When the Grass is Greener on the Other Side…Literally

JFK —> LAX

Getting There

“So no one flies on Super Bowl Sunday?” I ask the FAA employee shining a blue light over the scowling face on my California driver’s license.  “What?” she asks, head still down and inspecting the younger, shorter-haired version of myself who still lived on Poinsettia Place.  The one-worded question is delivered with a grating edge – her voice filled with the understandably perpetual irritation of someone who works at an airport for a living.  “No one flies on Super Bowl Sunday.  I’ve never seen this place so empty,” I repeat, gesturing to the open lanes snaking around nobody.  She looks up and laughs, mildly entertained until she reaches for the passport of the person behind me.

Like the airport, the airplane is similarly empty.  A flight attendant announces that as a “precaution” the use of electrical outlets on this plane has been discontinued.  The engine revs up and I wonder what “precaution” means as I exercise some latent anxiety about every flight I’ve been on filled with people charging their cell phones and laptops willy-nilly while my life hung in some unknown balance.

We fly over suburbs and away from cities and I think of how many of these lives below I do not want – the meat and potatoes lives, 9-to-5-til-death-do-us-part lives.  Bad marriages pretending to be good and houses with four bedrooms.  Hulking wood furniture from Costco and fifty rolls of toilet paper.  Children who grow up to be not their parent’s children but adults with their own agendas.  The dreams that die and the realities that take their place.  I do not ever want to acquiesce to the normal.  That much I have decided I want out of my life.  This is my resolve.

Tired from doing a week of mostly nothings and some somethings, I sleep on the flight, bent like an oversized protractor on two seats on the right hand side of the plane.  27 J.  I’m always on the wing, I don’t know why.  Someone once told me that the plane is strongest around the wings because of the necessary structural adjustments required to keep them in place, but that if something were to happen to the plane, it was the spot where it would likely break in half.  So basically, in an earthquake, you’d want to be exactly where I am.  In a plane crash, you’d likely want to be anywhere else.

The plane lands without me having to worry about my decision to be in aisle 27 and my mom picks me up in her black car with black leather seats, even though it’s midnight and she should be in pajamas, sleeping in a four-post bed she’s had since I was an infant.  She brings me bottled water like I asked her to and I drink it while we drive down streets that feel too clean and empty.  “Has this area always been so nice?” I ask, watching the sidewalks of Westminster drip by.  Trader Joes, a CVS, Koo Koo Roo.  “This area isn’t nice; you’ve just been in New York too long,” she says, a half-serious quip that makes me realize that my status quo has shifted.  I have been gone from Los Angeles one year, nearly to the day, and I feel remarkably different.  I walk differently, I see differently.  My life feels like what it’s supposed to be, where it’s supposed to be.

We turn into a driveway with a gate and pull into the garage and my mom’s dogs come out through a sodden doggy door.  They sniff and lick and wag their tails because they’re dogs and that’s what they do.  They don’t like me because I’m that great of a person; they like me because their brains are small.  They’re cute and stupid like girls in a club, drunk off the possibility of companionship.

Next Day: Being There

I walk through the house in my New York boots that feel too substantial for these floors.  They clatter on tile and echo against the walls.  My mom tells me they look like hell and when I see them in this environment – a California February free of snow and frozen dog shit and cigarette butts and spilled coffee and black trash bags and blue trash bags and discarded MetroCards – they do look rather downtrodden.  In New York they feel appropriately worn, scarred to a fashionable point, leather bleeding with salt stains and cut by unremembered barbs.  Here, in my mother’s bleached floor kitchen with birch cabinets, I feel like an impoverished character from Oliver Twist.

She takes me through the backyard covered in foliage that isn’t brown and tress that seem to never shed leaves.  She points her lettuce, arugula, new pear trees, and a fading garden gnome.  I walk past a swimming pool holding cold water and a cherry red Radio Flyer filled with lavender in plastic containers.  Wearing black jeans and black boots and a black leather jacket, I turn my head towards the sun and literally bask in it.  I let it fall on my cheeks and sink into my skin.  Vitamin D…a healthy glow…freckles…how I’ve missed thee.  I stare at the light through the red of my eyelids.  It’s only 8 in the morning and it’s already forty-degrees warmer than the last two months of my life.

I get in my car, still covered in gum wrappers from my last trip, and put on music that for some reasons makes sense for walking on Brooklyn sidewalks but not for driving on Woodland Hills highways.  Even my comparatively happy and energetic tunes feel too dense, too forceful, too affected.  I turn on the radio, flipping through pop, country, Spanish, Spanish, religious, pop, bad rock, classic rock, Spanish, pop, pop.  I end up alternating between KIIS FM and KCRW, a combination that should, in my estimation, make little sense at all.

