Tag Archives: San Francisco

Uneasy Lies the Head

At first, it was the hair.  Her thick, red hair, with angelic ringlets flocking the frame of her still cherubic face began to slip out of its follicles; and she would watch it slide along the body, in the shower — young garden snakes on sleet — flock her feet, like seaweed, before spiraling down into the drain.

“You ought to be careful, child!  For hair like this, the other females will give you the bad eye!”

Her grandmother was a superstitious woman.  With her thin, brittle fingers, she braided Nola’s curls into tame hair buns or the complex, basket-like constructions on top of her head, which by the end of a day, gave her headaches and made her eyes water.

The tedious ceremonies of the old world’s superstitions slowed down Nola’s childhood to half-speed.  The pinning of safety pins to her underwear after bath, their heads facing downward and away from her heart — “grounding”; the triple twirling and the hanging of a rusty locket, with some dead priest’s hair, around her neck.  Hemp ropes with strange beads tied around her wrists and ankles.  Sometimes, when she drifted off to sleep — but not yet into her dreams — after her grandmother’s bedtime stories, she watched the shadows of the old woman move along the wall:  A giant and magnificent bird casting the whispers of good winds upon her sleeping head.  And in the mornings, when she wasn’t looking — grandmother would slip drops of blessed water into her glass of milk; then keep her hand behind her heart while Nola chugged it down.  All that — to ward off the other women.

Where had this mistrust in the female kind come from?  Nola couldn’t understand it.  And as a child, she was particularly puzzled about that feared bad eye.  Grandma had no tolerance for questions worked up by Nola’s imagination — a quality that later flared up in her own motherhood — so she came up with the answers on her own.  (It was the worst — wasn’t it? — for a child to feel annoying, then dismissed by the habits of the bored and tired grownups.  She hadn’t wanted to become like that!  And yet, she was, right in the midst of it, now.)  These had to be some evil women, Nola decided way back when; some ancient witches with an extra eye to give away.  And they lived among the good and the kind, giving the rest of the womankind a terrible reputation.

One time, walking in her grandmother’s footsteps, through the pre-sunrise layer of the summer fog only to be seen in the Far, Far East of Russia (and in the magical place of which she’d read once, called “San Francisco”), she saw a yellow raincoat.  It balanced on a pair of emaciated legs; and when they caught up with it, Nola looked back:  An old woman, with wet gray hair stuck to her caved-in temples, was staring right back at her from underneath the bright yellow hood.  She reminded Nola of one of those Mexican skeleton dolls of rich, exotic colors, dressed in human clothing that hung on them, like parachutes on manikins.  From behind the fog that clung to every moving or inanimate object, she could hardly see the color of the woman’s eyes.  They seemed to appear milky though, crowded with cataracts.  But the sinister smile that stretched the old woman’s toothless mouth into a keyhole told Nola that she could see well enough to look right through into her heart.

She felt an icy shiver:  A drop of accumulated rainwater slipped under her raincoat collar and began its slow avalanche down the back, along the spine, meeting up with other raindrops and her sudden sweat, growing, gaining weight; gaining momentum.

“Is this it?” Nola thought.  Was this the female owner of the feared bad eye?  Expecting a feeling of sickly slime, terrified yet thrilled at the same time, Nola slipped her hands into her pockets.

“Stop dragging your feet, like a tooth comb through my armpit hair!” her grandmother barked from a few steps ahead.  Nola started running.

 

In adolescence, when all the other girls acquired breasts and waistlines, Nola cultivated auburn braids; and boys began communicating their flared-up desires by yanking them hard, that she would cry.  And if ever she chased after one of such brutal Romeos, uncertain about her own manic urge, the hair whipped her back like two wet ropes.

At night, after her solitude was pretty much assured, she wrapped the clouds of her scratchy hair around her head, so she could doze off — off and away from the voices of her parents, bickering in the kitchen.  (On planes, she dreamed that she could do the same to clouds.  God bless her, soon enough!)  When her braids began reaching the crests of her hips, Nola began the practice of making dolls out of them; and she would rest each on her pillow, next to her lips, and whisper to it her speculations about the far removed and kinder places.

