Tag Archives: Jay-Z

“Not Bad, Huh? For Some Immigrants?”

“Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.” —

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

A girl with an unused-up face was working at the counter of Rite-Aid.  She seemed to be in training, still; wearing that horrid polyester polo shirt made in China.  It was too large on her, too loose; un-pretty, untucked — and without a name tag.

“You’re fine for today,” her manager must’ve told her in the morning, when he completed her “uniform check”.  “But after the training is over, you must remember to wear it, everyday.”

The fucking name tag!  That’s the rule.  There are always rules, in jobs like this.

I often squint at those tiny plaques that sadly dangle by their pins on chests of any customer service personnel.  I try to decipher them, figuring out the pronunciation; and I try to guess the origin.  Sometimes, the names are easy:  Maria, Sally, Mark, AJ.  The names longer than three syllables are always harder — but they make for a perfect conversation piece.  But in cases like that, the name bearer — the name tag wearer — is often sick of being asked about it.

There was this one time, though, a Nigerian man began to tell me his.  All I could hear were endless consonants and glottal stops.  He assumed I was an American. He was getting a kick out of it, making a scene.  Immediately, I felt ignorant and humiliated.  Because I thought I had at least some clue — more clue than most — about what it had to take for him to get here.

So often I stand at a counter — or behind a plastic window — and I desperately calculate the timing of thanking these people by their names; as if that would make the insignificant exchange of ours more meaningful.  No.  I don’t expect to make up for the misery of all the corporate routines they must obey.

And I am sure they still go home in the evenings, complaining about their managers, who nag them about silly things like schedules, lunch breaks “by law” — and those fucking name tags.

“Why can’t he just leave me alone?!” they ask the rhetorical question of their equally exhausted spouses, at dinner, their words belonging to forsaken prayers.  They get drowned out by the hyped-up realities happening on the television screen.  And in the morning, they’ve gotta do the whole thing all over again.  And if they aren’t running late, they’ve gotta remember:  to grab the fucking name tag.

Still, I prefer to say these names out loud.  No, I don’t expect to please.  And I don’t expect to make up for the misery of all the corporate routines they must obey.  I just want a little bit more humanity, in places like this.  In jobs like this.

There was already plenty of sadness in the fluorescent lights buzzing above the unused-up face of the girl working at the counter of Rite-Aid.

“Why must they be running these things right now?” I thought, noticing that despite the blazing sun outside, the rows of lights remained lit.  Lit and buzzing.

And yet underneath their cold rays whose pulse can send an epileptic into an episode, this girl appeared very pretty.  She had long spiral curls on each side of her brown face.  And because she wore not a hint of make-up, I quickly imagined her on some simple, yet still exotic shore, drinking milk out of a coconut cracked open with a machete.

I wondered if she was a student of some sort, at a community college, working this job “just until…”  Or if she was a daughter of an immigrant, meant to be grateful by that very definition — for the privilege of her minimum wage and health benefits.  And if she goes home, exhausted and confused:

What exactly is the meaning of this daily drudgery?  And when, exactly, does it end? 

And then, there was her face.  It was unused-up.  It had no traces of bitterness, no histories of lovers’ betrayal or disappointment.  Other humans hadn’t gotten to her yet.  And she smiled a little while holding a pack of cigarettes, immediately humiliated, waiting for her trainer to find the time to explain the exact procedure of selling those things.  She waited, while her customer — a strange, muttering woman — scoffed and squinted her eyes at the name tag of the manager standing nearby.  Watching.  Why must we get off — on other people’s humiliation?

It would take a few beats for the girl to settle down.  The scoffing customer would storm out, muttering about her own miseries.  The trainer would return to his routine, indifferently.  The manager could be traced by the jingle of his keys, as he walked away into his hideout, behind the swinging door.  (At least, he had a space of his own.)  But the girl would have to regroup, in front of us, and wait for the awkwardness of the moment to pass.

“I think she’s open,” an old man behind me was breathing down my neck.

Yet, I insisted on holding my spot until I was called over.  The girl with an unused-up face deserved her dignity.

And dignity — takes time. And space.

“I can help the next customer in line,” she said.  Her voice was light, resonant.  It better belonged in a choir of St. Patrick Cathedral.

I walked over:

“Hello, love.”

She wasn’t wearing a name tag, you see:  that fucking name tag I used to have to wear myself, at my very first jobs as an immigrant in America.  But I refused to treat her good, yet unused-up face as nameless.

So, she would be Love — the bearer of my motha’s name — at least for a few seconds that day, at Rite-Aid.  She deserved a name; and if not love — she deserved some dignity.

And dignity — takes compassion.

And space.

“How Can [Someone] So Gangsta Be So Pretty, in Pictures?”

She was a dainty lil’ thing, which is not even a preferable beauty requirement for me.  But some girls do wear it well.

First of all:  There was the pixie haircut.  It was the whole Jean Seberg in Breathless thing.  But then again, she seemed a bit less vulnerable, less breakable; less controversial.  Despite her petite physique, she seemed strong, as someone with a wise and compassionate heart.  So maybe, she was more of an Audrey Hepburn type:  Like grace, and classic beauty:  Timeless!

