El Veintidós (The 22)

 

Enrique

 

I wrote this song in Spanish, based on factual events.  I don’t know the tune because the band I wrote it for, Tocamos Mas,  hasn’t written it yet, but I hope they will.  So Chuck, the Carbia family, and all the fans of two generations of the Carbias’ Latin music, this is for you. Te quiero. -Juancho

 

Click the picture to hear the man himself…

 

 

El Veintidós (The 22)

Hola detective, no esta mi veintidós
No lo envío en el correo
No lo envío en absoluto
Era sólo una radio
En el caja envié
Así que mija puede escuchar la musica
escuchar la musica
escuchar la musica
Puedes ver por ti mismo el veintidos
es abaja la cama in my cuarto
Cade noche y dia desde siempre

Envié mija una radio asi pude escuchar
la musica, la musica que tocamos
más que todos los demás

Es posible señor agente que hice un error
Es posible todo esto es una equivocación
Cuando puse la caja en el correo
tal vez fue el veintidós

Pensé que envié el radio
¿Quizas fue el veintidós?
¿Estoy seguro de que intiende
como pudo occurir?

Envié mija una radio
para que pueda oir mis canciones
disparar en el noche

Así que siempre puede oír mis canciones

disparan hacia la noche.

Translated to English

Twenty-two (The 22)

Hello detective, that is not my 22
I did not send it in the mail
I did not send it at all
It was just a radio
In the box I sent
So my daughter can listen to music
listen to music
listen to music
You can see for yourself the twenty-two
is underneath the bed in my room
like it is each day and night always.

I sent my daughter a radio so she can hear
the music, the music that we play
more than all the others play.

Mr. agent it is possible I made a small mistake
It is possible this is a misunderstanding?
When I put the box in the mail
maybe it was the twenty-two?

I thought I sent the radio
Maybe it was the twenty-two?
I am sure you understand
how this could happen?

I sent my daughter a radio
so she could hear my songs
shoot out into the night.

So she can always hear my songs

shoot out into the night.

 

Temple of Mars

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Lightning charges the sky. My small dog is pitifully smaller cowering behind the toilet, trembling and afraid of the thunder. Three weeks since my last ride, and so much pain and suffering in those weeks they deserve their own name, a season of ugliness. The Dark Time. The Wickedness.

And yet, that is the way of war, that suffering falls hard on the innocent and yet you balance your grieving with the need to fill sandbags and fortify your redoubt against the next attacking wave. Carelessness comes sneaking on the western flank as ignorance attacks head on in its stupid stumbling.

Mars hangs low on the horizon, directing the assault and supervising disruption and destruction as I drive south through the storm unaware that my shoes are not in the back with my helmet. I park last in the line as riders are marshaling towards the edge of the forest. The rain stops and a blanket of steam rises above our heads. I accept a too big pair of shoes, pump a bit of air in my tires and fall in.

Last week in Orlando a fire alarm goes off just before midnight. I am lying wide awake in sweat when it happens so I am standing in the 10th floor hallway in the time it takes to find my flip flops. I board the glass elevator alone and begin the descent, picking up scared passengers at each floor. By the third floor we are packed, and a woman is crying in panic. “We’re going to be OK,” I tell her.

So it is a lie, but the type of lie that gives a little courage in the moment, just a breath of courage to get you to the next moment, and one more breath to the next until you get there, to a place where you are safe. A recorded voice, sickly sweet and calm tells us not to use the elevator.  I invite others to join me on the stairs, one man looks me in the eyes. Nobody moves or says a word. I get off by myself and walk down the concrete stairwell. Firefighters march into the lobby calmly, passing the word that it is a false alarm caused by the broken air-conditioning. I sit with the panicked woman and her husband. She can’t breathe between her sobs.

The forest floor is charred black from fire, so the normally thick tangle of green is gone, exposing us to Mars who can now take his time with us. Filtering towards the front my stale legs are warming, and I think I may not have lost as much as I thought. Two riders are just beyond my reach, but I see them dismount for a log and calculate that if I stay in the saddle I will be on them in seconds. I pull up and throw my bike forward, then I am in the air, legs above my head flying and then down, snarled in a brown weave of dead under-story. I am dizzy, but unhurt, and Bill pulls my bike from the net of vines and sees me back into the saddle. I fall way back as the adrenaline fades leaving me spent.

