Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Season in (Gay) Hell

--"Gay Hell" being a coinage of famous gay-person Rufus Wainright, used to describe his one-time descent into substance abuse and sexual profligacy. Now, my misadventures have got to be pretty damn tame in the grand schema, but after several consecutive nights of Going Out, drinking and dancing and kissing and heavy petting with some very pretty boys, I wake up with an ominously sore throat that can only turn into something worse, and indeed by late in the afternoon I'm curled up in my bed at the Hotel Princess (so gay!) with a very high temperature, boiling sweat and freezing clammily by turns, drifting in + out of a succession of maximum-strength fever dreams--in short, very sick. In my delirium, I am at first convinced that the only explanation can be mononucleosis: the dreaded Kissing Disease! I kissed one too many boys and now I am being severely punished! And how desperate and odious does my filthy little pink-whitewashed hotel room begin to feel: mosquitoes lunging mockingly at any inch of exposed skin, the sickly stupor of the air, and the ambient hotel-sounds which vary from grating to inexplicable--one tenant has some DJ mix on repeat which plays only the two-or-three-second hooks from today's Top Songs, like an insta-vomit version of being at the Gay Club; some other lost soul is standing out in the hallway for over an hour, piteously repeating Lucia... Lucia... Lucia, until Lucia miraculously opens her door and tells him to get bent. Wait, mononucleosis lasts for like a month, right? I can barely muster the strength to walk the five feet over to the toilet. Am I going to be bedridden here in this awful Hotel Princess for weeks on end, paying for my piddling little sins? The only thing that's able to cool my overheated mind is watching the movie Mall Cop, dubbed into spanish on local TV. Even in my dilapidated state, I'm able to comprehend nearly all of the dialogue.

The next day I'm able to consider my situation a bit more lucidly. Who says it has to be mononucleosis--could be anything! I leaf through the Health section of my Mexico guidebook, probably a bad idea; with a painful sore throat and spiking fever, I'm just as easily a candidate for malaria, or the exotic-sounding dengue fever, which is transmitted through mosquito bites--yes, those fuckers have been chomping on me for weeks now, leaving monstrous welts all up my arms and neck. Or, it comes on like a lightbulb, maybe just yr. everyday flu! With the help of some horsepills of aspirin I'm able to sleep through most of the day and night, still too weak to change habitations though the cruelly-named Hotel Princess is becoming ever-more repugnant to me. And then today, the third full day of my mystery illness, I still feel awful but find the strength to pack my bag and change hotels--a few blocks eastward to the Hotel Tuxpan. And just as I get to my new fourth-story room and begin killing bugs, the room about me begins to slide about like a madman. For the first minute I think my fever hallucinations have returned; then the screaming of people out in the street suddenly wakes me up to EARTHQUAKE! The second minute or so I'm just spacing out, like, whoa, dude, an earthquake; and finally I have the presence of mind to evacuate the premises, as everyone else is doing. Out on the street, earth no longer trembling, it's a great chance to meet my new neighbors--this guy named Cholo introduces himself, says he lives in the same hotel, moved down here from SoCal ten years ago to avoid life imprisonment. Says if I need anything, weed, whatever, just holler Cholo. Normally I would, I say. Really. But I'm pretty sick right now. I think I just need to get some more rest. Hopefully I'll be feeling better soon.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mexico City, Second Impressions

Which, I wonder as I wander, might be considered the Worst Job in Mexico City? Oh, there are miserable occupations anywhere you go, but there seem to be some true bummers here. Pity, por ejemplo, the poor organ-grinder in the streets of El Centro--not just the grinding, which must be hell on the arm, but to have to listen to the same insipid jingle day-in-and-day-out, like driving an ice cream truck but without even any ice cream to sell. Nor, it seems, do they exactly rake it in. Perhaps more profitable is the position of bathroom attendant--some of the busier WCs probably make out quite well at four or five pesos a head--but then there's the fact of having to work in a bathroom all day, not that easy on the soul, I imagine. Or, the young mothers selling marzipan candies in the Metro, so profoundly zoned-out from intoning marzipan-marzipan-marzipan for hours on end that they don't notice their little children playing in rivers of subway-filth? Or maybe, the dozens of poor sacks passing out leaflets for eye exams in the optical sector of downtown, whose leaflets no one wants and whose voices are run-ragged from repeating Examen Gratis to the point of total meaninglessness? I understand feeding your family or putting yourself through school, but I can't imagine there aren't days when these unsung martyrs of the megalopolis wake up and just can't possibly face another ten hours of organ-grinding or marzipan-hawking.
It turns out that the Teatro Coliseo, across the street from my rat's-ass hotel, is not a derelict porno theater as I had assumed, but is in fact one of D.F.'s two lucha libre arenas, with fights every Sunday at five, and with balcony seats going at a mere thirty pesos apiece, attending was a no-thinker. And how excited was I? Very! But the truth is, friends, from my balcony-vantage at least, that lucha libre is a teensy bit boring--just regular "wrestling," with predictable good guys-bad guys scenarios, laboriously-choreographed fight sequences and marginally-sillier costumes than the American breed. Really, the most interesting part was the crowd commentary--I doubt I'll ever hear such colorful variations on the word puta as long as I live, and the fat, shoeless man down the row from me who kept up a persistent chinga-tu-madre whistle throughout the show was the very model of obstinate, brainless raunch. Not even the female wrestlers were spared--in fact the heckling intensified during their segment. But, for all that, I'll probably be back next weekend.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mexico City, First Impressions

