Tag Archives: competition

It’s All Fun and Games Until

(Continued from August 19th, 2012.)

Did Galina ever seduce a man into her bed?  Did she ever find herself in that mellow surrender, with an even heartbeat, as she groomed her body — the millions of skin cells she had never cared for before — as she waited for her lover to take her out on the town, for a walk or a dinner at his parent’s home; so that later she could be disrobed, explored and tasted?  consumed and worshiped, cared for?

Had she ever learned what it was like to know a man so intimately she could tell what he’d drunk for dinner just by the flavors of his bodily liquids?  And had Galina known elation, the best kind of which can be experienced only in the highs of being in love; and was she then able to foresee that even though loss would eventually follow — always follow — it was all worth it, while unfolding?

Probably not.

But the word of Galina’s “willingness” began to roam the village.  The bachelors reconsidered the cripple’s appearance:  After all, she didn’t need to be a beauty queen for frolicking in the hay.  They began to scheme amongst themselves.  She probably wouldn’t put up too much of a fight; or demand for a man to leap through the endless rings of fire that belong to courtship.  The married men with a lusty eye took notice of her waiting on the outskirts of fields at the end of their working day.  So did their women:

“Hey, Mash?  Isn’t that your girl hugging the fence over there, behind the tractor?” the women approached Galina’s mother, amused at first, but not for long.

“The devil’s dragged her out again!” the old woman grumbled, embarrassed.  Lord knew, she’d had her hands full with this child!  “I wish any man or death would just take her already!”  (Oh, you think that’s uncharitable?  I’ll see what blues you’d sing if ever you found yourself stuck in living out a Russian’s destiny!  That roller coaster — is no joke!)

The women of the village began to shun the cripple.  A fair competition or not, for all they knew, Galina shared the same anatomy between her legs; and men, being a canine type, let’s face it, wouldn’t have the will power to say “nyet” when an opportunity of getting some — of getting any — splayed out in front of their panting mouths.  No longer was Galina invited to join the girls-in-waiting on village benches whenever they saw her limping with her cane, at dusk.  They didn’t brush her hair, didn’t massage her bow-like back; or reached to scratch mosquito bites through her thick woolen tights, during the summer nights.  When she showed up at church, the girls dispersed, but not before hissing a few slurs that could be overheard even by a deaf-mute.  As far as they were concerned, it was better to be safe than find their boyfriends venturing out for some lay on the side, which, considering Galina’s growing neediness, was always nearby and easily available.

Galina, whose accident left her stuck in the mind of a child, couldn’t understand the change in their favors.  Not at least until her mother Masha broke it down one day, while scrubbing her daughter’s unattractive body on a banya shelf:

“You ought to stop blabbering like this, my poor child!” she gently rubbed a straw clump against the raised red scars on her daughter’s back.  “It’s not modest for a girl, first of all, to show off like this.  And then, you’re making all the females jealous.”

Picking at her bellybutton, Galina defended herself:  “But I speak the truth, didn’t you know?  I will marry!  I am no worse than all those other silly girls!”

“Of course, of course,” Masha soothed.  “Of course, you will, my child.  In time, you will.”

Galina’s mother took mercy on her daughter.  What else did she have going for her but those innocent fantasies of rescue via marriage and the care of a man?  But the poor simpleton!  She had yet to learn that guilt and pity she provoked in other women made terrible accomplices, in the end; and that a woman’s generosity ran only as thick as her man’s attentiveness.

But listen she did.  The very next Sunday, Galina didn’t dress up for church.  She didn’t leave the veranda where she slept in the summer, to then wait by the side of the dirt road, to catch a ride in the milkman’s horse-drawn carriage.  She stopped visiting the fields, or strolling through the village in search of young girls’ congregations.  It seemed she locked herself at home during daylight.  And only at sunset did she begin to leave the house and joining the babushkas:  those old retired women who were cared for by their children if they were lucky; and if unlucky, the women who worked until their daily duties were completed after the last cow got home.  They sat on the benches, like brown sparrows along a telephone line; stretching their arthritic limbs, adjusting their kerchiefs and shacking roasted sunflower seed with toothless gums, until their fingernails turned black and their tongues were raw and scarred by salt.  There they sat, watching the rest of the living go by, and calling out to either Jesus or Mother Death, for the end of their — or others’ — misery.

