Sunday, April 14th
Alone in the desert, surrounded by a sea of people. I was tired. I hadn’t slept a full night since I arrived to the festival. There was a calm to the restlessness though. The desert was still blowing off her heat before inhaling another dry, hot swallow.
I watched the birds fly over in a large check-mark. I heard a zip from a tent, a few cans tip over, a slam of a toilet door.
Trent woke up, disoriented and drunk. I watched his head whip around as his eyes opened in the cab of Benny’s truck. There was an exchange between the two muffled by rolled up windows and Trent tumbled out then climbed into the back seat of my car. I watched him sleep until the heat picked up, then rolled down the windows and wet clothes for his neck and hands.
Kev was one of the first up that morning to join me on the lawn chairs propped in front of our cars. I hadn’t seen him very much inside the festival, but we were enjoying the morning together, quiet.
“You know, someone could really get used to life like this,” he said.
Kev was in the circle of “normal lifers”. He made an income, and instead of living each day the way he wanted, he worked on salary and paid vacation to live, really live, only for a cluster of days at a time. On the other hand, people like Trent and I struggled to live each day, working low paying jobs we, just so we could live life the way we wanted. We didn’t have new cars or trips to Europe, we worked when we were sick and haven’t slept in on Christmas morning in years. We lived with only what we had. That is enough, most days.
Sal and Fernando joined us on the lawn chairs, then Haute and D. I checked on Trent periodically but knew he needed the sleep.
“I can tell there is a lot of love there,” Kev said. “Just the way you two are.”
“I love him,” I said. “He can get nasty but it isn’t the real him. There is just a lot of pain.”
“I saw the scars,” he said. Trent is covered in scars over his shoulders, arm and back. White large, permanent blisters spread over him like paint carelessly kicked over a canvas. I don’t notice them unless he is wearing a tank top. They look like burns and I believe they were cut into him as a child. I only asked him about it once: “I don’t want to ruin the night,” he said, giggling, shrugging off large, white spiders clutching tight to his body.
Trent tried to kill himself last year. After trying to hang himself in his room, he was discovered, fled the house and arrested by police officers. Then he tried to hang himself in his cell by his pajama bottoms. His mother and I kept each other on speed dial. If Trent was missing for a night or spending the night in my living room, we texted. I believe of everyone in Trent’s life, she suffers the most.
When he finally emerged from my car, bleary and worn from the night, he pulled out a little white packet of cocaine and cracked open another beer. It wasn’t alarming for even in Coachella, on a Sunday morning, I spotted a maintenance employee snorting lines from one of the carts paroling the grounds.
Houston and Benny were close at hand and one offered an energy shot, the kind sold at counters in gas stations. “No thanks,” Trent refused, “I prefer cocaine.”
The morning was spent cat-calling all the boys walking back and forth to the latrines and showers. All the pent up, homosexual frustration burst out from under Trent’s black, Sunday sun hat. We bought that hat together at a Target the weekend we escaped to Joshua Tree National together. There was no fear of retaliation or alienation, it was the last day of the festival.
“Lookin’ good!” Trent would shout.
Some of the other boys in our company joined in, whistling, commenting, complimenting. The straight, bulky, sheltered boys had no idea how to respond. Most ignored. Some grinned and tossed their head around confused. A few seemed completely put out.
Pierre found me with his friend, asking if I would paint him. I, of course, obliged, tracing my fingers over his body with bright pink paint. He allowed my friends to tease and ask questions, as long as I gave him some attention to ease any doubt about his sexuality. Everyone was in good spirits.
When we decided to go into the music festival as a group, Trent got ahead. I would stop to track the others but lose sight of either Trent or the group. Trent stomped off like a child. “Obviously you want to be with them!” He marched ahead and I followed him.
It is hard following someone through thousands of drunk strangers, under tents of people packed in shoulder to shoulder, each one, staring blankly at the stage. Were they moved or bored, I really couldn’t tell.
“If you want to be by yourself, that’s fine!” I said.
“You are carrying the drugs, so I am stuck with you.”
I allowed him to string me along for 30 more minutes, like a trout caught on the line, feeling my lip slowly rip from my mouth as a hand dragged it deeper into its own world. I found him sitting Indian style under a tent and handed him the drugs. “Here,” I said, “You obviously want to be alone and I don’t want to ruin the rest of my day. I can’t take it anymore. The silent treatment. The temper tantrums. I would rather be alone.”
