Author: Pablo Harris

Writer’s Block

by Pablo Harris

Abespectacled non-descript middle-aged man slouched in a chair, clutching a highball, is staring at a laptop screen on the desk in front of him. Alessandra, a twenty-something brunette with shoulder-length kinky hair, approaches Raymond. She stands in profile just two steps away staring at him. He should appreciate the contours of her perky bra-less b-cups under a white tank top and a perfect mezzaluna of an ass hugged by tight grey and black striped yoga pants. Still, he doesn’t notice her, he’s fixated on a blank screen. She then climbs over an armchair, sets her beacon of a half moon on his crotch, withdraws the glass, and pushes it away. Then she clasps her arms around his neck.

“Hey, are you going to come to bed? I’d like you to come to bed.”

“Uh, maybe in a while.”

“Honey, you ok? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, Ray, you look like something’s up. You look sad. Really, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. Ok. Maybe I do. I can’t write anymore.”

“You can’t write anymore? What do you mean? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Fuck, I don’t know. I just can’t. I’ve lost it, whatever it is or was. That swerve, that swagger. Actually, I don’t know if I ever had ‘it’ but whatever I did have is gone.”

“What are you talking about? Come on, you’re on the verge of real success. Publishers, Penguin’s looking at your manuscript now.”

“It’s just a shitty subsidiary of Penguin. Not the majors. Not the show.”

“Well, that’s just the beginning. You’re going to ‘the show’ Hon, not me. Sure, I’ve had some photo exhibits and gallery shows but – “

“Your photos, your oils and watercolors express way more than my mere words.”

“But they don’t sell. And I am tired of teaching in Korea. But you are going places. I don’t understand how you can be so sad.”

“Because I can’t fucking write anymore!”

“Raymond, listen, you’re great. Besides your writing, you can cook. You should be catering or have your own restaurant. And it’s not just me that thinks so; people love you. Yet you sigh, scoff, or cringe. You respond to a compliment with disgust. And even more than your words and your food, you are talented at so many things. Including sex!”

Raymond utters a barely audible dismissive, “Heh.”

“Yeah, that’s right. You’re great at fucking. Fucking amazing. My hands go numb and there’s butterflies. Not just butterflies but bats in my stomach when you’re in me. And I love that you’re a ‘vagitarian’. And I sucked Man Ray this morning. How can you be so depressed?”

Raising his voice, now perturbed, “Well, I’m depressed because I can’t write and I can’t write because I’m fucking happy, ok? All art, music, literature is borne from suffering and”

“Oh, is that what the Buddha says about art and suffering?”

“No, that’s David Byrne and I think he’s right. All life is suffering is Buddha. All art is inspired by suffering is Byrne.”

“Hon, that’s not you. That’s so cliche.”

“Well, maybe it’s cliche for a reason. I think there’s something to it. Look at Costa Rica, for example. Why hasn’t Costa Rica produced any of its own music, art, literature? Look at Nicaragua to the north. They’ve produced plenty of famous poets, writers, and their protest music of the 80’s had a resounding blowback to the best protest music of the ‘90s: Rage Against the Machine. And to the south, almost all the music in Costa Rica is imported from Panama thanks to Ruben Blades.  There are no big colonial cities in Costa Rica, no history of slave trade, no pyramids or temples buried in the jungle. Even their army disbanded many years ago. So, to their good fortune to be born in such an idyllic location, great for them. But perhaps there’s something to their dearth of artistic or cultural accomplishments because they’ve been blessed with their lack of suffering? So maybe now I can’t write because I got no inspiration. No suffering. Your sweetness has fucked all of life’s bitter distillations out of me. So, I’m pissed. I’m done.”

“So, what you’re saying is then is that you can’t write because you’re no longer depressed or drunk? So, you’re starting to get pissed because you don’t know how to write unless you’re unhappy?”

“Yeah, sounds right.”

“Hmm, well, have you thought about, have you realized that your unhappiness is your choice? That you can write you just choose not to unless you’re depressed or drunk. I mean, to be honest Ray, I think your depression and alcoholism is just a cop out. You are trying to emulate your literary heroes. Bukowski. Carver. When really, you should just be yourself.”

“Fuck.”

Alessandra, reaching over to the highball and then returning it to him, “You know I don’t like you drinking whisky. It makes you mean. That’s not you and no one likes that Ray. But if you need this to write, and writing makes you happy, then fine, drink it. I don’t fully understand. I wish you were just happy with me. In fact, if you were happy but never had another drink and never wrote another word again, that’d be fantastic. You are an angry drunkard at your worst and a difficult fauve of a man at best. But I like you.”

