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Her cell phone rings minutes after she arrives to the office. It’s her sister, whom she loves, but she doesn’t feel like talking and lets the Linus and Lucy song play—an upbeat, nerdy little ringtone that accompanies her coffee drinking. Sometimes she hopes for bad news, an end to the continuous and gut-wrenching family drama involving her parents and one of her sisters, an alcoholic and compulsive liar. Sometimes she even hopes for a death. She feels guilty but wonders what her life would be like without the constant worry over her mother’s, her father’s, her sister’s well being.
Vegas, she thought, would epitomize everything she hated about American culture--
culture--all in one congested area. If she had to sum it up in one word,
. The inability to be satisfied with twenty dollars, one plate of food, a normal hotel room instead of one with a faux-sky ceiling that changed colors upon the hour, a show without a half-million-dollar stage. But when that first slot machine played its tinny music for her and blinked blue diamonds, she fell in love and understood how it felt to commune with chance, be rewarded just for pushing a button.
The astrology site had predicted he would have his present job for two years. It had now been two years and three months. He was worried. He tried not to put credence into astrology, or in Internet prognosticators, but it was like his life suddenly had a loose wheel. He thought he did good work. And yet he could do much better, goof off less. His favorite way of wasting time was looking at satellite photos of places he’d dreamed of living. Sometimes he copied the photos and pasted his picture onto them: his quiet, comfortable way of taking action.
There was always something on her face to fix—the fat underneath her eyes, wrinkles around her lips, and now her crooked nose. The insurance request form said “deviated septum,” the correct lingo to use when asking for money, and perhaps it was legitimate. Perhaps… But when pressed, she would admit it wasn’t. She just hated the shape. She’d put up with it for years—decades, even—without really noticing its hideous bulbousness. And then the divorce: Three years as a late-forty-something single, and she had a two-page inventory of her ugliness. When she was perfect, someone would love her.
He thinks that, when he dies, he should be in charge of streamlining the Universe’s design. Small things, of course, that need updating or revising. For example: Children should not have more energy than adults. Children should be easily fatigued until after puberty, around the time they leave home for college. He believes this would solve myriad cultural problems—parents would have more control over their kids, and the various rebellions that surface at two years old, thirteen, and sixteen (approximately) would likely be curtailed. Simply put: The world would be better. Who collects feedback on this sort of thing?
I need a birth certificate to go to Mexico in May--I’m helping build houses for impoverished families. Last night I ransacked my closet, but all I found was my first grade report card (why was I absent so much?) and a passport that expired six years ago. I know my mom has a copy, but she’s so suicidal over my dad’s health that I can’t ask her to find it and send it to me. I can just see her sifting through boxes of old photos and documents, burying herself deeper in the past, wanting to vanish with it.
He’d been concerned--actually, obsessed--over whether his company wanted him, needed him, anymore. But it occurred to him today, while he prepared for another 10 hours of busy work, that he should think differently: Did he want
? The paycheck was good, the job was easy (although difficult at times to bear the soporific periods of down time, and the collective negativity), and each day he stayed, he was closer to retiring with a big pension and 401k payout. But still. When he was 75 and looked back over his life, how much of it would he even remember?
Meredith hated the sun. When summer was in full swing—a season that grew longer as the years passed—she fell deep inside her body and curled up under all the flesh, seeking comfort from her private, icy core. But it wasn’t good enough. There was nowhere she could go for solace during the summers; all she could do was lie in bed at night, naked and still wet from a shower, an old box fan breathing on her. Her bedroom open to all neighborhood sounds.
, she thought every single night,
I hear everything but crickets. Where are they
I referred to my dad in past tense today while talking to my mom (“He liked the ocean”), and my mom corrected me (“He still likes the ocean”). Her reprimand was so quick and automatic, like a reflex, that I knew other people had also transgressed.
He’s not dead yet
, I thought after I hung up the phone. Am I heartless? So much of him has died, a large part of his mind and memory bank, that I can--when I’m being objective--understand why he is sometimes past tense to me: The man I knew is already two-thirds gone.
Lots of fires lately, and not just in dry, hot Southern California. A Bronx fire last week killed nine children, and now an apartment building fire is on the news: A man barely escapes, only to be mugged after he lies down on the pavement to rest. I’ll use my favorite acronym here:
? Sometimes people astound me with their kindness and generosity, and sometimes I want to kick them. Why is there more news that makes me decry humanity than news that makes me celebrate? Does bad news garner more ratings, or is there truly just more of it?
I gave my mother a gold necklace I’d never worn, given to me years earlier by my former lover. A small clock pendant said, on its back, “I think of you every hour.” And it’s true, although it would be more accurate to say “I worry about you every hour.” I told her that, if she wore it, the necklace would remind her of how much she was loved... It didn’t occur to me until later how odd it was: my former lover had regifted the diamond earrings I gave her to her own mother, while we were still together.
