This is what he said when he was finally inside of me.
Like something had caught him off-guard, unexpected, a surprise. The tone of his voice made me realize how strange it is that as women we can never know what it feels like to be inside ourselves.
Jesus Christ, but you do shimmer so fine.
Every once in a while, when we’re least expecting it, life surprises us with something real. Maybe we laugh, or smile, or even cry though we are not truly sad. It is an overwhelmed feeling, the recognition of something special. Something that doesn’t happen every day. All the pieces of a life shifting through the universe to land at a departure gate in the airport. Earlier we were sitting by the pool eating mangos that fell from a magical tree. Magic mangoes. Now we are in the fare-thee-well part of the story, the chapter of endings and new beginnings, fateful transitions. A return to normal life, from the land of dreams.
When I land at LAX it is almost relief I feel. A surreal sense of survival. It was probably a mistake to eat a cannabis gummie before boarding a plane with the rest of humanity returning from vacation. My telephone has no battery left and I end up sitting on a luggage cart for half an hour with it charging near the bathrooms. No one is here to meet me, no one waiting. My mother will kindly greet me five days from now to a hotel room near her home and in the meantime I am paying $900 to be a resident of Long Beach for a week. It seems important to mention the $900, cheap by some standards and exorbitant by others. Here in America we pay for ease and anonymity, with a cosy renovated kitchenette. It is 7pm by the time I get here, having ridden down on the Green Line through Cerritos. Los Angeles County has public transportation, who knew?
I use my little secret code to enter. No reception, no receptionist. Just a sanitary little secret code. At the bar down the street they give me meat and potatoes and beer. The bartender grew up in 91/605 and is named Roberto. We don’t speak Spanish even though we both do. I leave and come back and there are people roaming around, some wearing masks. The coffee shop nearby is only allowed to sell liquids, no pastries. Everything feels strange in this country of angels.
All the same, I have to say it:
Thank you very much.
This needs to be here, this exclamation, a declaration, this arrow up towards the sky and the voice of an Elvis impersonation.
Thank you very much. You are why I am here.
I hear sounds above my head of people moving around, suitcases rolling down the hallway, doors opening and closing, footsteps. I find it comforting in a world that feels run by robots. There are other humans in this artificial residence. I am assuming it is one of them who took my jeans off the fire escape.
My jeans, they were wet, so I hung them out to dry. They are my only real pair, so their loss would have been conspicuous in my carry-on life. Needless to say, they were eventually recovered. Turns out the historical society doesn’t want things hung on the salmon pink and aquamarine facade.
Thank you very much. For a few minutes there I was both laughing, and mildly concerned. The sun begins to dip behind the buildings and I am reminded of this aspect of city life that I had forgotten, the slightly restless feeling I have when there is sun out there, but I cannot see it.
By the time I get to Seal Beach it is sunset, and my nails are Coca Cola red. There are a few people out at the river mouth, surfing 1’ waves. Such big expanses of sand and asphalt in this place.
As I walk I am reminded of so many things. Sometimes travel feels like taking hallucinogens, and when I arrive I feel the need to physically move as much as is represented by the experience of change and transition. For it is either move, or cocoon in a cotton sheet cave. Pretend the outside world which is now so different does not really exist. Offense or defense, I suppose, depending on the day. And today I went offensive, scoffing at the prediction of a two and a half hour walk which I assumed would take half the time and really turned into three hours of streaming consciousness and bare feet walking through waves.
He grew up here along the San Gabriel river. It is because of him that I am here, and he was here because of his father, a Russian immigrant from New York who started living on the streets at the age of 8 and ended up working for the Jewish mafia. Was one of five children. Left home because his mother died in childbirth after the doctor told his father that his mother would die if she had another child and his father didn’t care and knocked her up again. So he left home in her honor, worked the ring, ended up being shipped out to California to work on building projects after World War Two and for this reason our hero learned how to surf on blow-up air mattresses at the mouth of the San Gabriel River.
As I walk over the bridge I see a shopping cart filled with possessions. Something that looks like a folded-up massage bed; sparkly silver Doc Martens one size too small for me, not that I checked. Other things that did not invite inquiry. The river itself feels contained in a way it probably wasn’t back then when they came out from New York. There are chain link fences blocking the view of every single river house, separating them from the public bike path. Oh how that would annoy me! Having to stare at the river through a fence. So close, and yet, so separate. America has such a strange sense of leisure. Like everything, they try either too little, or too hard. At the age of 50 there they are, holding onto a multi-colored kite the size of a small whale on the beach, trying to harness the wind. Probably would have better enjoyed a picnic.
