Tag Archives: Kanye West

“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.

“Hey. Hey-Hey. Hey. Hey-Hey. HEY! I’M GOOD!”

I was studying the faces of passengers on a downtown-bound subway the other night, and I thought:  Surely, these people had to be good.  Because I would much rather subscribe to the idea that the world was primarily filled with good people.  And I myself — would much rather be good, too.

(And I remember there was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.)

I have nearly forgotten what it’s like to people-watch.  Unless on a rare occasion of some public gathering in LA-LA, one must always keep the eyes on the road.  Here, we drive, we speed; and we complain if we aren’t moving fast enough.  All the other people become mere faces which we quickly glaze over, behind the wheels of other cars, at stop signs and in the oncoming traffic:

Everyone keeps their eyes on the road.  Or on their cellphones, in the passenger seat.

Sometimes, I watch the faces reflected in my rearview mirror.  And every once in a while, I steel a gaze or a nod from the guy over in the next lane.  And that’s kind of nice.   It’s good.

 

(And I do remember:  There was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.  And I am glad — that I didn’t.)

The accidental faces of pedestrians tend to zoom by us.  We aren’t used to them around here, unless driving through a rare public space expected to be packed with tourists.  Yet, even then, we avoid making eye contact with them, as if these people — who are most likely good — are nonexistent.  Instead, we nervously watch the quickly expiring gap to make a turn over a pedestrian walkway.  And if the guy on foot isn’t moving fast enough, we pretend not to see him and cut in front.  (Ah, shit!  What an inconvenience!)

Some pedestrians have a certain swagger around here.  They tend to live in those rare occasional spaces expected to be packed with tourists.  As locals, they tend to take their time crossing the street.  Ballsy, they make an eye contact with us, as if saying:

“What cha gonna do?  Run me ova’?!”

So, you wait, embarrassed at having caught yourself at being less than good.  And to avoid that shameful stare, you look over at your cellphone in the passenger seat.

The best thing is to wait.  Sometimes, the guy waves you over.  He’s moving on foot, and he knows he is not fast enough.  Because even when we are on the road (while not always keeping our eyes on it), we often wish to be miles ahead.  Around here, we are overwhelmed by the commitments that we continue negotiating on our cellphones in the passenger seat.

Here, we drive.  We speed.  LA-LA — is a working city, primarily.  Sometimes, we pretend to fit our lives in between; but most of us have come here to work.  And sometimes, we tend to forget that the world is still primarily filled with good people.  And that, no matter the work, we ourselves would much rather be good, too.

(And I do remember:  There was a man once who told me to never start a sentence with an “and”.  And he also told me that not everyone — was good.  And I didn’t listen.  Obviously.)

This middle-aged Mexican woman napping, with her tired head leaned against an anti-terrorism warning:  Surely, she’d put in a good day of work.  And surely, she had to be good!

The man in a construction worker’s overalls:  He looked like the guy stuck in our traffic for the entirety of his working day.  His already dark skin was filled with dust, exhaust — and exhaustion.  Because of his work, at some typical non-public space in LA-LA, there was probably more congestion on the road today.  And he watched us driving, speeding by, wishing to be miles ahead.

The businessman in a suit that lacked the sheen of a designer label:  He was staring down and a few feet ahead — in a New York subway fashion — and he wouldn’t steal as much as a gaze at a pretty girl who got on at the City College stop, at Santa Monica and Vermont.

And the pretty girl who got on at the City College stop:  Under her arm she carried a thick tome of some nursing book I myself would find impossible to decipher.  I wondered what made her choose the goodness of her future profession.  And what made her choose to be good.

And surely, these other people — on the way home from their days of good work — had to be good, too!

Because I would much rather subscribe to the idea that the world was primarily filled with good people. 

And I myself — would much rather choose to be good, too.

“Proof! I Guess I Got My Swagger Back: TRUTH.”

“Hey, Ra-Ra!” — one of my brothers leaves me the same voicemail, for the nth time.  “Don’t you think it’s kinda ironic that after six years, your outgoing message hasn’t changed?”

My brothers call me Ra-Ra.  They’re both Latin:  For them, rolling their “r’s” — is half the fun.

