The Kiddie Pool

Mid July in the late 70’s. The family of four stood in the driveway of a run-down looking two family house, as they watched a giant moving truck slowly back out into the street. Tears welled up in the older daughter’s eyes. The younger child grabbed onto to her mother’s long linen skirt. She looked up to see the dark stains spreading beneath the underarms of her mom’s favorite olive shirt. Their father swiftly turned on his heels, walked into the house, letting the loose screen door slam loudly behind him.

The mother and two little girls stood for a few moments, frozen in time at the end of the driveway. They watched as the truck turned the corner, finally passing out of sight.

This was one of a series of moves. For reasons mysterious to the children, just as soon as they got settled in a new town and into a new school, it was time to move again. Usually something to do with their father’s job as a professor. Switching universities, better opportunities, or something of the sort.

This time they were going to move to a another state, but until the next house was ready, they would need to stay in temporary housing, at an apartment complex.

As the kids got into the back seat of the beige Volvo station wagon, they each hugged a teddy bear close, tears dampening the well-worn, faded fur.

Hours passed, and after dark, they arrived at their destination. It was a nondescript place. Dark russet brick, all one level. Basically a Motel 6, minus the sign. The family set up a temporary home here. Simply furnished, it served its purpose well enough.

Over the next few days, the girls ventured outside. It was during an era when kids were allowed to run around wild and free. Nobody really paid much attention, unless it was time to do homework, chores, walk a dog, or eat dinner. As they wandered around the complex, they noticed quite a few other kids around their age. The children seemed friendly enough, and one of the neighbors even had a plastic kiddie pool in front of her unit. It was blue, with bright green turtles and seahorses printed all around the outside. The little girl invited the sisters to play, and of course they were excited to meet a new friend. And, even more excited to be able to cool off in the bright blue plastic pool.

Being that it was summer and there wasn’t much to do, having a new friend with the kiddie pool was a good start. At least they had somewhere to go. They didn’t like to stay inside the dark apartment, since their mother seemed to be unhappy, and the place felt oppressive in the stifling humidity.

One day, not long after moving in, the new friend told them, “hey, it’s time to go to Bobby’s place, his mom is doing her shower.” The girls had no idea what this meant, but of course they were curious. They followed her as she traipsed around the complex. As they followed her, she called out “shower time!” over and over. Gradually, a few other children, hearing the call, joined them in the parade towards Bobby’s place.

Finally, they arrived at the apartment. Number 19. The door was open. An older boy, maybe 9 or 10, poked his head out of the front door. “Hurry up! Mom’s just getting in the shower now!” All of the kids shuffled in through the door, crowding the hallway of the small unit. The sound of a shower could be heard, and a high-pitched voice called out “Hey you guys, wanna see my tits?” The group of kids, mostly boys, swiftly gravitated towards her voice.

The bathroom door was open, an intoxicating scent of strawberry shampoo filled the air, as a cloud of steam poured out. Rock music played on a transistor radio. Behind the sheer plastic French doors into the shower, a messy giant blonde head of hair bobbed up and down. Suddenly, the doors opened and Bobby’s mom leaned out, “see these!” she held up her enormous breasts shaking them at all of the children. The two new girls stood in shock. The older sister grabbed her younger sister by the hand, and dragged her through the cluster of kids, and out the front door in a hurry. They ran all the way back to their apartment, where they fell onto the air mattress in hysterical fits of giggles.

Chameleon

Silently, I sit. Eternally waiting for something, or someone, to happen. My thick-skinned, firm body, rests motionless. Self control is my strength. I move one eye, then the other. Nothing. Nobody. I am alone. Time passes, as it always does. Finally, I sense movement. A tiny leave shivers, ever so slightly. I dart an eye in its direction, glancing at the surrounding greenery.

It’s nearly time. Something is about to happen. I wait. With stealth motion, I peer around myself, noticing that I’m a bit too bright to blend in. Swiftly, I shift my muscles, triggering a deeper shade to sweep over my skin. There. I’m hidden. Listening, I hear nothing more from the leaf. I wait. Waiting is my virtue. Patience you can call it, but for me, it’s a way of life. Waiting. I know it’s worth it. Again, I hear a barely audible sound. Tiny feet delicately treading on a branch. Exquisite. The sound has come closer. 

