Monthly Archives: July 2011

“Hey, Girl! I Can See Your Body Movin’!”

“Gentlemen!  Be gentlemen — and pee in the bushes!  Let the ladies use the bathrooms.”

Oh, so that’s how I get to start my day:  On the other side of the gate on 36th and JFK, in the midst of a foggy park that, despite this early hour, is already overwhelmed with humanity?  Okay!

In the endless line to the portable bathrooms, my fellow marathon runners are in all shades and sizes.  Many have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums.  Others — are more modest, in size or definition.  But all — are quite beautiful, and very, very human.

I slide in somewhere in the middle:  I’m an a’right-lookin’ shawty myself, with a newly perfected ass, recently acquired from all my running and the running away; and that ass is significant enough to snap one of the drugged-out wanderers of this City into alertness.

(You think I am in love with myself?  Oh, you bet yo’ ass I am!  You bet your own magnificent ass — with which I am likely to fall in love, even if just for a second, as I watch you pass my life and never be inconsequential.  And yes, I’m in love with myself — in YOUR likeness.)

“Damn!  Look at that ass!” the tripping-out wanderer hollers after me, in a blip moment of sobriety from his stupor.

“Please, do!” I think.  (Yes, I’m in love — with myself!)

And so, I slide in, somewhere in the middle, in between a stocky Filipino cutie loaded with some fancy running equipment (me:  I travel light) and a handsome gray-haired player who in a few minutes would indeed be “a gentleman — and pee in the bushes”.

The man in charge of regulating us looks like an aging, forever inspiring school teacher I have never had in own my life; but heard so many of my comrades mention, in theirs.  Let’s call him Mr. Chips, shall we?

And so, Mr. Chips carries on with his routine:

“Gentlemen!  Unless you need toilet paper…  You know what I mean?”

We laugh.  My fellow runners are at ease, with the task ahead and apparently with the very task of living.  It must be this City:  It has taught them that — how to live well, and with a sense of humor. 

At the bathrooms, the Japanese kiddo directing the line (now mostly consisting of women) does not take his job seriously either.

“This one is now open,” a fellow female runner points out when he turns to us, now basking amidst all these ladies, in different shades and sizes.

“Don’t know whatcha talkin’ about,” the kiddo delivers with a well-practiced deadpan.  “And I didn’t see YOU — skipping the line and sneaking past me to use this one bathroom, NOW OPEN!”

We laugh again, and it suddenly becomes a bit of a free-for-all:  The women start slithering under the tape while exposing their magnificent asses to the rest of us.

Mr. Chips greets us again, at the starting line:

“At the end of this thing,” he hollers through a megaphone, “we’re gonna hang the shuttle bus driver that made some of you late today.”

We laugh.  We yelp.  We are impatient and content with the task ahead.  (Yes, it CAN be both ways.  Just run a marathon — and you’ll find out.)  And we all must’ve learned something about living by now, because this — this very moment! — is about how to do your living well.

There is no whistle that goes off; not any sort of fake gun shot to launch us:  On a gentle count by Mr. Chips, we all…

Just.

Start.

Running.

I notice that no one dashes ahead, propelled by their ego juices.  No one shows off; even though many, looking like they have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums, no doubt can kick ass at this thing.  But they have done this before — these magnificent asses ahead of me, in all shades and sizes — and they pace themselves, for the task ahead.  For the living ahead!

Because this is how you do some good living:  You pace yourself, you measure your strength, and you do it in pursuit of your health.  And if you’re in love with yourself — you’ll go far, and longer.

“What a way to start!” I think.  “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  And thank you.”

I start my running music.  Curtis the III winds up his track, setting the pace.  My feet do their thing and not once do I fancy dashing ahead of more than an a’right-lookin’ shawty ahead of me with thighs so large, I can see their edges from behind.  Instead:  I stay on her ass.

“But bein’ a little off landed me on top of the charts,” Curtis mumble-sings into my ear.  Well, you’d know how it is, Mr. “Metaphor for Change.”

I pass the a’right-lookin’ shawty, look back.  She’s more than a’right:  She’s a 10.

“Which one?  Pick one!  This one!  Classic!”  I start taking my orders from Eve ‘n’ G.

From behind, I come up on a baby-tall.  I cannot figure out his age yet, but his glorious headful of Tom Brady-esque hair sends me spinning into my dreams of my future.  His back is exposed, with some Zen symbol tattooed onto the left shoulder blade.

“Behind that — is his heart,” I think and slide underneath his elbow, on the left.  For a bit, we run side by side:  A perfect fit.

“I got somethin’ to lose, so I gotta move,” Kanye begins grunting into my brain, scratching off the last mildew of the departed lover with his perfect teeth.  The African drumbeat kicks in.  I start leaping.

Who knows just how long I’ve been running:  I am not watching the distance markers.  They’ll only psych me out.  And I’m:

Just.

Going.

The distance.

It’s all in the mind. I have heard a fellow female runner state that once.  The game is all in the mind.  So, I rein mine in:  Don’t judge other humans, and don’t compete!  This thing — is in the very doing of it:  You against you.  And if you do it for the love of you — you’ll go far, and longer.

This City has taught me that.

(But, um, how long have I been running?  Anybody knows?)

(To Be Continued.)

“It’s Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’!”

She woke up really early on me today, peaked through the orange tulle curtains of my hotel window and said, “Come play dress-up, messy head.”

I opened my eyes, shushed away the last of my dreams and squinted at Her sun.

“Look on you,” I thought, immediately inspired to untangle myself from the sweat-drenched sheets.

(I had come here to do some serious heavy lifting:  To leave a lover behind — like an excess of water weight — to let Her keep him, for good.  “Do keep him safe though,” I had thought last night before leaving for my dreams, “and don’t tell anyone — just how much I loved him.”)

