(Daron Kickstarter update! Wow, you guys we’re already at 42% funded only four days into the campaign! If you haven’t contributed yet, and you want the new omnibus paperback, new Moondog 3 tour T-shirt or other swag, check out the Kickstarter page. -ctan)
I went home that night and wrote my name on the chalkboard for rent. It seemed only fair since I got the feeling I was going to be there a while. Carmina pinched me on the cheek and then kissed where she had pinched, babbling approvingly in Italian or Italian-accented Spanish (I could never tell the difference). Then she took Orlando into their bedroom and fucked his brains out, which was a regular occurrence.
I curled up on the couch and slept like usual.
People ask me sometimes, if I have such sensitive ears, how do I sleep through a lot of noises? Well, it’s like right in the very center of my head there is a chamber, a dark chamber like an eight-sided cabinet, and once you climb in and shut the door behind you, no light or sound gets in. Oh, you can still kind of hear and the door never seals completely, but it’s good enough for getting to sleep.
Maybe that’s why I sleep so well on the tour bus. Because climbing into the bunk to sleep is kind of like getting into that space in my mind. I don’t know.
Anyway. Orlando woke me up in the morning with his mouth in a very stimulating fashion. I still didn’t understand why Orlando had this sexual appetite or if it was supposed to mean something. I was pretty sure it wasn’t, and it felt good, and there didn’t seem to be any harm in it. And that day I was glad of something to get me going that early in the morning.
I hadn’t expected him to come with me at that early hour to Gloria’s, but he did on that day, at least. She made me clean the classroom. Orlando sat on the stairwell that went up to the apartment upstairs watching me while I swept the floor and the front hallway and ran the vacuum cleaner around. I was a little surprised he didn’t get out his guitar during the guitar class, though. Then again, it was a beginner class. Maybe he was too far beyond it.
After that day, though, Orlando chose to sleep in most of the time. Turned out that aside from cleaning and getting the classroom ready for the day, what Gloria needed me for most was she was trying to clear out and renovate a whole courtyard behind her house, and Orlando was not one for physical work. I eventually figured out that half the conflict between him and Gloria was she wanted him to help out and he resisted.
Renovating the courtyard involved a lot of pulling weeds and small trees out, moving big stones around, scrubbing and plastering, and a lot of other things I didn’t know anything about, but I could do once someone showed me. Ramon and one or two other people from her circle came to help out on some days, too–it was clear to me there was no money to pay a contractor or anything like that. It only dawned on me after we’d been working on it for a while that what she was doing was building a performance space that would be a lot bigger than her living room.
I soon picked up the class routine. Two days a week the guitar class was for beginners, two days a week intermediate, and one advanced. I took them all and went headlong into a daily schedule that basically guaranteed I never got more than five hours of sleep. Every morning I was working on the courtyard then taking classes; in the afternoon I was busking, and in the evening I downed a quick dinner of tapas, and by ten o’clock I was usually at one of the flamenco bars with either Gloria or one of her cohort, listening and learning. That meant I wasn’t getting back to the apartment until three in the morning or later. Oddly, Gloria and her coterie of flamenco performers never seemed the slightest bit tired even though I knew they were keeping late nights and early mornings. Was it just the strong Spanish espresso that kept them going?
Gloria eventually clued me in to the idea of the siesta, a nap in the middle of the day after lunch. I wasn’t really eating lunch, though, and most of the busking money to be made was when the tourists were out and about in the mid- to late afternoon, so a nap wasn’t really an option for me.
Well, it could have been. I could have pulled cash out of the bank and not worried about it. But somehow that didn’t feel right. I was sort of enjoying living hand to mouth. I can’t say I ever enjoyed it in Providence, nor when I was scrounging retail hours at Tower Records when I had first moved to Boston. But here it seemed so… doable. I guess after all the touring and record contracts and the complicated finances that were waiting for me at home, there was something satisfying about being so self-contained.
I can do this, I thought.
And I was learning so much. Gloria basically crammed as much into my brain as it could hold. Remember when Ramon had said she knew everything? He might have been right. I learned that the cajon came from Peru and that the gypsies came from India. (India again!)
I also eventually learned that nearly everyone in the flamenco community I’d met was gypsy or part-gypsy including Orlando himself. Gloria was somehow related to him. So was Ramon, but more distantly. The word she used was “cousins” but I think she used it as a catch-all word to mean “relatives.”
