Heh yeah that looks dope for nerd woke issue talking. Like a light saber might come out in an article soon or something.
So a few days ago I wrote and published the piece “Which Country is More Anti-Black: Colombia, or the U.S.? In My Opinion, There’s no Doubt.” Well my best buddy here in Colombia, with whom I’d been talking about nearly everything in that article over the last 5 years or so, read it, having already basically heard it all in bits and pieces from me over the years, often in short, slurred and unbearable monologues, and has decided he wants to write a response. In English. He’s extremely good with languages, as you may imagine. Shit, I wouldn’t fully understand an article in Spanish equivalent to the one I wrote, with figures of speech and some metaphors and bigger words. But he’s just ready to go at it in English.
So, I told him I’ll publish it here. FAIR AND TRANSPARENT ON THE DOPE BLOG! Or whatever Fox News’s ridiculous claim is. Fair and. Let me Google it now. Yeah I realized it just when I left to hit the Google bar. Fucking fair and balanced here! At any rate, as many will tell you, I always get excited when someone brings up a new writing venture to post on my site, so I of course couldn’t help but begin telling him how best to beat me down in a response, being that I know Jason Harrington’s articles weakest spots, being as that I am Jason Harrington. Then I realized I should probably not do that. So I stopped helping him plan to beat me down pretty quickly. Well, this should be fun. He actually says he’s not really out to tear down much of my piece, as a Colombian, anyway, so we’ll see. His name’s Diego, so that’ll happen one day soon. Watch out for it.
“Is there racism against black people in Colombia?” my best friend from Chicago, South Side Trey as I’ve taken to calling him in articles—most visibly in a New York Times Magazine article I wrote— would often ask me during my first 3-year tour in Medellin, back in 2o15.
It’s a question I would hear many times over the next 8 years. Dark-skinned-black as he is, and visibly nervous when forced to interact with white people while traveling around just his city— America’s segregation capital, where some of Trey’s friends had rarely even left the enormous, often deadly confines of the South (and mostly Black) Side of Chicago—I could hear the hope in his voice, the silent prayer in the inquiry, of hearing that I’d found the Promised Land: a tropical country teeming with the world famous beauty of Colombianas, and where people wouldn’t look down on him for being a dark-skinned black man.
Racial makeup of Chicago, 2010. Trey lives approximately in the center of the dark blue area: near infamous gangland territory. It always feels strange to be in his hood at night, in a huge modern-day U.S. city, while cognizant of the fact that there are likely no more than a few non-CPD white people for miles. And miles.
Possibly a destination to aim for, in his retirement: a warm, affordable, so-far-from-Chicago-in-every-way country. One where he could surely find a gorgeous, loving, and intriguing partner (a dark-skinned black woman speaking Spanish as her first language? An idea akin to a beautiful black unicorn to Trey)— a soul mate, maybe— likely a chocolatina, as he called them. After a lifetime of dating disasters in Chicago where, as Trey and his friends are always quick to opine, “The black girls in the ghetto just want money, or a model-looking, exciting/dangerous dude with rep,” perhaps he could find a wifey. At last, to needlessly quote Etta James. At last. For a while, I simply parroted what the average mestizo or white Colombians say, or don’t say.
2019. Global African Worker. “Afro-Colombian Workers and the Fight Against Racial Discrimination. “It was not until the 2005 census that some progress had been made towards collecting responses on ethnic-cultural identity…During the 2008 review of its human rights record before the UN, Colombia suggested that its official policy is to now recognize the existence of various forms of racial discrimination. However, the state’s decades-long policy of non-recognition not only contributed to the invisibility of Afro-descendants, but also prevented the collection of valuable information that could have confirmed claims of decades of discrimination.” [Bold and italics mine.]
“NO, no. They’re just all friends here, all races, and you never hear anything about racist incidents, or any furious black people exploding in the streets, like in Riotsvillle USA over there.” But after a good full year of spending nights, and days, and nights with Colombian party friends (and I mean literal consecutive nights and days and nights, as in coke and alcohol binges) the truth began squirming out from between the fingers of the light-brown hands usually clamped over their mouths– in vino veritas, and all that.
Women in Choco, the Afro-Colombian capital of Colombia
Read my caption at the end of this article, beneath the street art photo taken by Jackie Hadel, a.k.a Toki Doki Nomad, and which appears in our 2-months-in-the-making interview from earlier this month (those of you who haven’t checked it out, go read/view it/even just skim it if you want. You’ll be glad you did, I promise). That caption gives you an idea of my personal experience with the way in which people from Medellin, at least, will openly announce in front of audiences that they absolutely hate all black people, without a second thought. I’ve heard it come from all manner of people, from groups of PhD students, to wealthy, otherwise progressive (e.g., pro-LGBTQIA ++ square-root-of-pi or whatever it is now) women, to young BLACK female college students, expressing their disdain for their fellow black males.
El Colombiano, 2016. An organization of Afro-Colombians walks through downtown Medellin, proudly showcasing their Afro-Colombian heritage. “Why do they all [non Afro-Colombian passersby] look at us like bugs?” mused one of the women. “The more than 236,000 Afro-descendants in Medellín live, the majority, in the most marginal areas of the city and have difficulties accessing education.”
I then began to reallypay attention to the race situation in Medellin, and the obvious finally hit me, right in my grill the whole time, as it had been. I realized I had rarely ever seen a non-Afro Colombian interacting in any way with a black Colombian on the street. I then remembered that in 3 years, I had never been to a nice restaurant (and by “nice” I just mean waitstaff-with-uniforms, white-table-cloths, surf n’ turf section on-the-menu quality), and seen a single black waiter. Back in the kitchen I would catch glimpses of black cooks and other workers— only glimpses— which made the contrast all the more stark. With a chill, the thought began coiling itself around my mind: the black people here…almost…seemed….to be…notallowed (in unspoken terms, of course. Again, see Colombian street art, end of article) to work as a server of meals out in the open. I asked my then-girlfriend why this was— a bilingual, hippie Colombiana who loved Frida Kahlo, 1960s Nouvelle Vague French films, had several queer friends, and who often attended protests for mistreated aboriginal Colombians— and she said, with a shrug, that “Black people just don’t like being waiters at expensive restaurants.” I was shocked. This was before I had heard her well-educated and well-traveled, Airbnb host of a mother declare her hatred of all black people, casually, at the head of her large Christmas dinner table.
“So,” I replied (as the fact that she knew my father was African-American slowly surfaced in my mind),”you’re telling me that none of the black people in this city of over 2 million wants a chance at the tips these waiters are getting? They just uniformly, in some sort of mass, shared psychic decision, prefer to be tucked away in the back, laboring over fryers, and dealing with the restaurant’s garbage?”
A community of Afro-Colombian families built on stilts in a mangrove swamp, at the edge of the ocean near Tumaco, on the Colombian Pacific coast.
“I guess,” she said, visibly uncomfortable, eager to squirm away from the pesky race issue that this gringo, from the world-famous most racist country on the planet— Amerikkka— just of course had to bring up. A pesky race issue that applied to my racist country, certainly, but which didn’t belong being brought up apropos her racism-free Colombia. “If they didn’t like always being in the back of these restaurants, they would say something. Like the angry black people in your country. They don’t complain here in Colombia, so the negritos must be happy in the back. And they did do a great job with this fish…” she said, quickly shifting topics.
Only later that night did the perfect retort come to me (witty comebacks always arrive posthumously, don’t they?): she didn’t have a single black friend. She hadn’t even ever associated, in any way, with a single black person in the 2 years I had been with her (besides half-me), walking around every corner of the city together as we had, eating at hundreds of establishments, spending entire days at dozens of huge city events, where everyone she had ever known would approach and hug her—all her accquaintences from 32 years on this planet. Not one of them black, or even darker skinned than the ubiquitous Mestizo Colombians. Therefore, how did she know if black people were, or weren’t, complaining? How did she know anything about black people, if she was raised by a black-hating mother who had very likely steered her away from making black friends, and now, at 32, never even associated—even on an Hola-Chao basis— with any of the Afro-Colombians strolling around this bustling city?
Apparently the means by which my ex thinks Afro-Colombians decide which jobs they like, and which they don’t: the well known (in the U.S. at least) “Magical Negro” trope. Also represents the caliber and type of racist offense that U.S. citizens now have the luxury to bicker about.
