Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Blind Man Who Could See

Find the Red Queen, she said.

I don't have time to do this.

Wonderland creatures won't bother themselves thinking about time, or names, or addresses.

I wish I could check out the Yellow Pages and find her there.

Red Queen: (212) 577 5512 
75 Rosebush Drive, Red Light District, New York. 

She would be a transgender diva performing at a fancy cabaret in the lower East side of Manhattan. That would be poetic enough for me.

I check my phone and there's a text from Jiayi. She wants to know if I need to stay with her another night. I don't know how to answer her because I have no idea how long I am supposed to stay here.

Yup. This is my life.

I talk to imaginary creatures and go wherever they tell me to. I usually don't know where I am or where I'll be tomorrow. I am living each day without planning the next one. I've tried to stop this roller coaster before, but I have learned to adapt to it. It's like living on a giant treadmill. You can try to change your direction, but eventually, you just let yourself be carried away by the current, careful to walk at the same pace as the machine. I used to fight against it, used to pretend I was a normal person just like everybody else- but everything became easier when I just accepted my lot in life. If there is one thing that Youtube has taught me, anyway, is that one does not challenge the mighty treadmill unless one wants to become the ridicule of the world. At this point, I don't even question the fact that everything is questionable. Nothing it as it appears to be.

I don't even know where I am right now. I've been walking for so long that I might have been transported into a different city without realizing it. There are not that many people around, and the smaller buildings with brown bricks seem to stare at me without an answer. I cross the street and almost get run over by a yellow taxi cab. A sigh of relief escapes my mouth at the realization that I am still in NYC. A pretty black fence covered in beautiful flowers catches my eye. A floor of colored petals is visible through the bars. It reminds me of the small gardens that are scattered throughout Paris like hidden gems. It smells like peace inside. The smell pulls me in and I saunter through the small oasis of silence in the midst of this big city, forgetting about whatever it is that I was thinking about 5 seconds before.

My feet follow a curvy path through a beautiful collection of roses and hydrangeas whose enchantments have captured both my eyes and my nose. The path leads me past a small koi pond with bright red fish, and my feet get lost in the small labyrinth of colors until my eyes stumble upon a familiar figure sitting on a small bench. I stand there for a moment, trying to remember his name as my heart starts beating loudly.

"Hello there, why did you stop?" He asks, as though he was suddenly startled by the sound of my heart.

He must have been listening to the sound of my footsteps before they stopped; I know he wasn't looking at me. He can't see through the dark glasses he's wearing, and he wouldn't be able to see even if he took them off.

"I was looking at the flowers" I lie, used to playing along with people when I don't know what's going on.

"Yes, they are beautiful." And as he said that, I realized that the situation doesn't make sense. He can't see the flowers, and as far as I can remember, he can't speak English either.

"But you can't see them" I say, instantly feeling regret like a cut to my back. Why haven't I learned to keep my mouth shut?

He stays silent for a while, and then he smiles. He doesn't appear to be angry at my thoughtless comment. An aura of peace surrounds everything around him like a warm, fuzzy blanket in a cold winter night. Before I start thinking about how out of place that metaphor seems in such a warm summer day he cuts short my stream of thoughts. "One doesn't see beauty, one feels it. I can't see the light of the sun, but I can feel the rays on my skin and the movement of the breeze. I can't see the flowers, but I can feel what they feel. Please, take a seat." He motions with his hand for the space next to him.

I take a seat and look at his profile. He has a squared jaw and a thin mustache covering his top lip. He is quite handsome. I can't believe I am finally seeing him in person. I am tempted to touch his cheek to see if he is truly there, but my hand stops midway; it would be too invasive for someone that can't see a finger approaching. I put my hand back down and look at the flowers. It is nice to share the silence in a world full of mayhem.

"What colors are they?" He asks me after a while. I wonder how long ago he lost his sight, and how he imagines the world to be.

"There are red roses and pink hydrangeas and I think those are violets on the right side. I am not very good with the names of flowers. Do you remember what hydrangeas look like? Do they have those flowers in China?"

"Yes, I remember them. It is one of the memories I treasure the most. These flowers are constantly changing in color, but they survive several seasons." Then he does something very queer, and this action instills an inborn fear in the base of my stomach. I stop breathing as I see his head move in my direction until we are face to face, our noses a mere couple of inches apart.

Blind men cannot see. This is a commonly accepted fact. There is no need for blind men to turn their heads, which is why they usually walk in a stately fashion with their heads facing straight ahead. He can probably feel my presence on the space next to him on the bench, and it is no surprise that he knows where I am. Still, there is no need for him to face me. When a blind man looks at you, even though he can't see, it has some meaning other than staring. It feels strange, almost like a breach of trust. You instinctively start questioning yourself, and become unsure about whether the man is truly blind. I can see myself strangely reflected in his black glasses. Two big heads surrounded in two messes of curly hair. I can't see through my reflection, though, into what the darkness hides.