“Is this how you care for your wife ‘n’ child?!” her mother would be squealing in the downstairs dirt room, if dad showed up tipsy from a few chugs of dark Russian beer.

From what Nola understood in other children’s reenactments in their shared sandboxes, her father was not a hopeless drunk at all:  He never fell down in the alleys, later to be found by the female cashiers of the local delis, unlocking the back doors for early morning deliveries or briberies from those savvier Soviets who knew how to get their share of deficit produce to come that week.  Never-ever, had father been taken to the Emergency Room on a sled — pulled by his same “wife ‘n’ child”, in a middle of the Russian winter — to get his stomach pumped from alcohol poisoning.  No, Nola’s dad was just a jolly drunk, occasionally guilty of having a reason to celebrate something — anything! — in his Russian destiny:  A National Fisherman Day.  The fall of Bastille Saint Antoine.  A successful summoning of mere three meals for his family, that day.  Another Day in the Life of…

But mom went off, pulling at her own thinning hair, whenever the man showed up with that harmless — and actually endearing to Nola — goofy smile.  Whenever Nina slipped out her bed and did an army crawl to the top of the stairs, she watched her mother’s body shiver, the skin of her arms vibrate, all — from what looked like an inside job.  The woman wailed and howled, and threw herself against the hard surfaces and all the sharp corners, as if possessed by a death wish.  Mom always took everything too far, into a place of difficult ultimatums and points beyond forgiveness.  And watching her in such a state set off anxiety-ridden arrhythmia in Nola’s heart.

Her mother’s sad, all-knowing smile.  Her choir of scoffs and sighs, and terrorizing whimpers.  Her melancholic, slow head shake belonging to a cartoonish bobblehead stuck to a dashboard of a Moscow’s taxicab:  getting around but not going anywhere!  She felt an urge to run away from all of it — from here and from her — to somewhere, where people didn’t readily construct their painful sentences and woke up with faces drained of all curiosity or tenderness.  Could that be “San Francisco”?  She slept on pillows of her hair and wondered.

(To Be Continued.)

“We Were Born Before the Wind.”

It seemed like she was waiting for someone.  By the bench, at the top of a hilly lawn, the bottom of which met with the narrow gravelly passage occupied by the late morning joggers, she stood there, barely noticed by others.  An iron railing stretched on the other side of the path, and the bright blue waters of Monterey Bay seemed calm.  A forest of boat masts kept swaying in their metronome rhythm.  They clanked against each other with the hollow sound of empty water buckets or rusty church bells.  The shallow waters by the shore were navigated by a couple of paddle boarders and glossy baby seals.

Was it her beloved heading home?  Or was this just a mid-stop where she’d regroup for the next glorious flight of her freedom loving soul?  She stood like she belonged to no one — but the call of her nature, immune to the voices of fear or doubt.

The Northbound wind frolicked with her straight white hair.  I didn’t expect to see that texture on her body, but when I saw the handful of silky strands fly up on the side of her head, I stopped.  She remained motionless:  still and proud, slowly scanning the horizon with her focused eyes.

Just a few meters down, I myself had rested by a statue of a woman.  I couldn’t tell how long ago I had left my room without having a preplanned route through this small town by the Bay; for I myself had come here to rest in the unlikely lack of my own expectations — my fears, worries and doubts — and I had let the movements of the sun determine my activities that day.  So in its highest zenith, I departed from the four walls of my inn after the laughter of children — hyper way too early and fearlessly attacking the nearby pool — woke me up.

I began to run slowly at first, crossing through the traffic of drivers used to the unpredictable characters of pedestrians.  Not once did I resort to my city habits of negotiation by scowls or passive-aggressive gestures.  I bypassed the elders slowly walking, in groups, along the streets of boutique stores with hand-written signs for Christmas sales.  The smell of caffeine and caramel popcorn would trail behind young couples on their romantic getaways.  The joggers of the town were few and far between; so when I reached the narrow passage of the tree alley along the shoreline, I picked up my pace.

