Luis Rivas lives in Los Angeles, California. He was a telemarketer, construction worker, flower delivery driver, fast food cashier, sales clerk,...read more non-profit canvasser, adult store and strip club manager and package handler/zip code sorter. His work has appeared in the following publications, some of which he contributes to regularly: Zygote in My Coffee, Unlikely Stories, My Favorite Bullet, The Hold, Cherry Bleeds, Corium, Rural Messenger Press, Thieves Jargon, Origami Condom, Outsider Writers, Full of Crow, Counter Punch, Gloom Cupboard, where his is Poetry Editor and Red Fez, where he is author of the Last Days of Los Angeles column.
He dropped out of Los Angeles Valley College where he was studying journalism to work full-time at a porn shop. Then he got fired. Now he has gone back to school, continuing his studies in journalism and Chicana/o Studies at California State University of Northridge and Los Angeles City College.
He is currently building up his own literary website, peaceisillegal.com and plans on publishing a book on his youth.
Once upon a time, he grew a beard.
(There is evidence on the Internet.)
HE ASKS IF I'M OK and I suppose I am, although we are drinking Jameson and that’s never a good indicator that anything’s all right. I’m thinking about where I’m going to live, will I get back my half of the move-in deposit, who am I going to sleep with, if I can still afford to go to school, that I’m still unemployed, that the car needs repairs. “You know, in times like these, I understand why people rob banks,” I said. Most of us were going to need a lot of money to pay the court and legal fees. We’re sitting on the tagged-up chrome benches, trying to eat plastic-wrapped-and-near-boiling-hot burritos, small squishy apples and drinking raspberry juices from tiny boxes that read, “Contains no juice.” Most of us were hungry but quickly lost our appetite when the guards brought the food. We mulled one of the burritos over, inspecting it with our fingers, saying “ah shit! It’s hot,” occasionally being scalded by the plastic wrapper. There’s only one white guy in jail with us. Everyone else is black or Latino. We call him Güerro. It’s his second DUI, too. Most of us are in the Los Angeles Metropolitan County Jail for driving drunk, bench warrants, petty crimes or public intoxication. There was a collective uncertainty as to how long we were going to be locked up for. Some of us had said that we would be released any minute now—having been all arrested and processed last night. The minor cases—first-time DUI offenders—would be let go in the morning. But, for the rest of us, the more serious offenders—warrants, felonies, driving with a suspended license, drug possession, multiple offenders—we were all fucked. When I was brought in, Officer Takanashi sat me down on a bench in the processing room. At first I was alone, then a group of younger officers (one of them being no older than 20) sat down a younger guy with Velcro-curly dark hair and looking somewhat Latino. He looked depressed. We all did. “Hey, hablas español?” I ask him. He nods. “Estamos jodidos, ‘mano,” I told him. We are fucked. I wanted him to know just in case there was a shining glimmer of hope left somewhere deep inside. I pass out, hoping to wake up in my bed. But that’s not what happened.
Robert says he has some drink tokens for a bar downtown. The Jameson is gone. We are both hesitant. But, like inertia, like nature, we give in. I wake up with the guard yelling at all of us to get the fuck up and in line! We slowly come to our feet, some faster than others. We are lead into an elevator and told to look at the back wall. A few of us turn around. Some of us are still drunk so they are laughing. The guards yell louder. We stop laughing. Eventually we are led into another cell with bunk beds. We are handed two blankets. Güerro gets the top bunk bed and I get the lower one, which is what I would have preferred anyway. Most of us go to sleep right away.
