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A Shade Rather Than a Scream: Coachella 2013 Pt. 1 … The Night Before

Here I am. It is Saturday night and I am getting over a cold. The fatigue won’t leave me. My hands, my feet, my head all ache to rest in bed. The idea to rest more gets me frustrated Michael, my lover, has reminded me I have been sick for less than a week. I despise the feeling. In an effort to pick up my spirits, I am writing another entry in my much neglected blog.

***

Thursday, April 11th, 201:. Trent and I were finishing up my rounds out in Burbank. The final bit of pet sitting services on my schedule before I took three days off: The old lady recovering from cancer who needs the kitty litter box cleaned once a month. She likes to talk about rock n’ roll and politics. She always leaves the radio on, when I am not there, that is her only outlet to the world. Traffic was bad out of LA. We had to swing down to Anaheim to pick up two  boys from Mexico City we connected with on Facebook who bought the camping pass for Coachella Music Festival ahead of time. (We had neglected to do so) Then we had to stop off at a Target so we could put all our camping supplies and food on my Target card. That was the arrangement as Trent bought my ticket months in advance. And then we had to pull into the small town of Indio, California to set up camp for a three day weekend of drugs and music.

coachella-2013

Sure, there were thoughts that the two young Mexicans would slice our throats, steal my 1996 Saturn and enjoy the rest of the weekend with my Target card. We needed that camping pass though, and as we pulled into a Days Inn off the 5 freeway, I saw two young, rather innocent kids no more than 21 years of age, waiting patiently in the empty, sterile lounge through tiny, double glass doors and large luggage on their laps. One was Salvador, tall, virile and handsome. A thick head of black hair and dimples that rose and vanished under a blanket of rotating expressions. The other was a larger boy named Fernando. He was shy, with a broader face but long hair to hide behind. His nose and lips more prominent and more self-conscious.

It would become apparent that Fernando was in love with Salvador. Of course, we were all in love with Salvador. We couldn’t have found gentler and more generous souls anywhere in this big, bad world. We lucked out.

Black Betty

Just before driving into Indio, we decorated my car. There is a prize for the most decorated car, promising free entry into the following year’s Coachella Music Festival. It was then that I took out the window decal I bought over the internet. Over the rear windshield, we spread out in large pink letters, my new, used car’s name: Black Betty. As a foursome, we scratched it over glass so it would take. It wasn’t centered. Fuck it.

We drove off the freeway and followed signs to the music festival, then got in a long line of cars waiting for a camping spot assignment. Cars in front and behind us were dumping bottles of alcohol. “Yeah, you can’t bring it any glass containers,” Trent said.  At the Target parking lot, we had already poured two bottles of cheap, white wine in an emptied jug of water. It barely covered a quarter of the jug. Cans of beer were acceptable. Trent always needed a huge stock of beer.

check point

It took over an hour to gently roll Black Betty into the field where camping passes were scanned and cars were checked by security. Our security officer picked up our plastic jug. “Smart,” she said. “Ok, go on through.” We were packing some drugs but not as much as we wanted. Our Los Angeles drug dealer was rather unreliable. Somewhere between a psychotic disorder and a drug addiction, he was barely surviving in a one bedroom apartment. He lived in a pile of discarded clothes, disposable razors, emptied Snapple bottles and expensive, vintage movie posters.

lsd_flesh_of_devil_movie_poster_artOne of the last times I went to visit him, he told me “they” broke into his apartment. He threw his arms around his apartment as if I could see how much worse off everything is than it was. I couldn’t tell the difference. He pointed to the back of his front door, “See dat! Do you see dat!?” he said in a thick German accent. “It is some kind of witchcraft symbol. Cult bullshit! Dat wasn’t there before. They left dat!” I looked at him, bare chested under his leather vest with a thin, cloth scarf tied around his neck and struggled to find the symbol.

I found what appeared to be spilled coffee on the back corner of his front door.  I hadn’t heard from him since. I knew he was moving. I knew he was changing cell phone numbers. And I was unable to replenish our stash for the Coachella festivities. We knew we could buy from kids holding at Coachella.

Coachella Bitches

As we slowly rolled in, I saw bronzed, white girls in uggs and matching outfits. Midriffs and streaked, chocolate-blonde hair. They all looked identical. I had forgotten what it was to be young in mind. To long to be identical to the others. They waved neon, light tubes in the air, pretending to be a little more tipsy than the other. A little more available. Just a little different from the other. A shade of variation instead of a scream of uniquity.

