Air Castles

By Maness

Summer 2021 Issue

I come from a family of gamblers. We bet on everything: horses, dogs, knowledge, love, health, and on one another. We win and lose in equal parts. No, not in equal parts. We lose more than we win, but a victory can erase a thousand defeats, and return the balance to the unbalanced. As every good gambler knows, the possibility of losing will never stop a risk-taker willing to gamble everything, just to confirm that their intuition was correct. It is that fleeting moment that makes us continue to live in and for the game, that hope that maybe this victory will change everything, and finally solve that problem that is not a problem, and therefore has no solution.

The gambler argues with the future while balancing an uncertain present, avoiding the public secrets of past mistakes. The real game being played is that of useless divination, and being inconsequentially all-powerful for a short-lived moment of gratification. But I like to think that there is a certain art in gambling, this semi-science of random assumptions. I remember my father’s telling of how my grandfather came home every night from the racetrack, either in a new car or barefoot, leaving on the dining table the newspaper of that day’s races. This parchment of brilliantly useless knowledge, full of annotations, endless calculations, and the furious scrawl of a pen filled with rage at being proven wrong, could have been the answer to the meaning of life. My grandfather, a businessman by trade, never won a significant victory that made him stop chasing the adrenaline of the game. In that process, he lost everything, dying at a young age of throat cancer, which was credited to smoking, though part of me thinks that the fury of losing, which rises from the pit of the stomach and twists its perfumed hands on the neck of the helpless, was what finally put him in the grave. My father buried him when he was thirteen years old. In his mind, my grandfather became a mythological figure of magical realism and secret anecdotes, interspersed with addictions and an explosive character common among Spanish refugees of the time. When he died, he left a family of three and a tenacious wife who supported her family and, despite everything, always remembered him with a fondness distorted by the passing of years that can make anyone a saint. 

My father 

bet everything 

on a prize 

that was impossible to win, and lost

“If I win the jackpot, you can’t tell anyone…” my father used to say when he bought his lottery tickets at the dry cleaner’s with his friend ‘El Güero.’ This was our small ritual on Saturdays, where my brother and I were questioned about numerology and important birthday dates, followed by an infallible distribution of the winning prize: “I am going to give you kids a monthly payment so that you can go on a trip to learn another language, and I am going to build myself a little house where I can write in a hammock in peace. The rest, we are going to keep it in the bank and hopefully it will generate good interest, oh but don’t even think about saying anything about the price to your mother, I bet she’d like to give it all to your uncle Jorge!” Uncle Jorge is the worst type of gambler, unaware of being one, or rather, pretending not to be one, you don’t want to be like uncle Jorge, gambling with someone else’s work and money, loyal in his defeats, and a stranger in his victories. Although, to be honest, it is the fluctuation of ownership that makes the game interesting, no triumph is fixed and eternal, what is yours today, tomorrow will be mine forever and ever, amen.

That surprise strike of luck never came to my father, there was never that great lottery prize that changed everything, and I am sure that if instead of having used that money to buy the lottery tickets, it had been put aside in a savings account, there would be a modest amount for emergencies, but that would have meant Saturdays without daydreaming of the hammock and the little house to write. Despite everything, we never stopped believing in chance and in possibility. The most fervent defender of miracles was my father, who — despite his tumultuous divorce, having been an atheist repudiating any form or flavor of religion, and a hardcore member of the communist party in the tumultuous Mexico of the ‘70s — never stopped believing in the power of the numerical combination of the TV show Lost and the birthday dates of his children. In my opinion, he was the best type of gambler, the one with a sense of humor and loyalty to his family, who despite vetoing my mother on the distribution of the imagined treasures, always retracted and gave her a share of hot air. My father bet everything on a prize that was impossible to win, and lost. I buried him when I was thirty years old, and still gamble with his numbers. 

Maness is a musician and artist interested in the creation of narratives that develop dialogues through repetition and form. Influenced by his background in cinema and music, his work has gravitated around sound, installation, and sculpture, constantly drawing from the cultural conjunction of his upbringing in Mexico and migrating to Europe. Maness currently lives and works in Berlin.