Building a Great Society, Pt. 1

Greatsociety’s fifth anniversary passed without much fanfare, but this two part article from Lonnie Martin sort of touched on all the right places. Presented in two parts back then, I’ll do the same now five years later. Enjoy!

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Oh my God! It’s Great Society’s Fifth Anniversary!

A few weeks ago, Nacho noted that he and I are the last of the original Dirty Freaks. Leff, X10, Jezebel, Diana, Paulie, all long gone. Not gone in the Darwinian sense, and maybe not even gone from the web page. I think some if not all of them have been known to lurk in the shadows from time to time. However, as far as Great Society is concerned, they’ve disappeared from the radar and gone off to become nothing but a memory of the way things were.

I guess you could even argue that with my minimal contribution to actual articles over the past year, Nacho is the sole voice from those hazy, crazy days in the spring and summer of 2001 that still screams into the void. Yet rest assured, I have no intention of vacating the premises or the front page for that matter.

Yet maybe as we enter our fifth year (!) that’s the way it should be. Dirty Freaks, and now Great Society, was Nacho’s brainchild, his baby, and his grand idea. Even in those early days when my involvement nearly matched his, I was just along for the ride. Nacho has bled, cried, and paid in currency far removed from money to keep this site alive for the past four years. He’s endured incompetent webmasters, insane demands from writers, multiple psychotic women, break-ups, make-ups, and levels of chaos that if I hadn’t been witness to, I wouldn’t believe could exist.

Why has he kept up with it? We’ve all heard him bitch time and again how much of a headache this site is, how it drains his energy, time and wallet, and they’re valid gripes. Believe me, he makes no money from this site. In fact, he loses money keeping this thing going. Google ads fucked him in the ass; though, I suppose, to be fair, he was doing his best to fuck them just as hard. But it’s not about the money. And despite what Nacho may have said to me at certain low points in the page’s history, I don’t believe it ever was.

Great Society is truly a labor of love. It is so because Nacho Sasha, despite his often cynical, sometimes hopeless, frequently selfish exterior, is a man filled with love.

It’s hard for me to fathom, but I’ve known Nacho for ten years now, though we’ve only been close friends for about five. We went to college together in West Virginia, but we weren’t friends then, just acquaintances. Strangely enough, I have no real first memory of Nacho. That may seem strange, but there’s a perfectly good explanation for that: When I first met him, I’m pretty sure I was drunk out of my skull.

It’s not a real memory as much as it is a feeling. I don’t remember exactly when it was. I think it was 1994, maybe 1995. I’m pretty sure it was at the Icehouse, the campus pub. What I do know is that I was drunk as hell, that kind of drunk where you’ve maybe had a little too much, but you don’t quite know you’ve had too much yet. I remember being sad or angry or some other place of emotional distress, and I think Nacho and I talked, though I’ll be damned if I remember what about. I just remember that the conversation had a calming effect on me. I probably threw up later that night, but not right then.

Of course, maybe that wasn’t Nacho at all, but the autistic dude who railed against air conditioning and off campus parties. Like I said, I was pretty wasted.

What’s certain is that in the fall of 1995, a couple of psychotics in my dorm had a domestic dispute, and somehow Nacho got stuck mediating it. Dave and Anna were one of those couples that were either fighting or fucking. There was never really an in between. I think you’ve all known at least one couple like that. Me? I’ve known dozens. Anyway, this time Dave and Anna were on the bottom floor fighting because Dave wouldn’t tickle her ovaries with a vacuum cleaner attachment or some other weird shit.

I was an R.A. (Stop laughing!) living four floors up and, even at that distance, I could hear them going at it. It was bothersome because I had been smoking weed non-stop for the better part of eight months and those animals were totally harshing my mellow. I went to see just exactly what the fuck was going on down there. I barged into the room and said, “Just exactly what the fuck is going on down here?”

Nacho was standing in the corner looking guilty and innocent all at the same time. I immediately recognized that he wasn’t where the chaos was coming from. He didn’t say anything, but sort of nodded to Dave and Anna. Anna was sobbing while Dave just sat dumbfounded holding a vacuum cleaner attachment. I looked back to Nacho.

“You. Out.”

He left and I tried to figure out the problem. After about fifteen seconds of whining from both parties, I realized trying to understand would be fruitless. So, I quieted them down and said something to the effect of how fighting isn’t good for a relationship and they should see through the negatives to the positives and all I really want to do is go upstairs and smoke another bowl so could you please not fight and/or fuck so loud.

