Tag Archives: sexuality

The Way to a Man’s Heart

(Continued from August 12th, 2012.)

Be it from a life-long deprivation of male attention or grandma Tanya’s diagnosis of Galina’s “messed-up nerves”, cuz’s hormones went berserk as soon as she dropped out of school after the sixth grade.  In all fairness, there was not much use to furthering her education, Galina’s parents presumed:  After the accident, she wasn’t bound for big things any longer.  And the Russian inbred understanding that one was born into one’s circumstances — and no amount of prayer, chance or hard work would transcend a citizen into a higher, more fortunate caste — spiraled Galina’s life into one of a peasant.  She would be following her parents’ path, and in that, no comrade could find much tragedy.

“But I’m going to marry!” she announced one Sunday morning, on the steps of a neighboring town’s church.  The other girls-in-waiting surrounded and teased her for the name of her future husband.  (Competition makes women one mean lot, especially when they are those middle-ground, okay-looking ones that hold onto their men with their teeth and fear.)  But Galina remained secretive, as if she were the best of Soviet spies.

“You don’t have no fiance yet!” the young women challenged.  I mean:  Had she fallen off the rocker?!  Who did she think she was?!  Engagements took months to set up.  Dozens of chaperone shifts were arranged by the elders.  Sunday’s best, collected by the girl’s parents throughout her life, were dug out of the familial traveling trunks, washed and ironed, and put to use.  And the honing of womanly duties — by the river bank where other housewives rinsed their laundry and in the kitchen; by the married women’s lectures on the suddenly poignant topics of personal hygiene and the horrors of their wedding nights — these things demanded serious commitment and courage on a girl’s part!

“It takes a lot of work to lure a man!” the girls-in-waiting lectured the crippled simpleton.  There was no way she presented much competition!  And they supposed they would’ve just let her dream on, had she not perturbed them with such a silly idea, in the first place.

And they did have a point:  No one had ever seen Galina starch her petticoats or outline her eyes with sharpened charcoal sold at the department store, to which one had to ride a bus for two and a half kilometers.  In the later part of summer, Galina had yet to travel to other women’s homes to help them pickle cabbage or to cure pork belly in salt baths whenever a local family decided to lessen its livestock count.  And neither was she known to possess any skill mending socks or warding off a bad eye.  She wasn’t in the know on how to start up a stove or a banya, for a man.  She couldn’t brew home-made liquor or even a jar kvas.  Such skills were expected of any bride, especially from one that could’t bewitch a man based on her looks alone.

“So what?!” Galina obnoxiously defended herself.  She was an innocent, but any challenge against her word of truth — and she could throw a fit which even the devil would overhear.  “My dad’s already traveled to three dinners two towns over!” she continued bragging.  “He says even the chairman of the collective farm over there could be interested.  (He’s got a handsome son, didn’t you know?)”

How much truth there was to Galina’s aspirations — no one knew for certain.  But Galina’s father — an alcoholic who freelanced around town to clean people’s outhouses, or to build new ones — was not to be taken lightly, at least by the townsmen; for quite a sizable physique did uncle Pavel have on him!  The man was a giant, barely fitting into doorways; and he was gossiped to have never shared a bed with his wife because there just wasn’t enough room for two.  Pavel was known to sleep in the cow stable; and that is exactly where, according to the gossip, Galina had to have been conceived.

Every night, Pavel raised hell with vodka on his breath.  Galina’s mother Masha had begun to lock him out of the house; and at dawn, she searched the village’s ditches and liquor store alleys and dragged her alcoholic giant home (where she would deposit him into the cow stable yet again).

So, even though Galina’s self-proclaimed bridal status appeared absurd to most, one had to consider the fear Pavel imposed on young grooms-in-the-making.  And there were other factors to consider, as well:

“She does collect a sizeable pension,” the townswomen speculated after the news of Galina’s betrothal began to spread.  “Not a bad deal for a dowry!”

Others approached the subject with medical facts:  “Lord knows, so deprived her womanly parts have been, for all these year!  I bet she’s not too difficult to bed.”

The women giggled.  The subject of sex was not a frequent one in the idealistic minds of Soviet citizens.  Like anywhere else in the world, men wanted it; but it was entirely a responsibility of the women to a. to put out or to hold out, and b. protect themselves in the process.  But even with one’s gynecologist, it was inappropriate to comfortably, openly discuss such matters.  So, to be born pretty was a questionable blessing, for a Russian girl.  But to be born smart — to know how to negotiate her worth before the broken hymen, to smoothly transition herself from under the care of her father to that of her husband — that, in the eyes of women and their mothers, was a much more important entity.  (So, that part about sex being enjoyable — in some women’s lives, they never knew of it.  Enjoyment was left to the other types of women:  the loose ones, the ones that every town had and loved to judge; and in the cities, they were the second “wives” that some husbands kept on the side, on weeknights.)

(To Be Continued.)

Chernoglazaya

(Continued from May 6th, 2012.)

