Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hopeless or Helpless: Poverty and Hunger

She sits under the stairs, against the building, scrunched as far away back from the sidewalk as she can get. Dark brown hair that could be pretty, green eyes that could sparkle, probably an English complexion underneath that sad, dry face. Twenty-five, 18, who knows. She looks 50. The filthy clothes are a dead give away she's been like this for awhile.

"What would you like?" Christine asked her. "A burger with everything from In n Out? Fries and a shake?" 

"That's a stupid question," Christine's friend said in her ear. "Just get her some food, anything."

"I need money," the girl grunted. "You've got some." She stared at the sidewalk, clasped her hands so tightly together that dirty nails must have been piercing her palms. "Leave me alone," she said. Squatting further back into the corner of the stairs and wall, it became evident she wore no panties.  

"OMG," Christine's friend said. "We'll be late for yoga class. Let's go." She grabbed Christine by the arm and hauled her up the stairs. "Don't look down, we'll bring food later," she said.

"There's time before class starts," Christine said. 

In n Out wasn't open, but in the same mall a coffee shop was. Christine picked out an apple fritter, container of whole milk, banana, and huge blueberry muffin.  Packed in a clean, white paper bag, the food fit perfectly in Christine's Coach tote bag along with her jeans, tee shirt and sandals for later in the day.

The girl had moved around the corner from the stairs and faced the back of the parking lot when Christine arrived. "Eat this. You'll feel better," Christine said, pulling the bag from her tote and holding it out to her. "Please, take it. I eat a banana every day."

"NO," the girl replied. Her teeth chattered, her body began to shake, her eyes sunk deep into their sockets, and she slumped sideways. 

Christine sat the white bag beside the girl. Then she wrote on the side of the white bag: "If you will go upstairs to the yoga studio, the owner will give you a coupon for the In n Out burger."

Late for class, Christine tossed her mat in the only available space, tightly scrunched beside the wall. It was claustrophobic, but as the meditation came to an end, she thought of the girl. 

And hour and a half later when class was over, Christine skipped down the same stairs with her friend. They looked all around the building but the girl and the white paper bag were gone. Christine shoved the Coach tote bag in the trunk with her yoga mat. 'I'm going home," she said to her friend. "What do you do for someone like that except give them some food?" 

And that's the truth. To some extent.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Christine had trouble getting out of bed this morning. Finally, in order to get to her appointment on time, she threw on the same jeans she had worn yesterday and the day before, splashed her face (with cold water, no time to wait for it to warm up), mushed her hair around, and got there in the nick of time. 

Usually the waiting room is empty, but today, a young woman was down on her hands and knees scrubbing a spot on the wool rug. "I spilled my water, 36 ounces," she said.

"Water won't hurt the carpet," Christine responded. "If you blot it instead of rubbing, it will lift up the water." Everyone knows that, she thought to herself. "That's quite a heap of paper towels you've used. Where did you get so many?" she asked.

The woman couldn't have been over 30, she was slender with long-modelesque bones, flawless skin tanned to a golden brown, deep brown eyes, and with the braided sun-bleached hair - well, she was downright gorgeous. Her black and white tank top was really sexy and cool. Her black yoga pants showed off her curves. Frankly, she had a butt that would look perfect in any jeans.

"I'm so depressed and my bones ache, but I have to clean this," she said.

Now, Christine felt sorry for the woman. "Look, it's only water. The maintenance people can take it from here. Hey, you don't want some janitor to lose his job because he didn't have anything to do today."

The woman looked up. "Oh, it's okay." She didn't mean the water spill. The stack of used paper towels had to be over 2 feet high and a foot across. She stood up. "My vision is blurred. How does it look to you?" she asked.

The doctor opened the door at that point and looked at Christine, ready to speak, then he saw the young woman. He thinks she's hot, Christine thought. He gestured at Christine to come in.

"I think the two of us should have an appointment together," Christine said. "She has blurred vision like I do, and since she's here too, I don't mind." Now this was a stupid thing to say, but Christine meant well. 

