Copyright (c) 1994 by Marlan Warren
Roadmap Girl Publications Los Angeles 2015
ROADMAPS FOR THE SEXUALLY CHALLENGED
All’s not fair in Love or War.
by Marlan Warren
EARLY PRAISE FOR
ROADMAPS FOR THE SEXUALLY CHALLENGED
"A real page turner. The book, set in the mid-nineties with the O.J. trial in the background and plenty of LA Vibe, describes the hot romance of a just-divorced Los Angeles woman. There's humor, steamy sex and a captivating multi-dimensional main character.
The story begins after Carrie, a writer and filmmaker, after a 10-year long marriage, has left Boris, who is also a filmmaker. Boris is a sociopathic, self-absorbed, intense and absolutely obnoxious Russian (Marlan, I could forgive you anything, but a Russian?).
Marlan Warren’s narrative skills result in sparkling and effortless prose. However, be not fooled by its ease. Her novel (part memoir)—years in the works—is carefully, precisely and cleverly crafted. It’s funny and moving. Carrie with her dilemmas, passion and hopes is so real.
A great read. Sequel please!"
--Pawel Kuczynski, Deaf Ears Madness Blog
Roadmaps for the Sexually Challenged (All’s Not Fair in Love or War) began as diary entries in 1994. Original entitled One Divorcing Woman’s Roadmap for the Karmically Challenged.
Some mysteries herein are not solved. Most will be explained in the upcoming sequel, Growth Follows the Knife.
The central question—why do some people try so hard to have relationships but fail?—continues.
Inside this book is a journey through one divorcing woman’s L.A. of the Nineties. No cellphones. No Internet. It is an “East Side” Los Angeles view with mixed race dating, scars of racial prejudice, wonderful ethnic food, and the Bohemian atmosphere that was once Echo Park.
It is the time of O.J. Simpson on trial for the murder of his ex-wife. And World War II with its shameful incarceration of Japanese Americans still discussed as if it happened yesterday.
I named the character Carrie before Sex and the City appeared on TV; and I wrote the book before the column with that name appeared in the New York press. That this novel treads similar ground in terms of sexual issues may be reflective of that 20th Century era. Many of us were influenced by the writings of Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Gold bless her, Erica Jong. Sexual freedom was on our minds.
Thank you, Henry, Anais and Erica.
Los Angeles, California 2015
This is dedicated to the ones I love.
THE BOOK OF TOPANGA
2 INTENTIONAL HOUSEHOLDS
3 RELATIONSHIP HOUSE
4 RIP CORD
7 THE NIGHT OF THE AMARETTO LAUNDRY
8 VOICE MAIL
9 PHYSICAL THERAPY
12 VICTIM BAND
13 GLUED HEARTS
14 THE "L" WORD
15 COMMUNITY PROPERTY
17 THE SONS OF GANGSTERS ARE NICE
19 NIGHT FLIGHT
20 DOING IT BACKWARDS
21 GO FOR BROKE
22 RETRO ACTIVE
23 QUID PRO QUO
24 ECHO PARK
26 MONSIEUR FUKUNAGA N'EST PAS ICI
27 SEVENTH HEAVEN
29 ROCK GARDENS
30 HOME COMING
32 SPIRIT GRAMS
33 HALLOWEEN AT TIFFANY’S
35 THIS FEELS REAL KARMIC
THE BOOK OF ECHO PARK
36 NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH
37 BEST BABE IN L.A.
38 THANKS GIVING
40 ANGELS AND PSYCHOS
41 FULL CIRCLE
THE BOOK OF TOPANGA
CHAPTER 1 - SIGNS
I hardly look at signs anymore, but I look at this one:
PSYCHIC READINGS: $15 FOR 15 MINUTES.
At a card table in the Ventura Arcade, sits a woman in a white nylon pantsuit, smoking the last of a Camel.
Can a stranger articulate the lump of tangled unhappiness inside me?
"Ask me a question.” Russian accent. Not unlike my husband’s. What are the odds there’d be two Russians living in a seaside town one and a half hours north of Los Angeles?
"Should I leave my husband?"
"Oh my God."
She tells me to look into her eyes. I look into her green gaze so much like my Jewish Russian American mother’s, so much like my own.
"You want to leave, but there are good things and bad things. When you and your husband first came together, your love was like a gushing fountain, and you each gave so it was creative and joyful. Now one of you has stopped giving and the other tries to make it up by giving more until you are exhausted. Your fountain of love is now a trickle."
She hands me a tissue, stubs out her cigarette, coughs and says, "People often cry at my readings."
As I blow my nose, I hear her say:
"You are karmically challenged."
That night I tell Boris I’m leaving. He rubs the back of his hand across his mouth and asks, "When?"
CHAPTER 2 - INTENTIONAL HOUSEHOLDS
The ad in The Recycler says:
Responsible roommate wanted for intentional household. Vegetarian optional.
My room comes already furnished with bed and lamp. The white globe of light hangs over the mattress on the floor like a fairytale moon. Outside my window, April flowers press themselves against the screen. In the bathroom a foreign pubic hair on the toilet seat awaits, but right now this room is as soothing as a promise.