The wind kept playing with my fly-aways and untangling my tight hair bun.  A couple of times I turned my head in the direction of its flow and saw the mirage outlines of my most favorite Northern City.

“By the time I get there, I shall be free of fear,” I always think but then return to the predetermined pacing of my dreams.

I noticed the statue’s back at first:  A colonial dress peaked out from underneath a cape, and both were captured in the midst of their obedience to the same Northbound wind.

“A statue of a woman.  That’s a rarity.”

And I walked up to her.

It seemed like she was waiting for someone. Up from the pedestal, she focused her gaze on the horizon.  Her face was calm but gripped by prayer.  I knew that face:  It belonged to a lover who trusted that the wind would bring him back to her, unscathed.  And even if he were injured on his odyssey or tempted by another woman’s feasts, she trusted he would learn and be all the better for it, in the end.  Against her shoulder, she was leaning a wooden cross made of tree branches.

Santa Rosalia:  The Italian saint of fishermen.  She froze, in stone, in a perpetual state of beholding for other women’s men.  Throughout centuries, so many freedom-loving souls must have departed under her watch, and I could only hope that most of them returned.  But when the sea would claim them, did other women come here to confront her or to collect the final tales of their men dying fear-free?

I walked while thinking of her face.  And then, I saw the other awaiting creature.

When she began to walk downhill, she’d test the ground with each step.  With a balletic grace she’d stop at times, and study the horizon.  The wind began to tease her silky hair.  It took figure eight routes in between her legs, and taunted her to fly.

And so she did:  On a single rougher swoosh of the wind, she stretched her giant stork-white wings, gained height and began to soar, Northbound and fear-free.

“… 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stubbornly.

“You Do It Every Hour: Oh, Baby, You’re So Vicious!”

I overheard a girl’s voice:

“That is just SO unattractive!”

Shit!  Have I been busted?

Never-ever in my life, had I ventured outside in a pair of pj’s.  But this pair of sweats, that had previously been purchased in the sleepwear department of H&M, had somehow seemed to be a perfect choice for the recent change in the weather.  They were that pretty color of a Siberian cat’s fur — bluish-gray and fluffy — and so fucking cozy, the rainy Saturday morning had insisted on calling them out of my closet.  Plus they fit over my knee-high Uggs without any bulky stretch in the material.  And I kept thinking no one would be able to tell the primary purpose of this attire, so I left the house.

I remembered wearing these sweats on a run once.

“Are those Cossack pants?” my running partner evaluated my look before we hit the ground running.

Asshole.

He himself was wearing a pair of black, shiny tights with zippers at his ankles, which I’m pretty sure belonged to the women’s portion of a Lululemon store that he had raided a week before.

“Do you know any other guy who could pull these off?” my running buddy had puffed himself up, after berating my attire.

I didn’t want to break it to him.  We were about to run through West Hollywood, so anything went.

“Are you gonna use these as sails?” he turned the attention back to me.  “Just to pick up  some speed, or something?”

These men, who make us, women, feel like we don’t measure up to their standards:  Why do they find it humane, or even appropriate, to express their opinions out loud?

I was proud of my pants though, and I have pleasantly rediscovered them this fall.  When someone mentioned we were expecting a rainy weekend, I had already been wearing these things around the house for a week.  And on this rainy Saturday, they were finally being taken outside.

It was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  The street — with cute boutiques and family-owned restaurants; a deli with excellent (although overpriced) food; a used bookstore and a funky newsstand on the corner — was paved with a wet and shimmering asphalt.  A few sleepy humans came out into the rain to smell the newly rinsed city and its rarely smog-less air.  Two pale young men from a Noah Baumbach future cast were the only ones sitting on the patio and mellowly watching the traffic of shiny, rinsed cars.  Tiny drops of drizzle were tangled up in the tips of their overgrown hair.  They looked like dandelion heads.

The owner of a health store I never visited before was sliding open the rusty gate.  A pretty brunette in rubber rain boots, she, too, looked mellow and somewhat tired.

“Good morn!” she said, sounding like a girl who would never outgrow her college-day quirkiness.  “Love your pants!”

“Thank god for Zooey Deschanel,” I thought, “for paving the road for us, smart girls.”

