Apologies to Joe
illustrator Daniel Egnéus
I’m on my fourth Peroni at Caffé della Pace on Via della Pace staring at Chiesa della Pace. I feel no peace and have never been more certain that my life is one operatic monument to Displaced Choice. I’ve been travelling the world since January 1st under the guise of Poetic Introspection morphing to Poetic Vision climaxing in Poetic Output. My journey is being bankrolled by the Young American Latino Literary Organization (YALLO). My father was (is?) half Chilean, half Guatemalan. My mother is Swedish the way Americans are Irish, Scottish, Italian, German, or Puerto Rican (well maybe not Puerto Rican). That’s to say anywhere outside of the fifty states she is simply American. Last November YALLO granted me their Young Promising Latino Poet In Residence Scholarship. This covers my global travel expenses for the year 2009. In return (and upon return) I’m to have completed a poetry book “encapsulating, rebuking, contributing to, underscoring, and embodying the global disposition to Latinos in The United States of America.” Prior to the YALLO scholarship my total oeuvre consisted of (and still does) one book—half prose, half poetry. I speak five words of Spanish and could not approach the world from less of a "Latino" slant. I’m not sure what the hell YALLO was thinking but sometimes I love America. Until I began this diary ten minutes ago (for reasons yet to reveal themselves) I have not so much as sniffed pen or paper nor felt the stroke of a keyboard for the entirety of 2009. YALLO’s money has funded: Travel (Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Anchorage, Maui, Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi, Dhaka, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, Moscow, Kiev, Warsaw, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Berlin, Dublin, London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid, Venice, Rome, Athens, Thessoloniki, and now, Rome again), various indigenous beverages (La Fin du Monde, Molson Dry, Sleeman’s Honey Brown Lager, Moosehead, Labatt Blue, Alaskan Pale, Fire Rock Pale Ale, Yanjing, Hite, Sapporo, Dark Lord Imperial Stout, Lwowskie, Wojak Wszechmocne, Hansa, Royal Brown Ale, Hefeweissbier Dunkel, Guinness, Oatmeal Stout, La Choulette, Hoegaarden, Mushroom Purée, Sangria, Nobile Montepulciano, Ouzo), Cuisine (Tourtière, Pine Nut Stuffed Quail, Wild Mushroom Ragut, Ahi, Lechón, Shutki, Baby Duck, Pyeonyuk, Yakizakana, Fish, Rice, Meat, Fish, Rice, Meat, Fish, Rice, Meat), Conversations of Varying Relevance (Where are you from? What do you do? Have you ever fantasized about slicing someone open before morphing to an arachnid post-coitus?). YALLO’s displeasure upon my return is certain. One week ago while drinking Mythos at the Mandragoras bar in Thessoloniki I received the following text:
My darling Johan, it’s been too long. The people at YALLO informed me you’re somewhere around the Mediterranean, how divine. I’ll be in Firenze on October 30th and would love to see you. I’m staying at the Casa Howard and have taken the liberty of booking us a room from the 28th. There’s no need to respond to this text. I hope to see you there. You’re old friend… Charlotte
Charlotte is the hate of my life. We met sometime in the mid (late?) 90’s—her fresh off the debutante’s ball at The Crillon in Paris; yours truly just relocated from my mom’s apartment on Eighth and B to the NYU dorm on Eleventh and Third (until I dropped out 3 months later and moved to Orchard and Stanton). Charlotte’s family has straddled Nashville and Manhattan for a century. Their fortune amassed through Oil, Media, and Wall Street. These are things she used to speak of freely?without pride or embarrassment. This earnestness slowly gave way to caution, avoidance, selective and well-placed amnesia, and finally, denial. The first few years of our friendship Charlotte juggled Uptown and Downtown the way her family had The Old South and Central Park West. We were inseparable. Our evenings crashed openings, our nights drank through loft parties and chased after-hours, our afternoons waxed gossip, poetry, philosophy and the future. I was living, she was slumming. Sundays found me soaking up last night’s beer with crispy bacon and strawberry waffles from 7A while she sipped mimosas and ate crab cakes, poached organic eggs (flavored with black truffle oil) and walnut infused prosciutto with her mom at The Four Seasons. Her uptown uniform and precise diction shed piece by piece to the Downtown fatigues of baggy Levis, tank covering black hoodie, various beanies and a never ending supply of dirty kicks mixed with usurped slang. I didn’t think much of it at first. (Have I mentioned her family owns some of the biggest galleries from NYC to London to Paris to Berlin to Zurich? You know them.) Anyway. I’m on my seventh beer, darkness is rising and I’m off to Pigneto to spend some YALLO money.
