My Bros

“Expose your cracks and love will fill them,” I said and four blank faces stared back at me. “Jenn, dat sounds geeeeaaay,” Khalfani, who is an engineer and from Jamacia, broke the silence with a disgusted look on his face. I work with a team of men, nay, boys, who have all become like the brothers I never wanted. We spend so much time together that we have all ended up knowing way too much about one another and our conversations vary from everyone’s bowel movements to the fragility of love. “Ew, not that crack” I told Khalfani, equally disgusted. “Your cracks, like your fears and flaws.” “Expose your cracks and love will fill dem,” Khalfani repeated with his hands on his heart, mimicking me. “Khalfani don’t you think I would know what crack I’m talking abo-” He was beaming. “Yeah. Dat’s geay Jenn.” He walked away. “Vulnerability is not gay,” I called after him. “Yeah, but filling your crack wit love is,” he yelled back.

We always end up ordering food together and every day it’s the same chaos. “Double bacon burger, no tomatoes or lettuce, with mayo. WHITE bread, Jenn.” Sometimes I try to sneak vegetables into their meals. “Fries or a salad?” “Salad,” I’ll whisper into the phone and once the food arrives it’s like I’ve committed an unforgivable sin. Once I ordered all their sandwiches on wheat bread and I paid an enormous, taxing, price. “What the hell JENN?” “What is dis shet?!” I spent days afterward trying to regain the trust those loaves of bread cost me. “You all are NOT getting diabetes on my watch!” I yell at them. “Dan didn’t you tell me the other day that you couldn’t feel your big toe?!” Dan, one of the in room dining servers, looked at me and then his face softened. “My toe did go numb,” he said in a low dark voice, his eyes narrowing. He put his hand on my shoulder. “Thanks for looking out for me Jenn.” “See?” I looked around at the others, waiting for them to follow Dan’s lead. Khalfani took a bite of his burger and grimaced. “Fuck dat Jenn. Sheeeet.”

The other reason I want to monitor their diets is so they will stop blowing up the bathroom. All day long someone is locked away in the bathroom while someone else is trying to go. Once when I was using the restroom, my phone started buzzing. When I looked, Khalfani had sent me a series of bomb emojis. When I walked out he was standing outside the door grinning. “I just peed, Khalfani,” I told him flatly. Andy, our manager, will appear and ask, “Jenn, were you blowing it up?” This is the same with emissions of gas. Once Khalfani told a fart story that began, “It was winter…” Khalfani also mentioned that he wears eco-friendly underwear. When I inquired about what exactly makes it eco-friendly he responded, “They are ruit of da lum. They hold your farts in.” I stared at him for awhile and then asked. “Why would you want that?” He shrugged, “My mother in law bought them for me.”

In the kitchen, there is Connor. I went through a phase where every time I entered the kitchen I would Gordon Ramsey Connor, like in the reality show Kitchen Nightmares. “Connor!” I would yell. “Show me the freezer!” He would stare at me blankly and then walk over to it and open it, his face emotionless. “That freezer is rancid!” I yell. “This food tastes like it’s made with stress and a microwave!” Connor had no idea what was going on, and his face scrunched up in annoyance. Once Gordon Ramsey was dining next door at SoHo House and everyone sent me texts to come to the deck. Once we were all gathered Andy gestured for me to look next door. I leaned over the rail and had a total meltdown. “Oh my God, oh my God!” Everyone walked away and left me alone babbling obscenities in a British accent. “Why do we care about this person?” Juan, one of our housekeepers asked. Other times when I walk in the kitchen Connor is preparing something, and the dishes are beautiful. “Simple, fresh, elegant,” I’ll say in my Ramsey accent. “Are you making golden pillows?” I ask, changing my accent back to my annoying valley girl stoner voice. “These are wontons,” he will say, confused.

Some of my favorite people belong to our security team. One of them, Curt, a retired homicide cop, is always willing to discuss the gritty details of crime with me. When I first met him I asked him what IDing bodies is like. Unphased, he replied, “Have you ever gotten your dog’s nails cut at the vet?” I nodded. “That sound of the nail clipper cutting through the nail is the same sound that you hear when the coroner has to cut through a bone.” All the blood drained from my face and Curt started telling me about all the people who get hit by trains in Ventura. “You’ll find a shoe, and then ten feet away you’ll find another shoe. They get blown right out of them.” Once a random couple off the street walked up the steps to the front entrance and started peering in windows of the sliding doors. The doors only open from the inside and Curt walked over triggering the sensors. The door slid open and the woman outside asked if she could see a menu. “Of course,” Curt told her and turned to leave. The doors slid closed, leaving the woman and man outside, peering in. They watched through the glass as Curt walked through the lobby, out through the garden, down the path, turned right, and disappeared behind a wall. “Is he coming back?” the woman said through the glass. He was not. Curt is in a YouTube video of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian taken by paparazzi. In it, Kanye is yelling that the papz won’t leave him alone. Kanye looks small and angry until the camera is blocked by the angry face of Curt. Curt’s face fills the camera and the video ends. When he showed me, I observed, “so Kanye’s a little guy?” “Yeah,” he confirmed.

