embrace your inner telenovela blues
[1 november 2009]
He was sure he had made the wrong decision and now that’s why he couldn’t find the other brownie.
He had eaten one the night before but now the other one had disappeared. He came home now and he needed it, really bad, and now he was going crazy looking for it, the brownie that his compañera had made for him the other day. Nothing special or “magical,” just a regular brownie.
But it was gone now, some brujeria shit, some curandera shit, nowhere to be found—I recognize that shit when I see it, he’s thinking. Moving around the tiny studio apartment in a daze, in a blur, upturning everything in the middle of the night, got to be here somewhere, can’t just, opening every drawer and cupboard, throwing things everywhere. Impossible places. Disappearance. Absence/presence.
Until finally he’s breaking down sobbing, giving in, falling to his knees on the floor, rezando y todo, atheist hands folded in front of his face like some pathetic telenovela sacerdote shaking on tested faith, praying to the void that is the only thing he believes in, feeling broken down to the nothingcore. “You were in on this too, weren’t you?” he sobs. “And you. And you. And you.”
He had sat there in his car in City Terrace outside her apartment for the last time after saying goodbye, a little past one a.m., and the moon was fat and low but covered by some clouds and some other dark, weird shape, something pitch black standing straight up in front of it and to the right, some massive object twice the size of the moon standing vertical, a kind of monolith void maybe, an absence, a censor bar covering the face with nothing for anonymity.
He had broken down again there in the car parked off City Terrace Drive, the third time that night, then screeched away bawling like a chavalito, súperdramatico, tears tracing nothing over his face, zigzagging on the road, imagining himself losing control and plowing through Willie Herron’s house down the street and then out onto the freeway like some sad out-of-control clown who forgot to take his meds.
Alone, anonymous in the middle of the night driving, the city sitting there under that weird covered moon brood.
“I have never felt this much pain.”
“I feel broken in two.”
“The right decision would not hurt this much.”
He had come home and found his tiny herb garden parted right down the middle, flattened by the winds.
“I made the wrong decision and now I have to live with it, pay for my mistakes, I led myself from the beginning to this logical conclusion.”
“My life feeling flattened by the winds. My other brownie lost.”
Dropping into the deepest, darkest melodrama/abyss.
~ ~ ~
The next day, he slept until way past noon, woke up in a daze, eyes red and swollen. Coffee, cereal. Dull motions, cardboard tongue. A burgundy ring at the bottom of the glass next to the bed. Vague memory of passing out finally, drunk, sometime around five a.m. Shit thrown everywhere. Sometimes you just have to drink and cry yourself to sleep, he said. Sometimes you just have to. Sometimes you. Half-ass showering, putting on some outfit, anything, whatever, this is not a day to look cute. Or maybe it is, maybe you need the style, man, especially today. Maybe you need. This shirt doesn’t go with. This…these socks…this…shoes...
Too much energy and thought. Too much. Can’t even fully form. Humming on dull frequency, wide low wobbly oscillation, muffled world sounds like waking from dreaming overlap, trying to find a set of familiar repetitive actions to plug into, sometimes it’s not so bad to be a robot, sometimes it.
Robot tattoo on her upper left arm. Remembering. Robot love. Lips on ink. That auditory overlap. Sometimes it’s not.
Neighbor lady viejita watering the plants right outside his window again, did she hear the pathetic sobbing last night, did she hear the saga of the lost brownie, was she there as usual with her alert oidos on twenty-four-seven retirement lookout for any potential novela drama, casting shadows now from outside across the curtain in the early afternoon light?
Shoes. Wallet. Keys. Deposit paycheck. Check post office box. Mail the rent.
These are things that he can do. Symmetrical, repeated motions. They organize him, pull him together into a set of loosely jangling actions. Car radio faceplate. Put on the faceplate. Put on the. Work out the street route, a multitude of maps unfolding behind his eyes in dull succession, scan the freeway for motion and tempo, working out the time-space continuum involved, working out the soundtrack—NOT the “Lowrider” CD, no way, fuck that shit, too many oldies, too many memories, too many Art Laboe dedications, warm Sunday evenings in Highland Park summers with the radio on and the chips and beer and her ridiculously hot homemade salsa, runny nose and watery eyes, a chile high, a natural high, too many moments chilling in Lincoln Park on a blanket all afternoon, middle of the week making faces for silly fotos, together, suavecito, telling her she’s lovely, grooving, etc., yeah it’s a chicano cheesecake factory up in here but who cares, fuck it, so what if it’s cheesy, wassup chola, wassup puppet, have some orange, have some uvas, have some taste of these lips, have some sighs—
Too many. Picking Mazzy Star finally, perfect sad trek through city street accompaniment, Hope’s no hope voz fading into memories of you of voz of dull throbbing silence behind the throat/eyes.
