The Wish Bathers, Chapter Two

The Black Glass between Us isn’t Ninja Proof

Chapter Two

It’s another Zen-like morning when I wake up—my belly still full of pancakes and bacon—and I stay in bed to watch the sunlight move around my room as it warms up all the crevices and corners for the day. No phone calls, no interruptions, no hangover, and no one else around. Perhaps this is too perfect.

Once the sunlight reaches the bed and warms me out of the covers, I walk to the kitchen to make some coffee. There’s a note from Kat on the table, “Gone to class and going home tonight. See you soon. Thanks!” I pick it up and stick it to the refrigerator and then turn on the radio to see what groovy tunes the day has to play. “Bootleg” comes on and I revel in our dancing memory. Just as my mind starts to wander down ginger lane, the phone rings.

Hey sister,” Audrey says.

Hey.”

You working today?”

No, it’s my day off.”

Right on. Do you have any plans?”

What are you thinking?” I wonder.

The usual, I guess. I’m going to stop by the club tonight. I think they’ve got some half off deal on drinks for chicks.”

Cool. I’ll see you later?”

Ten o’clock?” Audrey confirms.

See you then,” I hang up the phone and get back to my coffee.

After hours of lounging around my pad and soaking up plenty of solace, it’s time to put some kind of outfit on. I’m having a Kat day and can’t decide what to wear. Maybe I’m over-analyzing slightly because there’s the chance that Sydney might be at the club again, or maybe I’m hoping he’s there just looking for me. Either way, I think I am officially possessed.

At the club, I park next to a shiny, maroon Cadillac that looks nicer than all the cars in the entire parking lot. She’s a beauty and I have to admire the car for a few minutes before I go inside. Its’ glory takes me back to the Drive-In days and all the beautiful cars that used to visit that place. I glide my hand across the back of the trunk to feel the smooth paint job and then a violent thump comes from inside the trunk making my hand bounce off of the car. Confused, I stare at the trunk waiting for something else to happen. Thump, thump.

Uh, hello?” I say, totally freaked out.

Help me!” A woman’s voice screams from inside the trunk.

Um, are you okay in there?” I lean my head closer to the car.

Get me the fuck out of here, please. Help me!!!” she screams and cries.

Hold on,” I say in panic and then look around the parking lot. Joe is outside, commanding the line, and I frantically run over to him.

What the hell is going on?” he says, irritated. I grab his hand and pull with all of my strength. He doesn’t like being dragged across the parking lot by a tiny red head.

That,” I say as I point to the trunk of the Cadillac. The woman screams again.

Oh, shit,” Joe takes off running and then comes back with a crowbar faster than I can find my eye shadow. How did he do that?

Jesus, where did you get that thing?” I say. He doesn’t respond, of course.

After a few moves with the crowbar, the trunk pops open like a jack in the box and a stunning woman crawls out. Mascara runs down her beautiful face like blackened, tarnished tears. She dusts off her outfit and wipes her face.

Gracias,” she says.

The strange trunk woman then walks off into the night without any explanation or concern for vengeance. I keep watching her to see if she will turn around or say something, but she does not deviate from her path. I’m quite confused and look at Joe for answers.

Joe closes the trunk of the Cadillac, puts the crowbar back inside his own car, and then repositions himself at the front of the line. Poised and collected, he just nods at me when I walk past him and go inside. Audrey is at the end of the black light hallway calling to me.

Man,” I sigh.

“What’s going on? Bad day?” Audrey wonders.

She takes my hand and leads me to a seat at the bar. I’m not really sure how I feel about that lady in the trunk. Who the hell would do something like that? And what in the hell did she do to get in there? I hope I never end up in a trunk like that. The thought is totally disturbing.

“I think I need a double,” I say.

“Jazz is on her way,” Audrey says, “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah?” I end with a high pitched tone like a question because I don’t even know what I feel at the moment.

“Is that a question?”

“What? Oh, sorry. Jazz has the night off?” I try to get back on track.

“She does and she’s in the mood for some trouble,” Audrey laughs.

“What’s new? Hey, do you want to smoke some grass?” I say.

We head back outside to visit Gloria. Joe stands in the same position as when I saw him last and he doesn’t even flinch when I walk past. Something about his demeanor is strange, like, it’s not the first time he’s opened up a trunk for someone. I don’t know. Is that a thing?

“Hey you freaks!” Jazz yells from across the parking lot and hops into the car with us.

“This is good grass, man,” Audrey exhales.

“Have you seen the red head again?” Jazz wonders, of course.

“Not since we were all here a couple of nights ago,” I pass the joint to Jazz.

“Did you ball him?” Audrey coughs and laughs simultaneously, holding onto the joint for a few puffs.

“Maybe,” I smirk.

“I am on the hunt tonight,” Jazz says, “And I am not leaving this place alone.”

Back inside the club, the girls disappear into the crowd on the dance floor and I revisit my seat at the bar. Creedence bumps through the sound system luring me down into my rabbit hole of desires again. That night at Sydney’s pad was so special. So uninhibited. I wonder if he felt the same?

“You ready for another drink?” Greg’s voice breaks me from my mental wanderings.

“Yeah, sure, man. How are you?”

“You know, I’m pretty groovy,” his brown curls bounce as he moves the martini shaker. “Try this. It’s my new creation.” He pours an orange martini in front of me.

“It’s delicious. What is it?” I smile.

“Secrets,” he winks, “But it has vodka.”

“So, what happened to those blonde twins you were hangin’ with?”

“Ohh,” he laughs, “You mean Susie and Sally. They’re around,” he says vaguely and then moves to another part of the bar to greet some new customers. He’s just so cool, man.

I spin around in my chair, holding the stem of my orange concoction, and scan the crowd for familiar faces. No sign of the red head. No sign of Audrey and Jazz. I spin back around and stare into the wall of liquor bottles behind the bar, contemplating trunks and crowbars and mysterious women.

“Hello,” a man says, sitting down next to me. I turn to see who it is and he’s just some dude. He reeks of booze as he wobbles all over the bar stool. I nod my head to acknowledge his existence but am not really interested in a drunken stranger at this moment.

“What’s your sign?” he says. He then falls off the stool and crashes onto the ground, hiccuping and mumbling nonsense with his face pressed against the floor. Two random dudes sitting at the bar rush to the drunken bastard and pick him up.

“What is going on here?” A short, stocky man in an expensive suit says.

“He’s loaded. He’s got to go,” Greg says, pointing to the door .

“Get him out of here,” the short guy says. “Miss, are you okay? Was that guy bothering you?”

“He wasn’t sitting on the stool long enough to be a bother,” I laugh.

“Okay, good. Hi, I’m Jeffrey,” he says.

“Jeffrey? As in Jeff, the owner?” I shake his hand.

“Yeah, but I prefer Jeffrey,” he sits down next to me and orders a Manhattan.

“I’m Penelope, but I prefer Star.”

“Well, thanks for coming into the club, Star. Enjoy your night,” he grabs his drink and walks away.

Jeffrey walks through the crowd holding his Manhattan like he’s maneuvered through a dancing crowd once or twice before. I notice he doesn’t make eye contact with any of the staff and he just minds his own business. He seemed pretty nice to me, but then again, I’m still a bit confused about what Jazz was saying the other day.

“Hey Greg, do you know that guy?” I point with my eyes.

“Jeff? Not really. He doesn’t engage much with employees, man. As long as everyone does their job and guests are happy, he doesn’t find a need to communicate with a lot of us.”

“What about Darryl?”

“How do you know about Darryl?” Greg’s eyebrows shift curiously.

“I don’t really, just know the name.”

“Darryl spends most of his time in a secret room upstairs that overlooks the entire club. See where that black glass is?” he points to a corner of the room, “He’s behind that.”

The black glass stretches across the entire width of the wall. It’s funny I’ve never noticed it until now. But now it looks huge so it must be a gigantic room. I wonder who hangs out up there? Is it, like, super VIP?

“Does he ever come down?” I ask.

“He does sometimes after last call.”

“What does he look like?”

“Oh, you will know. Just be aware if you do.”

“Be aware? Is he dangerous?” I am so intrigued now.

“I’m not really sure. I am just giving advice,” Greg shrugs his shoulders.

To try and change the subject, Greg places the second orange concoction in front of me. I stare at it for a few minutes. My budding intoxication reminds me that I should slow down my quest for thirst before I develop double vision and go in two different directions. Yeah, still no sign of Sydney, which is probably fine considering I am devoid of any inhibitions at the moment.

I can finally see Audrey and Jazz through the crowd on the dance floor. Audrey’s shirt clings to her sweaty, perky breasts and she doesn’t notice all the eyes watching her bra-less wonder because the only person she is looking at is Jazz. The two of them dance at arm’s length but their energy is very close together. It looks pretty sexy, but that could just be my orange beverage talking. I swear they must hear my thoughts right now because they start walking towards me.

Hey chick! How’s the view?” Jazz winks.

“You chicks look bitchin’,” I say, giggling uncontrollably.

“Wow, how many drinks have you had?” Jazz says.

“Maybe a couple.”

“Um, give me your keys,” Audrey says, “You are not driving home.”

“Fine, fine. You should try one of these orange things that Greg made,” I offer my drink to taste.

Jazz and Audrey try Greg’s new libation. It seems to be a hit because they both order the same thing. Greg is diggin’ the vibe and smiling like he’s pretty proud of himself, but I suppose having your creativity appreciated is pretty bitchin’. I mean, having anything appreciated is cool.

“Miss Jasmine!” a man’s voice with a Southern twang comes from the end of the bar. It startles all of us. I have a feeling I already know who it is.

“Hey Darryl,” Jazz says. I start scanning the dude.

The first thing I notice is his alligator, gold toed boots. If that isn’t enough, he’s got a green fur coat and a purple hat on with an orange feather. Garish gold jewelry shines all over his body. Diamonds drip from his ears and decorate many of his fingers, while uncountable gold chains of all sizes hang from his neck. When he smiles, his right front tooth sparkles like the miniature diamonds it is filled with and the left side of his body is propped up with a silver tipped ivory cane.

“How you doin’ tonight, sexy?” he grabs Jazz’s hand and kisses the back of it. She pulls away quickly.

“I’m fine, Darryl,” Jazz sighs.

“And who be these sexy creatures?” he licks his lips.

“My friends, Star and Audrey,” Jazz says.

“Hello, fine women, I am Darryl. The pleasure is all mine. Oh yes it is,” he says. Darryl puts an elbow down on the bar and taps his cane three times. Tap. Tap. Tap. “Ya’ll have plans for the rest of the evenin’?” he bites the bottom of his lip.

“We were just about to split. You ready?” Jazz says, pulling me out the door.

“That guy is a character. Why is he dressed like a pimp?” I say.

“Did she just say what I think she said?” Audrey laughs.

“Yeah and you don’t want to be friends with him,” Jazz says, madly.

“I met Jeffrey tonight, too,” I say.

“You mean Jeff?” Jazz says.

“Why are there two owners?” I say.

“Man, I don’t know. Can we not talk about work right now?” Jazz changes the subject again.

***

I wake up to the phone ringing before the sun even starts investigating my room. The air outside of my blanket wonderland is cold, so I pull the phone under the covers with me. I don’t even know why I answer.

