Panorama of San Bernardino

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Melancholy Life

I've been thinking about my melancholy life. The impetus for these thoughts were the the two nights of Morrissey that I experienced last weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. I was ecstatic watching him from my close seats in the pool area. For me, it was a rejuvenating experience seeing Morrissey live and up close in concert again and it brought back thoughts of my teenage angst filled years and the impact Morrissey had on my life.

When I was in high school, The Smiths were like butter on toast for me. Morrissey's lyrics and Marr's guitar captured all of the sadness and angst of my teenage years. Morrissey's plaintive lyrics expressed the loneliness of that time for me perfectly. I wrote the band's name on my Pee Chee folders in different marker colors in script. I saw them live at the Palladium my junior year and it is a concert I will never forget. I believe you find things when you need them, and I found The Smiths right in time to help soothe my worried soul.

By my junior year of high school, the chaos of my childhood had caught up with me. I was sad and depressed. I had changed from goody two shoes to punk rock/alternative girl and I listened to all of The Smiths' albums (specifically, The Smiths' debut self named album, their second album Meat is Murder and their magnum opus The Queen is Dead) on repeat memorizing all of the lyrics.

Morrissey's literary knowledge was evident in his lyrics and he inspired me to seek out the works of poets. He also articulated everything I could not about the sadness and melancholy inherent in life. But, what many did not see was that he was also ironic and witty and his lyrics had a humor to them that you only found by listening (or reading as I did, pouring over his sleeves) carefully.  Now sometimes known pejoratively as the king of mope, this descriptor ignores how very funny Morrissey was evidenced by the self deprecating lyrics of songs like "Bigmouth Strikes Again". When one adds in the jingle jangle of Morrissey's guitar, the Smiths were anything but mopey. I might even call them uplifting and at the very least, inspiring.

To make it clear, The Smiths saved my life. And, now as a forty something woman, a woman beaten down at times by life's tragedies and tribulations, they continue to. The sadder songs of The Smiths speak to me even more deeply now. Classics like "Asleep", "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" and "I Know It's Over" strike a chord. Ultimately, they describe the folly in life and illustrate that life is short, sad and fleeting. And you need to grab what you can while you are here and live life to the fullest.

Morrissey knew this even as a very young man. I don't know if I knew of my mortality as a teenager, but I know it now.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dad's Voice

You could hear Montana in his voice. Dad's voice was gentle and gruff at the same time. It sounded like fishing in fresh lakes, ice cold beer, country music, and snowy mountains. It’s been more than a decade since he died and the only thing I can hear in my head is him saying his favorite phrase, "Girls! Where are you?" He always called us his girls. He loved me and my sisters fiercely. Dad was over protective, more maternal than paternal and we needed that. 

Dad had lost a daughter and always said he was never going to lose us. "I would never leave your mom or you girls," Dad would say crying when he was drunk. He would point out the blue angel tattoo on his arm, "That's Debbie.  She died when she was three, the babysitter threw her against the wall."  What he didn't tell me is that he was sleeping with the twenty year old babysitter. I found out about all that much later. 

By eight or nine, I already knew why someone would leave Mom. It was her rages, when the nice mom left and the monster came over her. In those rages, Mom would yell, scream and hit at whatever was in her path. As an adult, my husband tells me I am often cruel and abrupt and snap for no reason, I suppose we model what we see, but I try to keep it under control. It is a matter of degree and I hope my degree is far less rage filled. Sometimes, I am not so sure. 

Don't we all eventually become our fathers or mothers?

Unlike Mom, Dad rarely got angry, Dad never got upset even when he was drinking (which was often). Dad was a happy drunk and would put on a Laser Disc movie and make us girls homemade popcorn, the margarine seeping through the brown paper Stater Brothers bag.  

Dad loved him a drive-in theater and we frequented the one in Montclair. Dad preferred horror and science fiction. He also adored all of the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor movies along with the Herbie the Love Bug movies. And he took me to see the Bad News Bears. And suffered through Little Darlings with us covering his eyes and ears.

When VCRs came out, if was if God had invented the device just for him. Dad was so happy taping movies on the television set and labelling his VCR tapes with his illegible handwriting. 

Music moved Dad the same way it moves me. His musical loves were Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys and being a true feminist in his musical tastes, of course, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline. There was always loud music playing in our house.

Dad had a way about him. It was as if he owned the world in his blue jeans and cowboy shirt all held together by his Big John belt buckle. Dad was never intimidated by anyone. As a young child, I remember him going up to people and introducing himself. He would always shake their hand. People gravitated toward him.  He had the best laugh. He would guffaw with his whole body, slap his knee even. He loved to play practical jokes, and he would even take out his false teeth and bulge his eyes out to make someone laugh.

