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Monday, July 18, 2011

Me & the Crying Cat

Leo, my cat, would not stop crying. I can take a little kitty whine here and there, but he had literally been on a roll for the last three days nonstop. Last night he wouldn’t let me fall asleep for hours, then he woke me up in the middle of the night, then he woke up this morning—a wail ten times more obnoxious than my alarm. 
Rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr, rowr.
Over and over and over. For hours.
I knew what he wanted. He wanted to go outside but I wouldn’t let him. There’s a ton of feral cats out there and these guys are raggedy, scarred and tough. I’ve seen one of the tabbies, who’s missing an eyeball, literally leap up a 6ft. fence, no problem—20-pound Leo can barely jump up the bed. The poor guy doesn’t stand a chance against them. It’d be like throwing Steve Erkel into a bar full of Crips. “You’re not going outside!” I yelled at him. I was trying to relax on the couch but his crying was making me slightly delirious. Maybe because I felt like crying too…
A couple months ago, I met a writer at an open mic in the city. After amazing conversation, she asked to see some of my work. I couldn’t believe it. Me? Send my writing to her—an established, renowned writer?! I polished several of my stories mercilessly: reading and re-reading them until there was not a single detail I could think of to edit. When the ‘message sent’ popped up on my screen, I felt like I’d just run a hundred mile marathon. And indeed, my brain had.
I wasn’t bummed when I checked my email 14 times a day those first two days with no response. She was busy, I told myself. She had a life. I checked my email profusely for a week and two weeks after, even running to the computer to see if I’d missed any messages those 4 minutes I’d escaped to the bathroom. I politely sent another email weeks later as a follow-up, and offered to re-send my work if I had not done it correctly. More time passed: nada. Was I that bad a rookie that I did not even deserve a response? Or did she just get swallowed up in a blizzard that spit her back out in the Bermuda Triangle?
I was bummed but not broken as I excited myself over my next possibility. A local paper was looking for queer-themed short stories to publish. I spent an entire afternoon scripting my synopsis about the stories I’m working on, a brief bio as requested, even including a link to my blog. I haven’t heard back from them. I won’t hear back from them. In the writer’s world, an acknowledged rejection is diplomatic. All other forms of it usually come as nothing at all.
Leo was crying louder than ever. His whole mouth opened wide as he shouted his one desperate request in my face: ROWR!
I clutched my head on the couch, trying to calm myself. Boo-hoo, so I got another rejection to add to my pile of manuscript rejections that, together, are probably thicker than my own novel. I’m a sensitive person but I can’t let myself get sensitive about my work. I told myself when I chose this profession that I would need to grow a skin tougher than an alligator’s. Consider people’s critiques sensibly, but never let them break me. You should hear the voice in my head; I’ve seen pissed off football coaches be nicer to their players than the coach in my head is with me. “Big deal! Crying’s for babies! Pick your whiny ass up and try again! No one said this shit would be easy.”
ROWRRR!!! Leo cried.
            Sometimes I look at the “regular” 9-5ers in my bar. How easy it almost seems. To go to a job in those spiffy suits, and to have a steady salary where your method of payment isn’t indicative on how well you kiss ass for a decent tip. Benefits, vacation pay, enough to support your family: a regular job. It all seems so easy. Why then, can’t I bring myself to do it—to give in and live that good ol’ classic American dream? Because. I can’t. I have this yearning inside me that’s only soothed once its words are spewed out and onto a page, toyed with, manipulated, placed in a certain rhythm the way notes in a song harmonize. People read the words, probably have no idea how many times I’ve read and re-read the same sentence—scrutinizing every last comma and giving the illusion that the metaphors I pull from my mind like a rabbit out of a hat is merely effortless. If my work flows as smoothly as rainwater gushing downstream, I have done my job as a writer. And while I may envy the simple life of one who is not an artist, I would not trade my skill, my talent, my passion, my artwork for anything in the world. Do flowers wish to be ordinary weeds? No! I will never settle for complacency simply because it is easier. What a baby I was being, whining about a couple measly rejections! That was the coach inside yelling at me, telling me to toughen up, get over it, and move on. I began crying and when it called me a wimp for crying, I began crying even more, with Leo of course crying next to me.
“What do you want?” I pleaded with him, even though I knew. I looked outside. It was cold, the sky covered in spongy clouds of grey that promised rain. I thought of the lions I’d seen caged in some hotel in Vegas the week before. The most magnificent creatures you’d ever seen…depressed in a tiny enclosure as an attendant poked them with sticks to try to play ball for the crowd. I looked at Leo and sighed. “You’re lucky those lions almost made me cry,” I muttered.
I’d barely opened the door when he made a dash for it. Ran outside so fast and downstairs into the mini garden where his tail flicked back and forth excitedly. Sniffing flowers and rubbing his whiskers on the feathered sprouts of grass that shot out of the ground, he finally seemed content. Someday I’ll have my own kids and will have to watch them burn some steam off at the playground. For now, I have Leo.
Settling down on the steps of the deck, I pondered these tornadoes in my mind, my frustrations wringing out inside of me like soiled rags. I smeared the ooze of my tears across my face.
All of a sudden, I felt something pulling at me—that tug people feel when someone’s staring at them. I looked up, curious to the source of it. The city’s gloom of fog still loomed above, but in a small patch of blue, a huge balloon shot across the sky. What struck me at seeing it was not just that it was a plain ol’ balloon, but that it was a butterfly; an icon that, before they became incredibly stylish, I used to be obsessed with. It could’ve been any passing balloon, but as my eyes drained themselves silly on the porch steps aching for some kind of sign to continue pursuing this nearly impossible dream, I let myself be selfish, and say, ‘that butterfly floating across the sky was just for me.’
I wondered if it was an angelic wink from my cousin Tavo, who always encouraged my writing before he passed away; or my Aunt Lucy who was always so tender and kind, and would’ve wanted me to go on. Or maybe if it was just a reflection of me: of my hope, and all the manifestations I’ve put into the universe to someday “make it” as a writer. My heart soared as the butterfly twisted, floating up, up and upwards, capturing what little sunlight was left and shining from it magnificently.
Then, almost as quickly as it had come into my vision, it disappeared, the phantom of fog concealing it away under its cape.
            It was cold, and I began to shiver. Leo had had his 20 minutes in the yard. I scooped him up in my arms and brought him inside. He did not resist, fuss or even cry.
After dinner, I sat back down at the computer and began to write this story. I finished my first draft (a whopping 8 pages, single spaced). Half of it will be cut out, and the rest will be insanely crafted and detailed, much like Edward Scissorhands would do on a huge shrub. Four hours have passed—it could’ve been half an hour for all I knew. This story, the tears, everything has spilled out of me. My simple omen has been the kick I need to continue on, and to tell that coach in my head to be a little kinder. Someday I’ll be successful. Someday people will actually purchase my work, and I’ll have achieved a sense of establishment. For now, I have my youth, my stories, blessings in the sky, and most importantly: a quiet cat purring next to me.

© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pride? Hey Ya!

Friday night, baby!! I was getting out of work and into a cab to meet my peeps at the Wild Side West, an old saloon-themed dive in Bernal that’s usually filled with cute lesbians guzzling down booze and playing pool. It was a crappy night at my bar. I made $50 less than I’d wanted, and was still irked over some English dude who stiffed me twice, then had the Euro balls to ask me where the nearest strip joint was. Whatever. It was Gay Pride weekend, cousin Edna was in town, and the celebration was kickin’ off tonight with drinks, chisme, tacos later at the taco window, and all the unknown theatrics that can happen in-between. 
            All of a sudden, sitting in the back of a Luxor cab, that song came on. Not just any song—that song:

“1,2,3, uh! My baby don’t mess around because she loves me so and this I know for shooo. But does she really wanna but can’t stand to see me walk out the doooor.”

It was OutKast, the Hey Ya! song that came out back in ‘03. I wiggled like a kid under my seatbelt in the backseat, pleading with the cabbie. “I love this song—turn it up!” The driver, a young blonde who was zooming around as if the cab were his Porsche, glanced at me from the rearview mirror. He shrugged, figured why not, and kindly bumped the shit outta the song in the janky cab stereo, static and all.

“Don’t try to fight the feeling cuz the thought alone is killing me right nooow. Thank god for mom and dad for sticking two together cuz we don’t know hooow. Heeeeey yaa! Hey ya!”

