My first interview on Dad, when I listen now it reminds me how liberating it was to talk about my family history.
Luellen Smiley is the daughter of reputed mobster, Allen Smiley. Smiley’s dad was a close friend and confidant of famous Las Vegas mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and he was sitting on the couch just feet away from Siegel the night he was murdered. While Luellen Smiley hadn’t been born at the time o…
Will-powered out of the house on a glory hallelujah day of ballet winds and buttercup sun. I walked along the bike path and observed the cyclists, and joggers, some still masked. Along the way, I smiled at passing strangers, and sometimes even a hello. How reviving to connect with strangers after two years of physical masks. Emotionally optimistic, a rare trajectory of nature and my life within. If nature can survive, why can’t I? What prevents us from launching new growth, mentally emotionally, and financially?
Let me take this day and bless it with hope, miles, and miles of hope and faith that I will land, plant new roots, and bloom.
Page 525. Terrified to post this but it is Sunday and I’m brave on Sunday. The book is fiction, first-person, and close third person so you’ll need a jogging suit to read. Based on true events.
Greta let the moment of the village rescue stay with her, like a new pet for as long as she could hold on to its beneficial ointment, away from what she calls her immersion into self. She gives me examples that illustrate her obsession with matching outfits in her closet.
It’s a bedroom she converted into a dressing room. There’s a single bed against one wall, a cabinet where she stores the winter boots, and an eight-drawerFrench nouveau dresser and mirror. She sits on a chair facing the windows so she can watch the trees live through sun, wind, rain, and snow. Across from the chair is the bed. She diligently arranged her summer pastel skinny jeans on the bed, and next to that row she arranged the T-shirts, camisoles, and shorts. It’s quite practical considering Greta as she has admitted to me half a dozen times, that she was born without common sense or practicality. At the base of the bed, she lined up her shoes, the slip-ons, the flats, the pumps stuffed with tissue paper to preserve their shape, and the wedges. After a breach of sanity, she goes into this room and visualizes outfits and color matching like someone might play chess. ‘ It does have a purpose, this way I visualize without wrangling with hangers and you know it just takes too much time when you’re in a closet.
‘”These days I look at them as if they belonged to someone else, I mean the red suede with gold heels that I wore on a New Year’s Eve of gaiety and not since, the black velvet pumps that always make me feel dainty and light. What care I give to all these garments when in the other part of the house, Dodger was descending into a financial coma.”
Greta did not acknowledge the few months before his departure that he was riddled with abject unfulfilling tasks, bills, and construction jobs that no longer fed him purpose and accomplishment. She did not notice that his slacking posture on the front porch, head lowered and staring out without any body movement was a sign, she in fact despised it and walked away. In the last few months, all of this seemed to rise up like a curtain before a play, in a theater and she witnessed his insolence and his silent howl for help.
The irony of her activity is that she doesn’t go to the events that she plans on going to wear the outfits.
Sometimes an interview with a musician goes deeper than a narrative history of recordings, concert calendar, and early training. That happened when I met Jorge Gómez; founder, keyboardist, and musical director of Tiempo Libre, an all-Cuban-born Timba band. We met in a modest hotel room in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he and his six band members were invited to play for the third time at the Lensic Theater. It was steam-bath hot and muggy that Friday afternoon. As I stood in the doorway, Jorge wrapped up a recording session. After introductions, everyone cleared out except Jorge and Raul Rodriguez, the trumpet player. Raul propped up against the headboard of an unmade bed, one leg bent at the knee, the other straight out. He reminded me of Miles; cool in his skin and unflappable.
Jorge and I sat at the kitchenette bar, between us his keyboard on the countertop. Eagerness to begin was dilating from his eyes, so I began with my favorite question to all immigrants; how did it feel when you landed in the United States?
“Oh my God! It was my dream; all through childhood in Havana.” “Do you love America now?”
His arms shot straight up, as he rose from his chair.
“Are you kidding? We love America! How can you not? This is the best country in the world. I’ve been all over: Europe, Asia, Mexico, and the Caribbean. You have all the opportunities; you make your own life here, whatever you want.” He shifts his attention to Raul, agreeably excluded.
“You can’t do this in Cuba—right Raul?” Jorge leans forward and I’m struck by the indisputable untainted smile. Jorge continues to dramatize his arrival in Manhattan, with arms and eyes, “I got out because I had friends in New York. They helped me get gigs in the bars, weddings, and then we got into the clubs.” The room is silent except for Jorge’s satin-smooth transitions from one question to the next. That alone is reason enough to meet Jorge for a conversation. “We were not allowed to listen to Cuban salsa music, or American music; only classical. I trained at the Conservatory all my childhood. I play all of them; Beethoven, Brahms, all of them.” “Where did you learn Salsa?”