After leaving him, it wasn’t long before I felt the gentle tug at my elbow. I misunderstood. He was sorry. It was a recited speech for loved ones who finally try to leave, as if it wasn’t hard enough turning your back on a little boy bound by scars.
We spent the rest of the day together, listening to melancholy music that meant something to him and absolutely nothing to me. He watched himself, kept from being snappy and grouchy, though I could see the cauldron boiling, giving rise to the darkness in his eyes and the white splotches on his skin.
As the night came down, he insisted on buying drinks. A small, plastic cup of wine was $8 inside the festival. He bought himself two and double fisted as we sheltered ourselves from a growingly violent wind crossing the desert. I huddled down to keep warm, and let my hood cover the back of my head. A girl approached me, “Are you ok?”
“Yes,” I said, forcing a smile, “Just cold. Thank you, though, for caring.”
We ate some mushrooms and decided to wait in line for the Coachella ferris wheel. A couple chatted with us and though we engaged them, both Trent and I were counting down the minutes to be alone together. Alone on top of the world.
“Are you feeling the shrooms?” he asked.
“No,” I answered, positioning a pair of sunglasses on my nose. I found them on the ground earlier in the festival. “Oh look, the ferris wheel is green. That’s an interesting choice.”
Trent released his signature cackle and we climbed into our own passenger car. As we climbed into the sky, Trent relieved himself into an empty water bottle. The wind pushed the wheel and car against the sunset, like rain drops pinning a leaf to a wet windshield.
“I am scared,” I said.
We sat across from each other, looking out at the thousands of people, the lights and tents waving from the distance. I held on to the sides of the car as it rocked back and forth. We didn’t need to touch the stars, we just wanted to keep from falling.
After we got down, Wu-Tag Clan was playing on one of the larger stages. We listened a bit from the distance but everyone was drunk. Unlike the previous nights, when everyone was tripping or high, this time everyone was drunk and bumping into each other. Knocking over girls. Knocking into security guards. I am not sure it mattered. Giving psychedelics to just anyone for a high, someone without the capacity to really use them, sharpen their mind and learn more about themselves, is very much like reading Kafka from cue cards. The real experience is lost on them before it ever started.
Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage, they were headlining the festival. Trent and I decided to head back early. It wasn’t our type of music. The wind had really picked up and it felt as though if we leaned forward on our tip-toes, the gusts would keep us upright. Against the black of night and muffled under the warmth of shrooms, we barely were able to do much of anything.
“A little breezy,” Trent said, sarcastically, clutching his sun hat and scarf over his head.
“Just a bit.”
I laughed as dust flew into my eyes and mouth. We dragged ourselves back to the campsite until morning.
Just as we did on every camping trip, Trent and I woke up in a pool of spilled beer. It was early, but Rolling Stones tickets were going on sale 10am Pacific Standard Time. They were selling 200 tickets $85 a piece under what I referred to as the “Poor Man’s Lottery”. On the day of the concert, your seat would be determined at random. You could get a seat anywhere in the stadium, as long as you had official identification and the credit card used to purchase the ticket. Then, and only then, you would be escorted to your seat by a stadium employee. Michael was back home with two computers cued up to buy tickets. They were expected to sell out in less than 5 minutes.
I woke up at 6am to pack up and woke up everyone at 7am for help. My car was dead, but Kev and D were going to jump start Black Betty then drive Sal and Fernando to the airport, for their return to Mexico City. Everyone got up with us, with sand in their eyes and under their fingernails, helping to make sure we were on the road in time. With the commute from Indio to Los Angeles and a few dollars in cash, we would make it back to my house in just enough time to hop on the computer and click our way into the concert lotto. As it turned out, by the time we arrived, I didn’t even have time to smoke a cigarette. Trent waited patiently on the couch, stroking my dogs as Michael and I furiously clicked on the fan site for tickets. That was the price I agreed to pay for the life I’ve chosen.
Coachella was not the psychedelic playground I expected. It wasn’t the visit to the ideals of the 1960s or a glimpse into hippie culture I was hoping for, nor was it much of a vacation. I found the whole ordeal somewhat stressful.
But the memory I will take is a group of sleepy men, rolling out of their comfortable, warm tents on an early Monday morning to help me chase my music. Aside from the materialism, the drunks, the privilege, the fatigue, the selfishness, there was soul at Coachella after all.
“Good luck,” they shouted, waving at us as we slowly navigated over the grass and onto a dirt road. I smiled, wiping the sand off my side view mirror. They knew how important it was to follow the music. It was our religion.