Tag Archives: Angie Dickinson

This is Supposed to be the New World?

Chapter 29 / 2009

This is Supposed to be the New World?


Blood pressure low, balls sliced open to remove the ever growing hydrocele, the gut getting an antispasmodic reprieve, fingers flying without fear, has our lucky man gotten lucky?

Nope.

“Something’s happening to the industry, the economy’s changed everything,”  JoAnne says into my GoPhone.

I sit in the parking lot of the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s. 

Worker’s Comp has allowed me to buy groceries again.  Nothing fancy, but it sure beats the rusted cans, the bags of rice, the outdated Thai Delight boxes, beats hiding a dollar donut from Stretch Pants. 

“I chatted you up to several agents,”  JoAnne says.  “Five years ago, they would have snapped you up, given you an advance to finish your novel.  With the internet and the economy, they won’t take a chance on a new writer.”

My fingers pulse with a numbness only the keyboard can cure.

“You’re a good writer.  I wish I could do more.”

“Thank you…saying that means a lot to me.”

I am a writer after all.  I have a story to tell.

The only thing left to do is to lift myself off the earth, to live in the sky.

Waiting for my companionship, the sky gazes down at me, the light I remembered from my first days in the City of the Angels has returned, born of the debris from the fires burning throughout the City, the ashes moving quickly up into air, after which the Santa Anas pushed this unnamed soup not over the Pacific, but instead east, hitting the inner beach cities and the San Fernando Valley first, before resting over Hollywood and parts eastward.  

Once infected, the sky became a dull grey, bordered at its edges with a faint orange, its solidity not a threatening mix of ash, carbon dioxide, burnt cars and melted tires, but instead the backdrop of the movie, the place where my fingers make the words fly, the sky’s diffused light filtering out what is not necessary, showing me the life I see in my dreams, where the empty spaces are filled in, the lines of separation which have kept me alone and apart erased, where I can find answers to all the “Whys” I bug the people on earth with.

I stare at the parking lot’s soft and yielding black asphalt, the ashes launched into the air a hovering mist, driven miles from home, searching for a place to land, to dissolve into.  

The heat of the asphalt eating up the mist at my feet in a New York Minute, I walk into Trader Joe’s, the breath of the Angels unfreezing my shoulder a bit more every day.

I can lift a bottle of apple juice off of the top shelf.

The Worker’s Comp checks will stop dropping any day now.

X, my fave 80s band, chants “This is supposed to be the new world” out of my speakers as I head home, the smoke and ash coming at me with the intensity of Exene and John Doe’s vocals, making me think for a moment that my engine has cracked wide open.  My Raybans cannot stop the squinting of my eyes, nor my tears as the grit, which made its way from a sitcom star’s burning house of love on the Pacific Coast Highway, lands on my reddened irises.

Time to get a gig, the light tells me.

♦♦

I reacquaint myself with the looking for a gig mantra:  “Our protocol is for applicants to apply online.”

“I have,”  I whisper.

My voice is humble and boyish.  No one would think I am in my late fifties.

“We’ll contact you if you’re a match for the position.”

As I did two years ago, I apply to every hospital, nursing home and medical facility in the Los Angeles basin to which I can drive, walk or crawl to.  I apply to the VA Hospital in Westwood and its satellite clinic in downtown LA.  I apply to the Los Angeles Department of Corrections for a job in the jails.  All online.  I never hear a thing.  I call.  I get the mantra.

I cold call agencies in the “Yellow Pages,” the majority of which have difficulty stringing together a coherent sentence in English.  The remaining ones spit out a hybrid form of English which drips like hot wax onto my eardrums.

A child of the 60s, I storm the barricades.

“An application?”

I stand before a young woman in the basement of St. Vincent Medical Center, my feet on the shining white tiles of the Human Resources Department.

“I saw a job listing on Monster.com for a Med/Surg position.  I’d like to fill out an application.”

Her brown eyes stare at me from beneath eyelids weighted down by heavy black mascara.

I am clean shaven, my gold pinstriped Rat Pack styled suit and matching slacks fresh from the cleaners, my white shirt ironed that AM, my skinny black tie tightening itself around my neck with the mean fingers of the money I owe and the money I need to survive.

