Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Call us when you're ready to return from the living dead'

Excerpt from Let Me Take You Down, an hour-long piece I produced, directed, shot, edited at 17, 
about a young man pays for college by dealing drugs in the ghetto he grew up in. 

We were babies then. We were scarred but didn't know it. I wanted to make change. Or help facilitate it. Wanted to shock, cajole, incite, poke holes in your belief system. Prod you from your comfort zone. Revolution, baby. Don't be a sucker. Film was a means to an end. We don't need no stinking booms or lavs. Fuck the lights. Just gimme that camera with the gray duct tape holding the viewfinder and battery from falling off. The cast sometimes showed up high. I remember being disappointed. Got to be alert trying to stick a knife in The System's gut. A month later, the first beloved face you see in this excerpt would die of an OD. We shot during Christmas season. The blitz. Few years later, I'd see Allen Baron's Blast of Silence and it would make me smile. 
We all came at this as subversive black comedy. I believe it still works on that score. I start watching, I think, how silly. Then find myself engrossed. Which makes me smile again - not for myself, but the babies who made it. Folks have told me: 'raw', 'honest', 'intense'. A photographer friend said she thought it was about 'misplaced anger'. I'll take it. Alas, this was all before sickness and realization. Today, I lack self confidence and means. To the point of needing metaphoric crutches. And: all the folks I know in 'the industry', I don't think there's any I can call up and say, 'Let's start a fuckin revolution. Like, right now'. Tide's changed. But the need - in myself, and The Way We Live - hasn't. 

Notes: Ironically, tragically, we'd lose cast member/tech advisor Rob Spangenberg (my bff at I.S. 145 and my guardian angel) to an overdose a month after shooting. Transferred from 3rd generation VHS (that's, kids).
Originally dedicated (in end credits) 'To all the slaves of New York...and all the non-New Yorkers - especially the whiteys', it was shot in 4 days, in Queens (underneath the #7 el and in the James Bland housing projects near Shea Stadium - now Citifield) and all over (and under) Manhattan. If nothing else, it's an accurate portrait of where and how we grew up.
I think we predated Man Bites Dog (U.S. release), which it resembles in spirit, if not quality (I was all about 'natural' sound and light then; I was a lunatic child). Also 'reality TV', which it resembles down to overactive camwork and mix of fact and fiction.
@9:30, my Abuela, on the left.
@5:50, Metropolitan Museum of Art, smuggled shot.
@1:43, my aunt.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11, Part Nth

