Tag Archives: Esquire Magazine

Two Women

The two women met in an unfurnished apartment.

“I like it,” one said, “I think” (unusually sheepishly for her nature).  “It’s got some,” she rotated her wrists up in the air, looking for the less poetic word, “‘good light’.”  It took a talent to be so vague.  Or it took years of mutual knowledge and histories of hurt.

The younger one averted her eyes quickly.  She was getting better at busying herself in the kitchen.  Throughout her childhood, she’d witnessed mother’s chaos when other people came over to visit their place.  They had been lucky that way, due to her father’s reputable profession:   Always finding better living quarters, so others came over quite a bit.  Wanting to be the talk of the town, mother buzzed and chattered in the kitchen; and she would bang the drawers with aluminum dinnerware and slam the cupboards in an orchestra of her exhibitionist domesticity.

While mother whipped up meals and refilled drinks, her girlfriends wandered around nosily, every once in a while coming upon a tiny girl, with eyes so large they took up half of her face, playing her own game of house in the furthest corner of the bedroom.  Alone.

“So cute!” the women hissed, turning on their heels unhappily for having to divert their poking.

Mother continued conducting the percussions in her kitchen:

“She’s so quiet, that child!  She’s all — my husband!”

The women moved about the living-room; lurked by the family’s photographs; touched, shifted, sniffed, demanded to know the origin of things:

“You are one lucky bitch, I hope you know.”

“They meant it as a compliment,” after the women’s departure, mother would attempt to clarify things — the delicate things that her daughter could not understand yet (but perhaps with time, she would).  The evil smirk of the local Algebra teacher branded itself into her memory:  How could these women mean anything good?  But mother didn’t want to hear it:  “Stop asking stupid questions anyway!  This is adults’ business.”

But now:

“So,” the older woman spoke from the bedroom doorway and eyed the open, empty space.  “Are you going to ask Mike to ship you the bed?”  (Pause.)  “Or do you plan to house this draft in here forever?”

“What do you mean by that?” the young woman stopped, knife in her hand.

“I mean, haven’t you, guys, divided things up officially yet?”

The young woman looked back down at the gutted pickled fish under her fingers, on the cutting board.  It was a task that every Russian woman performed from A to Z.  From A to YA.  From A — to I.  Her mother would’ve drowned the detailed fish in a pool of sunflower oil; and it would stare out, with dehydrated eyeballs from underneath a layer of butchered onions meant to cover up a job so messily performed.

While peeling onions, mom would begin to cry demonstratively:

“Oy!  I so pity the little bird!”

What did the bird have to do with the fish?  The bird — to I.  The I — to eye.  Still, mother was a funny actress, so the child would spit with laughter.  She couldn’t help it:  She was still in love with her original prototype back then.

She now thought of that one time a thin fishbone lodged in her throat for a week; and how she gagged every night, while mother hooked her sharp nails into the back of her tongue.  For months to follow, sometimes, loose scales would reveal themselves stuck on her clothes or skin; or swimming in buckets of water with floor-scrubbing rags.  Mom was a disaster in the house.

In her own kitchen, however, the young woman never kept the head.  She wished she had a cat to feed it to.  A cat — to make-up for the missing child, to make the loneliness less oppressive.  She stared at the oval crystal bowl, with even filets of pink meat, neatly arranged.

She herself was a better housekeeper, yet heading toward a divorce nonetheless.  Most likely:

“Mike and I aren’t talking, mom.  You know that.”

“Oh!  Yes.  I see,” the old woman eyed the empty bedroom yet again:  Why so much space for someone with defeated ovaries then?  “You, young people!  You have no concept of marital endurance any more.”

 

She swore, he thought of the idea first.  At least, that’s how she remembered it.  In his defense (why was she so willing to defend him?):  In his defense — she wasn’t “willing”.  He was right.

“It’s just that… something isn’t working,” Mike told her over the phone, the week of one Thanksgiving which they’d agreed to spend apart.  He “couldn’t do it anymore”.  Her work.  Her books.  Why was he always taking second place after her life?  Once she hung up, she cried, of course, but mostly out habit; and out of habit, she started losing weight and sleep.  That’s what a wife in mourning was supposed to look like, she decided.  She cropped her hair, and started wearing pants and laced up wingtip shoes.  In their crammed-in basement apartment in the Bronx, she found room to pace and wonder, “Why?  Why?  Why?”

Her girlfriends were eventually allowed to visit the site of her disastrous marriage.  They bitched; they called him names.  They lurked, touched, shifted, sniffed.  They studied family photographs, still on display, for signs of early check-outs.  The women patted her boyish haircut and teared up a bit too willingly, some of them — being slightly grateful for feeling better about their own men.

And then, one balmy New York August afternoon, she called him from a pay phone in Harlem.

“Meet me for dinner.”

An hour later, he showed up with lilies.  After a dry peck that tasted unfamiliarly, she lead the way to a Dominican joint whose wall-full of French doors was always taken down for the summer.  It breathed the smell of oil — and of fried everything — onto the sweaty pedestrians on Broadway.

