Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The New Explicitness“

It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.”
Raymond Chandler

Recently I checked out a copy of Anne Hooper’s book “Erotic Massage”, lavishly illustrated with nude photos demonstrating the moves in the text, nubile young couples, with bursting pectorals and yearning nipples, and the elderly librarian didn’t even blink. They know me by name there even though I never introduced myself. People talk about me when I’m not around.

Tell you what. Georgia has a hell of a library system.

I wouldn’t have thought that when I first came here, after wandering like a prince among letters through the arrogantly lush aisles of the Midtown Manhattan library in New York City, and later the Pretty Good libraries of San Antonio. When I moved here the libraries of Richmond and Columbia county seemed poor and lonesome shelters for homeless books. I felt as though I’d landed in purgatory. Whatever Georgians were spending their property tax dollars on, it wasn’t books. I couldn’t bear to go in there after awhile for the sheer pain of viewing such intellectual poverty. Then one day, a maternal library worker who saw me staring at my shoes, drew me aside and told me an esoteric secret known only to a few. The card catalogs of all the libraries in Georgia are interconnected on the Internet. You can order a book from any library in the whole damn state of Georgia. Any book they have anywhere anyhow, flat out.

Library kung fu.

BAM! Pow!

Say it brother. Georgia has a helluva library system.

I’ve been slowly burning my way through Suzie Bright’s “Best Erotica” annual series year by year, culled from shelves in small God fearing Baptist towns around the state, Anne Hooper’s picture books for adults, Desmond Morris “The Naked Female”, comic book anthologies by Robert Crumb and the usual classics an apprentice writer must be well acquainted with. One of the austere ladies behind the desk, with glasses on a chain around her neck, thumbed through the Desmond Morris book with an air of respect and asked me to let her know when I was done with it. Mr. Garcia. (So you’re that guy.)

And then there’s Google.

Omniscient as God, Google is evolving the human species into a huge colonial organism. These days revolutions aren’t carried out with guillotines and cheering bodies flinging themselves over the barricades. They happen quietly with legal negotiations and HTML code. When Google Books solved their copyright problems last year a revolution occurred that has not yet shaken the world but will.Take Henry Miller. Published in France, his books were banned in the United States for decades as obscene. A friend of his did prison time when customs munchkins fished out a copy of “Tropic of Cancer” from the bottom of his suitcase, probably taking a moment to peruse page five. Man, those were the days.

Perhaps you’ve never read “Tropic of Cancer”, would you like to? For free? Without the prison sentence? Starting with tasty young Tania on page five? Sitting in Taco Bell with a wireless laptop and a beef gordito? You can read most of it here:

Hell, your kids can do a book report on it for English class. They can read Suzie Bright’s books too if they want and maybe do a book report on “How to Tell A Dirty Story”.

“Mommy? What’s a butt plug for?”

The first time I realized I was heterosexual, I was a young kid and wandered into a car repair garage in my little town of Gilbert Iowa. This would have been around the time of the Kennedy administration when people were still getting busted for reading Henry Miller. My friend Andy and I had been collecting pop bottles in ditches and fields. If you got about 6 of them together you could take them to Ruthie’s Drug Store (also a pool parlor) and cash them in for an ice cream cone, or maybe a new Spider-man comic that today you could sell on eBay for enough to pay for my kid’s college fund. I usually took the ice cream, what did I know. I knew I had to “go real bad” and the mechanic waved me into the back where the toilet was. Over the sink was a fold out pin up of a naked woman, the first I’d seen since emerging from my mother’s womb seven years before. Breasts the size of a catcher’s mitt and that downy delta ofhair with its mysterious vacancy below. It was as alien and strangely compelling a sight as if a spacecraft had landed in our backyard corn field. I never knew there was anything like this in all the world and I forgot all about peeing and went to get Andy so he could see too. The forbidden image stuck in my mind for days and caused strange stirrings in me when I went to bed at night. Now its everywhere.

