Tag Archives: confidence

It’s Better to Have Loved.

(Continued from January 29th, 2012.)

The one that had preceded Nina suffered from a permanent tension of his vocal cords.  He had picked me up at the Santa Monica Library — a house of glass and metal, and the place of rest for many a homeless in the City where no one could ever find a home.  Not really.  Sure, one had a house, or a place.  A joint.  A roommate situation.  But to be at home — one had to be willing to belong.

“Hmm.  That’s an interesting pullover you’re wearing,” said the young creature, at the Library, smug with studied confidence.  Not natural at all.

I granted him a single glance-over:  An overachiever, to a tee.  Something about him lacked the swagger of those whose choices and whims were endorsed by family’s name or a bank account (which ever one had more clout).  Yes, still:  He tried.  Immediately, I knew:  He, who poured this much attention into his subject — who reached too far and tried too hard, straining beyond the plasticity of his compassion (which would already be magnificently excessive), he who choked with forced praise — would rarely be comfortable in silence.  Not in the mood for busy talk, I changed the subject whilst looking for an exit:

“What are you reading, mate?” I threw over my shoulder.  The echo played a round of ping-pong with my sounds between the glass walls of the reading room.  Ate, ate, ate.  To which, a studying nerd deflated his lungs, somewhere in the corner:

“SHHHHHH!”

Neither looking back at the distressed prisoner of knowledge nor wanting to look ahead at this new lingering aggressor against silence, I focused on the hardbound books with which he had been shielding himself, with brown, hairless arms.  The fading edges of their cloth binding would smell of mold at the spine, and then of dehydration from the air and sun; overexposure to the oil of human fingers and the salt of readers’ tears, surprised to have their empathy awoken by someone’s words:  Still alive, that thing?  Because the heart was usually the last one to give up.  And then, the lungs:  SHHHHHH.

The aged tomes in the man-child’s arms promised to titillate my ear more than his words.  Words, words.

“What am I reading?!  Oh.  Um.  Nothing…”  (Oh, c’mon!  The nerd in the corner was turning red, by now, from the justified resentment at being invisible to us, as he had been his whole life.)  “Well.  Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh, actually.”  The man-child finally spat out, then hesitated, gave this cords another straining pull:  “I know!  Not butch enough — for a straight male!”  He nearly choked there!  Words, words, word.

Oh.  One of those:  Simultaneously eager and tormented!  The one to flaunt his politics out loud, just so that the others didn’t get the wrong idea.  Because whatever happened in beds he visited (even if out of the other lover’s loneliness or boredom) would be the reason for his later torment.  The guilt, the loathing.  The other obstacles to self-esteem.  And he would wear them like a frilly scarf from Urban Outfitters, meant to accent things — to draw attention, and perhaps make him more “interesting” — but not to serve the very original function.  The it-ness of the thing was lost.

With me, the man-child, worked his words (words, words) to become liked enough.  And after one eve of heavy breathing and pulsating blood flow, perhaps, he would be asked to stay.  I questioned, though, if he knew exactly what he wanted:  sex — or its statistic?  The mere happening of it?  Sex was a fact of his hormonal balance; and if he could help ignore it, he would move out of his body entirely and occupy his head.  But for right now, the boy still had to get some, however accidentally.

The love you take — is equal…

He took, he claimed.  And if he didn’t, he would storm out of sentences with scorn of having to sublimate his desires, yet again.  Alas, the world was so unfair.

“But you!”  Against the walls, he kept thumping the words like racket balls.  The poor boy was trying!  “You! — must be so erudite!”

“SHHHHHH!”

“Or really?” I hissed, considering the possibility of the nerd’s heart attack for which I was not willing to bear the responsibility.  At least, not on a Monday night.  “Is it the pullover?”  I asked and pushed him out of the way.  Over, over, over.

The man-child lingered, then began to laugh with that obnoxious howl meant to draw attention.  Again, too much.  Too hard.  So insincere!  Petrified!  SHHH!  SHHHHHH…

“He sounds messy!” diagnosed Taisha, while she herself was negotiating the rush hour traffic.  It was always rush hour, somewhere, in this City.  Her windows rolled down — I could hear the screech of others’ breaks in the lazy heat of another smoggy afternoon.  If one survived the mind-numbing dissatisfaction at having to just sit there — while getting nowhere and watching life slip out thorough the vents of fans — half of LA would give up on the idea of stepping out again, that night.

“I think I’m coming down with something.”

“…It’s food poisoning, I think.”

Like nowhere else, here, people were prone to canceling plans.  To giving-up.

“I’m waiting for the cable guy.  It sucks!”

“My cat is sick.”

Each night, the people landed in their private spaces, shared with other people or their own delusions.  They heated up some frozen options from Trader Joe’s and locked their doors agains the City.

I listened to the life force of LA:  Still plentiful, it breezed through all four open windows of Taisha’s Prius.  This place — a forty four mile long conveyer belt that moved things along, living or inanimate (it moved lives along); and if one could not keep up, the weight of failure would remain under one’s breath.  The City of Lost Angels.  The City of Lost Hearts.