On their side of the missing wall, the night dragged on with a strained politeness.  His eyes were glossy, wet.  She stared out onto the street.  From either the heat of New York’s August and the lack of ventilation, the giant buds sweated under the plastic wrap; and by the time they finished picking through a pile of fried plantains, the lilies open completely, and just like everything at that time of the year — from sweat glands to subway sewers to perfume shops — they began to smell aggressively, nearly nauseating.

“I’m going to California,” she announced after finishing her white fish.

“Why?”

She looked down:  After their six-month separation, she had begun to wear dresses and curl her hair again.  She’d gained a certain swagger in the hips from wearing flat shoes through every season in New York.  The flesh of femininity was finally beginning to lose the aftertastes of her youth’s self-loathing.

Not having gotten an answer, “When?” — he examined her with wet eyes of a lab.

She looked down again.  The suppleness of her brown chest surprised her.  She looked up:  “Soon.”

Vagueness as a revenge:  She’d learned that from her mother, the best that ever was!  She owed him nothing.  He was the one who’d given up!  He was the one who left!  But now, it settled at the bottom of her stomach, along with the plantains, like something begging for its freedom.  And she, in her defense, was no longer “willing”.

(To Be Continued.)

Sleep-Less, in Warsaw

The pigeons of Warsaw are singing blues lullabies, at night.

Were I not on a week-long hangover, from my tightly wound nerves and a lack of sleep, I may have not even noticed them.  But on the first night of getting here, I’ve first slept through all of daylight — sore from soaring the skies above the Atlantic — and then risen to an unfamiliar (to my now native but still adopted land) sound.  The murmur resembled the noises of a submarine submerging into water; or, of a bored babe blowing bubbles through a straw into a half-full glass of milk he had no intention of drinking up:  Quick pops of air, my little darling, with your tender, mumbled giggles, in between.

Even the local insomniacs have given up on their daytime nightmares that chronically keep them awake.  They’ve all gone off to sleep, by now.  In this old city, murmuring with blues, I seem to be alone; and I pull through my groggy, swollen stupor — of changed time zone and altitudes in the last twenty four hours, of overcome little tragedies (“the circumstances”, as other people call them) in order to get here — and through the anticipation of a major turnaround in my life.  Here, I have come to meet my father.  Here, according the story, lies my redemption.  (You know, THE story.  Everyone has one.  Not necessarily a fairytale, and nothing particularly dignified — but something that we lug around, to make us special. Or, different, at least.  “The story.”)

But still:  The sound.  Not a single soul seems to be awake to explain its origin, right now.  And after a lifetime of aloneness, loneliness is not in the repertory of my moods (let alone of my fears).  So, yes, the sound:  Is it coming from the pipes of the town square fountain, waking up in the midst of its winter-long hibernation?  Or is it authored by a stray mama-cat — with twice the thickness of her fur, being a much wilder thing in this part of the world — and she is purring her recent litter to sleep, somewhere on the raspberry, tilted rooftop of the apartment building across the street?

And then from the hibernating memories of my childhood’s self (what’s the use to remember, when all I do — is move beyond “the circumstances”?  toward “the story”?), I connect the dots:  If the memory serves me right, this sound comes from a choir of feathery creatures flocking the buildings’ gutters and windowsills, resting on phone poles (they are too clumsy for the tight ropes of phone lines, and they leave those for the little guys, the sparrows).  And they are murmuring the town to sleep.  The air is quieter in this part of the world.  The streets are narrower and filled with lesser aggression.  So, their songs — and the other tunes of nature — are easier to hear.  And so they happen:  These little harmonies of cohabitation, the peaceful melodies of nonviolent living.  Quite exceptional for the new century of ours!

Not a footstep can be heard along the cobblestone roads:  The town has been hushed down by the song.  There is always an hour, one at sunrise and a couple at the end of each day, when the surfaces of these streets look clad in blue — a shade that has been coming through in photographs of my father’s face.  While cradling a cooling cup of coffee against my breast bone, I break down the color by the palettes, while peeking through the tule curtains, which aren’t a common practice in my adopted land, except in immigrant neighborhoods.  For, on the other side of the Atlantic, every thing and body is in love with white spaces.  Still, the ways of life here do not appear strange to me; and all the memories I’ve forcefully filed away are gently slipping out to the forefront, to the bluesy murmurs of Warsaw’s pigeons.  I know I’ve seen these colors in my childhood.  I know I’ve heard these sounds.

The windows are sweated from the inside, but they’re not frost painted yet.  (That — I do remember well:  my tracing the magical cold patterns with my chubby fingers, while waiting up for Father Frost’s arrival, on New Year’s Eve.)  The streets below look narrow and ancient; and even though they are of a more recent generation, no older than five decades, the cobble stones breathe with tales of one old civilization (and of its “story”).  Never again will these streets be evened out by another nation’s ideologues with unthinkable experiments in mind!  The gracious land of Poland is resting now; and tonight, despite the turmoil in my head (reflections of my immigrant life competing with the memories of my original self), this land appears sleeping, submerging into fluid of some peaceful bliss that’s well-deserved, good lord!  Good land!

