Tag Archives: esteem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I waited.

The tiny voice came back in a few minutes:

“Could you spare me some toilet paper?”

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

I handed her a wad of paper over the partition.

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

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

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

“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.

“Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, Dream, Dream, Dream. Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam…”

I’m seeing white.  From where I sit, this morning, I see the white rooftops of the apartments below, and they temp me to step out right onto them and play hopscotch:  To leap from one to another, all across my neighborhood, while using pinecones abandoned by squirrels as my markers.

I see the off-white borders of that perfect little house on the corner, with pink-brownish tiles on its gable roof, where many times I had watched a lavender-gray kitten basking, rolling, purring in the hazy sun.  Most certainly, that must be where the perfect life resides:  Right underneath that pink-brownish rooftop with its off-white borders; inside the attic behind the snow-white windowpanes:

Idyllic.

To the right, on the greenest peak of the mountain, I see the white of the Observatory reigning above Griffith Park; and it sits there — a lighthouse for the angels of this City — like a lovely mirage in the midst of this sun-produced haziness.  And you better squint your eyes — from all of this light and all this idyllic pleasure — to take in the vision.

If I scan my squinting gaze from East to West, across the mountaintop, here and there I pick out the perfect whiteness of the old Spanish houses clutching onto the hillside.  They are idyllic and absurd at the same time:  stubborn against all of nature’s reasons.  And if these structures persevere — past all the rains or the fires, or the occasional shivers of the planet, in this stretch of its skin — they decorate the already complete beauty quite well.  Idyllically.

And to the left, I see the HOLLY of the sign that has led too many of the world’s travelers to worship it in closer proximity:  A lighthouse for the dreamers of this City.

I swear:  Sometimes there is so much odd glory in this town, I catch myself wondering if I’m dreaming, among angels.

A stark white dove has just dashed across the sky (I didn’t even know those existed, in this City), and it outraces the white bird of the plane with red markings on its wings.  Both, I hope, are carrying messages of love.

I turn around:  My couch is draped with freshly bleached sheets, and tangled up in them — is a gorgeous young boy, slowly waking to this perfect day.  He is tall, with a head full of longer coal-black hair; and his handsome, tan face outlined by the morning stubble juxtaposes the whiteness of the bedding in such a lovely combination, it makes me wish I were a painter, or a photographer at least.

Ah:  Idyllic.  

I rest my chin on the back of my chair, draped with an eggshell-colored throw, as soft as the fur of some lavender-gray kitten, and I say:

“You look so perfect right now.”

The boy raises himself onto his elbow, blushes a little — underneath his tan — and he grins.  And when he does, a row of perfect white teeth glows against the sun whose rays are now bouncing off the white rooftops of the apartments below.  He shakes his longer, coal-black hair and chuckles:

“Nah.”

And I swear:  Sometimes there is so much unexpected glory in this town, I catch myself wondering if I’m dreaming, among angels.

Behind him, hanging off the button-nose handle of my armoire, painted in shades of eggshell and white chalk, there hangs a white cotton dress shirt with a band collar.  Its material is thin, perfectly suitable for the tropical climate of this gorgeous boy’s homeland.  And while I measure his face against the background, I wish I could hear the sound of the Ocean punctuated by the beat of men’s heels dancing zapateado, accompanied by the mellow strumming of a singular Spanish guitar.

“If you could choose any other culture — for yourself — what would it be?” the gorgeous boy asks me, blinding me with his stark white teeth reflecting in the hazy sun.

I smile:  He’s read my mind.  And in the manner that so many of my former lovers have found evasive or mysterious — until they eventually find it annoying — I don’t answer the question.  Instead, I ask a question of my own:

“What made you say that?” I say from behind the off-white door panel, having wandered off into my bedroom by now.

“Dunno,” he says, and he tangles himself up into the white sheets, the coal-black hair spilling into a halo on the white pillow.  “I woke up thinking that.”

I sit down on the edge of my bed surrounded by the white curtains of the canopy I had untied this morning, and while staring at my brown feet, I say:

“Um.  Spaniards always seemed to suit my temperament.”

