Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Life and Times of Rich

          What do Hispanics mean to American culture?  If we were to ask Richard Rodriguez, he might invite us to read a passage from the latest edition to his autobiographical trilogy expounding his life as a Hispanic in the United States.  “Hispanic”, a chapter from Rodriguez’ Brown: the Last Discovery of America, is a literary blend of irony, subjectivity, and sarcasm, decorated with illustrious personal anecdotes to help motivate Rodriguez’ idea that while people witness the “browning” of America today (Rodriguez uses the term “browning” to describe Latin immigration into the United States), America has been brown from the start.  Unfortunately, though, Rodriguez’ elaborate and sometimes overly complex rhetoric suppresses the core ideas of the piece, leaving the reader confused and uninformed as to the intricacies involved with the subject of Latin American assimilation.  At the same time, Rodriguez crafts a beautifully written essay that is both thought provoking and poetic.  “Hispanic” surely “force[s] upon us the necessity to sharpen our own ideas” (Stavans 30), but will reading it help us to learn anything about Latin American assimilation, or Latin America at all?  Or will we inadvertently be lost in a foreign sea of hyperbole captained by a man without any navigational skills?
          Upon reading "Hispanic", several instances arise where Rodriguez seems to repudiate his heritage, rather than promote it.  This shifting, oxymoronic rhetoric leads me to question Rodriguez' intent, as well as whom he might be writing this piece for, as his loyalties don't appear to lie with his Mexican ancestors or the ignorant Americans he addresses throughout the hard-to-follow text.  In the beginning of "Hispanic", Rodriguez renounces his heritage with a plethora of generalizations sociologically accepted in mainstream America; he defines "Hispanic" as "Ducking under the cyclone fence...Seen running from the scene of the crime (Rodriguez 422), which he believes will emotionally captivate his audience, thus blanketing his ulterior purpose of providing a sociopolitical poetic essay, rich with "a gamut of anecdotes, mostly about himself in action in an environment that is not always attuned to his own inner life" (Stavans 30).  While Rodriguez paints a poignant picture of the life of a Mexican-American, he sticks to what he knows best: the self-portrait.
          This aversion to that which is not Rodriguez’ masterpiece (himself), flourishes further into the piece as Rodriguez’ fluctuating fluency denounces Americans as being “soft on geography” (Rodriguez 429).  He is quick to teeter in this poetic playground by following with “But American obliviousness of the specific becomes a gift of prophecy regarding the approaching mass.  Our impatience has created the map of the future” (Rodriguez 430).  He believes American ignorance has shaped the modern world, as Americans’ lack of geographic perception in the past created the notion of a society of blurred borders, quite similar to the cultural diversity seen today.

          Additional proof of Rodriguez’ subjective intentions are seen in the beginning of the piece when Rodriguez follows his question, “Do Hispanics exist?” (422), with a discourse of his present purpose: “Look at all this!  Folders.  It looks like a set for The Makropolous Case.  I will turn instead to the death agony of a moth, the gigantic shuddering of lantern-paper wings.  Or I will count the wrinkles on Walden Pond.  I will write some of those constipated, low-paying, fin de si├Ęcle essays about the difficulty of saying anything in this, our age” (422).  It almost seems as though Rodriguez is avoiding pontificating the Americanization of Latinos that he has come to address so freely.  Ilan Stavans, a professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and author to several books related to Hispanic life, believes that Rodriguez shares similar writing qualities with British prose veteran, V.S. Naipaul.  In his critique of Brown: The Last Discovery of America—a piece accordingly entitled “The Browning of America”—Stavans asserts that when reading works from these two intellectuals, we must look past whether or not we agree or disagree with what they have to say and instead focus on “our own conception of who we are” (Stavans 30).  Rodriguez and Naipaul both “explore a culture through its nuances and not…through its high-profile iconography; they are meticulous litterateurs, intelligent, incessantly curious; and, more important,…[retain] the position of the outsider looking in”(Stavans 30).

          But is Rodriguez an outsider?  Many might argue otherwise, as he was born in the United States.  However he does hail from Mexican immigrant parents who stem from an even greater lineage of the Latino people Rodriguez is so enamored by.  And he has accepted the term “Hispanic” to describe himself, so I can’t help but wonder what exactly it takes to be a part of this culture that has become the largest growing minority at 35.3 million (Stavans 31). 