It would not take me longer than fifteen minutes to leap out of my bed, stretch the soaked sheets over the bathroom door to dry out; peel on my brand new running clothes, pull all that hair nonsense out of my face — and to start running.  Despite the whining knee I had busted last night in the midst of rage, I flew down the stairs (“Fuck the elevator:  I’m am an athlete!”) and past the disoriented guests checking-in at the desk of this vintage hotel that can only happen here — with Her — or back in New York City.

“Onward from here!” my mind was beginning to slip into just another of its outraged moods; and having foreseen it, I had left my running music up in the room.  “ONWARD!”

But the minute I stepped outside:

“Ah, look on you!” I thought — and felt my shoulder blades loosen up immediately and slide down my back like a pair of resting wings.

I have always had a crush on Her:  a little bit of a moody addiction of which I am not fully aware until it is time to leave Her.  On our every rendezvous, I forget about my departure date looming ahead.  I block it out; and instead, I carry on, quite often getting confused for a local by the disoriented tourists stumbling along Her streets with a “Look on you!” expression paralyzing their breathless faces.  On foot, I navigate Her  streets never really on any other mission than to live — and to live so damn fucking well!  And every time I have to leave Her, I throw fits:  in the middle of my vintage hotels, on BART rides and in airport lounges.  I would begin to jones for Her long before saying my goodbyes; and slip into yet another outraged mood for days, for weeks to follow.

“Yeah?  You like?” She began to shift about on her feet, twirling her sex in front of my eyes:  showing off Her heavenly curvatures and the bohemian yet often expensive frocks.  From Chestnut, she looked idillic:  Too good to be true, really.  Right around Fillmore, She seemed quite youthful.

On Divisadero, She nearly brought me down to my knees; and I would weep with gratitude for having lived long enough to get here — for having lived so damn fucking well! — and for wanting to live past Her, on this day, just so that I could always come back to Her.  And back — to this gratitude.

“And what about this?” She purred turning the hip of her Bay toward me.  “I put this on, just for you.”

It’s true:  My beautiful girl — that flirt! — was unusually sunny today; kind of balmy, as if shrouded in a fur coat of Florida’s dampness.  Adorned with her favorite Golden necklace of the Bridge, she shifted the other hip toward me and looked over her shoulder:

“I can pull this off, yeah?  You think?”

“Oh,” I thought.  “Oh, oh, oh!  Look on you!”

I would catch myself walking.  The outraged mood of the mind had evaporated with the last feathers of her fog, somewhere along Hyde.  (Whatever the fuck that was about!)  And who knows for how long I had been moving at this calmer pace:  It had to have been because I could not soak her up fast enough at that other, outraged speed on mine — so I shifted my gears.

And maybe, it had something to do with Her faces — the so-damn-fucking-well-lived-in faces of her locals:

The chiseled face of a gorgeous driver inside a white delivery truck with absent doors who studied me with curiosity while waiting to make a left — waiting for me to walk by — and then he smiled so disarmingly, so fully, so kindly and well, I thought:  “By god!  Marry me!”

The sad face of a beautiful girl, smoking her cigarette in a Parisian manner, outside a tanning salon, who was possibly dreaming of better places and better loves, in the world:  “Is better love even possible?”

The threesome clan of nerdy boys from the future cast of a Wes Anderson film who simultaneously stripped down to their waistlines revealing some delicious muscles underneath:  “Yes, please!”

The Yoko Ono in her black chic, horn-rimmed glasses who with a single gesture of a black-winged bird threw her pashmina over the elegant shoulder and sucker-punched me with a wave of her perfume:  “Ahhh!”

The ultra masculine, unshaven, sleepy street fighter in a gray-and-scarlet 49ers tee, climbing inside his hefty Grand Cherokee:  “Has anyone else noticed the cars never look filthy around here (around Her)?”  And again:   “Yes!  Please!”

And the long haired hippie thoughtfully strumming his guitar with some Flamenco chords as if its strings were the lead-loaded waters of the Bay, or the heavy hair of a brown girl he once loved so madly:  “Play it up, love.  Play it up.  I want to hear you, for many blocks ahead.”

“And what if I throw this on?” She raised a single eyebrow and slid into the cashmere of her grayish clouds, with blue in between.

“Perfect!” I hummed in response.  “You are — absolutely perfect.”

I felt the tears accumulate again in my lower eyelids, and when a few slipped out and rolled down my face:  Yes, they tasted like gratitude. 

And I began to run again.

“Beggin’, Beggin’ You-Ooh-Ooh: Put Your Lovin’ Hand Out, Baby!”

“Night flight to San Francisco; chase the moon across America…” *

Well, actually, it’s more like a flight to San Francisco, at the break of dawn — and I’m chasing my insomnia.

As I’ve done often, especially when transient, I’m watching other women, collecting the evidence on how they wear their skin; on what it must have been like to be them — to be not me.  To be unlike me.

I haven’t had many women in my earlier childhood to run my life by:  Thrown into a nomadic lifestyle early on by my father’s profession, I didn’t get to keep my girlfriends for long.  And motha?  Well, motha was too young to be a mother; so she would eventually become my girlfriend — but not until I myself was ready for it.  (That last one had to happen on my own terms.  Sorry, motha.)  At first, I would start to strut a little bit ahead of her, increasingly more on my own, more decisively; until she would take the lead no longer.

And so, while I’m chasing my insomnia at the break of this particular dawn, peaking through the sliding door of LAX, I watch the girls and women en route to their journeys.  Some are traveling on the arms of their beloveds:

—  Like the little girl sleeping in the most reassuring embrace of her father, with a dog furry like a golden retriever in place of a pillow.  Soak it up, you little one:  It’s going to be tough for other men to measure up.  Little girls born to good fathers end up married to their high expectations for a really long time.  I should know.  But for now, you do have this.  So, soak it up, my little one.

