Tag Archives: Americanized

Home, Bitter-Sweet Home

Today, I woke up to the sound of construction.  Having had the type of a day that nearly disparaged me with other people’s tests of my boundaries, being brought back to reality didn’t enthrall me much, as you can imagine.  I growled, tossed to the other side of my bed; yanked the alarm plug out of the wall (‘cause I don’t need that shit waking me up later); and on my feet that someone had to have pumped with lead while I was sleeping, I stumbled toward my bedroom window:

“Bloody F!” I shifted the blinds to examine the haps of my ‘hood.

A handful of short, brown men calling out to each other in a foreign language were repairing the roof of the little blue house next to mine.  Right underneath my top-story apartment, I could see them ripping that shit to pieces.  Unlike the men at one of those construction sites with heavy machinery and brutal metallic noises, these guys were tiny; and the sounds they emitted belonged to the old country:  a scraping of the shovel against the stripped wood, an arhythmic knocking of a hand-held hammer and the rainfall of nails hailing into a plastic bucket in the middle.  The shortest of the workers, wearing a safari hat, had been assigned the task of sweeping around with a giant broom with plastic bristles. That thing was thrice as tall!  And their leader — a gray-mustached man with an LAPD cap and a waterproof pouch with architectural drawings sticking out of it — looked out toward my building while smoking a pipe.

That fucking pipe rang a bell:  On my yesterday’s morning jog, while fumbling with the wires of my iPod, I nearly knocked him over.  He didn’t see me coming from behind, didn’t hear my mutters at the wires that would’ve annoyed me less had they belonged to a spider web into which I walked in, face first.

“Ooh…  Sorry…” I said, not really meaning it:  Who the fuck was he anyway and why wasn’t he paying attention?  I began to make my way around him.

“‘S okay, beauty,” the gray-mustached man calmly said after removing his smoking instrument from the thin lips that made him look like my father, “You can bump me anytime.”

Okay, may be NOT like my father, you naughty old player!  I laughed.  I do tend to forget that older folk still haven’t forgotten about sex, and that some of them may still be having it (yikes!).

So, it always tickles me to no end to watch these old guys flirt with me, with the swagger of their old days.  I bet they don’t sext the woman they like; and they know the etiquette of a phone call.  “Liking” a girl’s photograph on Facebook does not pass, for them, as an expression of desire.  And their stubborn commitment to getting doors and pulling out chairs; to taking over a woman’s grocery bags and never letting her whip out her money, no matter her protesting — all that throws me into a state of easy melancholy, readily available to my Russianness.

Yesterday, we left it at a laugh; but as I took off, I continued to smile and shake my head a few more times.  My jogging step suddenly got lighter.  I maneuvered my way around my neighborhood at the foot of a mountain; and considering LA-LA’s latest weather of the Bay-like blues — with its fogginess and unpredictable spurts of sunshine — it suddenly reminded me of my home:  A tiny village on a peninsula at the other end of the Pacific.  The old country.

A fresh cup of coffee would make the perfect finish to my start of the day, I decided, and detoured toward my neighborhood’s market.  Feeling the grogginess of the morning lift, giving room to the lightness of gratitude, I aimlessly walked through the fresh produce aisle.  A mount of magnificent red plums tempted me to pick-up a few and breathe them in.  I rubbed my fingers against a mint leaf and petted the shiny surfaces of eggplants; groped a few avocados.  Letting habit and the vague smell of coffee take me to my destination, I passed the fish counter.

“Hello, how are jew?” the manager said from behind his tempting, never frozen line-up of produce.

“Beauticious,” I answered and gave him my best American smile:  open and down with it.

Surprised by an alert response, the man’s brown face immediately stretched into an enthusiastic smile:  “Beauti-cious?”  I heard remnants of his Spanish accent.

“It’s like, ahem, beautiful and delicious at the same time,” I explained.  “Like those jumbo scallops of yours.”

“Oy!  Oy!” the man was already putting on his gloves.  “Would jew like to take a l’ook?”  (Definitely Spanish!)

Before I could switch from smiling to speaking (I’m still figuring out the dynamics of that whole American smiling, to tell you the truth), the old guy was already on my side of the counter, lifting its front cover.  (I didn’t even know it was built like that!)  A whiff of the sea hit my nose:  Ah, the old country.  HOME.  

The man began to gingerly pick-up the beauticious scallops and bounce them in his giant hands.

“Oy!  How ‘bout dis one?!”

“Gorgeous,” I said and rested my forearm on his shoulder.  “Beauticious!”

He chuckled:  My tender presence thrilled him. Perhaps, it reminded him of his own home:  Where men drink beer on outside patios and bluntly whistle at the lovely chicas strutting by; where time crawls and dictates the course of the day with its mood; where lunchtime can last until dinner and where every accidental drum beat can start an impromptu fiesta.

“What cha got there?”  The old guy said to me and starting staring at my breast.

I looked down:  A neon-orange sticker that used to belong to the mount of avocados, sat in the vicinity of my nipple and read:

“RIPE READY TO EAT”.

The man sized me up:  Was he about to get in trouble?  But when I thumped my forehead against his chest and lost my composure entirely, wiping away the tears that ready flooded my tired eyes, he too began to holler with his chesty laughter.

“Oy!  Oy!” he was still holding those scallops in this giant, brown hands and throwing his head back.  He would’ve touched me — it felt like he wanted to — but his American training had taught him about boundaries.

