Tag Archives: Charles Bukowski

“Except, Around Hollywood and Western — We Have to Keep Doing It!”

“Oh, but everyone’s got these stories!” a man of tired compassion told me as he heard my saga of homecoming, this jolly holiday season. “I mean, after all,” he said, “this country is made entirely of immigrants!”

I wondered, as I studied his ethnically ambiguous face:  Was he East Indian, a couple of generations removed from his native land and now free from all the confines of his original tradition — to make what he could of it?  It not, how ever did he find his way into my yoga class?

Was he like me:  Tasting all religions in his youth, in hopes of finding a recipe to peace?  Some religious texts had tempted me with their poetry before; others — with their majority.  I’d always wanted to belong, so I kept looking.

Was he, like me, at liberty to pick and choose between the details of his heritage, only wearing it when most convenient for his now American identity?  Did he carry his comedy routines in side pockets:  At the expense of his immigrant and heavily accented parents, he could whip ‘em out at gatherings of curious American friends?  Did he practice the routines on paper first, or did he merely get addicted to the laughter he could cause — and so he’d work them out in public?

The evening city hummed and sparkled outside the windows.  Across the street, I could see a casting space where I had once nearly died of shame by bumping into an ex-lover from a disastrous affair.  He sat in the corner, with his giant legs stretched out ahead, sounding every bit like that one asshole actor who must practice his lines out loud, at full volume, in a waiting room filled with his competition and the rookies from Ohio.

That morning, I had announced official warfare against my acne; and my Hollywood haircut refused to cooperate at covering it.

I saw him first, pretended not to, and thankfully got called immediately.  That’s when he must’ve heard my name; because by the time I had stepped out, he was standing by the doorway.

“I thought that was you!” he said and shifted on his feet as if leaning in for a hug.

Our story was so typical, it should’ve made it into a sitcom about actors in LA-LA:  He wanted a rebound with someone with his ex’s Slavic face — another actress — and I had wanted more.

“No fuckin’ way, American buddy!” I thought.

But out loud, I said, “I’ve gotta run,” and blew my bangs out of my eyes.  He noticed the stampede of pimples across my forehead:  stubborn and multiplying.  “Another audition!  Gotta run!”

“Yeah,” he said, mesmerized by my forehead.  “Yeah.  Definitely.  But let’s do coffee sometime!”

Natalia Vodianova

Everyone’s got these stories, it is true.  My friends had all suffered, at least once, from having used someone for sex, or from having been used.  And then, we’d all scrape up our dignity to have the courage to keep showing up:  to other dates and to auditions; and to the companies of friends, where we readily whip out our comedy routines and force-feed ourselves with laughter.

To be happy here, it takes discipline.  Or some serious delusion. Some of us had had those mental breakdowns that justified our flight from this fucking place.  Others would just have an episode, go home to recover — then return for more.

The ethnically ambiguous man continued:

“I’m going home myself,” he said.  “Can you believe it’s holidays already?!”

The traffic crawled along the boulevard underneath.  Two lanes of it:  one fire-engine red, another — silver.  An eatery at the corner was glistening with Christmas lights; and reflected by the changing colors of the traffic light, its giant windows would take on different shades, at well timed intervals.  With the shimmer of the hills behind it, the city looked so pretty, suddenly.  And standing above the traffic, out of it, I thought to find it peaceful.  But then, I changed my mind.

I wanted to object to my ethnically ambiguous co-practitioner of yoga:

“It’s not your turn to speak, American buddy!”

But he had been carrying on, by then.  He’s got that story, too!

And so:  I listened.

“Don’t You Know: They’re Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution? It Sounds — Like a Whisper!”

“People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.

I don’t ask them to be.

But sometimes I think about it.”

Charles Bukowski, The Crunch

There is a passion, in all of us.  It boils.  It protests:  In Rome*, Yemen, Africa**.  It pushes to break us out of our skins — out of our boundaries; shackles, limits, laws; cowardice — and to rebel.

Some have chosen to live quietly, getting by.  They seem to cause the least conflict.  And if on occasion they hurt one another — it will be most likely by accident.  A tiny demand will rise in their souls — a tiny rebellion against obedience that has seemingly earned them nothing.

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And they reach for something that the rest of the world won’t miss much.  They reach with passion.  There may be an accidental victim:  He’s gotten in the way of their reaching.

But what’s a little hurt — against a lifetime of groveling?

Nothing.

Others manages to tangle up their egos in the chalk lines of the score board that keeps track of the rat race.  They are a special clan:  They measure life in numbers.  In things.  In values.  Passionately.  To them, there always seems to be a deadline in life, called Work Until:

Work Until:  They get tired of playing.  Work Until:  They gain a debt, then pay it off.  Work Until:  They have a piece of land, for a house or a deathbed.  Until they pay off a palace, a chariot, a marriage, a child’s tuition:  A Happily Ever After.

Work Until:  They never need to work again.  Work Until:  They can rest.  Work Until…

Nothing.

Their days turn into discardable minutes:  Five minutes — Until.  Thirty years — Until.  Another person’s life — Until.  Until, Until, Until, Until.  They pump themselves up against the lackluster crawl of the minutes.  They lose themselves — in things, in numbers.  In scores.  With passion.