Strange light overhead, can’t decide if it wants to be cloudy or clear; meantime the sky darkening, time waiting for no.
Text his homeboy: Going 2 new antigua in h-park for eats n cafe, lets meet up. His homeboy says Yea cool 30 min, which really means an hour.
Which really means three hours.
But it’s all good, homeboy at home with his newborn baby girl, new life, new time, time something different for him now, he’ll get there when he gets there, all of them will, time something folded in their pockets, in a breast, in a set of tiny holding hands wrapped around a steady finger.
Riding around errands, circling around familiar spots, post office, placita, el dorado tortillas, credit union, St. Vincent’s…everything familiar now, so intensely familiar now like never before—twenty years in this city but it feels like nineteen of them compacted into the last three with her, so that every space is dense now with her gestures, words, facial expressions, scents, laughter. These places of a multilayered matrix that shapes itself around their moments together, around memories, around interlocking hands and limbs. Walking up and down Figueroa, bicycling along the river, lying on the concrete slant where the secret pirate island used to be, conjuring it for her from memory: Painted rocks and pirate flag, superglued statuettes—Hamburgler, Kermit the Frog, Buddha. All of them floating out there on the L.A. River, mini-islands of postmodern ecstasy/decay, signifier and signified permanently detached and dangling, sliding, forever sliding, down the slant, down toward the city and past it, like them, all of it erased now, ephemeral traces, my hand in yours, sweaty, your upper lip sweaty between my own.
A foto of his Chucks on riverbed concrete. A memory of her painted toes.
Trying to let it all go, trying to watch it float.
Lvng 10 min, his homeboy texts him. Again.
Still kicking it at the new Antigua, reading, knowing why he gravitated here, fully the performer now with near-full awareness of all the scripts, checking out the place for the first time since it re-opened in this new spot after more than a year of being closed—new neighborhood dense with its own set of memories, pointing to past and future simultaneously through this conjugated moment (she lives/lived/will live in Highland Park).
Remembering when they closed the first Antigua cafe, El Sereno summer night, a dense feeling of ending and loss—that was the real moment when he first saw it coming, felt it, more than a year before. You can see the trajectory in these kinds of things. The beginnings of the ends. The arcs of resolution, stretching to finite points on the horizon.
But that night, dancing and drinking, a sad happy bittersweet goodbye, a performance on the traffic island, his homeboy planting flags, scanning the horizon, inverted explorer redefining a decolonized Sereno of the mind. While cars drove by. While they marched through the crosswalk. While they all stood around reclaiming space, reshifting time.
And another hot summer night, a few years before that, closer to those moments when it all began: All of them running out of the café and into the street with water balloons in the middle of the night, splashing, tackling, wrestling with desire, with the conflicts of friendship, loyalty, love, lust—all of them soaking wet past midnight, giggling, longing, drunk on wine. Excited. Afraid.
And more bike rides.
Huntington Drive. Main Street into Alhambra. Downtown. Lincoln Heights.
Remember when my janky bike busted and totally fell apart on the uphill to Poplar? Fucking handlebars one direction, seat another?
Remember the Biciclika?
Remember the three of us riding to the park and hanging from the dinosaur bars late at night?
Remember? You remember.
Remember how I always played it off, always played it cool, always played my whatever faceplate like always? (“You’re not that strong, brother,” H. says—and as usual, he’s right.) Never letting on, until it was too late. Just planting the seeds. Waiting until you saw what I could already see.
That very first conversation when she said something funny, clowning on him, and he goes, “Tcht, stoopid! What-ever!” and her surprised laugh, caught off guard and charmed by the familiarity and comfort, by the lack of interest in impressing, in facades, by the instant camaraderie of cultural code.
And then later, her realizing that this was the real moment, this was when she fell, all the way at the beginning.
It is always those first moments, those first words, those first meetings of eyes. The initial dilation. The subtle, opening movements of hands, limbs, internal organs. The first porous contacts of skin, flesh. The exchange of scent. This is when you really know, when the future maps itself out with a vague kind of precision that is blurry and hazy and yet one hundred percent accurate, every time. Topographies of desire, crisscrossing longing, whole blocks and avenues of caresses, kisses, naked nights awake past dawn's grey light. All of it unfolding in those first seconds of exchange. Words, glances, laughter, chemicals. One too many glasses of wine.
The map comes first and then the city.
Time is in the tri-fold, collapsed, springing at the contact points of flesh.
Laminated smudgemarks of hunger and desire.
