There is such a thing as being too civilized. There is such a thing as being too clean. Clean and civilized men made Zyklon-B. Clean and civilized men drink mango fucking mojitos while Darfur burns. We’re animals, you and I, and animals generally only kill one another for food – let’s strive towards that nobler goal.
Clean and civilized feels safer – but it’s not. I remember once meeting a guy up in the Yukon Territory. His name, no shit, was Dick Person, and he’d lived in a teepee, year round, on the Teslin River for nearly two decades. I asked him if he ever got scared living in bear country. His response was, “I feel a lot safer living near four legged neighbors.” I get that, and extend its logic one more length – if we have to live near men, then maybe the less “civilized” the better.
On the same jag, Melville noted early on in Moby Dick that its, “better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.” I take issue with the his dissing of the drunks, but still support the spirit.
While I wish no ill to befall anyone (and, Lord knows, some terrible things have happened to people I know and love), part of the reason we’re here, in Guatemala, is because the heart beats more palpably on these streets – it is, certainly, bodily safer to reside on the Upper West Side than it is on Primera Avenida Sur, but the dangers to the soul are fewer here. The imminent sense of the hunter’s sights being upon us makes the heart trip with a bit more vigor – and while there is danger being here, there is a greater danger that it all will pass – even with a few hustlers hustling hard enough, and a few jurors adjudicating the show sweetly enough to let them carry on, La Gran Manzana is ossifying, fossilizing – and when it dies, all the Beautiful Adams and Sexy Eves of the Island will lose their Earthly Delights, too.
Maybe we, here in Antigua – taking a bit of ragtime from Daloia and O’Hare’s songbook – need to make a stand. Maybe you, wherever you are, should make a stand, too.
It seems like forever since I served beer to a bank robber or poured the vino in which one finds the veritas to a vagabond. The loons have up and left us lonely. I remember their faces. I remember their stories. There was Redneck Tony, libertine and lover – tragically dead and the hookers cleaned out his crib before the cops showed to finalize the passage. There was Bo, aged adept of all that is beautiful – ultimately dead, leaving behind only a bag full of stories, a pamphlet for Swedish Massage, a condom and half a Viagra in his wallet to give us a final guffaw. There was H.B., bank robber and glorious beast, utterly dead – 48 hours after having danced his crippled, drunk legs off to a bluegrass band at Jamtigua a few years back. There was Brendan, angel faced and devil toned – gone for too long from these parts, but at least still alive on the other side of the planet, continuing his disorientation in the Orient. There were Earl and Willie, safe cracker and beatnik beauty. Those two are still in the Aether, but, like Brendan, too far away. At least they’re still making ’em laugh somewhere up North, but brothers, you are sorely needed back here. We’ll keep the barstools warm if you promise to come back with a few stories and some friends.
Wherever you are, you know these guys, too – or some variation thereof, and I’m sure you’ve also noticed that they are a dying breed. Sameness is a virus, we are a host, globalization and material culture are the vectors. Ribald insanity is dying and if we don’t fight the infection, then we will invert the Chinese curse – being forced to live in uninteresting times.
David Daloia, James O’Hare and the spirit of Virgilio Cintrón – if you happen to ever read these words, come to Guatemala and renew us. More generally, to all of the smokers of the butt end days and ways, the men who don’t fit in, the women with the flapper feel, come and join us here before we, too, become too civilized for our own damn good. To you all, the Pernod drinkers, the absinthe minded, the Men of Good Will, as Jules Romains recollected them, know that here – in Antigua and around the Surly Bartender’s hardwood – you have a home. Will you live longer if you stay where you are, cradled in custom, primed by preaching, soaked in convention through and through? Probably, but if you give into your raw self and we reconvene to critical mass, maybe our universal animal spirit can be reborn.
Is it possible? I sure as Hell’s Kitchen hope so and I know it’s worth a try.
Life is waiting, impatiently.