Category Archives: Travel

Strawberry Safari

Photo by Pixabay on

The African safari was ridiculous. Hippos in high heels? They had them listening to Pearl Jam songs from the 90s. I just looked at the scenery, which was decent enough, as the savannah carriage bounced along the rough road.

I tapped the driver on the shoulder. “When do you take us back to the hotel?” I asked him.

He gave me a quick look of disbelief. “But we’ve only begun. You want to go back? I can’t go back. Not until the tour is done. The other people, they want to see the animals.”

“Can you stop and let me out then?”

The driver braked. “You going to walk back? I can’t let you do that. There are wild animals out there. This isn’t Disneyland my friend. No.”

“This won’t be on you. I’ll take full responsibility. I’ve already written my family a certified letter stating that I may do something crazy in Africa, but it’s no one’s fault but my own. You and your company are absolved. Bye now.” I jumped out of the vehicle, and he drove away slowly. The other tourists stared at me as I just smiled and waved goodbye.

I walked like a bruise through the sky. I walked liked a man with purpose who didn’t want to die. The sun bore down it’s yellow tentacles of high heat. I suddenly missed the relative comfort of the safari vehicle… That was now but a speck of whirling dust in the distance.

I came upon a herd of elephants at a watering hole. I watched them from the brush. Some were bathing, some were playing. Some were trumpeting their agonies over what vile man has done to the Earth. The pool of water grows ever smaller.

I came upon a pride of lions, and I was very careful because I did not want to get eaten. But I knew they smelled me; I could tell by the movement of their noses. I was a dead man for sure I thought, but then they caught wind of a herd of something else out on the hallucinatory flats and they went for that. I don’t even have a gun, so I have no idea how I’d even be able to defend myself. I suppose I would just let whatever beast it was that attacked me rip me to shreds. And that’s all I’d be in the end. Shreds. Like chicken meat for chicken enchiladas.

I kept on walking toward a sun mirage… I kept on thinking about why I was where I was. The money problems. The family problems. The job problems. The health problems. Too many problems all at once.

My friend Jim ‘Sanitizer’ Santiago went out to get drinks with me one night back home in the city, and lo and behold, both our wives strolled in with different men on their arms. Isn’t that just great?

“Looks like I’m no longer on the menu,” Jim said in his deep, monotone, straightforward way. “But what can I do, my hands are tied… Care for some hand sanitizer?” He retrieved a small bottle from his pocket and squirted a small glob in my waiting hand. He had a thing about hand sanitizer.

“Thanks,” I told him. I rubbed vigorously. “Can’t be too careful in places like these. But seriously, let’s get out of here. I don’t want to seem my wife rub her body all over him if they decide to dance.”

“I’m with you on that one,” he agreed.

Jim ‘Sanitizer’ Santiago was the best-groomed man I’ve ever known. His hair was as dark as an evil witch and sat in perfect form atop his head. He had the most perfectly sculpted goatee and always smelled like an expensive men’s clothing store in a nice mall. We worked together at the magazine publishing house. Only problem is, no one reads magazines anymore. “How long until we get the axe?” I asked him as we walked along a dirty sidewalk through a neon haze.

“I’ve already got my resume up to date and ready to go. It could be any time now,” he answered.

“I’m not going to bother,” I told him. “If they can me, I’m just going to go to Africa for a while. I’ve always wanted to go on safari.”

“Hmm, animals. Nothing wrong with animals. Are you going to be animalistic and mount prey?”

“I could never be as much as an animal as you are. And I’m afraid my mounting days are over.”

He smiled at me funny. “Why don’t we just go to my place. I’ve got some new cigars I been wanting to smoke.”

“Why the hell not,” I said.

He had the cleanest apartment I’ve ever seen. Nothing was out of place. There wasn’t a dirty dish or speck of dust anywhere. His bathroom was spotless and smelled of bleach. When I came out, he was on the balcony smoking his cigar. I joined him. We gazed at the lights and listened to traffic. He then asked me a very strange question. “Do you want to look at some dirty magazines?”


“I’ve got some dirty magazines. Do you want to look at them with me?”

I laughed because I thought he was joking. But when he squeezed at himself through his pants and said, “I might need to take care of this,” I knew he wasn’t joking.

“No. I don’t, Jim.”

“You won’t have to do anything. You can just watch.”

“I think I may just go. Seems like you might need some privacy.”

He clamped a hand on my shoulder as I turned to leave. “Please… Or we could watch a porno if that makes you feel more comfortable. I just want you to stay.”

“What kind of porno, Jim? If it’s guys with guys forget it… Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just not my thing.”

He stubbed out his cigar. “All right then. Maybe I do want to be alone. Sorry if I’m being a weirdo drag.”

