Panorama of San Bernardino

Thursday, December 29, 2011

To roast or not to roast (a Mantz Christmas story)

It all started with a roast.  A beef ribeye roast.  The roast was marbled with bones and the scuffle it started stuck in my teeth for days.

On Christmas Eve, my husband Adrian and I met all of our family at my twin sister Jackie's house in Palm Springs for dinner.  It was amazingly conflict free.  No one fought.  There was no yelling.  A Mantz Christmas first.

My sister Jackie and her husband Joe barbequed carne asade and chicken.  There was homemade enchiladas, my mom's famous Mexican rice and my sister-in-law Sally brought tamales from El Monte.   Adrian's mom Orieta brought a huge apple pie from Costco.  We feasted and played the white elephant game.

We drove home late and arrived at my mother-in-law's house in Hesperia right before midnight.  On Christmas morning, I made breakfast after finding a gas station that carried pancake batter.  Later, Sally and I went on a five mile walk.  When we returned, I saw that Jackie and Joe had arrived. 

As I was in the bedroom changing out of my sweats, Adrian (who was sick as a dog in bed) said, "There is some mix up about dinner.  Jackie and Joe brought carne asade meat.   Tell them I'm sick and am not cooking." 

"Mexican again?" I said with a snort.  "I want roast.  Your mom was supposed to make roast.  She's been saying all week that she was cooking it."  My mother-in-law's rosemary roast was legendary and I wanted it for Christmas.

Adrian rolled his eyes and turned his head back on the pillow.  "I don't care what we eat.  I'm going to sleep," he said in a nasal tinged voice.  "Don't make drama," he added with a quick and knowing stare.

When I marched into the kitchen, Orieta was at the sink.

"Are you making the roast?" I asked her in my nice voice.

Orieta looked at me with a frown.  "Jackie and Joe brought meat.  There's too much food.  We can't waste the meat," she mandated in her strong Argentine accent.

"We had Mexican food last night," I pointed out in a pleading, less nice voice.  Orieta shook her head in her stubborn not going to change my mind way and said, "I make fajitas." 

Sally walked up behind me and whispered in my ear, "Don't argue.  Let's go the the store."

We snuck outside and got into Sally's Hummer, I searched my IPhone for an open store.  "Vons in Victorville is open until seven," I said with a fist pump in the air.  "I will get a roast," Sally said with a smile.  "Orieta will be pissed though. "

"It will be worth the money just to see her face," I said and we both giggled like little kids.

Von's was packed full of people.  "I wonder if everyone's mother-in-law is refusing to cook a roast," I thought to myself with a shake of my head.

Sally and I split up.  I picked up ingredients for country breakfast for the next morning and we met at the check-out line an hour later.

Sally's basket was full to the brim.  "I am making a roast with all the fixings and homemade macaroni and cheese," she said with a smile and a toss of her hair.

"Yummy.  Orieta is gonna freak out," I said giving her a high five.

Background time.  Orieta is a great cook.  Her meals are the stuff legends are made of.  Like most good cooks, she is territorial about her kitchen and her status as head cook.  Raymond's mom Marie from "Everybody Loves Raymond" kind of territorial.  This is not an exaggeration.  You can be her sous chef, but that's it.  What Sally and I were attempting was mutiny.

When we arrived back at the house, Orieta was seasoning the meat and my mom, her sous chef, was chopping vegetables.  Orieta looked at us and said, "What's in the bags?" 

Not trusting myself, I ran into the bedroom. "Sally got a roast," I whispered laughing in Adrian's ear.  "What are you two doing?" Adrian said sitting up with an annoyed look on his face.  "I told you, no drama."

"We want roast," I said as I skipped out of the room.  A pillow hit the door just as I closed it.

Orieta was looking through the bags muttering to herself and as I started to put stuff away she said, "You two cook.  I do nothing," and slammed down her hand and walked away.

Sally and I started our dinner prep while Orieta glared at us from her leopard print chair in the living room.  Gabe (my brother-in-law and Sally's domestic partner) made the fajitas.

Two hours later, the table was loaded with food.  Fajitas, tortillas, beans, rice, homemade macaroni and cheese and a beautiful roast. 

Orieta and Gabe refused to try the macaroni and cheese.  Gabe made a face.  "It looks gross." 

"Fucking mama's boy," I thought to myself.

"Italians don't eat pasta with white sauce," Orieta said with a shake of her head.

"Your roast is so tender," Jackie said with a sigh of pleasure.

"It's just OK," Gabe said looking at his mom. Orieta nodded.

They didn't know who they were messing with.  I was the queen of family drama and it was payback time.

"Sally, your macaroni and cheese is awesome," I said with a big smile.  "Looks like you are taking over as the cook in the family."

Oreita and Gabe both looked at me as if I had committed the ultimate act of treason.  "My mom is the best cook," Gabe said in a loud voice.

After dinner, things were tense, but isn't that what Christmas is all about? 

Family drama with a nice chunk of roast on the side.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Easy Does It

It has been a little more than five months since my weight loss surgery and I am down almost seventy five pounds.  Some people might say I took the easy way out by having the surgery.  They are wrong.

When I first contemplated having the surgery more than a year ago, I was undecided.  I knew I was fat, but I still liked myself.   When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see a morbidly obese woman.  I saw the same old me of my twenties with a bigger butt and bigger hips. 

And I was scared.  I had never had any type of surgery before.  I dreaded the idea of dying on the operating table and people saying, "She died having weight loss surgery."

A natural risk taker, I decided to take a chance and jumped into the unknown.  The surgery went fine with no complications.

Still, the last five months have been anything but easy.  The first week after surgery was awful.  The next month was not much better,  I couldn't eat more than a thimble full of food.  I was on liquids for almost eight weeks.  The weight came off quickly.

Now that five months have passed, I can eat again.  I still can't eat the way I used to and I wouldn't want to.  Instead, I eat small portions and focus on protein.  Carbs don't draw me in the way they used to.  I look at a bagle and think, that looks heavy.  I crave salads and dare I say it, vegetables. 

Not all my bad cravings are gone.  I have a new yearning for hot fries.  And I still drink Diet Coke.

However, the most surprising aspect of my journey has been a new addiction, exercise.  That's right, this former fat girl, couch potato and bookworm likes to run.  It's as if I found something inside of me.  When I run, I feel as if my mind stops going in circles and I can breathe.  I get it. 

Finally after forty years, I get it.  Exercise is addicting and better than any hamburger and fries.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Always on my mind

My dad has been on my mind this last week.  That sentence may be misleading because my dad is always on my mind.  For some reason, I feel his spirit even more than usual recently.  Maybe it's the holidays because I have a dull ache in my chest when I think of him.  It's been so long since I got to talk to him.  More than five years.

The worst part about losing someone is forgetting what they look like.  What they sounded like.  Pictures never captured my father well and while looking at old pictures helps me remember a little, it's not enough. 

Sometimes only words can do it.  My dad's green mayflower uniform.  The way my dad would decorate the house on Christmas.  His homemade donuts.  His Big John belt buckle.  The way his garden looked in Mira Loma.  The way my dad would always say, "Give me a hug Jennie."

I can't help but cry to think of it.  I think back to my lost years.  All those years in Houston trying to be a success never realizing that success is not defined by how much money you make, but by how much love and forgiveness you can gather in your life. 

I know you can't go back, but if I could I know where I would travel to.  Straight to the passenger seat of my dad's sixteen wheeler to pop in his eight track tape and sing along with him to some Johnny Cash.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Drunkarella (this is no fairy tale)

Author's note: this is a blog of my own personal perspective of the night in question and some details may be changed or exaggerated for effect.  Names have been changed to protect the identity of innocents...

