An Elm & Houston Revelation

Elm & Houston Epiphany copy

 

Last week, for me, saw four intensive days in seminar with the iconic Tony Robbins and his “Unleash the Power Within” doctrine.  If you’re not familiar, look him up on YouTube. There are hundreds of lectures, TED Talks, etc, on the man.  If you ARE familiar, I’ve found, you’re either behind him with a sense of devotion that just about any other motivational speaker out there would be hard pressed to rival, or you’ve concluded that he’s a modern day Jim Jones. I find almost no one who has a tepid reaction to him.

Yes, I did the firewalk.  No, I was not injured.  Yes, it gave me a high like nothing else, for what it was designed to symbolize; the power to accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible, a subject-matter I am painfully intimate with.  I had a personal stake in doing this.  And it delivered.

And finally, yes, we’re talking about the same UPWDallas2016 that blitzkrieged the news on the firewalk night. “Hundreds burned in failed Tony Robbins Firewalk!” As someone who was there, I can vouch for the real thing being nowhere near as dramatic or perilous as the coverage made it out to be, because, of course, “if it bleeds it leads.”

Dallas is a city I’ve barely been to, in all of my many trips to Texas.  It’s usually been a case of flying in or out of DFW and picking up connections to other destinations.  So in preparing to come to this city for the Robbins conference, on my menu of intentions was to visit Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of JFK. I really have a thing for visiting these kinds of historical landmarks, and this one especially has been on my list to visit, because our nation changed radically after (perhaps even as a result of) the assassination that day in 1963.

We only had the last day in town, after the seminar was over, to check it out thoroughly, though we did actually run across it by accident on the first night of the seminar.  The friend I was traveling with, and I, had decided to walk a few blocks away from the Convention Center to get our Uber, since eight thousand other people were all trying to get back to their hotels too. And at a certain point, a few blocks into our midnight walk (the night of the firewalk, so we were already on a kind of high), my friend suddenly stopped in his tracks, looked around, as if he was lost, and then said “I think this is it.” “What?” “Yeah,” he continued, ignoring me. He then proceeded to stroll across a grassy knoll (I’m still not catching on), and pointed to an X in the street. “This is where Kennedy was shot.”

It was a quiet night.  Clear sky.  Bright moon.  I was already open-veined and euphoric, because I’d walked on hot coals tonight, baby!  And I had not burned my feet, because I had applied the fierce focus and intention taught us earlier that evening.  And it was not a parlor trick; the coals were freaking hot.  And so, when everything finally came into dawning for me, and I saw the corner street signs of Houston and Elm, and the picket fence where the fourth bullet had allegedly come from, and the building formerly known as the Texas Book Depository, I stood there, having just experienced something rather larger-than-life, and cried a little, just to myself, at this other larger-than-life historical ground zero.  It was an eerie and haunting thing to stumble upon by accident at midnight.  We spent a bit of time there, as one does, then called for our Uber.  And then proceeded to end every night of the conference with the same agenda.

So, by the time we got to our last day in town, and had the seminar firmly behind us, and had a cousin of mine who lives in town escorting us for the day, to go experience this thing in the daylight, do the museum, and be official tourists, we had already experienced it the way everyone should, I’ve now concluded.  The midnight visit had been a sacred, internal moment that had allowed me to feel that bit of history in an intimate and private way, and to have an emotional reaction to it.  In the light of day, it was an entirely different experience.  All the opportunists were out in droves, selling their bogus copies of “the actual newspaper headline from The Dallas Morning News!” and their angle on what really happened that day.  Every wild theory was flying out of the mouths of the carnival barkers, creating a cacophony of chatter that was almost musical.

And then a most interesting thing happened.  One such barker that I was standing near, and trying to listen to, as he explained to a huddle of tourists about the fatal shot, couldn’t’ve been more than 50 years old, and yet was saying things like, “and that’s when we all hit the deck, and then ran across here behind the picket fence…”  He then pointed to a blurred figure, in a crowd of other blurred figures, in an old, dog-eared photograph he was holding, with the doomed presidential motorcade in the foreground, and said, “that’s me.”  Even though blurred, the figure he was pointing to was clearly an adult, someone who was not an infant, which, at a stretch, is the only way this guy could’ve potentially been present at this 53-year-old moment in history.  So yeah, we were dealing with crazy, I concluded, and he officially lost my interest in listening any longer.

From a distance, however, I continued to stare at him do his thing.  I sort of couldn’t take my eyes away, because I was suddenly reminded of the most profound thing that I had learned from Tony Robbins during his game-changing seminar intensive.  That all of our problems, struggles, dysfunctions, etc., exist and linger because they serve a need.  And as long as they continue to provide a benefit, they will not be repaired.  There is something that they fulfill.  I remembered that one stopping me dead in my tracks on, I want to say, Day 2 of this thing.  And so, as I stared at this man, who was more likely mentally ill than a simple con man, I was suddenly softened from the earlier eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive stance I’d taken against him, and wondered what need his story was fulfilling for him.  A sense of significance in a world that had rendered him insignificant?  Combating a crippling loneliness by surrounding himself with people who could potentially find awe in his story, and him?  Whatever the benefit was, it certainly wasn’t a financial one, since everyone around him had him nailed, and no one was buying his story, or his wares.  Yet they were continuing to hang on his every word, because crazy is entertaining.  And it was at that moment that I realized I would probably never look at any other situation again, neither another’s nor my own, without asking that question:  What need does this serve?

That changes the whole playing field, doesn’t it?

There is a plethora, a right worthy grocery list, to be honest, of struggles and hiccups that my own personal growth seems to be bombarded with these days.  Much of which I’ve chalked up to a case of what I do, or don’t, deserve.  Or I chalk up a certain behavior, which is nonetheless frustrating for me, to being a hardwiring.

For example, one sentence I’ve claimed for years as part of my story: I’ve spent my life not being picked.  Or at least believing, always, in that outcome (which pretty much means it’s guaranteed).  Case in point:  My boyfriend in 8th grade literally moved on from me to someone else without a word my way.  How I found out was when his “new thing” and I were racing against each other in a track meet.  The girl had actually been my friend, and the boyfriend and I had not had a single conflict, so while I get kids just moving on from each other thoughtlessly, I never understood the venal nature of the moment.  He stood at the starting line where she and I were poised to run the 50-yard dash, and he muttered, but for everyone to hear, “Beat her, Albertine!  Beat her good!” Albertine didn’t win that race that day.  I did.  But it gave me no pleasure in the victory, because I was also the one beaten.  I didn’t understand my breed, and I didn’t get what I had done so heinous to have deserved such malevolence.  Today I can see clearly how that one incident has been so indelibly stamped on me that I have always tended to enter into an agreement with isolation and outsidership.

I’ve just thought of it as a hardwiring, a simple case of, “This is who I am. I don’t fit into circles and clubs.” But here’s the danger in that; chalking anything up to a hardwiring presupposes that there’s nothing that can be done about it.  It takes the power (if it’s a plight we’re actually interested in fixing) right out of our hands.

And if I have taken nothing else away from this seminar, I have taken with me a new understanding that any emotional baggage we have only sticks around, and is given momentum, because there is a need it serves.  That one just blew my head right open.  Done.  Brains on the dashboard.  Blood and guts everywhere.  Absolutely nothing I’ve ever learned in my years’ long pursuit of self-examination has made more sense than that.

And so, rather than tossing off my penchants for outsidership, for example, as a hardwiring I can do nothing about, I need to figure out what the role of outsider in my life has been serving all this time.

One thing I know for sure is that it’s been a bit of a badge of honor.  I do love my solitude, and marching to my own drummer, and I have a natural penchant toward inward-turning and contemplation.  So, what it’s feeding is pretty obvious.  But it’s also a dubious badge, as there is always an overtone of loneliness and missed opportunity that is a part of the outsider landscape.  So, maybe it also feeds a kind of “poor me” comfort?  I’m not sure yet, but there is so much to play with here.  So much to discover, to answer for myself, so many lids to pry open, so that maybe I actually stand a chance of delivering myself from some of these frustrations, and finally give myself the permission to pursue just exactly what I want in this life.

As for Crazy Grassy Knoll Man, he will likely remain who he is, though we never know who or what comes along to change our state, and our stake.  But my attitude toward him (once I got past the stun of him cursing me out for not buying any of his wares) became more compassionate and empathetic to the battles that must be his, the battles we all experience to varying degrees of crazy.  And to know that there is an answer, somewhere, somehow, for every one of us.  I just want to be that little sprite whispering into Crazy Grassy Knoll Man’s ear, “I see you.  You are seen.”

This was merely one of fifty hours worth of ideas that were drilled into our heads by Tony Robbins during his four days of exhaustive saturation.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this seminar did for me.  And honestly, I’m not sure I’m meant to share any more of the experience than this one example, because it was such a deeply intimate odyssey for me, one of identifying belief systems, and transforming them.  It was so intimate, in fact, that when my friend and I couldn’t get a seat together on Day One, we ended up not doing any part of the seminar together, as it was nice not having to be self-conscious around each other.  And that was easy enough to accomplish, in a sea of eight thousand people.  We just met up on dinner breaks and when it was over each day.  We didn’t even witness each others’ firewalk.  Instead, upon completion of the walk, I cheered for my triumph with the people around me, who were all doing the same, a communal pep rally.  New bonds got formed.  In fact, my firewalk partner and I decided to remain friends.  The experience was intimate and expansive at the same time.

I’ve been changed by this four-day event, that’s for sure. To what degree will be discovered in the days to come, as I venture forth to apply these tools and get out of my own way.  But I don’t think I truly got hit with that feeling of difference until my revelatory moment on the corner of Elm Street and Houston, the same corner that was John F. Kennedy’s last.  A setting ripe with ghosts and guile.  And maybe even a little grace.

 

 

Dedicated to my dear friend Ross Wright,
who gave me the gift of this experience,
went through it with me,
and who roots for me always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

Those Who Read Books

J693x503-11682

 

Those who read books travel the world and time itself.

Are explorers, adventurers, discoverers.

Take on beggars and kings with no thought in the ranking.

Have their minds forced open and their spirits ever expanding

in insatiable hunger for more.

Those who read books fill themselves with wonder.

Know that a book is a friend,

a teacher, a priest,

an agitator.

Are not afraid to be made uncomfortable.

Grow the wings that continue, muscle by muscle,

to sprout upon reaching “The End” time and time anew.

