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Free Martha
by Laura Taylor Lambros
Los Angeles and I are fighting. We've reached that point in our relationship where the initial attraction has worn off and reality has set in. I mean, I love L.A., really, deep down I think we were meant to be together, it's just been rough lately.

Before I met L.A. I had this thing for Chicago, a brief fling with New York. Chicago was fine, a little too into sports for my taste, but genuinely sweet, warm and earthy. We'd eat polish sausages and walk along the lake, ride the el trains to Persian restaurants in the Korean section of Swedish neighborhoods. But winters were hard. Chicago liked to make scenes on the street, turn my umbrella inside out, lift my skirt up over my head, throw slush in my face. I know it was all in good fun, part of being with someone like Chicago, but my patience wore thin.

At least the moods were predictable with Chicago. New York was in therapy, dealing with "issues" too big for me to understand. New York wore black all the time and chain smoked. New York would shout at me, for no reason, out of the blue then turn around with a hug and gentle words. Bi-polar maybe. OCD definitely. ADD too. I mean I couldn't walk down the street without some type of disguised, "hey, look at me, look what I'm doing." Like a kid really. I mean we had fun and went to shows and stayed out all night drinking and talking in Village taverns where Dylan Thomas' liver died. New York made a big deal out of holidays but wasn't family oriented, had no interest in having children. New York was too intense for me, too demanding.

I have this childhood friend who helps me work things out sometimes, gives me some perspective. Cleveland has always been there for me, but we're just friends. I can't even think of Cleveland that way. Cleveland drives an American car, is slightly overweight and watches way too much television. Cleveland is very proud of the Drew Carey Show and will tell you, loudly, that Drew Carey was in the same graduating class and Devo came from Akron. Proud. Of Devo. Cleveland is like meatloaf, comforting, warm like gravy, smooth like mashed potatoes. I could tell Cleveland anything, we could sleep naked without having sex. I just can't see us being anything more than friends.

Anyway, it was Cleveland who told me about L.A. Cleveland saw L.A. on television, or maybe a movie, I'm not sure, but I was convinced L.A. was right for me. Cleveland told me that L.A. was beautiful, cared about appearances, cared enough to have back facials.

I met L.A. in April. It was late afternoon and golden light was cast against the sky, so bright and warm it looked filtered, unreal. The palm trees swayed and sparkled and driving along PCH with beaches stretching and waves smashing I thought to myself that I'd finally found the one, the place, the one place meant for me. L.A. made me feel like anything was possible. L.A. did a lot of commercials, T.V., movie stuff. I saw L.A. all the time on T.V. and in a way it felt like I had to share it with the world. But I wasn't jealous. I told myself that no one really understood L.A. like I did. What we had was special.

But like I said, we're fighting. For the longest time I denied that anything was wrong. I mean there were little things that bothered me. For example, every time it rains L.A. makes this huge deal about it, calls it a storm, tells me how to drive, and makes me late for work. And celebrities. That bothered me from the start. L.A. sees Jimmy Smits picking up dry cleaning and talks about it for weeks. L.A. can fill whole nights with talk of who is seeing who and whether so and so is gay and who is working on what and frankly I've just stopped being interested.

I guess the problems really started when L.A. suggested I improve myself. L.A. is constantly on a diet, at the gym all the time. Chicago and New York never called me fat. L.A. says my ass is too big, my abs need toned. Before I met L.A. I didn't have a problem with my breasts. Chicago thought they were just fine and New York didn't even notice. Now L.A. is talking about implants and other types of "enhancement". I got a Wonder Bra for Valentines Day with little inflatable pads that L.A. inflates for me. I'm starting to wonder if maybe L.A. doesn't care about me, the inner me or my dreams, and really only cares about how I look.

So I've been emailing Seattle. Seattle says L.A. is way too self-absorbed, that I shouldn't have to change the way I look, that I should wear flannel and stop shaving my legs. Seattle started me thinking that maybe there are other options, less superficial, deeper and cloudier. I started going on these blind dates, quick little trysts all over the country. Houston and I went to a steakhouse where he ordered a 48 ounce rare steak and was awarded the cowbell for finishing it all. We drove around in his pick-up while he rang the bell out the window. Miami made me get a tattoo. New Orleans kept asking me to take my shirt off, which, after months of L.A.'s insults, I just couldn't handle. Santa Fe and I got along quite well at the start. Calm, deep brown eyes, rugged with bright colors and boots. But he has this opportunistic dark side, makes fake cow skulls and sells them to tourists. Aspen is a frigid version of L.A. Portland was too into bondage. Salt Lake won't drink coffee or beer so we didn't have anywhere to go.

And then there's San Francisco. We met in a cloud of fog at the bottom of a hill lined with houses traced with pastel gingerbread. San Francisco is honest and gentle, loves animals and trees. We walked around the Palace of Fine Arts glowing against the night sky, surrounded by nothing but silence and distant sea lions cackling against the outline of the Golden Gate. San Francisco loves his mom. San Francisco can keep a secret. We talk and walk all night. San Francisco is fragile, dependant on bridges, sensitive and moist, chocolate-scented, salty. San Francisco calls me when the Santa Ana's have L.A. agitated and cranky. He tells me of umbrella days and coffee shops. I'm falling for it all.

So now when L.A. and I are stopped in traffic and he's rubber-necking the accident scene looking for blood and gore, I hear the bells of cable cars. And when L.A. and I are at the mall looking for something to wear to watch the 6am Oscar nominations on T.V. I think of San Francisco wearing glasses and a fuzzy sweater. I can't stop fantasizing of running away, escaping with San Francisco when everything L.A. does irritates me.

I called Cleveland the other night to talk about my dilemma. Cleveland asked if San Francisco was gay. Such a typical Cleveland question. Cleveland doesn't trust sensitive, sweater-wearing types. Real men drive Fords, Cleveland says. Cleveland heard that San Francisco is having money problems, is clearly trying to seduce me to come there with my money. I think Cleveland is still under L.A.'s spell, probably watching Baywatch while we talk on the phone. But Cleveland reminds me of why I fell in love with L.A. in the first place, the bright brushes with glamour. L.A. in the sun with the top down, shimmering like a dream when the light is golden again and traffic is moving. But there's nothing below that pretty picture, I try to explain to Cleveland, no self-reflection, no proof of life. It's all surface and no substance.

L.A. and I are fighting. Love hate thing. I try to turn my back and then find another mystery to be solved, like why Laurel Canyon smells like cat piss when it rains. And the feeling of hope is stronger here than anywhere else, stronger than Seattle needles or Sante Fe storms or even San Francisco hills. Just when I was about to give up on L.A. I'm walking down Melrose denying the blue of the sky, the lull of the breeze, when L.A. comes walking toward me, smiling and glowing, holding birds of paradise and wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "Free Martha". It's so easy to laugh, to let the helicopter chatter, brake screeching, cell phone bleeting hum of the city fall away and laugh like a drunken teenager skipping school. It's so easy to laugh with L.A., not at L.A., but with L.A. and let the days pass like this, laughing, golden in the sun.

Laura Taylor Lambros lives in Los Angeles, California. Her work was performed as part of the New Short Fiction Series in 2001, and her stories have appeared in AfterNoon, The Green Tricycle, NOHO LA, and Zahir. She’s currently on the editorial staff of Other Voices.

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