Tag Archives: witness

Too Far

It was the most abhorred sound to the ear:  A combination of pain and anguish, layered on top of a man’s hysteria.  It seemed to have come from down below, from the streets.  Perhaps, not unusual for the streets of Manhattan, but it’s been years since I had left.  I had wanted space — and space I had received.  Miles of it, with dozens of different cities crammed into one.  And the distance between each other was at times too significant to mend with compassion.

“Fucking spoilt!  Some people don’t have anything… (mumble, mumble, hmmmm).  Why are you like this…”  (Here, I thought he called her by her name.)   “YEAH!  YEAH, YOU ARE!  SO FUCKING SPOILT!”

I looked out of the window.  The end of spring hadn’t yet burnt off the green from the hills.  I studied the bits of lawns, visible in between the rooftops of my street.  The next street over had a more monochromatic look to it, with a row of two-storied, eggshell-colored buildings with those thin metallic windowpanes, painted white, only strong enough to withstand the climate of Southern Cal.  The screens of bathroom widows were narrow and dusty.  An Armenian looking woman, with a hairnet stretched over her auburn perm, was unloading the trunk of her son’s SUV, in the uncovered parking spot of the building below.  The son, with one leg on the ground, the other — still under the steering wheel — was staring at the screen of his mobile phone.

“YOU!  YOU!  YOU took all of it!…  (mumble, mumble, pain).  And now, I don’t have a savings account!”  (He must’ve said her name, again).  “I’ve sacrificed everything!  FOR WHAT?!”

The voice of the screaming man appeared to have no effect on the son or the mother, both consumed by their business in the parking lot.  I unlatched the sliding doors of my patio.  The accumulated dust had discolored the doormat underneath my feet.  It felt grainy.  The rains of this past winter had marked the pink, uneven floor with circular stains, with jagged edges.  I should really make a habit of sitting out here more.  But the work!  The work.  It consumed every bit of presence in a day; until half a day’s sunlight passed and my desire to find myself amidst other humans — completely burnt away.  And the slowness of an aware mind would be gone, gone, gone, into the daze of exhaustion.

The man by now was screaming.  Just screaming:

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH.  (Inhale.)   AAAAAGGGGHHHH.  AAAAAGGGGHHHH.”

Angst.  One uninterrupted, unidentifiable sound, leaving a mouth crooked with pain so immense, I imagined, it had to seem impossible to survive.  But he would land on the other end of it, most likely.  Because even if one reached the edge, the threshold, the limit — too far, unthinkable for a human heart — one would have to go on living.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH…”

The mother, who had begun hanging the beige plastic bags onto her bent forearm, like unshapely lanterns, looked up.  She’d heard it too.

“You said, I don’t fucking love you anymore!  YOU!  YOU SAID THAT!  This, morning… (Mumble.  Moan.  Name?)  And then you went to work!”  (A squeeze of empathy made me brace myself.  I had begun disliking detours from my earned tranquility, even if it disguised itself as apathy.)  “Now, you have to live with that!  You said that!  YES!  YES, YOU DID.  And now, you live with it!”

The mother had to have said something to her son; because now, he too looked up.  Unready to confront humanity, I scurried off inside.  Quickly, I slid the door.  It thumped against the frame, too loudly.

I walked along the outer edges of my place.  I learned my ear against each of the four walls.  One of the walls vibrated with another, “AAAAGGGGHHH!”  The sound was happening next door, and I could now make out the words.

“Go try it, Lena!  Go!  Go see for yourself how other people live!”  He looked so young the last time I saw him.  In time, such loss shaves off years.  With most people though — it compiles them.  “But if you think I’m going to walk away in silence…”  His voice cracked then.  He stopped.  I think he broke down.

I stood against the wall.   In a short while, it was a woman that began speaking.  She had been silent until now.  “Mumble, mumble,” I could hear.  “Mumble, mumble, mumble, hmmmm.”

