Writer and Leftist

There's a moment in every neighborhood bar where the chatter rises above the juke and the bartender disappears to the office of “no tells” to flip the ambiance once more. That moment where the third whiskey squeezes between the temples, fills the cheeks and fattens the palms.

Owen arrives after work, before the couples show, to sit with men seeking daughter, mother, girlfriend, waitress. He hates Mondays, when the service industry inevitably flood with their first apartment problems on the driving range out back.

Sitting in the aforementioned moment, he folds his arms tighter, waits patiently as Caro shakes her hips with a tin full of Cheap Fucks for boys behaving badly.

At 11:00 pm, with the music up and the walls down, Owen turns down a fifth Blue Label. He closes his tab and shuffles past a woman out back who tells her boyfriend that swinging clubs is already not fun anymore. He makes it not fun anymore.

Owen stands outside his outsized silver pickup, knowing what he wants to say. How he’s hired a promising manager so he can finally just count the money and meet with an accountant sometimes. It’s cost him two marriages, two estranged children and 25 years but he finally has time now. A lifetime of working in a foxhole has kept him on his feet, allowing the single malt and sunlight to show all the weathering on the outside. He’s still strong. His back hurts only sometimes.

Owen, covered in fluorescent shadows, does not know what Caro knows. The headlights flare up and the truck backs away, leaving the adults in their adolescence.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I feel like not doing anything.

I don’t mean like a “shirk-responsibilities-and-binge-watch-Sopranos-again” type of thing. I mean that “I don’t want to cook; I don’t want to order food; I don’t want to answer the door” level of apathy. Accomplishing anything is a miracle but it’s not inspiring.

Years ago, I read a Jezebel interview with Elizabeth Wurtzel, wherein the Prozac Nation author called her breast cancer “the most normal thing that’s ever happened to me” and described her recently deceased dog as “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I’ve never read Wurtzel’s books but I’ve always loved who she is in this interview. Breast cancer in your forties? A bit clichéd. Lost pet? Cue Jackie Kennedy in all black. This is a kind of Gen X disaffectedness that I sometimes can’t stand but also deeply relate to. It reminds me of millennial doom posting. Wurtzel may have never tweeted about crying in a Starbucks bathroom, but she was straight up not having a good time. She said she wanted to write something about her mixed border collie but couldn’t do it, “without crying.”

“Which means I shouldn’t do it,” she elaborated. “You shouldn’t write because you’re full of feelings. You write because it’s work.”

Every serious creative comes to terms with this. They learn to love the work. The routine. The concerted action. One can’t create only when they’re on the Feels Train because even if art is therapy, using it only for that robs it of its true power, which is being able to make something good, really good whenever they feel like it. Toilsome artists become tiny gods living in the minds of anyone who follows them. They’re both legend and legion.

When my job furloughed me, I resolved to thrive as an artist and a person. To me, a 100 year plague was a miserable way to end two decades of recessions and national tragedies, but this time, it at least included a paid vacation.

For a while, there was joy. Even as the world descended into chaos. I cut the yard, cleaned the garage, moved the furniture, cooked and hit the weights. I cut and dyed my hair and stuck metal in my face. My doctor and I stocked meds before my group insurance ran out. My dating apps popped off (quarantine created an influx of cage-rattled users it seemed).

I also wrote. The most significant piece: a second part of a poetic trilogy. The first segment I spent writing from 2018 to this year. The second came to bear in a month. I even contacted a published novelist and sex worker to hire as a consultant for the project (it’s partly about her line of work).

The writing is particularly important because I—like most artists—only ever create under duress. In college, I wrote with one to three jobs. Post grad, I wrote for three years in news for poverty wages. After joining the bar business in 2012, I wrote, but always before or after grueling days.

Big Head does a peak performance.

Wurtzel’s musings especially bore out in my journo years. I regularly stayed up until 3 am meeting freelance deadlines, only to sleep a few hours and go to work at my main paper. When I Google my old stories, it’s hard to believe they came from me. Partly because they were produced in states of exhaustion, drunkenness, distraction and panic. Partly because the work remains solid. And I scarcely remember writing any of it.

Anyway, all good came to a halt in late June, when the Rona claimed me. Thankfully, my symptoms were mild and the virus ran its course in just two weeks. The day I tested negative, I felt like I got my life back after basically living in bed or on the couch in total isolation (my roommate even moved out for the second week and she took the dogs). So I went grocery shopping, cleaned house and I don’t remember what else. All I know is I ended the day by soaking my feet in an Epsom salt bath because they hurt so much. Then I slept 12 hours.

