Thursday, August 04, 2005

THREE YEARS IN DOWNTOWN ASHEVILLE: "My journey is my crashland"

My little wanderlust life has always been a sweet aerial malfunction waiting to crashland. Well, in Asheville, I feel that I finally “crashlanded”-although I’m still sort of recuperating, healing, struggling, surviving… The thing is, I stayed and remained. The “crash” kept me still, glued to the ground… But, lest I confuse you again, let me turn back the hands of time…
Prior to the very exact day that I found my perpetually oblivious, spaced-out self at the arrival tube of the regional airport in Arden, I haven’t had the slightest hunch that I’d end up in the Appalachians. I wasn’t even sure where was I, to tell you the truth. “Uh-huh, what the… you are in Nashville?!” That was my ex Annie Triple-X on a winter aftermidnight, in a 9th on 24th Dunkin Donut payphone in Chelsea NY.
“No, I said I’m in Asheville! I think it’s in Tennessee… I’m not really sure.” Just three weeks from a right-lung surgery in New Brunswick NJ, I was still morphine-dazed and Percocet-drugged. (I slept all through the 3hr flight from Newark to Atlanta to... where was I?) “No, you rotten devil?! You are in Nashville. What in the hell you’re in Nashville?! I bought you a Delta Air ticket to Asheville! Asheville, Tennessee, not Nashville, North Carolina… uh, I mean-damn! Aaarrggghhh! Where are you?!”
Ah! I dragged my wearied anatomy outside the airport and hailed a cab. “Where am I exactly?” The horridly humongous driver who looked like a zombie Rob Zombie, peered at me, “You are in Arden.” (By that time, I already knew I was, yes, in Asheville.) “OK, I’d like to go to Best Western in Asheville…” Rob Zombie, still probably shaking some moonshine cloud in his dawn-of-the-dead head, didn’t get what I was saying… “Nashville, why the hell you wanna go to Nashville?” (I thought out loud, screaming within, “I said, ASHEVILLE!”)
Oh well, that somehow explains, in incoherent nutshell, how I temporarily survived my “aerial malfunction” in Asheville. Yes, I’m pretty sure it’s not just the misaligned accent or the bedroom-boy soft-spoken timidity or the half-whisper, half-mumble gibberish that made life kinda agonizing for me in North Carolina.
Truth is, until now, I’m still trying to figure out how I survived here and how I sort of managed to fit myself in, around and beyond downtown. After all these three years of my Appalachian crashland, notwithstanding my consistent presence in major downtown streets (Haywood, Lexington, Broadway, College, Patton), park benches (Pritchard, Vance, City Plaza), coffeeshops (Old Europe, Malaprops, Bearly Edible, Mellow Mushroom, Rosetta’s) - not one wait staff or cashiers could understand what I’m trying to buy, or say.
“No, I mean, Highland Ale, not kale…” / “Yes, I said, that sandwich is to go… but I’m staying.”
And, not one of East Buffet’s ever-hospitable waitresses, born-and-bred Orientals like yours truly, could stand a 15-second chat with me, “Yes, I’d like a Budweiser…” I make it a point to phonetically pronounce the word, to make sure.
“Baa-dhaa-wah-laah-ser?” Mei Ling Foo got it right, I guess. I usually nod, approvingly, you see-but when I head back to my seat, I get a Yuengling. At those particular points in time, my able associates, Jenni The Jello or Marta The Nicer Osbourne, had to step in. “Yes, that’s what he meant. Corona.” Whatever.

