Friday, December 04, 2020


 I’m rubbing my finger down the patterned, table runner I bought in Mexico City on my birthday 2 years ago. I turned 51 then. It’s fuchsia and royal blue and orange and green, woven with hands. It’s exactly what I had wanted. I had taken Maya to Mexico City as a graduation present, when she finished Cal State Monterey Bay, the first of anyone in my family to walk the stage and earn a degree. It was a huge deal. The trip coincided with my birthday. And it was the trip of a lifetime. I can’t wait to parcel out details of that trip, but on my birthday, we went to a craft mart with kiosks. It was empty because we had gotten there early. The linoleum tiles shined and all the blankets and clothing were tightly folded, and the bags and plates and glasses were neatly arranged. There was a faint smell of floral disinfectant. But it felt like we shouldn’t’ve been there -- like, was this mart any good because we were the only ones there? But, like I said, it was early. 

 Vendors stepped to us immediately as we passed. I spied their goods quickly, avoiding eye contact; we mainly kept it pushing, speeding through the mart quicker than we had expected. I was losing my patience until we slid into a large kiosk. The woman behind the counter said hello, but didn’t move so I took my time in there. And I found the runner. It’s handmade so it was expensive, comparatively. I’ve been told that when shopping at kiosks, one is expected to negotiate. But I imagined a woman making this by hand and what? I was going to haggle for sport without thinking about callused finger tips and hurting backs and hopes of good sales? I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to play the back-and-forth game. The vendor, with a neat helmet of a hairdo, told me the price and I said, “Bueno, gracias,” and handed her the runner to ring up. Maya said to the woman, “It’s her birthday today.” And the woman looked at Maya who said, “She’s my mother,” and the woman took 20% off, equally sad for my lack of negotiation skills and touched by Maya’s desire to speak up for her mother. The runner has been on my table ever since. 

I think about that trip and get emotional about the perfection of it. It was a transitionary trip where my child was now my best companion. We wanted to do the same things with the same amount of enthusiasm. We dressed up for dinners and sipped mescal and clinked wine glasses at meals. We went to museums for hours and laughed hard about all things. But I still kept one eye on her when men approached to strike up conversation. We could do these grown things together, but reside and play in this pocket of perfect familiarity that we have cultivated and created with the upmost care for a lifetime. 

 During that trip, the day before my birthday, we climbed the Pirámide del Sol in Teotihuacan. The volcanic steps were not easy to climb; two-thousand-year-old, precisely-cut steps that were narrow and daunting, laced with a thin rope as a railing. We were huffing in an altitude of eight thousand feet. And yet, grandmas in skirts and sandals made their way up in slow and steady steps, assisted by the elbow on steps that were two feet high because this was a passageway to a spiritual portal. We felt that. We plodded up the ancient pyramid. At the top, after the tourist’s instinct to take silly or smiley photos, we just stood and took in an energy beyond our understanding, standing on a city that -- beyond the fantastical facts of living sacrifices that seem to foreshadow all other facts -- was so sophisticated, not just terms of engineering and technology-- well before the Greeks and Romans -- but where their spiritual sophistication laps us a thousand times. Most indigenous people inherently pull to the forefront the godliness of nature. It was evident here with the hundred carvings and paintings of animals and birds and plants and insects. The names of gods and goddesses were of Nature itself! We are not above that or more important than them, as humans. We are from that. We are that, for gods sake. 

 We thought of our ancestors up there; our dead, our guides, our protectors, without trying to conjure them. They just came and comforted us and made us feel light and overwhelmingly safe like this was a big surprise to us when -- we forgot -- it happens all the time. 

 In Teotihuacan, butterflies are thought to be akin to the soul. Obvious metaphors for rebirth, reincarnation, transformation are present. But also, they are thought to be relatives to dead warriors; protectors. The first time I was on the Pirámide del Sol with Julio two years before, I saw no butterflies.

