Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I despise that brief moment after waking in a strange place wherein you have no idea what brought you there. This feeling is almost always accentuated by fatigue or alcohol and as my crusty sunburned eyes opened I found myself drenched in both, hopelessly imprisoned by an endless sea of human legs. The only solace in these moments of terror was my old friend Bobby Dylan, playing the hits to an audience estimated near ten thousand. Now I’m not talking real Dylan, or weird Dylan, or even angry Dylan, but the classic album Bringing It All Back Home, being played to calm my battle hardened nerves and prelude perfectly into the closing set of The Coachella Music and Arts Festival 2008.
Outlaw Blues was just getting rolling as the Sun made its final goodbyes and melted behind the desert peaks of Indio, California. I was here on the job, thousand words for Rolling Stone.Com, all expenses, payment unlikely. This was not the writing economy of Fitzgerald and Jake Barnes. Money be damned was my mantra, this job was about honor, and the chance to see ¼ of Pink Floyd live. After three days of camping in an abandoned polo field, in 100 degree temperatures, with a mob of raging dope fiends from all over the world, it was time for the headliner Roger Waters.
Unbeknownst to most of the Indie hipster groove-addicts that frequent this festival, Mr. Waters is the man behind the legend of Pink Floyd. His Floyd fraction would be more like 5/8ths, singlehandedly writing every note of the bands albums after the original singer left, and before he himself left the group. The Floyd most people know and love is the Roger Floyd. So seeing him perform his songs isn’t like seeing War with one surviving member, P-Funk without Bootsy, Zeppelin without Bonham, or the latest bastardization of a Hoonless Blind Melon. This was Pink Floyd, the composer, the genius, The fuckin Wall man!
As I stood and rubbed the Lophophora from my eyes, I noticed one last tribulation I had to face after a weekend of bitter trials. While sleeping through the country vibrations of My Morning Jacket, I had been surrounded on all flanks by restless natives. My pasty redhead skin shone like a beacon of shame hovering in a thick brown Los Angeles sky. Being one hour from Mexico it shouldn’t have been a shock, but after a weekend of self-inflicted physical and mental abuse my mind gave way to The Fear, and I don’t steal that phrase lightly.
Ad Astra Per Aspera. I must present them with the most rigid manifestations of a firm and manly will, and all that shit, but not here, not now. I was too emotionally invested in this show to cover it in any professional manner. I had witnessed a mind-boggling stream of live music ranging from Prince, to Flogging Molly, to Dwight Yokam, to Gogol Bordello, to Fat Boy Slim, to Aesop Rock, to Rilo Kiley, then Aphex Twin, Death Cab, Autolux, Portishead, and including a long line of various acts from the cream of the Indie-Rock/Hip Hop/Electro crop. My senses were cranked, my body pushed to the brink of its physical threshold, and all at once 18 years of white suburban brainwashing floated like a bubble through my growing paranoia.
Why were they here in such great numbers? There were no matching sequined hats or accordions here. Their presence could only mean most certain destruction. Where in the hell were the gringos? Where were the bad blond dreads and acid grins I expected to wake to? I found myself in this situation earlier in the festival during the Mexican Maestos Café Tacuba. They nailed it. They were all peace, beats, and rooster lucha masks. But I was prepared mentally for this culture shock; I expected to be the only white person to be seen and was. What I woke to here was a much harsher vibe. These people were tired, not quite exhausted, not yet, yet tired of the endless heat, 8 dollar beers, 10 dollar nachos, and long bearded, smelling, hippie-gringos trying to get down while smoking spliffs many a gram larger than their own. I had spent the cash and eaten all the expensive drugs, so I assumed they would just beat me to a bloody pulp in some warped reenactment of West Side Story.
These thoughts were completely irrational, a simple tetrahydra-delusion, these weren’t even Puerto Ricans. Or were they? These emotions were frightfully overpowering in my weekend state and hell bent on ending my mission of honor. Then I saw them, two bull looking vatos with pulsing necks like telephone poles. They possessed all the features of a toro bravo, save the tail and bloodstained fur, which must have been removed at birth. There were horns by God, and whether real or imagined, I knew very well what a precisely placed horn could do to a man’s innards. If they charged I would simply do my best faroles, despite being severely handicapped with nothing red. Why must I read Hemingway in some vain attempt to be literary? I had no fear of bulls before reading The Capital of the World, and would probably have none after Death In the Afternoon, yet here I was in the ring. Dylan was gone, no red cape, no sword, and the dishonor of 200 years of racist immigration policy was bearing down on me like the 8:35 to Treblinka.
My fear left as quickly as it had come. The black background of the stage was suddenly filled with a mountainous musical image towering over us all several stories high. The giant 50’s era radio blared Hound Dog at top volume. As the crowd lost their minds to screams, I glanced up to a smoke filled sky not known since Marley’s last show in Kingston Town. A wave of people rippled through the crowd and I was carried away from my demons and placed in a considerably safer location for my type of journalism. Two girls in Dead shirts, couple a gay dudes arm in arm riding out their amphetamine psychosis, fat bearded kid from Alaska, dilated eyes, I was home. We knew he would play Darkside of the Moon, as advertised, but we all secretly hoped for an additional Pink Floyd set, rather than a spirit crushing set of solo career crap.
