Run With The Brown Buffalo

9 Feb

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“We are all cockroaches.”  I have this realization, and it hits home and tears stream down my face. I have to take refuge in the airplane bathroom.  There is turbulence and my tears drip down onto my jeans and my shoes and the airplane bathroom floor.  I sob for Oscar Zeta Acosta. I sob for all of the pain in the world.  I sob for my uncle and aunt who were just murdered by their own son with a pair of hammers. I sob for my Grandmother who died before Christmas. I sob for Eric Garner who was strangled to death by NYPD on Staten Island. I sob for myself.

Finally I clean myself up and wash my face in the impossibly tiny airplane sink.  I feel like a giant. I am six foot one and I hit my head on some white hard plastic in the bathroom.  I look at myself in the mirror. I look like I have been crying, or that I am really stoned or maybe just red-eyed from lack of sleep.

I head out into the world of the plane and order a whiskey and coke from a pair of haggard flight attendants. They are friendly and I open up to them, telling them the story about the murder of my uncle and aunt in rural Michigan.

**

I’m on a gargantuan metal bird, soaring 3000 feet in the air. It’s an American Airlines flight from JFK to LAX. I am reading about Buffalo Brown, the Chicano lawyer with a lust for life and a fire in his belly. He has a thirst for the truth and a revolutionary spirit. He is defending the vatos locos in East Los Angeles during the Chicano Power movement in the late 60s. Bobby Kennedy is killed, LA Times journalist Ruben Salazar is killed, Molotov cocktails are thrown, it is a war between the pigs and the people on Whittier Boulevard. They blow up a Safeway and they try to blow up a courthouse. As a civil rights attorney, Brown is representing dozens of Chicano defendants who he lovingly refers to as Cockroaches. They cannot be killed, there are millions, they are despised by Anglo society but they refuse to hide, they have come out into the streets and are marching against Vietnam, marching for justice for their murdered brethren, fists in the air and Buffalo Brown is their lawyer and compatriot. In between he enjoys drink and drugs and women, after all this is the 1960s, but he wakes with that fire and he fights the good fight for the cockroaches.

I am reading this book and a very kind man from Jamaica has given me some free booze because he is an employee of American Airlines and can drink for free on the flights.

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I drink a bottle of Merlot, not the tiny bottle, one of those medium sized ones. And then I upgraded to Jack Daniels and Diet Coke. I drink 3 or 4 plane cocktails and I am reading this book and I come to this realization.

In America we are all cockroaches.

My cockroach family tree:

My paternal great great grandfather, Jonas Maurer sailed from Bremen, Germany to Baltimore in 1906 and he was a cockroach. He went on to sweat and bleed in the factories of Youngstown, Ohio. Every 10 years he would change his nationality on the census: “Polish,” “Slav,” “Austrian.” He may have been illiterate, the borders in Eastern Europe may have been changing or maybe he didn’t know who he really was or where he was from.

My maternal great grandparents were Irish apple pickers in Yakima, Washington. They were migrant workers, they were cockroaches. My grandmother had to move to a different house every month because her father would drink and gamble all of his money away. He was a cockroach.

And so now here I am, a cockroach in America. I think of this. And the whole Occupy Wall Street movement, about the 1% controlling all of the wealth and the other 99% wage slaving to make these 1% even richer. I think about the Hands Up and the Black Lives Matter movement where black kids and all kids are saying enough to police shooting unarmed black men. I was in New York City and I saw the video of the cops choking that guy to death on Staten Island. He was selling cigarettes on a street corner to try and make money for his family. And they choked him to death.

I remembered the WTO protests in Seattle in the 90s. I remembered the cops billy clubbing teenage girls and grandmothers. I remembered the black woman who had her ear dangling in a bloody mess because she was hit by a rubber bullet. I remembered the tear gas and the danger and the broken windows and the cries of “WHO’S STREETS? OUR STREETS!”

And everything started to make sense to me while riding this great metal bird and tears welled up in my eyes.

So I had to lock myself in the airplane bathroom and tears were streaming down my face and onto my jeans and onto my shoes and onto the floor.

I was sobbing uncontrollably because I knew in my heart that I was a cockroach too and that I was related to all cockroaches everywhere. And I have to start changing around my life so that I can help other cockroaches because there are so many less fortunate than me, fighting over scraps, barely surviving. My talents are music and writing and so I need to hone these weapons, sharpen them, prepare for battle, prepare for war.

Acosta reading a chapter from "Revolt Of The Cockroach People" at the Festival de Flor y Canto, held in 1973 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. These photos capture Zeta as he holds back tears reading his description of the autopsy of Robert Fernandez. The passage describes in grisly detail how the team of coroners peel back the corpse's face and scalp to reveal a sand-filled cranium and a small bag holding Fernandez' brain. Photo Credit:  Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Acosta reading a chapter from “Revolt Of The Cockroach People” at the Festival de Flor y Canto, held in 1973 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
These photos capture Zeta as he holds back tears reading his description of the autopsy of Robert Fernandez. The passage describes in grisly detail how the team of coroners peel back the corpse’s face and scalp to reveal a sand-filled cranium and a small bag holding Fernandez’ brain.
Photo Credit:
Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Before I can help any cockroaches I have to dig myself out of poverty and stop living paycheck to paycheck, stop living in debt. Poverty can be suffocating and I have to pull off this plastic shopping back tied onto my head. I have to get out of poverty. End that vicious cycle of debt in my life. Then I can help the cockroach.

**

So what are our weapons to fight back in the meantime? Words. Writing. Poetry. Literature. Comedy. And Music.

We can kick at them.

Writers’ words need to grow teeth and start biting ferociously. We have to start tearing at flesh.

Musicians chords need to cut through and their words need to have fire, the harmonies can be sweet but the intention must be all out war in defense of the cockroach.

We must make reality bleed. We must pop the bloated bubble and become savages. Drink the blood and march forward like a Viking army.

**

But back to Oscar Zeta Acosta. Acosta is best known as Hunter S. Thompson’s “Samoan” lawyer Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In reality, Thompson had traveled to Los Angeles to interview Acosta about the death of prominent Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar.  Acosta was an attorney taking on dozens of clients involved in the Chicano Power movement of East LA and he himself became fully involved.  On his suitcase was a sticker, “Chicano Pride,” and he carried a .357 magnum inside of that suitcase which accompanied him to many a court case. He not only had to protect himself against LAPD and the FBI who were tailing him around every corner, but there were threats within the movement as well.  In LA things proved too hot for Thompson and Acosta to have a quiet conversation so they decided to purchase loads of drugs and head to Las Vegas in search of the American Dream.  Thompson was offered a job by Sports Illustrated to cover a motorcycle race in the desert and they spent most of the $300 advance on purchasing drugs hastily gathered in 24 hours all over LA County.

Thompson’s tape recordings of 2 separate drug-fueled adventures to Vegas with Acosta became Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.  However, Acosta was a writer in his own right, and he pledged to write a book about his experience in the Chicano Power movement.  In 1973 this came to fruition as Revolt of the Cockroach People after his 1972 book, Autobiography Of A Brown Buffalo.

Acosta and a female fan at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, USC, Los Angeles.  Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008. Acknowledgement to La Bloga for their great piece on Acosta in 2008

Acosta and a female fan at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, USC, Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.
Acknowledgement to La Bloga for their great piece on Acosta in 2008

But let me go back in time for a second.

In a suburb north of Detroit Michigan my 2nd cousin murdered his parents with a pair of hammers.

I was heading to Boston where there was 3 feet of snow, but managed to reroute my trip to attend the funeral of my Great Uncle and Aunt.

After much eating and drinking and crying it was 11 degrees at 6 in the morning when my Uncle Charlie drove me to the airport.

I was overcome with grief and shock and started reading a book I brought along with me to take my mind off things.

The book was Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Revolt of the Cockroach People.

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas in 1971.  Thompson was supposed to be interviewing Acosta about the killing of LA Times journalist, Acosta's friend Ruben Salazar.  The scene in LA proved to be too chaotic so they purchased many drugs and left town for Las Vegas when Thompson was offered to cover a  March and April 1971 was when Thompson and Acosta made 2 separate trips to Vegas. Both of these trips made up the material for "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Acosta was upset to be referred to as "Samoan" so he demanded this photo be included on the back cover of the book as well as asking for writing credit as much of the book was based on tape recorded conversations the pair had. "The Gonzo Tapes" contains one of these interviews

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas in 1971. Thompson was supposed to be interviewing Acosta about the killing of LA Times journalist, Acosta’s friend Ruben Salazar. The scene in LA proved to be too chaotic so they purchased many drugs and left town for Las Vegas when Thompson was offered to cover a race in Vegas for Sports Illustrated.
March and April 1971 was when Thompson and Acosta made 2 separate trips to Vegas. Both of these trips made up the material for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Acosta was upset to be referred to as “Samoan” so he demanded this photo be included on the back cover of the book as well as asking for writing credit as much of the book was based on tape recorded conversations the pair had. “The Gonzo Tapes” contains one of these interviews

I knew about Hunter S. Thompson’s “Samoan” attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What I didn’t know is that this lawyer was a real person. He was Zeta Acosta and he was there in the trenches of East LA, Whittier Boulevard, Boyle Heights, Tooner Flats during the Chicano Power movement of the late 60s.

