Out Of Chaos

     Orchestral sounds are created through a synergy of sound and motion. The players, the conductor and the music all play their part like actors on a stage. The sea of musicians flows and sways to the rhythm of the music. It is an all-encompassing energy that bursts off of the stage and onto the audience. It emanates from each individual musician pouring their soul into the instruments they are holding, the ones that they’ve invested countless hours in mastering. “I kind of view the pages of music backed up against a landscape,” Los Angeles-based violinist Jordan Ann Martone said. “It’s the story I’m trying to tell through the piece of music.” The orchestra becomes an actress whose body language and facial expressions reach the deepest caverns of the audience’s collective soul. “People don’t realize it because music is always there,” Martone added. “It affects people more than they realize.”

     Having grown up in the city of Lancaster, Calif.— located in the northeast part of Los Angeles County— Martone and her family made frequent visits to the city of Los Angeles for various events and performances. “I would always go to shows and musicals with my family,” Martone said. She comes from a musical family and began to play the piano at the age of 4. “When I turned 7 or 8, in my elementary school, there was a strings class,” she said. It was a small strings program in a community that glorified sports and the military. However, the young Martone was convinced that she wanted to take part in this program. Convincing her mother of allowing her to leave the piano for the violin was a different story. “My mom told me: ‘I’m not going to let you quit the piano, but you can add the violin’,” she recalled. Having been raised in a musical home, Martone was familiar with all of the instruments. “But the violin was the one that was really unique— the sound— and I liked it a lot,” she added.

     Because she already knew how to play the piano, Martone found it easy to play the violin. She was the only kid in her school that was serious about playing this instrument. “I was kind of an oddball in my school because it consumed my life,” Martone said. As her skills improved over time, so did the quality of the violins she was playing. “Every violin is completely different because they’re all handmade, usually,” she said. “So you can play something absolutely perfectly on your instrument and then go pick up somebody else’s to demonstrate and it’ll sound terrible.”

     Martone went through a series of violins, starting with a beginner, factory-made, cookie-cutter instrument to one that was high-quality and one-of-a-kind that she purchased from her violin teacher Michael Ferril. “It was something that I could not afford,” Martone said. “But I was so lucky to have been in that situation where I was able to purchase it.” With violin, unlike a piano whose notes are already in tune, you can put your finger anywhere on the instrument and it can sound awful. “Getting it to sound good is so difficult,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the hardest instruments to play.” It takes years and years of sounding bad in order to reach a point at which you can make the instrument sound good. Most people who try to learn the violin get discouraged by the bad that they never get to the good. Martone herself went through a period of self-doubt. “Things started getting hard, and I actually had to practice more and be more involved if I wanted to progress,” she vividly remembers. She started to get impatient with the disproportionate amount of practice she had to invest compared to the small amount of progress she was making. “My mom sat down with me and told me, ‘This is one of the hardest things you’ve had to do in your little 10-year-old life,'” Martone recalled. “‘If you push through this, I think you’ll be really thankful.'”

     She was glad that her mother didn’t let her quit, because that’s what it took. That little extra push. “It took rewiring my brain,” she said. “You do it just purely by your musical mind and muscle memory, which is kind of crazy now that I think back on it.”

     Martone stated that she owed a lot of her career as a violinist to her mother, who is a stage actress and singer. “If I wasn’t a violinist, I might go into acting,” Martone said. She believes that acting teaches you stage presence and performance techniques. “It drives me nuts when I see violinists on stage that are just ‘plant-and-play’ type of people,” she said. “They stand and have no expression. They make the most beautiful sound you’ve heard, but where’s the expression? Where’s that story you’re trying to tell me?” While she’s on stage, Martone takes on the persona of an actress singing a song and really performing it for the audience. “That’s what I know. It’s my performance experience,” she said. She feels that it helps her enhance the story that she is telling through her playing. “Entertain me! We’re in the entertainment business. It’s a big part of what I do,” she added.

     While a student at the California State University in Northridge, Martone was asked to substitute for a violinist in the semi-professional Debut Orchestra. The concert would feature music by the world-famous film composer John Williams, conducted by Williams himself. “I thought I’d be playing somewhere in the back,” she said. “But no. I was playing third chair, second violin and I was freaking out.” She was playing the hardest music that she had ever encountered right under the very man who wrote it. “It was a lot of pressure because I definitely wanted to do a good job. I had to do a good job,” she said. “It was so incredible and so memorable. It was a dream come true and the biggest kick in the butt all in one.”

     This performance set in motion something that Martone had wanted to do ever since she was a child— watching videos of musicians in the studio, recording the music for films like Star Wars. “I have a huge love for film music. I listen to it a lot. I’d say that it forms 80 percent of my listening material,” she said. “It’s my favorite music.” Aside from her live performances and teaching— privately and at local schools— Martone enjoys recording music in the studio. She has played on soundtracks for films, television shows and video games, most of which she cannot discuss until after the project has been released to the public. “The film industry is not as wealthy as it used to be,” she noted. “I realize that I live in a different age now.” Even in LA— the film music capital of the world— there’s been a large amount of outsourcing to Europe and other orchestras overseas in order to save money.” However, Martone remains hopeful. “If I could go to Fox Studios and record for those films every day, that would be my dream job,” she said.