I was told to go to an old dive bar which may no longer exist, but it does, and when I enter it looks like every dive bar does, with a certain air and attitude that asks you to make yourself known as not high maintenance. People look at you when you sit down at the bar because you are not from around here and dive bars are usually home to people from here. Societal norms are ignored and the bartender is very good at what she does, been doing it for years. Maybe she goes home to a couple of kids being taken care of by her mother. Most likely some relatively unattractive man is completely in love with her. Maybe they will get together some day.
In the corner of the bar are a couple of pool tables and TVs showing sporting events hang from the walls. Not just baseball but also America Ninja Warrior, Midwest Edition. We are watching a rock climber from Missouri swing on a trapeze right now. And then there is another game show, a reality event where a handicapped woman is attempting to slide a lance through three consecutive rings and earn $1000. All of this seems so American to me, so unreal, even trite. How is it that people consider the things on these screens a valid use of their time?
Earlier in the day I was in a version of my own personal hell, walking barefoot and lost through a parking lot surrounded by box stores without names where everything looked the same. Perhaps it is a trial of the durability of humanity, surviving such things. Perhaps it is a show of our infinite desire and ability to consume things. What earth lies under these paved lots? There is nothing natural here except the river. And no one seems to mind, or even notice.
It is two days before the Fourth of July and I go into a strip mall nail salon. I was trying to find a nicer organic version where the place doesn’t smell like toxic chemicals, but my phone is dead and I have no idea where I am and I have been walking for over two hours, so I stop, pick out a color, and sit down. I think the women are mostly from China because I recognize a few words of Mandarin, but perhaps they are from Vietnam as well. Here in this serving situation they have the upper hand of language and we all know it — they could be talking about us behind our backs in their shared foreign tongue, and what about that for a super power, the one of being able to understand all languages? I would want an off-switch for that one. But they are efficient and for the most part kind even though it is the end of their day, and the whole situation reminds me of going to southern Californian nail salons just like this one with my mother, doing things that she likes to do, in her way. At the moment she is about 5 hours north of here doing the same thing, perhaps with the same color even.
Coca Cola Red.
Who knew, Coca Cola is really a bit more orange than blue on the spectrum of shades.
The bar with the pool tables makes me think of the time our hero spent in Las Vegas as a young man, living with strippers while working non-union trade jobs that ended up getting him driven into the middle of the desert wearing a blindfold. Got with the unions after that. He is a bit of a pool shark, I hear. He’ll have to tell you about it some day. He thinks he is also really good at chess but of this I am not so sure. Just because he beat me doesn’t mean he’s really all that good.
The sound of a homeless shopping cart rolling down the sidewalk at 11:30am calls my attention to the world outside my window. I ended up taking a taxi home at 10pm and slept for the last 12 hours. I remember things. Like my capacity for X-ray vision. The dog on the beach yesterday seemed to be aware of this as well, got quite excited, nervous even. Saw me seeing everything. Sometimes humans notice as well, acting nervous and naked before me, when in reality all I do is look and listen. Our original under-used superpowers, those magical five senses.
On the beach there are numerous tent encampments, but on the news they say the laws are changing, and these people will soon be asked to leave public space. Homeless and rejected, fugitives from the wounds of the world, from childhoods that may or may not have been the kind of dream that one wants to live. How does it feel, growing up full of feeling, in a house of numbness? Is disconnection the same thing as rejection? I believe it has a different flavor. Perhaps it is a different animal altogether. But ultimately, if we have to rely on categories, I suppose rejection resonates more than abandonment or betrayal or humiliation. It is our highest aspiration, to live free from this primordial injustice. For me to look at you and see the smile of presence, the dark eyes opening to infinite possibility, and not all of the other things I am afraid of and yet don’t speak. I will be cool this time, cooler than you, more detached. I will make you come to me, and inside of me, and you will because you feel better around me than you do when you are alone, and most humans are pleasure seekers above all, if not also lonely.
