EDITS AND REVISIONS IN THE GARDEN


East Palace Avenue Santa Fe

East Palace Avenue Santa Fe (Photo credit: paigeh)

SMILEY’S DICE-ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS

By:Luellen Smiley

 SANTA FE,NM.

I’m sitting outside in a flowerless garden because no matter how many flowers I plant, they only last one season, if that long. The garden is erupting out of its winter coat, and lime green leaves, plants, and stalks will have to do for now. The sky that seals me in is licked with revisionary hope. The kind that comes back laundered and fresh after a chosen recess from believing in the possibility of a preferred life correction.

Behind the garden, a neighbor is drumming a soft tribal beat, and on Palace Avenue the choir is singing inside the Episcopal Church on Palace Avenue. Between these distinctive tastes, there are sparrows fluttering from fan to nest to fountain. The chattering sounds like; ‘here she comes, don’t come over here, get out of my nest, watch out for that fat crow.’

It’s a mind drift, to be caught in  such UN-structured beauty, away from the manuscripts, remotes, doors, and phones. It’s like being on an island out here.  Everything we bring into our experience can be revised; a work of art, a way of speaking, thinking, portraying yourself, your way of loving, or lusting, and we all know about appearance, because our society shoves it down our throat.

Look at the possibilities in revising our patterns of behavior. What we accepted twenty years ago doesn’t mean it’s carved in our organs. We can transmute. The interior life needs lifting and tightening, just as our mind and muscles do. You won’t find any immediate remedy, or advertisements, or books on the subject because we’re consumers of products that change and revise only the visible tangibles. I wonder if I traded in my eleven year old Land Rover for a new one if I’d be really happy, and for how long? Or if I flew to Los Angeles and bought cartons of antiques, hats, and perfume if I would be grinning from ear to ear.

I begin with revising the way I experience Santa Fe. I’ve lived on the outskirts, like a storm that blew in and is waiting to blow out. It seems my storm is here for now, and so I let go of the criticism and intolerances.  Beginning with my favorite activity, dancing, I returned to  El Farol, my chosen dance hall hullabaloo, then to La Posada across the street and mingled with an assorted group of locals, guests, and actors, (who were real as pippin apples)spent a day cruzing the ghostly town of Madrid to experience the cinematic sparseness, and walked up and down Canyon Road one morning before the shops opened, and was greeted half a dozen times by strangers out walking, uniquely different in attire, disposition and stride. I love that about Santa Fe. You don’t conform, it’s a religion here!

My homework for the next few weeks is revising the interior doors of emotion, and the exterior doors of expression. I’ve set aside the memoir, (did I mention I started that again) after a publisher suggested major rewrites and editing.  I mean you have to know when to give up because you’re not going to make the team.  I’m a six page essayist. If you get me into one hundred and fifty pages, I march all over the globe and lose the reader.

You guys are smart. You know all of this; I’m just learning. I am a case of insufferable arrested development. If I felt my age, which most of you know, I’d be looking at retirement brochures. Instead I’m planning on breaking into new territory. Its a joke between my dreamer self and my inner critic, but I’m not listening to the critic.

Today I swiveled in my desk chair trying to write the column I thought I was going to write. In between gazing out the window at sky scenery, I made oatmeal cookies, watched the birds, took care of business, had a hair cut, plucked at paragraphs from Anais Nin, and danced on the treadmill. The column didn’t come out of a conscious thought wave; it just rose up, after I typed the words, the throw of the dice. The odds were I’d find my way from there.

My dad the gambler, who laid a bet on everything from sports, horses, gaming, to the Academy Awards and elections, taught me many valuable lessons. He actually told me once, ‘Take a chance for heavens sake! Go out and get arrested.’ He knew the odds of that, which is why he dared me. Life corrections begin with edits, then revisions, and then you have a new story!

Any dice to throw email:folliesls@aol.com

Movie recommendations:Bread & Tuplips, Angel Face, Head in the Clouds,Late Marriage, Water for Elephant’s, Sarah’s Key,Pierrot Le Fou, No Where in Africa, The Lives of Others, Gangster, A Love Story, The Counterfeiters, Senso, Croupier, El Grido, The Wide Blue Road, Deja Vu, The Whistle Blower, The Young Adult, John Rabe.


The Movie Star

The Movie Star (Photo credit: Cowgirl111)

Our nest, is something we build on our own to give us permission to explore, and then question, and we go back to our little nest, and add a bit more certainty because the dinner was great, and the party lasted longer than we thought, and someone smiled at you in a special way, and then you saw a rainbow.

Some things happened last week; that liquefied into a mirage, of  an opinion I inhabited. I  directed this opinion with outdated information, and second hand narratives by writers in print.  I believed what  I’d  always believed;  that actors aren’t like you and me.  I was wrong! Some actors are like you and me.  They have open hearts, and inquisitive minds, they drink beer, and dress without designer labels, they like to hang out, and not talk about the movie business, they have interests beyond their Imdb  star rating, and they answer questions, if you ask them.  Unless we infiltrate what we criticize, we’re adding to the hypocrisy of the  human condition.