“Rrra-Rrra!” the younger one always winds up his tongue; and he gleams while shaking the long hair out of his squinting dark eyes.  “RRA-RRA – BABY!”

I chuckle:  How I adore those hearts!  

This morning, I listen to the message, and I slide open the windows.  It’s been feeling like autumn, lately.  But how exactly — I just can’t pinpoint yet.

Perhaps, there is a vague aroma of dying leaves, much more aggressive on the other coast, where my older brother now dwells.  He is making things happen over there, moving at twice the speed than we do, in this paralyzed city.  And his energy — his hunger, his passion, his perpetual up-for-it-ness — is contagious, even if only captured on my voicemail, this morning.

All throughout the year, he is in the habit of wearing long, tattered scarves, a couple at a time.  A few — seem to be made out of his own canvases.  Others are thicker:  I imagine they’ve been crocheted by the hands of lovely girls who tend to adore him, with their open, yet calmer hearts.  And when I meet him, in the middle of autumn, on the other coast, I study the flushed tip of his nose peaking out of the bundle of those endless scarves — which he is in the habit of wearing, all throughout the year, a couple at a time.

“Ra-Ra!” he’d say, while untangling himself.

And I would chuckle:  How I adore that heart!   

 

It’s not going to rain here, not for another month.  So, my own scarves, long and tattered, can remain stored for just a bit longer.

Still, I can already smell the oncoming change.  It sits at the bottom of a clouded layer that now takes longer to burn off in the mornings.  At night, I’ve started using thicker blankets.  And when I leave my day job, these days, the sun is already on its way out.  I walk home, alone in this paralyzed city, and I bundle up in my oversized sweaters whose sleeves remind me of the long arms of my brothers.  I bury my face in the generous, knit, tattered collars, and I chuckle.

My brothers:  They stand over a foot taller than me.  My baby-talls!  My two gorgeous, loyal creatures from two foreign lands with convoluted histories of political detours, similar to my own Motha’land’s.  We each belong to the people prone to chaos, to revolutions and idealism.  So, our comfort level — is flexible.

Moving — or moving on — comes easier for us.  Neither one has settled yet (and we won’t settle for less than the entire world!); and we tend to keep our luggages readily available at the front of our closets.

My younger brother tends to get easily distracted.  On every adventure, every journey, he loses himself completely, disappearing for months at a time, on the other coast.  But every time he resurfaces, his energy, his passion — his perpetual up-for-it-ness — is absolutely contagious.

He takes weeks to return my messages.  And when he does:

“RRA-RRA – BABY!” he winds up his tongue, and I can hear his gleaming while shaking the long hair out of his squinting dark eyes.

And I chuckle, instantaneously forgiving him for disappearing on the other coast: How I adore that heart!

This morning, I slide open the windows:  It’s been feeling like autumn, lately.  I pull the luggage out of the front of my closet and I begin packing.

“How ’bout an adventure?” I think.  “Why not?”

And immediately, I am flooded with a certain feeling of lightness and peace.  But what it is exactly — I just can’t pinpoint yet. Where I am going — I do not know.  It’s always been easy to move.  But lately, it’s become easier — to move on.

Fuck it, I think, and I go digging out my long, tattered scarves.  A couple of them seem to be made out of my brother’s canvases.  I don’t remember where I got them though; and I rarely wear them.  So, I pack those away again.  The others, thicker and multicolored, crocheted by lovely girls with open, calmer hearts — those I start trying on, as if with their length, I can measure the mileage to my beloved hearts.  One at a time, I wrap them around my neck, bury my face and I chuckle:  In my life, I have adored so many hearts!  And so many hearts — adore me.

It’s not going to rain here, not for another month.  So, maybe, today, I’ll just drive up north:  Somewhere else to tangle myself up — up to my flushed nose — and to think of my brothers; to think of all the other hearts, dwelling on the other coast.

In less than an hour, my luggage is packed.  I’m ready to go; and immediately, I am flooded with a certain feeling of lightness and peace. Is it gratitude?  My adoration for other hearts?

I listen to my brother’s message again:

“Hey, Ra-Ra!” (he left it, months ago, for the nth time.)  “Don’t you think it’s kinda ironic that after six years, your outgoing message hasn’t changed?”

