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.
He was going to keep me warm this winter. Toggle behind me in his overcoat and boots, making sure I didn’t slip on ice, or chop my hair when my anger meets my self destructiveness. He would plow the snow, keep the fire going, trim the roses that bloomed when we met, and hatch chilies in the kitchen. A boy, a man, and a girlfriend. He’s wrapped in primitive sensuality, gifted with athletic stamina, viscerally intelligent. There is the other side; a squadron of pointy fingers, family feuds, gossip, and the spark of emotional self-contentedness. He admits to it; and studies masters of consciousness every day. He strives for breath unscented, unencumbered childlike weightlessness. My star is dropping, the dream girl of adventures in livingness. Taking men in that hold impossible odds, the long shot that shoot you to the moon or dump you on a dirty bench.
I found someone once who held up all the right que cards; now we are best friends thirty years later. If
lovers are true friends than I don’t lock them out when they stumble on the script. Relationships between men and woman are unsolvable allegory poems. I read them over and over and never understand the meaning if I hold on to the wound. If I let the abrasion heal, I am still in love with them.
My friends are beside me once again. It’s been five years since their faces like postcards of my life, are in my room, lifted out of the box. I can almost see their wisdom, and lessons floating above the birdcage hanging from the ceiling. I had forgotten how much I depend on them, a collapse of friendship because my room wasn’t really mine, I shared it with guests, and then New Year, rang out like a jazz quartet of answers to puzzling life questions. I am not sharing my bedroom anymore. And I am not looking for a job. And I am not going to stop wearing tightjeans, and high heeled boots.
Hello Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Carson McCuller, Nelson Algren, John Gardner, Damon…my books are home.
Locked up in the imaginary world of writing. It’s not always so accessible, so effortless, and when it is lock yourself in and give it your life.
The fall drapery from the window teases me with specks of sunlight, and leaves dropping like snowflakes. My spirit is drawn outdoors.
to walk, hike, run in its splendor. Sacrifice is how we finish our plays, canvas, book, song, and poem.
I moved in with my Dad when I was thirteen years old. My mother had just passed away, and I arrived with innocence and untrained cooking skills. Mom was an Irish Catholic meatloaf and corn-beef cook. Dad was a Russian Orthodox raised moderate vegetarian, and decided to hire a chef to teach me how to cook.
I came home from school one day, and found Caesar in the kitchen. He was a stand-in for Paulie in the Godfather, only he had curly black hair, and apple red cheeks. Caesar was dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and an apron that fell short of fitting him. Dad instructed Cesar to teach me how to make salads, baked fish, and spaghetti with oil and garlic. Everyday after school, Caesar was in the kitchen preparing dinner for us, and I stood beside him, observing his chubby knuckled fingers, slice and chop vegetables. We started with what Dad ordered; a meal in a salad, and later coined it Farmer’s Chop Suey. The salad was not just prepared, it was a decorated masterpiece when he finished. During the preparation, I noticed beads of sweat on Caesar’s face, and a jittery nervousness, surfaced just before my father arrived home, “What do you think? Will Dad approve?” He asked. I assured him Dad would love the salad. Cesar and I became pals, and waited anxiously for Dad’s arrival. He wasn’t all that agreeable. Fastidiousness and perfection are common traits amongst gangsters. Usually, Dad remarked there wasn’t enough garlic, or there were too many croutons, and Caesar would swiftly correct the complaint.
After Cesar went home, Dad would talk to me about food, and how everything starts in the stomach, and how the vegetables have to be scrubbed, and the seeds removed. Three or four times a week Dad dined out, and he didn’t order salads. He frequented Italian restaurants, and his favorite was Bouillabaisse, with a side of pasta. I never saw him enjoy any food as much as Borsch with sour cream, and smoked white fish. That was his favorite childhood meal. His father was a Orthodox Butcher, a very scared skill that requires a thorough understanding of Kosher preparation.
About six months had passed, and I came home one day and Cesar wasn’t there. Instead I found my father in a rage. I asked about Cesar and he told me it was none of my business, and to start preparing dinner. After my first salad preparation, Dad applauded my presentation, and assured me everything he was teaching me would serve me later on in life. He explained he had to be harsh and demanding, because he wanted me to be able to take care of myself properly.
I developed into a moderate vegetarian and have used that salad as a blueprint for most of my meals. Now I create a variety of salads, and a lot more ingredients: like white beans, garbanzos, walnuts, tuna, or shrimp, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes etc. My friends call me a free-style cook because I only use recipes when I’m making soups or stews.
I was very fortunate to grow up with a father who spent hours teaching me what I would need to know in life. This is something you won’t read or see in a film about growing up with gangsters.
Fifteen years ago, the summer of 1993, I was having lunch in a restaurant in Los Angeles. Across from me was the only other woman of importance in my father’s life, besides my mother, that I had known. Sandy Crosby, a leggy brunette with bark brown eyes, arched brows, and a showcase smile.
