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Fifth book complete: Not Forward but Upward, a 140 page single-spaced novel manuscript. Now to convince for a second publication, besides Barrio Bushido 🙂
Set in the San Francisco Mission varrio from 2012 to 2014, Not Forward but Upward explores the creative struggle of Homeboys and Homegirls fighting against gentrification, police brutality, racism, and economic and educational injustice. Cartoon, a Homeboy who had been banished from the varrio twenty years earlier, has returned from his educational and spiritual odyssey. He finds the hood under attack, and it is no longer the gangs, but the monsters of cafes, cheese schools, and micro-breweries, protected by their own police force, that are destroying the native San Franciscans. In order to strategize a meaningful movement, Cartoon visits his old mentor, El Lobo, a varrio shot caller who is now serving a life prison sentence in San Quentin. Cartoon then recruits the young homies, Lil Santo and Alex Neta, who begin implementing La Movida into amor action in the hood, until the police kill Alex Neta, which ultimately sparks The Revolt of Los Locos.
Written in a style that captures both street realism and poetry, Not Forward but Upward will appeal to a vast audience. With both magical and explicit savagery, Not Forward but Upward utilizes many facets of the urban landscape, including flashbacks of 80’s and 90’s Frisco Mission and Cortland street culture.
I gift you chapter one:
CHAPTER ONE: FINDING BALANCE
This is Take Off.
After Little Cartoon had bowed his head to read those golden words on Santo’s tombstone, he knew he needed to take off—for what kind of idiot or genius would understand the insanity of that wisdom yet stay? The inscription was idiocy because how the fuck is being planted in a grave a Take Off? Genius, too, because compared to all the flying by any bird in the world, no other Take Off was truth.
Now, twenty years later in 2012, strolling through the streets of La Mision, he was no longer little; he was simply Cartoon, a character in a make-believe story full of comedy and violence, absurdity and amor. He returned to the varrio to share with and learn from all the locos: Toro, Santo the spirit, and El Lobo.
“Homeboy,” Lobo had said to Cartoon back in 1992. “I’m gonna be direct. This has all been for you. Times are changing and we need real steel to deal with it. I’m in too deep, but you’re still a runt, 17 years old, just craving for the big time. Well, all right, I’ve chosen you cause you got qualities that I think can be transformed into other avenues of opportunity. Lil Toon.”
“Yeah,” Cartoon said.
“I’m going to ask you to be brave, and show me some strength.”
“Anything,” Cartoon responded. Lobo looked at the wall behind him.
“Forget me. Forget all my bullshit or ignore it or however the fuck you got to psyche yourself out of the game, and get the fuck on. Motherfucker, we’re getting kicked out anyway—accept it now or later.”
“What the fuck you talkin bout, nigga. This is mi varrio, my fuckin hood.” Cartoon did not understand what Lobo was asking him to do. Lobo grinned at him for a brief second, then looked back at the wall behind Cartoon—
“Go and be selfish, homeboy. Go and fuckin have your own mind, cause you can’t help me or any of us any other way. Don’t feel sorry for nothin or no one and don’t cling to shit that is gonna stop you from getting to where you need to go, even if it’s the thing or person you love most,” Lobo clasped his hands together. “Let it go, young Brother. You got to be ruthless, and that means you got to be alone.”
“I know what you’re trying to say, Lobo, like I can’t help anyone else out unless I first help myself. But I’m already down, Low, and I aint your average bear,” Cartoon said.
With the bottom of his fist, Lobo thumped the arm of the chair he was sitting in.
“We already got too many average bear motherfuckers out there ready to die now,” Lobo said. “Think they’re bad cause they can give up the ghost. They’re sellouts to the man up above—traitors to this world, and this is the world we’re living in. I aint asking you to die for shit. I’m asking you for something even harder. Toon—fuck everything you’ve ever known. I got faith that that shit will always stick to your ribs, so I aint worrying about you forgetting the life and the values, but I don’t want you to just walk around here like a fuckin zombie. Sheila’s life has to have been for something.” Lobo’s guilt leaked into his voice. It was because of him that the love of his life was dead. “I want you to sacrifice everything you’ve ever known, yet I know in the end you’ll come back to where you need to be.” Putting his gold ringed fingers on Cartoon’s shoulder, 22 year old Lobo, a smooth varrio shot caller, scooted closer.