“Angry? Well, that’s brown liquor for you. I like whisky but whisky doesn’t like me. A drunkard? Not yet. Give me a double Jameson then I’ll show you a drunkard. Difficult? That’s horseshit, girl. I’m a simple man. Like Bukowski says, ‘We all eat, sleep, piss, shit, fart, and die.’ Something like that. And if we really know how to live; we eat well, drink well, and when feeling just right, we dance. Simple really.”

“Well there’s certainly nothing simple about being with you, that’s for sure. You are full of mysteries. And I’m going to solve them all, fuck you until they all unravel and you are nothing more than a stain on the sheets, a shot in my mouth, or maybe just a milky white smear on my ass. Reduce you to a truly simple man. How would you like that, dear?”

Raymond pushes the glass away, lifts Alessandra up off his lap onto her feet, and leads her to the couch where they go make love again.

*  *  *

Nine months later his book did get published to moderate success and critical acclaim in the States. Ray celebrated by bending her over the back of his leather sofa, pulling down her sheer pink panties, sabering a bottle of Bollinger with his santoku, cascading tiny bubbles down her shapely backside, lapping up the luxurious bead off her fleshy tulips. Ray and Alie then got married on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe with her roundness beginning to show, and moved outside of Springfield, Oregon to a humble fixer-upper of a place on the McKenzie River. She began teaching high school photography and visual arts in Eugene. He got a job teaching a couple of writing classes as an adjunct professor at Lane Community College and weekends at King Estate. Months later Sophie came into their world. And other than grocery lists, notes and brochures for the winery’s tasting room, and a handful of spiteful letters to the editor of The Oregonian, he never wrote another word again.

An Amari Christmas (or The Pablito Who Stole Christmas)

by Pablo Harris

I.

“Hey T, how’s it going?”

“Hutty! What up man?”

“Oh, just dealing with all this shit that’s about to go down.”

“Yeah, you all right with all this? You ready for it?”

“Yeah, sure, but got a question for you.”

“Shoot.”

“So, what’s up with Pablo? We got this Vegas bachelor party comin’ up and then there’s the big day. You know, my fiance’s getting nervous. She really wants to get a final headcount on this. Last time we talked he was all like ‘yeah, I’ll be there’ but that was two months ago and hasn’t responded since.”

“Yeah? Isn’t he a groomsman?”

“Yeah, s’posed to be. I even convinced Annie to have her friend Lena, Pablo’s favorite UCD Alpha Phi, be his wedding partner.”

“Leee-nnaaa. Shit, that guy owes you.”

“No shit he owes me. He still hasn’t paid me back for a couple of O-Zs of Humboldt’s finest.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, whatever, it’s not about the money. He owes me, owes Annie, owes you for sure, for giving that guy a roof over his head and getting him laid! Last new year’s, remember how he was all moping around because he had to catch his flight back to work in Tibet.”

“Ha! Korea, man.”

“Korea, Tibet, same thing. He was all sad because what, he was leaving that tall, skinny, super-nerdy white girl who spoke Spanish?”

“Yeah, Brooke. But in his defense, she was alright if you’re into that bookworm librarian thing.”

“Yes, we all know he’s got strange taste in strange. I mean, ‘with the first overall pick in the Great Texas Bush League College Porn Draft of 2000, Pablo selects: Women Over 40′. Not even that chicken-licker Elsa was going to touch it with a ten foot dildo. Then traded his second, third, and fourth round picks to move up in the draft to make sure he got Joy of Spexxx?  Who the fuck does that?”

“The worst, real or fantasy, general manager ever.”

“Right. Anyway, you gave him a bottle of Fernet Branca. Annie and I introduced Lena to him. You know the rest.”

“I know, that lucky bastard. And what is it with ‘Frisco, restaurant industry people, and that vile liquor? Fernet to Pablo is like spinach to Popeye. In one shot he went from Dopey the goat to some drunk ass kid on Christmas. Like he just got all the Star Wars cantina scene figures and a Millenium Falcon tambien.”

“So, have you talked to that asshole lately?”

“Yeah, talked with him last weekend but I don’t know what’s up with him. He told me his contract ends at the end of the month but is considering extending his contract there at that, what do you call it, hogwash job he’s got. So, I don’t know, man. He told me some bullshit about how he needs to save some money, wants to move to the Bay but not sure when. So I called him out on this and how his life out there is bullshit and should be back to teaching in Cali. Hell, even his restaurant jobs got to better than what he’s doing now. So, after calling him on that shit he’s shoveling, he admitted: he’s scared of Vegas.”

“What the? Since when?”

“Since the last time he was there for that Christmas. And Heidi.”

*   *   *

December 2009. The last Christmas I spent in the States with my family while I was still bartending in Northern California and about to enroll for my final semester at Cal State. When my maternal grandmother passed before Thanksgiving it was a difficult time for the Herez family.  Especially tough for my mother.

