Punk Rock Where You Don’t Expect: out of place in Mexico City

IMG_2546We went to that part of town to visit a library full of books written in a language I can’t read. I had never been to Mexico City before and this library’s design is world renowned. The shelves hang from the ceiling rather than standing on the floor. It is giant, cathedral-like, and filled with books written in Spanish.

 

I don’t Speak Spanish.

 

But I know what looks cool, and that spot is cooler than most, so we went.

 

As we opened the Uber door and stepped to the curb something unexpected happened.  Right next door, in a graffiti covered alley, was something loud that I recognized.

Blaring horns, a solid bass rhythm, and a heavy back beat. Played fast. I did not expect to hear punk ska in Mexico but expectations don’t matter so much when you are in the moment, and in that moment, I followed the sound.

 

The alley was packed full of temporary booths and tons of people. Ramones t-shirts, black leather jackets, and Doc Marten boots were both stacked on tables and worn by the crowds. A thousand or more people sporting full mohawks and spiked collars pushed their way through crowded stalls looking at stickers and buttons. I saw Bad Brains cassettes and Sex Pistols albums, anarchy logos and large gauged earrings everywhere.

 

And we joined in.

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My buddy looked at where we were, looked me up and down, and just started laughing. He shook his head and said, “Dude.”

 

I had to laugh as well. It wasn’t just my Anglo skin and bullet straight part -I was wearing khakis.

 

I was the very visual embodiment of “The Man”, a square, the epitome of suburban dorkiness, middle aged middle class might as well have had a flip phone clipped to my belt; shouldering my way unabashedly into a Mexico City punk fest.

 

I didn’t care.

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I didn’t care because I have rarely felt I fit in anywhere.

 

It isn’t that I haven’t wanted too, in fact I have made all sorts of efforts to find my place. It is more that in those efforts, on that journey, I have traversed so many spaces and places looking for a fit, that what I mostly found was overlap. It is natural (more so for some demographics than others) to see ourselves as the center of the world’s Venn Diagram, but I think my overlap was a little less centered. A bit more marginal. Like I am the outside circle of a million other group’s graphics but rarely checking off multiple boxes, or enough boxes to gain full membership. On such a journey one must either find a place and conform, or gain some sort of peace being a misfit.

This place had Misfits gear galore.

 

I didn’t care how I looked because I knew all the words to all the songs on those bootleg disks and coming out of those speakers. I learned them when I was 12. I learned them alone in my room listening to alternative radio or lurking around that one back rack of the record store. And here it all was in Mexico?

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I loved it.

 

I had no idea what the live bands were singing, but skankin’ just needs that rhythm and a mosh pit was never really content driven.

 

I fit just enough to feel at home.

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Toro

The hardest part, is watching,

when a bull doesn’t want to fight.

To see this muscled and behorned beast stand in the middle of the ring, looking around, shuffling its haunches trying to shake off whatever it is causing that pain in his back. He looks at that fool on the horse, those men waving those blankets, and all of us up in the stands, and he just stands there. Done. He wants none of it.

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But he is not done- yet.

 

This is when I learn a large part of the matador’s job, a part I had not considered, is to maintain both the attention and ire of that bull. The taunting, the waving and twirling, is not merely pageantry but an attempt to focus a confused animal in a raucous arena, on fighting when it might rather just die.

 

And the bull will die.IMG_6088

 

With blood flowing from its hump, spears protruding from his back, he will get the sword and he will fall. He enters the ring a raging beast and leaves a carcass drug across the dirt by draft horses. There really is no excuse for this being entertainment. It is not just blood sport but execution for pleasure.

But when that bull is mad.

When it fights.

 

That is a show.

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The bull is built to win. Strong, fast, aggressive, with its goring weapons built in. The man cannot do anything without the help of some other tools. Spears, swords, the walls of the arena, the entire arrangement is built to grant the matador some advantage, and yet his victory is never quite sure- though the bull’s defeat is definite. And it is fascinating. It is one of the oldest evidences of a completely first world behavior, the risking of human life in the process of doing something that could be done much better, safer and efficient, in some other way, almost any other way- in the name of sport. For fun.

 

For money.

