Category Archives: Culture

Lomberg Tabak/Köln

Federroter Wine and a Brother Not Named Jim

Deutscher Federroter wine kisses my lips as it swifts past my tongue and heads on down my throat. Billie Holiday plays boldly in the foreground.

Albert at the local farmer’s market sold me this young red wine. He proclaims with the glee of a boy who’s just figured out how to use his pillow for the first time, “It’s only eight days old!”
A red wine that is only eight days old? I thought as I swigged his sampler out of a dirty, used glass. I wondered how many lips had suckled at the same rim–this act is the more natural, earthly variant of holy communion; holy communion that I snuck before I was ever twelve or thirteen.

My father thought it would be a good idea to ship my brother and me daily to a catholic school one summer. He had tried this before, tried to tame us boys at the peak of heat in the season, summer.  But our sentence to catholic school was only done once, we were banned after my brother was caught groping La Virgen and me with my hand in the alms box–that was after I had lied in order to take holy communion.  Yes, I said, Yes mother, I’ve already completed mí primera communion.

Summer: when the heat shows no mercy and everything is forgiven. Summer was the time I would cruelly torture my sister because, even though she cried and ran away, we both enjoyed the heady game of cat and mouse that came every summer. Came in with the warmth, then the heat.

For us, my brother and me, the garage would become a playground–a christened rumpus room full of metal baubles and flammable trifles. Often, with phone books set aflame in the center of the garage, we would jump over the fire, flames licking our payless sneakers; I would follow my brother into the flames in god’s own eyes if he asked me to. I idolized my brother in the same way that all younger brothers do their older brothers: with all the trust and vulnerability available to a boy of eight or nine or ten.

Summers were our season, our season to burn every barbie we could hunt down in our sister’s room; burn them after we styled their hair in  entire cans of Aquanet. Hairdo flambeé. Call me Jimmicio.

Summers were endless follow-the-leader games on bikes, the leader continually being outdone by someone more daring and stupid. Riding bikes off curbs, then walls, then roofs. Roofs never worked, though, and it was only Andy, from next next door, that ever tried it.  In his attempt, did he receive his first pain in the nuts.  But Andy always wanted to look like the boldest of us all.  As if his dirt blond hair didn’t make him stand out enough amongst us prietitos.  He was always willing to do what no one else dared, and for this we kept him around–he was the enabler in a group of boys looking for any sort of distraction.  I would later find out that Andy had a thing going with my sister.  That, for some reason, made me mad.

Firecrackers found their way into our crabby hands and we would throw them into the guayaba bushels, naïvely believing that we could explode the whole lot of it up.

We’d dig through our mother’s shoebox collection behind the mirrored wall, in the closet. They stood for different years or phases of her life. They were her archives, and we her secret archivologists.

My brother always looked for the one or two boxes that held her small pornographic collection: books that we would leaf through, never spending as much time on the text as on the steamy covers. (Text required reading, and reading is something only done during the school year.)  Other items were, of course, the VHS cassettes that were always met with curious wonder, this wonder always rapidly morphing into our state of agog anticipation. Sometimes so much so that we would somehow lose the cassette tape in the stalagmites of boxes. Later I would secretly believe that my brother would lose them on purpose so that he could later find them, alone. As we would make our way through the boxes to the few that were filled with porn, boxes that were, curiously, never in the same place twice, I would, with some frequency, stumble upon my mother’s wedding box.

Her wedding box was a faded-purple box with “Sears” (in cursive) written on the lid.  The corners were only slightly worn, and there was a small square black and white picture of some heels at one end of the box.  “Size 4,” the box declared with a degree of feminine modesty.  (Size 4 is the perfect size foot for a woman: it says, ‘I’m small and I need saving.’  My sister is a size 10.  [Blink, blink.])

‘Sears’ held her wedding picutres, her band, and other commemorative items from that joyous day that would ultimately be a painful memory. A joy turned old. I now wonder if she was registered at Sears, or perhaps if purple is her favorite color.  (…I don’t know my mother’s favorite color; sad.)  Her pictures, many of them torn in twos or threes, portrayed a young woman, too skinny for her own good, with a glorious smile, and glowing nicaraguan cheeks. She, in her airy blue dress donning an 8-month pregnant belly, seemed so happy there, so full of hope.

Hope: a belief in moments that have not yet come to pass. (And faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Or at least that’s what I would have uttered, as a reflex of indoctrination, eight years ago.)

Shortly after my parents were married they separated, for the better (which, in their immaturity, did not play out so well–violence and screaming, like any other kid in eastlos, is what I fondly recall), and then for good. Some years after their marriage, I was born. By my lights all I can figure was that they found their way to each other one sordid and drunken New Year’s Eve. I was born nine months later. Born on their wedding anniversary.

Looking at their torn up pictures and other wedding items I had no idea that this memorabilia betokened my own existence, my own birth. My mother never told me. It was not until I was thirteen and digging my way through her archives yet again–a practice I nurtured throughout my childhood, for which I became known as “El Ratón”)–did I discover her marriage license.