I want to tell you the story of our hero, of how he came to be the warrior of light with a voice like Elvis, but I keep getting distracted. These words that we use to say things, to express our truth, what strange objects they are sometimes! All the stranger when we don’t use them that often. Let me look at you while you speak to me in a foreign language and I will watch your eyes and listen to your voice and determine some kind of meaning apart from the information you impart. I enjoy this. This feels real to me, more real than me telling you second-hand stories.
But oh! What stories they are! What gifts one receives when we listen. Especially to our elders.
They don’t make life like they used to, you know. It was different back then. Less contained, less framed, less and more of everything. Way back when they went to Fiji and landed camping on some desolate beach in front of a surf break and the chief of the tribe kicked a few members of his family out of their house and insisted these surf bums stay there instead, fed them ample amounts of kava-kava and for a while there our hero thought he was going to become their next meal because they were big people and he is a little person relatively speaking and they ate little people way back when. Gave him so much kava-kava that he needed to crawl home to the hut on his hands and knees, getting up the next morning praising God and telling the chief that the way they praised God was by surfing and so this is what they did on Sunday.
Way back when.
There is another character here, a modern light worker. He is one of these people who is always on the cutting edge of things, has been since the age of 14. Got all into cryptocurrency when it first started cause that was the easiest way to buy drugs back in the day. Now he manages the turnover of something called money while trying to figure out how to make sense of life when one does not have to work. All the frames of one type of hero eliminated, and instead we are slipping and sliding through an ocean with no constraints and hardly even a rudder. Everything is open. Everything is possible. Everything is everything, and nearly nothing at the same time.
But this boy also has X-ray vision, and some day soon he will be a man. We do not know what will become of him, and neither does he. I think he should settle down with a wife and get married, have a couple kids, be happy. But that is just my opinion. Happiness seemed easier to attain way back when. Less of a process. Thing is, we are all evolving towards enlightenment, and the stakes are higher now than they were in the 70s in Vegas. We have less time. And in order to become enlightened, we must live through the suffering, survive that bottleneck experience of contraction before opening up into infinite expansion. We must acknowledge it, and then let it all go.
El muerto al pozo, y el vivo al gozo.
The earth belongs to the living. But for that something has to die.
There was something else I wanted to tell you, and perhaps that shall be all for now.
It was about all of the things that someone would know, who really knew me. Like how when I leave a place, I nearly always wait until last minute to clean out the cupboards in the kitchen, or the fridge. And when this happens I am inevitably confronted with a confluence of spices and teas. Does not seem to matter where I am, or for how long. There will always be a collection of spices and teas. Just recently, for example, when I was moving from Germany to Mexico and sending boxes of my belongings, 10 kilos at a time. Sent 8 boxes of life from Berlin down to Baja and only 1 of them arrived. The other seven got held up because they all contained some version of spice or tea or scent or extract. All these super-power enhancing substances that are proclaimed illegal to enter the Republic of Mexico, because they are too close to drugs. As good as drugs even. Perhaps better.
I smile and drink my tea that smells like flowers.
Of course I travel with tea, and a filter, and a mug. Because this is not travel, really. This is no vacation. This is a kind of life, the life I have been living for the last twenty years, some kind of surreal multi-centered existence where the ability to become anonymous, to blend in, to adapt and be like a chameleon — these are all their own superpower in the world at large, afuera. This is what it means to be extranjera, one is strange, because they are not from around here. But if they have spent time, like me, in many different afueras, many different places that were not their own, they start to pick up on a certain kind of code, an unspoken granting of permission to be somewhere, even if it ain’t their home. This is the art of petitioning for hospitality. Of being granted entrance into a community. You mimic, and then you understand.
What else will you see of me if you were to see all of me? My totem pole of values. A certain combination of restraint and permission. The participant observer. A high priority placed on spending time with animals, outdoors. How I can start to feel claustrophobic with the windows closed, even in winter. The inner fugitive in me, always needing an open door. Afraid of being trapped indoors, or in an infinite asphalt sea.
I have learned over the years not to try and correct myself, not to edit and delete, but rather create only when focused. And it is true, one always needs their desk. Right now I have cherries on my desk that cost 14 dollars at a normal super market and I found myself so offended by this price that I added into my auto-checkout shopping cart a $5 bag of avocados and a $10 goat cheese, both of which I was ready to accept. But $14 for a bag of cherries?! Anyway they are good. But how can we charge $14 for cherries when we are fighting to be paid just that for one hour of minimum wage? Who gets to eat $14 cherries? Such strange small protests for a sense of disconnection.
