams.

December 4th 2009
The leap into the unknown is better than sex.

A stray dog, ankle deep in the warm Pacific, puts his nose down to the water for a closer sniff at the flame-orange tinted sea breeze rolling over me. A little boy, no more than six, walking down the beach swings a shoe over his head on a length of rope. The dog sees, startles into flight, water flicking from his paws glints in the reflected sun rays, blood red on purple orange, blue pastels. The waves, dark green, crash on steadily, the boy is called in by a mother or aunt to do some chore, and still the sun slides down down down, ever round, ever steady, ever narcotic – like the voices of audiobook readers.

Everything so crisp, clear, so like the Platonic ideal of a sunset – idea and reality both, the essence of all that is sunset. It’s idyllic, the fishermen bring in their boats, two small bobbing friends on their surfboards – you don’t have to make this stuff up for sappy romance novels. Just go out, find it, and do it. And write in a way true to yourself, not your reader. If she understands it, so much the better.

December 5th 2009
Another day, another gorgeous sunset, but this time we’re in a bus with terrible suspension on a shit road in beautiful rural El Salvador.

There’s a gap in here, during which I crossed Guatemala to do a wild, 150km hike through the gorgeous Peten jungle. It was drop-dead gorgeous, stunning in every sense of the world – one of the best experiences of this whole great adventure. That said, it deserves a whole story of its own, and I’ve gotten too deep into too many other writing projects to do it justice. All I can say is hold on tight – I’ll post it, along with about 25 other stories, once I get settled down in Columbia. In the meanwhile, here are the last bits of writing in this journal -that’s right, we’re actually reaching the end!

December 18th 2009
What happens to a people when their art has died? Expression of self and of culture buried beneath crass commercialism, branded McImages designed to sell sell sell shit that nobody needs. I see “artisan” markets stuffed to the rafters with cheap mass-produced knockoffs of a people, a society long strangled to death by the same money-ideologists who now produce these tourist-seeking manure missiles. It’s all fake, even if it is made by the descendants of now-crushed native peoples. Call it authentic faux-Maya, replica original Central America, it doesn’t change the cynical fakeness of it all. This Frankenstein’s art just fills a niche, offers rich tourists a way to bring some trinkets back home, prove that they were there, that they went and took pictures of the charade.

Clinging to a dead past isn’t the same as having your own art. Just look at the billboards clogging the sky, catching the eye, buy buy buy – I want to cry. Fences and houses, painted the same corporate hues, signs plastered on every bus, every bridge – this poor community was given a bridge by the same corporate raiders who make sure the residents will never earn a living wage. They draw the eye upward, keep the bus-riding gringos from seeing the reality, the shanty-towns tucked away, the barbed wire, the kids sniffing glue, the starving victims. After the Capitalist beast has devoured all that is saleable, ugly truth must be painted over with comfortable advertisements, so the tourists won’t get a bad taste in their mouths, won’t see that this is OUR art, won’t realize that this all the culture we can have if money is the highest value, the ultimate virtue.

Such perversity! Wealth becomes synonymous with goodness, intelligence – people become worth their monetary wealth! Such a cruel joke – as if the best or worst parts of life could ever have a dollar value! In the distance I hear the devil’s mocking laugh as we wait, pray for a savior, and carry HIM in our pockets, covet him, treasure him more than our own families or experiences. An entire species, blind with greed, captive to its own creation, tumbling willfully to our common demise – we’re not unwarned, it is no surprise – the message has been written clearly for so long that only our willing indifference, our lust for cheap tricks and shoddy toys, keeps us from throwing off the self-imposed chains. We are slaves all. We have no art, no culture. There is only money left.

“But we do have art, music, videos, games exploding out of every corner of the world! Surely that counts, doesn’t it?”
“That depends on how you look at art. To me, art is creating something that you want but cannot find in the world. To create more of the same – the same beats, the same styles, copycat works with money as the focus – that is not art. That’s just a job, and a perverse one at that. She who can stomach selling her creative forces for worthless paper is the one I pity most.”
“So what can we do to make our own art, if everything has already been done, if there is no originality left?”
“Originality isn’t possible – everything has already been done, was done long before the ‘first’ person tried it. He probably heard about it from his grandmother as a young child, and brought about a masterpiece inspired by a good friend, a lover, a mentor, a passerby. No, it isn’t originality I’m after, it’s authenticity – truth, both to myself and to the world around me. I think that if you can write, draw, paint, sculpt, create something that truly speaks from your innermost parts, then you will find that you speak for many others as well. That is art, as far as I am concerned.”
“But how can you say that that isn’t what all the other artists are doing? Aren’t you being arrogant to even suggest that others you don’t even know are being inauthentic.”
“Perhaps, but I’ve been called arrogant before, and I reject the word on the grounds that it just seeks to perpetuate a useless and harmful hierarchy – he made money off of his work and you don’t, so therefore he has been validated. No, that is horseshit, to put it mildly. How many people relate to a McDonald’s billboard? How many people find some part of themselves in the latest beer commercial, the newest clothing ad or internet banner? People, talented but weak of spirit, are drawn to advertising and marketing, because that is where they can gain the most money – and thus the most validation – from their gift. If you create something to sell it, that isn’t authentic – you’re trying to guess what people want, what people will buy. You must create without any regard for your audience, market value, or success – only then can you truly create art.”
“You’re a pompous jackass, you use too many words, swear just to get a rise out of people, and further, you’re a fucking parasite on society.”
“That might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Here’s a note I wrote to Karina the day before I last saw her – I never had the courage to give it to her, but perversely, I’m completely comfortable posting it for the entire universe to read.  Go figure.

November 22nd 2009
Karina – I don’t know what I can say or do that will ever be enough to show how much you mean to me. These past few weeks have been some of the most incredible of my life, and the reason for that comes right back to you. This town has become tied to you in my mind, because without you I don’t think it would have been half as enjoyable, or half as memorable either.

Te Quiero, our rooftop, slow dancing, long walks – it has been as good as I could ask for, if too fast for my liking. Have an amazing trip, do everything you like, and don’t be sad for a moment – keep the good times in mind, and live for today. I’ll always be glad we had Antigua together. ¡Te Quiero! -k

And that would make this the last bit – my attempt to bring end to beginning, outro to intro, to paint the circle, the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth that we must all undergo.

December 18th 2009 – Regression
I started this book painting god as a whore,
mankind finished the job for me
foot on throat,
pinned to floor.
Weak as she is,
from our species’ violation
the Earth cannot protest –
there is no retaliation.

But what is this now?
Her fever keeps rising –
with a body so ravaged
is that really surprising?
Mountains of waste,
the smoke darkens the sky,
rivers, oceans choked with garbage.
We all slowly die.

What a great cosmic irony,
universal cruel joke –
mankind now burns
in the fires we stoke.
We carry on pretending
to dominate nature –
seeming forget
how we can’t live without her.

We don’t value what matters,
deny our upbringing
ignore even now that
the pendulum is swinging.
Creation in one hand,
destruction in the other.
Dominance versus slavery
and in the middle lies mother.

It is she who sustains us,
but not for much longer –
our scales tip toward extinction,
but without us she’ll grow stronger.
A world without humans,
perhaps it ends thus –
not idea for our species,
but poetically just.

I’m really struggling with this – on the one hand in love with life, with the world I inhabit, on the other hand knowing that we are destroying this whole beautiful planet, and with it our very existence – the only we know to support complex lifeforms, the only “god” we’ve ever found, and we desecrate her body, rape her and leave her for dead. So then:

Back Cover:
Here then is the question I gamble with still – does man value more or the world that we kill? The first is a parasite, the other life’s fount, but our actions destroy the only home we’ve found out. For what do we do it? Rank money and fame. Lust for power beats existence in this insane human game.

When is it better to just let us go? Trade the one for the whole, and get on with the show. If humans persist, soon all life will die – the Earth left in ruins, with none left to cry. There must be a point, perhaps already passed, to put humans out to pasture, consign man to the past.

And if this is correct, what am I to do? Don’t fancy myself savior, can’t fit in those shoes. Perhaps just to wander, wonder, learn and teach is my fight – shake the box time to time, bring ugly truth to light. It’s a coward’s path maybe, but freedom is worth more then life – if they won’t change themselves, let them fall on that knife.

As for me I’ll keep learning, always do what I can, perhaps one day create something to redeem part of man.

Thank you for reading – if you made it this far, I applaud you – there’s a whole lot of crap between here and where we started, and the good bits aren’t exactly highlighted. For me, this was spiritual, the catharsis of laying myself bare, to be read, seen, judged, hated, loved, mocked, pitied. I don’t know what else to write, so I’ll leave you with a passage from Days of War, Nights of Love that struck me as particularly close to my own goal in life – so much so that I wrote it across the final page in my journal. So here’s that:

Days of War, Nights of Love
There’s no excuse to let even a fraction of our lives go by doing things we don’t love, or to let any of our talents and efforts serve to prop up a world order we oppose. Instead, let’s fight so hard, and live so hard that others inside the cages of mainstream life can see us and are inspired to join us in our complete rejection of the old world and all its bullshit. And let’s make our communities something greater then they are; let’s make them more open and more capable of offering life-support, so that others really will be able to join us.

The system we live under offers only losers’ games – so why play them? It’s up to us to create new games, more joyous and exciting than the old ones. Let’s not try to beat them at their games, but make them join in ours! You can’t change the system from the inside – the system is the problem.

If you want to come play, I’ll be out here waiting. I will say this – we have a whole hell of a lot more fun! Until the next time -k

A Beautiful Dream

December 9, 2009

Looking back on it, I can scarely believe my time in Antigua even happened. The entire experience has been so unreal, so strange, so mind-bendingly chaotic that I’m tempted to just chalk it up as a figment of an overtired and malfunctioning imagination. It would be so easy to throw up my arms and descend into gibbering madness and uncontrollable laughter, to scribble the whole experience out and toss it into the wastebin of my mind. I’d sleep a lot better if I could find some way to convince myself that was true – the only problem is that I can’t, because it did happen, and it wasn’t all bad. Sure – I fell again and now I’m left picking up the pieces, but something wonderful happened, and I was so incredibly fortunate as to have been right there in the middle of it. What else can I do but to try and record this gorgeous collapse? Can I? So what if I can’t? Does it injure the memory to fail in capturing the entire story, in finding oneself incapable of conveying the true feelings and experiences through inadequate words? Isn’t it better to try and fall short, if in doing so one can share even a small fraction of a mystical and incredible time? I don’t know if I can do even that – only that I am compelled to try. Perhaps it’s best to just treat it all as a dream. Yes, I’ll do just that. This is my story in Antigua – this was my beautiful dream.

The dream is shattered early on November 20th, at 9am or so local time. Like another awful morning in my past life, this one starts with ringing – not a phone this time but our doorbell, a favorite toy of the local shoeshine boys and traveling salespeople. I’m tempted at first to tell whoever it is to fuck off and go stick their head in an oven, but when your days end at 3, 4am, the absolute last thing you want to be doing is getting up at 9, putting pants on, and yelling at some shithead who is playing with your doorbell. I’m content to let them ring until their fingers fall off, to curl up in bed and just ignore whatever is going on. If they really want in, they would have gotten a key like everyone else. Still, my antagonist is persistant this time, the “ding, ding, ding, ding ding, dingdingdingding” coming faster and angrier with every passing minute, and I’m forced to consider an alternative – sitting on the roof and smoking cigarettes until they leave me alone. I’m saved from having to move by Guy, whose tolerance for repetitive, grating noises is low enough to force him out of bed by around 9:15. We start talking through my window.

“Hey mate, is that the door?”

“Yeah man, I was ignoring it. Probably some fucking street vendor or bored kid playing with the bell.”

“Well should I go answer it?”

“Only if you want to man.” He goes downstairs, I close my eyes, and when the evil bell stops ringing I smiled to myself – laziness accomplished. I’m falling asleep when V comes and knocks on my door.

“Hey mate, I think you should come down. My Spanish isn’t good enough for this.” There’s something about his voice… what’s gone wrong?

“What is it mate?”

“There’s 5 guys with rifles at your door. I think you should go down and talk to them.”

“I’ll be right down.” Sometimes even laziness has its limits.

I’m up, out of bed, searching for pants, one phrase in my head – Fuck my life! – there are times when you can see and feel exactly what is going to go wrong but can’t put it into conscious thought, and this is one of them. I don’t know what is happening except that it’s bad, and something in the back of my mind keeps telling me that this is it, the end – we’ve finally gotten too wild and gotten ourselves noticed. The spell or black magic that was protecting us has gone, fled into the night, and nobody cared enough let me in on it. I find a pair of futbol shorts on my floor, make my way down to the front door with a heart full of shattered dreams and a head racing with barely connected thoughts.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way – I’d come to Antigua to settle down, to be calm, get a respectable job, make a bit of cash before I lost focus and ran off on another wild adventure. After 2 ½ months on the road, crossing Central America backwards and forwards, my pockets and stomach were empty, and I was in desperate need of a break. Sure, I’d had a few days here and there, crashing at friends’ houses, being sick, living in beautiful calm places, but wild days and hard living had run me ragged to the point of collapse. A touristy colonial city like Antigua appeared be a great place to sit still for a few months and recover from back to back to back to back to shit-are-we-still-doing-this back adventures. Plus, I had been corresponding with a volcano climbing company in town and they seemed to have work for me, so why not be a mountain guide for 6 months or a year, lead tourists up beautiful landscapes, scrape together some money, and take off adventuring again? A guy can’t live on the cheap forever and this seemed like the best non-work I could hope for, so I left paradise (after my third time finding it in 9 months) and headed north. This would be a chance to write, to take stock, to organize my thoughts and life and maybe to work on that book that I seem to be amazing at not actually writing. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I couldn’t be more glad either. It all comes back to a place called Te Quiero, my home and work and hangout for these past short weeks.

Te Quiero – an awful name for a bar, if you ask me, but nobody ever does. At first sight of their sign, a little voice in my head rolled its eyes and mocked gagging noises. Cafe I Want You, with all the sexual undertones that implies – who doesn’t want to go there for a drink? At the time I really didn’t care though, because I wasn’t interested in a bar. I already had found a dive bar to hang out at in town, and the last time I’d had a bartending gig, things had gone… poorly. Besides, I was out searching for a place to live, not a job, and armed with a list of rooms for rent that I’d gotten out of a pretty Canadian girl, I set out that morning to look at a few of them. Te Quiero was the furthest from my hostel, and so that was where I started at the crack of noon on October 24th – day zero of one hell of an adventure.

