Tag Archives: shame

“If I Can Make It There, I’ll Make It — Anywhere!”

As far as I felt, I was still a fucking nobody:  commuting to my graduate classes six out of seven days a week, on a 45-minute subway ride from the Bronx.

Sure, as any not-too-lame looking chick, I tried to upgrade my style with an occasional ten-dollar purchase from the H&M on Broadway and 34th.  And I had even managed to go out with a few finance guys from Wall Street and realized they were no more sophisticated than my 20-year-old ass.  But despite my now impressive expertise of the Island’s neighborhoods and demographics, my favorite shops to browse and windows to shop (only the ones where I was least harassed by salesgirls) — I was hardly a New Yorker yet.

Shit!  I didn’t even know any good places to eat!  Despite the 50/50 scholarship, the pleasure of having a graduate degree — forty five grand later — was leaving my ass seriously broke.  For one, I could never join my classmates to their lunch outings.  And because of my immigrant pride, when shooting down their invites, I would give them reasons related to my studious nature (and not because I was eating beans out of a can, in an unheated basement apartment, every night).  So, for the entire twelve hour day spent on the Island, in between classes, I would have to last on a pitiful, homemade sandwich made out of a single slice of pumpernickel bread and a veggie burger, glued together with a thin spread of margarine and then cut in half.  The meal was so embarrassing, I would do my best to chomp it down alone, in the staircase of a school wing unlikely to be visited by my classmates; or, if I was getting the shakes — inside a bathroom stall.

And this was with my two shitty, part-time jobs accounted for!

And because my education was costing me an arm and a leg — and possibly my sanity and longevity, in the end — boy! did I look forward to the end of every semester.  Most of my colleagues would leave for their wholesome looking families — in Connecticut or wherever else purebred Americans had their happy childhoods — and there, I imagined, they sat around on their white-fenced porches and threw tennis balls for their pedigree golden retrievers to fetch.  For Christmas, they retold their tales of crazy, filthy, overcrowded Manhattan while clutching giant cups of hot cocoa and apple sider in front of electric fireplaces, and waiting for the contributions of cash.  In the summer, they’d allow their parents to pay their airfare for the pleasure of their company in the Caribbean or the Riviera.

I, on the other hand, would remain stuck in the Bronx.

(Well.  It was either that, or going to visit my obese stepfather and endure his interrogations about what I was planning to do with my art school education, for which he was NOT paying.)

So, for the last two years of grad school, I stuck around on the Island.  And whatever happy lives my classmates were deservingly pursuing elsewhere, I still thought I had it the best:  I was free and young, in New York Fuckin’ City!   Unthought of, for my long removed Russian family!

In those days, it was between me and the Island.  Just the two of us.  Finally, I would have the time and discipline to follow the schedule of free admission nights to all Manhattan museums.  With no shame, I would join the other tourists waiting for discounted Broadway tickets at the Ticketmaster booth in Times Square.  In the summer, I would gladly camp out in Central Park over night, so that I could get a glimpse of some Hollywood star giving Shakespeare a shot at the Delacorte.  I read — any bloody book I wanted! — at the Central Branch, then blacken my fingers with the latest issue of Village Voice, while nearly straddling one of the lions up front.  And in between my still happening shitty jobs, I would work on my tan on the Sheep Meadow; then peel on my uniform  (still reeking of the previous night’s baskets of fries) and return for my graveyard shift in the Bronx.

Yes, it was MY time:  to be young and oblivious to the hedonistic comforts of life.  I was in the midst of a giant adventure — that forty five grand could buy me — and outside of my curiosity, all the other pleasures of life could wait.

“Now, what are you planning to do with your art school education, hon?” one of my former undergrad professors asked me during an impromptu date.

Snide!  Ever so snide, he had a talent for making you feel not up to par — ever!  If he were to try that on me today, I would flaunt my post-therapy terminology on boundaries and self-esteem.  But back then, I was eating lunches inside the bathroom stalls of my Theatre Arts Building and wearing a button name tag for work, at nighttime.  So, I would endure the condescending interrogations over a cup of some bullshit organic soup he’d insist I ordered — and for which I would pray he would offer to pay later, as well.