“From America! Yes. As teenagers, we climb to the roof and we to wait till state-programmed Cuban music goes off the air at 1:00am. Then we wrap aluminum around the antenna and turn our radio on. We pick up American music; like Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, everyone. We listened all night so we’d take the rhythms’ in our heads you know.” “What’s the difference between Cuban Salsa and Latin Salsa?” “Everyone claims this is their Salsa; it’s Latin, Marange, Colombian… it is a blend of many cultures and musical influences. We take from each other. All the instruments I learn come from listening. They teach me everything, and I teach them.”
“Do Americans play Conga different than Cubans?”
“It depends on the person. See if the person is open to learn everything then he push through. For example we have been playing all these places like Michigan, Minnesota, Minneapolis…all those places that are so.” He pauses to express it precisely. “Cold” he says, laughing out loud.
“And I’ve seen American band playing Cuban salsa so so good, my God, so well. Blue eyes and blond hair.” Jorge breaks to howl out his enthusiasm, surprise, and demonstrate the memory.
“Who do you like to listen to do today?”
“I don’t know the names, but I have a lot of friends, and they call me and say, ‘I have a band, you come and hear me.’ So I go to the club and Wow! This is good music! Everyone is dancing. I love to see them dancing! I want to see them happy. If they want to sit and listen, good, if they want to sing along, good, they want to dance good. Everybody has a different reaction. My job is to transfer the energy to the person; that’s the idea. Not to play the music for me; I want them to be happy.”
“How do you do that?”
“Sometimes you are sick, and no matter how many pills you take you are still sick. Right?”
I nod and watch his facial expressions twitch in thought.
“Then let’s say I come and say, Wow! You look so good man, you are looking good, and he claps’ his hands and pantomimes the joy he’s transferring. ‘You wanna coffee cake and coffee, yea, come with me, (clapping again) you want to sit here? Yea sit here and see the sun.’ Suddenly, you feel good.” He nods his head. “Trust me.”
Jorge is toe-tapping in place, his arms positioned in a warm world embrace.
“You forget all about the pills. Trust me, that is the kind of energy I give.”
“I suppose you don’t get sick?”
“Never. For sure. Never. I don’t know what this head pain is… how you say, headache? Like friends say I have so many problems, so many headaches, I can’t go out. I say, ‘What! Come on we go to the beach, to the sand. Bring your conga. What are you crazy! Come on!’ So he comes and we play on the beach in Miami.”
Jorge drums on the countertop. “Have a beer, have another.’ And everyone on the beach comes to us. The whole idea is to forget your problems. So my friend says to me, ‘I had the best day of my life.’ Yea! Be happy! This is youth; this is how you stay young. Life is so big.”
I shake my head, “Not in America; we concentrate on sickness and misery.”
“Yea! You don’t have sickness yet, but you are going to get it.” He ruptures into laughter and takes a sip of beer. My father tell me one time you have to hear your body; your body going to take you in the right direction. Just listen and you are going to feel so good. Sometimes I can’t go to sleep at night. All the songs and ideas are in my head and I can’t sleep. I must write it down, and the next morning I feel so good because I didn’t go to sleep. I drink beer because I am too happy-over happy.”
“Where did you learn this happiness?”
“From all the difficult paths I have in my life. Childhood was very difficult; no food, no water, no electricity, and no plumbing. What are you going to do? Party, go outside, dance, play basketball, and baseball. I get my friends and they say my problems are bigger than yours. Bla bla bla.”
I’m laughing now as Jorge continues to articulate his life philosophy. “At the end of the day you are so happy because you see people less fortunate and some more, and you are in the middle, and you want to help those people, you can’t go it alone.”
He chuckles again. His smile is broad as his cheek line. A streak of sunlight crossed the keyboard, and Jorge’s eyes and brows are in motion, as much as his legs arms and hands.
“What you’re going to hear tonight is a lot of crazy crazy energy, good music, a lot of stories. You’re going to see a lot of soul. When Raul plays his trumpet you’re going to turn inside out.”
“What is Timba music?”
“A mixture of jazz, classical, rock, and Cuban music.”
“Sounds like a musical.”
“Yes, Yes! We are in preparing for that.”
Four hours later I was in the Lensic Theater, twelve rows from the stage. Lead singer Xavier Mill, Jorge, Raul, Louis Betran Castillo on flute and sax, Wilvi Rodriguez Guerra on bass, Israel Morales Figueroa on drums and Leandro Gonzales on Congas opened the set, and five minutes into it I was dancing below the stage. Two and half hours later I was still dancing, along with half the audience.!!
Looks like an open dragon mouth, in a way it is. Follies House is begging for a brace. The horrors and hahas of owning a 137-year-old home. We’ve had twenty-two years of sustainable wood, but this year is the end of luck. A dear and wise friend once told me this, ” Don’t love what doesn’t love you back.” As a woman of insatiable imagination and impracticability, I do love her. So I spent a few weeks interviewing masonry contractors. The first four said this, ” I wouldn’t park your car under there.” “What? The carport is going to collapse?” “It could.” ” And that costs? ” Fifteen thousand at minimum.” ” What about a temporary fix.” ” Too much liability. Sorry, mam.”
