Monday, December 31, 2012

Yesteryou Chapter 4

It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon, one of the very few rainy days Los Angeles residents see in a year, when George would first meet both Richard and Beth.
"Beth, now I was hoping you'd be coming in his way, I got a problem I need your help with," her favorite security guard was telling her as she arrived at the library that morning.
"Oh, hi Franklin.  Did you run out of cigarettes?  I can loan you a pack for the day, I have 2 in my purse."
"No not today, I'm getting them by the carton at that Armenian place across the street now.  But I know you good with cats and there's a baby one stuck under the building, near the planter out front.  I saw it this morning, and I was fussing with him for a while trying to get ahold of him but then I had to punch in my time card.  Can you ask Lorraine," that was Beth's supervisor, a casual sort of woman likely to allow any request from Beth, "if you can go look for the kitten?  I been feeling bad for it since I seen it, it looked so little and skinny.  I know you like the rain, but I got an umbrella you can take out there with you."
Flattered to be considered in any respect helpful, Beth replied that she didn't need to check in with Lorraine first, then asked him to describe which drainage hole the kitten was crouched in, and, stashing her huge overstuffed purse with Frankin (in fact, her purse was a shoulder bag designed to serve as carry-on luggage for plane trips), she went out front and began walking gingerly between the bougainvillea bushes in the planter, stooped over, looking into the drainage holes unevenly installed along the building's perimeter.  She was planning to rescue the kitten and take it home with her.  She wouldn't be able to bring it on the bus with her, even if she carried it on hidden in a file box, so she would ask Lorraine to give her a ride home at the end of the day, and meanwhile it would make the whole long day at work bearable, the covertness of having an animal where no animals are allowed.  But she found no kitten.  And then a man standing at the bus stop, an old man (he would prove to be just old-looking -- he was only 45 the day he met Beth) with shoulder-length white hair sparse on top and a stooped stance, noticed her, and after some visible consideration, he walked over to where Beth was crouched and making kissing noises and cooing to the unseen kitten, "Here sweetie-sweetie, here baby."

"Excuse me," the man said, bending over the drainage hole she was poised next to, "are you looking for your cat?"  He had a pair of headphones resting around his neck, and he kept the Walkman they were connected to in the pocket of the rain-soaked cardigan he wore; as he was bending down to Beth's level, the Walkman slid out of his pocket and swung into her face.  He was mortified.  When he'd first glimpsed her crouched figure, his admiration had been instantaneous and complete.  Forever.  And now he'd injured her, and of all places to injure her, he'd injured her face, the most important part of a body, in a way. 
Only, she didn't have many opportunities to forgive people, and it is a luxury, to be able to relieve someone from worry like that, so before he could even apologize, she said, "It's okay, it didn't hurt."  At this gesture of kindness, he felt a rush of comfort akin to drifting to sleep.  "I think it might make a little bruise on your nose," he said, and it would, a little bruise on the bridge of her nose where one doesn't usually see a bruise, and it looked like a smudge of newsprint. 
"Well," she continued, "you must be a cat person too, to miss your bus helping me look for a cat."
"Oh yes, I am.  My journal entries end up being about things my cats did that day, more often then not.  I have three of them right now."
From a different man, she might have assumed this admission to be untrue and a ploy to create a feeling of trust, and might have seized on his words critically, might've said, "Jesus, that sounds pretty pathetic."  But she sensed this was a man to be protected from the brusque mockery most people are inclined towards, regarding loving domestic animals, regarding keeping a journal, even regarding taking the bus in Los Angeles, instead of figuring out a way to buy a car, as though a car were a more important purchase than a home.

Throughout the years, she would take him for granted, and take her anger and disappointment out on him, often, but she would never mock his interests or his gentility. 