Having arrived to the city a few hours earlier, father walked around the bus terminal in hopes of running into Inna and her mother, en their route back home.

“Bad news from Baykalsk,” Inna overheard from where her mother had run off, to hug her handsome, uniformed husband.  The hush among the other awaiting passengers meant that mother’s emotional outburst earned her the desired audience, yet again.  Her legs below the pink-lavender skirt appeared shapely; and her heels, that lifted out of the boats of the red stilettos, as reached to kiss her man, were round and soft.

Father’s mother — an Amazonian looking woman, with arms of sinew and leathery skin earned by working in the fields of the town’s collective farm — had suffered a heart attack that morning.  Inna’s grandfather, who could never beat his wife in rising early to tend to their livestock, found her still in bed, after he had returned from the outhouse.

“Will you look at her?!” he joked, at half voice, nudging the sheeted mound under which his wife had always slept, with her head fully covered.  “I think I’m feeding this one for nothing!”

As Inna remembered, there was always a bawdy familiarity between her grandparents, something that she had never witnessed in her own parents’ interactions.  When the tall woman worked in the kitchen, sweating over steaming pots or pummeling dumpling dough with admirable punches, Inna, who liked to hide out on top of the brick stove, had often watched her grandfather come up from behind his wife and land a loud smack onto his wife’s hips.  He would then leave his hand resting there, while he nuzzled her neck and demanded to be given a taste of things.  The woman would laugh and attempt to shake her husband’s hand off her ass, his chin — off her shoulder; but even Inna could see she wasn’t trying too hard.

The display of such affection tickled the girl.  But Inna’s mother had a different reaction:

“Such peasants!” she had once muttered as the family gathered for dinner, in the garden behind the grandparents’ house.

That early evening, grandmother, having climbed onto a short ladder, was reaching for the top branches of overgrown raspberry bushes, from which she was retracting giant, fuzzy berries, still warm from that day’s sun.  Her kerchief had slid off, and the cotton housedress, of matching material, rode up the woman’s legs to reveal the white elastic bands that held up her brown knee-highs.  For the first time, Inna took notice of her grandmother’s stark white skin and her protruding veins.  It was drastically different from the supple and brown skin of her mother, who had, minutes ago, came down from tanning on the house rooftop, for most of that afternoon.

When the men entered the gate, from their day of flipping hay in the field, all the women perked up.  Mother began to giggle and trace her hand over the top of her breasts, as if to wipe away the sweat from the hours of leisure in the sun, but then leaving it there to linger.  Inna’s aunt — a tall and slim woman with brutally protruding facial bones — checked her reflection in the brass samovar, that mounted the wooden table like a tzar before his court.  A field of mismatching serving dishes — covered with lids or saucers that warded off the flies — began to accumulate around the samovar.

The men, tired but boisterous from the gulps of home-brewed, iced beer, attacked the table on which Inna’s aunt kept rearranging the assortment of zakuski.

“Get!  Get!” the aunt began shooing them away, slapping their tan, hairy arms with a kitchen towel.  The men, grumbled and laughed; but managed to lift up the saucers and stick their dirty fingers into their contents, smacking their lips in approval.

Mother joined in:  “We aren’t finished yet!” she said, shooting her sister-in-law a conspiring look.  In loud laughter, she revealed her shiny front crowns, that glistened like plastic pearls, against her increasingly tan face.  “Go wash up!”

Having grabbed a handful of scallions and ducked them into a nearby cup of salt, Inna’s grandfather was the first to scurry off.

“Papa!” Inna’s mother scolded him, flirtatiously.

The old man paid her no attention.  Instead, he approached his wife, who remained unperturbed by the presence of men and the commotion they have caused among the younger women.  With each reach, her housedress continued riding above and below the white elastic bands at her knees; and she continued sizing up each berry with a concentration of a scientist.  Grandpa watched at first, the stems of scallions still sticking out of his mouth, moving in unison, as he chewed them.  When the plan of action appeared to have finally formulated in his head, he discarded the last of the stems with a theatrical gesture, ran up on his wife, and stuck his head underneath her dress.

“Oy, Vanya!  Vanyetcka!” — grandmother couldn’t help but laugh — “Vanyush, oy!”  She slapped her husband’s balding head hidden under her dress but managed to mostly miss her target.  The old man lifted her off the ladder; and despite the flurry of her disoriented slaps and girly punches, delivered her to the dinner table.

The young couples looked on.  Inna’s father, sitting on the bench, stole occasional glances while he gnawed on rectangular slices of salt-curried fatback.  The boyfriend of Inna’s aunt now busied himself with loosening, rolling and lighting up some tobacco.  Meanwhile, Inna, surprised by her grandfather’s strength, grinned while making a go of stealing handfuls of warm raspberries that spilled from her grandmother’s basket, onto the table top.

Mother — alas! — interrupted the silence:  “In-na?” she said in her suddenly uptight, authoritarian voice, the sound of which made Inna’s stomach tighten.  “What do we do with our hands before dinner?”