The next day I don’t remember the particulars of. Or even the day after that. What I do remember is what I’ve been doing since—more than two months now—and that’s live in a yo-yoing state of restlessness and catatonia. A recent Saturday saw me waking up with a hunger to write, hit the driving range and take the dogs on a long walk in my parents’ neighborhood. For post-Covid me, it was an active day. I came home with the dogs around 1 a.m. the three of us stinking, thirsting beasts. I showered, hydrated and took a cocktail to bed and conked out like Mariah Carey.

The next day was a mess. I went back to sleep “for another hour” several times. I wrote in befuddlement surrounded by Taco Bell wrappers. I put away groceries at midnight. I wiped out at 2 a.m. after only seven waking hours. This kind of catatonia is well-documented. But now researchers are becoming increasingly concerned with lung scarring, heart damage, kidney damage, blood clots, strokes and, ultimately, nerve system damage all related to suffering through COVID-19. Pandemic splash damage is not unprecedented. Survivors of the Spanish Flu of 1918 complained of insomnia, vertigo and depression for the next two decades.

Being like this, I can’t stop thinking about what Wurtzel said. I know the party line during tHEsE UNcERtAIn TimES is to be gentle with oneself. There are very few wrong ways to make it through a day. And everyone should reject the Calvinist-ethic that says we should all be “productive” under our meat-grinding, Capitalist overlords.

I can’t speak for what Wurtzel would think about working artists being given a pandemic holiday—especially because she died the first week of this year—but I know if she were alive, she’d tell us. Her words haunt me because here’s the truth: any furloughed artist is not going to get another shot like this again. The script, novel or album we always said we’d write, the garden, sculpture or statue we always said we’d build, the clothes, furniture or cuisine we always said we’d craft, we probably could have done it by now and may yet. On God, it will be toilsome. Like trying to get Congress to pass a second Covid relief bill. But it’s within the realm of possibility.

I don’t say this necessarily to motivate people. I guess it’s more to point out one more sign of the times. Everyone (not just working artists) should be able to do whatever they want with their lives. But we live at the behest of millionaires who only care about how much wealth we can generate for them. They don’t care about our health or well-being or our planet, unless they can do so conspicuously in the name of profit.

Available on iTunes and Spotify (keep reading, this will make sense).

A few weeks back Nick Mery, known artistically as Merykid, swung by my house. Our friendship goes back to my journalism career, where we both chased local clout in the San Antonio music scene. He gave me a copy of his most recent record. Inside was a note, written on an actual type writer, the content of which I want to keep private, but was deeply validating to read. The other 19 pressings of this record also have particular people in mind with personalized messages. We both talked about how hard everything is right now but there was a serenity to our meet, especially as I walked inside and he backed his car out of the driveway. Despite everything, Mery finished yet another lengthy project and was now in the denouement of that experience.

Buffalo and Lala

I have no takeaways about this except pat platitudes, so I’ll spare them. Instead, I’m thinking about today. I don’t feel all that tired, so I’m gonna’ make a late breakfast of picadillo and eggs with fresh fruit. After, I’ll hit HEB to get some sundries and something for dinner. I’m thinking sweet Italian sausage with sautéed bell peppers, fresh parmesan and penne. After that, I might take the dogs for a long walk and work up another sweat. My favorite part of our little tours is the end. We take turns drinking from the hose.

I fear all women but especially women like Victoria

she entered my bar and I paid her little mind until she lost her temper hung up and dialed someone else

I need you to kick his ass. okay good, bye

she was quiet a moment

she asked for another malbec and said to me

so where do the men with money hang out around here?

I belonged to her now


Victoria was charmed by my convertible

Can I buy it from you? How much?

me Uh…well it’s salvage but I’ve taken good care of it so maybe $2000?

she smiled sweetly demurred

how about $1500 and a threesome?

I blushed but gathered myself

well, it wouldn’t be my first so probably $1750

it wasn’t until she came back to the car with beer, smokes and snacks that I really saw

Victoria did not walk she toured

the long trench coat the oversized football jersey the endless platinum tresses

somehow these things that were too big for her made everything around her shrink

as I filled my car she drew a fat ass sitting on a giant dick on my rear windshield and smiled a smile that could buy my car twice on a good day

I took her back to the airport because Judith hadn’t yet landed

Victoria kissed my cheek looked at me with sleepy, contented eyes

I wondered how did I know this person all my life but only meet them today?