“Hello?” I say.

“Are you still sleeping? What is your address?” Sydney’s voice comes through the receiver.

“You need to know my address before the sun comes up?” I say.

Lying under the covers, talking to Sydney, my smile starts to hurt my cheeks. He does a really good job at convincing me to come over and make me breakfast. I’m still half asleep and tell him I need one more hour. I mean, after all, they call it beauty sleep and I need to be as beautiful as I can if that fox is coming over.

“See you soon.” Sydney hangs up the phone and I fall instantly back into dreamland. Five seconds later, the phone rings again.

“Morning, sunshine,” Sydney’s upbeat voice reminds me of our earlier conversation and that it actually happened instead of just dreaming it.

“It’s only been 2 minutes,” I say.

“It has been an hour and a half. I’m coming over. Be ready in twenty.”

“Okay, I’m getting up.”

“Star?” Sydney says.

“Yes, Mr. Vasquez?”

“Are you going to tell me your address?”

“Right, sorry. I’m at 2441 Fillmore Ave.”

I jump out of bed like a popcorn kernel in a skillet filled with hot oil. I don’t have time to take a full shower so I make due with a face and armpit washing—the shower of champions. By luck or grace, my bed head is styled perfectly, so I leave it messy and go for it. I’d say it’s another genre of the wind blown hair, or maybe the afterglow hair, and it’s got character. Definitely.

The doorbell rings. The only thing I can see through the eye hole is a bag of groceries, but I open it anyway.

Sydney bursts through the door holding two huge grocery bags. He warns me that he’s going to make the most bitchin’ breakfast ever and he hopes I like eggs. And pancakes. And bacon. And french toast. And waffles. And then I stop him.

“Okay, maybe just eggs and bacon,” Sydney says.

“How did you get here this early?” I’m so very curious.

“I had a real nice walk.”

“You walked from your place?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s just a long walk, man. Can I help you with anything?”

“No, I’m cool,” he says as he looks in every cupboard before finding the right pan.

It’s charming to watch him fumble around my kitchen and be persistent about doing it alone. He does this little wiggle while he cracks the eggs into the pan. The sizzling sound it makes is probably how my brain sounds while I’m staring at him. I’m about to go ape, but somehow I keep it cool.

“I was at the club last night and I’ll lie and say that I wasn’t hoping you were there.”

“Really?” he says.

“But, I’m done with lying for the day.”

“But, I dig pathological liars,” Sydney laughs.

“Is that because you like compulsive behaviors?”

“Maybe that is the raw human part. We all have these personal obligations in our lives.”

“Maybe,” I ponder for a moment before I dive into my eggs, “And what are your so-called personal obligations?”

“Well, that’s an interesting question. Most compulsive behavior is covert for a reason. And maybe we don’t even realize it.”

“Uh huh,” I’m thinking and chewing.

“Sometimes I call my grandmother to tell her that I miss her even if I am not really missing her at that moment. It’s more because I think she wants me to do that. Or we tell our friends something that we think we should.”

“So we’re all kind of like pathological liars?” I say.

“Maybe more like covert ninjas of truth. Hey, do you want to go on a walk after breakfast?”

First he comes to make me breakfast. Then he wants to go on a walk with me. I must be dreaming. Thank god it’s a good dream. I don’t want to wake up.

Sydney returns to the ninja notion and then starts talking some silly comedy about how we can pretend to be ninjas on our walk. You know, just some ninjas going for a morning stroll in Detroit. Maybe we can even save a grandma from some robbers.

“What do you want your ninja name to be?” Sydney asks.

“Arikuna,” I say very fast and slice the air with my stiff, flat hands. Sydney laughs at how quickly I respond and get into character.

“You’re so boss,” he grins.

“Hiiyah,” I gently side slice his gut with my hand, “Who are you?”

“Tamoruko. Hiiyah,” he pounds his hands down on the table so hard the forks bounce off of our plates. “Let’s go.”

It’s a beautiful spring day outside. Daffodils hover along the sidewalk edges, bending down to the ground, and tiny pink buds pop out of the tips of random tree branches. There are only memories of snow now, but the ground is cold and wet and the air smells like fresh, churned dirt. Little pockets of ice lurk in the shadows and crevices untouched by the warming rays of the sun. The sky is a crisp, baby blue and there isn’t a cloud in sight.

Since the riots in ’67, walking around downtown scares some people, but I don’t even think twice about it. I am not scared, man. In the last two years, a lot of white folks have moved further out of the city to escape blacks integrating into the neighborhoods, but I’m pretty sure most of them are scared of their own shadows. Fear of something drove the whites out to the suburbs or keeps them locked inside their houses, looking through windows with metal bars—upgraded cages for their American dreams— but the real Detroiters, like us, don’t run away from the tension and the soul. We keep it alive by not giving up.

“Who is Sydney?” I say.

“That’s a huge question. What do you want to know specifically?”

“Did you go to college? I don’t even know how old you are, either.”

“Well, I graduated last year with a degree in journalism and I’m 23, but I’m not really using my degree. My old man is a mechanic and he thinks I should be learning the family business.”

“So you’re working in the car shop with your old man now?”

“No. He wants me to and we fight about it all the time, but I don’t want to measure my worth by how long it takes to scrub the oil and grime out from underneath my fingernails everyday.”

He goes on to tell me that his parents incessantly beg him to work at the shop and carry on the family tradition, but they never raised him to be a mechanic and now they suddenly expect him to change his life. To change his dreams. Maybe even to change his personality.

“You don’t seem like a mechanic to me,” I say.

“Yeah, I know. It’s more fun to apply for all the random jobs in the classifieds. I even play some solo gigs, too, but not anywhere you’d know about.”

“Solo gigs?”

“Yeah, I play the guitar. What about you?”

“I was going to beauty school, but I didn’t finish.”

“You don’t seem like the type,” Sydney squints his eyes.

“Exactly, I’m not. I didn’t fit in with those girls and I didn’t want to. My mother wanted me to do it.”

We share a few moments of silence. I start thinking about that damned beauty school. I mean, what a stupid concept. I never liked it. My mother was so demanding about that career path. I think it was more that she wanted to do it, though. Living life vicariously is all some people get. Isn’t that sad?

There’s a wooden bench up ahead. Sydney stops, reaches for my hand, and we sit down. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. His eyelashes are trying to grab me.

“Sooooo, why Star?” Sydney turns to face me.

“I don’t really know. Maybe she wanted to live vicariously.”

“No, I mean, how’d you get the name Star?”

“Ohhhh!” I laugh and lean my right shoulder into him, tilting my head so that my neck is exposed, and then I pull down the right side of my shirt; revealing the star shaped cluster of freckles.

“Nice freckles,” Sydney runs along the spot with his index finger. His touch feels like an electric shock.

“Sometimes people think it’s a tattoo.”

“Or a personal constellation,” Sydney slides my shirt back onto my shoulder. I can’t tell if he’s tempted or oblivious because I am distracted by someone approaching us.

A stunning woman walks up and rests next to us on the bench. She releases a huge sigh as she sits down and puts her hands on her lap like she is defeated by a force we are not privy to. She appears to be an echo of last night’s debauchery—warped makeup, scuffed high heeled shoes, torn dress—and we can tell that she probably hasn’t had decent sleep for a couple days.

“Hola,” she says.

Her eyes look slightly bloodshot as if she spent the last few hours crying about something and no more tears can fall out; except for that very last one that falls down her cheek when she smiles at us, like it was stuck in the well of her eye socket and it is finally pushed over the edge by a single moment of contentment. That is when I remember the vulnerability in her face and the blackness of her tears.

“Do I know you?” I say.

“I don’t think so,” she says.

“I’ve seen you before. I am sure of it.”

“Honey, there’s a lot of hoes that look like me.”

“Did I help you out of that trunk?”

“Oh shit, that was you? Thanks for getting me out.”

“Why were you locked in the trunk of that Cadillac?”

“Because that fucking bastard put me in there. I don’t know why I keep goin’ back to him. He is no damn good.”

“Who?”

“Darryl, my pimp. He does not appreciate his hoes. Someone should’ve peeled his ass a long time ago,” she says, snapping her fingers for exclamation.

Well, I guess it’s all making sense now. I’m not super educated in the ways of pimps but I was thinking the other night that he dresses in a strange way. I guess putting gorgeous women in trunks of Cadillacs is a thing. I wonder how many times that’s happened to this poor woman. She looks too nice to be treated like that.

“What is your name?” I ask.

“Carmelita.”

“Does he do this to you a lot?”

“Honey, he is always trunkin’ his bitches. That’s how he disciplines us. Some other pimps like their canes, but not Darryl. He wouldn’t ruin that ivory cane for any bitch. You know, I wasn’t always working for Darryl. Someday I won’t again.”

Her eyes fill up and threaten tears but they do not fall. Somehow this woman has a fierce strength. She looks at me in search of something, but I don’t even think she knows what that is.

“What were you doing before?” I really want to know a lot of things now.

“I was a bartender at the club. That’s how he sucks you in. A lot of his hoes used to work for the club bartending or cocktailing. He watches everyone from that room and constantly has a pulse on who is hot and who is sexy, and then he plans his next bitch.”

“He didn’t just walk up to you one day and ask if you wanted to be his hooker, did he?”

“Not at all. Darryl is quite the charmer when he wants to be. When he notices you, he starts to socialize more and then turns on his southern gentleman charms. He’s very cordial, you know, and before you realize it you are spending time with him and accepting his favors. Soon, the favors become things you feel obligated to return and then you are hooking and you can’t figure out how to get out, or how you got there.”

“Shit.,” I blurt out. Then I look at Sydney. I try to signal to split but Carmelita just keeps talking.

“Sometimes I love Darryl. He can be so compassionate. It’s goin’ on nine years, I think, but I have to get out. I can’t keep messin’ around with this bastard.”

“So, uh, well, why do you do it?” I ask.

“Shit, a lot of reasons, amiga.”

Carmelita’s facial expression goes from stern and determined to weak and sad like a branch bending so far in the wind it snaps. Only love can do that to you. Love is the kind of thing that can break people in half, or at least leave them hanging on at breaking point, forgetting what it’s like to stand tall for way too long. Her demeanor seems haggard from this kind of love.

I’m really glad Sydney interrupts our conversation. I don’t know if spending a lot of time with this woman is the best thing today, or ever. The company she keeps is way too complicated for me. I kind of didn’t want to know any of that information and I’m not sure what to do with it now. I’ve got the creeps.

“Did you really help that woman out of a trunk?” Sydney says when we get a few blocks down the street.

“Yeah, it was crazy. The door guy helped me. He had a crowbar.”

“Did you tell anyone about it?”

“No. I’ve been letting it settle into my mind. It was too heavy for me.”

“Well, you’re more of a ninja than I thought you were, Arikuna,” Sydney slices the air with flat hands.

“Hiiyah!” I whip my arm into his stomach and we both start laughing hysterically.

The mid-afternoon sun shines bright from the clear sky and I am content to wander the streets while time slips away with Sydney. Other than that strange bench interaction I’d say things are going pretty smooth. I think he feels the same way, too.