     Her love for film music can only be matched by her love for the city of Los Angeles. “I just can’t believe I’m here,” Martone said. Even in the midst of hours upon hours of traffic, the violinist appreciates the fact that she is in LA. “I don’t care. I get to drive down Highland Avenue, in the city where my dreams are coming true,” she said. Even in her various travels to New York, NY and Paris, France, she has never found a place quite like LA. “It represents so much opportunity for me personally. It’s very exciting,” she added. “I’m so happy to be here. I’m very lucky that I am. It’s a huge deal.”

     Martone is writing the script to her life with a bow in one hand and her violin in the other. Her devotion for film music has led her to become a huge advocate for it. “I wonder how different people’s lives would be if they listened to more film music instead of pop music on the daily,” Martone said. The growing popularity of live orchestras playing along to film has garnered mass appreciation for orchestral music. In an age where this type of music is no longer in vogue, orchestras are losing their footing in people’s lives. “It’s interesting to see the popularity of that grow, because everybody loves movies,” she said. “When they realize that an orchestra is playing that right now, it helps bring the appreciation back. It’s helping the interest in live music a bit more and the classical study that goes behind that.”

     She sees music as the silent hero to the entire world of film and television. “I don’t think people realize how important it really is in everything they watch,” Martone said. “Without film music, you don’t have a film. You have one with much less emotion.”

     Like a seasoned actress preparing for yet another role, Martone approaches each project with the same enthusiasm and curiosity she did when she was in her childhood strings class. “It’s discovering new music or things I can do with my instrument that I hadn’t before,” Martone said. “Because I love music ultimately. That’s the core of what I love and what I do.” When people ask her if she ever gets bored of playing the same instrument she has played all of her life, her answer is always a resounding “no.” “The music is constantly changing and evolving, and there are so many different possibilities out there,” Martone said. “You never know what’s going to affect you the most.”

     She is willing to embrace each role life serves up for her, even if it were one in which she wasn’t a musician. “I would always want to be involved in the arts. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been drawn to,” she said. Whether she’s playing as part of the orchestra’s body or in an all-female electric strings quartet, Martone draws energy from the music, her fellow musicians, the conductor and the audience. “I never know which performance hit the person in the back row,” Martone said. “It’s that thought that keeps me going.”

To learn more about Jordan Ann Martone’s music, please check out her website:

www.jordanann.com

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017, July 30). La Violinista [Photograph]. Silhouettes, stripSearchLA, Los Angeles.

In Thought, Word and Deed

As soon as the words “with mouth” left my lips, her head began its slow descent towards my lap like a discordant apple falling from the branch of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We had created our own vocabulary. Our own language: part verbal, part body. She was in a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across the world, in Singapore, her home. Close enough for sexting and dirty show-and-tell via Skype, but far enough for her to seek supplementary companionship. She craved the warmth of physical contact. While we lay in each other’s arms after having made love, she used to tell me that her boyfriend refused to have sex with her. Vaginal. I asked why. She didn’t know. I brought up the slight possibility that he may be gay and using her as a beard. No, that wasn’t it, she assured me, as if I was the one who needed assurance. He liked doing it in every way, fill all her holes, except for the one that mattered most to her. He was a devout Christian and would not lose his virginity before marriage. Having been raised in that sexually stunting, hormonally frustrating climate— with balls as blue as the Virgin’s cloak— I totally understood his apprehension and guilt.

I was raised to fear the villainous and venereal woman’s vagina as if it were Satan’s filthy mouth itself. To plunge my virginity into it would swing open the gates of Hell and drag me in, kicking and screaming, digging my bloodied finger nails into the landsliding abyss. However, she was a friend in need and aside from having learnt the lesson of divine chastity, I had also learnt that of divine compassion. Now, this compassionate heart of mine had given me the task of filling not only her woman-sized hole, but the one the size of the Atlantic. One that needed an ocean of love to fill. So there we were, fucking under God’s watchful, wrathful and vengeful eyes. We didn’t hide our naked bodies in shame. Instead, she opened her mouth and took a mouthful out of my apple.

* * * *

Music was our drug of choice. It always seemed to get us in the mood, playing with our emotions. We liked the same bands, and the ones whose affinity we didn’t share we accepted because we trusted each other’s taste. We were sitting in my car listening to Foxygen, and the song “San Francisco” came on. My eyes began to gather tears as my throat closed up. She noticed that I had suddenly gotten quiet. She touched my clenched hand on the steering wheel, and I relaxed it.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

“It’s just that this song reminds me of my ex-wife,” I replied. She looked confused. “It reminds me of her because that was the last place that we went to as a couple.” It was our last resort to make things work. It was also the place where we hit rock bottom and broke up for good.

“We can just skip this song if you like.”

“No, it’s fine.” I looked over at her. In the blurriness of tears I could see a concerned look in her eyes. “Just keep your hand on mine and sit here with me.” I wanted to listen to the song and mourn in silence. So we did.

* * * *

We were lying on a blanket on the floor. I was lying on my side, propping my head up with one arm and placing the other on my thigh. She was sitting on her calves— inside the curvature made by my legs and torso— perked up looking down at me. The lights were off, and the only light was emanating from an old Bed Bath and Beyond pine-scented candle I dug out from under the bathroom sink. The candle’s dimmed brilliance reflected the tears welling up in her eyes, as if there was a feeling she was trying to disguise. I smiled and asked her what was wrong. She nodded away my question with a soft hum. I could tell that she didn’t want to make eye contact with me. I placed my free hand on her thighs, and she looked down on it. She bit down on her bottom lip. I felt a single, sultry tear sprinkle on my knuckles like the first raindrops of summer.

