Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Views from a Troubled Mind
Scene #3
Deep Dream, Slight Sleep

Interrupted Conversation 

The cat was talking again last night. You know, those German glotto stops mixed with mewling and moaning. As if the poor creature of the night had something on its mind and just couldn't find the right words to express its troublesome thoughts. And to add to its failure to communicate, it began scratching at the wall beneath my bedroom window.

Its racket awoke me from a fever sleep. Damn Tramadol produces a weird waking dream awareness. If it weren't for the fact that my eyes are closed, I'd be wide awake. And usually I can simply ignore the ravings of the cat, who makes a nightly habit of visiting me right before bedtime to have this conversation. Tonight, it caught me in dead sleep with vivid dreams of being awake. 

Then something slammed against the bedroom wall. My eyes flew open. Is it trying to get in? But no. It screamed with that human voice. There was another sound outside. Another voice? Human? A neighbor awakened from sleep taking his anger out on the confused feline? The human glotto stops turned to infant cries of pain mixed with a helpless mewling. Then nothing. 

That's when I realized I was still asleep. I was dreaming I was awake. A coyote must have caught the plump cat, I surmised. I decided to wake up and look outside in the back yard. And so my dream turned to my going outside. The night was silent and cold. I had to pee. So I woke up for real and went to the restroom to relieve myself.

I considered that pissing out all this warm urine would leave me without any warmth. I should have held in the hot steaming piss to keep me warm on this freezing night. Too late. I returned to bed.

I closed my eyes. Dream returned. I was pissing into a hot water bottle. I awoke suddenly, afraid that I might be wetting the bed by dreaming of pissing. But my bladder was empty. Silly dreams. 

Then the screeching cut through the bedroom. Again something slammed against the wall, shaking the window pane. I was awake. I was sure of it. I went to the window and looked out. I wiped the frost from the pane. There was no coyote. There was no cat. The neighbor was taking out his early morning trash cans for pick-up. The wheels of the cans sounded like squealing. Someone was warming up their cold car engine, revving the motor. It sounded like the thumping engine was slamming against the hood. 

And so it all became clear. Till I saw the morning parrots on the telephone pole line. The revving engine sparked their squawking. It sounded like humans arguing with grunts and groans and words from a language not of this Earth. When the car drove off, the racket stopped. The silence returned.

And I was driving the car. Where was I going? Damn. I was still asleep. I turned the auto around and drove home. I parked, ran to the back yard, and saw the parrots feasting on the cat. 

I saw myself in the bedroom window staring at the carnage. Then he noticed me. I needed to escape. He couldn't see me or I'd never get any sleep. I flapped my arms and lifted myself from the ground, flying above the house, out of visual range of the bedroom window. In my talons I carried a cat. It was screaming like a baby whose bladder had burst. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Update Five
Trauma & Therapy
Two Reporters

A skull littering the roadside in the City of Juarez

Anthony Servante

The Shrink wants me to move the trauma series to another page (blog). She says my current page is depressing. I told her that that's what "horror" is: Trauma with fringes. Guys in hockey masks, creatures from alternate dimensions, child rapists who invade your dreams. People feel safe from Horror in a dark movie theater or a cozy living room with a horror book. You can ride the roller coaster or you can actually fall to your death. People prefer the artificial horror. It's safer.

She didn't disagree, but she told me to consider moving my trauma page. I did. I won't. Let's move on.


The commonality of the accounts we have shared so far seems to be the attention to detail. The circumstances surrounding the actual event are clear, but the specifics of the event itself are vague. In my own case, I remember the others in my group, but I don't remember my part. They tell me my part just like I tell them theirs. We cannot tell our own memories because we have none, or they are hidden, maybe lost to the traumatic circumstances that we personally suffered. Since we don't feel what the others suffered, we are detached from their trauma. We remember their actions for they had no bearing on our feelings of helplessness or terror. Those who do recall their own specific actions and emotions are more likely to have had different life experiences than those of the common folk. 

