Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Better Safe Than Sorrier

But maybe, after all, justice was meant to sound like silence:  Not a marathon of mauled over words she had previously thought were required for forgiveness, which, in the end, left her exhausted; her throat — dehydrated.  Sarah despised feeling like that.  Shouldn’t forgiveness be a higher ground, an emotion that belonged to the Magnanimous and the Wise?  the, god bless them, Non-Mundane?  Instead, she watched herself become a woman with a sloppy face, like a washed-up actress on the screen of a decade-long soap opera; and she paced her apartment, with the cell phone sweating against her ear (surely causing her cancer later in life!); and she worked laboriously — on forgiveness:  Holding up each word in front of her torso, measuring it at the shoulder seams.  Are the sleeves too long?  Does it make her look fat?  Is there anything — left to be done?

And neither did this newly discovered sound of justice resemble the forced catharsis she chased in sessions with her shrink.  Where had she learned to expect these miraculous results?  Must’ve been on another TV show, somewhat better written for a channel on which the actors were allowed to swear; and they could cry unattractively, while spraying spit and snot.  (Later on, in interviews, these same actors would call the scenes “career defining”, while Sarah found them merely mocking humanity.  Maybe, the problem was she was easily bored.  Or, maybe, she understood too much.)

Sarah’s shrink was a poised woman who wore clothes from the manikins of Gap and Banana Republic — clothes that on Sarah always sat awkwardly and sadly, and made her apologize, for something, as she returned the silly plastic hangers to the changing-room girls:  “Sorry…”; the poised woman who appeared immune from being shocked by the atrocities Sarah’s mother had interfiled into her life, like thin jackets of DVD’s with splatter horrors,  hidden in a heart surgeon’s movie collection.

Nifty!  

The word one would never use in Sarah’s own obituary was made for the lives of women like her PsyD.  (Was the “p” silent, in that?  She’d assumed that, but was embarrassed to ask.  So, she began writing “Date with Sid” in her calendar, every Tuesday, even though the shrink’s name was Miranda.  Miranda Bloom comma Sid.)  Her Sid’s world — was nifty.  Nifty piles of magazines in a fan formation of a peacock’s tail.  Nifty little plastic plants, never wilting, lining the dust-less bookshelves with thick or thin books, always dense, whose reading made Sarah feel sleepy.  Or apologetic.  Even the clean-lined IKEA furniture — with unforgiving, hard surfaces and un-homey fabric patterns never to be found in her mother’s hysterical universe of tchotchkes — was nifty.

Sarah, unlike her Sid, could never be nifty.  She tried, coming back for another round of awkward mirror reflections in dressing rooms of Banana Republic.  But somehow, it just wouldn’t fit.  Any of it.  The store’s white lighting buzzed above and revealed Sarah’s old pockmarks from her 5th grade measles that her mother had decided to treat with holy water and sage.  Embarrassed, Sarah would place the nifty cloths over a pile of colorful and bejeweled women’s underwear while avoiding the bored and slightly inquisitive stares of the salesgirls (“Sorry…”); and she’d swear to never come back.

But she would.  After seeing another nifty woman laughing into the pinstriped bicep of a handsome man, on West End Avenue, she would attempt to shop for that life again, as if she hadn’t learned the lesson.  The same way she hadn’t learned the lesson with Doug — a tenured professor of poetry on an epic journey of trying to leave his wife.  She continued to come back to him.  Maybe this time.  They would carry on, until neither could recall whose turn it was to leave; who was doing the staying, the grasping, the scorning; and who would be in charge of forgiving.

“What do you want, ideally, from your life with Doug?” the shrink, looking particularly nifty, paced her words as Sarah thumbed the thinning threads of her sweater sleeves.  She often wore her clothes to tatters, until the freckles of rolled lint began crowding her armpits and crotch; and she would be, again, embarrassed.

“Sorry?”

She didn’t expect the question.  Between the two of them, Doug was the one with the plan.  She — was the woman with none.  She had met him at the library where she’d interned one summer, having purchased herself a Liberal Arts education that should’ve guaranteed her a teaching career, had Sarah really wanted one.  Except that she didn’t.  Hadn’t.  She hadn’t thought it through, while in college; and she landed in the library; landed with an intention to leave, eventually — like those grayish-white swans that landed in her Ukrainian birth village one autumn; but miscalculated, stayed too long and froze during the first drop of the temperatures.

She had been following her fragmented thoughts about her Sid’s sexuality, when the question got hung in the air, each word — an ornament of paper-thin glass:

“What do you__want?__Ideally.__From your life__with Doug?”

“I wonder if she dates women?” Sarah had been thinking, while thumbing her sweater, about the Sid, based on the mere fact that the woman wore primarily flat shoes.  Sarah stopped, having been caught red-handed.  Red-thumbed.

She, of course, would never say this out loud.  She — “of course!” — was much worldlier than that!  But Sarah was also an immigrant’s daughter, not born in this country.  (Which, to most, had made her worldly enough, but never exotic.  “Exotic” belonged to girls from the countries that Americans favored for tourism: the tan and taut creatures from escapist lifestyles, and from the irresponsible summer flings of middle-aged men, bored in their marriages.)  The dull shards of her mother’s old-fashioned prejudice still appeared in situations of ultra-Westernized pathos.  Like this one:  Sarah, on a very hard couch (surely earning herself cancer, later in life!); complaining, coming down hard, then taking cover from her shame in a numb silence of a spoiled brat; then, seeking refuge in a blunt stereotype with which her mother broke down the world.

No matter how hard she tried — to wring her hands, like that actress with the sloppy face — her shrink appeared unimpressed.  Some of Sarah’s college classmates had spoken of how easily they gained alliances with their Sids.  She, however, seemed incompetent at manipulation.  Sarah was smart but not that smart.  (Pretty, but not “exotic”.)  And she wondered if her shrink was now judging her for the extramarital affair with Doug.  (It was “extramarital” for Doug, not for Sarah.  Sarah was just an outside participant, far from being an outside force.  A third wheel, along for the ride, however crippled.  “The woman with none.”)

