Tag Archives: Moscow

The Times They Were

(Continued from May 13th, 2012.)

Inna woke up to the sound of the television set, located on the other side of her bedroom wall.  It was a common occurrence in their apartment:  everyone’s mandatory obedience to the schedule of her mother’s whimsy.  Sunday mornings of waking up to blasting music, recorded from the previous night’s TV concert, for which Inna was rarely allowed to stay up, were a part of the family’s routine.  Each time, Inna would attempt to ignore the ungodly hour and bury her head under the pillow where she would often find a flashlight and the book that she had been reading, in secret, under the covers, the night before.  There, she would give her interrupted dreams another try.  But knowing her mother to be convinsingly oblivious, soon she would give up on any hope for silence; throw aside the covers in a fit of rebellion, and march into the kitchen, sleepy, grouchy and barefoot.  (To protest mother with her own loud noises was her only resource — NOT that it would be of any success).

Father was often already there, at the wobbly kitchen table, slouching over the Sunday Pravda, with a large cup of black coffee, next to the bowl of white Cuban sugar.

“Well, brown-eyed girl,” he’d greet her with a conspiring grin, sleep crowding the corners of his cornflower-blue eyes.  “Good morning, eh?”

“I’ll say!” she would respond.

Inna couldn’t recall exactly when it began, but a change was happening in her relationship with dad:  a newly found bond, mostly communicated with knowing silences and smiles that betrayed the seriousness of what was actually being said.  In her classes on Soviet literature, a similar smile appeared on the lips of her teacher Tatyana Ilyinitchna, whenever she read out loud the works of Gogol and Evgeny Petrov.  In the previous quarter, they had studied the concepts of satire and irony, adopted by the Soviet writers against censorship.  Inna suspected her teacher’s smile was related to those concepts — and that’s exactly how one was to read such works.  (Although she still, for the life of her, could not understand the difference between a metaphor and a simile.  But that was a whole other matter!)

Recently, she had also begun to notice her parents’ lackluster attempts to hide their arguments from her.  It was as if the two adults had suddenly grown tired, like many others in their town.  And while it appeared that everything else in the country was hurriedly revealing its flip side — scandals competing for the front page news, daily — Inna’s parents had also stopped putting up a front.  These days, father tended to drink more.  Mother bickered, easily irritable; and she eventually maneuvered their every argument to the deficit of money.

Still, father would never criticize his wife in front of Inna.  To the contrary, it was Inna’s mother who took such liberties in their one-on-ones.  And at first, Inna was thrilled:  Was mother also changing, from a strict disciplinarian to her friend and confidant?  But on their rendezvous into the city that summer, she quickly realized that mother’s confessions were a one-way dynamic.  Never was Inna permitted to quote her mother’s list of grievances or to voice her own.  She was there to merely keep her mother company; and it would be in her own best interest to adopt the delicate understanding of exactly when she was her mother’s ear — and when she was quickly demoted back to being her inferior (which quite often, as it turned out, happened in the company of other adults).

But this was a Monday morning.  With father traveling to Baykalsk, Inna was alone in her frustrations.  School would start in a couple of weeks; and she began anticipating the strenuous studies her first year of Junior High had in store.  After all, this was the year that everyone determined a profession and chose their future institutions.  Some boys would choose the army, although military service was no longer mandatory.  Inna, as most adults predicted, was bound for her mother’s job.  Which meant that after this year, she would be headed for the Pedagogical University No. 3.

“This once!  Couldn’t she just let me rest, just this once?!”  To stifle a grunt, Inna ducked under the pillow only to find the second — and the more tedious — tome of Mikhail Sholokhov’s Tikhy Don, which she pushed herself to finish, even if for the sport of being the only student in her class who had read everything on their summer reading list.

Not bothering to change out of her nightgown — “Maybe then she will feel guilty!” — Inna forwent washing up and made her way into the living room, from where the sounds were coming.  She had hoped to make enough noise with her bare feet, as well as the bamboo curtain hanging in her doorway, to let mother know that she was coming.  And:  that she was pissed!