He smiles. This time, though, it is a playful Mona Lisa smile that is bursting to tell me some funny little secret. Suddenly, I know why he's here. The fear dissipates and I smile back, exited at the implications of his revelation. Perhaps this mini-quest won't be so difficult after all.

"Are you a traveler or a messenger?" I ask.

His mouth flowers into a big white smile. "I am still a messenger, for now," he says, with an enlivened tone. He is like a little kid that has been finally let into the secret club his friends had been keeping him out of.

"Do you know where the Red Queen is?"

"I don't think the Red Queen knows where she is, or who she is." His phony rueful expression doesn't convince me. I narrow my eyes at him. Please tell me you're not going to behave like those senseless, silly creatures, I think. For once, I keep my mouth shut.

"Is that what you were sent to tell me?" I ask politely.

He laughs. "They are not very good with instructions, are they? All I can do is tell you whatever strikes me as pertinent. I was going to tell you that the hydrangeas change color depending on where they are planted, and they also convey different meanings in different countries. In China, they symbolize enlightenment. Maybe it is because they have so many petals. I remember looking at one when I was a child. So many petals." He speaks more slowly now, drifting off into some other world.

I try to imagine, as I look at the garden, what he is looking at with his inner eye. It must be a beautiful garden. Maybe it looks like a Van Gogh. I don't know if Van Gogh ever drew hydrangeas, but I am sure that they would be more beautiful than these. I feel a bit jealous, all of a sudden, of the beauty of his imaginary world, untainted by ugly reality. We remain silent for a while, just listening to the birds and the far away horns of the cars. I know by now that this is all the guidance that I am going to get, but I am still curious about his world.

"What was it like, the fear? Didn't it make you want to give up? Wasn't it difficult?" I ask him.

He considers the questions in silence for a bit, and says, "It is easier to follow your heart and do what you know is right than to constantly run away from it."

I bet he was afraid. I can't think of someone that wouldn't be afraid of such a massive monster. "Thank you," he says, almost as an afterthought.

I feel tears building up behind the cover of my eyelids."Your welcome," I say, not wanting to admit that I don't know exactly what I have done to help him, or whether I have done anything at all. It is the nature of my job not to know. I get up, uncomfortable with my ignorance. He pretends not to notice my movement, and I decide to leave quietly.

As I leave the garden, I think to myself that it is a mark of great ignorance to not know the imprint of one's own feet.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Pussy Cat

I keep walking aimlessly through the afternoon streets filled with walking shoes.

I don't know what it is about New York that makes me feel so big when I look down and small when I look up. It's as if there is a message hidden in the architecture, in the way a lonely sunbeam pierces the roof of this glass and metal forest scratching at the sky. It's an old light, tinted in gold, that usually falls on one of the famous statues and turns every scene into a stage. It's grand, and old, and dusty. It reminds me of the look of cigar smoke and the glittery dresses of women in the Twenties. That light is the only thing that glues together the different neighborhoods and pockets of culture in this disorganized Manhattan collage.

I look up again, in search for an answer. What is it that I missed? What did I lose along the way? What is it that I should have learned at the other side of happily never after?

I walk past the witty little cafes, and the quirky shops. I walk past the models, and the artists, and the hipsters, and the bohemian rhapsodies. All of the cultured, creamy crusts. Wandering, wondering, remembering.

I wanted to be a muse... I wanted to be a muse so badly...

I wanted to provoke, and to inspire. Instead, I was the one that was enchanted and driven insane. I wonder if I am still insane.

I just have to find a new source of inspiration.

I just have to go down again, but this time I'm only following myself.

A set of stair steps catches my feet and leads me down a dark tunnel. The darkness rises like cold morning mist and in a few seconds I find myself in the middle of an empty station. I reach the end of the steps and continue along a dark hall. I can only see about fifteen meters ahead of me.

"Pussy, pussy, pussy cat. Come here pussy cat," I whisper as I walk through the black void. Silence greets me. Where is she?

I whistle, and the lonely sound echoes through the long tunnel. Only a while later do I hear a soft purr as a furry animal steps out of the shadows. She's smaller than I remembered, and yet she's more similar to a black panther than to a cat. Her shiny coat of hair reflects a mysterious blue light. I crouch and motion for the enormous animal to come to me.

She approaches me slowly and puts her head beneath outstretched hand, raising her spine and moving beneath my open palm as she purrs with pleasure. She has unusually long hairs for a cat. They are messy, but silky to the touch. I sit so she can snuggle onto my lap- well, as much as a huge cat can fit on top of my comparatively small legs- and I gladly caress her. Her warmth is comforting.

