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Vermont: Heart, Soul, Past, Present, Future: The Collapsing Barn.

8 Jun

Vermont: Heart, Soul, Past, Present, Future: The Collapsing Barn..

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Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Tutoring Bel Air I Go

3 May

DEAR READER,

I missed you; sorry about the hiatus! So: my mood improved. My sex life is another story…but it could be worse. Time to move from heart/soul/ body musings to the ever-fascinating world of WORK. One of my current positions is Tutor To The 1 Percent.

tutoring blog Heading into hills. jpgIt’s around four; I’m heading up Tower Drive, a narrow road with a sharp incline.  As I make my way up every Monday and Thursday, I think of that old board game Shoots and Ladders. The sun is shining and the sky is blue, AS USUAL.  I’m going to see Bianca, a six-year old with reading troubles. And to see Nathalia, her Russian nanny–always  in a white uniform, who has  trouble speaking English. I’m driving up, up, up from my flat in the flats of Beverly Hills to Bianca’s house in Bel Air. Her house is a modern multi-billion dollar home with a Ferrari, BMW, and Bentley parked in the makes-me-gasp-steep driveway. The floor of the front hall is glass, with goldfish swimming underneath.

It’s beautiful. It’s surreal. I don’t admire the rich, but amidst some disdainful thoughts are envious thoughts. I’d like to live up here. Shoots and Ladders, yes, and CANDYLAND. Someone’s side yard:

tutoring blog purple hill

The people I see out on the road look normal; I wonder if they feel normal, are normal. . .they are pulling into their driveways, walking their dogs. (I was going to take pictures for my blog, but thought better of it, imagining the headlines: WHILE PHOTOGRAPHING THE SUPER RICH, SUSPICIOUS TUTOR SHOT AND KILLED. VOYEURISM DOES NOT PAY.)

Bianca lives in a gated community.

tutoring blog GATE

I tap the secret code into the secret box.  Once inside, the road gets very winding, and the houses are very spectacular, architectural mind-fucks every one. There are virtual castles with turrets and small moats; there are Bau Haus grand pianos of buildings; there are mansions like Italian villas, mosaic-ed with gorgeous imported tile–all with operatic views of the sumptuous hills, soaring vistas of the mountains, cypress trees…and homes of the Other Very Rich.

tutoring blog view with trees framing

Of course, I feel as if I’m in a movie. The one about the professor who casts aside her perfectly nice life in a small upstate New York town to become Fresh Tutor of Bel Air.  (The plot is vague but I already have the actors picked out; more to be revealed!)  I park outside the gate in front of  Bianca’s house and enter Secret Code Number Two. A waterfall  in the neighbor’s yard whispers voluptuously. And then, Nathalia the nanny lets me in the door.

Bianca and her twin sister rush up the marble stairs to greet me: “Miss Kirsten!” they shout. They are well-behaved little girls, seemingly without airs. Bianca mentions her diamond stud earrings, talks about flying to Switzerland for Christmas,  the 100 dollars the tooth fairy gave her, but she isn’t bragging. At six, she thinks that’s how life works. In three months, I’ve seen their mother only three times; she is a pretty but ordinary woman in work out clothes who looks a little frail. One time she was huddled in a blanket by the swimming pool in 75-degree sunshine. Dad works in Vegas and Denver, and he SKYPES with his family several times a week. I googled him, and there seemed to be  nothing unusual about him except his bank account.

Once settled in her pink room with a luxury hotel view and bathroom, Bianca and I read some Dr. Suess and then Amelia Bedelia–which, according to Bianca “has too many large and incomprehensible words.” I don’t know enough about it, but think she might have dyslexia. Her twin is “the smart one,” Bianca  tells me, and I identify with Bianca, noting that her twin is bossy and loud, even though I get the feeling she’s just jealous that Bianca has a tutor.

