Tag Archives: Olga Kurylenko

Making It Out

 (Continued from June 24th, 2012.)

After I got my first period — less than a month before my twelfth birthday — is right around when the two women began including me in their gabbing sessions, in the kitchen.

At first, I joined reluctantly:  I would much rather “waste my life away”, as mother dramatically accused me of, with a novel. But face it!  When the two of them returned from their separate errands, both beautiful and smelling of the same perfume — the flirtation of all the men still echoing in their voices — I would be a major “dura” to resist the temptation of their company.

And the stories, the day’s gossip — the life force pumping through the street of our town — seemed more titillating than my mother’s romance novels (through which I, when home alone, would rummage and then re-hide them in the cupboards of her bedside stand).  Now: Our neighborhood wasn’t really happening.  Someone would die, occasionally, after drinking too much.  Someone else got married, before an accidental pregnancy showed.  Both the town’s funerals and its weddings could be attended by anyone.  For Russians, it’s bad fucking karma to turn guests away!  So, as processions crawled through the main roads (not many Russians owned cars, not in those days!), neighbors joined in; because at the end of either line, they’d find free food.  And what’s more important:  Vodka!

Breathlessly, I listened to the women’s stories, never putting my two kopeks in.  Assigned the most menial jobs in the kitchen, like peeling of potatoes or sorting out grains of rice, I kept my head down and worked my ears overtime. At times, the exchange of information was packed with details so intense and so confusing, it hurt my brain to follow.  Still, I tried to comprehend in silence because asking either my sis or mother to repeat — was borderline suicidal.

“Now, mamotchka!”  (Marinka was already notorious for kissing up.  She’d learned how to work our mother’s ego.)  “Have you heard about Uncle Pavel?”

“Nyet!  What?”

The way my sis was blushing now, in the opal light of fall’s sunset, solidified that she was rapidly turning into her mother’s daughter:  A stunner, simply put.  The prospects of the townswomen’s matchmaking had already begun coming up at the dinner table; and every time, Marinka turned red and stole sheepish glances at our father.  There was no way around it:  She was easily becoming the prettiest girl in town!  Not in that wholesome and blonde Slavic beauty way, but an exotic creature, with doe eyes, long hair of black waves and skin the color of buckwheat honey.

Olga Kurylenko for Instyle Magazine

Marinka carried on.  “I got this from Ilyinitchna,” she gulped.  She’d gone to far, corrected herself:  “Anna Ilyinitchna, I mean.”  (The tone of informality common for most Russian women was still a bit to early for Marinka to take on.  But she was getting there:  Whenever she joined our mother’s girlfriends for tea, she was permitted to address them with an informal “you”.)

Mother was already enticed.  “What?!  What’d you hear?” she wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and turned her entire body toward my sister.

“He and Tatiana’s daughter…”  There, Marinka took notice of me.  She looked back at our mother for a go-ahead.  The silence was thick enough to be cut with a knife.  I pretended to not have heard anything.

But mom had no patience for not knowing:  “Oy, Marina!  Don’t stretch it out, I beg of you!  What did you hear?!”

Sis ran her nails to tame the fly-aways by pushing them behind her ears.  Her hair was thick and gathered into a messy construction on the back of her head.  Ringlets of it escaped and clung to her sweaty neck.

“Well?!  WHAT!”

Whenever mother spoke, I noticed the tension Marinka’s shoulders — a habit of a child who took on a regular beatings from a parent.  In boys, one saw defiant thoughts of brewing rebellion.  But it looked different in girls.  We had to bear.  It could take decades to grow out of oppression.  Some women never made it out.  They would be transferred from the rule of their parents’ household to that of their husbands’.  Forgiveness already started seeming too far-fetched.

Marinka blushed again.  Lord, give us the courage!  “He and Tatiana’s daughter were seen having dinner together in the city.  He took her to a rest-aur-ant!”  She slowed down, for effect:  Dining at Soviet restaurants was NOT a casual happening.  “And she was dressed like the last whore of Kaliningrad.  She now wears a perm, although I’m sure it’s not her parents’ money that pay for it.”  Sis was on a roll.  “I mean you see how Tatyana dresses!  The thing she wore for her husband’s funeral!  A woman of her age should watch such things!”

It felt like something lodged inside my throat.  Was it words?  Or a hair-thin bone from a sardine sandwich from my breakfast?  Although I didn’t understand the situation completely, I knew it wasn’t something that left my brain untarnished.

