‘You’re a good man, J’ – an incantation I’ve heard before, it nevertheless remains an utterly unfathomable locution I’ve yet to decode. Like verbalized ancient hieroglyphics. Yet I continue to excavate, in search of the ancient hieroglyphics scholar long since buried alive but still buzzing about in the basement-bottom of my bruised and battered body.
All questions regarding my myriad past traumas and current mercurial recovery can be answered by Wes Craven films – sentient and victim-based (replete with documentation of self-and-society-imposed impediments), A Nightmare on Elm Street, My Soul to Take, Shocker, The Last House on the Left, Deadly Friend and The People Under the Stairs are particularly devastating, illuminating, and veracious.
Too, they remain ridiculously relevant, not only to myself, but to ALL OF YOU.
Take heed. The shit is real.
Don’t judge me until you know the whole story. If you knew the whole story, you wouldn’t judge me.
On life and beauty, I know shit you don’t. Chronic physical pain permits perspective you lack (Ankylosing Spondylitis is a life sentence – incurable, unyielding). As does having survived myriad childhood traumas the extremes of which you’d register and file as fiction (as any citizen would when presented with the unfathomable – I never had that option). If I peddled my pedigree, there’d be pity from thee. But the pity is mine to have – these experiences have indeed burdened me with awareness, an almost supernatural ability to see through pretense, view people and situations the way they really are.
I see hypocrisy crisply, catch calumny with crystal clarity, denote denial dexterously, spot sorrow instinctively. But I also see and appreciate beauty in a way civilians do not – can not.
See, I am a small sliver of the pie – a paltry contingent of the populace witnessed combat before being able to spell CAT. Tiny eyes took in dad committing atrocities some soldiers never see. No, you couldn’t imagine – the worst nightmare you ever had doesn’t compare to my reality (I also know violence doesn’t happen in cinematic slo-mo; it happens as if sped up – a fraction of a millisecond, and one’s life, and the lives of all involved, as well as the lives of all those who are or will later become involved with those who were involved, are altered for all time).
Don’t judge me until you know the whole story. If you knew the whole story, you wouldn’t judge me.
Cut through pretense. Cultivate beauty. Discourage denial. Protect and nurture the children around and inside you. Be kind and generous and gentle and loving. Expect nothing in return. Don’t shop at Walmart, eat McDonald’s, or watch ‘the news’. Speak out when witnessing injustice. Social media is not enough. The political is the personal. Politeness is for privileged white people at cocktail parties. We’re here to live, not to be polite. See the bigger picture. Spread truth. Use every venue to do so, from fakebook to courtroom to street corner. Silence absolutely equals suffering and death, and is not part of the problem, but The Problem Itself. See the bigger picture. There is always a bigger picture. Intimacy is everything. Intimacy is everything. Intimacy is everything. Keep awake. Keep awake.
Biggest lesson: See the bigger picture – keep the widest perspective. With that, the rest falls into place.
Make this your smelling salt.
I could go on, but it would be to myself – 99.99% of you moved on to the next newsfeed item before reading the third sentence. Those of you still here, text me hello, and tell me how you’re feeling.
She has an ass like a Honeycrisp apple and when she corners me on the seventh floor stairwell, I grab it and squeeze.
She smiles and says, ‘You’re definitely a bad boy.’
I miss my cue to ask why. It doesn’t faze her.
‘Because I only dig bad boys.’
I’ve heard this before. And will hear it again.
‘That why you’re married to that lunatic?’
Her eyes swap seductive for scolding.
‘And you’ve got big balls,’ she replies, then grabs them and squeezes.
It’s true – years of trauma tempered the Alpha, but He still manages to occasionally flex His pecs on Bronx stairwells.
I pull her to me. She feels me and flutters.
‘I want it,’ she says.
‘You’ll get it,’ I respond.
Our lips meld, then open wide in the middle. Her tongue licks the roof of my mouth. I catch it between my teeth and bite down, first lightly, then not lightly. Her eyes widen.
An old-school slow jam sets off in my skull, something like Mint Condition.
Her legs lift, ankles crossing behind me. I turn us around so her back’s to the wall. She grunts.
I put a hickey on her right shoulder. It’s a brazen thing to do. I don’t care.
Her hand reaches for the burgeoning bulge between us, and her eyes widen wider. ‘Jesus,’ she declares.
