Monday, December 21, 2009


“I’m leaking.”

Emilio looked at Panama’s wrinkled brow face and held down the desire to laugh. She always takes these things a little too seriously, he thought. He wriggled his freckled nose under his wire glasses and settled his face into what he thought might pass for compassion, rested his vision on her soft, fuzzy, amber hair, her oiled ebony eyes.

“I knew you’d give me that face,” she said with bite, ignoring his phony gesture, standing up from the sofa and moving away from him.

“Wha…what?” Emilio pretended he didn’t know that she could see through him.

“You of all people should know what this could mean, now that I’m visiting my family. It’s enough that they’ve…I could really hurt them, Emilio, and you choose to treat me like I’m crazy…when you know the truth. You know it, damn it, and you act like you don’t!” She stomped around the compact living room, mentally bombing furniture too big for New York walk-ups with her atomic steps.

“So what, you’re not gonna go?” Emilio asked.

“You know I shouldn’t.”

“What would your family think?”

“The same thing they’ve always thought. That I think I’m better. That I don’t care about them. That I’m a typical gringa.” Panama’s pounding feet stopped at a wall. She rested her head on the moulding with 80 years of lead, then oil, then acrylic paint. “And maybe I am,” she said with a softer voice, “maybe I am all of those things. And even if I weren’t, it doesn’t matter because of this damn leak!” Panama sighed and cringed her face into the wall.

“But no one has proven…”

Panama straightened up, eyes fire bright and on Emilio as she put on her shoes.

“You are a liar, Emilio. You knew the risks when I took the shots and you know I’m leaking now. All of us are. If anyone admitted the truth the whole damn country would be quarantined,” Panama’s viper tone was precise but Emilio didn’t notice. He figured she’d go to the corner bar and get over it, like she always did at moments like this. Somehow, he knew it would all work out, although a tiny part of him wondered if it was the chips, but that tiny part of him was very small and very faraway.

Emilio thought the vaccine would be a good idea, based on what his boss at P&D Tech said, especially since Panama was already so sickly. The anti-depressant aspect of it was especially appealing because Panama was having a hard time adjusting to life with him, supporting his work. But the nanotechnology was new and, yes, it was leaking. The nanochip vaccine was so small, leaked through nearly every membrane it encountered, and even if it did stay in cells long enough to reprogram viruses, the leaks were trouble. Remnants of the nanochip injections were being found in water supplies and all the organic structures that lived in the nearby rivers, for example. Nanochips were floating in the air and causing respiratory disease because once exposed to city pollutants, the nanochips would change into highly unstable structures. Public laundromats were starting to require proof that patrons hadn’t been injected because their clothes would get infested and then the chips would bond with metals in the washing machines and dryers, damaging them at great cost to the business. Bad leaks.

Panama knew she was leaking when she began to notice the changes in behavior of those around her. Anyone who she shook hands with or hugged, after a few days, would start to act different, happier maybe, but not him- or herself. It was as if the personality was not entirely there. The Indian lady at the corner shop, Samira, with her auctioneer lightning-speed energy, who served up bagels and coffee to countless city folk every morning lost the prickly spike in her voice and wasn’t nearly as fast as she once was. Emilio said she was getting old but Panama wasn’t convinced. The neighbor’s daughter, Zafira, stopped jumping rope with the other girls. It could have been she was the best of all the double-dutch goddesses, moving like an electron that bounces between two ions in a ping-pong universe rhythm. Zafira still sat on the stoop, quite content, but she did not play. The day Panama began to put together all the instances and circumstances, each handshake, each hug, each cheek kiss that spread the effects of the vaccine, how she too had stopped what fulfilled her most, and how she too felt no loss, after assessing all this, she threw up in the toilet of her tiny bathroom. It took her half an hour to flush the toilet, knowing that her leak would be spread along with swirls of sucked down water.

The only person who wasn’t affected by her leaking was the bartender around the corner, Andino, and it was to his wooden perch she now went. Panama walked in and sat at the corner end of the empty bar. It was still early, the mid-afternoon sun glowing on the brown stain. She was happy there was no one around, no one to touch. She hadn’t touched anyone for two months now, except Emilio, but even that was becoming less frequent, not because of the leak but because of other reasons.

“How’s my favorite?” Andino said with a crumpled smile. The lines in his tan and grey face were due to smiles and worries, but more smiles than worries.


Andino raised his eyebrows, slowly spun around, grabbed bitters, whiskey and sugar, and muddled up an old fashioned. He set it in front of Panama and asked, “Why are you lousy? What’s up?”

“I’m leaking,” she began, and didn’t pause when Andino looked genuinely sad, “and the reason I got this way is because Emilio encouraged me to get the injections, you know, his job. Everyone I touch, everywhere I go, I just spread this numb, fake contentment, and it makes me sick. It’s like spreading mediocrity.”

“Why do you think Emilio…”

“Because he’s a coward, the poor thing. I can’t say I don’t totally understand him. I got sick here, the germs, the pollution, it lead to asthma, and I wasn’t happy. When the anti-viral/anti-depressive combo came out, he thought we could both take it to make things easier. All it did was make me stop dancing…and the worst of it was I didn’t miss it. Imagine not missing the one thing you loved most.”

Andino poured himself a shot of whiskey.

Panama continued. “Andino, why haven’t I made you cold? I’ve touched your hand, I’m sure. Why hasn’t my leak affected you?”

Andino blinked several times and smiled nervously. “I’ve been exposed,” he revealed quietly. “You’re not the only one who has come in here…like that, with the nanochips. We’ve all been exposed. But I get a few things from my family, teas, recipes, they counteract the cold numb.”


“Yeah, I mean, sometimes all the chips, they are too much, you can’t…but my family recipes help.”

Panama took a sip of the old fashioned, made perfectly. “My aunt, it is her 75th birthday and the family offered me a ticket, you know, to go see her. I’m afraid to go. I’m afraid of spreading the leak.”

“Panama, you have to go!”

“But they are…they are…pure. If I go and give them the chips, the cold numb, if I leak all this onto them, I could never forgive myself.”

Andino contemplated the word pure for a moment, and then he spoke. “What makes you think they don’t already have it?”


“People from here travel everywhere and we spread it all, you know that. Plus, I bet your family, just like mine, has stuff, herbs, to suppress the leak, maybe even end it. You know, you don’t know what your family may be spreading. Maybe they have their own leaks, better leaks, hopefully.”

There was a moment of silence between the bartender and his patron.

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

After two more old fashioneds, Panama went back to her stoop. She saw Zafira sitting there, watching the other girls play, and Panama bent over and whispered something in her ear. Zafira looked puzzled, but then smiled after Panama as she walked up the steps. When Panama walked into the cramped one-bedroom, she saw Emilio on his computer, a familiar scary-zombie sight.

“I’m going to see my family,” she said.

“Really?” Emilio answered without looking away from the screen’s siren glow.

“Yes. And…and you are coming with me, Emilio. I’m taking you with me. We’re going together.”

Emilio looked away from the screen, turned to Panama, and was surprised that he was able to see her without his eyes adjusting to the darkness, her eyes bright with liquid.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

New Poem

Sometimes poems take a while. Almost everyone who knows me knows some of my story about moving to New York. I've always wanted to write about it, but I didn't have the words. Some conversations over the past week - with Marilyn Torres, Ernie Silva, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran, and of course, Vincent - have really helped me. I also think that getting to the point where my coursework is done, my proposal has (for the most part) been approved and I just have to start the dissertation, has really scared the heck out of me. I've been blocked in some ways, but songs and poetry are coming out of nowhere, so I might as well share them. I think that maybe writing this poem is reminding me to keep on, despite those difficult times. I don't have a title yet. Please tell me what you think.

what do you do
when you are so super tiny small
that frijole kitchen talking never embraces you
or Mami or Tia or anyone without bold blast speeches
that sound super boombox big so loud so loud
drowning your voicewhisper under rivers of cancer kool aid
mind menacing threats of being called stooopiiidd
like playground slapshaking under monkeybar jungles
so you never ever talk so afraid to talk not even mouth
words that your face muscle nerve endings freeze
Chicago winter cold freeze holding your movements solid
frozen stuck in a goofy clown mask held in
permanent suspended disbelief, like an icicle that won't melt?

what do you do
when you are heartgut silent
hands covered in computertechnodance paint smeared
all over floorboard stomps and gingiggle nights that don't ask
about stooopiiid talk or blackbeatpeat history
entrails piled in loft corners smoke and siren
artists get shot and murdered every night and rise again
every night, dancing zombies slam and skank and clownsmile
because it is easier than speaking and saying who you are
fearfrightened of being nothingnada solalala
abuela gone only saw the gringa not the mujer
nothing to reflect back the abuela in the gringa
just an empty gringazombieshell?

