Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Last night and some other stuff

Yesterday after work I picked up my laundry from Casa Pastel Zanahoria and headed to straight to Jessica's for yoga.  Coming off 4 consecutive nights of hard partying and a short excursion to Guatemala City, it required a concentrated effort to follow through on the day's commitments rather than go home and lock myself up in my room.  It was around 8:30 when I finally plopped myself on the sofa in my living room.  The yoga had done its work and my usual anxiety had given way to a contemplative melancholy that I thought conducive for a bit of thought plucking and sentence mashing.

I certainly had no shortage of events to report.  On Saturday my DHL package finally arrived, after more than a week of running to offices and making bank deposits for taxes and haggling with customer service agents in pigeon Spanish. It's arrival concluded a two-month-long struggle to re-equip myself with some impossible-to-find necessities.  My Rainbows, the defacto footwear of my last few years, heartlessly stolen during a beach party in Tulum, have finally been replaced.  My wardrobe, steadily diminished and tattered after months of traveling has been replenish and now includes stylish, nicely fitting, climate-appropriate attire (which if you're a tall skinny guy is hard enough to achieve living back in the States). Finally I got a new 24mm macro lense for my dSRL and both my cameras now have battery chargers again.  (Pro-tip for traveling photographers: if you're going to spend a long time on the road, don't buy a fucking Pentax.  Get a leading brand Cannon or Nikkon or something who's accessories can be found in any big city.  Same thing goes for cell-phones and bicycles).

I'd also been making a lot of friends, most of whom I can't seem to remember.  Sunday night at Alex's superbowl party I introduced myself to girl who complained that it was the 4th time I had done so.  My anti-anxiety medication wreaks havoc on my memory, especially when mixed with alcohol.  It's certainly been effective though.  Last week I awoke to a text from an unknown number asking where I was.  Apparently I had committed myself to 6 am yoga lessons. It was the best decision of my life (after I adjusted the time-frame of course).  And on Friday I came into work to learn that the night before I'd agreed to go to Guatemala city on Saturday with Hugo, the new Architect at Mayan Families, for a friend's birthday party.  It ended up being a lot of fun and I now consider Hugo one of my best friends down here. Hugo is one of those guys who has a lot of good friends.

Unfortunately, with my memory, apparently, goes my capacity to tell the truth. I really need to learn how to harness my inadequacy issues because the tales I hear people tell me I've been telling them are tall enough to get me a some kind of publishing deal, at least a few magazine pieces.  On Saturday as I was leaving the house to head to Guate, I found a small troupe of backpackers at my gate.  They wanted to check out one of the apartments I had to rent because I was a real-estate tycoon who owned land all over Latin America and was also somehow a US fugitive separated from my family by the long and quite complex arm of the law.

But the heaviest issue on my mind last night wasn't my present life at all, but my past one, which is shaping up to be my future one..  In the last month or so, prompted by some mix of loneliness, nostalgia and just general relational etiquette; I've suggested to various friends and family that they should come out and visit me for a short part of my trip.  And to my astonishment, they've said yes.  Like, all of them. And they're all coming at once, back-to-back. Starting next Thursday, when my dad arrives, through the end of March and into April I will be accompanied by some person from my increasingly-distant past.  Of course I'm looking forward to spending time with all of them, but I'm also still a bit.. shocked?  The least predictable visits were confirmed just this weekend. My plans, if you can call whatever vague notions I let jostle about in my mind 'plans', are being confounded by the oddest little plot loops. A somewhat tangential example: At lunch the other day I saw a girl who looked familiar, turns out we had been staying at the same hostel in San Cristobal.  We had shared in some fun times, but never actually exchanged names.  She is now living in San Marcos just a 10 minute boat-ride away and we've become Facebook friends and made loose travel plans.

Anyway, all of these things and many more are begging to be processed (or at least properly repressed) last night as I bring out my laptop.  And then something happened that changed the entire course of my night: I discovered that I had left my charger at work; leaving my 15" beast of a machine with less than 30 minutes of operating time.

Since I lost my phone (again!) my laptop has become my main source of, well, everything. The cheap Guatemalan go-phone I got as a replacement is worthless for pretty much everything except tethering my laptop and listening to audiobooks on my lunch break. Now I had 4 hours of night to fill without a computer. No Reddit, no movies, and certainly no writing.  I mean, yeah, I might have a notebook and a pen lying around somewhere, but those are mostly decorative or for remembering things or making lists in the event of a dead battery. But actually writing something substantial? With a pen? Aint nobody got time for that.  Plus how would I know when I misspelled something?

I decided to walk downtown and eat out for dinner to give myself some time to process this devastating development. It seemed I couldn't even remember ever being simultaneously without either a computer or a smartphone and I was woefully unprepared.  I got dressed up in my new clothes and did my hair nice and sharp, partly to waste a little time and partly to insure, via Murphy's law, that I would not come across anyone I'd care to impress.

