Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Two Muses

Okay, I've been remiss about blogging lately, as I've been too busy, and I've been getting acclimated to a new way of life. In other words, I have been lacking inspiration. That all changed this week when I was driving to the gym, and I saw an Asian little person gleefully strolling the sidewalk off Hyperion. I'm assuming "little person" is the politically correct term these days; however, I don't know if it is the term to use when referring to both dwarfs and midgets or just dwarfs or just midgets. Please no nasty emails telling me that I am prejudice. I have nothing against little people, since I'm not far from being one myself. Anyway, with her Louise Brooks haircut and her Shirley Temple dress that ended just below her thighs, the wrinkles on her older face increased when she smiled and waved to the cars passing by. Why I became so excited and happy at the sight of this sweet little person is beyond me. Though I must say that I think it had to do with her outfit. To see a grown person, little or not, have no shame and only total comfort about wearing little girl clothes was enough to make me laugh and set my imagination running. I was moving too fast to look to see anything below the knees, but in my mind and to emulate James Frey, I am certain that she was wearing Mary Jane shoes with Bobby socks. And I am certain that she started and stopped a game of hopscotch, deciding instead to capture the attention of the boys down the street who were shooting craps by doing an impromptu tap dance routine.

Two days later, and sick with a cold, I walked to the 99 cent store to buy bottled water. Yes, I have really changed my life, and the 99 cent store has replaced Target and all other "high-end" discount stores. You do what you have to do to make life work and money last. While I thought living in a place with no central air, only a window unit, and having to go to a laundromat to wash and dry my clothes was a bit of a sacrifice, it was nothing compared to giving up Target. Sneezing and coughing, I stood in the checkout line. In front of me, in a deep voice, the woman said, "I want a bag of ice, too." With a little more inspection, I noticed that the attractive Hispanic woman who was wearing a black pantsuit and a wig, perfectly-styled in an homage to Jaclyn Smith's hairstyle, the same hairstyle that Jaclyn has had for the last 30 years or more, was more likely than not born a man. Slowly, the young male cashier checked out her purchases: a loaf of white bread, a squeeze bottle of mayonnaise and a pack of bologna. I watched as the woman handed over the $5 bill to the cashier. I thought to myself how smart it was to be able to buy food for a week, plus a bag of ice, for $5. As the woman left the checkout counter, she walked over to the ice bin and began digging for a bag of ice. The young male said to me, "$5.45." I coughed a few times, as I took the grocery bags that he handed me and headed out the door. Once I was home, I began to unload the bags. Holding the pack of bologna in my hand, I laughed, which was quickly followed by a sneezing attack. Then I immediately felt sad, concocting a story that the poor woman was spending all her money on hormones to complete her sex change and had little to no money for food. And there I stood with the only thing that was keeping her from starvation. What was I to do except take the bologna, loaf of bread and squeeze bottle of mayonnaise and walk my sick tail back to the 99 cent store. Creeping down the street, the sun baking the flowing mucous in my nose, making it thicker, I thought of how the poor woman probably had to buy hormones off the street, dodging bullets and having to sucker-punch random attackers, in order to become the person she was supposed to be. Back in the store, I said to the cashier, "I think you accidentally gave me that lady's bag." He nodded and smiled, "She's still cussing out the manager back there." As soon as he announced over the loudspeaker, "I need the manager up front," I ran out of the store. I was too sick to have a transsexual kick my ass in the 99 cent store. Hurrying up the street, I had visions of her doing those slow-motion, fly-though-the-air kung fu moves from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," crashing through the store window, knocking me to the ground, shouting, "Bitch, nobody takes Mama's bologna!"

How lucky I am to have found not one but two muses. I've spent many hours thinking about these two ladies, creating all sorts of scenarios and stories. Some writers get inspired by sex, booze, drugs or travel. All I needed was a little person and a transsexual.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Editing Stories

My car needed a deep cleaning. After a trek across country, and after sitting outside here in L.A. accumulating layers and layers of the black dust that comes from smog, which is what I am breathing and why I'm glad that I'm a shallow breather at times, I had to get a detailed wash and wax for Maude, my Mazda. Several people recommended the car wash in Koreatown, just down the street from me, and with so many using "cheap" and "good" to describe the place, I heeded their suggestions. "Oh, your car so dirty. Inside need cleaning, too. One and one-half hour at least," the assertive and older man said upon examination. "Need to shampoo carpets and mats. Oh, a lot of work I have to do. Only 100 dollar for everything. What air freshener you like? I write down now." A shrewd salesman, for I forgot about the price, as I immediately looked at the list. "New car scent," I said.

