Tag Archives: West Hollywood

“People Talking Without Speaking… People Hearing Without Listening…”

Today, I studied my city with memories captured in a single, tired glance.

It’s all I can spend on it sometimes:  One look — and I’ve gotta keep on moving.  Which may be why Los Angeles discovered on foot never resembles the place I think it actually is.  It looks different, in walking actuality; and unlike in more pedestrian-friendly places, it doesn’t pulsate with a life.  Instead it buzzes.  Sometimes, it screeches; and it honks, zooms by like an impatient, swearing driver who nearly runs me over, while making a right on red.

And when I can no longer stand such a mechanical pace, I plead to meet my friends in places that remind me:  that there is life, and there is love; and that somehow, in end, we may just all turn out alright.

Today, while I driving across town, I granted other passing faces a single, tired glance:  as much as I could hold without averting my eyes in shame at sudden lack of my compassion, once I’d discovered they weren’t accidentally the faces of those I loved.  Besides, I only could linger for as long as it was safe for those drudging through the traffic behind me.  Then, I’d gotta keep on moving.  We all had to.

It started with a girl backing her black SUV out of a driveway on the West Side.  At first, she didn’t see me; and normally, immediately outraged, I’d honk and swear, demonstratively delivering my point about being wronged, in her rear-view mirror.  Today though, I could use a slower pace.  There was no traffic lingering behind me, so I just stopped and waited for her clumsy merger to be completed.

Still, she wouldn’t see me (or, maybe, she merely pretended); and when I drove around her giant car, glossy like the wet back of a killer whale, I saw her left profile.  She had a tightly pulled ponytail on the back of her head, perfectly ironed and sleek, with not a single hair out of place.  Her lips were glossy and pursing.  And then, above a diamond stud, I saw a tiny mechanism jammed into her eardrum.

She was talking, gesticulating at what seemed to be the pace of her speech.  Although her windows were tinted, in the back seat, I saw a forest of stiff handles of shopping bags and a few tubes of wrapping paper.  Just watching her, I got so tired, I made up my mind to take the slowest lane all the way home — for the next ten miles.

When the front line of cars on my side of the road began rolling under a freeway bridge on Venice, my lane slowed down at a wide intersection.  Quite normal, I began to think, especially a day before Christmas:  For I’d already witnessed a plentitude of abnormal behaviors this week, which had to be the reason for feeling so completely drained.  I lingered for a handful of seconds.  I studied my city. The palm trees shimmered above my open sunroof like an old backdrop in theatre no longer doing magical productions.

From in front of the car, leading all of us across, I finally saw a woman bicyclist emerge and slowly make her way through moving traffic.

“Not very smart,” I thought but waited somewhat patiently.

But then I saw a baby trailer attached to the back of the bicycle.  A blond head of a child was visible through its netted side wall.

“That woman — is an idiot!” I thought.  And normally, I’d keeping on swearing and scoffing, and call the silly mother some terribly unworthy names.  Today, though, I looked away; for I myself began to feel exhausted by the lack of reasonable behavior on her part.

A black woman with a drag queen’s eye make-up was ringing a bell in front of my Trader Joe’s.  A cross-section of hippies were rushing in inside, then coming out with loaded brown bags.  I didn’t see the woman speak:  Her call for charity would be completely silent if it weren’t for the arhythmic, tired ringing of her bell.  The shoppers seemed indifferent (although one woman faked looking at the pavement, as if she’d lost something).  I, too, continued driving, somehow more exhausted by the lack of my compassion than by the disappointment at that of others.

To my gray-faced and tired teller at the bank, I barely uttered a word.  The skin under his eyes seemed yellow and ready for the end of the day.  It was the height of noon.

“I wish you lovely holidays,” a gentleman at the window to the left of mine completed saying, and by the time I glanced over, he slowly began to walk away.

He was gray haired, in a pair of black suit pants and a tweed jacket, sharp dressy shoes and blood-orange-colored cufflinks picking out from underneath his sleeves.  He was old Hollywood, moving at a much more graceful speed and treating time like down payments toward better karma.