When I began to turn the pages, Revenge of the Cockroach People was instantly irreverent and unabashedly un-PC. Like all great writing it kicked me in the gut, the book challenged me to continue turning the pages.

He championed the Vato Loco and described East LA and Downtown LA beautifully.

Here he writes from his Downtown LA hotel, walking distance from Skid Row:

“I’ve been in town six hours and now lie naked on my bed with the window of my sleazy downtown hotel room open to the sounds of the city. I have nothing to do until I see my sister in the morning. After checking into the Belmont at Third and Hill, I walked the streets until dark to shake the cramping bus ride from my bones. But already my bones have told me that I have come to the most detestable city on earth. They have carried me through the filthy air of a broken city filled with battered losers. Winos in tennies, skinny fags in tight pants and whores in purple skirts all ignore the world beyond the local bar, care about nothing except where the booze comes cheapest or the latest score on the radio. Where I am, the buildings are crumbling to pieces. The paint is cracked and falling to the streets covered with green and brown phlegm, with eyeless souls who scuttle between tall buildings hoping to find a bed, a bottle, a joint, a broad or even a loaf of bread. Streets filled with dark people, hunchbacked hobos, bums out of work, garbage of yesterday and tomorrow; with black men and women in bright garish clothes, brown men with mustaches to boost themselves up a notch, coffee-drinking people, wine-sipping sods who haven’t had more than five bucks at a time since the last war. And then back to the hotel…”

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Buffalo Brown travels to Delano, California to meet his hero Cesar Chavez who is weak and bed-ridden in the middle of a hunger strike. Bobby Kennedy is shot and killed. Brown takes LSD in the desert with his vato loco friends. The Charles Manson family murders take place. And the death of of journalist Ruben Salazar at the hand of LAPD. Brown runs for Sheriff of LA County and his only campaign promise is to dismantle the LA Sheriff department. He comes in second place. In contempt of court, various judges throw him in jail dozens of times.

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Here Zeta tells us about East LA:

“Tooner Flats, a neighborhood of shacks and clotheslines and dirty back yards. At every other corner, street lights hang high on telephone poles and cast dim yellow glows. Skinny dogs and wormy cats sniff garbage cans in the alleys. Tooner Flats is the are of gangs who spend their last dime on short dogs of T-Bird wine, where the average kid has eight years of school. Everybody there gets some kind of welfare.

You learn about life from the toughest guy in the neighborhood. You smoke your first joint in an alley at the age of ten; you take your first hit of carga before you get laid; and you learn how to make your mark on the wall before you learn how to write. Your friends know you to be a vato loco, a crazy guy, and they call you “ese,” or “vato,” or “man” …

There is no school for a vato loco. There is no job in sight. His only hope is for a quick score. Reds and Ripple mixed with a bennie, a white and a toke. And when your head is tight, you go town to the hangout and wait for the next score.

On the day he died, Robert had popped reds with wine and then conked out for a few hours. When he awoke he was ready for more. But first he went down to Cronie’s on Whittier Boulevard, the Chicano Sunset Strip. Every other door is a bar, a pawn shop or a liquor store. Hustlers roam freely across asphalt decorated with vomit and dogshit. If you score in East Los Angeles you score on The Boulevard. Broads, booze and dope. Cops on every corner make no difference. The fuzz, la placa, la chota, los marranos, la jura or just the plain old pig. The eternal enemies of the people. The East LA Sheriff’s Substation is only three blocks away on Third Street, right alongside the Pomona Freeway. From the blockhouse, deputies come out in teams of two, “To Serve And Protect!” Always with thirty-six-inch clubs, with walkie-talkies in hand; always with gray helmets, shotguns in the car and .357 Magnums in their holsters.

The vato loco has been fighting with the pig since the Anglos stole his land in the last century. He will continue to fight until he is exterminated.”

Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

In perhaps his most moving courthouse speech, a straight out of Hollywood speech, he recants the history of the American Chicano:

“It is 1509 AD…We are in Cuba…A captain from Castile wants gold…He wants land and he wants slaves. He also wants to go on a mission for his god and his king…He fills three boats with soldiers, fire powder and horses, which sail west until they land on the coast of what we now know as Mexico.

“The king, the supreme ruler in the land of the Hummingbird Wizard, hears of the arrival of white men in long boats. It is a prophecy come true. For over two hundred years, the prophets of Quetzalcoatl have predicted this event. The king, Montezuma, has taken upon himself all power in his empire. He is both political ruler and chief priest. In a word, he has assumed the status of a god. Not even his family can look him in the eye. He has become the principal deity of the people of Tenochtitlan in the valley of Mexico. The people are called, collectively, the aztecas.

The captain from Castile, Hernando Cortez, burns the boats and tells his men there is no turning back. They have come to this strange land to conquer or die for the glory of God. They attack village after village, taking captives and booty. They make alliances with the natives, promising them protection from Montezuma’s bloody rituals, from the human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.

Anxious to rid themselves of the burden of Montezuma, these Indians, as they are called by the Catholic Cortez, join up with the Spaniards. They march toward the capital, thirty-thousand strong…Through diplomacy, political chicanery and modern techniques of warfare, the white men on horses and their army of slaves enter triumphantly into the most advanced city in the world, the world’s most beautiful city. In 1500 AD, Mexico City far surpasses anything that the Spaniards have seen on the European continent. There is an efficient government. It is a city with streets and canals and a sewage system, a city of gold and birds and leopards and barber shops. A land of flowers and parrots, mountains and blue beaches. They have priests and philosophers, soldiers and artists.

…And then (Cortez) ransacks the capital and sends the gold and glitter to his king in Spain. And they rape the women. If you want to join the new nation, all you have to do is give up your slave name and your slave tongue. If you want to become a Spaniard, be baptized and take a Christian name. An attack upon the Church is an assault upon the State. And vice versa. Church and State are one.

Ad for Acosta's Autobiography

Ad for Acosta’s Autobiography

Three hundred years later, in 1850 AD, more white men in covered wagons come to the land of the northern deserts, the land we now call the Southwest. It is the ancient land of Aztlan, the original homeland of the aztecas. New invaders. New conquerors. They, too come with fire power and the flag of a new nation…As Cortez had done before, through modern warfare, through politics and diplomacy, the new white barbarians invade the land and subdue it. They inform the people that they now have a new government and a new religion – Christianity. They sign a treaty called Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States pays a couple of million to an idiot in Mexico City for all Aztlan and for all the slaves living thereon. The treaty says that, if the people choose, they can remain as citizens of America or they can go south to Mexico.

“But we are not Mexicans,’ the people cry out. ‘We are Chicanos from Aztlan. We have never left our land. Our fathers never engaged in bloody sacrifices. We are farmers and hunters and we live with the buffalo.’

“But they are wrong. They are now citizens of America, whether they like it or not. And we’ll call them Mexican-Americans. But if they want to be Americans, they’ll have to give up their slave name.

…And when they entered they were told: There is No Room. Leave, or we’ll kill you. Or jail you. Insult you. Mace you. Kick and bite. Scream and holler. While the choir sings, ‘Oh come all ye faithful…Oh come ye, Oh come ye…to jail and court. Court and jail…Come. Come! Come!’

…And yet we are guilty of inciting to riot. We did want a riot. We sought it. And we did accomplish it!…A riot of the brain. A revolution of the spirit.”

And so I finished Revolt of The Cockroach People and it was one of the best books I read in years. It shoots from the hip and bleeds from the heart and it does not hide behind any thin veils of political correctness.  It is Gonzo literature from Dr. Gonzo himself. This book was written in defense of the vato loco and all cockroaches, straight from the lips and the pen of their very own defense lawyer.  From the trenches of civil rights the Brown Buffalo plowed forward. And if he didn’t achieve all of his objectives, he took a few bastards down with him.  Until the bastards got him back in the end.  Oscar Zeta Acosta mysteriously disappeared in 1974 while in Mexico and was never seen again.

When we learn to walk with the cockroach then we will learn to run with the buffalo.

Dedicated to the memory of Oscar Zeta Acosta.

