Tag Archives: awareness

“People Talking Without Speaking… People Hearing Without Listening…”

Today, I studied my city with memories captured in a single, tired glance.

It’s all I can spend on it sometimes:  One look — and I’ve gotta keep on moving.  Which may be why Los Angeles discovered on foot never resembles the place I think it actually is.  It looks different, in walking actuality; and unlike in more pedestrian-friendly places, it doesn’t pulsate with a life.  Instead it buzzes.  Sometimes, it screeches; and it honks, zooms by like an impatient, swearing driver who nearly runs me over, while making a right on red.

And when I can no longer stand such a mechanical pace, I plead to meet my friends in places that remind me:  that there is life, and there is love; and that somehow, in end, we may just all turn out alright.

Today, while I driving across town, I granted other passing faces a single, tired glance:  as much as I could hold without averting my eyes in shame at sudden lack of my compassion, once I’d discovered they weren’t accidentally the faces of those I loved.  Besides, I only could linger for as long as it was safe for those drudging through the traffic behind me.  Then, I’d gotta keep on moving.  We all had to.

It started with a girl backing her black SUV out of a driveway on the West Side.  At first, she didn’t see me; and normally, immediately outraged, I’d honk and swear, demonstratively delivering my point about being wronged, in her rear-view mirror.  Today though, I could use a slower pace.  There was no traffic lingering behind me, so I just stopped and waited for her clumsy merger to be completed.

Still, she wouldn’t see me (or, maybe, she merely pretended); and when I drove around her giant car, glossy like the wet back of a killer whale, I saw her left profile.  She had a tightly pulled ponytail on the back of her head, perfectly ironed and sleek, with not a single hair out of place.  Her lips were glossy and pursing.  And then, above a diamond stud, I saw a tiny mechanism jammed into her eardrum.

She was talking, gesticulating at what seemed to be the pace of her speech.  Although her windows were tinted, in the back seat, I saw a forest of stiff handles of shopping bags and a few tubes of wrapping paper.  Just watching her, I got so tired, I made up my mind to take the slowest lane all the way home — for the next ten miles.

When the front line of cars on my side of the road began rolling under a freeway bridge on Venice, my lane slowed down at a wide intersection.  Quite normal, I began to think, especially a day before Christmas:  For I’d already witnessed a plentitude of abnormal behaviors this week, which had to be the reason for feeling so completely drained.  I lingered for a handful of seconds.  I studied my city. The palm trees shimmered above my open sunroof like an old backdrop in theatre no longer doing magical productions.

From in front of the car, leading all of us across, I finally saw a woman bicyclist emerge and slowly make her way through moving traffic.

“Not very smart,” I thought but waited somewhat patiently.

But then I saw a baby trailer attached to the back of the bicycle.  A blond head of a child was visible through its netted side wall.

“That woman — is an idiot!” I thought.  And normally, I’d keeping on swearing and scoffing, and call the silly mother some terribly unworthy names.  Today, though, I looked away; for I myself began to feel exhausted by the lack of reasonable behavior on her part.

A black woman with a drag queen’s eye make-up was ringing a bell in front of my Trader Joe’s.  A cross-section of hippies were rushing in inside, then coming out with loaded brown bags.  I didn’t see the woman speak:  Her call for charity would be completely silent if it weren’t for the arhythmic, tired ringing of her bell.  The shoppers seemed indifferent (although one woman faked looking at the pavement, as if she’d lost something).  I, too, continued driving, somehow more exhausted by the lack of my compassion than by the disappointment at that of others.

To my gray-faced and tired teller at the bank, I barely uttered a word.  The skin under his eyes seemed yellow and ready for the end of the day.  It was the height of noon.

“I wish you lovely holidays,” a gentleman at the window to the left of mine completed saying, and by the time I glanced over, he slowly began to walk away.

He was gray haired, in a pair of black suit pants and a tweed jacket, sharp dressy shoes and blood-orange-colored cufflinks picking out from underneath his sleeves.  He was old Hollywood, moving at a much more graceful speed and treating time like down payments toward better karma.

“Allow me,” I said, once I had caught up to him and opened the door.  I had to!

Despite the obvious exhaustion marked in the lines around his eyes, the man’s glance was mellow, aware and kind.  And it was not enough to resurrect my own compassion, but to remember that this time of year — I could better yet.

“‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly: Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La, La-La!”

“Could we get more cashiers behind this register?!”

It was a woman’s voice, quite strained.

Sucked into the 400-page vortex of my soon-to-be purchased new book, I hadn’t payed any attention to the proceedings at my local Barnes and Noble, while I waited for my turn, in line.  But it’s not like I harbored any high expectations from this impulsive detour I’ve taken on my way home, at the height of the holiday shopping season.