Before the riots, San Francisco had Haight Ashbury and we had Plum Street. It was our little bohemian vortex where the counterculture, arts, and groovy vibes loitered, and the community of like minds could have a place to call home. Choice smoke, groovy music, hip heads, and cool shops filled the area and gave it a psychedelic heart beat that was infectious. The trash cans even paid homage to the vibe by being decorated with wild colors and trippy designs—luring those who are more likely to defy the lines and bend them in the name of exploration. Now, maybe eight shops remain—clinging to the remnants of the groovy memories that still linger in the air—and change waits around every corner like shadows from the moving sun.

“Have you heard of Led Zeppelin?” Sydney asks.

We stop in front of a small, yellow building. The swirled lettered sign above the door reads, The Turning Times, in the shape and design of a record. The front window display is decorated with old records hanging from the ceiling and dangling over a scattered mass of records below it. It’s like the heavens are crying music or the gods are playing one hell of a Frisbee game. Either way, I dig it.

“I don’t know that band,” I finally answer him.

Sydney is inside thumbing through the records by the time I catch up to him. He’s reading the titles intensely, and with purpose, like a serious musical mission. I can’t imagine which record is so desirable but now I’m curious. He sure digs music.

“How many records do you have?” I wonder.

“Hmm. Maybe somewhere around 267?”

“Wow! That is quite a collection.”

“I don’t really spend my cash on anything else,” Sydney laughs.

“Except Bab’s in black light, huh?” I can’t help but think about that hilarious poster.

“Yeah, yeah. If I can’t tell when you’re ordering roast beef and potatoes, how will I know when you’re making advances?” he says.

“What?” I say.

“Have you ever even seen the movie? That’s a quote.”

“I don’t think I have,” I begin to say and then he interrupts me.

“Don’t think you have? Well, Led Zeppelin might have to wait then.”

***

Late at night, Kat stops by for some advice because, for some reason, she thinks my blunt opinions are like reverberations of the Torah and that all good girls follow the scrolls. My advice is far from the quality of the old paper rolls, but I never resist any temptation to share what I think.

“Star, I am taking this history class and my professor is the cutest Jew.”

“Don’t even say it.”

“Say what?”

“I know you, sister. Don’t even think about it.”

“Really? But he’s such a mensch,” Kat whines.

“They always are,” I respond with rolling eyes.

“But, Star,” she says.

“Look, he’s your professor and it’s illegal for him to have relations with you because you are his student. Hello?”

“What about when the semester is over?”

“No. Keep on truckin’.”

“You’re always so responsible,” Kat says. “You want to order Chinese for dinner? I’ll buy.”

“What? With your trust fund?” I laugh so hard it offends her. Maybe I even snort.

Kat is surprised by my seriously funny comedy act, but let’s get real, she isn’t even Jewish nor does she have a trust fund. Aren’t I such a good friend for even entertaining this kind of nonsense? Oy vey, I know, someone’s gotta do it.

“What did you do today?” Kat breaks the two seconds of silence that I was thoroughly enjoying.

“I met a hooker named Carmelita. That was far out,” I say.

“Oy yoy yoy, are you serious?”

“Oy yoy yes. And her pimp is one of Jazz’s bosses.”

“No way. Does Jazz know?”

“Well, yes and no. I think she knows that her boss is a pimp, but she doesn’t know I met one of his bitches. Carmelita referred to herself as just that, so I feel comfortable using it, too.”

Kat’s attention is focused on locating the Chinese menu and her overflowing wallet. I thought she’d be a little more shocked at my encounter, or that Darryl is a pimp, but I suppose I’m the only one who didn’t know. Sometimes I can be so naive. Sometimes it’s better that way.

“Do you think he’s Jewish?” Kat uses that tone that is mischievous.

“You gold digging, little vixen. He’s nothing close.”

“Hey, just wondering. You actually met him?”

“Yeah, I did last night. So, what do you want to order from the Chinese place?”

“It doesn’t matter to me. I’m so hungry I could eat the whole menu.”

Kat stands up and pulls the phone over to the couch. The curly cord is stretched as far as it can go. It looks like it’s just about to snap. She holds the receiver one foot away from her face and yells when the guy answers. The fact she doesn’t move her face closer to the phone is illuminating. I understand so much more about her now.

“Hey Kat,” I poke her in the side when she hangs up the phone. “How much do you charge?”

“Way more than Carmelita, I’m sure. The Yenta’s are over-priced.”

“I don’t think anyone would argue with you about that.”

“Oy vey! I’m schvitzing!” Kat whines.

“You’re schvitzing?”

“Yes!”

“You aren’t schvitzing, Gidget. Schvitzing is sweating. You don’t sweat when you’re hungry.”

“Not even if I’m really, really, really starving?”

“I’m not convinced.”

“Gidget, huh?” Kat looks at me for an explanation. She hates when I call her that.

***

Pam greets me with sausage breath when I walk into the diner and Deb reeks of that Faygo already. It is only 7:30am and I am like a sitting duck in the middle of a death breath battle. I think I would rather inhale copious amounts of arsenic than spicy sausage and candied grape chemicals all day long. The modern world reeks of stupidity and poor choices and we’re all like sitting ducks in the middle of our own little wars.

“Hey,” I nod.

“Hey girl,” Deb smacks her gum.

“Where you been?” Pam says.

“Well, sometimes I do get a day off from this place.” I walk over to the coffee machine and brew my first pot of the day.

“Did you see the red head again?” Deb slurps her soda and then stuffs her apron with a new par of straws.

“I did.”

I’m not in the mood today. Sometimes this grease pit is the last place I want to be. But maybe all places are like that. What is that thing that people say? Routine is deadly. Maybe it’s not the actual routine but the state of mind. Shit, maybe that’s the secret to life. Change your state of mind and be happy with anything.

“Good morning, Penelope,” Mr. Baxter says as he walks up to us, handing out daisies like placing magical treats in each one of our palms.

“Happy flower day,” Mr. Baxter smiles with so much love and then goes to his usual spot. I drop off the paper, verify his order, and pour some decaf coffee into his wobbling cup.

“It is always good to see you. Where have you traveled lately?” I say.

“Well, I was hoping you would ask.”

He pulls out a stack of postcards from his jacket pocket and fans 5 pictures on the table like lying a royal flush down to brag. The Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, a turtle, a sunset bursting through the sillhouette of palm trees, and a pod of dolphins are the five pictures presented on the table. In some way, his collection reminds me of Tarot cards.

“Which card do you choose?” he says.

“I think I like the sunset.” I point to the exact card and he pulls it out to examine and remember.

“Ah, yes. This is a beach in Fiji. The sand was so fine it was almost like powder and the kava was tasty. Yes. I enjoyed gazing out into the sea there. It was a very peaceful place.”

“It looks nice.” I can almost feel the warmth of the sun on my skin when I stare at it and imagine. “Were you there alone?”

“Oh no, I was with my Mildred.”

“Who’s Mildred?”

“Oh dear, she was my lovely wife. I can still feel the sand between my toes when I look at this.” He sets the postcard down on the table and sips his coffee.

“Your breakfast will be ready in a few minutes.” I turn around and walk back to the kitchen. I’m a little lost in my own beach thoughts and then I wonder if Mr. Baxter was actually there with his wife once upon a time or if it is another one of his famous fabrications. It doesn’t really matter because I enjoy hearing the story and reliving the dream whether or not it is just dreaming.

I check out the rest of the post cards. The one with the turtle on it really catches my eye. I’ve always liked turtles. They seem peaceful and steady. I want to be peaceful and steady. Does that exist? Or do I dare digress?

“What about that one?” I say, pointing to the turtle picture.

“Ah, you like turtles?” he shakes his head as if he’s learned a very revealing fact about me.

“Did you see turtles somewhere?”

“No.”

“Well, then…”

“I was supposed to see turtles when I was in Hawaii but they never came, so I bought this postcard to capture what I missed.”

“Hmm.”

“Penelope?” he says.

“Yes, Mr. Baxter?”

“Have you seen any good nose crinkles yet?”

“What?” It takes me a few seconds to realize what he is talking about. “No, not yet, but I will let you know.”

Nose crinkles? Nose crinkles? I’ve seen a lot more than nose crinkles lately. I still see lots of things in my mind, too. In fact, my thoughts are so plentiful I’d rather chew on those than food at the moment.

“Excuse me, what are you doing?” My boss grabs my elbow and pulls me into the back room of the restaurant.

“What is wrong with you?” I pull my arm away from him.

“Why are you spending so much time at that table?”

“I’m giving our guests a more personal experience by caring about their lives. Isn’t that what you always preach to us?” I fold my arms and tap my foot with impatience.

“Well you can’t just ignore your other tables,” he raises his voice.

“Yeah, well, maybe if you were here for more than five minutes a day you would see that I don’t have any other tables yet. Mr. Baxter is my first table. Are we done?”

“You better watch what you say.” He points his finger at me like a gun and his bracelet twinkles when he pulls the trigger.

I walk away without saying anything because I really don’t give a damn what that chauvinistic bastard says. Pam and Deb are standing by the coffee machines. They give me a look. You know the look.

“You okay?” Pam says.

“Did you hear all of that?” I say.

“I think everyone did,” Deb says.

“Yeah, he’s a real groovy guy, isn’t he?”

I push the button on the coffee machine hard—imagining it is his face—to start brewing another pot. I’ve lost track of the number and I can’t wait to get out of this grease pit for the day. Pam and Deb float back into their sections and flirt with the regulars while I stew in my mind about my inconsiderate boss who isn’t boss at all.

To distract my mind, I visit Mr. Baxter’s table to clear his plate. He lifts his coffee cup and begins to whisper between sips. I lean in a bit closer to hear him.

I’m sorry about that, Miss Penelope.”

Oh, that? Don’t you worry about it. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Hey, Mr. Baxter, what is your first name?”

Walter. My name is Walter.”

Thanks for the pretty flower, Walter. Is it cool if I call you that, or do you prefer Mr. Baxter?”

No one has called me Walter since Mildred passed away. I would love it.”

You have yourself a groovy day, then, Walter. I’ll see you soon?”

Okay, Penelope. You be careful when you’re out there having fun.”

Thirty-one pots of coffee later, I am officially home and starving. The leftover Chinese food in the fridge sounds like a perfect idea until I open the containers and find one piece left in each box. Thanks, Kat. It’s like the people who leave one splash of milk or juice in the cartons with no regard to the hope others feel at the vision of such an option. It’s a cruel tease. After two measly bites of food, the phone rings.

Hey chick, do you still plan on making it out to the club tonight?” Kat says.

Yeah, I think so. Maybe next time we order food, you can just finish the last bite of everything.”

What’d you say?”

Forget it. What time are you going to be there?”

Maybe 9 o’clock. We can get in before the crowd.”

Groovy. I’ll see you there.” I hang up the phone and eat a bowl of cereal to satiate my deceived hunger.

Later at the club, Audrey and Kat are already sitting at the bar when I walk in. Greg and Jazz are behind the bar shaking and making delicious libations—laughing and playing off of each other like some vaudeville act. The crowd is small and relaxed and the vibe is real mellow. It’s a nice change from the loud bump and grind, but it’s only a matter of hours before the dancers heat this place up.

These orange things are so boss,” Audrey says. The perimeter of her Afro glows in the black light like she is a psychedelic angel.

