The Old Armenian Lady
They carried away the old Armenian lady last night. It’s not the first time and I hope it’s not the last, but you never know. I hadn’t seen much of her lately, anyway, not since the weather turned cold, or at least as cold as it normally gets in a heat-island affected LA in a not-so-cold-in-the-first-place southern California. When we first moved in to the stereotypical SoCal apartment complex a couple months ago, there she’d sit all day, in one of those ugly stackable plastic white chairs parked right by the door to her downstairs apartment, with those tubes up her nose that I suppose go to oxygen or something, hopefully something other than just a warning to the young and healthy that this is what you’ll end up like if you don’t eat your peas and carrots.
There she’d sit every day, glaring at me every time I’d pass by, with the look of Moses chastising the idol-worshippers, fierce and indignant, so naturally I assumed she didn’t care much for me. Or maybe she didn’t care much for my wife Tang, the slant-eyed representative of another dimension, the other dimension of a point triangulated between the refugee diaspora of Armenians fleeing a genocide and the Robinhood diaspora of Thais fleeing low wages and the wannabe-Hollywood suburban diaspora of White Anglo-Saxon protestant slackers who wish they could move down the street into the real Hollywood, or at least get a call-back on that MTV audition. Anything’s possible ethnically here at the junction of Thai Town and Little Armenia in east Hollywood, where “none of the above” means that you’re Mexican, or at least Hispanic, in a time and place where you are what you speak. Or maybe she just doesn’t like mixed marriages, or maybe she’s scared of me and my beard, probably thinks I’m Taliban…
But there she’d sit every day, the old Armenian lady, tethered by her nose tubes, glaring at me, no matter how often I’d cast a glance or flash a smile her way. I could’ve just shined it on, of course, since it wouldn’t be the first time someone didn’t like me, or just didn’t understand me, mistaking my reticence and reluctance and almost crippling shyness—the result of an overactive imagination, a speech impediment and a dozen failed relationships—as a sign of arrogance and aloofness and even outright aggression from someone who probably holds himself up as hipper than thou and ultimately holier. Nothing could be further from the truth of course, and I probably indulge in more self-loathing than self-love, but it’s probably best just not to think too much about it, since the self-feedback only makes it worse. I’ll sometimes even cross the street to help a crippled person navigate a rough sidewalk with his wheelchair btw, hopefully mitigating the fact that I rarely give dinero to the homeless.
I’m pretty sure the lady doesn’t even know English, after all, and the only Armenian word I know is “che,” pronounced like the Argentine slang honorific, though signifying the opposite as its almost homophonous Thai word, “chai,” both pronounced in long falling tone, the first meaning something like “no,” and the second meaning something like “yes.” That’s why I even know or remember the word in the first place, of course, even though during my short few days in Yerevan I never studied even a word of the language, but it’s fairly easy and often possible to discern when someone’s saying, “no,” or maybe even “yes,” though I have no idea what the Armenian word for “yes” is. But I do know the Thai for “no.”
So I decided to press my luck with the old Armenian lady, to actually talk to her, greet her, and wish her a good day, since such salutations can hardly be misinterpreted. But maybe that’s too direct; she might think I want something. I know; I’ll talk about the weather! Surely someone who sits tethered to her apartment’s front door must have plenty of opinions on the weather, and much appreciation for it when it’s good. So I did just that, and she responded with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life, warmer than the sun. At that point it occurred to me that there she sits every day, and probably no one ever talks to her, except her dutiful daughter and maybe one or two of the related Armenians, all of whom seem to be from one or two nuclear families. Since then I’ve made a point to pass by her door whenever it’s possible, even if it means going a few steps out of my way, on my way to the trash dumpster.
Those opportunities have been few and far between with the coming of autumn, of course. And now they’ve taken her way…again. She’s always come back before, at least the one time that I know of, but this time could be different. I’d like to think she’s in a better place regardless, but I’m not sure. Sometimes I wish I were in a better place, too, but once again: I’m not sure. You’ve got to be careful what you ask for. I guess ultimately it’s hard to separate my feelings and best wishes for her from my feelings and wishes for myself. Life’s weird that way, and no amount of sweet sentiment can change it. Still I hope she’s okay, for my own sake, if not for hers.