Fly.  Fall.  Fly again.

Those who read books are changed.

And glad of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

Off the Mat and Into the World: A Yoga Forum

three_new_yoga_poses


“Abandon your masterpiece, and sink into the real masterpiece.”

― Leonard Cohen

 

I have practiced yoga for nearly 25 years now.  And, in fact, at this very moment have my head deeply buried in books on the 8 Limbs and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.   One year ago today I had a most invigorating round table discussion with some of my respected peeps in the yoga world, and some not in the yoga world but are wise individuals nonetheless.  The reason I know I had this discussion a year ago is because it was on Facebook, and the Facebook minions just love to remind us of anniversaries.

Facebook is actually never lovelier than when rich, vigorous conversations arise on a subject of great substance and depth.  Even the shut-in can attend the party.  That’s the beauty of it.  And in a time when the untold uglinesses of Facebook are routinely bandied about and analyzed, and we’ve all certainly experienced it, celebrating the beauty of it is refreshing.  Such conversations often arise for me, as I have a mineral-rich amalgam of FB friends, both real-time and virtual, and it’s those very kinds of conversations that keep Facebook interesting.

In this case, I was really happy to revisit that discussion, and found it just informational and insightful enough to bear sharing here.

*          *          *

My original Facebook post: May 30, 2015

I recently found a new yoga center in my neighborhood, and it is the real deal!  Tonight was the 2nd class I’ve now gone to, and tonight’s was Kundalini, which I used to practice years ago at The Awareness Center in Pasadena, and which is the form closest to my heart.  It was a great class; rewarding and challenging. Challenging in the sense of things being woken up, disturbed, stirred up, released, accepted, held onto, resisted, worked with, the whole smorgasbord of spiritual experiences, and the ultimate agenda of inner peace. Rewarding in the sense of those various shifts happening as we move our bodies, oxygenate our cells, and focus our energy toward benevolence and balance. I bring this up because for several years now I have been on the hunt, as it were, for “the real deal.”  The real thing is actually everywhere; it can be found easily. But as I’ve tried to take on a regular practice, I’ve had to consider my finances, and yoga centers can be expensive. So for me, I’ve tried to find the real deal at gyms, where for one monthly fee one can do all the yoga one wants. That hunt has been largely futile. Invariably when I’ve walked into a new gym in the neighborhood to inquire about membership, and they ask me what I’m interested in, and I say, “yoga, but is it the real thing?” they, without fail, assure me that it is.  They are almost always wrong. And I wonder if their answers to me are because they are instructed to say whatever the customer wants to hear, or because they really don’t know what yoga is.  I suspect it’s exactly both. I am being very judgmental here (the first step to recovery is admitting it 🙂 ). But I have been genuinely frustrated, so it is what it is.  What I have found is a great sweeping commercialization of this ancient spiritual practice.  And that’s what yoga is – a spiritual practice. But now this other animal exists; yoga as another mode of aerobic exercise. Another way to get fit, get hard-bodied, be impressively flexible, even competitive.  It’s all about the externals. But the real thing is a profound meditational system that consists of what are called eight limbs (synchronistic to Buddhism’s eightfold path), and only one of those limbs regards asana, which are the poses that seem to be the entire package in the commercialized version. (“Oh, and the faster we move through these poses the better, so we can get our heart rate up and shed those pounds!”). Yes, I’m being sarcastic right now, although I have actually heard that uttered.  In any case, the real thing is a cultivation toward inner peace, spiritual harmony and balance, alignment with divine power, and integration of the physical and the mental. The word itself means “to unite” in Sanskrit. And it has been known to have profound impact on everything from depression to chronic illness to just simply improving our sense of well-being, and our willingness to self-investigate.  It’s been a lifesaving practice for me.  And the only reason the phenomenon is even in my thoughts tonight is because I had a most gratifying class, and it seems so odd to me that that experience has been so elusive over the past few years, and I would love it if my genuine yogi friends would chime in on this thought, and share your perspectives.  In fact, I welcome anyone, yogi or no, who has a thought on this.  Is there room for all of it (I suspect the answer is yes)? Or is it important to clear up general misconceptions about this beautiful, transformational practice for the lay public?  Or do I just have the whole damned thing wrong?  I suspect the answer to that is yes too.  Fire away.

Ken Rosser  
Years ago I read a yoga instructor saying that he felt that awareness of the spiritual benefits was not necessary in order to receive them, that in doing the exercises you opened that door anyway … I dunno, there was something about that I found kind of charming in the way that works so contrary to how “the west” operates in any of its disciplines …

Me
Hmmmmm.  I think I may need to go to my mountain and think about that one for awhile.

Ken Rosser
Just passing along something your post loosened up in my brain that started rattling around – and I remember the quote really sticking with me because when I was raised Catholic I would NEVER hear a priest say that the act of taking communion or even praying would have spiritual benefit whether or not you believed – that whole tradition hinges on your state of belief.  To say that yoga works whether or not you believe sort of makes it like a spiritual medicine in my mind, in the way that I don’t have to believe in antibiotics in order for them to kill bacteria.

I dunno…I’m just spouting here.

Me
Kenneth, your “just spoutings” are always some of the best Just Spoutings out there.

Lily Knight
Distortions are inevitable, since everything is continually changing, but you have the experience of your soul guiding you to where the light grows in you, and the practice of seeing the god in everything.

Candyce Milo
It IS hard to find that sweet spot.  I know.  I’ve watched Chokae’ Kalekoa post his photos and think that he may be the last of the quiet, Om breath centered, ritualistic teachers.  I think a lot has to do with yoga studios needing to keep their lights on and bills paid and their courses are thereby driven by the kind of people who power through their experiences and want a heart-rate boost, or they know nothing of the practice and are looking for an “easy-workout” with some stretching. 😳  I often see disappointed faces whenever the class isn’t physically hard enough or the poses are breath-balanced.

Me
Candi, your insights about teachers needing to bend to popular demand in order to keep the lights on are very insightful.  Makes me sad that people look to yoga for something that it isn’t. But then again, I’m getting feedback here about the importance of bringing my own intention to the practice, no matter what the nature of the class is (AND leaving others alone to do the same thing….when did I get to be such a bully!?), and I’m really trying to sit with that one right now.  Mountain calling!

Chokae’ Kalekoa
Actually, none of them are “The Real Thing” … and yet … they all are.  Don’t mean to get all Zen on a sistah … Or, do I? ….  🙂   I do get your meaning though, and feel your frustration. Having practiced deep meditation since I was 11, I feel grateful and lucky to have had my first approach to Hatha Yoga be from a meditative perspective.  My first young taste of “Hatha” Yoga Practice was in San Francisco with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Book Light On Yoga.  Mind-blowing.  I also found Patanjali’s 8 Fold Path, in which, as aforementioned, Hatha Yoga is simply one of the eight steps.  Overwhelming.  Over many years came a deeper interest and enthusiastic introduction to many forms, expressions, and systems of Hatha Yoga. From Astanga, Kundalini, and Sivananda, to Jivamukti, Viniyoga, Bikram and many more.  All practices, at their foundation/core, are all incredible practices.  As a Hatha Yogi (using the term in this case in reference to anyone who regularly practices any form of Hatha Yoga), one has the opportunity to experience many variations of practice methods within each “Style” of Hatha Yoga, with emphasis placed on various approaches at various times with various intensities – Hard, Soft, Meditative, Flow, Athletic, Therapeutic, Esoteric, Aesthetic, etc.  Although each system or style of Hatha Yoga may focus more on a particular method than others, they all (generally speaking) include, in one way or another, all of the above and more … despite the ridiculously childish this-yoga-is-better-than-that-yoga rivalries, vile commercialization and mountainous agglomerations of pure bullshit (a sanskrit term meaning bullshit) permeating the Hatha Yoga world on a global scale.  Through practicing and teaching Hatha Yoga for over 25 years now; to all kinda folks on a few different continents, I have seen and experienced the fact that, regardless of whether one considers oneself to be Believer, Non-Believer, Spiritual, Non-Spiritual, Theist, Athiest or any other Club Member … “regular practice” of any Hatha Yoga system, has the potential to bring about deeper understanding of oneself, harmony inside and out … and the healthy union of body, mind and soul, whether one is fully conscious of the benefits or not.  “Wax on, Wax off.”

Me
“Bullshit (a Sanskrit word meaning bullshit)…”  Chokae’, I love you for so many reasons, as you are a genuine shaman to be reckoned with, but never so much as when you make me laugh.

Candyce Milo
I stand corrected, cuz I guess my post is really about “look what I notice when my eyes should be on MY mat…” doop!

Me
GURL, don’t even get me started.

Victoria Kassa
OMG, this is a lot to chew on and mull over.  I have only ever practiced sporadically.  Angie, your album has been my go-to, which fits my budget and gets me centered.  So the real deal I think is also what you bring to the practice.  I see lots of studios popping up here in Highland park.  My schedule and budget are limiting me to actually explore them.  However I’m just curious about the “market.”  Are people really meditating or just working out?  I’m gonna stick with my home work out for now.  Thanks Angie!!!

Me
Thank YOU, Vicki. I’m so glad you’re using the CD!  I wonder if polls have ever been conducted on your very question.  I would be curious to know (the control freak in me just cannot seem to be tempered.)

Chokae’ Kalekoa
Another thought that may help… Practicing yoga and one’s yoga practice are 2 very different things. Just like rehearsal is different from performance.  When working hard, correcting, adjusting, pushing myself to the limit of the moment, I’m “Practicing Yoga” – When I’m indoors, or out in nature doing asanas at sunrise, sunset, or under the moon, in preparation for, or as meditation, that’s my “Yoga Practice.”  The harder my practice, the easier my practice 🙂 .

Melanie Taylor
Wow, I’ve been overwhelmed reading all the profound and thoughtful comments. I finally had a moment to chime in, as I’m always up for geeking out about yoga.  My thoughts:  When I get all in my head about my 30 year practice (3 of which I’ve been teaching), I’m reminded of the wisdom of BKS Iyengar, who said, “Body is the bow, asana is the arrow, soul is the target.” And it goes without saying that breath is the Way.  I’m also a huge fan of “beginners mind,”  going back to basics of breath moving through the body.  And also, working from the outside in, because the body is the most accessible tool to the heart, which at the core of everything wants to express itself.  I’ve practiced all the disciplines but vinyasa remains my favorite because it mirrors nature, the movement guided by breath like wind through the trees, or waves crashing on the shore.  When I was getting certified, we had lots of spirited debate about the merits of yoga as fitness versus yoga as a spiritual practice.  My feeling is anything that gets you to the mat is going to benefit you in ways you never imagined.  And when you take your yoga off the mat is when it gets real.  It is insidious; it affects you, increases your awareness and maybe that will lead you to be more curious about the practice itself and how you make it your own.