"I love your sandals," the young woman said. "The zebra stripes remind me of my last safari. Horses in black and white. You have lovely golden toes, too."

"Come in, Christine," the doctor said. Once inside the door, he whispered. "She's homeless, has been living in the building, using the bathroom and stealing food from open offices."

Christine whispered back. "You've told me about her before! She's the one you got out of jail!"

"The lady's room key is in here now, if you want to use it," he said, pointing to it on the wall. 

Christine starred at the door. "She's gorgeous. How does a homeless person look like that?"

"I don't know," he said. "I've wondered the same thing."

"I guess living in Los Angeles, anything is possible," Christine said.

And that's the truth. To some extent.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

These Boots Are Made for Dancing

Nancy got her hair cut and straightened in Encino, bought a week's worth of a professional wardrobe from Ann Taylor in Pasadena, and one pair of red on red Mochino heels at Nordstroms in West L.A. Then she and her husband filled up about half of a moving van with furniture, packed their car with small stuff and moved to Nashville, TN. He was 5 days away from starting his medical residency, excited and nervous, happy as a kitten with a new toy. She was despondent leaving her family and friends behind, nothing to anticipate except an empty apartment and free time.

He bought cowboy boots. "You can't were those things when I'm not around," she said. "They are really ugly. I told you not to buy them."

About one weekend a month, she went to NYC to visit her best friend or came back to Los Angeles to visit her family. "You're doing your part for the economy," he said once when he kissed her goodbye at the airport. "Have you thought about getting a job?"

"Yes!" she said and bit his lip. "I'll get a job as soooooon as I get my Masters Degree finalized."

Her friend in NYC asked her the same question as did her family. They all had helpful suggestions which created even more anxiety. Finally, she found an hourly job at Vanderbilt University that someone without even a BFA could do. "I have my Masters," she said. "I have done cancer research for 4 years. This is humiliating."

Meantime, her husband spent his days/nights at the hospital, getting to know the other residents and nurses and relishing the experience he was gaining every day. He wore clogs and scrubs.

"Let's go out tonight, babe," he said after about 2 weeks of 30 hour calls twice a week. "Time for you to meet my new friends."

"I don't have anything to wear," she said. "Do they even have wives or girlfriends?"

"Who cares. Babe, you're gorgeous in your panties and bra. You'll knock 'em out in anything you put on." He swept her off her feet and threw her over his shoulder carrying her like a sack of flour to the closet, he picked out a black/brown Nanette LaPore sun dress and her little black cashmere sweater. Then he put out plain black pumps, and her pearl earrings from their wedding and plopped her on the bed. "I'm going to wear my cowboy boots and give 'em all a thrill, babe," he said, without hesitation and not open to opposition.

She started to object then noticed how much he looked like a young Paul Newman  and shut her mouth. She searched through her dresser drawer and found nylon stokings with a garter belt and the red on red 4 inch heels.

When the doorbell rang, they stood side by side in front of the closet mirror and admired each other. "You look hot," he said. "I especially like the heels and stockings." His hand happened to run up her thigh. "I hate the boots," she said, "but you're a hotty, so I won't look at them." She slipped her arm around his shoulder and they did a little fox trot.

They danced for hours at a club with his friends. She only hit it off with one of the wives, but that was okay. The red on red party shoes, and, his cowboy boots came off first when they got back home. "Please don't wear those cowboy boots again, " she said. He kissed her pulling her as close to him as humanly possible. "Wear those red shiny shoes anytime you want, " he said.

Note: she got a great review first time around at her job and was reclassified so that she made more money than he did and worked way less hours. Two cats and a sofa and desk unit from Pottery Barn provided a comfy home along with a new Comfort Sleep number bed.

They danced every weekend he had nights off. The cowboy boots show a few scuff marks around the edges. She hasn't noticed or at least hasn't said anything.

Her red on red heels have been to the shoe repair twice.

