Monday, September 13, 2010

VERY, Very Short Stories

First published in The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

The Shaolin Doghouse, Realla Scham-lately, and “The West Asheville Moon had me at Hello”

“SHE HAD YOU at hello, sweetie,” my ex-girlfriend Audrey’s wry sarcasm—spewing venom on that particular end-of-month bills payment day – was at its most vicious conjecture. More vicious, or certainly a lot more virulent, than the baddest PMS on earth. “You got paid with a smile again?! You never learned! So how are we supposed to pay the rent now? With a wide grin of glory?”
(You guessed it right—Audrey kicked me out of our Brooklyn apartment, but only after she arranged me a “Shaolin doghouse” to stay the night… well, uhh— in Chinatown.)
“I just called my officemate Go Ling—she said her cousin, Jet Lu, could accommodate you in his restaurant. That’s good—you can bus or wait tables there and get paid with your favorite ramen noodles!”
So like a somber, meek, and obedient Kwai Chiang Caine, I wafted out of the building to the F Train bound for Delancey or Canal—and off I closed another tearful chapter in my perpetually tormented book of vanquished valentines.
Just because I failed to earn the rent money again!
I don’t know anymore. Am I stupid or AM I STUPID? Audrey had been shouldering the rent (and most daily expenditures) for the past four months or so since I quit my East Village ad agency job to concentrate fulltime painting what were supposed to be commissioned work brokered by a Long Island antiques import-export trader, aptly named Realla Scham (no kidding). But after four months of incessant labor and unswerving love for good-ole’ art—punctuated by three weekend trips to Atlantic City and Adirondacks, and a steak dinner at Smith & Wollensky on 3rd Avenue on her account – Ms Scham paid me only half of what we agreed upon.
“I just wanted to help you... Look, after all these generosities that I put myself into—you seem to be accusing me of… www-hattt did’ya say?! —ahh! GET OUT out of my house! Don’t yell at me—nobody yells at me in my own house, GET OUT!!!”
That’s what I get. Good grief!

REALLA SCHAM sat on the Board of some Manhattan nonprofit that dealt with maltreated squirrels. At least once, I went with her to St Patrick’s Cathedral—where I witnessed her shed tears like Agnes of God, as she recited the Rosary, down on her knees (though she placed her Fendi gloves on the cold, marble floor as protective padding).
For some reason, I did believe this woman!
As I chaperoned (escorted, bodyguard/ed, accompanied, dated—as Audrey put it) her to Bloomingdale’s one winter’s evening, she goes—while shuffling over a stack of Louis Vuittons, “I can’t imagine… what conscience, what inhumanity, what cruelty—how could Imelda Marcos buy all those crazy shoes!!! One pair could actually feed a family of six for a month?! Poor Filipino children!”
So we spent hours and hours—and weekends and weekends of Dom Perignons, chilled Rockefeller oysters, and roast Angus beef – brainstorming/discussing/bullshitting each other how we could save the entire kindergarten population of Panay Island in the south of the Philippines or donate farm implements to impoverished frijoles in Matagalpa, Nicaragua (or something to that effect).
Then one afternoon, she blurted at my startled face, “Honey, my amiga Claudia—a mucha dinera senora – just bought a house in Hartford. I’d like you to work on some paintings to hang on the walls, or something… She pays good money, this crazy friend of mine. Now you can buy a new computer, take Audrey to Tavern-at-the-Green, go watch Miss Saigon, I don’t know… Gosh, buy a new coat, please! You look like you just wrestled a Doberman in Central Park lagoon, honeybabe!”
I simply muttered, “I need money to help fund a summer basketball tournament for out-of-school youths in Pandacan in Manila. I promised them some money next month…” Realla wrote me a $400 check right there. “But, first, go to Macy’s—buy your girl a Victoria’s Secret or whatever… then, let’s meet my amiga tomorrow, 2pm, at 49 Grove. Don’t be late!”

WELL, I have dealt with—or hanged out with, worked with, collaborated with – a thousand and one Realla Schams in my immaculately clueless little life. For some reason, I strike people like I just emerged from a jumbo jet’s cargo engine—smuggled out of the pampas of Buenos Aires or some Calcutta slum. Always hungry, penniless, down-and-out.
But I didn’t care whatever people prejudge me of. I don’t bother with contracts and paperwork and stuff. I don’t mind weeding grasses with a rusty sickle, shoveling 5ft snow with a wok, foot-massaging obnoxious matrons with varicous veins as huge as a fireman’s hose, proofreading Library of Congress dictionaries, or tutoring septuagenarian Koreans how to read-write English – as long as I earn enough money to pay for printing of my tabloids, gas allowance for my soundperson, extra dough for Kinko’s laser-prints, CD-Rs to burn DIY compilations, and Greyhound fares to my next Vagrant Wind stop. As long as I am able to score some dough to “fund” these madness gigs that I do.
Of course, there were also a number of relatively glamorous “hook-ups” – ie commissioned painting gigs, college lecture sidelines, think-tank/consultancy tasks, and kool kat publicist work—that covered grander projects like band management, club concert bar fines, and short documentary film productions. I however preferred the “right here, right now” deal than the elaborate, 500-meeting sessions program study. I’d like that negotiations run fast, decisions reached quick as a bullet, then “Let’s rock and roll!”
So contrary to what some may think—that I am a complex dude from Saturn, I am not. I am a simple man. Yes, you can have me at hello anytime, and pay my efforts with a smile. I am some uncomplicated mouse who could easily be persuaded by a mere mention of a seafoods dinner or an assured fishing trip to the Catskills or campfire retreat in the Shenandoahs.
You see, I never did work on anything that I didn’t like. I guess, that makes me a some kinda “privileged” individual—I simply throw myself in deep, silent euphoric work trance and forget about what’s going on in the outside world. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess), the outside world means business gain, profit viability, and career opportunism. I am very oblivious and stubbornly indifferent to these things.
So I never quite earned – or consistently earned – the rent money. (Sigh!)

