Tag Archives: New York City

This Time — It Would Be Different.

(Continued from January 15th, 2012.)

“I’ve decided__to let Doug__go,” Sarah told her Sid, on a typical Tuesday morning.  Her mother would have scoffed at the idea of anything typical, let alone the chronic event of Sarah’s whining on the hard couch, never to be found in her own hysterical universe.  Nonetheless, Sarah had said it; and surprised herself when, out loud, she had to insert a glottal stop between “Doug” and “go”.  She had thought it before, those two specific words in a row; but never let her mouth take them over.  Because when she practiced speaking to Doug (while in reality speaking to herself, alone in her narrow kitchen), she had never let “go” — go after “Doug”.  She didn’t know how to let “Doug go”.  So, she would continue to come back.

Did the Sid notice it:  Sarah’s surprise at the way phonemes worked, once her mouth took them over?  For a second, she imagined her face on an infant, cooing and choking on her first words.  What wonderment!  It wasn’t necessarily Sarah herself — as an infant — but perhaps her firstborn.  That was the exact problem with these only children, in the world, like Sarah:  They made for more desperate mothers, for they hadn’t yet seen themselves reflected in another human being.  But back in the day, when she had asked her mother for a sibling, “I have not time — for such a sing!” — her mother answered, every bit the tired woman this new chosen world had begun to make of her.  Eventually, Sarah would give up asking; and by the time, she herself could biologically mother a child, she had forgotten all desire to mother a child — spiritually.

Miranda, the Sid, was studying her with glossy eyes.  She must’ve just stifled a yawn, Sarah thought.  Then, she reiterated her decision, whose courage appeared to have expired back in her kitchen.  She was looking for the long overdue alliance:

“Yes.__I’m going to let Doug (stop) go.”

“Going to”.  Not “gonna”.  Sarah judged all American contractions quite bluntly, holding them away from her face with the two fingers of her dominant hand:  Violations to the language!  decapitation of words, ew!  Her own native tongue sounded too proper in her mouth, for she hadn’t practiced it much, since leaving the old world.  Her mother’s Ukrainian was always humorous, bawdy and full of life.  Sarah, on the other hand, sounded like an academic; or like the librarian that she had become, her intention to leave, eventually — forgotten.  She had stayed too long and froze.

“You’re such a snob, man,” J.C. said to her on the phone.  He had a “gonna” on his voicemail greeting:  “I’m gonna call you back.”  It had been bugging Sarah for all the years that she had loved him, learning for the first time that some men do stay long enough to reveal their faults — and to teach you to adore them, still.

Still, the “gonna” would bug her until she stopped listening far enough into the outgoing message.  (And if anyone had an “outgoing” message — it would have to be J.C.!  “Peace!” his voice always announced at the end of it — a naive ultimatum to the world by someone who hadn’t experienced much unkindness.  But before Sarah could get to the “peace”, she would’ve already hung up before the “gonna”.  NOT “going to”.)

Eventually, she mentioned it.

“You’re such a snob, man,” J.C. responded, from the back of his throat — the same geography from which her mother spoke, as well, in both of her tongues.  Her mother’s words had a chronic tendency to fall back, making her register chesty.  Or, hearty.  Everything about her mother — was hearty.

Sarah propelled her words forward, as her American contemporaries did:

“I’m not!  I have a Liberal Arts education and I work at the New York Public Library.”  Her self-patronizing didn’t work.  So, she thought about it, sweating the phone against her ear.  “Okay.  I’m going to try to be better about it, you’re right.”  Still:  “Going to” — not “gonna”.

But when she told the news to her Sid, while pacing her words, “What made you decide__to do that?” — the Sid responded.

Like attracts like, Sarah let the flash of a thought slip by.  Like attracts like, and she had been spending every Tuesday morning observing — and sometimes admiring — this nifty woman who hung up her words, niftily.  Sarah could never be nifty.  She was frozen, in between the two worlds of her mother’s; sorting something out because something was always off.  She was constantly relaying between wanting to belong and not knowing why the fuck should she?!  And she would narrow it down to the pace:  Things moved differently here; differently from what little she could remember of the old world.  It wasn’t so much the speed of things, but the direction — a lack of it — making each life’s trajectory chaotic.  It took longer to sort out a life; and even when one finally did, the life could easily shake off one’s grasp of its saddle, run off its course and resume flailing between others’ ambitions and desires for you, then your own delusions and ways of coping with losses and defeats.