I don’t understand why homeless people insist on being dog owners. This is a world wide phenomenon I first noticed on the LES as a kid. Facial tats, dogs, and the lecherous cycle of begging for Yak money or D money or K money or Rock money or Old Crow money. It was one such vagrant I passed on Via Pigneto last night. In lieu of dropping a euro in his cup I invited his cowbell nose ring, cheek-adorned tribal tat, contrived and simultaneously over and under groomed dreads, rave jeans, dog (Paco), and presumptuous and protruding body aroma to dine with me at Primo. The temperature was just below ideal outside dining weather—we had a dog though, sacrifices. After the antipasto and five Morettis I relayed the following tale to Virgil (I never asked his name but referred to him as Virgil throughout dinner): “About five years ago Charlotte’s transformation to Downtown Bohemian was complete. I suppose I noticed it as much as you notice your hair growing. Anyway, it was fine with me and suited her expansive limbs, cicada eyes and curly lava hair as much as any Night at The Guggenheim Society Dress. Her parents bought her a loft on The Bowery that stretched the entire block between Prince and Spring. Of course this is after The Bowery was The Bowery but still before The Bowery of today. A nice island of legitimacy and safety. Know what I’m sayin?” I asked Virgil if he followed every few minutes, he responded Si or Davvero though it was obvious he understood not a single word leaving my mouth. In Italy, this particular charade is not limited to the dreadlocked and homeless. Our main courses arrived and I continued. “Charlotte now had an address that could milk its past to legitimize her present. Know what I’m sayin Virgil?” –Si “But this was no big deal, to be expected really. What did I care, I was spending my days as the Poor Poet with the safety net of a rich but understated best friend—with an entire block on The Bowery! Not bad, huh Virgil?” –Si “Anyway, our after-hours carousing lessened and was compensated for on the gallery circuit. I was slowly beginning to make a name for myself as a poet, if that’s possible this century, and was becoming, with Charlotte, part of some scene. Of course, I knew that the more false adoration rained down on Charlotte and, by proxy, me, the longer it would take to find my way back to a place of honest output. If I carried on like this long enough the blade would not only dull but rust. Wouldn’t you agree?” That’s when Virgil ordered a Cognac, followed by a Perrier for Paco—YALLO’s money in action. “Where was I Virgil? Oh right, so Charlotte found her rhythm, her sect. I was chasing an equilibrium; creeping up on completion of the book, lots of late nights, lots of crispy bacon, when The Phone Call came, ‘Hey Johan.’ The baby step in her tone revealed an impending announcement, one that would alter our intertwined dynamic. Whether light were to be shed on its elasticity or fallacy I wasn’t sure, a crossroads, however, was not in doubt. That moment? THAT MOMENT, Virgil?etched itself in dry ice, ‘I’ve decided to become an Artist.’” Virgil, God bless him, sensed I was upon a critical juncture in my yarn and put down his cognac, paternally scratching his dreads with his right hand while stroking Paco with his left. –Davvero “ ‘I’m not sure what type of Artist, I just want to express myself.’ I didn’t know what to say Virgil. I was sat upon a mountain, the sky resting, the sun forthright, The Valley Of Charlotte’s Life To Come sprawled out before me…I refused to look, why ruin the inevitable? Know what I’m sayin Virgil?” –Si. That was last night. After dinner, Virgil, Paco and I made our way to Fanfulla for more beer and dogs sponsored by the long arms and deep pockets of YALLO. This morning and this moment finds me writing from a Chinese Hotel on Circonvallazione Casilina overlooking Rome’s most egregious water. My train leaves for Florence in one hour. I think I’ll slip fifty euros of YALLO money into Virgil’s dreads before he and Paco wake up.