Could it be the case that her shrink was now appalled and no longer impartial?  Anything you say__or do__can__and will be__held against you?

Sarah never got the warning — from Miranda, the Sid.

Most of her teenage years, she had spend sorting out the world.  The one of her mother’s — which she was obliged to automatically respect — confused her with its invasive familiarity; and she found herself pretending to not understand the cashiers at the Ukrainian deli, who attempted to speak to her in Russian.  Somehow, they all knew her, even though their faces appeared no more familiar than the color-enhanced photographs of the folk dancers in the Times Travel Section, on Kiev.  But they knew her:  her name, her marital status (or the lack of one) and occupation.  Or, they knew her mother.  But did that at all justify their asking for her phone number so that they could fix her up “with a nice Russian boy” (which most of the time meant some young alcoholic heir of a local mechanic, who wore rhinestoned jeans and spent his inheritance on bottle services all over town)?

The new world — again, chosen by her mother who left the old country with five-year-old Sarah, in the name of a better life — that world seemed to be fast-talking and brash, filled with people who suffered from fashionable dis-eases, like “depression” and “ADD”; inflamed “sciaticas” and bored souls.  The new world seemed allergic to sentiment.  Even sex wasn’t safe here; and after her first “mature” (as her mother called it) experience, Sarah began to notice that sex came with shame.  The smarter girls (often “exotic”) used it to negotiate free deals.  Free meals.  The dependent ones confused it for love, always making, forcing something out of it.  And Sarah pitied the men who had been trained to get it, but not know what to do with it, afterward.  So, it would sit — a pulsating blur in one’s living-room, underneath the soft light, waiting for the lovers to go through with it.

“You, Amerikan vemen,” her mother would say, in her reckless English, whenever she lectured the American womanhood in her daughter.  “You dan’t know vat you vant.”

On her ride home on the A-train, Sarah had made a hobby out of watching the two cultures collide on the faces of Russian teenagers heading to Coney Island, late in the evening.  She could always pick them out of a crowd:  Their Western fashion looked slightly misfitted (far from nifty, and somehow wrong:  “Sorry…”).  And the words — “Whack!”, “Sick!”, “Fo’ sho’!” — came out unaccented phonetically, but their cadence was off.  Something was off, always, in the immigrant world; but because she couldn’t name it, perfectly, precisely, to her American contemporaries, Sarah often found herself misunderstood.  And silent.

“What’s your beef with yo’ mama, anyway, man?”  J.C. always called her “man”.  He was an artist living in Brooklyn Heights, and yes, they had tried sleeping together once.  J.C. stopped it from happening though, when Sarah’s toes got tangled up in his socks while she tried to pull them off with her feet.  (There were many ways to make sex feel pathetic.  But a naked lover in white tube-socks — was the surest.)

“I wanna respect you, man…” he said looking down at Sarah from a propped-up pillow while she paved a trail of dry kisses in between his breasts and wondered about a sexier way to get rid of a curly hair, stuck in the back of her tongue.  There was no such a way.  So, she hooked her index finger, jammed it inside her mouth and began fishing for it.

By then, J.C. was already spewing out his theories on sexual politics.  Sarah nearly gagged.  He was first generation American born, from South America (so, did that even count?).  She had assumed, at the time, that J.C. knew something she didn’t; so, she stopped.  In those moments, it would’ve been less awkward — or less sad — to be one of those outspoken, brave American girls, with wild hair, layers of hippie jewelry and bright red lipstick, who had ready ideas on sexual liberation of women and mysterious comebacks via the ironic lyrics of Dylan or Ginsberg.  Sarah was smart, but not that smart.  Not nifty.  Not “exotic”.

That night, she took the subway home, fishing for the curly hair in the back of her throat, in an empty train car.  What was the big deal, she wondered.  And why was it that men could so easily justify speaking on behalf of her conscience, her desires?

Doug had done it to her, for years:  choosing for her from the menus of fancy restaurants.  Over the years, their eateries would change, going from the dimly lit expensive places to the crowded diners with hairy waiters who emerged from the kitchen with stained pots of coffee.  Doug had been on an epic journey to leave his wife.  But maybe, Sarah just wasn’t enough of a reason.

Sorry…

Sarah leaned her forehead against the cold glass of the sliding doors and cried, quietly, finger hooking at the back of her throat.

(To Be Continued.)

“May You Build a Ladder to the Stars — And Climb on Every Rung…”

I promised to pick her up from school, and unlike all of my own commitments, this one made my heart beat faster.  I was hyperaware of time the entire day; thinking, daydreaming about the nearing hour, fearing its passing:  For I could not, for the life of me, be late!

I mean I’ve seen that happen before, in films:  flustered, hysterical mothers, with messy hairstyles and tired faces, running (sometimes, in heels) toward their disappointed children.  Most of the time, the message of the film was about absentminded motherhood:  Motherhood of the unlucky.  It happened to women in unhappy marriages, with broken dreams.  There was always a justification to all human faults, I’ve learned.  Still, in those films about bad motherhood, I was always more interested in the faces of their children:  with their tearful vulnerability before they would be hardened by continuous disappointment.

“Ma-ahm!” they would whine, pulling away from the hysterical woman’s overcompensating tugging, and hugging, and nagging.  Or, there would be an indifference between them; and it would hang inside their car until someone threw a resentful glance through the rear-view mirror.

Honestly, I didn’t care that much about my reputation:  Her parents would have been able to forgive me if I failed the task; and I could handle all the passive-aggressive remarks by the schoolmasters.  But what I didn’t want to confront — for the life of me! — is the child’s disappointment.  She was a kid — an innocent, still; and even though she wasn’t my own, I had no business letting her down.

