Thursday, January 31, 2013


I sit on the bus and look out the window. I am going to the office. This is vile. I got a job working for a man named Larry. There is him in his private office, me outside his office at a desk and Roxanne, the receptionist, who sits near the door and answers the phone. She’s older than me, not pretty, not anything. A woman with long painted nails who talks about what’s on sale.

Larry sells advertising in the Yellow Pages. I got the job by answering an ad. I have worked in lots of offices, mostly as a temp. This is my first full-time job, the first time I have not been going to school.

I am the only person in Los Angeles who doesn’t have a car. Jeffrey has one. He has a Mercedes Of course. That’s what Jeffrey would have. It’s an old Mercedes with four doors and we just drove across the country in it, with Golem, his black tail-less cat.

We live now in a small white cottage surrounded by big-leafed plants and shaded by unfamiliar trees even though it’s March. There is a lime-green-and-white shag carpet wall-to-wall on the floor of the living room, the bedroom and the bathroom. I keep all my stuff in a long green army duffle bag in the large corner closet in the bedroom. There’s nowhere else to put it.

I take the bus to my job. I sit at the desk. Sometimes I type a letter for Larry. He wears wide ties clipped in place. I hate this.

Jeffrey stays home. He has come to LA because he wants to direct movies. He sleeps in the queen-sized bed long after I leave, because he has always stayed up late the night before watching television on the couch, smoking pot from the long blue ceramic pipe he bought when we went through San Francisco. The pipe is in the shape of a wizard’s face with a long beard. Jeffrey bought it the moment he saw it.

I did not buy anything. I do not have any money and besides I didn’t fall in love with anything the way Jeffrey fell in love with that wizard.

I did see a large round purple candle with real flowers baked into its sides. I thought it was beautiful and Jeffrey bought it for me. This hardly ever happens. And I have the candle there on a shelf but somehow I don’t think I love and delight in it the way Jeffrey does the pipe, or the show he is watching or the songs he is stringing together on a tape or the fish in the salt-water aquarium he just started. Jeffrey finds things that make him happy and I keep hoping things like that will happen for me, and once in a little while I feel that way – light and witty – but mostly not. The things I like I don’t like enough.

I read one book after another, lost between covers, but at night, when Jeffrey watches TV, sitting alone on the couch, laughing out loud at Mork and Mindy, and I sit on the bed, leaning up against the wall with my book, I cannot stay awake. It is as if I have been drugged, weights pulling my eyelids down, and Jeffrey passes through to the bathroom and sneers, “You’re not reading, you’re sleeping.” “No, I’m not,” I say.

And on Saturday morning I leave the apartment, feeling like I could walk from one end of the earth to the other, and I walk through fresh empty early-morning West Hollywood, passing one little house after another, I walk, stride and stride, until I come back, and Jeffrey is still sleeping and if I were anyone at all I would now sit down and write, because look, I have all this time.

I do write at the office, at my desk, on a yellow legal pad because that’s what Jeffrey uses and I love the look of those yellow pages of ballpoint scrawl. No one sees. I write a story about a man who tapes pictures of women to the walls of his room. The women whisper and wink at him, they torture him. That’s as far as I get. I know this man. I made him up, but I know his lonely self, his craziness. I know how he feels. But I don’t know what happens next.

One morning Larry calls me into his office and says he has to fire me. Tears come to my eyes, tears he must not see.

Jeffrey will be home in the afternoon. Unless he is out shopping for used records. Or maybe Lenny, our black actor neighbor, has invited him to go play tennis. Or maybe he’s scribbling on a legal pad with his left hand, putting down words fast in that awkward stick-form writing he has, all angles, no curves, while he chews the pen cap to pieces. Or maybe he is typing the screenplay already at his self-correcting Selectric that sits on the broad wooden desk near the bed. He always likes what he has written and always, every time, I do not like it, not really, but I can twist it so that I do. It’s just hard to like his people who are not like me at all. They are good-looking, they talk easily, they have affairs, and nothing feels bleak to them, harsh or empty. They don't even think about things like that.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


In the beginning he was the boy across the table on the other side of the room, a narrow room almost filled by the long conference table, a room with no windows, just little ones at the top of the walls giving ground-level views of the grass outside.

I was here because my father wanted me to be. “Why don’t you take a summer course at Yale,” he had said in a way that I knew I had to, and I had to because he would be proud to say his girl was at Yale this summer.

I made the deal as good as it could be by picking a writing class that met at night once a week. And by getting to drive my mother’s green VW station wagon there, racing down 1-95, sometimes writing in my head, other times just tasting the power of accelerating and switching lanes.

I left behind the white clapboard house on the hill that had been there since I was three, the house we had moved away from and returned to repeatedly, so that even though many years had been lived in other places this house was the real house, one of us.

I left behind my mother in the kitchen, plain and worn, a woman who had given up on being happy, a woman who was angry so often I was careful around her. I left her behind in the kitchen making another supper of hot dogs and boiled potatoes and carrots. I left her with my two little sisters and my father who kept one foot in the house but most of himself out of it.

I raced out of there in my mother’s green VW station wagon with the beige plastic interior – green and beige being acceptable family colors. And I took my place with people I didn’t know at the long table with the dark sexy official writer sitting at the head of the table, brooding, a man you could tell still had a life, had not given it all away to play teacher, a man who was taking a break from something that included cigarettes, racetracks, women, booze and more, adult things I hadn’t gotten to yet.

