Tag Archives: Manhattan

“It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop — ‘Til You Wise Up.”

They said their goodbyes over two cups of soup, in a narrow joint with floors filthy from the slush just outside the door.  Instead of a doormat, the management had placed down sheets of cardboard.  Not a pretty picture, but it was all somehow very… New York.

And the lines of their dialogue did not resemble any tragic love affair from the best of the world’s cinema.  He was civil but not tender, just maintaining a casual conversation.  It had been a chronic anxiety, for her, when others relied on the arrival of tomorrow.  Since childhood, she was silly with her goodbyes, always making room for them.  Just like she did that day:  Insisting on sitting down for it, instead of aimlessly walking through the City that had seen way too many unhappy endings prior to theirs.

She had made a mistake of ordering something that sounded the most exotic, with yellow curry; but then she discovered ground chicken in it.  She was a vegetarian.  To save herself from the embarrassment — in front of him and the tired black woman working the line alone, during the rush of lunch hour — she pretended to eat around the white meat.  Until he noticed it.

“You’ve gotta order something else!” he scoffed; and for the duration of their entire pathetic meal, which they’ve spent fully clothed, in their coats and he — in his hat, her mistake would be enough of a diversion from what was actually happening:  He was leaving, like so many before him; looking for a graceful exit that no longer existed due to his cowardly procrastination.

“Oh, c’mon!” he kept trying to make her the pun of the joke.  “You can’t just eat around the meat!  You can’t keep doing… this thing that you do!”

Bingo!

A few months into the affair, he had begun reminding her of someone else.  That day — on the repeatedly reiterated subject that suddenly so obviously annoyed him — she finally tracked it down:  Someone else had happened to her, in this same City, nearly a decade ago.  Someone else who had no intention of sticking around; who often got shamed of her in public — and in front off much chicer dressed young women, with whom he had to think he had a chance.  Someone else who had hidden her from his family and friends, who pleaded for only private getaways; who gave her slivers of his time — if any — during the holidays.  Someone else who’d made a good use of her youth and sex, but had no courage to end it.

Even back then, in her much younger — less jaded, more innocent — self, she felt something was akimbo.  Not right.  The intuition kept scratching on the ventricles of her heart.  In those days, she wouldn’t call it that:  Intuition.  Not yet.  She needed a few more disastrous repetitions and embarrassing endings — to become more in tune with her self-respect.  But the sensation was already there:  Something wasn’t right.  By the universality of her gender, she knew:  Not right.

Now, a decade older, she still couldn’t name it:  that feeling of not being enough.  Too poor, too orphaned; with not enough stock or family inheritance to her name.  Pretty enough and selfless in bed — that was the only thing that made them last.  But the awareness of that same feeling was beginning to land in the corners of her eyes with a melancholic recognition of the pattern:  He — was leaving.  Maybe not that day, and maybe not even after they would reunite at home, on the other coast.  But eventually.

This trip had to end abruptly for him.  He had to go.  Maybe it could last a little longer:  She could walk him to his town car.  They could grab another drink at their hotel’s bar.  But he would finish his cup of soup — and hers, with the chicken — then hug her outside the door, in the snow, among the locals who, just like their City, had grown indifferent to the sight of all endings.  He would be clumsy, as that earlier someone else, trying to avoid meeting her eyes.  Their height difference made it impossible though, so he would scurry off as soon as he couldn’t help but notice her face:  Heartbroken.

“That’s right, fucker!” she thought of him meanly for the first time.  “You will NEVER forget me!”

What else could she do to repair herself, in that moment — but to gloat in the peacefulness of her lack of guilt?  She had been good, to this someone and the other one.  To so many others, she had been good, or generous at least.  It could’ve all been simplified in their honest communication of intentions.  Instead, they had chosen to drag her along, while offering just enough attention but never too much of it.  They procrastinated past the moment when she would fall in love; they scurry off into the landscapes of her Cities.

And the bloody New York — was still there.  Like a background action shot, fabricated meticulously by a film crew, it continued to happen:  with the never ending honking of cabs and beeping of closing and opening bus doors; with people coming and going — toward their dreams, careers and sex; or running away from love.  Nowhere else did it smell or sound like this.  And even with the strange sensation of something ending — something snapping and curling up to catch a breath — she knew she was still glorious:  Because she loved it — all of it — so much!

“Never, never, never!  You will NEVER forget me!” the City was humming along with her.  And she didn’t even care about the already vague memory of someone leaving her behind, in it.

“If I Can Make It There, I’ll Make It — Anywhere!”

As far as I felt, I was still a fucking nobody:  commuting to my graduate classes six out of seven days a week, on a 45-minute subway ride from the Bronx.

Sure, as any not-too-lame looking chick, I tried to upgrade my style with an occasional ten-dollar purchase from the H&M on Broadway and 34th.  And I had even managed to go out with a few finance guys from Wall Street and realized they were no more sophisticated than my 20-year-old ass.  But despite my now impressive expertise of the Island’s neighborhoods and demographics, my favorite shops to browse and windows to shop (only the ones where I was least harassed by salesgirls) — I was hardly a New Yorker yet.

Shit!  I didn’t even know any good places to eat!  Despite the 50/50 scholarship, the pleasure of having a graduate degree — forty five grand later — was leaving my ass seriously broke.  For one, I could never join my classmates to their lunch outings.  And because of my immigrant pride, when shooting down their invites, I would give them reasons related to my studious nature (and not because I was eating beans out of a can, in an unheated basement apartment, every night).  So, for the entire twelve hour day spent on the Island, in between classes, I would have to last on a pitiful, homemade sandwich made out of a single slice of pumpernickel bread and a veggie burger, glued together with a thin spread of margarine and then cut in half.  The meal was so embarrassing, I would do my best to chomp it down alone, in the staircase of a school wing unlikely to be visited by my classmates; or, if I was getting the shakes — inside a bathroom stall.

And this was with my two shitty, part-time jobs accounted for!

