catelin: (Default)
( Dec. 1st, 2001 05:43 pm)

amoureaux au bouquet

Marc Chagall

It has been my habit since childhood to stop and slowly turn a circle when I perceive those moments in life that are small but grand at the same time. It was winter and I was eight. It must have been a Friday or Saturday because I was up late when the snow began to fall. Everyone else in the house had already gone to sleep. I was a night owl as a child, and I'd often stay up reading with a flashlight under the covers. I remember a full moon and how quickly the street outside my window turned from glittery black to soft luminescent white. I watched tiny bits of snow hit the glass pane turned to drawing slate by my warm breath. I put on my shoes, threw a coat over my nightgown and headed out into the living room with my gloves and stocking cap in my hands. I silently opened the door and walked out into the front yard that had transformed itself into every place I ever wanted to be. It was so quiet and clean. Every movement I made was like a whisper. All I knew to do was to stand there, eyes closed and face up to the sky, slowly turning, telling myself I would remember this. I will always remember this.

Years later, I visited the Floral District in Los Angeles for the first time. It was a city made of flowers. I stopped in the center of one of the giant floors, closed my eyes, and began my circle. It was sweetness, nectar, and voices--garbled Tagalog, Vietnamese and Spanish, the squeaking of carts and baby strollers, the gentle spray from the misters. My boyfriend at the time stood there nervously, looking around afterward to see if anyone had noticed the crazy girl in her orbit amidst the blossoms. I tried to explain it to him. He didn't get it. How can you remember anything with your eyes closed? It's how I make myself know that magic is real. It's how I spin on my axis and create a charm for this bracelet that is my life. I remember things best with my eyes closed, circumnavigating the happiest moments of my existence from the inside.
catelin: (Default)
( Nov. 12th, 2001 02:43 pm)
I'm home today...enjoying the rare day off from work. I had planned on doing nothing more than painting my toenails and watching television. It's barely cloudy outside...just cool enough to open the windows and let the breeze dance through all the rooms of this house. Perhaps it was the movement of the wind, but I've ended up cleaning, arranging, unpacking. I unwrapped my grandmother's liqueur set that's been in newspaper and bubble wrap since the big earthquake in Los Angeles. My ex was in New York and I was sleeping on the couch while he was gone. I'm one of those women that, once your imprint's in my bed, I can hardly bear it without you. I'd had a fire going earlier and had fallen asleep, covered with nothing but my favorite quilt and cats at my feet. Then, everything shattered. I remember thinking I was home (Texas was still home to me then...always) at first, and that someone was grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me awake. I ran to the doorway and clung to it, sitting on the floor. The earth shook and I raged. I wasn't frightened; I was angry. I was screaming at being ripped away from my life, at leaving this earth in a place that was strange to me, so far from my roots. You motherfucker. Motherfucker. Fuck. I didn't think of a god; I thought of fate. I thought of three blind fucking sisters snipping my skein of yarn by accident. It's not time! I yelled up to the sky. I held on so hard I left fingerprints in the plastered walls. It turned quiet and my neighbor (I think his name was aspiring stand-up comedian) came to check on me. He knew I was alone. I came downstairs and the iron gate to the small porch was locked. I don't have a key, I said. I never can find my keys, Jack. I want out of here. He ran across and got his spare key (that he had from previous "I locked myself in/out" episodes) and unlocked me. He was very nice and didn't comment on the fact that I was completely naked until about three weeks later. My china cabinet was many things. I told myself over and over...they're just things. Just things. But they meant something to me. They were connections with pieces of my family. I went back the next day, certain that the liqueur set that had belonged to my grandmother, and her grandmother before her, was dust. The tiny flutes were so fragile. Paper shell thin with tiny deep red flowers and gold leaves painted on them with a touch as light as a kiss. I said my good byes to them before I even went back in to survey the damage. There, covered by broken bits of more sturdy wares, were all of them. Not a scratch on them. Intact. It meant more to me than just having the glasses and decanter. Our circle, a wreath made of the intertwined hands of all the women in my tribe, had not been broken. And so I unwrapped my grandmother's liqueur set today, acknowledging the roots that brought me home, breathing in the scent of old newsprint and strength beyond measure.