que triste she is blind

what do you do
when you are on your elbows and face
blubbering begging at someone's feet at 4 a.m.
"be my friend, let me love you"
and he splinter slams a bathroom door on your anklebone
laughs at your dreams
throws carefully composed music carelessly
around your head like spike bombs with corners
that snip nip at your ears and chin
strikes your favorite wood chest into spine threads with one swoop
and seals chaos crashes with spit
between your eyes
as he mutters "you're nothing"?


you stand
higher than the thickest redwood with roots
that reach down to the hell source itself
and you spit blood-
filled songs and fire that's hot and warm and sticky
with stories that stretch from Africa
to Cuba to Colombia to Chicago to New York to San Francisco to San Antonio
from sad sad brother to lonely lonely brother
to earnest earnest father to brilliant brilliant mother
and you laugh at your dreams
because they are symphonies under your tongue
star storytelling under your curious feet
projections flickering before your eyes

so sad that he is blind

you jump
over the rubble rat mountains and giggle
at the screech-screech of crab mentality
instead opting for the green of grass-
hoppers and frenzied action of pill-
poppers without the pills or flimsy quitter motives
your freak frenetic dance takes you to
poetry and boys with bass guitars and shine
spilling out of their eyes and girls with
honest irony in their cigarette slide wit
and viejitos who cook for you, expecting nothing
nothing nothing
but to see you grow deeper into lava, higher into space

you fly
like the new millenium-falcon-eagle-perico-flamboyan
flashing tacky and Gaudi and color Caribeno
know all the while he's saying, she's saying, they're saying
"ah, who does she think she is"
not realizing she isn't thinking, she's flying and
all she ever wanted was for you to fly, too
like a Colorin Colorado comet alien invasion
un sofrito freedom de momento, mama
a Creole-lindo mundo swirling with shrimp and cayenne y arroz
an explosion, a bomb that doesn't crash holes into soil
no, a bomb that flies like fireworks fire, like warmth, like the sun
big and small and round and angular, all-encompassing, glittery and fine

only lost to the blind

Friday, August 28, 2009

Town Hall in Texas: I Need a Despojo!

Yesterday, I received an email from my Congressman, Representative Ciro Rodriguez. Well, the email was actually from one of my Obama email lists, but it encouraged me to go to a town hall on health care reform right here in San Antonio! I was excited. I told Vincent and we signed right up. We are both in the process of moving, but we are both so passionate about health care reform, we were willing to make the time to go to Palo Alto College and get down with the politics. Now, I was a little surprised at how late I got the email - only 24 hours in advance? That didn't give most folks much time to find out about the town hall. And I didn't hear about it anywhere else but through my email list; not everyone has email. Hmmm. Oh, well! I heard about it and I was going to take advantage of it. I was going to be a productive citizen and show up and speak up! I printed out my little pro-health reform signs that came with my registration for the town hall and got ready to go after a day of writing follow-up reports for my teaching fellowship, perfecting syllabi, and packing a few things.

Vincent showed up at 5:00, so we jumped in the car to get to the venue because they would start letting people in at 5:30 p.m. We drove to the far away campus, on the south side of the city, and I was concerned about the access that other folks would have. Well, at least we had a car that would allow us to get there in time after work. As we walked in, and I noticed all of the red-white-and-blue shirts and caps, I got a little nervous. Palo Alto college is known for being diverse, but the crowd didn't look it at all. It was mainly an older crowd and they were not nearly as urban or cosmopolitan as the San Antonians that Vincent and I know. None of the people in line looked like they went to Palo Alto College or any other college in San Antonio. None of them looked like they even lived in San Antonio. We saw two people we knew: one is an activist and the other is a journalist. Where were all the people who we know are very interested in this debate? None of them were able to show up? I got more nervous. I remembered promising my friend Jenny to speak on her behalf. She is someone who had breast cancer a few years ago and she had a full masectomy. Jenny now pays $600 a month for her health insurance and the company is now denying her the option to get an MRI. Her insurance company says that her history with breast cancer is not cause to pay for it. Most women know that an MRI is more reliable and less invasive or dangerous than a mammogram, but I guess Jenny's insurance company doesn't care. She was happy when I said I'd try to speak on her behalf. Sorry, Jenny, but when I saw the crowd I was in line with, there was no way I was going to try to ask a question. There was a woman who said we couldn't even take our pro-health care reform signs in - and Ciro's email was the one that told us to print them out! We stood in line and started to freak out a little more.

These were the people who were in front of us in line: Man in a shirt with the flag and the Constitution emblazoned on it, eating Whataburger chicken strips, Texas toast and gravy, dipping everything into the gravy, wearing jeans with a belt made entirely out of velcro (why, you might ask - because he can adjust it to any size as his stomach grows - he adjusted his belt, making that weird velcro scraping noise, several times while we were in line); Woman, also eating Whataburger, planting her purse on a nearby chair, eating her burger in pieces (bread first, then cheese, then the tomato, then the burger patty), taking her time, ignoring the line moving in front of her, letting all of us wait behind her until she was ready to move her stuff off of the nearby chair. Behind us, two men spoke of how unions had served their purpose once but now they are all corrupt and serve no purpose, especially when all of us are being taken care of, anyway. I thought of the union formed at my old community college that allowed adjunct profs. to get paid more than below minimum wage finally.

We gave our tickets at the door and found aisle seats because I figured we may need to make a quick getaway. I didn't realize exactly how bad it would be. How could I have known? After watching kids do a color guard routine and listening to a young girl sing our national anthem better than Sheryl Crow, Henry Cisneros himself - da man! - came out and said he would be the moderator. Wow - he's like royalty down here and I was really shocked to see him head the event. He introduced Congressman Ciro, who then gave a brief slideshow on the finer points of the new bill. We were already running late and it seemed like Ciro didn't really want to be fielding questions. It was like he was putting the meat of the event off as long as possible. Cisneros pointed out that the auditorium was divided into six sections. They would field a question from each section, one at a time, and then return to the first section and start all over again. Vinny and I placed bets on how soon "crazy" would enter the auditorium. He said by the first question; I said by the third. We were both wrong. It came in at question two.

This is what happened at the Texas Town Hall:

1) A bunch of KKK members or whatever you want to call 'em got together earlier in the week and decided they were all going to the town hall in great numbers and they were going to ask questions that had absolutely nothing to do with the health care bill or health care reform.

2) They planted themselves in each of the six sections, as if they were strangers, even though they knew each other, so that they could be called on more often.

3) They made sure they had enough numbers so that when each one of them spoke, they could cheer very loudly and drown out any dissent from any of the rest of us.

4) If a normal person without any inbreeding in their background actually got a question in, they made loud noises and rude remarks so that person's question could not be heard.

5) Some of the distractions included: a statement by a plant who spoke of a woman on Medicare who died of cancer because she was denied coverage (still don't know how that relates to the new bill); the ever present assumption that the elderly are going to be killed by the new bill; and (this is what made me leave the joint), the implication that Congressman Rodriguez believes in killing human beings because he has not directly stated that he will make sure that the new bill does not cover abortion and the murder of fetuses.

I saw these freaks in line and they all knew each other. They came in together and they all sat in different locations in the auditorium. There were people around us who were just as stunned as we were at the ignorance of the questions/statements that were coming from the mouths of these mongrels, but no one would have known it because all of these a-holes had so many of their friends there, when they cheered each other on, it felt like the whole auditorium agreed with them. I told Vincent I was ready to go. We immediately went to our favorite gay-friendly restaurant, Candlelight, in order to feel better and to begin the despojo. Pa fuera con el diablo!

After talking about this horrid event over dinner, Vincent and I agreed that town halls are a great idea and these vermin are attempting to make democracy into a repulsive, vomit-inducing orgy of troglodytic behavior. That is, they want people like us, who want to be involved and have the time to be involved, to be repulsed and leave. They don't want sane, educated citizens with decent minds and spirits to come together and have a real conversation. Who is "they?" I'm not sure. Certainly not President Obama, who proposed the town hall meetings. Perhaps some of you may have some theories, but all I can say is that I truly believe that I have been to my first and, hopefully, only KKK rally. When I saw all of those angry people hoot and holler for each other and very effectively shut down any voice of reason in the room, I was frightened for my life.