“The place isn’t half bad,” I think to myself as I step from cobblestone street onto cracked sidewalk and through the Spanish colonial doors. “Downright classy, if the looks are to be believed.” Pastel red walls give way to a tastefully decorated Tapas Bar, Cafe, and Theater. Crepe-paper boxes over the lights, framed sketches and sofas, plus a small wooden bar and kitchen along the lefthand wall. The place is rounded out by a few bar stools, Bob Marley telling me not to worry and be happy, and to top it all off, sitting behind the bar reading a magazine, a man named Tops. His signature dramatic corkscrew curl hangs down his forehead, and from the long-ashed cigarette he holds forgotten, he appears to be concentrating deeply. I break the silence.

“Buenos tardes, como estas?” He twitches slightly, surprised but unstartled, and glances up at me before responding.

“Bien, tranquilo. Como andas?”

“Todo cheque. He escuchado que tienes aqui un cuarto para alquilar – esta verdad?”

“Yeah man, suuure we have a room for rent.” His English surprises me, clear and unhurried, with an accent of British sophistication. Which is why my next question is a dull-witted “Hey man, you speak English?” instead of something better.

“Claro. I’m Tops by the way – half British, half Guatemalan. I manage this bah. Deloighted to by the way.” The last words, delivered in an over-the-top faux English accent, make me snirk – which I’ve just been informed is a snort mixed with a smirk. I like it, and claim it as my own.

“Hey man, I’m K, from – well from California and nowhere.” He comes around the bar, we shake hands, and fall to chatting about how we’d gotten to that present moment. I start to tell him an abbreviated version of my adventures, only to have him interrupt – “So do you want me to show you the place?” and off we go.

The place is fantastic – the bar opens up into a cafe with small tables, another bar off to one side, and a stage. As I stand considering the merits of living above a theater, Tops plugs something into an outlet, and I’m quite suddenly in love with that room – more crepe-paper shapes, wild curves and abstract bulges in red, orange, blue light up, splashing the room with just enough light that I could picture people making out quietly on the sofa in the back corner during a live concert, candlelit tables for two, soft reggae or small-time theater shows.

“Nice place,” I tell Tops after he’s connected a few other hanging lamps. “Really impressive actually – you’d never even know this was all here from outside.”

“Oh man, you haven’t even seen the start of it – you want to fly?”

“Fly?” It doesn’t fit with my understanding of our conversation at all.

“You know man, fly.” He holds his arms out like an airplane. I didn’t get it, and he gave me a look. “Do you want to get high?” he said slowly, and I feel like a kid almost, being offered a few coughing hits off a joint behind the tennis courts by one of the cool rebellious kids. I shrug – “Can’t see why not.” and follow him up the stairs.

The view up the staircase makes me grin – a small stone flight to the second floor, then inexplicably an twisted iron spiral to the third. Have I ever mentioned my love affair with spiral staircases? It bears repeating regardless. I love spiral staircases. They’re like redheaded Norwegian bartenders in that I really want as many of them in my life as possible. Thinking similar thoughts, I stop at the landing, but can’t do much more then look left-right before Tops is continuing up to the rooftop and I’m hurrying to catch up to him. Up the creaking metal stairs, I push through the decayed, barely functional door to the roof, and suddenly I know – just know – that I’ve come to the right place. The sunlight filtering down through the screen windows might be one reason, but pretty a picture as that is, the memory of it is forced out of my mind by the gigantic fucking volcano to my right. Volcan Agua, a few thousand meters of danger and possible immolation sleeping peacefully under a blanket of green and farms, and before it lies all of Antigua, tile and rusty tin roofs – a postcard view of sleepy colonial Central America. I stop mid-sentence, so arresting is the view

“Shit. Tops – this is incredible!” I exclaim, to which he simply smiles. “Turn around man.” I do, only to find myself facing 2 more volcanoes, further away but no less impressive – wisps of smoke drifting out of Volcan Fuego hinting at the power lying dormant beneath our feet. “What a place,” I shake my head, try to keep my jaw from dropping. “Sure man, whatever. Here, take this.” Tops presses a lit joint into my hand, and I reel. Here I am, dressed nicely, carrying around a bag of resumes and pretending to be a respectable human being, and the person I’m trying to impress is now offering me ganja, wisps of smoke still curling out of his nostrils. Who exactly am I trying to fool here? Fuck it – I switch gears, take a drag, and look back at the clouds sweeping over Agua. Exhale, breathe, inhale, think, think THINK! How the fuck do I keep finding this same place in different places? Handing the joint back to Tops, I close my eyes, grin, and ask when I can move in.

It was a joke, kind of – we still have to tour the rooms, Karla’s hair salon on the second floor, and the cramped attic bathroom, but it doesn’t really matter – so long as the rooms aren’t being used to store dead hookers I am already set upon moving in. I pull away finally after a good hour and a half talking and bullshitting with Tops, and it’s an effort – the man is fantastically interesting, and even if 90% of what he told me is complete and utter lies he has still lived a life worth living. I convince him to hold the room for me long enough to head over to an ATM, and step out into town. As I’m nearly out the door, Tops calls after me “Hey man, we’re looking for a bartender, so if you know any hot girls who want a job, send them over here.” Laughing, I go for lunch, consider and abandon looking at any of the other places on my list, and head eventually over to the outdoor trekking company where I’m going to start working.

Except that I’m not – tourism has been horrible ever since a bunch of dishonest money-grubbing fucks in the US decided to play games with the world’s money supply and made a killing at the expense of all the rest of us, and so there is no work to be had – nobody is leading mountain expeditions because nobody is paying to take them, and they have enough problems keeping their existing crew fed and working without adding another body. This is both news to me and a bit of a problem – I came to Antigua exclusively to work for this company, and a several-month, multiple interview process had led me to believe that I was coming into a sure thing – a guaranteed job. Rereading the last email they sent to me before I ditched a perfectly happy life in Leon, Nicaragua, I still come to the conclusion that I did at the time – that I was coming to Antigua to a job they were offering me. I mean, they even gave me a starting date! Granted, I was late a few days, but I notified them and everything… I mope a bit, but there isn’t much else we can do, and much as Sophie and a big loving dog help me feel better, I still walk out the door disillusioned and on-edge.

The reason for my stormcloud is the same reason I crash-landed in Antigua in the first place – I’m flat-on-my-ass broke, having spent 2 months traveling, backpacking, having one hell of a time and causing trouble across Central America. It’s been fun, but I’m completely out of money and need some time to reflect, write, and chill the fuck out for a bit. Antigua fit that bill because I loved the idea of leading people up mountains and volcanoes and getting paid for it, and the town itself is pretty fantastic – too gringo for my taste, but tolerably so if only because most of the expatriate regulars are cynical, over-educated alcoholics (Hi Cafe No Sé regulars!), and that’s my people. My communications with the guiding company went well, my schedule lined up with their needs – certainly this was exactly what I needed to be doing right?

Wrong – things I plan don’t work, never have, and this latest misadventure was shaping up to be more of the same. With few options, I make a few rounds of town looking for work, pass out resumes, speak with managers and owners all over the city, and the message is the same everywhere – no work here, tourism sucks, come back later. I spend the whole day getting turned down over and again, until dusk falls, and it’s time for me to head over to Te Quiero and decide whether to rent that room or not. The whole walk across town – all 7 blocks – I mull it over in my head. Should I stay here, keep looking for a job? It’s terribly expensive, it feels like a part of the western world, and I hate the feeling of Disneyland, Central-America-in-a-snowglobe that this place gives off. Still, I have to do something, somewhere, while I still have the cash to start a new life, and that window is closing – it might be here or home.

A mental cigarette later, I’m back at the little red bar, walking through the fading sunlight to soft salsa beats – it turns out that the neighboring building is a dance studio with free lessons on Monday and Tuesday. Another point to “move in.” I step into the bar and the groove switches over to Bob Marley – Makanaki’s kitchen, his music choice, and the default is always Bob Marley, with a little variation into the Groundation or Massive Attack realms. How to describe this man – “He was like a combination of Buddha, Jesus, and Bob Marley” as the man across from me just helpfuly pointed out. He’s right too – Makanaki is and was the coolest motherfucker on the planet, and certainly lightyears closer to enlightenment then I am. I could learn a lot from this man – another clear point for staying. Dreadlocked, dress shirt and torn jeans, with his signature knit cap, he greets me with a boistrous “Hey boy! Come in boy! Pase adelante,” and sweeps his arm across toward the back of the building. “Hey man, how are you? Como estas? Is Tops here?” “Yeah mon, arriba. You kno boy? Arriba, above, UP.” He almost shouts at me, pointing toward the ceiling. I grin and head upstairs to the roof, figuring I know what Tops is doing right now.

I was wrong, incidentally, but it scarcely matters because any thought I had of Tops is replaced by the spectacular fireworks show that opens up off my righthand side just as I push open the rooftop door. Close enough to touch, exploding out of nowhere a hundred meters away, I feel the pressure waves, taste the acrid gunpowder smoke, and I just can’t look away. What a sight! I stand there mesmerized until the final crackling pops die away and the world lies still again. Another point for staying, and that’s the match. I head downstairs with ears ringing, grinning like the idiot I am.

I find Tops in one of the bedrooms I’d looked at earlier, sitting at a desk looking far too serious to take seriously. “Hey Tops, I think the universe is telling me to move in here.” “Well good man, I’m glad to hear. Tell you what man, I think you’re just the right guy to move in here.” He comes around the desk, shakes my hand, and we do all the boring stuff you don’t want to read about – contracts, receipts, house rules, credit check, transferred keys, all that jazz. Or wait, no, we do none of that. I give him $150, he writes “24 Oct to 24 Nov” and his signature on a scrap of paper, and that’s it, I’m home.

I choose the bedroom I’d first seen, a pentagonal oddity with leopard-print sheer blinds, a crate, a lamp, a chair, a bookshelf, plus the best bed in the house, which is the only thing I care about. The door is cardboard almost and doesn’t lock, the walls are bare whitewash except for a crayon flower and the word MAYA written along one, and a pair of pastel butterflies across from it. I have sheets, a thick wool blanket, and a rug. There’s a bare bulb on the roof that makes the place feel like prison, but the lamp gives off a homely yellow glow that reminds me of living with my grandparents, so the light never gets turned on for long. Tops has been moving things, setting up since I left earlier, so I thank him, shut off the light, and we head downstairs to delicious vegetarian food at the hands of our Rasta chef. So good. I need to head home to my hostel if I’ve any hope of making friends tonight, so I turn down their offers of more drinks, and right before leaving ask – “Hey Tops, you still need a bartender?” “Sure man, just come back tomorrow and we’ll talk all about it.” Just like that I’m sucked in by the vortex of Te Quiero – home, job, hangout – I never had a chance.

I spend the night at Cafe No Sé, sipping whiskey and watching fantastic live music. I’m terrified at the speed of things, but all I can do is smile – I have a home, I might have a job, and I’m watching a man named Jueves play the hell out of a kazoo and singing dirty versions of Britney Spears and Spice Girls songs. What else does anyone really need in life?

What they need is a love story, which they would know if they ever thought about it hard enough. In this case, that comes courtesy of an Austrian beauty named Kirina. 24, quite the accomplished traveler, and in town studying Spanish before she takes off to backpack Central America – she has one hell of a story, but doesn’t everyone worth writing about? She came to Te Quiero a few times before I showed up, or so I’ve heard, but our stories clicked together like Lego from the very start, and afterward there’s just the one – slightly bigger, multicolor, and Danish for “Let’s play,” to stretch that analogy to breaking.

Our story starts where all good love stories do – a bar. My bar, which Te Quiero has certainly become by the time we meet. Falling into the life has been so easy – within a week I have free reign off the bar, in charge of not just mixing drinks, but of ordering, purchases, salaries, and everything to do with money, payments, and numbers. It’s an easy job, one I do well enough without thinking too hard, and sitting around telling stories, playing psychologist, and joking with our small-but-swelling crowd of regulars gives me just enough easy work to never feel as if I’m working. I’m in my element in small bars with good music, and so long as you can keep the attitude lighthearted – “chill out” says Tops 100x daily – the guests will follow suit. We play, never work, and between the constant rulebreaking and horseplay I’m never sure if this is my job or just a place that pays me to hang out and do something every few minutes.

Kirina comes in one afternoon to do her homework and get a break from a Spanish-speaking family and German-speaking classmates. “All they ever do is speak German, German, German all day. It’s so annoying – how can I practice Spanish like that?” as she puts it. The first thing I notice about her is that she’s outdrinking the rest of the bar, partly because she came in early and had a head-start, but also because this girl can drink. I play a game bartending where I keep track of what I’ve given everyone, and Kirina is winning hands down. The second thing I notice is that she smokes Marlboros like they’ll go bad if she doesn’t get rid of them quickly enough but makes it look downright sexy – chainsmoking as a turn-on. The third thing is her accent, gorgeous and foreign, and I can’t keep myself from being physically, bodily excited every time she speaks to me. I catch myself sneaking glances at her, head stuck in a Spanish workbook or vocab list, and I start to wonder whether I’ll actually talk to this one before she walks out of my life.

The answer is no, then yes. I don’t say much to her that night that isn’t transactional, instead telling stories to a pair of spell-bound travelers from Canada and Austria. I give them a few good ones – hitchhiking, prison islands, chasing women across 3 countries, paradise found all making an appearance, but I can’t focus on it because just behind them is this girl I want to talk to but can’t because I’m stuck behind the bar all night. Still, I’m consoled by her reappearance the next day, and we end up talking for quite a while simply because the bar is dead all night – Marlboros and cheap whiskey set the tone, and somehow we end up dancing at the end of the night. Actually, I remember how it happens – she says the worst part about white guys is that we’re afraid of dancing, and I can’t let that stand. I take her back to the theater and with the help of Tops’ incredible music collection off we go.

Barefoot we learn how to move together, slow salsa, rumba, foxtrot, swing. It doesn’t go very well at first, with both of us leading we go nowhere, and nobody can explain what needs to happen. Still, as we learn to work around the language barrier, to touch and sense and move each other, we improve quickly. Right about the time I’m thinking how intensely intimate this is, she catches me early on a turn and we’re there, eye to eye, bodies touching, and there’s nothing to do but kiss. And kiss we do, standing there alone in public swaying wobbly circles on our impromptu dance floor. Cautious at first, little soft pecks turn to big wet ones, nibbles and small bites. Tongues and teeth and lips, cheeks and noses and ears and necks get into the act. We stop after a few minutes and stand there holding each other. She says something in German – I whisper “I know – I’m attracted to you too,” and slowly lean in to kiss her again but then Makanaki comes back looking for me.

“Hey boy, dis guy up here he be wanting to pay an – OHOHO, whatchu doin’ back here padnah? Yeah, das rite, HahahaHAHA…” and he just stands there belly-laughing as I give Kirina my best eye roll and shrug – “I don’t understand Makanaki any better than you do” is the message, and she gets it. We head back into the bar, and go back to our positions – client and bartender. Strange – we both act as if nothing had changed or happened, but the whole rest of the night we catch eachother stealing glances and exchange secret smiles. We fool exactly no one, but still go outside, out of sight to kiss goodnight. Like the dancing, we get better at it with practice. Then she’s gone, I’m washing dishes, and wondering to myself – is this the girl I’m looking for? I know now, didn’t then, but it was the start of a beautiful relationship regardless.