"Hello, empress, did you miss me?" I whisper into her ear. Here eyes narrow as she opens her jaws and I can see her moist mouth open in red fury, hissing. "Don't speak such insulting names," she sibilates through her dark lips.

She starts licking the fur above her paws. I always wondered what it would be like to lick a cat's fur. It does not look appetizing.

"So, you don't not know my name yet." She says with her usual condescending tone.

"You never told me your name," I say, amused. I know that this is part of our routine. She always knows infinitely more than I do, but will never reveal it. "What is your name?"

"Well, what is your name?"

"Alice, my name is Alice, I've told you a thousand times," I say with a giggle. Maybe I missed her a little.

"No. That is not your name, Alice," she says with the same serious voice.

"You just said it!"

"I said what?" She says, as she examines the length of her nails.

"My name."

"And what's your name?"

"Can you tell me where to go from here?" I say with a sigh.

"Well, where did you come from?"

"I am not sure. I can't remember what happened last night."

"Well, if you don't know where you came from, how will you know where to go?"

"That's only a problem if I'm going back to where I came from."

"Or if you are going back to where you are going."

"And how do I get there?" I ask, knowing that it will be futile to point out her nonsensical nature.

"I don't know," she says, simply.

"What do you mean you don't know?" I say in a high pitched voice. In all of the time I have known her, she has never given me such an answer. She just looks at me with her big, black eyes, as if there is nothing more insufferably boring than explaining the meaning of her every word. She seems to contemplate whether or not to continue the futile attempt, and apparently decides that her paws are more interesting.

This isn't making any sense, and I thought I had gotten over the fact that nothing makes sense in this world. I guess a better way to put it is that she is being sensible for once.

"I'm the character in the novel that is lost, and you are the character that helps me find my way. You use a complicated word game, but there is always some hidden meaning that I will magically understand later. You are not playing your part right! What do you mean you don't have the answer?" She ignores me.

"You always have the answer," I continue to protest.

"Well, perhaps it wasn't the right question to ask."

"So what is the right question, then?"

"That's a cowardly way of going about life, don't you think? Always waiting for others to tell you what to do," she says evenly.

"Well, I... I'm not always like this. I'm lost. Everyone gets lost sometimes."

"Why should I find you? We don't simply exist to provide you with guidance. Wonderland has its own problems, you know."She becomes instantly still as she stares into the darkness, as if watching a scene develop in the nothingness.

"What problems?" I ask brusquely. I know I'm behaving like a child.

He ears perk up and her muscles become tense. She lifts her head and remains still for a while. "You will find out soon." As she speaks, her hair stand on end.

I am used to speaking with crazy people and animals that shouldn't be speaking. This has all become a normal part of my abnormal life. What I am not used to seeing is fear in a magnificent supernatural creature. What in the world could make her afraid?

Then, I hear it. It's a soft metallic sound that is barely audible. Soon it becomes loud enough for me hear it clearly, and it continues to ascend in noise and intensity until it becomes unbearable. It's the sound of metal grinding against itself, as if two huge metallic hands were wringing each other. I cover my ears and my heart starts beating furiously. I look back at the stairs and see the small window of light in the distant mouth of the underground tunnel. It is only about 10 meters from where I sit, but it might as well be miles away. I couldn't move even if I wanted to because the cat is pinning my legs to the ground with her weight. Just when I am going to try to push her off I hear the sound go out entirely with the same suddenness that it started. Only silence remains.

My ears start crying in protest, in that high-pitched sound that they make whenever I get out of a loud club or concert. The cat remains tense only for a second longer and then she goes back to licking her fur as if nothing happened. I remain silent for a few minutes, waiting for her to say something. She stubbornly ignores me, almost as if this is a normal occurrence and not worthy of notice, until I get over my shock and ask, "Well? What in the world was that? Are you really going to pretend it didn't happen?"

Indeed, she did not even acknowledge my question, licking her fur with the same tranquility of always. The freakish way in which she ignores what had happened made me uncomfortable in the darkness. Who knows what could be hiding there that she is similarly disinterested in. I am sure that the monstrous thing or being that passed is gone, but I don't even want to think about what else could be waiting behind that black curtain of dark matter. It is absolutely impossible to see past a few meters.

With a shaky voice, I ask her "Please help me. I really don't know where to go."

I stay silent and wait for her to say something. She continues for about five minutes, until she makes a sound similar to a sigh.

"You must find the red queen."

"You mean the Queen of Hearts?" I ask, confused. "Isn't she dead? I thought they cut off her head. I really hope I don't have to go into some version of the Greek Underworld to find her." I don't even want to know what that looks like.

"She lives in your world."