"I don't know if the kitty is here anymore, and if she is, she probably won't come out now that it's raining harder.  They hate the rain unless they're inside watching it, don't you think so?" she said, and, slowly rising, already sore in her joints from sitting still and slouched so many hours of the day, she wiped the mud from her hands onto her skirt and told him, "I have to get back to work, but visit me sometime if you want to, I work on the Sociology floor.  I shelve books so sometimes I'm in the storage room, but you can ask for me if you stop by, and I can take a break.  I'm Beth."  It felt new and empowering for her, to be so assured of this man's esteem for her.  She could tell from speaking with him that he was basically asexual, and timid, that he was unused to youth, and women.  True.  Beth, and later her daughter Molly, were the only two women he would ever feel comfortable with.

While he felt uncomfortable in the presence of women, he was decidedly disinterested in the company of most men; he only liked the men who came into his bookstore, because they liked to talk about the same things as him, and they appreciated his domain.  But inclinations such as this are seldom ironclad, and when he got back to the bus bench, he saw another man waiting for the bus who immediately caught his attention, really because of how obviously cheap was the quality of the man's three piece suit, the dress shirt he wore, and his shoes.  It was endearing.  This was made more so because of the awkward look of the fashionably droopy mustache on this man's boyish face, the thick lenses of his eyeglasses, and the strange lavender color of the man's umbrella (George would find out later on that the umbrella had been lent to him by a solicitous secretary with a crush on the man).  Though sloppy, his face reminded George, in the quality of its handsomeness, of one of the few actors George knew the name of, Richard Gere.  Coincidentally, the man's name was Richard.  George found this out by the time they were sitting next to each other on the bus.  "Did she tell you what she was looking for?  I was curious, she was crawling around in the mud so intently!" were the first words Richard said to George. 

Richard could be short-tempered at times.  He could be too silly sometimes (in the opinion of the women who were attracted to him), making puns that required several tenuous and obscure connections of language and facts to understand.  He cried easily at sad parts in movies and books.  He was overly concerned with people's impressions of him.  He was compelled to try to make people like him, which was why it was his habit to say funny things on elevators to strangers before the silence got a chance to settle, or to talk to other people at the bus stop when he'd walked from his downtown office to Chinatown for lunch and would take the bus back to the law firm, where he worked primarily on child custody cases.  It was not until he asked the stranger sitting next to him about the woman who'd been crawling around in the library's planter that Richard developed a genuine interest in the woman, and this was possibly the effect of seeing how taken George was with her.  His interest in Beth became instantly genuine, though.  Just because he needed this extra moment to see Beth through George's eyes does not mean the interest was not genuine.
"She was looking for a stray cat.  My tape player fell out of my pocket and hit her in the face."
"I know," George chuckled.  "But she said she was okay."

While he was watching her and George look for the cat, Richard had noticed the employee badge hanging around Beth's neck, and he assumed she worked at the library.  After having a dream where he was confused about the neighborhood he was living in (it was a wholly unfamiliar place peopled with vague-faced strangers), in which she appeared as the neighborhood's only responsive, sympathetic resident, he went into the library and walked thoroughly around each floor until he found her.  Three years later, I was born.  This is my first try at telling our story, and I hope I'm doing okay.  None of the story, the bad or good events, or coincidences, have been exaggerated, it all happened, but of course I've had to guess at what some of us were thinking or feeling when these things happened. 

George went back to the library to find Beth the day after their first meeting, and the two of them had a long conversation about their mutual interest in British culture (Beth was wearing a button of the Union Jack pinned to her vest), but the conversation made him feel anxious and disappointed whenever he replayed it in his head later that day, because he'd felt he hadn't expressed himself well, the words had hurried out of his mouth so quickly, he'd criticized films he secretly unequivocally loved, and he poke vaguely about some topics in which he was an expert. 
He didn't go back to see her after that.  That is, until he became friends with Richard, who began stopping by George's used bookstore after the second time they spoke at the bus stop.  By then, Richard had held Beth, and made love to her, and watched her, enraptured, as she took a bath in the tub he'd never used before, even though he always meant to.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Yesteryou Chapter 3

What happened that night of their only date is that, finally, she would not let herself believe that he was attracted to her.  When the group of co-workers left them alone at their table again, James looked at Beth, sighed and joked, "I thought they'd never leave," though the group had only visited with them for a few minutes.  His hand found hers under the table.  His touch startled her and she flinched, which caused them to giggle, but Beth's smile left her face too suddenly. 
"Are you tired?  Your bus stop is before mine, so we could probably catch the 10:30 bus together."
"Oh, um, okay --"
"No, I don't mean to hurry you.  We can stay as long as you want.  I just wanted to make sure I wasn't keeping you out too late."
"Yeah, I should get home, actually.  I told my mom I'd try to call her tonight.  You said you could wait for the bus with me?"