The next day is a Tuesday, I’m sure of it because Kirina and I spend an hour that evening at a free Salsa and Meringue class. It’s not a bad place to meet people, especially if you like to dance, because chances are good that the people who take free dance classes are also the ones you can ask to dance at clubs. They’re also a good place to meet women. I’m having doubts about whether I like Kirina for her or because she’s a woman who likes me, and I figure the class might give me a chance to flirt a bit, see if I’m just lonely, that sort of thing. We do basic steps, and being me I can’t help but to modify them, with the result that my corner of the room collapses into chaos on a semi-regular basis. Still, nobody there makes me think that starting something with Kirina would be a bad idea, so that works out nicely. We don’t kiss that second day – it just doesn’t feel right. I know, perhaps just feel, that she really likes me, but I’m unsure how to go about starting a relationship with someone when we share no language in which we can express feelings or have deep conversations. How do you get close to someone when you can’t talk to them?

“By touching” is the correct answer there as it turns out, a solution we come to Wednesday night after a night spent dancing to a live show by the singer from the Buena Vista Social Club and some great players. Every Wednesday night these guys get together and blow the house away, and the dancers are pretty phenomenal. We show up late – I shut the bar down early and we race over to get inside. The place is packed to the walls with pairs of frantic, often drunk dancers and sexual tension – just like any good Salsa club ought to be. Sultry beats, macho Latin men dancing with bewildered tourists taller than them, goofy gringos doing their best, and a few pairs of dancers who truly make an art of it. Kirina and I aren’t there, but we give it a decent shot, grabbing a position near center floor and aggressively defending it with flailed limbs and bodies. Between sets we meet the singer – 74 years of clubs and drinks, of watching young couples fall for each other to the sound of his voice, of thousands of nights just like tonight, yet still in love with what he does, and friendly to everyone. He sips a short glass of something strong and smiles through our breathless hero worship. Somewhere during the night we’re no longer dancing so much as kissing gratuitously in public, so we bail out of the floudering party and head home.

I don’t have a house key yet, despite 5 or 8 days of Tops and Karla promising to get me one, so coming home is a gamble – none of the other tenants have moved in, and I’ve my fingers crossed that Tops was too lazy to walk across town tonight and is asleep upstairs. We’re kissing on the doorstep as we ring the doorbell over and again, and just before I lose hope that Tops will ever answer it, he swings the door open and we’re piling inside, being polite and thankful but really just trying to get upstairs and at each other – that carnal energy of a first time with a new lover running so strong that we’re idiots, all grins and knowing looks. We barely make it upstairs, and thankfully my door doesn’t lock from the outside as we make it in, collapse onto my low bed, and the rest isn’t a story for children or those who like to project their twisted morality on others. Here it is anyway.

We’re a mess of arms, hair, hot breathless kisses. She tastes like cigarettes, smells like hard soap and sweaty dancers, and refuses to wear makeup or chemicals. It’s intoxicating. I’m sure I’m just as wonderful smelling – having given up deodorant, shampoo, scented capitalist substitutes for sex hormones and the scent of a real person, I “stink,” by which I mean actually smell quite deliciously human. Words don’t matter any more, they never did anyway, and we’re breathing, gasping, learning how to touch each other. At one point she starts speaking German to me, and I don’t understand the words but I understand her. We play for hours, then collapse in a pile, sweaty, glowing, and feeling silly. We sneak up to the roof in our bare skin and smoke cigarettes in the cold night, but hurry back inside to still-warm blankets and fall asleep entertwined. It’s the first time I’ve slept with someone I have feelings for in 11 months, and we sleep the sleep of the innocents until her phone alarm starts buzzing at 6am, unholy hour, and suddenly she’s up and dressing, and I am too, and we’re laughing and kissing and it all feels so normal, so natural. I walk her home as the city arises, yawns, and stretches itself awake. We kiss on her doorstep and then I’m walking home alone, grinning ear to ear, and I can’t quite believe how good the day is turning out to be. Even finding out that I’ve locked my door without thinking doesn’t ruin my day, but it might have ruined Tops’ – waking him up for the second time in 12 hours earns me a half-asleep scowl. “Sorry mate, if you’d like to get me a key this won’t happen again.” We laugh about the night before, have a quick toke on the roof, and then I’m off to bed until noon, and by the time I’ve showered and eaten Kirina is downstairs doing her homework and there’s nothing to do except sit down and kiss her to the point of distraction and then some. Makanaki laughes, hoots, says incredibly dirty and suggestive things in Spanish and we can’t spare a care for him – it’s something beautiful we’re found ourselves in, and keeping it going is all we care about.

Tops gives me a book that changes my life a week into my stay in Antigua. It’s called Days of War, Nights of Love and if Tops is to be believed, the simple act of buying a copy will end you up on some terrorist watchlist or another. Hell if I know whether that’s true, but it is an incredible book, revolutionary, unflinchingly anarchist, a call to rebellion, a guide to living one’s life in a capitalist’s world if you refuse to be one. He gives me the tattered volume while we’re both on the roof one afternoon, watching the sun slowly set and talking about how to cope with a society you fundamentally disagree with. He interrupts me mid-sentence, pulls the book from his backpack and presses it into my hands.

“Here man, I’m going to lend you this. Read it, but you need to give it back eventually, ok? I mean, fuck man, they put you on an FBI list in the states if you buy this book, and I don’t need that kind of attention.”

“Sure thing man, what’s it about?”

“You’re an anarchist – you don’t have to tell me that, or even agree with it, but you are. You think too much man, it makes you dangerous to the System. This book is about how to live without the System, how to be true to yourself, and remove yourself from aspects of life you don’t like. Everyone who reads it tells me that it changes their life.”

Given a recommendation like that, the book had a lot to live up to, but it did that and more. From the first page until the last, then through 3 more consecutive readings, the ideas and raw energy of that small tome captivated me. The essays, drawings, short stories, poems, letters – the whole work of love – pours forth until I am reading them compulsively, and worse, I find myself agreeing with the arguments presented. Worse, I say, because the conclusions of those arguments follow so simply, so logically, and are in such agreement with my own life experiences, that I cannot help but to accept them all, and what conclusions they are! Never work except when it satisfies you, don’t own, find your own standards and live by those and no others, never obey, work alongside by never for others, put your love into everything you do – these messages and others I’ve “taken” from this book aren’t there at all, but are simply the inescapable decisions one must make if you accept the arguments made in Days of War. For someone like myself, who has always disagreed strongly with western society on a fundamental, structural level, to see my own problems, my own arguments written before me, to discover the existence of others, organized, working toward the goals I myself hold, it is lifechanging. This book throws me a Big Question – “If you know it to be true, that we must create our own way of life if we are ever to combat the status quo, why do you still live by their rules, still act as if the other way is valid?”

For at least a week I’m lost – completely unsure of what I want to do, overwhelmed by the coming actions I must take should I accept the inescapable conclusion I’ve come to. If western society truly promotes a suicidal, unsustainable, undeniably wrong way to live, and I think that a better way exists, and is reachable by us today, don’t I have to try and find it? I dodge around it for a week, exhaust every excuse, and finally decide to try it – to live as much as possible without helping gigantic international corporations, to be self-reliant, to know how to survive in my environment, to be able to provide food, water, shelter, a respectable life to myself and loved ones, to never buy what I can make or do not need, to help everyone who needs it, to learn always, to share what little I have without expecting reciprocation, to never pursue money, fame, or influence – the opposite, more or less, of what American values promote. It’s a difficult pledge to make, one I have since fallen back on, one I will falter on again and again throughout my life. Still, we are all hypocrites – it is a part of modern existence that such promises are nearly impossible to make, so dependant are we on a system of elite control and centralized power – at least my hypocracy will be part of an attempt to do better rather then out of ignorance, fear, or apathy. I still have the book, having lost contact with Tops after the collapse, but a promise is a promise – and since I promised I’d get it back to him, I guess that means I’ll never see the man again. It’s too bad, because the doubts, confusion, and truth that his book unexpectedly shoveled into my brain have changed me for the better, and at the very least I owe him a thanks, or perhaps a beer.

It’s the chance encounters with treasonous minds, the mentors in exile, the excommunicated prophets, that keep the resistance alive, ensure that mind-numbing television, hidden cameras, and a lifetime of scripted school and workplace drama won’t ever truly destroy the human spirit. Take Tops – this man was rich, part of the priviledged, educated elite of Guatemala, and he’s given it all up, thrown all the money, parties, women aside to live as a near-beggar, dedicating his life to breaking laws, opening illegal bars, to rattling the cages of those who live unquestioned lives. I’ve had the good fortune to run into dozens, hundreds of people like Tops, from school teachers masquerading at following the rules but sneaking me Howard Zinn at break, to dedicated anarchists squatting in abandoned buildings and spreading marijuana and opium seeds across the world, and everywhere in between.

In a world where we are constantly set against each other, rich versus poor, us versus them, political parties, religions, races, the only truly revolutionary viewpoint is to refuse to hate – there’s a hell of a lot of us thinking like this, and we’re constantly learning, testing, sharing. Groups like Crimethinc are growing, cooperatives, communes, free associations of all sorts, and it remains to be seen what comes from here. One thing I am sure of is that should we actually succeed in this endeavor, this attempt to live without the power structure of this world, those in charge will come down on us hard and merciless – power rarely changes hands without a fight. In the meanwhile I’ll keep rebelling for me rather then against them, continue refusing to live by any law except my own, and let you know how it turns out. Anyhow…

Back to the really fun story – Guy turns out to be right on, there really are 5 men with guns at the door, big serious-looking fuckers with big serious rifles. There’s a woman there also, and when I pop open our little door hatch to talk to her, she immediately demands that I open the door. I swing one door open, lean on the doorframe, try to play it cool and find out what is going on exactly. I ask the clipboard woman, who looks in charge of the situation, why they’ve all decided to come visit. She doesn’t smile, and instead tells me that she has a court order of something – Spanish legal jargon is just as deliberatly vague and confusing as its English cousin. I don’t understand so I tell her – “I don’t understand,” and she repeats herself. I shrug with a theatrically hopeless gesture, and as response I get a clipboard shoved into my face. Clipboard lady points to one line, I read it a couple times, and it clicks – eviction day.

I ask in Spanish “We all need to get out?” “Yes.” “Now?” “Yes.” “Right now?” “Right now.” “I’m going to call the lady who rents this house, I’ll be back.” The last one prompts a few more questions – no I don’t live here, no I don’t have a contract here, no, I’m just here – that’s all you need to know. Apparently that meant they couldn’t come inside, because when I invited them to come in and sit down the woman shook her head and glared. I walk upstairs none-too-slowly and find my phone in my pants in the corner. “Karla – you should come over to Te Quiero.” “Why?” “Because there are 5 guys with guns outside and a court order of eviction.” “Eviction?” “They want us all to leave now.” “No, really?” “Yes. Really.” “I’ll be there soon.” We hang up, and I lean my head against the wall for a few much-needed deep breaths. Why does this sort of shit keep happening to me?

Back downstairs, phone in the waistband of my shorts, I ask the angry woman to come in again. Same look, and I smile sweetly. I make coffee and eat garlic toast while sitting on the bar, still in my tiny shorts, with this whole gaggle of bored police and military-uniformed guys with guns, and the impatient looks of the woman from the courts. I’ve been awake for under 20 minutes at this point, and am fairly convinced I’ve made the whole encounter up, so I pass my time thinking about ways to test reality until finally Karla shows up looking flustered, with a lawyer riding in her wake. They start speaking rapid-fire Spanish with the matriarch in front of her flock, and it becomes obvious I am not needed or wanted around any longer. I walk up to my room, throw my arms up at the Guy, and start packing my life back into bags.

It’s not hard to pack up your life if you’re me, so I just throw everything into my bags, restuff the sleeping bag, fill the backpack with the only clothes I actually wear, and am just forcing the zipper closed on the giant pig bag when it occurs to me to ask if we are actually going to get evicted. Downstairs, no more dressed then before, I see Karla in the bar with everyone else outside. “It’s ok,” she tells me, “my lawyer told me he’s found a mistake on the documents – it hasn’t been properly done. We’re not going to leave – I’m sorry for scaring you.” “It’s ok Karla,” I respond, wishing I could believe her, “ I really wish this was the first time I’d gotten an eviction notice.” Looking out the doorway at the lawyer and the court woman, I see exactly the opposite result written on both of their faces, and head back upstairs to finish packing.

While I’m in my room, 3 teenagers arrive and start moving the hair salon downstairs, and we shoot knowing and “isn’t-this-sad” looks at each other as they pass the door. I finish packing, realize I have too many possessions to live as a backpacker full time, and wander downstairs to find the entire floor in chaos. The theater and cafe are in various stages of gone and the bar is a hive of bodies, piles of boxes everywhere, glasses, plates stacked on the bar, the freezer’s contents sitting on top of it. Those kids do good work. My bar has disappeared completely in under an hour, living room with it, and I reel. “Karla, can I help you move out?” sends me back upstairs to dismantle bedrooms, and the Guy and I move beds, dressers, bookshelves, down the stairs, with my monosyllabic non-listening nicely complementing his good-natured groaning at the job I’d thrust on him. We pass the next few hours in carrying rooms outside, until it becomes time to get the washing machine downstairs. The Guy and I are low-side on this beast, and 2 of the 3 kids are all that can fit on the other. Dragging the machine down one step at a time pulls something in the Guy’s back – he nearly falls backwards down the stairs. After that, I’m alone on the heavy end, and we barely make it down without killing me. I give Guy a look, but he’s obviously in pain, and he’s only lived here 2 days anyhow – moving out my apartment building and workplace isn’t his task.

After that Guy became photographer and we start moving the other heavy things out, as Karla and her friends clear out the breakables. We brute force a refrigerator, several coolers, a wardobe, some desks, and a piano out the front door, filling the sidewalks and more then half the street with the whole lives of 4 people, plus everything it takes to make a bar, cafe, theater, and hair salon, which it turns out is a house-size mountain when you put it all in a heap. While we’re doing this, a group of 4 gringos comes in and starts walking through the building. “Can we go upstairs?” our apparent successors ask. “We want to see the roof and the upper rooms.” The sheer gall – coming into the building we are being forced out while we’re in the process of being kicked to curb for their benefit – fury gives Karla’s deadpanned “this isn’t a good time” physical weight. The inconsiderate fucks actually start to argue with her until they realize they’re surrounded by angry faces, and then slink out. We’ve won a small victory, but lost the war. What sort of twats, what complete assholes do you have to be to come into that situation and act like that? If you’re ever in Antigua, be sure to stop by 1ra Avenida #9B and call them a bunch of shitsuckers, just for fun. The city is full of sad stories of brown people being evicted so that richer white people can move in, and there’s no fighting it in the Capitalist’s legal system, but a prank a day keeps the dog leash away, so why not go give them hell?

