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It’s the edited translation: http://gonzai.com/sesshu-foster-energie-atomik/
« Le juke-box Wulitzer de l’Univers est bourré de réalités 78 tours rangées côte à côte, préparez votre pièce de 10 centimes ». A lire Sesshu Foster, on devine le merveilleux bordel de son appartement. Son écriture est celle d’un ado cinquantenaire en furie, celle d’un désordonné à vie, d’un dérangé par nature. Son premier roman traduit en français (Foster habite Los Angeles), « Atomic Aztek », se présente comme un taudis gonzo parfaitement désarticulé et saturé de sous réalités à visiter comme autant de disques à savourer.
L’anti-héros de son « Atomik Aztek », Zenzontli, a des allures de petit frère nervo-rêveur qui cultive dans son antre sacré les historiettes que lui dicte son imagination contaminée. Comme ces mauvais conteurs de blagues, trop pressés d’en arriver à la chute pour bien ménager leurs effets, Zenzo l’hystérique mélange intrigues et voix, sautant nerveusement d’une action dramatique à l’autre. Atomik Aztek, dépourvu d’une trajectoire claire (« I am getting fucked in the head and I think I like it »), est plutôt constitué d’un agrégat de situations explosives. Foster exulte en nous livrant sa vision des bouchers qui s’entretuent, des cochons-mouches qui s’effondrent en masse dans la salle d’abattage de Farmer John, du soldat de l’Imperium Socialiste Aztek qui dévore une Introduction à l’histoire du Jazz pour préparer l’Insurrection qui vient ou des allemands qui se font massacrer à coups de mitrailleuses supersoniques. Le conteur d’Aztek de cette (non) histoire assassine joyeusement, le stylo en guise de carabine à plomb, tous les dieux et les maîtres qu’il croise. La cohérence du tout, c’est son moindre souci: « Je me fiche de paraître incohérent, mais était-ce au moins créatif? Etait ce enjoué? As-tu pris des notes? »
C’est, en somme, un « punk survitaminé qui se fout de la réalité » (l’expression est, sans surprise, de F. Wallace) que l’on rencontre. Un narrateur génialement détraqué qui fait gicler, tous azimuts, morceaux de récits et bribes de style. Tantôt le narrateur s’exprime comme un shérif bourgeois, tantôt comme un hippie paranoïde et tantôt plutôt comme un boucher espagnol. L’absurde le plus jouissif: « La sale guerre en Argentine sera l’équivalent de la saucisse ! Le Viol de Nanking paraitra aussi frais que le café moulu sur place ! La Solution Finale ressemblera à un demi pamplemousse ! », côtoie l’analyse philo-politique éthérée: « Voilà pourquoi les Amérikains ne touchent pas leur bille dans le Monde Réel (…) Ce genre de Nation de l’Ennui est un Destin Pire que la Mort !»; le grotesque enfantin: « il pète tendrement, un gros ballon de baudruche perd lentement son air », succède à un lyrisme tempéré: « le ciel changerait bientôt de couleur, s’emplissant de flammes et de chair vive, orange tel un oiseau de paradis, les plumets blancs des nuages et des éventails bleus s’ouvrant dans toutes les directions ».
Il y a chez Foster des effluves de Miller, de Bukowski et autres Kerouac.
Il serait donc idiot de réduire cet hallucinant premier roman à un joyeux bordel inconséquent. La nonchalance assumée de Foster ne nuit en rien à son cri: plutôt, elle l’intensifie. Si le jeune ridé délire en lançant ses piques et en riant ses meurtres, il attaque cependant toujours toujours dans la même direction, d’un même geste résolu. Cette direction, c’est celle de la révolte contre l’ennui et l’inertie. Sesshu Foster semble faire de la littérature le meilleur moyen d’être en guerre constante contre l’impératif raison et clamer, à l’instar d’un Breton dans ses grandes heures, « Plutôt la vie! ». Alors ici, c’est l’emportement à l’égard du consumérisme idiot, du travail résigné ou l’ennui satisfait; là, c’est la guerre contre le pouvoir imposé et l’Histoire objectivée. Ailleurs, ce sera la rébellion contre le logique narrative et en permanence, c’est le combat contre l’orthographe figée (tous les [k] du roman s’écrivent avec la lettre K, tous les « et » sont transformés en «&»). La guerre est finalement déclarée ouverte à tout ce-ki-se-réduit-à-n’être-ke-ce-ki-est, à tout ce qui se Fixe et qui Renonce. En écrivant, Sesshu Foster ouvre donc en grand les portes sa chambre kramée pour s’exhiber qui, sainement, éjacule sa prose guerrière.
I slid the check under the inch and a half thick bullet-proof acrylic. I didn’t look directly at the bank teller till she asked me if I was really the father of her best friend in second grade. Yes, that’s right! I said, looking at her finally, and I asked about her younger brother and sister. As it happens, her name slipped my mind for the moment. I told her, “You lightened your hair! It used to be dark.” That’s right, she said. She asked about my daughter, and we caught up a little as she processed my transaction. We took a a while to chat—she still lives on Elm Street. Neither of us mentioned the event that changed their lives and set in motion the events that separated her from my daughter, her mom’s death in an SUV rollover in Texas. She said she wished to get in touch with my daughter and I assured her that I would relay the message. “It’s great to see you,” I said. I didn’t say that her mom had been a wonderful person, full of sweetness and laughter. I didn’t tell her now that she’d lightened her hair, she’d given herself her mom’s color.
I REMEMBER THE PEACE MAKERS TOO: Sixto Tarango, photographer for la raza newspaper and 1978 student body president at csula who died working 2 jobs to put his wife thru pharmacy school (i met his son a year or so ago, last time i’d seen him he was 6 or 7, now he’s older than sixto ever got to be, he never really knew his dad), Reine Moffett, activist for women of all red nations on the nez perce reservation, once a supporter of the wounded knee support committee, always active in every community she lived in from seattle to minneapolis, fought breast cancer fiercely over a decade; Don White, utla activist/teacher and committee in solidarity with the people of el salvador leader in solidarity missions and peace work to stop u.s. support for genocide in central america; they were peace makers and friends of mine; also, Allen Ginsberg, poet and peace maker; Sal Castro, teacher, counselor, organizer, community leader; Miguel Marmol, lifelong salvadoran activist and organizer, survivor of imprisonment, firing squads and massacres, decades of persecution, died of old age; Michael Zinzun, former black panther and founder of the coalition against police abuse, lost an eye in a police beating while defending two citizens he felt were being abused by police, “I’d rather lose an eye fighting against injustice than live as a quiet slave.” i’m proud to have read poetry or stood on stages with them. i also remember south african communist party leader Chris Hani, commander of umkhonto we sizwe (the armed wing of the ANC founded by Nelson Mandela), who i saw speak in l.a. in 1990, who was assassinated by conservative party hit men in his driveway in 1993 pushing SA closer to the brink of both civil war and civil truce.
Lustrous visual ideology of hand-crafted origin not available in any of this week’s lame-ass stupid fuck-all movies?