And then, I laugh, to myself.  The joy of getting to know someone is always so thrilling, most certainly.  But the acknowledgement of my own being — my growing awareness of self — it relaxes my body with esteem and peacefulness.

While the gorgeous boy hums in response to my answer, I drift off into a narrow alley with cobble stones and cracked walls of old Spanish houses, and I see myself, walking downhill with my bare, tan feet.  My hair is unleashed and the long skirt of my white cotton, lace dress swooshes sideways, imitating the sway of my hips:  The lighthouse for my most perfect, ideal lover.

And I swear:  Sometimes there is so much unexpected glory in this town — and so much beauty — I catch myself wondering if I’m only dreaming, among angels.  

Idyllic.  For now. And always so much more idyllic, the very next day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“the price of creation

is never

too high.

the price of living

with other people

always 

is.”

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

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

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

“Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”

LA-LA started purring early this morning:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty, don’t you think?”

Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I have woken up with a headache:  This life of a freelancer is one pain in the ass.  Floating, always floating in some vague self-assurance that it is all gonna work out for the better; that everything is gonna fall into its place.  Because it always has, before; and because I’m good enough.  And even if it doesn’t work out, there are lessons to be learned, right?

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  Everything happens for a reason!” — other people tell me.

It takes very little for other people to chime-in.  Other people always seem so much smarter, or more opinionated, at least; more self-assured.  Or maybe they are just full of shit and know how to talk out of their asses.  I don’t know.  But do they know?  Do they know that they’re full of shit when they start their talkin’?  Or has their self-assuredness taken them beyond their recognition of denial — beyond their awareness of their full-of-shit-ness?

Yet, still:  It is all gonna work out for the better, I must believe that.  Because it always has, before.  And because I’m good enough.  And because (and herein lies my leprosy) I so fully, so strongly believe that it’s all in the intention:  One’s life — is all in one’s intention!  And my intentions — have always been good.

So, it is all gonna work out for the better.  It must.  It absolutely has to!  Because it always has, before — and because I had always been good enough.

And LA-LA:  She started purring early this morning, slipping through the shades of my bedroom window with that hazy sunshine that only She can manufacture.  I’ve never seen this sort of weather before, anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  There is a decisiveness in this mood of Hers:  It’s gonna be a hot day.  No room for negotiating.  You, little humans, can cough up enough smog to block some of Her rays with your fake clouds.  But as far as LA-LA is concerned:  It’s gonna be a hot day — decidedly!

And early this morning, She purred, rolling over onto Her back and playfully sharpening Her claws against my windowsill; nibbling on the chipping paint:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty.  Don’t you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I had woken up with a headache.

I had just returned to Her, the other day.  Like a thief, I slipped into the city without telling a single soul.  Because I knew that even before the pilot announced the descent into yet another decidedly hot day, I would begin to get homesick for the City I had just left behind.

I have never seen that anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  LA-LA is not really a chosen city, for many of us.  She is the one we settle for, while impatiently waiting for the fruition of our dreams.

And it’s a common pattern out here:  I have watched too many bait their dreams against this city (which is way too much pressure for any dream to withstand). When the dreams don’t happen fast enough, they fling their failures in Her face, forever blaming Her for the slowness of Her clocks; for Her lack of cooperation; for Her traffic, for Her industry, for Her lack of imagination; for Her decidedly hot days.  So, I thought I would just slip back into Her, quietly — under the sun of Her another decidedly hot day — and not voice my immediate homesickness for the City I had just left behind.

Because it takes very little for other people to chime-in:

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  It sucks!  But at least, you’ve learned a lesson!” — and off they go again, talking out of their asses so self-assuredly, I begin to wonder why they had settled here, so decidedly unhappy.

“I’ll be leaving in a month,” a neighbor had decided to confide in me during an elevator ride this morning.  I hadn’t seen him in a while — and I hadn’t really known him all that well.

So, “What the fuck is his name?!” I thought, squinting at him past my headache.  All I said this morning — was,  “Hello.”

“There is just nothing for me to do here!  No good jobs.  No good women,” he carried on; and then, he shrugged in a way that made me want to recoil inside my very spine.  There was an aggression in that shrug:  a painful flaunting of his griefs.

