"I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves." Ludwig Wittgenstein

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nearly in the Chips

Lola was standing at her kitchen sink, staring vacantly out the window, and eating chocolate chip cookies from a large bag. At first, Richard barely noticed as she dipped into the bag and pulled a cookie out, but then, as he watched her successive movements, he gradually became aware that she was separating the chips from the host cookie, and only eating the chips.

“Lola, you’re just eating the chips. Why aren’t you eating the cookie?”

Lola looked at Richard, and gave him a look that nearly shouted, You dunce, if you separate the chips from the cookie, they have no calories?

Instead, Lola said, “Richard honey, can you please pass me the milk?”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gambling Man?

With the calculator on her I-phone, Jackie did a quick computation. Let’s see, the average life expectancy in the U.S, is 77.7 years. That equals 28,360.5 days of life--average life. I am 38 years old, and some change. So I’ve lived 13, 870 days, already—almost half a life. Of course, no matter how long I live, each day represents a larger percentage of the time I have left on earth. And like the doctor said, ‘We’re all going to die sometime…most of us just don’t know when or where.”

Jackie shivered just a tiny flutter, as she wondered if her new friend, Buck, might just happen to be a gambling man?

Not Quite A Drowning

The approaching five-foot wave had initially looked as if it would pass by and break safely behind him, but unexpectedly, as if it had been hit by a sudden surge of backwash or riptide, had peaked, and broken directly in front of Buck. To avoid being caught inside the break zone, where he knew he would be pushed violently back toward shore, Buck immediately thrust the sharp nose of his surfboard down beneath the on-coming avalanche of roiling whitewater, as he frantically attempted to press the board down into the safer depths, toward the sandy bottom.

With his eyes closed and the rush of gritty sea water sounding like a strangled roar, he felt the resistant buoyancy of the surfboard push him back up toward the bubbling surface. For a fleeting moment, Buck's surfboard had become a writhing body on which he lay, one that violently resisted his downward intention, and refused to be 'drowned.'

A few seconds later, gasping for air, Buck surfaced on the backside of the breaker and felt a moment of relief, as he turned his board around to face the smooth backs of the successive waves rolling toward shore. With much effort, Buck had managed to paddle out beyond the breaking waves, and now sat upright on the glassy, gently rolling surface, where the undulating groundswell of the early forming combers offered an illusory sense of peace and tranquility.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Second Thoughts, First

“I think you’ve had some challenges with men,” Jackie clinically observed to Lola, who sat staring, wide-eyed and incredulous at the pedestrian understatement of her therapist. “The stories you’ve told me since our first meeting, a few months ago, the stories about your father and about being a young woman in Hollywood, make me wonder if this is the best place for you, especially given your history?”

Is this, Lola wondered, what I am paying her 150 dollars an hour to tell me?

Lola then made a metal note of how much of her father’s monthly “stipend” she’d spent so far, just to learn about her ‘struggles’ with men. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, as she wondered if she would have learned something much more useful if she had just come out and accused Jackie of sleeping with Richard?

On the other hand, Lola thought, maybe she’s right, maybe I’m not cut out to make it in Hollywood?

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Undiscovered Country

Buck finished-up writing his 2000 world article for Travel and Leisure. He despised the fact that he needed to write for these upscale "glamor" mags, the ones who targeted the well-heeled, the affluent. He hated to write chatty little stories that made the “underdeveloped world” “come alive” in a way that would entice the moneyed reader to visit the often impoverished and destitute landscape that appeared so quaint and beautiful in the magazine’s full color spreads. But Buck had to make a living, and these articles made it possible for him to do so.

As he proofed his text, and prepared to send the file off to his publisher, his mind drifted to visions of Jackie, who felt to him like a complete and as yet, 'undiscovered country.'

Hadn’t Hamlet called death an 'undiscovered country?' Buck ruminated.

Fish Dreaming

The small aquarium in Lola’s living room shone like a dazzling TV screen that inadvertently had been left on in the middle of the otherwise unlit night. The Yellow Damsels and Emperor Angel Fish darted about, like colorful bolts of lightning under the uninterrupted light. The air filter hummed unerringly.

Lola, shuffled through the midnight on the way to the kitchen to get one spoonful of Hagan Daz. She had a craving.

“Go to bed Olie, go to sleep Diablo,” she whispered as she headed back to her empty bed, where she would drift back to sleep again, and dream of fish who would speak to her about the feel of the deep against the smooth plates of their scaly, silver skin.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Her Little Secret

It had been a year since Jackie had received the diagnosis.

Thinking now, about the scene that had occurred in her doctor’s office, she felt simultaneously despairing and angry.

She recalled that when she had responded to the disastrous news by saying to her doctor, “So we don’t know when or where it will happen, but basically you’re handing me a death sentence,” her doctor had retorted, “We’re all going to die sometime, Jackie, and most us don’t know when or where.”

Jackie remembered the moment well; it had seemed amazingly callous, yet it was the truth.

She resolved from that moment on, two things: she would live in whatever way she wanted to, and she would never tell, anyone—not a soul—about her death sentence.

It would be her “little secret,” hers alone.

She Loves L.A.

Los Angeles is an immense city, sprawling over hundreds of square miles, a seemingly endless urban blanket of “built environment,” where automobiles are the de facto native population, and people seem like an added afterthought, a slapdash attempt to humanize an otherwise non-human landscape. Except in occasional incongruous patches of nearly treeless parks, which appear to be placed haphazardly about the city, L.A. is unrelieved by any connection to what could be construed as the ‘natural environment’ Here, even the rivers are concrete-lined.

On some days, when the winds refuse to blow the smog into the burnt brown foothills and further up into the San Gabriel Mountains, the low hovering sky becomes the color of gray-white cement, and appears as impenetrable as concrete.

It was now 2 PM, as Lola sat in traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway, where, with 73,000 other commuters, she was stopped dead in her car, unable to move. Today, her immobilized Toyota felt more like a casket, than a means of transportation: How can anyone live under the weight of this unrelenting sky?

Get to the Bottom of This

It wasn’t that she was naturally a criminal; she wasn’t. It’s just that ever since she had received the results of the genetic test, her knowledge about her future sometimes became too much for her to bear. It sometimes drove her to do things she wouldn’t otherwise do.

The car theft, picking up a handsome stranger after drinking all morning in a bar—what had these meant to her?

Jackie was an excellent therapist. She knew that sooner or later she would get to the bottom of her own issues—-whether she wanted to or not.

Shrink

Buck was eager to see Jackie again. He was a little surprised at this desire, because he never expected to be so attracted to a woman who was a car thief, and one who began drinking in downtown bars well before noon. He certainly never expected to be attracted to a woman whose profession was “getting inside” the heads of others.

Buck knew therapy was a strange practice, even stranger than auto theft. But that didn’t matter now; he wanted to see Jackie one more time. Even if she were a “shrink.”

First Lie

Lola, of course, didn’t want to confess that the reason she was here meeting with Jackie was to ferret out information, any information, about this attractive woman who now sat across from her, the woman whom she thought may be having an affair with her boyfriend. No, the last thing Lola wanted to mention today, was anything having to do with Richard. Tempted as she was to confront Jackie, she knew she couldn’t just come out and say, “So you’re the one who Richard is sleeping with!”

“So what brings you here to talk with me, today?” Jackie inquired as she initiated their first session together.

Lola responded with a generic and astonishingly unimaginative, “Oh, I guess you could say it’s my troubles with men.”

“Ummm….”Jackie responded, neutrally, in the inimitable way that therapists do, revealing nothing more than an acknowledgment that her new client had uttered what was probably the first of many yet-to-come lies.

Lying to the Police

The police were astonishingly polite. They knocked at Richard’s front door, waited patiently for Richard to answer their knock, and when he answered, explained that they were conducting a routine investigation of an auto theft, and wanted ask him “just a few questions.” They even called him “sir.”

As one officer, a lumbering man who looked as if he had killed many criminals in his career, began to ask Richard if he had any knowledge of a couple that he may have seen walking along Mulholland on June 30th--a thin brunette in her mid-to-late 30s dressed in a print dress and a man wearing dark blue jeans and a striped businessman’s shirt--Richard couldn’t help but lie, “No, I didn't see anyone by that description.”

How did they ever find me? Richard worried, almost audibly, as he smiled a big, charming smile, as he lied to the two police officers.

The policemen, seemingly satisfied by Richard’s denial of having seen Jackie and Buck, departed from Richard's doorstep, but not before one of the officer’s, the quiet one who had let his partner do all the questioning, turned to Richard and said, “By the way, we may need to call on you in the future…I hope you don’t mind.”

Cold Handshake

Lola parked her car outside Jackie’s small, Spanish style home, just south of Melrose. She had found the address with no trouble, and after she got out of the car, she walked along a small cement path that led to the back of the house, where she entered Jackie’s small, but quite comfortably furnished office.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Jackie said, as she extended her hand and looked Lola directly in the eye for a second longer than was entirely comfortable for Lola.