But standing there with Maya, many copper and black beauties made their erratic and circular routes over and around us. It seemed astonishing. They seemed miraculous. And our heads bobbed and flitted trying to keep up with their flight pattern. Maya tried to capture them with a photo as they toyed with us. Finally, I stopped trying to track them and just watched them dance above Maya, circling her; or falling towards her and then darting up. My beautiful woman-child was being blessed with transformation. 

 This is all to say, hi. It’s been 10 years since I blogged here. And I suppose if I make this regular again, I’ll be nostalgic about the last 10 years, the years I didn’t write about much -- some, but not much. I feel like a different person now, but it seems my themes are still the same. I’m missing a lot of things right now, but I am suddenly missing this connection; stitching us together with words and you relating to them in your own way. Mainly, I hope you’re well.

Friday, July 09, 2010

These Streets Will Make You Feel Brand New, Part 1

Just got back from New York. The trip was all I had hoped it would be from sweltering uncomfortable familial accommodations to serious play time in lower Manhattan.

Mama Luz was out of her gourd this trip, and I say this with the utmost amusement and a tiny bit of concern. It's not beyond me that's she's probably menopausal, but when someone like her gets her hormones extra fucked with, it's like swinging the mood pendulum from the Gateway Arch of St. Louis. The pendulum hitches and sticks on the frazzled, annoyed side much longer, however. The shit she blurts out had me rolling most of the time, but sometimes I was like, Damn Mama Luz. I will say that she is happiest messing around with the girls, especially Maya who has always been her running buddy, since Maya was 2. They are equally rough - I mean rough! -- and will laugh until sides hurt. Mina gets in on the action too of course, but she will land in Big Papi's lap or by his side, watching WWF, which Big Papi calls his soap opera. He filled us in on all the characters.

Ug, so sweet . . .Here's what's hard to talk about: The deep grime of their house sends my anal sensors into a hissy fit. Mama Luz will spend hours and hours -- it's gotten so much worse with age -- straightening and rearranging the house. Her ADD, and the fact that she drinks coffee from dawn to midnight, does not allow her to sit still ever. So, she rearranges. I was constantly asking where my suitcase was, damn. So, the house is fairly neat (though she won't throw anything away), but there is a layer of grime and dirt that gets ignored from all the straightening. It's not outright obvious, but because of my own neurosis it barks out at me as if sirens and flashing lights were swirling. I never took my shoes off. I had to talk myself down to take a shower. I wouldn't touch the kitchen. I opened doors with towels and closed shit with my knuckles. I felt like a crazy person in that house. I feel guilty writing this because it was an equal mix of her neurosis and mine, but either way, I didn't get much sleep and I didn't eat well because of it. Other than that, good times were had in that house no matter how sweltering hot it was (102 humid degrees with no AC) or how cramped we were (up to seven to one bathroom). I felt big, big family love and I will squash all my squeamishness to feel some of that.

Some stellar Mama Luz Quotes:
"My cousin has been menstruating for 3 months straight. It won't stop. I told her to have the doctor yank all that out because FUCK. THAT. SHIT."

"So, I get these bootleg DVD's four for $20 and this last time she throws in a fifth one for free so I get Shrek 3. And of course all the DVD's are ALL FUCKED UP EXCEPT FOR SHREK 3!" Big Papi chimes in, "Yea, but we can return them." Mama Luz: "Yes, she very good about that. I just have to be at the laundromat from 2-3."

Maya says, smirking and trying to hug her, "Mama Luz, I love you so much. Give me a hug." Mama Luz, "STOP HARASSING ME, BITCH!"

Baby Luz, who's like a real sister to me, has had a chipped tooth and one bad false front tooth since she was 10 years old. She's 38 now and recently got them fix and said, "Ma, look at my teeth!" Mama Luz: "YOUR TEETH NEVER BOTHERED YOU BEFORE. NOW YOU'RE TOO GOOD FOR BROKEN TEETH?" Baby Luz (because believe it or not she is more volatile than her mother): "WHAT THE FUCK!"