But I understood in a way I suppose. “It’s okay, man. I’ll talk to you later.” Seeing his wife with another guy at a bar. We all deal with it in different ways.

Maybe the animal isn’t always what it portrays itself to be…Until you find yourself in the middle of a safari wildland trying to get back to the posh hotel to live a life of luxury when you don’t even deserve luxury and can barely afford it anyway. I raped my credit cards for this trip, and I’ll be paying for it later. Literally. Why can’t anything enjoyable ever come easy. I curse the imbalance… Bad things happen so frequently and with such ease, but why is it such a battle in this life to get the good? I suppose like everything else; it all comes down to money. If you don’t have it, you suffer. If you have it, things are always easier. That’ sad, or maybe I just misunderstand everything.

I was back in my room, and I took a shower. My wife called and said she wanted a divorce because I was no longer the man she married and I just ‘didn’t do it’ for her anymore. I suppose I didn’t care, but then I did. I was suddenly all alone in the word, but then I have been for a very long time, so it sort of felt the same except that I was in this expensive hotel in Africa and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I decided to call Jim ‘Sanitizer’ Santiago.

“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” he said when he answered which I thought was strange because it was a phone call and not an in-person event. “How’s it going?”

“I’m in Africa and I’m bored. Can you believe that?”

“Maybe you need to go out and hook up with some jungle babes.”

“Nah… What are you doing?”

“Oh, I was just watching some pornography.”

“Anything good?”

“It’s called Mr. Clean the Sex Machine.”

“Oh, sounds interesting.”

“Why don’t you come by some time when you get back.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be back, Jim. I may go stick my head in a lion’s mouth.”

“That would be an awful way to go.”

“I suppose it would… I’m going to go now, Jim. Enjoy your porn. Bye.”

I ended the call and sat on the edge of the bed and looked through the big glass windows of the sliding veranda doors and the sky was strawberry red with clouds, a wound of humanity sopped up in gauze and bandaged with another wishful goodnight kiss.


Time Machine Clouds

Time Machine Clouds.
Photo by Pixabay on

She’s scared of me I can tell.

Not that I’ll do some horrible damage.

But that I’ll just mess up my own heart and mind with memories that aren’t even mine.

Because I’m a train with several wings.

And the stops we make are to all sorts of different places at the same time.

The steam stack release like time machine clouds… Puffing.

The whistle long and guttural and hopeful.

People pattering about on the platforms in clothes appropriate for the various times.

But I have no idea where to get off or if I even can.

I’m somehow glued to the seat like in a dream.

All I can do is look out the window and scream.

But then I settle into the movement, a verdant massage.

Like somewhere in Italy, the sky is hot, the clouds are sweating, the blue is melting.

My guts are wallowing in upended nerves, I need to catch my breath for just a moment.

The conductor walks by and hands me a package wrapped in yellow.

He tells me not to open it until I get to my final destination.

“In case it’s a bomb,” he bends and whispers. He straightens up and reaches into his pocket and pulls something out. “Peanuts?” he asks.

“If only there were an ocean,” I answer. “I’m afraid of choking.”

He takes offense, snaps his heels together and walks off. I can hear his voice in the narrow distance trail off. “Peanuts…”

I look out the window to remind myself I’m on a train and not an airplane, but then that’s where I am wrong. The meadows of white clouds below my feet correct my thinking, my dreaming, my pure reality.

I look down into my lap and I am still holding the package wrapped in yellow. I don’t care what he said, and I open it anyways. The sound of ripping paper wrestles some others from sleep. Some moan and groan and look around. There’s a small box beneath the paper. I hold it to my ear, and I can hear something skittering about and breathing.

I open the box and a yellow canary flies out. It flutters all about the cabin. It bumps into people’s heads, chirps, and claws. Other passengers are flailing their arms and hands and teeth. One man tried to swallow it. Another man was screaming and tried to open the emergency exit door. Because of a bird? A canary? What a fool, I thought. And yet another man had to punch him in the face to knock him out and tame his irrational outburst.

Then the turbulence came as we were descending into… Denver, I suppose. The Rocky Mountains can be a bit rocky. The toasted landscape below is topped with a tab of buttered pollution. It grossly melts. The skyscrapers poke through it all.

I get that weird feeling in my stomach as we quickly come down, the ground is rushing by, the wheels hit and there’s that momentary rough nudge. The voice of the pilot comes on over the sound system. Most of the time, you can never understand a damn word they say. But this time it was clear. “Nailed it!” she said. The other passengers laughed and cheered. Had we been in some sort of danger? I wondered to myself. I guess it didn’t matter anymore.

