Creative Nonfiction: Left in the lurch: How Lefty Smith built a famous arts collective in southern Mexico and then burned it to the ground
In response to the Stuart Buck / Bear Creek fiasco of recent days, here is the account of one of the strangest and most painful episodes of my life, the advent of a mysterious British man who absolutely upturned my life over the course of two years from 2014 to 2016, a man whose stories or past I never questioned, who after constructing what we said would be an arts collective, an empire! Simply vanished one day.
By Colin Gee
By the time we launched the fake progressive dinner I already prided myself on being well acquainted with the dark side of the host, funder, and organizer of the event, Lefty Smith, as he was known to me, though I never even googled his name, not even after he vanished. Still have never done it, such was his effect on me, so hard I cleaved to his dark side. I was thrilled by this stranger’s openness to everyone that he was truly bad, that he thought about letting babies pop in hot cars and the encroaching sun that would obliterate all art and life, that he was a spurned artiste, mid-level office fodder Londoner with a cripple mom, he said, yet a writer of stream-of-consciousness fiction, a would-be actor with ambition and British sterling to scatter across Mexico.
The white powder in your bathroom, demanded one of our podcast guests, another Londoner whom we introduced of course as our bathroom etiquette expert, Barbara, sitting down after a visit to the loo (it was a bathroom) in Lefty’s unpainted rented block house outside of town, returning to what Lefty called his garden, a dusty quarter-acre of gnarly chest-high weeds, scorpions and fire ants, and one tree, around which Lefty had tramped out a “studio” under the tree where we had the recording equipment set up, what is that powder? demanded our bathroom expert, thinking the microphone was off.
Lefty said, Cocaine. That is my cocaine. Did you try some? he asked, leaning forward eagerly in his molded plastic Modelo chair.
The bathroom expert and I laughed. I had noticed no white powder in the bathroom, nor could I find it later when I finally staggered down to treat myself to a piss and looked everywhere including inside the tank and float valve, while upstairs she badgered him relentlessly, and it was like a tug-of-war:
Barbara: That is your mica powdah I know it, you go out at night Lefty you naughty boy.
Lefty: That is my cocaine. My coke, my blow.
Barbara: It is beauty powdah.
Lefty: Why are you-? I am telling you, it is my stash. Tell her Gee, oh he is gone.
Barbara: Is it cocaine, really?
Lefty: Go try it if you doubt me.
Barbara: It is not. You are taking the piss.
Lefty: Good stuff, that.
Barbara: I am not going to try it.
Lefty: Go on down, it is pure. I got it from my man.
Barbara: What man.
Lefty: My bumpety-bump man. My you know.
Barbara: It is not drugs.
Lefty: Is so.
Barbara: No it is not.
Lefty: It is. Why would I lie to you?
And so forth for 45 minutes, they would not relent.
I first found Lefty on the beach in Luigi’s bar Colivrí (misspelled variant of the Spanish for Hummingbird) on the strung-out hippy strip of the Oaxacan nude beach Zipolite, but about four blocks in on the main drag, not where the functional good-looking hippies were, this was the junky strip that felt about 1 thousand miles from the water. A dog on a chain at the entrance immediately decided the heat was too much for him to do his job. Euro Cup was blaring on the TV and two dudes in literal rags lay splayed on separate wicker chairs, one with his bony arm on the dog’s back. All three were breathing and groaning. It was 11 am and Luigi, a 6 foot hairy barrel-chested Italian, behind his brick bar, shirt off, swigged straight from a large opaque bottle, just a flicker of his black eyes towards me as I approached, while Lefty stood in bent customer-and-barman position opposite Luigi without a drink, dressed I swear in dress shoes, socks, pants, and a black polo in that 130 percent humidity 95 degrees, Tarantino leer and goatee poking the air like a rat’s.
I myself went everywhere in those days in just trunks.
Lefty, I said to Lefty after about eighteen beers and the rest of the bottle Luigi said he was not drinking so we could have it, he nice friend see, You ever fuck a shemale?
And that warmed Lefty’s black heart, it really bowled him over, at least long enough for him to follow me home, 12 hours by overland bus, and sleep on my kitchen floor in my sleeping bag for ten days while my wife screamed at me from our bedroom. But I could see the greed for inconceivable things in Lefty when I said the word shemale (you do not use politically correct language in this kind of banter), and saw I had struck the very nerve of the man.
No, said Lefty, at Luigi’s bar, but I want to. He said, What is it like?
Ah, our honeymoon.
2014: Lefty hit the scene in our town like a sack of cocaine bricks out of one of Luigi’s flaming, downed Cessnas, promptly making a round of the ex-pat parties, setting up a recording studio in a rented house on the outskirts, stealing my best friend’s girl, and launching a literary website called The Herod that also featured The Poetry Club podcast.
