On the edge of the Texas-Tamaulipas border, where the buzzards float overhead awaiting dehydrated Mexican seekers of the "American Dream" take their last step in the desert, I came to a deep ravine. I placed my back to the dark abyss and let myself fall backwards... into Mexico.
Almost 3 years after the creation of "Dead Man Walking; Alive in Mexico (June 2011) I realize that I am very alive...
Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.
Friday, July 1, 2011
The road not travelled and other things...
Is it true that all our life experience is safely stored within our memory accessible for when we are interested in remembering? Today, my friend David mentioned that he went to Johnson and Wales College in Rhode Island and studied Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management triggering off a high school memory with my college advisor who suggested I apply for admittance at Atlantic County Community College where I could study culinary arts and hotel management. Looking back on the event, I realize that this woman had done her job well, although I didn't understand it at the time. I imagine that she didn't see much hope for me with my academic standing and knew that one of my few interests that could lead to a career was cooking. She said that the college was directly connected with the hotels in Atlantic City and that upon graduating I could obtain a job paying $50,000 a year as a restaurant manager. $50,000 a year in 1987! Don't laugh, but the highest salary I earned in my life was $28,000 at the Salvation Army Veteran's Homeless shelter in Long Island City, Queens. And they fired my ass when I told them I would have my last surgery. The college advisor said that often I would have to work night shifts, since the Atlantic City hotels were busier at night than during the day. I considered what she told me for a minute or two and decided against the idea, probably because I couldn't imagine myself managing anyone or because I couldn't imagine working the night shift. Little did I know that 20 years later I will have worked 40 hours straight 3 times, worked so many times from 8am until 4am the following morning or baked until 4am in order to have cupcakes to sell the following Saturday morning at 9am infront of the Humanities Faculty of the University of Veracruz. I didn't understand that it's not the hours at issue regarding work, but the passion. The problem about hourly pay is that you see work as an hourly issue and not an issue of getting the job done or the possibility of it being an enjoyable experience. I had no idea that what I needed was a passion that didn't have a schedule or an hourly rate. Had she mentioned culinary arts without mentioning hotel management, maybe I would have considered her suggestion one minute longer before rejecting it. The problem was egoistic. I wanted her to say that there was a university or a college that would accept me, one that didn't make me feel stupid. I didn't want my college advisor telling me that I couldn't go to a 4 year college or university. My brain isn't supplying me with the complete memory information. My mother insisted I see the college advisor. That was the in thing those days; having an S.A.T. tutor and a college advisor. I frustrated my S.A.T. tutor and then my college advisor. Then one of my mother's psychologist friends had the wonderful idea of testing me for ADD...
The truth was that I couldn't picture myself doing anything academic, nor working within a leader position. And, I probably couldn't understand where going away to college, even if only 3 hours away in Atlantic City, fit in with my disastrous relationship with Francesca. Wasn't it true that I had myself kicked out of Rutgers Prep two years earlier after having been there only 1 month because I didn't want to be so far away from Francesca?
Or was it because, for the first time in my life I was popular, attractive, sought after by the wrestling, soccer and baseball coaches?
The idea of wrestling scared me because of my homo-phobia. However, it scared me less than having to run 6 miles per day for the soccer team. However, it scared me less than having to keep up academically suffering with my unknown ADD (later to be changed to PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). During that month at Rutgers Prep, I was invited to a Sweet 16 party. One of my female friends brought me into the music room to play the piano for me. Another one was deaf and had a crush on me. People were attracted to me and I had just begun the relationship with Francesca. I couldn't accept that strange paradox; I finally had what I thought I was looking for--the girlfriend; I finally had what I wished for but thought absolutely unaccessible; acceptance by my peers. But, maybe it was that I couldn't accept the discipline, of being pulled into the bathroom by one of the teachers, because my tie wasn't tied correctly, something I have never been able to correct in my life. The problem is that ties make me dizzy. They cut off the circulation to my head.