“Allow me,” I said, once I had caught up to him and opened the door.  I had to!

Despite the obvious exhaustion marked in the lines around his eyes, the man’s glance was mellow, aware and kind.  And it was not enough to resurrect my own compassion, but to remember that this time of year — I could better yet.

“Sometimes You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name…”

He is quite pretty.

Yes, I said “pretty”.  Or, rather:  He is luminous.

I’ve never seen him here before, waiting tables at this joint I frequent.  In the City ruled by the most beautiful gay boys who always bitch-slap my occasionally fearful face with the courage of their specificity, I have finally found my corner.  It’s calm here, and I am still completely anonymous.  I make it a point to be as sweet as Amelie when I come in, and I am always a generous tipper.  But no one knows my name.  They let me be.  And that’s somehow soothingly perfect.

Diagonally from its floor-to-ceiling window panes, I can see at least half a dozen of rainbow flags.  The parking is a bitch around here, but the stroll is always worth it.  And no matter what comrade of mine I’ve introduced to this place — a single mother with an unruly child or an ancient director with my father’s face — they all seem to find comfort, if not peace here.

“Reminds me of a Noo Yok di-nah!” a Russian from Brooklyn once correctly tagged the reminiscence of this joint while falling into the only round booth, and nesting his bulky body next to my bony elbow.  I could see it in his eyes:  A chord has been struck.

And it is true:  The leather-covered booths, plastic tables and chairs are squeezed against each other with economical consideration.  Identical bar stools, bolted onto the floor, look like a net of mushrooms sprouted after the autumn rain; and I’ve once, especially tipsy over a boy, spun on one of them while waiting for my smoothie with red cabbage.  (Shit!  I’ve become a hardcore hippie, in this California livin’ of mine!)

The UFO’s of lamp shades with single, off-white bulbs inside each light the place up with a certain light of nostalgia; but every kind face slipping in and out of the swinging doors of the kitchen reminds me that I ain’t in New York — any more!

But will you look at them?!  Just look at these faces!

There is the Zenned-out brown boy with gentle manners who insists on diamond studs that sparkle from underneath his backwards-turned baseball cap.  Underneath his crew-necks or fit t-shirts, he hides a fit but lithe body.  Sometimes, I catch him texting underneath the only cash register; but from where I sit, in those moments, he simply looks possessed by bliss, behind the tiny glass display of whole grain muffins.

The only older gentleman working regular shifts here has a quite voice.  He is not as effeminate as the other waiters here, neither is he flamboyant as most of the clientele.  When he tends to my table, I cannot always distinguish the content of his speech, but his Spanish accent is lovely.

So, I grin and stretch my arms to the other side of the tiny table. “I’m fine!  Thank you,” I purr, and wait:  Is this the day he’ll finally smile at me?

But this boy — is pretty, and I have never seen him before.  Dressed in the most perfect caramel skin, he has one of those faces that makes me regret not having a talent or even any predisposition for drawing.  His body seems perfect, and a pair of rolled-up jean shorts reveals a runner’s legs.  He carries just a touch of feminine grace, and oh, how the boys love him!  The entire length of my 3-hour writing session, they come in to quietly watch him from corner tables.  Some hug him while sliding their hands along his belt-line.  A sweet boy, he doesn’t seem to mind.  Men in couples flirt with him discretely, but I recognize their desire — for his youth and goodness — underneath the nonchalant gestures.

A woman with a complexion I would kill to have when I reach her age, has entered the joint shortly after me.  From the bits of overheard conversation, I figure out:  She lives in Laurel Canyon.  Has “a partner”.  A writer.

“130,000 people lost power last night,” she reads the newsfeed to the pretty boy, as he flocks her table.  He seems to possess an equal curiosity toward both genders; and if there is any hint of discrimination, it’s in his innocent desire to be in the proximity beauty.

Oh, right.  I nearly forgot:  Last night was messy.  When the winds initially picked up, I was willing to believe in the magic on some beautiful female creature blowing in, with the wind, to save this last hope of this forsaken place.  But then, my night turned tumultuous; and in my chronic want to flee from here, I thought of the more unfortunate souls, with not as much as a shelter of their car.  I checked myself in.