I’ve just finished my tenth cigarette of the day and boarded the 11:30 train bound for Florence out of Termini. I’m more certain then ever that I’m still in hate with Charlotte. My conversation with Virgil last night convinced me she should die. Why not? Her life lacks merit and reason. I certainly don’t want to kill her but don’t think I would cry if she died. (Perhaps at the funeral?) I don’t picture a slow death or a dramatic death, and definitely not a romantic death, but as I write this I’m able to visualize a quite permanent death. As I write this I’m able to entertain her death, and now, as I pause, I’m certain I want her death. I suppose writing it here makes it real? Writing it here introduces it to air, to ink and concrete, to paper and steel and iron. To Nature. An (My) emancipation from Gulag shackles. A (My) subconscious evacuated. Yes, now as the lines flow I want her death so much I won’t be able to conceal its desire. My repression now birthed (to whom? and that quick?), a will of its own, sure to betray me, rat me out, revealed and transparent…Perhaps I shouldn’t see her…No, I’ll be found out. I’m not getting out at Florence. It’s one thing to want someone gone and entirely another to betray the sanctity of your own desires to the undeserving, even if they are the screen capturing the projection of The Fantasy.
What was that last entry?—“She should DIE.” What am I, some hipster queen from Ohio just moved to Williamsburg. Die? How about my jealousy, inferiority, whining, creation of and clinging to an infinite ooze of preemptive excuses? Isn’t it true the only thing I can’t face is a once perspective Muse eclipsing herself (and me)? Isn’t that why I’m writing in this damn diary? A cowardice and self-pigeonholed gutter. Of course I want someone dead. We all want someone (EVERYONE) dead. Is it Charlotte specifically? or Charlotte will do? I just want her and the rest of the world to Think like me and See like me and Act like me and Consume like me and Produce like me and Judge like me and Be Judged like me and Value like me and Hate like me and Kill like me and Like me while they realize none of them can ever BE me… And now THAT’S written. Of course I want her dead.
I’m on the steps of Milan Centrale. Cigarette in my lips, my only bag between my only legs, letting the slow motion film of my last conversation with Charlotte play in my head: It’s four (five?) years ago and I haven’t been to her loft since her declaration of Artist Incarnate. We see each other less?but just slightly. She has dropped late nights entirely and I attend Art World functions with her less and less (she misses none). Charlotte is early to bed, early to rise, early to work on and speak of her impending debut in the Art World. Early. Early to invite me over to see her art—but invite she does. At first often, almost daily, then less but with more tenacity, until finally, not at all. Then after a month of silence on The Subject she demands it over brunch at Supper, “No more excuses, you ARE coming over today to see my work.” After eggs benedict and crispy bacon I put off stone engravings and steer us to Café Pick Me Up (for two tall hazelnut coffees) and over to Tompkins Square to watch Junky Fights. We mozy through Chess Players, Juice Drinkers, Yoga Masters, Back-In-The-Day-Guys (“you should have seen this block in ’82, THAT was New York son”), and grab a bench on the north side of Seventh. She nervously speaks of nothing while I stand up to give someone a pound, deliver an empty promise and offer a stoge. I am left staring Joe Strummer in the face: Joe, I disagree, the future is written and I must play my part. Ready to face the music, we walk down A to Houston, over to Bowery, up two flights of stairs and into The Valley Of Charlotte. The sky blues, the sun invokes, my mountain finds me and lifts me to a place allergic to lies. Charlotte smiles. The pride she once disavowed fills her emerald eyes, the ambition she once denied a dance curls every greedy lock of Mercurian hair, the carefree white skin that once belonged less to her than those soaking in its affection is now a palette for long term plans and already bestowed false success. The situation is no better or worse than I foresaw. It only is. The revelation of an already present circumstance; an arranged marriage—one put off and forgotten but accepted with the velocity of its spoils. Charlotte puts on some coffee, I breathe mountain air and survey the planned community below…The artisan portion of the loft appears to be divided into two sections: Collages and Found Art (with poetry written upon them). The collages are sourced by past issues of the Financial Times, Polaroids of Polaroids of late night Polaroids, pieces of limited Dali prints, printed and sliced electronic invitations to gallery