Five interviews later talking to a man whose been in the business thirty years, ” I cannot restore the entire job, is there a temporary fix?” “Well, we could bring in a platform plank to hold it up.” ” How much would that cost?” “Twenty-five hundred tops. You should really let us remove the foundation above it, that’s rotted and sinking. Is there a room above it?” “Yes, a bedroom in my unit. How much would that cost?” ” Between ten thousand and fifteen. We have to get in there and see how much water damage.” ” No, I can’t do that, no impossible.” ” I understand. I’ll do the temporary fix, the house is so gorgeous, and I’ve seen them all.” ” Thank you, I have tenants and have to be responsible for their safety.” ” Would you like to see the bedroom?” ” I’m in a rush.” I smiled a lot and walked up the stairs and opened the front door so he could see. “Wow, this is incredible.” Once he was in the house he was in love and granted me a discount of five hundred dollars. Do you know why? He said he’d love to be a part of her history after he’s gone. Historic homes are leaving our country, replaced by what he called tinderboxes that only last thirty years.
In December 2018, I relocated to Ballston Spa, New York ( like the Adirondacks) from Los Angeles, for a temporary stay. I checked out of my charming Kleenex box studio in Westwood Village with bougainvillea, assorted flowers, squeaky clean green lawns, and shiny MBZ, Porches, and Maserati’s racing up Beverly Glen Boulevard. I met eccentric neighbors with prominent film, TV, and Tech careers. The homes sell for 2-8 million. My four-hundred-square-foot studio rented for sixteen hundred-plus utilities, and street parking. Moving y car twice a week for the street cleaner was an annoyance. I didn’t understand why he came twice a week, the street was living room tidy, no trash or cigarette buts, and very few leaves.
The last time I was driving along these rolling roads past farms, fields, shabby chic barns, horses, and the forest was in 2012 with my co-owner, renovator, best friend Dodger, and my fiancé Jay. Now I am a subterranean single, with a belt-tight debit card.
As the driver swerved into the driveway, my mouth dropped, frozen for a moment. Follies was frayed, peeling paint, the cracked driveway got worse, the flower beds were now weeds, and dried fall leaves all around. Dodger and I spent twenty years maintaining her glory and, provenance until the last six years. She needs a face-lift, a porch lift, a stairway replacement, an entirely new coat of paint (we used seven pastel shades on all the trim) on the five thousand square feet three-unit home. The swell of guilt emerged when I discovered what I’d ignored did not take care of itself.
Until I procure a tenant for the vacant three-bedroom apartment, I’ll move in and attempt to repair and maintain what I can afford. A pang of overwhelming sadness emerged into a sobbing session. Afterward, I felt a lot better! I’ve never understood why so much argument is against emoting-where else can it go? Into hiding, only to pop out at the wrong moment.
I opened the wooden front door with stained glass inlay and dropped my luggage. Where the fxz$% is all the furniture?’ When I was here in 2012, I had just redesigned the rooms, polished the wood, and shined our antique mid-century furniture collection. The salon captures everyone’s attention, with its cherry wood ceiling and baseboard trim, leather embossed fireplace, and the floor-to-ceiling original windows were stripped of the drapes.
The last time Dodger was here, I think in 2015, he made repairs and replacements over two months. He must have sold the furniture or what? We are not in contact any longer. In the Salon one tattered pink swing 60s sofa, all the tables and chairs the roulette table, stereo, TV, porch bar set, and photography absent. Upstairs, to the bedrooms, I entered the guest bedroom, stripped, except the gorgeous three-panel engraved black and ivory divider.
As I roam further, my lips quiver, I am cursing non-stop, then I step into my bedroom, I call it Heaven. The room is painted the most subtle shade of wisteria, and the floor-to-ceiling windows reveal all the light against the handsome spruce, pine, oak, and evergreen trees. Wow! the room is furnished with a desk, a lamp, bedside tables, and a new comforter and pillow shams to match. It’s as if someone was expecting me. But who? To be continued.
I ROSE AT 3:00 AM to turn the heat on, pick up my writing journal, and discern the week’s theme. I wonder for a moment if I should boil water for tea or coffee, and settle on decaf. The street is hollowed like a tunnel, the light of day is shining in some distant country, and the sky appears tinted with primer. Somewhere someone is dressing for work, breathing by the tick of the clock until he or she ( can’t figure out the right pronouns) must report for work.
The draft of sleep lingers in my eyes, and my feet shuffle on the wood floors while I grind the beans and think through the remains of the week. There are themes to our lives. Sometimes a year, sometimes one single day launches the theme, or it may just tumble into our path unexpectedly and replace whatever we were holding on to dearly, and deliver something unpleasant, like sickness, or separation. The sensations leading up to my theme jilted my creativity, and the pages I wrote were jammed with contradictions, maybe they still are.
Thoughts begin to form and ruminate, what is important? The theme of my week began when I finally was in the Dentists office. It’s been a year, and at sixty that was enough. Now Dr. FX’s office calls me every six months because I am over sixty-five. Still can’t really grasp my age. When I was thirty-something sixty-eight seemed very old. Do you remember that?