The morning ride to this joint was rough:  Fallen over trees, freaked out drivers and broken traffic lights.  But once I landed in my booth — and the angelic, pretty boy approached me — I remembered that I was always the last to give up on human goodness.  So, I hung around and recuperated in beauty.

And I’ve been hanging here ever since.

“To the Left, to the Left!”

The other midnight, while on Hollyweird’s no longer secret throughway of Fountain Ave,  I found my lil’ sporty car revving up its engine while impatiently crawling behind a clunker.  For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of sitting in traffic on this one-lane residential street running in between the freak-show of Sunset Boulevard and the parking lot of Santa Monica Boulevard, it is still one of the more reliable routes to take if you don’t ever wanna be the douche who walks-in late for a meeting — or an audition, or a dinner reservation — and says:

“Gosh!  The traffic!”

Oh really?  Traffic in LA-LA, eh?  Shocker.  Must the gay people’s parade out there, or something, huh?

Normally, when wasting my life in traffic, I’d resort to one of two choice:  either I swear colorfully enough to make the other drivers’ outer ears wilt, or I think of Eckhart Tolle and pretend to meditate.  But at midnight?

“WHY in the bloody, fuckin’ Dickens am I going at 3-fuckin’-miles an hour — with NO other cars in sight?!” I thought, and began to spew out hefty nicknames I’d call the driver of the clunker if ever that moron and I had a face-to-face encounter.

I was sitting behind him at a red light, waiting to make the left turn that would finally liberate me from his retarded choice of speed, when the passenger door flung open and a gorgeous creature leapt out onto the street.  She was petite, in some shiny, skin-tight Cat Woman outfit, with a bouncy bob of glossy black hair.  In twelve-inch heels, she jetted for the sidewalk, leapt up onto the curb and started walking.  By the temper of her strut, and the swing of her elbows, and the hesitant stall of the clunker once the light switched to green (the poor fucker forgot where he was going!), I quickly realized that I was witnessing a relationship dispute.

Now, a long, long time ago — this cat’s several lifetimes ago, to be precise — my love affairs used to have that sort of a dramatic feel to them as well.  Now, don’t get me wrong, my comrades:  Especially in the beginning, my lovers were always beautiful and love-worthy — of various nations and tongues, professions and talents, physical attributes and endowments, age groups and income; with unpredictable hairlines and bodily hair.  Oh, they were lovely!  Really!  But that’s, of course, until an affair would start going to shit (and let’s not kid ourselves:  we all know when a relationship does a one-eighty toward the unavoidable break-up); at which point, no matter how much I’ve tried to brace myself for grace and some degree of gratitude during the transition, it would always get dirty.

Not really a flaky or fearful partner (and because as an ex-Soviet, I accept suffering as part of the deal), I would still try to stick around “to fix it”.  But once there are cancer cells in the body of a relationship, most likely it is time to wrap-up all the loose ends and with a heavy realization of its unavoidable demise, just ask:

“Doctor?  How long do I have left?”

The mess that followed my departures (and I would always be the one to leave:  https://fromrussianwithlove.wordpress.com/about/) would take years to clean-up; often accompanied by astronomical phone bills due to all the sorting-out and the fishing-for-forgiveness conversations.  Or should I call them “fights”?  Hmm…  Yep:  They were fights!  Often unclean and unfair, loaded with lists of mutual grievances and tears; and a certain degree of my hyperventilation, because once again, I wasn’t sure where I had gone wrong…

Now, wait up!  Wait up a second here, V!

Actually, with enough honest examinations of my inner and outer selves, I have to confess:  I always knew when shit wasn’t right. Yep, I’ve seen the red flags and the signs of messy things to follows. Yet still, I would impatiently rev-up my inner engine and drive right over them — and into the arms of a man wrongly suited for me from day one.  And once in them — in those moderately or plentifully haired arms — I would continue to speed toward the Committed Relationship chapter of the affair.  More red flags would pop-up; yet I’d be in the zone, jacking-up my speedometer, Danika Patrick style.  And I would continue to stubbornly ignore my intuition — until the routine of the relationship would finally set in; at which point, I’d have NO choice but to slow down, eventually pull over, and collect all the self-violation tickets.