I set out for Calle Santander and double checked my phone to re-evaluate my audiobook options.  There were still just two.  The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak and The Pearl by John Steinbeck.  I was already in the middle of The Book Thief, and although its a decent read I wasn't really in the mood to follow the misfortunes of a poor little book-obsessed orphan girl growing up in Germany during WWII. Besides it was my designated lunch-time book, and if I let myself read it during dinner, what would the world come to?  That left me with The Pearl.  My only real objection was that I had just finished East of Eden, and as much as I loved it, I wasn't sure if I was up for back-to-back Steinbeck.  I generally don't like to read the same author back to back.  It's like eating at the same restaurant for lunch and dinner.

I reluctantly put on The Pearl, but after a few minutes I stopped in at a Libereria and bought a pen and a notepad, just in case.

Everyplace was empty, even Palapa's, so I decided to try the place next door that was always open late.  I ordered the Platico Typico hoping to be surprised, but expecting a few pieces of shitty meat with plantains, beans and tortillas.  I was not surprised. I chewed what I could, scribbled a few words in my new stationary and got the check.  

On my way home I tried The Pearl again, but I knew it wasn't going to stave off the unrelenting ennui that awaited me inside my bare apartment. I frantically tried to figure out a way to rig my laptop back to life, but it was hopeless.  What could I do?  You can't take photos at night and you can't write without a laptop, except like a dream journal..  and that's when the idea occurred to me.

I had been wanting to do Ketamine again for a while now.  Mostly to benefit from its powerful long-term antidepressant after-effect, but also because I really enjoy the trip.  It's like being lulled into a lucid dream.  You can go anywhere and do anything and all your thoughts are dream thoughts which makes them mysteriously precious and worth writing down.  The whole thing usually lasts a little less than two hours which was just about perfect.

I initially thought I'd just do some K and then start writing, but as I was about to take the first bump I knew that I wanted a thought guide and I figured Steinbeck was as good as any. 

The particular work that I was listening to was narrated by Frank Muller, who coincidentally also narrated Hemingway's Old Man and The Sea which I had just listened to last year.  It wasn't until I was winding down the K-hole that I become conscious of the narrator's voice.  The Pearl and The Old Man and the Sea share a number of similarities.  They are both short. They are both written by famous 19th century American authors.  They are both set in Latin American fishing villages. They both follow poor fisherman who both struggle to manage a fantastic catch.  They are both written in a remarkably similar style, with the omniscient author reading aloud the thoughts of his characters (perhaps this particular similarity is made more remarkable read by the same voice, which is being listened to by a mind high on Ketamine). And neither have a happy ending.

What I will say about The Pearl is that it is far more eventful than The Old Man and the Sea (which admittedly isn't saying much.)  On Ketamine, I wasn't listening to the story, I was living it.  I was Kino and at times I was even his wife.  Steinbeck has a way of making his readers understand the inner workings of his characters, and although I was trying to understand it, so that I could master it, it mastered me.  After my second bump, my whole life started falling apart.  And all because of this pearl, this fatal stroke of luck that gave me a glimpse of what might be, what I thought would be my ticket into a new world of wealth and freedom became the bane of my existence, the most horrible curse.  The ring of power was a ring of darkness.  And everything happened so fast.  Like Kino, I was confused and uncertain and shocked and obsessed, my eyes couldn't pierce the darkness any better than his, but I could feel it as well as he, if not more.  But I wasn't afraid.  I had faith in Steinbeck.  Steinbeck was fair and decent and although he couldn't make Kino's life fair and decent, he would give me something to hope for and I would do the best that I could because I knew there must be something about Kino that made him worth writing about. Kino was a man, and that's all I wanted to be.

But when it was over there was no glory in being a man and since the story was finished there was nothing left to hope for.  So I lied alone underneath the stars and watched the visions of my inner mind take strange forms before me until the drug began to wear off and I listened to the story again and though I was not so confused the second time through, and less impressed, I realized with some wonder that I had not missed anything. There was nothing to be gained from the second listening except the confirmation that I had indeed heard it all.

And then I glanced over my notebook.  10-12 pages of sideways handwriting trying to capture the feelings as they were being felt and the ideas as they were being realized and quotes that had struck me as significant. 

"Go with God" (but only when you don't know the way)

"Senses dulled by emotion" Steinbeck sings to keep the evil out.

"I am a man. A man can be killed."

And then I knew Steinbeck, but Steinbeck just wanted to say 'hi'


and this little gem:  I will be a great writer because I have an enormous ego with a million opinions that everyone wants to hear.

And that was my Monday night