A giant hand reached from behind the stage and switched the station on the 747 sized radio, out came Coltrane, then We’ll Meet Again, and one last beautiful song, Ella’s version of My Funny Valentine. With a loud spark, smoke poured out of the old radio and then there was silence, the lights dimmed, and out He came.
Roger carried his bass with authority and had the look of a man wizened with age rather that beaten by it. There was a burst of light, a rush of adrenaline, an "Ein zwei drei... ALLE!" and the band roared into the first chords of In the Flesh, from The Wall. Not the first version of course, but the second more neurotic version, Pink's version. Marching hammers were everywhere, glorious signs indeed, this was going to be a Pink Floyd show.
The band stayed with The Wall, playing everything the fans longed to hear, including Mother, Is There Anybody Out there, and Goodbye Blue Sky. Always drifting at their will into the earlier albums, Wish You Were Here, Saucerful of Secrets, and Animals. The awesome visuals you would expect of the most influential psychedelic band of all time towered over the players, morphing with the music as political pigs floated above the crowd and hippies wept openly.
I was lost in the trance of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, one of the first songs Roger wrote after taking up the helm of this strange ship, when I heard it. The first note of Shine On You Crazy Diamond vibrated through me like a tazer as the visuals transported us all into the far reaches of the galaxy.
It can be troubling sometimes while hallucinating to witness a near life size nebula pulsing and moving towards you, as one of your favorite songs is played live at ear crushing levels. Few are built to withstand something like this. About halfway through the song I realized I too was crying. I was knee deep in a two and a half hour Pink Floyd set, all the while thinking, they still have to play Darkside! They still have to play Darkside!
The crowd became very strange after the first few songs. They were respectful to a point of surreal reverence I have only witnessed in a church or funeral home. I have never felt anything close to it at a concert, and the three days leading up to this had been extremely wild, even by concert standards.
They finished up Shine On, the ode to Pink Floyd’s original singer and songwriter Syd Barret, who was forced out of the band due to serious mental problems. Syd set the template for The Floyd and Roger Waters put it to diabolical use. As Syd's heartbreaking image faded from the screen, Roger closed the first set with Vera Lynn from The Wall, and we all shouted along with the lines, “Bring the boys back home again! Bring the BOYS back home! With the warmth of a story telling grandfather he finished the song saying, “Well thank you! There goes my pig. We’re going to take a short break, and then come back and do Dark Side of the Moon.”
Once they left the stage the reverence was immediately broken. The shoving, shifting, and ass grabbing had begun again, and to my horror I noticed the two bulls standing nearby snorting and giving serious stink eye. The black screen shown with a small moon and the soothing sound of soft rolling water poured out of the speakers. Every time I glanced away from the moon to perform reconnaissance on my antagonistos, I noticed the moon had doubled in size and the bulls were getting closer. After ten minutes the moon filled the entire screen, and mi amigos were right behind me. I thought I could hear my heart beating louder and louder, until the crowd lost it at the return of the band, and I realized it was the speakers beating, announcing the beginning of the greatest album every made.
It was all joy and musical ecstasy as we screamed along with Breathe, smoked to On the Run, tripped to Time, cried at the beauty of Great Gig in the Sky, danced to Money, thought of midgets dancing during Us and Them, and struggled to hold onto our upper vertebrae as the band closed out the album with Brain Damage and finally Eclipse. We all lost our voices shouting with hopeful abandon, the words we could never remember until this moment, "And all that is now, and all that is gone, and all that's to come, and everything under the sun is in tune. But the sun is eclipsed by the moooooon!!"
I could feel the red eyes of the bulls to my left and I expected the warm tearing of their horns at any second. The crowd was still going nuts for Rog and an encore was eminent, but it was now or never for me. I saw a people train moving quickly towards me through the dense mob realized this was my last chance to escape the crowd and flee from the natives like Indy in Raiders of the Lost Arc.
I jumped into the moving line and the bastard carried me straight towards the bulls and there god damned glistening horns. As I passed right in front of them the big one flashed something that rattled my soul. Not a switchblade, or a nine, nor even a single shiny horn, but a smile. Not any smile mind you, but a grande Mexican smile. He raised his hand in the international Bro greeting as I approached and I high-fived him as I passed out of the crowd feeling like a member of the Hitler Youth.
My reality had been completely backward during most of the show. I saw my fellow Floyd fans as guests in my ultimate musical fantasy when in actuality I was a guest in theirs. By all righteous accounts I was standing in old Mexico. This was their land, stolen by my people and held up in the air in a massive toddler tantrum. The United States has no right to keep the privileges and rewards of this land from its native ancestors, none. Holding these blessings at bay for a select few is epic racism that could only be perpetuated by a people who moved in unwanted, slaughtered their new neighbors, shit in the rivers, and wiped their asses with the forests. The singer for Café Tacuba summed it up very eloquently in broken English saying, “We don’t come here for money, or to live. We come to dream, just to dream." Cheesy? Certainly. True? Definitely. The American Dream. The Americas are a much bigger place than the U.S. Jorge.
I washed these thoughts to the back of my mind with two waters and a grape Gatorade. Thinking that sort of shit could get man burned at the stake and beheaded in the near future. I collapsed hydrated to the ground near the back of the crowd and waited for the encore. The night was pleasantly cool and a breeze of joy drifted through the audience. Tomorrow we would all go home and tell our loved ones what happened, but they wouldn’t understand, not really, but we would always know.