My most embarrassing experience-as an immediate outcome of all these ruthless exchanges of misfired accents-happened in one of the “Bonfires for Peace” concerts at Pritchard Park last year. While contemplating my ensuing Nimzo-Indian variation (chess move, y’know) versus a homeless homey as the show unfolds-Dos Equis, a band person, approached me. “What time are we playing, Pasckie?” Lazily pushing my red-shades up snug the bridge of my nose, I muttered, “… at nine until ten… at nine.” Then I sunk my brain back to the board game.
A few hours past... no Dos Equis Band. Then, as we were already loading out, the dude showed up, nervously approached Marta, very upset, “The show’s over? I thought we’re playing at ten?!” To cut this short, what the poor mister actually, or most probably, heard from me was-“… till ten… at night” (not, “till ten… at nine”).
So, by virtue of that goof-up, poor Dos Equis easily became one of the many unfortunate Asheville souls who got caught in my confused state of out-of-sync Appalachian existence. But, then again, that one particular experience was relatively forgivable, as well as forgettable, compared with the more surreal, more bizarre occurrences that make up the exhilaratingly colorful chapters of my North Carolina odyssey.

I have my own share of most-touching, most-poignant day - as well as the most hated, most unforgivable night. Whatever the case-in Asheville-I finally felt and believed that I now belong to the human race. Here, I experienced just about anything, I mean, anything that a regular, average, palpitating earthling could experience in a real community, or real world.
You see, many times-whether it’s the Philippines or America-I feel that I’m a freak, a green-skinned Martian with seven ears sticking out of his nostrils camouflaged as a Pinoy-Cherokee with an unforgiving Bolshevik-Krakovian-Ilocano accent. People around me, including my immediate relatives, treat me like I’m a perilous Ewok that should be fed enough chilled oysters and correctly-boiled Vietnamese rice at a preferred time of the day… I was always a different, strange creature--the outsider, the alien. That immensely bothered me.
So, anyway, why do I say that I suddenly mutated, for good, as a true-blue homo sapien in Asheville?
Well, you might say that my so-called little life in WNC isn’t so big deal-because of the fact that everybody here lives that way. Gosh, man, that’s exactly my point-suddenly, I share the same life, the same problems and hassles, the same mess-ups and goof-ups, the same funk and roll, the same heartaches and heartbreaks, and all that humanity stuff-with the dude next to me! In my life, that is unprecedented.
“So, finally, EARTH LIFE has signed you in!” That’s what my eldest sis, Tess, wrote me last time she emailed from Manila.

In Asheville-I got my own share of disgusting traffic and road hassles. We got flagged down at least thrice, and that’s big deal. In all those instances, my drivers were all females-Paige The Jimmo, Smiley Leslie, Cussin’ Julie -and they all didn’t have a driver’s license. Isn’t that amazing? All three girls drove all over Asheville, and they didn’t even have driver’s license-and they all got caught, and it all happened while they’re with me…
I also experienced falling and getting stupidly stuck on a ditch four times-in Fairview, Candler, Fletcher, West Asheville-again, all female friends (Paige again! Jenni The Jello, Susan The W, and Cussin’ Julie again!) I also got stranded, car broke down and/or lost fuel, in the middle of a winter’s night, four times-in Oteen, Barnardsville, Mars Hill, Fletcher-thrice with Paige (again, yes again!), and once with Awesome Siobhan, a visiting ex from Dublin, only because she was too freakin’ smashed to re-examine whether she’s still in an Irish valley or in a Blue Ridge hilltop… Worst, I also had an almost destructive car crash-along Charlotte St-again, with a female driver, Marta The Nicer Osbourne.
Not that I’m saying that having female car companions is sort of The Mother of All Vehicular Risks… It had nothing to do with that, certainly. It was, probably, because of me, you know.
There was this bizarre hot August day in New Jersey when me and another ex, Mustang Molly, had five(!) car-related misfortunes within a painstaking span of 12 hours!-(a) a ticket for going the wrong turn on a one-way lane in Teaneck, (b) another ticket for exceeding parking-meter time, (c) a broken side-mirror after hitting a mailbox in Secaucus, (d) stuck in the middle of the NJ Garden Parkway, no fuel, (e) another ticket for running a red light in Atlantic City. All in twelve-goodgollymissmolly-hours!
You got it right, almost 75% of my final break-up arias - in the last seven years of my life - all took place inside a car. (Not to mention that a huge piece of a broken window once fell atop the hood of Paige’s-again, again, again, again!-Saab Convertible while we were supposedly peacefully, harmlessly parked in a supposedly peaceful, harmless block in Brevard having strawberry ice creams and enjoying a Shania Twain CD. (That must’ve been the reason, eh?)
Ah, women... Well, despite all these auto lunacies, I do sincerely agree that women saved my life in Asheville. Without them, I’m nothing but a flat tire.