Inside the terminal of Denver International, I was the only one remaining at the luggage carousel. I watched it go around and around and around. There were no more bags. They finally shut it down. A man came along. His head was down, and he was sweeping the floor. Then all the lights went out and it was very quiet. I ignited the flashlight on my cell phone and began to walk. My footsteps fell heavy and loud on the tiled floor. I was always the last one to depart.


Tomah Graph


Censor me still-life
take my Tomah Graph
swimming in the Hollywood Holiday Inn pool
now drowning in a pool of my own
painful frustrations and jitters
uninvited guests in the gray of night
this brain hurts like cinema for Alex
have another stick of chewing gum
another stick of dynamite to ease the grief
you so gallantly feel at this moment
these white office lights bleaching me pale
invading my blood and neuropathic welly wells
the gondolas paddle through my veins of Venice
churning up all the nicotine clots and bad vibes
where is my slice of American apple pie
I must of dropped it in Vietnam
when the grenade went off and all was nonsense

Cradling three bags of light in my coat pockets
as I walked along
the Lake Marion Passage Trail some 30 years later
I noticed the sky was still the same deep blue
the leaves of the trees still fell in perfect rhythm
every year
the dissection of Autumn
Saroyan and Whitman staring down
Jack passed out in a beached aluminum fishing boat
the narrow, quiet roads lined with the dangling limbs of tall, skinny trees
the Spanish moss hanging there like the fallen locks of a stoned Medusa
the quiet so soothing, the calm so intoxicating, the wet so disheartening
but a woodsy wander it shall be
in the rural confines, gloriously gorgeous confines, of the southern Carolina place

Until… Put my fist through the timber lodge paneling
the boiling inside again
asking for it again
just asking for it again, the other side of the coin.

Tecumah (1.)

Taos graveyard for Tecumah.
Photo by Aaron A. Cinder

There was I, that is Thom (Tom) Hatt again, returned from beyond the living world, and I stood there in the trashed-out parking lot of some cheap, old road motel in Taos, New Mexico looking around like in a dream and smoking an Injun J with a guy named Tecumah.

The traffic roared by lonely, an ache that only the sound of engines running away can awaken and bolster that feeling of isolation in a man’s southwestern guts.

Tecumah was tall and wide, like an ungodly border wall, and he had fireflies for buttons on his long, worn leather coat and they began to flicker and flash as the sun was dropping and the stars were beginning to roar.

He looked one way, to where there was traffic and strips of tawdry shops, and he spat that way. His eyes were cursing. His long hair went wild in the wind.

“Bullshit, man. Bullshit,” he said, and he turned away to where the muscular mountains were now fading into far away bluish darkness like a melting bruise.

“That’s what it was all like here once, a long time ago — the darkness, the pinion, the rocks, the quiet — and then all these assholes show up and turn it all into a postcard and something to sell. That’s just bullshit, man. Bullshit.”

I nodded in agreement as Tecumah handed me the J. “Capitalism is a heartless grind,” I said. “I’m sorry we raped your culture. People can be horrible.”

Tecumah sucked on a big bottle of tequila I had bought him earlier because he had helped me out when my red Ford Probe broke down right outside of town.

“White man come and plow it all down with the head of their god… If they want another war, then they can have it, and I’ll be right there with wicked knuckle knocks on their whitey heads.”

“Good for you!” I exclaimed, and he handed me the bottle. “Let’s go gambling chief.”

“All right,” Tecumah said, wobbly in words and walk, “But you’re in no condition to drive, we’ll take my horse… Besides, that car you have is a piece of shit.”

“Yes, I know,” I said as I hopped up onto the back of Tecumah’s horse. “But it’s all I could afford because I’m merely a slave to the system. They pay me just enough to keep me in need. I’d really like to drive the damn thing off a cliff.”

Tecumah playfully laughed. “We can do that tomorrow if you want. I know a good place to send that piece of shit over the edge. You’ll never see it again.”

As we trotted through town, I told Tecumah that I had written a poem about the car. He just laughed at me again.

“Why do you write a poem about a piece of shit car? You should write a poem about a beautiful woman.”

“I have… A hundred thousand times. It never did anyone any good.” And then I laughed. It really was ridiculous. A hundred thousand love poems written and here I was on the back of a horse headed to a casino with a drunken Native American named Tecumah.

“It’s that damn car you have, man,” he said. “You need to drive something that will turn you into a chick magnet, like me.” And Tecumah laughed about that, too.

“But you ride a horse,” I said.

“You’d be surprised how many chicks I pick up with this horse.”

“What’s the horse’s name?”

“His name is Jim.”

“Jim the horse?”


“Let’s get some Mexican food,” I suggested. “I’m hungry all of a sudden.”