Mother, by now, was smiling ear to ear.  “Hold up!  Which daughter?!  Oh, Lord!  Is it Oksanka?!”

Marinka shot another stare in my direction.  You’ll break your eyes, I thought.  Oh man, I wanted to get out of there!  Blinking rapidly to remove the layer of forming tears — the shame!  alas, the shame of it all! — I fished out the next wrinkled potato from the iron basin at my feet and hurriedly scraped it with the dull knife.

“Well, Oksanka, mamotchka!  Of course!  She’s got that job at the City Hall, remember?”

“Well,” mom shook her head.  “WELL.  That little bitch!  She knows how to get around, I’ll give her that!”

I looked at Marinka, she — at me.  Mother bluntness was a common happening but even we were surprised at her bluntness.

“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” mother concluded.  Marinka chuckled, fear freezing her eyelids into an expression of panic.  The clock of her girlhood had stopped its final countdown.

(To Be Continued.)

“How Does It Feel to Be… One of the Beautiful… People?!”

“How do we forgive the people who have wronged us?”

“How or why?”

“How.  I already know why…  I think.”

“You think?  You forgive because if you don’t — you are the only one you harm.  Right?”

I put the book of Mexican recipes face down onto my chest.  Think about.  I can’t be flippant when speaking of forgiveness:

“Something like that.”

That still sounded flippant.  I amend:

“I forgive because otherwise it’s too heavy.  It becomes spite, or even hatred.”

I actually think I am allergic to both.  This last time around, I wore a rash on my chin until it stopped mattering, I guess.

I continue:

“And I forgive because I am still looking for new stories.  When there is no forgiveness, I just keep replaying the old one too much.  Until I get sick of it.  Until it stops mattering, I guess.”

Until I get sick of it.  Is that what happens with me, eventually:  I dig for reasons, I cross-examine for long enough to get sick of the whole story?  Because most of the time, the reasons don’t become apparent.  Not completely.  There are glimpses, of course; and most of them are rooted in some sort of pleasure — or satisfaction at least — on the part of the other.

The people who wrong us seek something that they think they deserve.  They deserve us:  our goodness, our sex, our beauty.

And some would call that love.

“What would you call it?” he asks me.  He is lying on his side, facing the wall, away from me.  The wall is baby blue.

“I dunno,” I say, pick up the book with the Mexican recipes and start flipping through it again:  I am done figuring it out!  “I dunno!  But I definitely don’t call it ‘love’!”

The pictures in the book are delicious.  Delectable.  I secretly daydream of my future bakery:  It would be so good for my soul!

“Love ought to be selfless,” I resume.  I guess I am not done figuring it out.  “I love for the sake — for the benefit — of the other person, as much as I do for my own.”

“That’s not true!” he says and finally rolls over onto his back to look at me.  “I’ve seen you love, love.  You often love — despite yourself.”

I want to laugh but feel slightly defensive:  “Well.  That’s just what I do!”

I get a mighty hold of the book jacket and start skipping the section on meats:  I don’t want to know!

He is waiting for the rustle of the flipping pages to stop.  “That’s what you do alright.  But that’s not good either.  You can’t keep sacrificing yourself like that.”

I still want to laugh.

“At least, at the end, I needn’t be forgiven,” I say.

I’ve found some great comfort in that, before.  Even pride.  Because when I leave, I don’t take much with me.  I don’t take away a former love’s dignity.  I don’t destroy the self-esteem.  And I only carry away the things that have always belonged to me.

So, no:  I don’t take much with me.  And I don’t take away much either. But the weight of trying to forgive — is quite heavy, and I choose to lug it with me for a while.  Until it stops mattering, I guess.

I dig.  I cross-examine.  I recycle.  I search for the reasons until I realize that the reasons may never become fully apparent.  There are glimpses, of course.  But the consolation they offer aren’t strong enough of a painkiller.  So, I continue to dig, thinking that if only I find all the reasons — it will stop hurting completely.

“But how much of yourself do you leave behind?”  He is now staring at the ceiling.  It’s white.

I stop flipping the pages, put down the book face down onto my chest and start staring at his spot as well.  (Are those fingerprints on the ceiling?)

I may leave.  I may take the things that have always belonged to me.  But when I keep the connection — just so that I can continue cross-examining, digging — I linger.  And in lingering, I leave parts of me behind.

How do we forgive the people who have wronged us?

