Apartment hunting in Albuquerque. The courtyard. Not so far from mountains. Just off San Pedro. Quiet at 8:37 am on a Saturday. Cars are a little beat up. Not bad.
“Don’t use that tone of voice with me, young man.” – every boss & every grownup I’ve ever known.
“Don’t use that tone of voice with me, young man.” I’ve been hearing that for 57 years, it seems. Finally, too late to save things currently, I’ve started to recognize the tone of voice. It’s just the way I speak. Maybe I can do something about it but I’m not so sure. The easiest thing I’ve figured out is just to not speak at all. I’m seen as an arrogant asshole either way.
Not much hurts more than knowing that just by opening my mouth I seem to hurt the kindest most patient, gentlest person I know. It pains me that I can never convey how much I support her and really am listening. All that comes out seems to be criticism. She talks feelings and I counter with facts. These are really two separate things but my brain doesn’t seem to get that even though I am more than capable of an emotional response, usually anger, often at lightening speed, frightening those around me.
I saw a beautiful little apartment today a couple of miles away from where I sit now on the embudito trail.
In the beginning Andrea bought one book after another trying to understand how an aspie mind works and how to deal with it. How to deal with me. It’s sad that she who believes that everything is possible has given up on this.
I don’t like being the most difficult guy in the room. I don’t like the alarm I see in people’s faces when I open my mouth to speak.
I’m sitting on a rock headed up to South Sandia Peak, typing this into my phone. The wind is cold. It’s beautiful up here, even on a rare overcast day. The city down below – that will be my new city, soon enough.
I made it to the crest without any worries. Last year, I tried a few times and always got terrified by some stretch of exposure that was too much for me then. Today I’m not even sure where that stretch was. Nothing seems the least bit frightening on this trail. It seems I’ve lost a bit of fear, and this is important, because fear is pretty much what rules me. I’m afraid of so many things these days. I’m afraid of being stuck in LA. I’m afraid I’m just too old to start up anything new – romance, relocation, having kids, retirement. I’m also afraid I’m just too old not to do any of those things, soon – the clock is running out.
Sandia Crest, Albuquerque
It’s a tough world out there.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
It’s a tough world out there. We look for love and for validation from out in that tough world, when we need to be looking within.
I heard a story about a man showing up on his grandfather’s doorstep. The man is in his twenties. He’s an addict, with two young kids. His wife just died of an overdose, and he gave up the kids to her parents, their grandparents, with a tender loving grandmother who would turn the kids over to the tender, a-bit-too-loving grandfather, a pedophile. Addiction, overdose, death, orphaned children, pedophilia, all in sunny middle class Southern California. My current problems, in comparison, are nothing, and I beat myself up over that, too, even though my background is filled with a lot of the same stuff: alcoholism, death, abuse…
Abandoned doll, Salton Sea, 2006
Things change, or things fall apart?
I found an apartment, down by Old Town, a few blocks from the Bosque, a quiet little adobe style place. We went for a run along the Bosque. We meditated at the Albuquerque Shambhala Center, walking distance from the casita we were staying at, near the Sawmill District. It felt right. It felt wrong. I slipped in and out of panic. The next day I was committed to the move, even though I had my doubts, but by the time I got back to LA I had changed my mind again.
My move would have been me pulling a geographic. All the things that have me so twisted up here in LA are things I would bring with me to New Mexico. Every time I looked in the mirror in my new home in Albuquerque, I would be looking at the same man carrying all the same baggage he had in LA, and that’s not fair to New Mexico, or to me. There are a lot of good reasons to come to New Mexico, but I was only going there to leave LA. There are a lot of good reasons to leave LA, but I would have been leaving for the wrong ones.
I cancelled the move.
“Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…” “It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Ring of Fire
Nine pm on a Tuesday night, headed through the passes into LA. Traffic is at a standstill. The air is thick with smoke, and it burns our throats.
The American Dream is alive and well in Southern California, but only because it remains a staple of TV, and TV comes from here. It exists only as artifice. It’s not the American Dream anymore, but the American Fantasy.
California just doesn’t seem to carry with it the promise we’d all hoped. Maybe if you are Tom Joad, coming from Dust Bowl Oklahoma, there’s some hope, or maybe it’s just that you’re escaping something worse. I don’t really know. But the dust and dirt in the air does not compare well with the wide open skies of New Mexico. You shouldn’t be able to taste the air. You shouldn’t be able to see it, either. It needs to be something that is felt, like an emotion. Air should never feel oppressive.