Now offering hottest seasonally inflatable Afghani children names, dates and susurrations complete, feet or toes attached, exuding ionized charms of innocence (incense).
Always crashing in the same car, self-commentary actuating brain crease that you just hate?
Today only (jk), free fitting for tree-lined self-pity consolation nodules of yellow fatty globules snicked free of fleshy 50,000 Mexican disappearances.
Injected with anxiety via language medium, saggy conversations result in black projectile vomiting before a green screen?
Sucking pelican daiquiri through Eskimo walrus straw will engorge your product line with lissome Guantanamo jumpsuit orange flare.
Unaccountable malaise stacking swaths of suicidal youths in your demographic sector without recourse to inner clothes racks?
Protect your loved ones with eminent domain ghost flensing of crushed Guatemalan colorful beach wracking.
Portfolio investment beyond your reach at the moment fo’evah, plus eyeball capillaries pissing blood into mind stream?
Cleanwipes of conscience waving Iraqi stumps on a field of amber pale ale. Arab micro-numeral tattoos.
Hi-def inability to feel alcohol numbness through tips of ideation tongues, inordinate clash of transmission guts?
Tiptap your Florsheims across nicotine-checkered linoleums to our showroom today and truly believe you may be Other-wise.
Sighing Italianate blackouts or jump cuts lack the oomph of apartheid smugness solemnly divinely craved inside musky closets?
Spread your youth, fizzing relationship desexing bricolage criss-crossed with palmate patterns of elegant devastation on tourmaline, at last.
The FBI has known about him since his days as a cage-rattling Chicano activist in 1960s L.A. A onetime fugitive and sometime company man, Carlos Montes has kept on confronting the system the only way he knows how. Now the system is closing in
The first raid came at five o’clock in the morning last May 17. Carlos Montes awoke to a thud. It was the sound, he soon discovered, of his front door splintering open. The sun had not yet risen, and Montes’s bedroom was dark, but in retrospect, he says, he’s glad he didn’t reach for a flashlight—or for a gun. Montes, a retired Xerox salesman, had kept a loaded shotgun behind the headboard and a 9mm pistol beneath a pile of towels on a chair beside the bed since the day he had walked in on an armed burglar a year and a half before. That time a cool head had kept him alive: He persuaded the thief to drive him to a 7-Eleven, where he withdrew as much cash as he could from the ATM and refused to take another step. This time, fortunately, he was half-asleep: He stumbled toward the hallway empty-handed.
Montes, 64, is a tall man, but his shoulders are rounded and slightly stooped, which along with his long, thin legs and the short fuzz of his gray hair, gives him something of the appearance of a bird. Maybe it’s that he always seems to be in motion, as if there’s a motor in him that keeps humming even when he’s sitting still. He often seems to be on the verge of cracking a joke, or as if he’s already laughing at the joke he could be telling. Once I showed up early for an interview and found him on the phone, reserving a space in a yoga class. “Gotta take my yoga, man,” he said, laughing at himself, “or else I’ll blow it!”
Standing in the bedroom of his Alhambra home, Montes saw lights dancing toward him. He hadn’t thought to grab his glasses, but when the lights got close enough, he understood that they were flashlights. Green helmets bobbed behind them. Inches beneath each beam he could make out the black barrel of an automatic rifle.
“Who is it?” Montes shouted.
Voices shouted back: “Police!”
Then they were behind him. They shoved him past the ruins of his front door and out onto the patio. Handcuffs clicked around his wrists. It was a cool, misty morning, but Montes could see that his narrow hillside street had been transformed, rendered unfamiliar and almost unreal by the two green armored vehicles parked in front of his house and by sheriff’s black-and-whites blocking the road to the left and right.
A sheriff’s deputy opened the door to one of the patrol cars and pushed Montes into the backseat. He sat there in the relative calm of the police car, the cuffs digging into his wrists, wondering, “What the hell are they going to arrest me for?”
An officer approached the car and told Montes he was under arrest, that he was a convicted felon and it was illegal for him to possess firearms.
“What? ” said Montes. As far as he knew, he’d filed all the required papers for the weapons he owned. The police knew he had them. In 2005, after what Montes calls a “dispute” with a now ex-girlfriend, Alhambra police came to his house and took all his guns “for safekeeping.” (He was arrested on a domestic violence charge, but the case was dismissed.) A year later, after his ex moved out, Montes dropped by the station, and the police returned the guns. “I thought everything was cool,” Montes says.
It was at that point that the morning, already strange, took a stranger turn. Someone from the FBI was there, the deputy told him. An agent in a windbreaker appeared outside the squad car. He leaned in. “I want to talk to you about your political activities,” said the man from the FBI. Montes was not just any retired Xerox salesman. In the late 1960s, he had been one of the most visible and militant leaders of the Chicano movement in L.A. Long after the media spotlight had flickered off, he had continued to agitate and organize against police brutality, inequities in the public schools, and U.S. wars abroad.
Early the next morning Montes stood alone on the sidewalk outside the Twin Towers jail downtown. The sheriff’s department had released him as they had found him: in socks and pajamas, without his cell phone or wallet or change to make a call. Eventually he found a ride to Alhambra. His sister had come by his home and had a sheet of plywood nailed over his front door. But inside, he says, “the house was in shambles.”
Montes was something of a pack rat. He’d saved flyers, clippings, and photos from decades as an organizer of demonstrations and campaigns. “Everything was on the floor,” he says. In his bedroom the contents of his drawers and closet had been dumped out on the bed. Files, albums, and carousels of slides had been removed from his closets and stacked in piles on his kitchen counter and on the dining room and kitchen tables. Political documents were mixed with photo albums from his daughter’s birthdays and his son’s wedding. His guns were gone—the shotgun and the Beretta he’d kept beside the bed plus an old Russian bolt-action rifle, a World War II-era German automatic, and another rifle, a Marlin 30-30. (Montes’s antiwar stance was not grounded in across-the-board pacifism.) His cell phone and computer were gone, too.
Now, months later, Montes stands in his kitchen. His home is tidy but cluttered—the kitchen and dining room tables and every available space covered with neat stacks of papers. Images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Emiliano Zapata figure prominently in the decor. “Once they got the guns,” Montes asks with eyebrows raised, “why did they go through the whole house?”
Forty-odd years earlier an unannounced visit from the FBI, even one fronted by a SWAT team with assault rifles drawn, would not have been surprising. Cold War paranoia had given J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI license to stalk and smear everyone from John Lennon to Martin Luther King Jr. Members of the Black Panther Party were falling by the dozens to police bullets. Through the haze of kitsch that surrounds that era it is difficult to make out the urgency of the times, the until recently almost inconceivable sensation that everythingcould change and that everyone, even high school kids from the east side of the L.A. River, had a crucial role to play. For a little while East L.A. felt like an important node in a struggle that was being mirrored around the globe—in Oakland, Paris, Mexico City, and Saigon.