After the plates were cleared, another disappointing trio of Turkey Day NFL games were in the books, and we were approaching the dregs of vintage Graham’s Port, my mom requested the boys turn off the SportsCenter. Even my father and brother were quick to oblige. The TV is never turned off in the Herez house. That’s when I knew what was coming. “Aw shit, here it comes, the intervention, fuck. Now? Not now,” I thought.

She surprised me with an unexpected tack.

“Look, Paul, I know you don’t like Vegas but I don’t want to be here without my mom this year so we’ve decided we’re going to Vegas for Christmas this year. I need the distraction. I don’t want to be here without her.”

“I think this is the worst idea ever.”

“I knew you would say that. But I want this distraction. Your grandmother not being here, I don’t want to be here. And because I know you hate Vegas, I used my Platinum Points to book you a suite at Harrahs. So, if you’ll join us, your room’s already booked. You can take the train down on the 24th to Hanford and Dad and I will pick you up there and you can ride with us.”

“Or I can bring him,” my brother offered. “I’ll pick you up at the Bakersfield Amtrak, bro, and you can catch a ride with me.”

“Does that work for you, mijo,” my mom asked directed at me.

“Not really. I haven’t been home in a while -”

“That’s your own fault,” my brother interrupted.

“Fine. Sure. But I just want to lay on the living room floor next to a Christmas tree, watch some movies, eat some tamales, and be home. And for a family, especially for this family to go to Vegas for Christmas, this is a terrible idea.”

My mom began sobbing so my dad interjected, “Can you just think of someone other than yourself right now.”

Mom continued crying, “ I don’t want to be here at home for Christmas. And now, not only with your grandmother being gone, now one of my boys might not be here to spend Christmas with the family.”

I yielded, “You know, I’m sure it’s not easy letting go of your mother, my grandma, especially at this time of year. But there must be better ways to grieve. But . . . fine. Let me see what flights are available out of Sacto. You’re right. You know I hate this idea, but yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Thank you, mijo.”

The afternoon of Christmas Eve at SMF, waiting to board the plane, I read this brief article in an abandoned Time magazine: Best Opening Fiction Lines of All Time. Number one was awarded to Anna Karenina’s first line,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I don’t know anything about happy families but I do believe Tolstoy was onto something. “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Each unhappy  family is unhappy in the grips of its own grief and its vices. For my mom, its Vegas, bingo, and slot machines. For my dad, it’s golf and horse racing. For my brother, its prostitutes. For me, it’s drink.

Three hours later, I touched down at McCarron, grabbed the shuttle to the strip, immediately checked in through the Platinum reception, tossed my backpack and a small duffle of presents on the sofa, and took inventory of the mini fridge and wet bar. Eight dollars for a bottle of Heineken. Twelve dollars for a can of cashews. I’m not a gambler but time to hit the casino.

*  *  *

“What can I get for you?” she asked.

Eyes transfixed by the electronic spinning reels and entranced by the incessant pprrdlulululu-boo, pprrdlulululu-boo and the occasional cha-chinging sound to imitate coins hitting the payout tray, I didn’t even bother to look up to see who‘s taking the order.

Campari soda lime,” I curtly demanded.

“Campari soda lime,” she slowly repeated, logging the order and noting his manner.

While slow playing nickels trying to drink as many as I can with the least damage accrued, she returned a good five minutes later.

“Campari soda lime,” she reiterated while setting a cocktail napkin next to the ashtray and the slot machine.

First I glanced at the just placed high ball glass and followed the trail of a pale dainty retreating hand up a well-toned arm. Over to fleshy mango-shaped breasts stuffing a burgundy spaghetti strapped corset top. Up to sparkling blue eyes that pierced the second-hand smoke framed by curly golden tresses. I was instantly sprung. We locked eyes as she meekly smiled then slightly bobbed her head a few times before averting my gaze as if she just dropped something on the floor.

“Oh, here, this is for you,” putting a fiver on her tray.”                                                                                                                

“Thanks.”

“Thank you.”

Then an audible sigh before she opened with, “So, I got to tell you, my bartender told me ‘look out for that guy’.”

“Look out for that guy? Interesting. Why?”

“He said watch out for that guy because he might be a ‘made man’.”

“Made man, huh?”

“Well, only a ‘made man’ orders a Campari soda lime so you must be in the mafia. Sorry if you’re Italian. Are you Italian?”

“No. Just a fan of the amari, the bitters, and in need of an aperitif.”

“Isn’t Campari a digestif?”

“Actually it’s both. I make my own rules. And if I really was a made man I’d be drinking Averna. Campari’s from Milan, Averna is Sicily.”

“You sound like a made man to me.”

“Would a made man be plugging nickels into a machine at Harrah’s? I mean, if I were ‘made’ I’d be at the high end tables across the strip at Caesar’s, up at The Wynn, or downtown at The Plaza. No offense.”