Because for the last six years, I’ve lived vicariously through my brothers’ energies:  their adventures, passions — their perpetual up-for-it-ness — on the other coast.  My own travels, however, have been carefully planned.

I reach for my phone and prerecord another message.  I think I may use it, in my seventh year:

“Hey.  It’s V.  I’ll tell you something new.”

I zip up my luggage.  Leave a voicemail for my brothers:

“How I adore your hearts!”

And I get a move on.

“Put Some Colored Girls — in The MoMA!”

She was brown, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink; and when she walked, the wind played peekaboo from underneath her skirt.  The hair was down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft, but with some mighty heft:  One could easily bury a hand in it, or an entire limb; or tangle up a heart.

On her feet, she wore a pair of sandals borrowed from some Amazon warrior, which buckled all the way up to her magnificent mid-calf.  The muscles trapped under all those belts and copper buckles moved and flexed; and at any moment, she could’ve shaken off the dainty shopping bags from her shoulder blade — and start leaping:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.

“God damn!” I muttered to my partner.

But he was already on the same page:  squeezing my bicep and smiling the grin of a six-year-old who has just discovered he liked girls — most definitely!  He waited for the creature to get another meter ahead of us, stared at the ground — out of his respect for me and for my brown dream girl — and he quietly said:

“I know.”

Immediately, I thought of that ugly, old dog I have been honing to become my muse, in moments of my literal dry spell:

“but why do they do that?

why do they look like that?

why do they let the wind do

that?”

Bukowski, Hank:

Always in love with some magical bird’s legs, treating every infatuation like a temple in which to worship a departed lover.

Just as I do.

Amen!

But then again, that’s all it took:  a flight of one magical bird, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink — and my hunger was resurrected.

I felt the urge to play again, to worship, to want.  To dream.  To love.

And the literal dry spell — was over.

Another one sat sideways on a tiled step of a whirlpool, reading The New Yorker, folded in half, lengthwise.  She barely looked at me when I slowly descended into the hot water.

Okay:  There was one glance.  But that’s all it took:  a glance by one magical waterbird.

Then, she returned to reading, while all I could think was:

“Was there a smile?”

Because I swore there was.  A small one.  The one that I use myself to thank a man for his attention but to prevent any further advances.  The pressed-lipped one.  The smile-off.  (You know the kind:  It’s kind.)

She wore the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.  And in between flipping the pages, she would put the magazine aside and go under the swirling, hot water entirely.  The silky hair of her Persian heritage would float above; and when she would come back up — it would cling to her long neck and the upper arms like second skin.  Or like an oily film on the wings of some magical waterbird.  She would read some more, do that thing again.

And when she slowly ascended out of the hot water, the hair continued on:  sticking to her lower back and all along her toned, capable arms; and it would invade the boundaries of the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.

“you don’t know how exciting life can get

around here

at 5:35 p.m.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

The dry spell, how ever literal, was over.

Back home, on my phone, I’d find a message from a creature an ocean away.  She was brown, caramel-brown, to be exact; and she had a library of hair styles, each more striking than the next.  At times, she’d wear it down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft but with some mighty heft:  and every time, I would bury my entire heart in it.  Other times, she would tame it with a scarf the color of dry grass on the veldt of her heritage.  But my favorite was always the halo of tight curls, each perfected with some potion that only the brown girls know — and seemingly with a twirl of her long, pinky finger.

She would get inside my car and unleash her hair, filling the air with the aromas of coconut and that very magical potion that only the brown girls know — and with the perfume of her dreams.

“God damn!” I’d say and yank us into traffic.

And I would start speeding, as if we were a pair of Amazon warriors, about to leap out:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.  But really, my only excuse for speeding was to make her laugh, while shaking the halo of those tight curls in which I would bury my heart — for keepsakes.

“200 years ago they would have burned her

at the stake

now she puts on her

mascara as we

drive along.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

Her message on my phone had come from the veldt of her heritage.  She had flown home, after a break-up; and instead of healing herself in the arms of the next lover, she went off to help the others, more in need:

To save the children and to defeat the monsters.

“God damn!” I muttered, this time to myself, and I sat down to write.

Because that’s all it would take:  a flight, a bird, a wing, or a kind heart.