One day the guy who had yelled at Orlando on that first day we’d gone out busking came by the park where we were playing. I’d caught sight of him once or twice before and at those times Orlando had magically made himself scarce. But this time, before Orlando could run off and hide, the guy came right up to us and said something aggressive. Orlando shrugged calmly, which seemed to enrage the guy. I don’t know where I got the balls to do it, but I stepped in front of Orlando and said to the guy, in English, “What the hell’s the matter with you? Can’t you see we’re working, here?” I pointed to the guitar case that had a respectable number of pesetas piling up in it.
The guy scowled at me, gave a last glare to Orlando, and then left.
We stayed another fifteen minutes to save face and then I made us pack up and move. Orlando was kind of shaken up and was playing for shit at that point, anyway.
I took him into a cafe and he ordered coffee with sweetened condensed milk in it. I got one also and we sat there being soothed by the hot, sweet drink.
“So what it is with him?” I finally asked. “What the hell?”
We had taken by this time to basically speaking to each other pretty much in our native languages and figuring some small percent must sink in. We still did a lot of shrugging and giving each other blank looks but that was all right. It’s not like we were discussing philosophy or something.
Which meant he rattled off a fairly long paragraph, of which I understood pretty much nothing until he mentioned Gloria.
“Gloria?” I asked, to be sure I had heard right.
Apparently the guy was another cousin, whose name was Adan–which I guess is Spanish for Adam–and was Gloria’s son.
“Wait, but if Adan is Gloria’s son, and he’s your cousin, then she’s your aunt?” Or maybe just another flavor of cousin?
He shrugged. “But Gloria and Adan, quit.” He made a throat-cutting gesture. “She quit him.”
“You mean she disowned him? Threw him out of the family?”
“Si, si. Adan very bad.”
I would later learn from inquiring carefully from some of the others that Adan was in charge of a group of women who would make money from tourists by handing them flowers or twigs and then trying to tell their fortunes. Ramon warned me about them and then spat on the ground. Later he added it would be fine if all they did was tell fortunes for the tourists, but unfortunately the same group were also pickpocketing and running other scams on the unsuspecting. Ramon apparently disapproved of this. So did Gloria, which I gathered was why she had run Adan out of the house. My guess was anyone who was part of an organized ring of petty thieves was probably also involved in drugs and prostitution, even if no one said anything about it. Maybe that was my New York City bias showing. But that was my assumption.
But when I wasn’t trying to figure out Orlando’s strange family situation or his aversion to physical labor or his attraction to my dick, I was cramming with flamenco. The biggest thing I learned was that flamenco could be an improvisation not only among the musicians, but among the singer, the musicians, and the dancer. The dancer was a percussion instrument unto himself or herself, and the singer was very much like a qaawali singer, riffing on a specific theme or story. Sometimes the theme was flamenco itself, sometimes it was gypsy life or the hardship of life in general. Gloria was a singer.
She had been trying to open this flamenco school for years and hadn’t even been in operation for a year at that point. It took me a while to figure all that out. And it was a while before she started treating me like I was serious about learning and not just a source of free labor.
I think it took about five weeks. I think in weeks because the only day that was different was Sunday. There was no class. Instead there was church.
I have never been much of a churchgoing type. But Carmina insisted that Orlando go, and Vicente and the others went, and I ended up going with them. We did not go to the huge old cathedral, but to a church nearer to the apartment that was still probably older than any church I’d ever been in. It was a lot like Catholic Mass in the states, except in Spanish, and the singing was mostly in Latin.
I’ve always liked the singing.
Anyway. I think four Sundays had passed, but maybe it was five, before Gloria started telling me to bring a guitar to the flamenco bars when we went at night. In other words, she started started throwing me to the wolves. I shouldn’t say it that way, because I make it sound like it was a bad thing. It wasn’t, but it was a little bit terrifying at first to be suddenly on the spot in a new art form. The result was I didn’t play as much as the other guitarists, who pretty much played all night, but I held my own for a song or two, here or there.
I have no idea what Gloria thought of how I played, because she never said, but the other guitarists took me under their wings immediately as a result. I was never sure how much was they were impressed with me and how much that it was like having a mascot, a funny American they could teach tricks to. Didn’t matter to me, really, because everything they showed me was another something I could use. They started trying to get me to come to more juergas, which are like jam sessions only there are dancers, too, and I started convincing them to show up the park or wherever I thought Orlando and I might be busking. That way they could teach me on the spot while maybe we made a little money. They made fun of me for that, saying that only an American would do that. Multitasking. But I didn’t know how long I was going to be there. I wanted to get as much into me as possible.
