Showing posts with label characters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label characters. Show all posts

the one you'll not want to skip

Hello again.

It has been incredibly difficult for me to get back here; the only obstacle being, as ever, myself. Whenever I am stuck in blogging, when I push it to the corner or hide from it, it is due to fear of some kind. Or overwhelm. Or both. In this case, I have wanted to write a massive end-of-year tell-all, about everything that went down in 2016, so that I can start 2017 with a clean slate - creatively and emotionally.

But there have been things holding me back from telling all and getting to that clean slate. Namely, shame.

There is no point in hanging on to shame, though. It's doing nothing for me. I don't have a time machine, and I can't go back and undo any of my bad decisions. I'm where I am now for better or for worse. So let's do this. Let's just unload all of this crap and move forward.

2016 was by far, without competition, the worst year of my life.

I spent the first six months still living with Terence, even after we'd broken up. And it was so, so bad. A nightmarishly toxic situation that made monsters of us both. I was unrecognizable to myself. He was unrecognizable, from the man I'd met two years prior. We brought out the absolute worst in one another. Ugly, raging, middle of the night screaming matches. I broke my own heart with how awful I was. I hated myself. But we were stuck.

So there was that.

In March I started working for a man as his personal assistant. I wrote some about this. This was what gave birth to the Riley series. I alluded in general terms to his difficult personality, to how demanding and angry he was. What I didn't get into was how quickly I fell into a weird, semi-codependent relationship with him. I was his employee, and he was my boss. But he didn't need another employee. The "work" I did for him was nothing he couldn't do for himself. What he needed was a friend. And that was my real job. Being the confidant, the emotional validator - the crutch, really - of an exceptionally unhappy person. And I got paid for it. So I stayed. Because I needed a job.

Because I had run out of money.

That's right. That's the big secret I have been mincing around for the better part of a year now, the one that has made blogging with honesty and openness all but impossible. Because if I am dishonest about the basic circumstances of my life, there is no room for authenticity or real feeling. It's just me trying to represent some version of myself, as I want to be seen.

So here it is, here is the terrible thing that I have spent the past six months coming to terms with, in a sort of slow-dawning shock: I blew through not one, but two inheritances. My mother's (small) and my father's (not small).

There was no reason for it to happen this way. None at all. No excuse in a hundred thousand years that can justify it, though my therapist disagrees (yes I am in therapy now and I'll get back to that shortly). But there you have it. Gone. Where did it go? Well, it went to four years of rent. Mine, and for half of the time we lived together, Terence's (he paid a third of what I did). It went to food. It went to entertainment. Festivals and concerts. It went to clothing, and caring for Chaucer.

It disappeared, because for four years, I didn't work. I didn't save. I just spent. So if you want to know how to blow through six figures in less than half a decade, that is how you do it. You just freeze up. You just become paralyzed about how to move forward with your life. You refuse to face reality and start at the bottom of a career path. You lie to yourself that tomorrow you'll start fresh. Make a plan. Figure it out. You tell yourself that lie day after day after day, for a thousand days.

And then all of a sudden, your self-sabotage will coalesce into exactly, precisely the disastrous ending you think you deserve: you'll have nothing. You'll be jobless, facing a dwindling checking account. Panicked but in denial. Sleepless with anxiety but totally clueless what to do.

Imagine that going on, while at the same time living with an ex-boyfriend whom you despise. That's where I was when I was introduced to an eccentric millionaire inventor who needed a roll dog and a whipping boy.

But here's a fun detail you don't know about that: the person that introduced us? Well, that was my girlfriend/neighbor, who also worked for him. And oh boy. Oh boy oh boy is this the point where shit gets interesting. Because I had spent the better part of a year, as her friend, listening to her complain about him. About how much he screamed at her, about how abusive a boss he was, about how she was just going to take advantage of him as much as possible and then get out with a cool million. About competing products she had in mind, to threaten him with. Per her words on a weekly basis, he was the absolute last person on the planet anyone should work for. Her job was miserable, because of him. And it wouldn't be until months later that I saw just how much he had informed her attitude about life, with his negativity. She truly is the most unhappy person I have ever met, and I suspect it's because of his daily (hourly, really) influence.

Anyway, the drama with her started immediately. She was, I guess, threatened by my sudden stature as preferred employee (a honeymoon phase that didn't last). She began to act coldly to me. Passive aggressive in the extreme. I confronted her, tried to have an honest and open dialogue about what was happening, but she dug her heels in. She blamed me for making her life more difficult, her job more challenging. The fact is that working for this man requires a delicate dance of diplomacy and tact. He doesn't always make decisions that are in his or his business's best interest - and sometimes he ends up pitting employees against one another. Vague I know, but the bottom line is this: I was nearly broke. In extremely dire financial straits. So I had zero choice but to do the work as it was prescribed to me. Follow his instructions. He was my goddamn boss, after all. She, however, wanted me to be more subversive. Risk my job (and his wrath) to make hers easier. A job that was providing her with an extremely comfortable and secure lifestyle, with plenty of money in the bank. She wasn't in danger of any kind. I was. She didn't care.

And here's another dumb detail of this sad story: she was furious about Riley. She told me that our boss was "her" story, and that I had no right to write about him. Mind you, in the six years she had been working for him, she had never once written a word. Not one word. But for some reason, all of a sudden my fictionalizing my experiences with him (for creative release and therapy, really), triggered her.

Anyway, March flew by, then April and May, and things escalated. Our friendship dissolved completely. My work life consisted of running around on a moment's notice, performing inane tasks and busywork, driving an inebriated boss home to his Bel Air mansion after tagging along on his dates with socialite models, and occasionally going to some "glamorous" event either with him or in his stead. Things I could never blog about, but holy shit. It culminated, the day before everything turned, in my attending a charity event at the mansion of a very well-known reality TV star. I sat at a table with soap stars I'd grown up watching.

Then, the very next day I believe it was, my boss snapped. We'd been arguing about a raise he'd previously agreed to, and he just lost it. He swung his very heavy bag at my head, and the metal clasp cut my skull open. Actually, that's not the whole story. What happened was this: we had been arguing at a cafe near the office, and he lost his temper and fired me. So I said, great, okay, I'll just gather my things and you can pay me, and I'll be out of your life forever. And he said, no, fuck you bitch, I'm not paying you. At this point I was scared. I'd seen him throw things before (he once threw a phone at me), and I could see him tossing my laptop out the window. So I rushed back to the office to get it before he could. Only he followed me, right on my heels, calling me a bitch the whole time.

And when we got to the stairs of the office, I was steps ahead of him. Maybe fifteen seconds. And on the steps I ran into a man whose office is right across from my boss's. It just so happens that this man is an award-winning film producer, who had become my friend in the previous months (another thing I could never blog about). And I said to this producer-friend, please don't leave, please wait and make sure I get my things safely, my boss has just fired me and is threatening not to pay me.

And my boss arrived at this scene, heard what I was saying, and just exploded. He swung his bag at me full force. It's actually amazing it didn't send me spiraling down the stairs. But no. It just knocked into me, stunned me, and cut my head open.

I could write volumes about what happened in this moment. And I'm not even talking about the logistics and the legal fallout, which I'll get to here in a second. I'm talking about what it did to me, emotionally. In short - and this is how fucked up my state of mind was last year - I felt I'd deserved it. I was so disgusted with myself, with the thousands of terrible, irresponsible choices that had led me to be working for a violent abuser, that I thought, more or less, "Yep. This is about right."

But of course, it wasn't right. It was the wrongest of wrongs. And after a surreal five minutes where he desperately tried to act like he hadn't just committed a violent crime, I scrambled my things together and left his office. And I called one of my best friends.

And so here is where the story takes another sad turn, because this call was the beginning of a whole other sub-chapter of drama. Here is the broad strokes of what happened: my AZ (college) friends rallied around me when my boss attacked me. Big time. They made calls, they researched my rights, they told me that they had my back financially until whatever would happen was settled. They gave me money. A lot of money. Which - can you guess? Can you guess what I did with it? I blew through it. Again, 100% because of not working. In my defense I was trying. I was interviewing, I was applying. But I didn't know what I wanted to do, only that I wasn't cut out to be a fucking administrative or executive assistant. And the time I spent figuring this out was on their dime. So they were pissed. They are still pissed. I don't blame them.

Christ, this story. Have you ever read anything so loaded with sad, tangential drama? Ugh.

Anyway, an Instagram friend (who happens to be a very talented and well-connected attorney) put me in touch with, no joke, probably the most feared trial attorney in the fucking city. I can't tell you the huge, high profile cases this guy has handled, but holy hell. Holy hell. And this attorney met with me and agreed, because of my connection to his friend, to handle my case pro bono. So yeah. That was pretty unreal.

A settlement was obtained. And I didn't have to give a dime of it up for legal fees. But can you guess what I did with the money?

That's right kids. I spent it, because I was still. not. working. Had I had a fucking job by this point, I could have used it to pay my friends back. But nope. This was August/September, and I had lost my job in June, and I still wasn't working. One of my friends cut me off completely, he was so disgusted. I have been trying to fix things with him, but it is the source of enormous, gut-wrenching heartache to accept the fact that nope, he's pretty much over me and my friendship.

And I don't blame him.

