Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The American Embassy

Most embassies in Buenos Aires are of the ornate style, in antique Spanish or French Colonial architecture, with grand verandas and beautifully manicured lawns. Although it stands among the beautiful parks and darkened forests of Palermo in the center of the park district, the beauty of the American Embassy in Buenos Aires is different than the rest.

More from a rational design, the grey concrete walls and rod iron gates actually make me forget beauty for a moment as fear from power exude the concrete pours of the fortress walls and the images of empire, destruction, car bombs, and mutilated bodies of Vietnamese teenagers flash through my head. It's a shame that the media has shaped my view of our country abroad in such a way, that when I see our embassy, I associate violence.

If American significance isn’t demonstrated clearly enough to me with the concrete fortress in the middle of the city, the plethora of Argentines waiting in line for the chance to enter the embassy to pay almost two hundred dollars for a short-term visa in order that they can bring their family to Disney World should do the trick.

But I forget about Mickey and as an American I pass the queue. I walk up to a black window. I’m not sure if there is a person there; it’s totally obscured. I hesitate until I see a sign that says ACS, AMERICAN CITIZEN SERVICES. Hoping for a response while fearing a negative one, I pass my passport under the black window. I fear the secret service will come out for me, and when they don’t and the faceless man lets me pass through the thick prison like doors, I fear they are waiting for me through each subsequent security door.

After security takes my brand new liter and a half of Villavicencio fizzy water, I walk through the yard where I am directed at each junction by a different privately contracted security guard. There are magnolia trees that are flowering. The flowers are big and white and the thick green grass reminds me of the thickness of the St. Augustine grass of Florida. I am given a number to wait and I enter the waiting room with the white walls and blue plastic chairs.

The efficiency feels good to me. No pushing. No utter confusion. No having to ask thirteen thousand different people the same question. No receiving different answers. Just good ole American efficiency.

But then the efficiency reminds me of jail and the thought of the secret service men enters my head again. When I finally give the passport to the cold-faced woman behind the glass I expect a cold response and the pressing of a secret button to tell those agents, the ones hidden somewhere in the finely tuned belly of the American Embassy, that I have arrived.

I get a cold response but no button. And she guides me to the next step of the Passport Renewal Process--a step that the American Government has perfected—payment. After I pay, I sit back down and I think, this is just a really nice big DMV. And then I look at the pictures on the walls: Mt Rushmore, The Grand Canyon, a guy with a surfboard, and little kids in really nice new soccer uniforms fighting for a ball.

America, my home, where are you? In the pictures on the sterile wall? Are these my memories displayed on the wall like a museum? Have I transported myself inside my own brain to look at my own memories? No, I never played soccer. Maybe these are another American’s memories. But they are so close to my own that I am convinced they are mine.

What are you to me, the United States of America? Grand Canyon road trips, beer, and titty dancers. My dead grandparents and the lives that they spent in your machine. Clashes with the law. My shitty dead-end jobs. My preoccupation. Things: My dad’s Carrera, my mother’s Zavorsky crystals, and my sister’s new red sports car.

Am I searching for you? Those beautifully comfortable car rides with the cold AC. Sleeping on the couch of my mother’s before the TV has been shut off. Lazy days of nothingness, of fucking TV nothingness. Fading memories of adolescent fornication save me now.

Do I hate you like an adolescent teenager hates his parents? Is that what this is all about? Coming of age until I get a little older and realize how immature I've been. Or am I a teenage runaway, lost and waiting for someone more knowledgeable to carry me back to my home?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Trip to the Moon

Ira stood in the corner with me, her foil space hat cocked backwards resting on the ball of her head. The NASA that I had drawn on the foil was beginning to wear out and the foil was beginning to crack. My space hat was still on my head but had changed form, from a pointy dunce-like cap to some kind of weird blunt object now that sat precariously on my forehead. The ‘I heart science’ that I had drawn on my hat was illegible. Things were yellow and warm. There was a constant sweaty milk on all of our faces, due to the overwhelmingly swampy night. Ira’s face sparkled with this milk as I tried to calm her down, telling her that our friend Pepe was fine. A blond haired American woman casually made her way over to ask us about our hats. She was bursting with curiosity.

“What are the hats for guys? Are you gonna like stab someone with them in the heart?”