I curl into fetal position on the naked mattress, still dressed and shivering in the uncertain cold. Too tired to plug in the space heater. Now I can hear doors slamming somewhere in the house and voices calling to each other, as my roommates come home.
Nobody knocks on my door.
I moved into this house in Venice a few minutes ago with what’s left of my belongings. Boris helped me. Then he put his arms around me and I wept. The way I’d been weeping for years. For all the times we genuinely cared.
"I vish I vas a voman," said Boris, his accent giving the words an unintentional comedic lilt. "So I could cry, too."
Then he said, “We will always be connected” and left.
Two years earlier we fled Los Angeles while the city was in flames. Now we return together to live separately. Boris hardly able to repress his glee at his new “intentional household” with roommate bachelors.
Once I was a filmmaker newly graduated from USC Film School. Even though it’s been a few years since I made a documentary, my head is used to viewing the goings-on around me as raw, unedited footage that must be wound backwards and forwards as I review and preview, while I cut together what is needed and then throw away the rest. Lying here smelling new smells, resting at last, I wind the film back to understand how I got here.
A few days ago, I found myself in a tree swing with a Gen X twentysomething, trying not to stare at her nose ring or the clutter of her yard while she described her "political activism" which, as far as I could tell, boiled down to railing for compost and against pollution. I searched my memory banks for proof of my former youthful political activism, but all I could come up with was standing behind another protester who held a sign that said, “Fighting for Peace is like Screwing for Chastity” as we chanted, “Hell no, we won’t go!” as Nixon got off a plane.
"You're going to have to get rid of all your shit,” Rainbow said. “People are way too attached.”
The fact that I’ve got almost twenty years on her doesn’t seem to be an issue. I explained how Boris and my film careers tanked, thanks to our Ventura move during the “Rodney King” riots (which turned out to be professional suicide).
Rainbow stroked her cheek with my rent check and said:
"We'll have to have a meeting about House Procedures. You're not used to living with other people."
"I've been married for the last ten years."
"That's what I mean."
If I had money and good credit, I’d be getting a place of my own. That's all I really want. Maybe that's all I've ever wanted.
It’s been two months. Life at Generation X reminds me of that Woody Allen line about how "they had to be rushed to the hospital with a case of bad vibes." Rainbow is a vegetarian with a "designated meat pan" and a live-in "fiancé" named Mack who looks like his jutting bones might stab you during a hot embrace.
One night, while filling his pipe in the kitchen, Mack peered at me through matted curls and mumbled, "Yeah, relationships are tough. Like my daughter's mother, she wanted me to stop smoking dope and get my contractor's license. That's why I like Rainbow. She accepts me for who I am."
Last night I came home to find my four roomies weeping. The always-on television was off and the stereo was emitting heavy metal that was scraping the paint off the walls.
I asked them what happened.
"Kurt Colbain's dead, man! He's dead!" Ace the Dyke sobbed.
I had to ask who that was.
Mack didn't look up from the cigar-sized J he was rolling, "A helluva musician. A helluva guy."
"How did he die?"
"He shot himself," whispered Rainbow.
"Is that his music?"
Mack nodded, passed the joint and they each took a toke, eyes closed, rocking back and forth. I wanted to say that's the worst music I ever heard and this guy was probably a loser.
As if reading my thoughts, Mack glared at me, "Yeah, well, I didn't get it either when my dad got all upset over John Lennon."
"John Lennon," I explained with grating patience (feeling an awful lot like my father), "was killed. This guy committed suicide."
The word “suicide” seemed to make Rainbow cry harder. "Kurt Cobain spoke for a whole generation!” she sobbed. “Just like John Lennon."
"John Lennon stood for love and peace. What’d this guy stand for?"
“Don’t you fucking get it?” screamed Rainbow. "He stood for the hopelessness of it all!"
I went to bed that night feeling very old.
Two days ago Rainbow showed up in the kitchen with a black eye and a book entitled The Verbally Abusive Mate that she read to me while I boiled an egg. I told her it sounded like Boris. She told me it sounded like Mack. We agreed such men are not worth our time.
Last night I could hear them a few feet away across the hall—Rainbow’s husky gasp/moan/sigh a quicksand of pleasure.
Today he blacked the other one.
Weekdays I escape to my temp job at an entertainment law firm in Century City, fielding client calls from celebs like Tom Cruise and Holly Hunter. At night, I chug vodka from a bottle and eat Trader Joe caviar out of a jar and write bad poetry in my room. I’ve started a series called Caviar Poems.
Smiles and tender sighs...
Imaginings of the newly single
Not yet divorced woman.
Mid-Life Crisis means nothing to my ears.
Not until it becomes a crisis.
Not until it becomes midlife.
Meanwhile, there is Passion.
At least I pin my hopes...
my wet dreams...
all that is left...
Whoever you are.
April 1994, Dead Drunk
The ad in the Recycler promises:
Country living in the city. Call Mira.
I find Mira lounging in her back yard in a red bikini. An anorexic blond in desperate need of a facelift who tells me she got her house in a divorce settlement thirty years ago. Waving at the Culver City crabgrass under her lawn chair, Mira quips, "This is why I call it country living in the city. Oh and if Bradley bothers you, just tell him to leave you alone."