For whatever reason, this encounter kicks the legs out from under us, and the vibe sags. Fatigue sets in with a vengeance – we have an audience now – neighbors and passersby are gathering, and 4 of the gunmen still stand in pairs across the way, giving the whole scene a flavor of criminal misdeeds. We are obviously a pile of thieves being kicked to the curb for our terrible behavior. We must deserve it, otherwise why would the police be there? Fucking scum, good riddance to them! Surrounded by judging eyes, I look around at my co-conspirators – Guy, Kirina has just stopped by after Spanish classes, Makanaki covered in sweat and dirt, and Karla looking lost in the middle of it all. Everyone looks down, beaten, and something obviously needs to be done. But what? By who?

It’s a week and a day after Kirina and I met, and I’ve found myself in something of a rut – waking up to kiss her goodbye, eating breakfast, then sleeping or meditating through the morning hours has become my norm, followed by exercise on the roof and setting up the bar for the night, and then Kirina will be over from school and the rest of my day is spent working or spending time with her, and my nights as well. Te Quiero is changing for the better, with a growing crowd of regulars, a full schedule of live acts, bands practicing during the day, and wild illegal afterparties behind closed doors nearly every night. It’s a fun life, don’t get me wrong, but trading sleep for sex, drugs, and rock and roll isn’t sustainable. I can do it for damn near forever but it ruins my mind and body, and after one particularly vicious lamp-melting, chair-breaking, hedonistic all-night bender with the members of Woodser – this great local band – Kirina and I decide that we’re in need of a lifestyle adjustment. We’d first started talking about it Wednesday before the party, but it’s not until the aftermath of the next morning that we get serious about it.

“That’s it,” she tells me over her shoulder in the groggy afterglow of another too-short night. “We’re stopping doing everything – drugs, alcohol, smoking – everything. We need a break.”

“Yeah, maybe a weekend.”

“Ok, all weekend we’ll be good.”

“But what’s our reward? We need something to keep us honest, or we’ll just drink and smoke anyway.”

“On Sunday we’ll go out and get big steaks and drink whiskey.”

“You mean like a date?” I feign shock. “But here we have this beautiful relationship based on our mutual love of having sex with each other. Why ruin that?”

“Yeah, a real date.” She kisses me teasingly on the mouth and is out of bed and into her pants all in one great big letdown of a moment.

“You should never put pants on, ever. Why not skip class and stay in bed all day with me?” I ask this every morning and she replies with the usual – “No, you make me lazy. I came here for Spanish, not boys.” She spins half-out the door and gives me that heart-melting look. “No drugs, no cigarettes, no alcohol until dinner on Sunday, ok?”

“Ok, but only if I have to.” She’s out the door and I lie there wondering why I’m such shit at negotiating with women. “Should have gotten blowjobs into the agreement.” I tell the ceiling, and then I’m drifting off into a dream free of hangovers and ill-advised promises. 16 hours later I put a tab of LSD onto my tongue and blow that promise all to hell and back.

It’s a surprise to me too. The day starts off normally enough – I clean up the big fucking mess from another night of late-night partiers and too much booze, balance the bar’s books, make beer and food orders, eat eggs and bread and leftovers. Nothing unusual, nothing to hint at the craziness about to unfold in my mind. The day passes slowly without any of the usual smoke breaks, and that evening I drink ice water with lemon as I bartend. The promise isn’t hard to keep until 3 men come in looking like they’re out to drink until they hurt. Bars depend on this sort of crowd to keep in the black, and so I spend my night mainly in keeping them supplied with enough whiskey, beer, and vegetarian tapas. Other guests come and go, Minnesota comes in for a few beers and to tell a crazy story about a horny old man, but these 3 keep at it, and they’re still drinking steadily at 10pm when I close the doors. Then things get blissfully out of control.

“Hey man, do you want to do some acid?” Ricardo, the drunkest of the 3, asks me nonchalantly.

“I’ve always considered it a possibility. Do you have any?”

“Yeah man, I’ve got a little bit of everything, but we’re all doing LSD tonight. Want to join us?”

“Is it good?”

“Of course man, this is the real deal. Good shit.” He’s sweating slightly, and his eyes can’t focus on mine.

“Is it safe?”

“Fuck man, it depends on you. Have you done it before?”

“Never, but I’ve a bit of experience with hallucinogens.”

“Well, just don’t take a full tab – do a quarter every 2 hours and you’ll have a wild night.”

“Alright, why the fuck not.”

I live my life according to few principles, one of which I call the “why the fuck not” test. It works like this – if I am ever offered an experience, particularly one I’ve never had before, I ask myself why the fuck I would not want to do it. If I don’t have a satisfactory answer, I do it. I mull the idea of doing LSD over in my head, and as I’m doing so Ricardo drops a half-tab onto his tongue and starts laughing. “Come on already! If you don’t take it, these guys will.” I look at his 2 friends lounging on the couch, lost in animated rapidly-slurring Spanish – not the most encouraging sight – and back at Ricardo. “It’s real?” “Shit man, don’t worry so much. Of course it’s real. I don’t fuck around with bad acid.” Good enough for government work. I take the offered square of paper, no more then 1cm at a side, and stare at it a while as I balance the expenses and write out the next day’s purchases. Finally having shed my responsibilities, I cut a razor-thin slice off of one side and put it in the center of my tongue. “Here goes nothing” I write in my open notebook, pause a moment and follow it with “nothing is true. Everything is possible.”

There’s no immediate effect save an electric tingle that spreads across my tongue into my teeth. I feel a rushing panic, but the effect subsides and I don’t feel anything more for a half hour, so I cut off 2 more tiny slices, put another on my tongue, and hand the second to Makanaki. He laughs a big belly-shaking guffaw and yells at me from 2 feet away. “So good Padnah! So good! Pegale, fighting mambo!” and I can’t help but dissolve into giggles. The 2 English girls studying at the table in the front room give us pitying looks, and one of them tells me that her friends used to do a whole lot of LSD, and to please be careful. I assure her I will, and once I let them out the door and lock it, I put the rest of the tab onto my tongue. One of the other principles I live by is “never do anything halfway” and I’m not about to start now.

The tingle spreads past my teeth this time, rolls through my head, neck, arms, feet. I become aware of tiny vibrations in every inch of my body, and for a moment I feel giddy, full of potential energy. Then the waves grow, increase frequency and amplitude, and just as I’m worried that I won’t be able to hold them in any longer, the energy explodes outward, and instead of feeling just the vibrations of my whole body, I can feel them all around me, pulsating with beautiful music, changing with my every breath and movement. I do a slow piroette in the center of the room, absorb waves back in, breathe them out again. I clap to watch the waves I create. I grab my notebook as an urgent need to write sweeps through me and scribble furiously – all crazy rambling and a lot of talk about the “underground orchestra rattling through the pipes” and “raw potential” – nothing groundbreaking, but good notes for writing this whole section. I’m thinking too quickly for writing though, and give it up soon enough.

Meanwhile, the bar isn’t empty. There are 2 German girls and Makanaki playing music on Tops’ ancient jukebox of a computer, and one of them wants to transfer some music off of it. The computer can’t play music and do anything else at the same time, so I grab my laptop and just barely manage to get it turned on and working. Turns out one of the girls loves punk music, and I just happen to have buckets of it. We’re blasting the Dead Kennedys, Streetlight Manifesto, dancing in the theater and I can’t barely think, so distracting is the world-enveloping strings concert playing out all around me. I realize that I’m seeing interpersonal relations embodied physically, that I can feel evey subtle nonverbal cue between the girls and Makanaki, Tops, and myself. “Mak wants to fuck this punk girl” I see it so clearly – his vibrating energy is concentrated so heavily upon her that I’d have to be blind not to feel it. She’s got some energy going his way as well, but it’s negative – this relationship is one-sided, and I might be the only one who sees all sides. Punk girl is focused on the music, and a bit on Tops, and her friend is eyeball fucking the hell out of me – no hallucination needed to see that one. She doesn’t know me, or she’d know that Kirina has me and I don’t want her to let go yet. A flying German girl hits me out of nowhere and draws me back to the present. Tops is done transfering files and wants to put his house music back on, so our 2-body mosh pit dies out, and I go looking for something to drink.

In the kitchen I spend hours, decades trying to successfully get a glass off the shelf. With the light reflecting off a hundred cups and glasses I can see the whole world as a kaleidoscope and it’s impossible to grab any one of them. I have to turn off the lights to pull myself away from gawking all night. The group in the theater comes out – the girls are going home, Tops is going to bed, and all of Makanaki’s drunken Rasta charm can’t convince them to stay any longer. They go, and Makanaki berates me for letting them. “Come on Padnah! Joo let dem go and dey wanted to stay. Whatchoo be doin’ letting dat girl leave when she be wantin’ to get in bed withchoo? Yeahhhh Padnah, joo loco. Crazy. Lettin’ dat girl leave…” He goes a while like this, swearing, telling me how much of an idiot I am for letting 2 girls leave, and how he could have had that German girl if only I’d taken her friend to bed with me, and all I can do is smile – he doesn’t see the energy, feel the vibrations like I do, or he would know that there was no chance with that girl, that she was there for the music and free drinks that Tops and Makanaki think I’m too blind to see them giving her. Eventually he calms down and leaves, and I’m finally alone. I lay on top of the bar for a while, rocked gently by the waves rolling through the wooden countertop.

Nothing makes sense. Everything is clearer then it has ever been before. The contradictory statements meet in the middle of the street, embrace like old friends, and slip into the nearest dive bar to drink themselves blind, and still the orchestra in my head plays on. “The ship is sinking,” I think, and suddenly I want nothing more then to see my old friends again. I pull out my phone and call Chad. Poor bastard gets all of my weirdest calls, especially with Kel off in boot camp. “Hey man, how are you?” “Who is this?” “Your Guatemalan friend – the only guy who would call you from Central America.” A pause. “K?! How the fuck are you man? Where the fuck? What are you doing? Why are you calling me?”

The questions surge out, a firehose of excitement and frustration – it’s been months since I talked at length with any of the people I know and love, and the LSD brings out emotions stronger then anything – he’s so happy, so sad, so angry, so relieved to hear from me that it breaks my heart – I’m a bad friend these days. “You know man, you are my craziest friend right now. Kel is going into the Navy, Foxy is giving up her citizenship and moving to Australia, but you win hands down. What in the fuck are you doing down there?” “Surviving mainly. I have a bar now. And an apartment. And a girl. We have sex on the roof under the stars. Oh, and I’m on LSD right now. I had this desperate urge to call you, but now I remember that I’m broke and this is going to burn all my phone credits. Can I Skype you?” We hang up, and nerds that we are, dive onto laptops to video chat. I look at mine in complete misunderstanding and suddenly feel overwhelmed. How can I even relate to my old life now? Will my friends still be my friends? I can feel the LSD creeping up on me, taking control, so I slap myself hard on the cheek, then call Chad again. “Hey man, little problem with the whole Skype thing.” “What’s that?” “I’M ON LSD!” I shout and hang up the phone, laughing maniacally at the havoc I must be back home.

On the internets we reconnect, this time with video. I’ve been so long without a steady internet hookup that I’ve forgotten how small telecommunications have made the world. Right there in front of me is Chad, Rad, and Muey – 3 great friends, 2 guys I used to live with and Chad’s beau. The video shows all of them piled on Chad’s(?) bed, bewildered and amused faces staring at me. “Hey friends! You have no idea how good it is to see you again!” “Damn right we don’t – your video isn’t working.” “Right, how about now?” “It’s transmitting, but all we can see is black. Where are you?” “In a closed theater, sitting in the dark.” A pause. “Well – fuck, go somewhere with some light!” I grab my laptop and walk into the bar, flipping on the dull pink lights, and it doesn’t help a bit – bar lighting being what it is, seeing things around you clearly isn’t exactly a priority. I resort to sitting in front of the refrigerator, giving the crowd back home a ghostly silouette on a background of cocktail mixers and vegetables. “This might be the best we can get. Still, a dim outline seems pretty damn appropriate, no?” “Listen man, we can kind of see you, so that’s good enough. What the hell have you been up to? Weren’t you living in Honduras on the beach?”

It all comes pouring out, gushing words and stories collide, and at first I’m just spitting nonsense at them – hitchhiking 5 countries, chasing women, rum-soaked dance parties, the bar, friends and women and drugs and adventures, I wax rhapsodic, thrown as I am into my own delicious memories, and it takes a few minutes to focus my eyes and realize that nobody understands a damn thing I’m saying. On my screen I see 3 faces of complete disbelief, confusion. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh FUCK” says the lowest voice, “they can’t get me. This is going to be rough.” It’s only the beginning. I focus harder, try to tell them just one story, just one adventure, to cut it all down to a single experience that gave a taste of the greater whole. I tell them about climbing Celaque, the highest peak in Honduras, about our misguided inexperienced clusterfuck of a mountain hike, and it falls flat on its face. They get the story all right, but the message is lost in the distractions, tangents, and jokes. I’m too happy to see them, I can’t tell them anything meaningful, and right now in my mind everything has significance to the gills. “I’m just so worried you won’t be able to understand me any longer, that we will never be able to relate again,” I tell them several times, and despite our obvious connection and warmth, it soon becomes clear just how different we’ve all become. “Sorry man, we’ve all got work and school tomorrow. We’re going to bed.” I try my hardest to keep them, tell them I’ve discovered what happiness is, try to convince them to try, and they assure me that they’re happy in their lives, thank you. We say warm goodbyes, then sever the connection.

I shut down my laptop, unplug it, and just start sobbing. They’re my best friends, and they’ll never understand life outside the asylum, the reality behind the lives they live. They don’t get, don’t want to understand the destruction and murder that prop up their comfortable reality. They’ll never understand what it is to be hungry, to have to tell starving kids that you can’t help them, to pull passed-out drunks out of a busy street. They won’t ever understand that their way of life is killing the planet, that they’ve sacrificed their very humanity for Red Bull, trashy TV, and central air. They’ve become part of the problem, the one that keeps me up nights – the sustainability problem. Their lifestyle can’t be sustained without entire sections of the world being kept in poverty, disease, slavery, and the worst part of all is that they don’t even see, may never see, that their lives are a form of slavery as well, chained as they are to jobs, school, working for someone else’ cause, piled under credit card debt, selling their invaluable time for cheap substitutes and toys. I lay my head on the table and I can’t stop crying, deep stomach-howls of pain and regret. I can’t even show them the way – the only true revolutions are personal – you can’t pull someone into the light, only show them the path, but how can you show someone the truth when they’ve shut their eyes and cut off their senses? I may have escaped the pacifying cacoon of modern America, but those who haven’t don’t even know that there is an alternative. Like it or not, I’m on the opposite side of my dear friends in this fight – their work, their lives are the very problems I’m searching for solutions to, and in their comfortable lifestyles I see the ugly truth they don’t – that it won’t be possible for very much longer, and the longer people fight to keep up their absurd consumption, the more we’ll all be hurt in the end.