I hadn’t gone to a regular University. I applied to one college: a hippie four-year school with no grades, no tests and a reputation for stoner students who are awarded academic credit in exchange for a self-constructed academia around growing marijuana. Evergreen State College was the beginning of the real me. Everything synched for the first time in my awkward, uncomfortable, painfully shy existence. Those kids listened to my music. Those kids tripped to Beatles and Pink Floyd, running through rain forests and drumming next to fires. Those kids let me feel that my instincts were leading me in the right direction. It was the beginning of my real life. I wasn’t waiting anymore: waiting to move away from my parents, waiting to get through an unenthusiastic educational institution, waiting to move out of a strip mall. Waiting to talk to people who already knew me. At 18, I was able to skip over football games and frat boys, sororities and keggers. I escaped, and somehow was brought full circle in Indio.

TheEvergreenStateCollege

Evergreen College in Olympia, WA

coachella-car-campground-eecue_32653_ibqr_l

Coachella in Indio, CA

I was shocked to see them there. My impression was that Coachella was a modern day Woodstock. A celebration of psychedelics, good music and spontaneous friendship. I tried not to hate the BMWs and the Mercedes Benzes as they all lined up in perfect order from each other. I think my car was the only model assembled prior to 2005 in our entire section. The bitterness yanked on my lower intestine as my parking break through anchor on its stretch of field and grass. I kept asking Trent, “Did they work for the money for that car?” As if any answer would heal my working class scratches and bruises, the scars and scabs that hardened and broke back open. Trent related to the feeling and we both exchanged snarky remarks as we pitched a tent in strangers’ headlights. Earlier, we watched two young girls smoke a joint like a cigarette out of their parents Lexus. We were already worked up before even entering festival grounds.

“You don’t know what you’re doing!” Trent screamed at them. They posed like we were paparazzi in my pathetic headlights. Like we envied their uniformity and money. We did envy the ease with which they slithered into our world.

Once we were settled, I hid in the tent for a quick nap. I was working my ass off with school and work. I wasn’t sleeping full nights. I rarely had a day off. I was grouchy and exhausted. When I slipped off into a starry doze with the cold desert air settling on my face and chest, I would startle to my name.

Then again.

“Just a few more minutes …” I called before feeling my body lift to the sky.

When I got up, everyone was up and celebrating with beer and pre-festivity drugs. No psychedelics yet. “We feel so sorry for you,” Salvador said.

“Every time I called your name, you woke up for a second to say you would be right out. I would just call your name out whenever we got bored and you sat right up to talk,” Trent explained, as he broke over laughing. “Your brain will not let you sleep!”

I rubbed the star dust off my face and grabbed a beer. “I am up. What time is it?”

“Two” someone answered.

Coachella-Car-Campground-at-Night-eecue_32629_a486_l

Trent and I stayed up all night terrorizing our neighbors. Two young men named Houston and Benny who were separated from their group. We may not have gravitated towards them if they moved within their pod, but they were on their own and close to us, so we went a few rounds of psychological banter and bruising before feeling a comradery. Benny was attractive. He looked to be about 20 to 21, but was tall. He had a soft face. Almond-shaped eyes. He looked down when he chuckled to fill the void. Trent and I tore him apart, asking him question after question about his sexuality, about his childhood, about his fantasies. He kept standing until dawn and one of our neighbor’s stumbled out of his tent to use the toilet. “You two could make a fortune breaking down someone’s psyche like that. I have been listening to it all night.”

Trent spilled his lovable cackle. Trent would break down pretty boys. If they were straight, it would be more fuel for the fire. I know Trent well, but I still haven’t figured out the paper puzzle for which he unfolds. How does he fall in love? How does he give himself over? How does he feel free? When he comes close to any of those great moments of being human, of manhood, he hides under fists.  The last time he was in love … it was beautiful, but complicated. Emotionally gentle but psychologically rough. Monogamous but paraded as polyandrous. I fell in love with both of them. When Trent lost him, so did I. And so the ballad fades out into the next, sad love song.

Trent at Coachella 2013

Trent at Coachella 2013

There was a typical Hollywood hot shot walking around, retreating to his tent every ten minutes for another line of coke. Another young man, somewhat attractive, promising to give me a deal on Molly. Trent didn’t trust him. We all hung out drinking beer, waiting for free coke and watching as one by one, another festival camper disappeared into the tent for a few hours of sleep before it begun.

Trent and I stood there as the sun rose. “Are we really the last ones standing?”

Then it was Friday.

sun rise

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The Vegan Angel of Doom

Well she was an American girl

Raised on promises

She couldn’t help thinkin’

That there was a little more to life somewhere else

After all it was a great big world

With lots of places to run to

And if she had to die tryin’

She had one little promise she was gonna keep …

 

One of the final weeks I was in Skamania, I met with another ex-boyfriend. This one was someone I dated the last few months I lived in Olympia after I graduated Evergreen State College in 99’. Frederick, I will call him, was a year or two younger than I was. We first met at a party in the dorms. Who ever’s dorm it was they were drying psychedelic mushrooms in the closet. I remember that. Frederick was sitting on the bed and we got in a little tiff about nothing in particular. I asked him a question, he pitched me attitude and I called him stuck up then he called me “a bitch”. After that, I gave him the evil eye on campus for an entire year.

