Category Archives: family

This Is The Year

This will be the year.

I feel it in my bones, the way I did nine years ago, heading into a year that was a supernova in countless ways.

2013 was all about blowing it up, detonations, demolitions, middles not holding and sinkholes opening up and swallowing decay and dysfunction. It was the beginning of the end.

2014 was the beginning of the beginning, year of fire and ice, of burning away and freezing out, of true freedom. My home my own, my truths undenied, my house cleaned, my spirit claimed by crows and drowned ancestors (I’ve never lost a war, and never will), my body reclaimed and given back to the world.

I come into this year surrounded by love and abundance – the love of many friends and second mothers, the promise of opportunity, the brink of prosperity, the certainty of long-awaited travel and the deepening of connections on all levels with so many people of substance and quality.

Here is to the loss of all that is dead – extraneous relationships, outmoded arrangements, paucity, fear, powerlessness and grief; and here is to all that is coming – courage, opportunity, pleasure, prosperity flight, growth, good decisions, connections, and an endless and overflowing abundance.

Hater Tuesdays: I Did It For My Kids

Want to watch some people go absolutely apeshit and foam at the mouth? Suggest that some children behave inappropriately in public while their useless parents let them, or that thrice-daily Facebook updates about a progressing pregnancy might just be a bit much, or that some mothers and fathers use their children as an excuse for why they never pursued their extraparental dreams like writing a bestseller or brush painting at the foot of Mount Fuji. Make one of these statements and then just sit back, pop some popcorn, and watch the fur fly, because all of these things (and more!) will make the breeders go mega-ballistic.

I can go one better.

For the past 48 hours, all anyone on social media wants to talk about is the finale of Breaking Bad, which was, admittedly, awesome. Amid all the brilliance of that episode’s script was one key quote from long-suffering wife Skyler that illustrates this point perfectly. As her estranged spouse, the doomed drug kingpin Walter White, appears before her to say his goodbyes, he seems ready to claim, yet again, that he ‘did it all for her’ and the kids. She looks at him with a weariness and cynicism that made even me shiver and derisively declares, “If I have to hear one more time that you did this for ‘the family’,” and in a moment of transformative and, dare I say, revolutionary raw honesty, he admits, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. “ I wanted to stand up and applaud – no, scratch that; I wanted to set off fireworks. Thank you, writers of Breaking Bad, for having the cojones to let Walt admit that all the destruction and suffering he created wasn’t sprung from nobility or magnanimity – it came from a place of pleasure, power, and selfishness. It’s just that simple.

‘I did it for my kids’ is a phrase that’s right up there, in my book, with ‘it’s just business,’ which loosely and universally translates into ‘I don’t care how egregiously I’m about to fuck you and yours over, Imma get mine,’ or, as my Grandma Dottie used to say, ‘Screw you, hurrah for me.’ Listen, if you’re greedy, just admit it. If you’re out to feather your own nest at the expense of others, just admit it. If you’re about to really hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it to make your own situation better, just admit it, and stop using your innocent children, who have nothing to do with anything about this grimy equation, as the front for your sorry, amoral behavior.

I’d like to suggest here (and let the foaming begin) that far more people than would be willing to admit use their children as an excuse to metamorphose into the avaricious, selfish, scheming opportunists they always were inside but were afraid to act on without the convenient justification of their precious progeny’s well-being as a rationale. For a few among us, reproducing seems to give one license to be as cutthroat and self-serving as one pleases, with a convenient little out – ‘it’s not for me, it’s for the children.’ Oh, please. Save me the song and dance and just admit it – you did it for you. Because you like it. Because you’re good at it. 

City of Angels

Coming down from the sky LA begins as a trickle of houses on the mountainside and then explodes into what looks like a glowing yellow motherboard from 37,000 feet. I am fascinated by the grids within grids; the massive boulevards and freeways that stretch on without relief until the whole thing tumbles into the sea. But I don’t see the sea yet; all there is are roofs, black ribbons of road, cars crawling like beetles everywhere, and as we descend a football field with Crenshaw
ougars
 emblazoned in the grass.