So let's see. Where are we? The settlement. Oh! I forgot to tell you some more of the gross details, namely that this former girlfriend of mine, the coworker, did everything in her power to try and prevent me from getting a settlement. And this - this is the thing that almost above all was just...just mind blowing. She called up the police detective who was handling my case and told her about my Riley posts. Why you ask? I have no idea. I mean, I do. I know she did it to curry favor with our boss and ingratiate herself...but good grief. All I could do at that point was laugh. So, so, so unnecessary. I cannot for the life of me understand why this person was continuing to meddle into my life and my business, and why she wouldn't just leave me the hell alone, but there it was. She just couldn't live and let live. I don't know if she knows how to do that at all.

After the settlement, my boss reached out to me and apologized. He said he didn't blame me, that he would have sued, too. He offered me my job back. And I took it back, for another month, until I found the job I have now.

I know.

But here's the thing. This man? He is not evil. He is just damaged. He has been through some really, really bad shit in his life. And at times he can be so generous, and try so hard to be a better person.

I still speak to him. He knows everything, of course, including about my blog. He doesn't care, and he doesn't read it. In fact I occasionally do small writing projects for him. Letters or press releases or whatever. It isn't a big deal. I do them remotely. He pays me well. We know we don't work well together. But he has helped me, too. Written checks way beyond what I was owed, to help me as I got back on my feet.

So that brings us to now. And me being on my feet. But because this post is already way, way too long I will end it on four things that I'll expand upon, completely, next time:

1) I have a job that I am good at and that I enjoy very much.
2) Timo and I are back together.
3) I have a new place that I am wildly in love with.
4) I started therapy.

I am, by all measures, finally back on my feet. Happy new year to you, and to me.

no choice but to believe

I've been compiling a list on my phone's notepad. Small moments that have been special, that I wanted to share with you.

Today, despite the blue skies and 80+ weather, feels black and airless. Twenty-four hours ago I was crying, walking out of the elementary school gymnasium where I triumphantly cast my ballot. Election days always make me emotional. For the past eight years that emotion has been elation, and yesterday's tears represented a prolepsis of another victory that, shockingly, didn't materialize. Which is why twelve hours ago I was crying again, but for entirely different reasons.

It's gonna be okay. It's gonna be rocky at best and consistently enraging at worse--but it's gonna be okay. We all have a responsibility to buckle down and promote positivity every chance we get, on every level we can reach. Last night I made two vows to myself. This was the first: that I would concentrate on the things I can control; on building better relationships with the people in my life, taking the time to appreciate them and express my gratitude. My hope, I guess, is that this love will ripple outward and someday, hopefully before the next election, reach those who've become so lost, angry, and misguided in their values that they think the president elect represents their interests. It's Pollyannaish, sure, but we don't have much to lose right now.

The second vow I made is to make better and more frequent use of whatever meager talents I have. To be of service. To make you guys laugh, or think, or just feel less alone. And I urge anyone possessing any artistic bent to do the same. Now's the time. Get expressive. Bring us together, any way you can.

After I share the small moments I've been collecting, I'm going to share one other, bigger moment with you. It wasn't something I ever planned on telling anyone about, for reasons that will be clear to those with good Elliequent attendance. I'll let you make of it what you will. I'll let you think about it as much or as little as you want.

Today is a good day for thinking.

Moment #1

I'm walking home one day in August, the weight of my world slowing me almost to a crawl. Self-pity is a brick-filled backpack I can't seem to unzip, much less unload. My street is ugly; there's no two ways about it. I hate it. It's choked with traffic all day, and lined with run-down duplexes whose front steps are littered with discarded mattresses. How did I get here? A series of very poor decisions. Someday, if I keep making enough good ones, I'll be able to move off of it. But for now, trash avenue is my home.

Twenty feet ahead of me, a front door swings open. Three nimble young bodies bound out into the sunshine. Boys a few years apart in age, and sized accordingly. Ten, eight, and six, if I had to guess. The oldest reaches the sidewalk first, and without turning around, extends his arms backwards. His two younger brothers quicken their pace to catch up. Each takes the hand of their big brother. All three fall into step, and the picture they make from behind stops me short with its sweetness. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Together they are invincible.

Moment #2

The 720 bus, the one I occasionally take home from the west side, is standing room only at certain times of day. Exhausted faces that remain otherwise indifferent as we cram against one another, sometimes muttering apologies, sometimes not even bothering. I push as politely as I can to the back, not to get a seat (there are none to be had), but to make room for the dozens more passengers jostling for space behind me. A man ten years my senior stands and gestures for me to take his spot. I demur despite my heavy bag, but he insists. To my mind, etiquette dictates the seat is his; I'm a woman but he's older. But the bus is picking up speed, bouncing us around. Someone has to sit. So I do. All of this is theater for the surrounding passengers, who watch with impassive eyes. All except for one young man, who rises and taps the shoulder of the man who's just sacrificed his seat. Wordlessly, he signals: Now you take mine. They laugh and nod at one another.

Impassive eyes are now smiling eyes. Smiling at me, at the two men. Half the bus is in on this lovely moment. Rarely is something paid forward paid back so soon.

Moment #3

On the first floor of my building lives an old woman who, it seems, is caretaker to several small children in the neighborhood. Some of these kids--mostly around age five or six--live in the building. Some are visitors, only appearing in the afternoons. It's a sort of unofficial day care, the playground of which is our building's dusty front stoop. The kids pull cardboard boxes from the recycling bins, making flat-screen TV sleds or choo-choo trains out of them. A few have bikes, or those wheelie shoes. They don't seem to have much more.

The old woman doesn't speak much English, but I feel like I know her anyway. Her colorful cotton peasant dresses are worn to softness. When she smiles, nearly toothless, I can see why parents trust her with their children.

One early morning, as I am returning home from god knows what debauchery, I watch a man drop off his baby for the day. It couldn't have been later than six am. (Dawn spreads over our east-facing building beautifully but mercilessly; those of us with street front windows woke to roasted living rooms all summer.) The man is tall, dressed in carefully pressed work attire. An immigrant, his accent indicates. As he approaches the building he speaks in low, gentle tones to the baby in his arms, who positively lights up at the sight of the old woman. She reaches out, cooing. The baby giggles, and the man who places his child in her arms wears a complicated expression that moves me immensely.

I bet I don't even need to describe it. I bet you can imagine it perfectly.

Moment #4

I'm sitting at dinner with a man I've known for a little over half a year. My feelings toward him are as complicated as he is. He's a difficult man. A damaged man. He can even be a dangerous man, ill-tempered and violent. He has stunned me, at times, with his selfishness and small-mindedness. He has said many hurtful things to me; criticized and mocked me and left me crumpled in self-doubt. And I've watched him do the same to others, both to their faces and behind their backs.

But right now, he is none of those things. Right now he is someone else entirely. Because right now he is talking, with a sincerity I believe because I have seen glimpses of this other person, about the changes he wants to make. He is speaking with true self-awareness about the importance of compassion. Of how good it feels to him, to give to others. This second man, who lives inside the louder, brasher, angrier first man--I've known this man, too. He has been kind to me. Incredibly generous and understanding and patient. This second man is good. He just needs help being better. He needs encouragement. He's not entirely evil.

Very few people are entirely and exclusively evil. Very few people are incapable of change and growth. For some of them, change and growth are terrifying and threatening. But under the right circumstances, surrounded by the right influences and examples of others--almost anyone can access their second, better self.

There is no choice but to believe this.

suddenly so precious

Well, I said I wasn't going to talk about work. But that was before I realized that work makes for some excellent material. Also: if I don't talk about work, there won't be much blogging going on at all, because that's a large part of where I'm spending my time these days. I do need to maintain some privacy (no names, no specifics), but I feel comfortable that I can manage that boundary and still share some of the more entertaining stuff. Because woo boy is it entertaining.

As I said before, I work in Beverly Hills. The office is in what's known as the Golden Triangle, a super luxe shopping and dining area right in the heart of the city. Every day I walk past some of the most expensive boutiques in the world. It's a kick. When I have some extra time I'll try to get there early and take photos. Gorgeous shopfronts, everything immaculate and gleaming. Yes, conspicuous consumption, yes entitled rich people--but I can't help find it a beautiful and welcome escape from a comparatively dirty downtown. I desperately needed a change of scenery, and wow did I get it.

I work odd hours. Middle of the day. I start anywhere from 11am to 2pm and work anywhere from 8pm to 11pm. That includes after-work dinners or cocktails. The hours are unpredictable because my boss is unpredictable--even to himself. (I'll get back to that.) To get to work I take the train, then the bus. It's an easy, straight shoot, and I don't mind it at all. Driving in LA has always been a personal nightmare of mine, and I use the commute to answer emails, catch up on Instagram, text friends. I am thrilled to be able to continue life car-free for the time being.

Right now I'm working three to four days a week. My boss knows I'm keen to work as close to full time as I can, and he's been great about having me come in whenever possible. To that end I'm working hard to figure out the best way to be of use to him. Indispensable, even. Because that's my goal. It's not a glamorous job and it doesn't pay loads--but it's kind of totally amazing for a lot of reasons. (Which I'll also get back to.)