But this summer was different. When the temperature rose above 85, and the clocks sprang ahead (three weeks earlier this year, thanks to fickle Congress), the jasmine-scented evenings called Meredith outside. She developed a craving for beer, not the melancholy and thickheaded stouts she usually bought, but pale ales and Corona with lime. She drank them under avocado trees and while sitting on the steps outside her building--a place she’d never lingered. Strangers/neighbors stopped to say hello. A middle-aged woman sitting on her “stoop” with a beer--this wasn’t
, was it? Whoever she was, Meredith was enjoying herself.
Eight o’clock in the morning and already I see a bad day ahead. Usually, I like to reserve judgment, but today, I just
. Sore throat, menstrual cramps, no sleep (again), and a morning of meetings that will have me fighting to keep my eyes open. No girlfriend tonight, either. I want to see her, but I predict I’ll be in bed by 7pm, having surrendered to the unique stupor that portends a bad cold. One good thing: I got up early and exercised. If the rest of the day floats by in a fog, at least I have that.
It amazed Meredith: At 78, her mother had never known a lover’s rejection. Her mother had never lost the love of her life, or even a sweetheart. She’d found Meredith’s father when they were teenagers, married him, and had the kind of relationship everyone envied. They loved each other. But now Meredith’s father was dying, as he had been for several years. The slow-motion loss of everything precious. Her mother witnessed it and realized she was going to be alone for the first time in her life. It seemed impossible to her mom, and Meredith wondered if, perhaps, it was.
The necklace arrived and my mother is already wearing it. "People commented all day," she said on the phone. "I told them you always found such unique things." I was thrilled that she liked the necklace--her birthday present--but when I hung up, I felt guilty and cheap. Why hadn’t I
her something, like I usually did? I thought the necklace would suit her and didn't care that Lisa had once given it to
, but I can’t shake this thought: What if this was my mom’s last birthday, and she is walking around wearing someone else’s gift?
Today, your liquid fast will prevent you from eating a real dinner with me. I’ll miss it, that simple activity of constructing (and deconstructing) our meal: sushi or pizza, Italian or American fare. Dessert? Chocolate. Wine? You’ve turned red, much to my pleasure. (You always seemed like a red drinker, so sensual and earthy. Reds are sexier.) Here, in a world of celebrity-filled, four-star restaurants, my favorite place to dine is on the living-room floor with you: Our coffee-table smorgasbords.
Tonight, you heat your clear vegetable broth and sit down next to me. Surprise: It still feels like a feast.
This weekend I wished I were a man. Not because I want a penis (though I’ll admit, sometimes I do), but because I wanted to be bigger: large and strong enough to pick you up and carry you. To take you away from everything that hurts you. When I saw you in the hospital bed, I remembered an article I’d just read about hypothermic kittens--the safest way to warm them is to cuddle them under your arm. I wanted to lift you up, then, hold you that way, like a man could, like Apollo, replacing your pain with light.
My mom asked me what to do with the piano. It’s an oak upright they bought when I was seven. They gave me lessons: once a week, Mrs. Mills and I sat in her finished basement while I learned Bach’s Inventions with a metronome. In eight years, she took me from Chopsticks to Chopin. So did my parents. I had to tell my mom I didn’t have room for that big, beautiful Kohler they’ve moved with them at least eleven times, twice across the country. They kept it for me, and now, after their final move, I can’t take it.
Things I will remember about my dad: He loves malted milk balls and used to sneak them to me when I was little. During my childhood summers, it was still light outside when my mom insisted I go to bed. I would lie there for a couple hours, reading or watching other kids play baseball outside my window. My dad, every night, would tiptoe up the stairs, tap on my door, drop a handful of malted milk balls onto the nightstand, and leave again. I stored them in the pocket of my Betsy Wetsy doll, made them last until morning.
A lot of people don’t know that underneath Detroit are 1,500 acres of salt mines. The first shaft was a thousand feet deep; in the early 1900s, trucks and equipment had to be disassembled on “the surface,” sent deep under the city, and reassembled. The mines closed in the 1980s but trucks are still parked down there, in the dark. When the lights were on, everything was white and smelled vaguely oceanic. I don’t know why it fascinates me. I grew up in Detroit and never knew about the salt mines, until I moved far away and missed my childhood.
Brian thought of his anxiety as a bad spot in an onion--how many layers did it permeate? He tried meditation, yoga, intense exercise, kava kava, prescription drugs, music and aroma therapy, regular therapy, chamomile tea. Nothing worked. Sections of his being might be calmer, but there was always a layer or two, turning dark. When he tried cognitive behavioral therapy (
, those in the know called it), he managed to see anxiety as beautiful, starless-black watercolors bleeding into translucent yellow skies of flesh. But that perspective was hard to maintain; like so many other healthy states of mind, fleeting.