Dr. FX is the Music Man dressed in a white tunic. When he comes into my cubicle, he sort of prances on his toes and gives me an elbow safe bump.
“ Hello, oh I see,” as he looks into my mouth that has been open too long and my cheeks start to stiffen. The hygienist takes that white suck-up tube out of my mouth.
“ She has some tarter that I can’t remove so I suggest she come back because her gums are so sensitive and nonvaccine her for the water treatment .”
Dr. FX nods and bounces out of the room. Now she begins to sort of authoritatively advise me again that I have serious tarter. I think this is the third time.
“ I think I got a little lazy flossing during covid.”
“And I also started snacking on those crunchy health bars at night.”
“That wouldn’t cause that.”
Now I am ready to leave and I’m elated to get out. The receptionist starts talking and advising me about Dental Insurance and she leaves her desk and meets me in the waiting room, and starts stretching.
“ I have to do this as much as I can, sitting in that chair all day long.”
“Oh, of course,” I raise my arms and swing my hips beside hers. I walked out into a day of clouds and a peek a boo sun feeling a mood change, a spark of energy from a few moments of improvisational dancing. We all crave an irreplaceable swarming of joy, that comes unexpectedly. I was awakened to my detachment from feeling truly alive.
Writing with a pen is so different from the keyboard, journaling is always with a pen, but columns are on the keyboard. I understand what tranquilizes all the peripheral complaints, mental pains, and wounds that lie dormant or at least manageable. Without thinking of the tormented hours, I think of the comforts of exhibiting my life on paper. My desk is sealed into a corner of the bedroom, next to a double pane window (original 1885) forty feet in length. It is not the act of writing with pen and paper moving along at a steady rhythm; it’s the activation of the heart and mind, collaborating to unravel the relevant from the irrelevant. To reach this state of matrimony a writer needs not a Tuscan Villa, or a Moorish Castle, but experiences that flake off the skin, or recall of the experience that gives it relevance.
I return to the porch for one more gulp of landscape that I share with the stars. The street is unfamiliar, a temporary scene like a bus stop, and I am merely waiting to move on. Some of the neighbors are friendly, some have no interest, one kind of spies on me when he thinks I’m not looking. There’s a reason for that but it’s too much of a separate story right now.
If I continue to roam around the task of writing this story, the intensity of irritation will escalate, my neck and shoulders will not loosen, my walk will be feigned, my smile forced, my heart longing for padding, my ego striving for recognition in the wrong places, and my soul roaming the hallways at 3:00 in the morning. I read a quote the other day on some website, to paraphrase: When I’m writing I know I can’t do anything else. The theme of the week is to bring back LouLou, a clownish, spirited, curious, joy seeker.
I’D LIKE TO RIDE A CLAIRVOYANT CIRCUIT INTO THE MINDS OF SINGLES OVER THE AGE OF SIXTY.
I’ve often questioned why advertisements; the media, and politicians do not address this segment of society. We don’t hear, the beginning of a statement whether it is legislative, political, social, or cultural, Singles around the country are not traveling, purchasing more products, refusing to get vaccinated are unemployed…etc. We are a minority class; I found statistics on The UnmarriedAmerican.org website. More searching led me to the American Association for Single People website.
There are 106 million unmarried adults in the United States. Singles constitute more than 44% of the adult population in the nation.
About 44% of the nation’s workforce are unmarried employees
The Census Bureau estimates that about 10% of adults will never marry.
I’m not going to make a huge leap into this as my thoughts are more about adventures in singleness.
This conversation is from a close friend, married for twenty-some years.
“You are so lucky you have no idea. If I were single, I’d move somewhere where life is simple, maybe Greece.”
“You don’t know about the loneliness, the awkwardness of holidays, the fear when you get sick and have no one to care for you, so many things really.
“I can think better when I’m alone.”
I told her I understood. That is the crucifix of making my pen my mate rather than a three-dimensional man( Temporary singleness). Some of my interactions go like this; going out to dinner,“Are you alone?” She or he leads you to the most obscure table. Then she or he removes the second table setting and suddenly aloneness is visible. An hour later another customer asks if they can use the spare chair. That’s when I ask for the check and leave.
Taking a road trip and feeling vulnerable when I’m pumping the gasoline and a stranger is gawking at me and I’m in the middle of nowhere. It is usually truck drivers and I immediately think of Thelma and Louise. More recently, I hired a new snow shoveling company operated by one single man. On the third plow last winter he texted me, “One night with you and I won’t charge you for the rest of the season.” A gal pal replied after relating this story,
“You should be flattered and he is twenty years younger! What does he charge?
“Seven hundred for the season.”
“That’s hilarious! Well, be careful and lock your doors, you’re all alone out there.”
I texted him that he should never make that kind of offer to a customer and I will not report you but you could lose your business or be sued. He agreed and I let him finish off the season as it was too late to find another one. I found a new company this year and he’s happily married.
