What We Have Left Undone

     Blue Line broke down.

     Again.

     The turd that transports you from 7th Street and Wilshire in Downtown LA to the city of Long Beach had a power outage from the Washington station to its last stop on 7th. For five miserable stops I sat in a crowded bus full of miserable people. Their misery most likely accompanied them prior to drudging it into the bus. An older passenger in particular was filled with the Spirit and, in the fashion of a Prophet of Old, began to raise his voice, and testify that which was in his heart.

     “Fuck you, muthafucka,” he said as a Caucasian cyclist walked past him. The cyclist spread his sweaty, spandex-bound ass cheeks on the seat and didn’t return the gesture or share a single glance with his offender. “You white people think that you can treat us like we beneath you. Well, fuck you.” The old man seemed to be staring at nothing in particular. His slightly closed eyes and the light seafoam green in them gave me the impression that he may have been blind. I wondered if his corneal opacity made everyone that crossed his path look a little white.

     Rhetoric of this nature usually doesn’t come from someone dressed in a sport coat, organic cotton t-shirt and stone-washed jeans. The absence of urine and feces smells emanating from him further supported my theory that he wasn’t homeless. Having been raised in a family where all the men were Evangelical Baptist preachers, I’ve learned that even a good sermon can fall on deaf ears. Especially when the listener doesn’t give a damn about the speaker or subject. When you address the many, you’re really talking to no one.

     An abrupt silence swept the interior of the bus. Some of its passengers perked their ears and peeked their eyes at the big man with the big mouth sitting at the front of the bus. They seemed more interested in seeing what crazy thing might erupt as a result of the old man’s violent speech than with the message itself.

     “My people built this muthafucka,” he continued to yell. “There’s gonna be a day when white people are gonna stop fuckin’ with black people. You best believe that.” The whole thing seemed improvised, relying heavily on verbal fillers such a “fuck” and a soft-pitched “huh.” Every couple of seconds, the tense silence was broken by a muttered “fuckin’ ass.” The way his jaw quivered— after delivering a silence-shattering profanity— came from the adrenaline coursing through his body and not from fear. He had chucked that feeling out the window a few stops back.

     The other passengers reacting to the unraveling of this man began to whisper and giggle amongst themselves. Others were snickering and pointing at him. This heckling reaction did little to defuse the man’s incendiary character.

     “I see you muthafuckas laughin’ and rollin’ your goddamn eyes at me. Well, fuck ya’ll,” he said. “My black ass paid my dues. I served my muthafuckin’ country in Nam, so I can say whatever the fuck I want.”

     “OK man. Just calm down. That’s not the way,” another man in the back of the bus said. His attempt to pacify and meet the old man halfway was no match for the anger seething inside of the latter.

     “Fuck that. You think if a black boy did what that white did, it’d be the same?” The old man was answering questions that not a single person in that bus had asked or had any curiosity in knowing the answer to.

     “It’s not the way,” the same voice replied a little quieter, with a hint of despondency.

     “Fuck that. That black boy be in jail by now. Hell, that boy be dead by now. They’d lynch his black ass.”

     The passion with which the man was speaking brought him to his feet. He had to immediately pull his pants up to prevent the rest of us from seeing the upper part of his ass. His midriff was one amassed as a result of coming home, sitting comfortably on a couch and snacking on your favorite treats while watching your favorite show. It was a privileged gut. The wobbliness in his legs— due either to his age or the bus’s shitty suspension— made him seek the aid of two hooped-straps dangling from the overhead support bars. The bickering amidst the riders got louder and rowdier. They’d had it with him, and random spurts of “sit down already” and “quiet down” began to shower his unstable body.

     “I won’t sit down or shut up,” the old man said in a mocking tone, gesticulating loudly. “My people built this muthafuckin’ country and all of them buildings you muthafuckas work and live in.”

     “Shut the fuck up,” a young man yelled out. His voice was loud enough to be heard, but with the faintness of one who doesn’t want to call attention to his specific location. The old man turned his head towards the back of the bus and squinted his eyes, trying to use some sort of x-ray vision or echolocation. He realized it would take more than furrowing his brow and wrinkling his nose to sniff out the coward who dared to challenge him.

     “What you say, nigga?” the old man replied, expecting his nemesis to take the bait and come clean.