She'd already started mourning her failure to make him love her as she sat there next to him on the bus that night, the only time she would ever sit next to him on any bus.  She was mourning her failure to make him love her even as his hand faintly shook with the anticipation of touching her under her blouse soon.  He thought she would ask him to get off the bus with her, to walk her to her apartment, to come inside.  But she didn’t.
The next day at work, she acted as though they had not been out together the night before with their legs touching; she spoke her normal way to him, jokingly and like she was bothering him.  And then gradually, as each day passed without her acting aware of his desires or at all full of quiet and secrets like he wanted, her visits to the check-out desk he worked at did become a bother, though not a serious one, more like "Here comes Beth again." 

She'd always hated, really hated herself, so when James eventually perceived her as a woman he’d once, and inexplicably, been attracted to, instead of as an enigmatic woman, this shift in his perception was, in a way, what she felt most comfortable with; it was the most satisfying blend of defeat and pathos.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Marc Chagall

Alexander Cozens


Maxfield Parrish

Yesteryou, Chapter 2


"Did you miss me?" Beth asked, sarcastically. But in fact, James had. They had just seen each other two hours earlier, for the smoke break they'd agreed to take together, and now she was back, wearing a sweater unfamiliar to him that looked like a patchwork quilt, and she was asking if he wanted to sit with her on one of the benches outside for lunch. She always drank a fountain soda from the food court and always steadily smoked on her lunch breaks, but she only sometimes ate. Yet she wasn't painfully skinny. She had just the softest suggestion of a double chin. When she looked down at a novel held in her lap, he saw the extra fold of fat reveal itself under her rather pointy chin, and it only made her face more beautiful.
She thought he looked like John Lennon only with dirty blonde hair, and all the little rips and stains and awkwardness that hung about him, signaling a deficiency of self-worth to the straight world, only attracted her more, the way the girl characters in Shangri-Las songs go for the bad boy, only not quite the same, because while there was some of the mythical bad boy to him, he also had a bad back and a tendency to whine sometimes. She really, really loved him. More than that. She was obsessed with him, to the point of being scared for herself. As she stood in front of him this day, he told her he had to work through lunch because of missing his bus that morning, which made him get to work late.

"But you know what we should do sometime?" he asked, having planned to make this suggestion for weeks, "We should grab a drink after work one of these days, maybe at Bluejay's," which was a locally famous bar across the street from the library where they worked, in downtown Los Angeles--the bar was decorated in vividly colored Chinese themes inside with a light that cast pretty shadows across the drinkers' faces, and the owner, who tended bar, was what people call "a character," someone who'd "been around forever."

"Sure," Beth said, inwardly thrilling, "that sounds great."

"Really? Okay, when should we do it?"

"How about today?" She was giving herself a stomach ache from the stress of pushing the invitation like this, and from smoking more that she usually did while they talked, but it seemed like there'd be a time in the future now when she would know that he was hers and there would be no more stomach aches, no more need to solidify plans with him with a desperate worry at the back of her consciousness, dreading the possibility that he would cancel. By the time her work day was finally over and she was taking the elevator to the floor he worked on, she'd thrown up twice, retching quietly in the bathroom stall, waiting for the patrons to leave the bathroom so she could be sick in peace.

Most women Beth's age wore jeans and t-shirts and let their hair grow long and hang loose. But Beth had liked, since she was a teenager, how women look when they've put most of their hair up in a loose bun, so only a few wisps of it curl about their face, and women who adorn themselves with interesting pieces of jewelry, and when she grew up, that was how she made herself look. James thought of her look as sort of bohemian and timelessly feminine.