In about an hour — after this shade of blue is dissipated by sunlight — the town will begin its waking with the sounds of women’s heels upon the cobble stones, shiny in the morning with black ice.  A few antique cars, going one way, then parking and unloading fresh produce to a couple of delicatessens, will follow.

Food hunting takes some time and expertise, around here:  You cannot swing by a giant, windowless supermarket and get all of your needs fulfilled at once, while losing track of time in a hypnosis of excess.  No.  You must take your time to learn your neighborhood by walking and match a specific store to each food category.  Liquor and fruit — a reasonable pairing — is sold out of narrow closets, crammed in between first floor apartments.  Milk and meats are paired together, but never fish:  Fish is sold a few blocks down, on a larger, two-way street (which must be easier for deliveries, I dare to theorize).  At each store, you twirl the packages and wrappings in your hands.  They come from neighboring countries, each speaking in a different language:  the little oddities that feed one’s curiosity despite one’s being jaded by age.  The banality of your basic needs somehow dissipates when curiosity of hunting is rewaken; and you aren’t embarrassed for asking questions.

There is seemingly never more than half a dozen of each product in stock; so, you’re doomed to settle on variety; and if the local stores run out of your preferred produce — you wait until the sound of the antique cars the next morning.  (Here, waiting no longer proposes a burdensome occurrence; because the town’s time has slowed down, according to my clock.  And there is suddenly an endless list of missing objectives, as I adopt the natives’ strolling pace along these peaceful, old streets, until the blue of sunset, at the end of each day, and sometimes past it.)

The three women cashiers at the liquor store across the street are always visibly amused at my crippled Polish.

“Tak, tak, tak,” they smile and nod, and hand each other their guesses of what I’m pointing at.

“No, no,” I panic.  “Apple… not a pear…  Um…  Yabloko?  Yeah?”  (I throw in some Russian, what the hell!)

Sometimes, I juggle English, when my original tongue fails.  They smile and give each other teasing looks.  I do not worry though:  They look like grandmothers, completely free of evil thoughts toward other people’s children.

This one, behind the liquor counter, looks mighty — like the type I’d call in case of a prognosis of some feminine disease, or just to share a round of shots for no reason than to avoid thinking of “the story” (“the circumstances”, as other people call them).  She looks like she can laugh for hours, her giant breasts vibrating with resonance of her chesty, smoker’s register.

“Mozh?” she forcefully tilts her head toward my male companion who’s at the moment pleasantly negotiating with the other two women — in the produce corner of this closet space — that after all, we won’t be needing any onions.

“But, thank you.  Um…  Dzieku-ya?  Yeah?”  (He’s a lot more willing than I am!  His “story” must be lighter.)

I shrug, roll up my eyes to reconsider, press my lips together into a sheepish smile (this mighty broad is a Catholic, judging by the amber cross around her sweaty neck), and then I shrug again.  What’s Polish for:  “It’s complicated”?  She gives me a preview of the silver crown in the right top corner of her mouth and lifts her thumb.  She approves — of him, or of my progressive sexual practices, from my adopted (but not native) land.  Her nails are filthy, and I love her!

The woman stocking the shelves at a larger deli down the street has also picked me for a foreigner.  No matter which tongue I utilize with her — I might as well be speaking in Chinese.  Her face communicates her single, stubborn point of view:  If Looks Could Kill…  I feel no residue of my self-protective aggression.  (I’m suddenly so tired of “the story”.)  But one thing I have learned with these unwilling types, resentful toward tourists — as demonstrated by the apathetic shrug of a gray-haired, handsome cabby, earlier this week, who turned down a handsome fare to the airport by refusing to communicate in any other language but his native:  They aren’t obliged to speak to me in Russian anymore.  I cannot blame them:  It’s a new world, indeed!  To each — his or her own politics of forgiveness.

“Yeah?”

The resentful woman still doesn’t get me.  I let her be, in dissonance with me.  I let them be.

The young barista with a boyish haircut at a packed coffee shop pretends to not understand my “pleases”, “yeses”, “thank yous”.  (A little cunty, if you ask me, she shoots down all of my attempts for grace.  But nothing I can do about that.  I let her be.)  While waiting for my order, a stunning couple gets my attention; and I forget about the slightly patronizing smile of the child behind the register, who’s probably spitting in my coffee.  The woman in the coupling is wearing an African headdress, and he — is gloriously giant.  I hear them murmuring in Polish to a nervous woman tourist:  When did the world get smaller?  And, more importantly, how much longer — until it becomes kinder, juster, too?

Still sleepless, I keep studying my street, through the tulle curtains:

An amber store is lazily glistening with all possible shades of yellow, some silver and glass.  The arch doorway of the watch repair store right next to it looks like a replica from an old fairytale:  I try to cast the face of the kind and fragile watchmaker who tinkers with the hands of time, inside; but all that comes to mind — is the one of my father, illuminated by the shades of blue.