Lotus Lindley 
What a wonderful thread. Thanks for including me Angela. Personally, I feel out of the norm of the yoga loop anymore.  But, I began with Bikram yoga 15 years ago. A dancer/dance fitness instructor at that time, Bikram was the perfect transition.  I loved the heat, the sweat, the athleticism that created the “work out” which fed me. It was at that studio I saw a picture of Yogi Desai, who drew me instantly. Within months, I was at a week long retreat with him, received Skaktipat & my life has never been the same.  I still chuckle at how my first couple of classes in his “Amrit Yoga” system left me underwhelmed & frustrated. I wasn’t sweating, I wasn’t getting a work out, but I hadn’t yet sensitized energetically to the inward “pull” so to speak, yet either. My practice since, for the most part, has been a very solitary one.  For me, Bikram was perfect & just what I needed in order to move me toward the next perfect phase.  It continues to work that way!  I believe Soul has a way of guiding us to what each needs along our journey.  I guess the point of my story is that there are many right times, right places, right teachers, for just the right lessons ~ all along the way.

Me
Blessed peeps, this is all such spiritual gold.  I want to meditate on each comment thoughtfully.  I am humbled and grateful to be given such loving feedback in my moment of trying to work it out.  The tangles that live in us … for me, this one’s lived for a long time, just tucked away, and only, ironically, JUST as I’ve been rewarded recently by a couple of strong classes, did this particular tangle rear up again for my perusal. It just blows my mind that finding a fulfilling class has felt like stumbling upon the Holy Grail, and it is a phenomenon I felt was worthy of a posted thought.

Melanie Taylor
Angela…One more thought to your original post as to teachers that may not resonate with you and where you’re at that day: that’s when my Iyengar mantra kicks in and I use that frustration as an opportunity to fire up my practice (deeper pranayama, extra vinyasas) and clear out negative shit that doesn’t serve my soul. Put simply, if I’m not feeling my teacher, I just go hard until I burn it out.  🙂

Me
I suspected that the idea of it being about what you bring to your own practice in any class, with any teacher, would largely be the feedback I’d receive.  And so far, you all seem to be on the same wise page, which means that there is no Holy Grail;  yoga is everywhere, in every inhale and exhale, every experience, especially the ones that challenge our beliefs, or just plain irritate us.  I truly thank you all for this feedback.

*          *          *

And that pretty much wrapped up the FB thread, which went on for a few thought-provoking days, and did me a world of good. The conversation, however, continues and continues.

Leonard Cohen, iconic singer/songwriter and Zen monk, said the quote that began this forum (abandon your masterpiece, and sink into the real masterpiece) about his experience of living for some time at a monastery.  As you’ve just read, I had some pretty righteously indignant feelings on the subject. And I was artfully, lovingly, but most definitely, nudged right off my soapbox.  And therein, I think, lies the essential meaning of Mr. Cohen’s beautiful words.

My contributors and comrade-in-arms:
Ken Rosser is the man I call my musical soulmate, with whom I’ve been involved in several music projects, and who may just be the most innovative and soulful multi-stringed-instrumentalist I’ve ever come across.  Check out our duo CD sometime, called MUSIC FOR THE WEEPING WOMAN.
Lily Knight was my Kundalini teacher (and favorite yoga teacher I’ve ever had) from way back when I studied yoga at the Awareness Center in Pasadena, and who is the one responsible for opening up this world for me of self-investigation and soul-tending.
Candyce Milo is a razor-sharp, irreverent comedian, actor, and writer, whose ability to examine the human condition in her one-woman shows raises her above the masses.
Chokae’ Kalekoa is, as Candi says above, just about one of the last of the quiet, Om breath centered, ritualistic teachers.  He is a yogi-shaman bad-ass, and founder of the Shut Your Monkey Meditation Workshop, which he travels all around the globe.
Victoria Kassa is a lifelong educator, which may be the noblest calling on the planet, and someone I’ve grown up with, literally since infancy, so….yeah…family.
Melanie Taylor is a yogi, singer/songwriter, seeker, carrier of light and eternal optimist.  She is also my birthday twin, and my true sister from another mister.
Lotus Lindley is a Reiki healer, and a Path of Sacred Feminine & Essential Oils Facilitator.  After having only met her through Facebook at that point, she actually came to my rescue with an earth-shattering Reiki treatment when I was going through something once. Blessings to her forever for that.

A deeply heart-filled gratitude to these treasured friends for contributing not only to my thread, but to my learning, my healing, and my ongoing cultivation of peace and compassion.

May this forum offer you an insight or two that you might not have had before.  Om shanti.

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

A Rose Knows

Portrait of cute gril with big afro

 A rose blooms and releases fragrance.
It doesn’t question its deservedness.
A rose just knows. 

I’ve been wanting to tell of this encounter ever since it happened a few months ago, but have waited without really knowing why. Until yesterday morning, when I realized I’d been waiting for the title of my story. Victoria Thomas of the Agape Center, who was the visiting speaker at the spiritual center where I chose to spend Mother’s Day morning, at one point during her talk said the above quote. As soon as I heard this, I knew my piece was ready.

This spiritual center that I have newly started calling home, and sometimes sing at, hosted a craft faire this past Christmas, and anyone who had a craft was offered the opportunity to have a booth. I’d hesitated a commitment, and lost the opportunity, as booth space was spare and quickly snatched up. I didn’t represent a single thing that day, even though I have CDs, books, I’ve been handcrafting dreamcatchers for the past year, I make dolls. I sort of felt frustrated with myself that I’d had the instinct to hesitate, but ultimately it was okay as I had great fun attending in order to support all the other artists, crafters, and friends. And to top that off, on the day of the faire, right outside the front door of the center, the neighborhood’s Christmas parade was going on, so it was just one of those magical, wonderful days to be alive and to be part of a community.

“Would you like to buy a copy of my book?” she asked.  She was eight years old.

The bazaar was teeming with booths and tables of handmade jewelry, and crafted dreamcatchers (damn it, I make dreamcatchers!), and exotic crystals, and one-on-one healing sessions of every kind, from Reiki treatments to spirit animal readings. I’ve always been a sucker for a craft faire, especially if the general bent is New Age-y. I am crystal and sage mama. Always have been, and this was like a miniature version of the Whole Life Expo.

I’d already pocketed a few choice purchases. Knickknacks that would add to the energy and color and boho spirit of the 700-square-foot home I call my Zen cottage. I’d just made the silent promise to myself, “No more. You’ve shopped plenty now.” But who says “no thank you” to a little girl?  And a book?  She didn’t have a booth, I saw no inventory; she’d just planted herself in a corner.  I needed to see where this would lead.

“You have a book?” I asked her.

“Yes, I’m a writer!” she offered proudly.

“Well, okay then. How can I possibly say no to that?  How much for one of your books?”

“That’ll be one dollar.”

As I handed her a dollar bill, she proceeded to pull from her knapsack a single piece of notebook paper, folded in half.  I could barely contain a giggle. The title on the “cover” was The Little Fairy, and was adorned with the drawing of a stick figure sprite, some clouds and a sun.  I smiled so wide at my purchase, making sure to show her my delight, and couldn’t decide if it was more precious or ballsy.

I opened the folded piece of paper to reveal the story inside:

There once was a little fairy and she loved to fly.
But her wing got stuck on a rose bush and broke.
“Oh no” she cried.
She was sad so she went home and tried to fix it but she couldn’t.
But then she knew someone who could fix her problem.
“Can you fix my wing?”
“Sure.”
The End.

Whaddaya know, a lesson in conflict resolution. Made as simple as it truly is, if we adults could only manage to find our way around the viscous clouds that apparently go with adulthood.

“What a wonderful story,” I said to her. “I hope lots of people buy your book today.”

“Thank you!” she blushed.

I couldn’t rid my brain of this little girl for the rest of the day. Was it her creativity that I found so irresistible?  Or her unbelievable tenacity to assimilate with the adult world around her of product and consumerism? For certain it was her purity of spirit, and the compulsion to put her unfiltered, uncomplicated, I-don’t-need-no-stinking-booth carpe diem spirit, and her entitled (I write, therefore I am a writer!) energy into the ether.

“What’s your name?” I asked her, before I walked away.

“Angie,” she answered.

“No kidding.  My name is Angie too.  Except that everyone calls me Angela now that I’m an adult.  But look here, we have the same name.”

All Angie could do was giggle.

“May I share something else with you?  Not only do we have the same name, but I’m a writer too.”

“Where’s your book?” she challenged, without even a moment’s pause.

“Well…I….I…..”    I didn’t have a ready answer.

She just smiled, and let my “well…” hang in the awkward air, waiting for a conclusion that never came. I smiled back, wished her the world, and kept on roaming, but with my tail somewhat between my legs.

IMG_4566

I had absolutely fallen in love with this little girl’s mighty chutzpah, and decided that her book would have an honored place hanging on my refrigerator door behind a magnet, reminding me always. Reminding me always.

I see grace in everything. I just don’t see the wisdom in not. Because it is a paradigm that functions to create an environment where I always feel taken care of.  And on that day, with that encounter, grace was in full action as I was taken care of by a young girl who taught me, in no uncertain terms, that I needn’t ever question my deservedness.  A rose certainly doesn’t.

Neither did Little Angie.

 

 

 

 

References:
Victoria Thomas of Agape Center
Center for Spiritual Living Granada Hills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

A Mountaintop Moment


She was not allowed to hurt anymore today.

 

 

 

 
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

MURMURATION (Or, A Man With No Christian Name)

Murmuration

 

It seemed as though he’d been preparing for this large, looming animal his entire life, yet it had actually only been two years out of a tedious forty‑five.  He was tempted to think it might change his life.  He’d certainly been teased with the hype of it all:  Michel Dugnac!  June Steele!  A book!  If this all went well, then, according to his teasers, New York, London, and Marseille were virtually guaranteed.

