Tag Archives: sympathy

“Freedom’s Just Another Word — for Nothing Left to Lose.”

“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us.  It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.” 

Wallace Stegner, The American West as Living Space

“What if I walked away, right now, into these open spaces ahead?”

I wasn’t sure if every 19-year-old entertained such thoughts, but as I continued walking in the midday heat of a Southern California summer, I could see the journey clearly.  I could see myself:  A tiny figure whose outline was distorted by the heat rising from underneath the thin-soled Converse shoes, walking slowly but with certainty, fearless in the way of someone who had nothing to lose.

I had lost enough that year to not fear the possible pain of the unknown.  I had lost enough to have nothing holding me in place.  My college applications had been sent off late and only to a handful of unknown institutions with rolling admissions.  Considering it was the end of August, I had assumed I had failed to get in.

Two marriage proposals had happened that summer, by two different men, neither of whom even pretended to understand me much.  A month before, I had lost all of my cash, my car and my place of stay; and the absurdity of my pre-college summer was finished off — with a death.

As a matter of fact, it was the dead that was still keeping me in place.

She had died untimely, from a heart attack-ed.  I was called out of my Anatomy Lab to receive the message.  It was just a note, written on a pink slip that rarely meant good news.  The couple of times that I had witnessed it being delivered into my classmates’ hands, they wouldn’t return for the rest of the day.  Sometimes, they would be gone for weeks; and when they came back, I noticed the difference in their faces.  It looked either like gravity — or weightlessness.  I was about to find out which.

My messenger — an unknowing work-study student from the counselors’ office — ran out on me before I could ask him for any details.

“I have a note,” I told the receptionist in the counselors’ office, while rummaging in my schoolbag for my glasses.

“I know.  They are still on hold,” she answered.

The supervisor of the office loomed in the background, by the copy machine.  I saw his face, however blurry, and knew if I could see him any clearer, he would tell me of his sympathy.  My hands continued shaking, as they searched the bottom of my bag for an item I insisted on needing before picking up the phone.

The next few days had passed in a slow-mo waltz of minutes.  There would be phone calls and somber cards; a weeping husband on a flowery couch; a line of uninvited guests who would never be around whenever I was attacked by a slew of forms and interviews from funeral parlors.

“Whatever you need,” they promised to the weeping husband, as they too began to weep.

Nothing had prepared me for the questions that happened that week, from the people on the other end of the phone:

She was a donor, they said; and could they have my signature — to take her eyes?

Make a list of all the things, they told me:  things to be placed inside her coffin.  Did I know which she had treasured the most?

Choose the clothes she would be most comfortable in, they insisted:  Shouldn’t she be comfortable, wherever she was going?

And was I sure she wouldn’t prefer cremation instead?  (‘Cause that wouldn’t cost us as much, they would mention under their breath:  After all, they weren’t completely heartless.)

The weeping husband continued to assume I was strong enough to take his place.  No one had asked me if I was ready or willing, or knowledgeable of her last wishes.  Perhaps, I had promised more competence than the bulb-nosed man on the flowery couch, who nodded and moaned, accepted troughs of food from the still uninvited neighbors, with their solemn faces and anecdotes about the dead.

“Whatever you need,” they mumbled over his shoulder as they hugged and strained their own faces for emotions.

On the morning of the funeral, I remembered shivering.  They had wanted us to start early:  The first burial of the day.  And the morning would be so cold, and dewy.  The husband continued to weep in the front row of gray plastic chairs, while I accepted envelopes and hugs from people I hadn’t known.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you.  It means so much.

The following week, I had promised to come back and clean out her closet.  The task of deciphering the bus schedules and routes seemed absurd and painfully sad.  I would study the indifferent faces of the drivers as they spoke gibberish about my transfers, and vouchers, and student passes.

I would get off on the last stop and study the desolate grounds and the open spaces ahead.

“What if I walked away, right now,” I thought, “into the open spaces?”

What if I followed the trajectory of black telephone lines or began chasing tumbleweeds:

Where would I end up?  And would I end up free?

And would that freedom feel weightless, eventually returning my joy; my forgiveness?

Welcome to Hollywood! What’s YOUR Trip?

“How is it out there?”  I got a text from a long lost comrade, on the East Coast of my youth.

It came in between my feverish dreams on behalf of the girl next door with a terrible cough; and another girl, also sort of next door (more like behind the door diagonally across the hall from mine), who insists on slamming that fucking thing every time she leaves or returns to the premises.  (And considering that the girl behind the diagonal door is a new starlet in Hollyweird, she comes and goes quite a bit.  I also presume she must be quite forgetful, ‘cause that door usually gets slammed a dozen times before the joint returns to its habitual silence.  All that noise — from one little girl!)

Oh, and then it was one those fire drill days in my building; and once I returned to my heavy, sweaty dreams — after the new starlet finished her door slamming for that portion of the day — off it went:  A horrific sound of metal on metal, meant to save the living and to wake the dead!

I reached for my earplugs.  Normally, I sport those if going to bed after midnight:  when the ghetto birds come out to cruise my ‘hood and wake up the girl next door — and her terrible cough.  But yesterday morning, I was meant to sleep in.  (I had been awake for half the night, every night of this week, due to a heartbreak-related insomnia.  FUCK.)  Except:  I forgot to read the memo plastered on the door of our garage earlier in the week.

“Probably another filming notice,” I dismissed it at the time.