“Learn. Cause I’ve been making paper for the last few months, and I realize, even with gold and platinum, I aint got shit. We aint got shit. We’re fuckin laughingstocks. These motherfuckers moving in see gente as jokes. We’re maids and housekeepers, and aint nothing wrong with bustin your ass, but there is something wrong with gettin no respect. There’s somethin wrong when putos treat you like a boy. Cause the establishment thinks they got us all figured out. They think we’re a bunch of dummies who can’t even put up a fight in their world, and their world is where the big lechuga is at. They want to pacify us with talk of peaceful, non-aggressive bullshit and have us happy with crumbs. But, check out, outright revolution won’t work; evolution is what’s needed first. Toon, we need sacrifice like only a vato like you can give.”
Lobo handed Cartoon a Cuban cigar, lit it up for him, and lit one up for himself. He blew O’s out into the air, and Cartoon held in his coughs. “Go get some education, young blood. I don’t want to see you unless you got something positive to give me. If you hang around, I’ll put you down. No fuckin pity, you will sleep with the fishes, cause I aint gonna let you waste our potential. If I see that you do, I’ll take that shit as a personal insult, and I’ll choke you out my damn self, even though it would kill me.” Lobo gave Cartoon an envelope.
“This money’s yours. I won’t baby you. Do what you have to do. You got freedom from this day forward. You belong to no man, no gang; when you’re done, you’ll come back, and I’ll be waiting with arms extended. We’ll toast to the tests of life. Now,” Lobo said rising to his feet, buttoning up his double-breasted cashmere coat, “take off.” Two suits rushed behind Cartoon.
Cartoon got up trying to smile like if this was all some big joke. Two hefty vatos started scooting him out, and Cartoon turned around to protest. They clipped Cartoon in the back of the neck with blackjacks. He fell to the white and red Persian rug. Lobo walked to him, and Cartoon stared down at his own reflection in Lobo’s glossy black Stacy Adams.
His shoes were the last thing he saw of Lobo.
Cartoon had learned from all the hard knocks of the varrio. Toro had trained him to charge. Lobo had kicked him out and forced him to be independent. Santo had taught him to fly. In that flight, like Icarus, Cartoon had burned from sailing too close to the sun. It was this burn that was the spark.
The beginning of philosophy is
All roads start with and lead to the
There is no secret
The only choice is
Which is complicated by the reality
That the days are numbered
“What to do with this thing called time?” Back in 1992 Cartoon had contemplated this after Lobo told him he had to leave in order to learn. He respected Lobo and Toro for their animalistic natures; he loved Santo for his wisdom. The day he left the varrio, at the grave of his Saint, El Santo, his carnal, Cartoon had meditated:
“I look at this crazy life
As an animal and
As a thinker
I don’t guess about
Equality or priority
They live intertwined with each other
I extract my energy because that’s what animals do
I think because I was both
Blessed and cursed with this mind
I can’t ignore my duty to
Without feeling disgusted with myself
Vida Loca is also important
Cause nothing makes any sense
And that’s ok
Better to accept and be at peace with
Than to allow it to
With this knowledge, Cartoon had left everything he had ever known, La San Fran Mision. His odyssey had been long, yet not even the blink of an eye in the totality of eternity. It had been rough and crazy, exactly as he had wanted it.
Now there was a debt to pay.
Cartoon did not think himself a savior or necessarily even want to go back; how can any of us ever go back? But there was some truth that he could not avoid, a nostalgia.
Let us not romanticize the past
The San Fran streets were death and despair
Muggings, shootings, stompings, and sinning
Singing, too, but the strongest songs were sad.
Soul Oldies, the songs of suffering, rule forever
“It was nice to suffer with a good friend,” Cartoon smiled wide at the junkies and homeless men pushing their carts in the early morning dawn. He looked down at the ground.
