ADVENTURES IN EXPECTATIONS


“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.”
“LouLou!”
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.”
“Why?”
“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?”
“Yes.”
TO BE CONTINUED

WORK IN PROGRESS ON MAURICE


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. Two cars pulled in behind her, and came to 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.

Demons and Dramas


Ben Siegel

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.”
“Why not?”
“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.

MY MOTHER MY HEROINE


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.

 

MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT


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.  folliesls@aol.com

A WRITER ALONE


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.

IN THE GARDEN


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.