All my most loyal associates are women-Beth, Jenni, Emily, Paige, Marta -- good-natured, warm-spirited angels who came down from some Cracker Barrel Heaven to keep things in proper order and system in my tupsy-turvy life.
You see, I just realized that I have lived in almost all nearby trailer parks south, north, east, and west of downtown Asheville-and most of my roomies or housemates were women.
In Oteen (Rita, Kristi, Missy, Mary, Lindsay), in Weaverville (Beth, Jenni, Laura, Sarah, Jessica, Mary), in Candler (Beth, Jenni, Marie, and Mimi, the bedbug), in Mars Hill (Julie, Heather and Kelly, and their dog, Claire)… by the way, I also lived in Fairview, briefly in Black Mountain, stayed for few weeks in Town Mountain Rd. Of course, I also made quite a number of male hang out buddies here like Agent Mulder, Dale H, Kapila, Justin G, Chris Malz and Da Doo Ron Ron, to name a few - but there’s always a steady presence of women-friends who’d give me a ride, buy me a dinner, loan me $10 to $100, gift me a CD, lend me a Blockbuster account, email me sweet-little-nothings, offer nice words about my poetry, or give me a nice, warm, hearty hug even in the presence of their hubby or boyfriend.
Indeed, I came to understand and respect the average American family’s realities by actually living with them women -- north, south, west and east of Asheville. Without really trying, by just being myself, I am able to freely and willingly plunge or dive in the very heart and soul of small-town America.
Mothers and daughters fight over adolescent freedom, couples contend with the emotional rigors of divorce proceedings, heads-of-family struggle over health benefits and safe heating on winter, credit card and bank woes, evictions and court summons, unwanted pregnancies, tax payments and debts-on-collection, support money headaches… Yup, no big talk about global free market, US foreign policy, or cultural imperialism-it’s all very gut level. I argued, fought, wept, laughed, danced, sang, cooked/ate, slept with, broke up, fought, sweated, worried, stressed out, lived, loved with them, it’s all very bare-bones humanity-right here right now-in Asheville.
Another interesting thing is-it’s also, only, in downtown Asheville (no, not in the East Village in New York City) where I experienced spellbinding, mystifying albeit comically off-balanced conjectures.
One night, after reading a poem or two at Beanstreets, a sneaky dude with a horrible D’Artagnan moustache, approached me, “Hey, I like your poems, man… here-take them, they’re for you!” I thought it was a ten-dollar tip or some acid pill, or something, nah-it was a set of four elastic condoms with matching lubricants. I was flustered but I thought out loud, that was also very concerned, very friendly.
Here’s another one. One night, at Westville Pub, a stunningly gorgeous blonde bought me two Highland Ales from across the bar. Hmm, well, I wouldn’t mind, you know, she’s hot-but the trouble was, she actually thought I was a girl! And she only found that out when we were already in her car! Oh lordy, mother-have-mercy! All I could utter was, “I am sorry… but I am actually a dude!” (We went back to the bar and simply drank the night away.)