THE MEMOIR IN PROGRESS


 

                                                                           MY HOODLUM SAINT

WHERE TO BEGIN THIS STORY OF A FATHER THAT I ONLY CAME TO UNDERSTAND BY READING HIS FBI FILES, BOOKS ABOUT MOB HISTORY WRITTEN BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COLLEGE PROFESSORS, AND DOCUMENTARIES PRODUCED BY FOES OF MY FATHER.

My last year with Dad was 1981. Naive, and unconcerned with where I was headed, or how I’d get there if I figured it out,  I was spinning around in an executive chair; waiting for the big hand on the black and white office clock to set me free.  Time didn’t pass; I hauled it over my head, in my bland windowless office, under florescent glare. I was trouble shooting for an ambitious group of USC guys as they gobbled up all of Los Angeles real estate. Without any real sense of survival or independence, my life was in the hands of my father.

“Meyer’s coming to see me; haven’t seen the little guy in twenty-five years.”   Dad said during a commercial break.

“Meyer Lansky?” I asked as casually as he’d spoken.

“Who else?”

“Why did you two wait so long?”

“It’s no concern of yours; he’s my friend, not yours.” I was twenty-nine years old and still verbally handcuffed.

The three of us went out to dinner, and while the two of them spoke in clipped short wave syndicate code, I

noticed that neither one of them looked at all happy.  It was rare to catch my father in public with a friend, without raucous laughter, and storytelling.  My attempt to revive the dinner conversation with my own humor,returned two sets of silent eyeball commands to resist speaking.

Several months later I received a call from Dad asking me to come over to his apartment, he had collapsed on the bathroom floor.  When I arrived, he pleaded for me to stay close by.   “I’ll be all right in a few minutes; I just need to catch my breath. ”  I sat outside the bathroom door biting my nails, and waited, like our dog Spice, for my orders. For the first time in my life, he was weaker than I, and my turmoil centered on that unfamiliar reversal of roles.

 

QUIRKY SANTA FE


The banner in front of Trader Joes read, Menopause Revival, and White Zen recognized Johnny Depp in Whole Foods, ” because they were skinny Hollywood types, and the cashier at Sunflower Market, piles up a dozen items, and then asks, if I want a bag? The DJ on Santa Fe Blue recites the weekly line-up, but he doesn’t know who the guest musicians are. It’s part of the quirky, puzzling, undefined tonality of Santa Fe.

FILLING UP ON STUFF


If undeniable love only happens once, and then it’s gone, what do you do? Shop, count your money, travel, remodel your kitchen, volunteer, protest, have babies, read, or disappear into your illusions, and your art. Be enlightened, shine in your art, in what you loved always, in the froth of life.

the MIND HIKE


Joe Bataan - Ordinary Guy (1975)

Joe Bataan - Ordinary Guy (1975) (Photo credit: Soul Portrait)

I WISH I’D TAKEN A PHOTO THAT DAY,  on a gravely, twisted uphill hike to Mt Atalaya  a hike that I’ve hungered for because it looms in the rear view, jettisoned above the city, swooping hills, three of them, you have to criss-cross before you reach the 8,800 foot marker in the sky. The temperature was 70 degrees, the wind was napping. Easter Sunday, sprinkles of holiness on Santa Fe, church bells ringing all day long, restaurants hosts pushing metal carts of glossy preparations down the aisles, and the little children, in Easter bonnets, and patent leather shoes, if they still make them, are squirming at the table.

I had a hunger for universal meaninglessness and to end the chatter in my head. Hikes do that. They just erase all the sirens and alarms, the what if’s and what knots in my head.

Afterwards, we sat on the porch listening to Joe Bataan. You probably haven’t heard of him unless you dig into Salsa, as Rudy does.  Joe is half Filipino and half African. His music touches cords you cannot even imagine-it’s like Afro-Cuban-Filipino fusion rap.  Everyone is hopeful on Easter; motor bikers, wanderers,  the wait staff and valet that trot down the street, talking into their ear phones at one another, and guests, pushing baby strollers, swinging shopping bags, taking photographs of our house, and gazing at the sky. When they hear the music from our porch, they wave at us, and might think, we  have the life, sitting on the porch,  sipping a glass of wine. What they cannot even imagine, is that the entire scene is roman a clef, a fictional imitation! What we are actually doing is avoiding the avalanche. I always have.  Like a gambler, I never grasped the concept of tomorrow is more important than today.

LOVERS IN YOUR LIFE


Sometimes I skim through the worksFor Lovers in progress folder and stumble upon something I never finished. This is from that folder, started in 2004.

They make the best friends, and you never have to wonder what it’s like to make love to them… lovers from the past  are not forgotten, and if they are, then they were not true loves, they were just flings.   In my life,  lovers have remained in my heart in a separate compartment, just as their letters, and photographs and mementos are kept in separate stationary boxes in my trunk.

Some lovers keep in touch with me, and others vanished after the break-up. Last month two former lovers contacted me. One from 1977, and one in 1984. I have always said one man is not enough; I need three or four circulating my life. Even if I was married, my mantra of ‘the more men the better’ would not be negotiable, and today, that holds true. I’ve been advised by Rudy, that men will read this and assume that I am intimate with my men friends; and I said not all men will, and he said, oh yea, that’s how men think.    

