Tag Archives: exhaustion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But You Know: It’s All in a Day’s Work.”

Oh, so it’s gonna be one of those:  A slowly crawling, rainy day best spent under the covers, with a book, after a rare discovery that today, you have absolutely nowhere to be.

You’ve gotta earn a day like that.  There is always too much work; work that often works  you — not the other way around.  The work of Gotta.  The work of Must.  The work that should not be rescheduled:  It could be delayed — but it’s gonna cost cha.  So, it’s always best to deal with the work now, for it might go away if you don’t.  People have choices, around here.  They might take their business elsewhere.  So, you say yes — and take the work.

I wish I knew it to be different, somewhere else in the world.  But I didn’t start working until I landed here:  In the Land of Work.  Some call it “Opportunity”.  Sure, it is.  The possibility of that opportunity tests the desire and sometimes pushes the limits of your capability.  But If you seize the opportunity, it becomes:  More work.  The work of Should.  The work of Must.

Perhaps, it’s more desirable work — work you wouldn’t mind doing for free.  Ask any artist:  an undercover poet or the girl musician with purple hair that works in the front of your office as a receptionist (but mostly, she makes your coffee and keep unjamming the copy machine).  Ask a cashier at a framing store or the teenager with dreamy eyes that bags your groceries at Trader Joe’s.  Ask anyone from the army of these tired kids working night shifts at your restaurants:  They know the drudgery of free work all to well.

Some may still have enough gratitude to go around.  If fuels them to keep showing up after a day spent chasing the work.  There is enough passion in them still — to find the reasons to peel on their hideous uniforms every day, right around three or four, when most people start watching the clock for the minute to call it quits.  But the tired kids report to work in which they rarely believe — but which they absolutely must accept until another “opportunity”, for work.

I know one.  I study her bounce around the narrow sushi joint I frequent weekly.  Every night, and sometimes during the weekend brunch, I can see her doing the work.

(Ugh, “brunch”!  If you’ve ever waited tables in Manhattan, for the rest of your life, there is no more dreaded word in your vocabulary.  It’s enough to lose your appetite for “brunches”.)

She’s got a regular name.  It’s sorta pretty, but I always forget it, and I want to call her Clementine, or Chloe, or Josephine.  She is perky, quick and funny, always ready for some improv with a willing customer.  When she appears at a booth, she tends to find a nook into which she fits her soft places like a kitten agreeing to your caress.  But you better know how to touch her:  A slight degree of nervousness or clumsy inexperience — and she bounces off, while waiving the tail of her gathered hair as a woman used to being watched every time she walks away.

Scarlett Johansson for Vogue

“You want — the salads?  Is that safe to say?”

I know for certain that just a register away, therein lies her bitchiness.  She is too tired from the work to tippy toe around me, for her tips.  And I bet she can tear into a man with eloquence and composure even grown women don’t have the courage to possess .  But she is always nice to me, at first; until she remembers my routine — and she begins to flirt.

“Are you an actress?” I hear the booth filled with older men ask her.

They look like they work in production:  There is a certain air of exhaustion, long hours, terrible diet and lack of exercise that I can smell on them.  There is always too much work, for these guys; so much of it, most end up childless or divorced. They are this city’s doctors:  Always on call.  Always ready to take the work.  Because if they don’t, the work might go away.  So, they say yes.

Clementine says yes.  But she shifts, from one foot to another.  The lines of her curves change in a warning that she may let ‘em have it, in case of their commentary about the work she doesn’t mind doing for free.  But thankfully, the men know better than to ask her the civilian cliches of:  “How is that going for you?” or “Have I seen you in anything?”

They do know better; for they have sacrificed their forming years on putting in the union hours — sometimes, for free — in a dangerous bet that the work would pay off later.

Later.  They would build their homes — later.  They would marry nice, patient, pretty girls — later.  

But the work may not have happened later.  The “opportunity” had to be seized right then.  So:  They said yes.  