Sunday, 6.26.05

I put it off – it’s too much to bear. Scared of where I’ll have to go and where would I even start besides, so I don’t. Later, feel stomach drop and coil as I place pen to pad and force it out. Feel its weight shoving me to cower in a dark corner, wanting to find that black space to weep and grieve. A visceral firestorm I can’t control – I am scarred.
Few understand – that day, THOSE days and there were two I fear I’ll never come back from. The one which took what innocence was left, the other, what hope. I can’t spell them out, no matter how many ways they’re spun. Tragic. Devastating. Help.
Love is what they stole; sweetness and grace.
Like those boys broke her and it broke me.
Like years later, buildings would fall and who knew how much they meant to me – yes, to ME – before it happened? And I walked these streets – these very same streets – and my flash snapped 144 times and I thought, Who these people? On my streets. Clueless. Clueless. Candle burning. Sign carrying. Slogan rhyme spouting. College kids painting each others’ faces. Yuppies carrying flags. Connoting New York with the rest of the country like no one had ever done before. This city, separate, unholy entity, shifting cussing pummeling.
And they all said, “What have THEY done to US? To MY New York?”
Cuz if you were born in Peoria – or anywhere outside the four boroughs, for that matter – and lived here for fifty years, you cannot comprehend what it meant for those of us born and raised in their shadow. To have been at the top at five years-old. To have been homeless in August of 2001 and counted on their presence for restroom and air condition.
Cuz if you witnessed that footage 10,000 times on your television set, you cannot begin to fathom what it was like for those of us watched it happen right before us in (un)real time.
Cuz “They” are us.
Those of us planted with seeds left strewn from Vietnam and the Nixon administration, who remember in detail the first Bush’s reign, knew it was coming sooner or later. And still, we were ill-equipped.
Afterwards, the silence like mounds of wool, occasionally interrupted by the chief minion churning out gibberish.
I fell into literature – all those dead authors, poets I’d previously been intimidated by, thought were too good for the likes of me. Wrote my own Dangling Man, begun prior to 9/11, after my arrest and ahead of my ever having picked up Saul Bellow’s’.
And I saw us: weak, wasted, impotent, broken, down. Unworthy vessels. I thought, It’ll all be over soon. I came to realize I was and always had been a pacifist. And that my life bore the contours of a writer. Except I didn’t care cuz it didn’t matter. So I crawled into their uterine linings, clung to those walls and they did not understand why. Soon, they too would be gone.
And it wasn’t long before SSSUVs with U.S. flags in their every window, I’m Proud To Be An American blasting from Z-100 on their radios were skimming through red lights again, cutting off, honking horns, mowing down families. Our previous religion of insouciance recuperated, reapplied, and further enhanced. Cuz Nietzsche was wrong – what doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger, only more anesthetized.
And more blunt.
Months passed, the invisible siege continued. Powder got a few – I waited for mine in the mail. And waited.
New devils were appointed, while old ones stepped down, awaiting a different vibe. They’ll be back.
A plane fell out of the sky onto Howard Beach and A-list celebrities feigned support for “our city” while refusing to step foot anywhere near it, yet still wanting us to patronize their latest product, endorse/provide for their fame, fortune, futures.
Years passed and the date, for me, became Holy. Deeply observed. Respected.
And now, four years later, me, still here, still wanting out, except to a different station. Cuz I no longer dream of another me in another place, sipping sweet sangria, head shaking, saying out loud, “Finally” and “I deserve this” over and over. Today, there is no perspective because it doesn’t matter and aspirations are but formulae for heartache. Today, love has become enemy territory and it’s just as well.
There are nth days of suffering left; I can’t care.
So this year, I’ll deny the day. One out of 365 I won’t be confined, held captive by the memory of four airplanes and three (yes, THREE) tall towering towers. Cuz much like how them boys were in the room, egging me on every time she and I made love during those years following their round assault, there are three ugly buildings walk with me each step I take in this, MY city.
In 2001, the world left behind a century of suffering to enter one of blatant and full desolation, so thick with tumult and despair as to be unfathomable. So unfathomable, we refute its existence daily. Why? Cuz it’s too much to bear and where would we even start? We are not strong enough; we are no pioneers.
So many dead and damaged. And it changed nothing. Nothing. No. Thing.
Mankind moves on, but not really. The world bristles and I can feel it rush past me, paying no mind. I believe I don’t care but know deep down it’s only wishful thinking: here I sit, at 1:06am, on an N train to Forgotten, Queens, devastated, my life shifting, about to change. Here I sit, hunched over, finger down throat, heaving; throwing down line after line, feverishly working my way out of the dark.