Some actually manage to get there:  God bless ‘em!  They get to their anticipated Until, for the sake of which, they’ve sacrificed so many minutes.  And some have even sacrificed their truths.  Their passions.

That’s when the real horror happens:  At the end, they soon discover that nothing, in life, lacks a price.

Nothing.

And they find that the price of Until usually turns out to be gastronomical:  Greed.  Sacrifice.  Health.  Denial.  Nothing.

And that shit isn’t refundable!

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And:

What happens to LOVE — I ask — in such a lifetime of Until?

Find me a man who knows the answer to that.  For I have asked too many men who’ve given me mere accusations in return.  Something about time, or timing.  Readiness and plans.  Something about their Until.  I couldn’t really stick around for their explanations for long:  Their fear was eating up their faces — and my time.  So, find me a man who knows the answer to:  What’s the fucking point?!  I find me one who answers with passion.

Oh, and don’t discount those poor suckers born with extremely sensitive souls.

“It’s okay.  They’ll grow out of it,” pediatricians tell their parents.

Most actually do:  Innocence is rarely immune to life.  

But what happens when they don’t?  Well, then:   Please, say a prayer for those poor suckers:  A Hail Mary for the Sensitives.  For they are stuck here, among us, with no delusion to save them from the ache.  And no Until.

“Oh, but everyone aches!” the others object.

Still, the sensitives get the worse of it, in this life.  They stumble around, among us, like unwanted orphans.  Like innocents.

“But do YOU ache?” they ask.

Poor suckers!  They insist on hitting the truth on the nail.  It’s so annoying!

“Everyone aches,” the others object.

The sensitives study our faces for signs that they aren’t the only ones feeling this much.  It’s innocence, at its worst.  It’s passion.

“Then, what do you do — to cope?” they ask.

“Nothing.”

So, they devote their lifetimes to taking notes.  They write down our words, then regurgitate them, in a prettier form:  Poetry.  Others jot down their sketches, finding beauty in our fear-eaten faces.  And innocence, or whatever is left of it.  Passion.  Some put on reenactments:

“Wouldn’t this make for a better picture, in life?” they ask.

The others scoff, look away.

They do not have the time for truth — Until…

They do not have time — for a revolution.  

No:  They would rather spend their lives suspended until the arrival of Until.  Or, they spend their lifetimes — groveling.

Surely, there will be small griefs that happen until the Until, and they’ll complain and demand attention.  They’ll demand a change, but only enough of it — and only if it’s convenient — and never for the sake of others.

Because everyone aches.  And there is nothing to be done about that.

Nothing.

But what would happen if we gathered our passions into a fist and planted a punch?

* Rallies Across the Globe Protest Economic Policies.  New York Times. October 15, 2011. 

** “Occupy”Protest Turns Violent in Rome.  Al Jazeera.  October 15, 2011. 

“just make it, babe, make it…”

“We can make it!  We can make it!  C’mon, babe.  We can make it!”

For nearly six miles I was chanting this to the steering wheel of my car, yesternight.  I was caressing it, leaning my flushed cheek bones against its drying leather.  And when no one was looking, I even planted a peck onto it, with my semi-dehydrated lips:

“We can make it!”

I suspected this would happen:  I had waited till the very last moment — again! — to refill my gas tank.  And now, I was running late to a rehearsal — again! — with my gas light on:  AGAIN!

“God damn it!” I would have sworn normally as I sensed the neon yellow light on my dashboard, out of the corner of my eye.  “I should’ve done this last night!”

But that night, I was exhausted, thinking only of the sleepiness, somewhere in my calves and feet; and of trying to not run outta gas — again.

And now, I was sitting in traffic on a congested side street someone had recommended to me as a shortcut against, um, well… traffic.  But that’s what happens quite a bit:  Other people’s shortcuts — turn into my hell.  

So, I would much rather just keep taking my own routes; doing it my own way.

But then, yesternight, I was running late — again.

So, I attempted to surrender:  “We can make it!”

I had already done THE work, by then:  Five hours — GONE out of my day!  Grateful!  Of course, I was grateful — for being able to do it.  But fitting in THE work every day always required two things:  lack of sleep and brutal discipline toward the rest of my life.

And then, of course, there was the survival hustle:  Chalk up another three hours to that!   But I have long surrendered to that already, because I am the one who chose this destiny, this route.  I am the one who rejected a myriad of day jobs and hustled to get herself out of the drudgery of the restaurant business, as well.  I am the one who agreed to the chronic pain-in-the-ass-ness of a freelancer’s life.  I am the one continuously taking — and building — my own ways.  Because only then, do I have enough dignity and space — for THE work. 

And now, I was dashing across town:  To do more work.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t dashing:  I was crawling, dragging my ass through the overheated, exhausted streets of LA-LA.  I was serving my time among others with their stories of pursuits, and with exhaustion written all over their drooping faces.  And while doing so, I was resisting every urge to curse out the retirees existing in their own timezones inside their oversized Lexuses:

“Why aren’t you moving?!” I’d usually flail while studying the trail of break lights ahead of me.  Normally, there is no rhyme or reason for it:  only the collision of other people’s timezones.  And I have to remember that they too have done their work that day:  THE work.