          For some greater insight into what exactly it might take to be considered Hispanic, I turned to an article from a weekly English/Spanish newspaper called La Prensa—a column labeled “Hispanic: What Does it Mean to be Called a Hispanic?”  Much like Rodriguez states in “Hispanic”, the article accredits the Nixon administration for establishing the term “as a catch all for Spanish-speaking people in the United States…” (Herrera), but goes into much greater detail than the gallivanting Rodriguez by pointing out that using the term “Hispanic” made it easier for politicians to address the fast-growing minority who were beginning to shape a “political conscience” (Herrera).  “In the United States, the term Hispanic has become omnipresent.  In the past, for some immigrants, being called Hispanic represented a successful assimilation into the American culture.  For others, to be defined as a Hispanic was seen as a derogatory term” (Herrera).  So for a culture that can be summed up in a two-column article and made as black and white as the newspaper itself, why is it that Rodriguez has spent so much time “[pursuing] Hispanicism, as a solitary, self-appointed inspector in an old Hitchcock will dog some great Hoax” (Rodriguez 423)?  As previously stated, Rodriguez’ essay comes from his third installment of an autobiographical journey recounting life as a Latino in the United States.

          In his piece, Rodriguez frankly admits that his literary agent has “…encouraged from [him] a book that answers a simple question: What do Hispanics mean to the life of America?”  (Rodriguez 424).  So is “Hispanic” merely an assignment for Rodriguez and not a lifestyle?  In Brown is the Color of Philosophy, an interview focused on Rodriguez’ Brown: The Last Discovery of America, Rodriguez admits to interviewer Claudia M. Milian Arias that "Brown is a literary performance, not a scholarly one…I intend my work to be read in response to the political and social issues of our time” (Rodriguez 278).  One can only infer then that “Hispanic” in response to the question “What do Hispanics mean to the life of America?” can purely be read for entertainment, and not—as one might imprudently assume—to learn about Hispanics; or what they mean to America.

          As earlier mentioned, “Hispanic” stems from a larger work entitled Brown: The Last Discovery of America.  This autobiographical rendering, along with Hunger of Memory and Days of Obligation (Rodriguez’ first two memoirs), attempts to answer the question “How did Hispanics become brown?” (Stavans 30).  Regrettably, this is another inquisition tarnished by lavish language and arbitrary accounts from Rodriguez’ personal life.  In his preface, Rodriguez warns, “You will often find brown in this book as the cement between leaves of paradox.  You may not want paradox in a book.  In which case, you had better seek a pure author” (Rodriguez xxi).  Rodriguez keeps his promise, as confirmation of his counteractive approach is evident as he rants about what it takes for a piece of literature to be considered a classic: “One cannot arrange a classic.  It is the reader’s life that opens a book.  I am dead.  Only a reader can testify to the ability of literature to open; sometimes this opening causes pain” (Rodriguez 12).  Rodriguez has allowed his mind to wander as far as the countless clauses his 232-page ramble will allow.

          After reading “Hispanic”, I felt almost altered—admittedly bewildered—and fundamentally enlightened.  Rodriguez composes an incredible landscape, depicting life as a Mexican American with language that is both beautiful and shows a “mind engaged” (Stavans 31).  Ultimately, however, Rodriguez’ lush jargon acts as a barrier, disabling the reader from understanding the importance of the subject matter presented in “Hispanic”.  The exclusiveness of his own affairs in an essay about cohesion in all races contradicts the main ideas found within Rodriguez’ piece.  Perchance this rhetorical paradox is a metaphor for what Hispanics mean to American culture?

“Sometimes they hate me for the freedom I describe to them.  Sometimes they are freed by my description” –Richard Rodriguez



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Crappy Things to Carry

Carrying things is necessary for living.  In order to ride the bus we must carry a transfer, we are constantly judged by how we carry ourselves, and if we wish to live by the credo of Tim Gunn, we must "carry on".

However, there is a dark side to carrying things, which I will share with you in a list I'd like to call:

"Crappy Things to Carry"

1) Twins: If you like doing things for "shits and giggles", make some twins so you can enjoy double shits and double giggles

2) A Box of Desk Items After Getting Canned: And you thought last night's walk of shame was bad

3) Disease: Carrying this skin disease makes it a lot harder to carry much anything else

4) Cliche Cardboard Signs: The only thing worse than having to beg for money is doing so without originality

5) A Cross: Especially if you are about to be nailed to it


Monday, April 11, 2011

These Boots Weren't Made For Walking in San Francisco

"Once upon a time there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. And they grew next to each other. And every day the straight tree would look at the crooked tree and he would say, "You're crooked. You've always been crooked and you'll continue to be crooked. But look at me! Look at me!" said the straight tree. He said, "I'm tall and I'm straight." And then one day the lumberjacks came into the forest and looked around, and the manager in charge said, "Cut all the straight trees." And that crooked tree is still there to this day, growing strong and growing strange."

