I dub thee unforgiven

I used to drink at the strange bar on Ridge Street. It was down some steps, a dark little place near my office and the air felt like sulfuric fog. The sign said “The Golden Egg” but I called it Fart Bar. It had a certain ambiance, which one might call a micro micro-climate. It was loud, lonely and laden with a stinking humidity of unknown origin. Now it’s closed and all the people that run it are gone. By gone I mean dead mostly.

Nothing good could happen there, but I liked it. I really did.

The bartender’s name was Dante, who wore a suit of leather and always had a cold. We didn’t speak much, but I liked watching movies with him from the dusty TV on the liquor shelf. For years, I was Dante’s only customer. People would peek in from time to time, but only long enough to take a whiff and shuffle out backwards, the way you might when a public toilet’s overflowed.

The knob held those clusters of golden dented bells you see on small town five-and-dime doors. They announced my entrance to that always-empty room, which I liked best in the Fall, when my shadow cut through the magic hour light, marking a path straight for the jukebox.

Dante would give a welcoming grunt and flick a token to me from behind the bar. It was a green plastic disk with a fading silver print: “The Golden Egg: Good for a Dozen.” Dante poured heavier when I played Metallica, so we often watched the VHS version of First Blood on mute with Ride the Lightning blaring from the speakers.

Fart Bar offered just one happy hour special every day from dusk to dawn: an all-you-can drink order of a disgusting whiskey called “Acheron Shores”, which Dante let me drink on a running tab. I never heard of a booze buffet, but he said the owner had a special arrangement with the distributor. One day I wondered aloud what an arrangement with a cheap whiskey brand might look like. Dante said, “I’ll show you.” But he didn’t take the usual steps of tightening his velcro-strap leather gloves and pouring another into my slowly poisoned body. Rather, he came around the bar, pulling me up from the stool.

“There! To the back. I said I’ll show you.”

Dante led me to long set of stairs to the sub-basement and then down a musty hall, much farther than I imagined the building went. I could hear music thumping from behind a door, which was outlined by a bright red light, the edges softening with movement of shadows behind. I held up slightly. My nerves were beginning to stir from under the warm blanket of booze I had drank upstairs. The familiar stink was slowly losing its power to a feint but metallic sharpness. The smell of something terribly wrong.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “There’s nothing they want with you. And you wanted to see the whiskey, right? Here, come” – and pulling my body forward, Dante pushed open the door, covering our bodies with a wash of red light.

My eyes adjusted and I watched in horror as a giant mass of maggots crawled over every inch of the ceilings and walls, over each other, over us: writhing piles of glistening annuli, pulsating to the beat like a disembodied muscle spasm.

My body was shaking and going limp, but Dante pulled me forward. I slipped and lost his hand, falling into what I could now tell was a layer of warm, sticky liquid. My hands were wet and smelled undeniably like iron. The maggots’ ravenous feeding hummed horribly like a buzzsaw over a steady rhythm. Dante screamed in laughter, “This is it! This is what a deal looks like. Hell, isn’t it? But goddam it’s delicious – look, look, a party! ”

Dante cleared a patch of the wall with a sweep of his leather gloves, revealing a human arm draining out to the maggots below. He scooped up a pool in his cupped hands and told me to drink. I obeyed. He cupped more. I drank. I started to scoop more from the floor myself, over and over, pushing my nerves, my entire moral fiber back down below the rush of intoxication. I batted the maggots away and saw entire bodies reveal themselves to me, dead but not dead, draining, feeding, intoxicating. Dante screamed and screamed and I took up the call like a brother hyena, completely overtaken with a wild self-interest. I was nothing other than this insatiable need.

I was crouching before the head of one of these poor souls, about to take a bite like father Ugolino when suddenly an official looking man called out to Dante, “Take ‘im back upstairs, you fucking idiot! Members only, ya know the rules.” Dante cursed under his breath and pulled me up with a strength hidden under his skinny leather mold. Blood like drool rolled down my chin, bouncing back up the stairs as my eyes rolled back back back….

***

On New Year’s Day some time later, I read the health department closure notice, not surprised but forlorn. I remembered every one of those eternal night rituals, ruing the drudgery that each tomorrow would bring. I remembered every time Rambo cried over “The Call of Ktulu.” I raised my glass once more, knowing that there’d never be a better bar in this town.

This story.

apocalyptic daydream

This story doesn’t want characters. It has a place and the names of people — — all important, but as backdrop; the what is of this brief marker in time, passing. One man, murdered over a disagreement pricing horses. Two people, seeking shelter from a hail storm, fallen in love. A beggar, earning the price of chai, recites heartbreaking poetry to camel breakers. This story wants from the reader: just one image, a crossing, from two sides of a world and the color of its shared sky. Town and country, animal and man, divided neatly across an endless track, all under an anxious low ceiling of purple, dust and rage. This story wants to go home.