But what happened here has for the most part been bleached out of the country’s collective memory of the ’60s. The Chicago Seven made the textbooks, but who remembers the East L.A. Thirteen? Or the Biltmore Six? Those trials have been over for decades, the whole period effectively entombed. And we’ve come a long way, right? The mayor of Los Angeles is a former union organizer and, though he doesn’t like to dwell on it, a onetime Chicano nationalist. The president of the United States is, famously, an ex-community organizer, and both he and his attorney general have much darker skin than Montes. So why is the FBI still interested in Carlos Montes?
In photos taken in the late 1960s, Montes managed to look at once cocky and intensely serious. The character based on him in the 2006 HBO film Walkout—about the 1968 protests at four East L.A. high schools—is portrayed as both joker and firebrand, a militant trickster in a khaki bush jacket. (“Ya estuvo con la blah blah blah,” he says in one scene, shushing his hesitant comrades. “We go out tomorrow!”) A year before the journalist Ruben Salazar was killed by a tear gas canister fired by an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy, he described Montes in the Los Angeles Times as a “lean, intense young man who often sports a Zapata mustache,…noted for his articulateness on the Chicano movement and his wit.”
The son of an immigrant assembly line worker and a nurse’s aide, Montes was born in El Paso and moved with his parents to Los Angeles when he was seven. “I bought into the whole thing about America, the greatest country,” he says. He was majoring in business at East L.A. College when he began to make connections between the Vietnam War, the routine racism of his teachers and school administrators, and the police harassment he and his classmates had faced throughout their teens. With the zeal of a convert, Montes fell in with a group of students who called themselves Young Citizens for Community Action. They opened a coffeehouse named La Piranya just off Whittier Boulevard. It quickly became a social and organizing hub for politically engaged Chicanos, who included future L.A. school board member Vickie Castro, writer and artist Harry Gamboa, and the film producer Moctesuma Esparza. Montes and his peers soon learned an important lesson, one that other young people were learning around the country: You can talk all you want, but the moment you start to organize, the authorities regard you as a threat. Police officers sat in cars outside La Piranya, photographing and hassling people who came and went. More than once the police raided the coffeehouse, claiming they were searching for drugs, frisking everyone inside.
Nothing creates radicals more effectively than repression. The YCCA—by now the Young Chicanos for Community Action—henceforth focused its organizing energies on battling police abuses. In January 1968, says Montes, “somebody went down to the Salvation Army and found a stack of brown berets.” They began wearing them with belted khaki jackets and established a hierarchy modeled on the quasi-military structure of the Black Panthers. Montes, who had just turned 20, was endowed with the grandiose title “Minister of Information.” Salazar referred to him as “the organization’s visionary.”
On March 6 of that year thousands of students walked out of class at Lincoln, Garfield, and Roosevelt high schools, demanding opportunities equal to those taken for granted by Anglo students on the other side of town. Birmingham, Alabama, had arrived in East L.A. The Brown Berets volunteered to form a protective barrier between the students and the police. They found police waiting in the streets and on the football fields. At Garfield, according to one account, snipers were posted on the roof. Montes managed to snap the chain on the gate at Roosevelt. The students who poured past him into the street were met with police batons and fists.
If the newspapers blamed the violence on the students, white L.A. was nonetheless forced to take notice. The Los Angeles Times expanded its vocabulary: “Chichano,” a reporter explained later that year, “is a Spanish expression meaning ‘one of us.’ ” By the end of March FBI headquarters ordered that the Brown Berets be investigated “to determine if activities of the group pose a threat to [sic] internal security of United States.” Within a few months a grand jury indicted 13 of the walkouts’ organizers, including Montes, charging them with a slew of petty misdemeanors rendered serious by the addition of felony charges alleging that the defendants had conspired to commit those same petty misdemeanors. Montes and Ralph Ramírez, the Berets’ “Minister of Discipline,” were in Washington at the time, attending the Martin Luther King-organized Poor People’s Conference. Riots had followed King’s assassination two months earlier, and the D.C. police chief, FBI records show, refused to arrest Montes and Ramírez for fear of inciting more unrest. Instead they were arrested upon their return to L.A.
The East L.A. Thirteen, as they were dubbed, were ultimately acquitted, but 1968 would be a busy year, busier than any until perhaps this last one. The whole world seemed in revolt. Students and workers were fighting police in the streets of Paris—and Chicago. Uprisings were crushed by Soviet tanks in Prague and by snipers’ bullets in Mexico City. Urban guerrilla movements emerged in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, even Germany. To Montes, the synchronicity was life altering. So was the sense of solidarity, of being part of something larger: a world and a history that stretched far beyond the nest of freeways encoiling the Eastside. “It started becoming clear,” he says, sitting in an Alhambra Starbucks, hunched beneath a straw fedora. “This is not just about police harassment in East L.A. This is a global struggle.”
Brown Beret chapters sprang up around the country. The FBI responded, ordering all offices “having significant numbers of Mexican-Americans in their territories” to gather information on “militant” groups. They began infiltrating the Brown Berets and monitoring them in more than a dozen cities, from Riverside to Miami. Locally Montes’s visibility made him a constant target. Between February 1968 and July 1969, he was arrested seven times. He was convicted only once, of battery on a peace officer—for throwing a soda can at a deputy when police broke up a 1969 demonstration over the lack of a Chicano studies program at East L.A. College—and sentenced to probation.
Montes could not have known that conviction would return to haunt him. He had a more serious case to deal with. In the spring of that year, he and five others—the so-called Biltmore Six—were facing life in prison, accused of lighting fires at the Biltmore Hotel while Governor Ronald Reagan was speaking in the hotel’s ballroom. The police had a witness, a young LAPD officer named Fernando Sumaya who had infiltrated the Brown Berets four months earlier. Moctesuma Esparza was Montes’s codefendant once again. According to Esparza, their lawyer, Oscar Zeta Acosta (who would later gain fame as a novelist and as the model for Hunter S. Thompson’s Dr. Gonzo) learned that Sumaya’s testimony would directly implicate Montes. “Acosta let Carlos know that if he [Montes] was on the case, it would affect everybody. The next thing I knew,” says Esparza, “Carlos was gone.”
Montes likes to talk. His eyebrows leap and fall, punctuating his sentences. His head bobs, and his smile comes and goes. His stories tend to wander, detouring at one aside or another. That laugh of his often breaks out when he arrives at memories that must be painful, as if he’s narrating a slapstick version of someone else’s life. He laughs as he recounts deciding with his girlfriend at the time, Olivia Velasquez, to leave everything and everyone they knew: “Let’s get married, have a big-ass party, and take off.”
They held the wedding in a Boyle Heights backyard, celebrated into the night, and two days later caught a ride to Tijuana. Their plan was to fly from Mexico to Cuba, at the time the destination of choice for American radicals in exile. Except for one friend and Montes’s brother, they told nobody. In February 1970, La Causa, the Brown Berets’ newspaper, reported that Montes had disappeared, speculating that “he may have been kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency.” For a little while he was remembered as a martyr. “Carlos Montes will be looked at as a real Chicano Hero,” the article concluded. “In the new history of our people, he lives in the hearts of La Raza, and will never die.”