HOWEVER, while I easily plunge into something that tickles or energizes my spirit on the get go, I also end it just as rapid-fire-fast as I took it. In many occasions, I simply plunged in a supposedly collaborative project without prior consultation – despite the fact that my family has always provided me with both legal and financial consult. I accept or enter a deal based on how I FEEL about it, period – whether I like to do it or not, almost totally ignoring the financial implication or equivalent of that particular deal.
I do believe – although this “belief” resulted in me getting dumped by a succession of girlfriends — that I don’t need much to live my life. Although I was born and raised comparatively more materially comfortable and cared-for than the average Filipino, I am always very sensitive with the world outside my gilded gates of plenty. The “weird” boy who stole eggs and longaniza sausages from the household fridge to distribute them up in the hills where tribal families of four or five feasted on a can of sardine stewed on cheap noodles and soy – hasn’t really changed.
I don’t know why some people stock up food in their fridge and cupboard while others don’t even have a canister of sugar to sweeten their rice coffee. In America, most people store an awful lot of red meat, fish fillets, and veggies in the freezer—then throw them away after a month. They forget to cook them...
My life has always been spent mostly with the underbelly — up in the hills, in squatters’ colonies, coastal villages, inner city sidestreets, workers picketlines – that I could almost feel the unquenched hunger within, the collective sorrow of those who don’t have enough, wherever I go. Until now, each time I seem to spend US dollars more than I usually do, I instinctively/spontaneously mentally-convert them in pesos, and wonder out loud how many kilos of rice would $21 worth of mozzarella pizza amount to?
That is my life’s reality—that is the truth that I know, the truth that my spirit is accustomed to.
So no matter how many Realla Schams take me to Smith & Wollensky for a $65 dinner plate of “steak that melts on your mouth,” I still worry about what’s up in that dilapidated shanty of emaciated tykes back home. I have chosen to pursue “madnesses” that I am sure won’t make me a wealthy gallery owner, concert producer, or book publisher – so I really feel uncomfortable when I have this money and that other artist, performer, or writer doesn’t.
I just have to give the money back... Until now, I don’t know how I get around. I’m always like this—I throw myself out there, hop in a speeding train to nowhere, seek my truths, and I simply survive. It’s not that I don’t need money—I do, of course. But I never liked money lounging in any part of my clothing or whatever I’m carrying—I often hand them to whoever I’m working with or I just spend them on anything that I believe is worth some wisdom.

THIS “MADNESS” moved offices/residences twice in three months…
While I don’t intend to go to the full details – the long, rambling recitation above explains some of the reasons. This latest mishap happened so fast though, compared to the others that lasted, at least, a year or so. But this one wasn’t ignited by my inability to raise rent-money — it’s far from that.
But let it pass...
Life is such a tricky sidetrip to the “Shaolin doghouse,” am I right? My journey has always been like that. No matter how the rubber honeymoon bounces here and there—all fun and fancy—I always end up with my oodles and oodles of ramens. But that’s the way I like it.
This new abode in West Asheville that we’ve just moved into – is definitely more comfy and peaceful than the Lexington Av cave where we were housed just barely few weeks ago. But that’s not the point here, as ever. For some sweetly weird reason—peace is like a thief in the night. You don’t know when she’s coming and what she’s up to. You know it’s there—but only when you finally lost it. I lost my “peace and quiet” for five months or so, as I frolicked with Ms Scham on First Avenue and Westchester – over Little Italy meriendas and slot machine gigs at Bally’s. I lost that peace-within so many times in my life—and I didn’t even know it. I was so busy gasping for wisdom and self-respect like a boxer who fought for honor first, before the prize. It hurt but I feel freed...
So again, as I tread my highway from hell—pretty much like past episodes of my wearied treks along boulevards of broken dreams and valleys of vanquished valentines—I ask myself, “Am I stupid, or am I STUPID?” I don’t know—but let me remember the past… maybe I can find some consolation from reminiscing this particular episode with my sisters back home in Manila.

