Tag Archives: hustle

“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.

“But You’re Innocent When You Dream… When You Dream…”

It’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

I’ve gotten into this terrible habit, in the middle of my sleep:  When the alarm clock goes off, I yank its cord out of the wall.  As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if that thing has a snooze button:  I’ve never had to use it.  And I wish I could give up the habit, but I do it when barely awake.  So, it’s kinda like sleep walking.  Sleep yanking.

The thing is:  I LOVE to sleep.  I can hibernate for hours.  I sleep to cope with stress, loss, life.  I sleep on the road.  I’ve got no problem sleeping in cars, planes, tents; in new beds, in new towns.  The bigger the change — the longer I take to wake up.  Sometimes, I think I sleep to return to my innocence; or to somewhat restore it, at least.

And once I’m out, there is no noise that can wake me.

Motha always jokes:

“Ze Russian tanks rrollin’g thrrough town von’t vake you.”

(This — is Russian humor.  Welcome!)

But on the other hand, I never seem to have enough time in the day to get shit done; so I rarely want to get to bed, at night.

First, there are my survival gigs:  The hustle.

Then, there are auditions and my projects of choice:  The very reason I’ve landed in LA-LA.

The rest of my time is gobbled up by writing.  Every week, the art claims about forty hours.  I’ve counted them the other day because I began to wonder why I was always so tired:  constantly wanting to sleep, but never wanting to get to bed; sleeping past the alarm, then running late for the rest of the day.

I clock-in for it every day, first thing in the morning.  And it must be the only reason I get to bed at all:  to recharge the brain and to start from scratch, all over again.  To return to my innocence — or to somewhat restore it.  To remember it, at least.

The rest of my comrades — are sleepless as well.  First of all, most of the time they’re hungover on jet lag, not remembering in which timezone they’ve landed a few days ago.  They are artists, bohemians, gypsies:  They sleep in my car on the way to or from LAX.  My comrades play by their own rules, live by their own clocks, in timezones of their invention.  They wear their watches like eccentric wristbands.  They use their phones and the bedtime of their beloveds to tell time.  And there have been many nights we’ve used to reconvene, while the rest of the world has long gone to sleep.

Because our love must be how we return to our innocence — or how we restore it, somewhat, at least.

“Bloody hell!  I went to bed at five this morning!” my brother from New York is always likely to tell me.  His voice is raspy when he wakes, but child-like.  Give him a cup of coffee and eggs with chocolate (a recipe of his own invention) — and he is ready to play again.

Innocent.

He should be here, in a few days; and for a week, my sleeping schedule will get jolted into a strange line-up of sleepless nights, midnight talks, crashing on couches, mid-day showers, and running late.  But there will also be tearful laughter, endless talks of art and love; and a closeness so intimate, it will rejuvenate my hopes for the human kind.  And even if it won’t return me to my innocence — it will somewhat restore it, at least.

Back in my college days, a decade ago, I used to be able to pull off weeks of not sleeping.  The weight of the world used to be on my shoulders — or at least, the world’s most poignant questions.  But then, none of us slept those days, especially before finals or the deadline to send our college newspaper to the printing house.  We were young artists, bohemians, writers, dreamers — lovers of the world.  We already suspected we couldn’t return the world to its innocence; but, perhaps, we could restore it, somewhat:  with our art, our hopes, the poetry of our youth.

With New York City as our playground in the backyard of our college, there never seemed enough reasons to get to bed.  But once we did — often at five, six in the morning — there was no noise that could wake us.  We slept calmly, as the innocent do; but only for a couple of hours, before class (and before starting the work from scratch).  Because there was nothing to restore yet.  Our hearts were full.  And we still knew — how to love.

But today, it’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

These days, I’m always seemingly late.  There is never enough time — to return the world to its innocence, to solve its most poignant questions — and there is less and less of it, as I get older.

The somberness of the day set-in as soon as I checked-in with the world before sitting down to work:  A decade ago, we have all lost our innocence — in New York City; and for the rest of the world, restoring it got a lot harder.

But we continue to clock-in, every day:  my comrades, artists; bohemians, poets; lovers, beloveds.  

Because even if we cannot restore the world’s innocence, we can at least preserve our own.  That is the meaning of an artist’s life; his or her most poignant responsibility.  

“I’m A Hustla, Baby! I Just Want You to Know.”

How does one get back, I always wonder when on an in-bound flight to LA-LA.  How does one summon herself again — for the grind, for the hustle, for the race; for the conviction?  For the insanity of the dream?

Because most of us haven’t chosen to live here.  No!  To live here — we must.

Because this is where the grind happens, and the hustle, and the race.  This is where one comes to make a name, slowly chiseling it out of some seemingly immovable matter.  This is where one comes to knock on doors, endlessly, as if deaf or immune to rejection.  And only after enough doors have been opened, does the labyrinth of all the unpredictable passages and dark thresholds left behind begin to make sense.  And even if it doesn’t make sense, somehow one must find herself satisfied with the journey itself.