Okay, you get the metaphor, my comrades.

So, when the Cat Woman leapt out of that obviously ill-suited for her magnificence vehicle the other night, I had to remember my own stunts of jumping out of derailed relationships and my lovers’ moving chariots.  So, what did I do?  I U-turned, my lovelies!  (Illegally, of course!)  Because I too had suffered enough and could empathize with the Cat Woman’s Walk of Freedom.  And although I couldn’t help her with cleaning-up her poor choices and patterns, it was my civic — womanly — duty to ensure her safety that night.

Again, I sped, with my very ovaries pushing on the pedal.  But by the time I caught-up to our gorgeous kitten’s trajectory, she had already gotten back into the clunker.

“Well,” I thought.  “She hadn’t had enough yet!”

So, I said a prayer for our Cat Woman’s safety, hoping that she would always land on her feet; wished for clarity in her next life — and sped off home.

Foreign Girls — Gone Wild!

I swear I wasn’t misbehaving, but minding my business while looking through the modest collection of crummy Russian DVDs at the local West Hollywood Library!  Those things looked like they’ve been excavated out of the buried Chernobyl reactor:  with their Xeroxed black-and-white covers and shredded cases that must’ve contained more ex-Soviets’ fingerprints than the American Embassy in Moscow.  Still:  I was curious.  Or was I brushing up on my native language, which according to my Motha’, sounds Chinese to her ears?

“Oi, Verra!” she usually moans whenever I attempt to communicate to her in my mother tongue.  “Dan’t push eet.”

So, I was in my preoccupied 5-year old’s state, sitting in a lotus position on the Library carpet and yanking the filthy covers out of the misfiled line-up on the shelf.  To me, shit like this — is the very height of romanticism:  so archaic and old-country it feels!  And I wasn’t particularly squeamish about the germs I was going to harvest from this little adventure; because just like those tortured DVDs, I too have lived through Chernobyl.  So, chances are:  my Motha‘ Land has granted me an inhumanly high tolerance for all viruses.

The first thing I noticed about him — were his shoes.  Actually, I had no choice, because those things entered my sphere with no hesitation.  They were those clunky, white kicks reminiscent of the nursing shoes better belonging on the shelf of Payless than on a self-respecting male who’s flipped through at least a single issue of GQ or Esquire in his life.  But boom!  There they were, at my right hip, not even as much as looming but stubbornly intruding.  And right off the bat, I knew their owner had to be my former countryman; so I braced myself.

(A little confession here, my comrades:  I’ve never shagged a Russian.  It’s a choice, really, because no matter my personal nostalgia for certain old ways of my Motha’ Land, I am not a fan of the Russian males’ swagger.  I have yet to encounter a specimen who will approach me without an element of ownership, as if he’s been fucking me for a coupla years.  Don’t get me wrong:  I respect their badass Alpha-male-ness!  But in my bedroom, I want me a happy combination of Steve McQueen and George Clooney; and there ain’t nothin’ debonair about most Russian ex-patriots I’ve had the pleasure to ward off.)

The shoes loomed at my side, until my act of ignoring them started to seem ridiculous and uncomfortable; so, fuck it:  I looked-up!  And sure enough:  from the shoelaces, along the pant of his girly jeans; to the black t-shirt with Ed-Hardy-esque silver writing, the bling around his neck, all the way up to his un-styled buzz cut — this playa was Made in the USSR.  The deadpan on his face altered at a microscopic level when he assumed that very smirk of ownership mentioned above:

“Aren’t you a wild riddle?”

Yep.  That is the most precise translation of his first approach of a woman he barely knew, my comrades; but even my bi-lingual talents fail in describing the level of brazen familiarity in his tone.