I then began looking at the employees of “higher-class” job positions in Medellin. The easiest type of establishment by which to gauge this race situation hit me one day: banks. I had to go to banks at various points, for various reasons, and not once did I remember seeing an Afro-Colombian working inside, or even outside (say, as the security) of a bank. I then proactively began to step inside of and take a stroll around every bank I happened to come across. The chill from my first realization, re: the people who were and weren’t allowed to be waitstaff in the more elegant restaurants of the city, continued its bitter spread as the truth materialized, clear as a rural night sky: I literally could not find a single black person working in any bank, anywhere, in the entire city of Medellin. I again asked my girlfriend about this. And to my utter disbelief….she stuck to the same excuse.
Afro-Colombian children displaced from their rural homes, find refuge near the city of Buenaventura. “UN Experts Urge Protection of Afro-Colombian Communities Against Elevating Violence.” United Nation News. 2016.
“WELL, the negritos just don’t like that type of job. Why are you so obsessed with race? Always with gringos— well, of course, because you are such a racist country. Well not here. We don’t treat our negritos badly, like you do. They can do whatever they want to do here. They like some jobs, and don’t like other ones, is all.”
So. She would have me believe, essentially, that black people simply disliked jobs that tended to pay more, and just loved them some low-paying, menial labor gigs. The absurdity was so great, I could only laugh, and stare at her. I continued to press her on the bank issue, though, pulling her, by hand, into every bank we came across (our relationship wasn’t destined to last very long, as you can imagine. We will likely never again be on speaking terms, after our spectacular break up a year later) to show her the sheerabsurdity of the claim that not one black person in the entire city of Medellin had ever— in the past 50 years or so, at least— wanted any of the jobs that GOTTdamned banks had to offer. Finally, she cracked.
Advertisements for Banco de la Republica, Banco W, and Banco de Occidente S.A.. Hey, theychosethese snapshots to showcase their workforces. Click to enlarge and search. Banco W is actually bragging about the equality in their workforce right in that photo’s caption— between men and women. But they also take home the diversity prize, if you look closely!
“People here don’t trust the negritos handling so much money. It is a part of this culture. I guess. I didn’t start it. And well, if you think about it, the black people are usually poor, and some people don’t like them— (*ahem, like you and your mother, perhaps) the racistas in Colombia — [ah, so there are just a few racist bastards in this country, she finally admits!] so they are angry about that. So if you have poor people who want revenge, of course you cannot have them handling the light people’s money. It is logical.”
The sheer circularity of the argument. Almost beautiful to behold.
Some, perhaps superficial progress (but then, wouldn’t the same apply to the argument that my country’s election of a black president was proof of substantial racial progress in the U.S.?)has been made, since the racism-squabbles my ex and I had. Here we have Colombia’s first Afro-Colombian vice president, elected in 2022.BUT . See next caption.
That was all I needed to hear, and see. Well, I also looked at photos of the Colombian Congress, fully convened, from that year, and the prior year, all the way back to the 1990s, which confirmed what I suspected I would find. Seas of white and Mestizo Colombianos, with maybe one or two Afro-Colombians here and there, some years, probably representing the well-known Afro-Colombian state of Choco (Jesus, I’ll never get over how the black area of Colombia is literally called Choco).
To wrap this up: the general, somewhat amusing truth— being someone who is on-track to spending half of their adult life in Colombia, and half in the U.S.— is that as soon as I cross the border into the U.S., I become somewhat like my black father was— irritated by the wokescolds endlessly claiming that systemic racism is a supreme threat to the U.S., that it is somehow impossible for black people to be racist, that all cops are fucking horrible humans— and taking more of an—yeah, I’ll say it— Uncle Tom-ass position, as some from “my team” would snarl. Like my father, someone who was born a sharecropper in Mississippi, who actually dealt with Klan violence, with blatant systemic racism as a youth, and who fled to the North, by himself, at the age of 14, just to get to the relatively racism-light North, I tend to believe that the “white supremacy in the U.S. is rampant and threatens everything in the 2020’s” narrative is a large exaggeration. I believe—as my father fervently believed— that, regardless of what many U.S. wokescold-types would loudly protest, the U.S. has truly made some incredible progress in its engagement with anti-black racism, if one looks at the US of the 1950s, compared to the 2020s. (But then, sometimes, I wonder if I, like my ex-girlfriend, like so many Colombianos, am simply poo-pooing awful, obvious racism in my country that is easy to see for, say, a British visitor.) I certainly agree that the U.S. Justice (and with it, prison) system is an incredibly racist institution—the racism long-baked in as it may be, and nearly inextricable from the clusterfucked complexity of poverty in Black America, and its wanton roots in slavery. De facto segregation certainly still exists— see Chicago, third largest city, as a prime example— and implicit bias will likely always and everywhere be with us (cue the “job applicants with ‘black-sounding names’ vs. those with ‘white sounding names'” studies).
Photo: Julian Castro, Colombia Reports. Figures place the Afro-Colombian community at as high as 25% of the total population of Colombia. In comparison, Congress, composed of a 102-seat Senate and 166-seat House of Representatives, only holds two seats for Afro-Colombians. “How is it possible that five-million people are represented by just two people of the 102 seats of congress?” mused one senate candidate.
Conversely, as soon as I cross into Colombia, I know that I am in a society that is truly— though very subtly; so subtle and quiet that one just may miss it if they don’t spot the quiet scream in the eyes of the occasional black menial laborer, sweeping the garbage away from the entrance of some bank in a white Colombian neighborhood— inarguably, systemically, racist. Where the unspoken rules are nearly as harsh as Jim Crow America’s wall-posted rules: no black people handling the light people’s food out in the open, now! Customers will be disgusted! No black people getting anywhere close to the light people’s money, now!
Each time I step out of José María Córdova airport and into the shimmering Aburra Valley sunshine, I am dizzied by the fact that I have just, essentially, time traveled back to a version of the 195os U.S. South from which my father fled as a boy— a version, I gladly admit, that is greatly watered down, and far more low-key: the rules go unposted, unspoken, here. I used to wonder if it was just Medellin that was like this— if maybe things were different in, say, Bogota, the capital of and by far the biggest city in Colombia. But again, see photo at article’s end, of a street artist’s work in Bogota, expressing in paint about Bogota the precise same thing I have expressed in words here, about Medellin.
How does the saying go? Something to the effect of, “Places where people are constantly, loudly, and safely arguing about issues of injustice are invariably places where much of the arguing is trivial. Places where no one is arguing about injustices, and where it is claimed that a total utopia of equality has long existed, are invariably the places where there should be immediate action taken against the horrible injustices present.” I guess we all have to learn to discern when the screaming is loud, but largely disingenuous and selfish, for attention, and when the screaming is muffled, almost impercitible—perhaps even inaudibly confined to a spraypainted wall—yet more urgent than anyone would have you believe.
So, to play on the immortal editorial by Francis Church, I have now changed my answer, when Trey occasionally asks The Question.
2012. Bogotá, Colombia. .Photo Jackie Hadel, from the Great Hadel Interview of 2023. Jason:I’ve often asked Colombians, playing naive: “Is there racism here?” and they’ve often replied—in front of rooms full of strangers (yet fellow non-Afro-Colombians)— “No, not at all. We’re not like YOUR country, with racist police always killing blacks on TV. But personally, I hate black people. They’re all lazy, violent thieves.”They simply CANNOT seetheironyof such self-refuting statements, coming from otherwise intelligent people. The ensuing arguments were always unbearably frustrating.And they’ll say this to me knowing full well I’M half black.
Note: None of this is to say that Colombia is even the worst offender in South America, let alone the rest of the Americas. I spent two months in Brazil, and in just those two months saw some jaw-dropping, 1920s-style old mammy and African Mandingo handcrafted products in gift shops, for tourists to buy.Not to speak of the tours I took of black favelas in Rio. That’s a whole ‘nother article, for the U.S. black guy who spent 7 years living in Brazil to write, ha. I simply have the most experience with Colombia and the U.S. I love them both, and so best know them both.