I could tell by the density of the traffic that I was near her school zone.  Fancy SUV’s with tinted windows compacted the narrow residential streets.  They double-parked and lingered, with zero consideration for the rest of us stuck behind, and with their break lights flipping us off in our faces.  Staring at the zero on my speedometer, I felt my temper — and heartbeat — rising:

“Why are we sitting here?!”  I swore, wishing I could see the faces of the incompetent creatures behind the wheels of their giant cars.  I wanted to honk and speed around them.  But then, I would remember:  The streets were filled with children, and the loss of my self-awareness could cost a price I was never willing to learn — for the life of me!

Fine!  I backed out, pulled into another side street, parallel parked.  I got out:

“Shit!” I realized my passenger side was buried in the bushes.  So, I got back in, pulled forward.  “Phew.  Now, she’ll be able to get in!”

My heart was still racing:  I was fifteen minutes early; but I couldn’t, for the life of me, be late!

So, I started speed-walking.  Having caught up to the fancy SUV’s, still lingering in their spots, I could see the flustered faces of tired mothers — ON THEIR FUCKING CELLPHONES!  A few times, I saw small children bolted into the back seats while the women continued to gab and block the traffic behind them.

I sped up:  What if she got out early?  I could not, for the life of me, be late!

When I saw her school from the corner diagonally away, I began looking out for her immediately:  the familiar strawberry chin and forever curious black eyes that seem to yank the dial of my heart’s speedometer by some invisible strings.  The crossing guard in an orange vest was sitting in a director’s chair on the corner, and she was laughing with one of the awaiting dads.  At the sight of her, I felt slightly more relaxed:  What a face!  What a soul!  She seemed absolutely wonderful.

A woman with a wrinkly face and droopy bags under her eyes shot me an icy stare in the middle of the road.  She was speaking to her child — an arian boy with golden locks.  But as I got closer, she stopped talking and bent her pretty mouth downward.  I smiled:  How else could I apologize for the nearness of my youth?  When the two of them reached the other side of the road, the woman resumed speaking.  Yep:  Russian.  And she spoke of judging me.

The front lawn was already overpopulated by tiny creatures.  The tops of their heads, of multiple colors, peaked out like a field full of mushrooms.  Not a single one seemed to be sitting still.

Two brown boys were leaping over benches and flowerbed fences, and for a moment I studied the rules of their imaginary warfare.  One of them tumbled down, got up, crouched down to study the scrape on his knees; but then resumed the battle:  Warriors don’t cry, no matter how little!

“M’am!  You have to move!” another crossing guard raised her voice behind my back.

I looked over:  Shit, did I fuck up already?  In the company of these tired mothers, I feared to be obvious in my lack of expertise.  So, I had hidden myself under a tree with protruding roots (not that it saved me from a few more icy looks from the bypassing women).

“M’AM!” the guard was pissed off by now.  She was knocking on the tinted window of a white Land Rover.  From where I stood, elevated by one of the roots, I could see a naked elbow of a woman holding an iPhone inside, with her manicured hand.  Immediately to the right of her double-parked vehicle, I could see the neon red of “NO PARKING”.

Hesitantly, the Land Rover began pulling away.  As the crossing guard turned her tired face at me, I smiled sheepishly:  Could she see my being a total fraud?  In response, she pressed her lips tighter and shook her head.

“People…” she seemed to be saying.

I watched a tiny girl with my complexion skip unevenly, with no apparent rhythm, next to her slowly walking grandmother.  A beautiful boy holding a basketball walked upright behind his father who was texting on his BlackBerry, non-stop.  A luminous woman patted her daughter’s head as the little one was telling about her destiny earlier predicted in the game of M.A.S.H.

I began recognizing the classmates whose names I’ve heard in so many stories.  My heart began racing:  Have I missed her?  Am I standing by the wrong gate?

“M’AM!  YOU HAVE TO MOVE!” the crossing guard was pissed off again.

Behind my back, I saw a giant Lexus packed at the curb with the “NO PARKING” sign.  A disgruntled old woman with a boyish haircut was standing outside of it, with her hand holding the car clicker up in the air.

“Where am I supposed to go?” she said, through her clenched teeth.  “I’m running late!”

I sensed myself shooting the woman an icy stare:  A look I quickly censored when I noticed the familiar strawberry chin marching toward me across the lawn.

She had seen me first.  I felt my heartbeat speed up again.

I didn’t fail the task, this time!  I didn’t let her down!

And the day was young and suddenly reinvigorated:  with endless adventures and her trust the loss of which I could NOT — for the life of me! — afford.

“And It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard: And It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall!”

It was her first fall in LA-LA.

“What is — this place, out here?” she thought, when she noticed that beauty wasn’t throwing itself, suicidally, into her face.  Or, humanity, for that matter.

“May I, at least, have some humanity, around here?”

On those first mornings when she woke up in soaked sheets, she would slide open the windows to air-out her bedroom.  But it made no difference.  The heat would keep hanging at the ceiling of her top floor apartment — much more spacious than the one she dwelled in, back in New York.  And by the end of the day, its molecules smelled of smog — and of her own sweat.

And the sweat was different here, too.  In the heat of August that made New Yorkers flee the City, she loved to venture out into the streets, still just as crowded, but mostly with baffled tourists — not locals — who would jump out of her way, startled by her outraged footsteps.  She would walk around for hours, feeling the unmistakable humidity that made the City smell like rotten garbage and, yes, human sweat.  And while she stood on subway platforms, she could feel the drops of her own perspiration slide slowly from her ass cheeks to the back of her knees, under her long skirts.  She felt the whiff of sex, hers and others’:  And it promised — more life.

There seemed to be some unexpected romance in those days:  For the first time, she finally felt like she was belonging.  But how could she belong in a place she was leaving, so soon?

The one-way ticket already had been bought by her mother, who upon hearing the news of the divorce, put away her dramatics and got stoic, for a change:

“You’re coming to California,” motha said over the phone.