In the living room, she found mother, in nothing but a beige bra and a pair of matching, shape-enhancing bicycle shorts that she would always wear underneath her pencil skirts.  She sat on the couch, nearly slipping off its seat cushion from leaning forward.  Mother’s right hand covered her mouth, as if to stifle any sound of torment.  Her eyes were glued to the TV screen.

On the small, black-and-white montage, Inna saw the footage of Moscow’s White House, flocked by tanks.  Crowds of locals had gathered around.  (Muscovites were always a courageous people!  Some of the best in the nation, Inna thought.  One day!  Oh, but one day, she would find herself among them, living on her own!)

At first, Inna assumed that mother was consumed by a documentary on one of the recent upheavals, of which, since the start of Gorbachev’s perestroika, there had been plenty.  When a newscaster with a knitted brow interrupted the footage, through the bits of fragmented news Inna gathered exactly what she had nearly slept through:  Gorbachev’s heart attack.  Change of leadership.  Moscow in a state of emergency.

It wasn’t the first passing of a leader in Inna’s lifetime, but she was too little to understand the grieving of the nation that followed.  But Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev:  She liked him a lot!  She found him to be one of the more handsome General Secretaries that the Party had ever had; and even though in recent folklore, he was the pun of multiple jokes — for his Ukrainian accent or presumed provinciality — he seemed to be a less mysterious figure, often appearing among crowds, talking to factory workers; and laughing with children, women and American politicians alike.

The newscaster proceeded building sentences that to Inna’s mind, still groggy from sleep, sounded nonsensical:  The roads leading in and out of Moscow appeared to be cut off.  There were reports of downed phone lines.  New leaders were in place.  The news seemed mixed, somehow suggestive; but already it appeared that this was not a typical succession of one leader after the next.

Mother, silent and unaware of Inna, sat still; and Inna knew:  All was quite serious.

“Ma?” she said softly, fearful to approach.  “How long?”  She couldn’t finish her thought.  She found herself unsure on how to act in time of great upheaval.

When mother looked at her, Inna remembered how prettily her eyes appeared in photographs.  In the darkroom that mother always made in their half-bathroom, Inna liked to walk along the shower curtain with drying black-and-white photographs and study the wet images.  Unlike Inna’s eyes — of bluish-gray, as if diluted from her father’s (a metaphor or a simile here?) — her mother’s irises appeared nearly black; mysterious and endless in all photographs.

But father’s eyes!  When on the previous month’s salary, the family purchased a color camera, for the first time Inna would notice just how blue — was their blue.  And often, they appeared illuminated by a stifled smile, as he the shutter caught him in the midst of reading Gogol, out loud.

 

They heard from father on August 22.  By that time, all of mother’s quiet stoicism had long dissipated.  She now wore strictly head-to-toe black attires when out on the town.  She left the apartment every morning, returning with a group of worried-looking girlfriends who served her tea, rummaged through the kitchen drawers, and for some reason always spoke in half-whisper whenever Inna entered.

For several days, Inna had gotten her fill of the news:  Her favorite General Secretary was fine after all, but out of the city on vacation.  She’d also seen reports about a young politician called Boris Yeltsin, who climbed onto the tanks and spoke willingly, from make-shift barricades, to both the Russian people and the press.

When townswomen came to take over the living room, Inna returned to her bedroom.  The women’s eyes on the TV screen, their spoons — in the jars of homemade jam, they whimpered when the news shifted from uncertain to anything poignant or tragic.  Some pecked at Inna’s mother; while others crossed themselves and nibbled on their crumpled, pastel-colored handkerchieves.

Despite avoiding these congregations at all costs, there — into the living room — Inna ran out, when she overheard her mother whaling on the phone, inside her parents’ bedroom:

“Oy!  Sasha!  Sasha!  Sashen’ka!  How scared I was!  How lonely!  What if you’d died!  I’m so scared!”

The other women clumped together in the bedroom doorway, and finding it impossible to get past their motherly behinds, Inna gave up and listened to the bits of news from the other side.

