El Hard Rock Live
But before the Freeway, no one knows where they came from, the Seminole Indians arrived.
I found them near the ruins of what once was La Tropical. Over the ruins, they have been setting up the last concert. The Farewell-to-Everything Concert. No more extreme metal, no more endless drunk fights at the end of the night. A few emaciated guys, who I will never see again, hammer the final blows to the rotten wood of the stage. I have a concert flyer in my hand: on one side, the musical line up and on the other, a bootleg vodka ad with a bottle smashed in half, blood dripping from its jagged edges.
Absolut La Tropical.
There are two Seminoles: an elderly one (you can see the entire tribe marching in protest in his wrinkles) and a young one with a distracted look on his face, who I recognize immediately. It’s El Autista in disguise. What is El Autista doing with a Seminole Indian? Why is he pretending to be a Seminole Indian with a Seminole Indian who seems to be authentic?
At first (from far away), it looked like there were four Seminole Indians, but two of them were Subliminals, not Seminoles. You couldn’t see their faces. There wasn’t enough time. They said their purpose was to appear in the documentary. They were just hanging out, going back and forth, sending hidden messages to viewers in short segments.
Try Reggeatonic. Go to the corner bar, order a really cold can of Reggeatonic soda, sit with old friends, with dear friends. Share the pain of your idle days, of your hopeless days. Feel free to find comfort in the skyline of the town, the city, the province, wherever you are there will always be a refreshing Reggeatonic waiting for you.
“What are you doing?” I ask El Autista, who’s looking at me very seriously.
“Good friend,” the elderly Seminole addresses me. “We are looking for El Hard Rock Café,” and he solemnly unfurls before me, as if it were a flag, a faded, red Hard Rock Café Havana t-shirt.
“From very far we come,” El Autista intones. “We want find…”
“El Hard Rock Café doesn’t exist anymore,” I tell the Indian. “Your friend knows that very well. They demolished it. Look around. We’re completely remodeling.”
The Seminole turns his head, thoughtfully:
“Hmmm… I see. They’re also filling the Florida Straits with rocks. Huge rocks, one over the next, over the cays. I suppose that is all part of the Plan. What are they hiding behind all this?”
“What could possibly be hiding?” I ask.
“The question is: Did the Cai-Men take this into account? We’ll never know. El Hard Rock Café Havana was our last hope for understanding.”
“I can take you to the place where it once stood, if you think it would be helpful.”
“Good idea. You take us,” says El Autista. “Perhaps find there what we seek.”
“You’re coming with him, right?” I say with a fake smile, and he nods, and the other Seminole also nods. There’s nothing else to discuss. “Ok, let’s go. We’ll walk for many moons.”
“The entire island?” the arthritic Seminole shudders.
“I’m kidding. We couldn’t tour it even if we wanted to.”
“Thank goodness because we are exhausted. We have already traveled the entire world. Almost, anyway; we have visited all of Los Hard Rock Cafés.
“What do the Seminoles have to do with El Hard Rock Café chain?” I ask, uninformed.
“You’re joking, right? El Hard Rock Café International has belonged to our tribe since the beginning of time.
El Hard Rock Café is our tribe’s home.”
“And who are the Cai-Men? A special kind of Seminole?”
“I suppose you could say that. They were the result of a genetic mutation in the Everglades.”
“Their jaws were strong enough to crush the bones of small animals, but also so weak that a hand could keep them from opening,” El Autista Seminole reports to the camera following us.
“They’re all dead now. We didn’t get to know them well. The one who knew them best is also dead. He wasn’t an Indian, he was a writer. His initials were PKD.” “The science fiction writer?” I ask.
Who else could it be? It couldn’t be anyone else. Without a doubt, it has to be Philip Kindred Dick, the science fiction writer. Or simply Philip K.—“Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can’t talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful”—Dick, the Author.
In the mid-1970s, when he was still alive, he was eating at a Chinese restaurant in Yorba Linda, California, the town where Nixon grew up. In his fortune cookie, he got the following fortune:
DEEDS DONE IN SECRET HAVE A WAY OF BECOMING FOUND OUT.
He immediately mailed the slip of paper to the White House, mentioning that the Chinese restaurant was located within a mile of Nixon’s original house.
“I think a mistake has been made; by accident I got Mr. Nixon’s fortune. Does he have mine?”
Signed: Philip K. Dick.
(“That poor poor man,” he once said to his wife, with tears in his eyes. “Shut up in the darkness, playing the piano in the night to himself, alone and afraid, knowing what’s to come.”)
The White House did not answer. The FBI had already stopped responding to his letters. He left the letters from the CIA unopened, for fear of miniature atomic bombs. The KGB kept invading his dreams with colored lights.