During that one month stint at Rutgers Prep, my Spanish teacher was Dr. Gagini. A horribly ugly man who it was rumored was gay. He was excessively strict. The moment he entered the classroom all talking must cease. He would pull his chair out from behind his desk, placing it infront of us, bend his knees slightly, pull his pant legs up at the knees, showing his black socks and hairy shins. Still grasping onto his gray pant legs, he would sit down, showing more of his lower legs, before finally releasing his pants. Looking back 26 years, I see the maintaining silence during class session as being reasonable. However, I can't accept teachers relating to their students as delinquents and not as adolescents. If someone lost their place or didn't hear what page number we should be on, they were lost and would be ridiculed because they couldn't interrupt the teacher. And that was what happened that day I got myself kicked out of Rutgers Prep. My neighbor asked me for the page number and I told her. Dr. Gagini was returning our quizes and told me that I should keep my mouth shut. I replied that I was just answering a question, since I have always found it very difficult ignoring someone. Dr. Gagini reminded me that he had told me to keep my mouth shut and tore my quiz into pieces. Ever since I was in elementary school I took the sides of the "helpless" kids, the underdogs. I had always been attracted to the girls who were ignored. In Dr. Gagini's class I saw all of us as the "helpless" kids below the wrath of this tyrant. And I told him so. Dr. Gagini's face turned hemaroid red and told me to go to the principal's office and kicked me out of the classroom, slamming the door behind me. I had no idea where was the principal's office and stood outside the window of the classroom door making faces at Dr. Gagini. Then I got tired and walked the halls, stumbling upon the administration offices by accident. I was certain that Dr. Gagini had called down to inform the principal's secretary of my impending arrival. But she just looked at me strangely. I told her that the principal was waiting for me. And she responded that she knew nothing of the sort. Bored and frustrated, I returned to Dr. Gagini's classroom, entered and said straight to his face, "Do you know why you are such an asshole? Because you've had too many dicks up your ass!" With that, Dr. Gagini escorted me personally to the principal's office.
I had mentioned being homophobic relating to wrestling other boys more than half naked. However, truthfully, I had never felt anything against homosexuals. It didn't resonate within me. When I returned to Dr. Gagini's classroom, I was looking for a sure way of removing the paradoxical conflict of belonging and of not belonging. At the same time I wanted to level the playing field some between him and his student victims, make him feel a bit vulnerable. For some reason the board of trustees deliberated upon what they should do with me for 3 days. I was made to sit in the lobby of the Administration offices the 3 complete school days. During the first day I was visited by so many students. Some told me that they couldn't kick me out of the school without first having given me a warning. The following day, a guard was placed near me to intercept all visitors. In the end I was told that it was true that the school policy stated that I must first be warned before being removed permanently. However, there were two problems: The first one was that Dr. Gagini was the director of the Board of Trustees. The second one was their concern about having a martyr on campus.
When I returned home to Branchburg, called Francesca and told her the news, one of her sisters eaves dropped upon the telephone conversation, as would occur frequently during the following 3.5 years. The sister told her parents and Francesca's Father decided to permanently punish me for the act, saying that he knew I was no good...
How would life be different had I taken the advice of my College Advisor and gone to Atlantic County Community College? What would have happened had I stayed at Rutgers Prep, learned how to tie a tie and keep up with the work load and become a successful athlete and a well-liked student/peer? Would I have explored the popularity, dated all the girls interested in me and not slipped into the sand trap of my relationship with Francesca?