The band was back, for a minute, closing of course with fireworks, flying rainbow shooting prisms, and the encore staple Another Brick in the Wall. I leaned back on the grass gazing at the stars and spotlights stretched infinitely to Oberon. This show would be hard to top, but if it had to be attempted, why not me? I passed out sometime before the second guitar solo of the standard show closer Comfortably Numb.
All pictures are from Mr. Kemp's personal camera. Our photographer was last seen in the V.I.P. ingesting a white substance with Fisher Stevens and The Hoff just before Prince's Saturday evening set. He has yet to check in with the main office.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
This next one is from a Comic convention where Rachel confronts real people from the show. Just as cheesy as the first one, I apologize.
So, is she real? Insane? Retarded? I think so.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Snow can be one of Mother Nature's most calming forces, if you are dressed for it of course, there is no wind, and you are heading into most certain doom. It was the only thing giving my body the strength to continue confidently toward my appointed task despite the fearful objection of my mind. I bent on determined to see my favorite childhood band perform, although I had no ticket, and the show was sold out. Luckily for me desire oftentimes overcomes logic, and with a few quick glances around me, I hopped the short fence leading to the back stairs of a club themed on a 3rd world train station. A yuppie paradise wherein obese midgets serve up fresh lines of primo Colombian cocaine with mescal on the side, and prestigious rock bands perform in an extremely small and personal venue for musicians of stature. I hadn’t seen this group play a small venue since the early 90's and there was no doubt I was getting in. But I still had to fight the demons of fear and try to focus on the epic prize.
I have always found it troublesome to pay for musical entertainment. I feel in my soul it is fundamentally corrupt. Musical ability is a gift from the cosmos and should likewise be given, or taken. Monetary gain will always contaminate the integrity of the suffering artist. Money is responsible for the break up of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Sex Pistols, as well as the brutal endings of Kurt, Janis, Jimi, Jim, John, Billie, Bradley, Elvis, etc. Fortunately my wallet did not fund the designer heroin, booze, and pills that slaughtered these poor rich bastards.
I developed this righteous pirate's mentality early in life. Long before the golden age of free digital music files, music junkies had to get their fix through the mail. The guy who invented the 12 CD'S for 1 cent scam is still being tortured in an Indonesian prison. Me and every 11 year old in the country found all the loopholes in the system and gorged ourselves on a free buffet of the classics, from Nico to Nevermind, as well as the must have Best of The Doors, Creedence, and Tom Petty. This was just a taste of the bounty to come, Arrgh matey, swab the poop deck, Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
When you justify any kind of theft the world becomes Nottingham. I stole from the rich and gave to the poor, ie. me. Free music was my gateway drug into free concerts. Elvish skill and pure cajones, have allowed me to witness the final performances of Nirvana, The Grateful Dead, and A Tribe Called Quest. But it's not all glory and 20 minute versions of Territorial Pissings, I have received brutal beatings outside of some of the finest music venues in the country.
But I have yet to meet that fate at this club. I have a man on the inside, a woman actually, an essential tool in this game if you want to avoid a savage stomping. Even then your chances are fair at best. I climbed the seemingly vacant stairs and was filled with the warm apprehension of success. As I approached the back door of the club my breath was cut short at the definite sound of concert security brutes. They appeared to be some kind of professional wrestling tag team duo based on Laurel and Hardy. A burly dwarf and a fat giant covered in tattoos and hair. Their shirtsleeves strained at the girth of Neanderthal arms created by the devil himself for pummeling. Despite the soupy night, I clearly saw the tattoo on the beastly one’s forearm of a crude skull chewing on a baby embryo. The large one was clearly not to be trifled with, but I could definitely take the dwarf.
“Erg, Narf Beer grummm” Grunted Laurel.
“Mmmerg, garg bitches beeeelch.” Replied Hardy.
Dear God, I thought. They’re going to eat me alive.
I bolted a flight down the stairs to wait out their nicotine/steroid break and tried to remain calm as cold puffs of snow landed on the back of my neck. Suddenly like a thundercloud they approached, up the stairs the way I had come, a mob of militant, lacrosse playing, blood drunkend future Rotarians, howling and cursing and hell bent on destroying my entire existence.
I anxiously looked up to see the security trolls going back inside. The Hardy fellow pulled the door gently behind him, making certain the door remained unlocked for his beer-swelled comrades. By some strange act of Benzai, the mob had saved me rather than annihilating me, ominous forces were at work.
Dashing up the stairs I lunged for the door and pulled it shut behind me, relishing in the click of the lock. As I said, I feel it is my duty to keep music pure, Rotarian mobs included, whether they saved my ass or not. I walked quickly toward the stairs leading to the restless audience, and freedom, when to my left a large cargo elevator came crashing open. Out walked the rhythm section of 311, and 2 security guards eying me suspiciously.
I looked at P-Nut and said, "Hey man, I think there’s some kind of white supremacist lacrosse team trying to break down the back door."
"Thanks" he said, visibly confused.
Turning back toward the stairs, I walked calmly away not daring to look back. I hit the bottom of the stairs and dived into the frenetic concert energy like a pardoned death row inmate. Ahhh that glorious smell of human flesh, spilled beer, and covert weed tokes. I shoved myself triumphantly to the front of the packed mob, and sweet ambiguity.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
"I understand a fury in your words. But not the words."
"He never ever learned to read or write so well, but he could play the guitar like he was ringing a bell."
“I would not know what the spirit of a philosopher might wish more to be than a good dancer.”