Eventually I cry myself out, wipe mucus and tears off the table, and wash my face in the bar sink. The LSD is fading now, shimmering out as the strings decrescendo into my standard perception of the world. I climb up to the roof, dying to see the stars, the mountains, the natural beauty that makes Antigua worth living in. It’s bitter cold, and I realize that I’ve been freezing for hours without a jacket – my nose is icy to the touch. I grab the wool blanket off of my bed, wrap myself in it, and sit on my terrace to watch the sun rise. I start talking to the world:

“This is all that truly matters. This planet, that sun, the thin atmosphere we breathe, the soil and light and water that sustain us, and everything here. Without them we are nothing, and without us they are still everything. Human life is nonessential, this environment, or this sort of environment, is absolutely critical. Yet we burn it, tear it apart, take the truly beautiful and make it ugly and useless, all to chase after little bits of worthless paper. What’s else can I do but to fight against that? What could possibly be more important then living outside of this murderous, self-destructive, out-of-control system? We’re fucked if we don’t change our ways, and it’s not profitable to do that, so is that it? Is humanity doomed to slowly bury itself under our own excrement, to pave over the world and destroy everything that sustains us? What can I do to make that not happen? WHAT THE FUCK CAN I DO HUH?” I scream into the freezing pre-dawn, and all of a sudden start laughing until the tears come again. I sit there for hours as the stars fade and the sun rises slowly over the nearby hills. A line from Tops’ book rises from my subconscious, and again I ask the unresponsive world a question. “How many more times in your life will you watch the sun rise? 20? How many more times will you think of a favorite childhood memory? We are all going to die one day, that is guaranteed. So why waste a single moment of this precious existence doing anything less then what fulfills you, then what makes you happy?” Nobody answers, the sun peeks over the hills, and slowly I unwrap myself and head downstairs.

The LSD is gone now, flushed from my system into the toilet in our low-ceiled bathroom. I take a shower but still can’t sleep, and I miss Kirina – I dress, go walking around town to watch it slowly awaken. Somehow I end up at the mountain guiding company’s office, talking with the girl at the front desk. I’m way too deep for her right now, asking questions no one has the right to ask, and she’s over it fairly quickly. A tattooed redhead comes out into the reception area and lights a cigarette, so I bum one off of her and try to clear my head. Lauri, 28, is a jeweler by profession, but her medium of choice is discarded electronic components as opposed to precious gems. Her right arm, from shoulder to mid-forearm is covered in tattooed gems, bright colors and wild shapes – it doesn’t lose her any points with me. She’s here in Antigua without a lick of Spanish, visiting just because she heard that some of the women here do fantastic weavings, and so she’s come to learn what she can and apply it to braiding and weaving with electrical wires. “They’re incredibly beautiful – some of the colors that come out of wiring are almost surreal in how gorgeous they are.” As if to prove her point, she pulls a large flower out of her bag, sculpted out of thin wire and woven cables. I tell her it is beautiful and she replies “I need to take apart the edges and do them again. Watching a woman weaving a scarf earlier, I realized a much prettier way to do it.” Artists – they’re never satisfied.

Cigarettes long spent, ashes settled on stone streets, we’ve smoked our short friendship to the filter. What else to do then but to invite her to come climb up to nearby mirador – lookout – that gives a fabulous view of the whole area? She goes to change, Sophie rewrites the “Acatenango hike” sign 8 or 20 times – artists – and once Lauri is ready we take off for the hills. We make it all the way to Te Quiero, then duck inside for a beer and some well-intended abuse from Makanaki. “Yah padnah! Joo got jooself another girl? Ahrite mon, buen hecho – disfrutela, eh? AhahaHAha pegale, fighting mambo!” and some more barely-connected nonsensical dirty insults follow us through the tour – so hey, this is where I live, come check out the roof, isn’t it great? Yeah, I’m a lucky fuck to live here, I know – and after exhausting the formalities it’s with a bit of relief when we take off again to go climb the hills. Nothing against my Rasta brother, but he’s a filthy mouth and an amazing ability to impose himself into any conversation, any personal moment – pretty much anything you wouldn’t want him in, he’s there.

Here’s what I mean – once Kirina and I were in bed, doing what two people who like each other do when they’re naked in bed, and right in the middle of things Makanaki comes upstairs looking for something. “Hey Padnah!” and I don’t respond. Jesus fuck, can’t we have a few minutes to ourselves before work interrupts again? “Hey Padnah! Where joo be mon?” We stop what we’re doing, lie there smiling like idiots and laughing quietly. Did we lock the door? No, but we’ll be fine. “Padnah!” He’ll walk past – why would he come into our room? He pops open the door, blinks adjusting to the light, then realizes what he’s seeing. “Wowwww, so sorry mon!” and he hightails it out of the room to our peals of not-at-all-ashamed laughter. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen this man embarassed. We’re naked, covered by just barely a blanket, and he’s the one standing in the doorway – yet just like everyone else who walks in on other people having sex, he blushes, stammers an apology, and escapes out door as quickly as possible. We lie in a pile and laugh ourselves hoarse.

Actually, that’s the first of two times we’re caught having sex that day. Tops is the second unwitting witness to our overtly public displays of affection, but unlike Makanaki, the poor bastard doesn’t have much of a choice. It’s the same day, 12 or so hours, a handful of drinks, and a night of club dancing later. Kirina and I, in our usual style, have just made it home from live music at Rickey’s, the colloquial name for a local handful of bars that share the same building. The front one, El Cielo I think, is the place where one of the members of the Buena Vista Social Club comes every Wednesday to play the hell out of a set of drums and set the beat for the best salsa dancing of the week. We had a shit time that night, complete with drunk couples throwing each other into us, people repeatedly stepping on Kirina’s feet, and the usual hassles of too many people in too little space. Still, we hardly make it home before kissing each other’s faces off, and instead of heading upstairs to the boring bedroom, we collapse onto the sofa and get eachother naked there. Everything is going to my liking until we hear a footstep and a sharp breath, and I spin my head around in time to see Tops spinning on his heel and leaving the cafe in a hurry. “Sorry guys!” he calls from the hallway to the theater, and we collapse laughing for the second time in hours – his embarrassment mixes well with our lack of shame and we can hardly move for the giggles.

After we recover enough to put pants on, Tops slips out to head home – apparently he had been sleeping in the spare bedroom upstairs until he was awoken by “a lot of noise” downstairs and came investigating – we laugh some more, kiss some more, and go upstairs to bed. Kirina laughs about this for days afterward, which even now after the collapse endears her to me – she put up with a lot of weird and wild shit from me, and never complained. Whatever I did to deserve this girl in my life, I’m glad for it.

Holy barely-concealed-bragging tangents, we’ve gotten well off course. I mean, that’s a goofy little story, but the point I’m trying to make goes the other way. I often question why people like Kirina actually put up with me – we’re 24 hours or so after promising to do 4 days of no drugs, no drinks, no cigarettes, and I’ve already broken nearly all of them. Later, when Laura and I are sitting on a wall overlooking the whole world, I break the last one as we share my last bent cigarette. The conversation passes hands with the drags, one smokes as the other talks.

“It’s just that I really like her, you know? Why am I diving into hard substance use on a whim when I’m happy with my life? I feel like I’ve got this wild streak controlling me instead of being the one in charge of experiences. It’s a rush, sure, but what happens when I lose my edge, fuck up, or take in more then I can chew?”

She hands me the cigarette – “Well, I think you’re too hard on yourself. Sure, you did a bit of acid, but that’s not the worst thing in the world – it shows you parts of your mind you wouldn’t otherwise see. Honestly, you seem too serious, carry too much of the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s not always a bad thing, but look – there’s a lot of worse positions to be in. It wasn’t like you got heavy into crystal meth or anything. I mean, my family and friends had an intervention for me a few years ago, basically told me that if I walked out of the door I would also be out of the family. Heavy stuff.”

I give it back – “Wow, I had no idea. That’s crazy! You certainly don’t fit the meth-chick stereotype – I mean, your teeth are fantastic. When was this?”

“A few years ago. I’ve been clean for almost 4 years now, and just pour myself into my art instead. I don’t really touch anything these days – meth ruined drugs for me.”

“Can imagine why. LSD was a letdown to be entirely honest – too chemical, it felt all man-made if that makes sense. Too pure, too designed – I think I’ll stick to natural drugs for a while. So how long have you been supporting yourself with your work? Also, give me the lung cancer.”

She does – “I had my first real show in 2005, when I was living in Amsterdam. Someone actually bought a few pieces, and all of a sudden I was in demand. I think it’s always been that my materials are different – so many people work in precious metals, but there are only a handful of us using computer components.”

“What do you work with mainly?”

“Wires – there are so many beautiful bits of wire in computer cables. Sometimes I use bigger parts, set them like stones, but mostly wires and cables, things I can incorporate into other pieces and shape easily.”

I hand over the last inch of Marlboro – “Kill it. I wish I could do anything like that with my writing, but people don’t want novels any longer, they want 700-word blog posts, essays that tow a certain line, business pamphlets, short vapid articles that barely get skin-deep. The short attention span is destroying literature, and I can’t figure out a way to survive by writing on my terms. I’m only really decent at writing long stuff, detail, honesty – all the things nobody wants.”

“Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but maybe you can fight that by writing a collection of short stories. Then couch those stories in some compelling narrative – it’d keep people interested, probably.”

“Man what would I do without people like you? I’d have to write plot devices or something.”

“What?”

“Nevermind – look at that beautiful cloud over Agua.”

“Beautiful.”

Eventually we climb back down, talking love and live, and make our slow walk back to Te Quiero. Kirina is there, Tops, Makanaki, and everyone is happy, laughing, having fun. After my 2-day-long day, deep mental exhaustion folds over me – it’s all I can do to keep smiling, keep on my feet. I lie down on the couch, shoes on the armrest, and Kirina comes over to sit next to me. “I’m sorry” I whisper as she leans down to kiss me. “For what?” “For breaking our agreement. I’ve just smashed it all to bits.” My eyes are closed, breathing slow. She kisses me again, bites my lip and pulls slightly. “It’s ok,” she tells me, “I’ve smoked a few cigarettes.” “I spent all last night on LSD.” A pause. “Oh. Well how are you?” “Fucking exhausted. It feels like I can’t feel feelings today.” “Are you ok?” “I think so.” “Good.” Another kiss. It doesn’t fit – she should be mad at me, right? I’ve gone and fucked things up, binged on a serious drug, and broken our fresh-minted agreement – why am I getting treated so damn well? “Why are you treating me so damn well?” “Hmm? She’s lying next to me now, like after the night Guy locked us out of my room to have sex with my boss’ good friend in my bed. We slept on this same couch all night – curling up together now, her head on my chest, makes me feel good in a way few other things could have. “Why are you treating me so well? Shouldn’t you be mad at me?”

“No,” she says, “I like you. Why be mad at you for just being yourself?” I have no answer, and hold her closer. Having someone else who understands you and accepts you for who you are and still likes you – if there’s anything more precious then that, I haven’t yet found it.

I have my first real date in at least a year with Kirina shortly after LSD day – on her suggestion we go out to a place around the block for steaks and a bottle of wine. Well, that’s not true – we go out for steaks and whiskey, but the whiskey selection isn’t much to scream about, and so we do the wine thing instead. The whole thing was supposed to be our reward for not abusing our bodies for a few days, but after I broke the agreement on day 1, it just became us going out to dinner – we perhaps enjoyed it more with the symbolism torn out. It’s nice, really great place, if just fancy enough to make me squirm – all worn jeans and leather jacket, and Kirina isn’t dressed any better. Compared to our suit-clad waiter, we look just slightly out of place. Still, we eat, talk, undress eachother with our eyes, and get decently wine drunk, which probably happened before the eye part. It’s my first good salad in months, my first real steak since I left the USA. We enjoy ourselves, or at least I surely do. If Kirina doesn’t, she sure fools the hell out of me.

After steaks, wine, dessert, plenty of sitting, a pair of cheap cigarettes, we head home. Together we decide that Te Quiero is probably my home now – I have all my things there, it’s been weeks, and most importantly I take my shoes off now. The thought of home scares me – I don’t want one, I’m not comfortable settling down, and it feels more like a trap then anything. All of a sudden I’m panicked, and squeeze Kirina’s hand tight enough for her to notice. What a girl – she puts her arm around my waist, pulls me toward her, and looks straight in my eyes. “It’s ok,” she says in our wordless language, “I’ll help you. You can live here and still be true to yourself.” I’m so happy, scared, worried that I could cry, but instead I kiss a beautiful Austrian girl on a street corner in a foreign land. Things get better after that, and I come back down from the terrified edge. I can be ok like this. I can live in one place, work, do all those normal things, and still be me. Can’t I? Surely I deserve to belong somewhere, to be happy in statis like I am in frantic movement – we all deserve that, need it, want it deep down. Right?

I’m not going to find out – at least not now, not here. I could have, perhaps, but now we’re moving my entire life out onto the street corner and I’m losing everything once again – not just me, we all are, and it’s beginning to show. In the day-long process of eviction, we need something to lift our spirits, and what better then spirits? Time to fill the impulsive, party-saving jackass role. “Karla, I need to buy the whiskey from the bar.” “What?” “I want to buy the Black Label bottle, the whole thing.” “The whole bottle?” “Yes.” “Well… alright,” was just enough of an affirmative to send me grabbing cups, ice, and soda water from the fridge – the bar didn’t need them any more – and I set to mixing whiskey and water on the bar and piano. I pour 8 straight off, big triples, Guy offers the first to Lady Clipboard since she was frowning at me disapprovingly, and we laugh at her deepening scowl. Then we offer drinks to our gunmen, who also decline. Guy convinces a jogger to stop in though, and we get Karla, Karina, and a couple others to accept cups. Last Call at Te Quiero we call it, and between offering whiskey to the teenagers, cops, and everyone else who would look we soon have everyone smiling again. That is, until Clippy tells us that we’ll be arrested if we don’t get outside right now. We wheel the piano outside, the building is finally empty, and I keep offering out drinks until 2 passing bicycle policemen inform me that serving alcohol in the middle of the street isn’t a good lifestyle decision. After that we just sit, drink, and watch the man changing our locks as he works.