It was difficult and yet it wasn’t. I was force-feeding myself but my head was completely cracked open so it was easy to pour stuff right in, and given the training I’d done with Guitar Craft it was the right time for my fingers, my body, for everything. My chronically sore thumb didn’t even hurt after two or three hours of playing. Gabriela, who was training as a flamenco dancer when she wasn’t in a university class or working tables, started coming out to the park with us, too, and dancing, which meant we could draw a much bigger crowd. We developed a 10-minute “show” that we would do a few times in an afternoon while the rest of the time it would be more of a juerga. We started drawing in large amounts of cash during a hat pass at the end of the “show.”
Orlando started bringing a cajon and some days left his guitar at home since now we had me and sometimes one of the other guitarists, and a dancer. The only thing we didn’t have was a singer. That was okay, though, because I was still learning to read a dancer. There were things that she could do, twisting her hands in certain ways, for example, that would cue us to repeat a section. In flamenco the dancer is an instrument, too, but it’s a bit like she’s leading a solo all the time.
Gabriela and I got good together. We practiced one night in the living room, which was probably bad for the apartment floor. We got so good together that her boyfriend Rafi started to get a little jealous, and came and hung out when he could. I’ll admit, playing for her so she could dance was a lot like making love, so Rafi can be forgiven for being jealous about it. By the time he convinced himself that I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in her sexually, though, he had become the group’s hawker and designated hat-passer.
Yeah, so, after another month, we had basically almost a full troupe of our own just with our roommates. The only ones who weren’t involved were Vicente, who had too much studying to do, and Carmina, who wasn’t Spanish and wasn’t interested in singing, dancing, or playing an instrument.
The only drawback to having such a group at the park with us was that Orlando and I had to stop making each other come behind the snack kiosk. Honestly, that was probably for the best, because we were bound to get caught. Orlando was creative, though, keeping his eye out for restrooms, alleyways, and other opportunities for privacy.
One day Gloria came to see our troupe when we were set up in a cul de sac not far from the art museum. She must have been watching from behind us so we wouldn’t see her. When we were packing up for the evening she came stalking over like she was angry. She and Orlando exchanged what I would have thought were angry words. Then she walked away.
I asked him what she had said.
He rattled off some words, the only one of which I made out was “gig.”
“What? We have a gig? Where?”
I didn’t press for more details because I knew I’d get them from Gloria in the morning. Which I did. She was opening the performance space for two concerts a week and wanted us to play one of them. She anointed herself our singer for those shows. She would sell the tickets and we would get paid: half the proceeds to us, half to the school. This was also the point at which she put up a sign outside saying that the house was a flamenco school. Me and Ramon hung it one morning. I never did find out why she and Orlando had sounded so angry at each other, though. I think maybe some of the reason there’s a stereotype of the “fiery Latin” personality is they simply yell more than uptight Anglo folks do, and they sound a lot more vehement when they do. Maybe that’s just how Spanish sounds. I decided I couldn’t judge.
Once our little troupe had the school gig going for us, one of the restaurants we frequented with an outdoor patio suitable for shows also hired us, sans singer, for one night a week. I sent Carynne a postcard from the place. I wrote: “You probably won’t be surprised but I have a gig here. Will send you 15% of all the rioja I drink.”
We quit busking on the days when we had night gigs, and I started the afternoon classes, too. Palmas (clapping), cajon, flamenco singing, and of course, dancing.
I didn’t actually do the dancing. I played guitar for the dance class. It was very useful for me to learn with some of the beginners, who were doing things more slowly than the “pros” and were learning the beats.
On gig days, even with me doing all the classes, I had time for a siesta. The only thing I love more than staying up late at night is sleep. I know that sounds weird. Spain is a stay-up-late country. In Seville a lot of the bars and restaurants closed at five or six o’clock for a very late siesta and then re-opened at nine or ten: nightclub hours. Some didn’t re-open until midnight. At three in the morning there would be plenty of people on the street. Not tourists, either–they were already in bed by then.
When I went for a late-afternoon siesta, Orlando was usually there, and that became a good time for us to get off if the others weren’t home.