Victoria’s voice was an expose

I heard her teeth through the phone straight and true nipping her bottom lip gently as she asked if I could pick up beer

it’s after midnight I said

then mixers she replied impishly and snacks

the pleasure of the happily delayed

I was not prepared for our first kiss

she in Chantilly lace under a sheer robe

me holding bags of lemon lime and salty snacks on the threshold to her suite

I stocked the fridge, made drinks and sat on the bed

I cannot convey how w h o l e s o m e we were

Victoria and Judith talked about knowing each other since high school in Ohio

they stumbled into the life separately but ended up touring together from state to state to state duo or solo

Victoria, a Junoesque pleasure tower Judith, a wirey half-inked nymph they loved it all enough to call it matrimony

I told stories also about the orgies I attended in college about how the worst day waiting tables was better than the best working newspapers

I said I admired how they lived on the margins, but still putting down roots every place they went

they said they appreciated a man who reads

it made me miss the days when I could have made their stories something regular people would see

a guy came by to sell weed

I didn’t smoke but things blurred I don’t know how many rounds I had or how many cigarette breaks we took

honestly, it was all I could do to focus on Victoria focusing on me

I kept asking myself if this how it’s supposed to feel fingers intertwined in the hotel hallway stolen kisses in the elevator sitting close like kids grinning through grand theft auto

around 3 am I asked her how much and she said $—.00

we closed the door to the bedroom as Judith packed another bowl, saying she really wants to play Bingo

in the dark our smiles were triboluminescent


to me lies of omission are the most noxious

worse than any fiction dead eyed in lamplight

it’s the editing

the palming of the corporeality

you did not just see that because you did not just see that

Victoria told me she wished she filmed me as I sang for her in bed

Sukiyaki a capella the words warm and round in a throat that slept too little

she poured more champagne as the continental breakfast sat in the microwave

returned to bed to read a poem about when I delivered Chinese food

her face contorted as her voice resurrected the murder of a co-worker I secretly pined for

she put the journal down and kissed me face still hot with tears the taste of yeast, apricot and umami

we closed our eyes zephyrs mounting between us

that night, I showed up with chicken sandwiches for her and Judith

Judith laughed as Victoria said she’s so sick of me talking about you

we left to share wine pondside

the dull roar of traffic the trace flow of pond water parted by dawdling waterfowl made our murmurs hair raising

I asked Victoria what do you want to be called? a sex worker? an escort?

baby she whispered her smile aflare in moonshine


it’s me I’m the one I can’t stand

after the champagne aurora before the late night reverie I left Victoria at the airport

she kissed me and coughed a cough she had all week

she tasted like the Miller High Life she swiped when we stopped at my house between hotel and airport

it was overcast and through her sunglasses her pupils were dilated

what’s wrong? she asked nothing I said

I went home and napped while she had two more rounds where we met

Victoria was substantial a dense, stramineous Jessica Rabbit

but all she had was a pilfered grapefruit and two kinds of champagne in her stomach

I’ll never know how it got started but the agent wouldn’t let her on the plane

that black bitch Victoria spat that night

stop it, you’re being racist Judith interjected

am I? Victoria looked to me like a child caught cursing

I grimaced I nodded

also . . . . . . . . . . . . . . she voted for him . . . . . . . . . . . but regretted it

there was another night where I met her and Judith with a folder of blank bills of sale and my rebuilt salvage title

my flannel-bound auto buddy Alex met us his eyes merry, his smile resplendent as Judith ran her fingernails along his beard

you’re a big boy she cooed as I showed Victoria how to shift

this is so perfect! she announced we could road trip from here to Florida!

she turned to Judith right babe?!

the words were lost to ether

Judith’s sweet nothings and Alex’s chortle’s were a green door made of mineral wool and cement

I had lunch with my mom in the morning so I left as they made off for a bar

around 4 am my phone rang

bro, what THE FUCK were those girls you left me with?

