Tag Archives: stubborn

“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.

“Somewhere, Someone’s Calling Me, When the Chips Are Down.”

(Continued from September 30, 2011.)

So, that day, when motha decided to bring home a coconut, I didn’t even wonder if she had to stand in line for it.

“Where did you find this thing?!” I asked instead, while clutching the coconut to my chest.  It felt prickly.

I knew she must’ve gone to some fancy store in the capital.  She had taken a bus and probably a couple of trolleys; and then another bus, packed with other mothers — in order to bring this thing home:  A coconut!

In the midst of the last days of the Soviet Union, she had brought home — a coconut!

In response to my question, motha would start telling a story.  But motha sucks at storytelling; and soon enough, long before delivering the punchline, she started laughing and flailing her arms around, completely unaware of her vanity (and considering motha always knew the effect of her beauty, such abandonment — was quite endearing).

She tilted her head back, as if in the midst of some private exorcism, and she hollered and yelped in between her words.  Tears started glistening in the corners of her eyes.  And she would smack me every once in a while, as if taunting me to participate in her hysteria; and even though she stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, motha could always pack a mighty punch.

Pretty soon, things in her vicinity started falling down to the floor.  Motha crouched down to pick them up; but then, she just stayed there — laughing.

I don’t know what the gist of her story was, at first:  I just kept clutching the coconut.  I wasn’t really sure how breakable that thing was, and I didn’t want motha to knock it over by accident.  Sure, I’ve seen those things before, most likely on some Mexican telenovela or in a film about rich American people, in a pretty town, on some pretty shore.  Both genres would have been narrated in a monotone male voice of the translator, yet I still managed to get addicted to these latest imports on our television screens, full-heartedly.

Because in the last years of the Soviet Union, the world suddenly became much larger — and not as intimidating as it had been previously assumed.  And despite the utter chaos, my own homeland began to seem much more human.   

And despite the last days of my innocence — the last days of my childhood — it was impossible not to laugh along with my motha, in that moment.

I think she was trying to tell me about her asking for a tutorial from the cashier woman at the store.

“And why are you asking ME, lady citizen?” the bitter woman had responded.  You’d think she would be happy to work in such a fancy establishment, with more access to deficit items the rest of us could only see on some Mexican telenovelas or in an American film.  But apparently, Soviet cashiers were bitter regardless of their situation.

“Do I look like I’m married to an apparatchik, to you?!” — the disgruntled woman attacked my motha.  (I have a feeling that interaction didn’t end well, for the cashier; because with motha — it’s better not to push it.)

Bitterness — was the worst consequence of those days.  The flood of unexpected hardships was actually quite easy to understand, because poverty had always existed in my Motha’land.  But while we were all poor together, it must’ve bugged the grown-ups less.  It was when the distance between the new wealth and the old poverty became obvious that Russians began to express their discontentment.  (And we aren’t really a happy bunch, to begin with.)

“So, it’s up to you and me, rabbit!” motha concluded and marched out into the living-room.

She wasn’t too keen on tender nicknames for me, so I just stayed in my place and waited:  With motha — it’s better not to push it.  Something heavy fell down in the living-room.  I heard my motha swear.  The thought of our neighbors below made me cringe:  Daily, the poor bastards had to endure the heavy footsteps of this tiny woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground.

Motha reappeared in the doorway.

“How about it then?!”

Her face was still flushed from laughter, and her chest was heaving.  In one of her manicured hands, motha was holding an ax (oh, dear Lenin!), and with the other, she was waving a hammer and a screwdriver above her head.

“Oy, no!” I said.  And, “Bad idea!” — I thought to myself.

“Whoever doesn’t take risks — doesn’t drink champagne!” motha declared and proceeded to march into the kitchen.  I, the coconut, and our offensively obese red cat followed her.

The operation that unfolded in the kitchen was less than graceful:  Crouching down in her miniskirt, motha began pounding the screwdriver into the poor piece of fruit.  But the problem was she was whacking it through the side, and the thing kept rolling out of her grip.  And she:  She kept laughing.

