Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lately. And then...

Lately these Mindy Smith lyrics have been on repeat in my head...

All the busy people keep walking away
Like they can't see me or anything
Everyday it gets a little harder
To believe in magic and people

And then, today…

I hear the door scrape open, the sound nibbling at my skin. I look up and see a white stick extending from his hand. He takes three medium-sized steps into the coffee shop but he's still two medium-sized steps from the counter. He stands there comfortably but I immediately tense. I am sure no one will notice. The line is forming to his left yet he is nowhere near. People enter behind him and get in line, adding to its length. They don’t see, they don’t see, I think, silently shrieking, don't you dare don't you dare pass him up…And just when I'm about to leap from my seat, the guy who is next up at the counter, leans out of line, puts a light hand on the man's shoulder and draws him in. That's when I start crying. They step up to the cashier and she says 'Hi Jose,' and takes his order. I keep crying as people thoughtfully move around him, anticipating his next move, unceremoniously, and without haste. No one scrambles, no one says anything stupid, no one is awkward or overly helpful. When he bumps into a chair at the table next to me, the woman gracefully slides her laptop and papers out of the way. She says, 'That seat is free,' and Jose says 'Thank you,' and sits, folding up his white stick. When the barista calls out his name, Jose stands before I can, but this kid has already grabbed the coffee and is at Jose's side saying 'I got it. You want a sleeve on the cup?' The kid says it naturally and Jose says 'Yes, thank you,' and the kid grabs one and slips it on. Jose receives his drink and turns toward the door. A woman is already there, saying, 'I've got it' and Jose smiles and walks out into the world.

Magic and people.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Día de Muertos


In the gym locker room, a girl is standing at the mirror fluffing her recently curled hair. The smell throws me back to my sisters, side by side in our powder blue bathroom, just one for all seven of us. On school day mornings, I would wait my turn and study them, blonde curls and brown curls. With arms lifted shoulder high, crooked at the elbows, they wound AquaNet-ed strands around shiny hot wands until they sizzled. I would try to catch Karin’s eye in the mirror to see if she’d signal. ‘Comehere,’ she’d say, one word, and I’d leap within reach of her masterful hands, knowing, I’d have my own curls or braids or barrettes to enjoy for the rest of the day.

In the bookstore there is an Oxford dictionary laying open on the sale shelf. I drag my fingers across the flimsy pages. They remind me of the Bible's at my childhood church and how, every Sunday, our family slipped in late. On the rare occasion my parents forgot to sit between me and my brother, Kerry would slide in after me on the smooth wooden pew, determined to catch momentum. Of course, I would squeal and get ‘the look’ from my mom, and Kerry would put his finger to his lips in a silent shhhhh. Half of the time I was purely perturbed. But the other half, I was knee to knee with my big brother, trying to hold half the hymnal and hear him sing.

Kerry had a laugh that burbled with mischief...  
Karin's smile surprised when it flew open wide...

Monday, July 29, 2013

He & She

Flying down the darkened PCH, she is draped in the sultry heartache of Madeleine Payroux, her bare feet rest on the dashboard. She is counting the folks still on the beach when she sees a splotch skitter across her passenger's side window. As fast as her shriek is sharp, she is out of her seatbelt, diving into the backseat, her dressy dress snagging on the emergency break.

"Get it Bear!"

"Where? Where Bear?"

After 20 years they've settled on the same nickname for each other.

“Don't let him get in my shoe!” She presses herself into the back of his seat, her mouth dangerously near his ear. “You have to, you have to,” she implores.

He tries not to swerve, going 60-something in the southbound lane with the cement median within arm reach. Her pleading squeezes his heart.

Every time is like the First Time for her and he knows by now it is the Only Time for him.

He accelerates and miraculously maneuvers through speeding traffic to an open spot on the shoulder. Loose gravel sputters out-from-under and over-the-edge, where the road drastically ends.

With a precision that speaks of skills hard-earned, he is out of his seatbelt as quickly as she was. In one swift move, he flicks on the dome light, reaches across and rescues both shoes.

“I see him!” he assures.

“Don’t let him fall!”

He wonders for the first time ever why it always becomes a him in such situations but he knows he hasn’t a moment to spare.

Swoooosh. His hand is a flash.

“Did you? Did you get him?” she questions as he throws open his door and jumps out. He doesn't answer immediately and she knows he’s checking for success. She also knows he will tell her the truth, even if it means he’ll be combing the car in the dark, while she shivers in the ocean air.

Neither can stand the suspense. He peeks into his palm.

“One hundred percent,” he says, “We are in the clear!”

Her audible exhale is his prize.  

She climbs back into her seat while Madeleine Peyroux covers the last refrain of You Don't Know Me. She puts her feet back on dashboard and smiles at the contrast.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summertime: The Girl

There are four of them, three guys and a girl. They stand in line for the Porta-Potties with the rest of the festival goers.The guys yabber saying ‘fuck dude’ and ‘hell yeah’ while tipping back Tecates and passing around inside jokes like joints. Even behind sunglasses, it’s unmistakable, their eyes are on the girl.