Still:  It was suddenly all so easy; so light.  Beauticious and grateful.

“Yep,” I thought:

It’s time to go home.  The old country.

“Everything Was Beautiful. Nothing Hurt.”

“But!  Everything that HAS been — has not been forsaken

Oh, I have kissed everyone:  From paupers, to the kings.”

When motha breaks shit down — she destroys it.  “Half-assed” — is never her way.

And it is also brutal:  Our love for each other.  Unmistakably human.  Faltered and stubbornly redemptive.  This love — has been three decades in the making:  Some screwball tragicomedy that not even I, in my sickest mind, can think up.

(Yes, I may be young to some.  To others, who have witnessed my Americanized Tinker Bell version, I may appear full of hysterical delight.  I AM — all that.  As you wish.  But I am also a faithful lover of the human race; and for that, for years, I have been willing to risk my heart.  And yes, I have seen some shit, loves; and I have seen love — go to shit.  Still:  I have withstood it all.  And if you tell me it does not take a sick mind to keep coming back for more, then you and I just happened to speak two unrelated languages.)

Motha descended upon this town yesterday, on a witch’s broom, by her own admission.  She was late upon arrival (not typical to her chronically anxious character); but when she finally came down — she crashed.  Noise, voice, hair — it’s all so loud with her!  And when I first embraced her, I did NOT wonder how this tiny woman, standing two heads shorter than me, could contain so much life.

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder!”

She stepped off her broom, fixed her hair (to no avail); and as we walked home (I, sturdily in my flats, in control; she — all woman, chasse-ing in heels), we both unleashed our unwritten stories, the gypsy descendants that we were.  Flipping our disobedient manes to the wind, we took turns making each other laugh.  Motha laughs easily, readily; but I’m the only one to get her going at her own expense.  I, on the other hand, am much more reserved.  In my other parent’s ways, I chuckle, if that.  But then again, this messy and magnificent woman knows how to get me out of control; and so I become like daughter like mother.

Immediately, I suspected:  It would be different with us, this time.  Normally, motha doesn’t take a “nyet” for an answer.  She doesn’t give a flying fuck about my “boundaries” or my Americanized need “for personal space”.  Her life’s is too short of a privilege to miss out on encounters.  “Half-assed” — is just NOT her way.  But when she heard of her daughter’s two week ailment, she fucking imposed!  She invaded!  She came — to heal and to care — a maternal duty that has never been demanded from her by her self-sufficient child.

The medicinal witchcraft was whipped out as soon as I shut the door to my home.

“These eez forr you!  And these — eez forr you!”

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder she showed up with a suitcase!”

(I’ve learned to never expect things from our love; and perhaps, that’s all for the better:  In the end, it has taught me how to love and to let go.  It has taught me — how to withstand.)

Motha’s invasion carried us to the shore.  We attempted to bask in the sun, but mostly we froze in the late afternoon breeze.  She has called up someone with a yacht in the Marina.

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder she’s got more connects in this bloody town!”

And there would be many more:  Random people I have never seen before, coming out of the woodwork.  In every neighborhood where I chose to take a break (to catch my breath and drink up a doze of reality), they would deliver advice and meds, but most importantly — my returning hope for humanity, in dozes.  Before I knew it, matchmaking was happening, via the service of a handsome woman with a magnificent ass.  Someone was handing me a free cup of tea of dandelion root.  At a Ukrainian deli, where motha has finagled for me to use a bathroom, lipsticked mouths of old women were hollering at their grumpy butcher in the back:

“Let our girl pass!  Let our girl pass!”

A woman cashier with the face of compassion looked at me and said:

“Put that weight down, youth.  You’re carrying too much.”

Oh, I have never seen this city like this, loves!  I’ve learned not to expect much compassion from strangers.  But last night, the city was different:  It — was teaching me to withstand.

In the evening, there would be more tales and more witchcraft.  Motha whipped out her gypsy songs, then YouTubed a bearded bard to accompany her dance:

“When love, tender by its habit, gets tired to please this mortal coil with hope, 

I’ll bring the rest of my bloody life up to a burning match!

Because it is better to get burnt by love — then to run from it.” 

“Happy song!  Happy song!” — motha insisted while sitting on my floor and shimmying her shoulders (a gypsy dance move apparently).  

Eventually, there would be food, too much of it, just the way we, Russians, always insist.  There would be some strange sparkling wine, bitter and spicy like ginger, and immediately intoxicating.  Ancestors’ recipes were followed.  Instructions were being recycled.  Words, voices, stories, anecdotes — it’s all so loud with us.  (When I offered some soaking salts for motha’s bath, “Vhy?!” she said.  “Just poot zem in yourr soup!”)

And when it all subsided and each woman lay down in her own bed, lullabies of forgiveness covered everything with their white noise.  As the week-long insomnia surrendered to what would be my first night of 10-hour dreamless sleep, I heard the bard’s voice and my mother’s breathing, ever so loud:

“And for the gift of our encounter, 

I am ready to forgive my fate for everything.

So, here it is:  The wonderful happening 

That gives meaning to an empty word ‘to live’!”

Had I not forgiven my every love, I would’ve missed out on too many stories worthy of my hope, I thought.  I would have discounted too many faces, dismissed too many loves.  But haven’t you heard, loves?  “Half-assed” — is just not MY way!  Because to withstand it all — and come out on the other end, still willing to love — in my motha’s fashion, I’d rather go all in.