In the book Caliphobia, LA’s four seasons are described as earthquake, fire, drought, and flood. It’s mostly been fire and drought the past few years. Anita Carter’s Ring of Fire is an appropriate song for the city right now:
Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.
I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.
The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet.
I fell for you like a child,
Oh, but the fire went wild.
Good Lucks Jewelry, Gallup, New Mexico
My love/hate relationship with LA has finally ended.
Michael used to tell me “The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.” He was telling me this after my lunatic ex girlfriend had my phone cut-off, again, for the third time, and the second time in one day. She’d been living in a single room of her otherwise empty condo in Washington DC. She was all jacked up on speed. A month or so earlier, she’d called me from someone else’s closet. She was hiding. Now she was moving to Long Beach. She’d found my social security number and had the guy she was currently fucking call up all the utility companies pretending to be me and having everything turned off.
I called ATT again, from a payphone. “Sounds like ex girlfriend trouble” said the customer service guy knowingly. “Yeah. So what can I do about it?” I asked. “Well, your account is attached to your social security number,” he said. “Can it be attached to something else?” I asked. “Some number they don’t have? Can you make a secret code?” They made a secret code and attached it to my social security number. The next time my ex’s tweaking boyfriend called, they asked for the secret code and when that didn’t work they asked for my social security number, and once he gave them that they gave him the secret code, and the phone was turned off, a third time.
My ex girlfriend liked to bite me until she drew blood. She also like to be beaten. She would go down to the S&M clubs in Hollywood and put on shows. She was proud of being able to take more abuse than anyone was willing to dish out.
She was trying to get me angry enough to respond, and that’s not a difficult thing to do. I am a hot-head. Michael said whatever happens, do not reply to her emails, do not return her phone calls, do not engage. Her desperate reckoning was that if I wouldn’t love her at least she could get me to hate her; they are not that different, there’s a passion to both, and it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes, especially if you are insane. He urged me to pause, to strive for indifference, and if that didn’t work, to at least behave with indifference, no matter what I was feeling. “If you need to scream at someone, call me,” he said.
Suddenly, 23 years into this second visit to LA, and 18 years since the last bite wound healed, I am finally feeling indifferent towards Los Angeles. This is a good thing. Let me try to sustain it. Let me simplify my life, divest myself of more of the stuff I don’t use, both literally and in terms of how I identify myself. Let me be the person I want to be, and let me move that guy to Albuquerque.
Clouds over the Sandias
Bobbie & Margie’s Cuban Cafe, Cuba, New Mexico
The New Normal.
Last year, the drought that has plagued California for a decade finally broke, with record rains and snow-fall filling reservoirs beyond capacity and causing flooding in the Sierras. But that was followed by the hottest, driest summer on record, and now the return of the high pressure ridge that is keeping the rains away again, a persistent new weather condition that is sure to bring about the return of the drought. The drought is no longer a temporary situation. It’s now the way it is. Add to that record Santa Ana winds blowing in from the hot, bone dry high desert, picking up speed as they funnel through the Santa Ana Canyon to the east of LA, or the San Gabriel canyons, or Malibu Canyon (it’s become a generic term), gusting up to hurricane force 80 miles an hour.
There’s a lot of New Normal these days. President Trump is the new normal. Sexual violence and men in power openly boasting about it and getting elected to office despite it is the new normal, the gig economy with its lack of benefits of any kind is the new normal. Climate change is the new normal. Overt racism is the new normal. Generally speaking, a brutal lack of caring about anything and everything but ones own self is the new normal.
“Albuquerque is a tough town,” says my friend Gordon, originally from Oklahoma, now living here in LA. This is a story I hear a lot, but isn’t a town that propped up Harvey Weinstein for 30 years while he was raping women just as rough? I’m back in LA, driving down Figueroa in Eagle Rock. There’s a homeless camp under the freeway bridge. I’d like to make a right turn into the grocery store parking lot but some guy has the driveway blocked with his shopping cart. He is pissing on the asphalt. LA seems like a rough town, too. Despite his warning, Gordon thinks the move is a good idea. “I say do it! The future yields to the brave!” He says he misses Albuquerque, and more than that he misses the desert around it.
Cuba, New Mexico
Basic Goodness, the heart of sadness, & the rawness of a broken heart.