“Hey, rabbit!  Come help!”

Motha’s orders were never up to a negotiation, so, I obeyed.  The thought of the screwdriver being hammered into my palm with my motha’s clumsy maneuver was a lot less intimidating, than her wrath.  Yeah:  With motha — it’s better not to push it.

But first, I examined the fruit:

“Let’s trying breaking in through these three dimples,” I suggested.

The task would have been accomplished had motha stopped collapsing into fits of laughter.  And I thought:  If there was ever anything more dangerous than an unhappy Russian woman, it would be a woman in throws of hysteria, holding a hammer.

Motha reached for the ax.

“Oy, no!” I rebelled and leapt to my feet.  This whole situation was starting to stage itself as some Greek tragedy.  And most of the time, those don’t work out well, for the children.

Motha got up, while still holding the now scuffed up fruit.  With tears and make-up running down her face, she reminded me of a young girl at a Beatles concert.  (The images of such strange life elsewhere were beginning to flood our press, from all parts of the world.  And somehow, that world seemed much larger, less intimidating — and quite wonderful!)

“Rabbit, catch!” she threw the coconut at me.

I ducked.  The fruit bounced off the doorway behind me and hit the floor.  Our offensively obese red cat dashed out of the kitchen.

Motha and I lost it entirely, and when the neighbors below knocked on their ceiling, we lost it again.  The glimmer of joy, dimmed in my motha’s eyes in those difficult years, considered reigniting.  No matter the chaos, this beautiful woman who stood no taller than 1.5 meters from the ground, refused to grovel.   And even if it took hysteria to remember how to laugh, she wouldn’t give it up.

“Go Home — And Be A Better Boy! (Although, Sometimes, It’s Tricky.)”

“This is the human heart,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.  “It’s light — and it’s dark.”

Well, actually, she sounded more like my motha:

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk.”

The actress with my name was playing a Russian prostitute, and she’s got some serious chops.  She is an East Coaster, more of a European:  One of those disciplined artists, with a compassionate heart.

In a film, she is arguing with a potential john about urban decay.  He is a landscape architect obsessed with the world’s dark corners.  She, however, lives amidst them:  In a civilization collapsing on itself like a giant snake swallowing its own tail.  And somehow, she has a better grasp on human patterns than a man studying them, for a living, while being buried up to his chin in his sterile theories.

(I used to love a man like that.  Holy fuck!  He almost took me out of the game.)

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.

But all I could think was:

“Tired today.  Is this where I burn out?”

It’s been hard, living around here.  In the beginning, there were difficulties related to the mere survival:  shelter, work, learning the geography of this place.  The fucking landscape!

I would figure it all out, in less than a year — and that would be the easy part.  Because it still wouldn’t let up.  The survival would get easier, sure; but somehow it never amounted to anything.  Every day, it felt like starting from scratch:  Paying the dues.  And every day, I would feel I could just burn out, at any moment.  But giving-up — was never really an option.  So, I just kept pushing.

For nearly an hour, I sat in traffic yesternight, to get to a hood only a mile away from my own.

“Could’ve walked this fucker faster,” I thought, while crawling behind a retiree fond of riding the breaks of his Chevy.

As soon as the one-lane street opened into a turn-lane in the middle, I zoomed around him.

“Christ,” I swore.

But then, I found myself behind an orange bus that added to the relentless heat wave with its boiling exhaust fumes.  I rolled up my windows and crawled behind it for another couple of blocks, while riding my breaks.

“Fucking hot!” I thought.  “Is this where I burn out, finally?”

But giving-up — wasn’t really an option.  So, I kept riding.

I cranked up the AC.

The houses on this stretch of Hollyweird wear that used-up look of a transient neighborhood.  They serve as temporary shelters to those who come to test their luck.  But the newcomers would figure it out, in less than a year, and move to more comforting neighborhoods; taking tiny slices of whatever was left — with them.  There are a few parks here, some dodgy playgrounds.  And I wouldn’t dare to find myself walking here, at night, through this fucking landscape.

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez dark.”

Did I just say that out loud?