The fingers have been on me for two years now.

Let it go, lucky man.  The light is back.

“Do you have a computer?” she asks.

“Yes.”

Her hair is teased high, not in homage to the Ronettes, but to Snooki Polizzi, hanging from her earlobes are a cheap version of the gold hoop earrings Angie Dickinson featured when she went undercover as a go-go dancer at a “Gentleman’s club” in the Valley.

“The protocol is for jobseekers to apply online.”

The young woman’s lips are red and engorged to the point I fear they will spew the wrath of her collagen filler onto my vintage threads.

“Any way I can fill out an application here?”

“An application?”

“Yes, a paper application.”

“Go down the hall and use our computer in the library.  Life would have been a lot easier if you told me you don’t have a computer.”

Next thing you know, she’ll be popping her gum.

She pops.  I bail.

Even though I know this young woman will have forgotten an unlucky old man after a few rounds of playing solitaire on her cell, I wait two days before I surrender three hours of my morning to apply online.

For the next eight weeks, I call the Nurse Recruiter every Monday through Friday, leaving a very professional message stating my interest in the job and politely asking for a callback.

Nada.  Rien.  Nothing.

On week nine, the Nurse Recruiter’s voicemail informs me she has gone on vacation.  Lucky her.  I am forwarded to the Nursing Office.  The Nursing Supervisor sounds impressed by my thirty years of nursing experience. 

Odd.  

Ten minutes later, my landline breaks the silence of my apartment at noon.

“This is the Nurse Recruiter from St. Vincent.  I’ve been told, I mean I understand you’ve been trying to reach me.  I’m sorry, I’ve been so busy, I couldn’t find time to get back to you.  I’m on vacation, but the Nursing Sup wanted me to touch base with you and set up an interview.”

My shoulder is rapidly unfreezing, this better fly.

♦♦

I roar down Beachwood toward Franklin Avenue, X screaming “Los Angeles” as I push away from the Hollywood Sign to my first interview in years for an upright gig, a downright ongoing job.  I do not have to press hard on the gas peddle, do not have to lean my head and upper body forward to move down Beachwood.  The sky is holding its hand out to me and I cannot stop, not the car, not my fingers pounding the keyboard, not my daily writer’s mantra of asking of “Why?”  I gaze out through the windshield, its curved glass dusted with the ash and grit which has made my breathing slow and heavy, my eyes eating up the revelations the light is showing me.

This job is mine.  All I have to do is let my inquisitors see behind my eyes.

The Nurse Recruiter extends her hand, her French cut nails rest softly inside my palm.  Her eyes blink with the mania of Tourette’s, her tall body hesitant as she leads me to her cubicle for our interview.

Obviously, she has been told to behave. 

“It’s one thing after another here, Jake, I just have to tell you, I’m doing the job of, I can’t remember anymore, so many people, so many.”

My eyes watch as the light from the overhead fluorescents sinks into the flat yellow stones of her necklace and bracelet. 

“And then, of course, last night, my car wouldn’t start.  Try getting Triple A here during rush hour, I was so hungry, I’m on a diet, I so wanted to eat.”

“No worries,” I say.  “In all honesty, I’ve waited so long, if you want to take a break, I can come back in an hour.”

“I had to get the kids off to school, I was in at eight and here until after seven, you mean it?”

This must be the New World.

“Really, it’s OK, we can meet at a more convenient time for you.”

“Let’s go ahead, guy, let’s do this.”

One down, one more to go.

The Nurse Manager of the unit I am applying on moves like an constipated pit bull, her makeup unable to conceal the winding trails of the acne scars running across her face, her hair a Farrah Fawcett do, possibly a remembrance of the Angel who died at the end of June or a touchstone to happier days when patients were people with names, people you could see and touch.

“Why are you a nurse Jake?  Give it to me in a sentence.” 

This is a job I can do.  Med/Surg.  Twelve-hour day shifts.  It’s mine if I play my cards right.

“It’s about making the connection with my patients, listening to them and being of service…watching over them.”