“The NPA is home at last!” My sister Alona exuberantly declared in such elated sarcasm and boisterous jest that it roused and threw the entire household in animated disarray. “Whoa! He’s actually here! How’s the revolution up in the Cordilleras, hermano?” Alma, another sis, eagerly darted out of the house to welcome Che Guevara-alias. Okay, okay—it was a family joke.
NPA is New People’s Army—the guerrilla wing of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ Maoist/Communist insurgency. NPA is also “No Permanent Address,” and that applies to yours truly. NPA was me – “Always, forever and ever, amen!” Another sister, Alicia, readily agreed. My revolutionista-fashionista “chic” – disheveled, emaciated, ragged, long unkempt hair, lost-boy reticence, snappy reflex — would effortlessly, easily qualify me either or both a Sparrow Unit (urban guerrilla) hitman or a pathetic pauper with nary a cent to score a stick of Marlboro.
With that characteristic impoverished girth, most believed (I reckon), that I could easily sell my soul to the devil for a chilled oyster dinner and a Corona. And, I bet, with that “NPA” dogtag sticking out of my skinny neck, I could easily be swayed to give up my sublime lunacy with a two-room/one-bath dive.
No, sir!
In the winter of 1982, I was reported as missing by my Aunt in New York City when I “disappeared” for five days straight — hanging out with the homeless of Central Park East. On the sixth day, I checked in a motel in North Bergen NJ with the money that I panhandled — to shower and shave. On the seventh day, I strode in an Upper West Side diner where a cousin, Mario, who owed me money, was a cook – and had a $65 beef steak dinner on his account. That night, I snuck in my Aunt’s apartment, left a note (“I am okay”) and then “stole” four sets of blankets from her closet—went back to Central Park, distributed the fluffy Turkish “winter-warmers” to my homeys, and spent the rest of the week with them.
It was one of my little life’s happiest, most peaceful moments. And I didn’t even have to go hop in the F Train to my usual, unmistakable “Shaolin doghouse.”
You see, this white-and-grey West Asheville house where we just transferred isn’t located on either Delancey or Canal, and although there are no courtyards straddled by the downtown streets of my most immediate misfortune, there was an awesome moon the night we moved in.
The following morning, the Spring Sun smiled at me and, oh yes, she had me at hello. Believe it or not.

--Pasckie Pascua

Monday, September 6, 2010

Writers workshops... such interesting little events

First published in Wander; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

WRITERS workshops are such interesting little events… quietly exuberant microcosm of human foibles, fancy/fantasy and fascination. Sometimes they kind of bombard the sanity like some sort of literary Normandys and Waterloos; sometimes they nag and irritate like in-laws Inquisition/Torture chambers. They devastate, they pulverize you into crappy smithereens; they tick you off like crazy, they ruin your day, yet you can’t really complain. You keep on coming back for more… But, most of the time, writers workshops are just fun hangout gigs where we could check in our egomaniac trips or check out smart girls who hid erotic fires between seductive cleavages of some oblique but sweet metaphors… You can also survey hot dudes who may be the same exact replica or clone of Lestat The Vampire—mysterious, dangerous but irresistible. Don’t you know that most often than not—writers workshops are disguised as singles convergences or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club? While the “taken, attached and involved” are busy sipping super-sweet nectars of twogetherness some place more private, the “lonely” seek out writers workshops!
Seriously though, in workshops—we may be able to trip on a cool Dead Poets Society and reap some wisdom along the way, or a publishing agent who’s well-connected somewhere might sit in, that “guest” could be our bridge to fame and fortune. Apart from that, I “accidentally” tripped on a lot of writing/editing side-jobs – including babysitting, dogwalking, housecleaning sidelines — while immersed in writers workshops.
I must say that I learned a lot (of whatever I know about writing) in writers workshops—weekend gatherings and midweek drinking bouts (played up as “workshops”), summer creative writing camps, and literary conventions. For sure, most workshops that I joined in were fun, square room arenas of swashbuckling, duelling egos (masqueraded as “discussion”), unrequited perversions (clothed as “craft” or “art” or “freedom of expression”), super-trashy literary dalliances, and yes indeed, in many instances, I get to discover sparkling gems (that are a lot better and more engaging than what are usually peddled at Barnes & Noble or Borders as “Month’s Bestsellers”).
What’s so cool about writers workshops (at least those that I signed in) is the seductive element of surprise that lurks in there… you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
What I mostly got—during the early years of my own writers workshop saga? Hear these..
“It took me a good 15 precious minutes to ponder rhyme and reason—sanity and insanity—about your little piece of poetic intrusion into this beautiful world of ours. What I’m trying to say is, why don’t you just quit this writing silliness and just wait tables, and be of service to humanity?”
“I’d rather read a Chinatown menu or Wal-Mart catalogue than waste my time over this unrelenting exercise of drab shit stacked up like empty vials of cough syrup clothed with puke sitting beside a stinking downtown commode!”
“My advice – just forget it! Go jump over Verrazzano Bridge, bungee jump down Niagara Falls, eat roaches, wash your grandmother’s apron, buy your girl a wonder bra, whatever—but, please, don’t subject us to this atrocious poetry again, oh please!”
So, how do we deal with those? Well, we have to put up with those amazingly “upfront” comments or suggestions… Although there were moments, as well, when my ascetic patience hit bottom, so I climaxed one writers session too many with a mano-a-mano at a parking lot. (Those were my twentysomething years, I have mellowed considerably.) But then, among these insane piles and heaps of heartaches, bruised egos, and black eyes (c/o the brawl), you’d get one or two good, enticing invite.
“Hmmm, your poetry is very multi-layered, I need to dig deeper, very mysterious… would you have time on Friday night to discuss this? My apartment? Bring more of your poems, I’ll have wine…”