Thursday, March 18, 2010




Saturday, January 23, 2010

Break Me Off


There are people living the life you, JB, long for in places like Napa and Spain. They eat mangos and Banana Sour Cream pancakes, sip on margaritas, chocolate-almond coffee and fine red fucking wines.
People living where quiet can be heard. I go there sometimes, in my mind, and it hurts. That life not meant for me – I’m ephemeral; I don’t even exist.
Governed by my emotions because I don’t trust my intellect – it’s manipulative, where the narcissist resides, while in my heart is where God Itself lives. As such, Buddhist country is what I really need – a spiritual land offering space and privacy that might help calm this ridiculous chaos inside. This ridiculous chaos inside.
Yes, I am hungry. Starved for business unattainable. Brotherhood, Social Justice, Honesty. Simplicity. Purity.
A Home (I’ve seen photos of Hitler’s bunker and am envious – something to strive for).
And Sex. It’s been a while, but here it is again, that stirring in my belly, the familiar want and need – my forlorn libido often voracious, gluttonous even, it’s a wonder sometimes how I get anything done.
I know you know what the fuck I’m talking about. Your back arched, making an immense misty racket, whimpering, then hyperventilating, before shaking like an epileptic, pins and needles starting from deep inside your Gorgeous and crawling out to your extremities.
I need it slow and rhythmic and from the sweltering basement-bottom of your soul. Cuz I am old-fashioned when it comes to romantic relationships, but not old-fashioned enough that I won’t tie you to the bed or let myself be blindfolded.
I know it can be good again, hot and sensual and flowing.
I know it can be good again, the way it did before I knew what to expect.
But what makes me a passionate lover is also what makes it difficult to be a human being.
I fear, doubt, weep, inside I kick and scream. Every day breathe in and out, now and then lunge forward, very often stumble back. Occasionally inspire a friend, triumph over a vice, comfort a stranger, produce and emanate infallible love (somethings I love: the sound of Claire and I clicking; these extremely rare and precious moments of quiet; the intimate light from my candles; chocolate; honesty; lips – I love lips).
Try to buy the possibility that there is still hope for me.
Me: pink icy-stained white t-shirt and baggy boxers, baby-blue-beaded rosary round my neck, its silver cross embedding itself into my chest. On this cold concrete floor I lie, listening to Robert Downey, Jr. croon (closest to my own singing voice I’ve yet heard) cuz it’s what healed the last scar, six months ago. I let it work me, allowing for the cut to dry and flake off and blood to flow back into both my heads.
In self-imposed solitary confinement that nevertheless feels like freedom right now, in this moment.
On the ceiling, a panoramic view of Rio that is almost, but not quite as spectacular as the one of my tethered Soul.
To be aware of oneself and others at all times is a tall order and I know perfection is unattainable but OH HOW I WOULD LOVE TO BE WONDERFUL.
We’ve all got obscene amounts of latent power – us ghetto bastards, in particular – and here is my best attempt to clear those slums, untie them knots, manifest my muh fuckin individuality.
Mind jumbled, I’m forcing it all out, thoughts and emotions swirling about my head; I grab many as I can and slap them down on paper, mixing and matching my mad rants to form some kind of ghetto gothic aesthete.
Summer looming before me like a large looming thing and I’m ready this time. For frilly flower dresses and halter tops, flip flops, ankle bracelets and shimmery legs, smell of shampooed hair, perfumes and lotions and sweat, sweetness emanating from pulse points, movements, gestures, advances. Dear Lord – You know the rest. Lemme catch my breath, take a swig of my reality.
Like those sirens outside howling, red and blue lights slicing through this twenty-five year-old curtain, pieces of scotch tape almost as old holding it together – broken soul’d brothers expressing grief by assaulting each other (1001 pitfalls for boyz n tha hood), just outside my cracked, caged window. Their shouts interrupting my flow, reminding me why my malaise from twelve to twenty-nine – we, mi gente, still catching hell (years ago, elders sat on benches while little-uns played wiffle ball and tag till the sun went down, after which ghetto thugs took over; I am the only one left and those summer days are over – overcrowded inner-cities leave no room left for innocence).
And now I’ve switched back to Bach by way of Yo-Yo Ma and Thomas Newman’s Shawshank Redemption cuz I can’t deal with lyrics – words like swords, voices like screeching tires; would that we could express ourselves without them – our bodies can’t lie (like in Seattle with MW, March of 2000, squeezing each other till juices flowed out, sucking, savouring it all, deep wet kisses, the smell, the texture, the taste of her, Sarah McLachlan’s Ice Cream on repeat, over and over, till we drifted and I dreamt I was falling again).
Bringing me back to my cravings – an embrace and a damp, slippery kiss.
And I want to say, “Be earnest with me,” but that’s a sure way to repel most ordinary city dwellers. I want to say, “Remember who I am and hold me close to your heart.”
I want to say, “Stay.” Are there still reliable people in existence? Were there ever? Tell me.
Oh, I know my net worth and it is steep. My Love, when governed by Truth, is wide, e x p a n s i v e and my shoulders are strong as my tongue. It would behoove you to move beyond shallow waters and dive into my deep – there’re magnificent, mystical creatures down here in the midst of evolving (experience that rarely seen playful side, soft like fleece and softer still, something like the fuzzy texture of a daffodil only sillier like the giggle of an infant; or the equally evanescent hoodrat, laid back at house parties, where it can freestyle and cuss like a gangsta rapper – there’s an art to it, folks).
Who’ll be brave enough?
I’m not holding my breath.
Gluttons for punishment. Not me – I’ve my problems, but not learning from my mistakes is not one of them – I’m too old.
Eventually there’ll be another You – whether out of love or immediate necessity, I don’t know.
Meantime, here I am, sinking into Billie Holiday’s voice – pure and unadorned, dense with heartbreak, sounding something like Heaven to me in this moment. It makes me sort of happy and, hunched over, poised on a breakthrough, I pray to my guardian angel (I suspect a brother named Rob twelve-years dead): Stay with me, stay with me.
S t a y w i t h m e .