Topanga Canyon looks like some Guam-inspired paradise and bad drivers snake along the highway, braking at idiotic places and speeding up in the others.  I take pictures to send to someone living somewhere cold but my shitty phone does not do the scenery justice.  You cannot feel the warmth, the heat, the sunshine.  You can’t smell the ocean or feel the accelerator underfoot.  It wasn’t until this year that I understood the California mysticism…that I appreciated this Los Angeles winter fairy tale.

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HLS: Dianna and Eddie

It was the worst day of the year for a variety of reasons, some of them less obvious than others.  Dianna woke up early, much too early, and couldn’t fall back asleep.  From her white sheets she watched the sky turn gray then purple then blue outside her window until the gray descended again, covering Brooklyn in sleet and icy rain, which were probably the same thing.  The water melted the snow and then turned it to crusty ice all over again.  It was only 6 in the morning and Dianna was ready for the day to be over.

She skipped making breakfast because breakfast had become boring.  There was a moment when cooking eggs for herself had been a homey ritual she relished in, but the moment was fleeting and in Dianna’s estimation, had officially died.  She sat on her kitchen counter because it was her kitchen counter and she could do what she wanted.  This was one of thirty-three reasons she paid too much money to live by herself.  She crossed her legs Indian-style, situated in the space between the sink and the stove while she drank coffee and ate almonds.

Clouds hung thick above the apartment behind her own.  Water froze around the naked branches of trees in a way that would be beautiful if Dianna was in a good mood, which she wasn’t.  She was so sick of winter she could fucking kill someone.  She was tired of walking with her head down, her hair frizzing under an ugly hat.  Dianna was convinced there was no such thing as a cute winter hat.  When she looked around the subway, all she saw were ugly, pilled things with balls at the tops and strings near the ears.  The worst were the adult men who wore animal themed caps – frogs, chickens, dogs and other pets.  “You’re a grown man!  Those hats are for children!” Dianna wanted to scream at them, though she never did.

After Dianna had finished another cup of coffee, she crawled back in bed, wanting to go back to sleep but knowing it would likely be impossible.  Eddie was gone and wouldn’t be back for another few days.  He was in LA on business.  He traveled often, meaning this scenario – this doomsday I-want-to-sleep-the-day-away feeling would be a frequent occurrence in Dianna’s life.  They were new and she liked him terribly, wanting to waste all of her time on him like a person with a new puppy.

She closed her eyes and thought about him sitting on the edge of the bed, after having pulled on his jeans with the four silver button closure.  She listened to the sound of him lacing up his boots with the zip zip zip of friction and pulling, furious unseen tug.  She imagined him putting on his blue coat with the black buttons and pulling a black cap over his head, simple and tasteful, and then walking out the door.

Around 8 a.m., after two hours of absolutely nothing at all, Dianna thought she might run to the supermarket for some sort of morning activity.  Perhaps produce could distract her from feeling like a depressed lunatic.  She put on an ugly pair of boots and trudged down the sopping wet street, the air like a slurry of anything and everything cold.  Momentarily the misery of missing Eddie was trumped by the misery of the sleet sliding into her jacket until she looked at a pile of snow and thought about how nice it would be to be holding his hand.  Dianna groaned audibly, tired of herself and her brain.  How fucking annoying that she couldn’t even look at a pile of snow without thinking of him, she thought.

The supermarket was largely empty, filled only with bored employees wearing hoop earrings and red nail polish.  An old woman pushed a cart up and down the aisles without filling it.  The refrigerator section hummed with a noise Dianna associated with radiation – a thought she once had as a child and was never capable of shaking, like grown adults who were still afraid of clowns and other stupid things.  Dianna reached for a carton of “Only Florida Fruit” Orange Juice and resolved to remove “stupid” from her vocabulary.  “Stupid” and “fucking” were words she likely used in excess, though both lent themselves to such accurately vivid descriptions of this winter and other stupid fucking things.

The produce in New York was notoriously horrific, especially in winter.  Things had to be shipped across the country from places that were not currently covered in terrible weather, where the sun shined more than 80 percent of the day and all one needed to get through the season was a Russell Athletics sweatshirt and a pair of old sneakers.

It was a wonder why Dianna even spent so much money on food; she should just give up on all of it, like she had given up on breakfast.  Lettuce went bad within a day.  Avocados were rotting from the inside out.  The grapes always had an unpleasant sour tang to them that left Dianna’s mouth puckered and watering.  It was February and all she wanted was a sunny day and a farmer’s market, a car and a picnic table.  Dianna felt overwhelmed by familiar domestic urges that she had worked hard to battle and she was fighting them with an awareness that such extreme comfort only led to stagnation and boredom.  Dianna approached the check out, loading the moving black belt with potatoes and canned black beans, wondering if she was perhaps clinically manic or if it was really just this shit fucking day and this boy who was never around.