So, I attempt to surrender:  “We can make it!”

The side street finally opened into a giant boulevard.  We flooded onto it, and the people coexisting in my timezone took over the outer lanes — and we got going.

But then:  My gas light came on.

God damn it!

I immediately remembered the poor sucker in a Porsche who got stuck in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, the night before.  I had been sitting in traffic, on a congested side street, waiting to merge.  Because that’s what happens quite a bit:  My shortcuts collide with the shortcuts of others; and we have no choice but to obey each other’s timezones.

“But why aren’t we moving?!” I kept thinking and trying to see ahead of the red trail of break lights.  Surely, there was no rhyme or reason for it!

Not until we flooded into the intersection, did I notice the Porsche owner sweating, swearing, cursing out the honking drivers, as he refilled his tank with a portable plastic canister.  A Porsche outta gas:  Times must be tough, I thought.

And we kept on crawling, yesternight.  We kept on — serving time.

Some of us had already done THE work.  Others just hustled to survive.

So, I attempted to surrender:  “We can make it, surely!  We can make it!  All of us!”

And I would make it, not just to a gas station, but to my favorite one.  I would pull up behind a tired, droopy face of a young man who stared into space above the rooftop of his vintage Volvo.  He would forget to close the flap on the side of his car, and I would honk.  He waved, pulled out masterfully and waved again.  Thank goodness, there were people coexisting in my timezone.

“We can make it, babe!” I kept chanting.

Forty on six.

Have a good night.

You too, babe.

The nearness of humanity outside the plastic bodies of our cars was beginning to soothe me.  The whiff of gas followed the short-stop pumping sound of the pipes.  I began staring ahead, above the rooftop of my car.

“Um…” I heard.

An older man with smirking eyes and crooked yellow teeth was standing next to me, while clutching a ten dollar bill.

“Could you help me out?” he said.

Behind me, he parked his ride, blocking my way:  A giant black Benz of a recent make.

“A Benz outta gas,” I thought.  “Times must be tough!”

His story would be about money.  About Vegas — and losing all of it, to the hustle.

Times must be tough, I thought.  But we can make it, babe:  All of us!

I surrendered.

Finally.

“The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills.”

She had arrived late, but what else was expected?  She was a woman.  A beautiful woman.

It was obvious it took her a while to put this whole thing together last night, through a careful choosing of details:  a negotiation of her tastes, her moods; the senses.  I wondered if while getting dressed, she daydreamed of a specific man she wanted to impress, as women of my age often do.  Or, if she simply entertained an overall possibility of endless love (as we, romantics, must still insist on doing).

A woman whose abandonment of vanity would probably mean the very death of her, she was better dressed for an audience at a polo match, also attended by The Royal Family, than a staged reading at a black box theatre.  First:  There was the white hat adorned with a satin ribbon and a silver rhinestone brooch.  And immediately, last night, the brooch got caught in the stage lights, and it began going berserk with rainbow reflections.  So did the giant ring that took over two of her fingers on the dainty left hand.

“Holy shit!” I thought.  “Is this broad decked out in diamonds?!  Damn.”

The hat alone was enough to demand the attention of the audience.  But the coat of the same egg-foam color was a thing of beauty.  Most likely custom-made from cashmere, it could send the mind into a nostalgic trip through the old days — the days of women like Audrey, Jackie and Liz — to the era when things like that were extremely important:  The details.

Gingerly, as if trying to not attract any attention, she slipped passed the front row of the auditorium and took a seat.  But whom was she kidding?  She was impossible not to notice!  For it was obvious, that it took a long while to put this whole thing together last night — through a careful choosing of details.  And I suddenly caught myself wanting to be nearer her, just to learn the aroma of her perfume, to figure out her story.

She had to walk slowly:  By now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life.  Be it her slow pace, her ability to be the center of attention, or her esteem, I was sure none of us let her slip by unnoticed.  The hat remained on her head for the rest of the night, radiating with rainbow rays from its brooch.  And for the next hour, I continued stealing glances at her.

Under the coat, she wore… a sweat suit.  (I know!)

But then again, it wasn’t one of those mass-made, one-size-fits-all fleece numbers with rubber bands around its ankles.  No, this thing was fluffy and pink.  It had a strange resonance to the days of the young Britney Spears:  Something a woman of my age would purchase from a Victoria’s Secret.  Although a definite mismatch to her outer ensemble, the suit was well fitted to her small frame.  Even this, I bet, was chosen carefully, last night.

A pair of white nursing shoes wrapped the picture, and I bet it was a small tragedy for this woman — this beautiful woman — to obey the mandatory change in her footwear.  Because by now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life; and it was a choice between vanity and a broken hip.  Yet still, these shoes — were immaculate:  A carefully chosen detail.

The detail of her stubborn warring against time — against her aging.

The details of beauty and class, resonant of the old times when such details were very important.