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Blues For New York

A bit of a rant.

for those who have tried to take them from me

I feel these blues deep and hard. Always on time, never to waiver. The meanness of these rain-slicked streets, mad broiling. I cannot refuse. My life is thick as molasses and transparent as blood.
I suffered long for betrayal, the arrogance which kept me away for so many years. I had words but so what? The streets don’t give, they are not impressed, they care not for noble.
It’s taken me awhile to claim them again. But this IS my city. That garbage on the curb belongs to me. The piss in the elevators and all that blackened gum on the sidewalks is mine. At the wave of my hand, those rats in the hallway, on train tracks, and inside every shadow multiply – because I say so. I’ve been privy to the conversations of nefarious transit workers constantly come up with labyrinthine ways to fuck with your commutes. And I broke all those payphones because I couldn’t stand that broad’s voice interrupting my conversations with her incessant demands for money in that smart-assed, detached way of hers. Understand? No, you wouldn’t. You couldn’t, these blues like a muh fucka.
Rob knew these blues and reached out to me under the impression I had for him some yellows and greens. But my own blues had me reaching out for Jessica’s. Rob couldn't handle all that weight on his own and so he died, leaving them for me. Motherfucker.
Tupac knew but didn't understand these blues and Kurt’s were not mine.
Dese blues. Not those fancy ones of Broadway, but these fierce ones of Spanish Harlem, Da South Bronx and Queensbridge. These blues of A, B, C, D and every other letter of the alphabet, each standing for the first initial of a woman long gone but still with me. These lonely only-child blues. These fatherless blues. These no money-havin-ass blues. These gentrification blues. These Alan-Onic blues. These childhood sexual abuse blues. These light-skinned-blue-eyed-intellectual-Latino-from-the-ghetto blues. These NYPRBLUES. These mad sad fools’ blues. These lowdown, filthy blues of war and famine. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
I never knew this city as a playground. I’ve known it only as a towering force that’s broken my heart more times than even I have. A place that has never been kind to me and mine – since us Ricans arrived in the 40s, it has been a constant struggle for breath that hasn’t let up to this day.
Walking Lower East Side to Upper West hands in pockets after Alan-On fellowship, I could hear the sax intro to that Glen Frey song play in my head – except that the city belongs to ME. Invited to go out dancing with the girls, I chose to dance with myself – a midnite stroll through hard-won streets that once held me hostage but are now loosening grip, in deference to my newfound confidence and complexion – all they respect and understand. Yet still in my worst moments I feel their massive grimy weathered calloused hands around my throat. These same streets my mother walked as a child – all these years, all this painful history and neither one of us has moved an inch.
Me, a street soldier without the garb – undercover, a spy for both sides. Me, an archivist, chronicler of time and emotion. I’ve forgotten more than you'll ever know, Bobby D. wrote. I remember these streets when they roared. And they remember me when I did the same. These memories flow like freestyle rhymes:
Two years-old at a house-party in The Bronx and my father teaching me to roll a joint – my quick-learning infant-child mind thinking, Hmm, do-it-yourself cigarettes, and picking up the lesson.
Being on the roof of the WTC as a child, not thinking much of the view and wishing it were greener.
Stopping a rape in progress only to have the victim spit in my face; remember never being shocked after that.
Long nights in my late teens and early twenties spent walking from The Village to Harlem and back.