Dressing for an event that I’ve never been to on my own. In my closet, I lay out three different outfits. Then I have a wary of decisions on which shoes, flats or heels. When I’m all dressed and ready to go self-consciousness billows up and I change the outfit. It’s a ridiculously amusing routine.
Living in a house that is a hundred and thirty-five years old speaks to me at night; a loose windowpane thrashes, a branch from a tree falls on one of the rain gutters, the mechanicals in the basement thump for some reason and I tiptoe around the house searching for an intruder.
Taking myself out for a cocktail just to get out of the house has numerous consequences. I end up sitting next to couples who are having a roaring twenties time of it and the only single man at the bar is fixated on his phone. Instead, the woman next to me strikes up a conversation about her boyfriend.
The other side of these dismal forecasts is; I have no arguments at home, (just interior dialogue) I can eat whenever I choose, watch what I elect on television, keep the bedroom light on, adjust the thermostat to my body temperature, and make all the decisions myself, the most infuriating and worthwhile to building courage, and self-reliance.
One of the lines in the Godfather struck me as an authentic gangster testimonial, “Women and children can afford to be careless, we cannot.” As a teenager one of the repetitive reminders my father said angrily was, “Watch what you’re doing!” This was the most relevant and truthful observation he made of me. Admittedly I am easily distracted and careless and ignore risk. Just yesterday I placed a skillet of homemade croutons in the oven and then decided to empty the trash. As it happened my neighbor, Lorraine was in her driveway so I said hello. The Adirondack Tree Surgeon had recently stopped by her house, as they did mine and marked one of my sidewalk trees for removal.
“Are they going to cut your tree down too?” I asked.
“The city is responsible for the sidewalk trees, but they cannot remove one on your property. They just came by to trim the branches since mine is on my property.” I was absent for ten minutes. When I entered the kitchen, it was smoked out and a small fire was burning in the skillet.
Without someone to look after my carelessness (I’ve been on my own now for five years) I still catch myself in these adventitious circumstances.
Let this not be a scorched with boredom bla bla piece of writing as all the elements are with me this Sunday. No one is mowing their lawn, the sky is a metal grey shield against sunlight, a light freckly kind of rain falls outside, and Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s sublime mix plays into my pulse.
In upstate New York, an overwhelming enthusiasm erupts for pumpkins, apples, and cider doughnuts. Advertisements appear in my Saratoga news feed of festivals at the local farms, homemade apple cider, witches and hayrides, pick your own pumpkins, and doughnut-eating contests.
Instead of smirking at this unfamiliar custom, I took a ride out to Lakeside Farms Cider Mill to riddle my sensibilities and get into the autumn groove. It’s a short distance away but, after you make the third turn off the main road, the gladiator trees blushing with yellow and gold formed a canopy over my convertible. It reminded me of an amusement park ride. My mood melted with the colors and as I pulled into the driveway of Lakeside, packed as if the Rolling Stones were going to perform my internal stick shift went into submission. I’m guessing the farm sits on several acres, and on one side is a field of grass, with pathways to walk, and then as I moved closer to a small brown barn, I noticed a witch outfitted for the children standing with her pitchfork.
Shoppers with carts passed filled with pumpkins and apples, and as I looked for a shopping cart, a woman noticed my puzzled expression. “You lookin’ for a cart?”
“Yes, where do I find one?”
“There’s an empty one behind you.” I felt dumb as gum and thanked her. Then I had the choice of going into the open farmhouse where a display of a dozen diverse kinds of apples stacked in crates, farm-fresh vegetables, pumpkins of all sizes, and an assortment of Apple Brown Betty mixes neatly placed on shelves next to jars of honey, preserves, syrup, and pancake mixes.
It is now a full-blown bumper car amusement ride as carts are pushed by shoppers unaware of colliding with other carts. Children are jumping up and down, and screeching with sugar craving desire. I cannot decide which aisle to choose. First, an eggplant that wasn’t the size of a dinner platter, then a few green chilis, and sexy plump tomatoes. I could have chosen a dozen more items. Since I am single, my lesson has been learned not to overbuy only to throw it away.
Apples were tied in bags, a dozen the smallest amount, so I chose one bag of Cortland amongst the other twenty-five kinds of apples! Macintosh, Macoun, Gala, Empire, Jonagold, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious, etc.
I knew I was in the jive when I bought a two-pound sack of Buttermilk pancake mix, a jar of Vermont Syrup, and a jug of Apple Cider. At the counter, in line with half a dozen others, the clerk whom I’m sure was part of the family greeted me.
“How are you today?” He said this as if he was on stage speaking loud enough for an auditorium of guests.
“I’m doing very well, and you?” I don’t usually project an openly loving tone but he sort of earned my delight. With all that I bought, the bill was twenty-eight dollars. I used to spend that at Sprouts in Los Angeles for half the items.