Tecumah stopped Jim the horse. He looked around a bit, thinking.

“All right, I know of a place we can go.”

And then we were off again, down the main drag, and drivers of autos were honking at us, and ignorant idiots were making Indian noises out the windows.

“Woo, woo, woo, woo …” they went, tapping their hands against their mouth holes.

“And I’ll kick you straight in the ass, you fuckers!” Tecumah yelled at them, shaking his big, hunk of meat fist at them. They ducked their heads in like frightened turtles and drove away fast.


Tecumah tied Jim the horse to a fence rail, and we went into the Mexican place. We were abruptly and rudely greeted.

“Hey Tonto, this ain’t Halloween, you can’t come in here dressed like that,” some jack-off host guy said to Tecumah.

“Dressed like what?”

“Like an Indian, that’s what.”

“I am an Indian you twat. Now, we’d like to have a table for two or would you prefer I knock your teeth down your throat you anti-Injun bastard.”

The host scoffed. “Always resorting to violence, damn savage. Why don’t you go back to you where you came from. Lousy immigrant.”

I shook my head in disbelief while Tecumah curled up his Thor hammer fist and pushed it in the guy’s face; it was nearly as big as his whole asinine head. “You’re the immigrant,” he snarled in a wild, earthy way. “And I’ll gladly knock you back to Europa.”

The curly haired twerp of a host shrunk back. “All right, all right, just settle down. I don’t want any trouble here. This way then.”

“Ah, right by the bathrooms,” Tecumah complained as we were seated. “I love the smell of urinal cakes baking in a piss oven when I’m dining.”

“Sorry sir, it’s all we have available right now.”

I looked around at the nearly empty joint.

“Bullshit,” I said. “What about all those other tables.”

“Those are reserved, sir. I’m sorry, this is the best I can do,” and with that he trotted off like the twit he was.

“Let’s just get out of here,” I said to Tecumah. “I bet they’ll spit in our food.”

“Yeah, I have a bad feeling about this place, but let’s just get some beers, and the hell with the food.”

We had nine beers each and then walked out without paying the tab. Some guy, probably the manager, came rushing out after us, but Tecumah slugged him and that was the end of that.

We flew like the wind on Jim the horse and Tecumah almost smashed into a light pole, but we finally arrived at the casino on the dusty and adobe outskirts of town. The place was all a hustle and bustle and packed with noise and smoke and the ringing of bells and the flashing of lights and the cheers and cries of winners and losers.

Tecumah went to play blackjack and I went to the bar and ordered some more beers. I played a poker game built into the bar and then some chick came up to me and she wanted some drinks. I was pretty lit up and asked her straight out if she was a hooker. She took real offense to that and slapped me across the face, but I was numb enough that I didn’t feel much.

“Thank you, mam, may I have another?”

And she slapped me again and that time I felt a pretty good sting and that’s when this big, burly bastard comes over and asks me if there is some kind of problem and why I’m messing with his girl.

I studied the big, ugly dude for a minute or two.

“Ok, ok. So, you’re with this guy?” I said to the chick trying to be a hooker.

“What the hell does that mean?” the big, ugly dude said, moving in closer to me, all pissed off.

“I’m just saying that, well, you just don’t seem like the type of guy who would see much action.”

“Are you calling me a faggot? Faggot.”

“No, not at all. In fact, to be quite frank about the whole thing, I don’t think you could get a dude either.”

The guy grabbed me and pulled me out of my chair.

“I think we need to have a private conversation — outside.”

That’s what he said to me and then I was dragged out into the parking lot, and we had this fight and he beat me up pretty bad and when I walked back into the casino people started screaming because I was all battered and bleeding and that’s when I fell down.

To Be Continued…

The Chronicles of Anton Chico (American Soil)

Anton Chico in swirl of dark hallway.
Photo by Aidan Roof on

The Other Side of the Door

By mid-afternoon, the sun was flaring its nostrils and spitting fire and when I walked out of the rough cantina in Juarez, I had to shade my eyes because the light stung them like a burning wasp.

I stumbled into the tide of people and turned this way and that in a state of confusion trying to determine which way it was to the border. I saw the policeman, walking slowly against the flow of people, and I saw his eyes fix on me and Anton Chico panicked for a second, moved to the edge of the flustered queue and stood against the hot stucco of a building until the officer passed.

I knew it was time to get out of the country; the paranoia was creeping in again and I felt an attack coming on. I swiftly moved back into the flow of people and headed straight for the crossover. When I reached it, I deposited a quarter and pushed my way through the turnstile and sighed with relief when I saw the buildings of El Paso, cloaked in heavy and hot smog, just beyond the crest of the bridge.