And that's the truth. To some extent.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Christine In Flight

Christine, a pleine air artist, who looks 35 but is really 62, reads romance novels in her free time. Last Tuesday she took Southwest Airlines out of L.A. to Nashville, TN, reading Gore Vidal's "Burr". Too bad she had a window seat. Someone else might have appreciated the view.

The plane sat on the runway for over half an hour. "Burr" is a riveting novel, so no problem. Once in the air, turbulence kept her seat-belted in place, and time, literally, flew by as she read. But, upon arrival in Dallas for her flight change it was too late to run to the ladies' room. Again, turbulence kept the seat-belt light on. This is when Gore Vidal's strength as a writer really helped her maintain a lady-like although very uncomfortable presence. Finally, she stood up, book in hand, and marched (really that is what it looked like) to the first class 'facility'.  

Not realizing how engrossed she became in the novel, it wasn't until someone knocked twice, probably with their knuckles by the sound of it, on the door that it startled her into leaving the 'necessary' as they used to call it in the South. Staggering (turbulence, turbulence) back to her seat, she noticed no one else was reading. Gamers, sleepers, drinkers, and crying babies seemed the norm. Well, one military fellow studied a book on explosives.

If only she had a canvas about now. Gore, for all his virtuosity, failed her. She tucked the book in the back pocket of the seat in front of her and pondered her upcoming visit in the town of Andrew Jackson and Taylor Swift, one a man of substance and cruelty--the other a girl of flirty charm and simplicity. 

Christine longed for an ice cream sundae, imagined a plate of hot pancakes, and finally accepted a diet Dr. Pepper and teeny-tiny bag of very salty nuts. She felt her age and hoped the bags under eyes would dissolve shortly after arrival. Her daughter, a plastic surgeon at Vanderbilt, would be disappointed if she abused her health, which she had just done. 

Then she remembered Gore Vidal's description of Aaron Burr's second wife who had been kept by Frenchmen before they married. When the wife became tired or tense she found her way to affectation and worded her conversation in what she considered sophisticated French. This refreshed Christine. Upon arrival, she would breath deeply, stand up straight and with all the sophistication she could muster, be the youthful stunning woman she had so long studied to become. She would be that delicious and delightful ice cream sundae.

And that is the truth. To some extent.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sandra's Letter Found in a Nice Hotel

Christine is a mom, an average mom given to baking pumpkin bread, or orange cake or chocolate chip cookies with oatmeal and white chocolate chip cookies. Today she stepped into a hotel elevator and a ink scrabbled piece of paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. She didn't want to read it, but well, no one was around except me and I was as curious as she was.

Dear Emma, I'm really sad today and totally messed up like Danny didn't call and I know he's with someone else. I mean, I really love him I'll never love anyone else. I know you're going to say he's not that into me, but that's just a stupid movie. Everyone is into Jennifer Aniston.  Well, I was cutting my bangs and he came in and wanted to, well, I'm not sure cause he was really drunk and I hate that. I know he had stuff in the truck. He was so sweet and I needed to cut my bangs straight across, they'd be so cool but he grabbed the scissors and stuck his tongue down my throat practically strangling me and I gagged, so he threw the scissors on the bed and said I was a stupid bitch. I really love him but I had to cut my bangs and he wouldn't wait and then he wouldn't get offa me, so I called him a jerk and he got really mad. I don't get why he had to do that. My hair would be so cool if my bangs were really short and straight across, so I picked up the scissors and went to do that thing again but he hit my arm and it really hurt. The %&#($ (I can't write what she said here) cut my bangs and now they're like really really ruined. I mean, like I can't do anything. I really love him. He felt really really bad and brought me a beer.  I was so mad I hit him with it and the thing, well, he said he was going to the cops. All he has to prove what happened is the bent cap. Can he like, really really get me in trouble. My folks will kill me, and I really love him, and if I can stay with you he'll treat me like good  and the cops won't tell my folks. Maybe you could cut my bangs and make them okay. I've been clean for 2 weeks, and won't do nothing. My bangs are making me crazy and he &*#6#$ you know who. I don't know where you are, so I hope this gets to you. I haven't worked all week, I'm never going back to that place, Danny's be there and he'll send me out. Mom has Sammy. Can  you go get him for me, say you are keeping him for the weekend and you can do my bangs. Love, Sandra  P.S. I'm sending this with Tif. You have to get me. Ill die without him. 