The girl has long tan legs and is gangly beautiful. Her left arm drapes across her modest chest, hand grabbing her other arm's elbow almost apologetically. She slouches a little, possibly because she's taller than the tallest guy in the group. She laughs along but makes no sound, her shoulders shake, she smiles a partial yet beguiling smile. Unlike the other girls in line, with powder-perfect cheeks and Pin-Up hair, her lips are bare and her hair lays loose.

I wonder which one likes her the most? The one who punches swear words like he’s stabbing at the air? The one who runs his thumb affectionately across his tattoos as if they were recently inked? Or the one who wears a silver skull ring on his middle finger and keeps checking for his wallet?  

The girl's nail polish is chipped, a remnant of some event’s past, the messiness not even an afterthought. Her wrists are adorned with a variety of thin bracelets, the kind gathered over years, from cities visited, friendships made and kept, mementos gifted. They’re not the kinds that come in a set.

She only moves when the line moves. She is present but not rapt, engaging in their chatter, yet often shamelessly somewhere else. When she wanders, the three try urgently to entice her attention.

She gives them a ‘here goes’ look as she turns to brave a recently vacated john. The guys nod their encouragement but continue, for a good ten seconds, to discuss Richie Ramone who’s releasing a solo album and how that can’t be a good idea, before they abruptly hush and huddle-up, foreheads nearly touching.

I hear, "…she…she…she…she…she…" laced with such unreserved awe that I hold my breath.

And then they giggle, they boy-giggle.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Breaking Skin

I’ve been breaking skin.  Since last week at work, when I slashed open my forearm, scraping it midway between elbow and wrist, against the chipped edge of the kitchen shelf. I was reaching for something.  I can’t remember what because the pain seared up my spine with such speed that everything in me gasped and I left the kitchen empty handed, mesmerized by my injury. The skin had folded back on itself and there was a smooth white layer of untouched flesh. I watched, troubled and intrigued, as the swollen island leisurely beaded with blood.

That was the first.

A day later, at home, I was opening a can of olives, the green Trader Joe’s can with the pop-tab-pull that always makes me think of sardines. While I’ve never actually opened a can of sardines those lids always seem safer than the wrinkled-ragged edge a can-opener leaves flappingly attached, a malicious and menacing magnet. Maybe it was the illusion of safety that caught me unsuspecting.  The sweat of my surprise flew up my body to my brain as frantically as green olives flooded the floor.

The olive episode involved only one Hello Kitty Band-Aid and the comfort of seeing red seep through Hello Kitty’s fair face. The slash on my forearm required two floral Cynthia Rowley Band-Aids, a generous daub of Neosporin and exceptionally careful placement.  Band-Aids are measurable, they offer precise evidence of damage done, and you can push on the pain periodically and chart the progress of your recovery.

The third. Smacking a bottle of Paul Mitchell against my palm, to coax the mockingly thick thickening conditioner, I was left with a half moon hack in my hand, a woeful foreboding, and a bruise on my foot where the unkind bottle landed.

I actually prefer bruises, even though they may ache more than a clean cut.  They communicate clearly, like a mood ring, and entail no additional attention. Bruises are merely colorful creatures that remind you to slow down and eventually move along leaving you unmarred. Breaking skin is a whole other animal.

The rest. Not warranting their own number, three scraped knuckles opening a pack of batteries, a scratch on the side of my face from my own car door, a ripped cuticle reaching into the glove compartment, a gash above my knee from yesterday’s hike, just a fallen branch that reached out and bit me. More blood, nothing all that dramatic, no tears. All of these, the numbered and not, just areas of flesh that, if accidently brushed against, might bring a minor flash of surprise.

So this morning, before I shower, I pull off all my Band-Aids. I feel the prickles as the adhesive takes some hair.  As I examine my wounds, I am pleased by the improvements. I call out to David because he is the best spectator. My forearm still looks like an island, but more like the Hawaiian Islands, raised and scabbed and healing.  The scratch on my face is barely there and the half moon has healthily hardened. I show him my knee and remember standing at the peak of Mount Islip less than twenty-four hours ago. I say to David, as I do every day after we’ve hiked, “Kerry would be blown away if he knew I was hiking, he would be crazy proud.”

I did not intend to inspect this wound as well.

The sting of hot water on broken skin is entirely bearable. 
The sting of brokenness, immeasurable, unseen, is less so.

Mount Islip, 8521'

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


From where I sit I can see just inside his shirt collar.

The pressed cotton corners graze his cleanly shaved chin when he tilts his head to read his newspaper.

I imagine the texture of newsprint against his fingers, and stop to notice mine. I see black ink on my fingers too and it makes me shiver.

