Tag Archives: holidays

“Oh, the Weather Outside Is Frightful!”

Oh, my!  It’s really coming down, today.

Just the other day, I was bickering to myself about the 72-degree weather we’d been experiencing, mere three weeks before Christmas.  But how else was I supposed to get in the mood for the holidays, if I couldn’t pack away my tank tops and tees; my sarafan dresses and gypsy skirts?  Wasn’t this supposed to be the perfect time for cuddling up in oversized sweaters and knee-high socks, and coming up with a slew of excuses to stay home, with one’s beloveds:  A case of marshmallow overdose?  A failure of the alarm clock due to the shift of the Milky Way?  A brutal paper cut from the wrapping of Christmas gifts?  A finger burn in Santa’s kitchen?  A sparkles attack from the unpacked box of Christmas ornaments? An all-nighter spent counting the falling stars and making wishes?

It has been pretty cold inside the house as well.  Something to do with the angle of the sun not hitting my windows.  But inside the greenhouse of my car, I could easily bring back my summer’s tradition of driving in a bikini top.  And how was it, that I was tempted to drain my battery by running the AC — this time of the year — than to sweat through my sweater dresses and tights?  to peel off my shoes and roll down all the windows?

But today, it had began to come down — finally!

While in this City, I am unlikely to see any snow for Christmas.  Instead, it would be a season of downpours for which none of us, year after year, would be prepared.  Until the first heat wave in the late spring, I would have to switch to primarily driving in the left lane due to the plugged-up gutters and failed draining systems.  ‘Tis the season:  for bad driving, perpetually broken traffic lights and potholes of gastronomical diameters.  Alas, the joy!

Still:  The drop in temperatures would be a lovely enough change.  The City’s women had already been sporting their high-heeled leather boots and quirky Uggs (mostly hated, as I’d learned, by men — no matter how much quirky).  Just the other day, I noticed some furry numbers on a tall and lovely creature with long legs and straight hair.  She was walking arm in arm with her texting companion.  He — was sporting a beanie hat and sparkly converse shoes without laces, a la David Guetta.  On top, however, the girl’s ensemble was finished off with a wispily moving chiffon dress, the color of eggnog.

“How is this winter?” I thought.

Diane Lane diane-lane-19

But this morning — finally! — it had begun to come down!

At first, through my dreamless sleep, I heard the traffic along the main boulevard.  I could tell LA-LA’s citizens were speeding, just a few minutes before 9:00 a.m.  (What silly creatures!  Didn’t they know about the slew of excuses that came with this season:  A cookie dough invoked stomachache?  A hoarseness after Christmas caroling?  A carpal tunnel from writing letters to Santa’s elves?)

Normally, the tires would swoosh against the asphalt quietly, like the whisper of Tinker Bell’s wings.  Or like some hooligan little wind trying to squeeze into the invisible to the eye rift in my windowsill — to gossip about the foreign coast on which it had been born.  So, unless the morning rush turned audibly aggressive with honking, police sirens or car alarms, I would sleep right through it.

This morning, though, the cars chomped and slurped as they gained speed.  And when the rain drops hit the shiny surfaces of tree leaves, on the trees right outside my window, they sounded like metallic brushes against the taut skin of drums in a percussion orchestra.  The sounds blended into a monotonous flow, and it had to be the white noise nature of them that had actually woken me up.  Having lived in cities all my life, I had been reprogramed to be soothed by the typical aggression of urban sounds.  This monotonous lullaby, however, was unlikely.  Unusual.  And, finally idyllic!

A message from a beloved buzzed my iPhone before its alarm.  From under the covers, I responded:  Love — right back at cha!  Going back to sleep was tempting but impossible:  What with all that change happening outside!  So:  I sat up.  Got up, made coffee.  Thought of which holiday excuses could be utilized today:  The too slowly drying nail polish with Christmas decals?  The scratched up limbs from the night of trimming the tree?

And while my coffee machine laboriously percolated on the kitchen counter, I peeled on my lover’s sweater and a pair of well-worn knee-high socks — and began studying the raindrops, crawling along my window.

It was really coming down.  How magical!

“All I Want for Christmas Is… YOU?”

Finally!  I had made it into the elevator whose size always reminded me of one of those loading docks rather than a tight platform meant to transport humans, from the store level down to the garage and back.