Speaking of disconnection, I think I need to add it to this official list of childhood wounds. It really is distinct from rejection, almost more akin to a kind of starvation, which would produce a state of mind or heart that is never filled. If we do not feel connected to or in our primary environment, what lasting impacts this can leave upon us! And thus creating situations of solitude, hermetic and sacred and tranquil, epitomes of isolation and internal connection. Yes, I know one of these. A few. We find each other and pass the time resonating in a perfect fit. This is our life, this is what we do. Connection as a given, a familial thing, how strange this feels. Might as well just be strange.
It is 5:13pm in Long Beach and I just took a picture out of my $900/week window. Found out that a room at the Breakers costs $1250 a night, but the way. Told you things all things are relative. Things like money. When life is priceless, it kind of trumps money. But now you can see as I see out of this vintage window, a street that seems somehow normal, light changing on the leaves of the tree and my cherries and my tinctures. I am on a journey of sorts, by the way, forgot to tell you. The last journey Monique will take for a while. I did not realize I had embarked upon this ceremony until recently but now I have decided to fully immerse myself upon this vision quest. It is true, life has changed a lot in these times. Some will evolve with it, live on Mars. I think the highest I aspire is to speak their language.
“Just saw another shooter!”
Our hero likes to look up at the sky. All heroes do. This is what gives them the ability to be a hero, their perspective, their fortitude. The fact that they not only survive but continue.
Thank you very much.
Point up at the sky. Look up at the sky.
Thank you very much. What a life I’ve lived. What people I have met. Told that guy in the Irisher with the Harbor pulley to meet me at the bar tomorrow at 5pm, let’s see if we both show. Just one of those tricks, of knowing what has significance. Like seeing people be happy. Like creating that happiness. Sympathy and joy. And then just happiness inside, the kind that makes you smile.
Cause you have such a nice smile. You’re so beautiful when you smile. And you’d probably say the same to me. So I’m gonna say it again — thank you very much — and smile.
There is another character I forgot to mention. In my mind I call him Selenite Jesus. This is because he carries with him a crystalline purity. Not virginal, but white. He is a clear-eyed man. Embodies those things in Jesus that Mary saw. All the good. All that is right in the world. A person that helps other people be their better self. Someone who cares.
One time when he was young Jesus went on a trip with his mother and his brother. That’s right, Jesus has a brother, didn’t you know? He’s a kind soul, too. Generous. Always holding space for others. So they all took a trip together and made it their mission to express their gratitude for the immense amount of beauty in the world. All these different people, in different places. All these different lives we touch each time we pass by. We don’t even have to try. It just happens.
Jesus and his brother grew up with their mother in a trailer park I hear. Don’t have so many details about that part but in the end they landed in paradise, in their own little slice of heaven. Sounds like it was an interesting journey, dialing in the vibe in a small town in India where the Buddha might have once walked by. Jesus and the Buddha and all the men and women. Together.
One might have thought that Jesus would have a few of those old childhood wounds from having such a different kind of upbringing, resentment or alienation or other things like that. But he didn’t. Just pure love for the woman that birthed him, for all that she did to support him. A family of selenite warriors, crystal growing upon crystalline eye.
They made music with a new-age Mozart once. Gathered the people in the plaza to dance and sing and rejoice. Mozart played the flute, he played the trombone, he played really anything that was placed in front of him because he was born in a symphony. Jesus liked the melodica, any melody really, while his brother kept the beat. On some level it was all too perfect, just waiting for the fall.
I suppose in the midst of all of this I forgot to tell you one very important detail. That part that connected all of us. The pleasure principle. That thing that happens when we touch each other.
Our original hero is a master of pleasure. One might even go so far as to call him hedonistic, but then again, there is an art to the longevity of enjoying life that also embodies a certain kind of discipline and the very real practice of perpetual gratitude.
Thank you very much.
For all of it. Good and bad. I bow my head to the ground and say it again:
Thank you very much.
Suffer if you have to, says our hero, but I prefer to enjoy life!