His face — is kindness incarnated.  Mercy defined and grace continuously — stubbornly — resurrected, despite “the story”.  My father’s hands, affected now by age and years of living past “the circumstances”, have been the ones in charge of my chronology.  Like a magician, from ten time zones away, he has been gently tapping the wheels of my clock with pads of his aging fingers, to slow down the loss of our minutes.

If only our “story” would have some mercy!  And from the ends of now smaller world, we have been rushing to each other:  If only there’d be time enough!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We Found Love in a Hopeless Place. We Found Love in a Hope-Less Place.”

(Continued from December 6th, 2011.)

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

Right around Baldwin Park, the freeway got deceivingly wide:  We were free flyin’.  All of us!  For a couple more zip codes, a few expensive cars would still zoom by me.  But as Beemers and Benzes began to vanish like a mirage, I knew I was heading into the Inland Empire.  An occasional five- or six-car train would crawl alongside the freeway; but despite some drivers’ strange road manners, I felt grateful for being able to dictate my own speed of moving — and having the wheels with which to escape.

There stood that giant brown Wells Fargo building of some hideous shape unknown in geometry.  On the way back, I had learned to notice it every time.  Even at night, I see its sign illuminated by the seemingly never ending, moving headlights and the sparking skyline of the City in which I had finally learned to live.

No, not “survive”, like I used to, back on the East Coast — in my more youthful days, when I had better habits for chasing or persevering time.  Here, I had actually been living, on my own terms.  And the case of my unrealistic expectations from the clocks and the traffic of LA-LA had been getting worse.  But then, it was a commonly spread disease anyway.

My chosen radio station was still blasting:

“Ooh, sometimes:  I get a good feelin’!”  

Montclair’s malls sprawled out for miles.  They were the first to signify that I was no longer in my City.  I was leaving, chasing the clock; already late.  It would be something I had to get used to, from then on:  The nearly identical signs, imposed by the same corporations — over and over again! — would begin greeting me in every new city, from the side of the road.  Malls, malls, malls:  The only mode of entertainment.  In Montclair, the modestly covered-up two-tailed mermaid of Starbucks reminded me about my promise to deliver some sugar-coma costing drink to motha.  But then, they seemed to appear on my every other exhale, so I had time.  I checked my dashboard:  Shoulda gotten gas last night!

Mileages for Pomona’s exits began invading every road sign, from the top.  That’s always the half-way point.  In my old, two-cylinder clunker, climbing over this hill would have been a bitch.  So, I would find myself in the slowest two lanes, crammed into the moving wall of white trailer trucks.  And they would swing in and out of lane dividers and make my heart skip a beat.  But somehow, especially around wintertime, they appeared hideously beautiful.  From the furtherest left lane, I looked at the moving, swinging white wall.  This route belonged to them.  They were the common site of California’s self-sufficiency.  And I loved it.

The Forest Lawn Cemetery overlooking our hustle and bustle from up a significant hill had a habit for a serene appearance.  Perhaps, it’s because, in six years, I’d never seen a living human on its evenly green surface.  The white statues at its gate hung above the otherwise flat surface.  On every trip, I kept trying to figure out what they were:  Angels?  Warriors?  The Relieved Deceased?

Motha had always liked cemeteries.  This one seemed endless, so I’d better remember to bring her here, for a stroll.  Lately, she had been obsessing about transferring her parents’ remains from a vanishing town, in the Far East of Russia.

“Otherwise, they’d disappear,” she’d been saying.

Holding on.  That’s perfectly human.

“I wanted love!  I NEEDED love!  Most of all!  Most of all!”

The radio was beginning to struggle with its waves.

Pomona happened with its horse racing tracks and a major attraction for County Fairs.  After it, as always, I went blank until I came up on the convoluted exists of the Ontario Airport where I had originally landed, half a dozen years ago.  The exits for Rancho Cucamonga would never call the city by its name.  Too bad:  It was the only truly idillic land for miles to come.

The mountain range that came up on the horizon after the halfway point would be the only other place of peaceful beauty.  And it was looking mostly gray these days, with ice caps on top.  Below them, in the valley, laid a land where people struggled and survived.  But at least, time and traffic would move slower here.

The slightly tilted bridge of the 15-North onramp reminded me of a roller-coaster.  I hated those!  But there, I went:  Whee!

Then, another freeway, recently renovated — and my radio began sounding like shit.

“We found love in a hopeless place…” — it gargled.

Turn that scratchy shit off!  Get some gas!

I sped up.

Since the city limit of LA-LA, I hadn’t seen a single cop car, for sixty miles.  And motha’s exit was coming up.  I couldn’t believe I had pulled it off.

The gas light went on, while I was on the off-ramp negotiating my way behind a clunker of an uncertain make with horrifically smashed-in rear.

What this?!  A 7-Eleven gas station?  A wolf whistle came from behind me when I stepped one foot out of my car.

“Really?!” I looked back at two Mexican workers sitting on a curb.