A pair of large dark eyes were alert and clear.  There are some girls whose smarts are obvious in the perpetual little smirk that lingers in the corners of their eyelids.  I like those girls:  The Kat Dennings types.  But truth be told, I’ve always found them a bit intimidating.  I can’t really keep up with their references; and no matter how much I pride myself in having street smarts, my self-assurance always fades in their company.  They speak of rock ‘n’ roll — they are rock ‘n’ roll! — and they are ever so cool!

Often, they seem to really dig sports, but not in that other way that pretty college girls do:  hanging out at sports bars for the sake of male attention.  And somehow, they are always up on the latest politics and gossip alike.  So smart!  So cool!

But this one — was a bird of a different color.  She was obviously quick and judging by the breathlessness of her companions that evening — she was utterly adored.  And as I watched her from the higher seats of the auditorium, I realized she made others feel important.  That — was her charm:  her timeless grace.  She listened, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of her eyelids, and that tiny compassionate smile never fading from her lips.

The lips.  Alas, the lips:  She wore a layer of pink gloss on hers.  There were days once upon a time when I had tried to surrender to the call of my own feminine maintenance.  In the history of my make-up routines, I used to utilize it primarily as a shield.  I would wear layers of make-up in college, after nagging my BFF for enough tutorials.  And in my early years in Hollyweird, make-up came with the job description of a cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery.  Those were exactly the days when I would try to apply the sticky substance to my lips.  Somehow though, it never really worked out for me:  I would be constantly spitting out my hair that would stick to my lips — then all over my face — and smear my paint job.  (Utterly annoying and very ungraceful!) And then, I would have to reapply, which always rung untrue to my nature; too high maintenance.

Somehow though, this girl’s lips appeared perfectly made-up from the beginning of the event to the end.  I haven’t even seen her fussing with it once, as pretty college girls do, for the sake of male attention.  (I personally believe that unless you’re whipping out a ChapStick, a chick’s make-up routine should be kept for the secrecy of the ladies’ room.  But then again:  My high maintenance and I aren’t too close.  So, what the fuck do I know?)

Her faded golden necklace was vintage.  So were her beige Mary Janes.  And so was the midnight blue mini-dress with tiny white polka dots.  The length of it must’ve been amended from its original rockabilly swing style.  And the wide beige belt with a buckle that matched her necklace perfectly added to all the carefully selected details.

All this to say:  I was smitten.  Well, mesmerized, for sure.  My own large dark eyes and fluffy haircuts have often earned me others’ comparisons of me to the classic beauties of old cinema.  But my style was never so well thought-out.

To the contrary, as my years in Hollyweird accumulated, I seemed to have settled for the least amount of maintenance.  I don’t fuss.  I don’t make much use of my iron.  And I am often in a habit of telling my awaiting comrades and lovers:

“I’ll be ready — in ten!”

There have been times when my routine takes less time than those of my companions.  And a few have commented on it:

“Quick to undress, eh?”

But in a presence of classic beauty — I never fail to be inspired.

“Why can’t I be more like her?” I used to wonder, in my early days in Hollyweird.  I had arrived here from New York and was already well on the way to minimizing my high maintenance habits.  But then there was the cocktail-girl-slash-hostess-slash-actress-waiting-for-her-discovery era, and I would prolong the return of the unfussy tomboy I used to be before my adolescence burdened me with its presumptions of womanhood.

These days, I don’t even wonder any more.  I admire, instead, with nothing but sincerity lingering in the corners of my eyelids.  I admire other women — the choices they make in the maintenance of their womanhood; and I never miss an opportunity to grant them a compliment.

But to each — her own, I think; and I embrace the short maintenance routine that I have figured out for myself, with time.  Because beauty and grace is always timeless; and mine — is actually on time.

“‘Cause I’m a RENEGADE! Never Been Afraid To Talk About Anything! ANYTHING!”

Last night, I was told that I no longer rant on this here rant-blog of mine.

Yep.  A devoted reader who has been with me from week one of my creative trip (or tripping) has admitted the following:  Were he to join my readership now, he would view me very differently from the hot-tempered, opinionated, loud-mouthed, pain-in-the-ass, pro-woman woman that began doing her rant-blogging two-thirds of the year ago.

“You sound like a writer now,” he said, lingered a bit and added:  “But I would still want to ask you out though.  Maybe even more so!”

Mmm-kay.

“You used to sound so angry, almost bitter,” another one granted his opinion, the other day.  And then, he did actually ask me out.

True that:  What started this project originally was my decade-long participation in gender wars (and I’m not really sure mine was winning).  But having never published on the topic of dating before, I had a lot to unload.

Now:  I’ve been writing — for years!  I’m talking as soon as I could make sense of the Russian alphabet (which is NOT an easy task).  Later on, after attempting to master the English alphabet (a slightly easier task), I would begin writing for cash.  It was mostly criticism, at the time; but with the exception of my editorial bits for the college newspaper, I rarely indulged myself in publishing my rants.  And as far as relationships went, all that stuff was being kept secret in my journals.  (Speaking off:  Where the hell are the ones from high school?  Oh, boy!)