One by one the next morning they call us either to let us go or to say that we have visitors. I have none. We are at the bar. Robert keeps telling me the bartender is checking me out, that she likes me. I can’t tell. Her name is Gypsy and she is tall, brunette, pretty with high cheek bones and sincere-appearing eyes. She calls me Che because of my tattoo. He’s lying, but encouraging me to at least try, to get laid, get my dick sucked, get my mind away from things. But, you cannot hit on bartenders. It’s impossible. We continue drinking. I draw a hammer and sickle on a bar coaster. There is now some girl laying flat on her back on the bar counter. Sirens go off somewhere outside. Robert asks if I’m ok. I tell him yes, and I think I am. But when you’re drunk it’s hard to determine what you’re actually thinking and what you think you’re thinking. Realities overlap; interpreted, objective, internalized blurry externalities. In County Jail, everyone has to be medically evaluated and X-rayed. They ask a series of questions. Most of them are easy; are you allergic to any medication? No. Do you feel like hurting yourself or someone else? No. Are you depressed? No (but, truthfully, yes, everyone is; if you’re in jail and not depressed, you are a psychopath). Most of these are a simple no. I, however, slipped. “Have you ever been in a mental institution?” “Yes.” “I’m sorry. Was that a ‘yes?’” ...read more (3/5)“Well, yea, but that was eight or nine years ago.” “Why were you in there?” “Well, I was depressed.” “Did you try to kill yourself?” “Yes.” We are driving down Sunset Boulevard. I am feeling much, much better. Then we hear sirens and see red and blue lights flashing in the rearview mirror. Robert says, Oh shit. I don’t see what the big deal is. I will simply apologize for driving too fast and blasting my music, but, officer, sir, check out my system—it’s pretty tight you have to admit; my heart is broken—or my ego, sometimes you can’t really tell—anyway, I just got dumped so I think I am allowed to break a law here and there, right comrade? She is more distant than usual. I try not to pay attention. She sighs heavily. I still try not to pay attention, exercising the futility of avoiding the inevitable. I ask what’s wrong (in retrospect, I regret it). She says, “I think we should break up.” I say, “Yea, ‘bout time.” I finish writing, email my stories to the editor. I walk to the bathroom, look into the mirror, open my mouth, inspect my teeth, my eyes, my face. I am not ugly. But I lack some basic characteristics of traditional male handsomeness, like a strong jaw line. I have a squishy crooked nose (broken many years ago at a metal show) and fat cheeks; my features are soft. I am too thin. My hair is thinning out. My lips are too big. I have scars on my face from popping too many zits. I like my eyebrows and eyes though. I think I have nice eyes, friendly, caring, with long eyelashes that give me a slight look of femininity which is fine if it’s only in the eyes and nowhere else. I get dressed and head out. I announce my departure. She nods compassionately. About a month ago she had touched my foot as I was lying on the coach watching TV. Her nodding with upturned eyebrows is the second sweetest thing she’s done for me. I walk away. ...read more (4/5)We are lead into our dorm, E-pod. Everyone in here is mentally unstable or has a medical problem, supposedly. Some of us just lied so that we wouldn’t be in general population. In here, no one cares about race; African-Americans hang out with Latinos and whites; the paisas (the more recent immigrants) hang out with the tattooed second or third generation Mexican Southside gangsters (Sureños). My brother, a once-upon-a-time gangster and overly-experienced felon advises me to hang out with the paisas and not the Sureños; they’re less likely to start shit. Some of the paisas are facing deportation. A Honduran that we call Katracho says he stole a car and crashed it over a median. He has two identities, one has an extensive police record and the other is clean and a legal resident, more or less. When he burned out one of his identities, he switched to the other. Another paisa, a Salvadoran, lied about being a Mexican resident alien. He, too, is getting deported. I fantasize about organizing the prisoners and talking about the profiteering Prison Industrial Complex with its highly-influential corrections officer union, the backwards and repressive parole restrictions (the majority of prisoners are here not for original crimes, but for minor parole violations), the failed and so-called “war on drugs” that criminalizes the poorer communities that just happen to be home to people of color, the private for-profit prison systems, the undemocratic policy of taking people’s ability to vote away for having a felony on their record. I think of Gus Hall, Lenin, Antonio Gramsci, Fidel, Eugene V. Debs, revolutionaries all having spent time behind bars. And here I am, among the petty criminals, gangsters, the immigrants, the cheap and exploited—and at-times drunken—labor. And here I am like my heroes, incarcerated, but for far-less noble reasons. ...read more (5/5)Eventually, I am released. I secure a room to rent on the west side of Los Angeles, the quieter and calmer west side. It has been said that a writer used to live in the room. Maybe it has a legacy. I move my stuff out in about three trips. In my new room, I hang up my posters and flags (the majority of what’s on my walls is political but I also keep a poster of Hemingway). The west side is too quiet and I don’t know how I am going to get used to blue skies without helicopters, streets without gangsters and police sirens, the corner Latina ladies selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs, sidewalks without spilled blood and commemorative candles. It is hard adjusting to peace if you come from chaos. But, I suppose, it’s only a matter of time. What it boils down to, at the end, is that everything is just a matter of time. There are no exceptions.