Never leaving apartment without walkman and box of Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Marvin Gaye cassettes, as well as taped calls I’d made to WBAI in the wee hours – revolutionary cries to set the White House on fire.
Chatting with junkies who shot up as we relieved ourselves, made out, smoked up in the Bond Street alleyway before it got gated. Shooting a short film there once, guy steps in to take a leak and finds a discarded gun, something about young urban male rage; cops interrupting our shoot with pistols raised and my lead actor was nearly arrested. I remember smiling the whole time and getting it all on Hi-8 tape.
Being slipped angel dust in a drink and subsequently having a nervous breakdown on the sticky floor underneath the stairs at Wetlands, me flat on my back, my crew surrounding, look of puzzlement on their faces – their fearless leader, voice of mad reason, showing vulnerability for the first time ever.
Summer of ‘89 – Koch’s last, death of Yusef Hawkins, release of Do the Right Thing, PE’s Fight the Power everywhere, air thick and wet and edgy.
Jessica, best friend back then, one of the first women I loved, the first Libra and the first I called when I found out Rob died – “I don’t know what to say,” said between puffs on her cig, “I’m so sorry”. Was with Rob when I lost my virginity, some place in Jackson Heights he frequented, twenty bucks a pop; it rained that day and I felt emptier than the first time I was molested by a man at six years-old.
Seeing Bad Lieutenant four times at The Angelika – twice alone, once with Jessica, the other I’ve blocked.
Visiting my favourite Hopper painting at MOMA once a week for six months, it reminding me of the historic RKO theatre in Queens, with its art deco interiors and sweeping staircases leading to the big house, in which I spent much of my childhood. Saw my first movie inside that theatre – Saturday Night Fever. I was three and my mother and I stayed for two viewings, leaving just before Bobby C. jumps off the bridge.
Sundays at that and other moviehouses with my alcoholic grandfather who’d sleep, snore, fart during the show and trip home – but he adored me, I know. Remember, as the only other male in the family, feeling I was old enough to be able to protect its women and fighting back at him with words – “You’re gonna be a writer,” he said to me with a vicious grin and for years I denied that was what I was.
2:10 am show of Pulp Fiction night it was released at an all-nite theatre on 42nd and 8th – thugged-out audience and I throwing food, spitting at the screen and afterwards sneaking into Jason’s Lyric, which wasn’t any better but had Jada (my Jada, Tupac's Jada) before she married Will.
The old Times Square, videostores and peep shows wherein I spent much of my eighteenth and nineteenth years, continuing with what those malevolent men had started over ten years prior and further polluting my sexuality.
Leaving during Dinkins’ last days as da mayo (his autographed picture still in my wallet, addressed to “Moneybags Jayce”), streets full of strung-out junkies from Wisconsin and the word Onyx spray-painted on buildings uptown and down.
Seven foggy years spent in Boston, MA, yearning for these streets, the mournful sound of a jazz trumpet always bringing me back to springtime in New York City.
These are my blues. These are my blues like hell you cannot touch.
Here, in this city, is where my restless spirit will linger after I’m gone: on the benches of The Promenade, listening to The Spinners’ Ghetto Child, Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s T.R.O.Y., watching the sun ease behind the skyline.
Dear Streets, if I give you props, if I acknowledge what you’ve taught me and who/what/where/why I am, if I treat you as everyone else does – with reverence or blind adoration – will you leave me be, let me go?
Didn’t think so.
To prevent raising my kids here I will abstain, because these streets are not to be trusted and these buildings fall down – anything man-made is faulty and will eventually crumble; to demand permanence from any of it is arrogance, stupidity, madness.
