When I was fifteen and back in Pasadena, California, my then-boyfriend Carlos and I drove 25 miles to a theatre on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills to see an art-house movie we’d read about, a strange foreign thing entitled El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky, in Spanish and poorly subtitled. We drove in a 1950-something Dodge Dart my lovely fool had gotten for his birthday, a white car with rusted chrome and aqua upholstery. It had buttons instead of a stick shift for changing gears and sounded ready to give up the ghost, but it ran. We’d gotten as far as Wilshire and Sepulveda and, parking at a gas station to buy low-lead for the car and Cokes for us, we saw the car’s dirty red transmission fluid spreading out beneath her like blood pooling under a murder victim’s head on the station’s concrete island. We pushed the car to a parking space along a brick wall, told the attendant we’d be back for it, and caught the next bus to the theater. We got there in time to miss the previews, but I remember that it was 9:49 p.m. when the theatre went dark and the world lit up.
It was 1972 and I knew then and there what I wanted to be.
A Zen cowgirl.
We of course never saw the Dodge Dart again, and one month and three fistfights later Carlos and I were history too. Four years after that I was walking up Fifty-Fifth Street in New York City, heading towards the St. Regis Hotel to meet Jodorowsky himself.
From the Novel MY DINNER WITH JODOROWSKY, by Gabriel S. de Anda
As Franz Kafka intimated, the sweetest music is often that which cannot be heard except in our stirred imaginations. David Lynch tried to capture DUNE in film, and John Harrison took a swing at it. Now Denis Villeneuve has brought us a new version which also seeks to awaken the dreamer within us.
But the time traveling saboteurs referred to by its enemies as the Kronokaze want to make manifest that music of the sirens which no one has ever heard and survived, including Ulysses, who only thought he heard it, as Kafka tells us. The Kronokaze want to give Alejandro Jodorowsky another bite of the apple of creation. And they’re making him an offer he can’t refuse.
“My Dinner with Jodorowsky”: a science fiction novel by Gabriel S. de Anda.
It was 1992 when Cat and I first met.
I had enrolled in a couple of classes at a local community college: a survey class covering select writers of science fiction literature across a decent spread of years; and a science fiction short story writing class. Both classes were taught by the same teacher. It had been five years since, as an adult, I’d fallen in love once again with science fiction. In the preceding decade I’d discovered some recent oldies — Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Gardner Dozois – as well as the newbies: William Gibson, Michael Swanwick, Kage Baker, Lewis Shiner. Writers such as Bradbury, Heinlein and Andre Norton were already part of that world.
It was in the class where we actually tried to write the stuff that Cat and I became friends. She shared a chapter of an SF novel she was working on which took place on an interplanetary cruise ship. The ship’s captain and the second in command, both women, were a romantic couple. It’s been nearly 30 years since then, and I don’t recall the plot of the novel. What I do recall is that the quality of the writing was sufficiently polished that, as a writer, I was able to take her seriously. I’d already sold three stories by this time.
When both classes ended, the teacher offered to lead a science fiction writers group outside of the college, at attendee’s private homes, and we in fact continued this way for a few years. It was still 1992.
It was the year that Cat had been separated from her husband, Wayne. For my part, I was head-over-heels for a young movie producer whom I had met at a Ventura party that year. By the end of 1992 Cat and Wayne would have gotten back together, while my movie producer girlfriend and I became history after an intense five months.
Throughout those months of 1992 I used to drive out to Cat’s house in La Crescenta on Saturdays. We would spend the day working on our writing. I was working on my first novel, titled Scissors, Rock and Paper Doll, which I completed by December. She also completed her novel.
After she and Wayne got back together they decided to move to Squim, Washington. If I recall correctly, this happened sometime during 1993.
We kept in contact, and we continued to share the things we were each writing. Cat was a heartfelt critic, lavish in her praise when she liked something, harsh in her critiques when she didn’t. It was what I valued most about her. Many critics are afraid of hurting your feelings, so they pull their punches, and as a consequence the feedback you get is compromised, uncertain, not as helpful as it might otherwise be. With Cat you always knew where you stood, and this was a gold standard that I loved and relied on and came to demand from others.
