Tag Archives: Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Small Fir-Tree Was Born in the Forest.” (Russian Folk Song)

She was encouraged to grow up as tall as her father and to smell like her beautiful mama, even if she was ever caught in the midst of a drought.

“Because that’s what we, pine trees, do, my little one,” her mama told her.  “And if you grow up particularly pretty, they might choose you, in the middle of next winter.”

“Who are ‘they’?” the baby tree would ask, every year.  (Like all children, she liked her favorite stories repeated to her, endlessly.)

“The unrooted ones,” mama would whisper and sway to block the tiny dust clouds heading into her child’s hair — with her long, long limbs.

Oh, no!  She wouldn’t grow up to be an ordinary tree, her mama gossiped to other mothers.  Her daughter was meant to be unique.  First of, she was gaining inches day by day.

“The taller you grow, the sooner the unrooted ones will get you!”

And:  She was pretty!  Such a pretty baby tree:  with long, dark green needles that weighed down her lean branches toward the ground!  All the other kids seemed to have upright branches.  Their needles lined up into mohawks and made them more susceptible to storms.  When winds gained speed, or rain began to pound the soil above her roots, she seemed to endure it all with grace.  Light on her feet, she would let whatever weather run its moods through her hair; and after every type of precipitation, she made tiny slides for the rascal raindrops.  The little ones would chirp and tumble into one another; hang onto the very edge of her needles, then leap onto the next one — and repeat.

She didn’t know where the rascal raindrops would go once they rolled off her long hair and hit the ground; but she imagined they built tunnels in the soil and lived there, with their families (but after they would fall in love, of course).

One time, though, she questioned her own theory when a particularly familiar rascal raindrop appeared her eyelash, after she awoke from her impatient dreams:

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” she asked the sparkling babe.  But he was already chirping too loudly to hear her question; and as soon as the other kids woke up, he began to slide, slowly at first and on his belly, with his arms outstretched forward.  The further he slid, the more rascals joined him, and they would go faster, laugh — louder; and their chirping made her tilt her branches even lower and give the kids a bigger thrill.

“Maybe,” she thought, “they all fly up to the sun instead — to tell its rays to be a bit gentler on us.”

(Drought — was told to be her only fear.  Besides that — she had none.)

Sometimes, she would get the glimpse of the unrooted ones.  A particular one continued coming around too early in the mornings; so, most of the time, she would sleep right through his visits.  One day, though, he came up to her and woke her up with his shadow.

He was taller than her, but not as tall as mama.  He had flat hair, the color of a sickly pine.  It was flat and so dense, it clung to his trunk in one single layer.

“What a strange creature!” the baby tree thought.

“Don’t!  Slouch!” she heard her mama whisper through her teeth.  She snuck a peak:  Mama looked sleepy and wet.  But she would NOT shake off her raindrops yet:  Because she wanted for all of the unrooted one’s attention to go — to her child.

Would that be it?  Is that how it would happen:  The moment when she would be taken away to the magical place from where other pine trees never-ever returned?  It had to be wonderful there, she thought.  Oh, how she craved to travel!

She let the unrooted one pet her hair.  He made an unfamiliar noise and bent down to her.  A little current of air brushed against her branch.  The unrooted one repeated the noise and petted her, again.

She then noticed he had a patch of different-colored needles on his tree top.  They were the color of gray snow (like sleeping raindrops).  Then, he went back to giving her a treat that smelled absolutely atrocious but mama said it had to be good for her.  So, she closed her eyes and sucked it all up, to the last stinky bit.  She would behave and do whatever the main unrooted one would want her to do.  Whatever it would take — to get her to that place.

There were some stories she’d overheard from the elders.  Some said that unrooted ones took them to more delicious soils.  Others mentioned that they would only feed them water, in that place — and that was truly strange.  But the common truth was that the chosen ones got to wear pretty things and learn how to sparkle.

“Like the rascal raindrops?” the baby tree would ask her mama.

“Much better, baby girl!” her mama said.  “Much better!”

“Oh, the Weather Outside Is Frightful!”

Oh, my!  It’s really coming down, today.

Just the other day, I was bickering to myself about the 72-degree weather we’d been experiencing, mere three weeks before Christmas.  But how else was I supposed to get in the mood for the holidays, if I couldn’t pack away my tank tops and tees; my sarafan dresses and gypsy skirts?  Wasn’t this supposed to be the perfect time for cuddling up in oversized sweaters and knee-high socks, and coming up with a slew of excuses to stay home, with one’s beloveds:  A case of marshmallow overdose?  A failure of the alarm clock due to the shift of the Milky Way?  A brutal paper cut from the wrapping of Christmas gifts?  A finger burn in Santa’s kitchen?  A sparkles attack from the unpacked box of Christmas ornaments? An all-nighter spent counting the falling stars and making wishes?