“None taken. I’d rather be there, too, I guess. But you certainly are bitter.”

“Perhaps.”

“Well then, if you’re not a ‘made man’ then let me guess, you’re in the industry.”

“Yep.”

“So, you a chef, sous, on the line, garde manger?”

“Nah, I’m front-of-the house. I serve, bartend, stuff like that.”

“I see. Cool. Oh, I’m Heidi from San Diego. As you can see,” pointing to the name tag above her perfect left b-cup. “What’s your name? Where you from?”

“I’m Paul. I live, work, go to school in Sacramento.”

“And what brings you here Paul?”

“Well, my family wanted to do something different this year. So here I am, just killing some time before the Christmas Eve family dinner thing in need of a Campari,” before proceeding to drain my glass in three gulps.

“Oh, would you like another?

“Yes please.”

“Alright, I’ll be back.”

This time she promptly returned with a cocktail brandishing a vibrant, deeper hue and continued the inquiry.

“So, where you going for dinner tonight, Paul?”

“Upstairs at The Range.”

“Cool. The Range is really good.”

“Right on. Never been.”

“And Oscar’s working tonight. You should ask for a table in his section. Tell him you’re a friend of Heidi.”

We chatted about California, working in the industry, this and that for a few minutes.

“What’s your plan after dinner?”

“More of the same.”

“Drinking Campari for nickels?”

“Pretty much. I’ll be in need of a digestif.”

“Well, I’ll be around here until one. Come by and say hello when you’re done.”

I slammed another. “Alright then. But hey, Heidi, one for the road.”

“You got it.”

*  *  *

 

I returned around a quarter to one. Waiting for her to return. Preparing for an after dinner nightcap. Heidi sneaked up behind me.

“Any luck tonight?”

“Nuh. Not yet.”

“Well, let me help you change that. My fiance’s bartending at Rio tonight so we’ll meet him around four. So, like I said, I have a fiance but I do have a friend that I think you should meet. My friend Kat just moved here from Hesperia – ”

“You mean Hysteria.”                                                                                                                                                                          

“Oh, you know it then.”

“Yeah, I dated a girl from there once. That place is just a dump in the desert. The locals look like Joshua trees, arms full of spikes.”

Heidi, shaking her head, “Well, yeah, but anyway, you’d like her. She’s cocktailing at Deju Vu but is starting at UNLV this semester in hospitality/restaurant management. She’s at my place now so I can give her a call. And a bunch of us are finishing work here soon. We’re meeting next door for some Christmas cheer at the Imperial Palace then to The Fireside.” She smiled coyly and leaned into my ear teasingly, “And you know, Christmas only happens once a year.” She erected her posture and playfully asked, “So . . . should I call her? Want to come?”

Of course she knew the answer. Of course, I should’ve known better. But after all the preprandial drinks, the Dom, the Rochioli, the Opus, and internally repeating her maxim, all commitments to Christmas Day family obligations were long forgotten.

“Of course,” I answered.

“Great! I’m almost done so let me get you a drink before I clock off and go change real quick. Another Campari, Paul?”

“Nah, J-Dub Black and water, please.”

“Alright then. Now that’s a drink.”

II.

Christmas Day. 2pm. I woke up on the floor of a hotel room that was not mine. Then I saw her sitting there on an angry chair. My mother glaring through moist eyes.

“My God, Paul, I don’t know what to do with you.”

“What do you mean what to do with me? I’m fine.”

“No you’re not! You were supposed to go golfing with your dad and your brother this morning. They couldn’t find you so you’re dad went looking for you. He found you with two, two prostitutes, and a security guard trying to get you in the elevator back to your room. Your dad brought you here. You could barely walk. Your eyes rolling in the back of your head, slurring about Heidi this and Kat that.”

“Prostitutes? No, those are my friends.”

“Those are not your friends. Your friends do not leave you so messed up like this. So you missed golf, we were supposed to have brunch here and open presents and . . . I just don’t know what to do with you. So, you need to sober up and then we’re going to have a talk later. And you need to apologize to your dad when you see him for missing his tee time and for calling him a cock-blocking fag in your drunken stupor.”

“I said that?”

“Uh, yes, and you said worse to me.”

“Really? What did I say?”

“You know, maybe I will remind you sometime but not now. I don’t want to talk to you right now. Why don’t you get up, go back to your room, take a shower, go back to sleep if you need to sleep it off, and maybe we’ll meet up with you later.”

“So where are dad and Vince now?”

“They said they were going to Caesar’s to watch the Lakers game. If you clean yourself up perhaps you can catch them there later.”

“Ok.”

*  *  *

“Hey this is Tim, leave me a message and I’ll call you back.”