After the show, I lost sight of her, last night.  In the ladies’ room, I examined my own reflection:  My fitted black sweater dress had been chosen quickly that evening.  I was running late, so I yanked the first thing that didn’t need ironing off the hanger.  But how could I not have seen the gazillion bits of lint all over its front panel?  My hair hadn’t been brushed since the morning:  Was I going for the nonchalant tousled look?  It wasn’t working.  (My shoes though:  My shoes were perfect.)

Inside the stall I chose, it smelled like rose water and pepper.  Not bad.

“Is there any toilet paper?” a tiny voice came through the wall of the partition.

I looked at shoes of the woman in the stall:  They were the pair of white nursing shoes, immaculately chosen.  I froze:  Was that a rhetorical question?  Or did she need help?

I knew:  Dignity — was the very life of her; perhaps, all that was left of it.  Through carefully chosen details — like this pepper-flowery perfume — she tended to her beauty, to defeat time.  To defeat her aging.  But the child-like helplessness set in, regardless her effort.  And so, I stumbled, not knowing how to give her a hand without any charity; without offending her dignity.

I waited.

The tiny voice came back in a few minutes:

“Could you spare me some toilet paper?”

“Sure, sure, sure!” I rummaged around my stall.

I handed her a wad of paper over the partition.

“There are actually some rolls on your window sill,” I said, noticing the line-up above the egg-foam colored hat, with a brooch still going berserk with rainbow reflections under the bathroom light.

“I’ll take this,” the tiny voice said, and I felt the giant ring on her dainty left hand brush against my thumb.

“Yep!  Definitely, diamonds!” I thought.  “Damn.”

“Put Some Colored Girls — in The MoMA!”

She was brown, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink; and when she walked, the wind played peekaboo from underneath her skirt.  The hair was down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft, but with some mighty heft:  One could easily bury a hand in it, or an entire limb; or tangle up a heart.

On her feet, she wore a pair of sandals borrowed from some Amazon warrior, which buckled all the way up to her magnificent mid-calf.  The muscles trapped under all those belts and copper buckles moved and flexed; and at any moment, she could’ve shaken off the dainty shopping bags from her shoulder blade — and start leaping:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.

“God damn!” I muttered to my partner.

But he was already on the same page:  squeezing my bicep and smiling the grin of a six-year-old who has just discovered he liked girls — most definitely!  He waited for the creature to get another meter ahead of us, stared at the ground — out of his respect for me and for my brown dream girl — and he quietly said:

“I know.”

Immediately, I thought of that ugly, old dog I have been honing to become my muse, in moments of my literal dry spell:

“but why do they do that?

why do they look like that?

why do they let the wind do

that?”

Bukowski, Hank:

Always in love with some magical bird’s legs, treating every infatuation like a temple in which to worship a departed lover.

Just as I do.

Amen!

But then again, that’s all it took:  a flight of one magical bird, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink — and my hunger was resurrected.

I felt the urge to play again, to worship, to want.  To dream.  To love.

And the literal dry spell — was over.

Another one sat sideways on a tiled step of a whirlpool, reading The New Yorker, folded in half, lengthwise.  She barely looked at me when I slowly descended into the hot water.

Okay:  There was one glance.  But that’s all it took:  a glance by one magical waterbird.

Then, she returned to reading, while all I could think was:

“Was there a smile?”

Because I swore there was.  A small one.  The one that I use myself to thank a man for his attention but to prevent any further advances.  The pressed-lipped one.  The smile-off.  (You know the kind:  It’s kind.)

She wore the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.  And in between flipping the pages, she would put the magazine aside and go under the swirling, hot water entirely.  The silky hair of her Persian heritage would float above; and when she would come back up — it would cling to her long neck and the upper arms like second skin.  Or like an oily film on the wings of some magical waterbird.  She would read some more, do that thing again.

And when she slowly ascended out of the hot water, the hair continued on:  sticking to her lower back and all along her toned, capable arms; and it would invade the boundaries of the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.

“you don’t know how exciting life can get

around here

at 5:35 p.m.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

The dry spell, how ever literal, was over.

Back home, on my phone, I’d find a message from a creature an ocean away.  She was brown, caramel-brown, to be exact; and she had a library of hair styles, each more striking than the next.  At times, she’d wear it down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft but with some mighty heft:  and every time, I would bury my entire heart in it.  Other times, she would tame it with a scarf the color of dry grass on the veldt of her heritage.  But my favorite was always the halo of tight curls, each perfected with some potion that only the brown girls know — and seemingly with a twirl of her long, pinky finger.

She would get inside my car and unleash her hair, filling the air with the aromas of coconut and that very magical potion that only the brown girls know — and with the perfume of her dreams.

“God damn!” I’d say and yank us into traffic.

And I would start speeding, as if we were a pair of Amazon warriors, about to leap out:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.  But really, my only excuse for speeding was to make her laugh, while shaking the halo of those tight curls in which I would bury my heart — for keepsakes.

“200 years ago they would have burned her

at the stake

now she puts on her

mascara as we

drive along.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

Her message on my phone had come from the veldt of her heritage.  She had flown home, after a break-up; and instead of healing herself in the arms of the next lover, she went off to help the others, more in need:

To save the children and to defeat the monsters.