The doors closed, the signs removed, it’s obviously not our building any longer. The crowd disperses and between truckloads there isn’t much left to do except eat our leftover food, drink whiskey, sodas, and orange juice and play around with the camera and our possessions. We pretend to work the beauty salon or bar whenever we get bored or have an audience. I buy bread at the corner store to keep from falling asleep before 4pm, and at some point the Guy makes a flamethrower out of a deodorant can and his lighter, which naturally led to lighting cigarettes off it. No eyebrows were removed in the creation of this incriminating evidence.

After the flamethrower leads to a nacho cheese fight and a valient failed effort to storm the building by force, the sun slips behind the houses opposite, lights come on, and the day’s labor is dragging everyone down roughly in proportion to their whiskey consumption. Everyone is fucked, Karla is wearing my jacket and smiling lopsided, Kirina has long since gone home. The sun is setting over Acatanengo and Fuego by the time we pack the final truckload and Karla asks where we’re planning to stay. “We’ll get a hostel – I know a few places.” This being Latin America, that doesn’t go over too well and she offers us a bed in her house. Us being broke homeless people, that goes over swimmingly, and off we go with the final small pile of bags. Farewell Te Quiero, goodbye new life, goodbye friends. This is the end of something wonderful, and I’m too tired to even care.

Friends come to visit after I’ve been in Antigua a few weeks. Word spreads quickly among travelers, and once the message gets out that I have a house, a bar, a place to stay, people start to adjust plans to be in my area. The promise of a possible bed, good times, and a familiar face in an new town is a strong lure in this lifestyle, and before long the emails begin to trickle in. “Hey man,” they all start, “heard you were in Antigua – love to catch up with you. Would it be cool if I stop by? Do you know any good hostels?” I love catching back up with people I’ve met in passing, so I tell everyone “yes, please come, come sleep on my floor if you have to, come smoke on my roof and dance in my theater.” Within a couple of weeks in town I have guests tentatively coming into town at least once a week. Even a couple of my friends from back home express interest in coming down to visit. I tell everyone to come, and just trust that the schedule will work out.

Luckily travelers are by nature shit at planning – it’s in our blood, a tenet of our lifestyle. Tell a hitchhiker it is absolutely critical he be somewhere in a week and he might show up in 2 days or a month, if he can pull himself away from the lastest girl, beach, bar, to remember to come visit at all. Several people cancel, but a couple weeks into my stay the first legitimate visitor comes by. His name is Matt, he’s an Aussie, wears board shorts 89.4% of the time, and he’s a riot. We met in Nicaragua while we were both staying in a hostel called Bearded Monkey, and shared a lot of common acquiantances, traveled in the the same circles. Quality guy – like most of the people I choose to associate with these days, he’s a fucking bum – one of those smelly gringos who live out of a backpack and travel around on a budget somewhere between “shit nothing” and “fuck all.” He owns nothing, works only when absolutely necessary, and even then only so hard as he must. Being a smelly, penniless bum, he’s of course irresistable to women, and so while I’m a bit surprised to find him in my house one day, I’m much more surprised to find him there solo. “Just dropped her off at the airport man – real class act this one. She’s going into the Peace Corps, so I thought I’d give her your information. You guys could talk shop or something.” Oh jeeze.

It’s not that I have something against the Peace Corps – really I think it’s a good stepping stone for people looking to get into aid or development work. I had a lot of fun in the organization, and were it not for my particular situation I might attempt to work with them again. That said, the Corps has something against me – cultural insensitivity and rebellious tendencies, an inclination not to follow rules, and a vocabulary that leans too heavily on vulgarity are the high (or low) points. I’m nowhere near the best person to talk to about Peace Corps, being as I never even got sworn in before getting the boot in a quite spectacular fashion, and on top of that, the group hung me out to dry – here’s your plane ticket, here’s a few bucks, get the fuck out of here and never come back. The administration in Honduras isn’t on my Christmas list, but on the plus side every Peace Corps member from Honduras seems to know exactly who I am, at the price of my ever being connected to the organization. I still think getting thrown out was the best thing that could have happened to me from a personal development point, but it certainly colors my opinion of a group that would kick out a willing volunteer as much to prove a point as anything else.

Fuck it – she got my information, at some point later we exchanged brief emails, I wrote more or less the same thing I did just there, and that’s now over and done with. In the moment, with Matt in my house, I’m just happy to see a familiar face that isn’t one of my coworkers or a regular patron – one of the downfalls of the sedentary life – you get to meet and spend time with interesting people if you’re lucky, but they’re aways the same interesting people, and that just doesn’t stay interesting for very long. Fresh air, in the form of new people, new experiences, is always welcome as far as I’m concerned, even when the routine doesn’t change much. I still work all day every day, but Matt becomes one of the regulars, hanging out at the bar for a few days, eating Makanaki’s fantastic food, rolling tobaccoless cigarettes, and talking about god-knows-what.

After half a week he disappears again, but the floodgates are open, and it seems like open season for guests to come stopping by. Friends arrange for packages to be shipped to my house, girls tempt me with requests to share my bed – “Me and this girl who is totally going to turn me lesbian want to come visit? Can we take two-thirds of your bed?” – “Just so long as I get to be in the other third.” Life is shaping out to be quite a party, it seems, except that the guests never quite materialize. People push back dates, reschedule, and since I have no deadlines or blackout dates, I eventually start telling people to just email me or call once they’re in town. As it turns out, almost everyone flakes out or stalls too long except for a one guy, but his presence is influential enough to make up for it. The Guy, who plays a role in eviction day, is so named for the fact that he’s worried about the negative effect I might have on his reputation, or really for the negative effects of his own actions, is one of the people I most wanted to meet up again. We met originally in Nicaragua, like just about everyone I keep meeting again, and the first thing I noticed about him at the time was that he’s one of the few people I know with a crazy streak wider then my own. He’s big on long, crazy, winding philosophical talks, pulling every girl in the bar, funk dancing, and being the life of any party he comes within a few hundred meters of. His keen sense of timing led him to showing up under 2 days before we got evicted – just enough time to be a part of the collapse, and consequently star in all of the least believable parts of this dream.

Guy and I met in San Juan Del Sur, had some great talks, surfed, drank rum, danced with foreign women for a few days, and when it came time for me to move on we swore that we would meet again someday, somewhere – perhaps even travel together. I had almost forgotten about our promise until he sends me a message on the good old facebook saying he’ll be in town, and how about meeting up for a drink? “Get hold of me once you’re in town,” is my reply, and so I’m not completely surprised when Guy walks out onto the roof of our sinners’ paradise one afternoon unannounced. Warm greetings ensue, drinks are poured, someone runs downstairs for more glasses. We’re sitting in a circle on the concrete floor, rum and coke in the middle, the whole crew – Tops, Mak, Kirina, Yo, and a couple semi-regulars, Alan the traveling jeweler and French chef among them. “I really don’t like Antigua,” Guy tells me almost straight off. “I think I’m leaving tomorrow.” As way of response, Tops pours him a rum and coke, and I regale him with stories. After a few drinks and the tour, leaving tomorrow has been replaced with renting our spare room, and an hour or three after that Guy is sitting on our small stage playing Snow Patrol songs acoustic. Two hours after that he’s kissing one of Karla’s friends as we all do whiskey shots after hours, and another hour later I can’t go to bed because I’ve been locked out by my friend, busy shagging a 28-year-old divorcee with twins in my room. Oh, the classy company I keep!

Actually, I shouldn’t write it like that – comes out too negative. Fact is, Guy is one of the better friends I’ve made out here, and a big part of that is his crazy energy, which grants him superpowers like the inexplicable ability to pull every woman in the room simultaneously, and he exudes a general goofiness that he uses to render everyone unable to be pissed off at him for the idiotic (yet so endearing!) decisions that he makes on a constant basis. If he wasn’t as wild as he is, we wouldn’t get along nearly so well. Basically, if you’re looking to get into trouble and get out of it alive, Guy is a great guy to take along with you – he’ll steal all the prettiest women, sure, and he’ll be the star of the dance floor, the karaoke master, the most popular guy in the whole damn city, but as far as coat-tails go, his aren’t too difficult to hang onto if you want a guaranteed good time. The morning after he comes to visit, once Guy has woken up, his fling has cleared out, and I’ve gotten bored of trying to doze on the couch, we make a tequila breakfast – shots of tequila, eggs scrambled in tequila, garlic toast, eaten with volcanoes as backdrop on my roof – and with such a wonderful start we go on to have a great day, by which I mean another day of business as usual.

Guy is moving in – he decides on it that morning, and by afternoon has brokered a deal to stay and work in the bar with the rest of us. “It’s a dangerous trap man – I mean look at me, a month here and I’m almost domesticated!” I kid him, but he says he wants to settle down a bit, rest, write, the works. “I’ve been partying for months – I think it’s time for a break,” he tells me over and over, to the point where we both almost believe it. We tour town a bit, wander the market, climb a roof overlooking the bus station, but without money there isn’t much to do in Antigua, and after eating in a little comedor we’re back at the bar yet again – the black hole of my universe – and I’m back at work. Neither of us realize that this is Te Quiero’s last day, but if we did, I like to think we’d act similarly. All the regulars, all the routines, kissing Kirina to distract her from studying, Makanaki’s lone scratched Bob Marley album playing on infinite loop, deep talks with Guy about what truly matters – just another day at Cafe Te Quiero, and even with one minute left on the doomsday clock, everything is as it ought be.

The night before things burnt to ashes is a strange one. To start with, Karla stays at the bar all night instead of leaving after finishing her haircuts in the afternoon. It isn’t the only time she’s done so, but what Karla’s staying really means is that we all have to be on our best behavior, can’t sneak upstairs to smoke or hang out playing DJ and dancing all night – we have to pretend to be working even when we aren’t, or she’ll question our methods. It’s busy work really, and given my near-limitless freedom here when the boss isn’t around, it rankles me. Things get worse when Karla starts challenging my financial records mid-shift, forcing me to start explaining sales, outstanding bills, orders, all while serving drinks, remembering dozens of faces, and doing my normal work.

It had been a bad week up until that night – we had worked 3 days without being able to take salaries, partly because Sunday and Monday are slow days for restaurants and bars, but also because Karla comes frequently to clear out the cash drawer, and never leaves enough to re-order drinks or food, or to pay employees after. If at the end of the day we only have enough to do orders, then guess who doesn’t get paid that day? Nobody has ever complained about it since we all are committed to making this business work, but tonight Karla is agitated, accusing me of wasting money, telling me that my recordkeeping is bad when she can’t understand that net profit is never going to equal cash on hand, especially when the owner keeps withdrawling money without writing anything down or telling me. Eventually she gets to her favorite topic to complain about – Tops. Given that she is his major gripe as well, I’ve heard their complaints before. Still, we talk in low terms over the counter as the crowd sifts slowly down to just our usual gems.

“He never works! He just sits there and plays his music – actually his music is the thing I will miss most about having him here.”

“He does our promotions. Without him going out and bringing in customers, this place would be dead.”

“All he does is drink. I can’t have an alcoholic working for me. How can I have an employee drinking on the job?”

“Karla – if drinking while working isn’t allowed, your entire staff is breaking the rules almost every day.”

“What?”

“Nothing. So what do you want to do with Tops?”

“I think I have to fire him. He doesn’t do anything.”

I bite my tongue – these two have been struggling ever more frequently for control over the day-to-day operations of Te Quiero, and I’m too busy actually doing all of those same operations to get involved in power struggles. Truth told, Tops does do things – they just aren’t the things Karla asks of him. He’ll spend hours doing posters, organizing bands and events, and walking around town promoting the same, but if you’re slammed at the bar and every table is full in the theater, you’d better figure out a way to deal with that on your own – the most help you’ll get from Tops is a few beers served but not written down on tabs. “I hate money – I don’t want to touch it, just let me bring people in and you deal with them,” he told me my first day, and it’s as honest a statement as it is frustrating. Still, we’ve gotten used to it, Makanaki and I can handle a huge crowd, we’ve hired a new girl to serve tables, and the bar is picking up by the night. We’re on the verge of breaking into the town’s consciousness, and a huge part of that is the vibe Tops creates. Everyone is content to leave Tops to work his magic as DJ and professional schmoozer – all except Karla that is.

The problem is one of desires – when one person is concerned with money at the expense of all else, and the other wants to build the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere that all good bars need in order to survive long-term, strife is a natural byproduct of their interactions. Tops wants a successor to his old bar, “El Chillout” where you could come, get a free drink, hang out, put some music on the playlist, and do anything you wanted in the back rooms – no questions asked. Karla wants money right away to recover her investment into a bar and cafe that aren’t making the sort of profit she envisioned. Thus, my “manager” wants to have a huge happy hour, give away free drinks to the regulars, and let anyone who desires to hang out and enjoy the vibe – paying or not – and my “boss” want to see a steadily rising pile of money waiting for her every day when we do finances, which means that everything Tops wants to see is the opposite of what Karla demands of me. The only place where they overlap is in their joint desire to see us running illegal afterparties, because that’s when the serious drinkers sit down and drink seriously behind closed doors – some bars depend on this sort of thing, and we aren’t an exception – I once calculated half our profits as coming in from hours when we’re operating illegally.

The rising storm between Tops and Karla has been a long time in coming, and nobody is surprised that it has come to this present conflict – surprised perhaps that it is happening tonight, after a week of record profits, successful events, and wild parties, but timing aside, we all saw this one coming. Tops and Karla, both polite and civil to a fault – upper crust Guatemalan upbringing will do that – and so they have a brief stunted conversation at the bar as I’m closing up, neither saying more then absolutely necessary, no honest words come forth, nobody lets feelings get involved, and within minutes it is decided – Tops will go at the end of the night, and after that I’ll be manager of Te Quiero. Washing dishes at the corner of the bar, I lean my head against the shelf of glasses and close my eyes. I don’t know why at the time, but I know, know, with the clarity of premonition that Te Quiero is gone, if not already dead then bleeding to death slowly in a corner, life ebbing away into a warm sticky puddle. I tell the same to Guy and Kirina that night as we lie in the living room smoking and talking – they on the couches, me on the shag carpet. “I know it can’t last – the place has to fold eventually, but I don’t want it to happen yet, you know?” We talk until 3 or 4 in the morning, then retire to beds. The next morning I wake up to the doorbell ringing, ringing, ringing.

Karla’s house is madness – piles upon heaps upon shitstorms of things, an entire life’s worth of possessions with 3 businesses as icing, and on top of that someone’s phone is ringing off the hook. After getting everything inside, there isn’t anything left to do except sit in a circle in a 6-year-old girl’s room, roll a joint, and reflect upon what the fuck has just happened in the past 10 hours or so. The flamethrower makes another appearance here as well. After that I’m not sure of too much except that I’m too tired, drunk, high, and emotionally wrecked to be sure of anything. I passed out on the small girl’s bed that Guy and I would apparently be sharing, and while I think a few thing happen – a plate of food is placed on me, Guy plays iPhone games then starts eating using me as a table, eventually I slip into unconsciousness – truth is, I can’t be sure of anything at all. Yeah, that’s eviction day more or less. I’d be content to end the story here, but something happens after I fall asleep worth writing about.