She was one of those people who believe they are cursed, and there did seem to be some truth to it.

Sometimes, when she got really upset, she hugged herself and rocked back and forth. In late middle age the thought would occur to her that, more than once, she'd observed mentally retarded children soothe themselves in this way as well, and this realization would make her feel hopelessly, almost tenderly but at the last second cruelly, sorry for herself.

In time she would come to hug and rock herself plenty on James's account, and, once or twice, on Richard's account, but less so, though Richard would become her husband and by all rights the man she should love most. The rocking motion approximated the comfort in the "shhh" sound of the ocean or of wind through the leaves of trees. Rocking herself was the comfort of feeling autumn's crispness after a summer so hot it raised little bumps of heat rash on the insides of her soft thighs, from the combination of sweat and friction as they rubbed together under her skirt when she walked.

Try rocking yourself right now, where you sit.

She was only 22 when she started working at the library where she met James, but already at this young age she sometimes got the Yesteryou blues about the inevitability of aging. She could take a drink or a toke to feel light-hearted, or pull some strands loose from her bun so that they fell along the sides of her face, to feel pretty, but there was no trick she knew to perceive the world the way she had perceived it when she was a teenager. Only, this one and only date with James, at the Bluejay Bar, came close to that delicious nervousness of the fun nights of her youth.

He met her on the steps by the tiled fountain in front of the library, and told her, "You look different somehow." And she said, "Thanks."
And when they got to the bar, he said, "Looks like Jay is wearing his Chinese Eagles shirt," familiarly, though he'd never been inside the bar before, only heard about it from their co-workers, who said that Jay loved the rock group The Eagles, and almost always wore a band shirt for the Eagles, the text written in Chinese characters.

And she said, "I don't like The Eagles," smiling as she stared at a space to the left of James's ear, too nervous to meet his eyes. They found a booth at the back of the small bar and they sat there talking and drinking for four hours, with his left leg pressed against her right leg after the first hour. She could feel the beat of her pulse in her throbbing crotch. As they sat there talking, he told her all the things about his life that she'd already learned from talking about him with her good friend Alice, who had a friend that worked in his department. "He's been married before, and my friend saw a picture of his ex-wife. Guess what? She sort of looks like you! You must be his type," Alice told her. Beth loved to spend the night at Alice's apartment in Hollywood on Friday nights, and always had to hide her excitement when accepting Alice's invitations. They both loved to watch the actions of Alice's cats and to order a pizza to be delivered, and then to watch the Late Show with David Letterman. Meanwhile, right outside the building, other women were walking around in their favorite dress-up clothes, trying to have as much fun being out in the night and talking to people as the amount of fun they imagined famous people to have. Alice and Beth both knew it was an odd thing to have these slumber parties, but Beth reasoned that if she had been one of those girls lucky enough to have gone away from home to attend college, she'd probably have been assigned by the college to share a dorm room with another girl who she'd end up eating pizza with and watching TV at night with, anyway. So the deliciously comfortable Friday nights at Alice's were her right as a young woman, and her consolation for not being born into a life where it was possible to go to college. The Friday before this date with James, Alice told her, "I think he really likes you, Beth, I do," and now, yes, there was no doubt, he did.

A group of five of their co-workers came in when Beth and James had been there an hour. One of the men in the group, meaning no harm, but not knowing how Beth, when uncomfortable, was bewildered by jokes, teased her. "Hey, I thought you were a nun," he said, at which she blushed, her mouth poised to say something it would never say, struggling with whether this was a joke about her seriousness (should she say something light in response?), or whether there truly was a rumor that she was a nun.

"God, I hope you're not a nun," James whispered in her ear, and when he brought his face far enough from hers for her to see it, her breath caught in her throat from the shock of how handsome he was, even this close, and how intently he was looking at her.