Now, newly and happily married, or unhappily divorced, they still find themselves chasing the work.  And in the midst of their private miseries, they chase the fantasy of Chloe’s possibility.  Like me, they find her youth titillating.  But it is her fire — that formed in her pursuit of the work — that makes them hope she would stay by their table just a little bit longer.

But Josephine must go:  She must go do the work.  She has to earn herself the “opportunity” to do her other work, for free.  And she has to work enough to earn herself one of these:

A slow, crawling, rainy day best spent under the covers, in a tired body, with a book; after a rare discovery that today, she has absolutely nowhere to be, and that her conscience is finally at rest — from all the work.

“Give Me Hope, Help Me Cope — With This Heavy Load…”

I saw him nearing the intersection, about half a block away, on foot.  At first, I watched him pass my car, along the pavement: An ordinary man, like so many others.

His hair and beard were completely white (and I’ve always found it impossible not to trust white-haired people, for they seemed so much wiser than others).  So, immediately, I thought of him not as much as handsome but somehow dignified; trust-worthy.  Surely, I thought, he knew something I didn’t.

He wore a pair of well-ironed black slacks and a white dress shirt, unbuttoned at its collar.  A pair of polished, laced-up shoes and a yellow manila envelope under his armpit:  But of course!  He had to be an important somebody!

Maybe he was someone’s tax accountant, I thought.  Or, a divorce attorney walking over the final papers to a drained, tragic face of some recently single mother.

The fact that he was passing a gas station specifically for cop cars helped my fantasy, too.  I had just noticed it the other day:  What looked like a parking lot behind a film production building was filled with the killer whales of LAPD being served by a single, rusty gas pump.  I didn’t know that the same people granting us our justice also had to pump their own gas.  It made sense, of course; but my initial assumption that they were tended to, by someone else, made the idea of my world slightly better.  Or, more just.

(That’s when I looked away:  I was waiting for the traffic light to change.  It hadn’t yet.)

I had just passed that one crowded intersection where every LA egomaniac insisted on wedging in the giant ass of his unnecessary Hummer, thinking that the yellow light would last forever — just for him!  Instead, he would get stuck there, right in the middle of the mess, blocking the rest of us with an awkward tilt of his giant ass.  Oftentimes, driven to the ends of our nerves by all the heat and strife already, we flip out, honk and scream at him, with lashing words and foaming saliva.  Aha:  Another day, in LA.

My own rage is so powerful, at times, it scares me:

What if I don’t manage to come back to the saner side again?  What if I go way too far?

They had just erected a significant palace of yoga, precisely at that one intersection, where most of us are ready to lose our minds.  (And those people granting us our justice:  Why aren’t they granting it at that specific spot in the city?!)

On the other side of the street sits an ill-used parking lot, permanently fenced in by a giant net.  Its neon orange sign reads “FENCES”.  No shit!  There is never enough parking in this city, and there is never enough space.  Or, there is too much space — and not enough humanity.

But then, again, no one ever promised this city would all make any sense.  No one ever promised for it — to be just.

And maybe, that is why it’s always so much harder to come back here, every time: Because we tread at the very end of our nerves, due to all the heat and strife, and some of us go way too far.

The white-haired man was walking slowly; and that was somewhat unusual, of course.  But then again, he was nearing that one police station in Hollywood, where quite a few of my acquainted restless souls have spent a night or two, after losing their minds a little.  Maybe he was someone’s DUI lawyer; or perhaps, he was delivering someone else’s bail.  As he neared the pedestrian walkway, with the quickly expiring countdown on the other side, he began to squint his eyes:  Eleven, ten, nine…

(And did I mention he was wearing glasses, with an elegant metallic rim?  Yep:  Definitely, an important somebody!)

“Ohhh…  Ohhh, nooo!” he suddenly began to cry, quietly, almost under his breath.  He wound up each word in a register unsuitable for a dignified, white-haired man, like him.