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Spiders From Mars On The 110 (Yay L.A. Magazine)

19 Jan

Read on the Yay L.A. website here

“SPIDERS FROM MARS ON THE 110″

BY JUSTIN MAURER

17 DECEMBER 2014

I worked in the morning in Hollywood – a sign language interpreter for a deaf actress. She possessed a white hot energy that flowed over everyone like a river of molten lava.

I worked in the evening in Watts. I was a sign language interpreter for a caring mother who was beautiful and impossibly honest.

Nearly all of the other mothers were Spanish-speaking and had no interpreters.

I find the American educational system lacks logic.

Today an 80-year-old man was rightly punished for his racism.

Today a few people hate Los Angeles a little less.

I met my father and brought a six-pack of beer.

He had knee surgery and was staying with my Uncle in Redondo.

Luckily my Uncle was gone.

I owe him $750 and he’s still upset about it.

I watched the basketball game and drank most of the beers. My father had one. He said that he was on a lot of medication after his surgery.

He asked me a little about my and about my life and about my wife. I asked him a little about Rio de Janeiro where he’s been living.

His whole life is a secret.

We hugged goodbye and everything was Okay but everything wasn’t okay. I could feel the sadness of father and son.

There are some conversations we will never have.

There are some experiences we will never share.

Everything was okay but everything wasn’t okay but it was okay.

I stole a cigarette from my uncle’s wife who was sleeping and smoked a few puffs of it.

I saw a sign that pointed to the beach.

I saw a beat up pickup truck make a U-turn in the road.

Then I put out the cigarette and rolled down the windows all the way.

David Bowie was on the radio and they played 4 songs in a row.

For some reason they only play good music on the radio late at night.

And I cranked those 4 songs and the wind whipped through my hair and I could smell the sea and it was beautiful.

And I drove down a street called Torrance Blvd. and up a hill.

I saw a flame dancing above a smokestack at an Oil refinery. I thought if hell looks half this beautiful I want to go there.

The flame taunted the sky with its mad dance and I madly drove towards it.

I continued off course all of the way to the oil refinery and I saw the flame up close and personal.

It stank outside – the oily air. And it was a real moment. Me and the air and the flame and the oil refinery and David Bowie.

Then I got back on course, found the 110 freeway after passing dozens of taco stands.

Late-night taco stands feed the working man and the drinking man of LA.

Then there she was. The 110 Freeway. A drunk driver almost ran me off the road.

And I swerved past him.

They played the last song from Bowie’s Spiders From Mars.

And it was a good one.

Photo by Matt McGrath.

(Photo Credit: Matt Mcgrath)

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RIP GRAM 1935-2014

7 Jan

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My Gram, Shirlee Jean Winans, passed away a few days before Christmas at the age of 79. She was predeceased by her loving husband of 32 years, Captain Gilbert L. Winans, US Navy. I always saw Gram’s strong personality and looks as a mashup of Lucille Ball and Bette Davis.

Shirlee Winans, Bette Davis Lookalike

Bette Davis, a Shirlee Winans lookalike

She was very opinionated and animated, liked to pepper her vocabulary with swear words and colloquialisms, and saw herself as someone who stood up against injustice. She was politically active and donated to various nonprofit organizations as well as the campaigns of various Republicans including John McCain and George W. Bush. She absolutely loathed Bill and Hillary Clinton and disliked Barack Obama.

My Grandmother Shirlee had many animated facial expressions. Communicating with her was at times like watching an episode of “I Love Lucy

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To her kids she was known as “Mom,” to her grandkids “Gram,” and to everyone else, “Shirlee.”

Shirlee was born May 21, 1935 in Wapato, Washington, the oldest of eight children of Homer and Emily Barry. Her maternal side was O’Leary making both sides of her family strongly Irish.

Her Irish immigrant grandparents were migrant workers, apple pickers, who worked the fertile valley near Yakima, Washington. According to her, she had to move house every few months when her father would gamble and drink away his earnings.

A childhood memory of Shirlee’s was one where she would walk halfway to school and hide her shoes in the bushes, walking the rest of the way to school barefoot. She felt embarrassed because many of the children at her school were too poor to own shoes. She went to elementary school with a mixed group of people including children of immigrants and members of the Yakama Indian Tribe (who the nearby city of Yakima was named after). At an early age she learned tolerance, but this would change during WWII when the US rallied against the “Japs” and the “Krauts.” From her WWII memories and the propaganda she was innudated with, Shirlee would carry a lifelong suspicion towards Asians in general who she called “Orientals,” and after 9/11 she had a deep suspicion towards Arabs, often confusing local turbaned Sikhs who worked in Marysville area gas stations for Afghanis, thinking they were members of Al Qaeda.

As a teenager she played semi-pro women’s softball with the Yakima Apple Queens. After a disagreement with her father, she dropped out of high school and ran away from home at the tender age of 15 where she lived and worked in a hotel in Seattle’s Belltown.

A year or so later, Shirlee dyed her hair, lied about her age and joined the Navy in San Diego, California. This was where she met her 1st husband Richard Powell as he was in the US Marine Corps Stationed nearby.

When living on the military base of Fort Lejune, North Carolina in the 1950s she worked as a carhop, a waitress on rollerskates. When the proprietor of the restaurant told her not to serve black customers, she quit on the spot, throwing her apron on the ground and rollerskating away.

She was born “Shirley Barry” and changed the spelling of her name, Shirley to “Shirlee” to avoid confusion with Shirley Temple.

Shirlee had five children, including two who are Deaf, with her first husband, Richard A. Powell. She raised her family in Alexandria, VA which included two sons of her late second husband, Preston Millard. She was a very social person enabling her to be a successful real estate broker in Virginia and Maryland for many years.

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She was an animal lover and through the years owned dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, goats, donkeys and horses. She grew up on a farm so in her retirement she wanted to have a farm atmosphere much to the chagrin of her husband Gil who had to shovel the “horse shit” on a daily basis. Gil told me one of the reasons why he joined the Navy was because in Michigan he had an option of “…either shoveling horse shit and milking the cows or joining the military. So I joined the Navy…and now here I am, shoveling horse shit again.”

Shirlee and Gil had a fluctuating amount of dogs, mostly obese Lab mixes. Duke and Shannon came with her from Virginia when she moved to Marysville, Washington in 1988. After Duke and Shannon, she was convinced that animal names had to have a “y” or “ie” on the end of the name otherwise the animals wouldn’t know their own name. Lucy and Annie soon followed. Then Mokie and Daisy and Buddy and dozens of others through the years. She also had a couple of pot bellied pigs, Barney and Penny. The spot at the bottom of the hill where Gil would bury the deceased animals with his tractor is a veritable pet cemetery.

Shirlee mostly stayed home during her retirement where she would field various family dramas, but had plenty of peace and quiet with her dogs in between. She liked to talk to the television as if the news anchors could hear her. She was always around to listen to anyone’s worries and was quick to help out in any way she could.

When I was estranged from my father for about 10 years, she would help me out if I ever fell into financial trouble. Gil and Gram gave me my first car, a 1982 Chevy S-10 that Gil had salvaged and fixed up. When I moved to Oakland, California in 2002, I gave the truck back to them and they gifted it to my cousin Jonathan, giving me a little money to help me with my move.

Gil and Gram were always there for me and Gram had kind words of encouragement and support for all of her kids and grandkids. She could be difficult to deal with and impossible to argue with, but she was a kind soul and had love for her family and her animals. If you crossed her and became her enemy, she was ruthless and unrelenting. Luckily for us, we were related to her and she bestowed plenty of love on us.

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Later in life she suffered from dementia after the death of her husband Gil a few years ago. She would often forget that Gil had died and would ask where he was. She forgot names and faces and was often very frustrated, sometimes violent because of her dementia. She had a brief illness and was placed in the hospital. She died peacefully in her sleep in Everett, Washington on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Gram had plenty of great quotes which I remember. Here are some of my favorites below.

Rest In Peace Gram, thank you for everything. Miss you and love you Gram.

RIP "Gram" Shirlee Winans, 1935-2014

RIP “Gram” Shirlee Winans, 1935-2014

My favorite quotes from my Grandmother, Shirlee “Gram” Winans:

“Back then the police would just drive you home if you were drunk off your ass” (referring to the few times Washington DC area cops would drive her home instead of arrest her for drunk driving).

“I remember Chubby Checker, he was chubby! He let me sit on his knee. I was drunk off my ass and danced on top of his piano.”

“The only ones who did drugs in my day were the Indians and the musicians.”

“I pay your salary!” (Said to a Marysville police officer who pulled her over for speeding. She blew cigarette smoke in his face and berated him so heavily that he gave up, ripping up the speeding ticket he was about to give her).

“Well, it’s better than a kick in the ass.” (That’s what she would say referring to any small victory, like winning $5 on a lotto ticket).