Jackie was warm, but not overly so, and she seemed to size-up her new client with a slow head-to-toe glance that made Lola feel that she was being surveyed for something more than a professional, therapeutic relationship.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, too,” Lola replied, as she took a seat in what appeared to be a leather recliner that was draped in rich-hued , red and tan, Persian tapestry.

Jackie noted that her new client was very blond and very beautiful, but that her handshake had been weak and that her hand was notably cold for a mid-July day.

Lights Out

On the way to her first therapy appointment with Jackie Weston, Lola found that, for some inexplicable reason, scenes from her childhood were now popping into her head. Although the day was sunny and the Santa Monica freeway was crowded with traffic, in her mind’s eye, she had been transported to her parents’ house in Boston, years ago, when she was about 13.

Letting herself drift, now, Lola recalled the times when, to escape the mid-summer heat and humidity, she would descend the house’s stairs, and enter the cool, musty, catacomb of the basement. Even though it had felt a little eerie, she liked the stillness and the feeling of total aloneness she experienced as she explored what felt like a “secret territory” that belonged only to her. She recalled now, a particular instance, when she had been exploring the shadowy nooks and crannies, and the basement lights had suddenly gone out, leaving her in total jet black darkness. She literally felt her way across the basement’s lightless wilderness, toward the stairway, and then on hands and knees, she ascended the stairs toward the dull and normal ‘everydayness’ of her well lit home, which, despite its seeming luminosity, sometimes felt to her far more like death and oblivion, than any pitch-black basement ever could.

Winter in July

Lola opened the package she’d received that morning by UPS, from her father in Boston, unwrapping it carefully, and taking extra care not to break its contents. She discovered however, that rather than something delicate and breakable, the package contained a set of ultra soft, flannel sheets. She loved flannel sheets, but the weather in Los Angles hardly called for such cozy bed linens.

She knew her father was well-intentioned and that he really loved her, even if his gifts were sometimes a little “off.” In many ways, she mused, Richard and father are quite similar.

Even though it was only 7 PM, she made her bed with the new sheets, turned the air conditioner up all the way to high, and snuggled, like a tightly swaddled child, under the sheets’ warm reassuring fabric.

Cash Back?

On her way back from what she feared to be another failed audition, Lola stopped into a little boutique on 4th St. to buy a little “consolation gift” for herself, something to make her feel better. She was a good actress, not yet great, but good, and she had immense acting potential, if she could just get some parts with which to practice her art. She intended to buy just a blouse or an inexpensive new dress, but she ended up buying a tiny little designer purse for $700.

“Seven hindered dollars!” Richard exploded, when she later told him about her shopping diversion .

“Yes $700 dollars.”

“My God, Lola, did it come equipped with $600 cash-back refund, stuffed into the inner pocket?”

Audition

No one understands who I am, or the pain of what it is to be me, just plain me. No one “gets” how hard it is to just hold on to who I am. It’s just so difficult, so incredibly difficult, to hold out against what the world is so desperately trying to make me be. I won’t be that person, that puppet, that imitation of myself. I’m not that person. I’m someone else.

With that, Lola finished reading the lines from the page, laid the script down on the chair next to her, and in front of an astonished director and hushed room, began to sob uncontrollably at her realization of how perfectly one’s life can imitate art.

Drive, She Said.

Jackie slid a large hoop earring into each of her earlobes, and threw back her long, wavy brunette hair, as if she were readying herself for a job interview. She wasn’t of course. In fact, she was only headed out to do the week’s grocery shopping, a mundane task that she disliked as much as she disliked some of her clients. Jackie knew that shopping was a necessity--especially if one is to eat--- just as she knew that some clients would inevitably be unlikable.

Even though she was not a Freudian--- in fact she was far from it---Jackie nonetheless liked and had long-remembered that one of her favorite quotes was by Dr. Freud, “A certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive, especially to a psychologist.”

Lola Makes the Call

Lola looked at the business card which contained on the back, Richard’s neat handwriting.

So, Richard’s seeing a female shrink, is he? she erroneously surmised. I guess I should have suspected it. He has seemed a little depressed these last few weeks—ever since he had to admit his comedy routine wasn’t funny and his stand-up career was going nowhere. It’s too bad that he’s had to take a job as a chauffeur, but it can’t be such a bad job driving studio executives around and meeting famous celebrities, not really?

Lola picked up her phone and began to dial the number on the front of the business card. She was eager to make an appointment to meet this “Dr. Jackie Weston,” even if Lola imagined she would have to fabricate a range of psychological “issues,” in order to get her first appointment.

The Morning After (Halloween)

Why are all the things that taste good, fattening?

Lola looked at the bowl of leftover Halloween candy on her kitchen table: Snickers, Baby Ruth, Three Musketeers, M&Ms, KitKats, and Whoppers.

Everything is fattening.

She unwrapped a mini-package of Whoppers and thought about Richard.

Three malted milk balls per package.

And why do you learn the most from the things you’re not supposed to do?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

She Loves L.A.

Los Angeles is an immense city, sprawling over hundreds of square miles, a seemingly endless urban blanket of “built environment,” where automobiles are the de facto native population, and people seem like an added afterthought, a slapdash attempt to humanize an otherwise non-human landscape. Except in occasional incongruous patches of nearly treeless parks, which seemingly have been placed haphazardly about the city, L.A. is unrelieved by any connection to what could be construed as the ‘natural environment’ Here, even the rivers are concrete-lined.

On some days, when the winds refuse to blow the smog into the burnt brown foothills and further up into the San Gabriel Mountains, the low hovering sky becomes the color of gray-white cement, and appears as impenetrable as concrete.

It was now 2 PM, as Lola sat in traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway, where along with 73,000 other commuters, she was stopped dead in her car, unable to move. Today, her immobilized Toyota felt more like a casket, than a means of transportation: How can anyone live under the weight of this unrelenting sky?

Occam’s Razor

Lola wondered why Richard hadn’t said anything to her about him seeing a therapist. Maybe he was embarrassed, or maybe he forgot? Then she remembered: ‘Occam’s razor,” “Of two equivalent theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred.” She paused for a moment. Was Richard depressed or was he “seeing” another woman? Lola preferred the simplest explanation, and cautiously opened the medicine cabinet, peering in to see if she had any double edged razors on hand.

Not Even a Wedding Ring to Protect Him

Buck was a moderately observant person; it was a requirement of his profession. As Jackie drove him home, he noticed that she wasn’t now wearing those gloves, those dainty little lace gloves, she had worn when she had driven the stolen Mercedes.

Fingerprints! Why didn’t I think of this sooner. Of course, she was wearing those to protect her from leaving any trace in the stolen Mercedes.

Richard immediately looked down at his bare hands…naked, not even a wedding ring to protect him.

Long-Horn Steer and Six AM Budweisers

Buck was dressed in his customary dark blue, 505 Levis and a white button down long sleeve dress shirt, although the sleeves of the latter were rolled up to just below the elbows, giving him the appearance—at least from the waist up---of a business man, hard at work.

Buck had long worn what he’d come to think of as his “uniform”: jeans, cowboy boots, and a dress shirt—white or striped. He wore the same sartorial arrangement today, as he did 15 years ago, when he had been a student in Boston. Back in his college days, his friends used to call him “Cowboy” because he was from California, and in their jaundiced view, everyone who came from west of the Mississippi to attend college in the East was considered a rustic ‘cowboy,’ certainly anyone who came from California and was named “Buck”. In fact, most of his college classmates thought he’d never make anything of himself, but much to Buck’s pleasure---they had been wrong.

In the years after college, Buck had become a pretty successful writer—mostly travel writing and short stories for magazines--even if, to most, he still looked like someone who should be roping long-horn steer and pounding down multiple Budweisers, long before high noon.

Home Therapy

“Don’t you find it a little frightening to see clients in your home?” Buck asked Jackie.“It must be weird for you to have crazy people in your house?”

Jackie smiled as she corrected Buck’s mis-impression, “I don’t see them right here in my living room, Buck. I have a separate office, with a separate entrance. My clients don’t parade through the front door, and saunter through my private living space. Besides, they aren’t exactly ‘crazy’…well at least most of them aren’t, anyway.”

Rosary

Had Richard been seeing a therapist? Lola wondered. She loved Richard, and she knew he was intelligent, but he was also so up-beat and optimistic and well, Pollyanna-ish. He didn’t seem the “type” to be in therapy. On the other hand, maybe she was underestimating Richard’s complexity---she detected that he had a deeper, maybe even darker, side? Just because he was good looking, didn’t necessarily mean he had to be a vacuous “airhead,” like all the other Hollywood pretty boys Lola met at her auditions.

As Lola pondered Richard’s hidden complexity, his hidden mystery, she absentmindedly unbuttoned the top button on her blouse, and slowly worked the pearlized white button between her left hand’s thumb and slender forefinger, as if the shiny white button were a well-worn bead in an imaginary rosary.

Not a Thing Out of Place

Wait a minute. What am I worrying about? Richard reminded himself. She doesn’t know that I entered her apartment—how could she? She’ll never discover that I read her journal. I left everything exactly as I found it. Not a thing out of place.