“God damn!” I muttered, this time to myself, and I sat down to write.

Because that’s all it would take:  a flight, a bird, a wing, or a kind heart.

And my dry spell, how ever literal, would finally be over.

Amen.

“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!

“And Do You Have Any Clue: What I Had to Do — to Get Here?”

“Hey, baby!  When I write — I am the hero of my own shit.”

I watched Hank last night.  I watched his beat-up, used-up, lived-in, wasted, wrinkled, exhausted face with traces of pockmarks digging into his skin like tear trails; and I let his effortless voice lullaby me to sleep:  a meowing of an aged cat on my doorstep, so demented he had forgotten all other pleasures in life but eating and fucking.  But mostly eating though, at this point:  Fucking — had become too strenuous for his joints.

It was a documentary, and a short one at that:  How do you make an epic about someone without an epic life?  Hank had insisted on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; and surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Elevating himself above the rest of us wasn’t his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his colleagues — the pretentious poets who always wished to write about their suffering but who haven’t lived enough, among us, to know what that’s like:  To suffer.  Because suffering — is bad for one’s skin.  (Just look at Hank’s face:  That fuckin’ Bukowski was a wreck!)  And it’s scary.  Suffering is scary.  So, they left it all — to Hank.

Instead, the pretentious poets got themselves jobs as critics and professors.  They became people of higher esteem:  “The professionals”.  People would pay them for their opinions and carefully manipulated big words.  (The bigger the words — the more esteemed the professor.)  And the professionals would wonder how could they suddenly run out of things to write about.  They would try to write about their tired marriages and affairs with their students.  But boredom always makes for terrible plots.  So, they’d return to their criticism and conference papers, with carefully manipulated big words about anything but suffering.

“What are your plans after graduation?” I remember my own teachers prying during the last year of college; and before they could wait for my answer, they’d spew out:  “You should teach!”

“Really?!” I’d think to myself.  “You mean you don’t want me to go backpacking through Europe and learn a dozen of languages from the pillow talks with my future fifty foreign lovers?”

But I wouldn’t say that.  In those days, my intuition wasn’t perfected yet; so I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the source of that nausea invoked by those well-wishing mentor chats.  Instead, I would just listen, tormented with doubts and restlessness, and with my own temptations for a more esteemed life.  And then, I would look at my watch, demonstratively, and I would say:

“Ow!  I better get to the diner:  I’m working a double to-night.”

Esteem.  It’s kind of like beauty, right?  It’s in the eye of the beholder.  Except that with esteem, you are the beholder — AND you are the subject.  So, it’s entirely up to you, this esteem thing, despite all the other suffering.

There would be many more waitressing gigs, after graduation, and office gigs, and freelance gigs, and gigs of self-employment — all of which I insisted on committing with esteem.  There would be esteem in serving a table full of cops at 4 a.m. who would flirt and get rowdy, like college boys in love with their substitute teacher; and one of them would always offer to give me a ride home, in his black-and-white Ford.  (Later, sometimes, they would drive down my street and wave:  Heya, pretty!  It made me feel like others feel when they come home.)

There would be esteem in finding the patience to handle a hysterical student with no knowledge of English at my daytime campus gig, when the rest of my employers just wouldn’t have the time for her fearful nonsense.  (Later, she would pass me in the cafeteria — still a child in her age, made even more helpless by her venture in a foreign country — and she would smile at me, with something that combined gratitude and a very fragile secret.)

And there would be more esteem in taking the last train out New York City after my internship at yet another editorial department where I would become adopted by a group of esteemed professionals — or the poets to whom they vowed to cater.

And then, of course, there would be my fifty future foreign lovers, teaching me their languages during our pillow talks.  But mostly, they would teach me the language of my own humanity.  And there would be plenty of esteem in learning that my compassion would never fail, no matter the messy ending to each loverly story; and no matter the suffering that came with it.

To the effortless voice of Hank, I had fallen asleep last night:  He was reading his shit at some poetry hall in San Francisco, filled to the brim with hollering humanity.  And the audience would cheer him on every time he tipped his beer bottle into his crooked, wet mouth.  He would chug it down, like a man dying of thirst, smile fleetingly and bashfully at the dividends of his compassion — and the dividends of all that suffering; and he would resume meowing out his poetry.  Sometimes, he would raise a ruckus while taunting somebody in the audience:  To him, it would be just another bar fight.  But he would always seem so much calmer, when in the midst of doing his shit.

“the price of creation

is never

too high.

the price of living

with other people

always 

is.”

And yet, he would insist on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Being too good for others — was not his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his esteemed colleagues:  “The professionals”.

And if he could, he would kiss every one of us on the mouth, the same way he kissed his women:  pornographically and with an open, wet mouth, smelling of rye.  Because no matter the price, we were his beholders AND his subjects; and with that, we granted him — his esteem.

We made his life — his tortured, used-up life worth his suffering.  And he would be one of us, becoming “the hero of [his] shit” — even when he wrote about others; when he wrote — about us.