I guess I’ll have one, too,” I say.

“What do you call these things?” Kat lifts up her martini glass to inspect it.

“You can name it.” Greg leans in closer to us. “Hey, do you chicks want any ludes tonight?”

Jazz suddenly jumps into the conversation with her usual sassy attitude. She asks me where Sydney is, but I don’t know either. Maybe this wondering is a bad track in my mind. Or maybe sometimes the wondering is actually how we get lost or found depending on the situation.

“What about Agent Orange?” Kat laughs.

“WHAT?” falls out of our mouths simultaneously and we all stare at her for an explanation. I’m not sure if she thinks it’s funny but it seems like it.

“Okay, maybe that’s not the best idea. Sorry,” Kat says.

“Come on, the only downer I want tonight is in the form of a little, loving pill, man,” Audrey says and then Greg puts two pills in her hand.

“Unless you both would rather have a Black Beauty?” Greg smiles.

“I’ll take a lude, man,” I say.

“I think I’ll pass this time,” Kat says.

“Now look who the responsible one is?” I elbow her as I pop my pill and wash it down with my nameless orange drink.

“Maybe Orange Bliss is better,” Kat blurts out.

“I’ll take it,” Greg says.

“Um, you might have to drive me and the Bug home tonight,” I giggle.

“I know,” Kat says.

“I could melt into one of those couches,” Audrey points.

“See you there.” I grab my drink, nod at Jazz and Greg, and nestle into the soft crannies of the upholstery.

I know my lude starts working when I feel way too relaxed for only having one drink. The homely looking guy at the bar seems sexier than before and I just want to crawl into the pillows of this couch and fall asleep. Audrey falls down next to me and we both giggle like school girls high on too much candy.

“This song is totally groovy,” Audrey says slowly, as if she is enjoying pronouncing each syllable that comes out. The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away” heats up the vibe in the room, or maybe that’s just my lude, again.

“Well, well, well. Look what foxy ladies I find restin’ on my couch,” Darryl says. “It is Star and Audrey, right?” He picks up his ivory cane and lays it across his lap, gently sliding one hand down to the silver tip and then reclines in his position.

Audrey says hello but I don’t really want to get too involved in any kind of interaction with him. After meeting Carmelita, I’m pretty convinced he’s a tricky man, so I’m cool being aloof. What does he know, anyway?

“So, ladies, what does The Dragonflower owe for such luscious company this evenin’?” Darryl’s pearly white teeth glow in the black light whenever he smiles—like a beacon of bright light piercing through the shadows.

Audrey distracts the infamous Darryl by talking about Greg’s new cocktail. She’s doing a great job but it doesn’t mean I want to join in on the conversation. I’m still pretty suspicious of the guy and I can’t wait for him to go do something else except sit with us and hover. Ick.

“Star? Sweet child? Are you okay?” He looks at me because I’m staring into space and am obviously not paying attention to him or their conversation.

“What do you think of Nixon?” I blurt out boldly even though I really mean it to be a secret thought. “Do you have any friends in the war?”

“Wow. She’s in some deep thoughts right now.” He laughs and then picks something out of his jeweled tooth with his pinky finger, pulls a tissue paper out of his jacket pocket, and wipes that finger before he rests his hand back down on the shiny cane.

“Are your toes getting tingly?” I whisper into Audrey’s ear. She pokes me softly in the side so that I keep cool.

“Do you feel like you’re floating?” Audrey whispers back at me. We giggle.

Our giggles echo inside my head. Darryl’s lips keep moving but I can’t hear anything except the music, and it sounds muffled. I want to get up and dance but I can’t seem to get off the couch. I’m about to go ape.

“My cousin, Jeremy,” Darryl says.

“What?” Audrey says.

“He’s in Vietnam right now. He got sent over about a month ago.”

“Well, bless him,” Audrey nods. “How long have you been in the night club business?”

“Honey, I’ve been in this business a long time,” his tooth sparkles.

The private conversation in my mind starts running wild. It takes all the strength I have not to roll my eyes until they fall into the back of my head. God! This guy is a piece of work. Poor Carmelita.

“Are you two fine things accompanied by anyone tonight?” Darryl says and waves his hand at the bartenders.

Jazz walks over to the couches and caters to her boss. I don’t like watching it. He then orders three more of Greg’s Orange Bliss cocktail but I’m not really interested in another drink. I just want to melt into this couch and forget he ever existed. The music feels way better than his presence or conversation.

To my luck, Kat walks up to join in on the fun. I’m glad to see her because maybe she can rescue us from this character. Either way, she’s another distraction and any other variable is good at the moment.

“What’s going on over here?” Kat says. She sits down next to Darryl and stares intently at the details of his outfit. She looks as surprised as I did the first time I saw him.

“And hello to you, too,” Darryl licks his lips.

“You must be Darryl,” she says, “I’m Kat.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” he says, grabbing Kat’s hand and kissing the back of it.

“How are you two doing?” Kat says, laughing. She obviously has figured out that we’re high on something, if not life.

“Well, I will leave you fine, young women to your own conversations. Please do let me know if there’s anything I can ever assist you with.” Darryl stands up and walks away, probably disappearing into the black glass above.

Two minutes after the pimp leaves, Jazz arrives with three drinks. The orange martini glasses glow like they are buzzing with strange chemicals, too. I don’t know if I should have one. I’m tripping on everything at the moment.

“Darryl left,” I say.

“Yeah, it’s starting to pick up in here and he doesn’t dig being on the floor when we’re busy,” Jazz says.

“Nice vibe in here tonight,” Audrey closes her eyes.

“Let’s dance.” I take Audrey’s hand and then Kat’s and pull them out onto the dance floor.

That familiar Creedence sound hums through the speakers and then I realize ‘Bootleg’ is reverberating all around the room and inside my limbs. Kat and Audrey get wild—spinning, twirling, jiving to the tunes. I start doing the twist, getting funky, and laughing because I feel so mellow and in love with the moment.

We’re the only people on the dance floor when the song begins and then our dancing bodies’ triple half way through. Greg even joins us for the song—his curls bouncing to the beats and twisting with the movement of his torso. I shimmy my shoulders, Kat twirls her hands, and Audrey shakes her hips as we dance for ourselves, and the moment, and the love all around us. We dance to celebrate and commemorate our brothers and sisters across the seas. Please come home.

The song transitions into Marvin Gaye and Greg goes back to making his drinks.

“What a great song,” Kat says, still grooving to the music.

“I can really feel the war tonight,” Audrey says.

Sydney appears on the dance floor. I gasp internally. I wonder if he knows I’m, um, intoxicated? Who the hell cares, anyway. This is me. Here I am, Mr. Vasquez.

“What are you doing here?” I say.

“Looking for someone,” he pulls me close.

“You are trouble.”

“You are driving me crazy and it’s a special day in the universe.”

“What is so special?” I wonder.

“John and Yoko got married. I am inspired.”

“Inspired to do what?” I lift an eyebrow.

“Do you think that you can get three days off next week?”

“I think so.”

“Ask any of your friends, too.”

“What are we doing for three days?”

“I’m hosting a bed-in,” Sydney says proudly.

“A bed-in?”

“It’s a war protest from my bed. John and Yoko are doing one for their honeymoon next week.”

“What do we do in bed?”

“We talk about and promote peace in a non-violent way.”

“You are inspired,” I laugh and throw my hands behind his neck. He slides his fingers down my back in a suggestive way that feels so totally groovy to me in this state.

“Can I see your constellation?” Sydney whispers in my ear.

He spins me around so that he’s pressed against my back with his hands on my hips—both of us still moving to the music. I pull down the corner of my shirt to reveal my secret cluster. Sydney kisses my shoulder a couple of times and then spins me back around to face him. I feel like Jell-O and want nothing more than to dissolve into his chest.

“Do you want a lude?” I stare directly into his eyes, hoping that he interprets me the right way, although I’m not even sure what that is at this moment, anyway.

Triggering Transformation

“Sometimes you have to give up something good to discover there is genius.”

–Lifeplugin Summit

 

It’s a Blue In Green kind of night. Do you know what that is?  Maybe you have them, too.  Maybe you play this song, or album, on repeat for hours until time dissipates into the wee hours of the night– until all of your emotions and notions flow out like water from your soul–just like me.

Is it possible that there’s someone like me out there?  Someone who listens to Miles Davis and feels everything in the universe. . .the universe inside of us.

Go for meditation, someone once told me.  But, I’ve never really been much into such things.  What the hell is meditation, anyway?  Is it really a space that I  have no thoughts, no feelings, no nothing?  I can’t even conceive of it like that.  How is it possible for pure love to have nothing, even for a brief instant in time?

But, I went to meditate.

A dear friend picked me up one rainy night.  It was dark, I was dismal, and it was a harrrrrd day.  It was one of those days that the weight of unfamiliar burdens was breaking me–bending my mind and soul so close to snapping into shards of disaster–and I couldn’t see any light.

And, you know what?

When I closed my eyes, I saw inside of my soul.  It had a gigantic, elaborate gate detailed with intricate swirling designs and floral patterns.  It was more fantastic and whimsical than anything at Rivendell, and when it opened, a lush, colorful, and vibrant garden appeared before my eyes.  I walked through the gate like a child running into an open field on a sunny day, twirling in the sunshine with my arms outstretched and eyes closed. . .my head to the sky. . .my face drenched in warm sunlight.

And then I realized, why haven’t I been here?  Why haven’t I watered this garden?  Why haven’t I smelled these flowers?  Why haven’t I danced in these fragrances?

Wow.

My soul is fucking beautiful.  This place is awesome.  I should have picnics here.  I should have dance parties here.  I should know how special this garden is.  I have to water this garden.

“To love oneself is the beginning of a life long romance!”

Oscar Wilde

When was the last time you visited your soul?  When was the last time you really paid attention to who you really are?  When was the last time you reveled in that space, that you honored that space, that you knew how much that space is worth?  

When?

“Authenticity is an internal process. . .”

So, then, if you never go deep inside of yourself, are you authentic? Are you watering your garden?

“The journey back to yourself is a heroes’ journey.”

Are you ready to be a hero?  Are you ready to carry the weight of whatever burdens you have along the way?  Are you ready to fight?  Are you ready to really, truly, honestly be yourself?  No apologies, no insecurities, no second guessing ever?

These are intriguing thoughts, right?  I mean, YES!  Fucking yes!  Let’s do it, universe.  Let’s do this THANG!  Anyone else with me?  All we have is NOW so we might as well not waste it.  Who knows what the next life has in store, but I’m just sayin’, let’s. . .get. . .it. . .onnnnn!

Yes, dear universe, I am ready to hear what you have to say.

Are YOU ready?

“Why we are here is to trigger transformation.”

Maybe all those broken hearts we have mended are exactly what we needed all along?  Maybe all that trauma that we experienced in our lives gives us a reason to be a HERO.  Maybe, just maybe, that everything that happens is to trigger transformation, and maybe, just maybe, if we thought about it like that ALWAYS we would feel so much lighter.  We would feel like a child running into an open field on a sunny day.

Every. Single. Day.

Wouldn’t that be bliss?

Don’t you want to be that child?

“When you have no purpose, you will accept anything.”