The second raid of this story would come almost precisely 34 years before the first, in May 1977. Montes and Velasquez had made it as far as Mérida, then headed back north to Ciudad Juárez. They had a son there and a year later moved to El Paso, where Velasquez gave birth to their daughter. Over the next five years Montes worked a series of blue-collar jobs under the name Manuel Gomez. He could not resist jumping back into the mix: He got involved in union activism and community organizing, even in electoral politics, though he did his best to dodge cameras and microphones. Montes knew the risks—“We were real paranoid,” he says—and is not particularly self-reflective about his motivations for taking them. He searches for words when I ask him why he took so many chances. “It was something I wanted to do,” he says, and apologizes, “I’m not verbalizing it well. We didn’t discuss whether we should, we discussed how and where.” Activism had become the only way he knew how to live, to situate himself on the planet in a posture that made sense.
In May 1977, Montes and Velasquez risked a trip home to California. Montes hadn’t seen his mother for seven years. His brother had paid him one clandestine visit, but for the most part Montes had been cut off from friends and relatives. The young family spent a weekend with Montes’s sister in Gardena, then dropped in on a family barbecue at Velasquez’s cousin’s house in Monterey Park. “Boom!” says Montes, laughing at the memory. “They raided the house. They had dogs and what looked like M16s.” As police stormed through the front door, Montes bolted for the back. “They rushed in and put a gun in my belly.” Someone had tipped the LAPD.
In Montes’s absence his Biltmore codefendants had been exonerated, but Acosta’s defense strategy had been to blame the fires on Sumaya—and on Montes. (Montes blames them on Sumaya. “I went to the bathroom, and Fernando [Sumaya] followed me,” he recalls. “He pulled a bunch of napkins from the napkin dispenser, threw them in the trash, and just lit them. I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ and I got out of there.”)
After being escorted at gunpoint from his in-laws’ barbecue, Montes spent several weeks in jail trying to raise bail on the Biltmore arson charges that he had fled seven years earlier. “We formed a defense committee, a Free Carlos Montes committee. We did demos, fund-raisers, pickets,” he says. A few months before his trial began, an article appeared in the East L.A. College campus newspaper above a photo of a lanky, bushy-haired Montes wearing shades and pleated slacks. He had spoken on campus about police violence and racial inequities in the schools—“the same topics,” the reporter observed, that “he spoke against back in 1969 as a leader of the Brown Berets.”
But the movement Montes had helped found had begun to crumble while he was still in Mérida. Seven months after Montes went underground, more than 20,000 people marched down Whittier Boulevard to protest the war in Vietnam. The sheriff’s department’s attempts to break up the crowd left three dead—including Ruben Salazar and a 15-year-old Brown Beret—an untold number injured, and Whittier Boulevard in flames. In the aftermath police infiltration and harassment of Chicano activist groups increased exponentially. Rifts opened between the Brown Berets and the National Chicano Moratorium Committee (which had organized the march) as well as within the Berets.
“By 1972,” says Ernesto Chávez, who teaches history at the University of Texas, “it had all fallen apart.” The Berets’ central committee fired the group’s prime minister, David Sánchez, who promptly called a press conference and declared the Brown Berets disbanded. Even the FBI knew it was over: In a classified memorandum filed that February, agents reported that “most [Brown Beret] chapters are either inactive, defunct, or have deteriorated into social clubs.” Surveillance would continue until at least 1976.
Montes had emerged from underground like a revolutionary Rip van Winkle, eager to pick up where he’d left off. The Vietnam War was over, but, as Montes saw it, the old racist system was otherwise in place. His trial was another opportunity to bring attention to the cause, but when he reached out to old friends, he says, “people didn’t want to touch me. I was like a crisis from the past.” Few of his youthful colleagues seemed eager to help. Their youthful militancy had become a liability.
Ten years after the fact, Montes was found not guilty. There was also the matter of the battery-on-a-peace-officer conviction he had picked up in 1969, for which he was on probation when he skipped town, but the judge was convinced that “time has tempered Mr. Montes’s exuberance for radical action,” as he put it, and declined to punish him further for a crime already a decade old. (Thirty years later the judge’s words still spur Montes to giggles.) But even with his legal troubles resolved, Montes says, “No one would hire me.” Eventually an old comrade got him a job at Xerox, as a salesman, and for the next 20 years Montes would spend his weekdays in a suit and tie, hustling copiers in downtown office buildings. “I was kind of the oddball,” he says.
Moctesuma Esparza remembers running into Montes for the first time in decades—fortuitously in the lobby of the Biltmore, where they had last been together as fire alarms went off upstairs. Montes doesn’t recall the encounter, but it was likely less than comfortable. A few years earlier, he says, Esparza had asked Montes not to call him to testify in court. By the time they met, Montes was Xerox’s main salesman downtown. The Biltmore had given him a discount membership to the hotel’s health club. “He seemed to be doing very well,” Esparza says.
Perhaps it was because Montes was spared the disillusion of the bad days of the early ’70s, but he never changed course. In his off-hours he worked on Jesse Jackson’s presidential runs in 1984 and 1988, and on an antipolice brutality campaign following the killing of 19-year-old Arturo “Smokey” Jimenez by sheriff’s deputies in 1991. He tried repeatedly to reawaken the movement. Toward the end of the ’90s, Montes began writing for Fight Back!, a newspaper and Web site affiliated with a small sectarian leftist group called the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The group—of which Montes says he is not a member—is a minuscule organization, a faction that in 1999 broke away from another group bearing the same name that was itself born of the combination of two other obscure groups with distant origins in the 1969 dissolution of Students for a Democratic Society. It is, in other words, an isolated and tattered remnant of the movement that won the FBI’s attentions a full half-century ago, when it was still referred to as the New Left.
Montes continued to show up at school board meetings to complain about creeping privatization and dirty bathrooms in Eastside schools. He turned out to march against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even as the crowds grew smaller with each passing year. He was in front of the LAPD’s Rampart station in 2010, shouting into a bullhorn after police killed a Guatemalan day laborer on 6th Street, and there again in September to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
Montes fell in with the small quixotic tribe that had survived the sucking ’70s with revolutionary faith intact, the tireless picketers most of the city glimpses in passing through raised windows. He didn’t dwell much on the past. His daughter, Felicia, remembers accompanying her parents to constant rallies and community meetings—“That’s been what I’ve known for a long, long time,” she says—but she didn’t learn about her father’s role in the Chicano movement until she was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, in an ethnic studies class.
I tried a few times to get Montes to talk about how lonely the years after his return must have been, how much disenchantment he must have had to overcome to keep struggling through the era of triumphant Reaganism. His answers rambled; the questions seemed to bounce off him. For him little had changed. None of the wrongs he fought in his youth ever went away—Americans were still killing and dying in faraway wars, young Latinos still contending with police harassment in the streets and with profound inequities in the classroom. The fight was what it always had been. I asked the historian Rodolfo Acuña, who teaches at Cal State Northridge and has known Montes since the 1960s, what he thought kept Montes going. Acuña answered obliquely: “He’s the same today as he was 40 years ago.”
