Archive | February, 2013

Walmart and Vegas, Actual and Not, Like You and Me

21 Feb

Whereas: in the desert you can remember your name, in L.A. you invent a new one.  It’s too bad that I don’t yet know my name,  because I need a card. It will say something like Woman Formerly Known as Kirsten: Traveler, Juice Girl, Other. Out here everyone has a card; I’ve collected fifteen already, some from people I don’t remember meeting–like Portia, whose card I got in Las Vegas; it depicts her playing pool in  garters and stockings. Portia’s  title is Actual Entertainer.  Don’t remember meeting Portia, but her card somehow wound up in my purse. An Actual Mystery to Actual Me–who is that, and who is actual you, Dear Reader? That’s my name for you, but you don’t  think of yourself that way for more than a few seconds a day (if ever.)IMG_0134   Dear Actual Sexy and Brilliant Reader, if you got a name and a card you’re comfortable with,  could you please put your mind to What My Name Should Be? (As for my title–no, a species of wild feline whose genotype rhymes with “shoogar” is no good–too obvious.)

Whereas: in Ithaca everyone knows who you are, who you’ve dated, and the name of every  soy product you ever bought or didn’t, in L.A. there’s a particular mind4*&2 (this is a family blog) about identity. Most people tell you impressive stuff about themselves, like the taxi driver who was trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, had a multimillion dollar internet company, and is in negotiation to produce a movie that James Franco will direct (taxi driver was worried about JF being able to direct.) Anyone might be someone, like the pretty girl at Pinkberry who turned out to be Whatshername. Actual Whatshername!

So while you figure out for me, Dear  Soulful and Stimulating Reader who and what I am, let me, or “me” (whatever!) just say that some days here it’s all Candy Land and some days it’s more like Chutes and Ladders, Smoke and Mirrors, Balderdash Bruhaha, or even worse, Carrot Juice without Bee Pollen. Like yesterday when I was  excited about going to a party of some friends of an East Coast pal.  Unwilling to navigate my way there at night (lost my glasses, another non-story story) I called a cab. I knew it would be pricey but worth it, and I hoped I could catch a ride back.  The driver had a heavy Russian accent and had an heavier smoking habit. When I gave him the address, he asked how to get there. Then he called someone and asked for directions.

For ten minutes he wrote down what was dictated to him. Then he informed me the cost and the amount of time it would take, both way more than I’d realized.  Five minutes into the drive, I bailed. The smoke was making me–already queasy with anxiety–feel like throwing up. I am going to be very late and this will  cost a fortune. I gave him a ten, jumped out into the rain at a stop light. A taxi driver smoking in the car? A taxi driver not knowing where he’s going, and without a GPS? Even the cabs in Ithaca have them! But the real problem was me.  I hadn’t calculated cost or time of travel accurately. I don’t understand so many things here.  The hosts of the party explained later that, “rain in L.A. makes everything run amok.” I hadn’t even thought about the rain, what did that mean?  The unfamiliar invites instability?  Oh, like me in L.A. . . .

What’s My Name, Dear Sensitive and Insightful Whoever You Are? (You are who you say–or more importantly who I think you are, right?) While you invent me, I’ll tell you this:  there are more than one actual L.A.’s.  I learned this by going to Walmart. “WHERE is Walmart?!” Natasha wondered.  In Ithaca, Walmart is in one of our six strip malls, and inside there are a lot of people there who look fairly economically disadvantaged (Poor Actually), mostly white. Because buying things at Walmart is politically incorrect, when shopping there we lefty academics (also mostly white), don disguises or  pretend to be doing research on injustice.

The The L.A. Walmart is far, to put it mildly, from Beverly Hills (a cab ride there would be about two hundred dollars, but that’s not exactly what I meant about the distance.)  I drove to Walmart,  and the first thing I noticed about the neighborhood was that almost everyone on the street was black or Hispanic.  In the parking lot I saw a guy huffing an aerosol can.  The third thing I noticed was similar to the first, namely most of the Walmart customers were black or Hispanic.  In thirty minutes of shopping, I saw four other white people. If you’re Caucasian and you know it, clap your hands. . .yes, you sir, and me, right here in the mattress pad aisle. Race is a construction of course, but economic privilege and the connection between that and assigned ethnic identity is pretty real, as in an Actual Ugly Truth in The Land of The Free and And Home of The Brave.