Oh yes--I am so honored that a considerable representation of the very colorful, creative and active spirits that comprise the very humanity of Asheville could at least recognize my name or my face, or the projects that I conceived and built here - from avowed downtown personalities like Emoke B’Racz of Malaprop’s and Ann Dunn of Fletcher Dance School to grizzled sociopolitical shamans Jim Brown and Bob Brown to the more controversial energies like Virato and Peter With-The-Sax to peace activists Cicada Brokaw, Lola LaFey, Susan Oehler and Tim Pluta to singer/musician Stephanie Morgan, film/theater artist Katie Kasben, poet Carrie Gerstmann, dancer/choreographer Heather Maloy, bellydancer SamiTe, everyday dude Kima Moore, folk musicians Michael Farr, Matt Lambert, George Glass, Aaron Gunn, Dawn Humphrey and Benjammin, trance DJ Chris “Kri” Johnson, local band guys the Hippie Shitzus and Phuncle Sam, to dedicated/committed entrepreneurs Rosetta of Rosetta’s Kitchen, Mark of Bearly Edible and Roseanne Kiely of Grove Park Market, Jonah Lipsky of Relaxed Reader, and Greg Turner of Westville Pub to (perhaps) three of the few African-American souls in downtown Asheville-Accem Scott, Anderson Davis and CJ Randall to co-publishers/mediapersons Dennis Ray of Rapid River and Paul Clarke of Citizen Times to “poetic astrologer” Kelly Lee Phipps to public access TV/mediaperson Mark Goldstein to women advocacy activist Debbie Metcalf to younger neighborhood shakers/movers like Adam Walsh, Chris Orellana and Crystal Watley, to photographers Patrick Lafebvre, Liza Squire, and Frank Marrero to UNCA “kids” Noah Wilson and Nina Marie Collins to Asheville Police Department’s Chief Bill Hogan and Lt Wade Wood to Greyhound dispatcher Dave to East Buffet’s Lan, the manager…
We have also performed or held events in almost more-than-half of the clubs, cafes, venues in Asheville and Weaverville: Malaprops, Stella Blue, Grey Eagle, Asheville Pizza&Brewing Co., Sweet Heaven, Bearly Edible, Hannah Flannagan’s, West End Bakery, Well Bred, Beanstreets, Club Hairspray, Rosetta’s Kitchen, College Street Pub, Relaxed Reader, Indigenous Teahouse, Tribes, Grove Corner Market, and the dear-departeds Vincent’s Ear, Core Pad, Akumi, and Port City Java-Battery Park, and of course, the unofficial home of the “Bonfires for Peace”-Pritchard Park. We have also booked and/or dealt with many local acts/band, performers, poets and musicians-that the mere act of mentioning them here seemed repetitious.
Many writers, poets and journalists-as well as plain-and-simple Asheville souls-have graced and blessed the pages of The Indie (aside from those mentioned above): From the first interns (Megan, Marie, Susan, Patricia) and past assistants (Jenni, Emily) to writer/contributors Bunk Nesbit, Rena Wright-Daugherty, Vic and Hannah D’Baptista, Nan Kavanaugh, Sarah Benoit, Shane Meador, Paul DeCirce… Erik Pohl, Julie Umanova, Jason Klein, Matthew Mulder, Jon Teeple, Dale Hoffman, Justin Gostony, Mike Hopping. The new friends, comrades, acquaintances, and buddies seem to grow like leaves of grass… and these souls aren’t the obligatory BS Journalism or so-called “professionals” with, like, minimum of 5-year media work experience behind them. They are the average Asheville spirits, the body and soul that you’d see sitting by a park bench on a Saturday afternoon, temporarily unmindful of the synthetic haze threatening to swallow the world around them, peaceful and quiet within.
For someone like me, a self-confessed recluse and loner-who still can’t seem to muster the courage to pick up a ringing phone or entertain an uninvited office guest or sustain a three-minute street conversation - I have made myself sufficiently counted as an existent, living organism in Asheville.

But then, I don’t want to just wallow on the good stuff. Of course, there were also “ordinary” human downsides and setbacks that came my way -- ie, late on rent, disconnected phones, debts on collection, trips to the pawnshop/blood bank/Mission/food stamp agency, $500 worth of APD reprimand (which was overturned), near-fistfight at a Subway store, unpaid personal loans, closed bank accounts, countless eviction notices…
You might not even realize that I also, actually worked “real” jobs in Asheville. I worked as an office assistant at the Flat Iron bldg. I also mowed lawns in Oteen. I took care of kids (uhh, 14-year-old girls, bigger and taller than my 5’3”, 115lb self) in Hendersonville. I raked leaves in Woodfin. I painted fences in Town Mountain Rd, among others.
But, wanna know, what’s my most prominent, unforgettable downside experience?
We were mercilessly kicked out of a club gig even before it actually started. To think that we, all three bands, loaded in a truckload of PA/amps/equipment on our own expense. No, I haven’t forgiven that particular bad break-because, until now, I haven’t actually found one single reason why the lady club owner suddenly wanted us out of her premises, just like that. Not forgiven, not forgotten.