“You make me sound like a folk song,” she thought, in response.  Yet, she obeyed. 

It was the wisdom of the women of her motha’s clan — to never plead or grovel for a man to change his mind.

She was going to California.

There would be plenty of chaos upon her landing:  Finding an apartment seemed easier; for there always seemed to be plenty of departing who packed up their shit into double-parked U-Halls, sweating and swearing at the city’s expense.  But the city’s leasers seemed indecisive and slow.

“Everyone keeps acting as if they’ve got better choices, out here,” she told her best friend in New York.  “Or, they just namedrop.”

Like the little man with glistening eyes who, despite being bound to a wheel-chair, managed to lurk over her when interviewing her for a roommate position.  On his living-room wall, she could see a framed, autographed poster of a recently released indie flick that was pretty well reviewed in The Times, that summer.

“I produced that,” the little man said, reminding her of one those exotic birds on the Discovery Channel that puff themselves up into alien shapes — just to get some tail.  From under the smeared lenses of his glasses, his narrow eyes were sliding up and down her body.  His face was glistening with sweat.  She got up, feeling like she needed a shower at the closest motel she could find, on Sunset Boulevard.

“Well, what do you think?” the little man wheeled after her, to the door, lurking.  “I could make you a star!”

She walked out.

“Really?” her best friend said calmly.  “Do they actually say things like that, out there?”

And then, there was the job search, in which every lobby looked like a waiting room for an audition or a cattle call.  And no one else seemed to be breaking a sweat, after driving in the apocalyptic-degree heat.

“We aren’t making any decisions right now,” the interviewers kept saying.  “But we’ll keep your resume on file.”

“Then, why did you waste my time?” she actually said to a group of young entrepreneurs who looked like the cast of Entourage and, after sliding their eyes up and down her body, asked her to tell them “something they couldn’t have known — by looking at her”.  (She told them she was good at harakiri.)

She walked out, got back into her car and wasted more time.  The heat outside was still insatiable!  And in the midst of it, everyone was always up for a hike.  Or “a coffee date, sometime”.

The rain would finally come by the end of October.  And it wouldn’t stop.

The roads would get shiny at first, and for the first time, since landing, she would smell the nearing of another season — not of her own sweat.  The nights would get cold, and she would insist on walking, to any outside cafe, on Sunset Boulevard, and getting soaked. It was the first time she would cry the tears worthy of the women of her motha’s clan:  They weren’t filled with self-pity anymore, but with rage.  And rage — was always better, for survival.

 

Finally, there would be a callback for a maitre d’ position at some pretentious overpriced restaurant, on the West Side, with a diva-chef in the kitchen.  She would swim in her motha’s decade-old clunker to other side of the city.  Driving in the middle lane seemed safer, but some maniac in a German car would always honk and zoom past her, on the right, and give her car a full rinse with the filthy water from the gutters.

“You’re terribly overqualified,” the general manager with a bulldog’s jaw would tell her, at the end, after the two-hour drive.

She got up and tried to make it to the door without breaking down into another outraged tear shed.  Her scuffed shoes made a chomping sound:  Her feet were soaked.  So was her hair.

He would follow her, to the door:

“We’ll keep your resume on file though,” he’d say.

“Please, don’t!” she actually said.

Because it was the wisdom of the women of her motha’s clan to never plead for a man to change his mind.

She walked out.

“The Times We Knew — Who Would Remember Better Than You?”

I prefer writing about strangers.  It’s easier, I think.  

Like the creature of Gisele’s height but Kat Dennings’ build who walked into the mysteriously lit coffee shop yesternight and made me lose track of my thoughts.  She wore a pair of tight, dark blue jeans (which made her sound like a song); and red patent leather high heels.  Her tailored black shirt was unbuttoned on top, generously revealing her lace-bound breasts.  And by the time I slid my gaze up to her exotic face, I swear I began feeling a bit hazy-headed.

“Jeez!” my male companion said over a cup of his Moroccan Mint hot tea, as if blowing his breath over the steaming surface.  Perhaps, he was blushing; but I hadn’t looked at his face for seemingly a million minutes by then.

“Mazel tov!” I mumbled, followed the creature with my eyes.  Then, once she plopped down into the aged couch next to us, I concluded with a “Damn!” — for emphasis.

Her face.  I didn’t really see her face:  The rest of her upstaged it.

But in a story — any story in which she would dictate her own reappearance — I would give her the face of an angel, if angels were born on the coasts of Brazil or India.

Certainly, she would have droopy eyelids with velvety eyelashes, best worn by those smart girls who are always either in the midst of a compassionate tear or a self-deprecating prank.  I would give her a well-carved nose, but on the larger side.  It would be Roman-esque, resonant of the young Sophia Loren.  And it would juxtapose well in relation to her chin which was in the shape of an Italian prune plum.

The lips…  I normally don’t pay attention to the lips.  I just know that most of the time, they complete a  woman’s face perfectly.  Sometimes, the mouth is worth mentioning, but I must see it in action first.  It’s the manner and the breath with which the mouth makes out words that gets my attention.  But by that point, I’m most likely so stricken by the girl’s smarts, that again, I don’t pay attention to the lips.

Yesternight, I didn’t really see her face, but it is her face that would guide me into the fiction of her.  Into the fantasy.

I prefer writing about strangers.  Because it’s easier, I think.

Like when, the other night, I stood in line behind a tall boy who wore a white tee and a pair of slim fit, ripped jeans, he could’ve easily existed — in someone else’s fiction.  But then, his shoes caught my attention:  They were black, lace-up boots with missing laces.  Scuffed and dusty, as if he had just walked miles through sand and perseverance to get here, they reminded me of a pair I once photographed up in the desert.  Those other boots were parked outside a cabin inhabited by a group of outcast artists, and a blue-eyed boy with a Siberian husky.  The boy and I wouldn’t sleep that night; and when the dawn illuminated miles and miles of sand ahead, he peeled on those same boots and rode away on his motorcycle.  The blue-eyed husky would follow him, and I would wish I had memorized his face a little bit better.

