Tag Archives: Cafe Solar de Cahuenga

Cries and Whispers.

Chapter 28 / 2009

Cries and Whispers.

“You’ll need to get a drug test before we can send you to a doctor,” the space cadet staffing co-ordinator tells me.

It is 8 AM, my head is bowed in reverence, not by the cadet’s newly minted authoritarian tone, but to the pain twisting around my left arm, my eyes see only floors, the wires and dirty throw rugs in the lost boy’s cubbyhole, the green fields populated by blue elephants, the thick blue veins on the top of Matt’s bare wet feet stretched out on the faded grey of my 30s Sears carpet. 

“We’ve got to make sure you weren’t impaired when you fell,” a voice way too familiar with cigarettes growls into my ear.

I look up from the peanut shells, swizzle sticks, empty cigarette packs and candy bar wrappers, Tallulah’s lips, pouting downwards from years of throwing quips around the Frolic Room, smile at me.

Where in the months past, the rambling cadet could never let up on the hold button he kept my under, suddenly an array of cunning voices pour out of my phone’s earpiece.  Apparently, the agency has a second floor, in whose rooms exist a cabal of nasty supervisors and manipulating managers, all ready to give the once over twice to anyone who takes the fall.

“If you’re not well enough to go back to the case…”

“We have a great job opportunity for you.”

“It’s a Worker’s Comp thing…modified duty.”

“If the doctor says you’re anything less than totally disabled, we’re here for you.”

“It doesn’t sound like he’s completely disabled.”

“If you pass the drug test.”

“We’ll arrange for you to work in the office answering the phones.”

“Starting tomorrow.”

“Nine to five.  Monday through Friday.”

“We’ll pay you eight dollars an hour.”

“Worker’s Comp will make up the difference with what you were making on the case.” 

“If he qualifies for Worker’s Comp.”

“We’d love to have you here in the office.”

“You’ll be part of our team.”

“We’ll make any accommodations for your doctor visits.”

“If you’re authorized for doctor’s visits.”

“Who are you people?” I ask.  “Have you ever seen the child I’m taking care?  Do you know how filthy that house is?”

“You’d better go downtown to get drug tested,” a voice spits into my eye.

“The test’s got to be done within eight hours of the alleged incident.”

“Anything less than temporary disability, our expectation is that you will be here at  9 AM tomorrow.”

Now I know where the worms slithered to when the roughness of their tongues stopped licking the insides of my skull.

The voices scrape against my face like sandpaper, my left arm throbs at their every word, my fingers iced into submission before I put the whining receiver down. 

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

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

♦♦

“How can I write if my fingers are numb?” I ask my ortho doc.

His grey hair is thick and unkempt, swirling around his head like the mist floating up Beachwood Drive to the Hollywood Sign at 6 AM.

“I’ll give you one of these shots every three months,” he says.

Syringe in hand, the ortho doc shuffles towards me, his gait as halting as the lost boy’s will be if Mother does not perform his leg exercises.

“Rheumatoid arthritis,” the ortho doc says.

His gnarled fingers inject milky white Cortisone into my left shoulder.  Before he can dump the syringe into the sharps container, the ice buried deep in my bones and muscles has melted away, the numbness drips out of my fingers onto the pale brown tiles I stand on, my eyes staring at the opened Velcro straps of my savior’s scuffed black orthopedic shoes. 

“It’s easier to walk this way,” the ortho doc says.

The tanned muscular arms of his assistant hand me my Worker’s Comp Patient Status Form, the words she has written on it spelling out my freedom:  “The patient is on total disability until further notice.”

“Go to physical therapy, do your range of motion exercises,” the ortho doc says.  “A frozen shoulder can hang around for months.”

“Be patient,” the assistant says.

“Would it be OK for me to write on my computer?”

“I don’t see why not,” the ortho doc answers.

The tightness which has held my body upright for the last two years floods out of the worn-down heels of my cowboy boots, my butt hitting the room’s round examining stool the way the dental student’s did when his spinning eyes saw the jig was up. 

“From what you’ve told me about your job and the characters you’re working for, you need some time off.  Go home, take it easy.  Relax, Jake.  I’ve got your back.”

“It’s like I’m Policewoman…on the roof on a building in Century City…you saved me right before the pimps threw me over.”

“Miss Dickinson, she’s the woman,” the ortho doc says.  

The worms holed up in the agency on Magnolia Boulevard do not take my diagnosis well, their voices nibbling voraciously at my ear, trying to finagle me into slapping on a headset and pushing down their flashing hold buttons.