     “I said ‘shut the fuck up’.” A short teenager emerged from the back of the bus. The over-sized LA Dodgers jersey and cap that he was sporting made him look even skinnier. It didn’t seem to bother him that the old man was twice his size and could easily place him in a head lock and lift him over his head. This would make a really cool story to tell his other baggily-clad friends at a later time. Of how he beat the crap out of a tall black fool. He would probably omit the fact that the man was old enough to be his grandfather. The young man stuck his chin up, wearing the faint wisps of hair covering his upper lip and chin proudly.

     This quickfire exchange propelled the old man to take a few steps forward— out of his comfort zone and out of his coat. As he flung it over to an empty seat, his phone came flying out making a loud thud on the floor.

     “Why don’t you come down here and say that again?” the old man said.

     “Shut the fuck up, old man,” the young man insisted, grabbing onto a stainless-steel pole with one hand and readjusting his balls with the other. He did it to reassert his stripling masculinity and let the onlookers know that he indeed had two testicles and a penis bouncing around in his sagging jeans.

     “I may be 65 years old, but I can still bust your muthafuckin’ mouth,” the old man said. “Bring your ass down here.”

     People started calling out to the driver to stop the bus. What was once a harmless old coot spouting off about black pride and white violence soon became the very type of act that the old man was trying to bring light to. Possibly even attempt to end. The bus driver slammed on the brakes. Most of the passengers started yelling at the brash youth to back down and take his seat. However, the young man was on deck with miniature baseball bats in each hand, ready to bang them on the old man’s bald head. He was now in full Dodger regalia. The youth began to descend the small steps in the back of the bus. When the old man saw this, he braced himself and pulled out a giant half-drunk plastic water bottle. He gripped it with both hands, ready to mildly bludgeon the youth with the power of 8.0 Alkaline pH.

     “You a fuckin’ coward,” the old man yelled. “Put them muthafuckas away and then we can do this.” His voice cracked. The bottle crinkled and popped as his gripped readjusted. His fear was audible. Maybe he had gone too far. You could tell that all he wanted was to vent his anger in a public forum. He felt wounded by the acts of violence that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia a day before. He was a preacher preaching to sinners who didn’t want to repent, who didn’t want to open their eyes and acknowledge his fears. His pain.

     The young man banged the two bats against each other like a percussion instrument, meant to taunt and intimidate. The old man was looking at the youth approaching him, while at the same time, at all of the people staring at him. Part of him was hoping that the people he was insulting a few moments ago would step up and protect him from this disrespectful teenager. He was 65-muthafuckin’-years-old after all, and when you get to be that age there’s an unspoken leniency. An “old boys will be old boys” mixed with a “he’ll tire himself out” mentality you have to accept when interacting with some elderly people. All at once, the old man was tired of being ignored and scared of being taken too seriously.

     As the young man approached the bus’s rear exit, he asked the driver to let him out.

     “Man, you’re lucky I don’t want to do this right now,” the young man said as he jumped out onto the curb.

     “You a bitch,” the old man taunted with a sense of relief. “You can’t even take on my old black ass.” His emasculated voice regained its full arrogant potency as he saw that his well-being was no longer in question. The old man looked out the window to see the young man walking parallel to the curbed bus, playing his miniature weapons like a clave instrument to the tune of this old man’s derision.

     “Yeah, keep walking, young’n,” the old man yelled out the window as the bus driver resumed his route. He wiped the condensation bubbling up on his temples and forehead. The look in his eyes was that of a blind man who could now see. His close brush with violence opened his eyes and closed his mouth. He looked tired. The dark luster of his skin was a few shades lighter. Cries of “just get off” and “you didn’t serve in Vietnam, you fucking liar” began to fill the bus. The adrenaline that had vacated his body seemed to have aged him a few years. It was hard for him to breathe and get up from his seat. The old man asked the driver— in a calm, respectful manner— to let him off.

     The bus driver stopped, and the man was pushed out by a sea of applause and cheers. The cheering quickly turned to laughter when the old man chased after the departing bus and reentered it looking for his phone. He looked under the seats, and there it was, in his hand all along. He stepped out again and began lecturing a man napping on a bus bench with his head hanging off to the side. Then he approached a group of homeless men sitting in the shade, preaching to them from the Gospel of Sticking It to the Man. He pointed vigorously at them, trying to stoke in them the fire of dissent. The men just stared at him with blank faces, zapped from too much sun.

