In Line at Rite Aid

I stand in line at a Rite Aid on 7th Avenue, two three-packs of Orbit gum in hand but not with the Soy Crisps I came in here for.  In my experience, Soy Crisps only exist in between 14th Street and Broome.  The woman in front of me has a wide ass stretching the pockets of her denim cut-offs and short red hair, black at the roots.  She talks about EBT, which I recently learned is like a debit card for food stamps or something like that.  She is young and doesn’t look what I had always naively assumed a “food stamp user” would look like.  The image engrained in my mind is closer to an American version of a Frank McCourt character, not a young chick closer in comparison to Courtney Love pre-everything.

Someone in line asks a question about one of the buildings around the neighborhood and if it is the Chelsea Projects.  There is a man, about fifty something, with leathery skin and a tank top.  He apparently knows about projects, saying that the building isn’t the Chelsea projects, then goes on a riff about another building, a project building, that you have to be sixty-five years old to enter.  I think to myself that it would be a most depressing life, ending your days in what is essentially a low-income housing retirement home.

The young woman calls this older man “Honey” which throws me off because he could practically be her father.  She orders a pack of Marlboro Reds to match her red hair and turn her lungs black, also thematically in keeping with her hairstyle.  The man at the register apologizes again for not having nickels – it’s the same conversation he had two minutes ago with the woman before her.  The redhead, slightly masking irritated impatience, says she doesn’t care about the nickels and proceeds to bang the pack of cigarettes against her wrist, moving all of the tobacco to the filter or the other way around, I can’t remember.  She tears off the wrapper, flicks it on the counter, and pulls out a row of five cigarettes, flipping them around and placing them back in the carton.

She leaves and I am forced to wonder if her circumstances created her strange ticks and behavior or the other way around.  Why a person who needs food stamps spends $10 on a pack of New York City cigarettes, why they’ll fork out (presumably) hundreds of dollars on tattoos instead of a handful of units at a community college.  I’ve never been there, so it’s unfair for me to judge.  But I can’t help but think about what would happen if she changed whatever patterns she had become oddly adjusted to.

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Form over Function

Summer here poses a problem: you walk everywhere and you need to look decent all of the time.  There isn’t a moment I walk out of my apartment door that I don’t pause and think, “Do I look okay?  I mean, New York okay?”  For some reason, most likely constant overexposure to everyone, New York Okay is different from Anywhere Else in American, Okay.  Even in Los Angeles I let the ball drop a few times, but it was acceptable because at the end of the day, I could hop into my car and be unfashionable all to myself.  The fact that most people in LA can’t dress themselves on a regular basis also aids in camouflaging any temporary bad taste.  Even if I wear sweatpants to Trader Joes, there’s always going to be some asshole behind me sporting Ed Hardy and a wallet chain.

In the wintertime I could justify looking a bit haggard.  It’s fucking cold.  I’m not going to gussy myself up just to cover it all with a G-Star heavily insulated jacket down to my knees.  And I’m not going to not wear the warmest coat I can find just because it makes me look like a two-year-old going skiing with her family at the local discount resort.  Frankly, I don’t give a shit.  I’d rather keep my extremities devoid of frostbite.  Without fingers, I could not type.  Without arms, I’d have no fingers.  You get the idea.

My winter uniform consisted of the same two pairs of jeans, over which hung the tails of a men’s button-up most likely purchased from the Goodwill by mom’s house.  Those jeans were tucked into one of three pairs of shoes: gray converse if it were just dry and freezing outside, gigantic Sorrels if it were snowing and hellacious, or my lace-up boots if it were wet but not raining wet.  These are the types of things you think about when you live here.  Growing up in California it was always flip-flops or…flip-flops.

But now that the temperature has risen to a disgusting and humid 85 degrees, I have no excuse to look like fashion leper.  I am, however, certainly allowed to sweat like a pig, an interesting phrase given pigs do not actually sweat.  To technically “sweat like a pig” I would really be doing some internal thermoregulation and cooling myself by sitting in mud or water.  I’ll skip them both.

Moving on.

The dressing part is easy.  Shorts, summer dresses, shorter shorts.  Shoes on the other hand…shoes are a pain in my fucking ass.  Blisters, grimy heels, painted toes being checked out constantly on the subway – yeah, I see you looking at me lady… trust me… I’m looking at you, too.

Given the amount of walking I do, summer shoes prove to be the most problematic aspect of my wardrobe.  My recent standbys are a pair of black t-straps with a zipper at the heel.  Although they certainly look charming and pair well with 90 percent of everything I own, they are not functional by any stretch of the imagination.  With every step that I take, the zipper inches its way down, little by little, until my heel pops sideways all of a sudden and I’m nearly out of my shoe waking down the street.  It’s a real swell time looking like an idiot nearly eleven times a day.

