Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tuesday September 13, 2005 – sometime in the afternoon – Bushwick Polling Station

What is the sound of hope? what kind of beast grating its underbelly against the sand is the sound of something changing?

Today I am working a nightmare job for the Board of Elections. I got to the polling station at 5:30AM and I have to be there till well after the polls close at 9PM. Most of the voters coming through are Puerto Ricans, many of whom command little or no English, part of the old Puerto Rtican neighborhood not quite gentrified out of East Williamsburg and Bushwick. But that of course is not why the job today is a nightmare. I’ll get to that.

There is a continuous believeing that has to be in place to allow 70-80 year old abuelas to leave their houses and come out for a Democratic Primary (and I do believe it’s more than just Fernando Ferrer). In a media driven pseudo-reality we are often told in one way or another that these immigrants; the ones who will not learn English, who will not integrate are the hindrance to America’s eventual vision. Still, in my district, in the polling station in which I work, they are the only Americans who are coming our consistently and demanding voice. They argue about how long they’ve been voting at the same polling station and that it shouldn’t take forever to find their names on the ledgers. They fist withering voting cards – some with registration dates as far back as the 70s – out of almost-as-old-wallets. They inquire after the candidates names. The Portalatin family all came together; mother, father and two grown daughters. Others bring their young children and took them into the booth with them so they could see what they were doing (the polling station coordinator prevented one mother from doing so – whole ‘nother story dem people I’m working with).

What is the sound of hope? what is the weight of a collective buying-in? selling out? Is this fighting, dogged determination or blindness?

I have something of a pinched nerve in my back and I’ve had to sit here so long I’ve finished all 340 pages of Esmeralda Santiago’s 3rd memoir “The Turkish Lover”, and have began Li-Young Lee’s memoir “The Winged Seed” again.

Every now and then, the very rosy, earnest face of a young, liberal hipster, will also come by, and it is almost a surreality then, that even the dreams and beliefs that live in these voting booths are being gentrified – not that one judges the votes but you can almost see the promise of a bullshit American dream passing out of vogue.

Now for the shit-talk. So the woman next to me, in that ultra self-officious way that folks will sometimes have if they feel they have a spot over you in some mysterious totem-pole, informsbme early in the day (like I give a fuck at 6:10AM) that not-to-worry, she has a lot of experience doing this and she knows that this is my first time, but she been doing this so many years… (doesn’t it already sound like dialogue from a porn scene?) and it’s easy. She then proceeds to not be able to find a Vargas in a haystack of fucking Smiths or a Johnson in a haystack of freakin’ Valderramas and she’s fucking up forms (I fucked up one form myself) and the count card and the order card and I’m on absolutely no sleep, so I don’t even have the energy to tell tell her she’s fuckin’ it up, because after all she’s got a lot of experience doing this in her shiny flowered-ass shirt. So then she decides “you fill out the cards and I’ll look for the names” but I have to look for the names over her shoulder anyway, because she’s staring directly at Paula Villareal and shouting “we got no Paula Villareal on this list” and I’m like “uhm, uhm, excuse me… her name’s… like… right there…” and this is a 15 hour freakin workday…

Later in the afternoon…

So it’s about 5PM now, so check it out. There’s just been a major dust-up at the polls here. So this older dude, Mr. Johnson is showing a woman and her daughter into the booth. He directs them to swing the lever over to the position where they can make their voting choices. Over comes the poll station co-ordinator shouting “No no no!!! they can’t vote now. they’ve already clicked the lever twice so they’ve made a selection!!” Mr. Johnson says “No, they’ve only swung the lever over once. look at where it is now! You have to let them make their choice!” Co-ordinator lady grabs the lever and says “No, it’s over! they’ve voted!” The woman and her daughter back away but start arguing their cause in Spanish. The co-ordinator woman is cussing them back out in Spanish and Mr. Johnson, is like… “C’mon now, this nonsense. You gotta let the people vote…”

I’m rolling on the floor laughing, partly out of the delirium borne of fatigue. I finally get up say excuse me and start reading the instructions on the voting booth. I finally stop giggling enough to say “ uhm, uhm, excuse me according to the instructions here, I think that when the lever is in the position it is now they can vote. I believe we have to let them vote.” The co-ordinator lady has been holding onto the lever all this time. There are American citizens waiting in line to vote and witnessing the entire debacle (including the part with me rolling on the floor). Co-ordinator lady throws up her hands. The people vote. Long live America. Democracy is in action!!

Also here are pictures of me on the bike in the costume in Seattle. They're great!!

There are more Seattle pictures to come.
Saturday September 10th, 2005 – 12:36AM – PST (Seattle)

So not much to report from the Bumbershoot wrap party; coupla free drinks, some dancing. I did however have the chanc to reconnect with Otha Major; a beatboxer from Seattle who just might be the best in the business I’ve come across. I got to work with him a few years back and got to hear him again tonight. I need to have him come to New York, so I can figure out an excuse to write a show for him and me to do.