At some point later I’m woken up quite suddenly by something – an arm? – hitting my neck and chest. I open my eyes to find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with a woman, the same woman who along with Guy had sexiled me from my room within a few hours of entering my life in Antigua. I’m staring directly into Guy’s eyes. He’s half-nude, the important half, and lying there on top of her. Caught en flagrante delictio like he was, you’d think Guy would stop what he was doing, or maybe pause, but you don’t know him. This legend keeps right on pumping away and greets me with a cheerful “sorry mate, I didn’t know what to do.” “It’s cool man.” Still going. “I didn’t expect it – she just came in here, took her pants off, and put her hand down mine. What could I do?” “I’d probably do the same mate.” Still he keeps going, and we keep bantering, the awkwardness having been overpowered by the fact that – well, what else could I do in that situation? Throwing a shitfit doesn’t help, I’d already interrupted the mood, and so we just keep laughing and talking until a third voice enters the conversation. “Would you shut up already?” she spits acidly at me, and it’s too much. I look at Guy, throw up my hands in that universal “is this for real?” gesture. “I know, right?” he asks, and while still thrusting starts berating her! “Are you serious?” he asks, “he was here first, and he’s been totally cool about all of this! Come on, show some respect!” Every bit the true friend, this Guy. It gets better though, because she starts agreeing with him, and apologizes to me. “It’s nothing, really,” I mumble, roll back over, and in a few seconds I’m fast asleep for the second time before 10pm. They never even pause. And that’s the end of eviction day.

The next morning is a weird one – waking up next to my new-old friend in a small bed just sets everything off right, and spending the morning in bed together, playing iphone games, working out what in the fuck just happened, and laughing about the sheer insanity of our lives makes it all the stranger. We don’t do anything until about 1pm, when we finally drag ourselves out of bed, and out of Karla’s house. She’s generous to a fault, like everyone down here, but we can’t abuse her hospitality any longer and so decide to take off. Setting out, laden with all the gear and shit that I used to think was necessary to survive, and watching Guy with only his small bag, I vow to get rid of as many of my possessions as I can afford to live without. The half-mile or so to the hostel is murder – I have well over 150 pounds of things – all the useless shit I haven’t been able to part with – and carrying them any further then across a room makes me want to die. Halfway to The Black Cat hostel I give up, hail a motorcycle taxi, and the driver proceeds to drive a long circle around town, taking wrong streets and eventually dropping me off a block from Te Quiero, and at least as far from The Black Cat as I was before. Fifteen Quetzales well spent. It’s a long walk with too many things, but eventually I arrive at the hostel, where a decent pile of my friends and acquintances are smoking cigarettes outside. Warm greetings, jokes, and a decent welcome ensue.

That afternoon passes in frantic packing, dividing gear, clothes, books into “Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe” piles. I have too many things, get frustrated, and take a long walk to reflect on how much of my life has fallen into the shitbin lately. The bookstore isn’t open, so I can’t even sell my library to pay for my hostel, and I’m rapidly running out of money. The guiding company across the street is always accepting donations, so I head back to the hostel, grab all of the “No” pile and a solid half of the Maybes, throw them into a bag and give 50 or 60 pounds of clothing, backpacks, boots, books, hats, socks, underwear, school supplies, a bit of everything to this great guy Kevin who promises to distribute it all to local charities for me. I almost skip back to the hostel, bag empty, heart lighter – it’s so much better to give your possessions away to then keep them. Try it sometime, you’ll see what I mean. The good feeling lasts all the way back to our cramped dorm room, where I faced my still-mountain of things, far more then I could ever fit into a backpack. I have a lot of work to do.

The next morning I feel more encouraged. Hungover, worn out by booze and bad decisions, but ready to move out. I’d spent hours separating possessions the night before, eliminating the unnecessary, the underutilized, the forgotten things I’d lived without for so long that I obviously didn’t need, and was down to just what fit in my backpack. Giving it all away, selecting a few precious things to send home, cutting away the fat and excess – it feels better then any therapy, a lifestyle enema if you like, and even if you don’t like, there it is. I’m left that morning with my pack, a small messenger bag of books and journals, sketchpads and my smoking kit, and this highly inaccurate list of possessions:

Things K Now Owns:

  • 3 pairs pants, none without stains
  • 5 shirts, none without holes
  • 5 pairs underwear (sweet REI backpacker stuff, an absolute pleasure for the junk.)
  • 5 pairs socks
  • 1 pair boots, 1 pair Sambas, 1 pair sandals with hole in right heel.
  • 1 leather jacket
  • 1 long underwear suit – it’s pretty flash.
  • 1 pair boardshorts
  • 1 pair futbol shorts (those of eviction day fame)
  • 3 bandanas/handkerchiefs/pirate disguise kits
  • Laptop, iPhone, hard drive, assorted electronics
  • Repair kit (epoxy, sewing kit, etc)
  • Medicine bag (GBH, heroin, no deodorant, cheap soap)
  • Sleeping bag, hammock, mosquito net, 2 tarps
  • Machete for street cred.
  • 1 water resistant jacket that I can’t use for fear it will never fit into its bag again.
  • Assorted shiny objects
  • 1 piece of Te Quiero’s front door that fell off while someone was kicking it in.
  • 1 towel, which renders the rest of this stuff extraneous.

That’s it – the total, more or less, of what I have left after giving away, donating, or shipping home everything else. It’s still a lot more then I need for any one place, but if you don’t know where you’re headed, it’s a pretty inclusive list to help you most anywhere. I have all the reason in the world to be happy this morning – my life has just been rebooted, and I’m headed off to somewhere, anywhere. There are sad parts too – Guy and I part ways – he has developed a sudden need to visit Cuba, and so just like that he’s off, with barely time for one of those manly handshake-turned-brotherly-embraces they’re always going on about. Watching him step out toward the bus station, I’m struck by a wave of envy – there goes a man who lives according to no rules but his own, and he still has the money to be uncompromising about it – if only I could be so fortunate. Thinking yet again about how I need to learn some trade I can practice on the road, I sling the pig bag over one shoulder and go off looking for a shipping company.

Problems arise – it’s a Saturday, and DHL is closed. The woman at the post office isn’t too pleased when I walk in at 12:58pm, and she refuses to help me. “We close at 1, come back Monday.” Sweating in the midday heat, I shamble back to the hostel defeated. That’s where I get a great surprise – V has finally made it into town, and checked into the same hostel no less. We reunite in the restaurant of the Black Cat, and after that my day gets a whole lot brighter. V, 24, and I met in Leon, Nicaragua, in a little hostel called Sonati – easily the best I’ve ever been in, a whole family of eccentrics, artists, lovers, musicians, and philosophers. The whole place is a bohemian paradise hidden in plain sight, and if you’re in the city you really ought to stay there before considering anywhere else – it really is that good. V is crazy – its why we get along so well – he’s Oxford-educated, has been traveling all of Central and South America, and is on a great spiritual journey. He makes art of life, by which I mean he lives life so well that I’m tempted to call it a masterpiece.

Plus, sometime in this first day he broaches what may turn out to be one of the pivotal conversations of my life. It starts with “hey man, so remember Rich? Turns out he knows some guys who teach paragliding in Columbia, and I’m thinking of heading down there after the new year to learn. $1500 for a month, accomodations included. Are you interested?” Of course I am – what in my entire life would lead anyone to conclude otherwise? Sure, I can’t afford it, but what else are loans and credit cards for if not for digging deep painful debt holes to climb out of in the mystical future when I’ve calmed down and want to hold a real job for a year or two? I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks now, but really there is no need – I ran it through the “why the fuck not?” test, and it passed with flying colors. Who wouldn’t run off to Columbia to learn how too fly, given a lack of priorities, no plan, no compelling reason not to? And how to end this story while it’s still exciting? V and I talked about that, plus a lot of other things, while we spent a week in bed or close to it, recovering from some strain of superaids he brought with him from Nicaragua.

Some sort of epilogue – that’s what we need – closure, loose ends woven together, some sappy moral perhaps. Where to start? The characters have been scattered – Karla is rebuilding her life, trying to get the mountain of things out of her courtyard, and when we last spoke had located another building for her salon and perhaps a bar. I told her to name it “Te Quiero Más.” As far as I know, she’s doing fairly well for having had the rug pulled out from under her, although a few of the locals have told me that this sort of thing is none too uncommon for her. Makanaki is still around, and we’ve crossed paths a few times recently. When V and I walked out of town to go swimming in some natural spring-fed pools, he was there too, smoking a little ganja and sitting on a wall. More recently I ran into him while out getting sushi with Mara, the Dutch lawyer who spent some time in sick bay with V and I. It looks like our vegetarian chef is about to be a sushi chef too. I have great faith that the wandering prophet and I will meet again – I still have much to learn from him, for starters how to swear in 3 languages at once. Tops landed on his feet after being fired, and by Saturday night was announcing the grand-reopening of El Chillout, illegal and unlicensed, in some bar I’ve never heard of. Before I could head over it had been shut down again, and no, I still haven’t given him his book back. I will though – have to. Truth is, I haven’t seen him since the morning Kirina and I saw him outside the copy shop making Grand Reopening fliers.

Kirina is gone. A few days after the eviction she left town, headed north toward Tikal, Flores, and a whole Central American backpacking trip. We kissed for the last time on her doorstep, and I slipped a small card into her jacket pocket with my name and email on it. She hasn’t contacted me back yet, and I don’t imagine she will. We both knew the score, knew that once one of us left Antigua that we wouldn’t be us any longer. I don’t even know her last name, have maybe 2 pictures with her in them, can’t contact her if I tried – perhaps it’s better that way. I wrote this poem a bit after she left – I don’t think she’ll ever read it:

There’s something I should have told you,

that last night; before we kissed.

I wanted to tell you I love you,

and today you don’t even exist.

We stood on your steps –

our last moments together,

flames to lips, huddled close in the cold.

I knew what I wanted to say to you then,

but my words found no voice –

I was scared.

All that we shared to that point

was so beautiful, true.

A charmed love we had – without issue.

We knew from the onset,

that we would soon part –

ignored it, but a part always knew.

When together we came to that dreaded last call,

our hands intertwined, eye to eye,

I tried – failed – to push the words out.

The storybook ending sometimes turns out a lie,

I guess all things fall apart in due time.

Neither of us told the other “I love you” – not once. It wasn’t that sort of relationship. At the same time, I’ve rarely been so comfortable, so close, with another person without collapsing into major problems. Put another way, I’ve never dated another girl whose reaction to my LSD, bouts of uncertainty, manic energy, and craziness was to pull closer instead of pull away. Antigua and Kirina are tied together forever in my mind – it was unavoidable really. To go through so much with her at my side… I’ll just say I’ve rarely been so lucky. Kirina, I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, I don’t know if I want you too, but thank you for touching my life – our rooftop bed, slow dancing, your touch, that way you couldn’t look me in the eye without laughing – you’re a special girl, so please stop smoking a pack and a half a day or you’ll be dead and gone before your time.

There’s little left to report – once V showed up in town we decided to leave Monday for some beach somewhere, find a place to unwind, for me to write, for him to recover and relax a few weeks. Instead, he brought the plague with him and come Monday was bedridden. I caught it too, along with Mara our unlucky roommate, and for over a week we all lay there slowly dying. I never made it to fully immobilized, but V spent 4 days in bed, Mara nearly as long. We bonded on our common weaknesses, hacking coughs, sushi in bed, and machete ball in the dorm (only rule – be sober when you start playing machete ball). I gave the pig a warm farewell, shoved his heavy red ass into a cardboard box, covered it in $180 in 1 Quetzal stamps – that’s 1410 stamps if you’re wondering – and sent it off to my parents in the states. After that I just waited, blew my nose a lot, and became “that guy” – the one who never leaves the hostel, knows the staff way too well, and just can’t seem to get out of town. Every night for 10 days I went to my dive bar to nurse a beer and see my friends, and for the first week I said goodbyes every night. After that I just told everyone I would see them tomorrow. I kissed the redheaded bartender once, V kissed all of her friends, and we generally became a fixture of the tight-knit expatriate community in Antigua.

I got desperate to leave, and in the dying days of November more-or-less forced V out of town. Neither of us was happy there, but to live in the ruins of a once-happy life was just killing me slowly. I had stopped exercising, was eating shittily again, drinking too hard. Without the bar, my apartment, Kirina, life just sucked in Antigua, and when you’re going around like your life sucks, everyone gives you a wide berth. Even the late arrival of the two girls who wanted to share my bed wasn’t enough to extinguish my desire to get the fuck out of Dodge. Something had to change, so we left town, headed south, and 2 days later arrived here, Playa San Diego. It’s a quiet little beach town in El Salvador, and we’ve spent a solid week here, surfing, playing board games, writing, reading. I’ve gotten my health back, V’s found himself a few new demons, and it’s time to move on again. Monday I head north again, to Guatemala first, with Columbia beyond somehow. I don’t know what I’ll do from here, but if the past 9 ½ months are any indicator, it will be wild, obscene, fun, stupid, and life-changing all at once, and I’ll do a hideous job conveying all of the magic of this life to those who don’t already live it. It won’t stop me from trying any more then my crash-landings keep me from taking off again.

But what about a moral? What have I learned, what precious gems of knowledge have I gained to pass along? None, really. I know now that good business meetings take place on rooftops over whiskey and joints, that bars depend on atmosphere more then service or good product, and that an anarchaic little joint like Te Quiero burns bright and fast, a beautiful collapse, but I don’t think any of those can suffice. What about development? Have I perhaps become a better, stronger, wiser person from all this? Well, I have a newly-minted disdain for LSD, Kirina has convinced me to stop smoking cigarettes, and I’m back to exercising my mind and body harder then before – somehow that doesn’t seem adequate either. I don’t think there is a straightforward moral, because lessons are personal – the lack of universal truth, the impossibility that is universality in feelings, morals, in personal lives, makes that sort of lesson impossible as well – it’s not even worth searching for, to be honest.