Now, Sandra didn't spell it like this, she couldn't even spell her own name. Christine wrote on the borders of the page. Dear Sandra, go home or go somewhere safe and get some help. Danny is a loser and you need help. She put it on the cork board in the lobby. I mean, like, she asked me what could to do? I wanted to cry, so here goes. like Sandra wherever you are, Danny doesn't really really love you, he's a nasty jerk and creep. 

And that's the truth. To some extent.   

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Christine went to Nashville bypassing a tornado

Christine is traveling. Tonight is Nashville. Last night was Cincinnati, Thursday night is somewhere in Alabama, Friday night is Destin, Florida. She's lost her hair gel and face cleanser, but found her bath gel and shampoo. 

Her hair looks great today in spite of severe weather that included blinding rain and a tornado that fortunately was visible but a few miles away. 

In a new rented white Buick, (leather seats but a floppy accelorater) her husband forged through the rain, barely able to see 5 ft in front of him, trucks flying past flinging water wildly against the windshield while lightning flashed close and far. "I'm not chasing the tornado," he said. Christine wiped her forward, the humidity was intense even with the windows closed and air control in full tilt.

"Do you want me to drive?" she asked. 

"There's nowhere to pull over," he said.

"Watch the outer white line and drive as slowly as you want," she said. Not another word between them for miles. The gas tank was below 1/4 tank. No gas stations in view. 

The car smelled of apples, perspiration, and locker room dirty socks.  

"The grits at the Omelet house were delicious," Christine finally said. "My sandwich was okay," her husband said. " That man who said if we didn't like Kentucky weather, just give it half an hour and it would change, means about 10 more minutes of this." Christine watched the clock. He watched the road.

Hale hit the windshield like frozen grapes.

Then it stopped. The sky opened up, blue with high white clouds moving into bunny shapes and eagles and even a nose, eyes and fluffy curl of hair twirled over some man's forehead in the sky like a man on the moon in mid-day controlling the outcome of that supposed disaster. "Want to stop at Abe's Homestead? " Christine's husband asked. "It's just up ahead."

Christine pondered the thought. "Elizabehttown would have been more fun," she said. "That's where that movie with Kirten Dunst was made. We could have eaten at a local restaurant and had our picture taken. 

Her husband stuck his hand out the window. Wind blasted inside the car. "It's warm out there, not like Los Angeles at all." He pulled down the viser and fixed his hair. Christine fluffed her own hair, no frizz, thank goodness. "Nashville isn't that far. I need to find a beauty supply. I left my hair gel and bath oil behind." 

"I think we're lost" her husband said. "Somehow we're off the Interstate. Christine looked at the gas gage. Then looked at him. His face smooth, his eyes said. "It can't be far."

"We not off the Interstate," Christine said. "Look, there's a dog park with people walking their dogs. It's a rest stop. We're at less than a quarter of a tank."

"Want to change drivers," he asked. "My turn to look around."

He fell asleep before she got to the next exit. Pulling off at a Waffle House, Christine patted his head and whispered. "I'm going in for grits. I'll be right back. " 

"I want a fresh baked pretzel with tons of salt," he said. "Grits are for girls."

 And that's the truth. To some extent.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Willow Wayne: How A Star Stays A Star

Willow Wayne is a statuesque movie star, television presence, and songstress. At 16 she was a cover girl, at 20 she starred in her first film, to much acclaim. She and the director were an item for awhile, they made all the magazine covers, then he went home to his wife. 