Later when I tell this story people will ask: "Didn’t you see that as a red flag? And that? And that? "
Bradley turns out to be a walking red flag. He approaches as I unload the U-Haul and says, "Hi, I'm Bradley. I'm not very modest so you might see me from time to time in various stages of undress." Bradley is the last man on Earth I wish to see undressed.
Too exhausted to even think in a straight line, I think, Fine…I'll just lock my door. Red flags begin to multiply like a field of poppies.
As soon as the last of my stuff is moved into the little room, Mira takes me into her “office” and hands me a contract that states: Overnight guests will be charged twenty-five dollars per night.
When I return to my room, I check the lock. There isn’t one. I lie on the swayback mattress and wait for the dawn.
At First Light, I leave a note for Mira saying that I need to move out. Then I hurry to the Hungry Cow Café in Marina del Rey where I order butterscotch coffee and sit in a booth crying. Five hundred dollars left to my name. After a few minutes, my hand, as if moving by itself, opens my notebook and I find myself writing over and over, like a kid kept after school:
O.K. you win, I surrender
O.K. you win, I surrender
O.K. you win, I surrender...
What am I doing? I’ve prayed from time to time, but I never talked to God like this before. Almost out the door when I spot a community paper on a table. The ad in The Daily Breeze says:
Quiet, mature person wanted to share
home in Topanga Canyon. $400/mo.
An hour outside of L.A. and way way off the Pacific Coast Highway. Wilderness, artsy rustic homes, old hippies, rednecks, Earth Mothers, Charles Manson.
When you’re in Topanga, L.A. is a tale told by an idiot.
Eva answers on the first ring when I call from the café pay phone. She has a not-Russian accent. "You don't have a little girl, do you?"
"Good, because that doesn't work out. And no cats. Because I do a lot of yoga and I don't want to get cat hairs in my mouth."
When I return to Country Living in the City, Mira shakes my crumpled note in my face “What's this all about?"
"I don't want to hear it," she turns away, heading for her room. "That's not my problem."
“I stopped payment on the rent check.”
"Get out! Get the hell out right now!"
I sit on the bed, staring at the unlockable closed door and think, "I'm homeless." My mother was homeless once. Washing up in restrooms, sleeping in her car. That's how people disappear. Now she’s in a nice condo on Orlando that my lawyer brother pays for, bless his heart.
The phone rings. It’s Boris. "I've got the IRS check for you to sign over to me." He explains that the whole refund is his because I owe him money. Yes, I know he’s an ass. But at that moment his familiar Russkie voice is comforting. Sure, I say. Come on over.
Boris arrives, IRS check in hand. Takes one look at my tears and holds me. “I have a good feeling about this Topanga," he says. Watching Boris pack our cars, I catch a glimpse of the man I loved. The man I'd wanted to marry. The once-gushing fountain. He offers to go with me "So you do not look like fuck-up."
I sign the check over to him. Sometimes a Knight in Shining Armor is just what the doctor ordered. Even if it is the turd of a husband you just left.
CHAPTER 3 - RELATIONSHIP HOUSE
"Wrong house," says Boris, looking up from where we stand at the bottom of the hill. I agree. Nobody could offer such a lovely rustic villa at such a low price without a dark, twisted motive.
The late afternoon wind sends a Gregorian murmur through the ancient pines as we climb layer after layer of stone steps, past a modern cabin built on a plateau of the hill. Having reached the house's wooden deck, we pause to view the hushed serenity of the misty mountains whose peaks circle the canyon like a lace hem. When we get to the door, we laugh at the sign hanging on it:
KNOCK FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER.
A forbidding wood sprite-type opens the door. Clad in maroon leotard and tights, her pixie-cut salt & pepper hair frames a deeply lined, hollow-cheeked blank countenance that‘s betrayed by blatant judgment in her eyes.
I offer my hand, "I'm Carrie Walker."
"It's just for you?" She shoots Boris a suspicious glance. There’s gravel in her voice and the accent is more pronounced in person.
Boris introduces himself as my "soon-to-be-ex-husband." Smiling to show off his Baryshnikovian cheekbones, he asks, "Where are you from?"
Boris and I say, “Wow…” She smiles, as if tolerating children, whom I later learn she tutors.
"Can I see the room?" I press. She hasn't budged.
"Shoes must be taken off," stepping back, she lets us into a tiny kitchen, narrow as the berth on a train.
"I hope you don't cook much.” She adds that the stove has no oven. "I myself eat only raw food."
Who cares about food? It’s clean and orderly and pleasant. I'd eat sawdust to live here.
We follow Eva from kitchen to living room which soothes with earth tones and a velvet loveseat. Round mirrors and Egyptian art. French doors lead from the living room to a deck.
Eva takes us into a cedar-scented bathroom. Sunken marble tub next to a wall of windows. Ferns overhead. Shangri-La.
"You'll have to bathe European style," she points to the shower-massager in the tub. "I prefer baths."
Boris frowns. "Nice window."
"Don't tell me you're shy!" Laughing, Eva pulls the red curtains across the web of windows. I like her.
“I don’t usually rent to women,” she tells me. “The last female roommate parked in my space. Don’t ever park in my space. Then she tried to steal my boyfriend."