“Now listen!  Don’t do ANYTHING! until I see you!” Taisha ordered me; and although my heart maintained its pace, it winced at little, subjected to her care.  “Don’t sleep with him!  You’re dangerously close to some stupid choices, right about now!”  (She was referring to the draught of my sexuality.  When I blew out the thirty candles of my birthday cake, the promiscuity that granted me some fame, was also put out, surprisingly and seemingly for good.  Into that space, I started cramming wisdom.)

“I am one lucky bastard — to have you love me like you do,” I responded, singing my words halfway through the sentence.

Oh, how she fought it!  My dear Tai!  All business and busyness, the girl refused to slow down for sentimentality’s sake:  “Oh, you, white people!  Ya’ll get so mushy ‘round love.  My people, back in Kenya…”

“Ah, jeez!  Alright!” I interrupted, misty-eyed.  “I’ll talk to you.”

Taisha would be talking, still, like “peas and carrots” in the mouths of actors.  But I could hear her smile break through.  Humanity still happened here, amidst perpetual exhaust and one’s exhausted dreams.  Somewhere along the stretched-out, mellow land attacked by bottom-feeders and the self-diluted who knew not why exactly they made a run for here, but mostly headed West in a trajectory that had been paved by others — it happened.  Some stayed, too tired or too broken of hearts.  And they comprised my City.

 

“Everyone seems so shallow here!” the man-child (he would be from Connecticut, but of course!) was overlooking the crawling traffic, like a Hamlet in his soliloquy.  And from the upstairs patio table we’d taken while splitting a bottle of ginger ale (for which I’d paid), he seemed to be in perfect lighting.  The row of yellow street lights had suddenly come on above his head.  The dispersed taillight red reflected on his face from the West-bound traffic.  The boy was slowly sipping — on my drink.

“Big spender!” I could already hear the voice of my Kenyan Confucius.  “RUN!  Run while you can!”

“But YOU!  You seem like you’re here by accident!”  His terrorism by kindness did have one thing going for it, called lucky timing.

“I am so lonely,” I wanted to let out, right underneath the yellow light now holding conferences of moths and fruit flies.  At a table nearby, a girl blogger clacked away on her snow-white Mac, while glancing at us from underneath her Bettie Page bangs.  What does it feel like — to be written?

“What if I slept with him?” I thought.  It’s better to have loved…

Except that:  I had turned thirty.  And I could no longer take for granted the ghosts of previous lovers that crowded a bedroom during a seemingly inconsequential act.  A Greek Chorus of the Previously Departed.  And then, the heart of one participant, at least, would wake up — with yearning or having to remember its wrong-doings or when the wrong was done to it — and things turned messy.  So, sex was never simple; especially for this one, who now tipped the last drops of my ginger ale into his glass.

“You wanna drink?”  Familiarity had started working on my sentences already, like cancer in my marrow.  Still, IT — could have happened, still.  IT would have started with a shared drink.  “A beer, or something?”  I tensed my body to get up.

“Nah, thanks.  I’m in AA.”

I looked at him:  His eyes began to droop like a basset hound’s:  Just ask me — of my suffering.  The frilly Urban Outfitters scarf picked up against the gust of wind.  My chair scraped away from him — and from the table now mounted by issues of his angst.  My entertained desire shriveled.

Yet still — I stayed!

When he and I made loops around the neighborhood, dumbfounding the drivers at each intersection with our pedestrian presence.  Through windshields, I would find their eyes — like fish in an aquarium, unable to blink — and they calculated the time they had to make the light without plastering our bodies with their wheels.  Preferably.  The man-child let me lead the way.  A winner!

And still — I stayed.

I stayed when I had climbed onto a stone fence, and now even to his height I waited for the lean-in.  The boy hung back, decapitating his hands at his wrists by sticking them into his pant pockets.  His words continued to pour out:  His praise came up along my trachea, with bubbles of that shared ginger ale, which now tasted of rejected stomach acid.

But still.  I stayed.  I waited.  Because sometimes, to those who wait — life grants, well, nothing.  And nothing, sometimes, seemed to be the choice of greater courage.

 

“She never rains.  The poor girl, She’s all cried out.”

Nina’s hair, unless right after the shower, shot out of her head in spirals of prayer.  Of course, she hated it.  A black woman’s hair:  Don’t touch it, unless you’re done living altogether.  The glory of it was slightly confused by auburn shades inherited from Nina’s Irish mother.  And underneath that mane — sometimes set afire by the sun’s high zenith — and right below her smooth forehead, two eye, of furious green, devoured the words that she had been reading to me from headstones.

“Which one is that?” I asked and walked to her side of a burgundy granite, with jagged edges, still shiny like a mirror.  It had to have been a pretty recent death.

She wrapped herself further into her own arms and chuckled, “No one, silly.  I just said that.  About this City.”  Like an enamored shadow, I hung behind her.  “This would be the perfect time for rain.  Except that She — is all dried out, you see?”  The furious green slid up my face.  “But She — is really something, isn’t She?”