"Is that what happens when creatures die in Wonderland?"


"So then, why did the king tell everyone he killed her?"

"He lied," she said, simply. I am awe-struck at this moment of honesty, and start racing through a number of questions that I have stored in my brain for a time like this.

"How was Wonderland created? Where does it exist? Is it a parallel universe?"

She meows, and then she gets up and starts walking away. Obviously, she can sense the barrage of questions that will follow and does not want to bother refusing to answer them.

"What is your name?" I scream at the darkness. "Are you the Cheshire Cat?"

"No." This time, it's a different voice that answers. I hear a Machiavellian laughter come from the darkness and I instantly decide that I am no longer so interested in my silly questions. I rush towards the light as I hear a voice ask, "Where are you going, my friend? I have all the answers you want." The chilling voice sounds deceitful and dangerous.

I start running up the stairs as if they will melt away before I get out. I keep running until I crash into the daylight, an it's as if I'm breaking through the water surface of a dark pool. The loud sounds of the city traffic come alive with a resounding explosion and my disorientation causes me to stumble into several people.

I breathe in deeply the disgusting city air and try to regain a sense of my bearings. I don't give myself more than a minute before I begin walking again, but this time with a sense of purpose. I have no idea how to get to where I am going but at least I have a destination in mind. Usually that's all my feet need to get me there. A small voice in the back of my mind wonders how I have become so habituated with the difference in realities, but I ignore that entire path of thought. I ignore my mind altogether and focus on what lies ahead of me.

I check the time. It's 5 o'clock.

I only hope the date is the same. I don't even know how much time I have left here.

I have to find her. The Red Queen. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Rabbit Man




No one uses watches anymore. No one uses clocks. No one hears the time. The tick. The tack.

And still I hear it: Click-clock.

Ever since I saw him disappear inside the tunnel of the Wujiaochang station. Ever since he turned around and looked back at me from beneath that massive glass and metal construction. People were loudly living and moving about. The cars and the smoke and the sounds of construction permeated everything around us. My hair was flying wildly around my face. The undecided wind kept changing direction. It was as if fate didn't know where to settle.

He looked back, and his expression was punctured with a tinge of sadness. Was it hesitation? It was as if he realized something all of a sudden. I like to think that he made one step back in my direction- but it doesn't matter if he did or not. Either way, the electric stairway was carrying him down into the tunnel already. He let himself be swallowed by the metallic darkness. The floor rose like the sea level along his figure, and in one instant, he was gone.

I always wonder: What did he see when he looked back? A girl in the middle of a loud city staring silently at him. A girl with crazy hair. A girl. I am sure he saw a girl, because I wasn't a woman then.

I was staring so intently that I froze his image in that moment of hesitation. He is fixed to that place like a ghost, like the negative of a picture that I reproduce in a different way each time I recycle the memory. I twist and bend every feature, adding colors and sounds that were never there.

I don't know where I am right now. All I can see is this fantasy.

He is standing there again, but the electric staircase isn't moving. He is mercifully still. He pulls ouf a pocket watch, and looks at me with that same sad look. He remains there for a while, with the pocket watch in his hand. He is not even looking at it; he is looking at me. He is not saying anything, and it's as if he were letting the clock speak for itself. Everything else is eerily silent. The incessant buzzing of Wujiochang has died out. Here only we exist: him and I, and the silence.

I look at his watch, and I listen. Even though it is meters away from me I can hear the sound of each tick as if it were connected to an amplifier.

Tick- Tack.



I can't move, there is no wind, time has been suspended, but still the noise persists. That ghost stares at me; that ghost with the stormy eyes and the rabbit ears. And we remain there, not moving, not existing. We both listen to the eternal ticking. I can barely see the hands of the golden clock moving slowly in the distance, but then as I focus my gaze it expands and envelops the whole picture. All I can see now are its eternally slothful golden hands. The beginning of each tick seems miserably slow, like the blade of a pendulum, and then towards the end it slams into each second like a gavel, sealing fate.

It wears me out, that ticking. It makes me wonder if I really stopped chasing rabbits down rabbit holes.

After so much time, after so much time. I keep running through a huge mansion of closed doors, and every time I open one of the doors, it leads me back here. I keep opening and closing, going inside a hundred rooms that are all exactly the same, but after every new door I manage to unlock I am back in the same place. There is nothing here for me. Why am I here again?

That ticking. That hellish ticking noise. How can I get it to stop?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stupid Girl

Every good story has a city. 

Not just any city. I mean a big, cosmopolitan, sack of scum and profligacy. These fascinating city centers teeming with social conflict tell the human story. From Babylon to Tenochtitlan, from Rome to Xi'an, from Delhi to New York, and from Buenos Aires to Great Zimbabwe. Archeologists dig up the temples and theaters whose ghosts whisper some of the delicious secrets of those ancient civilizations, and we get to compare their life with ours. 