Now we had shows to promote when we went out busking, and we had flyers for the flamenco school, and the classes started getting fuller, and the shows were all pretty much sold out. The courtyard only seated about fifty people, maybe sixty in a pinch? But Gloria was charging them a lot for this “private concert” that was being billed as the “authentic” flamenco. It wasn’t all that different from what you could see at one of the good flamenco bars after midnight, but like I said, tourists didn’t seem to want to stay up that late. We added two more shows–one for us, and one for Gloria’s older crowd on the one night of the week that the big “tablao” was dark. That meant Ramon could come play, too.
If you couldn’t tell, I was pretty wrapped up in it all. And why wouldn’t I be? I was performing every day, I was learning like crazy, I was getting my dick sucked on an extremely regular basis, and my only sense of time passing was marked by the weekly Church day. I’ve never been good at keeping track of time.
But one thing I couldn’t miss was when summer arrived, and the academic year ended, and Carmina and Vicente both packed up to leave. Vicente went back to Madrid, where his family was, and Carmina was getting ready to return to Italy.
I came in one afternoon ready to take a siesta, but Carmina and Orlando were in their room. They were having an argument, that much was clear. It sounded more like the bickering kind of fight than a tearful one. The weather was heating up. I was barefoot, in a T-shirt and shorts getting ready to lie down and hoping they’d quiet down when the bedroom door opened and Carmina stalked out.
“Dión. C’mere.” She gestured for me to follow her.
I followed her to the bedroom. Orlando was sitting on the bed, blindfolded, his hands behind his back where I couldn’t see them. Naked.
“You guys look like you’re in the middle of something,” I said, hanging back at the doorway.
She smiled sweetly and began to unbutton her shirt. “You help me, yes?”
She gestured at Orlando and with a hollow hand mimed giving head. I pointed at myself. Me? You want me to…? I mimed back. She grinned and pointed.
Well, that was clear enough. If it got weird I could always say no and walk out.
I knelt at Orlando’s feet and took him in my mouth.
“Dion!” he swore.
At which point Carmina started yelling at him and smacking him in the face. He clearly wasn’t having any of that, trying to dodge her, and I tried to get out of the way, but then realized he had his hands tied. She was hitting him pretty hard. I grabbed her by the wrists and said, “You can’t go hitting him like that. Carmina, what the fuck.”
At which point she burst into tears, broke free, slapped me in the face, and then marched out. I was still trying to get Orlando untied when I heard the door to the apartment slam, too. Orlando still had the scarf around one wrist as he hurried to the window. I looked with him and saw her get into a taxi. We needn’t have hurried to catch a glimpse of her: the taxi driver struggled for a while to get her suitcases into the trunk of the car and she stood on the sidewalk haranguing him. Eventually he gave up and put one of them on the back seat. She got in the other door and they drove away.
Orlando turned to me. “Sorry.”
“Orlando, what the fuck is going on?” My cheek itched a little where she’d smacked me.
He shrugged. “She leave. Every summer she leave.”
“Do you mean she left you for good? Like, broke up with you?”
He shrugged. “Every summer.” He mimed an explosion, complete with sound effect. “When she come back, she love me again.”
“You mean she breaks up with you before she leaves every summer?”
“Every summer,” he repeated and shrugged. He looked a little stunned, probably from her smacking him in the face so many times, though not so stunned he forgot his erection, which he stroked as if soothing himself. “Dios mio.”
It was a common enough swear, I heard it all the time. The literal translation was “my God” but it was used more like “for chrissakes.”
“Dios mio yourself, Orlando,” I said.
He sat on the edge of the bed and shrugged. If he’d given me hurt puppy eyes I think I would have smacked him and walked out, too. But he didn’t seem interested in manipulating me emotionally. Orlando was just Orlando.
He lay back then, the whole skinny enchilada of him, curly black bush around his balls and his face and neck browner than his chest from playing all those sunny afternoons in the park. He didn’t make “bedroom eyes” at me or anything. He merely jerked his head like he was inviting me to lie down next to him.
Why the fuck not. I slipped my shorts off and stretched out beside him. I folded one arm behind my head and jerked off while Orlando did the same next to me. I had no idea what was going through his head, but we both looked at the ceiling and after we’d both come, we took a nap side by side on his bed.
(And today’s flamenco-inspired music… the kings of the international music scene, The Gipsy Kings, who started out as a band called Los Reyes doing “traditional” flamenco, but they quickly branched out into a more modern sound in the late 80s/early 90s and have stuck with that ever since -ctan)