Then it’s time to do some ESL work with Nathalia, and she and I talk about our weekends; I went to The Getty and she went to Huntington Gardens. She is about my age, blonde, has high arched eyebrows, an easy laugh and thick accent. Both of us working for this family creates, I like to think, a vague kinship. But I just turn up twice a week whereas Nathalia lives with them; I cannot begin to imagine this. On my way out, Nathalia gives me some Russian chicken meatballs  in a glass container. She often does this–without a word.

Climbing up the driveway past the Ferrari, the BMW SUV, and the Bentley, I huff and puff delicious flowery air and look at the sun hovering on the horizon. I let myself out of the gate and collapse  inside the Pruis. Wending my way back out of the CandyLand/Shoots and Ladders movie set, I fantasize about hiding in the bushes until dark and then…robbing a house? No, not with those alarm systems. The fantasy isn’t like that exactly. It’s about knowing the life–with servants, and operatic vistas, and a million precious things behind lock and key. The wealth is so close, it almost seems like you could blink your eyes and  just take up residence in one house or another as if you belonged there and always had.

tutoring blog house with palms

Jay Gatsby had that plan, and succeeded. Until he drowned. Driving down the dark lanes, I let go the fantasy, and stick a plastic fork retrieved from my glove compartment into a chicken meatball and silently thank Nathalia.

The lives up here will never seem real to me. (As Tutor Of The Hills, I barely seem real to me!) It’s somewhere over the rainbow: up the hill, through the gate, down the driveway, into the marbled hall of a mysteriously rich life, my sandals clicking across the glass floor with  fish swimming, trapped beneath. I’m a visitor. And though I’m not a robber, I am stealing. Along with the plastic utensils, my notebook sits in the glove compartment. Filled with notes.

The Hills Are Alive With The Sacred and Profane, Or: Healing and Hawking

1 Jul

Beverly Hills may be a real place but I have yet to be convinced. The kinds of things I see around me on a weekly basis seem like Greek tragedy, fairy tale, Fellini. And that’s just at my local Starbucks: A French couple, bone-thin and stylish, hiss at one another, arguing in bone-thin and stylish French, while their gorgeous fat baby, dressed in haute couture baby clothes, screams violently. The couple seems not to notice. A woman in her nineties clicks across the floor in high heels, a short sequined skirt, low-cut blouse, heavy make up. She smiles a yellow-toothed smile and is beautiful. A handsome, gay friend of mine walks in, surveys a group of young, bronzed, perfectly-cut gay men and says  “Look! The rubber version of young gay men.” Then the beautiful older woman asks me if I have a dollar.

Last week, I found myself, like Alice in Wonderland, at an estate in Bel Air, where I proceeded to hand out samples of juice. “DRINK ME,” I called out coquettishly to the assembled crowd. Well, maybe I didn’t do that. . .sometimes it’s hard to tell what I am or am not doing here. Perhaps I was standing behind my product, speaking in a chirpy but professional voice about the benefits of cold-pressed vegetable and fruit juice.
zen event me

The occasion was an event called “Zen Day In The Hills.” Actually I’ve left out part of the title because it’s the brand name of a supplement. Let’s call it “Alpha Armor.” So there I am at “Alpha Armor Zen Day In The Hills.” A gorgeous location:
zen event whole back yard

Me and my juice were wedged between a prim German woman–let’s call her Helga–selling miso paste, and a very loud and large man–let’s call him Hal–selling pendants with designs derived from “Sacred Geometry,” a subject  which Hal talked about during the afternoon. Wearing a sacred pendant, I learned, could provide “effortless three dimensional manifestation,” and “new heights of understanding and human conceptual liberation.” Hal quoted Plato: “The good, of course, is always beautiful, and the beautiful never lacks proportion.” I felt a twinge for poor Plato, at that moment rolling over in his grave. The pendants were sixty dollars, one hundred dollars with chain.