I stared at this document. I stared at both of their names. I looked for my name. Why isn’t my name on here? I thought, as I held the paper in my hands. Surely this was my birth certificate, it had my birth date on it.

I did not know it for they would tell me only two days before, but I was to move out about a week later. I was to move in with my father and his family. My brother was long gone by this point, shipped off, so the practice goes, to Mexico after various run-ins with the pigs, drug abuse, gang banging and failing ninth grade, and, soon thereafter, out of high school.

Shortly before he left I remember hearing him and his friend (female) next door in his room. I was mesmerized by the noises and what flashes of flesh I caught glimpses of through the TV cable outlet that had long been hallowed out–a way we could secretly talk to each other at night when we were supposed to both be asleep, or a way to pass candy to each other and other bullshit when we were both grounded, locked in our respective rooms.

He was gone now and soon I would be too.  As I went through the archives one last time I thought of my brother, our summers, those naughty boxes we would so gleefully hold up in triumph when they were finally found–his friend’s visit and their soft grunting came to mind just then.  I folded the certificate and placed it back in the drawer, under some junkmail, where I had found it. I turned toward the walled mirror and slid one door open.

I would handle the contents of the archives one last time, window-shopping through my mother’s personal herstory, perusing photos that manifested her relationships over the years, reading-through journals that would only be slightly used; she would write only in the first ten or fifteen pages in the countless journals I found, and handling small trinkets that must have carried some meaning but whose meaning was lost on me.

With tender but faded curiosity I took out boxes, one by one, careful to keep track of the order in which they were excavated. I knew, though, that at this point my mother, long keen on my practice, did not care much about what I did in her closet or drawers. The boxes were no longer her tetris-plaything. They stopped moving, and so my searching their contents became less and less exciting. Until everything would be just where I had left it the day or week before, save for two or three boxes of in-use shoes, which always seemed to rotate or be replaced by another new, crappy pair of Payless shoes. Her own cat and mouse game with us had reached its end; I would later believe that it ended when my brother was sent away. When he was lost to the autonomy and stupidity that comes with the masculine-machismo narrative. He was always her favorite. Since those days, when ever she says my name it is preceded by a pre-fix: the prefix is the first phoentic sound of my brother’s name.
As a result I respond to Dajaime.

Fast forward too many memories and I sit on a faux-wooden floor in Cologne, Germany. I drink Federroter sold to me by a very gleeful Albert from Koblenz, Germany, where the wine flows aplenty and for cheap too. Dinner consists of Raw Sheep’s Milk I acquired in southern Spain, and dried sausage (spicy paprika) from Slagteren ved Kultorvet squirreled all the way from Copenhagen. Holiday turns into Davis and leads into Gallo, forming a quilt of time, gender, and genre.

 

As I sip my eight day old wine I think on my brother and his life in Torrance and his dreams that he and the man busted open and left for dead. ‘Go ahead and call it what it is folks, white supremacy,’ flows into my mind as I search for someone to hold responsible for my brother failing second and ninth grades, high school, and then, somehow, life. The ‘white supremacy’ argot riffs off a passionate, giant-of-the-mind critical race theory professor at UC Irvine–I’ve never taken a class with him, but I’ve heard stories.

performing gender

torture device

vaquero on main

Vaquero on Main

part smussy is hot

SCHW2.1
I want smart chicks to whip me with their hairy brains.

(Poof[Glam])Doom III

Green Shoes
I wanted her and her green shoes to step on my face while saying, “You’re a filthy, disgusting, dirty boy,” over and over again.

Am I brown? Or are you just a hegemonic power?

terrorismo wide
I know there are some of you out there that have seen the above. Am I the only motha phugin’ spic who gets this shit? We used to call it “propaganda.” Now we call “patriotism.” Now…I know I’m not the only one looking through some colored lenses, so in case some of us missed it, here’s what’s going on in the above:

0) A elderly man stares at you, the viewer, with tender eyes. The white background suggests purity and the heavens. Large celestial wings protrude from his back and they give you a sense of authority and comfort. He sits as though waiting for you to say something, to call him for help. The spanish-language text reads: “Terrorism? Help yourself so that I could help you too,” then there is a website and phone number to call. The bold text at the bottom of the ad reads, “Keep yourself on guard,” and is flanked by two identity brands, one for the Ad Council, and one for Homeland Security.

While this may all seem well and fine, my uneducated, non-english speaking, brown ass can’t help but analyze it and argue that the above visually represents the illusion that “mexicans” are not the Other in this country, but instead part of the “Us,” when the reality is that visual representations like this merely promulgate the “Othering” of “mexicans” as well as “terrorists.” Furthermore, the above ad pits these two Othered parties against one another in order to have these parties unsuspectingly battle each other out for inclusionary status within the American psyche. This is a battle neither party wins.