I tell her not to worry. She says she doesn’t have a boyfriend anymore anyway. Soon we find common ground: We meditate. She does Yoga. I do Tai Chi. She went to a predominantly Jewish high school while living with her aunt in New York. I was one of three Jewish kids in my Floridian high school. She’s divorced, I’m almost-divorced. Yes, this could work out.
In what might be my room, Eva sits on what might be my bed and tries to guess our signs.
"Gemini! Has to be," she says of Boris. "My last two husbands were Gemini."
Eva declares herself an individualistic Aquarius. So she’s an air sign like Boris. She and Boris seem kindred spirits. They share an edgy wit so common in educated foreigners. I watch him shake his silky pale hair and fix his bedroom eyes on her. She responds by throwing her head back with a throaty laugh.
When he’s gone, I tell Eva, “I thought you’d rather have him.”
She shrugs. “I thought he was a complete asshole."
I wonder what they must think of me, Eva and her tenant Edward.
By the time Edward comes home, I’m done crying and Eva’s done hugging me and telling me it's okay, it's okay now. Hearing him come in, she calls from my room, "Edward, come meet Carrie!"
Edward stays in the hallway, leaning his reedy body against the doorframe to study me. I study him back from where I sit cross-legged on the bed. He has the easy poise of a trained actor, which he is. He’s got one of those boyishly older faces that can be read from the stage as very old or very young. Like a baby’s.
Eva sits at his feet, looking like a diminutive monk in her hooded robe, "Guess what sign she is."
He scratches his head under his baseball cap, displaying for an instant his receding hairline. "Cancer?"
These people are amazing.
“With Sagittarius Rising,” I add for good measure.
“You’re kidding!” Edward says. “Me, too!”
“So do I,” says Eva.
“Is it a sign, do you think?” Edward wiggles his eyebrows like Groucho.
“It’s a sign that we might hurt each other’s feelings a lot,” she says this straight into his eyes.
He returns the glare with a smile. "So did you tell her about The Relationship House?"
"What's The Relationship House?"
"Oh, you'll find out," Eva says. "It sounds like bullshit, but I've lived here twenty-seven years, and I can tell you it's quite true."
Edward clears his throat, "Did you tell her about the toilet paper?"
"Oh, no! I forgot!"
What about the toilet paper?
"We have a septic tank and toilet paper will clog it so you have to, uh, wrap everything and put it in the wastebasket."
That should be my biggest problem. "Kind of like wrapping tampons," I chirp.
"Oh, you'll be wrapping," Edward calls over his shoulder as he walks down the hallway. "But it won't be tampons!"
Edward lives in that quaint cabin that sits on the second tier of the hill just below the main house. It has no bathroom or kitchen, so he must come up here.
As soon as they leave, I sink gratefully into the bed’s gigantic purple pillows, fatigue pinning me to the bed like a helpless butterfly. Then I hear rumbling. Tiny feet stampeding back and forth behind my head in the wall. I sit up and listen. Somewhere deep inside something is gnawing and chewing.
I wake up in the morning and think, "The crisis is over."
CHAPTER 4 - RIP CORD
"Do we have mice?" I ask Eva on my first day as a Topanga resident.
She doesn’t look up from the frozen bananas and strawberries she’s grinding through a sieve, "We haven't had them for years."
"They've been here ever since I've been here," Edward shrugs, carrying his smoothie towards the door. A couple of years at least."
"I've never seen them," says Eva, her voice a dead monotone.
Edward leans into Eva's ear, "Ripcord, Eva. Ripcord." She laughs. He winks at me and leaves.
As soon as the door closed, Eva's face contorts, "I just hate it when he pulls that passive aggressive shit!" While she continues to grind as the bowl fills up with what looks like a thick pink worm, she mutters :
"He didn't want anybody else living here. I ran that ad for a month, and couldn't get a soul. Then I saw why. His fucking energy was keeping people away. So I got him to move down to the cabin, and the moment he did, you moved in!"
"Was he in my room?"
"No, the one across from yours. Someone's coming to look at it today."
"What does ripcord mean?" I ask, changing the subject and moving to less scary ground.
"I'm an Aquarius, right? An air sign. The first time I jumped out of a plane and I found myself surrounded by all that AIR, all I could think was, 'I'M HOME!' Ground control had to yell at me to pull the chord! I forgot I needed a parachute."
We take our bowls into the living room and sit at a table in the shadowy coolness to eat. Eva's frozen concoction melts in my mouth with a sticky, grainy texture that feels good, healthy. I’m seized with gratitude.
“Thank you for saving my life, Eva.”
Her eyes soften, "I know what it's like to be married to an asshole. My second husband kicked me out, told me to go live in my R.V. Have you filed for divorce, yet?"
"Um, no." Legal papers and fees. "There's no money anyway."
"There must be something," she says. "He reeks of European intellectual."
Boris often bragged about his White Russian ancestry. So unlike my own Jewish Russian grandparents who would not even tell their children what shtetl they were from. ("My people used to purge your people, " he’d tease.)
My safe deposit box.
Boris was using it to store miniature sculptures made by a famous Russian artist. He brought them back a few years ago after visiting his parents. His mother was a painter and her artist friends often gave her presents. Boris suspected that she and this sculptor had an affair. She gave him her precious mementos, hoping he could sell them in the USA and live on the money. In his vague, helpless way, he had made a feeble attempt to find a buyer, then given up and asked me to store them in my safe deposit box.