Twenty four hours after visiting Walmart I was visiting Las Vegas. Talk about blurring boundaries and losing my bearings:  the Land of The Free Drink and Home of the Brave Slot Machine Player In His/Her Wheelchair and With Oxygen Tank at One Am. And the next day the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, a canal in Venice, the Eiffel Tower…As Marcus pointed out, “We just do it better here.  Only in America can you see three European cities in ten minutes and then wind up at Wolfgang Puck’s Take Out.” If you’re North American and you know it clap your hands!”

Fake Venice with NicolleIMG_0131Nic with statue in Las Vegas

I admit it, I had fun in Vegas. Mostly because Natasha and Marcus are great company and make constant fun of me. We are planning on opening a small boutique hotel in Vegas with an Urbana, Illinois theme. The Embassy Bar, the cow stench, a special V.I.P. room named after our heroes–at first we disagreed about this until we realized:  Tyke Peacock. Olympic athlete and Man of Integrity. All in our own former circles at Urbana, he was and is an Actual Class Act.

Dear Reader, I still don’t know my name. Nevertheless, I’m getting a card: Kirsten, Actual To Be Determined. I am doing research, or in disguise, or. . .Let Me Entertain you (the playing pool in garter thing withstanding.) Whereas: I was something, now I am seeking. Actual Outsider.  Hands clapping.Las Vegas menage a troisGrover and meFake Volcano in Vegas

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Here and There/Bring It On

16 Feb

vegan welcomeOn Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles there are a few options from which to choose:   at Lucha Vavoom, Mexican Masked Wrestling and Saucy Striptease, or if you looking to imbibe, Broadway Collective is offering  a free hit of any strain, or a free brownie. If you prefer educational experience, there’s  the workshop at Pleasure Chest where an expert will “teach techniques to satisfy two lovers at once, and address the three most common threesome mistakes and how to avoid to avoid them.” For the skeptic: The Three Psychics Gallery event, Valentines Sucks. For the voyeur: Cinefamily’s 100 Most Outrageous Fucks.

These options so frightened me that on Valentine’s Day I stayed at home with someone who has always respected me, ensuring that I would behave–which I did for the most part. AND Marcus sent the most beautiful bouquet I’ve ever received. The vase alone–a heavy, long oval  glass made me regret that we’d not been friends in high school, and the tulips and beautiful green things–which Natasha would probably grind and turn into Emerald City Raw Tomalley Mousse–made my day. Thank you Marcus. (And Jake.)

The contrasts between Ithaca and here have been constant.  Though I love the feeling that I belong here, there are those moments when my outsider status boxes me in the ears.  For instance, in Ithaca  it is unlikely that one is going to run into Kim and Kanye at the neighborhood frozen yogurt place, obliviously take a picture of Kim and a fan, thinking the girl on the left is pretty but looks like a bitch only to turn around and see five photographers in the door,  step past them,  and have it dawn on one. That never happened in Ithaca.

In Ithaca one does not go to the Health Food Co-op and note how many women are wearing fur.  In Ithaca, few men  look at women in an openly appraising or appreciative way.  In Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, I get my fair share of  looks and smiles from absolutely drop dead gorgeous guys. I was thrilled and stymied by this until Natasha pointed out that these looks were not about appreciating my sex appeal; we are talking friendly gay men who like women because they actually like men. I’ll take what I can get.

And here, Dear Reader, is What I’ve Got In My First Ten Days:  late evening raw food treats from across the hall–beet carpaccio, gnocchi made from macadamias, pomegranate smoothies with hemp seed. Thank you, Natasha.

My new friend Ben who, after I admired his red velvet jacket took me out to a fabulous lunch at a celebrity place where the servers were people you’d like for dessert. We talked about Dorner, and Ben’s empathy for guy who’d “done just about everything right and still got screwed,” made me stop and think. Ben.

I made another friend at The Standard Hotel Cactus Lounge–at a poetry reading  where anal sex seemed to be the motif, though this theme had not been advertised.  I was hiding in the corner trying to look blase when a man rolled his eyes in my direction.  Kindred spirit? Yes, Bo Lucas (his stage name) and I laughed  together for a few minutes, and he helped me negotiate my new position as Desperate Writer (ok, not so new) and to identify which scary person I should give my poetry book to. That was sweet, Bo. Will I see you again?IMG_0077(3)

I also got wisdom from two workshops. One in a hotel in Santa Monica where I learned that when avoiding something unpleasant, it is helpful to think: Bring it on. I love pain. Pain sets me free. Reader: Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  Try it. “Mom, I don’t know about that,” Noah said when I told him about my new attitude. The funny thing is, I’ve learned this very lesson by watching my son negotiate pain for years. He lives thoughtfully, lovingly, soberly.  And with great humor. Thanks, Noah.