“My Solid Cement
On the brink of death
Or crushed from a hangover
I hugged this Earth
My mother Mission Earth
And she always comforted me
I would be in such love
Inventing such sublime imagination
These streets were
Death and despair
The grime and graffiti
In the alleys are as
Gorgeous as the sunrise”
Cartoon sucked in the scent of pan dulce and café permeating through the streets. He was finally home again. In some ways time had stood still. 1992 and 2012 were the same thing. The same things were happening.
Four O’clock in the dark dawn
A duster drives drunk
Four O’clock in the bitter bright
An abuelita hobbles hauling bags
Full of unpeeled elote and
Free canned cranberry and queso
At all times
There is action
Cool colored creativity
Adorned urban alleys
Mountains of majesty
A sanctuary for locos and ladies
The womb of genius
A mad dog stare
To tar and cement
Spirit and soul
The fumes of yesca and
Lowrider exhaust are
Healthy for homeboys and homegirls
Strutted down these streets
The list is long and
Always in all ways
Grinning Cartoon stared into the faces of young homeys and old abuelitas. He found himself the same as them.
“I’m a witness
You are witnesses
To dead people’s
Smiles and songs
That will never be erased
Though they take my brother’s life,
And deny his given rights
Yes, the message will be heard,
As the four winds spread the word
And our spirit, they can’t break,
Cause we got power to communicate.
No, they can’t, no, they can’t, no, they can’t,
Take away our music.”
Cartoon sang War’s “They Can’t Take Away Our Music” and bounced down the block feeling high, even though he hadn’t smoked a maton in decades. He was laughing out loud to himself, to this crazy world, and he knew he looked like a madman and was happy. It was more than nostalgia. This place was his identity. And could it be? Could it actually have happened? Was he now an O.G., a veterano? If so, he knew it was not simply because of his own effort; he paid homage to those who had led the way:
Whatever I am
I was there
With my own eyes
Good and bad
Bravado and tragedy
On 30th and Mission
Casper screeched to a stop
Pulled over and
To a fist fight in
Broad daylight and
When Santo knocked Casper down
Santo knelt down to help Casper back up
So they could duke some more
In the middle of 24th and Mission
Knocked heads with
Refused to leave
Even as everyone else
Once cop sirens squealed
For his loyalty
Toro was awarded
A broken leg and arm
I was there
Sprinted after cars
Down 22nd Street
Down with the sun and
On comes the night
Dominoes and drama
All of who they were
And what they taught me
For a time that can never
I’m much older now
Than they ever were
When all that insanity
Should know better
Still I got standards
How can I forget
I have ever known?
I live my life
Cartoon was ready. Still, he was surprised because the streets, the actual tar and cement, had evolved and devolved. White people were pretending the streets were fancier now. There were not as many homeys, not as much anxiety, but the paranoia was of a different kind. You had to watch out for peach people wearing Pendle-tons, white hipsters walking around looking like old school cholos thinking they owned the joint. Techies who swore to the gente that they were their new saviors, but it was a lie, just like the missionaries preached lies to los indios here when they established La Mision back in 1776. In 2012 there was a new danger: gentrification.
The gentry believe in
The great chain of being
To be is to be
Pre-destined to be at the
Bottom of the chain
With their refined etiquette and
The law of
The earth was meant to evolve into
Wildflowers must be massacred
To be sure they are exterminated
Their roots must be plucked out
Their spirit smashed
The words human and heaven defined by
Kings and Queens
The wildflowers that have survived
They thirst for water
Believing their indigenous spirit
Does not deserve even
The cruelest part of this all
Is the gentry-fuckation of spirit
That attempts to take over
Wildflowers are forced to forget
But they cannot erase
Colors red purple yellow orange
Dancing on the streets
Lovemaking in the backseat
The spirit can’t shake it away
Feels something wrong
But doesn’t know what it is
Can’t articulate it
In the gentry’s ultra-intellectual manner
So is instructed it is wrong
Searches for answers from
In the schools
In the factories
In the abyss
It finds only
Lies and inexcusable
Their eternal answer:
The wildflowers must be massacred
Yes, Cartoon thought, they must be massacred, but in a funny ass way, it’s an honor that my enemies think so highly of me that they gotta kill me. Cartoon was proud that they could not reason with or explain things to him; the gentry’s only alternative was murder.