What's worse is that the cameras, of course, were totally focused on these swamp larvae, so now when future generations look back on who we were during present times, they will have a digital record of the worst of us. There were fights in the audience!!! People were hitting each other! This is what I became an adult for??Nowhere will our great grandchildren see the quiet folks on the sidelines, interested in exposing the corruption of insurance companies, wishing to take care of each other with kind and wise programs that provide for all. They'll just see a bunch of poorly coiffed, fast-food eating weasels who have probably never stepped outside of their small towns except for this moment, when they drove to San Antonio and purported to represent a city that they still believe they took away from the Mexicans. Let me tell you something: you predatory scum rats never took anything away from anyone...just look around. San Antonio is still a Spanish name, as far as I know. I can't wait 'til your Whataburger waistlines kick in. Then who'll be asking for health reform? Should be reforming that messed up quadruple X hiney of yours. Maybe some of Obama's suggested preventative care could take care of that, get your booty to the damn gym, have Ciro create more bike paths and walkways.

I don't mean to get petty, but I simply cannot explain how violent this event was. I said it before and I'll say it again: it felt like a KKK rally. I feel bad that my time was wasted but also that Ciro's time was wasted on this ignorance.

Ciro had some stunning statistics during his presentation, and that is what I'll leave you with:

- 40% of businesses said they will try to stop providing healthcare for their workers in the next five years (they can't do it economically)

- 60% of bankruptcies in 2007 were due to medical bills

- in 1987, healthcare cost an average family about 7% of their income; today it is about 17% of their income (don't forget that rent/mortgage percentages have also gone up)

For more stats on Ciro's site, click here.

For the latest article on the event, click here.

I wish I could say the despojo was complete, but I don't think so. Maybe some of you have words of encouragement? Until then, I'll try burning some incense. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Many-Faced Race: A Phenotype Cuento in Pictures

My friend Nadiyah posted a cool preview of a film that examines being a bi-racial person. She has a child who will grow up with the concept, so as the good mom that she is, she is trying to be sensitive to what that will be like. Coping with the attitudes, blessings and complexities that go along with being bi-racial is not easy, so imagine growing up with a race that morphs with the years. This sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, something that surely Octavia Butler has written about somewhere, but actually, many of us have so many racial influences in our blood that we simply don't know what we will look like from year-to-year. I'll attempt to tell my story, or cuento (story in Spanish), with many pictures to guide you.

This is an image of my mother when she was somewhere around 20 years old. Most people would guess that she is Latina (whatever that means racially) or White.

This is an image of my father when he graduated from seminary. He was around 23, give or take. Depending on who you ask, some people might say he looks Asian. Indeed, he has often been confused for being Filipino, but if you take the cap off, you might guess that he's Black. Others might put him into the Latino default, which as I've implied before, says nothing about a person's race (Latino/a implies culture). Ultimately, when he and Mami got married, my grandfather didn't go to the wedding because Papi "era muy negro," which meant he was too Black.

This is a picture of me. I clearly didn't want to take the picture, but I remember digging this bikini. We can see my textured hair here. Not exactly a fro, but I had enough pouf to make Mami start wrapping my hair every night so that it would be nice and straight (she has since changed her mind about such things - I love you, Mami!)

In this picture you see the headband that Mami used to smooth my hair, but you can also see that my skin is darker. This pic was taken during Christmas, so my color was not a tan. The previous pic was during the summer and my skin was lighter. This is not camera trickery! Hence, the morphing racial features have begun!

Mami left Cuba before she graduated to marry Papi, but she was determined to get the diploma. We all went to her graduation around 1982 or '83, when I was in sixth grade. It was at this age I got my first perm, or relaxer. I remember many boys thinking I was pretty that year. Notice how different we all look. Luis, my oldest brother, on the far right, is White. He looks like an Italian hit man. :) Carlos, the middle brother, on the far left, looks very Colombian, sporting indigenous features.

By eighth grade, I had cut my hair because short on the sides, long in the front (with perhaps some Sun-In) was the rage, although I didn't exactly look like the kids on American Bandstand. I looked more like the young adults on Soul Train. But I cannot say that just cutting my hair short brought the kink out; my hair was different than it was when I was younger. It got kinkier around this time. When I was born, my hair had softer curls. Now they were in full force. I'm glad I was going to a predominantly Black school at this time because my peers there really helped me understand myself racially.

Mami, who actually has a Black grandmother, was not taught about her Black side of the family. An aunt she had who openly admitted to being Black was shunned from the family. So, Mami didn't know how to do my hair. It was easy for me to adopt the punk style because I could just hairspray the heck out of my kinky hair. Papi hated it. Still, we smiled for the cameras.

By the time I graduated high school, I was getting perms more often and I grew my hair out. Even though I was into getting tan, my skin looks lighter here. You can see my abuela here (Papi's mother) and my Tia Nohemi (far right). Abuela has gotten paler with age but Tia is still dark. Mami (far left) continues to be the lightest member of the family, with white skin and hazel eyes. My facial features during this time in my life have everyone asking, "What are you?" When I was this age, I was confused for everything, even Japanese, which I think is insane.

This is a picture from a trip to Colombia when I was 19. My cousin, Dorcas, is next to me. She has curly hair like me, but she doesn't perm it. Her brother, Moneno (that's his nickname), is to the far left and you can't see it because of his cap, but his hair is wavy, not kinky like Dorcas'. My uncle, Dorcas' father, is at the far right and though he is dark, he is not Black. He probably has ancestry that is indigenous and/or from the Indian population that can be found in South America. There are many people of Indian ancestry that are in Guyana, which is east of Colombia.

College was an enlightening time and at this point I'm wearing my hair natural and calling myself a Black Latina. This is me working at Extra Bilingual Community Newspapers, which was Chicago's only bilingual newspaper at the time.

However, it was this look that got me the most dates, unfortunately. I would sometimes take two hours to blow dry my hair straight and everyone liked it. My parents liked it, my girlfriends liked it, and lots of boys liked it. I ended up resenting that people liked me more when my hair was straighter. I felt they were responding to what race my hair texture implied. But in the end, if I blow dry it and press it, I don't have to wash it for a few days. If I leave it curly, I have to wash and style it every morning. So, nowadays...

...I may go straight, or...

I may go curly.

So what race am I? I can't call myself bi-racial like the subjects in the video Nadiyah posted. I've often said I'm mixed or multi-racial, but many times I feel I must call myself Black because Latinos/as don't recognize or speak about our African ancestry often enough. However, calling myself Black does not mean that I am recognized as Black by others. What would you call me? Would you call me different things depending on the picture? What about my niece, Elizabeth?

She's the White baby in the middle of the photo. I'm freaking out because she smiled at me or something. She's Carlos' daughter. Carlos, when filling out paperwork for her birth, had to pick between two categories to describe himself: White or Black. He picked Black. His wife, Lori, was surprised at his decision, but the way Carlos saw it, he sure as heck isn't White, so he chose Black. What does that make Elizabeth, who has white skin and dark blonde hair? Is she bi-racial? Or is she everything that both sides of the family are? Or is she simply what she appears to be to any person who might be looking at her?

For me, she is family. We are all family.

**I have a poem, "Pressure Mix," that addresses being mixed in the NAACP nominated CHECK THE RHYME. There is a link to it on the right.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Is Gregg Araki Mad (Cowgirl)?

I am totally biased and nothing you say will ever sway me. Despite the gratuitous violence and sick plotlines that reveal a director that revels in prurient interests, I am an unabashed Gregg Araki fan. Gregg Araki can do no wrong. Even when he is wrong, he is 100% right for me. If I were a gay man, I would want to be Gregg Araki. Heck, I love my life and I still wouldn’t mind being Gregg Araki for a day.

Gregg Araki is the director of the cult classics The Living End, The Doom Generation, Nowhere, Splendor, and Smiley Face. He also directed the more widely distributed Mysterious Skin, and the lesser known films, Totally F***ed Up, The Long Weekend (O’Despair) and Three Bewildered People in the Night. He wrote a pilot for MTV called This is How the World Ends, but it never made it as a regular series. I have had the privilege of seeing The Living End, The Doom Generation, Splendor, Smiley Face and Mysterious Skin (almost all of which I own). Totally F***ed Up is now on my Netflix cue. A brief summary of each:

1) The Living End is a very low-budget film about two guys driving around L.A., in a desperate state because they are both HIV positive. The early Araki film was the groundwork for Araki’s talent at writing witty, L.A.-based dialogue. There are also some slick shots of locales and the two actors are chosen well. They are attractive but not too glossy; they have edge, which is necessary for the dark humor of Araki films. This is an okay starting point, but towards the end, the film falls flat.