The other workshop was about social media–a phrase I learned only one  year ago from Jill Swenson–who also happens to have negotiated pain with honor and humor. Thank you, Jill. So the message in Vicki Abelard’s workshop was YOUR BLOG IS TOO IMG_0055LONG.Thank you, Vicki. (Wrapping this up, and sorry if my thank yous sound like I think I won an award!) I am feeling grateful for the stuff here, and the stuff there.

Last thing I got: a part time job with Kreation Juicery, at their new spot opening next month. I am to teach customers about the benefits of juicing: de-toxifying, feeling better, living longer. Me? I have spent a lot of time loving meat and Sancerre, and don’t know if I’ll give them up. I thought I’d die at 67, as my parents did. Things can change. Yes, I do have to learn all this juicing stuff first.  From here to there. High Road, Low Road, Road of Middle Path.  Going to Vegas for the weekend. Bring it on.

Long Ago and Far Away, Or Not So Long Ago Nor So Far Away

12 Feb

palm treesOn my first morning  in Beverly Hills, Natasha made me espresso–which I don’t drink, but as Nick Carraway says, heading into Manhattan with Gatsby: “anything can happen here.” I hoped this would be one of many outrageous steps into a new life.  Begin with espresso and soon I’ll be tan, wearing stilettos and slinky dresses, discussing offers for screenplays in the Hills, partying with  Leonardo downtown,  cutting a record deal on an agent’s deck in Santa Monica, driving a Maserati, screening messages from Angelina, and calling Jon Hamm to make  plans for his birthday (March 10).

Soon. First things first: sitting on the steps of our white brick, Depression Era apartment, Natasha and I considered the unlikelihood of our being on these steps, in this place, at this age.  Suddenly we realized that we had Tim to thank. Long story, but suffice to say, we’d both kissed Tim (at different times), and those kisses kinda changed the course of our lives. . .in one way for Natasha–who got involved with Tim, and in another way for me, who never saw him again.  (Sometimes men kiss and tell. Sometimes they kiss and come back for more.  Other times, they kiss and call your friend.)

Nod to Tim, and just for good measure the two other guys we had both kissed–again, I assure you: on*separate* occasions. AND SO LONG AGO. Perhaps Jeff and Joe are now on front steps somewhere thinking about who they’ve kissed in common. Or, perhaps not.

And then I was writing down things I needed to do on Day Number One: get light bulbs, a map, order a mattress, buy food staples,  acquire an overnight parking ticket, contact the people on my list of people to contact, set up the printer, start writing, and find clean underwear.  I accomplished none of that the first day, Dear Reader.  This is what I did:  buy smaller jeans (I’m not smaller myself, but hoping–and noting that clothes smaller than your body here is the going rate,) purchase a bubble-maker, and call my babysitter.

I went to the hardware store for sensible things and came out with a bubble maker. It’s La La land, it’s Arcadia, it’s an amusement park, it’s heaven and hell, it’s adults acting like kids acting like adults. I’m not an adult, but could play one on T.V. After this purchase, I called my babysitter.

Yes, the brilliant and beautiful teenaged Penelope who, lo those many years ago lived across the street and babysat me, is now a professor of French at small, prestigious school near L.A.  Penny drove right over with a huge bouquet of pink flowers from her yard. And after we stopped peeing in our pants with happiness in the street, we meandered over to the Beverly Hills Farmer’s market, where we bought black bean tempeh, and avocados for 75 cents, blood oranges, 4 for a dollar. The beauty selling the tempeh  was at least six feet tall with a strong resemblance to young Muriel Hemingway but less weird looking.
“Where do you model?” I asked as if I were really, profoundly in the know. She smiled kindly at me, though this was a question she’d been asked every day since she was sixteen. Then she explained she’d modeled for two years but “got tired being in a room with a bunch of other girls who looked just like me and hating them.”

