What We Were Supposed To Be

Ms. Castillo was a petite woman in her twenties, fresh out of college with a degree in Liberal Arts, plying her trade. She had long brown hair that draped straight down to her lower back. She had big round eyes, a small hook nose and a smile that could comfort even the rowdiest third grade bastard. Her voice was soft spoken and her gestures to the class were small and gentle. Most of my classmates, including myself, were the same height as her, even at eight years of age. She was kind and treated all of her students with care and respect; however, I didn’t feel a maternal attachment to her. I found her incredibly attractive. While the rest of the kids in my class where focused on the movement of the clock’s hour and minute hands, I was focused on the way Ms. Castillo placed hers on her hips and their movement. I had yet to develop the emotional and hormonal infrastructure to fully process and explain what I was feeling. All that I knew was that she made me feel weird. Good weird.

I would fantasize that her and I were boyfriend and girlfriend and that we were holding hands in the school playground. Even though I had never kissed anybody–save the time I bucked teeth with a girl in the first grade after a crowd of our friends shoved us against each other in the playground–I knew that I wanted to kiss Ms. Castillo’s thin glossy lips. The concept of holding a woman was as alien to me as that of asking one to go out with me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with Ms. Castillo, but I knew that it involved things shown in movies my parents didn’t allow me to watch. Things that I knew were not permissible for her and I to do. It was the same feeling I got when my older cousins’ friends were sitting across from me. It was exciting. Dangerous. I felt alive. I didn’t know why I felt that way with her. It wasn’t logical. It was biological.

I had a faint idea of what Ms. Castillo might look like naked, as imagining her without clothes was most of my preoccupation during class. I had seen a couple of nude scenes in movies and pillaged through my dad’s weird porn stash, which included images of naked women riding horses, bending over in kitchens or lying on the beach spangled with sand and glitter. Ms. Castillo kind of looked like the girls in my dad’s magazines. You could say that we had a similar taste in women. I would never see my teacher riding a horse or lying on a bed of sand, so I made the most of the times she bent over to pick up something off the floor.

Everything seemed perfect until my dad caught a glimpse of her.

“I want to go talk to your sexy teacher,” my dad said in a serious tone. He didn’t care about my schooling. His only involvement began and ended with him dropping me off and picking me up from school. He never asked about what I did or learned there. He didn’t even know my teacher’s name. My dad was only a father by default; in name but not in practice.

“Why? I’m one of the top students in the class,” I assured him.

“No, I want to talk to her about us. About her and me.” He couldn’t hold a straight face. Its color was turning from light pink to bright red trying to hold back laughter. Darts of air started to spurt out of his mouth like a tea kettle ready to burst. Snorts were followed by light chuckles and neighs until he couldn’t hold it in anymore. He let out a deafening horselaugh, so hard that the car began to swerve.

“Hey, watch the road.” My warning only made him laugh harder. He was looking at me to draw more inspiration for his scorn.

“I just want to go say ‘hi’ to her.” He enjoyed using my feelings for my teacher like a blade buried in my skin, digging it deeper and twisting it with every tasteless joke. His advances made me want her even more. Love felt more alluring in the face of adversity and pointless if you came out of it emotionally unscathed. My dad was like a mama bird regurgitating decadent morsels of desire. Beak to beak. Man to man.

“Dude, just shut the fuck up and get the hell out of here,” I muttered as I looked out the window. His laughter was interrupted by a cough. He was choking on his own saliva.

“What did you say?” wiping tears with the palms of his hands. “Is that how you talk to your father?” He grabbed me by the back of the neck. “Who the hell do you think you are?” I knew that my dad was strong, but the pressure that he was applying to my neck was quickly crossing the threshold of tolerable. I couldn’t even swallow my own saliva.

“Alright,” I yelled.

“Alright, nothing,” he pushed me toward the passenger side window. “Get the fuck out!” I bolted out of the car.