Now is not the time to make my move. I slow my heart rate to the brink of death. Completely undetectable, I close my eyes, and I wait. I listen as the tiny footsteps move around in the foliage right across from me. It’s time. With one eye open, I spot the miniscule spider as he cautiously makes his way along a very thin twig. I prepare myself. It’s time for something to happen. I breathe. And, it’s done. My tongue has been unleashed. I’ve swallowed the spider. Gone in an instant. He didn’t even see it coming.Chameleons have the ability to see and perceive the intentions of others. With sublime patience, camouflage and cloaking capabilities, these incredible creatures exhibit unparalleled powers of adaptation. The chameleon knows precisely when to make the right move.

Jamaican Flute

A fine mist of drizzle dampens my forehead and brow. My locks are activated by the humidity and I can feel them rising up in protest. I breathe in the sweet wet air, blended with exhaust from cars entering and exiting the parking lot. Stepping up onto the curb, I find my favorite spot under the awning of the massage parlor in the dingy 7-11 strip mall plaza. Dropping my hefty backpack to the floor, I lean down to dislodge my worn and warped wooden flute. I’ve had it since I was 15, and I am continuously awed by its resilience. I am now 48.

It wasn’t always like this. I mean, I wasn’t always like this. Here. In this god-forsaken strip mall in the Valley of Los Angeles. No. Long ago, I was in paradise. I remember the scent of the mountains, the soft air on my skin. The sun and sea were never too far. Nature and her abundance surrounded me. How did it happen. How did I get here?

Life has its leaps and bounds, you know. I always excelled in music, and my mother dreamed of me going to the states to become a star. Yes, I dreamed too, of this distant wondrous place, full of happiness, success, and opportunity. I had a huge imagination, and my mind wandered through the streets of New York. My musical gift fast became known around the island. So much so, that when traveling bands came through, they would ask me to play for their concerts. I gladly obliged, time and time again. I would get paid, and was able to help the family and save some money on the side. My expenses were minimal, food, maybe a beer here and there. So the rest of the money was a real help to my loved ones. Myself, I really never had a taste for material things.

Finally, when I was 19, the day came, when the band I played with in Jamaica asked me to tour with them. Of course I accepted the invitation. My family was more excited than I was. They practically packed my bags for me. I was going to do a year-long tour in the United States, beginning in NYC, hitting every nook and cranny between, and ending in LA, followed with a European tour. Needless to say, we toured, played, and stayed here and there. It was all a blur. I smoked more and more, slept less and less. Random women came in and went out the revolving door. I really never had enough time to establish a connection with anyone. It was go, go, go. I tired of it quickly. Days, turned into months, months, into years. Again, and again. I sent most of the money back to Jamaica. My little sister and nephews needed it more than I did. I mailed monthly gift packages, and transferred cash continually over the years.

Occasionally, I would get to go back to my home. The island air would embrace me as soon as I exited the airport. My soul felt content from the moment my feet touched the ground on my beloved Jamaica. My heart would be overflowing with love and gratitude. But, all too soon, it would be time to board another flight to link up with another tour, and the pattern would continue on and on. Playing, getting paid, sending money back, I felt trapped in an endless cycle as well as a symbiotic relationship with my kin.

Years pass, they do. You blink and 5, then 10. Gone. Blink again, 15, and 20. A few more blinks, and more than 30 years passed by.

The last tour had ended, but I never told my family. I continued to send the money I always had. It was on a schedule, and as long as I sent it, I rarely heard back anymore. My account was getting low, dwindling, one could say.

I stayed here and there, a couch,  lady friend, or guest room. Eventually, even the best of us wears out our welcome. I had not enough to get back to Jamaica, not even enough to rent a room. Just a weary backpack, and my trusty flute remained. Shoes on my feet, thank god. Somehow, my inner strength kept my body strong.

These days, I shelter under a bridge of sorts. I suppose it’s more of an underpass. The rain has been coming down lately, and it does make it a more difficult situation but I persevere.

