Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Growl

A few days before I began chemotherapy, I came home from a day at work and school. In my bedroom, alit in waning sunlight, I peeled off my office get-up. My roommates weren’t home. I loved having the flat to myself so I could blast a boogielicious tune or some rock ‘n’ roll that was born to be loud. Sometimes I would roar to the song, bang my head, even bust out some air guitar flails. I flipped through my spinning CD tower. Metallica’s ferocious cover of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” was what I felt pulsing in my veins. I needed some induced catharsis.

An unexpected thing happened while I stood there listening to the militaristic intro blare through the flat. Like a howling wolf, I craned my head back and roared in the hopes of letting out some of the frustration I had been feeling from Life With Lymphoma, especially after I had to subject myself to a second bone marrow biopsy a few days before. The joyous, playful roar that usually came out whenever I would shout with a rock song was more of an angry, guttural growl. It rattled from my chest, up my throat, filling the room. It felt like something with its own life. Something I couldn’t quite control. Once I finished roaring, I nervously tittered to myself.

And that’s when I got a sense that I was like a human walking volcano. Beneath my surface, beneath my stoic, I’m-being-strong veneer, the tension was building. Bubbling, rumbling, escalating. It was all those hospital visits. Medical examinations. Agonizing lines to wait in. All that time lost in those drab, life-sucking waiting rooms. All those medical terms and cancer jargon I had to become familiar with. All those big decisions to make: should I get a catheter port inserted into my arm for the duration of treatment? Should I have my sperm frozen? And all the e-mails I had to respond to from my family in Peru telling me that they were sorry—that I just had to put my faith in God, that this “nightmare” would soon pass. All the times I had to tell them it’s going to be okay.

As if I really knew.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

El Loco vs. Mr. Hodgkins


Here's an excerpt from my memoir:


INT. LOCKER ROOM – NIGHT

MR. HODGKINS, dressed in his tuxedo, stands next to a balding, mustachioed man, MEAN GENE OKERLUND. They both face a large Panavision television camera. Donning a black suit, holding a microphone, Okerlund stares at the woman wearing a headset. She stands beside the cameraman. Okerlund nods when she points at him. She holds her fingers up in a silent countdown—three, two, one—before the red lamp on top of the camera turns on.

MEAN GENE OKERLUND
We are just minutes away from our career-ending match between “El Loco,” Juan Alvarado Valdivia, and the gentleman standing beside me, death himself, Mr. Hodgkins.

Okerlund takes a step back toward Mr. Hodgkins. He stretches his hand to Mr. Hodgkins as if he is going to put it on his back.

MEAN GENE OKERLUND
Mr. Hodgkins, I’ve got to ask you, just what exactly is it that you have against El Loco? You’ve come into his life and, without exaggeration, turned his world upside-down, casting a dark pall over it. Tell me, why him?

Mean Gene holds the microphone up to Mr. Hodgkins. Hodgkins stares back at the camera with an indifferent expression that Camus would have envied.

MR. HODGKINS
It’s like this, Okerlund. I have nothing personal against the man. We simply crossed paths—and it is my job to ensure that he suffer the consequences. It is nothing more than that. He’s the one who has taken it personally—the flawed, vengeful human that he is. I do not hold that against him. But nevertheless, my objective is to annihilate him. And I will.

Mr. Hodgkins stalks out of camera view. Okerlund watches him leave, then turns back to the camera after a long, dramatic pause.

MEAN GENE OKERLUND
And now let’s go to Sean Mooney who’s standing by with EL LOCO, Juan Alvarado Valdivia.

INT. INTERVIEW ROOM – NIGHT

SEAN MOONEY
All right, thanks Gene. El Loco is in rare form tonight. He’s been pacing this room ever since I got here.

While Mooney stands in front of the camera, Juan—in El Loco gear—paces behind him in front of a black curtain. He pumps his arms and gives an occasional menacing snarl to the camera. Earthy brown and green-colored tassels are tied around his wrists and bronzed biceps. A mask bearing the same colors has been painted on his face. He is wearing a wig—an oversized afro. A sharpened pencil is tangled in it. His arms, chest, and modest paunch are varnished in body oil. They glare beneath the studio lights. Besides the tassels, the only thing he wears are tasseled brown boots and a green Speedo.

SEAN MOONEY
El Loco—I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this amped up before a fight! And you’re always roaring, running full speed into the ring and yanking on those ropes as though a lightning bolt were coursing through your veins.

El Loco grabs Mooney by the collar.


EL LOCO
Well what can ya expect, Mooney. This is the fight of my life!

He shoves Mooney back, snarling at the camera.


EL LOCO
Of course I’m pumped up! This is it—this is fucking it for me or that punk, Mr. Hodgkins. Well no one gets to take my life except me!

Juan’s mouth drops. His brows furrow. He looks away, ashamed to have stumbled upon this truth before a live television broadcast.

He turns back to the camera, shaking his head violently as if he were trying to wake from a daze. Mooney leans his head back frightfully. He holds the microphone out to El Loco as he points at the camera.


EL LOCO
You fucked with the wrong man, Hodgkins. You fucked with the wrong man.

Juan turns his back to the camera. He cranes his head back and lifts his clenched fists up high. He roars, then punctuates it with a gorilla-like pounding of his chest.


EL LOCO
Just take a look at my trunks. It says it all, right there, baby.

Juan cackles. He pumps his arms. The camera zooms down to the green tights covering his butt. Mr. Hodgkins’ head, with his signature derby hat atop, is stitched on it. Below it reads: Your Ass is Mine!