Montes (with beret and sunglasses) in an LAPD photo taken during the 1968 Roosevelt High School protest
a police photo of Montes after the East L.A. Walkouts
the Brown Berets’ paper, La Causa
Montes, flanked by Brown Beret leaders Fred Lopez, David Sánchez, and Ralph Ramírez, in 1968
a La Causa tribute after Montes went underground
The third raid came eight months before the first, early on the morning of September 24, 2010. Mick Kelly, 54, was in the cafeteria at the University of Minnesota, where he is a cook, when his cell phone rang. It was his wife, Linden Gawboy. She had been awakened by men with assault rifles. The FBI was at their apartment. “They used a battering ram to take off the front door,” says Kelly, a slender, gray-mustached activist who also wrote frequently forFight Back! and who had worked with Montes to organize the protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. “They smashed a fish tank,” Kelly says. “They took her outside in her nightgown.” He rushed home to find a dozen FBI agents emptying the couple’s filing cabinets, packing their papers into banker’s boxes.
Soon, Kelly says, “calls started coming in from friends.” The FBI had raided the Minneapolis office of the Anti-War Committee, the group that had taken the lead in organizing the RNC protests, as well as seven other homes belonging to peace activists in Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois. Fourteen people had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury. All had either been involved in the RNC demonstrations or with Fight Back! and Freedom Road.
Montes got a call from Minneapolis. “Be ready,” he was told. The search warrant for the Anti-War Committee office had listed the individuals in whom the FBI was interested: Agents were instructed to search for financial records connected to 22 named “members or affiliates of the FRSO.” Montes was number 14. By the end of 2010, everyone else on the list had been subpoenaed. (They have refused to cooperate with the grand jury.) “I figured, ‘OK, they’re gonna come sooner or later,’ ” says Montes.
It’s easy to blame law enforcement’s renewed scrutiny of political dissent on the September 11 attacks, but activists had begun to feel the chill two years earlier, after demonstrators in Seattle nearly scuttled the World Trade Organization meetings there. In the mass protests that followed in Washington, Philadelphia, and in L.A. during the 2000 Democratic National Convention, federal and local police discovered a new threat or, better put, rediscovered an old one: the homegrown leftist subversive. They responded with tactics that would have felt familiar to veterans of the 1960s—eavesdropping, infiltration, mass arrests, preemptive raids on activist headquarters.
After the World Trade Center towers fell, the FBI’s freedom to engage in domestic surveillance expanded almost without limit. COINTELPRO—J. Edgar Hoover’s counterintelligence program of informants, secret wiretaps, and covert burglaries—was a distant memory, one that few bothered to recall so long as the government’s new targets were foreigners, the 5,000 Middle Eastern noncitizens rounded up for questioning in the months after September 11. But the following year, Attorney General John Ashcroft revised the “Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations,” redefining the bureau’s central mission as “preventing the commission of terrorist acts against the United States and its people.” The agency was no longer concerned exclusively with solving crimes but with the investigation of potential future criminals. This “proactive investigative authority” made it easier than ever to initiate investigations, demand information, obtain search warrants, and conduct surveillance—both through traditional methods and via electronic eavesdropping on a previously inconceivable scale.
Montes, who had retired from Xerox in 2001, saw the 2008 Republican National Convention as an opportunity to repudiate the political trends of the previous eight years, “to have a big, massive march so the whole world would see that the people condemn Bush.” That June he traveled to Minneapolis to attend a conference of activists who’d gathered to plan the demonstrations. He knew some of them already: Several members of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee were also members of the FRSO.
Among the new faces was a short-haired woman with a Boston accent; she introduced herself as Karen Sullivan, a lesbian single mother who had joined the Anti-War Committee two months earlier. Montes doesn’t remember talking to her at any length until she initiated a conversation about Colombia at a conference in Chicago. He had long since been divorced from Velasquez and had twice visited the country with a Colombian ex-girlfriend (the one with whom he had fought in 2005). Sullivan told him her girlfriend was Colombian, too. “I said, ‘Oh, they’re beautiful women,’ and she said, ‘Yeah, they got big asses,’ ” Montes says. “I didn’t know if she was trying to bond with me or what.”
In the days leading up to the convention, local police—aided by the FBI and relying heavily on informants posing as activists—raided six homes used by protesters. Dozens were detained at gunpoint. Eight were arrested and charged under Minnesota’s version of the Patriot Act with “conspiracy to riot…in furtherance of terrorism.” (None were convicted. Local police and the FBI later paid out tens of thousands of dollars in settlements to activists.)
The protests were no less eventful. Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets. Montes spoke at the opening rally and, along with many others, was teargassed by police on the last day of the convention. He managed to evade arrest. Among the hundreds who did not was the woman who called herself Karen Sullivan. Montes saw the police take her away. For the next two years Sullivan would remain close with Montes’s friends in Minnesota. She made herself sufficiently useful that her colleagues trusted her with a key to the office and with the group’s bookkeeping. She joined Freedom Road and seemed particularly interested in fellow activists’ travels to Colombia and Palestine.
In the hours that followed the September FBI raids, as activists around the Midwest were frantically calling to check up on one another, Sullivan did not answer her phone. None of the people she had worked with over the previous two years has seen or spoken to her since. The activists deduced that the woman calling herself Karen Sullivan had been an undercover agent, a fact later confirmed by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
What wasn’t obvious was why Sullivan had been assigned to infiltrate the Anti-War Committee, why Obama’s justice department was so concerned with a handful of peace activists or with a group as obscure as the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may not have been popular, but they also have not provoked anything that could be called a movement. The Occupy Wall Street protests have only focused glancingly on the wars. Despite the rhetoric of Tea Party politicians, socialist revolution in the contemporary United States is about as likely as an attack by the Spanish Armada.
But neither obscurity nor apparent harmlessness have stopped the FBI from testing its new powers. An internal review conducted by the Justice Department’s inspector general in 2010 criticized the bureau for subjecting four antiwar and environmental groups—the Thomas Merton Center, the Catholic Worker, Greenpeace, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—to lengthy domestic terrorism investigations, despite the fact that agents had “little or no basis for suspecting a violation of any criminal statute.” The raids in Minnesota and Illinois came four days after the release of the inspector general’s review.
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office have refused to comment on the investigation—“We can neither confirm nor deny any investigative activity,” says FBI spokesperson Ari Dekofsky—which leaves activists guessing at the government’s motivations. “I think they really believe we’re terrorists,” says Montes with a pained smile. But whatever is behind the searches and subpoenas—whether it’s bureaucratic inertia or a concerted ideological attack—their message is as clear as it was in 1969: Dissent can be dangerous.
The search warrant issued for the raid on the Anti-War Committee office threw a small degree of light on the government’s intentions. Agents were looking for evidence that the subpoenaed activists had violated federal laws prohibiting “material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations”; specifically the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP (a leftist faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization), and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC (one of the few surviving leftist guerrilla forces in Latin America).