Before embarking on this year’s project of blogging, as a devout nerd that I am — I first did research.  A shit load of it!  For hours, I would sit in front of my aged computer  and measure myself against the blogosphere full of other opinionated — talented or just loud-mouthed, or both — writers.  Could I really do this?  At the time, I was at the beginning of a new relationship, so I thought what better way to introduce my inner workings of a nerd to my partner.  In a way, I was flaunting the side of me I was no longer willing to tame:  I’m a writer.  Deal with it!

And from the shit load of my research, two particular pieces of advice got branded into my nerdy brain:

One:  You must publish on a regular basis.  Your readers expect it.

And,

Two:  Make sure it’s authentic — to you.

It made sense.  The entire purpose of my public coming-out as a writer was to seek my readership.  Before entertaining my entering the blogosphere, that readership was a mere daydream of mine:  It would have to happen in an old-fashioned way, after years and years of working on my manuscript — and then a few more years of trying to sell and finally publish that thing.  A career of a blogger, however, promised to give me a shortcut:  The process of publishing seemed instantaneous.

However, back in those days, even I could not have predicted that there was nothing instantaneous about it:  I don’t know about the other talented or loud-mouthed colleagues of mine, but each day, it takes anywhere between four to five hours to write, continuously edit, post, repost — edit, again! — and promote the damn thing.  It’s a shit load of work!

But then again, I knew that dedication would not be scarce in me.  As for the authenticity, I had to make sure that the topic to which I devoted these four to five hours a day would be exciting enough to ignite my passion.  And because I generally don’t half-ass anything in life — neither in art, nor in relationships — I knew I would have to write about it every day.  Because that’s why I was entertaining entering the blogosphere in the first place, right:  for the instantaneous readership?

What topic could be more exciting than love, I thought.  And even then, I knew that by love I meant a state of my soul — not a tedious or confusing chase of the opposite gender while fighting these frustrating gender wars, in which I myself was definitely NOT winning.  At first, I would start writing about dating and would hope that all of the other subjects of my love would follow.  (They did.)

The very first story I instantaneously published was a bit inspired by my dating experience as one man’s rebound.  Some of it was fictionalized (um, about ten percent of it); and the rest — was pathos, which was true to the rebound nature of that relationship.  And right off the bat, I wasn’t mellow in my writing.  No:  I was hot-tempered and loud-mouthed.  Having written the piece years ago in my journal, I began amending it for my readership (i.e. molding it into art).  But even then, months before I would finally publish it, I began to be aware that the driving force of my writing was not just love — as a permanent state of my soul — but compassion.

Because in actuality, what made me a writer in the first place was my life-long fandom of the human race.  That’s what all those tomes and tomes of journaling had been about.  And long before I would become a writer — and even longer before I would become a blogger — I was a devout reader:  A nerd.  I studied humanity, devoured tales of its nature.  And in those tales, I always managed to find some hope, and plenty of love.

Two-thirds of the year later, the style of my writing has indeed changed.  I no longer rant on the topics of dating, and I especially no longer attempt to write about relationship advice.  Look:  I am not an expert on that.  I’m just a toy soldier in this silly, frustrating fight between two camps of lovers.  But what I do have some expertise in — is living a life of compassion:  A life driven by a loving spirit.

And speaking of love (for the sake of my instantaneous readership still interested in asking me out):  Yes, I am a single woman.  I am a hot-tempered, opinionated, loud-mouthed pain-in-ass; disciplined, hard-working writer whose greatest subject — is love.  Neither in my private nor public life do I disguise it:  I’m an artist.  Deal with it!

And even though I anticipate that with this year’s coming-out as a writer, I had made my dating life even more complicated and frustrating, the actual loving — has gotten easier.  After all, I practice it every day, in my writing.  The art has gotten easier as well; and there is nothing I would rather do, on a daily basis, than to write four to five hours — in pursuit of my DAILY, instantaneous readership.

“Been Waiting for a Long, Long Time — Just To Get Off and Throw My Hands Up High!”

Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay!  This morning, I did wake up mellow and all.  I even meditated before brushing my teeth:  Staying flat on my back on a mattress notorious for having less give than my floor, I stared at the ceiling and counted my breaths.  In — hold — out:  one.  In — hold — out:  two.

Maybe I should take the hold out.  In — out:  one.  In — out… Shit!  It feels like I am about to hyperventilate.

Okay, I better hold.

Well, that didn’t work.  My breathing has been suffering from a bit of shortness this month:  Rent is due in a coupla weeks, and if you ever dwelled in LA-LA, you know that in the last weeks of August, the town goes dead and its army of freelancers and independent contractors are better off leaving town — or they go homicidal with despair.

Still in bed, I switched my tactic.  On my notoriously firm mattress, I assumed the position of an upside-down starfish and I recalled hearing a successful man point out the main recipe for his prosperity: GRATITUDE — he said last night.