Truth be told I rarely even ride in these things.  No one really walks in this bloody City; but I still do, despite occasionally fearing for my safety, as I walk alone, along the unknown, dark streets, in search of my vehicle.  I don’t even utilize the valet service anymore:  I’d rather park my wheels myself and risk getting towed after failing to deconstruct the street signs correctly.  (But I do like studying the valets’ uniforms at any fancy joint I visit in someone else’s car:  They remind me of characters from The Nutcracker, and somehow, of bedtime stories from back home.)

But I had made a mistake of venturing out into the Hollywood Target, mere three weeks before Christmas.  Considering I had quite a list this year, parking downstairs seemed to be the saner choice.  And then, quite immediately — it wasn’t.

First, a beat-up Volvo, three cars ahead of mine, seemed to be having difficulties with getting its parking ticket.  How hard was it to push a giant, blinking button with “PRESS HERE” clearly tattooed in its center?  While the others waited for the parking attendant, I swung into the next lane, nearly grazing the front bumper of a white Beemer driven by a very pretty girl (with very thick make-up — on her very, very pretty face).

“GOOD JOB!” she mouthed at me and waved her left hand.  I would be able to tell if she was flipping me off, but the shine of her engagement rock blinded me, for a second.  I let her go ahead.

The navigation of the store, with an already somewhat sparse merchandise, quickly turned out to be a practice in patience and unconditional forgiveness — for the entire human race.  I squeezed past the Mexican mothers who gave over their carts to their little children.  One of them — a loud boy, no older than six — was trying to run over his squealing sister by riding the cart stuffed with plastic toys and plastic storage bins (for the same toys, I assumed).  I got out of the way and rode to my destination in between the men’s clothing racks.

The only people dominating seemingly every department — were women.  Some were young, dressed in corporate clothes.  The older ones demonstrated more self-assurance as they navigated the discounted shelves.  Yet, all of them seemed tired and slightly concerned.  And Christmas was hardly around the corner yet.

A young couple appeared adorable in the aisle with Christmas trimmings.  Well, at least someone was in the spirit!  I smiled.  From the amount of his willing participation in the discussion of the direct relation of gaudiness to the shades of gold, I wondered if this would be their first holiday together.  Eventually, the couple considered settling for a silver theme, after which he cornered her into the wall of garlands and they began making out.  Cute.  I smiled again.  To get out of the aisle though, without interrupting his tongue from doing its tricks inside her mouth, I had to U-turn my shit and negotiate my way with the two young women, starting hatefully at the couple from the other end of the aisle.

It wasn’t like any of us had many choices to choose from, anyway.  Be it the plague of the Black Friday, or the poorly evaluated amount of supplies issued by the Target headquarters to begin with — but I was hardly thrilled by less than a handful of my choices.  Between the funkily multi-colored themes and the gaudy gold ones (the lovebirds were right), I settled on none.  Wrapping paper would be next, but the presence of an exhausted mother, who was rummaging through every box of supplies and not responding to my humble requests for the right of way, tempted me to make a run for the exit.

Still:  I persevered.  Past the disorganized shelves and the hypnotized shoppers.  Past the hopped-up children leaping under my now speeding cart.  Past the plaques announcing insane savings and the disinterested Target staff, in their unhip, untucked shirts.

It was a miracle that my check-out clerk was pleasant:  He had just come off his lunch break.  In mere seconds, I would be in the safety of the elevator.  I parked my cart and grabbed my bags.  I could’ve walked with those things to my car after all!

A gentlemen in a pair of less than fitted jeans pushed the button.  We waited.

“Stress-mas, eh?” he turned to me to eliminate the tension.  His less than suave gazes were leaving me luke warm.

“Yep.”

When the doors finally opened, my suitor performed the symbolic gesture of preventing the doors from squishing me.  In return, I pushed the button for him.  The doors closed and we were alone, riding to the same level.  Painfully disappointed by my trip, I pretended to study my receipt.

The couple that joined us on the first level of the garage entered with the sounds of bickering and passive-aggressive scoffs.

“I TOLD you,” he kept reiterating, “I could’ve hold onto the ticket.  BUT NO!”

Flabbergasted, she exhaled:  “Hwell!  I put it… right HERE!”

Both of her hands were buried inside a beige leather purse puffed-up into a soccer ball shape from the inside.

“And YOU said:  You’d remember our level!”  Touche:  She found a successful comeback.

The husband’s face, instead of trying on embarrassment, immediately took on the expression of a spite.  The woman continued to huff ‘n’ puff.  She, too, seemed tired.