I have given them all nicknames that I’m not sure they enjoy. Andy, who’s last name is Chen, and who recently bought a fidget spinner, is Chenneth Paltrow when he’s wearing his elegant, gray shirt. When he’s in a bad mood, he is Chenny Jones. When I have strong feelings of comradery with him, he is Chenny from the block. And when he’s being sweet, he is Chennifer Love Hewitt. When he ordered his fidget spinner he accidentally left the page up on his computer. He paid six dollars for it with free shipping. “I bought the chrome one,” he tried to justify this, as if you can’t buy the chrome one anywhere else for cheaper. Everywhere he goes now we hear him first. The silent whir of the chrome fidget spinner.  Dan is Petty Murphy. Sometimes, behind the scenes, Dan and I like to act out scenarios where we tell a rude guest exactly what we wish we could say, instead of being polite. In them, Dan uses the word “trifling” and “heffer” a lot. And sometimes we like to imagine if when guests arrived we welcomed them by saying “Welcome to the International House of Pancakes.” Khalfani’s name I just sing in a long drawn out, out of tune song. “KhaAAAAaaaalllllLLLLfffFFFaaaAnnnnniiiiiiIiiiIi” Sometimes I’ll try to harmonize Mariah Carey style and go up and down a few octaves while waving my hand in the air for emphasis. Connor is ConBon, and Juan is Juanito. Juan is young and lively and sometimes I like to peer counsel him. “I met a girl at a party and I took her to a gas station.” Khalfani will put his hand out to fist bump Juan in approval, and I will intercept their handshake with my own hand. “That’s a bro block,” I say in a high pitched nerd voice. “Do you like this girl?” I ask Juan. “It’s my friend’s gas station,” he replied. “Juanito come sit with me, I have an excessive amount of questions,” I say.

Once, the topic of having children was somehow brought up and I ended the convo with one word, eggs. “At least none of you have to worry about eggs. For all I know, all my good eggs are long gone, and now all I have left are the evil eggs.” Everyone looked like they were going to throw up. “It’s the grapes of wrath in there guys,” I carried on. “What if I die alone?” I asked. “Jenn, you won’t,” Khalfani consoled me. “You have all of us.” I smiled. “We should all go to the Teen Choice Awards togeder,” he said. “Wait, what?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1%

“I’ll tip you such and such ridiculously large amount of money to get me a table at Nobu.” Instead of perking up at the thought of all that extra money, I began to think about how I would bribe someone if I had the means to. What do I want that I would give someone money to make happen. “My income is inexhaustable and I’ll reward you with a sum of money that seems enormous to you but is mere chump change to me if you can sink the entire state of Florida. Floridians will be gone and unable to breed more Floridians and I’ll still be rich.” From my observations, it seems as though people only say things like that when there are witnesses around because it’s not exactly genuine good will and generosity that’s driving this exchange of goods for a service. It’s either to appear impressively generous and full of good will, but more often it’s the word “no.” What the “no” is tugging at, is their ego. What they really want, is to be told “yes” when everyone else gets told “no.” And yeah, money usually equals “yes.” But real talk, being poor defines your options by providing you very few, and being rich provides you endless options. So why is it that when you have everything at your dispense, people seem to start creating useless problems and suddenly become aggitated by odd nuances. Money inflates your bank account and your sense of self follows suit. But having a huge ego is comparable to turning your skin into glass. One fall, and you’ll smash a leg off, unable to get back up and just keep going. The wrong brand of bottled water in your room and suddenly your panties are all bunched up your butt, causing you to squirm like an unearthed worm. How could this happen? What would happen if they drank water from the sink, like me? I hope I never have to find out.

Once, I walked into the lobby and was startled by one of our guests lounging on one of the couches. He was quiet and somehow had blended in with the colors in the couch, possibly because he is bald, but I didn’t see him until he started screaming into the phone. I jumped ten feet with my hand on my heart like an elderly woman. His burst of aggression caused us to make eye contact and when he saw me he pointed to me and took a break in yelling at whoever he was speaking to on the phone, to yell at me. He pointed at me and barked, “Bring me a shot of vodka!” I stared at him for a few minutes in silence until I got nervous that he would start strangling me. “And bring me my sugar free red bull, it’s on the deck!” I hate to profile people, but I feel like this man voted for Trump. When I brought him his shot of vodka and sugar free energy drink, I watched as he poured half the energy drink into a potted plant, dumped the shot into the rest, and wandered away, back to yelling on the phone. Alone, I googled him and, yes, he’s donated millions of dollars to the Trump campaign. “I knew it” I murmured to myself.