Maya just told me this story: Maya, Mina, Big Papi and Mama Luz were visiting an amusement park and went to a diner to eat before entering the park. Mama Luz downs her coffee and there is only a bit left in Big Papi's cup. She goes to take a sip from his cup and he softly protests, "Honey." Mama Luz, insulted, slams the cup down on the table and walks out of the restaurant. Haha. So clearly she's in a panic about getting enough coffee at the park. She buys a coffee at the park and puts it in the locker to cool so she can enjoy it after a ride, but she gets so mad about something else (unclear about what) that she does this overhead baseball pitch of the coffee right in the garbage can. Maya said it was so funny, but she couldn't really laugh too much. But see, the moods are amp'ed up a notch. Maya said by the end of the next ride, Mama Luz was all happy again. When I talked to them last night, I couldn't hear half of what they said because they were all laughing so hard. I'd hear Mina get hit with a pillow by Mama Luz, then Mama Luz yelling; Maya was wheezing the entire time.

Anyway, on and on with the stories . . .

July 4 is her birthday and this birthday was her sixtieth. If you said "60" or old or "grandma" to her, you'd likely get your clock cleaned. Big Papi organized a huge party at the house. He organized and then Mama Luz's ADD went into overdrive about what was needed and what needed to be where and how and naw, change it again and this and that and on and on . . .yo, it was miserable. I escaped to Manhattan the three days leading up to the party (more on that later) and left my children, Baby Luz, Big Papi and other family members to fend for themselves. Before I left, I told the girls, "Don't take anything personally. That's just her." Then I was like, Peace, I'm out!

On the day of the party, I came in on the train, back from the city, and arrived at the house around 2 in the afternoon. It was about 101 degrees, but the tents they put up in the backyard covered the newly arrived guests nicely. People streamed in from then on; family mainly, but friends of family and neighbors too. Around 3, I asked Mama Luz if she was having a good time yet and she stared me down with stink eye. Then she told me to get the ef out of her way.Cousin Nancy then got to making her famous Mango Mojitos which acted like a sledgehammer to bad moods,whether it was an unshakable stress about party planning, the beat down from the heat, the vice grip of menopausal hormones, whatever; mango mojitos were the cure. Rum it up, Nancy!Later that night, around 10ish, Cousin Tuty got the bright idea to mix a drink with half mango mojito and half straight Bacardi! Ai, dios mio. She called it the "I Love You" Drink because certainly after a few sips you were sloppily telling everyone you loved them.

At 3:30 in the afternoon, Mama Luz's happy switch went brightly on (mojitos kicked in) and stayed on until late, late into the night. The homemade food was laid out -- serve yo'self y'all -- drinks were flowing, music pumping. We danced on the hard concrete patio from afternoon until one in the morning, when the cops finally came to tell us to shut the racket. One in the morning is an early night by Mama Luz Party Standards, but all in all, the night was so fun. Here are some pic's.

Us with Titi Elsie, Luz's sister.The girls with their titi Luz. Mama Luz had gotten all the ladies in the family Old Navy flag tank tops. By the time I got back from the city, Mama Luz had rearranged my tank top out of existence. Of course she was mad at me about it. Ok, its on.