And because my education was costing me an arm and a leg — and possibly my sanity and longevity, in the end — boy! did I look forward to the end of every semester.  Most of my colleagues would leave for their wholesome looking families — in Connecticut or wherever else purebred Americans had their happy childhoods — and there, I imagined, they sat around on their white-fenced porches and threw tennis balls for their pedigree golden retrievers to fetch.  For Christmas, they retold their tales of crazy, filthy, overcrowded Manhattan while clutching giant cups of hot cocoa and apple sider in front of electric fireplaces, and waiting for the contributions of cash.  In the summer, they’d allow their parents to pay their airfare for the pleasure of their company in the Caribbean or the Riviera.

I, on the other hand, would remain stuck in the Bronx.

(Well.  It was either that, or going to visit my obese stepfather and endure his interrogations about what I was planning to do with my art school education, for which he was NOT paying.)

So, for the last two years of grad school, I stuck around on the Island.  And whatever happy lives my classmates were deservingly pursuing elsewhere, I still thought I had it the best:  I was free and young, in New York Fuckin’ City!   Unthought of, for my long removed Russian family!

In those days, it was between me and the Island.  Just the two of us.  Finally, I would have the time and discipline to follow the schedule of free admission nights to all Manhattan museums.  With no shame, I would join the other tourists waiting for discounted Broadway tickets at the Ticketmaster booth in Times Square.  In the summer, I would gladly camp out in Central Park over night, so that I could get a glimpse of some Hollywood star giving Shakespeare a shot at the Delacorte.  I read — any bloody book I wanted! — at the Central Branch, then blacken my fingers with the latest issue of Village Voice, while nearly straddling one of the lions up front.  And in between my still happening shitty jobs, I would work on my tan on the Sheep Meadow; then peel on my uniform  (still reeking of the previous night’s baskets of fries) and return for my graveyard shift in the Bronx.

Yes, it was MY time:  to be young and oblivious to the hedonistic comforts of life.  I was in the midst of a giant adventure — that forty five grand could buy me — and outside of my curiosity, all the other pleasures of life could wait.

“Now, what are you planning to do with your art school education, hon?” one of my former undergrad professors asked me during an impromptu date.

Snide!  Ever so snide, he had a talent for making you feel not up to par — ever!  If he were to try that on me today, I would flaunt my post-therapy terminology on boundaries and self-esteem.  But back then, I was eating lunches inside the bathroom stalls of my Theatre Arts Building and wearing a button name tag for work, at nighttime.  So, I would endure the condescending interrogations over a cup of some bullshit organic soup he’d insist I ordered — and for which I would pray he would offer to pay later, as well.

“Well.  I guess you could always teach,” he’d say while packing up to leave for his rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side.  (Whom did he have to fuck in order to live there for the last two decades?)

He had a point though:  New York didn’t need another girl with her romantic dreams of love and starlet success.  New York — could do just fine without me.

But still:  It was MY time!  MY youth in the city!  His — was long gone, and I supposed it was reason enough to despise me.

But how ever unrealistic were my pursuits — and how ever hard was the survival — I still had plenty of curiosity in me to give it all a fair try.

“I Change Shapes Just to Hide in This Place. But I’m Still, I’m Still — an Animal.”

I would have much rather gone out for a walk.  But stubbornly, yesterday, I began to run.

I ran mostly out of habit, and because I was running out of time.  But even as I changed my stride, from one block to the next, I still thought:

“I think I’d much rather be walking, right now.”

It had always been my thing:  to run.  In junior high, I’d run long distances.  I never thought of myself as being good at it.  It was just something that came easy.  And it happened way before I knew about meditation or understood transcendence of the mind.  To me, it simply granted the easiest excuse to be alone and not talking.  Just breathing and placing down my feet.  My breath would change throughout the course, and so would the stride.

Sometimes, I’d stare at the ground:  The soggy fields of Russia, and the uneven asphalt of Eastern Germany.  I’d study the way the surface would respond to the impact of my feet.  We had no knowledge of American footwear back then, so the cloth running shoes with thin rubber soles were the only type we knew.  And even as the surfaces would change — as I would change my continents — the thin-soled shoes remained my favorite choice:  In the gravelly passages of Central Park, and the dusty hills of Southern California.  

Other times, I would look ahead.  It was best to do so on an open track.  I wouldn’t strain my eyes for a strip of color marking the end of the course.  Instead, I would let my vision get blurry, and I would study the blending of objects in the endlessness of what’s ahead.  Things didn’t matter.  People would be accidental.  So, I would find the empty spaces of air ahead, and look at those.  That’s why running in the fall of Russia’s coastal cities had always been the easiest.  The fog already blurred my vision, and all I would feel was — the change in breath and stride.

I don’t remember being tired, as a kid; and not until the first menstrual cycles of my classmates, did I begin to overhear excuses for not running.  My thin, balletic body was one of the last to be introduced to its new function that made my female contemporaries embarrassed and secretive among each other.  But even when it happened to me, I kept up with my running.  On bleeding days, I would wear longer sweaters and tighter underwear; but the slow, moaning ache in my lower stomach would not matter.  It would change my stride a little:  I would prefer to run lighter then, as if doing a chasse step across a dance floor.  I’d land on my toes, as I would when leaping over strewn blankets on a lake’s bank in my grandma’s village in the Far East, while I myself dashed for the water:  to join other sunbathing kids and to avoid my motha’s strict instructions to put on sunblock.  (But secretly, I hoped that my silly chasse step would make her laugh and shake her head, with bangs getting into her glistening eyes.)

The days of tiredness that would seduce me out of running would happen much, much later.  They would happen in the late mornings of waking after a graveyard shift at a Westchester diner.  A pair of ugly nursing shoes with sole support and splatters of dried foods would be the only visual reminder of the night before.  And the heavy lead-like weight of my calves would talk me out of running.

“Who’s up for a walk?” I’d holler down the hallway with three other doors.

And if the bathroom at the end of it was free, I’d forget about the lead-filled feeling in my calves and make a run for it, while pounding my heels into the carpeted floor.