Painter's Honeymoon---Frederic Leighton

I had been alone a long time with my poems, my pride . . . almost nothing.----Alfonsina Storni

What is it? He didn't know that he'd asked the question, but she heard it just the same. She always heard it, from the beginning of each beginning. It echoed in her head with the gentle timbre of his voice. What is it? She tried desperately not to answer, to ignore it, to pretend he didn't ask. She muffled the sound of it in her head, imagining herself curled in his arms. Willing herself there, eyes closed tight, lips against his chest silently chanting into his if she could breathe her heart's desire into his. It's nothing. It's nothing. It's nothing. As she grew to care for him, so did the urgency of the question in her head. What is it? What is it? She didn't want to answer. Not this time. Not when it mattered so much. Even with all of her wishing, she knew that the words would come out of her. The question whipped against her ears like an angry wind as she made her ascent to the rocky precipice from whence her answer would come. He nuzzled her in his sleep, draping his arm around the curve of her hip. What is it? What is it? The heights from which she looked down drew tears from her eyes that slid sideways into her ears. The weight of her fear filled her pockets like stones. What is it that shall make me want to leave you? She gave herself up to the question and gently laid herself into the wind, letting go of her hold on the steep rocks, telling herself he would wake her. Trust in him. Trust. He would softly chide her for her foolishness. They would find themselves tangled together in the morning sun, with nothing changed between them. Halfway down, still half-believing in him, she opened her eyes and realized she'd been alone all along.
catelin: (Default)
( Sep. 23rd, 2001 12:12 am)
I received a wonderful postcard from [ profile] beatnikside today. It was raining and I felt like writing a little thank-you note.

Thank You )

Dancing Bears--William H. Beard

If you recognize yourself in this, it was written for you.

I am not a social creature by nature, but I found myself invited one evening to a large dinner party. It was a grand affair. Our gracious hosts had an impeccable sense of exactly how many places to set at the great table in the dining room to make the occasion festive without being overbearing. He was the one I noticed first. Lord M. A stalwart character, very large. Dark and brooding like a bear, until he smiled at her, revealing a gentleness that took me by surprise. I am not the best conversationalist, and less so when I'm intent on studying the human condition that has fascinated me so from childhood. I had been seated next to a talkative chap whom I was able to placate by merely nodding my head politely every so often. I didn't mind this arrangement because it gave me the opportunity to observe Lord M. and his lady at a polite distance.

The lady I speak of was not known to me personally, but my dinner companion commented upon her appearance at the table with her husband--not Lord M. I was not the only one, it seemed, who had heard rumors that it was not the happiest of marriages and the Lady A. had sought to find a lover with which to occupy her time.

I watched them from across the table. They were seated at the extreme opposite ends of our gathering. It may have very well been two very different corners of the earth, for they were able to communicate only by fleeting glances at one another and small movements that held meaning for each. His were so full of yearning that I could hardly bear to watch him. There were several times when I saw him clench the table as if he were going to rise up and suddenly diminish this divide between them. Yet her signals to him were tiny words that drifted over my plate: stay, no, please, wait, wait, wait. He grew impatient and I watched her pleading with him even as she lay her hand in her husband's and laughed softly into his ear, all the while beckoning to Lord M. with her soft eyes and coquettish smile.

The last course of our meal coincided with the setting sun and we all retired to the gardens of the estate to enjoy the twilight. A few of the guests paired off and wandered into the hedge groves under the pretext of catching fireflies. The miniature creatures floated about us like embers, igniting stolen kisses and tangled limbs in the soft grassy outer reaches of the garden away from the prying eyes of most of our party. Lady A.'s husband busied himself with a brandy, discussing some dull matter or another with a gentleman from France. All the while, she was planning her escape and I watched, ready to witness this rendezvous that had been so intricately woven and planned right before my eyes.

Lord M. had walked alone into the grove of oaks that lay far from the main house. I followed at a safe distance and stood watching him in the trees as he waited for Lady A. He paced back and forth slowly, busying himself with the repetitive exercise until he heard her footsteps. I slipped further back into the shadows, afraid that I might be discovered and ruin the moment that I had spent the entire evening awaiting.