Sitting in the grand stands of a giant arena, eating a chocolate churro filled with cream, my American friend and I are stunned into a silence when the first bull fell. All around us people are shouting Spanish words I do not know, waving white handkerchiefs in the air, and a brass band begins playing a dramatic dirge. The two of us pause, unused to confronting the death of an animal, or anything for that matter, live, right in front of us. We live and work in offices and restaurants, parks and museums, clubs and suburbs, all insulated from the death we know exists. We order a steak at Ruth’s Chris, bloody rare, drive past a dairy and complain of the smell, fully aware that we exploit both life and death for our own sustenance, and despite our knowledge and awareness of it all, we find ourselves ignorant in the presence of that moment of death.

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I do not like it.

 

I am not comfortable. It makes me ashamed in a way I did not expect. Not simply ashamed for participating, or being complicit in a blood sport, but surprisingly ashamed that despite my awareness of death, my acceptance of it, I look away when in its presence.

 

I am more comfortable when someone else does it. Somewhere else. Where I can’t see.

 

Prosciutto, jamon, bacon, whatever, and I am fine with it. I can move past ignoring the devouring of what was once living, comfortably into rationalizing and prioritizing, but it is at the point of doing that I cringe.

 

My inbred ideas of manhood are offended not by the death itself but by my repulsion to it. I can work my way past the masculinity only to then be halted by class. I have the privilege of enjoying the fruits of others destruction, rejecting any value in being the one to do the work or endure the pain.

 

In my own self-loathing, respect for those down there in the ring begins to grow.

 

No matter what I think of any of this, I sit up here judging while they are down there doing. Confronting. Risking. Acting.

 

They can be wrong about all this and still be better than me.

 

And then, thanks to my inbred training, hundreds of years of practice, I work myself through all the ways I am not so bad. Sure there is this or that, but there is also that other this and that, and when taken in bulk- I am good.

 

And if I am good while sitting up here in my feelings and those brave enough to act are better- then they must be great.

 

So I too start to cheer.

 

I learn to love the flair and the bravery of man versus beast. I appreciate the vain glory martyrdom of fighting in the face of sure defeat. I respect the idea of offering one’s self up to do that dangerous thing in order to give the condemned a chance for one last win.

 

The matador, offering himself as potential sacrifice, so the condemned have a chance to condemn another to a shared fate.

 

Brave and dignified.

But then that bull just stands there.

 

Hurt.

 

Tired.

 

Confused.

 

And we show ourselves, all of us, for who we really are.IMG_6095

University of Washington

The University of Washington opened in 1861.IMG_0127Fifteen years later the school granted its first degree, to a woman.FC6FFD36-14BE-4319-B90C-0DBEC874188C Thirteen years after that, Washington became a state.

UW is ahead of its time.IMG_0191

Today U-dub shelters more than 47,000 students from the Seattle rain. The university boasts one of America’s top medical schools, perennial powerhouse sports teams, and possibly the United State’s western-most statue of George Washington. It really does smell like rain and coffee, people really do wear flannel shirts looking like grunge rocking lumber jacks, and there is not a flat piece of ground on the entire campus. Just strolling around is a serious workout.IMG_0180It is notable that Bruce Lee attended UW before dropping out, as did the world’s favorite glass-blowing pirate Dale Chihuly. Ken Jennings, that super nerdy guy who kept wining Jeopardy, didn’t drop out but instead transferred to BYU. Bill Gates, a famous college dropout did not attend UW, but his dad did. Kenny G attended UW where he, fittingly, studied accounting.IMG_0172

Things Worth Skipping Sleep for in Seattle: part 3

I myself am quite hefty.

I got this way in large part by enjoying a good meal. Seattle accommodated.

I had fried salmon- because “Worth It” told me to,

Elk and huckleberry sausage because it was a biergarten,

Small batch chocolate because it’s always the best,

Charcuterie at a speakeasy bar because I am me,

But best of all was Rachel’s.

I have scoured the nation, all of it, for good craft sodas, and while I make no claim that I have tried them all, I do claim that the best destination in all the land for ginger beer,

Is hands down Rachel’s.

20 flavors of house made ginger beer on tap.

Cayenne, blood orange, pineapple mango, all go surprisingly well mixed in ginger.

Large and small refillable growlers.

There is also a window off to the side selling fried chicken and poke’.

 

Get on a plane and go there now.