Aha! I’ve suspected that much.

Gratitude is habitual for me, and this year I’ve had to practice quite a bit of it:  Somewhere in the transition to my life of a self-published writer, a self-taught blogger; to the high-wire act of a freelancer and the truly delightful experience of single-girl-dom that crashed onto my head unexpectedly, in the midst of all that, via an abrupt decision by my partner to depart — summoning my gratitude has been crucial for keeping tabs on my sanity.  ‘Cause I’m an angry little girl who’s got one hell of a spirit in her — and way too much to say!  And if not channeled toward crossing oceans and conquering fears, that wrath could easily metamorphose into a cancer.

Face down, on my notoriously firm mattress, I began making a list of all the things for which I felt — or could feel — grateful.

Well, let’s see:  There is health.  And, then…

“But:  WHY?!  Why is this child screaming at the top of her lungs?”

I noticed the shrill sound earlier this morning.  I had to:  It was the very reason for my being awake.  With intervals filled with other mellow sounds of my neighborhood — the jiggle of an ice-cream cart and the remote hum of a drill — this little girl had been screaming as if she was being exorcized, at the start of the day.

And it wasn’t really a cry of pain:  Past that I could NOT have meditated.  Instead, it was more like a holler to test the strength of her throat, to flex her lung power.  She would start out low, as if cooing; then unexpectedly wind it up, switch the registers until it would sound like a piercing shriek meant to break glass and porcelain coffee cups — or maybe even hearts!  And just as unpredictably — she would go quiet.

But back to my list of all the things for which I felt — or could feel — grateful:

Well, there is health.  And then…

And, then, there is this one hell of a spirit of mine!  I don’t really know where it comes from:  Perhaps, I’ve inherited it from all the other angry little girls that preceded me, in my family.  It has been tested by life:  Through generations, we have encountered enough shit to squash it down; to not survive, to retreat.  Instead, every angry little girl would get more fired up:  And that wrath would force us to cross oceans, to conquer fears, to make up new dreams and pick-up new adventures; to get past the unexpected changes; to shrug off our partners’ abrupt decisions to depart and to move on to the next, bettered versions of ourselves.

And we would scream.  I’ve heard my motha do it:  She would start out low; then unexpectedly wind it up, switch the registers until it would sound like a piercing shriek meant to break glass — or maybe even hearts.  And she would NOT get quiet for hours, for days.  It would be like a private exorcism, at the start of every day, by a madwoman desperately trying to keep tabs on her sanity.  And if she didn’t give that wrath a voice — it would metamorphose into a cancer of regrets and resentments.  So, she screamed.

As I also scream, nowadays, behind the wheel of my car, driving through downtown at midnight, with all the window rolled down.   

The angry little girl screamed for hours this morning.  She continued to holler, at intervals, as I finally got up from my notoriously firm mattress to do my work; then to hustle for more work in this dead town, at the end of August.  She hollered as I cleaned my place and tied up all the loose ends with the disciplined routine of my single-girl-dom.  She shrieked as I left the house for my morning run, and I could hear her for miles, until I finally switched on my iPod.

When the shortness of breath kicked in again, later in the day, I began making a list of all the things for which I felt — or could feel — grateful.  There was health, of course.  And then, there were things.

But if I visualized those things, the images didn’t last.  They popped like rainbow-tinted bubbles, and each idea of gratitude was replaced by the faces of the other angry little girls in my family who have guided me with our collective one hell of a spirit.  Then, there were the faces of those I had chosen to make up into my own family:  My angry people, my unstoppable comrades, my fellow spirits.  My most valuable possession, they are — the reason and often the source of my prosperity.  And if I look at it like that:  I’m a very successful woman, already.

Still, that’s no reason to stop summoning the gratitude, at the start of every day.

And when that doesn’t work, I can always give voice to my wrath and start screaming:  to flex my strength, to hear the echos of my power, and to get to the other side of it — and to always overcome.  Otherwise, the wrath would metamorphose into a cancer of regrets and resentments.  So:

It’s better to scream.

“Can You Bounce Wit Me, Bounce Wit Me, Ge-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi?”

Mmm:  First cup of coffee of the day.  Mmm-hmm.  Oh yeah.

Achy, I stumble across the apartment this morning while listening to the gargling of my coffee drip.  I cannot wait.

My freelance gig of last night is sitting in my joints and in the arches of my feet:  So tired!  The neck is stiff, causing me a mellow headache.  Still, the pain is no stronger than the gratitude for finally manufacturing an income that doesn’t violate, compete with, or drain my work.  No longer do I report to anyone else but myself.  And others that hire me for my expertise treat me with dignity and a slight amusement that covers up their utter adoration of my company.  I stretch the neck, both ways.  Something snaps on the left side.

GRATITUDE.

Or should I blame the 7-mile dash across the beach yesterday, for feeling so roughed up?  Barefoot and barely dressed, I squeezed in between the beautiful bodies of strutting brown girls in yesterday’s sun, and I kept on running.  There is an esteem in me these day that other women pick-up on:  Not only do they smile at me (for they have always done that) — they grin, openly, in recognition or admiration — while they size me up discretely, the way that only women can do.  I grin right back at them, and I find myself picking up speed.