I walked fast. The sweat was pouring out of me like someone had gently squeezed a sponge. I smelled like the remnants of a wild fiesta. That familiar ache in my head and the churning in my belly began to rise and I was dying for a drink of water. Agua.

I stopped outside the checkpoint building, where the Mexicans show their green cards, and smoked a cigarette watching the herd of people moving along like desperate and bewildered cattle. I crushed the smoke on the ground and joined them. I had no green card but showed the officer my American driver’s license.

“American citizen?” he asked with a stern look.


He moved me through, and on the other side of the doorway was America.

Swallowed by the Night

No soul to touch, no voice to caress, no hand to crush to dust. The little car hummed along the highway at dusk headed toward home. El Paso faded like a dream behind me. I was feeling a bit sad having to leave that place. As big and dirty and electrified as it was, I began to miss it; or in all actuality, miss the being away from the doldrums, getting more doldrum by the day, and the ache in my belly began to roar again as I thought about having to return to my shaved-face reality; my 4 p.m. check-in and well-behaved, well-dressed mannerisms.

It was all soaking fake and dull and leaving me shaking with a shame about my own false reality and pious lies and imperfections seething through the cracks in my well-oiled skin as I desperately tried so hard not to break down and scream and rant and rave and cry up a mad tempest all down my sweaty, shaking face as I smiled, feigned smiling, for the camera, the camera called the eyes and lies of every beating heart human that surrounded my very bland every day activities.

The blood in my veins boiled, the acid in my stomach fizzed, the marrow in my bones bubbled, the curvatures across my brain pulsed, rhythmic creation in an underskirt, my diary of madness scratched on the inside of my eyes in a calligrapher’s black ink.

It was dark as death as I pulled into my space at the complex and killed the engine. The moon was full and beaming down through the tall treetops like something out of a famous love story. I opened the car door and reluctantly trudged my pack with me up the short steps to the door. I fumbled with my key in the lock and pushed the door in. Black silence came over me. My fingers fumbled for the light switch and when thus the place became illuminated it was no brighter than when it was completely dark.

The place smelled as if it had been vacant for months; stale, dry rot, cumbersome, old, gray, nicotine smeared and cold. I set my things down and went to my favorite living room window, the tall and narrow one, pulled aside the curtains and opened it. The vacant lot outside was just as I had left it. A car rumbled down the road. I looked at the scattered remains of porch lights at this late hour. A dog barked. A bug of some sort slammed himself against the screen and then fluttered off dismayed. I sighed and went into the bathroom to shower.

The blaring sun woke me up. The curtains were thin and an ungodly melon color – bed sheets really – and I threw the blanket off me because I was already beginning to sweat. So some words about that unholy oppressive heat I had come to so despise during my desert life:

The heat was like an arrow of fire, like a spike dipped in burning coals thrust through the flesh at high speed, like hell, like an oven, like crisp and dead leaves beneath a Boy Scout’s microscope… The relentless ball of fire hung in the sky like the devil’s eye, unleashing its burn down upon the land, the desolate harrowing land of death and solidness, of pain and captivity, a burrowing fever that boiled the brain and cooked the buildings and the asphalt, a harrowing, searing blaze boiling all in its path, an unending glare, the fireball coated white hot and spitting its hot lust down upon the earth in every spot I stood; there was no relief, no shelter from the sun that never hid its face from view, always there, always hanging there like a hot jewel ripe to burn the skin right off your bones.

It made the town more depressing than it already was; at least the rain would of washed some of the sin away, but no, not here in this place, no rain, just wind and dust and hot, everything dry as dead bone, every drop of moisture sucked from the living; the river ran so slow and shallow and brown, the sun sipping every morsel of wet from the land’s soul and the skins of humans dry and cracking, wiped over with lotions and moisturizers every morning and then one would step outside and simply burn, burn, burn… The beads of sweat came forth suddenly and poured down one’s face; a sick, laborious heat that pushed the boundaries of human endurance far over the edge, where one would kill for a place in front of a breeze, one would kill for an ice cube or a fan or an Alaskan vacation.

I and others like me would sleep draped in our own sweat because even once the sun did fall for the night the temperature would remain high; the heat, absorbed by the buildings and the streets and the earth, would be belched back out to recycle its pain throughout the darkness, a warm velvet glove cupped over the city swatting away any attempt of coolness trying to come down and breathe upon us all; the heat, there was just no escape – the swamp coolers hummed and rumbled but not a dent would they manage to carve into the grip of suffocation.

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The Chronicles of Anton Chico (A Mexican moon)

Border wall erected at Mexican border with United States.

The Inhuman Wall

I sat in the back of the hotel van as the Mexican man drove me to the border. He was playing Mexican music on the radio and speaking into a CB handset of some sort once in a while. He was telling his comrades on the other side: “Here I come with another gringo! Get your baseball bats ready you fuckers!” That’s what I thought.