Basically, I'm an assistant. Part office, part personal. I just do whatever needs to be done. Sometimes that's drafting emails or making calls or doing research. Sometimes it's running errands. Sometimes it's tagging along on a trip to an offsite facility, just so my boss can use the carpool lane. (He doesn't say this, but I'm 99% sure that's the case.) Sometimes it's trailing after him, toting his bags and files, while he makes the rounds near his office. Jewelry stores, the ophthalmologist's, his plastic surgeon buddy. He'll stop in to socialize for a few minutes, and I'll hang out while he gets a quick hair cut, say, or take notes when someone has some information for him. I always have to be on, and alert to direction. I definitely get ordered around, and to make my friends laugh I play up the under-appreciated, downtrodden assistant angle.

But the truth is I love it.

The first few nights when I got home, I just lay on my bed stunned and exhausted, trying to process everything. Because there's a lot to process with my boss, who is an exceptionally unique and occasionally challenging person. And when I had strength enough to do so, I cried. Not because I was unhappy, but because it dawned on me that I'd passed a whole day, then two, without obsessing about my own life. Without thinking about myself at all. Without worry, anxiety, or the demons of depression poking at me all day. The relief was overwhelming. And every day as I get more comfortable and confident in the job, the air grows even sweeter. I feel normal and productive for the first time in a very, very long time. It's a sort of soft-blooming happiness for which I am grateful every second of the day. Maybe happiness isn't the right word. Maybe it's just self-esteem. Maybe it's happiness born of self-esteem. Whatever it is, I'm enjoying it immensely.

So. Now I've got to explain a little what it is about my boss--and therefore the job--that's difficult but simultaneously but great. In a nutshell, he's an eccentric. Brilliant but strange. He's an inventor and an investor, a businessman and an entrepreneur. He's made a lot of really cool, society-advancing shit. His ideas are all progressive, and at the end of the day he wants to help people live better and more safely. And he's made a lot of money working towards that goal.

But, as with many overachieving workaholics, he can be demanding. Impatient. Hot-tempered and moody. Indecisive. Highly opinionated. And all of that can make for a slightly destabilizing work environment. His agenda changes day to day, and therefore so does mine. Sometimes we only put in a few hours of real work before cutting out to have drinks at his Bel Air mansion. Yes there is a Bel Air mansion. And five cars. And all sorts of kooky rich-person nonsense. And honestly? I love it all. It keeps me on my toes. It forces me to flex muscles I didn't even know I had. Tact. Flexibility. Stamina. Patience. All while working to advance someone else's objectives, for once in my life. It's wonderful.

There have been, already, several hilariously WTF moments. Last week I found myself sitting in a five star restaurant, the only sober person at a table with my boss, two beautiful but perhaps overly, um, improved Greek socialites, and an Englishman who owned one of London's most famous music venues in the '60s and whose great-great-great (?) grandfather invented the plate. Supposedly. The Englishman is harmless enough though a bit of a blowhard who rather enjoys bossing yours truly around. I'm not going to say I smiled to myself when he knocked a full glass of ice water into his lap but I'm not going to say I didn't.

The women, who I'd later find out are friends of fifteen years, were having a screaming match. In Greek. I was seated between them. Now and then one would lean in to me and demand to know what the other had said. Thankfully these requests were made in English, but it didn't make playing the diplomat any easier. It was a great relief when they suddenly, unexpectedly made up. Then, since the table was wedged tightly into a corner of the restaurant and the women couldn't stand up without disrupting everyone, I was asked to give each a hug for the other.

During this entire affair I was the only one really eating anything, which my boss noticed with approval (he has many quirks, and one of them is having very particular ideas about what one should eat - in the many meals we've had together already, I've not once been allowed to see a menu for myself). In fact he ordered an entire second round of food I'm pretty sure because he knew I was still hungry. The restaurant we were at is rather famous but as it's one of my boss's regular spots I'm gonna leave that detail out. Suffice to say I ate very well that night.

This is one of the perks of my job: meals. Good ones, at great places. As I mentioned above, my boss is a wee bit controlling about ordering...but I'm completely okay with that. The food is always amazing and I'm never allowed to pay or even chip in. Perk indeed.

As to downsides, well, the hours are a bit tricky. Of course I like not having to be anywhere at seven am, but as I'm determined to keep on top of other already-standing priorities in my life, I still have to get up early. I pledged to myself when I got the job that neither Chaucer nor my health would suffer for the change. That means getting up at eight am, so Chauc can still get his full, ambling walk, and I can still work out. I have to exercise before work; I'm way too pooped afterward. And I have to exercise period, for my sense of well-being. That's non-negotiable. So no sleeping in, despite the later start time.

And then it's a bummer to get out so late, particularly on Thursdays and Fridays, the prime go-out-with-the-friends days. But we're making it work. Saturday I finally caught up with Krista and we had a blast of an evening. Love that girl more all the time.

Anyway, that's the overview. There's much more to it all but now you've got the general picture.

More when time, suddenly so precious, allows.

the queen and the viscount

The queen is fucking the viscount, and the whole court knows about it. We do our best to act like we don't, but they're getting sloppy. Unsealed missives. Garden dalliances in the full glare of moonlight. We look away when they exchange simpering glances, keeping our own faces blank. But the stink of their self-satisfaction--that we cannot escape.

Honestly I think she wants everyone to know. Everyone but the king, of course. One by one she draws aside her handmaids, demanding to know what we've seen, what we've heard. Oh, nothing untoward m'lady, we lie, and the sluttish twinkle in her eye betrays the delight she takes in this facade. But we value our heads, so we keep the lips on them sealed. We don't tell her what the viscount does when she's away. Which is much, and ugly. There are casualties of his "affection" from the galley to the stables.

The queen fancies herself a coquette, but too many years have passed for that. Too many babies born. The velvet at her waist pinches, the rouge creases on her cheek. The seamstress told us she's had the lace of her cuffs lengthened to hide withering hands. No more is she the apple-cheeked ingenue freshly arrived at our shores, her dowry the promise of war avoided.

And the viscount, well. Have you ever admired a stallion far off in the paddock, only to see when it approaches that it is, in fact, a gelding?

Then you know our illustrious viscount.

go ask alice

She stalks through the automatic doors of the hotel lobby aggressively, her head tipped back so her jaw juts out like a dare. Daring us to stare, daring us to judge. She wears a black peaked policeman's cap, black sunglasses with huge circular lenses that dwarf her porcelain doll face, black knee highs above black Converse, and black dance shorts. Criss-crossed with perfect symmetry across each nipple is a black adhesive 'X'. I know they're pasties, I know she must have bought them, but their width and vinyl smoothness matches that of electrical tape so completely I have a brief vision of her throwing a roll of it, pilfered from her dad's garage, into her suitcase along with the rest of her getup. She'd be 85 pounds, soaking wet. If she's over nineteen I'd eat my hood.

Speaking of my hood, she's speaking of my hood. "Oh my gosh, you're so furry, I love it," she says without any intonation to warn me whether she's being sincere or catty. I'm dressed pretty provocatively myself, so my bitchiness radar is set to high sensitivity. So far this weekend no one's been anything but complimentary of my outfit, but I'm a middle-aged woman in footless fishnets and I'm decidedly on guard. And since the oversized frames hide her eyes, at first I'm not even sure that she's talking to me. "All pink and furry. I just want to rub you." Yep, she's talking to me.

"Go ahead." I smile at her, realizing that nineteen is probably pushing it. She's like a much younger, much frailer Juliette Lewis. But by now our group, which has been waiting in the hotel carport for our ride to the festival, is climbing into the van that's just pulled up. I get in ahead of Terence and for the half-second it seems like she might sit directly beside him my stomach clenches ever so slightly...but then she announces her intention to take the back row instead. "Like the bad kids," she cracks, and everyone laughs louder than necessary. Than they would, I suspect, if the person making the joke wasn't a topless teenaged girl.

Her companion is a slight, sweet-faced kid in a homemade Pinocchio costume, with massive dark eyes that dart about excitedly, taking everything in. This is their first festival. She is clearly the alpha, he the adoring sidekick. I ooh and ahh over his every button and ribbon as he twists around to show them off. Meanwhile the girl stretches her arms out across the seat back, wondering aloud how many Alice in Wonderland costumes they'll see at the festival. Her body language is calculated to declare casual self-confidence but the stiffness of her shoulders, slouched slightly forward, betrays a touch of self-consciousness. I want to tell her it doesn't get any easier with age. But that if she's so comfortable with her body already, she might just get through it better than most. Instead Terence and I advise her and her friend on what sets to catch. Neither of them know any of the performers.

"I like shit like this," she explains, pointing at the van's ceiling to indicate the music playing. "That dirty, ratchet shit." I twist my lips, pretending to think. I hate trap and have no idea what to tell her, but Terence chimes in with suggestions. When he's done, a wave of warmth comes over me. "You don't have any kandi!" I say, as if only now noticing her bare forearms, snow white and thin as reeds.

"I knowww!" she says, with exaggerated mournfulness.

"Okay well I'm giving you this." I separate an elastic bracelet of pony beads from the cluster on my left wrist and carefully pull it over the others towards my left hand. The beads are red, black, white, and light blue - the colors of the classic Disney character's frock. In the center of the kandi are spaced three short words. I doubt she'll get the secondary or tertiary references but considering her earlier comment I can't resist. It's just too perfect. Also, it's the tightest kandi I made and wouldn't fit a wrist much bigger than hers or mine. She lowers her sunglasses for the first time and the youthfulness of her saucer-sized eyes makes my heart thud. The intelligence, too. Ratchet shit, my ass. This girl is playing a part. There's more underneath the rebellious-Hot Topic-model-hoping-to-scandalize-everyone-with-bare-breasts act, I can tell.