In April Kelly and Gawboy made a discovery that clarified things slightly more. Mixed in with their own files in Minneapolis they found papers the FBI had apparently misplaced: the FBI SWAT team’s “Operation Order” for the raid on their home. The documents included a lengthy list of “FRSO Interview Questions,” ranging from the innocuous (“Have you ever heard of the Anti-War Committee?”) to the dramatic (“Have you ever taken steps to overthrow the United States government?”) to the quaintly McCarthyite (“Do you have a ‘red’ name?”) to the absurd (“What did you do with the proceeds from the Revolutionary Lemonade Stand?”).
Many of the questions focused on contact with the FARC and the PFLP. Several of those subpoenaed had traveled to Colombia and Palestine on the kind of odd vacations that earnest activists tend to take: They interviewed organizers and political prisoners, Kelly says, and when they got home, wrote and lectured about their findings. “What we’re talking about is extremely public activity,” says Kelly. “The point of making the trips is to be able to come back and talk about what’s happening.” Montes had visited Colombia twice with his ex-girlfriend. He met labor and human rights organizers there, he says, and a lot of writers—his girlfriend was a poet—but no one from the FARC. He gave presentations on his travels at Pasadena City College and at UCLA. “I had PowerPoint slides,” he says. “I denounced the assassination of labor leaders and indigenous leaders. I tried to get as much publicity as I could.” But the public nature of the trips may be what gets the activists in trouble: In 2001, the Patriot Act broadened the definition of “material support” to include “expert advice or assistance”; another law passed in 2004 expanded it still more to include “service,” a category the Supreme Court has since affirmed may include activities as basic as speech.
When the FBI finally arrived at Montes’s home in May, the agent’s first question would hew to a familiar script. He asked Montes if he would answer questions about the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Montes remained silent. A sheriff’s department spokesman would later confirm that the raid on Montes’s house had been prompted by the FBI. Montes would be charged with four counts of perjury for neglecting to mention a 42-year-old conviction for assaulting a peace officer—the soda can thrown at police lines during the protest at East L.A. College—on the paperwork he filed when he purchased the weapons, along with one count of possession of a handgun and one count of possession of ammunition by an ex-felon. He is facing a possible prison sentence of 22 years. And like the 23 activists already subpoenaed, he is expecting to be indicted at any time for material support of a terrorist organization.
In the months since his arrest there have been fund-raisers in his honor at art galleries and in friends’ living rooms, campaigns to barrage Attorney General Eric Holder with e-mails and letters, and rallies as far away as Philadelphia, Dallas, and Gainesville, Florida. Montes has once again become something of an activist cause célèbre, though that is a humbler role today than it was the last time he was charged.
On September 29, the date of Montes’s preliminary hearing, the sidewalks outside the downtown courthouse are packed with camera crews. Montes paces the sidewalk in a blue pin-striped suit, grinning anxiously and chatting with his supporters, about 40 of whom have come out. A few wear red T-shirts silk-screened with the image of a young beret-clad Montes. They march in tight ellipses, waving picket signs and chanting “Hands Off Carlos Montes!” The reporters ignore them. They are here, it turns out, for the manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s physician.
A few LAPD officers stand outside the courthouse, watching idly. Two heavyset women in floral dresses pause beside the picketers, puzzled. Montes hands them flyers. “Oh,” says one woman to the other, “this is something else,” and they hurry on toward the courthouse door.
Someone gives Montes a microphone. He taps it. His voice booms out through a portable amplifier, thanking his fellow activists for showing up. A gaggle of journalists and photographers hustles past. Montes hurries to address them through the mic. “We’re here to support Carlos Montes,” he says, winking, “to keep him out of jail. Take a flyer, take a flyer.” None of them stops. The cars on Temple Street go honking by as they would on any other weekday morning. Reporters settle into folding chairs on the sidewalk across the street. Someone whispers that Janet Jackson has arrived. Holding the mic to his mouth, Montes looks briefly relaxed, almost at home. “I do want to say,” he begins again, “that the struggle continues.”
Ben Ehrenreich’s last piece for Los Angeles, “The End,” won the 2011 National Magazine Award for feature writing. His novel Ether (City Lights Books) came out in October.
- 1. In a interview you gave to Global Graffiti Magazine, you said: « My writing would be better if I was less busy in my spirit and my mind. If I wasn’t distracted by wars and riots and traffic, with the music turned up full blast, my books would be easier to read and make more sense. ». Do you think that « too many people, too much life » is always dangerous, at some point, for the particular quality of a writer’s work? Can a writer be excellent although he might be eager to live life at its full, even if he is « careless »?
A writer can be excellent even if confused, or perfectly confused, like Louis Ferdinand Celine, because of it. In order to understand this confused human consciousness better, I have asked two North American novelists, Rick Harsch and Ben Ehrenreich, to help me answer these questions. Rick (author of Billy Verité and Le Bal des inertes in French, and Arjun and the Good Snake and other books in English) and Ben (author of Ether and The Suitors) will answer these questions with me, and it’s up to the reader to decide which of us delivers the best answer.
For example, in answer to your question:
Those Global Graffiti guys got it all wrong. I was talking about fish soup. I spilled half a bowl on my laptop and three of the characters in the novel I’ve been working on turned into stalks of fennel. In some chapters their love interest is a halibut and by the end she’s four cloves of garlic. Talk about careless.
No writer is excellent. The act of writing, by the way, is one of the least dangerous pursuits on the planet. No danger whatsoever is involved. Unfortunately, even a moderate degree of success delivers authors to interviewers, and sometimes we must say the kinds of things I said to Global Graffiti. The truth of it is, sometimes I have nothing to write, so I visit the spirit/obscene war world.
That’s it, just like that.
- 2. Behind this, I would like to know if you analyse the distinction between the world and the self, society and the individual, or if on the contrary through your writing, you are trying to solve the eternal conflict between « the we and the i »?
I never analyse anything; that’s what’s great about fiction–you never have to.
Between the world and the individual, between the self and society are 3 writers—let them answer. One can flee in the most romantic longing, one can drink and dance the fandango, one can take the brunt.
From what I understand that conflict was resolved in a little-known addendum to the gang truce negotiated between rival sets of Crips in L.A.’s Nickerson Gardens projects in 1992, one day before the riots. That was the real reason that Bush Senior sent the Marines to South-Central—it had nothing to do with the whole Rodney King thing, looting, any of that. The politicians never cared about all those diapers and steaks and neighborhoods burning—when did they ever?—but the we/I truce really freaked them out. If it caught on they knew it would put them out of business for good. So they made sure the truce didn’t make the papers, even less than the gang peace had, and the LAPD and the FBI and Interpol and the CIA have been doing their best ever since to guarantee that nobody ever thinks of resolving that one again. As far as I’m concerned, though, that war is over, signed on the dotted line.
3. David Foster Wallace told that « you were in the story what Hunter Thompson was to journalism, a super vitamined punk who could not care less about reality » Precisely, what is your relationship with informations/news and journalism in general? and with Gonzo journalism in particular?