To the Sid’s question, Sarah finally responded:  “I feel badly__for doing that__for all these years__to Doug’s wife.”  Except that, by then, she would be in her narrow kitchen, alone again, talking to herself.  She was never quick enough for an eloquent comeback, face to face with another human being.

(Her mother never seemed to have that problem.  Mother would always speak her mind, causing a brief gestation of shock in her conversations.  But then, the American participants would laugh off their discomfort, patching their sore egos with “You’re so cute!”, at her mother’s expense.

“God bless you!” Sarah’s mother would respond then, mocking the American habit for only jolly endings.)

 

Once, Sarah had tried imagining this woman — this other woman — in Doug’s life, who had been so epically hard for him to leave.  Except that Sarah had gotten it all confused, again:  She — was the other woman.  The third wheel.  She had read theories about women with low self-esteem before — women like her; women who prayed on other women’s husbands and who envied the wives of those sad men, with the eyes of a spaniel.  (What was the difference between jealousy and envy, again:  The doer of one — but the assumer of another?)  So, Sarah had tried imagining the woman she should envy:  The one who got Doug full-time — something that she should be pitied for, actually.

That night, Doug had taken her out to a pan-Asian restaurant on the Upper West Side.  Or, actually, they had just walked-in — into the house of dim lanterns and dim sum; because otherwise Doug, according to his disgruntled self-prognosis, was “gonna crash”.  (“Gonna”, not “going to”.  So much for poetry, professor!)

The shrimp stew he had ordered for Sarah arrived to her golden-and-red placemat.  The shiny shrimp tails, as pink as newborn hamsters, stuck out of the white rice, covered with milky-white slime.  She didn’t even like rice.  Her people came from the land of potatoes.  Potatoes and sorrow.  He wanted none of it.

“I can’t sleep over tonight,” Doug broke the news into his bowl of steaming miso soup.  His hunger has been staved off with cubes of tofu.  “It’s Beth’s birthday.”

Beth.  She bet Beth (insert a glottal stop in between) was patient and calm; living steadily ever after, while quietly meeting the expectations that her parents naturally harbored for their next generation.  She must’ve colored her hair every two weeks, in settle shades of red; wore flat shoes, hummed while folding Doug’s clean laundry; and she cut her nails short, as to not cause any breakage on surrounding surfaces.  And she bet (stop) Beth had a sibling.  Nifty.

“Nifty,” Sarah echoed.  Neither the slimy shrimp nor the sticky rice could balance on her wooden chopsticks.  So, she grabbed it by the tail:  “Shouldn’t you be__taking her out__then?”  She was beginning to pace her words again.  It started to feel like rage.

Doug squinted his eyes.  It wasn’t his first time, but not something that she had gotten used to yet, in their affair:  The beginnings of their mutual resentment.

“No need to get snappy,” he said, suddenly looking like he was about to cry.  It was an expected trajectory, for him:  going from a man-child who felt uncared for (what, fending for his own food, or he was “gonna crash”, while under her care?!) — to the scorned lover, exhausted by his failed expectations.  Then, why wouldn’t he just stay with Beth, who sounded smart enough and mellow; at peace and never shocked at this world’s disorder; unfazed by chaos, as children of full, healthy families tended to be?  (Nifty.)

And how ever did she, herself, end up here, wanting to take the place of the woman who deserved her pity, actually — a woman Sarah would much rather like, were she to meet her, on her own?  On their own, could they fall into a gentle admiration — love? — of each other?

“So, how old is good ole Beth__going__to be?” Sarah asked.  But her words came out shrill, and the sloppy face of the washed-up actress began inching its way down her forehead.