“The Blues Is My Business — And Business Is Good.”

What’s this nauseating feeling looming in the pit of my stomach?  That time of the month?  Or maybe I should just lay off the coffee.

Back in Manhattan, I used to live on that shit.  Now, I limit myself to three cups a day.  On a good day.  Nights don’t count:  Nights keep their own count.

Sometimes, I forget to eat, too — a habit of my student days that hasn’t dissipated despite the new habit, of my non-student days, for daily running whenever my anxiety strikes.  Back in the student days, I could just call up a lover and get tangled up in that mess.  Not now though.  Now:  I just run, for miles.

And, oh, I could run for miles, right now!

But first:  Must have some coffee.

Or maybe I should lay off the coffee.  I hear it invokes anxiety.

Anxiety.  Ah, that.  It looms in the pit of my stomach, and it’s sickening:  this battle of mind over matter.

I lie down on the floor.  I should meditate, I think; or count some fucking sheep.  Whatever it takes to get rid of this anxiety thing, looming in the pit of my stomach.

And coffee:  I should definitely lay off that shit.

There is some drilling happening somewhere in close proximity; and because it’s been hot enough this week to sleep with all the windows slid wide open (come on in, thieves and ghosts!), the sound has awoken me, long before I was ready to get up and do my thing again.

What IS my thing, by the way?

Well, it starts — with making coffee.

Which I do.  I get up from the floor and stare at the drip.

“thinking, the courage it took to get out of bed each morning

to face the same things

over and over

was 

enormous.”

Bukowski.  That old, ugly dog was the bravest of them all, never whoring himself out to academia, yet always producing the words, despite being ridden with vices, not the least of each was the endless heartache of compassion.  And he knew a thing or two about clocking-in every day, at some maddening day job for a number of decades, then over his unpublished papers, at night.

Because nights keep their own count.  And days — are mostly spent with some nauseating anxiety looming in the pit of the stomach.

“and there is nothing

that will put a person

more in touch 

with the realities

than

an 8 hour job.”

But he would do that, until the day job was no longer necessary — and the papers were finally published.  And after that happened, did the nausea vamoose for good?  Poof!  Or did he continue drowning it in liquor, exhausting it on the tracks or in between the thighs of his lover-broads; then getting up for the grind all over again, in the morning?

I stare at the drip as if it’s going to give me some answers.  It reminds me of sitting by the life-support machine and staring at a sack of some gooey, transparent liquid — but not transparent enough to give me some fucking answers.

The pot’s half full.  I think I’m supposed to wait for the whole thing to finish, or it ruins it.  It interrupts the process.  Fuck it.  I pour myself a cup — I interrupt — and take it back to the floor.  I lie down.

Maybe I should count some fucking sheep, I think.  Or get me some poetry.  It has put me to sleep last night, with all the windows slid wide open.  Because the fucking sheep refused to be counted, at night.

And because nights keep their own count.

I take a sip of coffee and close my eyes.  Open them:  The drilling has started up again.  I haven’t even noticed the silence.  I put down the pen, the Bukowski.   Start listening to the drill.

It reminds me of my never made dental appointment for a check-up.  A check-up?  What the hell do I need a check-up for?  Just to see how much damage life has done to my enamel — with all that coffee — the timid receptionist called Lisa quietly explains, in so many words.  She is always kind, whimpering her messages into my answering machine like a cornered-in mouse.

Goodness.  Thank goodness — for kindness.

I should meditate, I think, after all.  I take a sip, close my eyes.

Whatever happened to that girl, I wonder, remembering a colleague gloriously succeeding somewhere in this town.  I had known her for years by now, but haven’t seen her for half of those.  We began to lose touch, two of my lovers ago, after a row of coffee dates were meant to be broken.  Eventually, the colleague and I forgot whose turn it was to make plans for the next date, to choose the next coffee shop.  It must be a self-protective thing with her, I realize.  She is successful:  It’s hard for her to relate.

Oh well, I think.  I’ll just keep in touch by overhearing some good news, on her behalf; and keep drinking my coffee alone, outside of coffee shops.

But then, I bet she too gets up to the grind, every morning.  She too must feel the looming nausea in the pit of her stomach until she forces herself to meditate.

Because after years and years of getting up to do my thing, I realize that it pretty much summons success.   

Success is simply getting up again.

But then again, there must be more to it.  Certainly, there must be more to life — than getting up.

I get up, take my coffee with me.  The drilling has stopped.  I stare outside through the windows slid wide open.

“I listen and the City of the Angels

listens:  she’s had a hard row.”

I remember:  I’ve got to start the work.  Because isn’t it what I’ve gotten up for?

I pour myself another cup.  I begin.

But what’s this nausea looming in the pit of my stomach?

“the impossibility of being human

all too human

this breathing

in and out

out and in

these punks

these cowards

these champions

these mad dogs of glory

moving this little bit of light toward

us

impossibly.”

I take another sip.  I continue.

The nausea begins to vamoose, giving room to the acidity of my coffee, incorrectly brewed; interrupted.

“While You’re Gettin’ Your Cry On — I’m Gettin’ My Fly On.”