FROM THE GRAVE
"Hard headed bastard, maybe he'll listen in the casket."
HIP HOP VS. RAP
"I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him."
"It ain't all peace, love, and adverbs. Sometimes shit gets hectic."
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Saturday A.M. The weekend is fresh with the dew covered aspirations of the lost and disturbed. I sit whiskey-faced, broken, drenched in muzak and caffeine heart rhythms that shake the walls of this Warholian diner. Italiana bella across from me, goofy smiled and curious at the onslaught of zoo escaped adult contemporaries, laughing, mumbling, and cursing, in hypnotic beat.
Old man booth neighbor sees us now, eyes of doom questioning. Polyester jacket and bushy eyebrowed medieval peasant. Wife wears death mask and bad fro dripping in swine grease perfumes. Look at that magnificent shade of blue, no look away. What’s this sad lamented thesis of 5.99 ham heart attack bombs with heaping sides of colon clogging farm-hand delicacies?
"Chicken steak and eggs thank you." My voice, gravelly, smoked, torn, angst ridden amongst the third verse of verseless Neil Diamond synthesized classic. "Chocolate shake, n' apple pie." Sweet toothed lady-friend smiles widely at the questioning horror.
Standing Frankenstiened, hair bleached, a transgendered nightmare serving up food and despair. Towering over us, ducking to avoid plastic chandeliers, wearing a head-like potato sack. I delve into
Dueling mustached culinaries ring bells in dull life window, scowling like the voodoo waitress, all victims, all are fear in encroaching economic jungle. Serving, servants, to the young and old bargain garbage eaters, we engulfed in the Elton John bastardization trance. Ensnared, engrossed, incontinent, Agina Pectoris. Screaming arteries, thinning wallets, criminal gratuities, joyless laughter drowning out the ghost pig slaughter song. Fast breaking.
Floating meat tray presentation arriving now with slime shine egg-whites, gravy poultry beast, no vegetables in sight, death queen revealing the entirety with strict coroner professionalism. Non-ceremonious plate slam, grease splattering, frown, grunt, off to more pain no doubt. We dive in, two genetically advanced trans-fat devouring bacon jockeys, racing the marathon, slurping, glurping, burping, shirking the frightening outside Richard Simmons philosophies of deprivation and homo-eroticism.
Paul Simon now, Garfunkel even. Both gone, replaced by ones and zeros. Troubled Waters. No bridge. No check. Smell of unending doom mingling amongst the mindless moaning of the sullen masses, slow death. Time to flee dolce bella, sitting with deep brown eyes and old soul, staring blankly back, me sad-faced, heavy belly hung low with my toxic lard bargains. No check. Vomit desires. Soulless music weaving madness over dining circus performers, jaded and ailing, all either drunk, high, or insane. Us too. No check. Black cloud cop booth of terror seeing scruffily me, and we, with their suspicious crime visions and daydream car chase glances. Starched, crouching large shouldered over 200 pounds of fried beasts, endless calf skulls and sausage links in a sea of dripping bear claws. Check please.
The missing check arrives with the smoke stink and sunken eyes of that hate-wizened waitress. She forces that crusted lunar surface into what must be a smile, in a last vain grasping for a decent tip. Vanishing instantly for an extra cigarette break from sick, ever thickening atmosphere of gluttony and muzak.
The night is cold departing. One word shining our path. Technicolor
Thursday, January 17, 2008
There is only one way to sleep in the coach class of a modern aircraft. Face down on the tray table with your spine curved unnaturally like a serpent, and your knees pulled up into the fetal position in some vain attempt to recapture the forgotten comforts of the womb. If there are no disgruntled infants near by, and you have enough alcohol in your blood, you can have some of the greatest sleep of your life. This is how I spent my entire journey eastward across the bottom half of the country, zipping over forgotten mesas and landscapes stolen from the imagination of John Ford.
I awoke five hours into the six hour flight feeling like a junkie on the third day of rehab. My shirt was soaked in the toxins of two days of teenage drug excess and my head had swollen to the size of a large pumpkin. Being unleashed on the godless streets of L.A. at age 17 with cash and a fake I.D. belonging to one Melvin Rodriguez, had set me on a path for total self destruction. It was a senior trip for my older peers and I had tagged along to learn a few things about the world. This one weekend of chemical warfare on my formative body may be the reason to this day with a full beard I resemble Gimli Son of Gloin. My parents had foolishly funded this trip on the condition that I would end the festivities early and join them for a family vacation in the Yucatan. This is the reason I had taken those last three shots of So Co at 5:45 AM, saluted the few remaining degenerates, and headed out for L.A.X. I told the kindly old codger sitting next to me that flying from L.A. to Cancun hungover is like being whipped while you have the flu. His cold blank stare in return could only have implied total agreement.
Or perhaps not, perhaps he knew. Maybe he could smell my sins and disapproved of my entire existence. My underpants were after all filled with contraband of varying degrees of criminality. Nothing dangerous mind you, but too much cash for international travel, and medications that could be deemed experimental by some foreign governments. This was the pre 9-11 golden age of travel, where a man could walk through airport security without removing his briefs and passing under the eyes of an S.S. Officer, who pierces your every orifice while seductively rubbing the trigger of his A.K. 47. I made it unscathed through Mexico customs somehow declaring nothing but my diarrhea to the Agent. His cold blank stare could only have implied some language barrier to my hilarity.