We bought seaweed in a plastic bag, telling her we were sure none of the other girls were as beautiful as her.  Plus they couldn’t sell tempeh and seaweed the way she did. This is so refreshing, I thought–at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market the vendors, generally speaking, are not models who resemble Muriel Hemingway. But more refreshing was this:  at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, right about now I’d be worried about running into an ex, or quite likely, most or all of them.  (Not that I dislike them or would find it awkward, but my romantic history in Ithaca–twenty one years  with two marriages and  two long  stretches of dating–is not always what I feel like addressing at ten in the morning on a Sunday. Made that bed, now buy your vegetables in it.)

Back to my brand new apartment, Penelope and I. As we turned the corner, there was Natasha and Markus. The sun blazed on our four heads, and we gasped as it dawned on us:  we four–normal-appearing adults with (except for me) real lives– grew up in the same town, went to the same high school, had my mother for English, shopped at Eisner’s, and undoubtedly Penny and Markus had kissed some of the same people, or perhaps each other, but that didn’t come up. What did come up, as we talked about the fact that Penny and Natasha and I all lived on the very same street (Penny and Natasha hadn’t known each other though they met at my mother’s funeral), was that Markus had two decades after we’d all graduated, dated a woman who lived at 208 West Pennsylvania, where I grew up.

“You had sex in my house?!” This is not what I came to L.A. for–to find out that Urbana High School classmates had, years later, been doing it in my ancestral home. Markus insisted the act occurred elsewhere. I deferred to his authority. A great moment, the four of us, all hailing from the soybean fields of central Illinois standing on a corner in Beverly Hills. Where ever you go, there you are. We did not weep, but did make an attempt at a group hug, which is SO not L.A.

Exes. The fact IS . . . I did see an ex in my first week in L.A. Where ever you go…there he is!  But it’s not like we ran into each other at the farmer’s market. We  talked on the phone first, then drove together to Venice Beach–which, is  so far one of my favorite places here. Medical marijuana booths, people setting off fireworks, kids playing guitar and drums, and an old woman playing a piano with a cat on top until it jumped on the keys and the old woman turned out to be an old man, young folks on skateboards in pirate costumes and short shorts with ripped fishnets–a good look on more guys than you’d think. There’s only one guy in Ithaca with that look;  he  always stood out in the  sea of down coats, Wrangler jeans, socks in Birkenstocks. (In Ithaca the best dressed men are the cops.  They trim their hair and shave and even iron their clothes. It’s a weird finding policemen attractive in a town where we all hate authority. Sleeping with the enemy? I wish.) Anyway, nice to see the ex; we talked about who, way back when, spurned whom. Couldn’t decide, and then he drove me home. Or was he spurning me again?

Later that day I was traipsing through Rodeo Drive, gaping at the Fuck Me/Don’t Talk To Me sartorial ethos: skirts like little do rags, boots over the knee with 7- inch heels. The pony-tail-on-top-of-head-girls  walk without looking up–texting on the phone and stroking a dog in the purse, or is it  texting the dog and stroking the phone? Just as God rules the Mojave, little dogs named Bianca, Dagwood, and Francisco  rule Beverly Hills.  This is in contrast to the Ithaca dog park where everyone is all bundled up, and cell phones are frowned upon, and the dogs  are named Star Goddess, Moon Love, and Druid Peace.

Cultural and social juxtapositions  make one think about what feels right, or not, what’s familiar, what’s strange.  And: what’s strange and familiar and right and not.  All of it, I’ll take all of it. I’m running away from and embracing my history. And trying to figure out what, if anything, it adds up to.

So the whole Who Am I Conundrum continues, Dear Reader.  Thank God you are reading. And thank God my babysitter is here. And Natasha and Markus and the ex. Still wondering who spurned whom, if Markus had sex in my house,  if Jeff and Joe ever think about the blonde and the brunette who were such good friends.