Much later in my running history, I would begin to study people.  It had to happen in California where exercise is fashion; and depending on one’s routine, we all belong to little clans.  When running with others, it would propel me, out of competition, anger or inspiration.  Sometimes, I’d follow their footsteps like a shadow of compassion:  The sweaty faces of lonesome hikers in the Hollywood Hills, or the bright eyes of those rad people of San Francisco who’d made a life out of NOT giving up.

When running stubbornly, yesterday, I thought of the history of my strides; and then, began trying them on.  At first, I ran tiredly, as if I was back to working my way through college, in Westchester, New York.  Then, I began to push, hitting the ground with my heel (so unhealthy!) — out of anger and never wanting to give up.  The chasse step would eventually take over, and the lightness of it spread up my body, up to my lungs and face.

That’s when I saw him:  A headless man walking slowly ahead.  At first, I thought he may have dropped something to the ground and was now retracing his steps.  But as he continued slowly placing his feet onto the smooth pavement of the quiet neighborhood, I realized he was a victim of arthritis, age, and most likely incredible loss.  He was hunched over so low, I could not see his head, as I ran up on him, from behind.  I slowed down and began following his footsteps.

A pair of khaki shorts revealed his thin, brown legs, covered with sores and age spots.  His shoes were worn out and the thick white socks were pulled halfway up his calves.  I studied his stride:  He dragged each foot ahead, then struggled to gain balance.  Then, repeat.  Stubbornly.

He would much rather have been walking, yesterday, alone and not talking.  I shook off the idea of offering help (this was the time when charity would have been offensive); passed him quietly, and began to run.

Stubbornly.

“There Is a Girl in New York City Who Calls Herself: ‘The Human Trampoline’.”

She was sitting on the edge of her barstool, with her bright red hair cascading over a tea-light candle, on the bar:  Dangerous.  

How many poets, I wondered, had lost their minds to a red-haired woman before?

Never a barfly — always a butterfly — she knew how to balance her glorious womanly behind on the edge of the shiny, brown leather-bound seat.  No way she’d fall off — from her dignity!  Her back had learned the perfect arching, the angles of which made it irresistible to the gaze.  Or to the camera.

It’s a fascinating skill that came with the habit of being looked at.  I knew that:  Beauty and sex were prone to that habit the most.  

Perhaps, most civilians couldn’t even pinpoint the hair-thin boundary between the real girl and the red-haired fantasy.  Most civilians just found themselves dumbfounded, with her.

But I knew:  I knew the game.  I used to play it all the time myself, before I got way too tired to keep up with the nuances.  Beauty was insatiable:  It demanded constant maintenance.  And for a while, I began relying mostly on sex.

But then, I got tired of that too, and I settled for truth.  Truth — all the time.  

Besides, sex was always much easier, for a woman.  And in my bedroom, I would keep all the lights blazing:

Fuck it:  Truth — all the time!

And if you don’t like it — LEAVE!

We had entered the bar together, that night.  Earlier, she had taken me all over the City:  Her New York.  She hailed all the cabs herself with the flip of that magnificent red-haired cascade.  And the green vintage coat off the rack of Marilyn Monroe or Betty Davis was flung unbuttoned, at all times.

“Boo.  Put yo’ hat on!  It’s fuckin’ freezing, out here!” I scolded her, always a few steps behind.

I was entering my own age of self-awareness:  and my most self-aware self, as I discovered, would be maternal.  And true. 

True — all the time.   

But she would just clap her fluffy cashmere mittens in response, and redistribute her lipgloss by smacking her lips.  The hair would be flipped again; and as soon as she baited some unknowing cabbie and we’d slide inside, onto the shiny, black-leather bound seats — the mane would be tamed into a low bun:  Show over, buddy!  

Her New York was very different from mine.  She lived on the island, I — right over the bridge.  She cabbed her way all over the place.  I braved the subways, studying rats playing house in the garbage on its tracks.  And when it would get unbearable, I’d come up for some air, in Harlem, and unbutton my jacket:  Ay, mami!

She made her living by mixology behind the bar, similar to the one we were now flocking:  with her low-cut blouses and perfect lighting hitting the hemispheres of her breasts.  Businessmen, cheating spouses conferencing in New York and horny boys from NYU would claim to be her regulars alike; and they would study their fantasy, while playing with the labels of their beer bottles and the hot wax of tea-lights on the bar.  From behind the rims of their rock glasses, they would gather their courage to start up a conversation.  And their drool would backwash onto the ice inside — if ever she paid any attention to them.

She didn’t have to, though.  That’s the thing about bartenders:  They aren’t at the mercy of our egos, for their income.  It was all up to her:  When to lean in, while arching her back.  When to cascade the hair, when to pull it back into a bun.  And when to tell them — TO LEAVE!

While I settled for bargains, she knew the importance of well-made things.  But for the first time in my most self-aware self, I was willing to learn.  I was open — to changing my mind. 

It was about dignity, I was beginning to suspect, despite my artistic premonition about some artsy suffering in deprivation.

“It’s crucial, for an artist, to be proud,” she said earlier.

Street lights were about to take over from the sun, as she strutted in her high-heeled boots through the shadows of concrete high-rises in Chelsea and red brick oldies in the Village.  I followed her, in jeans and flats, with the rest of my life packed inside a mighty Mary Poppins’ shoulder bag.

We were both competent, in our own way.  But she could survive on her credit card alone (although a girl like that never paid for her own drinks).  And I was spending my youth in a perpetual state of readiness for a take-off.

Our bartender that night would be a model by day.  Or an actor.  (I wasn’t really paying attention.)  To me, he was bitchy right off the bat.  With my girl — he was debonair.  We hadn’t been at the bar for half an hour, yet he had refilled my girl’s glass at least three times.  The petals of her lipgloss had circumvented the thin rim entirely by then, but the only sign of her tipsiness was in the pout of her lower lip.

Despite being seasoned by New York already, he could not have foreseen his purpose that night:  He was supposed to comp our drinks.

Which he did — in exchange for her number written on a bev nap and held in place by a tea-light candle.  He would even hail us a cab.

