Home is where one starts from. And for a long time, Riley-ville was home. In honor of that, today, Henry and I walked by where our old house used to be on 20th Street in Santa Monica. Henry never lived there, but my son spent some of his childhood there and a good deal of his adolescence. And it seemed like it really was the roach motel. We checked in when we came from New York, but we could never check out no matter how I tried. I’m sure if that developer hadn’t paid us thirty large to move, and torn the place down, we’d still be there, freezing our asses off. If you think Los Angeles is warm in the winter, try living through one without heat–where there is so little juice from the ancient wiring system that space heaters blow up and the fuses conk out daily, sometimes hourly.
Riley-ville was a small Spanish two-story built sometime in the twenties. My husband insisted on it. After all, it was a good solution to our problems. It was cheap, in the right school district, the walls were white, and it didn’t have cottage cheese on the ceiling, and the floors were hardwood. You can’t imagine how hard such a place is to find in Southern California. It was meant to be a temporary asylum on our way to becoming homeowners. But that didn’t happen either. I took pencil and paper the other day, and tried to figure out how much money we have lost by paying rent all these years, missing out on the various dream times to buy real estate on the Westside of Los Angeles, and the resulting figure, even if I drastically understate things is staggering. Never mind having a real home.
My son named it Riley-ville. And the name just stuck.
Bud Riley owned the place. He was a giant, bald headed man who I can see now, was probably somewhere on the spectrum. He had a slow, halting, somewhat menacing way of speaking and really nasty b.o. My husband defended him calling him “the salt of the earth.” Bud’s father had built the house, and he had grown up in it. Consequently, the house was sacred ground. No dogs were allowed, though we had promised our son when we moved from New York he could have a dog. Even when my mother-in-law went over there, with her checkbook and her Seven Sisters drawl to pay him off, Bud said we couldn’t have one.
“Impossible man!” she proclaimed afterwards. And she was right.
Eventually Bud consented to us having a cat. But though we loved her, Elgar was not a nice cat; she never sat on one’s lap, she never purred except if she was eating, and she brought in more rats than you can possibly imagine. Dead rats, freezing cold. Yes Riley-ville was like the gulag, a punishing place, a place where one was living out a sentence, rather than living a life. Some mornings it was so cold, we had to eat breakfast out. To this day, I am reviling myself about my son and the dog he never got to have growing up.
A dog would have meant so much. When I walked by with Henry, the memories didn’t seem so harsh. I hadn’t made so many mistakes, it didn’t seem we were so lonely and helpless. A dog would have been warm and cuddly when we desperately needed warm and cuddly. Why didn’t I simply get us a dog and tell that old bald man on the spectrum to “throw us out?” Why didn’t I stand up to my husband? We wouldn’t have been on the street. In fact, we had the money to change our circumstances anytime. What was the mental block that was embodied in that house that’s now the site of an anodyne garden condo made of fake brick and with ye olde lanterns on the front?
Me, I suppose.
I was scared. I was living in the past (the past of my childhood) where I genuinely could not ask for anything without being tortured with the punishment of shame. “You know I would give anything in the world to give you that, don’t you?” my accomplished actress of a mother would say, conditioning me early to spare her. In fact, I lived in horror of being anything other than completely self-sufficient. I wanted things for our son and got things for our son, but I couldn’t get the big one we both needed: to get out of Riley-ville to someplace warm with a dog.
When old Bud Riley finally bit the radish and his heirs sold the place, we got out. But by then, my son was in college. We moved up the street to a “luxury” condo just below Wilshire. The thirty large helped with that. The place had closets, high-end bathrooms, even a powder room with a lurid gold lame wallpaper, that nobody entered except the cat. I rented it because of the eat-in kitchen with stainless steel appliances and cabinets up the wazoo. It’s the best kitchen I’ve ever had. And, in many ways, I wish we still lived there.
On my son’s first visit to the new place, fresh from customs at LAX, (he’d been studying in one of the former Soviet Block countries, something I believe Riley-ville prepared him for) he looked me squarely in the face and said, “If you can get my father to move in here you can do anything.”
And in fact, the night we moved in, my husband was practically foaming at the mouth. “This is the worst night of my life,” he lamented. “I can’t believe we’re going to live here! It’s so tacky!”
And it was tacky. Wonderfully, joyfully tacky and warm.
We should have bought that place, too. We had to move out because the owners sold it. One recently sold for 400 large more than what they were asking just a few years ago. Yes I keep a masochistic record of our losses in real estate.
That’s the trouble with the past. You can’t change it, though it changes you in ways you never could imagine. Someone else, Hartley I think, said, “The past is another country, they do things differently there.”
When I stop wishing that I had done things differently, then maybe like the teachers tell us at yoga, I’ll start living in the present and be free.
But maybe not.