I am afraid that my previous “how” — is just a theory, and with time I’ve learned that it doesn’t really work.  I never find the complete reasons:  I only find reaffirmations of the others’ previous choice to wrong me.  The original choice to deserve:  my goodness, my sex, my beauty. My generosity. My love.

And then, there is this forgiveness:

“Time,” he says.  “You give it time.”  He is still staring at the ceiling.

“Kinda like putting it to rest?  long before it’s ready?”  I am studying his spot:  Fingerprints.

If I put it to rest, the story won’t stop mattering.  Instead, it will remain as a tale of Just Because.  And I have to have enough patience — enough self-love — to leave it at that.

Because there are glimpses of reasons, of course; but not even the most powerful empathy can make me understand these reasons completely.  So, I should just let them be theoretical.  Otherwise, it’s too heavy.  And I only harm myself.

And after enough time, the reasons stop mattering completely. 

I let it be — I let them be — in time and silence.

And I let myself be light and kind, as someone who needn’t be forgiven.

“Does Enchantment Pour Out of Every Door? No! It’s Just on The Street — Where YOU Live.”

The street on which I live:

I seem to have memorized its every nook, and every speed bump; its every crack on the road.  Lord knows I’ve had enough time for that, for I have been walking it; strutting, running, driving — surviving — on it, for nearly six years.

Six years.  Who knew I’d last here for so long?

Just a week before I first landed here, I was promising a beloved back in New York:

“I’ll be back in a year.  Don’t worry.”

He didn’t:  The beloved moved on to another love, and suddenly I had no reason to come back.  So, I stayed here — for just a bit longer.

The street on which I live:

By now I know the patterns of its residential parking by heart.  This funky red house right here collects vintage cars, taking up quarter of a block for their parking.  The Spanish style apartment building at the other end:  People are always coming and going there; and if you sit in its driveway long enough, flashing your emergency lights at the rhythm of your heartbeat, you are guaranteed to get a spot sooner or later.  You gotta be quick though:  Keep flashing the lights and come upon the decked out Hollywood dandy, reeking of cologne, or the unsuspecting Armenian girl getting in her car, for a night on the town.

Pull up, roll down the windows:

“You leaving?”

Try to smile.  After all, they don’t owe you jack shit.  And if they let you take over their spot, give ‘em room to pull out.

Then, wave:

Gratitude seems to go a long way, around here.

Whatever you do:  Don’t park in front of this abandoned structure right here.  Because it’s not abandoned:  It’ll filled to the brim with emaciated cats and a single resident the face of whom I’ve never seen, for the last six years.  At nighttime, a window always lights up in the attic.  The front door is barricaded with abandoned furniture.  The front yard looks like a field of wild weeds and overgrown bushes.

Still, whatever you do:  Don’t park there!  That unattended garden with berried trees will kill the paint on your car.  And whatever you do:  Don’t feed the cats.  The sign written in crayon on the front gate says so:

“DON’T FEED CATS.  THEIR NOT HOMELESS.”

In my second year, I finally earned an occasional parking spot inside my garage.  I had been bouncing between jobs, one more terrible than the other; and after settling for a decent night gig, I negotiated to share a spot with a neighbor:  He would work the graveyard shift as a security guard; and by the time, my club closed and I came home with blistered feet, he’d be leaving for work.

In the morning, I’d have to get up, get dressed and re-park on the street, often finding my neighbor under the berried tree, still in uniform, feeding the cats.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he’d explain to me, as if caught redhanded; and his tired face fit for a Native American shaman would make me wonder how he got these emaciated creatures to come out of the house, in the first place.

At the end of that year, I would want to move:

“Stay!” my roommate recommended.  “That’s just your second-year itch.  Everyone gets it in LA.”

Curiously, I’d drive around other neighborhoods:  funky or cheesy, some parading their wealth, others — their transient despair.  I would do that for a week, applying to a couple of New-York-like buildings.  But then, I’d come back to my street:  That was just my second-year itch.  Everyone gets it in LA.

The street on which I live:

The faces of its residents have been tattooed into my memory, even after they move on.  And many have moved on.  A couple of working girls in my building with decent night gigs:  They’d get so tired surviving on this street, and in this city, while waiting for their big break.  A few would eventually land a small acting gig — a stand-in for the big break — and they’d move to better places, better streets.  Some would leave for their boyfriends’.  Others — would go home.

That pretty blonde, who used to be a redhead in the first year of living here:  She got her first speaking role on a canceled show.

