Thursday, July 3, 2014

8 Left, 8 Right, 8 Fun Facts Before Tomorrow Night (and the day after that)

After a prolonged period of consuming an ill-advised musical cocktail comprised of The Smiths, The National, and Bob Dylan's song "Don't Think Twice," I'm finally strong enough to move on. Let's talk about who we have left! This time, however, I'm not going to profile each match-up or team because, well, frankly, I'm just really tired. Besides, brackets and predictions are fleeting and inconsequential. You know what aren't fleeting nor inconsequential??? FUN FACTS!
So I give you 8 Fun Facts for the Final 8 Footballing Foes

1. 
Half of these teams are previous World Cup Champions (Brazil, France, Germany, and Argentina)

Hey! The factoids will get more interesting. Don't worry.

2. This is the 20th World Cup; the aforementioned teams are responsible for 11 total championships (Brazil: 5, Germany: 3, Argentina: 2, France: 1)
Impressed yet? We're just getting started!

3. Again there have been 19 World Cups, meaning 38 different teams have played in the final match (Right? because that's when 2 get reduced to 1 and we have champion). Cumulatively, the countries left in this World Cup have played in the finals 23 times (Brazil: 7, Germany: 7, Argentina: 4, Netherlands: 2. France: 2)


Right? That's a hell of a stat. Also this gif ^ is the reason for the internet


4. Germany have never won a World Cup as a unified nation: all 3 of their World Cups were won as West Germany, and their last championship came in 1990). I forget, who was the captain of that West German team? 


Oh, right. Sidenote: I only include this tidbit because I feel like people (stupid people in the American Sports media) need to lay off of Klinsmann. Moving on!

5. Sticking with the Germans: Germany has made it to the quarterfinals at every single World Cup since 1954. How's that for consistency? (Worth mentioning: Germany was banned from participating in the 1950 World Cup, and if you're wondering why...

Let's move on before I become depressed again.

6. The Netherlands hold the record for always a bridesmaid, never a bride: they've been to the finals 3 times (1974, 1978, 2010) but have never won the whole thing. Sorry, Oranje, but maybe this is finally your time?

To be fair, it's kinda hard to win a World Cup Final when you're more focused on kicking your opponent than the ball. 

7. France appear to run on an odd cycle where they seemingly do well one World Cup and then completely sputter out of control at the next. 

1998: Champions

2002: Out in the group stage (but it was fun to watch the Senegalese dance after that goal. Sorry France)

2006: Made it to the finals (and lost). But my point is they went all the way to the finals!

2010: Complete mutiny against the coach, meltdown on the field, and out in the group stage (again)

2014: ?
Given that France went out in the group stage in 2010, their tendency to go nowhere and then go all the way to the finals would suggest  they're poised for another deep run. It's science!

Now, I know what you're thinking. I promised you 8 facts about the teams remaining and thus far have said nothing (or nil, in footballing speak) about Colombia, Costa Rica, or Belgium. Well, you got me.

8. I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: NO EUROPEAN COUNTRY HAS EVER WON THE WORLD CUP IN THE AMERICAS. This is fantastic news if you're Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, or Costa Rica. 
- Brazil, however, have never won a Cup they've hosted (losing in the finals in 1950 to Uruguay).

- Argentina have only ever won the World Cup in the Americas (1978 in Argentina and 1986 in Mexico)

- Colombia have never won the World Cup at all, but with this baby-faced goal machine on their team, you've gotta like their chances.

- Costa Rica are the sole representation of CONCACAF left in the tournament. Can they be the first non-European, non-South American team to hoist the trophy? That'd be a factoid to the shatter all other World Cup factoid.

Plus, their coach's last name is Pinto and their nickname is "Los Ticos," and if a Pinto leading a bunch of Ticos isn't funny to you, you need to make friends with a Peruvian and ask them why it's funny. 
¡Vamos Pinto!

-Belgium has also never won the World Cup or made beyond the quarterfinals, for that matter, but they'll be looking to make new factoids themselves. 

¡Vamos War Pig!

Friday, June 27, 2014

The 16 of 2014

Sepp Blatter have mercy, what a first round it's been! This World Cup got you feelin' some type of way, don't it?



What's that? You thought those first two-and-half weeks were the entire Cup? NO! We're just getting started.

Before we get into who's left, let's first say farewell to those teams who we lost along the way:

Italy, South Korea, Ghana, Portugal, Croatia, Cameroon, The Ivory Coast, Spain, Japan, Australia, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Honduras, England, and Russia.

Most of you tried your best, and, as we all know, trying is the first step to failing.


Now, in the spirit of honesty, know that I am an ardent Mexico fan (I even wrote about that fanhood on this very blog) and while I shall try to be impartial, please know this is what I'm wearing as I type this:


But now that we've cleared the air, let's begin:

Match 1 of 8: Brazil vs. Chile

Chile: Led by a goal-hungry, young frontline (Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, and Jorge Valdivia) Chile have been fearless and ferocious. They decapitated Spain (the best team in the world four years ago) and also put a beat down on Australia (the best team in Australia four years ago, probably) before losing 2-0 to the Netherlands. Brazil has yet to face a team this potent up front, and with this crazy-looking a coach 

Enjoy seeing him in your nightmares, as Chile look to continue their streak of giant-killing. 

Brazil: What can you say about Brazil? Everyone knows the decorated past, the fancy free style of play, and the single-named superstars (Neymar, Oscar, Hulk...Fred?). Well, Brazil beat down Croatia and Cameroon, and tied with Mexico (WOOOO!) to find itself facing one of the sharpest teams in the round of 16. Brazil is going to need to play it's best game yet (and maybe not fall down and cry to the refs as much as they've grown accustomed to doing). They'll also need to find a way to defend that potent Chilean front line I've blabbed so much about. Luckily for them, they have the ongoing home-field advantage. Also Neymar bleached his hair, whatever that's worth...


Match 2 of 8: Colombia vs. Uruguay

Uruguay: Luis Suarez worked some of his magic in a dramatic 2-1 win over England:
Then the prince became a toad again just in time for Uruguay to beat Italy and get through to the round of 16 by the skin of Suarez's teeth. They looked inept and old in their match against Costa Rica (a game in which Suarez didn't play) and expect that team to return as they face Colombia without their best player. He just can't control himself, can he?


Colombia: Do you like goals? Or better yet, do you like choreographed, post-goal celebrations? 


Colombia scored 9 goals on their way to three straight wins in the group stage. Los Cafeteros are young, dynamic, and fun. There's no real alpha on their team since they lost their star Radamel Falcao, so look for them to play harmonized, attacking football against wounded, short-handed Uruguay. Names to know: Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez

Did I mention they're fun?





Match 3 of 8: Mexico vs. The Netherlands:

Mexico: Deep breaths, deep breaths, be still my beating heart. Ok.
Mexico have been nothing short of astounding. After putzing their way through qualification and all the other horrible things I've already written about, they've managed to find a style and rhythm that suits them. They beat both Cameroon and Croatia and tied Brazil and looked exquisite on defense in all three affairs. Like the Brazilians, however, their next challenge will be their toughest as they prepare to take on the team that effectively ended Spain's reign before the Spanish had even checked into their hotel. Fun fact: only three teams have made it to the final 16 in the 6 most recent World Cups (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014) Brazil, Germany, and Mexico. Unfortunately for Mexico, they've failed the previous 5 times to make it any further. Luckily though, our coach, Miguel "The Louse" Herrera has pushed all the right buttons at the right times, and he isn't afraid to pick it up! pick it up! pick it up!