A cup of brutal coffee and a bath with a wrinkled Bukowski.  Who said that mornings had to be unkind?

These days of waking in a vacuum of unpredictability — they make me think of all the big dogs that have come and gone, and suffered for centuries before me.  Like my own fellow comrades — the big-dogs-in-the-making — they had to have wondered, at times, about where the next meal would come from, or the next rent.

They would hang, like poignant ghosts, at their regular spots, hoping the bartender would eventually remember their faces to comp a drink or two, just when they would be about do a touchdown with the rock bottom.  (Those moments — are the best, in life:  Three minutes before a suicidal thought or the a late afternoon phone call giving you a break.)  And the bartender would nod, quickly, familiarly:

“This one’s on the house…”  

(Actually, I’ll never comprehend the hopefulness of that post-midnight line; for I prefer to not suffer from other self-afflictions besides that hideous empathy of mine.  That’s a handful already.  Don’t hand me any more.)

Only at friends’ barbecues — or at other people’s office parties at Christmas — the big-dogs-in-the-making could get plastered enough on free liquor, to not mind their misery in sobriety.  But elsewhere, at all other times, they could never afford enough drinks to get them there.  So, they would loom on their scuffed-up bar stools, waiting for the bartender’s charity:  The wrathful face of Hemingway and the disappointed one of S. Thompson.

Or perhaps, if their beat-up faces were lucky enough to have appeared in black-and-white print a couple of times by then (they were the big-dogs-in-the-making!):  Perhaps, a random nerdy fan would come out of the woodwork — or from behind a ping ball machine — and start lapping up their faces with his star-fucking gazes; then offer to pick-up their tabs with a handful of sweaty cash.  The female groupies would be less useful at the bar, but better equipped to restore their ego elsewhere — anywhere! — like the backseat of their boyfriends’ trucks, or the nook by the graffitied pay phone, near the john.

Somehow, the big-dogs-in-the-making would gain enough swagger to bed a woman:  because there was always some wide-eyed girl or sinister-eyed widow in the mood for the struggling artist type.  But then, someone’s heart would get attached, then broken; and the big-dogs-in-the-making would scurry back to their crammed in joints, with other struggling types crashing on their couches or sleeping in their bathtubs; and they would write for long enough to finish a pack of cigarettes.  Or to run out of their typewriter ribbon.  Or to forget about a drawer full of rejection letters from agents and publishers:

“At this time, we must regretfully inform you…”

And what did they do, with all those regretful notes, by the way:  so insincere, yet always signed “sincerely”?  Did they glue them with gum, onto a white wall painted by someone with zero of imagination, during a sleepless night of annoying heat and warm beer, in a vacuum of unpredictability?  Or did they tear them up, like I do, just in half — never wasting too much energy on anger, for fearing the flip side of it — then burry the pieces under an aged coffee filter from the morning before?  And just how long would they sit in silence until trying their hand at yet another letter, yet another submission — another hand at that cunty luck:  Would it take them a month?  a year?  a trip to Brazil?  another broken heart of another wide-eyed girl?

And then, there were always those with annoyingly stubborn writing discipline:  The respected academic of Nabokov and the celebrity hermit of Roth.  Every year, their friends would catch them at yet another book deal, another fellowship, another grant.  And surely, the big-dogs-in-the-making would feel the envy on the other end of the phone, as thick as aged honey; and just as grainy:

“Oh really?…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…”

They had to have hated those ellipses loaded with a strained goodwill of their “friends”.  So many!  So many had to get lost during this game of chasing the impossible, often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.  Several had to be dismissed face to face, in a drunken fight when these “friends” dropped their pretenses.  Others — would flake off on their own, with enough time and enough demands from their bratty marriages and whiny children.  But the most relentless, the slowest of losses were those acquaintances sticking around for years, only calling after picking-up a few crumbs of new gossip:

“Saw you in The Paris Review…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…” 

And the big dogs would lie:  Yeah, we should.  But they never would.

No, they’d rather save up their new money for a better hermitage on the coast of New York.  Or maybe even of Connecticut, if they got fed up with all that grime and despair — with that cunty luck — and if they could finally part with their superstition that well-fed artists lost their edge.

I also think of the new big dogs — the ones that are living and publishing now.  They are all quite belligerent — Eggers and Sapphire — shooting out their words with such discipline and urge, that even the confused and the lazy can’t dismiss their names.  The ethnically ambiguous have come through in this century:  The hilarious Diaz.  The empathetic Smith.  The diplomatically graceful Lahiri.  They are all still quite young — and quite beautiful, physically — surfing through their academic careers to earn the respect of the white critics; but then always bringing it back to the streets, back to where they’ve learned to how suffer and how to make use of it; to the rest of the ethnically ambiguous and ethically confused:  To the rest of us.

And somehow, I allow myself the vague hope that maybe, in this century, it needn’t be so painful, it needn’t be so hard to get to one’s often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.

Because who said that the mere human suffering — wouldn’t be enough?

And with an empty cup stained by coffee and a cold bath with a soaked Bukowski, who said that mornings — had to be unkind?