“These unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times. Speed is essential in securing these pictures, but very often it is impossible to be quick enough. Young animals cannot hold a pose any better than human babies, and the situation is complicated when they are called on to be precocious in situations naturally foreign to them.”
-Harry Whittier Frees, in the preface to Animal Land on the Air
Silly cat pictures. It didn’t take long after the internet really exploded onto the world scene for silly pictures of cats to come along and infect the entire thing, like a highly malicious, mind-controlling virus. Toxoplasmosis, perhaps. The primary culprits were “lolcats,” which were born somewhere in the bowels of the 4chan forums, one ominous Saturday, or “Caturday,” morning circa 2005, best anyone can tell.
But did you know that extremely silly cat pictures have been around for a very long time? The infamous lolcat memes, with their patented, silly, anthropomorphised pictures of cats aren’t nearly as new as you think. The man who really first nailed the nauseatingly cutesy formula as we now know it was a photographer named Harry Whittier Frees, an American photographer who lived from 1879-1953.
Frees dealt primarily in postcards and children’s books, wherein he dressed cats and other animals in human clothes, posed them in human situations with props, and captioned the photos with old timey versions of things that passed for hilarious back then. Although he dealt with various species, for Frees, it all began and ended with cats.
He was sitting around the dinner table with his family in Audobon, Pennsylvania, back in 1906, when one of the family members passed a paper hat around the table. Each family member took turns wearing the hat, until the hat reached the family cat, at which point Frees rapturously cried “Eureka!”, assembled his old timey camera, and it was thus that silly cat photos were born, for the masses.
And it was Good.
Frees worked hard at his newfound calling in life, and ended up making quite a good living off of his silly animals dressed as people photos. He borrowed his four legged subjects from friends and neighbors, and actually found them quite difficult to work with: for instance, flies were terribly distracting to cats, making for especially difficult photo shoots, and so he had to make sure there were no flies in his studio when doing his old timey shoots. He worked only 3 months out of the year. The rest of the year, he actually spent recuperating from his epic cutesy animal shoots, and meticulously planning the details for his next shoots. As you can see, some of them were, apparently, extraordinarily involved, to the point that they likely did require 9 months of post-shoot recuperation.
How long did it take to get that spot-on school teacher expression re: kitty on the left? Frees, you magnificent bastard.
His exposures were taken at 1/5th of a second, and two-thirds of the negatives had to be discarded. Over the course of his career, Frees became quite the expert in anthropomorphised animal photography. Noting that:
“Rabbits are the easiest to photograph in costume, but incapable ot taking many “human” parts. Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal.”
Two kittens on the left are clearly repulsed by the rabbit. One on the right wants a piece of that casserole. Bad.
“ The pig is the most difficult to deal with, but effective on occasion,” he once said.
(Note that the above caption is Frees’, not mine. Apparently, pigs really are extraordinarily difficult to work with, when it comes to playing dress up. A hard, cold fact that Frees, along with all my ex girlfriends, certainly came to find out.)
Yes, back in the olden days, a photo such as this one–
–-most likely had people laughing out loud, since back then all it took to elicit uproarious laughter from children and simple-minded adults was a picture of a cat dressed as a human asking an amusing question. These days, of course, humor has taken on a much more sophisticated nature and-
–-OK, actually, disregard that last part. Some things never change, it seems, and while Frees is commonly known as the first one to do the nauseating cutesy Lolcat thing in his own, very artistic…
–way, there was one man who was doing something very similar even before Frees. And in a much more profound, epically batshit insane manner. The Cat Master. The Godfather of Cutesy Cat Pictures…
Louis Wain- The Cat Guy
If Louis Wain were around today, he would probably be an internet meme superstar. Born in 1860, Wain was far ahead of his time in realizing one thing: people like absurd pictures of cats. At the age of 23, after dabbling in landscape and various animal-themed paintings, Wain kicked off his career in cats by marrying a cougar, Emily Richardson, a woman ten years his senior.
The two lived together in a cozy little home in Hampsted, north London. Sadly, Emily soon began to suffer from cancer, dying just three years after they had tied the knot. It was during this period that Wain discovered the subject that would define his career. During her illness, Emily was comforted by their pet cat, Peter. Wain taught him tricks such as wearing spectacles and pretending to read in order to amuse Emily. He began to draw extensive sketches of the large black and white cat. He later wrote of Peter:
“To him properly belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.” (Many of Wain’s early cat paintings are, in fact, portraits of Peter.)
By that point, it was all over. Wain had zeroed in on his forte, and that was it: he painted nothing but cats for the rest of his life, descending into a monomaniacal feline obsession.
Yes, Wain went on to paint cats, all kinds of cats: asshole bourgeois cats-
-everyman soldier-in-the-trenches-of-war cats-
-cats going Paginini on a violin-
-cats going Tiny Tim on a banjo-
cats smoking blunts-
Yes, it was just cats on top of cats for lil’ Wain, and his cat pictures were all the rage in Victorian England, often being used in prints, greeting cards and satirical illustrations.
Wain was a prolific with an easel and a cat, producing as many as several hundred drawings a year. He illustrated about one hundred children’s books, his pussies appearing in papers, journals, and magazines, including the Louis Wain Annual, which ran from 1901 to 1915. His work was also regularly reproduced on picture postcards which are highly sought after by collectors today.
In 1898 and 1911 he was chairman, not surprisingly, of the National Cat Club, and was also an active member of the Society For The Protection Of Cats. Towards the end of his life, he claimed that he had “helped to wipe out the contempt in which the cat has been held” in England. Indeed, Wain was quite the cat crusader, walking around England with kitty-tinted glasses. As Wain himself put it:
“I take a sketch-book to a restaurant, or other public place, and draw the people in their different positions as cats, getting as near to their human characteristics as possible. This gives me doubly nature, and these studies I think to be my best humorous work.”
Having obtained his doubly (emphasis his, not mine: yes, he was losing it) nature, as well as having established cat studies as an official humor category well over a century before lolcats was even an annoying twinkle in some asshole’s eye, Wain somehow managed to descend even further into cat-based insanity, by actually going insane himself and being admitted to a squalid mental institute in London. (Mental illness ran in his family; his sister had been admitted when Wain was 30).
Luckily for Wain, he had developed quite a high powered fanbase by that point, one which included H.G. Wells and the Prime Minister of England– he had developed Cat Powers that came with kitty strings– strings that no less than H.G. Wells and the Prime Minister of England pulled to bail him out of there (no, I’m not making this up .)
Wain’s high profile benefactors had him transferred to a much more pleasant crazy house, the Napsbury Hospital, just north of London, which came replete with -–you guessed it-– a colony of cats. It was there that Wain lived out the rest of his life, presumably in bliss, because really, what more can one ask for than a mental institute to call home, a paint brush and easel, and a colony of cats. Today, his paintings are actually used in psychology classes to illustrate an artist’s descent into schizophrenia.
Many modern day medical experts speculate that Wain’s schizophrenia may have been brought on by toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection often carried and transmitted by warm blooded animals, but most often by…must I even say it? (Cats.)
See his descent into madness, captured, oil on canvas, below…
“During the onset of his disease at 57, Wain continued to paint, draw and sketch cats, but the focus changed from fanciful situations, to focus on the cats themselves.”
Hearing voices at this point.
OK, who gave the cat acid?
“Characteristic changes in the art began to occur, changes common to schizophrenic artists. Jagged lines of bright color began emanating from his feline subjects. The outlines of the cats became sever and spiky, and their outlines persisted well throughout the sketches, as if they were throwing off energy.”
“Soon the cats became abstracted, seeming now to be made up of hundreds of small repetitive shapes, coming together in a clashing jangles of color that transform the cat into something resembling an Eastern diety.”
“The abstraction continued, the cats now being seen as made up by small repeating patterns, almost fractal in nature. Until finally they ceased to resemble cats at all, and became the ultimate abstraction, an indistinct form made up by near symmetrical repeating patterns.”
And finally, all together now, this is the official progression that many psychologists use in classes to illustrate an artist’s descent into schizophrenia:
And that, my friends, concludes this field trip.
Get an old timey cat shirt with a funny caption here. I’m the first to think of combining Frees’ photos with funny captions on shirts, can you believe it!? Well be among the first to rock this new genre of cat meme shirts here.