Plaza Garibaldi (not my photo)
My guidebook says that Andre Breton said that Mexico is the Surrealist country par excellence; now, I know zilch about Andre Breton, and even less about Surrealism, but check this: Plaza Garabaldi late on a Friday night, some fifty mariachi bands playing all at the same time, creating such an absurd din as I've never heard in my short life, and a raucous, wasted crowd to match, drinking beer out of what appear to be half-gallon cups, alcohol literally flowing between the flagstones; this young man with a bit of an unholy look in his eye takes off his shirt and starts smashing empty bottles, creating a little mountain of broken glass which he proceeds to lay upon. As I'm the only person paying him the least bit of attention, he waves me over and insists that I stand on his chest, hissing todo, todo when I'm not giving him my full weight. After which he stands up, brushes himself off and walks away. And around two in the morning, when I'm plenty lacquered and thinking of heading back to my dirty hovel of a hotel room, I notice this kid wandering through the crowd electrocuting people. I mean, he's got this device hooked around his neck, with two handgrips attached by wires, and he's giving people what looks like some pretty heavy voltage. Of course, I have to give it a shot, so I sidle over and he kind of grins as he hands me the handgrips. He cranks the thing up pretty damn good, almost to where I can't handle it but not quite, and afterward I think he's going to ask for money but he just smiles and walks away. Then I notice there are actually a bunch of kids walking around with similar devices. So I track down another one, and come on pretty macho as he gives me the reins and starts revving it up. Mas, mas, I keep saying as he cranks it higher and higher--and then it's at the point (past the point!) where I really can't handle it, but the thing is that at that high voltage it's impossible to let go the grips--I'm totally at this kid's mercy, and he just keeps staring at me as I beg him to please cut the juice, and for some reason I'm being seriously electrocuted in the middle of Plaza Garibaldi while fifty mariachi bands play at two in the morning. For this heavy session he charges me ten pesos, but settles for seven.

Or, check this: this afternoon, actually just an hour or two ago, I head over by the Insurgentes metro stop, where there seems to always be something interesting happening, and in fact there's a little blues festival going on, this band of pretty frazzled old Mexican dudes with an incredible woman singer is playing, and of course, what should they dive into as I approach but Sweet Home Chicago. "Esta cancion is sobre mi ciudad," I beam to the blissed-out alcoholic next to me, who gives me a big hi-five. But actually the band is totally righteous, way better than any blues band I've ever seen in Chicago. And then this other band starts playing, and I head across the plaza to dash off a blog post at the internet cafe, and as I'm typing it starts raining, and then it really starts raining, monsoon-strength, and the music cuts out and I peek outside and the tent above the stage has collapsed, and the whole crowd is trapped inside, and then so help me god it starts hailing, hailing like a stone-cold motherfucker, and the whole plaza is covered in a thick blanket of hailstones, right now. I gather this does not happen often here. Actually, I really don't know what does and doesn't happen here but it seems like some rather Surreal things tend to happen here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Earth from Tejamulco
Filing a little report from San Cristobal de Las Casas, a city in Chiapas, Mexico about which I know pretty much zip, and in which I plan to stay just long enough to rest my head a few hours and brush my teeth--call it snap-judgement, but hearing the strains of B. Marley's Redemption Song emanating from a gringo bar is pretty much a deal-breaker as far as I'm concerned.