Reporters, for instance. Especially reporters who have covered many traumatic news events in their detached narrative voice have escaped the personal traumas from years of jaded detachment. That is, until the moment when something breaks down that wall that forces them to look inward instead of outward, when the subject matter is their own family or friends instead of another blank-faced family that is plastered on the front page right beneath the headlines. 

Today we have two reporters who have faced personal trauma. Two very different perspectives. Two formerly jaded men now telling their story accounts for the first time. 

Let's begin.

Reporter #1

An Anonymous (Trauma ) Account

As a reporter in Juarez, Mexico, you risk your life every time you write about the Cartels. Still, that's the job.

Even now I tremble to tell you these words. And hide behind anonymity.

Juarez is notorious for its violence, corruption, and ambiguities. The people of this infamous city are split in their opinion as to the source of the daily death tolls. According to documentarian Charles Minn, there are on average eleven murders a day in Juarez. The question is who is doing the murdering? The Cartels? The corrupt local government? The Mexican Federal Police? The American DEA?

At one time or another every source has been accused and written up in the newspapers. Mayors, governors, presidents, DEA and CIA agents have fallen under the scrutiny of the news media. But no matter who is accused, we never really learn the truth. The Cartels in the early 2000s killed a police officer a day in an effort to force the corrupt the mayor and police chief into the light. Neither the law enforcers or hit squads balked. The killings continued for months.

And there we were in the middle. Same as the other Juarez civilians caught literally in the crossfire.The Mexican government on one side, the Sicarios (Cartel hitmen) on the other. Everyone else running for cover.

It hit home for me when I received an anonymous threat. My high school age daughter brought home a note for me. It warned me to choose the "right" side in my next article about the police killings. It further stated that the "Feds" were behind the murders and the blame is being placed on the drug dealers in an effort to garner the favor of the US DEA.

When I showed the note to my editor, she told me to stay on track with the leads pointing to the Cartels. It was then I realized that she was in the pocket of our Mayor. Bought and paid for.

There is a term in Spanish: Plata o plumo? Money or bullets? Accept a bribe to look the other way or accept a 22 caliber bullet to the head. The 22 is strong enough to enter the skull but too weak to exit, so the slug bounces around your skull, turning your brains to mush. The choice was yours to make. The editor had obviously made her choice. I didn't make mine till it was too late.

My first mistake was letting my daughter return to school. My wife said that now that the Federal troops had arrived in Juarez, our little girl would be safe, that I should just do my job the way the editor wants. My second mistake was listening to my wife.

The next message my daughter brought home was her little finger severed and wrapped in a newspaper page with my article on Cartel involvement. While I rushed her to the hospital, my wife was being dismembered in our bedroom. They were in the house when my daughter got home. Who "they" are is still.not known. The editor disappeared the same day as my wife. But enough of my wife's remains were left behind for me to identify her. The editor simply vanished.

I took my daughter to El Paso, Texas, USA. We've been here for close to ten years. We fixed our papers with the help of the DEA in exchange for information from my laptop regarding my investigations. We have new identities. My daughter rarely goes out like normal young women. She still lives at home with me. We take care of each other. But every time I encourage her to go out on a regular date with a young man from the college, she sulks and withdraws.

It's not as if I'm setting a good example for her. I, too, stay home and avoid people. We spend most of our time in front of the television watching Spanish novelas (soap operas). We found that these TV programs have the least amount of references to the violence we left behind in Juarez.

Still, I have the urge to write again, to research the latest news from my country and share it with the El Paso readers. But I don't want to risk being recognized. The Cartel pays professional readers to follow all the news accounts of the Mexican newspapers that follow the drug trade or the corruption in government. I wouldn't know what to write to maintain a low profile. Luckily, the DEA gave us enough income to not have to worry about getting jobs. Still, I miss fighting with my editor.