Every adult at the table seemed to look over.  Inna looked for her father; but finding him preoccupied with fishing out semi-pickled cucumbers from a barrel in the shadow patch in the garden’s corner, she had no choice but to admit defeat.  She earned a light yank by the scruff of the tattered sailor’s undershirt that used to belong to her grandfather, which she had made a habit of wearing; and was sent to wash up, upstairs.

“How many times must I repeat myself?” mother hissed.

Only when both mother and daughter reached the dirt room of the house that Inna was made privy to the cause of her mother’s sudden irritation:  “Such peasants, these people!” she muttered.  Her face appeared to harden, all the sun-induced laziness of her movements gone instantaneously.

 

“Ah, dear god!” mother was now saying with an admirable annunciation for someone crying her eyes out.  With her face pressed against her husband’s decorated lapel, mother reminded Inna, yet again, that she was quite a small woman.  “At least, she died in her sleep,” mother said with a quivering voice, reaching for her husband’s ear on her tippy toes.  “At least, she didn’t suffer.”  She paused, to then crescendo to a sob, followed by:  “My god, I loved her so much!”

Inna’s father appeared to be at a loss.  He stared at the tips of his shoes and shifted from one foot to another.  He soon looked up to find Inna who fumbled with the now filthy bit of dough between her fingers.  Her eyes, welled-up with giant tears, were on him all this time.

Father winked:  “What’s happening, my brown-eyed girl?” he said.

On that, mother wiped her own face with the giant polkadot bow at her left shoulder and shot Inna a look.  It was enough for Inna’s eyes to release their tears.  She began to blink rapidly, focusing only on the sensation in her finger tips.  Through the blur, she saw her father motion her over; to which Inna gratefully surrendered, fitting herself another his free arm and letting her tears soak the side of his jacket, near the pocket with a bundle of keys.

“Everything will be alright, my little larks,” she heard her father say.  “I promise:  Everything will be alright.”

(To Be Continued.)

“You and I Have Memories Longer Than the Road That Stretches Out Ahead.”

It’s long past midnight in Warsaw.  There is a new couple that has moved into the apartment across the street.

For the last two days, it has been sitting empty, with the curtains open and the stark white mattress in the middle of the living-room.  On the first of the new year (today), they have appeared:  He’s tall, with pepper and salt hair; she’s lovely.  And even though I cannot see the details of her face underneath her bangs, I can imagine the high cheekbones and the doll-like roundness that I’ve been seeing in the store window reflections of the last twenty years.

I watch them from my kitchen, while drinking coffee.  I am jet-lagged.

The curtains remain open and the yellow light of a single lamp is getting some assistance from the screen of their TV.  They’re eating dinner that consists of corn on the cob and one bucket of KFC (so very Eastern European, as I have come to learn).  Occasionally, they half turn their faces to each other:

“You want some tea?”

Or,

“For what time, you think, we should set the alarm clock, in the morning?”

I leave them be and wander from one room to another to check on our drying laundry.  The guidebook never promised us domestic amenities, so the discovery of a washing machine in our kitchen came as a complete surprise.  The dryer button is jammed on it though, but considering I have arrived here with my arrested expectations from post-Soviet Russia, circa 1997, I am extremely grateful for the dignified living standards with which this city has accommodated us.

Besides, the absence of a dryer — I find romantic.  I run my hands along the cloths from my and my lover’s body, earlier drenched from running through this cold city, and wonder what it would’ve been like if I were to enter my womanhood in my birth place.  Would I have known the grace of unconditional love and the finally non-tumultuous forcefulness of me?  Would I’ve grown up kind, or would the much harder life of my homeland have taken a toll on my character and aged me, prematurely?  And would I have the privilege of choices that make up my identity now, still generous and grateful for the opportunities I’ve found abroad?

Identity.  In my impression of the world, this word comes from the American ventricle of me.  But after this week’s reunion with my father, who never had the privilege to watch me make the choices that led me to the woman that I am, I am surprised to find myself resemble him so much.  Despite the separation of nearly two decades:  I am my father’s daughter.  Of course, by some self-written rules, it’s presupposed that I have traveled further in my life than father ever did in his.  I’ve been exposed to more world, and in return, it taught me to question twice all prejudices and violations of freedom.  But what a joy it’s been to find that, in my father’s eyes, life is only about truth and grace and justice; and matters of identity, for him, have no affect on any person’s freedoms.

I wander back into the kitchen, sit down into my father’s chair.  Thus far, it’s been the greatest pleasure of my life to watch him eat good food that I have made.  While eating, dad is curious and — here’s that word again — grateful:

“What’s that ingredient?”

And,

“What do you call this bread?”

And I can see him now:  slouching just a little above his meal, in this chair; shaking his head at the meal that he finds to be gourmet, while to us — it is our daily bread.  I have to look away when with childlike amusement he walks his lips along a string of melted cheese:

Here is to more such meals, my most dear love, and to the moments that define a life!  that must define MY life!