She always had a response that outwitted her opponent, including my father, who relied heavily on, ‘don’t be so smart.’ Half-way through the first course at Jimmy’s, she looked at me and grinned.
“You’re so much like your father.”
“Your father loved living on the edge, he really did.”
I rested on that thought for a long time. I was temporarily living with a friend in Los Angeles. I lived out of a suitcase, with a broken down Cadillac, and a folder of resumes. My dad never lived out of a suitcase, or needed a resume to find a job. After he met Benny Siegel, he had multiple offers in organized crime.
What I discovered, is Dad didn’t truly settle down until he had to raise my sister and I. He was 56 years old when Mom died, and we were tossed into his lacquered bachelor pad in Hollywood. The same age I was two years ago.
Living on the edge is a term used to describe infinite lifestyles. The momentum, or ignition that fuels that lifestyle, is uncertainty. We live by impulse and imagination. Our plans are last minute, we never buy in bulk, and we are always dreaming of the voyage. We run from stationary life because at heart, we are gamblers.
This time, the edge is the very place I spent two years creating, the photography gallery and home in Santa Fe. Up until this winter, it operated as a gallery by appointment, while I polished my memoir proposal. After several months, I went to the edge and decided to convert the gallery into a vacation rental. I needed to roam; I longed to gather new material.
The winter climbed back into bed, and then spring ripped through the ground, and the roses and poppies bloomed. The memoir remained unpublished, and the house began to transform from gallery to a real home. The long uneventful winter punctured my prudent habit of writing, remaining secluded, and avoiding everything but the essentials. By May, I made a silent vow under a stream of sunlight, to enlist into the human race.
The reinvention resembled nature, like today. The day began with a feverish sky of culminating clouds, a long dreary silence, and an absence of light. The street was empty, just the valet from La Posada running to the garage to fetch the cars. They were bundled in winter coats, while the party rental truck loaded the furniture from last evening’s wedding. The storm struck with impetuous force. The valet’s ran with umbrellas, small children yelled for cover, and I took a seat on the back porch. Suddenly, the storm rescinded, and the sun burst through the cloud cover.
My emancipation back into the flow of mixing strangers and friends was alchemy to the house. Now it’s a home; to cook, entertain, and fill with music, laughter and conversation. I can see the faces of the people I’ve met, imagine the next meeting, and anticipate the next outing. The windows and doors are opened, the people who pass by look in. I was cooking dinner one night this week, and noticed a man peeking in the window. He looked like Harrison Ford, just back from the Lost Arch.
“ Is this a museum?” he asked when I went to the door.
“ No. It’s a gallery, a home. Well come in, and take a look around.”
Opening the door to a stranger returned the affirmation that impulse socializing is still possible in the banal and sterile world of FACEBOO. You don’t have to be a teenager to recognize a good time, but you need to be an adult to recognize a good fellow.
Some of us lone roamers cannot reverse the inclination to retreat from life; because we find too much confusion, agitation and adversity in the world. Between all of those elements, there are treasures waiting to be discovered: opportunity collaboration, adventure, and most of all companionship.
Even though the comfort of this home has replenished my spirit and temporarily produced a yawn of security, I am preparing to go to the edge. Though I imagine it is another place of endearment, another address, and another gamble, it may be the inner voyage that will transcend.
When I tell people we’re renting the house, they ask me where will you go?
I don’t know yet. Sandy was right; I am like my father. The edge I picked wasn’t a green felt jungle of dice and chips, it’s an artists’ life.
This week is on control, and losing it. You hear that phrase often enough, “she has control issues.” I’m not sure what that means. I don’t understand how a society of rules and regulations that delivers more commands every day is expected to produce a society without control issues. I lost control of my life and so I am getting in touch with “out of control.”
Bohemian living was always in my dreams, having been raised in a perfectly pressed pinafore and seated on fragile furniture. I am not really very gypsy like when it comes to home. Once upon a time I lived in a suitcase, but I have since been corrupted by the joy of controlling all the things that come into the house and find a place there.
Once faced with this alarming epiphany I vowed to give up control and accept the disorder and disruption. What I’ve rediscovered is that without a lot of stuff to organize the mind is free to think. The house chores are minimal, leaving more time to create and effect important things. Narcissism is sacrificed and replaced with more visceral reflections.
Once I place myself inside the double yellow line of society, I feel those controls closing in on me. Losing control is a replenishment of youthful spirit. It’s free and painless. Try it, take off the leash and run free.
Two days later I was in a hotel, preparing for a reunion, a day of shopping, and luxuries of a woman on the road, when the news broke.. How did you feel when you heard the news. John and I went silent, and drove two hours in more conscientious silence.
Free your mind and the rest will follow; the words from EnVogue’s latest release played all day on the radio. Every time I got in the car to hunt up real estate listings, I heard that song.