The occasional humorous (or serious) commentary beneath photos,italicized and in bold, isme, Jasontalking.Hi. MyTwitter. We both follow back.
Now let it begin.
It was only supposed to be five questions, and a few pics…
Seven Weeks Earlier
Thanks so much for this. You’re my first interviewee on this blog (I’ve been blogging for a decade. Humor’s me love) because I stumbled upon your blog, Toki Doki (Nomad), which is just mindblowing. It’s kind of a big deal, actually. It’s won at least two awards: #17 (update: she just reached #15 for 2023) out of the Top 50 Best Graffiti Blogs on the Planet, and #53 out of the Top 100 Travel Photography Blogs on the Planet (that’s what those two awards up there in the title read).
2014. Kobe, Japan. “Mirror in the Abandoned Maya Hotel.” Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).(Jason: This is how Japanese horror films start. Please tell me you didn’t sleep here.)
1. Jason: Have you really been, as it seems by merely looking at your site, to nearly every country in the world? And Emily Dickinson, poet who needs no introduction, was famously reclusive, rarely leaving her room. If there were a highly skilled photographer who rarely traveled farther than the edge of her city block, do you think such a hermit blog could be as expansive as Toki Doki, and just as beautiful?
1. Jackie: Hi Jason, thanks so much for your interest in my blog. LOL, no. I haven’t been to EVERY country, but definitely to many. I’m not living to ‘tick boxes,’ just for the adventure of it. I often get asked: “What’s your favorite country?” Always my reply: “It’s wherever I am at the moment.”
Back in 2013, I saw my first City Kitty piece in Long Island City. Instant fan. In 2018, at Art Basel, I was wearing a City Kitty T-shirt and took a mirror selfie. City Kitty took that selfie, made this piece and put it on St. Marks. I ended up collabing with the artist himself!”-Jackie Hadel.
Jackie (continued): One of my social media taglines is “traveling the world taking photos of beautiful things. And it’s ALL beautiful.” So, yes, I believe just as much importance and beauty can be found through the lens of someone who lives on a city block and doesn’t travel much further than that. Every day is a new day in a neighborhood. The faces of familiar people are expressing different emotions, the cats are lying in a different position on the sidewalk—
April 12, 2023. Tallinn, Estonia. “Wow,” by Multistab. Or,”Cat Lying in a Different Position.” Via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
—and it’s always fun to make a Top 10 favorite food list by experiencing it 10 different times at 10 different restaurants – the best kind of adventure! LOL.
December 19, 2o14. Kobe, Japan. “My favorite food— sushi—from my favorite, cheap sushi spot: Gontaro.”-Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
September 13, 2017. Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Jackie Hadel, Todi Doki (Nomad).”So Many Questions.” Jason: And I pray the police were asking a lot of them. This looks like the calling card of a serial killer. I hope this area was searched well.
2. Jason: Living here in Medellin, Colombia, I’ve met quite a few “tick the box” travelers. What were you doing before nomading and photography? What drew you to street art originally? And how do you fund this nonstop traveling? I did do some digging, and know you’re a CELTA trainer (a CELTA is the Mercedes Benz of Teaching English as a Foreign Language certifications).
2. Jackie: I left the USA for Japan and never looked back. I was born in Maryland and grew up in Pennsylvania and Florida. Happy childhood, lots of sunshine and riding bikes with friends.
September 2, 2014. Kobe, Japan. “I saw this man all by himself, just staring out of the train window, smiling. Inner peace is a wonderful thing to behold,” by Jackie Hadel, via Toki Doki (Nomad).
I first became interested in graffiti and street art when I was living in Bogotá, Colombia in 2012. And since it was already dangerous there just to be walking alone with a camera, I never really considered the alternative— that there were actually “safer environs.” LOL. I think I started this passion with a healthy dose of vigilance.
And yes, as a global CELTA teacher trainer, I am fortunate in the sense that mostprojects cover my flights and accommodation, so I am able to just keep moving from project to project.
I live in gratitude and humility and never take anything for granted. I thank the universe for all of it.
October 7, 2012. Bogotá, Colombia. “Good Girl Gone Tramp,” by Lesivo. “Notice the little girl intent on getting an education, in line with her parents’ dream (in the lightbulb), but who clearly fears the all-too-common sex worker destiny of Colombianas .” -Jackie Hadel. Toki Doki (Nomad).
October 7, 2012. Bogotá, Colombia. “Love Tattoo,” by TOXICOMANO, DjLU, and LESIVO. Toki Doki (Nomad).
October 7, 2012. Bogotá, Colombia. “Disillusioned Girl, Probably a Drug Addict,” by Toxicomano. Toki Doki (Nomad).
October 7, 2012. Bogotá, Colombia. “Black Man Screaming for Justice While White Man Remains Silent,” by Toxicomano and Lesivo. Toki Doki (Nomad).Jason: I’ve often asked Colombians, playing naive: “Is there racism here?” and they’ve often replied—in front of rooms full of strangers(yet fellow non-Afro-Colombians)— “No, not at all. We’re not like YOUR country, with racist police always killing blacks on TV. But personally, I hate black people. They’re all lazy, violent thieves.”They simply CANNOT seetheironyof such self-refuting statements, coming from otherwise intelligent people. The ensuing arguments were always unbearably frustrating.And they’ll say this to me knowing full well I’M half black.
October 7, 2012. Bogotá, Colombia. “Man Covers his Mouth in the Face of Injustice,”by Lesivo. Toki Doki (Nomad).
3. Jason: Yet again, someone who started in Colombia in some way and fell in love with it! Despite its share of problems, like any country, everyone should visit Colombia at least once in their lives. Whatever you do, just stay away from the drugs. Haha. Sigh. So, it seems that the rest of your blog is generally split into two main categories: graffiti art, and architecture. (So many breathtaking church photos among your many pages!) Is that right?
3. Jackie: Well, to me, EVERYTHING IS ART: architecture, food, life, events, like, a couple Lady Gaga concerts— one actually in Bogotá. I do love architecture because it’s a combination of art and history. I will stand in front of a structure built in the 1800s and just try to imagine what it was like living at that time, how the building was used, etc.
September 10, 2016. Lille, France. From the “Take me to Church” collection by Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
When I visit an old cathedral in Europe, I can’t help thinking about Tom the Builder from “The Pillars of the Earth” trilogy. It’s fascinating.
August 31, 2016. Cologne Cathedral. Cologne, Germany. Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).Jason:Finished in 1248AD.Holy shit, look—really look—at how massive this fucking church is. Note the people standing at the base.And finished in 1248? I call Ancient Aliens.
Fall, 2o12. Bogota, Colombia. “Lady Gaga in Concert.”Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
February, 2011. Madison Square Garden, NYC. “Lady Gaga in Concert.” Click to enlarge, unless you’re just being a perv about it. Well actually, it’s OK if you are, as long as you don’t drain all your “energy” here and stop reading the rest, if you catch my drift. Photos by Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
Jackie: Like this photo. Not street art-related, but it’s one of my favorites. It was early morning in Islamabad, Pakistan, and I was walking around alone, and saw this man through an open wall in an outdoor kitchen, preparing breakfast. I never went any closer, I just observed from afar.
Circa 2015. Detroit, USA. “One of my favorite Detroit photos.” -Jackie Hadel. Toki Doki (Nomad).
4. Jason: So, to my shock, along with Detroit and some rough-looking areas of Bogota, I saw you’ve also done the infamously dangerous Venezuela. What are some of the riskiest things you’ve done to get photos, and where were they?
4. Jackie: Caracas did have a few dangerous moments, because at the time it was notorious for having an above average weekly unsolved murder rate, and the country was in turmoil with inflation as Chavez was in Cuba getting surgery. Not a stable time, and I had been told not to be outside after 7 p.m. There was a dark, narrow alleyway with no exit, but with some murals on the walls that I just had to get, and there were four guys in there hanging out—eyes glazed, dead—talking and looking at me, and I just kept my eyes on the walls, overemphasizing my camera’s aim to be on the murals and not them, and just backed out as soon as I could.