And my dry spell, how ever literal, would finally be over.

Amen.

“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.

“Hey, Girl! I Can See Your Body Movin’!”

“Gentlemen!  Be gentlemen — and pee in the bushes!  Let the ladies use the bathrooms.”

Oh, so that’s how I get to start my day:  On the other side of the gate on 36th and JFK, in the midst of a foggy park that, despite this early hour, is already overwhelmed with humanity?  Okay!

In the endless line to the portable bathrooms, my fellow marathon runners are in all shades and sizes.  Many have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums.  Others — are more modest, in size or definition.  But all — are quite beautiful, and very, very human.

I slide in somewhere in the middle:  I’m an a’right-lookin’ shawty myself, with a newly perfected ass, recently acquired from all my running and the running away; and that ass is significant enough to snap one of the drugged-out wanderers of this City into alertness.

(You think I am in love with myself?  Oh, you bet yo’ ass I am!  You bet your own magnificent ass — with which I am likely to fall in love, even if just for a second, as I watch you pass my life and never be inconsequential.  And yes, I’m in love with myself — in YOUR likeness.)

“Damn!  Look at that ass!” the tripping-out wanderer hollers after me, in a blip moment of sobriety from his stupor.

“Please, do!” I think.  (Yes, I’m in love — with myself!)

And so, I slide in, somewhere in the middle, in between a stocky Filipino cutie loaded with some fancy running equipment (me:  I travel light) and a handsome gray-haired player who in a few minutes would indeed be “a gentleman — and pee in the bushes”.

The man in charge of regulating us looks like an aging, forever inspiring school teacher I have never had in own my life; but heard so many of my comrades mention, in theirs.  Let’s call him Mr. Chips, shall we?

And so, Mr. Chips carries on with his routine:

“Gentlemen!  Unless you need toilet paper…  You know what I mean?”

We laugh.  My fellow runners are at ease, with the task ahead and apparently with the very task of living.  It must be this City:  It has taught them that — how to live well, and with a sense of humor. 

At the bathrooms, the Japanese kiddo directing the line (now mostly consisting of women) does not take his job seriously either.

“This one is now open,” a fellow female runner points out when he turns to us, now basking amidst all these ladies, in different shades and sizes.

“Don’t know whatcha talkin’ about,” the kiddo delivers with a well-practiced deadpan.  “And I didn’t see YOU — skipping the line and sneaking past me to use this one bathroom, NOW OPEN!”

We laugh again, and it suddenly becomes a bit of a free-for-all:  The women start slithering under the tape while exposing their magnificent asses to the rest of us.

Mr. Chips greets us again, at the starting line:

“At the end of this thing,” he hollers through a megaphone, “we’re gonna hang the shuttle bus driver that made some of you late today.”

We laugh.  We yelp.  We are impatient and content with the task ahead.  (Yes, it CAN be both ways.  Just run a marathon — and you’ll find out.)  And we all must’ve learned something about living by now, because this — this very moment! — is about how to do your living well.

There is no whistle that goes off; not any sort of fake gun shot to launch us:  On a gentle count by Mr. Chips, we all…

Just.

Start.

Running.

I notice that no one dashes ahead, propelled by their ego juices.  No one shows off; even though many, looking like they have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums, no doubt can kick ass at this thing.  But they have done this before — these magnificent asses ahead of me, in all shades and sizes — and they pace themselves, for the task ahead.  For the living ahead!

Because this is how you do some good living:  You pace yourself, you measure your strength, and you do it in pursuit of your health.  And if you’re in love with yourself — you’ll go far, and longer.

“What a way to start!” I think.  “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  And thank you.”

I start my running music.  Curtis the III winds up his track, setting the pace.  My feet do their thing and not once do I fancy dashing ahead of more than an a’right-lookin’ shawty ahead of me with thighs so large, I can see their edges from behind.  Instead:  I stay on her ass.

“But bein’ a little off landed me on top of the charts,” Curtis mumble-sings into my ear.  Well, you’d know how it is, Mr. “Metaphor for Change.”

I pass the a’right-lookin’ shawty, look back.  She’s more than a’right:  She’s a 10.