Next, the bakery for those tantalizing apple cider doughnuts. Now I go indoors to a converted barn where they serve food and more grocery items. Another reason for this jaunt was to pick up a dozen doughnuts for the seven firemen who answered my call this week when my basement began to flood. We had so much rain my sump pumps gave up, and the water was just about to fill the hot water heaters in the pit. After they hosed out all the water, we chatted outdoors. Someone mentioned breakfast time. I chimed in,
“Let me guess, cider doughnut!” A round of laughter and oh yes, they all love them. They would not take any money and so I thought I’d buy them what they love.
The sandwich line was twenty groups long. I squeezed in next to the bakery and was called on right away.
“What can we get for you today?” Another gleeful greeting from a woman who looked like she grew up next to the oven. I looked at the selection of pastries oozing with sugar, cream, icing the works.
“A dozen cider doughnut in a box please-it’s a gift.”
“Sugar glazed pleased. And six cinnamons in a bag.”
With a cart loaded up, I suddenly realized I would have to wheel it all the way to my car over puddles, chipped brick, and steps. Instead, I used my less-than sturdy arms. As I walked along leaning slightly to the right (my left arm hasn’t behaved since I fell on the stairs) my LA persona surrendered to old-fashioned, no dieting, family-friendly shopping at Lakeside.
As soon as I entered my kitchen, I dug into the bag of doughnuts, poured a cup of coffee, and dunked.
Looking west to a smear of dusty crimson sunlight, a young man of twenty stood on the shoulder of Highway 66 waiting to hitch a ride. A powder blue Cadillac pulled up and the lad was caught in a puff of loose gravel. When the dust settled, a woman dressed in a two piece matching suit leaned over from the driver’s seat. “Say fella, can you drive one of my cars to California? I’ll pay the expenses,” she yelled out the window. Another Cadillac pulled up next to hers with a jerk stop. The lad stared into the shine of the car. It looked like wet paint and he was tempted to touch it. “Sure will, yep I’ll do that. Should I get in now?” The young man answered. “I need to see your driver’s license.” She added. The man hastily drew out his license from a dusty plastic cover inside his billfold. She looked it over, and smiled. “All right Maurice, keep in close to us on the road, don’t get lost. We’re going far as Needles.” Maurice held tight to the steering wheel, ‘Geez, ain’t this great, what a car. I’m going all the way from Nebraska to California in a Cadillac.’ He’d forgotten about the sharp pains of hunger, and bloody sores on his feet. Now he was sitting on warm leather seats, with the cold night air off his back, and ten dollars in his pocket.
Sixty five years later, I’m walking down the street where Maurice lives. We haven’t met yet. I don’t meet my neighbors. I move before I have a chance to care about them. It comes easy to me, being a loner. Then I met Maurice.
Without a partner, lover, or relative nearby during our feared and festive flights of life, our ribs cave. You just cannot eat cake alone on your birthday, attend a funeral without a shoulder next to you, or celebrate a finished project without your best friend.
Dodger knocked and then opened the door to Greta’s casita, wide-eyed and edgy as usual, like he’s about to eject off the ground and go air-born.
“Close your eyes.” She commanded
“I’m in a hurry, I just wanted to know if you’ve seen my glasses?”
“No, I have not, look in your back pocket, they’ll be there.”
He obeyed, “Good try butterfly.”
“They’re in your pigsty garage under a pillow. Can you just close your eyes, please?” Reluctant as always to be asked things like this he shifted his weight on one torn sneaker.
“Okay, you can open your eyes.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“I’m looking, hang on.” He opened the book and leafed through it, expressionless.
“It will be published this week in time for Thanksgiving and your birthday, a kind of homage to you, for reading the manuscripts a thousand times. I think it turned out really nice, don’t you?”
“Yea, then he handed the book back to Greta as if it was some other author’s book.
“Did you read the dedication to you?”
“Don’t you want to read it?”
“ I’ll buy one when it’s on Amazon.” Greta turned around and sat at her desk chair avoiding the disappointment with silence. She felt a sharp sort of shock, that left her speechless.
” I’m going to see Patsy for my Birthday,” He said in a more decidedly final tone.
” But I planned a publication party on your Birthday. You knew that— I mean this is our book once you read it you’ll see half of it is about you. He turned his head toward the glass door, he was preparing his next line.
” I know what you’re doing.” He replied.
“ What does that mean?”
“ You don’t want me to see her.” He turned around and looked directly into her eyes, unkindly.
“ I told you to move in with her, she’s your girlfriend, but I’m your friend. Can’t you go a few days later?”
” Okay, go. Get the fuck out of here, the book I wrote about our friendship and dedicated to you doesn’t matter.” Dodger opened the door and stepped outdoors before slamming it shut. The vagueness and accusatory tone pulled the plug on her adulation and accomplishment.
Greta continued to sit at her desk, staring at the book, talking out loud as if Dodger was still in the room, you are fucking insane, he wasn’t the least touched, he didn’t even fucking smile or hug me. We are best friends you asshole, thirty-five years! Like family, I can’t believe you’d do this.’ The grail of completion dissolved when a few hours later, she had metabolized his absence.