I didn't particularly want to leave Xela! I was developing fond feelings for the place. But, en el mismo tiempo, the western highlands were beginning, after two weeks, to make me feel penned-in, claustrophobic--the literal crunch of a valley-town, bounded by misty-mountains, but also a more general claustrophobia: the obscenely-crowded buses, the markets so thick with humanity that movement is hardly possible, the sidewalks that can't accomodate even two simultaneous pedestrians. This trapped feeling came to an appropriate head on my way out of Guatemala, when our bus got mired in a traffic jam for the ages, the road from Huehuetanango to the Mexican border closed by a mudslide, apparently a chronic problem in the area--cars immobile for miles, and, tipicalmente, the logjam used as an impromptu open-market, vendedores by the dozens hawking Pollo Camparo and peanuts to marooned drivers. When finally the road was cleared and we pushed through to la frontera, the change was sudden and dramatic--crossing the Mexican border, the land seemed to open up with a great sigh, with room at last to breathe.

Also, to be honest, certain aspects of Xela were starting to turn on me, after only two short weeks; the slimy pupusas were beginning to make me queasy, the local firewater, Queztalteca, was making me even queasier, and my beloved student protesters, La Huelga, who seemed to be in the park every other day, were starting to make me a bit uncomfortable with their unrelenting provocation--for all their high-minded ideals, every other word they uttered was a puta or a verga, and my feelings were admittedly hurt when one of their orators singled me out of the crowd and mockingly addressed me as Mr. Jones, as in You know something's happening here but you don't know what it is/Do you, M.J.? (R. Zimmerman). Hurt my feelings, because, I'd actually put a great deal of effort into understanding what was happening, spending several hours painstakingly translating their obtuse boletines. I mean, anyway, singling gringos out of the crowd is too easy, shooting crabs in a bucket or whatever.

But, for all that, what a thrilling final few days in the highlands! A bizarre sex-encounter up in the hills (right in the shadow of Cristo Viene, in fact); a grueling and invigorating two-day hike up Tajumulco, the volcanic peak that is the highest point in Central America; an almost-equally grueling + invigorating crush on an adorable Belgian boy on said hike (unfulfilled!); and the dramatic return of normal bowel functions, after a long stretch of inoperability. Needless to say, wholly new and different adventures await me in Mexico City, after God-knows-what kind of bus trip, and I'll try to check in again before terribly long. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Domingo no Parque

For those attempting to keep a tab on my whereabouts--debt collectors, government agencies and the like--I am currently basking in the warm embrace of Xela, Guatemala, a gorgeous and bustling city in the country´s western highlands. I have been here a bit over a week, and am coming to, uh, love it, insofar as a visitor can really love any place; surrounded by shapely hills and volcanoes, with shifting layers of sun and cloud warping and wafting through the valley and minibuses by the thousands carrying mostly-Mayan cargoes to and from the outlying towns of San Felipe, San Andres, San Miguel, it´s a place that seems to change every time I look at it. 

From the window of my cozy room just south of city-center, I can see pretty much just one thing: nestled in the hills which loom to the south, are the massive letters prolaiming CRISTO VIENE (CHRIST IS COMING), and perched just above that, the even larger, oblong billboard advertising TIGO, the Guatemalan cellphone company. I try to resist easy symbolism, but there´s something undeniable about the juxtaposition--the telling clash of old + new, the inevitable conflation which follows--is it that Cristo Viene Con Tigo, or is one superceding the other? Either way, it´s the first thing that greets me upon waking.

I´m studying Spanish 25 hours a week, and pretty well-pleased with my progress, if I may say so; unfortunately my cerebral cortex is drowing in so much spanish that I´m afraid my english is suffering mightily. But, I soldier on, and I´ll attempt some little adventure-postcards from the road, for my faithful few followers. Yesterday, for instance in El Parque Central, what one might imagine to be a sleepy Sunday in the park unfolds in always-surprising ways--first, on one side of the park, a freestyle BMX competition (I´m hit by a flying bike!), then, on the other side of the park, pouring down 12e Avenida, a massive procession of Catholic faithful, observing Cuaresma (Lent)  dressed to the sacred nines in black ´n purple finery, belching up thick clouds of incense, carrying a huge flourescent-lit float upon which Cristo is preparing to die, and followed by a brass band playing dolorous marching-music--it takes the procession upwards of an hour to circle the park, moving at such a somber speed, and by the time they´re back at 12e Avenida dusk has passed and they´re candlelit--