Still, miraculously as soon as we got out of that meat-locker, things did start to change and get better. Maybe it was the energy of the place; maybe I found my voice and started asking for stuff I want.
Though I still want my son to have had that dog. I can’t imagine ever letting that go. To this day, to this very minute, I can taste it, I want it so badly. I want a time machine. I want my three wishes, that I never got as a child. I want to see his little face all lit up with the joy of his very first puppy. I want it when he had his crooked little grin without front teeth; I want it when he had braces, and then, his first little trace of mustache.
Of course that little puppy would be dead by now, unless he was one of those miracle dogs you see on the cover of the National Enquirer. One hundred seventy-five year old dog still alive in California! Right alongside old Bill, still cheating on his wife….
I have quite a few single friends both male and female. Without exception every female talks about the concept of “the one” after every promising date. As in “maybe he’s the one.” Or, “I’m not going to see him anymore. He’s not the one.” Though none of the males speak in this way. I believe the concept of “the one” is related to the Knight in Shining Armor, the big Daddy who is going to save the day with his love. Maybe because I made it a habit from early on to listen to the conversations of my brother and his friends, I am not so idealistic. And have never dreamed about the perfect guy, the one who would send me roses, read serious books, remember all significant events in our relationship, though I have to say, I have always yearned to have a relationship with a man who wears a beautiful cashmere topcoat.
Obviously this phantom doesn’t live in Los Angeles, because it’s not cold enough here to justify owning a topcoat. Like getting to walk to a museum, it just isn’t going to happen to me here.
I do have one long-term fantasy. And that’s of the perfect housekeeper. She’s a very clean Buddhist woman who has taken a vow of silence. Once upon a time she was quite rich and saw the inherent inequity of her life and joined this Ashram where her dharma is to clean and be silent. (This is a crucial part of the fantasy because she can leave her life as a maid at any time and go back to her trust fund and her former wasteful existence).
She comes on Saturday. When she turns her key in the lock, Henry jumps off the couch and wags his tail and doesn’t bark and have a shit fit. He’s so glad to see her he goes downstairs to greet her warmly and quietly in person. He rubs up against her leg and licks her clean feet in their shiny Birkenstocks. She has long thin unpolished toes and the nails are always perfectly clipped. Before she has come to the house, she has stopped by the Farmer’s Market on Arizona in Santa Monica, early, when the chefs get there, and she’s picked out the best stuff they’ve got. She knows which stands have the good apples, the sweetest berries, the most outstanding carrots, and the spiciest radishes. And so on. And with her three -tiered cart, she carefully places these perishables in so they don’t get damaged.
She drives some sort of impeccable little van, or someone from the ashram where she lives, waits for her and they slide my fruit and vegetables in.
When she arrives at the house, we greet each other, my perfect housekeeper and I with a formal nod of the head and a long slow Namaste. She keeps her clean shining head bowed for a long time. We smile at each other then. I am her favorite client and she looks forward to cleaning my house.
Now that she’s in residence for the morning, Henry is so pleased he is sort of moaning in terrier pleasure (only if you have a terrier can you recognize this slight opening of the jaw, the pleasurable thing that emits from the back of the throat.)
I nod my head and head out the door to yoga, to the class I never get to go to because in reality I’m always at the Farmer’s Market early on Saturday morning when the chefs get there so I can get the good stuff.
The class is great. Afterwards, I stroll out with my bag, and I stop for a cappuccino with one of my yoga friends, and then I go to the beauty supply place and do things like buy lipstick and hair conditioner at my leisure.
When I get home, the house is clean and sparkling and smells of non-toxic cleaners and white vinegar. My husband has returned from the gym (another fantasy, my husband refuses to exercise). He says, “She never moves my stuff. I love the way she makes the bed with those tight hospital corners.” And so on. I smile at him serenely.
The lettuces are washed, the carrots and berries are too and everything is put away in tidy little bundles. My paragon of a housekeeper has even had time to walk Henry, who is all tuckered out on the couch from having been run by a tireless Buddhist with a serious dharma.
She’s not quite done, this perfectionist, and Henry is passed out in the room I work in. My husband and I decide to go out to lunch, and we have sushi down the street before the crowds hit. We have hand-rolled salmon skin, yellowtail, spicy tuna and many other wonderful dishes and I order the salad with sprouts and the special dressing they make.
She’s gone by the time we get home, my marvelous housekeeper, leaving a lingering smell of lemons. She’s left me a note, in her perfect script:
Dream on! I don’t exist! I am a figment of your ridiculous imagination, and can’t you think of better things to do with your time than creating a wish-fulfilling slave to answer all your needs. Grow up!
And of course, she would be right.
I have an artist friend who says when she feels blue she eats a lot of orange food because orange cancels out blue. And I think she’s right, because I’ve been inexplicably sad for days, nothing can cheer me up. Until I walked into the Japanese market on the corner and saw that the sumos are in.