The Netherlands: The Goliath of this tournament, they've score 10 goals in their first 3 matches and have looked good in the process. Their two-headed monster up front is led by Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben--two men who were part of the team that lost to Spain four years ago in the World Cup Final--look for the Dutch to be aggressive and relentless. Mexico's only chance will be to sit back and try to counter-punch--did I mention that the Dutch conceded three goals (two to AUSTRALIA). All is easier said than done, however, when you're facing this kind of foe:



Match 4 of 8: Costa Rica vs. Greece

Costa Rica: Los Ticos, more so than Mexico even, have been the biggest surprise of this World Cup. They beat both Uruguay and Italy and tied England with a team of reserves. They've scored in bunches when they've needed to, and, more importantly, they've out-hustled their opponents and have defended like piranhas. Plus, their goal celebrations have been pretty creative . You go, Joel Campell!



Greece: I know next to nothing about Greece beyond their talented forward Georgios Samaras. And, ultimately, that's Greece's greatest strength. No one knows how they manage to survive these matches and advance, but they do. They tied Japan despite only having 10 men for most of that match, and they beat Ivory Coast with a last-minute penalty. That's how they do things like win the Euro Cup in 2004, could it be how they advance into the quarter-finals in the 2014 World Cup? Don't look so surprised, it could happen:


Match 5 of 8: France vs. Nigeria

France: France have looked stellar, magnificent, sharp (and I'm only talking about their jerseys)

But in all seriousness, they've scored 8 goals in three matches and have only conceded two garbage-time goals to Switzerland in that time. Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Valbuena (nicknamed "The Little Bicycle"), and my beloved Antoine Griezmann: all have played exceptionally, and France looks like a well-oiled machine that isn't planning on slowing down anytime soon. Also, their jerseys, ugh, so lovely. 


Nigeria: Again, in the spirit of honesty, I watched Nigeria puddle around with Iran for a little over 90 minutes until the referee mercifully blew his whistle and both teams went home with an opening match 0-0 draw. I never watched another minute of Nigeria after that. I know they're nickname is the Super Eagles, I know that they beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0, and I know that they scored two goals against Argentina to only lose to them by 1. If they get past France, you can bet we'll all be watching more of them, but until then, my apologies Super Eagles. *shrug. Whatdya want from me? I got a day job. 


Match 6 of 8: Germany vs. Algeria 

Germany: Tough, talented, hungry. Germany came out firing in their group ("The Group of Death," as it was known). They opened up a whole can of beat down on Portugal (4-0), tied with Ghana, and then, against the US, had the most convincing 1-0 victory of the entire tournament. Led by young Thomas Muller up front, held down in the defensive midfield by Phillp Lahm, and with  fire power like Miroslav Klose coming off the bench, this team look poised to make a deep run into the tournament.  (NOTE: and this goes for France, Switzerland, Belgium, Greece, and The Netherlands as well, NO EUROPEAN TEAM HAS EVER WON A WORLD CUP HOSTED IN THE AMERICAS) Something to think about, Herr Muller


Algeria: The Desert Foxes have looked like the young, inexperienced team they are, but they've done enough to escape a tough group. South Korea and Russia may not be the most talented teams, but they definitely both grind to the last minute, so Algeria is not afraid to get in a scrappy, sloppy game. That being said, Germany aren't known to be sloppy or scrappy. Algeria will have to muster some offense out of seemingly nowhere if they hope to survive and escape the derided title of "The French National Junior Varsity Team." Also, working against them? They're being led by a foreign-born coach, and that may seem insignificant but know that no country has ever won the World Cup while being coached by a man born outside of that country--and keep in mind there've been 19 of World Cups in history. (Note: other teams being led by foreign-born coaches: Costa Rica, Colombia, Switzerland, Chile, Greece, and the US.) Could this be the year we see this trend broken? Could this be the year the World Cup is won by neither a European nor an American team, and an African country wins it all?


Match 7 of 8:  Argentina vs. Switzerland

Argentina: Another team where we already know what need to know. Argentina's hopes begin, end, and are comprised of Lionel Messi. Argentina won all three of its group games and scored a total of 6 goals (4 of those were by Messi). Now, let me say that outside of the parentheses: LIONEL MESSI IS RESPONSIBLE FOR 4/6 OF ARGENTINA'S GOALS. He is 67% of their offense. The defense has done their job (considering they had to defend such titans as Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iran), and really we don't yet know of what this team is capable. Prediction against Switzerland? Lotsa Messi.



Switzerland: Other than a massive beat down at the hands of the French, Switzerland have looked tactically-sound and efficient. They attack openings like sharks and defend well. Plus they got a guy named Xherdan Shaqiri who scored a hat trick against Honduras. Will the match against Argentina see another SHAQ ATTACK?


Match 8 of 8: USA vs. Belgium

USA: Feisty, gritty, determined. Very few had the US getting out of the Group of Death (myself, included) but they shoved it in my stupid face, didn't they? They've had brief moments of brilliance and just as many moments of horrible judgment. Against Ghana they came out as though shot from a canon, but quickly descended back down to earth faster than gravity could drag--they did manage to win 2-1, though. Against Portugal they fought from 1-0 down to 2-1 up only to lose concentration in the last 45 seconds and end up with a 2-2 draw. Germany, as mentioned, gave them a proper 1-0 ear-boxing. So what will the US do against Belgium? They'll play as they did against Germany, they'll try to hold in the midfield--pray that Michael Bradley FINALLY has a good game--and if they run into trouble they'll rely on their outstanding goalkeeper Tim Howard to bail them out. Their biggest challenge will be defending rebounds and finding goals of their own. Know this, however, Jurgen Klinsmann won a World Cup in 1990 as player and led Germany to the semi-finals in 2006 as a coach--the man knows what it takes to go far in this tournament. 


Belgium: If ever there were a meeting of polar opposites, it's in this match. Belgium are a young, ultra-talented, highly-lauded squad. Throughout this tournament, however, they've been so underwhelming I didn't even bother to look up something Belgian to compare it too...Just kidding, they've looked way more like Hubert and less like Jan (that's right, Van Eyck family, I'm coming for you). All nonsense aside, they've not looked all that impressive, and yet (and yet, and yet) they've not lost a match. They've conceded early goals, they've failed to finish great opportunities near the goal, and they've looked disorganized on the attack, but they still manage to win their group--even beating South Korea 1-0 despite playing with only 10 men. Eden Hazard, Adnan Januzaj, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Vincent Kompany: if you keep up with the English Premier League, you know these men are to be feared for their potential. Will Belgium wake up and get right in time to beat a team who, frankly, isn't as good as they are? OR will the US come into this match and be the Buster Douglas to Belgium's Mike Tyson? It should be a good time either way!

One last thing, Belgium's coach is a man named Marc Wilmots. So what, right? WRONG. Because his nickname is "War Pig!"