The Cai-Men thought: this guy is good.
“Any little thing would trigger PKD’s persecution complex,” the Indian recalls. “That’s why when the Cai-Men contacted him, he thought they were a secret organization that was planning to kidnap him.”
The Cai-Men did, in fact, function as a secret organization within the Seminole Tribe. And, due to Philip K. Dick’s resistance to meet them, they did kidnap him. They took him away from Los Angeles (“I live near Disneyland,” he once wrote. “They are always adding new rides and destroying old ones. Disneyland is an evolving organism.”) to the swamps of the Everglades. When he saw the monstrous organisms that had captured him, the reptilian humanoids with skin covered with hard scales called osteoderms, he closed his eyes and said:
“A friend of mine once published a book called Snakes of Hawaii. A number of libraries wrote him, ordering copies. Well there are no snakes in Hawaii. All the pages of his book are blank. I think you all don’t exist, you’re another one of my hallucinations. You’re my blank pages.”
The Cai-Men then placed a book in his hands. Philip K. Dick trembled. He sensed he had reached the pinnacle of his nightmare. But when he opened his eyes, he was surprised to see that the book was a science fiction novel, one of his favorites—in his opinion, one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.
The novel was Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch, also known as Tom—“I have a class theory of literature. I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from,” —Disch, Suicide Warrior.
Always have a can of Reggaetonic in the fridge. To combat the intense heat, after work, take a very cold shower and sit in front of the fan with a Reggaetonic soda in hand. Think of the cays brimming with hotels. Think of the hot mulatas and mulatos in swimsuits (their skin burning). Let the sweat hit the floor like drops of lead. Smile. Drink. Feel the dizziness dissipate, the tension of your neck melt away. Your head is not going to explode.
(Harmless if consumed in small sips.)
We walk. I’m the tour guide of the disaster. The Subliminal Indians follow us at a distance. We arrive at the site marked HRC on the treasure map. The Seminoles start to dig around in the rubble. In vain.
“This was it?” Disappointed, the elderly one asks. “Is there anything else?”
“The thing is, it was a compact restaurant,” I tell him. I remember a bit, only a little bit, of what was inside:
Fender guitars hanging on the wall, some of them never used, some autographed, some autographed in extraterrestrial writing or by a permanent marker with a life of its own. Rare photos of foreign bands, bands I was never able to identify, bands constantly touring through the provinces (in festivals sponsored, without anyone ever noticing, by a carbonated drink: the invisible drink you can only see in the background). A concert in the rain, in a vacant lot with trailers and cows. Five goths asleep in a dark park in Holguín. Four dinosaurs walking down a boulevard wearing dark glasses, letting the wind tousle their hair. A helicopter that hovers over a crowd in a stadium. A guy who looks like the lead singer of Wilco (or whose expression evokes the migraine or the pharmaceutical addictions provoked by the migraine of the lead singer of Wilco) struggling with a crab in a Caibarién inn. A guy who looks like David Foster Wallace with a bandage on his head in the middle of a burnt sugar cane field north of Ciego de Ávila. A gorgeous female guitarist hanging from a chain-link fence; in the background: Guantanamo Bay, that remote place where the small town of Caimanera once stood.
Lost photos and lost guitars. Memorabilia from when the Island seemed like a lunatic tour. From when the Island was, in the most profound way, a traumatic tour.
“Bad luck, our luck,” El Autista Seminole declares. “Late it arrives. But arrive where?”
They don’t find anything, of course. Not under, over, or around the demolished restaurant.
“I still don’t understand what you’re looking for. A book?”
“It is possible that it is in the form of a book with printed pages, although I doubt it,” the elderly Seminole’s eyes have grown even sadder. His wrinkles are now more pronounced. “It is possible that it is disguised as something hybrid or mutant, since it was Cai-Men themselves who decided to give it to Dick. We will never know.” He takes a resigned pause and adds: “It is its contents, not its form, that matters.”
The secrets of the Cai-Men. Something that only they knew. Something that could change the way we see the world. After the break, we head over there.
Rum with Reggaetonic. That’s it. A party favorite. The mighty ally of popular dances. Indulge in debauchery. Vomit without shame. Vomit on yourself if necessary, but feel the quality and purity of that vomit. Go ahead, pass out—who cares? The next day you will not be alone; you’ll be united forever with many drinkers in a nationwide hangover. And that indestructible union is called Reggaetonic.
(If mixing with other beverages, do not exceed the recommended dose.)