DRUNKARELLA (this is no fairy tale)

I don't wanna be that girl.  That girl who always gets drunk at work events and is loud and obnoxious.   Unfortunately, I was that girl for the second year in a row at the company Christmas party.  My name: Drunkarella

There is something about work events that bring out the worst in me.   This year's annual Public Defender's gala was supposed to be my mulligan, my do over from last year when I humiliated myself by doing the sprinkler dance.  You all read about it.  It was my first blog post and funny in a cringe inducing kind of way.

The Friday morning of this year's event, I pledged to myself that things would be different.  Everything seemed to be going well.  I got off work early.  I got a hair appointment for a blow dry straightening and my fairy godmother at Fantastic Sam's smoothed my curls in thirty minutes.  I put on my silver and black dress and twirled in the mirror for my mom.  All I needed was my Prince Charming.

Things started going down hill.  Prince Charming (aka Adrian) came home an hour late in a grumpy mood.  He was tired and exhausted and snapped when I rushed him.  "Just don't go, you're grumpy anyways,"  I told him in a anxious voice.  He threw his shirt on the bed and said, "Fine, I won't go."  I text messaged my beautiful work sister (no ugly stepsisters in this tale) who I will call Jane and she responded, "Just be nice, don't rush him."  I apologized and we were out the door.

Traffic wasn't bad and we seemed to be back on track.  After checking in, we went downstairs and walked in the ballroom.  Just like last year, all the tables were full.  However, this year Jane and my three other beautiful work sisters rescued us by saving us seats.  I even had my own name plate.

This is the point in the story where I wish I could say that I sat down and had a great evening.  Alas, it was not to be.  Somewhere between the ballroom door and the bar, my plan fell apart and my good intentions went up in a puff of rum scented smoke.  My fairy tale evening went down hill rapidly and I went from Cinderella to Drunkarella in approximately one hour.  I can't even blame it on my usual insecurity about not looking good. There is no more fat girl excuse. 

Upon our arrival, I immediately went to the bar and waited in line for a drink.  The bartender was slower than molasses and it took a good twenty minutes before I got my first drink.  "I hope she makes it a double," I thought to myself.  She measured her pour out with a shot glass.  I rolled my eyes and ordered another.

I also wish I could attest that I was attentive to my prince and a witty table companion to my work sisters.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen either.  I was loud and obnoxious and snorted with laughter like a pig at one point during the awards.  "Shhhh," one of my co-workers whispered at me from another table.  I got the giggles and couldn't stop laughing even when Adrian grabbed my knee under the table.

After the awards, the music came on and Adrian was ready to go gamble.  I was not.  "I want to dance," I slurred.  When one of my co-workers, who I will call Mary, tried to grab Adrian by the tie to dance, he was done.  "I am going downstairs to gamble, you can stay if you want," he said in his "I have had enough" voice.

If you assume that I stayed and danced, you are right.  Prince Charming went on to lose half his kingdom to the Morongo Tribe at slots.  I. on the other hand, screamed at the poor DJ to "play me some fucking 80's please." 

When almost everyone had left the ballroom to continue the party upstairs at Club Vibe, the DJ (finally) put on Duran Duran's Planet Earth and I went crazy on that dance floor as if there was no tomorrow.  I did the robot, the Pulp Fiction and my 80's bop (think Wham's dance in the video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go").  The good news is that there was no one around to see it.

My next stop was Club Vibe.  I sat with one of the trial attorneys blathering on and on about my mother-in-law and my dogs.  At some point (when the trial attorney's eyes started to glaze over), I realized how drunk I was and decided to call it a night.  I found my Prince Charming sitting in the cafe eating his steak and eggs with a dejected look on his face.  He, in a non princely manner, blamed me for his losses.  I blamed him for leaving me alone to dance.

At five a.m., I awoke with a headache and a growl in my stomach.  I went downstairs to the cafe, drank a cup of coffee and ate a biscuit.  I sat at a slot machine and within five minutes, I hit the big spin.  The spinner went around and around and stopped at the big jackpot for eighteeen thousand dollars.  Then, it passed it.  Barely.

I told you this was no fairy tale.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Silver Lining

It has been one year since I started this blog.  The reason I know this is because tonight is the Riverside County Public Defender's Office's annual dance and awards gala.  Last year, I humiliated myself by getting more than tipsy and doing the sprinkler dance in front of my co-workers.  But, from that humiliation came the impetus to put my stories to the electronic page. 

Much has happened in the last year.  I had gastric bypass surgery and lost seventy pounds, two of my stories were published in the Inlandia anthology and most important of all, I started this blog.  I feel as if things are moving in the right direction.

That's the funny thing about life.  One moment you are doing a silly dance and feeling down on yourself and soon, everything changes.  I got my mojo back baby so watch out.  This next year plans on being one heck of a ride.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Here's to you, Melinda T!

I downloaded a Judy Blume book called "BFF" on my Kindle that contained two stories, "Here's to You, Rachel Robinson! and "As Long as We're Together."  By the first page of "As Long as We're Together", I was drawn in.  The story is about two best friends who get a third best friend when a new girl moves to town.  In the foreward, Judy Blume describes how the book mirrors her experiences in middle school with her two best friends. 

I also had (and still have to this day) two best friends, Melinda and Tracy. 

This story is about Melinda.

As I have told y'all before, I have known Melinda since I was a little girl growing up in Ontario, California.  We rode our bicycles through the surburban streets for most of my childhood.  Our friendship and history together is part of who I am.  We had crazy adventures, too many to count. There was the time we got drunk at a friend's house and walked home in the rain.   Somehow, Melinda came home dripping wet with only one shoe on. 

I wanted to be Melinda.  In junior high, I coveted her straight black spiky hair and her cool jean jacket with concert buttons lined up on the right side. 

In high school, she got even better looking.  She looked like a Mexican version of the lead singer of the Bangles.  I could never compete with her.  She was a total guy magnet. 

Melinda always tried to help me with my makeup and hair, usually to no avail.  She tried to straighten my hair for the junior prom and I ended up looking like a puffy poodle.  To make matters worse, the red dress I had bought looked good in the window, but it's shiny apple color didn't suit my skin.  Melinda looked amazing in a tight, irredescent lavendar dress and purple eyeshadow.

To make matters worse, Melinda had set me up with her boyfriend Todd's friend so we could double date for prom.  I had anticipated being set up with one of his handsome punker friends, but the guy who came with Todd to Melinda's door to pick us up that night was about five foot three with long Jesus like hair and a mustache. 

They took us to Cask and Cleaver and eternal optimist that I am, I tried to make the best of it.  The Jesus lookalike didn't say a word and the less he said, the more I babbled.  When we finally got to the dance, I tried to dance with him, but he kept counting in my ear.

Thankfully, Todd got caught drinking and we all got kicked out of the dance.  I don't remember what happened then.

What's funny is that many of my stories with Melinda are like that, in the sense that they end abruptly.  We had so many crazy times together that they all kind of blend together and trail off suddenly.  When we hang out, we talk about the old times and we have to chime in and correct one another. 

Maybe fiction would be easier.  But, the reality is much more sweet.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Monster-in-Law

I got into another argument with my monster-in-law.  She is the Argentine version of Godzilla to me right now. 

For those of you who don't know my back story, let me get you up to speed. 

My father-in-law Alberto died a little over a year ago.  My mother-in-law was devastated and my husband and I knew at seventy eight years of age that her living alone was not a good option.  She barely speaks English and doesn't drive on the freeway.  So, we cleaned out her house in West Covina and moved her into our newly decorated guest bedroom downstairs.  A couple of months later, masochists that we are, we moved my mom in too.  I suppose we wanted a matching set.

We found a tenant for my mother-in-law's house in West Covina house rather quickly.  Then, for some odd reason (hello, because my husband asked me to) I began managing the rental property.  If the tenant had a problem, I fixed it.  I didn't mind.  I knew my husband and his mom needed my help.  Plus. being a control freak is natural for me and I am convinced that I am the only one who can do things the right way.