I work at nights and besides being able to spend all morning hiking and out in the sun, my fantasy was to get a front row seat to all the sketchy things that rich people do when they think no one is watching. Like when O.J. Simpson and all those freaky Vegas thugs quarintened themselves in a hotel room until O.J. got his signed footballs back. “No way. I won’t allow it. You will have no life Jenn,” my boss said. “You will become…weird.” My other co-worker chimed in, “Weird-er.” “But the scandals happen when the sun goes down.” “You can work evenings, but you will go home at eleven,” she said almost in disbelief that she has to talk someone out of working overnights. “And let me make one thing clear,” my boss stated, “there will be no scandals at this hotel.” My boss is a powerful lady. O.J. never would have gotten through the door if she was running that hotel in Vegas. So when the daytime staff couldn’t get a table at Nobu, the torch was passed to the spooky night crew. I hate asking for favors, if someone says no, I’m onto the next viable option. But at work I float in and out of my reality, which is on the ground, and the billionaire’s reality which is soaring above the clouds and possibly too close to the sun. Pulling strings requires levetating somewhere in the space between the ground and outer space.

The hotel and the restaurant are sepearte entities and for some reason we have bad blood with one another. Like true siblings, we annoy one another constantly. So asking for help from the restaraunt is always awkward and slightly intimidating. I’ve notcied that when speaking to guests or asking for favors, everyone’s voices tend to increase a few octaves, thinking they sound like a kind, genuine person. Imagine a daughter asking Daddy for a pony. Sugary and phoney. Real talk, they sound like suspicious cartoon characters. It is offputting, and people pick up on vibes. Like those “good vibes” people. They are announcing and plastering “good vibes only” everywhere, but if they really were sending out these good vibes why are they not more chill? I decided that since we have emailed, phoned and already presented ourselves in person to Nobu and gotten turned down, if I went over there and asked one last time in person I better be straighforward and honest. But also, it’s very hard for me not to be straightforward and honest, take for instance, this blog full of years of my musings. My granddaughter one day will read all of this and say, “Wow, grandma was not chill.”

As I stepped out onto the sidewalk and made my way over to Nobu, I passed a girl sitting on a bench. “Wow, you look great. That is a great buisness professional look,” she told me. This is a real win for me because when I was presented with my uniform I thought if I wore it in everyday life and happened to pass someone on the street, they would think I was selling Bibles. In a conversation with my mom I referred to it as a Mrs. Trunchbull outfit. “That buff mean lady in Matilda? Why would they want you to look like that?” my mom argued. “Jenn, you love style, just fix it somehow,” she said. I bought chic heels, fake reading glasses, googled “how to wear your hair in a bun and not look like you are serving lunch,” and discovered red lipstick. And now, with this random woman’s validation, I was full of confidence. I am not Mrs. Trunchbull, I told myself, I am Jenny from Coachella Valley. I will keep you wild, if you keep me safe. I’m a fashion blogger and have unique personalized style that looks like no one else. I’m a woke feminist because I voted for Hillary. My Instagram’s full of Nasty Girl things. “Thank you! I was afraid I look like I’m selling Bibles,” I told her and she looked alarmed. “I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness,” I said.

Nobu is like The Capitol in The Hunger Games, because it’s full of all the specials and people wear over the top, flamboyant, low key ugly outfits there. It is literally across the street from a KFC and a McDonalds. On one side of the street people are buying 99 cent fish filets and directly across the street, celebrities are dropping $500 for some steamed mushrooms and a piece of raw fish. In the middle is the Pacific Coast Highway, this specific stretch nicknamed “Blood Alley,” referring to all the car wrecks concieved there, but also a good place for people like me to fling themseleves into when they get totally overwhelmed by the sheer madness of society.  Everytime I walk through the parking lot full of all the Tesla’s and Lambo’s and Jamie Foxx’s gold Bugatti, I wonder if Nobu San, the humble, talented, and very sweet little Asian man who started all of this, ever feels like since Robert DiNero got involved it’s really turned into a circus.  When I got inside, I pushed my way through the crowd and saw that my favorite Nobu manager was working. He is my favorite because he treats people how I would like to treat people. In the middle of utter chaos, he makes you feel calm, like everything is going to be ok. He doesn’t sound phoney or shmoozey, if he tells you he can’t do something his eyes look sad and you know if he could, he would, but he can’t. I asked. I said please. I revealed that I know it’s their busiest night and that they most likely can’t, but I was there to do my do-dilegence. And he moved everything around and booked it. “Really? Thank you!” I said, my big eyes bugging out behind my fake optical lenses.