It ain't a party without some dominos. Here's Tio George, Mama Luz's son, and Papi Guillo, Mama Luz's dad, talking shit.Speaking of Papi Guillo, the mango doesn't fall far from the tree. At 83, he out danced us all, and just as flirtily as he did 10, 20, 60 years ago.The original PR Playa of the family.Don't stop, won't stop. Dancing with her cousin Nelli who drove four hours from Virginia to come to the party, then drove fours back after 10 o'clock.What the -- Guillo!Shake it, babies.Maya keeping our dances alive with Baby Luz.On and on til the break of dawn . . .Group picture! Except Uncle Raymond was balancing his mojito on my head in this one . . .Then Baby Luz risked her life and climbed on top of the house to get this great shot.Happy Birthday, Mama Luz. I love the fuck out of you.I was gonna write about the Manhattan leg of the trip too, but this got too long and Manhattan & Betsy deserve their own post. It will be soon coming; it won't take a month it's been taking me to write a post lately. Thanks for the nudge Pixilyn - much love!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Photos From a Quince or Two

La Quince de Cynthia is over, finally. The preparation for the event had been long and exhausting -- on top of Maya's already taxing schedule -- and the money we paid for the dress and shoes . . .I can't even imgaine the money Cythia's mother spent. Oh my gosh, a mini wedding practically.

Cynthia is a shy, beautiful girl, and she quite possibly was only appeasing her mother and grandmother with all this quinceñera business. Ah, but sometimes that part of the tradition too.

Here's Maya's chosen escort all flush-faced and clean-cut. He wore a medallion over his tie, which on him was somehow adorable. Maya said things to him during the performance like, don't be nervous. You got this. Don't forget to start with your left foot.
The waltz moved me. Children of a hip-pop generation wanting to please their parents by keeping traditions. And these kids never did this reluctantly or I didn't hear about total dissent. They showed up to a lot of practices and swapped their jeggings for formals and did a great job. The family was proud. So was I.I love this picture of Cynthia hugging her uncle, her grandmother watching, and the mariachi band surrounding them.
I didn't know Maya had brought other shoes to change into. They were so perfect and cute and her.Ug, so great.The converse were a perfect touch when it came time to party, when she could be herself again. Kind of like her own quince, which was so dramatically different. I didn't get a chance to tell you about it. It wasn't really a quince in any traditional sense, but we called it that anyway. Actually we called "MAYA'S ROLLER QUINCE!" Check out these invitations I made: We had it at a skating rink, one that I went to a few times about 25 years ago. The place is exactly the same. Here is Maya's "quince dress". Gorgeous!:The Papi-Daughter Dance: Maya's damas of the court:
A girl becoming a woman:Whoops, not quite.She's the perfect mix:

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Near Brooks Court This Time

I sat in my car, parked on a narrow, busted-up street in Venice, getting irritated. I had been waiting twenty minutes already, trapped in the car, trapped again by things I can’t control. The sun was up and warm still but it was just starting to shadow the tallest of things, like telephone poles. Maya was in the alley up and to the right of me practicing with a group of kids for a quinceañera they'll be in next week. But the practice was running late, as usual. They only had another week to learn all the traditional, choreographed steps. The mother was in a bit of a panic.

I stared at two pairs of shoes that were wound around a high wire by the laces above me, a pair of low-top white converse and a pair of any-brand sneakers, scuffed. I stared at them motionless against the waning blue. The laces looked stiff like sticks. Whoever threw the converse up there had gotten the shoes exactly even with each other. They looked so neat and straight, suspended and highlighted against the sky. The scuffed sneakers were very uneven -- one way up, one way down -- but quietly still and in nice contrast to the straight converse.

I let it go then. I was gripping so tightly to the irritation. It embarrassed me suddenly.

I clicked my seat back to a half-recline and meditated on the shoes. All four windows of the car were half way down and the quinceañera choreographer started the song over, again. It was a sad mariachi with a sloshy melody and sour horns that touched me. It wasn't meant to be sad, but the words were long-held, in spanish, about the changing of a butterfly. A girl to a woman, you know. I looked toward the alley and a few of the kid-couples marched up behind a low chainlink fence on the uneven asphalt, stepping to the music. Then they started the waltz. The boy of the first couple wore a stiff-brimmed Raiders cap, a zipped-up black hoodie, work pants and blue-white sneakers. He towered over his partner who was all eyeliner and giggles. She kept tugging up her acid-wash skinnies. The music stopped and I heard the lady yell, "Noooo", and the eyeliner girl rolled her head back on her neck. They started again. The next time, they got far enough so I could see Maya being very focused in her turquoise, knock-off Ray Bans and SAMO basketball sweatshirt and cuffed shorts. She carefully walked arm-in-arm with her partner who had a clean-shaven head and wore a crisp, white tshirt. He held his arm up, holding her by the fingertips, and she stepped through, not looking at him, not connected to him. It was all about getting these steps down. And I choked up. She was so sweetly serious, so beautiful and young.