He paced and chain-smoked through most of the day, declining brunch at the Four Seasons with Nona, Harper, and Kai, and instead awaited the eleventh-hour delivery of the art books to the gallery.  There were handlers hired to take care of all that, but Daniel wouldn’t have been Daniel if he couldn’t butt his nose in everyone’s business, and he couldn’t wait until tonight, besides, to see the book.

As he ripped open one of the boxes, he lifted the handsome coffee table book out, with the piece merely labeled Untitled as its cover.  It was a photographic tableau, camouflaging a nude Arthur and Nona into a portrait of his chaos of a workspace.  Harper thought it would be the perfect piece for the cover, since it not only portrayed Daniel’s subjects but his studio, as well, which had always been a virtually untouchable lair, except for intimates.

“The viewer feels as though he gets the chance to be inside Daniel Cross’s private life just a bit,” had been her rationale.  Daniel didn’t care.  He liked this piece.

The predominant hue was cobalt, but then avalanched into a deluge of furious color and junk that seemed to swell upon Arthur and Nona, as if they were stained, bled upon, by the junk of this world; yet also, in a sense, cocooned by it.  And in being cocooned, were gestated and transformed.  He stared at it now, realizing just how much his thoughts on rape and loss and redemption had become a driving force in all of his recent work.  Behind every expression lurked the nocturnal phenomenon of the breach.  It leapt off the very cover.  The two figures in this portrait weren’t even his friend and his wife any longer; they had transcended those roles.  He stared at two strangers.  Two abstracts.  To be interpreted, and debated, and reckoned with.  Naked.  Literally, of course.  But, as well, in a symbolic way to which he was the only one wise.  In all of the thousands of works he’d created in his nearly thirty years of painting, it counted as the first that he’d been unable to title, and only now did he realize why.

When the evening finally did arrive, and as Benton’s lights shined brightly onto Rodeo Drive with their three names, everyone was in attendance.  Artists, critics, philanthropists, movie stars, curators, press, intending to snack on Beluga from L’Orangerie, sip champagne from the Krug Vineyards, hobnob with their Prada-appareled brethren, and render their verdict on his life.

And none of this brouhaha, however ephemeral, was because of any weight he could claim but because Harper Levy knew how to get things done.  She was in her greatest element, giving the firmest handshake in the room and feeling deservedly proud.  She’d worked harder than anyone to make sure this evening would be significant.

Before Daniel had met Harper, he’d never known what it felt like to have someone believe in him.  She was there for him during the co-op days, and during the days of no showings at all.  She was there during the era of Chelsea, and had been on hand in the hospital when he’d tried to end his life.  She’d found him living on the street as a young twenty-something, hustling people to buy his wallet-sized sketches, and she’d taken him in and encouraged him to further develop his talents.  She was the one who had turned him on to Champion, and was the first person he’d excitedly told about meeting the author of that book.  And tonight he watched her oversee a splendid effort.

And then there were Nona and Arthur.  He was so humbled to be a part of this venture with two such remarkable individuals as his wife and his brother of the spirit.  Their essence was everywhere this evening, larger than their own lives, seeping from the cracks in the walls, lurking about every room, haunting every canvas.  Their prose was unequaled.

Daniel had tried hard to be worthy of them, and the effort had almost succeeded in besting him.  And for just one instant he reflected on the reputation of artists:  All nuts, or so it is said.  Or did they merely wish to be?  Were they truly incapable of connecting the dots of their sanity because they were too overloaded with resplendent fancy?  Or was it just irresistibly fashionable to be so left of the middle?  He was beginning to wonder if they weren’t all cons and swindlers, himself included, staging lunacies not because of any higher calling, but because of the hunger for attention.  What was, after all, so alluring about being wrinkle‑browed?  Besides the women he could bed?

In the past, he would approach these openings either indifferently or with his brooding cap on, wondering if that was all there was, always suspecting someone’s compliment of his work as ulterior, always doubting that there was any inherent good or beauty in anything.  Always suffering.  Always Hamlet.

Tonight, as he began to suspect his own breed, and which almost had a wink to it, he actually worked the room, and shook hands, and greeted, and periodically glanced up to see some labor that had begun its life in his flat, and felt unbeaten.  No, it was better than that.  He felt valid.

Having Nona and Arthur by his side was surely the best of it, but it was also that some of the drummers from the night before had agreed to come down, a last minute inspiration, to begin a circle right in the center of the Benton Gallery.  Red Carpet meets Haight-Ashbury.  Just the kind of peculiar marriage that had always fed Daniel’s temperament.  All of the people he loved were here, and they were genuinely making him feel that there might actually be something inherently good or beautiful in this world.

“Hello, Daniel.”

He spun around to find Christianne Tensmith standing before him with a glass of champagne raised.

“Chris,” he practically fumbled.  It had been a good two years since he’d unceremoniously exited her life.

“It’s wonderful work,” she said.  “All of it.  Better than ever.  You’re really coming into your voice, aren’t you?  There’s no pretension in it.  I mean, not that there ever was, but–”

“Em–I–I–thank you.  What a surprise.  I–I–”

“ ‘Course, still no portrait of me anywhere,” she joked sweetly.

He laughed nervously.

“I can’t wait to show Daddy the review in tomorrow morning’s paper, which I know is going to be killer.  And which might actually kill HIM.”

They both chuckled.

“So–how’ve you been?” Daniel asked.  “I mean–”

“I don’t want to keep you.  I just wanted to let you know that I would not have missed this for the world.  Congrats, Daniel.”

She leaned up to kiss his cheek, and walked away.

He stood stunned, chest thumping.  He hadn’t expected the ghosts of Daniel Past to come haunting.  If Chelsea Carrier showed up, he’d have to scrounge himself up another bottle of shoe dye.

He watched Christianne walk away and wondered if he hadn’t misjudged her all of these years, chalking her up to vapidity, like the snob he could be.  Tonight she was quite refined.  And apparently not hating him any longer for the way he’d spinelessly cowered out of their relationship.  She never even made trouble for him about staying in his flat.  Wonders would never cease.

Should he run after her and apologize once more for the prick he’d been?

He decided to meet and greet instead.

Alas, cowards, as well, never cease.

After enough handshaking and photos taken to qualify him for election, which lasted a solid two hours, he finally took a moment alone to regard his canvases, to assess his life in this body of work, and to wonder if anywhere in any canvas he’d ever painted might there not be traces of his estranged mother and father.  For the first time in years he wondered where they were and if they were still alive.  He came frightfully close to wishing that they could see what he’d tried to do with his life.

As he pondered thoughts he hadn’t in some time, a creeping sensation began to take over him.  Tonight he felt uncharacteristically sentimental.  Probably just too exhausted any longer to be so perpetually and fashionably in a huff.

He couldn’t help but feel that the spirit the old man had spoken of last night had indeed entered the room and somehow blessed his work.  Because for the first time in his life he didn’t despise himself, as he usually did, and he didn’t get drunk, as he usually did.  Tonight he soberly relished in his burgeoning success and was just thankful no mirrors were around, as he would surely not have recognized his own face.  He had Nona to thank for that one, as he watched her in the distance, shaking hands, wowing the paparazzi, loving life, eating this evening up, and apparently teaching him a few life lessons.

His wife found joy easily within every crevice that held an enticement.  For a time he’d been worried.  But tonight she was truly happy, he noted, as he watched her float through the space with a peaceful confidence.  It was important that this night be a good one for her, too, since there’d been a history of her doubting her own worth with what he knew was a frustrating writer’s block.  On this night her luminous smile lit the place up, brighter than the marquee lights of Rodeo Drive.  She even threatened to sweep him up with her in that joyful tide.

With his new gleam, he geared himself for the firing squad of critics, and felt invincible.  He already had a history with some of them, the ones who had traditionally found his work too bleak for their tastes, too self-indulgent, too something.  Of course, they were all in attendance and were the first in line to tell him what they thought.  But most, tonight, seemed to laud his portrayals of the already acclaimed Nona Childe and the soon‑to‑be acclaimed Arthur Hughes Dufresne.  Not to mention, both possessed such stunning visages that could be molded and shaped into practically any perversion and still remain stunning.

Aside from the New York, Paris, and London art media, the literary world was also in attendance.  They gobbled Nona up with their accolades, reminding her that she was special, a task at which he’d lately failed.

They asked her a deluge of questions on why she would indulge in such a risky art house venture, after having taken the mainstream by storm.  Mainstream?  They considered The Assassination of Gabriel Champion mainstream, did they?

She was exquisitely playful in her replies.  When one queried, “Why this involvement with such an unstable, albeit titillating, avant‑garde, after nestling comfortably in the commercial book market?” she responded with a smile, “Why, to fix that very problem.”

*

When they questioned her involvement in this vanguard project, Nona was perplexed with all the allusions that her alliance with this show might’ve been ill-advised, until she realized it was the critics’ job to court agitation.  Made good copy.  They were actually eating the exhibit up, so she decided to just have fun by playing feisty.

But it was a face. A mask to wear for the headlines. In truth, she felt a part of something profound. One hundred years from now, or a thousand, in some bookstore or library, someone might dust off the ancient art book entitled Murmuration (the fleeting phenomenon of a collection of starlings was the actual definition of the word, and was how each of them reverently thought of the other) and string together the names of Daniel Cross, Nona Childe, and Arthur Hughes Dufresne. They would be immortal.

As the sun set, and she finally stopped for one moment to take a swig of champagne and a deep breath, she and Kai watched Arthur in the distance.  With his signature dreadlocks an unusually majestic, lawless crown of tentacles, Arthur wore a threadbare suit jacket, a pair of pants that did not belong to the jacket, and a wrinkled, out-of-date necktie.  Nothing of the ensemble was sharp, but neither was it exactly awful.  It existed just somewhere in the intoxicated vicinity of romantic struggle.  Nona couldn’t help but attach a trendy sartorial statement to Arthur’s utter lack of it.  After tonight, all the young poets would soon start sporting their fringe-existence duds, all because the new bard of South Central had set a tone, and a new hobo chic would be born.

Arthur had started the evening off happy.  This would be the night that would give him the chance to show his son what he’d accomplished.  If this night was for anyone, on Arthur’s own personal agenda, it was for Lorca.

