Flowers in your hair

I heard the crowd roar in the distance and if I tilted my head a certain way, I could see Wesley Schultz’s beard on the big screen. (I live in L.A. now, prepare yourself for a barrage of name drops).

A slight hiccup in my otherwise perfectly timed festival schedule now made me late to The Lumineers‘ set at BottleRock. I had already committed 50 minutes to standing in line for dinner and I was just 10 people away from the window. Sure, music festivals may seem like whimsical drug-laced fun, but if you’re serious about catching as many acts as your ears can physically handle without bleeding, then you haz needz to have a plan – and stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll end up hangry while listening to a local band that plays Billy Joel covers on kazoo.

It was the last day of the festival and up to that moment, everything had gone as planned…even better than expected. And now I just needed sustenance to get me through the final stretch, as I was going to need the extra carbs to dance and scream to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. (It took everything not to mention all of them by name just now. Los Angeles in the house!)

Prior to The Lumineers taking the stage, Darren Criss (GleeHedwig and the Angry Inch and the name that I just dropped) darted through my food line to head toward the main stage, along with a long conga line of concert goers, so when a flower-crowned young woman in a white dress said, “Excuse me,” I immediately took a step back to let her through.

Only she didn’t want through, she wanted in.

“She is very hungry,” she said pointing to a perfect 6-year-old blonde, blue-eyed girl.

“Me too” I said in that way you answer and look away when a stranger engages you in unwelcome small talk while trying to listen to Neyla Pekarek on cello.

Nonetheless she continued, “The line is like an hour long and she is very hungry. She is a child and can’t wait.”

Wait. What? This woman is serious. I looked at her in disbelief. I looked at the people in line around me in disbelief. After 50 minutes standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them, they were my new best friends, so it wasn’t weird. Steve, one of my new BFFs, said, “Wow, she’s using the kid card.” (Steve is probably not accurate, but I hadn’t dropped a name in a whole paragraph).

Clearly this woman, being incredibly attractive, like a French Jemima Kirke, was not expecting much of a push back, let alone such harsh judgement. So, she continued her ramble, “When you have a kid, they don’t understand to wait. And the line is very long.” She repeated, “The line is like an hour long.”

“I’m aware how long the line is because I’m in it,” my face transformed and my (h)anger was surely palpable. “Go ahead.” I let them in. She thanked me profusely, but I didn’t engage. I was in a silent internal rage. I couldn’t hear The Lumineers anymore. I could just hear my heartbeat and that terrible voice that lives inside of me saying all of the following things:

  • She played you like a fool.
  • You let her in because she’s hot, even though she’s wearing that ridiculous last-season-Coachella flower crown.
  • That’s not even her kid.
  • She is holding a beer. I wonder if she stood in line for it or used the kid to cut for it?
  • If the kid was really hungry, she would’ve been crying.
  • If the kid was really hungry, she would’ve asked to cut at the front of the line, not 10 deep.
  • You could’ve said no.

That was the only part of my internal monologue that was true. I could’ve said no. But I didn’t. Because it’s not the kid’s fault that her parent (but most likely guardian) is an idiot. And what’s two more minutes of waiting versus a lifetime of that little girl’s face popping-up in my head every night before going to sleep with a dubbed over voice saying, “I’m hungry, so hungry.”

I calmed myself and resumed listening to the distant chants of Ho, Hey. It was fine. This wasn’t going to ruin my perfect weekend in Napa. I envisioned grabbing my grilled cheese, plopping down on my blanket and enjoying the rest of the show.

But when it was finally her turn at the window, she didn’t know what to order…so I fucking lost my mind again.

Starlight, starbright

When he answered the phone I asked him if he knew that I would be calling, but he humorlessly explained that he wasn’t a psychic, but an astrologer and that there was a difference.

Apparently his House of Funny was in Mercury retrograde.

This was the first in a series of red flags that I refused to acknowledge. Instead, I continued the conversation, providing him with some basic, personal information so he would be able to construct my astrological chart; and we agreed to meet later that week at his home in the charming neighborhood of South Miami.

I was expecting you.

The date of the appointment arrived and prior to our meeting, I went to happy hour, as one does. Liquid courage they call it, but I soon found out I didn’t even need it.

I pulled up to the astrologer’s house expecting to find a large telescope in front of a teepee, and, for sure, the faint smell of pot mixed with sage. Instead I got a rather large ranch-style home surrounded by a really well-kept garden. To add insult to injury, when he opened the door, he wasn’t wearing excessive jewelry or a fancy broach or even a cape. He was in Dockers and a collared shirt and immediately regretted it all. The happy hour. The appointment. Giving this guy my date of birth. Everything.

How can I take this guy seriously? I grew up watching Walter, Las Estrellas y Usted. Everyone knows a respectable astrologer has to have a broach collection to rival that of Secretary Madeleine Albright.

Nonetheless, I went inside and sat across from his desk, where he painstakingly explained my natal chart. I rested my face on my fist and listened to the gloom and doom that awaited me over the next few years.

“Bummer,” I said.

He tried to cheer me up by saying that my planets would finally get their shit together in four years. This was 2012, though. What my astrologer was suggesting was that I basically had to send my planets away for college and watch idly as they changed their major every semester, experimented with drugs and hair color, and live four years in questionable hygiene.

I left his house and, a few days later, forgot all about my cape-less star-guru. Until today, when I was going through some old files in search of a receipt, when I came across a green folder with the word, “Astrology,” written across the top.

Inside one of the pockets was a cassette labeled with the name of the astrologer and the date, September 13, 2012. I held it in my hands and thought this was what those archaeologists must’ve felt like when they uncovered King Tut’s tomb or Machu Picchu or that weird Miami Circle in the middle of Brickell.

I popped in the tape with giddy anticipation. Hopeful that it would say some illuminating tid-bit that didn’t apply then, but somehow applies now. And then, there it was, in the middle of his monotone blathering about a cusp, a trine and my Uranus becoming activated, which sound like things that go on in the backroom of Ramrod, he said that I would finally have my shit together in 2016.

I looked at the folder, so neatly labeled and I remembered the rest of the folders in the filing cabinet, also labeled in clear pink ink. I ran my fingers across my records, neatly stacked under the stereo and glanced across the room at the neatly stacked book shelf. Holy crap, he was right, my wife finally got my shit together in 2016.




Won’t you be my neighbor?

Anne Rice moved in next door. Like a young Anne Rice. The Anne Rice that staged her fake funeral in New Orleans. By no coincidence, my new neighbor has Louisiana plates and I heard Fleetwood Mac playing from her apartment.

Before her, a forty-something Russian Patton Oswalt let that apartment. He hardly spoke English and rarely wore a shirt, proudly exhibiting his roundness. He worked nights as a driver and he regularly scraped and bumped his black Escalade against the wall, the pole and other cars.

The summer I moved in, his alcoholic, chain-smoking cousin, who strangely resembled a homeless Adrien Brody, slept on his couch. I can’t be sure that it was in fact his cousin, but the loud cyrillic yelling made me think my neighbor was pleading for this deadbeat to get a job.

That fall, Cousin Balki-Brody eventually moved out and immediately plunged into a life of crime. I know this, not because I breezed through Conversational Russian at Valley College, but because I applied my Miami Meter for Shady Neighbor Behavior and deduced that our favorite cousin had pulled a Scarface.

A few weeks after his move, his alleged cousin rolled up to apartment 9 wearing a bedazzled button-down shirt and thick gold bracelets. A few weeks after that, Al Putino had newly acquired a petite girlfriend who, I assume to the disapproval of his mother, was not Russian. This girl, whose name was most likely not Andrusha, would chauffeur him for his visits in a late-model SUV. And a few weeks after that, packages of large appliances began arriving at Chubby Tchaikovsky’s place with the same regularity of the cousin’s visits.

Throughout the winter, a refrigerator, a stove, a washer and dryer, flooring, and ceiling tiles made their way to different corners of our complex. They were not for the property manager, for she only makes appearances when there is a vacancy, they were for my neighbor. He often hid these large items in our community laundry room, in our shared parking garage, in his apartment and even in my apartment (the UPS guy guilted me into accepting delivery of three wall air conditioners when he wasn’t home). Eventually the cousin stopped making appearances, and a new tribe of young KGB-rejects began taking delivery of the Home Depot loot. Muscles under deep v-neck shirts, hidden eyes behind dark sunglasses and sweaty testicles squished by very skinny jeans lifted boxes onto trucks and whisked it all away, week after week.

One Saturday morning, I got one hell of a 3 a.m. wake up call that consisted of two quick, shallow bangs and a crash of glass. I peered out the window, but couldn’t see a thing in the darkness. It wasn’t until my morning dog walk that I discovered it had come from Boris Yeltsin’s Escalade. The entire back window was busted and millions of tiny pieces of glass were splayed across the concrete like shiny confetti.

I struggled with whether or not to knock on his door. Our conversations were limited to hellos. In the five months of being neighbors, he had knocked on my door twice, once for salt (which is supposed to bring the recipient terrible luck) and another time for duct tape (which I told him to keep, in case he gave it back with a dead person’s DNA). Yet, I felt obliged to be a good human and deliver the bad news. After knocking several times, he emerged, shirtless and covering his telephone with his man-boob. I said loudly, “Just wanted to check. You know about your car, right?” He answered yes twice and shut the door. And with that I was convinced the shattered glass was a failed hit against Beer-belly Baryshnikov.

A month later, he knocked on my door again. It was late. Maybe around nine, which is the equivalent of midnight in California. He was sweating, red and agitated. He began by apologizing profusely and then asked me for $20. I sent him away empty handed. Mainly because I didn’t have cash on me, but even if I did, I don’t think I would’ve given it to him. I wanted him as far away from my front door as possible in case Valery the Russian from The Sopranos was creeping around the corner.

I went to sleep that night anticipating to be woken up by a muffled argument, then the loud sound from a television, followed by the blast of a gunshot, but quite the opposite happened. The next morning there was a moving truck and before my coffee was brewed, he was nothing more than a missing Romanov. His apartment empty and the property manager  on the premises.

“I am very sad to see Vlad go,” she said.

Of course his name was Vladimir. Of course those appliances were not a complicated scheme to bill Medicare or resell behind the Brandsmart in Carol City. No. Clearly those were for him and his new place (which may or may not be a grow house). And his window wasn’t smashed in as a warning, but most likely it was his own doing because he is a shitty driver. And he was probably short $20 to pay the mover and not the mobster. And his cousin is just a dick.

I realized I was wrong and that growing up in 1980’s Miami has clouded by objectivity.

However, I’m incredibly certain that the new lady next door has already begun assembling her coven, and quite possibly purchasing chickens for sacrifice.