“Which one?  Pick one!  This one!  Classic!”  I start taking my orders from Eve ‘n’ G.

From behind, I come up on a baby-tall.  I cannot figure out his age yet, but his glorious headful of Tom Brady-esque hair sends me spinning into my dreams of my future.  His back is exposed, with some Zen symbol tattooed onto the left shoulder blade.

“Behind that — is his heart,” I think and slide underneath his elbow, on the left.  For a bit, we run side by side:  A perfect fit.

“I got somethin’ to lose, so I gotta move,” Kanye begins grunting into my brain, scratching off the last mildew of the departed lover with his perfect teeth.  The African drumbeat kicks in.  I start leaping.

Who knows just how long I’ve been running:  I am not watching the distance markers.  They’ll only psych me out.  And I’m:

Just.

Going.

The distance.

It’s all in the mind. I have heard a fellow female runner state that once.  The game is all in the mind.  So, I rein mine in:  Don’t judge other humans, and don’t compete!  This thing — is in the very doing of it:  You against you.  And if you do it for the love of you — you’ll go far, and longer.

This City has taught me that.

(But, um, how long have I been running?  Anybody knows?)

(To Be Continued.)

“It’s Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’, So Amazin’!”

She woke up really early on me today, peaked through the orange tulle curtains of my hotel window and said, “Come play dress-up, messy head.”

I opened my eyes, shushed away the last of my dreams and squinted at Her sun.

“Look on you,” I thought, immediately inspired to untangle myself from the sweat-drenched sheets.

(I had come here to do some serious heavy lifting:  To leave a lover behind — like an excess of water weight — to let Her keep him, for good.  “Do keep him safe though,” I had thought last night before leaving for my dreams, “and don’t tell anyone — just how much I loved him.”)

It would not take me longer than fifteen minutes to leap out of my bed, stretch the soaked sheets over the bathroom door to dry out; peel on my brand new running clothes, pull all that hair nonsense out of my face — and to start running.  Despite the whining knee I had busted last night in the midst of rage, I flew down the stairs (“Fuck the elevator:  I’m am an athlete!”) and past the disoriented guests checking-in at the desk of this vintage hotel that can only happen here — with Her — or back in New York City.

“Onward from here!” my mind was beginning to slip into just another of its outraged moods; and having foreseen it, I had left my running music up in the room.  “ONWARD!”

But the minute I stepped outside:

“Ah, look on you!” I thought — and felt my shoulder blades loosen up immediately and slide down my back like a pair of resting wings.

I have always had a crush on Her:  a little bit of a moody addiction of which I am not fully aware until it is time to leave Her.  On our every rendezvous, I forget about my departure date looming ahead.  I block it out; and instead, I carry on, quite often getting confused for a local by the disoriented tourists stumbling along Her streets with a “Look on you!” expression paralyzing their breathless faces.  On foot, I navigate Her  streets never really on any other mission than to live — and to live so damn fucking well!  And every time I have to leave Her, I throw fits:  in the middle of my vintage hotels, on BART rides and in airport lounges.  I would begin to jones for Her long before saying my goodbyes; and slip into yet another outraged mood for days, for weeks to follow.

“Yeah?  You like?” She began to shift about on her feet, twirling her sex in front of my eyes:  showing off Her heavenly curvatures and the bohemian yet often expensive frocks.  From Chestnut, she looked idillic:  Too good to be true, really.  Right around Fillmore, She seemed quite youthful.

On Divisadero, She nearly brought me down to my knees; and I would weep with gratitude for having lived long enough to get here — for having lived so damn fucking well! — and for wanting to live past Her, on this day, just so that I could always come back to Her.  And back — to this gratitude.

“And what about this?” She purred turning the hip of her Bay toward me.  “I put this on, just for you.”

It’s true:  My beautiful girl — that flirt! — was unusually sunny today; kind of balmy, as if shrouded in a fur coat of Florida’s dampness.  Adorned with her favorite Golden necklace of the Bridge, she shifted the other hip toward me and looked over her shoulder:

“I can pull this off, yeah?  You think?”

“Oh,” I thought.  “Oh, oh, oh!  Look on you!”