He stepped out onto the road and began to cross.  Seven, six, five…  He crossed right in front of my windshield.

“Ohhh, nooo!” He squinted again.  “They took my car…  Oh!”

I looked in the direction of his grief.  The curbs in front of that one police station, in Hollywood, were completely empty.  It was that time of the day when the rules demanded for us to give each other more space.

“They took my car…”  The white-haired man continued, and in the way he stumbled onto the pavement at the end of his walkway, I thought he was way too close to collapsing on his feet:  Way too close to his insanity — as he had gone way too far.  

“I can’t take this — anymore…” he wept.

It separated inside of me and dropped — some dark feeling that comes from suspecting that nothing in the world had promised to be just.  And that departure of my own hope scared me:  What’s life — without hope?

Someone honked behind me:  The light had changed, and I had to give them way.  I had to give them enough space to pass into the lives that stressed them out ahead.

 

“All You Got To Do — Is Try… Try A Little Tenderness.”

And you know what I’m doing today?

Nothing.

That’s right.  I’m doing nothing, in a Kundera sorta way.

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

Nothing, as in:  I wake up late due to the afternoon sun blazing through my window.  (The shades are helpless against this blazing.)  I wake up to sunlight, and not to the monotonous tune of my alarm clock.  I wake up to another day.  (I’m helpless against waking.)

And when I do wake up, I stay in bed, despite the habitual bounce of my thoughts about the stuff that needs to get done.  It’ll get done.  Eventually.  So, I stay in bed, reading.

The more fragmented my schedule, the lesser are the chances of my reading a book, these days.  A whole book:  Not a book of vignettes by a Parisian melancholic, or of poetry by an angry American alcoholic.  A book, a long novel, or an epic story hasn’t rested in my palms in a long time.  I still read though — but of course! — in between the fragments of my day.  But I never read in bed.

But today:  I do.  Because I’m doing — nothing.

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

Nothing, as in:  I take a scorching hot shower with a bar of handmade soap with tea tree oil and oats.  It smells like the pine tree bathhouses that my people would heat up for each other, late at night — before a generous dinner but after the hard work — and they would come out with red and calm faces of innocence, long ago traded in for survival.

I take the first sip of my black coffee:  I’m feeling peckish, I must say.  I haven’t eaten the first meal of the day, and I’m about to skip the second.  But there is no way I’m cooking today:  Because I’m doing — nothing. 

Nothing, as in:  I walk to the farmers’ market.  I do not drive.  Instead, I accompany my kind man who tells me the fables from his previous day.  His long stories.  As we walk, we study the neighborhood:  The homes that sit at an architectural intersection of San Francisco and Venice Beach.  Homes with abandoned toys in their play pins and enviable tree houses decorated with Chinese lanterns.  Homes with old vintage cars in their gravel covered driveways and disarrayed trash bins at the curb.  Homes I’ve promised to build for my people — my kind people — and my child.

I watch an older couple approaching us:  I wonder what I would look like, when I’m older.  And I shall be older, certainly.  The romantic notion that I would die young has expired with forgiveness.

And now:  I want to live, in perseverance and stubborn generosity; and every day, I want to start with a clean slate on the board of my compassion.

What time is it?  I have no clue.  I do not own a watch and my cellphone has been off since the very early hours of this morning, when I was just getting to be bed after a night of seeing old friends and playing cards until we began to feel drunk from exhaustion.

I think of them — my friends, my kind people, my kind man — as I walk, and I can see the white tents the hippies and the hopefuls have pitched behind a plastic barricade.  They’re all so specific, I get inspired to see them in a book:  A long novel about perseverance and stubborn generosity; an epic story in which its heroine travels toward her forgiveness.

“When you forgive — you love.”

Someone else has written that in a romantic story about dying young.  I don’t want to do that:  I want to live.

Yes, I want to live.

