Tag Archives: local

“All the Lonely People: Where DO They All Come From?”

She always comes in here, right around this time (which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me).

And when she appears — she is impossible not to notice.

You can tell a lot by the way a person enters through the door. Some come in with certainty, as if they own the joint.  Some have indeed been here before:  They call out to the sleepy cashiers or the slightly baffled manager, and the rest of us are meant to take notice of the commotion they’ve created.  Others slip in quietly:  They tread their ground with no presumption; and I would like to think they spend their days causing the least amount of damage, in the world.

Local young couples come in here, to play out yet another day in the perseverance of their love.  It’s them against the harsh world — together.  Them — against us!  And I don’t blame them:  Togetherness — is hard enough.  So, I watch them seeking refuge in each other’s company, because they still haven’t lost their love’s ability to hear — to receive each other — completely.  They still haven’t taken the privilege of their intimacy for granted.  Lucky kids!

Other times, this is the place for friends:  buds and girlfriends, best friends.  And they vent to each other about the little injustices in their relationships and lives; and expect alliances from the people at the other end of the table.

But she always comes in here alone, right around the same time. It is her voice that I hear first:  It sounds like baby-talk that comes from a child who’s having a hard time growing up.  I’ve often heard that voice from children with newly born siblings.  They aren’t ready to share their parents’ love yet, and they still cannot comprehend where their self-importance has gone.  So, they regress, even if only in their voices.  And that’s exactly how she sounds.

Her clothes are simple, most likely begotten from a thrift store:  A pair of loose jeans of no particular label and a long-sleeved crew neck sweater of pastel color.  She wears thick, beige socks around her perpetually swollen ankles and a pair of nursing shoes.  It’s not that she appears poor, just not well-off.  And for that, the rest of the joint finds her at fault.

Or maybe, it’s her face:  Something is not right with it.  Her brown skin is deeply lined, although there is an overall puffiness on her cheekbones, forehead and neck; and under her eyes.  The distance between her ears and chin has collapsed due to her absent teeth; so, she protrudes the lower jaw and smacks her lips a lot.  The eyes are bulging and big, striking in the lightness of their hazel color.  They make you lower your own gaze when confronted with hers.  They are fully present, no matter how far and how long her mind appears to have been gone, by now.

“Can I sit here?” she’ll say, in that baby voice, asking for a group of girlfriends to move their purses from the chairs at the table she prefers.

That table is the worst!  It’s right by the door, in the outer row, with the draft hitting her from both the outside and the overhead vents.  When sitting there, there is no way she wouldn’t get in the way of people, coming over for their refills of coffee and water; and I’ve seen a few act discombobulated by her positioning.  But she is sitting right by the door, as if already apologizing for not fitting in here. And before we notice — she will be gone.

The girls always act rushed when they move their bags, and they get uncomfortably silent once she finally sits down.

“Can I have some ice for my drink?” she’ll ask the Mexican fry cook, from behind the glass counter.

It’ll take a few tries to notice her:  She is tiny, plus, she’s got that baby voice on her.  And sometimes, if the kid at the fry station is new, he cannot understand her while he studies her face with embarrassment.

And I suspect it is her face:  We all get stuck on it a little.  Something is not right — with her face.

She’ll then sit down quietly and eat her meal so methodically she betrays her lack of family and money.  Only the people that have known poverty eat like that.  And I wish to apologize to her — for all of that pain and injustice; and for the shunned reactions of others.  They think if something isn’t right with her face — something must be not right with her.

But her only fault, really — is the lack of beauty.  She is not exotic, as retired youth has a chance to become.  Neither is she dignified from the excess of money to take care of herself.  She is simple, plain and just a little strange.

She comes and leaves alone; and while completely alone, she starts and finishes her meal.

One of these days, I shall strike up a conversation with her (but only if she’s willing to let go of her loneliness), and we’ll share a meal.  And we may even share a silence.

Because she always comes in here, right around this time, alone; which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me.

“And It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard: And It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall!”

It was her first fall in LA-LA.

“What is — this place, out here?” she thought, when she noticed that beauty wasn’t throwing itself, suicidally, into her face.  Or, humanity, for that matter.

“May I, at least, have some humanity, around here?”

On those first mornings when she woke up in soaked sheets, she would slide open the windows to air-out her bedroom.  But it made no difference.  The heat would keep hanging at the ceiling of her top floor apartment — much more spacious than the one she dwelled in, back in New York.  And by the end of the day, its molecules smelled of smog — and of her own sweat.