The depression came later, when he was older, beaten down by life’s tragedies and deaths.

I remember when he lost his daughter Barbara, my half sister. We were in high school when she was killed in a car accident and she died instantly. Barbara was in her late twenties. And she had four kids that were in the foster care system, kids that she was working on getting back.

I came home from high school and Dad was crying. Mom didn't go to work and so she was there when Dad locked himself in the bathroom with his gun. He sounded like a wounded animal, howling out his sorrow as I sat in my room covering my ears until finally the wailing stopped. 

Thankfully, Dad didn't shoot himself that day but I think that's when the depression started for him. When his voice changed.

Dad’s new voice still sounded like Montana but this new voice was slower and sadder. Like old whiskey in a bottle. The new voice sounded like empty country roads, dried up lakes, lonely truck stops and honky tonks. Like the saddest country song you had ever heard. Dad was never the same.

Dad lost himself at the casinos, shoveling much of his monthly social security check into the slot machines, hoping that the machine would pay him a big jackpot and change everything, 

After Dad died, me and my sisters were cleaning out his apartment and I took all of his Dean Koontz paperbacks along with his Reader’s Digest condensed books and those damn old VCR tapes (MASH seasons one and beyond, Superman on ABC and every Twilight Zone episode) and placed them on a table outside of his senior apartment while my mom watched. 

I wondered to myself, and might have even said it aloud, “who would want this junk?” The piles of books and VCR tapes were gone within the hour and I shook my head as I watched senior citizens come with their carts and leave scurrying away probably to go watch old Mash episodes (commercials included). 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

I could be happy

There is an Altered Images song called “I Could Be Happy”. And I wonder, what would make me happy, today on my birthday? Don’t ask me how old. Past forty it really doesn’t matter.

I think happiness is contentment. And fulfillment. Feeling as if you accomplished your goals. And feeling loved.  I definitely have the love. But, the realization of my goals is more fuzzy.

Sometimes, I wish I could be happy with what I’ve achieved. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job as a deputy public defender. And I’m grateful that my hard work paid off putting myself through UCR and USC Law. I get paid to help people.

But there are two things that nag at me. Two things that are always on the outer reaches of my mind.

The book and baby. Which will I accomplish? Neither, or one or both? Sometimes, dreams are surreal. The reality of it may look different. But I want these dreams to come true. I really do.

The book may be something different than I ever imagined, including memoir essays, film like scenes and poetry. Mixed genre. And maybe the baby will not be a baby but an older child.

And, then maybe, I could finally be happy.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

While my pen gently weeps

To say this has been a hard week is an understatement. Lying in bed, listening to the Beatles song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (off the White Album), I am struck by how the song captures grief. Not in the words so much as the sound the guitar makes, and how the strings almost make you cry just hearing them.

I feel as if I am a string that has been plucked dry. I can't cry anymore, or so I think, and then I start bawling again. Just to watch the news and see the faces of the victims makes me ache deep inside.  My heart feels bruised. No wait, beaten is a better word.

The saying "there are no words" is a cliche but it is true. How do you capture the immeasurable grief we are all feeling as a country, as a people? It almost feels like we have turned a corner and the worst is yet to come. I try to remain an optimist but it is hard.

I am so damn angry at the shooter and the damn horror of it all. I keep reminding myself that there is joy left, but I can't seem to find it right now. I just can't. These thoughts are ugly I know.

Maybe I am not a writer here, but a mere ranter. The poet in me is lost.

But maybe, we are not meant to feel better in times like these. Maybe all we are meant to feel in times like these is pain and sadness.

Dear reader, I wish I could make you feel better. That I could find meaning in it all. That I could write a beautiful blog that could heal us all.

Instead, all I have to end with is this: please forgive me, but I feel as if my pen is crying.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Taste of Nostalgia

Nostalgia is like butter on bread for me. Or should I say margarine. Growing up, Dad would only use margarine. I never had butter until I met my husband Adrian and I was flabbergasted by the creamy salty taste as opposed to the hydrogenated oils I had grown up on. Unlike margarine, however, most of the foods from my childhood still tempt me.

For example, I still love me a frozen chicken pot pie. Not the Marie Callender's one. I like the cheap two for a dollar one. With careful precision, I wrap the foil around the rim and put it in the oven and wait for it to heat and bubble up. Yanking it out of the oven at the exactly 45 minute mark, I cover it with pepper just like my dad used to. Biting in, I get so excited to eat it, I often burn my tongue.