I could remember her:  A tall Russian girl with that particular face that looked majestic in photographs but slightly off in person.  Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and slightly timid, she suffered from an awkwardness in how she moved her body.  I’d met her in the lobby once.  We shared a giggle in an uncomfortable closeness while getting our mail, from our neighboring mailboxes.

“I hearrd,” she finally spoke, “zat you verre Rrussian to.”  Her accent stumped me.  After two decades of living here, I had acquired the arrogance of a native.  She waited for my answer, locked her mailbox and leaned her back against the wall.  Her legs outstretched in front of her, for meters and meters, as it seemed.  And when she saw my sizing up the distances before her, she pulled them back.  Her face blushed with a sheepish smile.

“Yes,” I spoke looking at her lips.  I wanted to decipher how she spoke.  “Yes.  It’s been years though.”

“Oh,” she ran her fingers through the hair behind her ear.  “Verre… um… you frrom?”

This would’ve been the perfect time to switch to our native tongue.

“I am from the West Coast,” I said in my second tongue, catching myself pronouncing things slower, directly to her mouth.  Something was off there, definitely, besides the accent.  I thought it could’ve been the structure of her jaw.

“Oh,” she said again.  “I sought you verre frrom Moscow.  Zat’s verre I’m from.”

“Go, Lena…  Go back home, if you want…”  The man was sobbing now.  Un-peeling myself from the wall, I stood deciding how much space this tragedy demanded.  Too many witnesses increase the shame.

I wondered how many days it would take each of them to find their way back.  Or had they lost the sight of it for good?  When bearings are lost along the way, it’s harder to recover.  I looked out of the window again.  The mother was gone.  So was her son’s SUV.  I sat back down and returned to work.

“All the Lonely People: Where DO They All Come From?”

She always comes in here, right around this time (which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me).

And when she appears — she is impossible not to notice.

You can tell a lot by the way a person enters through the door. Some come in with certainty, as if they own the joint.  Some have indeed been here before:  They call out to the sleepy cashiers or the slightly baffled manager, and the rest of us are meant to take notice of the commotion they’ve created.  Others slip in quietly:  They tread their ground with no presumption; and I would like to think they spend their days causing the least amount of damage, in the world.

Local young couples come in here, to play out yet another day in the perseverance of their love.  It’s them against the harsh world — together.  Them — against us!  And I don’t blame them:  Togetherness — is hard enough.  So, I watch them seeking refuge in each other’s company, because they still haven’t lost their love’s ability to hear — to receive each other — completely.  They still haven’t taken the privilege of their intimacy for granted.  Lucky kids!

Other times, this is the place for friends:  buds and girlfriends, best friends.  And they vent to each other about the little injustices in their relationships and lives; and expect alliances from the people at the other end of the table.

But she always comes in here alone, right around the same time. It is her voice that I hear first:  It sounds like baby-talk that comes from a child who’s having a hard time growing up.  I’ve often heard that voice from children with newly born siblings.  They aren’t ready to share their parents’ love yet, and they still cannot comprehend where their self-importance has gone.  So, they regress, even if only in their voices.  And that’s exactly how she sounds.

Her clothes are simple, most likely begotten from a thrift store:  A pair of loose jeans of no particular label and a long-sleeved crew neck sweater of pastel color.  She wears thick, beige socks around her perpetually swollen ankles and a pair of nursing shoes.  It’s not that she appears poor, just not well-off.  And for that, the rest of the joint finds her at fault.

Or maybe, it’s her face:  Something is not right with it.  Her brown skin is deeply lined, although there is an overall puffiness on her cheekbones, forehead and neck; and under her eyes.  The distance between her ears and chin has collapsed due to her absent teeth; so, she protrudes the lower jaw and smacks her lips a lot.  The eyes are bulging and big, striking in the lightness of their hazel color.  They make you lower your own gaze when confronted with hers.  They are fully present, no matter how far and how long her mind appears to have been gone, by now.

“Can I sit here?” she’ll say, in that baby voice, asking for a group of girlfriends to move their purses from the chairs at the table she prefers.