As she neared, I held my breath, expecting the towering moment in which she would throw herself into his giant arms. I thought to myself how wondrous it would be to witness the soothing of this horrible ache in him that was so tremendous it permeated my own skin and tightened my chest. Lord M. strained against the edge of the tree line, opening his arms to her, urging her to come to him there in the darkness.

She stopped just short of his open hands. He could not reach her and I watched transfixed as she sweetly chided him for being so foolish as to love her. She reminded him of her husband, of her position, of how things could not be changed. He begged her to move closer, even if only to brush his lips with her fingertips. Lady A., in all her finery, in her beautiful dinner dress, replied laughingly that he was selfish for even wanting such a thing. And with that she turned and ran quickly back to the party, and back to the safety of her husband's waiting arm. As for me, I spent the rest of the night hiding in the woods, listening to the heartbreaking cries of a bear in love.
catelin: (Default)
( Jun. 20th, 2001 12:38 pm)
From a recent post in Feministas:

I have pondered for a while what to write here in the way of an introduction. Here's my story:

I was the greatest hope (like all the other women born in this age) of my mother's generation. Born in the sixties, I was raised to believe that I could do anything without regard to gender. Like all of us born then, I discovered that others didn't see it that and women alike. I was heartbroken when I was forced off an all boys soccer team (the only kind back then...girls leagues came much later) because "someone might hit my breasts." I learned quickly that smart girls were not popular in school. I did what any self-respecting teenager of the time would do...I sold out. I chased boys; I giggled; I flirted; I wore too much makeup; I dreamed of being the Barbie in Barbie's Dream Wedding. I even met Gloria Steinham briefly when I was fifteen. She impressed me, but couldn't compete with my crush on the guy who sat behind me in algebra. I became everything that my mother had hoped I wouldn't.

In college, I became an art house feminist. I read all the books. I quit wearing make-up. I dressed in black. I kissed and groped girls instead of boys. I sat with my self-anointed nouveau Bohemian friends, railing against male-dominated culture between sips of espresso and drags from our overpriced imported cigarettes. I knew all the right words. I could argue theory with the best and brightest. But it was all show. I didn't start to get it until I had my own kids years later. Until my father quit speaking to me because I wasn't married. Until I had to explain twelve-thousand times that I wasn't divorced--I'd just never been married. Until I started to think about what kind of men I wanted to I wanted them to see the women they knew...and women in general. I look now at the girls who start painting their faces and their hair when they're in elementary school, who start fucking when they're barely old enough to have periods. I live in an age when women are objectified (and, quite frankly, objectify themselves) more than my mother's generation could have ever endured or imagined. I still read the books. I still listen to my mother. I still think Gloria Steinham is cool beyond cool. And I still hold out hope that one day we can all get our shit together and start this revolution from the inside out.
catelin: (Default)
( Feb. 11th, 2001 12:56 pm)
As with most fiction, there is always a seed of truth.
There was a Harry. There was a Katya. There were Thursdays.

It was an older shop over on Fairfax. There was a sign in Russian with a smaller English translation underneath. Dry Cleaning & Tailor. As I pushed open the screen door, I could smell the coffee. It wasn't ordinary coffee. It was Turkish coffee. It was Thursday and Harry was expecting me. Harry was a small Armenian man in his sixties with thinning light brown hair and green eyes that actually twinkled when he laughed. His name wasn't really Harry, but that's what he'd called himself ever since he'd immigrated thirty or so years back. He had a wife and grown children. Harry always wore dark slacks with suspenders and a white starched dress shirt. He still rolled his own cigarettes and he made a mean Turkish coffee-thick, scalding hot, and so sweet it made your teeth hurt.

I'd met Harry and his family at a party for a client of mine two years earlier. He'd been a physics professor in Armenia, but now he was a tailor. "You come to my shop," he told me as they said their goodbyes, "I'll give you a good price on whatever you need."

That was our beginning. I'd stopped by his shop every Thursday after work for almost two years, whether I had cleaning to be done or not. He'd close up and we'd sit down for coffee, discussing everything--art, literature, law, love, science, death, music, religion. We shared our stories with each other, the grand ones and the not so grand. A friend once asked me what I did over there, why I stayed so long. I knew what she was implying, but it had never been like that. I didn't even attempt to explain how two people so divided by experience and culture, with years between them, could have so much to talk about. I wasn't sure myself. "He is my friend," I told her, "and he makes me peace with myself."