Mortal Sin

Richard paced around his apartment. He was distraught. He had disappointed himself and he violated a sacred trust, he knew it. It was absolutely taboo for him to read Lola’s journal, even if it was only a few pages. He felt like he had sinned and this was a “mortal sin,” from which he knew he would never recover.” Not as long as Lola was alive.

The Unworried Psychotic

Jackie spent a good deal of her time listening to people talk about their troubles, their challenges, their childhood’s of abuse and neglect and violence. Consequently, she welcomed the occasion when she would encounter a client who had enjoyed a happy childhood and, despite what they thought, a pretty decent adult life. She welcomed a chance—too rare for her tastes--- to treat the “worried well,” the client who only thought she had problems, but didn’t really. These clients were the ones that gave Jackie a moment of rest, amid a clinical day otherwise filled with mental ice picks and the engulfed psyches of her more disturbed clients. Paradoxically, Jackie sometimes found that her most disturbed clients, the ones who were most troubled, were those who most felt that they lived pretty “normal’ lives--the “unworried psychotic.”

Bad Jigsaw

Why would a woman who was beautiful and a successful psychotherapist steal a Mercedes and take it on a joyride across LA? And why, Buck wondered, would such a woman spend the morning drinking in a downtown bar with her brother, his friend, and an assortment of daytime drunks? The pieces of the puzzle just didn’t fit. At least not to Buck’s immediate satisfaction. But Buck knew that the world was not a neat jigsaw. He’d learned from experience that the pieces seldom neatly fit, no matter how much we insist that they do.

Anatomically Incorrect?

While Richard drove home, he reflected on his life. What good was it, he wondered, having a girlfriend who loved him, if she hated him? I don’t think Lola ever really forgave me for that rooster suit I wore on our first date. She’s such a complex person. I should have been more cautions. I wonder if she would have preferred it if I wore a different costume, say the Ken doll costume, even if it is anatomically incorrect?

Blue Ink

In her white, New Balance running shoes, Lola strode across the living room floor toward her tiny kitchen.

Suddenly, she stopped for a moment, as if arrested by something she’d detected that was out of place in the living room.

She recalled…or at least thought she did… that when she’d departed her apartment for her walk, earlier in the day, she’d left her journal opened to her latest entry. Yes, she remembered now, that the pen she used for today’s entry—a long one, about her qualms about being in love with Richard--- had rested in the spine of the book, like a bookmark. Now however, the journal was closed shut, tighter than a safe deposit box, and the blue gel pen, her favorite for journal writing, was nowhere in the vicinity.

She glanced at the business card with Richard’s message and thought, Maybe I’m just imaging things, but Richard’s message is written in blue, gel pen ink.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Lola returned to her apartment to find a small, white business card wedged in the gap between the front door and the door frame. She pulled it out and read its neatly lettered, almost architectural, handwriting on the back, “Dropped by to say hello, but you weren’t home.” She turned the card over and noticed that Richard’s note had been written on the back of a business card for a psychotherapist, named Jackie Weston. Lola mused for a moment, before turning the door’s unlocked doorknob and opening the front door. I really should start locking my door whenever I go out. This is a nice neighborhood, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Beautiful Felon

Buck raised the coffee cup to his lips and noticed that his hand was trembling. Just slightly trembling. Jackie was busy pouring herself a cup, so she didn’t notice when Buck, in a moment of self-consciousness, paused,to steady his hand by resting the rim of the coffee mug on his lower lip for a moment. The coffee smelled powerfully strong.

He smiled at Jackie as she leaned over her cup and poured a little cream into its waiting rim. My God, he thought, she is the most beautiful felon I have ever seen.

Matching Socks

Maybe I was too hard on Richard, Lola thought, but why did he have to ask me a question like that? I really like Richard. I wouldn’t have spent this much time with him, if I didn’t. Or, God… maybe I am just desperate? And lonely? Anyway, even if I am, I really shouldn’t have told him when he asked me last week what I liked about him, that the two things that really stand out for me about him are that he smells clean and his socks always match?

Open Secrets

As he peered in through her living room window, Richard could see that there was a book, with egg-shell colored pages, open on the coffee table, just a few feet away.

It was a large book, and he recognized, even from this nose-pressed-to-the-window distance, that it contained hand written pages, in what appeared to be Lola’s large, looping handwriting.

(Richard had long thought that Lola’s writing looked like that of a 7th grade girl; she deployed large whirling stokes of the pen, and often made little smiley faces out of the dotted “I”s”—even on the checks she wrote to Richard, whenever she lent him money.)

As he looked in, all Richard could now imagine, was that a thick book like this, adorned with Lola’s handwritten pages, was probably a collection of her favorite recipes.

Little did he know now that this book would be what Lola would later refer to as “my journal,” and that it contained Lola’s most intimate thoughts, most candid confessions.

And of course, he would later discover that he would be morally conflicted when, at last, he got a chance to page through just a few of its candidly confessed secrets.

Life May Not Reach to the End

As he peered in through her living room window, Richard could see that there was a book, with egg-shell colored pages, open on the coffee table, just a few feet away.

It was a large book, and he recognized, even from this nose-pressed-to-the-window distance, that it contained hand written pages, in what appeared to be Lola’s large, looping handwriting.

(Richard had long thought that Lola’s writing looked like that of a 7th grade girl; she deployed large whirling stokes of the pen, and often made little smiley faces out of the dotted “I”s”—even on the checks she wrote to Richard, whenever she lent him money.)

As he looked in, all Richard could now imagine, was that a thick book like this, adorned with Lola’s handwritten scrawl, was probably a collection of her favorite recipes.

Little did he know now that this book would be what later Lola would later refer to as “my journal,” and that it contained Lola’s most intimate thoughts, most candid confessions.

And of course, he would later discover that he would be morally conflicted when, at last, he got a chance to page through a just a few of its candidly confessed secrets.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good, Bad Luck

As it turned out, it wasn’t Jackie’s car, but after she kissed Buck and said, “Get in, Buck,” he climbed in anyway. Buck probably shouldn’t have listened to her, and done what she’d said. That would have been really good, bad luck.

Buck hadn't ridden in a Mercedes for a really long time, and this one seemed pretty plush—maybe it belonged to an executive from downtown, a banker or something, or someone from one of the movie studios out in the Valley.

As she drove across 6th St., Buck noticed that Jackie’s hair was splashing back, like a bunch of willows in a breeze, and she seemed to sober-up really fast for a woman who had spent the better part of the morning drinking with her brother at Mike’s Bar.

Buck asked her if she had ever stolen a car before, and he couldn't tell if she was joking or not, when she replied, “Sure, plenty of times, but I never asked anyone to ride with me---you’re the first, honey.”

Decaffeinated Only

“Do you typically steal cars and then ditch them on Mulholland ?” Buck asked Jackie, just after they entered her front door.

“Do you typically ride along on joy rides?” Jackie retorted.

“No, not with women I’ve only known for an hour or so.”

“You look like you could use some coffee, Buck, would you like me to make you some?”

“Yeah sure, do you have decaff? The regular keeps me up all damn day.”

Peeping Richard

Richard stopped by Lola’s apartment. He rang the doorbell, but Lola didn’t answer. He rang it again. Still no Lola. He tried to peer into the front living room window, but was afraid how his doing so might appear to the neighbors. Damn the neighbors, Richard thought, as he pressed his nose to the glass and stood on the tips of his toes, like a young child looking longingly into a pet store window.

She Hated Love

I am attracted to Richard, but I have other things to do with my life. I can’t get bogged down with a guy who is a chauffeur, a failed comedian, and--- God knows, my father warned me--- a philosophy major.

Walking along the path that overlooked the sparkling Pacific below, Lola told herself that her heart had other purposes, than to be in love. She clenched her fists and strode on, past the rose garden and its floral splashes of red and orange and white that seemed to explode in the late afternoon sun. She hated roses, she hated love.

She bit her bottom lip---until it bled.

Hair-Trigger Boredom

I’m stuck in a low level service job, Richard ruminated. People think that it’s easy chauffeuring around the rich and powerful, the famous and the disturbed. They think that all you do is sit there and drive. But it’s not that easy—boredom never is. I once read that a man who is bored, is just as dangerous as a loaded gun in the hand of a toddler.

Driving home from work, Richard decided he would stop by Lola’s, because today he had nothing better to do than to tell Lola he loved her.

Walk it Off

Lola liked Richard a lot. But she was tired of something, something that she couldn’t exactly “put her finger on.” She felt exhausted and exasperated, too—like she hadn’t had enough of something, or maybe she had had too much of something else.

She threw on here running shoes, scampered down the stairs of her apartment, and decided to go for a walk along the palisades in Santa Monica, where she hoped the bright sun and salt sea breeze might cure her of her blahs. She wasn’t sure if she’d be back for dinner. Or ever.