That table is the worst!  It’s right by the door, in the outer row, with the draft hitting her from both the outside and the overhead vents.  When sitting there, there is no way she wouldn’t get in the way of people, coming over for their refills of coffee and water; and I’ve seen a few act discombobulated by her positioning.  But she is sitting right by the door, as if already apologizing for not fitting in here. And before we notice — she will be gone.

The girls always act rushed when they move their bags, and they get uncomfortably silent once she finally sits down.

“Can I have some ice for my drink?” she’ll ask the Mexican fry cook, from behind the glass counter.

It’ll take a few tries to notice her:  She is tiny, plus, she’s got that baby voice on her.  And sometimes, if the kid at the fry station is new, he cannot understand her while he studies her face with embarrassment.

And I suspect it is her face:  We all get stuck on it a little.  Something is not right — with her face.

She’ll then sit down quietly and eat her meal so methodically she betrays her lack of family and money.  Only the people that have known poverty eat like that.  And I wish to apologize to her — for all of that pain and injustice; and for the shunned reactions of others.  They think if something isn’t right with her face — something must be not right with her.

But her only fault, really — is the lack of beauty.  She is not exotic, as retired youth has a chance to become.  Neither is she dignified from the excess of money to take care of herself.  She is simple, plain and just a little strange.

She comes and leaves alone; and while completely alone, she starts and finishes her meal.

One of these days, I shall strike up a conversation with her (but only if she’s willing to let go of her loneliness), and we’ll share a meal.  And we may even share a silence.

Because she always comes in here, right around this time, alone; which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me.

“Give Me Hope, Help Me Cope — With This Heavy Load…”

I saw him nearing the intersection, about half a block away, on foot.  At first, I watched him pass my car, along the pavement: An ordinary man, like so many others.

His hair and beard were completely white (and I’ve always found it impossible not to trust white-haired people, for they seemed so much wiser than others).  So, immediately, I thought of him not as much as handsome but somehow dignified; trust-worthy.  Surely, I thought, he knew something I didn’t.

He wore a pair of well-ironed black slacks and a white dress shirt, unbuttoned at its collar.  A pair of polished, laced-up shoes and a yellow manila envelope under his armpit:  But of course!  He had to be an important somebody!

Maybe he was someone’s tax accountant, I thought.  Or, a divorce attorney walking over the final papers to a drained, tragic face of some recently single mother.

The fact that he was passing a gas station specifically for cop cars helped my fantasy, too.  I had just noticed it the other day:  What looked like a parking lot behind a film production building was filled with the killer whales of LAPD being served by a single, rusty gas pump.  I didn’t know that the same people granting us our justice also had to pump their own gas.  It made sense, of course; but my initial assumption that they were tended to, by someone else, made the idea of my world slightly better.  Or, more just.

(That’s when I looked away:  I was waiting for the traffic light to change.  It hadn’t yet.)

I had just passed that one crowded intersection where every LA egomaniac insisted on wedging in the giant ass of his unnecessary Hummer, thinking that the yellow light would last forever — just for him!  Instead, he would get stuck there, right in the middle of the mess, blocking the rest of us with an awkward tilt of his giant ass.  Oftentimes, driven to the ends of our nerves by all the heat and strife already, we flip out, honk and scream at him, with lashing words and foaming saliva.  Aha:  Another day, in LA.

My own rage is so powerful, at times, it scares me:

What if I don’t manage to come back to the saner side again?  What if I go way too far?

They had just erected a significant palace of yoga, precisely at that one intersection, where most of us are ready to lose our minds.  (And those people granting us our justice:  Why aren’t they granting it at that specific spot in the city?!)

On the other side of the street sits an ill-used parking lot, permanently fenced in by a giant net.  Its neon orange sign reads “FENCES”.  No shit!  There is never enough parking in this city, and there is never enough space.  Or, there is too much space — and not enough humanity.

But then, again, no one ever promised this city would all make any sense.  No one ever promised for it — to be just.

And maybe, that is why it’s always so much harder to come back here, every time: Because we tread at the very end of our nerves, due to all the heat and strife, and some of us go way too far.