“Do you know why all The Afghanis own all of the gas stations in Marysville? Al Qaeda.” (When the nation was in post 9/11 hysteria, I was in the car with her, she was referring to a turbaned Sikh working at a Marysville, WA area gas station and mistakenly thought he was from Afghanistan)

“He’s an ornery old fart” (referring to her husband Gil as if he wasn’t there but he was in the kitchen with us and clearly overheard)

“That dumb sonofabitch” (referring to Bill Clinton while watching Fox News)

“Will you look at that dumb sonofabitch” (referring to Barack Obama while watching Fox News)

“I worked hard my whole goddamn life” (how she might end any heated discussion, exasperated, tired of the argument)

Her red bumper sticker: “Clinton” (the C shaped like the communist hammer and sickle)

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Gil’s bumper sticker: “I’m NRA and I vote.”

“That’s my little girl,” (referring to her beloved terrier, Sandy).

“How are you, sport? Help yourself to some food in the kitchen, love” (She called any of her 15 Grandkids “Sport” or “Love” as an affectionate nickname. She recalled her own Irish grandmother referring to her as “Love” when she was a child).

RIP “Gram” Shirlee Winans, 1935-2014.

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My interview with poet Raquel Gutierrez in Yay LA Magazine

27 Jun

AUTHOR RAQUEL GUTIERREZ ON “BREAKING UP WITH LOS ANGELES”

(Read on the Yay LA webpage here: http://www.yaylamag.com/raquel-gutierrez/)

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Sharif Dumani, musician, kind soul, best known for his fronting of L.A. 60′s pop band Exploding Flowers, recommended a chapbook of poetry to me, well everyone, via social media.

“My skull blown open twice over along with my heart. For anyone who has ever walked our streets, driven our freeways, lived, loved, lost, succeeded, and failed in this city of Angels, it will fully resonate. Raquel Gutierrez’ zine of poems and stories totally captures the heart and soul of this town, while breaking your heart and having you fall in love all at the same time. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Breaking up with Los Angeles, if anything, for the beautiful and loving tribute to Wanda Coleman. Absolutely gorgeous work”

Needless to say, this hyping caught my attention and I ordered the chapbook online.  I got book in the mail and was not disappointed. Breaking Up With Los Angeles made me fall in love with L.A. all over again.

Raquel Gutierrez is a poet from L.A. who now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Breaking Up With Los Angeles is her first chapbook.

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Why do you write and when did you start writing?  Do you remember your first poem you ever wrote and what it was about?

I write because it just seems like the simplest way to create the world I perceive through my five senses. I was always a reader and felt like that was the best way to experience other worlds, worlds I didn’t know or belong to. I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I wrote plays in grade school and poems in high school. Wrote some music too. Studied journalism but not really writing. Not creative writing. I took one class at L.A. City College but dropped out. Didn’t really like the environment and didn’t feel like it helped me. It just bummed me out.

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Do you recall the first poem you ever wrote that you were proud of?

Oh hmm first poem. Yeah, I think it was a poem about a girl. It was called “Fire Woman.”

 

Where did you find the confidence to write poetry?

Well it wasn’t confidence exactly, I needed a place that had relaxed rules about content and form. Or at least conventions to push against.

 

And you found that place for you was poetry?

I actually always wanted to be more of a prose writer. Fiction, or longer form. I didn’t think of poetry as something I could really do. Breaking Up With Los Angeles was me taking a chance. It was really healing to do. To express grief that way.

 

What are some of your first memories of Los Angeles before you were conscious of it being “L.A.”?

Plazita Olvera. My folks would take us there at least once a month. Driving through downtown. Seeing city hall. I was baptized at Our Lady Queen of Angels. The freeways, they are comforting to me. Bandini Blvd. El Mercadito. The county hospital where I was born and had yearly check-ups that allowed me to miss school until I was eighteen. The fisherman’s outlet for fried shrimp. El Salvador café on San Julian in the alleys. The Frank Romero murals on the 101 Freeway depicting little kids.

 

Discovering yourself and discovering your sexuality, how did the boundaries of freeways and neighborhoods fall into your journey?  Did you feel more “free” in some neighborhoods as opposed to others?

Well in my early twenties there were “T-parties” for the under-21 set. T or “tea” is like, “What’s the tea?” It was a way of saying, “What’s Her Story?” Or like, “Is that guy gay?” They were backyard keggers for queer Latinos. The party lines were on these business card flyers and you’d call them every weekend to see where the party was at. You’d end up at places like South Gate or La Puente or Montebello. We’d drink, hold up the walls, listen to freestyle and Morrissey. My friend used to throw so much shade. I remember having to book it out once because some queen wanted to fight him

Were you openly “out” with your parents?  Were they understanding? Supportive?  I’m assuming your family was Catholic?

I came out to my folks at twenty-one. After my girlfriend broke up with me and I was a visible mess.

 

What was their reaction?

My parents were cool, very accepting. Saw I was in pain and wanted to help me feel better. They are great. My dad was basically “Ay mija, ya te vas a encontrar a otra.” Which means, “You’ll find someone else.” They are more concerned with my artistic pursuits. They wish I would just be like a realtor or work for the city.

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I grew up in the L.A. of the Eighties and early Nineties. It was rife with gang culture and the music of the time reflected that.  What was the soundtrack of your childhood?  What were the first five albums you bought or borrowed from older siblings or friends?

Beastie Boys “License to Ill,” Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Fat Boys, Run DMC, “Tough As Leather.”

 

And what was the soundtrack to the T Parties?

Cover Girls, Masters At Work, Black Box, Depeche Mode. I remember Eazy-E was huge of course. Los Tigres, Ana Gabriel. We would listen to my folks’ music too, like Chico Che y La Crisis. In 8th grade I got into my big brother’s Devo, B52s and Oingo Boingo stash. They Might Be Giants.

 

Easy E, NWA, Dr Dre, Snoop and Ice Cube later on? What about MC Kid Frost?

Kid frost was popular with some classmates. I thought it was so dorky.

 

You weren’t a fan of his “This for La Raza” music video with the buff saxophone guy?

Ha. No

 

You grew up in Huntington Park?  What gang controlled that turf at the time, when you were a kid?

I grew up in Huntington Park till I was four. Then Bell Gardens. Then my folks moved back to HP when I went to grad school. The big gang when I was growing up was Chanslor St. They were in Bell and were the gang messing with the kids I knew. I remember a bullet hole in my window and my mom would stay up all night. There were shootings in the neighborhood I grew up in but it was just typical.

 

Did Chanslor St. have a lot of female members as well?

Oh gosh I think only in terms of girlfriends. Firme jainas.

 

Sometimes it seems like outsiders think of L.A. as either Beverly Hills or Compton, with nothing in between. What do you find is the most common misconception of L.A. and what is the stereotype that is most true about L.A.?

Well I love Compton and Watts. It’s just an extension of Huntington Park. And it’s all brown folks and immigrants now. The Misconception, that L.A. lacks culture.

 

Right, I think South L.A. is something like eighty-percent Latino now

The L.A. stereotype, traffic. Duh. Yes. But I like traffic, it’s a time to think about the day or week’s events. I’ll take L.A. traffic over Bay Area traffic any day of the week though

 

That bad?  Bay Bridge traffic or what?

Bay Bridge traffic is dystopic.

 

You currently live in the Bay Area.  Do you feel that once you left Los Angeles, you were ready to write about it?

I left L.A. ten years ago for NYC. Couldn’t write a damn lick to save my life. This time around leaving I was finally ready to inhabit certain uncomfortable truths about myself. And write from that place.

 

You went to NYU?

Yeah. I did a performance studies Master’s.

 

So you didn’t study writing or poetry at NYU?  Do you find writing classes or seminars claustrophobic?

I didn’t study writing. Maybe I should have but I was enamored with performance art at the time. I studied theory. Worked with José Muñoz. Who passed away suddenly a few months ago.

 

Ah, I saw the reference to Jose Munoz in your book and was wondering who he was.   Sorry to hear he passed away. “The potential for radical precariousness,” such a beautiful line in your book, can you elaborate?

Well that line is about how I feel like my generation there is a want or need for security in creating art. That we value safety over risk.

 

“Everyone in Los Angeles has a loose relationship between time and whiteness” What do you mean by that– and what is/was your relationship between time and whiteness?

In L.A. identity politics are not the topic of the day in the way it feels like they are or still are in the Bay. My relationship with both those things–hmm I guess a banal obsession. It’s present but not one where I am consumed by a toxic rage.