When this city gets dug up, I wonder what they will say about our culture. When they walk into the Wall Street Mecca, when they find the big Yankee Colosseum, when they dust off the stages where the thespians performed in Broadway, and when they uncover the hundreds of temples in 5th Avenue where virgins kneel in prayer. 

Other generations dropped everything they owned to follow Buddha or Jesus. Many sacrificed their life in blood to preserve honor and defend their homeland. My generation just follows the yellow brick road. 

"What do you think about this one?" My friend Jiayi holds up a chique purple dress. Shaken from my stupor, I nod with approval, smiling faintly. She whirls around with the dress held closely to her chest, saying, "I can just imagine George in the office. He won't be able to look away. I'm going to the fitting room. Are you ready?"

"Yes, I found what I was looking for. If you wear the dress with a classy pair of pumps I'm sure you'll brighten up his Monday," I say, following her through the store.  

George is her new crush. I've been hearing her talk about him all day. He works in a different company in the same building, he has a great ass, and apparently he loves all her favorite bands. We have spent the entire morning shopping, and it seems that it was ages ago that I stuffed a croissant in my mouth as we left the hotel. My stomach started grumbling as soon as we entered my favorite store, one of those magic places that has everything a girl needs at a decent price. 

We get lost in the labyrinth of clothing racks and are forced to ask an attendant to point out the direction of the dressing room. When she does, the sign magically appears in big letters at the back of the huge, well-lit room. We embarrassingly thank her and walk away. 

"No wonder I couldn't find it, I got too distracted by the poster." I say grumpily as we walk. "Have you ever seen such a perfect nose?" 

Jiayi looks at the immense picture of a model in her underwear, and then back at me with a expression of total understanding. "Yeah, now that I think about it, I was totally confused by her... nose. There is no way anyone can pay attention to the sign for the dressing room when such a perfect nose is in full display. Do you think it's real?"

"I don't think she could get such a natural nose with plastic surgery. It's either real, or the most expensive nose in the world."

We finally make it to the line for the fitting room and stare up at the smiling goddess, in awe of her superiority. 

Jiayi enters the fitting room first and I stand in line for a while longer. I look at a group of teens talking loudly. I see myself reflected in the eyes of the quietest girl. She's self-consciously enfolding a strand of her hair around her index finger while she twirls it round and round. She has an empty smile because she's not really listening to her friend's story. She's probably thinking about how much better her friend looks, wondering if she should re-touch her makeup. Once in a while she steals a glance at a cute attendant, as if she's praying for him to walk by her and get intoxicated with a wisp of her perfume. If she's lucky, he'll fall in love then and there; but there are so many pretty girls around that she nervously wonders if he will ever look her way. When he finally does pass her by she gets really tense and her finger stops. She looks longingly in his direction getting high off of a happily ever after that will never happen, while he walks past, unaware of her existence. 

Stupid girl...

My enjoyment of the little love story is interrupted by a shrill scream coming from the inside of a fitting room. An attractive older woman is whispering compliments through the key hole, but the girl inside keeps protesting. When her mother finally does cajole her into getting out and showing off the dress, she does so with a scowl on her face. I walk past them to try on my clothes when my turn comes and I can hear the girl telling her mother that she's too fat for the dress and that her boobs are too small. Her mom attempts to reassure her in a small voice that they still have time to grow. I can tell that she's lying though, not just by her guilty tone, but because when I saw her before it was evident from her perfect cleavage that she got breast implants. How do you tell your daughter that even after you found your prince, you had to get out an insurance for that happily ever after? 

Stupid girl...

I examine my face in the mirror. I have one of those faces that could be considered both ugly and beautiful, depending on my facial expression. If people are looking at me it is not because of my face, but because of the fury of hair on top of it. I love my afro. It grows out of my head in curly rivulets, expanding sideways and downward. It doesn't go out in a 320 degrees of groovy frizz like those women had back in the sixties. It's less poofy and has defined ringlets. 

I throw the green coat on the floor to get a full view. My body is not that bad. I can never manage to get abs, but I have a good figure. I could be described as thin ever since I lost the extra thickness around my thighs and waist. I discovered that a small waist can make up for small cup size. It's still a work in progress, I guess. I used to wish I had bigger boobs with even more angst than the girl next door but I got over that. I learned to love my butt instead, which is one of my favorite parts about my body.

I take off my skirt and halter top and look at the trail of scars that run along the side of my hips and part of my butt cheeks. It's like I had to claw my way out of childhood. I usually pretend my stretch marks don't exist, but every now and then their sight sneaks up on me and it's like someone emptied a bucket of disillusionment on my head. Now my skin is covered in sticky insecurity and I'm sure everyone around can smell my ugliness. Why do I have to be beautiful, anyway?  Maybe I'll resign myself to being forever ugly and alone. Being a woman is complicated. 