Show Biz Kids

Richard preferred the blues, but he liked the jazzy, rock stuff too. After exchanging his Lincoln Town Car for a his beat up Toyota Corolla, he drove home from work. He slid into traffic, and turned on the car radio, hoping that some music might help to reduce his inexplicable fever, or at least help him to forget it. Steely Dan was playing , “Show Biz Kids.”

He loved the lyrics--they made him think of his clients...and oddly, he now realized, of Lola too.

While the poor people sleepin'
With the shade on the light
While the poor people sleepin'

All the stars come out at night

Show business kids making movies
Of themselves, you know they
Don't give a fuck about anybody else.

Time Telescope

When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity.” --Albert Einstein, News Chronicle, 1949

Lola sat, immobilized, on her couch, as stripes of late afternoon sun streaked in through her living room window.

How slowly time sometimes passes, she thought.

The telescope of time
.

Look through one end, and the seconds, up-close, magnified, drag on so slowly that nothing changes, nothing happens—minutes are weeks. Reverse the telescope and look through the other end, and years, like scurrying ants, speedily scramble by.

Lola wanted something, anything, that would anchor her in ‘real’ time, daily time, the time of the clock, but she knew that in moments like these, she lived in slow motion--life barely carried on—and there was nothing she could do about it, but sit here and wait…wait for something, or someone.

Fever Wallpaper

Driving back towards work, Richard reflected on how Buck and Jackie had appeared as they walked toward the house.

There was something about the way that Jackie walked that made Richard want to check into a hotel and spend two weeks alone in a foreign city, maybe Paris. What was it about that woman, he wondered? Maybe it was the pattern on her skirt that reminded him of French wallpaper—only moving, undulating.

He raised his right hand from the steering wheel, just for a moment, and felt his forehead, as he thought, Didn’t the French invent wall paper?

His forehead felt feverish, but his body was shivering.

Steady As She Goes

Richard looked at the business card and its neat lettering, and then looked up into Jackie’s dark brown eyes, “You’re a psychotherapist?” he gasped, more than questioned.

Again Jackie smiled and said, “You never know, someday you might need someone to talk to.”

And with that, Jackie turned toward Buck, who now appeared a little unsure of his bearings, and offered him her arm.

As the couple walked away from Richard, it seemed as if Jackie was guiding Buck toward the front door of the house, almost as if Buck didn’t quite recognize where he was going.

His mind alive and skipping from observation to observation, Richard couldn’t help wondering, “Why doesn’t she wear a wedding ring?”

A few seconds later, it dawned on Richard, “Maybe their car did break down, but that man sure wasn’t her husband.”

No Place Like Home

Richard pulled the Limousine up to a small, Spanish-style, stucco, home, that was located two blocks south of Melrose. Jackie’s neighborhood appeared mildly prosperous, but worn—inching toward downward mobility—but not quite yet. Richard noticed that the house appeared to droop under some unknown weight, as if the red clay tiles were too heavy for the walls that hoped to support them.

Buck opened driver’s side the rear door of the Limousine, and as he exited, nodded a polite “Thanks” in Richard’s direction. As Jackie began to slide across the seat toward the opened car door, she discreetly pulled a crisp white business card from her minute handbag and handed it to Richard. “If you, or your family, ever need any help, please don’t hesitate to contact me,” she cooed.

Crossroads

As they approached the corner of Mulholland and West Sunset Blvd—a very tony neighborhood, not far from where Madonna lived-- Buck started softly singing, Robert Johnson’s iconic “Crossroads.”

I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride.
I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride.
Nobody seemed to know me, everybody just passed me by.

Richard loved the blues, and smiled as he heard his passenger sing a few lines from one of his favorite blues songs. He knew that the song was sung by a man who had reputedly made a pact with the devil, and he much liked the idea of a deal struck between a man in need of a ride and Satan, even if it was a little eerie to hear it sung now, by a smiling stranger who sat in the back seat of his jet black limousine.

Just Off Melrose

“Where can I take you folks?” Richard cheerfully asked.

“Oh we don’t want to be any trouble, just drop us off wherever it's convenient for you,” Jackie responded. “We’ll find our way home.”

“I don’t have to return to the studio for another two hours. I can take you home, if it’s not too far out of the way…just as long as you don’t live in San Diego or somewhere like that,” Richard grinned into the rear view mirror.

Jackie’s smiled graciously, “Oh you’re really very kind, we live in Hollywood, just off Melrose. It’s not much to look at, but we like to think of it as 'home.'”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ever the Optimist

Driving his majestic Town Car eastward, back toward Hollywood, Richard silently ruminated about his checkered employment history: chicken rancher (failed), clown children’s birthday parties, only--no circus work), stand-up comedian (two gigs at minor clubs—none in Hollywood) and now, chauffeur. My God, he thought, I am either a miserable failure or a Renaissance man! He preferred to think of himself as a Renaissance man.

He then glanced in the rearview mirror at the handsome couple in the back seat. They look successful, he thought, even if she DID lie to me about her and her husband going to the beach.

A few moments later he consoled himself, Even if I AM a failure, I’ll bet things will get better, a little further up the road.

She Wore High Heels to the Beach

Richard had taken up a low status service job. He well knew that driving a limousine for the glitterati was not as glamorous as it sounded. In fact, he had quickly learned that the better part of his humble occupation was comprised of simply waiting; waiting for VIPs and other important poobahs to arrive at his Town Car door, so that he could discreetly whisk them from point A to point B. But just because he had assumed the role of dutiful chauffeur, Richard hadn’t surrendered ALL of his faculties, all of his powers of observation.

Glancing at Jackie in the rear view mirror as she approached the car, Richard remained pretty confident in his knowledge that few women—no matter how beautiful they were, and despite what they claimed were their intended destinations-- wore high heels to the beach.

Breathing and Heartbreak

It was peculiar, but Lola couldn’t bear to bring herself to read a solitary book about the subject of love. There were too many, she discovered, many more than any reasonable person would imagine need exist about a topic that was so pervasive, so common to human experience. Everyone, or nearly everyone on earth, she thought, knew about love, in exactly the same way that everyone knew about breathing. Scarcely a single book needed to be written about it. Instead, Lola sought a book about heartbreak. Now that was a topic almost everyone in the world could benefit from learning more about.

A Too-Easy Lie

“What are you guys doing way out here, on foot? You must be a couple of cattle thieves or something?” Richard joked, hoping to break the initial awkward silence that surrounded his two new passengers.

“Oh, my husband’s car broke down while we were driving out along Mulholland toward the beach, and we decided to walk as far as we could, towards ‘civilization,’” Jackie readily lied to Richard, who was slowly easing the Town Car back on to the road.

Buck couldn’t help smiling, just a little hook of a smile, as he noted to himself how easily Jackie concocted a story to explain to their limo-driving good Samaritan their improbable stroll along the Mulholland highway.

“Thanks a lot for picking us up. I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t? ”

Envy

Lola’s face registered a shock that could have understandably been mistaken for a tremor of amazement, but looked more like envy, diluted with 100 proof disbelief. “You mean you drive people around, people from the studio, and get paid for it?”

Richard smiled the smile of a man who just laid down a full house and was about to sweep-up all the chips from the table. “Yeah, just yesterday I drove a guy from Warner Brothers up to his house, just off Mulholland. I dropped him off about noon, which seems pretty early for an executive—even a movie executive--- to go home from the office, don’t you think? It was a beautiful day—a little windy so the smog was blown back toward the San Gabriel Mountains---and I decided I’d drive back into town, all the way along Mulholland.

Richard Gets a Real Job

“You mean you’ve taken a real job?” Lola said, as she loaded groceries into the trunk of Richard’s car.

“Yes, if that’s what you want to call it, but my other jobs are "real" jobs, too,” Richard crankily protested.

“Yeah, but you haven’t had more than two performances during your entire career as a comedian, and writing poetry isn’t any kind of a job at all.”

Richard shut the car’s trunk, shrugged, and looked at Lola sheepishly.

“So what’s this new job, and when do you start?”

Richard’s cowering look gave way to a smile, as he somewhat proudly announced, “I’m a chauffeur, and I started driving---one of those long black limousines--- for one of the big studios in the Valley, just last Tuesday.”

Dirty Dishes

Listening, now, to an old song play in the background, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Richard stood at his kitchen sink, and peered at his reflection in the darkened window. The soft melody wound around him as he pictured the singer’s sweet voice and long, red hair. How much, he thought, Bonnie Raitt didn’t look like Lola—not a bit, thank goodness.

The tears began to well up in his eyes as Bonnie sang, “’Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t. You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.” He reached for the next dirty dish, mechanically sunk it in the soapy water, and desperately tried to look out into the night, to see something—anything--outside the window, but saw, instead, only the pale reflection of a man weeping over dirty dishes leftover from tonight’s dinner for one.

The Tedium of Love

The young couple, hand in hand, walking, along the street, periodically gazing into one another’s open faces and kissing as they do, what do they know of the monotony of love?

The elderly couple---married 40 years, yet still grayly in love, even as they negotiate the crowded aisles of the supermarket. Their love is an achievement, but achievements are boring statistics.