“Hola!”

“Fuck off!”  I barked.

Yep:  I had arrived.

“Childhood Living — Is Easy to Do.”

Judging from what little profile I can see peaking out from behind her long hair, she could be quite lovely.  The lips — puffy and full — are enviable:  She’s got that Jolie-esque fold in her lower lip that promises that the size of it — is real.  The tiniest tip of her nose right above reminds me of that one exotic berry that starts with an “L”.

Carla Gugino for Esquire Magazine

Yes, she could be quite lovely; but ever since I’ve walked into this tiny joint, the woman, sitting at the corner table, hasn’t stopped speaking.  She’s got her iPhone, plugged into the wall, resting on the table next to two empty coffee cups.  Another device — a spinoff of the iPhone — is heavily protected with two plastic cases and a belt clip.  She takes turns dialing numbers on both things, and texting on whichever device is not being held up to her ear.

Her language — is foreign, heavily nasal; which makes her voice quite high.  And that pitch could be quite lovely if she didn’t sound like she was whining.  Whenever she switches to the iPhone, she returns to English; and I wonder if the list of her griefs, in that other nasal language, is similar:

“That guy is an asshole.”

And:  “I’ve got no fucking money!”

Oh, I get it, sweetheart:  Life’s unfair and hard.  But it’s 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and most of us haven’t even finished our coffee yet.  You — have had two.

From where I study the menu written on an overhead blackboard, I shoot her a glance.  Her hair is frizzy, unevenly straightened.  She is wearing jeans with a puffy vest.  On her feet, I see those thick-soled, oddly shaped shoes meant to shape a woman’s behind by replacing exercise.

She picks up her iPhone again:  The topic of the asshole guy is recycled.  Her volume could be quite normal; but the joint is tiny and she attracts attention of every human, still barely awake; including the mustached line cook who, upon my entry, asked me to try a sliver of bacon sizzling in his metal tongs.

“Breakfast, beauty?” he says and I imagine his previous life as a Navy chef.

I smile but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and smile again.

This morning could be lovely, still.

A pretty hippie couple is lingering at the register:  He is beach-blond, she is petite and an exotic mix of something gorgeous.  Whenever he speaks to her, he lifts up his arms and folds his hands behind his head:  He is shy — she thrills him.  His white terrycloth shirt rides up every time, and in the slender torso of this beautiful young man I can see the little boy stretching in his highchair, while waking slowly.  Gently.

The sound of some old song comes on over the radio.  It makes me think of a Christmas-themed lullaby and of slow mornings that are always lovely that time of year.

And this morning could be lovely — if only we could keep quiet and still for a while.

The radio switches to some dissonant jazz tune and the could-be-lovely girl, juggling her devices at the corner table, picks up her iPhone again and switches languages:

“That guy is such an asshole,” the petite creature ahead of me quotes discreetly.

I chuckle.  I get the couple’s attention; but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and chuckle again.

“Are we playing Cowboys and Indians this morning?” the man at the register says to me when it’s my turn to order.  I look up:  He’s wrapped a cloth napkin around the bottom half of his face and smiles at me, with only his eyes.

I smile; then, realize that half of my face is invisible.  So, I lift my chin — and smile.

“Where is your bathroom — or don’t you have one?!” the could-be-lovely creature interjects quite loudly, and with a single gesture of tongs from the mustached Navy chef, she storms off in that direction.  We wait for the passing of her busy noises and the departure of her griefs through the front door.

And when she does depart, her table is taken over by an older couple with a beautiful blue-eyed boy under their care.  He can’t be older than five, is barely awake and clutching a robot of military green.  The robot is wrapped in a baby blanket.

They could easily be the boys’ grandparents, but they don’t dote or baby-talk.  Instead, they are acutely aware, and they answer to his needs quietly.

At first, I brace myself:  The boy could be quite lovely.  But he could also be a complete riot:  His physical beauty could fully justify his bratty habits.  But he slides into the chair near mine, stretches the corner of his baby blanket on the edge of the table and rests his blond curls on it.  The older woman sits next to him and buries her gentle hand in his hair.

The beautiful blue-eyed boy stretches, while slowly waking.

The couple grabs a newspaper from the counter:  She reads the news, he skims through the Calendar section.  They speak to each other, quietly; while the boy drifts in and out of sleep.  When the food arrives, he shifts.  The mother (she IS his mother after all, I figure out) begins helping him with his utensils.

The boy whimpers:  He wants to do it himself.  With a single gesture, the woman calms him — “Hush-hush, my gentle little man…” — and the family returns to their quiet morning routine.

Ah.  This morning could be lovely, still.  And it could be quiet. And I wonder for how long I can keep holding on, today, to this gentle start of it — and to this gentle pace.

“just make it, babe, make it…”

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

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

“We can make it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then:  My gas light came on.

God damn it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forty on six.

Have a good night.

You too, babe.

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

“Um…” I heard.

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

“Could you help me out?” he said.

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

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

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

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

I surrendered.

