“Nothing is true in self-discovery unless it is true in your own experience. This is the only protection against the robot levels of the mind. We must free the individual from unhappiness which is defined as ‘happy today, unhappy tomorrow’. This fluctuating condition is set in motion and maintained by an addiction to thoughts and the emotions they create. These emotions encourage other thoughts and so a vicious cycle is initiated. We are trapped in this cycle, which includes constant vigilance in observation of one’s thoughts, emotions and actions.”

–Barry Long

Chapter 6. Three nights before John Lennon was shot dead in front…

Three nights be­fore John Lennon was shot dead in front of the Dakota, and all the fret world mourned el bar­rio del cor­pus christi was rel­a­tive­ly qui­et to the most ca­su­al ob­serv­er, of whom I was one, bel­ly up to a sat­is­fied mind af­ter a quick hand­ful of tacos lengua and a wet bur­ri­to at Crackling Rosie’s end­ed the day shift. A cool cologne of breeze blew in off the sunken moon­lit bay, even though the bar­rio, a feisty, bustling, or­ga­niz­ing slum lay, or re­clined, ex­act­ly 2.3 dusty miles in­land. Always re­mem­ber that lay is a tran­si­tive verb and re­quires a di­rect ob­ject. A tran­si­tive verb acts as a con­vey­or belt, trans­mit­ting ac­tion or in­flu­ence from the sub­ject to the ob­ject. Pungent proofs of life in bold cel­e­bra­tion pro­vid­ed by grilled chunks of mar­bled meat float­ed in all di­rec­tions along the city glaze as the evening hour or­ange merged in­to the beads of dai­ly sweat at rest across the brows of lan­guage con­quered peo­ples evap­o­rat­ing in­to the black night nois­es, sirens and chat­ter, songs and sil­hou­ettes an­swer­ing any con­fronta­tion cu­ri­ous enough to ex­pect one. Women were bright­ly col­ored il­lu­sions, birds and bur­ros, the men smoked, cut­ting blade sharp deals with every smile. No liv­ing soul was im­mune to ba­sic move­ment par­ti­cles smash­ing along the streets un­furled, the few lamps the city had post­ed clashed with col­ored bulbs strung like wit­ness­es to the crime of an­oth­er time, an­oth­er leg­end. One could spot a few queens squar­ing up mat­ters. Worker bees buzzed to cock dances split­ting their heads wide open on tequi­la mixed with hoped, am­bi­tions, and noth­ing else to live for but the mo­ment. There was no thought in these men that couldn’t keep to an­oth­er day. There was on­ly ac­tion. Action. Bold. Italicized. Their in­ac­tion called stut­ter­ing stu­pid mo­ments of brutish tongue. These men were kings in search of a king­dom of flesh and blood, a king­dom with­out a queen but a king­dom with slaves who would not think bet­ter or worse of them be­cause they would not be al­lowed to ques­tion, to a new phrase but the phras­es these kings would give to them with a fist and a knife dri­ven to a list­less inat­ten­tion to the dan­gers of los­ing it all in a split sec­ond, but there no lit­er­ary li­cense in con­vey­ing to the read­er that Corpus Christi wore de­li­cious­ly a cer­tain crown jew­el around her supine neck, and every man worth his machis­mo fan­cied him­self a king. Theodore White’s Huey Long would have ap­proved be­cause Rosie served up the best tongue the Agnes Street and Port Avenue cor­ri­dors knew kept men like Johnny Leal who was in on the se­cret sa­cred busi­ness of the one called Jesus Christo and Valentine Mancuso the dis­patch­er and the oc­ca­sion­al gringo crack­ling with bulging plat­ters of re­fried beans, rice piles typ­i­cal of au­then­tic Nueces County cui­sine swamped with crisp heat­ed slices of onions slith­er­ing among snap pep­pers. Menu en­vy nev­er found ar­tic­u­la­tion. Her tongue was the on­ly plat­ter I ever or­dered af­ter trump­ing the huevos y cho­riso of my first trip there months be­fore. After high­school, the steel mill, the sewage & po­lice acad­e­my en­gi­neers, and the fry­er farm at Lofton Creek, these were full-blown Lewis & Clark ex­pe­di­tion days, el viejo del hom­bre que po­eta, as I fled in­for­mal­ly the over­stat­ed cor­po­rate fields for the line wrecked pages of the New York School, or so I imag­ined, not re­al­ly know­ing how the re­al world processed its finest young tal­ent, and I would soon find my­self, not a large fish in a small pond seek­ing a larg­er pond, but a fish flop­ping about with­out even a thim­ble of wa­ter, when I had to man­u­fac­ture a pay­check to earn the roof, no mat­ter how mea­ger, I al­ways had earned a roof of my own.