The white-haired man was walking slowly; and that was somewhat unusual, of course.  But then again, he was nearing that one police station in Hollywood, where quite a few of my acquainted restless souls have spent a night or two, after losing their minds a little.  Maybe he was someone’s DUI lawyer; or perhaps, he was delivering someone else’s bail.  As he neared the pedestrian walkway, with the quickly expiring countdown on the other side, he began to squint his eyes:  Eleven, ten, nine…

(And did I mention he was wearing glasses, with an elegant metallic rim?  Yep:  Definitely, an important somebody!)

“Ohhh…  Ohhh, nooo!” he suddenly began to cry, quietly, almost under his breath.  He wound up each word in a register unsuitable for a dignified, white-haired man, like him.

He stepped out onto the road and began to cross.  Seven, six, five…  He crossed right in front of my windshield.

“Ohhh, nooo!” He squinted again.  “They took my car…  Oh!”

I looked in the direction of his grief.  The curbs in front of that one police station, in Hollywood, were completely empty.  It was that time of the day when the rules demanded for us to give each other more space.

“They took my car…”  The white-haired man continued, and in the way he stumbled onto the pavement at the end of his walkway, I thought he was way too close to collapsing on his feet:  Way too close to his insanity — as he had gone way too far.  

“I can’t take this — anymore…” he wept.

It separated inside of me and dropped — some dark feeling that comes from suspecting that nothing in the world had promised to be just.  And that departure of my own hope scared me:  What’s life — without hope?

Someone honked behind me:  The light had changed, and I had to give them way.  I had to give them enough space to pass into the lives that stressed them out ahead.

 

“Childhood Living — Is Easy to Do.”

Judging from what little profile I can see peaking out from behind her long hair, she could be quite lovely.  The lips — puffy and full — are enviable:  She’s got that Jolie-esque fold in her lower lip that promises that the size of it — is real.  The tiniest tip of her nose right above reminds me of that one exotic berry that starts with an “L”.

Carla Gugino for Esquire Magazine

Yes, she could be quite lovely; but ever since I’ve walked into this tiny joint, the woman, sitting at the corner table, hasn’t stopped speaking.  She’s got her iPhone, plugged into the wall, resting on the table next to two empty coffee cups.  Another device — a spinoff of the iPhone — is heavily protected with two plastic cases and a belt clip.  She takes turns dialing numbers on both things, and texting on whichever device is not being held up to her ear.

Her language — is foreign, heavily nasal; which makes her voice quite high.  And that pitch could be quite lovely if she didn’t sound like she was whining.  Whenever she switches to the iPhone, she returns to English; and I wonder if the list of her griefs, in that other nasal language, is similar:

“That guy is an asshole.”

And:  “I’ve got no fucking money!”

Oh, I get it, sweetheart:  Life’s unfair and hard.  But it’s 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and most of us haven’t even finished our coffee yet.  You — have had two.

From where I study the menu written on an overhead blackboard, I shoot her a glance.  Her hair is frizzy, unevenly straightened.  She is wearing jeans with a puffy vest.  On her feet, I see those thick-soled, oddly shaped shoes meant to shape a woman’s behind by replacing exercise.

She picks up her iPhone again:  The topic of the asshole guy is recycled.  Her volume could be quite normal; but the joint is tiny and she attracts attention of every human, still barely awake; including the mustached line cook who, upon my entry, asked me to try a sliver of bacon sizzling in his metal tongs.

“Breakfast, beauty?” he says and I imagine his previous life as a Navy chef.

I smile but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and smile again.

This morning could be lovely, still.

A pretty hippie couple is lingering at the register:  He is beach-blond, she is petite and an exotic mix of something gorgeous.  Whenever he speaks to her, he lifts up his arms and folds his hands behind his head:  He is shy — she thrills him.  His white terrycloth shirt rides up every time, and in the slender torso of this beautiful young man I can see the little boy stretching in his highchair, while waking slowly.  Gently.