This concept is such a tough one for me.  It breaks my heart.  It disturbs my core.  But, it is about balance and that is so very important.

If you have no purpose, no drive, no idea, and you just go with the flow, you WILL accept anything and that isn’t always a good idea.  It’s an experience, but not necessarily GOOD for you, or healthy, or sustainable.

It is not authentic because it doesn’t allow you to DECIDE.  Indecision isn’t truth.  It’s uncertainty.  It’s vague.  It’s an illusion. . .

If we are lost in a house of mirrors, how can we ever visit that beautiful garden? We don’t even know which reflection is tangible or how to find the exit door.

And then, how do we heal?  How do we become that hero?  How do we water our garden?

“Transformation lives at the level of your heart.”

So, heal your heart.  No matter how hard the journey seems, no matter how jaded you are, no matter how heartless you want to feel, just do it.  What life is there without heart?  Is that living?

Be thankful for the people who have broken your heart.  Be thankful for all the love you’ve had and lost.  It is all part of triggering transformation.  Don’t waste your time with fear.  Fear is a bad tenant in the mind and it doesn’t even pay rent.

So now, I’m hanging in my garden.  I’m studying each and every flower petal, fragrance, blade of grass. . .Admiring the diamond like dew drops sparkling in the morning sun. . .Listening to the birds singing my heart songs. . .

And this is where the journey begins.

I am a hero today.  Are you?

Maybe you just need to close your eyes first. . .or listen to Miles Davis into the wee hours of the night.

Yeahhhh. . . .

Now Go!

Be an everyday philosopher.

Be a hero!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wish Bathers, Chapter One

Knee-High in Foods and Dudes

Chapter One

After 25 years of traveling around this big, beautiful sun, I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that most people fit into one of three categories after hearing my name for the first time. I used to think it was a drag to be constantly reminded of how monotonous and confined most people live their lives, but now I feel it’s a good indication of who is on the road to personal freedom and who isn’t even looking for signs.

Countless times meeting strangers and hearing the same responses, I think it’s really cool when I meet someone who cannot be categorized. These rare individuals dare to be fearless and free, pushing their boundaries with life’s vast possibilities, while the other people stay limited in a safe place. I like to think I’m one of the freaks, but sometimes, I do play chicken with the other side.

Hi, I’m Penelope Custer,” I say to person A.

Custard? Like the sweet stuff?” person A says with a dorky smile that kicks in my gag reflex.

Hi, I’m Penelope Custer,” I say to person B.

Did you say mustard?” person B says because either they’re not listening or the way I say a “C” and an “M” sound really similar.

Hi, I’m Penelope Custer,” I say to person C.

Hmm….is that any relation to the historical Custer?” person C responds and I almost go ape.

Of course, there are people who respond completely unlike A, B, or C, but most people, man, fit into these scenarios. It’s weird and really uncool and it makes me so skeptical that humans can be so robotic. Are they even awake in life? Maybe the mold they’ve locked themselves inside is what keeps them from evolving. Meeting someone for the first time has become something much more than just a lobotomized social greeting that most people don’t think twice about. For me, it’s like seeing what kinds of lines are drawn and whether people draw them to stay inside their comfort zones or to stay out of them.

I’ve stopped always using my full name when meeting people because sometimes I need a day off from information overload. It’s cool, though, because secrets keep the allure going and I don’t mind interpersonal tangents. I don’t need to know all the details immediately. It’s like knowing the gimmick behind the magic trick before you even see the trick. Where’s the fun in that every time?

So, I’m at this party at my best friend’s pad, but I’m not diggin’ the vibe. It’s not that the atmosphere isn’t hip enough, or the people are a drag, but I’m at this place in my life where I feel sort of displaced, or I guess, lost, and there’s a huge disconnect between here and there. I could say me or them, really, but the ‘them’ is relative to the situation and not necessarily the kind of people.

I’m standing behind a yellow beaded curtain smoking a joint. I watch the smoke slither through the plastic rain and it’s like I’m staring into the window of a house I don’t know. That’s how I feel lately. I also quit beauty school today.

“Hey, are you going to share that grass, man, or stay lurking in the shadows all night?” A cute bell-bottomed, shaggy haired guy says from the couch. I don’t know him.

I stay behind the curtain for a few moments, enjoying the puffs of solace, when someone comes up behind me and whispers in my ear.

Star, are you ballin’ him?” Jazz grabs my hips. I turn around and she’s got a huge smirk on her face.

Considering I just met him and he hasn’t left the sofa, I don’t think so, but thanks for asking,” I say. She smiles and pulls me through the beads.

Put on some Jimi and come sit down,” Jazz says to her friend Greg who is standing by the record player. He reaches down and places the needle on top of the record. A breath of silence, a crackle, and “The wind cries Mary” hovers above our heads, persuading everyone in the room to form a circle on the floor and pass the rest of my joint around.

I saw Jimi once,” The cute boy from the couch says as he takes a huge, slow drag next to me.

Are you serious?” I say, holding out my hand for the pass, “Where?”

A couple of years ago in England. Man, that guy can play the fuckin’ guitar like no one I’ve ever seen.”

Shit, man, that’s bitchin’,” Greg says from across the circle, his comment provoking a few high laughs that move through each one of us like a contagious wave.

What’s your name, brother?” I say while looking down at his bell bottoms and clean, bare feet; imagining seeing Jimi live and how groovy that must’ve been.

Sydney Vasquez. You?”

Penelope Custer,” I say.

Groovy,” Sydney says.

Uh, thanks. Most people call me Star.”

Uh huh,” Jazz winks in my peripheral.

Opposite us, Greg sits happily between two cute blonde twins with long, ironed hair and their hips wrapped in tight, high-waist jeans. The three of them lean over a mound of grass, picking out the stems, rolling the good stuff into more party favors. Greg’s thick, brown, curly hair falls like bouncing springs over his face; yellow framed glasses spare his ice blue eyes.

How do you know Greg?” I say, quietly, still watching the three of them and enjoying the dynamics of their triangle.

He works at the club with me. He’s a cool cat,” Jazz says. Greg flips his curls out of his face and looks at us with a joint in each hand.

Why couldn’t the lifeguard save the hippie?” Greg smiles while handing the blondes the joints to spark up.

Why?” We all say.

He was too far out, man!” Greg pauses and then laughs. The rest of us can’t help but acquiesce to his charm. In the background, Jimi fades into silence and the record spins softly under the needle.

Is it time for The Doors?” Jazz gets up and walks to the record player, but none of us respond because our groovy dialogue is so, like, interesting, man.

Before Jazz returns to the circle, I find myself secretly gazing—okay, staring—at Sydney. His eyelashes are so long they could catch things—almost as if they are traps for eye contact, demanding a deeper connection from anyone that speaks with him—and the warm, emerald green of his irises are totally distracting. He doesn’t notice me staring at his profile, scanning the contours like I am investigating the topography map of a paradise I haven’t seen before, but I am quite, uh, mesmerized. Maybe it’s the mass of strawberry locks that adorn his head like a familiar crown of understanding; knowing what it is to be a true ginger. Or, maybe I just don’t get out that much.

Mary Jane passes into his hands and I watch him stare at the joint as if he is having the most deep, philosophical conversation with it in his mind. He flicks the ashy embers skillfully and pulls the doobie to his mouth. I remember that the other joint is in my hand and I should take a hit before someone accuses me of it being a microphone, even though I am not projecting any words, but staring like a fool at a shiny object. We both exhale and swap joints.

Hey,” Sydney says.

Uh, sorry, so how do you know Jazz?” I say.

My pad is just down the street from here, but we actually met when I was at the club a few months ago. She makes the best martini in town, and after three, we found out we lived in the same neighborhood.”

Small world.”

Do you work at The Dragonflower, too?”

Oh, no, I work at a little Greek diner on the other side of town, called Aphrodite’s. You should come in sometime for breakfast.”

Man, I do love a choice Greek omelet,” He leans over and nudges my shoulder with his, “Maybe I will get some of that chicken lemon soup, too.”

And me,” I want to say out loud, but don’t. I’m really banking on telepathy right now.

Let’s get moody,” Jazz says as she puts a new record under the needle and then turns off the lights. Sydney touches my knee but takes his hand away at the sound of a striking match in the darkness, like maybe I will only notice if I can see what he is doing. I get excited by the fact that the darkness keeps it our little secret, but feel anxious for not knowing how it truly makes me feel.

Moments later, Jazz appears in the glow of a candle flame, as if her face is surrounded by a vertical halo. The reflection of the flame in her brown eyes makes them look like shimmering gold orbs floating above her smile.

You are pretty,” Audrey, Jazz’s roommate, says.

It’s getting late and I gotta crash,” I say.

Can I catch a ride with you?” Sydney says.

Sure.”

Wait a minute you two,” Jazz says, “And get over here.” She squishes us together forcing our bodies into a group hug.

Have a groovy night,” Sydney says.

Walking out with this strange, but totally cute dude, feels a bit awkward. I don’t really know what to say to him. I just keep thinking about his hand on my knee. Was that his hand on my knee? Oh god, I’m weird. The silence is killing me.

So, where do you live?” I say.

I live just a few blocks down the street, but it’s cold and I have a strange affinity for ginger chicks, you know,” He says deadpan and I wait for him to mention something about our little, dark secret but I get nothing.

Look at that,” I point to the street. The parked cars look like a postcard. Six white cars all in a row and my purple Beetle sitting in the middle of them. The only working street lamp on the block shines directly above my wheels as if the universe really wants it to stick out in space like a blob of sparkling, purple glitter.

Wow, man, are those your wheels?” he says.

Yes,” I say with the fattest grin on my face because I always have the fattest grin on my face when I see my Beetle. “Her name is Gloria,” I open the passenger side door for Sydney.

Sydney studies the inside of my car like he is reading Braille. He begins with the ceiling that is decorated with pinned up paisley handkerchiefs just so that they hang a little in the center of the cloth, giving the ceiling a puffy cloud look. He then moves his hand down the seatbelt and onto the passenger side window, circling the peace sign sticker in the bottom right corner with his index finger a few times.

You dig it in here?” I try to get his attention but he just moves on to the dashboard and remains silent. His fingers glide across the random knickknacks, and when he reaches a picture of the holy trinity from 7th grade, he changes direction and points upward.

What are those for?” He points to the silver keys hanging from my rear view mirror.

They’re from a bike lock I had when I was a kid, but I also dig the symbol keys resemble.” A sudden image of that stupid Schwinn still makes me laugh.

I dig Gloria. She is so cherry,” He buckles his seatbelt.

I step on the clutch and put her in first gear. A couple blocks, a right, and a left later we’re at his pad. Sydney gets out of my car, turns around with a big smile, and leans in the window. I decide to say something before he does. I can’t take the heavy silence.

“Hey, do you have anyone else in your family with red hair?” I say.

“No, man.”

“Me neither.”

“I guess we’re genetic freaks then,” Sydney laughs. “Thanks for the ride, sister.”

“You are welcome,” I grin.

***

The next morning, sunlight pours into my room like a tipped open bottle of honey. It’s all wonderful and Zen-like until the phone rings.

“Where the hell are you, man?” Some guy says in a really loud voice. Well, loud enough to shake me right out of dream state and remember that I picked up a shift for a chick at work and I am 45 minutes late.