“What’s wrong?” I asked again. She let out a flustered sigh and wiped the tears from her face and the secretion from her nose.

“It’s hard to explain,” she answered. It was difficult because her English was pretty good, but not good enough to express a complex emotion. An emotion that even a native English speaker would have a hard time explaining. I dragged my body closer to her knees and outstretched my hand to meet hers.

“You can tell me anything.”

“I know,” she sniffled. But it wasn’t so much a matter of intimacy as it was a matter of fluency.

“Just say it in Malay,” I said. I didn’t care if I couldn’t understand it. All I understood was that she needed to vent. She had been building up so much pressure in her heart for so long, that it seemed impossible to release it. At first, she began to speak softly to me. Slowly. Then her speech became louder and faster. Violent. She was looking at me in a way she hadn’t before. Flailing her arms, clicking her wrists, gripping her palms. I felt conflicted. Sad because of the eruptive catharsis I was beholding and aroused because of the level of intimacy we were reaching. That look in her eyes. Those dark, soulful eyes.

I propped myself up into a seated position and buried her in my arms. Her body was shaking. She felt warm and cold. Stiff and frail. I held her close and tight, suffocating any doubt in her mind. She continued to speak in a language I couldn’t begin to decipher, let alone understand. However, I understood everything she was feeling, everything her heart was expressing. Every single word.

* * * *

It was a steady, slow-building orgasm. It had been welling up inside of me like tears held back from a repressed emotion. The care and passion with which she was tugging at my penis had the charm of wanting to do a good job that comes from inexperience. It was naïve, coy and playful. She was pushing buttons without knowing the type of reactions they would trigger in my body. It reminded me of the first time we had been intimate, when we used to meet in her apartment to listen to The Beatles and drink Japanese wheat tea. At the time, I didn’t know if it was the sweetness in her eyes, the bitterness of John Lennon’s singing or the savoriness of the tea, but I felt the need to invade her lips with mine. To occupy her mouth with my tongue. At first, she pulled away— half appalled, half pleasantly surprised.

“Why did you kiss me?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I saw it in your eyes.”

“Well, in case you didn’t know, I have a boyfriend.” She said it more so to remind herself of the fact than to get me to stop. She was still within firing range, and her eyes were still conveying the same message as before.

“OK, can I just have one more kiss?” This time, I was the one who had to pull away. We decided to forget the whole incident and go back to listening to music, each of us sitting at the couch’s extremes. She kept looking over, smiling nervously. I knew what she wanted, I could see it in the way her slightly crooked teeth were digging into her bottom lip. In her quivering silence I could hear her screaming for another kiss. For what she had so strongly opposed and at the same time couldn’t get enough of.

Her lips were starved for love, the kind of love that only I could give her.

“Do you want to kiss me?” I asked. She nodded her head affirmatively. I slid over to her end of the couch and placed my arm around her. I wanted to take her to a secluded place, a place beyond shame, beyond judgement, beyond inhibition. A place beyond love. What we felt wasn’t just love. It was lust. We kissed each other like it was going to be the last time. I placed her hand on my thigh, and she started to slide it up towards my crotch, which by this point seemed like it was going to burst out of its seams. I heard the sound of my zipper becoming undone slowly. I felt her digging inside, removing the layers of cloth between her hand and my stiffened flesh.

She took its content in her hands without questioning. All of the questions, the doubts that she had from when we first kissed had dissipated by now. Her willingness to humor my hormonal urge compelled me to help with the unzipping and simply pull it out and place it in her hands. By this point my heart was throbbing with desire, and I didn’t care whether things were moving too fast. We were ready. She welcomed me in her hands. Part of me felt that she was jerking me around, using me as a surrogate lover. Her touch felt cold. Almost robotic, as though she was simply going through the motions. We both wanted the same things, but each for very different reasons.

We looked at each other and realized the murkiness of the situation. I placed her face in my hands and gave her a kiss. I felt her grip get tighter and the rhythm of it getting faster and warmer. It told me that she finally understood what this was about. She treated my body as if she herself was a man, stroking with the skill of a chronic masturbator. As if my penis was her own and she was going to be the one who would climax through it. I felt strong in her hand. In its clasp, that hardened tissue had a purpose, and its purpose was to be the best it had ever been. Not for me, but for her. For all of the hard work she was investing in my happiness and pleasure. There was something lodged inside of me that I needed her to help me get out. I was full of love for her and filling up more and more with every one of her kisses. I was about to reach a breaking point. A point of rapturous rupture. I felt a feral, starved beast trying to claw its way out of my urethra. It was my turn to release the pent-up pressure.

It came as a surprise, as it always does. I didn’t know how to feel, so I just felt. I simply was. It was an out-of-body, ethereal experience, losing myself in the moment, letting go of conscious thought and welcoming chaos.

As I came back to coherence, I realized that she was still toiling away. Throughout my life, I have always been told, if it feels good, then go with it. So, I did. It was electric. A religious experience and a celestial dialogue with the divine. This was her way of thanking me for being there for her. For treating her like a woman and not just like some stupid Singaporean girl with no say in her sexuality. That night, I returned her generosity and helped her release her tension and turned my hands into instruments of torturous pleasure. The sight of her face writhing in the exquisite pain of sex told me more than her words— in English or Malay, from human or demonic tongue— ever could.