It all blew up last week.  The tenant called me to renew the lease and I made an appointment for Saturday to do so.  When I called my mother-in-law from my lunch break to inform her of the appointment she said in her strong Argentine accent, "Why do you make an appointment with her?  That is my house.  I need to be there."  I took a deep breath and counted to three before I said anything, "Orieta," I replied, "Don't worry, of course you can be there."

They say no good deed goes unpunished and that is too true.  That next evening, my mother-in-law told me I was butting in where I was not welcome.  "I should be the one to talk to her.  I don't know why you called her," she said. 

I blew my top.

"I was trying to help you,"  I screamed.  "Do you think I have nothing better to do than call your tenant for you and renew your lease?  I work fifty hours a week and have my own rental property to worry about.  I could go get a massage on Saturday morning rather than drive you to West Covina." 

You are ridiculous," I added.  I was on a roll.  "You are the most ungrateful person I have ever met."

"Don't talk to me like that, I live here," she said in a stern voice. 

"Oh yeah, that's right you do live here," I responded with a turn of my head as I walked upstairs to my bedroom. 

Now, what is the moral of the story?  Is it, don't do things for others because you will never be appreciated?  Or is it, don't expect gratitude and just do things out of the goodness of your own heart.  The good deed is it's own reward. 

To tell you the truth, I don't know.  What I do know, however, is that I have to change.  My tendency to do everything is not limited to my personal life.  It is also my modus operandi at work.  Which is fine and good except that I never get the appreciation I think I deserve and get upset about it. 

Maybe the moral is that you can't please everyone, you can only please yourself and you should only go out of your way for those who are appreciative.

Or maybe there is no moral, just one rule.  Don't ever let your Godzilla like mother-in-law move in with you because you will live to regret it.

"But, wait", says the little voice inside my head, "Tell them the rest of the story."

On Saturday morning at eight a.m., my husband and I woke up and drove to Wrightwood for breakfast at a charming coffee shop called The Evergreen Cafe.  The mountains were covered in snow and I was glad I had worn my snow boots.  We waited for my sister-in-law Sally and my nephew Nicolas to arrive.  After an hour of my husband and I sipping on our coffee, my phone rang.  I went outside the cafe and climbing out of the car was Sally and Nicolas along with my mother-in-law and my brother-in-law Gabe.

My mother-in-law gave me a kiss on the cheek as if everything was fine.  I looked at Gabe with a scowl, "Don't you have an appointment with the tenant this morning?" I asked him. 

"Oh, we didn't make it," he said with a shrug. 

"Well, did you call her and cancel?" I asked him in a sharp voice.  "You need to call her and cancel."

As he fumbled with his words and then for his phone to make the call I smiled and thought to myself, amateurs.

Friday, October 28, 2011

date night

My husband Adrian and I have a date night tonight at the Mission Inn.  We have been together almost twenty years, but have only been married for a little less than three years.  It took Adrian almost seventeen years to marry me.  I call myself the patron saint of patience, but, in reality I was not patient at all. 

We had been together twelve years when I moved to San Francisco to join Adrian in his second year of dental school at UCSF.  I left my prestigious six figure law firm job in Houston for him and I didn't let him forget it.  I bugged Adrian every day for two years to marry me.  And, I do mean every day, sometimes twice a day. 

In his third year of dental school, Adrian (finally) asked me to marry him.  He proposed in Sonoma County by the ocean.  His original plan was to ask me in a hot air balloon in Napa, but I nixed that idea quickly.  "Are you fuckin crazy?  I am scared to death of heights," I reminded him in a sharp voice.  "Ummm, I guess I will cancel it," he told me in a sad little voice.  "Damn right you will", I thought to myself. 

And I wonder why it took him so long.

The proposal did not start out auspiciously. We were driving back home to San Francisco from the bed and breakfast that we stayed at in Mendicino and every time we stopped to look at the cliffside ocean views I tensed up thinking Adrian would ask.  But he didn't.

About an hour into the drive, I had to go to the bathroom and we stopped at a beach.  I used the portable restroom and came running out with my pants around my ankles chased by the bees that had reared their ugly heads when I opened up the toilet. 

Shortly after I had pulled up my pants, Adrian decided that was the perfect moment and got down on a knee right there in the sand and told me he loved me and wanted to marry me.  Even though I knew I had forced him to ask me through my persistent entreaties, I said, "yes". 

It took Adrian another three years to marry me.  It wasn't the wedding we had planned, but when I said my vows at the San Bernardino City Hall in front of Adrian's parents and my mom it was as if I was saying the words in a cathedral with vaulted ceilings.  I could feel God's presence and the weight of my vows echoed in my head as I said them.

The only thing missing was my dad.  Right before he died, my dad told Adrian that he knew he didn't have to worry about me because Adrian had always taken good care of me.   On the day of my wedding, I know he was looking down at us from the big casino in the sky smiling. 

After the civil ceremony, Adrian's dad Alberto, who died a little more than a year ago, took us all to lunch at the Mission Inn.  I spilled salsa on my cream wedding suit and I remember Alberto shaking his head and laughing as he said in his Argentine accent, "Juanita, I love you."

Tonight at the Mission Inn, I will remember us all around the table as I raise my wine glass to the heavens.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sweet and Tender Hooligans

I turned forty on Friday and as I sat on the cruise ship sipping a Malibu and Diet Coke, I reflected on my life, especially my childhood years.  My childhood was scary and difficult in many ways.  Yet,  my teenage years, while also chaotic and scary at times, were amazing in the way only the teenage years can be.

My favorite activity in high school was ditching.  When my mom dropped us off at Chaffey High, my twin sister Jackie and I ran and grabbed our best friends Melinda and Tracy and maneuvered ourselves off campus to the bus stop.  We rode the bus to the Montclair Plaza and walked around and begged for quarters.  "Could we please have a quarter," one of us would say in a sweet voice.  "We need to call our mom to pick us up." 

Picture this.  Melinda has spiked black hair and is wearing her typical attire of ripped jeans and a tight blouse.  Tracy and I have thick black Siouxsie eyeliner on and concert tees with thermals covered by men's boxers and combat boots.  Jackie has blond bangs and is probably wearing some type of lace dress.  Suffice to say, Jackie and Melinda usually did the asking.  I would not have given us a dime, but people did.

We earned a little or a lot of dough depending on how crowded the mall was.  Sometimes, we accidentally asked the same people twice and they looked at us with a scowl sensing a scam.  With our stash, we shared fast food in the mall's food court.  Melinda and Jackie preferred pizza rolls from Sbarro's.  Tracy and I usually wanted a corn dog.

After eating, we stood out in the front of the mall and chain smoked.  We bought our cigarettes at the liquor store next door to Melinda's duplex with a note signed by my mom (aka my handwriting).  We smoked Marlboro Lights.  I first started smoking in seventh grade when a girl named Christy asked me to come to her house after school.  She lived in the Section Eight apartments across the street.  We took a pack of her mom's Virginia Slims from the freezer.  Christy taught me how to smoke in the park behind the restrooms.  I only coughed a little.

Back to the ditching, one day, Melinda and I ditched without Jackie and Tracy and drove to Hollywood in Melinda's 1964 White Covair.   We had heard a rumor that the new Oingo Boingo album was going on sale at Tower Records. When we arrived at the record store, we noticed some commotion and realized that the band was there. I shook hands with the lead singer Danny Elfman while Melinda chatted with Vato the drummer. We screamed the whole way home.

When we got back late that afternoon, I raved to Jackie about meeting Oingo Boingo and she yelled with tears in her eyes, "Oingo is my favorite band, not yours!"  To this day, Jackie still harbors a grudge.

Our other favorite pastime was crank calling.  We flipped through the phone book and picked a random number to call.  When someone answered we asked, "Is your refrigerator running?  Yes?  Then go catch it."  The joke was old and stale but it never got old to us.  Elderly people's reactions were always the funniest.