“Oy, Sasha!  I was so worried, I tell you!  I hadn’t slept a wink.”  (When mother’s tenderness surfaced, it wouldn’t last for long:  Impatience always crowded it out.)  “Udmurtya?  Still on the train?”

“Ah!  Glory to God!” the women exclaimed in the doorway.  “He must’ve gotten out of Moscow on time!”

“Oh, yes!  What the Lord giveth!”

“Lord!  Bless this family!”

Inna sized up the wall of motherly behinds again.  Feeling discomforted by the religious proclamations — which weren’t much done around her before — Inna returned to her room.  It was the first time she would notice that she’d run out with book in hand; a pair of her father’s giant earphones, unplugged and dangling around her neck.  (She had been using them to ward off the sounds of the women; their loud passing through the house, none of them offering to take off their heels.)

She looked outside the window.  The town’s cobblestone road glistened from that afternoon’s rain.  Inna remembered when, from the kitchen stove back at her grandmother’s one summer, she witnessed the old woman lower herself onto her knees.  Grandma had come out in a nightgown, in the middle of the night, to fetch herself a glass of water.  Her head, for a change, was barren.  A gray, long braid ran down her spine.  At first, the woman studied the black window with her own ghost-like reflection; and traced the cold glass along her lower jaw.  Before she kneeled, grandmother put down the glass, lifted her nightgown’s hem, and looked over her shoulder.  Inna, in her hiding spot, stopped breathing.

That was the first time Inna ever witnessed prayer.  She now imitated the old woman’s actions, slowly recalling them from memory.  Once kneeling, she felt awkward, silly.  But she forgave the unfamiliarity of the moment and lowered her head.

“… And Our Way Is: On The Road Again.”

Which way?

Northward.  Onward.

I leap up.  I must’ve drifted off.

I’m pretty sure I was just dreaming, redefining my stories in my resting state.  Redefining memories of my family, understanding the departures of those who were supposed to stand in — for my loves.  Remembering, memorizing, redefining my journeys.  Maybe it was a bump in the road or my road partner’s drumming on the steering wheel, but I wake up.

“Ventura?” I recognize it immediately.

He looks at me out of the corner of his eye:  “Yep.”

Seaward.

The Ocean over his shoulder is blending with the sky.  The glorious giant is calm today.  In shallow spots, it shimmers with emeralds.  A single pier jots out.  At the end of it, there sits a seafood joint that emits the smell of overcooked frying oil.  I wonder if it can be smelled under the pier, where flocks of homeless teenagers and aging hippies reconvene before the rain.

There is that white metal bridge of the railroad that runs through the town and always hums throughout the night instead of the roaring Ocean.  I should take a train up here, sometimes, for an adventure.  The traffic of LA has been long surpassed, but the cluster fuck of that two-lane Santa Barbara stretch is coming up, right around the bend.

Yep, here we go:  The perfectly manicured golf courses to the right of me and the Spanish villas flocking the greenery of the mountains gives away the higher expectations of the locals on their standards of living.  Time moves slower here, more obediently.  That’s one of the biggest expectations that money can buy.

Where to?

Northward.  Forward.

Past Seaward.

After a few more miles north, we hit the land of ranches.  Brown wooden signs with names of farms and modest advertisements for their produce begin to mark our mileage.  The mountains seem more arid here, yet somehow the land seems more prosperous.  After the yet another dry summer, the greenery is starting to come back.  It will never look like the East Coast out here.  But neither will my adventures be the same.

I keep on moving, dreaming, redefining.  I draw up maps of future trajectories, but even I know better:  That when it comes to dreams, I’ve gotta roll with it.  

A few more miles up and the wondering cattle starts to punctuate the more even greenery.  They are like commas in black ink.  The ellipses.  The horses here are more red, and they match the clay colored rocks protruding in between the green.