Entrance to “Alpha Armor Zen Day” cost forty-five dollars and for that one could enjoy lectures on varied and sundry topics: Astrological Predictions (I took notes on what she said about Leo’s next few weeks–love! money! spiritual peace and one-ness!), “Secret Alchemy,” “Letting Love and Prosperity Bloom” and so on. Three out of six of the speakers had the word “Celebrity” in their title, as in “Celebrity Vegan Body Builder,” or “Celebrity Life Coach and Sacred Henna Eyebrow Tint-er.” (I might have invented one of these.) There was also food and music.

zen event musicians

And mingling too, with like-minded seekers. Or at least seekers who were 98  percent alike: well-off, white, and I can say this but you can’t: lonely-looking middle-aged women. And of course services were available (for a fee): sound healing, energy massage, cell balance evaluation, Reiki, intuitive hypnotherapy.
zen event head scrub

For some reason the Thai Chi guy was the least popular of all the practitioners.
zen event tai chi guy alone
Maybe his lack of popularity had to do with his Un-Zen look. Other practitioners wore  flowy white clothing, but he looked like an insurance agent. Plus he wasn’t selling anything.

I wasn’t either, but was supplying juice samples–so I was popular. Which I enjoyed for about 4 hours. People-watching was fun; it was a hot sunny day with a hot free meal. (It surprised me that there the only vegetarian offering was a green salad. I’m very nominally a vegetarian, but it seemed to me that a Zen day shouldn’t involve eating animals.)

zen event my view of pation

About hour 5,  I admitted to Helga, I was  cranky. With the people who said “What is THIS?,” while fingering one bottle of juice after another. It said “JUICE” about a hundred places on my table. Ok, four places. And then “What is IN HERE?!” All the ingredients were listed in front of each bottle. “Anthrax!” I wanted to reply. And when, after taking four bottles earlier, one of the seekers came back and said,”Honey, Do you mind if I take just one more…?” I felt like swatting her hand and saying, “How much money do you make? Do you really NEED another free juice?” I hit my all time Zen Low when I heard a woman ask Hal about one of his sacred pendants, “What does this symbol mean?” and he replied “Uh…I don’t know about that one.” She bought it anyway.
zen event pretty pendants

Helga had heard my spiel on cold-pressed juice about 150 times, and she was willing to take over for fifteen minutes.  I left my post to wander around the property.
zen event view from

Beauty in many forms.

zen event second lady in red

zen event lady in red

(For some reason, there were a lot of Women In Red.)

On my way back I took a look in a garbage can.
zen event plastic in garbage
So much plastic. Nothing recycled. “ZEN DAY? ZEN, MY ASS,” I muttered under my breath. Helga had noticed the lack of recycling too, and she was irritated, tired, and ready to leave. Hal was selling sacred pendants hand over fist. Plato continued to roll in his grave. I got ready to go. Loading up my car with coolers and juice literature, I looked back and saw several folks dancing in the estate’s backyard, barefoot, scarves held over their head in out stretched arms. “You are too old for that shit”– again muttering (to them or to myself, I wasn’t sure.) Steering the Pruis out to Mulholland Drive, I looked around.
Mulholland drive

 

Like Alice I felt small and then large that afternoon, and had observed all kinds of characters. As if waking from a dream, or  watching the credits at the end of a Fellini film, I felt that my grip on reality has slipped away; the sacred and profane seemed  intertwined in a wondrous and disturbing geometry.

Mulholland houses sticking out

“What are we humans doing?” My third mutter of the day, and then my fourth: “Should I have bought a sacred pendant?” They were very pretty.

mulholland drive cacti view

 

The hills were singing, and the time had come for me to drive back to my little estate on Reeves.  Seeking, pendant-less, I still had a few bottles of juice in the cooler.

Rite of Purification At Blue Wave Or, Alarms Blare As Sacred Cow Gets Bath (Forgive Me).