Sumos, like the name implies, are big and fat. In fact they are cross between a navel orange and a mandarin. They are very expensive, close to three dollars a pop, so I am always saying a little prayer and not buying more than two at a time. The rule is if you buy a whole flat of them, they are going to be bitter and hard and juiceless. If you buy only two they will be perfect and you will gobble them up one after the other.
What is it that makes a sumo so unlike any other piece of citrus? Weight, is one. A good sumo weighs close to half a pound. It’s dense and heavy, and as sweet as the sweetest orange you’ve ever tasted, but with the added interest and zest of a tangerine. I wouldn’t think of adulterating a sumo in a fruit salad, though if I were a chef at a fancy place I might just make a fresh sumo tart with kiwi and raspberry. Though the custard and the tart are totally unnecessary and sort of a sin when a sumo is involved. Like a great piece of art, a good one stands alone.
I only have one friend who feels as I do about sumos which is that they cancel out the sense of loss and sadness that happens after the last of the fuyu persimmons have left the stands not to return until just before Thanksgiving. Post fuyu tristesse…. Sumos have a much shorter lifespan, just about a month. And probably for that reason they are to me the sweetest and most fleeting of all fruit. Fuyus are so abundant in California from Thanksgiving until about the middle of January, people are tossing them in green salads and throwing them in pasta. They even get cheap. You’d never treat a sumo that lightly. And they are never two for five bucks or anything like that. If a fuyu persimmon is a sweet juicy princess, then a sumo tangerine is a monarch who sits on his throne with a jeweled crown and scepter. The sumo rules.
I just ate my first one and I’d say it was an 8.5 out of a possible 10 which is pretty damn good for the first batch of the season. I wish I had eaten it more slowly and savored it more. I’m going to try to save the other one for later.
I hide them from my husband because he will casually peel one, gobble it down, then say,”it’s okay, I don’t think they are that good.” A friend of his who is a very good cook, thought they were “okay” too, and so did his wife, and last year, I parted with two, from a very good batch, one for each of them and I’ll never forget their “okay” and will never try and please those two again. That’s the thing with sumos that I don’t feel about any other piece of fruit, greedy, possessive, sort of a theme and variation of “if you don’t get a sumo, then you don’t get me.”
That ‘s the thing. I always want to feed people and please people, and in the end it’s a big waste of time. And emotion.
I’m sure I’ll go back to the old eager beaver who wants everybody’s approval, but maybe not until sumo season is over.
Maybe because I grew up in a small town in Louisiana at the end of the Jim Crow era, I especially love King day. I love that schools are out, I love that the mail isn’t delivered. I love that the great man is honored as he so richly deserved.
I haven’t yet heard the “I have a dream” speech. Someone usually plays it on the radio and I catch it in the middle when I start up the car and invariably if it’s a short ride, just stay there listening to his voice and his words. I cry every time I hear it and I’m covered in goose flesh. I think the “I have a dream” speech is right up there with Beethoven’s Ninth, Mount Rushmore and the great Bronze of Balzac. It’s a perfect piece of art, sui generis, majestic and awe inspiring.
Reverend King may your name live on through the ages and your great speech thrill future generations as it still thrills me every time I hear it.
There it was, on the little message area of Facebook, my first request for on line sex.
“Online only,” the perp has keyed. The perp has a made up name, and, I’m fairly certain, a fraudulent picture. The name is generic as all hell, and the image he posts of himself is beefcake on a motorcycle. Here’s part of what he wrote:
“Online only, safe fun and I am going to make you cum.”
Ha, ha, very clever. The English teacher in me wants to scold him: “incorrect usage of cum which refers to excretions not a physiological response.” But of course, I’m not going to write him back. In the note before that, one I didn’t answer either, he told me I was pretty, he told me I was hot. And I wonder how many of these he puts out there a day. A president of a big advertising agency I used to work for, always made a play for the new girls on their very first day at work. (Yes, if that doesn’t date me, I don’t know what does!) One was called in to the big guy’s office at the end of the day, one was offered a drink, and was told in rather plain unromantic language, what would happen if one said yes, which was getting to work on the best accounts, a front office, higher Christmas bonuses, the list went on…and I had thought the guy was sort of sexy when I got hired. Before, the astonishing, though not surprising power play. I was living with my husband in those days, who was my boyfriend, and I told him about it when I got home from work.
“What did you say?” he wanted to know.
“I said I was going home to make dinner for my boyfriend.”
The women who are out there today have no idea what they don’t have to go through. It’s shocking really. Still, to this day, I’m sure the wider you cast your net, the more fish you’ll catch. Which is what I’m guessing Mr. “safe fun” is doing. Hitting on every new “friend” who (dare I say) comes his way.