These days anyone with even a budget phone can take decent pictures. The phone does most of the work. Before phones were a thing, all I had were the cheapest cameras, one of them so bad it made pictures from a trip to Borneo look like they’d been shot with a pinhole camera. When phones did come along, I finally got one, just for the camera and video function. Since that time, I’ve taken thousands of pictures, way too many pictures. My only strategy is to get in front of the action and press the button.
Now I was in Colombia, trying to find pictures to accompany five hundred song lyrics and poems that I’d designated to be my life’s work. There were probably more in the tank, but by this point the flow had become a trickle and the price it had taken to live the life I had was soaring out of control.
Just like a child needs to run and show their mother every drawing they do, most artists have a secret hope that there is some source of approval out there once they’ve completed their work. By now, most of my creations had just gone into folders and storage units, and I was used to it, but it didn’t feel good, especially when other artists were out there being lionized for doing the same thing. What was worse was to share them on Facebook and then not get any likes, the living definition of insult to injury.
After picking up some medicine at a pharmacy, my headache began to lessen and I was able to eat. The street that ran parallel to the hostel had a number of outdoor restaurants. At one I ordered a chuleta, or pork chop, that came with rice, beans, and platanos, the large, starchy bananas they sometimes use as a substitute for potatoes in Latin America. It was the first time I’d eaten in a long time, and a great deal for a dollar and a half. In America, I’m not sure that even would’ve paid for a big bite at 7-Eleven.
The sickness seemed to return in the morning. I dreamed about my father, who’d passed away seven years earlier, expressing his grave disappointment in me. There was also music that sounded like it was coming from a video game being played in the next room. It kept playing over and over, like monkeys in a circus hopping over each other, and was absolutely maddening. A few days later, I discovered it was coming from a Catholic school across the street. They’d play it to announce the arrival of every child. Fortunately, I hadn’t kicked in my neighbor’s door yet, but it had come close.
In the evening, I stepped out of the hostel once more, just to get some air. It was a poor neighborhood, but a social one. Salsa music played continuously, like it or not. People broke out into spontaneous dance and sang along to their favorite songs. In a park across the street, parents were out with their children, making use of every piece of equipment.
My childhood had been a lonely one, moving from place to place, never having a community or stable group of friends. By now it was ten times worse if I was back in the States. People stayed indoors all day long, only emerging to run errands or pick up food. There was no music or celebration on the streets. If there was, it had to be sanctioned. It was no wonder I’d longed to escape. Outside of the few family members that remained, there was nothing to return to, only failure, isolation, and financial ruin.
At the hostel, Carlos was waiting for me at the door. What had I been up to, he wondered. Drinking? Dancing? Making love to a beautiful woman? No. No. I needed to remind him once again that I had no life. No money, no honey. Tears of laughter poured from his eyes, and he clasped my hand, refusing to let it go.