-Tom Waits in "Wristcutters: A Love Story"

I can't think of a more perfect quote for how I felt yesterday.  Walking out of my apartment was almost like walking into a "house of mirrors".  I couldn't figure out what was me and what was simply a crooked mirror.  Maybe I just forgot to change out of a "Huh?" expression; or perhaps I was getting ready to say "good morning" to somebody, requiring a similar tilt of the head.

I tried to lock eyes with people as we passed, but they seemed to be in their own mirror houses, and I just continued on, viewing life at a slant.

My perplexity quickly spawned perturbment and I began to wonder if maybe I was about to spiral out of control, and this minimal degree turn was a warning--or possibly a foreshadow--to what was to come.

I considered the idea that others might be walking crooked too, but looking out onto the sea of suits and stilettos only reassured in me the constant constraint of conformity lurking around crooked corners.

So I decided to embrace my strange slant.  If everyone else just saw eye to eye, nobody would have the same angle as I.  I was different, and by Jove, I was going to celebrate it!

And it wasn't until I kicked up my heels...

...that I realized I was missing one.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Naked Pictures of Me!!!

Shameless self promotion.

A big shout out to those fighting to keep Planned Parenthood alive and babies that look like this not!

You Wanna Know What I Do At Four A.M. On A Saturday Morning?

I watch "Amadeus" on Netflix on mute and pretend that I did its soundtrack.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

MUNI Is Going To Hell...But Don't Count On It To Take You There!

If you live in the city, chances are you've had the pleasure of riding the MUNI.  Now, taking the MUNI can be rather fun: I've seen hobos, schizos, popos and magic shows while onboard and even had to disembark on my way to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival after a woman was wrongfully sprayed with mace.

Another nice thing about this little gem (crack rock) of public transportation is that it caters specifically to the lazy American and picks up almost everywhere (read: EVERY SINGLE corner in the Mission), so regardless of how much you've had to drink, or how badly you need to flee the Tenderloin, the Magic Carpet awaits!

And for those swindlers, grifters, and con men (and women) out there, you can easily cheat the MUNI by administering one of the following techniques:

1) Hop on the back of the bus- This is the most common method of transport-theft, and since so many people of all shapes, races, and smells apply this approach, your chances of being prosecuted are as likely as contracting the Bubonic Plague.

2) Renovate your transfer (use this method when you have an expired transfer)- Since so few bus drivers really give a shit whether or not you've "paid your fair share", it is not out of the question to use that San Francisco swagger to simply walk past the operator without paying.  He will either (a) assume you have a monthly pass, or (b) be practicing Gandhism after one too many altercations with irate passengers.  However, there are a few drivers that still display a level of dignity and won't stand to be treated unjustly! (mostly because they're sitting down anyway)  This is when you can alter the appearance of your transfer.  To do this, simply take an all-night transfer from a previous day (you can easily find one on the ground near a bus stop) and place your expired transfer on top of it.  When you flash it to the bus driver, the date will match, and your time will be extended.

3) Buy From a Bum- Last year, a bus mechanic was arrested after being caught selling late-night MUNI transfers, which costed the transit agency thousands of dollars a week.  Though you won't be able to buy from this guy (since he's sharing soap in jail), there are still a few shady characters who hang around 16th and Mission and whisper "Laaaate-night, laaaaate-night."  After getting over the idea that he's advertising Jimmy Fallon's talk show, offer to give the bum fifty cents, and he will give you an all-day ride.

4) (When taking underground MUNI) Always have a Clipper card with $2 on it- I once saw a man jump the turnstile underground and fall face-first onto the cement floor.  Miraculously, he wasn't caught (or hurt, for that matter), but I wouldn't advise this method for cheating the system.  Instead, I always keep a Clipper card with a two dollar value on it in case the MUNI cops/inspectors/whatever they call themselves hop onboard.  When they check your ticket, they will know that you didn't activate it, but they will assume that you tried to magnetize it (or demagnetize), or whatever the hell it's called when you hover your card over that weird machine that makes those annoying grocery store check-out sounds, and they will have you try again.  If for some reason, the MUNI cop/inspector/whatever the hell doesn't believe you, he will ask for your ID and write you a ticket.  This is when you tell him you don't have an ID on you, and after some playful banter (enough to last until the next stop), get off as soon as you can and run!  The MUNI cop/inspector/whatever doesn't have authority to detain you, and once you're on the other side of the turnstile, you're out of his jurisdiction and into the arms of freedom.