The following year I visited Cat and Wayne in Washington. I flew to Washington, and from there crossed Puget Sound in a ferry. Once there, I was hustled onto a smaller passenger plane and flew to a tiny airport closer to where Cat and Wayne lived.
I spent a week with them, and it was relaxing and wondrous. It’s usually overcast and often rainy in Washington, but Squim lies outside of what they call the Olympic Rain Shadow. Most of the summer days are cool but sunny, great for taking walks. I no longer remember with clarity, but I seem to recall that I was tickled by the fact that the sun rose and set on the same horizon. Mornings shone with the light of a dying day, and the evening felt like a call to breakfast. I spent a lot of time eating and drinking Bacardi and Cokes and writing fiction on a computer they made available to me. Before I’d arrived I had lost a file containing a large chunk of a story I was working on. I brought the floppy to Wayne, who had a rep with computers, and he managed to retrieve and save it for me.
On my last night Cat and Wayne took me to a fine restaurant in the port of Dungeness and I was treated to a magnificent meal of the famous Dungeness crabs. It was a memorable way to end my stay with them.
July of 1994 was the last time I actually saw Cat.
Oh, we of course kept in close contact, sharing and critiquing the pieces of fiction we were working in. She spent a number of years working on a science fiction novel titled Speak No Evil. I wrote four more novels during this time.
In 2019, Wayne passed away. It was the start of a difficult time for Cat. They’d had their ups and down, she and Wayne, but marriage is a bonding ceremonial, and his death left an emptiness in her that she was unable to fill.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit, and she become further isolated. From about March of 2020 on, we spoke at least twice a month by phone, as well as communicating by email. We began a collaboration on a story, but it didn’t take. Wherever her heart was, into was into writing fiction. I sent her a couple of new stories even though she told me she didn’t like short stories. (When had this happened? I wondered.) She critiqued my stories nonetheless and greatly helped me bring them into focus.
I did not know that Cat was not well. I always opened our telephone conversations with an inquiry into her health, just as a matter of protocol; she was 71 years old and had had a health scares a few years prior — a large benign tumor in her stomach, safely removed — and now there was this Covid pandemic. She started getting a little more impatient and churlish when we spoke. On a day in February I called her. She normally did not answer her phone right away, and I usually went through the ruse of leaving a message, pretending that I was someone such as an IRS agent doing follow-up, or some phony bill collector calling to harass her, and after about 10 or 15 seconds she would answer. On the February call it happened just that way, but when she answered she was curt, seemingly angry, somewhat incoherent. My thought was that she might have been a little tipsy. She then peremptorily hung up on me.
I decided to let her have her space.
On February 19th, 2021 I received a long email from her. She apologized for hanging up on me. She said she was suffering from orthostatic hypotension, a form of low blood pressure. She was scattered in her message, telling me about the few things that had been happening, and promising to email me again after things had settled and she felt a little better.
Then again, on May 19, she wrote an email about how she’d started an April Fool’s email but did not send it, saving it as a draft. She picked up where she’d stopped and again detailed her lack of focus and enthusiasm, and signed off.
On June 2, I sent her a long email letting her know about how I’d had two stories picked up by internet magazines and which were going to appear online. I again asked her if she been to visit her primary care doctor, and if she’d already been vaccinated for the Coronavirus. I closed by telling her that my son, who was to graduate from high school in a couple of weeks, had been accepted to California State University, Northridge. “Take care of yourself, Catmeister. You’ve been vaccinated, right? Good. Get out. Join a reading group or something(s). Eat a good meal. Treat yourself well. You are the most important person in Cat Bennett’s life. At least you should be.”
Twenty-eight days later I received a call from her neighbor Linda, informing me that Cat had passed away.
It was her neighbor, Linda, who found Cat’s quiet, lifeless body, lying in bed. It was on the 29th of June, 2021, a Tuesday. “I swear that she had a smile on her face. She looked so peaceful. I was happy about that.”
So was I.
Rest in peace, Cat.
Jose Luis Espejo Alatriste and his son Amado Alatriste finally reunite at a restaurant at the end of their universe. Earth’s warships circle the magical but beleaguered world of Alebrije.