I was too busy looking for the bar to think it strange that my parents were not waiting outside customs. The only cure for The Sickness induced by strong beverages is even stronger beverages. I also had to try out the powers of my pubescent goatee on these foreign liquor peddlers. If there was any trouble I could always flash my legal identification indicating my age as 22. What self-righteous Mexican is going to question the credentials a pale Chicano from Virginia named Melvin Rodriguez? Little did I know that not even the most militant bartender would card a 12 year old in this country. Mexico is a place so hard that even a child sometimes needs a stiff drink to forget the troubles of the day and wash down the dusty grit of hard work.
The special of the day was Tecate in a bottle and a shot of tequila. Tequila comes from the blue agave plant and this fiery concoction will cure anything from the common cold to gonorrhea. I slapped down a twenty and felt like a gringo saying "Especial!" This king of a man did not stop bringing especials for a few hours. I never bothered converting my money for this trip because of the way this bartender looked at Andrew Jackson like some Hollywood Jesus. I also didn't bother worrying about my missing parents during these forgetful hours of joy, as they were obviously side tracked by some tourist trap horseback riding boat expedition, or at the edge of a savage village trying to convert the natives.
From my barstool lookout I could see the pick-up area of the airport and watched with mild amusement the thousands of travelers headed for their big tropical expedition. Ten thousand versions of the same family passed without sign of my strange blood line. They would be the same as all the others with just one unnameable thing violently askew. Your typical faceless automatons, but with an intense light of dysfunction burning within, and immediately recognizable as alien in any environment. I waited and I drank but saw no sign of this vicious light.
It took about four hours of this happy malfeasance before the fearful doubts began to grow in my mind. My parental units were obscenely late picking me up and Northwest Airlines only made one flight into this city per day. My parents worked for this company, they certainly knew the time of my arrival, they knew the day, yet they were suspiciously absent. It dawned on me that I was in the land of a people whose grandfathers use to bathe in blood and decapitate their in-laws for sport. No not That. They outlawed That years ago. My family was most likely alive; they just were not coming to pick me up.
The key to this problem was that I had no idea what hotel those neglectful bastards were staying in. This was early 1995 and cell phones were still the size of a small space station and only the most hardcore yuppies carried them. I had attempted to use the Mexican payphone but it was covered in strange dials and buttons and may have been a time machine for all the sense I could make out of it. I had no one to call anyways. My entire family was in downtown Cancun somewhere drinking virgin margaritas out of the cleavage of midgets and buying Sci-Fi spray paint art, while I sat abandoned like some disheveled wretch of a drunkard in a foreign airport. I decided it was a good time to consult a cigarette and think over my predicament.
I learned early in life that the best method for transporting marijuana illegally across international borders is in a pack of Camel Wide cigarettes. You just empty out the toxic narcotic of evil, preferably over a toilet, and refill the empty cylinders with your herb of choice. Then simply place a thin layer of tobacco on top, re-pack, and you've got at least one ounce, of high grade, legal intoxication. After arriving at your final destination, use your evolved paranoiac sense of righteousness to identify a suitable locale for such a controversial activity, break off the unnecessary filter, and banish those demons of doom from your mind. Remember, the proper way to use illicit drugs in public is nonchalantly. Do not hide like a diseased leaper.
I walked outside into Mayan country for the first time and the humidity hit me in the face like a wet diaper. All I could see was a decrepit parking garage and the glowing tree tops of a surrounding wilderness. My nose was blissfully clogged with the thick earthy smell only found south of Texas. I wandered slowly away from my fellow abandoned travelers and reached into my pants for the disguised pack. As I pulled out the first sweet stogy and lit up, I cringed at the sight of a shiny yellow pill hiding at the bottom of the pack. I knew this pill, I also knew who had placed it there, and I knew with shamanic precision the consequences that were about to be painfully afflicted upon me by this laughing yellow bastard. I ate the mescaline with shame and realized that my problems were just beginning.
It wasn’t the drugs that scared me. I come from a long line of entheogenic drug abusers, the 10% of Northern Cheyenne blood fighting for power in my white body was kept alive by these ancient remedies. Plants containing high amounts of psychoactive entheogens have been used safely for tens of thousands of years by the oldest known native cultures of the globe as a medicine for the spirit. I have as much fear of carrots. Never trust a group of people who demonize an ancient plant while slanging the latest narcotic concoctions of a profit motivated corporation, who will cure your insanity, sadness, social retardation, and even those pesky leg twitches, if you just buy their drugs and don't mind anal leakage or the possibility of your penis falling off. This wasn’t an action of carnal lust for melting clouds and Journey laser light shows, my soul was lost, and I desperately needed some wisdom of the ages. I owed a debt to the Karma Beasts for that greasy stack of cash stuffed in my crotch. My crimes had caught up with me and my missing parents were the first blow in a severe beating to come, I was sure of it.
The one thing I had going for me was my Sony cassette walkman. I had but one tape that summed up the entire history of rock music as of 95'. Side A was The Beatles’ White Album and side B was split between Thriller and Run DMC’s Raising Hell. I finished my smoke deciding to take John’s advice to Prudence of looking around, round, round, round. I had roughly an hour to get somewhere before my vision quest began so I decided to investigate the strange Herbie inspired Yucatan Transportation System.