Goddamn it, I thought, squinting past my headache.  I was just picking up my mail accumulated during my departure and the days that it took for me to get over my homesickness for the City I had just left behind.  And all I said this morning — was “Hello.”

“So:  Where to?” I asked.  Somehow, the elevator has been programed to stop on nearly every floor; and to avoid that elevator silence, I chose to participate.  But I would chime-in very little, laconically.  Because I had woken up with a headache, and the unhappy neighbors’ griefs were a pain in the ass.

“San Diego!” he announced emphatically.  “Makes so much sense!”

In all truth, I had not a single clue as to how that other city made sense; but in juxtaposition to his griefs, his reasons to celebrate were a better cause.  So, I squinted at him, past my headache, and said:

“Well.  Yeah.  Everything happens for a reason.”

Not good enough of a response made my unhappy neighbor shrug again, this time definitely at my expense.  And I would recoil inside my very spine, but the elevator jolted and came to a stop.  First floor.  The ride’s over.  So was the confiding chat.

“Good luck,” he said to me, and started jogging across the lobby filled with that hazy sunshine that only LA-LA can manufacture.

I wasn’t sure why I needed luck, but I swear I thought I heard the city roll over onto her back again and whimper:

“Purrr-tty.  Am I purrr-tty?  What do you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

You may not work out for your every unhappy resident.  You may not live up to every dream.  But you do happen to all of us for a reason.  And somehow, everything does tend to work out.  It always does.

And everything falls into its place.

And everyone falls — into his.

But regardless:  You’re very pretty, my darlin’.  Very, very pretty.

Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.

“Click, Click, Click, Flash…”

There are faces on the streets of this town that make me want to whip out a camera and take them home with me:  not the people — but always their faces, like yellowing Polaroids in my back pocket.  Every day, I drive by them, on routes that must lead to my dreams — or at least to survival in between the dreams’ happening — and I fight the urge to leap out of the car, leave the engine running, and steal a shot or two, preferably unnoticed by my subject.

But if they do see me, I hope they aren’t offended much.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d probably say, shielding myself with kindness, as if they were my lovers telling me of their final decision to depart.

(I’m such a fucking hippie.  Forgive me.)

There is a homeless man, in one of my regularly visited parking lots, who always reads a pamphlet, in a plastic chair by that neighborhood’s laundromat.  He rests here, maybe even lives, with his cart parked right around the corner.

Keith.  This is his spot.

The truth about Keith:  He is homeless — not a pauper (and you better know the difference).  He’s made that aggressively clear by the cleanness of his clothes and the presentable look of his laced-up shoes.  I had tried giving him money before:  I might as well have slapped Keith’s tired face with a wet towel full of sand.  But food, he’ll take food.  He’ll nod, humbly; thank you, and pack it away, so methodically and slow, it breaks your heart.  Because if ever you have known poverty yourself, you comprehend the deficit of dignity in it.  Organization and routine become your only saving graces.  And that’s exactly how you get by:  sweeping off crumbs of dignity from the kitchen table and into your hand; and methodically storing them away — for later.  

Well, Keith’s got his dignity in spades.  I can tell it by his face with carved out wrinkles and his not so poorly groomed beard.  In a striking juxtaposition to his African features, a pair of lime-green eyes overlooks from above.  Sometimes they freeze in a gaze of departure; and even though I’ve wondered a few times about where Keith goes when he goes like that, his eyes give out no hints.  I don’t trip out about that too much though:  Because the ownership of his story — is one of the few things a man should be allowed to possess.

His right eyebrow gathers into a poignant awning.  Not much of a frown, it ever so slightly changes the man’s face from solemnity to something grievous.  Just like that:  a little shift and the departure of his lime-green eyes — and the man’s face becomes a story.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d probably say.

Another man — another story — lives just a few blocks away from my street.  I am never sure where he sleeps, or where he stores his things.  But he is impossible not to notice as I run to the subway station, always late and always immediately embarrassed, when I notice him.

