1.28.2012

Central America to Rome and Back Again

I stalk insanity through brothels and barrooms, along backstreets and waterfronts, and at the end of the day, I come home with pictures that show what's real. Or not. I fancy myself some kind of Carl Denham without the ship or the cage, but that's not true either. Really, I wander around talking to people, people who forever reason, I have come to understand. Sometimes I take pictures of them. Sometimes I don't. The rest -- all the chest-pounding and posturing -- is bullshit. There is nothing less romantic than the work I do. But it is real and I sleep well at night knowing that the drooling pimps who own the machinery and make sure the knives stay sharpened have failed to trap me, at least for one more day. I worry more about being trapped by the thugs I meet, in those alleys and bars. But frankly, I don't worry much. I can take care of myself. And any allegations that I can't have yet to be proven. Fuck the police. And the thieves, too.

This is not going to be a limerick.

There once was a young man from San Salvador, who pursued relentlessly by US-backed government forces, was finally granted exile in Rome. Shortly after he left this country, his long-time girlfriend discovered she was pregnant. It was too late. An ocean and a civil war had broken up what would have been a family. There would be no reunion. Not soon, anyway.

The young man had once fought, head full of revolutionary ideals, in the cities, suburbs and semi-jungles of Central America, dreaming of a better world for his children. Children. That was an abstract idea when he'd carried a carbine. And now, in the civilized world of New Rome, where he'd been given an apartment and a job as a government clerk, he learned he'd left one behind. He could barely remember the seige at San Salvador when they'd taken the capital block by bloody block. All he could remember was Che Guevara, flags of Lenin, and fuck the Yanqui and hasta la victoria siempre. And though he'd never seen his daughter, somehow, against all logic, he could remember her.

More than a decade later, they met, but not in person. They met by telephone. The calls were short at first but grew longer. She phoned him from the brothel where she worked downtown. He started sending money. But it wasn't enough. The calls continued to come. From the brothel.

And so he learned that in an El Salvador now controlled by men who had once worn guerilla fatigues but now wore suits and ties, his daughter was working as a whore. This is not the insanity I look for when I walk around, with the mission statement, stolen from a long-gone Coney Island attraction, to "shoot the freak," and as my brother adds, "before the freak shoots you." Which more or less describes what I do. Get in. Get out. Keep your head attached to your body. Because the freak, no matter what you might think, has a gun and knows how to use it.

No. This is the stuff of nightmares. This is the price of something called victory, which charges the same steep wages as defeat and breaks the backs of those who wear the medal. It is a story about putting your very body into the pathways of bullets, learning that you have no choice but to flee, and then watching a body made from your body, skeleton, breasts and all, sell itself to the drunks, addicts and gangsters along the avenue.

I did not take any photographs of her when I met her last week. It was too sane, too commonplace in this world divided by stupid ideologies and majestic oceans. There is nothing novel about tragedy. Not in the era of Civilization and "complete cosmetic control."

She said they are working through the Italian embassy to allow her passage to Europe -- along with the once-young-man's two grandchildren (whom he has never met). They say that because he works for the government, it will be easier. She could be in Europe within six months. That's the human dream. America. Europe. Freedom. Liberation. From Laredo, Mexico to the streets of San Salvador, it makes mouths water. But it comes only after the shooting has stopped, and even then, the pain lingers. And 20 years after the government signed peace accords here, nobody takes much comfort in the silence, which is broken by gangland gunfire and bad, shellshock dreams.