She would call what she felt for him love, even though they did not become lovers, because what she felt was so strong, it could not be anything else. She loved everything about him. Later, whether it was true or not, she would believe that she remembered many of their early conversations verbatim. And later still, when he was married to a women she'd never met, this caused Beth her first fit of -- what was it, hysteria, some other kind of uncharted constellation of grief? -- she called him several times a week, tormented with lovelorn grief, and thinking to herself, "I should be in a hospital," and "I want to die.” During these conversations, she wrote down much of what was said between them, with the shorthand method she'd learned in high school. In these talks, he said the same things often: "Beth, you have to calm down" and "You have to stop calling me like this."

Why is calmness so important?, she wanted to know.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hello Again

Hello Beauties,
Well, it's been two days since Xmas, a day I look forward to all year (this is a sort of hard to explain quirk of mine, since I hate Christianity and sort of all religion so much, but I seriously LOVE December) and nothing much has changed but the wonderful red Minnetonka moccasins and Gryffindor sweater I'm wearing to work today.  I do feel bummed that I don't keep up  with my blog, and also that I don't really write anymore these days.  Also, I've been very lonely.  I have a wonderful son and a great husband and they are my best friends, but seriously, I'm so goddamn lonely anyway.  Maybe I will feel less lonely if I get busy on my blog again.  I don't have many new ideas or fictions to share right now though so I'm going to serialize my novella Yesteryou, to get me back in the swing of things, and maybe to get discovered (chuckle times infinity).  I started to serialize it a couple years ago and in fact the below chapter first appeared on this blog in November 2009 (with a little introduction about the man I wrote it for, my wonderful dead friend Bill Tunilla) but after that, I only serialized chapter 2 before getting discouraged by not getting more than 1 comment.  But I want to give it another shot, not as a way to elicit comments this time, but just as something for me to do to keep a hand in.  So without further adieu, here is the first chapter of Yesteryou


Imagine the sun beating down on you, on a day in the year in which you feel the most youthful you will ever feel. There is a breeze. You extend your bent arms out a little further along the arms of the porch rocking chair so you can feel the jewels of sweat that have been forming slow as a drugged breath along the curves of the caves of your armpits, every inch of you radiating unshakable confidence, for once. It is 1956, George. Shhh. You are not dead yet, you are still alive and I am still just the ephemeral glow surrounding fireflies or the particles of dust that drift visible across shafts of sunlight through the curtains on a Sunday afternoon, I am not yet born. This is one of your birthdays. This is the day on which you feel your absolute youngest. Does it feel good? Yes, of course, but not too much better than later birthdays on which you will feel old. No better, really, than being 45, when it is painful to walk but you are gifted with love.

George was born in 1943. He was 25 when "Yesteryou," a song sung by Stevie Wonder, was out and being played on radios. This was his all-time favorite song -- for the most part he didn't notice music, though he was often mistaken for a music-lover. But he loved the way this song captured the melancholic, sunsetty feeling of nostalgia. There's a part where the lyrics ask: "Where did it go, that yester glow? When we could feel the wheel of life turn our way?" When someone asks a question like that, it sounds like they are scared, of the way time moves and the way it feels to get older, and this was the anxious way George felt about the passing of time as well, the pure inevitability of time. But he also appreciated the song for itself, for the way it sounded. Like I say, there's something of the sun in that song. The beauty of it agitated him, even, made him ache for an omnipotent knowledge of how other people felt about the passing of days.

When he was a child, he and his family moved from a mostly black suburb of Connecticut to a mostly black suburb of Los Angeles, called Inglewood. He would remain in Inglewood several years into his adult life, before settling in a different sort of Los Angeles suburb, a place called Pasadena, where he would eventually open a used bookstore that would be like heaven to spend his afternoons in, friends and customers drifting in and out all day long, and only one robbery in all the years the store was there.

On this one birthday of his childhood, the day he feels the youngest he will ever feel, he has a broad, bespectacled, homely face, and he always will.

Beth, on the other hand, was born sleek and slender and night-visioned and falsely inviolable-seeming as a young tomcat. That might have been the most power Beth ever had, sadly -- when she was a beautiful baby girl.