I don’t remember how we became friends. He was in the chess club and was pretty much a straight shooter. At 20, his hair was already thinning. He wore a long tweed jacket and eyeglasses.  He also religiously rode his bike everywhere. He was passionate. Once a car pulled up too close to him on the road and he kicked the door. The driver cursed him but Frederick was up for the challenge and fed the confrontation until they drove away. He hated cars.


The other thing I remember about him was his speech to a Ralph’s cashier. “No, I don’t want a loyalty card. I don’t like the idea of being loyal to any corporation. It isn’t just about taking the card and using it whenever I need to. It is in my wallet and I have to look at it anytime I need to take something out. It gets embedded in your mind. No. I don’t want a loyalty card today, thank you.”

We hit it off, and our comfortable friendship quickly blossomed into a romance. We dressed up together for Halloween from dresses we found in a thrift store; mine a bulky white dress with a chain around the waist and his a polyester blood orange dress with a high collar. I painted my face white and called myself “Chastity”, he put on heavy eyeliner and black lipstick and called himself “Blasphemy”.  Our college was on the edge of a rainforest and on any given night the whole place looked as though it had a skyroof to space. The stars and tree tops were crystal clear. I ran around singing, “Blasphemy …” and he chased after me jingling, “Chastity …” We made love in the forest, getting make-up all over each other and our clothes.

I adored him, but knew upon acceptance to Grad school that we were short-lived so I scored our affair with Diana Ross love songs, playing them after sex or simply breaking out in song. When I took him home for Thanksgiving my mother claimed she didn’t like him, describing him as “too effeminate”.  For Christmas, he spent the night. My high school boyfriend, Jay, also came by for a visit but left when he got wind that Frederick and I were intimate. My mother cried for him that night. She always liked Jay the best and still insists that I shouldn’t be in a relationship because I “don’t have the personality for it”. Looking back, I remember several wonderful young men I loved in Washington. They were all kind, good-looking, brilliant in their own way and good friends. Being right out of college, drunk on independence and arrogant with promise, I was casual with all of them and protective of my future. Unlike my other alumni, I wasn’t particularly eager to marry right out of college. I wanted to be free.


On the New Year for the the millennium, Frederick and I rented a cottage in Long Beach, WA and got drunk together. That was our last night together as a couple.


After I left Washington and moved to Orange, CA (and leaving one last Diana Ross song on his voicemail- the title escapes me though I have been searching for several hours) we still corresponded. When I came back to visit, I gave a blow job to another ex-boyfriend then made love to Frederick the next day. I felt bad and was honest with him about it. He was bitter and hurt, but he stuck with me … I thought as a friend.

He came down to California to visit me with a friend, but my affection for him cooled in light of a new place and new men. I remember making love to him in the bathroom and promptly leaving him against the wall, opening the door and joking with his buddy (who was waiting patiently in the living room) “I think he needs to be held in there.”  A few months later, he sent me a letter with a ring proposing marriage. I sent it back with a funny but probably too cold letter refusing him.

Dear Frederick, first off, I had rolled out of bed this morning and had to walk to the post office and pay 29 cents in extra postage to get your letter today …

To be fair, I was 21, every minute of my day was devoted to being a Pre-School Teacher or working on my degree in Film Production. That year, I would get pregnant by one of my roommates and have an abortion. I would fall in love with a British actor who asked me to move in, then cheated on me and broke my heart. My identity was changing every few months and I just wanted to see where things would take me. The last thing I wanted was to settle down with someone from UnderGrad, or my roommate from Grad school (who also proposed). I wasn’t in love, I was just floating, and unfortunately breaking hearts in the process.


I don’t know where I was a year or two ago when I got an email from him. I must have reached out to him on Facebook or something and got an email back blaming me for a failed relationship and general darkness clouding his life since Undergrad. It was ten years after our 3 month affair, so it was hard to take the email seriously.

When I was back in Washington this last summer, we made plans to meet for dinner. He asked if I was still vegan and suggested a spot called ‘Sizzle Pie’. Driving down to Portland to meet him, I didn’t know much about him anymore. He was in law school now, living in a commune type house in Portland. I sat down to read a book with a beer since I was early. A bike spun up to the front door, and I watched through the glass entrance as a balding Frederick locked up his bike and waved at me through the doors. I was happy to see him and smiled big. His mouth was a little crumpled like a discarded Christmas ribbon, but there was a smile in there.