The sound of some old song comes on over the radio.  It makes me think of a Christmas-themed lullaby and of slow mornings that are always lovely that time of year.

And this morning could be lovely — if only we could keep quiet and still for a while.

The radio switches to some dissonant jazz tune and the could-be-lovely girl, juggling her devices at the corner table, picks up her iPhone again and switches languages:

“That guy is such an asshole,” the petite creature ahead of me quotes discreetly.

I chuckle.  I get the couple’s attention; but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and chuckle again.

“Are we playing Cowboys and Indians this morning?” the man at the register says to me when it’s my turn to order.  I look up:  He’s wrapped a cloth napkin around the bottom half of his face and smiles at me, with only his eyes.

I smile; then, realize that half of my face is invisible.  So, I lift my chin — and smile.

“Where is your bathroom — or don’t you have one?!” the could-be-lovely creature interjects quite loudly, and with a single gesture of tongs from the mustached Navy chef, she storms off in that direction.  We wait for the passing of her busy noises and the departure of her griefs through the front door.

And when she does depart, her table is taken over by an older couple with a beautiful blue-eyed boy under their care.  He can’t be older than five, is barely awake and clutching a robot of military green.  The robot is wrapped in a baby blanket.

They could easily be the boys’ grandparents, but they don’t dote or baby-talk.  Instead, they are acutely aware, and they answer to his needs quietly.

At first, I brace myself:  The boy could be quite lovely.  But he could also be a complete riot:  His physical beauty could fully justify his bratty habits.  But he slides into the chair near mine, stretches the corner of his baby blanket on the edge of the table and rests his blond curls on it.  The older woman sits next to him and buries her gentle hand in his hair.

The beautiful blue-eyed boy stretches, while slowly waking.

The couple grabs a newspaper from the counter:  She reads the news, he skims through the Calendar section.  They speak to each other, quietly; while the boy drifts in and out of sleep.  When the food arrives, he shifts.  The mother (she IS his mother after all, I figure out) begins helping him with his utensils.

The boy whimpers:  He wants to do it himself.  With a single gesture, the woman calms him — “Hush-hush, my gentle little man…” — and the family returns to their quiet morning routine.

Ah.  This morning could be lovely, still.  And it could be quiet. And I wonder for how long I can keep holding on, today, to this gentle start of it — and to this gentle pace.

“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.

“The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills.”

She had arrived late, but what else was expected?  She was a woman.  A beautiful woman.

It was obvious it took her a while to put this whole thing together last night, through a careful choosing of details:  a negotiation of her tastes, her moods; the senses.  I wondered if while getting dressed, she daydreamed of a specific man she wanted to impress, as women of my age often do.  Or, if she simply entertained an overall possibility of endless love (as we, romantics, must still insist on doing).

A woman whose abandonment of vanity would probably mean the very death of her, she was better dressed for an audience at a polo match, also attended by The Royal Family, than a staged reading at a black box theatre.  First:  There was the white hat adorned with a satin ribbon and a silver rhinestone brooch.  And immediately, last night, the brooch got caught in the stage lights, and it began going berserk with rainbow reflections.  So did the giant ring that took over two of her fingers on the dainty left hand.

“Holy shit!” I thought.  “Is this broad decked out in diamonds?!  Damn.”

The hat alone was enough to demand the attention of the audience.  But the coat of the same egg-foam color was a thing of beauty.  Most likely custom-made from cashmere, it could send the mind into a nostalgic trip through the old days — the days of women like Audrey, Jackie and Liz — to the era when things like that were extremely important:  The details.

Gingerly, as if trying to not attract any attention, she slipped passed the front row of the auditorium and took a seat.  But whom was she kidding?  She was impossible not to notice!  For it was obvious, that it took a long while to put this whole thing together last night — through a careful choosing of details.  And I suddenly caught myself wanting to be nearer her, just to learn the aroma of her perfume, to figure out her story.

