Monday, August 27, 2007

Party Teazer from NY

I think what most impressed me about my party was that my friends showed up to have the best of times. That's how the mood felt: Electric with that intention. Friday night was a testament to how great and supportive and fun and interesting all my friends are. I had a complete blast. It's the best birthday party I've ever had.

I'll have a ton of pictures to post when I'm back from NY. Barry, my friend of many years, has transformed himself into a great photographer and I can't wait to see what he comes up with. The above photo is a teaser. As you can see I went with a royal blue number and not the yellow dress. It was the right call. I felt like a million bucks.

Here's the other highlight of the evening: Since I've been a salsera for more years than not, and because I hired a salsa DJ for the party, I was very prepared to get my mambo swerve on. I was so prepared that I threatened bodily harm to my sister in law, Titi Jen, if she didn't come out from the east coast to dance too. She runs an Arthur Murray in NJ and I secretly hoped she would give a little salsa-step instruction to the party goers, which she totally did at her own suggestion. Ah man, she brought the party alive! I was so prepared that I took Titi Jen and another salsera to a club the Wednesday night before the party to recruit boy dancers to come to the party. I know more women that know how to dance and hardly any boys. This, as you could imagine, would pose a problem. Betsy showed up at the club too -- after driving all day from the Bay Area -- and she did a successful recruiting job too, not because she dances well but because she's so goddamn likable and charismatic. A handful of the boys we invited actually showed up. It was perfect.

Before the party dancing really popped off, I noticed Husband was dancing with Titi Jen. Husband grew up listening to the music, but had always been more drawn to hip hop. Learning to salsa wasn't cool to him growing up. He has been to a salsa club once with me in ten years, which is a fine arrangement. He knows how much I love it. I know he's not too keen on dancing around like it's a cardio workout. I was a little baffled as I watched him in his white tux jacket lead his sister around. He waved me out to the dance floor. He said, "Do you want to dance?" We were the only ones on the floor. I said, "Of course, Papi." His forehead perspired. He said, "Ready?" And then he stopped. He said, "I've secretly been taking lessons. I've been going for the past few weeks so I could dance with you." I laughed and said, "Nu uh." It didn't register that he was being for real. It was more likely that he'd joke about that than really take lessons. He told me about how he had Titi Jen help set it up and despite his sick work hours he rushed to make lessons. He said he didn't just learn for my party, but so he could take me out to dance now and again. It then sank in what he had done. It made it hard to dance. We'd step-step and hug. Step-step and he'd stop, nervous and overjoyed that he'd touched me. How I feel about this still balloons heavily between my heart and stomach. I'm almost embarrassed by such a high level of romanticism. He is not a man that does things for show-off sake. He does nothing he doesn't want to do. Making great efforts to show me that what I love to do is important turned this into such an intimate gift; one so driven by love. It's the best present I ever got.

Monday, August 20, 2007

NY, I Forgot You!

Amidst the hubbub swirling 'round the impending birthday party/blowout/rager, I'd forgotten that we're all heading to New York on Sunday for the week. Had I kept forgetting, I imagine myself passed out in my crumpled and soiled party dress -- signs of a great time -- and at two in the morning jerking up soberly panicking that I have not packed a thing. This kind of last-minute disorganization gives me heart palpitations. BUT it's all coming back to me now, this trip, the god-awful-early-morning flight, and I’ve now started the appropriate laundry needed for four people traveling across the country for a week, just in the nick of time. My Virgo soul is soothed.

Husband misses his home state and his family. Also, his birthday is coming and my plan was to get him tickets for the first week of the U.S. Open. One of my good friends in the broker industry had the hook up, killer box seats, which is now looking like a shaky and uncertain hook up much to my embarrassment and colossal dismay. SUCH A BROKER MOVE to promise a great hook up that isn't solid. So, we may or may not go to the Open. This sinks my heart because Husband really deserves to go. I really wanted this to happen for him. I'll just stay positive.

Have I told you that Husband is a tremendous tennis player? Not a casual-let's-knock-the-ball around weekend warrior, but a legitimate bad ass with a racket? He took up the sport late, in his teens, and sprinted as fast as he could towards making something of it. Natural athleticism and intelligence can get you somewhere fast, but high-level sports is a cruel master. The window to climb the ranks shrinks with every month one ages. With every second that ticks off the clock an athlete is robbed of speed and strength. Husband did earn a ranking on the east coast tour and sprint he did to go pro, but the window closed just as he had arrived. With all that talent and no money to be made playing, he was left to teach lessons at ritzy country clubs and murder decent players on the court regularly. When we lived in Orange County he played in a league. There is a running joke in adult tennis leagues that everyone declares themselves well under their actual level until they are caught and bumped up. The majority of players play at the average level even the players that dominated their college teams and almost went pro. Our last year in Orange County, Husband and his team went to the Nationals in Hawaii (!), where, if you remember, the matches were one-upped by Mother Nature and her 6.6 earthquake. His team didn't win, but Husband was good enough to get attention and when we moved back to L.A., he was bumped to the next level, a level that is the Siberia of levels. There's no one left to play in the leagues at this level. If he went one higher (the highest amateur level), he'd be playing the 20 year olds that just missed their window and pros that just retired from the circuit. He's in league limbo, but he plays regularly for fun with a great group of good players. His tennis hole is filled.