IN ASHEVILLE, I thought I only know of two regular, weekly writers workshops. The Tuesday group (with Robert Kelley) and the Wednesday group that included The Indie’s ever-prolific and diligent senior writer, Mike Hopping.
I was told that there are actually more specialized, exclusive writers groups in the city. Writers groups by astrologers, women-only, non-smokers/non-drinkers, lesbians and gays, Baptists/Catholics, fundamentalists, pagans, Deadheads, Goths (divided between those who dig Danzig and those who don’t), vampires and vampyrs (segregated between those who hang out at Waffle House every aftermidnight and those who simply stay home and chow down grits over diet Mountain Dew and watch “Dawg, The Bounty Hunter”), sadomasochists, Weightwatchers alumni, vegans/vegetarians, white supremacists, Hispanic/Latinos, ex-AA denizens, high schoolers, hip-hop homeboys/girls, anorexics anonymous, Crumb&Pekar Fans Club, divorcees and jilted lovers…
And more – writers workshop by men who were disapproved by their in-laws, women whose husbands are honorary members of Man Law sect, weekend lovers of autumn leaves, haters of dandelions, celebrators of the wind and snow, eaters of beef jerky and pickled pig ears… (believe it or not, there’s one like that).
MANY! Many writers workshops!
This is good, you know. Don’t get me wrong…
When I used to go around Filipino-American communities in the NY-NJ-CT tri-states seven years ago (while editing a mainstream Filipino newspaper), I chanced upon a million Pinoy writers groups denominations. All of these are rooted to the Filipino culture back home… but it seems people don’t simply agree the moment they sit down around a circle and open their mouths. So they form their own splinter, semi-splinter, pseudo-splinter, copy-splinter, splinter-splinter writers workshops.
Some of the list that I gathered – a group for writers with northern background (12 chapters scattered all over and around five New York City boroughs), writers with northern background whose parents are from the south, writers with northern background whose wives/hubbies are from the south, writers with northern background whose kids were born in the Philippines, writers with northern background whose kids were born in the US, writers with northern background who’ve been dumped by their wives/husbands, writers with northern background who are applying for American citizenship, writers with northern background who are undocumented illegals or with expired visas, writers with northern background who are actually from the south but don’t wanna say, writers with northern background who are… whatever.

IN ASHEVILLE, this cornucopia of writers groups certainly add spice and brew to what we all call (and brag) as diversity.
Well, diversity is good if these seemingly “different” people, or humanity with different points-of-view or “madnesses,” decide to coexist as one community and try to work or unite towards a collective end… diversity won’t work if these same groups of people simply create their own cliques and specialized groupings. Why do we drum up “diversity” and celebrate community while at the same time, we segregate ourselves from the heart of the collective?
Many times I observe that the gap that separates between a non-vegan/non-organic carnivore and a healthy-living, non-smoking, non-drinking person is wider than the space that sets apart a Republican from a Democrat… a lesbian group has their own place in the community, is their a Man Law group around here? How about the anarchists vs the moderates, the hippies and the yippies/yuppies, the babyboomers and the confused young?
It’s not like these people are going to co-exist on a daily basis or watch Glen Beck or “Desperate Housewives” on TV, seated on one couch under one roof. It’s just at least, once a week meeting in a public venue, you know…

IN THE LAST few weeks before this deadline, senseless killings and shootings painted our lives red. Is there a war in America? Why do our kids decide to grab that gun to articulate a point? Who are they listening to, what are they thinking?
It seems like we have more time to figure out the good nutrients in a hummus, ruminate over the dark spirits behind an SUV, hail and glorify the peaceful vibes of an unseen god up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mused over gender sensitivity and political correctness, or debate whether Dan Brown is a heretic or not, or Oprah Winfrey really has right and authority to pick a good book, or does condoms bastardize the sanctity of Kama Sutra… than try to sit down with our children and, for once, listen to what they’re saying.
What do the children or the young want? Maybe they want to join our good-natured, holier-than-thou, “exclusively for adults” writers groups. Maybe they know better than us… maybe they have more beautiful ideas to share.
Maybe one of these kids are working on a novella that’s actually a blueprint to another Columbine tragedy? Or maybe these kids exude promising auras of future literary greats? Do they have to grab a gun again to let us, adults, listen? The writings on the wall scream like a giant cat’s blank stare. What are we gonna do with these signs? Muse, ruminate, discuss, debate, banter, ponder—over them—behind closed doors, closed to/from the outside world? Our doors that secure and protect our exclusive groupings from the others are so tight and sealed that we can no longer hear what’s going on out there, just a good ten yards away.
I wonder what we have been writing lately…