BEEP

“Hey, Big T, what up, it’s Paul. I am at the Caesar’s just off the Sportsbook, just pacing around by the elevators, trying to figure out my next move. So . . . maybe you can give me some advice. Answer your phone, damnit! I just need someone to talk to. My parents aren’t talking to me. My brother hates me. So there’s that. Oh yeah, merry Christmas.

Click

With holidaze fading, no family to tend to, I wandered around the Forum and back to the Palace before staggering into Nero’s. I needed a quiet place to just sit and reflect on all that transpired. The lounge was helmed by a friendly, immaculately manicured yet masculine barkeep.

“Hey there, what can I get for you?”

“Hey, I need a glass of white wine, for now. You got a list?”

“Sure. What do you like? Something crisp and lean like a sauvignon blanc or something fuller, richer like a chardonnay? Or perhaps you like something in between like our house white, the Sokol Blosser Evolution from Oregon. It offers a little bit of everything,” slightly lisping but it went undetected since my gay-dar was debilitated from last night’s furious assault to the cranium.

“I see you have Sea Smoke pinot by the glass. Wow, that’s highly allocated and never seen offered by the glass. And for $18 a glass; that’s a deal!”

“Well, I guess you know your stuff then.”                                                                                                                                         

“I love that wine. I say, if California was ever to do what France did and ranked all the towns and vineyards in Burgundy, Sea Smoke vineyard would certainly be a Grand Cru.”

“Oh, for sure. Well would you like a glass of that now?”

“I’ll wait on that. But please, a glass of the house white. I prefer white wine for breakfast. Works better than coffee.”

“Uh, you know it’s almost 5:30pm now.”

“Well, that’s breakfast for me today.”

“Long night, huh?”

“Long night. Long morning.”

“Ooohh, tell me about it.”

I spent the next couple of hours chatting with Gary about the fallout with our nuclear families and our love for our intimate, incestuous work families while I killed a bottle of white before Gary generously poured me a couple of glasses of premium Santa Barbara red, “on me”. Once again, I should’ve known better. Should’ve learned my lesson from the night before. Should’ve known that I was no longer a ‘made man’ to have one’s eye on, to watch out for, but a ‘marked man’, a mark, a target. Like a lost tourist to a pickpocket on Las Ramblas. Like a single straight who had wandered unbeknownst of what happens to a stray at The Asphalt, Flaming Saddles Saloon, or the EndUp: I was the mark.

“Hey Gary, it’s been great talking to you. Thanks for the wine but I should settle up. I got to get to dinner.”

“Alright, here you go.”

On the check was two house whites and one house red. $24. I put $40 in the book and handed it to him.

“Thanks again.”

“Sure. And hey, after dinner, come back for a nightcap. I’ll be here until eleven. Or better yet, meet me hear then and I’ll take you to some bars where only the locals and industry know.”

The service trap was set and felt myself descending into the depths of another bar well.

*  *  *

“So Hutty, sorry to report but I don’t think Pablo’s going to be making this one.”

“Well, fuck him then. Speaking of gay ass Paul, do you think he went out with that guy and did some dirty deeds?”

“I don’t know. And there’s nothing that I can’t get out of him if you give him enough blue agave and smoking greens but he’s been standing pat for years with that fucking cliche; what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Also, he has some gay tendencies like all that Top Chef, art history, wine, Oscar Wilde. And what’s that dirty Spaniard’s name, that director, Pedro Almodovar? Pretty queer. But, you know, I’ve known him since seventh grade. I’ve seen nearly twenty years of his porn collecting habits, there’s some strange shit in there. But it’s all straight. He’s a vagitarian.”

“Ok , but I still wouldn’t put it past him. You know him. You never know what kind of depressing drunken depravity he could get into on a holiday bender.”

“True.”

“Alright, but he’s kind of a faggot for not making it at least to Vegas for the Bachelor Party. And I don’t get he’s still living there with those kimchi-culos. So, what, he’s got a one-way on the yellow bus like all those other losers out there? Is that his thing now?”

“Not that I’m aware of. If he mentions any trim out there its either Kiwis, Canadians, or midwestern girls.”

“Well still, Paul’s cut. I guess you’ll slide into his spot and you just won the bridesmaid sweepstakes.”

“Yeah? Alright then! Thank you, Tibet.”

Human Gutterballing

 

by Pablo Harris

 

“Damn, man, you’re still here?”

“Hey.”

“Don’t you have a bed? A house? I know you do. Why don’t you try and visit it sometime? I mean, shit man, you know you’re welcome here but sometimes, I just want to open the door, come home from work, walk into my place, and not have this lazy fuck sleeping, crop-dusting on my couch. So you just been laying around, dropping ass in here all day? Open a window or something, man.”

