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.

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.

Heaven Send Hell Away

A couple of weeks after Chris Cornell died, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of him covering Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U“. His performance was angelic, prophetic, haunting. I had heard it sung before by Sinéad O’Connor and by The Artist himself, but the emotions transmitted by Cornell’s raspy raunchy baritone voice, were visceral and raw. They denuded him, stripped away his rock star pretension, leaving behind his voice and guitar. He may have been a pop icon, he may have been a sex symbol, he may have been dead for under a month, but it wasn’t until I heard him sing “It’s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song, nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling,” that the weight of his absence truly made my heart and tear ducts heavy with blood and tears.

I don’t react to these kinds of things immediately. It took me months to process my grandparents’ passing. The only two people I have lost. I’m slow at feeling the feelings I’m supposed to feel. It’s not emotional numbness; it’s more like emotional dumbness. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel. I just sit there, through experiences, taking in the life-altering stimulus, not knowing what to do with it.

I first heard of the news via a Twitter hashtag (#ChrisCornell). As soon as I saw it, I feared the worst. My life started to flash before my eyes. At least the parts in which the music of Cornell played in the background. I thought of childhood summers in Tijuana, Mexico, running around in my grandmother’s asymmetrical lopsided house. My uncles, then angsty teenagers, blasted grunge music through loud speakers, whose sound made every window in the house shake to a point just below shattering.

I remembered the countless times I spent hanging out at my cousin Melly’s house, watching music videos on MTV. Melly and I were very close; she was like an older sister. I don’t know if it was because she debriefed me before I began my first year of middle school or because we used to make out with each other when we were younger. In any case, the week before school started, her kissing mentorship reached its point of culmination.

“If a girl asks you if you want to scam, you always say ‘Yes’,” she advised.

“What if I don’t like her?” I asked.

“You still want to do it. If you don’t, then people will think you’re gay.” That made sense. In the same way that I saw her as an older sibling, she saw me as her little brother, and at times, her little sister.

“Why are you putting make up on me?” I asked her as she applied eyeliner à la Brandon Lee circa “The Crow.”

“‘Cause it makes guys look really hot,” she answered emphatically. Her enthusiasm and intrepid application were good enough reasons for me. “Besides, Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain both do it too.” I smiled with the unabashed smile of a blind man. I was obsessed with Cornell’s band, Soundgarden and their latest single at the time, “Black Hole Sun.” Both the song and the music video haunted me like nothing before. It felt emotionally heavy, yet it was as easy to listen to as a lullaby. It sounded familiar, like a Beatles or Led Zeppelin song and at the same time like nothing else I had ever heard.

I had a pretty refined ear when it came to rock music, having been raised by my mom’s brothers on a diet that consisted of classic rock. Soundgarden and Cornell’s voice fit in seamlessly into my frame of reference like my ass did into my cousin’s Levi’s 501 jeans.

Mourning Chris Cornell’s death was, in part, the mourning of a death that had taken place long before his. That of my relationship with Melly. Of a time when I used to look up to people, like Cornell, and not down at their most deplorable flaws. His death reminded me of Melly, how she was always there for me and how she didn’t care about my fucked up family situation. Partly because she was so cool and partly because hers was as fucked up as mine. Our mothers were sisters, after all.

I felt disappointed in myself because I let both of my friends slip away. I abandoned them. I never went to see Chris Cornell perform live when he toured LA. I didn’t even try. I took him for granted. It’s been a while since I’ve reached out to my cousin and her daughters, the oldest now the same age we were in the nineties, back when we were wearing eyeliner and trying to be cool. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

In my mind’s ear, nothing will ever compare to Chris Cornell’s powerful soulful singing, one that hooked me from the first listen. A voice that had been an invisible playmate in our sororal gatherings. The sun will wash away the rain, but never the raindrops falling from my eye. The tears for a man that took the sunshine with him and left behind a black hole.

Heart in a Brown Paper Bag

Someone once told me that Portland is a combination of San Francisco and Seattle. Having been to San Francisco twice before and spent a few days in Portland, my excitement to experience Seattle came as no surprise. It was like meeting someone’s mom and younger sister and imagining how that person would look like based on how attractive those two people were. On the long four-hour train ride there, I started to get a jittery feeling in my stomach the closer we got to the downtown station. I could hardly wait to get there and see it.

Visiting other cities—in the US or elsewhere—brings up the question of “Could I live here if the opportunity presented itself?” I’ve discovered that a city, while you’re vacationing there, behaves similar to a person on a really good first date. Seattle, Washington was no different. Everything you say is funny, every quirk is adorable and nothing about them can be considered negative. Even their curt assholeness is seen as assertive, as charming. Seeing another city? That’s totally fine with Seattle, because it will do things that the city you’ve got at home will not. Seattle will be a slut for you. You know your home city too well. There are no surprises, no fireworks.

Seattle didn’t care to know why I was considering leaving LA, and I really wasn’t concerned with its past either, or its crime and homelessness. The grime on and under its streets or the time I’ll have to waste on its trafficked highways and crowded public transit. Seattle and I wanted to start something fresh.

I booked a small room for four days in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Each day was an opportunity to get to know this place a little better, like going on back-to-back dates. I wanted to spend all day and night getting to know Seattle’s streets and shops and explore its seductive and supple body of water. To take in its beautiful Sound. There was this intense creative energy in the air. One that made me feel at home.