“It only took five years,” she said to me in my garage, and she scoffed with such scorn, it made me want to move on.

Her roommate, a pretty black girl with extensions and a shaggy dog, had already left.  She couldn’t wait for her big break any longer.

That pretty blonde, who used to be a redhead, would be gone within a week.

The security guard with a tired face fit for a Native American shaman would leave too.

The street on which I live:

Some of the faces seem to stay here forever.  There is the family of a jeweler — a family of good faces — that lives in a rustic house with wooden furniture.  They don’t smile much; but by now, the mother of the house has learned to nod at me, while she waters the lawn at sunset.  And the lonely old woman that always knocks on her second story window:  She would seem quite sad in her dementia, if she weren’t so childlike.  And the handful of Armenian men, selling random goods in their front yards every weekend:  They get quiet every time I walk, strut or run by; and they keep smoking their cigars.

The street on which I live:

There seems to be so much humanity here, and so much mercy.

In the gated house directly across from my building, there is supposed to be some sort of a shelter.  Another building, half a block up, serves as a home for homeless teenagers and runaways.  And than there is that abandoned structure right here:  It gives shelter to the forsaken cats.  But at least,

“THEIR NOT HOMELESS.”

And at the end of last week, someone had made a new shoefiti:  At the intersection that leads to my street, a pair of Dorothy’s sparkling ruby slipper was thrown over a telephone line.  Some say these shoes are meant to be stolen or unwanted.  And sometimes, they belong to a departed.

 

“Now: Shut Up And Drive, Drive, Drive!”

It’s the never ending construction of the 405 that can make even a saintly woman lose her mind.  And Lord knows:  I’m not a saintly woman.

Oh, no:  I tread really closely to my insanities — a diameter of a hair away, to be exact — tippy-toeing at the edge of my flaws that are enough to drive a man crazy, as well.

And I like taking a peak at that side of me:  It is permanently fearless.

It reminds me of wild passions in nature, and of other untamed women in my family’s previous generations.  They too drove their men crazy, with their moody hair and contradictory temperaments.  Some of them rode horses; I — straddle the seat of my car.  And since they have never spoken to me in my nightmares, I assume these women communicate to me — in my waking dreams and acts of courage.

And it is not the congestion of traffic, due to the never ending construction, that can make even a saintly woman lose her mind.  It is the aggression of others, always negotiated through acts of sickly cowardice; and it crawls under my clothes and starts nibbling at my capillaries, like an army of fleas I’ve picked up at some brothel in Reno.

There is noting more ridiculous — and nothing more reckless — than a man flipping out behind his wheel, honking and screaming with his crooked, slobbering mouth spraying spit.  He seems to jam his whole body into the joint of his honking arm, as if punching his girlfriend in the jaw.  Or his child.  And then, he speeds around:  first, yanking his car into traffic, then zooming past the cause of his entire life’s unhappiness, as it seems.

“This could be — where you die,” I catch myself thinking, calmly.

But he finally takes off — liberated! — wagging his middle finger in the air to point out yet another injustice in his life.

Or another’s stone face as he pretends not to see me when I attempt to merge onto the freeway, in front of him:  No fucking way!  He stares ahead, hideous in his acting unaware; and I know there is no emotion more cancerous than his glee at getting in my way.  No fucking way!  He would rather I crash and take him with me — than give me room.

No fucking way!

For as long as I have now lived in this city, this freeway has been sitting here as a parking lot of the worst in human behavior.  At first, I would try to comprehend what exactly made these other drivers commit such schizoid acts:  Haven’t they ever been affected by tenderness or humility?  Was there something about this demographic, or the hour of the day?

But that can make even a saintly woman lose her mind — and I’m not a saintly woman!

Still, I would wear these fuckers’ aggressions on my skin, like an army of flees nibbling at my capillaries; and I would walk into meetings and auditions, to my friends’ houses, looking for the closest bathroom, to rinse myself off.  And then, I would wonder why there was no joy left in my art.

Nowadays, I breathe through it.  I watch my aggression trying to rise up and I push it down and out with an exhale.  I sit back, muttering prayers of forgiveness. And if lucky, I lock my eyes with the guy in the midst of his private exorcism, going berserk in traffic:

“This could be — where you die.”

One got to me, the other day, in 110-degree heat that only that side of the 405 can accumulate.  We had all been sitting in the parking lot before the merger, unanimously late to our meetings and auditions, to our friends’ houses.