We purchase things that only speak to our taste buds:  Black grapes and persimmons.  Sun-dried tomato pesto and horseradish hummus.  Sweet white corn and purple peppers.  I watch a tiny curly creature with my baby-fat face and a unibrow dancing around her mother’s bicycle, in a pink tutu and leopard uggs.  I look away when she tickles my eyes with tears only to find a brown face, even tinier, resting over a sari-draped shoulder of her East Indian mother.  Live, my darling child.  I want you — to live.

My kind comrade and I walk over to the handmade soap store:  I want more smells of home.  We both notice her:  She is African and tall — PROUD — with dreadlocks and a pair of bohemian overalls.  How could you not notice her:  Her face belongs to a heroine traveling toward her own forgiveness.

“Are you doing okay?” a very gentle gentleman asks us from behind the counter.

I smile into the jar of eucalyptus body butter and nod:  Zen.

“How could they not be okay, here?” the heroine making a rest stop on her journey toward forgiveness says.

We laugh.  All four faces in this store are calm.  They are calm with innocence long traded-in for survival.  But then again, maybe it’s just compassion.  (And I’m helpless — against it.)

“I was riding my motorcycle this morning,” my proud heroine starts telling us a fable from her previous day.  Her long story.

At the end of it, we would laugh.  Not wanting anything from each other, but having so much to give back, we laugh with lightness.

We laugh — with nothingness, in a Kundera sorta way.

I think:  We are no longer innocent.  But that’s quite alright, I think.

Because with enough forgiveness, compassion often takes its place.  Compassion takes the place of innocence.  And that’s quite alright, I think.  And I want to live — a life of that.

Yes.

I want to live.

“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.

“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.

“Go Home — And Be A Better Boy! (Although, Sometimes, It’s Tricky.)”

“This is the human heart,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.  “It’s light — and it’s dark.”

Well, actually, she sounded more like my motha:

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk.”

The actress with my name was playing a Russian prostitute, and she’s got some serious chops.  She is an East Coaster, more of a European:  One of those disciplined artists, with a compassionate heart.

In a film, she is arguing with a potential john about urban decay.  He is a landscape architect obsessed with the world’s dark corners.  She, however, lives amidst them:  In a civilization collapsing on itself like a giant snake swallowing its own tail.  And somehow, she has a better grasp on human patterns than a man studying them, for a living, while being buried up to his chin in his sterile theories.

(I used to love a man like that.  Holy fuck!  He almost took me out of the game.)

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.

But all I could think was:

“Tired today.  Is this where I burn out?”

It’s been hard, living around here.  In the beginning, there were difficulties related to the mere survival:  shelter, work, learning the geography of this place.  The fucking landscape!

I would figure it all out, in less than a year — and that would be the easy part.  Because it still wouldn’t let up.  The survival would get easier, sure; but somehow it never amounted to anything.  Every day, it felt like starting from scratch:  Paying the dues.  And every day, I would feel I could just burn out, at any moment.  But giving-up — was never really an option.  So, I just kept pushing.

For nearly an hour, I sat in traffic yesternight, to get to a hood only a mile away from my own.

“Could’ve walked this fucker faster,” I thought, while crawling behind a retiree fond of riding the breaks of his Chevy.

As soon as the one-lane street opened into a turn-lane in the middle, I zoomed around him.

“Christ,” I swore.

But then, I found myself behind an orange bus that added to the relentless heat wave with its boiling exhaust fumes.  I rolled up my windows and crawled behind it for another couple of blocks, while riding my breaks.

“Fucking hot!” I thought.  “Is this where I burn out, finally?”

But giving-up — wasn’t really an option.  So, I kept riding.

I cranked up the AC.

The houses on this stretch of Hollyweird wear that used-up look of a transient neighborhood.  They serve as temporary shelters to those who come to test their luck.  But the newcomers would figure it out, in less than a year, and move to more comforting neighborhoods; taking tiny slices of whatever was left — with them.  There are a few parks here, some dodgy playgrounds.  And I wouldn’t dare to find myself walking here, at night, through this fucking landscape.

