…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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Firsts. (period stories)

My friend sent me this link today and it inspired me to share my own embarrassing period story. You’re welcome.

I’d also like to preface this story by saying that I grew up in the greater Los Angeles area.

It was freshman year… (ish?). One of my best friend’s dads was a composer for movie soundtracks…and so was invited to the Writer’s Guild Awards. He decided to take his daughter (and my best friend) Tatiana as his date who asked me and my other bestie Britt to go as her dates… (eeeee!) We would get to stay at the Beverly Hilton, attend a black-tie event, and spend the day “getting ready” which means, tanning by the pool, getting our hair done and over-doing each other’s make-up to look like Slovenian street hookers. Basically every 13-year-old girl’s dream date. And we go to stay in our own hotel room! Everyone jump up and down and squeal!!!!!!!!

(Aside: “getting ready” is a strange and luxurious custom of young girls… a sacred right. Now when I ‘get ready’ for a night out or even a walk to the grocery store  it’s 5 minutes of hiding from our puppy and toddler, frantically look for a clean shirt, while abrasively applying mascara. B.C. (before child) it was going over to some other girls house at like 5pm and hanging out in her room drinking stolen vodka and trying on 80 different outfits while we text all the different dudes we met last week so we can ‘figure out what we are doing tonight’ . Each of us would try to be the drunkest one so we wouldn’t have to drive… Frightened? Amazed I’m still alive? Me too.)

So after 3 weeks of shopping at Charlotte Russe and Claire’s with our babysitting money… we arrive at the Beverly Hilton, check-in and proceed to do what every girl does in a hotel room: order grilled cheese sandwiches and paint our nails. After getting in a fight as to who gets to sleep alone (two beds and 3 girls) We got ready and went down to the pool in  complementary white robes. We go for a swim and are laying out on the lounge chairs drinking virgin daiquiris… thumbing through magazines trying to find “our hairstyle” for the night. I think I settled on a picture of Kate Winslet…

We are walking back to the room to “start getting ready” and my two friends walking behind me start laughing hysterically and saying “oh my god, oh my god” in the way only 13-year-olds can. I had a huge pinkish-red stain blooming on the back of my nice white pool-robe. I panicked and dived into the elevator. The rest of the night is foggy. I remember calling my mom who told me to buy a tampon at the hotel lobby store – which was mortifying – I think I made my friends go buy some while I sobbed in the bathroom wondering who saw my period stain and what they would possibly think….!!!!!

( Dear 13-year-old Molly,

They probably just thought you got your first period and felt really bad for you.

Love, 30-year-old Molly

P.S. it gets better honey.)

The hairstylist ended up over-curling my hair that night so I looked like Shirley Temple or that really annoying one from the Dixie Chics. All I remember about the actual event was eating like 6 buttered rolls before the salad got there. But I did get to sleep alone because my friends were afraid of getting bled on…a plus.

It was this event and  few others around this time that I started to realize that I wasn’t like other girls, I didn’t quite fit the mold.. I mean who WANTS their hair to look like Kate Winslets?

Cheers!

I’d like to invite everyone who reads this to share their own “embarrassing period story”. It feels really great to say f-it, I’ve bled on things, and I live to tell the tail.

Mall Thoughts.

You know how some days are harder than others, but you still feel like a complete dick for complaining?
We go to the mall. I have to distract him with a cheese stick while I strap him against his will into a stroller so I can return a dress and buy instead, a practical pair of pants. On a whim I stroll us through the Urban Outfitters. I immediately want to scream “fish out of water!!!” But instead I pretend I’m shopping for my ‘younger sister.’ I take in the vacant stares of the nice 17-year-Olds folding pairs of cut-offs and think:
Two years ago I had a collection of native American print inspiried crop tops just like the rest of you… now you look at me with ’embarrassed for you’ face as I apologize and peel off the granola bar bits that my toddler flung at your stacks of $80 ‘refurbished vintage flannel ‘  from 1997. Guess what? I probably gave that flannel to  goodwill in 2001.
… now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go push my demon spawn around the excrutiatingly curated displays of muted jewel-tone ironic forest animal sweaters at Anthropologie where my  leather flats and “art teacher” blouse  and I feel right at home… *le sigh*
someone needs a pretzel….

Dog Thoughts.

There is a nice large hill that comes up against my mom’s neighborhood. Its a California hill. So it looks like an old pile of dirt  that someone left there after digging out room for the swimming pool. The vegetation is low and sparse. We like to take the dogs up there off leash, let them trot along side us or just rummage around in the sage. The soil is a slippery pile of off-white angular limestone pieces with little orange stripes that you could snap with two fingers. It sounds like you’re trying to climb up a mountain of broken ceramic plates.