“Well.  I guess you could always teach,” he’d say while packing up to leave for his rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side.  (Whom did he have to fuck in order to live there for the last two decades?)

He had a point though:  New York didn’t need another girl with her romantic dreams of love and starlet success.  New York — could do just fine without me.

But still:  It was MY time!  MY youth in the city!  His — was long gone, and I supposed it was reason enough to despise me.

But how ever unrealistic were my pursuits — and how ever hard was the survival — I still had plenty of curiosity in me to give it all a fair try.

“Except, Around Hollywood and Western — We Have to Keep Doing It!”

“Oh, but everyone’s got these stories!” a man of tired compassion told me as he heard my saga of homecoming, this jolly holiday season. “I mean, after all,” he said, “this country is made entirely of immigrants!”

I wondered, as I studied his ethnically ambiguous face:  Was he East Indian, a couple of generations removed from his native land and now free from all the confines of his original tradition — to make what he could of it?  It not, how ever did he find his way into my yoga class?

Was he like me:  Tasting all religions in his youth, in hopes of finding a recipe to peace?  Some religious texts had tempted me with their poetry before; others — with their majority.  I’d always wanted to belong, so I kept looking.

Was he, like me, at liberty to pick and choose between the details of his heritage, only wearing it when most convenient for his now American identity?  Did he carry his comedy routines in side pockets:  At the expense of his immigrant and heavily accented parents, he could whip ‘em out at gatherings of curious American friends?  Did he practice the routines on paper first, or did he merely get addicted to the laughter he could cause — and so he’d work them out in public?

The evening city hummed and sparkled outside the windows.  Across the street, I could see a casting space where I had once nearly died of shame by bumping into an ex-lover from a disastrous affair.  He sat in the corner, with his giant legs stretched out ahead, sounding every bit like that one asshole actor who must practice his lines out loud, at full volume, in a waiting room filled with his competition and the rookies from Ohio.

That morning, I had announced official warfare against my acne; and my Hollywood haircut refused to cooperate at covering it.

I saw him first, pretended not to, and thankfully got called immediately.  That’s when he must’ve heard my name; because by the time I had stepped out, he was standing by the doorway.

“I thought that was you!” he said and shifted on his feet as if leaning in for a hug.

Our story was so typical, it should’ve made it into a sitcom about actors in LA-LA:  He wanted a rebound with someone with his ex’s Slavic face — another actress — and I had wanted more.

“No fuckin’ way, American buddy!” I thought.

But out loud, I said, “I’ve gotta run,” and blew my bangs out of my eyes.  He noticed the stampede of pimples across my forehead:  stubborn and multiplying.  “Another audition!  Gotta run!”

“Yeah,” he said, mesmerized by my forehead.  “Yeah.  Definitely.  But let’s do coffee sometime!”

Natalia Vodianova

Everyone’s got these stories, it is true.  My friends had all suffered, at least once, from having used someone for sex, or from having been used.  And then, we’d all scrape up our dignity to have the courage to keep showing up:  to other dates and to auditions; and to the companies of friends, where we readily whip out our comedy routines and force-feed ourselves with laughter.

To be happy here, it takes discipline.  Or some serious delusion. Some of us had had those mental breakdowns that justified our flight from this fucking place.  Others would just have an episode, go home to recover — then return for more.

The ethnically ambiguous man continued:

“I’m going home myself,” he said.  “Can you believe it’s holidays already?!”

The traffic crawled along the boulevard underneath.  Two lanes of it:  one fire-engine red, another — silver.  An eatery at the corner was glistening with Christmas lights; and reflected by the changing colors of the traffic light, its giant windows would take on different shades, at well timed intervals.  With the shimmer of the hills behind it, the city looked so pretty, suddenly.  And standing above the traffic, out of it, I thought to find it peaceful.  But then, I changed my mind.

I wanted to object to my ethnically ambiguous co-practitioner of yoga:

“It’s not your turn to speak, American buddy!”