Tracy and I also figured out a way to get free food by calling restaurants to complain.  For some reason, we always used an English accent.  Tracy would call McDonald's and say in her best British voice, "I just bought some food and found a hair in my Big Mac."  Typically, the manager would get on the phone and say, "Please accept our apologies and pick up food on us."  I remember one time, we picked up our food wearing my mom's fake furs, high heels and huge sunglasses.  I suppose we thought we were incognito, but the reality was that we just didn't care what people thought.

In the end, I suppose that is what I miss the most as an adult.  I worry about everything and am always analyzing my behavior (sometimes admittedly over analyzing).  But. as a child and teenager, I never worried about the effect of my actions.  I just wanted to have fun.

Maybe I need a little more fun and little less worrying.  Cheers to that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Big 40

I turn forty in three weeks.  Forty is supposed to be the new thirty, but it doesn't necessarily feel that way.  There are some days where I feel sixty.  Yet, there are other days where I wake up feeling like I am sixteen and blast the Smiths while driving to work with a smile.

Many would say I have accomplished a lot in the last forty years.  I made it through my childhood for one.  And through my crazy twenties.  I almost self destructed more than once and it was not for lack of trying but instead through sheer grace and luck. 

This weekend we hung out in Hesperia at my mother-in-law's house. The house that my late father-in-law Alberto built.  People often put down the high desert, but I am beginning to see why my husband loves it so much out there.  Please don't tell him though because I am loathe to move over the Cajon pass (...over the Cajon pass and through the desert to my mother-in-law's house we go...).

We hung out, swam, went hiking, ate Pozole, drank margaritas and played Mexican Train Dominos.  Life should not be about being always on the go.  It should be about relaxing and spending time with family.

In my twenties life was about the party.  In my thirties, life was about accomplishments.  Now that my forties are almost here, I need to figure out what life is about.  Maybe it should be about reinvention?  Or maybe it should be about challenging myself?  The truth is, I am not sure.  I will just have to wait and see.



 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A poem called IPOD

IPOD
by Juanita Mantz (circa 2006-2007 in San Francisco)
Walking through the subway
I feel invincible,
not at all like my normal self.
The white headphones signify my ascent into
a club of sorts. The epitome of coolness
I tap my feet on the escalator
Humming.
It feels good to be distant,
lost in the sound of bass and drum
I smile-no longer anxious
no need to meet other eyes
my audio sunglasses
bathe me in blissful
Anonymity.
Do others feel this peaceful?
I know the immersion is an illusion
but I am drowning
feeling nothing
except the rhythms
running in my head, fast
Slow.
I am addicted. I switch from
White Stripes to Miss Dynamite
to Aimee Mann
to my high school days
with a little of the Pixies
Erasure, then some Cure,
Joy Division.
I feel like a teenager again.
Hanging out in the quad
smoking stale cigarettes
I stole from my dad. 
Wanting to be someone 
anyone, but me.
Blue
black hair, stud earring in one nostril
(before that was overdone).
Bright red thermals cover legs
I will always be ashamed of
only later will I see this
as a costume
Masquerade
Designed to hide
the pure sadness of that Time
To obscure the goals I had abandoned
in hopelessness by age sixteen. 
I want to yell
“Girl, all is not lost”
No
And though years will be lost
drinking trying to dull
the sharpness of it all
somehow, someway
I will emerge
Defiant and proving them wrong.
All
who had given me up
for dead.  A high school
dropout, a statistic
But never humble I knew
I was powerful and equal
To all of Them.
Regardless
here I am walking
to the beats in my head 
my feet pounding
the moving sidewalk
and suddenly I can’t suppress
the urge to Run.

Friday, August 26, 2011

girl time

Tonight, watching a rerun of "Sex and the City".  I am struck by the accurate way it portrays female friendship.  As the four women sit around a breakfast table at a posh Manhattan restaurant, they talk about life, their loves and the lack thereof.  Earlier tonight, I had sat at TGI Friday's and engaged in a similar deep conversation with two girlfriends of mine.  Life was mirroring art although my girl talk was a less hip suburban version of Carrie's experience.

When women get together we talk.  We really talk.

And, there is a difference on this issue between men and women.  Men (at least straight men) do not bond with their friends the way women do.  Men do activities together like watching sports and going to bars, but if you ask what they talked about the answer is usually something superficial about a car or the newest weapon on Black Ops. 

I have always pitied women who give up their friends when they get into a relationship.  We have all known these women although they probably don't know themselves.  They are the women who go to a bar with friends for a girls night and hook up within five minutes and stay with the same guy all night.  That kind of girl has always annoyed me to no end.  If it is a girls night out, the point is to hang out the with girls and the guys are irrelevant.  Fortunately, I do not have girls like this for close friends.

I have two best friends.  I have known my best friend Tracy since I was sixteen.  I admired her from afar in high school.  She was a cool punk rock chick and I was a nerd with glasses.  When we got a class together we hit it off instantly.  She was the yin to my yang and still is.  I talk to her every day and we talk about everything.  And, I mean everything.

Melinda is my "other" best friend.  We call each other cousins.  She is like part of my family and although we sometimes lose touch and get caught up in the chaos of ordinary life, it doesn't matter.  When we see each other, it is like we are kids again.  We have known each other since we were in elementary school and grew up blocks away from one another in Ontario.  Her mom watched us most afternoons after school.  My twin sister Jackie and I would ride our bikes for hours with Melinda.  When I think back to my childhood, Melinda is always right there beside me.  In my mind's eye, Melinda and I are usually sitting behind the liquor store smoking a cigarette. 

That is what friendship is about after all.  It is about having adventures with someone.  Being the Lucy to someone's Ethyl.  Or about being Carrie's Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Food Wise II

On July 5th, I had my weight loss surgery and now, some seven weeks later, I am down forty pounds.  Forty pounds.  That is the weight of a small child.  And, damn it, I feel good.  Yesterday morning, I went running with my dogs and as my feet pounded the pavement to the sounds of Amy Winehouse, I felt almost weightless.

Not that everything has been easy.  I cannot eat much at any one sitting.  It is hard to eat enough and I struggle to get the required calories in.  On Saturday, we barbequed in Hesperia and when I sat down to dinner, I had two forkfuls of salad and was done.

My husband has definitely noticed the difference and squeezed my butt on Sunday.  It felt delicious.  Like when we were dating.

And, I don't mean to be graphic but the sex has been awesome.  Niagra Falls kinda awesome. 

So despite my intial regret at having the surgery, I am glad I did it.  I am happy I took the plunge to get to a better me.  When I sit down to think about it, I don't think I would have ever lost the weight naturally.  I would have hemmed and hawed and maybe lost twenty pounds and then put back on thirty.  A year later, I would have been at three hundred pounds having to do the surgery with more risk factors.

Obviously, my story does not end here.  I still have a long way to go.  My short term goal is to be down fifty pounds by my fortieth birthday on October 7th.  My long term goal is to have lost one hundred pounds by the end of February. 

And then, watch out world, this skinny bitch will be lighting the world on fire.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Food Wise

My relationship with food is complicated. 

The problem with food is that it is not something you can give up.  You cannot go cold turkey on turkey.  Instead, I must learn to live with my demon, albiet in a more sensible way. 

In case you don't know, I had gastric bypass surgery and for the last three weeks since surgery, I have been on a liquid diet.  The hard part for me now is getting enough food to sustain myself .  In the morning, I force myself to eat a cup of yogurt.  I cannot eat the whole thing.  The most I can get down is half a Yoplait.

So things have changed.  I have changed.  I have lost twenty five pounds and feel pretty damn good.

My cure was extreme I must admit.  I am not the only one.  Yesterday at the hair salon (I call it a salon but it really was just the Fantastic Sam's down the street), the woman who cut my hair had lost two hundred and fifty pounds after having the same surgery.  She still weighed over three hundred pounds. She told me how her biggest accomplishment was getting behind the wheel of a car again.  Yet, she still struggles and admitted to me that she can cheat and that she eats candy and drinks beer.