“I get it…I get why you’ve got a sink in every room,” I purr into the phone.  “You guys need a place to sleep.”

♦♦

“Forget the co-pays, I’ll tell the front desk not to charge you,” the doctor says.

I forgot they grew them like this.

My new doctor stands before me.  Tall, brown hair brushing her shoulders with a Patty Duke 60s flip, grey pencil skirt, crisp blue cotton blouse, white pearls pulled snug around her long neck, her trimmed unpainted fingernails lie hidden in the pockets of her white lab coat. 

“Your poverty diet cured your elevated blood pressure,” the doctor tells me.  “If you think about it, you’re eating real healthy stuff.”

Wisps of smoke float past the thick glass of the narrow rectangular window behind the doctor.  It is July, the summer fires of the City of the Angels are beginning, the dead quiet of my nights without Matt interrupted by the wail of fire trucks floating in though my open windows at 3 AM.

My blood pressure had clocked in at 100/60, its threat of stroking me out evaporating faster than the heartless facility with which I dumped my PPO insurance during this year’s open enrollment.  Days before my new Kaiser membership card dropped out of my mailbox, the demands of my twisted gut, out of whack blood pressure and the continued swelling of my balls took my cowboy boots on a stroll through Hollywood to Kaiser Hospital, whose HMO tentacles continuously drop new buildings up and down Sunset Boulevard. 

The doctor pulls her hands out of her pockets, the fingers of her right hand twisting her engagement ring into place.

“We’ll take care of you,” she says, shaking my hand and patting me on the back. 

I head out into the smoke with the map she has given me, its blue Xs leading me to the GI doc on Edgemont Street and the surgeon a block down Sunset.

♦♦

My trio of infirmities addressed by the healers on Sunset in two hours, the worn-out soles of my cowboy boots walk me home, my eyes staring at the hills to the north, their brown faces not yet burnt black, a Pepsi One drowning the grit in my throat, born of the tiny ashes swirling in the air, my fingers yearn for the keyboard, the heat of the Angels sending beads of sweat down my back, tickling me the way Matt did whenever he tried to wake me up at 7 AM to hike with him in the Bronson Caves. 

“Did Matt…did Matt disappear for days on end when you two were friends in Los Angeles?”  Matt’s mother asked me a few nights ago.

Her voice has a soft twang, a perfect compliment to her son’s baby blues and square jaw.  She pronounces Los Angeles the old-fashioned way, Los Angle-Ease.  I like her on the spot, the way I did her son, missing that evening from both of our lives.

“Well, sometimes I couldn’t find him for a day or two…maybe a week.  And there was that time he visited you for a month when you had surgery.”

“I’ve never had surgery, except for birthing him.”

“Really?  I watched his dog when he went up to Sacramento to take care of you.”

My fingers tap the yellow daisy decals on my tall glass of Pepsi One, the same glass into which I poured ice water to soothe the sudden tickle in the throat of Matt’s fiancee when she knocked on my door two years ago.

“You’re happy up there,” Matt had told me after watching me perform a monologue.  “You’re comfortable, so at ease.”

“I tried to be his bud,” I say to Matt’s mother.  “To make him comfortable in his skin.”

“The boy has spoken about you.  He seems to like you, to trust you.  If he comes back, will you talk to him?”

How could I not?  Matt is my friend and I love him.

The silver tips of my cowboy boots lead me into the 99¢ Only Store on Sunset near Western Avenue for low blood pressure celebration treats, a can of stainless steel pot and pan cleanser and two bottles of Fast-Acting Antacid Supreme

“You’ve got to keep your gut coated,” my new GI doc told me a few hours ago.

I sat before him in his small office, his thick fingers pulling the intestines out of the anatomical model standing brazenly on his cluttered desk, the smoke moving like clouds past the window above the doctor’s bald head, his slow deliberate voice explaining to me how the brown plaster of paris colon I held in my hands absorbs nutrients.  

“Relax, exercise,” he says.  “Have you thought about taking a vacation to relieve your stress?”

I laugh.  A big, deep, cleverest, best joke I have ever heard laugh.

“The gut is a hard thing to predict, what works for one person is poison to another.”

I forgot they grew them like this.

“Next, I suppose you’ll tell me it’s a Jewish thing.”

“Remember, no chocolate, no coffee,” the doctor’s medical assistant says.

“Very hard on our tummies,” the doctor says.

I am a writer, Doc, as long as the joe pulses through my blood, I have a tale tell.

