On the Lex-Train to Gómez-Peña

On the Lex-Train to Gómez-Peña

By angel I mean shaman I mean crazy fuck.

But these human souls who speak in tongues with an ancient voice go mostly unheard today. That’s because most flesh has transformed in recent years into its new function as portable media player.

On the subway trains the riders all believe their iPods are unique to their identity. But mass communication is becoming mass transportation is becoming mass media. And the mass no longer hears its flesh, its tongue. Their identities have been mediated and melded into an alien being that is no longer of their body.

“Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar.” More true today than when Heraclitus first said it in 500 B.C..

The world is still magic. Riding the subway to visit Gómez-Peña these last two nights I have opened myself to the mystery again. I wonder if I can stay here. The border town is a very dangerous place full of crazy fuck half-breeds. I have my art form, but it’s often not enough in this realm.

The old man kept glancing at me out of the corner of his eye but no one except me would know this. Everyone else in the train car would understand the old man simply to be shouting and wagging his finger at the youngblood with an iPod in his ears.

“I don’t stink. What are you saying, that I stink! I can buy more bathtubs than you got fingers! That bitch don’t know nothing, saying that I stink. ”

Youngblood keeps lip-synching to his iPod, either unaware or unconcerned.

“I used to do some sports. If a team is doing bad for awhile, you can say the team stinks. But I don’t stink. I don’t know what you are talking about, me stinking.”

The old man pauses in his speech, winding his head around in small circles, preparing to deliver his next sentence. He speaks in a resolute manner.   “The way I feel today, I just may take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

I am the old man’s audience. I have the only eyes in the train that dare meet his.

“Yeah, the way I feel today I just may walk across that bridge. Call me Tarzan, bitch. Pound on my chest and make the big leap.” He starts to rhyme and time his speech. “Don’t be getting in my way… not today.. I’m here to play. I can take the bus or take the train… or walk, I’ll get there all the same. I don’t stink, bitch.”

I nod to him. I know the controlled fury and bravado necessary to survive in this border town. I also know that bridge he will need to continually cross between here and there. He gets off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop. I continue north. That is, norte, to Spanish Harlem.

The last twenty-some years gentrification has worked over the neighborhood at Lexington and 103rd. It is still El Barrio but my stroll to Fifth Avenue is a cakewalk. I have been the Art Whitey so many times in so many neighborhoods in this city, that I am hyper aware of the gaze that can often settles on me simply because of my skin color. As I approach the group of young Nuyoricans shadow boxing with one another at the corner of the project at 104th my being begins to transform. I begin to call the Tarzan up into my flesh and the crazy fuck grace of god up into my mind. I have been here before, hundreds of times, and survived. I’ll do it again. But no worry. The kids don’t even notice me.

I really need to get out of my house more. It’s a whole new city.

The theatre at the Museum holds a few hundred and is full when I arrive. House lights are on but Gómez-Peña is already on stage behind his card table full of props. Well, not really props, but a bottle of Myer’s Rum, and other containers of spirits, elixirs, and magic lotions that GP is ritualistically applying to himself. He is costumed both as a Mexican senorita and a Conquistador, so it is unclear whether he is preparing himself to go to war or make love.

The house lights go down and GP steps out into the stage light incanting in an ancient voice. He sprays an aerosol can into the four directions as he intones each of their names solemnly in Spanish. The mist reflects the stage light in a magical way.

I know what he is doing. He is pulling that Tarzan crazy fuck grace up into his flesh. He needs to speak in tongues tonight. He needs to speak in truth. He is facing his audience now with his spay can in his right hand. He raises his left fist into the air as if in a show of defiance and solidarity. But he then quickly sprays himself in his left armpit, and the magic spray of his ritual is reduced now to just a can of underarm deodorant. The audience all laugh, except for me, because GP is looking at me out of the corner of his eye. The old man is talking to me alone. We are the only ones in the room who hear and understand the Gringo Lingo of this song.

“I don’t stink. I don’t know what you are talking about, bitch. The way I feel today, I just may take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

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