My surgery was not a panacea.  I should click my heels and say it three times so that I do not forget.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Heartburn

How does a marriage end?  It is with a word?  Is it a compilation of a little million pieces of disappointment?  Is it with the thought of something else?  Or is it with a moment that cannot be taken back?

I have always been a giver.  My first love/boyfriend Cesar drove me crazy in love.  I followed him around, bought him jackets and shoes and watched him cheat on me at the Metro.  No matter what he did to me, I wanted him.  I loved him more than I loved myself and that was the problem.  Years later, he called me and told me I was the one.  I was smart enough to turn away.

To turn away.  That is what is required to end a marriage.  For one of the married persons to turn away and not look back.  That is probably why so many marriages end with an affair.  It is easier that way.  To have someone else to turn to, I imagine, has to be easier than turning to a life alone. 

I have never been good at keeping ultimatums.  For years, I told Adrian to marry me or I would leave him.  I never did.  It was seventeen years before we tied the knot.  The knot that binds.

A binding can be used as an adjective or verb.  As a noun it means a strip sewn or attached over or along an edge for protection, reinforcement, or ornamentation.  Thus, marriage can be protective and/or reinforcing (for me at least, it has never been ornamental, I make a bad trophy wife).

When used as an adjective, a binding is defined as uncomfortably tight and confining.  To marry someone and compromise is hard.  The daily necessity to try and try again can be confining and at the very least uncomfortable.  At times, it can be downright painful.

Like I said, I am a giver.  I give and give.  Yet sometimes, I feel it doesn't come back.  As if I am sitting at the end of a dinner table in the last seat waiting for a meal that never comes.

Dinner.  I wish.  Just in case you don't know, I can't eat right now.  My stomach has been stapled and my system re routed.   And yes, if it isn't obvious, my heartburn is caused by more than the surgery.  I am hoping it goes away like most heartburn does.

Now dear reader, just in case you read too much into this, my marriage is not over.  Marriage is hard and I have a feeling my weight loss will change many things including my marriage.  Change can sometimes be big and sometimes change can be small.  But, just so y'all know, I feel a big change is coming.  A big change.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Surgery day

I opened my eyes at three a.m to the sound of my alarm.  The hospital had pushed my gastric bypass surgery up from ten in the morning to five a.m..  My husband and I drove over to Orange County nauseous from fatigue.  We arrived at the hospital early.  It was only four-thirty.  The guard instructed us to wait in the lobby.  I tapped my feet and considered bolting for the door. 

I thought about how the Fourth of July fireworks looked last night from our front yard and my nephew's shouts of delight as each one of them lit up the sky. 

The receptionist checked me in at five a.m..  I changed into a white hospital gown with nothing underneath and a blue shower cap for my head.  Adrian stayed with me as I waited to go into surgery.  Doctor Ali stopped by at seven and said surgery should be starting soon.  He told me not to worry. 

They wheeled me into the surgery room half an hour later.  The nurses joked about how much they ate the day before.  The anesthesiologist looked at them and said, "C'mon guys, no talking about food."  He leaned over me and whispered, "I will have you asleep in a second."

The next thing I remember is waking up in my hospital room moaning in pain.  I felt as if someone was stabbing me with a knife in my stomach over and over.  I screamed at Adrian, "Why did I do this?"

The next two days in the hospital were unpleasant (ahem, understatement).  The morphine helped me through the pain but every two hours or so I would be poked and prodded.  There were also mandatory breathing treatments (three a day), chaperoned bathroom trips and blood draws.  I tried to take liquid down but it was hard.  For the first time in many years, I was not hungry.

My favorite part was walking the hospital floor sans underwear.  A young nurse wrapped a second hospital gown around me like a robe and giggled as she said, "I wouldn't want my butt hanging out." 

The whole time in the hospital I didn't sleep.  I merely rested.  I couldn't even read.  My body had no energy for anything except my daily ritual of "The Price is Right".

My second night in the hospital, Wednesday night, was surreal.  A woman screamed as she gagged in the room next door.  She seemed to be having some serious complications from the gastric bypass surgery.  I kept thinking, "Make it stop."  I couldn't imagine how painful it would be to throw up with a stomach punctured by six open wounds. 

They took me off the morphine late Wednesday night.  I was sad to see it go.  Pressing the button was comforting.  "Drink this," the nurse said with a smile.  Feeling a little bit like Alice in Wonderland, I took a sip of the foul poison tasting concoction and gagged. 

"Do I have to drink this?" I asked.  "It will help with the pain," the nurse responded with a stern look.  I wanted my giggly nurse back.  The nurse watched as I drained the cup.

At about two a.m., I woke up from my drug induced coma and couldn't breathe.  My chest felt tight.  I paged the nursing station and the same stern nurse came by.  "I can't breathe," I told her with a gasp.  Her face turned concerned.  They checked my vitals and asked me if my chest hurt.  When I nodded yes, they paged the doctor.  An hour and one EKG later, I was diagnosed with gas and a bad reaction to the liquid pain medicine.

It just goes to show, our bodies know things.  If something tastes vial, do not drink it. 

Thursday morning, the young giggly nurse brought me the same liquid pain medicine.  This time I was firm.  "I cannot take that I said.  Give me something else."  She obliged.

That afternoon, the doctor released me from the hospital.  The nurse wheeled me out to my sister's car and my weight loss adventure began.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mickey

I had a cousin named Mickey when I was little.  Mickey was fat.  Very fat.  He probably weighed over six hundred pounds.  Obesity was less common in those days, but according to my mom, it ran in my dad's side of the family. 

Mickey lived with his mom Gladys in Deer Lodge, Montana.  Gladys was my dad's aunt and Mickey was my dad's favorite cousin.  My mom recently told me that we used to drive to visit him on vacation. 

"You sat out on the steps with him don't you remember?  It was 1976, the same year Roberta got married," my mom said.  She rambled on, "Mickey was such a nice person."

Mickey was supposed to be Jackie's nino (godfather), but something happened and my uncle Roland offered to fill in.  I had to share my godfather just like everything else in my childhood. 

In 1977, Mickey had weight loss surgery.  Soon after, he had a heart attack and died.  Mickey lost his weight too fast and his body couldn't handle it.

At Jackie's high school graduation in 1989, Uncle Roland brought Jackie a present and gave her a big hug.  I remember thinking, I wish we had different godfathers.  Mickey's image flitted through my mind the way long forgotten memories sometimes do. 

I watched Jackie and my best friend Tracy graduate from the bleachers.  My mom wouldn't talk to me.  My former classmates looked at me with awkward faces.  I had dropped out after sleeping my way through most of my senior year.  That time is still fuzzy.  No one thought to ask why I slept so much.  I took my GED that summer. 

I was always skinny when I was little.  My favorite outfit in elementary school was a pair of "slim" pale blue dittos and my green frog shirt.   Jackie struggled with her weight.  I never had to worry.

My dietician and I went over my weight history about six months ago.  My weight gain has been slow, about ten pounds a year for the last ten or twelve years.  It has been a gradual slide downhill. 

Yet, I refuse to categorize myself as merely a fat girl.  I am more than the sum of my pounds.  About twelve years ago, I graduated from UCR with high honors and watched my mom and dad cry in the audience.  Nine years ago, I graduated from USC Law School and got a job at the largest law firm in Texas.  Yeah, that's right, this high school dropout and former waitress rubbing elbows with Texas elite, except, I never really fit in.

Six years ago, my dad died and I moved back home and started writing about my childhood.  Four years ago, I decided to share my stories and attended the VONA writing workshop in San Francisco.  That same year, I applied to the Public Defender's Office.  In short, I found my bliss.  Then, my weight started to get to me both emotionally and physically.

Life is strange.  If you are not careful it can pass you by.  I am almost forty and I hope I can change again.  I have a lot left in me.  Just like I know I have a book in me, I know there is still a skinny girl inside of me.  She is gorgeous.  Her outside matches her inner strength. 