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez dark.”

Did I just say that out loud?

Don’t know.

Tired today.

And it’s fucking hot.

I rolled down the windows again.  Might as well.

The smell of the collective exhaustion entered my car immediately, and all I could hear was the screeching of occasional breaks, punctuated by distant sirens.  No human voices here.

The traffic kept crawling.

“I could’ve walked this fucker faster!” I thought.

On Vine, an ancient Nissan jumped out of a pathetic shopping center and into the lane ahead of me, as if it were driven by someone looking for his own suicide.  My breaks screeched.

“Idiot.”

Then, the urban kamikaze proceeded riding his breaks.  To avoid a suicidal thought of my own, I studied the dusty white building of an Armenian church.  On its stone fence, a security guard was talking to a working girl with enormous sparkly fake eyelashes.  Both were about to start their shift.

“This eez ze human hearrt.”

Did I just say that?

Don’t know.

Tired.

I turned into the first side street and sped up.  A lanky kid with an Afro jumped out of an alley on his skateboard.  He was beautiful.  I started riding my breaks behind him.

“Fuck it!” I thought.  “I can walk this fucker faster!”

I parked behind a Grand Cherokee with chipping red paint, no longer glossy.  A hefty, tall man walked by, on a cracked pavement, audibly talking to himself.  He saw me looking, stopped muttering.  Gave me the middle finger.

“ASK ME,” said his neon orange shirt.

“This eez ze human hearrt,” I said out loud, yanked the hand break and stepped out into traffic.

“Beggin’, Beggin’ You-Ooh-Ooh: Put Your Lovin’ Hand Out, Baby!”

“Night flight to San Francisco; chase the moon across America…” *

Well, actually, it’s more like a flight to San Francisco, at the break of dawn — and I’m chasing my insomnia.

As I’ve done often, especially when transient, I’m watching other women, collecting the evidence on how they wear their skin; on what it must have been like to be them — to be not me.  To be unlike me.

I haven’t had many women in my earlier childhood to run my life by:  Thrown into a nomadic lifestyle early on by my father’s profession, I didn’t get to keep my girlfriends for long.  And motha?  Well, motha was too young to be a mother; so she would eventually become my girlfriend — but not until I myself was ready for it.  (That last one had to happen on my own terms.  Sorry, motha.)  At first, I would start to strut a little bit ahead of her, increasingly more on my own, more decisively; until she would take the lead no longer.

And so, while I’m chasing my insomnia at the break of this particular dawn, peaking through the sliding door of LAX, I watch the girls and women en route to their journeys.  Some are traveling on the arms of their beloveds:

—  Like the little girl sleeping in the most reassuring embrace of her father, with a dog furry like a golden retriever in place of a pillow.  Soak it up, you little one:  It’s going to be tough for other men to measure up.  Little girls born to good fathers end up married to their high expectations for a really long time.  I should know.  But for now, you do have this.  So, soak it up, my little one.

The young girl with a tired smile of someone that has traveled a lot:  You’re walking ahead of a woman that looks like your mother, and I already see the impatience that inspires you to lead the way.  And that’s wonderful.  But don’t forget to look back, my young girl.  Just on occasion, do look back at the one that you seem to despise the most, at times.  She does know you the best — and she knows the best and the worst of you, while hopefully still sticking by you, unconditionally — and for all of that, you despise her at times.

You, beautiful girls, traveling in couplings:  I pray your companions are worthy of your beauty.  But more over, I hope your kindness is worth even more.  They let you take the lead:  these good men of yours volunteering their life to the impossible task of measuring up to your fathers.  So, do look back at them, at times.  They’re just doing their best.

The frail women accompanied by their grown children:  Your life has been a success.  And the equally frail women looked after by the uniformed staff of the airport:  That’s alright, too.

“Your laptop should be in a tray by itself!  Your shoes — placed directly on the conveyer belt!  Do NOT place your keys inside the shoes!”