Normally, in such a set-up, I would put on my Is There a Problem? expression; but the content of the Russian’s pick-up line caught me off-guard.  (At least, I think it was a pick-up line.)  Now, I am no motorcycle-riding, fire-spewing, gun-shooting, male-taming Angelina Jolie; but behind the wheel of my car or the closed doors of my bedroom, I do tend to unleash a lil’.  And lately, the degree of wildness has grown significantly because 1.  I’ve run-up some serious mileage to hell ‘n’ back this last year;  2.  I am a woman on a mission; and 3.  I’ve got NO time to spare en route to that mission.  Unless resting my messy head upon the chiseled pecs of my lover, I move fast and stubbornly upright.

Many a men have been left scratching their heads on the origin of my olive skin and my character, as equally untamed as my hair.  To this town’s casting directors and agents, the task of boxing me into a category appears burdensome and repeatedly annoying.  To them, I am either too brown or not brown enough; never Slavic-sounding but ambiguously European.  But my acidic sense of humor and refusal to draw smiley faces on sign-up sheets, next to my now Latin sounding stage name, has definitely chalked me up into a category of “intense” and just generally:  “not from around here.”

As for the mortals not in the business of casting, I tend to unsettle them quite easily.  Just the other night, a middle-aged white woman began interrogating me about the name of my hair stylist:

“Who did your hair this morning?” she interrupted my tete-a-tete with another “ethnically ambiguous” brown girl.

“No one,” I said, quite plainly, and nodded.

The white woman’s irritation jumped a hundred degrees immediately:  “Did YOU do it?”

“No,” I said, now smiling politely.  “My hair does its own thing.”

“YES!  But what I mean!  Is…”  Whatever her problem, the lady began to over-articulate, as if I were some FOB innocent she met Walmart.  “Did you — DO something to it?!”

As you can probably tell, my comrades, that interaction didn’t go over well; because after a 70-hour work week and 3-to-5 hour nights of sleep due to the stubborn pursuit of my dreams, I was not in the mood to tippy-toe around that white woman’s unreasonably hateful, uncalled-for tone.  But I had to quickly forgive her for the inability to decipher “the wild riddle” of V.  Perhaps, she would be more pleased if I cooperated a little, or got intimidated.  Or perhaps, it would be more convenient if I didn’t enter her sphere at all.  But in this day and age of not only post-colonial but fully globalized world, I believe she is the one the minority.  And that minority — is ignorance.

My Russian Badass

As any immigrant, I suffer from a dual personality.  Actually, I’m a bit of a special head case and the list of my personalities seems as endless as the line to Moscow’s first McD’s back on the verge of Russia’s democratic regime; but if you’re one of those purebred Americans (do those even exist?), you should know that in the head of any emigre reigns a border-line schizophrenia.  I’m kinda like that Nina chick from Chekhov’s Seagull:

“I’m a seagull — I’m an actress.  No, I’m a seagull!  Nyet:  an actress!”

In my head’s case, the endless tug o’ war is on the topic of my identity.  When it comes to the tales of V as a child — she is a Russian little bugger; and those memories and dreams happen in a whole different language.  But as a woman, I’ve built my history here, in the U.S. of A.  My first love, my first sexual partner, the first heartbreak, the first loss of a loved one — all happened here.  So, when it comes to my consciousness as a lover, I doth speak English.  In other words, when things get hot ‘n‘ heavy between me and my boos, my tongue communicates in the language I’ve adopted by choice.

So, the hardest question from an American that I can ever answer (besides:  “Do you guys have TV’s over there?”) is this MoFo:

“Which country do you prefer?”

Fuck me!  That’s the hardest toss-up ever.

There is no pride stronger — or devotion more realized — than the one an immigrant feels toward his or her chosen country; especially if the country they’ve left behind gave them some tough lovin’ back in the day.  Some of my fellow ex-patriots, for instance, react to Motha’ Russia’s name with dry heaves:  So impossible is their forgiveness! But seemingly, I’ve finally reached the very delicate balance of being able to not only fully participate in my American life, but to cash-in on my Russian-ness.  By that I mean that, for the very first time since I’ve switched continents, I am able to speak of Russia with forgiveness and admiration.  Now, I am not blind to the irony that out of all the choices of my potential homelands, I had to go choose the largest mother fucker after Motha’ Russia; so that I could continue my gypsy bounce without having to switch visas.  Also, I don’t need the help of my shrink to point out the element of rebellion in the Soviet child’s selection of the country her father spent his entire life opposing.  (Papa was a Soviet Army officer.  ‘Nough said.)