First, I had to get through the parking lot of the main boulevard leading to this shopping mall.  Not a problem, I thought.  I could call the damn store — and put my item on hold; then trip out on my packing list, while sitting in traffic.

Then, there was the Korean owner of a dry cleaners who appeared on the brink of going postal from the absence of a Merchant Teller at my Chase.  I tried to save the day:

“Would you like to go ahead of me?” I sheepishly offered.  (“That’s some holiday magic for you, woman!” I thought while staring at the corrugated surface of her forehead.  She wasn’t sure about me.)

She took my offer.  Didn’t say thank you.

“You’re welcome,” I shrugged.

Instead of leaving the parking lot and joining the caravan of smoggy vehicles and their annoyed drivers, I left my ride at Chase and walked over to the Barnes and Noble.  Nothing like getting towed for the holidays, but my current grasp on sanity was a lot more important.

And normally, I would have to shoot down some sarcastic commentary in my my own head, in order to enjoy the experience of having way too many choices and holiday inspired displays — at any store.  But when it came to bookstores, I wouldn’t care if the sales people were promoting their merchandise in the nude.

(Come to think of it, I would actually prefer it that way:

Written on the Body — in hardback edition!”

The Breast — at 15% percent off!  30% — for members only!”

I could live with that, I think.)

Now, there would be a disheartening moment I could already foresee through the window, from outside:  A display of Valentine’s Day themed gadgets, Nook covers and writing supplies.

“Nope!  Not at all weird!” I talked myself out of succumbing to my traditionally sarcastic mindset.

(At least, in New York, I could walk away from it all.  Take a different route.  Go to a different branch.  Get off a packed subway car — and wait for the next train.  In this city, avoiding crowds also entailed avoiding their vehicles:  And those usually took up much more space!)

But look at how rad I was being:  Smiling at other pedestrians, communicating with the parking attendants and security guards!  Keeping my cool while riding the escalator behind a woman who blocked my — and everyone else’s — way with her shopping bags!

“She’s just being generous!” I talked my head out of a looming fit.

The three-level store opened in front of me in all of its giant-windowed glory.  Despite the chilly temperatures, the sunshine lit up the dust bunnies suspended in the columns of light.  They were sparkling.

“Did someone butcher Tinker Bell, on the third floor?” that one got away from me.  I wasn’t even being flippant.  Just funny, in my dark Russian way.  I smiled.  Tinker Bell:  Butchered.  Funny.

The end tail of the check-out line reached me as soon as I passed through those security towers that shortened my lifespan every single time they went off.

“Is this the line…?” I asked a lanky young man reading, by the look of it, some poetry.

“For the check-out?” he finished my sentence.  “Yes.”

No worries.  I could do that.  That’s all good.  Armed with a discounted copy of the Steve Jobs’ biography, I determinedly began losing track of time.

“Could we get more cashiers behind this register?!” was the first thing that brought me back from my trip.

It was a woman’s voice.  I turned around.

She was of a dignified age, with short hair bleached to the shade of being invisible.  What ever was exposed of her chest and arms was covered with age spots.  Her hands were manicured and clasping a Louis Vuitton wallet.  The woman was bejeweled so heavily, I could study her for the duration of my remaining time in that line:  A gold and diamond wedding ring, three other diamond rings on the other hand.  The Love Cartier bracelet (a.k.a. the Chastity Belt for America’s feminists).  A few tangled diamond tennis bracelets.  And all this — before I had a chance to study to her neck.

But it’s her face that deserved a double take.  Her lips, actually.  She was pressing them together after uttering her customer complaint and viciously staring at the skinny child manning the Nook counter, baffled by her request.  I briefly entertained a thought about the origins of her smile:  Was that the smile that earned her the family jewels now weighing down her slightly trembling hands?  Or were they a consequence of it?

Sensing my mind venturing out into its jaded ideas on this woman’s marriage, I immediately reined it in, and focused on the smirking face on the cover of my book.

There is a split, you see, in the mind of an immigrant:  ME — in US; then ME — outside of THEM (who are US, some of the time).  Or, is it a head trip of an artist straining her empathy against the people she means to portray well?

Hit the Road, Jack!

A heavy heart.  She believed it to be a condition of the true. 

“Not now…” her girlfriends in bad relationships pleaded, their faces looking like sad dogs or startled babies, right before they howl with grief.  “Maybe tomorrow, you can tell me the truth.  But not now.”

They were hurting, like so many:  An epidemic of the living.  She understood that.  But she always thought it was better to hit the road.