Aha:  The journey.

I hear others, many, many steps ahead of me, testify to the worth of “the journey” in their interviews as very accomplished people.

“Easy for you to say!”

Right?

No.  No, I never think that.  By choice, I am not bitter, or skeptical.  Stubbornly, I hone-in my own insecurity, so that others’ testimonies of this kind don’t set it off.  And instead:  I end taking their word for it, not because of my blind fandom for these very accomplished people; but because I myself have found the one journey I don’t mind committing despite the grind, or the hustle, or the race.

Oh, sure:  There are days when the dream stalls a little.  It sits there, rooted in nothing but my imagination.  And sometimes, I am appalled at how others don’t see it my way.

“It’s over there,” I tell them, as if pointing out a thunderstorm cloud accumulating on the other side of the mountain.  “Right over there — right above it all and ever so close!  Don’t you see?!”

Their faces tell me everything about their own “journey”.  Some get spaced out in self-defense:  They’ve seen too many madwomen in this town by now to be shocked or threatened by my insanity.  They aren’t even amused by it, as a matter of fact.  They just want some safe distance in between.  Others — the ones with ephemeral dreams of their own — try to empathize.  But they can’t!  They really can’t, for they’ve got too much of their own shit to do — and they just don’t have any time for mine.

“We should coffee sometime,” they tell me, instead.  “Talk about it more.”

And then, there are those that have promised to love me forever.  To them, my insanity is no surprise:  They worship it, instead, by association.  They are my comrades, equally insane and more fearless.  And we have been feeding off of each other’s craziness for a long, long time.   Because that’s how we get by:  We compare each other’s grind, and the hustle, and the race.  And somehow, because we are all insane enough to dream, it all stops seeming so unbearable.

But:  How does one get back, for the in-bound flight to LA-LA?

I started itching yesterday afternoon, in the waiting lounge of the San Francisco International Airport.  My fellow passengers seemed either exhausted or dreamy.  Others were loud, habitually hollering at their children and spouses; yelling through their mobile devices, most likely at someone back in LA-LA and already in the midst of their grind.

A businessman in sneakers and a short-sleeved floral shirt was negotiating a sale that, according to him, all of us had to witness, while he typed furiously on his hefty looking Dell laptop.  A traveling couple of colleagues at a Samsung charging station were hollering back and forth about some training workshop that had to get done before their landing; and the tiny, beat-up Indian man caught in the crossfire of their hollers, seemed utterly defeated at the discovery of his irrelevance.

“These ones don’t need to get back,” I thought, “because they never left:  the grind, the hustle or the race.”

Suspended right above my own despair and denial, I continued to look around the lounge.  The young, investment banker type to my immediate left met my gaze with a pressed-lipped smile:  He seemed slightly surprised at his own reluctance to get back.  The sleepy hippies in laid-back but stylish clothing rested all over the floor while listening to music, jotting down their dreams or looking up at the last views of The City.  They seemed in the midst of plotting their return already.  (Or maybe they were just spacing out.  And maybe, it was all — in my own mind.)

But:  How does one get back, after the in-bound flight to LA-LA?

I tell you how:  You summon yourself.

At first, you summon yourself in order to bear.  You summon your courage and your conviction, your memories of the dream that’s worth the grind, and the hustle, and the race — the dream that has brought you here, in the first place.

Sometimes, in the most remote corners of your heart’s ventricles, you must look for all the reasons to carry on.  And you glue them together — sew the damn fucking thing, if you must! — and you suspend yourself, right above your despair and denial, and you carry on.

Step two:  Summon your gratitude.  Even though most of us haven’t chosen to live here, to live here — we must.  But that living happens much easier — and with better dividends, in the end — if it’s committed with some grace.

And after all, She ain’t so bad:  This forsaken city of LA-LA, exhausted by all the grind, and the hustle, and the race for which She continuously — and quite graciously, the good girl that She is! — makes room.  Patiently, She waits for so many of us to get back, to land.  And then, She must wait for us to get over all of our other cities and loves.  She does.  Like a good girl — She does!  And She keeps taking us back, graciously.

And if you look at her with enough undivided attention, She is even quite pretty. So, I did that, yesterday:  As soon as I landed, in the midst of all that room that She has graciously made for me — and for my dream that’s worth the grind — and I drove myself out to Her shore.  Quietly suspended above my own denial, I frolicked in Her sand, and in Her waves, and in Her glorious sun; and before I knew it:

I have gotten back and I have landed.

And now:  Back to the grind.

“I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t: Do You Know What That Mean?”

There is a poem by a dead comrade from my Motha Land dedicated to us, Russian broads.  It goes like this:

“She will stop a galloping horse and walk into a burning house.”  