In the spirit of honesty, I don't think there's a better way to conclude any article about sports than by simply saying: WAR PIG!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Five Stages of Cheering for Mexico at the World Cup


Once again, I find myself with my friends, dancing the night away it’s like the party never ends—

            But then the FIFA World Cup is upon us.
            Surreal opening ceremonies, ridiculous—yet beautiful—national pride on display, and Mexico’s National Soccer team break the hearts of its fan base. Unlike other footballing nations, Mexico has a way of inspiring hope and scorching it all away in a flash. Indeed the hope we the fans feel for El Tri defies the law of conservation of energy, for it is born of nothingness and disappears back into nothingness just as quickly. Ah, I bet I know what you’re saying, “Well, if it comes and goes so quickly, did it ever really exist?” A fine query, but let me tell you, friend, nothing could be more real—I still have a Brian McBride shaped door that leads to the darkest depths of my psyche, and that door violently swings open on nights where I eat too much Japanese food before bed.
            Enough of my own trauma, however, and let’s proceed with the Five Stages of Cheering on El Tri at World Cup.
1) Resentment
            Resentment for even qualifying? Absolutely!
            This section will enrage my Peruvian friends—most of whom weren’t even alive the last time their national team escaped the gauntlet that is South American Qualifying. Very quick sidebar here, because it’s worth noting, when teams qualify out of South America (CONMEBOL) they do so while traversing rain forests, swamps, deserts, and the two highest capital cities on earth—La Paz and Quito. Not to mention playing on a continent with the greatest soccer-playing country of all time—and 2014’s host nation—Brazil. For those who don’t know, there have been nineteen FIFA World Cups in history: Brazil has won FIVE of them. That means, from a purely statistical approach, there is more than 25% chance that, at any given FIFA World Cup, Brazil wins.
            This all ties to my point: if a country from South America fails to qualify for the World Cup, it is certainly painful for the fans, but it’s not completely inconceivable. Mexico, on the other hand, HAS to qualify every four years. Even when El Tri can’t get its best players from Europe to play (which happened this year) and they’re going through coaches like tissue paper (which happened this year) AND they have to play in a two-game play-off against lowly New Zealand (no offense, guys, I love you and your island). Even through this nightmare, they qualify.
            And for what? So they can still play without their best player—we miss you, Carlitos, come home soon! So they can be drawn into the same group as the host nation? By the way, who’s hosting this tournament again? Oh, right.

            Ask an average Tri fan and they’ll tell you, “competing with the best team in the world? We finished behind Costa Rica and Honduras!” Thanks for nothing, Team USA.
            What I wouldn't give, just once, to be able to watch the World Cup as an impartial spectator. US Soccer Fans, teach me your ways?
2) Gratitude
          On second thought, you know what? Anytime you get a chance to display some national and cultural pride to the rest of the world, not to mention engage in competition and athleticism at their highest levels, it’s a beautiful day. ¡Vamos México! It’ll be fun to watch the lads go out and give it their all in front of the largest sporting audience on earth. These things do only come along once every four years, why not enjoy it?
            After all, it’s not as though we expect our beloved Tri to win anything. O’ heavens no! We’re just happy for the team. The team I personally have been following since the early 90s. The team which brought me such unimaginable joy in:
2009,

 

2011



and 2012






They may not be what they used to be, but, let’s be honest, neither are we. Vamos México.
3) Hope
            Unadulterated, uncut, pure. ¡Dios mio, have mercy! Here we go!
            El Tri is a talented bunch, and they will not go gentle into that good night. They will either: A) open shakily against aging Cameroon—a game played on Friday the 13th (good sign, right?)—proceed to play a brilliant match against menacing Brazil, and follow that performance with an absolute beatdown of checkered Croatia to advance to the knockout stage.
OR
            B) El Tri will open with a merciless beatdown of the geriatric Cameroon, play brilliantly against vengeful Brazil, and follow that performance with a lackluster effort against checkered Croatia to advance to the knockout stage. (Have I mentioned how Croatia is checkered?)

On the bright side, immediately after each match, they can all have a picnic on their game jerseys)

            Where was I? Oh, yeah: one thing is for certain, however, El Tri will make its supporters believe. They’ll make them believe that all is well, that the team has “figured it out,” that they can fly! If we all just believe enough, we can fly!

¡Viva Méxcico! ¡Viva!
¡Viva El Tri! ¡Viva!
¡Anything is possible!
¡MEXICO CAMPEONES DEL MUNDIAL 2014!

¡MEXICO: 2014 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!
AY AY AY AY, CANTA Y NO LLORES…”

4) Despair, Rage, Depression
          “I hate singing. I hate music. I hate chants. I hate this stupid tournament. I hate this stupid sport. And, most of all, I hate this stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid team.”
            I cannot say definitively when the trauma will take place; the trauma causing Mexico fans to say the above. Perhaps Mexico will choke away a 1-0 lead against Spain or Chile in the knockout stage. Perhaps El Tri will come out flat against their very beatable opponents in the quarter-finals. Perhaps they will fail to hold onto a 0-0 draw against the picnic-tablecloth-adorned Croats and finish 3rd in the group because of goal differential.
            I can say definitively, however, when Mexico inevitably fails to meet the absurd, ephemeral expectations they themselves created not more than a few hours prior, every Mexico supporter’s heart will grow  heavy with desolation and fury causing it to collapse in on itself, forming a black hole—into which will disappear, forever, the hopes, dreams, joys, wishes, and goodness that seemed so infinite not so long ago.
            The only solution?
            Disband the team, declare the country a failed state, burn it to the ground, salt the earth afterwards, and start again in about 100 years.
            Seems reasonable, right?

5) Acceptance
            Once the dust clears, and FIFA has crowned a new world champion of football (Argentina or Germany, probably), I and others like me will look at the rubble and collect the pieces with relieved breath. Chronologically, this period is the furthest away we can be from the next World Cup and the next round of nightmares. The pressures of qualifying for the tournament, hiring the right coach, implementing the best system, getting a good draw: all of that noise is momentarily hushed.
            Ah, but that moment, like everything in this world, is fleeting, and soon the clamor will commence once more:
            “You know, our young talent can ONLY get better from here.”

            “Righ! Plus, we have four whole years to get a better coach and a better strategy in place.”

            “The future’s never been brighter!”

            “And, you know what? Next time, we’ll not get carried away and swept up in all the fervor. Next time we’ll be realistic about what our team can do. Next time…”

            So as you and yours tune into the 2014 FIFA World Cup, give your Mexican friend(s) a pat on the back; tell them you’re there if they need to talk; and—so long as it doesn't mean cheering against your home team—give El Tri a little love: it certainly can’t hurt, can it?
            As for me and my fellow cuates, güeyes, carnales, vatxs, chicanxs, eses, and chamacxs? We can only trust to find the words to best articulate the cruel love affair we have with our team. Personally, I look to poetry and the words of Walt Whitman:

“Porque yo fui el hombre; yo sufrí; allí estuve,”


"I am the man, I suffered, I was there."

Friday, May 2, 2014

"What comes after this/Momentary bliss/The consequence of what you do to me/Help me to name it/Help me to name it

It occurred to me only recently that never on this blog have I delved into my undying adoration for the mellifluous Beach House. Well then, I must, I must rectify this at once!

Above you'll find, in its totality, the most recent Beach House album--unless you're reading this at any point after May, 2014 and Beach House have released scores upon scores of new albums; be that the case, then pay no attention to the old man whose archaic rantings you're now reading and simply enjoy the vintage Beach House. Them's was simpler times, kids; them's was simpler times.