Home: The Last Place On Earth

8 Feb

arrived in LANic and me  arrival in LAUnlike my other overnight stops, for Flagstaff, I actually made a reservation.  The Hotel Monte Vista, built in the 1920’s with funds provided by, among others, Zane Grey. Once the main speakeasy in town, and still the tallest building in Flagstaff (not saying much), Hotel Monte Vista was dark and kitsch-raunchy inside; the lobby had an aged, sexy aura: murals of deserts on the walls and gold tassels twirling from heavy drapery.  It smelled like gin and sauerkraut and Emeraude perfume. Sixty two dollars a night. Mine was the Bob Hope Room–back in the day he’d stayed there, as had Bing Crosby, Esther Williams, Spencer Tracy, Jane Russell, and other glamorous ghosts from a bygone era. It was painted midnight blue and had spare furniture, a sitting chair that looked tired of being sat on, and a chest of drawers from the fifties. Haunted for sure.  That’s one of my favorite qualities in a room on the road–an occupying  spirit  that’s not just some homebody,  but the kind of ghost that appreciates  historic hotels.

The tiny restaurant/ bar reminded me of The Shining–no one there looked like they were from the 21st-century. Food service had just ended, so I went to Pita Pit, bought some  local cuisine, and brought it back to the lobby. Then I had a glass of wine at the bar and flirted wildly with the young,  Swedish bartender. Too young, not my type, not a cowboy, and not named Casey, but I’d been on the road for six days and five nights and a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  Usually I  flirt with a stranger every third day, so it was high time.  When it looked like he might actually join me for a drink after he got off work, I high-tailed it back to the safety of the haunted Bob Hope room. Had dreams of driving and driving and never getting where I was going. About 3 am,  the bathroom door creaked and opened  a few inches on its own.  “L.A., L.A., L. A., L.A.,” I said to the ghost, as if the incantation might simultaneously make friends and ward it off.

In the morning, it had snowed.  “L.A., L.A, L.A., L. A.,” I said, gazing out the window.  But the snow didn’t make friends or go away. Natasha texted me, “GET OVER HERE.”  It snowed for an hour on my way out of Arizona. It was the last leg, over five hundred miles.  “Lord I’m one, lord I’m two, . . .Lord I’m five hundred miles away from home,” I sang. The first song I learned to play on the guitar.  My mom closed her bedroom door when I practiced. Now, I could feel her presence– Audrey the Intrepid Traveler, and all around Tough Cookie. She was the first divorced woman most of my friends knew.

The summer of my twelfth birthday she took four of  us camping in the Indiana dunes. After dark, we drove to the empty beach parking  lot and the four of us scrambled across the sand, threw off our clothes, and screamed into Lake Michigan. From the cold waves, I could see her cigarette ember; she was sitting on a towel close by.  Shortly it was joined by a flashlight aimed at us, and a stern man’s voice. “GET OUT OF THE WATER. THE BEACH IS CLOSED.”  His beam scanned our bobbing heads.

“Point that somewhere else. They don’t have clothes on; they’re girls.” My mother’s voice said firmly.  We got out, our teeth chattering, and quickly wrapped ourselves in towels. Though the park ranger had pointed his light away from us, I noticed that out of of all of us I seemed to be the one with the least to show for being pubescent. I was a girl; they were something else. My mother herded us to the parking lot and into the red Opel, waved goodbye to the ranger, and cackled: “Well, we made his night.”

As I traveled from snow-covered mountain forest to the black, lunar landscape of the Mojave Desert, I felt Audrey, driving that tin car of a car, cigarette in hand, seat belt-less, ready for anything. Haunted by my mother, I am. Haunted as in: Can’t let go of her, so I  keep her memory up my sleeve, pretending  she can see me, living my life, driving in the Mojave. Actually, I’m probably haunting her. She may well  prefer to be left alone to do Dead People Stuff.

There are no billboards in the Mojave.  There is, in the Mojave:  little vegetation, no gas stations,  few cars, a few horses with no names. . .mostly just ashy volcanic rock and a sky that beckons one to disappear inside. In fact, I thought I might already have, unbeknownst to me, died. And gone to the Mojave. Death Valley was near. Acutely, I felt not only Audrey’s  spirit but others’ too, though I didn’t recognize them. The dead are alive and well, roaming, living large in the Mojave.  I felt God too. There are no signs proclaiming things about God because, Duh, God rules the Mojave.

I wanted to stay with this. And then saw myself there for eternity:  Me, Mom,  God forever. I couldn’t do it.  God, no–Oh, sorry God,  just please get me out of this godforsaken–no I don’t mean that–place. Can I meet you again, somewhere else? Rodeo Drive, they need you there, surely?  I will become a better person, God, just let me do it in Beverly Hills. 