Meanwhile, the inimitable Amy Baranski strikes again – she of the craziness and picking fights in a bar in San Francisco (all 103 lbs of her). I swear I’ll figure out how to get the pictures from off my phone so everyone can know these scandalous people.

I’m still up because I just got watching ‘The Exorcist’, so basically there’s no reason I should be trying to go to sleep.

Monday September 12th, 2005 – 10:04PM – EST

So I’m assuming I’m back in the Eastern Time Zone, being in a plane somewhere between Chicago and New York. Seattle was a good time this time around (as it always is) though it was a lot more low-key then in the past. With Karen Finneyfrock being a fantastic host as usual and Damemond Arrindell providing the best ever French Toast that side of the Cascade Mountains, and getting to reconnect with my friend Koreen from college, and getting to do a fair amount of writing, I feel like I actually accomplished stuff. It will feel weird the next time I have to go back though, because Karen is moving to DC and so much of Seattle is associated with her, for me (probably because she puts me up whenever I go there), but there was excellent salmon dinner from Allison and Thomas, and I got splendid views and excellent pictures of the space needle from their house – see pictures. There are after all still a huge lot of folks from Seattle who will make it a great place to go back to. Gwen (newly moved back there after having to abandon law school at Tulane after Katrina) Davis, provided excellent company and a ride to the airport too, so Seattle is alllll good as far as I’m concerned (even if it is beginning to be overcast for 75 percent of the time every day and will continue to do so until April).

In the airport in Chicago, I bought Esmeralda Santiago’s latest? memoir “The Turkish Lover”, and already I’m 100 pages in. I’m really excited because her other two books “When I was Puerto Rican” and “Almost a Woman” were such excellent memoirs and such excellent writing signposts as it were for me. So get it, I’m returning to reading it right now. With any luck, I’ll be safe in New York in an hour.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Friday September 9, 2005 - 2:27PM - Pacific Standard Time (Seattle)

so... after about the 8th drink (3 vodkas, 5 Hawaii 5-Os), i get on Roberto Ascalon's motorbike - i wore a helmet - and roared off into the Seattle night. i also had on a kind of... Last Dragon 'Sho Nuff costume of bright silver to make me a little more exciting. we all tried on various costumes from Karen Finneyfrock's costume closet in the basement.

so... after i busted my ass on the bike about a mile down the road trying to turn around in a very Evel Knievel kind of way, i came back. apparently i was gone a while, so i guess it was more like 2 miles down the road, cuz even Roberto Ascalon was getting a little worried and folks were beginning to wonder if they should send out a search party; but i'm fine, the bike is fine and alls well that ends in a full-body costume and a drink in your hand and excelent converstaion about poetry and modern art. it was a virtual artists' salon by night's end.

Roberto Ascalon's crazy ass is a smart and compassionate human being and i like him a lot. When i figure out how to get the picturs from my phone to the computer, you'll see the pictures.

Tonight is the Bumbershoot Festival's wrap party. Surely there'll be more to report after that..

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wednesday September 7, 2005 – 12:12PM (Pacific Time)

Featured at the Seattle slam last night. Seattle’s venue is always a joy to be a part of and perform in. By the time I got to the stage I was a little bit tipsy. Moreover, Lynne sent me a horoscope thing yesterday that said I should take artistic risks this month – something about Pluto in Venus and how Venus takes care of me – whatever. So I did a lot of poems I don’t normally do or have never done for an audience, including one piece I did straight out of my notebook. I did hardly any of the ‘tried and true’ stuff. I had a ball and a few more drinks and late night wings and cheese fries. It was also Karen Finneyfrock’s last night hosting the Seattle Slam since she’s moving back to D.C. at the end of the month; so now I have to find new folks to tolerate my ass when next I visit Seattle. Sonya Renee was still in town and held it down with a very solid mini-feature.

Today, it’s trying to get administrative work done and hanging out with Christa Bell later on.

There’ll be more to talk about later cuz Christa is intense and asks me hard questions and confuses me…

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Saturday September 3, 2005 – 1:30PM

The New Orleans disaster teaches several lessons, and the desperation of the situation in which we find ourselves, dictates that already there is nothing to glean hope from except that maybe we will indeed heed the lessons to be learned here.

Despite the best rhetoric of our leaders and popular purveyors of the politico-cultural stasis, America is still incapable of taking care of, or sparing compassion for, the weakest of us – the poor. In particular when these poor are folks of color, we could care less until property/wealth is threatened. It is a sad commentary on the American ethos that the powers that be, the media, the government, only saw the situation as untenable when looting began (note that a huge percentage of these are still folks in search of food and medicine). Indeed, it is this threat to property rather than an attention to human lives, that got the governor of Louisiana really angry last wek on television; enough to suggest that not only would looting not be tolerated, but the National Guardsmen coming in have the authority to shoot the looters.

