Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Fair IE girl

They say you can take a girl out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the girl. 

There are numerous cultural interpretations of this saying.  For example, "Pygmalion" (both the Greek myth and George Bernard Shaw's play and film), "My Fair Lady" with Audrey Hepburn (a reiteration of  Pygmalion) and of course, "Pretty Woman" with Julia Roberts.

I tried to reinvent myself and ended up right back where I began.  But, as another saying goes, it's not the destination, but the journey.  This is about my journey.

We didn't grow up in the ghetto.  That's not to say I never lived in the ghetto because I briefly lived in a rundown mobile home in the worst part of Pomona while in community college (for those who don't know, Pomona is at the eastern end of LA County and borders the IE). 

My family lived in a low income, but peaceful, suburban area of Ontario in the 1970's.  My parents worked hard.  My dad moved furniture and my mom waitressed.  Our house was off "D" Street just east of Grove Avenue. 

Most of our friends lived in the section eight apartments around the corner so we (and they) thought we were pretty well off.  Our clothes were new and bought at K-Mart, Zody's or Gemco, our family took periodic road trip vacations across the United States and my parents owned their house for most of our childhood (they only lost it after my dad mortgaged it to buy a bar).

My parents always said they were "bill poor".  A typical dinner was hot dog and potatoes, if mom cooked, or meatloaf if dad cooked.  We never went out to dinner except to Pizza Hut (which used to be a restaurant) and an occasional diner dinner.  Our special treat was when my dad brought home Pioneer Chicken. 

As a result, there were just some things I never experienced.  I never learned which fork to use.  I never went on a plane until the second summer of law school for job interviews.  I never traveled out of the country except to Tijuana and Rosarito.  I never even lived outside of California unless you count the first nine months of my life as an infant in Montana.

 All this changed when I took a job at the largest law firm in Texas and moved to Houston.

When I got the job offer at the Texas firm, I didn't even think about what it would be like to move by myself to another state.  I didn't consider what it would be like to leave Adrian and my family and friends.  Instead, I just packed up my apartment and left the week after my USC Law School graduation.  There was no time to waste because I had to start studying for the summer 2002 Texas bar exam (which I passed thank goodness).

The summer prior, I had worked at the firm and it was like something out of a movie.  The partners and associates took us to overpriced lunches, fancy dinners, and theater productions.   Basically, I was wined and dined right out of my mind.  When I was asked why Houston (and they always asked), I said it was a job offer I couldn't refuse. 

So there I was in Houston all by myself for the first time in my life at thirty years old.  I was scared shitless although as usual, I played it off well. 

I rented a small one bedroom apartment in the West University area of Houston.  My rent was $700 and my take home pay was more than ten times that amount.

In Houston, I reinvented myself.  In many ways, I became an adult there.  Before, I would never do anything alone, but in Houston I spent a significant amount of time alone.  I went to movies alone, I ate alone (with a book of course) and even went to the theater alone once (not recommended, but I couldn't resist "The Dead" by Joyce). 

I wasn't always alone.  I made some close friends.  My Latina twin friends Celia and Cecilia (confusing I know) lived in my apartment complex and we came from similar blue collar backgrounds.  Celia was a lawyer at another big firm in town and Cecilia was a writer in grad school at Rice.  We sat out on the balcony between our apartments in the humid Houston air and drank orange flavored margaritas.  We laughed and told stories and some of my homesickness subsided a bit.

It was hard sometimes.  I identified more with the people who served me at dinner than the people I worked with.  When I told my peers that my mom was a waitress and my dad moved furniture, they looked at me with open mouths. What would they have said if I told them I was a high school dropout?  I kept it to myself. 

That's not to say that everyone I worked with was hopeless and there were some surprises.  There was Nancy, an associate a year above me, who had graduated at the top of her class at U of H.  We became fast friends.  She had a wry, sarcastic way of speaking that I admired.  And there was an older white partner who mentored me and taught me that it wasn't about making partner, but about learning as much as you could.

I bought my first three hundred dollar purse.  Then I bought my second three hundred dollar purse.  We hung out at Four Seasons after work, used our American Express cards for drinks and appetizers and dropped a hundred on dinner without any thought.  I bought more and more stuff: nice clothes, a new Mercedes, a beautiful two story house (which needed a maid), and furniture.  Soon, I was a perfectly coiffed, brand name purse carrying version of my former self. 

Of course, and you had to know this was coming, eventually the sheen wore off.  After three years in Houston enough was enough.  I was miserable and sick of being alone.  Adrian had been accepted into UCSF Dental School so there was no chance he would move to Houston in the near future. I hated practicing civil law and my seventy hour work week and was severely depressed.   I even missed my crazy family.

So I took the summer off and took the California bar exam.

I found out that I passed the bar exam the night of the law firm "prom".  The law firm's prom was legendary and thousands of people attended every year.  It was a who's who of Houston society in attendance.  Men were in black tie and all the women were dressed in long gowns.  There were ice sculptures and oysters on the half shell.  It was one classy shindig.

My friends had bought me drinks beforehand to celebrate my passing and I stumbled through the party drunk on Martinis and the knowledge that I was free. 

Toward the end of the night, I approached some partners and their wives.  One of the partners congratulated me on passing the bar and before I could stop myself, I responded in a loud voice, "I am blowing this taco stand!" 

And I did.

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