"Why do you have a bank box? You, who have nothing?" asks Eva.
"My Aunt Tiffany gave me some very expensive jewelry."
The cords in Eva's neck pull taut. "Why don't you sell it? Now, when you need the money?"
"My aunt made me promise never to sell it."
"She was on her deathbed, Eva. She was dying when she gave it to me."
Eva groans and cuts the air with her hand, granite in her eyes, "So sell his stuff."
I go numb. "I can't."
"Why not? He owes you. Is he helping pay rent on the box?"
"How much money do you have in the bank right now?"
Nothing. A few dollars. I couldn't even say it out loud.
She points her tiny finger at my throat. "I'm telling you, it's a divorce settlement. The only one you'll ever get. Take it!" But seeing my face, she sinks back in her chair and places her hands on the chair’s arms like a Sphinx:
"You know what I think? I think you fucking like poverty."
Then she talked for a long time. About growing up poor in Columbia. The oldest of ten kids. One year, she lived off bananas and cocoa berries from the jungle. And she was the only one in her family not to get sick. She was twelve. Now she stands to take her bowl to the kitchen. As she passes, I heard her say something. It sounds like:
"You have a Victim Band."
CHAPTER 5 - CONFESSION
Waiting for the Phone Man. Been waiting for days. My only connection to the outside world is a pay phone in front of the Topanga General Store. Eva let me know that her phone’s off limits and I’m too shy to ask Edward if I can use his, as he comes out with a fruit bowl.
Sitting next to me at the round pine table, he asks, "Well, how do you like it so far?"
"Feels like I fell down a rabbit hole. Nobody can get in touch with me."
"Maybe nobody's supposed to."
Man had a point. It is comforting to sit on this spacious deck in the spring sunlight.
Taking in the dense woods that cradles the house, I sigh, "I can't believe I'm here. It's like living at a bed-and-breakfast."
"Yeah, I know. You never get used to it," He chuckles and sunlight gleams off his receding hairline as he bends toward his spoon.
Still, anxiety tugs. "I already missed a temp job. I gave them Boris' number to leave a message. I can pick up messages from his machine -- which used to be my machine."
"Did he say that was okay?"
Edward lifts an eyebrow, "That could get tricky."
"It already has. I called his machine and-"
"You picked up a message from-" his smile was tight, knowing.
"Somebody named Cindy. 'Just to confirm their date.'"
He slumps back with a heavy sigh, "Ouch."
"Hey, I left him. But for some reason -"
I nod. Yet I’m starting to feel better. Edward's sensitive sigh makes Boris seem all the more crass, and my decision to break away all the more right.
He pushes his bowl away, places his hands on both knees as if to balance. His eyes shine with what I perceive as naked sincerity.
"I was married once. I know what it is to get divorced."
"Why didn't it work out?"
"It was me. Not that she didn't...Well, there were a lot of things...but basically, well, I cheated on her."
Another sigh, "Yeah." So vulnerable I almost can’t bear it. But it's refreshing to hear a man confess.
CHAPTER 6 - REHEARSAL
"Carrie, come meet Tony. He does yoga."
I open my door to see a youngish man standing behind Eva wearing a friendly grin. Tall, but not as tall as Edward. Ethnic. Dark hair curling out from under his Cubs baseball cap. A warm physical presence that fills the hallway.
"Guess what sign he is."
He shakes his head with an easy laugh, "How'd you know?"
"Because I am. Sagittarius Rising?"
“What’re you? Psychic?”
Am I? Quick, change subject: "Are you moving in?"
"Thinkin' about it." Tough street kid accent. New York?
"Did you tell him about the toilet paper?"
Eva hoots. "No! Not yet..." and leads him to the bathroom.
We stand outside the door watching Eva point at the wastepaper basket next to the toilet, "See, we have this septic tank..."
"And it gets clogged easily," I interject.
His head falls back, eyes close (eyelashes longer than mine): "Wait. I think I remember this--I grew up in a rural area. No problem."
"I like him," I call over my shoulder, going back to my room. He seems like the type who could live across the hall and not mix his energy with mine. And I didn't want him to. I didn't want anybody to.
Two hours go by and still no Phone Man. I can’t wait in my room any longer. Walking out, I see Tony sitting in the room across from mine in a rocking chair.
"Well...?" I poke my head in.
"Dunno," he says, "Place is great, but the room's so damn small."
"Do you have a lot of stuff?"
"A two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. But that's over. I really feel like it's time."
"Is that a Chicago accent?"
"How'd ya guess?"
"I did five in Chicago. Edward moved here from Chicago. Have you met Edward, yet?" He shakes his head no. "He's an actor. We’ve worked at the same Second City theaters, just not in the same time zone."
"So you're an actress."
"Director. I was a theater director."
"What do you do now?"
"I - Well, I was making documentaries..."
He rocks back and forth, "God, I love that channel! There was one that was fucking hilarious. About high school reunions."
"With the camera in the ladies' room."
"Did you see it?"
"About a thousand times."
He stops rocking.
"Was that yours?"
I plop down close to his warmth on the floor. As if warming myself by a fire. "What do you do?"
"I'm a physical therapist."