And the sweat was different here, too.  In the heat of August that made New Yorkers flee the City, she loved to venture out into the streets, still just as crowded, but mostly with baffled tourists — not locals — who would jump out of her way, startled by her outraged footsteps.  She would walk around for hours, feeling the unmistakable humidity that made the City smell like rotten garbage and, yes, human sweat.  And while she stood on subway platforms, she could feel the drops of her own perspiration slide slowly from her ass cheeks to the back of her knees, under her long skirts.  She felt the whiff of sex, hers and others’:  And it promised — more life.

There seemed to be some unexpected romance in those days:  For the first time, she finally felt like she was belonging.  But how could she belong in a place she was leaving, so soon?

The one-way ticket already had been bought by her mother, who upon hearing the news of the divorce, put away her dramatics and got stoic, for a change:

“You’re coming to California,” motha said over the phone.

“You make me sound like a folk song,” she thought, in response.  Yet, she obeyed. 

It was the wisdom of the women of her motha’s clan — to never plead or grovel for a man to change his mind.

She was going to California.

There would be plenty of chaos upon her landing:  Finding an apartment seemed easier; for there always seemed to be plenty of departing who packed up their shit into double-parked U-Halls, sweating and swearing at the city’s expense.  But the city’s leasers seemed indecisive and slow.

“Everyone keeps acting as if they’ve got better choices, out here,” she told her best friend in New York.  “Or, they just namedrop.”

Like the little man with glistening eyes who, despite being bound to a wheel-chair, managed to lurk over her when interviewing her for a roommate position.  On his living-room wall, she could see a framed, autographed poster of a recently released indie flick that was pretty well reviewed in The Times, that summer.

“I produced that,” the little man said, reminding her of one those exotic birds on the Discovery Channel that puff themselves up into alien shapes — just to get some tail.  From under the smeared lenses of his glasses, his narrow eyes were sliding up and down her body.  His face was glistening with sweat.  She got up, feeling like she needed a shower at the closest motel she could find, on Sunset Boulevard.

“Well, what do you think?” the little man wheeled after her, to the door, lurking.  “I could make you a star!”

She walked out.

“Really?” her best friend said calmly.  “Do they actually say things like that, out there?”

And then, there was the job search, in which every lobby looked like a waiting room for an audition or a cattle call.  And no one else seemed to be breaking a sweat, after driving in the apocalyptic-degree heat.

“We aren’t making any decisions right now,” the interviewers kept saying.  “But we’ll keep your resume on file.”

“Then, why did you waste my time?” she actually said to a group of young entrepreneurs who looked like the cast of Entourage and, after sliding their eyes up and down her body, asked her to tell them “something they couldn’t have known — by looking at her”.  (She told them she was good at harakiri.)

She walked out, got back into her car and wasted more time.  The heat outside was still insatiable!  And in the midst of it, everyone was always up for a hike.  Or “a coffee date, sometime”.

The rain would finally come by the end of October.  And it wouldn’t stop.

The roads would get shiny at first, and for the first time, since landing, she would smell the nearing of another season — not of her own sweat.  The nights would get cold, and she would insist on walking, to any outside cafe, on Sunset Boulevard, and getting soaked. It was the first time she would cry the tears worthy of the women of her motha’s clan:  They weren’t filled with self-pity anymore, but with rage.  And rage — was always better, for survival.

 

Finally, there would be a callback for a maitre d’ position at some pretentious overpriced restaurant, on the West Side, with a diva-chef in the kitchen.  She would swim in her motha’s decade-old clunker to other side of the city.  Driving in the middle lane seemed safer, but some maniac in a German car would always honk and zoom past her, on the right, and give her car a full rinse with the filthy water from the gutters.

“You’re terribly overqualified,” the general manager with a bulldog’s jaw would tell her, at the end, after the two-hour drive.

She got up and tried to make it to the door without breaking down into another outraged tear shed.  Her scuffed shoes made a chomping sound:  Her feet were soaked.  So was her hair.

He would follow her, to the door:

“We’ll keep your resume on file though,” he’d say.

“Please, don’t!” she actually said.

Because it was the wisdom of the women of her motha’s clan to never plead for a man to change his mind.

She walked out.

“What the World. Needs Now. Is…”

Doing 80 on the 405, at midnight.

The Valley is glistening behind me, at a safe enough distance:  It’s pretty, like a flat lake with reflecting stars.  Kinda like in the old country.  So, naturally:  I prefer not finding myself on that side of the hill.