When I encounter my fellow Russians on this fast American land of mine, I gotta say:  They are kinda badass! I now reside in a close proximity to the Soviet Emigre Central, otherwise known as West Hollywood — still the most liberal ‘hood you can find yourself in LA-LA Land, in my opinion.  So, I tend to run into a few of my former country’s comrades.  Yes, I’ve seen the type of the middle-aged, purple-haired woman who looks at you as if premeditating ways she can kill you.  I’ve passed the line-ups of male retirees playing dominos on park benches — all unanimously wearing tracksuits — while they maintain their stoic silence despite the shortness of my dress.  In Hollywood clubs, I’ve picked-out the cluster of young Russian males, in black leather jackets, telegraphing their attraction to me with no more than an eyebrow raise.  But those types are usually guarding a handful of decked-out, made-up, pretty and very expensive Russian girls with demands of such high maintenance, you’d think they’ve never lived through deficits of toilet paper or winter-long power and water outages.  (See my rant about dem Russian girls:  https://fromrussianwithlove.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/from-russia-with-love-very-very-expensive-love.  So, yep:  I usually stay away from those.)

Recently, I’ve even encountered a couple of Russian business types.  By “business,” I don’t mean they handle those jobs that a real-life Tony Soprano would be helpless to do himself.  Here, I am actually speaking of Russians who are in pursuit of some honest livin‘ — and some American dollars.  (Although, if a Russian “businessman” ever threatens to kill you — I recommend to just take his word for it:  It’s just safer that way.)

From this year’s encounters, I began to wonder about the source of my pride I feel toward the better-equipped, better-integrated generation of Russian movers ‘n’ shakers in the midst of their American professional careers.  First of — and most importantly! — these types are always well-educated.  Even if most of their college life unfolded in this country, my dear ex-patriots maintain a very high standard of learning.  There is no such thing in Russia’s educational system as “an elective subject,” you see, my comrades:  You bust yo’ ass and pretend to enjoy soaking-up every science, every art and every humanity.  So, it’s been my experience, that usually, my peeps know what they’re talking about.  The second reason for my pride for my fellow ex-patriots has been better articulated by the previously mentioned Boss Soprano:

“You Russians, you got all the angles.  You come over here, you bust your ass.”  He did manage to get himself some Russian ass at the end of this pep talk, but still:  Russian emigres are some of the hardest working people I know.

And then:  there is the cultural heritage.  I’m not just talking about the again mandatory exposure to the richness of Motha’ Russia’s arts.  I mean:  The national strength that originates from one’s ability to bear and persevere. As we all know, Motha’ Russia has got herself a long and tumultuous history.  Oh how inventive She’s been in the ways to make her children suffer!  Famine, political unrest, centuries of oppression and dictatorships; wars and invasions; inflations and poverty; exile and holocaust — She’s got it all!  (She sounds like a lovely place to visit, doesn’t She?!)  And still, the people of my old country refuse to settle down.  No matter the forever-looming danger of persecution, they insist on practicing their right to an opinion and the pursuit of change. (Here is a tale of one recent Russian whistle-blower:  http://soviet-awards.com/digest/pavlichenko/pavlichenko1.htm.  And I thought, my blog was controversial!)

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” the bard once sang.  Considering the length of those damn Russian winters, the unrest of my former people seems never endless.  But just as my own Russian motha’ prefers to love me from afar, something tells me it is better to practice my affection for my former land from a distance as well.  And still, whether they choose to suffer back home or excel in their pursuits on the American land, I have to hand it to my Russian comrades:  May your stubborn courage and high expectations of your Motha’ country finally deliver a summer of rest and prosperity.