Inside, on a shiny, black leather-bound seat, she shook off the snowflakes from her red hair and smacked her lips.

“That number is fake, right?” I asked.

“No,” she answered.  “I would never do that, to a man.”

She gave the cabbie her intersection.  We were silent.

“But he’ll have one hell of a time — chatting up my shrink at Bellevue,” she smacked her lips again and pulled her hair into a low bun.

Show over, buddy!  

Back to truth.

“I’m Coming Home, I’m Coming Home. Tell the World: I’m Coming Home.”

“Why don’t you live in San Francisco?” he asked me yesternight, in awe at my mismatch to this other city, where both of us were currently living.

He had done that before, this measuring me against a city — any city.  It used to be Boston.  Or anywhere else, really, on the East Coast or by the Black Sea.  Anywhere but this other city, where both of us were currently living.

“You’re just so displaced here.”  And yes, he had said that before as well:  judging me as if I were a story he was thinking of rewriting.  “So… Why don’t you?!”

“Because angels still claim to live around HERE,” I brushed him off, back then and yesternight.  That too I had done before, always with a deprecating tone, mostly at my own expense.

“It’s like London — on crack, up there!  It’s perfect!” he carried on.  Youth.

Easily impressionable regardless his worldliness, my wondrous child had just returned from that tilted situation up north, where I tend to run away whenever in dire need to reboot.

My New Yorkers hate on it though:

“San Francisco?  Pah-lease!  It’s no better than New York!  Come home!”

They’re right:  There is nothing like that island of my youth.  Nothing in the world!  There is no stranger nonsense, no meaner beauty; no humanity more brutal or heartbreaking.

But New York can carry on without me:  She is a stunner used to runway heels and bouquets catapulted to her feet from great distances — all for the sake of her fleeting love.  She wears bras adorned with gemstones; lacy slips for midnight strolls, and nothing but pearls for when she soaks her tired feet in her bathtub.

And yes, we had our fun, She and I.  But it’s my life’s religion to never compete with another woman.  So:  I had let her win.  I had let her have it.  And I had left her, for this other city where angels still claim to take residence.

But yesternight, my wondrous child was getting carried away: “No wonder they call it ‘The City’!”

I love it when he gets like this:  when he stops shielding himself with his strained compassion, or with his habit to disarm me with praise.  And only after all that fuss does he step into himself a little better.  I keep convincing him that in his wondrous child-like-ness, he is — the most beautiful.  But then, how else is he going to learn to be a man unless he tries on his manhood as if it were a collection of dapper hats on a rack in the corner of some vintage shop, somewhere in a city very much like San Francisco?

“They call it ‘The City’ to set an example:  THAT’S how one does a city!” he was so excited, my wondrous child.  “It’s an etalon, yes?”

Ah, youth.

The last time, I ventured up to “The City,” I had made plans to meet up there with a companion.  It had been his idea, way back when.  It had to be, for I am too selfish about that tilted situation up north; too selfish to share it.  Because I go up there to reboot, to run away:  So, it’s my thing, you see?  It’s my secret place.  My secrets’ place:  It’s a place that keeps my secrets, my heartbreaks, my cravings for change — safe.

My intuition was right:  Sharing it — would turn out to be a silly idea.  For my companion and me, it would be the last stretch of bliss because something would get tilted off its axis soon thereafter — soon after that tilted situation up north — and I would be left dashing in between our memories as something to either regret or to hold onto; to store away into forgetfulness or to let go.  (Oh, I wished he hadn’t marked my city.)

But “The City” would keep my new secrets safe.

“It’s just that there is so much money up there!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again.  “It’s paved — with money.  And everything is so clean, and new, and… well, perfect!”

He had only seen one side of her.  To me, She is a handsome, middle-aged heiress.  Born into privilege, She had made a choice that only the privileged can make:  To fill her life with content, She would dedicate her money to good causes, like compassion and forgiveness and praise.  There would still be plenty of comfort and easy access in her life.  But the uneasiness would go away every time She would give shelter to the broken hearts that, just like me, would run away to her — to reboot.  Some would accept her graces immediately — and stay.  Others would get hooked and continue to come back until going away would make no further sense.

But then again:  She is such a hippie, that one!  Shrouded in earthy smells of mildew and perpetual fog, sweat and essence oils, incense, weed and baker’s yeast, She examines human struggles over tea.  And She smiles with an insight that everything would workout any way.  And She speaks in a husky voice, with a deprecating tone, mostly at her own expense.  Perhaps, it’s because She has keep too many secrets safe, for way too many runaways.  For way too many broken hearts.

She is my city.  My secret place:  She is the city that keeps my secrets — safe.

She is not the city of my youth:  She is the city that won’t tell on my mistakes that I had committed back then, in youth.

She is not the city of my youth, but She is willing to give shelter to my future.

“We should go there, together!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again, yesternight.  “Have you been?”

Hmm.  Youth.

No.  She is NOT the city of my youth.  She is “The City” — of my forgiveness.

“Bottoms Up, Bottoms Up! Up!”

I had a dream about you, baby tall.

Last night, in the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — we stood in between two slow snowfalls; and you were suddenly taken.  It’s the way I had seen too many fall for my city — not your city — when all that grime and mess and neuroses had been covered by the endless, fresh sheets of snow; suddenly making life seem not so hard.  Not so bad.  (It would happen a lot, in my city, unless those in the midst of it had arrived with some stubborn arrogance in tow.  But if they hadn’t made up their mind, most of the time they would fall, for my city.)

In a nook of a miniature park, in the cove between two high-rises, the air was warm, windless:  It was waiting for the next fall.  Generally, it had been true, about my city:  It never failed to give it a rest, but not until one was hopelessly fed up; on the verge of losing one’s mind.  And then the city would let up a little, for long enough to grant a breather.  Just as we were now:

In a nook of a miniature park, you and I — were in the midst of a breather, in between two slow snowfalls.