“That’s why I don’t get married,” my suitor in his ill-fitted jeans confided in me, once we stepped out at our Level.  And then, petrified out of his initial intention to flirt, his skinny ass ran off.

I had to give it to him:  It was a bad idea.  All of it.

And next Christmas, I’d rather walk here, if at all.

“I’m Sittin’ in the Railway Station, Got a Ticket for My Destination. Mmm…”

“And where are you driving from?”

“Um…  Los Angeles?” I said and somehow felt an immediate need to apologize.

“Ow.  I’m so sorry,” he responded.

I looked at his squinting eyes:  This one was meaning well, I think.  His skin was brown and eroded by the exposure to the sun and to the demands of manual labor.  And at the same time, I knew that there was peace in the simplicity of his survival needs.

A cowboy hat with tattered straw edges covered his hairline, but judging by the streaks of gray in his eyebrows, his head was most likely silver haired.  Against the darkness of the skin, his baby-blue eyes stood out and promised me that I was talking to a good one.  I quickly permitted for a flash of memory of my own old man — (What would he look like, now?) — and I decided that this one had to be meaning well.

“She ain’t so bad,” I said.  I shook my head and smiled from underneath my own embarrassment on behalf of the City that everyone was so willing to leave.  The moderately pleasant woman handing me my smoothie from behind the counter looked sideways at the cowboy, then at me.

So, I reiterated to them both:  “No, really.  She ain’t so bad.”

The night before I fled Her city limits, I took a risk and climbed up onto the 10 East.  I was initially going to zoom through side streets, out of habit, while circumventing the intersecting onramps and the already buzzing malls.  But when nearing a freeway underpass, I noticed the dashing by of traffic headlights.  The cars were moving for a change, and so I took a risk.

At first, my path had to be negotiated with an impatient female driver of some Japanese-made SUV on her way to the Valley:  She demanded her right of way toward the 405 merger by scowling and widening of her heavily made-up eyes at me, through her tinted, rolled-up windows.

“I’m not the one driving with an iPhone glued to her ear,” I thought, and motioned for her to pass.

She zoomed in front of me, honked in a departing act of her aggression, then stepped on it.

“Yeah. You, too!” I muttered in response.  “You fuckin’…”

My navigation of the remaining six miles, however, lacked in adventures.  In silence, I calmed down.

The cars were moving, and for the first time, I noticed the clearness of the night.  It had been raining for a day and a half, and the asphalt in my lane was black and glistening.  On the North side of the freeway, in the crisp, clear air I noticed the square skyscrapers, all lit up in silver.  Is that Downtown?  Nope, too soon for that.

I rolled down my windows.  The air was crisp.  The City was quiet.  She smelled like sweating piles of leaves, pine sap and chimneys.  The hellish pace of the looming holidays was coming upon us; and with the exception of the City’s newcomers, flooding her with their yet un-jaded dreams, Her every resident would begin to plot escape routes.

“She ain’t so bad,” I thought, that night.

I was, however, already that someone who’d preplanned her routes out of the City.  To stick around would either turn out painfully lonely or exhaustingly disappointing.

And so, a day before the year’s first giant migration would begin, I drove out.  At first, my way had to be negotiated along the loop of the 405 merger.  But on the next Northbound freeway and for at least two hundred miles, the traffic would begin to move.

I studied the faces of the other drivers.  The further North I drove, the more relaxed the others would appear.  The permanent tension between my eyebrows softened, and I would talk myself out of my repertory of glares and profanity.

A gray-haired couple, cooped up inside their vintage Volvo hatchback along my ride through Santa Barbara, wasn’t talking.  But in their intimate silence, they seemed to be conspiring against the world.  A college-age girl in a white Honda with writing on its side window kept fiddling with her radio.  Had she forgotten the tensions at the Thanksgiving table of last year, or was she born to parents who loved her unconditionally?

Couples with strapped-in children in the backseats seemed talkative as they discussed the lengths of their future stays at each other’s in-laws.  The brown faces of Mexican workers seemed fancy free no matter the content of their weathered trucks:  Some could be working in the vineyards, others — driving to the wealthy ‘hoods of Cambria and Morro Bay.  The eyes of truck drivers appeared tired but content:  Migrating through the country always promised an escape from obligations and other people’s stress.