Watch as he drives up to the beach in his van to take a nap, never far from mother ocean. He was blessed to find his happy place long ago, where the ocean meets the shore. Not even one specific area, simply the dynamic, the mixture of elements. Makes his pleasure principle quite versatile. Durable. If what makes you happy is easy to find, well, then that makes you all the happier. Which would fit his model I suppose. Go with the flow, put yourself in the right spot, make the drop, enjoy the cutback. Then do it all over again. Surf zen. Wave after wave after wave.
I had to leave the beach to say all this to you. Try on my mind for size again. My intention is not to indulge you with all the details of this story, but rather, a few key incidents. The ones that allow you to picture all the rest that lies in between the lines and sheets and nights and knees. All that we bow down to when we are given the opportunity.
There really are just two types of people in the world: the ones who know it is a fleeting gift, and those who do not. The latter take advantage and postpone and procrastinate, while the former see each pink cloud at sunset as a small prayer for a day lived as best it could. You could have smiled and made someone’s day today. Maybe you did.
Jesus Christ. A shimmering Buddha baby. The selenite castle that we reach in an onyx boat. And lest we forget, fireworks.
It was because of his dislocated shoulder that he dodged the draft. Turns out they all have a story of how they got out of Vietnam, and if they didn’t, they come home talking about how fifty years later Agent Orange is still affecting them.
I thought of him this evening, standing on the fire escape staring out at the night that looks like morning. I was not aware of how light the nights are here amongst the angels. It sounds like a war zone out there, with skies full of helicopters and fireworks exploding on the streets. Human beings are so strange, mimicking our traumas from war in the guise of celebration. The idea of a war worth going to, one that will end somehow differently than all the rest.
The thought of a human war zone brings up anxieties in me I would like to forget, and I find myself thinking of black onyx eyes. Warmth and protection from all the warrior men in my life. Healing the wound of an ever-absent father who still has yet to call his daughter of his own volition. Just to check up on her. Just to say hi. Just to see how things are, make sure she’s alright.
I always shrug it off and say that my father is on the autistic spectrum and this explains his absence. That we all do the best we can, which is true, even if not sufficient. And I do feel seen in other ways that are important. But that piece, the protection piece. That one is definitely missing.
It is the Fourth of July in America. We are celebrating Freedom, and I do my best to acknowledge this day of independence, putting on a blue dress with my red trench coat and Coca Cola Red nails. I have my large blue straw sun hat and a few people smile at me as I walk down the windy beach, seeming to appreciate my effort. I appreciate my effort. Here I am in red, white, and blue, despite my lack of patriotic leanings. To be honest I find much of American culture repulsive. Americans do things for the sake of representation more than enjoyment, generally. Never mind the fact that there are gale force winds blowing. It is the 4th of July weekend and we are having a picnic on the beach regardless. Can you just imagine what a Parisian would say to that? But we aren’t in Paris. No need to even question such things.
An Italian friend once said that Americans have a tendency towards simulacrum, a representation of something, rather than the real deal. This is my way of paraphrasing his thought. What he really said is that Americans make everything the same, reproducing what they know, like some ever-present security blanket, and that’s why all things American have the same flavor. Main Street in this beach town looks like Main Street in Vermont, or Pennsylvania, or Texas. Small difference to be sure, but for the most part it’s all some version of the same, and all the more so now that we are informed regularly of what is trending. This is what Americans come to know and expect and even need to feel at home. It has to be predictable. Like Coca Cola. Always the same. Personally I find this kind of simulacra numbing and even nausea-producing.
But then there are moments that shine. Like the guy on the street corner singing Tracy Chapman last night. These moments where we are reminded that we are all in our place for a reason. That we are given the choice to make reason, make sense, with whatever is in our hands. That is why I will bring my little watermelon to the beach, with some roasted chicken, and pickles. Celebrate something with humanity at large. Perhaps it is independence after all.
The Queen Mary stands in the harbor proudly. Some years ago she brought our hero’s uncle over to the front of World War Two. On the way back from the war he made enough playing poker to pay his way through law school. How exactly she made the journey from there to here I’m not quite sure. How did she get from the Atlantic, over to the Pacific, or vice versa? What a grand gesture of Fitzcarraldo that would be, the Queen Mary, crossing America.