I worked in an industrial building along an industrial highway in San Diego. I shared a warehouse with twelve men, eleven of them tall, weight trained football on Sunday guys, who ate at expensive restaurants amongst a club of commercial real estate agents, where they’d be noticed. They were pretty decent guys, except the partners who each had severe a case of ego malnutrition and competed for attention like two tottlers. Greg was the only short one in the bunch, and he wore a rug, manicured his nails, and surfed on the weekends. He was always talking about his Karate black belt, and how he knocked guys out. He rarely laughed and when he did he sounded like a chirping bird. Greg used to give me his wife’s unworn clothes and waited in my living room while I tried them on. It was sort of strange, but he never played the trump card and asked for anything in return.
One day in the summer of 1992 I called the office secretary.
“Gail, I’m not coming in for awhile. Will you forward my calls to my home?”
“Are you all-right?”
“Oh yea. I’m fine.”
“What should I tell Sam?”
“Tell him I’m on leave of absence.”
I lived in a little cottage house in North Park. It was all white with a picket fence and a squared grass yard where my dog played. The front room was small but the carpeting was new, so I could curl up on the rug and watch the clouds from the windows.
I threw my nylons and navy pumps in the garbage, and folded the business suits into boxes. I knew I wasn’t going back, but where I was headed was a throw of the dice.
Mornings I ran through Balboa Park before the crowds arrived, and got to see the zoo keepers feeding the animals, and the actors going into The Old Globe Theater. I filled my senses with virgin light and morning silence, unfamiliar sensations to office workers living with florescent lighting and partition walls. In the afternoon I lounged around in sweats watching music videos, reading magazines and dancing.
I watched some new music videos, maybe EnVogue or Bobby Brown, and tried to imitate the hip-hop moves on the carpet. It was like watching a cat in the snow. I called all the dance schools, and no one was teaching hip-hop. I didn’t know back then my mother was a dancer; so this impulsive and implausible scheme to start a dance troupe startled me as much as everyone I told.
The last lease deal I did was for a group of soccer players from Jamaica. They needed a space to open a reggae dance club. They told me they’d called other agents and no one would take their business. I found a disheveled warehouse and struck a deal for them. They fixed up the warehouse themselves, with colored lights, and some tables, but Rockers was really about the dancing. I walked into the club one night, and they were all doing their part; greeting customers, spinning vinyl, and serving drinks. I danced with Leroy, the leader of the group, and watched him unfold from the waist down. He danced so low to the floor, he appeared boneless.
“Leroy, I’m going to start a dance troupe. You guys inspired me.”
“What kind of dance?’
“Hip-Hop and jazz funk.”
Leroy covered his mouth with one hand and laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re a business woman; I didn’t know you was a dancer.”
“Well, I took lessons a long time ago.”
“No, Jazz. I’m going to find the dancers to teach. I know there out there.”
“Yea, they out there all right; lots of them.”
“Well see! I’d like to use your space, pay rent of course, when you’re not open.”
“Well that’s all right. You don’t need to pay me.”
I hugged him, and he shook his head. “I don’t think there’s much money in teaching hip-hop.” he said.
At the community college I posted a sign for dancers, and observed some classes. When I got the call from Piper, he asked me to come see him teach at the Church on University Avenue. I drove over one night, and found Piper in a little room upstairs, teaching Jazz Funk to one woman. He was tall and lanky with a smile that creased his whole jaw. He came over, shook my hand, and said, ‘How you doing? I’m Piper.’ He wore an immaculate shield of confidence that defied his nineteen years, and moved at the intersection of Michael Jackson and James Brown. The groove spiraled through his body.
“I’ll help you get it started; if you’re not a trained dancer you need help.”
So Piper and I met every week and finally landed on a group that incorporated Jazz-Funk, Hip-hop and Afro-Cuban. I named the company United Steps Dance Productions, and the Jammers were the hip-hop troupe.
I’ll never forget the look on the partner’s faces when I told them I was starting a multicultural dance troupe. They just stared at me blankly. Then within weeks all five of my unclosed lease deals were signed at the same time. I walked out with enough money to live six months. That was real security in my mind.
Piper and I held our first audition at Rockers. When I opened the doors that morning, dancers were already lined up outside. They came dressed in street clothes; wearing scarves, baseball caps, loose pants, and tank tops. I watched them leap, kick, split, and turn inside out for the job. I knew that I was in the right spot. One dancer walked out, stood still for a moment, and then leaped into a break-dance pop-lock routine that silenced the crowd. “Him Piper, definitely him.” He’s bad, yea he’s real bad.” At the end of the auditions, Piper mocked me.
“Lue, we can’t sign every dancer just cause they hip-hop. Anyone can do that.”
I can’t hip hop and it’s my company.”
“Yea, and you’re crazy. I swear, Lu you’re crazy.”
We agreed on pop-locker Vince-Master Jam, and Monique, a young Afro-Cuban dancer. That was the beginning.
When Vince and I met, he told me he lived in Escondido.
“But that’s an hour away.”
“It’s cool, I’ll be here. Just give me the chance.”
Vince showed up twice a week at night for his class. Many times, we sat in the cold damp club, listening to music and Vince tried to teach me to pop-lock. I apologized for not having students and he looked at me, and said, “ Don’t worry Lue, will get it going on.”