I’ve been searching for a
Los Angeles Times
article from a few years ago about a man who had spent his life studying microscopic snails. Found only in caves, the snails intrigued him so much that he ruined two marriages and acquired a ghostly complexion. He finally found a woman--or more likely, she found him--who wouldn’t leave. When he returned from his spelunking expeditions with petri dishes and glass tubes of shy, invisible gastropods, she listened to his stories and smiled. She must have liked imagining where he was all day, his thin knees pressing into the earth.
I wonder if it’s easier to be angry with my mother for who she
than to empathize with her for who she is. Her life has been a series of tragedies, both real and fabricated. Now that she faces her biggest one, the separation that all marriages end in, I am angry at the way she chooses to cope: refusing to take her medicine, rejecting the therapist her doctor recommended, blaming everyone for her loneliness, harboring age-old resentments against people who help her. She was always incapable of being happy; now she has the perfect reason not to be.
A war photographer discusses what makes his picture of a little girl, whose parents were shot and killed by U.S. soldiers at an Iraqi checkpoint, so compelling.
It’s the streaks of blood all over her face
, he says,
and the stark lighting, reminiscent of some schools of painting
. The interviewer notes that the girl looks like a doll.
It’s the juxtaposition of the small girl next to a tall, gun-toting soldier. She appears alone in the world
, they say.
Maybe that’s what makes it so powerful
. All we do is analyze the F-stops and shutter speeds of murder, take photos.
More that I will remember about my Dad: For most of his life, he smelled like spearmint gum. He liked
Chewels, the gum that squirts
. He bought cartons at a time, stashed them in his car and dresser drawers. Smiled when he bit into that liquid center of concentrated (but sugarless) mint. Now I know he must have been orally fixated: an active alcoholic for many years, a smoker, a food aficionado--he always seemed to have something in his mouth. It’s disorienting to see him now, with no appetite, no gum. But, thank god, he still loves his coffee.
Bumper-sticker evangelism: Jesus fish; Darwin fish with feet;
Jesus es Dios, Leyo la Biblia!; Give War a Chance; Peace through Superior Firepower!; He’s Not My President
... A man whose child is an honors student cuts me off on Wilshire and gives me the finger. Sorry, was I going too slow in my Jeep, with my Kokopelli spare tire cover in your face? Whimsical flute player, Kokopelli symbolizes to me the spirit of music, happiness, joie de vivre. Joy is hard to find on the road, separatist bumper stickers preaching at you while you inch five miles an hour to work.
My office mate, C, is a drummer. By day he works here, teaching technology classes, making phone calls on the sly to set up gigs. He lives and breathes music, has brought me a library of CDs to rip onto my computer. He reawakened my love for jazz and introduced me to several new loves: trip-hop, indie rock, remixes of old standards, acoustic. Last night, I drove through the canyon, listening to a local band, C on the drums. So much passion and focus--he does what he loves and nothing diverts him. I hear his heart in every beat.
Once an activity ends up on my to-do list, I dread it. Even if it’s going for ice cream or calling my best friend: If I feel like I
do it, I won't. The activity then enters my Dali-esque realm of procrastination, where clocks melt and everything emits a creepy, surrealistic aura. Why do I resist my own authority? I made the list; I have the ability to follow it. Perhaps I should give up the list altogether, just do things immediately, when they occur to me. Spontaneity is much more fun. If only my memory would allow it.
Pinkberry again: It's the third time in less than 24 hours that I've stood in line at the trendy new yogurt place with green and pink dots on its windows. There are also green and pink plastic translucent chairs and tables, artistic spreads of colorful fruit and candy toppings, and a general sleek-city, asian-fusion atmosphere that seems anti-yogurt to me. (How cool can dairy
?) Is it wrong that I resent their decision to offer only one flavor (green tea), and that this flavor is highly pretentious? I will order the plain from now on, my personal--and only--rebellion.
In spring Los Angeles is purple, my favorite color. I forget about it every year, until I am driving and lost in thought, and I turn a corner and see it: a Jacaranda tree in full bloom, backlit by the evening sky. Or a lawn covered in a brilliantly periwinkle creeping phlox. I love those moments. They remind me of
A Color Purple
, when Shug tells Celie her spiritual philosophy: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” Whatever god is, it truly does speak to us.
Dreamt about long hallways, narrow stairwells and rows of locked doors that I needed to maneuver. I was on a mission for work--one of the door combinations was my boss’ name--but it was so wracked with obstacles that I woke up tired. There was a car wash involved, too, and a Bianchi bike. I once had a Bianchi and loved it, its red leather seats and handlegrips, purple bell I bought in Nantucket. In the dream I saved it from being stolen; in reality, I sold it for $150 because it reminded me too much of the past.
The Tip Jar