When I told the guest, he dropped by with his crew to fling $100 bills on my desk before going to dinner. I took half the money, put it in an envelope and wrote the Nobu manager’s name on the outside. My boss looked at me, “What are you doing?” “Because, he’s the one who did the favor for me,” I said, like duh. “But Jenn, he will probably get tipped out by our guest anyway” he pointed out. “Yeah but isn’t it a nice gesutre of comradary?” I explained. “Ok do whatever, it’s your money,” he looked agitated and his tone revealed what he was thinking. Which sounded like oh my God, she’s literally killing me right now. I looked at the envelope. “This is why poor people stay poor,” I said not blinking, suddenly understanding the world and why everyone has so many chips on their shoulder. But I got up anyway, and went to deliver the envelope next door, because I know myself. And I would have been up all night tourturing myself over how selfish I am, and how I basically did nothing and got rewarded, and how I’m a garbage person and that next time, I’ll have learned from this and I’ll split the tip. Part of knowing yourself is not having to first make mistakes that teach you what to do next time, you just do it right the first time. “It’s not like I’m giving all of it to him,” I said. But it was unianimous among the other spooky night crew employees that I could absolutely have given him less. “But that’s not fair,” I whined like a self rightous-snot nosed-Bernie Sanders-till-I-die supporter.

“People wouldn’t do that for you,” someone pointed out as if that was an easy cop out, and it suddenly dawned on me why people are selfish. “So if other people aren’t fair, I shouldn’t be fair either…because that’s only fair?” I said, “A dog eat dog world…” And that’s all it comes down to. You absolutley will not be treated fairly as you go through life, life is 100% not fair, and you can bitch about it all day everyday, but that’s not chill or good vibes. What is more important is when you, yourself, are given an opportunity to be fair, you don’t let life’s losses make you jaded, bitter and corrupt. If you get a bit of power, you can still be kind and recognize others. If you get thrown a few more bones than you expected to have, you can throw em’ to someone else who might need them. Or don’t. But it’s all in your control. You have to be the hope you want to have, the justice you expect, and your own light at the end of the tunnel. “You are pride, you are powah, you are a bad mother who ain’t going to take no shit from nobody!” I told all my co-workers, and silence filled the room. “Cool Runnings?” I asked. They all frowned. “You are all powerful, but you have to know it,” I told them all and walked away.

 

Jefe El

“Khalfani, stop looking at people like they are circus animals.” I was following behind my boss and we had just been passed up by a tallish black man who was scowling at us. I wasn’t sure if it was the sun that was making him squint, or he was displeased at the sight of us, because his face was all twisted in disgust. At a black rights activism protest in 1954, he wouldn’t have looked out of place, but wandering through the property of a private hotel in Malibu he looked alarming and angry, like he was on his way to light the place on fire in revolt. The hotel, the Nobu Ryokan, is where I work now that I’m back on the mainland, and while it is a constant revolving door of high profile celebrity clientele, I must admit, one of the most loveable, and interesting people I’ve met there is Khalfani.

Khalfani is from Jamaica and is an engineer at the Ryokan. He is always saying things to me like “Jenn, what is this shet?” or “Jenn fix this shet.” Everything is shet and shet is added after everything. “Did you see those people on the boat? Girls in bikinis dancing to dat new Rihanna song. Wild Tots. Man, I wish I was on dat boat. Shet.” “What song?” one of my co-workers will ask, confused. “Wild tots,” Khalfani will say again. “Wild what?” they say, still confused. “TOTS,” he will repeat. I will interrupt, and start singing “Willd wild wild tots, willlld wild wild tots-” and Khalfani will interrupt me, “Not TOTS Jenn…TOTS. WILD TOTS. Sheeet.” “No, THOUGHTS,” someone will say and Khalfani will nod, “Yes, TOTS, not what Jenn was saying, not tots.”

Khalfani likes to announce when girls are “10’s,” and in Malibu, most every girl is a 10 and it is really depressing when they are not. He will stand by the front window watching all the street goers, and then turn to me, “Jenn, see her? She’s a 10,” or “Jenn, did you see her ass? It’s hoooouuuuuge.” In a moment of hightened annoyance at all this women rating, I rated Khalfani. “5.6,” I told him. He yelled at me and told me I needed to shave my chest. “How dare you,” I said, inspecting my chest for rogue hairs. “Yeah Jenn, you are gross.” “You know what Khalfani? You could stand to lose 5 to 7 pounds.” The specificity of my response was hurtful, and the next day Khalfani started a diet and I was labeled the workplace bully. A week after that he was back to eating chicken nuggets and critiquing women he encountered. When he met the girl who works at Jay’s Surfboards across the street from the Ryokan up close, he came to find me. From a far she is tall, tan with long limbs and golden hair, a “10.” But one day she came to the hotel and encountered Khalfani in the parking lot, and he got a good look at her. “Jenn, she has horse teeth, her face is crazy! She’s not a 10,” he told me, disgusted. “Khalfani you look like an angry black rights activist right now,” I replied. His face changed, “Dat’s racist Jenn.”