I forgot my troubles for a minute as I watched multi-colored Volkswagen Bug Taxis swerve in and out of formation to The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill. If lives really had soundtracks, the scene outside of this airport was reserved for The Beatles. An entire city of Beetle taxis piloted by the angry gnome people of the jungle, who cursed all day and insulted each other in hypnotic rhythm. My only experience with hailing taxis came from movies like Taxi Driver, so I walked up to the street grabbing my crotch and giving a fierce Travis Bickle whistle.
My jaw dropped as a lime green 1968 Superbeetle screeched to a halt at my feet. I heard the Tito Puente blasting down the road long before this vision appeared and enthusiastically jumped in the back of what appeared to be some kind of Cheech and Chong inspired submarine. The driver was most certainly the lost Latino cousin of Buddy Hackett. I had no doubt that the song was Mambo Diablo. A nasty joke by that no good Hackett driver no doubt.
He gave me a sickly look saying, “Donde amigo?”
Donde amigo indeed I thought. This question had not crossed my mind in the few moments it had taken me to decide to flee the airport. I let the mambo guide me.
I said it without thinking. A word I was taught a few hours earlier to use in case of extreme emergency. In hindsight I realized you should never trust the wisdom of someone who refuses to tell you the meaning of words they demand you use. This caused a vile twitch in the driver’s neck and he turned slowly grinning like a mythical demon.
"Si Mr. Gringo.” he laughed.
He punched the vintage bug into gear and we sped off in a haze of diesel fumes and Mambo beats. What had I just told this man? Why had he smiled like that and licked the edges of his moustache like a pre-war pimp? How long was I going to be trapped in this Nazi hybrid with a deranged Hidalgo Hackett at the wheels, driving to some destination sold to me by a suburban dope addict? Was this really the appropriate time for confronting the Karma Beasts, in a foreign land, with a head full of concentrated peyote?
Whether I wanted it to be or not now was the time. I sat back and laughed along with the beat that lead us deeper and deeper into the jungle. Large tropical bugs bounced off the car like small seagulls as Senior Hackett maneuvered the lime beetle into the enclosing jungle with machete precision. I was starting to regret not paying attention in those middle school Spanish classes. How do I ask him where the fuck are we going? Donde a chinga… Damnit! It was no use. I was drifting into hopeless negativism. The intense humor of this situation was slipping out of my grip. I spent a few tense moments seriously contemplating if it was the drugs, or sound logic, that was insisting I bail out of this psychedelic death Herbie at 40 KPH. My plunge into madness was cut short by mi amigo Hackett.
“Do you have money Mr. Gringo?”
How could I have been so foolish? Of course the Mexican Buddy Hackett speaks English. The large scar on his forehead indicated that he could have been the Shaman of Light I had been searching for since I left Salt Lake City a week earlier. A common man bestowed with the ancient wisdom of his fathers by surviving one of God’s randomly placed lightning bolts. Only one sent to lead me would drive a lime green Superbeetle and blast Guantanamera at ear splitting levels.
“Si Amigo, bastante para el viaje”
I pulled the phrase from some dark corner of my mind. The mescaline was defiantly taking over as we pulled out of the dark jungle and into the flaming coastal sunset. “Yes, enough for the trip,” is what I had told the man. But what trip? The driver seemed to know. Watching the sun sink into the ocean on hallucinogenic drugs is like watching a unicorn give birth. A painfully unique experience, especially when Quimbara is playing. He shot mysterious glances at my glazed glee. Night approached so I decided to speak.
“Where are we headed Hackett, and what is all this?”
“To the Lady Maria Mr. Gringo, like you spoke.” He smugly replied.
“Who is this Maria? What does she want with innocent gringos? I asked.
“You requested the company of Maria Sabina when you said the word Teonanácatl, I am a driver, I drive where I am told, I know not the evil desires of your heart.”
“Fair Enough” I said, “Lead on strange Hackett.”
“Who is this Hackett?!” He barked.
“He’s a hero in the States.” I lied. “A racing champion and comedian, who you resemble Senior Hackett.”
“My name is Oscar!” he scowled.
“As you wish Oscar. Who is this Maria and what does she do?” I asked humbly.
“The ceremony will cost you sixty dollars.” he said, giving me a yellow smile.
“The Ceremony of Teonanácatl.” He replied.
“And what is the meaning of Teonanácatl?” I asked nervously.
“If you know not, I am forbidden to tell you.” His smile faded as he said this and he began to slow down the car.
“Oh I know” I lied. “I’m just curious to hear the proper Mayan translation.”
“This tradition has been preserved by the Mazatecs.” He said proudly. “In our language Teonanácatl means Mushroom of the Gods.”
Mushroom of the Gods I thought with terror, Mother of God! Even the most inexperienced entheo-botanist knows it is never wise to combine the powers of the intergalactic mushroom with those of the earthly cactus. Nor is it wise to be headed to see an honest to god shaman with an unpaid karma debt. Mexico is the ancient hub of Shamanism on this side of the globe. It is the oldest religious practice, and the most intense. The fact that I was headed to see a female shaman doubled my fear. Although most scholars believe we live in an ultra-modernized society that would not allow a true shaman to exist, if there were a few remaining, they would undoubtedly be female, and residing in ancient shamanic capitals like Siberia, Australia, and Mexico.