Then there were little towns,  bigger towns, and billboards and gas stations and malls and other signs of human life and mortality.  My chosen path. And then my road became a four lane highway and intersected with other highways, and then there was a sign for Santa Monica Boulevard. Tunelessly I shrieked ” All I wanna do is have some fun/I got a feeling I’m not the only one/All I wanna do is have some fun/Until the sun comes up on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Thank you, God. Clearly I was indeed not the only one wanting fun; for an hour and a half I sat in traffic. Finally, I careened into Beverly Hills.  I parked in front of my new apartment, where Natasha also lived.  In the window, she was looking at her cell phone, dark hair in her face.  I tapped the window.

When our screaming subsided, she directed me to a lot where I parked my fearless companion, my Prius, my Prince. She ushered me into her apartment, a mirror of mine, and we screamed again.  Then she poured champagne and handed me a plate of cheese made without milk and crackers made of sprouted something, never baked. Raw food made by the woman with whom I used to scarf pizzas and burgers and Cheetos. I screamed with delight (her food really did rock).

Out came the yearbooks. Our photos:  ridiculous hair and attempts at knowing smiles. I read what I’d written in ninth grade–about our “amazing, crazy year” and certain boys who were referred to with initials, and how we’d be friends “forever.” More screaming.We’d actually lost touch for a decade here and there. As Natasha put me to bed on her couch, it was all I could do to mutter, “Whodathunk it, Nat?” “Not me,” she replied, on the way to the bathroom, with that familiar hair toss.

I feel so at home. So far from home. It had been a while since I knew where or what home was, and I was haunted by the idea of it. Or maybe it was me who was haunting home, searching for it, demanding its attention. Natasha turned off the lights. She had to get up at 6:30 for culinary school.

There are nights when something creaks, and seems to move by itself in the dark. And there are nights when, sleepless,  I creak, and then rearrange something–a chair, say,  to see if that is where it belongs. I had arrived in L.A., made it through snow, almost no gas, great beauty, desolation, desert, great beauty, snow, desert, traffic, self doubt, spiritual renewal and vaguely profound and mind bogglingly stupid thoughts. I made it.

My eyes were watching. What I didn’t know, but they were open.  And my ghosts were close, right where they belonged.

West, West, Wanting, Waiting, West

4 Feb

Arizona HighwaySeveral years ago I was told by a psychic that in a previous life I was a Navaho  woman living in the South West. Then the psychic identified Noah’s birthday, said that I would soon move someplace warm, and that a person named Casey, who worked with silver,  would be very important to me. Driving across New Mexico and into Arizona, Previous Life was Writ Large in the pre-historic structures around me.  Mile after mile of unearthly earth, the  rusty red shapes formed over two billion years ago seemed both fluid and ur-matter.  PlayDough of a divine force.

Truth be told, I wasn’t just thinking about geology on the drive between Amarillo and Albuquerque. I was also thinking about the flashing “E” on my dashboard.  E for “Eventually She Dies In the Desert.” Returning to my Navaho roots. Just as I was praying to God to show me the gas, Natasha called from Beverly Hills.   I described where I was, told her I felt like a horse with no name, but couldn’t remember the lyrics to that America song. “…Like a horse with no name/ It felt good to be out of the rain/In the desert you can remember your name/’cause there ain’t no one to give you no pain,” Natasha warbled.  “Ok, now sing “Running on Empty,” I demanded. “NO. Wait. Don’t. Sing that song about the oasis in the desert.” But she didn’t; she’d lost interest in singing me through New Mexico.

I did find gas shortly thereafter and just about peed my pants with joy; fortunately they had a bathroom at the “Flying J.” AND the bathroom had a scale that, for a quarter, would tell you your weight and fortune.  I hadn’t gained or lost weight, and the fortune read, “You will leave your past behind.” This was a fortune?  I was disappointed it didn’t say, ” you will leave your behind in the past,” but decided that what the fortune scale meant to say was “Great Things Ahead.” (“But won’t happen without gas, Moron.”)

Back out in the desert in  the Prius with no name, hurtling along at 80 miles an hour, I started to think again about history, and past lives.  This volcanic landscape was a palimpsest–centuries of American history and  millions of years of topographical goings-on, layers upon layer of drama and weather. And then, of course, I was back to me, my drama, and weather, the layers of regional history that were mine.