You always stood so tall:  more of my son than any others that came before you.  Sometimes, I would catch your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something I could not have known.  (A life?  A love?  A dream, a game, a sport.)  You’d see me looking up and you’d wink:  Busted, baby tall.  So very much busted.  I did look up this time, again, but at the heavy clouds patching up the night sky — little foam baths for shiny stars:

“How long is the breather?” I wondered.  “How long can we have, here?”

But you always stood so tall, so there you were:  Right above me, winking.  And suddenly, all that manhood that someone had taught you to put on — the control, the knowledge, the groove I had always secretly worshiped in you — all that fell away.  Two step was all it took for you to make it over to a hilly flowerbed (because you always stood and walked so tall); and before I could say, “Love?” — you were on the ground, awkwardly for your height, but still, very much my son.  Your long limbs began to swing around, as if swimming in a giant pool; and you began to laugh in a way I had never heard, in the midst of our breathers:  abundantly and out of control, as if no damage had ever happened to your child.

“What are you up to, over there?” I asked, chuckling; and I felt my tear ducts kick-in.

“So good!” you answered, “Really:  So good!”  It’s what you’d always say when you wanted my participation.  And back into the giant pool of your laughter you dove in.  Out of control.

It would take my slow descent onto the patch of snow underneath my feet; for I was always older than you, flaunting those years as aging big cats do when teaching their cubs how to hunt.  I was wearing that same black coat from college, but it now sat a couple of sizes too big on my tauter, more disciplined body.  So, it asked for some maneuvering to land onto my back.  I spread the bottom of of the coat like a giant tail and reluctantly began replicating your strange, unlikely behavior.

“Oh,” I said — I finally got it — and looked over at your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something.  “Is baby tall making snow angels?”

“Yep.”

But then, you stopped laughing, back in control — in the knowledge, in the groove of all that manhood someone had taught you to put on.

In the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — I thought:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

It has been my toast to every morning since I’ve learned to wake up without you.  It has become my prayer, my chronic chant as I continue to flaunt my years in front of other cubs that have happened since you.  They can’t hang, can’t groove, can’t hunt; and they definitely don’t know how to follow an older woman’s lead.  And so they leave, soon enough, for younger, simpler loves.  And I don’t even itch with resistance:  I let them go.

“Here is — to NOT happening,” I think.

Sometimes, a love story is not a go-to novel, pregnant with favorite quotations, that rests on a bookshelf dusty everywhere else but in its vicinity.  Sometimes, it’s just a vignette:  a pretty design on the spine of someone’s history.  A short story.  A lovely fable.  A melancholic lullaby.  And so fearful we are, sometimes, of our own mortality — of our irrelevance — so stubbornly arrogant, we leap into a sad habit of making a mess out of our break-ups and departures.  And we just can’t let it go.

But not this time, baby tall.  Not with this aging big cat.  Because you were more of my son than any others that came before you; and because my age had asked me for much slower maneuvering in that tauter, more disciplined body of mine.

So many had come before you, and they had taken so much; I am still surprised at how easily I am ready to love.  But even if they have vanished entirely, after our messy break-ups and departures, I am too wise to dismiss them.  They are still — my lovely fables.  My melancholic lullabies.  And no matter how long the healing, with the next magnificent love, I inevitably have come to know:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

Oh, but it’s a good thing, my baby tall:  to not have happened!  “Really:  So good!”

So, here is — to this breather, in between our falls, in between our dreams.  And yes, here is — to the next magnificent love, or the next vignette.

“Do Your Thing — Like There Ain’t Nothin’ To It!”

“How do you never run out of things to say?”

My comrades ask me that, quite a lot, these days; and most of the time, they follow-up with their ready theories:

“You’re just so disciplined!”

“Maybe this means you’ve found your calling.”

“But you’ve never done anything half-assed-ly!”

And then, the voice of my most beloved soul that has witnessed my hustle from the East Coast, for over a decade, resonated on the phone last night:

V!  You’ve never procrastinated!  Not even in college.”

Damn it!  Well, today, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating, as if I have nothing to say indeed.

It’s an experiment that rings true considering my feet are so swollen from my weekend’s work, they’d look better on a cartoon character (or on the Michelin Man, if he were drawn barefooted).  For the last few morns, it’s been a slow start.  My sleep has been dreamless, so I find no material there.  And once awoken, I’ve been opening my shades to cloudless, clear skies outside.  So, even the weather can’t justify my proneness to heavy pontification today:  Oh, it’s summer alright!  No doubt about it.

As for the little break-up related chaoses of the last two months, they have quietly slipped out.  Finally.  Yes, there had to be a lot of work — and so much agony! — with all that self-searching in the name of growth, and lessons, and my future, better relationship.  (Lord, Shiva!  It was starting to feel so excessive.)  The Zen peeps say all human misery originates from a refusal to recognize the impermanence of things — a refusal to surrender, to let go. 

And if it weren’t for the previous break-up related chaoses, I could’ve carried on like this for years:  with this love, coming and leaving the affair, then cradling my misery as if it were my lovechild.  Holding on.  Refusing to let go.  But no!  Not this time around.  Yes, it took me a while to acknowledge my partner’s decision to quit; but once I heard it:  Oh, it was over alright!  No doubt about it.  (But then again, I hear I’ve never done anything half-assed-ly; and that must include my new ability to let go.  To surrender.)

So, you see:  I have no readily available material this morn.  So, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating!

Here comes — my morning coffee!  It’s the first thing I’ve done every day of my adult life:  Turn on whatever device is going to deliver my wake-up elixir.  It could be preceded by the whistling of a tea kettle or the laboriously percolating of my rusty drip machine; but the smell that follows is enough make me want to start.  Start what?  ANYTHING.

So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out of things to say:  Because despite the losses and the regrets, the suffering and the unpredictable strife ahead — I adore the very act of living? Because I’m not done yet, with any of it:  art, craft; love, worship, discovery; friendship, camaraderie, motherhood?  And because it is a quality of my own motha’s spirit:  to be in awe with every activity, however new or habitual?