Cartoon did not mind. He had already lived ten lives, been killed one hundred times over. It was ok. Cartoon was searching for something else.
He hunted for his old mentor Toro.
How was the bull? What had he done with his time?
That crazy motherfucker should be killed, Cartoon thought.
He looked for Toro at the old bull ring on 25th and Capp, and there he was, shirt off, showing off muscles and madness.
Toro was an old man of 41, and like all good old men, he told war stories to an audience of youngsters who did not know any better but to believe him. Beefed up Toro saw lanky Cartoon, all 5 foot ten inches of him, knew it was Cartoon, but continued with his charge in the middle of the ring:
It was tradition
To take off your shirt and
Green tattoos and
You chase cars
You get snapped!
You expect prison and proof
You won’t ever change
Death is the only option
The art is in the funeral
Full of flowers
Just on display
In your finest
You made it to the goal:
It aint no sad story
This is a glad story
A bad story
What people with words would call
The day of reckoning
The day of dreams
My grand dreams
My soul beams
Forget about hitting homeruns
I don’t know about winnin an Oscar or
I got no clue about scoo and
All the small smiles and
Firm handshakes that come with that
I got now and
This is what I call high—
What I think of when I hear of
Toro knew what was supposed to happen next; he was supposed to get stabbed straight in the heart. You could not and should not speak such things and expect to live. Prepared, Toro maddogged the up and coming young matador’s eyes, felt the youngster’s fear. The homey’s hand was trembling. The knife was slipping away from his grip. Toro knew what he could and should do, and sometimes it be that way, Homes. Sometimes, the bull, after getting his ass kicked all day, all night long, and most of the time getting slaughtered like Sunday dinner, sometimes, the bull gets lucky. Cartoon was there. Today was a blessed day.
Toro dug his hooves into the dirt:
The Price of the Fight
In the middle of this
Blood and guts battlefield
We sense we are here
Without knowing what it means
We imagine many things but
Cannot erase our end
It will happen
Toro charged. His morillo muscles lifted like las lomas, his horns pointed straight at the objective. The young man flew up high into the sky in his fancy green and yellow matador’s make-up. His red cape went flying, then parachuted down.
Afterwards, after the audience left shocked and disappointed, Cartoon pulled Toro to the side, outside of the stadium gates, where all the hobos hunted for aluminum gold out of rusted garbage bins.
“Como estamos, mi carnal, my flesh and blood,” Cartoon jumped on Toro and rode him for only a few seconds because Toro bucked him off on his head. The crude comedy of the lower classes. Cartoon shook out his head that was spinning.
Toro, the five foot six monster of a Chapin, looked down at him then helped him back up.
“I am grateful for this day,” Toro lasered into Cartoon’s big bug eyes.
“We are alive
While others are
That may not
Like a lot
Yes, it’s a blessing to see you, brother.” Toro was no longer a bull; he was a big fluffy teddy bear. These moments were seldom seen, two men being more than men together. Amor. That taboo concept amongst the macho. They proved they could be more than they were destined to be.
“You looked good in there, Viejo,” Cartoon said as Toro nodded his head. “Still fighting the good fight, eh?”
“Every day is a good day to die.” Toro blew smoke out of his ringed nose.
“Yeah, and it is a beautiful day, huh? Look at that sun!” Cartoon tried to cheer up the fatalistic talk. Toro checked him.
“Have you learned anything on your journey, funny Cartoon?
Real macho men
Don’t love the sun
They love the rain so they
Can hide their tears
Such simple pettiness
Such elaborate betrayal
While others attempt to avoid
Macho men run into
Sprint into showers
In the rain.”
Toro, hoping, looked up at the sunny sky.
“I guess I’m crazy but
They look so tough
So ready for death
Nobody knows when
A man’s heart is broken.”