As I situate myself under the awning of the massage parlor in the 7-11 plaza, a silver Toyota Camry slows thru the lot. A grey haired, white lady leans out her window. “I have half a sandwich if you want it?”, she says with expectant eyes. I feel betrayed and disrespected. I know she wants to be of assistance, but she is offending me. I make my way towards her car, and I can’t help but to reprimand her. I tell her, I am Jamaican, and I don’t take food from those I don’t know. She looks upset as tears well into her eyes. I know she has kind intentions. I know this, but even so, it offends me.

I was a sought after musician! I’m not supposed to be here. She waits in her car, as I storm away, grabbing my wooden flute out of the weathered backpack. I look over, and stare into her eyes as I begin to play a heartfelt ballad about love and lost. I can see a tear well, and drop down her pale cheek. I smile to myself, knowing I still have my power. My gift is not lost forever. She smiles and touches her hand to her heart in a thankful motion. At that moment, I feel that I am found.

 

Velvet Toast

The gold foil tipped cigarette, stained with lipstick, smoldered in an overflowing ashtray. Soft blonde waves of hair cascaded across her face as she softly fell back into the burgundy velour sofa, which swiftly enveloped her small frame. Slender stocking encased legs shimmered in the candle light. One metallic sandal lay discarded on the persian rug, while the other remained partially strapped to her delicate foot. The floor vibrated with bass music from the club below, mixed with din of a crowded room, occasional loud shouts, and the intermittent sound of breaking glass. With a quiet click, a door was opened. A man slipped into the room, wearing a tuxedo, dark hair slicked into a pompadour. Cat like, he moved across the room, towards the woman on sofa. As his eyes adjusted to the candlelight, he could see that there was nobody else here. Had he locked the door? He swiftly doubled back to be sure. Carefully trying the handle, he found it secure. Taking out a pack of cigarettes and a tarnished lighter from his pocket, he lit up a smoke. The flame briefly illuminated a scowling expression on his face, and the sparkle of his green eyes flashed in the dark. Taking a long pull, he dramatically exhaled towards the ceiling. Tiny beads of sweat were starting to emerge across his tanned forehead and upper lip.

Crossing the room, he reached the sofa and stopped. He stood over the blonde who was passed out cold. Her cigarette now just a faint fading ember in the ashtray. The pale blue sequined gown had slipped off of her shoulder to reveal creamy skin glowing in the low light. He reached his hand slowly towards her, running his fingertip over her bare shoulder and up the side of her neck. She stirred. He swiftly pulled his hand away, and stood there watching her. She continued to doze. Obviously she had over indulged. It didn’t help that the heroin was back in fashion, and she had been dipping into it again on occasion. He was pretty sure she was nodding off, and not just simply drunk. He sighed to himself, shaking his head. He looked at his watch and sat down in the chair across from her. As he jabbed out the cigarette in the tray, it overflowed, ash and a few butts scattering accross the mahogany table. A few minutes passed and he checked his watch again. The sound from below started to fade and within the next hour, it became quiet. Silence came over the room, other than the soft breathing of the woman.

Now, he stood up and walked towards the sofa again. He took a look down at her with pity, gently running his hand over her soft locks, pushing the hair out of her face to expose the delicate alabaster features, dark lashes and crimson lips. He let go, and her platinum waves fell once again covering her face. He took a step back, paused to look at his watch once more, and then leaned down to the corner of the velvet sofa. He took out his lighter and held it to the loosely fraying edge by the floor. The flame started small, and eased its way up the seam, as it reached the arm of the sofa it began to smolder, but suddenly a larger flame burst forward, and then another, until it suddenly burst into an angry fire swiftly devouring the sofa…he blinked as he watched for a few moments, then turned and quickly walked towards the door, making a stealth escape. Taking a back stairwell to exit the building, he stepped out into a dark alley. It was quiet and damp outside. A gentle rain was falling. He looked up at the building to see a window flickering with firelight. Taking his cigarettes out, he lit one, taking a long pull. He exhaled. He muttered one word. Bitch. With that, he turned on his heels and headed down the dank alley into the distance until he was just another shadow in the dark.

CVS Psychic

Hair dye, nail polish, crazy glue, birthday card and gum. I repeat these words over and over in my head like a song. Don’t want to forget anything. Without a list, I know I’ll wind up with a basket full of makeup I don’t need, along with random things like tiny stuffed teddy bears and jellybeans. Stick to the list. Focus.