 

There had been other break-ups, in their history.  Most of them, she had instigated herself, practicing them ahead of time, alone in her kitchen.  But in reality, the break-ups came out clumsily, and not at all ironic.

In her heart — or rather somewhere around her diaphragm, underneath her lungs, perpetually under her breath — Sarah felt she would be punished for this.  She was already getting judged by her Sid — the woman she was paying to side with her, and then to guide her from that place of purchased empathy.

This time — it would be different.

It would be Sarah asking Doug out.  She had told him to meet her at a Starbucks, located at least two zip codes away from his and Beth’s neighborhood.  Doug would arrive first, with some latest book of poetry moderately well reviewed by critics under his armpit; and she would find him — drowning into the soft leather chair in the corner and muttering — while making ferocious notes on its pages and sipping from a Venti.  Except that this time, she wouldn’t listen to his embittered theories, always delivered in a slightly exhibitionist manner, as if pleading to be overheard:  on this poet being undeserving, or on that one — being, god forbid, better connected.  (“When is it gonna be about talent, in this industry?!”  “Going to” — NOT “gonna” — professor!)

This time, she would pass up her dose of caffeine, walk out into the wind and pace ahead, while the fat snowflakes sloppily kissed her forehead.  The five o’clock sun overlooked the island with its rouge glares.  This place had a flair for nonchalant beauty.  It never posed, but grew and changed — a once magnificent idea merely running out its course:  New York City.  This City left all acts of sad foolishness and silly coverups of aching egos to the ones that could not keep up.  (“You’re so cute!” — “God bless you!”)

And she would try to keep the break-up neat; because catching the A-train after ten at night meant freezing on the platform while watching giant rats have their supper in the oil spills of the rails.  Later on, on the phone, that would be her mother’s favorite part; and she would ask Sarah for more details:  the color of the rats’ fur in Ukrainian and the reek of the tunnel, made dormant by the cold temperatures, which she demanded for Sarah to translate into Celsius, in order for her to understand — to get the very gist of it, the very heart.  Everything about her mother — had a heart.  Perhaps, that was the secret to her overcoming chaos.

But when it came down to the heart of the matter — Sarah’s dull ache of disappointment, the failure of words, and the resigned mindset of someone frozen in loss — her mother became quiet.  And the phone continued sweating against Sarah’s tired ear, surely causing her something, later on, in life.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“And Do You Have Any Clue: What I Had to Do — to Get Here?”

“Hey, baby!  When I write — I am the hero of my own shit.”

I watched Hank last night.  I watched his beat-up, used-up, lived-in, wasted, wrinkled, exhausted face with traces of pockmarks digging into his skin like tear trails; and I let his effortless voice lullaby me to sleep:  a meowing of an aged cat on my doorstep, so demented he had forgotten all other pleasures in life but eating and fucking.  But mostly eating though, at this point:  Fucking — had become too strenuous for his joints.

It was a documentary, and a short one at that:  How do you make an epic about someone without an epic life?  Hank had insisted on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; and surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Elevating himself above the rest of us wasn’t his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his colleagues — the pretentious poets who always wished to write about their suffering but who haven’t lived enough, among us, to know what that’s like:  To suffer.  Because suffering — is bad for one’s skin.  (Just look at Hank’s face:  That fuckin’ Bukowski was a wreck!)  And it’s scary.  Suffering is scary.  So, they left it all — to Hank.

Instead, the pretentious poets got themselves jobs as critics and professors.  They became people of higher esteem:  “The professionals”.  People would pay them for their opinions and carefully manipulated big words.  (The bigger the words — the more esteemed the professor.)  And the professionals would wonder how could they suddenly run out of things to write about.  They would try to write about their tired marriages and affairs with their students.  But boredom always makes for terrible plots.  So, they’d return to their criticism and conference papers, with carefully manipulated big words about anything but suffering.

“What are your plans after graduation?” I remember my own teachers prying during the last year of college; and before they could wait for my answer, they’d spew out:  “You should teach!”

“Really?!” I’d think to myself.  “You mean you don’t want me to go backpacking through Europe and learn a dozen of languages from the pillow talks with my future fifty foreign lovers?”