“How do you keep yourself awake when you work nights?” Farrah asks.

“I’m sorry, I thought this position was for days.”

“No.  No, it’s most definitely a night position.”

“I must have misunderstood when I met with the Nurse Recruiter.  I was looking for a day position.  I like your style, I’d enjoy working for you.  If a day position opens up, please call me.”

Lucky man is up and hitting the elevator’s down button when Farrah’s bloated  body catches up with him.

“You’re good,” Farrah says.  “Very sharp.”

“The Nurse Recruiter really impressed me.  I have to be honest, I never realized what an opportunity it would be to work here.”

“You are good.  I have a day position, let’s discuss it.”

For the next two hours, I sit on a padded folding chair jammed into the corner of Farrah’s tiny peach colored office.  I answer questions about the new big thing in this New World, unexpected clinical outcomes, a term which comes out of nowhere to accost me.  I was a stand-up.  I kill it.  I talk about difficult patients I have tamed and bullshit my way out of any number of hypothetical conflicts which seem to inevitably arise between nurses.  

I watch as the chewed to the quick nails of Farrah’s right hand brush the feathered layers of hair off of her face, there is nothing behind her green eyes, the only life I can see is that of the smoke floating over the City of the Angels, the light coming in through the window telling me this will be one of those gigs at which I sit beneath a loudly ticking clock at a table surrounded by nurses who cannot see what the sound stages of our City has to offer them, who cannot see beyond the boundaries of their outdated hairdos, who call their patients clients, who believe that the practice of their art is providing good customer service.

My body, frozen against the orange vinyl skin of the chair I have sat on for two hours, wakes up as I shoot Farrah my closer:  “The way I advocate for myself is the way I’ll advocate for your patients.”

Hands are shaken, backs are patted.

This is indeed the New World.

♦♦

I am up early the next morning, my fingers sending the words across the white screen at my new hangout, the Bourgeois Pig Cafe on Franklin Avenue, where I sit daily at a wobbly table, its dull brown wooden surface freeing me of boundaries, clocks and outcomes.  I drink coffee and large glasses of water as I pound out my tale, sitting on a mismatched chair next to my true bros, the unemployed screenwriters of Beachwood Canyon and Los Feliz, all of us trying to take flight, to be chosen, to be smiled upon by the Angels as we look into the light of our computer screens.

My GoPhone vibrates, I hit out to the corner of Franklin and Tamarind Avenue, breathless with flight as Farrah yaps: “Jake, I’d like you to join our team here at St. Vincent.”

The fingers of debt squeezing down on my carotids let up.

The smoke swirls in the hills behind me, the sidewalk concrete beneath my feet stands me six inches above the asphalt’s heat, the light showing me how my life will go.  

Despite the strong joe I drink to keep my fingers limber, my gut will stop punching me.

The jaws of my apartment will spit me out into rooms whose wood floors keep me safe, my body falling into the embrace of the white walls on whose emptiness I have hung pictures of palm trees and kitsch 40s vases, out of which sprays of flowers explode.

Tomorrow is my fifty-seventh birthday, the Angels have chosen me.

Out-of-town calls come in from the friends who have seen behind my eyes, who have kept me standing when my ass wanted to hit the ground and crawl as far away from the sky as I could, their caressing voices cautiously wishing me a happy birthday, followed by slight sighs and a big, deep, cleverest, best joke they have ever heard laugh at my good news. 

The light of the City streaming into my living room, I lie on the black velvet of my couch, Sunset is stretched out on the carpet where Matt’s feet once lay, my questioning writer’s eyes desiring not the clear bottles of Absolut, but the clarity the light brings.

“Happy, happy,” Matt says.  “What you gonna do today, guy?”

“You know me….Gena Rowlands movies…all day, all night.”

We laugh into our phones, our skin remembering last Thanksgiving, Matt’s leg over mine as we sat on the couch, his arm around my shoulders.

“Gena Rowlands…she’s the butch actress who was in that weird Kate Hudson movie?” he asked me.

Our bellies full from our holiday meal, Matt watched as I slipped the shiny silver discs out of their brown jackets.