I confess that I don't know the exchange ritual very well, and she perks up. "Oooh now I feel like less of a festival noob, teaching a veteran something." I laugh, but what I'm laughing at is the idea of being any kind of veteran to EDM. Since we're sitting in different rows we can't do the "respect" part of the PLUR exchange, but that's okay. She's lit up by the gift I've given her, which she fingers lightly as she reads out the words I strung on it, squinting with 3:00 a.m. post-packing exhaustion, doubting the phrases I'd come up with for my kandi were clever enough for the whippersnappers I might be giving them to. "'GO ASK ALICE'. Oh yay! That's perfect. Haha, I love it. Right on!"

Terence squeezes my thigh and gives me a side smile as the van pulls into the drop-off zone. All dozen of us debouch into a dusty parking lot, putting on our game faces and our sunglasses, adjusting nylon and spandex and fur, tugging our few clothes into place and wearing less - or more - than we'd planned to that day.

ghost

His ambition was the first thing she told her parents about. Then it was just a nugget of a promise, a wink at some future time when their security would depend on hers. Fledgling though it was, oh was it precious to her. It was every disappointed sigh, shoved back down their throats. It was the exemplary report card she'd never brought home. It was her ticket away, and above - far, far above.

Satisfied with the achievement of it, she promptly retired her own.

She slipped it around her neck like an amulet, a charm against her own uselessness. When she had nothing to hold onto, when anger and envy had depleted her of everything else, she clutched it tight to her chest. It thickened and gnarled into a knot that hung heavily between them. It was everything they didn't know about one another. It was everything they didn't love about one another. But they would, right? Someday? When there was more time? 

His ambition was a placeholder.

Soon it outgrew her, and she grew scared. The knot fingered into claws, scrabbling and scratching towards someplace higher than she could ever, ever reach. She chained herself to it with prayer, then blood, then fear and guilt. It dissolved everything, like acid. She looked to him for help, for reassurance that it belonged to them - but he wasn't there.

His ambition was a ghost.

Janice

Side by side in salon chairs a few days ago, our hair cooking with color, I fell into conversation with a sixty-something woman whose interests and personality matched my own to a degree that was almost eerie. It was like talking to a future version of myself. I take it as an auspicious sign that we liked one another.

It started like this: my stylist (who's also a friend) and I were catching up, chatting about restaurants and shows we've been to lately. He and his wife are foodies, so we were discussing the pros and cons of spending money on concerts vs. dining out. I explained that if I have cash to burn, live music will almost always be my first choice. That while I absolutely understand the joys of gastronomical exploration, it's just not my jam. I get much more emotional fulfillment and sensory excitement from the experience of music than from even the most gourmet of meals.

An older woman seated at the next station leaned over. "Sorry to intrude," she said, "but I have to agree. Music feeds the soul, and that's a satisfaction that lasts much longer than dinner."

And it went from there. We spent our twenty minutes of processing time gabbing about opera, festivals, fashion, drugs, and dreams (the long-term kind vs. the sleeping kind). She was blonde, pretty, and open-faced in a way that made me think of Kirsten Dunst. She was clearly monied, but there was nothing entitled or presumptive about her. When I inquired as to whether she lived downtown (knowing, of course, that she didn't; seniors are the only demographic more rare than children in DTLA, and those are about as common as dodos), I found out she's been faithfully following her stylist (another friend) from salon to salon around LA for years.

That's so gonna be me.

When Janice (we finally exchanged names at the shampoo sinks) asked me how I'd gotten so into music, I heard myself giving an answer I didn't even know was the case until it came out. "Well," I started slowly, "I think it was a response to what I went through personally, over the last five years. A lot of loss. A pretty painful divorce and the deaths of both parents. I think music became something safe for me to latch on to. Music isn't going anywhere, you know? It was the thing I found that made life joyful again."

Incidentally, my voice didn't break once during this disclosure; that surprised me as much as the words themselves.

Janice was all empathy and knowing nods. She got it, she assured me, and I believed her. Her eyes were bright and her skin had escaped the harshest of lines, but you don't hit your sixth decade without saying goodbye to at least a few loved ones.

I asked her about opera, which she characterized as "her festivals." She sees as much as she can, usually five or six performances a year. But she demurred when I called her an aficionado. She's just a devoted fan, she insisted. When I asked if she'd been raised on opera, admitting how utterly lost I'd been coming to it for the first time myself so late in life, she told me a story that made me instantly love her. Paraphrasing, but...

"Well, one night back when I was still single, I drew myself a bath. The television was on in the background - there was a show playing, that series Live From the Met, do you know it? Anyway, when I shut the water off, I heard the most unbelievably beautiful music coming from the other room. I jumped out of the tub, grabbed a towel, and sat riveted in front of the TV. I was dripping wet but I couldn't move. I'd never heard anything like it. It was Pavarotti. The very next day I bought myself a ticket - they were showing Madame Butterfly. I didn't know anyone else who wanted to spend money on an opera ticket, so I just got one. I splurged on a Givenchy dress {here she gestured with her hands, running them lightly down the sides of an invisible gown; for some reason I imagined something form-fitting, red, and woven through with gold sparkle}, and I went to the show alone. And I had the time of my life."

Her anecdote concluded with a facial expression that was less triumphant than matter-of-fact. It just was who she was; it was what she would do. Trying to be tactful but curious as to her age during this experience, I asked her how long ago that was. But she knew what I meant. "Oh, I must have been about thirty-five I guess?"

I almost leapt out of my chair to hug her. Instead I told her how much I enjoyed going to festivals by myself, how intimidating it was at first (despite being in my mid-thirties) but how empowering, ultimately; she'd concluded the same thing about opera. We agreed that the company of another fan is best, but going solo is a close second. We agreed on a lot of things, in fact:

We are both mystified by the appeal of jazz.
We both love Radiohead and Muse. Yep, sixty-something Janice used to be a rocker, and she's come back to it later in life.
We are both vain about our hair, despite the challenges that aging presents to it.
We both have enormous respect for our friends (the stylists, a married couple who own the salon), who are fantastic, hardworking, and generous employers.

The subject of drugs came up, as it invariably does when talking about festivals. She wanted to know whether pot was still commonly used. I stifled a LOL and started to explain the newer, more popular choices du jour - but my authoritative feeling evaporated when Janice filled me in on her own former experimentation. Duh, I thought to myself, she lived through the sixties. Three words: ell, ess, dee. Acid isn't something I've tried (*cough*yet*cough*), but let's just say I left the salon with more interesting and helpful tips than what to moisturize my ends with.

We didn't talk about jobs. We didn't talk about our partners. We didn't talk about children. I don't even know if she has any, and she didn't ask me, either. Few and far between are the conversations I have that exclude these Key Adult Talking Points. Few and far between and kind of nice.

silk road

For every time that I actually purchase something from Pinkman, we tend to have about half a dozen failed attempts at successfully planning and executing a rendezvous. Despite my slyly casual questioning (I'm intensely curious - blame Breaking Bad and Freakanomics), I know very little about his role in the operation, and how he comes into possession of salable inventory. I only know that I'm 100% at his mercy; when he stocks up, I either have to jump on it immediately or miss out and wait for the next shipment.

I don't mind being ready on a moment's notice. I just think of it like an extremely exclusive Gilt Groupe sale. She who hesitates parties sober. The problem is that communicating with Pinkman is a bit like talking to a tenth grader who forgot to take his Adderall. I can't screenshot our texts because I need to edit out (the more) incriminating details, but here's a typical month spread:

Him: Super party favors for the weekend!

Me: Yeah? What've you got?

Him: Mush, white, malls

Me: Def interested, can you meet tonight?

Him: How much

Me: {redacted}

....half an hour later....

Me: So should I come by?

Him: Wait a little I'll let you know

Me: Okay

THREE DAYS LATER

Him: Yo

Me: Hey!

FIVE DAYS LATER

Him: Two kinds. One is lighter than the other.

Me: ...k? What exactly, and how much?

ONE WEEK LATER

Him: Sup

Me: Hi! I'm actually near your place, heading to a show at {redacted}.  Are you around?

Him: Can you pay for an Uber to come get me? I'll take it off the total.

Me: Ummm where are you?

Him: My boys place

Me: Where's that?

FOUR DAYS LATER

Him: I work for {redacted} Eyewear now. Let me know if you or your friends need any sort of luxury eyewear for half off or more of retail!!

Me: .....

NEXT DAY

Him: Today

Me: Yeah? No prob, I can come right now...

Him What

Me: I can come today.

TWO DAYS LATER

Him: Hey hey

Me: Hey there. 

Him: Got what you want

Me: Awesome, when and where?

Him: Can you come to my gf's house

Me: Maybe. Where is it?

Him: Glendale

You get the idea. He'll ping me, I'll answer - and then he'll just disappear. Poof. Gone. I don't know why, or what happens, and I don't want to annoy him by asking. I really like his featured designers, and I don't want to get cut out of the mailing list.