My daughter and I are gaining weight, but our counselor says that we can always diet. It's a manageable addiction in the USA. It wouldn't be normal if we didn't put on a few pounds. I find her words condescending. I have a Master's in Journalism from the University of Mexico. A few pounds, my ass. But also patronizing is the American therapy for people in our situation. We get offered drugs, but we prefer food and TV.

I still see familiar faces staring at me when I walk to the store, faces from Juarez. It's the people with tattoos that worry me the most. Americanos, you know, the Millennials, love their tattoos. Vanity and cosmetic trivialities. In Juarez, Ink means the gang you're with, your rank in the organization, the number of people you've killed. Your Ink determines your upward mobility in the Cartel. Not necessarily your trustworthiness, because the Capos don't trust anyone, within the organization or outside (especially Politicos). Ink is power. It is a tool. Here in the States, it is a fashion statement, like a bonnet or a expensive sports shoes.

So, here I am writing about it anyway. It feels good. Like medicine. But ultimately, it is a medicine that will get me recognized by those still looking for me and my daughter. It is best to stick to home cooking, soaps, and counseling sessions with the therapist. I'm glad I could write this for you and your readers. If you want to help alleviate the problem in Juarez, don't buy drugs. But then this is America. You can't help yourselves, even as you displace thousands of civilians caught in the middle of the Drug Trade. It's only one rock of crack. I don't know why I waste my time. How could just one piece of crack hurt anyone? Why am I so drawn to write for those who would risk my life by buying that shit?

Pendejos. And I'm the worst of all.

A Typical Drug Tunnel for Smugglers

Reporter #2
Pack Mules & Hard Labor
(The Trauma of Amnesia) 

I wish I could remember the horror. I wish someone would tell me that I was beaten and raped so many times that I was like a limp rag doll tossed around between convicts in the State Pen. But it wasn't that kind of trauma. I was working a story, a big story, one that I thought would take me to the big leagues, to the Los Angeles Times. I held back on the details of the story from my editor at the Santa Monica Community Newspaper, saving them up for the big angle I was working for the LA Times.

My name is Chris W. Dubois. I'm still in my early thirties. I weighed close to two hundred pounds when all this shit started--the missing girl, the screwed up investigation by the cops, the crazy bus driver. Fragments of my kidnapping are clear but shrouded in dark patches. I got too close to the real story, and the people who took the girl took me too. To shut me up. To put me to work in the drug smuggling tunnels.

They tortured me. They wore masks--the captors. Big Bastards. Grrr-ed their words, grunted and whined till I did what I was told. Almost as if I was expected to know what to do without being told. I don't remember sleeping. I seem to recall sleeping as I worked. Me and the other captives cleared the tunnels where they kept us. They didn't feed us. There wasn't any hunger. If I stopped to look around, the masked Bastard closest to me lifted me with one hand and tossed me back in the pit of rocks. He had only two fingers and a thumb, but he was strong. He had to be to keep an eye on the bunch of us.

Yes, the bunch of us. Many. Slave labor. There were homeless people. There were women and children. Some worked, others didn't. I kept thinking that if I could escape, I could break the story: Transients Forced to Work the Tunnels. I would be the hero. The cops would come and rescue them from slavery. But escape was a dream in a world without sleep. Who would rescue me?

I don't know if it were day or night. I took one of my pauses to look around again. When the three fingers grabbed me, I noticed that I weighed about fifty pounds lighter. The Bastard tossed me like a Teddy Bear into the cold fire of the rocks. There were piles of rocks. That's what we did--piled up the rocks that the others pulled from within the tunnel. What were we building?

That's when I met a man. He told me we were building a railroad. I called him a liar. He laughed and walked away. The Big Bastards ignored him. They didn't even strike me for talking to him. I wish I had asked him more questions. But he was a liar. And I needed to find the truth. I was losing my mind. I needed to find something to keep my brain from spilling through my ears. Too late. The liar was gone. The Bastard grunted and I returned to work.