“People aren’t always what they seem,”  I told him.  “Kind of like you and me.  You have to look behind their eyes to see what’s there.”  

Matt got Gena ten minutes into “Opening Night,” his eyes watched her the way my ears absorbed the wonder of Satchmo, my father smiling from his seat on our worn rattan couch in East Meadow, his boxer’s eyes sizing up the only boyfriend who has seen behind my eyes.

“So, what’s up with the disappearing act?” I ask Matt.

“Don’t question me.  Don’t you ever question me.  I’m forty-years-old, guy, I live in my parent’s garage.  I get to check out when I want.”

I lie alone on my couch.

Like the notes which gave my father another chance at flight, the words of Gena and John Cassavetes blow out of my television screen, sinking into my fingers, the tremors of life flickering through their bodies showing me the tales can be told.

♦♦

Before walking home from the Pig the next afternoon for a well deserved writing break, I check my messages.

I stand at the corner of Franklin and Tamarind when the voice licks its rough tongue over my face. 

“Mr. Epstine, I have some bad news.”

It is the Nurse Recruiter.

My eyes cannot see the light of day, only the yellow stones wrapped around her neck.

“I just this morning realized, it was pointed out to me that the position we offered you isn’t budgeted.  I thought it was, I believed it was, it was when I posted it.  I take full responsibility for this, for this misunderstanding.  I’m sorry, there’s no position on that unit.”

The money I owe and the money I need tighten their fingers around my neck.

“I’m thinking we can offer you a position on the unit as a fill-in, you know, when someone calls in sick.  The night position was filled without my knowledge by a nurse from another unit.  It could open up again, but I’d need to clear your paperwork, without a budgeted position, I don’t know if that’s possible.  I don’t want you to think this is how St. Vincent operates.  I take full responsibility for this, for this…”

My back sweats against the worn cushions of my couch, my eyes stare at the frayed piping, I notice my fingertips are moving in and out of its torn open brown velvet.

My belly wakes up.  Gives me a good one-two punch. 

Sunset bathes herself with languid moves, her paws ready to take her to refuge on the upper shelf of the kitchen cabinet.  

My couch cannot catch me as my body tumbles backward, out of the sky onto the burning asphalt of the New World, down past the scarily nonexistent safety net of the gay community. 

I will stay in my apartment until the sheriffs evict me.  

When I stop paying rent, I’ll have three months before I’m out.

Sell the Malibu?  The raspy voice of my friend Mark convinced me to buy it three years before I held his hand as he lay dying in a Culver City nursing home.  Seventeen years ago, a car I feared would be too expensive to maintain is all I have left of the friends who grew me into a man.

Those friends are dead, but, when it is quiet, their voices move over my skin.

I will sell it.

I will sell my clothes, sell my furniture and assorted boho tchotchkes, sell the paintings on the white walls who no longer wrap their arms around me. 

When I can speak, when I can turn the phone’s ringer back on, I will call Graham and ask him to take Sunset. 

No address, no bills, no job, no tales to tell, I will buy a van and drive the same highways I did when I moved West from Long Island thirty-four years ago, I will sleep on side streets and eat tofu where I can find it.

Things are going be slow from now on.  Very slow.  

I am not a writer after all.

I am certainly not a nurse. 

I am a once lucky man, a man who will be driving the burning asphalt of the New World. 

After an hour, or is it two or three, I move off the heat of the couch.  I lie on the cool pink and salmon tiles of my bathroom, my hands open and ready for what’s next, my eyes staring up a the shining white ceiling.

This is not a story anyone wants to hear.

The jaws of my apartment open wide and eat me up.

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Filed under Memoir, Personal Essay

There are Thirty Apartments for Rent on Beachwood Drive.

Chapter 26 / 2009 

There are Thirty Apartments for Rent on Beachwood Drive. 

The lost boy makes it home from the hospital before sundown.  

My fingers, itchy to tell my tale while the boy sleeps, tap the steering wheel of my shamefully unwashed red 69 Chevy Malibu as I drive to North Hollywood at 9:30 PM.

Mother has removed the rug from her living room floor.  