Standing in the nail polish aisle, comparing two very similar colors, I host an internal debate regarding the difference between them, one too pale, the other too grey and corpse-like. I go back and forth, finally settling on the least expensive tiny bottle in a shade between the two.

It’s at that moment that I feel her stare. Looking up from the nail polish rack, I see a petite woman, with sharp darting eyes standing in front of me. Wearing a black wool coat, purple handbag on arm, she’s a throwback to 1968. Her dyed matte black hair is perfectly coifed into a modest bouffant. She wears a red faded lipstick. Cautiously stepping closer, she let’s me know that she’s a psychic. She tells me that I have a very strong aura. I think, oh no, here we go….the psychic scam. Been there, done that. However, I am curious as to what message she might have for me.

She tells me that there is someone I have unfinished business with, and that I need to let it go. I do a quick scan over the past and, of course, there’s a lot of unfinished business back there, but I can’t think of anything that critical. I nod and tell her I’m good, I think I’ve resolved those things. She continues to stare. Then she pauses to pick up a lipstick. Holding it up, she tells me, in a heavy Brooklyn accent, how these long wearing lipsticks always make her lips dry. I let her know I’m a makeup artist, and I offer some suggestions. She tells me I have a very creative aura.

I thank her, turning to head down the aisle, making my stealthy escape. Around the corner I pause, momentarily distracted by a row of mascaras. I feel it again, she’s in front of me now. She tells me I am going to need to make a decision very soon. In my head, I’m thinking, yeah, we all make decisions every day. Case in point,  I can’t even decide which nail color to buy. But, she emphasizes that I need to make the best decision for myself, and not to let others influence that choice. I thank her for the advice, and I carry on towards the hair dye section.

As I wait in line for the register, I realize it’s saturday night, and I’m in a CVS in Burbank. I feel a wave of self-pity sweep over me. Let it go, I tell myself, let it go. You’re free. You don’t have to answer to anyone. You can stay in this store all night if you want. Self-doubt creeps in. Insecurity takes over. The psychic’s comments float through my mind. “Need to let go of something, creative aura, make a decision.” Maybe I ought to heed her advice. As I make my way across the lonely parking lot, carrying the plastic bag with my hair dye, nail polish, crazy glue, birthday card and gum, I know that I do need to let go of some things from the past, and it is time to make some serious decisions regarding my future. I embrace my creative spirit, and quietly thank the CVS psychic for her advice.

Exit Plan

Living in the moment is a very lovely sentiment. There’s a lot to be said for being present. However, it never hurts to plan ahead. A bit of strategic thinking is often a wise idea. Otherwise, it can easily happen that you wind up facing retirement at warp speed, without an exit plan. Visions of working at Walmart, or getting into elder porn start drifting through the mind. This usually happens due to a lack of planning, coupled with poor choices. But, of course circumstances and plain bad luck often play a huge role as well. This is a story about a woman in such a scenario, and how she handled her situation.

Let’s flash back to the beginning. Desiree came to LA at the tender age of nineteen. Typical story. She had been homecoming queen back in a small Iowa town, and she came to LA to become a movie star, model, or at least a tv sensation. Well, fast forward 10 years. 29 being a magic number in a mysogynistic place like LA. No longer young enough to play the “ingenue”, but she still looked good enough to continue getting roles as the ‘sexy’ so and so. Finally, Desiree landed a recurring role on a soap opera as a lonely housewife, where she was constantly getting entangled with hot young neighbors, and other women’s husbands. They say that life imitates art, or is it vice versa? I forget. Anyhow, jump ahead 5 years, and Desiree, now 34 is starting to wonder if she was ever going to find Mr. Right, amongst the string of Mr. Right Nows. Low and behold, on a commercial for vacuums, there he stood. The man of her dreams. Love at first sight. They chatted on set, he wooed her for weeks, and she knew, this was it. He was a director. Wealthy, a bit older and established. She had hit the jackpot. Not only was it love, but she, being an opportunistic gal, knew that he would be able to connect her and help her career. She was being strategic.

