Category Archives: short stories

My grandfather lived his passion.

Ang and Poppa, late 1980’s

My grandfather passed away a week ago. We loved him and learned so much from him. He left behind a loving family and a lifetime of memories. To say he did well would be an understatement. 

Here are the words I put together for our close friends and family.

I also wanted to share them with you. 

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My name’s Nicole Cifani and I’m Ray and Linda’s daughter. I’m the eldest of the grandchildren.
And I’d like to say a few things about our Poppa.

He was optimistic.
He was punctual (there’s a story about how we’d place bets on when he’d arrive).
He loved baseball.
He had a great sense of humor.
He was a good listener.
He was patient. In his quiet way he guided us. He always encouraged us.
He was a musician, performer, composer, arranger, teacher, businessman.
In other words, he was a hard worker.

He demonstrated the importance of finding one’s passion. For him, it was music.
And to us, his grandchildren, he was a facilitator.

Nonnie and Poppa wanted to give their grandchildren the gift of music.
And they did. From when we were all very young.
Who can forget the Cousin’s Band?
I was the first one.

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Balancing Acts

I’ve been taking yoga on and off for the past ten years. During this time, my level of commitment has ranged from being an absolute devotee to having such limited concentration I’d only show up to class after my muscles had been completely exhausted by doing other work.

During those off years I’d try to smuggle in the New York Times to give me something to do — obviously completely missing the point of what yoga is all about.

After some time of focusing strictly on intense cardio sessions, I decided to come out of yogi retirement. I thought it might aid in focusing better, and calm me down after a hectic day at work.

Since I flipped the switch last spring I’ve seen my practice evolve fairly quickly. I can do things I couldn’t do twelve months ago. The flexibility of my legs and back has greatly improved. My lung capacity is greater, allowing me gain greater distance during those beloved cardio sessions. I can almost walk into a handstand.

Lately I’ve been into balancing poses. There’s something crazy about being able to rest your entire body on your hands and triceps. It’s taking time, but I enjoy trying the movements to the best of my ability. Finally, a use for gangly limbs!

In last week’s session I sliced my way through the poses, happy as a bunny rabbit as I hopped forward and back, quickly down into chattaranga with my face mere inches from the ground.

Back up on the exhale, into downward facing dog.

When we went into side plank pose (or, vasisthasana – what did we do before Google? honestly) I was almost boastful in my pose. I balanced on the side of my left foot using my left hand as support. I stretched my right limbs up and out, growing from toes to fingertips, creating what I thought was a flawless line with the side of my body.

Then the instructor walked by.

“Try not to stick your butt out,” he murmured.

What? Who is this guy to critique me so bluntly? Isn’t their a more technical term for that?

And what exactly does he mean? Am I walking around all day without knowing anything? Am I sticking my ass out in life?

A few days later we worked our way once again through class. The girl next to me was demonstrating the ultimate in yogi ninja skills. She flipped back and forth, up and out, in and out of poses, all with the sinewy grace of a catlike ballerina (if ballerinas were in fact catlike, which may or may not be an internet meme).

She erased the preconceived image I had based on our earlier exchange of pleasantries — which lead to notice of a helpful serving of crazy piercings along with quite intricate tattoos.

“I’ll never be as flexible as she is,” I thought to myself. “What am I doing here, thinking I’m actually good at this practice? Am I just fooling myself?”

I reluctantly went through the poses, thinking that I was probably doing it all wrong — likely due to my tight hamstrings, not me — and I’d never, ever come close to the perfection of the tattooed cat ninja.

It came time to go into vasisthasana. She went into a crazy variation by grabbing her big toe, stretching her leg all the way out, then up, then off to the side.

The instructor walked by.

“Try not to stick your butt out,” I heard him whisper.

Ahha!

I wondered if she was as miffed as I had been – she certainly didn’t appear to be. Then again, the class happened to be a strenuous one and as most yogis know, at a certain point it becomes hard to break face when you’re in the zone.

But there was a lesson here.

What I learned, in that very moment, is that yoga is not a race to mastery nor perfection.It’s a continuous journey — one with many peaks, plateaus, and valleys with miniature discoveries scattered along the way. After we conquer one there will be always be another waiting right behind it.

Someone once told me that there will always be something to worry about.

There will always be something to strive for.

The cycle will never end.

We live in the present but constantly make small adjustments to build a future that (fingers crossed) perpetually evolves upward.

I continue to vinyasa with this newly minted nugget stored somewhere, planning to apply it later to my daily routine.

Perhaps even…starting now?

At the end of class I often meditate on my purpose – things like what I was created for and what I’m meant to do in this world. Maybe this is it. Maybe the little actions we take in the present that eventually add up to something larger and more advanced for the future.

So for now, who we are in this very moment should be embraced and rewarded. Because it took some time to get here, too. Even if it means we’re occasionally sticking our butt out along the way.

From the Archives: Friendships

I walked down Pickney St. with a bottle of Perrier in one hand and my cell phone in the other. I always find myself scrolling through my cell phone, looking for people to call. Then I realize that I don’t want to call anyone. And even if my phone did ring, I probably wouldn’t answer.

I shuffled along with my head down, deep in thought about the list of people in my little cell phone. I’m  no longer in touch with many of these people. How and why?  Because I’ve moved away? Because we don’t have anything in common anymore? Because marathon catch-ups over the phone are tedious and trying?

It’s so depressing. I wish that life held retained the youthful innocence where you not only believed we’d all be friends forever, but it might actually happen. What happened to that? Why can’t we invest in making our friendships last through sickness and health, for better or worse? I just don’t understand it. People can’t forgive. Come to think of it, neither do I. I’m going to forgive more. And be more patient. And make more phone calls.

6/24/03

 

A Haircut

She feels turned inside out and the people surrounding her are walking skeletons of designer blood and guts.