Once I asked Khalfani what his favorite book was. He thought about it for a long time and then said thoughtfully, “Wheel of Fortune.” Some people would try to make a case against this answer, but in this instance, why try? “Wheel of Fortune, the television show?” I asked and Khalfani nodded. “Jenn, why didn’t you add me on Facebook?” he asked, done discussing literature. “You never added me,” I told him. “Yeah I did, check your shet!” he yelled and then walked away. Later I logged into my Facebook and saw a friend request from “Jefe El.” When I clicked the link, a picture of Khalfani wearing boardshorts, a white tank, and sunglasses appeared, and when I enlarged the picture I saw that he was posed with one foot raised and resting on an orange traffic cone, his arms resting on his raised knee, one hand under his chin. He was in a parking lot. The next picture was him on a tractor, wearing the same white tank and tropical board shorts, socks and sandals, smiling big for the camera. I clicked “accept friend request.” If Myspace was still thriving, I would have put him in my top friends list.

At night, Khalfani will move things around in the fitness center with the lights off. On the security camera it looks like objects are floating around the room magically, until Khalfani smiles and you see a flash of white teeth. I told him about this once and he scowled, “Dat’s racist Jenn.” After calling me a racist he will say “sheet.” Then his face will light up like he just remembered something. “Jenn, I saw Mrs. Katzman the other day.” There is a pause and I say, “Oh yeah?” He continues. “She asked me what my name was and I told her,” he paused again, longer this time, making me feel like the pause was possibly for dramatic effect, his eyes squinting into a smile. “Khalfani,” he finally said as if I didn’t already know that’s what he was going to say.  Then, still smiling, he will continue, “She said, hey, I’m Heh-der.” Silence will envelope us, signaling the end of the story, and I will stare at him. “Sorry I was racist,” I’ll decide to say and he will respond, “Jenn, did you get sick from that avocado we ate yesterday from Subway?” I will have to re-adjust my train of thought and I’ll think about it. “Actually, yeah, I did feel kind of ill,” I’ll tell him honestly. His face will grimace and he will state, “Dat avocado tore my black ass up.”

Khalfani is married, and at first would never talk about his wife. Almost to the point where I began to wonder if he had been low key kidnapped and threatened into silence. I spent weeks asking about her, what she was like, what she does for a living, how they met, and Khalfani refused to answer. “Dat’s my personal life Jenn. You’re so nosy. Sheeeet.” Finally, weeks after I had given up, I started to tell Khalfani about a date I went on. He enthusiastically responded, “Is dat why you are wearing two chains?” My brow furrowed. “I knew it! When Big Jenn wears two chains, she’s going on dates.” After that, he began calling me two chainz, and after that I stopped wearing any sort of jewlery at all, and shortly after that, Khalfani snuck up on me while I was waiting for a client in the courtyard. “You want to know about my wife?” I turned around and there he was standing near the pond, on top of a rock, glaring at me. I just nodded. “Ok,” he said seriously and paused. “If you must know, she’s white.” He looked at me and then walked away. I stood there watching him, reveling in this new found information. I must be his friendI thought, he told me his wife is Caucasian. 

Something Khalfani does not mind talking about, is Michael Jackson. Not his songs, or his music, but just him, as a public figure. Just after racism, Michael Jackson gets brought up in conversation often and as a result, I’m sure our small, high end hotel staff ends up thinking about or discussing Michael Jackson more in our day to day lives than any other person on the planet. Khalfani wonders about Michael Jackson’s death, why his skin changed color (“Jenn, why did he do dat?”), and also just his relevance to Khalfani’s own day to day life. “I’m wearing one white glove today to stain the teek wood,” he will announce and I’ll look at him seriously. “You know who that reminds me of?” I’ll start to say, thinking of O.J. Simpson, and Khalfani will finish my sentence, nodding, “Michael Jackson.” He grins, and I grin, and we stare at each other grinning. Then Khalfani will put the one glove on and it changes him in a way I don’t enjoy. “Take it off Khalfani, you’re a different person when you wear that glove,” I tell him. Khalfani loves Disneyland and once I asked him what his favorite ride was, and my boss interrupted, “Michael Jackson, the ride.” Khalfani scowled and corrected him, “Noh, da one where you ride da caterpillar.”