“Someone is talking to me about gentrification again.” A hot topic in the Bay Area? One that is not really discussed as much in L.A.? What do you mean by “Everyone in Los Angeles has a loose relationship between time and whiteness”?  Are you saying the Bay Area has a tighter (grasp?) on time and whiteness? What are you banally obsessed with?

When I talk about the Bay Area, I mean people of color in the Bay Area. Some of the folks who reside here have graduated from some really amazing liberal arts colleges where they had an intense time with race and privilege. People in the Bay Area come here to work it out. They try to create a world that’s only people, not just people who look like each other.  Here I think of myself as a “bad brown person.” I don’t have those traumas because I didn’t have the same intensely negative experience with white people.  I went to college at Cal State Northridge and my fellow students were working class white people and people who worked in the porn industry while going to school. I feel like an outsider in the people of color communities in the Bay Area. I’ve heard of events where white people aren’t allowed. It’s a particular type of person of color who had this kind of collegiate experience or generally negative experience with white people. But I didn’t have that and to me it doesn’t make sense. That’s just me. All that to say that I feel like my brown experience is maybe atypical of other more righteous narratives.

 

This line is from your poem “Ole Dad,” from your book:

“Nothing stronger than a Bohemia here, nothing stranger except for the passage of time each minute denoted with a drop of liquor as it dilutes the blood between us”

 

The other week I had a freelance job in Vernon.  I drove right by Ole Dad Liquor store and had just read your poem about it.  I agree with you when you say “Vernon is the middle of nowhere a woman or child ought to be”.  What is your history with Vernon? The line “the paycheck he earns becomes burdened with so much rabia” is so fucking well-put.  Rabia en ingles is something like “infuriating,” “fury,” “anger,”  but the Spanish word “rabia” has so much more to it besides fury or anger.  

It’s where I’d drive through to get to or get out of Huntington Park. Vernon is so dystopic. So brutal. It attacks all of the senses, especially smell. It’s hard to not be obsessed by the landscape. I fell in love with industrial aesthetic motifs because of Vernon. My parents both worked there. My dad at a printing press and a plastics factory. My mom was a costurera.

 

So a lot of chemicals and nasty things at the plastic factory?  What is a costurera?

Just imagining their day in and day out kind of guts me. Costerera is a seamstress.

 

They still working there now?

My dad eventually got into being a salesman and got his real estate license when he was almost fifty. My mom is now a certified nurse’s assistant.

 

Why is Wanda Coleman’s tongue “mightier than Fante, Gehry, Bukowski?”

Her tongue is mightier to me because she made it out of Watts without leaving Watts behind. She left it but took it with her. Her work is just searing. Sinister. Stunning. She writes about truly frightening things: poverty. Sex. Violence. Ache. I found inspiration. I mean the ache. The rage. The impotence. All makes for easy relatability if you’re in touch with those ugly feelings yourself.

 

Do you have one particular book or piece of Wanda Coleman’s you’d recommend as a must read for folks unfamiliar with her work?

Heavy Daughter Blues.

 

 “Naco Power” works in both Spanish and English.  Do you plan to do more bi-lingual poems?

I was in Mexico City last year and I was taken aback by how well my Spanish came back. D.F. is infinite. Also just conversing with people in my line of work in Spanish I have gotten a better claim over speaking it. Expressing myself. It’s become a whole new world when it comes to poems.

What is your current line of work?

I do arts community engagement, Connecting artists and community to make art together. I’m like the shock absorber.

 

Favorite Spanish-speaking poet?

Claribel. Alegria and Roque Dalton. I love Roque.

 

Books or poems you’d reccomend by Alegria and Dalton?

Taberna by Roque.

 

From your book, this is up there with Fante, Chandler, Nathanael West, a classic description of L.A.

“scatter me in the mouth of Los Angeles

her stomach the desert

her ass the sea

her shoulders the mountains

and her womb the east Los Angeles freeway interchange

for the 5 brought me all of California

while the 101 took me to where it was possible

impossible

 on the 10 during rush hour

and the 60 carried my broken teenage heart home”

 

The freeways in L.A. are like the veins that lead to the heart.  Only it’s hard to find the heart because there is no center.  Where is your heart in L.A.? 

El Mercadito to me is the heart. That’s where my parents met.

 

Boyle Heights is the heart?

It’s so mundane but so much happens there. And the altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe is peerless. I’d say Pacific Boulevard over Beverly Hills any day.

 

Why do people write poetry?

I have no idea why people write poetry except maybe to stave off madness.

 

Will you ever come back to L.A.?  Don’t you find the people in the Bay Area a bit too passive-aggressive and politically-correct (and sometimes lacking a sense of humor?).  I know I’m generalizing. I also lived up there for a spell, have good friends from up there and loved parts of it and didn’t love other parts of it.  People get a little too uptight and a little too PC.  Is this a breath of fresh air for you, a brief repose?   What is the deal with the Google bus?  Will it roll over San Francisco like an Israeli tank rolls over a Palestinian child throwing a rock?

Yes yes and yes to everything you said about the Bay. It’s uptight and not a friendly place. But love and work is here. If I had a cool job lined up I’d definitely come back and if my girlfriend got into med school then for sure. My social world is smaller in the Bay, which makes work easier to do. The Tech Industry is a point of Contention here for sure. Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation is my Bay Area survival spirit animal.

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The Bay Area is a strange place.  I do love visiting and have some dear friends there, but hate to see the counter culture (which what made SF special in the first place) sucked out and priced out. You can see racial tension building in Oakland now with a lot of folks moving out of SF because they can’t afford it anymore – they move to Oakland where the magic word “gentrification” is another point of contention as you said.

Exactly. I have gentrification fatigue

 

I think everyone does. Myself, being white, sometimes I feel that I’m “gentrifying” a place merely by existing

It does seem like the remaining counter culture in SF is dwindling. That’s a weird thing that comes from feeling guilty for being creative. Getting implicated in all of that gentrification labeling. But I can see the beauty where everyone else sees blight.

Favorite taco spot in L.A.? 

Favorite tacos? Duh Guisados. Lengua. But I also love the buche gorditas at El Mercadito.

 

What is buche? Snout?

Buche is stomach! Kind of gnarly, but tasty. Lengua is the bomb. I loved Lengua on wonder bread lunches when I was a kid

 

How is Raquel Gutierrez going to conquer the world, and what is your newest chapbook? How does it differ from breaking up with L.A., and where do people buy your books online?

Conquering the world to give it back to those who were robbed. Next chapbook: #WhiteBoo out in a few weeks. Deciding sequence and designing cover art right now.

 

Is there actually a hashtag in the title of the book? Say it ain’t so.

There is! It’s a place where people of color on Twitter let their guards down.

 

So someone of color who is dating a white person? White boo?

Yeah exactly. Really this chapbook is about racialized anxiety.

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So where do people order Breaking up with Los Angeles and #Whiteboo?

Raquelgutierrez.net/chapbook for info. And soon an Etsy store.

 

Any advice for aspiring poets, aspiring writers… people who are earnest seekers of the truth?  What might they do to ease their minds and their souls a bit?

Just tell the truth no matter how complicated or unflattering it might be. There’s beauty there. And work together. Nothing we want more than a sense of belonging. Don’t be afraid to belong to each other.

 

“Little Armenian Prowler” Serialized in Dum Dum Magazine

21 Jun

DUM DUM Zine would like to welcome Justin Maurer, whose story “Little Armenian Prowler” we’ll be serializing each week in May as the 3rd incarnation of our web serial tradition. You may remember work from our past serials featuring Jessica Garrison’s One Dollar Stories, and more recently, Kristen Felicetti’s radio play, “The New York Crimes.”

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 Everything in Little Armenia got a little weird after the prowler. I was driving back from a book reading in San Diego. Near the venue was a great little fish taco place. I ate too many and it made me sluggish. I tried to enliven myself with some beer mixed with wine and then a few cans of Coca Cola after that combo didn’t wake me up. It was all free at the reading venue so I kept drinking any liquid I could ingest like a fish. (Do fish drink?) I took a couple beers and a couple Cokes for the road, signed a few books, thanked my gracious host and hit I-5. I thought about spending the night on someone’s couch and going to the beach in the morning but the drive back to Los Angeles through Sunday traffic didn’t seem worth it. Driving by night is romantic and I hadn’t done it in awhile.

I stopped a couple times to piss and to get gas and to slam the Cokes and beers, desperately trying to wake up as my body continued to digest fish and shrimp tacos. The radio sucked. I put on the old country music CD I’ve heard a million times and turned it up as loud as it would go. I rolled down the window and the wind smelling like the sea blew through my hair and I felt sort of alive even if it was the middle of the night and I was in a rush to get home and get into bed.  I wish Ephedrine was still legal I thought. I wish someone had given me just a couple lines of coke or speed I thought.  I drank the sugary Coca Cola and it made my teeth hurt.

