Friday, September 26, 2014

A Shadow Beyond Midnight: Short Story

A Shadow Beyond Midnight
By Armando Ortiz
There are times when things get jumbled up and one loses track of chronological time. We reach a point where time becomes a vast plane of unwinding events that seem to flow through us at a speed that is undecipherable to the human mind. At other times mundane tasks take on a life of their own, washing the dishes that have accumulated in the sink, brushing your teeth before and after sleep. Time seems to fly right past us, and the daily grind of repetition seems to become a necessary evil. We all become that boxer that after being knocked down gets up and goes back to that same fighting position. Training most of his life for these battles has made his skills become second nature. Sometimes the fighter ends up prevailing but sometimes he goes down again. For Will, it was supposed to be like any other night, but things transpired so fast that now it is hard to tell what is and isn’t real.
He was down to his last pair of jeans, and needed to get ready for the coming week. Most of the dirty clothes were piled up making a smelly mountain. With arms crossed, he stood beside it and stared at the small mound. Putting the dirty clothes in a sack brought back memories of things he had done the week before, wine that he’d drank, tomato stains from the pasta he’d had with his date, and numerous chili bean stains from the countless lunch breaks that were enjoyed at Tommy Burgers. Bright reds and dirt browns seemed to be the variants of the soiled laundry.
He had decided to do his laundry at the usual time-past midnight. The 24 hour Laundromat down the street would be somewhat empty at night, and he wouldn’t have to worry about the crowds or the eye contacts. Being in a place where many strangers gathered, especially in a public facility, where different characters always came in and out made him a bit uncomfortable. You never knew what would happen in a place like that.
He packed his stuff in the car and returned to his apartment to get some loose change and a bottle of detergent. The golden yellow detergent was hidden in between his plastic file cabinet and his drawer. He got back to his little four door sedan, turned it on, and pulled out of the parking garage. As he drove out of the building and attempted to turn on the radio, someone yelled, “Hey Will!” He stopped the car and rolled down the window to see who was hollering. At a distance he saw the dark silhouette of a heavy set woman walking her dog. He resumed his driving, and the steady metallic riding of the hi-hat beat came from the speakers, “Foot Steps in the Dark,” began to play. As the car slowly accelerated, he noticed a rusty substance smeared on the ground a few feet in front of the vehicle.
After making a left at the corner, he noticed that while changing lanes the streaks were still there. The headlights lit a path that was only several feet ahead which added to the confusion as to what was beyond the lights. This particular evening was extraordinarily dark. He turned on the high beams, but the streaks seemed to move further up ahead to where the light merged with the darkness resembling the long shadows that late September sunsets make. The funky slide base the chords coming from the radio created a soothing box of safety within. Once again a voice pierced through his thoughts, “Hey Will, look!”
Stopping at an intersection, he a saw crowd of people on the opposite side of the street. For Will, the voices sounded familiar, but he couldn’t make a visual connection with the faces. Then out of nowhere, he heard a voice say, “Looks alive.”
Inhaling deeply into his lungs, he heard himself say, “Keep calm. Relax. Stay focused, and don’t slow down or swerve around the thing.” He tried focusing on the steady base drum that seemed to beat a bit faster than his heart.
He’d never noticed the neon signs that decorated the streets Los Angeles by night, but today the lights were magically iridescent purples, shimmering in crimson reds, incandescent yellows, and metallic steel blues. The night air felt cool and crisp. A voice once again spoke and calmly said, “Breathe in, breathe out. Relax. Get some air.”
He drove a bit further passing some old shops and a couple of residential areas. Reaching an intersection, Will swerved to the left hoping to outwit the thing that was ahead, but it was useless. He once again heard the unknown voice say, “Turn slowly with your arms at an angle. Imagine yourself carrying a heavy log.” Will’s conceptual reality was melting into a dream, and he couldn’t quite tell if the thing that he was following was talking to him or if it was the voice of some other being.
At a stop light, another car pulled up to his left. His vision was becoming a blur and his mind unfocused. The passenger looked at him, and covered their mouth in horror. Their look made him feel dizzy and nauseous, transforming everything around into a dizzying haze. He closed his eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. He wanted to take another look at the face inside the other car, but thought twice about it. Making eye contact with the wrong person in Los Angeles was always a tricky thing and most of the time opened the gates to a river of curses and threats. “Ah fuck it, take a look again,” he thought. As his eyes opened and turned to see, the traffic light simultaneously lit its green light and the car sped off.
Adjusting the rear view mirror he only saw his own pair of dark obsidian eyes staring back at him. A cold breeze began crawling up his leg, like an ant that’d just come into a cozy home from the outside. A cold invisible fog kept creeping up his body gathering at his torso. He felt he had cotton balls inside his throat, and the pounding of his heart radiated in all directions. Breathing was becoming abnormal, and the car kept moving to an unknown destination, lights began flashing all around him. For a moment he thought he was lying in the middle of a carnival. He heard childish chatter, and the yells of unseen women, light bulbs seemed to circle all around. Then, out of nowhere, the profile of a deer appeared that made eye contact with Will. Its hazel eyes connected with Will’s volcanic eyes, and for a moment it seemed that both vehicle and wild mammal were on the same lane about to slam onto each other. Yet, all that was happening was too overwhelming. The body was now trembling, and a sudden sound of black rubber and asphalt was heard.
The car rolled into the parking lot of the Laundromat, and suddenly a crowd of people emerged. The car wildly came to a screeching stop. There was a bundle of flesh and hair on top of a puddle of red liquid. A frightened human circle absorbed the car. Someone in the crowd yelled, “I think he’s alive!” “Someone clean him up!” There were countless eyes surrounding him, so he closed his. He hated going to the Laundromat. A stranger ran up, and while checking for a heartbeat searched his pockets for a wallet. The hazel eyes now had a sweaty human face that seemed to look at Will with determined emptiness, and as soon his leather pouch was found, took off running like a wild deer, disappearing into the midnight.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beijing Winters