I realized that other travelers kept their eyes on their destinations.  They drove to:  To places and addresses of their beloveds.  To me, however, my from — was what propelled me:

From Her — I’ve learned to get away.  From Her — I’ve learned to leave and somehow learn while leaving.  But the more froms I would accumulate, the more often I found myself thinking, “She ain’t so bad” — when heading back.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

If it snowed on New Year’s, it would have to mean good luck.  That’s what the old folks said.  Or, so my motha told me.

To me, it would just mean magic:  That no matter how dry the winter promised to be, we could wake up to an already sleepy town, with mellow women and hungover men; and we would move ever so slowly — ever so gently, for a change — through a brand new sheet of snow.  It would mean a clean slate.  A promise of a new beginning.  A hidden prayer — for a better year.

The only citizens of the town still giddy from the night before would be the children.  For us, the first of every year meant gifts under the sparkling pine trees in the living-room.  And it meant truce, for all of us:  for the tired adults, tortured by survival; for unhappily married parents; for the intrusive force of poverty, uncertainly and chaos. Truce, on just that one day.  Truce.

The preparations for the celebration at midnight would be in full swing, in almost every household.  Motha would prepare for it, weeks before.  She’d start with a new haircut, and possibly new color on her nails.  Regardless the tight budget affected daily by inflation, she’d manage to whip out a new outfit for herself.

The hunt for foods would begin several weeks before the holiday.  Things would be preserved.  Money — borrowed, portioned out.  And just a couple days before the actual Eve, the cooking would begin.

School, of course, would be out for me; and I was expected to help out in the kitchen for that week.  Nothing crucially important though:  Peeling of potatoes or scaling of pickled fish.  I would boil eggs and root vegetables for the layered Russian salads.  I’d roast parts of chicken or grind the meat for the stuffing of cabbage parcels.  I would battle with pots of rice that took forever to get soft, and then would burn immediately.

Some days, I would be trapped inside while watching pots of stews or motha’s reinvented borscht.  And as I tended to the burners, I studied the darkening sky for any promises of snow.  Because, despite the obvious presence of poverty and chaos in our lives, snow on the Eve would still mean magic — if not some better luck.

On the last day of preparations, motha would be chaotic.  All day long, she would run out in her leather, high-heeled boots:  to get her hair done, to pick-up a missing spice from a girlfriend across town; to drop off a gift to a high rank bureaucrat at the City Hall.  But mostly, she’d keep picking-up “deficits”, all over town:  produce, not necessarily delicacies, that we normally would not indulge in, any other time during the year.

Victorious, she would return:

“Hey, little one!  Look at this here!” she’d holler me out of my bedroom.

Just by the sound of her voice, I knew she was in a good mood.  I would emerge, with Tolstoy under my armpit, and find her beautiful flushed face in the hallway.  She’d have her make-up done, and for New Year’s, it would always entail sparkles.  The smell of crispy frost would intertwine with her perfume.

“So beautiful!” I’d think, and with my father’s eyes I’d understand the power of that woman’s witchcraft.

And then, I’d see the fox fur collar of her coat glistening with tiny drops of moisture.

“Is it snowing yet?” I’d say while motha, still in boots, would begin passing to me the tiniest jars of caviar or cans of smoked anchovies.

“I think it’s about to,” motha would respond, flirting.  (So beautiful!)

And for the first time in weeks, she’d suddenly remember that I was still a child.  And children only need magic, for survival.  Not wads of cash, or cans of “deficit”.  Not banners of protesting citizens against the old demagogues or the faces of the newest heros.  We do not need untimely compassion toward the vices of our parents.  We wish to know no gossip and no strife.

Just truce, if only on one day for every year.  Just the simple magic — of truce.

Motha would retreat into the kitchen and immediately start banging metals.  I’d brace myself for more work.

“Hey, little one!” she’d holler.

Here we go!

“You should check out that snow, outside!”

I would run out, in an unbuttoned coat.  On every flight of stairs, new smells would smack my nose from every household.  To call upon my friends would be useless on that last day of the year.  Like me, my girlfriends grew up way too quickly and would be cooking in the kitchen until the arrival of their guests.  But in magic, I rarely needed company.

I wouldn’t even go very far:  Just to the lawn in front of our apartment building.  I’d watch the waltz of snowflakes against the darkening sky.  They would catch the light of egg yolk foam colored street lights and descend onto my mittens of rabbit fur.  There would be not enough snow on the ground to make braided patterns with me feet yet.  But just the sight of a new beginning — would be magical enough.

Before heading back home, I’d look up to our window and often see my motha’s face.

“So beautiful!” I’d think and understand the magic of truce, if only once a year.