WRITERS WORKSHOPS are a gathering of people, I believe. People, who—besides a writing passion commonality—are also human beings who want to be heard, to connect, to bond. I don’t believe that most struggling writers—or even published ones—are in workshops simply to polish or break in a draft. They are there because they have a truth to share, no matter how risky or dangerous that may be.
We always mouth the words “community” and “diversity” – seemingly, to trumpet a global, no-walls/no-ceilings wisdom. But we seldom have the courage to open our doors to those who knock just because they don’t measure up to the word, “Writers” or “Part of the Group.”
We write about the world we live in, and the people in it—including us. Isn’t it boring to listen to just one “truth” every Monday or Friday or Wednesday night? Unless, we only want to listen to our own voices and cuddle our own stuffed toys of elitism and exclusivity, then it’s maybe cool to just stay locked up.
As for me, I just want to write… Whether you tear my poetry away and flush it down the toilet bowl, or hang it on your bedroom wall, beside a Van Gogh or three red roses. Whatever it is that you do with my little intrusion inside society’s four walls – the important thing is, I have extended my heart’s spirit. Quash it, burn it, step on it, no matter—no one frustrates, rejects, dumps, disappoints the spirit.
That’s the spirit of the writer that I want to hang out with in a writers workshop. I don’t care whether we do it at Waffle House, at Pritchard Park, or inside my humble abode, beside my fireplace, on 61 Dunwell Avenue.
Bring in the poetry, I’ll have wine and tea.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The New York Story of Jimmy-baby & Frieda Looks-Like-Abba, or money doesn’t change everything