But I digress.  Hmmmm I need to feed my cat.

But I digress.  Again.

Although MUNI is convenient and fun to cheat, it really is going to hell.

Today, I waited fourteen minutes for the outbound K at Van Ness.  When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised that it was a two-car train, so I resisted the urge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and breathe into other passengers' mouths in the first car, and opted for the much roomier second car.

When we got to Forest Hill station, the doors did not open.  I thought this slightly odd, as the doors always open at the major stations.  It wasn't until the driver got onto the loudspeaker--or loudmuffler--that I found out that the car I was in was actually "out of service."

Well this sucks, I thought to myself.  I am now being held hostage on a bus; call up Keanu!  On our way to the next stop, the few other people on the back train and I began to plan our escape, like something out of Chicken Run.

"Okay", said the man with the big mouth but no rescue requisites (clearly the guy who would get his teeth knocked out by the butt-end of a gun in the event of a bank robbery), "when we get to West Portal Station, let's all push the door-open button at the same time."

Needless to say, this man's idea wasn't fool-proof, but sure proved he was a fool.

After the driver made another announcement that the second car was "out of service" and directed new passengers into the first car, we began to bang on the windows, hoping to alert the morning commuters of our K-napping.  Apparently the business men and women's large coffees hadn't taken effect, as they were as alert as a stoned high school student in math class.

Finally, one wise woman pressed the "red button" (I never thought I'd see the day), and we were able to tell the driver we were stuck.  He opened the doors, but not before scolding us for not listening to him the first time.

Hey dick driver, you never said anything when I got on the train at Van Ness.  You can kiss my second-car-lounging ass!

The moral of this story: Sometimes it's better to prematurely evacuate before you're stuck riding the back for too long.


Upon arriving at this bus stop, both the 14 and the 49 were broken down (Notice one of the bus drivers smoking in the middle)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Don't Get Off Your High-Horse (I See Eye-To-Eye Better With Your Horse Anyway)

I've been told that I use the word "pretentious" too much.  I do apologize--both to the offended humanitarian and the guilty egotist;  my words should mean nothing to you Latter-Sentence Saints or your great fight for (selfless-serving) survival, as I am just a pawn in your "totally typical" game of chess.  However, if you feel you are wrongfully accused, please read on and you will be absolved of all some of your artsy-fartsy afflictions:

Today, I came across a bum.

Yeah, I know you accidentally step on them all the time but this wasn't just any bum: this was a pretentious bum.

This bum--this "impoverished human being" if you so prefer--did not grasp a recycled "Big Gulp" with his shit-stained palm and beg fanny-packed pedestrians tourists for quarters.

Oh, no.

This creature of the plight stood at the backdoor of his house (the entrance to Walgreens on Powell and O'Farrell) and demanded dollars to be directly deposited into his hand--as if one would need to unwrinkle his hard-earned change-for-a-five by rubbing it across the bumbler's sharp elbow before placing it Pres. side up and selecting "coke".  

I tell you this story not to impress nor disoblige you; it is less an exciting tail--er--tale than Moby Dick, and my passion for the homeless reaches farther than the BART can take them.  I am merely paving way for the real issue at hand, ink, and paper:

BooooooooooOoooOOOoooooooOOOooooooooOooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrING WRITING!

Since editing my school's literary magazine, I have almost wanted to grow balls just so I could chop them off to ease the pain that my eyes feel the first, second, and thirtieth time I have to read about butterflies, grandmothers, and unbridling bridles.  

But, alas!  There is a happy ending to this story (or a story to this ending, rather), and I am here to share it with you.

I present to you the one good short story I've read all week, and no, it's not from anybody who submitted to my blind eyes.  Thanks McSweeney's, for keeping the dream alive for the talented few and crushing the dreams of the rest.





- - - -
First time was the bean field. I was nine. Hiltrude had the least-yellowest teeth in the village. Only when I'd emerged from my first (pretty sure I remember tongue) kiss did I appraise yon gaping plague sore.

"Verily," spake my friend Thurstan, "that be gross."

Hiltrude flashed an ecru smile, and started to pick a bubonic scab.

"'Verily'?" I scoffed. "That is troth outdated."

The children chanted:

Ailwin and Hiltrude, kissin' in the bean!
First comes sores, then Black Death,
Then your final plague-racked breath!

They la'd and they da'd, and then we dragged Hiltrude's body off the field.

That put me off chicks for awhile.

When I was thirteenish, Sara of Pell moved to our village. Sara was fair of hair, slender in frame and divinely stacked. We'd be all, "What ho, Sara. Tell us about Pell. Cool, yeah. OH, really? Tell us more about Pell."