I don't know where to begin when describing my affinity for Beach House: the haunting, cool vocals of Vicki LeGrand? The ethereal, cosmic piano and guitar melodies that seem to hold every song together as though they were made of nothing more than moonlight and fog? The drum machine? *shrug* (I wanted to stop after two, but, you know, rule of three).
At any rate the answer is yes, and if you don't totally love Beach House then I'l return, with full interest, all the money you've invested into this blog, sound good? Great!

Now on to business, as I mentioned in this blog a ways back, I was invited the Canyon Voices Magazine release party to do a live reading of my poem Untitled 2. How did it go? Well, for my first reading ever I was more nervous than I thought I'd be and more prepared as well. I tried to tell myself it was no different than when I perform stand up comedy--write some things down, memorize the material, get on the mic, and nail the delivery. Almost the same, right?

WRONG!

There were a few similarities, but doing a live reading of something you've summoned from within--something that isn't necessarily meant to be explicitly funny--this evokes a whole new kind of nervousness (although, my poem is meant to have some element of humor to it). I don't want to explain too much about the poem because I believe it best to leave it up to interpretation and hope that what I wanted people to understand, they understood, for if people don't understand then I didn't do a good job of letting them understand. Understand?
I'll just say,that memory and pain are fascinating to me, as well as the way we try to communicate that pain to others; not necessarily do we communicate pain to complain or to heal, but simply to remember and to keep some part of our past self alive to us now. This poem is pretty personal and honest and also a little hyperbolic, but it's not meant to condemn or offer closure. I write just to remember (and to forget). Check it out here:

Untitled 2 by Oscar Mancinas

To answer some questions may have: Yes, my parents have read the poem. Yes, they liked it.

And please check out the other great works published in this edition. Support online lit and art mags, they're the punk rock of the Literary/Art world! Canyon Voices Issue 9

Now if you missed my live reading of it, and chances are you did because there were about 30 people in attendance, you can hear a recording of me reading it here. Also, if you'd like to read the interview I did with Canyon Voices about poetry and comedy, you can!

I'm going to close this post by thanking the good folks at Canyon Voices one more time for publishing my poem and for allowing me to read it aloud. Hopefully this'll be the first of many publications and readings in my life, and that hope brings me to say how nervous and excited I am to finally be pursuing writing. For so long I thought and doubted and wondered and rejected and it feels liberating to finally say: well, this is all I am. To finally acknowledge to myself that no other path calls me as loudly and as frequently, I don't know what this coming year will bring and, for the time being, the uncertainty is inviting. It's difficult to capture moments as they happen, to recognize something that's blooming as it's blooming and say "it's blooming." I love art for its ability to encapsulate such moments and make them universal and personal, so no mater who you are, you feel as though they (the artist) are talking about you. I'll leave you now with excerpts from my personal statement explaining the process that drove me to pursue applying for an MFA in Creative Writing, and I hope it captures this moment and let's it live on, even when I'm no longer recalling it from memory. PLAY US OUT BEACH HOUSE!


Why I Want to Write

February 3, 2014
From Lima I’d call my mom and she could say things back home were “fine” or that she was “fine,” but she couldn’t hide her pain or frustration, and I couldn’t pretend not to notice. As her oldest son I felt obligated to do something. So began the sequence of events that led me to leave a job and city I loved dearly and to come home to try to help with my family’s troubles. Several months later, however, I was sleeping on a couch in my parents’ home, still looking for a job, still struggling with my family, still “figuring out” my own life. I was still. Either I had overestimated my maturity or underestimated the power my home still had—has—over me. My creativity and passion, which had served me so well in college and overseas, stagnated: onerous reminders of what I once wanted.

To cope, I wrote. Like the narrators in my portfolio, I found power in writing, in story-telling. Writing forced me to confront myself; compelled by my imagination I acknowledged my reality. Like my narrators, I was living in fear: fear of the irretrievable, fear of expectation, fear of ghosts. Through fiction, I turned my ghosts into metaphor and catharsis. The more I wrote, the more honest I became, and the more honest I became, the more I demanded from my writing.

Yet, the more I demand of my writing, the more unsatisfied I am with writing only as a personal endeavor or hobby. I want consequences for my words.

In my English Senior Seminar, I wrote of James Baldwin’s prose, body politic, and relationship with America. As I read Baldwin’s novels and essays, I felt his pain and frustration, he, like me, had fled his home because of “that storm inside. You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening. So you’ve got to listen. You got to find a way to listen,” (Sonny’s Blues).

I’m done lamenting or ignoring that storm inside. I’m done grieving what I gave up; I’m done waking and mourning under the same sun of sadness; I’m done slumbering like the characters in my fiction. I wish not only to vocalize myself but also to listen. I want to join the worldwide community of artists and scholars; I want to be an artist and a scholar. I have stories to tell and I want to tell them as perfectly as I can, but I’m also looking for a way to listen—to everything, to the storm within and without. I wish to turn my passion for writing into my profession for life. I wish to be present, awake, here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Type-O back again, check it to wreck it, let's begin

Dear Tag Team,

Please pay no mind to me ripping off your only song of note, for you must understand that there are only so many times--and so many ways--that a person can announce that he/she is back: once again returned from nowhere.

Your, uh, "fan,"
Oscar

 You may be asking yourself, "what's going on?", but your questions/comments/concerns/dreams/hopes/bank accounts are of little importance right now. What matters is that I've once again decided to refuse to allow this little blog to fade away, into the soundless vacuum that is the internet. No, my dearest reader, I've chosen the path of stubbornness and mild interest--truly, I've never felt more in touch with some of my literary heroes.

As an aside,  I think I found Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, super appealing because of the how powerful the film made young Jiro Horikoshi's imagination. After all, I've always thought I had an active mind, but I've NEVER been visited by any of my literary heroes in my dreams (WHERE ARE YOU JAMES BALDWIN?) and yet the movie opens with Jiro getting to meet and hang out with Italian plane designer Giovanni Caproni

Hold up! Hold up! Hold up!

I just realized that I should've opened this post with the epigraph from the aforementioned film. Okay, okay; let's start over. Action!

"The wind is rising!...We must try to live!"
-Paul Valery

Indeed, indeed, reader, it appears as though the wind is finally rising on this crazy thing people call "a career." As all of you are aware--though in case you're not you will be now--I started this blog years ago to document my life and my ceaseless--though, more often than not, ceaseFUL--journey to turn myself into a writer and make writing my life. Hence the URL, everybody knows if you say something twice, it'll be more likely to come true--Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Lydia Deetz from Beetlegeuse, notwithstanding. So here we are.

And "where are we?" you ask? We are about to enroll in Emerson College's  MFA Creative Writing Program!!!

Make sure to have this song playing while you read the rest of the news. Don't worry, you can play it a low volume; also, if you're what we call "monolingual" you won't understand the lyrics, anyhow, so just sit back and absorb the sugary, Spanish dance pop.

Aaah, tan dulce, tan poppy. Now then, if you're at all interested in reading a little bit of the work I did to help me get into my graduate program, you can find it here:

Sonambulant 

And if you're more curious to read somethings I've published in the past, you may find them here (head's up, you'll need Adobe to read it:

Two poems with Half-Baked Journal 

And STILL, if you want more of my writing, you may find it forthcoming here (along with an interview I did, AND an audio reading of my piece:

Canyon Voices Vol. 9

I know what you're saying, "Oscar, this is all so damn overwhelming! You neglect this blog for months and when you finally start tending to it again, you beat me over the brow with all this content?! IT"S MADNESS!!!"