WHAT’S BUGGING you, sweetheart, Jimmy-baby? What’s wrong? Are you sick again? You wanna go visit Dr Smith this weekend? Don’t worry, we’ll go take a walk later this afternoon and see if your buddy, Carlos, is also at the park, okay, honey? We’ll sit by West Central Park lagoon, at your favorite spot, and watch the swans glide by, as we wait for your pal, okay, honey babe?” Jimmy-baby was painfully silent, alarmingly morose-he was usually bubbly, cocky, jovial, even hyper. Something must be wrong with him. So, my good Swedish friend, whom I fondly call Frieda Looks-Like-Abba, took him to Dr Smith that Saturday, 7am.
“Jimmy is suffering from what I ascertain as EMSA, otherwise known as ‘Extreme Melancholia due to severe Separation Anxiety.’ This is serious, Frieda, my dear…” Dr Smith slowly, achingly bobbed his gargoyle head like he just detected a fatal, malignant virus chewing away at Jimmy-baby’s sorrowful system. (The manner in which the tragic, deadly words spilled out of his trembling mouth, it gripped me like he’s actually the one who’s got the ailment, it terrified the hell out of me!) Frieda started sobbing, “Oh my God?! Poor, oh poor Jimmy-baby! I thought it was just a sorta seasonal case of ADDB, uhh, ‘Attention Deficit Disorder Bitchiness?’ Doctor, please, do everything, anything-I don’t care how much this’ll cost me. Jimmy-baby has to be back to his NCSC again, y’know, ‘Normal Cool Self Complex?’”
Tearful, heart-broken, and upset, Frieda Looks-Like-Abba hugged Jimmy-baby… at the same instant, she motioned at Soledad, her loyal Peruvian nanny, to write Dr Smith the one-hour consult check, amounting to $750, I think. Then, as Frieda weakly staggered out of Dr Smith’s Upper West Side clinic, Soledad whipped out six twentys and 15 dollars (or $75) off her extra-large, tightly-brassiered breasts, and handed them to me, “Hijo, Pasquito, muchas gracias!”
Hmmm, that’s actually $15 more than I expected. Uhhh, $75 for what, you may ask? Well, that’s my salary for walking Jimmy-baby for two hours that morning… yup, Jimmy-babe is Frieda’s dearly-beloved Saint Bernard, you know, a dog. Dr Smith earned a lot more than me, of course, for an hour’s job of incessantly, meticulously doing a painstaking monologue afront a sullen-looking, visibly bored canine that never responded, or dared bothered to bark back, at his “intelligent” queries at all.
But, then, I understand-the Dog-Doc went to, maybe, Oxford or Princeton to master his lucrative Dr Doolittle profession-and, we all know, nobody goes to one freakin’ Ivy League hole and earn a PhD on dog-walking, right? But there’ll always be some strange dudes who’ll get rewarded with two-grand minimum for engaging a duchshund to an hour of psychoanalysis session. I mean, I can’t even understand why human beings need shrinks! Why would chronically financially-harassed people entrust some yellow pad-scrawling nerdie their lives’ deepest, most kept secrets? For $75 to a hundred bucks an hour, these expensive “experts” tell you this, “From what I could possibly deduce from here, you are suffering from what I call Krswtreaxy Defrkwxs Sydrome, and now you need to take 500 milligrams a day of Grzasstftfrrwejxw, a tablespoon every after dinner of Rweqdasehy, and then try engaging your pet iguana thirty-minutes of intellectual discourse, then see me after two weeks…” And, look here now, my friend Frieda Looks-Like-Abba budgets at least three to four-grand (or even more) a month for Saint Jimmy-baby Bernard’s shrink!?
“Jimmy-baby was barking all night, I knew something was wrong… he never barked that way, there was a some kinda tone of bothered, distant rejection in his barking, you know…” I just attentively nodded my head and pretended to know a thing on the subject of canine behavioral patterns, or something, “Maybe, he needs a sexual partner, don’t you think? Let’s go check out Dog Day NY Chats and find Jimmy-baby a date!”
Whatever. I can go on and on. But that is okay. I don’t think it’s entirely weird to sympathize with Frieda Looks-Like-Abba. She’s fine, she’s pretty normal human being. And you can easily judge me as anti-animal or insensitive to living things, or something to that effect. Yet it still mystifies me why we get so bothered and disturbed whenever a cat that we fondly dress in a Barbie duster starts purring and whining at the “wrong-time of the aftermidnight during Solstice,” or when the goldfish imprisoned in a velvet aquarium looks dejected and refuses to breathe bubbles, or when a pitbull that has been kept alone inside the house for eight hours straight suddenly jumps and attacks a house visitor and bites off the poor stranger’s ears. “What is wrong with my bulldog? He just ate my neighbor’s left arm, for cryin-out-loud?! My doggie must be afflicted with HLD (Hannibal Lecter Disorder).”
Or why it’s so easy to shelve away two hundred bucks to make sure “that Jimmy-baby starts jumping at my Turkish couch at 6am” (or, y’know, just to make sure that the dog is “normal”) while it’s so hard to do away extra $15 for Soledad, the nanny, so she can score a new set of bra that fits her humongous bust size, so that she won’t be commuting on a Path train every Friday night all the way to North Bergen NJ for those $7-for-a-pair-of-5 brassieres?
When I was 5, I recall being grounded for a week - because I set free two pairs of expensive parakeets off their cage at a pet store. I reasoned out, “Birds should be allowed to fly in freedom in the open sky, not kept in a cage!” Because of that, my parents never took me to the zoo again-lest, as my sister Alicia cautioned, “He might set free the lions out of their den!”

THERE’S SO MUCH money to waste away in America, don’t you think? Once upon a time in a not-so distant past, we were already so happy just to own a transistor radio that played all the hit tunes of the year-never mind that the radio also served as our lunch box or book bag. These days, we aren’t contented anymore with Walkmans and boomboxes-we need an iPod. We aren’t happy anymore to own an Underwood typewriter with the coolest pica typefont-we demand a wi-fi enhanced, DVD-equipped, CD-burning iMac. Most surreal and weird of all, while we unstoppably, voraciously feed our insatiable desires with all possible techno-consumerist, material-world baubles and gizmos… we never actually stopped whining, moping, complaining that, oh my, life is soooo hard!
Look at this picture - the US government’s House of Representatives has just considered an additional $45 billion budget spending for Iraq and Afghanistan next year, “to defend democracies there.” This, while low-income heating aid is proposed at a slim $1.8 billion, and community development block grants budget is at a measly $3.7 billion. No wonder the City Government of Asheville charges us, tax-paying public, couple hundreds of dollars rent for use of a public park-so we can organize a free concert to the community that worries no end about health care and housing benefits. Next time, I’m afraid, they’ll be going to charge us $50 a hour for sitting by a roadside bench, waiting for a City Bus that never comes on time, or maybe for enjoying a good day’s sunshine, it’ll be like $15 for an hour of sun on a Saturday.
And yet, people still have so much money to spend. There is a huge, pitiful, bizarre mis-alignment of privileges or awful wealth-distribution discrepancy in this world. While most of my mountain homeys struggle on an $8/hr, 40-hours workweek paycheck to pay their rent, these brothers from California, Ron and Roni Hyde, recently forked out $4,298.99 for two front-row center seats to a Paul McCartney show in Anaheim. And do you know that George Lucas’s annual salary is $290 million? I won’t be shocked anymore if Mr Lucas pays fifteen-grand a day for Chewbaka’s personal make-up crew.

