…Just to pass the time away…

We pulled off the highway in the dark high dessert sometime close to 9pm into a dirt lot that has a stone edifice in the middle with a plaque on it. He still doesn’t tell me what we’re doing here. I figure he has to pee. Then he turns around and talks to the back seat:

” Hey kid, you wanna see some stars?”

“Yesstttthhh” with a deep nod. He has been awake for a while, “reading” books and eating snacks.

We must be miles and miles from any large city, because the night sky is doing that thing that makes it look like there might be more stars than emptiness. Mr. Eagle scout knows all the constellations of course, and the kid loves to point at things so it’s a great little time we are having – pointing up at the little pearly specs and naming them – telling him the old stories behind all the shapes. The warm wind blowing our voices away. How can it all be so fragile and so magnificent? How is this one blue and that one yellow? What is the damn meaning behind all this?

Nothing or everything. We are nothing or we are everything. We are either the center of the creators attention, we have paths, purpose, and a personal relationship with a great magnanimous and omnipotent being OR, OR, OR…. we are a product of happenstance. Here by the shear willpower of our ancestors to keep producing. Evolution shaved and wittled us down into these upright animals that will find any way to make our own existence more leisurely.  I am only here because my stout celtic ancestors were smarter, meaner, luckier and hornier than all the other families in the area.

A product of luck and carbon molecules.  I prefer this theory because it makes me feel more interesting and yet, more like nothing, so much less to worry about when you know that your life is really nothing at all. You aren’t “straying” or “obeying” or having to ask some one else for guidance. Because It doesn’t matter. We are smallest specs of nothingness gone in a blip. It’s just a ride. And so far, I really enjoy this little ride. If I need guidance I just ask myself. And myself is a great guide. I have a very sweet little ride right here with this Eagle scout and this baby monkey. I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s. The best we can work towards is feeling happy everyday in little ways, and everything I have is of my own making. Nothing is bequeathed me by the grace of someone else. Everything is either luck, choice or hard work. I like that but it’s surely not a philosophy for everyone, it’s just mine. I always get like this when I look at stars.

We are made up of the same dust that’s in that star and that cactus, and that stone, and that plaque that says something about these dudes that came out of the Mojave on horseback at this very spot. They spent a whole year traveling together, looking for that great golden California promise, and parted ways. That’s it. Just a couple of dudes, younger than me,  that said goodbye to each other right here after going on a trip together. Now there is a little river stone chimney here that smells like urine. What strange, strange creatures.

I can hear the power lines before I see them. Almost directly above us, buzzing. Carrying light back and forth across empty miles of nothingness and sage. Power – to have power, to need power – the human condition is –

“Hey, peanut or plain M&Ms…?”

“Um, shit…plain.”

We pile back in the car and sing “I’ve been working on the railroad” for the millionth time until the kid falls asleep. Then we can enjoy our M&Ms without sharing and listen to LotR on tape. I don’t need to say it, but I will, life is good.

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Cinco de embarrassing

Lets say that you’re a guy.

And you’re not great looking, but you have a nice sense of humor and an interesting job…

Lets say you meet a lonely waitress…  and you charm her enough into going on a date with you. Maybe you take her out to a nice greek restaurant in Malibu, you have easy conversation (including details of your last anger-management course… yikes) and you even share a kiss. But a few days later after she never calls or returns your texts, you remain confused. You think to yourself: But I had such a nice time, we really hit it off, why wouldn’t she call me back? 

Well, guy, she’s just not that into you. So, DON’T COME INTO HER PLACE OF WORK, WHILE SHE IS WORKING, AND CONFRONT HER ABOUT IT. It’s sad, and not very classy, also, I’M WORKING, I don’t have time to let you down easy or massage your ego. I’m just going to notify security and have them escort you out. Oh, and yes, I DID enjoyed the free meal, up until you told me about how you locked your last girlfriend in a bathroom for three days..”she had water…”

And yes, we did kiss, as you leaned over to unlock my door and attack my face with your mouth. 