The abuse was worth it. I didn’t want my dad to talk to my teacher because I felt embarrassed of him. I didn’t want Ms. Castillo to see what kind of a man my dad was. I thought of him as an anus. We all know that everybody has one, but nobody needs to see it. I only wanted my teacher to know of my dad’s existence, but never have to actually see him. My dad payed very little attention to his physical appearance. He had mastered the just-rolled-out-of-bed look a little too well. His face carried the grace of one who didn’t get enough sleep due to having fucked around all night long. His eyes were in a perpetual state of bloodshot. His hair stuck straight up on one side and was matted flat on the other. All of his clothes were a few sizes too big and came primarily from stuff he had rummaged from other people’s trash. I knew what a responsible adult was supposed to look like and my dad looked nothing like it.

The next year, Ms. Castillo left the school and went back to college to work on a law degree. It seemed like she’d rather work with adults that acted like children than with children themselves. I never heard from her again. My dad went back to not giving a shit about my education. And I went on to the fourth grade, taught by an elderly bearded man I grew to respect very much. No physical attraction whatsoever. The way it was meant to be.

Scent of a Man

The scent of urine crowded the whole bus. Groups of people were trying to avoid it by pinching their noses and lifting their shirt collars to cover the lower half of their faces. The man from whom the scent was emanating was pleasantly unaware of the effect his body odor was having on his fellow man. He was wearing a red and white pashmina wrapped around his head like a turban, three layers of jackets, soiled silver pants and black combat boots. He would’ve looked adorable as part of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. But anywhere outside of that context, he looked otherwise.

“Woah, it smells like piss in here,” a young man yelled upon entering the bus. The young man was carrying a large bushel of incense and was selling it for two dollars.

“Well, that’s why you selling incense,” another passenger replied.

“Sometimes smell can’t fix what water can.”

“Don’t know if you should hose down the mothafuckin’ seat or the mothafucka himself, though.”

The smell had burglarized so many of the available oxygen particles that I was afraid to breathe. I didn’t want its persistent essence to invade my nasal cavity and seep into my palate to the point where I could taste it. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t be.

When a constrained metal shaft is full of adults sweating the sweat of a full day’s work, the temperature can elevate really fast. The man kept shaking one of his jacket collars, patting it against his chest in an attempt to stay cool. In the process, he was billowing out puffs of noxious smells compounding on top of the notes he had already given us. I felt like I was a few puffs away from jumping out of the bus early and braving the remaining blocks on foot. Like me, the man had also reached his limit and began to strip off the layers of jackets.

“Fuck, is hot in here,” he said. Every garment he removed was slammed on the empty seat next to him, followed by “shit.” By the time he had worked his way down to a white wife-beater, the stench had transfigured into its final form. People scrambled to open whatever bus windows were still closed and dug their heads deeper into their shirts. The scent was oppressive. We all had no other choice but to comply with it. To just sit there and take it.

When the bus finally arrived at my stop, I wove my way through the packed crowd as fast as I could. The prospect of breathing clean air was all I could think of. As I made my way to catch my next train, I realized that the city was filled with unpleasant smells. Some emanating from people and others from the streets. Regardless of where the smells were coming from, together they smelled familiar. They smelled like home.

Repurposed Earth

A young woman walking along an elderly man, presumably her father, but in LA you never know, passes by a sprinkler nursing a newly dug flower bed. The sprinkler gently drip feeds the patch, giving the buried seeds a chance at life in the blistering California spring. The two stroll unfettered by time on the freshly laid honey comb shaped pavers. They stop for a moment, just long enough for the young woman to run her sandaled foot in front of the squirt of water. They both giggle. She by the tickling sensation of the water refreshing her foot. He by the joy she was deriving from it. The smell of disturbed earth, pungent manure and nothingness provided a peaceful setting for this Adam and Eve. They looked comfortable, as if they had found a place to just relax. To just be in.

Los Angeles State Historic Park reopened on the weekend of April 22, 2017 after a 17-year long battle between the city of Los Angeles and its residents. The land where the park was developed was originally planned to be warehouses, meant to bring more jobs to the city. Fortunately, a group by the name of Chinatown Yard Coalition wanted this land to be a park. It took a civil rights lawsuit, a state park bond and the discovery of historical artifacts to eventually coerce the city to reconsider its stance on its use of the land.

