Sunday, April 5, 2015

Flesh Wound

Sophomore year was so balls in every single way that life can be. Crippled mom, beloved grandfather dying of cancer, mean girls, bad haircuts. All of it. Every bit. The most suicidal.
I couldn't make it right. There was nothing in the city of South Pasadena to make me feel like life would ever get better. Holidays were always my mom and I, alone in our tiny duplex.

When Easter rolls around instead of getting nostalgic for Cadbury eggs and pink bows on dresses, I get a buzzing in my brain. Can you hear? It sounds like 'Ni'.

Piles of Starburst jellybeans and Sea Monkeys are tucked away in the corner of the closet to be brought out an hour from now (or whenever I can't take Evan harassing me anymore) and 48 carefully taped plastic eggs are scattered throughout our apartment. I've made Mangalitsa croquettes and a seven-layer jello mold in the shape of a rabbit. I cook like someone is paying me every single Easter, as a gift for those who rolled the rock away.

I go to these lengths to push back my story. To tell you 'Life is not this anymore. Look how I've risen. See my transcendence' but in truth the only Easter dinner I can honestly remember, the single one I can see, hear, taste and feel is one with my mom, a pizza, and a Sara Lee strawberry cheesecake on that April Sunday in 1983.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I've thought about it a million times
It takes all my strength just to keep it calm
I have to tell myself, just let it breathe
holding it inside will only help to do me in
Each time I close my eyes I see another chain
it's one I can't forget, something I can not break out of
I need a second skin, something to hold me up
can't seem to get out of this hole
I've dug myself right back in
Just to wake up tells me I must be brave
It hits me like a drug shot into my vein
It's not as delightful of a pain
immobilizing me
almost makes me think I'm dead
I need a second skin
something to hold me tough
Can't do it on my own
sometimes I need just a little more help
I want that chance to give every drop that's left in me
I need a second skin
something I can not break out of
I tell myself, just let it breathe
It's a calmness I'm always searching for
But the dirt it gets so heavy
it falls above my head
seeping from under my feet
it just keeps on getting deeper
I need a second skin
something to hold me tough
Can't do it on my own
sometimes I need just a little more help
I've got that chance to give every drop that's left in me
I need a second skin
something I cannot break free of
Though no one ever said it'd be easy
Still one's left to deny the choice that comes
between your willingness to survive
Though you're knowing what you stand up against
a world set to deceive
You need a special strength
I've got that second skin
I've got that chance to give
I've got the only way that I know how to live with it
I need a second skin
something to hold me tough
I need a second skin
something I cannot break out of

The best rock singer I ever saw died when she was 27. She screamed and shook and left it all on the stage. If you heard the voice and saw the girl, you couldn't forget her. Not a day later. Not a month. Not even 23 years. She was raped and strangled and no one heard her cry out and the world lost a voice that would have mattered. Guaranteed.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nugget. Part Two.

"I'm poor. Nobody likes me"

My parents chose our apartment because of it's proximity to a laundromat, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a bus line, and my high school. All the things a 13 year-old needs to get by.

The southeast border of South Pasadena is Huntington Drive. It runs from the merge of Soto Street and Mission Road near Lincoln Park, winds through the lower part of the San Gabriel Valley and ends in Duarte near a gravel pit. As you pass through each city, the ethnicity changes. South Pas was Asian-White, across the street was Alhambra which was predominantly Hispanic. Mission/Huntington/Atlantic is a triangle-intersection and the third side of this menage is San Marino, the third most expensive city to live in in Los Angeles, pricier than both Beverly Hills or Malibu.

That duplex was pretty sweet.

On Saturdays I'd fill a metal shopping cart with my weird Flashdance clothes and my mom's pajamas (her only outfit) and haul it across the median to the laundromat next to the Ralph's. Once inside, I was safe from discovery, but I crossed that street every week for four years praying none of my classmates would drive by and see me. They knew my mom was in bed, but only a few knew what it was really like, and I was determined to keep it that way.