On a cold day, the man stands underneath an electronics store sign long closed down for sale.  In heat, he looms in the shadow of a bus stop nearby.  The accidental passengers waiting on metallic benches seem to not mind him more than they mind the exhaust fumes from the never-ending traffic.  Years ago, when I first moved here, the man used to ask them for money, while shifting on his feet.  But now, he just sways there, in silence, waiting for dumb charity by someone with a guilty conscience, like my own.  But mostly, he lets his life waste him away with the corrosive elements attacking his skin behind this bus stop.

Painfully thin, he sways too much when shifting on his feet, as if at any moment he can tip over and break into a thousand shards of something irreparable.  But whenever I can get past my embarrassment and actually look at the man’s face, I realize it belongs to someone long departed.  He seems calm, surrendered; almost smiling, with his eyes.  And if he can feel the scratch of my dollars in his palm, dried up to chalky whiteness, he shivers his head a little.  Those aren’t nods, but a dozen of little ones — like shivers.

Another story — another ghost — trails in the footsteps of a local woman that always sits by one of this town’s guilds.  She’s irate:  There ain’t no bloody surrender in her face.

On the stone fence of the building, she usually sits with her bags parked underneath her feet; and she mutters while scratching the matted hair, usually wrapped in a shredding scarf.  Her clothing is nonsensical, as if she’s rummaged through a vintage shop or a drag queen’s closet, that morning.  But you better be sure there’ll be some sequins somewhere on her body.  And it’s not the angry face that gets my attention every time:  It’s those fucking sequins!

She must’ve loved them as a little girl, as all little girls do.  And as all little girls, she must’ve found them magical, like fairy dust or sparkly refections in the water from the mirror mosaic on the bottom of a pool floor.  And she may have long departed — in her mind and in her face — but this child-like addiction is the only sliver of sanity that separates her from those of us, insane enough to give it up.

They are never dangerous, these faces; no more dangerous than the minds that hide behind them, storing away their stories of horror and loss from which the only sane thing to do — is to depart.  Alas:  The faces of the departed.  There are so many of them, in this town!  

Who knows what has brought them here, and why they never left.  Is it because hope dies last; but when it does, it leaves a person too exhausted to depart?  Or is it because they, like me, have nowhere else to go.

Because they are already — the departed, and this — is where they have departed for.  And this is where they continue to depart, dragging behind their carts and their beauty —  like cautionary tales for the rest of us.

“I Can Be Your Hero, Baby” — Nyet.

My dad — is not Superman.

I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone conversation that I have been committing to Motha Russia for the last few years.  It’s the least I could do, I always thought:  to take the initiative in maintaining this long distance relationship that had affected every romantic choice in my own biography.  Because dad was the man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.  So, da:  It was the least I could do.

As someone with the burden of having left her beloveds behind, with the guilt of exceeding her parents’ lifestyle — survivor’s guilt — I have been dialing an endless line-up of numbers every Sunday (by the Russian clocks):  My Prodigal Sundays.  And after a while, I’ve given up on premeditating the concepts of these phone calls:  For they never turn out to be redemptive, or even philosophical.

“Hello, what’s new?” I would ask, every time, surprising myself with how mundane I could be despite my lists of questions about my heritage, my character, my past.

“Nothing,” dad would answer, echoing the matter-of-factness of it all.

(It’s offensively insane if you think about it, really:  After more than a decade of separation, you would think beloveds could concern themselves with anything other than gas prices (for me) and bread prices (for him).  It must be why, then, I had always found fiction to be more perfectly narrated than life.)

But then on the other hand, my dad was Superman.  For years, he seemed immune to suffering.  Between the stoic nature I myself tap into sometimes, in my own character, and the military training of his lifetime career, he never vented, never sought faults; never passed a judgement on the humans he had vowed to protect.  So, I’ve had the audacity to assume he was stronger than the rest of us, capable and tough.  Because that matched the picture of the first man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.