2) The Doom Generation has cameos by Heidi Fleiss, Perry Farrell and Parker Posey. In my opinion, it is the film that allowed Rose McGowan to do everything she has done in Hollywood. James Duval (Keanu Reeves for the underground set) is perfect as the guy who goes along with pretty much anything, probably because it feels good, and Johnathan Schaech was doing things like How to Make an American Quilt before DG demonstrated to the public that he was perfectly nasty enough to be the next B-Blue-Movie Star. This over-the-top film is another road trip where Jordan and Amy (Duval and McGowan) are forced into becoming serial killers after they pick up Xavier (Schaech). When Netflix first started, there were LOTS of posts calling Doom Generation the worst movie in existence. Now, Facebook has several fan pages devoted to the movie and its director. The reasons why it has a cult following include the visually interesting artistic design that owes a lot to raves and DJ culture, the hilarious dry dialogue (think Tarantino with queer call-you-out edge and female rhythm that plays both bawdy and soft notes), the sexy actors, and a killer soundtrack. This is the film that begins to display Araki’s world appropriately.

3) If DG began to display the Araki imagination, Nowhere sealed the space and made it concrete. The dialogue is fast and offensive, the framing of the color-saturated shots is always perfect, and the insistence on reminding the viewer that Araki can marry the high-tech with the ridiculously low-budget into a fabulous union is key. Nowhere is a day in the life of a college kid, Dark, who just wants to find someone to love. Unfortunately, his plan is thwarted by his slutty girlfriend and a pesky alien. This film also includes a sort-of-road trip to find JuJyFruit’s party. Expect to see pretty much everyone who has been a player in Hollywood for the past few decades: Rachel True, Debi Mazar, Ryan Phillipe, Heather Graham, Gibby Haynes, Denise Richards, Beverly D’Angelo, two of the Brady Bunch kids, Mena Suvari, Traci Lords, Shannon Doherty, Chiara Mastroianni, Scott Caan…and there are a lot more! I have to shout out Guillermo Díaz, too, who actually starred in a New York production of Vincent’s play, Bong Hits. Some might write-off the film as shallow, but to me it is actually a campy examination of how shallow L.A. can be. Araki is joyfully and viciously making fun of a place he both loves and hates.

4) Splendor is the film that made me aware just how talented Araki is. He took the screwball comedy format and actually made it believable in a non-traditional relationship situation. I have no interest in “threesome” relationships. As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t met one that lasted. However, by the end of Splendor, you are totally rooting for the threesome! They are so sweet and cute and man, those yellow gels just make their world seem totally perfect! The movie follows Veronica (played by Kathleen Robertson), who moved to L.A. to become an actress but cannot secure much more than the occasional temp job or a promotional gig at the auto show. When two guys want to date her, she sees the opportunity to do something “original,” as she calls it. Actually, it is quite cliché and icky: she convinces both guys to sleep with her at the same time. Wow, cuz that’s what small-town/suburban girls think moving to the big city is all about: weird screw situations. I disagree, but somehow, we sympathize, even when V. get’s pregnant. Somehow she lands a TV movie and the director/producer, Ernest, “falls in love” with her and she decides to leave her threesome and marry the director because it is best for her baby. She even has the arty sidekick friend who warns her that juggling three men is bad, bad, bad. Duh! But I dare you to watch the film and see if you don’t find yourself engaged. The jokes are funny, everything looks pretty, and the ending is actually believable (aside from the pool thing).

5) Mysterious Skin is the more “Hollywood” film and very little of the Araki humor is found in this one. This is a serious film about molestation and its after-effects. We find the killer Araki soundtrack, the great visuals that are made complete with good make-up and costume choices, and a group of actors that are compelling to watch (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Elisabeth Shue, Brady Corbett). The film is based on a novel by Scott Heim. The subject matter isn’t easy and I can’t say I ever want to see this movie again, even though I thought it was excellent after I saw it. I will say, however, that Araki cannot make a movie without leaving some of his stamps on it. I believe this one starts out with mist, just like Nowhere does. For a glimpse at the script to Araki's MTV pilot, which starts out with a misty shower scene nearly identical to Nowhere's opening scene, click here, and click the link "This is How the World Ends" on the left of the screen.

6) I am so glad that someone finally made a stoner film with a woman as the main character. Smiley Face is just that. I’m not sure I like the Manifesto part of the movie but every other part is HA-LA-RI-OUS! I don’t believe Anna Faris would have gotten her House Bunny film without having done this one first, but that’s just my opinion. They were made so close together, that could be totally wrong. Faris plays Jane, an actress in Hollywood that has pretty much screwed everything up due to her obsession with mary jane. We are allowed to see just how her screwed up life came to a head on one particular day. Bright, sunny lighting abounds and Faris’ comedic timing when imagining what her roommate does on his own time or when attempting to audition whilst lit up like a X-mas tree hits the funny bone in just the right place. The Araki humor is back with this one. Again, he forces the viewer to sympathize with someone who normally wouldn’t garner sympathy from her own parents. Shouldn’t Araki be doing commercials? You’ll see great parts by Danny Masterson and Jane Lynch in this one.

So, why am I putting my ode to Araki in print, you might be wondering by now. A couple of reasons. First, I want to defend him. There are the accusations of shallowness, of violence, of debauchery. Araki has a dramatic sense of humor, kind of like what you might find in the films Girls Will Be Girls or Die, Mommy, Die! He goes to extremes but in such a campy way, it is meant to be laughed at. No, not like how we laugh at death in Tarantino films, which has begun to really bother me. Araki goes to extremes in order to show us how ridiculous we are. In Doom Generation, he attacks the crappy food we eat (the characters live on hot dogs and nachos), the heterosexist world, and how even sweet characters inevitably become corrupt or die, regardless of good intention. In Nowhere, characters who are barely 20 years old have come to think of love as a quaint idea that isn’t realistic and despite having families that seem to care, the alienation makes these people, who haven’t even completely formed their identities yet, relate to inspira-junk on televangelist shows more than their own families. Mysterious Skin is an excellent film, just read the reviews. And Smiley Face shows how we jail people who are encouraged to follow an unattainable dream in Hollywood, fail miserably and then resort to anti-social behavior. I mean, just stop letting kids take the bus to that damn Hollywood, already! Stop making kids think they can be discovered. Splendor touches on the same issues.

Second, I have a hunch that Gregg Araki has made more films under aliases, but I can’t be sure. Maybe you can help me with this. I watched Mad Cowgirl a while back and it is one sick film. Totally disgusting. If you have any desire to make someone turn into a vegetarian, either take them on a Texas-Mexico border trip to ranches and U.S.D.A. inspection sites, OR make them watch this film. However, what stood out even more to me was the continuing parallels with other Gregg Araki films. Mad Cowgirl was supposedly written and directed by Gregory Hatanaka. Here are some parallels that I found:

1) ironic TV figures in televangelist cameos: John Ritter plays a televangelist in Nowhere; Walter Koenig plays one in Mad Cowgirl

2) multi-racial casts in nearly all of his films; this one isn’t any different

3) Sarah Lassez, James Duval, Devon Odessa, and Jaason Simmons are all part of this cast and they’ve all been in Araki films (I believe they’re all in Nowhere together, too—in fact, Sarah Lassez and Jaason Simmons are in a scene where Simmons’ character rapes Lassez’s character, in Nowhere; in Mad Cowgirl, she kills him during sex)

4) gratuitous use of colored lights and gels, especially red, green and blue – yellow is also used for happy moments, but what is most important about this is that it is rarely subtle, you can notice it as a viewer

5) shots of people watching TV under “blue” TV light (they have this in a lot of films, but Araki uses it religiously)

6) incest (literally in Mad Cowgirl, virtually in Nowhere, where a brother and sister feel “randy” at the same times)

7) running theme of a woman who can’t pick one man/lover; found in Mad Cowgirl, Nowhere, Doom Generation, and Splendor

8) rape scenes; found in Mad Cowgirl, Doom Generation, and Nowhere

9) killer soundtracks featuring a taste that owes a lot to rave and DJ culture (brought this up earlier), Japanese and Asian pop and alternative, late 80s and 90s new wave/punk/alternative, and what a Wiki entry calls “shoegazing” music (like Jesus and Mary Chain, where the musicians are always looking at distortion pedals, hence “shoegazing”)

10) serial murders; found in Mad Cowgirl, Doom Generation and Nowhere

Now, if Mad Cowgirl had one or two of these elements, I wouldn’t have made the connection, but all of them? Furthermore, the few public photos of Gregory Hatanaka do not show his face directly. They are always at a weird angle that does not allow one to see what he really looks like. I also think it is interesting that they share the same first name. However, I’m not sure. I’m not completely sure if Mad Cowgirl is a Gregg Araki film or if I’m just pining for more films by this man. What do you think?