At first, the old women scolded the cuz:

“You ought to waste your time by the band stage, and not with us!”

“Oy, don’t even tell me!” the others chimed in.  “Now, did you see just what these youngsters wear, these days?!  In my time, I wouldn’t show my naked knee to even my own husband.”

“Oy, dear little lord of ours!  My granddaughter chops off her skirts like this on purpose!  I found the tailor’s bill.”

The old women crossed themselves.  Their religiousness did not die down, not with the revolution or the Party’s teachings.  Harmless to most, they worshiped openly; and these old women had a point:  What else would there be left of Russia’s soul, if not its fear of Father God or Mother Nature?

There, in the companies of babushkas, Galina started to pick up the dirt on every household in the village.  And what a way to make a recovery!  No matter the shared elation or tragedy, most mortals couldn’t resist a juicy piece of gossip.

Quite rapidly, Galina became the go-to for the latest news:  She was the younger generation’s Sputnik that circled the village — from one bench to another — to measure and deliver back the temperatures around town.  The misstep of her own fictional marriage was long forgotten, and by the fall — before the hay had finished drying out and got transported into hay storage shacks; and long before the housewives completed pickling cabbage and lining up their cellar shelves with jams; before the men piled up the wood for heating the stove in the winter — Galina became every household’s most welcomed guest.

(To Be Continued.)

My Father’s Office

(Continued from June 17th, 2012.)

Mother gave out her orders for dad to go pick up some of her special bread for dinner.  The wide white baguette was the only thing she claimed to be able to eat:

“My stomach is allergic to that other peasant crap!”  She, of course, was referring to the bricks of wheat bread that dad and I could devour kilos at a time, given enough garlic and salt.  “And why don’t you take the small one with you?  Keep her from getting under my feet?”

Dad found me reading inside Marinka’s closet, where I had built myself a beanbag-like chair out of a pile of dirty laundry.  This was the only place in our two bedroom apartment where the constant stream of kitchen noises sounded reasonably muffled.

“Hey, monkey!” dad cracked open one of the doors.  “Wanna join Papka on a smoking break?”

Before I removed my ear plugs I’d made from cotton balls, I studied the handsome man’s face.  He — was my father.  Floating above me, nearly at the ceiling, as it seemed, he reminded me of those romantic leads in the old, black-and-white Soviet films:  usually some Labor Hero or the best and the brightest of the Party for whom love always arrived after success, and always in a form of the least likely — somewhat homely and nerdy — girl.  Dad’s eyes were radiating with tanned wrinkles.  His lips were resisting the type of a grin that happened whenever he tried his damn hardest not to act amused at my expense.

“A smoking break?  Well.  Yeah, sure.”  I shrugged one of my shoulders, slipped the index fingers in between the pages of The Master and Margarita, and placed the book face down.  (All the reading for our Literature Class I had completed back during my summer at the Pioneer Camp.  Since then, I’d been reading everything I could find in my parents’ library, in alphabetical order.  Considering I was still making my way through “B’s”, I hadn’t gotten too far.  But it took no more than a few chapters to know that this novel could get me into serious trouble.)

Dad stepped back to give me enough room to slip out of my office, and after I wrangled myself out of Marinka’s dirty bathrobe, he examined me head to toe and said:  “The consensus is:  You might need a jacket.”

“Yeah?  Should I wear rain boots, too?”

With one of his forearms, dad moved the tulle curtains and looked out of the window.  “Ooh.  Yeah,” he nodded.  “You’re right.  Looks like it might rain.”

I knew that.  Lying down on the floor, on my stomach, I was already fishing for the matching rain boot under our bunk bed.  In secret, I was hoping that my shoe, of boringly dull rubber, had been lost forever and that I would get to wear Marinka’s pair:  They were all shiny, with bright flowers; almost brand new and made in the very exotic country of China.  But the dark thing in the furthest corner turned out to be my missing rain boot.  That’s alright, I thought.  I will inherit the Chinese pair in no time!

“Are we gonna bring an umbrella, too?”