And another thing, please don’t come back the very next day and announce to every one that “you happen to be working down the street and your just here to have a beer with some buddies…jeez.”

There is never a dull day. Those who say they are bored are just blind to all the weirdness around them.

Speaking of weirdness, Cinco de Mayo is one of the most overrated party holidays ever. Anyone who works in “service” is usually forced to wear something embarrassing and up-sell “special house margaritas”. Regular restaurants are festooned in pinatas, marachas, and  red, white and green streamers. The weird part is, most of the mexican people in California are working on Cinco de Mayo, serving white people tacos. White people, drunk on mexican tequila and  dressed up in sombreros and ponchos vomiting all over the streets.

Here is a non-douche white person’s guide to celebrating the the Battle of Pueblo while beating the crowds:

1. Dress up like “daytime” Selena: cowboy boots, high-wasted jean shorts, mid-drift peasant blouse, and Wrangler jacket… very festive.  Don’t forget the large hoop earrings, middle part, slicked back hair, and lip-liner.

2. Make a “Mexican” Coffee:

make a cup of coffee (I use a one cup drip and some Yucatan single origin coffee beans from Primo Passo, because I am a yuppie poser and a total coffee snob.)

put about 1 oz of kahlua in it

and a splash of reposado tequila (wink)

some ginger powder

a dash of nutmeg

shake the almond milk so it is really frothy… pour that on top

toss a dash or too of cinnamon on it

twist an orange rind.

drink.

Put on game face.

go to work.

3.  For Lunch Go to El Pollo Loco and order the “EL Traditionale” burrito:

It’s actually not bad at all, there are real beans, real rice, decent chicken, fresh avocados and has your daily in-take of sodium covered…. for two days.

4. Watch Nacho Libre: Nothing is more authentic mexican than Jack Black dressing up like a mexican Monk running around in spandex with a crappy latin accent, “I am not listening to you, you are crazy.”

5. Head out with some friends ( if you have any) to the local Irish pub…   it will be quiet, and full of old alcoholics, kind of like a large smelly living room. Don’t ask for a margarita because there is no way the bartender has rock salt or “sweet and sour”.

Making my mom cry…

Over the next couple days I will post here, on this blog, the stories I used as my portfolio to apply to graduate schools for fiction writing.

I applied not only to the University of Texas at Austin, but also to Texas State at San Marcos and Portland State in Oregon.

The one I am posting today is the one that made my mom cry and threaten to run down and “whack”, with a wooden spoon, anyone who rejected my application.

  The Pool

A row of mothers – reclined – watching us; draped a-top white rubber deck loungers in sunglasses and pastel swimsuits. We stare across the length of the pool at them – our toes curling around the wet lip.  The sun licks every divot in their thighs – glazed in tropical scented oil. Magazines spread open – pages slicing air under their voices. They smile and pass around tequila soaked pineapple slices.  Behind them a short dark haired man in a khaki uniform mows the lawn.

In science class we learned that the sky is blue because it reflects the oceans of earth. We saw a picture of what the earth looks like from space; a sapphire marble.  I take my little brother’s wet hand in mine, and tell him this. The sky is like a mirror, I say, Then how come we can’t see ourselves? He asks. Because it’s very far away.  His stomach is drum-tight and round, his skin a deep caramel color, and getting darker everyday. We don’t need sunscreen like the other kids do. Their mothers press and rub their skin with the thick white cream. Don’t forget your ears – don’t forget the tops of you feetDon’t forget to rub it in – if you don’t rub it in it will come off in the water.  My mother smiles – You have your father’s skin, she says, It protects you, like a shield, from the sun.  My father’s skin is covered in hair like black spiders legs. I want my mother to rub the cream into my skin. Maybe then I would look milky, and soft.

It’s Saturday afternoon, Dad tells me to come to the garage he has a surprise for me. He holds his hand out toward my bike; white with a pink seat and matching sparkly handlebars the training wheels are gone. We go around and around the cul-de-sac with him gripping the back of my seat. Let go, let go! I say. He shouts that he already has. I look behind me to follow his voice and he is standing with his hands on his hips, blocking the sun making his figure glow like pictures of saints.  Turn! He yells. I jerk the handlebars to quickly and slam into the asphalt.