Greta applied lipstick and blush, changed from sweats to jeans and a sweater, and dashed across the street to The Beaumont Hotel. It’s been what she termed her groove cave for the last ten years, ever since moving to town. Internally she reminded herself to retain some dignity, and not to cry, which would come later after she had a few glasses of wine.
The wave that most of us have to swim through at some sandy, loose day in our life comes unexpectedly as it did for Greta. It’s been two and half years since Greta agreed to tell me her story, it feels like it was yesterday.
Clutching her book in one hand Greta strolled into the Beaumont and, stopped at the staircase on the second floor where two hostesses were patiently but somewhat nonchalantly waiting for guests to arrive. She held up her book, partly because of the dismissal of Dodger, and her craving for some kind of acknowledgment. She is never sure what she has accomplished until she is validated by another person.
“Congratulations Greta, that’s so cool. I want a copy.” Jackie and Julia chimed in. Greta has told me over and over the people here, in the pueblo, it takes no time to get to know them because there is no pretense or preparation, they speak their feelings, as they arise without premeditation. Jackie is always tired and Julia is always infinitely alert and awake. Julia is in her sixties and Jackie is twenty-two.
“ Thank you dolls, do you think I deserve a cocktail tonight, no really, would it be all right if I have one. Jackie twirled her thin waist around the iron staircase,
“ Fuck that Greta, go have two,” she whispered.
“ You can walk home so have three,” Julia added, so neatly dressed in her uniform, but her eyes are like meadows like she’s not really there.
Holding court in the bar is Captain Kurtis. He’s ageless, one of those faces that retain the youthful spirit, and his six-foot-four physique almost doesn’t seem to fit with his face. He is no second guesser or lacks self-confidence, Greta loves him for that because she is not. She knows this for certain and she can’t understand why friends tell her, she appears so. She also knows that it is her little act.
“Hey! What’s happening?” He shouts out in his usual bar baritone greeting as if Greta were in another room.
She placed the book on the counter.
“ Wow! Hey, congratulations! That’s awesome. What would you like–on the house?”
“Thanks! A Martini.” He greeted another guest and I looked in the unavoidable mirror across from me and winked.
“ Wow, I don’t read much but I want a signed copy!”
“ This is the proof that I approved, the book comes out on Thanksgiving.”
“ My parents will be here, will you?”
“ Of course, I can’t not be here.”
“ Has Dodger seen it? Bet he’s happy huh?”
“ Actually Kurtis, he’s not.”
“ What the fuck is wrong with him?”
“ I don’t know, but he’s leaving for the holiday to see his girlfriend, I’ll be here alone.”
“ No way! We’ll be here. Drink your Martini and get crazy, loosen your bottom or something.” A while later, a second bartender arrived, Rooster, his hair is slicked into a rooster tail and he loves to dance and lip sing behind the bar. Greta went through her announcement, and he just beamed. “I want to buy one– where do I get it?”
A dreamy drench of joy poured over Greta, she let the martini take her away to the full euphoria of escape.
Over the next few days, she watched her royalty cart fill up. It was graduation day, a milestone for any self-taught writer. The instant a book was bought she wanted to tell Dodger.
From Greta’s desk window she views the driveway and converted garage where Dodger lives. It is now the twenty-third and she is waiting for him to leave as their incidental crossings on the street or in front of the house enrage her temper. This afternoon he appears to be preparing, and un-preparing for a departure. Greta is observing his actions with just a hint of humor as she sees him bring his bicycle up from the basement place it outside the garage, then a few hours later, he places it inside the garage, then it comes out again and he keeps repeating this action until he switches to his construction tools, they go in the van and then back in the garage. Dodger then moves on to washing his car in militant style, climbing onto the roof and manically wiping down the exterior and interior with a roll of paper towels and cloths. Greta says, ‘My God Patsy must be a car germophobic.’ On Thanksgiving Day, she sees the Van, and then Dodger comes out of the garage carrying his toiletries bag and a garment bag. He glances over at her door where she silently observed him. She opened the door to say whatever came to mind at that moment and he accelerated into his van and drove off.
Greta propped herself up in bed drew her coffee cup into both hands to warm them and wiped tears on her nightgown sleeve. She could not get up at least not for a few more calming hours so she looked at the walls of her bedroom sparked with honey sunshine inside the gold curtains and as the day passed her enthusiasm for turkey and stuffing wilted, until four o’clock, when she closed her mind like closing a book thinking of Dodger. She pulled a green sweater and burgundy velveteen slacks and dressed without even looking in the mirror, habitually applied make-up and while looking in the mirror tested her smile, to find the one that looked genuine. ‘ Oh fuck him, I’m going to make joy tonight’
Couples and families scurried the walkways on their way to dinner. Greta watched enviously having never been a mother, every child appeared distinctive and worthy of love. As she walked through the lobby her attention was drawn to a circumference of platters of food decoratively arranged on tables. The mounds of appetizers, salads, loaves of bread, and turkey slices tuned up her appetite for the first time since Dodger departed. Inside the bar, a standing crowd of guests fused in high-pitched voices, laughter, and glasses raised in toasts. Greta eased her way to the bar feeling slightly self-consciousness of her unaccompanied presence. The Dude, as she referred to the leading bartender stood tall as a redwood, his hair wrapped in a perfect man-bun.