Our first performance was at the Red Lion Hotel. I hired a video tech to record the performance. We got a free dinner and a hundred dollars. We had a good crowd, and everyone loved them. Afterwards in the dining room, they were talking, laughing and elbowing each other. Piper was ranting about Monique taking too much time, and Vince was telling Piper to chill because Monique was so good. I sat there just listening, with a big smile on my face.
The Jammers belonged to the no smoking, no drinking, no drugs group. For the first few months, they taught on tiled floors under a leaky roof, without any heat. But they kept coming back to teach and their dedication moved me to find a better location. We relocated to a well-heeled Health Club downtown San Diego and the classes filled up with students, dancers, and office workers searching for a new lunch. They came from all different races; Asian, White, Hispanic and Black. I danced with the classes and promoted our troupe. The Jammers laughed at my attempt to be a soul sister, and I laughed with them. We were reviewed by KPBS magazine, and a photographer took pictures of us and featured us in the magazine.
Searching for gigs proved to be an exasperating struggle. I called department stores, festival producers, shopping centers, nightclubs, hotels and everyone had the same line, “I don’t think hip-hop is right for our clientele.”
When I ran out of money I took a job managing a condominium project, where I lived rent free. After a time of observing the Jammers self expression, I asked myself, what is mine? I still refused to get on stage. Vince used to bawl me out because I made Piper introduce the group.
After two years Piper moved to Los Angeles to launch his dancing career, and I let Vince take the troupe where he wanted it to go. He turned it around, adding twelve dancers and broke more ground in San Diego. Monique developed into a serious stage actress and we all lost touch. They were the sparklers in my life; like that star you think you’ll never hold. I left the Jammers a different woman. They put the rhythm back in my spirit and soul.
When I recently located Vincent on an Actors website, I called him right away. He is a missing link in the chain of my life. Without that adventure, I might still be imitating the kind of business woman I wasn’t. We met in Los Angeles, and watched Vince perform in a club. He kept his vision and now acts on television and video. “ Lue, now you have to find Piper.”
It was Piper, who said to me one day after reading some of my poetry, “ Lu, you’re not a dancer. You’re a writer.”
Any dice to throw Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“It has been a time of writing for me. The doctors have all decided that my crippled leg must be amputated. They cannot do it right away because the hospitals are so full. So, in the nights of glare I just cuss out the doctors for making me wait, and cuss out my leg for hurting. I have read Sarah Bernhardt and her superb gallantry and courage have comforted me.” From “Illumination & Night Glare” by Carson McCullers.
More on the adventure in expectations.
I wonder how all of us really accept this incongruity of life. If we experience continuous disappointment, our inner oars, the ones that carry us over the tidal waves, must be accessible so we can bash back at the unsettling news, the absence of truth, the winter storms, the lagging economy, the pain of puttering, and expectations unrealized.
At a window table of Il Piatto, a favorite Italian bistro in Santa Fe, my friend Baron, (www.fotobaron.com) John (no website) and I fervently discussed the state of the people. What we observe, think, fear, and ruminate over at home when the lights are out, the street silent as a meadow, and shadows from winds through the winter branches play like puppets on the walls.
“Baron, if something doesn’t break soon—I’m going to need anti-depressants, or heroin.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
“Heroin? No, never. I tried Prozac for a few weeks years ago. It was ineffective.”
“Look, things are tough everywhere; the shops are closing, and the restaurants empty– look around. This is weird. And where’s the god damn snow?”
“It’s in New York. Rudy was there for a few days.”
“What the hell for?”
“Court. And guess what? He flies across country on Monday, appears in court the next morning, and is asked, ‘Why are you here?’ So you can see Rudy standing there in a cotton zip-up jacket, his face flushed with snow and wind. The judge informs Rudy he didn’t have to come to court.”
“How’s business for you?” I asked.
“Terrible! I keep inventing new prints, new sizes, new shows, a book, you just gotta keep it going, LouLou.”
“I keep it going; but it is beginning to feel like neat little circles.”
John tipped his head, the tip of understanding between two writers whose fingers are bleeding, amongst a country of bloggers, Twitters, and Facebook fetish writing. We wait, as all writers and artists, and in these times, everyone must wait, until our soil is fertile, and the illumination returns.
“Any bites on the script?”
“Yes, we get them, and then you wait, you may wait two or three months to hear anything.”
“Let me explain,” John interjected. “ It’s because ninety-nine percent of the scripts submitted are passed on, and the reason for that is the executive of creative development puts his job on the line when he green lights a script, so it had better be good!”
“In the interim, I repurpose the house as a vacation rental.”
“Then where will you go?”
“I don’t know.”
We talked about Egypt, Fox News, CNN, Tunisia, mobsters, photographers, business strategy, and the next Gallery LouLou event, a work in progress. There is visceral nourishment when you congregate over the same obdurate situations. The singular frustration festering inside is softened when commingled. We lingered over coffee, still unloading the burdens of a questionable wintry month.