In the winter, we'd sit inside the shop warming our feet next to the radiator while we talked. Now it was summer, and I made my way back to the small flower garden that Harry tended behind the shop. I opened the back door and Harry beamed at me from behind the fragrant tendrils of Night Blooming Jasmine. "Katya! What a wonderful surprise!"

Harry always acted as if my visits were completely unexpected. It had become a joke between us. I walked over and he kissed my cheek lightly. "Sit, sit. I'll get the coffee," he said as he pulled a chair out at the small table for me. I handed him a bag of cookies I'd picked up from the bakery across the street. "You are too good to me," he laughed, "I am going to become a very fat and happy man."

I lit a cigarette while he poured the coffee into two small demitasse cups. I let out a deep breath and settled back in my chair to take in the sunset over the buildings around us. Harry sat down and chided me yet again about my awful taste in tobacco products. "American cigarettes are full of chemicals, Katya; that cannot be good for you." We talked about his family. His daughter was going to have her baby next month. Akop, his son, was a dentist and had just closed on a new house. A shadow passed over his face for a moment, and then it was gone. We changed the subject to the teacher's strike. For a long while after that, we sat there together without saying anything, just relaxing. Silence between us was never uncomfortable.

The sun went down and Harry turned on the small white lights he'd strung over the trellis behind the table. We traded our coffee for several brandies and listened to Shostakovich. We talked about the new exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art, an article in the New Yorker he'd been reading, Dorothy Parker. We jumped from subject to subject, working on our conversation like a quilt. I finally looked at my watch and noticed it was getting late. I stood up. "I have to go, Harry," I said, "Let me help you put these things away."

I helped him gather the dishes from the table and took them inside. We rinsed the cups and put them next to the small sink. I glanced over at Harry and noticed that he looked troubled. "What is it?" I asked. He sighed heavily and shook his head. "Harry, what is it? Something's bothering you."

He reached over and touched my cheek. "It's nothing, Katya. I am an old and foolish man."

"Well, I know that," I joked, trying to lighten his mood, "But what's bothering you?"

I'd never seen him look like this, so sad, almost embarrassed. I started going over in my head what it might be. His wife? His shop? What? He wouldn't look at me. Suddenly, he grabbed my hands. "Katya, I made love to my wife this morning," he said quietly, looking down at the floor. "I make love to her every Thursday for the last year. Do you know why?"

I could feel his fingers on my wrists, pulsing in the rhythm of my heart's beating. Now it was I who felt foolish. I could feel my face warming with the shame of having what I'd never admitted to myself spoken out loud. I knew. I'd always known. It was more than just coffee. I was stunned that he would acknowledge it now, after we'd spent so much happy time on the edges of it. "You are a beautiful woman, Katya. So smart. Your charm is that you don't realize what a prize you are. That is not so bad for me because you are content to spend your time here with an old man. Maybe that's not so good for you. I have always been a faithful husband to my wife. But, Katya, I think of you when I touch her. It makes me want what I cannot have, should not have. My dear sweet girl, no good ever comes from that. It makes me feel even older than I am."

He still couldn't meet my eyes. I looked at his face and thought to myself how handsome he must have been when he was younger. I thought of us, sitting together like lovers even when we were not. It made me ache to change time and circumstance to suit this connection between us, to have spent our lives together instead of meeting at this crossroad. I stepped close to him. He smelled of brandy and cloves. I took his hand and cupped my breast with it. He looked like he was about to cry and tried to speak. I pushed my name back into his mouth with my tongue. It was a kiss filled with the longing of two lifetimes, with anger, with passion, and with remorse. We moved away from each other, breathing ragged. I walked slowly to my dry cleaning that was hanging on the rack in the front of the store.

I fumbled for the keys in my purse with my back to him. He moved past me to unlock the front door. "It's late, Katya. I'm afraid we both had too much brandy." His voice was heavy. I turned to face him and we both stood there feeling helpless.