I drove less than 85 miles an hour because that’s the speed where the cops won’t bother to pull you over even if the speed limit is 65. The fine isn’t high enough. So I hovered around 75. Drive 10 over the limit if you don’t want a speeding ticket in Southern California.

Heading north on the I-5 Freeway, Orange County made me feel anxious. I finally crossed the L.A. County line.  It felt good to get out of Orange County. Then I was in the city limits and there was traffic. Even at this ungodly hour. I saw the city skyline in the distance and I knew I was about 20 minutes from Hollywood.

I merged from the 5 to the 101 Freeway and things picked up. I passed Rampart and thought of the LAPD scandal. I saw a couple of drunk drivers swerving and driving below the speed limit. Driving below the speed limit on the highway is a dead giveaway that you’re drunk driving in L.A. I flew past them and took the Sunset Boulevard exit. I made an illegal turn and went the shortcut way. I was home but it took me another 10 minutes to find street parking.  I jaunted into our place and saw my girlfriend outside the bedroom window shining a flashlight around.

“Oh what now,” I thought.  My girlfriend is prone to hearing ghosts and noises and murderers.  She shouldn’t have been outside in her underwear in the middle of the night.

“What the hell are you doing,” I asked.

“Look,” she said.

There was a chair pulled up in the alley to give someone a perfect vantage point to look into a crack beneath the blinds on our bedroom window.

“There was a man sitting in that chair watching me,” she said. “And he was touching himself. The dog heard the noises and I looked out the blinds and he ran off. I heard the noises too,” she said.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

The next day we asked our neighbors about it and Jorge, one of the gay guys who lives upstairs, said that he saw a white guy about 6 feet tall, athletic build, leaving the driveway. Jorge was walking his dog and smoking a cigarette. He said that he had practiced reverse racism.

“Because the guy was white, I just assumed he was someone’s friend, just visiting somebody,” he said. “If the guy was black I would have known he was up to something. But the guy was white.”

I told our other neighbor Roberto what happened. He used to be a Sergeant in the Guatemalan army during the brutal civil war there. One night when he was drunk off Bud Lites he showed me a photo of his army days and told me that he had killed plenty of people during the war. His troops slept in the jungle and used giant palm fronds as umbrellas at night when it was raining.  I took him around the side of our apartment and showed him the chair the peeping tom had pulled up.

“Hijo de la chingada,” he said.  He told me in Spanish that if the guy showed up again to call him. He would run out and help me beat the guy up. He muttered some more obscenities in Spanish and kicked the dirt in frustration.

I went to the hardware store and bought some things. I wanted to make some booby traps. I kept thinking, What would Kevin in Home Alone do?  What kind of booby traps did Kevin set up?  I bought some nails, some fishing wire and fishing bells, barbed wire, a few small cacti, a motion sensor light and even found an infrared camera that is triggered by movement and body heat.  It was $100 for the camera and I couldn’t afford it but I bought it anyway.  My money had almost completely run out but I had stuff to make booby traps.

Underneath some ivy in the alleyway I hid dozens of crushed aluminum cans. The noise would alert me to the prowler. I put a Louisville Slugger baseball bat by the side door and gave my girlfriend a can of mace to put on her bedside table.  I unscrewed a table leg and had it like a club on my bedside table in case I needed a second tool for bludgeoning.  Across the alley I put strands of taut fishing wire with bells attached.  I left the chair in the exact same place and hammered nails through the bottom so that they were barely visible above the surface of the seat cushion. If the peeping tom sat down again he would be in for a surprise.  I told my neighbor Roberto about my nail idea and he laughed hysterically slapping me on the back. He liked my nail idea.

I set up the infrared camera.  I tested it at night and then plugged it in and saw myself but I didn’t recognize myself. I looked like a blurry dark indistinguishable creature. The damn camera probably wouldn’t work.  I later used the camera to film some footage of my girlfriend and I having sex but I didn’t tell her about it. I watched it when she was at work and it wasn’t bad.

I was getting off track.  I came home from work and hauled the box of barbed wire to the side alley.  Our neighbor had put black plastic garbage bags full of extra gardening mulch all along the alley. No one could get by, they’d be stymied by gardening mulch.  Ah, fine with me. I got a beer from the store.

DUM DUM Zine would like to welcome back Justin Maurer for the second serialization of “Little Armenian Prowler” (read Pt. 1 here!). You may remember work from our past serials featuring Jessica Garrison’s One Dollar Stories, and more recently, Kristen Felicetti’s radio play, “The New York Crimes.”

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I began to look at everyone in my neighborhood as if they were the suspect. Was it the six foot tall white guy? Or was it a teenage Mexican kid?  Was it a slow walking Filipino guy with a moustache and a limp?  Was it one of the homeless black guys?  Was it a young Armenian man wearing Adidas? Was it one of the Thai delivery boys, coming back to peep in the window after he delivered food?  Was it a mentally deranged Hollywood street person? Was it one of our neighbors we knew?  Everyone was a suspect and through dark sunglasses I surveyed the street and took note of all of the faces. There were too many faces and too many people were weird and erratic and it could have been any of them.

At night if I heard a noise I’d throw the side door open and charge out with a baseball bat in my boxer shorts. I never saw anyone. My fishing line got broken but I wasn’t certain if it was the prowler who broke it.

We almost forgot about the whole thing and a couple of months later I was backing her car out. We were going somewhere and were arguing as usual. She was telling me not to scratch her car. I was annoyed as hell.  From around the back of the apartments I saw a guy walking out I didn’t recognize.  I pointed at him.

“Who’s he,” I said.  ”Follow him!”

My girl followed him down the driveway and asked if he was visiting anyone.

“None of your business,” he growled.

“It is my business, I live here,” she said.

“I’m a tenant,” the stranger lied.

He matched Jorge’s description, white guy, 6 feet tall, normal looking.

We followed him slowly down the block in the car. He flipped us off.

“That’s it,” I said and jumped out of the car.  I started chasing the guy. He had a white mini van parked on Sunset next to the El Pollo Loco.

He got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. I motioned for him to roll down the window. He fired up the mini van and drove down Sunset Blvd. without looking at me.

“Son of a bitch,” I said to no one in particular.

I memorized his white mini-van’s license plate number. Then I repeated it aloud so many times that I was certain I got it wrong.  I had my girlfriend call the Hollywood Police Bureau. She got the answering machine. She called again and put a cop on speaker phone. He had a condescending tone as L.A. cops always do.

“You should have called 911,” the cop said. He sounded like a black cop, despondent that he had to work the phone shift instead of catching bad guys. You could tell he was an actual cop because he spoke the cop language, cop-ese.

“Sir, you could have been in danger. We could have called a helicopter and apprehended the perpetrator.”

“A helicopter,” I mouthed the word helicopter to my girlfriend without making any noise. She covered her mouth so the cop on speaker phone wouldn’t hear her laughing.

“Well, okay, but we’re calling you now, is it okay if we report the guy and give you his license plate number, I asked.

“Sir, again I would like to reiterate. You could have been in danger and you should have called 911 immediately. For all we know he could have been in police custody and we wouldn’t have to have this conversation.”

“Do you want the license plate number,” I asked again, out of frustration.

“Go ahead and give me the plate number, but be mindful that there is a very low chance we can find him at this given time because you didn’t dial 911 immediately.”

I gave the cop the license plate number, said thank you then hung up.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.   Then we got rear-ended by some Latina party girls wearing hair extensions and high heels.  There wasn’t any damage besides a scratch so we didn’t bother to call the insurance people and certainly not LAPD. They’d tell us we should have called 911 so that they could get a helicopter to see if anyone was fleeing the scene of the accident. Then they could radio a squad car and they could open fire on the perpetrator and then unleash a canine on the victim to bite him as he lay bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds.  True story. I didn’t make that up. They did that to somebody.

DUM DUM Zine would like to welcome back Justin Maurer for the final installment of “Little Armenian Prowler” (read Pt. 1 and Pt. 2!), which we’ve serialized in 3 parts in the month of May. You may remember work from our past serials featuring Jessica Garrison’s One Dollar Stories, and more recently, Kristen Felicetti’s radio play, “The New York Crimes.”

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A few weeks later my girlfriend was out to a work dinner and I was enjoying sitting in my underwear eating Thai Food delivery out of the box.

I got a phone call from my neighbor Jorge, the out of work gay actor who lives upstairs with his husband, another actor.

“Could you do me a big favor,” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Would you mind staying in your living room?”

“No, not at all, I said.”

“I’ll explain later, well, we have this house guest and he’s going crazy and I have to throw him out,” he said.

“No problem,” I said, flicking on the living room lights and the front porch light.