The young girl with a tired smile of someone that has traveled a lot:  You’re walking ahead of a woman that looks like your mother, and I already see the impatience that inspires you to lead the way.  And that’s wonderful.  But don’t forget to look back, my young girl.  Just on occasion, do look back at the one that you seem to despise the most, at times.  She does know you the best — and she knows the best and the worst of you, while hopefully still sticking by you, unconditionally — and for all of that, you despise her at times.

You, beautiful girls, traveling in couplings:  I pray your companions are worthy of your beauty.  But more over, I hope your kindness is worth even more.  They let you take the lead:  these good men of yours volunteering their life to the impossible task of measuring up to your fathers.  So, do look back at them, at times.  They’re just doing their best.

The frail women accompanied by their grown children:  Your life has been a success.  And the equally frail women looked after by the uniformed staff of the airport:  That’s alright, too.

“Your laptop should be in a tray by itself!  Your shoes — placed directly on the conveyer belt!  Do NOT place your keys inside the shoes!”

She is very tired: The security woman regurgitating the same information to my fellow travelers in line.  We are all tired, of course; but the ones she finds herself serving, for the rest of her life — or for now, at least — at least, we are going somewhere.  She, however, gets to stay behind and look over the safety of our journeys.  It must be hard to do this much looking over, on the daily basis, for the rest of her life.  Or for now, at least.  And those that are leaving are often impatient, tried by circumstances; and they are sometimes unkind and so ungrateful.  (Don’t they know she has their safety in mind?)  To look over them — is her job, not necessarily her dream.  And she is so tired of it, for now, at least.

“Does anybody have a nail file?  ANYBODY?  LADIES?!”

This one is standing in the middle of the waiting area by my gate.  She, too, seems tired, but hopped-up on something.  A few younger girls have been jolted by her aggression already.  She has even shaken one of them awake from her tired sleep, and the young one has opened her eyes and smiled with that smile of someone that has traveled a lot.

The hopped-up creature carries on.  She now jolts the lovely hippie with Jolie-esque lips who is listening her headphones and shooting impatient, concerned gazes at Gate 37B.  (We are the only ones without a monitor, so the gurgled announcement by our tired stewardess is the only source of information.  The Jolie-esque hippie can’t hear them, of course; so she jolts herself to remember to pay attention.)

The aggressive female passenger, however, is too hopped-up on something to notice the annoyance she is arousing in the youthful creature:

“Broke a nail!  LOOK!” she shoves her hand under the Jolie-esque lips.  The lovely hippie jumps, readjusts, and as kindly as her tiredness allows — excuses herself.

“Um.  Anyone?  LADIES!  REALLY?!”

“I think I might,” I finally step up to the plate.

The hopped-up female leaps toward me and, while I put away my writing and rummage through my bag for my tired memories as to where I could’ve stored that darn thing, she looms above me.  We are all chasing insomnia right now, on this San Francisco flight at dawn; but she may be chasing something else.

After the mission is accomplished she offers to buy me a drink:  Kindness by affliction.

“Thank you:  I don’t drink,” I say.

“Sorry, what?  WHAT?!” Just like that, she switches off any tired niceness, dismissing the possibility for gratitude and takes offense.  She gets offensive.  “I can’t understand you?!  Do you have an accent?”

Yep:  Definitely, hopped-up on something.  Perhaps, its tiredness she can no longer handle without an affliction.

I excuse myself to the bathroom:  We’re done here, sister!  The Jolie-esque lips shoot me a compassionate smile.  I don’t look back.

“Flight VX (gurgle-gurgle) to San Francisco is now boarding at (gurgle-gurgle).”

The handsome Latin woman with perfectly glossed lips and a tired gaze has finally come out to announce the clearing skies up north.  She has been so tormented by the impatience of those of us going somewhere.  We tend to be so unkind, sometimes; so ungrateful.

But the important thing is:  The San Francisco skies have cleared, at dawn; and each woman can carry on with her own journey.  We can go now, and hopefully, most of us cannot wait to land.  And as we board the aircraft to chase our mutual insomnia, I look back at the handsome Latin woman behind:

Here is my gratitude, love — and my very tired kindness.

* Kushner, Tony.  Angels in America.

“I’m Coming Home, I’m Coming Home. Tell the World: I’m Coming Home.”

“Why don’t you live in San Francisco?” he asked me yesternight, in awe at my mismatch to this other city, where both of us were currently living.

He had done that before, this measuring me against a city — any city.  It used to be Boston.  Or anywhere else, really, on the East Coast or by the Black Sea.  Anywhere but this other city, where both of us were currently living.

“You’re just so displaced here.”  And yes, he had said that before as well:  judging me as if I were a story he was thinking of rewriting.  “So… Why don’t you?!”

“Because angels still claim to live around HERE,” I brushed him off, back then and yesternight.  That too I had done before, always with a deprecating tone, mostly at my own expense.

“It’s like London — on crack, up there!  It’s perfect!” he carried on.  Youth.

Easily impressionable regardless his worldliness, my wondrous child had just returned from that tilted situation up north, where I tend to run away whenever in dire need to reboot.

My New Yorkers hate on it though:

“San Francisco?  Pah-lease!  It’s no better than New York!  Come home!”

They’re right:  There is nothing like that island of my youth.  Nothing in the world!  There is no stranger nonsense, no meaner beauty; no humanity more brutal or heartbreaking.

But New York can carry on without me:  She is a stunner used to runway heels and bouquets catapulted to her feet from great distances — all for the sake of her fleeting love.  She wears bras adorned with gemstones; lacy slips for midnight strolls, and nothing but pearls for when she soaks her tired feet in her bathtub.

And yes, we had our fun, She and I.  But it’s my life’s religion to never compete with another woman.  So:  I had let her win.  I had let her have it.  And I had left her, for this other city where angels still claim to take residence.

But yesternight, my wondrous child was getting carried away: “No wonder they call it ‘The City’!”