Do you feel me? CAN you feel me? Are you listening? CAN you listen?
WAKE THA FUCK UP, YOU UNCONSCIOUS MOTHEREFFERS! You are being lied to. Even by me.
Yank Sleepyhead back to the living. Kill that part of you chooses to rationalize the myriad lies thrown at you. Bludgeon her/him with the pure, unblemished, honest Truth. Beat its face with a bat, DeNiro-style. Or clean and simple-like with just one bullet to the forehead. But DO NOT SUBMIT. If not for you, then for your children, for the next generation. Get it together. Check the date, RISE UP, STAND. Because sooner or later, it will affect you, too.
We are the children of the children of Watergate, raised up in the Reagan/Bush era and so it’s no surprise we are hopeless, but please, stick with me here, now, in this very moment. Let that willfulness go. What helped you as a child will kill you as an adult. Look, clear-eyed and sober out the window. The way we're living is wrong. Step out of illusion and into the bright overheads of LA-HYFE. Do not accept anything less than all of it.
You are alive and in your prime. Like The Dramatics said, Get Up and Get Down. Pave the way. Grab those you Love and s e t i t o f f . The time is nigh, sink or swim, do or die, pay or play, shit or get off the pot. DO NOT LEAVE THIS LEGACY. Your sons and daughters are dying.
God is on our side. He recognizes that we are supreme beings. He is a fan. He is not wrathful. Our parents lied because they were lied to. The church lies like a ho in a hip-hop song.
What’s that? What is this about and where is this going? you ask. Focus, you say. I say fuck you, I’ve been listening to your spoiled, arrogant ass yap my whole life, sitting quietly in the sidelines, acquiescing to your decisions and listening to my language being butchered in your schools (it’s pronounced Vlaunko, not Blank-Oh), my history non-existant.
It’s my turn. So sit down, shut the fuck up and pay attention – you might just learn something. Checkit: I am on your side. Your derision, your judgment I do not understand.
I’ve been a victim of transference all my life and my words have been misquoted, taken out of context and used to mock, scorn, condemn me. Why is it so easy for you to believe I am wicked?
I am sick to fuckeeng death of your irony. That smirk. Stand up and Be real. Learn to appreciate a smile as I do. And an embrace.
Yet still I am on your side. Praise be, Hallelujah, I love you like a brother. We come from two different worlds but are one and the same and when I reach out to you, I am reaching out to myself.
I know, I know, I’m pompous, pretentious, arrogant, sanctimonious, among other things (you have no idea). But it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. And it doesn’t mean I don’t mean it with all my heart and soul. There, I’m done now; I’ve stepped off the podium.
Except for one more shout-out to my Brothers and Sisters in the shadows. Dear brethren, everything I do is for you. I dedicate this, my earthbound life, to you. And to my children. And to the Good Lord – all one and the same.
I know how this ends. It ends with me sitting on my balcony in Spain, sipping café con leche or more likely, te con limon (no carbs or sugar), reading the front page headline of SE MURIO NUEBA YOL! over and over. I fold the paper, toss it onto the table, put left leg over right, lean back, look out to the sunset and smile, thinking There but for the grace of God go I, before beginning to reminisce again on the way it used to be for me.
Or, standing atop a rock overlooking waterfalls in the rain forest of Somewhere Far Away, gray hair on my head and face long and thick and wet, skin taut and tanned, not looking back at all but feeling the tremors of what will happen here. And thinking, again, There but for the grace of God before jumping --

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


...very first blog entry (title: 'Morning/Evening Pages, May-August, 2009') instead of posting here. In the interest of continuity and flow.