The Mulholland Drive Bridge ahead is a mess.  Even in the dark, the demolition site looms like a war zone — or a film set for yet another apocalyptic flick, gratuitous with violence.  What it doesn’t resemble, though, is the hopeful vision by LA-LA’s officials that it’s meant to be:  For the sake of easing our commute.  Oh, but how many delays this vision has cost us already!  And how many more to come!  (Thanks for looking out there!)

But at least, at nighttime, it’s safe to roll down the windows:  The dust of the daytime construction has long settled.

And at midnight — we are all moving.  We are trying speeds otherwise impossible, in the daytime.

Yes.  We’re moving.  We’re going.

Ow!  But not so fast!  Nearing Sunset, several pairs of standing construction lights give warnings of another mess ahead.  I’m in the right lane, at this point, mostly out of habit:  On this stretch of the road, I prefer sacrificing a few numbers on my speed dial in the name of changing my mind — and getting the fuck off this fucking freeway, at the very next exit!  Here:  I prefer to have a choice.  So, at least until Wilshire West, I hang to the right.  And I slow down.

The truck next to me seems to be having troubles staying in his lane.  Its aluminum trailer with no written indications of its product, origin or destination, keeps swaying across the neon line and into my lane.  I swear at him, back up and loom just a few meters behind — and to the most right.  As soon as this curve in the road straightens out, I’m thinking, I’ll zoom past the wheeled monster whose driver must be delirious with the lack of sleep.  Because I keep thinking:  Only the most hardened of us take on these jobs.  And in their own way — they are the most heroic.

For nearly a mile, I hang back;  and when I finally pass him, I watch myself skip a few breaths at the sensation of being way too close to the concrete freeway divider, to my right.  But, oh, how trilling it is — to be moving again!

Ow!  But not so fast!  Soon enough, I notice a yellow construction tank leading the traffic in the left lane.

“What the hell are these things called anyway?” I think of the clunky machinery of that exhausted yellow color, the sight of which on any road in LA-LA usually means bad news:  Closed lanes, “Road Work Ahead”; indifferent construction workers, dust clouds; and a cop car with a bored rookie.

And the crawl!  Alas, the crawl of traffic!  The crawl of time, in LA-LA!

“Fuck it!” I think.  “I’ll just call it ‘a tank’.”  And this tank is crawling in the left lane, with a flashing yellow arrow threatening us into yielding.

But still:  We are all moving, at midnight!  We’re going!

Yes!

The road narrows.  We’ve long passed Mulholland.  And I can no longer see the glistening Valley behind me.  It’s kinda like the old country, but slightly more brutal — in the daytime.  So, naturally:  I prefer not finding myself, on that side of the hill.

“What could they be possibly constructing at this hour of the night?!” I think.

By now, I’m balancing somewhere in between 60 and 70, but still:  I’m moving!  We — are moving.

I’m feeling overwhelmingly grateful.  And there is no cure for that.

I’m heading home.

It’s been a long day.  I’ve hustled, I’ve freelanced.  I’ve driven all over this city.  I’ve crawled in its traffic, chalking up the wasted time — to an investment in my dreams.  And when most civilians have called it a day and taken their place in the crawling drudgery of the 405, heading home, I’ve left to spend my night in the company of artists.  For hours, we’ve played, tonight; and we’ve cried.

And we’ve felt ourselves moving.  Yes:  We’ve found ourselves living!

So, yes:  I’m feeling overwhelmingly grateful.  And there is no cure for that.

By now, I’m doing 80 on the 405, at midnight.

Heading home.

I get off a few exits before mine.  Thinking:  I’m gonna cook at home.

Yes!

Ow!  But now so fast!  The roads are ridiculous, here:  empty at this hour, but always bumpy.  I start speeding again.  I’m alone, with an exception of other adrenaline addicts, in their German cars.  I’m sure they too have had to hustle, today.  But now:  They are moving.

We — are moving.

The autumnal selection of vegetables at the market snaps me into yet another degree of inspiration:  It’s gonna be one of those creamy, hearty soups that can heal a soul, or a broken heart — or to bring back my love.  To bring him back home.  The day is long gone, but I’m still feeling overwhelmingly grateful.  So, I’ll just carry it into the next day.

I load up my car.  Speed home.  Start up the chopping, the sizzling, the simmering.  I substitute.  I improvise.  I think of my love.  I think — of my loves, from earlier in the day.

And for the first time, I slow down.  Because it’s already the very next day.  And even though, I’ve carried my gratitude into it, I’d much rather start it up slowly.

I’m moving, slowly.  And I’m living, well.

Well:  I’m living!