“Greta, over here. I saved you a seat.” She smiled uncertainly, unconvincingly and the Dude noticed. He raised his chin a notch, it’s his way of acknowledgment.
“Hey Greta, you look really nice tonight. Are you ready for a martini or what?
“ I don’t feel like it, can I go now?”
“ Come on, it’s Thanksgiving, aren’t you thankful for something?” she savored the comment, it was true she did not feel the thankfulness quality of the celebration.
“ I’m grateful for you!”
“ Okay, what’s wrong?”
“ You won’t believe it, whatever it is I don’t know. Dodger didn’t stay for the publication party, he didn’t even say congratulations when I showed him the book, he’s gone to see Patsy, you know the woman in Las Vegas that he sees sometimes.”
“What an asshole, I’ll whip him when he gets back. Do you have the book with you, I want to see it now!” She kept one in her bag, in case someone came in that I knew.
“ Here, that’s yours.”
“Aren’t you gonna sign it?”
“ Of course. I’m just jilted like my prom date didn’t show up.”
“ Hang on, write the inscription I have to take care of these people. Don’t leave!”
The evening evolved into a gathering of singles at the bar, the exchange was simplistic holiday conversation, suited to the occasion, so very all American, though the holiday isn’t widely accepted by the Natives due to the fictionalized history of the holiday. Within the festive mood, the distraction pulverized the hollowness of dining without Dodger on Thanksgiving and his birthday. Greta’s closest female friend is White Zen (WZ), who is out of town, and other friends are with family, so it is one of those days for single unattached people to find refuge where they can.
The man seated next to her was so close she was tempted to move her chair but thought that would appear unfriendly. The Dude approached her,
“ This is my Dad.” The Dude went on to talk about the book I handed him and then the father started up a discussion about how he was writing a book too and so the evening, between bits of food and wine liberated Greta from singleness to a dinner companion. She knew Dude had that planned as he was continually trying to introduce her to men.
When there was a lull in the conversation Greta seized the moment to excuse herself and squeezed through the crowd to the ladies’ room. The silence relieved her as it always does after a two-hour conversational overload and incessant noise of guests whose cocktails elevated their voices to disturbing mumbling. She applied fresh lipstick, and then she took a deep exalted breath and texted Dodger, ‘ hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving.’ She washed her hands and after a few more minutes passed, the text remained unanswered.
“ Dude, I’ll have another glass of wine.” He was more than responsive, and poured a full glass of wine and left the bottle next to her. She knew he knew her heart was crumbling.
“ I’m thankful Dude!
“ Yea, you should be!’ A tipsy jolt took care of the evening and she managed to make some mocking jokes about the Dude, and how his youth at twenty-eight pleased the women at the bar as they attempted a sensual pat on his hand.
“Cougars, divorced or cheating on their husbands, women your age are weird.”
“You’ll understand when you get older.”
Over the next few days Greta texted Dodger six times, and he didn’t respond, so she called. She was blocked. Her rage erupted, and so she sent an email with a link to her Amazon book page. When days later she did not get a response, she pinned herself in front of the television and dialed WZ. The outdoor snow piled up, the trash was not emptied, she avoided going into the basement where the washer and dryer were and the temptation to begin sabotaging, or breaking his belongings.
“ Hi, it’s me. What’s left of me that is. Can you talk?”
“ Yes, you don’t sound good– what’s happened? Let me get a cocktail going I think I’ll need it.”
“ I’m into my third glass of wine, call me back because it takes you fifteen minutes to do your marvelous Martini’s.”
Greta waited as if she was about to go into the operating room. WZ is in the category of mothering it’s not just her whispery voice, or intense talent for listening, she has the appetite for drama and that’s what hooked her to Greta.
Without a partner, lover,or relative nearby during our feared and festive flights of life, our ribs cave. You just cannot eat cake alone on your birthday, attend a funeral without a shoulder next to you, or celebrate a finished project without your best friend. During these times of divisiveness, a pandemic, our favorite restaurants and shops out of business, and vigilanteviolence, it takes courage to be alone. It is you I am thinking of and I know you are out there, isolated. I listen to a lot of music, from Opera to Salsa, shout myself out of bed, attend to mediocre mindless tasks and think about all of us singles, without children, or family and friends out of my reach in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Sedona, and Florida. Each one holds a podium on the telephone, as I listen to their feelings, they are variations of a Chopin or Bach recording. The sadness and fear each one is holding at bay, reveal their authentic character. Isn’t it an extreme tragedy that holds a spotlight on our soul and spirit? One friend reminds me to refrain from judging myself too harshly, another advises how fortunate I am to be in a safe small village, with very few deaths, and another says simply, I’m falling apart.
We are now forced to learn our supreme strength, our survival methods, and how to structure a new lifestyle. When was the last time you were tested? Remember that and you will forge ahead.