“Conspiracy and cover-ups…” the Indian says, but the white man’s words don’t seem to satisfy him; they’re descriptive but are inadequate. “We hear about conspiracy theories and cover-ups all over the place. No one knows how, but the Cai-Men had accessed the Grand Unified Theory. The Theory from which all other theories could develop. The theory in which all others would somehow be contained, like living cells. Yes, the Cai-Men had in their possession a primordial soup, a matrix, a flash point…”
It was shocking. Insane. Inconceivable. It had to do with the cash flow, with the shift of capital, with market economies. It had to do with a map, if we could imagine something like a treasure map on which the treasure is moving all over the place or one on which, in the end, it is not clear what the treasure actually is. Cash flow is, on this map, like a freeway. There are intersections, loops, detours. There is also speed, abrupt declines, dimensional shifts. There is a sort of hidden pattern behind all of that; a pattern that jumps out like spots on two-dimensional gel electrophoresis—seemingly chaotic at first and then, all of a sudden, a shape appears when our focus shifts. And of course, at the junctions and nodes of that massive network are where the fetishes, the fixed ideas, all of our ravished bodies flow. They are conducting all sorts of experiments on us that we’ll never be able imagine.
But, what? Who? Why? For what?
Philip K. Dick felt increasingly farther and farther away from Disneyland (and Disneyland is everywhere). The Cai-Men told him: “Take it step by step. Stay calm.” And Philip K. Dick said: “I feel as if I’m losing my mind.” And they replied: “There are many ways to lose one’s mind. Haven’t you noticed?” And Philip K. Dick asked them if the truth was “out there,” if the truth lies in the “desert of the real.” And the Cai-Men told him they had had enough of his stupid questions. It was time to act.
If taking action were possible.
“We believe the conspiracy between agent PKD and the Cai-Men” the Indian concludes in a serious voice, “consisted of waiting for a set date, a future event that would mark the beginning of a subversive and potentially liberating scheme in which he would play a central role. We believe this date took place at the beginning of this century. But agent PKD was already dead. He died a few years after meeting the Cai-Men.”
Before dying, he attempted suicide twice. Before dying, he wrote several novels but never revealed anything about the conspiracy. He does reveal many other things. Too many.
Then the Cai-Men began to die. One by one, the mechanisms of their anomalous physiology began to fail. The last one of them revealed that the secret had been hidden in the last place anyone would look: the last Hard Rock Café.
El Hard Rock Café Havana.
El Autista breaks the silence:
“What?” I ask.
“The Cai-Men were cold-blooded beings.”
I take out the concert flyer and show it to the Indian.
“I cannot read. There is too much darkness for my eyes. What is it about?” he asks.
“It’s the program for a rock concert tonight. I think we should go.”
“It says here a band called The Caimen will play.”
Tired? Fatigued? The new soda Reggaetonic is the answer. It contains vitamins, minerals, antidepressants; it’s the latest fad in nutritional supplementation. Designed specially to boost your stamina. Don’t let them seize your body, or the bodies of others. Become an effervescent machine, a sexual steamroller. Try the new national drink: concentrated, energizing, hormonal…
(Avoid prolonged consumption.)
Spotlights come on as soon as we arrive. No one is on the stage yet, but the cameras are aimed and ready.
Suddenly a little girl appears. My guess is that she must be six or seven. Blond. She starts to move consoles around that are too heavy for her age. She has extraordinary strength.
“Do you know them? Have you seen them before? Have you heard them?” the Indian asks me anxiously.
“Who?” I’m completely engrossed in watching the girl prodigy. She’s like a mini model on an electronic runway.
“The Caimen… are they a local band?”
“I have no idea. This is the first time I’ve heard of them.”
A camera approaches us.
El Autista starts talking.
He talks to himself. He talks for the documentary.
He talks about an endless search. He divulges the secrets of the Cai-Men hidden or dispersed in innocent lyrics. He talks about the diabolical scheme behind the circulation of money. He talks about the blueprint for a great continent. He talks about freeway flow dynamics that could explain virtually everything.
And he says everything as if he were an Indian.
Maybe he shouldn’t talk about those things in that way (or in any other way). Just in case.
Meanwhile, the little girl has left the stage and has joined us. But she’s only interested in the real Indian. We can’t fool her. She extends her hands to touch and stroke the old redskin’s face. He calmly closes his eyes and allows the girl to slide the tips of her fingers over his wrinkles as if she were a blind person who could read his skin. The camera, perhaps unintentionally, captures the whole scene.
“Who are you?” the Seminole asks without opening his eyes.
“I’m the concert DJ,” responds Little Miss DJ.
The concert is about to showcase (I tremble) the latest in Cuban rock.
Cuban rockers are the missing link of a chain more about food than evolution.