I love it when he gets like this:  when he stops shielding himself with his strained compassion, or with his habit to disarm me with praise.  And only after all that fuss does he step into himself a little better.  I keep convincing him that in his wondrous child-like-ness, he is — the most beautiful.  But then, how else is he going to learn to be a man unless he tries on his manhood as if it were a collection of dapper hats on a rack in the corner of some vintage shop, somewhere in a city very much like San Francisco?

“They call it ‘The City’ to set an example:  THAT’S how one does a city!” he was so excited, my wondrous child.  “It’s an etalon, yes?”

Ah, youth.

The last time, I ventured up to “The City,” I had made plans to meet up there with a companion.  It had been his idea, way back when.  It had to be, for I am too selfish about that tilted situation up north; too selfish to share it.  Because I go up there to reboot, to run away:  So, it’s my thing, you see?  It’s my secret place.  My secrets’ place:  It’s a place that keeps my secrets, my heartbreaks, my cravings for change — safe.

My intuition was right:  Sharing it — would turn out to be a silly idea.  For my companion and me, it would be the last stretch of bliss because something would get tilted off its axis soon thereafter — soon after that tilted situation up north — and I would be left dashing in between our memories as something to either regret or to hold onto; to store away into forgetfulness or to let go.  (Oh, I wished he hadn’t marked my city.)

But “The City” would keep my new secrets safe.

“It’s just that there is so much money up there!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again.  “It’s paved — with money.  And everything is so clean, and new, and… well, perfect!”

He had only seen one side of her.  To me, She is a handsome, middle-aged heiress.  Born into privilege, She had made a choice that only the privileged can make:  To fill her life with content, She would dedicate her money to good causes, like compassion and forgiveness and praise.  There would still be plenty of comfort and easy access in her life.  But the uneasiness would go away every time She would give shelter to the broken hearts that, just like me, would run away to her — to reboot.  Some would accept her graces immediately — and stay.  Others would get hooked and continue to come back until going away would make no further sense.

But then again:  She is such a hippie, that one!  Shrouded in earthy smells of mildew and perpetual fog, sweat and essence oils, incense, weed and baker’s yeast, She examines human struggles over tea.  And She smiles with an insight that everything would workout any way.  And She speaks in a husky voice, with a deprecating tone, mostly at her own expense.  Perhaps, it’s because She has keep too many secrets safe, for way too many runaways.  For way too many broken hearts.

She is my city.  My secret place:  She is the city that keeps my secrets — safe.

She is not the city of my youth:  She is the city that won’t tell on my mistakes that I had committed back then, in youth.

She is not the city of my youth, but She is willing to give shelter to my future.

“We should go there, together!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again, yesternight.  “Have you been?”

Hmm.  Youth.

No.  She is NOT the city of my youth.  She is “The City” — of my forgiveness.

“Life Is a Beach — I’m Just Playin’ in the Sand”

Ah, kittens.  I have been watching you, playing in twos, every time I get myself out to the beach.

There is something very honest about humanity out here.  It’s dialed down, calm.  Quiet.  Everyone is hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean; and you better be painfully exhibitionist — uncomfortable, in skin and silence — to be louder than the waves.  (But I had seen those types before as well:  They make me move my towel, as if switching subway cars to avoid the destructively insane and the painfully lonely.)

I have been running away, out here, to fall asleep on the sand until the magnificent tongues of the Ocean lick my feet with the aftertastes of the opposite shore where, several decades ago, I was born.  Out here, I have been running to get a better glimpse of humanity, a more complimentary view of it.  Out here, I have been running away from the dusty hills and the heated asphalt of my neighborhood, just so I can sit on my ass and pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

But it’s fine!  It’s fine where I’m living.  It’s perfectly fine.

Here, between the mountains on one side and the downtown skyline on the other — and the apocalyptic clouds of smog all around, as pink as cotton-candy-flavored ice — I cannot see the bloody horizon.  And that’s fine too:  because it keeps me bolted down to my chair, in the midst of work, to which there is no end in sight — to which there is no horizon.  But it’s fine!  It’s perfectly fine, where I’m living.  For now.

But when it chokes, when it moves in and looms above — this lack of knowing as to what it’s all for; when I cannot defeat the despair with mere discipline, I run away.  I cannot run far, for there is indeed a limit to this city — an actual edge.  And I cannot run away from the work, to which there is no end in sight:  no bloody horizon.  But just for a day, I can run away and I can watch them kittens play in twos, in the sand; and I can let the giant dog of the Ocean tickle my feet with its magnificent tongue.

Yesterday, he was brown and very manly; athletic but in that stocky wrestler sort of way.  Even when he stood above the body of his lovely, he seemed to be hanging close to the ground, hovering.  And she:  She stretched and purred underneath him — a caramel-colored kitten, in a two-piece bathing suit of mismatching colors.  Her head was wrapped with a scarf, and its edges coming undone tangled up in the loose hair at the top of her neck.

The two of them had pitched their burgundy cotton sheet just a few meters south of my ass, and like me, they immediately got quiet.  He stretched out on his stomach, she — on her back; and although they spoke little — hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean — their every gesture was filled with tenderness and certain intimacy that only lovers well-acquainted with each other’s bodies can have.  Without looking over for her target, she would throw her perfectly carved leg over him; and he would reach and caress it with the tips of his fingernails.  (Sometimes, poetry is written on the inside of a woman’s thigh.)

At one point, in between my nap sessions, I pitched myself up on my elbows and saw that she had climbed on top of him, her stomach perfectly contouring his lower back; and there seemed to be no grander bliss that he could be subjected to.  And when she unleashed her wet curls from underneath the head scarf and covered his head, absentmindedly, habitually, he reached up and buried his giant hand in them:  He knew her, so well.  And oh, how well, he loved her!