This is a story of lovers reuniting, in different cities than where they met, older, refined in sentiment, and loved in a capacity greater than they once were, as lovers.  To be continued.

THE COLOR RED IS THE COLOR BLUE


ALLEN

 

I have to turn the clock back to 1996, to the days of peeling back the first layer of family history. I was sitting at a dining room table in a casita in Taos, NM.  It was winter, the first time I’d lived in snow outside a few teenage weekends in Arrowhead. Snow silence that sucks up  every imaginable sound, and the absence of any neighbors,  I was the only resident in the compound, left me to unravel a secret life, the one my father guarded with irreproachable tenacity.
 The first layer came off from the Immigration and Naturalization (INS) files on Allen smiley, birth name Aaron Smehoff, tagged “Armed and Dangerous.”
Allen married, Irene on January 16, 1926, (my father’s nineteenth birthday), in San Francisco. On July 18, 1926 Allen was arrested for robbery in a drug store on Geary Street with another unidentified boy who fled the scene. On September 17, 1926, Allen was convicted of first degree robbery and confined to Preston Reformatory for boys in Ione, California. On November 23, 1926 Irene, who remained in Oakland, gave birth to a baby girl, named Loretta. Allen was released from Preston Reformatory in December of 1927. He returned to Oakland to reunite with his wife and child; but they had vanished. This is what the INS gathered from Dad in an INS hearing. I read from the court transcripts of that hearing, about 300 pages of interrogation and the answers’ in my Dad’s own voice.
  The snow sedated the choppy feeling in my stomach, the jaggedness of suddenly discovering, why my father was wired with anxiety. His whole life was occupy Allen Smiley; arrest him, convict him, send him to Russia, and never pull the tap from his apartment, or the FBI guys from his tail.
When I ordered all those government files I had no idea that the government probed into personal lives as much as criminal activities. They recorded all the household conversations, arguments with my mother, his betting on the phone, his visitors, discussions with his housekeeper about the ashtrays, and his hatred for the government, “I wish somebody would drop a bomb, just to get rid of some of these guys.”
 What would I say to this daughter now in her eighties, about the father she never knew?
It was a one of a kind experience, to pick up the phone and speak with Chris, the granddaughter, who discovered me from my columns.  She went looking for the other Smiley daughter, and confronted her own family secret. The tension cross-circuited our conversation, both of us heaving with questions, anxious for an answer to the family puzzle, the answers we could not wait to get, that I cannot share, even though the names are changed, I do honor the right to privacy.
 I paced the room moving unconsciously from one place to another, reaching for my father’s voice to soothe her, rewrite history in between dusk and making dinner. Then the unveiling of the tragedy; the loss and the family shame, surrounding a marriage to a gangster, a father whom they never got to know, as I did.  In the passing of an hour or less, my voice resonated the stories of her grandfather; his health and humor, his disciplinary regulations, and his life long battle to remain anonymous, in the public eye of organized crime.
Chris asked if I wanted to speak with Loretta, my half-sister, and I said of course I would. She set up a phone call for the following Sunday,
with a forewarning that her grandmother did not encourage the communication, or the research, she was beyond asking for a resurgence of truth or pain. How does one retrace seventy or eighty years of believing the color red may be the color blue or least a bluish tint.  Loretta was not proud of what she read about Allen Smiley.
In the days before the arranged phone call I sifted through my internal index of Dad’s history, and what might console her. I could tell her about the time, he sat me down in the living room, to discuss sex with a gentle sternness;
“ Once you get pregnant your whole life changes, and you’re not even close to being ready for that. It happened to a gal I loved, when I was a young man.”
Was that Loretta’s mother he was speaking about? When this young love of his said she was pregnant, he tried to persuade her against it, because he wasn’t “properly financed.”  So I asked him what happened.
 “We’re not talking about my life; I’m trying to get you to understand the consequences of sex. You see God made the act beautiful so we would procreate, and if you ignore the consequences, you’re not fulfilling God’s wishes.”
  I waited by the phone until it was time to accept that the call wasn’t coming. During that time of waiting, I tried to walk in Loretta’s shoes.  I only had to take a few steps to comprehend the combustion of emotions she’d face by having a Sunday evening chat with me.
I made the choice to be public, to be viewed by strangers all over the world, and to receive their rage as well as their rewards.
 It wasn’t a year ago that I received an email from the most distant of childhood memories. The email came from Inga, our first Nanny.   The last time she saw me I was six years old.  She sent me photos of us in the backyard at Bel Air, photos of her watching over me on the swings.  She told me by letter, that my father was so good to her, so generous, and she loved being a part of our family. “I had no idea he was involved in anything criminal, and even if he was, it wouldn’t have mattered because he was such a kind man.”  The color red is also the color blue, and because of my Dad, I learned to accept the contradictions in all of us.
Our interior life is uncensored, unsuitable to guidance from our parents, our husbands and wives, our lovers;   it is uniquely you, red and blue.