Khalfani also loves Squirt. In passing one day he offered, “Hey Jenn, do you want a Squirt?” “A squir- ew, a squirt of what?” He grimaced and started yelling. “What do you mean ‘EW?’ Squirts are delicious. Dere are sum in da fridge.” When I opened the fridge there was a twenty four pack of that colorful, caffeine free, citrus flavored drink that was big in the 50’s and was created as an experiment by a college student. After realizing that the Squirts belonged to Khalfani, every single person on staff drank them and the next time Khalfani brought a pack of Squirt, he locked them away in his employee locker. Once he left his employee locker open and I left him a drawing of an obese cat waving his paw. He brought it to me once he found it and said, “What is dis shet?” “How did you know it was me?” I asked. “Jenn, why did you do dat?” he said frustrated. “Shet.”

We have a windowless van that housekeepers use to drive to and from the beach villas. We’ve all driven it and the one time I did, Khalfani was in the back. The van has a vented divider separating the driver from the back, which is seatless and full of cleaning supplies. “Khalfani I don’t feel right driving with you in the back like that.” “Why Jenn?” he said sitting on the floor next to a basket of mini shampoos. “I feel like a baby snatcher.” “I am not a baby Jenn,” Khalfani replied. “I feel like I’m driving a paddy wagon, or transporting criminals.” What da shet is a paddy wagon?” “You know, like for drunk underage kids in medieval times?” I said unsure, imagining a horse drawn carriage pulling a trailer full of teens who were overserved ale and brandy at the underground tavern. “I wish I was drunk right now, shet.” The van makes everyone who drives it look sketchy and up to no good. When Khalfani gets behind the wheel of it sometimes I see him stuck in traffic on PCH, scowling. “Khalfani, I like when you drive the van,” I told him. “Why Jenn?” “I don’t know, you look natural, the whole scene-” I stopped. Khalfani’s eyes narrowed and together we said “Dat’s racist Jenn.”


Editor’s Note: Jefe El has read this tribute and does not approve. To put it in his own words, “I’m gonna sue your ass Jenn.” 

Nunu

My grandfather’s name was John. He was tall, strikingly handsome and a really sharp dresser. Walking beside him was like walking beside a movie star, he attracted stares and interest from everyone. He was quietly confident and good at loving people. I knew that because of the way his children, especially my mother, loved him. She could tell him everything, all her worries and fears, and he could take it all away. I, even as a little kid, could sense she felt safe and happy around him. I always did too. He was a curious, tolerant, caring man, and a very good listener. And as I got older I realized it wasn’t just us, his family, everyone relaxed around him, he put everyone at ease, and he became less of a movie star to me and more of a statuesque mountain, mighty and unshakable, but also a calming, quiet place of refuge. I knew him as a little girl and a teenager, he passed away when I had just started college, around 17 or 18. Once retired, he was ordained and became a Deacon at his church and when I was in middle school and high school, I was an altar server, basically a religious assistant who held books and lit candles for Priests and Deacons during ceremonies, while wearing a white robe tied at the waist with a felt rope.

Not to insult Catholicism or anything, but I really only wanted to serve the altar, because it meant every Sunday I could spend the day with my Grandfather at his church,  both of us wearing matching robes like wizards, and baptizing babies. My Grandfather always performed the baptisms at his church, which usually consisted of him giving a touching speech about love, life and faith that brought everyone to tears, and pouring three different types of oils onto screaming babies heads. My main job was to remind him what the babies names were because often there were at least three different ones in a shared ceremony, and he’d get them all mixed up otherwise. I’d stand next to him holding a slippery crystal chrism of scented oil, and I’d whisper up to him, “Noah,” and he’d take the oil and we’d approach the family, “I baptize, you Noah in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…” I watched, wondering whether or not those oils would liven up a salad in a good way, or if using holy oils as salad dressing was terms for eternal damnnation. Then we’d leave Noah, who was turning red from screaming, his head all slimy and his parents holding him and smiling, rubbing oil into their child’s head continuously because if they stopped they’d just be standing there in front of everyone with oily hands that they weren’t sure they could wipe off on their kid’s bib because is it magic Holy oil and whatnot?  My Grandfather and I would move down the line to the next family and I’d whisper up to him, “Samantha,” and Samantha would start wailing.