You can ask the questions, but to no avail. There aren't any what if/if thens. I couldn't go back 12 years and cure my father of his disease. However, 14 years after my college advisor's suggestion about culinary arts and 7 years after graduating from Hampshire College, I would find myself investigating culinary institutes and seeing just how extraordinarily expensive they are; the culinary institute in Portand, Oregon cost over $30,000 for a 13 month certificate program. I was already default on my student loans and couldn't see how I would be able to pay a new loan, let alone receive it, all for a certificate that showed my future employers that I could cook. I could show them I could cook. My current employer at the time, Matt at Dizzie's Kitchen in Park Slope, a Culinary Institute of American graduate and son of a Sicilian restaurant owner in the midwest was asking me to write down the recipes for what I had invented in his kitchen. He paid me $6/hr. Fortunately I was receiving disability checks for my surgery. My job at Dizzy's Kitchen was my first work experience within which I could work over 15 hour days without getting tired and bored, although I must have visited the bathroom 40 times a day (Had I been working in an office, they would have fired me for having taken so many bathroom breaks). I worked 6 and 7 days a week, sometimes working catering gigs of Matt's. I learned what was true exhaustion. And I loved it. But, without the certificate, I would never be able to earn enough in a kitchen for paying my New York City rent; and that was a long shot at $10/hour as a chef's assistant. One day Matt said that I was putting too much filling in the sandwiches. I ignored him, since the sandwiches that preceded mine were horrible. Not long afterwards, one of the counter people ran back into the kitchen and told me that I had a fan. She told me to look through the swinging doors. Standing at the counter was the actor, John Tarturro. She said that he used to come in every-once-in-while. But now it seems that he came in everyday asking for a different sandwich of mine.
My belief was, and continued afterwards with our pizza and gourmet cupcakes in Xalapa, that the bakery or the restaurant or the cafe should give their client what the baker or the chef would wish to eat. It's a shame, because the biggest problem within the food industry is that the client has very little idea what is the true cost of the food product and the food company owner is constantly at risk of not paying back the loans nor paying the rent. If the menu isn't extensive, if the food cases aren't stocked and with variety, the client isn't attracted to the food. What attracts the client is a cupcake table stocked with a large variety of beautiful fresh cupcakes. My cupcakes were prepared with whole cream, whole butter and cream cheese. Because we didn't have money for a bakery/store in a posh section of Xalapa, we were limited to selling our cupcakes on the "street" without access to electricity. We would assemble our stand at 10am in the morning and remove it at 11pm at night 7 DAYS PER WEEK. We moved the tables and the carp with the movement of the sun crossing the sky. It was a no no if sunlight touched the cupcakes. For more than this reason, I created the system of freezing the cupcakes. We ended up having 3 freezers in our small one bedroom apartment over-looking the lakes. If I told a client that we froze the cupcakes, the client would say that that was horrible. One day a friend client, Yekk, complained that the Reeses Peanut Butter Cupcake that he bought was frozen and that we shouldn't freeze our cupcakes. I explained to him that, without freezing them, we wouldn't have a business. Would you believe that if you defrosted my cupcake a month later, it would be as delicious as if it had just been prepared? Something about the fat content in the recipe. I told Yekk that he shouldn't buy a cupcake from us when we are setting up our stand and he said, that he was on his way to work at the dance faculty and that he had a craving. We couldn't tell the client not to buy the cupcake when we first arrived for setting up the stand. How many times were we mobbed by people before we were able to remove the boxes of cupcakes from the giant coolers? The rule of thumb with novelty food and cravings is that there isn't a half hour later with those clients. It is now or never. We experience that with the coffee bar in the fairs. Imagine one day of selling 600 Frappuccinos because my recipe is real, not allowing the frappe machines to fully frappe the coffee. The line continues for hours. I'm behind the machines filling them and regulating the frappe process, noting how much time before I should tell the clients Sorry, but come back in an hour. We've done that. The clients looking at us as if we are crazy. How could we say that there was no frappe if the frappe machines are running? Many of them had come to the fair specifically for our frappe. So, we stopped turning away the client. Instead, we advise them that due to heavy demand, our frappe machines aren't given the chance to frappe the coffee and it is very liquidy. Most of the clients say, "give it to me anyway" or that they like it better liquidy. However, a year ago in San Luis Potosi, a client complained to me and said that, had we told her that the frappe wasn't frappe consistency, she wouldn't have bought it in the first place. I probably should have returned her money. But, I wasn't thinking clearly. In fact, I didn't say anything. It's sufficient work serving so many people. It's much more work for the counter people to tell each and everyone of those clients that the frappe is liquidy. Plus, most of the people ask for the frappe anyway...