A hand-painted delivery truck squeezed through the middle of the street next to my car and sounded a breathy, melodic horn. It braked and the back door rolled up. It was a mobile snack shop with hanging chips, chicharrónes, candy, gumballs, and other things I couldn't see on the walls and base, exploding in snack-package colors. The truck was there every time I came to pick up Maya from practice. It's a nomadic lounge because once it stops, people gravitate to the tail and hang out. Two girls passed me, gripping dollars, and came back from the truck digging in a bag of fresh cherries.

Mina crawled through the half-open window of the car and told me Maya was almost done. She turned on the radio, inserted a CD, and punched at the buttons until she found the song she wanted, Hit ‘Em Up Style by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I sat back, looking at the shoes and listened to the deft fiddle mashing it up with the outside mariachi horns and the murmur of the snack -truck crowd. I watched the orange shadows creep up the street California city style; against century-old thick palms and beautifully cracked concrete and tiny, lumpy alleys canopied with wires. I freefloated in my seat, as I've been trying to do for weeks now; suspended and free inside the vehicle.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I've been doing that volunteer work at the Upward Bound House. I've taught a few baking classes to the kids and I helped with the Easter Egg Hunt and tomorrow I'll cook and be part of the Cinco de Mayo party. It's been all joy. The whole experience. The baking classes are so sweet. My heart wants to shatter when I look into their little faces. The kids thank me at every turn, raise their hands to impress me with their stories. They hug me and ask me if I'll come back "yesterday." I connect with their child's panic of wanting good things for themselves and their parents. And it kind of kills me. I don't tell them the baking is vegan. They just like to measure and mix stuff. I've had some questions, like the time I used rice milk. "Look! It's white, like milk!" They love to smell ingredients; cinnamon, freshly grated lemon rind, canned pumpkin. I'm never sure they'll like what we make because it's unconventional, contains less sugar, but they stuff whole, warm muffins into their mouths with wide eyes and ask me if they can take one to their mama/brother/grandmother. The students have mainly been little boys though last time I had one little girl who told me long stories about her grandmama's vegetable garden in Atlanta. Her two front teeth were missing and her thin, beaded braids swung and tapped her on the jaw when she spoke. Her name was Dee and they call me Miss D too because my name is hard to remember. Her name is hard too and she said she had six letters in her name and I said I have seven, I know how it is. And we nodded at each other while the boys tried to wet-finger sugar off the table. During the Easter Egg Hunt, I was assigned a four-boy search party. Two sets of brothers; one set aged 9 and 7, the other brothers were just 4 and 3. The tiny brothers held my hands with their teeny doll hands and wouldn't let me go, not even when they saw colorful plastic eggs sitting all alone, ones that the big kids hadn't trampled to yet. I'd have to tell them, "Go get the eggs now." And they shuffle-ran over and picked up the eggs, shook them, dropped them into their brown paper bag. Halfway through the hunt, the four year old looked into his three year old brother's bag. There were only about five eggs in there and without any words or hesitation he reached into his own bag and plopped in three eggs into his little brother's bag. Then my big boys came over and looked into the little boys' bags and without any words or hesitation, they reached into their bags and plopped a few more eggs into each of the little boys' bags. I'm tearing up typing about it because it was all so quiet and natural, instinctual, to share and be fair. I'll love those boys forever, if just in my memory of them, for that. Even, or especially, as transitional kids they understood the power and upliftment of sharing; upliftment as the giver and as the receiver equally, the true balance of community and humankind. There is always enough to go around. 