Finally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Call ME! On the Line! Call Me, Call Me, Any, ANY TIME!”

My cellphone broke down yesterday:  Finally, that poor thing!

It had been with me for over three years, and by now I was getting texts and phone calls from the Verizon people on a regular basis, begging me to get an upgrade.

“Did you know you were eligible for a $50 rebate?!” some nice girl would be trying to tell me after I would call to complain about the most recent malfunction on my device:

“The flip is not clicking anymore,” I’d say.  “I think it’s loose.”

“Well, m’am,” the nice girl would be studying my files on her screen.  She seemed to be patient, and yes, super nice.  Perhaps, in those files, she could read all the records of my previous love affairs, from start to finish; and she would take pity on me.  And even if she couldn’t see my love stories unfold through a progression of texts between my exes and I, I bet she could tell I was going through another break-up by the gastronomical size of my bill that month.

And sometimes, I would imagine she had some sort of a hidden camera thingy connected to the flimsy flip in my hand, and she could actually see all the terrible truths about my life.

“Hmm.  It says here you’d drowned your phone in a cup of coffee nearly a year ago.”

(See!  I told you she had that hidden camera thingy!)

But yes, it is true about the coffee.  You see, about a year ago, I had finally decided my motha and I were ready to cross the next boundary in our relationship — and that we could try texting each other.

Now, I am not one of those absentee daughters.  I call my motha on a regular basis, one-to-two weekend nights per week.  Even if we feel like we have nothing to say to each other, I would much rather hear motha’s repeated monologues on the other end of my cellphone — than suffer the passive-aggressive silence after I had somehow forgotten to call her one weekend.  Because let me tell you:  Jewish mothers have NOTHING on my motha with their guilt trips.  My motha copyrighted that shit!  And she is not really the silent type, neither in Russian nor English.  So, when she does go quiet on you, she can raise the hairs on the back of your neck with feelings of her orphan-like abandonment and saintly martyrdom.

Anyway.  At the end of last summer, we had passed a new threshold:  For the first time in our lives, we each had our own place with which we were finally perfectly content.  There would be no more terrible roommates.  No more partners with messy habits.  And we had vowed that each would stay at her place for at least a couple of years.

Conveniently, my motha’s joint had horrendous cellphone reception.  So, before she got herself a landline, I would have to text — to test her availability.

“CALL NOW” — motha would respond, often with no punctuation marks and in all caps.

But my very first text to motha was actually less than technical.

“Lov U, shawty,” I wrote.

I was feeling mushy that morning.  It’s a consequence of having a heart that’s easily prone to gratitude.  Motha would understand that:  I am sure I’ve inherited that damn thing from her.  And so:

“Lov U, shawty,” I composed.  But right before I could hit the red button of SEND, the flip phone slipped out of my hand and dove right into the middle of my morning cup of coffee with a precision of a kamikaze.

“SHIT” — I thought (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).  “My coffee is ruined.”

As I said:  I had just moved into the place, and before I had unpacked my kitchen supplies, I had walked to the 7-Eleven on the corner to get my caffeine fix for the day.

The flip phone was retrieved eventually and immediately buried in a jar of rice.  It wasn’t white rice, but one of those healthy wild rice mixtures from Trader Joe’s.  So, the trick wouldn’t work, and I would go through the hassle of filing an insurance claim and waiting for some hideous device to arrive in the mail.  My old flip phone would eventually be revived with the help of a hairdryer, and I would feel like my faithful device and I had passed another hurdle in life.  We were veterans.  Survivors.  And we weren’t ready to part ways yet.

Because one of the terrible truths in my life was that, just like everyone else, I was married to my cellphone.  It was the most significant relationship in my life — and an appendix to my ego.  And even though every once in a while (like after a break-up, for instance) I would lock that thing up in my car for a day to punish it — to punish the whatever him I was breaking-up with — I couldn’t live without it.

And there had been moments when I would fling the poor thing across the room after a prolonged wait for a Time Warner rep to pick-up my call.  I had used it to break-up with my old bank from the East Coast, utterly useless on this side of the country.  Because my cellphone was perfect for confrontations; and I think it had something to do with the flip feature of it.  It added a certain umph to my endings, like a punctuation mark at the end of a text message.

But about a week ago, I could tell:  My poor thing — my dear veteran — was on its very last stretch.  It was no longer responding to its charger, and seemingly its screen was starting to suffer from some sort of electronic epilepsy.  Two days ago, it was over.

Finally, that poor thing!

“NO CHARGER DETECTED” — the screen said (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).

And then:  It went dark.

Strangely, despite all of our history, I didn’t feel any sadness about its departure.  It is true we had passed through many hurdles together.  We were veterans.  Survivors.

But I knew:  Ah, it was time.

“How can I help you?” some nice boy with an iPhone clipped onto his belt said to me when I stormed into the Verizon store last night.

“Well,” I said, whipped out the dead body of my cellphone and slammed it against the counter.  “You tell me!”

The nice boy smiled:  He couldn’t help it.