Oh, if I could, I would kiss every one of them on their shiny, pink-bow lips that must taste like purple grapes or black cherries; drinking them up, like that first cup of coffee of the day!

Mmm.  Life.  Oh yeah.

The drip has committed its last exhales, always so a-rhythmical.  But only after it does half a dozen of spit takes do I slowly make it over to the machine.  Ouch, ouch:  The arches of my feet are killing me!  The cold of the kitchen tiles feels soothing though.

I pour the first cup, watch its surface covered with patches of broken oily film; and at first, I am tempted to lap them up with my tongue.  Instead, I stare at them, like an old Turkish wise woman, reading coffee grounds for signs of my own destiny.  But I cannot see the bottom of the cup, so my story gets to keep its mystery.  All the better that way.

Mmm.  Life.

The hot liquid is somehow of perfect temperature this morning, and it goes down so easily; so smoothly.  Its acidity hangs in the back of my teeth with an aftertaste that makes me want to drink up more.  So much more!  To drink it up, to lap it up — all of it, with gratitude! — for having been given another day, another go at a dream.  Another chance at some good living:  Mmm.  Life!  Calmly, the patches of yesterday’s thoughts about today’s commitments start coming up to the surface — and I cannot wait to begin!

I pour the second cup and make my way over to the desk.  The morning outside is foggy.  I catch myself thinking of San Francisco.  Oh yeah:  The possibilities.

My dreams loom in the back of my consciousness, as if ripening until I am ready to gather them into the bottom of my skirt and to take a bite.  There have been so many of them:  These dreams of mine.  And there have been so many loves.  And each one, I don’t delay for long — but for long enough to gather the courage, the necessary readiness and the strength; the agility, the open-mindedness — before I begin their pursuit.

But what was it — that lullabied me to sleep last night?  I do remember venting to myself, while fighting the beginnings of this mellow headache.  The patches of yesternight’s thoughts slowly come up to the surface; and the fragments of their through-lines remind me of feeling agitated and strangely inspired.  (Mmm:   Life.)

Monogamy!  Bingo.  That’s it.

I was thinking about monogamy last night.  Achy, I paced across the apartment, at midnight; defining something that I’ve never had a problem trying on, with each of my loves.  (And there have been so many of them:  My loves.  Mmm.)  But then again, I’ve never had the audacity to deny myself — or my partner — the variety, in life.  I am not the one to confine my lover to limitations of a single woman:  me. Because I myself know how much beauty, how much possibility there is to lap up; to drink up; to chug it down — like the first cup of coffee of the day.

But of course, each coupling of lovers must define it for themselves.  And it’s a lengthy process of figuring out how each partner measures up against the other, with his or her beliefs, passions and hungers.  And it’s not an easy talk of comparing each other’s needs and opinions — on monogamy; but such talks must happen continuously, as the relationship grows and changes, morphing into more and more specificity.  These talks:  They must happen — absolutely! — because only in mutual honesty, does a coupling of lovers find the dignity and the esteem that comes from navigating one’s life well.

Yeah!  Honesty!  That is — the saving grace, in love.  I am addicted to it, and my girlfriends sometimes find it tragic.  And they find it odd that I allow my lovers the freedom of pursuing their hungers — as long as I am made privy to those pursuits before they happen.  It’s a health thing, at first, of course!  A physical safety thing.  I owe that to my lovers — and they owe that to me.  And then, there is the health of one’s consciousness whose only route of navigation — is honesty.

Oh yeah!  Life.

Mmm.

“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.

“And Just Like The River, I Been A Runnin’ — Ever Since!”

[Continued from July 31, 2011]

But who knows just how long we’ve all been running.  I haven’t been watching the mile markers:  They’ll only make me psych myself out.

It’s all in mind, you see.  The game — is all in the mind.  The race, the run, the marathon.  So, I rein mine in:  I don’t judge other humans — and I don’t compete.

This sport — is in the very doing of it:  You against you.  And if you do it for the love of you — you’ll go farther, and longer.

This City — THE City — has taught me that.

Speaking of THE City:  We have now been unleashed into Her.  After warming up and hydrating us quite plenty in the park, the masterful, gracious hosts of my first half-marathon have opened the gates — and straight onto Haight we go.  I have been watching my breath until now, while running through the park:  It’s a resilience thing.  But here is where it skips, I must say.  I’m breathless:  This City — is a vision!

The locals have spilled out onto the streets once designed by someone with unreasonable imagination:  Families, youngsters, couples — of all shades, shapes, ages and sexes; teenagers in want of inspiration or curiosity; children with dreamy eyes, and dogs — with confused ones.  Funky descendants of hippies that have long ago migrated here:  They’re beautiful boys with long hair and girls with compassionate faces.

“…V to the izz-A!” Sean Carter starts hollering into my ear, from my running playlist.  “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the 8th Wonder of the World!”  Yep.  This City — THE City — deserves no less!