This juxtaposition of their physique, the intimate tangling of their bodies filled me with something so serene, I nearly forgot that I had ran away out here, to pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

A few more meters down from our congregation, there rested an older couple.  She belonged to the type of a handsome woman that had managed to defeat her age with sport and boyish haircuts.  When she strutted toward the hissing, foaming, teasing waves, her back astonished me with its tautness and form.  He was watching her as well.  Between the two of them, he seemed to have done all the aging on their behalf.  Balding and under the influence of gravity, he sat on their towel and he worshiped her.  Every time she granted him an over-the-shoulder glance — he waved at her, boyishly.  And although, like me, and like the two brown people south of my ass, the two older lovers were quiet:  Oh, how he loved her, he seemed to say, with silence.  It spoke volumes:  How he loved her!

I would check out again, drifting into dreamless sleep that would leave me thirsty and teary-eyed.  And when I jolted myself awake, I heard the hollow heartbeat of a ping-pong ball:  Above my head, a couple of young lovers were sending each other running — across the sand and across distances that seemed to be unaffected by mutual fear (for, surely, neither has been hit with shrapnel yet).

Besides her occasional giggles, they would remain completely quiet.  Every time, she couldn’t strike back on time, she would run toward the ball, giggling; and he would play with the strings of his swimming trunks — and he would watch her, in silence.  There were beginnings of manhood in that gaze:  the self-esteem of someone with a beautiful physique and a gentle heart, who would never have to work hard for a girl’s love.  And there would be other girls — certainly! — for any life is treasured more once hit with shrapnel.  But in that moment, in that particular silence, he seemed to speak volumes of his love — for her.

Oh, how he liked her!  And how he loved!

“I Told You: Leave Your Situations at the Door!”

I don’t want to wait for a change.  For a change, I don’t want to wait for a change — I want to create it.  I want to make it, because I must make it — in life.  Too long!  It has been too long of a wait:  for a change.  

I had been carrying my suffering like a sentimental load inside tattered baggage I must’ve borrowed from the top shelf of my parents’ closet.  When I was initially packing it up, back in the most formative years of my youth, curiously my father looked over my shoulder, handing me my items with one hand and patting the crown of my head with the other:

“You sure you’re gonna need all of this, little sparrow?” he would ask repeatedly, yet still contribute to my baggage, a handful of issues at a time.

I would get hold of his items, twirl them in my hand; sniff, taste, measure:  “Hmm.  Dunno!” I would say.  “Might need it later.”

My youthful impatience, my childish wrath would prevent me from weighing my future load against my strength.  Instead, I would get inventive at digging up some forgotten familial issues from the corners of my motha’s drawers.  And with my father as my shadow, I would wander around the home I was leaving — out of my stubbornness, not my self-esteem — and take a few things off the walls and, with his help, reach for the highest, forgotten shelves of our bookcases.  Instead of testing the baggage with an occasional test run, I kept on stuffing it.

“Might need it later,” I kept thinking, not even knowing that it was way too much pressure to place onto one’s “later”.

On the day of my departure for what I thought would be a better life — a better “later” — I even managed to look under all the carpets and rugs of our familial home, swooping up a few more microscopic particles into the side pockets of my baggage:  Might need those later, as well.

“Oh, and don’t forget this!” motha would shove a few more things into my baggage on my way out.  She would see me off at the threshold of our familial home; and every time I turned in a lapse of courage, she would wave her kitchen towel at me:  A flag of Don’t Ever Surrender!

The journey would turn out to be more epic than even my youthful imagination could think up; and it would be so magnificent at times — better than I thought when I thought of my “later”.  I would never come to regret the steps I had taken back then, in the most formative years of my youth; and I wouldn’t despise the directions I had chosen to follow — mostly out of stubbornness, not necessarily my self-esteem.  Because in the end, it would’ve all been worth it:  My life — my “later” — would be my own creation.  My choice.

Along the way, I would continue to pick up a few more issues for my loaded baggage:  Might need those later.  And it would take the initial thrill of the journey to settle down before I would become aware of the compromised lightness of my step, the increasing calluses and the now chronic backaches.

“Am I really gonna need all this stuff later?” I would wonder for a moment, but then carry on carrying, mostly out of stubbornness — NOT my self-esteem.

And when another youthful thing would pass me with a lighter baggage on her back, secretly I would admire her step; and I would wonder about our difference.  Must be a familial thing, I would conclude, then rummage through my baggage in search of an issue I could blame it on.  For a moment, the blame would soothe the envy, but the weight would not let up.  And I would spend more stretches of my journey in anticipation of the next rest stop.

Yes, I was getting tired.  I needed more stops, more time to get up; more courage to summon that stubbornness I had been confusing for self-esteem.  The load would begin to affect my choices:  I would start looking for shortcuts.  Better yet, I would ask other travelers for their evaluation of the course ahead.

“It’s just that… I have all this baggage,” I would explain, introducing the heavy load on my back as some alter-ego of mine.

I would begin to doubt my choices, to question if my “later” was still worth the pains.  Suddenly, I would find myself wasting time on indecisiveness — a quality that tarnished my self-esteem.

It would be thrilling, though, when for a while I would be accompanied by a love.  He would offer me a helping hand, and although I would accept it reluctantly, I had to notice how much easier it was to travel without baggage.  Quickly, I would get addicted, if not to that same helping hand, but at least to the illusionary promise of it.  But still committed to my baggage, I wouldn’t notice the burden it would be causing to my love.  And when that love would depart, sometimes, I would ask to carry some of his load as well:  Might need it later.

It would take a few more loves — loves that were in love with their own baggage of suffering — before I would wonder:

“Perhaps, it is time — for a change.”

Gradually, at first, I began leaving some issues at my rest stops or pretending to forget about them when they were carried by a love.  And then, a new habit kicked in:  Once twirled in my hands for the last time, an item would be disposed.  Because rarely did my baggage prove itself worthy of my “later”.

