There was a point to this conversation somewhere. Whatever it was got lost at some point during the inhalations of herb, the nips at Lone Star beers, and the lambasting of the U.S. political system by a vibrating man singing self-written reggae songs mixed with some Marley covers below our leaned-over-balcony bodies. Most people are up here on the second floor, a party removed from those wandering in and out downstairs: the people who look to the reggae man for a minute, bob to his beats, and exit in search of more people; more parties. Those up here are divided into cliques: Nikko, a married couple, and I are smoking nearest the balcony. Groups of others are scattered around, each slurring and sputtering through their own pseudo-philosophical babble, their own profound reasons for finding themselves here in Austin, in this bar. Myself, I have no idea how we got here. I don’t even know at what point we broke off from Mark, Jimmy, and Josh. Maybe I’m living in the present like all of the traveling souls in this bar or maybe I’m adhering to my own theme for this trip and am extremely fucked up. Nikko is speaking to this husband, I the wife — I guess. I’m so deep into my own questions of presence and existence that her words slip through me. Her eyes blink with mine: they sleepily open and close and I wonder if her mouth is on auto pilot as she wanders through sentences about life, the universe, and everything.
“So we went around the world and asked people the same 6 questions. Ya know, ‘What happens after you die?’, ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ ya know, hard questions …”
My eyes close with a Lone Star to my lips. “Oh wow! Did you guys find any correlation?” I am amazed the word correlation comes out with the fluidity it had it my mind.
“Yah! We have amazing results! So much good information!”
She doesn’t go into any of it. I try to pry into some because I am interested though I’m unsure if it’s genuine or because I’m abundantly intoxicated but regardless she’s not giving anything up. She just speaks in broad strokes about the trip in its entirety. Where did she go? What is ‘all around the world’? I’m not gaining an inch.
Next to me Nikko is laughing with her husband. He goes into some spontaneous dance moves and continues to discuss living a fun life with him. I can already see the dynamic of this duo: he’s the spirit, she’s the mind.
“We sold the documentary to Oprah.” She says nonchalantly.
“No. It’s bullshit. We did all this work and it gets turned into a TV program. It’s bigger than that. We’re bigger than those people” Oh god, the statement was a trap. Maybe I was supposed to call her out when she originally told me. Maybe I was supposed to grimace and throw my beer at her for appeasing the Sheeple. My eyes drunkenly close and roll a few times as I take a strategic sip from my beer. She’s still talking, closing in on my ear and biting it furiously with her fanged words. Just leave me alone, lady.
“How else would you be able to reach people?” I ask. She says nothing, just drinks. Oops, wrong question to ask. 0 for 2.
“No, they don’t deserve it. The whole system is bullshit. The whole thing. You gotta understand that what we did is good, it’s better than this. What me and my husband did is important!” She’s a pre-recording. She’s circular thought embodied.
Maybe she just doesn’t understand what I said. I take another sip and refine my search for her answer. “Isn’t it our duty, if we have the knowledge, to share it with the people who don’t? How else do they rise above the shit?” She’s sipping at her beer now. Our conversation has become a shitty intellectual battle; a stalemate of statements between soaked in suds from bottles of thoughts. The beer isn’t even beer anymore, it’s bought time to quickly piece together a new strategy, a way to come up with a new angle of defense for her disdain of the general population. She’s chugging.
My knees bend and my body sways to the sounds from below. I look over the balcony and see some people doing the same on the side of the stage near the entrance. They’ll catch a glimpse of the act for a moment or two before finding another bar to get another cheap drink; those lucky bastards. The bar is full, the people’s backs are to the music but the man on stage uses his body to convey his message to the temporarily uninterested crowd. Once they get their bottled time they’ll white people dance near the stage as I do upstairs.
“You have to…you don’t understand. Once you get to a point you…you don’t see. I’m above humanity.” There it is: the crux of her argument. I have nothing to say, I just stand near the balcony and finish my beer.
“I’ll be right back” She says and disappears into the droves of people she’s above. The bottles empty, her time’s up.
Behind me, Nikko and Husband are laughing. My mind drifts from the buzz of liquid time and the weed grooving through my blood stream as the guy downstairs works through Bob’s Satisfy My Soul without the growing necessity of backup vocals. People like Mrs. Above-It-All are everywhere; I know a few of her in NJ/NY. The novelty of the people like her has been so worn down on me that I can see right through her words and cut them right to their intended meaning: “I am greater than you”; a weird teacher/student dynamic where she just nods her head as if to say “I know, my child”. She’s so entrenched in her own new age spiritual bullshit that she’s forgotten the small picture. In her quest for self-affirmation she’s left everyone else behind. Somewhere in her conscious uplifting she raised her head directly up her own ass. In NJ, these are the people who claim spiritual allegiance to one thing and knock down “the systematic repression of religion”. The women and men who claim their body’s temples as cigarettes hang from their mouths. People removed from god but still cycling through the words “good”, “bad”, “god dammit!”, and “Jesus Christ!”. How easily their own self is undone by their own language, how simply they’d see it; if they cared to understand their words at all. Wife, without knowing, has found herself in the exact same situation as any of the religious folk, like any of the pseudo-spiritualosos from my neck of the woods. She’s caught herself in a groove, an embedded thought, and is unable to lift out of it. She’s stuck in one train of thought and unable to understand any other track, though I’ll bet she claims she understands it all. It’s the problem of book readers who’ve just toppled their 100th book, an enlightenment where suddenly they get the entire canon because they’ve read a handful of novels. Watch 10 documentaries and suddenly you’re the expert. Look out of a telescope for a year and now you’re Carl Sagan. She’s above it all because she’s seen things, but who hasn’t? Some of us just don’t have the egoism to think that because we’ve been through some shit that we’ve somehow risen above everybody else. Maybe she likens herself as a phoenix from the ashes; an extremely appropriate vision for her given the flapping of her wings spreads the ashes everywhere. She doesn’t remember where she comes from, she just looks to soar but the ashes are still screaming for help while she looks down, separating them from each other with each flap of her superior wings, and scoffs: “I’m above humanity”. Perhaps she thinks she’s gone the Full Monty, lifted herself from all of the shit around her and found her place in a world filled with hostility. Hell, maybe she has, but she went ahead and considered herself outside and above people, outside the very same people she then just admitted to exploiting for her own personal gain. Joke’s on them I guess; joke’s on me. She’s in my head now forcing me to think of her own hypocrisy and people like her instead of my own spiritual back-and-forths. From the sea of people around me I can see her riding waves back towards dancing Nikko and standing me.