Don’t know.

Tired today.

And it’s fucking hot.

I rolled down the windows again.  Might as well.

The smell of the collective exhaustion entered my car immediately, and all I could hear was the screeching of occasional breaks, punctuated by distant sirens.  No human voices here.

The traffic kept crawling.

“I could’ve walked this fucker faster!” I thought.

On Vine, an ancient Nissan jumped out of a pathetic shopping center and into the lane ahead of me, as if it were driven by someone looking for his own suicide.  My breaks screeched.

“Idiot.”

Then, the urban kamikaze proceeded riding his breaks.  To avoid a suicidal thought of my own, I studied the dusty white building of an Armenian church.  On its stone fence, a security guard was talking to a working girl with enormous sparkly fake eyelashes.  Both were about to start their shift.

“This eez ze human hearrt.”

Did I just say that?

Don’t know.

Tired.

I turned into the first side street and sped up.  A lanky kid with an Afro jumped out of an alley on his skateboard.  He was beautiful.  I started riding my breaks behind him.

“Fuck it!” I thought.  “I can walk this fucker faster!”

I parked behind a Grand Cherokee with chipping red paint, no longer glossy.  A hefty, tall man walked by, on a cracked pavement, audibly talking to himself.  He saw me looking, stopped muttering.  Gave me the middle finger.

“ASK ME,” said his neon orange shirt.

“This eez ze human hearrt,” I said out loud, yanked the hand break and stepped out into traffic.

“I’m Outta Time, And All I Got — Is Four Minutes, Four Minutes! Yeah.”

Another day spent in infinite bouncing between two self-disciplines:  hard work and running.  Because what else IS there?

Well, there is also eating, which I sometimes forget to do.  And sleep.

And then, there is the less disciplined pursuit of making a living.  It’s fine, really:  I’m one of the lucky ones, I continue reminding myself; because most of the time, I get to shuffle my schedule around as if my hours were those shiny marble pieces on a backgammon board.  And it’s an ancient game:  this pursuit of an artist’s life.  Too many have done it before me, but only some have succeeded.  I want to be one of the some; so, I’ve narrowed my days down to two infinite self-disciplines:  hard work and running.

The work has become an anti-anxiety prescription of my own invention.  I hold it up, against my griefs — with time or other people, or even against my departing loves — and I say, “What else IS there?”  But even though I’ve learned to shuffle my hours, when it comes to success — or accomplishment, at least — they still don’t move fast enough.

And I’ve heard it all:  “Impatience is a lack of self-love.”  “Impatience is just energy:  Use it!”  “Meditation!  That’s what you need!”  But when actually in the midst of the hours, with nothing but hard work in sight, these opinions fail to give me any consolation.  So, I wrap up the work — and I go running.

And that’s just another bargain:  running.  Just another bargain I had made with time, so that I can continue doing the hard work, for a little bit longer — after the success happens, or my accomplishment, at least.

And so, the infinite bouncing continues:  I work in order to stop flaunting my impatience toward time and I run — to speed it up.

And in the mean time, there is life, happening in between.  I am not idiotically blind to that.  I see it.  I chip in.  I participate:  in friendships, loves; in my tiny adventures I can afford for very short periods of time (because I always must come back to the less disciplined pursuit of making a living).  But as soon as I am alone again, the infinite bouncing resumes.  And if it weren’t for my comrades — in the midst of their own living, always somehow committed with a lot more patience than I myself can manufacture — it seems I could easily forget about all that life, happening in between.

The other night, one of them had dragged me out:

“I bet you haven’t eaten today,” he said.

“You’re crazy,” I began whining, listing all the work I still had to do.  I’m a pain in the ass:  always hoping for my loves to distract me from my stubborn disciplines; to convince me that there is way too much life, happening in between — and that it’s worth putting the breaks on my infinite bouncing.

“It’s Saturday night,” I carried on.  “Everything is already booked.”

“So, we’ll get take-out!” he said.

I considered.

“Good.  That way, I can get back to work.”

My comrade chuckled and knowingly shook his head:  What a pain in the ass!