An old man I know sits in his old man chair listening to the music of his years through stereo headphones. His finger taps the air directing the clave. His brow delights and furrows as he critiques each note. He is not in a hurry, the count is one, two, three, four, FIVE, one, two, three, four, FIVE and the song must arrive at each note with a precise urgency, but not hurry. He is a bass player, and only he can resolve the tune and let the final note ring out.

Mars you bastard. Randy’s tire explodes and I think the roasting ground has melted it, but it is a broken bottle with a message in it that has floated so far into the woods. The message reads, “You must stop here.”

Again, there is Bill, assisting and teaching in a soothing voice. “Let’s patch the breech and re-inflate it, not too much.” A CO2 cartridge kicks back and slams Randy’s thumb into the teeth of his gears drawing blood that seeps around his nail. He doesn’t stop working, just grimly dressing the wound to the tire while his own wound flows red. The rest of us impatiently watch him bleed, eager to be moving.  Off we go. This ride is cursed, yet in some ways also blessed. This ride has become real life, not just play. I look at the strangers around me and begin to see actual faces and hear their unique voices instead of seeing them all as just them.

The sky is unquestionably turning to night, and Mars rises red over the power lines. A gray Lincoln Town Car sits buried to the frame in sand, its wheels spinning freely like a turtle paddling its legs upside down and helpless. A young woman, stress thin, sits slumped over the steering wheel of her mama’s car mewling into her phone, trying to recruit her ex-lover to come save her, despite their earlier fight. We want to help her, but she ain’t leaving. She has chosen her spot to make her stand, and hey, I can relate. We ride on.

Our platoon of riders now broken into squads, I let my guard down. Surely this is the final stretch and I have the legs to keep up. The four of us halt in a clearing and Bill looks up and says, “That must be Mars. Maybe that’s why this night is so weird.” There are no other lights in the sky, and no distractions between Mars and ourselves. We have no choice but to run for it.
Randy’s chain is skipping. I hear him cursing an oath behind me as the other two riders drift away and out of earshot. We can’t see the trail, and we don’t know it anyway, so it comes down to dead reckoning. We find them again, but Randy and I choose the open ground and light over a sure guide through darkness. The ride out is longer than expected, and we are unsure if we have made the right decisions. We call for extraction, but beat the chopper home.

 

Juancho

The intersection

Duane understands there is nothing to be done. Some things can’t be taken back, most things actually, remain where they end up and make their own unsteady way down the dark hallway of the future- hands in front of their inanimate faces just like his own fat damp fingers. June watches him. She wonders if he has any food in this place, and why it smells like some person other than this nervous dork picking at a skin tag on his eyelid.

Well this is what I said I would do. Run everything together.

We spent the weekend at a Days Inn on I-75 in Lake City, mainly for the pool. The Florida Folk Festival, which happens on the Suwanee river just south of the Okefenokee swamp, is always a stifling affair. It is an important part of the charm. If you want to travel back in time to listen to traditional music played in the traditional ways, then you have to get your passport stamped by the deer flies and the heat. Being only tourists, and not emissaries for the event we retreat in the evenings to the concrete cenote bordered by a chain link fence, marked with a faded sign of rules nobody follows. Friday night we presided over a sweet American nucleus of hacking, tuberculous men pinning AAA maps between their elbows, tiny swimmers (and every girl a Disney princess) and an oddly regal tan couple who were certainly northern Europeans, and expatriates for good.

The usher arrived at 10:30 and stood by the gate. He issued no orders, just waited for us to get the hint one by one and ravel up our wears and move along. We asked if we were welcome to take our instruments to the parking lot and rage against the light until dawn. He said as long as nobody called and complained we could do whatever we wanted. So, like hoarders we counted up the free minutes left to us repeatedly, muttering to each other, I have enough here for at least five more songs, how much do you got? We set up next to an idling Kenworth, just north of the dumpster and proceeded to get down to business, trading instruments and recording lyrics in English and Spanish into smart phones, placed on the asphalt.