She had to walk slowly:  By now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life.  Be it her slow pace, her ability to be the center of attention, or her esteem, I was sure none of us let her slip by unnoticed.  The hat remained on her head for the rest of the night, radiating with rainbow rays from its brooch.  And for the next hour, I continued stealing glances at her.

Under the coat, she wore… a sweat suit.  (I know!)

But then again, it wasn’t one of those mass-made, one-size-fits-all fleece numbers with rubber bands around its ankles.  No, this thing was fluffy and pink.  It had a strange resonance to the days of the young Britney Spears:  Something a woman of my age would purchase from a Victoria’s Secret.  Although a definite mismatch to her outer ensemble, the suit was well fitted to her small frame.  Even this, I bet, was chosen carefully, last night.

A pair of white nursing shoes wrapped the picture, and I bet it was a small tragedy for this woman — this beautiful woman — to obey the mandatory change in her footwear.  Because by now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life; and it was a choice between vanity and a broken hip.  Yet still, these shoes — were immaculate:  A carefully chosen detail.

The detail of her stubborn warring against time — against her aging.

The details of beauty and class, resonant of the old times when such details were very important.

After the show, I lost sight of her, last night.  In the ladies’ room, I examined my own reflection:  My fitted black sweater dress had been chosen quickly that evening.  I was running late, so I yanked the first thing that didn’t need ironing off the hanger.  But how could I not have seen the gazillion bits of lint all over its front panel?  My hair hadn’t been brushed since the morning:  Was I going for the nonchalant tousled look?  It wasn’t working.  (My shoes though:  My shoes were perfect.)

Inside the stall I chose, it smelled like rose water and pepper.  Not bad.

“Is there any toilet paper?” a tiny voice came through the wall of the partition.

I looked at shoes of the woman in the stall:  They were the pair of white nursing shoes, immaculately chosen.  I froze:  Was that a rhetorical question?  Or did she need help?

I knew:  Dignity — was the very life of her; perhaps, all that was left of it.  Through carefully chosen details — like this pepper-flowery perfume — she tended to her beauty, to defeat time.  To defeat her aging.  But the child-like helplessness set in, regardless her effort.  And so, I stumbled, not knowing how to give her a hand without any charity; without offending her dignity.

I waited.

The tiny voice came back in a few minutes:

“Could you spare me some toilet paper?”

“Sure, sure, sure!” I rummaged around my stall.

I handed her a wad of paper over the partition.

“There are actually some rolls on your window sill,” I said, noticing the line-up above the egg-foam colored hat, with a brooch still going berserk with rainbow reflections under the bathroom light.

“I’ll take this,” the tiny voice said, and I felt the giant ring on her dainty left hand brush against my thumb.

“Yep!  Definitely, diamonds!” I thought.  “Damn.”

I Came To Win. To Fight. To Conquer. To Thrive. I Came To Win. To Survive. To Prosper. To Rise. TO FLY-AH-AH-AI!

I normally don’t do this, but after serving nearly seven years in LA-LA, I decided to skip the shortcuts the other night — and take the long way home.  It’s rare, but I felt like I had nowhere to be.  And no one — was waiting for me.

By now, I had thrown myself into a few affairs; and for while, each would fool me into thinking that my life was somehow made better:  Elevated.  And I would dash across town, using shortcuts, to get myself tangled up in my lovers’ limbs, stories, messes and hair — just so that I could get distracted from the mundaneness that happens after one starts taking her breathing for granted.

The men wouldn’t last:  They had “their own set of problems”.  They too — were serving their time in LA-A.  And they would go away, taking shortcuts out of my limbs, my stories, my messes.  My tangled hair.

So many of them had left, during the last seven years, I would start confusing my heartache for being alive.  And I would crave this chronic state of getting over a man — instead craving the love that I had never actually received.

“This one — is for the sake of the departed,” I thought when choosing my route, in my mind, while simultaneously starting up my car.

