Jimmy Santiago Baca's brilliantly received memoir, A Place to Stand, earned him the prestigious International Prize and offered a keyhole view into the brutal personal history that shaped -- and continues to inform -- his raw, incisive voice. In C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans, he trains his hallmark lyrical intensity on the dark underbelly of addiction and takes us on an unforgettable guided tour of the darkest corners of a brutal, unjust world. C-Train is a heartstopping series of episodes from the life of Dream-boy, a young man who finds himself seduced, and later enslaved, by the siren song of cocaine. Part paean to the delicious power of intoxication, part lament for those helplessly under its power, C-Train is a ride its hero, and the reader, struggle to get off. In Thirteen Mexicans, Baca writes of the Chicano community and the gulf between the American dream and American reality. In searing, elegiac vignettes he portrays the raw beauty of life in the barrio and the surreal, stomach-turning moment when people of color must confront how they are reflected in the distorted mirror of white society. Giving voice to the dispossessed and the disenfranchised, Baca illuminates the most unforgiving landscapes; yet his is a vision tempered by a searching hopefulness that brings these collections inching toward redemption. Baca's latest achievement will confirm his place as one of the nation's leading poets, a poet whose words "heal, inspire, and elicit the earthly response of love" (Garrett Hongo). "[Baca] writes with ... an intense lyricism and that transformative vision which perceives the mythic and archetypal significance of life-events." -- Denise Levertov
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C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans
By Jimmy Santiago Baca
Grove Atlantic, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Jimmy Santiago Baca
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy name is Dream Boy. I dream of many things: good life, good job, good friends. There came a day when all my dreams turned into a nightmare of shattered mirrors, with each successive distortion more grotesque. But at first our guests appeared like relief workers, taking us out of our financial and emotional worries. They were welcome to our quiet one-bedroom stucco bungalow, and their arrival seemed expected, in the way that a card reader sometimes hits it right, so it seemed imprinted on my bones, fully visible at this hour on this day, and I had no choice but to follow the consequences of their visit to its ill conclusion, drawn on, I suppose in hindsight, by my youthful arrogance. I would not have believed it myself. I thought I was strong enough to say no or yes to anything offered me. One day when Laura was about six months pregnant, we were sitting in our living room. It was evening, a cool night. I remember the rain had blackened the budding stems of flowers and the boughs of trees. We had dreams stacked up for the future. We planned the kind of house we might build in the mountains, what kind of job she might get after completing school, and how we would raise our child. We took as much care and forethought with our coming child as a seamstressfitting a beautiful white wedding dress on a bride. And then that night in March, Willy walked into our lives. Jorge had brought him over. Orale, DB, Jorge had said. You remember my cousin? The one from New York? Como estas? Willy said. He was chubby and genial-looking. His black hair tumbled into curls and his smile spread across his face. Right away my wife liked him. He sat on the couch and Jorge sat on the chair. Willy leaned his elbow on a black shoulder bag beside him. He began to talk about wines and pastry delicacies. My wife, being Spanish, dove headlong into the conversation. Jorge was giving me little signs with his eyes that he had something to say, but not in front of my wife. So I rose and went into the kitchen, and then after a minute I called for him to help me bring the wine out for my wife and Willy. You know anybody that wants to buy coke? Jorge asked. Maybe, depending on how good it is, I said. Offhand, I didn't know anybody. I just wanted to test some. I had quit using it a year ago, when I had met Laura, and by way of congratulating myself, I felt I deserved just a little taste. You got some coke? I asked, back in the living room. Willy's face came alive. He immediately unzipped his black leather shoulder bag. Another black pouch he unzipped had four ounces in it. I went into the kitchen and took a plate, a spoon, and a knife and came back. He handed me the bag and I scooped a good portion from it. I smashed it on the plate and made nice long thick lines. With a straw I had cut in half, we each took turns blowing the yellowish-white medicine into our noses. All except Laura, who didn't touch the stuff because she was pregnant. We stayed up until three or four in the morning. Then Willy asked me if I could sell any for him. I said I could, if the price was right. He said he would return in a week. He was staying over at his cousin's house, and after that he would return to New York. He left us an ounce for $1,000 and we thanked him. After they had left, I stayed up the rest of the night talking with Laura, pouring myself more and more coke onto the plate. It was magical medicine for me. The past few months I had been feeling worthless and stuck in a pit, and it picked my spirit up. Laura went to bed about eight in the morning and I sat in the living room, just as dawn was creeping over the Sandias. Where was I and where was my life? A sinking feeling filled me. My mind moved too fast to focus on any particular memory to give me perspective. I kept taking lines of coke and looking dumbly out the window