El Loco cranes his head back to roar before he dashes out of the room.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Farewell, Rocinante


On an overcast Monday morning, a drab gray blanket hanging over Lake Merritt, I walked out of my apartment with a bicycle fender in hand. My shoulder bag was packed for a workout, my helmet strapped to it, clutched against my hip. It was gym time. But when I turned the corner to the bike racks at the back of the apartment complex, I did not see my bicycle in the spot where I locked it. With my mouth agape, I stood and stared at that bike lock where my bicycle should have been. It was not locked to the other two racks. Confused, I wandered back to my apartment. I had that familiar fuck, my-bicycle-has-been-stolen feeling. Gee, I guess I’m not going to my gym today. Back in my apartment, I thought back to when I last rode my bicycle, which I called Rocinante. For an instant or two, I got bouncy and thought, you dumbass! You left him locked up in one of the lockers at the Lake Merritt station. But then I remembered that I had gotten Rocinante out of the locker and secured him in my apartment complex on Friday night.

And that was the last time I saw him.
He was gone.
What a way to start the week.

Rocinante was a blue Bianchi Osprey mountain bike. He was equipped with an odometer, kickstand, bottle holder, and big plastic horn shaped into the head of a blue cartoon hippo (everyone loved that horn, loved giving it a squeeze to hear its silly squeak). When he was stolen, Rocinante had practically brand new hybrid tires since both tires were stolen two months before within the same Oakland apartment complex where he was ultimately taken.

In the winter of 2009, I bought Rocinante to replace a black-gray mountain bike named Charlene (she was stolen at the corner of 26th and Mission in San Francisco’s Mission District; she had a formidable, seven-pound, Mr. T-like chain that I sometimes swung around my head before I locked her up). From the get-go, I was fond of him because he was salvaged from the city’s dump by a man who worked there and fixed them up as a hobby (and as a means of making some extra scratch to give to his grandkids, if I remember correctly). Rocinante was the only bicycle I bequeathed with a boy’s name. When I first bought him, I named him “Blue,” for obvious reasons. Since my testicles ride on the seat over all those miles——and since I’m hetero——I have always given my bicycles a woman’s name, or one that can be both genders. He was my loyal steed for about three years. My primary means of transportation. Together, we surpassed a few landmarks on my odometer: 6,000, 7,000, and 8,000 miles pedaled.

Together, we had many memorable rides: the five-mile ride from the Lafayette station through the beautiful Moraga hillside as I cycled to and from Saint Mary’s for my graduate degree. The morning rides from my home on Dolores Street to USF’s Lone Mountain campus during the summer of 2009 for a weeklong writing workshop when my chemotherapy infusions began. I remember cycling up one of the steep hills to that campus, listening to Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light” through my headphones. With the sunlight pouring down on me, Plant singing Light, light, light…in the light, I closed my eyes. My eyelids were warm blankets of orange. I imagined myself grasping that sunlight, imagined it to be like water seeping into my roots, to my very core. I imagined myself become one with the sun’s light (which we are a mere extension of)——its warmth, its energy, healing and nourishing me as I pedaled on. I rode Blue to and from San Francisco General for all those blood tests, examinations, and check-ups with my oncologist. During a rainy January, Blue and I scaled the sharp hill on Dolores Street and zipped down it on our three-mile long rides to my radiation treatments at USF. In March, we rode over to San Francisco General where my oncologist told me I was cancer-free. We were together through a critical time of life. I am certain that riding him helped to keep me alive.

After I graduated and segued into post-cancer life, I read Don Quixote and redubbed Blue with the name of Quixote’s loyal horse. It made perfect sense. A good friend of mine agreed. I have always been a bit of a Quixote in this insane world we have created.

Last June, Rocinante came with me as I moved back across the bay to Oakland’s Lake Merritt area. It was a time of rebirth. A spring during summertime as I continued on with my life away from the city where my body developed and rid itself of cancer. I fell in love with Oakland when Rocinante and I rode around Lake Merritt one sunny afternoon, the kind that was all too rare in San Francisco. It filled me with a sense of serenity that I needed.

Before long, I met and fell in love with my girlfriend, Maria. Together, we rode our bicycles around the Quarry Lakes in northern Fremont, which happens to be our hometown. It was a joyous, sunshiny ride. It had been years since I had a partner to cycle with, which made it extra-wonderful for me. I am so grateful that my one bicycle ride around those lakes——a ride I had wanted to do for years——was with Maria and Rocinante.

I had a number of rides I hoped to have with Rocinante. I wanted to return to the Lamorinda Trails to cycle through their nature trails that I have always missed. My homeboy, Scott expressed an interest in mountain biking through the lush wooded trails at Joaquin Miller Park in Oaktown. I looked forward to more bicycle rides with my favorite Maria in the whole wide world. And I never tired of riding Rocinante around Lake Merritt, whether if it was gray and drizzly, warm and bright, or alit at night with its necklace of lights that have shone since 1925.

Like any good bicycle, Rocinante was an extension of myself. Now that he’s been stolen, I don’t want to think of him being taken apart, piece by piece. Whoever has his frame, his handlebar, cannot imagine or understand what we went through together. All those hills we surpassed, all that sweat I expended, all those miles we traveled. They cannot imagine all the beauty we saw, felt, and created together——foot to pedal, hands to handlebar; my legs pumping, his chain turning to propel us forward. There was so much I wanted to see and feel with him. So much we had left (or so I would like to believe, but nothing in life is certain except for death and impermanence). I have had no choice but to move on without my dear companion but I will carry those memories we made together.