The other night, the bottoms of the boy’s ripped jeans where tucked inside each boot, but somehow I knew that despite the nonchalant appearance, it took some careful thought and manipulation to get the job done.  I slid my eyes up his long legs, past the aesthetically, half-tucked tee, and along the shapely back.  I didn’t really see his face, but in a story — any story in which he would dictate his own reappearance — he would have a beauty mark above his lips.  And he would be blue-eyed, of course.

Yes, I prefer writing about strangers.  Because it’s easier, I think.

Like the calm old woman in a burgundy housedress and slippers that reminded me of my grandmother’s pace, the other day:  I saw her walking a girl child, up a tiny hill in Griffith park.  It was overcast, and the fog of the marine layer refused to burn off.  The two of them walked slowly, and I could tell by the curvature of the woman’s spine — over and above the child — that she was quiet and listening to the stories made out by the little mouth.  And so, she reminded me of my grandmother’s pace.

The kiddo wore a gray mouse outfit:  with ears, and a tail; onesie feet and all.  And by the way she walked, with more assurance than the adult in her company, as if leading the way; and by the way she swayed her tiny right hand to punctuate her stories; and by the way she gripped her grandmother’s index finger with the other — she made my heart moan with memories.

I didn’t see the child’s face.  Neither did I see that of the grandmother. 

But in my story — any story in which they would dictate their own reappearance — I bet they would have the details of the face I see in my mirrors.

Because I tend to memorize the faces of my loves with my heart.  And I prefer writing about strangers.  It’s easier, I think, for my empathy to speak — and for my loves to dictate their own reappearance. 

“When You Got Nothing — You Got Nothing To Lose.”

I was studying the face of a good man the other night…

“You jump to conclusions too fast,” my father would have said had I told him this story.  “Too trusting — that’s your problem.”

Dad is fearful, especially as a parent; and I can’t really judge the guy for that.  History has played a hideous prank on his country and his life, and it continues treating him and his people as dispensable.  Surely, there cannot be a bigger heartbreak than that.  There cannot be a bigger absurdity.  And I can’t really blame the poor guy caught in the midst of a Kafka play.  

So, I forgive him for his limitations, his shortcomings, his imposing fearfulness.  Instead, I stretch the boundaries of my unconditional love — of my compassion — and I choose to think of him as a good man.

My father — is a good, good man.

But I would never tell him this story:

I was studying the face of a good man the other night.  I barely knew him, but not once had I wondered whether he had made his share of mistakes in life, his share of missteps.  I suppose I was certain he had.  But they mattered little in that moment.

Because I chose to think of him as a good, good man.

(I AM too trusting — that’s my problem.)

And I listened.

He spoke to me of his travels, of leaving his doubts, vanity and fears behind; and biking across the country with nothing but a backpack and a camera.

He told me about the perseverance of the body if only one could control the mind.  In survival, he said, there was a chronic juxtaposition of reflexes versus fragility.  And when confronting the most basic needs, there was a balance and a great humility.

And there was beauty in the defeat of despair with one’s courage, in the elation of that success; and in the overall simplicity of living.

“What a good man!” I thought.  “What a good, good man!”

The road threw him for a loop a number of times, but he told me about the clarity of the mind if one was traveling light.

“It’s a good thing I hit the road without any expectations,” he told me.

It made sense.

He spoke about having no possessions to weight down his choices and no expectations.  Neither were there any grudges or resentments against humanity — others’ or his own.  His journey was not a conquest:  Not a thing dictated by the ego.  So, he traveled with a lesser emotional baggage, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.

His only responsibility on the road — was his family.  He would have been a lot more reckless, it seemed, had it not been for the nightly on-line messages that he promised to send their way.  And so he would.  No matter the difficulties of the day, no matter the survivals and the defeats, the despair and the courage, he would telegraph his experiences home.  And these letters — his road journals, the confessions of a transcendent mind — were the only threads leading back to the people he loved.

(I chuckled.  I would never tell my father this story:  He’d find me too trusting.  That’s my problem.)

“What made you do this thing in the first place?” I asked.

The humble badass smiled at me as if he could read the answer on my face — my good, good face — and he said:

“Because the one thing I know — is that I cannot stop knowing.”

And so, I was studying the face of a good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

My life — was not the life of my father:  I had bigger control over my circumstances; enough control to allow myself the occasional hubris of assuming that I was a person of consequence.  I could make choices, you see.  Unlike my father — my good, good father — I could choose my situations, or even change them.  And I had the luxury of freedom:  to pursue my life’s ambitions and to continue “knowing”; to continue learning.

Somehow, I had made the choice — to be good, in life.  There had been plenty of situations that tested my ethics before.  Yet even in defeat, in shame, in pain, I could always return to the track of goodness.  I could always see my way back to redemption.  Because even though my life was not my father’s, my ethics — were indeed his.

And my father — was always a good, good man.

And so, I was studying the face of a good, good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

“But I just can’t forgive myself,” my father had confessed a number of times.  “That’s my problem.”

Alas:  That was the main difference between my father’s character and my own.  I always chose to travel lightly, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.  I chose to have the power of self-forgiveness.   And I could always see my way back to redemption.

“She Wears an Egyptian Ring That Sparkles Before She Speaks…”

“What are your fantasies?” a message came in last night, and it lullabied me with my waking dreams shortly before the other kind would take over.

I sorted through the collection in my mind, considered each dream, lifting it up against the nightlight; twirled it, until every stone sparkled with light; and I measured each one against my skin like a pair of long, mysterious, gypsy earrings.

I selected a few:

“Being naked on a beach in Greece.  Ditto in Barcelona — but with a lover,” I responded.

There are so many places teasing me with their exotic promises.  But mostly, I am interested in chasing just another variety of peace.  I am not really after a particular slowness of time, but a serenity that comes with knowing that I have finally surrendered.