Beijing Winters 
by Armando Ortiz
Winter evenings in Beijing are frigid, and nights bring freezing winds.

Though at noon the skies are clear and sunny, you don’t want to be outside for too long.

Peddlers abound during this time, selling crab apple sticks that are sealed fresh inside, and hardened with caramel sugar or offer piping hot yams warmed inside coal heated barrels.

Seasonal preparations for the New Year begin, bringing red pasted banners and signs on the sides of doors welcoming another prosperous year, because to live is to see a magic of life unfold.

Though the eye is blind during these months the flavors that season the soul are many, and are an excuse to engage in endless conversations over hot black tea.

Handmade noodles made to order are at hand and served on steaming white bowls that are topped with thin slices of beef and for an extra five cents topped with a fried egg.

Who knows if it’s still there, but when I was there you could feast on street huoguo on random corners, where you sat on tiny chairs and miniature tables.

It’s also the time when one takes liberal servings of dumplings of all kinds; cabbage and pork,
pork and chives, mutton and onions or the veggie and egg kind.

Artificial lakes become frozen, and children along with students rent ice skates, and glide over these ancient bodies of waters that were once meant for the Emperor’s pleasure.

It’s during the night that the dry steppe air of the North passes through the city, which is further depleted of its humidity by the centralized heating.

Miles of hot tubes connect to a network of pipes that pump hot oil and water from a coal furnace that keeps blocks and blocks of people warm and with severely dry throats.

When those nights of lonesomeness get intertwined with nightmares it’s as if one were being choked by the devil’s hand and one awakens desperately reaching for water.

Yet in the mornings you stand huddled beside the radiator, thinking twice of walking to the bathroom and showering your sleep away.

Winters in Beijing also bring into focus the celebration of the Winter Solstice, which I did once, outside a pub, while eating grilled chicken wings and drinking Yanjing.

This is the celebration of the longest night and the conception of spring, when the worst has already passed, and preparations for Chunjie begin to appear.

People bundled up in layers and layers of thick cotton and synthetic wool slowly start to go back to their hometowns, and the looooooong lines at train stations become the norm.

It’s the sign of optimism that we all have survived the terrible winter and begin to celebrate, buying rolls and rolls of firecrackers and rockets, and stocking up on food.

For a week, fireworks will light up the midnight sky, and all the ghosts that crept into our lives and are fast asleep, will awaken and scared go back to where they belong.

For days on end, streets are closed and food stalls appear, with caramel artisans making ancient Chinese mythical characters,

And tamed birds fly high in the sky at a whistle or with the waving of a dollar bill come to you and with their tiny beaks take hold of your money and fly back to their master.

We triumphantly declare to spring to open up and begin forth the colors of life and the blossoms of spring.

The first snowfall that blanketed benches, and topped the pine trees melt from the memory as the changing jet stream shifts from Northwesterly to Southeasterly direction


Winters in Beijing are long, but now they seem short and distant, like an old recurring dream that disappears with every waking moment.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mullholland Memorial Fountain: Short Piece


Mullholland Memorial Fountain 
by Armando Ortiz
He walked past the fountain
and childhood chatter
got intertwined with the white noise
that came from there.

In summers past,
children jumped inside
and stood under giant spigots,
dancing and celebrating the sun.

They played
in fresh waters
brought by invisible
channels.

Time got lost
in rushing waters
that in days past
cooled his body.

Laughter
joined the twang of the air
that awoke those memories
from its slumber.

Instances- forgotten,
mostly ignored,
but still there, out there,
everywhere-
were remembered.

He was soaked
in work and worries,
but that place-
the fountain
where he played,

where time lasted longer
than it does today,
was still there
that day.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Midwest Journey: A Reflection


Midwest Journey: A Reflection
by Armando Ortiz
            Yesterday I recalled driving around Kansas City, MO. It was a few years ago that I was selling books over there, in the middle of the US. It was during the autumn of 2009, and the landscape was unreal, but what could a guy from Los Angeles expect and how could he interpret what he saw? Coming from Southern California, where the sun is always out, and it seems that I never gets more than ten days of rain in throughout the whole year. Anyhow, walking past a giant oak tree brought back some memories of the fall colors in Kansas and Missouri, in fact I drove through other states, so I will say that most of the American Midwest.