“Nah,” dad looked out of the window again.  “We aren’t the type to melt, are we?!”

Shaking the last of the dust bunnies from my abandoned rain boot, I felt a flurry of butterflies in my stomach.  Dad chose me!  He could’ve gone alone — but he chose my company!  The days of his endless travels were long gone.  The furthest he would depart these days would be to work on blown over phone lines that connected his Army Unit to what I assumed to be the Kremlin.  Still, every evening, the man looked for an excuse to stay out of the house.  Smoking was one of them.

As I began to mold into a serious runner at school and refused to wear dresses (besides my mandatory school uniform), dad and I began venturing out on walks.  Perhaps it was because my funny predisposition tickled my old man.  Being outnumbered had to be an already rough reality long before all three women of our household began menstruating on the same schedule.  So, I imagine it was a bit of a relief to discover that at least his youngest offspring could wish for no better occupation than to climb trees, outrun boys; bang nails into drywalls, go fishing or take endless walks through the town.  And to make our likeness even more daunting, I wasn’t one to talk much either.

Naturally, I didn’t go questioning as to where the two of us were now heading.  Not until we passed the gates of the town’s police station, already shut for the day — its only lightbulb above the main doorway reflecting in the wet asphalt like the second moon — that I asked:

“How come we’re in a hurry?”

Dad’s gait, always evenly paced as if he were marching in the Red Square parade, felt rushed.  Normally, he was more aware of the patter of my feet, echoing his own footsteps.  But that day, he was moving faster than I expected from our typical “smoking break”.  In parts, I’d had to jog a little to keep up.

The man took the cigarette out of his mouth, blew the smoke over this left shoulder, away from me, and said:  “Sorry, comrade!  We’re picking up your mother’s bread.”

“Well.  That’s understood,” I said, then zipped up my windbreaker and got ready to continue jogging, as if on a mission this time.  This business of mother’s needs was to be taken seriously.  Even I had learned that, by then.

“Understood?” dad smiled.  In my response, I had given myself the masculine gender.

“Under-stood,” I nodded, then jogged slightly ahead of him to get a better look at his face.  The same grin of his trying hard not to embarrass me was brewing on his lips.

Entirely pleased with myself, I saluted:  “Always ready!”

(To Be Continued.)

“Big Black Boots. Long Brown Hair…”

“The definition of growing up is that you are supposed to get better at tolerating ambiguity.” — Jeff Tweedy

Oh, but we always know what we’re doing, don’t we, ladies?  Between the hair flipping, and the chin tilting; and the swoon-worthy flutter of our lashes; the sway of our hips and the elongating devices for our legs; the belts, the garters, the built-in bustiers:  Oh, how deadly our choices can be!

Karina Lombard

The curvature of our breasts and the narrowing slide of our waistlines rarely fails, especially if we get enough tools to accentuate the details.  The mere apothecary of our perfume-infused lotions and bottled scents is enough to send a man spinning into a life-long addiction.  Most of us are soft to the touch; and sometimes, our skin shimmers in the light.  And when the skills come out, what is a man to do?

We know exactly how to announce our availability — or the possibility of that availability.  And even if that availability is a mere illusion, the attention it receives sometimes is a sufficient reward — for all the above mentioned troubles.

We don’t always know why we are doing it.  Some of us do it for the money, in those jobs that hire us for the tricks.  Others do it for money in a one-on-one basis with their male victim of choice.

But I’ve known some of those girls who thrive on the male interest alone.  Fuck it, I’ve BEEN — one of those girls!

One of those girls who would approach every male as a conquest, leading him on for just long enough to not diminish his manhood.

One of those girls who would quickly confuse sex for love.  But sex — is just sex:  When done correctly, it can be quite wonderful; but it CANNOT be confused for anything else.

One of those girls who would feel “used” or “empty”; or god forbid, “lonely”, after all of it was tried and settled; and she would quickly suffer the consequences of her self-delusion via shame and loathing.

And I have also known those girls who always prefer the company of men.  It validates them.  So, they amputate themselves from the rest of their gender.  And it’s painstaking to watch a woman of such great insecurity navigate her way through a man’s world.  One of those girls — I have never been, so I don’t really catch their drift. But, god bless ‘em, anyway!