Dad always stood so tall, with his stereotypical Eastern European features juxtaposing my own (that I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).  But it was height that I insisted on remembering the most, never measuring him against other men.  There had to be other humans larger than dad’s slim stature, so well hidden underneath the boxy cut of the Soviet Army uniform.  Just by the mere fact that, for centuries, Motha Russian was famed for repeatedly spitting out giants out of her national vagina — there had to be humans taller than my dad.  But no, not from my perspective!  Not from where I stood — not from where I looked up, in my blinded worship of him, for the first two decades of my life — never growing past my own 5 feet in height (a feature I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).

And he would be the best of them all.  Always the highest ranking officer in every room, he would be granted the respect pro bono.  So, how do you stand next to a man that gets saluted before even being spoken to, giving him a complete command over the course of the words that would follow?  How do measure yourself against someone addressed by his title rather than his name?  I tell you how:  You fall in love with him, blindly, for decades getting stuck at measuring your own romantic choices against Superman.  

We could be on an errand trip to the nearest city — my Superman and I — standing in line at an ice-cream kiosk, when a stranger in civilian clothes would salute my tallest man in the world.  Beautiful women (for centuries, Motha Russia was famed for spitting those out of her national vagina as well — in galore) would blush and adjust their hair when father marched past them.  (For the rest of his life, he would never surrender that manner of stepping — as if on a chronic conquest:  A man on a mission to protect the human race.)  And even the harshest of them all — the bitterly disappointed veterans on the benches of Moscow’s parks or the fattened-up, unhappy female secretaries at my lyceum’s administration — they too would melt a little in the esteemed company of my dad, making life seem much easier to navigate than when amidst the stocky, brown brand of my mother’s side.

Oh, how I wish I could’ve dwelled in this blind worship of him, for the rest of my life.  But the romantic choices in my own biography — a biography that had happened during the period of separation from my dad, now nearly equaling in length as the first two decades — they have began to catch up with me.  And as I continue to fall out of my loves, I begin landing in truth about the very first man with whom I was once so blindly in love.

“And yes, you do mythologize your men,” a man, not as tall as my father, had told me the other day.

And da, herein lies the pattern:  Willingly, blindly, I fall in love, worshiping each new romantic choice, pro bono.  And when he doesn’t measure against my personal Superman, I fall out of it, quite disappointed but never surprised.  For no man can live up to my mythical expectations — not even the Superman that had started them, back in the first two decades of my life.

And nyet, my dad — is not Superman.  I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone calls on a typical Prodigal Sunday (by the Russian clocks).

Because, “I’m just a man,” he told me, refusing to echo the matter-of-factness of it all.  “And it’s time for you — to give up on me.”

“Can I Get A… ?”

“Flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee.” —

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

She bore a name from my former side of the world, somewhere from the old hemisphere that to this day wows the planet with its women with porcelain, statuesque bodies and baby-doll faces.  This kitten, however, was a bit closer to my own type:  She stood no taller than 5’2’’, with enough give to her curves to want her, for the mere potential of her womb.  But then again, underneath all that softness and sex, one wouldn’t dare to doubt her strength, and the perseverance that would be out of this world — or from the other side of it, at least.  Her hair was longer than mine — the color of fire engine red — but it was just as wild; and when she brushed her fingers through it, she made herself purr, in some foreign phoneme.

“You smell nice,” was the first thing I told her, when I stepped inside her store and noticed her in the corner, rearranging the already aesthetically pleasing merchandise into color schemes better suitable for the coast of Brazil; not for my dusty neighborhood populated  by exhausted artists.  (We live here, temporarily, but permanently on the verge of breaking through.  And in this balancing act between hope and timing, we manage to become better human beings.)

“Do I?” she said, while hanging up a floor-length dress of titillating design by stepping on her tippy toes; and when she came down, she flipped her mane of fire engine red, ran her fingers through it, and made her way over to me:

“Sure it’s me?”

In response, I began to sniff her.  Tickled, she came even closer, leaning in her tan shoulders one at time toward my nose.  To others, she could’ve appeared indifferent, or stoic at least.  But she had come from my former side of the world; so I knew how to read that perfect mishmash of her old ways and the flamboyant ones, typical of the American womanhood.  As I upped the speed and the intensity of my sniffing, she shimmied her shoulders and smirked:  Oh, she was tickled alright!