“No. Why would we do something like that?” I asked her. Her attempt at humor failed to put a smile on my face. She was trying to relate, but at this point, it was impossible. There was a very thin unbroken meniscus of sanity still, and with each of the girl’s questions, the membrane grew weaker. The meniscus had broken for Ira already, and one false step was all I needed to step into the great abyss of momentary confusion. I knew there was no possible way to relate to this blond woman what we had done and why we were wearing these space hats. The definition of insanity—when you can’t relate to a sane person anymore—crossed my mind.

But this girl wasn’t sane at all. After all, she was talking about stabbing someone at this party in the heart with my space hat.

“I mean, come on, why are you wearing these hats? What’s the story?” She continued interrogating me.

“Well, we went to the moon. And now we’re back.” I said as I looked at Pepe who was laughing and with a spouted pail watering all the plants that lined the courtyard. Those aren’t his plants, I thought, why would he be watering them? Maybe Ira is right. Maybe Pepe is losing his mind.

“You went to the moon.” The blond American woman said. I think she was angry by my response.

“Yeah. We built a spaceship.” I said. “Out of space material.”

“Okay. So you built a spaceship.” She was definitely aggravated. I think she expected a wittier response, and normally I could have delivered one, but my wit was overcome with lysergic acid and the only thing that remained of it was my blank stare that was directed at Pepe watering the plants.

It was better Ira couldn’t understand this woman’s questions. It would have confused her.

I didn’t tell this woman that the day before Ira and I had scoured the dumpsters of Buenos Aires like Cartoneros searching for cardboard and anything that resembled technology in order to transform Ira's bed into a makeshift spaceship. Most of my friends hadn’t understood; they just appreciated my insistence of the idea for its comical appeal. They thought, Haha, Zach, a spaceship.

After we came up with the idea, it had quickly spun out of control. In no time, Ira and I had a pile of trash on her floor and bunch of folded cardboard boxes stacked . But it wasn’t then, when we had started to cut the windows out of the cardboard or when we built the engine out of a broken floor fan and the frame of an umbrella, that I wondered why we were building a spaceship. When we ate the LSD, which we euphemistically referred to as combustible, I felt confident and I ignored the anticipating butterflies that had been flying around in my stomach the whole day. Our choreographed disco dance to the galactic funk version of the Star Wars Theme put me at ease and in the right mood before our journey. The next few hours followed peacefully and the world turned yellow and the heat caught me paralyzed.

When I entered the party with my friends, who eyes were lit like green and blue globes, I was wearing my space hat that was covered with aluminum foil and made from an empty cardboard cone that still had grease marks from the French fries I had eaten from it. With the cold eyes of my expatriated colleagues who comprised most of the guests of the party, I asked myself for the first time what we were doing. I felt like some kind of poor pseudo-Timothy Leary who was delivering his band of drugged out misfits into the mayhem and chaos of the outside world. The only difference was: Timothy Leary was a Harvard Professor with some kind of existential purpose. I was just skinny and confused.

What would my old friends think of me right now? What would my parents think? What did this strange occurrence, the spaceship, these space hats, the unwanted glares from the drunken people at this party have to do with my life as a whole? Why did I spend a day building a spaceship out of cardboard boxes? And why was Pepe watering the plants?

I had come far now, in this exact moment, away from the world that I had come from. I hadn’t felt farther from home, from the sane pulse of existence, than at any other moment in my entire year and a half journey. The expatriate community, the ones throwing the party, had accepted me into their world of escapees and fleers. We had all identified and respected each other. We all saw a bit of ourselves in each other. We were the ones who had to try something else, the dreamers, the makers, the shakers, and the escapers. I felt, in this expatriate party, that I was at some end of this escapist extreme and those that had accepted me, now were looking at me in complete confusion.

I have no conclusion. The spaceship was a spaceship. Did we make it for fun? To have some kind of funny purpose to use drugs? Yes and yes. Was there something more to the spaceship besides a few cardboard boxes with the NASA logo drawn on them? Yes. I chose to do something funny and maybe a bit extreme that put me somewhere outside of conventional understanding. Maybe it was something artistic--it was creation. Along with the celestial craft, there was a celestial state of being that was created alongside of it that we all participated in for the night.

I don't know what this is, my life. I don't know where my life exists within the conventional hierarchy of well-being. It took the construction of the Nave Espacial to really consider this, to realize that constructing a spaceship out of cardboard isn't what other twenty seven year olds do. I am escaping a certain reality that would exist for me in the states, a certain middle-ness. I could be finding my place in the middle, and with my intelligence, I could be a successful middle-est, like my parents and their parents.