January, 2013. Caracas, Venezuela.“A woman praying and lighting candles in front of a mural of Chavez. It was something to see that day as Chavez was in Cuba getting cancer treatment.” Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
January, 2013. Caracas, Venezuela. Mural by Artist Unknown, via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
Risky— definitely my first Beirut trip.Unbeknownst to me, I wandered into a Hezbollah neighborhood. As I was walking, I noticed it becoming quieter and quieter. I looked around, then up, and saw men just staring down at me from their balconies. A woman approached me, asked what I was doing, and then explained that a Western woman walking through their neighborhood with a camera doesn’t bode well with its inhabitants. I was like “Of course, of course, I understand, and thank you for coming out to tell me. I will leave now.”
I found out it was Hezbollah the following week. I had to essentially remind myself “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore, so don’t be stupid. This is real world shit.”
“This is that moment– right when I realized I wasn’t in Lebanon, Kansas.” Beirut, Lebanon. Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
Lebanon. “Worn-out apartment building in a Beirut suburb. Soldiers had to grant me permission to take this photo. This is a Hezbollah area (I took a wrong turn). ” Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
Jackie: I guess, looking back, there were a couple times that I “took a wrong turn.”
Beirut, Lebanon. “Graffiti writer. This is what it’s all about. Must have been a sensitive area because this is the day I was questioned by soldiers and sent packing.” —Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
Lahore, Pakistan was another one. One Sunday, I was stopped by soldiers with BIG GUNS, demanding my papers. I really shouldn’t have been in that area at that time, walking alone in search of murals, but that’s why I do what I do: to get the pieces no one else can. It’s such places that usually have graffiti in their language, expressing local injustices—which I feel I should share—said injustices being, of course, exactly what officials don’t want me to share. My only hope is that authorities believe I’m just seeking out pretty pictures, with no politicial angle. I play dumb as best I can.
Chicago also had some tense moments, with a tinted-out Rolls Royce stalking me at dawn (I like to get up early to start getting photos).And of course, getting out of these entanglements makes for great “survival stories.” There IS a strategy, though. I walk like I own the streets, because if you look like you don’t belong somewhere, you’re inviting trouble.
June 8, 2015. Chicago, USA. “Hat’s Off!” by Ador & Semor. Via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
5. Jason: Ha. I LOVE how Chicago, my hometown, made the list with Venezuela, Pakistan, and Beirut. Chiraq it is.
Maybe I should have started with this: it was hard even to contact you! No email on your blog, or anywhere, really. First: care to go into how you nailed a closer connection to Banksy than the vast majority of the world will ever hope to, and what the experience was like? Second: am I right in feeling that you’re similarly low-key, even a bit guarded about your personal life, like Banksy?
2013. Ramallah, Palestine. Separation Wall. Iconic “Flying Balloon Girl,” by Banky. Via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
2013. Ramallah, Palestine. Separation Wall. “Cut it Out,” by Banky. Via Jackie Hadel, (Toki Doki Nomad).
5. Jackie: First, BANKSY. I’ve never met him/them (theories abound that it’s Robin Gunningham from Bristol, UK, to Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, to a global art collective). My book ,”My Month with Banksy,” documents Banksy’s 2013 project “Better Outside Than In,” which took place in the five boroughs of NYC, with the goal of putting out a new piece of street art every day for the 31 days of October. I was one of the fans chasing the pieces. It was chaotic and exciting: we were all in a race to find the piece he posted on his Instagram every morning because there were just as many haters who were trying to destroy the artwork. We all wanted to get it before anything happened.
October, 2013. “This is My New York Accent,” by Banksy. Classic Banksy humor. He’s now in NYC, and it’s on. Via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
My ‘connection’ to Banksy was through his management team “Pest Control.” On the 7th of October in Brooklyn, I snapped a shot of an NYPD police officer “fanboying” on the band-aided heart balloon piece. He was taking a pic of it and I caught him, as well as the Banksy image on his phone. Just good timing. It was a big deal to Pest Control because the New York papers were chock-full of headlines about how Mayor Bloomberg was on the hunt to catch Banksy. So, to have a police officer doing that was funny. Pest Control emailed me requesting to use my photo on their official “Better Outside Than In” website and asked how best to credit me.
October 7, 2013.Red Hook, Brooklyn. NYC. NYPD caught fanboying by Jackie on a pieceby Banksy,“Bandaged Heart Balloon,” via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki Nomad.
October 18, 2013. NYC, USA. “Geisha Silhouttes,” by Banky. Via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
October 20, 2013. Upper West Side, NYC. “Hammering it Home,” by Banksy, via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
October 24, 2013. Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Crowds gather around a just-announced Bansky piece outside of Larry Flynt’s famed Hustler Club.
“Hopeless Romantic,” by Banksy. This was the piece that drew a crowd, placed brilliantly outside of the Hustler Club, above— for all those who naively buy the illusion that sex workers sell.Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
October 9, 2013. Another Banksy-drawn crowd, earlier in the “Better Outside Than In” street art chase. Lower East Side, NYC. Via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
Jackie (continued): That’s the addiction to photography for me, I think. Always on a quest for that perfect shot. I got it that time, and it was Banksy, so yeah, it was pretty special. My DMs lit up after that from people all over the world who wrongly assumed I had to be on the Banksy team for him to use my photo. He rarely does that. And the number of people writing to ask if I would tell Banksy about a wall they knew of for one of his pieces…my inbox became unmanageable.
The piecethat drew crowds, above. Banksy’s “Night Vision War Horses,” perhaps the most ambitious piece of his NYC residency. Instead of a wall, he cleverly painted thisonan abandoned truck and car, which provided striking depth. It included a 1-800 number for viewers to call, which played a 39-minute WikiLeaks recording of a 2007 Baghdad airstrike. Photo by Jackie Hadel.
About my low-key nature: I just believe the art should be the focus of my social media, not me.
“Sometime in Paris,” Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).The flat earth-minded will definitely look at this and see Jackie shooting JFK.
6. Jason: Do you ever have dark, depressed moments as a nomad? Recovering from opioid addiction as I am, completely alone in Colombia, I know I get dragged and drowned by terror tsunamis almost every day, as I remember— often in bed, ripped from sleep by the morning wakeup call of cart-pushing street vendors shouting in Spanish— just how far from home I really am. Ever consider just settling down somewhere? If so, what are some places in which you would choose to settle down?
6. Jackie:Yes, sure there’s a healthy, sometimes unhealthy, dose of existential dread as a nomad, but I push those thoughts out of my head because the benefits of this lifestyle far outweigh the negatives.
Vancouver. “Immediately after my Israel/Palestine experience.” -Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
2019. Costa Rica. Logically, I know this thing is a bird. But I just feel it’s a floating demon-thing. I’ve been having trouble sleeping since I first saw this. Photo by Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
IF I were ever to do the USA thing full-time, I’d love to have a 9-month appointment in an ESL department at a university in a city or town with massive creative vibes, and still have the three months for global adventures.
7. Jason: Austin just popped in my head, for what it’s worth. Did you have any formal training as a photographer?
7. Jackie:I’m not a trained photographer in any sense of the word. I see what I see, how I see it, and I shoot it. End of story. The device doesn’t matter. I mean, was your pot roast delicious because of the oven it was roasted in, or because you knew how to season it just right and prepare it in the perfect way? When the camera is at my eye I just have a compulsion to communicate through the images I capture. Want to know who I am and what I’m about? Look at my photographs.
8. When and how did your blog, Toki Doki, start? (And what does Toki Doki mean?) Was it after you started traveling the world?
8. Jackie: It sounds sappy, but I started my blog in order to share the world with whomever, for whatever reason they may not be able to experience it themselves. I had been traveling already for almost a decade before my 2012 trip to Cuba, but since Cuba was still an almost impossible trip for most Americans, I started my blog solely to show people what it looked like on the inside. And keep in mind, at that time I was living in Colombia and already immersed in Bogota’s street art, so the true impetus for the blog was my upcoming Cuba trip.
2012. Havana, Cuba. Daily Cubano life. Again, this is a photo from 2012. I don’t think that can be emphasized enough. God I could have gone to Cuba but I had to stick to Puerto-fucking-Rico because my super-ghetto Chicago best friend is scared to leave the country/order a passport. It’s like time traveling, look at this shit. Fuck fuck fuck. Ok roll the goddamn interview. Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
*TOKIDOKI (all one word) is just one of my favorite Japanese words and one of the first that I could read in hiragana. 🙂 It means ‘sometimes’ in Japanese. Which, I know, doesn’t really fit, as I am much more than sometimes a nomad—I’m just about always one— but the Japanese word for ‘always’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. So I went with TOKIDOKI NOMAD. Instead of taking the meaning of ‘tokidoki’ literally, I see it as an homage to Japan, land of my humble nomadic beginnings.