Surrendered to what?

To stubborn kindness no matter how difficult it may initially be, with a stranger; or with a new lover.  To the gentle nature of my motherhood.  To the esteem of knowing that I have found, pursued and succeeded in my calling.  Or, at least, that I’ve given it all — my best.

Yes!  That’s it!  That I have given it my all — my very best.  And that I have loved, always and selflessly.

Last night, I rummaged for a bit longer, found another dream I hadn’t examined in while, dusted it off with my breath and lifted it above my pillow.  Lazily, the teardrops of amethyst-purple captured the light with their prisms, divided it and bounced it back at me.  It made me calm, with possibility.

“Sitting around a bonfire with gypsy bards,” I sent off another message to my interviewer.  “Then, learning to ride their horses, at sunrise.”

It would be like a magnanimous homecoming, and I swore I could smell the morning dew as I would ride through the fields of another place with its exotic promises, in laughing company of my people.

“What about your sexual fantasies?” the voice on the other end of town cut through the city’s diameter with an instantaneous message.

Oh.  I wasn’t even thinking about that.  Certainly, there would be love in every one of these adventures.  There would have to be!  Because I had always loved — and selflessly!  And I had assumed that to my interviewer, my vision was just as clear.

Still, I opened another compartment of my dreams’ jewelry box and looked inside.  I haven’t rummaged through this one in a while.  The precious stones caught the light and sparkled lazily.  Which one?  Which one?

“Oh, my!” I sent off another message across town.  “I don’t even know where to start.”

It used to be a better hobby of mine, in youth.  With every new love looking over my shoulder, I would visit this increasing collection of my fantasies, dust them off with my breath and twirl them, above us and in between.

“How about this one?” I would look at my beloved’s face through the polished surface of a giant garnet or a convoluted insides of an amber.  His face would illuminate with the colors of passion and hunger.

“Yes!  I’d like to try that!” he’d say.

And so:  We would.

And it would be so liberating to share a dream, to discover each other through the intimacy of our secret desires.  Revealing my fantasies would arouse me with trepidations, especially if their exploration unveiled the braver sides of me.  If (or when) my lovers reluctantly reveled their own secrets, I would be open-minded and humbled.  And I would honor them, with the same preciousness my lovers had shown me.

Because I had loved, always — and selflessly!  And I had always given it my all — my very best!

At the end of every affair, the secret would remain safe with me.  I wouldn’t throw it across the room in an argument with the departing.  I wouldn’t flaunt it in front of the lovers that followed.  Instead, I would lock it up, in a compartment with my own fantasies; and I would unlock them only when missing that old love, or when seeking inspiration, with a new one.

Last night, I stared at the lifted cover and the pile of stones full of stories.  But in that pile of stories, I seemed unable to find what I was looking for.

“I think they’ve changed,” I confided in my witness.  It surprised me that in a box full of treasures, there was no angle or a cut, no shade, no sparkle, no formerly adored setting that taunted me with a desire to explore it:  to lift it up against the nightlight and let it lullaby me to sleep shortly before the other kind of dreams found its way.

“Maybe, I’m not ready yet,” I thought to myself.

But that didn’t sound true at all.

“I think — I have changed,” I confessed to my interviewer.

My witness beheld:

“How?”

“I think, my only fantasy now — is the goodness of my men.”

The confession echoed with so much truth and self-awareness, I immediately locked down the lid to my secrets.  This was something new, something clear — something very precious.  Because I have loved, always — and selflessly…

Because I have always given it my all — my very best! — I was finally willing to ask for it, in return.  I was ready for my goodness to come back to me, after being reflected through the prisms of my lovers’ decency.

My main fantasy was found in a new desire to be partnered with someone worthy of my goodness — someone good, on his own terms.

Last night, the other kind of dreams would take over shortly.  But this time around, there would be no nightmares at all.

“Blame It On: A Simple Twist of Fate.”

She sat on her futon, bare-breasted, with her strong brown legs stretched out before my face; and they clasped the edge of the antique coffee table with her kitty-cat paws — each nail perfectly polished with the color of the Dead Sea; and she read to me, something about angels.

Where the fuck did she come from?  

I knew the details, of course; the original coordinates.  Something about a disheveled family.  Occasionally, she, no longer impressed with herself, would mention the routes she’d taken — “Been there,” — the detours dictated by the whims of her heart.

She would learn to never follow the lead of a man — only of her dreams.

“At least, those — are worth the heartbreak.”

But even with all those words in between us — the words which she did not take seriously because she was no longer impressed, with herself — I could NOT have known the many distances she had gone, in order to arrive.

But where the fuck did she come from?

Never before had I seen a girl who could sit in her brown skin so calmly, wearing nothing but shivers.

Which would make me get up, close the window, fetch her a blanket.

“I’m fine,” she’d wave it off, of course.  For she had gone some very long distances, and she would learn to never follow the lead of a man.

And it surprised me that she could be so mellow while stripped, wearing nothing but shivers over her skin.  Most women would freak out with sudden timidness and cover-up their glorious breasts with silly arm gestures.  The way their breasts would spill out over their forearms or in between their fingers would still be enough to make me want to conquer my fears, in their name:  To make me want to be a man.

She, however, was beyond getting in her own way.  For she gone some long distances — in order to arrive.

“It’s bad enough,” she’d joke, “that I’ve got this brain of mine!”

She was always in on the joke of herself.

But really:  What the fuck did she come from?  And how in the world — was she happening?!

With an erect spine of a disciplined dancer, she had been sitting up, watching me get dressed.  I wondered:  Would she write me into her poetry in the morning?  Would I make it into her stories?  (Dear god!  I always get in my own way!)

On top of her knees that were fuzzy with shivers, she was holding an open book of poetry.  I had just picked it up for her, from a bookstore where she was always finding something to read, about angels.  By now, we had shared many books — and plenty of poetry.  And we would share even more had it not been for one annoying habit of hers:  of always reading the very first and the very last sentence before committing to the rest of the text.