That night John and I rushed through the front door, seeking warmth. I was on my way upstairs when I noticed a man with long black hair seated at my porch table. I could see his whole upper body through the drapeless French windows. His hand seemed as close to the door knob as my fingers are to this laptop.
“JOHNNNNNNNNNNN, there’s a man on the porch!”
Five “hurry up’s” later, John came running into the living room.
He opened the front door and announced in his radio deep broadcast voice, “We’re closed.” John nodded several times, and closed the door.
“What were they doing?”
“Attempting to light your kerosene lamp.”
“They thought the porch was charming.”
A few days later, another man appeared on the porch, this one wandering back and forth. After all the times a wanderer has been loose on the porch, in the garden, at the front door asking where someone lived (they do that in Santa Fe), and then the night someone climbed on the porch and ripped off the Stratocaster guitar from the hook on the eaves (a rock n roll prop), I had to apply more caution than negligence. If someone wanted to assault me, my defense would be worthless. When all the girls started learning self-defense, and carrying tear gas in their purses, I started locking the doors. Though I am not expecting intruders and assaults, it feels like it is time to take responsibility for myself. The fear of being alone is more tormenting than loneliness.
“I brought the shot-gun. Are you ready to learn?”
TO BE CONTINUED
To a drama-whore like myself, uncertainty is a cocktail. If my life isn’t wrinkled with folds of conflict, I will invent them. These past recollections were the building blocks of my future; I lived on the edge with my father.
Ann, my therapist, asked me about my mother but there was so little to tell. She was restrained to her secrecy, some vow she gave my father, and the personal veil of repression that cloaked all of her past. I told Ann that I was adopted into my friend’s homes by their mother’s, the ones who had met mine.
My best friend Denise lived in Brentwood with her divorced mother and siblings. We hooked in the dark unfamiliar and confusing imbalance of a broken home life.
Her mother was suffering depression after a recent divorce and I was dangling from my father’s fingertips, helplessly.
After my mother died, Denise wouldn’t let a day go by without calling me. “Are you all right,” she’d say. She didn’t like my father, and her reasons were mature beyond her years, “He frightens me.” Denise wouldn’t spend the night at my house, but once, and she said that I could stay at hers anytime I needed to get away.
After school one afternoon we stopped in the Brentwood Pharmacy. Denise was looking at the book rack and I was following along.
“ Luellen, my mother told me your father is in a book, The
Green Felt Jungle. It’s about gangsters. Want’a see if they have it?”
I agreed to look because Denise was interested, but it meant nothing to me.
Denise twirled the book rack around, and I stood behind her watching.
“That’s the book! Let me look first and see what it says,” Denise whispered. She tensed up; I could feel it in her arm, as I grasped her.
“Oh, my God, there he is,” she said, and we hunched together over the book and read the description of my father, “Allen Smiley, one of Ben Siegel’s closest pals in those days, was seated at the other end of the sofa when Siegel was murdered.” Denise covered her mouth with her hand, and kept reading silently.
“What does that mean? Who is Ben Siegel?” I asked.
“Shush, not so loud. I’m afraid to tell you this, Luellen. It’s awful. ”
“What’s awful? Tell me.”
“Bugsy Siegel was a gangster. He was in the Mafia. He killed people. Your father was his associate.”
“I don’t think I should see this,” I said and started to leave the drugstore. Denise followed me out.”
“ Why did Bugsy kill people?” I asked.
“Because that’s what gangsters do. Luellen, you can’t tell your father you saw this book. Please don’t tell him I told you.”
“My mother told me not to tell you. Swear to me you won’t tell your father!”
“I won’t. Don’t tell anyone else about this Denise, all right?”
“Luellen, have you met any of your father’s friends?”
” Yes, I’ve met them. I love his friends.”
A short time after that I waited until my father left for the evening, and then I opened the door to his bedroom.
I walked around the bed to a get closer look at the photographs on the wall. It was the first time I could read the
inscription: To Al, my dear friend, Your pal, Ben.
I stared at his eyes, droopy heavy-lidded sexy, and a gleaming boyish smile. It was a different photograph, but it was the same man in the “Green Felt Jungle.” The photograph placed next to it, was of Harry Truman, with a similar inscription dated 1963. The disparity of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel alongside Harry Truman wouldn’t mean anything to me for another thirty years. At that moment I was driven with curiosity and anticipation of what Denise had told me.
I opened the top drawer of his dresser. It was fastidiously organized with compartment trays for rolls of coins, a jewelry tray of diamond cufflinks, rings and watches, and another tray of newspaper clippings. The next drawer was stacked with neatly folded shirts in tissue paper. Under that was a drawer with a lock on it.
“What are you doing in my bedroom?” I slammed the drawer, muted by his stern expression. He pulled a key from his pocket, and locked the drawer.
“ HOW DARE YOU GO INTO MY THINGS! His hands shook, the veins in his neck inflamed.