19 May

Before I rolled into LA last January, I stopped in Arizona to get my oil changed; the guys at Lube Up asked where I was headed.
“L.A.!!!” I yelled, with on-the-road-alone delirium.

“You cannot drive into L.A. looking like that,” the handsome stocky oil man said grimly. Fortunately he was talking about my car–at least that’s where his finger pointed. The Pruis had been through two snow storms, the dust bowl, and a couple psychic breaks. My girl looked her age.

I followed his advice and got Little Sister all gussied up; she didn’t look like Beverly Hills exactly, but she looked like good clean fun–which was perfect for driving down Santa Monica and singing Sheryl Crow.

So fifteen months later, I have a job as a personal assistant, and part of my responsibilities include driving Madame around and I couldn’t let that happen until the Prius looked and smelled better than she did. I’d had the car cleaned twice since moving here–in LA LA ethos, that’s like sending your un-toilet trained toddler to pre-school without a diaper. It’s neglectful to the point of abuse, it’s disgusting, and it could be a sign of a psychotic break. (Why does that keep coming up?) Or, simply a sign of the devil.

In L.A., the semiotics are simple: Your Car, Your Child. Or: Your Car, Your Mother. Or Your Moral Worth. Or: the Size Of Your Male Organ. At any rate: OUR AUTOS, OUR SELVES.

Back on the Santa Monica Boulevard, I found the BLUE WAVE CAR WASH and pulled in, only to be dazzled by the options.
car wash signs

And the prices. I won’t say what I got, but suffice to say it cost me what I get paid for quite a few hours of work. Duty called, I answered. And no one would accuse the Pruis of being trash or ungodly. I am what I am; leave my car out of it.

The Blue Wave Car Wash is actually shaped and painted like a wave, graced by the most scraggly palm trees I’ve ever seen.

car wash dying palm trees

That The Blue Wave has its own gift shop more than makes up for its riffraff plant life.

car wash gift store

Who doesn’t want, while waiting for the car to be cleaned, to buy some potpourri and funny cat figurines? I’ll admit that, far more seductive to me was the taco truck.

car wash taco trunk

The Blue Wave has an outdoor waiting area.

car wash sitting area
Where there are ads reminding you of all the other things in your life that need attending to.
carwash ads

While your car is transmogrified, you can find out where to find a new surfboard, DUI lawyer, and drug counselor.
I sat down in a big comfy black faux-leather chair, spilling salsa onto the seat, and dropping jalapeños down its cracks. It was a few minutes before I saw the signs on the wall alerting me to the fact that this was a massage chair, and unless I was paying to plunk myself down there (not to mention whipping up jalapeño puree in the chair’s pillows), an alarm would go off.

car wash chair alarm

Hence the terribly loud WAHN WAHN WAHN that had been blaring just about the same amount of time I’d been wolfing the taco in my comfy seat. I jumped to standing attention, looking as innocent as it is possible for a woman with a filthy car and salsa on her chin.
But, low,and behold!

car wash guy washing my car

But by now the Prius wasn’t filthy; she was Renewed! She preened under this man’s TLC. She made up for my salsa, my sins.
Nevertheless, I remembered Sheryl’s lyrics:
This ain’t no disco
This ain’t no country club either, this is L.A.
And the girls just wanna have some fun, by sittin’ around
Drinking beer at noon on a Tuesday with an ugly guy named Billy
In a bar next to a Car Wash on Santa Monica Boulevard.

In a few minutes, I got into my pristine and lemon-fresh automobile. I cast a brief glance around for Ugly Billy…and then headed home. Car cleaned! Conscience clear! Mostly. At least (I hoped) no one would spot the psychic breaks and spiritual slips under the tire dressing, clay wax, and air freshener. About the jalapeños, I am truly sorry.

Note to Self: You for Real?

17 Mar

The hardest part about starting a new life–new work, new friends, new everything–is wondering, every day:  What the hell  am I doing?