But I wouldn’t say that.  In those days, my intuition wasn’t perfected yet; so I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the source of that nausea invoked by those well-wishing mentor chats.  Instead, I would just listen, tormented with doubts and restlessness, and with my own temptations for a more esteemed life.  And then, I would look at my watch, demonstratively, and I would say:

“Ow!  I better get to the diner:  I’m working a double to-night.”

Esteem.  It’s kind of like beauty, right?  It’s in the eye of the beholder.  Except that with esteem, you are the beholder — AND you are the subject.  So, it’s entirely up to you, this esteem thing, despite all the other suffering.

There would be many more waitressing gigs, after graduation, and office gigs, and freelance gigs, and gigs of self-employment — all of which I insisted on committing with esteem.  There would be esteem in serving a table full of cops at 4 a.m. who would flirt and get rowdy, like college boys in love with their substitute teacher; and one of them would always offer to give me a ride home, in his black-and-white Ford.  (Later, sometimes, they would drive down my street and wave:  Heya, pretty!  It made me feel like others feel when they come home.)

There would be esteem in finding the patience to handle a hysterical student with no knowledge of English at my daytime campus gig, when the rest of my employers just wouldn’t have the time for her fearful nonsense.  (Later, she would pass me in the cafeteria — still a child in her age, made even more helpless by her venture in a foreign country — and she would smile at me, with something that combined gratitude and a very fragile secret.)

And there would be more esteem in taking the last train out New York City after my internship at yet another editorial department where I would become adopted by a group of esteemed professionals — or the poets to whom they vowed to cater.

And then, of course, there would be my fifty future foreign lovers, teaching me their languages during our pillow talks.  But mostly, they would teach me the language of my own humanity.  And there would be plenty of esteem in learning that my compassion would never fail, no matter the messy ending to each loverly story; and no matter the suffering that came with it.

To the effortless voice of Hank, I had fallen asleep last night:  He was reading his shit at some poetry hall in San Francisco, filled to the brim with hollering humanity.  And the audience would cheer him on every time he tipped his beer bottle into his crooked, wet mouth.  He would chug it down, like a man dying of thirst, smile fleetingly and bashfully at the dividends of his compassion — and the dividends of all that suffering; and he would resume meowing out his poetry.  Sometimes, he would raise a ruckus while taunting somebody in the audience:  To him, it would be just another bar fight.  But he would always seem so much calmer, when in the midst of doing his shit.

“the price of creation

is never

too high.

the price of living

with other people

always 

is.”

And yet, he would insist on living among us — that fuckin’ Bukowski! — that dirty, old man, ridden with vices and women, dwelling in his destiny but never groveling; surviving his own compassion, day after day.  Being too good for others — was not his type of behavior.  No, he left that to his esteemed colleagues:  “The professionals”.

And if he could, he would kiss every one of us on the mouth, the same way he kissed his women:  pornographically and with an open, wet mouth, smelling of rye.  Because no matter the price, we were his beholders AND his subjects; and with that, we granted him — his esteem.

We made his life — his tortured, used-up life worth his suffering.  And he would be one of us, becoming “the hero of [his] shit” — even when he wrote about others; when he wrote — about us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the minute I stepped outside:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I began to run again.

“You Mad? I Thought that You’d Be Happy I Made It!”

Clearly, my “little rant blog,” as tagged by a former lover a few hours ago, has been invoking reactions.  There has been an occasional validation from complete strangers—young women, older wives, heartbroken lovers, married couples, and gay men—my adored readers continents and time zones away that make my artist’s ego revel in the illusionary and ever-so-fleeting thought of:  “At least, my art matters!”  It’s like honey to the inflamed larynx of a screaming revolutionary!  But then:  I get up again, at some ungodly hour of the morning, put the compliments in my back pocket, clock-in and begin at ground zero:  Regardless the moody cunt of Inspiration, I publish prior to one of my four survival jobs.

The reaction of some friends and most exes, however, has been less than enamored:

“You’ve reality lost your humanity!” I found on my voicemail today.  Try swallowing that pill with your morning coffee!