What he’d created to show his son, to show the world, was extraordinary.  Nona had always felt that there was something feral and hallucinatory in Arthur’s words.  She’d earlier overheard a reporter dictating into a tiny machine: “Arthur Hughes Dufresne writes poetry for a cataclysmic world, as though he is perpetually on the verge of hysteria or some quiet, warring mania, all toward a violent resuscitation of heart and lungs.”  And all Nona could think at that eavesdropping was, amen.

Then there were the cloying ones.

“Mister Dufresne,” offered one reporter, with a mic stuck in Arthur’s face, “you seem to write in a manner that is at once a kind of stream‑ of‑consciousness, urban speak, while at the same time a cunning philological wordplay.  A bit reminiscent of Stoppard–”

“A kind of homeboy‑from‑the‑hood Stoppard, if you will–” interrupted another, feeling droll.

No one actually gave Arthur the chance to respond, as they were much more interested in the sound of their own voices.  The ingratiating nature of these admirers made Nona cringe, especially in offering their patronizations with accents on the words homeboy and hood, as if to assure that they could hang with the Blackest and street-smartest of them.  She and Kai had been rolling their eyes and giggling together at the ridiculousness, and were on top of the world to be able to watch their friend being lauded and cooed over, even if it was by idiots.

Arthur could care less that he was even the topic of conversation, as he had one eye and ear cocked obligatorily to the cooing and the other searching eagerly around the room for his son’s arrival.

That the drum circle, which they’d all discovered the night before, would recreate itself on this opening was truly the ring on the finger of a long, difficult, and thrilling romance.

At various junctures in the evening, between contemplating a piece and the whispered chatter that always accompanied such, people would come and go from the circle.  Some would join in, retreat.  It would grow and shrink.  It was a thriving animal that kept itself alive the entire evening, and was becoming as much the thing to do as the partaking of champagne and aged Brie.

The night was working, and it was all thanks to her husband.  Arthur’s brilliance notwithstanding, the work that Daniel had created for this exhibit was the most powerful body of work that she could remember seeing from any contemporary artist since…well, she always instinctively went back to her beloved Basquiat.  Her scope as an art lover wasn’t nearly that singular, but her affinity was directly proportional to her collectorship.  There was no other “important” artist that she’d ever owned, and this work before her tonight was genuinely reminiscent of artists past who had blown onto the art scene and changed the game.  Tonight people were gasping at and dissecting the colors and the textures and the breadth and the swirls and the bold flashes that were leaping off the canvases.

Daniel was being compared to the new wave of New York modernists, for attempting to turn medium on its ear.  That was the very least of it, she thought.  Daniel was reinventing art.  On this unforgettable evening, Daniel was as close to God as any mortal force that had ever breezed past her heart.

While most of the critics tonight were jumping through hoops to claim Daniel as their own personal discovery, and to drool over his severe, exaggerated, almost tormented depictions of humanity, some found his work unappetizing.  One critic observed rather coolly:  “As subjects, Dufresne and Childe are being turned inside out in these pieces.  The viewer isn’t being shown their souls, as much as their symbolic bowel movements.”  

Wow!  Did she and Arthur really seem just that naked and blemished to this uncomfortable critic?  Did they make him just that fidgety in his seat?  And if the answer was yes, then as far as she was concerned Daniel had done his job superbly.

“What irony, if any, are you offering with all of this darkness?” this particular critic had earlier asked Daniel, displaying quotation signs with his fingers around the word darkness.

What were the quote signs for, Nona wondered?  Did he mean that Daniel played at darkness without actually achieving it?  Did he mean that Daniel achieved it, and he wondered the importance of that?  Was he saying that Daniel was finding trendy vogue in the darkness label?

She was annoyed, and wanted Daniel to fight back with something pithy and effortlessly smart-assed, as she’d been doing, but Daniel never answered questions like that.  You were either moved by his work or you weren’t.  And if you weren’t, he didn’t bother spinning his wheels trying to defend or bring you around.  He would gracefully, if he could, accept your distaste for it and still agree to be your friend.

She was more in love with him and his Fuck-The-World creed tonight than ever before.  It was the F-T-W of a man who cared about stimulating the world, about egging on the mind, and the heart, and the soul.  And he was her husband.

For the life of her, she couldn’t get the smile off her face.

*

They were all buzzing, Daniel took notice.  About him.  About Nona and Arthur.  Even the ones who showed their distaste seemed ecstatic to be a witness to this happening.  And if they gobbled Nona up, they resolutely turned cartwheels over the undiscovered, disheveled genius, Arthur Hughes Dufresne, who could care less about them.

Arthur had become nervous and fidgety.  He had started out feeling proud of this evening, even buoyant, though Daniel knew he was much more at home swilling a 40-ounce and deconstructing literary criticism or playing a hand of Bid Whist.  Still, this night had been as important to Arthur as to himself.  And all Daniel could see at this point in the evening was Arthur doing his best to put on a polite front, but beginning to seethe because Sonja had yet to show up with his son.

Sonja was on a fairly new jag these days of discrediting Arthur in the courts with regard to his parental rights.  They had always co-parented without much incident, but she had recently made the announcement that she wanted to move back home to D.C. to get help from her family.  Arthur knew he would never see his son again if that move happened, and after imploring her not to, and his pleas ignored, he decided to take her to court.  And though she had promised to bring Lorca to the opening tonight, he also knew she was on a sudden warpath after the summons, maligning his name to the courts and their son, calling him a worthless father and drug addict.  Drug addict, yes, unfortunately, but worthless father?  There was no more dedicated or conscientious a father in the world than Arthur.

At twelve years old, Lorca was already an avid reader and a hungry learner, who would regularly challenge Arthur to some philosophical match on whether or not the ghost of Hamlet’s father really symbolized the Devil.  Or whether rap was any less significant a music form than jazz.  Or whether Martin and Malcolm really took opposite approaches to the Civil Rights Movement.  The kid was inquisitive and wide‑eyed and amazing.

And this itchy wonder in Lorca’s head was all Arthur’s doing.  Sonja barely picked up a book that wasn’t either the Bible or some Hollywood tell‑all.  She was a paradoxical woman who’d gotten pregnant with Arthur’s child, though she’d been married to someone else at the time, and when asked by her sister‑ in‑law why she hadn’t used birth control, if not discretion, had answered, indignantly:  “It’s against my religion!”

Daniel didn’t much like Sonja.

But tonight she’d promised to put the weapons down and bring Lorca to the opening, so that the boy could read his father’s works, and see his father respected, and take home his own copy of Murmuration with his father’s name boldly stamped on the cover.  And so far this evening, she and Lorca were nowhere to be found.

Arthur never drummed once tonight, and this really should’ve been Daniel’s first clue that he was in trouble.  Art was the one, above any of them, who had been the most connected to the drum circle experience.  Tonight he was as disconnected from it as by any gulf Daniel had ever seen.

By the time the night was nearing its end, there still was no sign of Lorca and Sonja.  The event was being considered a success – indeed they’d all felt it – yet all that could be mustered from Arthur was thinly disguised despair.

“I can’t believe she didn’t bring him,” Arthur muttered at one passing, fury low and simmering, but quickly rising.  The quickly rising part worried Daniel.

A few minutes later Nona came running over, quietly panicked.

“Arthur just bolted outta here,” she whispered confused, amidst the mingling crowd.  “What is going on?”

“Shit!” was all Daniel could utter.

He knew Arthur was on a hostile course, but he never imagined Arthur would choose this moment to take care of business.  And knowing Arthur’s dark place as he did, Daniel felt a chill claw at his neck.

“He’s on his way to Sonja’s,” Daniel warned.  “We can’t let there be a scene in front of Lorca.”

“What do we do?” Nona asked, alarmed.

“We have to go after him.”

“Right now!?”

All three artists suddenly exiting their own opening, especially one as high profile as this, was not a concept Nona was digesting well.  But Daniel could give two shits about causing a scene.  Arthur was in trouble, and Sonja was about to be.  And he loathed his instinct –– that perhaps for all these years he actually did still see the murderer in Arthur.  He suddenly felt unworthy of Arthur’s friendship.

He and Nona whispered to Harper that there was an emergency and to please buffer any possible questions of their whereabouts to the remaining guests, which, fortunately at this hour, weren’t that many.  And they bolted, as Arthur had bolted.

When they arrived forty-five minutes later at Sonja’s front door in South Central, Arthur was fairly banging it down.  He’d been pounding for some minutes, yelling for her to “open up, or else!”  His rage was in full gear now.  And there really is nothing quite so powerful and awe‑spurring as the rage of a Black man; his voice is somehow deeper, his sense of doom intrinsic, even poetic.

Before Daniel and Nona had even approached the front steps, Arthur had managed to break a window, reach in, and unlock the door, but not before bloodying his hand.  They were quickly on his heels, as he stumbled into the living room to find it empty of all furniture.  The sight of the naked room slapped them all in the face, as Arthur stopped dead in a stunned dawning.

“No, no, no, no, no,” he whispered in a swelling frenzy.  He ran to the kitchen, the bedrooms, he flung open closet doors.  Empty, all empty.  Nona’s hands came up to her aghast mouth, and Daniel held her, as each knew what was unfolding before their eyes.

“GODDAMN IT!” Arthur roared, as neighbors began to spill out of their homes, in gossipy wonder.

“Noooo!!!  You fucking cunt!  You goddamn fucking cunt!”  He put his fist through the bathroom door.  Daniel tried to stop his ravings, but Arthur could only look his way in terrified disbelief.

“She took him!  She took him from me!”

Arthur’s hands came up to his temples, as he squeezed his eyes shut to bear the weight of what he knew he had to face:  #1) Sonja had gone.  #2) She had taken his son with her.  #3) They had no intentions of being found.

His breathing grew labored, and the sweat of his head poured profusely.  He grabbed the wall phone, almost pulling it off the wall, and furiously punched numbers on it, not even entertaining the possibility that  the service might’ve already been disconnected.  Or refusing to entertain it, as that would mean the cruel reality of a plan in action for some time.

Daniel watched him cautiously to make sure he didn’t injure himself further.  Nona was too afraid to advance.  Instead Daniel had her walk back out to calm the approaching neighbors and to see if she could find out any information on Sonja’s and Lorca’s whereabouts.

Over his shoulder, Daniel could hear a neighbor explaining to Nona that Sonja had made her hasty escape with Lorca sometime that afternoon with the help of eight or nine muscular cousins who’d moved furniture and boxes quickly into several cars and pickups.