Last Saturday, a man named “Angel” fell from our roof. We were having it re-tiled. But no one called him ‘angel’; they called him “Ann-Hell”. We heard a crackling of tile, then a bunch of yelling, a large scraping sound, and then a body hurdled past the kitchen window, a comet trail of broken tile rained down after him. The other workers jumped down and crowded around him saying his name It’s Ann- Hell, they said, Ann-Hell has fallen. Mom called the ambulance, Hi, yes one of the workers fell off our roof, please hurry…Watching with my face pressed against the window, It’s Ann-Hell, I tried the sounds out, Mom, Ann-hell fell from the roof.  I watched his eyes rolling around in his head, a bloody pool forming and the other workers, lifting him up with their dirty hands.

The sun presses down, we are almost dry, and stinking of sour chlorine. My mother smiles – waves – a half-slice of pineapple between her fingers. Our toes grip the wet edge. The deep end – the darkest blue – I can see the drain at the bottom where that girl got her hair stuck and drowned last year. Her name was Michelle, and she had beautiful long blond hair. We had to go to a church service for her, and light candles. She died and the pool was closed for a week. Her mom moved away after that, but we can still see the drain, although there is now a cover on it. The Drain of Death we call it we dare each other to swim down and touch it. Everyone in the neighborhood has done it.  If you swim in the pool at night, she will grab you by the hair and pull you down to swim with her. I squeeze my bother’s plump hand;. We will jump in on the count of three and swim down to the bottom to touch the Drain of Death, every kid in the neighborhood has to do it – my brother’s hand is smaller than mine  – today is my day to touch the drain of death – he grips my finger 1…2…3…

Silver shadows sweep across my ceiling; the glow-in-the-dark stars are peeling off. There is an uneven tapping on my window. Dad is standing down in the court-yard, swaying, something has stolen his skin. He is whispering up at the window: Let me in – His face is not his face – Dad it’s me, mom is asleep, I whisper down to him. He repeats Anne, I love you, I’ll do anything, please let me in. His car is parked on the lawn – the headlights point up, humming at the sky. I am clean Anne, I’ll get sober, just please, let me in Anne, please, I just want to come home…His eyes are blank caves, his body starts shaking. Dad – I say – it’s me. He leans back and screams, he wails up at the roof. A light goes on across the street. A cool hand presses on my shoulder and I jump. Go to bed in your brother’s room. My mother is behind me, stiff as a tight-rope-walker – steady and tense, the phone in her hand, like a brick. The neighbors – she repeats – Ed, keep it down, the neighbors – her voice compressed, livid – Please, he says, Anne, I love you, I promise to be better, please, let me in.

Brother is huddled under his bed with his blanket and a flashlight. I crawl in next to him and we stay like that singing songs until we both fall asleep.

Dad is slumped on a thin cot in a small white room. I wrote him a note on the title page of the book I brought him to read – Call of the Wild. We had to read it in class, I really liked it, I got an A on the book report. The note says – get better. His shirt is huge and wrinkled, his eyes are cavernous, he is unshaven. My mother hands him an overflowing duffle bag. It’s “Family Visit Day” and the staff has provided ice cream sundaes. The toppings are organized floral printed-paper bowls on a folding table in the center of the cafeteria. Mom sits opposite him, she is silent. My brother talks about his baseball team, in the way that little boys do: coach says… coach says… The problem with putting gumballs in your ice cream is that they freeze and are useless, they just bleed unnatural color all over everything else in the bowl – you begin to realize that the colors mean nothing – that they are all the same flavor. My father makes little pigeon sounds when he hugs me goodbye. My tongue is swollen and heavy, my stomach wants to come up and meet it – I have eaten two whole bowls of ice cream with syrup, and Mom didn’t even turn to frown at me. He lifts his hand then lets it fall to his side. The nurse touches his elbow. My mother turns, takes us firmly by the shoulders, I lift my hand in some kind of salute, then turn and follow. I hear the nurses’ shoes click-click down the hall like doors closing. The hospital doors suck open – a blast of hot hair and baking asphalt. I wait until we get close then I lean over the planter, grip the neck of a tiger lily and let my stomach out. Jesus – she says – at least it wasn’t in the car this time­. She scratches my back with her thick fake nails, pulling my hair away from my face.