Other stuff -
For an unofficial Gregg Araki page with some links that work and some that don't, click here.

For an old article on Araki, where Robin Wood totally misses the point of Splendor, click here.

UPDATE: Gregory Hatanaka actually answered a message I wrote to him on fb. He denies being Gregg Araki and was very friendly in his reply. He said he actually gets the Gregg Araki comment a lot and that his influences are actually Takashi Miike and John Cassavetes. He thanked me for watching his film. So, maybe I'm wrong, or maybe he's being polite and lying and he just wants his darn privacy. I hope I didn't bother him too much.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

AWP, or Zombie Fest

At the bookfair today, one of the dudes at the tables called AWP "Zombie Fest," and I was like, "Whaaaa???"

"Man, no one here has had more than seven hours sleep total, we're all wandering around with a glazed look in our eyes, moaning."

OMG, THAT'S TRUE! I was laughing hard. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

YESTERDAY, we set up the Sagebrush end of our booktable and let people know what we were all about by offering issues for free. It was insane madness, with journals, books, membership drives, literary criticism anthologies. People wearing patterned stockings, horn-rimmed glasses and funky knit hats were wandering around, offering book trades and sharing Valentine's Day chocolates and candies.

When Vincent and I got up to wander around and buy books, we ended up seeing a lot of people who we didn't expect to see. First, was Anne-Marie Fowler who has published an anthology of Asian American women writers. It's nice to see a project start as a cfp and then come to fruition. We bought a copy for the UTSA students to enjoy. I met Anne-Marie in New York when she was reading at The Bowery Poetry Club, and she had me as one of the participants of a women writer's workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Ever since then, our paths have continued to cross, so I was happily surprised to see her there.

Then we ran into Maria Mazziotti-Gillan. She is famous for LOTS of great anthologies, one of which I taught at UTSA. I mentioned that some students have a hard time with it and this sweet, dynamic woman was thrilled. "It's supposed to be unsettling!" Hence the title. :)

Later, we ran into Alex Espinoza, author of Still Water Saints and Vincent's Macondo buddy. He had a book table and is staying in the same hotel as us, so we've run into him several times and he is always a happy person to talk to, full of jokes and good spirit.

Other folks we were thrilled to see include Khalil Murrell, of the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Foundation. He's the dude that gets us a gig every April that allows us to go East, read poetry, get paid, and see our friends! And Khalil is an amazingly interesting and talented poet and friend, but more on that in a sec.

After running around at the bookfair, we saw David Vance, who I work with at UTSA, chatted a bit and planned on heading to another panel, but fatigue set in. We'd been up since 8 a.m. and we needed lunch. David directed us to Cafe Intelligentsia, which he argued has the best coffee in the country. After Vincent had a cup, he agreed. Mmmmm.

The panel took backseat to a nap before dinner with friends. Our friend Gerrard, who we hadn't seen since we lived out East, met us in the lounge of our hotel at around 6:30 p.m. and we were soooo happy to see our bandmate. We were catching up on our lives for nearly two hours and we could have gone on and on, but we had other friends to meet!

By 8:30, we were at Ben Pao's for excellent Chinese food. We met with Michelle, Sagebrush Head Officer, and two of my oldest, closest friends, Nancy and her husband Roy. As soon as we all got together, mad joking was the tone for the rest of the evening. Nancy, aw man, she's my homegirl. Because I've had an expense account for the majority of the trip and I haven't had to touch my own cash much, I was finally able to treat all my friends with my own money for the first time in my life, something that they've been doing for me for longer than I can remember. This meant a lot to me. I feel like they deserve so much more, but starving artists can't offer much beyond a work of art. I hope they continue to like my poems.

Our excellent waiter pointed out that I had added a tip when the restaurant already does that. Wow. That doesn't usually happen. We broke him off something for that and he took a photo of all of us which was promptly placed on Facebook. Oh, how cliche'. Since the evening was still young, I suggested, predictably, the 96th floor (the 95th is the restaurant; 96th is the bar) of the John Hancock building, which normally has an awesome view. It had started to snow, but we didn't care. We went anyway.

This time Nancy and Roy treated. They always do that! We laughed loudly some more except when the entire room became eerily silent at my joking about Vincent's friends in Nashville not exactly focusing on my face when I met them. Boy was I red! And Vinny was, too. Total uncomfortable silence moment which caused Gerrard to giggle on cue. What are old friends for if not to witness us fall on our faces?

We left at last call and got a lift to our hotel by Nancy and Roy. Big hugs and a rock in my stomach upon realizing that I have to leave Chicago and all my insides behind again. Nancy and Roy, classy folks that they are, gave Gerrard a ride home to Hyde Park, and Vinny and I slept uncomfortably, missing all of them already.


TODAY, we got up LATE.

But, we planned on spending the whole day at the conference. We headed to the bookfair first because we knew some folks would be closing shop. Lots of book deals and lots of great journals for Sagebrush volunteers to learn from. We were able to buy some good books for ourselves, too. Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers, the Helix, Lyric, Rio Grande Review, so many titles I can't list them all. We ran into David again and we mentioned the fatigue and late nights and just nodded. Still, the mood was celebratory. Chocolate and wine was being passed around and one table offered free love poems that you could pick out of a box. My poem was about totally imperfect, poorly matched people being so incredibly happy together. It made me smile.

After our book work, we packed up the goodies and had some lunch in the conference hotel so that we could make the Chicago slam panel on time. Vincent and I talked about the support we had in New York and how whenever someone is struggling on stage, the audience always applauds and "gives love" in order to encourage the writer to keep going and feel comfortable. Even though New York is considered "rude," its poetry and writer scene, though very competitive, is extremely supportive and willing to lend a hand and share and listen. This is where I learned to take my first steps as a real writer. I got choked up at remembering the always there supportive applause, and I realized how much I missed this.

So when we got to the slam panel on time and saw that Marc Smith and the other panelists were not there, it was perfect timing that C.J. Laity, of Chicago, decided to host an impromptu, illegal AWP panel open mic. Everyone who had gathered stayed to watch people go up on a open mic that was totally unplanned. I read a poem, Vincent read a poem, Khalil showed up and read a poem (an AMAZING piece on everything that his father taught him - SO moved), a wonderful Romanian woman read a poem, there was a sarcastic Barnes and Noble poem, a Michelle Obama is my bestie (bestest friend) poem, and poems by so many different poets, it couldn't have been better.

I said it at the mic and I will write it here again: This is exactly what I came here for. No stuffiness, no pompous attitude, just poets sharing their work on the mic. I couldn't have been in a better room of the conference. I think Marc Smith would have loved to have seen the anti-slam, as well. And C.J. Laity remembered me, too! I had met him through Al DeGenova, of After Hours (the journal that published my first poem, "Cubanita"), and he had posted some of my work on his website. Good memory!

Now, I'm headed to meet high school friends at an anti-Valentine's Day party, but really, I'm all about the love right now. I've been emotionally conflicted for much of this trip but some things changed this for me. One was that Marco let me know that the Sagebrush event that I set up but could not attend in San Antonio went very well - opera was sung, apparently! The second was hearing the poets.

There's something cool about knowing that poetry and art is simultaneously going on in various parts of my worlds, near and far. This is so good, I'm finally at a loss for words.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chicago and AWP, or When Writers Gather

Despite ridiculous reports that Chicago is a city of misery, I've had the wonderful opportunity to return to my mother city and retrace the concrete cracks of my youth by attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, hosted by my alma mater, Columbia College Chicago. I never even knew about the conference 'til I was asked to attend, by our generous funders, to promote the literary journal I edit, The Sagebrush Review (a journal fully run by undergraduate and graduate students at UTSA). I didn't even have a chance to think about the conference until a few days before I was set to leave, my work schedule being so incredibly hectic. I had qualifying exam committee meetings, Master Teaching Fellowship meetings, interns to direct, poetry/short story readings to plan in absentia, classes to grade papers for, and, oh yeah, clothes to pack and a plane to catch.

