Wordcarpenter Books
No More Waiting to Die
 
Chapter Four
 
The Middle of the World
 
Quito, Ecuador, South America

July 2011

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            There was a great vibe to Quito, a city surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of Andean mountains that sloped upwards with green patches like a ski resort during summer but with no chairlifts. The natural plateau so high up in the clouds nurtured a symmetrical view that pleased the eye and calmed the soul. The environment made him philosophical about his plight. Noble intuitively understood why the Inca's had chosen this location as one of the two seats of power and why the Spaniards used Quito as their base to expand, conquer and create an empire.

            While in the taxi going to his hostel, his mind was filled with last minute perspective adjustments, as if usurped by an inner philosopher wielding a hammer: "Only a total lack of fear will enable you to attain true freedom. To have the time and financial independence to do what you want still won't give you that freedom you know exists. To be imprisoned by a job you didn't like but needed to do to survive was to know what lack of freedom was, so now, free from the job, take that laissez-faire-I-don't-care attitude to fuel a newfound freedom. Absorb an I-don't-care-what-others-think heedlessness that celebrates each day free from routine, punch cards, and normalcy. Judgment has been thrown out. Inhibition is fear and thus is not allowed! To act fully without infringements or restrictions is to truly live." He stroked his unshaven chin. Where had this voice come from?

            These were his thoughts when Noble stepped out of the taxi to the Swiss-run hostel he had chosen.

            Clean, safe and cheap, he was unpacked and curious to explore his new surroundings but balked. He sat on his bed and listened to the sound of silence, but then the voice of the philosopher resurfaced: "The quiet calm of listening and observing lets the genius in, suffuses into the fiber, transplants into the human organism, now your own, and waiting to be tested. Get fishing; get out there in the mix because half of life is just showing up. Avoid letting the voices of doubt inhibit you from taking the first step, from putting you in the mix. Ironically, to first embark into the mix is the most difficult step to master your fate, only because it's at this stage that your step is the most tentative. Your inner house is still hectic! You ought to be gently pushed into the scrum to begin!" His doppelgänger inside his head was strange but it had a calming effect on him. It knew what needed to be said for Noble to step away from the inertia of ignoring life.

            "Darn right!" he said. "'Ought to be gently pushed,' that's a good one, Reno." Why not let Reno the philosopher say his piece? If he was Noble's doppelgänger then it was excellent timing because if he ever needed help to overcome his shortcomings, now was the time. Called him Reno because he was the only philosopher he knew, an ex-classmate who studied philosophy at college and grew his beard and threw himself into it. Just sounded right to call that voice in his head Reno.

            Noble left the hostel and walked through the central park to Mariscal where the expatriates hung out. Lacking poise and a game plan, Noble walked down the busy streets heading towards the restaurants and central plaza, when he passed by a large outdoor market. That was where he met Pedro.

            With good posture, Pedro from California held court on the corner, groupies hanging around his knapsack full of stones and bracelets and earrings. There were hippies lined against the worn brick and stone buildings. He raised his chin and spoke:

            "Stones from Ecuador. All sorts of colors." With raised arm he stopped Noble from fully turning the leave, having no interest in his stones. "Come, I have what you want. Marijuana?" Pedro stepped closer, confident he had spotted a North American partier with Noble's stubble and Birkenstock sandals. For a moment Pedro's eyes pleaded with his.

            Noble, tired and sore and on his way for a pint, looked at the round face with shaved head and mini ponytail at the back, surprisingly intrigued with the hip English speaker. He fought his habit of avoiding engagement with people. And then he heard the distant voice of Reno, whispering something about saying ‘yes' to opportunities. People who are dying never procrastinate.

            "I know this town. I take travelers around sometimes. From San Diego but my mother lives here. Better here." said Pedro, lowering his voice and leaning into him so others couldn't see. " Why don't we get some cervezas? ‘Been walking and the body and soul needs to take respite."

            Pedro spoke a quick burst of Spanish to one of his friends standing on the corner, scooped up his bag and patted the guy on the shoulder. There was an understanding. Nods all around. Noble sensed danger but was pushed on by his doppelgänger.