We are like that, the broads in my motha’s family:  Never the tall or skinny supermodel types, we’ve been known to have smaller frames, upon which some have packed on curves, especially after carrying their firstborns.  For a couple of centuries, since a gypsy entered our family and genes, we’ve been strutting closer to the ground; and, as in the case of my motha’, have learned to sway our hips with enough gusto and sex to keep us better balanced in our short bodies.

But you would never call us “small.”  Even these days, most of my comrades are confused when I climb off my Femme Nikita heels and start standing a lil’ bit over five feet tall.

“You’re so short?!” they say with a sincere wonderment.

“It’s my ego,” I’ve learned to explain.  “It makes up for my height.”

From what I’ve overheard of the fam’s mysterious history, the broads of my motha’s clan have always had some serious temper on them.  Blame in on the Romani blood, but these wild cats have been known to intimidate their husbands and children into life-long submission — and heart-altering love — while getting shit done with the assistance of their famed sexuality.  Oh, yes, siree!  Hot-blooded, stubborn and messy-headed, these creatures have granted me their fearless make-up.  Especially when going through hell — when right in the very midst of it — we aren’t the ones to show fear.  And only when alone or in the arms of a man privileged to have tamed us into quietness for a while do we become the scared little girls every woman should be allowed to be.

All this preface to say:  I don’t need help!  Whenever lugging heavy loads in life, I don’t ask for assistance.  I can handle it on my own, thank you:

“Pleeze, dan’t khelp me!” I always shoosh away my comrades’ helping hands, in my motha’s thick Russian accent; and while I proceed with my stubborn struggle, I watch their beloved faces crack-up in recognition of my authenticity.  “Yourr velkom!”

Yesterday, after the expiration of the bloody tax deadline, I’ve finally ventured out to my local post-office with a couple of accumulated care-packages for my beloveds on the East Coast.  Typical to LA-LA’s fashion, this particular USPS location didn’t come with customer parking (shocker!); and after circling the neighborhood and deconstructing its street cleaning signs for nearly half an hour, I finally squeezed into a slot between the tank of a Hummer and a clogged-up sewage drain, about five blocks away from my destination.  Other than the reek that surrounded my car and reminded me of my Motha Russia’s cow fields, I didn’t mind the walk.  So, off I went, balancing in a newer pair of Femme Nikita heels in my best runway walk, while lugging my boxes.

Needless to mention, no man has offered to help.  Actually, there is a need to mention that.  I know the lovely creatures of my gender have made strides in pursuit of their equality; but until we are genetically predisposed to pack on muscles equal to those of men, chivalry should NOT be off the table.  Fuckin’ pussies!  Ball-less weaklings!  Call themselves “men”…

Oh, sorry.  Where was I?  What did I tell ya:  I’ve got quite a temper on me!

Actually, there was one creature who seemed to empathize with my load:  a drunk homeless man who took a break from vomiting out his morning meal, wiped-off the foaming saliva off his crooked, toothless mouth and slurred out:

“Getchaself a cart!”

Thanks, buddy — for this life-changing piece of advice.

Still, I remained un-phased.  But the weight of the load must’ve had some effect on my face; because by the time I reached the damn post-office, a Russian compatriot, who was meditating outside with a cigarette in his right hand, said:

“OH.  SHIT,” — and hurried to open the door for me.

Inside, it would’ve been a normal occurrence of events — unworthy of my rant blog — if it weren’t a handful of construction workers holding hostage one of the windows for the entire duration of my waiting in line, then my lugging struggles to the window, then what had to be a somewhat amusing attempt to lift these fuckers onto my clerk’s counter.

I’ve been a woman for long enough to know when I’m being stared at.  With every follicle on my skin, I can usually feel a stranger’s eyes on me; and despite all of my temperamental huffing and puffing at the window, I knew the brothers were watching me.  So:  I shot ‘em my askance look.

There was a beauty in their dirty faces, an unexpected type, and it caught me off-guard.  In mismatching overalls and torn-up frocks, with unbrushed locks of hair or long strands of dreadlocks, they had to be independent contractors on their way back from building a stage at Coachella.  Or something like that.  And despite the heat of my temper affecting my better reason, I immediately wanted to know their story.  But still too pissy to soften up, I barely nodded in their direction and pretended to be consumed with comprehending the shipping rates my clerk’s mouth was now spewing out.

On my strut toward the exit and past the still staring brothers, I felt an extra spring in my step:  I just did that, my comrades, all on my own!  And now I was heading back out — to hustle and survive! — while looking pretty damn good for a broad who hasn’t rested since the beginning of the year.

With the corner of my eye, I sensed one of the workers jamming his elbow into his colleague’s ribcage; and he, in response, slid off his camouflage cap and with enough selfless innocence to make me wanna adopt him said:

“You’re beautiful.”