But hey, I look cute.

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I am followed by a parade of myself.  Nine hundred and twenty three versions of me.  Each of them with a memory.  We walk around, down the same path, following a different leader as the leaders come about, changed by some experience or event.  These specters of my multiple former selves are noisy backseat drivers, commenting on everything I come across.  Remember!  Remember!  Remember! The past is relentlessly and overbearingly in the present.

Tic Tacs are not Tic Tacs but a road trip with my dad and brother to June Lake, eating hamburgers at the Tiger Bar and listening to Seal’s album on repeat with the windows down.  Tic Tacs are my friend Agnes taking my big hand with her smaller hand and tapping two or three into a creased palm when I didn’t have any gum.

Hydrogen peroxide is not a disinfectant but the aggressive sting and pink cotton candy bubbles that frothed around my knee as I sat on top of the washing machine while my mom poured capful by capful, clear tears streaming paths down my dirty legs.

Abba Zabbas are the summer I ate them every day.

Kettle corn is my tenure working at a juice bar in high school, standing around in a button-up and khaki pants covered in blueberry stains, my hair tucked into a stupid black hat, talking to someone about their sister’s heroine problem while they cleaned the drain covers with the same brush we used to clean the blenders.

Chanel No. 5 is my mother and a business suit.  Braided gold necklaces and the occasional pearls.

Happy Daisy Lotion from Bath and Body Works is a noxious concoction masking trips to Lake Tahoe, sneaking off on bike rides on my own when I wasn’t old enough to do so because it was “dangerous.”  I wore cropped tops.  Boys yelled out of cars.

Every day an older memory resurges.  Every day new ones get tucked away only to be presented in ten years time, shrouded in the sentimentality of getting older.

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Summer Heat: Quick Thoughts

I sit under a modest canopy of oak trees.  If they’re not oak trees, they must be maple, I think.  Although the thought of maple makes me think of syrup and Vermont and I am just lying on a towel in Central Park in New York City.  Perhaps I am right and they are oak.  I lie there, legs crossed right over left, eyes half open, hoping the sun doesn’t change course and pierce my shady respite.

Clouds head southeast at a breakneck speed.  White clouds.  I begin to think about the rotation of the earth and the traversing clouds and the flight pattern being strictly followed by silver planes glinting unnaturally against the blue sky.  I begin to think about all of this movement and what part of it is real and what part of it I just have to perceive has real so that I do not begin to lose equilibrium.  I start to get dizzy and close my eyes.

I sit, alone, occupying a miniature atmosphere all my own, my head resting on a towel I’ve owned for five years already.  I now understand how my mother owns so many towels.  Towels and blankets and sheets and painting supplies.  Five years in the life of a towel feels like nothing.  Five years as a towel collector feels like nothing.

Birds.  Their beaks nearly translucent in the late June sun.  Spastic wings beating about, their bodies going nowhere.  So much effort required simply to remain stationary, little bird claws gripping onto the peeling bark of a tree.  Sometimes I feel like this.

I am there, quietly there.  The ground pushing against me and me pushing against the ground, taking a break from the heat, from my life, but never from the outpouring of thoughts that will never just let a day be a day.


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Apologies!

Sorry for the lagging in posts as of late.  Girl gotta work!  And I’ve got some other projects I’m working on – don’t worry, they involve writing – that I’m trying to get off the ground.  Pardon the lack of regularity and thanks for reading.

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Enter Dream Here ________

Before I started making money modeling, I worked as a hostess at an expensive Mexican restaurant called “The Spanish Kitchen.”  This was confusing to many, as its title was a misnomer: With the exception of a singular paella dish, no other item on the menu was Spanish in origin at all.  A more appropriate title might have been “The Mexican Kitchen,” but somehow that just didn’t have a pricey ring to it.

The owner was an intense and friendly man.  My modeling agent at the time got me an interview after I complained that I wasn’t making any money modeling.  Instead of pushing me harder to clients or sending me overseas to work on my portfolio, she got me a job wiping down menus and seating people at wooden tables.  Naturally.  In the last year, the only job I had was a gig modeling the Daisy Fuentes Collection for Kohl’s during a live feed across various Middle America morning news programs.  It was like being on the HSN, maybe worse.

I booked the job, my two semesters at NYU making me overqualified to walk people to their tables and wear an eight-hour-shift smile.

There were two shifts: the day shift, when the restaurant was closed, and the night shift, when we were open for dinner.  The day shift was easy.  I parked in the gravel driveway on the side of the fake adobe building and entered through the door facing the alleyway.  Passing the kitchen on my way to the front of the house, I’d say hi to the sous-chef in the kitchen or the manager if he were there that early.  The rest of the day was spent in peaceful seclusion until 4 PM, when servers started trickling in, doing their pre-shift duties of folding napkins and lighting candles.

