Writer Jim “The Beast” Marquez sits at the bar inside Cole’s in downtown L.A., one of his favorite spots to “beast out” on a regular basis. This is the same spot where I once spotted actress Cristina Hendricks dining with her hubby Geoffrey Arend. I bring that up not because I want some hipster cred or have an innate desire to namedrop celebrities but because I think she’s gorgeous and was once lucky enough to breathe the same oxygen as her.
Anyway, back to Marquez. He’s got a glass half-full of whisky, his liquor of choice since his lengthy trip years ago in Ireland, which will soon be full-empty and then immediately refilled by a bartender who knows his name, his stories and his jokes, in his right hand while his left makes wild fluttering motions. We’re supposed to be talking about Watching The Skies & Other Beastly Tales, his 14th book in eight years. It’s self-published, like all his other books, and details a number of his misadventures in Scotland, Amsterdam (his favorite city in the world), London, and Area 51 in Nevada.
Instead, he’s halfway through a story about some local politicians he once partied with at one of his many late night/early morning benders in the city with co-conspirator Emmeric Konrad. Konrad, a local artist, introduced Marquez to downtown’s wild, underground party scene and also nicknamed him The Beast some time ago following some late night shenanigans.
“I won’t name names,” he says, “but we used to see fucking Senators and City Councilmen at these fucking speakeasys doing fucking coke and banging teenage girls. Motherfuckers! Then we see them on the news the other day [saying] ‘oh, we gotta clean up LA.’ Fuck you, motherfucker!”
It’s a true story and Marquez has many more like it. So many, in fact, that he’s filled nearly each of his aforementioned self-published books with stories about the seedy underbelly of downtown L.A. with all its drug addicts (homeless or sitting in office), prostitutes, alcoholics and more. Sure, downtown has been gentrified over the past few years and various art galleries and bike lanes have sprung up all over town. That doesn’t mean the underbelly ever went away; it simply got pushed aside to a different spot and is now a better-kept secret unless you know the right person. Someone like Jim Marquez.
Marquez is a modern, Chicano version of Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller and Hunter S. Thompson as well as fellow Chicano Oscar Zeta Acosta. And while he’s a Chicano writer, Marquez, who was born and raised in East LA, devotes few pages to stories about “being Chicano” in the big city. His stories rarely, if ever, mention the struggles of La Raza, how his family migrated to California from Mexico, or any of those usual topics. It’s been done before and he has no interest in treading upon old grounds.
“Every Latino who wants to be a fucking writer has to write about that,” he says rolling his eyes at all the basic, unoriginal writers of the universe. “Everybody’s grandmother was a saint. Everybody’s grandmother washed clothes by the rio. Everybody’s grandmother made the best tortillas in the world. Fuck! But, hey, that sells. All the guilty white people buy it and all the other Latinos see it and go ‘oh, how sweet, he’s writing about his abuelita.’”
It’s one of the serious topics he writes about in his somewhat biographical, mostly fictional novel, Pieces of L.A.:
“Jack shook his head and grumbled. The name of a ‘prominent’ Latino poet was listed as the writer, somebody Jack had heard of for years, and, that’s the problem right there: it’s always the same person. That’s what the Latin world does. They latch onto one name and beat it onto the ground…automatically listed on syllabi all over the world as THE tome of the Latino experience without second thought. Never allowing another in, unless, of course, he or she writes like the person they once deified oh so many eons ago. And the people are programmed. Fucking-Robots. God forbid a brown man or woman comes around with anything new to extrapolate about the human condition. And not bitch about the same obvious crap. No. Fucking. Way.”
Instead, Marquez focuses on the action that takes place on the numbered streets in the heart of the City of Angels. His ties to the area go beyond coked-out politicians and wannabee writers at art galleries. His grandfather, a man unable to pursue his own aspirations for the written word for a number of reasons, was a Master Printer at Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion who enjoyed rounds of whisky at Casita bar on 3rd and Main. His old man would later die on that same street after being struck by a truck.
“If anybody has a reason to be down here and write about this fucking place,” he decrees, “it’s me!” Much of his work about “this fucking place” found a home in the pages of the now-defunct Citizen LA, the second-biggest independent newspaper behind LA Weekly until the economy went bad.
Marquez’ swan dive into the uninhibited side of life began some time after he turned 25. He was a good Catholic kid who always did his homework, earned good grades, etc. “Then my father passed in my arms,” he explains. “He smoked like a train and it caught up to him, unfortunately.”
His father passed out in his own home and Marquez did everything he could to revive him with help from a 911 operator on the phone. His attempts were ultimately futile and, as he recalls, “his last breath was expelled into me.”
That intimate moment with death sparked something inside of him and he left the USA soon after to live in various parts of Europe for the next 10 years where he did it all. There were brothels in Amsterdam, whisky in Ireland, women in Paris, Communists in Italy, various World Cups (minus the one in South Africa, there were bounties on the heads of US citizens), the list goes on.
He returned home to LA and has been writing ever since thanks, mostly, to his mother who taught him how to read and write when he was only four years old. “She gave me love of reading and writing,” he says recalling school days filled with reading the funnies in the newspaper. His teachers in high school kept those creative juices flowing and he later earned a few degrees in English and American Lit. as well as his teaching credentials.
“It’s not work,” he says of writing. “Writing is life. Writing is like having a whisky. It’s lovely. Writing is like a good cum shot!”
Jim Marquez will read from Watching The Skies & Other Beastly Tales at Robert Reynolds Gallery this Friday, March 22nd at 8 p.m. Emmeric Konrad will also be in attendance for some live art.