--And just as the procession is receding, frankencense still heavy on the breeze, with a round of explosives the student-revolutionaries known as Huelga de Dolores come tearing down the other side of the park, dressed in their ¨traditional¨revolutionary-garb of black robes-black masks-black hoods, and climbing aboard a makeshift wooden stage, complete with booming sound system, commence to clear the air with their thundering Anti-Church/Anti-State rhetoric. I manage to comprehend a good part of the lengthy program, heavy though it is on wordplay and seeting poesy, but at some point I become confused as to what´s going on and end up getting pushed onto the stage with a handful of other dazed and less-than-willing audience members. There is, maybe, something in the Guatemalan character that balks at getting up in front of a crowd; but imagine my terror when the guerilla-MCs start firing questions at us--what are our names, ages, provenances, etc.--I´m expected to orate in frickin´Spanish in front of all these hundreds of people? ¡Dios mio! I try to make an escape but am shoved back into place by one of the black-hoods--these kids don´t fuck around. When they get to me, my fright and confusion cause me to answer unconventionally: I tell them my name is El Diablo, I´m from the United States, and... I´m a afraid of speaking in public!, a rather inspired series of answers that seems to win me the favor of the crowd, who hoot in what I hope is approval. 

It turns out we´ve been brought onstage for a dance contest of sorts, set to various types of Guatemalan popular-music--a diversion, to give the audience a break from revolutionary proselytizing. I´m matched up with a very short and rather plain woman who makes up for her lack of looks with sexy and enthusiastic dance-moves, and, odd-couple that we are, we quickly become the crowd favorites. In addition to some seriously-competitive ass-shaking, there´s a segment where each man has to win the favor of his partner by means of amourous discourse. Knowing full well that I´m no Shakespeare of the spanish language, I decide on the following, hoping that the sarcasm shines through: Mi amor, I croon into the microphone, getting down on one knee, if you will come with me, we can live in the United States and make a lot of money.  

The audience, gladly, eats it up, and my partner and I are subsequently crowned king and queen of the dance--I walk away with a complimentary condom, by way of a first-place prize. I feel kind of bad, besting Guatamaltecos on the own turf--but it´s hard to agrue, you´d have to agree, with American Money. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Garden of Noise pt. 2

Speaking of children's gardens of noises, I have a new favorite band here in Chicago. They are, unfortunately, an elusive bunch--don't seem to have performed since 2009, no recordings available, scant internet presence--but this solitary video of the Indonesian Performing Arts Chicago (iPAC) children's gamelan orchestra, apparently the first + only children's gamelan in North America, sufficed to blow my mind: the costumes! the pageantry! the hammers! and the dizzying rhythmic and harmonic complexity of the music, which is like none other on earth--this shit rules!

And, fuck it, for some bonus mega-mind-blowage, check out this asbolutely bonkers youth gamelan from Bali, who apparently play every Thursday behind the Ubud Water Palace:

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Child's Garden of Noise

I'm back on the Secret Beach Jukebox, after a mega-extended hiatus, with an epic piece (also just published in Chicago's own Landline quarterly) exploring the back-alleys of so-called childrens' music. Featuring such almost-legends as the Tinklers, Human Skab and Old Skull, and guaranteed to blow yr. mind with shit like this:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Field, pt. 2

Oh, but in a sudden twist, Gingrich scores big in South Carolina--indeed, people do love their Money! In his victory speech Newt (no last name needed!) made repeated jabs at Obama, the "foodstamp President," promising that he'd instead be the "paycheck president"--oh, but Newt! I'd much, much rather have the foodstamps! You'd never imagine the feasts they allow me! Do you mean to suggest that you're going to take away my foodstamps, you walking porkchop?--you pustulated meatball of a presidential candidate? You will never take away my foodstamps! Paycheck president my ass, paychecks are fickle. But of course Newt cannot, will not, could never gain the final prize--he is too blindingly piggish, too obscenely porcine to ever win hearts en masse. Mark my words (tm)!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Field

My take on the GOP field, for those few souls who might possibly be interested in my unwashed opinion: the admittedly boring race has come down to the four fundamental cornerstones of modern politics, as respresented by (in one corner!...) the Money Candidate (Gingrich), the Family Candidate (Romney), the Religious Candidate (Santorum) and the Internet Candidate (Paul). No great shocker when the Family Candidate (his wife of 42 years has multiple sclerosis and is sometimes too tired to cook! "I like peanut butter sandwiches and cold cereal," he assures her--"We could do fine with that as long as we have each other") eventually wins the day; of these core conservative pillars, Family runs deepest and broadest. Conservatism and family-rearing are ancient, unholy bunkmates and enjoy a strong philosophical alliance whose mantra--Take Care of Your Own--might as well be on the Republican Party letterhead. Mark my words!