She’s time-laden and irrelevant, struggling with the heaving weight of grayish bags beneath her eyes. As she looks in the mirror she judges the juxtaposition of what she sees against her surroundings, the disappointing result of that judgement makes her feel pasty, inconsequential and weak.

She told Maya she thought about bangs. She had thought long and hard about it, and in the end couldn’t make a decision – befittingly par for the course.  She concluded at the end of the conversation that went nowhere that – in all seriousness – bangs were probably better than the tattoo she had originally desired.  Maya laughed hard, and it wasn’t just polite laughter because the unmeasured loudness coming from the petite girl startled the gays and their clients, the hangers-on and assistants, the people like her just sitting there observing the surrounding activity in the salon with the tired eye of a time-lapsed camera.

She tried to explain to Maya that she needed a change. Needed, not wanted. She needed to tell herself that she’s no longer who she thought she was. Her insides are not full of dirt, mud and pieces of scrap metal.  She’s pure on the inside.  Clean and positive, motivated and alive.  She has a purpose in life, she thinks.  She must. Otherwise, what then?

Years ago she’d imagine how it looked on the inside. Like an anti-smoking ad detailing the human lung, or the science teacher in high school who passed around a bag of yellow human fat she’d imagine the anxiety stuck in-between her ribs or buried beneath her ribcage. She’d note how large it was and what consistency.  Sometimes she’d breathe through it from night to night, noticing that a week later it would have grown smaller than the previous week.

She’s sitting in Maya’s chair. Maya’s cutting at and detailing the bangs. She wishes she could also trim out the inner isolation. She doesn’t want to exist at this particular moment in time.  She tries to politely chat and pull herself back to the reality of the physical things she can see and feel.

She thinks about a family member who’s perpetually sad.  At family gatherings he’d show up with a case of beer and could be found roaming the backyard examining a leaf, poking at animal holes in the ground, chain-smoking Marlboro Reds and tending to his case of beer.  She liked to name whatever haunted him to be demons.

She wondered if those demons are hereditary, and then think that they can’t apply to me because no one in California has demons. Or do they? “What am I supposed to do now, she thinks, take some Vitamin B?

She wonders what happens when things go genuinely wrong.  The worst panic she’s had is when she thought she ran out of Clinique touch-base for eyes. She almost resents being coddled as a youth and quickly tries to erase the thought as soon as the idea is scratched, not wanting to inadvertently wish any ill on upon herself in the interest of learning a life lesson about hardship and sacrifice.  She grew up with no culture or sense of self, free from struggle or strife.

She feels that her childhood was a blur of nothing. And now she lives in a city full of people who want to be something, and so she resorts to being what she knows.

Twenty Two and a Few (Part 1)

I wake up to the sound of ringing. It could have been the ringing of my ears as a result of last nights party but it’s louder and of course it’s my phone and of course I have no idea why it’s under my pillow.  Oh, cell phones: cryptic tools harboring text messages in Shakespearean lingo like LOL and WTF, blurry photographs of bands I don’t care about, and phone numbers for people like “BurningMan”, Bob Closetalker”, “Jody Stylist?” and “Ryan #4”.

I find a pair of jeans on the floor and crawl into them while darting my half-open eyes around in search of a clean T-shirt. I don’t know why I always look on the floor for clean clothes, a social reflex that only Saturday mornings can provoke.

Put my contact lenses in, do the robotical AM washup.

Saturday morning traffic is great. I sip coffee from behind over-sized sunglasses and pretend to listen to NPR when really in my head I’m rehashing the sociopolitical interactions between acquaintances of the previous evening.

I roll into a parking spot and put all the change I can dig up into the meter. It amounts to 29 minutes total as I conveniently forget that I’ll be there over an hour. “At least it’s not raining”, I irrationally think instead.

My acupuncturist knows I’ve been up late. I can see it at the corner of his smile. I’ve been visiting him since January, in staying consistent with my absolutely inconsistent lifestyle. I wonder when the Friday night pass expires in life – when is it unacceptable to be out until 4:30 am? Perhaps until the wrinkles become faintly apparent in mid-morning to late afternoon light? You know, the light that makes you think to yourself “Wow, times are tough” no matter how much sleep you’ve gotten the night before.

After the session, I leave the office and take a walk down the street. The sunshine is always perpetual in Beverly Hills. It’s like those gaslamps on Beacon Hill in downtown Boston that that never go out. The never-ending light of the affluent.

There are nail salons everywhere and the sun is shining and I feel the post-acupuncture haze combined with my Midwestern consumerist upbringing lure me into a salon. I chose the brightest pink color I can find.

I consider the nail technicians to be a cheap alternative to having an actual therapist. I sit and we talk, or I talk, lamenting about my job, relationships, social scenes. I complain and the woman tells me to be patient and as I glance at my nails as they seem dry but then realize she’s talking about life.

I slightly feel the three pins sticking out of the top of my head leftover from the acupuncture session. I realize the woman with the two toned sunglasses coated in gold jewelry waiting in an armchair for a pedicure is trying not to stare at them. I look back at her and we both smile, silently acknowledging each other’s crazy.

I have an hour to get to the gym prior to meeting the gang at Saddleranch for brunch. Brunch is a loose term for any meal happening before six. This only makes sense because in a town like LA, the traffic is so bad that you can only really make time to do one or two things during the day. Unless of course it’s a holiday in which case the roads are yours for the taking. “Today”, I’ll announce as I walk to my car, “I’m going to the bank.”

If I’m lucky, I’ll make it to Starbucks where I’ll inadvertently wait another twenty minutes for a latte, because let’s face it, everyone in this town is on Venice Standard Time.

This is Part 1 of a series. “22 and a Few: Life as a 20-something in LA”