The park has piqued the interest of many LA residents from the adjacent neighborhoods. It is clean, well groomed and landscaped without a single piece of rubbish in sight. In a few words, it doesn’t feel like a true LA park yet. The park rangers were wearing smiles on their faces and guns holstered to their hips. They seemed optimistic, looking forward to shooting more smiles than bullets. However, the park is empty for a majority of the day. It is so new and unused that an old couple looking for plastic bottles and cans find it a futile endeavor. They move from trash can to trash can, coming away empty-handed.

The wood benches are decorated with a rich walnut stain to tie in the darker tones of the surrounding trees. In order to protect their immaculate state, brushed metal studs protrude from them like thorns on a rose to dissuade skaters from grinding their boards’ bodies or homeless people from resting theirs against their clean surfaces. The restrooms are clean and greet patrons with a scent devoid of any foul smells of urine or feces. The amount of asses that its toilet seats have come in contact with is still well within the hundreds.

The trees are young, barely surpassing the age of a sapling, providing just a little bit more shade than that obtained from a standing broom. Enough shade for a group of three or four people to huddle at close proximity under. Their appendages classify more accurately under the category of twigs than branches. Their trunks don’t have a wide enough surface on which to disfigure them with a sharp object, writing romantic sigils by lovers.

Commercialization has made its way into the park as well. After all, this is LA. “Coming Soon” banners advertise the imminent arrival of trendy restaurants. Movie screening companies fence off large portions of the park and charge a premium to watch old favorites accompanied by food truck cuisine. Music festivals like the Fuck Yeah Fest and Skyline have already booked the main body of the park, with tickets selling out in an instant, mostly to scalpers, and resold for a higher cost. A practice a little too common in LA. Beyond its unnerving legality, it’s a way of life.

The enthusiasm with which the locals were jogging on its swept gravel roads, lying on its primly cut grass and strolling on its gumless paved slabs served as evidence of the need that this community had for a widespread urban park. The joggers running on the plushy gravel track were not habitual joggers. They were not in shape or ever would be, but were exerting their bodies because it was something that the new park now allowed them to do. Most of them ran in pairs of significant others and others with insignificant ones. All running to the tune of their phones. Some wear their hearts on their sleeve, but in LA most would rather just wear their phone, mainly to keep track of how many steps they’ve taken. Lone walkers stared longingly at their phones, not making eye contact with anybody. I suppose that the “public” in public space is optional. This park is just another place in which to wear haute couture yoga pants and look at your phone.

The park’s fenced décor serves a purpose beyond that of staving off violent gangs and the homeless, it acts as a protection from the city’s hectic operations. It is corralled by train tracks, the LA River and a roaring Spring Street devoid of any traffic lights. In the evening, the sun hides itself behind the hills of Elysian Park–where Dodger Stadium is built–and casts a warm orange light that silhouettes the LA skyline and the small Chinatown pagodas.

People in LA like their public spaces to be vested in history, a little bit of something old. Something incorporated from what was there before. The park prides itself in its embrace of the city’s past lives, proudly displaying artifacts unearthed during construction in various nooks of the landscape. Relics to remind them that they themselves are not replaceable. That once they leave this Earth, some trace of theirs will remain, will be remembered and not simply scrapped and thrown away to make way for something new. So they walk on hand-chiseled cobbles to remember that they never want to be forgotten. This earth is a site for second chances.

Blonde Redhead

She was standing outside the college’s recital hall waiting to be let in. She was late. I too was late, but there just in time to finally be able to talk to her. I had been secretly not so secretly spying on this girl, asking friends and classmates if they knew who she was.

“She has blonde hair. Well, she had blonde hair last week. Now she has dark red hair,” I said.

“What does she look like?” my friend Nick asked.

“She has big blue eyes and a big smile. I think she may be Russian.”

“Nope, I’ve never seen her.”