This is the conclusion of “Castles in the Sky,” my science fiction tale, and it’s online at issue 917. It starts with a republication of Chapter Five at http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue917/castles_sky5.html and at the end you can go to Chapter 6. Or you can go directly to Chapter 6 through the link of http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue918/castles_sky6.html
Enjoy, and thanks for reading. If you liked it, you can go to my writer’s website to see what else I’ve done, and what others have said about it.
Part Three of “Castles In the Sky,” my science fiction novella, is out on the Bewildering Stories online magazine website. After a repost of chapter 3, you can access chapters 4 and 5 in issue number 916 at http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue916/castles_sky4.html
Jose Luis is preparing to meet with his son, Amado, in a virtual reality setting. Meanwhile, Eta is trying to secure off-world passage just as interplanetary war is declared and about to begin.
After these segments, there’s only one chapter to go, to find out who’s who and what’s what.
Part Two of my novella “Castles In The Sky” is out now. You can read Chapters 2 and 3 in issue 915 of “Bewildering Stories”, at http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue915/castles_sky2.html. Jose Luis-Espejo-Alatriste thinks his son Amado Alatriste is dead; Amado thinks it is his father who has in fact released the mortal coil. And fencing between the two is Eta Alatriste-Greschoff, Amado’s wife.
More chapters to follow.
After a round of edits at the publisher’s request, BEWILDERING STORIES accepted my story for posting on their website. It is a science fiction novella titled CASTLES IN THE SKY, and part one (chapter one) is out now.
It is the story of a diplomat from Earth on assignment, Jose Luis Espejo-Alatriste, who travels to the world of Alebrije on a mission of coercive diplomacy, as well as to claim the body of his deceased son, Amado Alatriste, who has died in a work-related accident. But wires get crossed, and the son, Amado, thinks that it’s his visiting father, and not himself, who has in fact met an untimely end. To complicate matters, each one wants, for the moment, to keep the stored consciousness of the other from realizing that they are in fact dead. Who can solve this split in reality, this misunderstanding? Between the two of them stands Eta Alatriste-Greschoff, Amado’s wife and Jose Luis’ daughter-in-law. And as if things were not complicated enough, Alebrije is on the cusp of being invaded by Earth, and there is the specter of imminent war.
Chapter one of the novella can be found at http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue914/blurb.html The tale will continue in upcoming issues.
Though he wasn’t everyone’s choice of drink, Anthony Bourdain, the food and culture critic, the author of the Bestseller “Kitchen Confidential” and the charismatic star of CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, was loved by millions.
I found that his schtick could sometimes grow thin and tiresome, but more often than not I found myself fascinated with, and envious of, the life he was living. He traveled the globe savoring far flung cuisines, meeting interesting and famous, and sometimes infamous, people, uncovering what for many of us were new ideas, novel vistas, strange and wondrous customs, off the beaten path journeys.
He could be hilarious and snarky, exuding an aura of counterculture, rebellion, the soul of a contrarian. And though he became part of a media machine that cares little for our souls, it was mass media he derided and lampooned. He seemed to have little patience for artifice or gimmickry, unoriginality or media clowns. Baffoonish posers such as Guy Fieri were excoriated. An ex-chef who could cut close to the bone, his stingingly accurate barbs were often awfully funny and could be quite mean. On one of his shows, he said, “The likelihood of me successfully shooting even the stupidest animal on camera is about the same as Donald Trump being gracious to anybody or Adam Sandler making a good movie.”
He reminded me quite a bit of an old friend of mine from college, a poet and artist who was likewise very intelligent, snarky and angry, and who also committed suicide.
He made a point of striving for a measure of authenticity. According to him, there were moments of raw, unrehearsed reality that were captured by his film crew, but that there were others that were lost because the film crew simply missed it, and they weren’t going to set up a staged shot to recreate what they’d missed. Near the end of Neville’s documentary, there is footage of Bourdain in a restaurant talking with a young man who is in the middle of telling something difficult to dislodge from his heart when Bourdain’s then girlfriend, Asia Argento, interrupts the young man and stops the scene because she wants better lighting and wants to move the tables and the chairs to get this. The painful confession of this young man is truncated just as he was about to say something meaningful, and the crew makes the adjustments. You can see the multiple emotions warring in Bourdain’s face at being in this sort of moment that he’d sworn never to be in. All because the one-time director was the woman he was infatuated with.
So much for authenticity.