In ten years, I hope I will look back at the last years as my fat, albiet productive, phase.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Countdown

My fat girl surgery is this Tuesday.  I got a call today from the surgeon's assistant who told me my surgery had been moved up to five a.m.  My surgery was originally scheduled for ten a.m. and I knew it was too good to be true.  After the assistant called, I ran into the house to tell Adrian.  He teased me into almost believing he wouldn't take me that early. 

I walked outside to let the dogs out and looked down at my feet.  The polish on my feel was chipped and my souls were calloused.  I was going into surgery with ugly feet.  Not good.  I drove down to the pedicure salon and waited an hour to get my toenails cut and polished and my soles buffed until they were soft.

The days before surgery are going by fast.  Some days, I wish I was a super hero who had the power to slow down time.  Other days, I want time to speed up so I can hurry up and get it over with.  I have never had surgery before and the prospect of being "under" and at the mercy of others makes me nervous. 

What bothers me the most is the idea of not knowing what will happen after.  Will I be hungry?  Will I be in pain?  How long will it take for the weight to drop off? 

Was it Bob Dylan who said that the answer is blowing in the wind?  If so, the answer is a hot breeze that makes me sweat.  The day before my surgery I have to scrub down with an anti bacterial soap and take off all my jewelery and wear no lotion or deodorant.  It is fitting.  This is a new me, a new season and a new day.

Three days and eight hours to go.  But who's counting?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mysterious Ways

On Saturday night, we went to the U2 concert.  I had never seen U2 live.  It is surprising considering that I had a long time love affair with Bono in the 1980's.  He slept in my bedroom on the wall albeit on a poster board that was a present from my best friend Tracy. 

I have written blogs about music before.  I would hope dear readers that you know how much Morrisey and the Smiths mean to me.  Similarly, the Pixies, my second favorite band of all time, make me want to run in circles and jump up and down.  Listening to X makes me want to drive fast.  Siouxsie inspires me to dance and wave my hands in their air in the way only a goth girl can do.

U2 always made me sway.  There is something about their music that is transcendent. 

When the guitar went low Saturday night and Bono's voice rose into the air, it felt like the sky had opened up for a moment.  I am a teller of tales, some say I am prone to exaggeration, but when Bono sang "One" I cried.    That is the power of music for me.  It takes me somewhere else.  It floats me away and I am captivated. 

The night ended on a low note.  It took us an hour to get out of the parking lot.  Tracy was more than tipsy and argued with J in the car.  Adrian and I got into a little spat.

The next morning Adrian and I took the moms out to Hesperia again.  Adrian planted some more trees and I laid out on the concrete and sunned myself like a lizard.  We barbequed some hamburgers on the grill and swam in the cold pool.  The last time I dove in, I held my breath for as long as I could and danced underwater.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

High and Low

For those of you who don't know the distinction, there is a high and low desert in California.  The high desert is Hesperia and beyond off of the Interstate 15 North and the low desert is Palm Springs and beyond off the 10 (East) freeway.  Calling the Interstate 10 freeway by its numerical designation with a "the" in front of it is the California way of saying it. 

My father-in-law Alberto bought a ranch house in the high desert in Hesperia about six months before he died.  Alberto became obesessed with remodeling the house.  It was like he was in a race.  With the help of a contractor, Alberto gutted the entire interior and put in red and white tile in the living room and family room.  He bought dark wood floors for all of the bedrooms and painted the white walls with bright colors.

Alberto stained the fence and outdoor bar a warm brown and planted palm trees by the stone rock pool.  In a mere six months, the house was coming together.  Alberto and Orieta started moving their clothes over from the West Covina house.  They planned on moving in the next weekend.

Then Alberto died.  Orieta walked into his bedroom at their house in West Covina and found him dead in his bed.   His arms were crossed over his heart.  I was in court all morning with my phone turned off and it took two hours for the police to reach me.  Orieta's neighbor held her hand while the police questioned her.  I drove over to their house in a panic.  I called my brother-in-law Vinnie who tried to calm me down.  My hands were shaking as I pulled over to have Adran paged at his office  When his assistant put him on the phone, I didn't have to say a word because Adrian knew. 

The last nine months, the house has fallen into disrepair.  Adrian stops by after work sometimes, but the weeds have taken over and the pool is a slight greenish color.  The wood floors have a coat of dust. 

Last night, I drove the moms out to the Hesperia house and Adrian met us there after work.  We went out to dinner at Steer and Stine, a local IE steakhouse.  We played Apples to Apples and I took a Tylenol PM to fall asleep.  Adrian and I took the master bedroom and in the morning, I got up early and walked outside.  Adrian was already up and testing the water of the pool with a PH kit.  

"We slept in the same bed my dad died in," Adrian said looking at me. 

"I wish you hadn't told me that," I said.

"It doesn't bother me," Adrian said and shook his head as he looked out at the mountains.  "It's father's day weekend."

My husband has always been a bit morbid.  It is probably what attracted me to him.  I am a former Goth girl.  I think what he was getting at is that he feels closer to his father out there in the high desert.  Alberto may be dead, but his project lives on.

Monday, June 13, 2011

There ain't no fairy tale endings

I wish someone told me this when I was little.  There are no fairy tale endings.  People don't live happily ever after.  No prince ever comes on a white horse and spirits you away.  Or if they do, years later, the horse breaks down and the prince turns out to be a frog.

The best you can hope for is to get through the drudgery and savor those little moments of happiness that make life worthwhile.  Let's face it, being an adult sucks.  It sucks ass. 

It is much easier to be a child or a teenager or even a young adult.  I think that is why so many of my stories deal with the past because whatever my childhood was, that is, chaotic, scary, happy, adventurous, traumatic, and sometimes surprising, it was better than the day to day drudgery of an ordinary adult existence.  I remember the freedom of it.  That sense that one's whole life was an unknown. 

Now, at about forty, and maybe this post is just a symptom of the almost forty blues, I see life as hard and disappointing.  Most days, I get up and go to work and work hard to get through my court calendar.  My life is somewhat like my calendar.  I have felony settlement conferences, i.e. negotiations, there are sentencing hearings, i.e. punishments and even oral arguments, i.e. fights.  And, like my calendar, I just gotta get through it because tomorrow is another day.

This blog is not meant to be depressing.  It is meant to express how the world can get you down.   One can only hope, I mean I can only hope, to pick myself up again and start over every day.  The goal is to try and be a better person, to treat people with kindness and be positive.

In the end, that's the best we can do.  Just try.  And try again.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bye Bye Fat Girl

I have my fat girl surgery in less than a month.  Soon, I will be a shadow of my former self.  My only fear is looking like a bobblehead.  That's not really true of course.  My fears contain multitudes. 

One fear is that I will die on the operating table looking up at a florescent light.  They say death is hardest on those you leave behind, but I would be horrified to die from an operation designed to to make one stop eating.  It would a very American way to die. 

Don't take this wrong.  My goal in talking about this is not to trivialize it.  Instead, I want to bring my fears out in the open with the hope that they will dissolve in the sun of recognition. 

This fear of death includes leaving my husband all alone with the dogs and the two moms.  I don't know what he would do without me by his side.  My outgoing optimism balances out his pessimistic and hermit like tendancies.  Plus, I know him pretty well after almost nineteen years and he loves me.   He really loves me despite my round tummy.  What can I say?  I know he is hot as only an Argentine can be, but I am just plain loveable. 

Another fear is that I will get a staph infection and end up very sick.  I read an article by one of my favorite doctor writers Atul Gawande about staph infections and it freaked me out.  I told my husband that I asked my doctor about the risks, but I lied.  When my doctor asked me if I had any questions, I shook my head.  Maybe I don't want to know.

Finally, there is always the fear of failure.  Despite my purported confidence to everyone that everything will go well, I am afraid I won't be able to stop eating.  That I have eaten whatever I wanted for far too long.   That I will will have surgery and give it a go for a couple of months and slowly start sliding back to eating too much too quickly and drinking beer and Diet Coke.