Lovers in various relationships have been watching us from each other’s embraces or from the opposite windows of their half of a hexagon rotundas.  A lonesome woman timidly smiles at me, from her second floor balcony; and in the midst of her sadness, I think:

“When was the last time she was found beautiful?”

“Beautiful!” I holler up to her, simultaneously with “H to the izz-O!”.

At every intersection, every traffic light, the San Francisco policemen and women remind me of volunteering Hells Angels; and they do one of two stances:  Either they root themselves through their black-leather-bound legs (they’ve got this!). Or they pace while swooshing their gloved hands through the air in the direction of the finish line.

But who knows just how long we’ve been running, and how much longer we’ve got left!  Who knows — and who the hell cares?!

A glorious family of six has taken over an island in the middle of a street — all blonde, tall, and boho-chic — and they have been extending their hands into the avalanche of runners crashing down the hill.  I haven’t greeted that gesture yet, from anyone:  It’s a resilience thing.  But the youngest of the family, standing at the very end of the island, like the broody teenager he is supposed to be, shakes his tousled surfer curls out of his face and studies me with his blue-gray eyes.

“Looks like Joseph — my future son,” flashes across my mind.

Joseph extends his hand, right in front of my womb — and I tap it.  His hand feels dry and callused, belonging to the young man that he is supposed to become.

A symphonic tune begins winding up and Bono comes in, screeching:  “At the moment of surrender, I folded to my knees.”  I tear up.

Soon, my baby-boy.  I shall see you very soon, back in this City:  THE City.

An older couple is jogging slowly.  I wait for a reasonable gap in between them and I pass:

“I’m right behind you,” I hear her say to her man.

“I’m not going anywhere!” he responds.

Who knows just how long we’ve all been running.  I haven’t been watching the mile markers:  It’s a resilience thing.

At every water station, I soak up the faces of the volunteers.  I lap ‘em up, actually, drink them all in; and regardless that “resilience thing” of mine, I make sure to thank them.  The very specific, very studious boy with dreadlocks who is sweeping the plastic cups from under our feet, the crunch of which has become my own mile marker:  He extends his free arm to salute us with a victory sign and doesn’t crack a smile.  This is no laughing matter here!  This is THE City:  United!

The Asian boy that has handed me water:  While I find my mouth busy with the sensation of it, I thank him with a kind tap over his heart.  He grins.  He’s wearing braces.

A brown girl gives me both of her cups, then pumps the air with her fist:  Power!

Here comes in Nina Simone, right on time and perfectly poignant, as always:  “Yeah!  Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,”  My steps are liking her rhythm.  Take it away, you goddess!  And, oh, how she does! Alright ye!”  

I pick up the pace.

An aging small man is jogging calmly with an aging small dog trailing right behind.  They aren’t in any rush.  They’re just doing their thing.

A woman with some handicap affecting the evenness of her stride:  You do your thing, love!  You do your thing!  And don’t EVER let anyone treat you inconsequentially!

The two young men in nerdy knit hats are in the midst of a chill conversation:  Awesome!  I pass ‘em.

The two poster boys for what health looks like up in the Bay are strutting their surfer bodies along the Embarcadero:  Breathless!  I pass them too.

“It’s just the way the game is played!  It’s best — if you just wait your turn,” RiRi is right on top of me.  I think of my brother.  He calls me RaRa.

The gossip spreads:  The finish line is ever so close.  Very close, somewhere past the bridge.  My calves are feeling like they’ve taken over half of my body weight, in blood.

Still:  I pick up the pace.

Past the cowboy offering swings of vodka on the sideline.  Past the flamboyantly dancing chicken suit.  Past the gentleman jogging in a pink tutu.  Past the girl running with a pair of fairy wings on her back.

Past, past, past!

Past the wide-eyed boy looking up at his mother with complete worship.  (Joseph?)  Past the little girl running like a girl along her mother’s thigh.  Both are wearing matching t-shirts that say, “RUN LIKE A GIRL!”

And who knows just how long I’ve been running; but suddenly, there is some sort of a tilt — a bump on the road, a hill — and:  I see the blue banner of the finish line.  No longer do I feel half of my body weight in my calves, in blood.  Neither am I any longer aware of my playlist.

Here.  We.  Go.

I leap.  I fly.  I zip, in between.  I zoom.

Faces!  Faces!  Faces!  Screaming the name of their beloveds — or just screaming.  Beautiful faces!  Breathless City!  THE City.

Past!  Past!  Past the lingering jogger to my left!  Past the ambitious, athletic honey to my right.  This is it!  I am here!  In.  THE.  City.

I cross the line.

And although I haven’t been watching the mile markers (and I have yet to see my end time), all of this has been for the very doing of it and for the very love of this City — THE City!  My gratitude floods in.  Or rather, it has never really left me, 13.1 miles ago.

In the name of the sport, we’ve all been running for a very long time and committing our personal feats of courage:  It’s a human resilience thing.  And, yes!  It has been completely worth it!  And so has this City.