“Sepulveda,” I thought, suffering from a lapse of judgement.  So, I got off — and there, I got stuck.

Slowly, we were climbing down the hill along the congested boulevard, due to yet another never ending construction related to the 405, when I noticed a white van inching toward my bumper.  That type of a vehicle is always creepy:  with no windows on its long, dented body with chipping paint, it surely must be up to some sketchy contraband.  The red, puffy face of its driver seemed constipated; and he scowled in my rear-view mirror every time I stepped on my breaks, before a red light.

For a least half a mile he would jerk his face into that scowl, inching toward my tail; stepping on his breaks with enough abrasiveness to make that whole thing bounce on its wheels.  And I could see his screaming with that crooked, slobbering mouth.

“What the fuck does he want me to do:  sit in the middle of the intersection?!”  I got caught up, I confess, and I felt my own aggression rise up.

Inching toward Wilshire, melting in my seat, I noticed a middle-aged Middle-Eastern woman, timidly trying to merge into my lane from a side street.  Letting her in would mean missing yet another green light.  But the woman’s face of a basset hound would get stuck with me for days had I ignored her.  I knew that — so I let her it.

“YA FUCKIN’ BITCH!”

I heard that!  The whole of Brentwood heard that!

In my rear-view mirror, the red, puffy face started going berserk:  He was swinging his whale-like body, clutching onto the steering wheel, as if trying to tear it out.

I parked my car.

Pulled out the keys.

Walked over to the white van.

The only thing I could feel was the sweat that had accumulated between my thigh in this 110-degree heat and began crawling from under my miniskirt and down each leg.

The coward’s window was rolled up.  I knocked on it.

“This could be — where you die,” I caught myself thinking, calmly.

He stared at me, stumped for a good while, blinking his bloodshot eyes above the open, crooked mouth.  I knocked again.  He blinked — again.

Who knows what I had in mind:  The coward never opened his window.

And even though I walked away thinking, “This could be — where you die,” I knew that I just rode out the courage inherited from the insane, untamed, wild, passionate women in my family’s previous generations, mad enough to drive a man crazy; and in that mode — I was permanently fearless.

“Let It Be, Let It Be. Whisper Words of Wisdom: Let It Be.”

When you forgive — you love.

I stumbled across that, somewhere in my reading.

Because I want to be a writer, you see.  So, I read.  A lot.

Sometimes I read for inspiration, other times — to put myself to sleep.  But mostly, I read out of my habit for empathy.  Secretly, I cradle my hope that someone else, equally or more insane than me, has once felt my agonies and thrills before.  And perhaps, that someone has been able to find the words for it all.  But then again, maybe I just want to get myself disappointed, frustrated enough to start looking for the words on my own.

“Lemme do that!” I would think, and I leave the book by someone else unfinished, on my dresser; then, I start weaving my own stories.

It’s a trip, I tell you:  Reading.  Which is why I size up my books carefully before committing to them, with my time and my empathy; and with all of my expectations:  I need to make sure they are exactly what I need at that moment in life.

Kind of like:  Love.

Except that in love, I continue to commit that same mistake and I wait for the story to fit me perfectly, at that time in life.  It doesn’t.  Ever.  Because a love story always involves another person and I am never too careful in sizing him up.

With books, I eventually forget about my initial expectations, and I get on with the journey they offer — if the adventure is worth my wandering, of course.  But in love, I seem to forget about my side of the story — and I lose myself in his.  So, the empathy gets lopsided and it limps around like a polio survivor; never remembering where exactly I had started losing track of myself.  Until the eventual departure by one of the parties returns me to my memories — of love.

When you forgive — you love.

I stumbled across that in my memory, yesterday, as I stretched in between my naps on a sandy sheet at the beach, next to a man guilty of loving me better than he loves himself, with his lopsided empathy.  Every time I looked over, he seemed to be asleep.  And right past the curvature of his upper back, I could see a family of tourists doing their slightly quirky things underneath a colorful umbrella.

The woman looked lovely, but not really my type:  She was a blonde, model-esque, calm and seemingly obedient.  The little boy looked like her, with her pretty features minimized to fit his Little Prince face.  He sat by himself, quietly imitating the things he imagined in the sand; and, like his mother, he never fussed for attention.