The room stayed dark all day.  I liked this.  The only light permitted to enter was from the north-facing wall of glass doors looking over an enclosed patio.  The room was still, silence interrupted only by the sound of phones ringing and an automatic air freshener that I would eventually learn how to turn off because it gave off a chemical scent I was sure caused cancer.

One of the few manual tasks I was employed to do was wipe down the outside and inside of the burgundy, plasticized leather menus.  Inevitably, there would be gobs of guacamole, smooshed and spread nine-times its original size, clouding the names of dishes like Enchiladas Squiza and S.K. Tacos.  This was my least favorite job.  The laminated pages were always sticky and smeared with the greasy-chip-fingerprints from the night previous.

After that, I would saddle up next to the telephone – my legs propped up on the desk and supporting the textbook in my lap – and read.  On the occasion that the phone would ring, I would take down a name, a phone number, the number of people in their party.  I would read back the information in a pleasant, singsong voice not my own to confirm.  Then I would say, “Thank you and have a nice day,” hang up, and resume my scholastic activities.

I was still weaning myself off of the Valley Life when I started working at the SK.  After dropping out and moving back from New York, I reinstated residence in my mother’s home.  Her requests for respect and curfews seemed ridiculous and served only to frustrate me endlessly; if I could only tell her how many Long Island Iced Teas I had consumed into the wee hours of the morning the last nine months, then she would understand the futility of her request.  Being nineteen at the time, that sort of rational protest was out of the question.

Before this year, I had only ventured into Los Angeles on a few occasions.  Despite the fact I had grown up but steps away from Hollywood and the Sunset Strip, the iron fist of my mother terrified me into local disobedient subservience: keg stands in the backyards of parents on vacation and pot brownies on summer-hot patios.  As a result of my relative naiveté, I never knew how “Hollywood” Hollywood actually was.

That changed when I started my yearlong apprenticeship in the Los Angeles restaurant scene.  The restaurant itself was slightly theatrical in its own right.  In keeping with the “Spanish” theme, the girls wore a costume consisting of a long, cotton crepe floor-length skirt, a fake plastic rose tucked above their ear, and a red blouse that dipped towards a typically hefty bosom.  The boys, Rick and Juan, looked like formidable tray-wielding matadors in their snug maroon suits.

All of the waiters were cast according to the gringo’s definition of “Latin.”  They weren’t necessarily Latin by decent or even appearance; they just had to be brunette and nice to look at.  That was enough.  It summed up LA in a nutshell, really.  I think I was the only semi-blonde person in the brigade with the exception of a manager who was in the process of losing his hair anyway.

No one there wanted to be a waiter.  All of them wanted to be something else, namely, actors.  They were bubbly and friendly the way someone has to be to try to make it in this town.  Eternally effervescent just in the off case  someone who is in the position to make you a star likes your vibe enough to pull you into a meeting that gets you a manager or an agent and then a role in a film and then gets you the covers of magazines and the house on the beach you always dreamed about.  In every interaction, the semi-delusional potential for this exists.  That’s why Los Angeles sucks.  There’s an ocean of acidic self-doubt just under the meniscus of indomitable happiness.

But I saw the cracks.  They were little pieces of real lives, the lives just below the surface.  The moments were brief and fleeting.  Rae sobbing in frustration at the beginning of a shift, wiping her tears away with a pale hand and smiling through the ten-minute breakdown.  Geenie storming past the hostess desk, small and powerful, making an inflamed comment about a director and preparation for a role, eventually dying her brown hair blond.

The ones who weren’t pandering to the fickle entertainment industry seemed to fair the best psychologically.  One of the female bartenders, hard as nails and no-nonsense, was a personal trainer.  She had strong biceps and a hard butt.  The bartenders were lucky on account of circumstance and function: they didn’t have to wear skirts, but black pants.  She could give a shit about any of it – the industry, her customers, the manager.  Behind her bar, she ruled supreme.  She had control, not just at work, but in life.  Most everyone else, myself included, did not.

I loved everyone that worked there.  In fact, even though I was making shit money, I loved working there, even more than I loved modeling.  The people were real.  The problems were real problems in an unreal world not based on merit or hard work, but luck and circumstance.  There was something comforting about being a part of that insecure and volatile environment of foolhardy hope and relentless dreaming, knowing that we all followed a steady stream of people trying to do the same thing decades before us and knowing that another flood of people would come in behind…whether or not any of us made it, which none of us did.

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The Nothing Days: Summer Show

I set my alarm for 7 AM, convinced I will be ambitious enough to want to go to the gym before work.  The sky is a vibrant blue, almost teal color, through my window shades.  I close my eyes, only half inspired, and fall asleep for another hour.