Our dog is a small mutt, slick with short brown and black hair and a curly tail. He loves to run fast. The other, my mom’s dog,  a medium sized blue-Merle Aussie with no tail so when he “wags” his rear-end wiggles so hard he looses the footing on his back legs.

They just sit next to each other silently staring out with a low warm wind shuffling the bunch grass.  One fluffy, one thin. The hill falling away below them to a tidy suburb. Only rarely broken up by large rectangular playing fields, pink stucco shopping malls, grey snaking highways. Earlier I found my son’s plush Tiger half buried in the empty planter in the side yard. Upon excavation I found what I believe to be a pork bone buried next to it. Is this a message in the only language available to a pug/terrier?  A comment on extinction? A threat? How did he know to bury the bones? They must know that we bury our dead.

Holy Terror

Today, you are 25 years old, it is foggy. You will walk down to the beach and drink a cup of coffee. You will sit in the cool sand dunes and watch the barges crawl under the bridge. You will think about your Grandma falling to bits and pieces with the decline of her body. In one moment of clarity last week, sitting on the sunny deck, she turned to you, tearing her eyes away from her Danielle Steele novel to inspect your tattoos and say,

“Molly, by God, you are a holy terror.” Then she turned back to wherever she came from, silently.

You will think about your own vanity, and how you would rather throw yourself off the bridge than ever ever get that frighteningly lost in your own mind. You think about your Dad who needs a hip replacement and your cousin who broke her femur mountain biking. You’ve never broken anything. probably because you never went mountain biking or sky diving or anything physically risky. You are not a physical risk-taker. You would rather read a biography of Lincoln than scuba dive. You wonder if it is strange that you have absolutely no desire to scuba dive, or sky dive, or high dive, or cliff dive. Even roller coasters seem like a pointless activity. But you are not against pointless activities, just ones where the end result is a burst of adrenaline.

Ruling out “extreme” as one on your list of addictions you find that your case is worse. You are a heartbreak junkie. Any kind of heartbreak, any kind of disappointment, whether it be bagel, career or boyfriend related. You stop in the middle of the wet street on a foggy night to examine the beauty of telephone wires. It’s really, really pathetic. But There is no adrenaline like the drop kick and splat of your dreams getting painted across the ground like some fat ass possum in the road at the wrong time. Its like childbirth, in that, you never learn. You forget each time how utterly awful it is. But at the same time how thrilling, how basic, how human. Dad calls this phenomenon the “underwater explosion”, people wont know what happened until days later, a rogue wave hits like a sledge hammer for no visible reason. The unseen daily sky diving of a self-important overly dramatic artist type.

Emotional free-fall, much more frightening than cliff diving, therefore… no need to cliff dive.

So, being 25, essentially homeless, directionless, and suffering from a severe form of mental constipation and daily “underwater explosions.” Well, at least you have a new job that is the most rewarding and bearable one you have had since pedaling cupcakes: day time bartender at fancy beer place in small affluent mountain town. Complete with all the hip trappings of modern gastronomy, including some of the old favs: Blue Bottle Coffee, a cheese menu, decorative animal skulls, unfinished wooden furniture, family dog, German things, no TV.

The patrons are salt and gold; English tourists with popped collars, local middle-aged men in colorful polo shirts, young loud construction workers, lesbians of all shapes and sizes, owners of hip clothing lines with black AMEX cards and small cherub offspring, dogs, bikes.

You love the daily aspect of it, you love that there is nothing but the weather and “business” to talk about. No larger existential questions need be answered at any given time of day. It was busy or it was slow, it was hot or cold, or “lovely” today. The patrons learn – and use – your first name. There is a very minimal amount of math involved.

You have a job, and a place to sleep, you are not in Afghanistan, everything else is gravy. You take time to appreciate the sound of your foot steps, really just how quiet it is here. You focus on the feeling of yellow sun on the back of your neck as you eat a turkey sandwich. You get up early. You learn how to say “Weinstephaner” correctly, and what the difference is between an Ale and a Lager.

You sit in front of a blank piece of paper after dinner and wait for something to happen. If nothing, then maybe tomorrow. You write down things like ” going to sleep after drinking a cup of coffee, ” and ” This whole year is lost to some kind of pale appreciation of afternoon light. Nothing gets done, I am happy.”