A different day was grocery shopping. Blank check in hand, back across the median I'd go, to shop using a list and my own impulsiveness to guide me up and down the aisles looking at all the jars, bottles, and boxes. If I wasn't already halfway to bulimia before, access to an entire supermarket was the tipping point and bulk pounds of gummy bears and bags of Doritos began to make their way into the cart along with 2-liter bottles of Pepsi and frozen Sara Lee cheesecakes. That I became a chef later in life seems obvious and not, but we'll get there.

My mom wasn't thrilled with what was going on but was hardly in any position to fight with the only caretaker about her food choices. She'd ask me to buy less, I'd do it anyway, and challenge her to stop me. She was trying to avoid pain medication to stay alert for me and tried to not pick fights, so I won. My ass won. My thighs won. My self-esteem won. When I need to win, I always lose.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Nugget. Part One.

"I'm crazy. Nobody likes me."

I hand over the money and take the bag in exchange.

"I'm ugly. Nobody likes me."

The smell of the salt and grease is intoxicating.

"I'm lonely. Nobody likes me."

Tuesday is Bible study, then physical therapy so no one will be there when I get to my house. I strap the bag to the back of my bike. I need to get home and fix.

The sound of a 40 year-old, 110-pound woman hitting the floor from six feet above is a bit like the one a car makes when it hits a deer. It's all I remember about the day that changed everything. Art doesn't follow form, it turns out, when safety and climbing are involved, and instead of a staircase with a railing, you choose a ladder that belongs in a Moorish castle or on a pirate ship. My mom spent the next five years shuffling around from expert to expert trying to figure out why she couldn't lift her leg higher than a few inches, lay on her left side or sit up for more than an hour.

This left me alone in the country with four channels and a pantry full of staples. Anyone can give Julia Child credit for their passion for cooking but not that many blame her for their eating disorder.

Julia and her Tarte Tatin and Pommes Anna made it possible for me to have some fun while my mom was 400 miles away getting acupuncture, and my dad was away with his girlfriend listening to Pablo Cruise by the river. It was that dear, dear lady who showed me the magic of flour, sugar, and butter when your parent is a triathlete who refuses to buy any snacks besides apples and raisins. Her chicken, wild rice, and artichoke dish fed me while I picked the lock on my dad's studio and snuck roaches his girlfriend collected in a tin can to smoke under the Osage orange tree. Sometimes he came back that night and had some chicken too, sometimes I spent the night alone, after a neighbor told me I couldn't stay with her family because she didn't agree with my father's behavior.

By the time I was shipped back to Pasadena to live with my mom in a one-room bungalow on Sierra Madre Blvd. I'd gained 30 pounds and a healthy appreciation for any bit of processed food I could get my hands on. Meals on Wheels came and the paper bag full of assorted Styrofoam containers was like a cafeteria on the coffee table. The apple compote tasted like the ones in the center square of the TV dinners she used to buy before she fell. I'd scrape the mashed potato one with the spork until it made shivers on my spine.

"I'm fat. Nobody likes me."

That fall we moved to the edge of South Pasadena where the streets were lined with Craftsman mansions and jacaranda trees. The scene in Teen Wolf where he surfs the van up Fair Oaks Blvd. was filmed during my junior year and one day walking home during the making of Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox teased me sweetly about my Madonna-boxers, from Page Stefano's driveway where he was dribbling a basketball. Maybe he was just grown up enough to know what life was like for the fat girl. I already had mad love for Alex P. Keaton, but this made me devoted for life.

My mom and I shared a duplex that was slightly bigger than that tiny bungalow. This one had a kitchen where I learned to fry chicken in honey and soy sauce and saute asparagus. To marinate a flank steak while she gave instruction from her bed in the living room. Press a clove of garlic, add a bit of sugar to a tomato sauce. I always thought she was a bad cook, now I realize she never had much chance to practice. She spent too much time waiting for my dad to get home from 'meetings', too much time trying to diet her hips away so that he'd love her more and too much time flat on her back from falling off that ladder, a prisoner, waiting to be brought her meals.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up

Uh oh.

Sue's back is out. This happens a few times a year, usually after she plants all the summer vegetables, but it's the first time since Larry started shacking up with Gloria. This is very bad news.

It's almost impossible for her to get out of bed, let alone perform the physically demanding tasks of a dishwasher, but the restaurant industry that she is now such an integral part of rarely affords paid days off. It doesn't do time off at all, really, paid or not, unless employees can find someone to cover their shifts themselves. I know it's hard to remember before y'all were on salary and had these jobs in college, but keep up. There are people who aren't allowed to call in sick.