As it is when I travel by train, I find the poorer neighborhoods more interesting. The houses are small, boxy, with postage stamp yards in front. Most sobering of all are the large blocky apartment complexes, places where I imagine there is little respite, little relief. There are no pools. I begin to see huge industrial campuses, not pretty at all; giant Lego warehouses and Soviet office blocs and I think, people actually work there, and are glad to, and suddenly I’m overcome with gratitude for the beautiful mid-Century building I work in, nestled in a valley surrounded on nearly all sides by trees (but let’s not forget, its own hellish, permanently-clogged black artery of a freeway, too). As we head west the houses expand and so do the lawns and then come the inevitable aquamarine jewels dotting the landscape. Swimming pools, some of them drained, which makes me think of skaters from my childhood.

My best friend, R., and his man pick me up and we pull off the Harbor Freeway and go eat at Mercado La Paloma, trying desperately to choose between Oaxacan, Thai, or American. We have steak. Rice and beans like you only get in LA.

And I buy R
la5.’s man his first ever Thai iced coffee, which he loves and ends up completely jacked on. As we drive home we fly down the wide streets, strangely free of traffic, De La Ghetto’s Es Dificil, which I’ve never heard before, blasting from the speakers. Everything – the breeze, the music, the slanted gold light that you find only in LA – crystallizes into overwhelming emotion and R. turns back towards me and as
ks why I’m crying and I answer I’m so happy, and I am.

We get home and they leave to go see Pink Martini and I’m alone in the huge blue house. I try to read but I’m too tired. Sun going down and the last hint of light in the sky, I go sit on the balcony. Downtown lights glittering, the peacocks, now seasonally free of their heavy tails, roosting in the telephone poles. I take a few photos, text a friend. I’m so tired my bones hurt. I lie down and sleep, waking up near midnight and suddenly everyone’s home.

1am five of us pile into the Jeep and head west on Sunset towards the grocery store. Five carts, each with a list, and we’re all done in a half hour. Like all kids who grew up in hard times, we buy too much. We stop for Mexican takeout, machaca-style, please. I feel joyous at the life on the streets; people everywhere, even in the middle of the night – I miss this. We get home and begin prepping, Didi grinding up her Dominican marinade for the steaks. Finally at 4 I barely manage to fall asleep, on the floor, looking at the downtown lights through the sliding glass doors.

Sunday morning I’m the first up as always, brewing the French Press and reading about the Kennedys. Slowly the dead arise and then we’re all machines: no one is washed, we’re barely caffeinated, but tla2ogether we are a heat-seeking, party-throwing missile. Driving on the freeway to Fontana to pick up R.’s Mami, putting together salads, fueling up the grill, skewering meat, coming in with more bags. We are ready.

The people we love start coming. Mami comes in and almost starts to cry, telling me she thought she would never see me again. The house and garden smell like Jamaica, mon. Azara, 17 months, dressed up in skeletons and smiling big. We smoke, unapologetically. Hussy makes a pitcher of Southern Kisses and we all get kissed. Then Didi makes her mojitos and R. adds strawberry soda (ghetto! but I love it!) and it’s on. There’s too much food and it keeps coming. Chips, salsa, pita, hummous, pasta salad, fruit salad, green salad, cucumber salad, steak, chicken, shrimp, burgers, dogs, veggie burgers, corn, it never ends. The smell of clove cigarettes and discussion of how they’re about to be illegal. So much laughter. The birds overhead and the ants under feet.

Night comes. We herd inside, try to play board games, but it’s futile. We are a box of firecrackers, set off and sparking every which way. Eventually we all trickle away and it’s just me and Didi and Hussy catching the last episode of Project Runway. I can’t keep my eyes open and soon it’s morning and I’m up with the French press again. Didi comes out and we have our one on one time on the patio. I have missed her so much, and I relish getting her to myself for a minute. I pack up and she drops me off at Olvera Street. The Virgin of Guadalupe weeps on me, or at least I want to think so.