My dad's three addictions in life were food, alcohol and gambling. He passed them all down to me. This essay is only about the food addictions (the other addictions will wait for another day and another blog).

Just like my dad, I love me a piece of fried chicken from the box. And donuts. On donut day, Dad would go down to the Yum Yum donut shop and get the day old ones for 75 percent off. It rounded out to less than ten cents a donut and my jelly filled glazed was worth every cent.

To this day, I cannot resist a glass filled case of the fried jelly filled wonder. It is not that it tastes delicious. I would say today's donuts are only passable. But, it is the feeling I get when I eat it. I can almost hear my dad's voice and see me and my sisters scrambling over to the box to grab our favorites. And homemade buttered and heavily salted popcorn is still my go to in times of stress. I do not put it in a Stater Brothers brown paper bag like my dad did, but the feeling is still the same. And hard candy that I hated as a kid, is now tasty to me. Channeling Dad through candy and popcorn is hard to beat.

Sadly, many of my dad's favorite food choices do not exist any longer. Pioneer Chicken's orange crispiness is long defunct as is Pup n Taco. Carl's Jr. is still around, but the hamburgers definitely taste different. And Pizza Hut, which was a restaurant with red and white checkered tablecloths when I was growing up, not a delivery service, is pathetic.

Nostalgia is why I still occasionally eat McDonalds. It doesn't taste very good, but the sight of the orange wrapping on the cheeseburger triggers the memory of my dad bringing us happy meals to our elementary school.

I guess what I am trying to say, lest I ramble, is that nostalgia does have a taste. It is why Italians pass down recipes and why my Argentine mother in law still drinks mate every day.

It is as if the very experience of drinking or eating something from when we were young brings back the youthfulness, at least for a moment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The little Wookie that could

I hear him cough. He spits up. Just spittle. One more cough. It is 4 am.

Then he stops. I look at him and say, "Chewbaca, is there something stuck in your throat?" As if he could answer. Chewie gives a little wave of his caramel colored tail, tongue sticking out the side of his muzzle as if to say, "I'm fine mom." Adrian rolls over in bed and mumbles, "turn off the light."

In the dimness of the room, I squint for the black and white bundle in the middle of the bed. Frodo's eyes are already open from hearing us up and he reluctantly rolls over and lets me pick him up and place him on the cold tile floor. I open and close the bedroom door and turn on the upstairs light as Frodo and Chewie, our two shih tzus, pad down the stairs a bit earlier than usual.

"If he coughs let me know immediately. It could be heart failure." Is that what Doctor Chris, our vet, had said? Or was it, "if he coughs, I need to know so we can check him for heart failure"? The difference matters. Because if that one cough could be the end, I do not want to know. I can't know. It would be too much to take.

I sound dramatic. But you need to know the history. Not the history of the Wookie, that's easy. Chewie came on a plane and we picked him up and the poor puppy was covered in piss. He had flown in with cargo and was terrified. A mere 16 weeks old. He was the runt of the litter they said. Adrian's dental school graduation present was snuggled by me all the way home. I was already a shih tzu fanatic having been quickly converted by Frodo, who was a year old, from a crazy cat lady to dog obsessed. I didn't care that Chewie smelled. He licked my face and I was hooked by his light brown eyes and his tongue that didn't fit in his mouth. We got him home and I washed him and soothed him and he has stayed by my side ever since. More of a baby duck than a dog. I love him to distraction and pamper and spoil him. Chewie is co-dependant and a small ten pound version of a famous Wookie, hence his name. Chewie is the opposite of Frodo in many ways who is beefy and all dog. Frodo is both independent and stubborn, but for some reason he lets Chewie boss him around. Maybe it is because Chewie is not fixed due to his heart murmur.

Chewie is needy and anxious. Like me. You look in his eyes and it is all soul. And a constant quest for food (also like me). Chewie once knocked a loaf of bread off the table and we came home to him gnawing on it and the loaf of bread was more than half gone.

My history will have to be brief although it is complicated. The important stuff for this essay is that I am in my mid forties and barren. Yes we tried to get pregnant for many years and on many fronts. It all ended in heartache. Too much heartache to tell you here. Other than to say that I have still not gotten over the constant rock in my chest from it all.  But when I look at Chewie, it eases a bit. He needs me so desperately. And eagerly.  Chewie follows me around and while it is annoying to have a little dog staring at you for the last 8 or 9 years while you use the restroom, it is also beautiful to have that same little dog by your side while you watch the latest episode of Project Runway, or talk to your mom on the phone, or cry when you get bad news, or write a story.