Armed with my chipped Starbucks cup containing about a liter of caffeine, I proceed to my laptop.  First stop:  The New York Times.  I roam, I skim through, click away.  I proceed to the NY Region section, linger on this summer’s production of Shakespeare in the Park.  I can already hear it:  The sounds of that City poorly absorbed by the man-made strip of nature running through its middle.  I surrender to the feeling of immediate gratitude:  for having lived in so many places; for having lived so much and so well.  So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out things to say?

The side column is flooded with editorials on this weekend’s Gay Pride Parade.  The photographs of those well lived-in faces — bohemians and lovers, subversives and revolutionaries, and local leaders — they all seem so different this time.  Yes, there is still joy and flamboyancy, and utter emotional freedom.  But I cannot ignore those who are tearful or hysterically relieved.  I roam through the pictures of the same sex couples, some with their children, all looking like they’ve all suddenly learned to let go.  Yep, New York has done it again:  It stepped up to the plate and despite its relatively small territory, it gave its people enough room for their dignity.  Oh, it’s New York alright!  No doubt about it.

I pour myself the second liter of coffee and proceed to my books, spread all over my joint and in different stages of being read, yet equally marked-up.  Here is Junot Diaz, both of his bestsellers on my desk.  Like me, he is bi-cultural; speaks fluently in two languages — and irony.  He is badass, you can tell; has lived a lot, and well; learned some serious letting go.  Zadie is right underneath him, but oh so equal.  She is funny and brown, always good to flip through.  A master of dialects, she is so far ahead of me — so worthy of my worship!  But in our empathy, we are equal.  In my bedroom, I find my favorite Manhattanite, Tony Kushner, and his shit never gets old.  Or maybe, I’m in the mood for some melancholy:  I wander into the living-room and find some Lorrie Moore, on the floor, near the balcony.  I park my coffee, get lost.

And is that it then:  Is that why I never run out things to say?  Because there is still too much to read, to learn; because others have not procrastinated from speaking?  They speak in different voices — some in awe, others in surrender — and in that likeness and difference, I can always find inspiration. 

Or is it because we are all so equal, in our love for the human race?  Because we dwell in the very act of living — anti-procrastinating — none of us running out of things to say? 

Still, you’ve just watched me doing some serious procrastinating.  I did that!  And how did I do?

“You Meet Me Down On: Heartattack and Vine”

This is an ode to you, my Holly:  

You’re looking quite glorious this morning — all decked out in sunlight so bright it appears hazy; with your birds going bonkers in trees, as if they’re still coked-out of their little heads since 2 a.m., once you closed your clubs and bolted shut your dive bars.  And if it weren’t for the frequent sirens (those fuckers woke me up today!), I could pretend I lived somewhere like paradise.  Or the Greek Isles.  But only until I step out — out and into — letting you hit me with your tales of humanity, my Holly, of which you have galore.  

You weren’t so easy to fall in love with, my Holly; and it doesn’t really make me cool to fess up to it. 

It is much cooler to dig New York.  Because New York always treats you like an arrogant lover to whose skills in the sack you find yourself quickly addicted; confusing all that lust, and all those hormones — and its reeking fluids — for love.  But when it doesn’t work out with New York, you are sure to find another brokenhearted with the same addiction.  Then, you can all hang your heads over your drinks at a random dive bar — in Holly — and share your scars.

With you, my Holly, it’s different.  You are much quicker to reveal your armpits and your glitz.  You’re such an exhibitionist!  But it took some serious hanging with you and more patience than I knew to possess to discover the pockets of those tribes and ‘hoods to which I didn’t mind belonging. 

And so:  This is an ode to you, my Holly!

To the jingling sound with which you tickled my ears yesterday, at one of your art spaces.  It was so dainty and arhythmic, I was sure it belonged to a lovely, fragile installation I just had to see.  But when I looked around for the source, I found it on the ankles of a tiny girl-child, in the arms of her Indian mother.  So intensely was my stare, the young mother got startled at first.

“She’s lovely,” I said; nodded and quickly walked on by.

The woman relaxed and smiled.  “It’s alright.  She’s brown.  She’s ‘one of us’,” she must’ve thought, of me.

Oh, Holly! 

It surely helped that you’ve found my skin color so perfectly democratic from the start:   Smoothly, I become “one of them,” “ethnically ambiguous,” or just “not from around here” — depending on whom you ask.  To my comrades visiting from Beverly Hills, I am “sort of white” — but mostly “spiritual”.  Next to a brown man, I am his “hot Brazilian girlfriend”.  But really, it’s the Chicanos and their gorgeous, curvy brown girls that dig me the most:  Somehow, they know I’m not above their strife, not too far off from their survival.  And the further in crawls your long summer — the darker I get — the more I become “one of them”.  And it is just my fucking luck it’s more fashionable to be “exotic” anyway, around here.  Around you, these days.  

A balding, sadly aging museum guard with a blubbery body absorbed me with his wet eyes, yesterday.  No way he could ever afford a girl like me; and if he happened to touch her, she could only tempt him from behind the screen of his computer.  Or from a stripper pole, at a safe distance.  When I looked at him, he freaked, turned away and adjusted his crotch.

“Don’t look now, mister,” I thought at the back of his clammy bald spot, “but you’re standing right in between DIVORCE and REAL HUMAN HAIR.”  (They were signs that some artist found ironic enough to replicate and hang onto the wall that the sadly aging man was guarding — but for not enough money to afford a girl like me.  The irony — worked.)

“She’s brown.  She’s ‘one of them’,” he must’ve thought; and when I granted him the last profile of my face, he turned away and adjusted his crotch — again.

Oh, Holly!

I am anonymous, like the hundreds of your graffiti artists that tag your skin with their marks.  My markings are not as well distributed yet (my publicist sucks!); but I too prefer to blend in, moving in between your demographics, collecting my stories when no one is looking, often in the dark. And once the mission is accomplished, I walk away with enough surrender to not have to sweat about what’s going to happen to my work.  Because, once I’ve found what I dig in life — humanity, of which you, my Holly, have galore! — patience comes as easily as breathing.