“What is it you’re looking for? Luellen. Tell me, or else you will not step out of this apartment for a month. LUELLEN! Speak up! What are you looking for?”
“ I was looking for pictures?” I stammered.
“ What kind of pictures?”
“ Photographs. Of…Mommy.”
“ You’re lying to me! Don’t think you can fool me, you can’t. You want to see photographs, have a look at this one.” Then he pointed to the picture of Ben Siegel. Every vein of his neck swelled. He reminded me of a snarling wolf about to rip my head off. I looked down at the ground, and held my breath.
“Now you listen to me and don’t forget this for the rest of your life. This is Benjamin Siegel! He was my dearest and closest friend. You’re going to hear a lot of lies and hearsay about him. They call him “Bugsy,” but don’t let me ever catch you using that term. ” I have not forgotten.
The throw of the dice this week lands on redefining one kind of relationship for another. It’s also called the breakup. The words are familiar to most of us. How we get there is unfamiliar. The exact path each of us takes towards intimacy, and then away from it, is custom-made.
What brings two strangers together at 25 years old is attic material at 55. The physical appearance and satisfaction meanders over the dips and dives. All the quarrels, hardships, and difficult compromises are either dropped, or repeated without sustained anger and outrage. The arguments begin and end within 24 hours. There is a journey between a couple and neither one knows the final destination. For some it is an 8 week affair, others an eternal matrimony, and then there are couples who must battle the journey all the way. For some unknown reason, two people love unevenly. With every other aspect of life in perfect order, the scenery, replenishment of necessities, even absence of tragic disorder, this couple will never find peace. They are unmatched where it counts the most. They are staring at opposite corners, refreshed by different tastes, and feel almost nothing that the other person feels, with the exception of the feeling they have of comfort and trust. After 25 years, you know where the rumbles and ridges are, and you know how to handle them.
You even get accustomed to the battles, and what defenses you can use. The drama though draining has a certain appeal, in that it is familiar. When the truth rises above the camouflage, you cannot mop it off. It interferes with the loveliness of a yellowed summer moon, or a morning so beautiful that you want to hold it in your hand. It is like walking with lead in your shoes, and you freeze the lightness in your heart. With this burden, you cannot balance all the other misadventures in life.
When I was 29, my wings had just been released. I was alone, without any family around me, and I took the least familiar flight, and moved from my home in Los Angeles to Del Mar. It is beyond the mist of golden memories, it truly was the most unforgettable 6 months of my life. I had to rebuild everything from scratch, and in the process, I was building myself, step by step. That kind of work is irreplaceable, even the most adventurous of travel does not compare to rebuilding your life.
Now, is not much different from back in 1983, only I am not alone. I feel the same yearning for self-discovery. A breakup does not erode the love, companionship and trust of a 25-year friendship. With all those foundations in mint condition, you should be able to take on the new journey you have missed.
But! It is delayed for the reason that attachment is beyond emotional; it affects financial, social, and business survival. One by one solutions can be created. Sometime circumstances of life create them for you. Whenever I am stagnate, and unable to make a move, I have to think of my mother’s life.
I rose at 3:00 AM to turn the heat on, pick up my writing journal, and discern the week’s theme.
The house is unfamiliar at this time, as it is my first middle of the night experience here. I wonder for a moment if I should boil water for tea or coffee, and settle on decaf. Alice and Bugsy follow my footsteps, circle their feeding table, and then begin to cat play. Bugsy gallops around in circles and Alice watches. Their presence kindles the stark rooms. While the water boils, I step outside to the porch I hear the distant sound of pounding surf and sit down to listen. The moon is shaved from the fullness of the previous night, and reflects my own disposition.
The street is hollowed like a tunnel, the light of day is shining in some other distant country, and the sky is appears tinted with primer. Somewhere someone is dressing for work, breathing by the tick of the clock until he must report for work.
The draft of sleep lingers in my eyes, and my feet shuffle on the cold tiles, 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 unexpected 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 was informed a Frog’s member I knew only slightly died very suddenly. From that day on, conversations, books, and televisions shaped the theme.
I see what is in front of me, and I am dissatisfied with the surroundings. The temperature, color, textures and placement of furnishings is flawed, and I have abated good temperament, creativity, and affection. I have tried to replace my incompleteness with substitutes: new shoes, scarves, and half a dozen books. Ah Hah! I have caught the intruder, the inconsequential arrangememt of new stuff.
Several more incidents aided my awakening. One came while reading Mark Twain’s “Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World.” It is a first person narrative of his lecturing trip on a sea voyage around the world bound for Australia and New Zealand. His diary pages are as powerful as water sprung from a fire hydrant; and I flowed into the adventure with him. A few days later while I was vacillating between reading and watching television I channeled onto a movie, “Shadows Over Tuscany.” Harvey Keitel emerged as a familiar character; a writer who has stopped writing. Along with the added irony of his resplendent surroundings in a villa over Tuscany, he still could not write.