Over the course of 25 year she made a few reasonably successful films, starred in two television series, married a bartender from Oklahoma, bore a son with prominent ears, then a daughter with Downs Syndrome shortly before she divorced her second husband, a pediatrician. She moved on to her then-agent, who did not want the twins she produced. She fired her publicist after a poolside session made her arms look fat. 

"You're a has-been," the agent-husband harped late one night after a party. "All you did was shout into your cell phone, all night. You are desperate for attention."

He was right. She left him in a huff, leaving the big house in the hills behind. She had hated the steep driveway, and her driver, and her secretary, couldn't afford it anymore, anyway.

A Cape Cod style house on a tree-lined street with a locked front gate, accessed only by a buzzer hid her from the glare as she contracted a new career. The living room became a jazz stage, musicians and paid friends were hired to build up a thin voice and highlight a dramatic presentation. 

"Hello," she called gaily from her bed, as whoever assembled downstairs a couple weeks before her first gig at a small intimate club. "I'll be down when I'd ready," she said, her voice lilting an octave. Meantime, she rearranged herself in the middle of the bed, placed a call to her daughter, no answer. Then a call to someone, arranging a late lunch on Thursday, since she had to rehearse. 

"Where's my diamond necklace?" she screamed. "I can't sing without it," she wailed to her secretary over her cell phone even though the woman was in the kitchen. "My voice will crack. You know I hate that," she said, snapping the phone shut. She ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing it into a kind of shape, her silk dressing gown gaping open. "Get in here," she screamed to anyone who could hear her.

"Where is my coach? He knows I'm hopeless without him." Willow started to cry, crocodile tears. "Why do all these people let me down? Don't they know there are rules, it takes discipline to be me? FYI folks. Only the star can break the rules."

All that is another lifetime now. Her act is perfect. She enters the room to applause, one of her hit songs leading off the show. "Thank you for coming tonight," she always says. "We're going to have a wonderful evening. I do this for you, your pleasure and happiness." Her face shines. Her gowns shimmer sleekly curvaceous around a purposefully-willowed figure. 

"You're beautiful," an audience member calls out. 

"Spanx, you know," she answers smartly, knowingly catching the eye of women in the small club lounge. "How many of you ladies are wearing your spanx tonight? Where would we be without them, ladies?" 

The women applaud. The men laugh. Willow wraps an arm sensuously beneath her glued-on push-up pseudo bra, wrapping long red finger nails around a hip and humming her way into some ballad or another.

At late night champagne and oyster dinner with her current lover, she insists, absolutely insists her lover pick up the check. She'll make him a breakfast he'll never forget, but in the morning he is gone, they are always gone. She watches The View on TiVo from her bed, silk gown gaping open, Tiffany drop pendant on a diamond chain under the bed, clouded from view by dust bunnies.

"I'm scheduled to be on, you know," she says to no one in particular. "Unless I change my mind. I'm the star. I can reschedule if I want to."

And that's true. To an extent. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

You, and you, and you were there

In this tough times, I think this one is worth repeating. A good laugh, and something to think about as we struggle to make a few bucks.

Ana Maria Carmen and Ruben Sanchez sit at a very large elaborate banquet table. Maria sits to the right of God and Ruben sits to her right. They are nibbling on tiny green peppers as they talk. Ruben has a Dos Equis and Maria has a Margarita. God sips champagne.

"My mother said I could not get married until I was five feet tall, so I stood very straight and always wore two-inch heels," Maria said as she shrugged one shoulder. "I married my Ruben in a  white muslin dress with a flowing white Mantilla as soon as I was 18. You blessed us with a good life together."

"I was the luckiest man alive for 42 years," Ruben said. "Maria was my beautiful lady."

"Oh no," Maria said, stifling a giggle, "Our daughter, Giselle, is so much prettier than I ever was. She was always your favorite."

"You were a wonderful mother," Ruben said.

"Sometimes I think I loved shoes almost as much as I loved my children," Maria said. The giggle bubbles out. "I taught Elizabeth too well. She spends too much for shoes, and so many.  I worry."

"Our sons are good men, good husbands, and good fathers," Ruben said. "You don't have to worry about them."