I saw a man with an umbrella and a duffel bag leaving and heard my neighbor’s door slam shut. I heard the man with the umbrella say, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

A few moments later there was a knock on my back door. It was Jorge.

“Come in,” I said. “Do you want any water or juice?” We didn’t have anything besides water, juice and milk and I didn’t think he would want any milk.

“No thank you,” he said, sitting down at our dining room table. He was wearing a black leather jacket, a new-ish one, and had hair gel in his hair. Gay guys are always so well put together. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, mismatched socks and a dirty pair of blue jeans with burrito stains that I hastily pulled on.

Jorge began to tell me the story, “We have a houseguest.  He was in a play with my husband Francis last year.  He seemed normal and we heard he was living on the street in Hollywood so we said he could stay over for a little while.”

He showed me a photo of the crazy guy. The crazy guy looked very gay. He had a big femmy smile and a lot of hair gel. I think they call this kind of gay guy a “twink,” even though I don’t really know what a twink is or what that classification of gay really constitutes.

Jorge continued.

“On the couch he’ll just sit there staring straight ahead. Even if we talk to him he just stares straight ahead. At night we lock our bedroom door.”

He rubbed his hands together out of nervousness or lack of warmth.

“We went to the grocery store and there was this pretty girl working at one of the cashiers. He went up to her all close and starting hitting on her. She clearly didn’t want anything to do with him. I said, ‘Joe, come on.’  And he didn’t listen. I walked over to him and he said, ‘I just got out of jail, I haven’t had a woman in a long time, leave me alone.’

‘Oh MY God,’ I thought, Jorge said in an affected way that made him sound like a teenage girl.

“So we walked back and he started yelling, ‘Fuck fuck, you fucked it up. You fucked it up. Since Francis and I are from Chicago we hide knives all over the house for protection. Just in case, I mean this is L.A. I found one of the knives and put it in my jacket pocket.”

He pulled the knife out of the inside breast pocket of his newish black leather jacket. It was one of those military style hunting knives that’s in a black leather sheath. My dad used to have one like that with a compass screwed on the end of the shallow handle. It was called a survival knife I think. It had a snakebite kit inside the handle along with some other basic survival tools. I remember hoping that I wouldn’t get bit by a rattlesnake. My dad said he knew how to cut an X on the snakebite and suck out the venom but I didn’t believe him.

I found my mind wandering and Jorge was still telling his story.

“So I got his duffel bag and put it outside.  He left and took his umbrella which he always carries around for some reason and a suitcase. I don’t know where he got the suitcase or what he has inside of it.  I don’t know if he’s shooting up or on drugs or what.  Anyway I can’t have him in our house around our dogs.  So if he comes back, don’t let him in.”

Jorge went out the back door. I drank a beer and let the dog out to go to the bathroom and then watched a documentary in bed. I was drifting off, so I shut it off and went to sleep.  A few hours later my girlfriend stumbled in reeking of vodka tonic. She woke me up and told me that a man had tried to kiss her in an elevator. When she pushed him away he bit her on the nose.

“What,” I said. “Where was the can of mace I bought you? You should have kneed him in the balls,” I said.

“I know, but all I could think of doing was to push him away. He tried to put his tongue in my mouth. He was calling me a prick tease and I said I didn’t know what he was talking about, I didn’t know him or recognize him. There was an old man in the elevator too.”

“And the old man didn’t do anything,” I asked.

“No he just asked the guy what he was doing. And then the elevator got to the bottom floor and I ran.”

“Why didn’t you complain about the guy to the restaurant,” I said. “They might have cameras in the lobby there, you could have pointed out the guy.”

“I know, I’ll call them tomorrow,” she said.

I twisted and turned in bed angrily.  There is never a dull moment in Little Armenia.

 

RIP DAVE BROCKIE AKA ODERUS URUNGUS OF GWAR

3 Apr

RIP-DaveBrockie-OderusUrungus

Cameron Pierce of Lazy Fascist Press in Portland, Oregon asked me to read with him at a tribute for the recently deceased Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus, controversial masked frontman for the intergalactic rock group GWAR.   I wasn’t sure what to say or what to read.  I dove into online research on Brockie and found a wealth of material. One particular thing I thoroughly enjoyed was discovering  Brockie’s autobiographical posts on RVA News (part 10 “Ian McKaye is a dick”  is especially entertaining).

Here’s what I read last night at his remembrance, a reading in Echo Park, Los Angeles at Stories Books with Jim Ruland,  Jeff Burk,
John Skipp, Marc Levinthal and Cameron Pierce.

Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus, the mastermind and frontman behind the force of nature known as GWAR will be remembered as fiercely intelligent, irreverent and charismatic.  He battled against censorship and the bible belt, challenging American puritanical mores with his elaborately costumed rock group GWAR: an alien army hellbent on destroying the human race.  Onstage their performances were like a monster truck rally meets a WWF free for all.  GWAR frequently sprayed the audience with fake blood, semen and other bodily fluids.  They decapitated and disgraced political figureheads, religious leaders and celebrities onstage.  They welcomed audience participation and this sometimes became confrontational or violent.

An excerpt from a Deadspin.com via Decibel Magazine article:

By the early ’90s, GWAR’s touring entourage-band, crew and Slaves-numbered 24 people. The stage shows were legendary. “About the time that we really went past the punk rock art-school kids who understood us to the crazy meathead crowd, we were playing 1,500- and 2,000-seaters, but we still didn’t have barricades,” says Gorman, who’s been a key Slave and GWAR’s resident historian since 1988. “And the whole GWAR show gets people so excited that there’s this suspension of disbelief, like, ‘They’re really killing people! This is awesome!’ So, people would get up there and fuck with us. By ’92, it turned into a wave of people getting onstage to try and steal props, to knock the guy in the dinosaur suit over, or whatever. Instead of us doing what normal people do-which is, you know, pay for barricades-we decided to fight ’em. But really, we didn’t even know there was a choice. We thought it was our job to stop people, when in reality we could have paid for security. So, it was ugly. It was fights, every night, all night long. We didn’t get barricades until ’94.”

“We punched a lot of people,” adds Don Drakulich, the 6’4″ special-effects artist who has played (GWAR’s manager) Sleazy P. Martini since 1986. “Everyone in this band has punched a lot of people.”

gwar

Despite GWAR claiming to have declared war on the human race, the real Dave Brockie was fervently anti-war.  He had ongoing anti-war posts on his Tumblr account. Two stood out to me:

“Welcome to death. Welcome to agonizing pain. Welcome to the most pointless, expensive, and horrific activity in human history. Welcome to the latest chapter in my continuing photographic series on war.

More Bodies of People Who Died in Agonizing Fucking Pain

These types of images were carefully controlled during the war and only in the last couple of decades have the floodgates really opened regarding the forensic photography from it. If we had such images of our “War on Terror”, perhaps people would be a little less apt to do this to each other.

I won’t deny I have a ghoulish interest in death, chaos, and destruction in all of its forms. But war is the biggest train wreck ever, and I can’t stop looking at it. This is the bold and bare evidence of the true cost of war. The only war worth fighting is the one against it. Welcome back to my continuing series of horrific war photos, inspired by the hope that if people knew how awful war really was they would be less likely to send their children off to them. WAR NO MORE.”     – Dave Brockie

Besides graphic photos of death on his blog intended to spread the word about the horrors of war, he also recently posted images of civil unrest in Venezuela, hoping to bring the plight of Venezuelans into public consciousness.

Towards the end, the lines between Dave Brockie and Oderus Urungus began to blur a little.  This is how Oderus closed an interview on Soundwave TV while on tour in Brisbane, Australia recently:

“Solidarity to the people of Caracas, Venezuela, solidarity to the defenders of the Maiden in Kiev, we will throw these motherfuckers down, it’s just going to take a little while. But don’t be afraid, and don’t be fucking seduced by entertainment. To sit at home and watch your fucking TV , plug into social media and  tune the fuck out? No. We gotta go into the streets and we gotta fuck these motherfuckers up. And I’m down for life. Since I’ve never been able to kill myself, that’s forever. ”       – Oderus Urungus

The real Dave Brockie was humble and appreciative of being able to travel and tour. There are personal photos of GWAR’S most recent Japanese and Australian tours posted on his blog. One month ago, during GWAR’s Australian tour, Dave posted this:

Wow. What an amazing city. Sydney is maybe the best city I have ever seen…clean, beautiful, packed w/ happy people…spent the morning walking/ferry riding all over the place…can’t tell you guys how cool it is and how lucky I am to have this life…thank you :)

Photo credit: Dave Brockie (Riding a ferry in Sydney, Australia)

Photo credit: Dave Brockie (Riding a ferry in Sydney, Australia)

Now back to Dave’s alter ego Oderus Urungus: It’s hard to explain GWAR to folks who might not be familiar with them or their antics.  GWAR best represent themselves.  Here is their interview on Joan Rivers’ 1990s talk show.  Even Joan couldn’t escape their boundless charm and humor.