A man approached us, insistent in his hovering, and following some subterfuge requested if we were in need of prayer. Are you kidding? Pray for me! Chuck said, barn-dooring from the handrail of the camper. Pray for me! Paul said. I welcome love in every form! Why do you want to pray for us? I asked, and he then clarified. We (he had others waiting in the darkness of the stairwell) come to the festival to pray for miraculous healing, for specific ailments or injury. Do any of you have broken bones? Might you be slowly losing your sight? My initial thought was to grab him by the collars and whisper to him the names of those I know who suffer, and warn him that to leach meaning for his life from their pain is an evil thing, and so if we are going to link arms and walk this road together I am going to hold him personally accountable if the effort fails to provide salvation and release, very personally.

Chuck and Paul just kept on singing,

Hey my friend it’s good to see you, been a while since I passed through. I’ve got nothing special to say, but we may never say it again. We had some big ideas back then, still can’t believe you took me in. I still just can’t believe you took me in.

Juancho

Turpentine

It has not flowed like this for a while. A bumper crop. A hundred year harvest. Not riding fast for 46. Not riding fast for a working guy. Not riding fast for a fat guy. Not riding fast for a weekend warrior. I’m just riding faster than I have ever ridden ever. I’m not sure how to explain it, and I don’t really care. As soon as you try to remember your dreams they just go away. Better just to live them as though they are real, because they are, and not question how you can fly, or why you are in class naked on exam day. Just walk your naked ass to your locker and put your Earth Science book away and check for notes from your sweetheart that she crammed through the vents. Never question dreams, just live in them.

You want to roll right now? Let’s go.

Damocles

I’m lucky to have this hit man follow me around telling me he will take me out if I ain’t careful. I don’t know his true identity as I hired him on the internet, but I imagine he is from Walker County, AL as everyone knows that is where you go if you want to contract a killer. One too many steps in the wrong direction and POW, I won’t ever know what hit me. Go ahead and act natural, walk like everything is fine, but know I will be right behind you the whole time so don’t try to run or make any sudden moves he says. At first it bugged me that he was back there watching me, listening to all of my private thoughts and conversations, staring over my shoulder when I check my blood sugar. The number comes in- 96- and I hear him un-cock the pistol and sigh, relieved or disappointed who can tell?

Saturday morning I felt the urgency more than usual, like if Hit Man was going to follow me I should make him work for it. I am the one paying his retainer after all. I met the Hard Man at the park and we tried to scrape that son of a bitch off on every tree in the woods. We plowed through lush carpets of poison ivy and rode the downhills as uphills and the uphills as side hills. We wore his ass out, and even when I bounced my face off the trail and rode out the inertia in a skittering spin down a splintered ramp, the hit man was nowhere in sight. Blood ran out of my arm, but it was well within a healthy range. I tasted it. Nothing but savory.

Juancho

Bikes

All I used to write about was riding bikes. Riding bikes fast. Riding bikes slow. Riding bikes alone. Riding bikes with people. Bikes, bikes, bikes.

I got married. I started a new job where I wear pants and go to a building with other people in it. These two significant events both impacted my understanding of what was fair game to write for the internet at large. If I posted one of my Juancho brand-certified rants would my sweet wife take that as a sign of unhappiness in our relationship? Would the job be concerned about being associated with terms like “sweat-soaked chamois see-through ass-crack window?”

I chickened out. I pulled in my talons.

But that was a long time, and no matter how I tried, these years just flow by like a broken down dam.*

I also started experimenting with fiction, which is really the most truthful of all writing forms, except for maybe poetry which, when good, is so truthful I can’t look it directly in the eye. Writing stories is tough, and it comes to me in pieces and parts without any instruction manual. I would throw away the manual with the packaging anyway.

I look up to a lot of writers and artists. Practical advice is hard to come by, and harder to take. Even when I admire someone’s art that doesn’t mean I can do much with it to further my own. One key exception is a quote I always attribute to Bob Dylan, but that likely has far more ancient roots.

“All it takes to write a good song is 3 chords and the truth.” So, with that advice in mind. Here we go. The truth.