"They yell at their children so much," Maria said. "And they work such long hours. I wish we could have done better for them."

"You had a lot to overcome," God said. "You had no education, no health insurance, you lived in a dangerous neighborhood.  Sadly, prejudice continues, even now." 

"I worked three jobs until all the kids were in school," Ruben said. "We lived with Maria's aunt in her big old house for so long she left it to us."

"Do you remember her antimacassars? She was so proud of them," Maria said. "It was so funny. Ruben went around saying something smelled bad." Maria covers her mouth with her fingers as she laughs. "I'm sorry. We're eating. I was embarrassed to admit I knew what they were."

"That smell stuck like smoke. I worked on getting rid of it for years," Ruben said. "Made the house into a nice inheritance for the children. Worth a lot more now than it was then." Ruben's belly jiggles over his big belt buckle as he laughs and pulls at his moustache.  

"This is just like Father Texerios said it would be," Maria said. "The food is delicious, family and friends are here, everything is perfect."

"Thank you," God said. "I appreciate your gratitude. I do so love providing this big party, lots of good food and wine. It's too bad those very things are what send so many here before I expect them."

And that's true. To some extent.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Pink Prom Dress

Yes, this is a repeat. But, I think it is worth posting again. It's sad and funny at the same time. 

Micheline and Oscar have been living together in downtown L.A. since before it was fashionable. Their home is two large cardboard refrigerator boxes on skid row. A man and his dog sleep to their left. A old woman in purple flannel pajamas talks nonstop on their right. 

Oscar's a big husky man given to wearing long flowing gowns. He was wounded, his left leg, in the war (although he has never said what war) and he suffers from endless phantom pain. The only time it doesn't hurt is when  he sees himself in a beautiful gown in a shop window.

"Let's go window shopping," Micheline says when his pain becomes unbearable. "We'll look at your dress. Wouldn't you love that?"

"Oh yes," he says. Oscar pulls himself up from the sidewalk, leans against the wall and takes her arm. "Watch the curb," he says as they cross the street. "I don't want you to get hurt." He offers a smile and hello to all who pass, holding his head high, even as he winces in pain. With his free hand he lifts his gown a few inches from the street so as not to step on the hem.

At a shop window, they gaze intently. "This window is cracked," Micheline says. At the second shop, she shakes her head. "This window is distorted." 

"I think it makes me look good," Oscar says. "Just not quite right. My leg really hurts."

"You can lean on me while we walk," Micheline says. "If we don't like what we see today, we will tomorrow." She puts his arm around her shoulders.

"Oh, look over there," Oscar says, catching sight of a store window. "Perfect." 

In the reflection of the dusty shop window Oscar sees himself, strong, fit, and as beautiful as any woman he'd ever known. Micheline runs her fingers across his back until she's hugging him close. "We're a very lucky couple," she says.

"Yes we are," Oscar says. His pain has disappeared. They begin to waltz down the street, in a world all their own, gliding up-down, one-two-three. Then Oscar stops. He watches a young prosperous couple holding hands. He strides up to them. Micheline lags behind. 

"Hey buddy. Micheline's suit is at the cleaners and I left my money at home. Give me $10. We are late for the party already and no bubbly for our friends."

The man and woman stare at Oscar whose flitting left and right in his  pink chiffon prom dress that is a size too large.  

Micheline steps forward and speaks up for her friend. "He really wants to go. I want to go with him. And as you can see I'm not dressed for it. You may not know this, but he hurt his leg real bad in the war. He used to be a nurse at the Country Club hospital just up the street."

The man looks up the street. There's an apartment building. Country Club Hospital?  "That's the best story I've heard all day. You got it," he says, smiling, then pulls  a $20 bill from his pocket. "Have fun. You deserve it." 

"Thank you," Micheline says. "You're very understanding." She pulls a black comb from inside her thick matted hair and waves it at them. "I styled his hair. Doesn't it look fabulous?"
And that's true. To some extent.