Were we to take the 1 Northward, the terrain would have been much prettier.  But the 101 is slightly more efficient.  Besides, if offers up a thrill of weaving in between the mountains, where the eye can easily miss all signs of rising elevation, but the ears can’t help it and plug up.  I get that same sensation when taking off in steel birds from the giant airports of Moscow, San Francisco and New York.  In those moments, whereI’ve come from seems to give room to where I’m heading.  And I continue to redefine the journey.

Lompoc comes and stays behind.  I’ve once leapt out of a steel bird here; and the fear of falling did not get to live in me, for long.  After enough falls, it would become a way of being.  Free falling was just another form of flying.

Which way?

Not downward, but onward.

Onward and free.

In fifty more miles, we reach the vineyards.  They cling to the sides of these heels like patches of cotton upon a corduroy or velvet jacket with thinning material on its elbow.  Some patches are golden.  They look harvested and ready to retire.  Others are garnet red and brown.  Above the ones that are bright green I notice thin hairs of silver tinsel in the air.

“Is that to ward off the birds?” I ask my road partner.

He answers indirectly:  “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

And it is.

It is quite beautiful up here, and I am tempted to pull off the road and temporarily forget about my general direction.  Perhaps, it matters little:  As to where I’m heading and how fast.  But the way (as in the manner, and my manner is always grateful) must make the only difference in the end.

“So, Let It Rain, Rain Down on Himmm… Mmmm…”

Oh, but it’s raining.  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.

Yes.  It’s raining.

No, not just drizzling, in a typical fashion of LA-LA’s summers, when a few dirty raindrops smear the layer of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars; and for the rest of that week, we all drive in polka-dotted vehicles, too superstitious to wash them.  Because the law of LA-LA-Land is such:  Washing a car — brings on new rain.  The drizzling type of rain.  The rain that smears the layers of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars.

But today:  It’s raining.

Now, I wouldn’t call it “pouring”, for I have seen some of the worst rainstorms, in other spots along the planet.  I’ve seen the traffic stall in Moscow, its yellow cabs glistening with rain while their drivers, numbed into indifference by common despair, would pull off to the sides of the road and wait out the chaos.  And I have witnessed the swamps that rain makes out of Russian villages, like the birth place of my father; and the people would make portable bridges with loose planks of wood to walk across endless puddles of rainwater and mud.  Because Motha Russia is notorious for its unkept roads:  She is too enormous — to upkeep.

And I have seen the New York Subways shut down entirely, flooded overnight with aftershocks of a storm going much further south.  I have walked along the black-clad New Yorkers, obeying the barely comprehensible instructions over the groveling radio; so that we could take the bus shuttles, already overcrowded, above the ground.  And I watched them endure — the owners of those magnificently strong hearts — and they rarely complained.  Because that City — is not meant for weaklings.  In the last decade, that City has learned to persevere past unthinkable tragedies.  So, what’s a little rainstorm — to warriors?

The most nonchalant characteristic of San Franciscans — is their readiness for the whims of weather.  I have been amazed before to watch their instantaneous transformation into rain-ready attire, as soon as the first heavy raindrops give them a warning.   Sometimes, it’s just a few minutes of rain.  Other times, the precipitation comes down violently and all at once, as if dumped onto their heads by buckets of an impatient laundress.

And then, it passes.  It always passes:  The San Francisco blue.  And when the sun peaks out of the gray layer, suddenly the streets are filled with girls in summer frocks and boys in flip flops.  How ever do they do that:  The exceptional residents of their exceptional city?

But today, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

Oh yes!  It’s raining!

Photography by Russell James

I heard it, early in the morning, when I woke up amazed at my uninterrupted night of sleep.  There were no nightmares today.  In my bed, I wasn’t missing my beloveds.  Neither was I stuck with my chronic prophetic visions, on their behalf.  Neither did I catch myself dreaming.  No.  Today, I rested, lullabied into the sleep of the just — the sleep of the fulfilled — by the drumbeat of heavy raindrops, outside.

And when I first opened my eyes this morning, I thought:

“Oh, but it’s raining!  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.”

But then, I looked outside.