The thing is-these miscues, mistakes, and misfires along with graces, blessings, and gifts-undoubtedly, unmistakably make me a breathing, mumbling inhabitant of US of A. I had my own share of enemies and detractors, friends and supporters, lovers and haters, as well as-an entire Collier’s volume of fascinating, perplexing, heart-wrenching, interesting experiences.
Wherever I go, I am always asked, “Where’re you from?” I always almost automatically, instinctively respond, “I’m from Asheville.” (Before, I go, “I came from the Philippines, I have a Cherokee blood, I used to live in New York City, but I live in Asheville now… blahblahblah.”)
Hence, slowly but surely-I learned to dismantle the racial/cultural barriers that once awkwardly set me apart from the white population of the human species. I always thought that I’m just a “little-brown-islander” and that dude is a “big-white-mainlander,” and that’s it. Don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.
But here, I walk and talk the human walk and talk-not the American way, not the Filipino way, not the Cherokee way. And I never faked or rationalized/justified my reflexes and responses. There were many instances when supposedly “natural” or “ordinary” man-woman interactions, especially in the most intimate areas of private connections, caught me off-balanced, threatened, intimidated, or puzzled. I must admit that I still have to process in my multicultural psychoanalytical mindset the words and phrases-“please, stay for the night,” “I’d like you to hold me,” “I really like you a lot,” “are we friends?” “thank you” (after making love, sharing a dinner, walking/talking), “are we dating or are we just seeing each other,” “you are my hang out buddy…”
In between those seemingly simple, nonchalant words are gestures that may seem incongruent or mismatched or unlikely in my culture. But I have grown comfortable with them without actually, necessarily embracing them.
But every day I am learning… My life has been more like transcendental blessings than financial miseries here. Food brought in, laundry washed, rides volunteered/rendered, cash donated, office peripherals freely given, services and time shared, jokes and laughters… (Most of the things, implements, equipment in the office came from friends... Not to mention, the continuing donations in kind and food to Bonfires projects come from Asheville businesses.)
So the “crashland” wasn’t bad, after all, right?
The moments… That day when The Blue Sky God/dess ushered the rain to stop the Bonfires at Pritchard Park so I could “rest” my spirits as my Mother fought for life in Manila… that afternoon when my Father begged for me to “come home” as he boarded the Greyhound back to Jersey and back to Manila… that night when Beanstreets’ open mic buddies placed a hat in front of me, and dollar bills poured, as I said my supposed “goodbye” on that one sad summer’s evening two years ago… But I am still here. I am still the same, after all these years.
I’ve come a long, long way, indeed -- in a span of a heartbeat - from my neighborhood in Quezon City in Manila to the radical romance of New York City subways to my neck-of-the-wood in Asheville, North Carolina. The “sweet aerial malfunction” becomes my life’s journey. Car crash on a ditch, uncribbed accents and chess matches at the park, condoms for a ten-minute poetry, scrabble games with four women around me, jagermeisters with the Shitzus, weepy midnights over PBRs and cheap Boone’s Farm sangrias with Marta The Nicer Osbourne and Mathilde The Extra-Terrestrial Apparition of 70 Woodfin Place…
Life’s been good, so far, right? Just like what the cool dude said, “Life is a box of chocolates-you don’t know what you’re gonna get”-just like my Asheville “crashland.” I haven’t got a clue what was it that’s in store for me from the very moment I found myself here. But does it matter? Life is always unexpected but, nevertheless, sweet.


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