I was pontificating all of that the other night, as I was waiting to yield onto Hollywood Boulevard and get the hell outta dodge, on a Friday night.  It was a tricky spot located at the curb of one busy 7-Eleven.  There, you gotta deal with all the stray drivers making their stops for all kinds of irrational calls of nature.  The parking lot of the joint opens directly into a lane that merges with the 101.  So, any sucker like me — trying to make it into the second lane — better possess a vocabulary of telepathic stares and classical-conductor-like gestures, in order to bypass the other baffled and irritated drivers trying to make their way onto the fucking freeway.  And we’ve all got less than half a block to get to our lane of choice.

The clock was nearing midnight, and the entire process was slowed down by the traffic on the opposite side of the street where a newly opened club’s parking lot was swallowing and spitting out expensive cars on a second-by-second basis.  The penguin uniforms of the valets were slipping in between traffic, on both sides of the street; and the cars kept on coming out of the 101 off-ramp and taking their place in the miserable congestion.  The rules didn’t seem to apply to that particular demographic of drivers, and every once in a while we would be made privy to some impressive U-turns and parking tricks.

The head of a giant, spinning spotlight machine was happening in the background of all that circus.  For a few minutes there, I was mesmerized; and a honk by a middle-aged man in a rickety Honda got my attention:  He was waving me in while granting me one of those same telepathic gazes.

Immediately, I

–  nodded,

–  waved,

–  and merged.

(Oh, and then, I waved again, in between my two seats, to make sure — that she was sure — that I was very grateful.)

Now, trying to bypass the freeway traffic, I turned on my left blinker and began waiting for someone else to let me enter into the middle lane.  But the sight of two honeys trying to cross ahead diverted the best of my attention again.

They were both tall, brown and gorgeous.  One was wearing a flowing baby-doll dress of canary yellow (and I respect any woman who can pull off that color).  But regardless of her appeal, it was her girlfriend that I could not stop watching:  In a skin-tight little black dress that barely covered her glorious behind, she was trying to lead the way, in a pair of transparent stripper heels.  A couple of times, she would step off the curb into the merging lane and attempt to make her way across.  But after a few more steps, she would get scared and scurry back to the curb, while pulling down the non-existent bottom of her dress to cover the spillage of the ass.

I got awoken by a honk on my left:  A kind woman in a black Land Rover was waving me in.  I wondered if I was the only one spacing out on the girls.  Perhaps, their choice of attire failed to seduce the rest of the angry Hollywood drivers; and I as began navigating at a much more favorable speed, I wished them better luck for the rest of the night.

But I also felt grateful:  for having grown out of being — one of those girls.  For giving up on this chronic dance of ambiguous seduction and promises that can be prolonged enough — to be broken or misconstrued.  For learning how to sit and live in my own perfectly soft skin.  For knowing how to hold the ground with my womanhood that finally had absolutely nothing to prove.

Yet still, I couldn’t stop thinking — about those girls.

“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.

“How Can [Someone] So Gangsta Be So Pretty, in Pictures?”

She was a dainty lil’ thing, which is not even a preferable beauty requirement for me.  But some girls do wear it well.

First of all:  There was the pixie haircut.  It was the whole Jean Seberg in Breathless thing.  But then again, she seemed a bit less vulnerable, less breakable; less controversial.  Despite her petite physique, she seemed strong, as someone with a wise and compassionate heart.  So maybe, she was more of an Audrey Hepburn type:  Like grace, and classic beauty:  Timeless!

A pair of large dark eyes were alert and clear.  There are some girls whose smarts are obvious in the perpetual little smirk that lingers in the corners of their eyelids.  I like those girls:  The Kat Dennings types.  But truth be told, I’ve always found them a bit intimidating.  I can’t really keep up with their references; and no matter how much I pride myself in having street smarts, my self-assurance always fades in their company.  They speak of rock ‘n’ roll — they are rock ‘n’ roll! — and they are ever so cool!

Often, they seem to really dig sports, but not in that other way that pretty college girls do:  hanging out at sports bars for the sake of male attention.  And somehow, they are always up on the latest politics and gossip alike.  So smart!  So cool!

