Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In Tehran, I was a boy

My name is Esther. When you meet me I am doing warrior two pose on a front lawn in Venice Beach. I am a Yoga teacher and have a body like a Diego Rivera painting. I am South Korean. I am also in some ways Persian and Canadian. I joke that I can’t do this pose or that pose because of my big ass. My smiles are not cheap. I have traveled far and wide to find them, and have come just as far to share them.

In Tehran, I was a boy.
Running around with the local children I would get into so much trouble. Backtalking to teachers, getting into scuffles on the street and dirtying my clothes, stealing a toy, some cherries, getting caught and chased down the street. My mother would scream and make a fuss about how it wasn’t safe for a young girl to be such a troublemaker. My mom thought it would be safer for me to be a boy. So she made me one.
When I was seven my mother and I stood in front of the mirror together. The light that crept in through the window landed on my long black hair. I didn’t notice at that time. My mother would tell me this years later. She cut my hair until it was not even an inch long. She took a bag down from the shelf and pulled out a new pair of trousers. She had me put them on and had me stand back so she could get a good look at me. I smiled at her jokingly and flexed my tiny biceps. I stood in the mirror looking at my new haircut and my new clothes. I ran the flat of my palm over the stubble where my hair had been, letting it tickle my hand. “Ok, works for me, I thought.” I ran out to play. And she raised me as a boy for two years.
My family was originally from South Korea, where I was born. My family moved to Iran when I was seven, keeping my memories of Seoul relatively few in number. I had just barely begun to grasp what Korean was, when I blinked and opened my eyes in Tehran. As a boy.
A week after getting my new haircut, my friends and I broke into the hotel pool while it was closed. It had been unbearably hot that day. Similar to how it was everyday. We had been kicking a ball around the street for while, but gave up before very long out of pure exhaustion. We sat in the shade, debating how to escape. How could you escape, the heat was a vast oppressive expanse with no holes or end. That was when I suggested we sneak into the hotel pool. We ducked in through the small opening in the gate, threw off our clothes and dove in.
The cool teal water replenished our young dried out bodies. We splashed around and competed in breath holding contests. When I swam under I could feel the heat melt off me and I could think again. I came up for air, wishing I didn’t need to, and my friend Pegah challenged me to a breath holding contest.
“You’re on,” I said.
We both dove under. When I came back up for air, a man was standing at the edge of the pool screaming at us. There was not time to gather our belongings so we had to flee in just our underwear. Fifteen of us sprinted down the street in our undies dripping, a sloppy trail in every direction we went, with the pool manager screaming his head off and chasing after us. The man eventually caught me, and dragged me all the way to my house where my parents opened the door to find a soaking wet child and an irate pool manager. My mom had to buy a new pair of trousers.
It took me awhile to get used to all of the women walking around in Burkahs. I remember walking with my mom in a crowd. I turned my head to look at street vendor and I lost grip on my mother’s hand. I turned back to find her and was confronted with a sea of black cloth-covered heads like rolling hills out in front of me. I shouted “mama!” and twenty women turned around to see who was calling. My mother ran up and angrily grabbed my hand, upset that I’d wandered off. Boy or girl, I was supposed to stay close. It happened again the next day.
One day I discovered her underwear. In the Middle East, there are tons of lingerie shops. Tons. There are also tons of women walking around wearing burkahs. That means that there are tons of women walking around in Burkahs and the sexiest lingerie imaginable. Head to toe covering hiding head to toe intricate lace, stockings, bras, and garter belts. I remember finding my mother’s red lace bra. I had decided to prance around the house with it as a hat. My parents were not amused.
We left Iran for Canada not long after that, and it all changed, again. In Vancouver, I would no longer be a boy. I remember my first day of school. I was nine. After my first class I went into the girl’s bathroom to go pee.
“Get out of here!” A girl turned and around and screamed from one of the sinks.
“What are you doing in here?” another girl barked at me, walking out of one of the stalls.
“No boys allowed!”
I debated pulling down my underwear to show them I was a girl. I didn’t do it. Instead I just turned bright red. As I sat in the principal’s office, stunned by what had happened, I ran the flat of my palm over the stubble and let it tickle my hand.
As the years went on, I morphed from being a stick figure drawing into a Diego Rivera painting. I have always been drawn to Diego Rivera’s murals. The characters, like the overweight painter, seem swollen. Their full cheeks and large thighs make the painted people seem expanded to hold in everything they’d been charged with communicating. I’m not sure how to name what’s inside me. I don’t know if it is my memories pushing in every direction, or if it’s hope for more. But what I see in these characters is what’s in me. It’s not that they’re fat. Even the skinny characters have the same bursting quality. They seem so full and rich that you could almost squeeze the two-dimensional images, like you could hold on safely to them if you were drowning.
I think about Diego Rivera when I look at my ass in the mirror. I look at my thighs and I feel strong. I grab onto them when I feel like I’m drowning in my own head. I hold onto the thickness of my own flesh and keep breathing. I feel like a human being. Like a woman. A strong woman. I do a lot of positive thinking when I just focus on breathing. I also think things like “my ass was painted by Diego Rivera.” Those thoughts that seem to expand and fill my body, pushing my skin out ever so slightly. The thought of being a boy in Tehran and buzzed hair girl’s bathroom shrieks, and this woman who looks back at me from the mirror.

My name is Esther. When you say goodbye to me I am outside of a nightclub in Santa Monica. I am from a Diego Rivera painting and wear a black dress. I still remember what my trousers felt like and the sea of black heads bobbing in front of me. When you say goodbye to me I will have still more traveling to do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

An Unfortunate Way to Say I Love You or The Love Note That Caused The Break Up - A very short story


I was thinking about you today, and, while picking my toes that itched with athlete's foot, a little flake of skin came off in the shape of a heart.

You're special.



Friday, August 14, 2009

The Washington Journey

Most bloggers post more often than once every four months.
Now, I will too. This short story is one of the things I've churned out in that time.

The Washington Journey
by Bobby Gordon

It was such a relief when they loosened the straps, undid the buckles, and let their packs hit the ground.
The bright red of Oren’s waterproof North Face pants stood out against the earth tones of, well, the earth around him. He thought it was funny how much he stood out in the natural world in his backpacking gear. He was from the world. He always thought the boundary between cities and nature was an illusion. It was all the same, He was from here. But he also wasn’t. He felt like a kid who had just been away for so long that he couldn’t recognize his own hometown.
The sky was blue-grey-white, as if they were all one color blended together to fill the air with late winter becoming spring. The dark green grass blanketed the hillside with rocks dusted with frost and scattered like shiny marbles that had been cracked and abandoned but still made the light dance. The snow-covered mountains on the horizon filled their minds with notions of being on the brink. Beauty, birth and death in every breath, thought James.
James exhaled and could see his breath in the air.
“Cool,” Oren said.
“Cold,” James said back.
They were just stoned enough to find that funny. It turns out that wasn’t that stoned. They’d only taken a couple hits out of the bowl each. They were more high on “the journey” as they called it.
They went into their packs and in a matter of minutes had the fresh 2-person tent set up and were throwing all the food items out of their pack to start getting dinner together. Oren set up the small camping stove and got the water going for the rice. God, this is living he thought. Real, Actual living. James started cutting salami and mixing spices together in a small bowl.
Oren and James had both graduated the previous June from UC Berkeley. What a relief they had thought. No more midterms, finals, essays. School is out for-fucking-ever.
A couples months later they thought they were crazy for not finding some excuse to stay behind. Oren had a job working in a law firm in the city, 8-5, Monday through Friday, week after week. He woke up tired, not really coming-to until he was sitting at his desk, and then he was tired by the time he got home. He’d have a few exhausted hours, and then it’d be time to go to sleep and start over.
At first it was a novelty, being an adult. The meetings, the lunches, the business cards. But that didn’t last long. Pretty soon he just missed the length of those days when he had nothing to do. The weekday hikes, Tuesday afternoon beer pong, masturbating at 10 in the morning if he felt like it, and he tended to feel like it. Sitting at his desk on a Wednesday morning he thought, how am I supposed to do this with the rest of my life?
James didn’t have a job. At first it was a novelty. The weekday hikes, Tuesday afternoon beer pong, masturbating at 10 in the morning if he felt like it, and he tended to feel like it. But then the days got too long. His parents were screaming at him to get a job or an internship, or at least lock your damn door son if you’re going to take your dick out before lunch. College had at least given him a purpose. And it was a purpose where it was entirely respectable to get high in between classes and eat a whole super carne asada burrito from Gordo’s Taqueria in the back row of lecture. It was almost expected. And now, it was over. He felt like he had woken up at a party and while everyone had gotten in their cars to drive home and nurse their hangovers, he was in the kitchen drinking.
The wind picked up and blew the clothes at the top of Oren’ pack up the hillside. They both ran up to collect them.
“Shit,” Oren said.
The wind blew and knocked the pot over. He refilled the pot with water from his pack and moved the stove to a spot behind the rock.
Nature’s kitchen, he thought. I just gotta learn the right way to cook in it. That’s all. Not fully confident, he sat on the rock and kept watch on the stove. James was chopping up some vegetables and lining them up in a long lone on a rock. He worked fast trying to finish before the next gust of wind. He got the last one up and rushed to the other end of the rock, put the bowl on the ground and ran back to the other side. He knocked over the first piece of carrot and watched them domino all the way across the rock, knocking the last one into the bowl.
“YYYEEAAA!!!” he exclaimed, and then gathered up all of the fallen carrots to put back into the bowl.
They never said they weren’t going to be stupid. The point of “the journey” wasn’t to grow up how other people wanted. It was about redefining what growing up meant. It was about not sacrificing all the hours of your to a job, or to masturbating while pretending to look for a job. It was about really living. Standing on a peak staring out at the distance surrounded by peaks. That was why they were here. In the mountains of Washington. It was why Oren quit his job, and James decided to publicly not be looking for one. It was why they planned to only go into town every other week for supplies and spend six months away from jobs, parents, inevitability, just away.
“I left everything in elf-storage,” James said.
“Yea. I moved all of my stuff out of my parents and that same night, around nine o’clock, I found this great place that had enough room for all of my stuff for just 100 bucks a year. What a great name, right? They sold me with the Neon sign outside.
“Where in the hell did you find this place?
“Oh it’s down on Ashby. I guess it’s either run by Elves or owned by Elves. I think owned, because the guy working there was normal sized.”
“On Ashby and Sacramento?”
“Yea, that’s it.”
“That’s Self-Storage, you retard. The S must have been burnt out. No wonder you couldn’t get a job.”
“Hey you don’t have to be such a dick. Just because you had a job fetching coffee and making photo copies doesn’t make you such a genius.”
They didn’t talk for the next fifteen minutes preparing dinner. They were in the expanse of the mountains, but it all of a sudden it felt like a cramped apartment kitchen.
The water started to boil. Oren reached and turned down the heat. The honeymoon wasn’t supposed to be over so quickly on “the journey.” Here they were, 23, both feeling burnt out as they exhaled out in unison and saw their breath in the cold. They looked at each other.
The stove bubbled over and the pot fell off again onto the ground.