Thankfully, despite bad weather, my plane was only delayed a little over an hour. Vincent and I, along with Michelle, the Head Officer of the Sagebrush, checked in to our hotel, The Palmer House Hilton, on Wednesday at around 5 p.m. or so. The plan was to get freshened up (shower) and meet for a nice meal. I'd passed the Palmer House a million times growing up in Chicago, and I knew it was where Tom Cruise met Guido the Killer Pimp in "Risky Business," but I other than using its hallway to get from Wabash to State on cold days, I'd never really stepped inside. The lobby and its bar are incredible. Really regal, old school decadence, or at least that's how they're promoting the place right now. They aren't too far off. The ballrooms and larger spaces are a photographer's dream, but the actual rooms are remodeled spaces that harken back to a time when we were smaller people and when plumbing wasn't so good. Either way, you can't complain about free. I feel very taken care of. So I was happy to look all around at the gilded fixtures and mirrored chandeliers before walking down the street to have good Italian (something which doesn't exist in San Antonio). We went to Italian Village, which is Chicago's oldest Italian restaurant. The pasta and sauces were amazing and Michelle had an excellent moscato. The waiter was super nice, too. After dinner, we talked into the wee hours under the dim lights of the Palmer House bar. I had a sweet pear brandy and took pictures galore.

The next day, an overpriced breakfast in bed and then off to the conference. WOW. There are A LOT of people here from all over the world! I've heard Spanish and English in a variety of accents, some Eastern languages I unfortunately have not been schooled in, and definitely some European ones I can grasp a little of. Vincent and I went to a panel called, "Revising Modernisms: Innovative Latino Writing in the 21st Century," which featured J. Michael Martinez, Antonio Viego, John-Michael Rivera, Gabriel Gomez, and Jennifer Reimer. The last speaker had some interesting things to say about his experience at UCLA, I believe. Something about only being given one Latino author to read in his four years, even though the population of the state and school is majority Latino. However, the panel itself was...dry. I was also disappointed when one female poet rearranged a T.S. Eliot quote and said that for her poetry is the negation of identity. Her statement was meant to reveal how poetry is "fake" or a distortion of what is real. She went on to say that she does not want to write from a racialized identity because it is problematic and she inevitably feels forced to represent. While I understand the need to not be pigeonholed, I personally find it impossible to write from a place completely devoid of racial bias or influence.

The panel titled, "Hip Hop and the Future of the Black Writer," was more of what I was looking for. It featured Jessica Young, Avery R. Young, Toni Assante Lightfoot, Tacuma Roeback, Alexis Pride, and Cynthium Johnson-Woodfolk. We were only able to catch the tail end of this panel, but boy were we happy we did. The energy in the too small space for all the people who wanted to be there was dynamic! Instead of just reading from papers, the writers were speaking from the heart and also taking questions from the chair of the panel and the audience. This was an interactive panel. Some statements that stood out to me included but were by no means limited to: "People who criticize current commercial hip hop and say that it is bad are people who are criticizing America because the medium very accurately reflects what America values and what we are giving power to. If you don't like what you see, then you need to change it. If you don't like it, get up and dance."; someone quoted Nas, referring to the Black community - "We are the slave and the master" - in terms of the oppressed but also the ones who create the culture that the master ends up using; for better or worse, hip hop has created a new space for the independent Black businessperson and Sean Combs was brought up, particularly for how he had the original Declaration of Independence at one of his Long Island parties and how he stayed home to watch the Inauguration with his son so that his son could see something he did not ever have the chance to see as a young Black child; and finally, education and our failure to make it successful for the past 15 or so years was brought up, especially in terms of not being good communicators and readers of what our children are bringing to the table (because we just bluntly correct them instead of trying to understand what they are trying to communicate and helping them with their communication).

Vincent and I loved the hip hop panel and, over lunch at George Mitchell's Artists Cafe, lamented that the same vibe was not found in the Latino panel we attended. It turns out not all the Latino panels were as stuffy, so maybe we just hit a crowd that hadn't had enough sleep.

After lunch, we wanted to take advantage of Chicago style. We took the Blue Line up to Damen and I showed Vincent all the spots on the buildings as we came up out of the tunnel that were painted over by Daley in the early 1990s because the city decided the gorgeous graffiti murals were bad. Bucktown is crazy gentrified. It is complete. The basement loft where Billy Wimsatt (Upski) and Alex (of Stoney Island fame) used to live is now a jewelry shop. The I.D. Under house I think got leveled. Still, we had a good time. I got a $29 dress at Akira, the new (to me) fashion empire, apparently. And Vincent had an excellent time digging the stacks at Reckless Records.
We took the train back to our home base and by now it was time for dinner. Since we are doing conference stuff and seeing friends the rest of the time, we decided to have a Valentine's Day date early. Pops for Champagne and a jazz show in its basement club was what we decided on. I'd heard Rose Colella on her myspace page and fell in love with her sweet voice, so it was perfectly romantic. We stayed for her early set and part of her second set, and held hands while dipping into fondue. But we wanted more writing. Poetry, specifically.

So, we ran back to the Chicago Hilton and Towers and caught the last hour of the poetry slam, which featured a lot of young dudes. Not a lot of ladies, but alas, all the judges were male, too. Still, it was nice to hear the young voices. And, what's really cool is that tomorrow's slam is a flash fiction slam, which I've never heard of, so it looks like the form is branching, which is great.

After walking around the rooms of the stunning Towers, we decided to walk back to the Palmer House, taking in the desolate city streets at night. Across the way, sculptors are creating ice art for a blues festival, it appears. Not exactly sure what it's all about, but it looks like the final product is going to be amazing. The moon was 3/4 full. And the doormen were hosing off the streets. It was a nice walk.

Tomorrow, the goal is to actually be able to set up our book table, which will offer free copies of the Sagebrush Review (not the issue I've edited, but good previous ones). Holla!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama Inauguration, Freakie-Stylie-Like, Pt. 2

1/20/09, DAY THREE:

We knew we had to get up early, but we had also agreed that we wouldn't be getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. like the folks who were planning on standing in the cold all day. No, we figured we'd get to our all-day Obama party at 9:30 a.m., in time for the brunch that came with it. It was not easy for your narrator to get up at 7:30 a.m. Or to move quickly enough for her counterpart. I drank three glasses of water - which I should have drunk before going to bed - and managed to get myself together. Like trooper trained by New York City daytime-to-nighttime-can't-stop-at-home-and-change-16-hour-days/nights, I figured out the proper clothing that would keep me warm during the day and allow me to be stylin' at night. Black strapless dress w/hoodie on top, thick black tights, knee-high boots. The only thing missing was the right necklace....

Our host, Joe, offered to drive us in to wherever we were going because the news announced Metro delays. Apparently, by 7 a.m., the Mall was already full and hordes of people were backing everything up by trying to get in. Joe drove us back to U Street. We had started at U Street and kept going back. We fell in love with this area. The historic neighborhood, known for being the stomping ground of Duke Ellington and other jazz greats, was where we planned on spending most of our Inauguration Day. We bought advance tickets to an Inaugural party produced by Brightest Young Things, a party network in D.C. that gets both large and indie bands and artists together for mayhem. The mayhem would come later that night. Now, we just wanted to see President Obama and have a good breakfast.

We got to Bohemian Caverns, the site for the BYT Inaugural, and found things to be running a little late. I guess they should have had a little water before bed, too. No stress. I grabbed a seat and watched, along with the other early attendees, the events leading up to President Obama, while Vincent sprinted to the nearest drugstore to buy lots of newspapers commemorating the greatest event in my lifetime. The restaurant area of the joint, where we were watching on mega-screen and listening on super-mega-speakers (ouch!), was filling up fast. Still no brunch. After some more waiting, some more annoying Katie Couric nonsense (did she really say "visual image?"), and strange dealings with people who didn't know how to charge for brunch, I finally got my plate. Wait, who's that in line?? Someone from San Antonio? In the same place for the same purpose as me? Didn't think I'd see a fellow Gemini Ink writer out here, but that was crazy cool and made me that much more excited for the Inauguration. We said our hellos and then settled down to hear Katie Couric stifle it and let the main event happen.

The place was packed and everyone hushed as Diane Feinstein made her opening speech. We tolerated Rick Warren's prayer until his saucy pronunciation of "Sasha" - that made everyone bust out laughing. Aretha's hat brought on giggles, too. I LOVED it. Go, Aretha! We cheered when Biden was sworn in, mainly because we were getting closer. Vincent mused that we would have, for a few minutes, a President Bush and V.P. Biden. I dug the multicultural quartet of Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Montero and McGill. Everyone cheered loudly when Couric announced that, technically, Bush's term had expired at noon. Probably the best thing she said all morning/afternoon.