I would catch myself walking.  The outraged mood of the mind had evaporated with the last feathers of her fog, somewhere along Hyde.  (Whatever the fuck that was about!)  And who knows for how long I had been moving at this calmer pace:  It had to have been because I could not soak her up fast enough at that other, outraged speed on mine — so I shifted my gears.

And maybe, it had something to do with Her faces — the so-damn-fucking-well-lived-in faces of her locals:

The chiseled face of a gorgeous driver inside a white delivery truck with absent doors who studied me with curiosity while waiting to make a left — waiting for me to walk by — and then he smiled so disarmingly, so fully, so kindly and well, I thought:  “By god!  Marry me!”

The sad face of a beautiful girl, smoking her cigarette in a Parisian manner, outside a tanning salon, who was possibly dreaming of better places and better loves, in the world:  “Is better love even possible?”

The threesome clan of nerdy boys from the future cast of a Wes Anderson film who simultaneously stripped down to their waistlines revealing some delicious muscles underneath:  “Yes, please!”

The Yoko Ono in her black chic, horn-rimmed glasses who with a single gesture of a black-winged bird threw her pashmina over the elegant shoulder and sucker-punched me with a wave of her perfume:  “Ahhh!”

The ultra masculine, unshaven, sleepy street fighter in a gray-and-scarlet 49ers tee, climbing inside his hefty Grand Cherokee:  “Has anyone else noticed the cars never look filthy around here (around Her)?”  And again:   “Yes!  Please!”

And the long haired hippie thoughtfully strumming his guitar with some Flamenco chords as if its strings were the lead-loaded waters of the Bay, or the heavy hair of a brown girl he once loved so madly:  “Play it up, love.  Play it up.  I want to hear you, for many blocks ahead.”

“And what if I throw this on?” She raised a single eyebrow and slid into the cashmere of her grayish clouds, with blue in between.

“Perfect!” I hummed in response.  “You are — absolutely perfect.”

I felt the tears accumulate again in my lower eyelids, and when a few slipped out and rolled down my face:  Yes, they tasted like gratitude. 

And I began to run again.

“Didn’t You Know I Was Waiting on You?”

Waiting rooms:  They are like fishing ponds where most amateurs lack the patience to get the goods.

But I know!  I know, now, how to wait for long enough to pull out a story or two.  Didn’t used to know.  Before, I would join the others in their absentminded flipping through tattered magazines, often donated by some overzealous patient; other times — and in more expensive offices — subscribed to, by the M.D. himself.  And in any office offering free consultations, I would be stuck with a three-fold brochure.  I mean:  Somebody, wake me when they call my name.  I’ll be waiting.

In my immigrant life, I’ve had to do a lot of it:  Waiting.  Waiting for someone’s approval, which would theoretically make me feel better, in the end; except that I would be so exhausted — from the legwork, from not knowing any shortcuts, and from all that fucking waiting! — that I would feel calm, instead.  And grateful:  to be outside, among the rest of the living — no longer among the waiting; freed from the bolted down chairs and the white lights, and all that waiting to hear my name.

From some offices, I would leave with a referral to someone else’s; and with a sense of nagging anxiety, I would want to procrastinate at following through; because there would certainly be more fucking waiting:  Waiting for a number, waiting for a signature, waiting for a stamp; for an opinion, a verdict, an approval.  Waiting for to be considered legal for work, legit for travel.  Waiting for a “Go-Ahead, You’re-Good-Enough — For-Now.”  Waiting.

(I think another immigrant has written a novel called Waiting.  I hated that thing:  Couldn’t wait to finish it.)

These days, I’ve gotten much better at it.  Perhaps, it’s because after years of waiting for the waiting to cease, I’ve realized, it’s a part of life.  Maybe, it’s not a part of everybody’s life — but it is definitely a part of mine.

So, I think, maybe, I’ve surrendered to it.  Finally.  And maybe, despite my chronic impatience toward the crawl of clock hands, I have accepted that when the only activity is to wait — time is, suddenly, in my hands.  And maybe, after finding a dream for which I am best suited, I’ve been made privy to an insight that every event and every person could be a part of it — a particle of a story, waiting to be told.  So, I am not really waiting these days:  but waiting it out.  Like a female sniper.  A fisherwoman.  A crocodile hunter.  You get the point.