“Here ya go.” She says, handing me a fresh Lone Star.
Satisfy my soul / satisfy my soul! / That’s all I want you to do / that’s all I’ll take from you!
Without my questions about her documentary the conversation flows as fluidly as her long skirt. The beer is beer again but the music has become artificial; the reggae man has taken a short break and we’re drowned out by speaker music blasting down at us from all angles. It’s the same kind of ska/reggae that came from the stage but it’s pristine, it’s perfect. There aren’t any mistakes; Jimmy Cliff’s voice is unshakable in his studio recording. We work beyond the “Where ya from’s?” and unlike every person we’ve met so far she’s unimpressed by our voyage from the far east coast.
“So you guys just decided to get in an RV and drive down here?”
“No, we have friends, his brother, who have a panel at South By Southwest.”
“Oh …” Not what she wanted to hear. We became like the other 10,000 or so people roaming East 6th St. looking for cheap booze and parties. In a way, we were, though we weren’t really paying for any of the alcohol we found in our hands, sometimes more than we could drink. Maybe she expected a spontaneous spiritual journey. For me it kind of was, I was asked to join the trip 2 days before departure because of problems with the driving arrangement and hopped aboard with $330.00 to my name ($55.00 left).
The bar’s music and my tinnitus make it hard to hear her and as I find myself bowing my ear closer to her mouth Nikko dances a half circle to join our conversation. Husband is taking a piss break and she immediately focuses on his clothes.
“Look at you! With your … cool leather jacket and your … jeans and your boots … and take a look at those glasses! … Mr. … Mr. …” She’s struggling to end the teasing with some kind of label for him but she’s falling short. Nikko laughs as she fumbles for his title. “Mr. Cool Fashion Guy!”. Eh.
“You think you’re a cool guy, huh?” She’s kidding around with him while she pokes at his jacket; a much different tone taken with Nikko than our own pseudo-philosophical babble that mimicked all other conversations around us. There’s a small silence after that goes unnoticed under the blare of Could You Be Loved; a block of Marley songs that fills every like-minded bar in the country, I’m sure of it. We all bounce to Bob in both silence and conversation.
“Neither of you have an accent, do you know that?” Nikko and I were both born in NJ; Nikko inherited a kind-of Filipino accent from his parents while I consciously practiced removing my NJ accent at a fairly young age, pronouncing it “caw-fee” was cringe-worthy.
“You don’t have one, either!” I say and Nikko agrees. Her travels around the world and a similarly conscious removal probably took care of that.
She looks at us and shakes her head at multiple times during the conversation, a smile graces her just-over-middle-aged face.
“Hey, let me ask you two something …” She starts, “are you two lovers?”
Nikko and I look at each other and laugh a bit.
“No, just friends. I’ve known him for … about 10 years? Damn!” Nikko says and reflects.
“Yeah, I know him through his brother. Known these two for a long time!” I speak as though Mark is involved in this.
“Are you sure? You two would make a cute couple …” Where the fuck is your husband?
“Yeah, no, not lovers.” We both laugh.
“I’m serious! You two would look good together!” I’m still drunk and I’m becoming a bit unsure what she’s trying to accomplish here. Seems to me like she’s trying to play matchmaker between two heterosexual males. Stick to making documentaries, lady.
Thinking about her beyond my first aggressive reaction, she and I are very much alike. We’re both socially active, trying to make sense of things around us by asking questions and attacking established ideas of normalcy. She asks tough questions to her subjects, I ask her questions about her presentation and social context. We’re both looking for spirituality but hell, everybody is. Her “bigger than humanity” comment still stings me as callous but sometimes I can be condescending too. Unlike her I haven’t built a spiritual philosophy around it but I sure as shit have around my own peculiar beliefs and experiences. I could tell that though she was disrupted by my questions, she enjoyed the talk; if she hadn’t she could have walked away and she definitely seemed the type to just walk away if necessary. I enjoyed the damn thing too and feel guilty about my rash conclusion to words I didn’t agree with. Her voice comes from the likeness of other voices; a collective similarity found in individual responses to the questions she and her husband probably pondered together. It’s what made her documentary successful, what’s given her life some meaning. My voice comes from singular views; views removed from other people: inhale experience, exhale words. It gives me some of my own meaning, pulls me closer to the rest of humanity I sometimes forget exists, too.
The husband finally comes back from his way-too-long-to-be-a-piss and the two get ready to leave. Nikko looks at me and we get ready to do the same. We say our goodbyes, thank her for the beers, and head downstairs. Somehow they made it down before us and we pass them again just before exiting The Flamingo Cantina.
“Hey, look out for him!” The husband says to me, pointing at Nikko, a smile spread across his full face. His wife looks at me, smiles, but says nothing. Spirit attracts spirit, mind to mind. We exit into the Austin night, Nikko dancing on 6th street recounting his recent memories with a lively man as I walk with my thoughts about all the similarities between me and that woman.