Then I look in the mirror and tell myself, this has to change, you have to change.   There is no more time.  My hand lifts and almost without thinking, I give a sad little wave to the person in the mirror.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kegger

*I first published this story on the Open Mic Blog of Satsumabug's art blog

KEGGER

The idea for a kegger party came to my twin sister Jackie and I during the last month of our junior year of high school. It started out as only an idea and the idea became reality and then, as it often did in my childhood, reality turned ugly.

We lived off of Fourth Street and Grove in a small three bedroom house that my parents rented. My parents had lost their house three years before. After they lost the house, we moved from rental to rental like a band of nomads. Our first rental was a condo in south Upland. North Upland was on the right side of the tracks and south Upland was its ugly neglected stepsister.

My twin sister Jackie and I recruited our formerly angelic little sister Annie to follow us on our ride to juvenile delinquency. We were the holy terrors of the neighborhood. We made out with boys in the community jacuzzi beer bottles in hand. We stole my dad’s car at night and came home to red and blue lights flashing in our driveway. We toilet papered the entire downtown of Upland which turned into a criminal investigation after our friend wrote on a car with permanent marker. I got caught drinking in the front yard with my skater boyfriend and his stoner friends by the cops and was almost arrested. Instead, they cited me for an appearance in juvenile court and as my penance, I attended alcohol classes where they told me to “just say no”.

Add in my parents’ constant screaming and fighting and in essence, they evicted us for being the modern day Inland Empire Hillbillies.  Our next stop on the sad rental train was an old, creepy white house in Upland that looked like the house from Amityville horror. The landlord sold the house after a year and my parents returned to Ontario in their search for a cheap rental.

When we moved to the new, not so new rental, I claimed my own room by biblical birthright. Even though I was a twin, I was the oldest by nine minutes and refused to share with Jackie any longer. Annie and Jackie were forced to share a room.

I loved the privacy.  I had a poster of Sid Vicious on one wall and a poster of Bono from U2 on the other. My cat Whitey was a permanent fixture on my bed and she always left white hair on my all black wardrobe. I had my nose pierced the month before and proudly wore my diamond stud to school. It got me a lot of attention.

“No parties,” my dad said with a wag of his finger when my mom told us they were leaving for Laughlin that weekend. Annie was going to stay with her friend Bernadette.  “Party, no way!” I guffawed with a flourish of my hand. Jackie and I caught eyes and the idea was born.

Keg parties were all the rage in the Inland Empire of the 1980′s. The recipe was a simple mix of beer and high school students. Add in a band or at the very least a boom box and the recipe was complete.

We started our party planning at work. Jackie and I worked at the Round Table Pizza on Foothill and Campus in Upland with my best friend Tracy. My “other” best friend Melinda, who I had known since third grade, stopped by after her shift at the mall and we worked out all the details. We decided to “borrow” a couple of kegs from the cooler at Round Table and have them filled by a co-worker’s older brother.

“We need fliers to pass out at school,” I said. I was the unofficial president of the planning committee.

“Johnny can draw, let’s have him hand sketch one and we can make copies,” Jackie said.

“Have him put in some skulls and beer bottles,” Tracy said. Melinda joined in, “Yeah, and let’s charge three bucks a head.”

We made a hundred fliers and passed them out all week at lunch. The day of the party, Tracy and I talked about it in our part of the quad where we hung out with all the other punks. Melinda walked toward us with a grimace, “Guess who else is having a party tonight? Reggie.” “Shit, we’re screwed,” I said. “When the football king has a party everyone goes.”

That night, Jackie and I waited at the house drinking out of the keg with Tracy, Melinda and the two guys we hired to work the door.   By nine we had given up. No one was coming.

All of a sudden, we heard shouting and screaming coming from the front of the house. I walked into the front yard and saw at least twenty cars parked on the street. A guy in a football jersey walked up and said, “Reggie’s party got broken up, everyone is coming here.”

Within minutes, the back yard was full of high school students. Jackie and I worked the keg and tried not to put too much foam in the glasses. The bouncers had already collected two hundred dollars and after the cost of the kegs we were at least a hundred dollars ahead. I took shots of tequila from a bottle someone passed around.

By eleven, the backyard was overflowing. The bouncers were drunk and had stopped taking money. The party had moved inside. I felt as if I was walking through a kaleidoscope of people. What are all these people doing in the house?

Tracy ran up to me and grabbed my arm. “Jua Jua, it’s the police,” she slurred. “They want to talk to someone in charge.” I looked through the front window and saw four cop cars in the driveway.

Jackie was nowhere to be found. I shook myself to clear my head and walked outside with Tracy. An officer walked up to me and said, “Do you live here?”

“Yes,” I said in my oldest child voice. He shined a flashlight into my eyes and I felt myself wobble in my monkey boots. “Are you intoxicated, young lady?”  Tracy whimpered beside me.

“No, I’m fine.” I said and shrugged my shoulders.

“We’ve had several complaints from your neighbors and everyone needs to leave. We could arrest you for underage drinking.” I turned my head and watched as the police ushered a line of people out of the back yard into the street.

“Get a move on,” the police yelled through bullhorns. Someone screamed, “Go Juanita! Tell those pigs off!”
“Why are you shutting down the party?” I asked. “This is fucking ridiculous, it’s only eleven thirty,” I said as I got in the officer’s face. “Fuck off!” I shouted, the tequila making me brave.

Tracy tried to calm me down, but I pushed her arm away. Tracy turned and walked into the house. After the cops left, I found her hiding in the closet, black eyeliner smeared all over her face.

The cops didn’t arrest me. They should have. When my parents came home a couple of days later, the neighbors had signed a petition to have us evicted.

When I think back to that night, a night that happened more than twenty years ago, I can’t help but smile. I have to admit that I admire my outspoken (and drunk) sixteen year old self standing there in monkey boots, pierced nostril and all, standing up to a bunch of cops. Yes, it was stupid. Yes, it was wrong. Yes, my parents suffered for it.

But somehow, it seems fitting.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Junior College Days

When I was in junior college in the 1990's at Mt. San Antonio College ("Mt. SAC") in Walnut, I just wanted to get through it and transfer.  It took me years because I waitressed full-time and took classes around my work schedule.  It never occurred to me to quit working.  This first generation college student knew nothing about financial aid.

I had been on my own since I was seventeen and had to pay the bills.  My younger sister Annie and I lived in a two bedroom apartment in Upland.  Annie attended Mt. SAC as well and we worked at different restaurants together.  She drove me everywhere, including to school which was at least a twenty to thirty minute drive each way, because my car was always on the fritz.  Transportation was always an issue for me in my twenties.  People take their cars for granted and when you don't have a reliable one, life is difficult to say the least and sometimes impossible (especially with the unreliable public transportation in the Inland Empire).

My English professor Holly Cannon assigned us to read James Joyce's story "Araby" from "Dubliners" and I was again hooked to the written word.  Professor Cannon told me that I was a talented writer.  Back then, computers were uncommon and she would write compliments on the front page of my hand written papers in red script. 

"The Mountaineer" was Mt. SAC's monthly newspaper.  I took a journalism class and applied to work for the paper.  After one semester, the advisor Ms. P asked me to be the editor-in-chief.   Ms. P had previously worked for the Washington Post in DC and I idolized her.  She was sarcastic and tough as brick.  You did what she said and you did it right.  When she asked me to be the editor, I was too scared to say no and pushed my worries about work aside. 

Ms. P knew about my money problems and offered me a small stipend.  I walked around campus with my recorder in hand looking for stories.  I stayed in the office until late at night writing and researching and editing other students' work.  When I broke the story of the student council buying themselves beepers with student fees (titled "The Beep Goes On"), Ms. P entered the story into a contest and it won second place.

Every month, we drew out the newspaper's layout together on wax paper with crayon.  We cut out the articles and headlines and placed them with tape.  Advertisements had to fit in as well and I learned the concept of too much white space. 