The search for this mystery girl coincided with a phase I was going through, one that involved the “hunting of tigers.” Nick and I used the word “tiger” to refer to a woman that we wanted to sleep with. It was the systematic process of selecting, staking out, luring and finally gorging on their sweet lips and bodies. Once this mission was accomplished, we would simply text one another:

“The tiger has been tamed.”

This girl presented herself as the perfect catch. She was beautiful, foreign and right in front of me. The prize was there for the taking. I ran my hands through my hair and began to walk towards her. She was tugging at the door handle, flustered at it not budging.

“Did they close the door on you?” I asked. She turned around and laughed.

“Yeah, they did,” she answered.

“I hate it when they do that.” She laughed again. Her dimples were high on her cheeks, closer to her nose than to the corners of her lips. Her laughter had a soft percussive melody to it, like someone tickling your ears with feathers. “Hi, I’m Jose. What’s your name?”

“Galathea,” she said with a big smile. Galathea, Galathea, Galathea. I kept repeating her name in my head as she continued to talk. Everything was falling in its right place. We were two big jigsaw puzzle pieces getting closer and closer to interlocking with every word uttered. Our instant chemistry gave me such a level of confidence that asking for her number didn’t feel like an act of creepy desperation. We were alone, laughing and in close proximity. Conditions were perfect. Limber tongue. Check. Salivary glands producing just enough moisture. Check. Lips opening. Shit.

“What it is?” Nick came out of nowhere calling to me from afar. His boisterous voice was meant more to alarm than to find out what “it” really was. He raised his hand expecting me to high-five him. I looked up at it and reluctantly succumbed to his request.

“Hey, what’s up?” I replied. What I really meant to say was “Get the fuck out of here. You’re ruining what was up to this point a perfectly executed luring excursion.” I turned his high-five into a handshake and squeezed the shit out of it. I wanted to communicate with my grip what I couldn’t with words.

“What’s wrong?” Nick asked extricating his hand from mine and massaging its mangled surface. My furrowed brow and bulged eyes helped Nick deduce that the redhead in our midst and the one I had been nagging him about were one and the same. “Is that the?”

“Shhh…shut the fuck up,” I yelled as loud as one can in a hushed tone. Galathea was unfazed by our bickering, talking to another person who had also been locked out. “Yes, that’s her,” I said through the side of my mouth. His eyes lit up as he backhanded me hard on the chest.

“I just thought of something,” he said. I was surprised at Nick’s level of intuitiveness. Was he going to leave and give me room to ask Galathea out? What a great fucking friend this guy was.

“What’s the game plan?” I asked with excitement.

“We should have a threesome with her.”

“Fuck. No.” I replied. “This girl is different.” And she was. I had been staking her out for over six months and now that I had her, I wasn’t going to share her with anybody.

“Come on,” he insisted. “You know how we’ve always talked about having a threesome. About how we wanted to become milk brothers.” Nick was obsessed with the idea of us sharing a woman. However, I wanted nothing to do with it. “Whatever, man. You suck,” he said with a pout. Nick begrudgingly embraced the role that he was born to play at that exact moment and began to walk away from us. I turned around and began to talk to both Galathea and the other person that she was talking to. I was looking intently at her and she began to smile at me again.

“We should hang out sometime,” I said.

“Yeah, for sure,” she replied.

“Can I have your number?” As she was giving it to me, I realized that maybe she wasn’t Russian after all.

“Don’t worry about typing in my last name. It’s a weird Hungarian one.” She was Hungarian. “I was born in San Diego, but my family comes from Hungary.” Her soft laughter ended every one of her sentences. “We should kick it sometime.” I smiled.

We went into the recital hall and I took a seat across the hall, away from her. Mainly to seem like a bad boy, but more importantly, to not seem needy or annoying. I couldn’t stop staring at her because I couldn’t believe that I was finally able to talk to her. I immediately texted Nick:

“The tiger hasn’t been tamed yet, but I’m afraid that in the luring phase, she has managed to tame me.” Although he replied with a disapproving sad face emoji, I was happy to know that my tiger hunting days were over.