The Pope or your mother from Philly may be coming but you can't take brunch on Saturday off unless there is a filler robot to take your place, penciled-in somewhere onto the schedule taped next to the walk-in.

Restaurants can't put out-of-office notifications on their doors when the pantry person doesn't show and no lettuce is prepped for service. They also don't pay back-up cooks/bussers/dishwashers to wait in the wings, hopping onto the line and fileting those fish so that people can eat. They DGAF. If you're lucky enough to get a weekend off from Turtle & Strawberry, that phone is turned to silent and you pretend you don't see the texts. And the world suffers through a hacked apart salad because Santiago got stuck doing lettuce while he tried to keep up with dishes, or your salmon is undercooked since Abby who does pastry had to get on the grill for the night. And you wonder how your meal could have possibly cost so much when it didn't taste any better than McDonald's.

Enough about you and your $30 'casual dining' carrot waffles. We're talking about Sue. Who is currently scree-ewed if she can't go to work tonight. Vince, the night manager when her sister-in-law isn't on, has no sympathy for that overprivileged loser's problems. She's slow and can't lift the mats without help and isn't she getting alimony and some kind of child-support, anyway? Vince has never met Larry.

If Sue calls in sick, she might get one or two days off, which is bad enough. That means she misses two free meals and there is less food for the girls. It also means that when she comes back after the swelling goes down, Santiago's cousin might be out in the alley cleaning out the mop bucket.

So Sue takes five more Advil, puts on the brace her doctor ordered after this happened during tomato season, and heads for the bus stop to get to work.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Shimmy Shimmy Ya

'Special bitches'
somebody called me and my mom, once.
They were right.

Bonnie Lee and I ARE special.
Total bitches, for sure.
Because that's what you call a woman who expects you to get the job done, like she gets the job done.
One who won't shut up if you try to Jedi-mind-trick her into thinking your answer is satisfactory.
I'm Her Majesty's Most Special Bitch of the 16th Order of the Cunt Rag Posse.


Friday, February 27, 2015


When Sue was in seventh grade she took Home Economics. The first half of the semester was spent watching movies about procreation and the lady with no arms who drives with her feet and has a good attitude.

The second part of the term was the practicum. Socks were darned and hole-in-ones (AKA 'bulls-eyes')were constructed on the white Amana stove-tops using Wonder bread and eggs from Mrs. Reed's own backyard.

The satisfaction Sue got from flipping that piece of bread over and making her own breakfast was immense. At home she wasn't really allowed to touch ANYTHING, because her dad was very worried that any of his belongings would be ruined, so at 13, Sue had yet to change a channel on the television, or put an album on the stereo. She most certainly had never turned on an oven or used a mixer.

So when she turned the bread over in the skillet and saw the white just cooked through enough to hold it into the center of the buttered toast, she had a vision. A vision of herself in a tiny kitchen in New York, cooking a meal after a long day in the office of somewhere literary and elegant. Beige leather. Boxes tied in pink grosgrain and delivered to her Central Park-facing desk.

By the time she was a senior, she and Larry had already talked about getting married and she had started trying to decide which tract of the new development next to the mall they should move into after graduation.

Mrs. Reed would have been very proud of how well Sue adapted to the drudgery of mending all the metaphoric socks and making the equivalent of a bulls-eye three times per day for four people for over 13 years which meant somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 skillets to clean and counters to wipe after the last dish had been loaded.

Mrs. Reed would have been proud. Not Larry.

Larry called her lazy and told her she forgot the baseboards (she didn't forget) and that he preferred his chicken tacos with cheddar and not jack cheese and why did she always leave the separated laundry on the floor instead of taking it in and out of the basket (redundant and who comments on other people's chore sensibilities, anyways?)

It turned out that all those dinner dishes were perfect training for Sue's part-time gig at the Waffle House. The mats are a trick, with her slipped disc, and cleaning the toilets is her least favorite part of the job, but at least it's something, she tells herself when she takes the Advil at the end of the night and turns on the heating pad.

At least it's something.