She is very tired: The security woman regurgitating the same information to my fellow travelers in line.  We are all tired, of course; but the ones she finds herself serving, for the rest of her life — or for now, at least — at least, we are going somewhere.  She, however, gets to stay behind and look over the safety of our journeys.  It must be hard to do this much looking over, on the daily basis, for the rest of her life.  Or for now, at least.  And those that are leaving are often impatient, tried by circumstances; and they are sometimes unkind and so ungrateful.  (Don’t they know she has their safety in mind?)  To look over them — is her job, not necessarily her dream.  And she is so tired of it, for now, at least.

“Does anybody have a nail file?  ANYBODY?  LADIES?!”

This one is standing in the middle of the waiting area by my gate.  She, too, seems tired, but hopped-up on something.  A few younger girls have been jolted by her aggression already.  She has even shaken one of them awake from her tired sleep, and the young one has opened her eyes and smiled with that smile of someone that has traveled a lot.

The hopped-up creature carries on.  She now jolts the lovely hippie with Jolie-esque lips who is listening her headphones and shooting impatient, concerned gazes at Gate 37B.  (We are the only ones without a monitor, so the gurgled announcement by our tired stewardess is the only source of information.  The Jolie-esque hippie can’t hear them, of course; so she jolts herself to remember to pay attention.)

The aggressive female passenger, however, is too hopped-up on something to notice the annoyance she is arousing in the youthful creature:

“Broke a nail!  LOOK!” she shoves her hand under the Jolie-esque lips.  The lovely hippie jumps, readjusts, and as kindly as her tiredness allows — excuses herself.

“Um.  Anyone?  LADIES!  REALLY?!”

“I think I might,” I finally step up to the plate.

The hopped-up female leaps toward me and, while I put away my writing and rummage through my bag for my tired memories as to where I could’ve stored that darn thing, she looms above me.  We are all chasing insomnia right now, on this San Francisco flight at dawn; but she may be chasing something else.

After the mission is accomplished she offers to buy me a drink:  Kindness by affliction.

“Thank you:  I don’t drink,” I say.

“Sorry, what?  WHAT?!” Just like that, she switches off any tired niceness, dismissing the possibility for gratitude and takes offense.  She gets offensive.  “I can’t understand you?!  Do you have an accent?”

Yep:  Definitely, hopped-up on something.  Perhaps, its tiredness she can no longer handle without an affliction.

I excuse myself to the bathroom:  We’re done here, sister!  The Jolie-esque lips shoot me a compassionate smile.  I don’t look back.

“Flight VX (gurgle-gurgle) to San Francisco is now boarding at (gurgle-gurgle).”

The handsome Latin woman with perfectly glossed lips and a tired gaze has finally come out to announce the clearing skies up north.  She has been so tormented by the impatience of those of us going somewhere.  We tend to be so unkind, sometimes; so ungrateful.

But the important thing is:  The San Francisco skies have cleared, at dawn; and each woman can carry on with her own journey.  We can go now, and hopefully, most of us cannot wait to land.  And as we board the aircraft to chase our mutual insomnia, I look back at the handsome Latin woman behind:

Here is my gratitude, love — and my very tired kindness.

* Kushner, Tony.  Angels in America.

“Don’t Need No Hateration, Holleration: Holla, Holla, Holla!”

How about:  I start with gratitude?

There are days when the ego wakes up early on me, and like a petulant child nagging his mother for junk food in line at a supermarket, it gets going before I decide to open my eyes and admit to the start of a new day:

“But, but, but…” it whines, throws fits and manipulates itself into more convenient emotions — the junk food for the human spirit:

–  Contempt:  That one always promises to be easier; but so obvious its wastefulness, I haven’t tried my hand at it — EVER!

–  Anger:  A real dilettante, claiming its expertise when leading to solutions; but then, it always runs out of air on me, long before the finish line.  Oh, but it has tempted me enough times to have learned my lesson, by now; so, I don’t follow its lead.