As darkness crept over us we left the glorious coast and began climbing steadily uphill. We passed through a few small and harmless forests before entering into what could only have been a city. I didn’t come to this conclusion with my eyes but with my nose. The pleasant smell of earth was suddenly replaced with the stagnant reak of humans. Despite my young age and suburban upbringing, I had a relatively well rounded worldview by this time as the result of a lot of traveling. I was born and raised in rural Utah but had seen and experienced the hidden ghetto wonderlands of Philly, Queens, and D.C. long before I ever kissed a girl or smoked a cigarette. You have few remaining delusions when as a child you witness a grown man relaxing in a puddle of his own piss, shooting smack and singing old timey railroad tunes on a street corner. But I was a new explorer to the third world ghetto. This place was far more primitive. Nothing was to be seen of modern architecture. It was a strange tin Legoland bursting out of the jungle like a bacterial growth. The only thing I could recognize on a surreal cognitive level was a familiar blue square of light flickering like a ghost in these mysterious structures. Television. What could these poor bastards be watching I thought? Price is Right? Their walls were made out of mud and old Tecate billboards, yet was it possible they could still enjoy the antics of Toni Macelli and Captain Kirk. What kind of god would allow satellites to project Beverly Hills 90210 into a black and white T.V. sitting on the dirt floor of some shantytown condo?
I had little time to ponder these thoughts as we came to a screeching halt on the outskirts of town. A shack stood apart from the others and with its jungle backdrop appeared like a warped plantation mansion in this place. Someone important lived there.
My driver, a man of few words said “Eighty.”
“You said sixty!” I argued.
“Yes, twenty for the ride Gringo! Sixty for Maria.”
Something seemed criminal about paying to see a shaman. Had this luxury ghetto penthouse been built from the wallets of gullible gringos looking for escape from the shame of their race? The fresh goat head staked in front of the house told me I was dealing with some serious customers, and at the least, I was in for a good show. I paid my man and waited in the car as he ran inside to make some sort of explanation no doubt.
“I’ve abducted a child of the white devil muttering about the holy Teonanácatl and laughing at out goat head landscaping. We must drug him, and pilfer his cash and designer drug loaded undergarments.” This had to be what he was telling this Maria, apparent queen of the Yucatan Billboard People. The driver clearly resented me for those Buddy Hackett comments and was planning to do me in. My only hope was to escape into the jungle and pray my raw courage and Boy Scout training pulled me through to the other side.
Before I could make my move Oscar came out of the hut smiling that villainous saffron grin, saying I was in luck and that Maria would see me right away. I exited the Mambo Bug with great fear. He took off without a word and left me standing in the dust to face my eternal fate. The wind had picked up and was tossing the encroaching jungle like a rough green sea. The chrome house bounced happily around in this chaos, and I desperately tried to purge my mind of the lingering Mambo rhythms so I could make any kind of respectable approach. Suddenly the wild goat head spun around and spoke to my mind.
“Why have you come here?” It demanded.
“I was following the path.” I replied.
“You may proceed.” It said gravely.
Well, I had the talking goat head’s blessing which was all I needed to approach with confidence. I was perfectly aware this had only occurred in my mind, what Mexican goat head speaks fluent English with a Brooklyn accent, but I decided it was a good sign either way. The door was black, and hung awkwardly in a hole far too large for it. Knocking seemed inappropriate somehow so I pushed my way in.
The house was a box with three walls concealing a large ominous cave. The only light came from a small fire at the cave entrance silhouetting three female figures who sat like monks in the lotus position. The air was thick with intoxicating incense my soul had never known. It pleasantly filled my nose and mouth which hung in total awe. Here were Macbeth’s weird sisters in the flesh. They had long black hair that hung over their lifeless faces like an old rug. Each wore a simple white dress that had never been cleaned and concealed a shriveled body that no man would ever want to see. Their age was unknowable. What horrible visions were they about to reveal to me? Could my feeble mind handle this experience or would it be crushed in a meteor shower of cosmic revelation?
The eldest woman spoke to me in my language without speaking. “I am Maria Sabina. I am the granddaughter of an endless line of shamans which stretches back to Eve. Our ancient wisdom has been preserved in the hills of Mexico for thousands of years. This is the power that taught man to speak and to think. It has survived all the great wars and the atrocities of both the Spaniards and the Gringos. Is it true that you seek this wisdom?" She asked opening her eyes for the first time and I felt them grind against the back of my skull.
“Es verdad” I said softly.
The eldest stood and floated back into the cave. The younger apprentices rose in a trance and slowly approached me, taking me gently by the hands and leading me back to the cave. My heart was rising slowly up my esophagus with each step closer to the cave and I realized these women only held my hands to keep me from tearing open my throat and letting it free.
The women knelt me in the center of the cave, never releasing their soft grip on my hands and singing like pixies. The eldest lifted the pot reverently and floated over to stand in front of us. She removed the toadstool lid to reveal a thick brown stew, dotted with little floating islands of grayish-white mushroom tops. My eyes instinctively closed as Maria came closer and I heard an incomprehensible chant that eased my terror as she brought the steaming pot to my lips.
The first sip was a warm chocolaty explosion of alien tastes and sensations that my tongue had not known in this life, and was only relatable to a cup of real hot chocolate on the coldest of childhood sledding days. The second sip was like being hit by a dump truck dropped from the top of Mt. Chimborazo. I forgot all that I ever was and my identity was stripped down to a meatball of matter and thought. The third and final sip caused my brain to disconnect from the spinal column, leaving a lifeless ball of flesh on the ground and rising to the limits of the cave ceiling. My minds eye shook open like the hatch of a rusty sea barge. All that remained of the cave was the glowing writing and drawings on the walls. They began to pass over me with increasing speed and rapidly changing color. Words and pictures morphed smoothly into geometric shapes and astrological symbols as my velocity or theirs reached the speed of light.