"Yes. I'm afraid we did, Harry." I replied in a whisper. "I really should go. Thank you. Thank you for everything. Goodnight, Harry. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, Katya." He opened the door for me and kissed my cheek as I turned to walk out. We pretended that we'd see each other again, next Thursday. We both knew we wouldn't. He said my name again as I walked down the steps. I turned back toward him. He looked so very small and old there-a tailor in the doorway of his shop. "I love you. You know that, right?" he said. He looked tired. I smiled at him and his face began to blur from the tears that stung the back of my eyes.

"Yeah, I know. I love you too, Harry." He nodded his head at me and I turned. I knew he would stay in the doorway until I got to my car. I got in and drove to my apartment. I sat in the car and cried for almost an hour. I never did see Harry again. Once in a great while when I could bear the heartache, I'd drive past his shop. It was always on Thursdays.

© Cate Compton, 2001
It was a Tuesday, and I'd just gotten back from federal court. All dressed up in my best black suit (only dark colors for the feds) and high heels. My office was in the Wilshire district near downtown L.A., not nearly as swank as it sounded. It was a shitty little neighborhood full of tenement apartments and old office buildings that were gasping their last emphysematous breaths. I was in a hurry because I had a lunch date with a friend of mine. She was new to the city and still trying to get her bearings. Lost Angeles can be a hard place to get used to if you're from a small town. I'd been like her, a couple of years earlier. Trying to be nice to everyone, always defering to people no matter how rude I thought they were. After all, that was the southern way. Be kind. Don't make a fuss. Always behave like a lady. Left me crying in my pillow most nights, wanting to go home. Knowing I couldn't because I'd rather stay and take everybody's shit than to hear "I told you so."

I'd changed, though. I'd learned not to be always look around...keep an eye out for the next hustler, panhandler, gangbanger, crackhead. Like I said, it was a shitty neighborhood. Still trying to be polite, though...always be polite. So when this homeless dude came slippity-slappin' up to us in his shower sandals that I recognized from L.A. County Jail and asked for a buck, I looked him in the eye when I said no. See, where I'm from, you always look at people--really look at them--when you speak. It always bothered me the way that most street people were invisible to everybody. I could understand why they were so pissed most of the time...being ignored will do that to a person. I didn't have any change, and I told the guy, "Sorry, man. Maybe next time."

My friend's standing there like a deer in the headlights. I don't think she'd ever smelled days of soaked urine and stale body odor so up-close-and-personal before. I expected Mr. Flip Flops to just mosey on over to the next suit walking down the street, but he didn't. We start to walk past him and he blocks our way. He puts his hand in his pocket (I'm watching his hands...always gotta watch the hands), and says, "Fuck you, prissy white bitch!"

Now I'm starting to get annoyed, but I'm still trying to be cool. I laugh a little, and tell Mr. Flip Flops, "Yeah, man. I'm a prissy white bitch. You win, dude." Still watching his hands and moving my friend over a bit. I thought he might try to spit on me. That was usually the angry homeless' insult of choice. So nasty...yet so personal. I grab my friend's hand and try to sidestep around him, but he moves again. We do a little funky chicken dance for a couple of seconds, but I've had more sleep than him and finally get by.

I'm hurrying my friend along, telling her through my teeth, "Come on!" I feel something hit my back and hear glass breaking on the concrete. It takes me a second to snap to what's happened. I turn around. I look down and see this busted bottle all over the ground. Mr. Flip Flops is standing a few yards away and he's yelling at me, "Take that, you fucking bitch! You can suck my dick!"

So I'm standing there, and I know that I should just turn around and go, but I don't. I still don't know what in the world got into me, but all I could think of was that I was going to beat this guy to a pulp. Rage. I'm looking at the glass, checking for a big enough piece to cut the shit out of this guy with, but it's all too small. I'm sizing him up, thinking he's not much bigger than my brother was when I used to beat the crap out of him back in the day. I'm thinking that his hands are out of his pockets and he's waving them around...that's good. This all happens in a split second, but it seemed when anything bad's always slow motion. I head for this guy and I'm running and taking off my shoes. I drop one on the ground and I have one in my hand.

I'm almost on the guy and I see his face. Pure shock. He just freezes. I remember saying, "I got your bitch right here, motherfucker." Then I'm knocking him in the head with the heel of my shoe. He pushes me and I hit him again. I'm screaming now. "That's all you got? You think I'm scared of you? Just 'cause you stink? You think I'm scared, you cocksucker?!"