The older child — a 7-year old girl, in a straw hat — resembled her father:

He was tall, dark, Mediterranean, but not at all intimidating in his physicality.  As a matter of fact, his body belonged to someone with an athletic youth that eventually gave room to the contentment of a well-fed, well-routined family life.  By the way he lounged in his beach chair, I could tell he had plenty of theories on homemaking and childbearing; and that those theories — were the main means of his participation.  Still, he wrapped up the picture of a complete union, so I changed my mind and dismissed him with a kind thought.  Then, I resumed studying the little girl.

She was tall, Mediterranean; dressed in a blue-and-white, sailor striped dress. Lost in her stories, she wandered around her family’s resting ground until the wind would knock off her straw hat and send her running after it.  On her balletic legs, the child would skip for a bit, then  resume walking, very lady-like.  The wind would pick up again and roll the hat for a few more meters, and again, the girl would begin skipping.

I could tell she was either humming or talking to herself.  She’d catch up to the hat, put it on, start walking toward her family’s resting ground while humming, weaving her stories; until the wind would send her skipping again, after the hat two sizes too big for her, in the first place.

I looked at the man next to me:  He seemed to be asleep.

“When you forgive — you love,” I stumbled across that in my memory, felt my legs get heavy with sleep, snuggled against the man guilty of loving me better than he loves himself — and drifted off into yet another nap.

When I woke up, the Little Prince had gotten a hold of his sister’s hat and tried wandering off on his wobbly legs, in search of his own stories.  But the instructions from the father’s chair, put an end to that adventure quite quickly; so the boy returned to resurrecting the things he imagined — in the sand.  In the mean time, the little girl was already skipping through waves, on her balletic legs, but still talking or humming to herself, while weaving her own stories.

There is a forgiveness that must happen, with time, toward the insanities of our families, in order to continue living with them.  That I had known for a while; and past the forgiveness, I’ve benefited with more stories.

Then, there is the forgiveness of those who have failed to love us, with or without their lopsided empathies.  Still, it must be done in order to arrive to new loves, to new empathies, and again — to new stories.

But the forgiveness of ourselves — for the sake of weaving a better story out of our own lives — that seems to be a much harder task.  And it takes time.  It takes a light open-mindedness of a child continuously running after her straw hat, seemingly never learning the lesson because the adventure itself — is worth the wandering.

And when the lesson is learned — forgiveness equals love — the story-weaving gets lighter.  And so does the loving.

“While You’re Gettin’ Your Cry On — I’m Gettin’ My Fly On.”

A cup of brutal coffee and a bath with a wrinkled Bukowski.  Who said that mornings had to be unkind?

These days of waking in a vacuum of unpredictability — they make me think of all the big dogs that have come and gone, and suffered for centuries before me.  Like my own fellow comrades — the big-dogs-in-the-making — they had to have wondered, at times, about where the next meal would come from, or the next rent.

They would hang, like poignant ghosts, at their regular spots, hoping the bartender would eventually remember their faces to comp a drink or two, just when they would be about do a touchdown with the rock bottom.  (Those moments — are the best, in life:  Three minutes before a suicidal thought or the a late afternoon phone call giving you a break.)  And the bartender would nod, quickly, familiarly:

“This one’s on the house…”  

(Actually, I’ll never comprehend the hopefulness of that post-midnight line; for I prefer to not suffer from other self-afflictions besides that hideous empathy of mine.  That’s a handful already.  Don’t hand me any more.)

Only at friends’ barbecues — or at other people’s office parties at Christmas — the big-dogs-in-the-making could get plastered enough on free liquor, to not mind their misery in sobriety.  But elsewhere, at all other times, they could never afford enough drinks to get them there.  So, they would loom on their scuffed-up bar stools, waiting for the bartender’s charity:  The wrathful face of Hemingway and the disappointed one of S. Thompson.

Or perhaps, if their beat-up faces were lucky enough to have appeared in black-and-white print a couple of times by then (they were the big-dogs-in-the-making!):  Perhaps, a random nerdy fan would come out of the woodwork — or from behind a ping ball machine — and start lapping up their faces with his star-fucking gazes; then offer to pick-up their tabs with a handful of sweaty cash.  The female groupies would be less useful at the bar, but better equipped to restore their ego elsewhere — anywhere! — like the backseat of their boyfriends’ trucks, or the nook by the graffitied pay phone, near the john.