"Yeah, well, I like it." Looking at his watch. "Speakin' of theater, you feel like a play? I got comps."
In minutes, we’re speeding through freeway darkness in the space capsule closeness of Tony's silver MG. Shoving blues tapes into his deck. Rockin' like our backs ain't got no bones.
Tony almost crashes the car when I tell him I worked in a Chicago blues bar. The Kingston Mines. "Not the Mines! I went there last Christmas!"
"Was Homesick James playing?"
"I think he's dead.”
He launches into his history, telling how he just broke up with the love of his life: a French beauty that he proposed to and dropped her two years later. “I was working so hard trying to give her everything and one day I sat down at the breakfast table and told her: ‘I’m not in love with you anymore.
"Wanna know what happened? I blew it. Now all I think about is how to get her back."
Traffic slows to a crawl and stops. Tony pulls out a Thomas Brothers and opens it against the steering wheel. We’re were going to see this actress who worked in the diner next to his office ("People at work say we look good together.") The theater is in Pasadena, half a world away from Topanga Canyon. He shakes his head over the maze of lines.
"Can I see it?" I ask. "Do you mind?"
His glance feels warm.
"Do guys usually mind?"
"Yeah, sure, all the guys I date mind."
I take the map and feel him lean close to look at it. Heat. I feel heat.
Traffic starts. I put the map away and move closer to the door. This guy’s not only ten years younger and a potential roommate, but last week he had four dates. I never dated.
The disorientation I'd been feeling since I left Boris creeps back. That's how I know Tony made it disappear for a while.
Play was good. So was the target of his affection: a pert young thing with the body of a ten year old.
"I think she's cute as a button," he whispered. What does a man do with a woman he finds "cute as a button"?
After the show, Tony had me wait in the car while he congratulated her. When he climbed in next to me, he said, "I told her the theater director I was with thought she was great. You hungry? Feel like grabbin' a bite? Taco Bell okay?"
While Tony steered the car towards refreshments, it came to me what this was:
A rehearsal for a date. Preparing me for the day when it would be real with someone I wanted.
Sinking my teeth into a steaming taco, I marveled, "Why do these always taste so good?"
"It's the grease."
Sitting on the deck waiting for the Phone Man (sing to the tune of "Sitting in an English Garden waiting for the sun... ").
Eva asks, "Why aren’t you at work? " Can’t. I’m still waiting. Day Number Two. "Aye Carumba! " Eva yelps. "I’ll hook up your fucking phone." I follow her to a phone box around the back where she touches two wires together and it’s done.
CHAPTER 7 - THE NIGHT OF THE AMARETTO LAUNDRY
We watch each other unpack.
Tony exclaims over my Asian artifacts. Not much left. An Ixing tea set...Kwan Yin statue...Tibetan bowl. I only kept whatever felt sacred.
In my room, Tony wipes peanut butter from the sandwich he’s just finished onto his shirt and thumbs through my Tao Te Ching, "This looks deep."
It was Boris'. He'd bought it last year and never read it. When I was packing, I'd found it wedged between my books and his. Boris was taking all the appliances (most of which I'd paid for) and the furniture. Let him. Let him travel with our past. But the Tao Te Ching...that was mine.
"Our Si Fu was crazy about Tao Te Ching."
"A Si Fu is Chinese for a teacher of Tai Chi.. A master. We took classes Ventura from this twenty-seven year old Kung Fu champion."
Ventura on the last day of summer. Boris and I had been arguing in the car when he cried out, “Look at the sunset!” and pulled next to a lovely park we almost passed. Then we walked up a grassy incline for a better view of the peach and red ribbons of light that stretched across the Ventura sky. When we first got married, this moment would have served as a signal for truce. But tension remained. I turned to apologize and found that he was walking towards a young leaping man who was leaping and twisting in a chain of unbroken graceful movements, slicing the air around him with a spear.
Si Fu—aka Scott Rivers—took us into his fold. He taught a class of four in the park three times a week with a seriousness and dedication beyond his years. When we offered to pay, he shrugged, "Giving you Tai Chi is like giving you my shirt if you need one. I can’t charge you for it."
My last memory of Si Fu
“Sitting on the floor of his now-bare apartment, watching him zip his fave tea set into his backpack. Off to global adventure, thanks to a disgruntled Tai Chi student who shot him in the shoulder. Now with settlement money in hand, Scott—I mean “Si Fu”—was off to China to meet hermits, Taoist monks, Tai Chi masters, and serve them tea. Si Fu’s place had been decorated in Ming Dynasty. One day while I was visiting, an Asian man came to the door selling subscriptions. He took one look at Si Fu’s apartment and gasped, "I am Chinese and my apartment does not look like this!"
Watching Scott go, I was reminded of a verse from a friend’s song called Bend in the Road:
I wish that I was a lot free-er right now
I’d travel the road with you
To keep the world from aging you hard
To keep you young, to keep you closer to me
"What if the tea set breaks? What if you lose all this great stuff you're taking with you?"
“Who cares? It’s just a bunch of shit.” Then he packed his Tao Te Ching, saying: "Don't leave home without it.”
When we separated, I took Boris' un-cracked Tao Te Ching in the name of Community Property.