With my face close enough to her chest to get the aerial view of her breasts, I delivered my verdict:  “Yep:  It IS you!”

“I just got my hair done, today.  So, it must be from their product,” the Slavic kitten responded, took out her hair clip and shook out her mane, purposefully releasing more scent into the air.  She knew the extent of her power:  She owned it — in spades.

“Rrrrr,” I purred, with a phoneme from my former side of the world.  “Delicious.”

As someone with enough confidence in the appeal of her merchandise, she would leave me alone while I absentmindedly floated through her store, pulling out one cloth after another — one more titillating than a previous one — and leaned them against my exhausted shoulders.  (I had been at it, for days at a time — for years! — in this dusty neighborhood. In the balance between my hope and timing, I had put in the work, willingly; hopefully becoming a better human being — but never taking a break long enough to notice the difference.)

Yet, at all times, I was well aware of her vicinity; and I would occasionally sneak a peak at her shifting around of our surrounding aesthetics, always finding further limits, more room for perfection.  And she would continue to purr — hum, perhaps — with phonemes, from the other side of the world.

I pulled out the floor length dress of titillating design, swooped up the spider-web textured sweater; snatched a backless shirt (or was it just a shawl?).  The strategically colored frock, with slits and cutouts on its sides made me think in Spanish; and the streaked feather earrings tickled me with my dreams of Barcelona.  Once all of my aesthetic choices were draped over my shoulder, I made it for the dressing room.

The Slavic kitten immediately appeared by my side:

“I want to see you, in all of these!” she purred while hanging up the clothes, one at a time.  “Ooph!” she exhaled-whistled when glancing at the strategically colored frock, with slits and cutouts on its sides.  “This one was built — for a girl like you!”

She was right:  When in it, I slid the curtain of the dressing room, I found a reflection of the woman of whom I dreamt back in the brutal clasp of my anxious, uncertain, un-confident 20s.  The creature of tan heath, with enough give to her curves but equal strength — demanded more life, and more beauty, and more adventure.  And much more sex.

“Mmm-hmm,” the kitten was immediately purring at my side while kneeling down, with her engine fire red mane in the vicinity of my upper thigh.  She looked up and I caught myself wondering about her tickled stoicism, if in the nude.

“This — is my favorite part,” she smirked — and with a confident pull of a index finger, she undid the cutout above my hip.  The cloth gave.  The slit pulled open, reveling the tan lines from my dainty bikini bottom, and the giving curve of my lower stomach, leading to my womb.

“Where the fuck did my breath go?” I thought.  “How dare she steal it like that?”

And just how much was she willing to vow before finding herself in the midst of breaking my heart?

The dress — would go home with me, that night.  She wouldn’t.  But she would smirk — with that tickled stoicism of someone from my former side of the world — ever so slightly.  And while already kneeling at the thigh of the next girl, she would purr:

“Come and play with me, here.  Anytime!”

Disturbia

It is impossible to fail if we extend love.  Whether or not the person accepts it is incidental.  Our ability to love is what makes the difference.” — 

Zen and the Art of Falling in Love, Brenda Shoshanna

Yep.  Those were the last words of my yesternight.  Right before the ghetto birds came out for their habitual cruising above the 101 and very soon after the single jolt of yesterday’s earthquake (which most of my kittens have slept right through), I was flipping through all of my current books for some line that would deliver me into my dreamworld.  Something good:  I needed something good!

“There’s a difference, I said, between making it and simply becoming hard,” Bukowski offered up.  Nope.

“If I’m just a passing fancy, then I want to pass fancy,” chimed-in Lorrie Moore.  Still not it.

Oh, I love me some insomnia!  Usually, it rolls in during my life’s transitions, like an unexpected weather front.  It normally takes me a couple of nights of its reoccurring to realize “Transition” is exactly the name of the ailment.  But in the mean time, all of that self-knowledge that inspires my esteem, all that skill for meditation and counting sheep; all the certainty that in the end I’ve somehow managed to be true to my goodness (or at least, managed to be true) — it all evaporates like a single snowflake on a curious child’s mitten.  The atmosphere gets dark, the head gets messy:  Heavy shit is about to go down.