“Aren’t they perfect?!” I responded cheerfully.  (I was trying too hard — so, I self-corrected quickly.)  “So fucking cozy!”

Yes, it was a perfect San Franciscan morning.  Except that, I was on my street, in Hollywood.

A giant cup of steaming ginger tea, wide enough to wash my face in, began to sound perfect.  I strolled down to the end of the block and stepped inside my favorite coffee joint, with Bohemia-inspired set-up and late night hours suitable for the insomniacs and dreamers.

The light was mellow, streaming down from mismatching lamps, through vintage lampshades and colored lightbulbs.  A mirror ball was slowly spinning in the corner.  A feline female voice was meowing over the speakers.

“Bjork?” I guessed.

That’s when I overheard the girl:

“I mean:  That is just SO unattractive!”

The male barista, who leaned against the counter to listen to the venting female customer, greeted me with a nod.

“Do you know what you’d like?”

“Um?  Do you have any ginger tea?” I said.

“Don’t think so,” he said.  “But lemme check.”

Carefully, from behind my icicle locks of wet hair, I snuck a peak at the girl:  She was pretty and petite.  A cute brunette in an oversized, Flashdance inspired sweater slipping off her naked shoulder, she leaned her body into the bar and arched her back.  The thong, that her position had revealed above her jeans’ belt, seemed pre-staged.  Her hair was messy, wavy, almost nappy, a la Sienna Miller, in her hipster self.  Her jewelry was so H&M:  giant rings and layered necklaces!  She was consumed with scrolling text messages with a single thumb on her Blackberry’s screen.

“Yeah.  I don’t think this is about me,” I thought.

The mellow barista returned:

“I don’t have any ginger tea.  But I have tea — with ginger?”  He linger.

“That’ll do!” I said.

Our transaction was over.  The girl returned to venting:

“I mean, just look at this one!  How can he be texting me such things?

She brushed her sharp nails through the nappy hair and handed over the Blackberry.  She seemed distraught, although slightly showy.

Another lovely girl’s breath wasted.  Another stab at her esteem.

“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 More, Much More Than This: I Did It MY Way!”

I was missing a somewhere, the other night.  I wasn’t really sure which somewhere it was:  Whether it was New York, or that other glorious city up north that I was in the habit of craving.  The skin was calm, but the soul was crawling.  Or at least, the soul was swaying — toward another somewhere, much different from here.

And it was an odd sensation.  I had no obligations to keep me in town, treading the specific ground of here.  I could’ve taken off, at that moment, in my car.  I could’ve driven it for as many gas tanks as my bank account would afford.  And I realized:  I had never found myself in such a here.  Before, there was always something to keep me in place.  But be it my full acceptance of losses or some urgent realization about time — about my now — I suddenly found myself unattached.

No, not de-tached:  for I never let the days pass me with carelessness.  I am not care-less — I am care-free. 

And:  It felt wonderfully.

If there was anything I’ve learned:  I knew there was no use in being frustrated with a lack of time.  Time would keep on doing its thing.  So, instead of measuring my life against the flight of minutes — and their flightiness — I was beginning to choose taking control of them.  (And I’m pretty sure my full acceptance of losses had something to do with it.)

But taking control of time could cause a lot of damage to the human hand.  The only way to actually control it — was to surrender.  To accept the flight of minutes.  To find delight in their flightiness.

Christy Turlington

And the only way to do that — was to live.  Some chose to live it up, in their way:  to defeat time with money.  My way seemed tested by time:  I now live fully, curiously in my here; never putting a curiosity on hold for too long.  For me, the only way to take control of time — was to never let it pass me with carelessness.

For I never was care-less — I was care-free.

So, when I was missing a somewhere, the other night, I thought:

“What if I found that somewhereHERE?”

I knew it had to be a busy somewherea somewhere where other people chose to be here.  It couldn’t be a club or a lounge, because those were always filled with mixed messages and convoluted ways.  In those, one must hunt much harder to find sincerity or truth.  No, I wanted to be somewhere where people walked according to their own nows.  I wanted to see young lovers strolling calmly as if never frustrated with a lack of time.  I wanted to watch friends laughing at outside cafes, kids waking-up their parents with their curiosity.  I wanted to see street artists who could teach me their ways of being carefree.