But this one — was a bird of a different color.  She was obviously quick and judging by the breathlessness of her companions that evening — she was utterly adored.  And as I watched her from the higher seats of the auditorium, I realized she made others feel important.  That — was her charm:  her timeless grace.  She listened, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of her eyelids, and that tiny compassionate smile never fading from her lips.

The lips.  Alas, the lips:  She wore a layer of pink gloss on hers.  There were days once upon a time when I had tried to surrender to the call of my own feminine maintenance.  In the history of my make-up routines, I used to utilize it primarily as a shield.  I would wear layers of make-up in college, after nagging my BFF for enough tutorials.  And in my early years in Hollyweird, make-up came with the job description of a cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery.  Those were exactly the days when I would try to apply the sticky substance to my lips.  Somehow though, it never really worked out for me:  I would be constantly spitting out my hair that would stick to my lips — then all over my face — and smear my paint job.  (Utterly annoying and very ungraceful!) And then, I would have to reapply, which always rung untrue to my nature; too high maintenance.

Somehow though, this girl’s lips appeared perfectly made-up from the beginning of the event to the end.  I haven’t even seen her fussing with it once, as pretty college girls do, for the sake of male attention.  (I personally believe that unless you’re whipping out a ChapStick, a chick’s make-up routine should be kept for the secrecy of the ladies’ room.  But then again:  My high maintenance and I aren’t too close.  So, what the fuck do I know?)

Her faded golden necklace was vintage.  So were her beige Mary Janes.  And so was the midnight blue mini-dress with tiny white polka dots.  The length of it must’ve been amended from its original rockabilly swing style.  And the wide beige belt with a buckle that matched her necklace perfectly added to all the carefully selected details.

All this to say:  I was smitten.  Well, mesmerized, for sure.  My own large dark eyes and fluffy haircuts have often earned me others’ comparisons of me to the classic beauties of old cinema.  But my style was never so well thought-out.

To the contrary, as my years in Hollyweird accumulated, I seemed to have settled for the least amount of maintenance.  I don’t fuss.  I don’t make much use of my iron.  And I am often in a habit of telling my awaiting comrades and lovers:

“I’ll be ready — in ten!”

There have been times when my routine takes less time than those of my companions.  And a few have commented on it:

“Quick to undress, eh?”

But in a presence of classic beauty — I never fail to be inspired.

“Why can’t I be more like her?” I used to wonder, in my early days in Hollyweird.  I had arrived here from New York and was already well on the way to minimizing my high maintenance habits.  But then there was the cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery era, and I would prolong the return of the unfussy tomboy I used to be before my adolescence burdened me with its presumptions of womanhood.

These days, I don’t even wonder any more.  I admire, instead, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of my eyelids.  I admire other women — the choices they make in the maintenance of their womanhood; and I never miss an opportunity to grant them a compliment.

But to each — her own, I think; and I embrace the short maintenance routine that I have figured out for myself, with time.  Because beauty and grace is always timeless; and mine — is actually on time.

“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.

You Oughta Know, No?

Trying something new this morn’, my kittens:  Naked rant blogging — IN BED.  Knowing me (and some of you are getting to know me quite a bit these days, thank you very much), I am shocked I haven’t done this one before.

The thing is, this week:  Besides working really hard on my dreams (The Perpetual Dreamer is my life’s finally declared major), I’ve also invested a few hours on the most significant relationships of my life (which although do not currently include a romantic interest, but plenty of loves).

I’ve received my girlfriends’ strife and got updates from my comrades on the state of their own nostalgia for our no longer existent motherland:  Bohemia, alas.

“Hear me out!” — a gypsy man ordered me the other day while he endlessly wondered about his next wandering.  And I did.  I did:  I heard him out.

Compassion.

I’ve held my breath in silence yesterday afternoon while listening to my goddaughter far away from me, on the other coast, who hasn’t learned to talk yet but speaks volumes with her silence and her tiny furrowed brows inherited from India.  Breathlessly, I held back my tears to the noise of her twirling her mother’s cell phone, in her little brown hands; and when she finally produced a noise that’s impossible to spell or imitate — (was that Malayalam, my love?) — oh how I wept!  But then, again:  I’ve claimed my breath back:

Compassion!