Is it living outside my country that gives me the feeling that I have some how escaped the middle-ness? I should be happy the middle still awaits because at least its not the bottom. And if my childhood friends, the attorney and the dentist, are finding themselves on the higher side of this hierarchy of well-being, where does that put me--building spaceships and taking drugs?

I guess that's a spaceship. All rules are off when you break the stratosphere.

Monday, December 12, 2011

La Construcción de la Nave Espacial

Construction began furiously without a screw unaccounted for on Friday afternoon. My first mate, Iratxe, and I scoured the streets of Buenos Aires for space materials. Our search proved fruitful and with the right construction materials in hand it looked as though we were on our way to space.

We had gathered:

2 cables (2 Cables)

4 Tubos (4 Tubes)

1 Caja de jugo de naranja (1 empty box of orange juice, large)

5 Trazitos de aluminio de chocolatina ( 5 little pieces of aluminum from chocolate, small)

2 trazos de alambre (Don’t know what this is)

2 trazos de alumino (2 pieces of aluminum foil, large)

2 Conos de sombreros para el espacio (2 cones for space hats)

10 metros de cinta VHS (10 meters of tape from a VHS)
1 lampara rota (1 broken fluorescent light fixture)

1 panel de arma (1 panel from a broken security system

1 trazo de tecnologia importante (1 important piece of space technology)

1 motor de ventilador ( 1 motor from a broken floor fan)

2 trazos de stryofoam (2 stryofoam rings used for packaging something round)

2 pares de palillos chinos (2 pairs of chopsticks)

1 mongo paraguas (1 frame from an umbrella)

1 controlador de television (1 TV controller)

1 bomba explotada (an Exploded piece of plastic) --the power source--

1 caja con una imagen de telescopio (1 box with the image of a telescope

1 serpentina (I don’t know what this is)

I arranged the space materials on the floor of the construction zone:

The basic structure was built out of mostly titanium carbon alloy and other space-age materials.

These are pictures of space technician Iratxe molding a space window.

This is a picture of the cockpit. I'm setting buttons to go to outer space.

This is a picture of the engine. It's hooked to a small nuclear reactor. Those are space clothes in the background.

This is a picture of the main frame computer. It has a mind link.

The Spaceship was ready to fly. We just needed fuel.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


The summer swamp heat flows in from the contaminated river as the speed and volume of English courses slow to a turtle-pace. Broken hearts hang from the telephone and electricity wires that connect the buildings of this never-ending metropolis. The loud screeching busses and the crowded subways capture the heat, forcing it inside and around me, and a slow push has begun that is out of my control. The city has used me, finished with me, and wants me out.

Many would think that an airplane flight back to Orlando, my supposed home, would be the most logical and easy method of return. I thought long and hard about the rapidity, the strength of those turbine jet engines turning at a furious pace, the loud noises, the turbulence, nine hours in exchange for a year and a half journey, the screeching tires as they landed on the green plains of my homeland, and Mickey Mouse holding a sign that said, ‘Welcome home, Mr Watson. We’ve been waiting to capture you.

“Now.” Mickey would say in his shrill voice. “This broken economy has nothing to offer you, except maybe to work as a waiter, but don’t expect to make as much as you did before, after all, there’s a recession. Don’t worry, you’ll be a peon again; no one will understand you; and the Buddha doesn’t exist. I exist. M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E. The nation has continued without you for the last year and a half. So fuck you.”

In place of this hopeless fate, I have decided to construct a spacecraft, using state-of-the-art construction methods designed by NASA. I have begun collecting various advanced materials from broken down alien spacecraft that I’ve come across in the streets. I’m not sure whether they are actually spacecraft or just dumpsters full of cardboard and wires.

I figure I will need to cover the outside of this spacecraft with mirrors to protect myself and the other passengers from the sun once we breakthrough the stratosphere. Once we have entered the earth’s orbit, I will fire the rocket engines that will boost us out into open space. Once we are in deep space, the moon’s gravitational pull will grab us, doing most of the work. By using my advanced piloting skills, I will slowly lower the homemade craft down and onto the surface of the moon.

I have decided to use lysergic acid diethylamide diluted with ethanol as our primary fuel base. As far as I can see, it’s the only fuel strong enough to take us to the moon and back.

It’s time to begin my metaphysical journey home.