I loved publishing day.  Ms. P and I would drive over to Colton to pick up the papers from the press after which we put them in the racks and handed them out to students walking by.  It made me forget all my money struggles and that dreaded math class I was trying hard to pass.

Ms. P tried to mentor me.  I was a bit self-destructive in my twenties (ahem, let me correct that, very self destructive) and I remember one day I came into the office with a severe hangover.  She yelled at me and I yelled back.  I screamed at her that I was barely making it financially and that the paper was taking over my life.  She told me that I should apply to Columbia's journalism program in New York.  I scoffed at her.  Me, this barely making it waitress from the Inland Empire, in New York?   "Forget that," said my twenty something self.  My forty year old self wishes I had at least considered New York.  I would have loved it.  Ms. P was disappointed when I told her that I had decided to apply to UCR's English Literature program and after a year (and my third time taking and finally passing that damn math class), I gave up my post as editor-in-chief and transferred to UCR.

But, I never forgot that feeling of just pressed warm newspaper in my hand and seeing my name in a byline.  The black ink marking my skin.  Reminding me that I was worthy and I could do this.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hindsight

I live my life looking backwards in the rear view mirror.  What I mean by this is that I never realize how good my life is when I am actually in it.  Instead, I appreciate moments after they have passed when I am looking back in remembrance. 

I was reminded of this today when I got a email from my former secretary that I worked with when I was at the big firm in Houston.  My secretary, let's call her Linda, was simply fabulous (I try not to use adverbs, but one is appropriate here).  Linda resembled a young Morgan Fairchild and dressed better than the attorneys.  Linda was an old school secretary.  She formatted my motions, edited my text, wrote my letters, organized my office, and tracked my calendar and billable hours.  She even fed my cats when I was on vacation.  To say Linda was organized is an understatement of epic proportions.  And, she was wicked smart. 

We were friends from the start.  Linda was the clutter free yin to my disheveled yang.  We were sisters in a prior life. 

One day, I had a discovery production due.  There were hundreds and hundreds (maybe thousands) of documents to produce to the opposing side.  Linda and I spent days together in a conference room organizing everything.  I reviewed the documents and Linda put on the bates stamps (for those who don't know what a bates stamp is, it is like a bar code).

At some point, Linda and I were so tired that we made stupid mistakes and kept on having to start over.  Instead of getting frustrated, we pretended we were Lucy and Ethyl in the chocolate factory assembly line.  In the hell called a civil litigation discovery production we had a blast and we made our deadline (just barely).

Another time, I was bugging Adrian about marriage and Linda loaned me a huge fake diamond to wear.  Adrian asked where I got the ring and I told him, "It's a fake but I told everyone it was from you.  So you better hurry up and ask me and get me a real ring."  It didn't work.  Linda and I shared many a laugh on that one.

I never stopped complaining for the entire three years I lived in Houston.  What was my problem?  I was in my early thirties and had plenty of friends.  The people in Houston were amazing.  I worked at the number one law firm and attended black tie dinners every month.  The money was good.  Cost of living was low. 

Every workday, my colleague Nancy and I walked to Starbucks with another associate named David.  We sat and sipped our coffees and talked about all the funny things that happened at work.  We called the talks our "episodes" and cast our fellow co-workers and one another (Nancy was self cast as Susan Sarandon, David was Alfonso Ribeiro and I was Drew Barrymore). 

I can picture my younger self sitting at the Starbucks and want to scream in my ear, "One day you will look back and realize that you are having the time of your life.  Appreciate it, you foolish girl."

Unfortunately, I do not have a time traveling DeLorean.  But, from now on I pledge to appreciate my life in the moment.  I want to appreciate the next decade while I am living it, not after.  My goal is to be present in the here and now.

What the hell.  Maybe one day I will look back and think, shit, that time with the moms in the house wasn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stressin out

I have been stressing out a lot lately.  It seems as if I am having a mini nervous breakdown on a daily basis.  The stress is not work related except in the sense that my job does not pay me enough money.  

But the reasons for my stress aside, I have decided as of today that I will try not to stress out.  Stress is toxic and ultimately counter productive.  For example, yesterday I was stressing out big time.  I was on the phone trying to take care of an issue while driving through Carl's Jr. to pick up my lunch (which in my attempt to lose weight before my fat girl surgery is a lettuce wrapped turkey burger and a Diet Coke).  I drove through the drive-thru and ordered and pulled up to the window to pay.  After I paid, I drove away. 

I returned to my office change in hand and thought to myself, where the fuck is my lunch (sorry for the cursing, but even my thinking is profane)?  As you probably guessed, my lunch was still at Carl's Jr and when I walked in, the cashiers were laughing.

The thing is, the stress did not solve anything.  It merely deprived me of the time it took me to drive back to get my lunch.  That evening, I took care of the issue (i.e., bill)  that stressed me out and felt better.  Still, I haven't slept well in about two weeks.  I wake up in the middle of the night stressing about everything wrong in my life.  In the moment between sleep and wakefulness, I feel myself start to stress and whisper a little prayer.  Sometimes, you just have to let go and I know I cannot solve my worries by myself.  I need divine intervention on this one. 

The question remains, however, how do I relieve my stress or combat it?  Easier said than done.  This afternoon after court, I had a another "episode".  My head felt as if it would explode.  I drove home from work a bit early and curled up on my bed and tried to relax.  My husband came home and asked me what was wrong.  I told him of the issue and he was very supportive.  He solved the problem.  Yet, the stress did not subside. 

Later, I was warming up tortillas for tacos for dinner and put my head in my hands.  "It's all too much," I told him.  "I am going to have a heart attack."

I went upstairs and tried to relax again.  It still didn't work.  My husband convinced me to go for a walk with him and the moms and as soon as I got outside, I felt a bit better.  The sun was out, the sky was clear and my mood began to lift.

We walked for about twenty minutes and now I can breathe.  Just breathe I tell myself, breathe in and out and let it all go.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Same Old Story

I just saw a quote from James Joyce that inspired me (along with the James Joyce paper doll I found in San Diego that is now in my office).  I will paraphrase it for you.  Writers only have one story to tell and they, or should I say we, tell the same story over and over again.  Thus, as Joyce noted, writers are trapped by their own experience and whatever form we write our story in, i.e. memoir, fiction, or poetry, it is essentially the same story being retold over and over.

I know it is a truism to say that we are shaped by our life experiences, but in writing, this truism is similar to the plot in "Groundhog Day" in the sense that writers are obligated to repeat the same story over and over despite their best efforts to move on.  For example, Ulysses tells the story of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom which is, in essence, the story of Joyce's relationship with his wife Nora Barnacle (aka Molly Bloom).  

For most writers, this oft repeated story is one of our childhood experiences.  I know it is for me.  In some ways, I am still a young child sitting on the roof with my sisters watching the sunset to the sounds of my parents fighting below.  I wish I was past it.  I really do.  But perhaps, the art lies in reshaping my past, in writing it all down and in the process of memorializing it, conquering the beast of my past. 

Or maybe, the art lies in the honesty of speaking out and sharing that my life was not perfect, but flawed and at times, ugly.  There is nothing so beautiful to me as someone who just tells it like it is.  Without any sugercoat on it.

Sometimes, the art also lies in finding the beauty in the chaos.  Despite the fact that I had a somewhat tumultous childhood and young adulthood, there were many good times.  I had a mom and dad who worked hard and gave my sisters and I everything they could.  And, we had adventures.  Crazy adventures.  Adventure cannot be overrated.  It is the stuff memoirs are made of and if I am doomed to repeat my story so be it.  I have some pretty fucking fantastic stories if I do say so myself.

I wouldn't trade my life for an idyllic one.  My childhood turned me into a survivor, a hard worker, an empathizer, a progressive, and a lawyer fighting for those that society throws away.

And, most of all, my childhood made me a writer.