* * * *

In the months that we spent together, we created a little world for ourselves. A four-walled Eden in a one-bedroom-one-bath apartment. We fought, made love and learned many things about ourselves that we wouldn’t have had our paths not crossed. She taught me how to be intimate with a woman and how to tend to her emotional needs. I taught her how a man likes to be touched and that it’s perfectly normal to have sexual thoughts and feelings. The only lesson we forgot to teach one another was how to live life without the other.

Dance With the Leopards in the Madman’s House

Her large, sagging breasts were being held tightly against her body with one arm, while the other was preoccupied picking up coins falling out of her cleavage. For every coin that she picked up off the floor, four more came rushing out. A coin in the bosom was worth four on the floor. She was like a walking slot machine. The assorted coins dropping out of her clutched breasts chimed loudly. They jingled off the ground, waterfalling uncontrollably. For a brief moment, the clatter of coins clashing on the rubber-lined floors disrupted the smartphone consumption of some riders; others went unfazed.

The real gold was falling out of her fleshy lips. Whatever she was on granted her the ability to dig deep into her vocabulary for profanity that could easily proliferate within the bus’s physical space. With the force of a tornado, her words hit the ears of the riders, most of which began to dig through their purses and backpacks for earbuds, to drown away with music what she couldn’t with drugs. The threats she was making consisted of popping you in the mouth and demanding that you pay her 20 dollars. Like an actor reciting a well rehearsed Shakespeare soliloquy, she let out an eloquent and uninterrupted stream of “punk-ass bitches” and “I’m gonna kill that mothafucka.”

She was wearing a royal-blue sundress, with big sky-blue Hawaiian plumeria flowers printed all over it. It was concealing the lower half of her body, just below her bloated navel. Her voluptuousness was part of the reason why the dress hadn’t slid all the way off, down to her ankles. Her hair was dyed blonde and buzzed cut. Her make-up seemed to have been applied haphazardly and looked clownish at best. It did little to hide her age or the unfortunate experiences she had faced. Her expression was that of an angry, snarling bulldog trying to escape the rough petting of children.

After successfully gathering all of the wayward coins off the floor and under other patrons’ seats, she went back to the heap of bags she had placed near the rear exit. As she moved toward her large canvas bag, she released her breasts from their restraint. They descended like wet socks thrown over and teetering on a clothesline— bouncing up and down, swinging back and forth, side to side— restrained by a single clothespin. They were long and flat, like twin turbines on a fighter jet. Get too close and she would’ve knocked your head clean off.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” she yelled. Nobody was within a 3-foot radius from her. “I kick your mothafucking ass, mothafucka.” She was peering her head forward and pointing out the double Plexiglas doors. It almost looked as though she was arguing with her reflection, chasing her own shadow like a lost boy from Neverland. She was yet another victim of LA, the land of never-gonna-happen, where you can easily La-La your life away. The bystanders treat people like this bosomy lady as a mere inconvenience, a bump on the road. Other people don’t help because they can’t even help themselves. There we were, me on the road home and she on the road to perdition.

When I saw her large nipples making eye contact with me, I had to do a double take just to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. My instinctive reaction was to look away and then sneak a look. Back and forth. Don’t look, then look. I was like a prudish maiden hiding her curiosity behind a delicately crocheted white lace fan. I couldn’t stop looking. I wanted to analyze her body and figure out where all of her scars and bruises had come from. When did all of the neglect that she and the citizens of the city inflicted on her begin to happen? When she noticed that I was admiring her large chest, she smiled and threw a penny at me. It was her way of saying “I see you looking at my titties. I’m glad you like them.” I was compelled to pick it up and return the coin she had so laboriously worked to collect a few moments ago, but I was apprehensive to do so due to her mercurial temper which could have turned on a dime from coy to destroy. From coquettishly rubbing her nipple to scrubbing the floor with me.

Using the same disruptive and imposing will with which she had thrusted herself into the bus’s rear exit, she now demanded the driver to stop the goddamned bus.

“Let me out, let me out,” she yelled. “Let me the fuck out.” She pulled up her dress and tucked her gelatinous breasts into it one by one. As she swung the cluster of bags onto her back, a dirty piece of cardboard fell out from one of them, like a dirty little secret. She exited the bus yelling at the top of her lungs, “Good morning, Beverly Hills.” It was 10:37 p.m., and we were in Hollywood. This elicited a “Shut the fuck up” from another patron who had slept through the whole debacle. He appeared to be a hybrid of the Snow White dwarves Sleepy and Grumpy. By the scent emanating from his direction, he could have also been Stinky, if ever the group of little men decided to incorporate an eighth member.

The sign left behind read:

“HOMELESS
CHANGE
THANK YOU.”

Succinct. To the point. Twitter friendly.

The word “CHANGE” wasn’t followed by a question mark. Why bother? Did she even have a choice? Did we? She didn’t want to complicate her message or go over the character limit. It simply wasn’t in her character. I picked it up and took it with me when I exited the bus. I placed it on a bus bench. Maybe someone else would find it useful or inspiring. It definitely inspired me. That night, I lay in bed— wide awake— with the image of that woman’s sadness on my mind.

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Where I Hide With My Loneliness [Drawing]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.