Joan Rivers: We are right in the middle of our 5 part series this week called rock on the wild side. And today we’re going to meet a band who had been described by their manager as cross between KISS, The Rocky Horror Picture show, the World Wrestling Foundation (sic) and the Simpsons. To me they look like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on LSD.   But their name is GWAR and wherever they perform thousands of kids flock to their concerts hoping to be dragged onstage and sprayed with blood, the whole thing, I don’t get it. Anyhow, they have a new videotape and an album out called Scumdogs of The Universe, thank God it’s out.   Will you please welcome GWAR…

(Oderus Urungus and Beefcake the mighty come onstage fully costumed.  Spikes protrude from shoulders, a massive helmet with stegosaurus spikes adorns Beefcake’s head.   Oderus raises his battleaxe in the air and Beefcake raises his sword.  Oderus gets on his hands and knees and bows to Joan Rivers showing his thonged buttcheeks.  They are barely able to sit down because of the bulk and girth of their GWAR alien outfits.  Oderus tells the crowd to “Stop, Stop right now” after they shower him with applause and raucous cheers. The talk show host has been laughing from the moment she introduced the band. Joan Rivers can barely contain herself.)

Oderus: Well miss Rivers,the first thing I would like to do as Oderus Urungus, lead singer of Gwar, here with my friend Beefcake the mighty. Would like to heap lavish praise upon you.  Let’s hear it for the star, hip hip hooray!  Hip Hip hooray.  Let’s give her a hand.  Here you go…

(Oderus hands Joan Rivers a severed hand)

Oderus: Don’t you like it?

Joan: I’m going to make it into a lamp.  Let me ask you. What is going on, you throw blood at the audience, dismembered limbs, this all goes on during your concerts. What is the philosophy behind all this?

Oderus:  Basically we view the human race as scum, we are indeed from another planet you know, and human beings we see as food. Dogs, so much as to be destroyed onstage en masse.  They do not dislike this, rather, they throw themselves gleefully into the jaws of death.

Beefcake: It is sort of a microcosm of the entire human condition if you will.

Joan Rivers: I don’t know what the hell you are talkin’ about

Oderus Urungus:  Everywhere  you look nowadays you look on TV you see people being run over by tanks, people being beaten by the police, people starving, new sexual diseases, obviously the human race is in love with self destruction. We are only satisfying a consumer need.

Beefcake: Supply and demand

Joan Rivers: and you are supplying a consumer need, you are so popular, suddenly becoming huge. But what about the children coming to your shows. You throw blood…not real blood I hope?

Oderus:  of course it is real blood what are you talking about?

Joan: Seriously?

Oderus:  Seriously. Everyone who comes to our show is ground up, and after the show they are dragged under the stage and tiny robotic arms take the fillings out of their teeth, and the rest of their bodies are ground into GWAR dog food, not a drop is wasted.

Joan: What is GWAR by the way, that is the planet where you come from?  Or the name of the group or both?

Oderus: Beefcake, what planet are you from again?

Beefcake: I’m from the planet cholesterol.

Oderus: I am from the planet Scum Doggia in the center of the universe far past Uranus.  We were banished to this insignificant mudball planet earth because we were eating too many chili cheese burritos and generally making a mess of things . We were banished here to serve eternal penance until the day we are recalled to the stars to do whatever happens then.

Beefcake: It’s not much of a prison because obviously on this planet we can defy gravity and we are having fun, you know.

Oderus: Yes we can blow on our tongues and grow to 300 feet in the air.

Joan: You’ve probably already done that on Sally Jesse

(Oderus and Beefcake love the quip from Joan and laugh deeply)

Oderus: That razor sharp wit of yours Joan

Joan:  Let me ask you, do you worry about music at all?

Beefcake: Why worry, we are wonderful

Oderus:   We don’t even play guitars actually telekinetically we manipulate the fretboards with our minds.

Beefcake: Mind music

Joan:   Who writes your music? Do you write your own music, do you have any involvement in that at all?

Oderus: Indeed we created the word music, the whole concept of music. After we destroyed the dinosaurs, we stretched their gizzards across the Grand Canyon. And Beefcake composed the first song ever. I believe “I write the songs,” Barry Manilow stole that from us.

Beefcake: Every piece of music written was robbed from GWAR.

Oderus: Indeed, yes.

Joan: What about sex in your act?

Oderus:  (seductively) What about sex?

Joan: They say there’s a lot of sexual things going on in the act.  And that takes it to a whole different area. It makes 2 Live Crew look sweet.

Oderus: 2 Live who? I don’t watch much television, except for your show, we watch your show 24 hours a day.  Oh, I know who you are talking about… 2 Live Spew, those guys who say the F word a lot.  Well I for one am really glad they got off, know what I mean?

Joan: Are there a lot of sexual innuendos in your act?

Oderus: There’s no innuendos at all.  There’s a 15 foot long growing penis that spews digestive fluid everywhere.

Joan: You have that on stage?

Oderus: Not all of the time. It haunts us, it follows us from gig to gig.

Beefcake: It’s a nightmare.

Oderus: We’ve had some problems you understand.

Joan:  Weren’t you arrested?

Beefcake: Joan you really shouldn’t have (Oderus feigns tears)

Oderus:  (holding back the tears) Strength, strength, as my friend Lawrence Olivier would tell me.  Indeed, it is true, in the human suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina, (softly) thank you Beefcake for being here for me right now…  we have or, I use to have anyway, a growing object between my thighs we called the Cuttlefish of Cathulu. This aforementioned object was attached to my body you know.  The police, they came to the show and told me I was trying to simulate a human penis.   What an insult!

Joan: They arrested you?

Oderus:  Well they didn’t arrest me so much as bribe me, they took me back to the station and they said they wanted to do a bunch of confiscated crack with me, hey  I love to party you know…   Went back to the station house and the next thing I know I was totally unconscious, they had amputated the cuttlefish with a laser saw,  and buried it in a nuclear waste sludge pile.

Beefcake: Tragic

Oderus: The Charlotte police were holding the cuttlefish for some time , Tipper Gore was holding it for awhile but they made her give it back.

Beefcake:  She gave it up reluctantly

Joan: Let me ask, how far are you guys going to go?

Oderus:  Cleveland.

Joan:  Aren’t you worried that people don’t get that you’re very funny, that they are going to take you seriously.   Aren’t you frightened of the responsibility of that?

Oderus:  I think anyone who would think that is a very disturbed person to begin with.

Joan: I think you’re brilliant, I think you’re terrific but it worries me that someone would watch you guys and think, “OK this is what we should do.”

Oderus: Let them join the army or something, there’s plenty of outlets for them.

Beefcake: They can be policemen or something.

Joan: A pleasure talking to you, please come back anytime you’re in the neighborhood just drop in.

Oderus: We certainly will

Long live Dave Brockie and Oderus Urungus, interplanetary creatures who found the mainstream insufferable. Forces of nature who declared war on censorship.  They used humor as their weapon. By being absurd themselves, they showed that the real world was much more frightening.  They were galactic beings who put on a damn good rock show.  Long live Dave Brockie and Oderus Urungus.

John Stewart and Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers make mention of Oderus Urungus’ passing here

Fox News pays tribute to Oderus Urungus (a late night contributor) here:

 

 

 

 

Reading in Chicago 2/20 with Sam Pink & Cassandra Troyan

4 Feb

article-chicago-aerial

Hello Friends,

I will be returning to the fair city of Chicago, Illinois as I’m gainfully employed to sell dental supplies at the Chicago Midwinter dental convention. Thankfully I have an evening engagement on Thursday Feb. 20th at Uncharted Books in Logan Square.

Reading with me will be Sam Pink and Cassandra Troyan.

Read an excerpt from Sam Pink’s new book “Witch Piss” here

Hear 4 poems by Cassandra Troyan here

RSVP on the Facebook event page here

Details:

Thurs. Feb. 20th 7pm

Uncharted Books

2630 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Chicago, IL 60647

Uncharted Books is across the street from the Logan Square Blue Line stop and near the 56, 76, and 82 bus lines. Paid street parking is available on Milwaukee Ave., and free street parking is sometimes available a short distance away on Logan Blvd. There is also a bike rack outside.

Uncharted Books is dog-friendly as long as your dog is store-friendly.

Sam Pink looks like this

Sam Pink looks like this

Cassandra Troyan looks like this

Cassandra Troyan looks like this

 

Sometimes I look like this

Sometimes I look like this

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