Yellow Tigers Crouched in Jungles

There are three types of pressure points in the human body. The first may cause fatal injuries and must only be used in cases of extreme danger. The second will cause lacerations, fractures or mutilations, but are not deadly. The third type cause a shock to the nervous system, resulting in immediate pain.

           *                        *                       *                        *

As soon as I raised my fist to strike him, I felt an unshakable feeling of regret bathe the back of my neck. The fear and penitence in his eyes inspired in me forgiveness and an urge to dissolve from my hand the bludgeoning instrument my fingers had morphed into. My left hand was grasping his shirt collar, feeling the warmth of his panicked breath, beating moist on it. Beating hard like the heart lodged in my throat. His pleas of “don’t hit me” and “I’m sorry” were slowly chipping away at my rage, but the savage pleas of the crowd forming around us were louder and more coercive. My right fist was patiently waiting for me to make up my mind as to whether I was going through with the whole thing. I blinked and pried my fist from my conscience’s tight grip. It tore through the space between the white of my knuckles and the tears welling up in the white of his beautiful forest green eyes.

           *                        *                       *                        *

When you’re in a fight, you can’t allow your anger to influence how hard you should clench your fists. If you’re also clenching your jaw, then you’re doing it too hard. Your punching hand, the only one that you entrust to spoon food into your mouth and wipe your ass with, should feel loose. Weightless. A feather falling slowly as if defying time and gravity. Once this state of relaxation is achieved, you must deliver a quick, deliberate stroke meant to immobilize your opponent. The last place you want to strike somebody is on the head as this will cause more damage to you than to your opponent. You want to hit your opponent behind the ear, jaw or chin. Those are the sweet spots. When you punch in the mouth, you just want to knock their fucking teeth in. If your opponent is accustomed to fighting or full of adrenaline, that shock may not be enough to knock him out or subdue him and the amount of effort required to win will be multiplied exponentially.

           *                        *                       *                        *

My hand felt numb as it descended. It felt like an alien tentacle outgrowth with a mind of its own. I couldn’t stop it. The situation was beyond me. When you raise your fist like that in a playground full of hormonally charged, emotionally unavailable middle schoolers, you’re better off punching yourself in the face than simply lowering your fist like a civilized person. You would be the laughing stock of the entire school. Generations of students would remember you as the coward who let another kid push him down during a basketball game in the playground. I could imagine their jeers and their pointing to this very basketball court we were standing on. A few seconds before my fist pummeled his face, he closed his eyes and turned his head to the right as his last recourse. The impact of his ear’s cartilage colliding against my knuckles’ tendons shot painful shock waves up and down my arm. I didn’t derive from it the orgasmic catharsis that my guts were craving for.

           *                        *                       *                        *

Fighting is like fucking in that not everybody is good at it, and if you are, you want to do it all the time. Its complexity is determined by the person with whom you are engaging in the activity and someone always gets hurt in the end. You need to seduce your opponent into this carnal act, this dance of death. Although drawing blood from your opponent feels good and is a dependable indicator of the pain inflicted, it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t scar or bruise them. The blood vessels that rupture under the skin serve as a reminder, to you both, of your victory. It’s a branding. A trophy.

           *                        *                       *                        *

I released his shirt collar to nurse my throbbing hand and he scurried away, rubbing his swollen neon-red ear. As I thrashed my hand to shake off the pain, the kids in the playground patted me on the back in a congratulatory fashion. Now my whole body felt numb. I could see the boy I had hurt running away to sob in solitude. I wanted to go after him to apologize, but what I had done to him had turned us into enemies. Besides, had I done that, the rest of the crowd would’ve followed me thirsting for more blood.

           *                        *                       *                        *

There is no such thing as a perfect punch as in most instances there is never enough time to prepare for it. Fighting is improvised. You should fight because you need to, not because you want to. Moreover, you must induce a level of fear into the mind of your opponent through the demeanor in your eyes and position of your body. You must conceal your own fear, you most powerful weapon, even more so than your clenched fists. For if there is no fear of succumbing to injury, then it is a sign that your opponent’s combative prowess is inferior to yours. If this is so, disengage immediately. It is better to appear weak than to prey on the weak.