And in this room where I never missed a week I notice one boy noticing me. I notice his eyes meeting mine every time the teacher or someone else makes us laugh. We meet in thee eruptions of laughter. His eyes are always there, waiting for mine, like a magnet.

I notice him because his hair is dark, wiry, curly, a mess, most of it in a pony tail. And I notice his shirt, a cotton smock, a shirt I don’t know how to get though I would like one. It will not be in Macy’s, or the Sheep Shack downtown. Maybe in the Elephant’s Trunk that sells pipes and peasant blouses, but I have never seen such a perfect smock like this boy wears.

His name he tells me when we get to that part is Geoffrey with a G. “My mother named me after Geoffrey Chaucer,” he says, and the shirts I learn are from Guatemala, brought to him by a stepmother, and I see them on the shelf in his shambly apartment. There is not just one smock, there are piles of them, each a different vivid color, all folded, pressed like fresh from a store, so many he hasn’t even worn them all yet. 

I do not have my own apartment. I do not have anything in profusion.

He has this apartment with an electric typewriter and its own tiny kitchen. He has houseplants, one big trailing one by the dumpy armchair at the window, and a line of smaller ones on a shelf over the dumpy sofa that is there to throw things on when you come in the door, not to sit on. The row of plants above the couch is lit by a long tube of purple light.

He has pot too. Plenty of that. A television, a phone, a waterbed, a stereo with a long row of records in red plastic milk crates. And a bong that I pretend I have used before.

I must pretend from start to finish with this boy. Somehow he has noticed me. It is a fragile thread that connects us, one I fear will snap any minute. How can this boy with a stepmother, a boy who grew up in Manhattan, a boy who has lost count of his possessions, a boy who lives in his own apartment – how can he stay?

When he invites me to come over for dinner I only think I must have fooled him well, but that it will not last. 

And when his letter comes to the mailbox at the bottom of the hill, the letter I read in my attic room, two pages, typed, single-spaced, on crinkly paper – when this letter says “I love you,” it is a sweet dart, it is everything, but I must keep working, pretending I am a member of his world, a rich girl, a casual girl. At least, though not divorced, my parents don’t get along. At least, the house on the hill, viewed from the back, looks sumptuous.


Leo died yesterday. I just cannot take it in. He and his name don't belong in that sentence. It gives me a sense of time passing. We had Leo, and now he is gone. It's a big change. We are not who we were, and never will be again. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013


I awaken in the dark and as time passes I realize sleep has left me. This won’t be one of those times when I roll over and fall back into it.

There are theories that you should stay in bed and theories that you should get up. This time I get up.

I can’t wrap myself in the warmth of my bathrobe because I spread it over the bed last night and Raffie, the white cat, is curled up on it.

I cross the living room in only a nightgown. Tamar the dog doesn’t come with me. Usually she does, but once in awhile she lets me wander off on my own.

The house is cold and comfortless at this time of night. I put on Fred’s old old bathrobe, the one I replaced for him at Christmas about 10 years ago. But he never threw the first one out and it’s good to have it now, spare.

I think to retreat to the small room that heats up quickly with a space heater. I plug it in, aware that this is at odds with the compulsion to just sit and do nothing, frozen into paralysis by the cold. I feel like someone else to be plugging in this heater, fighting back.

I think about the TV. That’s what people do, right, in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep? But I don’t think I can stomach the blare, the harsh light, too rough on my senses.

I didn’t get to read my book all weekend. I’m only a few pages into it. We haven’t become friends yet. It’s early enough to abandon it, but I will trudge a little further, hoping to take root in its soil.

I went to the library last week and browsed the shelves of old fiction, beat-up hardbacks that have been there for decades. It didn’t take long before I had a handful. I picked one book because I liked its spine, and so far it is the only one I have read, losing myself in it for delicious days. 

When I was 9 and 10, 11 and 12 I walked every Saturday after breakfast to the library with my younger sister.

We walked down our quiet street, past a field with horses, then turned onto the busier main road and walked up the hill.

The sidewalk we walked on was old and broken, with no sharp edge to separate it from the street. Woods and fences hiding maybe a house or two lined our walk. I walked on the light part of the sidewalk, she walked on the strip that was darker. Sometimes, if someone passed us, we spoke to each other in gibberish, hoping the passing adult would think we were foreigners.

We returned last week’s books at the desk where the one librarian sat. The children’s books were on shelves that stood independently in the middle of the shadowy, ill-lit room. You walked around them. The adult books lined the walls reaching above our heads. We chose new books, got them stamped and stopped to buy candy on the way home.

Often by the time we got back I was so angry with my sister I marched ahead, wanting her to disappear, wanting her wiped off the face of the earth, knowing there would never be justice.

Last night I read in the warm room, a heavy sweater on my lap for extra warmth. I didn’t turn the lamp on, just the overhead. I wanted more light, thought about eye strain and rebelled against the need for constant self-care. So many years of warnings about eye strain, and yet I can still see, what difference will another half hour make, perhaps they are wrong.

I hear Fred. I hope he will look in and he does, bleary but sympathetic. “I’m okay,” I reassure him, though the rumblings in my calm that erupted out of nowhere the evening before are rumbling again.

Difficulties storm my mind with no solutions though I tell myself that tomorrow I will think of something.

A friend the other night pontificated on the difference between feeling and emotion.

I think about it on the small soft sofa that is so accepting of people, cats, the dog. I liked that my friend had traveled to a foreign city and gone to a library just to look up these two words in the most complete multi-volume dictionary in the English language.

I think over his definitions, knowing that it is not important to me to differentiate. I know when to use one word and when to use the other.