I got the shit scared out of me a few months ago at the Doctor with a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes, which isn’t so much a disease, as a state of dis-ease. There is no bug crawling through your body agitating white blood cells. It is actually a checklist, a set of qualifying factors that permit you beyond the velvet rope into an exclusive club of 29,000,000 Americans. How about that? Pretty swank right? Bigger than Costco. The thing about it is that it is a self-inflicted wound, especially for someone like myself who can get any groceries I want and move my body as frequently as I wish. For other of my esteemed fellow club members they get it because they can’t buy hardly anything in their grocery store without corn syrup in it.

I lost almost 40 lbs, I cleaned up my act. Now the blood tests show nothing out of the ordinary. Its like yesterday there was a terrible crash on I-75 and today you can’t even find the skid marks. But you remember the carnage, and it happens to someone every day. It can happen to me again. All I have to do is take my eyes off the road.

So there it is, the truth in all of its freeing and humiliating glory. I’m going to keep writing this story, for Manny’s sake, and Duane’s, and June’s. I’m going to tell you all about my bike rides, every single one. That part is easy because I am a mutant again, basically two giant thighs with eyes on top. At least one thing here at the Big Ring Circus hasn’t changed in 10 years. Bikes are still magical, and they can save your life.

Juancho

*Thanks to John Prine for the lyrical assist

10th Avenue

In 1999 I moved to a place on the corner of 10th Avenue and Yancey Street here in Tallahassee.  This would be the 8th or 9th house I shared with my  buddy Taco, born on this day in 1969.  Both of us were turning 30 that year and it was intended to be a move away from the squalid living of our twenties and to take a step towards adulthood.  The place had a tin roof, white paint worn to the wood, and a kitchen you might find on a very fast sailboat.  In the summer Palmetto bugs treated inside as outside until stomping or ignoring them became equal and fine choices by 4th of July. The landlord’s name was George, but the vacating tenant told us knowingly that he went by “Dick.”  Everyone called him Big Dick because he was a huge man.  Years later, while in his 60’s I saw him carry a full-sized refrigerator out of a house with nothing but a bear hug.

Big Dick owned four houses and a dollhouse-sized cottage on or near the corner of 10th and Yancey.  Within two seasons all were filled by friends and friends of friends, which is what Taco and I were as well.  Instead of taking that affirming step towards adulthood we took more of a lurching step sideways and for 10 years we lived as a family wandering from house to house as easy as room to room.  Vicious competition was our common language.  Darts, 8-ball, 9-ball, ping pong, Dungeons and Dragons (kind of a sub-cult within our greater body host) bicycles, basketball, croquet,horseshoes, bocce ball, mini-bowling and Poker–with strange variations like Boo-ray and Shmoolie– every Thursday night and holiday for about a decade.   The house hosting Poker installed a PVC chute mounted in plywood from the table through the window to the recycling bin.  Whoever got the seat closest to the beer chute would struggle to follow the action on the table while firing an endless line of bottles and cans into the bin.

Within the very nucleus of our compound lived a couple, born in the 1930’s or 40’s  I think.  With a tidy little yard and a small chain-link fence around the property their house was a respectable eyesore among our repudiating hovels. They were from Chicago and retired to town to be near two of their three children, and enjoy life.  Marvin played jazz piano and we would hear him playing through the open windows as we criss-crossed the street following the action from house to house.  Ada would link her arm through yours and pull you in close to tell you about a piece of jewelry she was wearing or to tell you she was really upset about how our government was treating the mentally ill.  For some reason they never thought to say, “Hey guys, maybe you should all get serious about your lives and quit living like a bunch of pirates returned to port after 6 months at sea. Quit wasting time!”

We lived more with and among them, than next to them.  Either would have been welcomed at the poker table, or to throw the dice with the Riders of Rohan, but I doubt they cared for the thick blue cigarette smog in the room .  Good lord, we were animals, which is an insult to animals.

One day Ada came knocking on my door.  I opened it to her holding a tiny kitten cradled against her chest and small bags of food and litter hanging from her elbow.  She offers me this tail-less, black and white weeks-born kitten–“Here is your new cat.” She tells me.  ” Ada, I can’t take care of a cat.  I can’t even take care of myself!”