The doctor’s medical assistant hands me a thick stack of printouts addressing diet and stress, the pharmacy supplementing this trove of useless information with yet more paper detailing the workings of the antispasmodic medications I have been prescribed.

Hands are shaken, backs are patted.

Down the street, Kaiser’s Outpatient Surgery Clinic schedules my ball surgery for six weeks out, their twenty dollar co-pay sucker punching the five grand Cedar-Sinai’s Outpatient Surgery Center demanded in an upfront, pre-surgery payment in full, their shameless demand for Benjamins leading me to believe that my own people are a tad, just a tad, money obsessed.

My balls are to be drained by a twenty-nine-year-old doctor from Pakistan.

At last, I have something of interest to talk about in tomorrow’s Gay Senior support group.

Last week, I spent my first hour in their circle trying not to cry, wanting to tell my older bros the tale of my medical tsuris, my eyes seeing the cool brown tiles my father lay on during a broiling Long Island summer, the cancer eating out past his intestines, latching onto more organs than the malignancy of Kaiser’s tentacles, who have greedily devoured the east end of Hollywood.  My father was fifty-six when he lay on the tiles on his last Saturday afternoon in the ring, what remained of his body seeking cool comfort in our un-air-conditioned house.  I am fifty-six, my insides eaten up with the fear pounding and twisting in my gut that my body has given up on me, that I am an old man, like the men who surround me every Friday morning to vent their spleens.

“I don’t understand why my house hasn’t sold yet,” a bro says. 

As are many of these men, he was married in his younger days, the wives long discarded or recently dead, my bros, with fingers as arthritic as mine, logging on to SilverDaddies.com in the hope of making the connection.  

“It’s been on the market for weeks, not one offer.”

I tell him about the New Depression.

Nothing, not a smile, not the blink of an eye, instead a long explanation about how his PSA reading remains low.  

Odd, in that his prostate has been removed.  Not a lucky man.

“I finally made out my will,” the next bro says.  

A retired schoolteacher, as are many in the circle, he has taken out a second, or is it a  third mortgage, to remodel his kitchen, buy a few flat screens and a leather couch, on which he plans to wait out what is left of his life.

“I left my house to my son.”

Odd, in that he has a reverse mortgage.  Not a lucky man.  Not a lucky son.

“I’m letting my nephew stay with me, he has no place else to go,” my rotund and  furtive bro says.

Before we circled our chairs this morning, he stood in front of the brown wall of this tiny meeting room, an iPhone snapping wistful pics for his online profile. 

“The boy is kind of a fuckup, but family is family.”

Odd, the boy is in his mid-thirties.  Odder yet, the pursing of my bro’s lips, the sudden dullness of his eyes whenever he mentions said nephew.

“My husband is jealous of my lover,” the tattooed love bro says.  “I was going to bring him to a party with us, but the hubby says he won’t go if I do.”

He and the hub stopped having sex years ago, right around the time the love bro started taking Klonopin to calm his Frances Farmer afflicted nerves.

Gotta watch the Klonies, the numbness they send through your blood is not anyone’s friend.

I have done stand-up in rooms more hostile than this one, I can speak to these men, they’re my bros after all.

“I was up all night thinking about my uncle Jack…he had a stroke when I was a little boy…I’m gonna end up like him…”

The twisting of my gut tells me not to mention my father, not to speak his name in this circle.

“I’m afraid…with my shoulder…all these things are wrong with me, I don’t know…”  

Like the night I stood on the stage of the Comedy Store on Sunset, the room is quiet, the disinterested stare of the eight sets of eyes licking my face with the rough tongues of the worms slithering about in the sinks of my former employer.

“I don’t know how I’m going to make it when I start looking for work,” I say.  “Going through all that crap to find a job again…I don’t know.”

The lead facilitator breaks the silence:  “You’ve held up really well for your age.  Why don’t you get a sugar daddy?”

“Are you for real?” I ask.

The coyness of his seventy-five-year-old smirk tells me he thinks I can earn some scratch off of what is left of my once pretty face and slender build. 

“You’re an odd one for our group,” the co-facilitator says. 

Odd, gay men always think I am odd.  

The slight quiver of the co-facilitator’s brown eyes betrays his truth, that he will be planted in my seat in thirty years, the flutter of his fingers at his throat tells him that the sharp features of his handsome face will dull, the sweet smile of his thin lips will be history once life punches him in the gut a few times.

Best for the boy to sock me in the jaw before what has happened to the unlucky man infects him, infects all of the bros in the circle.