To which I would reply: Yes, beloved reader, give in to the madness. The rabbit hole runs deep, but it is rarely empty, and never is it without other travelers.

Now stop me if you've heard this one before, but I'm going to be updating this blog a lot more regularly from here on in because I'm finally at a place in life--or rapidly approaching this place in life--where writing is my primary concern and my M.O. And you know what they say: M.O. money, M.O. problems.

In summation, please check out Half-Baked Journal and the cool stuff they're doing over there.
If you're in the Phoenix area, come to the Canyon Voices Release Party on the 28th of April. It'll be on ASU's West Campus in the La Sala Ballroom. I'll be the guy in the periwinkle/robin's egg blue pants smiling nervously.
Beyond those things,
Be on the look out for me in
B-Oston.

And, as always, thank you for indulging my pretense.
Whoomp! There it is!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Haven't We Forgotten Each Other Before?

Oh boy, oh boy. Can you feel it? Yup, it's the unmistakable feeling of things not going according to plan. As much as I'd love to dwell in the despondent puddle of my ennui, though, I'm going to do as the famed song suggested and "keep on the sunny side of life."

In that vein, I'm going to list the top 5 books I read (or reread) in 2013 and the top things I paid money to see--I know what you're thinking, why not just make it a top 5 movies and be done with it? Well, because.

So here now are the books (I'll try like hell to make this interesting):

5.) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I actually had the privilege of meeting Sherman Alexie when he was first promoting this novel about six years ago, but (like most things that happened in my teen years) I didn't have the maturity and intellect to appreciate the encounter. But you don't have to talk to him in person to appreciate his dark humor and undying optimism--both of which drive the novel's narrator, Junior. Junior is a fourteen-year old native kid growing up on the Spokane Reservation, as he gets ready to enter high school, he decides he doesn't want to fall into the self-perpetuating cycle of alcoholism and depression that has surrounded him his whole life, so he asks to attend Reardan High School--The "white" school--off the rez. Naturally, this decision shakes up Junior's life and forces him to define what he values about his own culture and heritage, and what he'd like to leave behind forever.

I know what you're thinking: "a book about a brown kid who leaves home to attend a predominantly white school? Oscar, you narcissistic piece of sh--"

Hey! There'll be none of that in this blog. And yeah, the novel spoke to me on an obvious level, but you gotta understand: there's more to it than that. As the epigraph states "there is another world, but it is in this one." (Shout out to W.B. Yeats!) So the books is fundamentally about how we react to growing up in one world and having aspirations to enter another. Which parts of ourselves do we end up having to sacrifice in order to get to a place where we feel comfortable and accepted--just a heads up, you might NEVER find that other world, but that shouldn't keep you from searching.

4) Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Oh Ernest. Reading this novel--Hemingway's first published novel, by the way--I couldn't help by ask myself how he and F. Scott Fitzgerald ever became best friends. Hemingway  writes of "manly" things like bull fights and fishing trips and heavy drinking and falling in love with people who can't possibly love you back--oh wait, I think I just figured out what he and Fitzgerald had in common. Moving on! 

This novel has Hemingway's signature minimalist-realist style, as narrator Jake doesn't much get into his feelings or try to tell us what's going on around him with any sort of flowery language. That being said, the novel is beautiful in the same way that a brick building is beautiful. It is classic and timeless. I'll say that I didn't much care for Jake for most of the story until the very last line, then I realized I had misread his character from the word go, and once again I was reminded how people like Ernest Hemingway were much, MUCH smarter than I could ever really hope to be. Still, if I could have a beer with Hemingway, I think I'd only talk literature and sports and try to avoid the topic of women altogether; I could do that, right? "Yes...isn't pretty to think so?"

3.) Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill

Hi there, I have a few questions for you: is your family vicious yet apologetic? When all of you get together, do you alternate who faces the collective wrath of the other members and then have dinner together as though those merciless punches were never thrown? Then I have a play for you! I'm not saying anything about my own family here, but just know that this play really spoke to me (happy wink face, sad wink face). Semi-autobiographic, O'Neill didn't even have the play published until a few years after his death so he wouldn't have face the reaction from his own family. I, for one, find it comforting to know you can be the biggest playwright in country and well into your 60s and still be mortified by your family--some things just never change.

Still, I highly recommend reading this play, watching the movie, or going to a live show if you can find one. Also, maybe I'm the only one who does this, but when reading something new, it's fun to see which character I feel most represents me. In the case of this play, that game is anything but fun, especially when I realized all four main characters--Tyrone, Jamie, Mary, and Edmund--represent a different aspect of my personality I wish I could do away with--or at least do a better job of hiding from others.

2.) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Truly a modern-day epic, Diaz mixes the life and family history of fictional Oscar de Leon with real Dominican historical events. This novel has so much to say about science fiction, fantasy, masculinity, diaspora, Latino culture, US Foreign Policy in the 1950s and 60s, and nerds  that I'm afraid I can't do it justice by focusing on just one. I'll simply reiterate: it's an epic. And I don't mean 'epic' the way finding five dollars is an "epic win." I use the word epic the same way critics use it to describe the films of British Director David Lean (The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago) yeah, THAT kind of epic.

Side note: I just learned those three films were directed by the same guy and it absolutely blew my mind.

Thus, if you're the type of person who enjoys stories that can take you on a long, thrilling ride but also don't much care for things like hobbits and elves, then you should definitely read this novel. Plus, if you've got your eyes on an attractive Dominican kid who looks like he/she might be well-read, you can name drop this and instantly be in their good graces.

1.) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Let's quickly get something out of the way before we begin:

THE 2013 BAZ LUHRMANN FILM ADAPTION OF THIS NOVEL WAS ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE!

Okay, so this is an absolute classic in every sense. I admit, also, that I've read this novel numerous times before and only read it this past year because I wanted to brush up  before I threw my money away on the film. And, you know what, to be fair I'll say that the movie wasn't all bad. In fact, a more honest way to describe my feelings would be in a compliment sandwich:

Leo DiCaprio was a great Gatsby (pause for laughter) and most of the movie was cast fairly well.

Toby Maguire, however, was beyond a poor choice for the part of Nick Carraway. I think Luhrmann overlooked how significant Nick is to the story--HE'S THE FREAKING NARRATOR FOR GATSBY SAKE--and so the entire film suffered. Additionally, the soundtrack was odd at best and the ending was changed because, for some reason, films can't have sad endings anymore. Go figure.

The costuming and cinematography were wonderful.

This review for the novel may seem like just complaints about the film, but you have to understand these complaints contain everything that make the novel incredible. We see everything through Nick; therefore Gatsby is as much object as he is subject. Nick admires him and goes on and on about Gatsby's undying sense of hope. That's what the novel centers on: Nick's desire to find someone on whom he can place his hope. Nick moves to New York to strike it rich and, after seeing what wealth does to people, goes back to the Midwest a broken person. At its core, the novel is about hope and hopelessness, and which of the two we allow ourselves to be taken by in our youth.

Lastly, just because something ends with people beating against the current like boats, "borne back ceaselessly into the past," doesn't necessarily mean that all is lost.