In one such waiting room, I found myself the other day, watching a couple of medical assistants entertain each other out of boredom.  Assistant No. 1 appeared to be joyless, and when I had checked-in with her at the counter, she seemed immune to any of my forced niceness or my feigned interest in her occupation:

“Busy day for you today, eh?”

(I am usually a charmer with people in her position:  Sure, she is someone not expected to grant me the sought service; but she could fuck my shit up so seriously, it would cost me more waiting.  No joke!)

“Fill this out,” she said, slipping half a page under her window, “and take a seat!”  (‘Scuse me, Nurse Ratched!  ‘Scuse me — for existing.)

Assistant No. 2 — was more to my liking:  A flamboyant, disarmingly chubby young man, he was quite good at making sarcastic remarks at the expense of whatever patient’s file was being pulled up on his outdated computer screen.  Occasionally, he would demand the attention from Assistant No. 1:

“Now!  Would you look — at this?!”

Assistant No. 1 would smile, but her commentary would be so eviscerating, I would make a mental note to stay out of her way, for the rest of the day.  Or, for the rest of my life, really.  But Assistant No. 2 would appear tickled to no end.  Perhaps, like the rest of us, he was sick of waiting out his life next to people like his joyless colleague; so, he chose to do it with some humor and a thicker skin.

I carried on pretending that my self-purchased issue of Vogue was so captivating, it had to be possess the secret to my own life on its pages.  But truth be told, I can’t read, while waiting:  I’m too distracted by humanity.  I would rather be writing down some obscure thoughts into a journal, but that always attracts attention.  And I would get carried away too, writing fast enough to set my pen on fire; and wouldn’t notice some nosy creature, looming at least a foot above me while deciphering my scribbles over my shoulder.  So:  Vogue it is, in waiting rooms.  While waiting.

After twenty minutes, the waiting finally got interesting:  Assistant No. 1 decided to come out with the tale of her failed love story.  It seemed she had been waiting to vent — waiting to be asked about her horrid mood, about her suffering.  And once the floodgates opened, every soul in the waiting room was made aware of her grief.

Off she went:

“He was, like, ‘I’m just not ready’.  So, I was, like:  ‘Forget YOU!’”

“NO!” Assistant No. 2 chimed in, perhaps, a bit too empathetically, while staring ahead at his screen.  “Men!  So typical!”

That sliver of empathy was enough for Assistant No. 1 to carry on:  “I mean:  Good luck to him!  I’m so over it,” she said and swung her chair back to face the counter.

“Good for you!”  Seemingly, Assistant No. 2 was all about it.  But he did linger for a minute, then said:

“But, um…  Did you really love him?”

Ooh.  Interesting.  Certainly more interesting than my very captivating issue of Vogue.  I looked up:  Assistant No. 1 looked contorted:

“Ugh!” she exhaled and swung that chair around, again.  “Whatever do you mean?!”

“I mean:  Don’t you hate it how, in the end, you find yourself in love with some better version of the person than he actually is?” said Assistant No. 2, stumping Assistant No. 1 — and the rest of us, listening in.  “In the end, you just want to say, ‘But don’t you know how much better I’ve imagined you?  Can’t you just change to match my fantasy?  I’m willing to wait.’”

“Well, then!” I thought, “That — was worth the wait.”

And having waited out for long enough to get the story, I started setting my pen on fire against the pages of Vogue, while waiting to hear my name.

“On Lonely Nights, I Start to Fade. Her Love’s a Thousand Miles Away.”

It’s 2 a.m.  Here come the monsters.

Cute little buggers they are, whispering quirky thoughts into my ears while nibbling on my earlobes or jumping rope with my braids.  My hair has gotten longer by now and has taken on that sun-kissed frizz of LA-LA’s summer.  But if I leave it untamed, my little monsters get tangled up in it while playing thumb wars and building castles out of my mane — fluffing up magnificent pillows for their hairy elbows and messy heads; and then I’m up until dawn, cutting off their cruddy nails and wiggling out their paws — to get them out of my hair.  And then, they’ll whimper, aiming at my dormant ovaries.  So, I’ve learned my lesson by now.  I know better.