“You’re still viable, still out there,” his tense lips say.  “I’ve seen it happen before.  A guy your age loses a job or gets sick and the bottom drops out.  I don’t know where guys like you go.  There are no safety nets to catch you in the gay community.”

No shit.

I smile.  I nod my head.  

I stay.

I am a lonely writer, alive when my fingers tap out the tales, nothing touching my skin but the wail of the fire trucks in the dead quiet of 3 AM.

And the cries and whispers of the men who encircle me in this room, their Nikes and Gucci loafers firmly planted on earth, never once to fly above the red carpet below our feet, never once to get into the ring. 

Lucky man, wherever my maladies take me, I will never get that old.

♦♦

I might not be able to lift my left arm above my shoulder, but I know how to hit the keys to make the words fly.  

I just know. 

I have not been on earth for months.  I sleep from 3 AM until noon, waking up to do my range of motion exercises before my fingers, no longer beating with the threat of icy numbness, blast out the notes Satchmo taught my father deep into the Hollywood night from the ring I have stepped into, sitting in front of the white screen of my computer at the Cafe Solar de Cahuenga, down the block from William Holden’s “Sunset Boulevard” crib, the Alto-Nido Apartments. 

I hold my hands outwards, positioned over the keys at less than ninety degree angles, never for a second leaning my arms on the dark shiny wood of the table.  I sit straight up in my seat, my feet on the red concrete floor, my soles touching the earth beneath me, my body feeling the heat baked into it from the City of the Angel’s cloudless summer sky, the dirt still warm from the days when it was walked on by the heavy boots of real cowboys, who made extra dough taking the fall for actors and actresses unable to tumble convincingly down a staircase or out of a gangster’s speeding getaway car. 

My fingers tremble before the words come, before they run across the blank pages staring at me, their emptiness waiting impatiently for me to fill them up, the way I once sat at the Frolic Room’s bar, everything in me empty until the Absolut flew me to the sky.

I lean against my seat, it wooden slats welcoming my back, caressing this child of the New Depression, my eyes discreetly checking out the Highway Patrol cruiser on Cahuenga Boulevard, where it waits in the dark to hustle up some bucks for the City, the dark eyes of its movie star handsome Latino officers watching cars exit the 101, the unlucky Joes who miss the barely visible stop sign welcomed to Hollywood by the booming notes of money hungry sirens and the blinding flash of amber and blue lights.  

The dry brown dirt below my feet was paved over by a restaurant in the 20s, the children of the Great Depression smoothing out the linen covering the tables, at which studio stars ate early dinners, before sleep and waking up at 5 AM to make their 6 AM calls, a waiter with an empty belly scraping the uneaten food off the bone white plates for a late night meal with the missus in their courtyard apartment off of La Brea.  In the 30s, the flicker of neon painted the restaurant’s facade blue and yellow, the room’s long wooden bar once again allowed to serve drinks to the chosen ones, on who the City of the Angels smiled, allowing them to tell the tales once their hung over bodies were safely hidden from the bright morning light in huge stucco sound stages on Gower Street, under whose flattering light a hardscrabble dame from Brooklyn would be transformed with rouge, eyeliner and a lace dress into a Southern belle.  A genuine mid-Western monosyllabic cowboy became, through the perfectly tailored fit of his tuxedo, a Master of the Universe, decades before any background artiste could suss out that the damage these Masters cause is more lethal than any black and white heart they ever broke.  Audiences all over the globe waited in the dark to fly above the earth as our hero’s secretary melted the steel of her Master’s remote smirk down to his shy core.  To tower over his woman, the cowboy stood on offscreen phone books, his eyes gazing at a secretary who had worked for him for years, a real peach he had, for some contrived reason, never noticed before.  She was played with a sense of sass by a tall and elegant actress from Mexico, her name changed as she moved out of the shadows to supporting and starring roles, her dream inducing accent snatched from her vocal cords by a sad and nervous elocution teacher, who had escaped the Nazis a few months earlier. 

If you are lucky, you can tell your stories.  

With a few adjustments, anyone can.

I know my city, the City of the Angels, it is the place where the stories are told, where the pounding of fingers tells the tales, where an effeminate boy from East Meadow grows into a man who flies above Hollywood on the notes of his words.  Since the night I took the fall, I have floated on the warmth of my City’s breath, my gut stilled by the swaying of the palm trees above me, my words making the connection, the caffeine flowing though my blood pushing me onward to tell my tale, a tale of the New Depression and a once lucky man. 


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Filed under Memoir, Personal Essay

The Beat Goes On.


Chapter 18/ 2008 

The Beat Goes On.