The windows appeared streaked, and the pattern of the settled down moisture reminded me of other windows I had looked through, in other spots, along the planet.

I have watched the water cascading down the tiny windows of my grandmother, in a house she had moved to, as a widow.  She would arise early, to tend to her livestock (and whatever other magical business she couldn’t help but conduct).  But before leaving her tiny wooden house, she would sit in front of a poorly isolated window and unbraid her long, graying hair.  Unleashed, the hair would fall below her waistline; and she would hum, and she would sigh, while running an ivory-colored tooth comb brush, up from her temples and down to the knees.  She could’ve been a siren — a mermaid — playing a harp for her long awaited lover.  For surely, there had to be some magical business she wouldn’t help but conduct!

The windowpanes of our apartment in Eastern Germany would leak, quite often, when rainstorms came to town.  Motha would fuss.  She would dig out all the old towels from underneath our tub, divide and distribute them along our windowsills.  Flabbergasted, she would eventually storm out of the house — “to fix her ruined manicure” — and leave me with the task of wringing out the drenched cloths, until dad would arrive home, to help.

And when he did, the blue of the day would suddenly depart, and we would have an adventure:  stuffing all the cracks with putty and cotton, covering them with tape.  Motha would return to find our windows sweating from the inside, and the two of us — flushed, soaked in rainwater and giggling.

“Well!” she’d command over us.  “I guess I’ll be in the kitchen — slaving over soups.”

And we would pretend to help, but only until motha’s blues would depart, and she would start howling with her very specific laughter.

I would do the same trick at my Riverdale basement apartment, for three years.  I would use it as an excuse to make pots and cauldrons of soups, and play house, for a while.  I would scrawl down my speed dial to check which one of my beloveds was nearby — and hungry.  And I would wait for their very specific laughter to steam up my windowpanes, from the inside.

Ah.  But it’s raining today.

Yes, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

And I think it’s just the perfect day — to stay in bed.

“Half of the Time, We’re Gone — But We Don’t Know Where, And We Don’t Know Where. Here I Am…”

I mean:  I had just written something about cotton candy.

“Kitten!  Look at the sky!” I heard.

I came out onto the porch:  Endless fluffs of torn clouds stretched across the darkening sky.  They were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat:  a palette of silver and all the purple shades of amethyst.  In a departing kiss, the setting sun colored the bottom layer with fuchsia pink.

“And who’d thought you up?” I whispered, in response.

By the time we got into the car, the fuchsia kisses had been wiped off.  And just as we drove off, an arrow of lightening shot down, about twenty meters ahead of our front bumper.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still think in metrics.)

“WOW!  Did you see that?!” he said and flipped his entire body in the driver’s seat in my direction.

“I did.”

But I was calm, in that tired sort of way.  Another day of work was behind me.  So were a few more good-byes.  There had been many of those, this year — a number of amicable departures and such a multitude of voices by the unsettled many, I was beginning to lose track of my losses.

So, I was leaving town on a whim, just so that I could wrap the last season of the year with whatever grace I could summon — elsewhere.

In half a kilometer, we reached the onramp.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still measure the distances I go — in metrics.)

How can the 405 be possibly packed at this hour?  Well, at least, it was moving.  We were moving; and I became aware of just how many people lived, dwelled, dreamt in this city.

Of how many dreamers had to survive the multitude of voices by the unsettled many — and lose track of their losses.  

Of how many of us had to leave town on a whim, in search of our grace — elsewhere.

We neared the hairy maneuver of merging onto the 101:  A few careful steps on the breaks and a couple of accelerations past the unknowing drivers — a couple dozen meters of betting against other people’s graces (which is always a tricky hand) — and we were free sailing.

(I know:  I have landed here over decade ago, yet I still measure my growths — my flights — in metrics.)

The traffic was moving against the dark mounts, outlined in the background.  On this freeway, everything seemed a lot more sensical at nighttime.  So, many times I had passed the peak that revealed the view of the Valley all at once, but never had I thought of it so stunning:  It spilled out in a palette of multi-colored stars dropped onto the ground beneath us.