On TV, the bachelor of one channel and the bachelorette on another, each seeking the perfect, well sculpted mate, for the “one” love of a lifetime—what will happen to them as the iridescent glow of romance fades into the hum drum drone of love?

Lola had grown tired of love. It was everywhere, and it had become tedious.

Weekend Get-Away?

Richard really needed a vacation.

His stand-up routines weren’t working out for him—--not enough gigs to even come close to paying the rent—and his poetry, no matter how good he got, would never earn him a living. His temporary part-time job at Barnes and Noble allowed him to read a bit on the job, a benefit which he really liked, but he had to be careful not to linger too long in the Philosophy section, where he was once discovered by a coworker as he slept with a copy of Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime supporting his head as he snored.

Richard couldn’t wait to tell Lola his plans for their weekend get-away. He knew how Lola liked to travel and he was confident that she’d jump at a chance to get a little sun by the pool (He secretly relished a chance to see Lola in a bikini again—an opportunity that too seldom presented itself.)

Richard strode down the “Travel” aisle at work, and confidently picked out two colorful books: Las Vegas for Cheapskates and How to Win a Million in Vegas.

Midnight Hunger Pangs

Nothing that a half a gallon of ice cream wouldn’t cure. That’s what Richard was thinking as he lay there in the middle of the night, wide awake again in anguish over Lola. He wanted to bury his troubles beneath a half gallon of coffee heath bar crunch ice cream—even if it was 3 AM, and the refrigerator seemed now like it was 17 miles away.

Lola was impossible. She said that she loved him, but then she treated him like the plague.

Richard rolled over, twisting the sheets around his exhausted body, and worried himself nearly fully awake: But will the caffeine keep me up?

Risks I Have Taken

Am I risk averse? Richard wondered.

-Thought, seriously, about becoming a superhero—---part time only, of course.
-Drank from a carton of milk 3 days past its expiration date.
-Slept with Lola when she was armed.
-Quit high school (for 2 days) and ran away to join the circus—but returned after 14 hours "on the road," mainly because I was unable to bear the absence of my pet poodle, “Pesto.”
-Saw Pirates of the Caribbean, Part 1, seven times—because Lola looks like Kira Knightly—only more curvy.
-Enrolled in expensive acting class so I can learn to relate to young actresses and maybe even learn a few tips about stand-up comedy—but this didn’t go so well because I’m not funny (even in the nude, with only one shoe on)
.

Read the Last Page, First

Lola read novels, backwards---not upside down, of course— but backwards, from front-to-back. This fact drove Richard crazy.

“Why do you read the ending first? ” Richard inquired, as if he was pleading a case for the preservation of Western civilization.

“So I know, of course, how things turn out in the end,” she explained in a tone that revealed her impatience at Richard’s failure to understand the self-evident benefits of her reading technique.

“But doesn’t that take all the mystery out of reading, all the pleasure?”

“Honey,” Lola explained,” reading is like our relationship: the only reason I’ve stuck around this long--which by the way is a lot longer than I have with others--- is because I’m curious to see how it all turns out in the end.”

Munchkin, But No Wizard

“Well, the Wizard of Oz raised chickens,” Richard plaintively asserted, although he knew it wasn’t the Wizard, but rather L. Frank Baum, the Wizard’s creator, who had tried, but failed, to raise chickens, then later became an author of children’s books.

Richard didn’t tell Lola about Baum’s occupational failures--of which evidently there were more than a few--for fear that she would discern too close a parallel between Richard’s previous career success and Baum’s pre-Oz occupational failure rate.

Instead, he said, “And he wrote poetry, TOO!” as if this claim would be the knock-out punch that would convince Lola of Richard’s budding, yet unrecognized, literary promise.

Lola, a woman of hard-nosed realism, even if at times it were overtaken by occasional moments of dreamy romanticism, looked Richard squarely in the eye. “Richard,” she stiffly, almost accusingly, declared, “...you MAY be a poet, and you may be a former chicken rancher, but you’re sure as hell no ‘Wizard!’”

Decisively put in his place, Richard immediately turned emerald green, and he felt a little less than three-feet tall.

Gradual Cooling?

Richard suddenly awakened. He hadn’t been dreaming, just a blank sleep, from which he abruptly arose, as if he had been electrocuted. He looked at the clock—3:00AM-- and after his initial shock began to subside, settled into a resigned bout of half-wakefulness, which he knew would last at least an hour, before he would submerge again into the dark blankness of a full sleep.

His mind turned to thoughts of Lola, but not as you might imagine a man might think in the early morning hours about his lover, but rather, he began to worry, to brood, about how Lola never called him. Then he thought ‘She never invites me over to her house anymore; I have to invite myself.” His anxiousness deepened as he further agonized, ‘She rarely kisses me anymore, either.’

Richard began to fear if, in fact, there wasn’t something “wrong” between he and Lola, or if he was just irrationally imagining some change in the ‘temperature’ of their relationship, a gradual cooling which he feared was really more than a mere cooling, more like an un-recognized chilling in their formerly searing love?

Asset or Liability?

“Inspiration doesn’t come just like that, you know,” Richard whined, defensively, “it takes time for me to be ‘inspired.’ Besides , you know that I don’t have a lot of time to write poetry, when my ‘day job' is all about telling jokes.”

Lola looked dubiously at Richard and wondered what she had gotten herself into? She silently tallied Richard’s shortcomings: former chicken rancher, 2nd rate comedian, almost penniless—good looking yes and loved her, yes--- but really, what was she doing with this guy, anyway?

Just then, Richard interrupted Lola’s mental accounting of his flaws, “Hey I think I have an idea for a new poem—a love poem."

Lola reminded herself that she needed to add “would-be poet” to her mental tally of Richard’s most prominent characteristics, but she wondered, ‘Is being a poet one of Richard’s assets, or one of his liabilities?’

Muse’s Complaint

“What’s the matter with you, why don’t you ever write me love poems,” Lola asked? “If I’m your muse, your inspiration---like you say I am--- you’d think that at least once in a while, you’d manage to write something that celebrates your ‘muse'.”

In the bar’s clammy darkness, Richard sheepishly turned over his paper napkin, pulled out his ballpoint, and hurriedly began to scribble, “The stars illuminate a fierce and furious power. Their fuse ignites each living thing, green and flesh. You are the army of my sun. I am your conquered planet.”

Artists, Not Brain Surgeons

Even if he was a stand-up comedian and Lola was an actress, Richard was curious about why both he and Lola had chosen to become "artists"? So he conducted some library research and, much to his surprise, found that there are a number of theories about why art exists, about art’s “evolutionary function” in the human species.

One theory, he read about, said that the drive to seek out aesthetic experiences evolved in humans because these help us to learn about parts of the world we wouldn’t otherwise learn about—through art we explore new “worlds,” in a safe environment.

Another theory maintains that art is part of a social bonding process---that art makes things special, indeed sacred, and that this shared sense of the sacred helped to bind early humans together.

Still another theory, one about sexual selection and evolutionary “fitness,” says that art is like the peacock’s tail, it is functionally useless, but it signals to potential mates, “Look you should choose me for a mate because the size of my tail indicates that I am a healthy bird, and have a better chance producing healthy offspring--Pick me, pick me!”

When on Friday night, he had dressed in his most expensive suit, and wore his most alluring aftershave, Richard shared these theories with Lola, she immediately knitted her brow into a skeptical pinch, and rebuked him, “Richard, you idiot, the reason we are artists is that we're both too lazy to study to become brain surgeons.”

Invasion of the Love Robots

Shivering with excitement, Lola couldn’t wait to read the script that she’d heard about from her agent, Lou. Lou had called yesterday to say that this was just the opportunity that Lola needed to show the world ALL her acting talents, and that this film would be a remake of a classic Hollywood science fiction thriller---although he assured her, it would be much up-dated with special effects. He said the film would be a cross between The Matrix and Gone with the Wind, but when Lola had asked him the name of the script, Lou claimed that he couldn’t remember.“Not to worry, “ Lou said, “I’m sending it over by over-night mail, it should be there by tomorrow morning. I’m telling ya, you’re gonna love it.”

As Lola hurriedly opened the bubble-wrapped envelope that contained the script for “Invasion of the Love Robots,” she began to wonder if she might not benefit from acquiring a new agent---maybe one who had a better memory, one who had a slightly more refined appreciation of her acting skills.

Tight Fit on the First Date

Thinking back to his first date with Lola, Richard recalled how it had taken him nearly two hours to shoehorn himself into his rented rooster costume. The zipper was nearly impossible to zip up, especially with his hands encased in the costume’s red and gold, mock feather wings. But somehow, after struggling and contorting into what seemed like a thousand different pretzel-like positions, he was finally able to get everything in order.

As he stood there, gazing proudly into the full-length mirror, admiring his bright cockscomb, he found himself wondering if maybe the idea of meeting a woman who was knowledgeable about pre-Socratic philosophy, while he was dressed in a bright red , almost inescapable rooster outfit, might have any drawbacks? Only, he thought, if she really, really liked him. But, sadly, that hadn’t been a problem Richard had to confront on any of his other first dates, of which regrettably, there had been far too many.