Phew.

Yep.

Da.

Time-out.

It was merely impossible, my darlings, to keep putting on my front without tearing up.  I nodded and thanked him, all kinda off the cuff.  Yet, I could feel my heart skipping a beat.  And in that moment, unmarred by the man’s further pursuit of my name or phone number; in that moment that a woman can never expect a life to grant her — not in this day and age! — I knew that the struggle of self-possession and the high price of independence have been worth it; even if — just for that moment.

Big Break? Big Balls!

Back in my Motha’ Russia, there is a saying:

“Moscow wasn’t built overnight.”

Say whaaaat?  Okay, I’ll translate.

Any grandiose endeavor by the human mind, soul or imagination takes time to build.  Or in the words of my gorgeous lover:

“Anything worth having — takes a lot of hard work.”

Which is exactly why I was never a believer in the bullshit fairytales of Big Breaks and Overnight Sensations.

First off, I wasn’t born here; and neither was I a lucky bastard to be born to a family that would support me.  Quite quickly — oh, say, by the age of five — it became clear that not only was capable of taking care of myself, I was expected to do so.  So, when I left the anarchy of Motha’ Land’s last decade of the 20th century, I didn’t climb off the boat at Ellis Island expecting to tread upon pathways paved with easy money and other people’s easy “yeses.”  I was ready to bust my slim, tomboyish ass and earn my way; and I was NOT willing to make my step heavier by stuffing my mind with delusions of lottery fairytales.

And thusly, I did.  Oh, how I did that, my comrades!  For the sake of mere survival at first — for a decade! — I worked anywhere between two to five jobs while carrying a full-time class load in college and grad school; and then — as any American — I decided to practice my right to pursue a dream.  And, let me tell you:  This cat went for it!  Trying out every major in college.  Entertaining dozens of professions.  Taking-up internships on the Isle of Manhattana, just because she could.  Trying her hand at every art form, at least once.  You’d think this wild cat actually had nine lives to spare!  (All the while, the list of survival jobs and sleepless nights and financial sacrifices continued to accumulate.)

Now, if you’ve chosen to settle in either the metropolis of LA-LA or the other Center of the Universe (love you, New York — but it’s complicated with us!); you know that everybody is trying to be a Somebody.  That’s the reason for these two opposing cities’ magnificence and an occasional cause for annoyance.  But if you’ve come here to participate in the race, you’ve most likely been made a witness of the following event.  Say, a Somebody’s name comes up.  Or better yet, that Somebody appears in a national commercial while you’re vegging out on the couch with your aspiring actor friends.  You KNOW, there is going to be someone to holler:

“OH!  THAT’S MY FRIEND!”

Yep, we live in a close proximity to other people’s dreams coming true.  I myself have  a couple of comrades who are either on the verge of their first well-paid job of significant exposure, or are already working actors and writers.  And I’ll tell you this:  There was nothing “Overnight” in the pursuit of their dreams.  Just like the rest of us, they worked restaurant jobs and temp gigs and those soul-draining office jobs, at all of which they’ve been painfully overqualified, yet underpaid.  They’ve wasted their days in the soul-draining background holding areas and did the grind of audience work (otherwise known as the Freak Show of Humanity).  So by the time their personal Big Ben struck the hour of the Big Break, those hustlers have paid their dues.  They’ve done the legwork, you see; have knocked on dozen of doors; mailed enough head shots and reels and clippings to pay for a house downpayment.  They’ve been tortured by doubt and daunting competition and endless rejections.

My personal fascination is always with the journey that takes after the Happily Ever After.  What happens after the Big Break; or in the morning when you finally wake up as a Somebody?  From what I’ve witnessed:

—  First:  Your friendships get tested.  If you’ve had the balls to reach for any dream of seeming impossibility, you better be equipped with the self-possession and the courage of rediscovering the true content of your friendships. Some of your people will stick around, god bless their exceptional souls (at which point, I pray you have the wits to claim them as your permanent family).  But others — will flake off!  Be prepared:  Some friends will demonstrate very odd behavior that’ll leave you feeling disappointed or lonely.  So, may your god of choice grant you the wisdom and the grace to handle the life-changing reshuffle.

— And then, there will always be an army of acquaintances who will want a piece of it:  A piece of your Somebody-ness and the overdue prosperity that most likely comes with it. Again, keep clutching on to your chosen people; because after the noise hushes down, they’ll still be the only ones having your back.

— Finally, my favorite part:  And the work — continues. From what I’ve learned in my insignificant yet loaded with turmoil eight previous lives:  The work never stops.  And to that, I say:  Mazel tov!  If you’re one of those lucky dreamers to grab at least a handful of what you’ve reached for, may you continue to ask for more. So, here is to your endurance and patience, your courage to dream and the balls to handle the consequences!