In the midst of my unpacking and giggling with Tony, Eva and Edward stop in and hang out at the threshold of my room. "I love that!"Eva points at the gold kimono I’m about to hang up. I hold it out to her. She tries it on, immediately lost in yards of shimmering golden silk.
"Gold looks better on brunettes." Glad to have something to give her.
Edward’s eating a peach. Chewing, he wipes his chin and announces, "It's always nice to meet a fellow Asiaphile. Well, actually, I'm not an Asiaphile. I just like Asian women."
"God, me, too!" Tony stretches out on the floor, back against my bed. "I had an Asian woman once—well, not exactly a woman—turned out she was really young."
"How old was she?" Edward asks with a surge of prurient interest. Seeing the sharp looks on Eva’s and my faces, the men adjust.
Tony adds, "On the other hand, I feel guilty. I mean, it's kinda racist, isn't it? White dude lusting after submissive ‘Oriental’ women."
Edward matches his tone, "I had a Japanese therapist in Chicago who says that maybe I'm attracted to Asian women because of her. Because I had a Japanese lover in Chicago."
"Have you ever wanted an Asian man?" Eva asks me.
I almost say no. But the truth was, I hardly knew any. In junior high, there'd been one Asian--an adopted Japanese boy with glasses named Brian Jones. He loaned me his copy of Tarzan and the City of Gold.
"I think I was Asian in a past life," Eva offers.
“I always have,” chimes in Edward.
"So do I," I hear myself admit. I was cast in Flower Drum Song when I was twelve. In our black and white photos of my childhood, Dad looks Japanese. In color, his blue eyes disguise his Asiatic features. But his brothers and sisters could pass for Asians if they didn’t have those azure eyes. Somewhere in our genetic makeup some yellow DNA throbs, I think. My passion for All Things Asian grew as I got to know Si Fu and learned Tai Chi.
"I don't believe in past lives," says Tony, yawning, "but that doesn't mean I wasn't Asian in one."
"So if we were Asian in a past life," reasons Eva, "then it's not really racist for us to be attracted to Asians now!"
Merrily I agree, "Well, I guess that means we can all fuck Asians until the cows come home!" Everyone laughs, but I actually feel a disconcerting twinge between my thighs. Did I really want an Asian man? Where would I find one?
Later that night, while our laundry tumbles together in the dryer, I sit on Tony's bed and watch him shelve his books. Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” ("But I'm not an alcoholic") next to The Single Bartender's Guide next to The Hardy Boys.
He opens a suitcase full of liquor and pours us hefty shots of Amaretto.
"What should we drink to?"
"To happiness," he says sadly, clinking his glass against mine.
We sit on the floor of his room in the shadows, trading war wounds.
He talks and talks about his ex-girlfriend.
"She's so gorgeous, she makes all other women look like dogs."
"Why'd you break up?" I ask, trying to ignore the insult.
"Dunno. Once we started livin' together, it was like we turned into our parents. I was workin' all the time, wantin' to give her everything. I thought if I just gave and gave...maxin' out my cards...'Hey, folks, I'm buyin'!' I'm so fucking in debt." Draining the last of the Amaretto, "Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had her back."
His story is so different from mine that I can’t respond.
"So what went wrong with you and Boris?" Bluntly casual.
I try to come up with a sentence.
"Well, Boris was a hypochondriac."
"You left him because he had fake illnesses?"
"No, it was--it was like, well, just to give you an idea. We lived in a gay neighborhood and he was homophobic."
"Did he know it was gay when he moved there?"
"It gets better. He was afraid he'd catch AIDS off the silverware in the restaurants, so he'd bring his own."
"Sounds like he had a bit of a problem."
"There's this little diner on the corner called Millie's and one day he accidentally left his fork."
"So he lost a fork."
"He sent me back to get it."
"And you said, 'Fuck you, it's your fork.'"
"No, I went."
I shut my eyes, "I was his wife. He was Russian. I was in love. Anyway, it was weeks before they found it. You can imagine how many mouths must have eaten off it...and you know what he did?"
"Used it anyway."
"Used it anyway.”
“But it gets worse," I struggle for words. They come:
"The worst was that his contradictions had become my contradictions."
"Have you thought about therapy?"
It’s a blow. "Do I seem crazy to you?"
"You don't have to be crazy. I spent all last year workin' on boundaries with a really good one." I don’t answer, remembering Eva’s You have a Victim Band around your head.
Half-asleep in my pajamas, I knock on Tony's door. "Did I take my towels out of the dryer?"
"I don't know."
"The Night of the Amaretto Laundry," I mutter, turning in the direction of the laundry room.
"Wasn't that a Hardy Boys mystery?"
CHAPTER 8 - VOICE MAIL
Message from Boris on my Voice Mail:
"Can you keep me on your AAA membership? It’s about to expire."
I can’t keep anybody on anything. My credit cards are maxed out from too many months of paying Ventura rent with "convenience checks. " What was saving me was my long-standing relationship with the entertainment law firm where I'd worked as an "on-call temp" since college.
I’d gladly left "law" behind, but now I return to the mega-pay to wander the office halls as confused and vague as an old woman who has returned to her childhood home. Attorneys are starting to complain. But Georgia, the office manager, has vowed to keep me on payroll.