It was indeed refreshing, for a change, to be with a woman so free from posing.  Of course, I’d witnessed moments of vanity on her before:  When her pear-shaped backside lingered at the boudoir before she’d finally slip in between the covers and curve around me.  And all the open spaces — she occupied by flooding.

I wondered if she knew the better angles of herself.  Because I saw them all.  When in an unlikely moment of worrying about my long-term memory’s lapse, I whipped out my phone and aimed its camera at Nina’s regal profile, she must’ve been aware that her beauty was beyond anything mundane.  For I had studied many a pretty girls before, the ones with the self-esteem of those who have never been denied much.  But Nina’s beauty wrote new rules, of something warm and living.  It came from occupying her skin with no objections to its shape of color; from delicate sensibility and softness, like the wisp of a hair across a lover’s face.  But there was also:  strength.  And heritage.  And underneath my touch, she moved.

“My baby,” she half-whispered and molded to my shape.

“Come on! Come on! Come on! Come on — and TAKE It: Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now, Baby!”

There are days when it’s hard to clock in.  But then, I see a single human face — and I’m on a roll.

Like the luminous face of a woman who, yesterday, made me wonder about my aging self.

She would have otherwise be found plain:  Quite tall and long-limbed, in unmemorable clothes.  A pair of ballet flats, a pencil skirt and a V-neck, all in jewel colors.  That’s exactly how my eyes travelled too, along her thin body:  from the ground, up to her face.  From humility, up to humanity.  And then, they got stuck.  On her face.

Under the haircut of no longer than two inches that was bleached to camouflage the gray, her face was completely open.  Readable, as if I expected to find my own reflection in it.  Having not a dab of make-up on her — like she had nothing to hide — she seemed incredibly open and present.  Up for anything.

“Like someone possessed by a clear conscience,” I thought.

“I didn’t expect you to be so petite and, um, lovely,” she said to me.  It was our first meeting.

I can always tell.  Especially when it comes to other broads, I can always tell when I’m being fed some insincere bullshit.  And then, I can always tell when a woman means it; when she’s got no time — or in my case, no tolerance — for competition; and she’s got a sister’s better interest in mind.  And I tell you, compliments from such a broad are a better ego treatment than a week-long stay at a beauty spa with, say, Olivier Martinez as your lover.

So, when she said that — I was hooked.  First, I studied her well nourished skin with seemingly no trace of plastic surgery, and I pinpointed the gist of her:  She was a happy one.  She had done the work.  That hard work one’s gotta do on herself in order to not be tortured with doubt, jealousy or self-loathing.  She had the balls to be happy, to like herself, and by extension (or by my hubristic assumption that I was heading in the same direction), she seemed to like me just fine, too.

I was about to learn in one, two, three minutes — she was also a writer.  It must be a common thing among artists, writers especially:  We just can’t fucking give up on people.  We cannot NOT like them.

Like every other fucker, over the course of a life, we acquire a history of letdowns and opinions.  Every heartbreak hurts equally.  After enough shit has been handed to us, though, some of us learn to pray to our Zen deities and pretend to surrender all control over the matter.  But I suspect the truth is a lot more painful:  Each fuck-up hits us below the belt and we hate it.  Because by definition of our craft, we cannot lead with disappointment.  We ought to stay in love with humanity, or at least in awe of it.

And why CAN’T people live up to their goodness?  Surely, they had to be good at one point.  It’s kind of a universal thing in the beginning:  We are born good.  We remain good for a while, and complete strangers get sidetracked at the sight of our still undamaged faces.

I wondered that as I studied the face of a babe who was being carried across the street by her father.  She was little.  Too little for me to remember what it felt like — to be her.  Too young to have a palpable fear of time.

Facing out, over the man’s shoulder, the young girl was moving her mouth and pressing her plum cheek against her father’s stubble.

“That man’s heart is forever taken,” I thought.

The seconds on their walkway sign were about to expire, but the two creatures — one still innocent, the other one living vicariously through her — were so engrossed in their chat, they were hardly among us.  Finally, by the time the man began jogging slightly, with his daughter bouncing uncomfortably in his arms (he had to be still training for such new functions of his body), they crossed in front of my left headlight.  Two more lanes of traffic — and they would be safe.

Bouncing on her father’s arm, the girl noticed me.  The green of her eyes got stuck to my heart.  I waved, timidly, with one hand.  Hesitantly but innocently, she squeezed her tiny left fist, then released it, and squeezed it again.  She was imitating my gesture.  She was still good.  Up for anything.

It would be horrific, I thought, to lose my soul’s sight.

Then, I went home and wrote this.

“And She’s Never Seen with Pin Curls in Her Hair.”

It would take her years to process the truth.  Not the truth of the last moment:  Her, weeping at the airport into the shoulder seam of a man’s sweatshirt.  She was upping the ante, that day.  Making the ultimate bet, the win of which — would be her staying.  (At least, she thought that was the win she’d wanted, at that last moment.)

And it was not the truth that he had been feeding her for years.  No, not his truth:  The truth that he begged her to accept, just so that he could buy himself more time.  So that he could continue to have it both ways.  Both women.