“She did not come here, Arthur, I swear!” pled a female voice through the receiver.  Turns out, there was little consolation in there still being phone service.  Everything seemed to be a symbol that carried with it the promise of great meaning, only to deliver no meaning at all.

“Then where the fuck is she!” Arthur yelled, as much to the phone itself as to Sonja’s distraught mother on the other end.  “Listen, Etta, I will come there myself and END YOU, if you don’t tell me where she went with my son!”

Arthur was a dragon.  Daniel was grateful Nona was outside and away from this witness, because he saw the Devil form in Arthur this night, as on one unspeakable night of twenty-eight years ago.  This night, as on that one, Arthur was absolutely capable of murder.  He was fully prepared to give this old woman heart failure with his threats if she didn’t cooperate, and if that failed he was just as prepared to hop a plane to D.C. to put an end to her in person.

Suddenly, amidst all the riotous confusion, there emerged a kind of defeated collapse that curtly peered out from the frenzy.  It was so brief that if Daniel had blinked he’d surely have missed it.  He saw Arthur’s heart fold up and begin to die.  Arthur begged the old woman to tell him where they’d gone.  But there was no more cock-strutting.  Only desperate pleas.  At this moment, Arthur must’ve felt less than a man.  And only another man, Daniel thought as he watched his friend, could truly know that hollowness so intimately.

Then, in a second instant, the frantic pandemonium was back in full force.  Arthur slammed the receiver onto its base, splintering the chrome and plastic.  He pounded it again and again until there was nothing left of it and spurts of blood shot from his hand.  His fingers would not unhinge themselves from the mangled receiver.  Daniel tried to grab him and hold him still.

“Look!  We can find them.  We just have to put our heads together.  We just have to calm down and not be rash.  We can use this against her.  This is kidnapping!  I mean, taking a child from his father when there are still custodial rights?  There’s got to be something that protects you.   We’ll just…we’ll just look into it.  We’ll find out what we need to.”

Arthur just kept repeating “I can’t believe she did this!” as he madly paced the empty house.  He could barely focus in to listen to Daniel.

Daniel knew Arthur needed to fix, and even as much as he loathed the idea, and knew his wife would never approve, he would personally take Arthur to the deed, so that the mad dog could be tempered.

*

Why did Sonja’s have to be the only house on this block that didn’t have security bars on the windows and doors, Nona wondered, so that Arthur could’ve been dissuaded from this destructive course?  Instead, here they were.  Burglars officially.

As she attempted to gather information from a neighbor, another interrupted the conversation loudly.

“Who the Hell y’all think y’all is, comin’ up in’is neighborhood like some mu-fuckin’ caped crusaders, thinkin’ y’all gon’ save somebody?  That niggah ain’t nut’n but a loser crackhead, and it’s ‘bout time Sonja finally got up off her ass and got the Hell outta here with that boy.  Ain’t nobody cooperatin’ wit’chall!  Like, y’all got a badge or sump’n.  Shit, y’all better git the fuck on outta here, befo’ the REAL badges show up, cuz the police have been called!”

Nona winced to have this woman screaming in her ear, but absolutely lost it to hear sirens in the distance.

“You actually called the police?” Nona cried out, the two of them facing each other off on the wet lawn of Sonja’s abandoned house.  As the Santa Ana winds started up, Nona closed Daniel’s coat even tighter around her, which he’d given her to wear when they’d made their great escape.  Now she and this woman were nose to nose, surrounded by curious neighbors parked on their steps, the sidewalks, the driveway.  Daniel had his battles inside with Arthur, and she had to deal with the neighborhood loudmouth.

“You have no idea what’s going on here,” said Nona.

“Oh, I don’t?” the woman spat back indignantly, as she waved her overly long fingernails in Nona’s face, reminding Nona of the Hey Babys that she and Kai used to know in high school.  If you lived in Santa Monica in the early eighties, fourteen blocks inland from the Pacific, off Pico, chances are you knew the girls who pasted their hair down the side of their faces with Dippity‑Do to effect the “good hair” look, and sported a single gold tooth and ridiculous press-on nails,  who hung out idly on their front porches in hot pants, midriffs, and furry slippers, smacking their gum loudly and slinging their babies on their hips at age thirteen, whom their own mamas supported.  They had names like Pooky and Dimples, but Nona and Kai called them Hey Babys because “hey, baby!” is what these freaks of nature loved to yell to the guys who drove by in their low riders.

As Nona revisited that image, she realized that these were also the girls who could fight, when she never could, so that thought lodged nervously in the back of her head as this woman screamed in her face.

“Who the fuck you think you is, tellin’ me I don’t know what’s goin’ on?”

“Why are you involving yourself in this?” Nona yelled, on the verge of tears she fought to resist, lest she show her fear.  But she was afraid, and that quiver in the voice was giving her away.

“I live here, bitch!”

“Don’t you have anything better to do than to get in everyone else’s business?”

“I see this shit every day!”

They screamed at each other until they had no voices left, and they roused the rest of the neighbors, who only got more excitable as the sirens got louder.  The woman continued her rant, even as Nona tried to walk away, and aggressively followed behind as Nona pled for more information from others in the crowd.

“Whenever that motha‑fucka comes over here, there’s a fight,” the woman screamed from behind Nona.  “Time’a day don’t matter.  He would pick a fight with Sonja every fuckin’ time.  And I told her, over and over again, she oughta have that niggah arrested!  Cuz I will kill the motha-fucka that ever comes up in my face the way that crackhead would act with her!  Lorca don’t need to be around all’at shit!”

Nona couldn’t make any sense of why she was so annoyed by this woman’s “crackhead” remarks just because Arthur’s drug of choice was not crack.  Who cared about a ridiculous technicality here?  Yet she found herself wincing with every utterance of it, as if one over the other was better.

When the woman started to shove at Nona, Nona gave her fear full away, and started to plead in a flight of tears, “please stop it!  Stop it!” just as the police car was driving up.  Two officers immediately separated them and warned them to behave, as the crowd egged them on, yelling, “It’s a fight!  It’s a fight!” while others shouted that the real problem was not the catfight out here but the Hulk inside who was bashing windows and phones.

Nona couldn’t think straight in this deranging melee.  She only knew that these two officers were now on their way up the front steps of Sonja’s house.  Arthur’s very life had been snatched away this evening, and now he was about to be taken away in handcuffs because of nosy‑body neighbors.

“That’s right!  Arrest that motha-fucka!” screamed the woman Nona loathed.  “He broke into this house!”

“He did not!” Nona lied.  “His son lives here,” was all she could offer to qualify it.

“Not no more!” the woman said, laughing.  “And praise Jesus for that!  Who knows what sick thing he mighta did with that child whenever he took him away from here.”

The rage suddenly mushroomed in Nona so phenomenally at the notion that this gossipy shrew would insinuate what she did about a man she’d only ever observed from her snoopy window, and make such an unfounded accusation, especially considering Arthur’s own childhood, about which this woman knew nothing, that before Nona knew her next thought, or better judgment, she had whirled around and cuffed the lights out of the woman.  Unlike the huffy soap-opera slaps of most women, Nona’s whole raging body went into this one, as the entire left side of the woman’s head was suddenly slammed against Nona’s red palm.

The lumbering body crashed to the ground, only to bounce back with an equal furor.  Frighteningly sooner than Nona was ready for, her own face felt the prickly white explosion of a fist in retaliation.  The sting was so profound that it blinded her for a flash and jarred her inner ear, careening her to her knees, in a disorienting stupor.  The world was sideways and rumbling.  The crowd became bedlam.

She worried about her reconstructed jaw, which had never been fully strong again after the rape.  Yet in an instant, that worry was gone and was replaced instead with the impenetrable hunger to make pulp out of this loud, classless, clueless, detestable BITCH!

Dumbed by rage, which obliterated her earlier fear, Nona sucked in a gulp of air, held it in her lungs, closed her eyes, and dove back in.  The absurdity of the sight of these two was not lost on her:  The Hey Baby in signature furry slippers, hair curlers, shorts, and overly long acrylic nails; and Nona in her splendidly wild Galliano gown, and her Louboutin shoes that she’d spent a solid week shopping for, on Rodeo Drive, just for the occasion.  (Not this occasion.)

As the two wildcats tore each other to fleshy shreds, and Nona worried about her return receipt, the officers were intercepting Arthur from Daniel’s clutches.  There was such a flurry of chaos that Nona could barely know where to direct her temper.  At the Hey Baby?  At the uniformed men who were cuffing Arthur?  At Sonja?  Or at God?

“What is going on here!” Daniel demanded.

“Sir, I’ll ask the questions,” remarked one officer, in that quintessentially arrogant manner of policemen.  “And I’m asking you to step back.  But I’m only asking once.”

Nona heard this all in the distance, but was otherwise engaged.  Suddenly Daniel looked up to see her dilemma and went madly awry, running out to pry the women apart.  The two officers followed on his heels with Arthur’s arms held tightly by each.

Nona was all the more confused when two arms swiftly grabbed her that were neither Daniel’s, nor the Hey Baby’s, nor the two cops.  A second squad car had arrived on the scene, she realized, with many more officers in tow, and she was now being brusquely clutched at her arms, as Arthur had been, by a second pair of uniforms, and promptly handcuffed for assaulting the Madwoman of South Central.

A smug impulse leapt out of Nona suddenly as she calmed herself with the assurance that people like this woman probably never read a book in their lives, so that her anonymity in this mortifying scandal could remain intact.  And she wasn’t even allowed to turn around to see if they’d cuffed the madwoman too.  How many cops were even here?

“This is an outrage!” Daniel spat at the gathering of law enforcement, before Nona could beg him to shut up.

“Say one more word, asshole, and you’ll be hauled in too.”

And he was.  Daniel could never shut up when shutting up was needed.

Nona could only muse to herself the ridiculous irony of this evening.  Here they were, the three celebrated artists, who had, only hours ago, clinked glasses with the country’s royalty, now somewhere off Manchester being arrested as common thugs for disturbing the peace.

As this horrifying scene grew larger and uglier, one of the officers placed a hand on her head and guided it into a squad car, as her wrists burned from being bound behind her.  She watched them handcuff Daniel and shove Arthur to the ground.  Her mind reeled, this is not happening!  Beyond the greasy glass of the squad car window – her first – she watched Arthur lying on the ground, his own hands manacled behind him, quaking and sweating from the need for a fix that would not come this night.  She saw him resign from life and become passive, his will resolutely leaving his sick body and abandoning him.  As they all had.  Arthur’s mother and father.  God.  Now Sonja.