Cuban rockers who once sang and recorded the one that goes like this: “Todos marchamos juntos/ con la plaza llena/ delante flota la bandera/ la lleva una niña con las tetas afuera…”
Cuban rockers in a flashy video clip with a gigantic woman-robot that turns out to be none other than Our Lady of Charity.
Cuban rockers build, brick by brick, a themed restaurant whose theme is themselves or the meticulous absence of a theme. A themed restaurant that is actually a front for an independent recording studio or a pirate radio station, that itself is the front for a real business: a lavish casino (linked to a prostitution ring) where Cuban rockers play all their chips—tiny chips, easy to hide, that really just look like pebbles or colorful counting beads.
Cuban rockers on the other side of the most powerful telescopes.
Cuban rockers subjected to hypnosis, returning to school, reciting poetry in the morning.
Cuban rockers trafficking files of unresolved cases from the Ministry of the Interior.
Cuban rockers confess: we are no longer rockers, we are no longer Cuban.
Cuban rockers keep alive the memory of the Cuban rocker who climbed the El Morro lighthouse, changed the light characteristics, and never came back down. He stayed there, alone, and watched all the ships sink.
Cuban rockers watching the latest weather forecast.
Cuban rockers charred by spontaneous combustion.
Cuban rockers are as full of rage as they are empty of spite.
Cuban rockers strangled by their own (vocal) cords.
Cuban rockers in a catatonic state.
Cuban rockers who will never read this.
Cuban rockers no longer have nightmares.
A helicopter hovers over La Tropical and drops a ladder down.
Descending from the ladder, and then straight on the stage: Twiggy Ramírez.
Twiggy Ramírez looks old and skeletal. Definitively more Twiggy than Ramírez; he looks more like a wrecked model than a serial killer, more victim than assassin. He looks like he just stepped off an ancient planet where he took a beating. He looks as if he alone had swallowed the entire thrash metal circuit of Florida and then purged it.
Twiggy slings his Gibson guitar and grabs the microphone. The audience: the Seminole Indians, the Subliminal Indians, and myself. Five people, two of whom are imperceptible to the conscious mind. In any case, he shouts:
“Greetings to the Tribe!”
“Buenas noches, Habana!”
Followed by a deep silence from the audience.
“Well, bad news: the bands scheduled for tonight aren’t going to play. Honestly, I don’t know what happened to them. It must have been something awful. Although, if you think about it, this could be good news. Right?” Twiggy looks at the little girl and winks at her with his swollen eyelid and adds, “I’ll be here for you to fill the gap, along with Niña DJ. We’re going to improvise live, she and I, for you. We’re going to produce, improvising, much more than just a concert: we’re going to create a desert. Isn’t that right, Niña DJ? Let’s do this La Tropicaaaaaal!!!”
I try to console the Seminole. “Well,” I tell him, “we would’ve had to sit through a dozen awful bands before getting to The Caimen.” The old man keeps his eyes closed, I’m not sure if he’s listening to me, but he nods anyway. He doesn’t need words. It almost seems as if he’s listening to something else, a sound on a different scale. It almost seems as if he’s ready to die right now, at this very moment. He would die happy.
I am Reggaetonic. Before the Freeway existed, I existed. I am the Word, and my name shall not be uttered. It is a name unknown to all. They call me Reggaetonic, but Reggaetonic is not my name. I am. I will always be.
Chapter 2 of the upcoming translation Freeway: The Movie
Translated by Lourdes Molina
Jorge Enrique Lage (Havana, Cuba, 1979) is a writer and editor. He earned a degree in Biochemistry from the Universidad de La Habana. He has published the short story collections El color de la sangre diluida [The color of diluted blood] (2008) and Vultureffect (2011) and the novels Carbono 14. Una novela de culto [Carbon 14: a cult novel] (2010), La autopista: The Movie (2014), and Archivo [Archive] (2015). His short story "Bitches" was included in McSweeney’s 46: Thirteen Crime Stories from Latin America as well as the Spanish-language volume of the journal.
Lourdes Molina is a professor of practice of Spanish at Southern Methodist University where she teaches Spanish language, Spanish American literature, and literary translation. Her translations have appeared in Cuba Counterpoints. She holds a BA and MA in Spanish from the University of Florida and a PhD in literary and translation studies from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is currently translating Lage’s La autopista: The Movie.
LALT No. 6 goes from the gripping true stories of literary journalism to the strange worlds of fantastic short stories and graphic literature. We highlight chronicles by Colombian journalist Alberto Salcedo Ramos, speculative fiction in a dossier curated by Mexican writer Alberto Chimal, and Yucatec Maya poetry and prose in our ongoing Indigenous Literature series.