Soon enough the silence of my apartment gets overcrowded by an amusement park for ghosts.  A traveling freak show pitches a tent.

“Where did all this come from?” I wonder, astonished every single time at how much a single life of a woman can encompass.

And I just can’t fucking sleep.

The only thing to do then — is do nothing.  To ride it out.

Yes, I could think of all the places I have yet to visit.  Or, I could recycle that one memory of a random San Francisco street that made me feel that I’ve finally come home.  But the ghosts and the freaks nag me to jump on a ride with them, and it is useless to protest.  Before I know it:  My heart’s racing, I’m disconnected from gravity, and I cannot figure out if it’s sweat or tears that’s rolling down my face.  I flip and I turn to get more comfortable in between all the safety belts and the chains; I yank my hair into some sort of a submission.  But that too seems to be a moot point.  So, I keep riding until exhaustion becomes my saving grace, and until the fire-red electronic numbers on the face of my alarm clock are no more than random equations of time.

Insomnia.  Alas.  It is the perfect time for regrets.

The only thing is:  I don’t do regrets.  Because when I do regrets, it means I’m suffering from shame.  And shame, my kittens, is something I just prefer to never do.

Not in any self-righteous way and never at the expense of someone else, but I choose to be good, in life.  Yes, of course:  There have been mistakes, and those came with shame; and shame, my kittens, is something I just prefer to never do — againAnd if there is anything that a choice of goodness can guarantee — it’s one’s safety from regrets.  (But then again, I wouldn’t wish regrets onto my enemies either.)  It is nice to reminisce, sure, to reflect on the so-called “lessons” of life.  But to discount an experience or a person due to my guilt or pride; or to wish for their non-happening at all — via a regret — well, what’s the goodness in that, right?

It gets tricky though, on the rides with the ghosts and the freaks.  All that tossing and yanking, and I get tempted to get off on the very first stop:  Regrets.  (The stop after that is usually Wrath, followed by Mourning.)

“Should I not have loved this last time around?” I thought as the freaks fumbled with the hinges of my safety belt.  “Was loving a mistake?”

(I know, I know, kittens!  I know better than that.  I know better than that — in the daytime!  But yesternight, all I could hear was the sniffling by ghosts and the conductor’s forewarnings of the next stops, each more daunting than the one before.  So, yes:  I considered regretting.  (In the mean time, the freaks thought it would be really cute to start nudging my ribcage with their stumpy thumbs.  Cute fuckers!))

And that’s where the digging through my manuals came in handy.  My books of reference.  My maps to self-discovery.  Bukowski — that adored freak of mine! — testified to my two choices in life as suffering or boredom.  Ms. Moore was ever so melancholic and lovely.  (“What’s that perfume she’s always wearing?” I kept holding on.)  Comrade Nabokov was not much of a consolation either; for he is all about mourning the loss of time.  Zadie Smith managed to make me chuckle with her translations of humanity, but her people stumble around their lives like drunkards in the windstorm of history.

“I need something good!” I thought.

Aha!  The Zen book!  It has been shoved underneath my hard bed — a gift from the most recent love I was considering regretting yesternight.  Out of sight — out of messy mind, right?  But it just wouldn’t fit into a commercial size envelope that holds all the other palpable evidence of this lover’s memory; and it just wouldn’t sit right on the shelf among all of my other freaks of literature.  So, in a hurried gesture, I’ve hidden it in my bedroom.

Thank goodness I recalled its existence last night:

“We cannot fail as long as we are practicing and that very act of brining an answer is success itself.”

Oh, okay.  So, all of this self-discovery — while alone or with a love — is the very point of it all.  And even this seemingly torturous night of riding with the ghosts and the freaks is a part of it; because it has challenged me to make all local stops of my feelings and lessons.

“Our ability to love is what makes the difference.”

Oh, okay then:  To love — is never a mistake, and it does not belong among regrets.  Because in love, I’m learning to be myself.  In love, I am learning to be.

I held on, kittens.  Last night, I held onto myself and I rode it out.  And honestly, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was good; and I needed something good.