Finally, Obama was being sworn in! Here it was! Actually, happening! We all stood up in our little U Street space, just like the VIPs on TV. We laughed nervously when Obama tripped over the first words he had to repeat. He's human, after all. But he got through it, and we CHEERED! Couples were hugging each other. Tears of joy were flowing. Mimosas were tinkled together. We were cheering for a good five minutes, it seemed, only stopping when it was clear that he was starting his speech.

And then we listened.

And it was beautiful.

The way I see it, Obama welcomed both religious persons and atheists. He, in a diplomatic way, apologized to the nations we've taken advantage of in the past. He condemned greed and praised being a grateful community leader. He spoke eloquently and reminded us all that we do have grace and beauty in our United States; we just haven't valued it and promoted it in the ways that we should have. We were all so happy and so moved. We listened to every word, memorizing our favorite parts. Now how long has it been since we've listened to a U.S. president in that way? This was the first time in my lifetime. Heck, even Vincent, a New York cynic, was moved to man-tears (those are tears that well up but don't actually fall).

After Obama finished his speech, we all stood up again and cheered again! Of course, time to celebrate, but now I must bring in the pet peeve.

Very few folks in my vicinity listened to the poet Elizabeth Alexander. I've heard mixed reviews and, I suppose, she is no Maya Angelou, but she certainly is no Robert Frost (not to say Frost doesn't have his merits, but....). Regardless of what you thought of her words, I do think it is important that we give poets a little more respect in the U.S. I liked Alexander's words, even though in the poetry circles they might seem old news. It was important that she draw a picture that allows us to see all of our different faces, our different faces in terms of work and culture. How often do we remember that this is what the U.S. is? This is important to me because I still find students who do not understand the importance of acknowledging the experiences of U.S. people of different backgrounds or of the people who live near us in other countries.

Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery brought back the flavor that everyone seemed to want. He was great! Charming, clear, deep and with flair! I'ma hafta get me a copy of that prayer.

Vincent and I were glowing and didn't exactly know what to do with ourselves after the event was over, but we knew we weren't staying at Bohemian Caverns. We wanted to walk around D.C. before the concert and party that was part of our Inaugural package. We already had our silvery glitter bracelets that would allow us re-entry, so we took to the streets. An Internet cafe and a great necklace to go with my strapless dress were my objectives. Vinny wanted good music.

Can you believe that we didn't find one Internet cafe or one music store? Everything is "free wi-fi," of course, and we are guessing that music is just downloaded in D.C.? However, I did find a great art and jewlery shop. Dekka is in a walk-up and it occupies two floors. The speech had just ended and the cool Argentinian woman attending the store had already managed to mix the speech with some techno/house music which was pumping throughout the store. The walls were filled with very reasonably priced graffiti art and pop art; they have a very cool collection of vinyl records with Obama's image on them in contrasting bright colors. I would've bought one, but how to transport it back to San Antone in one piece? I concentrated on the one-of-a-kind jewelry and found a black and amber Cleopatra-like necklace that was just the right vibe. I spoke with the attendant in Spanish and we bonded on Obama and his image outside of the United States, which is VERY different than that of his predecessor. Vincent liked some of the music for sale, but wanted a larger selection; they just have choice tracks there and they are probably a little overpriced. Still, it was the only place we found music for sale. We said "Ciao!" to Dekka and the friendly owner, and moved on.

Moving on meant more walking, because we wanted to see every bit of everything. The architecture in D.C. is gorgeous and the people were all in good spirits, so the cold wasn't a big deal for us. We walked from U Street to Georgetown and decided to dig in some bookstores, which had to be good because they were close to the university. Well, they were. We went to Bridge Street Books and it had one of the largest poetry sections I'd ever seen in a book store. Usually, poetry gets a shelf. Bridge Street gives poetry several floor to ceiling shelves that take up a wall. It's clear that some of the books are for students, as they are labeled for specific classes, but a lot of the stuff would be appealing to all. They have great sections on Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and have the standards for anyone interested in cultural studies or political science. We love Bridge Street Books. I bought Sonia Sanchez's Homegirls and Handgrenades. There were so many things I could've bought for my dissertation and this seemed the most reasonable. We were digging for at least an hour.

After this, we wandered, peeking into windows and then decided to head back to U for dinner. There was an organic Italian restaurant that stood out to me. We'd eat, then head back to Bohemian Caverns for the concert/party. This was a long walk. A very long walk. But it was a very cool walk, too. At one point we found ourselves on New Hampshire Avenue and this street has embassies, fancy fraternity houses, and beautiful mansions where, apparently, many parties were being held. We tried not to stare as men in tuxes and women in long gowns and coats walked by. Interestingly, even the $3,000 ball people were in good spirits because they looked at us and smiled and threw a "good evening" out, here and there. It was a very interesting walk and I was surprised to see how close all of this was to U Street.

Vincent's hip was hurting and my leg was getting a little sore by the time we found the organic Italian. The restaurant's name is Coppi's and we did not know what we were in store for. Vincent and I shared the tortelline di castagne, which was plenty, and it had flavors that I didn't know existed or that could be combined in that fashion. Savory lamb sausage and sticky carmelized dates - mmmmmm! The warm, cozy restaurant was made that much cozier by the sweet waitstaff. Big fans of Coppi's.

It was around 9 or 10 p.m. when we got to the Brightest Young Things party, I think. They handed out Obama cupcakes and had four floors of young fun. The top floor had the coat check, VIP area and a photographer. The floor below that had the rowdier bands and DJs. The floor below that was the restaurant where we had watched the Inauguration in the morning/afternoon; there they played good music and still had the TV on. The cavern, the basement floor, is a work of art that reminds me of where Vincent and I got married. Everything is plaster art, with faces coming out of the walls and seating within little caves and such. There, the mellower bands played. We got to hear Love Language, Mixtape DJs, The Art of Junk and Team Facelift. We loved Love Language, Mixtape DJs and The Art of Junk. We even, at the invitation of the band, got on-stage and got funky with Art of Junk! Well, they asked just about everybody to get on-stage, so it wasn't that big a deal, really. :) Team Facelift, even though they were representing Brooklyn, got on our nerves. Uncreative frat boy music, methinks. I mostly enjoyed seeing all the clothing that was transformed into Obama gear. They were selling trendy Obama dresses with his image spray painted on them, but I was watching the budget.

Not sure if it was 2 or 3 a.m. when we decided we'd had enough. We'd walked all day and I danced for a good hour or so in da club, so we wanted to get some rest. We easily caught a cab to Joe's, took one last look at each other and smiled at our luck. Who would've thought that two artists like us would have been there? I had the best sleep. Obama's in the Black and White House sleep.

1/21/09, DAY FOUR:

I had homework to do. We got up late and had breakfast at noon at a chain place in the business district. Vincent and I were cranky that it was almost over. After breakfast, I went to the library because it was the only place I could find Internet access. I waited for a hour to be able to do my work for an hour on a limited-usage computer. I managed to get my response to Calvino (2 pages), my freewriting (a page) and my "in-class" writing assignment (don't remember the number of pages) all done with two minutes to spare. If you recall the last blog, my task was to write a sixth memo for the next millennium. The memos that Calvino wrote addressed what writers should do in their work, the qualities the best writing has. Calvino wrote of quickness, lightness, visibility and others. Vincent and Eric offered relevance and necessity. I liked their options, but I didn't like the words. I opted for a phrase, a phrase that President Obama has used in several speeches: Make it plain. I referred to the Gil Scott-Heron monologue where he states, after seeing some sort of fancy, elusive art, "Must be deep." I think that we've forgotten, in the search of being deep, that writing, and other art forms, should also "make it plain." I also wanted to use a phrase that is Black. An African American phrase, to be specific. In this way, I tied together my experience in D.C., my love of African American culture, and my love of writing. I had fun doing this assignment.

Vincent, in the meantime, found a place to purchase music: the library! They have great CDs for a dollar or less. He bought Herbie Hancock and something else, I forget. I was glad he got his fix in. :)

The Portrait Gallery and its connecting museums were just a few blocks away, so we decided to spend the rest of the day looking at portraits of supposedly important White people. It was the only museum that made me angry. Why are all the portraits so glum? Does importance mean depression? Laura Bush's was the only one with a smile and I can't stand her phony grin. Oh, well. Fortunately, it is connected to the American Art Museum and Reynolds Center, which was the only place I actually saw a significant amount of Latino work represented. Now, I only saw a miniscule fraction of D.C., so this isn't saying much. Still, I hope that in the future, I will be able to easily find more of the Latino side of the city. I've heard there is a significant Cuban population in D.C. and I'd like to see how the Afro-Latino pop. is represented. Nonetheless, we love the Reynold's Center, with its neon exhibits and flickering monitor walls.