Stupid girl...

I put on my new outfit: a pair of high-rise jean shorts and a tucked-in Rolling Stones t-shirt. Then I pick out the negative thoughts in the air and stuff them in my pocket. Confidence is sexy, and sexy is rock n' roll. I mess up my afro a bit and work my outfit like I'm Yoko Ono. 

My favorite Yoko song is one of the weirdest pieces of music in the world. She just screams hysterically "Whyyyyy," while images of Reagan and some dudes holding guns flash in the background.  I have no idea why I like it, but it's just great. I shake my body and whisper the song with flailing arms, not caring that I'm making weird noises. 

"Alice is that you?" Jiayi asks through the thin wall. "Are you killing someone in there?"

"Sorry. I was channeling my inner Yoko Ono." I say, knowing she wouldn't understand. 

"Come out. What do you think of my outfit?" She says, and we both get out at the same time and pose in an exaggerated manner. 

"I love it, it's very Audrey Hepburn, but in color." I whisper an accent- not sure which. I'm terrible at making accents. 

"Was that supposed to be a British accent?" She smiles and says, "I approve of the jean shorts, though. They make your butt look amazing."

"Brilliant!" I say cheerfully, not caring how it sounds. 

When we finish shopping we head back to the hotel to change for brunch and put away our shopping bags. On the way Jiayi and me look at the parade of tourists and New Yorkers, picking out which is which. 

We see a girl that could be described as a tall, skinny, latte. 
"New Yorker," says Jiayi. 

Then we see an older woman with her daughters, all of them in jeans. They have more shopping bags than fingers in their hands. "Tourists," I say. 

A really handsome, sweaty, muscular man in his thirties jogs past us in a pair of white shorts. We look at each other and mouth, "New Yorker."

Then a heavy-set man passes by, wearing a Yankees hat. We just bob our heads to the side, because it's obvious. Then an older couple holding hands walks by. "Tourists," I declare. 

"How come?" asks Jiayi. 

"Well, I don't believe you can find your true love in New York and live with him here for the rest of you life. Is that sad?"

"Yes, but I guess it's also realistic." 

Then we see her. Talking on the phone while she walks in our direction, moving like someone who's got no time to lose. Despite the fact that it's summertime she's dressed all in black except for a delicate white blouse. No tacky brand signs on her expensive purse. No heavy use of jewelry or make up. Just stilettos and bright red lipstick. With one hand she hangs up the phone and dials another number, and with her free, manicured hand she hails a taxi. She checks the time on her pretty watch with a leather strap and a cab magically stops for her before a second ticks by. Her face turns into an enchanting smile as she says into the phone, "I'll be there right away, honey."

We stare open-mouthed as the woman who has it all disappears inside the cab. "The New Yorker," I whisper. Jiayi nods. "When do you think we'll become real women like her?"

"When we make mistakes, lots of mistakes, until we either learn from them or get tired of making them. Then we just... Grow up." 

"That sounds difficult," Jiayi says pensively. 

We've all got something we're looking for in the Emerald City. I don't think we really know what it is at first. That's why we have to run around a little bit on the way there, making fools of ourselves as we bounce on the yellow bricks of our ideals. 

Womanhood. Some girls become women. Others are chained to their eternal childhood, never fully blooming into an complete person. They never reach the moment when they stop chasing after who they're trying to be, and face who they really are. 

Huh, I wonder if I'm still a stupid girl. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Meet Me at the Hyphen

I step into the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria and my lower lip jots out as I nod with approval at the swanky decorations. My eyes do a quick sweep of the place. The sunlight comes in through the opened curtains of red velvet that drop from the ceiling and bounces off of the chandelier dripping with gold to illuminate the intricate art deco mosaic on the polished floor. I am enchanted by the luxurious light and wonder in awe at how well my friend is doing for a twenty something businesswoman.

I follow people through a hall with glass showcases displaying white wedding cakes and pearls and enter what appears to be the real lobby. The golden ceiling reflects light like a big moon in the dark room. At the center a small replica of Lady Liberty stands proudly on top of an elegant clock. Small figures of bald eagles crouch at her feet with open wings. I walk towards the clock past a pudgy concierge that is standing by, raising his eyebrows at my vagrant getup. 

As I go around the clock I count eight faces staring out from beneath four lion heads, seven of men and one of a woman. I recognize Lincoln, Washington, Jackson, and Grant and assume the rest are other presidents, but I can't make out who the woman is. I ask the concierge and he tells me that the woman is queen Victoria, who gave the clock as a gift to the United States. Apparently she wasn't too happy that we decided to crown her beautiful English clock with a French statue. I chuckle to myself, wondering if Snow White was a thing back then. I think she got the last laugh. 