     The bus breathed a collective sigh of relief. The madness was over. Now they could all go back to worrying about their own personal misery and not be overwhelmed with other people’s crap. That was how these people viewed the old man and how most people view the misfortunes that befall others. Homeless people? Other people’s crap. Racial violence? Other people’s crap. Because it’s not happening to me, it doesn’t matter to me.

     As I exited the bus, I motioned a young man— whose seat was closer to the exit than mine— to go on ahead of me. He did the same. I took a step towards the door and so did he. I gave him a look of contrition and he did the same. We both smiled and said “sorry” in unison. We laughed. He finally went on ahead of me. The smile I gave him stayed on my lips for a few seconds, but the one he gave me stayed on my mind for the rest of the day. We both witnessed the acts of violence that unfolded on the bus. We both knew of the terrorist attacks that took place in Charlottesville. He was black. I Hispanic. But in spite of all that, we both understood that we were both riding on the same bus and needed to get off on the same stop. We decided to be cordial to one another and not allow the violence that enraptured our day to affect that.

     That is what made me smile. The fact that we had the ability to decide.

 

Photo Credit

New bus fares [Photograph found in Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Evening Herald Express, Los Angeles]. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2017, from http://photos.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/photosearch_pageADV.jsp (Originally photographed 1952)

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.

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.”

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.

Just Breathe

Every last molecule of air present in your body must be purged, a degree below asphyxiation, before giving your lungs a sense of cathartic release by letting new air into them.

When you let air in, you’re doing so to produce sound, not to live. You let the air rush back into your lungs, flooding them like a broken dam a town of unsuspecting people. You’re starved for the invisible life-giving stuff, so you let in a bit more, disregarding the risk of over-oxygenation. Light-headedness sets in and the adrenaline makes your extremities numb. You don’t need them. They don’t exist. It’s just you and the breath. You are one with the breath. You are the breath. Breathe.

Something so automatic and unconscious becomes an obsession. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.  Hyperawareness forces you to feel every excruciating detail in your breathing.

Singing is violence against your body. Like a martial art, it requires you to possess full control of your body, mind and emotions, fully aware of your surroundings while maintaining a relaxed and meditative state, focusing solely on interpreting the poetry in the melody and in the words.

You have to reengineer your body and repurpose its contents to produce a beautiful sound. Your body becomes an instrument. Not just the parts that form your vocal apparatus–the tongue, lips, throat, nose and voice box–but your whole being. It is a collaboration of your lungs, stomach and diaphragm’s manipulation of breath, passing through your vibrating vocal cords and resonating in every cavity, hard and soft tissue in your body. The song reverberates in your blood–raising the hairs on the back of your neck and the veins on its sides–as the sound is expelled from your mouth with the force and authority that a demon is cast out of the body of a faithful by the violent commands of a weary yet stubborn preacher.

A scurry of notes begin to dart out of the piano, filling your ears and the hall with a resonant ruckus as if the pianist’s hands were each a five-headed hydra. Your mind begins to play tricks on you: will the sound that comes out of my mouth this time be as good as the last time? Will any sound come out? If nothing comes out, will I be able to move and leave the stage or stay frozen in front of all those people? Like a fireman about to rush into a burning building, will my years of training and practice guide me to perform to the best of my ability?

Your stomach is hungry, but not for food. It alternates between states of tension and relaxation, uneasy as if a pack of stray cats inhabited it. Your neck has to be relaxed, your jawbone loose but not gaping wide open and your knees must remain unlocked, as doing otherwise may cause you to faint. Forget fear, fear forgetfulness itself.

When you let the first sound out of your mouth, it feels like it’s the first you’ve ever made. Your tongue begins to thrash erratically, like a person suffering from a bout of epilepsy. The air in your lungs begins to garner power and speed. The sound of your voice must pierce through the room like a Roman soldier impaling a Carthaginian foe with his sword on the battlefield.