December’s rent is covered, I need to come up with January’s.  Having abandoned my out of downing a bottle of Extra Strength Vicodins for the time being, the beat obviously goes on.  I allow myself ten minutes a day to think about pending money matters. When the eleventh minute hits, the tips of my fingers go numb for the remainder of the day.  

I wake up in the silence of my Beachwood digs with the unsettling idea that I need to be around people my own age.  Maybe they can teach me how to once again feel the air on my skin.  The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center is hosting an evening for seniors at Cafe Solar De Cahuenga in Hollywood.  I am a senior now?  Is the grey at my temples stopping the lucky old man from getting a job?  The Solar is fifteen minutes from my house.  Why not?  No money for gas, I hoof it down Franklin Avenue, passing the Alto-Nido Apartments, in whose noir rooms “Sunset Boulevard’s” William Holden hid from the bill collectors, his windows looking out to Parva Sed Apartments, where Nathanael West pounded out “The Day of the Locust.”  

The Solar is empty, save for the seniors sitting at a long wooden table.  Realizing I am the youngest at this unevenly shellacked brown table, I find myself throwing serious attitude.  Mostly, I am afraid someone will ask me how I’m doing.  Like the abandoned building across the street, in which a down at his heels Ed Wood once lived, no one is the least bit interested in how what is left of my body and soul is holding up in these tough times.  The man next to me has a face even more immobile than that of the Holocaust patient’s daughter.  He claims he was an actor, which I translate into meaning he was a background artiste, an extra straight out of West’s Central Casting.  The man proceeds to tell me in breathless squeals that he recently had back surgery at Cedars, his upper lip an unbroken straight line as he tells me he sucked off his nurse every night.  Great, on top of the nightly head, that nurse has a steady gig.  The guy across from us tells me he has been on SSI for fifteen years.  As he walks, talks and most certainly eats without the slightest hint of any observable difficulty, I ask why.  He giggles and babbles something about his doctor doing him a favor back in the day.  Wonder if it involved a blow job.  A quiet man on my left talks about taking a friend to his first AA meeting over the weekend. 

“My friend didn’t like it, he said he’s not an alcoholic.”  

“I wasn’t either, until I was,” I answer.  

The Solar slowly fills up with people who seem to have lives outside of the one I find myself crawling through, their fingers tap into computers, they smile while chatting with Facebook friends, their backs sway to the music chanting into their headphones.  I listen to the woosh of traffic floating in through the backdoor, its reassuring hum generated by people who can fill up their tanks.

My eyes are hypnotized by the fingers flying over keyboards.  

When did I stop punching at the keys?  

The lone woman in our group talks about her children:  “They’re both so ungrateful and selfish.  What’s a mom to do?”  

Indeed.

Another man tells me he lives a few blocks away on Ivar Avenue, in the Knickerbocker Hotel, from whose rooms not only was Frances Farmer dragged kicking and screaming in the 40s, but from whose eleventh story window the costume designer Irene took her out, jumping to the pavement in 1962.  I would love to see the inside of this place, stand beneath the lobby’s chandelier, under which D.W. Griffith died of a stroke.  The man says he likes to walk.  I do too.  He is up for being a walking buddy.  I tell him I will walk with him next week.  I remember now, I used to plan things for next week, I used to be able to think about next week, used to do silly things like check out faded Hollywood landmarks.  My ears refuse to listen to one more minute of the noise bouncing off the table’s shiny surface, I lie and tell my fellow seniors I have to leave early, that I am going home to write.  

The Knickerbocker man’s e-mail waits for me the next morning:  “I have few vido tap to look at and we can get off  Next you call let me no. I have puss one all the other are gay I do wnat to fine a person to walk with I do not have one now love to h ave sex to”

I draw the curtains.  I mute the phone.  I get under the white clouds of my featherbed.  I reread “The Day of the Locust.”

♦♦

I am up early and out the door for an insurance assessment, meeting an applicant before he leaves for work.  He lives alone in a huge house hanging off the side of a hill in Laurel Canyon.  Three bedrooms, Chagall prints, comfy grey linen couches, a pool shimmering with a blue light which meanders serenely through the polished glass of antique French doors.  The applicant pours us tea, his deep voice asking if I like it. I do.  He asks me if I would like a croissant.  I would.  The peppermint drops I splash on my tongue throughout the day can no longer kill my hunger.  He asks if I am comfortable. Very.  

“Do you need anything before we get started?” he asks.

The back of head sinks into the soft linen, my breakfast deprived stomach quiet as it devours the croissant.

“I need a lot,”  I answer.