everything was cool at the bar, even if the both of them are kind of wild together

but we went back to the room, alright, and they both started messing around and it was awesome at first but then fucking Tits Magee walked over to me with her bathrobe wide open and grabbed me by the collar telling me to throw down $—.00 on the night stand because she wanted to watch me “fuck her wife” and maybe join us

dude I’ll admit that even that was…..AWESOME…even if it WAS terrifying but I told her I didn’t have that kind of cash on me

that was when she pushed me and not some playful shit either this was a fucking overture

she was like, oh my bitch isn’t good enough for the price I’m asking?, and then someone was pounding at the door

the fucking night audit, he was already getting noise complaints before Victoria was talking shit

she yelled at him to mind his own fuckboy business and he slammed the door and jet

Judith was freaking out telling Victoria to stop but she kept shoving me until I backed out the door and she didn’t even give a shit

she’s in the hallway in her robe with her tits and pussy on fucking parade and fucking vice grips for hands on my shirt telling me I’m just a little, white, broke ass bitch boy and I’m like, ‘girl my last name is Hughes-Ortiz so you’re only partly right there’

and then this officer fucking materialized between us

I guess the audit threw an alarm before he came to the room

the cop asked her to calm down and that was when it stupidly occurred to me she was probably coked up because she came at him like he was just another me shrieking insults and throwing hands and completely losing it

he slammed her against the door and put her in bracelets as another officer arrived to escort her to the lobby

I could hear Judith crying in the room I think she was sitting against the door

they held me there for a little while I sort of lied to the cops

I mean shit was fucked up but I didn’t want to get her into trouble because of, you know, so I just said she was too drunk and got too angry over a misunderstanding

they took Victoria, I don’t know what for exactly

and I didn’t say bye to Judith, I just left

this was the same night I watched Victoria make the call

someone who maybe gave her the slightest bit of attitude getting their ass whooped as all this went down

and in light of everything Alex told me I spent the following days falling for her

only now do I, a former journalist and current bar wrangler, understand how much I know about taking comfort in chaos


Further reading: Why Sex Work Must Be Decriminalized (And Why The Nordic Model Is Bad)

FOSTA/SESTA Is Making Trafficking Worse and Hurting Sex Workers Everywhere

bodies are for bodies

words repeated in my mind as my fingers pressed into freckled arms Scarlett’s back like a trust fall, into my chest her head heavy on my collar bone chin and lump in her throat beaming upward

I blacked out after that

next morning skin against malodorous skin our brains becoming waking limbs movement creating pain but eliciting laughter tasting hangover sweat in post peak respiration our teeth alternately brandishing joy as she bestrode me

this was better than last night

last night?

yes, when I rode you and came don’t you remember?


this congress turned to communion

Scarlett, a body buoyant as I rubbed beeswax and sunflower oil patchouli, vanilla and citrus zest

smeared by my forearm up the latissimus dorsi advancing over the deltoid and trapezius

I excavated aches from deep tissue Scarlett’s lilac crest and tailbone felt like greased granite against my body weight funneled into knuckles

Scarlett made me feel like a mission all stone and silence the ambitions of ancestors standing idly in my walls

hypnagogia was easy as I lay in sweat and dragon’s blood cooling under the fan’s blades

have you ever been with a lover and turned from brain to nerve?

all id and blood and breath and something intuitive emanating from the pelvis but pooling in the reptilian brain?

heavy metal liquid and miraculous threatening to eject eyeballs from sockets

body serving body oiled but still hot with friction

hunger in the hands aches in the chest abundance erupting from throats

I remember feeling myself but perhaps watching myself also

my hands and mouth knew what my mind did not how to serve despite being severed

the whole of me an extremity reanimated refusing to go the way of the flesh


I felt this become a thread years later when Carrie first put her fingers on my sacrum

an advent an arrival a reconciliation

in a world where men are expected to be a persistent body, so much mass anchored beneath still waters

I learned never to mistake delicacy for something that won’t make the immovable yield

agony abated

my feet in her hands eyelids heavy as a strong silence

I committed the image of her naked back bent forward like murmurs in the dark

moles ran down hallowed, humble to a perfect resolution

the next day I lay my head in her lap and she said

why are you such a sweet boy?


eventually I was alone again

and I didn’t think about these things

until I did

winter near my birthday

ten days work packed like spray foam insulation

leaked from anywhere my body bent

again between sleeping and waking as the masseuse drilled elbow and forearm to clandestine parts

my back crackled under her feet

I rolled over with eyes closed and and felt her finger tips glide over my eyebrow cheek and neck

you’re very handsome

my eyes parted as a single finger nail ran down my chest

later I sat in the car mortified but elated

I was no victim

except to my loneliness and power to manifest


a few months passed

I sat at Cobalt a bar with no windows my thumbs in a promenade between apps

occasionally reaching for either glass blindly

a sip from the libby with a five-count of sour mash

a pull from the pint of cold Belgian white

the barkeep asked as my face filled with blood another happy meal?