With a blinding flash I found my brain remorsefully back in its carcass of an earthly cage. I was alone, puffing and cursing up a steep and lonesome jungle path. The deafening silence of this trip was suddenly filled with the noise of the wild night. My eyes nearly burned out as I burst out of the dark tree tunnel and was assaulted by an enormous moon reflecting structure.
All I could see was stairs. I knew that it must be an ancient Mayan temple, but because of its size, it appeared to be an infinitely long wall of stairs. I climbed, like any man would. It was like ascending a fast downward escalator that was made of monstrous stone steps. My body should have been physically exhausted at this point, but I was driven upward with a fever I could never explain or justify. After about twenty minutes of fierce labor I flopped myself on the summit like a Chinese beggar.
I looked around me and saw that I stood on the only object in a dark engulfing forest. A simple six foot structure stood atop this lonely temple like a glorified pill box. I openly trespassed into the resting place of Xochipilli. He towered over me, a frighteningly real stone effigy, smiling casually, and holding a long feathered pipe in his outstretched hands.
“Take this Nathaniel, and know.” He laughed.
I took, and I knew. The pipe felt like what you might expect three feet of hollowed out stone to feel like.
“Why have you come here Nathaniel?” He demanded.
“I was following the path.” I remembered.
“Nonsense!” he cried. “You travel no path! You come seeking the Cosmos with an unpaid debt to Earth, do not speak to me like a headless goat! Penance comes swiftly, and from the east.”
The first blow came swiftly, and from the east. My heightened consciousness sensed the violent disruption and I turned in slow motion to witness the menacing arc of a police baton. I ducked the first attack using Tae Kwon Do training I must have absorbed during youthful Karate Kid marathons. This insolence was repaid with an expertly placed rifle barrel to the soft tissue between my second and third vertebrae. I collapsed to the floor in time to witness La Policia bust into the sacred temple like a pack of rapid dingo gone mad with the smell of baby flesh. After a few relatively painless boots to the face I blacked out and was spared the agony of witnessing such a brutal scene in the house of Gods.
The most insane aspect of U.S. drug policy is not the hypocritical moral legislation, it is not the racially biased enforcement practices, the daily Fourth Amendment rape, nor is it even the millions of American drug fiends forced into a life of crime simply because they like to get high. It is a fundamentally corrupt system because it allows for the creation and propagation of drug profiteers. Any juvenile with a few bucks and a healthy capitalist spirit, can cut one pound of Arizona dirt-weed, with two pounds of catnip, and sell it piece by piece to unsuspecting Los Angeles teens for a profit margin unfathomable in any other business. I had successfully turned three-hundred of my parent’s honest dollars into six-thousand dollars in a matter of days and I felt like Benedict Arnold. The Karma Beasts had been hot on my trail ever since I left that pet store, and here they were, in the form of El Loco Policia Dingo, taking no prisoners and cruelly devouring the hearts of any living thing in their path.
I awoke on the ground like Bottom, with the words of Shakespeare in my mind. “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.” I opened one eye and looked into a vividly blue sky. The peaceful rhythms of the sea were soothing my battle scared body. My left eye was completely swollen and sealed shut with blood. I was not a doctor but one or two ribs were definitely broken. I was lying comfortably on my back in what had to be sand. Blue sky, sand, surf, these were not the loathsome characteristics of a Mazatec dungeon.
I sat up to a beauty and pain that is uniquely Caribbean. White white sands and ridiculously blue water, accentuated by the feeling that I had a small polar bear trap attached to my lower jaw. The Karma Beasts had been kind. A few ribs, one eye, and wait for it… yup, one wallet. I dove my hand anxiously into my pants. Yes, one penis, a fat wad of drug money, one pack of Camel Wide Especials, and one passport belonging to Nathan Stevens, age 17. The twelve-hundred dollars and Melvin Rodriquez I.D. in my wallet had bought my freedom. I would have to squint for the rest of my life to see correctly, but I was alive, and not waking up on the floor of some shit reeking Mexican Jail.
It was most likely the cash, but perhaps my Latino heritage played an even bigger part in my narrow escape than I could ever imagine. Maybe these thugs didn’t want to deal with Melvin Rodriguez the son of an important Colombian Diplomat. Is it possible they were aware of Virginias close vicinity to Washington D.C. and assumed it was a land of important South American government officials? Or maybe it was the cash.
I will never know. I was hit in the gut with a sick wisdom of the events that had just transpired. The fundamental problem with third world society is that when a powerful group brutally assaults an innocent man, they stop short at the wallet and a minor beating. In my country they will find your secret crotch stash, it's the first place they look. After skinning you alive they will suck every ounce of marrow from your bones.
I spent the next few weeks drinking lime Corralejo Margaritas, trying to pick pieces of reality out of my oatmeal like recollection. If your wondering how long a teenager can last in five star hotels on the shores of the Yucatan with almost four g's and a family of raging monkeys on his back, the answer is three weeks and four days. Strangely enough, this is the exact amount of time you should let your parents think you are dead if they ever abandon you in a foreign country.