           *                        *                       *                        *

The day after the fight, I bumped into my opponent in the hallway. He didn’t make eye contact but his avoidance of it told me that he too felt remorse about what had taken place in the playground. The jittery feeling that had coursed through me the day before as I brushed the embedded asphalt off my scraped knees, the one that had spurt me on to fight was now spurting me to make peace with him. I never wanted to punch him, but my actions spoke louder than my intentions. I flanked to the left before he could pass me and stood in front of him. With eyes bulged, he looked up sheepishly. I could see a reflection in the darkness of his dilated pupils and in it was reflected the darkness in me. It didn’t matter what I said to him. The damage had been done. I simply stepped aside and he ran away. I had won the fight but lost something I could never win back.

Photo Credit

Leach, L. (1963). Husband tells of stabbing [Photograph]. Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles.

The People v. The City of LA

There on the windshield, it was lying like a curvaceous woman beckoning me to release her from the lace lingerie concealing her body. Perfectly nestled between the dewy glass and windshield wiper. It was a parking ticket. I felt a sudden contusion in the pit of my stomach, worse than the time my mom caught me masturbating to a rerun of “Little House on the Prairie.” The middle finger in the shape of a yellow carbon-copied strip of paper, read:

“Parking Violation: Street Cleaning on Wednesday, No Parking. Fee: $96. Please pay in full within 21 calendar days from the date issued.”

Fuck.

The officer’s name was Craig. What a name? An officer by any other name would’ve been just as annoying. The ticket’s timestamp showed that he had been there only moments before me. Like a ticket fairy, he had bestowed upon me the gift of early morning high blood pressure. My whole day was now ruined. The ticket would be the only thing on my mind, looming over me like a dark omen.

This wasn’t the first time I had wrangled with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. While in college, I parked at a 4-Hour spot and after driving off of it, I wasn’t able to find another but the very one I had just vacated. In a mad scramble to get to class on time, I parked in the same space. Three hours and fifty-six minutes later, there it was. I came, I saw, I convulsed. $75. I requested, in writing, that the ticket be pardoned given the situation. They callously refused to do so. This time around, I knew that I needed substantial evidence in order to annul the ticket and not have to lose time from work to appear in court and futilely testify on my own behalf.

After I composed myself, I began to dissect the ticket to a near molecular level and noticed some glaring inconsistencies. First of all, my car wasn’t parked at the address that Officer Craig had written on the ticket. I was parked across the street from it. Then, I noticed that Officer Craig had cleverly written “A/F”–meaning “Across From”–in front of the bogus address. Touché. Craig 1, me 0.

The second discrepancy that I saw was in the sign I was parked next to. It read:

“No Parking: 4:30am – 6:30am; Thursday, Street Cleaning.”

However, every single sign in front and behind it read:

“No Parking: 4:30am – 6:30am; Wednesday, Street Cleaning.”

It read that way for blocks upon blocks. Was I crazy? Was the city of LA playing a prank on me? You need a tort law degree, an affinity for Seussian limericks, the wit of Aristotle and the patience required to read a Tolkien novel in order to decipher the mind-fucking circular logic that is LA street parking signage. These complicated ten foot totem pole puzzles would confound even the cleverest inhabitants of Carroll’s Wonderland.

I don’t mind getting ticketed for something that I’ve done. I pride myself in being a law-abiding citizen. However, I don’t appreciate getting one on behalf of the city’s blunder. I really shouldn’t have parked there knowing that this was the only sign that read “Thursday.” Did I think that this was a tear in the space and time continuum? The four leaf clover of parking? I took extensive photographic evidence of the sign. I wasn’t going to lose to a lazy parking officer doing the bidding of a negligent city. En garde. Craig 1, me 1.

The third and final misstep was the color Officer Craig wrote down for my car. He wrote gray. My car is light blue. My protracted apathy to take my car for a wash and the early morning’s dim lighting had strangely conspired in my favor. This was my final lunge. Victory was mine. Craig 1, me 2.