Somehow, the big-dogs-in-the-making would gain enough swagger to bed a woman:  because there was always some wide-eyed girl or sinister-eyed widow in the mood for the struggling artist type.  But then, someone’s heart would get attached, then broken; and the big-dogs-in-the-making would scurry back to their crammed in joints, with other struggling types crashing on their couches or sleeping in their bathtubs; and they would write for long enough to finish a pack of cigarettes.  Or to run out of their typewriter ribbon.  Or to forget about a drawer full of rejection letters from agents and publishers:

“At this time, we must regretfully inform you…”

And what did they do, with all those regretful notes, by the way:  so insincere, yet always signed “sincerely”?  Did they glue them with gum, onto a white wall painted by someone with zero of imagination, during a sleepless night of annoying heat and warm beer, in a vacuum of unpredictability?  Or did they tear them up, like I do, just in half — never wasting too much energy on anger, for fearing the flip side of it — then burry the pieces under an aged coffee filter from the morning before?  And just how long would they sit in silence until trying their hand at yet another letter, yet another submission — another hand at that cunty luck:  Would it take them a month?  a year?  a trip to Brazil?  another broken heart of another wide-eyed girl?

And then, there were always those with annoyingly stubborn writing discipline:  The respected academic of Nabokov and the celebrity hermit of Roth.  Every year, their friends would catch them at yet another book deal, another fellowship, another grant.  And surely, the big-dogs-in-the-making would feel the envy on the other end of the phone, as thick as aged honey; and just as grainy:

“Oh really?…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…”

They had to have hated those ellipses loaded with a strained goodwill of their “friends”.  So many!  So many had to get lost during this game of chasing the impossible, often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.  Several had to be dismissed face to face, in a drunken fight when these “friends” dropped their pretenses.  Others — would flake off on their own, with enough time and enough demands from their bratty marriages and whiny children.  But the most relentless, the slowest of losses were those acquaintances sticking around for years, only calling after picking-up a few crumbs of new gossip:

“Saw you in The Paris Review…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…” 

And the big dogs would lie:  Yeah, we should.  But they never would.

No, they’d rather save up their new money for a better hermitage on the coast of New York.  Or maybe even of Connecticut, if they got fed up with all that grime and despair — with that cunty luck — and if they could finally part with their superstition that well-fed artists lost their edge.

I also think of the new big dogs — the ones that are living and publishing now.  They are all quite belligerent — Eggers and Sapphire — shooting out their words with such discipline and urge, that even the confused and the lazy can’t dismiss their names.  The ethnically ambiguous have come through in this century:  The hilarious Diaz.  The empathetic Smith.  The diplomatically graceful Lahiri.  They are all still quite young — and quite beautiful, physically — surfing through their academic careers to earn the respect of the white critics; but then always bringing it back to the streets, back to where they’ve learned to how suffer and how to make use of it; to the rest of the ethnically ambiguous and ethically confused:  To the rest of us.

And somehow, I allow myself the vague hope that maybe, in this century, it needn’t be so painful, it needn’t be so hard to get to one’s often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.

Because who said that the mere human suffering — wouldn’t be enough?

And with an empty cup stained by coffee and a cold bath with a soaked Bukowski, who said that mornings — had to be unkind?

My Russian Badass

As any immigrant, I suffer from a dual personality.  Actually, I’m a bit of a special head case and the list of my personalities seems as endless as the line to Moscow’s first McD’s back on the verge of Russia’s democratic regime; but if you’re one of those purebred Americans (do those even exist?), you should know that in the head of any emigre reigns a border-line schizophrenia.  I’m kinda like that Nina chick from Chekhov’s Seagull:

“I’m a seagull — I’m an actress.  No, I’m a seagull!  Nyet:  an actress!”

In my head’s case, the endless tug o’ war is on the topic of my identity.  When it comes to the tales of V as a child — she is a Russian little bugger; and those memories and dreams happen in a whole different language.  But as a woman, I’ve built my history here, in the U.S. of A.  My first love, my first sexual partner, the first heartbreak, the first loss of a loved one — all happened here.  So, when it comes to my consciousness as a lover, I doth speak English.  In other words, when things get hot ‘n‘ heavy between me and my boos, my tongue communicates in the language I’ve adopted by choice.

So, the hardest question from an American that I can ever answer (besides:  “Do you guys have TV’s over there?”) is this MoFo:

“Which country do you prefer?”

Fuck me!  That’s the hardest toss-up ever.

