Could Jenny Craig Shed the Weight of this Sad Time?

Chapter 21/ 2009

Could Jenny Craig Shed the Weight of this Sad Time?

The lucky man’s fingers are ready.

As soon as mom and dad go to bed, he will start writing out the last two years.

I have cleaned the folding table, moved and covered the wastepaper basket.  I open the kitchen cabinet to retrieve the night’s supplies, a thin film of grime covers the shelves, no shocker, nothing on this case would surprise me.  The once white areas encircling the knobs of the cabinet doors are stained black with who knows what.  No point in cleaning it, the dirt will be back tomorrow.  I wash my hands a lot.  I do not want the filth of this case to cause me to fall ill again.

I look at the bowl of rice and tofu I have brought for dinner.  On top of the stove are two pizza boxes, they are not from Domino’s or Papa John’s.  This is the good stuff, from a fancy Italian restaurant on Lankershim Boulevard. Taped to the box is the receipt, totaling out to over forty bucks.  That is what I spend on groceries for a week.  Fresh flowers sprout out of a streaked vase on the kitchen table.  I used to buy flowers, .99¢ for a spray of daffodils at Trader Joe’s.

The dad walks into the kitchen.  I am reading Frank Rich.   

“Help yourself to dinner,” he says.

I do.

I eat three slices during the night.  My stomach has surely shrunk, I am full after two.  I eat the last one at 4 AM, so as not to be hungry when I get home.  My lips pulse and my eyelids tickle as the garlic and onions work their way out through my skin.  For months, I have eaten only rice, mixing in tofu or a veggie if I have the coin.  

Without planning to, the lucky man has purified his body.  

The price of the free grub is listening to dad.  

“Do you live alone?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“Would it be cool if I had my unemployment checks mailed to your house?”

“Can’t you get them here?”

“I don’t officially live here.  If I did, she couldn’t get as much money…you know, being a single mom with a disabled child.”

“Wouldn’t it seem strange…you living in the house of your son’s nurse?  You know, officially living at my place.”

“Nobody would figure it out.”

The lucky man laughs.  

Dad is frightened, his fingers wrap tightly around a cold can of lager.

“Mister, with the luck I’ve had, I’d get popped on day one. You’d end up with a reality show…and I’d be in the big house.”

“You don’t understand.  I don’t want the unemployment money…that’s chump change to me.  I want to go to the retraining programs they have.  You know…learn how to do something different.”

“What are you planning on studying?”

Dad pops open the lager.  Vent is quiet, as is dad.

I walk to the sink to wash the respiratory equipment, my eyes glancing at the Pier One prints hanging on the walls, the words “Le Jardin” and “Les Arbres” artfully scripted on their lower left corners. They are hung too high for the lost boy to gaze at, positioned so far up the wall adults have to strain their necks at dizzying angles to view them. Maybe the lost boy would want to swing his head back and forth if he saw their tranquil green foliage. Would mom and dad do the same if the sleeping trees were at their eye level?  A thick glass, coated with the same film that dulls the shelves, suffocates le jardin and les arbres as they hang captive in dented yellow metal frames.

Lucky me, I can not see dad’s reflection in the glass as he talks.

I turn around.  Dad is slurring his words, talking about how the unions keep all the high-paying jobs for their members.  Next, he will start in on the immigrants undercutting the salaries on whatever job he fantasizes himself working at this week.

“You can get a job at the Arclight in Hollywood,” I tell him.  “Pays ten dollars an hour, I think.  You can see movies for free.”

Dad pops open another lager and moves on to the immigrants.

An hour later, Dad waddles into the bedroom.

Too bad, he will miss the black helicopters landing amidst the broken furniture thrown into the street.

My lips throbbing and my eyelids giggling from the pizza break in my poverty pay master cleanse, my tingling fingers fly over the keyboard for the first time in months.

♦♦

Matt sits at my dining room table.  

He has not spoken for a few minutes, not since telling me how he unloaded his condo:  “I asked the bank to produce the deed…those fuckers sold my mortgage so many times they couldn’t find it…since they can’t prove ownership…they can’t make me pay any more money.  I gave them the keys this morning…I’m free and clear.”

I want to bathe Matt clean, hold him in my arms in the drawn blinds blue of my bedroom.

“Whatever, that place’s worth a third less than it was a year ago,”  he says.

I am cooking tomato sauce, peppered with meat and sausage.  The spaghetti was .69¢ at Trader Joe’s, the meat, one pound for $1.99, sausage $3.99, Cento Italian styled peeled tomatoes $1.50 a can at Gelson’s, of which I bought two.  I have not been to Gelson’s for over a year, even its sales items are way too expensive.  The cans’ bright yellow labels feature tomatoes so deeply red as to be garish, the very sight of which would cause the lost boy to rock his head until it became a dark blur.  I use the empty cans to hold pens and magic markers in, each can on the periphery of the chipped yellow wood of my writing desk.  I cooked the sauce last night, tonight it is perfect, well worth the money to keep Matt’s belly full.  

Lucky man, I still have my emergency ten bucks.

Matt walks to the stove and takes a last taste of my earlobe.  We look out to the building next to mine, six attached two-story townhouses surrounding a courtyard centered by a fountain whose water was turned off when the complex went condo last year.  Matt was interested in buying one. The tenants–actors too handsome to look at, actresses still flawless when they stumble in at 6 AM, nervous screenwriters with beaucoup back hair and the way butcher than Samantha Ronson lesbian headshot photographer–moved out, but the owners have been unable to obtain the scratch for the remodel.  They live behind stark white curtains in empty rooms on the second floor. 

I stir the pot as Matt walks into the living room to e-mail his mom.  He is driving home to Sacramento after we eat an early supper. 