I gave Lefty my friends, my art, my food and booze and love for more than two years, he brought us all together like Jim Jones, zooming ex cathedra, then pulled out the fucking chair.
I did not tell you this, Lefty told me one day, but I was Luigi’s gardener.
I said, But what you call a garden looks like an Otto Dix painting, except I was not really that smart, though I had the right image in mind – Lefty had to come up with the artist’s name for me.
He said, Luigi asked me to come and be his pool boy but when I got to his house, which was way back up in the hills from the beach, and it was not really his house I found out later, the garden and pool area were completely overgrown with jungle, so I had to kind of slash and burn my way along. He said, Luigi would sit on his veranda, would not lift a fugging finger, drinking mezcal and napping up there while I sweated my ass off for rent.
I said, Did you dress like that while you were his pool boy? but Lefty did not understand the question.
Lefty said, I saw these black polos on discount in Pochutla and bought like twenty of them.
That did not explain his tidy jeans or dress shoes, but I let it go. Later Lefty told me that the owner of the house, a kingpin from Mexico City, had hired Luigi to be his pool boy and clean up the yard, but when Luigi saw the state of the house and pool he knew he had to hire a pool boy of his own.
The arts collective we called Los Decepcionados, The Deceived, suffering souls cut off from the spoils of life by a world of cutthroat juniors, rich frat dads and their yuppie spawn, who had also cockblocked from us our women and pools. Lefty, who was it turned out a filmmaker by trade, began by scouting for a documentary film in a small pueblo called Lojuxtla, using my contacts with a local family there and the greed for fame and money of one of its members to gain access to the little community, where we toured the historical hacienda ruins and cactus fruit (pitaya) plantations on the back of a pickup, small children running behind us like in National Geographic, Lefty snapping photographs.
We did two extremely tedious interviews.
Lefty said, But what is the conflict for our film? And then he said, If there is no conflict in this fucking [sleepy, happy little village] then we have to dig some up.
Los Decepcionados (so far just me and Lefty) were also collaborating on a serious play or screenplay, a dramatization of the unsolved mystery of the Dyatlov ski party of 1959, in which nine cherry-cheeked Soviet polytech university students on a winter camping expedition in the Ural Mountains for unknown reasons slashed open their own tent in the middle of the night, fled into a heavy blizzard wearing only their underwear, and perished one by one, bludgeoned to death by an invisible force (force majeure, read the report, I presume in Cyrillic) some kilometers away down in the trees.
I said it was a play and Lefty said it was a screenplay.
He said, It had never occurred to me to write a play.
I said, It is the same thing, Lefty.
I later rewrote it as a play called The Vizhay Inn, all of the horrific events just narrated by four characters inside a tavern in a neighboring village, by Colin Gee.
Los Decepcionados (still just us) drew fake drawings and made fake paintings and fashioned fake sculptures out of mud and cactus spines from Lefty’s garden, and of course wrote fake news articles and fake poetry, creating an arts stash under different pseudonyms for our upcoming grand annual gala, La Decepción, which would be a progressive dinner hosted by four different expats, with our so-called art on on display. We would play it out as far as it would fucking go, laughing behind hooded eyes at the dupes who thought our art was art, even attaching titles and descriptions and PRICE TAGS to each piece, perhaps even asking some strangers to stand in as artists and talk about the paintings and sculptures we had made.
Price tags? Yes we planned to make money off the event, WE were not the chumps. I for one was dead broke, with all the bottles of whiskey and trans hookers that fueled our sessions over at Lefty’s house, the clubhouse.
Los Decepcionados began their podcast by talking about topics in a serious manner, then when I had finally convinced Lefty that I had no actual knowledge about anything, after he decided to grill me about Cromwell on the air, we started to do absurdist humor: the bathroom expert bit, why Adam was a giant, ad slogans for strange products, Mitch’s Movie Mash, Life Doctor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Homeopath Lemon Reilly (these last two characters I still do on The Gorko), NSFW family radio drama spoofs, and so on. My American accent was at last again foil to Lefty’s British like they had been on the beach, as though we had rehearsed.
We had NOT rehearsed.
I do not know what a podcast is, what is a podcast? said Lefty, and refused to do any prep whatsoever, just to launch into each episode after I proposed the topic.
I said, A podcast is two people talking about something they know. An enlightening conversation.
Lefty said, Fuck that. You ready? Three, two, (he mouthed the word one), OBLIVION. We recorded I think twenty-five or thirty episodes before Lefty took off with the keys to Los Decepcionados. Though to be fair, he did not bamboozle me financially – Lefty funded everything with the British pound he generated running websites for a company in London, he said, who thought he was at home caring for his sick mother.