She was definitely into me.

I went to Sara's cottage one day for some recreational "weaving." Her brother answered. What do you suppose I heard? "Sara? Sorry, man. Plague, you know? Shoulda come yesterday."

I wept, as my mother counseled; then followed Osbert the Clubfoot's wisdom and made out with her sister. But a week later, hand-of-god, sores and horror—pattern much???

Okay, I get that the Lord's Wrath strikes where it will. Sure, I'm not the only one who's lost a hookup to BD. But couldn't we die together? Then there's not all the anguish and sexual frustration and getting in trouble 'cause, oh I'm sorry, you called a girl a 'pre-corpse.' Know why you don't hear many laments like mine? Cause EVERYONE ELSE IS FREAKING DEAD OF PLAGUE.

Except me. Nooo, I have elephantine plague-resistance. Example: Agnes.

One second with Agnes was enough to make me forget about Hiltrude's teeth and Sara of Pell's bosom and Sara of Pell's sister's low self-esteem. Agnes could Norman-kiss. We were fifteen and in love.

"So, my father thinks I should marry Gerald."

"Um, hell to the nay."

"I don't know. Gerald is tall."

"Gerald has nose hairs of an un-Christian length."


Then she let me go all the way to Second Bastion. Forsooth, there is no greater joy on this flat earth!
We had plans, you know? We were going to run away to the Towne and start a new life for ourselves. I was going to ask her father for her hand.
Seriously, I was.

And then:

"Shit. Shit, Ailwin, I have the fucking plague. Look."

I looked.

"No... No, that's just acne."

"It's not acne. I don't get acne on my thighs."

"Standard feudal affliction."

"I have to go home and die now."

"Wait! Please can we just once—"

All reason implied that a maiden on the brink of mortal capitulation would be more than willing. I mean, hello! But no, it was "too risky," she was contagious, true love means never having to give you plague, yaddayaddayadda. Even though I told her life wasn't worth enduring without her and we could be together in eternity... Whatever. Dying women are about as rational as friars at the penny apothecary.

Two days later, Agnes died. That's right, God. Remember Agnes? You took her from the world, and from me, when she was a still a promising middle-aged woman of 15. How do you sleep at night?

I wanted to be with Agnes so desperately, I must've sucked face with every unmarried female plague victim in three leagues—and still, healthy as a horse! Not to mention horny as a half-bred Saxon. What gives, Celestial Order and Bodily Humours? I'm no doctor and I can't read, but... WTF?!

Mother said I was being "creepy" and forbade me from chasing plague skirt, so I grieved for Agnes many a fortnight in my bed. I went to confession until Brother Wyclef cut me off. "My son, 'tis not the Lord's fault you've been pox-blocked. Shut thee up." Dickhead. I went back to bed. 'Twas a period of thorough melancholy and suckhood, and it pains me to recall it.

When I made peace with the irrevocable loss of Agnes and the arbitrary cruelties of fate, I returned to the toils of living, ready to teeter on the edge of annihilation with the rest of crazed humanity. To dance, laugh, weep—to meet disease and disaster with the full boldness of life!

"Yeah, no, that sounds great... It's just actually, we're all like, so busy."

Uh-huh. Straight-up shunned, like a leper or a Cornish dude. I couldn't get a date to the Maypole if I were a tattooed Druid sex god. GIRLS THINK KISSING ME WILL GIVE THEM PLAGUE. Now they avoid me like... well, yeah, I'm pretty much how thatexpression got started.

Thanks, God. Thank you so much.

And the names! Besides plague-hag, I'm a sore-sucker, shroud-peeper, bubonophiliac, the Stiff Reaper, cretin of pestilence, douchebag. I have zero friends, cause everyone thinks I'm cursed, and did I mention they held a vote on burning me at the stake that came waaay too close for comfort? Though at this point, does it even matter? Maybe I'd be better off as a bonfire. My life is basically just zits and girls dying of the plague. How much is it to ask that I meet one (1!) fertile virgin not in the early stages of decomposition? I don't give a crap if her teeth are brown or her breasts withered or her sense of humor single-note. Let her be peg-legged and harelipped, for all I care. I'm open to any and all of the less fatal ailments: Scurvy, anyone? Body lice? Peasant Ear? ANY PLAGUE-FREE WENCH IS FINE. How long am I supposed to live this way?

I'm a VIRGIN who can't DIE.

Ailwin and The Plague, making out in hell
First comes love,
Then death's rot
Please God, kill me, thanks a lot!!!

Puberty blows. FML.