When I left the room Nacho was standing by a window looking at me like I was a stoned dickhead who abused what meaningless amount of power that had been bestowed upon me by the Office of Student Life. So I went up to him and apologized for kicking him out of the room. He accepted it. At least, I think he did. We stood outside the door and talked for a bit while Dave and Anna fucked or fought, which to be honest probably sounded the same no matter which they were doing. Again, I don’t remember exactly what we talked about it, but I remember going away from the whole debacle thinking Nacho was a pretty all right dude.

Afterwards, anytime Nacho and I saw each other, we always would nod, say “hey,” maybe even speak a word or two, but we never really hung out. He was just one of those people I saw around campus and was friendly to. Every once in awhile I’d hear his name run through the rumor mill, same as he probably heard mine. I don’t know if he was aware of it or not, but he was always referred to as “The Giff” or just “Giff” as in, “The Giff told me that APO party turned into a big orgy last night after that zany Henderson chick started stripping and offering up body shots.”

In 1996, Nacho graduated. I stuck around for two more years to complete my double major in joint rolling and Natural Light.

Flash forward two years. I was living in a group house in Silver Spring, Maryland, waiting tables at a seedy, wonderful Irish pub called Flanagan’s. Those were crazy times that went like this: Wake up at 3:00 pm to shower and be at work by 4:00. Work from 4:00 until well after midnight. Go drink and/or snort coke until 5:00 am. Pass out (or try to) as the sun rises. Rinse. Repeat. That kind of hard living didn’t last too long. Once I realized that the cocaine wasn’t doing my body or my wallet any good, I laid off it and stuck to drinking.

One night, I was working the pub and Nacho strolled up to the bar. We both did that “Didn’t we go to college together? I know I should remember your name, but it’s slipping my mind,” point and stare. After we got who each other were, we played the old catch up game. At the time, I was getting ready to publish a comic book based off one of my screenplays. Nacho had just begun the heavy lifting on an ambitious “Writer’s Project.”

“I didn’t realize you wrote,” I said.

“I didn’t realize you wrote,” he said.

We traded email addresses, and began to correspond. Every once in a while, he’d drop into the pub and we’d talk some more. He was interested in the comic book and the screenplay it came from. I wanted to know more about the Writer’s Project. He offered up some writing work for it. We had possibilities to offer each other and we both took them, I suppose. But it was more that just two people grasping for opportunity. The more we talked, the more we realized we had a lot in common. We both liked good beer, bad movies, and kinky women. We had similar politics and worldviews. He appreciated my work and perhaps saw potential in it that I didn’t.

Eventually, I left the DC area for a while, but Nacho and I still corresponded. As a writer, those were dark days for me. Commercially, my comic book venture was a failure, and my L.A. screenwriting leads fizzled. I had never before in my life been so disenchanted with the artist’s life and wanted to hang it up for good. I felt like all the people who said, “Wait and see where you end up,” were being proven right. Defeat coursed through me and I was ready to surrender.

It was Nacho who picked me up, brushed me off, and taught me how to stand up on my own again. He told me that failure comes at all times from all sides, and it’s nothing to worry about. You simply shrug it off the best you can and soldier on. He taught me that being a writer is about work, perseverance and passion. He restored my faith in my craft and encouraged me to better it. I wasn’t much a prose writer before I met Nacho, and he pushed me more in that direction. He tutored me in the rights and wrongs. He critiqued my work with an honesty that was at times brutal, but always constructive.

Nacho championed my work to others. Back in those old days, we both had fewer contacts than we do now, but Nacho spoke of me to others and tried to hook them on my particular style of writing. It’s amazing how selfish many think he is but in the writing arena, particularly, I have seen him put the work of others, work that he respects, above his own.

I’ve tried to return the favor. I believe in his writing. His voice is unique and powerful. His grasp of storytelling, of tone, of words and the power they hold is strong. Like all of us, he sometimes has trouble seeing his own strengths. I’ve done my best to take the time and inclination to remind him of his greatness, to do for him what he has done for me.

In late 2000, I returned to DC and the mutual admiration of each other’s work evolved into friendship. We hung out a good bit, worked the DC theatre scene together, and drank gallons of liquor and beer. As the New Year came in, I moved into DC proper with my then girlfriend and Nacho became a common fixture at our apartment. He’s one of those guys that’s always a good time to have around, because as his writing always shows, you really never know what he’s going to say next, or what crazy idea he might come up with

And in that winter of 2001, he came up with one of his craziest ambitious brainstorms yet…

to be continued


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