Incidentally, his girlfriend? She's a geologist, currently backpacking her way across Asia. Graduated in three years, bragged Pinkman, from an extremely reputable private university. I ended up meeting her that night, and she does seem very bright. I worry about them both, because to be honest, despite the flakiness and random, spammy sales pitches, Pinkman's really sweet, too. A few days ago he told me that his higher up was recently busted in a pretty big sting. I found this out when I asked what his Independence Day plans were; he told me that he and "some of the guys" were holding a fundraiser for the higher up's legal fees. I won't lie: I was impressed to hear of such solidarity.

I asked Pinkman whether this makes him nervous, whether it feels like the cops are closing in on him. But he says that since he only sells to me and a couple of good friends, he isn't really concerned. I don't know why I got grandfathered in before he quit selling large-scale, and I'm not going to ask. I try to curb my curiosity about Pinkman and Co., because I've found that the less I say, the less stupid I seem. Case in point, a snippet of our conversation last week:

Him: You're really lucky. This shit is the bomb. Straight from Amsterdam.

Me: Yeah? 

Him: Yeah. You know Silk Road?

Me: ....like, the ancient trade route through China..?

Him: No, the website. 

Me: (bluffing) Oh! Right! Yeah, yeah. Silk Road dot com. 

Him: Well this is the last of what my boy got through it, before they shut it down.

We had this conversation in the subway, by the way. I'd gone to meet him at our usual place in Hollywood, but we had to hop back on the train to go a few stops down to his new source. I was none too thrilled about that, but like I say, Pinkman's merchandise is nonpareil, even if Pinkman himself is sometimes more Pink Panther than Pablo Escabar. (When he purchased a TAP card for the metro fare, he was so high on weed he accidentally bought a monthly pass.) 

Something tells me the geologist girlfriend knows more about both Silk Roads than me. I just hope Pinkman answers her texts a little more promptly than he answers mine.   

Pinkman

Would you like to hear about my drug dealer, Pinkman? I'm going to assume that's a yes, not as some credit to my narrative ability, but because hello. Drugs. Pinkman.

The first thing you need to know about Pinkman is that his name isn't Pinkman. His name is Kenny. Incidentally, his predecessor, the guy who passed me along to Pinkman when he retired (his word), was also named Kenny. When I found out I was being handed off to a new Kenny, I started to wonder if maybe every drug dealer in Los Angeles goes by the name Kenny, as some sort of easy, anonymous code nom de guerre. Actually, I haven't stopped wondering that. So if anyone can confirm or deny, let me know.

Anyway, Kenny became Pinkman as soon as I was finished watching Breaking Bad a couple of months ago. I grabbed my phone and changed his contact name within minutes of the finale ending. (I don't kid myself that I am the only person in America amused by calling her dealer Pinkman. I enjoy it nevertheless.)

I met Pinkman when he delivered four grams of MDMA to me, at my home. I know what you're thinking. Four grams? At your home? Or, if you're not familiar with the dosage and selling of drugs, maybe you have no idea how much four grams is (it's quite a lot). Still, I'm guessing you're wondering at the weirdness of a drug dealer who does house calls.

Yeah, that part is unusual. But I had a broken foot. And I had been asked to procure the Molly as a favor for a friend going to a festival. (He planned on sharing it with several others.)

Pinkman, who was only persuaded to make the trek downtown by virtue of my large order, showed up at my door with a backpack, a boyish grin, and a shock of blonde hair that hung sweetly down the side of his face. I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it certainly wasn't the near-teenager that strode casually into my loft, dropped his bag unceremoniously to the floor, and started playing with Chaucer as if they'd known one another for years.

I didn't know whether to hand him the four hundred dollars we'd agreed upon or pour him a glass of Sunny Delight. And I was suddenly keenly, painfully aware of my age.

Pinkman (then still Kenny) eventually got down to business, but only after complimenting my apartment ("Your place is sick!") and inquiring rather solicitously about my injury. Reaching into his backpack, he asked if I had a coin.

"A coin?" I echoed dumbly.

"Yeah, like a nickel or something. To calibrate the scale." He set a small electronic scale on my kitchen island, along with a plastic baggie filled with what looked like glittering, pale lavender sand. I fished a nickel out of the dish on my sideboard and watched him expertly measure, chatting to me all the while. We compared notes on festivals, on DJs and venues in LA, and on drug use.

"You tried Lucy yet?" (He glanced up at me when he asked this.)

"No," I said, excitedly. "But I've always wanted to! Can you get it?" (I was assured he could. I was further assured that if I liked mushrooms, I would love LSD.)

The ease with which this youth was handling both himself and the very adult subject matter, combined with my own physical discomfort (I was still on crutches), made me strangely nervous. I didn't quite know what to do with myself, so in an attempt to seem equally comfortable, I hoisted myself onto the island, to sit beside the scale he was now hunched over. I felt immediately ridiculous, like I was trying to cozy up to the cute boy in chemistry class. I slid back off the counter and hobbled around to the sofa. Chaucer stayed put, riveted by Pinkman, staring up at him in hopes of another round of tug-o-war.

Our exchange concluded, Pinkman left as quickly as he'd come in, leaving my apartment feeling slightly buzzy in the way that rooms do when emptied of loud teenagers. I'd find out later he's twenty-four.

An hour or so after he'd gone, Pinkman texted to say that he hoped my foot was better soon. When I thanked him, he replied No prob. You're a doll compared to my usual customers lol. I cringed, knowing he meant it as a compliment but inferring that he perceived my politeness as a function of my age. At a loss how to respond, I finally went with Aww, well you're way cooler and nicer than anyone else I've bought from. :). I was afraid that outright referring to him as the nicest "dealer" I'd met would be in some way crass or unkind. He was, after all, also a musician. I didn't want to hurt the kid's feelings.

Lol good. You're super rad as well. Til next time adios and tell the dog goodnight? The question mark did me in - or maybe it was "super rad" - and I couldn't help myself; I sent back a favorite photo of Chaucer, a dSLR shot I'd taken and edited a couple years prior. Pinkman didn't respond. Again, inexplicably, I felt like an awkward high schooler. I chastised myself for sending the pic unsolicited.

I'd hear from him again soon, though.

dichotomy

I know a man who mistakes arrogance for confidence.

Every morning, he dresses himself in his accomplishments. One by one, he lovingly pulls them on like beribboned medals, pinning them across his shoulders, checking the mirror to see how they reflect on him. He's quite satisfied with what he sees.

He walks out into the world, clinking and clanging, proudly announcing to anyone within earshot what each token represents. Everyone he meets already knows, though, because he's a record on repeat. They nod politely, abiding his conceit with patience, wishing he'd stop making so much noise.

He fancies himself an expert in the art of achievement.

He's happy to tell you what you're doing wrong, because it's an opportunity to talk about what he does right. He is his own favorite example of success.

He is the master of the humble brag, and he never met a buzzword that didn't get him hard.

Women exist as an abstraction to him. He'll talk all day about how much he "values" them, but that's because he thinks he's supposed to say that. But listen to him speak about them and you can sense his misogyny. Women have hurt him, and he's out to hurt them back. He views them as challenges, as objects to be conquered. Beauty is their only selling point. The more attractive a woman he can place on his arm, the more impressive he deems himself.

He belongs to several dating sites, because he thinks he looks irresistible on paper.

He is incredibly, devastatingly, transparently insecure. Validation is heroin to him. The envy of others, crack cocaine. He is exhausted by the need to prove his worth to others.

He is extremely passive aggressive. When he cannot have something, he immediately and loudly dismisses it. He finds ways to subtly criticize the choices and lifestyles of those who threaten him, because he cannot stomach coming in second in any of life's competitions. And that's what life is to him: a series of competitions.

---

I know a man who has no idea how sexy his humility is.

He places his achievements deep in his pockets, assured of their existence, but with no need to put them on display. He makes me dig to find them, and when I do, they are like treasures unearthed. I unwrap the details of his life with delight, while he quietly watches. He doesn't need to say anything, because they speak for themselves.

He accepts praise with modesty, often deflecting it. And when he does, I am moved by a need to make him understand how impressive he is. I want to cup his face, look into his eyes, and tell him that he's amazing. I want to kiss him, utterly charmed by the secrets he's too modest to wear on his sleeve.

He's outgrown the need tick off boxes on a public bucket list. He either does things or he doesn't, but he doesn't parade his privilege in front of others, tone deaf to how entitled and boastful he appears.

If you asked him about the woman he loves, he'll tell you how smart, funny, and talented she is. "And she's pretty," he'll add as an afterthought.

I know a man who makes me feel like there's room for me in his life, because it isn't already too full of himself.

the ad

She was a woman pained by her own beauty, and mistrusting of it. Compliments would form haltingly on the lips of men wishing to flatter, but fearful of offending. She knew they meant well, but she'd rather they didn't try at all, so uncomfortable was it to hear the same carefully chosen phrases trotted out over and again. Their translations trailed in the air behind them, unspoken, but no less tangible. Amazonian. Freakishly tall. Lascivious smile. Toothy. The woman had never understood this need of theirs, to spin sugar from air. She hated to feel patronized. And once placed in her lap, the praise sat there unwelcome, like an infant she'd no interest in dandling.