“Ow… Ouch.  What happened to its gloss?” he said, ever so charitably.

And I remembered the very first day I bought my baby at another store:  It was caramel-colored and shiny, and it would light up with red lights when I caressed its surface.  The gloss was long gone now, and I would begin to be slightly embarrassed to take it out in public.

The kind boy was by now studying my files on his screen.  Could he see all of the terrible truths about my life?  Could he read the histories of my relationships in the gastronomical sizes of my previous bills?  And considering the low amount due this month, could he tell I had been finally single — and contently so — for the duration of the last season?

“Did you know you were eligible for a $150 rebate?”

“That bad, eh?” I said and smiled.  I couldn’t help it.

“IT’S TIME” — the nice boy said (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).

And when he asked me if I wanted to save any of my old text messages or voicemails — for I would be losing ALL of them in this transition — I did not feel any sadness at all.

“No,” I answered.  “It is time.”

“Hey. Hey-Hey. Hey. Hey-Hey. HEY! I’M GOOD!”

I was studying the faces of passengers on a downtown-bound subway the other night, and I thought:  Surely, these people had to be good.  Because I would much rather subscribe to the idea that the world was primarily filled with good people.  And I myself — would much rather be good, too.

(And I remember there was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.)

I have nearly forgotten what it’s like to people-watch.  Unless on a rare occasion of some public gathering in LA-LA, one must always keep the eyes on the road.  Here, we drive, we speed; and we complain if we aren’t moving fast enough.  All the other people become mere faces which we quickly glaze over, behind the wheels of other cars, at stop signs and in the oncoming traffic:

Everyone keeps their eyes on the road.  Or on their cellphones, in the passenger seat.

Sometimes, I watch the faces reflected in my rearview mirror.  And every once in a while, I steel a gaze or a nod from the guy over in the next lane.  And that’s kind of nice.   It’s good.

 

(And I do remember:  There was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.  And I am glad — that I didn’t.)

The accidental faces of pedestrians tend to zoom by us.  We aren’t used to them around here, unless driving through a rare public space expected to be packed with tourists.  Yet, even then, we avoid making eye contact with them, as if these people — who are most likely good — are nonexistent.  Instead, we nervously watch the quickly expiring gap to make a turn over a pedestrian walkway.  And if the guy on foot isn’t moving fast enough, we pretend not to see him and cut in front.  (Ah, shit!  What an inconvenience!)

Some pedestrians have a certain swagger around here.  They tend to live in those rare occasional spaces expected to be packed with tourists.  As locals, they tend to take their time crossing the street.  Ballsy, they make an eye contact with us, as if saying:

“What cha gonna do?  Run me ova’?!”

So, you wait, embarrassed at having caught yourself at being less than good.  And to avoid that shameful stare, you look over at your cellphone in the passenger seat.

The best thing is to wait.  Sometimes, the guy waves you over.  He’s moving on foot, and he knows he is not fast enough.  Because even when we are on the road (while not always keeping our eyes on it), we often wish to be miles ahead.  Around here, we are overwhelmed by the commitments that we continue negotiating on our cellphones in the passenger seat.

Here, we drive.  We speed.  LA-LA — is a working city, primarily.  Sometimes, we pretend to fit our lives in between; but most of us have come here to work.  And sometimes, we tend to forget that the world is still primarily filled with good people.  And that, no matter the work, we ourselves would much rather be good, too.

(And I do remember:  There was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And he also told me that not everyone — was good.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.)

This middle-aged Mexican woman napping, with her tired head leaned against an anti-terrorism warning:  Surely, she’d put in a good day of work.  And surely, she had to be good!

The man in a construction worker’s overalls:  He looked like the guy stuck in our traffic for the entirety of his working day.  His already dark skin was filled with dust, exhaust — and exhaustion.  Because of his work, at some typical non-public space in LA-LA, there was probably more congestion on the road today.  And he watched us driving, speeding by, wishing to be miles ahead.

The businessman in a suit that lacked the sheen of a designer label:  He was staring down and a few feet ahead — in a New York subway fashion — and he wouldn’t steal as much as a gaze at a pretty girl who got on at the City College stop, at Santa Monica and Vermont.

And the pretty girl who got on at the City College stop:  Under her arm she carried a thick tome of some nursing book I myself would find impossible to decipher.  I wondered what made her choose the goodness of her future profession.  And what made her choose to be good.

And surely, these other people — on the way home from their days of good work — had to be good, too!

Because I would much rather subscribe to the idea that the world was primarily filled with good people. 

And I myself — would much rather choose to be good, too.

“With Money, With Face, With Style And Body — I COOK!”

This morning, I am thinking about baking and love making.

No, not cooking and sex:  Anyone can do that.

Some people — men and women alike — may not enjoy cooking (although most share a general liking of sex).  Whenever I’ve met those non-cooking types (and I used to be one of them), their only fault turns out to be quite innocent:  They just haven’t been able to discover any pleasure in the kitchen, yet.  My own earlier disliking of cooking had something to do with a lack of time and sparsity of ingredients.  But once I’ve crossed the threshold into my fuller-fledged womanhood and more comfortable prosperity, I soon discovered:  I loved cooking.