I laugh, the big, deep, cleverest, best joke I have ever heard laugh. 

The applicant moves from his place next to me on the couch to a chair on the other side of the room, putting his cup of tea down and unlocking the French doors before I begin my questions.

A healthy guy in his early forties, the interview is over in a half-hour, his pale white fingers tapping the keypad on the home security system as I walk out the door.

Must be nice to have a cup of tea, a croissant and a pool to offer someone. 

♦♦

Crashing hospitals in the hope of getting an interview did not work.

The beat went like this:  “Our protocol is for applicants to apply online.”

Got it.  After the insurance assessment, I hit an agency on Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village, whose Craigslist post proclaimed: “We hire for all shifts.”  

Their beat went like this:  “We’d love for you to come in and apply.”

Got it.  The agency’s office is freezing, my skin at last feeling something, gales of air pour out of the ceiling, causing the ends of the staff’s hair to move slowly back and forth while their dull eyes stare at computer screens.  The administrative assistant walks me to an ice locker in the back of their first floor suite.  Every room we pass has a sink in it.  I have no idea what this is about, nor do I ask.  I finish the required nursing tests in a half-hour, receiving dirty looks when I return to the front office with my paperwork.

“Every agency gives pretty much the same test,” I say, my head bowed down by the cold.  “I could take them blindfolded.  I could…”

The receptionist is not listening.  Got it.  I stop talking.

“People think it’s gonna’ change now that he got it,” the administrative assistant says as she walks another applicant down the hall.

“Nothing’s going to change,” my fellow jobseeker answers.  “This is just the beginning.”

Got it.

Sitting in the wind tunnel of the waiting area, I read the agency’s brochure.  Their mission statement is interesting:  “To maintain good health in their home.”  How do they accomplish this?  “Give us the opportunity to provide you” followed by a blank space.  My jaw pounds against the cold hitting me from all directions, but that is my fault, what with my mandibular oversensitivity.  My stomach punches away, balls thankfully quiet, they like the cold air.  Goose bumps come and go on my hands, the air moves the receptionist’s long hair, the sink in the corner drips, a homeless man looks in the window, pivots on his bare heels and runs down Magnolia Boulevard.

“He got ninety percent on his test,” the receptionist says to the staffing co-ordinator.

She pushes my paperwork to him, he stares at the solitaire game on his computer screen.  The phones ring, no one answers them.  

These jokers have five more minutes before I bail.

The agency director grabs me on my way out.  I follow her tight pencil skirt into her office, its corner housing a double sink.  Her eyes looking at the framed Anderson Cooper poster behind me, she quotes me a laughable salary.  I get up to leave, she ups it a dollar.  I sit down.  The director’s beat goes like this: she pays five dollars an hour less than the assisted living facility, two dollars an hour less than the agency on Sunset.  Totals out to be between sixty-four and a hundred and sixty dollars less a week.  All the agencies are quoting this rate.  I keep forgetting, we are all in this together.  I stare at the director’s diamond necklace and earrings as she glances at my paperwork.  Nice jade rings, her diamond tennis bracelet rocks.  Wonder if she took a pay cut to work here.

The staffing co-ordinator talks about work.  He sounds real, his bone white face claims to have several open cases.  A kid rooming at Cedars, building his strength up before cancer surgery.  A few open shifts with a woman with Lou Gehrig’s.  3 PM to 11 PM in Eagle Rock.  

“I’ll take it.”

“We’d like you to do a meet and greet first,” the co-ordinator says.

“No problem.  When?”

“I’ll call her and get back to you.”

He does not call.  I call him. I can meet with the patient any day, any time.

“Tomorrow is her bath day.  She’ll be tired after that.  She doesn’t want to meet with anyone on the weekends.  On Monday, she goes shopping with the day nurse.  She’ll be tired after that. On Tuesdays, her brother visits.”

“Let me guess.  She’ll be tired after that.”

I was kind of hoping the staffing co-ordinator would put the rubber on before he fucked me.

♦♦

The dental student at UCLA is on week three of trying to make an impression for my crown.  I was kind of hoping that he too would put the rubber on before he fucked me.  I have given him my Tuesday afternoons for over a year now, leaving Tuesdays lost to me after the three to four hour appointment time and the two to three hour travel time.  He tells me UCLA will need money before he cements the crown in. 

“Think you’ll get it done anytime this year?” I ask. 

His baby blues stare at the floor.  He wants me to pay today.

“I left my cell at home,” I tell him.  “I’m going to use the phone at the desk.”