My art gone public has tested my comrades—people that have a certain degree of an in with me.  Most have known me for years because, despite my wanderlust, I don’t lose track of human hearts.  Sometimes, to my own fault (and to the expressed puzzlement of my beloveds), I’ve kept in touch with my exes, if only for the mere benefit of recollecting a mutual story down the road; because, despite being a storyteller, genetics have granted me with the most pathetic short-term memory.  So, my people—are my memory keepers.  As for the woman in me, the scorned lover gives room to forgiveness quite quickly.  I accept the humanity of those who acted less than kindly in my past and eventually hear the long-awaited apology from them.  But by then, the forgiveness has already been granted pro bono, and I’ve moved on—to other loves and newer pages.

For years, I have written in silence.  Years! It was a closeted activity—like a mute’s challenge to the world every morning.  During those forming years in New York City and LA-LA Land, my people would chime in:

“What are you doing with your life?”

“What are you doing with all these jobs?!”

And my favorite:  “You know what you should do?,” followed by an array of unrequested advice.

Well, here I am, comrades, I thought on the first of this year:  Finally, doing it, just like y’all recommended!  I am not half-ass-ing it either!  I am not working on the next Good Will Hunting as every other regular at my local Starbucks, praying to be discovered by an accidental agent ordering his or her morning latte.  I am not venting to some similar wannabe at a late night dingy dive, both of us getting lost in a forest of empty beer bottles.  Neither am I drowning in depression while listening to my friends’ rants on the topics of casting scams and shady agents.  I don’t pity them—or myself—during the self-loathing routines about being insignificant.  Instead of wasting my breath on “What I’m gonna do”—I fucking do!  And I tell my colleagues to do the same.

“So, here I am,” I thought, on day one of 2011…

Oh, but what’s this?  Silence and spite?!  Didn’t expect that!

Forty days and forty-some blogs later, some of my people are falling by the wayside:  Shocker!  All those well-wishers with written proposals on my predestined career paths—have suddenly gotten quiet.  Where the fuck did they all go?!  As for my formerly beloveds, suddenly my friendship they’ve been “so grateful for” is not something they can handle:

“You just sound so angry and hurt,” they attempt to hide behind another set of fake intentions.

No fucking shit, Sherlock, I’m angry!  But please do me a favor and keep the pity card in your own stack.  If you’re suffering the stings of your guilty conscience or fear of being exposed—despite the anonymity of my blog’s characters—don’t project your shit onto me.  I’ve moved on, remember?  I am NOT interested in your apology—just your kindness.  Or your friendship.  But if you must run away, I must thank you for exposing that your love for me was never unconditional; that my success was not one of your interests; that to this day, you haven’t learned the lesson and remained equally self-involved as you were back in your selfish twenties.  Do move on, my darlings—and although disappointed, I mean it in the best of ways:  God bless—and get the fuck out! Another forty days and forty-some blogs later, I hope to find myself surrounded by the selected and the stubborn few who’ve made the wellness of my heart and the success of my work their daily prayer.  Those who behold for me, never calculating in the “what-if” of my failure—just because it’s not a fucking option!—those are welcome to come along.

As for my “little rant blog” to myself, it goes like this:

You’re an artist, bitch!  It’s hard!  The competition is brutal.  The jobs are few and far between.  You work your ass off at some part-time gig where you’re painfully overqualified and underpaid; but when the morning comes—you better start your saleswoman routine again, doing enough legwork to earn permanent calluses on your feet and bruises on your knuckles from knocking on doors.  This ain’t your little home village in the Motha Fuckin’ Russia, where you were the prettiest and the smartest girl!  There are thousands like you here!  And another thousand on the next day’s Greyhound!  Some hotter and smarter and better equipped, with mamas and papas to support their dreams.  So, the only way to make it past the depression and the competition and the rejection and the loneliness—is to keep going!  Failure—is not an option here, as your actual friends will remind you.

As for the white noise of the well-wishers and the manipulations by other cowardly hearts:  “What’ya say?  I can’t hear you!”