But she was gracious, and she hid her impatience behind a smiling sip of her cocktail, or the slow crossing of her legs. Soon enough the facade would drop away, as it always did. And accumulated experience had emboldened her to cut to the chase quicker each time. 

"Let's talk about the ad," she'd say, leveling her gaze into one part challenge, one part invitation. "Why did you answer it?" 

poser

Oh my god. Please stop talking. Please stop trying so hard. You're making my brain bleed.

Your chaos is not sexy. Do you think you look tough? Do you think you are cool? Dangle the cigarette out a little further, please. I can't wait to watch it fall on your foot. I can't wait to watch you hop and howl, your candy shell broken momentarily.

You think you wear your attitude like an expensive accessory, but my god, what a cheap and ugly knockoff they sold you. It's embarrassing for all of us. Check the inner pocket for some self-awareness.

You're not a big fish. You probably never will be. Those aren't accomplishments; they're variations of font and color. No one is fooled, you idiot.

This is Los Angeles.

You are no one.

Strip away the decoration and your talent sums to zero. 

No one asked you. And that's what you hate the most, isn't it? Being left out.  

Stop taking yourself so goddamned seriously, please. You're not a Hunter S. Thompson character. Chill the fuck out and smile once in a while.

Or don't. Stay at the cool kids' table and cast disparaging looks around you while you write refrigerator magnet poetry. We really don't give a shit. We were fine before we knew you existed, and we'll forget you in five minutes' time. 

This is Los Angeles. 

You are no one.

impotence

She was shaking with anger by the time she got home. She'd already replayed the scene in her mind half a dozen times; it skewed slightly more to her favor with each revisitation. She stewed memories of his apathy and aloofness until they had dissolved, broken down to the basics in her black-and-white thought. Bad. He was a bad man. And now they'd given themselves over to the powers of her interpretation: apathy had become willful cruelty; aloofness, hatred. It was essential to load up her pen with as much venom as possible - it made composing the letter much easier, and much more satisfying.

She dropped her keys and bag in the cold, empty kitchen, and stalked to her writing desk in the office. She lowered herself onto the hard-backed chair, straightened her shoulders, and lifted her chin. Hers was important work. The most important, in fact.

Finally, she opened the single drawer. It slid forward on the grooves with a soothing, smooth hiss, a whispered promise of revenge. Together we will right this wrong, it said. She lifted a single page from the stack of clean white paper, and pulled her favorite pen from the cup on the desk. The pen spoke to her, too, as she made the first stroke. Its angled metal nib scratched pleasingly, reassuringly across the page. Yes. This. This is the only way. They don't know. But you do. You know.

It didn't take her long. It never did. It was formulaic, and familiar enough to her that she only paused to find words that would fully convey how badly she'd been wronged. She told herself she wasn't embellishing. She believed herself. She told herself she was helping him. She believed that, too. 

When she was done, she lifted the sheet to what was left of the late afternoon light cutting through the office window. She tried to ignore the dust twinkling in the sun, stifling thoughts of the hours of drudging housework that stretched out before her. She silently read what she'd written, her lips mouthing the words, and occasionally murmuring aloud a phrase here or there: Dear Santa...a bad man...unfair...so mean...you understand...forgive him...don't take him off your list...he knows not...

So absorbed was she in her efforts that she didn't hear her husband come in the front door, call her name so softly that it seemed unwilling, and finally appear behind her in the office doorway. He watched her without interruption, because there was no point. It was a conversation they'd had a hundred times. She wouldn't be dissuaded. And since it made her feel better, he figured there was no harm. He'd just sneak back in later, when she was busy with the baby, find it, and quietly dispose of it like all the others. 

He turned to leave just as she started folding. That was the part that made him saddest. That was the part that was hardest to watch. She took as much notice of his departure as she did of his arrival. She had to focus to get the lines right. Symmetry was everything.

---

He waited until he heard her bathing the baby. Sounds floated down the stairs to the family room, where he sat reading the newspaper, his shoulder muscles gnarled into manifestations of the day's myriad stresses. Splashing. Infant gurgles. His wife's voice, singing and cooing to their child. He set the paper on the sofa beside him, rose, and walked into the dark office. He didn't turn the light on; he didn't need to. He could see it sitting on the floor near the desk, a bright white feat of childish engineering - of fruitless, angry geometry - sitting in a pool of moonlight. It was a lonely coin in a dried up wishing well. It was a gavel banging in an empty courtroom. It was dead and useless where it had landed, after she'd walked to the farthest corner of the office, squinted and bit her lip in concentration, carefully lined up her arm, and sent it sailing across the room, where it had tapped impotently against the glass of the closed window before hitting the ground.

Physics had gotten the best of it.  

He bent down and picked it up, looking it over appreciatively. She'd gotten better. The folds were razor-straight, and the plane's construction was complex. It was unlike anything he'd been able to make as a child, that was for certain. His wife's words crept out onto the wings, branding the aircraft with her indignation and righteousness. ...such a hateful man... He didn't unfold it, though. He knew he'd hear the story later, and that he'd have to emphatically agree that she'd been right, no matter what he secretly believed. The man crumpled the paper into a ball and tossed it into the trash. 

Before he left the office, he stood for a moment in the light beside the window. He ran his hand over the smooth wooden patina of his mother's writing desk, clear and empty once again, patiently awaiting its next mission.

He sighed deeply, feeling sadness wrap itself around him like a straitjacket, and went to join his family upstairs.

melancholy girl

Melancholy girl talks in riddles and rhymes, in unfinished thought and suggestive implication. She doesn't know any other way. She is incapable of being clear or direct in her words, because she's afraid of the consequences. She's afraid to say no, because she's so afraid of being said no to. She is terrified - utterly terrified - of being alone.

Melancholy girl has no boundaries. She lets men take as little or as much as they want, and she tells herself she's gifted them something beautiful, no matter how much it cost her. Melancholy girl doesn't keep a good accounting of herself, and spends emotions on credit.

Melancholy girl has no true identity. She floats about, her eyes and ears keen to the charms of other women. When she sees something she admires - or that wins the attention of men - she morphs, chameleon-like, into that thing. Melancholy girl has no idea who she is. She collects visions of what she wishes that was, but that's as close as she gets to self-awareness.

Melancholy girl draws men in with her doleful sighs and downcast eyes. They want to fix her. They want to take care of her. Melancholy girl devastates men, or they devastate her, because only she can fix herself, but she doesn't know how. Melancholy girl doesn't have healthy relationships. She thrives on drama, on wild highs and crushing lows.

Melancholy girl attracts a certain kind of man - one who needs to feel strong in the face of her weakness. Melancholy girl tries very hard to appear helpless. Melancholy girl is often victimized by abusive, womanizing men. But because she doesn't love herself, deep down, she doesn't think she deserves anything better.

Melancholy girl is sometimes sincere in her pain, and sometimes not. Sometimes she's just an incredible and disgustingly manipulative actress.

Melancholy girl makes me angry. She's lazy. She's given up. She empowers abusive, selfish, and dangerous men. She hands the reigns over to them with a bat of her eyelashes. And when they've left her aching on the bathroom floor to go find another victim, she refuses to own her role in the ugly, sad story. Melancholy girl needs to grow the fuck up.

Melancholy girl is also a magnet for unhappy and lonely men - men looking for a purpose in life. She lures them with the promise of the emotionally exotic and the physically erotic. But it's all bullshit and games.

Melancholy girl isn't real. I could touch her and she'd turn to feathers and dust. She's as substantial as vapor.

Melancholy girl won't make you laugh. She'll only make you cry.

Melancholy girl will trap and drown you, if you let her.

You won't be richer for your experience of her. Only a little bit more used up.

soon

She never went to the parties, even before the baby came. Her husband occasionally did, but he was detached and aloof, floating the perimeter and socializing only with a few familiars. He was a massive man, with a florid face, pale eyes, and a carefully guarded smile. The way he held himself, the terse replies with which he responded to queries about his wife's whereabouts, gave one the impression his size was a deliberate, even aggressive proxy for the woman who stayed behind, waiting for him to finish his single whiskey and return with fresh gossip to unpack. I'm here for both of us, his huge body seemed to say. He was less a shield than a ballast for her to cling to, in the bewildering parade of beauty, frivolity, and ostentation that she'd deemed Los Angeles to be.

As to the woman herself, she moved through life as if hiding from it. Head down, avoiding the eye of even her next door neighbors: her comportment was a curious mixture of awkwardness and efficiency. Her torso was still thickened by pregnancy, but her arms and legs remained gangly, appearing always to be tangled up in the dog leash, or the baby's carrier. She looked painfully uncomfortable in her own skin.

Still, she carried herself with surprising speed down the city sidewalks, maintaining an expression of urgency that allowed her to recuse herself from conversations she didn't want to have, with people she didn't want to know. Thoughts of a quiet house in the suburbs consumed her, and she pressed her husband nightly with questions about when, where, and how soon. In the meantime, she busied herself with her child, an enormous infant with dark hair and suspicious eyes. She channeled her anxieties into him, only feeling their release when his laughter bubbled up, temporarily breaking the spell of loneliness in the otherwise unremitting quiet of their loft.

Soon, she cooed to herself, and to him. Soon.

superhero

I feel restless, at home today. I don't have any plans for the evening, and know that I'll go bonkers if I spend the entire day and night cooped up in the apartment. So I grab a sweatshirt and head to the metro station. I have no idea where to go. I have no idea what to do. I should have started this adventure earlier; I could have gone to the beach. Now it's already three o'clock.