On this day the Fourth of July in the 21st year of the third century A.D. I watch fireworks blast off across the bay next to the Queen Mum Mary. It feels like America should be, or simply just is, the smell of hotdogs on the boardwalk and bike bells ringing amidst various juke boxes going by. I left the house around 5pm armed with roast chicken and a watermelon, thinking of those who would do just that, celebrate a holiday in style for no reason. I walk down Broadway and perhaps this Broadway is like every other Broadway, separating something of have from something of not and painting rainbows down the sidewalk along the way.
God Bless America says a little kid in the water. There are monarchs once in a while, floating by.
We are smack dab in the center of the land of deluded dreams, and I have to say some of them are gorgeous. All these American humans that repulsed me yesterday are now seeming more like old neighbors that annoy me but in truth I really love because they are consistent and real and beautiful. Because they are doing their best with this insane circumstances of life, where happiness and fulfillment really aren’t as easy to come by as they were in the booming years. There are just more of us now, filling in the space.
Thank you very much for this day. I felt like a part of something for a moment there, sitting on the beach with the black families and the Mexicans. Was ready to get up and dance with all of them. And in case you were wondering, we do listen to Snoop Dogg in Long Beach, still.
I like this place. Give me five days and I will fall in love with you, whoever you are, wherever I am. Perhaps that is my super power. I am not so picky, really. All I need is something real. And even though this Southern California automated climate zone induces in me a certain kind of anxiety, I can appreciate the front porches I walk past as I head to Bixby Park. There are people who live here and create lives, despite the lead in the pipes and the moments of violence in the streets. Car alarms going off in the boroughs of the barrio. Home places.
All this coming out the mouth of a suburban anthropologist.
Where are our heroes? Can we all be heroes together, someday?
I almost forgot I wanted to tell you about Harbor surfboards, and the part about enlightenment. Except I forgot what I wanted to say. I am pretty sure I already mentioned that bottleneck bit, about suffering that turns into wisdom eventually. How that relates to surfboards, I suppose is a matter of time and place. Being in the right place at the right time, which is all of surfing, really.
Perhaps it is a question, but the good life that was a past life seems so much more apt to enlighten than a mediocre life today. I suppose I am almost jealous of those past lives that lived when things were not what they are today, when those old surf shops and dive bars were more of themselves, less marketing and more community.
But then there were other aspects too, that we don’t talk about, about how things were, way back when. Like all those surfers doing meth on Mavericks. Meth on Mavericks. A documentary waiting to be made. The fact that this wave was so damn big and scary that one had to be high in order to even paddle out. At least some thought it was that way. These are all the backstories that make the foreground glisten. All those Vietnam exemptions, those Big Wednesday realities of men who did everything, and never came back. No, the Queen Mary never crossed the Panama Canal, she made her way home via Cape Horn.
However, speaking of the Panama Canal. We should talk about that time when our hero’s father decided to buy a boat.
I am not quite sure why he decided to buy a boat. In line with the little I know about him it does not necessarily surprise me. He seems like the type of person who would buy a boat if he could, so he did. But as it turned out, there was a big storm that happened, just after they left the Panama Canal. Turns out it was a full on miracle that they ended up landing in Puerto Rico as planned. Some nights at sea that one cannot speak of, yet never forget. If I remember all this correctly it was the early 70s, and our hero ended up just staying over there in PR and shaping boards, opened up a surf shop, called it Unity Surfboards.
Who knows. There are so many stories. Many I forgot to tell. The point is, the way this storytelling goes, there is always an end to the story, even though the story doesn’t really end.
Tomorrow will come and I will go down to the corner and ask Papa Joe for a coffee with cream and he will tell me that he has no cream but he has milk, and I will take it that way, cafe au lait, and move on with things, out of LA. This little inspiring soirée has come to and end and we are not yet fully enlightened. What then?
There is something here, this theme of old and new, that I want to revisit. I know it is not pure nostalgia or romanticism that yearns for days of old. It is the same part of me that shops in vintage stores, for clothing made out of materials that are real.
Is love a material? Can it be more or less real?
I told him he made me real more times than any man ever had.
With that the sounds of the helicopters drown us out in their waves, and we move on. There is another in happening, in another place. More helicopters. More life and death. More of the real.
Still a few echos of fireworks.
Still a few gasps of breath.
Thank you very much for listening. We will speak again soon.
Just as soon as we can.