We are in the air – clinging to each other between sky and water we are tense and waiting for the blow our eyes are closed and our mouths are open and we are thinking about that little dead girl at the bottom of the pool and how the color of our skin protects us from the sun unlike others – we are thinking of the dead girl and deepness and coldness and our mother. We are thinking of our mother in the row of mothers and how she looks like them and we don’t. We are thinking of the sun and our skin and the dead girl and her skin. We are thinking of the color blue and the lips of the dead girl and the eyes of our father and the difference between sky and water. We are thinking of the dead girl – we are clinging to each other – we are waiting for the water – we are smiling at our mother.

This is not a salad.

It’s placed before you in a mockery of modern gastronomy. A wet handful of almost-translucent iceberg with two wrinkly cherry tomatoes, a  half a teaspoon of canned black olives,  and a sad flick of carrot shavings. Thank God you asked for dressing on-the-side; it jiggles suspiciously in a  mayonnaise-esq fashion. You stare up at the waitress: an oval-shaped brunette with curls piled high like chocolate whipped cream. She asks you if she can get you anything else Hun. You shake your head. It’s not her fault.

Here in the center of the universe, you’d think they could find some spinach or at least some decent looking onions. Hell, you’d settle for a chickpea.

New York can murder (in a good way) a hot cheesey slice, or a falafel, or a deli sandwich, and a hot street dog like no other place on earth, but don’t order a salad.  You will get a watery mess that looks like it came out of a cookbook from 1972.

You’re used to mountains of  farm-fresh fluffy California sprouts and mixed greens dusted in Parmesan and garlic toasted pine-nuts…not to even MENTION the avocado. All of it barely drizzled in a sweet-sour vinaigrette  and topped with fresh cracked black pepper. Most likely served in one of those thin wooden bowls that can double as a hanging macrame planter.

Everyone else at the table spreads the dressing and digs in, like they are NOT looking at the funkiest joke of a salad you have ever seen. If Nora were here you could at least exchange bemused eyebrow-raises. When she comes by again with the water your ask what the soup of the day is, and order a cup of the Italian Wedding. So much for getting your veggie on, another bloated night lies ahead.

Okay, so there is ONE place in the New York City metro area where you were pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness, selection, and value of a salad. Park Slope Ale House is a mere 15 minute walk through the lamp-lit brown-stone streets, and nestled on the corner of 6th ave and 5th streets on the first floor of an old house, it has probably been there forever. There is a long dim wooden bar, some booths and a surrounding out-door patio. Wooden benches and tables crowd underneath a sagging overhang lit by christmas lights. They serve their salads in wooden bowls, and they are not half bad, and they come with grilled chicken for a dollar extra. If you get there before 5 on a weekday you can catch the 50 cent wing special, or just stick to the 3 dollar Yuengling beer (which is NOT an asian beer, it’s actually from Philadelphia, contrary to its exotic name).

What you sacrifice for geography seems to cut a piece out of you, and it not just the salads. You gave up a lot just to be in a place with a famous name and a terrible reputation for struggle. You gave away a lot of things material, and otherwise.  Maybe just to prove to yourself, or to prove to everyone else that you are independent and nothing can hold you back. It seems like a funny thing to want to prove to anyone though. Maybe it stems from that famous image of Ben Franklin walking down the streets of Boston with a loaf of bread and a “shilling” or whatever. For some reason they drilled that principle into us in American history class. The highly western and specifically American idea of doing everything yourself, and struggling by yourself with no help from anyone seems to be the only acceptable way to come about success. This why young rich kids OD on heroin at the age of 17. They have no way of ever proving to themselves or society that they are worth it. Instead, they being a cycle of highly destructive behavior to prove to the world that they don’t value their life, that they know they aren’t worth shit. Then, when they die in a speed-soaked car crash or on a couch in their parent’s house surrounded by stoned friends we say that it’s a “shame, they had so much life to live.”

