Jim Marquez's East L.A. Collage
Jim Marquez is quite the trip: head trip, lit trip, tripping the dark fantastic. His book East L.A. Collage (2006 Jim Marquez, distributed by LuLu Books), is part of an autobiographical series of self-published tomes (L.A. Bitch; L.A. Bitch II: The Second Coming; L.A. Bitch III: The Writer Strikes Back; A Syringe Full of Loyalty) that contain tales and observations of East L.A., the author’s personal life, and social commentary told in unadorned, but not quotidian prose.
There is a grating disparity between Marquez the writer and Marquez the author. Marquez the “writer”- and he is correct in assuming this title - has an overdeveloped ego, which is de rigueur for those writers who have steeped themselves in the words and misdeeds of Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, or even Henry Miller (let me make a plea to future generations of male writers… the three aforementioned authors are NOT the be-all and end-all of literature. Consider the writing, and not just the writers themselves). Once I got past the bombastic rhetoric on Marquez's website, his My Space page and his author page at LuLu.com (not to mention his over-enthusiastic and arrogant response to my email query), I dove into his book expecting to find more of the same literary machismo.
I was wrong. And glad to be proven otherwise. East L.A. Collage is an absolute pleasure to read. Marquez the “author” is intelligent, creative, witty, and astute. East L.A. opens with “A Burning Memory,” which chronicles the fiery destruction of the local Thrift Store, which becomes an allegory for Marquez’s own life, particularly how he traveled from the confines of his neighborhood to other parts of Los Angeles, to other parts of parts of the United States, to visiting different parts of Europe (Paris in particular).
There is much cynical, and unfortunately, spot-on social commentary in “A Burning Memory,” like when Marquez is watching what looks like a healthy contingent of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department swarm the area where the fire took place. Marquez notes the racial differences with geographical and language comparisons:
Some kids ducked under the yellow tape to get a closer look and
immediately a sheriff’s deputy marched over, shouting for them to
keep their distance, and it dawned on me that every man on that
force, seemingly, is white and good looking.
Like a squad of GQ goons walking the runway in Milan. They
parade around in their comically big mustaches and oversized
biceps bulging under their stretched shirts. But where was the Mexican
cop? Why is there never, ever a cop giving commands in Spanish?
Look what city you’re in, look what part of the city you’re in,
come on guys, get with it. What the hell? I mean, most of these cops
don’t even live in the areas they patrol, they live way in the fuck
out there in Lancaster and Corona and Hemet and
Klandora and Fontana, all on the brighter side of town…
Having grown up a minority in a part of town not known for being regarded as anything more than a barrio by many of the blissfully ignorant L.A. populous, Marquez is correct. However, he is not so steeped in his cynicism that he cannot appreciate and celebrate moments where race and ethnicity transcend their barriers, as in the story “The Kitchen.” With some time to kill between classes (Marquez is an English teacher), Marquez finds himself at a bar/Chinese restaurant where he requests the bartender to turn on the current U.S.A. v. Brazil soccer match. The regular patrons show up; an African-American woman, a Middle Eastern security guard, two upwardly mobile Caucasian businessmen, and finally the Chinese bartender. Their initial chagrin at having their favorite programs usurped quickly dissipates in the easy and infectious camaraderie that is generated by the participatory viewing of this global sport:
So, now there’s the Chinese bartender, the two white guys, the
black lady, the Middle Eastern guy, and me representing my section
of the gallery. Well, kiss my ass. Take a look at that. Not all of
‘em, but damn near close, here in this hole-in-the-wall bar a few
miles outside of Downtown L.A. Relaxed, happy as shit to be in
each other’s company; colors, languages, religions tossed by the
wayside in order to enjoy a football match, aka “soccer”. And the
ignorant call it a boring game. Nothing happens they say, HA! You
gotta be kidding!
Though irony abounds, it’s tempered with Marquez’s engaging sense of humor. One of the more positive hallmarks of a mature artist is to be able to see the balance in the light and dark moments of everyday life, which Marquez deftly illustrates in “The Kitchen.”
There is also a tender, wistful side to Marquez: in “Pick Up Day,” an acerbic and melancholy tale about spending time with deceased loved ones by decorating their graves at Christmas time; “The Girl in the Café” chronicles Marquez’s casual and friendly attempts to interact with a young Mexican woman trapped in a violent, loveless marriage; and finally, “Hunter S. Thompson,” a gushing account of Marquez’s encounter with the famous author and journalist at his last appearance in Los Angeles at Book Soup.
Marquez reminds me why I both love and loathe Henry Miller. Miller was a egoist and a jerk, but he pioneered the art of the biographical novel, and reinforced the best rule for writers: WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW! Now, I am not saying that Marquez is a jerk, because I have not met the man, but I am happy to have met the "writer" through his writing, and not just the persona. I look forward to reading more of his work, and do remember that he is a local boy so check out his website for upcoming appearances: http://www.jimmarquezthewriter.com/.
(East L.A. Collage, copyright 2006 Jim Marquez, distributed by LuLu Books, www.lulu.com, 128 pages, ISBN: 1-4116-5255-X, $9.49, 128 pages).