7 May 2005

Diary of an American Idiot

Jaywalking in LA

January 17, 2005

It is not true that nobody walks in LA, I do
Three days of holidays, one belongs to Martin Luther King
He was killed April 4th, but Americans don’t like death dates, I was told
So they celebrate today, makes no sense to me
Except that every day is good for pacifist marches
As a Woman in Black I honor this date wherever I am…
I notice that people here are ashamed not to work even if they have nothing to do, even the retired people
In Serbia, in Italy, it is a shame to work, so even when they work they pretend not to…

I cleaned the bare flat, what a beauty it is white and empty and full of Californian light, which reminds me of Spain and Greece and Rome
I cannot understand the broom though, its stick is way too long and the brush is not even
In Europe everything is smaller and the biggest people never as big as they can be here
Today Steph said, just write anything that comes across your mind. I am not too keen on writing, writing here is different, to be a writer, to be a novelist here is a job, just like any other, to earn money…

On my way back from the post office a Mexican cop, young, in black leather, dark glasses, on a motorbike, stops me with a gentle “ma’am.” Ok, I think he is going to ask me for directions, instead he says he wants to talk to me, lord, I wonder what this is all about. He starts very mysteriously asking me how I managed to cross the street, I explain to him in details that I pressed the button and waited for the green lights…etc., etc…very mysteriously and slightly more loudly he tells me that I blatantly and slowly crossed the big street with the red hand telling me to stop. I am confused, I tell him, I am European, we don’t have hands, only traffic lights…oh that triggered him: my passport, my address, when where what…I had no passport, no ID with a photo, a lot to explain…I am not really following his small police talk, I am more interested in the metaevent, he notices it, it gets on his nerves…I guess at that point he pulls out his notebook and starts interrogating me…my birth date, the color of my eyes, my height in inches…I don’t know inches, he measures me with handfuls, I have to take off my glasses to prove the blue color of my eyes…what this is all about, I cannot pull out, I cannot find the right tone, whatever I do or say makes him want to do or say more. I know the address, a street around the corner, but I don’t know the zip code of California for that street, he is upset…I notice he has the dark glasses without reflection and really hip leather jacket that young kids wear in Europe to imitate LA cops…I felt like taking a photo of him with me, for my daughter…So my first LA cop says, you will be cited to the court in a month or two. What, I say, can’t I pay the fine?…no, no says he, not now, in court…This guy is breaking my heart and making me really paranoid now…To break the spell, I ask him, now you tell me something, where can I buy some food around here, he answers nicely, what kind of food, oh all kind of foods, oh a supermarket you mean, yes I mean that…
Four lights ahead, he points out
Four blocks, I ask
No, four lights
Ok, I am leaving, he takes my arm, hey ma’am
Here is your piece of paper
Ok I say…
All right, ma’am, he says
All right, I say, waving my hand

I don’t like him anymore, I don’t like myself, I am positive I didn’t cross against the red lights…he picked me out, waited for me and I walked into his trap. All of a sudden I am shaking, I remember our policemen during Milosevic, how they tried to harass us, how we managed to talk them down politically with words: this is my country too, you are my police too, you have to protect me, not to harass me…Well this is not my country, and these people behave as if people from abroad are their worst enemies…I don’t want to preach to a young Mexican-American policeman who didn’t want foreigners crossing against the traffic lights on his beat…I felt like an Albanian, a Bosnian, a whatever Other in Belgrade during Milosevic. Probably all those cops I managed to coax into reason in Belgrade depended on the fact that I was a Serb, that it was my hometown more than theirs since they were often from inner Serbia. I think of the political activity I planned to do here, suddenly I am frightened, I don’t like the feeling.

At the next block, I see my market, I cross the street with no traffic lights, a black security guard told me to do so…laughing when I told him I got a citation to the court for the infraction…the Mexican girl in the market helps me find things I need. She is his female replica, a laughing humble and bright second-generation American, probably the cop’s girlfriend. I need a beer, just like in the good old times of the civil war we had in the streets during Milosevic in Serbia, which really never stopped: it is called racism, xenophobia and nationalism. Wherever it may be.

A few hours later I met a Bosnian woman talking on her cell phone to somebody in our language. She was saying with a miserable voice, alone of course I am alone taking a walk, with whom on earth could I be…she didn’t know I understood her, I looked at her, she was well-dressed, well-fed, everybody in her country I am sure would have envied her looks and goods, and they sure still do…but she was miserable, she missed her gossip over a cup of Turkish coffee, her music, her dirty roads, her small half-broken household…or maybe she had none of those, gone with the wind in the war. 