Oh boy oh boy, I am beat. I'll have to write another post about the top 5 things I paid money to watch (and probably come up with a better title for that list, while I'm at it). Anyway, thank you for indulging my pretense! As you were!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Panic Inside/The Murdering Ghost that You Cannot Ignore

Anybody else find it ironic that I live next to a city named Phoenix, and  yet I find myself stuck in a rut?

No? Good, because there's nothing ironic about it; it's just a funny coincidence: and by "funny coincidence," I, of course, mean it's just a coincidence.

If you're reading this blog post right now, I thank you from the bottom of my rut--

--er, heart.

I'm trying not to pay too much attention to how I let this blog die over the summer. Over the summer when I should have been writing most of all. Over the summer, under the sun, where I let my passion bake, burn.

Right, as I said, I'm trying not to give that too much attention. So I shan't give it anymore attention. STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.

I think the biggest issue with naming a city "phoenix" is that it puts too much pressure on that city to fall. After all, the phoenix can't just rise and keep rising. That's not how it works. Either the city hasn't risen because it hasn't fallen, OR--and I prefer this theory--the city has never risen. Period. That is to say, the city is laying, still, in its own ash. Personally, I like this idea more.

Perhaps I like it more because it reflects how I feel about myself at the moment. I don't think I've descended in anyway, quite the contrary. I think I've only got one direction to go from here. But in the meantime, here I lie--sometimes language let's us say multiple things at once ;)

But I don't digress.

At any rate, I don't live in Phoenix. I live in Mesa, and the only legends surrounding a table all died a long time ago in England. Anybody? Anybody? I defy you to find another blog where you get a Knights of the Round Table joke in this day and age!

Speaking of ages, and tying this back to the title, you should all check out Sufjan Stevens's 2010 The Age of Adz. There's a beauty and chaos to this album that I've not been able to find since. It makes me think a lot of James Baldwin's essays and the times and spaces that inspired those essays. As someone who grew up, and now once again lives in a poverty-stricken neighborhood that routinely is ignored by policy-makers, I can attest to how difficult it is to transcribe any of that chaos, fear, frustration, and sadness into beauty.

Where as Baldwin writes about what happens without and how it shapes what happens within, however, Stevens composes an album that takes the opposite approach. The entire album, I believe, is about the uproarious and out of control beast that dwells inside. "The murdering ghost that you cannot ignore." So then, when it isn't you, but something else within you that's lying dormant, what are you to do? How do you rise like a phoenix when, on the exterior, your path is clear, but what weighs you down is inside?



I'm afraid I haven't the answers to these questions, but in the meantime, enjoy the album. 

And while you're at it, check out other things I've written recently here: http://figment.com/users/229817-Oscar-Mancinas

Two more very quick things, I would like to mention: 1) remember when I predicted that Real Sociedad would finish in the top four and qualify for Champions League play? No? Well let me refresh your memory: http://escritorescritor.blogspot.com/2012/08/time-for-you-and-time-for-meand-time_20.html Boom! VAMOS TXURI URDIN!!!



And 2) if you are in fact reading this, and you enjoy it, please let me know. I hate to sound needy or small, but the truth of the matter is very few things keeps a creative mind at ease like praise and positive reinforcement. I can tell myself all day long that I believe myself to be a good writer, but it means infinitely more coming from somewhere else. 'Tis all. And now, here it is, as promised so many (too many)  months ago: Chapter 3 of my novel. Enjoy!



December 16th, and the letter it rode in on

“Por qué no abriste las cartas?” I asked my dad after I put down my bag. He sat down and smiled, “Oye, cabrón. I didn’t know it was my job to open your mail for you.” He laughed “Íngasu, you want me to start bringing you food to your room, too, Don José?” This was how he responded to anything even mildly serious: he’d laugh at me like I was an old hen who was trying to kill his buzz. I usually ignored him. Usually, but not today. “O sea, this” I motioned my free hand over the mail, “is all for me? Damn, you gotta find some friends, no?” I laughed. He looked down.

“All right, vamos a ver” I said while looking through the mail. “Yours, yours, yours,” I tossed the letters towards where my dad was sitting. “Your—”

“Oye pendejo!” I stopped and looked up. “Open your eyes, stupid. This letter isn’t for me!” H was standing, and he threw the letter at me. It fluttered off to the side, though, and landed face-down on our kitchen floor. When I looked back up to where dad had stood, he was gone. I heard him belch as he walked down the hallway and into the living room.

I bent down, picked up the letter, and noticed where I’d made my mistake:

Jose Isabel Peralta Ortega
452 North Sirine Street
Sonam, Arizona, USA 85200

I hate admitting I’m wrong, especially if it means someone else is right.
Latinos have a habit of recycling names, so my dad and I share ‘Jose;’ though I usually go by Jo (or anything else that isn’t Jose). But my seldom-mentioned second name—Isabel—comes from someone on the maternal half of my family tree: a great aunt, I think. Odder still, the address included my second surname, it had been years since last I’d seen it. I always knew, or maybe I didn’t, that my full name went beyond Jose Peralta. In school and at work I was just Jo Peralta, but I knew those second names existed: I knew I was also my mother’s.

I studied the sender’s address:

Mikel Ramirez
Calle Arica 480
Miraflores, Lima 18 Peru

Wherever this letter had come from, it already knew more about me than I wanted it to. I held the letter from its corner—as though at any moment it could coil around and bite me—and walked down the hall to my bedroom. I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes, and held the letter to my forehead. “Please just be a scam asking me for money.”

Finally, I tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter. It was in Spanish and had been written by hand in blue ink:

“Querido primo,
Hello. My name is Mikel. I’m the son of Patricia Ramirez (a cousin of your mother’s). I am sorry to tell you that your mother passed away a few days ago and that we are planning funeral services for her. I don’t know how much you knew of her illness, but as far as I know she passed quite peacefully in her hospital room after about two weeks of lying in bed.
She lived with your grandmother (my aunt) María Esther, my sister Pati, and me, here in Lima. I want to say again how sorry I am, cousin. I know this must be terrible news. But I would also like to hear from you, I think it would be good if you could come here for your mother’s services. Please feel free to write me back at this address; or, better still, please send me an email at…”

Before I knew it, the words on the page blurred. I sat up and tried to focus my eyes, but they itched and irritated. It was only after a drop fell onto the page that I realized I was crying. Angrily, I wiped my face with my sleeve. I finished reading. I was furious.  

Who the hell was this kid? Why the hell did he have to write me? If he knew or suspected I might not know “of her illness” then why would he waste his time and money to tell me, especially only after she’d passed? And her: why did she come back? Like this? She’d been absent from my life for six years, and now she was back: a ghost. She could haunt me again, and I could say nothing in protest. I folded the letter, put it back in its envelope, and put it in my bedside drawer.

I needed to talk to Danny about this. I grabbed my phone and sent him a text asking his whereabouts; about a minute later he responded that he was at work, and I told him I was heading in to see him in about twenty minutes.  “Si vas a ir con tu amigo hippie, pick up some spark plugs for my truck,” my dad said as I was rushing out the door.

I pulled up to Millennium Paint, the paint and auto parts store where Danny worked. I took one last look at myself in the mirror just to ensure my eyes weren’t still swollen or red—I had washed my face several times at home, but still felt self-conscious about my appearance. I sighed, got out of my car, and headed towards the store.