“Shit, man, I’m sorry. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I hang up the phone and frantically collect myself, but waking up still drunk and high is not the best way to jump start any morning. Take my advice.

When I get to Aphrodite’s, it is bustling with the usual early breakfast craze with a line out the door. All the waitresses look like ballerinas in a perfectly choreographed dance—spinning, twirling, and weaving in and out of tables, guests and each other all while carrying multiple plates of eggs and pancakes and coffee pots. One of the waitresses, Pam, whips by me asking for a coffee round, so I grab a decaf with my left hand and a regular with my right—right is for regular, always. Right?

I start on my left and work clockwise around the entire restaurant filling cups and smiles as if my hands poured liquid happiness right into their eyes. The usual customers at Aphrodite’s always sit at the same tables, on the same days, and order the same menu items. They are definitely regular, to say the least, but they are also like family and I think they feel the same way about us.

“Good morning, Penelope,” Mr. Baxter greets me with his shaky hand holding up an empty coffee cup. He must be in his 80’s but he is here a lot of mornings for a cup of coffee, one scrambled egg, and a read of the free press. Some of the older folks don’t really like my nickname and prefer to call me by my given name. The octogenarians have a charming way of pronouncing ‘Penelope’ as if it is the name of an old friend and it invokes pleasant memories that light up their whole faces as they speak. I dig that about them.

Mr. Baxter is Aphrodite’s very own charmer. Not only does he visit every morning, but once every week he brings the entire staff a gift. Sometimes he gives chocolates, or stickers, or flowers. Postcards and pens are some of his all time favorites. When he brings postcards he makes up elaborate stories about the pictures and his imagined travel to those places.

“Hello, nice to see you,” I fill his cup and move onto the next table.

“Next time you come around I must tell you all about Egypt,” Mr. Baxter points to a postcard with the pyramids on it.

Back at the server station all the women are huddled together discussing sections and which one of us is going home. I return the coffee pots to the burners, start brewing a couple new pots, and stick my head into the discussion. Pam stuffs her face with pita bread wrapped around sausage links while she shares her opinions. Another lady, Deb, slurps at a large grape Faygo throughout the day. She’s always got an enormous cup filled with that horribly delicious soda and a straw in her mouth whenever possible. Some people might say she has an oral fixation but, thinking objectively, maybe her tongue just needs a lot of exercise. Whichever, the straw is hardly as distracting as her complete set of purple stained teeth.

“You take the window section, missy,” Pam’s mouth is full of food when she speaks to me.

“How was the party last night?” Deb says, twirling the straw around her tongue, obviously implying by the movement of the straw what she wants to hear.

Before I can answer, I see someone out of my peripheral sit down at one of the tables in my section. It’s a woman that I don’t recognize hiding underneath a wide-brimmed hat and a shawl. I walk over to the table ready to take an order.

“Hello, are you ready to order?” I greet the woman curiously, but when she looks up at me I realize who it is.

“I think we’re finally done,” Kat says with tears in her eyes.

“Sister, where have you been? I haven’t seen you in weeks.” She’s dressed in a fancy blue dress that looks like it came out of Holly Golightly’s closet with a beautiful red hat and lacy, black shawl.

“Simon took me to Paris to break up with me, man.”

“Well, at least you got to go to Paris and get that groovy outfit. Do you want any food?”

“Mind if I stay at your pad tonight? I don’t want to go back to my folks’ house yet. And do you have any Boston cream pie?”

For the past seven years, Kat and Simon have been ballin’ on and off while battling a world of dramatic love and chutzpa. Luckily, the call we got on graduation day was just a scare so none of us had to escort Kat in a bullet proof vest, but we did have to suffer many years of their crazy relationship roller coaster. Frankly, I am glad to hear that he finally ditched her. I’m sure there are plenty of other Jewish fish in the sea. I think they’re called Lutefisk, right? Wait, that’s Scandinavian.

I’ll see you at home,” I hand her the keys, food to go, and send her off with a hug.

I’ve been at this diner for three years and I’ve gotten into the habit of measuring time at work in terms of brewing coffee pots. An entire day shift is about 30 pots of coffee.

“How much time do you have left today?” George, another regular, refers to my notion of time when he walks in during the afternoon for a cup of coffee.

“About 5 pots,” I say and am mildly entertained by the fact that we both know exactly what I mean.

George is a funny Greek guy. He is friends with the boss. Most afternoons my boss and all his Greek guy friends loiter at one table and drink coffee for hours—watching and pointing. I never know what or whom they talk about but I am pretty convinced that they are part of the Greek mafia in town. They all wear peculiar gold bracelets that are always on the right hand. I don’t know, man. Maybe I am the only one that pays attention to the odd details of dodgey characters but the bracelets are certainly creepy. They must mean something.

Business slows down in the late afternoon. I am exhausted and I can’t help but fantasize about my bed while I clean up the ketchup bottles on empty tables. Oddly enough, this task allows my mind to wander and it goes from thoughts of sleeping to thoughts of sleeping with Sydney. It amazes me sometimes how thoughts can be so sneaky and jump in when you don’t expect them to. Maybe they’re dream burps.

A split second, or burp later, I hold up one of the ketchup bottles into the light of the sun to inspect it and make sure I’ve cleaned it entirely. My focus on the print of the label gets caught into a pair of eyes floating behind the bottle. I move my head in surprise, recognizing the eyelashes, and see Sydney standing in front of me.

“Hello, groovy chick.”

“Oh, hi,” I say, awkwardly.

“I hope you don’t mind that I stopped in, but I started a craving when you told me about this spot, man.”

“Well, I’m on my last coffee pot,” I say, a bit nervous.

“What?” Sydney is obviously confused by me.

“Oh, I’m almost done with my shift, I mean.”

“Right on. Would you like to join me for some food here or go somewhere else?”

“Um, I thought you were craving this food?” I tilt my head and lift an eyebrow.

“Well, I must confess I definitely paired that desire along with your cool company.”

I tell him we can stay and get my discount on food. When he agrees, I do my best to hide my excitement that he’s actually standing in front of me right now. Am I dreaming? Deep breaths, right. So I go back to finishing my duties and he picks a table.

Back at the server station, the girls are obviously curious.

“Who’s the red head?” Deb tongues her straw again.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I smile at her, wipe down the counter, and untie my apron.

***

Two days later, Kat still lounges around my pad like a suicidal teenager, crying into the bottom of ice cream containers as if she might find the answers in her preserved, milky tears. Three day old eyeliner has blended into her face and she exudes a healthy stench—something sweet and wrong, perhaps, like orange juice gone to the fermented side.

“When was the last time you took a shower?” I say.

“Why? Do I smell?” She lifts up her arms and snorts her armpits to check if I am serious, “Oh my, that is disgusting.” She tosses the empty ice cream container into the garbage and heads for the bathroom.

“Maybe it’s time for you to go out and ball someone else,” I yell towards the bathroom and wait for a response but the only noise that comes from that direction is the sound of running water. Maybe she doesn’t hear me, or maybe she just doesn’t want to respond, but I am starting to wonder if all wannabe Jewish girls are so high maintenance or if I have a unique friend on my hands.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she shouts from the shower, but she really doesn’t, of course, unless wannabe Jewish girls are also telepathic.

“What?” I yell back, pretending I don’t hear her.

A couple seconds later Kat bursts out of the steamy bathroom wrapped in a towel and sits down on the couch next to me. She is a drama queen that’s for sure.

“Do you really think I should be ballin’ another guy while I’m like this?” Kat whines. I am not impressed.

“Put on something foxy, smile, and let’s go out to The Dragonflower tonight. I’m sure Jazz will want to see you and I think Greg is working, too, man. Groovy?”

“Oy vey,” she says as if she’s agreeing to commit a murder that she knows she will regret, but saunters to my closet and begins pulling out clothing options anyway.

After seven outfit changes and a few moans in between, Kat settles on a pair of high-waist bell-bottom jeans, a white peasant blouse with multi-colored embroidery, and a huge, gold peace sign medallion dangling somewhere between her free hanging bosom and her belly button. Her long, shiny, dark hair cascades down from the middle part of her crown and ends somewhere close to the latitude of her pendant. We’re finally ready to hit the road.

“So, what is this club like?” Kat says as she sits down in the passenger side of Gloria.

“Laid back. You will dig it.”

“Do I have too much blue eye shadow on?” Kat whines.

I don’t answer her because sometimes it’s better to stay silent than give into her emotions, and I am also preoccupied with the red head that won’t get out of my red head. And then I think about being in bed, again. Head, bed.  Am I really thinking in rhymes or am I going ape for a stranger?

“I’m going crazy,” I say out loud responding to my inner thoughts and forget that Kat can hear me.

“You what?”

“Are you ready to party, chick?” I pull into a parking spot next to a red Beetle.

“Do I have a choice?” Kat says.

The night is exciting and I can feel the changes of spring on my skin. There are several people in line when we get to the front entrance but Joe, the door guy, knows me so well that I just pass him with a wink and head into the club. I don’t have to wait in line like the rest of the world because I’m friends with the employees. Maybe there’s another reason, too, but the first is good enough for me. Kat is impressed by my elitist groovy powers.

Inside the club, music blares, laughter permeates the air, and my mood begins to shift.

“Hey ladies!” Greg shouts from behind the counter as he mixes a cocktail and dances to “Touch Me” pumping out of the speakers.

“This place is groovy,” Kat sits down on a bar stool.

“You chicks hangin’ here for the night?” Greg says.

“Yeah, we’re on a mission for—” I say.

“Star!” Kat interrupts me. She gives me a serious look. Greg laughs because he knows something is going on between us and he maneuvers around it.

“What would you two like to drink? It’s on me,” Greg says.

“Maybe a couple of vodka tonics?” I say and then reach into a bowl on the bar top assuming it is filled with pretzels or peanuts or some other bar snack, but the bowl is actually filled with love beads and mood rings. I put one of the necklaces on Kat and save a ring for myself.

“What is this for?” Kat says.

“To conjure the balls, my dear.” I laugh and spin in my stool to scope out the surrounding scene.

The walls are busy with murals of psychedelic flowers painted from floor to ceiling in extremely bright colors. Silhouettes of dragonflies are placed sporadically between flowers and are painted with black light paint so that they glow amid the floral designs around the room. One side of the room has a dance floor—packed with sweaty bodies and go-go dancers—and the other side has an island of sofas for kicking back and hitting the bases.

“Where’s Jazz?” Kat says.

“Yeah, she was on break, man, but she should be out any minute,” Greg says and then goes back to making cocktails.

I head for the empty corner of an orange, fluffy couch and settle into my cocktail. Greg is busy behind the bar and I want to work on my buzz for the night. Plus, there’s lots of good people watching and Kat needs a distraction.

“Did you ever like Simon?” Kat says. I almost choke on my gulp of vodka tonic. I hate talking about this dude.

“I never really got to know him that well. I guess I’m glad he ditched you because I think you can do better. And wasn’t he a little pretentious?”

“Anything else?” Kat says. She’s surprised that I answer so bluntly but she shouldn’t ask questions if she doesn’t want answers. I am saved by the belle when Jazz jumps onto the sofa and cuddles between us. She always has the strangest timing.