WHAT IS WRONG with the world? Or, as I always say, what is wrong with me? Everything’s allright?
Isn’t that sad? According to a survey, only 4 out of 10 schoolchildren, aged 3 to 12, can identify Jesus Christ’s The Eye image. But a stunning 9.7 out of 10 can easily, readily spot Ronald McDonald from a crowd, and 8 out of 10 fifteen-year-olds could mouth or recite the words of at least five hiphop/rap or rock tunes but only 2 out of ten could sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” in full. It wouldn’t be so surprising that, maybe, a few years from now, kids will be so ostracized and alienated from the very emotional confines of the family abode that they couldn’t even recognize their own workaholic Dads but could actually find real parental bonding from Darth Vader or true friendships from The Incredibles.
There was a time when my own friends’ kids could identify me only when they go over all the Star Wars characters. “Whenever I see R2-D2, I remember you… you are so cool!” But, that’s nothing. This is the scary one — I didn’t know how to react when my niece Margaux, went, “You are like Yoda! You are so smart! You are sooooo beautiful!” I got so bothered by that, I started to stare at my ugly face on the mirror every morning… do I look like Yoda, really?
You know what’s more bizarre? I showed a 7-year-old kid a drawing of a tuna fish, and asked the tyke to identify it. “Uhhh, what is that? I think that’s a little monster!” I said, it’s a fish, you know what a fish is? This is a fish! The kid stared at me, and then he took a bag out from the fridge, and showed me a fish fillet, and blurted, “This is a fish!” I was about to ask him if he knows what’d a chicken look like, but then, I saw a bag of Mickey Dees chicken nuggets sitting near him, so I simply shut my smart mouth…

LAST MONTH, when I was in New York, Frieda Looks-Like-Abba invited me to check out this incredibly lavish art auction at Phillips, de Pury & Company in Chelsea. How I got there with my brown Goodwill-purchased corduroy coat over an orange mickeymouse shirt, faded Lee with that unmistakable red “Vampire” patch and $15 walking boots scored at a bargain stall down St Marks, I don’t know-Frieda just whisked me in. Oh my! How I quietly amused myself as I marveled at Manhattan’s nouveau riche outbid each other for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s famous streetwise scrawl, “Catharsis.” Some filthy rich dude on the phone bought it for $1.5 million!
I wondered if Mr Basquiat even had enough payphone money to call his girlfriend, long distance, whenever he felt so depressed before he OD’ed to death. I mean, the dude is already dead, hello? Do I sound morbid but how come only dead, beautiful souls get rich-why not when they’re still living? Who’s earning money from Vincent Van Gogh’s work, or even Jim Morrison’s estate, or what about Sylvia Plath’s? Do Delta Airlines or Cathay Pacific pay royalty to the Wright Brothers’ greatgreatgrandchildren?
Ah, how millions of dollars worth of supernatural fame and outrageous fortune could make mortal living things like us seem so different from each other. Go jump up and down, up and down at a public park bench on West Central Park, and you’d surely get hauled off to a paddywagon like a regular loony, especially when wealthy tenants at The Dakota complain—but a Tom Cruise could, anytime, do that “embarrassing” stunt on national primetime TV, and it looks really, “Oh so sweet, so cute!”
And, have you ever get pissed because your hard-earned 50 cents have just been eaten away by a Verizon payphone as you eagerly, nervously call your wife or girlfriend to warn her that you’ll be late for dinner? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? But what if you suddenly forgot to dial the overseas long distance number combination at about 4am while in a hotel room, and couldn’t get through? Would you grab and tear the miserable telephone off the wall and threw the poor thing at a hotel employee’s face, and say, I am sorry, I was just so frustrated, I didn’t mean it, no worry, my lawyer will take care of your broken nose. Of course, you can’t do that-unless you are Russell Crowe. You got it, mate?
And what about this—Houston Rockets’ coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined $100,000 for saying something that irked the NBA head honcho. One hundred grand for saying something stupid, and I can’t even earn extra $250 in one week so I can organize a free concert in my home-city’s downtown-though I never ran out of beautiful words to say to all the gorgeous women and kindhearted men around my little world. Sad.
One Saturday, I tagged along with my friend Renrick to a Filipino-American “wedding gig” in Westchester NY. Again, I was wearing my favorite brown Goodwill-purchased corduroy coat over my $10-for-5 “I Love NY” shirt and my “vampire” jeans. As I marveled at Prada, Gucci, Armani, Lhuillier dancing with these fascinating royal souls in the ballroom-as caviars, Dom Perignons etc etc etc sprawled on white, candlelit tables -I realized how poor I really am. I wondered how much did they pay this resort retreat for the wedding reception, or how much did they pay the wedding band? After all these years, I still can’t help but wonder how Filipino nurses, doctors, and engineers work 14 hours 6 days a week and then blow away thousands of dough on a single day of matrimonial show-off and then divorce after two years? Ah! But maybe they have money to throw away… or maybe they don’t throw them away? Why are marriages and divorces so expensive, anyways...