It has been pretty cold inside the house as well.  Something to do with the angle of the sun not hitting my windows.  But inside the greenhouse of my car, I could easily bring back my summer’s tradition of driving in a bikini top.  And how was it, that I was tempted to drain my battery by running the AC — this time of the year — than to sweat through my sweater dresses and tights?  to peel off my shoes and roll down all the windows?

But today, it had began to come down — finally!

While in this City, I am unlikely to see any snow for Christmas.  Instead, it would be a season of downpours for which none of us, year after year, would be prepared.  Until the first heat wave in the late spring, I would have to switch to primarily driving in the left lane due to the plugged-up gutters and failed draining systems.  ‘Tis the season:  for bad driving, perpetually broken traffic lights and potholes of gastronomical diameters.  Alas, the joy!

Still:  The drop in temperatures would be a lovely enough change.  The City’s women had already been sporting their high-heeled leather boots and quirky Uggs (mostly hated, as I’d learned, by men — no matter how much quirky).  Just the other day, I noticed some furry numbers on a tall and lovely creature with long legs and straight hair.  She was walking arm in arm with her texting companion.  He — was sporting a beanie hat and sparkly converse shoes without laces, a la David Guetta.  On top, however, the girl’s ensemble was finished off with a wispily moving chiffon dress, the color of eggnog.

“How is this winter?” I thought.

Diane Lane diane-lane-19

But this morning — finally! — it had begun to come down!

At first, through my dreamless sleep, I heard the traffic along the main boulevard.  I could tell LA-LA’s citizens were speeding, just a few minutes before 9:00 a.m.  (What silly creatures!  Didn’t they know about the slew of excuses that came with this season:  A cookie dough invoked stomachache?  A hoarseness after Christmas caroling?  A carpal tunnel from writing letters to Santa’s elves?)

Normally, the tires would swoosh against the asphalt quietly, like the whisper of Tinker Bell’s wings.  Or like some hooligan little wind trying to squeeze into the invisible to the eye rift in my windowsill — to gossip about the foreign coast on which it had been born.  So, unless the morning rush turned audibly aggressive with honking, police sirens or car alarms, I would sleep right through it.

This morning, though, the cars chomped and slurped as they gained speed.  And when the rain drops hit the shiny surfaces of tree leaves, on the trees right outside my window, they sounded like metallic brushes against the taut skin of drums in a percussion orchestra.  The sounds blended into a monotonous flow, and it had to be the white noise nature of them that had actually woken me up.  Having lived in cities all my life, I had been reprogramed to be soothed by the typical aggression of urban sounds.  This monotonous lullaby, however, was unlikely.  Unusual.  And, finally idyllic!

A message from a beloved buzzed my iPhone before its alarm.  From under the covers, I responded:  Love — right back at cha!  Going back to sleep was tempting but impossible:  What with all that change happening outside!  So:  I sat up.  Got up, made coffee.  Thought of which holiday excuses could be utilized today:  The too slowly drying nail polish with Christmas decals?  The scratched up limbs from the night of trimming the tree?

And while my coffee machine laboriously percolated on the kitchen counter, I peeled on my lover’s sweater and a pair of well-worn knee-high socks — and began studying the raindrops, crawling along my window.

It was really coming down.  How magical!

“All I Want for Christmas Is… YOU?”

Finally!  I had made it into the elevator whose size always reminded me of one of those loading docks rather than a tight platform meant to transport humans, from the store level down to the garage and back.

Truth be told I rarely even ride in these things.  No one really walks in this bloody City; but I still do, despite occasionally fearing for my safety, as I walk alone, along the unknown, dark streets, in search of my vehicle.  I don’t even utilize the valet service anymore:  I’d rather park my wheels myself and risk getting towed after failing to deconstruct the street signs correctly.  (But I do like studying the valets’ uniforms at any fancy joint I visit in someone else’s car:  They remind me of characters from The Nutcracker, and somehow, of bedtime stories from back home.)

But I had made a mistake of venturing out into the Hollywood Target, mere three weeks before Christmas.  Considering I had quite a list this year, parking downstairs seemed to be the saner choice.  And then, quite immediately — it wasn’t.