“Wow, right on. It’s so groovy to see you, Kat,” Jazz says.

“I know I’ve been out of touch. I had a crazy rendezvous to Paris,” Kat says.

“Paris?” Jazz raises her eyebrows.

“And now we’re on the hunt for some springtime ballin’,” I wedge myself in before the conversation goes back to the dreidel side.

“I will be done in an hour and then I can join you,” Jazz says. She gets up from the couch and heads over to the bar. Greg is happy to have some help. Kat starts another tangent and I zone out in my own world.

My vodka tonic starts to kick in and it initiates a surplus of random thoughts. I begin to wonder what the hell happened to my step-father after he left in that moving truck. I’ll never forget the image of the back of his yellow truck dissipating into the neighborhood as he drove away. I remember my mom watching from inside the kitchen window because she didn’t want the neighbors to see her; although I’m sure they watched from their own windows and saw plenty.

“Man, I’m so glad you didn’t get pregnant,” I finally get out of my head.

“What are you talking about?” Kat says.

“You know, graduation.”

“Oh, you’re still thinking about that? It was so long ago now.”

“I guess, but you really scared the shit out of us.”

“Do you ever miss working there?” Kat reminds me of the past.

“At Gary’s?” I say.

“Yeah.”

“Not really. I mean, it’s a nice place and we had some fun times, but it seems so old-fashioned now.”

“And Aphrodite’s seems so progressive?” Kat laughs.

“Well, no, but it isn’t so old school and I don’t have to wait on teenagers that leave only a mess for tips.”

“Fair enough. Hey, did you bring any grass?” Kat wiggles her eyebrows.

“I have some in the car. Finish your drink and we’ll go out for a minute.”

“Right on.”

We order a couple more drinks from Greg on our way out to the car. Outside, the line still wraps around the corner with anxious party goers. Joe looks serious and handsome, per usual, as he commands the line with his posture.

“What’s his story?” Kat says, pointing to Joe as we walk by him.

“I don’t know much except that he’s an ex-military guy from New York.”

“Bitchin’,” Kat says.

“Your vodka tonic must be working.” I am totally surprised by her choice of slang words. Kat is so random.

“Maybe I need another necklace when we go back inside,” Kat laughs.

“Double the necklace double the powers?” I give her a joint and shake my head.

She puffs a few times before passing. I take a drag and hold it in until the smoke comes out in a session of intense coughing. She’s always surprised at the way I inhale, but you gotta cough to get off, no?!

“Man, how did we ever eat so many candy cigarettes when we were kids?” My buzz is in full effect and I feel a little fuzzy around the edges. We sit in happy silence until Kat grabs the keys hanging from the rear view mirror and laughs repulsively loud.

“You should’ve seen your face when you got that bike,” Kat takes me back in time when we were kids.

“Was it that bad?” I say.

“Your mom had this weird smile on her face, too, that looked like she thought your humiliation was funny.”

“Yeah, I think she still has that bike in the garage.”

We both laugh at our sweet, childish politics and then get back into the club. Our drinks are ready on the bar when we return. Jazz and Greg are busy chatting with the notorious bar flies so we find a spot on the dance floor and start grooving to the music.

After so many hip songs, beads of sweat decorate my body like intended designs and my red locks flap and swirl with each of my groovy movements. Kat dances across from me with her eyes closed, totally relaxed. Her hair swishes to the beat and her pendant twinkles in the random mood lighting.

“It’s Your Thing” bursts through the speakers and puts the extra funk in everyone’s dance steps. I’m lost in a daze. I’m inside the music. Then suddenly, I feel a jolt.

“It’s you,” a strange man says as he presses his body against the back of mine. At first, I am startled, but after my two drinks I enjoy the anonymous intimacy and keep on moving to the music. He puts his hands gently on my hips and for the rest of the song we move in familiar unison.

“And you are?” I say as the song comes to an end and I spin around to look at him.

“Hello Starlight,” Sydney smiles. He looks sweaty and sexy and his long, fringed vest dangles with temptation.

“It’s you,” I say.

“You want to go sit down?”Sydney points to the couches.

He grabs my hand and leads me through the crowd to the super cool orange couch. We sit down next to each other and watch the crowd of people. It’s nice to have company this time. Well, I mean, his company.

“I really dig this place,” Sydney says.

“So, what’s your story?” I say. Fuck it. I’ve had two drinks of bravery by now.

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, what is ‘Sydney Vasquez’?”

That’s funny,” he laughs, “My mom is Irish and my old man is Mexican. I get that question a lot.”

“I know what you mean.”

“You do?” Sydney smirks.

“Yeah. . .so, are you here with anyone tonight?” I blurt out like an idiot.

“You,” he grins.

He leans in closer to me, but not too close, and tells me how it’s funny we keep running into each other. I have never seen him here before but I don’t mind it one bit. Maybe I need to get out more. Too bad I only grabbed a mood ring earlier. Where’s my beaded necklace when I need it?

“Anyway, you want to go dance some more?” I say.

“What do you say we ditch this place?” he grabs my hand and looks at my mood ring as if he will find the answer in the color of the stone.

“Um, I have to find Kat first and let her know.”

“Dig it, I’ll wait here.”

Oh. My. God. Is this really happening? I groove and slide between each dancing body and find Kat wedged in between two burly men in the thickness of the sweaty crowd. I try to get her attention but she has her head turned and eyes closed, so I grab one of her arms to pull her out of the sandwich.

“I’m gonna cut out. Will you be okay?” I yell above the music.

“Are you going home?” Kat says, confused.

“Not exactly,” I say.

“What?” she says. She gets irritated with me fast.

“I met this guy a few days ago at a party at Jazz’s pad and we keep running into each other.”

“Is he cute?” Kat says.

“I don’t know why that matters to you, but yes.”

Just then, Jazz appears on the dance floor, of course. She has a way of always appearing when the conversation gets good. Kat catches her up on the gossip and then they both follow me back to the sofa.

There’s several people sitting around Sydney talking and taking breaks from the dance floor. Kat sees Sydney before I point him out and starts tugging on my arm. I can only imagine what she’s about to say. My eyes start to roll just at the thought.

“He’s a cute one,” she says.

“Which one?” I say, messing with her.

“The one with the red hair,” Kat says just as we reach the orange couch.

“This is Sydney,” I say. Sydney stands up to shake her hand.

“Oh, ahem, hello,” Kat flashes her pearly whites.

“You must be one of the holy trinity?” Sydney says.

How do you know that?”

“The picture in Gloria.”

“Gloria?” Kat looks at me, confused. I, however, am astonished that Sydney even remembers details about me. Is he really paying that much attention to me?

“My car?!” I say.

“Oh, right, Gloria. How can I forget?” Kat laughs awkwardly.

My eye rolling continues and I can’t wait to get out of here. We’re about to ditch the club and then Audrey finds us. She’s Jazz’s roommate.

Audrey has a striking appearance. She looks a little bit like Ellen Holly with an afro and she has a beautiful voice that is assertive but very feminine. My mom is addicted to ‘One Life to Live’ and that’s the only reason I even know who that actress is. I swear.

“What are you heads up to this evening?” Audrey says.

Sydney takes control of the conversation and tells Audrey that we’re just about to split. She’s just arrived ready to party and Sydney convinces the girls to go to the bar and order cocktails. His finesse is admirable. Getting rid of nosy chicks is definitely a gift.

Finally outside, the notion of spending time alone with Sydney starts to sink in. Is this really happening? Am I getting lucky, or what? Thanks, universe.

“There she is,” Sydney says when he sees Gloria.

“I can’t believe you remembered her name.”

“My mom says I have the memory of an elephant.”

“Have you ever been on an elephant?” I wonder because it is such a bright memory for me.

I never have,” Sydney says.

“Your time will come,” I pat him on the knee for consolation. “So, Mr. Vasquez, what do you have in mind for the rest of the evening?”

“Do you like Creedence?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I just got a copy of their newest LP, Bayou Country, and I’m dying to play it. Would you like to see my pad and listen to some music? I think I have a bottle of Boone’s, too.”

“That sounds perfect,” I say.

The ride to his place is exciting, at least, for me. I’m doing my best to keep cool but it’s been awhile since I’ve been somewhere with someone that really interests me. Since I’ve been feeling so alienated lately, it’s already cathartic just having a good conversation.

Upon entering his pad, Sydney apologizes for the mess, but his apartment is so barren that there really isn’t much to get messy. A bed, a red bean bag chair, and a carved wooden coffee table are the only pieces of furniture in the room. A small fern and a blown glass ashtray give life to the center of the table and a number of posters decorate the walls. An image from “Funny Girl” hangs above the bean bag and one of The Doors above his bed. Five stacks of records sit like mini towers against the opposite wall underneath a Salvador Dali poster. An ethnic tapestry separates the main room from the kitchen area.

“You like Barbra Streisand?” I say. I can’t believe I’m even asking the question at all.

“Hey, it’s a bitchin’ movie,” he says. The smirk on his face gives away too much information. He knows he’s funny.

“You continue to surprise me,” I laugh hard as I fall down on the bean bag.

“And it’s not just any Streisand poster, man, it’s a black light poster. It glows!”

“Of course it does.”

“I’m going to find the wine,” Sydney lifts the tapestry, vanishing behind the ethnic design.

The massive record collection across the room lures me into a curious search. I sit down next to the stacks and run my fingers down the spine of each title, reliving old memories that correlate to different songs and eras in my life. Elvis, Coltrane, Miles, Buddy Holly and the Beatles are among the multitude of names printed along the vinyl spines. The piles are unevenly stacked so that they snake up the wall in a precarious way.

To my left, there is a candle in the window with a picture of the Virgin Mary on it and some kind of rosary looking necklace wrapped around the bottom. Sydney doesn’t strike me as the religious type, but it’s hard to tell what people are into these days.

Sydney reappears from behind the tapestry. He’s got a big smile on his face, a bottle of Boone’s in his hand, and does a little wiggle of excitement before he speaks.

“I hope you dig Strawberry Hill,” Sydney says.

“Groovy,” I say.

He sits down next to me and the records and pulls his new album off the stack. He holds it up and admires the art on the cover. Then, slowly, he removes the record. It glistens in the lamplight with a slight blue hue. Gently, he places it under the needle.

“Can you believe we almost lost Creedence to the draft? That would’ve been a damned shame.” He studies the artwork on the front of the cover intensely. It is a picture of the band fragmented, or tie-dyed, into the dark night.

“Have you seen them live?” I say.

“No, not yet, but I will. This song is boss,” he refers to the second track, “Bootleg.”

The lead guitar strums and then the drums pull us further into the groove of the rhythm. We both start bobbing our heads to the downbeat and smile at the mood of the moment. After taking a big sip of wine, he pulls out another record and places it on the floor to use as a flat surface for his wine glass. He starts tapping his knees along with the drum line and then stands up and dances around the room.

“Put your glass down and join me,” he says as he wiggles, uninhibited, to the music floating in the air.

I can’t find any reason to stay on the floor, so I get up and start shaking and twisting and twirling to the music.

“This is great,” I say. He doesn’t say anything. He just keeps on dancing. And I do the same.

