Yellow Windows

I’m fourteen and a half and essentially homeless, sleeping most nights in a gritty kip on San Pablo Avenue. Me and my stepsister are too young to get work, but when winter is over we turn fifteen and can get permits and jobs and do something for money, but for now we’re powerless and so we wait.


I have a boyfriend, Brett, and soon my stepsister is dating his friend Bret. We drive around with them in Brett’s Chevelle or his friend Squeak’s Mustang, doing donuts at 90, seatbeltless, in front of DeAnza High on May Road, drinking wine coolers in the graveyard, stealing floral arrangements and once even a baby Christmas tree off of graves. We figure the dead will forgive us, given our circumstances.


Like most suburban teenagers, rich or poor, we cruise the town until well past dark, filling the hours and dreading the return to what can’t even be called home. As we roll through the curving streets of one subdivision after another and past the sterile downmarket apartment blocks, I gaze at every set of yellow windows, lit from within by a light that seems to exude warmth and safety and the ability to rest. I imagine what lies behind every pane of glass; the hallways, carpets, locking bedroom doors, and imagine it as my own – the birth of my lifelong What If Game.


Twenty-three years pass, I do all right, and now I’ve a hell of a set of my own yellow windows – lit up like a Christmas tree and filled inside with beautiful things, mementos of travels and people and experiences, blasting central heat, and plenty of locking doors. But my fourteen-year-old’s game has never ended – as I drive through town or walk the dogs, I still gaze at every gauzy, golden window and imagine what’s inside, imagine if it were mine. And I wonder if behind each pane is a happy home, as I wish it would be, or just another hell behind glass, as I expect most of them are.


Christmas Tree Story

Christmas 1996 and my housemates Hippie Princess, Snow Hostess, and I (Moody Poet) pile into Snow Hostess’ minivan with Zags The Dog and drive down to the shabby discount grocery outlet Canned Foods, where we’ve sussed out that they have the best tree prices in town – all of ’em $16, no matter the size.

Driving down Division Street, beneath the stump of the Central Freeway, the DJ on Live 105 says, ‘And now a blast from the past, a golden oldie, a classic from Jane’s Addiction, Jane Says,’ and the three of us scream in horror (golden oldie?! a classic?!) at the notion of Jane’s Addiction as an oldie and dissolve into tears of laughter over the opening bassline.

We get to Canned Foods, pile out of the van, and start performing a tree search with almost military precision. Hippie Princess is easy to please and soon tires of Snow Hostess and I, in full Christmas-Nazi mode, examining and rejecting tree after tree after tree. She soon retires to a concrete curb with Zags, who takes off and starts frolicking with a 10-year-old boy who’s rolled in with his parents.

Snow Hostess sees her dog and looks at me and says, ‘Zags needs a boy,’ so matter-of-factly it imprints on my memory forever. She and I continue to mow through trees, standing them up, fluffing them, spinning them around and checking each side for gaps, dorky branches, or other flaws, unable to find The Tree worthy of our classy monochromatic palette. This goes on for an hour until Hippie Princess dissolves into a puddle of resignation over on the curb and Snow Hostess and I eventually stop, sweaty and grouchy with frustration, and pick a random tree on its side, still all bound up, branches unviewable, and say screw it, we’ll take our chances, completely exhausted by our unquenchable thirst for The Perfect Christmas Tree and ready to deal with whatever retarded specimen we get.

We fork over our sixteen bucks, load the tied up tree into the van, and drive home. We drag it up the stairs, set it upright in the living room, and snip the twine that binds it. The tree, as if in in a movie, magically opens and unfurls its green branches and the three of us are left standing there looking at the most picture-perfect, ideal Christmas tree you’ve ever seen. ‘My God,’ one of us said, ‘it looks like a Macy’s tree,’ and we all stood there, breathless, elated, completely under its spell.

The First Time I Drank Tequila

I’m 13 and it’s very late and I’m at the Keystone on University Avenue in Berkeley with my ‘mean girl’ pal, Julia. We’re at a metallimansion-1362418783Laaz Rockit show and somehow, some way, afterwards we end up at this small bungalow behind a Burger King on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito. The house belongs to the guys in Metallica, long before they broke, and there’s a whole bunch of longhairs in leggings and leather jackets posted up in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Kirk Hammett was wearing a particularly fetching pair of black and white striped spandex pants to go with his flowing black perm – which I did not remind him of when I ran into him a party in the Lower Haight fifteen years later, after he’d taken to wearing hats to mask his receding hairline (ah, it’s great to be an aging GenXer) and had developed a bit of reputation as a skeezy pickup artist.

Julia and I had to have been the youngest girls in the place – jailbait on a platter. Someone handed us a bottle of Cuervo and then vanished…I took a couple of pulls on it, blanched at the horrible peppery burn, and handed it over to Julia, who was already a far more accomplished drinker than I ever was (or would be; I would remain forever a lightweight). After that I don’t remember much – what we did or how we got home, and I think she might have ended up sleeping in someone’s car. The good thing is, back in 1983 in Berkeley and its surrounds, two stupid 13- and 14-year-old girls getting drunk at some metalhead party were safe – no one molested us or hurt us in any way. The worst we suffered was probably a bad headache, though whether from the tequila or the shitty music I cannot rightly say.