I have settled into a corner of the sofa by the light, and now Alice is purring into my robe. Writing with pen is so different from keyboard, journaling is always with pen, but columns are on the keyboard. The next incident occurred in conversation with a woman who relayed her elated experience from meditating. She asked me about my own source. I understood that to mean what tranquilizes all the peripheral complaints, mental pains and wounds that lie dormant or at least manageable. Without thinking of the tormented hours, I thought of the comforts of exhibiting my life on paper.
The shallowness of that answer makes me uncomfortable. 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. The neighbors are strangers, and stories do not blossom here. My desk is sealed into a corner of the bedroom, and too small to stack all my photographs, books, notepads, and dice mementos.
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. A story is flickering at my source, asking to be written and I’m avoiding the introduction. Fear is shining like a spotlight on one end, and insecurity is the temperature that stifles my pen. It is not the cold tiled floor, and cramped desk.
I wrote a novel in a 99 square feet room that SC and I shared for a year and a half.
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.
My spineless spirit that sends me out shopping for shoes, scarves, and earrings will finally halt. I will return to shopping for inspiration, courage and confidence that I can write the story. email@example.com
The throw of the dice this week lands on the lost dice. It was an unusual time to be writing the dice, around four in the afternoon. The sunshine drew me up to my writing desk where the rays of light teased me into believing it wasn’t cold outside. I decided to write the column.
I knew I shouldn’t write on my laptop because it is deconstructing. The ports and CD player have malfunctioned, the screen dotted and the audio goes on and off. I can’t part with this laptop until I finish the book, ( 5 pages to go). The warmth of the sun and the window that enables me to see the sky, drew me to the desk, and so I work around the errors.
I only had a few paragraphs from the afternoon, and when I returned to the column after dinner, the whole piece took another course, and I was writing not what I intended but it was like sailing on a perfect course. It was writing without the editor, meaning the inner editor that sometimes swoops down and cuts your nails off. I was writing about many things that happened. When I finished I went to the save the document and the laptop responded negatively. It vanished. I thought about trying to recapture the column, trying to reinvent the stream of consciousness that seemed to be marathoning through my soul.
There were so many voices speaking all at once. I had to figure out how to connect the moment the leaves reminded me of Saratoga Springs, and how we must place our print, on the tablet, on the screen, and dismiss the resentful reader who judges where writing takes us. Sometimes, a reader knows me from the halcyon days, when light was brighter than dark. They don’t want to remember the way I feel it, they want to burn me for my feelings. And such an email buckles my knees and drips from my eyes. I am sorry they never achieved more than hatred.
Two months ago I bought a crate of flowers to plant. After setting the plant to rest, I had a vivid recollection of Nana; my Mother’s mother.
Nana was a petite woman, with long graying hair she pinned into a perfect French twist, a cute Irish nose, and a giggling smile. When I was growing up she lived with her second husband, we called Poppop, in a spacious California ranch house in Sherman Oaks, also known as San Fernando Valley. We visited her weekly, staying over one or two nights. Nana was always waiting for us to arrive. She greeted us at the door, she had something cooking, fresh candy in crystal dishes, and in the morning, she fried bacon and the aroma woke me and got me running downstairs. She scrambled eggs with lots of butter, and served it with Irish soda bread. It never occurred to me that these weekly trips were the cultural mix-up of my Russian Irish heritage. This was Nana’s only opportunity to spoon-feed us our Irish roots. At home with father, bacon and butter were prohibited, and bread came in the form of a bagel. The food was only one part of the adventure. Nana’s home was filled with antiques, family treasures, and her garden was a masterful collection of east and west coast varieties.
After Nana had all her errands and household chores finished, she changed into slacks, flat shoes, and a straw hat and went outside to the garden. I would follow Nana while my Mother remained indoors; most likely talking on the phone with some degree of privacy. In the garden, Nana would trim, cut, and arrange her flowers. I kneeled down beside her and watched, while she talked. Nana had the gift of gab, and her thoughts poured out without my interruption. Between sentences, she would insert a self-effacing joke, regarding her silly hat, or her short legs. Her hands were swollen from arthritis, and she rubbed them from time to time, but she did not complain. As I planted my garden, these visions of Nana remained and grew more studied and complete. I had a memory of being assigned a school project to plant something in the garden. By this time, my Mother had moved us to an apartment and we didn’t have our own garden. I went to Nana’s and she helped me plant some variety of flowers I cannot recall. Each week I’d return to see how my plant was doing. Some time after the assignment ended and we were walking in the yard, I looked to see how my plant was surviving. It had been replaced. I asked Nana what happened.
“Oh honey I hope you won’t be mad at me, but the little flower died, so I planted a new one. It’s my fault; I didn’t look after it properly.”
Nana taught me the things my mother didn’t have the time to teach; like cooking, cutting flowers and arranging them, making coffee, and setting the table. She made all these chores enjoyable, and I loved to follow her around the house and watch her change the beds, and prop up pillows, and fold the guest towels. It never occurred to me until now, that I adopted her domesticity; the sublime gratification of adorning a home for the comfort of family and friends.