not yet I said

but then I called him back while reading Dahlia Lithwick for Slate:

the lost sleep the grinding anxiety the escalating fears don’t just represent squandered time

the healthy response would be to tune it out but since actual people are actually suffering we cannot

another round

Matt Ford for New Republic:

Trump’s habitual lying gave no reason to believe the assertion

and yet journalists and lawmakers spent weeks trying to discern whether he was telling the truth

congressional committees investigated it

newspapers assigned reporters to cover the allegations

cable news channels spent hours debating them

after U.S. spy agencies resolutely denied any such wiretaps existed a Fox News analyst sparked a minor diplomatic row by suggesting that Obama may have asked the British to do it instead

(he did not, Britain’s version of the National Security Agency said in an extraordinarily rare statement)

I rubbed my eyes touched the pint glass heavy again cold again


human lives are bounded by time and attention

every moment that’s spent focused on one thing can’t be spent another way

at a certain level, it’s not healthy to tabulate all of these expenses

in other circumstances, however, it’s unhealthy not to do so

I closed my browser and opened one of four dating apps

no matches but several profiles saved

Barbara, 41, curvy and professional on horseback near mountains

at the front door in nice jeans and a tightly tucked dress shirt

interests: fishing and inspirational books

I clicked the message icon and felt my head become heavy as tungsten . . . . . I thought of Carrie the last—and only— healthy love

which happened last administration

not a result of swiping or starring but a few private messages turning to banter eventually a proper flirt galvanized by three whiskeys

I opened Facebook where writer Gwen Beatty (then Werner) posted about her sharps being taken away, ten on her person, a few hidden at home

she had been sober for nearly two years but still wore wounds that needed stitches

she worried she’d be chasing a bath salts high for life because it worked, her therapist said

and she’s right, Gwen wrote every time I find something that makes me feel better it hurts the people I love

I screencapped the status and opened my browser again

A Jacobin article: “To Fall In Love, Click Here” with Karl Marx’s portrait over a red x and green heart

I blinked slowly, declined a fifth round and fell out the front door to lean against my car pondering the years

the misleading photos, directionless conversations, lopsided communication, overconfident poly people, stunning mothers doing it all but hurting deeply, twenty-something’s fresh off breakups confusing swiping for therapy, hookup partners with demands non-commensurate with their hygiene, sex that sent my mind out of my body and yanked it back like a resistance band with people I never saw or heard from again

the relationship purgatories reflecting feelings like funhouse mirrors I want you but— I need you but— I love you but—

I thought of Nicole in the paleteria parking lot

the world around our lips became molten while frozen treats waited

we hurried home to turn in early because her flight was before noon next morning

I thought about how many of us subsist like this

years without the touch of someone tender enough to break us and willful enough to remain

integrity intact but with love languages wired shut by an indifferent world

I pulled out my phone

I searched for a parlor


Sex work is humanity's oldest profession. One study estimates that there are about 1 million sex workers in the US alone, generating $14 billion a year. Reliable data on sex work in massage parlors is scarce at present and much of what is reported is designed to further a narrative of “human trafficking,” which is both misleading and destructive to the very people the narrative claims to protect.

Where sex work is illegal, sex workers are among the world's most disenfranchised members of society. Any person concerned with the betterment of conditions for workers and citizens should support the decriminalization of sex work.

Further reading: The Lives Of Parlor Workers How Decriminalization Will Reduce Trafficking Three Organizations Fighting to End Sex Worker Stigma

I dreamt of you by a river disrobing in ordinary solitude the water rose around your skin you told the moment as it happened words my ears could not read but I felt the weight the pensiveness as the drink washed over your shoulders and past your hips

you reached midstream tread while your face betrayed a mind in deep brooding

this was an ideal haunting you deep in a dream primal, wondrous and just out of reach

everyday I ask myself when I will become the person I said I could be once I got to where I was

years ago

and then I remember how we are kept grasping for Snell

our breath suspended the moment reaped from womb

unwalkable limbs needing to swim lungs filling with fear of the quick and unspectacular

decades spent trying not to fall into an abyss

we give our lives to survival and never think to thrive