Suddenly, I am blinded by two small, feminine hands. 

"Long time no see, crazy one," a familiar voice whispers in my left ear.

"Jiayi!" I squeal as I turn around with a big smile to face her. We make that annoying high-pitched girlfriend yell that girls make when they haven't seen each other in a long time and then we hug. The concierge is now glaring. I would probably glare with him if I wasn't part of the ruckus, but at the moment I'm too caught up in behaving like a stereotypical girl to care what my depressed alter-ego would think. 

"I missed you," she says with a pout, breaking from the hug.

"Me too! It's been a year since we were together in Shanghai." We extend the random vocal just to show how much we mean it. We continue our high-frequency exchange, throwing all sorts of questions at each other, until we reach the elevator. I don't know what it is about elevators, maybe the enclosed space, but they automatically switch people into serious-mode. 

I ask her about her job, and she tells me solemnly, as if she's talking about someone dying, "My boss is an angel." Now that we're talking about professional subjects our voices become deep. Jiayi tells me a couple of stories just to prove how amazing he is. She talks about fancy dinners, business connections, and great life advice she receives on a daily basis.

As more people enter the elevator we start talking in loud whispers, pretending we're being polite- but not really caring. I interject her stories with variations of "What?" and "No way!" as she tells me about her amazing life in New York.

We finally reach her floor and I can almost feel the remaining people at the elevator sigh with relief as we exit. We walk down the hall and she unlocks the door to her room and I "Oohh" and "Ahhh" as I enter the fancy suite. She makes faces and pretends to be modest, but she's really proud of herself. She takes out some whiskey from the mini-bar and grabs a couple of glasses.

"So I see other things have changed too, huh? Now you're drinking like a grown-up." I say distractedly as I check out the room.

I hear the unmistakable sound of ice being dropped into a glass as she says, "Well, after I started hanging out with a crazy Latina in Shanghai things changed. It's probably after 6 o'clock back there anyway." We share a devilish smile as she hands me the drink. "Also, I found it is an excellent way to impress my boss and his business partners. It feels awkward to order a sugary drink when everyone else is ordering something manly."

"Cheers," we chime in unison and then take a sip. 

We hold our drinks as we stand by the huge window and stare out at the beautiful view of Manhattan.

"How in the world did you manage to get all this with an entry-level job in your first month in New York?"

"Connections, Alice. The city is heaven if you have them, hell if you don't."

"I heard even Marilyn Monroe had to move out because she couldn't afford this place."

"When was she born, like, the nineteenth century? No, girl, looks are not enough these days. Where did you get that from anyway?"

"Wikipedia of course, the only source of interesting conversations. I had an entertaining ride on the internet while I was on the way here. My smartphone somehow got a good signal while I was underground. There's many songs about this place. Apparently it was a big thing back in it's prime. With presidents and stars and whatnot walking around being fabulous. Oh and it was the first hotel to allow women in without an escort."

"Hey, it would have been nicer if they started giving them away for free to ladies in need."

"Ladies indeed," I say with a sneer, and we both giggle. "Oh man, you're too much fun. I feel like I'm back in Shanghai. It seems so far away and so much has happened. I'm a different person."

"Tell me about it. Graduating college is the best thing that happened to me since I broke up with my first boyfriend."

"Langston Hughes wrote a very pretty poem praising the hotel too. He was telling the poor people starving to death outside how nice it would be if they staid here." Jiayi rolled her eyes at me, probably crediting my comment to what she called Alice-behavior. She says that one of the weirdest things about me is my ability to switch from any topic into the most depressing subject imaginable. 

"Poo. Who cares about the poor people right now. I used to be poor."

"Jiayi, your parents used to be poor, you've never been poor in your life."

"My parents immigrated to this country and made it, with hard work, and I got here with hard work. My grandmother had to give up all her wealth when the communist came to power and had to live in a pig-sty with my grandfather. My mother deserves to be proud of me."

"I thought you got here with connections," I murmur as I raise my eyebrows, smiling. 

"And how do you think I got those? Of course, they are essential but they are not the only thing you need. Oh, no. I know why you're here now." She says as she holds her hand to her forehead. 

"No, don't worry," I say, amused. "I won't ask for any favors this time. I actually have no idea why I'm here." 

"Really, you just popped into Manhattan with no idea how you got here?"

"Of course not, I just-"

"Well, that wouldn't be too out of character. I don't know how you move so fast from one place to the next. It's like your GPS has ADD or something. Where did you come from this time, Brazil, Japan?" She says with a raised eyebrow, as if she's picturing me both with a kimono and a small bathing suit at the same time.  