I was leaving the West Side of the city which runs in its own timezone depending on how many people are trying to get through traffic — to their own shortcuts — and into the limbs, the stories and the messes that wait for them in other distant neighborhoods.  After nearly seven years in LA-LA, I had learned how to wait out the crowds:  not because I dislike serving my time amidst humanity; but because I prefer not to do so — amidst the worst of it.

So, by the time I was choosing my route the other night — while simultaneously starting up my car — I had avoided the traffic and the worst of human behavior that comes with it.

I looked in my rear view mirror, West bound.

“Remember that departed?” I thought while seeing the neighborhood I had started to explore in a company of a man full of stories and messes.

I looped around the block, but then realized:

Love had never really lived there.

So, I got back onto Venice — and started heading East.

Venice was moving, speeding at times.  I saw the tired faces of other drivers taking their shortcuts, after serving enough time on the West Side to avoid the traffic and the worst of human behavior that came with it.  They seemed focused:  in the know.

A pretty blonde in a well-aged red Jeep seemed to sense my curious gaze, studied me for a split second:  She saw that I was meaning well, smiled tiredly and took down her hair, out of the tiny ponytail at the base of her neck.

“That’s my girl!” I thought, speeding past her in the other lane.  My windows were down:  I wanted to taste the incoming marine layer, crawling in like a giant wet tongue — and to outrun it, while heading East.  I slid open my sunroof, and the wind immediately swooshed inside.

I took down my hair.

The Melrose District came up on me quite quickly, despite my taking the long way home; and it greeted me with heavier pedestrian traffic and the smell of anything else but the Ocean.  Joggers in stylish clothing, smart enough to wait out the heat, strutted along the crooked pavements.  Pretty Jewish girls in modest, long skirts somehow reminded me of the old country.  Sporty mothers with yoga asses:  What made them flock to this ‘hood?  And girls, in gladiator sandals or sparkly stilettos, smart as whips, chasing their bargains along Melrose:

They weren’t a breath of fresh air, no; but a mouthful of something very specific.

Normally, I would take a shortcut here.  Instead, I obeyed the residential speed, turning into the less travelled streets with open-mindedness; and I let them surprise me with memories.

“And remember that one?” I thought suddenly, swinging past a lavender sign of a restaurant resilient enough to serve its time for the last seven years, in LA-LA.  I had first come here with another departed, even though love — had never really lived there.

“Or this?” I was sitting in an alley, passing a funky yoga studio in which I had once fallen for a boy.  He wouldn’t last:  He had “his own set of problems”.  And he would go away — run away, actually — taking shortcuts out of my life.

I took the long way home.  I never planned for it, but after serving seven years, here — has become my home.  And history was written everywhere.

Good Woman Down — and Up! Up! Up!

Define “good”.  I bet cha you can’t.  Well, not precisely.  Not on the dot, not really.

You will grapple with your memories of what it must’ve felt like — to be “good” — but you won’t really know what moved you, to be that way.  To make that choice.  Maybe it was something your parents have taught you (or whoever made up for your parents).  But all you will manage, at best — is to spew out a few other ambitious words, or juxtapose “good” against antonyms, equally as vague and forsaken.

“It’s the opposite of that…  You’ll know it when you see it!” you conclude, perhaps impatiently.

Maybe, you’ll have better chances at recollecting memories of when “good” was being done to you:  Because it’s always easier to accept, than to give it.  Not many protest when they are submerged into someone else’s “goodness”.  (Well, at least, not until the self-loathing kicks-in, and they start splashing around in it, like a hysterical woman in a jacuzzi, making a fuss about her hair.)

Some of you will go full-fledged to religion or philosophy:  Someone surely must’ve written about “goodness”, even if they’ve forsaken it right after.  Oh maybe, poets have captured it, that wretched lot of humanity!

“I know this, I know this!” some of you will slap your foreheads and snap your fingers in space, as if trying to remember a name of an actor from one of those black-and-white movies we’ve all agreed to treat as a masterpiece.  Or that tune — “What’s the name of it?  I know this, I know this!” — and it’ll get stuck in your head for hours after.

And many of you will smile, while searching for the answers.  Yep.  Experts say it takes extra muscles to smileanother degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  Kind of like “goodness”, no?