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Mami's Been On Spring Break

You think you're in shape until you, on a whim, print out a free pass to a distant, fancy gym and take an Afro-Brazilian dance class. It's not like I am a stranger to these dance moves. The class said Afro-Brazilian, but it was Afro-Caribbean as far as I'm concerned and I know the basic moves of los santos. In fact, I used to be the dance, when I was younger, and El Conguero was the drum. At 21, I used to take a similar class where we came across the floor by two's dancing to live drums. My roommate Eva and I knocked the ballerinas off the front line because those poor girls couldn't unlock their hips and me and Eva couldn't keep ours still. El Conguero was a guest drummer for the class now and again and I would sway and switch up the floor while he played and stared holes in me. Eva would swing her hair around in big sweeps and laugh deep. She was a big girl who wore tight leopard catsuits and red lipstick to class without an open care though sometimes she got secretly hurt when the stiff dancers looked at her wrong. I swore I'd slash a ballerina who talked shit on her. When the teacher told us we belonged on the front line - technical training be damned -- we swished our way through the others, Eva flinging her long dark curls, and me fixated on the drums. So I know the dance, but it had been a long time. The teacher of the class I took last week had a perfect energy, a woman who at first glance looked like a middle-aged fifth grade teacher with glasses and a big behind. But I wouldn't have trusted a little booty lady leading this kind of class. She put on samba music for the warm up, but one drummer showed up with a conga and percussive toys and I felt relieved. When the fifth grade teacher circled her hips like they were not connected to her waist, I was convinced we were in great hands. I know the etiquette of a dance class and even if I connect with the music personally and instinctively know the movement, I know to keep my ass in the back and not try to show up the regulars. That's rude anyway. But after two trips across the floor, the fifth grade teacher pointed to me and told me to get my culo front and center. The older woman whose place I took was gracious and welcomed me. The two women who flanked me, not so much. Didn't matter. I was in direct line with the drum then. I closed my eyes, mainly, and went. There were two men in the class, which apparently was rare, so the teacher concentrated on more masculine moves, dances de Chango; kingly and strong. So I stomped barefoot and squatted low, twisted my torso and flung my arms back with an arched back and an upward tilt to my chin. Queens know the dances of kings too. Over and over and back and forth, we got low for Chango and I yelped for the shy dancers and slapped five with the older woman and a beautiful blonde zaftig woman who put herself in the back. God, I wanted to tell the curvy blonde that these dances were made for her and F any person who ever made her feel badly about her body including herself, but I just slapped her five instead. After the class, I was exhilarated and nostalgic for sure, but the day after it felt like the whole back half of my body had been dipped in pain. I was crying every time I made a move for three whole days. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Off Line & Upward Bound

Our SAMO girls basketball team made it to the 3rd round of the state playoffs and went down in a heart breaker against Clovis West, a team out of Fresno. We lost by 4 in a back and forth battle. We shut down their 6'3", 250lb center, but we could not contain their star guard who played out of her gourd. She dropped 39 points on us out her team's 61. She bombed threes, drove on three girls at a time and dove on the floor for many balls. She said after in an interview, "I never wanted anything more. I wasn't going to lose." And you have to respect when one's ability matches their drive. She was amazing. Mina just finished her Y league. They lost today in the championship game. She's a superstar though. Her natural athleticism is pretty phenomenal. Here is the other star, Cloe, also 10. This was the team's one-two punch. While Cloe grabbed a defensive rebound, Mina would have already bolted to the other end. Cloe would cock back her arm and rocket a pass to Mina, who was the only one able to catch a pass like that, and would usually finish with a lay up. This happened about five times a game. Can you beat the stance of these girls? Is there anything more beautiful?