I'm hitting him with my shoe, I'm punching, I'm kicking. If he wasn't so dirty, I probably would have bitten him. Mr. Flip Flops is officially freaking out now, which I can't blame him. I mean, it's not every day that you get attacked by a 5' 2", 110 pound, shrieking maniac in an Adolfo suit. He's saying, "Ow, hey! Bitch! Ow, hey!" It's like a chant. I keep at him, thinking if I can just knock him onto the ground I could beat his head into the pavement.

Next thing I know, two cops are dragging me off Mr. Flip Flops. He's bleeding and I'm standing there breathing ragged and trying to get out the words to explain what happened. They're looking at me. They're looking at him. He's telling them I'm crazy. I'm gasping, "Money...then, bitch...bottle...I tried to be polite...I tried to be polite." I keep saying that over and over. My friend gives them the story. The cops send Mr. Flip Flops on his way. I hadn't done much to him for all my efforts. L.A.'s finest give me a stern lecture about how stupid I am and how I could have gotten killed. I'm nodding my head and trying to find my other shoe. They tell me to never do anything like that again. I tell them don't worry.

I found my shoe, straightened my skirt, fixed my lipstick and we went to lunch. My friend didn't say anything at all about what had happened until we were having our coffee and dessert. That's another thing about being from the learn real early on to ignore the obvious topics and make small talk. We're also good at being able to come up with compliments in even the most bizarre situations. So after we'd talked about everything but the fight, my friend looks up and says, "I'd forgotten how fast you could run." We smiled and that was all we ever said about it.
catelin: (Default)
( Dec. 30th, 2000 02:20 pm)

My friend Irene got a boob job. I suppose as soon as the bandages come off and the oozing stops, she'll look very much like the images that encouraged the operation in the first place. We've always had divergent concepts of beauty. She never leaves the house unless she's fully made up. I barely manage to wash my face and comb my hair most days. She took me once to a department store cosmetics counter for one of those free makeovers. Irene and the counter lady (some European chick with a funky name) ooohed and aaahed over me, telling me this was an easy routine that would only take five minutes each morning. I couldn't figure out how they came up with that since I sat in the fucking chair for over an hour while Eurochick glopped her commissioned wares all over my face. I got home that day feeling like the man in the iron mask and immediately ran for the sink. Irene was, of course, disappointed but resigned to my dismal failure as a makeup goddess.

This was the day we talked about her tits. She told me that she was getting breast implants. I tried to contain my revulsion at the idea. I guess the eyes rolling into the back of my head and the retching sounds gave me away. What's the big deal? That was her question to me. So I began to tell her how sad I thought it was that there's an entire generation of men who've come of age jerking off to plastic tits on over-exercised, under-fed bodies. How women have succumbed to this and see their bodies as inferior products, something to be "fixed."

I told her that I was disturbed by the growing numbers of women who shaved, powdered, douched, enlarged, nipped, tucked, lipo-sucked. Well, you get the idea. I explained that I thought the perfect man is one who adores the imperfect woman. One who is happy to lose himself in soft, fleshy mounds of breast and who inhales unperfumed snatch with gusto. I told her how I thought it was much sexier to have swollen lips from sucking cock than from collagen injections, how blush on the cheeks from a good morning screw was about all the makeup any girl should care to put on.

Mostly I tried to tell her how absolutely beautiful she was. Her breasts were gorgeous. I'd seen them many times over the years we'd been friends. Delicately curved, each dotted with a small rosebud nipple. I told her what a pity it would be to butcher them, to deform them. She just took a long sip of her iced tea and told me very matter-of-factly that her mind was made up. I knew her well enough to believe her. We didn't discuss it again.

She's at home now, wrapped up with some sort of elastic bandage thing that makes her look a bit like Elsa Lanchester. I'd brought over a copy of "The Birth-mark" for her, still trying to make my point, even after the fact. I was just about to pull it out of my bag and slap it down on the bed when I noticed how unhappy she looked. I asked if she was all right and she started to cry. She told me it was much more complicated than she thought it would be. I stuck my book down into the bottom of the bag as far as it would go, ashamed that I can be such a bitch sometimes. I just sat there holding her hand. I told her yes. It was all much more complicated than we thought.


catelin: (Default)


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