THE City.

“Can I Get A… ?”

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

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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

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

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

“Sure it’s me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Slavic kitten immediately appeared by my side:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Young Hov’s a Snake Charmer: Move Your Body Lika Snake, Mama!”

Rule No. 1:  If I’m not perfect for my man — he is not my man.

Rule No. 2:  If my man is not happy with me — it’s time to look for another man.

That’s a rough translation, sort of:  from my gypsy grandmother’s mouth and directly into your modern ears, my comrades.  Still rings true though, nyet?  The wisdom — lives on!

That woman was a badass!  She strutted around her port city, lithe and decisive in her hips, as if she ran that motherfucker.  She was one them proud broads, asking no man for help (other than her father); and it was just her luck that by the time she entered the workforce, her country was on that whole socialist equality shtick.  So, the broad held jobs that not many women were interested in; and she flourished, climbing whatever level ladders her Communist Party chapter advertised.

She had been a construction worker and a collective farmer in the country.  But by the time I met her, she worked as manager at a fish cannery.  Oh, I’ve seen that broad at work!  From a rustic desk some moron once thought up to paint the color of a stewing swamp, she gave out her packing orders like some women give out their expectations.  She refused to be away from her people, so she moved that swampy thing out onto the factory floor, by the conveyor belt; and considering no Soviet machinery ran low on sound, anyone who needed to talk to her would have to holler out their lungs.  Nope, that job was not for the dainty-hearted!

But she did have a little corner getaway upstairs, which is where she would sit me down, underneath a black-and-white shot of one drunken righteous leader after the next.  For a while there, these leaders would die on us like flies, so she’d leave their portraits leaning against the wall:  What’s the point of worshiping a man if he ain’t planning to last long?

And to keep me entertained, while she strutted on the factory floor — lithe and decisive in her hips — grandmother would equip me with a can of black caviar, a spoon; an old world atlas and a pair of scissors.  There I’d spend my days, cutting up the world and acquiring the beginnings of my sick misconception that there was no distant corner I couldn’t cut through; no country I couldn’t slice across.   

“Thirsty, little rabbit?” grandmother would reappear at intervals with a glass of foaming sparkling water from the dispenser machine outside; or better yet, with a bottle of Pinocchio soda that tasted like a liquid, lemon-flavored Jolly Rancher.

Of course, I’d be fucking thirsty:  Gobbling up that caviar was like drinking sea water or licking the lower back of a tanning Brazilian goddess!  (Plus, all that cutting of corners!  All that wanderlust!)  As if to finish training my stomach to handle anything — in case I ever swallowed anything bitter or toxic (a cowardly lover, for instance) — she would rummage in her pockets and whip out a plastic bag of dried calamari rings:  My favorite!  Like some children with raspberries, I would top each finger with those rings; then, I continue to trace unfamiliar shores and continents, before cutting them to shreds.

What man could possibly keep up with a broad like that? 

The one that knew that taming a descendant of a gypsy was a moot point.  The one with balls enough to wait for all the unworthy, drooling endless admirers and ex-lovers to flake away:  because none of them could handle that hot number in the first place, bare-handedly.  The one with a freedom of his own, addicted to circumvent the globe’s ocean as if each round were a growth ring on a tree trunk of his life.  The one who’d seen enough, who’d lost enough to know that a good woman is a lucky find; and even if it chills you down to your bones with paralyzing fear or with the breath of your own mortality, you better give it a goddamn worthy try — to not keep her, to not conquer her — but to have a daily hand at trying to be worthy of her staying.

To that man — my grandfather — this woman was meant to be followed.  And so he would:  on our every Sunday walk to and from the bazaar, if he happened to return home from his circumventing.

She rarely kept company with other women (but then again, could outdrink every man she’d call “a friend”).  So, when walking, she’d always go at it alone, just a few meters ahead; perfectly content with the pace of my little feet, yet with a strut of someone running that motherfucker.  Sometimes, I’d look back to find my grandfather’s muscular arms with his fisherman’s tan; and from underneath the tattered hat, with a cig dangling on his lips, he’d smile and wink, as if he had just been caught at a naughty secret.

One day, I chose to walk with him, letting my grandmother lead the way, just a few meters ahead.  He lifted me onto his shoulders and told me to hold onto his ears:

“Otherwise, you’ll fly away!”

Every once in a while, he would reach above his head and make a crocodile mouth with his hand; at which point, I would pucker up my lips and let the crocodile devour my sloppy kiss.

And from up there, from the first pair of a man’s capable shoulders, I fell in love — in my youthful lust — with a woman.  That day, she strutted just a few meters ahead of us, lithe and decisive in her hips; and with each step, her tight wrap-around dress rode up higher and higher, bunching up at her tailbone and revealing the naked back of her knees.  A long, shiny, jet black braid ran down from her top vertebra down to the lower back; and the unbraided tip of it would tap each ass cheek as the hips continued to sway and sway, lithely and decisively, making me slightly dizzy with adoration and bliss.