The couple in the window across the street has finished their meal.  The table is still cluttered with settings, crumbled paper napkins and a red bucket whose iconography — although recognizable — is somehow different from the red-and-white signs that pollute the American skyline.  The couple is now on the couch:  She’s sitting up and removing pillows from behind her back, then tossing them onto the wooden floor.  He is fetching two smaller ones, in white pillow cases, from the bed.  Together, they recline again and progressively tangle up into each other, like lovers who have passed the times of dire passion and landed in that even-tempered place of loving partnership.

The light of the TV is now the only one illuminating their spartan room.  From where I stand, now drinking a cup of black tea (still, jet lagged), I only see the back of his head and her hand that has ended up near his right shoulder.   Occasionally, he half turns his face toward her, then turns toward the flickering blue light again:

“Are you comfortable, my love?”

Or,

“Would you rather watch the news?”

I walk into my bedroom to fetch my computer.  The yellow light follows me from the kitchen and slowly dissipates as I approach the next doorway.  It, ever so lightly, hits the exposed leg of my sleeping lover.  I think I study him, but instead the mind gives room to memories of similar moments and visions.  And in that suspended history of us, I reach into the drawer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck it:  Truth — all the time!

And if you don’t like it — LEAVE!

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

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

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

True — all the time.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gave the cabbie her intersection.  We were silent.

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

Show over, buddy!  

Back to truth.

“Put Some Colored Girls — in The MoMA!”

She was brown, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink; and when she walked, the wind played peekaboo from underneath her skirt.  The hair was down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft, but with some mighty heft:  One could easily bury a hand in it, or an entire limb; or tangle up a heart.

On her feet, she wore a pair of sandals borrowed from some Amazon warrior, which buckled all the way up to her magnificent mid-calf.  The muscles trapped under all those belts and copper buckles moved and flexed; and at any moment, she could’ve shaken off the dainty shopping bags from her shoulder blade — and start leaping:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.

“God damn!” I muttered to my partner.

But he was already on the same page:  squeezing my bicep and smiling the grin of a six-year-old who has just discovered he liked girls — most definitely!  He waited for the creature to get another meter ahead of us, stared at the ground — out of his respect for me and for my brown dream girl — and he quietly said:

“I know.”

Immediately, I thought of that ugly, old dog I have been honing to become my muse, in moments of my literal dry spell:

“but why do they do that?

why do they look like that?

why do they let the wind do

that?”

Bukowski, Hank:

Always in love with some magical bird’s legs, treating every infatuation like a temple in which to worship a departed lover.

Just as I do.

Amen!

But then again, that’s all it took:  a flight of one magical bird, in a silky slip of raw salmon pink — and my hunger was resurrected.

I felt the urge to play again, to worship, to want.  To dream.  To love.

And the literal dry spell — was over.

Another one sat sideways on a tiled step of a whirlpool, reading The New Yorker, folded in half, lengthwise.  She barely looked at me when I slowly descended into the hot water.

Okay:  There was one glance.  But that’s all it took:  a glance by one magical waterbird.

Then, she returned to reading, while all I could think was:

“Was there a smile?”

Because I swore there was.  A small one.  The one that I use myself to thank a man for his attention but to prevent any further advances.  The pressed-lipped one.  The smile-off.  (You know the kind:  It’s kind.)

She wore the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.  And in between flipping the pages, she would put the magazine aside and go under the swirling, hot water entirely.  The silky hair of her Persian heritage would float above; and when she would come back up — it would cling to her long neck and the upper arms like second skin.  Or like an oily film on the wings of some magical waterbird.  She would read some more, do that thing again.

And when she slowly ascended out of the hot water, the hair continued on:  sticking to her lower back and all along her toned, capable arms; and it would invade the boundaries of the tiniest bikini the color of the first summer tan.

“you don’t know how exciting life can get

around here

at 5:35 p.m.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

The dry spell, how ever literal, was over.

Back home, on my phone, I’d find a message from a creature an ocean away.  She was brown, caramel-brown, to be exact; and she had a library of hair styles, each more striking than the next.  At times, she’d wear it down, relaxed in that magical way that made it soft but with some mighty heft:  and every time, I would bury my entire heart in it.  Other times, she would tame it with a scarf the color of dry grass on the veldt of her heritage.  But my favorite was always the halo of tight curls, each perfected with some potion that only the brown girls know — and seemingly with a twirl of her long, pinky finger.

She would get inside my car and unleash her hair, filling the air with the aromas of coconut and that very magical potion that only the brown girls know — and with the perfume of her dreams.

“God damn!” I’d say and yank us into traffic.

And I would start speeding, as if we were a pair of Amazon warriors, about to leap out:  to save a child or to defeat a monster.  But really, my only excuse for speeding was to make her laugh, while shaking the halo of those tight curls in which I would bury my heart — for keepsakes.

“200 years ago they would have burned her

at the stake

now she puts on her

mascara as we

drive along.”

(Bukowski, Hank.)