Sitting outside the car wash on one of the three wooden benches positioned like a sofa and love seat combo, enjoying the beautiful weather, I did what I love to do, which is people watching. In the past, though, at times, my people watching involved making judgments, instead of simply observing. Of course, we always get a chance to practice our learnings, especially once we think we've mastered the class. I looked toward the road at the sound of the screeching tires in time to see the car strike the curb. The elderly Asian woman got out of the car to inspect the damage. She threw her hands in the air and shouted, "My tire gone!" Okay, the stereotype of all Asians being bad drivers came to mind, but I let it go, knowing that it was an unfair generalization. Accidents happen all the time, and I was in Koreatown, which has a large Asian population, so the chances of the driver being Asian was extremely high. I quickly turned my attention away from the accident, noticing the gold spinning rims on the older model black Mercedes with the tinted windows that was driving into the parking lot. The rap music blared from the Mercedes, but I fought the notion of assuming that it was an African-American driver. While it turned out to be the case, I was still proud of myself for being aware of the impact that a few unique individuals can have on an entire group, particularly a minority group. Thirty minutes later, five minutes after the wrecker pulled away the car with the flat tire, another car hit the curb. Carefully getting out of the car, making sure the fast traffic didn't hit her, the petite, young Asian girl looked scared and confused. Just as she walked around to the front of the car, the tire deflated. She put her hands on the side of her face and started to cry. Okay, I thought to myself, it's another Asian woman. However, I reminded myself that there were a lot of orange cones and caution signs in the road marking the construction area, but they weren't far enough away from the construction, making the merging lanes confusing and dangerous. And, yes, all the car wash workers were Hispanic, and I was in the same parking lot as a taco stand.Though, I wouldn't let myself conclude anything from this.

Getting confirmation of the importance of meeting everyone as an individual, the pretty Hispanic woman, who sat beside me on the middle bench, informed me that she was a lawyer specializing in family law. On the bench next to me was an Eastern Indian, and he didn't own a Burger King or a Holiday Inn Express, he wasn't an IT programmer, and his last name wasn't Patel. He was an auto mechanic and had a last name that I can't recall, but it wasn't Patel. The young African American male who was driving the Mercedes with the spinning rims sat to the left of me. From his cellphone conversations, I learned that he was a med student at UCLA.

After being there for two hours, I was in the zone, witnessing without any preconceived notions all types of people coming and going. How much more interesting was it to let the stories unfold in the moment and to not decide beforehand what the characters thought, how they would act, or what they might say. For years now I've been editing stories that are filled with gross generalizations and ugly stereotypes, changing false attributes of a group to honest characteristics of an individual. I plan to continue to do that, and I'll always use humor to dispel the untruths. I'll also always use humor to be more gentle with myself when I forget some of the edits that I've made in past.

"How much do you tip the guy?" I asked the chubby, caramel-skinned woman who sat down as I was about to leave. She looked at me with no expression and then said, "One dollar for me, since I'm Mexican, and they know me. Five dollars for you, since you are white." I smiled, "Alright then," I said. She laughed, holding her jiggling belly.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kindness and Compassion Over Breakfast and a Pizza Hut Express

Following an early morning trip to Agape to hear a performance from the great Niki Harris, a wonderful soul, jazz and pop singer, who spent many years as Madonna's backup singer, starving, I wandered into a diner off Venice Boulevard between Mar Vista and Venice. Still high from Niki's rousing numbers and from spending a few minutes chatting with her and other friends, I didn't notice the sign on the door of Pepy's Galley. Only after I sat at the counter next to the cash register and ordered two scrambled eggs, sausage and hashbrowns, did I turn and see the greasy "Cash Only" piece of paper taped to the door that headed into the bowling alley, which shared space with Pepy's Galley. I informed the older, cordial man who was collecting money from the patrons that I needed to find an ATM machine. He patted my hand and shook his head. "No. No. You pay me next time you come." "Are you sure?" I asked, adding, "I think there's a money machine down the street." He smiled, and, with a hint of an indistinguishable accent, said, "You don't make me upset." The young Costa Rican waitress came back over to the counter. "Tell him that I am nice, but he better not make me mad." Smiling, the waitress playfully contradicted him by stating, "Pepy's killed so many people. Killed them with sweetness." I laughed. "So where are you from originally?" I asked Pepy. "Italy. South part. I've been in L.A. since I was 12. I'm 70, so you do the math."