 

The Sweet Scent Of Garmonbozia

A Strangely Isolated Place

In Mexico, it is an honor to be the firstborn male of the family. It is an even greater honor to bear your father’s name. It is also a good way of killing two birds with one stone: honoring an ancestor and naming your kid. This ancient practice keeps cacophonous names in rotation for longer than they should be. It is a lesser crime against humanity, a misdemeanor at best. A branding. A form of physical, living, breathing graffiti.
*          *          *          *

The heist was all planned out. We knew what we needed to do and what we needed to take. My brother and I were own our way to Sacramento, California with one thing on our minds. Our mission was to take as many toys as we could carry. It was the strategy that we had devised while sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car, on our way to my Uncle Venus’ house. My cousin Jose and his brothers had troves of action figures— more toys than any eight-year-old could ever want. All of the ones that my brother and I drooled over while perusing the toy aisles at department stores. All of the ones that would elicit a firm ear-pull from our mom after begging her for them unsuccessfully.

We had already stolen some smaller items, like weapons and Happy-Meal-sized toys, but this was the big sting. The one that, if caught, could get us a leather-belt-on-bare-butt-cheeks spanking. This operation required pockets larger than those equipped on a pair of standard jeans. We needed to bring in the big guns. Taking a full-sized action figure would require a garment with additional cargo room. That was why we decided to bring our bulky winter jackets. These would aid our effort of concealing and carrying the contraband.

My cousins were very generous with their toys, which gave my brother and me a perfect in. As we played in their room, my brother and I would take turns slipping a toy into one of our many pockets. At first, my cousins were none the wiser to our slimy scheme. But soon my cousin Jose noticed that I was sliding something into my jacket. He was a smart kid and soon let out a loud yelp that brought our parents into the room. He told my uncle that I was stealing his toys. Our dads looked at each other and started to laugh. Some sort of brotherly inside joke. My uncle yelled at Jose to stop crying, that there was no harm done. I was pulled aside by my dad and told that he was going to kick my ass when we got home. I could already hear the sound of finely-crafted Mexican leather making contact with tightly squeezed flesh. That night, my brother and I came away with pockets full of threats. Enough to keep our kleptomania at bay. Well, until it was time for my cousin Jose and his brothers to visit us down in LA.

*          *          *          *

When you come from a culture where the scrotums are potent and the wombs fertile, you don’t simply get one person named ‘Little Bastard Jr.’ or ‘the III,’ you get a swath of ‘Little Bastards’ named after the grand master bastard— the grandfather that can never remember who you are. It defeats the whole purpose of even having a name. “Hey, you!” becomes a more comprehensive way of distinguishing you from the rest of your similarly named cousins. Any certified arborist would take one look at our family tree and deem its long branches ripe for firewood and demand that the rest of it be chopped down and interned in an insane asylum.

*          *          *          *

His hair was long and silky, dark and lustrous. It draped down between his shoulder blades to his mid-lower back even as he wore it in a ponytail. The light mustache and goatee on his upper lip and chin, along with the sharp cheek bones still bore vestiges of his boyish face. Since I last saw him— ten years ago— it had blossomed into that of a handsome young man. I remembered the times when he used to curse out my other cousins and their mothers with anger in his eyes. Now those eyes, interlocking with mine, were deep and soulful. He had a timid smile and quiet grace. As soon as he became aware of my presence, he instantly remembered me. I didn’t really know how to approach him without looking weak or coming off as slightly gay. I wanted to mirror his calm and collected energy. I had to repress my feelings of admiration and longing for a cousin who, for all I knew, could have been dead this whole time. I was mourning my inability to express my true emotions in words. I wanted to tell him that I missed him and find out about what he had been up to.

The occasion for our meeting was the wedding of our youngest aunt in Tijuana, Mexico. My cousin and I were 22 and 21-years-old. She was two years younger. He was wearing a form-fitting suit that added to the elegance in his demeanor. Since we last saw each other, my dad had been imprisoned and we had moved a couple of times. His dad remarried and had a couple of kids with his new wife; Uncle Venus used to pick us up from school from time to time, maybe because he felt he owed it to my dad to take care of us while he was locked up. I think my siblings and I saw my uncle more often than Jose did. I didn’t want to make the same mistake of going years without hearing from my cousin, so I gave him my address. I figured that we could open up an avenue of communication by writing to one another. After a few letters back and forth, the silence between us began to set in once again.

*          *          *          *

The tradition of genealogical nomenclature is meant to bring the family closer together. By having various reminders of the patriarch peppered in each of the extended family units, the children of the elder attempt to create an immortal bond. A man is not his song and his name should end when he does. It should be remembered only if he himself did something worth remembering; summoned by memory when his presence is craved for and not thrusted upon his descendants by means of filial guilt.

*          *          *          *

Jose invited me to a local pastrami place in Seattle. It had been yet another long serendipitous 10 years since I had last seen him. As I was making my way there, I didn’t know what to expect. Was he the indomitable, incorrigible kid who used to nosh on bright red radishes as we fought and lusted over a young Sofia Vergara— bouncing around on the beach— kissing the warm, bulbous television screen? Or, was he the elegantly poised young man with whom I had a brief, dreamlike conversation about nothing in particular?

The closer I got to the pastrami shop, I kept looking around to see if I could spot him. Did he even wear his hair in a ponytail anymore? Nervousness began to set in. The thoughts in my head were barraging me with an infinity of questions. They were reeling a movie in which I once again was playing a character too cowardly to express his true emotions. Part of me wanted to turn around and run away from the situation. Maybe it was better that we didn’t meet. There was a reason why we hadn’t in the past decade. And out of nowhere, there he was, standing right in front of me. My cousin Jose. I could see in him the boy and the young man I met on two separate occasions, two lifetimes ago. He waved me down from the entrance of the place as I crossed the street. We instinctively embraced as if not a single day had passed since the time we saw each other last. As if we were no longer 32 and 31-years-old, but 9 and 8 again.