The plants did not blossom, the jasmine, roses, and other varieties all wilted and turned brown, but the parties, soirees, dinners and moments of solitude are bloosoming.
“Americas ‘true romantics will be the jazz musicians and jazz writers, living by their lyrical emotions, senses.”
From The Diary of Anais Nin volume Six.”
The throw of the dice this week lands on mysteries of character. We all have our closet of masks that we reach for when we need to camouflage our fear, insecurity, disdain, or judgment.
I wore a mask the day I went to pick up Jim Marshall at the Albuquerque airport. I didn’t want to appear unprepared, inexperienced, or effusive. As soon as I recognized Jim taking his last step off the escalator, my mask cracked. I ran to him, hugged him, and clichés poured out of my mouth: I’m so happy to see you, how was the flight, welcome to New Mexico. He nodded, smiled with closed lips, and asked,
“How long does it take to get to Taos?”
“An hour and a half.” Jim’s lips tightened.
In the car, Rudy and I whisked up conversation, but the results were drippy. Jim stared out at the window. We were in the valley of lunar like scrub rush, broken down sheds, and absentee human life.
“WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE?” Jim growled
“We’re almost there, another half-hour.”
“WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE PEOPLE?”
I tried, unsuccessfully to assure Jim, there were lots of people in Taos. I read his mind; why did he make the decision to exhibit his iconic rock and roll photography in a gallery in boon-dust Taos. How much longer before he can unwind with a scotch, and call home for a taste of civility. Who are these morons driving this car anyway?
Inside the B & B suite we’d rented for Jim, I breezed across to the adobe terrace, and opened the curtains, “You like it?”
“THERE’S NO FUCKING HAIR DRYER?”
“You can borrow mine.”
“Are you hungry Jim?”
“I have a bottle of your favorite scotch.” He picked it up, and looked for a glass. I ran to the bathroom and brought him a glass.
“See you tomorrow. “ He growled.
The next day, I waited for Jim’s call. Instead I heard from Dave Brolan, Jim’s operator to the world; friend, translator, mediator and stabilizer.
“Dave, is Jim all right?”
“He’ll be all right. He’s tired and cranky. He’ll be fine tomorrow night.
“What can I do anything?”
“No, just take care of your opening business. I take care of Jim.”
I sighed deeply, and returned to the chaotic events preceding the grand opening of our gallery. Jim agreed to exhibit along with Baron Wolman and Michael Zagaris, because they hadn’t been together in a long time. I was about to ease-drop on history, with three distinguished rock and roll photographers.
My heart raced ahead of me, until 6 o’clock when Jim and Dave walked into the gallery.
“How are you Jim?” I followed behind him as he viewed the exhibition.
“Looks good.” He said. Then he was swallowed up into a crowd of guests. He stood patiently for photographs, greeted strangers with a boyish smile and brotherly handshake. He sat down at my desk and began to sign books for a tickly line of buyers. I filled his glass with scotch and he said, “Thanks sweetheart.” My heart returned to my chest. The evening transcended into a kinetic overture of rock n roll music, reminiscing of the sixties, and feverish excitement. Around midnight, after being the center of 250 to 300 Taosaneos, Jim said, “Let’s eat.” It was snowing and pitch black outside.
Our party of seven charged in and rearranged the vibe of the banal atmosphere. Once inside the dining room Michael Z, was exhibiting impersonations of Jim, while we all laughed. Marshall didn’t twitch, or sneer; he accepted being the force of raucous laughter.
A young professional looking man approached our table.
“I apologize for interrupting. When I got to the opening, you all were leaving. I’m really sorry I missed it; I’m a huge fan of your work Jim.
“How did you know we were here? I interrupted.
“I followed you.” He said.
That night and the next three nights, Jim was host to a crowd of fans that followed him around. I watched the mystery of his character, revealed, untouched, in focus, on what the photographs brought back to him. He was anointed by their admiration, without becoming inflated.
At the airport, Jim took me into his arms, “You did good LouLou.”
Two Years later.
I am in Santa Fe, and my social life is Camus strange. While I try to sell my photographs and write, my life is stifled by the absence of friends and parties. Jim called one afternoon.
“Loulou, my friends just moved to Santa Fe. Take down their number and call them.”
I called these new friends of Jim’s, and a week later, a man drove up, and leaped out of his car.
“Hi LouLou, I’m Jock.” He sat down, but his spirit was an unbolted kinetic burst of energy.
“I brought this for you.” He handed me a beautifully hand crafted book of his Cuban Series photographs.
A month or so later, I received a party invitation from Jock and his wife, Annaliese. The evening was lyrical, as friends circulated between the portals, while Jock mixed molita’s and Annaliese served Cuban food. That night, I was introduced to their friends. Now, a year later, I consider them my friends.
I called Jim after the party.
“I called to thank you.”
“What for baby?”
“For introducing me to Jock and Annaliese. Now I have friends.” Jim chuckled.
Jim passed away March 23, 2010. He was a romantic and lived by lyrical emotions and senses.