We put such high value on the struggle of “making it,” while most of us sit around and hate ourselves for not muscling through some socio-economic barrier to become a secretary or a senator or a guest on Oprah.

Nobody even respects rappers that come from middle class families, because we think that you have nothing to say or brag about unless you grew up on the bottom floor of a brothel in Harlem.  You are not a success unless you sacrifice everything, alienated yourself, and struggled from the very bottom to get to the penthouse at the W. What ends up happening is people start lying and you get the James Frey’s of the world. The audience is obsessed with memoirs and testimonials (i.e. Jared from Subway). Creative Non-Fiction has become a section at the bookstore because of this obsession.

America is way too proud of the Declaration of Independence. We all take it to heart somehow, when really a bunch of angry slave-owning white dudes in wigs were just being arrogant and angsty emancipated minors. Strutting around blowing shit up and ignoring Cuba just to prove we can. Just to prove that “We don’t need you mom and dad, look at us, see France thinks we are cool!” (cut to the civil war).

Last night you actually dreamed about the smell of the Pacific Ocean. You were sitting at the top of the tan cliffs at Point Dume and crying because you could smell the ocean. You could actually smell it. And when you woke up you could hear someone in the kitchen frying noodles or something.  But you carried it with you all morning, that sharp cold salt smell that makes your hair stiff and curly, and  your skin get that sticky feeling.

You like to be really hard on yourself, and sacrifice things you love because somehow you feel it will validate your easy existence. Somehow if you can prove you are just as deserving of life as a Sudanese orphan who is a classical piano prodigy then you can enjoy things, and sleep easy and not berate yourself.  You hate being told you are beautiful, and you hate being told you are talented, and you are not really sure why. Life is a series of choices starting with “soup, salad, or fries.” If you are ever in New York, get the fries.

Because Freedom is a breakfast food.

Freedom is the first thing you eat everyday. A big hot heaping spoonful that will stick to your ribs. It is an unbalanced breakfast with the scales tipped in your favor. You can say whatever you want (except for “bomb” on an airplane. “I’m sorry sir I was just trying to warm my toes with my Bic because you insist on keeping the cabin at 35 degrees!”) You can own a gun (s), you can own property ($), you can get into all kinds of debt, you can get paid to not have a job, you can read a book for free; that’s freedom, and you eat it like cereal everyday.

Go to the library with a sense of ceremony, dropping off your used items and inquiring about the book you wanted that had gone missing some weeks earlier (gasp!). Get excited when they bring it out of the back like a new baby. Yes, this makes you an absolutely shameless nerd. Comment on the rarity of this short story collection and see the wide bemused eyes of the part-time worker as she nods and points to the check out line. You love libraries, you especially love this one because of his breath-taking art-deco entrance, it’s perturbed staff, and it’s location; It backs up to the entrance of Prospect Park with a fountain, and a French-Libertine inspired arch in the intersection out front. It really does make your errand seem heavy with purpose.

There is nothing more American than going to the library. The well-read socialist inspired FDR, began the Public Library program as a way to cure lack-luster and inconsistent educations in America ” We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” You know, he had that sort of ability to bust out insanely intelligent sing-song gems to live by. Now, Libraries are some of the last standing relics of an America that could have been. A far-reaching government enforcing the education and imaginations of its citizens, forever employing old maids, and instilling in the collective memory that smell of thin well-worn carpet, human skin, and old paper.

People sometimes forget that books (and now DVDs) are free. Nowadays libraries are associated with homeless people bathing and people sleeping on warm greasy desks. America has forgotten all about the greatness of the public library. But not you, the library is to you, what the Star Trek Enterprise is to… other types of nerds. Its your mothership; your horizon line. As long as Public Libraries exist, America has not failed itself.