‘No,’ I respond, which she ignores, focusing instead on measuring the length and width of what she’s asked for. When finished, she looks at me accusingly and explicitly states, ‘Fuck.’
‘Ok,’ I respond.
The square window on the seventh floor stairwell door steams up. It’s summer and we’re scorching, two hoodrats smeared on a tenement stair wall like graffiti.
It smells like weed, sweat, Grey Flannel, arroz con pollo and cocaine cut with ammonia. But when I put my face to her chest, all I smell is Freedom. From all of the above, and then some.
Her skin is eloquent as fuck and it’s clear he’s illiterate. I’m not. My nose and lips graze slowly, implying, informing. Stopping at the black bruise he put just over her heart. With more affection than I’ve ever mustered for my self, I kiss it. Tenderly. And sound drops out.
She’ll be leaving soon, but not really; she’s in my blood.
Noiselessly, I put my nose to hers and it sticks.
I look into her eyes and, with them, both of us fully clothed, I enter her.
Strobes flash. Spray paint tags weep. Moving mouths lie. Bodies swarm. To Wu’s ruckus. Place trades fifteen minutes for each two. Synthetic authenticity. In whose suspect corners buzz Truth. Brace. For the real. Get your gut got. Your ghosts gone. Brace. For a surge. Thick with tumult. Then erupt, expel. And emerge released.
Boxing transcends cinematic stereotypes – tangible ropes trumping tired tropes. My strength between four posts not in my arms or legs but in my peace. Outside that ring vibes chaos and anxiety. Inside, calm. Every move telegraphed, I let go and let Zen. Mind and body instinctively knowing what to do, I focus instead on my breath. I take the punches; they are men and have something to prove. When the time is right, my own arm extends, and there’s power behind it – more than I would have imagined. Connect, connect, connect. Go back to breathing, wait while he defensively returns strikes. Wait some more. Allow in some of the world around me. Cool on my knees. Hollow echoes of other men grunting, huffing. The bell rings. I don’t want it to. It rings again. I’m in the ring and back to within. Tarry long as it takes. Take pleasure in the bounce. Locked into the second. Then shut it all out. And be. Zoom in on his eyes. Breathe. Let go and connect. Dive into the breach. Connect again. Well-timed bursts of passion – not violence – coiled in the core of me for decades, cowering in fear. No fear now. This is home. I glide through the breach. And find catharsis. And find my self. Connecting. Again and again.
No relations since June so it’s no wonder my massive morning wood won’t fit through the bedroom door. Being a man of principle is not always easy and sometimes quite stupid, especially in light of chronic physical pain and a history of trauma – life is short-lived, death arbitrary, particularly round these parts (that East Village ‘splosion singed both eyebrows and visage).
Think beach, baby boy, and not Rockaway or Jones, but the real ones far away but so close, where you can still see your size 14s two feet in the water, and mermaids just offshore.
Note: click on highlighted words for the expansive experience.
November 19th, 2014. Morning. The tech is young and overtly cheerful. This heartens my grizzled veteran (she doesn’t know I’ve been getting these since she was in high school [*]) and shifts my semblance slightly, despite the chainsaw mincing my right shoulder. I lie down, spiritually strap in. She puts headphones on me, telling me they won’t help. Prokofiev’s No. 7 makes me feel like I’m in a fraudulent Fellini, or one of Langdon’s later, lugubrious silents, so I ask if she’s got any DMX. She doesn’t smile but says ‘Sure – whatever I type in will come up.’ I think she mishears me. She doesn’t – soon as I’m in the coffin, Up in Here begins. I can’t laugh cuz I’m not supposed to move. Instead, I muse on both the irony and accuracy of the lyrics with regard to my current malediction, and wonder which X track is next. None, as it turns out. But Tribe Called Qwest is mo betta (Scenario, yo). Inside, I am twerking. Inside, I’m doing the Roger Rabbit. LL’s next – ‘I don’t smoke crack, I smoke MCs‘. The banging begins beneath my body and in time, I groove on the deafening, staccato beat and old-school Asteroids/IBM ‘puter noises, James Todd Smith relegated to source music. I can feel the radiation buzz about me, shrink my bowling ball nads to peas. The hammering continues, but I can just make out Whodini under it – Freaks Come Out at Night, indeed. I am hungry. For food