But how much more time could a man need?  He had already taken six years out of her life.  Six years out of her youth — and out of her better self.

When they first met, she still had a cherubic face:  The same face he would’ve seen had he expressed an interest in seeing photos of her younger self.  Her better self:  The self before the sans six years had happened.  It would’ve foretold the face of their firstborn, if he were to have any courage to follow through with the affair.

But then, perhaps, it was not a question of courage.  It was quite possible that the matter narrowed down to the initial intention.  Down, down went the spiral, to the root of the matter.  On every loop, their faces changed.  Their characters changed slightly, altered by each other:  And that was the only way she could expect to matter, in the end.  In the truth of that last moment, and beyond.  After six years, she would have changed a man.  She had happened to him.  And after her happening, he had to have changed.

She failed to change him for the better.  She couldn’t as much as change his mind to make her life — his first choice.  For the duration of the affair, she would remain the back-up; the retreat in which he hid when things weren’t well at home.  She would remain a fantasy.  The Other Woman:  The one that fabricated her own calendar, rescheduled her holidays and channeled each day toward the brief line-up of hours when she would see him; then, dismiss the rest.  The one that pressured herself into better housekeeping, into whipping up gourmet meals and shaping her body into the best he could have had.  His life’s first choice.

In literature, women like her were despised.  They were often written mean, or needy; with serious daddy issues.  Complete head cases, in films these women went berserk; and they would do the unthinkable things that later justified their suffering.  They were insecure, although often very beautiful.  Their puffy faces waited by the door on Christmas, and by the phone on birthdays.  They were the back-ups, forever waiting for arrivals.  They fed themselves on leftovers of loves.  The paupers.  The self-imposed outcasts.  And their faces — sans the years that their lovers took out of their better selves — were the faces she never hoped to see in the reflection of closed store fronts, by which she, too, had waited all these years.

“A bright girl!” she had been called before.  A bit naive, perhaps, but not an idiot.  But it would take her years:  because she wanted to believe that she was good enough to change his mind.  Good enough to deserve love.

Up, up went the spiral, up to the clarity of truth.  Not the truth that she had wanted to believe so desperately.  Not the truth that may have been actual, when the lovers were intertwined:  In those moments, he may have loved her; but no more than he loved himself.  He too had to be thinking that he deserved love, that he deserved to have it both ways.  That he deserved — both women.

The truth was to be found in the initial intention:  The root of the matter.  He never wanted her for keeps.  An adventure, an escape from the dissatisfactions of his chosen life.  In his chosen wife.  That was the matter:  He felt he deserved the comforts of the chosen wife and the fantasy — of the Other Woman.  He deserved both.

The problem was:  She was a good woman.  A good girl.  “A bright one”.  And to protect himself from the guilt, he had to tarnish her.  So, he would leave it up to her — to make the choice to stay.  To be the back-up.  He left it in her hands to keep on waiting, while he continued — to come back.

And he would have kept going until she lost the memory of her better self and would become that woman:  that Other Woman, with puffy-faced reflections and reconstructed calendars.  The pauper.  The disregarded.

She would have lost her self-respect, and how could anyone respect a girl like that?  So, he wouldn’t.  He left it in her hands — to destroy her better self.  And that would always justify his choice of the chosen wife.

But in the truth of that last moment, she upped the ante:  He could either have her better self — or whatever was left of her, after the sans six years — or no self of hers at all.  She left him to his chosen life.

And in that last truth, the only person who deserved compassion (because she still would not receive his better love) — was the man’s Chosen Wife.

But hers — was a whole another story:

Of yet Another Woman.

“You Do It Every Hour: Oh, Baby, You’re So Vicious!”

I overheard a girl’s voice:

“That is just SO unattractive!”

Shit!  Have I been busted?

Never-ever in my life, had I ventured outside in a pair of pj’s.  But this pair of sweats, that had previously been purchased in the sleepwear department of H&M, had somehow seemed to be a perfect choice for the recent change in the weather.  They were that pretty color of a Siberian cat’s fur — bluish-gray and fluffy — and so fucking cozy, the rainy Saturday morning had insisted on calling them out of my closet.  Plus they fit over my knee-high Uggs without any bulky stretch in the material.  And I kept thinking no one would be able to tell the primary purpose of this attire, so I left the house.

I remembered wearing these sweats on a run once.

“Are those Cossack pants?” my running partner evaluated my look before we hit the ground running.

Asshole.

He himself was wearing a pair of black, shiny tights with zippers at his ankles, which I’m pretty sure belonged to the women’s portion of a Lululemon store that he had raided a week before.

“Do you know any other guy who could pull these off?” my running buddy had puffed himself up, after berating my attire.

I didn’t want to break it to him.  We were about to run through West Hollywood, so anything went.

“Are you gonna use these as sails?” he turned the attention back to me.  “Just to pick up  some speed, or something?”

These men, who make us, women, feel like we don’t measure up to their standards:  Why do they find it humane, or even appropriate, to express their opinions out loud?