openings, bits of critiques from relevant critics on past collage artists, excerpts from Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech, and screen shots of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann. Filtered through other eyes perhaps tragedy could have been averted. The “found” in the objects belongs to persons far removed from Charlotte. The poetry adorning her purchased objects belongs to her alone. Were either not the case Mediocrity may have been salvaged. As it stands, Mediocrity is a sprawling and respectable metropolis on an adjacent hill. Charlotte arrives with the coffee and The Question. The mountain melts and I’m forced to confront the corroding (extinction?) of Joe’s decree (legacy?). We sip our coffee and toke our stoges. Before releasing The Question her eyes absurdly lock on mine and all is written: Charlotte’s debut in SOHO, her follow up in Chelsea; Art Basel Miami, Switzerland; The Armory; The Whitney Biannual; The Venice Biennali; Frieze; all things Berlin; L.A. L.A. L.A.; the New York Magazine expose, Artforum, Shouts & Murmurs, The New York Times proliferating backhand praise; asinine Fashion/Pop/Culture magazine interviews (Self Referential Sycophant Journalist X: How does it feel to be called the savior of the Downtown Art Scene? Charlotte: I don’t consider myself a savior but I think it’s safe to say I represent, both aesthetically, existentially and spiritually, all that is transpiring below fourteenth street. SRSJX: We’ve known each other a long time, and though we seldom speak or see each other, we are great friends. What was the inspiration for your last show? C: To erase all lines and borders between the rational and irrational. To succumb to the energy of the streets I know so well and to cultivate that vision into a recognizable and functional scheme. SRSJX: … … … … … … … … … C:… … … … … … … … … … … SRSJX: and on, and on, and on. C: why yes, and thanks, but of course.); sales, sales, sales; the perverse and hoggish respect given to cursory voids; the application of Medicine Man ointment promising to shield verity, blind and atrophy. And now, The Question. Take one.
So what do you see?
(Ever shrinking dinners, narrow sightlines, playing to a crowd you’ve already mastered, motions, motions, motions run through)
You should know better.
I don’t understand.
(The future is written in stone)
It’s OK for Mediocre People to create The Awful, it saves them from Mediocrity. It’s OK for great people to create The Mediocre, it saves the rest of us. It’s not OK for Great People to create and disperse The Awful. You know that, you’ve always known that. If you put this into the world you will become Mediocre and you know it. This tiny slice of mobile provinciality that relishes its self-appointed role of Golden Gatekeeper will encourage, buy, and tolerate you—to them you shall acquiesce but in the end your awareness will resurface and rub raw every vulnerable spot of your insides. A year ago you would not have dreamed of denying your birthright in order to profit from it. Charlotte, at least create Mediocrity before you jump in. Mediocrity is met with honesty. Absolute, total disgraceful failure creates a fire fanned by delusional tics spreading mental illness from host to host. You’ve deluded yourself enough.
Everyone has their opinion.
That’s how I remember my last conversation with Charlotte. I haven’t thought about it until now, and now it’s written and now it’s real. And now I’m thinking of Heaven. I’ve never been able to elucidate My Heaven, but sitting here on the steps of Milan Centrale toking my stoge I can clearly see My Hell. It’s a long oval table, I’m seated in a hole in the middle, surrounded on all sides by Intellectuals (Oh Lord of Semantics and Pride why do you torture me and confuse those longing? cursing them to a quest for a title freely given? Can we not demote INTELLECTUAL to its proper place and resurrect the lost beauty PROVINCIAL?). They speak for centuries (imagining each word, sentence, phrase, or declaration leaving their mouths instantly becoming Aztec Gold. When, in fact, every time they open their mouths Liquid Guano spews forth, slowly building and surrounding the oval table that is now my home in Hell) without doubt or pause. After some thousands of years the Intellectuals begin to Reincarnate or take an interview for Purgatory. I am still in the center, bound and silent. The only remaining Intellectuals are Milanese Intellectuals. They carry on, unperturbed and unaware, never receiving the call for Reincarnation or Purgatory. This is the eternity of My Hell. The clarity of this vision and the balancing tendency of Nature ensures my belief in Heaven. It is with this Hell in mind I’ll be able to finish this sentence, climb the steps behind me and hop a train to Florence.