and flesh. The latter is troublesome. The former less complex. Thus, we go to a Chi-Mex dive, where I indulge in a burrito and a native roach nearly indulges on me. Pain portends to pilfer joy. Presently I endeavor to preempt the prick and swallow seven pills. One is a Vitamin C. The rest are not. Company’s good and I don’t feel the cold. It is twenty degrees. We go to Dollar Tree and I buy a small monkey stuffy I name Ned and she buys some Christmas stickers. We go to Waldbaum’s and pee. We go to Raindew and look at Christmas shit. We sniffle and shiver at a bus stop as a JHS kid practices Careless Whisper on an oboe, his breathing perfect. We ride the bus and I look at every child and smile and feel sad. We see Ouija (**) and are the only ones in the theatre. We go to Boston Market and eat the kind of Thanksgiving meal I haven’t had in fifteen years. The pain is ferocious, clutching my core like Count Orlock clutching Ellen’s heart. I can focus on nothing. I take the pill I’ve been avoiding, the effect immediate: I talk a lot and do it quickly. Scorsese, my work, Kate, Lauren, somatic therapy, my mother, people’s primitive (patriarchal) (mis)perceptions of rape, and how she herself organically transmogrified my life. I begin to worry about the cost of a good day. The pain is still there but I’m high so we wait for another bus and go to a bakery cafe. I’m chill, hypervigilance on low end because we’re not in the city or Flushing. The cafe is the multiculti late night hot spot of the Caucasian area. We look at cakes, cookies, cupcakes and pies. She gets one tastes like sin and redemption. I get tea. And talk more. And flirt with everyone in a skirt. No one is wearing a skirt but I imagine they are. I want to make out. I want to have sex. I want to make a movie. Now. Fuck the pain. Instead, I talk. She listens, laughs, counsels a friend via text, shows me family pictures, and tells me I’m brilliant. I don’t feel brilliant. I feel like a thug. With learning disabilities. Eventually, they throw us out and we huddle in a doorway and wait for yet another bus. At 2am I find myself alone again in my bunker, buzzing like radiation, blowtorch searing my shoulder, still hungry – nay, ravenous. Mix pain, narcotics, PTSD and an inability to process happiness. The good day was over, I was ready to ruin. The cost was two days. But I am not ungrateful. If, for nothing else, every heartbeat.
** Lo-fi ‘shocker’ could’ve been made in ’81. Plus points: Olivia Cooke, Lin Shaye, an autumnal score by Anton Sanko, and my companion, who hunkered in the creaky seat to my right, biting her nails and jumping at every cheap jump scare.
Politricks, celebrity, sway, the corporate world, America? Artifice. CNN is the E! channel for Republicans. And I remember when Facebook was called CB radio. Bottom lines are everything.
I come from the fringe. I am a tiny sliver of the American pie. I died twice as a baby boy – a combined two minutes flatlined and the fates threw me back, a guppy in shark-infested waters. Witnessed murder shortly thereafter, those images branded: big ass knife, spreading pool of blood. I can go on but you couldn’t handle it. No one wants to hear about child rape anyway, right?
Especially not in this sacred social venue – I don’t want to hiccup anybody’s newsfeed flow. So ok, I’ll move on.
Except to say this aberrant childhood, replete with all its paradoxes, left me with nascent super powers. Like the ability to spot bullshit in less than half a second – you lie, I fly. Even with this genetic predisposition to debilitating disease. Go on. Try me. And I’ll show you the portorican Superman.
I didn’t find Art, Art found me. Pluck. Save the spic from the gutter. Sans male role models, I found my own: a doom-laden choir of damaged, self-destructive manchilds were nevertheless brill. Pryor, Lenny, Kinison, Hunter S., Tupac, et al. The revolutionaries came later – Malcolm, Martin, Albizu (click here). They taught me by example: tell The Truth. Expose hypocrisy. No matter the consequence. And use every venue – film, radio, TV, street corner soliloquy, spray paint on the side of a building (slew of truths etched into high school desks by moi back when; one said FAMILIES KILL). Simply by doing that, you’re pushing the envelope. And will be shunned, alienated, mocked, deplored, punished. Fuck it – it’s the only road leads to freedom.
You start telling the truth to people and people gonna
look at you like you was askin’ to fuck their mama or somethin’.
The truth…is gonna scare the shit outta folks.