I was proud of my pants though, and I have pleasantly rediscovered them this fall.  When someone mentioned we were expecting a rainy weekend, I had already been wearing these things around the house for a week.  And on this rainy Saturday, they were finally being taken outside.

It was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  The street — with cute boutiques and family-owned restaurants; a deli with excellent (although overpriced) food; a used bookstore and a funky newsstand on the corner — was paved with a wet and shimmering asphalt.  A few sleepy humans came out into the rain to smell the newly rinsed city and its rarely smog-less air.  Two pale young men from a Noah Baumbach future cast were the only ones sitting on the patio and mellowly watching the traffic of shiny, rinsed cars.  Tiny drops of drizzle were tangled up in the tips of their overgrown hair.  They looked like dandelion heads.

The owner of a health store I never visited before was sliding open the rusty gate.  A pretty brunette in rubber rain boots, she, too, looked mellow and somewhat tired.

“Good morn!” she said, sounding like a girl who would never outgrow her college-day quirkiness.  “Love your pants!”

“Thank god for Zooey Deschanel,” I thought, “for paving the road for us, smart girls.”

“Aren’t they perfect?!” I responded cheerfully.  (I was trying too hard — so, I self-corrected quickly.)  “So fucking cozy!”

Yes, it was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  Except that, I was on my street, in Hollywood.

A giant cup of steaming ginger tea, wide enough to wash my face in, began to sound perfect.  I strolled down to the end of the block and stepped inside my favorite coffee joint, with Bohemia-inspired set-up and late night hours suitable for the insomniacs and dreamers.

The light was mellow, streaming down from mismatching lamps, through vintage lampshades and colored lightbulbs.  A mirror ball was slowly spinning in the corner.  A feline female voice was meowing over the speakers.

“Bjork?” I guessed.

That’s when I overheard the girl:

“I mean:  That is just SO unattractive!”

The male barista, who leaned against the counter to listen to the venting female customer, greeted me with a nod.

“Do you know what you’d like?”

“Um?  Do you have any ginger tea?” I said.

“Don’t think so,” he said.  “But lemme check.”

Carefully, from behind my icicle locks of wet hair, I snuck a peak at the girl:  She was pretty and petite.  A cute brunette in an oversized, Flashdance inspired sweater slipping off her naked shoulder, she leaned her body into the bar and arched her back.  The thong, that her position had revealed above her jeans’ belt, seemed pre-staged.  Her hair was messy, wavy, almost nappy, a la Sienna Miller, in her hipster self.  Her jewelry was so H&M:  giant rings and layered necklaces!  She was consumed with scrolling text messages with a single thumb on her Blackberry’s screen.

“Yeah.  I don’t think this is about me,” I thought.

The mellow barista returned:

“I don’t have any ginger tea.  But I have tea — with ginger?”  He linger.

“That’ll do!” I said.

Our transaction was over.  The girl returned to venting:

“I mean, just look at this one!  How can he be texting me such things?

She brushed her sharp nails through the nappy hair and handed over the Blackberry.  She seemed distraught, although slightly showy.

Another lovely girl’s breath wasted.  Another stab at her esteem.

“Ah, Gur-url! (Inhale.) Girl, Gur-url!”

“There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom.  The rest is merely gossip, and the tales for other times.” —

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm 

He was young — oh, so young! — but not convoluted at all, which is a rarity in itself.  He sat with his body turned toward me at a 45-degree angle, playing with the ice cubes on the bottom of his tall glass; but never letting go of me, with his eyes.

“What are you drinking?” he started up.  I could feel it with my skin cells:  The kid was NOT into chatter much.  He actually wanted to know.

“Um,” I chuckled and looked at my ice-less glass.  “Tomato juice.”

And I nodded.  I am not a barfly, mostly for that very same reason:  I don’t drink.  So, I nodded while bracing myself for the irony some tipsy idiot was about to point out.

The kid picked-up my glass and he sniffed it.

That scene!  It reminded me of that scene, in a quirky film about doomed love:  She asks him for a piece of chicken, and without his answer, takes it.  Just like that!  She reaches over and takes a chicken leg from his paper plate; and he is immediately disarmed at her lack of pretense and the intimacy at which he’d had to do no work, whatsoever.

The kid put down my glass, exactly into the water ring it had marked on my bev nap earlier.  Then, he nodded and pouted with his lower lip:

“That’s cool!” he said, without showing me his version of a deprecating smirk.

My self-defense was unnecessary, here; and all the jokes at my own expense popped, like soap bubbles on a child’s palm.

I had been approached by men at bars before (and I had been approached by women, as well).  Most of the time, with their courage slightly loosened by liquor, they negotiate their desire immediately.  But they’re never drunk enough to say it bluntly:

“I want your sex,” for instance.

Or:

“I just want to fuck around, for bit.  Is that okay?”

Instead, they loom, while flirting clumsily and waiting for me to bite the bait.  It’s amusing, most of the time, to observe the habit of other people to get in their own way.  (It’s also the reason I don’t drink:  I like to watch, instead.  That; and the fact that my sober tendencies of getting in MY own way — are already quite sufficient; and I needn’t be drunk to get a clearer look at myself.)