She and Daniel caught a glimpse of each other, he in one car, she in the second.  Both their hearts were clearly broken, and not for their own trivial plights, but for the put-upon man who’d been fraught with so much despair already, and now lay like an animal against the asphalt, once more afflicted.

She had always thought of Arthur as one who slithered through life like so many lizards who got trampled by the boots of big men.  Like a man with no Christian name, he was too low to the ground to be considered worthy of not being trampled.  No one caught lizards the way they caught butterflies – to admire their beauty.  Arthur only blended into the foliage like the many lizards who prayed that one more day might be theirs without being stomped or stalked for their hides.  She’d often thought that perhaps that was why Arthur desecrated his own hide with so many needles.  To insure that no one would want his.  To insure that he might be left alone in this life.

Tonight that image became realized with the most brilliant clarity, because she watched Arthur’s colors change before her eyes to blend into the cement so that they would not find him.  And though his body was theirs for the time being, his soul had dissolved from their sights.  His eyes were empty.  He looked Nona’s and Daniel’s way, and she clearly saw all volition gone, vaporized by the great heist of his only son.

How had the night – a night they’d all anticipated with jubilation – gone so wrong?

 

 

From The Assassination of Gabriel Champion

 

 

 

A Man With No Christian Name

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

The Night, The City, and Miss Thing

MissThing Noir


The street is dark and wet, straight out of The Third Man. Moody, too (although allusions to the 3rd M probably make that unnecessary to qualify). I’m a sensualist. I can imbue mood onto any canvas in a Film-Noir-German-Expressionist heartbeat. You know the scene. The streetlamps refract their light against the glistening pavement in circles here and there like stage lights, mysteries hide in the shadows, but otherwise there is no one and nothing around me. Only my tiny 2-cylinder foreign job, making its way across the emptiness of downtown LA at midnight, the whooshing sighs of tread on rain-drenched asphalt, though the rain itself has stopped. Not even the homeless, of which there is a copious population in these parts, seem to be in the vicinity of this stretch of brick tenement buildings and corrugated metal pull-downs. They’ve all found their way underground, I imagine, until the sidewalks dry. Is there such an underground? Or are they merely camouflaged up against the mud-colored landscape of industrial drab, invisible but present? The city is asleep by every indication of my surroundings. I pull up to the address on my yellow notepad, and park directly across the street from my destination. I don’t see any other cars, which means I’m the first one here. I don’t intend on getting out until I see a familiar car, a familiar face.

Damn Ross for this. There’s always a rabbit hole he’s got us going down, and this particular one feels especially dubious. After all, I’m dressed head-to-toe like the mutant offspring of Norma Desmond and RuPaul. It’s my own creation, The Fabulous Miss Thing, an arguably self-governing alter ego who allows me carte blanche on the stuff I could never dare as Angela. The uniform is: Platinum pageboy wig, teased and puffed out so voluminously that I was barely able to fit in my car without grazing it on the ceiling. Black satin bustier that shows an ample bosom, and which is even bosom-ier when I’m in the seated position. I could literally rest my head on my boobs if I had a mind to. The only thing covering any portion of the boobage is the white satin Miss America sash that goes over the shoulder and across the décolletage that reads “Miss Thing” in elementary school cursive glitter. A floor-length black velvet skirt, with train, that evokes Morticia Addams, whom I’ve always longed to channel. Leopard-spot platform hooker strappies that make me drag queen tall. Black opera gloves with claw-long blood-red press-on nails glued to the fingertips. My proudest possession. My proudest achievement in the area of drag queen aesthetic.

I was mistaken for one once, wearing this very getup, as I attempted to apply my fake eyelashes in the mirror of the women’s room at Club Largo. They didn’t have a dressing room for us, so it all had to be done right there in relative public, when a woman walked in and stopped dead at the door.

“I think you’re in the wrong restroom,” came the polite warning, but underscored with disgust and disapproval that I, penis-owner that I MUST have been, would have the gall to choose the women’s room for my sartorial transformation.

I responded in the lowest-register voice I could muster, but with a sass only drag queens truly know how to muster, “Honey, we’re in West Hollywood. Every room is the right room.”

Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

( … the genuine, if ridiculous, transgender bathroom debate notwithstanding … Just let people pee!)

I presently stare out of my car window, which is fogging up because I insist on talking to myself: “Damn you, Ross! Why do you drag me to these freak fests, and then don’t even have the nerve to show up on time?”

I adjust my wig, and check my makeup in the rear view mirror.  I’ll put my tiara on after I exit the car. Not enough room in here.

Twenty minutes pass. I don’t own a cell phone. Finally I give up waiting and exit the car. I look around, darting eyes this way and that, shake everything out,  adjust my boobs inside the bustier, place the tiara on my head, but am prepared to wield it as a weapon should the need arise.

I hasten across the street, holding my Morticia train in my left hand to keep it from getting wet, and run across as fast as my platform heels will allow. The banging on the door lasts longer than I’m comfortable with, and I fear waking up the sleeping shopping carts who may be hovering near after all. This part of town is adjacent to Skid Row, and not exactly the Brewery District either, but some sort of limbo Purgatory in between. Artists may very well have lofts here, but I’ve seen neither hide nor hint of an artist yet. Only my own frightened bouffant shadow. Why didn’t I hitch a ride with Ross? Or Dan? Or Liz? My partners in crime this evening, if they ever decide to show up. But then again, we’d all be late if I’d done that.

My banging finally results in an open door, opened so violently I’m almost throttled with it. The woman on the other side looks like someone Warhol would’ve groomed, and sure enough leads me up a narrow, unlit staircase to a darkened lair startlingly evocative of Andy’s infamous Factory. She’s chatty and charming, and I apologize for the tardiness of my mates, and swear to her that they must be shortly behind me, only to be told that they’re already here. I’m the one who’s late, it turns out. Why hadn’t I seen their cars outside? I never do get that answer.

As I follow her through a maze of partitions, and strangely lit cubbyholes and cubicles, we finally arrive at the bowels, a space with film cameras and lights, a set whose centerpiece is a singular large round bed draped in bordello pink, with a bevy of sofas on the set’s periphery, meant to create a waiting lounge area, and people. People everywhere. Behind the cameras. Holding up boom stands. Standing around with giant makeup brushes in their hands. Lounging on the sofas. And the hostess herself, Dr. Susan Block, a brassy blond who is actually a real life bona fide psychologist, even if her claim-to-fame is a sex talk show for public access TV, is sprawled across the bed draped in little more than her pet boa constrictor. I seem to have entered upon some kind of Dr. Caligari kink-fest. 

My escort promptly disappears as Ross and Dan wave me over to where they’re sitting on a cluster of ottomans in the waiting lounge. For some inexplicable reason, my mouth opens and an English accent comes out. I tend to do that. It’s the silly in me. And I actually have a pretty good ear for it. I guess I feel compelled to be even more incognito than my Miss Thing ensemble renders me. And true to wacky form, neither Ross nor Dan even blinks an eye, as the world we’ve created for ourselves is a strange one indeed, as befitting the name of our organization, the Orchestre Surreal. Dan jumps right on the Brit thing, and Ross just chuckles.

“Where the hell have you brought us to?”   Imagine that sounding like a whispering, spitting Helen Mirren.

There are a smattering of other guests sitting on sofas, and a few pairs seem to be having sex.  Wait, am I seeing that right? It’s awfully dark in here, but I swear coitus is happening around me.

“Yeah, I really didn’t know what to expect, to be honest,” Ross whispers back. “But it’ll be fun. Let’s just go with it. We’re here to promote the Ford show, so let’s just stay focused on that.”

Tonight would mark our last in a string of radio and TV spots Ross had set up for us to do, to pump our new scripted show at our most prestigious venue yet, Hollywood’s John Anson Ford Ampthitheatre.

Dan, who goes by Dangerous Dan, is an ample fellow, who nonetheless moves nimbly and deftly to points of defying physics, and who decks himself out in red and gold satin fighter shorts, and a Viking helmet. He has a staggering singing voice, and an even more staggering, larger-than-life, room-shredding personality. He dubs himself the opera singer with the lethal stinger, or the singing Viking with the destructive striking, or the Karate Pavarotti. I think he actually does walk around his life speaking in rhyme. He’s far nuttier than any of Miss Thing’s antics (and she’s pretty nutty, if you’ve ever seen her channel her inner German dominatrix for These Boots Are Made for Walking “Das Boots!”). Ross is dressed as his alter-ego, Elvis Schönberg, the musical miscegenation of the King of Rock, Elvis Presley, and the King of Early 20th-Century Dodecaphonic Music, Arnold Schönberg. Yes, you heard that right. In fact, of all the orchestra’s repertoire, the one piece that actually IS that specific fusion is a 12-tone treatment of Blue Suede Shoes. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. And yet, though this madness comes from inside that brain, Ross is actually the most mild-mannered one of the group. But brilliant. Brilliant this guy is. He’s created this thirty-piece orchestra, as its sole orchestrator, arranger, conductor, and conceptualist.

Elvis Schönberg’s Orchestre Surreal is a wild ride, indeed, always pushing against the boundaries of genre, and daring to suggest a world stripped of those borders. So here it is in a nutshell. Hopefully our Blue Suede Shoes has given some hint. It presents radically different artistic expressions and genres that, in Elvis Schönberg’s world, have every obligation to collide. The result is a deconstructing of known and unknown songs with the wit and whimsy of Spike Jones but the musical complexities of Frank Zappa, with a little Juan Garcia Esquivel and Joe Frank thrown in, while showcasing easily the wackiest wacky-savant orchestra of thirty musicians in recent history. It’s Hendrix meets Strauss, The Doors meet Rite of Spring, Creedence meets Prokofiev. Unholy marriages that couldn’t be more anointed under any other baton but our Elvis’s. It actually does require a learned crowd to fully get his thing, even with the sometime foray into the scatological. It’s a mélange of high-brow and low-brow, to be sure. But we are about to appear on what seems to be some sort of porn set, so just how high-brow can we be?

Ross’s ensemble is tux & tails, but with zebra stripes of bright red and green. Gumby hairdo. Black horn-rimmed glasses. He’s a very handsome and fit fellow, but you’d almost never know that to see him costumed as Maestro Elvis. And of course Elvis never leaves the castle without his conductor’s baton. 