In the kitchen, the humming buzz of the fridge should be enough to make me doze off, but the girl next door has gotten one of her terrible chronic cough attacks again; and I cringe away at my desire to fetch her some cough syrup, or water at least.  She is lovely, from what I’ve seen; quite luminous.  And she has one of those laughs that make you check the corners of your joint for the little girl that may have gotten lost there; and while waiting to be reclaimed, the girl-child plays house — a make-believe, much kinder than her reality.

2:17.

The birds outside are going bonkers.  What could possibly be in dire need for their negotiation, at this hour?  I’d like to think they are planning their next destination, or dissing the previous one:

“Whose idea was it to slum it, in Texas?!”

Or, maybe, they are just like me:  Insomniacs with misbehaving monsters roughing up their feathers, after midnight.  I attempt to tune them out, get reacquainted with the humming buzz in my kitchen:  My early morning lullaby.  It reminds me of my basement quarters in the Bronx.  Those days I fancied myself a Master, waiting for his pornographic witch of Margarita.  She never descended though; but all that waiting in the daytime and chasing monsters in the dark has created quite a bit of inspiration, but never quite enough poetry.  So, I’ve learned my lesson by now:  Leave the ghosts unattended.  I know better.

Aha:  A bath!  That sounds like a great idea, tested by time.  Who said there was no ailment of the mind that a perfectly drawn bath couldn’t fix?  It had to be a woman writer, with a closet full of ex-lovers’ ties and head full of stories; someone who knew how to put pen to paper — then, mind to rest.  The water is of perfect temperature, but only in the summer.  Perhaps, the secret is in the juxtaposition of body to air, skin — to the world.  I submerge.  Immediately, I am aware of the throbbing exhaustion in my limbs; and while I count to ten, I hear my little monsters clasping their manicured fingers over the ledge and pulling up their funny faces, wanting to crawl in.  I let them, pushing up a few hairy bottoms with my palms.  Some prefer to keep hanging on the ledge; and with their breath, they drill caves through the while peaks of my bath foam.  Cute little buggers.

2:41.

I get out:  Much better.  At least my limbs are mellowed out, and the mind is slowing down its pace.  I let the skin get air-dried and walk out into the living-room:  Body to air, skin — to the world.

From the window, I can see the Observatory on the top of the hill.  It stays lit up at night, and it always makes me wonder if LA-LA’s angels go there, for naps and foot rubs, and maybe even nightcaps.

The patter of little feet with manicured nails tick-tocks across the kitchen tiles.  I turn my head:  There they are, my cute little buggers; and they hang back, making funny faces and imitating my frowns, and they wait for me to wave them over.  I do.  They yelp and leap, slide their wet feet across the floor, bodysurf on the doormat, do cartwheels on the carpet.  They climb the poles of my chair’s legs and the ropes of my braids.  One of them clasps and unclasps his paws, asking for a lift again; and he whimpers, aiming at my dormant ovaries.  I give him my hand:  He sniffs it, then climbs in.  I sit him down on the windowsill.  I’ve learned my lesson by now:  It’s better to not resist.

The birds are still at it, dissing another suggested locale:  “Why the hell would we go to Canada, in September?”  And, by the way:  Where the fuck are the coyotes when you need them?  We could all start a bloody choir around here:  Us Versus the Moon.

3:02.

A ghetto bird flies by:  A treacherous, dark hunter.  How come I’ve never heard those, in the Bronx?  Perhaps, there, all hunting — is done on the ground.  Speaking of ground control:  I hear the police sirens.  They seem to echo a lot longer in this city, especially when LA-LA’s angels takes nightcap breaks at the lit up Observatory, on top of the hill.

But:  What was the name of that lullaby he used to sing to me, after midnight?  He left a while ago, and by now, I’ve learned to wane myself off his voice in the daytime.  But at night:  Alas, at night, it’s a whole different tune, around here:  Us Versus the Moon.  Between the humming buzz of the fridge in the kitchen and the clicking tongues of my nibbling little monsters, my memory gives out.

Perhaps, I would be better off, putting pen to paper.  After all, I am a writer, with a closet full of ex-lovers’ ties and head full of stories; who’s learned her lesson by now:  It’s better to not resist.  It’s better to surrender.

It’s 3:32 a.m.

And here come the words.