Soon enough though, the men get distracted:  Their drunken charm refuses to work on me.  What they don’t realize is that their honesty might’ve gotten them a lot more.

Eventually, they move on though — to someone easier, I suppose.  But while they loom, my drunken courtiers sneak peaks at other barflies — and butterflies — with whom their charm wouldn’t happen in vain.  They’re always pretty, those other girls, and more willing, perhaps.  So, I let the men move on quickly:

“Go loom elsewhere, honey.  It’s okay.  Really.”

But this kid:  He was different.  He would study the other women openly, and sometimes, at my own direction.

“SHE — is gorgeous!” I’d mutter into my thin straw; and so, he would look, in silence.

What was he looking at, I would wonder?  Was it the silky shimmer of her brown shoulders?  Was it the beauty mark revealed by a backless dress?  The curvature of her rear?  The endlessness of her naked legs leading up to heaven?

What was it like to be so young — and to want so much?  

So, he would look at the other women, but then return to me — always.  He was one of those:  The type that tended to hit things right on the nose.  He would ask me questions that would make me shift in my seat; and under his examination, I, too, began studying the girl in a wraparound dress with no underwear lines, anywhere along her body.  I was studying — me.

I surprised myself when I asked him about his mother.  I could feel her, distances away, praying that her son was under the care of only good people.  Only good women.  She would have a confident face, I imagined, just like her son’s:  With no ticks to betray her habit of getting in her own way.  I couldn’t possibly know the extent of her courage yet; what it was like to let her child leave her watch.  But I was pretty sure that if I were a mother, I too would hope — and I too would pray! — for the goodness of other people.  Of other good women.

He spoke of her willingly.  It was unlikely for a young man to be aware of the sacrifice a mother must make.  But this kid — this young man — understood the courage of a woman’s heart:  The courage it took — to be a good one!

“I’m not sure what it is…” he would say to me later.  “I’m not sure what it is — about you.”

His hands would be steady:  They knew the common crevices along a woman’s body; but he had yet to learn the specificity of mine.

“It’s just sex,” I’d tell him, “and that’s okay.  Really.” And I would cradle his head, brush his hair and soothe his eyelids.

He was under a care of one good woman.  And the good woman, waiting, praying for him from distances away, had absolutely nothing to worry about, that night.

“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.

“We All Live in A Yellow Submarine, Yellow Submarine, Yellow Submarine.”

Yes, it’s a hard way of being:  Living as an artist.  But then, again, I wouldn’t want to be living — in any other way.

And I’ve tried.  In all honesty, I’ve tried to be many things:  Anything else but an artist.  An administrator, a teaching assistant, and a secretary.  A proofreader, an academic, a critic.  A manager.  An accountant.  A librarian.

“Oh, you!” my college comrades used to say.  “You and your jobs!  You’re always changing jobs.”

They had known me for years, and for years — they had seen me working.  They had watched me giving a very fair try to living for the sake of a different profession.  A “normal” profession.   A job.  And they had witnessed me change my mind.

Back then, I wasn’t really sure which profession it would turn out to be, so I would try everything.  And instead of entertaining things, I would satisfy my curiosity by leaping into every opportunity.  Because I always felt I could be so many things; but I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t be anything else — but an artist.

Being an artist resembled an exotic disease — a dis-ease of the soul — and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t one of its victim.

“So, what’s your major this morning?” my folks teased me during our phone calls.  I was prone to changing my mind, and the flexibility of my American education confused the hell out of them.

“Still English, I think,” I’d say.  “But with a slight concentration — in journalism.”

“Well, at least, you’re getting an education,” my best friend comforted me.  She always comforted me.  And it seemed to bother her the least — my proneness to change my mind, because I felt I could be so many things.

Come to think of it:  It should have been easier, in my youth.  During our college years, that’s exactly what we were meant to do:  To seek.  To learn.  To experiment.  To be — so many things!

But somehow, my contemporaries seemed to be more certain about their paths.  They would be teachers or administrators.  The more city-savvy types were going into investment banking in New York.  And I’ve even known one biologist and a chick who went to work for Fox News.  But mostly, they would be teachers.

“How can they be so sure?”  I wondered.

Because I wasn’t sure.  I could foresee the pleasure in having a day job with which I could identify myself for a couple of years; but the romance of its routine would expire as soon as some bureaucrat’s ego would begin dictating procedures to me, on a daily basis.  Some of them didn’t like my language, or my dress code.  They handed me time sheets and forms, along with the lists of appropriate jewelry.  Some wanted me to tame my hair.  Others preferred I didn’t call my colleagues “Loves”.

So, I would leave.  I would always leave, but with enough notice and plenty of disappointment noticeable on my employers’ faces:

“It’s just that you had so much potential!” they would say.

“Then, why did you break my balls about my headscarves?” I would think in response.  Still, I would leave with grace (even if I was leaving over burning bridges).

After college, I would be the only one in my class to leave for an art school.