Now, I’m sittin’ here, in my canopy bed, with the most gorgeous skies tempting me from outside.  My body — albeit its looking delicious this summer already, thank you very much — is feeling as if someone has ran it over with a truck.  Better yet:  a tank.  Exhausted:  That’s what I am, my kittens.

But regardless the state of being, I always come back to the blank page, every single morn’, as I’ve done for years, on my own.  Alone.  But now:  You’re here.  And these every day reunions beat every other desire I may harbor.  It’s permanent — this wanting to be read.  And even though I never allow myself the hubris of assuming that I may change a life — with my words — I hope I at least reveal enough compassion.

Compassion…

“How do you find what to write about?”

I hear a voice from another day — a voice of one of my broken-hearted.  She’s always thought so highly of me!  She wishes for my strength and esteem and discipline; while little does she know that all I wish for — is her time.  She’s still got time on her side — time and youth, you see? — while I’m perpetually running out.  Too young to know what chronic nights of loneliness feel like, she thinks I don’t cry behind my closed doors and curtains; that I’m immune to doubt.  She thinks my compassion comes freely, at no cost.

How DO I find what to write about?

Compassion.  That’s it.  It never runs out.  That’s my privilege, in life — and my burden:  I’m never immune to humanity.  No matter the stupidity or the disappointment, I always come back to it.  And now:  You’re here.  And even though I never allow myself the hubris of earning your understanding, your misunderstanding — I just cannot afford!  Because these tales come from my compassion:  FOR YOU.  For the sake of you.  For the sake of my own kindness.

Kind-ness.

The hero of today’s rant blog shall be named Stan.

Stan was a simple man, my kittens; not really artistic or fearless.  He just wanted to live his life, to live it out in calm — in some blah-ness of a simple survival.

No, he didn’t want much.  Aspiring — wasn’t his thing.  Ambition was somebody else’s spiel.  Because to live — wasn’t even his choice in the first place.  He was sort of born one day, to a pair of unartistic, fearful parents, somewhere in the middle of the country.  They taught him how to walk and to use the toilet; then, sent him off to school.  Then — college.

Stan got by.  Started losing his hair early.  Met a girl.  Learned to wank himself off.  Married the girl — knocked her up, clumsily, in the dark; then, returned to wanking himself off, alone.  Pleasures were always simple for Stan.  So were the solutions to his problems.  (I wish he didn’t have any, to tell you the truth.  But then, we are never granted more than we can handle.  So, Stan’s lot had to be lighter than mosts’.)

“I hear California is nice,” he said to his wife one day.  She was in the midst of matching his tube socks after doing laundry.

That was the day of Stan’s midlife crisis.

So, they moved.

And that’s where Stan and I met:  At some random gas station on Western Boulevard.  I was running low, in the midst of my Perpetual Dreaming.  (Otherwise, I’d avoid that street at all costs:  It’s got a special talent for inspiring depression.)  And Stan?  Stan was on his way back to Glendale.  This — was his regular stop.

At first, he was the jerk answering his cell phone at the gas pump next to mine.

“Is this fucker suicidal?!”  I thought and looked at him with the disgust I learned on New York subways.  Don’t know about his simple life, but I still had plenty of aspiring to do!  Ambition — was my spiel!

Stan noticed the look, realized his wrongdoing.  He brushed his thin hairs over the bald spot, lowered the phone and said:

“I’m so sorry, M’am.  I have to get this!  My wife…”

Stan started weeping, my kittens.  Subduedly at first, just so he could finish the phone call.  But once the flip phone slid into the pocket of his un-ironed khakis, Stan became all about his “ohs” and “goshes”.  Repeatedly, he tried to double over the hood of his car, then the trash bin with pockmarks of gum all over it.  He tried so hard to face away from me.

“Sir?  Sir, let me…”

With my hand on his hunched over back, I tried to guide him to his driver’s seat. But Stan was all about his “ohs” and “goshes”, clutching onto that filthy trash bin:

I was running low that day; but when compassion flooded — it took me with it, good riddance.

Big Break? Big Balls!

Back in my Motha’ Russia, there is a saying:

“Moscow wasn’t built overnight.”