Where am I going with this?
The road not travelled. Buried memories.
Today my friend Linda mentioned to me that she remembered very nice walks with me in New York City. And I apologized for not having explored the city more with her. That I had expected to explore much more of industrial New York with her. That it was a regret I have had for many years. Linda and I briefly worked together at the Salvation Army Children's Services; fostercare division in 1999-2000. Anya had just left for Kiev, Ukraine saying that she didn't know if she would return to me because she didn't feel that spark. Well, Linda and I had that spark. But Linda had a boyfriend. And that boyfriend shared an apartment with her in Jersey City and then in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. One December lunch break we lit ourselves on fire and continued with the fire warming ourselves in the door of an apartment building on 8th or 9th Avenue just above the Village. I walked her to the PATH train and then froze myself inside. The following day at work I was very distant with her. I had thought that I could explain what was happening inside my mind. But when I neared her, the reasons became lost and I couldn't explain myself to her. That I couldn't do that to her boyfriend. I apologized to her today. Why, if I am married to Margarita? We are 11 years after the fact. However, it's not about the romance, it's about maintaining an aloofness and a tension with someone you consider a friend and not being able to explain yourself; or with whom you should have had a much better friendship.
Linda said that I shouldn't apologize; that she remembers a very nice expedition with me in Harlem, one of my favorite stomping grounds. And I responded that I don't remember that expedition and that maybe I was truly apologizing to myself for not being able to truly enjoy our friendship. Linda ended up receiving her MSW in Boston and I left for Mexico. This past May she mentioned that she was planning on buying a house in Arizona, if Margarita and I needed an address for the Department of State's Foreign Relative application form and that she "would love to finally meet my beautiful wife." She works and lives in Boston, but she grew up in Arizona, where her family still resides.
I don't know what I must do to pull that Harlem expedition memory out of my head. It seems that most of the 7 years of my New York City memories are hidden below the 8.5 years of my Mexican memories. I don't remember names of books I read, nor names of the authors. I don't remember the names of places I've visited, nor do I remember the names of most of the many aquaintances I had the 4 years after Mónica returned to Puerto Rico. It's very difficult to write these stories if I don't remember the names of the people or the places. I firmly believe that switching off English in order to focus totally upon Spanish, I forgot the combination that opens up my English memory safe.
I didn't kiss many women those four years after breaking up with Mónica, probably because I was a prude. Not true. I was cautious. I didn't want to make the wrong move. In fact, Linda kissed me, during that walk around the block. The tension had been very high for a few days. We had 2 minutes before we must return to work, no more time to lose and she kissed me infront of the church on 13th street. And it was a hell of a kiss. We are all going to die one of these days, maybe tomorrow. Maybe not for many decades. I believe I am fortunate to be able to remember that kiss. I don't remember kisses with Anya, nor with Joey, nor with Randi. I remember the kiss with the 40-year-old Honduran woman who worked in finances a few floors above us, before Anya left for Kiev. Oops! Did I cheat on Anya? Well, she was cheating on me but in other ways... What was the Honduran's name? I don't remember. Maybe I could remember. All I know is that I was running regularly those days and had a great physique. She, was 10 years older than me and was visibly attracted to me when we bumped into each other in the cafeteria. Not long afterwards she left to work downtown in the financial district. One day we met after work, walked around the tip of Manhattan and sat down in a Russian cafe/restaurant. She was sitting next to me and started talking about how she use to play with the boys when she was growing up in Honduras. She said, "I would say to them, I wonder how you taste, and I would ask, Can I taste your lips?" And then she turned to me and said, I would like to know how your lips taste... Aye Ya Yaye! Truthfully, I didn't like the kiss. She had Sade lips that seemingly engulfed mine. Plus, we were the only ones sitting in that cafe/restaurant. I don't have anything against Sade's lips. In fact, I've always seen her as absolutely beautiful; her lips painted bright red, accentuating their sensuality. The problem was that I couldn't see the Honduran woman as that teenage girl she once was. She was in perfect physical shape. But she was 10 years older than me.