He misses the U.S. Open profoundly which he attended every year once he became a tennis junkie. He worked Open matches as a ball boy. He even has a Ball Boy Shining Moment: During a muggy NY night match, the stadium was packed (pre-Ashe stadium days) to watch Lendl vs. Agassi. Husband was working behind Lendl's service line, his back was to the wall just below a row of fans who were jammed into their seats. Agassi, the hometown favorite and long-haired darling, and Lendl traded strokes in an intense point until Lendl lobbed the ball to Agassi who in turn rocketed the ball back with an overhead smash. The ball blistered by Lendl, skipped off the line and shot up towards the first row of faces in the crowd. Instinctively Husband bounded up, shot up his hand like an outfielder and caught the ball awkwardly just inches from an older lady's face. The crowd went berserk. They cheered long enough to cause Agassi to break focus to see what was going on cross court. Agassi applauded on his racket then turned the racket around offering Husband the handle to play. The crowd went nuts again. And Husband's best friends, who were in the audience, hollered and yelled and pointed at Husband who was then the hometown favorite for that five minutes.

So, I wanted to get him back to the Open this year. I'm even more disappointed in my withering, near flaccid hook up when Husband says things like, "No, it's ok. It's no big deal." Uh, drive the knife in harder with your understanding, why don't you?

Back to the party: The planning is on point thanks in huge part to my good friend Ma who has championed the party even when I was unsure it could happen. All aspects are pretty much in place. Just need people to show up and have a good time. I'm having a bit of dress drama though. I did not attend my real senior prom and according to many reports, Dress Drama is a very big part of going to a prom. I had chosen a straight-laced strapless in a spectacular color, bright yellow satin, but now I'm not sure. The dress is great, but I don't know if I can dance well in it. As far as I'm concerned salsa dancing is a rough-n-tumble contact sport and I am hyper sensitive to the thought of exposing myself. It wouldn't be the end of the world if I did. What’s a little boobie among friends, but I mainly don't want to feel hemmed up and hesitant because I think it might happen. I'll try on one more dress tonight and if I'm not feeling it, I'll go with the yellow dress, maybe apply some modeling duct tape tricks and let the chips -- or front of my dress -- fall where they may.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August 24th is Nigh

We haven't talked about me turning 40 in a while. I've kept the volume down on that freak out. And now my birthday is less than two weeks away. I'm feeling more solid about it all. I think things like, I know when I'm turning 50 I'll long for 40 so just love 40! It takes hard work and deep introspection to truly believe that horseshit. That type of saying is fluffy rhetoric, really, but I'm absorbing it, man; letting it be.

40 was hard for me because I've always felt like the secret golden child, an infant old soul, a baby genius that has lurked in the shadows of others; always waiting for my own time. In most ways I feel developed and whole and practically me and in many ways I'm still waiting. The patience has betrayed me. The patience is a mossy rock in a downhill brook. Time is a-rushing. I'm pressed with an urgency realizing that a golden child doesn't get plucked and praised (oooh movies and books can be a cruel expectation builder). The window feels nearly closed. At forty I feel like I'm flirting on the outskirts of ordinary. When I was younger I felt sparked and humming with greatness, untouchable as craziness swarmed around me. I felt then that at any time I was going to jump ship and swim to brilliance. And now I feel seasoned and grounded weighted by a familiar self-imposed patience that is snuffing out the spark. The shore looks pretty distant now. This is how forty has felt to me.

So I decided to have a party on my birthday, August 24th. A party planned exactly the way I would plan a party. A big blow out. A coming out. I'm giving myself a Cuarentañera. I'll be coming of age at 40, I've decided. It's the year I'll drop kick some stale, useless patience. The party is going to be held in a big banquet hall where vegan appetizers and a vegan three tiered cake will be served and a salsa DJ will spin my favorite hits from the early 80's: Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, El Gran Combo. And the party is prom-themed. I've told my friends they have to dress in prom gear from any era, any interpretation. I've hired a photographer to take our posed prom pictures. I'm going with a contemporary 50's look. I can't wait.