I walked into the store and headed towards the back, usually reserved for staff, but I was cut off mid-route by the manager, Alex. Alex Lopez was a guy Danny and I had both gone to high school with—in fact, I’d first met Alex when we were kids and had known him for a few years, right up until his parents got a divorce and he left to go live in California with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. Alex had moved back to Arizona when he was sixteen. In high school he drove the nicest car on campus, and that includes what the teachers and the admin drove, and he never went more than three months with the same cell phone.
“Jo-Jo!” Alex called as if I were on the other side of the store, “what’s good in the hood, man?”
Already, I was irked. Alex’s parents had gotten a divorce because his mom went bananas after his older sister, Miranda, died of appendicitis-related complications. Alex and I were about seven at the time, and his sister was about eleven. Doctors had misdiagnosed her side pains, and when her appendix burst, poisoning her body from within and killing her, Alex’s folks were able to sue and score a handsome settlement. Shortly thereafter, rumors and stories flew throughout school that Mrs. Lopez had become una loquita and that she’d take long walks around the neighborhood crying out-loud for her “Mirandita.” I never actually knew how much truth those stories held; I considered them a side effect of bored, Hispanic housewives and malicious kids looking for their 20th Century La Llorona, nothing more. Eventually, Mrs. Lopez had to be institutionalized, however, and Mr. Lopez met some girl ten years his junior, took his fat malpractice stack of cash, and relocated to San Diego—the really nice part of San Diego.

So when Alex asked me “what’s good in the hood?” All I heard was, “how are things in that old, rundown neighborhood from which I managed to escape and in which you still live?”

“Same shit as always, dude.” I answered through the phoniest smile I could force. He patted me hard on the back. “Hot damn, ain’t that the truth? What’ve you been up to, bro, I haven’t seen you in a minute?”
On my mental shit-I-don’t-want-to-do-right-now list “Converse with Alex Lopez” was so near the bottom that it’s hard to say if anything would’ve been worse at that exact moment.

“Oh, you know, this and that and everything in between. Hey, I’m actually looking for Danny right now, is he in the back?” I avoided looking him in the eyes: partly to convey how much I didn’t want to talk to him and partly to hide the fact that I’d been crying a half hour earlier.

“Ah, nah, man. Sorry, Danny had to drive to Phoenix to pick up some stuff for inventory. You just missed him by like five minutes.” Alex insisted, “Wanna chill in the back and wait for him, he should be back in like a half hour, forty-five minutes tops.”

I felt my frustration smolder into anger. “I just texted him, though, he said he was here.” Alex smiled, “Hey man, those are the breaks; the old man told me I had to send someone to Phoenix to pick those things up.” This didn’t make me feel any better. “Why didn’t you send someone else? I kinda needed to talk to Danny about something important.”

“Calm down, dude.” He said, really more at me than to me. “C’mon, let’s just chill out back. I’m installing this new sound system into my truck, it’s gonna hit so hard.” He laid a hand on my shoulder. In a knee-jerk reaction, I batted it off. “Man, don’t touch me! I don’t give a shit about your goddamned truck!”
(I should be clear, I’m approximating what I thought I said to Alex because I’m not entirely sure. In any case, as Danny would later explain it to me, I screamed something and stormed out of the store. My mind was white with rage.)

When I calmed myself, I was heaving in my car, my throat felt like it was sealing up, and tears were streaking down my face. I turned my car on and don’t remember anything about the drive home except for how blurry and gray everything looked.

*  *  *

I awoke later that evening when my phone buzzed for, apparently, the hundredth time or so, judging by Danny’s voice.

“What the hell? I mean, seriously, what the hell, dude? You can’t just show up to my job and yell at the boss’s kid! What the hell is running through that goddamned head of yours?!” Then there was silence. The silence was broken when Danny said, a little out of breath, “What happened?”

“I got a letter about my mom. She died.” The words dripped out of my mouth. After another pause, I asked “Where are you?” He told me he was at his place, so I once again shook myself out of bed and headed out of my house, but this time I had the letter with me.

 “Any idea what your mom might’ve been sick with?” was Danny’s first question after I translated the letter for him. We were sitting outside on his balcony. I lit a cigarette, “Do you think that matters now? She’s gone.”

Danny sighed. “Are we gonna be able to get to the heart of the matter, or are you gonna try to avoid anything real? Maybe you can just freak out on me like you did with Alex?” I felt my face get hot, “I said I was sorry. Besides you know how Alex is.”

Danny acted like we’d never strayed from the original conversation “So did your mom ever tell you why she went back to Peru? I mean, do you think maybe she knew she didn’t have much time left, and she wanted to die on her home soil?” Processing Danny’s questions, trying to psychoanalyze my dead mother’s actions: all of it was like trying to raid a tomb that held, not a person, but some super-natural being—even if I found what was beneath the dirt and cement, would I know what it was?

“No, I haven’t heard from her since she left; and I’ll be damned if my old man has heard anything.” I tried to laugh. “Hmm.” Danny stared at the letter, “So what are you gonna tell him?”
I sat upright. “Who?”

“Your cousin, or I guess your mom’s cousin’s son.” I must’ve looked confused because Danny followed quickly “You HAVE to say something back. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a ‘hey, man, thanks for the news. I’m really sorry to hear all that,’ or are you actually considering wasting all this time and stress over a letter you’re just going to ignore in the end?” Damn it all, Danny had a good point. Did I just freak out over a letter that so easily could’ve been thrown away? At that moment I realized I’d almost given this letter to my dad. Who knows how he would’ve reacted? I ran through everything leading up to when I had opened the letter:

If I hadn’t come home when I did, if he hadn’t been in the bathroom, if he hadn’t thrown the letter back at me.

I don’t know what, if anything came over me just then, but I began to recognize the letter’s cosmic weight. I don’t necessarily believe in fate or destiny because I don’t know really what those words mean. If artists don’t even know where their work is going, how the hell is a person expected to know where his life is taking him? Deserved or not, tragedies befall. “Pivotal moment,” “the last straw,” “wake-up call”—all these names mean the same thing to me: seeing for the first time what was actually always there, your life, and if you survive you name your tragedy, if not, someone else does it for you.

I jumped to my feet. “Can I use your computer, Dan?” He looked at me hard. “I’m just going to weigh my options,” I lied. “Like you said, I have to respond with something, and if this kid really wants me to attend my mom’s funeral he might be willing to help me out to get there. Who knows? I may be able to get a vacation on someone else’s dime—"

“Horseshit!” Danny interrupted.

“Who are you talking to, fool?” Danny didn’t stand, but it felt like he was towering over me. “You think I don’t know you? You think I don’t remember six years ago? Look man, I’m never going to tell you how to live—God knows I got a lot of my own garbage to clean up—but I wonder how long before you actually start living. I think you’ve got a good chance here to really face what’s been in the back of your mind for so long, but, damn it, you gotta it take seriously.”

I sat down and said nothing for a good while.

“So what then?” He handed the letter to me.

“I don’t know. I’d be lying if I said I had no interest in seeing my mom again.”