“But, of course, I cook!” I tell any man who asks; and I say so proudly while I notice a whole new category of interest sparking up in that man.  He wants it.  I can tell.

But there isn’t really much art to cooking:  All you need is esteem and common sense.  (Kind of like in sex.)  Esteem is a consequence of experience and skills.  The better the esteem — the better cook.  The better the lover.

With baking, however:  It’s a different ball game.  The one thing that a baker absolutely must accept is a very precise list of ingredients and measurements; tools, temperatures, timing.  A baker must enjoy following instructions, which much be why none of the men I’ve known liked baking.  Sure, I’ve dated many men who cooked.  Although I’ve never slept with a professional chef, I’ve shared a bed — often after sharing a meal — with a few men who were very skilled at cooking.

Interestingly, the better skilled cooks, in my personal statistic, somehow turned out to be better equipped lovers.  It may be a pure coincidence, of course, but I would imagine that what made them good in bed and in the kitchen was their willingness to improvise.

There are recipes in cooking, but most of us, cooks, use them as a mere source of inspiration.  Personally, all I need to know is the flavor profile and the temperature; and then, I take it from there, on my own — thank you very much.  And soon enough, I am able to get lost in it:  to transcend while most the time thinking of the person for whom that meal is being made.  And that is exactly where I get off:  Cooking requires a generosity of the soul.  Combined with a set of skills, it is meant for the benefit of the other participant.  Kind of like sex:  GOOD SEX, that is.

And just like in the bedroom, I prefer to establish a certain amount of control in my kitchen.  I am an extremely territorial cook:  I keep my working space immaculately clean while often setting the mood with the voices of my favorite soulful songbirds and wearing the minimal amount of required clothing.  During a meal, however, I prefer to lose that control and to get my hands dirty.  And I do prefer for the other person to get turned on by the tastes and the textures of the meal so much, that he unleashes the reins of his vanity — and starts eating with his hands and licking his fingers.

Here, I would dare to compare cooking to foreplay:  As any good cook and lover, I bounce between the general recipe for it and, again, improvisation.  Which would then make the actual meal — sex itself.  When in the midst of it, there is no more room or time for brushing up on the ingredients.  Because after all of that preparation, it is time to get down and dirty — and to make a meal of it.  Which is why I always prefer the company of very hungry men.

Now, baking, as I’ve mentioned, is a whole different ball game.  It’s a ballpark with its own rules.  Personally, I prefer an absence of all balls while I juggle in front of my stove.  On occasion, I have permitted a man to observe me while I improvise a meal, for his benefit.  But as a baker — I do my thing in silence and entirely alone.

I still think of the other person, of course; but the more I like a man — the more complex my baking recipe will be.  Because what I want — is to impress him, to titillate him with luxury at the end of a successful meal; to take him over the edge just when he is ready to lean back and relax.

If I ever bake for a man, I have already interviewed him on his favorite sweets.  I’ve done my research.  I have collected the best of the ingredients which often requires traveling to specialty stores and the purchase of a specific pan from Sur La Table.  Sometimes, the process of baking takes several days:  I let each part sit, settle, cool down; absorb the ganache.  Then, I compile the next layer, and I allow it to serve its time as well; to age a little.  And I find that most cakes taste slightly better on the second day after their completion.  But then, I always perform the final touches just a few hours before presentation.

And it turns me on to harbor the secret of it while I observe my man consuming a meal and often singing me praises:

“You have NO idea what’s coming at the end of this, do you?” I think to myself — proudly — I notice a whole new level of interest, of adoration that arises in my heart for the very hungry man across my table.

Most bakers will confess that they don’t improvise.  It is a game of precision.  You must be willing to surrender to the rules and avoid listening to any dictation by your ego.

But the more you grow as baker, the more room you find for improvement.  TRUE:  That room is very modest.  There is nothing you can do to fix a collapsed souffle or to a mousse cake that refuses to set in.  There is nothing to do — but to start from scratch.  But you can thicken the icing to fix a lopsided cake.  Or you can add a caramel to a cheesecake to distract your guest from a less-than-perfect crust.

And so it is in love making — TRULY GREAT LOVE MAKING:  You must know what you’re doing.  Not only have you interviewed your partner about his tastes and preferences, by now, you have most likely practiced a few times.  You’ve learned how to reach your lover’s pleasure.  You’ve done: The research!  And that very expertise is what separates love making from sex:  It takes time and practice.  It takes surrender — and maybe just a little room for improvisation.

No matter how good of baker you are, you will most likely always botch up the very first crepe, right?  And no matter how great of a lover you are, the very first time with a partner, you’ll end up having sex — NOT making love.  But if you’re willing to invest the time, to do the research; to learn and to be patient; to accept the recipes to your lover’s orgasms and to know when and how to throw in the last improvisation — however modest — you will discover this:

What makes a great lover — and a great baker — is leading with your heart.