In the movie “Spiderman”. Aunt May asks Peter Parker if he knows about the birds and the bees and he sighs “Aunt May, we’ve had cable for years.” There are no mysteries for kids anymore, they just grow up knowing everything and no knowledge is forbidden territory. I suppose that’s good, and yet I feel a little sorry for this generation. They’ll never know what it feels like to be stunned into awed silence by that first sight of a nude woman the way I did, or the feeling of doing something daring the way Jack Kerouac did when he gothis hands on his first felonious copy of Henry Miller and suddenly knew what he wanted to write.

These days it’s been taken to an altogether new level of banality with something called “sexting”, which it turns out one out of five teenagers has done. This is where you take a cell phone with a camera or video cam and take nude photos of yourself and send them around to your friends. It seems like a kind of young whacky thing to do but kids are getting charged with child pornography over this.

They’re playing with fire at the same time the walls are coming down.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, February 3, 2009




Why It Really Sucks to Be a Satere-Mawe Indian Boy

When I was living in Panama in 1995, broke and out of work, I went looking for a photography job. One of the places I stopped was the Smithsonian Institute’s tropical field office in the Canal Zone and found the head of the little photography department there. No, they weren’t looking for any photographers, thanks. But these are the real world Indiana Jones guys, very cool to talk to, so I hung around and failed to make an impression, but got to talk about cool Guy stuff. We got to talking about Panama and the work they did and he showed me a glossy photo he’d taken in Darien of a huge purplish ant with big jaws. “See that? Know what that is?” “No, sir.” “Hell, son, that’s a Bullet Ant. Now there’s a real piece of work.” “Oh, a Bullet Ant. Wow.” He lifted up his leg, peeled back his pants cuff and showed me an old scar about the diameter of a pencil eraser. “That’s where I got stung by that nasty sonovabitch. Know why they call it a Bullet Ant?” “No sir, I haven’t given it much thought.” He leaned in confidentially and said “It hurts so bad, it feels like getting shot with a low caliber bullet, that’s why. The pain? It lasts a day and a night. Oh, yeah. Think about that.”


According to Wikipedia, the Satere-Mawe tribe chooses its warriors by using these ants in an initiation rite by sewing about a dozen of them into a glove and making a young man wear it for 10 minutes by which time his whole arm is paralyzed for a couple of days and he may go into seizures. He has to do the glove thing 20 times without freaking out. I just thought getting a girl to go out with me in high school was tough.

The Satere-Mawe are a tribe. Initiation has always been about tribe. I’m sure this ritual with the ant glove isn’t simply about macho courage. It’s about commitment to an identity, as one of the warriors, the fierce and trusted guardians of the tribe. It means you’re committed to doing what you’re expected to do, even in a life threatening situation to defend the tribe. In others words, you can be trusted to be a stand up guy.

Another form of initiation is the apprenticeship, the novitiate, which is where I find myself when I’m sitting in the back of the Burger King with my elderly laptop and my story notes, resuscitating a sinking story for the fourth or fifth draft. I don’t see myself as a professional writer yet, because they’re still sticking that ant glove on me and it hurts every time. I’ve got a hell of a long way to go. It takes me a long time to write a story. Any story. The novella you see on the side bar - “The Color of the Moon”, hell, that took me ten years to get it right. College courses and writers workshops are nice if you’ve got the dough. But every writer, from Joyce Carol Oates on down to my wretched level pays their dues the same way, at the keyboard first, one word at a time. The written word is deceptively cruel. When you first get it down in the heat of inspiration, your scintillating prose, your impassioned dialogue makes you just fucking weep, because you’re just so goddamned good and someday the world will know you’re an artist and you’re as deep and sensitive as Saint eff-ing Francis. The next day when you read that stuff cold, it sounds like you spent two hours yesterday shoveling horseshit with a keyboard. You put on the glove and start again. The world of the apprentice writer is that you must always start again. The day you refuse the glove is when you stop kidding yourself and get a real job.

There is also the initiation of abandoning the person you once were and starting over. It might be a divorce or a change of career, or just getting sick of who you are and reinventing yourself. I think the best evidence of reincarnation for me, is the fact that I have already been so many different people in this one life. In my case when I left the religious life I had completely devoted myself to for twenty years – when I left my tribe – I suddenly found myself haunted day and night by the ghost of a young schoolgirl I had once known, until I could get her to talk to me.

But that’s a story for another time.