Her message on my phone had come from the veldt of her heritage.  She had flown home, after a break-up; and instead of healing herself in the arms of the next lover, she went off to help the others, more in need:

To save the children and to defeat the monsters.

“God damn!” I muttered, this time to myself, and I sat down to write.

Because that’s all it would take:  a flight, a bird, a wing, or a kind heart.

And my dry spell, how ever literal, would finally be over.

Amen.

“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.

“Don’t Need That Money When You Look Like That: Do Ya, Honey?”

You girls in sensual summer dresses:

You forever rob me of the reluctant negotiation with my parting sleep; and every morning, you remind me that beauty — is always worth waking up to.

I just saw one of you, from behind the opened shades of my bedroom window, walking your dog along my sleepy street.  It is still that lovely hour of the morning before Angelinos, obliged to obey their hideous parking regulations, start crawling out of their beds to grumpily tend to their vehicles.  The traffic has not wound up the common vibration of annoyance in this city’s air.  Not yet.  The sounds of perpetual Los Angeles constructions and Mexican leaf-blowers are yet to jolt us all with reminders of other people’s harder jobs and more strenuous existences.  The ice-cream man:  He knows better than to taunt my neighborhood’s children with his tunes, because the adults have not finished resting yet.  Not yet.  And the laughter and the thrilled yelps of those same children splashing around in blown-up pools in their asphalted backyards have not lightened my forehead from frowning.  Not yet.

But you, my curvaceous messenger of beauty — you are already doing your part.  Clothed in a single layer of a red-and-white halter top cotton dress, you are, if not teasing, then politely suggesting for my eyes to remain open.

And you are, most certainly, worth waking up to!

Your hair clipped-up into a romantic disarray on the back of your head is revealing a neck that could resurrect Modigliani from his own eternal sleep.  And oh no!  Your back’s porcelain skin should not be exposed to the already aggressive summer rays and equally aggressive elements from perpetual Los Angeles constructions and Mexican leaf-blowers.  But I am surely grateful for it:  That skin is so evenly white that the bleached sheets on the old Armenian’s clothesline at a nearby cottage fade in comparison, when you pass them.  The high waist of your frock ends somewhere around your diaphragm, glueing and undoing its seams at your every breath.  And the skirt balancing on your hips, like the starched Easter dresses on tiny baby-girls with frilly ankle socks, ends at a diplomatic distance beneath your behind.  It’s long enough to warn me about your boundaries, but short enough to question my own.

Or, you, the spunky creature of last night, who served me and my partner with sushi and and all-you-can-feast of your healthy bod peaking from underneath the littlelest of the Little Black Dresses I’ve ever seen.  I myself have been living in a body of an athlete; because with age, there surely must come more perfection.  I’ve insisted on it!  I’ve had to upgrade!  So, I’ve peeled on the tight muscles of my calves and biceps; doubled the size of my thighs and demanded some upright dignity from my back ‘n’ spine.  But on you, physical activity sits with ease and a little bit of a give.  You are still all woman, unless you are the young girl — the teenage waitress on roller blades with a summer gig at a vintage diner — when you slide past our booth and make either silly or nonchalant faces that make me whack the table with my giant ring and scream out, every time:

“I love her!”

You stick your silly-lovely-nonchalant face back into our booth and quickly tap me with:  “Settle down there, buster!”

Your joy, your youth, your hysterical ambition (for, surely, you got here to dream a little better, and maybe even to better belong) — they are contagious to the rest of us.  That includes the blonde, aging waitress who could so easily be bitter and crass, had you not started the outright obnoxious Karaoke to the Madonna mix blasting above our heads.  And the unhappy woman in a coupling squished against the wall would much rather complain about the iciness of her iced tea or the rawness her raw salmon, had it not been for the series of your familiar leans against her table while doing your job with flying colors:  She’s got nothing on you; nothing on your joy, your youth, or your hysterical ambition!  The lonesome Japanese chef forced to work on a national holiday could probably be disgruntled, or stoic, in the least.  But you have cracked enough jokes with him — and a couple of bottles of Jamaican beer — that to him, to all of us, this is suddenly the perfect coordinate for a celebration.

And the boho-chic brunette shifting the hangers on the outside clothing rack of a Berkeley-esque boutique store:  Is that a striped feather in your hair, or an earring?  And is that a toe ring sparkling in between the leather straps of your Athenian sandals, or a fallen down star?  And how is this long, thick-belted skirt, long enough for you to throw over your bent arm — how is it constructed so perfectly for your mixture of Zooey Deschanel and the young Kate Winslet?  Or is it all — just another layer, your second skin?

The Caribbean import in a lavender slip-on who, like me, didn’t think twice about throwing on a bra:  For it is so bloody hot around here, tonight and always!  You are so perfect in your skin, glistening from the balmy night, that when you pass me, I pay you a compliment, up front:  just to thank you for letting me stare at you as if I myself were thinking you up on a canvas.  And thank you, by the by, for the self-assured smile you pay me back — just another detail of you-ness to splash with my brush, once I take you home.