The act of singing is like making love; you have to keep the energy going until it’s over, until it’s done. Even though you may be accompanied by a partner, you’re embarking on a journey that is uniquely experienced by you alone. It is emotionally driven and you can’t help but get lost in the beauty of it. It is to be completely engrossed in a moment that will never happen again, at least, not in the same way. It is exhilarating and terrifying, satisfying and depleting. You begin to miss it even before it is finished, even before a full memory of it has been created in your mind. Its pleasures haunt you and once your body is devoid of its wonders, the pain of its loss fills that void.

After the song is over, you can finally relax. Take a deep breath through your nose.

And simply breathe.

 

No, Woman, No Cry

Women are a vital part of society and humanity. The important women in my life are intelligent, compassionate, fearless and strong. Women are more valuable than men in a biological sense. When we think about the occurrence of a post-apocalyptic-proverbial-repopulating-the-earth scenario, we always think about one man and woman doing so Adam-and-Eve style. But the most efficient and productive situation would be for there to be more women than men. If you were to have a 3 to 1 ratio–three women for every one man–then three babies could be engendered at once. The inverse ratio would only produce one baby every 9 months and two dead men, leading us back to our familiar Edenic dead-end state, which by all accounts would fail if either person died.

When I was 6, I remember stealing a picture from my parents’s bedroom–meant for one of my mom’s single brothers–of one of my dad’s sisters in a bikini. This incestuous pre-Tinder match-up would have been foiled had my parents not found out that I had swiped it. At that age, it’s hard to keep a porn stash hidden. I remember taking it because I wanted to look at it. I don’t remember deriving any form of pleasure from it, I simply wanted to see what all the fuss was about. From a young age, men are expected to find these types of pictures attractive. I really didn’t see and still don’t see the appeal.

When it comes to dating, women tend to be more sincere and subtle, harder to read and to obtain in spite of the best laid plans of men looking to get laid. However, once enamored, they become loyal until the end, taking on the role of Bonnie to their man’s Clyde. Men are a different story. They are insincere and forthright, easy to read and obtain; one woman can have as many as she wants. Unlike some women who stay with their men even when they’re prisoners or at war or prisoners of war, most men already have a foot out the door. Guys are in perpetual starvation mode, constantly seeking for the next prey; a fresh kill to satiate their lustful appetite. They think that being this way is part of what being a man is all about. These type of men are like farmers trying to pitch their seeds into fertile soil, even if another farmer is currently plowing the field. Their pavonine promulgation of their virility via texts messages of tasteless cartoon eggplants dilute the timeless art of seduction and turn it into a desiccated mockery.

Blaming social media seems to be the most popular way of explaining why a social phenomenon has reached the lowest of the low; but when it comes to dating and the relationships between men and women, it seems perfectly appropriate to do so. Social media has brought out the worst in us and splayed it out on display for everyone to feast upon like a submissive dog spreading its loins in the middle of a living room full of guests, waiting for one of them to scratch its belly.

While most women will take and posts pictures of themselves in flattering poses and lighting, men proudly photograph their genitals in unflattering poses and lighting. To a woman, a penis only preoccupies one minute part of her life, but to men, it’s an all encompassing and all consuming preoccupation and past time. If it were socially permissible, some men would include their penis size on their Facebook account and résumé. A CV would take on a new meaning and stand for “Cock Vitae-lity”. Although they would never admit it, some straight guys prefer the idea of their penises inside of a woman more than the idea of being with a woman. Women, like underwear, are another place in which to place a penis that are both disposable and replaceable.

My affinity for the feminine gender is more than just a sweet infatuation. It’s sultry, full of desire and passion. It’s less like umami and more like “Uy, mami.” I explicitly remember seeing a commercial when I was 7 while visiting my maternal grandparents in Tijuana, Mexico. It was a public service announcement on breast cancer, in a foreboding black and white, which featured a nude body model giving her back to the camera exposing the line that ran from the bottom of her neck, in between her shoulder blades all the way down her slender back, fading right before reaching her back dimples. The camera kept panning to different “primetime-TV-safe” shots of her nude body, occasionally showing some “side-boob,” which to a second-grader was more than enough breast to get them hot and bothered. The image and sound of the woman narrating how she would “touch and explore” her breasts was the equivalent of a Danielle Steele novel. Those commercials were for me what seeing a shirtless man on TV must have been for my gay counterparts.