When we were rescued, I blanked out. I woke up at the UCLA Medical Facility in Westwood. An IV hydrated me for days. First the police talked to me. Then the counselors. Then the doctors and psychiatrists. They said I was a lucky man. That I was working in a drug tunnel for some drug smugglers. There were a few dozen of us forced into free labor. The thin air caused hallucinations. But the boils and open sores on my arms and legs were real. "How long was I down there?" The cop said, "According to the doctor, maybe about four, five months." "No way." And then I started crying. The nurse adjusted my IV and I stopped crying. I fell asleep.

But that didn't stop the dreams. Big Bastards still in my dreams. Yep. Still trying to make me work. Hallucinations! Ha! I had to get out of the hospital and retrace my steps. It took months of therapy before I was free to do outpatient visits with the doctors and psychiatrists. The cops come to my apartment and ask me about the Big Bastards. I pretend to not remember. I keep my appointments. I behave. I show them that I'm ready to return to work. My old editor at the SMN won't take me back though. Maybe I'll start a blog. Maybe I'll check in with this blog.

I'm going to find those Big Bastards before the cops do. It'll be my lead in story to get me back on top. It'll get me that job with the LA Times. The Bastards owe me that much. But first, I've got to find them. Their location is in my dreams. Have to get more sleep. Get more details. Hallucinations? No. Clues.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Views from a Troubled Mind
Scene #2
Hierarchy of the Homeless

San Gabriel River Bridge over Huntington Drive, Arcadia

Four bodies washed up in the San Gabriel River last week after two days of heavy unexpected rain. The corpses were partially devoured by coyotes and bears. No ID yet on any of the bodies, but our small community recognized Mountain Man from his clothing. He was a regular on the local bus line. He carried his daily haul of cans and bottles in a big sturdy trash bag to sell at the recycling center by the supermarket. 

He loved to talk. He wasn't one for listening. He seemed educated or at least well-informed on current economics, ironic given he was a homeless man. He always told stories of his shelter under the Huntington Drive Bridge over the San Gabriel River. He often explained the hierarchy of the homeless who populated the underpasses of the river.

There are three layers of living quarters along the river: The Skylight, the Trolls, and the Privileged. The first lives in boxes and shopping carts out in the open, under the sun, and only seek shelter under the bridges when it rains. The second lives under the bridges closest to the main Drive to have a quick exit for emergencies; often some of the homeless get sick or injured and the quick access to the street and the buses provide transportation to the emergency hospital (the hospital waives the $50 fee for hard-luck cases). The third lives under the smaller bridges close to the foothills, further away from the main street. When the police raid these homeless camps, the Privileged are frequently ignored since they do not cause problems or are simply to far embedded in the river for the police to trouble themselves with the long hike to and from their camp. From the bus one can see the Privileged on skateboards riding up and down the sloping banks of the concrete bedding of the river. 

Mountain Man was proud to be one of the Privileged, known to police, bus drivers, business owners, and community leaders alike. Everyone liked to hear him speak about his latest adventure with a bear or coyote. They come by day, they come by night, he'd say in his heavy Russian accent. But my camp has thick boarded walls and the best they can do is scratch and scratch. But they can't get in. They smell my food. But they can't get in. But the river of mud did break through. 

When the rains suddenly fell, there were Red Flag Warnings for the two days prior. Red Flags mean that the brush fires on the hills of San Gabriel left the dirt without plant-life to hold the soil in place. Even the slightest rain could fill the sloping, rolling streets of Arcadia with mudslides. The mudslides were harsh and cruel. They hit the Privileged first; the Trolls and the Skylight folk waded through the mud to reach the street. The Privileged drowned in the liquid dirt. 

As of this writing, we are still not sure of the identities of the four corpses, although we in the community have yet to see Mountain Man since the rains. Still, we hold out hope that he will make an appearance to tell us a tale of his miraculous escape from the mudslide. Those four corpses, on the other hand, tell a tale of their own.