The cars ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes were the color of French lemon meringue.

I opened my eyes:  I had to have drifted off for a minute.

(It’s a good thing that time is measured with the same particles in both hemispheres.  Because I had landed here over a decade ago, and I had long given-up on thinking in military time; but the rest of the adjustment was easy. Here, time — is a bit more simplified:  There is just never enough of it.)

I remembered waking up like this, back at the age when I was already filled with dreams, yet most of the time dismissed by the adults as too serious of a child.  I was asleep in the backseat of a cab, moving through Moscow, at nighttime, to catch an early morning flight to the East Coast of my Motha’land:  Somewhere, where both the skies and the forests were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat.  Leaning against the door, I had to have drifted off for a minute (at twenty three hundred, plus some minutes after — it was long past my bedtime).

The road was narrow, much narrower than it tended to be here, and a lot less sensical.  The traffic ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes reminded me of Russian meringue cookies, with apricot jam.

I flipped my entire tiny body on the backseat toward motha:  She was napping on my jacket that she’d rolled up into a travel-size pillow.

But dad heard my commotion from the front passenger seat, looked over his shoulder and whispered:

“What’s your business, little monkey?”

“P!  Did you see that?!” I said.

“I did.”

P was calm, in that tired sort of a way.  But he smiled at me, just to let me know that he, unlike others, was taking me very seriously.  After all, I was a child already filled with dreams; and he had to have known that I was already meaning business.

Back on the 101, it began to feel like we were climbing.

I flipped my entire body in the front passenger seat — already feeling closer to having recuperated my grace with gratitude — and I said:

“Are we going up?”

“We are,” he answered.

He was calm, in a tired sort of way, and didn’t at all look like my father.  But still, he, unlike others, was always taking me very seriously.

The road narrowed down to two lanes, and I could clearly smell the Ocean:  It smelled like the East Coast of my Motha’land.

(I have landed here over a decade ago and willingly stopped measuring my life with memories. But somehow, I seemed unable to forget that one smell of home.  And after a decade of living, dwelling, dreaming in SoCal, I realized that here — I was much closer to homecoming.)

At this point, having gone however many kilometers out of town, on a whim, there was barely any traffic.  We were speeding, sliding, catching up to an occasional lonesome firefly ahead; until there were none at all, and the deserved single lane of the PCH began to feel a lot less sensical.

A lot like home.

There were so many ways to leave home, and there were many more ways — to land.  But I knew:

Homecoming — was always better committed with some grace; even if it was found — elsewhere.

Foreign Girls — Gone Wild!

I swear I wasn’t misbehaving, but minding my business while looking through the modest collection of crummy Russian DVDs at the local West Hollywood Library!  Those things looked like they’ve been excavated out of the buried Chernobyl reactor:  with their Xeroxed black-and-white covers and shredded cases that must’ve contained more ex-Soviets’ fingerprints than the American Embassy in Moscow.  Still:  I was curious.  Or was I brushing up on my native language, which according to my Motha’, sounds Chinese to her ears?

“Oi, Verra!” she usually moans whenever I attempt to communicate to her in my mother tongue.  “Dan’t push eet.”

So, I was in my preoccupied 5-year old’s state, sitting in a lotus position on the Library carpet and yanking the filthy covers out of the misfiled line-up on the shelf.  To me, shit like this — is the very height of romanticism:  so archaic and old-country it feels!  And I wasn’t particularly squeamish about the germs I was going to harvest from this little adventure; because just like those tortured DVDs, I too have lived through Chernobyl.  So, chances are:  my Motha‘ Land has granted me an inhumanly high tolerance for all viruses.

The first thing I noticed about him — were his shoes.  Actually, I had no choice, because those things entered my sphere with no hesitation.  They were those clunky, white kicks reminiscent of the nursing shoes better belonging on the shelf of Payless than on a self-respecting male who’s flipped through at least a single issue of GQ or Esquire in his life.  But boom!  There they were, at my right hip, not even as much as looming but stubbornly intruding.  And right off the bat, I knew their owner had to be my former countryman; so I braced myself.