The Bell chain found­ed in the 1940s had on­ly crossed east of the Mississippi a few years be­fore.

I was still dri­ving the cab. In fact, I was the on­ly Anglo hack brav­ing it for the chi­cano Red Top Taxi Corporation. In this south­east­ern Texas town of some two hun­dred thou­sand souls, I carved out a spe­cif­ic niche, the rene­gade po­et. Corpus Christi, the Shining City on the Bay, in that era was not va­cant of beau­ty, but nei­ther was it brim­ming. The lush 80s had just ar­rived, so Texas was still kick­ing the Jimmy Carter blues through the black and white lens of this generation’s rear view mir­ror, and the lus­cious Go Go’s were just warm­ing up the night­ly sad­dle tramps who were still com­ing in off the Gulf rigs, un­em­ployed and ready to fight the near­est flea they could stomp. Roadside sen­sa­tion Mickey Gilley’s was up the road a ways in Houston, Farah Fawcett’s par­ents still lived in Corpus (as the lo­cals call it), Freddy Fender was still liv­ing off a cou­ple of hit sin­gles on the crossover charts, and had made it to the White Man’s Boulevard, or Ocean Drive (as the na­tives call it) and Hurricane Allen had just blown roofs all over this place. Corpus Christi did give as good as it got. My broth­er need­ed me to help him in his roof­ing busi­ness, so I got the call. I was still back in Yulee, tak­ing care of the chick­ens, but it was a job well-spent, and a pe­ri­od of study that would prpel me through the hard rock of what was com­ing next in Corpus. We ne­go­ti­at­ed over the phone a few times, and then I pre­pared to make my way west once again.

One of the el­der mata­dors of the dri­ving corps, Rivera Diego, had set me up which some­one he called his niece. Her name was Consuela.

Sure, I had a gun pulled on me once, but the strange thing was, I felt safe even though the crazed lone gun­man, bru­tal youth in a bru­tal­iz­ing turn­stile, my age maybe old­er, was quiv­er­ing in the front passenger’s seat with a .38 Special aimed at my heart, my head, the dash­board, the over­head lamp and com­pos­ite again, but I felt safe be­cause an old Texican woman, maybe his grand­moth­er, maybe not, sat loud­ly protest­ing in the back­seat of Number 33. Quickly de­ci­pher­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween fan­ta­sy and re­al­i­ty, I knew the odds were against me no mat­ter how much I be­lieved in any­thing, some­thing, some­one, in art, or war, or a shield in­side my heart to pro­tect my vi­tals. Yet, some­how I felt this old woman pro­tect­ed all of this and more. I kept a se­ries of small note­books, and had pre­pared for the pre­pos­ter­ous, had pre­pared to talk my­self in­to any­thing as long as it was quotable. Maybe I just didn’t care if a bul­let found its mark in me. Maybe I had al­ready fig­ured out that there’s no suc­cess in fail­ure and failure’s no suc­cess at all, just like my po­et hero had taught me, but the truth is, my faith in this Jewish God heav­ens to Betsy gave me a feel­ing. Like a cloak of in­vin­ci­bil­i­ty. I knew I might be robbed, but oth­er­wise I felt no dan­ger.

Not even the strip clubs, op­er­at­ed by the bik­er gangs spelled threat in those ea­ger years. Talking Johnny was a wit­ness to a crime.

But I saved a man in the bar­rio. Then Consuela saved mine. Life is lin­ear. Memory is not.

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