And so, I drove myself to the coast.  It gets much colder there, I thought; and before starting up my car, I bundled myself in an oversized sweater that reminded me a different somewhere:  NOT here.

I drove in silence, with my windows down.  I remembered the beginning days of cellphone culture:  I was living in New York — a somewhere that’s definitely much different from here.  The only way to escape the clumsiness and unawareness of cellphone users — was to go underground.  Because there was always plenty of stories on the New York City subway, but the stories overheard from phone conversations didn’t seem to be in that plenty yet.  That’s until we would ride out above the ground, at the 125th street:  Cellphones would get whipped out as if in an airborne epidemic; and bits of soundbites from other people’s private lives would flood the train.  And then, we would go underground again, in silence.

So, I chose to drive in silence, the other night, while crawling toward a somewhere much different from here.  (How ever — when ever — did I dare to surrender my moments of daytime silence to the soundbites of other people’s private lives narrated to me over my bluetooth?)

The closer I got to the coast, the denser got the traffic.  There shouldn’t have been any traffic at that hour, but I was glad to navigate it:  It meant other people were driving out, according to their nows.  Other people were choosing to tread the ground, and maybe I could find a little bit of a different somewhere here, that night.

On foot, the very first couple I saw was hip and mellow, and completely stunning.  He was tall and pretty.  She was tiny, exotic, quirky and adored.  They were wearing layers of tattered tees and oversized sweaters.  She sported a military jacket, with feather earrings touching the seams of its shoulders, in the fashion of other exotic girls, in that glorious city up north that I was in the habit of craving.

A homeless man with a full, gray beard was walking a golden retriever.  The dog seemed better groomed — and fed — than the owner; and that other person’s love soothed me with calmness:

“Everything is still quite alright, with the world,” I thought.

He wasn’t — careless.

Then, there was an older couple:  both white-haired and neatly dressed in all shades of blue.  Each possibly older than their sixth or seventh decade, they walked very slowly, according to their nows, very specific and very different from the now of mine.

“What is this here called?” the woman asked in a child-like voice.  She was speaking Russian.

“A mosaic,” he responded, in English, studying the facade of the church that attracted his girl’s attention.

She repeated it, in English.  They were both still learning, waking each other up with mutual curiosity.  And they loved.

“Everything — is still quite alright, with the world.”

A husky voice belonging to an angel reached my ears.  I started walking, quite slowly, toward the curly blonde in an oversized coat singing on the Promenade.  A small crowd had accumulated around her.  People leaned against trees, against their beloveds; they sat on benches, each obeying their nows.

The angel, when speaking, had a London accent — from a somewhere much, much different from here.  She sang our night away.

I never got to the somewhere that I was missing that night.  But I somehow, my here was good enough.

It was perfect, actually.

“And I Still Have Hope: We’re Gonna Find Our Way Home.”

I’m on the 405, northbound.  Where I’m heading — is not really my kinda town, but it’s pretty enough.

Along the 405, such towns don’t seem to exist.  But I could always jump onto the 101 — and go home.

HOME.

It’s one hell of a hubris to assume that I could ever even have a home.  I’ve given it up, years ago, right around the time when most children cling to theirs.  They reach out for a sliver of Life in college, taste it, then scurry home to regurgitate it inside their childhood bedrooms still decorated with high school plaques and the faces of their expired heros.

And they whine:

“I’v changed my mind:  I am not hungry anymore.  I’d rather stay home.”

In spoonfuls, I ate mine up.

And then, I asked for seconds.

How Life flooded in!  And it continues to do so if I keep admitting to myself that I possess more hunger in me than most grown-up children I know.

Sometimes, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, but the ego doesn’t admit it:  It just stands there, a scarecrow in the path of a hurricane.

“I can handle it!” it boasts — and when I withstand; soon enough, I ask for seconds.

The things is:  You have got to keep raising the stakes!  Other people won’t do it for you.  You — only you! — know how much you can handle; and even if you don’t, there will be a growl in the pit of your stomach that tells you:  You can!  You know you want it!  C’mon!