Begonia maculata

He was a middle age man that lived in an old apartment on the edge of a park. The morning the begonias bloomed from his throat was the morning of the farmers market. He did the only thing he knew with panic and ran down to the crowd of composters and pumpernickel seekers, the spotted leaves swaying across his chest like a beautiful gown. Butterflies flitted about his face, drawing a delighted crowd of children to his side, all innocent to his muffled screaming. They circled and sang as he picked and pulled and gagged with wild intensity, his insides soaked leaves spinning to the ground in a dull splat of red, green and wet.

Amidst the joy, sunlight and fresh fired porcelains, no one took his torment as more than a quirk of vendor theatricality. As if suffering were impossible to conceive on too beautiful a day as this. The basket weaver approached cautiously, slipped a fiver into his back pocket and smiled. With a slow tug, he extracted a root anchored deep down in the man’s belly. Momentary relief turned to horror as another root, stronger and endowed with larger, more beautiful leaves, sprouted forth into the market.

He was a farmers market miracle.

Applause drew larger crowds eager to see the incredible begonia maculata man. Artisan jam mongers and hemp braiders, bread bakers and basement distillers, bartering wares for a bouquet of their own. The more they picked, the greater the begonias grew, until the man could no longer bear their weight. His moaning and cries died down into a faint hum beneath the leaves. A courteous someone left a clear jar by his pile: “Pay just what you can. Take only what you need.”

The night before he dreamt the new owners had hired landscapers to shear the thick ivy from his apartment’s facade. The rumblings of contractor cement trucks lined up on the street awoke him. He slipped out from bed, looked down pensively and picked a little leaf from his teeth.

Notable Reads: The Spirit of Science Fiction (Roberto Bolaño)

Brilliantly written, but I’m not sure what this book is. It reads like a preface to something longer and more substantial (perhaps the author’s first attempt at an outline, in 1984, of The Savage Detectives?) while containing the hallmarks of previously published work, including a character set obsessed, unpretentiously, with literature (Distant Star) – its immediate living culture and all things related to its production – as well as a vague air of mystery or intrigue in the everyday (Last Evenings on Earth).

Is it a picaresque? Maybe in the adventures of its two protagonists, Remo and Jan, but I wouldn’t call either roguish (though their friend Jose Arco, the motorcyclist poet, may count as one). They’re both idiosyncratic in very different ways that the author draws much attention to without much significance: e.g., Remo’s inability to get a hard-on even in the intimate presence of his love interest (which, by way of explanation, is due to testicular trauma at some other stage of his life); Jan’s private letters to science fiction notables in an effort – apparently – to unite the North and South Americas (not to mention his vague obsession with authoritarianism, which he sees even in the paint color of buildings). The essence of science fiction is literature containing something bigger than ourselves, than what’s simply on the page. It’s echoed in Jan’s letters to Tiptree, LeGuin et. al, as well as the central characters’ strange, sleuth-like search for a presumed conspiracy: what could have given rise to a veritable explosion of literary zines in Mexico City? (The question, as far as I can tell, is never answered.)

Teenage bohemians, they drink and stay up late, hosting parties in their rooftop apartment somewhere in Mexico City. Jan, ever the homebody, builds a furniture set comprised of science fiction novels. He insists it’s sturdy enough to write upon. Remo buys a motorcycle called The Aztec Princess, in a moment of sadness desperate for life lived to the utmost (or something to that effect), but probably to impress the aforementioned love interest, Laura, with whom he tours – or better, collects, in the sense of strategized experience – the legal, semi-legal and underground worlds of Mexico City’s spas. These scenes appear in a section called “The Mexican Manifesto” and comprise the sexiest of all the author’s writerly abilities. Bodies glistening on bodies; soap-covered sex; performance art slipping into soft pornography; libertinism at its chemically pure and youthful.

So adventurous not in the grand sense of the word, but Jan and Remo are young, smart and looking for their place in the intellectual life of CDMX: this is a fine look at their valiant efforts, erectile dysfunction and all. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I enjoyed being part of the ride, seeing the Mexican sunrise so many times without myself losing sleep.

[Notable Reads] A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phüntso Wangye

Leaders of the Tibet Work Committee, 1951

For many reasons, the story of Phünwang’s life can provide much insight into our understanding of one important period of modern Tibetan history. The existing literature on modern Tibet has undeniably been monopolized by the voices of Tibetans such as lamas, lay officials, and aristocrats who dominated the traditional semifeudal society and opposed modernization. Their accounts tend to present an orthodox “good Tibetans against bad Han Chinese” thesis, and have become the face of Tibetan nationalism in Western literature. However, we should acknowledge the role of other Tibetans, among whom Phünwang is one of the most important, fighting for very different Tibetan nations, within the complex and intricate story of modern Tibet.

HSIAO-TING LIN