I still owe Adrian a graduation present.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

LA Woman

One of my best memories of Los Angeles is a trip to the now defunct Tower Records in Hollywood. It was the 1980s and I was in high school. My best friend Melinda and I had ditched class to go to the record store. We drove there in her white 1964 Chevy Covair blasting the Violent Femmes from a boombox. 

This kind of trip was a common occurrence. We ditched often and our favorite spots were Hollywood and Newport Beach. This day was even more of an adventure because we were on a quest for autographs from one of our favorite bands, Oingo Boingo. It was rumored that the lead singer Danny Elfmanalong with drummer Johnny Vatos, would be at Tower Records. And they were. We got our albums signed and talked to Johnny and Danny for a while in disbelief. 

Afterward, we got in the car and jumped up and down in our seats. Our gamble had paid off. We decided to stop off at Nanas on Melrose, the once famous punk rock shoe store, and I bought some red patent leather boots. When I got home that evening, the school had called and I got a slap in the face from my mom for my ditch day. It was well worth it.

That trip went down in our memories as one of our most memorable ditch days. We had neglected to invite my twin sister Jackie and it is almost thirty years later and she still hasnt forgiven me. That was messed up. Oingo was my favorite band, remember?” she always says when the story is told with irritation edging her voice.

Despite my high school adventures in Los Angeles, I never thought I would live there. It was a magical place to me growing up. We lived in Ontario, about sixty miles east. Los Angeles was where the cool people lived. It was also the land of the punk band X, a band I worshipped. It was where the Ramones’ movie Rock and Roll High School was filmed. It was where concert venues like The Roxy and the Hollywood Palladium were located and where we traveled to see bands like The Smiths, X, the Pixies and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

My senior year of high school was a disaster, I spent more time in LA ditching than in school and when this former straight A student, preppy goody two shoes turned punk rock girl dropped out senior year five units short of a diploma, no one was surprised. I had planned on attending Claremont McKenna but somehow, I lost my way. I spent graduation day under the bleachers in my Sex Pistols t-shirt watching my twin sister walk to get her diploma, tears falling on my cigarette and my thick eyeliner blurring my eyes.

Looking back, my apathy was a combination of all the money problems, Dad losing his business (a tavern called The Big O), my older half-sisters death, my undiagnosed depression and all the chaos at home. All of this combined with my predilection for partying my cares away in a bottle of Strawberry Hill created a lethal combination to my college dreams. Looking back, it was all too much. I folded my dreams like a losing poker hand. Life seemed to be over.

Always a survivor and fighter, I pulled it together. I really can't tell you how. It took years and a lot of hard work, but I managed to pay my bills by waitressing full time and attending school part time. Starting out in junior college, then UCR, then USC Law.

At USC Law, I ended up back in my favorite city, the city of dreams, but this time, I was in LA on a different kind of mission.

Most of my time in LA was spent drinking a plain cup of coffee studying at Starbucks with my roommate Bridget. We were also obsessed with watching The X Files. Most weekends, I took the train to visit my boyfriend Adrian (now my husband) in West Covina. Thursday nights was called Bar Review night, which was really just a drunken pub night. I never went and I remember someone calling me a goody two shoes and I guffawed. If they only knew. I was no goody two shoes, but I was focused and determined to not screw it up. The tens of thousands of dollars in student loans I took out weighed heavily on my mind.  

And my hard work paid off. I graduated in the top twenty percent of my class. It felt vindicating. And when I walked across that stage in my cardinal and gold cap and gown, I saw my parents and sisters in the audience cheering for me. I wasn't crying under the bleachers any longer. I had made it.

It is fifteen years since graduation. Big law firm practice didnt work out. I tried law firms in Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Nothing felt real. It all felt like I was playing a role, my own version of Eliza Doolittle. The only thing that kept me sane was my creative writing. When my dad died, I knew I had to make a change. When I came to the public defenders office in Riverside eight years ago, it immediately felt like home. I represent the mentally ill in incompetency proceedings now, protecting them from a system that has no empathy for them. People see my clients as criminals, but I see them as someones mother, father and children. It has become even more important in this current climate to protect these people from non caring institutions.

My job is hard and I go out to Los Angeles to decompress from it all. In January of this year, I saw the forty year reunion of X at the Roxy. I jumped up and down in my combat boots screaming out the lyrics to the song Los Angeles. And while I may not technically be a Los Angeles girl, this Inland Empire girl has a history there and so l call Los Angeles a close second for home.  

Ultimately, the city of angels made me who I am. Lawyer, writer, punk rock girl, thats me.