June 16, 2016. Tokyo, Japan. Around the Imperial Palace. Photo by Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
9. Don’t you sometimes hate just the…generally uncomfortable and chaotic nature of airline travel, or long bus or train trips (although train sleeper compartments are fucking amazing). That’s one huge reason I could never be a true nomad.
Airport in Osaka.
9. Jackie: Exactly right! It takes energy for sure. I prefer train travel WHENEVER I can get it (I LOVE trains). As for the other aspects of travel, I just grin and bear it, knowing that there’s a cool destination at the end of it. 🙂
“Anywhere and everywhere all at once.” -Jackie Hadel. Photo by Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
“Why Choo Choos are the Best and How I Came to Know It.” From a stuffy grad school writing exercise, gleefullyclowned on by Jason. February, 2013.Via awkward transitional blog.
June 17, 2015. On train, Chicago to Detroit. Ah, look at that relaxed, shoes off, choo choo chillin’ vibe. God, choo choos really are the best. Photo by Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
Jackie snapping photos out of the train window.
10. Name some street artists on your all-time greats list—artists you think are absolutely brilliant, but of whom not enough people have heard.
Circa 2o15. Brussels, Belgium. “Peace,” by HMI CNN, via Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).Note the dope hip-hop shirt and the boombox.I learned Jackie loves conscious hip-hop, among many other genres. For younger readers, I’ll break it down: a ‘boombox’ was that thing in the above photo.
10. It’s BANKSY, actually. His work is my favorite.
Others: Findac, Conor Harrington, Kashink, Anthony Lister…
Berlin, Germany street art. “Cat Lady,” by Fin DAC. Photo by Jackie Hadel.
OK, which one of us was supposed to issue the jump scare warning at the top of this section?(No, I love sphynxes.)
Belfast, Northern Ireland Street Art: “The Duel of Belfast, Dance by Candlelight,” by Conor Harrington (no relation), photo by Jackie Hadel.
December 7, 2o13. Wynwood, Miami Beach. Florida. “Lister Adjust,” by Anthony Lister. Via Jackie Hadel.
11. So would it be safe to assert, as the kids say these days, that you fangirl hardon Banksy? Perhaps even that you fell for his work?
See what I did there?
11. Jackie:You got me.
London. January 18, 2015. “Woman Falling with Shopping Cart.” by Banksy. Via Jackie Hadel. It is, of course, well known how street artists manage to paint in the center of walls, and at such high altitudes: they can fly. As well as hover for extended periods of time. Trust me, I’m like, really good at knowing things.
January 17, 2015. London. “Hoodie Guy Haring Dog,” by Banksy. Via Jackie Hadel.
January 16, 2015. London.“I Love Londonrobbo,” by Banksy. Via Jackie Hadel.
12. Jason: What other languages can you speak?
September 16, 2015.Weston Super Mare, UK. “Your Dreams Are My Nightmares,” part of Banksy’s “Dismaland” exhibition, described by Banksy as a “family theme park unsuitable for children.” Via Jackie Hadel.
12. Jackie: I practice Spanish, Japanese, German, and French every day, so a bit above basic in those four. Basic conversational level of many others languages. I strongly believe in learning your host country’s language. It’s a huge sign of respect.
September 8, 2016. Lille, France. Sticker on a…huge. Sign. Of respect. I said GOTdamn, did it again. Photo by Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
13. Jason: When was the last time you went, I guess, home? How often do you stop back “home,” if you do?
Sykesville, Maryland. “My childhood home. Actually, my maternal grandmother’s home, but she essentially raised me and I lived a majority of my young life in this house. My soul is in that house. My grandmother’s soul is in that house. Unfortunately, it is no longer in the family, but it will forever be in my heart.” –Jackie Hadel. Photo by stepmother, edited by Jackie. Toki Doki (Nomad).
13. Jackie: I’m the traveler of the family. Last time in the States most recently, was two years ago before I accepted the language fellowship and came to Estonia.
“Me getting lost in a gargantuan Os Gemeos Mural, in Boston. I don’t think it’s there anymore.” -Jackie Hadel, Toki Doki (Nomad).
14. Jason: What was one of your most memorable meet-ups with a street artist?
March 26, 2023. Telliskivi-Tallinn, Estonia. BOLD, artist from Paris. “One of my most recent meet-ups with an artist.” -Jackie Hadel, via Toi Doki (Nomad).
14. French artist, Kashink! She contacted me when she saw in my IG that I was in Paris again, and I met her at a wall, and got to watch her paint (without permission from the city.) I am fortunate, because if an area artist happens to catch wind of the street art and graffiti pics I’m taking of their hometown on my IG or blog, they will reach out.
This is like watching a WAY cooler version of Bob Ross.
Paris, France. Street Art. “Let’s Bounce” by Kashink! From beginning to end, full session with Jackie on ride-along. Photo from Toki Doki (Nomad) by Jackie Hadel.
15. Jason: So you have five books on Amazon, including “LA Street Art,” “Japan Street Art” and of course, “My Month with Banksy.” How has self-publishing been treating you?
“My Month with Banksy,” by Jacqueline Hadel. Available on Amazon.I bought a copy.All around fun and of course, visually stunning experience.I truly recommend.
15. Jackie: With “Bogota Street Art,” being my first, self-publishing has been fine, I was just trying it out as the quickest way to get published— the Banksy book sells most because it serves as a ‘small souvenir’ of that special project and of course, Banksy has fans all over the world, so I think their friends and families buy it for them. I hope to expand in the future with an actual publisher, but not sure of angle yet or anything.
January 18, 2015. London.“If Graffiti Changed Anything,” by Banksy. Via Jackie Hadel.
Jason: Well, hopefully a publisher will read this and you’ll get the major book deal you deserve. Well, I’m fresh out of questions, so let’s call this a wrap. Thanks Jackie.
Phew!Without DOUBT the most work I’ve ever put into a single blog post.Check out Jackie’s Amazon author page for her other, Non-Banksy-In-NYC books, with many more beautiful photos, from myriad artists, in myriad cities.
Follow this blog if you dig what you see. (And Jackie JUST inspired me to take my adorable/embarrassing first Insta baby steps.)
Absolutely and without doubt, here at the age of 41– I never thought I would write these words. Think them. Laughed at the thought of even checking the “suicidal” box when visiting a psychiatrist for a prescription. But from now on, for the forseeable future, certainly, I will be checking that box without a moment’s thought, to hell with whether it means the doc will give me my favorite sleeping medication or not. Things have gotten really, really bad.
Those of you who read what I considered to be my coming out post, where I briefly detailed the situation I am in, which has been devolving for about six years now, ever since I failed to deliver on my part for a book deal with Penguin/Random House, and became, essentially, a man on the run, owing well over 30,000 dollars for an advance given to me to write a book I never even got halfway through, will have some idea where I’m currently at in this almost comical, absolutely disastrous chain reaction that struck me, as luck would have it, just in time for my midlife crisis.