First, a beat-up Volvo, three cars ahead of mine, seemed to be having difficulties with getting its parking ticket.  How hard was it to push a giant, blinking button with “PRESS HERE” clearly tattooed in its center?  While the others waited for the parking attendant, I swung into the next lane, nearly grazing the front bumper of a white Beemer driven by a very pretty girl (with very thick make-up — on her very, very pretty face).

“GOOD JOB!” she mouthed at me and waved her left hand.  I would be able to tell if she was flipping me off, but the shine of her engagement rock blinded me, for a second.  I let her go ahead.

The navigation of the store, with an already somewhat sparse merchandise, quickly turned out to be a practice in patience and unconditional forgiveness — for the entire human race.  I squeezed past the Mexican mothers who gave over their carts to their little children.  One of them — a loud boy, no older than six — was trying to run over his squealing sister by riding the cart stuffed with plastic toys and plastic storage bins (for the same toys, I assumed).  I got out of the way and rode to my destination in between the men’s clothing racks.

The only people dominating seemingly every department — were women.  Some were young, dressed in corporate clothes.  The older ones demonstrated more self-assurance as they navigated the discounted shelves.  Yet, all of them seemed tired and slightly concerned.  And Christmas was hardly around the corner yet.

A young couple appeared adorable in the aisle with Christmas trimmings.  Well, at least someone was in the spirit!  I smiled.  From the amount of his willing participation in the discussion of the direct relation of gaudiness to the shades of gold, I wondered if this would be their first holiday together.  Eventually, the couple considered settling for a silver theme, after which he cornered her into the wall of garlands and they began making out.  Cute.  I smiled again.  To get out of the aisle though, without interrupting his tongue from doing its tricks inside her mouth, I had to U-turn my shit and negotiate my way with the two young women, starting hatefully at the couple from the other end of the aisle.

It wasn’t like any of us had many choices to choose from, anyway.  Be it the plague of the Black Friday, or the poorly evaluated amount of supplies issued by the Target headquarters to begin with — but I was hardly thrilled by less than a handful of my choices.  Between the funkily multi-colored themes and the gaudy gold ones (the lovebirds were right), I settled on none.  Wrapping paper would be next, but the presence of an exhausted mother, who was rummaging through every box of supplies and not responding to my humble requests for the right of way, tempted me to make a run for the exit.

Still:  I persevered.  Past the disorganized shelves and the hypnotized shoppers.  Past the hopped-up children leaping under my now speeding cart.  Past the plaques announcing insane savings and the disinterested Target staff, in their unhip, untucked shirts.

It was a miracle that my check-out clerk was pleasant:  He had just come off his lunch break.  In mere seconds, I would be in the safety of the elevator.  I parked my cart and grabbed my bags.  I could’ve walked with those things to my car after all!

A gentlemen in a pair of less than fitted jeans pushed the button.  We waited.

“Stress-mas, eh?” he turned to me to eliminate the tension.  His less than suave gazes were leaving me luke warm.

“Yep.”

When the doors finally opened, my suitor performed the symbolic gesture of preventing the doors from squishing me.  In return, I pushed the button for him.  The doors closed and we were alone, riding to the same level.  Painfully disappointed by my trip, I pretended to study my receipt.

The couple that joined us on the first level of the garage entered with the sounds of bickering and passive-aggressive scoffs.

“I TOLD you,” he kept reiterating, “I could’ve hold onto the ticket.  BUT NO!”

Flabbergasted, she exhaled:  “Hwell!  I put it… right HERE!”

Both of her hands were buried inside a beige leather purse puffed-up into a soccer ball shape from the inside.

“And YOU said:  You’d remember our level!”  Touche:  She found a successful comeback.

The husband’s face, instead of trying on embarrassment, immediately took on the expression of a spite.  The woman continued to huff ‘n’ puff.  She, too, seemed tired.

“That’s why I don’t get married,” my suitor in his ill-fitted jeans confided in me, once we stepped out at our Level.  And then, petrified out of his initial intention to flirt, his skinny ass ran off.

I had to give it to him:  It was a bad idea.  All of it.

And next Christmas, I’d rather walk here, if at all.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas…” I think.

It started with a text:

“Bring warm clothes.  It is f…ing COLD outside and inside.”

Thanks, motha.

