When I was in the
Miami doom-jazz improv act Shroud, I wrote lyrics for a track titled "½
and ½", all about how my life is very 50/50. Half the time I'm a
saint, the other half, I am quite the opposite. Seems like I'm always in the
state of Yin; pitch blackness, surrounding what seems to be a pure heart - finding
I enjoy the evil around me, while often carrying out acts of kindness.
Also, I am a true Even Steven, where I pick up as much as I have lost.
Even so, living a Life of Riley drains a man's resources, especially if one simply lives off their creativity. This spring was time to rejoin the job market in an attempt to get another square 9-to-5. I had put out feelers for a new career choice, and a lucrative one fell into my lap. Biggest problem: it didn't start until the fall.
Late summer and early fall are the worst for people who get by in a cash-direct economic system. No one wants to part with their dough during these hot months, and I know this. I begin to come up with a plan on getting by on 300 dollars in two months.
My plan was to leave late-July, and hike around with a backpack full of cereal, for two months - maybe more. Yes, it was a way to save money, but it was also a disconnect; a meditation; a way to see Small Town America, and meet the citizenry; a way to be alone once more, and find myself again.
All of this was loosely planned when Blindspot called, offering that I open up for John Waters at the south Florida date for his This Filthy World stand-up.
My mind blown, and I begin the first change of plans.
I was to fly down to south Florida for a weekend of fun, and head back.
Change is omnipresent. For the most part, it's mostly unnoticed. Here, changes became dramatic.
Waters asked that no one speak before him, and, though a tad disheartened, I was instead to present him a new work at the event.
Also, I decided to do as much as possible with my time in Miami, so I booked a few 156 shows, and a reading.
Lastly, my trip back would begin my time away. I would come back home, but come back the hard way: walking. 1400 miles of meditation. This meant twenty-five mile hikes, daily, to make it back in time for early October. I was up for it.
As for the piece, I struggled for an entire week with weak ideas, and was completely stumped. I called up Blindspot to throw in the towel. He hardly spoke the words, "Seriously? You're giving up?" when the idea came to me. I pictured a 6' x 6' hot pink canvas, with 600 broom bristles poked through, to form John Waters famous moustache, five feet across, as if he were puckering up for a kiss. When I pictured it, I wanted the work to get the same response a Waters' film would: partial disgust, while unable to hide the giggles.
Click on image above for larger view.
It took two weeks
to make, working at it eight hours each day. Strangely out of character, I didn't
name it until it was done. I titled it "Kiss Me, John".
To celebrate, I grab Little One, and we went into the-city-proper to hang out with Lucifer and Thugs, only to wind up layin' around someone's living room, all night, getting baked.
At about 3am, we're on our way back to Brooklyn when my lungs feel heavy. I feel disassociated, and reality is falling apart a little bit. My lower back hurts like I have the flu. My lungs are beginning to ache, as if to concur with my lumbar.
With the other shit those fellas smoked in that pipe, there's no wonder what resin I've breathed in besides weed. They normally do roxies, but have recently come across a lot of dust. I'm about to catch the L to the G when I realize this.
"Great!" I think to myself, "I'm stoned, dusted, and I'm about to nod out."
I begin to slide down the tiled walls of the Metropolitan Station, and wonder if I'll come out of it in a semi-circle of laughing and pointing, with my pockets turned inside-out.
With Little One's sober help, I break free of the stupor, and I make it home in one physical piece, but mentally, I'm still multidimensional.
I think to myself how fragile I am. Alone, on the couch, I begin to worry. "I could get sick, and this whole trip would be ruined," I mull over and over.
I've spent the last twenty years obsessively making magick ritual a part of my life. Similar to Hermeticism's Great Work, much of it is for a big nothing, or The Big Nothing, depending on how you mysticize it. Other rituals are as low as they come, and are, admittedly, an attempt to make space/time my bitch. This was one of those times.
I wanted to perform a rite, which would facilitate travel, alleviate health issues, and pamper my sweet tush throughout the entire "Waters' weekend", as I began calling it.
Little One's office had an abundant supply closet they were cleaning out. Asking if I could use five packs of colored index cards for some art project, I thought, "Why not?" and took 'em.
When putting together this ceremony, I recalled the index cards, and pulled them out. The packs were 50 cards each, and believing 250 was such a nice, round number, I torched one card. 249 seemed odd enough.
I sat in my den, in a trance-like state, channeling lordy-knows-what. By the time I reached No 249, twelve hours had passed, and I had scribbled down a hundred sigils of some kind, three per card. In the Enochian system of magic, when you draw these pictorial signatures, you are communicating with a daemon, or "angelic spirit". It seemed I had spent a few hours getting to know 747 of them.