Like most annoying qualities in a person, most are not apparent at first, even though they have always been there, in plain sight. Maybe we choose to ignore them, or the person we like does a great job at suppressing them. In any case, when these qualities do reveal their ugly heads, they do so with an unperceptive slowness. The things that were once cute about them soon become unbearable. Initially, I really enjoyed having mini conversations with coffee-shop employees. They were courteous and took the time to shoot the shit. But after a few days, it started to become a chore, an obligation. Sometimes, I just wanted to order coffee, pay for it and leave. That’s it. Their shit-shooting also started to distract me. Their deconstruction of how faithful the adaptation of Captain America from its comic-book source material to the cinema screen was piercing through my every thought.

“You just have a bunch of ripped dudes running around,” a bearded beanie-wearing barista ranted, “fighting each other and they pay no attention to what the characters really stand for.” The other barista and customers at the counter agreed, anxiously awaiting their turn to get on a soapbox of their own.

This sense of urgency coursing through me is probably something that rubbed off on me from LA. It’s a quality that Seattleites don’t really appreciate and one that I myself hate in other people. It seemed strange to think that in just a matter of days I could already fantasize about living here. I’m only human. Besides, LA and I haven’t made anything official. I haven’t bought a home there yet. She’s making it really difficult to do so. I can barely stay in my apartment, with a few measly things to call my own. In Seattle, I felt as if I could live a better life.

It was love at first sight and as such, it was over in the blink of an eye. As I folded the shirtsleeves on which my heart was worn, I could see myself loving my life and work in Seattle. The new habits I would form there, the new paths I would walk and the stuff I would get used to. LA still has my home, my heart. I couldn’t just leave her. There’s too much baggage. I missed her. Her smoggy breath, urinous perfume, sultry weather and asphalt forests. I will miss Seattle like one misses a past lover, continuing to fantasize about it while still inside of LA. However, even after I visit other cities in distant lands and relocate there permanently, I will always go to California with an aching in my heart.

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Tazza di Caffè [Painting]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.

Come and Get It

Portland is a very clean city. The streets have lesser amounts of grime and trash than do its counterparts in LA. Splotches of forest green painted the sidewalks like a Jackson Pollock painting, if ever the artist used Canadian geese droppings in his work. They were furnished with four-headed fountains meant for citizens to wash their hands and freshen up. To help promote municipal cleanliness. This notion was further supported by signs on the side of trash cans that read “Pitch in! Help Keep Portland Clean.”

Outside of Union Station I witnessed the true manifestation and epitome of what cleanliness means. The vision came to me in the form of a man who was washing his butt at one of those four-headed fountains. It wasn’t a superficial cheek treatment. It was a deep scrub. With the same vigor that Moses parted the Red Sea, this man parted his red butt cheeks and scoured furiously as passersby scowled frantically. I felt like he was being quite anal about the whole thing. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he scrubbed, it still wasn’t clean enough for him. The police officer overlooking the whole thing was busy texting and chatting with a concerned passerby.

“I just let them tire themselves out,” he laughed. The passerby turned away. But I just had to look.

I soon made my way to Downtown Portland and was greeted by a light gentle drizzle. The silence, the clouds and the gloom excited me. The amount of moisture in the air is what brings about the greenery that the city is famous for. It’s more than a nice backdrop made up of innumerable Douglas firs. It is a benevolent virus that takes over concrete in the form of moss and building facades in the form of ivy. Portland’s green was a presence. It was alive.

As I continued to walk in the heart of downtown, I felt like someone was following me. I turned around and caught a glimpse of a disheveled young man. We made eye contact. After I refused to give him a cigarette, his face began to contort in ways that made mine do so as well out of concern. He began to walk towards me. The way that he was shaking his wrist and closing his fingers told me that he either wanted me to jerk him off or that he thought I was a jerk off. His tongue was prodding hard against his cheek as he let out a droning moan. My lack of empathy towards his situation gave me a small taste of the underlying “fuck you” attitude the city was vested in. A simple request gave way to the unravelling of this man’s darkest demons. Complexity evolves from simplicity.

I needed to pull cash out of an ATM to catch a bus to my place of lodging, so I went into the nearest convenience store, the Plaid Pantry. A soft spoken old lady in front of me asked the clerk for a pack of cigarettes and the clerk turned around and placed two packs on the glass counter.

“No, I said two packs of Camel Regular 99s,” the old lady said sternly. “These are Light.” The clerk took the packs off the counter and let out an audible sigh. She turned around and placed the correct packs.

“Ok, that’s gonna be $10,” the clerk said. The old lady started to rummage through her purse looking for her wallet.

“Do you guys still buy back bottles and cans?”

“Yeah, we do. Every day except Tuesday.” The lady’s rummaging began to get louder.

“Well, this morning my two grandkids came in with some bags full of bottles a…”

“Alright, let me stop you right there,” the clerk butted in. “I turned them away because they were sneaking around in the back.” The old lady finally found her wallet and slammed it on the counter. “I don’t have to buy bottles from people I don’t trust.”

“If you didn’t want to buy them, then why didn’t you return the bottles?” The old lady pulled money out and shoved it into the clerk’s hand. The clerk took the money and threw the change at the old lady.

“Thank you and get the fuck out. You’re a piece of shit like your two grandkids.” She flicked a business card towards the old lady with the website where she could air her grievance. “Go ahead and complain about me. I don’t give a fuck. I’m the manager.”

“I will complain,” the old lady yelled as she exited the store.

“Whatever, go fuck yourself.” The store and everyone in it was momentarily hushed in awe. Other shoppers started to congratulate the clerk for standing her ground. She smiled at me letting me know it was now my turn.

“Hi, how may I help you?” she asked. Her tone had gone from barbaric to bubbly. This woman was either really good at hiding her emotions or had multiple personality disorder. Either way, now it was my turn to pretend that what had just happened hadn’t shocked me in the slightest way.

Portlanders truly embrace who they are. Embracing their inner weird. They strive to do so even if it comes as rude or indifferent. Together, they strive to “KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD.”