And for a change, I began wanting to change.  Not waiting for it:  Not rummaging in my baggage for promises of closures or resolutions.  Instead, I’ve gotten into a new habit of letting go — for the sake of change.

So, enough now!  It’s time to let go, time to unload.  It’s time — to change, for a change.  

“Click, Click, Click, Flash…”

There are faces on the streets of this town that make me want to whip out a camera and take them home with me:  not the people — but always their faces, like yellowing Polaroids in my back pocket.  Every day, I drive by them, on routes that must lead to my dreams — or at least to survival in between the dreams’ happening — and I fight the urge to leap out of the car, leave the engine running, and steal a shot or two, preferably unnoticed by my subject.

But if they do see me, I hope they aren’t offended much.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d probably say, shielding myself with kindness, as if they were my lovers telling me of their final decision to depart.

(I’m such a fucking hippie.  Forgive me.)

There is a homeless man, in one of my regularly visited parking lots, who always reads a pamphlet, in a plastic chair by that neighborhood’s laundromat.  He rests here, maybe even lives, with his cart parked right around the corner.

Keith.  This is his spot.

The truth about Keith:  He is homeless — not a pauper (and you better know the difference).  He’s made that aggressively clear by the cleanness of his clothes and the presentable look of his laced-up shoes.  I had tried giving him money before:  I might as well have slapped Keith’s tired face with a wet towel full of sand.  But food, he’ll take food.  He’ll nod, humbly; thank you, and pack it away, so methodically and slow, it breaks your heart.  Because if ever you have known poverty yourself, you comprehend the deficit of dignity in it.  Organization and routine become your only saving graces.  And that’s exactly how you get by:  sweeping off crumbs of dignity from the kitchen table and into your hand; and methodically storing them away — for later.  

Well, Keith’s got his dignity in spades.  I can tell it by his face with carved out wrinkles and his not so poorly groomed beard.  In a striking juxtaposition to his African features, a pair of lime-green eyes overlooks from above.  Sometimes they freeze in a gaze of departure; and even though I’ve wondered a few times about where Keith goes when he goes like that, his eyes give out no hints.  I don’t trip out about that too much though:  Because the ownership of his story — is one of the few things a man should be allowed to possess.

His right eyebrow gathers into a poignant awning.  Not much of a frown, it ever so slightly changes the man’s face from solemnity to something grievous.  Just like that:  a little shift and the departure of his lime-green eyes — and the man’s face becomes a story.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d probably say.

Another man — another story — lives just a few blocks away from my street.  I am never sure where he sleeps, or where he stores his things.  But he is impossible not to notice as I run to the subway station, always late and always immediately embarrassed, when I notice him.

On a cold day, the man stands underneath an electronics store sign long closed down for sale.  In heat, he looms in the shadow of a bus stop nearby.  The accidental passengers waiting on metallic benches seem to not mind him more than they mind the exhaust fumes from the never-ending traffic.  Years ago, when I first moved here, the man used to ask them for money, while shifting on his feet.  But now, he just sways there, in silence, waiting for dumb charity by someone with a guilty conscience, like my own.  But mostly, he lets his life waste him away with the corrosive elements attacking his skin behind this bus stop.

Painfully thin, he sways too much when shifting on his feet, as if at any moment he can tip over and break into a thousand shards of something irreparable.  But whenever I can get past my embarrassment and actually look at the man’s face, I realize it belongs to someone long departed.  He seems calm, surrendered; almost smiling, with his eyes.  And if he can feel the scratch of my dollars in his palm, dried up to chalky whiteness, he shivers his head a little.  Those aren’t nods, but a dozen of little ones — like shivers.

Another story — another ghost — trails in the footsteps of a local woman that always sits by one of this town’s guilds.  She’s irate:  There ain’t no bloody surrender in her face.

On the stone fence of the building, she usually sits with her bags parked underneath her feet; and she mutters while scratching the matted hair, usually wrapped in a shredding scarf.  Her clothing is nonsensical, as if she’s rummaged through a vintage shop or a drag queen’s closet, that morning.  But you better be sure there’ll be some sequins somewhere on her body.  And it’s not the angry face that gets my attention every time:  It’s those fucking sequins!

She must’ve loved them as a little girl, as all little girls do.  And as all little girls, she must’ve found them magical, like fairy dust or sparkly refections in the water from the mirror mosaic on the bottom of a pool floor.  And she may have long departed — in her mind and in her face — but this child-like addiction is the only sliver of sanity that separates her from those of us, insane enough to give it up.

They are never dangerous, these faces; no more dangerous than the minds that hide behind them, storing away their stories of horror and loss from which the only sane thing to do — is to depart.  Alas:  The faces of the departed.  There are so many of them, in this town!  

Who knows what has brought them here, and why they never left.  Is it because hope dies last; but when it does, it leaves a person too exhausted to depart?  Or is it because they, like me, have nowhere else to go.

Because they are already — the departed, and this — is where they have departed for.  And this is where they continue to depart, dragging behind their carts and their beauty —  like cautionary tales for the rest of us.

“I Can Be Your Hero, Baby” — Nyet.

My dad — is not Superman.

I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone conversation that I have been committing to Motha Russia for the last few years.  It’s the least I could do, I always thought:  to take the initiative in maintaining this long distance relationship that had affected every romantic choice in my own biography.  Because dad was the man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.  So, da:  It was the least I could do.

As someone with the burden of having left her beloveds behind, with the guilt of exceeding her parents’ lifestyle — survivor’s guilt — I have been dialing an endless line-up of numbers every Sunday (by the Russian clocks):  My Prodigal Sundays.  And after a while, I’ve given up on premeditating the concepts of these phone calls:  For they never turn out to be redemptive, or even philosophical.

“Hello, what’s new?” I would ask, every time, surprising myself with how mundane I could be despite my lists of questions about my heritage, my character, my past.

“Nothing,” dad would answer, echoing the matter-of-factness of it all.