As we were ordering our meal and even as we sat side by side, few words were exchanged. I asked him about his dad, and he said that he hadn’t really heard from him in years. I told him that I was in the same situation with mine. The silence could be cut thicker than the sliced meat on our paper plates. It was the loss of words that came from the meeting of two lost souls. It wasn’t our fault that this deep and wide valley had developed between us. We were like two falling leaves, helpless in the air, ripped and flung by the torrential winds of our parents’ shortcomings.

My eyes were full of curiosity, but I kept filling my mouth with cured meat and bread. Sitting there with him, listening to him tell me about his wife and three children, I made the decision of breaking with family tradition. The age-old stipulation that our fathers needed to be around in order for us to have a relationship, as family or friends. I wanted to eschew all of that firstborn-namesake bullshit and reach out my hand to my cousin and be a family. I wanted to welcome my cousin back into my life. Our relationship— as children and teenagers— suffered, but that didn’t mean that we had to continue suffering. Before we departed from another brief encounter, I invited him to visit me in LA sometime. I felt that it was time to take charge of my relationship with my cousin.

My brother Jose.

 

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). The Sweet Scent of Garmonbozia[Painting]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.

God Isn't In A Pill

God Isn’t In A Pill

A phrase that I have heard more than a few times is that “Highland Park is the Portland of LA.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If these cities were friends, Highland Park would be the girl who had recently gotten her first kiss from a boy and Portland the girl who was already giving blowjobs. Portland has the infrastructure of a small city that’s ready to go through urban puberty, waiting for its budding population and housing to grow with anticipation. On the other hand, Highland Park is still potty training, cleaning up gang related shit, making its longtime residents crawl out of it in all fours and being babysat by a man who is out of touch with his constituents and the area he is supposed to be tending to.

Both cities bear a striking resemblance. They both go overboard in the amount of coffee made readily available to its citizens. For casual drinkers, this can pose a dilemma. But for coffee lovers, this is a big fucking deal. It’s coffee overload. It’s like that one scene in 1983’s “Scarface” in which Al Pacino’s Tony Montana dips his face into a mountain of cocaine on his desk. These establishments are no longer called “coffee shops,” they prefer to be called “coffee roasters.” As a consumer, you’re forced to choose between them like a maiden choosing a suitor. You’ve got your dark, tall and strong or light, short and sweet.

Similar to Portland, Highland Park is going through a dramatic makeover. Buildings–residential and commercial–are being erected all across the Northeast LA neighborhood, raising rents, displacing people of all colors and economic classes; including the disappearing middle class. It is this group that is simultaneously summoning and suffering the effects of gentrification. It seems as though this buzzword only poses a problem when it affects the middle class, not the working immigrant class. The middle class enjoys the quaintness of the boho chic coffee shops and restaurants, but it despises the drug paraphernalia adorning the sidewalks.

Highland Park wants to be more than it can be and pretends to be more than it should. It prides itself in its decrepitude and its lack of variety and quality. Portland is what Highland Park wants to be when it grows up. They both have that underlying punk-rock-blue-collar-DIY mentality, but Portland balances its rough exterior with its smooth cohesiveness. A Portland cashier will provide excellent service with a middle finger raised at you behind her back. In Highland Park, you’ll just get the middle finger in your face as you wait for someone to even acknowledge you.

A recent Vogue article painted Highland Park as having pristine streets, friendly people and a blemish-free history. It was a letter written by someone who had just fallen in love with the subject. The author made sweeping generalizations that swept the town’s social deficiencies under the rug and threw the older businesses and residents under the bus. An LA-based news website, LAist.com, quickly fired back with a spiteful and sassy article that deconstructed the aforementioned one, point by point. Instead of using the runway and limelight to bring up real issues like rampant homelessness and muggings, it was an appeal to “keep Highland Park weird.” Both articles–in their positivity and negativity–peddled a pastoral narrative where the residents of Highland Park were satisfied with what little they had.

Portlanders have plenty of unifying agents like a shared history, sports teams, national parks and a zoo. People from all over the country and the world are welcomed, more or less, by the residents. The newcomers enthusiastically adopt the practices and customs of the locals. In Highland Park, the opposite is true. People that move there don’t want anything to do with the people that were already there. The locals share that same disdain. Each party believes that the other is out to ruin whatever they have going on. There is no “Highland Park Pride,” gay or straight. For the most part, the locals give off a feeling of mistrust and the newcomers give them the silent treatment.

New residents resent the long-time residents for having neglected the neighborhood, plummeting it into an uncontrollable downward spiral of crime and neglect. This has empowered incompetent elected officials to coast through their terms without lifting a finger to improve conditions and are guaranteed reelection. The locals resent the new residents for viewing their long-time homes as “fixer-uppers” and changing all of the old businesses to new ones that they don’t feel welcomed to.

What it comes down to is the citizens of each city. Those from Portland run their city towards something better. Their counterparts in Highland Park have run it to the ground. The sex that Portland citizens have with their city is consensual. It is lovemaking on a bed softly lit by candlelight, to the tune of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” On the other hand, Highland Park gets fucked by its citizens in a dark alley, against a rusty chain link fence, lit by the piercing headlights of an old Chevy truck, to the tune of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails.