Cartoon realized that something was seriously wrong. He had been gone for too long.
“How is your heart, Toro? How is your heart?” With his own fist, Cartoon hit his heart hard.
“They don’t know me anymore,” Toro lamented and limped as they walked the streets. “They see me,” Toro pointed at all the yuppies walking down the street lined by expensive cafes and white-bro micro-breweries, “but they think something else.
I am a bull.
But they don’t see me as that majestic animal. They see only a Mad Dog. To them, all of us are only Mad Dogs that disgust them. They clear out all the old vatos, the homeless homies, from their tents.
Tonight, I wish it would rain.” Toro gazed again at the cloudless heavens.
“Then I would remember and
The wise homeless men
I used to drink with at old
Bearded, stinking good men
Good drinkers of
Mad Dog 20/20
We shared something in common
Sitting on cement stairs in
Broad daylight or
We talked about life and
Passed around a bottle
We did not care about cooties
We cared about life
I left for four years
Went to war
And they were still there
But they were no longer the same
We were no longer the same
Time had changed us
I was a bullet
They were mad
Talking to the sky
Shouting at the stars
Frustrated at their very own faces
They did not remember me and
It was I who was sad to be forsaken
I envied them
Their strength for the streets
When the homeless love you
They also know
How to break your heart
You look at them and you know
That is me
That is me
Who has the right to be mad
When they yell at you?
They bark because
They know you
They remember you
I wish I could be remembered
It is a miracle
To be cherished
To be shouted at by a
In the middle of the street
You are special
Toro was no longer talking to Cartoon. He was talking to someone, something else. “Who’s The Mad Dog, Homes?” Toro barked like a gruffy Marine Drill Instructor, straightened up, looked around at these new streets that did not want him. “Cause it aint me.”
“No,” Cartoon massaged his hand on Toro’s solid shoulders. “You were always a straight up killer, but only cause they were trying to kill you. You weren’t a rabid dog. That’s why I’ve come back, to see you, out of respect.” Cartoon did not even know what these words meant, only that they were leading him to where he always needed to be, where he was destined to go from the moment he accepted Santo’s golden inscription.
“How is our Lobo?” Cartoon asked.
“You been gone. You don’t know, huh?”
“Know what? Is he dead?”
“Lobo got busted a dozen years ago. Coca, gun smuggling, suicide missions—they gave him life, homes. Quilmas, San Quentin, right across the Bay. Big Time,” Toro answered.
Cartoon dropped his head. He should have realized even slick Lobo would not have made it. “I got to see him,” Cartoon declared. “You know I’m back to start some good shit, but I got to look in Lobo’s face first, share our journey together, and listen to some of his wolf wisdom. I’m going to visit him at Quentin.”
Toro smiled, lifted up his heavy head, did not seem sad anymore. “You have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He embraced Cartoon, smothered him in his strong muscles. “You and Lobo together, plotting shit, executing genius ideas, and this world is ours. A long time ago, we had lost balance. You are here to bring it back.” Toro knew that things were about to change for the varrio. Cartoon knew it, too.
“Before the sword, I got to see the spirit: Santo at La Raza Park Cemetery. Should have gone to see him before lookin for you, but I figured it was more important to visit the living instead of the dead.”
“We are stuck in this world,” Toro muttered. “Santo is not.”
“Oh, shit!” Toro scratched his crewcut head. “That aint completely right, though, that Santo is just a spirit.” Toro grinned, jumped a little.
“What you mean, Toro?” Cartoon asked.
“You really have been gone,” Toro paused, coughed. “You left and never found out that our brother Santo had gotten La Loca Maricela pregnant before he died. She was still in jail when she had the baby, and you were already gone. Lil Santo’s 20 years old runnin around these streets. He helps paint the murals.”
“Fuck you.” Cartoon’s mouth dropped. He did not know what else to say. The brother Santo that had taught him to sail in the sky was somewhat still there to guide their spirits. Cartoon also felt a respect and responsibility to share amor and hard knocks with Lil Santo, his dead mentor’s son.
No matter that it had been twenty years, this was still Take Off.