I call the Magnolia Boulevard agency.  Do they have anything?  Does the woman in Eagle Rock have any time this week to do the meet and greet?  She has moved on to another agency, but it just so happens a night nurse on another case died this morning in the patient’s home when his shift ended at 6 AM.  The staffing co-ordinator says he feels very strongly about me, has what he calls “A positive vibe” about me.  A vibe?  The dead nurse’s patient is an eight year old boy on a vent, trached, with G tube feedings throughout the night.  I have never done Peds.  Eight is not an infant.  At least he can write out what he is thinking, most likely he sleeps through the night.  Both parents are in the house, in case it goes south.  

“I’ll take it.”

“Tomorrow, he’ll be in school,”the  staffing co-ordinator tells me.  

He is very Russell Brand, a dissembling space cadet without the accent.  

“After school, he’ll be at the doctor’s.  The day after, the family is taking him to Hawaiian Gardens.  Then he’ll be back in school, after that he’s getting his hair cut. Fridays are never good.  He has physical therapy after school and then he’s really tired.  Going into next week…”

“ENOUGH!  Do you want me to do this or not?”

Poor little staffing co-ordinator, I have stopped him in mid monologue.  He needs to learn to how to deal with hecklers. 

“Tell them I’ll be there Saturday at 1 PM.  Capiche?’

“Huh?”

“Saturday…1…PM…I…will…be…at…the…patient’s…house…for…the…meet…and…greet.”

He tries to talk.  Nothing.

“E-mail me the address.  Try to include his diagnosis and a care plan.  Can you tell me why he’s on a vent?”

Silence.  

“Call the family.  Tell them I’ll be there Saturday.  Can you do that?”

“Yeah…sure.  I get a really good feeling about this.  I think they’ll like you.”

♦♦

It is a fifteen minute drive to the case.  Not the best part of North Hollywood,  abandoned bookcases, chairs and tables are scattered on the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street.  All of the buildings have bars on their first floor windows, some lawns are green and freshly cut, others are dry dirt, there is no perceivable reason for this discrepancy.  Debris is piled up on the sides of all the buildings. 

My engine off, I sit outside of the patient’s house.  I do not want to be too early.  No surprises from me.  When I do a show, I savor the minutes before I walk onstage, going into myself one last time, touching all the heaviness in my body, pushing it out, dropping everything that hurts, everything that gets in my way.  I walk into the blinding light and fly free, making the connection, always making the connection.  

“You’re happy up there,” Matt says when he watches me perform.  “You’re comfortable, so at ease.”

On earth, I hold the cards close to my vest.  If I show people who I am, I lose.  To get this job, I can not show the darkness, the anger, the weight of the last few months, the last year and a half.  I roll up my car window.  I walk around the lonely furniture.  Shaking the fear out of my hands, I step on to the cracked concrete sidewalk.  I am a good nurse, that is the only thing I have to be for the next two hours.  At twelve fifty-five, I stand on the steps of the house and knock on the iron mesh door.  The day nurse does not recognize the name of the mother whom I have been asked to meet and greet.  Interesting.  I ignore my first red flag.  The nurse smirks, then clears her throat and begins to push the door closed. 

“I’m here for an interview.  To work with the little boy on the vent.”

The nurse lets me in.  She looks like she has spent most of her life drinking, probably a lesbian.  She has, she’s not.  Like the morning I found my friend hunched over dead in his windowless room, my eyes spot the child on a mattress on the floor.  The second red flag waves at me.  I would never leave anyone so close to a dirty floor or a drafty front door.  The vent I can do, I have worked this model before. The G tube is not a problem, I have been doing them thirty years.  My fear is suctioning a child.  He is way tinier than I thought he would be, still, he is big enough.  

I can do it.  I know I can. 

The child is sleeping.  I do not know anything about kids, but he seems awfully small.  Not fragile, nor petite.  His head is not proportionate to his body, a body he has not grown into.  His skin is caramel brown, thick straight shining black hair, long black lashes which twitch as his eyes move under their lids.  His pink mouth mimics silent words which the trach prevents him from speaking.  He laughs, his eyes suddenly still. What is this lost boy dreaming about?  

I am a dreamer too, a dreamer whose body has turned against him, like the body of the lost boy. I am a dreamer who will keep him safe. 

Enough, I have a job.

♦♦

“He looks great.  You’ve done such a good job with him,” I tell the nurse.  “It must be such a comfort for him to have you here with him, you know, after what happened with the night nurse.”

She has not a clue what to say.  I do.