Ada was not one to moralize. The  irreverently empathetic Ada, who before all things was funny, an absolute riot. But-I will say- and I am free to draw my own saccharin homilies.  I believe Ada saw a good guy, a fiddler watching Rome burn,  who could really use a cat in his life.  

Marvin died a year ago last September, and Ada died yesterday morning.

I sit here now in this new home under this immense Live Oak tree, where I live with my girlfriend from 9th grade, who moved away to Alabama, but came back to get me 2 years after I left 10th Avenue.  After two soggy days of rain the sun is coming out. There is a dog on the couch and that cat is looking out the window in this room.

 

Juancho

 

A Sense of Urgency

The other 4 riders all drank hard and late the night before, while I went to bed early, slept well, and ate a hearty breakfast of oatmeal.  Still I bounced on and off the back for most of the three hours we were out.  My own rule echoed back to me, if you are already suffering there is nothing else to lose, so I knew better than to expect any advantage. Damn though, I thought I’d be in the mix.

It doesn’t bother me.  I have a sense of urgency.  I rode into my own driveway, alone, moaning to myself or so I thought until my smiling wife straightened up to stretch her back in the yard and asked, “Who were you talking to?”

“The devil,”  I whispered, “and god too.”

Juancho

 

 

A Return to Form

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Just write about bikes dude and riding them, says me to myself.  Michael Jackson don’t want to be in your little story.  He just wants to be the King of Pop resting in peace, and if nobody cares about his vitiligous hand and his first sequined glove then so be it, just tell your own damn story and leave him out of it.

Fine then, I WILL says the pouting inner child to a furiously reasonable adult ego state.  I WILL! he screams his little tantrum brains out.  And that is how we find ourselves now in the national forest, as though no time at all has passed since we last took a bike ride through the woods then plopped down at the computer to tell the world how it went.

I don’t really know many plant names so I can only say that the stuff that grows just over knee high and then bolts into spores of fuzz like tiny white fireworks is blooming, or more likely just finished blooming, and now it sends its hopeful seeds into the air, brushed off by our legs dipping into the penumbric edge of the turns, a passing shadow scouring the trails’ edge.  Riding a bike is just like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it, but you do forget how good it feels.  You sit pissed off, bullied by dubious priorities, letting the filing of your flexible spending account claims forms thump you on the back of the ear and it stings through lunch and into 4th period Earth Science.  Minding your own business walking to class on the edge of the hall then shoved- SLAM- into the combination lock on 242 by “Be sure to file your homestead exemption.” A frog sets up under the skin and you rub it all through Pre-Alegbra, thinking of a way to get even.  When the final bell rings you are already in position outside 3rd hall and you catch I need the final agenda by Friday standing slack in its flip flops and before it knows what hit it you have bowled it head first down into the garbage can and taken off running as fast as you can go for your bike, then out to the woods where it is safe.

 

Juancho

Sweaty Duane, a story continued.

Sweaty Duane, a story continued.

Sweaty Duane did not consider himself to be a brave person. He got his nickname the first day of 9th grade at Roosevelt High. Duane had not been a high school student for five minutes when he realized everything his uncle told him about a fresh start was wrong. That August morning in 1972, it was a muggy 82 degrees, but that was not the only reason Duane was sweating. He sweat all the time. He would pull his shirts from the clothesline and see the faint demarcations of pit stains like the concentric, waving rings inside the geodes for sale at the flea market. He was a husky kid, as his uncle called him, and he was nervous in general, which did not help at all. So that morning, after waking himself up in time to walk the three miles to school, rummaging his Uncle’s dresser top for 70 cents in lunch money, brushing his teeth and getting to his seat on time, Duane was- to be fair about it- a sloppy mess.

Behind him, teeth full of braces and bread, Tony Laux said, “Whoa! Look at Sweaty Duane! P.E. isn’t until after lunch!” The other kids didn’t need to pile on or even say the word after that. In Duane’s mind, when they spoke his name, the Sweaty was implied. The Sweaty was silent.

Even all these years later, on the corner of 25th and Taft, right in front of Truck City, He thought of himself as Sweaty Duane, and despite the cold wind of the Chicago hawk crawling through his jacket collar Duane was damp as a sweat-sock. He could tell by the posture of the two people ahead on the sidewalk, that one person was not enjoying the conversation. The wind was so strong and cold, that the figure with his back to Duane, could not hear anything with his wool cap pulled down over his ears.