Would such carte blanche on violence been offered had the pictures returning from the scene been predominantly of white Americans? Wait – don’t answer.

It is not just that there was at least a week’s warning, or that state officials have ben lobbying for years for the funds to sure up the levees, or that people have been left to fend for themselves at the convention center and the Superdome, or their homes. We still have in our minds a fresh example of how swiftly our officials can rush to the ‘aid’ of another country, whether in the case of the South Asian/African tsunami, or the country’s several actions to implement or restore ‘democracy’ in the world, because one of the ‘blue pill’ attitudes we have in the US, even after 9-11, is that this sort of crisis does not happen here. This is the kind of tragedy that takes place in Third World locales amongst folks without the good economic/capitalistic sense or cultural values to invent reality television and lead the world in technological consumption. So now a natural disaster underscores what so many of us already understand; that the poor and the colored are still second-class citizens in America. Make no mistake – those who could afford to evacuate New Orleans did so. Those who had somewhere to go went there mostly. So now the pictures show us who doesn’t have, who have been relegated to our streets and ghettos; who hungry, are called looters as opposed to survivors, and because of of Mayor Ragin and folks like Kanye West practially losing their minds of national TV, the discourse of how palpable the divide between the haves and the have-nots, how much along lines of color, this line still exists, is being brought into the public discourse and one hopes, not to be swept under the rug of our collective social consciousness once again, like slavery once was, like Jim Crow once was, like lynching once was, like the government suppression of popular movements in the sixties and seventies has been.

Octavia Butler warns of the tenuous nature of the social contracts that exist amongst us, warns us how unprotected we are, how responsible, how vulnerable if even a few of the institutions as we know them fail us. In ‘Parable of the Sower’, she shows us what America might look like if gross capitalism and disregard of the poor go unchecked. We got a glimpse of such a world this past week. New Orleans is a microcosm of our fate if we do not take care of the ‘least among us’. If we do not educate our poor, afford everyone decent housing and medical care, treat our addicts and truly rehabilitate our criminals, we will find that all we hold for granted is hanging on by the narrowest of threads. In disaster those who ain’t got are coming for those who do (or who they believe do – drug addicts are the ones largely responsible for holding the hospitals and pharmacies hostage, because untreated addictions mean complete madness when there is no ready supply. What we need now is a whole population rethinking of what the ultimate goal/result of unchecked capitalism might be. Our current leaders will not renovate our institutional systems enough to make a visible dent in peoples’ lives, but we are the socisal wave, the cultural and moral majority that can one day nsure we routinely adopt more measures on behalf of education, than on behalf of war, more measures in the attack on poverty, than in pursuit of tax cuts to the rich. We will/must do it or we surely will make the most morbid kind of prohecy of Octavia’s parable.

Tuesday September 6, 2005 (2:10PM - Pacific Time)

So now i'm in seattle, having competed in Bumberslam last night, the poetry slam of the Bumbershoot Arts Festival. Bumbershoot is a huge musci festival that takes place annually in Seattle.

Sonya Renee (2004 Nationals indie champ) was also in town for the slam. Buddy Wakefield (2004 and 2005 iWPS champion) was also competing as were Christa Bell (3rd place indie 2005 Nationals) and Jeremy Richards (3 time Bumberslam champion). Rounding out the field were Matt Gano and three YouthSpeaks teens Madeleine Clifford, Jenny Wong and Chris Zwigle. After the first round, three of the nine were to be dropped. After the second round, three of those six were to be dropped. The last three were to be the money round - $1000 to the winner, $500 to the second place and $250 for third place. So of course i pulled the 1 and had to go first in the first round. This usually spells disaster. I did 'Song for Trent Lott' and managed however, to come in fifth in that first round and since every round was a clean slate, it was a new game from then on. Sonya Renee going last in the first round, got the highest score; by far. She was the only person to break 28 in the first round and she got a 29.4 or sump'n (i got a 26.4). In the second round, i did 'The Devil in Music' and did much better. I scored a 27.7 and i think came in 2nd or 3rd in that round. So after all that, i made it to the third round with Sonya Renee and Matt Gano. I had to go first in the third round as well, scored another 27.7 and came in third. Sonya Renee won the whole shebang and we headed off to Charlie's to eat food and drink bourbon.

Tonight is the slam. I'm featuring there. I'll be here all week...

In the second round, i

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thursday September 1, 2005 - 8:24AM

It's been a minute but here are the highlights. I've been to Chicago to play ball with high school friends and participate in Chicago's Carifete, its version of West Indian style carnival. There was a lot of rum and red body paint (there are pictures above).

I leave for Seattle on Labor Day for Bumbershoot Music Festival to perform at a slam there and at the Seattle Slam while i'm there. But here's the real news. I sign my book contract today. I get an advance check and everything, so look out for its eventual release in April. There'll be the most ridiculous book-release party ever. There'll be burlesque and everything.

More news later...