I wrote an impassioned letter to the Department of Transportation’s subdivision, the Parking Violations Bureau. It was a combination of a plea and a declaration. Oliver Twist meets Patrick Henry. “Please, sir, I want some more” and “Give me liberty, or give me death.” I was so sure of my overwhelming victory that I thought of paying a hooded horseman to ride through the night, at full gallop, and hand deliver my letter to the General Manager of the Department of Transportation. And just to make sure that she got it, I also wanted to send the message by pigeon and in a bottle dropped at sea.

Two excruciating months went by and I still hadn’t received word from the Bureau. Tired of waiting, I called their main office. The woman who answered spoke in a cold and sterile monotone. The only aspect that made it human was a slight hint of exasperation due to overwork. She asked me for my citation number and then she went mute. All I could hear was a jumble of keyboard clicking.

“Sir, you don’t owe anything. That citation has been closed,” she said.

A few weeks later, I received a letter in the mail confirming my victory. It read:

“Thank you for your inquiry concerning the citation(s) listed below. We have received your claim and found it to be valid. Therefore, your citation(s) is/are being permanently dismissed. No further action on your part is required.”

I framed it. It was probably one of my proudest moments. I hate to admit that I get a little teary-eyed every time I look at it. It restored my faith in my city.

Los Angeles, thank you for owning up to your mistake and being the bigger person.

Surrender Yourself

In the realm of music, it is a common practice to focus on one instrument and a limited number of styles in order to become highly skilled at them and attain full mastery. This is not the case with musician and artist Eddika Organista. She likes to explore different styles of music and their unique instruments. Her curiosity for the unknown is applied to her songwriting process. While most run away from the disparity to something more pristine, she embraces it and makes it part of her creations. In her song “Yagate” (Japanese for “In Time/Soon”), Eddika explores the notion of leaving behind a way of life and embracing a new one. The song was inspired by a sci-fi graphic novel that Eddika is working on. It deals with the dark state of an alternate futuristic universe meant to mirror our own. The song forewarns “Your world is no more” and advises to “Embrace the new one.” The advice is given by Eddika in a smooth rhythmic melody serves as a reflection of the types of changes occurring in Northeast Los Angeles.

I met Eddika at Tierra de la Culebra, a pocket park nestled deep in the historic neighborhood of Highland Park. At first sight, the park looks like an abandoned plot of land, but upon further inspection, it reveals its whimsical beauty. Mounds of concrete protrude from the dirt and are intricately decorated with multi-colored tiles, resembling a snake’s thick coils. The community has recently welcomed a high number of new residents who in turn have attracted newer and sleeker businesses. However, this park remains as a vestige of the former inelegance of the community. It is a community park because it is tended and taken care of by regular people, not the city. The park’s vast arboreal greenery along with the sea-foam painted benches brought out the caramelized turquoise in Eddika’s eyes. The curls that draped on the side of her face reminded me of those found in old photographs of French cabaret singer Édith Piaf.

“I didn’t want to sing along to the radio,” Organista said “I wanted to sing along with the guitar.” Growing up with a musician for a father, Eddika was always surrounded by a variety of instruments, such as the guitar, electric and acoustic basses and pianos. She picked up the guitar and began to learn how to play on it the songs that she most liked. Her father’s taste in music had introduced her to the exotic sounds and rhythms of Brazilian music. However, the music of Brazil wasn’t the only aspect of this country that had appealed to Eddika. The words that accompanied the songs always lingered on her mind. “I wanted to imitate the sounds of Brazilian music because I liked the way they sounded,” Organista said. It sparked her 10-year-old curiosity and felt like she understood a little bit of Portuguese. She decided to complete a minor in it along with her Ethnomusicology degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). It was almost like predestination. Fate. Things had come full circle. The music of Brazil that exposed her to the exquisite sounds of Portuguese eventually led her to study the music and language formally.

