Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mixed tape

I'm sitting near the back of the bus, a group of college-age kids across the aisle.

"Oh that was a long time ago."

"Did you know that Sheila's dad's car has a tape deck? A tape deck!"

"When was the last time they made cars with tape decks?"

"Come on over and listen to my mix tape!"

They laugh uproariously.

But I'm snapped back in time - one instant on the bus, groceries at my feet - the next I'm the car with my brother. He's wired a CD player to the speakers, but it's delicate. On bumpy roads the CD skips. The technology is still new, and I wonder if they'll ever make them stable enough that cars will some day come with CD players built in.

"Oh, sure," says my brother, his arm resting on the sill of the driver's side window. We listen to Elvis Costello, hurtling through the dark.

My brother and I are escaping. It's New Year's, but we didn't spend Christmas home with family. We're in L.A., or rather, leaving L.A. We've each been on our separate trips this week, but tonight we're both staying at my former boyfriend's mother's house in Topanga Canyon.

The mother is away; it's just former boyfriend (now friend), brother and me. There's nothing but bags of wheat germ in the fridge, so the three of us take off down the other side of the canyon looking for food. We're almost ready to settle for a convenience store burrito when we find a bar that's open. The fifty-something waitress has high blond hair and blue eyeshadow. Bar patrons sing Auld Lang Syne and she brings us a vegetarian pizza. All the vegetables are grown in the garden out back, she says.

It seems to be the best pizza I've ever had.

All this I've told again and again. The pizza and how we learned we'd stumbled into San Fernando Valley when a girl exclaimed, "Oh, miga-aawd!"

But I've never told about the three of us in that mid-century modern house hidden in the trees. About the tall windows and the mirrored wall, reflecting our selves back, perched on three mismatched chairs. My brother with his long legs stretched out in front of him. About the deep quiet surrounding us, how I dream of a movie with this image: three people in a white room, trees outside whispering secrets to one another in the dark.

About the furtive kiss with the former boyfriend when my brother is in another room, the relationship over but our bodies unconcerned.

It's one of those rare moments when we're aware - my brother and I - that we're on the verge of something new. My brother will marry soon, become a father. It's the last time we'll be together like this, and I think we know it.

I'm on the bus on my way home from work, groceries between my feet, and I'm missing my brother sharply. Late night talks after a date. Riding to school with him in the '65 Mustang he'd fixed up, rolling in a cloud of music. Staring in shared terror at the black widow on the wall of his basement room, the red hourglass on her abdomen winking out. An early morning drive home from our brother's wedding, windows rolled down and music blasting to keep us awake. Lying on my stomach in his room, reading lyrics from his album covers.

That last drive in the living dark, music rolling over us, as I lean out the window to breathe in the green of the trees.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why not

This morning on my way to work, a man crosses my path from right to left. Before I see him, I hear an exaggerated plosion of breath, before even looking I recognize the sound of someone whose link to this world - to sidewalk and streetcar and yapping dogs - is fragile, fraying.

A street crazy, I think.

As he passes in front of me, I see his profile, then the back of his longish gray hair, well-tended and neatly pulled into a black band. He stops, now, just to my left, and throws one hand up, drawing himself onto his toes beneath his hand, balletic, perfectly executed.

He drops his hand and falls back into man walking down the street. And then, again! The hand lifts, the body follows, and now the other hand reaches out and pulls him into an arabesque.

And then it's gone; he's just a guy, walking.

There's nothing in it of that nutzoid tension, that buildup and valving off promised by his exasperated huff. There's a contradiction here, and I remember the other day when I saw a man flinging himself - beautifully - around the J Church tracks as they disappear into the tunnel. I thought street crazy then, too, until I saw the woman filming him, holding the Trolley Dances clipboard.

The dancer of today stops again, again the hand goes up, again that beautiful form, his long body describing an exquisite curve, and he seems to say Why not?

Why not dance?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bikinis and swimsuits accepted

The eastern half of Dolores Park is still in sunlight, but I'm in shade. There are bodies scattered over the slope, the woman selling empanadas, the man with marijuana chocolates. Two people are rolled into a blanket, a bare foot showing at one end, a hand at the other.

Just downhill from me is a crusty old man in baggy jeans, no shirt. While I watch, he stands up and unbuckles, sliding the pants down over his hips. Saggy old white man in saggy whities. Or former whities, now nearly transparent and the color of old bones. He reaches a hand down the front of them and roots around in there, and I wonder if we'll get the whole show; nudity is all the rage these days, I'm told. But he pulls his hand free and lies face down on the grass, arms out above his head. He looks like someone flung him there.

I stand up and make my way down the hill, toward Valencia. A boy sitting on a stoop nods at me as I pass, then says something I don't hear. I stop and turn. "You have a great smile," he says.

I'm looking for a cafe described by a Litquake volunteer, and almost miss it. I was distracted by the woman talking about how her bullet hole is still sore.

In the back, by the bathroom, is a poster advertising Halloween festivities here. Costumed guests will get two beers for $8. Bikinis, it says, and swimsuits accepted.

It's dark as I walk home past the tennis courts. I can hear the pok pok of ball against racket, see the green of the balls glowing against black sky.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Scattered showers were predicted.

It's mid-afternoon, and a sudden crush of rain halloos and stomps and clatters on the roof. The smell of softening earth springs close behind and I lift my head from my stuporous glaze. I gather up raincoat and umbrella and dash for the stairs while co-workers tsk.

Sacramento street is a crashing river, gutters overflowing until the two streams meet in the middle of the road. I leap as broadly as I can, umbrella high, knowing I'll never clear it and not caring, it feels so good to leap, and I laugh, splashing to my shins, the water sucking at my jeans and slurping over and into the tops of my boots, my socks turning squishy and damp.

I skip my way to the park at the top of the hill, to the top of the park, where bulldozers stand, water puddling in the open seats. I can see the city below, snugged into fogbanks.

One other human is at the top of the park among the giant trees. We hold our umbrellas as lightly as helium balloons. Tufts of reddish hair decorate the perimeter of his bald head, and he grins.

Another rain lover, he says. He was visiting a friend in the hospital when he heard the clamor and had to get outside. He's lived here thirty years, but he still misses the thunderstorms in his hometown in Pennsylvania.

We bow to one another and continue on the way. My jeans are wet to my knees, and my boots won't dry for a day, maybe two. I don't care. I can turn up the heater at work, eat soup for dinner.

The rain backs off, tiptoeing away in squishing socks. When I circle back to Sacramento, the rivers are gone, already gone, the street clean and shining in their wake.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Because I need to start somewhere

I'm emptied out, used up, full to the teeth with other people's words. Yesterday was the crashing finale of Litquake, where I helped unleash an army of volunteers on the streets for the crazed high of the Crawl.

No words of my own, though. My own words slink away like criminals. I'm shattered, shaken and spitwadded, and no words, no words.