I’m still mad at Hunter Thompson for what he did to Oscar Zeta Acosta, turning the best Chicano revolutionary novelist of the day into a clownish ether-stoned Samoan named Dr. Gonzo. They were friends, Thompson and Acosta, or at least Thompson said they were and seemed to mean it—Acosta never cared to weigh in—but the vicious old redneck drunk sold out his friend for book sales and a particularly stupid variety of celebrity. After that he descended for decades into a cartoon-worthy vortex of alcoholism and self-hate, from which he emerged years later with a bang and a terrible mess. My sources tell me Acosta still lives, haunting the borderlands, sneaking up on racist vigilantes, tying their shoelaces to their lawn chairs and scaring them awake with his laughter. I saw him once in an almond orchard outside Modesto, eating nuts from the trees, teaching the moths and the hummingbirds how to drop mini-Molotovs on police cruisers and realtors.
Gonzo journalism was Hunter Thompson and only Hunter Thompson.
I am a victim of the news media, I love its fictive narratives, I sit with my coffee and waste hours reading the New York Times, the New Yorker, Los Angeles Review of Books, Facebook articles and rantings, it makes my nose run and my teeth fall out. It gives me gum disease. I love the news and its phony stories, it makes me feel as if I were there. I was never there.
4. In France, there are only a few people involved in the field of highly subjective writing of Gonzo, what about in the US? Who are the survivors (or precursors) of Gonzo?
I repeat: gonzo journalism was Hunter Thompson and only Hunter Thompson. Perhaps in France there are journalists engaged in Foie d’ blaise journalism or something like that.
The precursors or survivors of Gonzo included E. Hemingway, Jack London, J. Kerouac, George Orwell, L. F. Celine, Isabelle Eberhardt, Hernan Cortez, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Thor Heyerdahl, Jose Lopez-Feliu, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Kathy Acker, Osamu Dazai, Juan Goytisolo, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Jean Genet, Henry Miller, Oscar Zeta Acosta and Charles Baudelaire, among others. There are lots of others but their books get lost in corners or under sofas.
- 5. In relation to this, in Atomik Aztex, your writing is wonderfully unbridled, the novel presents itself as a real “mixed casserole”, a « pot-au-fou »; do you think you are crazy like that everyday or is it that the writing allows you to reach a climax of madness that is prohibited in “real life”? In that could you eat the wolf or dance the Bamba slaughtering pigs, for example?
I have eaten things I could have been arrested for, that’s all I will say about that. Otherwise, madness as I seem to think you understand it, is a intrinsic to the post-Ramapithecans.
Do you really think anything is prohibited in “real life”? Slaughter is a local specialty in these parts, has been since at least the 1600s. We built a whole legal system to protect it and a vast international bureaucracy to safeguard its export. I understand it has been immensely popular, even more so than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, except in a few scattered rebellious parts of the globe where they don’t have internet yet and haven’t learned how to shut up and be cool. Which wolf are you referring to?
Once I broke my leg in a river 40 miles from my car in the North Cascades by the Canada border; once I walked around Southern Mexico and ate mushrooms floating in lake scum and explored caves with burning pine sticks; I have traveled through war-time Managua hanging off the outside of over-crowded teetering buses and planted trees on volcanoes; I have landed via helicopter to fight great forest fires in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming; I punched out factory windows with my bare hands when I was 12 years old till my hands were shredded, bleeding—but I still can’t dance, I can’t dance la Bamba.
6. How do you correct your texts? Your style at least is similar to a freshly painted wall; it IS shinY, it’s new, it’s exciting, but we feel that it is fragile, that all the layers are not yet “toughened “… It is far from the logic of the test or a study of the workings of the detective novel. Do you rework every sentence, every word, despite the impression of “letting go” in writing?
“I” am not even writing this. See answer to question 2, above.
My methods of composition include collage, collaborative experiments like this “interview,” borrowing and plagiarism, sampling and expurgation, so that passages should sound like dialogue overheard, perhaps imperfectly overheard or recorded (with errors), and corresponding to the fitful lacunae of ordinary activities, where we are regularly interrupted by others. Sometimes there is an explosion of
I have never corrected anything in my life, much less my ‘writing’. Sometimes I have made changes, but any changes I have made have likely been for the worse. And I never let go. That would be a tremendous mistake, akin, if you don’t mind my putting it this way, to squeezing out quietly a long suppressed fart.
7. At the end, is logic an asshole for you? What sort of writing bores you? What are you against, if not at war? What are you wrestling with?
Music makes me feel grandiose like a hairy mammoth. I never feel extinct when I am dreaming and arguing with the universe. The universe says, “Poet, kill this chicken.” I kill the chicken. You insert the chicken into a traffic cone upsidedown, head down, feet in the air. You cut its throat after it looks at you with yellow eyes of trust. I eat chicken feeling I am Poet of the Universe. It’s not a bad job, many are worse. I have come this far with greasy fingers. If you come over my house I will barbecue for you.
Logic is a friend who won’t leave when it is time for me to sleep. I just leave him with his beer on the balcony and go to sleep. I am at war with everything in the world destructive to the human. I am often bored by books that are too logical in their display of battles against things destructive to the human. I wrestle with anything/anyone who wants to wrestle with me. I guess you could say I was a born wrestler.
Logic is like one of those magician’s boxes with a false bottom. It’s not a problem for anyone but the most gullible kids in the audience. I’m basically a man of peace, but I still struggle with potholes, foxtails, standardized testing, kale, the overzealous policing and regulation of urban airspace, insufficiently seasoned broth, the fungus that grows over everything, the mildew that grows on the fungus, the mold that grows on the mildew.
8. You taught at the Jack Kerouac Summer School. There is no school of its kind in France and the principle intrigues us very much… What did you teach exactly, there? Do you have a writing technique – precise – narrative? Was is something completely different? Was is a different matter?
The only way to discuss my teaching properly would be for you to track down my students and ask them. but I will say that the last thing I do is try to teach them to be anything like me. I may forget sometimes, but I should tell them all to read Moby Dick.
I taught “Writing as Intervention in Place” based on ideas of Gary Snyder and William Carlos Williams, but it’s not like the old days anyway, when Andrei Codrescu had naked girls running in and out of his room, jumping into the swimming pool, when Diane diPrima was in a bad mood because her writing was no fun so she threw all the furniture off the balcony, and everybody was running around with ugly breath, sniggling marijuana giggles. Nowadays they have a sign on the fence that says, “No Nudity Please” and the workshops are full of wan academics. It’s like the Tassajara Zen Center, where on the gate of the swimming pool they have a sign, “No Children Allowed.” The Buddhists can’t allow kids in the pool while the old folks lay about naked alongside the rushing stream, till they turn the color of Weimaraners? Kids can’t squeak and shout while self-absorbed geezers try to massage their epiphanies?
It’s actually quite rigorous. Due to the unorthodox nature of the program, we are not yet able to award degrees, but we encourage our graduates to call themselves “doctor,” “president,” or “pope.” The first year is mainly animal husbandry with electives available in geology, horticulture, and elementary principles of aviation. The last year is all quantum mechanics and knife skills. Due to the violent neoliberal restructuring conducted over the last three decades, an increasing number of our graduates are having a hard time finding employment in their chosen fields of study, so we’re working on a cosmetology minor.