Rooster’s Love

Richard had studied philosophy in college, a fact that would go a long way toward explaining his post-college career, first as a chicken rancher, than later as a stand-up comedian. It would also explain his familiarity with the pre-Socratic philosophers. Lola too, had studied philosophy in college, a fact that would explain her excitement about finding Richard’s ad in the on-line personals. Nothing of course, could even come close to explaining Lola’s romantic interest in a man who showed up for their first date wearing a Rooster outfit and asking silly questions about which came first, the chicken or the egg. Unless of course, there was something more to Richard, than immediately met one’s eye. Evidently, Lola felt that there had been something more to Richard, even if he did refuse to remove his Rooster costume when they had first made love.

Lonely As An Empty Well

Lola hadn't liked the idea of answering a personal ad, especially an on-line ad; it made her feel desperate and hopeless and cheap. 'Why,' she wondered, 'should I need to search the personal ads, when there are so many men attracted to me, and I'm asked out, or more accurately, “hit on,” so many times each week?"

But Lola was lonely in that particular way that only beautiful, indeed, very beautiful, women are lonely; empty-well lonely, and thirsting for the kind of recognition and acknowledgment that the men in Hollywood couldn't even imagine a woman needed. She desperately wanted someone who could see beyond her physical beauty, someone who understood her and knew who she ‘really’ was.

Each week Lola looked through the on-line personal ads, and when after a few months of disappointment and near resignation to a life of utter and unrelieved loneliness, she finally glimpsed an ad that sought a woman who loved pre-Socratic philosophy and Martinis without olives, she was certain that this was the one man, the one-in-a-billion, who might just be her perfect mate. Little did she know, of course, that Richard would show up for their first date, in a chicken outfit asking that one unanswerable question that even the pre-Socratic philosophers avoided like the plague: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Sometimes Trouble Weighs an Ounce

No one could take their eyes of Lola, even the married men from the Valley who’d arrived at the club with their wives in tow, and who, despite their late arrival had been shown to the front row.

Lola stepped up to the microphone, and began to sing. She looked so slender, so lithe, in the spotlight, as if a whisper might whisk her over the edge of the stage, which seemed, from where Richard sat, to be as high as the rim of a canyon. She sang beautifully; with a kind of confidence that only seasoned performers displayed. But what song was she singing?

Later, after the evening had ended, when Richard asked Lola the name of the song she had sung, he wasn't even surprised to learn that she had performed a tranquil rendition of The Black Keys' “Psychotic Girl.”

The Chicken or the Egg?

“You lied to me!” Lola accused.
“No, I told you I was “rich,” but what I meant was I had a wealth of experience,” Richard responded. “Besides you lied to me. You said that you loved men with a sense of humor, men who knew just how to treat a lady.” Richard couldn’t understand just why Lola felt so disappointed after he had showed up for their first date, wearing a chicken costume, and why she had never let him forget that the first words out of his mouth (well, beak, actually) had been, “Bet you don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Money in the Bank

Richard’s on-line personal ad had read:

“Tall, handsome, white male, with used Rooster suit, a smile a mile-wide, and sense of humor, seeks blond bombshell, who’s waiting to explode. Prefer 30ish woman in the arts, but will consider wealthy, ugly, troll scientist, if properly endowed with large fortune. Or a woman with self-defense skills, fluttery false eyelashes, who likes Martinis without olives. Blond hair need not be natural, but natural blonds preferred. E-mail picture, short description of likes and dislikes, 100-word essay about why you love pre-Socratic philosophy, and a copy of recent savings account statement, to Richard@XXX.com”

Richard recalled now, that Lola’s response to his ad had distinguished her from all the rest he received… even if it HAD failed to contain a copy of her savings account statement.

Just When to Take “No” for an Answer

“Stop phoning me!” she yelled, and hung up on him.

Like too many men, Richard took this clear rejection as a sign that Lola genuinely loved him. He immediately called her back.

Lola picked up the phone and exasperatedly explained to Richard that if he called her once more tonight, she would be very pleased to provide a demonstration of her sharp-shooting skills, a demonstration, she emphasized, that Richard would not soon forget, and one that might alter his future love life.

Perhaps he was a little slow reading social cues, but even Richard knew when to take “No” for an answer. But not before he quickly inquired, “OK Sweetheart, but do you think it would be alright if I called you tomorrow?

No One Was Watching Us

No One Was Watching Us

We were downtown, drinking again, but not that much, and it didn’t matter anyway, because no one, no one on this sweet planet, was watching us. And you said, “Buck, you don’t drink enough, go ahead, have one on me.”

Just then I got up from the bar and started to head for the door and your sister, Jackie, said, “Why don’t I come with you, I think I’ve had enough, too-- besides, it’s almost noon, anyway.”And I smiled, because that’s what I do when I celebrate life’s unexpected victories.

But you didn’t see me smile, or see me put my arm around your sister’s waist, as we broke out into the bright, bare sunlight of the parking lot, where I opened the door to Jackie’s car, and even though I’d only known her for a barroom hour, I kissed her---and she kissed me back.

Like I said, no one was watching us.

Worse Than the Disease

The Cure looked ill. But that didn’t matter now, not to Richard, because he was happily humming, “Just Like Heaven.” "Show me how you do that trick…The one that makes me scream," she said… "The one that makes me laugh" she said… And threw her arms around my neck.”

During today’s run along the beach in Santa Monica, Richard couldn’t help but wonder why Lola had fallen in love with him in the first place? A woman like Lola could have anyone she wanted, even in Hollywood, but she had chosen him.

Half way through his run, he stopped to take a breath, and noticed that his footprints stretched out behind him disappearing into the sandy distance. “Why,” he wondered, “did The Cure look worse than the disease?”

Never Satisfied

As it turned out, this was not the first time Lola had tried to take her own life. Each time, Richard later learned, she had done so with the subconscious intention to fail. The M&Ms, which she had mistaken for sleeping pills, were just the latest instance in a long string of half-baked suicide attempts.

Richard wondered why a woman who was so beautiful and talented would try to take her own life? She had everything going for her—a blossoming acting career, the growing interest of a slew of Hollywood producers, an agent who thought she would be the next “Reese Witherspoon,” even a boyfriend who knew his way around a chicken ranch and the comedy stage.

As he drove home from the Emergency Room, with a taciturn Lola at his side, Richard wondered, “What more could Lola possibly want from life?”

Lola's Poison Pill

Richard was speeding his way to the emergency room to visit Lola. He hoped it wasn't too late. Lola had ingested a handful of M&Ms, which she had earlier mistaken for sleeping pills. Richard knew that she wasn't in any real danger---after all there aren't many medically documented cases of M&M overdoses, except perhaps for a few cases among 6th graders in the San Fernando Valley, where everything is just a little twisted. But Richard also knew Lola's was not entirely a medical case. 'It's the thought that counts,' he thought to himself---Lola really intends to take her life, even if it is only death by very little low-dose chocolate PIXIES---the kinds all the really big stars ingest with impunity.

He’s Wrong

"What did I do wrong, now?" Richard pleaded with Lola.

"Richard, Honey, it' not that you DID anything wrong."

He felt relieved that he hadn't made a huge mistake, but before he could enjoy his relief, Lola added the executioner's final stroke: "Richard, I love you, but you ARE wrong...You're just wrong in some indefinable way."

Richard felt devastated, or nearly devastated, but he also felt he could change--become something that Lola admired and wanted--if he put his mind to it. If only Lola would give him half a chance, and if she' only stop running her tongue over her red lipstick as she glanced in her compact's tiny oval mirror.

On the Carpet

“So, why DO they call it ‘plastic surgery,’” Richard blurted out to Lola, before he could catch himself and refrain from making yet another foolish inquiry, “there isn’t really much plastic involved, is there?”

Lola looked at him as if looking at a ten-year-old who had just made an impossibly silly faux pas. “I don’t know why they call it ‘plastic surgery.’ Maybe it’s because no one knows what silicon is?”

Realizing now, how embarrassing his outburst had been, Richard’s gaze suddenly fell from Lola’s perfectly ironed white blouse, down along the legs of her fashionably form-fitting blue jeans, down to the carpet below, where his stare came to a humiliating rest. Had he been aware, he would have noticed that the carpet was in need of a thorough cleaning.

“The way up is the way back” *

Richard was wandering around, looking for something, as if he had misplaced something important. He didn’t know exactly what it was, or where it was, but he wasn’t worried. Everything would be OK, he reassured himself, if he just kept looking. Then he realized that he was wandering around looking for the beginning of something or the end of something. Right now, endings and beginnings were indistinguishable to him, identical. Like a train with an engine on both ends, or a human life with darkness and oblivion on either end.

“The way up is the way back”



*Heraclitus --, Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus (trans by Brooks Haxton, 2001)

Might As Well Face It

Richard wandered aimlessly around the Walgreen’s drug store. Each aisle was filled with potions, salves, lotions, tablets, pills, ointments, scents and colognes. Why had he come in here, anyway--- what was it he was looking for?