When the last song plays, we collapse onto the bed and gasp for air. I turn my head to look at Sydney next to me—falling for his Boone’s breath and sweaty forehead—and wonder what he’s thinking because he hasn’t spoken a single word since we started dancing.

“What should we listen to next?” Sydney says.

I look at the time. Sadly, it’s late, and I’ve got to open up the diner in the morning. I’m torn between seizing the moment and leaving while it’s still so groovy. Maybe some things are better left when they’re good.

“I gotta split soon. I have to work in the morning,” I finally say.

“Well, then, next time.” He sits up and takes off his vest. I get a bit hot flashy.

“Are you Catholic?” I wonder.

“That’s a random question,” he leans down close to me. His eyelashes might reach out and grab hold of my irises. Am I ready for that?

“What’s that in the window?” I say, pointing to the Mother Mary.

“I’m in recovery, but my folks are Catholic. My old man gave that candle to me and the rosary belonged to my grandmother. Are you Catholic?”

“No, we’re not really anything. I mean, I think my mom used to be Christian but she was banned from the church after she got divorced twice.”

“I think you’re something,” Sydney looks into my eyes.

I stare back into Sydney’s eyes. They seem genuine, kind, and so very deep. I don’t know where this is going, but it looks like I’m on the train. I collect my things and head for the door. Sydney races to open it for me.

“When will I see you again?” Sydney says.

“Give me a call,” I write my phone number in the palm of his hand.

***

The next morning arrives too quickly, but that happens when you don’t go to bed until 2 am and clock in time is only five hours away. Kat, Audrey, and Jazz are spread on the living room floor as if they fell asleep in the middle of whatever they were doing at the moment of their narcoleptic attack. I tip-toe over their limbs very carefully and admire how peaceful they look, despite their awkward positions. I don’t have enough time to make coffee at home, so I grab my keys and head out—slightly tousled, but cute enough to serve eggs—and stumble into Aphrodite’s at 7:06am.

Mr. Baxter waits at the door with a big denture grin and twinkling, cataract eyes. I can’t help but acquiesce to his pleasant demeanor.

“Hello Penelope! It is another beautiful morning, isn’t it?” He tips his hat as I open the door to let us both in.

“Yeah, ask me after my coffee. I’m still waking up.”

“Oh, my dear, so much youth,” he giggles as he walks to his regular table.

I walk back to the server station, punch my time card, and start two fresh pots of coffee. Five minutes later, I’m out on the floor with my customer service attitude. Here we go again. The coffee pot countdown begins.

“So, regular coffee today, Mr. Baxter?” I greet him at the table.

“Oh, how about half and half,” he holds his cup ready for the pour.

“Where have you gone traveling lately?” I say.

“Funny you should ask, you see, because I was most recently at Stonehenge,” he pulls out a picture of the famous rocks and points to it.

“What was it like?” I wonder.

“Well, it’s like a bunch of really big rocks in the middle of nowhere,” he says. We both laugh at his bad joke.

“Do you want your usual this morning?” I ask.

“That sounds good, Penelope.”

“Be back in a jiffy, okay?” I wink at him and walk back to the server station to brew more coffee. Two pots down, 28 more to go.

The morning is quiet and most of the tables are empty. I hold a cup of coffee, sipping slowly, while Deb flirts with the only other customer in the whole place. She leans on the side of his booth, smacks her gum inappropriately for this early and for service, and laughs annoyingly at whatever dumb things the guy can possibly come up with. But, hey, maybe she’s the only action that dude ever gets. Some people like toxic candy breath, especially when it’s grape.

The order bell rings in the kitchen and I’m sure it’s Mr. Baxter’s food. His single scrambled egg looks so lonely and meager on the plate. I feel bad for the poor egg but at least I know it’s going to a proper home.

“Mind if I join you?” I set his plate down.

“Well, that would be lovely,” Mr. Baxter says. I get my coffee and sit down. The restaurant is still empty and the boss is always telling us to get to know our customers, anyway.

“Hey, Mr. Baxter, are you married?”

“Oh yes, I was once,” he finishes the last of his lonely egg and then drifts off into his thoughts. He tells me about how his wife died of a heart attack 4 years ago and that they were together for 52 years.

“How did you know she was the one?” I wonder this so much.

“Well, you see,” his voice gets shaky, “It was the way she crinkled her nose whenever she got mad about something.”

“You knew by a nose crinkle?”

“Yes,” he pulls out his post cards.

“I’ll have to pay more attention to nose crinkles, I guess,” I pick up his plate and take it back to the kitchen.

The rest of the day stays slow and quiet and I only make 15 pots of coffee before I clock out and go home. I am beat. The girls are all still at my pad when I get back and the house smells like food.

“How was work today?” Kat says.

“Slow and dreary,” I fall down on the couch, “What are you cooking?”

“We thought we’d make you breakfast,” Jazz says from the kitchen as she flips a pancake.

“Wait, you didn’t just wake up, did you?” I say.

“Not that long ago,” Audrey laughs.

“So, what happened at the club after I left last night?” I shrug my tired shoulders.

“More dancing, more drinking, more drama,” Kat says.

“You mean, your love beads worked?” I say with excitement.

“Not really,” Kat says.

“Um, Jazz had some fight with Darryl,” Audrey says.

“Darryl?” I say.

“He’s the owner,” Kat says.

“I thought Jeff was the owner,” I am totally confused.

“Yeah, he’s the front man owner,” Audrey says.

“There are two owners?” I say.

I get off of the couch and walk into the kitchen to ask Jazz. I didn’t know the club had two owners or that one of them is a questionable kind. I need details.

“Yeah, you didn’t know that?” Jazz pours the last of the batter on the griddle. It smells buttery and delicious. I’m so tired I can’t wait to sleep.

“What did you get into a fight about with this Darryl?” I say.

“Oh, nothing, work stuff,” Jazz says as she turns off the stove, avoiding eye contact, and takes a heaping plate of pancakes over to the kitchen table.

“Is it time to eat?” Audrey says.

“Why don’t I know about Darryl?” I say.

“Can we not talk about work right now?” Jazz says.

It’s weird that this Darryl person has suddenly come up and that I’m the only one who doesn’t know about him. I will look further into this when I’m not so beat. Jazz has a tendency to be affiliated with strange characters. She hangs out on the border of crazy most days.

“So, what happened after you left last night, Star?” Audrey says.

“More dancing, more drinking, more drama,” I grin.

I’m back. . .I think

Welp, it’s been a year, hasn’t it?!

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to come back to this site, or to writing, or maybe even, to myself.

Yeahhh.

I didn’t know if I was going to come back to myself.

It’s been one heck of a year.

I’ve been like Alice lost in wonderland.  Lost in the wonderland of my mind, lost in the wonderland of my soul,  and in the wonderland of the universe.  MY universe.  And it has been a journey.

“Whoooo Arrrrrrrre Youuuuuu?” says the caterpillar.  His voice and question repeats in my mind like the soundtrack to this elusive consciousness of mine.

How many times do we have to go through the looking glass to find and understand all the tiny facets of our complicated souls?!

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I suppose the amount of visits isn’t the point, really, but that we keep the Journey Of Self going.  We keep moving and shaking and grooving, and sometimes, even breaking.  Breaking to the point of no return, or wait, of new construction.  New dreams.  New ways of being.

Obviously, this is not my first rodeo in wonderland.  I mean, I’ve lived enough decades to know the rabbit hole exists and the questions are always illuminating.  Maybe it’s my mermaid nature.  Fluidity to a downfall–so easily swept away with all the currents and tides in life.  Maybe, though, it’s just the human condition.

If there’s one thing I DO know (besides being a mermaid, of course), I definitely know that I am a writer.  I know that when I design patterns of words I feel better.

So, here I am. . .moving and shaking and grooving to the beats of this thing we call life.

Lately, I’ve been stuck on a song.  Does that ever happen to you?  I discovered it at random and the lyrics just went ZING in the crevices of my soul.  The words and thoughts are put together as if they came from my very own lips, I swear.  It’s a song called ‘Alaska’ by Maggie Rogers and it goes like this. . .

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Poetry has held me in its arms since I was a little girl.  Words said in such ways that paint pictures and feelings and so many emotions like deep reflections of the self totally make me stop everything and ground.

There have been many times in my life where I couldn’t process a situation and I just needed to “walk it off.”  Exercise is a great stress reliever, but there’s something about walking specifically when I’m upset that really burns it off.  With every step, the pain, or frustration, or sadness just melts away.  “And I walked off you.  And I walked off an old me.”

The imagery in the opening words of the song are so vast and serene.  It makes it seem like this situation needed a really, really, really, long walk.  And I get that.  Too much.  Footsteps shedding away old layers of time and self like a snake crawling out of its old skin.  These notions are like soul recognition, and I dare say, damn good imagery.  I can see every line so clearly.

But the line that really got me, the line that sealed the deal. . .

“Cut my hair so I could rock back and forth without thinking of you.”

In my early twenties, I had a moment in the shower where I felt so frustrated with my current situation that I wanted to just shave my head.  Like, do something drastic, instantly changing.  Hair stores so much information.  It absorbs the surroundings, it grows from your thoughts, and it defines uncountable notions.

Cutting off hair is like cutting off old energy, old memories.  Maybe the length of hair reminds you of the place someone used to touch your back, or how it felt while dancing, the thing that was admired, or the way you define yourself.

“Rocking back and forth” has connotations similar to this, but it also expresses deep emotion, perhaps even, a sort of despair that is so visceral and utterly, passionately tangible.  In those dark moments before a rebirth of consciousness, we return to the womb.

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I won’t bore you with the countless experiences and situations that I’ve had to walk off in the past year, or in my life so far, but I have deep respect for space and air to breathe when the time comes.

“You and I, there’s air in between.”

That’s how I feel about wonderland now.  The rabbit hole of my mind.  The situations.  The thoughts.  The feelings.  The memories.  There’s air in between.  There’s space for me to process, to reflect, to let go, and to think about what the caterpillar says while I’m above ground.

Like finally coming up for a breath of air after dwelling in the bottom of the sea. . .as mermaids do.

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Anjuna, Goa Tales #3–Something to fantasize

I know there’s a lot of you out there approaching winter.  Summer has become a distant memory and forgotten warm clothes have been resurrected.  For some of you, panic filled thoughts enter your mind like an old friend knocking on the door out of the blue. . .wondering when you’ll see the sun again, how much snow may fall, and how you manage to stay in a place that gets so effen cold. . . Every.  Single. Year.

And then, visions of warmer places become salvation.  You start to fantasize about being on a beach, drinking cocktails, swimming in the warm sea, and taking a break from the marshmallow jackets and freezing nights.

Even if you’re the type who loves winter, I’m thinking of you now, too.

I went on a walk last night and saw so many magical views, I thought I’d tantalize your mind a bit.  If you need some winter salvation, inspiration, or a new dream to dream, here’s some good ideas. . .

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The ocean is calling you……..

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Whether it is the actual ocean, or just something that makes you happy, know that it IS whispering…..and you should listen.

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After my walk, I got blessed by the setting sun. . .

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“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.  Hold fast to dreams, For when dreams go, Life is a barren field, Frozen with snow.” (Langston Hughes)

All of these views are from walking around Anjuna.  Happy dreaming everyone!