Just as Duane was closing on the pair, a half a dozen strides away still, Wool Cap Guy raised his hand above his head and feigned a punch at the woman. Duane could now clearly see the rounded heft of bosom on the other figure.  She flinched and cowered as Cap Guy laughed, then he raised his hand again.  Sweaty Duane could tell he was going to hit her this time,  something in how the man twisted his back foot as though squishing a bee, and to Duane’s surprise he found himself running towards the man with his back to him, Sweaty Duane’s first hurried steps since his last P.E. class.   Then, as though watching himself from the broken streetlight above the scene, he lunged at the man, ramming his shoulder into the small of the other man’s back causing him to bow and warp until his feet separated from the icy sidewalk and he collapsed in pain and bewilderment.  The woman, now standing in shock before Duane, her eyes unblinking moons of confusion was a girl Duane knew from childhood by her own unwanted nickname, Black June.  In that moment of mutual recognition Black June spoke the only word she had ever said to Sweaty Duane despite their shared decades in Roosevelt Park, “RUN!” And with that, their slow and chafing getaway commenced.

Back at his apartment, the shades pulled, and the door bolted, they hid. When Duane asked who the man was, and why he was going to hit June, she looked him right in the eye and shook her head slowly to say, No, we aren’t talking about that now. She just said she was tired, and asked to use the rest room. She did say, ” I know your name Duane.” He only replied, “You can stay here tonight if you need to” and she then nodded okay, and said, “Thanks, I do.”

Duane knew this did not qualify as a sexual encounter, but nonetheless he felt a tingling emanating from the point of contact between his backside and June’s as she slept deeply beside him as he stared into the darkness. He eased off the bed, jostling, but not waking June and he settled down in the one other room.

He woke, before sunrise. He moved quietly to to the refrigerator, standing before the door to block the light. A half-empty two liter of flat soda, hemorrhoid suppositories in the egg tray, and a jar of syrupy fruit cocktail- together these items were a memorial to his uncle, now gone. He took out the fruit cocktail and checked the sell-by date, July 31, 1983. Going on four years past its prime.

Mango made the roof of his mouth itch like crazy, but he ate it anyway, quietly watching the snow fall outside the grimy window. He knew he was allergic, but he liked the itching. His tongue rasping on the back of his teeth helped him concentrate– two raw welts on either side and his palate tingled. He unconsciously worked his tongue against the itch in time to the chuffing rhythm of the gas furnace.

His uncle spoke exclusively in parable and observation, never addressing Duane directly or speaking in the second person. Dead three years now, of an ill-defined cause his uncle called in his final days; “too many cures, not enough disease,” in reference to all of the medications piling up in the plastic container that sat on the floor alongside his vinyl recliner. Abiraterone Acetate Abitrexate (Methotrexate), Cabazitaxel, Ifosfamide, and a full alphabet of vitamins and Chinese herbs mingled with the pharmaceuticals. Duane watched his uncle wash them down every night with orange soda.

“Do you think any of that stuff is working?” Duane would ask. “A man should always finish what he starts” was his uncle’s reply.

June still slept on his formless bed, the foam mattress pillowing around her edges as she slept on her side, his Green Bay Packers coat wadded around her hands as a pillow and his uncle’s army blanket from Korea draped neatly over her. June insisted on sleeping in the recliner, until Duane gave up and went to bed, and there she fell asleep. He awoke in the night to her squishing around on his mattress trying to get comfortable, but not awaken him. Duane knew neither of them would sleep at all on his spring-less, childhood bed so he spent the night in his uncle’s recliner, just as his uncle slept every night since Duane showed up in that Packer’s coat. His uncle opened the door to him that night and made the statement, “Success is ninety percent perspiration” and stood aside to allow Duane to squeeze past and into his home. After his uncle was gone, and he was by himself, he began sitting in the recliner, the humble thrown now his, the small apartment his kingdom to rule alone.

June was the first woman to ever enter this apartment, let alone spend the night, as far as Duane had ever known.