“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 had 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.

© 2011 — 2018, Gabriel Thy. All rights reserved. 

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