It was at times like these that Anton Chico wished he had known how to speak Spanish, or at least understood some of it, especially with those bruisers on the other end waiting for me. I shifted uncomfortably in the seat and looked out the windows at all the chaos I had just come through myself earlier.

So, I should have turned there, but I didn’t, and the van pulled into a lot, and I thought to myself, “Well, this is it. They’re going to club me, and I’ll be done for. My keys, my camera, my wallet and I’ll wake up handcuffed to a bed with a dirty mattress in some dingy room with thin curtains and a half empty bottle of tequila sitting on a wobbly table and there sitting in the chair by the table will be this Mexican girl, big brown breasts exposed smoking a cigarette and staring at me like I was some sort of villain and then in would walk her John Boy in a stained wife beater t-shirt and having a big, black, bushy moustache and holding a switchblade and he’d come at me, cursing at me in Spanish, flailing the sharp blade all around in front of me, slicing the air, then he catches my cheek and I can feel the warm trickle start rolling down my damp face like a maroon tear and flow into my mouth.”

“We’re here,” the driver said as he always does, and he got out of the van, came around the other side and slid the door open. I stepped out and handed him $3.

“Gracias, senor,” he said, and got back into the van and drove away, leaving me there right on the razor’s edge between two very different nations. I was immediately approached by another man who had been waiting in the lot.

“You need senorita?” he asked. “Twenty dollars and I take you to senorita. Pretty senorita. My taxi right there, $20.”

“No, that’s all right,” I said. “I’m going to walk over the bridge. I want to go across on the bridge. Walk.” And I pointed toward the bridge. He looked at me like I was crazy. He seemed so disappointed.

I fell into the queue crossing over. I deposited 35 cents and stepped across. Now above me the Mexican flag painted the sky in the wind. I looked over the edge of the bridge and saw the muddy trickle of the Rio Grande piddle through. I saw the great barriers designed to keep the undesirables out rise up at its American shore. The sign deciphered: This is America. No illegal aliens, only illegal activity by our own is accepted.

Those barriers, those watch towers, those rows of razor wire are grim reminders of human selfishness, the God negative and gluttony, hypocritical pride and the suffering in its wake. On one side of the barriers, perfumed buttoned-up crooked sophistos drive to lunch in a polished Mercedes; on the other side, a starving man drinks himself senseless on a dirt road while the stars and the sadness spin. If only for an opportunity, but they don’t pass out opportunity like political payoffs.

Anton Chico suffers from a debilitating mental illness. When happiness should be sweet, it is sour for him. When love should be beautiful, it becomes a desperate crawl along the cold kitchen floor crying out in emotional pain for him. When human contact should be soft, it is like petting a dragon kitten of thorns for him. Everything hurts, everything aches, a narrow tunnel lined with dark light and harrowing thoughts of soiled innocence. It is physically exhausting and now I cannot get over the wall that they never did build. Such heartless, godless stupidity.

I was there. Stepping across the imaginary line that separates one way of life from another. The street was packed with people shuffling in and out, up and down. Ratty store fronts lined the way. Spanish language signs everywhere. Green and orange and sky-blue facades with painted black lettering. In every doorway stood someone desperate to sell me something. Desperate for the American money they could use on the American side to buy things made in Pakistan or Bangladesh or Honduras. To buy clothes sewn together by the sore fingers of their not-so-distant relatives in another, oppressed land just like their own. There were more offers to meet a “sweet senorita” upstairs for $20. “She’ll make you feel so good senor. Do you not want to feel good?”

There I was, sticking out like a flashing American beacon. They could smell me. They could see me in my red ball cap, my faded striped shirt and faded shorts exposing my whiteness, my 17 days unshaved and a Pentax film camera slung around my neck. And then I wondered as I walked, where were all the other Americans? Where were all the others just like me flowing across? But then I remembered, as I was crossing over, there were no others. I was immersed in the clan. It was a weekday, and these were all simple workers and shoppers streaming back into their homeland and I suddenly felt all alone, a poster on the white wall. I no longer felt so at ease.

I stepped inside a relatively safe looking shop; bare and dusty and two men hunched over the counter. One sprung on me as soon as I entered.

“What are you looking for? Some jewelry? Something nice for your girlfriend?”

“I don’t have a girlfriend. Not anymore. Just some postcards. Do you have postcards?”

“Postcards! We have postcards. Here, I will show you.”

He took me to a wobbly spinner rack of muddy brass that held a few faded, dry looking postcards. I grabbed two.