“It was full of germs,” she hisses.  “It’s what gave him pneumonia.”  

The piles of video cassettes, DVDs, neon colored toys, tabloids and dirty clothes are in their usual places.  

Mother has bought a shiny black bookshelf at Ikea, in front of which she sits cross-legged on the dull hardwood floor, her chubby fingers placing video cassettes on the shelves, which look like they will crumble apart in a week or two.  

I check the vent, its plastic face as grimy and sticky as it has always been.  I wash it down with alcohol, using Q-tips to clean around the ports on its sides.  Piled onto the base of the vent stand are opened boxes of tissues and alcohol wipes, which are jammed between small dirty pillows, their plumpness overwhelming the dented black metal base.  I should wash the pillows tonight.  

The G tube’s infusion machine is dirtier than I have ever seen it.  I wash it with half strength bleach.  A string hangs between the dirty pole the machine is attached to and a thumbtack pushed into the wall, a pistol syringe, waiting to be jammed into the bigger of the G tube’s two ports, weighs the string down at its center, forming a floating V above the lost boy’s crib.  The string is beginning to unravel, which is not surprising as it has not been changed in the six months I have been caged in this room.  I have string in my trunk, I will bring it in later and make a tightly pulled line in the sky for the lost boy to stare at.  

For reasons never explained to me, the oxygen tank is in the hallway leading to Mother and Dad’s bedroom, its dirty green tubing running a good fifty feet to the vent.  Poor Lost Boy, his oxygen will never travel that far.  I should have told his parents this on day one, but I did not want to rock their boat.  Someone, another nurse, the rep from the oxygen company, should have pointed this out during the past five years. The agency’s Nursing Supervisor, perhaps.  That’s right, the agency has had the case for over a year and no Supervisor has yet to enter this cage.  

I remind myself to watch my step when attending to the lost boy.  

Wires, partially covered by soiled round throw rugs, run over the floor in the two foot space between the lost boy’s crib and the blemished chest of drawers pushed up against the opposing wall of the tiny cubbyhole off of the living room the lost boy is held hostage in.  If the place does not burn down, the lost boy is sure to trip and fall. I plan to take the supplies off of the shelves next to his crib, wash them down with bleach, followed by water, check for expiration dates and utilize my Virgo skills to organize the various medical paraphernalia on the shelving, which the bleach reveals at 3 AM that morning to be a light grey. 

The lost boy is awake on the mattress by the door, the one Grandma Zsa Zsa sleeps on when she has had a fight with her rotten to the core boyfriend.  I sit next to the lost boy, first making sure there is no draft blowing in from the window above his head or from the open sliver of space at the bottom of the door.  This is the first time the lost boy has been awake for more than a few minutes since I’ve been on the case.  His deep black eyes and big smile recognize me as the tired old man who, as luck would have it, suctions his trach, unclogs his G tube, listens to his lungs and changes his diaper three times a shift.  

I put my “Policewoman” disc into the miniature DVD player the lost boy balances on his tiny chest, the bright screen a few inches from his eyes.  The lost boy likes Angie Dickinson from the moment he sees her, she awakens something in him, her moves making the boy throw his head back, raising his right hand to the ceiling, bringing his fingers down to eye level, where he gazes at them as if his pink fingernails possessed the truth of all he sees and hears in the middle-aged blonde Police Sergeant, who, unless her three male colleagues burst in on the scene to save her, is seconds away from being thrown off the roof of a building in Century City.  The lost boy moves his hand back and forth, his eyes boring into the pores of his smooth skin before his gaze drifts back to Angie, his body becoming still, his lips smiling.  

I like the lost boy.

Mother covers the outside of her Ikea bookshelf with a dirty batik print and shuffles into the kitchen searching for Coke and chips.

  ♦♦

A half-eaten chicken from Whole Foods is on the stove, potato salad and coleslaw its lonely companions.  I check out the price tags on the goodies’ plastic containers, they total out to thirty-five bucks.  I place my dinner, courtesy of the food banks, in the fridge.  A roll, a red tomato and a small jar of Grey Poupon Dijon mustard.