An older man sat down beside me, and the waitress and Pepy both said, "Good morning, Lollipop." The slightly deaf Lollipop yelled back, "Good morning!" Lollipop looked at my food and said to the waitress, "Give me what he's having." Pepy smiled at me. "Your food good?" I nodded. "Very. Thanks." Lollipop pointed toward Pepy. "That's the nicest man in Los Angeles right there. He's got a lot of money, too. I'm 86, and I've known Pepy for a lot of those years." The waitress brought Lollipop's food and sat it down on the counter. She opened up the ketchup bottle and began pouring it over his eggs and hasbrowns. "Tell me when, Lollipop," she said. He waited until you could barely see the yellow of the eggs and the hashbrowns were unrecognizable, and then said, "That's good, Pretty One."

Once I'd finished eating, Pepy took my ticket and folded it up. Placing it under the corner of my plate, he said, "Here. Put this in your pocket." I extended my hand to him. "Thank you. I'm from Atlanta, and it's so nice to meet good people in L.A." He gripped my hand firmly, "Welcome to L.A. Pepy's place is now your home whenever you want to come."

On a hunt for the bathroom, I made my way into the bowling alley. Next to the Men's room was an ATM. I retrieved cash and returned to pay Pepy. "Oh, you make me mad. But I love you," he said. "Pepy's home is your home. Okay?" "I'll see you soon," I said, knowing that I would. Even though Pepy's Galley is 11 miles from where I live, distance can't keep me from my new home.

A block down the street from Pepy's Galley, in a small strip mall with five stores, I went to the final day of my weekend meditation workshop. Climbing the stairs to the nice spacious room above the Pizza Hut Express, which was next door to a Vietnamese nail salon and a Mexican Deli, I chuckled at the thought of Buddha meditating here. Visualizing Buddha rubbing his round belly as he finished up the chips and salsa, and then seeing him happily consume the last Veggie Lover's slice while getting a pedicure made me giddy. Of course the more I contemplated this, the more I realized that if Buddha were alive today, this is exactly where he'd be meditating, too. There's no better place to cultivate inner peace than in a busy area where most of the people are not at all connected. And surrounded by compassionate people and a wise teacher, cultivate is what I did.

To find such kindness and compassion in a diner situated in a corner of a bowling alley, and again on the second floor of a strip mall, I am grateful. All I had to do was stay open.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parking Lot Manners

While I know that real estate is expensive in L.A., I do wish the architects and builders would downsize any future structures and make parking lots a bit larger and more manageable. And if I needed more confirmation of this sentiment, I got it today. At an outing to Trader's Joes off Hyperion, easing into the the store lot, I noticed the two drivers having a standoff at the spot that was coming available near the front door. The younger woman in the dirty Honda Accord was facing me, and blocking my movement was the Lexus SUV with slightly tinted windows, which precluded me from seeing the driver. As soon as the octogenarian finally got his Buick out of the way, the action started. Like a sporting contest, the two drivers began inching forward. With their front bumpers touching, neither was going to yield to the other. Then the horn blowing started, the Lexus SUV first followed immediately by the Honda Accord. Three prolonged and noisy blows announced the next round, a face to face encounter. Jumping out of the Lexus SUV, and then slamming the door, the chesty middle-aged woman with dyed blonde hair and a worn and tattered weave shouted, "What's your problem, bitch? I was here first!" The younger woman nearly fell as she hurried out of the Honda. Her thin and toned body was on display thanks to the tight yoga attire. "You saw me with my blinker on! You have no class! Ridiculous to call someone you don't know a bitch!" Walking closer to the younger woman, the blonde started pointing as she screamed, "Don't you tell me I don't have any class! Look at how you're dressed! You look like Olive Oyl in pajamas! The younger woman shook her head and smirked. Getting back in the Honda, she said as she slammed the door, "This isn't worth it. You can have the fucking space. And why don't you take your fake tits and frozen face back to Beverly Hills where you belong?" So what was the blonde to do? The expected. She shot the younger woman a bird and said, "You are a real bitch!"