That day, I knew:  It was not a bad deal to follow a woman’s lead.  (It was delectable, to the contrary.)  But it would take some esteem to be worthy of her staying. 

Boys Will Be Boys. Thank Goodness!

Boys, boys, boys.  Men and gentlemen.  Players.  Soldiers.  There are so many of you in the world — and thank goodness for that!

You beautiful creatures that are born as our sons, then grow into our men; but then again, despite of our occasional complaints, so many of you remain our children — even as our husbands and lovers — and so many of us would NOT have it any other way!  Because when you stumble out of our beds early in the morning, scratching your bodies — youthfully supple or gracefully aging — when you clumsily rummage through our cupboards, then reach for your favorite cereal (which we’ve memorized long before learning your Social Security Number, or your mother’s birthday); when you pout, whist still barely awake and unaware of your age — you make us, women, wonder about the little boys you used to be; and in that moment, you are indeed — our sons.

And there is no higher praise to your manhood — and all the abilities, endowments, talents and skills that come with it — than when a woman chooses you to father her own child.  Because somewhere along loving you, we begin to daydream about watching that same sleepy face reappear in the cribs of our firstborns (and that pout!  oh, that pout!).  And when it is time for our children to start stumbling out of their beds, we will weep at their resemblance — to you.  It’s ALL dedicated to you! 

Because we too wonder about your teaching our sons how to throw a ball or a punch; how to shave (or whatever else you, boys, do behind those closed bathroom doors:  we love you, but we don’t really want to know); and how to choose the right socks or the right girl.  And we too desire for our daughters to worship you more than they seemingly do us; to adore you enough to look for you in their choices of men who, of course, will never be up to your standards.  (Because it’s always different with daughters:  They turn our men into pussycats.)  

You stubbly creatures of the opposite sex:  How you can break a woman’s heart with a mere aloofness or a deficit of attention; but then to build her back up with a single curious gaze that so many of you still don’t know how to execute without being unnoticed.  Please don’t ever stop giving us compliments, even if — and especially if — they won’t get you anywhere!  Don’t censor your praise of our hair, or eyes, or earrings — compliments that make you sound like an admirer of beauty, even if you haven’t figured out its source.  You often have no idea why a certain woman makes you turn your head (while hundreds of others can pass you by unnoticed).  And even if your compliment doesn’t earn you our time or phone number, please know:  It is never taken for granted.

The rougher men who have suffered through difficult lives and mean jobs:  You still have the ability to inspire a woman’s fantasy about being lifted with those capable arms of yours.  Some of us fall in love with women:  their grace and softness, and the way they manage to always smell so sweetly.  But for those of us who still adore the other gender:  It’s your physical ability — your capability to always be stronger than us, to stand taller, to be more ready — that makes us worship you until heartbreaks.  And when you do those things we needn’t know how to do (change a tire, fix a sink; negotiate with a mechanic or a cabbie; catch a fish or play the stock market), you make us feel safer.  And for that rare, fleeting sensation in life — we are forever grateful.  (A little secret though, boys:  Some of us have learned how to do those things, but we’d rather watch you take over.  Thanks.)

Those smooth players who choose to move through their lives as gentlemen:  How ever do you know where to buy a suit and when to tailor a jacket?  Who’s taught you how to be decisive about our first date’s destination and time; and how to settle the tab without making a fuss?  When do you make up your mind on whether or not you will ever wear cologne or the style of your underwear?

Your stubborn choice of your own higher standards — your substance — will continue to turn us on until the end of civilization.  Don’t ever stop getting our doors and chairs; lifting us over puddles or carrying us out of fires.  Continue to show up on time, to come through with your word (a man’s word!); to tolerate our emotions and to guard your own.  Insist on asking for our opinion on those pastel-colored Banana Republic shirts, but remain authentic to your taste (and always devoted to your collar stays!).  Know the best dry cleaners in town but don’t mind us if your dress shirt — is the only thing we want to wear while fixing you a sandwich.  Do send us flowers and hand-written notes.  Do make the first call, but allow us to keep the illusion that we — have the last word.  And the sooner you let us have the remote control, the sooner you can take us to bed.  (But you may also proceed on the couch.  Or the floor.)

And when you do undress us, fumbling with our buttons, or bra hooks, or garter belts — all too dainty for your rough, manly hands — continue to study us as if we were a work of art (perhaps, while unawarely pouting).  Or your dream car.  Or your dream girl. 

Oh, to the modest smile of Paul Newman and the intelligent squint of Robert Redford; to the swagger of George Clooney and the slight indifference of Clark Gable; to the promising ability of Steve McQueen and the effortless power of Bill Clinton; to the mastery of Obama’s self-deprecation and the reserved grace of Eastwood; to Denzel’s esteem and Jay-Z’s universal rule:  To you — we sing our odes and griefs!  To you — we give our youth and dedicate our sex.  Because no matter how many times you break our hearts, it is YOUR love that we continue to seek; and it is ONLY that love — that makes us better women.  And thank goodness for that!

(But don’t you worry:  We will always return that last favor, no matter how late in life:)