“In order to be a good warrior, one has to feel this sad and tender heart. A person who does not feel alone and sad cannot be a warrior at all.” – Chogyam Trungpa, The Sacred Path of the Warrior
At the foundation of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition is the concept of basic goodness. Pema Chodron writes that an analogy for basic goodness is “the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic; sometimes to anger, resentment and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”
Chogyam Trungpa writes “Discovering real goodness comes from appreciating very simple experiences. We are not talking about how good it feels to make a million dollars or finally graduate from college or buy a new house, but we are speaking here of the basic goodness of being alive—which does not depend on our accomplishments or fulfilling our desires.
We experience glimpses of goodness all the time, but we often fail to acknowledge them. When we see a bright color, we are witnessing our own inherent goodness. When we hear a beautiful sound, we are hearing our own basic goodness. When we step out of the shower, we feel fresh and clean, and when we walk out of a stuffy room, we appreciate the sudden whiff of fresh air. These events may take a fraction of a second, but they are real experiences of goodness.”
I’m not a guy who has trouble feeling sad and alone. The rawness of a broken heart has been the rawness of my own heart as long as I can remember, and I can remember almost back to infancy. I’ve never really considered those qualities made me warrior material.
I’m having trouble finding basic goodness. Basic goodness seems to be covered by the noise of existence, and here in LA, the noise is really loud. This is literally true: the sound of leaf blowers, blowing dirt from one person’s yard into the next, or maybe across the street, the sound of people gunning their engines as they speed up Avenue 57 (and I wince when I hear that sound; 3 years ago one of those guys, drunk, careened back-and-forth across the street, totaling six parked cars, including mine, before his final crash. He did not have enough insurance to pay for the damage). There’s the noise of the stoners across the street, fighting, again. There’s the noise of helicopters flying overhead. There are the visuals: piles of garbage in the streets, the homeless camps, the guy blocking the driveway to the grocery store with his shopping cart while he takes a piss in the middle of the street, the homeless guy shitting in a bus stop. There’s the noise of aggression, and of egos, and of people trying to make it in showbiz, and the noise of their grandiosity; you need to have delusional levels of belief in yourself to stand a chance in “the industry” which is what showbiz likes to call itself. It also likes to call itself “creativity”, oblivious to the contradiction. There seems to be something really oxymoronic about the idea of industrially mass-produced creativity. For those of us like me, with the sensory overload that accompanies Aspergers, finding the basic goodness that is at the heart of everything is especially challenging. I’m usually trying to stave off panic. The basic goodness in me seems very hard to find underneath all my wound up hostility that’s borne of nothing more, or less, than fear.
How do you find the basic goodness in someone who prides themselves in being able to take more punishment than anyone can dish out? How do you find the basic goodness in Donald Trump or Mike Pence or Paul Ryan? The answer is this: “you do not possess basic goodness but you are the basic goodness.”
There is something called renunciation of privacy which frightens me because invisibility has been my go-to defense mechanism since infancy. Invisibility is the ultimate expression of privacy. It seems that renunciation of privacy is an essential undertaking if I am to experience basic goodness, and the idea of basic goodness fills me with hope and with optimism, which are sorely needed these days.
“The need for renunciation arises when you begin to feel that basic goodness belongs to you. Of course you cannot make a personal possession of basic goodness. It is the law and order of the world, which is impossible to possess personally. It is a much greater vision than your personal territory or schemes. Nonetheless, sometimes you try to localize basic goodness in yourself. You think you can take a little pinch of basic goodness and keep it in your pocket. So the idea of privacy begins to creep in. That is the point at which you need renunciation — renunciation of the temptation to possess basic goodness.”
Along the Bosque
“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“It’s windier here than in Los Angeles,” says Andrea, as a warning. She knows I dislike the wind. It is an Aspergers thing for me: the wind touches my body in a way that I don’t like being touched. But this is a dry wind down here as we run along the Bosque, a trail that runs alongside the Rio Grande in the middle of Albuquerque. I like this trail. It reminds me of a lot of trails along rivers. It reminds me of Fish Creek, in Calgary, or the Bow River bike path, or the trail around Millpond Creek, in Mayville, Wisconsin. What it doesn’t remind me of are any of the river trails in Los Angeles. A concrete river bed just isn’t the same thing. It might be a great river bed for filming car chase scenes, but as far as a river goes, it’s just not real. It is real concrete, though, and this is the problem I have with LA: the city is real, the poverty is real, the homelessness is real, the income disparity is real, the artificiality of it all is real; it’s a film set populated by the struggling, the delusional, the power mad… there is no center here, no middle, not a middle of the city, not a middle class… The only thing in the middle is the weather, not too hot, not too cold, just right, relentlessly so, even while the city is ringed with fire.