(A little confession here, my comrades:  I’ve never shagged a Russian.  It’s a choice, really, because no matter my personal nostalgia for certain old ways of my Motha’ Land, I am not a fan of the Russian males’ swagger.  I have yet to encounter a specimen who will approach me without an element of ownership, as if he’s been fucking me for a coupla years.  Don’t get me wrong:  I respect their badass Alpha-male-ness!  But in my bedroom, I want me a happy combination of Steve McQueen and George Clooney; and there ain’t nothin’ debonair about most Russian ex-patriots I’ve had the pleasure to ward off.)

The shoes loomed at my side, until my act of ignoring them started to seem ridiculous and uncomfortable; so, fuck it:  I looked-up!  And sure enough:  from the shoelaces, along the pant of his girly jeans; to the black t-shirt with Ed-Hardy-esque silver writing, the bling around his neck, all the way up to his un-styled buzz cut — this playa was Made in the USSR.  The deadpan on his face altered at a microscopic level when he assumed that very smirk of ownership mentioned above:

“Aren’t you a wild riddle?”

Yep.  That is the most precise translation of his first approach of a woman he barely knew, my comrades; but even my bi-lingual talents fail in describing the level of brazen familiarity in his tone.

Normally, in such a set-up, I would put on my Is There a Problem? expression; but the content of the Russian’s pick-up line caught me off-guard.  (At least, I think it was a pick-up line.)  Now, I am no motorcycle-riding, fire-spewing, gun-shooting, male-taming Angelina Jolie; but behind the wheel of my car or the closed doors of my bedroom, I do tend to unleash a lil’.  And lately, the degree of wildness has grown significantly because 1.  I’ve run-up some serious mileage to hell ‘n’ back this last year;  2.  I am a woman on a mission; and 3.  I’ve got NO time to spare en route to that mission.  Unless resting my messy head upon the chiseled pecs of my lover, I move fast and stubbornly upright.

Many a men have been left scratching their heads on the origin of my olive skin and my character, as equally untamed as my hair.  To this town’s casting directors and agents, the task of boxing me into a category appears burdensome and repeatedly annoying.  To them, I am either too brown or not brown enough; never Slavic-sounding but ambiguously European.  But my acidic sense of humor and refusal to draw smiley faces on sign-up sheets, next to my now Latin sounding stage name, has definitely chalked me up into a category of “intense” and just generally:  “not from around here.”

As for the mortals not in the business of casting, I tend to unsettle them quite easily.  Just the other night, a middle-aged white woman began interrogating me about the name of my hair stylist:

“Who did your hair this morning?” she interrupted my tete-a-tete with another “ethnically ambiguous” brown girl.

“No one,” I said, quite plainly, and nodded.

The white woman’s irritation jumped a hundred degrees immediately:  “Did YOU do it?”

“No,” I said, now smiling politely.  “My hair does its own thing.”

“YES!  But what I mean!  Is…”  Whatever her problem, the lady began to over-articulate, as if I were some FOB innocent she met Walmart.  “Did you — DO something to it?!”

As you can probably tell, my comrades, that interaction didn’t go over well; because after a 70-hour work week and 3-to-5 hour nights of sleep due to the stubborn pursuit of my dreams, I was not in the mood to tippy-toe around that white woman’s unreasonably hateful, uncalled-for tone.  But I had to quickly forgive her for the inability to decipher “the wild riddle” of V.  Perhaps, she would be more pleased if I cooperated a little, or got intimidated.  Or perhaps, it would be more convenient if I didn’t enter her sphere at all.  But in this day and age of not only post-colonial but fully globalized world, I believe she is the one the minority.  And that minority — is ignorance.

Big Break? Big Balls!

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

“Moscow wasn’t built overnight.”

Say whaaaat?  Okay, I’ll translate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OH!  THAT’S MY FRIEND!”

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

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

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

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

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