IMG_2905Lisa is a really pretty girl and Gina and I aren’t, but still, she’s our friend. So when Lisa comes up to us in the Santa Monica High parking lot after school on Tuesday and asks us for a ride, we say yeah. And when I get in the driver’s seat and Gina sits down next to me, and Lisa opens the back door to get in right behind me, Gina turns to me with this wild, mean look in her eye and she whispers, “Let’s just go!”

10459009_10152214303511127_1046608401945286575_oIn a crumbling-stucco corner house off Frazier Street, lived a boy who believed he was nothing at all.  Nightly, his drunk father’s eyes glowed red, and he spit fiery words, but not until fists hailed down on his mother did the boy run for the space between the stove and cabinets. There he crouched crying, “Coward! Coward!”

He listened hard through screams and breaking for his mother’s breathing. Sometimes she went silent, and he wanted to be more than a boy hiding between the stove and cabinet. There he fingered the black abyss of a crack in the linoleum praying, “Fall in. Fall in. Fall in. Fall in,” and one night his father did.

Susan Lindheim photoSouthwestern Arkansas, 1934

Lily peeked out the bathroom window and saw that nothing had changed: her mother Rose — wedding band hidden in her purse — was still flirting with the filling station attendant while her grandmother Miriam paced circles around the pale yellow Dodge sedan with the Chihuahua at her heels. One day Miriam’s jitteriness would give them all away, Lily was sure of it. One day they’d all get arrested because Miriam couldn’t just flat out pretend.

Edgar was already gone.

Hugh_Laurie_music_1854941bBetty Whoops shared Hugh Laurie‘s comment.

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“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something – I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

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IMG_1857My dad left on a Wednesday afternoon in July. He had made some trial runs; leaving the house late at night and heading off God knows where only to return days later, his clothes wrinkled and stinking of cigarettes and beer, the shadow of a beard growing on his face. But I would never have expected him to leave the day the fish fell from the sky.

For reasons having to do with great embarrassment and no small measure of sadness, two of the people in this accounting will be referred to only by their initials.  A lot of people find that annoying, but then some people find an ice cream truck going by their house on a summer evening annoying.

So.

It was at the age of thirty that C. first became aware of the weight of his head.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa

Louisa, who tucked up her skirts and went running every day or she would go mad, was confounded and smothered by the whales of Concord, like Mr. E, on whom she had a crush when she was a child and left him flowers under his window, flowers found and laughed at by Mrs. E, who had to put up with all his giggly acolytes, who arranged themselves prettily at his feet, including that lunatic Jonas Very, to whom Mr. E was always so kind even though Jonas Very was very very unpoetic and it would kill him to think so, but aside from Mr. E and stately Mr. H, whom she privately liked to call Nat, because he was so very very formal and distant, always walking along the Lexington Road with his head bent in thought, there was princely Henry, and on that spring evening she was running to meet Henry in his rowboat–Henry in his rowboat, playing his flute!–and overcome by her freedom from the whales of philosophy she did a sort of handspring in the path and accidentally felled a small dead tree. 

Stevie Mackenzie’s brother broke up the family. He emailed her a few days after Thanksgiving to announce it. He would no longer be coming home for Christmas. John Armstrong—the family called him Army—had decided to spend the holidays in San Francisco with friends. His friends didn’t try to shove him in a box and tape it shut. His friends understood his situation.

A year went by, and Army stayed away again. Stevie and her parents fought to keep him. Eva, the older sister, was strangely neutral. Fewer pieces in the pie? Maybe. Perhaps she had a problem with intimacy. Whatever the reason, Eva was willing to let him go.  She and Army had much in common: strong chins, advanced degrees, jobs in technology. They even attended the same gadget conventions in Las Vegas. At one of these, they lunched.

I.

Mateo got me drunk and told me about his mother’s parties. I stared at my reflection in the half-empty glass and lost myself in the white organza and tulle, the light strings and floating lanterns. Teo masked his familiar scent with cigarettes and cologne, but I could still smell the sweat lacquering his forearms, Argentina moist on his dark skin. He bought another round of tequila, and we drank to Cash and the mountain, my throat raw and roaring, the drowned pink worm dancing against my lips like a second tongue.

The small room filled up with eyes watching this príncipe and his boyish gringa. I leaned on the bar and laughed like my father, Mateo spinning words into worlds and building horizons with his long hands.

Andy had spent three years at art school. His angle – because in the arts one always has to have an angle – was that he painted things at microscopic level. Encouraged by his tutors, he referred to this as “Interiorization of External Space.” Andy liked cauliflowers a lot, he was always painting cauliflowers, because he couldn’t think of anything else to paint; initially, a friend had recommended them to him, because of their “interesting structure.” Sometimes he’d leave them lying around for a couple of weeks until they went brown. He was always mindful about giving his paintings industrial-sounding names: “Rotten Cauliflower, Batch I,” “Rotten Cauliflower, Batch XXII,” etc. One of his best compositions was called “Rotten Cauliflower, XIX,” he painted it one morning when he was badly hung over and suffering from nicotine withdrawal and therefore full of spontaneity.

 

Because she is seven days gone and he is so obviously heart-busted, I know it is not a good idea to talk to Tommy right now about Rosa or anything else. About how pointless this is. If it was a good time, then yes, I’d have things to say; we’ve been driving around for a long time. I’d say, “Tommy, I want to go home,” or “Dressing like a cowboy doesn’t make you one.” I’d say, “She is with Danny Lee now. She is probably gone for good, man.”

Phil is sitting in his office staring at his computer when his cellphone rings. It is his wife, Helen. He picks it up, punches a button. The call goes straight to voicemail.

“Tell it to your mother,” says Phil.

Then it’s the phone on his desk, melodic and eager. Phil watches the blue digits scroll across the caller ID display. It’s Helen. Phil turns back to work on his spreadsheet. He knows an email will appear on his screen within minutes, an apology from Helen. Her contrition will be touching, the way a green fly is touching.

Before Phil married Helen, his older brother pulled him aside at a family cookout and said, “Marriage is really hard. You have to work at it. It’s a lot of work.”

Janice Bane cranked it up.  Neil Diamond.  The Solitary Man.  Anybody who had a problem with that could go fuck themselves.

“I’ve had it to here, being where love’s a small word.”  Janice gripped the steering wheel and belted out the lyrics. “Part time thing.” She hit the gas and passed the Range Rover. “Paper ring.”   L.A. traffic was getting to be unbearable.

“I know it’s been done having one girl who loves you.”  She swerved around a man puttering along on a powder blue Vespa Scooter.   “Right or wrong.”   HONKKKK.  What kind of man would chose to drive a Vespa?  “Weak or strong.”

She picked up some speed on the straightaway.