For those who didn’t read that post, the long and the short of it is this: I am addicted to synthetic heroin. I am functionally trapped in Colombia, in the same neighborhood in which Pablo Escobar grew up, currently still a dangerous neighborhood. I saw a man shot in the chest three times next to my apartment building, in front of a butcher’s shop, blood pooling on his chest as it drained from his face. I have been addicted to various opioids since the onset of the pandemic– I was so terrified of running out of money, trapped in Colombia with no family who could help me from afar– I have almost no family that I have ever kept in touch with, besides my mother, who is 84 and in a nursing home– that I worked and applied to as many online jobs as possible. Some of them were so mind-numbingly monotonous that I turned to codeine to numb me, so that I could put in 10 hours and actually save each month. Protection from going broke in the middle of COVID, while trapped in Colombia. As explained in the prior post, the seriousness of the codeine addiction did not manifest itself until I found myself having to pee every 30 minutes, all night long, into the morning, and through the whole next day. I couldn’t pee standing up. Talk about emasculating, huh. To make it worse, what felt like a full, urgent bladder of urine always turned out to be just a trickle, which I had to strain so hard to get out that my back was constantly thrown out. Then the middle-of-the-night opioid withdrawal wake-ups started, once I figured out a medication (for prostates, oddly enough. Long story) that allowed me to sleep 2 hours at a time. When I went two hours without a swig of liquid codeine, in my sleep, and then woke up, I woke in withdrawal so bad that it can not be explained in words. The best I can describe it as, without writing an entire book (which I am almost done with) is that you wake up with every dark thought possible smashing you in the stomach, in the darkest void of hopelessness you ever thought possible, and with the certainty, absolute certainty, that you are going to take your life fairly soon. There is no doubt in your mind that this is what will happen. It is only now, you think, that you are awake without being drugged up, experiencing your reality as it really is, that you can see your life for what it is: headed for an end, at your own hands, and thank god for the peace it will bring. In your head, you start writing the various suicide notes that you’ll need to send out. You even begin thinking of highly logistical things that only someone who is dead serious about this endeavor would consider. For example, when I considered hanging myself from my balcony, I decided I would tape a garbage bag around my waste, due to the fact that hanged people are known to always empty their bowels after death. I didn’t want to go out being the asshole gringo who rained shit droplets on the heads of passersby 16 stories below, causing bursts of angry Spanish. The list of these hyperrealistic and pragmatic details that churn in the suicidal mind goes on, down to how clean your apartment should be, minimum, before you go, and whether or not you should just cut your debit card in half (a HUGE and fateful decision to make if you’re living in Colombia, where that debit card is your only access to money) before you do it. Once the debit card is gone, living abroad like this, hell, you’re nearly locked into it, like it or not, at that point.
Then a substance abuse specialist, whom I went to out of desperation, crying my eyes out (I am the type of person who will only go to a doctor if I see there is no other choice, unless I don’t mind dying soon, and I was that positive that I would take my life within a month or two if what I’ve described kept going) explaining to her that I spent all day swigging codeine to ward off the withdrawal, as well as straining, screaming, over empty detergent bottles, to release my little trickles. With all this addiction trouble, combined with the self-inflicted death of every childhood dream I’d ever had with my abandonment of the book deal I had been blessed (or cursed. The full story of that book deal, and the bidding war which warped what should have been a straight forward book into an utter mess of a proposed autobiography), at my age of 37, which I in no way felt ready to write, provides a pretty good and understandable answer to the obvious question: WHY THE HELL DID YOU ABANDON A BOOK DEAL WITH A MAJOR PUBLISHER, A HIGH PAYING DEAL AT THAT. That whole story takes about 5 pages to tell, takes a lot of delving into the insane big league publishing world, and is also in the autobiography I am currently close to finishing: “How I Abandonded a Book Deal, Ran to South America, Partied Away the Advance. And How You Can Do it Too!” (I am honestly thinking of just selling it for 99 cents on Amazon, if not for free somehow, as I am sure the publishing industry has me on a blacklist in bold letters by now, and I am not interested in money, as much as making sure I live on for many more years, in my written way). Anyway, the substance abuse specialist wrote me prescription for methadone, blithely mentioning that I should stay on it for the rest of my life once I started. She didn’t realize, somehow, being a native of this city, that I could get 20 boxes of month-long supplies of methadone delivered to my door, without any prescription, by any number of the corrupt Colombian pharmacists right on my block, alone. I have video evidence of this, in case anyone ever wants to see how easy it is to get, say, 300 xanax or klonopins passed to you under the counter just by asking, or 10 boxes of oxycontin delivered straight to your front door at 9 AM, or 200 Vicodins (which, to be fair, are actually legal here) handed to you at any drug store in the city. Within a week I had my two methadone pharmacists, who just drove their own cars to my apartment to drop my methadone, basically synethetic heroin, off. At first, as you can imagine, this was a disaster. But little by little I’ve fought back, and I’m at least proud to say, I am now only taking one 40 mg methadone pill per 24 hours, finally, as you are supposed to. Which was cause for celebration when I first finally got back on track, as it were. A moment of pride which lasted two days, before the obsidian-black depression just seeped back in to melt the short-lasting pride I felt.
At any rate, this site was supposed to be little more than a place to store my portfolio. Every piece of writing I had ever constructed. Like a digital business card cum portfolio. But here I am. The writer in me just couldn’t help himself, and I had to start pouring the most painful and embarrassing, dark and urgent facts of my life onto this site. But I’ve realized something.
For someone who is truly at just about the lowest point in their life, and honestly thinking of just disappearing, rather than facing the utter disaster of a life one has made for themselves, a public blog is a bad place to talk about your dark/suicidal thoughts, for oh so many reasons. The biggest reason being that, although all the readers of the last piece were nice enough to just skip reading it (I admit I did choose an odd title and angle going into it, ha, but I was nervous), read it and not say anything, or (and thank you) read it and give it a like, if I continue splashing words on the page in this state, eventually a troll will come along. Or perhaps even someone who means well, but unleashes a barrage of damaging words. That is, after all, how so many suicidal bloggers, YouTubers, streamers etc. in the past have ended up taking the plunge into the abyss: one or more of their “fans” urged them to go on and do it, and stop talking about it. And they then did it.
So this is going to be the last blog post, even though it was only the second, chronicling my struggles with extreme, opioid and careere failure-induced depression. I’ve decided it’s certainly better to stop talking about it, than to go on and do it. And I should be talking to a professional about these issues, working on putting these experiences down in a piece of art (a book), at least. Not wallowing in them on a website, and just waiting for that one troll to come in, like the hot sizzling end of a lit wick attached to a bundle of dynamite.
(NOTE: This site is titled Vet Career Strategist, because I am halfway through my certification to be one. For now my second autobiography about how I failed to write the first autobiography is priority number one. I’m not positive if I’ll continue down the Vet Career Strategist path or not. Although I have a feeling posts such as this one have made my decision for me. Ha. I will likely continue to be a starving, and strange, writer for the rest of my life).
I will give you all any updates on my dark situation, if they are positive. Until then, I’ll continue posting everything I’ve ever written and or had published, as well as make the occasional commentary. I am slated to return to the U.S. in six months, to sleep on the couch of an old friend for a month or so. After that, I have no idea what I’ll do. Besides check into the nearest methadone clinic ASAP and get into their counseling services as well.
Now I’m wondering if WordPress has an algorithm that detects posts like this and automatically emails the suicide prevention hotline number and an uplifting message to the blogger. Ha. As bad as things are (and I haven’t properly explained or gone into nearly sufficient detail of my situation, for everyone who is confused about so many things) I just have to find humor in this, being a humor writer.
“I laugh to stop from cryin,” a blues great one sang.
Now, may the clients for writing/editing/career strategy come pouring in!
Update: I’m generally doing a little better now. Designing visual art, in the form of apparel with funny messages, has helped me more than I could imagine. I haven’t gotten a single sale yet, even, but just knowing that people are at least laughing at more of my work is a good feeling. I thought of this t-shirt during one of my darkest moments: “If Somethin’s Eating At you From the Inside….Shit Out a Good Story.” Hope you enjoy looking at my designs as much as I enjoyed making them. Everyone keep your heads up. (Including you, Jason.)
I was supposed to leave Colombia 3 years ago, but the pandemic stopped me. I became trapped in Colombia, which, as you can imagine, was fine by me. Medellin has the nicest people, perfect weather all year round, currency that makes a meager US income a person of wealth, and, honestly, some of the most beautiful women in the world.
Now I am going to type something I have been despairing over, in terms of whether or not I should do it. While we were locked down, I became addicted to codeine, little by little, at first as a way to help me power through my boring job, then as a sort of replacement for beer. I would have a six pack of codeine in the fridge everyday, the same way one would have a sixer of beer. Little did I know, the beginning of the end of my life, as I had known it, was upon me.
In addition to this, I had attained, several years prior, a book deal with Random House, for an autobiography. I failed to deliver it, and simply stopped all communication with them. I still owe them a sizeable advance, which I burned through during 2 years of self demolishing Medellin super models and cocaine partying. I ruined my chance to be an author, for many complex reasons I am writing about in my current, and likely, final autobiography.