You are exceptionally cheery as you step out of the revolving door with a fresh read under your arm and an iced-coffee in the other. In your over-sized purse is a gently wrapped peanut butter sandwich tucked next to a tangerine. The sun is high and hot and a wide bay of grass lays ahead. Just watch out for sports equipment, airborne, or otherwise.

Right up there with Libraries is Public Parks. There is nothing more American than libraries, AND Public Parks. It is free to read books and sit in a lovely groomed park. Sometimes, people forget that.

The thing about parks here in this region (you consider yourself a park and library connoisseur), is that they are all so well-groomed, like paintings from Victorian Paris. Everything is lit with old-fashioned lamps, walkways are meticulous, people actually stay off the grass. The trees look like pleasant cartoon trees, no crippled oaks; or Dr. Suess junipers. No rolling fog on the horizon, no drum circles. Golden gate is a wide spewing mysterious place with its own species of coyote. Prospect and Central park are ruled by polite pathways and plump little squirrels. It looks like a park from a Disney movie. Wooded glens, colorful birds, picnic tables.

One thing that is consistent across all parks in the country : strollers. America has fancy stroller fever. Passing by you on every side are gangs of lulu-lemon wearing moms pushing these robot-pod and Cadillac looking vehicles. Whatever happened to the little aluminum and nylon death-traps of your youth? You know the ones that would launch you into on-coming traffic if the little plastic wheel hit a pebble. Remember 20 years ago, When all a mom needed was four or five aluminum poles, a stretched out nylon floral sling and some hooked handles to drape her over-sized purse on. It was like a toy camping tent. These strollers went for 5 to 10 dollars at Kmart, and your garage was littered with the carcases of many that had been run over or run down, or lost a wheel, or got peed/puked on. They were as disposable as plastic grocery bags (RIP) but now those are taboo too.

There are entire stores dedicated to fancy strollers, There is a parking place in your building for strollers, not bikes. You have counted 2 McClarren’s and one “Stroke” which is a scary Matrix pod looking thing that is able to adjust the height and facing direction of baby. All standard issue strollers are now equiped with 8 zillion pockets, a GPS, Air conditioning, easy folding technique (remember dad trying to get the old stroller in the back of the Mazada? Comedy), Sirius radio, moon roof, and cappuccino machine. The deluxe ones come with their own mexican diaper changing service that folds up into the trunk ( J.Lo’s favorite! Legality not guaranteed)! Whatever happened to getting your little foot caught between the asphalt and the plastic foot rest? Your toes would be bloody and scrapped for the rest of the day, you learned your lesson, Don’t drag your feet! That’s the kind of stuff that builds character. It makes you wonder what these little precious cargos will be like. You wont have to wonder for long, they will be baby sitting your kids in like 15-20 years.

Your point is that American people forget sometimes that no matter where we are, there is a library, and a public park. We like to get caught up in the bells and whistles of things, the politics, the ipads. We forget that kids don’t care what the stroller looks like, because they will end up puking or peeing on it anyway. Remember when your toosh would drag on the ground because you were too big or the stroller was too old? Whenever your mom put something in the “storage sling” she would accidentally kick your back? That was the good stuff, who would want to miss out on that with their high-tech all-weather four-wheel drive?

When everything else is dark and confusing, the world seems to shoot off into all these mysterious tunnels. You revert to your center. The Brady Bunch goes to Sears, Nancy Sinatra goes Downtown, Men go to the YMCA, Yuppies go to the farmer’s markets, and you go to the library. There is not a question in the whole world that cannot be answered at the library. It is a place of magical definitions, of answers. You have tried meditation, you have tried yoga but new-fangled ideas seem to lose you mostly (FDR would equally be confused by “new fangledness”). The library, however, followed by a long sun-burn in the park with a homemade sandwich, is the only cure for a troubled mind. You feel centered, recharged, itchy.

For the rest of the day you will discover small bugs and blades of grass in/around your clothes and hair. Your skin remembers sun and on cue turns a nice card-board color, as dependable as libraries, are the changes in season on your skin.