Today, I woke up to the sound of construction. Having had the type of a day that nearly disparaged me with other people’s tests of my boundaries, being brought back to reality didn’t enthrall me much, as you can imagine. I growled, tossed to the other side of my bed; yanked the alarm plug out of the wall (‘cause I don’t need that shit waking me up later); and on my feet that someone had to have pumped with lead while I was sleeping, I stumbled toward my bedroom window:
“Bloody F!” I shifted the blinds to examine the haps of my ‘hood.
A handful of short, brown men calling out to each other in a foreign language were repairing the roof of the little blue house next to mine. Right underneath my top-story apartment, I could see them ripping that shit to pieces. Unlike the men at one of those construction sites with heavy machinery and brutal metallic noises, these guys were tiny; and the sounds they emitted belonged to the old country: a scraping of the shovel against the stripped wood, an arhythmic knocking of a hand-held hammer and the rainfall of nails hailing into a plastic bucket in the middle. The shortest of the workers, wearing a safari hat, had been assigned the task of sweeping around with a giant broom with plastic bristles. That thing was thrice as tall! And their leader — a gray-mustached man with an LAPD cap and a waterproof pouch with architectural drawings sticking out of it — looked out toward my building while smoking a pipe.
That fucking pipe rang a bell: On my yesterday’s morning jog, while fumbling with the wires of my iPod, I nearly knocked him over. He didn’t see me coming from behind, didn’t hear my mutters at the wires that would’ve annoyed me less had they belonged to a spider web into which I walked in, face first.
“Ooh… Sorry…” I said, not really meaning it: Who the fuck was he anyway and why wasn’t he paying attention? I began to make my way around him.
“‘S okay, beauty,” the gray-mustached man calmly said after removing his smoking instrument from the thin lips that made him look like my father, “You can bump me anytime.”
Okay, may be NOT like my father, you naughty old player! I laughed. I do tend to forget that older folk still haven’t forgotten about sex, and that some of them may still be having it (yikes!).
So, it always tickles me to no end to watch these old guys flirt with me, with the swagger of their old days. I bet they don’t sext the woman they like; and they know the etiquette of a phone call. “Liking” a girl’s photograph on Facebook does not pass, for them, as an expression of desire. And their stubborn commitment to getting doors and pulling out chairs; to taking over a woman’s grocery bags and never letting her whip out her money, no matter her protesting — all that throws me into a state of easy melancholy, readily available to my Russianness.
Yesterday, we left it at a laugh; but as I took off, I continued to smile and shake my head a few more times. My jogging step suddenly got lighter. I maneuvered my way around my neighborhood at the foot of a mountain; and considering LA-LA’s latest weather of the Bay-like blues — with its fogginess and unpredictable spurts of sunshine — it suddenly reminded me of my home: A tiny village on a peninsula at the other end of the Pacific. The old country.
A fresh cup of coffee would make the perfect finish to my start of the day, I decided, and detoured toward my neighborhood’s market. Feeling the grogginess of the morning lift, giving room to the lightness of gratitude, I aimlessly walked through the fresh produce aisle. A mount of magnificent red plums tempted me to pick-up a few and breathe them in. I rubbed my fingers against a mint leaf and petted the shiny surfaces of eggplants; groped a few avocados. Letting habit and the vague smell of coffee take me to my destination, I passed the fish counter.
“Hello, how are jew?” the manager said from behind his tempting, never frozen line-up of produce.
“Beauticious,” I answered and gave him my best American smile: open and down with it.
Surprised by an alert response, the man’s brown face immediately stretched into an enthusiastic smile: “Beauti-cious?” I heard remnants of his Spanish accent.
“It’s like, ahem, beautiful and delicious at the same time,” I explained. “Like those jumbo scallops of yours.”
“Oy! Oy!” the man was already putting on his gloves. “Would jew like to take a l’ook?” (Definitely Spanish!)
Before I could switch from smiling to speaking (I’m still figuring out the dynamics of that whole American smiling, to tell you the truth), the old guy was already on my side of the counter, lifting its front cover. (I didn’t even know it was built like that!) A whiff of the sea hit my nose: Ah, the old country. HOME.
The man began to gingerly pick-up the beauticious scallops and bounce them in his giant hands.
“Oy! How ‘bout dis one?!”
“Gorgeous,” I said and rested my forearm on his shoulder. “Beauticious!”
He chuckled: My tender presence thrilled him. Perhaps, it reminded him of his own home: Where men drink beer on outside patios and bluntly whistle at the lovely chicas strutting by; where time crawls and dictates the course of the day with its mood; where lunchtime can last until dinner and where every accidental drum beat can start an impromptu fiesta.
“What cha got there?” The old guy said to me and starting staring at my breast.
I looked down: A neon-orange sticker that used to belong to the mount of avocados, sat in the vicinity of my nipple and read:
“RIPE READY TO EAT”.
The man sized me up: Was he about to get in trouble? But when I thumped my forehead against his chest and lost my composure entirely, wiping away the tears that ready flooded my tired eyes, he too began to holler with his chesty laughter.
“Oy! Oy!” he was still holding those scallops in this giant, brown hands and throwing his head back. He would’ve touched me — it felt like he wanted to — but his American training had taught him about boundaries.
Still: It was suddenly all so easy; so light. Beauticious and grateful.
“Yep,” I thought:
It’s time to go home. The old country.