But he had been carrying on, by then.  He’s got that story, too!

And so:  I listened.

“Don’t Let the Bastards Get Ya Down: Turn It Around with Another Round!”

I was saying, “Sir!  What in the world is going on here?”

I was leaving a store that specialized in selling some of the best (in others’ and my own opinion) technology, these days.

Normally, other people’s ratings don’t affect my opinion much:  I wait to make up my own mind.  With this particular store, however, that specializes in selling some the best technology, I’ve waited long enough to become its customer — and a devoted believer in its product.

So, I was leaving this particular store that specialized in some of the best technology, these days, when a man with a Portuguese accent caught up with me, in the doorway.  He was wearing a baby-blue polyester shirt, with white-lettered “Brazil” tattooed over his left breast.

I was in the midst of texting one of my artistic friends about my recent purchase (as of five minutes ago), when the creature patted my elbow:

“‘Scuse me, miss?” he said.

I turned:  He stood at my eye level (and I — was wearing flats).  Somehow, I must’ve gotten hung up on his height, because I forgot to respond.  The creature proceeded to tell me that he was working for the company whose product I had just purchased and he pointed to my cellphone.

Honestly, I couldn’t understand the gist of a single sentence he spoke.  Perhaps, there weren’t any sentences at all:  Just fragmented thoughts expressed with a hysterical tone.

“A scam artist!” I thought immediately and hid my recent purchase (as of ten minutes ago) inside my purse.  My cellphone hadn’t hit the bottom of my bag yet, when the mistrustful Soviet citizen in me was already on the forefront.  With a deadpan expression of someone who had been fooled way too fucking much in her life — and who had finally learned her lesson — I studied the hysterical creature, fussing at my eye level.

“May I see your phone?” he said to me.

“May you blow me?” I almost responded.  Yet, I obeyed the call of my grace and said:

“No, you may not.  Sir.”

The man in a baby-blue polyester shirt got immediately aggravated and reached for my elbow again.

“Please, step inside the store, miss!”  he slurred, with his wet mouth.  His further, fragmented explanations followed; yet still, I couldn’t understand the gist of a single sentence.

Full-blown wrath was now heating up the contents of my scull, and I felt myself blush that horrific blood-red shade of the Soviet flag:  I was about to blow.  Still, I obeyed the call of my grace and shot an “S.O.S.” gaze to the sales rep guarding the door of this particular store that specialized in selling some of the best technology, these days.

“Why are they allowing for solicitors, here?” I thought.

But the face of the clerk, although indifferent at first, was now getting twisted into an expression of shock and slight disgust.

The grip on my elbow tightened.  I looked over:  The short creature was hanging onto me, like a pissy Chihuahua.  And there was something hateful, something very violent coming through on his face.

“Do you get laid much?” I almost asked.  Yet, I obeyed the call of my grace and said:

“Sir!  What in the world is going on here?”

More of his fragmented thoughts followed:  Something about receipts, and blue stickers; and something about theft.

“THEFT?!” I echoed.

A few curious or disgusted glances bounced off my skin:  This particular store that specialized in some of the best technology was packed due to a release of a new, better — best! — gadget, that week.  So, the scene unfolding between me and the short creature in a baby-blue polyester shirt was now getting plenty of bystander witnesses.

Had it not been for the tiny salesgirl with angelic blond curls and Scarlett Johansson’s voice dashing across the store, I suspect this scenario would not have turned out well:  The wrath boiling the contents of my scull was beginning to blur my vision and raise the decibels of my voice.

“Sir!” she said.  “What is going on here?”

Amidst the fragmented thoughts that the short creature began spewing out at the girl, I was beginning to hear my verdict:

You see:  Having obeyed the call of my grace, I had asked this salesgirl to email me the receipt for my purchase, so we could “save the trees”.  The creature in a baby-blue polyester shirt was a security guard, and this particular store that specialized in the best technology, these days, was going through the highest degree of theft, in its history.  Since I had no receipt to present to him, I became his obvious target for the day.