And if you don’t do it, Life will flood in on its own, without asking, but this time it will break  down all the levees to shit.  Then, you’ll be hustling around, trying to catch up; trying to pick up the pieces:

“But I wasn’t hungry,” you’ll whine again.  “This is too much!  Why does this always happen — to me?!”

I pull off the road to fill up the tank.  At the service station nearby, I watch two heavyset mechanics trying to decipher something on their computer.  They mirror each other in the way they jam their bent wrists into the non-existent waistlines.  And all this could be idilic, except this is not really my kinda town.

And then, one of the mechanic whines:

“Is it time for lunch yet?  I’m not even hungry but bored outta my mind here, today!”

I keep on driving.  The sunlight bounces off the gas station signs and it blinds with something called V-Power.

I jump onto the 101 after all.

HOMEBOUND.

But by god, it is so beautiful around here!  After all of these years, I still haven’t gotten used to the sight of palm trees.  They stick out, like gentle, goofy giraffes, and they make me chuckle with an awareness of Here:  However odd or unimaginable, my Here — is very specific.

The rest of my Here sprawls out for miles.  It winds up, then drops down into the valleys colored with that deep green of my former home — so deep, it seems purple — it’s breathtaking.  When the roads narrow, I’m likely to slip in between two peaks.

I pass the burnt out hills:  It’s the end of summer, and the drought is yet to come.  So are the fires.  Yet, I have never seen such a shade of orange before:  It announces the proximity of possible disaster.  How thrilling!

There is an occasional greenery around planned communities where all the houses look alike with their pastel colors and idilic laziness:  They are — other children’s homes.

Except that these are not really my kinda towns:

My towns must be rougher around the edges.

So, these are not my kinda homes.

The PCH greets me with a marine layer that I’ve been taking for granted since leaving my home:  At home, that layer is perpetual.  Over there, they stumble through fog.  Over there, they cope.  Life floods in daily, over there; yet, still the days pass in a perpetual state of denial, unreadiness and self-pity.

But I never wanted to cope.  I wanted to live.

So, I’ve given up my home, years ago.

Besides, there was nothing left over there to cling to.  Life has flooded in so much, it has taken all the levees out completely; and many have given up on picking up the piece.  Instead, they choose to live in ruins, until Life floods in again.  And then, they cope.

But Here:  Here — is where I live!  And by god, it is so beautiful —  around Here!

The fog is burning out quicker than I can burn the miles.  The smell of the Ocean slips inside my car.  I roll down the windows.  Take the hair down.  The Ocean is stretching until the horizon, and right past it, I think, is where my home used to be.  Not anymore.

HOME.  HOME.  HOME.

I speed up, homebound.

Summerland.

Montecito.

Santa Barbara.

These towns are all very pretty.  But they are not really my kinda towns:

My town must be rougher around the edges.

It’s a two-lane road, from Here.  I see the arrows, pointing onward:

San Francisco.

HOMEBOUND.

“She’s So… (Insert Guitar) HEA-VAAAAAAAAY!”

Don’t dwell on the past.

In so many words, my comrades have been telling me that, for ages.

They wait for me at the agreed-upon intersections in San Francisco, at New York delis, or at coffee shops — when in LA-LA.  Some hear me speeding by, in search of parking, while simultaneously texting them:  “b there in a min.”  They watch me march into a joint, with my hair pulled back.  (Unless traveling long distances up the coast, with all the windows rolled down, I keep that mane tamed at all costs.)  I walk into my rendezvous, smiling at the clerks and saying hello to strangers; then, I scan the room for my beloveds.

I see them and immediately move in for a hug:

“It’s been so long.  So happy to see you.  Ah.”

I wrap myself with their bodies: I am not big on personal spaces between beloveds.

And when that’s all done, I start dumping my loads onto the nearby chairs, peeling off my purses and sweaters.  I’m the type of a broad who carries a first-aid kit at the bottom of her endless bag.  A nail file.  A pair of scissors.  A tampon (always!).  A dozen hairpins.  And a sewing kit:  Never know when you may need one.  And you bet your sweet ass, I have a notebook somewhere in there, as well.  I just have to look for it.