January 28, 2005

In a jazz club in San Diego, downtown: inside it is forbidden to smoke, outside it is forbidden to drink, inside you can drink and outside you can smoke: balancing on the threshold one can manage both…or none…

February 1, 2005

Today I received my first letter here in LA, from the local court, a citation to the court, bail $114, 6 months in prison or $1000 fine if I don’t appear or pay…to pay one has to use a credit card or a check, which I don’t have. I have two months time to bail myself out, I can’t believe it, I am furious. I don’t feel guilty, I was mistaken, yes, but not guilty and my even bigger mistake was not to show fear in front of the ridiculous policeman. I feel like writing a book to ridicule him and his xenophobic law, his tight pathetic leather uniform, his shiny bike instead of a girlfriend, his inability to spell my name properly: Jasmina Tesanobitch, his chicken handwriting on the yellow paper…and his law of fear and reprisal which is called democracy. I always knew democracy stinks, Socrates told me so, and of course the silence of all those women at his time did, too…the political idiot from Serbia may as well be the global political idiot…

February 7, 2005

Last week I went to a writer’s workshop, for women, in an old library next to a college here in Pasadena. I saw the ad in the local newspaper: the women there were few and old, never published. They had games of their own, they knew each other for ages, they were probably neighbors, it was like playing bridge. I felt ashamed that I had published, they immediately told me I should go to a college, I said, but I’ve been there…they indifferently blinked then, the woman in charge told me, we have no criticism here, no discussions, we just write and read…and I did it with them. Compared to our old women writing or just anonymous women writing these American women know how to write. But they write like mainstream writers. I wonder what kept them from publishing, pets, cooking, they interrupt their writing in order to talk about pets. I liked that too, I liked the pet talk, the how-to-roast-chicken talk, in the midst of an elaborate murder plot. What these women lack compared to our women in the Balkans is the rebellious streak: women’s writing in Serbia is undermining: it is eversive and they know it; it is forbidden, it is blasphemy, and they transgress.

My neighbor here has a small old dog: Tsatsie, she is white-furred, bowlegged and has big blue eyes. He is tall, good-looking and well-dressed. I could not tell his age. One evening, I was upset: I read the news about my homeland, news of crime and non-punishment, news about people getting away with it, an old story which sounded dramatic here.

Sitting under a palm, smoking a cigarette, I felt miserable; my neighbor sat next to me and told me his story: I am eighty, I am at peace with my life, I just watched the news, HE is ruining us, I will be dead by the time everything is lost, but I feel sorry for the young people, not that I have anybody, no, I am alone, I have only her, Tsatsie, and a cat, up there in my bed. And a big house, in the hills in LA. I put away some bucks and I am lucky, I can live in peace until my day comes. But HE will ruin us all.

I don’t ask him who is HE, I know it. Bush is HE, I’ve heard it before, Americans I’ve met here are not political activists or politically outspoken, but they speak in metaphors. I wonder what kind of fear that is. It is different than it was in Serbia, people were loud nationalists there. These guys are concentrated on keeping their wealth and appearances and aware that it will be hard to manage that for much longer. They will have to become political, whether idiots or fighters, and they are procrastinating.

February 11, 2005

At a party last night the girl sitting next to me said: I was ashamed for the Americans when the September 11 happened. I didn’t understand what she meant.

I am trying to palpate the American being…

The sweets in the campus of the arts centre are there on the shelf, exposed without glass protection, yet nobody snatches them…instead from locked offices, the jackets and sunglasses of the professors go missing. In Serbia, in Italy, it would be the opposite…

In America all Americans are smiling to each other when they speak, even if they say sad things, it is like a mask, a twitch, it chills me…I put up a serious face then.

16 February 2005

We paid my fine today, I was eager to go to the court, if only to see why he wrote Tesanobitch instead of Tesanovic. My fellow neighbors from LA urged me not to pay, my fellow foreigners urged me to pay and shut up if I need to stay here. President Bush, the HE, has a gay scandal in his staff, but the bigger scandal is the new CIA director, a notorious politician in Latin America. I am ashamed even though I am not American. I always feel ashamed when stupid things are done.

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