There’s nothing left to say or do.  

The lucky man and his unlucky straight boyfriend eat.

“Would’ve been nice,” Matt says

“What?”

“To live next door.  In the canyon.  Would’ve been nice.”

“You’re going to come back.  You’ll be living here again.”

“I’m done.  I’m not like you.”

“Like me?”

“You keep going. I can’t…I can’t keep doing this.”

“You’re doing the right thing.  You’ll find another way to make a living.”

Matt stares into the dampness of the melted butter sinking into the brown garlic bread sitting between us.  His hands are still.  He clenches his jaw, the way he does in the moments before he starts grinding his teeth in his sleep.  Has he eaten anything tonight?  I can not say, I have not been man enough to take a last look at him.

“What I did for a living…,” Matt says.  “My work…it doesn’t translate into anything.  I’m so fucked.”

Matt moves his hand across the table towards mine.  My gut knows I will never feel his hands again, never see his ringless fingers, fingers which ran up my back like a warm breeze.  When Matt realized he would no longer be shaking hands with clients, he sold his fancy suits on eBay, then pawned his Rolex to hold him over until he went home.  I grab Matt’s hand and we sit in silence. The food turns cold.  Are we praying?  For what?  Matt is not closing a door so that another will open.  He is not walking into a room full of opportunity and promise.  All the doors have been slammed in his face.

He cries.  I cry.  We do not finish our the tear soaked food.  I store it in the freezer, but it is the one meal I never think about eating.  I do not throw it out for months.  

My arm around Matt, we sit on the soft cushions of my couch for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, my voice whispering over and over into his ear:  “You are my friend and I love you.”  

Matt buries his face against my chest.  We could float like this forever.

Matt’s dog has to be walked.  We take our last stroll up Beachwood Drive.  I kiss Matt good-bye, tongues slide down lonely throats, backs arch, fingers probe, the whole thing.  We are outside, Matt does not care. My hand waves as he drives off.  My lips smile.  This is how we wanted to leave it between us, it could not have been any other way.  I wash the dishes.  I throw away the plastic bowls Matt’s dog ate and drank out of.  

I hit the sheets, my muscles and bones sinking into the 8 PM silence of Beachwood Drive.  

Sunset lays on the floor of the hall closet, her eyes never close.

♦♦

In the morning, I turn on my computer, its insides booting up surprisingly fast.  Matt has changed the streaming quote on my screensaver.  Bright silver comic sans font crawls slowly across the black screen:  “The weight of this sad time we must obey/Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

We knew each other, this man and I, in front of and behind the curtain.  

My heart can not jump anymore. 

I walk into the kitchen, my tears falling everywhere, on my bare feet, on my clean floor, my tears shine without smiling as the light hits them where they sit on the green tiles of my empty countertops. I ease Sunset off of the shelf, her eyes widening in fear, her claws tearing through the white paper lining her perch.  My body shakes, my tears hit Sunset’s black and orange fur.  I can not feel my jaw or my balls, can not feel Matt’s fingers running up my back. I take Sunset into the bedroom and hold her in my arms as tight as she can take it.  She has lost her doggie friend.  I have lost too much.  We lie together for hours.  When I get up to pee, Sunset stays on the bed, her all fours stretched out in cat surrender.  Sunset never returns to the closet or the cabinet in the kitchen, instead she silently follows me to any spot in my apartment where I spent more than five minutes, situating herself within a few feet of me.  Her eyes are on me, always on me, maybe the only eyes left in the City of the Angels which watch as the lucky man paces his cage. 

♦♦

Looking for incense to purify my kitchen after my tears have evaporated from the floor and the tiles of my countertops, I open my writing desk drawer, laughing, as if the karaoke caretaker was singing in front of me, when my eyes spot the bottle of extra strength Vicodins.  My fingers push aside ACT/UP stickers, freeway maps and postcards, finding a twenty dollar bill buried beneath them.  Michael Sadler gave it to me last year to cover my gas money when I was in his play.  I chose to think of it as the first money I made acting.  The tears come again, this time followed by deep breaths and the throbbing of my fingertips as they imagine touching not only a movie ticket at the Arclight Cinema, but boxes of popcorn and Milk Duds.  Twenty dollars is a lot of money.  Peanut butter, jelly, bread, two bottles of apple juice, a dozen eggs, a bag of peeled carrots.  I will light the incense later.  If I spend any more time debating between a movie and food, the worms will crawl out of the walls.

Before I leave, I pet Sunset who, after realizing I will be out for a few hours, has retreated to the bed.  She closes her eyes for a well deserved sleep.  My feet rebel as they walk toward Sunset and Vine, their heaviness insisting I push down on my car’s gas pedal and drive to Trader Joe’s, while my heart escorts my cowboy boots to the noon show at the Arclight, in whose empty lobby the ticket seller informs me my matinee admission earns me five dollars worth of snack bar goodies.  

“Happy Holidays,” his pink unlined face says to me.

I am pretty sure the holidays are over, but I do not say anything.  

I smile.  Nod my head.  

A small popcorn and a huge box of Milk Duds cost me a buck. I cry through the last forty-five minutes of  “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  I am in awe of Cate Blanchett, the movie is sad, but this is not what earns my tears.  My belly is full, my body does not hurt, I have forgotten for a few minutes that Matt is no longer at my table.  No matter what world Cate takes me to, when the worn down heels of my cowboy boots hit Sunset Boulevard, I can not go backwards, no one can.  Living in the City of the Angels teaches some Joes that right quick, most never get it. 

The tears come again.

The lucky man, seven extra bucks lining his wallet, walks home, thinking not of his extraordinary windfall, but of the breeze his back will never feel again.

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Filed under Memoir, Personal Essay

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