Lefty seemed really only interested in The Herod, on which we would publish essays and news with fake content, and of course in his youtube channel on which Lefty had started recording himself in the role of Riley Pucker on the roof of Lefty’s bunker-looking house. Riley Pucker was supposed to be a conspiracy theorist who would gesticulate at the sky and scream about the rockets the priests’ boys shot off to signal mass from the nearby churches, goatee wagging with rage.
And the clock ticked closer and closer to our gala, to La Decepción.
Lefty said, A few years back a light aircraft crashed into the jungle off the beach by Zipolite, the story goes, just crammed with kilos of coke, both pilots dead, and Luigi was the one who found it.
He said, Because of my ingrained heterosexual insecurity I can’t say I like shemales. But I have sucked a cock.
One cock? I said.
My friend’s when we were in middle grade, Lefty said. He would suck mine while I beat off to porn magazines, and I would do the same for him.
But then Lefty also told other stories as his own that I later found out were old urban legends and known adventure stories: the one about his friend who immediately started guzzling wine by the car he had drunk driven and totaled so when the police showed up he could say that he was so upset from the crash he started drinking from his grocery sack to calm his nerves, and the other about his friend who was forced to ditch his plane in subzero temperatures somewhere in Alaska and after swimming ashore said the thing that saved his life was JUST TO KEEP BUSY: the hero Lefty’s friend immediately removed all of his clothes and worked to build fire and shelter.
These are known tropes, Lefty was just testing me, and I fell into his trap again and again like a ponce.
2017: I went back to Zipolite after Lefty was long gone from my life and bumped into Luigi at a bar on the beach, a place with only three walls, the fourth being the sea. I was drinking there first when Luigi came in, flanked by two muscle gym fitness types, and surveyed the crowd. He barked something: one of his bodyguards strode to the bar with a drink order. Luigi took a chair in one meaty fist, turned it around so it faced the ocean, and deliberately sat with his back to the people, while his other boy stood there glaring at the crowd, arms crossed.
Two more beers and I went up and said hi to Luigi, who jumped and spilled beer all down his crotch.
Hi my name is Gee, you probably do not remember me, I said, I was a friend of Lefty’s.
You are correct, said Luigi, I do not remember you.
After I described Lefty in some detail Luigi kind of acknowledged that he remembered Lefty, or else did not.
I said, He was your pool boy for a time. He left Zipolite in quite a hurry. I want to know, just curiosity, did he rob you?
Luigi screamed deep inside his body, drew himself up to his full height on a chair, and said, Any man steal from me, he no longer for this world, figlio di puttana, I fucking put he dead body in the ground.
I am already past the point where I am supposed to follow up on the biopic stunt you can see coming miles away, where I finish getting the gang together: the poet, the writer, the plastic arts chick, the man who does penis sculpture, the singer, hell yeah there was a band, the motorcycle guitarist-poet who thought he was Cuauhtémoc reincarnate, the nerd research assistant who would let down her hair at a party and smooch ya, because yeah that was our arts collective and we called ourselves Los Decepcionados, but I am not going to do that because Los Decepcionados ended up being just me and Lefty.
What about Barbara, the bathroom expert? What about your supremely cool, unflustered girlfriend? What about all the truckloads of trannies? you may ask. All fictitious! All lies made up by Lefty to promote our webpage and sometimes-funny podcast. Lefty constructed an intricate arts collective in the south of Mexico in MY MIND and then burned it to the ground.
Well okay, my cool girlfriend is real. She also almost left me in the lurch with Lefty.
The fake progressive dinner was planned, approached like a looming headland, and never followed through on. The sociopathic, manipulative, con artist son of bitch in tidy jeans and a black polo and dress shoes Lefty (his real name was … …) disappeared from the great arts scene in Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca, sometime between Christmas 2015 and January 10th of the next, leaving me, his expat and Mexican friends, a broke-down black VW Bug, landlord, despoiled recording studio (mattresses and cardboard against the wall in a niche) and his girlfriend at the time in the lurch.
2016: Lefty surfaced again briefly in Oaxaca City the next year, having put together an exhibition of photographs from Lojuxtla that he had somehow at some point taken of ALL the elderly people from that town, that he called Faces of Oaxaca, then down periscope again.
Did I say? Riley Pucker spoke with a perfect midwestern American accent.
audio clip from The Poetry Club
Colin Gee (@ColinMGee, he/him) is the founder and editor of The Gorko Gazette (@GorkoThe), a humor daily that publishes headlines, cartoons, reviews, and poetry. His work has been featured in Misery Tourism, Expat Press, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Outcast Press Poetry, Cajun Mutt Press, Black Stone / White Stone, Exacting Clam, and elsewhere. Colin’s novella, Lips is forthcoming with Anxiety Press.