My infatuation with women goes beyond the confines of what right-wing Judeo-Christian society deems “straight.” From a young age, I have always analyzed a woman’s behavior and would ponder on the inner workings of their brains. On one occasion, I was watching a TV movie in which a woman was fighting off a group of men trying to sexually assault her. In my 8-year-old mind, I thought that it would be a terrific idea to pose that situation in the form of a question to my mom. Her answer didn’t quite take the form called for in a teachable moment but rather that of a slap square in the face. On another occasion, we were watching a movie where another woman undid the knot of her button-up sleeveless denim shirt tied at the waist, exposing the inner part of her dangling breasts, inviting an armed man to approach her, distracting him so that she could then disarm him. Having been slapped before on similar charges, I didn’t even turn to look at my mom. Slap me once, shame on you, slap me twice, shame on me. At that moment, I understood that most real women would not want to be in those types of situations.

You could say that part of my understanding of women came from movies, books and TV, but doesn’t most of our understanding of everything come from those sources? You could also say that my mom was horrible for letting me watch movies that portrayed sexual violence against women and you would be correct, but isn’t it more horrible that this type of violence is so prevalent in the media that we consume on a daily basis?

Women are lovable. Men, on the other hand, not so much. There’s a level of respect that all humans need to give to one another, regardless of gender, race, creed or wealth. In an ideal world without these categorizations, this respect would be woven into the fabric of our society. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. So in lieu, men need to go out of their natural way of doing things and be respectful to women, all women; strange women specially, not just their mothers, aunts and sisters. This bogus familial jurisdiction is just an excuse not to respect women at all. Try to remember the last time you were a jerk to your mom or any other woman in your family. Just because they put up with it, kiss-and-make-up with you, doesn’t mean that they like it. It’s not “messing around” it’s called guys being jerks and being too arrogant to see it. Gender inequality–along with any strain of it–will cease to be as divisive and damaging as it is when we realize that men and women don’t owe anything but one thing to one another. That one thing is respect.

Explosions Off in the Distance

Every time a new year comes along, I get a little stressed. There so much expectation in the air. People feel good about the culmination of another year as if it were truly a culmination and not merely a continuation. New Year’s Eve parties are among the most illustrious, in magnitude and elegance. They are so much so that not attending one makes you feel like a social pariah because you’re probably going to spend that night at home eating a pizza and on a movie and TV binge. Hardly something you would want to publish on your various social media outlets.

So, this is the new year and I don’t feel any different. Instead of feeling as satiated as I’m led to believe that I should be, I feel anything but. Not quite empty, but immensely hungry. I suppose that at the end of the year I feel unsatisfied and angry at myself for not having done all of the things I set out to do. In my mind, I want all of the phony “may-auld-acquaintance-be-forgot” celebratory nonsense to be over and for the regularly scheduled program to continue. Off with their heads and on with the show.

Even as a child, I never really understood why people got so excited over the coming of a new year. I always considered birthdays to be a superior marker of passage of time than new years. Birthdays provide us with an arena for deeper reflection. We celebrate but we acknowledge that we are older, hopefully smarter and wiser, and are concerned with making wiser and smarter choices and accommodations for our lives. New year celebrations are just that, celebrations. There’s barely any acknowledgment of age. Technically we are older, but then again we are older now than we were when we first started reading this paragraph. The only thing that really concerns us with the coming of a new year is that of not making the mistake of writing the date wrong using the old year instead of the new one.

Resolutions are another concern that people fill their heads with at the end and beginning of each year. I believe in resolutions. I believe that they are worthless. I believe that they are so because the people that make them stop believing in them and quit. Again, the expectation in the air is so high that it is rarefied. It is suffocating. I do believe in making goals, in small victories that open doors and opportunities; flexible plans that accommodate to your needs and that lead to real change. Our lives change throughout the year and we have to reevaluate them constantly. Resolutions have become synonymous with ending or “resolving” something and bringing it to a final state: resolve my weight problem, resolve my smoking, resolve my workaholism. However, if we look at the true meaning of the word, its origin, resolution means to loosen or release.

If we allow our resolutions to be conduits of freedom as opposed to directions to fixed places, then there would be no obstacle that could hold us back.