You lovely creatures of my half of the race:

You heal and restore, nurture the resigned and the reluctant back to the living. You give without knowing, leave behind without minding.  You resurrect, inspire, even if with a promise that is never meant to be kept.

You lovely girls in sensual summer dresses:  Yet again, this morning — and always! — you are worth waking up to!

“I Wanna Li-Li-Li-Lick You, From Your Head to Your Toes”

“Mmm, LOVE ice-cream,” you said with an audible European accent that you weren’t even trying to hide.

Quite the opposite:  I bet it has worked to your advantage so far, because you don’t throw yourself against your need to control, to plan, to over think, to predict every moment before it happens — over, and over, and over again.  In our company of two, there is already one person who has done that idiotically throughout her youth; and frankly, it’s one person too many.

No, sir!  You are one to live in the moment.  Honestly. 

And you do it with such swagger — never for the sake of exhibitionism or selfish gratification; never for the sake of better opinions or for the sake of having to impress.  You dwell in consequences of your easy charm.  You watch your life happen and unfold, delivering its opportunities to the the tips of your impeccably polished shoes, like the wet tongue of a tidal wave.

Because where you come from, time moves differently:  It never matters more than one’s sensibility, and it definitely does not dare to contradict one’s pursuit of pleasures.  And so tonight, you took your time:  warming up my curiosity with your easy, manly smiles and just a couple of caresses along my arms with the flat surfaces of your nails.  The entire night, your gender training revealed itself in my open doors, extended hands, offered-up shoulders; and your gentle guidance of my high-heeled footstep over ditches and uneven pavements.  It is your second nature — to be a gentleman.  To be a man — is your first.

“We have a saying about a true — how you say it? — ‘gentleman’,” you told me earlier in the night.  “Don’t say much — and enjoy!  Yes?”

Yes.

Naturally, you would walk me down to my car after midnight; and with you, I wouldn’t even argue.  I wouldn’t feel an urge to defend my independence or flaunt my financial capabilities:  It’s not in your — how you say it? — “gentle” nature to undermine my life choices anyway.  So, I didn’t have to test or forewarn, with you.  That evening, you were my man alright, and it was somehow (finally!) also perfectly alright for me — to be your woman.

So, why — when you began to devour your chocolate ice-cream sandwich, after calling my elevator — did you suddenly resemble a young boy on a summer day spent on a river bank with other sunburnt rascals?  As I watched you, a thought flashed:

“ADORE.”

It was more of a memory, really.  A memory of a young man — utterly adored — who could wrestle my body or mind into submission with his weight or a single flex of his arm muscles; but when the battle was over, I would walk out of his bedroom to find him armed with a fork and a focus, dissecting a sweet I had made for him a few hours prior:

“Mmm, V.  So good!” he would always say with his mouth full and a blue-eyed gaze of someone caught in the midst of his defiant joy.  “Have some!”

I never would.  Instead:  I would adore.  

Yes.

Or the sound of another, who could kindly cradle me to sleep; then slip out into the kitchen and lick spoonfuls of honey and peanut butter, chugging them down with cold milk.  If I heard his commotions in my sleep, I would smile, always — I would adore! — then, toss myself headfirst into heavier dreams.  In the morning, he would be back in his manhood, older than me; and I would wonder if I had dreamt it all up, about someone like our son.

And yet another — tougher, stronger, always in control:  If he ever rested in my bed at an hour when the August heat finally gave it a rest, I would bring him platters of chilled watermelon and frozen berries; and while he lapped-up, and feasted, and moaned — the same way he had done with my body — I would rub his heavy head on my lap.  And, while he slowly landed:  Oh, how I would adore!

Yes…

When the elevator arrived, quicker than it would throughout the day when delayed by other mortals, naturally, you held its door open with one arm, while the other continued to maneuver the quickly melting sandwich around your mouth.  You would bite and nibble, lick the corners of your lips.  I leaned against the cold rail and chuckled, finding myself in the midst of my easily accessible, habitual adoration.  The gaze you shot me was somewhat of a warning:

“Don’t say much — and enjoy!  Yes?”  

By the time there was nothing left in your hand but a wrapper, we had arrived at my destination.  I peeled my behind off the rail and made my way to the doors, anticipating, as always, their opening.

“Where are you going?” you said, with a tease and an effortless control.

Quickly you examined the wrapper in your hand for any last bits, crumpled it up, tossed it into the corner; and before I could manufacture a scold or an excuse, you pressed me back into the rail with the now free hand — while pushing every button on the control panel with the other.  I laughed.  You smiled that easy, manly smile again, moved in on me, looked-up for cameras — and began to maneuver my lips around your mouth.

At first, I kept my eyes open, looking out for an accidental mortal every time the doors slid quietly in their grooves.  But you didn’t bother:  You bit and nibbled, licked the corners of your lips — and of mine.  You dwelled in consequences of your easy charm, now backing them up with skills.  With your eyes on me, you’d push more buttons; and I would laugh — again! — into the collar seams of your impeccably white t-shirt.