Perhaps it was inevitable that there would be such compromises in such enterprises as “Parts Unknown” and Bourdain’s other shows. He was a novelist as well, and he knew instinctively how to tell a story. He was a raconteur. And besides, literature always begs the question of what the truth really is. More often than not, literature arrives at the truth through the construction of a carefully constructed labyrinth of lies. That’s what fiction is. The prosaic truth is rarely enough.
Morgan Melville has gotten some flack — unwarranted in my view — over some of the methods or tools employed in his telling of Bourdain’s story. But what biography, documentary, or historical recreation is ever the final word? They are perspectives that often give us competing views of reality and truth. All you can do is start from the end and work your way backwwards. Walking in reverse is not the best way to ambulate, but detective work often demands it. And every few years there are movies and books offering revisionist histories. I think the truth is never completely told in one sitting.
There will be other movies about Anthony Bourdain.
In referring to his trilogy of books, “The Rosy Crucifixion”, Henry Miller said that he swore that he’d set out to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, but that in end he was simply unable to do this. The written word taunts the truth, and vice versa. The camera’s lens warps it. The photograph catches but a fleeting glimpse of it. Recounting our stories over dinner, wine and candles, turns our history into just that: a story. All you ever get is a taste.
I remember reading the February 5, 2017 New Yorker magazine’s profile of Anthony Bourdain and being surprised by it. The article painted a picture of a man much more emotionally compromised than what his public persona tried to portray. In the profile, Bourdain spoke of how bad he felt over leaving his first wife, Nancy Putkoski. He was still conflicted. There was another scene described in which he shed tears. We got some disconcerting and intimate behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Wizard of Oz. We should have known at that point that something was wrong. His existential malaise could not help but bleed into his shows.
I remember watching an episode of “Parts Unknown” that featured the Spanish chef José Andrés. The episode itself, I believe, was shot in Asturias, Spain, where chef Andrés resides. Throughout the episode José Andrés is bubbling with a kitschy, cloying energy that starkly contrasts with Bourdain’s wary, distanced but tolerant demeanor, which is a little crispy at the edges. My thought was that Bourdain was nursing a hangover, and that he found himself having to endure with a jaundiced eye the seemingly rehearsed bonhomie of José Andrés’ boisterously uncontainable alegria de vivir, or joi de vivre. The Spanish chef is working the stage like Paul McCartney trying to get the audience to sing the coda to “Hey Jude”, mobilizing the villagers much in the same the tiresome Robert Benini did at his 1991 Oscar win, prancing up and down the auditorium aisles, a grown man skipping like the child he wanted to the world to see him as, full of innocence and wonder, don’tcha know. In the “Parts Unknown” episode, you can see Anthony Bourdain barely keeping it together. I expected him to lurch into projectile vomiting any second. But of course he did not. He was invariably the consummate professional, but sometimes just barely.
Perhaps I’m projecting. Bourdain had a look, an expression, often sarcastic, snarky, incredulous, tinged with some level of what came across as a quintessentially adolescent anger. He seemed frustrated over wanting something that he just wasn’t getting, and was touchy about it.
Just a theory.
And that’s just it. We can theorize until the cows come home, and as with most suicides, there will always be an element of never ever really knowing the why. Chemical imbalances? Probably. Compromised brainwaves? Undoubtedly. Imposter syndrome? He said as much himself. Surrounded by clones? They were drawn to him like zombies. Looking for love in all the wrong places? Everywhere he went. All theories.
But what is not theoretical is that he did end his own life with his own hand.
He had friends whom he seemed to be genuinely consonant and gleeful with: Eric Ripert, David Choe, Roi Choi and others. But given the nature of his job — and it was a job, whatever else he said about it — and the kind of people and attention that kind of job attracts, perhaps there was just no way around it, or no easy way out. The Asia Argentos and the José Andréses had been proliferating for some time, and in the end they painted him into a corner.
I can’t help but think that there was a physical component to his dilemma. Having the world at your feet but feeling unsatisfied with the beautiful patterns of light that play around you is, of course, the oldest and most heartbreaking story there is: the tortured artist paradigm. According to Saint Teresa of Ávila, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” The Rolling Stones put it this way: “You can’t always get what you want.”
The real tragedy is when you can’t even get what you need.