Once the young woman sped away, I eased my car around the Lexus SUV. I smiled and waved at the blonde who stood with hands on her hip, and if she'd been able to move the frozen muscles, she would have had a scowl on her face. Finding a vacant space in the back of the lot, bypassing a few that were closer to the store's entrance, I carefully looked around to make sure no one else had dibs on the spot. Once parked, sitting in my car with my head down and reading a text message, I felt a slight bump. In my rear view mirror, I saw the runaway grocery cart flush against my trunk. The rocker guy with tattooed sleeves on his arm climbed into the ancient Chevrolet pick-up truck, oblivious to his negligence. What was I to do but text someone familiar with the area and ask him if the Trader Joe's parking lot doubled as a bumper car track?

There has to be a better way to maneuver through small and crowded parking lots here in L.A. With so many traffic rules, I don't think anyone would mind if the city and/or state included a few parking lot manners in the driver's manual. Maybe have three general rules. 1) A parking spot isn't worth a fight, even if it is amusing to bystanders, and one of them decides to write about it in his blog. 2) It isn't cool to let your cart run free, and if it gets away from you, chase it down. 3) If you see a crowded lot, go shop somewhere else. For those not obeying the rules, make them direct traffic at a Wal-Mart during the Christmas holidays.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Art and Reimaging

Accompanied by three friends, I went to an interesting art opening last night. A reimaging of Sharon Tate, a mixed media series created by Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell, the exhibit was commissioned by the Tate family to return attention to her acting and modeling and away from the grisly death at the hands of the Manson family. The giant photographs sprinkled with paint drippings and marked with intricate drawings and random words hung on the brick walls. Two of the semi-nude, provocative images showcased Sharon Tate's sex appeal, a blend of innocence, natural beauty, and rebel. In a few of the other ones, candid shots, the smiling sweet and pure face screamed of naivete and unbridled joy. Only one of the pictures, the one with a blank stare, hinted at any possible sadness or darkness. Other than the image I had of her from my repeated viewings of "Valley of the Dolls," which was in constant rotation on TBS when I was a kid, whenever I heard Sharon Tate mentioned, my mind went to the movie scenes and photo stills of her lying in a pool of blood on the floor her home. Thanks to the exhibit, I now have new images to conjure up when I hear her name.

After seeing what reimaging did for Sharon Tate, I started thinking about how I could reimage parts of my life. What if I took all those photos of me as a fat kid, the ones where my eyes look like slits cut with a dull knife because the fat on my cheeks had claimed squatter's rights to where my eyes were supposed to reside, and photoshopped them? I'd lengthen my round face into more of an oval shape and evict some of the fat from my cheeks. My curly hair would be straight, giving me that perfect hairstyle I always wanted, the hairstyle where I could actually use the comb I kept in my back pocket instead of the brush with thick bristles.

What if I could go one step farther and reimage parts of my life that are catalogued in my mind? Every time I hear disco music, I'd no longer think of my embarrassing fall as I walked across the dancefloor at my 7th grade prom. The stacked heels were slick, and my baby blue leisure suit was too long. Whenever I smelled fresh apples growing in nature, I'd just think of the juicy taste of them and not unpleasant moments too heinous to discuss. When I'd see pigs, I'd think of my pet Wilbur hanging out in my room with me and not the cooked piece of ham on the breakfast table of my house that he became. And if I touched a public bathroom stall handle, I wouldn't think of germs, diseases, and death, I'd think of how relieved all the people felt once they walked out of the stall.

Now, though, as I am contemplating last night, I wonder how long it will be before life imitates art. We're almost there in some respects. We can change the way we look with surgery. We can change the way we think with therapy, meditation, drugs, etc. Sure, a lot of good can come from changing our looks, thoughts, and memories. However, pretty soon we'll be able to reimage our entire existence.