Say whaaaat?  Okay, I’ll translate.

Any grandiose endeavor by the human mind, soul or imagination takes time to build.  Or in the words of my gorgeous lover:

“Anything worth having — takes a lot of hard work.”

Which is exactly why I was never a believer in the bullshit fairytales of Big Breaks and Overnight Sensations.

First off, I wasn’t born here; and neither was I a lucky bastard to be born to a family that would support me.  Quite quickly — oh, say, by the age of five — it became clear that not only was capable of taking care of myself, I was expected to do so.  So, when I left the anarchy of Motha’ Land’s last decade of the 20th century, I didn’t climb off the boat at Ellis Island expecting to tread upon pathways paved with easy money and other people’s easy “yeses.”  I was ready to bust my slim, tomboyish ass and earn my way; and I was NOT willing to make my step heavier by stuffing my mind with delusions of lottery fairytales.

And thusly, I did.  Oh, how I did that, my comrades!  For the sake of mere survival at first — for a decade! — I worked anywhere between two to five jobs while carrying a full-time class load in college and grad school; and then — as any American — I decided to practice my right to pursue a dream.  And, let me tell you:  This cat went for it!  Trying out every major in college.  Entertaining dozens of professions.  Taking-up internships on the Isle of Manhattana, just because she could.  Trying her hand at every art form, at least once.  You’d think this wild cat actually had nine lives to spare!  (All the while, the list of survival jobs and sleepless nights and financial sacrifices continued to accumulate.)

Now, if you’ve chosen to settle in either the metropolis of LA-LA or the other Center of the Universe (love you, New York — but it’s complicated with us!); you know that everybody is trying to be a Somebody.  That’s the reason for these two opposing cities’ magnificence and an occasional cause for annoyance.  But if you’ve come here to participate in the race, you’ve most likely been made a witness of the following event.  Say, a Somebody’s name comes up.  Or better yet, that Somebody appears in a national commercial while you’re vegging out on the couch with your aspiring actor friends.  You KNOW, there is going to be someone to holler:

“OH!  THAT’S MY FRIEND!”

Yep, we live in a close proximity to other people’s dreams coming true.  I myself have  a couple of comrades who are either on the verge of their first well-paid job of significant exposure, or are already working actors and writers.  And I’ll tell you this:  There was nothing “Overnight” in the pursuit of their dreams.  Just like the rest of us, they worked restaurant jobs and temp gigs and those soul-draining office jobs, at all of which they’ve been painfully overqualified, yet underpaid.  They’ve wasted their days in the soul-draining background holding areas and did the grind of audience work (otherwise known as the Freak Show of Humanity).  So by the time their personal Big Ben struck the hour of the Big Break, those hustlers have paid their dues.  They’ve done the legwork, you see; have knocked on dozen of doors; mailed enough head shots and reels and clippings to pay for a house downpayment.  They’ve been tortured by doubt and daunting competition and endless rejections.

My personal fascination is always with the journey that takes after the Happily Ever After.  What happens after the Big Break; or in the morning when you finally wake up as a Somebody?  From what I’ve witnessed:

—  First:  Your friendships get tested.  If you’ve had the balls to reach for any dream of seeming impossibility, you better be equipped with the self-possession and the courage of rediscovering the true content of your friendships. Some of your people will stick around, god bless their exceptional souls (at which point, I pray you have the wits to claim them as your permanent family).  But others — will flake off!  Be prepared:  Some friends will demonstrate very odd behavior that’ll leave you feeling disappointed or lonely.  So, may your god of choice grant you the wisdom and the grace to handle the life-changing reshuffle.

— And then, there will always be an army of acquaintances who will want a piece of it:  A piece of your Somebody-ness and the overdue prosperity that most likely comes with it. Again, keep clutching on to your chosen people; because after the noise hushes down, they’ll still be the only ones having your back.

— Finally, my favorite part:  And the work — continues. From what I’ve learned in my insignificant yet loaded with turmoil eight previous lives:  The work never stops.  And to that, I say:  Mazel tov!  If you’re one of those lucky dreamers to grab at least a handful of what you’ve reached for, may you continue to ask for more. So, here is to your endurance and patience, your courage to dream and the balls to handle the consequences!