Her losses — there have been many.  Plenty of little defeats.  But maybe it was her father, who as she remembered always stood so very tall; maybe it was he who taught her to get up and hit the road, again and again, even if merely out of habit.

He himself had long been self-discounted to the camp of the defeated:  Those who got through a listless crawl of days that were mundane most of the time — at their best — and chaotic for the rest of the year.  (Once, he confessed that he preferred the chaotic ones; because at least then, he couldn’t ponder his way through them.)

He had stayed behind, in a country that she fled before she too joined the defeated.  Because she wanted so much more than survival.  Because she got sick in the lobbies of its office buildings, hospitals and dorms, all smelling alike — like chlorine and mildew — waiting and waiting for someone to come and get you, only to give you another dose shit.  Daily resignation to injustice just wasn’t enough:  She wanted to strive, to flourish; to chase ideals, like a cat does mirror reflections on the wall.  She wanted the truth; and she had hoped, for the world.  

So:  She hit the road.

But the heavy heart followed.  (She believed it to be a condition of the true.)

“Truth’s okay,” a wise woman once recommended.  “But you have to say it with a smile.  Otherwise, you’re all sharp edges.”

“Look!  A roach in your salad,” she said; then remembered the woman’s advice — and smiled.  Better?

Every night, when heading home, at the end of all that striving and flourishing — the hour of the heavy heart would rapidly descend.  Because she knew that in between the white walls (which her lease prohibited her from painting), there would be no distractions.  Only pondering.  Only the truth.  (Oh, is that why she always preferred to be in the midst of a love affair:  Because she could reach for the voices of her lovers like others reach for a midnight snack?  But then again, she never knew how to end it.  How to wait for the end.  So, she’d either found herself “in the midst” — or hitting the road.)

Sometimes, she’d take the longest routes home, through the unpredictable neighborhoods of her city that she was beginning to memorize by heart.  Her sometimes heavy heart.   

“How do you not get lost around here?” her mother, always the passenger, asked her every single time.

“I’d rather be fucking lost, trust me!” she responded; then remembered the woman’s advice — and smiled.

Some nights though, she just couldn’t bear it.  After all of her failed attempts to get lost, she’d return to the white walls; leave the bags in the kitchen, then turn right around and leave.  Oh how she wished to live in a city with tolerance for pedestrians!  Still:  She hit the road.

And so, she would drive through her city, over and over —  through it, around — hoping to discover a new street.  To get fucking lost.  She hated those “Dead End” signs — always so brutal and non-negotiable! — and preferred one-way streets.  Those ditches on the road — she kind of liked them:  They always jolted her to an awareness and justified a complaint.  She liked shortcuts, through alleys and parking lots, especially when it was unclear if she was heading the wrong way.  The poorly lit streets of immigrant neighborhoods thrilled her and she rolled down her windows:  to get a whiff of their contented survival.

She studied other drivers, most of whom always seemed unaware of their living behind the glass walls.  She hated being stuck behind trucks and buses, even though most forewarned her of making frequent stops and wide turns.  So she’d zoom around them.  Prii — always brought bad news.  (She liked calling them “Priuses” anyway.)  So, she’d go around those too, while shaking her head and avoiding eye contact with the owners.

When following police cars, she never knew if she was allowed to go faster than them; because truth be told, she rarely knew the speed limit.

“WATCH THE ROAD” their stickers recommended.  Not:  “WATCH THE SPEED”.

So, she’d speed around those as well.

“Ooh, gurl,” one night, a driver of a bus she had just passed, attempted to talk to her through his cracked window.  She looked over.  Very much the jolly type, he probably never suffered from a heavy heart.  He was grinning:  A happy wanderer.

“Come wit me?” he said with some sort of a mishmash of Caribbean accent and street talk.

“Okay,” she responded, surprising herself with the sudden lightness of her own heart.

“Meh say:  Come WIT me!”  The man was in the midst of a sermon.

“OKAY,” she laughed.  “Where are we going?”

“Whedeva ya want, gurl!”

She considered:  “India?”

“Let’s — go!”

“Now?”

“Yeh, gurl.”

“Don’t you have passengers?”  She looked back at the monstrosity she’d zoomed around:  No wonder it makes wide turns.

“Ya make me wanna pull dis ting ova’!”  He grinned at her, with not a hint of creepiness, just joy and admiration.

“Well.  Then, let’s hit the road,” she said.

Of course, at the green eye of the traffic light, she’d sped past him, and past the orange monstrosity he was lugging around town, with seeming contentment.  Straight home she went, for the white walls of her apartment which she was prohibited to paint.  And when she stood in the midst of her kitchen — alone with her heavy heart — she thought:

“This isn’t so bad,” — and reached for the fridge, at midnight.

And Dah-ling, Dah-ling: Stand By ME!