9. Warning, this is a little awkward question, but I have to put it: you talk a lot about Germany, Russia, the Aztecs of America… but not so much about France. Do you read past or present French authors? If so, who and why? If not, who won’t you you read and why?
What exactly do you mean by “French”?
If you feel awkward you should attend to your breathing, then get into a crouch, spread your legs to shoulder width, bend your knees, and then ask at will. That said, my unkind response would be whether or not you asked, for instance, Juan Carlos Onetti why he didn’t write a novel about France, or including French people. Of course I read and have read numerous French authors and I have to ask you why, though there are so many great French poets and novelists, the best is still Rabelais?
All French practitioners of the prose poem are important to me, as are the Dadaists, the Cubists, the Surrealists, the Detroitists (I am not in love with Oulipo which is the great rage nowadays in the U.S.A.—I will read them but their mathematics is not interesting—it reminds me of static pictures like graphics in graphic novels and comic books), Cendrars, Duras, Celine, Michaux, Delbo, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Mandel, Edmond Jabes, Paul Poissel, Aimé Césaire, Fifa Fafu, Julio Cortazar, Annie Ernaux, and I wish I read more French, but New York oppresses me.
10. To finish with, in Gonzai magazine the slogan is “only the detail counts”: something to say about a detail that you recently noted (today, for example)? What detail did you notice recently which could inspire you a story?
Great and timely question. Just today I was watching the film Miller’s Crossing and a character said, meaning it metaphorically, that another had a wart on his fanny. I realized then that some discomfort I had been feeling but only really noting in the back of my mind was caused by a wart on my fanny. Of course the theme of synchronicity, the real versus the metaphorical, the metaphorical real as metaphorical, the detail as universe, the universe as negligible, the tried and true, the bumpkin and the lawyer, the maid and her skirts, the mother of pearl ear-rings, the sportsmanship crisis, the little predator drone that couldn’t, these and many many other things immediately came to mind, and I have taken time out to answer these question and ask that you look for the product of this topic in one to two years. Thank you.
One detail that I noticed were the faces advancing and retreating into vast space and distance between us all, like they used to do in my nightmares when I was eight years old, the faces would approach intensely and many would would pull back as if on a line, as if being retrieved by some mechanism, in a kind of pulsating rhythm, they would approach with great speed as if in attack (in the Sea of Cortez a female sea lion once approached my face as instantaneously across twelve meters of distance in a couple of seconds, so fast she stuck her nose toward my snorkeling mask to peer directly into my eyes that I of course flinched and jerked back, startling her so that she too flinched, jerked back and swam away) and all the faces are tremulous with outrage and despair, but I can’t communicate with any of them. So I turn to the nearest and ask them how they are today.
I am like you, obese diabetic working man totally defeated by ordinary days, because I too am beaten down by my days, a consumer of charred sizzly popping meats, I too am a consumer of anything and everything sugary with that glittering mystery, of tissue wrappers with sacred names crumpled on them, of endless fake spiritual epiphanies and spiritual roadbumps of phenomenology
I think you are just like me, sore disgruntled loser medicating himself with endless whining complaints, pushing himself along in his raggedy cares, or the bitter woman standing behind all the rest pouting, folding her arms over the accumulated belly of swallowed humiliations she has heaped on herself for not conforming to her own reflection in shiny machinery of the airport or cigarette machines of waiting rooms on hellish avenues, I shall stick out my lower lip of disapproval of the fucked up existence of this world,
I know you, self-obsessed teenager relentlessly plucking at any ragged tuft of hair or bit of yourself that sticks out to be noticed, I too am endlessly worrying about my own concerns at every moment so that I cannot even hear clearly what all these people are saying to me, everyone is saying something about something (I just can’t tell what their point is, I know that’s how it goes for you, it’s all a buzzing static), over and over
I feel you, young racist white youths who veered at me in the pickup truck and flipped me off yelling something with scrunchy faces, so what if I follow you to the intersection and jump out of my vehicle but cannot chase on foot because you run the red light peeling away in exhaust clouds of burning rubber, I am playing your game— I too glory in wild absurd emotive concussions at the end of nerves
I forgive you picky bastard, for holding yourself separate from everyone, for thinking none of this has anything to do with you, you don’t want their oily skin secretions touching your educated fingertips of your sensibilities and goggly eyeballs, you don’t want none of that sticky shit and hair clippings and ethnic spices to get on your person, to deteriorate the porous calcified foundations of your lifestyle, I know I myself have turned away endlessly from people, just like you
I’m with you little kid, wiggling in your chair, can’t sit still in the restaurant while the rest of the family and your father’s friends are eating Lebanese buffet, you gotta jump down out of your curly headed chair and make origami out of the napkin, jumping with dancy leaps throwing it up in the air, pointy napkin tumbling through the air like the flying star of your delight, you are catching it or half-catching it, half-knocking over your water, making commotions, your father jumps out of his chair after chiding and scolding you repeatedly slaps you hard on the back of the head (it was all I could do kid not to jump out of my own chair at that point, sorry I thought it would go harder for you if I did), he grabs your arm and jerks you back to your chair hard, jerks you into sitting position in your chair and snarls in your face “Sit in the goddamn chair and don’t move!” while his guests look discomfited, and you sit there stunned, your delight isn’t even a memory, instantly it’s a numb pain so you don’t even cry, just sit in shock—I lift my insipid ice water and drink to you kid
You are my kind, you ineffective nerdomatic intellectuals submerged in joys of wordage and verbiage, expostulating or correlating, cross-referencing and coagulating texts and notions, sentiments and works, concepts and price lists, all because that’s the peaceful thing to do while the world is at war—fuck ‘em, they want to kill each other—I’ll go read and write poems
the triumph of capitalism is capitulation to any random circumstance result of bad luck when instead so much is learned from crows, crows
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The close up view of earth, twin macro lenses opened up to maximum aperture, these fat earthworms in a ball all crusted with dry dirt
Don’t trust those crows. They’ll do anything for a buck
Hey I learned from a Japanese woman that crows can talk like parrots!
What do the crows say?
SOMEWHERE IN THERE the streets I know end in vagueness, generalities. Somewhere in there, the streets of the city and the streets of night end in a spicy, smoky smell of girl sweat, like bread fresh from the oven. Somewhere in there, our decades together, decades we’ve known each other. As if those decades still exist; in fact they do not. Phone messages erased from numbers that never existed in this century, messages she wished I would have received, once upon a time. However many times she saved my life, two or three at least, her unspoken fears or disgust with me, must exist somewhere in there, like shadows at night. Shadows on the other side of shrubbery, under the dim glare of a semi-distant streetlamp. Darkness, unknowing, on the far side of walls, the other side of eyes. I walk the night streets and avenues in sleep, in dreams. I drive them, talking to her. Everything that was done, and undone, even if it’s gone now. Years vanished as if they never were, but her smell rises in my memory, volatile as gasoline, the dense female fragrance I kiss at the base of her spine. It rises behind the daylight, like mole rubbed between two fingertips, like a big river coming around a bend in the dark.