747 is a number
associated with stylish travel (the Boeing 747 being known as the Queen of the
Skies), but not much else - at least, esoterically. It is a decent track off
a Saxon LP from 1980, and that's an auspicious enough sign for me.
I took it as 747 malicious spirits, which my rationalist-self called "emotional baggage". Knowing I had to dump these fiends, my less-rational-self equated the subway with traveling, and I opted to leave these demons behind, one card at a time, for the rest of the month, until I leave.
I left one per train car, and often went up and down the line, exiting at each station, into another train car to leave another. With over 200 to get rid of, I found myself taking trains when I didn't need to, to ritualistically purge myself of this baggage, just so this trip south would be the kind that leads one foot well in front of the other.
To download a file (111 Mb) of all 249 cards, click here.
made it down, safe and sound. Healthy, and on my way to fun, fun, fun.
The weekend went as planned, and I somehow got to stretch it all out for a few more days.
The first night of my metal-scraping act, 156, was fun, and insanely noisy - just like I wanted it to be. During the monthly noisefest put on by Rat at Churchill's Pub, I tried out my Strikes to the Body performance. Placing contact mics on body parts, I begin to let loose on myself, as power electronic knob-twister Last helped fine tune the insanity.
Later, I read poetry, and set it all ablaze. So much for my reading.
The John Waters' event was amazing, and proved to be a great night. Met John, as well as presented him the work curated especially for This Filthy World. I got what I was aiming for when the piece was brought out, folks laughed delightedly, so I knew I succeeded.
When the work was set in front of him, Waters' eyes widened, and he had a huge smile. As he reached out to feel the bristles, I fibbed, "It's made with a broom I used to clean the dirtiest porno shops left in Times Square." He reeled back, and quipped, "Great! I just touched it," which was when I let him in on the joke.
After a last few photos together, he split for his hotel, and the night came to a wonderful close at the after-party.
following evening was to be another 156 set, but it became an event to battle
the previous one for the status of "Best Night So Far". I was to play
in between a double feature of two splatter films, one of which was 2000
Maniacs. In a flash of brilliance, Blindspot and Radioactive Mike decided
to contact the film's director, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and present him with
a lifetime achievement award. All of this was to be a surprise for the crowd.
They asked me to write his introduction, and present the award. It was an undeniable
treat to watch all the unsuspecting jaws drop when I mentioned his name, and
the Godfather of Gore walked out.
The second 156 set went unbelievably well, and since it was at a horror flick screening, I decided to dedicate the set to the heroine in those films; recruiting drummer Betty Beat to gather together a group of females to complete an industrial drum circle. It worked out wonderfully.
Monday night passed with nothing more than aloe to sooth my sunburned skin from laying about the beach all day.
As Tuesday evening arrived, a little after another full day of shoreline sunbathing, it struck two of my old bandmates, Mirabal and Roach (of Sound 4 Sound), to have a very last minute reunion set. We texted all our friends, made a social media invite page, and hoped for the best. While only a handful of pals could make it out on such short notice, a small crowd kept popping in hearing that soul singer Adele was in town. In all honesty, being on that stage again, belting out punk rock - like little kids - was possibly the highlight of my trip.
The ritual had succeeded. I had achieved a grand sendoff to an upcoming voyage, and even killed off the rest of the week by lounging on the beach, daily, in high spirits. Feeling triumphant in the culmination of my desires, I no longer needed the spell's protection, and went on, letting nature take me on her course.
It was my mistake to let go of the reins, especially so early.
I've been known to preach that one of our functions in the physical realm is to, due to fractal dimensionality, individually work as information-gathering units for the great Computer. As kooky as I just put it, it basically means: we learn by living life. Only, I happen to not like what I'm about to learn.
Monday, I was to start my journey back home to New York City, walking up US
I woke up on Sunday with a bit of a scratch in my throat, but didn't think much of it, and even went out that night with an old friend to see a band play heavy metal covers of 80s pop songs.
After a night of Madonna-meets-GnR, stale beer and drunkenly dancing rednecks, he dropped me off at Blue Heron Blvd in West Palm Beach. I felt as if I was cheating, seeing as I was to begin walking from Miami.
On day one, I walked from the drop point to Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge and Nature Center; 18 miles. When I settled for the night, I realized I had no mosquito repellent, as well as out of water. By this time, the convulsions were starting. I thought it was due to dehydration, and carrying a 30 lb backpack.
few hours earlier, a ranger at Jonathan Dickinson State Park told me a gas station
was four miles ahead of where I'm currently camped. After the hundredth insect
bite, and thinking I was only about a mile north of his station, I asked myself,
"What would three miles do to me?", and took off. I needed water anyway,
badly. He was off by another five miles.