I'm languid in my movement, even though the temperature is dropping. I'm in the mood to sit back and observe, but against a change of scenery. I wish a moving sidewalk would unroll in front of me, like a red carpet. I don't need the pomp. Just some circumstance.

Below ground, I decide to take whichever train comes first. North Hollywood it is.

Hollywood and Vine. Tourists. Anxious-looking men smack star maps agains their palms and thrust them into the hands of passerby. They ignore me. What is it? The fact that I'm alone? Something in how I'm dressed? My headphones? Or, probably, the disengaged look on my face. I'm strangely flattered, to think I'm passing for a local. Wait, passing? I am a local. I live in Los Angeles. Some day it'll sink in. Probably the one I move.

The walk of fame. Star after star after star. I glance at the names along with everyone else. I know very few, which makes me feel ashamed. I should pick one, learn his or her story. Occasionally, an empty star. Nameless, ready to be stamped with glamour, making all the fame hounds drool.

I snap a few photos, wander, listen to The Walkmen. Heaven, on loop. This is depressing me. This was a mistake. There is nothing novel or noteworthy on this stretch. Head shops. Tattoo parlors. What am I doing here? There must have been a million interesting cultural events happening in the city today, that I could have gone to.

There's a superhero on the sidewalk up ahead of me. He's standing alone in front of a costume store, coaxing foot traffic inside. Only, there isn't much to coax. I suddenly realize that I know who this man is. He catches my smile of recognition - though he doesn't know its source - and steps towards me. I'm expecting the advance; from what I've seen, one of his superpowers is salesmanship.

I allow my smile to broaden as I slow to a stop in front of him. "I saw your documentary," I say in as friendly a way I can. It occurs to me that he must hear this all the time, and I hasten to add, "It was great. I think what you guys do is great. You're a fixture in Hollywood, and you make a lot of people smile..." I trail off dumbly, with no idea how to express what I'm trying to say. What am I trying to say?

Superman rescues me. "Oh, thank you. That's very kind," he says. "What's your name?" He shakes my hand, and we start to chat. His resemblance to Christopher Reeve is even more astonishing in person. The jet black curl on his forehead, his sharp but delicate facial features. The care with which his costume has been constructed - and is obviously treated each night upon removal - is moving. It's been a few years since I saw the film about him and the other men and women who make a living portraying famous characters on the streets of Hollywood. But I remember finding it fascinating - finding him fascinating, especially - and I'm delighted to now be speaking with him, face to face.

We talk very briefly about his work, and about the lawsuit he brought against the city to fight for his right to work the boulevard for money, before moving onto the topic of skincare. I've made some flattering (and genuine) remark about how youthful he looks, and he's now reviewing his daily cosmetic regimen for me. He doesn't just use soap, he explains. He uses conditioner, too. On his body. He lets it soak into his skin while he's washing his hair. "See, feel," he commands, lifting the back of his hand for me to stroke.

The graceful way he's holding his arm, and the papery, smooth texture of his knuckles make me think instantly of my mother. But it's more than his skin. It's his dark hair and crooked teeth. It's his whole general physicality, in fact: ectomorphic, fragile in spite of his height. She was the same way. His comportment echoes hers as well. Gentle. Vulnerable and a little bit broken, but with a latent strength. Someone who's had to bear a lot of pain, but is nowhere near ready to give up.

She was the same way in that regard, too.

I'm tempted to tell him how much he reminds me of her. I don't think he'll be offended. I think, in fact, he'll understand that I mean it as a compliment. He seems deeply empathetic. I think that if in trying to explain exactly how he's like my mother, the words become stuck in my throat and I can only shake my head helplessly as my eyes well up, that he won't become alarmed or uncomfortable. That he'll put his superhero arms around me, there on the sidewalk, and give me a superhero hug. And I think that hug might just transfer some of his power to me, in the same way that hers used to.

I think all of that, inside of an instant, as I'm looking up at this kind, engaging, couragous, dedicated, and somewhat tragic soul, whose story charmed me when I paid the DVD store $3.99 to learn its more intimate details four years ago. I have nothing in common with him. I have so much in common with him. We both pretend to be something we're not. We're both a little bit crazy. I want to tell him that he actually is a fucking superhero, for having the tenacity to get up every day, put on a cape and tights, brave the jeers of homophobic assholes, and live at the mercy of people considerate enough to tip him for a picture.

I've worked for tips, too.

I've worn some pretty ridiculous get-ups, too.

I envy his spirit in the same way I envy my mother's, because I'm not always sure I inherited it.

I realize I'm chewing up his time; there are tourists glancing over with interest. I excuse myself to go, thanking him for the chat. He encourages me to visit him again, next time I'm in Hollywood. "I'm here at the shop on weekends until Halloween, but weekdays you can find me at Grauman's. Come say hello," he says, using my name and smiling warmly. I promise to do just that. As I move away, I see a bottle blonde in a tube dress shake out her hair before squeezing against him, so that a bald forty-something in Oakleys can snap their photo.

I'm pretty sure she's not going to tip him.

I'm also pretty sure that the only thing she's going to get out of her superhero encounter is a shitty, posed cellphone pic.

cereal aisle

An elderly, Slavic-looking man with a drawn face is propping himself up against an empty wheelchair as he examines his breakfast choices. The chair partially blocks my path, so I smile politely at him as I squeeze past. I'm staring down a box of Apple Jacks, daring it to keep looking at me like that, when I realize the man is saying something to me.

I pop my earphones out and say, "Sorry?"

"...a fire in the store, they could be telling everyone to get out, and you wouldn't even know." Oh, I realize. My music. He's commenting on the volume which, admittedly, is rather egregious. But he's not crabbing at me. I'm not some damn kid he wants to get off his lawn. He's teasing, and grinning.

"Yes," I wink at him. "But I'd see you heading for the exit and I'd follow you!"

He lights up. "You follow me?"

"Sure!" I nod. "You seem very trustworthy."

With a huge sweep of his arm, he gestures towards the front of the store. "Come then! Let's go!"

I laugh loudly enough that a pair of FIDM girls glances over, before bidding the man good evening and heading to the produce section. I completely forget about the Apple Jacks.

dress up

On Saturday, I have every intention of hiding indoors from the 102 degree heat, until it's time to get ready for the party. Fate has other plans, though, because fate makes N. forget his wallet at home. Fate therefore requires that I meet my cash-strapped friend in the fashion district, in order to loan him money to buy the hot pink, patent leather, size ten pumps he needs to complete his own quinceanera outfit.

The fashion district is, oh, eleven, twelve blocks across town. Did I mention the 102 degree heat? I may have mentioned it.

By the time we get to Santee Alley, we're sweat-drenched and sun-fried. Thankfully, it has the shoes he needs. It also has a few hundred hot, cranky shoppers crammed into it. On the way back, we walk by a dress shop that throws a bedazzled monkey wrench into my plans: it has full length, blinged-out ball gowns for $99. I've already got a cheap dress to wear for the night, but it's short. It's not a traditional XV dress. I know I can return mine and recoup my $69, so it will only put me out another $30 to upgrade to three additional feet of dress. I look at N, assuming he'll tell me to suck it up and just wear what I've already bought.

I guess my first mistake was expecting a gay man to say, "No, for merely another $30, you should not trade up for a fabulous, floor-length pooflicious ball gown that would be exactly what the party calls for." Because he does not say that. Instead, he practically pushes me into the store. I now suspect he had ulterior motives, but more on that later.

We do a quick survey of the selection and decide that an apricot, tulle-skirted dress with a plunging neckline and silver beading is the best of the $99 options. A tiny Mexican saleswoman asks me what size I want. I frown thoughtfully, looking at N. (a clothing designer who's used me as a fit model a few times), and say, "Ummm, a two or a four?" She glances at my midsection, expressionless, before correcting me with a thick accent: "No. You are a seex."

N. enjoys this immensely.

I know he has to get back to work, so I shoo him off before spending several sweaty minutes making this poor woman all too familiar with my topless torso, while she wrestles me into the apricot number, then a lime green lace-up strapless, then back into the apricot, all the while encouraging me to just get both. "I only need one," I try to explain. "One dress for one party. Tonight."

She doesn't understand, or doesn't care. "Ninety-nine. You get both, yes? Ninety-nine. Each dress. Yes?"

The green sets off my hair better, but the last thing I want to be doing all night is yanking the top up. Strapless dresses and I have come to an understanding, which is Let's just steer clear of one another, for both our sakes.

This is when the plot thickens, kind of like how the triple-digit air outside had thickened to the consistency of soup: I don't have enough money in my checking account to get the dress. If I want it, I'm going to have to walk eleven blocks back home to transfer money before walking eleven blocks back to pick up the dress.

Wonderful.

Ever the glutton for punishment, I do precisely this, stopping home just long enough to slam some water, let Chaucer out, and change into a dry shirt. It's hotter. Than. Fuck.

Back at the shop, my dress has been mummified in a clear plastic bag. I don't fold it over my arm for fear of getting the metric ton of tulle wrinkled, so I hoist the hanger above my head and venture back into the glaring sunshine. It weighs about a thousand pounds. I figure at this point I may as well go the full Quincy, so I trek back towards Santee Alley to a shop N. and I had stopped in earlier. It sells over-the-top crystal necklaces.