No, if we’re got to have some sort of truth to end this tale upon, it ought be – can only be – the same morals of any anarchist’s story. We ought accept only those rules and institutions that we agree with, and eliminate from our lives those that we cannot accept. Live well, love much, and laugh often, strive always to be happy, fulfilled in what you do, and when a new adventure, opportunity, love affair, or story presents itself, ask yourself “why the fuck not?” and dive in head first. Life begets life – the harder you live, the more life you’ll see and experience, and the more you’ll connect with those around you. Refuse to hate – live so well, play so hard, live always with so much love that all of those trapped in the cages of mainstream society have no choice but to notice and join in. I’m off to another adventure now – another life beckons, the Columbian condors call, and I must go. Until the next time, friends – this was my beautiful dream, a little bubble of my life in a strange land. Yours always -k

I lied, there’s also thisThere is no universal moral code that should dictate human behavior. There is no such thing as good or evil, there is no universal standard of right and wrong. Our values and morals come from us and belong to us, whether we like it or not, so we should claim them proudly for ourselves, as our own creations, rather than seeking some external justification for them.

No Gods, No Masters.

It wouldn’t be my style to go too long without a random philosophical tangent that nobody really wants to read, and since this one was actually a class assignment in Spanish, it seems only appropriate that I write about my position on terrorism and terrorists for a bit. Plus, I’m sure it’ll make me some new enemies in the form of people who label me “naive” and “someone who needs to see the real world.” My preemptive response to you is that I’m living in a world much more real, much more difficult then you are, and I’m seeing the result of real terrorism, economic and political terrorism, every day of my life. Plus, I’m a million miles away, so your emotions aren’t going to reach me without losing their impact. That said, love to hear your responses on twitter (citizen_k) or on my blog, or at citizenk dot blog at gmail dot com. Bear in mind that if you are stupid, unable to argue logically, or use the terms “Nazi,” “appeasement,” or “post-9/11 world” in your response, I will definitely mock you publicly. So here we go, some random arguments on terrorism, terrorists, and the difference between a soldier and a terrorist.

First, I suppose we need a working definition of terrorism. The difficulty is that the word has become so commonplace in society today that it has taken on a variety of meanings. An accurate, non-fearmongering, non-anti-arab definition of terrorism can be stated roughly as follows: terrorism is a tactic of warfare (or fighting if you wish to raise the objection that warfare implies states and state-actors) that relies on instilling fear in one’s enemies, and one’s enemies’ friends and neighbors, in order to achieve one’s goals. An example of terrorism in practice would be a campaign in which a group of actors, state, state-sponsored, or completely independent, begins a coordinated bombing campaign of popular bars and nightclubs in a city, with the aim of reducing night life in their city. The reason for this course of action is unimportant to this example. The tactic of bombing popular areas filled with average citizens is employed not to kill those citizens, but to convey a message that all “average citizens” who frequent nighttime activities in the area are at risk. Thus, fear is used to influence the behavior of citizens, causing them to abandon the bars and clubs, and destroy the nightlife in much the same what that razing all of the buildings to the ground would have done, but cheaper, with less equipment and personnel, and without requiring superior forces. Thus let us add to the definition of terrorism a clause about cost, ease of acquiring desired results, and feasibility of use by small groups. Putting what I have written here together, a more inclusive definition of terrorism might be stated thusly:

Terrorism: a financially cheap and low-resource fighting tactic that relies on the instillation of fear in an enemy population to achieve one’s goals not by force, but by dissuading one’s enemies from behaving as they would normally would due to fear of retribution, harm, or loss, financial, bodily, or otherwise.

It is important to note here that the terrorist does seek fear (terror) as a goal, but instead uses it as a means to advance his goals, or to push a society toward the terrorists’ position in much the same way that a nation-state might use a “shock and awe” or “blitzkreig” campaign to instill terror in its opponent. In all cases, the goal is not the fear, but the paralysis, uncertainty, and unconscious behavioral modification that comes with a fearful state of existence. Those afraid are easily controlled and manipulated, and since this is not uncommon knowledge, the use of “terrorist” tactics, at least by this definition, are in widespread use today, and not just by the groups the US government labels as “terrorists.”

With this definition, who are the terrorists? The groups using terrorist tactics are myriad, but their goal, behavioral modification and self-limitation of freedom by the target group, is the same regardless of race, ethnicity, political affiliation, or means. The guerrilla fighter group that beheads all males in a nearby village because one member of that village aided their enemy is certainly using using terrorist tactics to achieve their goal. (Presumably to discourage other villages from aiding enemies of the group.) Moreover, this sort of activity is easily determined to be of the terrorist variety. However, what of less shocking, more commonplace examples? What is the lower bound of terrorism? Ought we restrict use of the term only to certain activities? Do actual results matter, or only goals? I will try to address these all in due time.

A more confusing example of terrorist activity can be found in the campaigns of baby formula companies in Latin America. Utilizing this area’s weak governments and even weaker corporate legal frameworks, these companies have spent decades on an extremely aggressive series of advertisements that portray mothers’ milk as unsafe, formula as a better substitute, and all but state that not using their product is harmful to the health of one’s infant. As a result of this, large cross-sections of the people do not nurse their children, childhood obesity rates are through the roof, adult obesity, cardio-pulmonary disease rates are skyrocketing, children suffer from weakened immune systems due to not receiving critical immunities from their mothers (which raises early childhood mortality rates) and the overall health, prosperity, and wealth-generation of these nations suffer. Oh, and some baby formula companies make an absolute killing, having convinced mothers to replace a better, free, healthier, naturally-occurring PART OF THEIR BODIES with an expensive, unhealthy, inadequate substitute. It’s awful, it’s inhumane, but is it an act of terrorism?

The tactic used in this fight (between mothers not buying their products and mothers doing so) is certainly fear. Fear of unhealthy babies, fear of being a bad mother, fear of doing something different then what the “experts” say one ought to. Fear is a central element to the campaigns to get mothers using baby formulas, and so in that aspect it definitely qualifies. The companies use no force to persuade mothers to use their products, and their goal is not the fear, but the behavior (buying baby formula) that this fear leads to. Thus, this sort of ad campaign appears to qualify under this definition of terrorism.

However, I would imagine that many people have a big problem using the word terrorism to describe the actions of these companies. This objection probably stems from the fact that it is very difficult to reconcile a baby being too fat, growing up with the resultant health problems, and dying an early death from an obesity-related disease with a person having their head cut off or being blown up outside of a nightclub. The means utilized in both instances is fear, but the intermediate means (what they do to instill fear) and the unwanted result (fat babies versus dead people) are vastly different, and that leads many people to reject the comparison. But are they really so different?

Is not the baby formula company responsible for the health problems, obesity, and early death of those babies raised drinking it? Shouldn’t the company be held, if not fiscally or legally, at least morally responsible for these problems? After all, their business is, in convincing the uneducated and gullible, through fear, to use a shoddy, expensive, and knowingly-inferior product in lieu of a perfectly good one that they already have, and they do so by preying on the love of every mother for her child. Without their interference, the incidence of women using formula in lieu of breastfeeding would most definitely be lower, if it occurred at all, which it wouldn’t if these companies didn’t persist in making their products. While on a single-incident basis this cannot compare to a beheading, or a suicide bombing, surely scale must come into play. Violent acts of terrorism, according to International Red Cross statistics that I cannot access because I don’t have regular Internet access but read a while ago when I did, killed several thousand people last year. How many people died in Latin America due to obesity-related diseases that stemmed from their early childhood? How many infants and young children died because they weren’t receiving the necessary nutrients and antibodies from their mothers? How many people spend their lives unhappy with their looks, with their bodies, simply because these companies decided to create a niche for a product that nobody should use save as a last resort, market it as a wonder-drug cure-all and make themselves rich in the process. I don’t have those statistics; likely nobody does. There’s no concrete way of measuring it, but from what I’ve seen down here, and from what I’ve read and learned, obesity is an epidemic sweeping the area, and early-infancy diet has lasting effects on the remainder of one’s life. While the actions of the baby formula companies aren’t flashy or gory, they are certainly fear-reliant and seek behavioral modification, and thus they are correctly labeled as acts of terror.

Now for something even more controversial. The actions of states in times of war, and oftentimes in times of “peace” are just as much acts of terrorism as those of the suicide bomber. The state uses fear in all actions during war in order to maintain discipline, patriotism, and a willingness to sacrifice in its people. This is not new – it stems from the tribalistic need to band together with those most like yourself in times of need – and tinpot dictators for all of human history have invoked threats of outsiders and those different to cement their rule. States are always guilty of using fear of “the other” to maintain their position at the apex of so-called legitimate society. I cannot stress this enough – fear is one of the great motivators, perhaps the greatest, and its use has been one of the pillars of every form of government that has ever existed on this planet. When times get hard, or when a state wishes to act in a way contrary to the wishes of its citizenry, it will invariably turn to fear to quell dissent and change public opinion.

The soldier is an instrument of fear. He is a tool by which the state can either maintain fear internally, or spread fear to other parts of the world. His job is not so much to kill, but to kill in such a way that he demolishes the power structure of the enemy in its entirety. When the soldiers have finished, those left alive ought to be willing to throw themselves at the feet of the soldiers and the mercy of the state because they fear for their lives and those of their families. This is why the crusaders slaughtered the populace of Jerusalem, why the allies carpet-bombed Dresden and incinerated Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, why the United States massacred Iraqi troops fleeing Kuwait in the first Gulf War, and used “Shock and Awe” tactics against Baghdad in the second. If one searched history, these examples are but drops in the bucket of state terrorism. The simple act of killing sends a message, surely, but the act of utterly destroying a group or location, not restricting violence to combatants and instead killing soft, civilian targets is intended to strike terror into the hearts of a people. By having its soldiers utilize the weapon of terror, a state can modify behavior, crush dissent, and pacify those whom it wishes to control. Terror insures true victory, true subjugation, of one’s enemies.

On the homefront, a soldier is a useful weapon in state terrorism as well. He serves as a symbol, both of the power of the state, and as an ever-present reminder to the populace of the dark, scary, dangerous world that he is protecting them from. The soldier reinforces the message of the state by his very presence, and that message is “the world is dangerous: be afraid, give your freedom to us and we will protect you.” The soldier is an instrument of terror against the people in his state as much as those in neighboring states. He is the face of the beast, the grinning pop-out skull in the haunted house, the gritty, in-your-face reminder of the power of the state. The soldier is used at home to quell dissent, pump up nationalistic thought, to make the people give away their rights instead of the state having to take them by force. Here again terror, specifically the fear of the other, is used to modify the behavior of the people toward that which is easier to control, easier to manipulate, easier to quash when it does not meet the needs of the state. The soldier is the most professional, most well-trained, most efficient of terrorists, and his brand of terror has the backing of a nation.

Two differences is normally granted to the soldier, first that he is merely doing as he is ordered to, and would face penalties if he did not kill, and second that his actions are legitimized by the state. Both of these differences do not hold up to examination, and ironically it is the state-centric legal system that supports my position. First, the soldier’s orders do not legitimize his actions any more then the terrorists’. Both face strong penalties (the terrorist possibly stronger) for refusing to act thusly, they both likely joined their organizations voluntarily (excluding conscription) and they both are beholden to morality regardless of their orders. This final point is proven beyond a doubt in the Nuremburg trials after World War II, where the orders of a state or government were found insufficient to excuse the actions of those on trial. International standards of morality, respect for the basic human dignity, and right to life were found to have greater authority then any state actor, and there were a fair handful of death sentences at Nuremburg. One of the great tragedies of history is that we, the United States of America, one of the nations most responsible for injecting the rule of law into international relations to prevent warfare, have publicly abandoned this position of late and reverted to the use of terrorism and armed force to enforce our opinions. (Not that we don’t have a history of this, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.)

To review: both the soldier and the terrorist are likely voluntarily affiliated with their organization, and if they are not, the terrorist is probably more likely to have been forced to enter service. (You don’t see many 12-13 year olds with AK-47s in the US army, but they appear all the time in terrorist organizations.) They both will be penalized for refusing to act, and since modern militaries rarely shoot/kill their own as punishment for disobeying, the terrorist faces higher penalties here as well. Finally, all fighters, state-affiliated or otherwise, are obligated under international law to morally adhere to a code which puts human life and dignity above all else, and thus both sin equally in their kills. (I would further argue that this is not a matter of voluntary association, but of moral obligation. The taking of another human life in all contexts except self-preservation is morally wrong.) Thus the defining difference between the two is that the soldier is tied to a nation, represents said nation in his actions, and is protected and supported by the power, reputation, and resources of that self-same nation. In return, the soldier is given a level of protection from retribution for his actions, a justification for killing, a shield to deflect his human guilt at his actions. Beyond these superficial differences, the function of both the non-state terrorist and the soldier are the same – to control the behavior of some group through threats and fear.

What then can we conclude about terrorism? I think the wise conclusion would be to realize that terrorists and terror tactics are much more commonplace then we would normally assume, and that we are ourselves subjected to all sorts of fear-based marketing, behavioral modification, and control on a regular basis. Further, with our (tacit) blessing, the nations of the world, especially the industrialized military powerhouses, engage regularly in terroristic tactics to control natural resources, quell the self-determination of peoples, and maintain their positions of dominance/legitimacy. Finally, the most important conclusion here is that terrorism is a buzzword, a phrase that is itself used to invoke terror, to manipulate public opinion, and to delegitimize one’s opponents. Thus, we must be very careful in whom we call terrorists, and not forget to examine the motives of those willing to label others with the term. One may call a group or individual terrorist(s) but that oversimplifies that such groups cannot survive without the support of someone – it would be more productive to examine whom is lending that support, as this will give a better idea of what sort of group one is truly dealing with. This will then lead to strategies of dealing with said “terrorists” successfully, using appropriate means, and without turning the local population against you.

Please question your leaders, for unless you are billionaire investor who has financed their campaign, they do not have your best interests at heart. Terror is not the exclusive territory of poor brown people with bombs strapped to their chest, and the governments of the world are far more adept at it then any of the terror cells our leaders pay trillions of our dollars to fight. Think about it.

Dear Mr. President,

You have asked the people of this nation what they want to see out of this nation, and out of your administration.  Here is my submission, and I encourage anyone who comes across this site to write to Obama as well.

I would like to see this country, over the next 8 years, fully rectify the numerous constitutional and legal crises brought upon us by decades of abuse by the congress and the executive branch.  I would like to see this nation punish those who have tortured in her name, those who took us into unending and expensive wars, and who broke our laws.

Mr. Obama – I do not want “CHANGE” from the present if that change is only in the names and faces, but not the substance.  We elected you to set this country back on a course of international neutrality; a course we left generations ago.  If this nation continues to try and impose her will upon the world, we set the stage for another world war – one with us as the aggressor and the enemy of freedom.

End the spying, end the torture, end the lying.  You and every member of our government swore to protect the constitution of this nation, and that constitution puts a very specific set of limits on your power.  You know this – you are a constitutional law scholar.  Don’t forget your principles, and trust no one with a vested interest.  John F Kennedy had high hopes, and those around him fought tooth and nail to keep the status quo.

Best of luck, Mr. President, and never let yourself be isolated from the minds of the American public.  You serve them now.
Nothing will come of it, but I like to pretend my input counts.

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