And by the third time we arrived to the eighteenth floor, I closed my eyes and pushed your back against the control panel…

You tasted like chocolate.

“Young Hov’s a Snake Charmer: Move Your Body Lika Snake, Mama!”

Rule No. 1:  If I’m not perfect for my man — he is not my man.

Rule No. 2:  If my man is not happy with me — it’s time to look for another man.

That’s a rough translation, sort of:  from my gypsy grandmother’s mouth and directly into your modern ears, my comrades.  Still rings true though, nyet?  The wisdom — lives on!

That woman was a badass!  She strutted around her port city, lithe and decisive in her hips, as if she ran that motherfucker.  She was one them proud broads, asking no man for help (other than her father); and it was just her luck that by the time she entered the workforce, her country was on that whole socialist equality shtick.  So, the broad held jobs that not many women were interested in; and she flourished, climbing whatever level ladders her Communist Party chapter advertised.

She had been a construction worker and a collective farmer in the country.  But by the time I met her, she worked as manager at a fish cannery.  Oh, I’ve seen that broad at work!  From a rustic desk some moron once thought up to paint the color of a stewing swamp, she gave out her packing orders like some women give out their expectations.  She refused to be away from her people, so she moved that swampy thing out onto the factory floor, by the conveyor belt; and considering no Soviet machinery ran low on sound, anyone who needed to talk to her would have to holler out their lungs.  Nope, that job was not for the dainty-hearted!

But she did have a little corner getaway upstairs, which is where she would sit me down, underneath a black-and-white shot of one drunken righteous leader after the next.  For a while there, these leaders would die on us like flies, so she’d leave their portraits leaning against the wall:  What’s the point of worshiping a man if he ain’t planning to last long?

And to keep me entertained, while she strutted on the factory floor — lithe and decisive in her hips — grandmother would equip me with a can of black caviar, a spoon; an old world atlas and a pair of scissors.  There I’d spend my days, cutting up the world and acquiring the beginnings of my sick misconception that there was no distant corner I couldn’t cut through; no country I couldn’t slice across.   

“Thirsty, little rabbit?” grandmother would reappear at intervals with a glass of foaming sparkling water from the dispenser machine outside; or better yet, with a bottle of Pinocchio soda that tasted like a liquid, lemon-flavored Jolly Rancher.

Of course, I’d be fucking thirsty:  Gobbling up that caviar was like drinking sea water or licking the lower back of a tanning Brazilian goddess!  (Plus, all that cutting of corners!  All that wanderlust!)  As if to finish training my stomach to handle anything — in case I ever swallowed anything bitter or toxic (a cowardly lover, for instance) — she would rummage in her pockets and whip out a plastic bag of dried calamari rings:  My favorite!  Like some children with raspberries, I would top each finger with those rings; then, I continue to trace unfamiliar shores and continents, before cutting them to shreds.

What man could possibly keep up with a broad like that? 

The one that knew that taming a descendant of a gypsy was a moot point.  The one with balls enough to wait for all the unworthy, drooling endless admirers and ex-lovers to flake away:  because none of them could handle that hot number in the first place, bare-handedly.  The one with a freedom of his own, addicted to circumvent the globe’s ocean as if each round were a growth ring on a tree trunk of his life.  The one who’d seen enough, who’d lost enough to know that a good woman is a lucky find; and even if it chills you down to your bones with paralyzing fear or with the breath of your own mortality, you better give it a goddamn worthy try — to not keep her, to not conquer her — but to have a daily hand at trying to be worthy of her staying.

To that man — my grandfather — this woman was meant to be followed.  And so he would:  on our every Sunday walk to and from the bazaar, if he happened to return home from his circumventing.

She rarely kept company with other women (but then again, could outdrink every man she’d call “a friend”).  So, when walking, she’d always go at it alone, just a few meters ahead; perfectly content with the pace of my little feet, yet with a strut of someone running that motherfucker.  Sometimes, I’d look back to find my grandfather’s muscular arms with his fisherman’s tan; and from underneath the tattered hat, with a cig dangling on his lips, he’d smile and wink, as if he had just been caught at a naughty secret.

One day, I chose to walk with him, letting my grandmother lead the way, just a few meters ahead.  He lifted me onto his shoulders and told me to hold onto his ears:

“Otherwise, you’ll fly away!”

Every once in a while, he would reach above his head and make a crocodile mouth with his hand; at which point, I would pucker up my lips and let the crocodile devour my sloppy kiss.

And from up there, from the first pair of a man’s capable shoulders, I fell in love — in my youthful lust — with a woman.  That day, she strutted just a few meters ahead of us, lithe and decisive in her hips; and with each step, her tight wrap-around dress rode up higher and higher, bunching up at her tailbone and revealing the naked back of her knees.  A long, shiny, jet black braid ran down from her top vertebra down to the lower back; and the unbraided tip of it would tap each ass cheek as the hips continued to sway and sway, lithely and decisively, making me slightly dizzy with adoration and bliss.