“But you should teach!” my academic mentors insisted.  “Most of your contemporaries teach!”

Everyone had an opinion.  Everyone but me.  I still felt I could be so many things, but I really wanted to be — just one!

Some seemed to be quite disappointed in my decision to stick to the arts.

“What are you gonna do — with an art degree?  You could be so many things, instead!”

And I wasn’t sure.  I still wasn’t sure.

“And how can everybody else — be so sure?!” I wondered.

After the first semester in my MFA program, the uncertainty about my profession would remain.  However, the overall vision of my life was becoming clearer:  I would be an artist.  I WAS an artist.  And it was starting to be enough — to be that one thing.

And so, there I was:  Willing to risk my life’s stability — the stability about which my contemporaries seemed to be so sure — for the sake of seeking daily inspiration.  I would take on projects that would fuel my gratitude and curiosity.  I would begin spending my nights in companies of others who shared my exotic disease — the dis-ease of the soul; and I would attend their shows and poetry readings, and loom in front of their paintings in tiny New York galleries.  And none of us were still certain about our destinations; and yes, we were still filled with angst.  But we did share the same vision:  Our moments of happiness were simultaneous to the moments of creation — the moments of dis-ease.

Throughout the years, some of my contemporaries have disappeared into their professions:  They turned out to be successful administrators and great teachers.  Wonderful teachers, as a matter of fact!  I would watch them moving with seeming certainty through their honorable daily routines.

“Still:  How can you be so sure?” I would interview a few of them, years later.

I had succumbed to my disease fully by then, and I would learn to maneuver the demands of my survival jobs.  I had surrendered.

“Are you kidding?!  We aren’t sure at all!” some would answer, honestly.

And for the first time, in their tired and good, decent and honorable faces, I would notice a slight glimmer of doubt.

“Oh!” I would wonder.  “So, no one really knows, for sure!”

Strangely, I would find no comfort in their doubtfulness.

But I would find great ease in knowing that I myself had fully surrendered to my disease:  The dis-ease of my soul — of an artist.

“You See: Everybody — Is Somebody. But Nobody Wants To Be Themselves.”

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming,” he said, holding too lengthy of a pause for an effect.

What he wasn’t realizing was that the habit of breaking-up his thoughts with these loaded silences shot down any effect he was aiming for:  It deflated the importance of his statements, and any urgency in his inspirational speech — to a room full of actors — was going out of the windows.

Although, come to think of it, there weren’t any windows in the joint at all:  We were packed into a black-box theatre of a classroom, like an army of revolutionaries planning a revolt in a basement, somewhere in the jungles of South America.  Everyone was an artist of sorts; quite a few writers — and even a spoken word poetess (she was rad!).

There was a handful of newbies in the room:  You could tell by the way they surveyed everyone with their impressionable and somehow petrified glances.  (Oh, to be new to the chaos of LA!  I wouldn’t want to relive that joy.)  The rest of us — were seasoned residents of the city, not yet veterans of the industry.  But we had all been around the block by now — around several blocks, actually, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

Some seemed jaded, and they sized-up all the previous speakers while never uncrossing their arms for the entirety of a 2-hour lecture.  There were some that loved to hear the sound of their voice; so, every question of theirs turned into a tiny, brooding monologue.  An older actress from Chicago, a bit tipsy from the free wine, had been hollering from the front row as if she were listening to gospel:  Such humanity!  (She was rad!)

Pretty girls — of those, there was plenty.  That’s the one thing guaranteed in LA-LA:  Perpetual beauty that either humbles and inspires — or saddens with its dispensability.

Anyway, he was saying:

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming.” 

The guy was quite tall, slightly on the stocky side.  His non-immaculately white shirt was untucked, with its top half unbuttoned down to his undershirt, also non-white.  He wore jeans and insecurities galore.

Half way through the evening, he took over the job of announcing the speakers from the evening’s MC.

“Who IS this guy?” I caught myself thinking every time he got up, lingered by the director’s chair in the middle of the stage and hogged our time with his prolonged, miserable pauses.

Standing in the corner of a packed room, I had been studying the audience for nearly two hours.  There were a couple of faces I recognized.  A few seemed quite familiar; but then again, as a seasoned resident of LA-LA, you begin to lose track of origins.  And you catch yourself thinking:

“Do I know you?”

“Have we met in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city?”

“Have I seen you in a commercial, or in a waiting room for that commercial’s audition?”

“Or, have I simply bumped into you while we both circled around the blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots?”

A man with Jeremy Irons’ face caught my attention, in a corner of the classroom.  You don’t forget a face like that.  (He was rad!)  But then again, I’d been around the block too many times by now — around many blocks, actually — and I had long begun losing track of origins.

“So… you just gotta…” the man in a non-immaculately white shirt was hanging onto his silences, on stage.

He made some sort of a peculiar gesture with his hand.

The speakers who had preceded him — not necessarily seasoned residents of LA-LA, but definitely veterans of the industry — were quite inspiring.  Passionate, eccentric and honest, they had spoken of their love for the art — and their advocacy of the artists.  They — were rad!