“It’s the perfect test — of everything,” she’d always joke.  So impatient — but always in on the joke of herself.

I’d get irritated, at first:  “I don’t ever want to know the ending!”

But she would already be ahead of me, with her charm and that angelic face.

“Where the fuck did you come from?” I said to her last night, while she sat comfortably in her brown skin.  I wanted to think of myself as poignant, or ironic at least.  I reached out to move her hair out of the way.

Her hair!  I had never seen it this long before.  She would normally lose her patience and chop it off, coming back over the threshold of my house while looking like some French actress, with an angelic face.  And it would fling above me, and it would sway, in passion — that glorious wing of hers! — and I would forget to say a prayer to my memory:

Please, please, please hold on to her!  Just this way:  Riding above me, long beyond my comprehension.  Taunting with her riddles and poetry, never meant to be captured.  Always:  Above!

But instead, I would trip out:  There would be so much of her!  So much to remember.  And I would try to say something poignant, or ironic, at least.  And I would ruin it, of course.  (By god!  I always get in the my own way!)

Her hair!  Last night, it was heavy with sweat and the grime of the city.  I could smell other beings on her, because they would always want a piece of that compassion.  They were entitled to it — that wretched lot of conflicted parasites! — and they would pull her down, down, down with them, by that very same mane of hers.

To keep it out of her face, she would yank her hair back into a bun — with an erect spine and a confident hand of a disciplined dancer.  Or, she would flip it, side to side, as she did last night; and it would stream down — that glorious wing of hers! — and in its waves and long centimeters, I could see the distances she had gone.

But:  Where?!  Where the fuck did she come from?  And how in the world was she happening — to me?!

I didn’t know.  I couldn’t have known the distances she had gone — in order to arrive.  I only knew the privilege of her time and poetry; and instead of getting in the way of myself, this time around, I would let her read to me, about angels.

“and she says

when I defame her 

dream:

you are trying to 

pull me down 

by the wings.”

I shall not do that, not this time, with trying so hard to be poignant, or ironic, at least; with trying so hard — to matter.

Instead, I’ll let her soar above.

Always:

Above!

“She Never Stumbles — She’s Got No Place To Fall. She’s Nobody’s Child. The Law Can’t Touch Her At All.”

It is truly fucking amazing, but for the very first time in my life, being single does not seem like a social ineptness — a disease of which I am a carrier.

So, as I stand in front of an overwhelmed ticket cashier at my fancy local movie theater, I no longer feel awkwardly apologetic when I say:

“One — for Crazy, Stupid, Love, please.”

The chubby, stressed-out girl in an ill-fitted penguin-like uniform looks up at me.  It’s the weekend, but I had just come from a day of hard work.  My hair is pulled back.  I’m exhausted, not in a self-pitying way of someone burdened by survival; but in a relaxed, proud manner of someone making her own way in the world.

“Was that:  One?” she repeats.

I thought I spoke clearly.  I usually do, with strangers, subjecting only my beloveds to my habit of speaking in code.

“Yes,” I say, and I smile as kindly as my tired, non-pretty face allows.

The girl purses her lips and flips her computer screen toward me:

“Where would you like to sit?” she says.

I don’t really know how it happens in the lives of other young girls, but in my own adolescence, I’ve never been taught how to get myself successfully paired up.  There is nothing my father wanted more, of course, than for me to get married and settle down, always in close proximity to his house.  He somehow hoped I would figure it out on my own and — magically! — end up with a decent guy (which by Russian definition meant someone who could hold his liquor and was good at fishing).  I would end up with someone my father could trust enough to pass me into his care.

At the same time though, he never talked to me about dating.  It made him uncomfortable — this idea of my inching my way toward the problems of adulthood, day after day.  And the sequence of my father’s glottal sounds while he sat on the edge of my bed one night and tried to talk to me about sex would make Bill Murray want to take notes:  It was so uncomfortably funny.

“Um, P?” I had to interrupt him, because I wanted to remember my father as a hero, NOT as a man incapable of uttering the word “sex” while blushing like a teenager.  “It’s past midnight and I’ve got an English final in the morning.”

I was in tenth grade.

Not kidding.  Dad — or “P”, as I called him, lovingly, in my habit of speaking in code — had always been delusional about my sexual development.  I wasn’t even sure he knew I had gotten my period four years prior.  Most of the time, we just talked about my studies.  Because all my life, I had been an exemplary student, earning my way into the best private school in our city; and my education — was the biggest of my own concerns anyway.

“You just gotta be careful…” he mumbled that night, and once he got up, he would fumble with the seam of his thermal shirt and blink rapidly to avoid my stare.  “That’s all I’m saying.”

“I am, P.  Good night,” and I smiled at him as kindly as my tired face would allow.

And that was it.  That was the only time P chose to suffer through that topic.  Not even after my parents’ divorce would either of them invest any time in explaining the complexity of human relationships to me:  the work that it took to be successfully paired up, and the amount of self-awareness; the amount of commitment.

Whatever I learned about dating I would learn from my contemporaries.  Boys would be the main topic in the cafeteria of my college, to which I had arrived on a full scholarship.  Again, in my 20s, education would remain the biggest of my concerns.  By the end of our studies, many of my classmates would be engaged, or married; or moving back home where they were awaited by their families and boyfriends.  I, however, was en route to graduate school, hustling my way to earn more scholarships.

In our rendezvous to the City, we would occasionally meet up — my college contemporaries and I — and they would purse their lips at my awkwardly apologetic answer:

“Yes.  I’m still (insert a shrug) — single.”

In my dating life, I would feel clumsy and uncertain.  By the example of my contemporaries, before each date, I would dress myself up into what seemed to be a better, prettier version of me:  And during the date itself, I would often gain a headache.  Because by the end of it, I couldn’t keep track of all the omissions and alterations I would manufacture.  And when I wouldn’t hear from my dates for weeks, I would throw myself back into my studies.