And tiaras.

Another diminutive Latina lady steps over to assist me with the tiaras, which are in a display case at the back of the store. Behind the case, barely visible from the front of the shop, are two young Asian girls, probably ten and seven years old. The older one is sitting on a stool at the counter, and looks at me curiously as I stagger up, practically dragging my massive bag. She has a school workbook in front of her, while her younger sister is playing a handheld video game. I give them a big smile.

I've apparently hit faux-crown pay dirt, because I've never seen so many tiaras in my life. The selection is massive, and I'm overwhelmed. I ask for something in the $10 range, and the shopkeeper starts pulling out tiara after tiara. Meanwhile, the two little girls are chatting me up like nobody's business.

"Isn't that heavy?" the older one asks me, nodding with seriousness and concern towards my garment bag. I assure her it definitely is. "It's hot out, huh?" the younger one adds, sympathetically. I decide that I love them.

"It is very hot out," I agree. "But I get to go to a costume party tonight, so it's ok."

Then I notice that the saleslady is still pulling out tiaras. "Oh gosh," I say, alarmed. "I'm sure I can find one among these. You don't have to take any more out."

The older girl sizes the situation up with expertise. "She's getting the ones with pearls. But you don't need one with pearls, do you?" I have no idea how she knows this but, no, I don't, and say as much. I pick three of cheapest crowns and separate them from the rest. Two are decidedly smaller and less ornate than the third, and in line with what I pictured wearing: subtle and rather sweet.

"What do you think, girls? Which one should I get?" My advisors step closer and peer carefully at the choices. Without conferring, they both point to the most intricate tiara, which has a triangular top and more bling than I've worn, collectively, in ten years.

The older girl is confident in her pronouncement: "Definitely that one. If you're going to a costume party, you should get the fanciest one." Her sister nods emphatically. I don't bother voting; I'm clearly outnumbered, not to mention by bigger authorities on how to best to look like a princess. And when the younger girl adds, "Go big or go home," I realize I'd better pay and get out of there before I commit a double kidnapping.

des amis

Remember my French friend from the creperie around the corner? Well, I've gotten to be buddies with him, in a way. He chats me up whenever he's outside and I walk by, or when I stop in to eat. We limit our talks to the subjects I have the vocabulary to sustain: my dog, food, love - or a lack thereof. For a while, he'd gotten used to seeing A. and I as a couple, and when we broke up, he made his disapproval clear. I guess he thinks because we look good together, we should be together? He always tries to convince me that A. is amoreux de moi. "Non,' I tell him, "nous sommes seulement des amis."

Alex always encourages me to come by more often, to sit and have a coffee with him and just practice my French. "You don't need to buy anything," he assures me. "Just come talk."

So the other day, I did.

I walk in and sit at the counter, where I can watch him and the other cooks smooth out the crepe batter in perfect circles. "J'ai faim," I announce, and he gets to work. He knows I always want the same thing.

We chat a bit while he fixes my lunch, and just as he serves me, I hear the door behind me swing open. I glance backwards and do a double take. A.'s just walked in. He joins me, a bit flustered, saying he didn't know I was here, and he'll leave, and apologizing for being there - and then apologizing for being flustered. I tell him not to be silly and that he should split my sandwich with me, because I can never finish it.

Alex fixes himself a tuna sandwich and sits near us, while we semi-awkwardly catch up. After a minute, we're relaxed and talking like usual. I use my fork to push a small speared gherkin across the plate towards him. "Eat your cornichon," I say.

"That's not a cornish hen!" he says scornfully.

"Stop it," I tell him. I don't have the strength to banter. But he does. He's always on, in the early part of the day. Me, I don't warm up until night.

"Where do you think he gets them? These cornish hens." We're both staring at a tiny, wrinkled pickle.

"Cornwall," I say. "It's like champagne. You call only call it champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France. And you can only call them cornish hens if they come from Cornwall, England." He grins and I suddenly feel tired.

"Can I have a hug?" he asks. I grant the request, leaning over uncomfortably in my chair to wrap my arms around him for a moment. Alex nods approvingly. "That's what I like to see," he says. "You can only come to my house if it is like that. For wine. You like wine?"

I have no idea what he's talking about. Go to his house? Did I make some forgotten date with my ex-boyfriend to go drinking at the crepe guy's house?

The hug feels like it's lasting a very long time. I warn A., half jokingly, that he'd better be careful or I'll hijack his afternoon and throw him in bed.

We finish and A. walks me out, accompanying me halfway down the block to the dry cleaner's, where he asks for another hug. I oblige again. He rubs my back while we hug on the sidewalk and playfully, inexplicably, calls me "Meatball". I've never heard him call me that before, but OK. I don't have the strength to question the moment or his sweetness. I'll be Meatball.

He leaves and I fetch my dry cleaning and go home alone.

Percy's Ink Shop

Percy's ink shop isn't his. It's a chain ink refill store at which I've spent an unfortunate amount of money over the past few months, thanks to all the estate paperwork. Percy is the Eastern European man who runs it, and with whom I've gotten to be friendly. He absolutely kills me. He says the most absurd, unexpected, and often inappropriate things every time I go in, and entertains me enormously.

Percy and I have perfected our ink-customer-and-seller schtick. I come in, angry and frustrated about my piece of shit printer having devoured yet another $8 in cyan or magenta, and he talks me down with a bemused, patronizing tone. Then he spends five minutes campaigning for me to go out with him, while I ask personal questions designed to get him to reveal more bizarre/scandalous details about himself.

Among other things I've learned about Percy is that, before he moved to the states, he was virtually swimming in hot, eligible women, all vying for his attention and money. Percy was a god in The Old Country. Here, he's a pudgy, moon-faced thirty something ink store manager, with a little boy's haircut and massive, dark eyes.

Today I've brought a depleted cartridge of yellow ink. I always put the used cartridges in a little baggie so they won't stain my hands or clothes or purse, but for some reason I feel ridiculous doing so. As if they're toxic, or I'm afraid of a getting a little ink blot on me.

When I walk in, he's reclining behind the counter as usual, talking on his cell phone. He lazily starts to sit up when he sees me, and says, "I gotta go. Customer. Don't worry. It's a guy." His words are heavily accented, and he winks at me on the last one.

"I'm just going to throw my printer out the window," I announce, as he's snapping his flip phone shut.

He cocks his head at me, as if to say Really?? "Why do you do that. I just tell her it's a guy. Now I'm gonna get in trouble, because she hear you."

I remind Percy that he's at work. Does his mistress think his only customers are men? He takes my ink cartridge out of its hazmat container and examines it. "Where is the number?" he asks. I have no idea. Number? "There should be a number on here. A sticker. That's how I know what you have. You take the sticker off, I don't know what to sell you."

I unleash a stream of vulgarity insulting the integrity of my printer, its manufacturers and designers, and making threats towards its longevity. Percy tells me to relax.

"How do men date you?" he queries, not bothering to look my way as he scans the shelves for the correct replacement. "You're crazy. I would lose my mind if I was your boyfriend," he adds.

Speculations about my dating life are nothing new at the ink shop. Over the course of the past three months, Percy has seen fit to 1) try and set me up with various other customers, 2) try and secure a date for himself, and 3) inquire as to the health of my sex life. None of this is done in earnest or with malice. He doesn't take himself one iota more seriously than I take him.

He reminds me that if I were to date him, I'd be "a lot happier and calmer woman." I have no doubt, I say dryly. He wags a small blue box at me as he says, "And I'm not just talking about orgasms." I can't keep a straight face.

"You're insane," I tell him. "You should have your own reality show. Percy's Ink Shop. It'd be perfect for Bravo. All about your interactions with customers, the relationship advice, the inappropriate comments..."

He lights up. "I love Bravo!" he exclaims. "Millionaire Matchmaker!" I am not surprised. I am not surprised by anything Percy says.

"The show could follow your personal life, too," I continue, "which I bet is...fascinating." He knows I'm teasing, and he laughs. He knows full well how ridiculous he is.

Suddenly his face gets serious. He looks at me conspiratorially, as if about to disclose his secret KGB identity. "You know, I'm actually having a background in the jewelry business." And before I can finish the crack I start about Russian mobsters, he's reaching into his pants pockets and pulling out two fistfuls of tiny plastic baggies. I can see immediately that one has a ring of some kind in it, and the others, loose diamonds.

"That's it," I say. "I'm calling Andy Cohen. You need to be on television." I shake my head in wonder. "Percy! What the hell are you doing carrying around a bunch of diamonds?"

He doesn't answer, and just holds out his treasures, eyes twinkling. "Have you ever seen diamonds before?" he asks me, in complete seriousness. I inform him that I am not, in fact, Oliver Twist, and yes, I have seen diamonds before. I remind him for the fifth time at least that I was married (a fact he suspiciously forgets to file away each time) and I even had the pleasure of wearing diamonds.

At this, he pulls the ring out and holds it up between us. I can see now that it's a pave wedding band. He makes as if to slip it on my finger, but I pull away. "Huh uh," I say. "Once was enough."

As always, he discounts my ink, exhorts me to bring my dog next time, and sends me off in a better mood than when I walked in.