But the memo multiplied like an occasional stampede by rodents; and by the morning, it appeared on every door of the joint.  When the drill when off, I stumbled out of my apartment into the corridor, with purple earplugs ‘n’ all:

“Is there smoke?”  I thought, trying to remember where I used my laptop last, before finally falling asleep:  ‘cause that’s the only thing that was worth rescuing.  “If there is no smoke, I’m going back to bed!”

“Dear Tenants!”  I first read the paper on the diagonal door before noticing my own copy.  I skimmed over it.

“Cocksuckers!” I thought.  So much for sleeping in!

I closed the door, jammed in my purple earplugs further and went to the fridge.  That’s where I keep my coffee, you see, and anything else that I would hate to see be invaded by a stampede of rodents.  Top shelf:  Hemp milk, honey…  FUCK:  I’m out of coffee!  Totally forgot!  Must get to Trader Joe’s today, but:  FUCK.

I got out a gypsy skirt, utilized it as a dress, took the stairs, stepped outside:  Lovely.  Perhaps not really a beach day, but still:  Lovely!  I took out my purple earplugs and walked to the 7-Eleven on the corner.  Behind it, a construction that’s been going on for over a year was starting to look like a building, not a skeleton of steel beams, and plastic, and fiber glass.

“Afternoon, m’am,” a bearded man in an orange helmet grinned at me in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven.  These guys are awesome:  construction men who are often warn their invasion of an neighborhood with signs like “Caution:  Men Working”,  “Men Working Above”, “Caution!  Men!”

“Afternoon?” I responded.  What frigging time WAS it?  Come to think of it, that fire drill memo did mention 12 noon.

Armed with my watered-down coffee, I rushed back to my apartment.  Sure enough:  12-fucking-30!  FUCK.  I gotta publish!  The horrific sound of the drill made me consider visiting some coffee shop at a walking distance, but then you never know with those, in Hollyweird:  Some lonely exhibitionist may always impede on my work there, and then I’ll need my purple earplugs again.  I got to work.

After a typical three-hour session which sometimes feels like a catharsis, and other times — like a mean constipation — I finally got around to returning my messages.  There was a semi-flirtation by an old lover.  Cute.  Then, there was the request to take a raincheck on a date from a player I just met.  An actor.  Of course:  What was I thinking?  Two lines were sent to the old lover, one — to the actor.

“How is it out there?”  I reread the text from my long lost comrade.

Right.  What to say to that one?  I stumbled around the apartment for a little longer (the fire drill was finally over), and decided to do a little research on behalf of my curious witness, on the East Coast of my youth.  Because I’ve been out here a bit too long, to be easily impressed to give him the answer he may want to hear; so I thought:  Why not take a little walk while running errands?

First stop:  The bank.

“I’m SO glad there is no racism out here!” 

As soon as I stepped in, I overhead a white woman do her spiel in front of two clerks, in the lobby.

“Right, right, right,” one of them was responding.

They didn’t have a choice but to listen to her.  None of us did.  I began testing those dinky pens with strings, just so I could sign my checks.  Apparently, she had just returned from Paris and was “shocked” — “SHOCKED!” — by the state of the racial affairs over there.

“I tell you:  This is exactly why Los Angeles — is the best place on the planet!” 

I looked over at the African American security guard by the door:  Was he as uncomfortable as me?

“Right, right, right…”

The white woman was finally marching out, laughing at her own joke, seemingly relieved (had she just fulfilled some civic duty?); and as she passed the security guard — now holding her door — she ignored the courtesy to thank him.  Oh goodness!  I was already craving to get back to my apartment.

But:  FUCK!  I’m out of coffee!  And didn’t they just build a new TJ’s around here?  I decided to walk around a lil’ more.

“How YOU doin’ today, mami?” — a Chicano was smoking outside another bank I passed on my excursion.  I examined him, head to toe:  I’ve been out here a bit too long to be easily impressed.  Then, toe to head.  The head was smirking, disarmingly.

“Good,” I answered.  Fine:  I looked back and pressed my lips together (my version of a smile); then kept walking.

“Nice poom-poom!” he hollered before I disappeared behind the sliding doors of TJ’s.  And how would HE know?!  FUCK.

Screw it!  Quickly, I picked up my staples:  I’m pro.  A woman on mission.  Besides:  The inside my apartment was starting to feel very tempting.  

Ahead of me in line, a young mother was venting to the cashier:

“My son was beating up a boy over these seaweed snacks!  And I was like:  You’re in kindergarden!”

The cashier smiled uncomfortably while stuffing her bags with what looked like a month’s supply of seaweed.  The young mother looked back at me for some better sympathy.  I pressed my lips together.

“I mean:  This is what the children in Hollywood fight over!  Seaweed.”

She took her time paying, while figuring out which credit card was going to work that day; and finally settled on writing a check.  This — was gonna be a while.  I put down my items.  Scanned the shelf of Zico coconut water.  Oh!  I NEED me some of that!  I grabbed a about a month’s supply, and approached the tortured cashier.

“Rough shift?”  I said.

He pressed his lips together:  “Just another day in Hollywood.”

I packed my own bags, paid cash, took a different exit to avoid the smoking Chicano and stepped outside:  Lovely.  Perhaps not really a beach day, but still:  Lovely!  I strutted home.

Oh, but:  FUCK!  I’m out of coffee.  Totally forgot to buy some.

FUCK.