We walked into the nearest sushi joint, already packed to the brim.

“See,” I began whining.  “Everything is booked.”

The waitress who got stuck at the host stand that evening, looked up at us, past a million fly-aways in front of her face, and said, “Did you have a reservation?”

I slid out of the way and let my comrade handle that little situation.  I, instead, began studying the floor filled to the brim with families, lovers and comrades.  There were four sushi chefs behind the packed bar, and they seemed to have figured out some sort of a time-traveling trick:  They were moving so fast, the snapping of bamboo rollers in their hands, in between each order, sounded like an orchestra of quirky percussions.  And they were all so serious, in a typical sushi chef fashion:  serious but graceful — total zen masters! — finding the time to answer endless questions from the mesmerized clientele at the bar.

My comrade came up from behind me.

“Would you look at those guys?” I said.

“Zen masters,” he responded and stuffed me under his wing.  Suddenly, my endless bouncing seemed to let up, and I fully surrendered to the temptation to lose track of time.

“How long — is the WAIT?!”

The shrill noise came from the packed lobby.  It echoed past the bar, above the heads of the four serious, graceful sushi chefs, and onto the floor, jolting the first half of the restaurant to pay attention.

I looked back.  She was chubby, with a face full of make-up.  I bet on any other day, I would find her pretty; but the shrill noise made by her lipsticked mouth shocked the shit out of my kindness.  Her man hung back:  Tall, portly, he had crossed his arms and took on what seemed like a habitual expression of resignation.

The waitress looked up past the million fly-aways in front of her face and calmly said:  “Thirty to thirty five…”

She didn’t get a chance to finish:  The shrill noise interrupted her verdict, and jolted the other half of the restaurant to pay attention:

“I CAN’T WAIT THAT LONG!”

She stared at the waitress.  The waitress stared back at her, calmly, past the million fly-aways in front of her face.  The shrill noise-maker turned on her heels and made it over to her man who by now was attempting to camouflage himself into the corner.  He’s no use, she seemed to decide, half-way across the lobby — and marched back over to the waitress, at the host stand.

“Is there another sushi restaurant here?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?!”  I finally uttered from underneath my comrade’s wing.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” was what the waitress’s face seemed to say as well, from underneath the million fly-aways, in front of her face.

The shrill noise-maker scoffed, turned on her heels again and, again, made it over to her man.  By this point, the camouflaged portly creature stuck in his predicament of a relationship seemed to want to vanish.  Loudly, his woman did the negotiation to which the entire restaurant was meant to pay attention.  And when she marched out, into the night, followed by her defeated man, he gently caught the door she meant to slam shut and closed it, apologetically.

“I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t: Do You Know What That Mean?”

There is a poem by a dead comrade from my Motha Land dedicated to us, Russian broads.  It goes like this:

“She will stop a galloping horse and walk into a burning house.”  

We are like that, the broads in my motha’s family:  Never the tall or skinny supermodel types, we’ve been known to have smaller frames, upon which some have packed on curves, especially after carrying their firstborns.  For a couple of centuries, since a gypsy entered our family and genes, we’ve been strutting closer to the ground; and, as in the case of my motha’, have learned to sway our hips with enough gusto and sex to keep us better balanced in our short bodies.

But you would never call us “small.”  Even these days, most of my comrades are confused when I climb off my Femme Nikita heels and start standing a lil’ bit over five feet tall.

“You’re so short?!” they say with a sincere wonderment.

“It’s my ego,” I’ve learned to explain.  “It makes up for my height.”

From what I’ve overheard of the fam’s mysterious history, the broads of my motha’s clan have always had some serious temper on them.  Blame in on the Romani blood, but these wild cats have been known to intimidate their husbands and children into life-long submission — and heart-altering love — while getting shit done with the assistance of their famed sexuality.  Oh, yes, siree!  Hot-blooded, stubborn and messy-headed, these creatures have granted me their fearless make-up.  Especially when going through hell — when right in the very midst of it — we aren’t the ones to show fear.  And only when alone or in the arms of a man privileged to have tamed us into quietness for a while do we become the scared little girls every woman should be allowed to be.