– Richard Pryor, as Mudbone
‘You know I love you, right?’ she says, but it doesn’t matter cuz she’s leaving next flight to Somewhere Else. He stares into her eyes from behind his own, walled up since knowing of this day. She places her lips to his forehead and lets them sit there. He feels nothing. He won’t allow himself to feel anything. She pulls away, turning, eschewing that last glance. He stands immoveable, looking passively at her countenance as it walks through airport doors, from sunlight into darkness, his mind TiVoing it all for endless slow mo playback later. Or so he thinks. Because already her needs have been circumvented by his own – his need to not be complacent, to not acquiesce to another tearful goodbye, to not carry her bags through those doors (like mechanical mouths, consistently swallowing his future), her head on his indented shoulder. She turns a corner, lost to him. He kneels where he was standing, looks toward planes ascending, wishing he were on one. And his fucking journey begins in earnest.
‘Inside’ people at clinics in Mexico would snatch ‘good looking’ (i.e., light complexioned) babies to be brought here illegally and sold to rich white couples on Park Ave and the Upper West Side. One middle man had a conscience, kids of his own, tears in his eyes, justifying it to himself and the two lunatic Crooklyn Detectives doing the interview by saying they were saving these rugrats from lives of abject poverty, drugs, neglect – a persuasive argument if you were easily manipulated (as he himself seemed to be), or never held a baby in your arms, or even seen one.
I watched from a picture window next door as this man was reminded of bottom lines: stealing is against the law, stealing a child even more so, especially if the child dies, as some did. The man remained still then, no more tears. He closed his eyes and that round was done.
I knew I shouldn’t have been there. I didn’t know why I was. Except it seemed in line with the chaos I’d felt inside. The chaos that surrounded me then.
I was in grief.
Sipowicz and Simone left that room and entered mine. The older one nodded at me and smiled. ‘How’s that for a sociopath?’ This in reference to my having dubbed J.S., a young actor friend of my ex-girlfriend’s, as such after he drugged and sexually brutalized her one summer night (July 13th, 2006, to be exact). I’d first come to them the following Spring, after having pieced together the events of that evening and finding out he’d done it before, to other female friends of his (each of whom had blamed themselves).
‘Sociopaths don’t try that hard to justify to themselves the wrong they do.’ My irony-depleted reply.
‘He was kidding,’ the younger one said.
‘A little levity,’ from the older, as he slapped my back and told me to get the fuck out before they got fired again.
I did. It was the third and last time I’d see them. Until my dream this morning. Which has left me craving beach. Or a hug.
These groups, classes are invigorating, instructive, cathartic.
They’re where I should’ve been twenty years ago.
Still, black clouds loom. Time, ghosts.
Wednesday is a creative, emotional, physical powder keg. From healing my chakras to documenting my city to expressing my soul.
I float ‘home’, thoughts and emotions swirling about, waiting to be labeled, ordered, filed. I crash without changing, eating, brushing.
Thursday I come clean to a Latina from Forest Hills.
Saturday I listen to the kiwi laugh. She and the music girl keep me company, keep me grounded, keep me Me every day.
By Sunday, ghosts have rendered me owned.
Monday, the lady with the cat eyes centers Me. And my ears sometimes bleed.
Sue calls on me to stay on book for her as she workshops a chunk of her one-woman show. Focusing on the page she’s given me, I don’t notice the piece slam into me until the next day. Rob – her deceased twin, my best friend in junior high and my once-probable guardian angel – is one of the characters. Years he and I were friends (eleven to eighteen), I felt I was his protector (if ultimately, not a good one) and so it jars me to witness him being her protector, caretaker, support – a sane and thoughtful savior. Her guardian angel.
The two of them like prisoners of war.
(Would that I had a sibling.)
Afterwards, she exhales. Later, she addresses me gratefully and I accept that I might’ve been of some assistance, emotional or otherwise.
The sixty-three films collected from storage gets whittled down to five – a two hour process, conservatively. Each one with its own personal and historical context. Its own pedigree of names, places, emotions. A seemingly random choice has myriad analytical reasonings. From early Ringo Lam to recent Van Damme. From Harry Langdon to Jane Campion.
Fry up some cereal, nuke a Lean Pocket, simmer some soup. Check closets for my father or the Son of Sam.
The DVD loads. Plays. Fitting like a glove.
Intimacy is everything. Movies are intimacy. Cinema has singlehandedly saved my fucking life.