And then that one night when the three of them sat on the roof of her garage drinking beers, both of them still competing for her attention, and one of them too embarrassed to come clean, still trying to be the man maybe, to impress her, or afraid maybe of saying the wrong thing, of being made fun of, turning bright red and silent on that question.
But not the other—straight-up (meaning not so straight-up), he took a risk, why not, what is there to lose. This is who I am, this is what I am—
And you are who I want.
And that other night, when they walked to Albertsons, when they walked the length of Poplar with serious things to discuss in the dark, when they walked—
When his homeboy finally gets there, it’s dark already. He apologizes—the baby, an argument, sneaking into the café now for a few minutes on an excuse to get out: Has to go to the grocery store for Abuelita chocolate and some other domestic supplies, girlfriend and suegra back at the apartment waiting for him to make xocolate.
Poor fuckin homeboy, feeling a little bad for him at first, but then more than anything feeling impressed and proud, homeboy handling his shit, strong, dedicated, on-point papa loving and embracing his new role with a certain clarity and purpose and meaning. In the background, the same old owner of the café is there talking to somebody, just like old times. Across the room, a couple of cute young college students have pushed together some tables. Soon another one arrives and joins them, turning heads in the room as she enters, and the three of them all gather around textbooks and laptops and chisme. His homeboy keeps trying to talk to him, but he’s distracted by the young women, picking up bits of their conversation, checking them out, so his homeboy suggests they move to another table so that at least he can check the ladies out, too.
But it’s a performance, it’s a distraction, it’s a dull aching in his gut, it’s images and tears kept at bay. It’s the memory of her sitting there in the old Antigua café in her El Sereno hood, with her friend, with her laptop, with their books, and their chisme, and the flirtatious glances and laughter, looking fly, looking all fine, everybody three years younger, everybody moving along different planes, intersecting lives, catching each other’s eye. This is where I met you, he thinks. This is where I would always check you out, slanted and sidewise. This is where we first talked, connected, shared. Stoopid! I said, and you laughed, and I laughed, and I knew, and you knew.
And you too, homeboy, don’t forget that this is where we first became friends. Watching you do your elaborate performances of everyday functional living and lies, chatting everybody up, chatting up the space into something else. Always late. Always bouncing around on a manic-panic high-alert love race. Creative energy hopping. Tensions, laughter, love, community, doing your best to keep it all alive.
And there’s a moment when his homeboy is talking about some book he’s reading, and he lets him ramble on, hasn’t told him yet about the breakup, or the brownie, can’t vocalize this ending yet, trying to formulate himself around other registers, gestures, a sense of comfort in the illusion that nothing has changed, a small luxury he allows himself, if only for a few more moments. A strange overlapping of time here, new and old Antigua, beginnings and endings, memories, wounds, healing. Palms pressing together through the night, holding each other in Sereno, in Highland Park, in City Terrace, in Boyle Heights. Popcorn junkies mainlining Fellini, Godard, Pasolini, Cassavetes, everything sick and dark and twisted and sublime in your arms, psychoanalyzing it all into deep dark crevices between wrong and right.
Mini-Jungs embracing void all through the night.
And his homeboy going on about some book or some play or something, while he’s remembering, and hurting, half-listening, half-watching, strangely comforted by the lack of emotional register, somehow safe in his homeboy’s inability to sense the pain, until finally he stops him suddenly and points around the room—at the café owner; at the young women; at the same coffee grinder and the same yellow-orange walls and the same Costco pastry display case and the same flyers for community events and shows and actions, dates, times; and he says to him, from deep in the gut, looking him hard in the eye, “Hey—you know what, man? It’s just like old times…only, totally, completely, one hundred percent—
And his homeboy pauses, and then lets out a giant echoing laugh, and he laughs back—mostly to keep from crying, mostly from genuine surprise—both of them with a kind of mutually recognized deepness sadness pain joy. A density roiling. The new lines at the corners of their eyes. Canas sprouting from deeply rooted memory and love. It feels like ten years have passed in only three, this laughter says, a richness of experience, love, pain, life. It feels like there was a lot of love here, there always is, there will always be. It feels like time overlapping and turning in on itself, shifting into something else. Something like transformation, regeneration, growth. Something like love, and community. Taking our place as adults. Taking our place and making our place, all of us, getting there when we get there. Something like moving on, letting go, yet still holding each other hard to our hearts. Something beautiful and wondrous and just a little bit happy/sad. Something we will always have.
~for AJA—OG Sereno Loc@s, always & forever
image+text copyright ©2009 by Ruben R. Mendoza. All rights reserved.
contact: p.o. box 861843 • los angeles, ca 90086
k u a l y q u e @ s i c k l y s e a s o n . c o m