I arrived without incident last night, walked the four blocks from Santa Maria Novella to Casa Howard, grabbed the keys from the Filipino lady that runs the place and settled into the Hidden Room for an Annulment Dream, a Pragmatic Dream, and a Dogmatic Dream. They possessed me in that order and were each exorcised by the arrival of convulsions, consciousness, and a cold full body sweat accentuated, punctuated and decorated by increasingly (so it appears) scathing and self-inflicted claw wounds from my left jugular to my right nipple. The Dogmatic Dream ended just before this entry. The Pragmatic Dream and The Annulment Dream may have ceased ten and twelve minutes ago or one hour and three hours ago or twenty minutes and six hours ago. As do all dreams, they arrived flawless, both solid and nebulous. Nature’s poetry. The fleeting fusion of sunrise and sunset. Their visibility is fading the way drunken conversations do, the way good intentions do, the way climax approaching promises do. The way best friends do. I’ve never bothered writing down my dreams (until now), knowing I will fail their perfection, but as Sal says: Don’t worry about perfection, you will never achieve it. From most to least visible…The Dogmatic Dream placed a bowie knife in my left hand (the sharpest, most poignant, precise and effective bowie knife known to the dimension of dreams), a flowing white robe upon my body, an even longer beard than I strut in waking life hanging from my face, and Totalitarian Conviction Driven Authority to invoke, teach, catechize, edify, persecute and prosecute all that dare enter the confines of my Dogmatic Dream. Beneath my black beard and white robe are (my) bare feet that circle a chair in the center of a room that is specifically and without mistake Notre Dame at night, Madison Square Garden, The Coliseum, and room 622 of The Chelsea Hotel. The light is a perfect dim. Sitting in the chair is a featureless female. She is my disciple and my victim. She wears no clothes but is fully covered, attentive, and has done no wrong. I fold and unfold my arms, stroke my black beard and begin to slice her. I remove, one by one, each toe with a single efficient chop. Her fingers befall the same fate. She says nothing but knows I am justified. I do this because I know I am justified. My white robe is now decorated by blood in the middle of room 622 of The Chelsea Hotel in The Coliseum at MSG inside a candle lit Notre Dame. That’s when I met convulsions, consciousness, cold sweat and grabbed the pen now in my right hand. My Pragmatic Dream found me naked in the middle of a guesthouse in Hanoi that sits atop St. Vincent’s inside The Alamo. I watch myself: stroking my beard, crossing and uncrossing my arms, wielding an unrequited knife. I am my own maestro and His disciple. I watch as the White Robed One (I) patiently chops off (my) toes and fingers. He does this without pleasure, with conviction; dutiful. My Annulment Dream, now distant and shedding poetry, is smoke filled and flame infused. A wall of Choice And Self-Determinism separates a man and woman. I view from (and am) the third person. On one side of the smoke (the wall) is Resigned Resentment (a new species of Apathetic Misplacement). Across the smoke lays the Goddess of Syncopation. The blood on my neck and chest is now dry.
My Young Promising Latino Poet In Residence Scholarship allows me four continent changes. I’ve one left and will be exercising it this evening. I’m not sure if it’s the trio of dreams, my trip to see David at Galleria dell’Accademia this morning, or both, but seeing Charlotte is out of the question. Sitting here at the Scuderic Café staring at the Basilica di Santa Maria soaking in the generous late Autumn Florentine sun and polishing off a bottle of Nobile Montepulciano I’m overcome by Guilt. Guilt for what I haven’t done (write one damn thing for YALLO over the past ten months), Guilt for what I’m doing (bailing on Charlotte, pining for her demise, not writing anything for YALLO), Guilt for what I might do (act on my recently released subconscious, not write anything for YALLO for the next two months). This inevitable and forceful onset of GUILT renders me less LATIN than ever. What to do? Having spent the night at Casa Howard it’s futile to pretend I didn’t. (I could pay off the Filippino lady? No.) My only out is to harness one Guilt to assuage another, write Charlotte a note and drop it off with the Filipina…
Thank you so much for your selection of the Hidden Room at Casa Howard. I suggest indulging the Turkish bath. Unfortunately, I have to leave Florence today. I’ve been assaulted by pangs of guilt for my lack of production. As you know, I’ve been traveling the world on YALLO’s dime and have, as of yet, failed to produce a single word, much less the first draft of a poetry book encapsulating, rebuking, contributing to, underscoring, and embodying the global disposition to Latinos in The United States of America. Inspiration has proven elusive. To remedy the situation I’m off to Mexico (perhaps the LATIN in YALLO will find me). I know you’ll understand. Talk soon.