"Home, actually. I was home before I came here."

"Well, they sure dress funny in Florida, Alice. What on Earth are you wearing? I've been meaning to ask you for the longest time but I was too exited to see you. And where is all your luggage?" She says while she lifts my sleeves up for examination, as if I'm hiding it tinside the coat. "What a horrible shade of green."

"Umm... I believe I borrowed my coat from a stranger last night, and then I have to pick up my luggage at the airport tomorrow because they misplaced it. It was a morning flight, so I figured I'd get some partying done in the meanwhile." I've gotten pretty good at telling lies lately, or maybe she got used to my Alice-behavior. In any case, I don't give her too much time to ponder. 

"So, while my luggage comes in, how about we go for some shopping?"

She instantly lights up with excitement. And while I enjoy watching how my trick got its intended effect, and hear her go on and on about 5th Avenue and Soho, my mind drifts off elsewhere. She's just the exact same friend I left back in Shanghai. That familiar feeling comes back. It's a recognition of somewhere I used to live in the past, combined with a surprised realization that I left. It culminates with the lingering sense that I'm still there but that I've been gone for so long that I forgot what it was really like. 

I try to hold my smile, but my mind has broken into forbidden territory. I hear a small, forgotten voice ask me a strange, forgotten question. 

Have you ever been in love with a shadow?

"No," I say out loud, without realizing it.

"Oh, but don't worry. It's on me then. We simply have to go eat some Dim Sum at this wonderful place in Chinatown. It'll be as if we never left!" I smile and nod, stupidly, like I have been for the last ten minutes without having listened to a word she said. Inside, I'm vigorously shaking my head. I don't want to go back there, I don't want to remember what it was like to feel that way. I want to forget I ever felt like every single fiber of my being was alive, because I don't feel that way anymore and I don't know if it will ever happen again. It wasn't real.

"Alice, stop nodding like an idiot. Do you want to go now?"

"Can I take a quick shower first? I promise I won't be long."

"Sure, girl, but don't take too long. Life is waiting for us out there."

I shut the door behind me and turn on the shower. As I take off my clothes and the hot mist gathers I try to look at the positive side. Sure, I have absolutely no control over my life, but at least I'm staying at a nice hotel today. Who knows where I would sleep if it weren't for my friends. 

I begin to relax as the hot water runs down my skin and washes off the hangover. 

Well, 'aint it swell doing swell with the swells in the swellest hotel of them all...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Humming heaters and paper planes


The alarm goes off for 10:20 am for the fourth time. I turn it off and listen the heater humming a lullaby while I watch the grey morning through the persian curtains. I know I have to get up, but I could lie here for ages just listening to that same buzzing sound. The warmth in the room has infused my body and I feel too heavy to move a finger. Instead of getting up, I start planning the day in my head. I think about what to wear, what to eat, and how I can start attacking the mountain of piled-up homework. It’s the laziest way to be productive. My plans never work out, so it’s really just an excuse for me to lie here, immobile, listening to the heater hum it’s monotonous tune.

My thoughts are slow and incoherent, as if even they can’t find strength enough to move quickly. If they were people, they would be small little fat men in puffy grey robes, sweeping the floor with their slippers like tired grandfathers roaming the kitchen for a midnight snack. 

Maybe I was a sloth in my past life. I have a lot of sloth-y habits. Actually, I don’t know much about sloths except for the fact that they are very slow. My curiosity gives me strength enough to stretch my arms out towards my computer and drag it towards my bed. I waste 20 minutes more watching a German documentary about sloths in Costa Rica until finally my stomach growls at me in anger and I am forced to get up.

Stumbling over discarded cereal boxes and dirty clothes, I put on a bra and reach for my boots and a thick sweater. After brushing my teeth and washing my face I'm good to go. The nice thing about being in college is that there is no need to impress anyone on a Sunday morning. 

After I walk out of my building I remember I forgot my smartphone. I calmly turn around and go back upstairs to get it. When I'm out the front door I stop and think about anything else I might have forgotten, and cheerfully make my way down the street when I realize I have everything. It's times like these I really wish I had Neville's remembrall.

I put on my headphones and listen to Bob Marley, wishing the human race had had the power to grant immortality. If everyone listened to Bob, we would be way more chill about everything and maybe world peace wouldn't be some line that barbie dolls throw around in a pageant. The UN should form a working group to get on top of that, and maybe in a thousand years they could actually accomplish something useful. It's pointless anyway; people like Marley already live forever. They probably all hang out up there in the clouds, throwing little paper planes filled with poems and music notes. Only real musicians and poets are allowed to be immortal in my heaven.

Baby don't worry 
about a thing
'cause every little thing
is gonna be alright