Finally, nine miles on, I can see my first gas station in Port Salerno. So far, I've walked 27 miles, and delirium is setting in. I grab water, a 45 minute nap, and forgetting bug spray, kept on walking.
By 8am I am stumbling into Stuart, FL (36 miles so far), and my body is starting to fall apart. I haven't been able to keep food down for a few hours now. Is this heat exhaustion? I don't know, but I keep drinking.
I call Blindspot, and tell him it's over. I am beat, and can't go on. He encourages me, but finally gives in, and is about to leave to pick me up, when I call him back, telling him to forget about my moment of weakness. I must keep trying.
I began to think things out. Eight hour hikes means no stopping to take in the nature of this walk, or to enjoy any part of it. I understand that this was a sort of pilgrimage, and the essence of a pilgrimage is to suffer. At this pace, I wouldn't suffer, so much as outright kill myself. I wanted to disconnect from the world, not disengage from it.
Around the 40 mile mark, I met the Hollywood stock character tagged the Magic Negro. He looked as ancient, as he seemed wise, and you'd expect that from a drifter named Clarence.
I've been telling friends that the homeless drift US1 all the time, and here was one now. He was walking the opposite direction, so I stopped to chat him up. I asked for his story, and he asked of mine. He laughed at the amount of shit on back, and when looking him up and down realized that, though he was only going the length of Florida, he had on a comfortable pair of shoes, light-colored clothing, and a small backpack weighing a maximum of about ten pounds. Here I was, dressed in all black - the only color I own, wearing heavy boots, and carrying way more than I needed.
He told me to start again. I decided he was right.
By this time, the convulsions were much worse, as was the hurling. I began a dry cough, as well.
Deciding my spiritual journey was over, I could get along faster by a bit of hitchhiking. I half-crawled another 17 miles to a truckstop in Ft. Pierce, and found a ride from a long-haul driver whose drop point was, of all places, Fayetteville, NC - an old haunt of my military family, near Ft. Bragg.
By northern FL the trucker was convincing me that my symptoms were something serious, as he had never seen anyone attempt to throw up that much. I heaved, and, not having an appetite, nothing came out, but water. I was certain it was heat exhaustion, he was certain otherwise.
was dropped off near a hospital in Jacksonville, and after a four-hour wait,
had blood drawn. The blood was for a full test, but they seemed to know what
was wrong, so they took out some type of prodding tool, and said if my skin
reacted, they would have a general idea of what I had. I was poked, and my skin
formed a small rash in response.
I had contracted malaria.
The nurse gave me shot of, what I think was, chloroquine, and handed me a stack of paperwork on my disease. I feared talk of quarantine, so I scooped up my bag, and - as backs were turned - hightailed it out of there, as quick as possible. Even in all that pain, I walked faster than before, thinking I would be sought after, as some type of Typhoid Mary.
While walking downtown, I read the paperwork to discover malaria is a parasite (which replicate in the liver and brain, explaining my back and headaches), though not contagious. I felt I had no choice. I had to give up, and go home, or die, so I gave in. Knowing I would not infect others, I opted to take an easy way home.
The cheapest flight was $320, and all I had was $260 on me. I walked to downtown Jacksonville, and bought bus fare home with the remaining dough I had on me.
The 22 hour "express" bus ride stopped in Savannah, GA and Richmond, VA (where I watched a crackhead attempt to steal a woman's bag and get caught), finally dropping me off at Port Authority in the heart of Manhattan.
I called for my test results to let me know I specifically had ovale malaria, which would die out on its own.
Egotistically deflated, and feeling mighty ill, I decided that once I was better I would try this again, but do a hell of a lot of things differently.
First, while it seems fitting to try to make it from one location to another, drifting aimlessly should give me as much solitude, without the time constraints of having to be in certain places by specific times.
Second, I need to leave my cellphone behind, seeing I didn't disconnect at all. I found myself calling all sorts of friends, only to keep my mind occupied. I even called Little One once to get a weather report.
In my times of delirium, I honestly thought Universe was getting back at me for my sins, but I calmed myself into thinking that punishment comes to those who are always evil - not to the ones who are that way only half the time. Even though karma does not work on a self-balancing scale, I knew that my good side was good enough.
So, I will start this trek, all over again, soon. This time, much differently.
If I lost your interest in this experiment, not to worry, I'm not doing this for you.
A. Souto, 2012
Curious to know how my 2nd trip went? Click here.