That is that I suppose. We’ve just received permission to lower our trays on my Air France flight to Mexico City and here I am; and there I was and there I go. Perspective from avoidance cum rebirth?an amazing thing. Dropping that letter off felt the way I imagine confession feels to a believer or the way one of THOSE steps feels to a member of AA. No, that’s not true. I feel the way a Gack Head feels the morning after not being able to score the night before; relieved, grateful, blessed?but still willing to take full credit. So this is it. The storm that broke the levy that flooded my brain onto this diary has passed. Xanbar and a beer will suffice to landing…and all this was a passing dream.
Damn it. The dream’s returned. Goddamn it. I came out of my Don Julio / Negra Modelo third day of ravaging the forgiving prices of Mexico City sleep with the relief of Sins (the lust kind) admitted and Sins (the mortal kind) avoided to a Fedex envelope slid under my door. That Pretentious, Elastic, Every Day Of Life Is A Come Up, Permanently Downhill Driving Moth Of A Tiger Mosquito had the audacity to HANDWRITE me a note:
Johan, you elusive little “Latino” you (who knew?). I spoke to Antonio Garcia Martinez over at YALLO and, with more than a little prodding, he informed me you’ve headed to Mexico City. I absolutely love Dia de los Muertos. It was one of the “World Inspirations” I manifested into the last show I curated in London, “Multicultural Downtown Voices Exploding From New York Graffiti: 1985 – 2000”. I was in Firenze to discuss taking the exhibition there next spring. They want me to combine that show with my new women’s street line (I’m calling it CHARLOTTE CHARRED) at Pitti. Anyway, inspiration waits for no one, and I love that you’re chasing yours right now. I should arrive a few hours after this Fedex. I can’t wait to see you, it’ll be just like old times.
See you at Hotel Condessa (I’ve taken the room next to you),
I need to focus. I’m drinking a beer for balance. I’m now balanced. I’m heading to the shower for hot water and inspiration.
I’m relieved and excavated. Drying off and opening another Negra Modelo my only viable Resolution laid itself our for me clear as my view from the mountain atop The Bowery. Time has folded and I’m back in Tompkins Square staring at and disagreeing with Joe: Sorry, but yes oh yes, the future is damn well written. And now I’m dressed and now I’m writing. My next twenty minutes, if all goes well and according to the viable and present Resolution, is, exactly, thus: I put on my favorite shoes (‘89 Jordans), black levis, Dead Boys T-Shirt and grey Kangol. I walk down four flights of stairs, through the lobby and onto Calle ___. I grab a chicken taco from the guy on the corner of ___ and ___ and inhale it with the hottest sauce and cheapest tequila they have. I proceed to the Poncho Villa Army/Navy Store, pause to buy a pair of handcuffs and a box of kitchen matches. I carry on to the Chevron and purchase two gallons of unleaded. I return to room 44 of the Hotel Condessa (now precariously close to the arrival of Charlotte), leave the door cracked open, call the front desk and ask them to show Charlotte to my room upon arrival. I lay out a precise and mistake free stream of gasoline from the door to the balcony’s guardrail. I douse the bed with the remaining gasoline. I unlock the handcuffs that I purchased at the Poncho Villa Army/Navy store and handcuff myself to the steel guardrail surrounding the balcony and toss the keys over. Charlotte reaches the door. “Hi Johan.” I invoke the kitchen matches; setting on fire the room, the bed, myself. My Written Future now present tense, I stare at Charlotte. Her future is unwritten and burning.
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