The other day, I had frantically reached for the definition of “my goodness” to the woman, who, on this planet, besides my motha, has known me the longest.  For years, this relationship was based on having nothing to prove to each other; and having nothing to need.  No matter my own idiotic choices throughout our history, she had never offered up a judgement:  Because she is “good” like that.

As before, she took her time answering, just so she could do it precisely.  On the dot.  Because she is “good” like that!  She couldn’t have known that my urgent need for her reassurance had come from an accusation by a scorned lover.  (Oh my goodness!)  I waited for her response.

In the mean time, I went off to stumble around my day in a state of some sort of walking sleep.  I bounced between my commitments, occasionally pulling over to the side of the road to jot down lists of “good thing” — things I was grateful for; things that I was hoping to discover later, just so that I could be grateful again.

I stopped by a girlfriend’s office:  She had been missing me, she said.  Always a stunner, this time around she looked even sharper.

“Sorry, I’m such a mess,” I said in comparison, pulled up my dress, then zipped up my jacket to hide it altogether.

“Nah,” she said, chewing on the black cherries I’ve brought her.  “I dig this look on you.”

She was busy.  I drove off.  In traffic, my phone lit up with her name:

“U r always so good to me!” said the text.

I felt dizzy.  Pulled over.  Jotted down a few things.  Remembered I needed food, got myself to the closest store.  In the “Canned Goods” aisle, I suddenly felt the urge to weep:  Months ago, in the same store, in a similar aisle, my departed lover had confronted me — with goodness:

“Look at you,” he had come upon me unexpectedly.  “Smiling at strangers.”

Clutching my random future purchase, I stared at the labels.  A gorgeous girl with a headful of Grecian curls reached around me:

“‘Scuse me,” she smiled.  I smiled simultaneously despite my face feeling exhausted.  Sorry:  I’m such a mess.  I watched her choose a can of hominy beans (not chickpeas!) and smiled again:

“‘Scuse me?”

She looked back — “Yes?” — and smiled.  (Damn:  That’s pretty!)

“Your tag’s sticking out,” I said, and without waiting for her to feel embarrassed, I reached for the back of her neck and fixed it.

In my car, I took a few bites of the food:  Not feeling it.  Jotted a few more “good things” down.  Started the car, pulled out, waited for all the pedestrians to cross.  (They tend to look so disoriented, in this city.)  Started driving, pulled over again.  Got out, grabbed my lunch; walked over to a man reading a newspaper in the bushes, with a nearby parked shopping cart.

“Hey, Keith,” I said.

Keith raised his face.  Sweat was dripping off his face and onto the newspaper.  He looked unusually bewildered.

“You want this?  I just bought it.  Not feeling it.”

I unloaded my hands into the shopping cart, and without waiting for him to feel embarrassed, got back into my car.

Three locks to get into my apartment:  One down, two to go.  Matching the keys to the keyholes, I was trying to keep myself upright.

“V!” a kid stormed out of his apartment down the hall.  He always storms out — out!  around! — and he speaks in exclamation points.  Already in the midst of some anecdote, as if we didn’t have a couple of days since seeing each other last, he was making me laugh.  But I was still playing the matching puzzle of the keys to the holes.

“Where are you going?!  What are you doing?!”

I laughed.  “I gotta do some work, silly goose.”  (In truth, I was just anxious to find the definition of “my goodness” — precisely, on the dot — on the screen of my laptop.)

“Well, lemme take a picture of you!”

“Sorry,” I said.  “I’m such a mess!”

“Nah!  You kidding!  I dig this whole look on you!” — and without waiting for me to feel embarrassed, out came the kid’s iPhone.

He stormed out.  I decoded my locks.  In the darkness of my apartment, while I was waiting on my laptop, the phone lit up with a text:

“…and you deserve all the best!  All the best!”

The kid.

I smiled.  

Experts say it takes extra muscles to smile — another degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  

Kind of like “goodness”.  

Yes.