All I can hope for Highland Park is that its citizens start to see one another a bit more like neighbors and less like enemies. I hope that in banding together, they elect officials who actually support their hopes for a better community. One that gives a restless, disenfranchised brown and black youth a place to gather at that isn’t defaced by graffiti. As well as provide a burgeoning white and Asian infancy with open-air spaces for them to play in. I hope that its streets get cleaner and its buses continue to take hard-working Americans of all ethnicities to work. My ultimate hope is that the residents of Highland Park work and fight towards building a place deserving of them.

But until that day, Highland Park residents will have to swallow the placebo of blissful ignorance, and continue to allow old couches to be dumped on their sidewalks and give their change and leftovers to the junkies sleeping on them. This medicine has managed to quell the pangs of a community forging and birthing its identity.

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Standing Underneath Two Sisters [Drawing]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.

Cory Bilicko

Don’t Thank Me

Colors have deep, subconscious and subversive significance. The rods and cones in our eyes process them incessantly. They look for their presence even when they are absent. They crave them. There are colors and shades that take a few moments longer to process. Those found on a person’s face. Long Beach resident Cory Bilicko has such a face. One that is clad with a warm, colorful smile. It is more than a mere gesture of gaiety manifested by his lips. You can also see it in his eyes, in the way he waves his hands as he speaks and in the way his legs cross under his perked-up torso. He smiles with his whole body.

I feel his smile in every word he utters, in every concept he meticulously dissects and in every piece of art he creates. The artist’s easygoing personality is transmitted onto the canvas. It is present in every brushstroke. There’s a hedonistic undertone to everything that he does and chooses not to do. It invites you. It envelops you. It enraptures you. His paintings have the same effect. They don’t look like photographs or lifelike representations. They are alive, like an illusory face that our eyes carve out on the trunk of a tree, harkening to a world of childhood fables in which animals speak and trolls live under bridges. His paintings allow your imagination to be feral and run free with the apparitions in your mind.

Complex at first sight, his paintings don’t reveal themselves right away. You really need to look at them. You’re lured in by their beautiful distortion of reality. You become transfixed by the imagery. With every blink of your eyes, the image becomes sharper. His paintings have a fresco texture, mixed with the grittiness of eastern Orthodox art and the northern Renaissance. “With representational paintings, I think my way through them, but with abstract art, it’s about choosing colors that feel right,” Bilicko said. He associates certain feelings with certain colors and textures. “It’s not about choosing the right color, but the right amount,” he added. It is his belief that with a more limited color palette, paintings seem to have a more sophisticated look. Even as he searches for perfection in his pieces, the artist wants to show the imperfection and work that went into them, like the brushstrokes created by the painter’s hand.

His inspiration comes from a variety of places. “It comes from my fears, uncomfortable situations that have happened and nightmares,” Bilicko said. These are the things that get him into a certain headspace. “I think that’s what it is. I kind of have to get myself into a strange place where I don’t really know what’s up. That’s when I can be creative.” Placing himself in a different reality that he can exist in, to feel safe and comfortable. That’s really what his art is about. It’s about feeling. “This has become my artistic point of view. To take disturbing shit that I’ve experienced or that I’ve envisioned and doing something with it, to control it, to try to make it beautiful. Palatable,” Bilicko said.

Bilicko’s art is approachable. It is palpable. Palliative. It looks like something you can understand. Something you yourself could’ve made. “The word visionary comes to mind. Most of us have ideas, but what’s the difference between a person who has visions, creativity, imagination and someone who has those things but can then physicalize it, manifest it in a form that other people can experience. That’s an artist,” Bilicko stated. An artist is like a shaman having the capability to follow through and present his visions to others. In the end, he believes that it doesn’t matter whether society or he himself views himself as an artist. “I’ve never been like that. I just don’t give a fuck,” Bilicko said. “You know, if I take a shit on a canvas and call it art, many people aren’t going to like that.”

The titles that he chooses for his pieces range from literal or descriptive to more abstract and up for interpretations. “I never try to think of a title before I finish a piece or while I’m working on it. It’s always after,” Bilicko said. “They’re always an afterthought.” They usually come to him from a feeling he’s holding on to while he’s creating the work. It always goes back to the feeling. He likes to come up with titles after he has lived with the pieces for a while and has gotten to know them a little better. It’s a more natural fit. He feels for his paintings. He suffers for them. They are an extension of him. His children. Then and only then does the title become a more significant part of the piece as a whole. It engages the beholder; it makes them a part of the process as they have to do some of the work to figure it out. “People notice things about my art, and I love that,” Bilicko said, “I learn a lot about my pieces through what people tell me that they see.” The Long Beach artist enjoys it when people make up their own narratives for his art. Often when people ask him to explain the meaning of a piece, his reply will usually be, “I don’t know. You tell me,” Bilicko said bursting into laughter. “You tell me what you see, because I don’t know.” The art lends itself to any kind of interpretation. It is art that is meant to be interacted with, meant to be touched and touched by. “I do hope that my art, in general, helps people and also that my story helps people,” he added.

Bilicko’s paintings have a narrative that places the viewer in the middle of the action. They are narratives that you can look at, ingest, digest and then profess to someone else. They are oral histories. Like cave paintings that existed before language itself. His art allows you to think about it while at the same time not overthink and simply immerse yourself completely in it. “My art is about feeling good,” he said as he cued Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ on his playlist. “It’s about making myself feel better.”

He paints as a way of digesting a feeling. “It’s part of the cathartic process, the physical nature of creating,” Bilicko said. In abstract art there are no rules. It is more random. “My abstract art is an expression of my emotions whereas my representational art is an expression of my thoughts,” he added. His art is an exploration, a journey through the subconscious.

