“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!”
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.