To quote, MoMo, a beautiful Korean woman and a new friend of mine, who is a brilliant comic book artist and painter (, "If you have L.A. money, you can make anything beautiful and nice." Since I don't have L.A. money yet, and I've finally gotten to the point where I like myself, my present self and my past self, I think I'll leave the reimaging to the artists.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I'm more convinced than ever that Casbah Cafe is the right office for me. Today, a reporter, camera in hand, doing a news story on the crash of the Twitter site came rushing through the door and immediately asked me, "So do you Twitter?" I shook my head. "Sorry." He then asked my table mate, a pretty and hip graphic designer, and she said, "No, sorry." Not one of the 15 people in the small cafe was a twitterer. Of course, with all the coffee they had consumed, several were close to being in a twitter. From my upbringing when someone was in a twitter, it meant they were anxiety ridden, nervous, and trembling. I spent many of my earlier years as a twitterer, smoking cigarettes or eating junk food in an attempt to calm my frayed nerves, a by-product of shot adrenal glands, a by-product of too much time immersed in stressful environments. To see that I was surrounded by people who weren't participating in the Twitter phenomenon made me feel that I belonged and was understood. I bore myself, and even blogging about my adventures seems at times egotistical and self-indulgent, though that's not my intent. I am way too humble to think that anyone would want to follow my every move. And with too many days, weeks, months, and years lost to my rescue of other people from their own lives in order to avoid dealing with my own, I have no desire to repeat that pattern again. Though I'm certain that all the celebrity sharings of their daily activities are important and exciting to some, these days, I am way too busy trying to manage my life, being present for each moment.

I know that Twitter has many redeeming qualities. Also, I know that technological advancements are important to our evolution; however, I sometimes wonder if we are reaching a level of diminishing returns when you look at the cost/benefit analysis of our developments. To have instant communication among billions is quite an achievement, but to have instant life saving and healing communication among billions is an even greater achievement.

With the peace I've found from slaying the demons of my past, resulting in the restoration of my adrenals to a respectable form, I have no desire to return to the angst. Thus, I am choosing to remain twitter-free for right now, and when at all possible, I'm choosing to socialize and work in twitter-free environments.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Showers and Heads

How many more times do I need to learn that I don't have to stay in painful situations? Last week the plumbers fixed the water flow problem in the apartment that I am subletting. For some unknown reason, they changed the shower head. Even the building manager who sought the plumbers' services does not know why. The old one provided an erratic and awkward but gentle stream of water. With the new head, well, I'm still recovering from the pelting my body took from the punishing device. I think I've had advanced microdermabrasion done on my face. That, along with the soreness around my eyes has made me empathize with Joan Rivers's numerous recoveries from plastic surgery. And "skinning the rabbit" has a whole new meaning for me, after what my penis felt like after trying to properly wash my privates. Direct and strong hits with laser-like precision to my larger head made me wince, but the ones to my other head had me squealing and cursing. Six torture sessions later, and I finally decided that I'd had enough. After calling the building manager and not hearing back from him, I endured one more thrashing, just because that seemed the thing to do at the time. Seeing my grimacing face in the bathroom mirror while slumping over and tenderly cupping little man and his two posse members, I reached my tipping point. "Where are the shower heads?" I asked the man behind the counter at Baller True Value Hardware (a perfect name, given my circumstances).

I've had a history of simply tolerating painful situations. Without getting too psycho-analytical, let's just say that I learned this behavior early in life. In my home in Atlanta, I spent three winters there without any heat, accepting that the heat pump was doing all that it could do. Only when I had to have an inspection for insurance purposes did I discover that the heat pump wasn't installed properly and had never blown anything other than cool air. Oh, and I can't forget that I went for 20 years with a torn, mostly non-existent ACL in my right knee. "Haven't you had a lot of pain?" the orthopedic surgeon asked me two years ago when I decided to get it checked. "It hurts some," I answered. "But I just live with it."

I'm learning, though, and I'm now taking action much quicker than I've ever done. Pretty soon, if I'm lucky, I'll be able to have my actions work in synch with my feelings. As soon as something is painful, I'll immediately address it. I'll let go of the false belief that my fate in life is simply to tolerate and endure. After years of therapy and years of spiritual cultivation, which have raised my awareness of my issues, I can see that I am progressing. Of course, I am a man, and all it takes to expedite the learning curve is a few hits to the heads.