I speak with the parents, émigrés from Hawaii, stranded on the mainland since the premature birth of their son while vacationing in Southern California.  The mother is obese, possibly Latina.  If you melt away the fat on her face, I bet she was a pretty woman a decade ago.  On second thought, maybe fifteen years ago.  She talks a lot, very disconnected, like Sarah Palin, but no where near as mean.  The dad is barefoot on a pretty cold afternoon, the blue bow and arrow tattoo, on the pale white skin of his left calf, appears to be aiming straight at me when he walks.  He wears a baseball cap turned backwards, a goatee with no grey in it.  He is a quiet man, but fire is definitely burning in his overweight belly. 

The parents need to talk about the dead nurse.  I let them.  After all, I was a hospice nurse for years, back when I made enough money to pay rent and buy groceries.  They talk about the nurse as if he was a piece of furniture whose leg broke off, which they then placed on the strip of grass in front of their house. Red flags wave at me, but I say to myself they have not absorbed his death yet.  The nurse had been with them for eight years, practically part of the family.  The dad talked to his piece of furniture late at night when it was not working on its computer or watching movies until dawn with the patient’s grandmother.  I do not say much.  I am playing it as the mature even-tempered nurse, seen it all, tons of experience.  You can sleep through the night without worry as I watch over your son.

The parent’s child wakes up, stands in front of the television and reaches up with his right hand, hitting a button on the VCR.  The color smashing through the streaks on the screen is jarringly over saturated, the reds brighter than the flags trying to hustle me out the door.  I want to dive into the blues, sink into the greens, to be anyplace but in this filthy living room.  Does the lost boy in front of the television want the same thing?  The cartoon on the screen stops for a few seconds, then whizzes in reverse in front of his eyes.  Smiling, the lost boy is yoga still for a moment, his fingers holding the rewind button down.  The television’s sound is off, but he hears something, sounds no one else in the room can hear.  Without fear or the slightest hesitation, he moves his head back and forth, so fast at first that all I see is a blur of black hair.  His forehead comes within a centimeter of hitting the screen, then his head flies back,  his eyes looking up at the ceiling in ecstasy, his smile floating above the adults in the room.  The day nurse pulls out a cigarette as the blur of the head slows down, still a centimeter away from slamming into the screen.  The head speeds up to a blur when the nurse goes out for a smoke.  Dad straightens up the twenty or so video cassettes on the floor as the head slows down, its lost eyes staring down the reds, blues and greens.

The mother can not stop the river of words flowing out of her mouth.  She begins her sentences with “We’re very chill here,” ends them with “It’s chill.”  I am a captive audience, I will listen to whatever she, her husband or the nurse have to say.  The mother tells me her mother sleeps over sometimes, calls her the Filipino Zsa Zsa Gabor.  There you are, most likely Zsa Zsa is a caretaker when she is not here, probably at the assisted living facility or with the Holocaust patient.

I find my in.  The patient’s original agency went bust a year ago, leaving them to hook up with the agency on Sunset, which lasted all of two months before the chill émigrés switched to the Magnolia agency.  We share war stories. Mother tells me the dead nurse never complained to Sunset when they cut his salary by four dollars an hour.  He was “chill with it,”  she says.  Most likely he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, I think.  I use all my stand up skills to lacerate the Sunset pimps, the incompetent staffing co-ordinators, their lying to the unemployment office, the pay checks which were never in the mail, their habit of changing my pay rate every other week.  Mother and father laugh, the nurse finally cracks a smile.  On top of the fridge, I spot an elaborately chintzy clock covered in dust, its hands frozen at ten after six.

“No way, I’ve got the same clock in my house,” I say.

No lie, I do.  I bought it at the Goodwill on Hollywood Boulevard, when I had money, money meaning I had twenty bucks a week for myself, when I thought shopping at the Goodwill was a boho chic thing to do.

I have reeled them in, they squirm helplessly in my net.  I will leave before I say something to mess it up. 

“Say good-bye to your new nurse,” mother says to her son.

The lost boy is moving fast now, listening to the sounds only he can hear.  I tell the parents he will get to know me once I start working.  I get out fast, before the boy’s head crashes into the screen and all that blue moving in reverse swallows us up.

I drive home on the 101, the staffing co-ordinator whispering into my cell that I have been assigned to work with the lost boy Fridays through Monday nights. 

That night, I walk past the Alto-Nido on my way to the Solar, my numb fingers hoping to punch my life back into the writing ring.  

Lucky man cracks a smile, he will not be downing his bottle of Extra Strength Vicodins quite yet.

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Filed under Memoir, Personal Essay