(It’s offensively insane if you think about it, really:  After more than a decade of separation, you would think beloveds could concern themselves with anything other than gas prices (for me) and bread prices (for him).  It must be why, then, I had always found fiction to be more perfectly narrated than life.)

But then on the other hand, my dad was Superman.  For years, he seemed immune to suffering.  Between the stoic nature I myself tap into sometimes, in my own character, and the military training of his lifetime career, he never vented, never sought faults; never passed a judgement on the humans he had vowed to protect.  So, I’ve had the audacity to assume he was stronger than the rest of us, capable and tough.  Because that matched the picture of the first man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.

Dad always stood so tall, with his stereotypical Eastern European features juxtaposing my own (that I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).  But it was height that I insisted on remembering the most, never measuring him against other men.  There had to be other humans larger than dad’s slim stature, so well hidden underneath the boxy cut of the Soviet Army uniform.  Just by the mere fact that, for centuries, Motha Russian was famed for repeatedly spitting out giants out of her national vagina — there had to be humans taller than my dad.  But no, not from my perspective!  Not from where I stood — not from where I looked up, in my blinded worship of him, for the first two decades of my life — never growing past my own 5 feet in height (a feature I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).

And he would be the best of them all.  Always the highest ranking officer in every room, he would be granted the respect pro bono.  So, how do you stand next to a man that gets saluted before even being spoken to, giving him a complete command over the course of the words that would follow?  How do measure yourself against someone addressed by his title rather than his name?  I tell you how:  You fall in love with him, blindly, for decades getting stuck at measuring your own romantic choices against Superman.  

We could be on an errand trip to the nearest city — my Superman and I — standing in line at an ice-cream kiosk, when a stranger in civilian clothes would salute my tallest man in the world.  Beautiful women (for centuries, Motha Russia was famed for spitting those out of her national vagina as well — in galore) would blush and adjust their hair when father marched past them.  (For the rest of his life, he would never surrender that manner of stepping — as if on a chronic conquest:  A man on a mission to protect the human race.)  And even the harshest of them all — the bitterly disappointed veterans on the benches of Moscow’s parks or the fattened-up, unhappy female secretaries at my lyceum’s administration — they too would melt a little in the esteemed company of my dad, making life seem much easier to navigate than when amidst the stocky, brown brand of my mother’s side.

Oh, how I wish I could’ve dwelled in this blind worship of him, for the rest of my life.  But the romantic choices in my own biography — a biography that had happened during the period of separation from my dad, now nearly equaling in length as the first two decades — they have began to catch up with me.  And as I continue to fall out of my loves, I begin landing in truth about the very first man with whom I was once so blindly in love.

“And yes, you do mythologize your men,” a man, not as tall as my father, had told me the other day.

And da, herein lies the pattern:  Willingly, blindly, I fall in love, worshiping each new romantic choice, pro bono.  And when he doesn’t measure against my personal Superman, I fall out of it, quite disappointed but never surprised.  For no man can live up to my mythical expectations — not even the Superman that had started them, back in the first two decades of my life.

And nyet, my dad — is not Superman.  I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone calls on a typical Prodigal Sunday (by the Russian clocks).

Because, “I’m just a man,” he told me, refusing to echo the matter-of-factness of it all.  “And it’s time for you — to give up on me.”

He Ain’t Heavy: He’s My Bro!

“How’s the writing?” he asked me, yesterday, as a matter of fact.

As a matter of fact, he was so matter of fact about it, I didn’t think twice that, like to most of my friends, to him, my writing — was just a matter of fact.

As a matter of fact, I am not flocked by my comrades — other writers — all suspended in loaded pauses in between pontificating on the history of the novel or the future of the industry.  We don’t sit around a round table (yes, it must be round) in the middle of the night, playing with nostalgic shticks, like card games, cigars or tea cups with saucers — because we are just so fucking eccentric.

We don’t make fun of humanity while others zealously nod or slap their thighs in a gesture of agreeing laughter; but then, take ourself so very brutally seriously. (Seriously?!).  Many of us have gone through love affairs; several — quite tumultuous.  But we don’t arrive to coffee shops favored by Europeans while accompanied by mysterious lovers (in scarves or berets) that have inspired a poem or two — a sketch or a lovely line-up of guitar chords — making the rest of us want a piece of that creature.  We don’t share lovers, passing them around like a well-rolled joint.  And:  we don’t dis the exes.

My people and I are a lot more matter of fact, in life.  Sure, some of us are stranger than others, worthy to be gossiped about.  And yes, we tend to be adventurous, always up for playing, always on the lookout for a good story.  Many travel, quite often treating LA-LA as a rest stop, even though we all live around here.  Quite a few are in the midst of an art project that will change their lives upon fruition.  But we don’t spend our daily lives in some sort of artistic isolation or exhibitionist suffering; slamming down phones and doors if ever we are interrupted.  We don’t keep lists of our losses and griefs against humanity — or against our mothers — posted up on the wall, framed.

My people and I:  We live, as a matter of fact.

And especially, when it comes to my brothers:  They are the simpler of my clan.  Rarely do I double-guess their intentions.  Never do I wonder about their moods and the words with which they choose to communicate them.  Never do I decipher their facial ticks, eventually finding myself in despair, impatience, followed by frustrated judgment.  And it’s always quite clear with them that even though they don’t obsessively seek my company; when in my company, nothing seems to thrill them more.  (Now, I’ve heard about those moody mothafuckers that torture my girlfriends with their mixed signals and facial ticks in dire need of deciphering.  But no such mothafucker — is a brother of mine!)

So, when my baby-brother asked me about writing yesterday, I gave him an answer specific enough to be respectful of him and of the time that had lapsed since last we saw each other; and respectful enough to not sound flippant about my work.  (Because my work — I take seriously, not my self.  Seriously.)  But then, a discussion of our lives, happening as a matter of fact, continued, letting my work be — just a matter of fact.