The two of them began sorting the situation out:  That same tiny salesgirl had sold me my recent purchase (as of twenty minutes ago), and she was testifying on my behalf.  It was her fault, she said, that she hadn’t followed through with some other procedure in the case of customers with altruistic intentions as mine:  Customers that insisted on obeying the call of their grace.

Apparently, she — was still in training.  And she was “SO sorry!”

The short male, still hanging from my elbow like a pissy Chihuahua, was quiet.

“Sir!  Please let go of my arm!” I slowly annunciated through my clenched jaw.

Once released, I scanned the faces of bystander witnesses.  They, along with the sales clerk guarding the door, had long lost all interest.  At that moment, utterly ashamed and disgraced, I could’ve blown.  Instead, I obeyed the call of my grace and walked out.

Ghost Fucking

Your film library shelf has a dusty picture of her—the one that slipped her thin arm down your trachea, formed a fist inside and sucker-punched your heart.  It took you nearly a year to remember the original beat, your heart still wincing at the sound of her name.  The couch on which I’ve stretched out my dark thighs reeks of her:  the original Slav whom I am meant to reincarnate tonight.  I stare at the beautiful face with a dimple on her left cheek—the face you’ve planned to find in your firstborn’s crib.  That face you must imagine in order to cum all over my breasts tonight.

You’re getting me a drink in the kitchen:

“So, just hot water then?” you sound condescending.  You always sound condescending.  You probably whine to your shrink about continuously falling for the exotic, foreign girls; about your wishing to procreate with your own kind.  But white women don’t fuck like we do—the brown, foreign girls.  They don’t do the dirty work, on their hands and knees, like our immigrant mothers:  they don’t lick your taint; they don’t nibble away at your nipples or lap-up your Catholic shame.  They don’t make you shriek, “What the fuck are you doing?” while you stare in awe at the action between your legs.

I drop my register a couple of notches, where my native tongue usually dwells:  “Come here,” I purr on the couch.  I am just playing my part here.

We begin a film that I’ve attempted to watch many times before, on other white men’s couches; because they can’t get off without a lesson or two on their culture.  So, they make me mixed CD’s; and they over-annunciate when I ask them to repeat a cliché.  They dust off their father’s copies of Citizen Kane and The Godfather (Part I and II—never III):

“Hwhat?!  You’ve never seen this?”  No, I haven’t.  They didn’t have TV’s where I come from:  Bosnia or the Ukraine.  Or Ellis Island.  It’s all the same to you.

I put my feet under your thighs, then on top of them.  Someone is already overacting on the screen, in black-and-white.  I scoot down like a bitch in heat.  I caress your thinning hair and exhausted eyelids.  There, there, my little boy.  It’ll all be alright, in the end.  Your lips, dry and large, start looking for your mama’s breasts; and in the act, they forget the condescending grin.  And for that second:  I can see you—you on the first day of your lungs inhaling; you, before a lover stuffed her holes with your organs; because it was much easier than working on her own shit.  That you makes my ovaries flip like a Romanian gymnast.

So, I rip my face through the air, toward yours, even though I know you’re already gone, thousands of sexual ticks overcrowding you self-awareness.  Your mouth tastes like Jack.  And pot.  A sad twofer prone to be found in an American lover.  I reach down to confirm the case of a Whiskey Dick:  Bingo.  I try not to lose my hard-on to pathos but I know if you do get some wind tonight, you’ll have to turn off the lights and close your eyes.

Which you do.

“You like that?” you ask, quoting your favorite porn, in the dark, with nothing but the must-see American classic illuminating your skin to that color of translucent white.  I’m getting fucked by a ghost here.  “Hmmm?  You like that?  Tell me what you like!” you repeat.  It’s your couch—it’s your game.

I do have a choice though:  to pull you out of me, fix my skirt—and leftovers of my dignity—and walk out of this typical tale of pathetic Hollywood sex; then, cry inside my car, then call up a girlfriend to dis your name.  Or I can lie.

“Oh yes.  Just like that.  Right there.”  I lie.  A terrible actor in another warzone of an unworthy love story.