I AM NOT saying that having so much money isn’t enjoyable. It is. I wish I could easily spend $300 dental exam fee for my favorite Woodfin Place mouse. I wish I can also bankroll $1.2 million to score Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strap when it gets auctioned at Christy’s, I wish I can also pay a nanny more than $35 an hour so she can buy a new pair of Victoria’s Secret. I wish I can readily pay the Parks&Recreation $400 to $1000 in advance so we can reserve Pritchard Park for an entire summer of free “Bonfires for Peace” concerts.
Oh okay, I guess, I gotta stop being such a bitter ass at this juncture. I don’t intend to sound really dark this time out, I am sorry. But despite all these complaints and whinings and mopings, I do enjoy my little blessings. I just get distracted a bit...
It could have been a lot easier if I simply chuck the sentimental crap and boogie with the devil without letup like life is nothing but cheesesticks on Jose Cuervo, right? That tomorrow never happens… it’s all within a day’s partytime, you know what I mean? Why can’t we just treat life like a Friday night discotheque romp of cheap tequila fun, 30minute make-outs, and fleeting, nameless how-are-you hugs. Sometimes I feel so freakin’ corny, so clueless, so square because I’d rather ruminate and muse and dream and believe that, yes, sentimental crap works. I mean, I also get depressed like Jimmy-baby but then, all in all, life is still beautiful. Living is still a blessing. I enjoy hanging out with my wonderful buddies Frieda Looks-Like-Abba or Marta The Nicer Osborne or Lacy The Alexandria Muse or Good Mary Miss Molly, because they’re very sweet and very sensitive and very smart, and they laugh at my very silly jokes. That’s the way they are-they allow me to bitch and mope and complain about life for like three to four hours a night, but we always end up laughing, dancing, and sharing a nice, intimate dinner.
That is why I don’t seem to understand other people-why they seem to hate life, you know. I always say, let it out then let it in, inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale, then rock n roll, baby! Enjoy!

COME ON, who says the world is a picnic? It’s all about life, it’s moving… it’s rollercoaster, but it’s such a joyride, it’s still a gift. The greatest risk in life is not taking one. Life can be stormy but it’s also full of great sun. I mean, I am sure, by now, Jimmy-baby is already out there at West Central Park enjoying the sight of swans gliding by Central Park’s lagoon… and Dr Smith might be out there perfecting how to effectively converse with bedbugs, or something, and that makes him happy. Maybe it’s not really the fat paycheck that spells his joy, but it’s that magical ability to, say, detect a cockroach’s anemia or a poodle’s acute stress that makes his life meaningful to him, who knows?
Money doesn’t change everything, that’s for sure. Because, if money actually changes the world and the creatures in it, then we won’t be having free Bonfires concerts at the park anymore and I won’t be having free Thai massage or free accommodations in my endless Vagrant Wind trips anymore. Then, life becomes so hard. But, even though how much, how often, we all complain that life is so maddeningly difficult, it is still a lot better to be alive and well.
I’m sorry to disappoint the ascetics and the spirituals and the transcendents—but I don’t think I’d enjoy heaven because there’s no PBRs or Doc Chey chicken curry “up” there or Joss Stone live concerts... In the after-life, I don’t think making love would be so pleasurable. More so, Asheville isn’t going to be relocated in nirvana, utopia, or wherever perfect dive there could be. My human flesh is as mortally spontaneous as a cuss word and a sincere “I love you.” My carnal reflexes are as temporary as a 2-hour sexual intimacy by a river boat under an Equinox moon, my earthly joy is as limited as a sweet song sung on an aftermidnight radio. So let’s take it easy. Believe that we are here because it is a wondrous, unexplainable gift from a wondrous, unexplainable (——) you know that I mean? That is called faith—y’know, faith. That’s true—because there are moments in my life when I feel joy, pleasure and ecstasy deep, so deep inside without really knowing why... my brain couldn’t comprehend what my “foolish” heart is saying. That is very cool. When I “waste away” hours and “throw away” dollars putting up concerts and then I see people happily dancing to whatever I came up with, I feel happy, I feel peace within—it’s just that. That’s my “heaven.”
So, okay now, let the rich spend their huge dough on genius shrinks, let those who can afford to score all that Michael Dell and Steven Jobs could sell them (it’s better to purchase a new computer than a gun, you know), let those who earn better, fatter paychecks spend almost four-grand to see an aging Beatle… You see, we can all drive up Mt Mitchell for $5 gas money and watch and flirt at all the beetles and dragonflies and butterflies that freely commune with the greenery-it’s all fun, just the same. It’s not what we have that matters, it’s what we are that really counts.
I repeat, money doesn’t change everything. Yes, it makes us crazier and crazier each day, but money also makes us realize that, when it’s gone-all we got is the gift of humanity-and we can’t waste that one because that’s all we got. It can’t be replenished, recreated, refunded—it’s a one-time thing, no return, no exchange. Yes, indeed, life is beautiful and the only thing in this world that money can’t buy.
So love good, live good, and eat good. You don’t need a shrink to figure that out, or do you?

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2005 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.