 

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Post-Hangover Pompidou

Fortified by my soy latte and sugar crepe and little else, I duck underground into the Paris Metro.  Out of pure laziness, I attempt to purchase tickets without changing the language.  I stare at a screen filled with numbers next to Euro signs and the word “carte” next to rectangular things that look like movie tickets.  I end up having to backtrack anyway.  There are likely people behind me getting irritated but I feel too ill to care.  I stand in front of the kiosk for nearly six agonizing minutes while I try to push my massive hangover aside enough to follow prompts and place money in a slot.

After the machine eats my money, I am given two tiny tickets, which will surely get lost.  They a tiny and my hands are large and my pockets untrustworthy – my purse, even worse so.  I’m terrible holding onto things, especially today.  As of an hour ago, I have already permanently misplaced a pair of gloves.  Later, I will lose yet another pair.  I am officially mentally handicapped.

The underground is tiled in tangerine and I wait for the small teal and white train that reminds me of something from Disneyland – a made-up version of a faraway place.  Paris’ metro feels comparatively delicate to New York’s filthy, hulking, charging underground beasts and when I get inside of it, I feel a bit too tall.  I hold onto a narrow silver pole and watch gray walls as we gingerly travel through darkness.

I manage to transfer twice without getting lost and am admittedly quite proud of myself.  I walk through sprawling white tunnels with curved ceilings and Europeans walking on whichever side they like – slow, fast, being annoying or being annoyed.  I forget how sick I feel until I pass some kiosk filled with the smell of burning butter and chocolate and run before my senses are overwhelmed.  I am in a most delicate state.

The Pompidou greets me from the subway, large and square in blue and gray.  Wind whips under my coat and I wish it were summer – not just in Paris, but everywhere.  I long to be warm again, wearing shorts that barely cover my ass and sweating through my tank top.  Everything bad I ever said about New York summers, I take it back.  I would give anything for 100% humidity and a rattling air conditioner.

The inside is warm and spacious and everything hangs from the ceiling with straight wires and poles, giving the sky a linear quality where there would ordinarily be nothing.  I purchase a ticket from a woman who doesn’t care about me and walk somewhere else to hand my ticket to someone who seems in a mildly better mood.  I follow tourists into the glass-encased escalator that pulls us up and away above the floor of Paris, each level taking us further from the ground, further from the rooftops, until we are above it all, staring down at people moving briskly along cobblestone with an ordered chaos.

It is nearing sundown and I watch the gray sky crack into a noncommittal pink sunset.  I stand alone, staring at the darkening buildings with their chimneys like Mary Poppins and their windows like Peter Pan.  I hate that all of my European reference points are derived from a childhood watching Disney movies.

A pigeon passes in front of me, flying high and by itself, and I wonder at what height does a bird decide to fly.  Does it take into account variables such as weather and wind?  Does it suffer from self-doubt like any person would?  I think of birds and how they often seem to stay close to trees and poles and food, straying away when only brave or powerful.  Great heights seem reserved for eagles and hawks.  But this fucking pigeon is quite high.  Maybe he’s hung over, too, his little pigeon brain incapacitated by a night spent drinking too much gin out of trashcans.

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Paris Morning

The sky is pitch black when our plane lands and it will remain that way until just before 9 in the morning.  Paris in January.  Rain slicks the tarmac and I travel through a well-lit glass bubble with my stack of coats and rolling luggage, passing restrooms and people waiting to depart to other countries.

I remember the first flight I ever went on.  I was six years old and had a short blonde haircut with bangs that my mother gave me in our kitchen with a pair of scissors you use to cut paper with.  I got the window seat and stared out at a blue sky and white clouds.  My mom cut pieces of floral fabric for decoupage projects on whicker baskets.  Someone gave me plastic wings to pin on my sweater and we ate unremarkable food because they still served food on domestic flights back then and eventually, we landed in Washington D.C.

I arrive at customs with my bent passport filled with more stamps than I ever imagined and a stupid smile that won’t leave my face.  I am not asked questions and I am barely looked at even though in my photo I look like a Russian spy from some James Bond movie with dark brown hair and severe bone structure.

Someone is waiting for me and I get in a car and I drink bottled water while watching traffic on the highway pass slowly.  It is a sea of red lights through my window covered in rain.  The driver in the front seat tells me his English is not so good and I tell him that my French is terrible and we both laugh, vaguely content in our ignorance.  He asks me if I am warm enough and I say that I am even though I am a little bit cold but I don’t care.  We listen to David Bowie and The Police on the radio and I drink more of my water and keep smiling like an idiot.

Paris.

The city appears out of nowhere and suddenly we are circling through roundabouts and getting stuck behind garbage trucks.    People drive like idiots here and there are not enough markings on the cobblestone to give people rules to adhere to.

It’s still dark and the city is made of charcoal and glaring yellow lights.  The buildings hug the road with a snugness that makes you forget about everywhere else you’ve ever been.  Only nine hours ago I left New York in a frantic hurry, catching a plane before the impending storm.  Nine hours later I am in the back of a car, waiting for the sun to climb over the horizon in France.

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