I fell in love with the South West almost twenty-five years ago. My mother treated me to a trip to Santa Fe right before I got married the first time.  It was March and pretty cold, but we swam in the heated pool, drank margaritas, and went to the amazing museum of Mexican art. (She liked Day of the Dead art before it was in available in every Target from Philadelphia to Seattle.) A last single-mom/single- daughter trip, or so we thought.  One night she drank a little too much gin and we had a nasty conversation that had to do with her loneliness, my immaturity, and both of our anxieties about my up-coming marriage. We were in a beautiful patio at an expensive restaurant, and just when our spat seemed likely to get ugly, Brian Dennehy showed up.  “Oh. My. God. Girl, look it’s Brian Dennehy. No. Wait. Don’t look now. NOW.” That ended our spat.  I wanted to matchmake; he would be perfect for her!  But instead we watched him chew steak, appreciating our detente.

The next time I was in the Southwest was with husband number two, in Sedona.  We hiked, swam in the pool, drank margaritas, and one night we had a fight that had to with my loneliness, his immaturity, and both of our anxieties about our marriage. Brian didn’t show up. The fight continued.

The next time, I came to Arizona alone. “In the desert you can remember your name ’cause there ain’t no one to give you no pain.” I treated myself to an appallingly expensive spa where I practiced yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, drank kale juice, and went to a workshop where a (different) psychic told me why my second husband and I couldn’t make it work, and then she spread out a fan of cards for me to choose. I picked, turned it over: SEEKER, it said. I remembered my name, yes indeed; then I went back to Ithaca where weather and drama ensued and I  forgot my name.

The fourth and most recent time I found myself in this rusty and redolent region was last summer. I spent my birthday in Santa Fe– with the genius.  My favorite weather:  hot, cloudless, arid. We spent the day looking for a cowboy hat for him.  He had a performance that night. He was brilliant. The next day, we drove to Albuquerque  where we fought about my loneliness and immaturity. We didn’t discuss anxieties about our relationship. But was probably the spooky subtext.

Present time: just as I was getting close to Albuquerque, it started to pour. A hard, dark rain. I was worn out from driving and thinking about my rocky (get it?) past. Noah called.

“Mom! Howareya? Whereareya?”

“Hey Honey, I shouldn’t be on the phone, it’s raining here and there’s traffic.”

Then, I kid you not, Dear Reader, there was a rainbow. Big fat mesmerizing arch right out of a children’s book. It stopped raining.  I stayed on the phone, listening  to Noah chew on some ups and downs transpiring  in his life in Sunnyside, Queens.  My boy, a world away, talked me into Albuquerque.  Both lonely, we.  Both a little immature.  He spoke in one of his goofy voices, a character we call “King,” who is ancient and wise and acts on pure Id. “Be Good, Kirsten,” said King, “Last time I was in Albuquerque I got arrested. It involved some bad men on horses.  And strippers, of COURSE strippers.”  We hung up and I made my way into a Hilton Garden Inn I’d spotted from the road. Hauling suitcase, gym bag, and two computers across the parking lot, I stopped when the late afternoon sun emerged from behind curtain of  clouds that were surging from one notion to another. My upturned face smiled back.

I had a salad delivered to my room, watched decorating shows, fell asleep by nine.  In the morning I heard the message  bing on my phone. It was 7. The message was from the genius. I hadn’t heard from him since October. It had a formal and apologetic tone, wishing me well on my journey west and wondering if we might sometime be in touch.  Albuquerque palimpsest, I thought, lying back in bed. What’s the writing on the wall, in the rocks, phone, airwaves? He was about to get on a cruise that last January we took together–he performing, me taken along for the ride. One night  he invented a story about ocean ghosts haunting our cabin: “Beware the sea spooks, my dear” he’d said. I loved that.

I drove out of Albuquerque feeling the dusty fingers of a few desert spooks. I’d responded to the message, saying it was not unwelcome. On the way to Flagstaff I drove through more miles of gorgeous western space: humps and lumps and arches and naves of a world built by heavy-handed giants. BELIEVE IN AMERICA pronounced a billboard. “I do! I do! ” I sang out. A commentator on the radio was saying “Just stop reading the New York Times!” “I will, I will, ” I shouted.

“You will leave your past behind.” We’ll see about that: Loneliness and immaturity behind, ahead. Layers of forward, backward–heading West, a palimpsest. A person named Casey, works with silver?