I spend every last dime in my wallet. Earrings, a cross, a bracelet, a lot of little gifts. I eat my ritual shredded beef taco, the delicacy thatla3 all exiled Southern Californians grieve for. I stand at the foot of Olvera, across from the Chevron and the train station, and watch the flood of people go by. A lot of cops. A woman says she loves my earrings. Guys in their grey sweats, just released from jail, carrying plastic bags of their belongings, yelling to one another across the boulevard, going somewhere, going nowhere, going back again. Soon.

The ride to the airport is quiet. We listen to Seal: ‘Everyone says you’re amazing, now that you’re clean.’ The houses back up right to the freeway, the signs are endless, there’s no green relief. When the boys drop me, R. embraces me, his vanilla-musk scent a cloud around me, crying hard.

Herded through security, I get pulled over and patted down again, like I did coming south. The plane is tight. The ride is fine. I suck down airplane coffee and read the story of Sarah Palin’s daughter’s baby daddy dishing about the reality of the Palin household. Scandalous. Landing at SFO, I notice a really pretty girl in a cute print dress getting off the plane with me. As she’s walking ahead of me I think her skirt’s maybe a wee bit too short and on the escalator behind her I get a full view of what she’s got beneath it (commando!). I consider telling her but figure this is not a sisterhood moment.

In the car, up the road, the fog comes on and then I’m going slow down Skyline, barely able to see. I stop in the City, at the ocean, to say hello. Everything is wrapped in cottony mist. Once over the Bridge, the fog lifts and I’m not really happy about it. I notice how our freeway, brutal as it can be, is lined with dark green trees. I pull off my exit. I am home, but not sure I want to be.

Road Dog

Of all the folks in my bio-family, my Grandma Dottie (Dad’s mum) and I are the only ones with black hair. On top of that, we have an uncanny facial resemblance and an equally spooky penchant for beach living, coffee, and writing long, pissed-off letters. Her mother passed away in childbirth in 1930 when she was 13, a tragedy that continues to reverberate to this day. With her father’s subsequent remarriage a few months later, she went to live with her own Grandmother and was forced to become exceptionally independent at quite a young age. Part of that independence was a special license to drive a car at the age of 14. The photo here is of her at age 15 at her graduation with her car, a gift from her father.

Whenever I tear down the California freeways, stomping on it at 95, I think of her, driving fearlessly through the canyons from Beverly Hills to what is now Watts to attend school. During WWII, her husband enlisted and ended up on ship in the South Pacific while she kept the home fires burning. A true Rosie the Riveter, she lapped pistons onto planes until 2am, after which she and her mates would go bowling to wind down. I love the idea of my 26-year-old grandmother driving through 1940s Los Angeles in the dead of night, illuminated by streetlights, pulling into a bowling alley parking lot at 3am.

One night when she was on this shift, she got a phone call from her husband (whose location had remained undisclosed), telling her he was up in the Bay Area getting ready to ship out probably the next morning and could she please come now. She began to weep because she didn’t know if she’d ever see him again and she didn’t have enough gas ration coupons to make the trip. Her coworkers rallied, pooled together their coupons, and gave her enough to go. She ran home, got the baby (my Dad), and drove through the black of night from Los Angeles all the way up the vast emptiness of early 1940s California to the Bay. 400 miles. No cell phone. No callboxes. No nothing. Just her faith and an abiding sense of trust that it would be all right.

“What was like for you, that night?” I asked her recently, “Did the 5 even exist then? Weren’t you scared?”

She paused and said, “You know, you just didn’t think about it. When you want something so badly, you’re so focused and you just do it, you make it happen, and I did.”

So I think of her, and that night, whenever I traverse the now-populated corridors of the 101 and the 5, holding her faith and trust close to my own heart and hoping that I can be just as brave, just as resolute, and that strong in faith that it will be all right.