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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.

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Silent Night, Holy Mulholland

3 Jan

Happy 2015!

holiday door

If you have given me the honor of being a regular reader, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a long time. I kept trying to do so, coming up with cute, funny, or ironic phrases and ideas about how I was feeling, and what I was doing. But it didn’t work; I kept going to bed early, sleeping late, cancelling fun activities with friends. A yearly occurrence: worsening depression.

Bow on sidewalk

One wouldn’t be able to see it necessarily; because I’ve experienced clinical depression for so many decades I know how to cover it. (Close friends see it, damn them.)

Me with tree on head My depression isn’t so serious that anyone worries about me hurting myself, but I do take meds, and I do see a (GREAT) therapist once a week. Twice during the months of November and December.

The (GREAT) “holiday season” and I are not on good terms.

devil santa

‘Tis the anniversary of my parents’ deaths, and a time I feel particularly alone. Goody for me, I know: A LOT of people find Christmastime depressing–because it’s a consumerist GOB STOPPER, and because of intense pressure to have fun, love your family, and celebrate with grand gifts,  delicious food, festive parties.

The Christmas cards start piling up: everyone seems to be healthy and successful and wearing matching pajamas. As for me, I am feeling bad about 1) my book manuscript being rejected without so much as a word of explanation, 2) my professional identity being uncertain (no word of explanation there either),  and 3) my love life having fallen into a chasm of nothing, weirdness, and more nothing (would you believe no word of explanation?!). There’s also a 4), 5), and 6), but I’m even more tired of my woes than the dear ones who listen to me talk about them.

Manageable, of course, my troubles: I have food, a roof, and great friends. And yet the depression this year was bad.

Estes Park

A lot of days I accomplished nothing but showering, and even that task was arduous. If you have depression or love someone who does, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, please understand that depression is not being sad. It’s losing a sense of self.
shadow self

On the days when I could get out of my apartment, I saw some things that cheered me up. L.A. has a refreshing “take” on  December:

X-Mas colors:
palms with stockings

Honoring the historical Jesus:

Me with tree on head

Stockings on the mantle:

palms with stockings

Other times I saw displays that made me feel like crawling down Rodeo Drive on my hands and knees.

Christmas happpiness on Rodeo

The day I saw a homeless guy actually crawling down Rodeo I gave him a dollar and chastised myself for being a big fat whiner.

When depression hits, I feel like an alien watching the humans. (Not like Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin”;  she is, after all, getting her needs met. GO SJ!) When not feeling alien, I imagine myself  a snake that cannot slither out of a suffocating skin. Or a small animal trying to claw its way out of a sink hole. To no avail.

This year, my brilliant new shrink, and my brilliant old friends– dragging me out of the apartment–provided solace and some relief. So did…Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland with Fence

I can’t explain this exactly, but every time I set out on Mulholland Drive for my tutoring jobs in Studio City and Bel Air, I felt as if I were almost able to wriggle out of the tight scaly skin around my soul, as if someone had offered a hand that might pull my rodent self out of the sink hole.

Mulholland with light and road sign

A road. Curve after curve. On High.

Mulholland love 2Driving Mulholland, I feel airy, light, an eligible flyer.

The view is surreal: waves of soft hilly terrain, enormous ocean of sky, congregations of cacti.

mulholland drive cacti view

On Mulholland, being an alien seems OK; in that lofty and arid setting, what a human is “supposed to be” seems as distant as the mansions embedded in the landscape. (Does anyone really live there?)

Now that the holidays–with their happy shiny expectations–are no longer being piped through airwaves and media narratives, I’m feeling better. I hope, Dear Reader, that  you enjoyed November and December 2014 as much as possible, and have fun stuff to look forward to in 2015.

I also hope you have  a spot where you are surrounded by light, a place on earth that reminds you that we are tiny beings in a grand design, a location where you see yourself moving forward,  even when feeling  stuck, or lost.

shoes, sad

Or absent.

Mulholland love 3

A path. Ahead.

Las Vegas # 3 feet on the way home

For everything there is a season.

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.