Later, however, I found myself picking apart the category of men that become my brothers.  I am normally quite hard on their gender, especially toward the ones that end up as my lovers.  But with my brothers, I never feel the urge to break their balls or to demand explanations; constantly digging for more honesty (but not realizing that no love can handle that much truth).  As a matter of fact, everything is quite clear with my brothers and I, and I am never tempted to ask for more clarity.  So: I let their mysteries be.

This one — a beautiful child — used to be a colleague of mine.  Both of us had worked at a joint that was meant to pay for our dreams while costing them the least amount of compromise.  And I would be full of shit if I claimed I was never titillated by his loveliness, measuring it against my body in his tall embraces or against my chest as I would rub his head full of gorgeous Mediterranean hair.  I would watch him with others — with other women — and notice the goodness of him.  He was respected, always:  the type of a man worthy of man crushes from his brothers and dreamy sighs from every girl in the room.  His charm would come easily.  Never strained, it seemed to cost him nothing. And it’s because that charm came from his goodness — it never reeked of manipulation or his desperate need to be liked.

Here, as a matter of fact, I would be lying if I didn’t think at one point or another about all of my brothers as potential lovers.  But somewhere along the way of building the history of intimacy, something would tilt the scale:  and we would make a choice to leave our love untamed by so much honesty — it wouldn’t survive the truth.

That something — would take a bit effort to define yesterday, after my rendezvous with my baby-brother expired and we parted, as a matter of fact, never fishing for assurances that we would see each other again soon (because we would).  And it would all come down to:  Goodness.

Even if not with me, my brothers — are committed to their goodness.  Because of their commitment, that goodness happens with ease — as a matter of fact — and it earns them good lives and worthy loves.  It earns them — my love, as a matter of fact.

“Ashes, Ashes!” — All Fall Down!

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

I had to get out of bed today, at the start of daylight, and write this one down.  And in the morning, I was pretty sure I dreamt the whole thing up.

Habitually, I jump-started the morning, today:  Coffee — on, alarm — off.  Teeth, curtains, phone calls.  Fuss with the landscape of my schedule.  Inevitably:  Work!  Read some; work, read some more.  And not until I reached for my journal to jot down a well-molded sentence by a fellow writer well-versed in the humanity of men (no, not mankind — but men, specifically) — that I found the scribbles in my tired handwriting, back at the start of daylight:

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

After writing that, I tangled myself back into the womb of my sheets and I remembered that normally at this hour, my men would become my sons.  My children:  I find them, in my sleepy stupor of suspended dreams, and I memorize their faces.  Those — are the faces I choose to keep in the front; because it is then, I believe, a man’s humanity — is at his best.

So, ask me how to hurdle over a man and I might whip up a game or two.  I usually carry on with this one play:

I stay in touch with the resigned game partner, especially if it was his idea to stop playing.  Why, why, why would I be tempted to pick at this dried-up scab, earned from our silly horseplay?  After years of this pattern, I must admit:  For the stories.

Yep, the stories, my children.  Immediately after a break-up, they are never redemptive but mostly recyclable.  Between the two of us, it’s a game of “Remember When?”; and for a while, that’s sort of titillating enough, in a sickly way.  Before “Remember When?”, I used to run the marathons of “But You Did This!”, but that would always turn out to be bad for my finger joints; because there would be just so much wagging a scorned lover could do.  But during “Remember When?”, eventually, the tempers mellow out, the egos settle down:  And soon enough, we are able to have a conversation.

It is time, then, for a game of crooked mirrors.  Not so long ago in want, in need, in blind love with each other, we suddenly find ourselves roaming around a funhouse, looking for our better reflections.  Truth be told, by that point, we aren’t even interested in the most flattering reflections of our selves (and we even have an occasional chuckle at our expense).  We are just looking for a couple of matching ones.

“Does your truth — match my truth?”

We keep on wandering.  So very tired we are by then, by all the previous wagers and competitions and games — by the finger wagging and “you’re it!” tagging — we both know this somewhere near the very end.  Silence would follow this game if mutual truths are found.  If not — we go for a few more tours around the funhouse.

“How about this truth then?  Does it seem true, to you?”

At this point in the game, redemption is yet to come.  At this point in the game, redemption — is not even the point of it.  There may be some forgiveness, along the way, mostly for the sake of closure; and that self-forgiveness is sometimes so selfish — it’s profane.  There may even be some letting off the hook of the other scorned party, but mostly out of exhaustion.

But redemption:  It demands time.  It’s a sentence we must serve, willingly or not; and maybe not until the next loves — the next games with karmic losses at the end — that salvation comes.  Until then, we are just wandering around a funhouse, comparing truths.

(But then again, that’s just me.  Out of all the choices of child’s play, I’m always in the mood for some storytelling.  So, that may not be the name of the game, for you, my children.)

So:  How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?  

I’ve never played this one, so I have no clue.  But ask me how to hurdle over a good man (because we always fall in love with his goodness, first; with the best of his humanity), I may whip up a game or two:

Take baths:  They are womb-like — the ultimate homecoming.  “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub…”

Hide away his letters, and all of his words; his residues, his scents.  Then, put away your own:  The perfumes you used to wear to leave on his pillows and in his hair; the lotions with which you rubbed his tired joints (before the finger wagging started).  And when there is an urge to dig it all up again:  Surrender to it.  Oh, yes, my kiddos:  It’s gonna be a lengthy round of Hide-and-Seek.

Whatever you do, don’t sign-up for a round of Simon Says:  You’ll end up wagging your fingers, again. 

And finally, alas:  Silence Game.  You can’t skip that one, sorry; not if you eventually want to start winning some.  In the beginning,  you just might be curious to see who can hold his or her breath the longest.  But do follow through.  Play the Silence Game:  You can’t skip that one, not if you want to stop losing!

So:  Say uncle.