“Well, maybe I left it in the car.”

I don’t even own one of those dainty purses I see other girls carry on their forearms into clubs.  Those things always make me wonder about the gap between the purpose they’re meant to represent and their actual functionality.  It’s a metaphor gone awry.  A promise meant to be disappointing.

But then again, the lesser the load — the lighter the female, right?

Perhaps.  But I doubt it.

In my defense, with time — with age — I’ve gotten significantly lighter, it seems.  It wasn’t a determined decision to drop the endless self-flagellation ceremonies of my 20s.  Instead, they just sort of slipped out of my daily routines; giving room to more decisiveness or to very tired surrender.  Having realized I’m merely an impossible debater to defeat, I stay out of arguments — with myself.

And so, I’ve gotten significantly lighter.  And so have my baggages.

I flop into the chair, across from the face I have now loved for ages, and I let down my mane:

“Ah.  Can I get you something to drink?”

It’s a habit that just won’t go away:

I examine the needs of my beloveds before I check up on my own.

But they’re fine.  My people — are always fine.  They are resilient.  Strong and competent, never helpless.  And even if they’re not fine — that’s fine too; because if ever they ask me for help, I never go telling on them.  And neither do I ever mention it again.

“Seriously.  Don’t mention it.  My honor!” I say, as if threatening.

Love comes with no ties attached.

We begin to talk:  A quick game of catching up with the lapsed time.  A survival of our separations.  If it were up to me, I would have all of my beloveds live with me in a commune:  Some Victorian house balancing on a cliff above the ocean, with a menu of attics and basements, and hiding places for their selection.  And at night, we would gather at a giant wooden table in the middle of an orchard, and we would search our oversized bags — and baggages — for nighttime stories and lovely fairytales about surrender.

But my people — are vagabonds and gypsies; and they go off to conquer their dreams, and to defeat their fears, on the way.

After enough is said to make me want to have a drink or to toast, I finally get up from the chair and start making my way to the counter, smiling at the clerk, again.  In a couple of steps though, I look back, flip my mane and say:

“Sure you don’t want anything?”

Equipped with replenishing elixirs and an item in place of bread that we can break together, I come back to the table, rummage through my purse for a napkin and jumpstart the next round of storytelling.  And I guarantee, most of the time, these are stories of broken loves and departed lovers.

But my people are fine, of course.  They are resilient.  Carefully, they process their losses; and they start dreaming of the next adventure.  The next love.  The next story.

“I’ll drink to that,” I say and tip my mane back while chugging down my drink.

When it’s my turn, however, my stories don’t come out with an obvious ending.  Instead, they offer endless lessons and questions.  For years, for decades, I have been known to mourn my lovers.  I flip each story on its head; and as if yet another endless bag of mine, I rummage through it for details and conclusions.

And that’s when my comrades try to put an end to it:

“Don’t dwell on the past,” they say, and they go to the counter for a refill.

I don’t really know what that means:

None of my stories are ever put to rest.  And neither are my loves.

Instead, they bounce around, at the bottom of my endless baggage, waiting to be pulled out the next time I am in the midst of rummaging for words.  Which must be why I retell each tale so many times, committing it to my own memory and to the memory of my beloveds.

So, dwelling on the past:  I don’t really mind that, as long as I don’t dwell in it. And in my defense, I have gotten lighter, with time, and with age.  And so have my baggages.

“Can You Bounce Wit Me, Bounce Wit Me, Ge-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi?”

Mmm:  First cup of coffee of the day.  Mmm-hmm.  Oh yeah.

Achy, I stumble across the apartment this morning while listening to the gargling of my coffee drip.  I cannot wait.

My freelance gig of last night is sitting in my joints and in the arches of my feet:  So tired!  The neck is stiff, causing me a mellow headache.  Still, the pain is no stronger than the gratitude for finally manufacturing an income that doesn’t violate, compete with, or drain my work.  No longer do I report to anyone else but myself.  And others that hire me for my expertise treat me with dignity and a slight amusement that covers up their utter adoration of my company.  I stretch the neck, both ways.  Something snaps on the left side.