Why am I talking about this stuff? Probably because there are more stories to come, interwoven with this one. Maybe if I write this part, the other parts will come.
The other day my friend Kim Chigi sent me a music video, actually a small piece of the movie Magnolia. She sent it to me in response to my conflict with writing about the difficult experiences I had in my childhood and afterwards and sharing them with you. Kim has been an incredible moral support, much like a chairleader at a high school basketball game, egging me on, suggesting all the reasons not to be afraid of the dark side, of my fears, suggesting that diving into this stuff is necessary for blooming as a creative artist. Now, if you have visited her blog or her web site, you would know that we are talking about a first rate artist and a very intelligent person. Why waste her time on me?
One of the purposes of this blog is to show you the interweaving of our lives with other people and how many experiences are not coincidences, showing us that we have a destiny, which is the spiritual route we travel through life. Destiny sounds like an end point. But the only end point in our lives is death, if that truly is an end point. While looking for my New York City poems, stories and letters, which are sadly very few, I stumbled across an email sent to me that I sent my mother in response to a long explanation to who knows who about the death of my Uncle Henry.
I'm forwarding this to you thinking that for a moment it will be somewhat comforting...
Many thanks for sharing the long letter. Regarding your uncle's death---
here's how Emmanuel sees sudden death:
Question: What happens in sudden death?
Emmanuel: To the soul it is bliss. You are driving along in a
car doing battle with your life as usual, when all of a sudden
you are not. You find yourself unexpectedly light, and you
wonder what miracle has taken place. Have you become
enlightened that you are no longer immersed in the issues
of the day? You look around to realize that the car, which was
so important, is now just a heap of rubble and you really don't
care at all. Then you see a physical body which looks
familiar to you, something you have worn for years. Yet you
are glad to be out of it. You are free.
Violent death is violent only to those who remain behind
to view it. To the one who dies, it is simply a wondrous
flight Home. All the drama takes place on your side of the
doorway. From my viewpoint, the entrance to death is clear Light.
The letter I dug up has my mother's response and then my long response to her response. I will post that letter in the following days, since it succintly explains how I learned through my surgeries to view the body as separate from the spirit or the soul; who you truly sense you are behind your eyes, or with your eyes closed. In the letter, I write that I don't fully believe this Emmanuel, about his concept of HOME. Truthfully, I don't know who is Emmanuel nor do I know who sent me the quote in the first place.
It's funny that I mention the Honduran woman and then I mention Magnolia. I don't remember much the movie, although I felt it was monumental at the time. When Kim sent me the video, I felt there was an incredible no coincidence, since I believe I had just written a little bit about Joey on the blog. I would have to go back to that day to see what I was writing. In anycase, I met Kim at Raritan Valley Community College in Somerset County, NJ in 1991. She was friends with James and some other aquaintances of mine, hippies, dead heads, environmental club members. I wasn't friends with Kim, because I didn't fully enter those circles. Plus, she was an art student. I didn't study art, although I considered myself a poet at the time. Some people said that, if I sang, I could become the next Jim Morrison. Nice fantasy. The problem was that I was not a drinker, nor did I experiment with drugs. It's possible that Kim was an aquaintance of my girlfriend Sue at the time, since Sue was an art student. It's funny how things change. We left R.V.C.C. at the same time. Sue left for Bennington College for art and I left for Hampshire College for creative writing. Sue transfered to Rutgers University and changed from art to Social Work and I ditched the writing fantasy for American Social History. Today Sue is a Social Worker and today I am a strange form of an artist.