You stare for hours at a banana slug slurping its way up the window screen leaving a honeyed trail. Tomorrow you will write a story about a man who takes a bath after being in prison for 17 years. You will try to describe it. It will probably suck.

Prepare for Landing

There is a dip and a pull, like a hand tugging at the root of your tongue.

Good evening ladies and gentleman, we will be arriving at Burbank, Bob Hope Airport in about 30 minutes, the temperature is 75 degrees and the time is now 8:12 PM.

The lady next to you is still pounding Chardonnay. Her kids are draped across the seats, asleep, clutching stuffed armadillos.

We took the kids to see the Alamo, spent the weekend in Dallas. Their dad never showed up.

You nod and say how cute they are. Even though they spent the better part of the past 3 hours throwing pretzels at each other and scream-laughing.

You tell her about visiting your old friends from highschool, how one of them has two baby boys and her husband is in Afghanistan. You can’t relate, you tell her, but you would do anything for her, and the kids of course. You can’t imagine how hard your friend has to work just to keep it together, just to get up in the morning. She is the strongest, most brave person you know.

The Chardonnay lady confesses that she has never been so lonely as she was this weekend.

Flight attendants, please prepare for landing.

You wonder what it is about strangers, and airports, and honesty. You just nod. There isn’t really anything you can say to this lady. What do you know? You could be her in 15 years. It could be you, a single mom, chugging chardonnay and lecturing some girl in an airport about birth control.

The funniest thing happens when you visit old friends. It feels as if you were never apart. But now, everyone is older, with babies, and husbands, and houses. Then there is you, with less direction and fewer belongings than when you started. You’ve got your back pack and your suitcase, headed west to start over….again. But you always knew you would be the last one to grow up. No surprises.

The dirty martini you had for dinner is starting to make its comeback. You slip on your headphones and hum along to distract. The sun is gone but there is still a light blue glow to the sky. Little houses and buildings spread out in neat rows lit by tiny dots of golden street lamps. You are close enough to see people running around a lit baseball field. Miles and miles of people living in rows. The cars on the freeway are fireflies going in red and white rivers to and from the neighborhoods.

You are coming home. If home means the place where you grew up, than yes, you are coming home. But home is subjective. The place where you grew up is all stucco and cars and hair dye. When you think about it, you never felt at home there. That’s a lie actually, you always felt at home there when you would sit around your friend’s porch shooting the shit and drinking wine. But that is because of the people, not the place. You have to be reminded constantly that you don’t have to identify with the sprawling malls and car dealerships and endless track-housing. Just because you are from there, doesn’t mean it defines you.

But you can’t knock the beaches. The long wide yellowing beaches. Combed and filled to cosmetic perfection. The good people of LA and Ventura County stuff their cars full of colorful plastic furniture and wait in long smoggy lines to get in to the baking parking lot so they can drag their spawn across a quarter-mile of tar-hot sand, to sit in the salt stinging sun and play in the half-ton waves. The water curls and pounds the shore in variations ranging from pale white-blue to deep murky evergreen. And that smell. Like the beginning of the world; salt and decay and mud. Carbon-based life dying and being born at the same time.  But that’s the landscape, it has not home. Maybe the beauty of the place is too important to you, no, it just means you are a romantic.

You find a bench next to a planter in the pick up lane of Bob Hope airport. You drag your giant blue plastic case over to be your foot rest. You lean your head back on the smooth concrete and close your eyes, it smells like jasmine and gasoline. You bum a cigarette from some thin snarling lady and start counting the number of Mercedes verses BMWs that appear. You try to guess who belongs to which car. Then a dusty grey pick up truck appears around the corner and two giant bodies unfurl from the doors and start galumfing towards you. This is home, two big hugs and four man-arms to lift and shove your baggage in the back.  Your “little” brother makes fun of you and then you make fun of his hair. Your Dad makes un-funny jokes and sound effects the whole way home.

You are back at square one again. Life could be compared to a lot of things but the game Shoots and Ladders seems to be the most passive metaphor; you’ll take it.

The next morning you sit at your mother’s dining room table scaning The Ventura County Star and drinking excessive amounts of coffee. You try to write but it is as if there is shredded cotton filling your head instead of a brain.  Your brother tumbles down, grabs the jug of orange juice and a glass and posts up on the couch. You discuss future plans lightly. He is currently paying rent in Montana but has been traveling around working for Transworld on a contract basis and trying to keep Mom out of his hair.

“I’m trying to write,” you say, “But I just can’t, I don’t know what it is.”

He turns and says “I know, it’s like every time I come here it’s like a black hole of creativity.”

You nod. Yep.

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.