“Yeah, uh, sorry.”

“Do you even remember last night?”

“Most I think. Not everything.”

“So, what do you remember?”

“Well, I know it was a pretty good birthday. I love it when you open the doors and step into Country Club Lanes – “

“You mean Tweaker Lanes. Get it right.”

“Right. Walking into Tweaker’s, the wafting of grease from the fryer that hasn’t been changed since the Reagan Administration, the resounding echoes of pins crashing, the “ker-chungk” of the pin sweep, and there was even a working cigarette machine stocked with soft packs of Benson & Hedges and Lucky Strike; I dig that place. And, come on, I wasn’t expecting those girls to want to celebrate Erika’s birthday there of all places.”

“Well, I’ll give you that; those girls were hot and they don’t look like the type of girls that go out bowling and shooting Jameson on a Thursday night. I know you work with your boy Tubbs at the Bar & Oven, and I met the birthday girl of course, but who were the others? And did those girls not smell like, I don’t know, vanilla and patchouli and that hippy shit? Those girls kind of smelled like some classy hippy broads, if there is such a thing, but they don’t look like no hippies.”

“Uh, yes and no, I guess. They got a New Age-y business in Midtown. Erika teaches yoga, Joslyn does massage/skin/make-up, and Ellie does holistic medicine.”

“Yeah, Ellie, I like! For a white girl, Jesus Cristo, she’s got some ass, yo! I’ll sponsor a bowling team just to watch her roll, man. And I think you had a chance there. You dropping all that ‘Frisco, restaurant, gay-ass wine and art history shit you know. She was into you there for a while, man. Until, of course, you went into the bar for a pack of smokes and we had to go get you away from some ol’ lady who had ran more tracks & field than Carl Lewis.”

“Well, shit, Eddie the barkeep got me a couple of birthday shots.”

“How many times have you been there?”

“I’d been there maybe once or twice before but never been into the lounge.”

“What the – ?”

“I got friends in low places, I guess.”

“Fuck your country music shit! Alright, that’s kind of impressive that you just met these barflies, been there twenty minutes tops and you already got this old man buying you drinks. That’s fine and all but you could’ve been getting ready to serve Ellie up a chorizo breakfast. Your priorities are all screwed up.”

“Fair enough.”

“Alright, then, what else happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, yes, I know what happened, but do you? ”

“I don’t know. We played one more game, drank a couple more beers, and got a taxi back here. All I know is I’m in f-ing pain. I can’t move. What is it, the quads? Hammies? I feel like I tore everything up in my legs. I can’t get up. I really can’t move. And it feels like there’s a hole in my chin. I guess maybe I fell out of the car or tripped going up the porch and cracked my jaw on the top step? I don’t know.”

“That’s what you think? That’s what you remember?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“All right, then. I’m going to tell ya right now.”

“Hold on, then, let me get a beer.”

“Why don’t you get some coffee or something.”

“Nah, just a beer.”

“Sientate, cabron! There is no ‘just a beer’ with you. Come on, you must remember the dive of glory, que no?”

“Haha, yeah, is that what you call it?”

“I saw that look in your eye, that glassy-eyed faraway stare, I know that look. Something bad’s gonna happen. Like Dirk in Boogie Nights in that botched drug deal scene.

 

You had that look. You and Erika were talking about your birthdays, birthday wishes, drunken shit. Then you said something like, ‘You know, Erika, I’ve always wanted to run down the alley and knock over the pins’.”

“True.”

“Then she started jumping up and down, hanging all over you. Her friends started chanting ‘Pablo, Pablo’ so Tubbs and I went over to the shoe counter. Tubbs walked right up to the guy there and tried to explain, ‘Hey I just want to apologize beforehand. You see, my friend over there, he’s always wanted to do this and today is his birthday and . . . Oh, there he goes!’ and you took off down the alley.

I saw you launch yourself Pete Rose style a good ten feet from the pins. I guess you thought the lane was slick so you could slide into them head first, hands out front to knock ‘em down but you just stuck with a fucking ‘KUH-KAWH’ like thud of your chin on the deck. You didn’t move. Then you rolled over and the sound of you moaning ‘AAARRRRGGHHUUUH!’ drowned out the whole bowling alley.”

“I don’t remember the moan.”

“Then you like did this army/belly-crawl up to the 1 pin, swatted it, ‘Aaagh’, and we had to wait for your broken ass wobbling back up the lane like The Crippled March of the Penguin. Had to get you out of there.”

“I guess that’s where it all gets fuzzy.”

“Fuzzy? Shit, you might have a concussion, man. You hit the lane fucking hard. ‘KUH-KAWH’! You know, I saw this Stupid Human Trick on Letterman, back in the day. But that guy had a helmet and a skateboard. You’re lucky. You would’ve really fucked yourself up had you hit the pins.”