We were very popular in the baptism business, not only because we were a Grandfather/Granddaughter duo, but because my Grandfather had a way of taking the creepy out of Catholicism. In his speeches, which are technically called a homily, he wouldn’t focus the conversation on purification or admission into the Catholic church, he’d talk about how this tiny innocent newborn life will grow up in a confusing world and how faith won’t necessarily guide or save them, but may help them through the hardships life can sometimes bring, by providing hope. His talks were personal and authentic, they came from a place of a father raising his own children. It never felt like an out of touch and suspicious Priest or religious figure preaching or giving ultimatums, it felt like a respected and loving man was bestowing his well earned wisdom of raising children and the importance of having faith in not just them, but in the world. And what it means to love your children insufferably and not want the world to damage them in any way. My Grandfather was never religious to me, he was spiritual. He was spiritual in a very unique, rare way that made him a person of significance. A person the world wouldn’t ignore or cast aside, a person the world would listen to, a person the world desperatly needed. 

When it came time for me to be Confirmed in the Catholic church, which is basically when you get baptised again, this time as an adult into the church, around 13 or 14, I had to pick a “sponsor.” Similar to an AA sponser, but for Catholicism. My sponser would be my spiritual guide, and of course I asked my Grandfather. This meant that he would accompany me to meetings every month where we would talk about religion with a bunch of other 13 year olds and their sponsors. Also similar to AA. The first meeting we attended we were in a large circle of about thirty people, and had to go around and each tell the group the greatest gift you’ve ever recieved. It took a very long time to get through. Parents said their children, aunts and uncles their nieces and nephews, grandparents said their kids and grandchildren. I forget what all my peers said, probably pets or their friends or siblings, or parents. Unanimously, folks agreed other people are gifts in our lives. I can’t remember what I said. When I was 13 I lived everyday in crisis over the abscence of my boobs and period. So I’m sure I was only thinking about the main gift I hadn’t yet received, which was my womanhood. My grandfather was last. With the entire group’s eyes on him, he sat there for awhile, thinking. While people had whispered or fussed and there always seemed to be background noise during everyone else’s time to speak, when it was my Grandfather’s turn, the whole room fell silent. That’s the first time I realized what having a presence means. It’s not age, or good looks or stature, or job title, or economic status. No one in that group knew anything about the other people except their names and that the group was divided into “confirmandees” and “sponsors.” We didn’t share our personal stories or what people did for a living, we were all strangers to one another, brought together by our faith in God (or forced to be there for most of the “confirmandees”).  Everyone fell silent when it was my Grandfather’s turn because of this hidden, unidentifiable power he possessed.

He uncrossed his legs and rested his forearms on his thighs, holding his hands in between his knees and leveling with the group like he was a coach in a football huddle.  And suddenly, even though we were all seated in a huge circle, far away from each other, it seemed like we had been brought closer together in our attentivness. “Well,” he began, looking around at everyone, “I think the greatest gift I’ve been given is..my life.” I took my eyes off him and scanned the room. Everyone’s faces looked the same. Damn it, why didn’t he go first?  When I think back to this, now, as a 28 year old I see how “life” and “gift” don’t correlate as easily as “life” and “burden.”  It is much more challenging to see life, in all it’s unanswerd questions and tragedies, as a gift we are given, as opposed to a challenge we must endure. I lose hope constantly as an adult, there’s a point where the evils and the darkness of the world seem to drown out the light. Even people become burdens.

I remember once asking my Grandfather, “why do tradgedies happen? Why is there evil? Why does evil seem like it wins sometimes?” We were driving on the freeway to his church, probably on our way to a baptism, when I asked. My Grandfather was in the slow lane, with his right blinker on, signaling to other drivers that he was about to switch lanes off the freeway and into the canyon. As drivers swerved around us, he explained that God gives us free will, and with that comes choices. We don’t have a lot of control over what other people choose to do. But we have all the control over what we choose to do. And everyday we are faced with choices, but the main one is will we do good in the world? Or will we do harm? God doesn’t control us, our lives aren’t predestined by “Him”, they are just that, our lives. As a little girl, I don’t think I fully comprehended what he meant, but I knew enough to never forget his words, or that moment. So I logged it away in my heart.

Recently, I went to my Grandfather’s church, which I haven’t visited in years. I didn’t attend a mass, I went in the middle of the day on a weekday and the church was empty, but unlocked. While most Catholic churches open up and ascend down an asile to the alter in the front, concert hall style, my Grandfather’s church is built in an octagonal shape with the altar in the middle of the room. He helped design it that way. It feels less grandoise and cold. Like you are gathered around a common table having a discussion, not an audience member attending a performance. I sat alone next to the Deacon’s chair, where he would sit during mass, and I wrote him a letter. In it, I told him how it’s getting harder and harder to view life as a gift. The world is a mess, I told him. I didn’t tell him about Trump because that would send him over the edge, but I did complain a lot about the state of the world, I’m sure he can piece together Bernie Sanders is not the one running things. How do I do good when I’m so small and insignificant? How do I become bigger? How do I right wrongs and really help people or make a difference? How do I love people and give chances but protect myself from those who will hurt me? And more importantly, how do I forgive and rise above evil?  So many harsh words have been unconciously logged into my heart against my will. How do I erase that stuff and not become jaded, or bitter, or worst of all mean spirited? How as a little girl did I choose what I logged into my heart to remember forever and now I can’t stop the bad stuff from logging itself? Since my Grandfather died, our entire family has stopped going to church. I thought about how maybe I should be directing my questions to God. But now that my Grandfather is gone, all the creepy has crept back into Catholicism. And my Grandfather was not “God like” to me, but he was real, and I believed in him and his hope, and he believed in me. I trusted him. Thank you for Mom, I wrote. She’s a great mother. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I don’t know if there is an almighty, all knowing “God.” Who, if does exist, is certainly a woman.