There is no pride stronger — or devotion more realized — than the one an immigrant feels toward his or her chosen country; especially if the country they’ve left behind gave them some tough lovin’ back in the day.  Some of my fellow ex-patriots, for instance, react to Motha’ Russia’s name with dry heaves:  So impossible is their forgiveness! But seemingly, I’ve finally reached the very delicate balance of being able to not only fully participate in my American life, but to cash-in on my Russian-ness.  By that I mean that, for the very first time since I’ve switched continents, I am able to speak of Russia with forgiveness and admiration.  Now, I am not blind to the irony that out of all the choices of my potential homelands, I had to go choose the largest mother fucker after Motha’ Russia; so that I could continue my gypsy bounce without having to switch visas.  Also, I don’t need the help of my shrink to point out the element of rebellion in the Soviet child’s selection of the country her father spent his entire life opposing.  (Papa was a Soviet Army officer.  ‘Nough said.)

When I encounter my fellow Russians on this fast American land of mine, I gotta say:  They are kinda badass! I now reside in a close proximity to the Soviet Emigre Central, otherwise known as West Hollywood — still the most liberal ‘hood you can find yourself in LA-LA Land, in my opinion.  So, I tend to run into a few of my former country’s comrades.  Yes, I’ve seen the type of the middle-aged, purple-haired woman who looks at you as if premeditating ways she can kill you.  I’ve passed the line-ups of male retirees playing dominos on park benches — all unanimously wearing tracksuits — while they maintain their stoic silence despite the shortness of my dress.  In Hollywood clubs, I’ve picked-out the cluster of young Russian males, in black leather jackets, telegraphing their attraction to me with no more than an eyebrow raise.  But those types are usually guarding a handful of decked-out, made-up, pretty and very expensive Russian girls with demands of such high maintenance, you’d think they’ve never lived through deficits of toilet paper or winter-long power and water outages.  (See my rant about dem Russian girls:  https://fromrussianwithlove.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/from-russia-with-love-very-very-expensive-love.  So, yep:  I usually stay away from those.)

Recently, I’ve even encountered a couple of Russian business types.  By “business,” I don’t mean they handle those jobs that a real-life Tony Soprano would be helpless to do himself.  Here, I am actually speaking of Russians who are in pursuit of some honest livin‘ — and some American dollars.  (Although, if a Russian “businessman” ever threatens to kill you — I recommend to just take his word for it:  It’s just safer that way.)

From this year’s encounters, I began to wonder about the source of my pride I feel toward the better-equipped, better-integrated generation of Russian movers ‘n’ shakers in the midst of their American professional careers.  First of — and most importantly! — these types are always well-educated.  Even if most of their college life unfolded in this country, my dear ex-patriots maintain a very high standard of learning.  There is no such thing in Russia’s educational system as “an elective subject,” you see, my comrades:  You bust yo’ ass and pretend to enjoy soaking-up every science, every art and every humanity.  So, it’s been my experience, that usually, my peeps know what they’re talking about.  The second reason for my pride for my fellow ex-patriots has been better articulated by the previously mentioned Boss Soprano:

“You Russians, you got all the angles.  You come over here, you bust your ass.”  He did manage to get himself some Russian ass at the end of this pep talk, but still:  Russian emigres are some of the hardest working people I know.

And then:  there is the cultural heritage.  I’m not just talking about the again mandatory exposure to the richness of Motha’ Russia’s arts.  I mean:  The national strength that originates from one’s ability to bear and persevere. As we all know, Motha’ Russia has got herself a long and tumultuous history.  Oh how inventive She’s been in the ways to make her children suffer!  Famine, political unrest, centuries of oppression and dictatorships; wars and invasions; inflations and poverty; exile and holocaust — She’s got it all!  (She sounds like a lovely place to visit, doesn’t She?!)  And still, the people of my old country refuse to settle down.  No matter the forever-looming danger of persecution, they insist on practicing their right to an opinion and the pursuit of change. (Here is a tale of one recent Russian whistle-blower:  http://soviet-awards.com/digest/pavlichenko/pavlichenko1.htm.  And I thought, my blog was controversial!)

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” the bard once sang.  Considering the length of those damn Russian winters, the unrest of my former people seems never endless.  But just as my own Russian motha’ prefers to love me from afar, something tells me it is better to practice my affection for my former land from a distance as well.  And still, whether they choose to suffer back home or excel in their pursuits on the American land, I have to hand it to my Russian comrades:  May your stubborn courage and high expectations of your Motha’ country finally deliver a summer of rest and prosperity.