–  Expectation of justice:  I might as well resign to never allow another human to affect me, because such an expectation — is a moot point, fo’ sure; and it certainly cannot be an objective in any of my actions.

–  Self-pity:  I’m altogether allergic to that sucker, so I haven’t seen its face around here, for ages.  Same goes for jealousy:  In my universe, it’s a leper I prefer to keep at ten-foot distance.

But take this morning:  I woke up tired.

“First of all:  I am tired.  I am true of heart!

And also:  You are tired.  You’re true of heart!” *

So, that must be a starting point, for most of us.  A common ground, eh? Perhaps, that is why many prefer to be in love; for in those glorious beginnings of an affair, it gives you reasons to get up.  Exhaustion does not seem to matter.

(The work?  The work surely comes later.  The ghosts come out to play:

“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man…”

The patterns play hide-and-go-seek for a while; but when the lovers lose their libido at trying to impress each other, the hidden qualities crawl out:

“You’re it!”

So, in comes the work.)

But take this morning:  I woke up tired — and not in love, with another.  For a while, I tossed my exhausted limbs in bed and dismissed the temptations of the ego to start weaving its through-line for this new day.  I checked the phone:  No visible commitments.  Where to start, I thought.

How about:  I start with gratitude?  

So, I got up, mostly out of habit, got the coffee going.  The first obvious choice of action — was to clear the space.  I’m in control of it, this year — my space; but even that takes some discipline.  Because I no longer can blame any outer — or inner — clutter on my bunkmate.  My space equals my freedom equals my problem.  My responsibility.

“It’s a question of discipline.  When you’ve finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.” **

And so, I did that, mostly out of habit, but secretly letting the faces of my beloveds slip into my memory.  Perhaps, they were in the things that I shifted around my space.  These things either tended to originate from all my loves or to lead me back to them, in unpredictable ways:

There was that one, on the furthest coast, who mattered the most — she was heard from, yesternight:  She always justified my love.  My brothers, scattered all over the continent because they are that much restless of a kind — they all came forth throughout the last few days.  The lovelies in this city, where, for whatever reason, it’s much easier to get distracted:  They too made their adoration for me audible.

And then, there was a boy:  A boy from last night, who with his youth and beauty, insisted that even though I was tired — I was true of heart:

“I thought you were really cool,” he said, sitting underneath a yellow light on the floor of his hallway.  “But I didn’t know you’d be so different.”

(He would later make me laugh, make me lighter; tease me, teach me; make me sit still — underneath the yellow light, on the floor of his hallway — while respecting my tiredness.  He was not a love.  Not yet.  But oh, so lovely he was, in this city where, for whatever reason, it’s so much easier to get distracted.  Perhaps, it was the late hour of the night…  (Or was it the early hour of the morning?  I never know the difference.)  Perhaps it was the late hour of the night, but the mutual ghosts did not come to play:

“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man…”

But I was already too tired and true of heart — too wise, beyond my years — to not notice the patterns peeking out their turned-up noses from underneath the door of his apartment.)

But take this morning:  I woke up tired, not in love with another, but slowly, seemingly in love — with so many.  I continued to shift things around, organizing the space, getting ready to do my daily work.  Slowly, the sleepiness evaporated.  The exhaustion — suddenly didn’t matter.

I was loved, I thought, or at least adored — by many.  And they were all so magnificent:  These hearts, equally tired and true, searching for something just a little better than survival.  And whenever they chose to remember me, they gave me reasons to get up.  My tribe.  My comrades.  My witnesses.  My better selves.  They made me matter, rebuilding me every single time I was too tired to start a new day:

“You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.

And I bless you:  More Life.

The Great Work Begins.” ***

With the space cleared, it was time — to do the daily work.

“But where do I start?” I thought.

How about:  I start with gratitude?

 

*  Dave Eggers, A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius.

**  Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince.

***  Tony Kusher, Angels in America.  Part Two:  Perestroika.