She was an angel.  She had to be.  Because she treaded by my side, in her suede moccasins, with such gentle awareness to cause the least amount of damage in her world, I thought:  What have we got here?

Beauty and oddity did not escape her attention, but neither earned any judgement, on her part.  There was something very ancient about her physique:  She could’ve been a descendant of Emily Dickinson or an anonymous lover on a canvas of Modigliani or Cezanne:  A brown girl with either melancholy or innocence (I couldn’t tell) powdering her skin with luminosity.  And every time, her humor took me by surprise; because she seemed so in love with truth, I didn’t think her capable of irony.  Or loss.

If ever I witness such an old soul, on the last round of its reincarnation, I drop all of my mundane nonsense.  And it’s surprisingly easy, every time:  Because those types make time lose its relevance.

“I gotta, I gotta” — doesn’t exist in their company.

Instead, it becomes:

“I am.  I am.”

And if I hang with those souls for long enough, I am soon granted an awe — at my own ability to slide through moments of time as if body-surfing:  I certainly know that there is a greater force behind it all, behind ME — stronger, older, much more relevant! — and that the only thing that I can do is:  Take it in, and ride it out.

Because the longer I live and the more I lose, my angels, the more accepting I become of the utter chaos of living.  Sure, there are certain guarantees in my established routines and standards of living; and each day, they give me points of reference, in time.  Because I, too, am often guilty of “I gotta, I gotta”.

Instead of:  “I am.  I am.”

But, oh, how well I know that if I were to pack-up my apartment, cancel my phone, get rid of my debt; cut all ties and torch all the bridges; if I were to walk out of this chaotic town without a single farewell — what would remain of me is mere memories by those whom I’ve accidentally happened to love.  But then, even those would eventually expire.  (I’ve seen it happen before, with lovers who’ve moved on, out of guilt or entitlement.)  I would be no more than a fading memory.

But the angel of the other day begs to differ.  It’s not her fault — but her very mission — to tell me that I have meant more than that; that even in the chaos of living, however organized, each action matters.  Each action, each person has consequences.  She herself needn’t worry about karma any more:  Her goodness is beyond all that shit.  But for the rest of us, karma begs to differ.  And it begs to better.

And so I was surprised the other day when she said, while staring her dusty moccasins:

“I can only meet him halfway, this time.  Otherwise, I’ll lose myself.”

She’s been telling me the story of her love, on the nth round of its reincarnation.  For years, she had loved this man, going out on a limb with her goodness, every single time.  She had been a friend to him, treading gently by his side, through every selfish tragedy and moment of self-doubt.  And when the rest of humanity seemed to forget his relevance, she would be the only one to remember him:  to make him matter.  But then:  He’d dismiss her again.

Recently, he’d come back around, asking for her time and friendship.  BUT ON WHAT TERMS?!  He needed a friend, he said.  He needed — her:  For she was the only one who really loved him, who “understood him” all along.

What a waste, I thought.  What a waste:  of youth, and goodness; and of love!  What selfish audacity, I thought, on behalf of that regular mortal.  What sense of entitlement!..

But then:  I remembered my own recently expired affair.  It had been my lover’s idea to end us.  Not the first time.  I’d survived many before him.  I was going to be alright.  But before I became aware of my mourning, I found myself in the midst of waiting.  Waiting for change:  A change of heart, a change of his mind.  A change of man.  And in the mean time, the man would check back on me:  for some assurances that I still loved him, that I was still on standby, no matter the distance he’d imposed between us.

Not the first time.  I had done that with others:  beholding for them, for years; forgiving them fully at every dismissal, then accepting them unconditionally at every reunion.  I would continue living my life, treading it carefully, while causing the least amount of damage, in my world.  But if an ex couldn’t bear the chaos of his living, he was always welcomed back.

Suddenly, I felt infuriated, for the sake of my kind:  Women with forgiveness and goodness enough to make-up for our men’s lack.  Women with uncompromisable karma, so rare, it makes us irreplaceable.  Old souls who can always change a man, and sometimes, his mind.  Angels who practice unconditional love and forgiveness to make time irrelevant, but lives — matter:  

Isn’t time for each angel to claim her time back?  Surely, there must be better things and worthier causes to give that time to!  Surely, all this waiting around was contradicting the very nature of our being:  holding us back from living our own existences — on the last round of reincarnation — in the moment, while making us behold for the past.  Surely, this had to end!

That evening, it ended for me, my angels.  I finally accepted my lover’s decision to depart.  I got dismissed.  I cut all ties and torched all the bridges.  And I left, treading carefully and causing the least amount of damage — to myself — and settled on being a mere memory, but not a returning one.