They married and honeymooned in Tahiti, her dream vacation. Champagne and caviar. She moved into his home in the Pacific Palisades and got so comfortable, she stopped working altogether, and focused on trying to have a baby. It seemed to be the next thing to do. Her husband, Dean, was a workaholic, but an excellent provider. He had a bit of a reputation as a ladies man, but Desiree knew that she held the keys to his heart, credit cards and castle. The following year, she had a baby boy. They named him Devon. Dean, Desiree and Devon lived their “perfect” life for many years. He lavished her with cash, gifts and cars. In return she tolerated his rumored infidelities. She had nannies and housekeepers. With more time on her hands than she knew what to do with, she felt she had achieved the life a princess would only dream of. Shopping, being pretty and well provided for. A blonde haired princess from Iowa. Just like her parents had always told her.

Fast forward 10 years. Desiree turned 39. Her years on tanning beds were beginning to surface. She looked in the mirror and noticed things she didn’t like. She began to get beauty “treatments” done by a famous Beverly Hills plastic surgeons. Just small tweaks here and there. The credit card had a high limit, and she just told her husband she needed a mole or two removed. Precancerous things, you know. Dean was oblivious, and told her to do whatever she needed to do. Their son was now in private school, and the nanny took him to his after school programs for hours. The only time they were together as a family was occasionally for a half hour or so at bedtime. Often, Dean would stay “on location”. Needless to say, Desiree started to get very lonely.

She started to go take yoga at a small private gym. This is where she met Mack. Yes, the personal trainer. So cliche, I know. Trust me, this is a scenario that plays out over and over and over again. She started to “train” daily. Her body felt better than ever, and she was glowing. One night when her husband came home, he commented on how great she looked. He made sexual advances in the kitchen, something he hadn’t done in a very long time. As he pressed her up against the counter, her cell phone received a text and then another. Her phone happened to be on the counter directly in his line of vision. Desiree wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and she had neglected to set her phone on private. Dean leaned closer to her, stroking her neck, while staring over her shoulder to view the incoming messages. Desiree squirmed, trying to get his attention. The stream of texts continued. Dean’s breathing got heavier. He pushed Desiree in front of him, grabbing her by her arms shaking her violently. He asked her what was going on. Who the hell was Mack? She started to shake and cry. She told him how sorry she was, but she had been so lonely. She cried a lot, but he just pushed her aside and stormed out, down the hall, into his office and slammed the door shut. Desiree sank down onto the kitchen floor, head in hands. She reached up to grab the cell phone and read the messages that Dean had viewed. They were completely incriminating. Explicitly sexual, and solid evidence of an affair. She turned off her phone and sat there bawling on the kitchen floor until she could drag herself to the plush white leather sofa where she fell asleep.

The next morning, Desiree woke up to her husband standing over her. He gave a weak smile and told her he understood. He confessed that he too had been having an affair, and in a way this was all kind of a relief. He had met an actress on set, and it had gotten quite serious. He was planning on telling her, but he just hadn’t had the opportune moment. Desiree felt her heart sink. She went numb. Sure, she had been having an affair, but it was just sex and she had never had the intention of getting more serious with Mack. However, her husband was telling her a different scenario. He told her that he would be going to his lawyer during the following week to file the divorce papers. He said that he was going for full custody of their son, with visitation rights for Desiree. He claimed that she was an unfit mother, focused on her plastic surgery more than on her son’s needs. He warned her not to contest it. He reminded her that he was a powerful man, with powerful connections. She was shocked and defeated. Her heart hurt. He told her she should start getting ready to move out. Devise an exit plan, he told her. Finally, he told her she would be able to have the BMW, and he would give her a sort of “severance” deal, but because she had racked up so much on his credit cards, she was lucky to get anything at all. She gasped, taking it all in.

During the next few weeks, she spent her time going through her clothes, and jewelry, bagging it up for consignment shops. She sold what she could, stashing the cash for emergencies. She started to look at apartments, and living situations, but they were all so expensive. She would only be able to survive for a few months on her finances. She had no concrete job skills, and no connections left. At this point, the idea of going out on auditions, facing rejection, seemed terrifying.