“Fifty cents. Nothing else? No senorita?” He motioned with his head toward a staircase. “My daughter. You will like her.”

I set the postcards down on the counter along with one dollar. I stood for a minute thinking, looking out the grimy glass window to the hot, bustling street. The whole place smelled like greasepaint, and I could feel the greasepaint on my face. The grease clogging my fat pores. The sweat stinging my pale skin. I lifted the red ball cap from my head and wiped the wetness from my brow.

“I’m so sweaty,” I said to the man.

“Everybody sweaty. Don’t worry, she’ll take good care of you.”

I set twenty dollars on the counter and the man smiled. He motioned me to stand there while he went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted something up in Spanish. An agitated female voice shouted something back down. He came back over to me.

“Upstairs. You can go now.”

He tapped his worn wristwatch with the tips of his fingers.

“30 minutes,” he said, and I went to the stairs and climbed them slowly.

I heard crackling Mexican radio songs flowing down the stairwell. It grew hotter as I climbed, and I wondered how they tolerated it. At the top of the stairs was a doorway to the left. I looked in. It was a bathroom. Hot, not too clean. There was a short hallway and at the end of the hallway was a flowery curtain covering a doorway. I touched the soft fabric and pulled it aside. Inside the room was a single bed covered in crumpled white sheets. Next to the bed stood a small table and on the table a few glasses, a half-empty bottle of brown alcohol, and an ashtray littered with lipstick-stained butts.

The room had two windows spaced closely together. They were open, ratty, flowered sheets for curtains languidly flopping in the light breeze. It was very hot in the room and the sweat was pouring out of me. I saw a cloud of smoke spurt forth from another corner of the room. A girl was sitting in a chair, a yellow towel wrapped around her body, her hair was dark, flowing and wet. Her large brown eyes stared up at me in a kind of hopeless, loving and lost way. Her brown skin was dimpled with sweat or maybe water from a shower she just took. I watched her take a drag on the cigarette tightly clamped in her full, bare lips. She smiled after she exhaled and motioned for me to sit on the bed.

“Cigarette?” I asked her. I had my own, but for some reason I wanted one of hers.

She tossed me her pack and I pulled one out. She tossed me a book of matches and I lit it. I waved out the match and dropped it in the ashtray and then sat halfway in the windowsill next to her chair so that I could see inside and outside. I didn’t want to sit on the bed. I could feel the heat on my shoulder and the greasepaint smell was rising again. I could taste the smog on my tongue. Off in the distance I could hear traffic – honking horns, gunning motors, people yelling in Spanish. The girl sat emotionless, staring off into space as she held the cigarette between her fingers, the smoke flowing from the tip of it like a bluish whisper. We sat there in silence for half an hour looking at a Mexican moon that wasn’t even there. She didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I. I looked out the window one last time, and then I got up and walked out. She never said goodbye.

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The Chronicles of Anton Chico (The Monarch of Devils)

El Paso. Woman in shadow walks down the street in Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

Off to El Paso

I went to El Paso. It was some summer of love and it was hotter than Georgia asphalt in July. But this wasn’t Georgia, it was Texas.

I was afraid my little old Nissan would overheat in the middle of nowhere, but it did not. It made the trip faithfully. Four hours without any air conditioning through the wastelands of New Mexico into the barren yellow corner of Texas right on the border with the country of Mexico. The stark, dry landscape all around me. Mounds of rock dying of thirst and choking on their own dust. The radio crackled in and out as I dodged the vultures and ran over the tarantulas ambling across the roadway. I could hear their splattered guts sizzle on the broiling pavement as I left them behind to die.

I was being swallowed whole by the vastness of the place. The ever-widening expanse of desolation laid down before me and it was as if I was on some mad magic carpet ride through the outlands of the earth. Was this even earth? It all seemed so sci-fi and foreign to me. Not very many other cars and when they did pass it was with a sudden swooooosh of lightning-quick eye contact with some foreigner on their way to holiday farther north in the mountains where it was at least 20 degrees cooler. The sunglasses, the smiles, the slicked-up lips mouthing nonsense to other travelers.

I exhaled smoke and tossed another butt out the window, watched it skid along the roadway in my rear-view mirror, shooting sparks like a firecracker all over the hot asphalt like a crashed motorcycle. I took it slow, didn’t want to push the engine too hard. If she were to break down out here, I would be fucked for sure. She kept on pushing on.

The little gray sedan I bought from a foreigner who went back home. That foreign lesbian chick who used to come sit by my desk and talk incessantly about Norwegian folklore while I was trying to focus. She was intelligent, bright, and witty as I struggled to work and think of enchanting things to say all at the same time. That foreign girl with the endless legs. It was as if all she had were legs. She was so damn tall, unnaturally tall, like a volleyball player from Belarus, and she was constantly ducking to avoid hitting her head on things. She smelled like gingerbread and books. That foreign girl was on the other side of the planet now. I dropped an empty beer can out the window, hearing it go tink tink behind me, and stopped thinking of the foreign girl.