            Walking down the street Pedro looked closely at him with a curled tongue, letting out the quietest whistle along the equator. His broken teeth catching the sun, scars on his face showing empirical data from living life.

            "We go get a cerveza at my cousin's bar," he said. "He has cerveza there." It was if Noble had been highjacked by a higher power, walking into an obvious trap. But he was adamant on facing his fears and opening doors. Besides, he had smoked weed once before but Rex and Darryl certainly had toked their fair share. He had a solar-plexus pang at the thought of how much he had missed in life.

            They walked through the streets of Quito, palm trees and old colonial houses, until they reached a café. When Pedro went behind the counter into the kitchen Noble reached into the fridge and removed two beers. His thirst was raging and his fear was ebbing.

            "No, no!" said Pedro. "We can't drink here."

            "Why not?"

            "You didn't hear man? Last night nineteen people died from drinking a type of strong homemade tequila, like moonshine. Ninety-percent alcohol. There was something wrong with the mix. Sometimes the guys who sell it behind the cafes add something to it so they can sell more. Betcha there are more than nineteen dead."

            "So how does that affect us drinking beer?"

            "The president declared no drinking for three days in mourning."

            "Just my luck," replied Noble, shoulders hunched.

            "No hombre! As I said, I can get some stuff if you want. We can take these beers and go down close to my place where I can pick up if you want. I can get base or coke or whatever man." The mention of cocaine tweaked something in Noble. It was the best place in the world for it and it was something he had seen a thousand times in movies but had never even seen it before.

            And then he heard that voice again: "Boundaries and the unfounded fences of thought belittle the power of imagination, and stifle the capacity of what could be within an individual! New heights and mountains as yet unclimbed are rampant in the world, plain to see by all but roped off as undoable by the deafening chorus of nay-sayers that can drown out the voice of talent within you!"

            Noble bought some beer and walked with Pedro to pick up some stuff.

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            It was so big he didn't know what it was.

            There was something to it. He knew Pedro wouldn't be so honest and then rip a guy like him off. Couldn't snort it but it never occurred to him that it was a huge chunk of crack. Cutting it thin and sprinkled in some joints gave them a good kick, but it wasn't until he made a makeshift pipe that he harnessed some shavings and tasted that unique aftertaste. The alpha must learn it all on his own on the outer lip of the envelope.

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            Noble, who had been so humdrum and sober all his life, saddled with a sad smile and entrenched with the hollow bass sound of moroseness, found a new vibe in his exploration of the cocoa leaf. He experienced for the first time a flutter in his spirit, an elation brought on by a warm wind, comforting and secure, giving him an expansive outlook on everything before him coupled with a waft of optimism.

            It was not what he had expected.

            Nor was it what he had been told by mainstream media.

            He found no evil in the harvesting of this plant. Nor did he find it harsh or detrimental or harmful. In fact he toyed with the idea that perhaps it was the missing piece to his hum of boredom within his mind. It might even be the impetus to wider thinking and the catalyst to his imagination, like a sparkplug that had ignited the flammable fumes that had remained stagnant for decades. Pushed around and fooled he had been by those experts on morality, snowballed and lied to at the cost of the one thing he could never recover: lost time.

            But he could not resent them for it was always up to him to question and to explore and to test the truth of that which was fed to him, whether by authority or by his parents or friends. It had always been up to him to verify accepted norms. He was sure these were reasons why he hadn't but he was unable to remember what they were.

            The irony didn't escape him. What stung was the tragedy of so many missed opportunities, so much fun and fulfillment untaken and un-experienced for lack of effort by his own choice. Or rather un-choice. Yet it was a choice he had made, perhaps flippantly on some Tuesday afternoon that only took a moment, lightly, easily, assumed to be correct and a "no-brainer," a choice not to question that which was spoon-fed from all directions, a choice made blindly, pushed by momentum and conformity that had profound ramifications on his life.

            But at least I'm here now doing it by my own hand, he thought; at least I'm tasting the nectar: that other life, richer with qualia and somehow deeper with meaning.