“You can tell he’s been sick,” I tell Mother.  “Poor boy, he looks sad.  Now that’s he’s home with you guys, he’ll be his old self in no time.”

Mother stuffs a handful of Pringles into her mouth.

“He’s developed foot drop,” I tell her.  “I’ll start working on his feet tonight.  I’ll show you the exercises so we can get them back in shape.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“If we don’t correct foot drop right away, it’s kind of irreversible.”

“It’s OK.  Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s easy to remedy.  It’ll give me something to do at night.  It’s no big deal.”

“He’s going to the ortho doctor in a few months.  Let the doctor deal with it.  He’s supposed to wear these braces on his legs during the day.  I always forget to put them on.”

Mother’s voice is soft tonight.   She is heavier than usual, must be the candy bars and potato chips.  The light from the bulb in the uncovered ceiling fixture beams down on Mother, making her face appear as if it is going to crack apart and crash onto the floor.  Mother does not resemble her brother in any way.

Like her son, who sits transfixed by Angie’s every move, my eyes switch to high beam, I cannot stop looking at Mother.

“My bad,” Mother says.

Mother looks at the floor, she pushes her big toe into a groove in the linoleum. 

“I’ll show you his exercises before he goes to sleep,” I say.

“No.  I DON’T want you to do anything.”

I force Mother’s eyes to look into mine.  Her big toe stops grooving, the G tube is quiet, the vent devours the dead air Mother and I breathe out.  

I do not smile.

I do not nod my head.

Mother’s eyes are locked into mine, the razors shooting out of my pupils cutting the last remaining strand of the unraveling string between us.  I want the lost boy to stand up straight, walk without a limp, stare up at the clouds flying above him, breathe without a vent, use the toilet, tell me what he sees in the ceiling tiles and in the pores on the skin of his small hands, I want him to sing to me the sounds his tiny caramel ears hear.  

I get it.

Mother does not want anything for her son.  Nothing.  Rien.  Nada.  Not even to walk barefoot on the grass in the park down the street.  

“Leave him on the vent so I can get an extra hour or two of sleep,” Mother says in the mornings when I leave.  “He doesn’t move around so much when he’s attached to it.”

Mother will keep the string pulled tight between her son and the vent for as long as she can.  

Let’s get real, Dad’s not shipping out to Iraq any time soon.  Major disability bucks are needed to keep this cage stocked in Whole Paycheck food. 

I walk into the living room. I wipe down the folding table and move the wastepaper basket.  Mother washes downs a Milky Way with a long belt of Coke before trudging sideways down the hall to her bedroom.  I put the lost boy in his crib, leaving Angie on the DVD screen until his smiling face falls asleep.

  ♦♦

I sit in the chair, its hostility digging into my back.  I do not want to hear people talking tonight, not even Angie.  I look at the silent television screen, a woman is hanging new curtains, whose bright yellow color would throw the lost boy into a head rocking swoon, the woman smiles as she straightens the thin material, her delicate hands arranging them until their hems gently tap the floor.  This woman would exercise her kid’s feet, put his braces on, clean his room, keep him away from drafty windows.  She would adjust the horizontal control on her television so the picture would stop bouncing around the way it has been for the six months I have sat in this chair, whose bony arms push into me every night.

I have finally seen behind Mother’s curtain.  

I want to go home.

  ♦♦

My night is spent listening to air being pushed in and out of the vent.  My skin cannot feel the air blowing in through the missing pane in the bathroom.  Every hour, I listen with my stethoscope to lungs breathing without obstruction or distress and to an abdomen alive with active bowels sounds.  I touch veins pounding over bony prominences, feeling the regular rhythm of an eight-year-old pulse.  I press lightly on nail beds observing rapid blood return, look at lips for the slightest hint of blue, check for irritation around the G tube and trach sites.  

I close my eyes, my ears alert for the over-amped whirling that comes on when the vent cycles madly, as it tries to override any offending water in its tubing, tries to rectify any manner of disconnection, be it of the tube from the trach, of the tubing from the vent or of the tubing from a rebellious section of itself.  

These are the only connections I can make anymore. 