GRATITUDE.

Or should I blame the 7-mile dash across the beach yesterday, for feeling so roughed up?  Barefoot and barely dressed, I squeezed in between the beautiful bodies of strutting brown girls in yesterday’s sun, and I kept on running.  There is an esteem in me these day that other women pick-up on:  Not only do they smile at me (for they have always done that) — they grin, openly, in recognition or admiration — while they size me up discretely, the way that only women can do.  I grin right back at them, and I find myself picking up speed.

Oh, if I could, I would kiss every one of them on their shiny, pink-bow lips that must taste like purple grapes or black cherries; drinking them up, like that first cup of coffee of the day!

Mmm.  Life.  Oh yeah.

The drip has committed its last exhales, always so a-rhythmical.  But only after it does half a dozen of spit takes do I slowly make it over to the machine.  Ouch, ouch:  The arches of my feet are killing me!  The cold of the kitchen tiles feels soothing though.

I pour the first cup, watch its surface covered with patches of broken oily film; and at first, I am tempted to lap them up with my tongue.  Instead, I stare at them, like an old Turkish wise woman, reading coffee grounds for signs of my own destiny.  But I cannot see the bottom of the cup, so my story gets to keep its mystery.  All the better that way.

Mmm.  Life.

The hot liquid is somehow of perfect temperature this morning, and it goes down so easily; so smoothly.  Its acidity hangs in the back of my teeth with an aftertaste that makes me want to drink up more.  So much more!  To drink it up, to lap it up — all of it, with gratitude! — for having been given another day, another go at a dream.  Another chance at some good living:  Mmm.  Life!  Calmly, the patches of yesterday’s thoughts about today’s commitments start coming up to the surface — and I cannot wait to begin!

I pour the second cup and make my way over to the desk.  The morning outside is foggy.  I catch myself thinking of San Francisco.  Oh yeah:  The possibilities.

My dreams loom in the back of my consciousness, as if ripening until I am ready to gather them into the bottom of my skirt and to take a bite.  There have been so many of them:  These dreams of mine.  And there have been so many loves.  And each one, I don’t delay for long — but for long enough to gather the courage, the necessary readiness and the strength; the agility, the open-mindedness — before I begin their pursuit.

But what was it — that lullabied me to sleep last night?  I do remember venting to myself, while fighting the beginnings of this mellow headache.  The patches of yesternight’s thoughts slowly come up to the surface; and the fragments of their through-lines remind me of feeling agitated and strangely inspired.  (Mmm:   Life.)

Monogamy!  Bingo.  That’s it.

I was thinking about monogamy last night.  Achy, I paced across the apartment, at midnight; defining something that I’ve never had a problem trying on, with each of my loves.  (And there have been so many of them:  My loves.  Mmm.)  But then again, I’ve never had the audacity to deny myself — or my partner — the variety, in life.  I am not the one to confine my lover to limitations of a single woman:  me. Because I myself know how much beauty, how much possibility there is to lap up; to drink up; to chug it down — like the first cup of coffee of the day.

But of course, each coupling of lovers must define it for themselves.  And it’s a lengthy process of figuring out how each partner measures up against the other, with his or her beliefs, passions and hungers.  And it’s not an easy talk of comparing each other’s needs and opinions — on monogamy; but such talks must happen continuously, as the relationship grows and changes, morphing into more and more specificity.  These talks:  They must happen — absolutely! — because only in mutual honesty, does a coupling of lovers find the dignity and the esteem that comes from navigating one’s life well.

Yeah!  Honesty!  That is — the saving grace, in love.  I am addicted to it, and my girlfriends sometimes find it tragic.  And they find it odd that I allow my lovers the freedom of pursuing their hungers — as long as I am made privy to those pursuits before they happen.  It’s a health thing, at first, of course!  A physical safety thing.  I owe that to my lovers — and they owe that to me.  And then, there is the health of one’s consciousness whose only route of navigation — is honesty.

Oh yeah!  Life.

Mmm.