“You Meet Me Down On: Heartattack and Vine”

This is an ode to you, my Holly:  

You’re looking quite glorious this morning — all decked out in sunlight so bright it appears hazy; with your birds going bonkers in trees, as if they’re still coked-out of their little heads since 2 a.m., once you closed your clubs and bolted shut your dive bars.  And if it weren’t for the frequent sirens (those fuckers woke me up today!), I could pretend I lived somewhere like paradise.  Or the Greek Isles.  But only until I step out — out and into — letting you hit me with your tales of humanity, my Holly, of which you have galore.  

You weren’t so easy to fall in love with, my Holly; and it doesn’t really make me cool to fess up to it. 

It is much cooler to dig New York.  Because New York always treats you like an arrogant lover to whose skills in the sack you find yourself quickly addicted; confusing all that lust, and all those hormones — and its reeking fluids — for love.  But when it doesn’t work out with New York, you are sure to find another brokenhearted with the same addiction.  Then, you can all hang your heads over your drinks at a random dive bar — in Holly — and share your scars.

With you, my Holly, it’s different.  You are much quicker to reveal your armpits and your glitz.  You’re such an exhibitionist!  But it took some serious hanging with you and more patience than I knew to possess to discover the pockets of those tribes and ‘hoods to which I didn’t mind belonging. 

And so:  This is an ode to you, my Holly!

To the jingling sound with which you tickled my ears yesterday, at one of your art spaces.  It was so dainty and arhythmic, I was sure it belonged to a lovely, fragile installation I just had to see.  But when I looked around for the source, I found it on the ankles of a tiny girl-child, in the arms of her Indian mother.  So intensely was my stare, the young mother got startled at first.

“She’s lovely,” I said; nodded and quickly walked on by.

The woman relaxed and smiled.  “It’s alright.  She’s brown.  She’s ‘one of us’,” she must’ve thought, of me.

Oh, Holly! 

It surely helped that you’ve found my skin color so perfectly democratic from the start:   Smoothly, I become “one of them,” “ethnically ambiguous,” or just “not from around here” — depending on whom you ask.  To my comrades visiting from Beverly Hills, I am “sort of white” — but mostly “spiritual”.  Next to a brown man, I am his “hot Brazilian girlfriend”.  But really, it’s the Chicanos and their gorgeous, curvy brown girls that dig me the most:  Somehow, they know I’m not above their strife, not too far off from their survival.  And the further in crawls your long summer — the darker I get — the more I become “one of them”.  And it is just my fucking luck it’s more fashionable to be “exotic” anyway, around here.  Around you, these days.  

A balding, sadly aging museum guard with a blubbery body absorbed me with his wet eyes, yesterday.  No way he could ever afford a girl like me; and if he happened to touch her, she could only tempt him from behind the screen of his computer.  Or from a stripper pole, at a safe distance.  When I looked at him, he freaked, turned away and adjusted his crotch.

“Don’t look now, mister,” I thought at the back of his clammy bald spot, “but you’re standing right in between DIVORCE and REAL HUMAN HAIR.”  (They were signs that some artist found ironic enough to replicate and hang onto the wall that the sadly aging man was guarding — but for not enough money to afford a girl like me.  The irony — worked.)

“She’s brown.  She’s ‘one of them’,” he must’ve thought; and when I granted him the last profile of my face, he turned away and adjusted his crotch — again.

Oh, Holly!

I am anonymous, like the hundreds of your graffiti artists that tag your skin with their marks.  My markings are not as well distributed yet (my publicist sucks!); but I too prefer to blend in, moving in between your demographics, collecting my stories when no one is looking, often in the dark. And once the mission is accomplished, I walk away with enough surrender to not have to sweat about what’s going to happen to my work.  Because, once I’ve found what I dig in life — humanity, of which you, my Holly, have galore! — patience comes as easily as breathing.

I am content with being your next Bukowski, hanging with you long enough to see your other layers (not necessarily pretty or dignified, but always relevant) and drooling at your girls:  Yesterday’s stunning Filipino creature in a tiny, ruffly skirt with strategically placed beauty marks all over her face.  The funky Harajuku girls who stormed past me with their fashions and smells and chatter, making me grin moronically and confusedly.  The African princess on your subway with a wide wrist band of faded gold who played with the ringlets of her hair for the three very short stops.  The young Mexican girl accompanying her awkward, unknowing boy who granted me a tiny nod:

“Aren’t you brown?  You must be ‘one of us’!”

This is an ode to you, my Holly; to your being so many things, depending on where I look, how long I hang, and whom I ask — sort of like me. 

You are sort of like me:  democratic, and anonymous, and not above the strife.  You’re “one of them” when I find you discomforting, “one of us” — when you reveal something I don’t mind poking.  Or jotting down, leaving my mark. 

Strangely, against all fashion, I’m into.  Into you.  I’m into your people.  And as I continue to walk your streets — so strange, worn-out, used-up, repaired; tagged and marked-up; not necessarily pretty or dignified but always poignant — I offer my ode to your humanity, of which, my Holly, you have galore.

And so:  This is an ode to you, my Holly…