Inside his collar I see a silver chain – not chain really, it’s one of those silver chords, made up of little balls of metal, like the kind you slip onto luggage handles and fasten by snapping one of the balls into a groove, a pinched piece of metal. 

How to describe this?


It’s the kind of chain you see on dog tags. Army.  Military tags, not pet dogs.
Well I guess pet dogs too.


I see the chain inside his shirt collar, against his smooth skin and I think of his flesh against the metal,

and then I think of flesh against metal all over the world,

and newsprint on fingers and shivers and collars tight around necks, shaved and unshaved,

and metal scraping and squeezed, dented and misshapen for any number of reasons, by any number of forces,

and blackened skin and fingertips,

all over the world. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


I’m sitting at a stoplight heading east on Wilshire. In my periphery I see a khaki clad twenty-something plugged into his iPod distinctly floating down the street. He’s a good five inches off the pavement, barely tethered to this plane, music coursing through his blood.

I know this guy. More precisely, I know the 16 year old kid he used to be. Gratefulness lifts the corners of my lips as a memory solidifies….

July 2006. I’m in Chicago texting David to get that wax stuff for my ears so I don't bust an eardrum. I’m afraid the concert will make my ears bleed and I’ll go deaf, because it can happen. He texts back "Saw line of teenagers form around 3." Oh. Teenagers will be there.

We decide to go late, skip the opening bands. I've taken three Aleve because I'm fending off a migraine and the Aragon has shitty sightlines and the Aragon has shitty acoustics and maybe I shouldn’t go.

Cars are crammed into any conceivable space so we park blocks away. My clothes stick to my skin in the muggy evening air. We round the corner onto Lawrence Avenue and walk past the Riviera. Ah, the Riv! ‘Remember the time when...” We start swapping stories and something shifts, muscle memory, we lengthen our stride.

The ballroom is body-to-body, air thick with expectancy. Bypassing the main floor, we head to higher ground, snaking our way, until we're house left balcony, with a pretty great view.

By the time the lights go out I can imagine being nowhere else.

Midway through the concert, I see him. A boy, with a tidy haircut, crazytall for his age, wearing a pure white T-shirt. He stands out in the rolling sea of bodies below. With hands pressed together, as if in prayer, his head sways side to side in disbelief. He is so much taller than those around him. Maybe that's why he stands out, but I don't think so. Somehow, he is just more. With a soulful desperation and a childlike awe, he is going to a deeper place, and it seems, being soothed and rocked beyond any of us.

At unpredictable moments he throws his hands straight up, hyper-extends his elbows and shoots his fingers toward the stage. When the lights skip across the crowd they rest on him an extra breath and he is illuminated. He doesn't quite jump when the crowd collectively jumps. He is separate from this organism, disconnected from mass, directly plugged-in.

Alternately, his hands slide down his face, clenched in fists or stopping to cup his jaw. He grabs the crown of his head, fingers catching in his hair, he pulls.

I can only look for so long, it’s too intimate. I’m stealing into his chest, absorbing something that isn’t mine. And besides, I'm not here to observe or stand aside. I'm here to pry open my ribs, let the lights linger on me, hyper-extending my own heart.

And then they play Hysteria.

And then I pull the wax from my ears. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I leave my therapist’s office, get on the elevator and press ‘LL’ until it lights up.  My brain is weary from all the talk. I feel typical and middle-aged and lavish and, not a little bit, mentally ill.

Mother issues, blah blah blah,
Adoption issues, meh.
Spiritually searching, sigh.
Mid-life… can’t even.

I’m leaving my therapist’s office in Bevery Hills for godsake.

The elevator stops and in rolls a mother, wheeling her daughter, maybe 3 or 4 years old. The little girl is strapped into a wheelchair. Not one of those temporary wheelchairs that you see on TV being used to move a new mom from the hospital to her car (with her brand new baby) or transporting some skier or skateboarder (with a freshly set cast) down a crowded hallway. It’s one of those wheelchairs that is lived in. With food crumbs deep in the crevices  With extra pouches and pockets to carry necessary things. Like medicines. And probably shots. A change of clothes. And wipes.

The strapped-in daughter writhes, randomly contorting her body, her spirit determined to be freed. The mother doesn't seem to notice these jarring jerking movements, or her daughter's head as it thuds against the worn fabric of the wheelchair. She is used to this. This is not new to her. But she is weary.

I am weary too, I think. But not possibly that weary. For godsake, how dare I compare? I actively shrink myself, fold my feelings, a spoiled napkin, the messy parts inside, making it smaller and smaller, until it’s an indistiguishable wad.

‘LL’ lights up and we all exit the elevator, I scramble to help, awkwardly extending my arm to keep the door open, it hasn’t tried to close, but I need something to do.  The mother manuevers out with ease.

She turns right and I turn left.

But the wad is still there, compressed in my chest. I try to remember we are both allowed our weariness. I try to remember that my portion is mine and hers is hers. I try not to judge myself for being grateful that mine is mine and hers is hers.