One day, while getting the mail, she saw a paper leaflet on the ground at the end of the gravel driveway. She picked it up. On the front was a photo of a handsome long haired man. “Divine Heights, A New Lifestyle” was printed in bold purple script. She opened the pamphlet and read inside. It described a permanent “retreat”, in the countryside, where it cost nothing, but you were provided with everything. A healthy cooperative community. Welcoming to all, no matter what financial status. There was a phone number at the bottom, underneath a photo of a group of laughing people in a tent. She went back inside, glanced around the huge luxurious white living room, walked over the the giant fur chair, plopped down and dialed the number.

A woman’s voice answered. Hello, Divine Heights, Althena speaking. Desiree paused. Then she started to ask questions. Where was this community, what was the lifestyle, and what was the cost to become a part of it. The woman explained that it was a healthy community in the hills of a remote town in central california. They welcomed all. Depending on budget, there was a nominal “buy-in”, but once in, the only cost was labor and participating in events. The founder, known as Chino, was a leader and a man of many talents. They practiced daily meditation, along with coop gardening, and cooking.

Desiree decided to take the “tour”. She drove her BMW up the coast and headed inland towards the dry desolate looking mountains. It seemed like a very long drive, hours and hours. Finally, down a long dirt road, she saw ahead, a compound. Looking like an old military camp, she noted people milling about, doing repairs. She parked at the end of the drive and got out of her car. A tall dark haired familiar looking man looked in her direction, waving her over. She walked towards him. As she got nearer, she noticed that this was the man on the cover of the pamphlet. The man introduced himself as Chino, reaching out his hand to hers. He gently pulled her in for a hug, whispering “welcome”, softly into her ear. She smiled. She told him she was there to take a look at the Lifestyle. He invited her into the building where there was a simple set up of rustic furnishings. He guided her to a small wicker couch and sat down right next to her. He was wore jeans and a loose fitting shirt. His scent was masculine and deep. He pressed his knee against hers. She felt chemistry. He was a powerful man. She liked him. He put his arm around her, holding her close. He told her he knew she was searching. He knew she needed shelter and love. She had to look no further. She smiled, and felt his lips kiss her neck. She pulled away. He looked her in the eyes, and told her she was welcome here. There would be no charge for her. She thought to herself, this was it. He got up and took her hand. He lead her down a long hall towards a small room. Through the tiny window, enough natural light streamed in to see a clean and simple setup. A single bed, sink and toilet. He told her this would be her personal quarters. The rest of the place was shared. He told her he felt the connection too. She smiled. It was her moment. A culmination of her life’s choices. This was it. She had her exit plan.

Trader Joe’s Gigolo

Ever since he could remember, women had fawned over him. He was a real head turner, and he knew it. The ladies loved him, and he loved them back. Again, and again. And, again. Years passed. He fancied himself a player for life. Love ’em, and leave ’em was his motto. Even if it meant shacking up with one, while managing a few on the side. Sure it became work, but he preferred to consider it a “lifestyle”.  A few more years passed, and eventually, juggling so many women began to consume him. It became a full-time job. So much so, that his actual career as a science lab manager went into a downward spiral. He wound up with a menial position at a pet store, where he got fired for trying to seduce a customer by putting a snake inside her blouse. Fortunately, he was still living with a clueless “girlfriend”, and she was all too happy to support him, since it gave her a sick sense of self-control. Self-control was the very thing he lacked. Not long after he lost his job, she came home from work one day to find him in bed with a wealthy elderly neighbor. Needless to say, she kicked him out immediately. He vanished without a trace.

These days, you can find him lurking around Trader Joes parking lots. Wearing a fitted t-shirt and jeans,  pretending to be on his phone, he looks slightly lost and confused. But as soon as he sees a single lady headed to her car with grocery bags, he shifts into high gear, and heads towards her with a studied swagger. Giving her his hungry eyes, and a slight smile, he pauses, then says, “excuse me, but you are so beautiful, I just had to tell you.” Usually, the woman swiftly slides into the vehicle, and backs out at high speed. But, occasionally he has a lucky day, and she pauses long enough for him to engage her further. He runs his fingers through his albeit thinning hair, like he’s seen men in cologne ads do. He’s still got it. Trader Joe’s parking lot has been good to him. There are lots of single ladies. and they definitely have food and a car. Soon, he might need to find a new location. He’s considering Home Goods or TJMax.