 

 

Chapter Five

The Dane

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            Sitting on a pile of old Spanish roofing tiles, Noble smoked a joint enjoying the privacy on the balcony attached to an 18th-century school, bricks chipped and mortar disintegrating, vegetation somehow taking root on the walls, the fluttering of pigeons watching him. A girl walked by but kept her head down not noticing the joint. Downwind from her and safe. The first raindrops fell timidly like the first day of class, wind informing formidable powers, Andean superiority and mankind feeble in their concrete huts. The university courtyard in the Centro Historica was immaculate. Stone polished, carved fascia, weaned gardens, central sculpture in quadrangle, and the quiet associated with serious study. This was where the next generation's government officials will come from, centuries old with ornate balconies, large worn stones, ten-foot windows, students well dressed in slacks and collared shirts. Security guards wearing jackboots and bomber jackets, khaki horse-riding pants tucked in and crisp, there and aware but unaware of Noble.

            Roman columns twenty feet high, palm trees old and tall, sturdy and proven, deep-rooted, honest and dependable. Canvassed paintings large and glass-protected lined the walls like a monastery run by monks who worship knowledge and God. A bell tower on the west corner fortified in case of civil unrest. The church beside a work of art untouched and not to be touched, its beauty a product of symmetry of form and color and meaning.

            He went into the church but his heart was closed. Didn't pray. Didn't stay. Just looked and left. His mind was elsewhere. It was a time for action and doing and engaging. But the thing about Quito was the thin air. It took time to adjust to the altitude, 9000 feet above sea level and steep streets had a direct effect on your lungs. Noble had to tell himself that a few deep breaths and his struggle for air will be over. It's an experience like drowning, a feeling that all mammals know. One feels as if they had been a heavy smoker their entire life. Acclimatizing did take time, but it had already been a week.

            So he walked.

            To the south he saw the snow-peaked volcano of Cotopaxi that translates to "the Neck of the Moon." Stunning, pointing up above the clouds. The plateau was like an elongated shell that spread north south with red and green roofs dotting the sprawling houses, square and compact, squeezing in the middle divided by roads and perched above on the surrounding hills. He was damned sure he wasn't going to let his aches and pains inhibit his time in Ecuador so he walked some more, moving north, through Mariscal to Guapalo. There he could see another snow-capped volcano in what was called "volcano alley." Magical. An Andean holding place where all were close to the Great Hall in the Sky. No wonder there were so many churches in town.

            But all the walking made him thirsty so he decided to engage. Noble was not going to let his time be spent all alone.

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            The neutral safe zone in Mariscal had to be Finn McCool's, the only Irish pub and the one spot where it's safe. The criminals, other than the coke dealers, stay away because even the native employees tell them to bugger off. A sanctuary where big drinkers don't have to worry about petty crime. Old rafters hung across the A-framed ceiling, stone fireplace burning a fire in July to dry the room from the moisture of the low-lying clouds, a football game playing loud, the Irish tricolor and the Northern Irish flag with the red hand and ancient Star of David side-by-side in a rare camaraderie countless thousands of miles from home. Antique pistols, old belt buckles, sporrans, other Celtic regalia covered the walls, bookshelves high in the arc over the bar. Nothing was pristine in this bar. It was a place of action where words were thrown around with enough force of a punch.

            This was where he met the Dane.

            Every corner you have a dealer selling you potent five-dollar bags but it's not crack or coke, it's base. An off-white powder that you sprinkle on a bed of tobacco in a pipe and smoke, instantly it melts and sizzles into your lungs and only in exhaling can you taste the plasticy residue. And the baggie is just a torn off corner of a bigger plastic bag and knotted at the top. Little quantity but big bang. The locals bite off the top, sprinkle the sugary frosting on a bit of tobacco and smoke it; throat burning, esophagus on fire, lungs searing and then the tasty exhale, that thing that gives you another urge to smoke another one.

            The pipe is the most important instrument but they are only available at the market, most of them poorly made. Homemade concoctions are the most popular option. Carlos the Cuban dealer made a pipe made out of foil from his cigarette pack that looked like a mini Viking horn angled to hold the base in a big horn-shaped flute. Clouds of billowed smoke from his exhales that he didn't hold in his lungs, as if he were smoking a cigarette. He bit off the heads of his little baggies standing there on the sidewalk fearless of the police who lurked throughout Mariscal, who left the smokers to their own. It was the Dane who was decent enough to fill Reno in on the dos and don'ts on the streets. He knew the regular dealers hanging out on the street corners so when Reno told him he had a little crack he had purchased weeks before from Pedro but no pipe, he took him to a dealer he knew had a pipe. They smoked the most of the rock he had.