“I don’t make art to impress people. I’m not trying to create a masterpiece. I’m just trying to deal with my shit and survive and be happy,” Bilicko said. “It’s very simple.” He almost sounds like a missionary delivering the gospel of art to the masses. “It saves me. It gives me a respite from all the crazy shit in our world,” he said. A lot of people can benefit from his message. He doesn’t really care about leaving behind a legacy, “It’s more about what I can do for people now, which is to help them understand that art has a truly transformative, therapeutic value to it. If that message continues beyond my current existence, then that’s great,” he added.

Any type of art form is meant to make you think, to make you feel. It’s supposed to make you want to interpret it. Art isn’t utilitarian. Its purpose is to inspire, to transcend, and in transcending, make your mind transcend along with it. In an age when everyone with a phone is a photographer, with photo-editing cloudware an artist and with a blog a writer, it’s difficult to distinguish between those who do it for art’s sake and those who put “art” in “farting around.” Those with a message from those with none. Both kinds are enjoyable to consume; however, as humans we search for meaning in everything that we do. We search for feeling. Deep down, Cory Bilicko is not a painter. He is a storyteller, one whose craft utilizes images and colors, nightmares and beauty, painful realities and distorted lullabies in order to affect the popular narrative of humanity. He is the Sharpie that draws a big smile on a nuclear warhead while giving the middle finger to the establishment. He and his art are enemies of the ordinary.

To see Cory Bilicko’s art and his upcoming shows, check out his website: www.corybilicko.com

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017, July 13). Il Pittore [Photograph]. Silhouettes, StripSearchLA, Los Angeles.

Low Flying Panic Attack

A fiery yellow and orange light nestled itself gently up against a misty rose blue sky around 4:37 a.m. The sunrise awoke me in the same manner that an eager 4-year-old who has been up all night, too excited to sleep, wakes her parents. This capricious light lit my way and led me to a deserted bus stop. My main goal that day was to explore Downtown Vancouver. Little by little, people began to gather around the stop, forming a small, then larger crowd. A woman with a broom swept the trash by people’s feet, not to draw it into the trash can, rather to draw attention to herself. To her deplorable state.

“Excuse me,” she yelled at a young woman thumbing her phone. Her tone was accompanied by a level of annoyance that comes from not being appreciated. As she jumped out of the way, a muffled “thank you” drooped out of the downward facing sweeper. She continued to sweep hunched over with her tiny broom until she arrived at the ledge of the sidewalk, between the people and the road.

“Hello! Hello, people waiting for the bus,” she proclaimed, using the cleaning instrument as a baton, “my name is Alana and I sweep the streets every day.” She swapped the broom from her right hand to her left and outstretched it to the crowd. “Would you like to make a donation today?” Most people ignored her vulnerability, her cry for help. They had all heard that one before. Like a true artist, she kept going even as her performance fell onto deaf ears. Tough crowd.

After not having any luck with mass appeal, Alana tried a more personalized approach. She went up to a woman and asked her for a “humble donation.” The woman was talking to a man and didn’t seem to appreciate Alana’s humble interruption.

“Well, you’re humble psychologically, but you’re a fucking bitch,” the woman yelled as Alana walked away from her.

“Thank you,” Alana said as she wove through the crowd of people, continuing to ask for donations.

“Thank you? Thank yourself, fucking bitch.” At first sight, I would’ve judged things all wrong. Based on each woman’s physical appearance–Alana disheveled and the other dressed in a suit–I would’ve painted Alana as completely deranged and the other woman as completely sane. Truly I tell you, as my eyes and ears bore witness, the opposite was true. Even though Alana was missing a couple of teeth, it was the other woman that was missing a couple of marbles. However, these are necessary illusions. Necessary to keep up the charade, the bizarre parade that we call “normal.”

Later that day, after having had a nice meal, I walked out of the restaurant and a young man, who looked like he’d been dragged all across town and thrashed by the pleasures of drug use, looked at me indignantly.

“What is your wetback ass lookin’ at?” he squawked. His question, although begging for an answer, seemed to be rhetorical. Well, what was my “wetback ass” looking at, indeed? I was looking at a broken man with a broken heart trying to piece his life back together by smoking pieces of meth, trying to find a method in his madness. That’s what my wetback ass was looking at. I guess that would’ve been too long of an answer to a drive-by question. The irony of it all was that he himself was Hispanic. It has been my experience that people of our own race make the best racists. Call it introspective loathing.

One of my favorite parts of traveling to different cities is checking out the local public transit. It’s an arena ripe for people watching. If extraterrestrial beings ever wanted to see true human nature, their search would only be a half hour bus ride away. On the bus, in Vancouver as in LA, people find it uncomfortable making eye or physical contact with other strangers of any kind; accidentally or deliberately. The ripe scent of armpit sweat and sweaty ass are forces that even a decent deodorant and soap cannot combat. However, I really do like people. I like looking at them. At their quirks. At the things that they themselves would find repulsive while looking in a mirror. Most look away, but I want to walk through the looking glass. I like to take a big whiff of whatever olfactory cocktail the bus has shaken for me. Allow it to stir in my lungs. It’s the scent of life. A scene from the everyday. A sense of comfort in knowing that everything around me that is happening will bring me no harm. The sound of peace. I am surrounded by my kind. My people. It’s about feeling the good in the good people of Canada. Of the world.

Bilicko, C. (2014). Interment 4 [Painting]. Acrylic on canvas, Long Beach, CA.