Johnland,Â El Paso – June 2009
Been thinking about this guy and borders and the idea of the Big Picture versus the small picture ever since I made it (the photo) this summer, on an almost rainy night, in the northeast section of town, out by the military base.
Angry. Joyous. Funny. Dangerous. Sweet. Full of love, hate and ambivalence. Boozed up, half mad, half brilliant.
“I am free,” he shouts at the night. “I am free and I am in hell.”
I ask him if he ever goes across the border?
“I am borderless,”he replies, “aren’t you?” He shakes his hand and does a twirl, almost stepping into busy Saturday night traffic.
He does a little dance and steps so close to the edge of the curb that I go to grab him but he spins back onto the sidewalk and does a very theatrical bow. He is a tight rope walker and it looks like he has done this toe dance forever.
I feel, in his presence, the edge of life, it’s right there, a thrill and a terror, almost reaching beyond life, and i wonder if it isÂ better to not have that feel, that edge, that “brush with the beyond,” or if it is better to ignore it, put your arms up, live the good life,Â try to stay as far away from it as possible? Both? Neither? All? None?
John seems to be trying it all, all at once.
That’s our dance, too, isn’t it? Get real, or just dress up and consume? Many of us dance on the edge of the blade.
We -like John Hughes- struggle to just live.
John is everything and, then, he is nothing. He’s a walking, living border, with an internal international boundary marker, separating him like a first and third world, unlikely parts molded together, then, in a flash, he is a laser of insight and wisdom.
In those little moments he could make diamonds.
Our society doesn’t have the right venue for the forum we need with Street People. I’d use the word ‘homeless,” but that’s a soft little word that fits into the vocabulary of the homed. John’s not homeless. He is home. He controls his own nowhere. I am reminded how loyally people cling to the US/Mexico border (or the idea of it) of El Paso and Juarez and how the price of admission is to slowly but surely, start to judge the world by the border worldview, until, finally, the world looks suspicious and the rest of the world seems dangerous and foreign. Everything gets upside down. Or is it sideways?
It used to be called “Provincialism,” but that doesn’t quite work for me. Who’s to say?
The border often feels, to me, more like a refugee camp, Refugee-ism.
So, no, John Hughes, is not “homeless.” He lives in the great “out there,” a free man, living his very own rat race. Scrambling, trying to make sense, fighting his own devils, trying to get “there,” wherever that is.
Who’s to say it’s better or worse than your -or my- journey?
John was a Marine.”Taught me to live on the ground,” he says with pride.
He’s no longer a Marine. “Had to leave early,” he explains… had to part ways.”
Liked the booze and liked the violence.
Now, he prowls the streets. He’s got his turf. Dyer Street. It’s his. At least two or three blocks of it. Wilson and Dyer is Johnland.
Meeting John, knowing John, spending a lot of time on the streets (as many photographers do, as well), reminds me that the norm is only the norm for some; that it depends on your “neighborhood,” and that the idea of truth and sanity is just a little less certain if you live out there. The street is a strange kind of liberator.
Like I said, we really don’t have the right forum for talking about this.
I found mine, on an almost rainy night, in front of a pizza restaurant, out by the military base, in Johnland.
I salute you Mr. Hughes.