“And I only got a one?”

“Mark it one, Smokey.”

“Shit.”

“A world of pain. You know, those girls wanted to go to the Press Club, go dancing, but you couldn’t even f-ing walk. And Joslyn was coming around to me but . . . fuck it. I had to work today anyway. Tubbs wins. But, anyway, speaking of work; aren’t you supposed to be at work right now? It’s Friday night. Aren’t you bartending or serving tonight?”

“Yeah, I’m supposed to be on the floor tonight but that ain’t happening.”

“Do you still have a job?”

“I don’t know. It’s alright, though. I’m moving next month, anyway, after graduation.”

“Are you even graduating?”

“Eh. If not, I’ll buy a degree on Khoa San Road.”

“And what’s this shit about moving? Where? When did you decide this?”

“Last night, talking with Eddie and Fern in the lounge. It’s kind of why I had to do the dive of glory. Something I’d always wanted to do. Something I felt I had to do before I leave the country.”

“What the  . . . leaving the country? What the fuck are you talking about?

“Come on, let’s talk about it at the Raven. But first, let’s get a taco.”

 

 

 

World Cup Identity

 

by Pablo Harris

 

Doesn’t take long, living here in the ROK, before you get used to the same mundane questions from the natives. Before you just tune them out altogether. At least my first year, years ago out in the sticks, many brief interrogations/conversations went something like this:

 “Ah, nice to meet you. Where you from?”

 California.

 “Ooohhhh! But you have dark hair, dark eye?”

 Yeah, well there’s many different kinds of people there from all over the world. Have you ever been to LA? There are many people there that look like you. And they’re Californian, many American too.

“Ah, Koreatown, LA. Good?”

Yeah, I like it.

“You can eat spicy food? You like kimchi?”

 Yes. I like it very much.

 “Good! Hmm, how old are you?”

Thirtysomething

“You married?”

Nah.

“Why no marry?”

 Uh, well, that’s a long story, I guess.

 “Ah, ok! Playboy, one shot!”

 Ha! Thanks. Gambae!

This year, though, over the last month there’s a new question that has popped up nightly. This time not from a local but from some friendly waygukin:

 “Hey Pablo, hope you don’t mind me asking, I know you’re American but still. Got to ask. Who do you root for in the World Cup? What if USA is playing Mexico?”

 No, I don’t mind . . .

 

*  *  *

 

TJB, a tall, tanned Polish gypsy who was a beast of a sous chef I once worked with before I left for Korea, came over to pick up some equipment leftover from a basement indoor farming project I once had in Sactown. TJB saw this picture on my fridge.


20140308_133242

“That’s you, Slippery?”

 Yeah, that’s me and my grandfather outside his house between Hanford and Corcoran.

 After a high-pitched donkey bray and whistle, he howls, “Yeah, I know that dust! I come down sometimes for the midget car races out on the Kings County Raceway. That’s you, you little little? (Another donkey bray), I know that dust.”

 There’s a kind of dust and desolation you only find along California 43 that connects the mighty 99 of the Central Valley with Interstate 5 from Vancouver to Tijuana. On the northern end just south of Fresno, William Saroyan country, The Human Comedy, veer right at Selma, the Raisin Capital of the World, down 98 miles to the west end of Buck Owens Blvd. and downtown Bakersfield. Right smack in the middle, exactly 200 miles south of San Francisco, 200 miles south of Sacramento, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, you’ll find where I’m from: Corcoran, California.

My first home was Corcoran. Now if it’s known for anything at all it’s just because of the maximum security prison there that’s been housing Charles Manson since 1991. But back then, it was called the Cotton Capital of California, a one-stoplight town of about 2000 people where at least 1900 of them were Mexican, where Ceasar Chavez is still both celebrated and reviled. Of those remaining who weren’t Mexican, Mojado, or Wetback, they were either the descendents of Dust Bowl Okies and Arkies or the progeny of the Boswells and Gilkeys who once owned all the water rights, all this land, owned all the pickers (both human and mechanical), and all the cropdusters and a couple of personal planes out at the slip and slide spit of an airport. Though it’s a good two and a half hour drive to the Central Coast, the dust is like sand from the beach: you can’t ever fully rinse off from it.

Fortunately, I grew up thirty miles east of all my Mexi-kin in, compared to the other valley towns, the posh big city of Visalia. Population of 50,000 on the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley in the windward shadows of sunrise below Sequoia National Park and John Muir Wilderness. It was a reversal of where I was born; everyone was white except for the Northside of town redolent with taquerias, panaderias, and wafting skunky schwag. But I’m not a Norteno.

 Being on the westside in the new subdivision of Crestwood, there’s one question that annoyed me until my end of days there:

 What are you?

 I’m American.