As he walked around, seemingly in a stupefied daze, he found himself humming a tune. The chorus looped through his mind like an aural mobius strip, “Might as well face it, your addicted to love.”

At the checkout counter, he found himself wondering if Lola would still be in the car when he returned, or if she would have run off with the money and left him standing in the parking lot humming a song by a dead rock and roll star who had perennially dressed in a tailored suit and neat neck tie.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

9:00 AM in the airport restaurant, and he was eating spaghetti and meatballs. He loved spaghetti and meatballs, but seldom got a chance to eat these for breakfast. What a treat. Just a few moments ago, Lola had threatened to shoot him if he didn’t stop yelling at her and leave her alone, so he did, and proceed directly to the “On The Fly” CafĂ©, where he ordered his favorite comfort meal.

Richard was careful not to get any of the red sauce on his newly laundered white shirt, and he was also especially careful to glance over his right shoulder, every few minutes, just to be sure that there wasn’t a thin beautiful woman standing behind him with a gun in her lovely right hand. He was pretty sure that if there was anyone on earth who could sneak a handgun past airport security, it would be Lola—handbag or no.

Maximum Cool

Richard turned on the air conditioner and was fumbling with the buttons, trying to set it on “Maximum Cool,” when Lola said to him, accusingly, “Richard, you don’t need to turn it on when the top’s down. Besides, it’s mid-winter. Why do you want to drive around Santa Monica, in December, with the top down and the air conditioner on?”

Richard sullenly pulled the convertible into the parking lot of the Walgreen’s drug store, making sure that the car occupied two parking places. He turned off the engine, and looked at Lola, with a morose frown of hurt pride—probably due to their shouting match at the airport, and Lola’s near-decision to leave him without saying a word about why she was leaving.

“I just want to be sure you have lots of room, so nobody parks too close, while I’m in the store.”

I Like Shouting

“Stop shouting at me,” Lola shouted at Richard, at the top of her dainty lungs, “you’ll have airport security coming down on us in a nano second!”

“I’m not “shouting” at you!” Richard shouted back, his dark hair trembling above his forehead, as if his head were an earthquake.

“You ARE shouting, don’t tell me your not.”

“OK, but I’m not shouting AT you, I’m shouting NEAR you.”

He quickly glanced around the crowded airport terminal gate, and although everyone was looking at them as he and Lola shouted back and forth at one another, he didn’t yet see a security guard in the vicinity.

“I love you, Lola…I love shouting NEAR you.” he fumed, reaching into his pocket for a Rolaid.

posted on my blog on Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yes, But Is It Love?

She knew there were a thousand kinds of love in the world, not just the two kinds they showed on TV, and which appeared in the movies: good and bad love. The world contained billions of lives, and each of these lives contained a love, like each human body contains a heart. Yet each life, and each love, is different—each is unique as a descending snowflake. Lola knew that the way she felt about Richard was different than the way she felt about any other man on earth. As she gazed at the airplane ticket in her hand, a chill ran through her body. Lola wondered, “But is it love?”

Just Fine Says Trump

NEW YORK – Donald Trump has said Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean, (pray-ZHAHN'), can retain her crown.

Trump, who owns the Miss USA pageant, made the announcement Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York City.

The 21-year-old Prejean failed to reveal before last month's Miss USA pageant that she had posed in her underwear as a teenager.

Trump says the pageant has determined the photos are "fine."*

Richard's eyes lingered over that last word in the Associated Press new story.

"Fine," he thought to himself, "indeed, Miss Prejean is just 'fine.' "


* Retrieved from the web 5/12/09 at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_miss_california

Not That Funny At All

Looking deep into the bathroom mirror, she wondered what exactly he saw in her---what he really saw? Sure, there was the physical attraction that Richard obviously felt for her, for example that time at Tommy’s, when he couldn’t control himself and with his lips puckered , helunged at her (although, at the time, Lola had thought Richard was in desperate pursuit of her chili dog). She knew that most men were attracted to her, some almost uncontrollably attracted; they were always trying to get her into bed. But Richard, despite all his failed pranks (e.g. the giant rooster outfit he had worn on their first date) and silly blunders (see the above referenced chili dog episode), was different than other men. He really seemed to like her... like her for who she really was. Still peering into the mirror, as if she had discovered some tiny, almost undetectable flaw in the retina of one of her sea-blue eyes, she paused for a moment, thinking, You know, the funny thing about Richard is, that for a comedian, he’s not funny at all.

Watched

She wasn’t being watched—not exactly---but she had been noticed. Her name came up in certain circles. There was talk. Yes, she was pretty, almost beautiful, but she had something, something a little ‘off center,’ a little inviting, yet alarming--almost unnerving. In this town, that could be a ticket to unimaginable success, or a sentence to ‘also-ran’ obscurity and failure. Then of course, there was the challenge posed by the "Richard mistake."

Message in a Bottle

The message in the bottle had read, “Don’t be afraid. Dive in.” Lola snickered at this carefree aphorism, thinking the author—whoever he, or maybe even she, was-- must have been quite a rogue. Who would find themselves stranded on a desert island, with little hope of escape, and scribble such a message? Then the thought occurred to her. ‘Maybe it was someone who wanted never to be rescued?’

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pretty is Never Beautiful---Lola Takes the Wheel

Ascending from the glitter of Hollywood, Lola pointed Richard’s convertible up Laurel Canyon, then right onto Mulholland, where the winding ridge road seemed to levitate her and Richard above the city’s smog, below. Lola loved this teeming city; it was so exotic, so monstrous, so unlike Boston. And she didn’t mind the hairpin turns on Mulholland at all—especially in the daylight. In fact, she took pleasure in them, accelerating through one so recklessly that it caused Richard to scream, “Jeeez Lola, what are you trying to do, kill us?” --- Lola smiled, but not at Richard’s sudden fear. For some reason, she was smiling now at her recollection of something the painter, Gaugin, had written: “The ugly may be beautiful, the pretty never.”

Chilidog’s Missed Kiss

He tried to kiss her, but he missed. He’d leaned into her, just when he thought she would be most receptive, just as they were both finishing their chilidogs, at Tommy’s, on Hollywood Blvd. But Richar’s aim was off--way off--and Lola thought Richard was just trying to take a bite out of the last of her chilidog. She jumped back, startled by his sudden lunge toward her lunch, “Oh, no you don’t--you’ve had 6 chilidogs of your own, already!”

Richard hoped that Lola hadn’t kept such an accurate count of the number of chilidogs he’d consumed---my God he’d been famished. He didn’t even like chilidogs, but he’d do anything to get just one kiss from “Miss Lipstick,” over there, even if it killed him.

Perfect Nails

Walking along the beach, just north of Santa Monica, Lola glimpsed a small, green bottle tossing in the shore break. “Hmmm,” she thought “it’s odd to see a glass bottle these days, everything’s made of plastic.” With her Khaki pants rolled up to her slender calves—the ones that looked so taut in those jet black stilettos of hers---she waded into the shore break to retrieve the bobbing bottle. Inside, she could see a perfectly dry strip of paper, with a few words written in florid sweeping script--- and was eager to remove it, at least at first. She paused for a moment, quiet as a mermaid, as the tide breathed in and out, and the noontime breeze played with Lola’s now unfurled blond hair. She knew the bottle contained a message, maybe even a sign, but she was apprehensive, almost on edge, as she removed the sealed top with her OPI “I’m-Not-Really-a -Waitress” colored nails, taking extra care, as she did, not to chip this morning’s fresh manicure.

A Well-Armed Date

“Tell me Lola, where did you learn to handle a gun like that?”

“My Daddy taught me—actually, sent me to lessons—‘cause he wanted me to know my way around a shooting range.”

"It looks like you learned a thing or two—at least it looked that way to me the other night with that guy in the parking lot at the Smokey Karaoke. By the way, do you always carry a semi-automatic hand gun in your purse?”

“No, not always" she said...."Just mainly on dates and auditions,” but Lola wasn't smiling a bit.

"Sharks" and "Wolves”

Lola was not only smarter than she looked, she was tougher, too. Of course, you have to be tough, if you’re going to make it in Hollywood.

When she first contemplated moving to Tinsel Town from Boston, her Daddy had been against it, and warned her that she had chosen a treacherous career path, and that Hollywood was filled with "sharks" and "wolves," ready to devour the next attractive young woman who stepped off the Greyhound bus. Luckily, Lola hadn’t arrived by bus, she had driven from Boston to Hollywood in her 1997 Corolla. Nonetheless, she did bring with her, just as a precaution, the Smith & Wesson her father had given her, just in case the West (West Hollywood, that is) turned out to be as wild and uncivilized as her father, in his uncanny prescience, had warned her it would be.

Lola hated to admit it, but her Daddy hadn't been wrong at all.

“To Protect and Serve”

Richard had never seen a woman with a handgun before, at least not close-up. Except for those few times he had been stopped for speeding by female members of the LAPD.