He came in and hugged me. We ordered pizza. I got something heavenly called the “Vegan Angel of Doom”. It was caked with something revolutionary in the vegan world called Daiya cheese (It is made of tapioca, tastes like cheese and, more importantly, melts like cheese), with jalapenos, pineapple, shaved almonds and cilantro. God damn it, that was one of the best pizzas I have ever had in my entire life.


I was happy to see him and rattled off my typical stories about France, my parents, the Old Man and Los Angeles. He sat across from me in a dimly lit booth and listened with a big smile on his face. “I can’t believe you look exactly the same. I mean exactly the same. And your life is exactly the same too. Is this how it always is? Has your life been crazy like this all this time?” he asked.

“It isn’t too crazy, I mean … I am giving you the highlights. I just have lots of stories and the summer was kind of amazing,” I said. The pizza place had Tecate, that made me happy. I hadn’t seen Tecate anywhere since I crossed over the Oregon border. “You look the same too,” I said.

He laughed and stroked the top of his receding hairline, “Not really,” he said. I tilted my head to the side and grabbed his chin, shaking his face like he was one of my dogs. I got the feeling he didn’t like that but he didn’t offer any indication either way. “So tell me about your life,” I said, tempering each spicy slice of pizza with a mouthful of Mexican beer.

“Well, it certainly isn’t as interesting as yours. Not at all actually. I am almost done with my law degree,” he said.

“Are you in civil rights or something good or have you crossed over to the dark side like my ex-boyfriend?”

“No, I am one of the good guys. Environmental law, actually. Yeah …” he spoke slowly, thinking carefully about everything. I could see the data feed reel through his brain with each sentence, measuring who I was, what I did to him and who he was. “You dated a law student?”

“Yeah, just for a little while. He started off wanting to be Atticus Finch and a year later in law school he decided he wanted to do corporate law, which he is probably better suited for anyway. I am fairly certain he is a sociopath.” I said.

“You don’t want to know any lawyers or law students. Stay away from them. They are terrible people,” he stroked his thinning hair.


“So … what else, you were in a relationship that ended when you sent me that horrible email blaming me for everything that went wrong in your life?”

“I did?” he said. “I don’t remember sending the email but I believe you that I sent it. That was a dark time, I ended a relationship then … I don’t know, it was bad. My mother and brother were killed actually.”

“Oh my God, I am so sorry,” I said. I stopped eating.

“Yeah, it was bad. I am still trying … to get over it,” he would trail off in mid sentence and, as if suddenly remembering he was talking out loud, he would speed up the remainder of his thought. He always had a rich voice. I closed my big mouth and sat there, waiting for him to take the conversation wherever he decided to.

“When they died, I ended this relationship. I don’t really know if that was the right thing to do or not, it was just a really bad time in my life,” he said.

“I understand. I am so sorry.”

“It’s ok. I haven’t really been in a relationship since … that weekend I came down to visit you in Orange, that was bad too. That was one of the worst trips of my life,” he said.

“I am sorry about that, too.”

“It’s ok, I went back to Evergreen and wrote this amazing poem my professor loved. It was a big thing. I was really happy with that.”

“I am sorry about … all of that. I am sorry about the way I handled things. I was just really young and being selfish. That’s what kids do I guess, but I am sorry anyway,” I said.

He paused then smiled big, “Thank you, oh my Gosh, thank you. That is so good to hear. I am surprised.”

“Surprised?” I asked.

“Yeah, I just assumed you were flippant towards other people’s emotions so I am surprised to hear you apologize. Thank you,” he said earnestly, bitterly, genuine but disingenuous.

“It bothers me that anyone would think I was flippant towards their feelings. We were young, that’s all. I never meant to hurt you, I was just thinking about myself,” I said. He slowly nodded, staring at me, measuring me for all I was worth. “You know,” I continued, “it’s funny how I got that email from you and you seem surprised by my apology since my memories of you are all so warm. When I think of you, I just remember having a really good time with a really good friend. It’s strange how different our perspectives are.”


We chatted a little about things. Dancing, pierced nipples, people we may have known but don’t anymore. I wondered if he would hit on me and I wondered how that would make me feel. I was still high on my night with Nick and felt funny about being intimate with anyone new yet. Though Nick and I only really dated for a month, a third of my time with Frederick, there seemed to be a stronger connection there. Love is funny.

“Well, it’s past my bedtime. I have to go home,” he said.

“Ok, well, if you ever want to go dancing sometime, let me know. If I can bring my dogs to your place, we can pull an all-nighter somewhere,” I said, getting up out of our booth.

“Ok, yeah  … I will let you know. I just have to talk to my housemates about it. There are some cool things happening on the weekends out here. I think you would really like Portland,” he said.

“Maybe … I really miss L.A.”

We hugged goodbye and though it was a full on chest-to-chest hug, there was a chill between us. We texted a bit back and forth for a few days, entertaining the idea of dancing. Then I never heard from him again.

 

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