 “No, I mean, what are you? What kind of American are you?”

 I’m American. Ok, really, I’m Californian.

 “No, I mean, where is your family from?”

 My parents were born in California. My grandparents were born here, too.

 “No, I mean, are you Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, I don’t know, what are you?

 Well, I guess, my parents and grandparents speak both Spanish and English but I can’t speak Spanish. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and, at times, even my parents have all had to pick cotton at some point. But I ain’t doing that. I had my baptism and first communion at St. Mary’s but I’m no longer going to Catechism. Sure, we eat enchiladas and tamales for Christmas but you’re never going to find a better turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving than my mom’s.

 “Hahaha, I heard that about your mom. I heard that she’s good for stuffing .”

 Fuck you, Matt.

 “Haha, Paul, come on, it’s a joke.  Speaking of jokes, I got one. Why do Mexicans eat tamales for Christmas?”

 I don’t know.

 “So you have something to unwrap.”

 Fuck off, Scott.

 

*  *  *

 

Come middle school, high school, there’s a different kind of awareness and identity that I was confronted with on a daily basis. Outside the boys bathroom was an intimidating wall of bussed-in vatos and cholos that made us evade their gambit and their epithets, such as pocho (English-speaking Mexican), maricon (gay),or joto (faggot), just to take a leak.  Later in college, girls from La Raza would call me a coconut (brown on the outside, white inside) or a Mexican’t (can’t speak Spanish, can’t play soccer, and certainly cannot dance).

 

*  *  *

With the U.S. hosting the 1994 World Cup, my identity and rooting interest was definitely questioned. Do I root for my home country with the presidential looks of Captain John Harkes and a footballing version of Grateful Red Alexi Lalas (who I swear I once got two ganja gooballs and a miracle from outside of Shoreline Amphitheater before a kind Touch of Grey opener)? Or do I root for Mighty Mouse in goal in Jorge Campos and the cagey veteran of Marcelino Bernal, especially with Bernal being a family name? I chose to don the jersey of El Tri. Tired of the insults and somehow being an inferior American because of my skin, I wanted to see some brown people victorious over the honkies. Before Jorge Campos, all we had as Mexican-American or Mexican heroes was Pancho Gonzales and Fernando Valenzuela. Though Mexico was certainly better in soccer, we still feel like an underappreciated, undervalued, underdog versus America, especially on their home turf. Therefore, Viva Mexico!

This continued on through the Campos, ‘El Matador’ Luis Hernandez,  and Rafael Marquez (a true captain for life). But really, at an English pub on Koh Samui there to watch the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-final of U.S. against Spain, the switch was flipped. 

A local who saw me watching the game with great interest (me being a Tim Howard/Everton fan) approached me and asked, 

“Where are you from?” 

Uhh, hmm, I guess I’m Mexican but I’m from California? 

“Ah, hmm. Ok. But where are you from? Are you from Mexico?” 

Uhh, no. I’m from the States.

 “Is your passport from Mexico?” 

No, I have an American passport. 

“Well then, that’s it, you are American.”

 

*  *  *

 

Growing up, somehow, I could never feel American. Or Mexican, for that matter. It wasn’t until I got to Asia did I truly feel American. Now, I’m perceived and understood as American. What’s your passport? American. No more questions asked.

 Furthermore, as Mr. Motgol has described the plight of many, some of us wash up on these kimchi shores looking for something better, something they just couldn’t find in their hometown, or (for many) just an opportunity to start over after all the shortcomings, failings, and inability to cut it back home. But I don’t know about that. For this California Vato in King Joseon’s Court, I simply no longer have to answer the question what are you? I’m American. Love it or leave it. Or maybe some of both. 

Also, being from Red-State California, it wears on you and I knew I had to leave from a very early age. I knew there was a whole different country out there, different world, out of the valley, back then when all that mattered was Pop Warner football or Future Farmers of America. Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, Wranglers, or Guess Jeans; it was all about Soashes and Shit-kickers. Perhaps I just wanted to go someplace where status is not determined by how big is your ranch, your ski cabin in the sierras, or the size of your speedboat. That it really doesn’t matter how many acres, horses, pick-ups, or Mexicans your family owns.

 There’s also the fact that I’m allergic to dust. Right between Waukena, population 108, and Corcoran, is the cemetery. My great-grandparents from my maternal side are buried there. My grandparents from both sides rest there. There is also my Uncle Larry, my nino (Godfather), my Uncle Fernando, my Aunt Cecelia, my Uncle Ee-Dee-Wah (a name he picked up from the Korean War), my cousin Racquel who is even younger than me, other Mexi-kin I’ve only heard of but don’t really know. I’m allergic to that dust. But one day, I probably will return there. Should return there. I hope to return to that dust. But Inshallah, God willing, not today.