But back to Kim and Magnolia. Years later, James told me that Kim was in New York City. For the life of me I don't know if we met. I doubt it. However, he put me in contact with her through email. We lost touch and reconnected on Facebook over a year ago. And then I started drawing again after a 7 year hiatus in the attempt towards building a life with Margarita and not sabotaging it with my creative obsessiveness, like now it is 2am and I am still writing after drawing during the daylight hours. Scott's wife Laura tried publishing an article about me and my cupcakes after visiting us in Xalapa in 2004. They came to Mexico as photo journalists with the express desire of publishing an article about the experience of the families of Mexicans living in the U.S. They travelled around Mexico and interviewed over 50 families and determined that my story was much more interesting than the stories they gathered from those families. Laura managed to publish a little blurb in Time Out NY.But they didn't allow her to publish what she felt was interesting. Our name was Magnolia Cupcakes because Margarita didn't allow me to call us Margarita Cupcakes and she like those flowers and the name (I wanted to call everything Margarita back then). Time Out NY opted for a comparison between Magnolia Bakery, although they didn't say anything about our variety. It turned out to be free publicity for Magnolia Bakery and for Sex and the City. After that, Margarita allowed me to change the name to Margarita Cupcakes.
The day I saw the movie Magnolia Joey called me at work and asked me if I wanted to go to the movies that evening. We were still just friends at the time. It had been a year and a half since I last harboured thoughts that we could be anything but friends. Joey named the movie and the movie theater and the time we would meet. A minute later, the Honduran woman called me from her office above and asked me if I wanted to leave with her for a falafel. I had a few hours to spare before meeting Joey and we walked around the East Village. I invited her to meet Joey, but she took it as a romantic date and opted against meeting her. Truthfully, this was the first time the Honduran woman and I had left the office together. It was a month or so before Linda and I kissed. Anya was still in the U.S. and who knows what she was doing at the time. I was her dog on a leash. She called all the shots.
At the time James was introducing me to new music he discovered at the coffee houses in New Orleans. Probably the best music to which he introduced me was that of Nick Drake. I carried with me my walkman and, before Magnolia began, I had her listen to the song about a woman with her name Joey:
Joey will come to see your flowers
Joey will come to while away your hours
But she will tell you you're not so good for her
She wouldn't be there if it could be that you were.
Joey has loved but never shown her tears
So she may laugh in the autumn of your years
And when you're with her, you'll wonder if it's true
All they said of a world without you.
Where she may come from
Where she may go
Who she may run from
No one will know
Why she was late may trouble you some
Still you wait for Joey to come.
Joey will come when once more it looks like snow
Joey will come when it's really time to go
And you may smile when you find that you've been wrong
You thought you'd found her but she knew you all along
Joey will come to say hello
Nick Drakes music is beautiful and haunting. He was a manic depressive genius who supposedly committed suicide. Little did I know at the time that Joey was attracted to me. She told me later on. The songJoey became that much more haunting during our relationship and afterwards when I realized that it could have been written about her. Little did we know that she and I would end up a couple 4 or five months later after inviting her to cook Hot and Sour Soup and Char Sui for her at my new studio apartment on Ocean Avenue and Kings Highway. Because of the conversation and who knows what else during the cooking of the Chinese Food (she had accompanied me for the shopping in China Town) it was very late when the evening ended and she said that she would have to spend the night. I said that I would sleep on the floor and she responded that she trusted me on my bed. We were clothed when we lay down and then she said that she couldn't sleep and suggested we play Truth or Dare. Little did I know that 2 months later Anya would return from Kiev and Scotland believing that had found the spark with me, although she hadn't written me nor called me in 6 months... Boy was she PISSED! At me or at herself? Who knows?