I have to admit that the Quinceañera spin on a forty year old's party is not my idea. My good friend Rebel Girl came up with the Cuarentañera idea years ago. But her 40th came and went without a peep of a celebration. I gladly steel it. I'll knock it out of the park for all forty year olds -- anyone really -- just coming of age, shirking ordinary, dog paddling an ocean back something interesting and true.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Neighborhood Watch

On Saturday around dusk, our front door was open. We were lounging. Both girls were on a camping trip and I took advantage by reading the paper, catching the breeze with my feet that were dangling over an armrest. From the courtyard that amplifies pebble sounds, we heard a thud, a THUD and the undeniable shatter of a large glass object. Later, Molly told me she believed a glass piano had been tossed off the second-story balcony. We scampered to investigate. Molly and John and Natalie and Drew had scampered too, having heard the crash from their open doors. We looked for fallen glass pianos.

My neighbor directly below was standing outside his door shirtless, barefoot, looking bewildered. He had broken the floor-to-ceiling pane glass window outside of his apartment. He had done it on purpose. I looked over the railing at his face, flushed and drooping, though I mainly stared at his stomach that rounded over his shorts. He said softly and edgy, "I was locked out." The moment slowed then, caught in the cloud of our incomprehension. "You were locked out?" John said. "Yea, I mean, this wouldn't have happened if we had a central office, y'know?" We all thought of our landlord who lived two blocks away. The neighbor's hand left his stomach and ran through black, thin hair. He was high as kite. And I turned around then and went back into my apartment because the irrationality lingered still, too thickly, between we neighbors. I didn't know this neighbor very well before, but I knew enough from a busted window to feel a bit nervous. I heard other neighbors collecting and I sat back down in my arm-rested chair to finish the LA Times Calendar section. My patience has apparently evaporated for users.

Husband told me later that the neighbor walked over the broken mess and tried wobbly to climb into the window with large shards pointing too high at his crotch. John retrieved a blanket to cover the glass blades and the guy straddled it and flopped in. The apartment went quiet and dark -- the window and mess untouched for hours -- until his wife and three young children came home late that night. John later asked if we ever heard him being aggressive from down below us to the children or his wife. We reported that he's the only one we never hear. That detail took on a new curiosity.

I still believe my apartment building is a dream with thoughtful and care-taking residents. It's just that, you never really know, do you? John and Molly had us over for dinner that same night and we gossiped hard and shamelessly. I confessed that I thought one neighboring couple was a swinging one adding the declaimer that it didn't take away from what nice people they are. And the men laughed, but Molly cocked her head and widened her eyes and said, "Y'know, I felt a vibe too." Then we retold the story of another neighbor, also excruciatingly nice, who had been a body guard to an infamous athlete. He possessed guns in his apartment, legally, because of his line of work. Until a ragging and darkly depressed girlfriend intentionally killed herself with one right up there, in that nice apartment of the nice neighbor.

Where I've lived before, secrets didn't keep too quiet. They were out there for everyone to hear through open windows during blistering summer nights. Loud enough even to hear through closed doors and floors, ceilings. Like, when I lived above heroin dealers, and there was that night they got jacked. That sound of someone getting their ass badly beat is so fierce, so startling: Funiture knocked and unintentional grunts, the sound of flesh getting pounded, the muffled yelling. Or, when I used to live near downtown and I could see the parking lot of bar from my fifth-story bedroom window. I was always spying out there watching sloppy fights and slurred conversatons. One night I witnessed someone put a drunk woman in a car. They went back into the bar once they felt she was securely in, but soon the drunk woman opened the car door, puked, and rolled out with her back on the asphalt. She was out cold. Orange street lamps exposed her tiny passed-out body in the near-empty lot. I watched her for five minutes hoping she'd come to, but she stayed there, her foot bend awkwardly behind her. I woke my boyfriend at the time and told him to help me put the woman back in the car. He said, "Hell no. Let's mind our business." I looked out again and I said, "Someone could take advantage." I went down anyway and he followed to help me.

Or from my old living room where I heard gunshots. Or the drunken berating of wives and kids. Or slaps. Or feriousious arguements. Or abandoned dogs howling. Or when I've seen yellow tape marking off an apartment a few doors down. Or every neighborhood car broken into including my own a few times, once with a brick through the window. Or houses ripped off and bikes gone.

From my experience, the division of economic levels determines how well your neighbor's darkness is known. I'm not saying my neighborhood doesn't have any secrets. It's just harder to tell here until one slips and smashes a huge pane glass window over forgotten keys.