I sat there for a long time before I folded up my letter and placed it in the song book on the Deacon’s chair. As I was driving home I thought about what my Grandfather would tell me. If he thought life was the greatest gift he’d been given, I imagine he viewed his failures, and tradgedies the same as his triumphs and blessings. That is a hard thing to do. If you can view both the good and the bad in your life as gifts, as life waking you up to something, a revelation of some sort being bestowed on you to run with, as something that connects you to others instead of alienating you from others, then the world isn’t so hopeless, and you become stronger, more capable, and more valuable to others. It’s your choice. The way you choose to percieve your life and other people’s lives is a true confession of your own personal character. Maybe that was my Grandfather’s indescribable power that gave him such a presence. People could sense he believed in them. 

It was then that I realized I was driving 45 mph in the far right lane on the freeway and that my right turn signal was slowly clicking, signaling that I wanted to turn off the freeway and into the canyon. Oh no, I thought, maybe there is a God and he’s been signaling to me this whole time to just end it all in a firey crash….No, I’m just getting old and losing my faculities. Catholicism is sooo creepy. I sped up and changed lanes.”Hi Nunu*, thanks for still being here” I said to no one.

*”Nunu” is grandfather in Italian. My Grandfather was from Northern Italy. He ate gnocci, loved The Godfather movies, and felt no shame in expressing emotion or crying when something touched him deeply. He really was a true badass. 

 

Uber Rides 

When taking Uber’s, I always have the same fantasy. In it, I’m a Lebanese British human rights lawyer like Amal Clooney. I’m wearing a satin gown, and white gloves, and being escorted to a fancy hotel where I will be joining, not my friends for dinner, but the President of China’s wife, Peng Liyuan, whom I will be meeting with to discuss the advancement of women’s education and what she and President Xi Jinpin like to do for fun. And always, my fantasy comes crashing down around me when my driver, most recently named Carlos, strikes up conversation with me. “Where are you from?” “I am from here, from LA.” “Oh my God, wait…are you Caucasian?” Carlos will look at me in the rear view mirror disappointed, and I will look down at my gloveless hands. “Yes, I am white,” I admit, ashamed. “And I will not be seeking resolution for world conflict with the 58th most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes tonight. You can just drop me at the corner by that donut shop.”

Serendipity 

Sometimes life is so serendipitous. Today, I was stopped in traffic on Sunset Blvd when WHAM’s “Wake me up before you go go” came on the radio and I just so happened to be eating Cheetos with the aid of chopsticks, when I realized there was a cute blonde boy in the car next to me staring at me like I was doing something out of the ordinary. The traffic was so congested (that I could use chopsticks to eat Cheetos) and right at the perfect verse, point a single, traditional American puffed cornmeal snack cradeled between two tradional East Asian eating utensils, out my car window at him and serenade him with the line, “don’t keep me hanging on like a yo-yo.” The perfect moment had happened, traffic started moving, my cheeto fell out the window and onto the street, one of my press on nails snapped off, someone honked at me, I turned right, the song ended, and I’m sure that innocent blonde driver was scarred for life.

It seems like every week there is some new heartbreaking news reminding us how fragile life is. And the reality of this is heavy, I feel it in my heart and on my shoulders. When the world needs so much it can make you feel small and insignificant, swallowed up by the injustice you see, the violence and terrorism, deciphering the 2016 Presidental race, the media…..Pokemon Go. It seems as though you really have to seek- really hunt for the hope, until you realize you are responsible for those feelings of hope. You have to be the good in the world, you must figure out how, because life is too meaningful and much too short not to. When life blasts your heart into a million pieces, you need to be brave, you will need to put it back together using others and the world- the very same things that shattered your heart to pieces in the first place. The smallest acts of kindness, of empathy and tolerance, of keeping your eyes wide open and investigating, listening, taking responsiblity, engaging in everyone and everything around you, being present in the world and continuously seeking out your greater purpose for others, even if it is as seemingly small as holding your loved ones closer, that is what the world needs the most. And you can do that.