I) Mexicans (because we brown folk are all motha phuckin Mexycaans in their eyes, aren’t we) want citizenship. So of course all the Mexicans are going to want to call if they see the above in order to be considered flag-waving, spandex-wearing, fat-ass hanging, stars and stripes bearing, patriotic Mr. Joe God Bless motha-phugin’ America Smith. Moreover–and herein lies the sweet, sweet bitter and disgusting irony–my grandma’s gonna pick up the phone, and call the authorities to report a bag full trash, and the feddies over from Ho-La Sick (Home Land Security) are gonna come knockin’ at her metal screen door, put her ass into a motha phuckin chariot van, and ship her no-document ass back to the mo-fo’in depths of mo’fo-in Culyacan. The very branch of our fine government that Others the “terrorists” is the very same branch of government that Others my spanish-speaking, welfare-collecting, tortilla-slapping, bean-frying, progeny-bearing grandmother. They want her to come forth from the thicket of American density and reveal herself so that she could think of herself as Mr. Smith (from above). This fine, fine branch of government actually believes that my grandmother doesn’t know she too is the Other.

II) If it is in Spanish, the assumption is that the person reading it reads no language other than spanish. Ho-La Sick seems to be saying, “Hey you, spanish-only speaking friend, why don’t you come on over here and tell me the four-one-one you’ve got…oh-and-by-the-way-can-I-see-your-papers?” That the ad is in spanish shows that the target viewer of this ad is some one who has not fully “integrated” into American english-speaking society.

In using a descriptor like “terrorism” the ad forces the viewer not think of a multi-perspectival definition of terrorism (because who walks around thinking that “terrorists” might be human?) but rather forces the viewer to revert back to a caricature of a “terrorist,” or a caricature of what “terrorism” looks like.

Furthermore, the spanish language text on a bus bench implies that brown people ride buses, which is not a bad thing unless you consider, as I have, the further implication: using spanish on a bus bench ad weds together the spanish language and bus-riding as an already highly stigmatized practice. In other words, that it is on a bus bench does not mean nothing. It means that brown people ride the bus. Riding the bus is stigmatized in our society because, “there must be something wrong with you if you ride the bus” (said by some random chick in her H2). The stigma of bus-riding stems from the fact that carless, homeless, crazies, and minorities ride the bus. That there is a spanish language Homeland Security ad in OCTA bus-stop ad space reinforces the idea that the low-paid, dregs of society (who can’t even read english!) ride the motha phuckin bus.

Here, I think of the way that the spanish language always seems to be essentially tied to kitchens and dish-washing sinks. Or how spanish seems to be essentially tied to manual labor trucks. Or the way that it is tied to those manos for hire who try to solicit work through their broken english. In other words, if you speak spanish only you are in a normatively disadvantaged position within our society, and if you speak spanish in addition to other languages you are still, at least in some socio-linguistic way, tied to the kitchen, the dish-washing sink, the labor truck, the Home Depot parking lot, or the bus bench–even when you roll by in your Prius.

III) In addition to linguistic boogy-monster-means, they simply must use the religious angle as well. All Mexicans are god-fearing catholics, protestants, or jehovah’s witnesses. Of course Ho-La Sick is gonna slap some motha phuckin wings on this old sweet brown man’s ass. WTPh.

IV) In addition to religio-iconclastic imagery, we’re also talking about brownie’s desire to make it through them pearly gates. Mexicans wanna go to motha phuckin heaven where the beans and tortillas are plentiful…and little streams of Tequilla come a-trickling down the rocks…and all the border patrol have wooden legs! Mexicans like to call this place The Big Rock Bean Mountain. Of course they’re gonna look at this, and buy into it by believing it. Even if they don’t pick up the phone their gonna think, “O, si veo una persona sospecho voy a llamar!” because they fear God and this?–this here is motha phuckin’ God’s country.

Well thank you very much Mr. Ho-La Sick and Ad Council. My grandmother and I salute you. We (along with our twelve relatives in our one-bedroom rat hole) feel much safer. We’ll make certain to keep ourselves “on guard.”

Or maybe it’s just all those pesky little Chicano Studies courses I’ve been taking (because those aren’t wrought with their own problems). Or perhaps it was the blasted visual cultures course.

Oh, and, Mr. Ho-La Sick…if I may: I just got a call from my Iraqi brother over in (you guessed) Iraq. He says that he just saw a poster warning him and his terrorist brothers of bean-chewing Mexican immigrants that are plotting to supplant them in all their low-paying, manual labor jobs. My Iraqi brother says he hears that we believe that we are entitled to all low paying shit jobs the world over because of Leviticus 3:2. He’s merely calling to fact check. Don’t worry, I told him that, since we all can’t read, we don’t exactly know what Leviticus 3:2 says.

Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest (real men, after all, do have nipples), I’m gathering my trollops and trinkets, hopping on some public transit, and heading to LA. Who’s with me!?