Then I say to myself, It’s only been a year. Give it time. Now shut up, put on your sunglasses. This is L.A. and you’re indoors.

IMG_1957

OOOOOKAAAY!  I am a resident of Beverly Hills! A juice lady! A health blogger! A public storyteller! This may sound pretty cool, but let me give you the real story. With a story.

SO, I’m at a meeting with my new boss at her gorgeous enormous house: Cathedral ceilings. Beautiful art everywhere, swimming pool in back. The company’s PR team is there.  Everyone is wearing sunglasses. I’m older. Than everyone. Including my boss. No one, including me, knows what I’m doing there.

There’s some animosity in the air; I have no idea what it’s about, and assume it’s got something to do with me. The egoism and paranoia of starting over: I don’t know what I’m doing and everyone is onto my fraudulence. Having had a quick tutoring session with friend Natasha, I try  saying things like “competitive branding” and “price points,” but they come out sounding like “comparing bandaids” and “spice pants.”

When the discussion turns to the subject of blogs for the juice store, everyone is bandying about phrases like “lifestyle rejuvenation,” and “detoxification days.” The words “fresh,” “inspiration,” and “soothing” are repeated over and over.

A year and a half ago, I was saying and writing things like “the author’s codification of consumerism belies his post-modern hermeneutics,” and writing in the margins of essays, “What do you mean by ‘lifestyle’? This is a  lazy, useless word.” (You know you need to leave teaching when your grading comments verge on personal attack.)

The climax of the hour-long meeting in my boss’s shimmering and organic kitchen occurs after I’ve slugged down some kale and lemon juice, and my stomach is making the sounds of an organ going through lifestyle rejuvenation.

“Radiance,” my boss says, “Jenna is about Radiance. Living Radiantly.” Jenna is the other blogger. She’s fifteen years younger than I and she is–if you didn’t guess–radiant. She covers specific tops in her blog. I cover others, like wrinkle treatment,  and “food for menopause.”

“And Kirsten. . .” my boss begins as my intestines spasm. “Kirsten is about. . .”

“AGING!” I burst out in an unpleasant guffaw. I don’t know if I am bragging or complaining, but my tone bristles with the venom of a Kipling scholar surrounded by Post-Colonialists.

There are a few polite laughs, and I look at the youngest members of the PR team thinking, A few years ago I’d have been standing at the head of the classroom discussing ambiguity in the conclusion to The Sun Also Rises. And you’d be slouching in your chairs, taking notes.

Who. Am. I? Is my story about embracing a new life with hard-earned humor and a bit of grace, or is this the narrative of a woman shaking in her (Armani knock-off) boots, a frightened and resentful outsider?

Yesterday I was handing out samples of juice at Kyle’s on Brighton Ave. That’s the clothing store owned by Kyle Real Beverly Hills Housewife. I realized that I really really wanted my picture taken with her. Who Am. I?

IMG_1977Aren’t you impressed, Dear Reader? Don’t worry,  I don’t  actually take too much of this stuff about fashion and youth culture seriously. My mother raised me right; I’m pretty sure Audrey is laughing in her grave, sympathetic to  the ambiguity of this stage of my life.

In the conclusion of The Sun Also Rises, Jake responds to Bret’s delusions of romantic grandeur with a curt, “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” This is Jake’s way of saying “Don’t be a horse’s ass.”  While I might long for the seeming glamour and radiance of Beverly Hills, I know who I am.

I am someone in transition. And I like role play.

IMG_1259(This is not as interesting as you might think: just a 30-second photo moment with a stranger on Halloween.)  Maybe what I  am is this: someone who likes to role play someone who likes to role play.

I don’t know exactly what the hell I’m doing, but I do know I gotta do it. Like aging, certain things are inevitable. And, as with radiance–there is more than one way to glow.

Please share with me, Dear Reader, a time when you took a while to figure out what you were doing–a life stage that was bewildering/frightening/rewarding?