At 8:03 I brush my teeth.  I eat my gluten-free bread and drink my expensive pasteurized orange juice.  I fill a mug my friend gave me for Christmas with the equivalent of two cups of coffee, adjusted with soymilk and stevia powder according to my taste or lack thereof.  The outside of the cup reads “Genius.”  There is a chip on the lip.  I saved the piece with the intention of gluing it back on but never did and now I don’t know where that piece is.  My life is kind of like this.

I fill up another two-cup cup of coffee and drink it quickly while smearing makeup on my face in the way a child might – untrained and careless.  Pink cheeks, mascara, chapstick.  My outfit consists of a highly and needlessly complex combination of layered undergarments, hot pants, and a sheer top.  I will only wear this ensemble for twenty-seven minutes combined all day; once I get to my job I wear someone else’s.

The designer’s office occupies an entire floor of a building.  It’s like a sherbet penthouse.  Orange walls, Astroturf-green carpet, hot pink chairs.  Women walk around wearing the clothes and the shoes of the same designer.  Little gold round buckles.  Patterns.  Blonde hair.  Everyone here is nice.

We change in a large closet that is cold like a walk-in refrigerator.  I drink two hot coffees from the community kitchen.  They have soymilk in the fridge.  I try on more clothes.  Eat fruit.  Switch between sandals and boots.  Try on jackets and knitwear.  Blue jeans, white jeans.  I grab lunch from across the street, basking in the hot and humid outside air for thirty seconds each way.  I buy roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower.  Both are good but greasy.

I try on more clothes.  Read the New Yorker.  Listen to the girl I’m working with read punch lines from her iPhone.  And then, at four, I am done.

For the first ten minutes out of the lobby I begin to thaw, soaking up heat like an arid sponge.  I’m happy.  Days like this are good.  Days when people are nice to you.  Days when you don’t feel as much like a useless coat hanger.  These are the days I am thankful that this is my job, at least for now…until it is not my job anymore.  I walk down the street with the same energy I had walking into the job, something that isn’t necessarily a given.  In fact, it is rare.

Above, cloud cover provides some relief from the potentially oppressive ninety-degree heat.  People walk around at a pace slightly more lively than dead … increasingly optimistic about their day on account of shade and shade alone.

I pass Fishes Eddy on 23rd Street.  My mom and I found this place back in 2002.  She bought a mug with the Manhattan skyline on it and cardboard coasters of a similar print.  That was before I ever lived here.  Years and a lifetime ago.  I walk inside for the sake of nostalgia and partial necessity.  I buy a cobalt blue porcelain tray for loose change and a large cream bowl on sale for $11.95.

Back out into the heat I go.

The Green Market is open and I walk towards the peaks its white tents.  A plastic bizarre.  I buy three succulents that remind me of home.  Not home in Manhattan but home on Poinsettia Place.

The man who sells vegetarian empanadas is not there which is a shame because I would rather like one right now.  A crew of three girls walk by; their collective “look” harkening back to the days of MC Hammer’s entourage mixed with a little bit of MIA flavor for contemporary measure.  Tight black pants, afro-mohawks bleached blonde, black and silver sunglasses, and legs for days.  I can almost hear “Can’t Touch This” trailing behind them.

I buy two half-gallons of soymilk and some freshly ground almond butter from Whole Foods.  I take the N train down to Price Street, balancing my heavy bag of porcelain with a tray of succulents and a carton of the aforementioned soymilk.  I pray that the almond butter doesn’t leak into my purse, which is something that could feasibly happen to me and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened to me already.  I walk back home with a stupid smile on my face.  Stupid because nothing about today really mattered.  There was no grand event.  No particularly special moment.  Just a good and easy day, free of annoyance and anxiety and berating thoughts and all the free (albeit excessive) air conditioning I could ask for.

I continue my attempt at sidewalk juggling as I open the door to my apartment building, at which point my SIGG water bottle jumps out of my bag, viciously attacking my succulents and toppling them to the ground in a one-sided battle.  “Oh, no!” I quietly lament, scraping black bits of dirt off of a dirty stoop back into their rightful home around the delicate roots of my verdant memories.  And as if the universe is attempting to salvage the lowest moment of my lovely day, a fireman from across the street calls me “Miss” and asks if I need some help.  I decline, stating that my problem is only a “mild cacti tragedy.”  He walks away and I make a mental note that I accurately pluralized “cactus” in a fleeting conversation with a stranger. I then acknowledge that most of the words that come out of my mouth are verbose and obtuse and make me sound like a fucking nerd cramming for her AP English exam.  But that’s okay.  I’m growing into myself quite nicely, I should think.

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