No more excuses could be fabricated for my resistance to visit her part of Cali; and unlike most children, I hadn’t fantasized about “getting out of LA” — for my sanity’s sake — and going “home”, since… well, never.  Home had to be wherever the fuck I landed, for at least two decades of my life now.  I hadn’t even let myself the martyrdom shtick since 1994.  It’s just the way our family’s shit sorted itself out.  So be it, eh?

Besides, each on their own, my old folks were kinda rad:  funny and very specific.  And as far as their parental duties were concerned, they had already done one hell of a job considering my Motha’land’s continuous turmoil.

This year, though, after missing all the major holidays in the last six months AND with my plans to avoid my daughterly obligations to visit for Christmas, motha’s birthday could NOT be missed.  Well…  Actually, it could.  And it was.  I had delayed my visit by nearly a week, but bargained that, on my visit, I would deliver a few make-up gifts.  And take her out to dinner.  And bring Starbucks.

So, there I was:  Waking up early, after pulling my chronic, city-livin’ all-nighter, and immediately checking my iPhone for work emails.  Anything to delay the reality of having to get out of bed and getting my ass rolling on the 10-East.  Not once, not twice, but half a dozen times I touched base with my boss, in the morning.  Look at me:  All diligent and nearly altruistic, just mere weeks before bloody Christmas!  While washing up — thirty minutes before my originally scheduled departure time — I missed a call from motha:

“Verra!  Call me vhen you starrt drrivingg.”

Okay, motha.  Will do.

But you know what I hadn’t done today yet?  Yoga!  I’d have to do that before I leave, because my centered self drove much better through every clusterfuck related to other people’s season of hysterical shopping.  So, I did that.

Ooh, and you know what else?  I’d better wash my car too.

In the bathroom of the carwash, another missed phone call from motha lit up my phone screen.

“I’m on my way,” I lied via a text:  My ride wasn’t even getting soaped yet.  “I can be there anywhere between 1:30 and 2:00.”  (Had I noticed:  The case of my unrealistic expectations from the clocks and the traffic of LA-LA had been getting worse?!)

In another thirty minutes, I finally climbed up — then down — onto 10 East.

“DOWNTOWN 12 MINUTES” — the first sign promised.

“I suppose I could still make it by my promised deadline,” a glimpse of hope inspired me to turn on some Christmas music.  “Hey, this ain’t so bad!” I thought and attempted to whistle along.  (I don’t know how to whistle, actually, so I was more like hissing along. Yeah.  I hissed along.)

Culver and Century City zipped by me.  (Or was it in the opposite order?  I had always confused the two.)  Downtown came up on me, in all of its newly built glory, in ten minutes.  Gorgeous!  Completely white and silver, it glistened in the sun.  I checked my car’s thermometer.  Sixty six degrees?  Really?  ‘Cause inside the greenhouse underneath my sunroof, it’s feeling closer to seventy two.  And, as instructed, I was now carrying only sweaters in my suitcase.

I rolled down the windows.  No, wait!  Too much wind.  I just washed my hair and it was doing its Medusa-in-a-Horrid-Mood routine.  With just the passenger window down, though, the car began sounding like a jet plane in the midst of a turbulent take-off.  Plus the smell of dust and endless construction smacked me out of my mood.  With one whack of my fist, I turned off the jolly tune on the radio station.

Too early for Christmas, after all!  Christmas was for other people, and their children heading “home”.

But I — was a busy working girl, wedging in some premature festivities into her life, and mostly out of guilt.

Scarlett Johansson fpr Vanity Fair

The orange diamonds of construction signs were sure to come up in a few minutes and right around the dodgy part of LA-LA, I noticed I was low on gas.

“Shit.  Shoulda done that last night!”

It’s the worst habit of mine:  Procrastinating with gas by thinking that there would be more hours in the next day of LA-LA.  I examined the eroded walls of abandoned warehouses on the side of the freeway and chipping road signs, mostly in Spanish, and decided to see how long my tank would last.

The traffic wasn’t really crawling yet, but I could see a corridor of break lights for at least quarter of a mile ahead of me.  Might be a while, but as we say in the Motha’land, “Whoever doesn’t risk — doesn’t get to drink champagne!”

The itch of my badass-ness needed some background music, so I smacked the radio again.

“Blame it on the ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-alcohol,” the new station blasted.  That’ll do for now.

The merger to continue onto the 10-East looped around the graffitied walls, arid lawns and long dead flowerbeds.  With one-eighth of my gas tank, I was speeding and leaving the City — exhausted by traffic, lack of time and money, never-ending construction and unrealistic expectations of its dreamers — behind.

(To Be Continued.)