All this preface to say:  I don’t need help!  Whenever lugging heavy loads in life, I don’t ask for assistance.  I can handle it on my own, thank you:

“Pleeze, dan’t khelp me!” I always shoosh away my comrades’ helping hands, in my motha’s thick Russian accent; and while I proceed with my stubborn struggle, I watch their beloved faces crack-up in recognition of my authenticity.  “Yourr velkom!”

Yesterday, after the expiration of the bloody tax deadline, I’ve finally ventured out to my local post-office with a couple of accumulated care-packages for my beloveds on the East Coast.  Typical to LA-LA’s fashion, this particular USPS location didn’t come with customer parking (shocker!); and after circling the neighborhood and deconstructing its street cleaning signs for nearly half an hour, I finally squeezed into a slot between the tank of a Hummer and a clogged-up sewage drain, about five blocks away from my destination.  Other than the reek that surrounded my car and reminded me of my Motha Russia’s cow fields, I didn’t mind the walk.  So, off I went, balancing in a newer pair of Femme Nikita heels in my best runway walk, while lugging my boxes.

Needless to mention, no man has offered to help.  Actually, there is a need to mention that.  I know the lovely creatures of my gender have made strides in pursuit of their equality; but until we are genetically predisposed to pack on muscles equal to those of men, chivalry should NOT be off the table.  Fuckin’ pussies!  Ball-less weaklings!  Call themselves “men”…

Oh, sorry.  Where was I?  What did I tell ya:  I’ve got quite a temper on me!

Actually, there was one creature who seemed to empathize with my load:  a drunk homeless man who took a break from vomiting out his morning meal, wiped-off the foaming saliva off his crooked, toothless mouth and slurred out:

“Getchaself a cart!”

Thanks, buddy — for this life-changing piece of advice.

Still, I remained un-phased.  But the weight of the load must’ve had some effect on my face; because by the time I reached the damn post-office, a Russian compatriot, who was meditating outside with a cigarette in his right hand, said:

“OH.  SHIT,” — and hurried to open the door for me.

Inside, it would’ve been a normal occurrence of events — unworthy of my rant blog — if it weren’t a handful of construction workers holding hostage one of the windows for the entire duration of my waiting in line, then my lugging struggles to the window, then what had to be a somewhat amusing attempt to lift these fuckers onto my clerk’s counter.

I’ve been a woman for long enough to know when I’m being stared at.  With every follicle on my skin, I can usually feel a stranger’s eyes on me; and despite all of my temperamental huffing and puffing at the window, I knew the brothers were watching me.  So:  I shot ‘em my askance look.

There was a beauty in their dirty faces, an unexpected type, and it caught me off-guard.  In mismatching overalls and torn-up frocks, with unbrushed locks of hair or long strands of dreadlocks, they had to be independent contractors on their way back from building a stage at Coachella.  Or something like that.  And despite the heat of my temper affecting my better reason, I immediately wanted to know their story.  But still too pissy to soften up, I barely nodded in their direction and pretended to be consumed with comprehending the shipping rates my clerk’s mouth was now spewing out.

On my strut toward the exit and past the still staring brothers, I felt an extra spring in my step:  I just did that, my comrades, all on my own!  And now I was heading back out — to hustle and survive! — while looking pretty damn good for a broad who hasn’t rested since the beginning of the year.

With the corner of my eye, I sensed one of the workers jamming his elbow into his colleague’s ribcage; and he, in response, slid off his camouflage cap and with enough selfless innocence to make me wanna adopt him said:

“You’re beautiful.”

Phew.

Yep.

Da.

Time-out.

It was merely impossible, my darlings, to keep putting on my front without tearing up.  I nodded and thanked him, all kinda off the cuff.  Yet, I could feel my heart skipping a beat.  And in that moment, unmarred by the man’s further pursuit of my name or phone number; in that moment that a woman can never expect a life to grant her — not in this day and age! — I knew that the struggle of self-possession and the high price of independence have been worth it; even if — just for that moment.