I am content with being your next Bukowski, hanging with you long enough to see your other layers (not necessarily pretty or dignified, but always relevant) and drooling at your girls:  Yesterday’s stunning Filipino creature in a tiny, ruffly skirt with strategically placed beauty marks all over her face.  The funky Harajuku girls who stormed past me with their fashions and smells and chatter, making me grin moronically and confusedly.  The African princess on your subway with a wide wrist band of faded gold who played with the ringlets of her hair for the three very short stops.  The young Mexican girl accompanying her awkward, unknowing boy who granted me a tiny nod:

“Aren’t you brown?  You must be ‘one of us’!”

This is an ode to you, my Holly; to your being so many things, depending on where I look, how long I hang, and whom I ask — sort of like me. 

You are sort of like me:  democratic, and anonymous, and not above the strife.  You’re “one of them” when I find you discomforting, “one of us” — when you reveal something I don’t mind poking.  Or jotting down, leaving my mark. 

Strangely, against all fashion, I’m into.  Into you.  I’m into your people.  And as I continue to walk your streets — so strange, worn-out, used-up, repaired; tagged and marked-up; not necessarily pretty or dignified but always poignant — I offer my ode to your humanity, of which, my Holly, you have galore.

And so:  This is an ode to you, my Holly…

“Rum, Bum-Bum-Bum: Man Down!”

She was beautiful as shit, and very well-endowed, in her humanity.  But the one thing that had made me fall for the creature — head first against the tiled floor of an empty pool (SMACK!) — was her ability to always say what she meant and to say it with the precision of a sniper:  (POW!)

There was a gap though — a space where she lingered while choosing her words carefully and squinting her dark African eyes at her speaking opponents.  Half a generation older than me and so many exotic heritages apart, she had patience — in spades.  So, while I would be stepping on toes of the speaker — some over-read academic whose fear of our female flesh would make him work overtime at spewing out big words with which he hoped to dominate and conquer — while I would be wedging in my objections and stuttering with my youthful wrath (and with having so much to prove!), my girl would just hold there.  She would hold her fucking ground, my brothers and sisters — like Joan of Arc before her tribunal — and she wouldn’t fucking move!

It was so bloody impressive — it gave me a hard-on!  It was like watching one of those big cats at their hunting game:  You know better than to intrude, because you suddenly become aware that that cat’s evolution has not been contaminated by a century of junk food, bad decisions and hedonistic behaviors utilized to shut out its guilty conscience.  The cat is on top of its game:  It’s perfectly equipped — on point! — and it never has to work hard at proving jack shit.  And you know, for certain, that when the time is right for that one outrageous pounce — meant to capture, never to just tease — the poor victim won’t have enough time to even utter a prayer.

Well, it was like that, with this girl.  She would watch the poor sucker who overcompensated his boner with words, words, words — BULLSHIT! — and she would seem so chill.  Her glorious brown body appeared perfectly relaxed.  There was no verbal jab in the world that could make her shiver with wrath; no words capable of making her lose her composure; or even shift your weight.  Okay, maybe — may-be! — occasionally she would raise one eyebrow; but even that was barely noticeable.  You had to be in dire love with her to notice that change.  Which I was.   So — I did.

And when she would pounce — OH, LORD JESUS! — it was so much fun to watch!  If the asexual academic had been presumptuous at all about his vocabulary and degrees, the moment my girl unleashed:  She destroyed the fucker.  Because you couldn’t tell by her youthful face, which she insisted on wearing without any make-up, but she’d had years of education and a lifetime of reading to back her up.  She studied language for a living, working as an editor at every publishing house with its focus on radical writers:  female and foreign and black!  (FUCK!)  And just for fun, on weekends, when others got busy shifting around their patio furniture for barbecues in Brooklyn — she wrote poetry.

Some shifted the mundane — she displaced the real.

And she would win.  Always!  Because she wasn’t too hung up on the meaning of words.  Language, to her, was meant to be played with.  Otherwise, it was all dead.  So, true to that same feline fashion of hers, she played a gentle tug o’ war with concepts — tapping them, scratching the surface, or sinking her fangs into their gist — like a bored cat amusing itself with a caught prey before feasting on it.

Don’t get me wrong:  She had her truths.  Better than that:  She WAS all truth!  Love, dignity, sex and ethics — those were non-negotiable.  Not a thing to play with!  But words themselves — those little rodents and birds — were way too much fun to not fuck with.

Back then, I had once confused a man for the love of my life and I worked so hard on earning him.  At first, I tried on my ultra-feminine version:  All high heels, and eye-liner, and ruffled skirts that carefully ended at my knees.  I thought:

“Maybe he would love me more that way!  Maybe if I’d waxed, tamed my eyebrows, painted my nails in pretty pink; if I spoke with Americanized inflections and curtsied when he picked me up at Grand Central.  MAYBE!”

But after a year of still not being enough — of all that uncertainty and self-doubt — I began forgetting that I always hated make-up, especially in pink; and that I treading daintily — just wasn’t my style.  So, I gave myself a boy cut, loaded my closet with flats, white tank tops and tight jeans; and began taking the train into Manhattan thrice a week.

One day, my girl and I had stepped out onto Madison Ave, to do some hunting.  It was one of those spring days that breathed down New Yorkers’ neck with warm air and smells of budding cherry trees — but the sun had yet to come out.  We strutted southbound.  My girl lead the way.  Despite the promise of spring, she had zipped-up her hoody; and not tempted for a second to absorb the one New York season that reminds its natives as to why they choose to suffer there for the rest of the year, she hurriedly strutted to our decided destination.

A Nuevo-Rican  had come from behind us at a pedestrian crossing and studied our asses, in creepy silence; and when he realized my girl was one hot number underneath that zipped-up hoody, he began to whine, nasally:

“Ooh, mami!”

“Fuck you!” my girl shot him down over her shoulder and stepped off the curb, long before the light had changed in our favor.  POW!