            "Bigger. I like them bigger," said the Dane as Reno scraped off thin shavings from the rock with his fingernail. He put in a big chunk and the Dane inhaled it into the ethers. Reno bought a pipe off a dealer made from the plastic of the shaft of a Bic pen, electrical tape attaching a cap from a water bottle, all covered with unburnable tape and covered with the foil from a cigarette pack. When it inevitably clogs you have to clean it with a poker, something like a bobby pin or straighten paperclip. Functional, durable, efficient. They went back into the Irish Pub and drank until it closed.

            Out on the streets again, Reno and the Dane were smoking from Reno's pipe when two guys approached them. One a Rasta with dreadlocks and the other an Indian with long hair. The Rasta was happy they were busy smoking, but the Indian embrace Reno and then pulled out his own pipe made out of an apple. Aluminum foil pricked with a pin over a centimeter long opening and an inhalation hole on the side of the apple. Reno offered his pipe to him and the Indian offered his pipe to Reno. The apple kept the burning smoke cool in the throat and had a faint taste of cider. They talk much but laugh and patted each other on the back. Stoned in the streets of Quito.

            The Dane maintained his serious, svelte-faced posture and didn't share in the carefree laughter, instead knowing he had to give them credibility, poise and respect among the prowling criminals of the night. A man who had done four and a half years in a Danish prison for dealing drugs and stealing cars, and who had many childhood friends who had become Hell's Angels. Tattoos on his arms, one being an accurate rendition of the Mona Lisa, the other three women ranging from mother with a baby to strippers, one with a whip. He was the smart one who had learned from life, Reno the loose canon somehow getting by with his laughter, generous heart and pats on the back. Who would mug their friend?

            "It shows weakness," said the Dane to him at some point in the evening. "They take advantage of you. They see that and they take from you. Always pay the lowest you can. Five a bag, not en." The Dane had the proportional angled face of a Danish footballer, lines deeper in all the right places, a scar above his left eye that was the only scratch on the symmetry. It was a face you trusted with eyes that looked at you as all men should: full attention, eyelids raised. Communicating his point was imperative to his survival.

 
 

Table of Contents

  1. The Divine Elbow
  2. Just Surviving As Noble Intent
  3. Surpassing Neophobia
  4. The Middle of the World
  5. The Dane
  6. The Religion of Sfauism
  7. Celebrating Chemistry
  8. Connected Columbians
  9. Stuntmen and Dakar Motorcycle Groupies
  10. Into Amazon Waters
  11. A Beautiful Repressive Niche
  12. Canalazo de Naranilla
  13. Cajunes el grande
  14. A Noble Doppelgänger
  15. Reno Finds His Footing
  16. How to Make a Bomb Out of a Light Bulb
  17. The Impossible Black Lily
  18. The Boy Fascist
  19. Artistas
  20. The Art of Death
  21. The Earthquake Virgin
  22. Lambaster of Laughter
  23. The Sweet Cadence of Scheudenfreunden
  24. Matador: the Agent of Destiny
  25. Overfilling
  26. Mobile Piping
  27. Aristotle’s Character Years
  28. The Great Pilgrimage
  29. A Purpose for Your Sins
  30. Errol Flynn
  31. The Better Man
  32. The Addict’s Ladder
  33. The African Club
  34. The Dutch Hair Piece
  35. The Swiss Army Knife
  36. The Scent of Ammonia
  37. At the Mouth of the Amazon
  38. Broken and Renewed
  39. Seizing the Moment
  40. A Recent Past Discovered
  41. Pinned and Threatened by Fate
  42. Twice as Much in Half the Time
  43. The Assassination
  44. The Pledge
  45. Slandering Hamlet
  46. Stealing Time
  47. Hannibal at the Gates
  48. On the Old Contraband Trail

                  Epilogue

 

 
 

 
 
 

 

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