As a child, Eddika did a lot of moving from her place of birth in Boyle Heights to various parts of Mexico to Las Vegas to her eventual home in Highland Park. Now that her home is static, it is the city beneath her that is moving. Changing. It is like musical chairs, where those who can pay the increasing rents can sit and those who can’t have to move. Many of the businesses in Highland Park have undergone refurbishment along with their names, which were once in Spanish. Now they have trendy cheeky names in English and sell products that the remaining original residents can’t afford or don’t want to buy. They don’t appeal to them.

While studying at Pasadena City College (PCC), Eddika was teaching percussion to children through LAUSD’s LA’s Best program. “I feel like percussion is more accessible to me,” she said, “you can just grab a stick and create a beat.” Through the LA’s Best program, Eddika was able to bring the joy of drumming to the impoverished schools of Northeast LA. She was also fascinated by the physicality required to play the instrument. “It makes you dance as you play it,” Organista said, “that’s why I like it, because I like to dance.” Percussion has always played a big role in Eddika’s life. From a young age, she always wanted to learn how to play the drums. “If I had the chance to relearn music, I would have started with the drums,” Organista said. In addition to drum instruments, Eddika also plays other percussion instruments such as the shekere (a beaded gourd) and the maracón (a cylindrical instrument filled with seeds). The maracón, in particular, is a very difficult instrument to get the hang of as you have to time perfectly the trajectory of the seeds. “Your movements have to be very direct and sharp,” Organista added as she mimed the movements required to play the instrument with her shoulders.

As were once the inhabitants of Highland Park, the residents of the neighboring community of Boyle Heights have been very vocal and direct about their feelings on the topic of gentrification. Many of them have resorted to public demonstrations and vandalism. Anarchy of the people and by the people. Unlike Highland Park, who has consigned itself to its impending fate, Boyle Heights has yet to surrender itself to the burgeoning gait of progress. They are still trying to find ways of keeping the trendy coffee shops and designer thrift stores from infiltrating their humble community. They’re up to the challenge.

When it comes to songwriting, Eddika likes to start the process in different ways. “I want to challenge myself to try other things when things get too comfortable,” Organista said. She follows a similar philosophy to that of her friend Dominique Rodriguez (Percussionist) who likes to change the setup of his drum kit. “He created a customized drum set made up of bongos, congas, a tambourine, bass drum and a cowbell around his neck,” she said. Eddika doesn’t have a prescribed way of writing music—sometimes using percussion instruments to write a melody—”The congas fall into a different pocket and keep the groove very intense” she said.

Having been a long time resident of Highland Park, Eddika has experienced the dramatic change that the community has gone through; from working class to have-no-class. “As a child, my family and I used to visit some family that lived here and it was a very different place,” she recalls, “Highland Park was considered dangerous.” The danger levels have subsided a bit ever since the neighborhood began to undergo gentrification. The ruckus of gun shots and illegal fireworks has been replaced by that of the Gold Line train blaring its horn and drunken hipsters heading home to their overpriced apartments in the middle of the night.

Eddika’s lyrics are almost prophetic in that they perfectly describe what most of the displaced people of Highland Park feel: “The world that was mine disappeared.” She refuses to be a patron of any of the new businesses because they are bringing too much change in too short of time. The song continues: “It no longer is. It exists no more.”

As we departed from Culebra Park, Eddika pointed out to me an old woman peddling a cart. I couldn’t see her face and in the two years that I have lived there, I had never come across her. “She goes around Highland Park picking up trash,” Organista said. “I see her every day.” Even as the world around her keeps changing, this woman is steadfast in her work, in her purpose. With all the changes and influences that have led Eddika to this point, she is trying to find a way of dealing with the change, just like the old lady and all of the survivors of gentrification. Eddika continues to allow a wide spectrum of influences to guide the flow of creativity, in her life and in her music. She doesn’t question where it is taking her. She simply allows this creative effervescence to take over her and meld with her until all of these disparate streams of influence merge into one. Until they surrender to her.

To listen to Eddika’s music and find out about upcoming shows, please visit her groups website: www.elharukuroi.com

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017, April 6). La Percussionista [Photograph]. Silhouettes, StripSearchLA, Los Angeles.