That day, I knew:  It was not a bad deal to follow a woman’s lead.  (It was delectable, to the contrary.)  But it would take some esteem to be worthy of her staying. 

This Is a Man’s World. This Is a Man’s World. But…

“You’ve gone completely boy crazy!” a former male lover scolded me last night.  “Even I would make a better lesbian than you these days!”

Yah.  Maybe.

But then, excuse me… ahem:  What’s that part called?  That part on a man’s lower torso, right at his hip joints?  That V of a muscle cave that slides under the wide band of his underwear and down to his crotch, like an arrow commanding for a yield?

Don’t get me wrong:  I adore women.  Worship them.  To me, there is no higher aesthetic — no better divinity to obey — than the curves of the female nude.  And the way they are all soft, malleable to the touch, each one entering the space like a foaming wave, with its indistinguishable yet very detailed aromas:  It makes you want to grab a pen or a brush, or an empty sheet of music.  Suddenly, you wish for talents that just aren’t in your nature.  You want to name things about a woman; but so busy is your mind soaking her up, so breathlessly humbled you are when she soaks you — you fear wasting a single minute on letting the mind depart in search of the right words and, god forbid (Shiva forbid!), lose her.

I watched a boy do that to me the other night.  LA-LA was still in its San Franciscan mood — something he “did NOT sign-up for!” when he moved here six months ago — but as I shivered in the fog, hiding behind my frizzy hair and wrapping myself in the wide bottom of my gypsy skirt on a very San Franciscan street of my neighborhood, he couldn’t stop talking.  Name that tune!  Name that perfume!  Name it!

“I’ve never seen a purple skirt like this before — this much purple!”

“What exactly is the color of that feather earring peeking through your hair?”

“That’s one unusual jacket!”

The darling boy-child was overwhelmed:

“You are…” — he kept saying, then lingering for the next big adjective he could remember from his undergrad.

But they don’t teach you the swagger of a man back in college:  How to approach the unpredictable nature of a woman; how to size her up, then seize her with the exact words she’s been dying to hear since the beginning of her sex.  When and how to touch her, how to hold her down without crushing or offending; without letting her slip down and in between your fingers.  Where to tap.  Which buttons to push.  How to make her breathless or wild.  How to unleash her humidities, to let her want to soak you.  How to make her stay.

So, my dear boy-child struggled, visibly; working overtime to memorize and to decipher — to possibly impress — not even knowing that by the mere choosing of him that night, I already found him enough.

“You are…” — and he searched my face, my collar bone and the modest canyon between my breasts with those dark eyes he’d inherited from the other hemisphere, while unconsciously chewing on his lower lip.  (I could make a meal of that thing!)

But while he lingered, I too found myself devouring his youth.  The long-sleeved, slate-gray henley shirt with just the two top buttons undone clung to his shapely chest; and all I could do to keep myself from reaching across the table was to rewrap my shivering body in “this much purple” of a skirt.  I could see the swelling of his pecs underneath, and I suspected that the tautness and the give of him was a testament to his youth and regiment.  He was still in the midst of figuring out his own shape, his style — of coming into his own; but it would take a love affair with a woman — a woman with an experience for pushing his buttons — to learn about how this whole thing he’d inherited worked.

And he stood so tall!  (I love that, about men.  The way they can hold their ground, with all that body mass; some with a very laid-back grace, others — with an adorable apology for taking-up so much space.)  When the boy-child walked me home that night, I measured myself up against him, and while still shivering, took the liberty of figuring out how I could fit into his side, for the first time ever.  I looked for my nook — an intimate invasion along the body of a man I have not yet explored.  This way?  Or maybe, if I put my head here and catch my hand on his back pocket?  Or, can I push my hip against his upper thigh and balance in his stride?  While I adjusted and nudged; moved, shifted, and held onto, my hand slid along his lower stomach.  I rested there, studied it:

Excuse me, but… ahem:  What’s this part called?  This part — this V — on a man’s lower torso, right at his hip joints?  This groove leading to my life-long addiction?

But then again, this is the very first chapter of my life in which such open admiration of his kind has started.  I’ve begun to admire men’s shapes, not just conquer them.  I’ve started examining their skin, like some curious continents, with histories I no longer flippantly dismiss due to my own anger, or angst, or pride.

“Where is this scar from?”

“This beauty mark, above your lip:  How long have you had it?”

Name that tune!  Name that scent!  Name it!

I find them funny, charming and intense; childlike — wonderful! — with having to give me what my worship of women cannot.  Suddenly, in the company of men, I’ve begun to rest.  Because for the very first time, they are — enough:  Good enough and then some.  They are enough, for me — yet so differently magnificent! — especially when they are sufficient, in their own skin.

But, still.  Ahem…  What IS that part called?  That part, on a man’s lower torso, running parallel to his hip joints, but then detouring to heaven?  What IS — that V?  Name it.