Como se dice ‘time warp?!’ I was a young pup again, fresh to Frisco and back in the days when I first lived with my sister in a cute-ass spot on Capp and 24th. In the cab, I was watching the lights down Mission Street pass me by: past the old theaters that look like sandcastles you dribble at the beach, past The Beauty Bar and Doc’s Clock with inebriated hipsters and Priders spilling out of ‘em, past the waves of rainbow flags that had color-coated the entire city. But the song had swallowed me back in time, and I was back on Capp Street, blasting my stereo and dancing with my ex-novio: a fine-ass Chilango from DF. I was still in the girl-crushing phase in that era, had never even set eyes on the ruca, and didn’t think that someday I could actually be (gasp!) a gay.

“Hey ya! Don’t want to meet your daddy! Just want you in my Caddie!”
The chimes of the xylophone! Andre’s sexy croon! The harmonious beats burst and bubbled up inside me. I sang along to myself in the backseat, not shy in front of the cabbie cuz I’d already had two shots to chase down my beer before I’d left work. I remembered the first night I’d met my ex. Everyone at the restaurant was excited, giggling over the quiet new cook who worked the grill. The straight girls were flushed—“Ohmygod, I think he smiled at me!”—and even the gay boys were bouncing around extra cute, suddenly helping the expos run all their food. The ex was tall, surprisingly thin for a guy, with a smooth wave in his hair and creamy skin that should’ve been more tainted from all the liquor and substance absorbed late night after hours.

“Hey ya! Don’t want to meet your momma. Just want to make you cum-a!”

When he chose me out of the entire staff of girls (and boys) who were flinging themselves at him like kids under a bust-up piñata, I felt as if I’d been crowned Prom Queen. I’ve always been beautiful, but I hadn’t grown into my true beauty yet; hadn’t learned to twist my essence from the inside out to truly make it shine. Back then, I was still measuring beauty by how great I looked standing hand-in-hand with a guy who looked like he’d missed his calling as a Calvin Klein underwear model.

“Heeeeey yaa!...Now what’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold!”

The break-up would’ve gone smoother if there hadn’t been lying and cheating, and lying about the cheating. I hadn’t been heart-broken in so long that the torture was almost foreign to me: waking up in tears with my pillow still soggy from them from the night before; revisiting all of our old stomping grounds: “Ohmygod, he kissed me right there in front of the liquor store once!” “Waaaa! He told me ‘I love you’ for the first time at that bus stop!” What a mess. It took me months to bounce back to my perky self, and even longer not to growl at every Gemini I met. (Grrr…those two-faced sons of—)

“Now I wanna see ya’ll on your baddest behavior! Lend me some suga, I am your neighbor! Shake it, shake it…Shake it like a Polaroid picture!”

I hadn’t thought about the ex in forever, hadn’t had a need to. Time had cured my long ago broken heart until there was no longer a single flutter at the mention of his name. But right then, riding backseat with a cabbie who floored the yellow on Cesar Chavez as if Armageddon was one stop-light behind us, I realized one thing: I wasn’t nostalgic for the ex, nor was I heartbroken. I was actually sincerely and genuinely happy about it. If I hadn’t gotten my heart stomped on like some old recycled soda cans, I would’ve never met the ruca… Would’ve never kissed her that day on the 4th of July six years ago, and thought to myself “this is the one.” Would’ve never had the chance to fall asleep spooning her soft hips every night, and wake up in those early ambiguous hours of morning only to reconnect again. Everything from my past has led me to where I am now: here. Con ella, la ruca.

“Heeeeey yaa! Hey ya!”

The cabbie turned left on Cortland and passed the coffee shop where we stumble out of bed and go to sometimes, then past the Stray Dog Bar, and finally pulled over to the side as the song faded out to the last Hey Ya!.
I over-tipped homeboy, handing him a five like I was a balla when a standard three bucks would’ve sufficed.
            “Thanks, man,” I waved.
“You take care,” he nodded.
I passed the smokers out front, still talking about the Giants game, and pushed open the door. Behind the pool table and behind the wall of the fireplace—where glitzy antique high-heeled shoes are nailed into it—was the crowd of my friends: drinks being raised in cheers and their first few rounds already toasting up inside them, all of them fuzzy and helplessly elated. “Sarah!” “Sara!” “Sarita!” they all called out to me.
I wanted to run but forced a cool strut over to them, where I distributed hugs and besos and saved a big smooch on the lips for the ruca for last.
“Ready to celebrate Pride weekend?” she asked, once I’d ordered my round.
“Hey ya!” I grinned, the silly, loving goof I am.

© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved