Category Archives: Adventure

New Me in New York, Part Deux

I’ve been in New York for two weeks now.

Even in winter, it’s everything wonderful I remember: towering architecture, flashing marquees, glowing stage lights and bright, yellow taxicabs; crowded subways and quaint cafes filled with people from all walks of life. The bustling noise and busyness is always offset by a quiet, wooden park bench, and the harsh wind and cold, made warmer by the coo of a lone dove perched on the fire escape.

I love this city with all my heart.

I’m staying in my friends’ apartment in West Harlem, while they are away for several weeks. A couple of months ago, while I lay sick in my bed in Pasadena, I declared over social media I was going to allow people to love me this year. Almost immediately, I received a phone call. My friends responded with, “Come to New York, stay in our place and pay what you can. And by ‘what you can’ — even if we don’t get a dime, it’s okay.”

I burst into tears, accepted their more-than-generous offer, and started packing.

Here I am, and I even survived – I’d say frolicked in — the big blizzard of 2013.

I heart blizzards.

I heart blizzards.

There is always beauty after the storm.

There is always beauty after the storm.

It’s hard to not project into the future, however. I started looking for apartments so I can live on my own, but quickly got discouraged because I can’t afford it. I’ve been auditioning as much as I can, but nothing happens overnight. I need work, and badly. I want so desperately to be able to support myself and really make this happen. I am determined to not have to move back to Los Angeles, with my tail tucked between my legs, and nothing to show for my time here.

I’ve been given a second chance and do not want to fail.

*****

I’ve lived in New York City before. I moved four years ago, on February 13, 2009.  X accompanied me on the plane ride out, for I didn’t want to go alone. I was still reticent about the decision we had made – and prayed for – together, but somehow I knew it was a huge step forward in my life.

We arrived at JFK and lugged my three tattered suitcases through the subway, towards Morningside Heights (Harlem). The same couple housing me now had offered their couch for a couple of weeks while I waited for the room I had rented in Queens to be available.

As we crossed the threshold into my friends’ tiny apartment, I immediately felt at home; peace.

X and I sat down on the blue, velvet couch and sipped homemade coffee with our friends. We all marveled at how I had finally arrived in New York, with a job, and an opportunity to shoot for the stars — at least for six months. I complained about having to swing the off-Broadway show I was in (I want to go back and slap my entitled attitude!), and worried about how I’d manage a six-month separation from my beloved husband.

The answer was simple: we’d endure. It was only six months. The potential opportunities were worth the possible struggle of loneliness and separation.

Yet, those six months – February to August, 2009 – were the cruelest, saddest and loneliest times I have ever experienced in my life.

“I love you more than anything, Leslie,” X reassured me, after we had finished our coffee, and were waiting on the curb for his airport cab to arrive, to take him back to Los Angeles.

I kicked a chicken bone out from under the heel of my boot and brushed the tears from my eyes.

“I hate the thought of not being with you,” I cried. “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and your unwavering support and encouragement means the world to me. I could not do this without you. I honestly couldn’t have dreams without you, because I think you believe in me more than I believe in myself.”

“I support you one million percent,” X replied.  “I will hate being away from you, too, but we’ll make it work. After all, we love each other and are most important to each other.”

The cab arrived. My husband hugged me, slid his tall, thin frame into the back seat, and drove away. I would see him in New York just once more in the following six months. Little did I know then, I had already lost him.

*****

Four years later – I have gained a whole new me.

As I have wandered the city these past two weeks, I know I am different.  I feel it.  I may be alone, but alone doesn’t necessarily mean lonely. I have bigger dreams than I ever had the courage to dream before.  I feel calm. Humbled. Confident. Expectant. Excited. My future has never been more unsteady or unsure, but I know it will be all right.

I am not worried about failing.  Just by being in this vibrant city this very moment, and every millisecond that follows — for however long I am able to remain – I have already succeeded.

Lost Entry

I’m moving to New York in less than two weeks.

It’s surreal. It’s terrifying. It’s beyond exciting, it’s crazy, and it’s about time. I’m packing up my beloved, cozy Pasadena apartment – the place I have healed from my divorce for the past two years – and cramming it all into a 5×10 storage unit. A week from Monday I will board a plane with a suitcase, my book of audition songs, a pair of really good heels, my computer and a huge-ass smile.

I am going back. 

Since I made the firm decision to go just four days ago, I have little time to pack and move out.  Last night, my friend Lisa came over to help me sort and toss things I don’t – and didn’t ever – need.  For example, I have a plethora of Post-It notes and an abundance of Scotch tape. I have rusted tools I don’t even know how to use, and I’ve kept a box full of tax returns dating all the way back to 1999.

Lisa opened up a bottle of ironic red wine and we got to work. Her task was to organize the Scotch tape. Mine was to sort and toss documents.

When I moved out of my house in April 2010, I made a point to keep only important or necessary things regarding my marriage (original marriage license; tax returns and receipts; mortgage and divorce papers).  Still blinded by hurt, betrayal and raw emotion, I threw away almost anything else that reminded me of X and our marriage. I couldn’t bear even his handwriting in my new apartment.

I wanted all evidence of him in my life, gone.

I opened the box containing the ancient tax returns and found a mid-sized, bright, red notebook. I almost tossed it, sight unseen, but was more curious as to why my 2010 self had saved it.

I flipped it open, and took a sip of my wine. The first several pages contained audition information dating back to 2002. I wrote down every audition I had – including the Brian Setzer Orchestra (which had “BOOKED!!!” and a huge smiley face written all over it). Each successful page contained evidence of my marriage: scribblings on paint colors for each room in our house, a home repair “To-Do” list, plans for a happy dive vacation X and I took to Panama in 2005, and then, suddenly, notes from my first, desperate phone call to our marriage counselor, concerns about leasing our home, and a preliminary division of debt and assets.

For having covered so many years of our 10-year marriage, the notebook was only half full.  The last writing contained a journal entry I don’t even remember penning.

I gasped as I scanned the pages.

“Lisa! Listen to this,” I exclaimed, as I set my wine glass down on the coffee table.

I leaned forward and began to read, aloud, the carefully printed lost entry.

October 4, 2009

I feel like having sex with X displays total weakness. I need it, and he gets it, but he doesn’t have to work very hard at — or for — it.  There’s still no sign of emotional consequences for his actions. I don’t doubt at all he thinks of her while he is having sex with me.  He doesn’t even really kiss me – and this new way he kisses is extremely different, which means he kissed her A LOT and apparently was taught not to slobber anymore. It makes me beyond angry to think that my husband’s lover taught him anything.  She was 14 years old when X and I got married.  I wish he would have done her then and gone to jail.

But I am weak.  I am getting what I want, too, and if I can pretend he’s actually really into me, it’s a good day. I don’t feel so rotten and ugly and rejected.

X leaves for Spain tomorrow. I don’t even know when he will be back. No doubt he’ll pine after his lover – with all those romantic places and it being Europe and all. I don’t doubt there will be many a Spanish, Portuguese or Brazilian girl to catch his eye, and with his [male] companion there will be late nights and lots of parties.

Perhaps X won’t be tempted, but he certainly won’t be thinking about me. Me, the last person on his mind for the past six months.  Yeah, it’s going to take time. What a rotten predicament. He’s the first person on my mind and I’m the absolute last on his.  I feel like the nerdy, zitty, overweight teenager who is desperately in love with the popular, attractive and charming athlete – who doesn’t even know she exists.

X is barely aware of my existence.  My own husband doesn’t notice me.

So I have given in and given him his needs and he gives back nothing but a hug or an arm touch here and there.  What a stupid fool I am.  Stupid, stupid fool. Thinking I can desperately try to get him to notice me, love me, need me, miss me – those days are over and another person has taken that place.  I am cast aside like yesterday’s garbage. Maybe there’s something worth salvaging in the stinking, rotting trash can but there’s always something new or better where that came from.

I have no pride. I am totally broken.  God, my only hope is in You. I still believe You can/will redeem my relationship with X, and I confess my total impatience. I also can’t force anything to happen.  People don’t change, which absolutely includes me. He got tired of me and my “deal” and found, quickly, someone to take my place. And that connection is still stronger to him than anything he or I ever had because I am too familiar, too predictable, too blasé.  Too “moral”.  Too Christian.

All X can see is his career. Now I know what it felt like for him when I was in New York.  It’s like some sort of cruel payback.

“Oh, God, you are my God. Earnestly I seek You.  My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You. In a dry and weary land, where there is no water…” (Psalm 63:1)

“People,” says God’s wisdom, “do not expect either truth or consolation from other people. It is I who made you and I alone can teach you what you are.” ~Blaise Pascal

God, I feel like I am a walking contradiction. I am totally impatient for X – I so desperately want him to fall in love with me again and love me more fiercely and passionately than ever, yet I neglect my relationship with You in the process. No matter how much X rejects or hurts me I keep coming back for more. I concentrate on his unfaithfulness yet I am doing the exact same thing to You.  I have been unfaithful all the while, to You.

God, I still pray for wisdom and strength; hope and trust.  Just because X utters the words, “I love you,” and has sex with me does not mean he is faithful or true.

I want so much to believe him.

God, I pray for this trip he is taking to Spain. It could be the culmination of everything good and healing; of redemption, else it will just be a continuation of the same old story; of limbo.

But that is for him. Not me.

God, I seek You and trust that X will return to You (and me); I fervently pray for him; that You would protect him from the predictable, yet devastating wiles of the devil.

It does seem as if X has taken some steps forward – third time’s a charm! – but I am still hesitant to believe or trust him fully.  I want to.  I want our marriage to survive. And so I will commit to it and trust that You, Lord – You alone will move mountains and redeem us.  I want my marriage to be beautiful and holy. But I might be the only one at this point.

Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of the heavenly realms.”

God, have mercy.

* * * * *

God did have mercy. Additionally, He showered me with His love, kindness, goodness and grace. Because of Him, it has been revealed how strong, worthy and beautiful I truly am.

I am never cast aside. I will always be noticed. I will always be loved.

I want so much to travel back in time and tell my hurt, betrayed, dejected self everything will eventually be more than all right.  That is not to say times will have been easy. Even as the pain and memories have faded, my divorce will always be a small part of who I am.

I surprised myself last night when, in addition to the lost entry, I found one of the very first (and only remaining) pictures I have of X and I together.  We were standing on a beach in Santa Barbara, holding one another and grinning from ear to ear.  It was obvious we were happy in love. Both my arms were wrapped around him, tightly.

I stared at his face, then mine, and his again. And I remembered, even last night, how I loved that boy. My first love.

I felt a strange sensation in my chest, and my throat tightened.

“Oh, my goodness, I’m going to cry,” I admitted, slightly embarrassed.  I passed the picture to Lisa.

“It’s OK to cry,” she soothed, as the water welled up in my eyes.  “You knew, even then, who he truly was.”

I nodded my head and allowed the tears to wet my cheeks.

“I did. That – I pointed to his fresh, smooth, familiar and happy face – “is the X I knew and loved, and want to remember.”

I dried my brief tears, and carefully returned the picture to its original envelope. I then placed it into the deep recesses of the accordion file, along with the single person tax returns I do need to save, for a few more years. It will all go into storage, until it’s time to move again.

And so, my life continues to catapult forward.  This new adventure upon which I am about to embark is a huge leap of faith; a swan dive into the unknown.

One thing is for certain, however: God is with me. He was with me then, He is with me now, and He will be with me in the days, weeks, months, years and eternity to come.

Lines in the Sand

I am home again.

After wrapping an incredible six-week Christmas tour via national television on December 23rd, I spent one night in my own bed. I awoke the next morning, sprawled as far sideways across the sheets as possible. Bleary-eyed, I glanced at the clock and realized I had slept for 13 hours straight. I chuckled to myself, and was grateful to have slept, deeply.

It wasn’t but a day before I was on the road again.  This time, it was for a week-long, desert camping trip.

I was invited and warmly welcomed by Joy, Micah and a troupe of their loyal, down-to-earth, yet adventurous friends. We did nothing but eat, drink, play cards, and giggle and groan at bad Lifetime movies.

We also sped across miles of sand dunes in really fast cars.

It’s the most exciting feeling, riding in a souped-up dune buggy. Most of these guys have been off-roading for years.  They all know which lines in the sand to follow; what gear the rail must be in to accelerate into a wheelie going downhill on a dune, and they can even shift, mid-air, with nothing but the back tires gripping into the soft, unpredictable sand.

I want to ride in the fastest car with the craziest driver.  And I do.

As a passenger, I scream with delight (sometimes terror), clap my hands and chew the sand that instantly sticks in my teeth.

It takes experience and wisdom to maneuver the dunes, but more than that, it takes absolutely no fear. The minute a driver second-guesses is the most dangerous moment for everyone.  Sometimes the sand peaks into the most daunting, steep mountain, and you cannot see what’s on the other side.  The minute you peer over the crest, you may find a gentle, easy edge, or a sharp cliff that can immediately turn into a plummeting hole.

Once you find a deep, soft bowl, however, safety abounds. You can go as fast as your heart desires, drift across the sand into sharp turns and truly trust your wheels, driver and leader — because you can see exactly where you are going.

Imperial Dunes at Glamis

I’ve camped out at Glamis with Joy, Micah and their friends once before.  It was November 2011, and my first time duning. I immediately jumped onto a quad (ATV) and charged towards the dunes, alone.  After all, I’m a damn fine driver, if I do say so, myself, and I like to ride with the big boys.  At first, it was easy and fun.  I have some experience riding, so I confidently took off.  It only took one large dune for me to realize I didn’t know what I was doing. Instead of charging uphill and over the steep peak with no fear, I let off the gas. It was then I was in the most danger, for the quad was too heavy; the sand, unsteady. I began to slip backwards down the hill, towards the hole.

I panicked. I was sliding out of control. I needed to make a decision, and fast.  Not moving forward was the most perilous situation of all.

Luckily, with the help of a burst of adrenaline, I gassed it and kept the quad from sliding any further. Instead, my wheels became lodged in the sand, halfway down the side of the precarious dune.  The engine roared with authority, but my wheels simply spun in place, spewing sand.

Son of a suckass! I’m not going forward, but at least I’m not speeding backward. I’m stuck.

There wasn’t anything I could do but wait, and hope someone would find me.

After several minutes, I heard the sound of a motorcycle in the distance. “No Shirt Mike” (that’s what we called him) appeared, rushing to my rescue. He was relieved to find me unscathed (“Where the hell did you go? You just took off!”), laughed and congratulated me for my fearlessness (really?!). He gently coached me out of the mess I had created for myself, and instructed me to follow him for the rest of my ride.

I was embarrassed, but safe.

I had been so excited to charge by myself, I forgot the rules. No one should dune alone. You always need a leader. Preferably one who is experienced and trustworthy, yet fearless enough to be the one who tackles the sand first.

The best leader is one who knows the lines in the sand.  One who carves out your path.

Once I agreed to follow No Shirt Mike, the rest was absolutely exhilarating. The hills that appeared insurmountable ended up being easy to tackle. It’s amazing how such tiny granules form the steep slopes and shaded — sometimes disguised — valleys in the desert.  By following my leader, I gained confidence, skill and the ability to conquer the ever-changing lines in the sand.

……………

2013 is newly upon us, and I have a confession to make.

I’m scared.

My fear stems not from the peaks I am unable to traverse, rather, it is rooted in the knowledge that I can actually tackle anything.

This, of course, is only and ever due to the God of the universe, through whom I can do anything, because He gives me strength.  (Philippians 4:13)

He’s gently lead me up wild, joyful slopes and through desperate, dark valleys.  He’s comforted me. He’s taken care of me.  He’s never once abandoned me, even when I doubted; even when I screamed, threw tantrums, made mistakes and declared I was angry with Him.

For the record, I think God understands our anger.  I can’t stay angry with Him for long, however.  He’s just too good to me.  He is good, all the time.

Life is still — and always will be — hard. There are already major mountains to begin climbing.  I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent next month. I don’t know what I am going to do for work. I don’t even know where I’m going to live.

The sand is shifting, once again.  But I am not plummeting downhill.  I’m not even stuck.

I have a Leader.  He rescued me a long time ago. I will trust Him. I will go where He leads.  It may not be easy or safe, but He knows every line in the sand. He knows the best and most adventurous route; the one that makes for the wildest — and most fulfilling —  ride.

After all, He designed it.

On the Road Again, Part Two

Brian Setzer meets me at baggage claim.  His beautiful wife, Julie, accompanies him.  I see Julie first, wearing a bright smile, kick-ass pink cowboy boots (a gift from her husband) and a leopard-print hat.  She throws her arms open wide and envelops me in an embrace.

“Awww! It’s so good to have you here!” she beams.  “Welcome to Minnesota!”

Brian is standing behind his wife. He’s wearing 501’s, brown boots and a simple jacket.  A red bandana is loosely tied around his neck and his signature pompadour is piled high on his head. I rush to him and he gives me a huge hug.  He smiles and plants a kiss on my cheek.

“Hey, sweetie! How ya doin’?  It’s great to see you!”

My baggage comes through the carousel and Brian immediately picks it up. He carries it up and down several escalators, out the sliding double doors and into the frigid parking lot.

Setzer loads my 51½ lb. suitcase into the back of his Cadillac Escalade with ease, and slides into the driver’s seat.  Julie takes shotgun and I happily bounce in the leather bucket seat in the back, chuckling to myself.

My airport shuttle service is a rock star guitar legend.

It’s not too far of a drive to Mr. and Mrs. Setzer’s downtown Minneapolis abode. They casually turn over the keys to their furnished downstairs loft, where I will be staying the next four nights.  They are eager to take care of me.  Almost immediately upon arrival, Brian — “The Meat Manager” — fires up the grill, rubs his favorite seasoning blends on three farm-fresh pork chops and details how he best likes to serve them. Julie is busy preparing vegetables and setting the table.

I offer to help but my job is to relax, and be served.

Julie happily pours me a glass of rich, red wine as she and Brian both busy themselves about the kitchen.  I glance at my surroundings.  Brian’s daily crossword puzzle sits next to me, almost complete.  Behind me in the open living/dining room, three shining Grammy awards are carefully positioned on the wall above a credenza, topped with anything and everything vintage and vinyl. It’s refreshing to see records, for a change. Grammy certificates and medals adorn the surrounding walls, as do pictures of Brian and Julie with beaming family members.  I kick off my shoes, take a sip of the wine and let my toes sink into the plush leopard print carpet.

I’m family.

The next few days are simply delightful. Julie and I work out with Adam, her personal trainer, and enjoy a trip to the day spa.  I cannot recall the last time — if ever — I have had a full day at the spa.  Julie treats us both to a massage, facial, manicure and pedicure.  We select matching sparkly, red nail polish.  We decide pampering ourselves in the best way to kick off life on the road.

After all, we are much more than background vocalists in The Brian Setzer Orchestra.  We are Vixens.

Brian calls Julie on our way home from the spa and asks her to pick up a few items for dinner.

“Oh, Brian’s going to make his famous ribs!” she exclaims.

Indeed, Brian happily makes our main dish every single night.  We enjoy his ridiculously delicious ribs, rib eye steak, and tilapia.  I barely lift a finger or shell out a dime, which is strange to me, since I am usually focused on earning my keep, not overstaying my welcome, or being a financial burden to anyone.

And I am often gently reminded of how happy Brian and Julie both are, having me in their home.  I dub myself “the perfect third wheel”, eventually relax, and allow them to care for me.

It feels so good to be loved.

One night after dinner, Brian disappears upstairs, into his man cave.  Julie and I relax by the fireplace and geek out on “Words with Friends” and “Draw Something”.  Sounds of a serious game of pinball float downstairs, as does laughter (conversation with Brian’s longtime manager).

And then, Brian picks up his guitar.

I am instantly drawn to the music.  The guitar has a rich sound, and Brian’s playing is better than ever.  (How is that even possible?) I find him sitting on a bar stool, sipping tea and messing around with some jazz chords.  I lean up against one of the vinyl snake skin chairs, careful not to disturb the framed, platinum Stray Cats record hanging closest to me.

“Hey, Les, do you want to see one of my favorite guitars?”

My heart skips a beat.

“Of course!” I almost shout.

Brian excitedly leads me into a large walk-in closet, where there must be at least twenty guitars in their respective cases, just waiting to be played to their fullest potential by their very capable owner.

He pulls out a 1950 D’Angelico, the very guitar used in the recording of The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole.  Brian bought the guitar from John Collins, who played with Nat from 1951 until King Cole’s death in 1965.

“One of the coolest things about this particular guitar… “ Brian leans over, digs in the case and pulls out a tattered book of matches. He tosses them to me.

“…are those. Nat King Cole’s book of matches he used at one of his last gigs.”

All of the sudden, I am keenly aware I am holding a museum artifact.  I carefully inspect the well-preserved cardboard, covered in palm trees and recognizable retro script.  I open up the flap and notice exactly 25% of the matches are neatly torn off.  I imagine Nat King Cole using them, one by one, to light a cigarette (or four – he was an avid smoker), and then stuffing them back into his pocket.  Perhaps he only used them at that particular gig.  And, somehow, they were passed from one music legend to another.

How I am holding them in my hand at that moment is a wonder.

Brian sits down the purple velvet couch, and I position myself next to him. The gigantic green Gretsch guitar fixture above us provides the appropriate amount of ambient lighting.  Minneapolis twinkles in the distance.

Brian quickly tunes the old guitar, and begins to pick at the chords in the famous holiday song.  Almost immediately, I am overcome with nostalgia.

It’s as if Nat himself is in the room.  But he isn’t.  Someone has to sing.  I take a breath and begin.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire –
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

Brian nails the classic guitar riff, and then adds his own. He smiles at me, urging me on, and I continue, gaining confidence.

Yuletide carols, being sung by a choir
and folks dressed up like Eskimos.
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight.

I start to improvise a little, and Brian follows suit.  We both are wearing smiles on our faces as we make music together. I’m cherishing every moment; every lyric; every lick.

History is being made.  At least for me.

They know that Santa’s on his way,
he’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother’s child is gonna spy,
to see if reindeer really know how to fly.

The guitar soars. Brian’s fingers fly across the strings. I control my voice and bring it back to a simple, straight tone. I can almost hear an orchestra swelling in the background.

And so, I’m offering this simple phrase
to kids from one to ninety-two.
Although it’s been said, many times, many ways,
‘Merry Christmas!’ to you.

We finish with reverence.

“Wow!  Nice vocals!” Brian nods, approvingly.

I grin and take the compliment, for my multi-talented boss does not have bad taste.

We’ve done Nat proud.

On the Road Again, Part 1

The sharp, icy air first hits my cheeks as I wrap my flimsy scarf tighter around my neck.  I stuff my hands into my jacket pockets and instantly regret not having put on my gloves. A chill runs through my entire body.  It is shocking, painful and energizing, all at once.

I put my head down and forge through the whipping wind.  I inhale deeply and quicken my steps. The cold, fresh oxygen seems to pierce my brain. My eyes water, my nose runs and my fingertips are like stiff popsicles within the confines of my wool pockets. Each step feels interminable. My heart pumps obediently, yet not fast enough to circulate blood to my extremities.  Within seconds, I cannot feel my toes.

I briefly lift my head out of the frigid darkness to catch a glimpse of friendly, glowing light.  I push ahead with newfound determination.

Just a few more steps! You can do it!

The door slides open.  Panting, I spill into the warmth.

A plump, midwestern woman with kind eyes smiles at me.  “Have a nice evening naoow!”

“Zzzzpppffflllltthankyou,” I shiver back at her.  Somehow, I manage to crack my frozen face into a feeble smile.

I have survived the jetway.

“Please, Please, Please, Please, PLEASE Kiss Me!”

Happy divorcée in Paris!

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.
~Thomas Jefferson

Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant.
~Honoré de Balzac

The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Our days in Paris were busy with activity.  Andrea figured out how to rent the bicycles that we had seen the locals riding all over town, and we were off to explore the entire city. I am convinced that the only — and best! — way to see Paris is on a bicycle (with a baguette in the front basket, of course!).

Best bikes in the world.

I like to ride my bicycle!

Our first mission on that gorgeous May day was to ride up to the Sacré-Coeur.  We hunted for fabric in the neighboring garment district, and then lunched on goat cheese-stuffed tomatoes atop butter lettuce with a drizzling of vinegar, and a freshly baked, still-warm-from-the-oven baguette.  Afterwards, we biked to the Eiffel Tower, stood in line to enter the Musee de’ Orsay (but got tired of waiting) and sweated through 90 minutes of Bikram Yoga.

It was my first experience with Bikram.  The cramped room was cranked to 105 degrees (Fahrenheit), and almost as soon as I started breathing, sweat poured from every inch of my body, including my kneecaps.  Somehow the offensive and pungent French body odor/sweat didn’t bother me, for I was distracted by the attractive, muscular instructor who sported a Speedo.  He screamed at us the entire time from his platform at the front of the room.

“Tirez! Tirez! Tirez!  Verrouiller le genou, bloquer le genou, bloquer le genou!!!”

It was…hot.

The next morning we did more yoga (who knew that a trip to Paris would turn into a yoga retreat!!?) and (illegally) rode our bicycles through the Arc de Triomphe.  Cars, busses and motor scooters honked and whirled around us as we furiously pedaled (and screamed!) our way through the roundabout.  It was exhilarating!  We made our way up to the Bois de Boulonge, where we rested our legs a while before continuing on our newfound mission: to find the racetrack.  As we rode through the park and into the thicker woods, I noticed random, scantily-clad women standing along the street.  Some were creepily concealed in the trees.  Others were simply men dressed as women.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Andrea casually called over her shoulder, as she pedaled ahead of me. “There are prostitutes in these woods.”

(Chortle!)

You just need to know these things.

That evening, bodies screaming in happy exhaustion from our day’s adventure, we set out with a bottle of champagne to drink along the Seine River.  As we traipsed down the worn, cobblestone steps of the Île de la Cité and towards the water’s edge, I was once again approached by a Frenchman.

This one was considerably younger than the first two.

He started speaking, quickly, in his beautiful language.  He immediately wrapped his arm around me and gestured with his free hand as he spoke.  Occasionally, he would gently touch my chin as he whispered sweet nothings into my ear.  I allowed him to carry on for a while before I spoke up.

“I…I don’t speak French,” I apologized.

The Frenchman – who was definitely in his early 20’s – looked surprised.

“Oh!  But you look…so…so…oh…S’il vous plaît embrassez-moi!  Please kiss me!”

I stopped in my tracks for a moment and gazed at him, almost incredulously.  This would be Frenchman #3.  I was definitely getting what I had asked for, and then some!

He clasped his hands together, and his piercing blue eyes met mine.  One of his iPod ear buds hung, lazily, from his right ear.  He smelled young and fresh.  He was definitely attractive.

He shook his hands at me.

“Please, please, please, please PLEASE kiss me,” he begged.

Andrea and I burst out laughing, and she covertly reached for her phone, readying it to capture the moment.

I looked up at my suitor.  The River Seine shimmered behind me in the glowing city light.  The historic cobblestone beneath my feet seemed to propel me forward, into this young man’s arms.  There was a buzz of conversation between crowds of friends and lovers gathered along the riverbank, and the gentle breeze flirted with my freshly washed hair.

It was the perfect moment for even just a minute of romance.

I tucked a piece of disheveled hair behind my ear, and shrugged.

“Okay,” I smiled.

And so, he kissed me.  Eagerly.

Oh, those Frenchmen and their kisses.

Shameless, Part Deux

I finally pulled away, and Andrea and I continued to walk.  The young man followed us, attempting to coax me into his arms again.

“Please, please, please – more kissing!”  He pleaded.  I smiled, but kept walking away.

He continued to beg and plead and follow, until I finally turned to him:

“Je suis vieille — I am too old for you!”

He looked extremely disappointed, but finally got the hint, and darted back to his friends.

Andrea and I laughed and laughed.  I was having quite a successful run as the “kissing bandit” in Paris!

As we made our way to a less populated area along the riverbank, I reflected upon this newfound confidence that I had developed on my journey – literally and figuratively.  I couldn’t believe it, but it felt so damn good to be single, even if it were inappropriate to be kissing some random strangers on the street.  I didn’t care.  It felt amazing to be noticed, even by much younger men.  What is more, it felt good to be free.  I could just walk away, without my heart hurting; without it longing for, or being attached to, a man.

I could give away sweet, innocent (enough) kisses, but I could hold onto my heart.  It might sound crazy, but it was empowering.

And so, our time in Paris rapidly came to a close.  We ultimately decided to scrap the usual touristy things and headed (on bicycles, of course) to the horse races at Longchamp.  We put money down on a Yankee horse and won!  We picnicked again with Cecile in the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, and conducted a therapeutic ceremony in which I tossed an entire apple pie off the top of a monument.  We dined with British actor Rupert Friend (who tried to disguise himself  as “William”) at Jim Haynes’ 30-year old tradition of a Sunday dinner.   I was determined to make Mr. Friend Frenchman #4.  I chatted and flirted with him for about thirty minutes, but, decided that, alas, he couldn’t be my next French kiss, because he was English.

Okay, okay.  He wasn’t interested.

We invested in the most amazing tea at Mariage Freres, attended mass at St. Germain des Prés and listened in awe to the massive pipe organ seemingly shatter the impeccable stained glass windows.  We patroned the Opera Bastille and purchased tickets to see Andrea’s favorite: The Marriage of Figaro.  It was my second opera, ever — the first being Offenbach’s “La Périchole” at the Sydney Opera House when I was on tour with my church choir at the age of sixteen.

To my surprise during Figaro, I started to sob at the Countess’ solo in Act III, wherein she ponders the loss of her husband’s love.

Dove sono i bei momenti,  she sings.   “Where are they, the beautiful moments?”

Andrea and I both sobbed tears of joy and empathy; tears at the overwhelming beauty of the piece; of art.  Angst.  Love.  Marriage.  Loss.  And comedy.

In the afternoon of that last remaining day, we again drank champagne, just on a simple park bench in the Bois de Vincennes.  The bench overlooked a glistening lake that was populated with happy ducks and happy people in rowboats.  In the distance stood a ferris wheel, and the air was fragrant with a mixture of blossoms, freshly-cut grass and cotton candy.

This time, I definitely saw a single, red balloon floating in the breeze.

Andrea and I vowed to return to that same park bench when we are 80 years old.  We also vowed to return to Paris every year we are able.  (So far, we have kept our word, for, just two short weeks ago, we returned from a ten-day jaunt!)

We will ride bicycles, drink champagne, and frolic throughout the most romantic city in the world, for, as Michael Simkins puts it, Paris is a place in which we can forget ourselves, reinvent, (and) expunge the dead weight of our past. 

Picnics, Padlocks and PDA in Paris

Paris.

It’s simply the most amazing city.  The cobblestone streets; the architecture; the churches; the history; the language; the smells; the lovers; the wine; the light; the romance.

The next day, Andrea and I had plans with her longtime friend, Cecile, who is a winemaker. We met her for an early afternoon picnic of the most amazing Corsican sandwiches in the Place des Vosges.  Cecile flamboyantly arrived with a large, refrigerated bag full of carefully chosen wine, fruit and beautiful wine glasses.  She dressed her tiny frame impeccably French, a la Audrey Hepburn.  In addition, she wore a large, floppy hat, fashionable sunglasses and bright red lipstick. She squealed with excitement when she was reunited with Andrea.

Cecile

As the three of us conversed in and out of French and English (guess who needed the English), I gazed around at my environment.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  The sky was a piercing blue, lightly adorned with fluffy, white clouds.  The air, warm and fragrant, playfully caressed my hair, and the lazy sun gently warmed my skin.  Parisians lounged on the grass near us, sipping wine; reading books; chatting; strumming guitars.  Children played in the fountain, and lovers gazed into each other’s eyes, exchanging kisses and affectionate caresses.

I swear I saw a single, red balloon drifting in the breeze.

“So, Lezzzlie,” Cecile filled my wine glass.  “I hear zat yooou?  Are wanting to kiss one of our men?”

We all laughed.

Andrea and I took turns explaining that we were in Paris to celebrate my divorce (how does one interpret the humor of  “Sister Wife” in French?), and that I had a goal of finding someone to kiss during our short stay.

I honestly didn’t think it would happen, but it made for a good story.

“Yes!  Zees is a good plan!”  Cecile exclaimed, as she examined, then swirled the fresh wine in her glass. “You, Lezzzlie, are the American COUGAR!  You will find a man to kiss – maybe two or three? – and you become ‘ROWR’!  Cougar!”  She howled.

Language barriers are, at times, quite hilarious.

Cecile’s friend, Geraldine, met up with us a couple of hours later for coffee.  As we sat at the little café across the way from the ancient courtyard where we had picnicked, I couldn’t help but think of the four of us as some sort of bizarro, French “Sex and the City” characters.  There was one exception: Geraldine was intolerable.  She’d never make the cut.

We finished our coffee and crepes, said goodbye to Intolerable Geraldine and Lovely Cecile (“Goodbye, see you soon, American COUGAR!”), and made our way to Notre Dame for the late afternoon mass.

Afterwards, we leisurely headed towards our apartment to prepare for an evening outing.  As we neared the Seine, we noticed a rather large crowd gathered on one of the pedestrian bridges.  Happy picnickers occupied every inch of the Pont des Arts.  We managed to find a space to sit down, and, seeing as we had leftovers from our afternoon picnic, we easily fit in.

The sun began to sink, slowly, into the picturesque horizon.  We poured and enjoyed the remainder of Cecile’s wine, which somehow managed to stay perfectly chilled. We were flanked on all sides by the Institut de France, the Palais du Louvre and, upstream, the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral.  Far off in the distance, the top of the Eiffel Tower inched its way towards Heaven.

It was surreal.

We are awesome.

As we absorbed the breathtaking scenery, I noticed that there were hundreds of padlocks in various shapes, sizes and colors, affixed to parts of the bridge.  Most all of the locks were engraved with the initials of their lovesick owners.  I later learned the meaning of these “love locks”.  It’s simple:  Go to the Pont des Arts bridge with your person. Attach your lock to the bridge, throw the key into the river below, and your love is forever sealed.

I (retroactively) decided, right then and there, that I’d be back someday with an engraved padlock and the one I love.  I don’t care how long it takes to find him, or for him to find me; I don’t care if I’m 80 years old.

I’ll be standing on that bridge with him, and our lock will hang on through all kinds of time and weather.

And, yes.  It’s dramatic and romantic, just how I would like it to be.

Hope, Part Padlock.

We finished our second picnic of the day, and wandered again through the white, dusty courtyard of the Palais du Louvre.  We snapped pictures of the glorious sunset, which shone its brilliant orange light through the glass panes of the Louvre Pyramid.

We ate a sensible meal at the apartment and spent some time planning our next day’s adventures – how to rent the bicycles we saw all over town?!  — and then Andrea and I headed out on foot once again for an after-dinner aperitif, and to explore more of the city at its most brilliant: nighttime.  We chatted excitedly about our full, yet relaxing day, and decided that we needed to make picnicking more of a regular routine when we returned home. As we rounded a street corner, I heard a group of men laughing and carrying on in the café across from where we strolled.

Suddenly, one of the taller, more attractive men was waving his arms and beckoning to me.

“Hey!  Hey!  HEY!”

True to fashion, I waved and shouted back.

“HEY!”

The rest remains a bit of a blur, but, suddenly, I found myself in the arms of a very tall, very dark, very handsome, very muscular, very French man.

And he was kissing me.

I mean, kissing me.

And, well, I kissed him right back.

Andrea did not miss the opportunity to snap some (blurry) pictures.

Shameless.

After a few minutes of a very public make out session, Andrea pulled me away from my “date”.  I laughed and started to walk away, but decided I hadn’t had enough of that first-time experience.  So, I turned around and went back in for just a few kisses more.

Yep.  I was that Christian girl.

In Paris.

Andrea pulled me away again, and we squealed as we began to run away.

My Frenchman called after me —  “HEY!!!” – but we kept running, stumbling and laughing up the cobblestone street.

What had just happened?!  I had made this grand declaration that I was going to Paris to kiss someone, and, BAM, within 36 hours of setting foot in the City, I had a marriage proposal and a kiss on the cheek from one man, and a very passionate kiss on the street from another.   I was starting to realize I’d have a much better chance at finding a date in Paris than finding one in Los Angeles.

Time to move.

Sure, if that had happened back home, I might have called the police or sued the guy for sexual harassment.

But Paris was different.  What is more, I was different.  And it felt good.  It was empowering.  There was something so thrilling about being grabbed and kissed, like I so needed to be.  I needed someone – anyone, I suppose – to see me for who I am.

Frankly, I am just kissable.

And, as Paris – or I — would have it, the kissing wouldn’t stop.

Tagged , ,

Hot French Waiter Part Deux

Andrea and I landed at Charles de Gaulle in the early morning.  We fumbled around the airport, found a way to purchase train tickets into the city, and, although exhausted, we happily planted ourselves on the commuter train.

I glanced around at the passengers and noticed a young woman reading the bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love.

“That’s what we’re going to do, “Andrea joked.  “Except we’re going to Eat, Pray, Love in a week!”

We burst into excited laughter.  Our adventures were just about to begin!

Once we made it into the city, we navigated ourselves  — and our ridiculously heavy luggage — through the underground Metro.  We had rented an apartment in the Marais for the week, and were desperate to settle in.

Thankfully, Andrea speaks fluent French (I told you I have amazing friends), so we were able to make our way to Rue de Quincampoix looking far less touristy than we actually were. We met up with the apartment owner – a lovely young artist – but quickly realized that neither of us had Euros to pay the rent.  (Note to self: change money before getting on the plane!)  Delirious, we scrambled around the neighborhood to find a bank.

Money and keys finally changed hands, and we were officially Parisian residents.  The two-story, 290-square foot apartment was much smaller than either of us had expected, but it had everything we needed.  As soon as we climbed upstairs, we didn’t care.  The view of the Parisian rooftops, not to mention the steeple of St. Paul- St. Louis Church (and the sound of its glorious bells), was worth the price alone.  Sharing a bed was funny, but we were used to it.

We headed out, still dressed in almost two-day-old clothing.  I was convinced that I smelled like re-circulated air from the plane, but it just didn’t matter. 

We were in Paris. 

We lunched at an outdoor café, just blocks from our apartment and the Pompidou Center.  I turned my face towards the warm, glowing sunlight and inhaled the sweet afternoon breeze.  It smelled of cigarette smoke, baked bread, history, B.O., champagne, romance and hope.

I suddenly realized that I had fallen in love.  Paris had my heart.  I was transfixed, and hungry for more.

We finished our light lunch and were off to the grocery store to stock our tiny kitchen with the most delicious French cheese, bread, jam, yogurt, tea, lettuce, fruit, vegetables and, of course, wine.

We returned to the apartment, took turns hovering in the Barbie-sized shower, and headed out again.

Over tired/excited, I dressed in the most ridiculous outfit I had packed – a green mini dress, a gold scarf my sisters had bought for me in Italy, a black leather jacket, and brown, almost-knee-high boots.

What not to wear in Paris…

There was no set plan, but to explore.

We strolled towards the Seine.  Our first stop was at a little café on the corner, overlooking one of the many famous, picturesque bridges.  We had easily been lured in by a Hot French Waiter (Part Deux!), who eagerly served us.  We nibbled on cheese and sipped little glasses of Kir as we watched the afternoon sunlight start to fade into a glorious, bustling city glow.  Somewhere beyond my view stood the Eiffel Tower, in all of its glory.

I can’t believe I’m here! 

Inevitably, I had to make my bladder gladder, so I excused myself inside the restaurant.  Not looking where I was going, I ran into Hot French Waiter Part Deux and almost knocked over his tray of wine glasses.

“Oh!!  Je suis désolé! Pardonnez-moi!!”  I blushed, and tried to fake a good French accent. Maybe he wouldn’t notice that I couldn’t speak a lick of his native tongue.

He smiled, and grabbed my hand.

Êtes-vous marié?

I stared at him. My hand started to tingle.

“What?  No…no, my name is not Marie,”  I replied, and then I realized I had blown my cover.  Actress fail.

He threw his head back and laughed.

“I ask yooooou? Eeeeef yoooou? Are married,” he repeated, slowly, as if I didn’t understand English, either.  His thick French accent was palpable.  I took in a deep breath.  Paris felt so good.   And, there I was, standing in the middle of a romantic café, holding hands with a man.  Just like that.

That familiar, wide grin spread across my face.

“No, I am not married.  I am very single!”  I laughed.

“Ouais!”

Still holding my hand, Hot French Waiter Part Deux got down on one knee.

I gasped.

“Veux-tu m’épouser?  Will yooooou?  Marry me? Beaauuuutiful, smiling woman!”

He stared deeply into my eyes as his lips lightly brushed the top of my hand.

Oh.  My.  Lorn.  

My heart fluttered, my knees grew weak, and my bladder screamed at me.

“Uhhh, can I get back to you on that?  I have to find ‘les toilettes’!”

Good one, Les.  

He laughed, jumped up and gently guided me towards the restrooms.

Hot French Waiter Part Deux was busy when I returned to Andrea and our table.  I gave her the quick replay.  Why, yes, I had just received a marriage proposal within hours of landing in Paris.  My life really wasn’t all that bad.

“You have to kiss him!”  She urged.

“What?!  No!  No, I can’t do that!”  I shook my head, and felt the hot flush of embarrassment rise to my cheeks.

“You said you were coming here to kiss somebody,” Andrea pointed out.  “He just asked you to marry him.  You can certainly give him a kiss!”

She was right.  I was just so overprotective of myself, not to mention inexperienced.  I had been on a handful of dates and only kissed three men since filing for divorce from X.

I took another sip of my Kir and reflected on my “love life”.

In August of 2010 — on X’s birthday, to be exact — I had a wild, unexpected makeout session with an old college crush.    It was our second date – the first having been three months earlier.   It was new, exciting and dangerous, and everything felt so…wrong.

He never called me again.

In December of that year, my friend basically dared me to kiss him, so I did.  It was actually very sweet, but I insisted that we remain friends.

And, I had met a guy just a couple of weeks earlier, while in Minneapolis.  I was out to dinner with my lovely friend and fellow Vixen, Julie (she is married to Brian Setzer).  The restaurant was packed, so we sat at the bar.  I thought nothing of it as I struck up a conversation with the friendly, cute bartender.  He happened to be extremely smart, and a talented filmmaker, as well.

He asked me out on the spot.

I was shocked.  That never happens in Los Angeles.  At least not to me.

Why not?  I thought.  I was leaving town the next day, so nothing was going to happen.

Much to my own surprise, I found myself agreeing to kiss him, as well.  He was old-fashioned, chivalrous and sweet.  He treated me well and respected me.  He also begged me to keep kissing him.  He told me that he had never met anyone like me before.  He was crazy about me, all in a matter of a few hours.

What was happening?

My self-protective, Don’t-come-near-me-and-hurt-me-you-douchehound signal had begun to flicker off.  Apparently a stronger, Come-ask-me-to-marry-you signal had switched on.  I needed to find a balance.

Andrea and I finished our “happy hour”, planted a few Euros atop the bill, and got up to leave.  Hot French Waiter Part Deux swiftly re-appeared.

He held out his hands, as if I had mortally wounded him with my sudden departure. After all, I had never responded to his marriage proposal.

I walked towards him, put my arms around him, and hugged him hard.  I then planted a bold, firm kiss on his cheek.  He seemed rather surprised at my expression of affection.

“Merci,” I whispered, and then turned and sauntered down the cobblestone street, feeling happy, confident and – I daresay – sexy.

My French kissing warm up was complete.