Richard reflected on how the interloper at the Smoky Karaoke had sure backed-off fast, when he had caught a glimpse of Lola’s handgun. Thank God, he had run away, with his tail between his legs, rather than putting up a fight. Lola later told Richard that the gun wasn’t loaded, that there really hadn’t been anything to worry about; she ‘had the situation completely under control,’ she assured him.

Driving home, after he dropped off Lola at her apartment (she didn’t even kiss him good night darn it), Richard found himself wondering about two things: “Why had Lola chosen to carry a concealed semi automatic weapon on her Karaoke date, and why was the LAPD’s slogan ‘To Protect and Serve?’”

Passion is No Ordinary Word

Lola was an actress, not a singer, but man, she could really lip-sync. Richard had noticed on their first date that her’s were the most beautiful lips he’d ever seen---and in his life, he had observed more than a few lips because he was, as they say, "a lip man."

On Friday night Richard had wanted to go to Disneyland, but Lola said that she much preferred Karaoke, and she knew a little place in the Valley where they could go for some fun. Richard was head-over-heels in love, of course, so he immediately conceded, and before he knew it, he was standing in front of a room full of perfect strangers, as he sung —or more accurately, lip-synced--- an old Graham Parker song, “Passion Is No Ordinary Word.” The crowd didn’t much care for the punk lyrics and thought Richard an old fart for singing a song from the late 70s—one that wasn’t even disco, but when Lola took the stage to sing a song from an old play Damn Yankees, “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets,” the crowd went absolutely wild with their approval.

Later, as Richard and Lola were leaving the Smoky Karaoke, a man whom Richard had seen earlier in the club, approached them in the parking lot, and said he’d pay Lola $6500 cash if she’d ditch her date, and spend the evening with him, but Lola found the proposition—although somewhat tempting, at first---ultimately an insult, to which she responded by gently pulling out of her petite Donna Karan handbag, a 9 millimeter Smith & Wesson, which she pointed at the gentleman with a little too much dexterity and confidence, for Richard's taste.

Deep Down, She’s Really Superficial

Lola wasn’t as dumb as she looked. Men often mistook her for a ditzy blond, but if they thought that beneath that shapely exterior, behind those black Wayfarers, and below that plunging neckline lived just another wannabe Hollywood starlet, who was destined to make a few commercials, marry a dentist and move to Encino, where she would raise 3 toe-headed kids who would all eventually succumb to drug problems, they were woefully wrong.

By their third date, Richard had seen through Lola’s studied superficiality and had made a mental note: This one may look empty as a Safeway parking lot at midnight, but she’s not. There’s a lot more going on there, than meets the eye. He sized her up and silently declared to himself, She doesn't know it yet, but I AM going to marry this woman, if it’s the last thing I do on earth.

As it turned out, it nearly was.

Richard, Au Natural

On his way to the airport, Richard mused that air travel had lost much of its glamour, of late. It required infinitely long waits in line, getting undressed (or nearly so) while passing through security, and once on board the plane,shoehorning himself into his seat--a seat that seemed like it had been designed for a circus midget, not a stand-up comedian of his robust stature (XX-Large). The comedy circuit required a fair bit of travel, and he was growing tired of this constant shuffling from airport to airport.

Today, Richard decided that he would concentrate on the positives and forget about all the negatives. He mused to himself--as only a successful stand-up comedian might do--- There hasn't been an airline disaster for 10 days, maybe 11. Then he silently counted his blessings, and as he approached security, took off all his clothes---except of course, for his red and yellow polka dot socks, which were his very favorites.

Lola’s Favorite Flavor

He had no idea how the stimulus package was going to work. He wasn't an economist. Hell, he'd barely graduated from high school, and could scarcely hit the ground with his hat, if she gave him three tries--in a row. But he loved Lola more than the moon and the stars and the wiggly little fish in the azure sea. And he vowed to himself, that if she moved like that one more time,--just ONE more time--especially in that summer dress, while consuming a melting ice cream cone, like that one she was now licking--he was pretty sure that he'd have a better idea of what the term "stimulus package" might mean. On the other hand, he had dated Lola for nearly two years, and he hated to admit to himself that he still wasn't quite sure which flavor was Lola's favorite.

Chicken Clown

It wasn't just that he was an unemployed, part-time clown and failed stand-up comedian. God knows, he'd seen more than his share of screaming kids' birthday parties and eyed enough pretty mothers to last him a lifetime. No, the real problem was his shattered dream of becoming a successful stand-up comedian, and the humiliation he'd suffered as a result of those three years on the brats' birthday circuit.

Recalling now, when he had first met Lola, it had been love at first sight--he immediately fell in love, even though he knew instinctively that Lola was going to be trouble; nothing but trouble. On their second date--they had gone to Disneyland, in Anaheim-- Richard recalled how Lola, while ridding the Mad Teacups, had blurted out, "I don't know, Richard, I like you a lot. But can I really have a serious relationship with an unemployed clown who's seriously considering a return to chicken ranching?"

Resurrection

Buck turned to Jackie and said, “There’s one thing I really don’t understand, though.”

Jackie really liked Buck, but she wasn’t ever going to TELL him that. That would ruin it.

“You know,” Buck said, quizzically, “the trouble with theories of re-incarnation is that they require an infinite regress, and don't accommodate the idea of a beginning or an end. Like, I mean, when do souls come into being, when do they start… is it just a continuous recycling of souls, an infinitely revolving door?”

Surprised by the choice of topics her new friend had selected, Jackie continued driving the stolen Mercedes, musing to herself as she pulled up to Sunset Blvd, and then pointed the car in the direction of the beach, “I definitely kissed the right man, this time.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Understanding the World

“Is it important to understand everything?” Jackie asked Buck, as she pointed the Black Mercedes down Wilshire Blvd, in the direction of the afternoon sun.

“Well I guess not, but it sure helps to understand some things.”

“I kissed you. You understand that, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. There was no mistakin' that.”

“And what do you think that kiss meant?” Jackie inquired.

Buck paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully, and looking into Jackie’s impenetrable sun-glassed glare, deliberately stated, “The world.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gandhi and the Comedian

When asked what he thought about Western Civilization, Gandhi had answered, "I think it would be a good idea."

Richard liked the idea that Gandhi had a sense of humor. He liked it so much that after he read about Gandhi's statement, he decided to become a comedian, himself. This life of chicken ranching and cattle raising--OK so they weren't really "cattle," just a few plain old cows-- had grown pretty stale. In fact, Richard was more than ready to exchange this dusty, smelly, hard-scrabble existence, for a life of excitement, glamor and acclaim that he was confident would accompany his new career in off-Broadway stand-up comedy.

On Thursday, while cleaning out the coops, he spent his lunch hour practicing all his favorite permutations of why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-road jokes, and praying to dear God, that his future audiences—many of whom he had head could be 'tough crowds'--- would be well-acquainted with Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence.

Echo and the Bunnymen

Reminiscing about Lola’s kisses, Richard turned up the car radio, the second he heard the first chords of Echo and the Bunnymen’s, “Lips Like Sugar Kisses.” He loved the song, but he couldn’t remember; how long ago had it been since Lola had kissed him so deeply, so desperately, that he had imagined himself to have been submerged beneath the weight of the sea, its blue water flooding over him, carrying him to the center of the earth?

Richard now smiled a doleful smile, and hummed along with the lines as they squalled from the car’s speakers, “Just when you think you’ve caught her, she glides across the water…”

What a coincidence that he was now--20 years later-- driving that same stretch of PCH, a few miles north of Zuma Beach, near where Lola had later drowned, just a year after they had broken up for good.

He loved the song, but he remembered that it had played in the background when, on their final day together, Lola screamed that she didn’t like his clothes, his car, his occupation and least of all, his taste in music.

“My God, Richard, she had shouted, “How can anyone possibly like music by a group called Echo and the Bunnyman?”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rooster's First Kiss

Rooster's First Kiss

Richard knew he wasn’t that good looking, especially here in Hollywood, where everyone looked like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, for God’s sake, but he did have a certain 'something,' a special quality that he knew was particularly attractive to young actresses like Lola; he was funny—really funny. Not that kind of three-men-walked-into-a-bar funny--which, by the way, always made him think, “Wow, I’ll bet that really hurt”—but the kind of funny that was built on timing and intelligence. So, when he called Lola to ask her for a date, and she reported that she could only talk for a minute because she was in the midst of cooking an artichoke, he had said---without skipping a beat—“Be sure to save the heart for me.” He remembered now, how Lola had said, “You think you’re funny, don’t you?” and he had responded, “Well I am a stand-up comedian, you know.”

When, a week later, Richard arrived for their first date dressed in a yellow and red, giant rooster costume, he paused at Lola’s front door before knocking, just so that he could savor the anticipated moment when Lola would answer the door and burst out in fits of uncontrollable laughter. Richard was certain she’d be unable to prevent herself from kissing him in a deep kiss on the beak—even before she had a chance to shake his outstretched wing. He did feel a quick twinge of self-doubt, however—even if it were ever-so-fleeting-- when, perched there on Lola’s front porch, he had found himself wondering, “Do Roosters have lips?”