            I’ve spent time in South Korea and China during autumn; this was different because it was many more times more colorful and much more magical. Trees seemed to contain the sun’s warmth in all its varying hues, even though the weather was rainy and cool. Some trees seemed to radiate pumpkin orange, and some leaves appeared to be made up of individual amber droplets that fell to the ground. The scenery here in the states was so much more vast, untamed and compelling. Trees, during the late months in East Asia seemed more like shrubs and controlled by man.


            Now I reflect and wonder, how much different is Fall in other places?
Beijing, China

Friday, September 5, 2014

Eres Mia: Spanish Piece

Eres Mia
by Armando Ortiz

Eres mi sol de mermelada
en las mananas y una taza
de luna en las noches,

Te conviertes
en agua helada
en el desierto
de mi mente,

Revives mi alma
y calmas las tormentas
del cuerpo sin calma,

Tus sorbets son de fresa
que deriten en mis labios
cubriendo mi ser con sabana.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Madvillainy: A Recollection


Madvillainy: A Recollection
by Armando Ortiz

I remember when I first heard the initial track. My friends and I were walking into Pennylane Records, a store in Alhambra, which is no longer there, and as we were looking through the cd stacks, some hypnotizing beats, with some gnarly lyrics began flowing out of the speakers. I went directly to the salesperson behind the counter, and asked who it was that was rapping, and he directed my attention to the record, Madvillainy. It was the first time seeing a rapper with a metal mask, which wasn’t the typical image I had of hiphop artists. This experience opened to the door to a diversity within a genre that I believed only had gangster and mainstream rap/hip hop.

No questions were asked about who it was or where he or they hailed from; the music resonated immediately, making me buy the cd. I wanted the album and wanted to take it home and listen to the entire thing. The comic book like lyrics, but clever word play triggered curiosity. In all honesty, this happened ten years ago, so to really gauge that moment is difficult. The cd came with the music video, ALL CAPPS, a comic book like video where the main character, who also wears a metal mask, breaks through the scenes onto other scenes.

Up to that point in my life only a handful of hiphop records had been purchased, and most of them were bootleg. I was in grad school at the time, so I had some loose cash, and enough to splurge on a cd. This happened sometime between March when the album came out and September of 2004, when I moved to East Asia. I do not clearly remember the date of when I bought the cd, but I took it with me to Beijing. I was on my way to study Chinese at Peking University. Preparing to live in China for a year, so a humble collection of music was packed which would be enough tangible things to take from the US to somehow manage to live in a foreign country, so Madvillainy, El Primer Instinto by Jaguares, Morrison Hotel and other albums by The Doors, and some heavy metal albums by Anthrax, and Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction were put inside the suitcase. I couldn’t leave the US without Jimi Hendrix’s Life at the Fillmore East. Mp3 players already existed, but that technology had yet to make its way into my life, but that is another story.

The whole time living in Beijing, the music blasted from the speakers, inside my little apartment while sitting behind the desk, spending hours trying to decipher Chinese characters, and writing characters over and over and over and over again till I had memorized them. The symbols became internalized in my being in the same manner that the beats made me reach that level of energy of focus and creativity. The numerous tracks on the album helped me navigate through the labyrinth of Mandarin, helping to stay focused, giving a musical adventure that I never tired to re-experience.

At the end of the day I was just a consumer, and bought what I liked and never did read on the magnitude of Madvillainy till years later and hours of listening. There was no clue that it was a critically acclaimed production. The purchase had prompted me to find out more about the artists behind the album, but that happened two years later. I discovered that Madlib had produced the beats, and had his own Jazz band, Yesterdays New Quintet, where he played different instruments. MF Doom was the guy rapping and had a wide variety of other albums, such Mm.. Food.  They joined forces, and became Madvillain and produced one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 21st century.


Not only did Madlib have stacks of beats on his CV, and to top it off back in 2006 when I was teaching English in Korea, I heard his beats on an aspirin commercial that would reappear every 45-60 minutes on the television.  MF Doom had other alter egos which manifested themselves in King Geedorah, Vikto Vaughn. Since then, Doom always appeared mysterious to me, so whenever I came across anything that was written about him I’d devour the words only to leave me with more questions about the artist. Madvillainy is and remains one of my favorite albums, and was key to exposing me to many other artists, and also became a door from where two prolific artist have served as templates of what inspiration, commitment, creativity and hard work produce. In addition they functioned as doors that led to a variety of musical knowledge.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Xochil: Spanish Piece

Xochil
by Armando Ortiz

Xochil siempre sera morena,
piel de chocolate caliente
y piernas que tocan la tierra.

Princesa con cuerpo de sirena
y ojos de diamantes-
sonrisa de ceresa.

Desaciendo corazones de infancia,
derite tu alma como un pequeno molcajete,
que se calienta sobre un fuego que quema.

Sus manos son de tierra
con corazon de madre
labios naturales que besan mi cachete
y su recuerdo sigue en la mente.