My first week back, she takes me to lunch. I keep missing my mouth with the tuna sandwich, pieces falling in my lap like hairs during a haircut. Groping for a napkin, I chirp, "I feel fine, Georgia. Never felt better."
"Yeah?" she says in her sardonic contralto. "What are you on?"
Georgia is a sensuous African American woman with a take-no-prisoners attitude and Botticelli face. The fast-talking, lustful attorneys (that would be all of them in this 100-attorney law firm) adore her.
"Tell me about your divorce," I heard about it yesterday, but I want her to say it again.
She leans in, as if confiding a secret, "He was mean, he was cruel, insulting. Just not there. By the time I left him, I was sure he didn't love me anymore, then he turned around and says, 'I don't get it. Why are you leaving?'"
"But you knew it was over."
"Because he let me know it was. Lemme give you some advice. Let him sue for divorce. If you sue them, they act like even bigger assholes."
We chew on this, literally. Silent. Then –
Georgia sighs: "Like Mama always said, ‘The man you marry is not the man that you divorce.’ "
CHAPTER 9 - PHYSICAL THERAPY
Tony leans over my shoulder to sniff the steam rising from the wok, "Mmmmm..."
"It's gonna be good."
On his way to his room, he pauses, hand on the kitchen doorknob, "Okay."
Eva is away for two weeks at a Raw Foods Clinic and all I'd seen of Edward in the last few days is TV light flickering in his window.
Dishing out the Thai curry, I could feel knots in my neck. Work was leaving my body a wreck. Could our resident physical therapist be of service?
Tony’s watching “the game” when I enter with the food. He sits up on his bed.
"Who's playing?" I ask.
"Great, I love baseball."
"Yeah, man, that linebacker sure can hit the homeruns! Sit down and I'll teach you."
I sit on the floor eating while Tony raves about my cooking and explains the finer points of basketball, in between cheers at slam dunks.
Bowls empty, I take his and stand up. Pausing in the doorway, I venture, "I was going to ask for a shoulder rub, but you're busy."
Stretched across the bed, head propped against one hand, he looks up with eyes only, "Thanks."
Back in the kitchen, I curse myself. Then anger rushes over me. What a jerk. Ask not what I can do for you...
I stumble back into his room, my voice loud. "All week long, I let you use my phone and gave you dinner and let you tape my records and now when I ask for a massage because I'm really..."
"All right," he holds up a defensive hand. "When the game is over, I'll repay you." His tone seems designed to make me feel ashamed of my outburst. I resolve not to be. But as I wash dishes, I feel uneasiness well up, aware of my vulnerability. Exposed. On the other hand, he did say he’d give me what I asked for.
It’s been a long time since a man touched me. I push the thought away.
Game over, Tony points at the floor. "Lie down."
I close my eyes.
His fingers press into me, his tone soft, intimate.
"I feel…it is my responsibility…to educate the person…I am treating."
His touch is agonizing. I try not to cry out as he pushes on the trouble spots and dispenses information. "During the day be aware of how you take tension into your shoulders. When you feel it, let it go. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth, six second breaths, three times a day for five minutes...don't hunch your shoulders...stand straight..."
So I hunch over. Must be very attractive.
He even tries to crack my back ("You're holding on, let go..."). A full blown physical therapy treatment.
"I'm not going to give you pleasure, even though you may want pleasure," he says in that quiet, insistent tone. "What I'm giving you may not feel as great, but it'll do you more good in the long run."
When I turn over, he places his fingertips lightly on my head, energizing. Light appears to shine behind my closed lids. The healing power comes in soothing waves.
"I can feel the caring in your hands," I murmur. "Is this what you do for all your patients?"
"I put my whole self into it," he says, pulling away. "That's why it's so draining." He curls against the wall, trying to work the kinks out of his own neck, not looking at me.
Session over. He looks exhausted.
Rolling over, I stretch and look at him, chin resting on my folded hands and gather the courage to say, "I could do Reiki on you."
"I've heard of that. It's Japanese hands-on healing, isn't it?"
"I'm certified Third Degree," I brag. Boris and I got the training for free when we did an infomercial for a local Reiki Center. I rarely offer it because the average person doesn’t believe it's for real.
Tony wants it.
We switch places. I have a moment's apprehension. Boris could never stand my massages. He preferred "professionals."
I lie down behind Tony, lean over and put my hands over his smooth face. For five minutes, I stay like that, absorbing his physicality. Laid out before me, his relaxed body is powerful in its grace and build. I let myself feel how pleasurable it is to lay my hands on the rounded solidness of it.
It’s cool to the touch. Hot spots can indicate trouble areas.
"Okay, now turn over on your stomach."
"Man, you're goin' to town!" he grins, rolling over.
As soon as I touch him, I feel it. Heat in his kidney area. When I tell him, he responds, "Second chakra. Where I've had most of my problems."
An hour later I’m done. He’s asleep. I leave him there.
I’m in bed about to turn out the light when I hear him knock.
"Thanks. You put me in another world. "
That night I lie in bed practicing the last thing the Ventura psychic told me to do:
"You don’t need me. You can get your own answers. Before you go to sleep, close your eyes and see a blank screen. Ask your question, see it up there on that screen. Then don't think about it anymore."
I do just that and when I wake up, my first thought is:
Keep it platonic.