Then:

“So, what was your definition of ‘forgiveness’?”  Just like that, she was back to me.  She was back — with me.  MINE!  I’d been out of breath for thirteen blocks by now:  from trying to catch up to her, like that poor Nuevo-Rican doubling over behind us, at the street light.  Not waiting for my answer, she resumed:

“Forgiveness — is like courage:  It is only committed for your own sake.”

“Forgiveness is like courage,” I repeated in a half-whisper, as if asking for her hand in marriage.

“NO!” she threw over her shoulder again, like a fuck-you to those who were unable to catch up.  “Forgiveness IS courage.” 

And off she went:  strutting, leaping, pouncing and leading the way, half a generation ahead of me and through strange, exotic histories in between; running every red light and giving me the most generous go-ahead of my life.

Yesterday… All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away…

Glorious morning to you, my most beautiful creatures.  You hearts beloved by me or someone else, but still:  beloved!  My exploring Doras and Little Princes, who sooner or later have had to grow-up — fall out of love with roses and sheep — but oh how I pray have never grown out of your childlike curiosity.  “You princes of Maine… you kings of New England.”  You bohemians and gypsies whose eyesight has been humbled by the size of the world, but whose souls expanded across the universe.  You decent beings, with daily acts of courageous living:

How I wish for your world to be ever-so kind!  How stubbornly I hope that there is enough love in your lives to give space to your mournings and strife — and to resurrect and heal you at the end, every single time!  As trials and tribulations of humanity affect you via headlines or, more directly, via personal tragedies, I know your souls can summon the grace you didn’t know you possessed — and your hearts can prove to be resilient.  There shall be more forgiveness, if you want it — I promise.  And there shall always be more love!

This morning, I woke up thinking of my goddaughter.  Three time zones away from my spoiling hand (and wallet), she is quickly growing-up on the opposite coast, where over a decade ago, I chose to grow-up myself.  There, at my college, is where I met her mother — my best friend.  My total BFF!  My “dudette” and confidant.  The Sister of My Heart.  The woman of unbeatable grace, and of spirituality so disciplined, I have yet to find someone to measure up to it.  It is her love — and the love of her family — that has replaced this gypsy’s lack of homeland or home.  Seemingly forever — or for as long as my ever lasts on this planet — I shall continue coming back to that love, after every insignificant defeat; and every single of my tiny victories, I shall stubbornly dedicate to her.

Ten years ago, we were inseparable.  Oh how many endless, pontificating walks we taken back then, along the campus of our all-women’s college!  (Yep, I was of those naive feminists back then; and thank Shiva, I haven’t grown out of it!)  And oh how many human emotions we thought we could deconstruct to a complete understanding, while en route to pick-up some Chinese food!  The stories we’ve collected and retold, one brown mouth to another’s brown ear (or pen to paper and fingertips to a key board) — they are infinite!  In a group of fellow writers and nerds, we dominated the office of the college newspaper, staying up past enough sunrises that even the campus security gave-up on hoarding us back to our dorms.  (Oh, we were official!  The Midnight Moths, they called us.  And we demanded to be reckoned with!)

When the academic year of 2001 began, my schedule was overloaded with journalism classes while BFF was quickly becoming a computer wiz.  When the news of a plane crashing into a Manhattan building popped-up in the corner of my computer monitor taken up by a QuarkXpress tutorial, I shrugged it off as just another freak accident which any self-respecting New Yorker should be able to take in stride.  (And that’s exactly what I decided to be then:  A New Yorker –with internships and friendships in the City, and a quickly developing sense of style, identity and womanhood.)

But then — there came another hit…

In that room, chairs were shuffled in panic.  Somewhere, in the back, a classmate broke down.  Recently returned from California, I was wearing too summery of an outfit; and as further headlines floated up onto my computer screen, I fiddled with the belt of my wraparound skirt.  And then, there was the face of my teacher — the mentor to my aspiring journalism career — and that face was paralyzed by a lack of any comprehension or adult composure.  I think she was about to cry.  What was happening? 

No way, was I sticking around!  I was out!  The first to leave the classroom, not at all interested in the consequences, I went looking for my BFF.  If only I could find her, I thought, the world would not dare to fall apart on us.

I found her.  On a staircase where we’ve watched marathons of Will and Grace and Peter Jennnings during our Christmas decorating stunts.  I’m sure she’s seen me demonstrate some very embarrassing, sleep-deprived behaviors on those same stairs.  But that day, my girl just sat there.  Silent.  Stunned, I fiddled with my belt:  In our now decade-long friendship, that morning — would be the only time I would see her cry.  And her face!  It seemed I would never forgive the world for that face!  For not until that day — and not since — have I seen her resemble a little girl.

She is a mother now.  A mother to my goddaughter.  Always inseparable, even in this experience, my girl has granted me the privilege to live vicariously — with her.  And as I watch the face of her daughter (via BFF’s disciplined acts of photojournalism on Facebook), I wonder about the world that she is about to experience.

Thankfully, that kiddo is never easily entertained.  Perpetually, her face looks like that of a philosopher or a writer — and she makes this Russian mama ever so proud!  (I am pretty sure that if ever I am to experience my own motherhood, my child will turn out to be one of those goofy, grinning munchkins — just so that I myself learn to lighten up a bit.)  With my breath stolen by that little brown face, I am waiting for her to start talking.  What will she say?  How will she comprehend the world still filled with misery and misunderstanding which I haven’t been able to fix for her?  Where will I find the wisdom to teach her that despite the daily testaments to some terrible human behavior, she shouldn’t fear — but inherit the life of grace and love from her magnificent mother?  What will happen to us all?  How will I shield her?  How will I endure witnessing the loss of her innocence?…

Oh, hush a bye, my little darling heart!

For love has not expired.  It will never expire — if we choose.  I shall show you what your mama has taught me:  That no matter the acts of disappointing human behavior, love strives — still!  We may be no longer innocent, but hopefully ever-so wise; wise enough to know that love — is the universal homecoming for us all.

So, hush, my little darling.  Hush, my little darlings.  

Hush.