at the yard. We could make money on this ounce, I thought. As I looked on the plate, specks of white crystals scattered about, I felt total control over my life and good fortune coming. I would sell this and make the money needed to buy a used car. And even as I snorted more and more lines, I was certain knew I could sell the rest and make good on the ounce. The sun warmed the windows and the day began, brimming with new opportunities. Sparrows shot across the yard; I could hear their incessant sharp sounds coming from the evergreen bushes beneath the kitchen window. Traffic increased on the street outside. Students shouldering backpacks stuffed with textbooks walked by, and I was glad I was alive today. It was my time for pleasure and leisure, for easy money and getting high. I did four or five lines now at a time. My eyes were glazed with the effects of coke pulsing in my blood, my heart beating hard with the excitement of potential achievements in the near future. Lying on the couch and staring out the window, I thought about the time when I first met Laura. I had been working the graveyard shift at a lumberyard. Laura was a secretary there, and every morning I waited to leave until she came in. I wanted to sit with her for a moment and have a cup of coffee, see her face, enjoy her gentle company. She was a sweet woman, with small wrists, slender piano fingers, and an easy and always chuckling voice. Her most endearing quality was how important she made me feel. She didn't pretend to be shy or flirt with me; right away she gave me as much attention as I gave her. There was some swaying light in her eyes that softened even the hardest days at work, and I looked forward to talking and being in her company. She very quickly became the reason I went to work, and as our friendship gathered momentum she came in earlier and earlier to talk with me. I started opening myself up and telling her about my past. I've traveled a lot, I told her. Not from any sense to see America or expand my experience, but more from a deep discontent. I went to Idaho, San Francisco, Oregon, and Montana, and I decided to settle in Denver. What was there? Nothing, actually. Either I couldn't find any work or I didn't know how to work. All my life I've jumped from one job to the next, dishwasher to security guard to woodchopper. I enjoy the blood in my body pumping vigorously and being able to breathe in the fresh morning mountain air. I wanted freedom, what kind I don't know. I wanted to break away from the invisible cage I was trapped in, from this feeling of being caught and predestined to dream about how things could be for me. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew I couldn't endure this day-to-day burden of wanting, desiring, dreaming, and feeling unfulfilled. So I went. But what happened? I fell into drugs again. It was all right for a while. I never made any money, and I always abused drugs. I wanted to rid myself of my body, of this skin that kept my spirit prisoner. Doing drugs was like opening the flesh that hung around my spirit; a door opened and I was able to step outside of the constant worry and discontent. I told Laura that on Friday she could come over to have soup with me. I made the best soup in the world. And then I would finish telling her about myself. When Friday came, she was prompt. We sat at the table and I resumed my story. I was working construction in Idaho, and a co-worker, Randy, asked if I could get him any weed. People always thought I was a dealer, just the way I looked; I don't know why. Anyway, I bluffed and said I could. He could sell it, he said, and that night we made arrangements. I would get the weed and he would sell it. Well, I called a friend of mine in Texas; he said he could bring up three hundred pounds. We waited for two weeks and Tino came, trunk full of weed. The weed business eventually introduced me to coke dealers. And I started taking coke. I quit my job and started hauling weed from Texas. To stay awake, I snorted coke. It also took away the pain of knowing I should be doing something else with my life. Taking coke gave me a rest; it blinded me to my real life, postponed responsibility. I started off buying grams, then quarter ounces, then ounces. All for me and my friends. I wasn't making money and I wasn't thinking about my life. I was in limbo, nonexistent and numb. Over a period of months I got burnt out. I lost control. I moved back here after that. I wanted to get away from drugs and do something right with my life. When I arrived here, I bought a Harley. At the motorcycle shop I met the mechanic and he gave me a little coke. After that, I went to a concert and I met an old friend. I went to his house afterward and we ended up at his kitchen table snorting coke until dawn. Nothing had changed; I was going back into the same old patterns. I was spending my days doing hustles, getting high on snort, drinking wine and whiskey, and running with ladies on the street. One day I had set up a deal on borrowed money, and the deal fell through. I went back and told the people what had happened, and they gave me until midnight to get their money back. That's when I met you, I said. Laura knew the rest of the story. We sipped our soup. I knew she was thinking how I had gone over to her house and told her goodbye. I was going to shoot it out with those people because I didn't have all their money. I got most of it but I still needed three hundred dollars. They wanted it all by midnight. Laura lent me the money so I wouldn't get killed. And that night I vowed never again to befriend people like that and to leave the drug world once and for all. But I did not. I didn't know how deep I was going to get myself in this time. (Continues...)
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