Can you believe the trip hasn't ended?? It was so jam-packed, it's hard to get it all down. Okay, we took a breather in Chinatown, which was around the corner from the museums, and there we met a friendly restaurant bartender who told us that he pretty much slept in the restaurant for the past week and didn't eat much between serving patrons. We thanked him and all of D.C. for doing such a good job. After some hot sake, we braved the cold again and walked through the Howard University area to get back to U.

Ethiopian food was the goal, because one of my profs said it is excellent in D.C., but those restaurants were too full. Instead, we went to Indulj, where we had Southern-style tapas. That's right. And to our delight, a live jazz band, Pete Muldoon and friends, was playing. This was unexpected and a perfect final act. I was having so much fun, I bought my dad an Obama tie from one of the patrons. I'm not sure if he liked it.

We headed back to Joe's to sleep for a few hours before a 6 a.m. flight - ugh! I don't remember much about the flight except that U.S. Airways charges $2 for any sort of drink and the attendants are rude. One last airport image does stay with me, though: McCain items on clearance.


(If you want to see the BYT pictures they have on their site, click here. Not for the faint of heart.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Inauguration, Freakie-Stylie-Like, Pt. 1

1/18/09, DAY ONE:

Vincent and I, wearing our warmest gear, excitedly took Frontier Airlines to Denver, Colorado, and then quickly switched planes to head for Washington, D.C. First of all, Frontier Airlines still offers free drinks and your first piece of checked luggage is free, although we didn't check anything. Frontier rocks. They were on-time and efficient, which allowed everyone on the plane to revel in the great mood we all shared. I did most of my assigned reading for class on the plane (Six Memos for the Next Millennium), but the electric energy made it hard to concentrate.

One of the airline attendants started some call and response with us, asking, "Where you headed?"

"D.C.!" we shouted.

"To see who?"

"Obama!" we shouted back. We all applauded and cheered when the plane landed (although, that's nothing new for Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, but I digress). Even though it was 10 p.m. when we arrived, we were all amped.

A quick Metro ride got Vincent and me to the Petworth neighborhood, where our humble host, Joseph, picked us up and drove us to his home. Yes, we were two of the thousands who were staying in a "stranger's" home. Joseph was really nice, but being the paranoid Latina that I am, I couldn't sleep the first night. Not only was I worried that I might be ax murdered and I hadn't showered, but I was also anticipating seeing old friends, checking out the city, and singing, "Ding, Dong, the wicked bitch is dead," at noon two days later. I let my imagination go to ridiculous extremes until about 3 a.m., when I finally got some needed rest.

1/19/09, DAY TWO:

Vincent was starving by the time we got up. I got ready in record time, but that didn't make things easier when we got to our desired U Street neighborhood. Damn, was everything packed! I didn't care, but Vincent was ravenous. I made jokes and looked at all the beautiful D.C. people. All the ladies had their hair done, men were wearing furs, we saw preppy men in bow ties and lots of beautiful textured hair in locks and thick curls the colors of honey and paprika. I saw one blonde tourist in heels without hosiery and wondered how long that would work for her in 20 degree weather, but she looked like Blair on the 1st season of The Facts of Life, so I guess that made up for it. Everyone was stylin' to the point of camp and I loved it!

We decided to wait in line at Creme, on U Street, one of the only places that was open and serving breakfast. We waited about half an hour, but it was totally worth it. I had the Chesapeake (eggs benedict with mouth-watering crab) and Vincent had the hearty chicken and waffles. We made friends with the couple next to us - it was crowded, okay - and they offered us good advice on where to go and how to get around.

Next, I called Papi - it was his birthday on MLK Day, so I had to send some love. I left a message for Onome, and called Eric and Richard, old Kenwood acquaintances. The guys had just woken up and said they'd call back when they were ready to hang.

Vincent and I decided to head toward where the action would be taking place the next day: the Mall. We took lewd pictures of the Washington Monument, which isn't the most original thing to do, but we couldn't resist. Afterward, we wandered into the sculpture garden and found that Joan Miro had answered the Washington Monument's presence with a sculpture of his own. I'll just say that it is a more feminine version of what the Monument represents.

Our ultimate goal was the African Art Museum, which was excellent. Now, there's something you need to know about the Smithsonian Museums - they are crazy. You will get lost. You will be underground and then all of a sudden find yourself in another museum. But it will be a great museum! After looking at ancient art from the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Madagascar, Kenya, Malawi, and Ethiopia, among others, we wandered into a few modern African American exhibits, one of which featured the work of our friend Leslie Hewitt! We were so surprised to see her there, and totally delighted! Goooo, Leslie!

The last treat was wandering into the exhibit titled, After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy. This photography exhibit compiles historical images of marches, riots, violence and unity within the civil rights movement in the United States. In addition to the historical photos, we also see an experimental look at African Americans in advertising, sans the logos, which creates a haunting effect and starkly shows how color is displayed for profit.

After seeing wall after wall of these images, which came right after sculptures of kings and queens in Africa, and the sweet, generational work of our friend, I felt very privileged to be in Washington, D.C. during this unique time. More importantly, I felt honored to be sharing this experience with so many beautiful people of all ages: children just born, abuelitas, men and women, young students. What an education for me! How blessed am I!

I emerged from the humid underground vaults of knowledge overwhelmed with information and ideas, and anxious to see what would come next.

After reaching daylight, Vincent and I checked the phone and realized that we missed a call or two. We got in contact with Eric and agreed to meet at the Lincoln Memorial, which I had never seen. When we tried to get close, we realized that just wasn't going to happen. It was as crowded as everywhere else. School groups, church choirs, Bears fans (Chicago in da house!) and all sorts of folks were excitedly running around. We took distant pictures and through a series of calls and texts, found Eric and Richard by the Port-A-Potties. Ah, how poetic!

I cannot describe how strange it is to see someone after so many years. You have an almost indelible image of the person as a child, and here he/she is, with grey hair, or with a mature physique that no longer implies, "I haven't gone through puberty yet!" What differences do they see in me, I'm still left wondering.

We all introduced/reintroduced ourselves and agreed to find food and drink, not necessarily in that order. It was somewhere around dusk and the light was quickly fading, which meant it was getting colder. However, Richard, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency, was our reluctant guide because he has only been in D.C. for a year, not much less than Vincent and I have been in San Antonio. We ended up using Eric's iPhone and Richard's instincts to get to Georgetown. It was a long walk, but Vincent and I really enjoyed it. I am NOT joking about this. San Antonio is not a walking city and we desperately wish it were.

We ate at a pub and the wine was amazing. My steak was too big and Eric ended up taking the portion I didn't eat, even though he'd already eaten a rack of ribs. I think all our walking made up for this. Dinner conversation was fine, but what I remember most is that we all have significant others who are younger than us. My cougar tendencies are mild. Vincent is only four years younger. Eric's wife is five years younger. Richard beats us all, even if we combine the years, okay? What's up with Kenwood people? Is there Viagra in Harold's Chicken or what?

Drinks kept pouring at Mie N Yu, a swanky club/restaurant, where lots of tourists were drunk and bragging about Oprah staying at their hotel or Larry King or some other VIP. A couple of 40-something blondies were interviewed by a local station and nearly fell on the floor, girls-gone-wild-style. This was one of my favorite parts of the evening.

And then I realized, the Inauguration is just a big, freaky party for nerds. Obama has made it a little more glamorous than usual, but boy were these rich people partying. Not a lot of his modest vision was happening on 1/19. Everyone would need some sobering up the next day, I thought. But not at the time. At the time, I had one of the sweetest brandies in my life. Vincent and Richard followed my liquid lead, and this led to talks about the paper I had to write - would my sixth memo for the new millennium (which is supposed to address a virtue that all writing should have) be an attempt at consistency (which author Calvino neglected to write), or necessity (Vincent's word), or relevance (Eric's word). I didn't have to decide over brandy, or over the perfect three olive martini that was coming next.

By the second olive, the guys were exchanging lewd jokes. I must say that one of my mami's jokes, about Bush being given an indigenous name by a tribe, made it into the mix, which I thought would please her. All of a sudden, we noticed the bar was emptying and this brought home why we were there. We had to get up early the next day! Or, later, actually!

We quickly said our good-byes and grabbed cabs. Time to rest and get ready for the moment that I never thought I'd ever see. Why was I so lucky? And why was I so thirsty for water??


(For pictures of my trip, befriend me on Facebook.)