The liquid codeine ended up hurting my body so badly that I could only pee sitting down, and had to do so every 20 minutes all night long. I took to peeing in empty detergent bottles bedside. I had to scream, so hard did I need to strain to get what would turn out to be only a trickle of urine, which seemed to relieve me, until 20 minutes later, when I was awoken again by the pressing need to urinate, and had to do it all over again.
This could not go on, or I would off myself within a few months of this nonstop hell. I also soon came to find out what happened if I went a night without codeine: the worst imaginable withdrawal. So terrible, heart racingly, suicide-inducing, that I will leave any attempt at a full description of how bad the hellfire, I had dubbed it, was. I went to a toxicolologist here, desperate and crying. She prescribed me methadone, in this nonstop, fatal, comedy of errors which, it turned out, I could get from any of the pharmacies on my block here, under the counter, or delivered to my front door. Every prescription drug on earth, every opiate, benzo– anything you can imagine, vicodin, morphine, methadone, oxycontin– can be easily delivered to your front door by a corrupt pharmacist.
So now, I am addicted to methadone– what is supposed to be the drug that helps opiate abusers– essentially, I am hooked on synthetic heroin. It is harder than heroin to quit, due to its long half life. Every morning is hell, a dark swirl of suicidal thoughts and regrets and the certainty that nothing remains me for, now that I have ruined everything, here at the age of 41. I will stop typing for now. Getting this out and pressing publish was hard enough. For more backstory on me, to get an idea as to how the book deal happened and what I was before all this, read my Wikipedia page (no, I didn’t make it. I was shocked to discover it myself). I will continue to document my struggles, which I am sure wil not end well, almost certain, if there is an audience for it. I am living in hell, I do not feel ready to go back to the U.S., largely because I have almost no family or friends to go to, and although methadone is bad, I fear the most what would happen if, in a state of devastating withdrawal/hellfire, I bought fentanyl off the streets of Chicago, or even heroin, along with a needle. I am living in hell, surrounded by paradise. I would amputate my right arm to go back in time…how I would…
And yes, I’m sure the job offers will come pounding on my door, now. I have given up the button-up writer for hire thing, as you can tell, and am giving you the real. Now…publish…god help me…
Writing for Vanity Fair was pleasant. Very nice editor, smooth process. So smooth I no longer even remember any of it, to be honest. But now that I just read this again, I realize I was writing about the potential of viruses breaking out at airports and measures to stop them. In 2014. I believe I was right: they were searching for symptoms of Ebola, with largely useless tactics, which is a completely different ballgame from COVID. Anyway, here goes another blast from the past.
EBOLA SECURITY THEATER ISN’T GOING TO MAKE YOU ANY SAFER
On Monday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie defended his decision to detain health-care worker Kaci Hickox under a New Jersey Ebola quarantine policy similar to ones adopted by several states with this cheerful quote: “Any of us have seen people who are traveling and they’ve been stopped, whether they are late for a plane or whatever they are doing, they get upset and angry. That’s fine. I have absolutely nothing but good will for [Hickox] going forward. She’s a good person and went over and was doing good work over in West Africa.”
For six years, I was one of the Transportation Security Administration agents who stopped airline passengers at checkpoints, regularly making them both upset and angry. Often, as Christie suggested, they were late for their planes. Usually, I was stopping them from doing important things for very stupid, federally mandated reasons. For instance, over the course of my duty I sometimes had to look airline pilots in the eye and tell them, with a straight face, that it was necessary to confiscate items from their carry-ons due to the possibility that the items could potentially be used to hijack their own planes. I did this supposedly in the interest of the safety of the American public. After such confiscations, I used to turn to my fellow T.S.A. agents and speculate about the chances the pilot would swing the plane around and crash it into the airport for revenge.
The nail-clipper confiscations, as with most official actions on airport checkpoints, were security theater, much like the quarantine measures that health-care workers such as Hickox are now being subjected to at some entry points around the United States.
If I were a federal agent at a U.S. airport tasked with enforcing some of the recently implemented policies that travelers arriving from Ebola hot zones be checked for Ebola-like symptoms, the first thing I would wonder is if my job even made any sense. We know that Ebola is not terribly contagious until the patient is quite ill. A passenger like Thomas Eric Duncan, who flew to Dallas with Ebola incubating in his body and lied about his close contact with a dying Ebola patient just days before, could not have been singled out by any kind of Ebola spot-check: the infected exhibit virtually no symptoms when the virus is incubating. In yet another example of an airport security measure straight out of Catch-22,the fact of the matter is that a traveler carrying the Ebola virus in its early stages cannot be identified by superficial security checks (and is not much of a threat to the general population), while a person carrying the Ebola virus in its advanced, contagious stage can be detected by travel security checkpoints (but is often too sick to travel anyway).
All of this would perhaps be less absurd if the tools with which officials were attempting to detect the virus at airports weren’t completely useless. Much like the largely ineffective full-body scanners we employ at T.S.A. to attempt to detect concealed weapons on passengers, finding incubation-stage Ebola in a crowded airport amounts to a taxpayer-funded search for fleas conducted through a shattered magnifying glass.
The thermal no-contact fever detectors in place at a lot of airports report an alarmingly number of false positives, as one 2011 scientific study reported. The scanners do not measure body core temperature, the essential indicator of a febrile response to infectious disease; rather, they detect skin-surface temperature, which can change based on many factors unrelated to illness such as sunburn, room temperature, and even emotional states, as an enraged Hickox claimed when her skin temperature reportedly rose, right along with her temper, as the wheels of bureaucracy creaked into motion and deposited her into a quarantine. Back in 2010, we at the T.S.A. quietly used thermal imagers on crowds at O’Hare airport. Agents I spoke to who were in charge of running the scanners at the time used to say that thermal-imaging duty was a joke: they claimed the technology was so poor as to make it all but a complete waste of time.
Governments have tried in the past to utilize airport security as a means by which to contain viral outbreaks, and we have studies to prove how ineffective those efforts were. A 2003 Canadian report on the SARS outbreak and the accompanying airport-screening measures put in place to stop the contagion showed that the extra security didn’t detect a single case of the virus. At best, the Ebola spot-check would work if all passengers behaved honestly at all times. As soon as someone hides or chooses to opt-out of disclosing the fact that he or she was recently in the vicinity of a potentially Ebola-infected area or person, the integrity of the security system collapses (fevers controlled through the use of medication could similarly foil these efforts). In essence, Ebola interrogations amount to a new iteration of, “Did you pack your own bags? And have you been in possession of your bags at all times?,” asked of passengers by airline security since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. No one is likely to want to admit to having been near an Ebola hot zone at an airport security checkpoint knowing that such a disclosure might lead to a three-week quarantine. The only thing that such honor-system questioning really accomplishes is hassling people and causing delays.
And the biggest problem with quarantine measures, like the grandma and grandpa full-body pat-downs mindlessly administered day in and day out by the T.S.A., is that we are hassling and delaying precisely the wrong people. The one problem I’ve always had with the term “security theater” is the connotation of playhouse harmlessness. We all have to put up with a little annoying bureaucracy in times of national danger. So goes the typical rationalization offered by politicians. But, as any cost-benefit analyst will tell you, the bureaucratic tangles that result from such security theater can have very real, even deadly effects.
A study in Applied Economics on the unintended consequences of post-9/11 airport security found that the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid the ever-increasing security inconveniences likely resulted in more than 2,000 road fatalities from 2001 to 2005. Senseless attempts to make air travel safer by confiscating the carry-on items and bottled water only gave people incentive to road-trip to their destinations, greatly increasing their chances of death. Security theater isn’t just some harmless bureaucratic placebo and fact of modern-day life: it can discourage activities and behavior in such a way as to have real, pernicious effects upon society. The health-care workers upon whom the senseless quarantine measures have fallen the hardest are angry, and rightfully so. The measures will do nothing to secure the U.S. from the threat of an Ebola outbreak; they will, in fact, only hamper the very real efforts of the people we’re depending on to quell the outbreak.
Like telling a pilot she can’t be trusted to safely maintain control over a pocket knife while she flies a 747, whisking courageous health-care workers away into quarantine on the pretense that they are incapable of monitoring their own health is not only absurd, it is downright insulting, and possibly even dangerous.