“Where’s Liz?” I suddenly think to ask. And just as I ask it, she appears, cute little girl/woman, clad in her actual Catholic school uniform, with the skirt hemmed extra high. Yes, she’s all that, and a talented violinist, who, of the string section members, was the only one willing to tag along on this crazy adventure. But she’s also clearly just as wigged out as I am about this cable access sex circus, and expresses her concerns to Ross that whatever happens tonight her parents can never know about this. Ross does his best to calm us women down.  

“We’re just here to pump the show, that’s all.”

I continue with my English accent, and Ross dares me to commit fully. Susan Block doesn’t know us from Adam. She has no idea if I really talk that way or not. I’m all in!  How could it possibly be any nuttier than what we’re already inside of?

As Dr. Susan speaks into a camera, she evokes a bit of Elvira in slinky style, except that the words coming out of her mouth are smart. She’s talking politics, and it turns out the woman’s got a head for it. She introduces her first guest, and it’s a gentleman dressed very like an Ivy League professor. I expect, in spite of our Midnight Movie surroundings, some kind of intellectual discourse as betrayed by Dr. Susan’s progressive spoutings. But no. The Professor proceeds to read dirty poetry to a young woman dressed as Alice (she of the original rabbit hole), who does nothing but sit there spread-eagle. Blue Movie Performance art! It’s all so La Dolce Vita, or, what’s Fellini’s one about circus folk?. . . La Strada. Or Jodorowky’s Santa Sangre. This scene is just kinky enough to be slightly nightmarish. I’m thinking Caligula, the Bob Guccione cut.

After Alice and the Professor finish their bit, they join Dr. Susan and her snake on the big bed. I just about freak at this witness.

“We’re not getting on that bed with that snake!” I spit into Ross’s ear. Well, Judi Dench is spitting in his ear. Even in my panic, I have fully committed to the Brit thing.

“Really? I think it’d be kinda fun,” he says. I have to give it to Ross (even though there is no way he’s winning this one); he has the best attitude about leaping into unsure waters, and a kind of bravery I do not possess for traversing the unknown. Or even just the bizarre. It’s precisely why he can create as brilliantly as he does. No one’s told him, “you can’t do that!” Or if they have, he ain’t listenin’.

Well, the bizarre I’ve given into tonight. I’m fully on board. But there is no way I am getting anywhere near a live boa constrictor. 

There are a few other guests that we sit through, all displaying their wares and various talents, and all of whom have some kind of sex angle.  

“We don’t have a sex angle. What are we doing here?” Dan asks Ross. “I have a wife at home.”

“Trying to get an audience to our show?” Ross says, frustrated, to the umpteenth person (well, just me, Dan, and Liz) who questions why we’re here. The reality of this business, and this town, is that the hustle has to go right alongside the art, or you’re sunk. So here we are, paying our dues in the most extreme way the phrase could possibly mean.

Before we know it, it’s our turn. Dr. Susan has been informed that her next guests will NOT share a space with her snake, fornication is still going on upon a nearby sofa, and the hostess herself seems warm and intelligent (easy to assume the worst, and the worst is what I have been assuming). She’s actually written for The Alternet and The Ecologist, on civil liberties and freedom of speech. She’s no dummy; she just decided that being a “sexologist” was her calling.  

We climb upon this bed prop, which is no easy feat wearing the getup I’m wearing. Plus there are four of us, not counting Dr. Suzy. So, five! Yes, I have continued with the English accent, and so the first question upon the cameras rolling is, “where are you from, Miss Thing?” When I answer “Compton” with the straightest of faces, which is no joke, which is the absolute truth, but sounding like Kate Winslet, the room laughs. Hmmmm, unintended humor.

Dr. Susan Block is actually a stimulating hoot to chat with, as she tells her television audience all about our upcoming piece at the Ford Amphitheatre, and describes Ross’s music as politically charged by the simple virtue of its strange-bedfellows juxtaposition of seemingly conflicting musical elements, and what those relationships say about the world we live in. She really does get us, and of course Dangerous Dan is making the whole room laugh with his Robin-Williams-on-speed quick wit and bull-in-a-china-shop physicality, and so this cable access spot is actually working the way it needs to. We’re being entertaining. Unless, of course, no one’s watching. And I can’t say there isn’t a part of me that’s kind of hoping no one I know is. My prejudices are about me, for sure. Plus, there are Liz’s parents to consider.

Still, I’m actually having a good time being Miss Thing, or at least the Edina & Patsy version, and regaling stories along with my orchestra cohorts about our upcoming show, whose plot involves gamma rays, aliens, human sacrifice, Dangerous Dan running for president, and Miss Thing saving the world.

Dr. Suzy keeps trying to get Liz and me to show the audience a boob or two, which neither of us is about to do, but we beg off with chuckles and coyness, instead of indignation, because we’re HERE. No place to be presenting as superior and self-righteous when we’re all sprawled out on a big-ass porn bed, and would, each one of us, be hauled off to Parker Center if the police decided to raid the place. But yes, Dr. Suzy is certainly giving it her best shot at a sex angle between the two chicks, as this is what her show IS. Ross, as Elvis, talks about his vision for the orchestra of laying the foundation for a New Avant Garde. Dan stands up on the bed at one point and does an impromptu and unaccompanied rendition of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, rapping a good portion of it and making the bed tip and bounce like the last hours of the Titanic. He ain’t called Dangerous for nuthin’. Liz gives us all a little sampling from her violin, all the while Dr. Suzy comes awfully close to licking Liz’s bow. The Doc is playful and frisky, and she wants us to be playful and frisky, and we’re only willing to go so far, which she’s probably not that happy about. It’s definitely a surreal 20 minutes, to be sure, as I keep one eye forever cocked to make sure that snake is nowhere slithering. But at the very least, our spot manages to include all the details about our vaudevillianesque show, aptly named Symphony of the Absurd.

At a certain pivotal point within the years that we’ve each been a part of the Orchestre Surreal, I think we’ve all come to an understanding that we’ve stepped into something that might just take us to another planet. And there is always a certain amount of danger whenever flight is taken and horizons are breached. Absurd is most certainly a part of what we’ve invited with this category-obliterating, no-holds-barred musical universe that Ross has created, and that we’ve all collaborated on by bringing our various characters along for the ride. As unsure as the twists and turns may sometimes be, there is honestly no greater thrill than to be a part of something so unique, so singular, so seductive and subversive at the same time. After all, crazy promotional efforts like tonight’s John Waters odyssey aside, Elvis Schönberg, in the form of mild-mannered Ross Wright from Laguna Beach, California, and his fecund Orchestre Surreal, are stripping away the barriers of cultural, generational, and artistic divide, just as surely as we are also mischievously riffing on fossil fuels, hermaphrodism, and stiletto fetishes.

As the director calls cut on our segment of The Dr. Susan Block Show, and we climb off of the giant bed, I ponder the mask I wear as The Fabulous Miss Thing. It’s certainly the E-ticket to wild and crazy adventures, as Angela would never be caught dead in a place like this, or would leave immediately upon discovery. And honestly, it would be my loss. Because there is nothing more dull than a meticulously planned life without the wild fringes to remind us that we are no cookie-cutter emblems of humanity; but merely humanity, in all of its thousand absurd shapes, timbers, tempos, and Day-Glo hues. But even more poignant, if poignancy can be had by a tiara-wearing cartoon character, is that Miss Thing is also the e-ticket to infinite possibilities on stage. As Angela, because I am mostly out there in the gigging world as just myself, it’s pretty hard for me to “do” sexy and over-the-top for the folks, besides which performance for me isn’t about trying to sell sexuality or outrageousness to an audience as a commodity (all deference paid to the Gagas of the world). But even if it were about that, being some Jessica Rabbit sex fantasy is virtually impossible for me to conjure anyway, because it’s too distracting, frankly, from truly connecting to a song. Besides, it renders a feeling of silliness because I don’t actually buy it. And if I don’t buy it, how on earth can I sell it? But the minute the mask is on, the minute I am The Fabulous Miss Thing instead of Angela, replete with self-assured adjective as an integral part of the moniker, I am it, and effortlessly (even if I do draw the line at boob shots for a porn crowd). I can sport a British accent and dare anyone to call me out for my lunacy. And none of Miss Thing’s antics creates any distraction from owning her song, in fact the antics are as much a part of the song as the adjective is to the name, because she IS a very purposeful trip to the moon and back. There is just something about the safe respite of the shadows behind the mask that allows me to own that Vamp Scamp, or even Crazy Lady, so completely that there is no possibility of being rejected. That is, after all, the subtext, isn’t it? Putting oneself out there in a giant way, whether as Femme Fatale, Clown, or Diva (all three of which are Miss Thing), invites scrutiny and possible rejection. Angela’s heart couldn’t take it. She’d much rather be the ego that is stripped down to the bare knuckles, operating merely as conduit, so that the art itself shines. But as for Miss Thing, not only can her heart endure rejection, but she is so larger-than-life, so seizing the world by its Misters, that rejection isn’t even an option.

That last thought stops me in my tracks for a second. Is it actually possible that there could be lessons to be learned from The Fabulous Miss Thing? Or is it perfectly alright that Miss Thing is one phenomenon, gale force who will be reckoned with, while Angela is simply another, preferring to give the floor to the work itself, and that both have their place in my artistic expression?

As an official break is called, while cameras reload and sets get moved around and that damned snake seems to be back in the picture again, Dr. Susan steps off the bed and thanks us for joining her. We sign release forms, shake hands, and thank her for inviting us on, and for helping us to promote our upcoming show. And as Ross, Dan, Liz and I walk out of the vast downtown warehouse into the wanton L.A. night (actually, deep into the dark, dark morning by this point), our shadows tower and loom against a far wall. I fully expect Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton to come peering out from around a corner with fedoras cocked and guns drawn, or some moody Bernard Herrmann score with a tenor sax wailing its noir cry. The appropriately glistening streets have never been more appropriate, as the prisms of refracted light from the streetlamps in the here-and-there puddles threaten to mesmerize us into thinking this has all been a dream.

And as Miss Thing hops into her cheeky little sports car (yes, I can magically conjure my old Toyota Tercel jalopy into Angelyne’s hot pink Porsche if I believe it enough), one more bit of surreal gets checked off a list that apparently plans to go on, and on, and deliciously on.

 

 

 

For more information on The Orchestre Surreal

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.