I drove and drove and drove through the beautiful atmosphere thinking that perhaps I had made a wrong turn for I saw no sign of El Paso, no smog cloud, no hazy shapes of buildings on the horizon. Nothing. Nothing at all. From the direction I was coming I was unaware at the time that the city of El Paso lurches up suddenly like an oasis erection in the desert. One minute you are gazing around looking for it and then there it suddenly appears laid out like a hi-tech graph, sprawled across the land like a breathing, pulsing organism teeming with frantic, hot life.

El Paso City LimitsPop. 563,662

The freeway suddenly sucked me in, and I found I had to drive faster just to keep up with these speeding maniacs. The freeway, like the digestive tract of a human body, wound in and out, up and down, over and through the chaotic town like a maddening bowl of spaghetti in motion. It was metal on metal, brick on brick, breath to breath and pillar to pillar.

I came into the downtown district and saw a cluster of tall buildings all huddled together and basking in the burning rays of the sun. I saw the 11-story hotel I was looking for and skillfully pulled onto the exit and down into the belly of town. I turned into the parking lot and killed the engine, letting the car pant and sweat in stationary safety. I crawled out. My clothes were wet and stuck to my body. I grabbed my bag and went inside. It was a decent place decked out in an unauthentic Mexican motif. I heard the chattering of Spanish speaking tourists and hotel workers all around me. The scent of Mexican food wafted throughout the lobby as I made my way to the front desk.

“My name is Anton Chico and I’d like a room with a view for two nights please.”

The clerk had me fill out a little white card with a pencil the size of my pinky.


“A suite would be nice.”



She tapped in my information into a computer and ran my credit card.

Should I be concerned?

She smiled and handed me a small envelope containing my key card.

“704 sir. Enjoy your stay.”

“If I want to go over to Juarez, will someone take me there?” I asked her.

“Yes, we have a shuttle. Just let us know when you’d like to go over sir. Our driver is very flexible.”

And then I took a momentary dream pill.

“Why do you wash and stow the ashtray, Anton Chico? You know you’re just going to fucking light up again,” I remember saying to myself as I shuffled around my little hut on Galapagos looking for cigarettes that were not there. That’s why I went to Galapagos in the first place. To just sit with the dragons and not smoke. I went crazy sitting there with those dragons. Those damn things could have killed me, but I didn’t care; I was out of my mind with nicotine fits, and hell, I thought dying would be better. Just one vicious bite from those raw-hided bastards and I’d ooze away on the beach. Slumped over like a cadaver who floated in from the sea. Some poor Joe who just got dumped from the deck of a ship because he had typhoid or hepatitis or something bad like that.

So, I just sat there in the sun and sand with the dragons wandering about all around me until some sweaty American scientist studying the place came along and offered me a fat Marlboro, tightly packed and ready to burn. I took it, inhaled deeply, and left the dragons be and went to my hut to jot down some thoughts in a notebook. I think I called it Anton Chico’s Short-lived Island Adventure.

And so there I was in this El Paso hotel room standing out on the balcony leaning far over the rail with a burning cigarette planted firmly in my mouth looking way down at the cement of the parking lot spotted with dirty oil stains. I spit. The spit plummeted down, slid sideways in the wind, and then crashed into the windshield of a black BMW sports car. How easily entertained Anton Chico was then and there. How easily driven to the easily obtained excesses of life.

I looked out at the world around me, slowly running my eyes over the whole of the scene. Right across the busy street below was a large blue building with large, dark windows reflecting the fading sun. Over to my right, stood square and squat office buildings reflecting the shimmering gold of the sun as well and a shabby looking old hotel taller than the one I was in with a big red sign on top that said: HOTEL.

I could see the drip marks from the air conditioners running down the sallow sides of the building. And beyond that, beyond the heart of downtown El Paso splattered over the barren, dusty hills were the shacks of Juarez. The oppressed lived there with their green cards. They were the ones who spilled across the border every day to clean up after all the American filth had taken their great big shits for the day. They worked the work that the too proud Americans were too proud to take. The hotel room cleaners, the janitors, the battering rams, the shit sweepers, the spit lickers, the gut rapists. They did it all for a few dollars just to pour another cup of tortilla soup down the gullets of their brain-damaged children swatting away the flies back home in their beautiful green, tin shacks shimmering in the desolate sun.

Although the stories are loosely connected, you can check out the previous post here: The Chronicles of Anton Chico (Low and High)