“That’s a good start. I think you should respond to your family member’s request and tell him that.”
“Can I crash here tonight?” Danny’s skeptical glare faded away. “Yeah sure, Lencho’s with his mom for the weekend, so it’ll be quiet.” He put out his cigarette and immediately lit another. “Crazy isn’t it? How these things don’t just stay in the past?” I don’t think he was talking to me anymore because he was staring off into the night.

“My mom use to always say ‘el pasado jamás muere, solo se pone a descansar hasta que tú también te canses, y luego se encuentran en los sueños.’” Danny said nothing. “Oh. Sorry: ‘the past never dies, it only rests until you too need to rest, and then you two are reunited in dreams.’”

“Deep.”

After more silence, I felt like I needed to break the tension “Man, when are you finally gonna learn Spanish? Ain’t it about time?” He laughed. “Yeah, you know, when Lencho comes home after spending a weekend with his mom and grandparents he speaks nothing but Spanish to me, and I don’t understand a damn thing.” I joined in his laughter.

Lencho—Lorenzo David, to be exact—was Danny’s four-year-old son. More than a year after I transferred back to Arizona, Danny knocked up his girlfriend, Nora. Hard to say what hit Mr. and Mrs. Jímenez harder: the fact that their daughter, who had been offered and turned down a scholarship to study out East, was now pregnant, or that they’re first grandchild would be half white boy. Nora was a hell of a dancer and a decent actress; there were those that thought she was going to light up like a rocket and take off. I was never one of them, but it’s important to note that such a perception ever existed—especially if you knew Nora now.

It didn’t work out between Danny and Nora, unfortunately, so Little Lencho split his weeks between his mom and grandparents’ place and his dad’s one-bedroom apartment. Danny loved him, and being his Tío Josie was one of the few things that brought a genuine smile to my face. “How is Lencho?” The air around us felt light for the first time all night. “He’s good, he’s good. He’s a little Einstein; I think he inherited the best traits from both of his parents. Now let’s just hope none of our boneheadedness catches up to him.” Danny seemed sad all of a sudden.

“Hey, come on, Dan. Let’s get inside, it’s late.” I didn’t know what else to say to him. He shook his head like he was fighting off sleep and put out his cigarette. “Yeah, you’re right. I gotta work a half day tomorrow morning. I think you oughta consider what you might say and how soon you need to respond to your cousin.” We both went into his apartment.

It was much, much cooler in his apartment than outside. I was so focused on my own thoughts that I didn’t even notice how much I was sweating, so when I entered Danny’s apartment I got chills and let out an audible shiver noise. “Ah, quit complaining ya big fairy.” Danny said jokingly in a terrible Scottish accent. “Hey, puto, if you can trill your Rs like that, why don’t you just take the next step and learn Spanish already?” I tried to shove him and stumbled myself. “Cuz this here’s America,” he was Southern now, “and in America we speak American. It says so in the Bible.” We both laughed. Coming inside was like stepping out of another dimension and getting back to reality.

I was asleep as soon as I lay down on the couch. That night, I dreamt that I had a son of my own: I was home alone looking after him, and though he just lay, sleeping in his crib, something about it filled my chest sinister anxiety. I awoke in the morning wrapped in fear. Danny had already left for work.

I got home at about 10 am. My dad was in the shower when I stepped into the house—I assumed he’d only recently gotten out of bed himself otherwise he’d’ve already made something for breakfast, coffee, at least. I started to make a pot for the two of us and told myself that I’d sit him down and spell things out: “Así va ser, so listen up,” I said to the empty kitchen.

“Jesus, I’m pathetic,” I answered to myself.

My dad went straight from the bathroom to his bedroom and showed up in the kitchen about twenty minutes later. “Oye, y tú qué?” I pointed at the fresh pot of coffee and told him I’d decided to crash at Danny’s because I didn’t feel like making the drive home.
He made a fake bottle of booze with his right hand and laughed—I laughed, too.

* * *

For the next week, I tried to smile as often as I could around him. I found I had more patience for his crude remarks, even when they were at my expense. Danny, several times a day, would text me something like “pull out the loose tooth, already. time’s running out.”

First things were first, however, and I had to get the time off from work. I worked a standard 9 to 5 job as an office assistant for an insurance company, and we were getting ready to go on holiday break, but I decided I would need at least two weeks in Lima and that meant talking to my boss to get time off. The best thing about where I worked was also, usually, the worst thing: nothing ever happened. My professional life was magnificently unspectacular, and so as soon as I mentioned “dead mother” I was granted three weeks with partial pay. Mr. Simms, my boss, even still had the sanitized courtesy to say “Happy Holidays” to me as I left his office.

I spent almost the entire, following weekend at Danny’s so we could draft an appropriate response to my cousin. After hours and a lot of yelling, most of which had nothing to do with the letter, we had a coherent response in place and even a tentative travel itinerary emailed to my cousin. Miki, as he signed his response, used a bunch of slang I didn’t understand but the exclamation points and words I did understand let me know that he was happy to hear about my impending arrival and that he’d be there to get me from the airport. I’d only one thing left to do.

The evening of the 23rd of December, I was drinking coffee and looking for cheap flights to Lima, when my dad came into the kitchen

“How’s your friend’s little boy?” Not even my dad was immune to Lencho’s charm. Whereas normally I would dismiss my dad’s  lackluster attempts at conversation, I decided I had better let him know that I was in a talking mood: “He’s good, I think; he’s been spending a lot of time with his grandparents, but he’s good.” He poured himself a cup of coffee and sipped right away. The words struck while he had his lips to the mug: “Apá, I need to talk to you about something.” Puzzled, he cleared his throat and, with his eyes, asked me what the matter was. The letter, which I’d been carrying in my pocket since it arrived, felt heavy. I breathed deeply, and directed myself at my dad:
“I’m going away for a few weeks in January.”

Everything stopped. He lowered his mug, stared at me: nothing in his eyes, nothing behind his eyes, nothing before his eyes. I returned his stare because I feared the world might come crashing down on us if I broke eye-contact, as though both of us were hiding from inevitability and if we could hold these poses forever, we might be ok.

“I got a letter,” I finally cracked, “from someone related to my mom, and I think I need to go to settle some things.” No reaction, still. I tried to fill the void created by his silence, “Falleció, ok? She’s gone. So I don’t want to know anymore about your bullshit, because I got plenty of my own and maybe this isn’t the best way to deal with it but I got the time off work and everything so I just need to decide and go…"

“When do you leave?” He finally said, but it didn’t even sound like he’d said it—the words seemed to appear out of nothingness. “Después de Año Nuevo, I think, but I’ll only be gone for three weeks.” I felt like crying and vomiting and screaming all at once, and I think if my throat hadn’t felt as dry as fresh sandpaper, I may have done all those things.

He nodded and walked out of the kitchen and to his bedroom. Trembling, I tried to take a sip of my own coffee but thought better of it since I had my computer in front of me. I put my head to my table and exhaled.

“José!” The call broke the silence like a cannon shot. I jumped. I rushed to his bedroom, “What?! What happened?!” He was sitting on his bed with an old notebook on his lap. “Toma esto,” he handed me an envelope. Given how intense the kitchen had been, I decided it best not to ask questions and simply do as I was told. My dad closed the notebook, put it in a drawer, and said “I’ll be outside.”

I went to my room and put both envelopes in my bedside drawer. I was exhausted. I was startled by my phone going off, it was a text from Danny “If you haven’t already, you gotta do it soon. There is, Josie, very much to do.”