Something would change of course, with time.  Somewhere during the pursuit of my dreams, I would begin to sit in my skin a bit more comfortably.  There would be a slew of reckless relationships and even a failed marriage; but I would begin to learn about dating, by trial and error.  And the one thing that eventually became obvious was this:

I was NOT like most of my contemporaries.  I was someone paving her own way in the world since a very young age, via her education.  I was also an immigrant who had to work twice as hard as her contemporaries in order to be their equal.  So, there was no way I could use someone else’s skills and opinions in order to pair myself up, successfully.

Because I am no longer willing to mold myself into a better, prettier version of me, I am beginning to find that the version of me already in existence — is pretty fucking amazing.  And that very version, however tired or un-pretty, I now carry into my dates; and I surprise myself that the men I choose seem to be more comfortable with me as well.  They are more confident, more fun.

And then I move on, to more adventures and dreams, in the pursuit of which I don’t really need to be paired up — UNLESS successfully.

“Um, miss?” the penguin-girl appears even more stressed out since meeting me.  “Where would you like to sit?  We’re almost sold out, but since you’re single…”

I smile.  I choose the best seat in the house, buy myself a single latte and wandering through the lobby’s bookshop, in a relaxed, proud manner of someone who can afford herself these tiny privileges, in life.

I am someone — making her own way in the world.  And I’m pretty fucking amazing!

On Dem Cool Cats — and Kittens

In the entirety of my life in which I began considering myself an adult — a grown woman, with realized desires and choices to pursue those desires — I proudly admit to being a student of humanity.  It must be why, I think, my sex life has been so adventurous and, for the lack of a better word, democratic.  No, I haven’t tried everything, my curious comrades, but I have tried plenty; and as for the nationalities of my lovers — well, my vagina is like the United Nations symposium.

But besides my studious pursuits in the bedroom, I’ve investigated both genders by delving into Esquire Magazine, for at least a decade.  First of, it worships women.  (Yes, please!)  Then, it deconstructs men while lovingly teasing them for their unmanly behaviors.  (Mmm-hmm.  I always love me some of that!)  As for the staff writers at this nearly a century-old mag — some of them are geniuses, fo’ sho’!  So, say, if for whatever lucky circumstance, my choices one night would be between the penises of Johnny Depp and Tom Chiarella — I’d rather end up moaning Tom’s name between the sheet.

Over a decade ago (Jesus, I am old!  Jesus’s age, to be precise!), my fav mag had a piece on the Advancement Theory:

http://www.esquire.com/features/music/ESQ0704-JULY_AMERICA.

As far as theories go, it is so new, it may as well be considered an embryo.  However, what makes it so brilliant — or may I dare say, “advanced” — is that, in a typically ballsy, unpredictable American way, it was thought up by two buds (Jason Hartley and Britt Bergman) shooting the shit at a Pizza Hut somewhere in South Carolina.  Love it!  ‘Cause you see, my lovelies, my shit-shooting brilliant comrades have invented a gazillion of theories at my hood’s famed spot, The Birds; but I don’t think we are even a millimeter “advanced” enough to change this nation’s academic curricula with our pontifications.

So, what about this Advancement Theory?  It particularly delves into music and the artists who birth it into being.  From what I understand with my intelligent but far from “advanced” pia mater, is that musicians break into two categories:  they are either “advanced” or not at all; and what makes them advanced — is their utter unpredictability. In other words, neither do their cater to their audiences’ expectation, nor do they devote their egos to going against them.  They do whatever comes to their non-convoluted, genius minds; and for that very reason, they are often misunderstood.  Of course, it is a tale as old as humanity itself, but sooner or later — and often, postmortem — a true genius gets the recognition he or she deserves.  But at the very moment of their art’s creation and birth, they leave us scratching our un-“advanced” domes.

Examples?  Liz Phair and (Lord, help me!) Sting can apparently do this “advanced” shit in their sleep.  M.I.A. and Gnarls Barkley?  Definitely cool but not even getting warmer.  Bob Dylan?  Apparently, Bob is still tinkering with his “advancement”…  Oh, I know, I know:  How dare I fuck with Dylan?!  But according to my Bible Esquire — “If something is done ironically, it cannot be advanced”; and ain’t Dylan the god of irony?  this country’s musical Charles Baudelaire himself?  But he did earn himself some extra points by struttin’ around Venice with Adriana Lima.

Lou Reed:  Invented this shit!  (“Shaved her legs and then he was a she”?!  “And the colored girls say, ‘Doo do doo, doo do doo’”?  Honey:  Pah-leeze!)  The Biebs and the Britney:  Will never get there.  Kanyeezy:  C’mon, baby!  I’m rootin’ for ya’!  Tom Waits:  The Advancement Theory’s personal Jesus, especially post his collaboration with Miss Scarlett Johansson (who, by the way, after recently shagging Sean Penn has shot through the roof of V’s personal meter of brilliancy).

So, why this spiel?  And why this morning?  Well, comrades, in my lifetime, I may not enter into the category of a literary genius; but I can certainly aspire to it.  But the one thing I do NOT intend to do in my art — even though I have regretfully committed it in my life — is to allow for my despair to be liked or for my bloody fear to determine my choices. I am looking to grow, to expand — to explode! — to serve my personal calling while worshiping the Shiva that guides me.  And if I happen to blow anyone’s mind on the way, well then, mazel tov!

So you see, my magnificent learners and badass comrades, I am not trying to be the Big Fish who used to be the Small Fish.  I am not even trying to become famous by jumping the ponds.  According to David Lynch’s book on Transcendental Meditation — I’m just tryin’ to do me some fishin’:

“Little fish swim on the surface, but the big ones swim down below.  If you can expand the container you’re fishing in — your consciousness — you can catch bigger fish.”

Now, THAT — is some “advanced” shit right there!