It’s an unusual thing here, in this city.  Back in New York, packed into black-box theaters, one comes to expect talks about the art of it all.  Because there, we prefer to be think of ourselves as craftsmen — artists of sorts — not businesspeople.

But in LA-LA — it’s all about the business!  And in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city, we agree to collect the crumbs of information qualified as networking.

“Because you never know!” they tell us.

So, you learn to surrender.  You better!

You better surrender to the unexplainable chaos of the industry.  You better learn to accept yourself as a seasoned resident of this city.  You better let go of all expectations and stop counting the favors and the debts other people owe you:  No one owes you jack shit!

It takes time and an open mind — to survive here.

It takes a passionate heart to keep bringing the craft into the rooms full of businesspeople; and that heart has got to keep at it, despite having been around several blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

It takes discipline and humility to become a working artist — a veteran of the industry — not just a seasoned, bitter resident.

It takes a love — for the art!

And my own happiest discovery about the business is that thankfully, it still takes GRATITUDE — to persevere.

“All My Ladies: If You Feel Me, Do It! Do It! WHIP YO’ HAIR!”

I follow a tradition:  To get a man outta my hair — I cut it down.

I have a lot it:  My hair.  My mane of plenty.

And in it, a man always finds his very first addiction, along my body.

So, naturally:  To get a man outta my hair — I cut it down.

It grows in unpredictable patterns.  Every day, it does its own thing:  between the gypsy wave and the tight curl of a brown girl, a sleek streaming down, along the upper vertebrae of my neck; a flip to one side, a curtain above my eye brow.  After years of managing it, I’ve finally learned not to — and I just let it be.    

I usually can sense it when it’s time to get a haircut — or a hair-shave:  I get itchy with impatience, and I stop wearing it down.  Instead, I yank it back and up into a brutal balletic bun, lacquering down all the flirty fly-aways with some nuclear spray.

And any time I let it down:

“Do you think I should cut it?” I ask anyone who happens to be nearby and listening.

Because by that time, the lover is long gone, having left little behind, or nothing at all — but so much to get over.  So, I can no longer turn to him — and ask the same question.

Yesterday, I skipped the questionnaire.  I drove the car, plopped down into the chair of the only brown girl I trust with my hair; and I said, with that fake accent I take on for comedy’s sake:

“Khelp me!”

She tilted back a headful of her heavy dreads and she roared:

“Jesus!  The Russian is a mess!”

“You can say that again.”

“The Russian is a mess!”

I tilted back a headful of my messy mane — and I too roared, spinning in her chair:  It was good to be back for some serious shedding.  I was about to get a man outta my hair, with the very first addiction he’d ever found along my body.

Her confident brown hand reached over and unleashed my bun, scratching the scalp with her firm nails.  She’s Caribbean, wears tats and feathers; and she is always listening to heavy music.  (Unless she is having a bad day:  Then, we do Nina.)

For three years now, she’s been freelancing out of this joint with floor-to-ceiling windows, flung open throughout the entire year, with its heavy music echoing along Venice Boulevard.  And for three years now, she’s been cutting my mane of plenty.

We both examined my reflection in the illuminated mirror.  She smiled, about to roar again, and her teeth reminded me of coconut meat.  Mine — were yellowed with coffee.

“I look like a shaggy dog!” I said.  “Khelp me!”

That was the last of it:  The last time we would mention my hair:  My mane of plenty.  For the rest of that hour, we talked about the adventures that had happened since the last time I sat in her chair, saying:

“Khelp me!”

She started doing yoga since — and I began flying.  She was thinking about running.  I had been.

She roared a lot, and I would spin in her chair, pleased that I was the cause of her lightness.

There had been times before, somewhere in the beginning of our camaraderie, when I would go to sleep in her chair, and in her hands; and she would let me.  But after all these years of shedding, she’s become my only permanent confidant in this city.

In an hour — filled with more laughter and questions, with tales of our future adventures — we both examined my reflection in the illuminated mirror.  She smiled her coconut smile at me and buried the brown, confident right hand inside my now shorter mane, of still plenty.

“No hair-dryer, right?”

“Nyet!  I hate that thing.”

Some magical potion smelling of ginger was rubbed into my scalp.  I was feeling lighter already.

“Jesus!  You’re magical,” I said.

She roared.

And when the covers were lifted, I swung my chair around to see pound and mounts of my former mane of plenty, at my feet.  My girl began to sweep.

“It’s enough for a whole other person,” she joked, and shook her headful of heavy dreads, while flashing the coconut smile at me.

It was.  It was a whole other person — a departed lover, to be exact.  And there he was:  I man I had committed to get outta my hair, now at my feet.  And having shed the very first addiction he’d ever found along my body, I had also shed him.

I stepped over the pile.

Back in my car, Nina roared en route home.  The air smelled like ginger.

 

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

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

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

I selected a few:

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

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

Surrendered to what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so:  We would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that didn’t sound true at all.

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

My witness beheld:

“How?”

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

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

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

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

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