At 3 AM, Joe and Mika send their dim light into the dark room I sit in.  Their silent lips mouth their outrage.  Is it Joe and Mika who throw debris into the street in the middle of the night?  I look out through the iron mesh door, the street is empty. 

At 6 AM, Mother signs my time sheet, as she wearily does every morning.  She asks me how the night went, but does not listen to my answer.  She washes her hands, eyeballs the dishes I washed at 2 AM, looks down at the sealed bags of garbage I have left by the backdoor, glances over to the lid on the rectangular basin on the floor by her feet.  I remove my leftovers from the fridge, button up my coat and open the front door to leave, my ears hearing the usual thanks for taking care of her son. 

I smile.  Nod my head.

This morning Mother adds a new tag:  “It’s cold outside, cold.  I’m gonna’ spend the day in my jammies.”

Lucky lady.

  ♦♦

I cannot sleep when I get home, there are calls to be made.  I watch three episodes of “Policewoman” until the City of the Angels opens her doors at 9 AM.  I call Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s office, his intern is back at work and, feeing rested and chipper after having taken three days off, she connects us to a conference call with the civil servant in charge of jury duty.  

“You’ve failed to prove that jury duty would be a financial hardship,” the civil servant babbles to us in a hoarse whisper.  “I can’t excuse you.”

“He’s taking care of a disabled child,” the intern tells him.

“The kid’s got parents if Epstine can’t come in,” the civil servant answers. 

“Where’s the hardship?” he asks me.  “You’re working.”

“If I miss work, even for a day, it really cuts into my finances.  One day is food money.  Two days cut into the rent.  I can’t afford to be on a jury.”

“You have an income, Epstine.  Have you tried saving some money for the proverbial rainy day?”

“SAVING MONEY? SAVING MONEY? WHAT WORLD ARE YOU LIVING IN?”

The civil servant is silent, the intern breathes deeply.

“I want to be on a jury.  It’s not that I don’t want to do it.  I can’t take a week off without pay.  Can’t you understand that?”

“I’ll postpone you until February of next year,” the civil servant says, clearing his throat to reveal a nice baritone.   “I’ll postpone it again if your circumstances are the same. Hopefully, things will improve for you by then.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate it.”

“I know where you are,” the intern tells me after the civil servant hangs up.  “I was so broke a few years ago…when I walked past restaurants and saw the people inside eating, I couldn’t imagine how they could afford it.”

I thank her, tell her she is a good woman.  She repeats over and over that things will get better, they have to.  Right.  I watch another “Policewoman” episode, then hit the mail box, where an envelope from LAUSD tumbles out, its thick black letters informing me I have been “Separated for continued non-availability.”  I could call LAUSD or go into their office on South Beaudry Avenue, tell them I would still like to sub, explain how they did not offer me work for five months. 

I could do a lot of things, but the concrete blocks knock me down, as does the Ativan, which promises a few hours respite from the phone calls, the mail box, the whining vent and the burping G tube.  

I sing my lullaby until I fall asleep on the worn-out cushions of my couch, given to me by my friend Mark’s family when he died, Mark’s voice whispering through les arbres into my ear: “There are no second acts.”

  ♦♦

I wake up in the late afternoon.  I am not in my jammies.  I take the Thai Delight Stretch Pants gave me off the shelf.  I read the instructions on the side of the box, my eyes spotting that it expired two years ago.  I throw it into the thrash.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner tonight.

I turn the television on.  Rachel Maddow is getting snarky.  Again.  

I change the channel, Michelle Obama is in Europe.  She tears up as she tells a group of young women that if you work hard, believe in yourself and push with all you’ve got against the forces opposing you, your dreams will come true. 

Time for a walk.  

Balls throb, gut churns, jaw screams.  Putting one foot in front of the other will quiet my infirmities.  Better still, walking is free.  Like the lost boy watching his beloved Policewoman, I gaze rapturously through open curtains into windows I have walked past for years.  Do the people I see in their living rooms and kitchens feel the air on their skin?  

In my one mile walk along Beachwood Drive, I clock thirty for rent signs.  

Lucky folks, they must have left to follow their dreams.

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Filed under Memoir, Personal Essay