Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Silver Spoons

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth, the pink kind you get at Dairy Queen.  There were no silver spoons in my house.  My mom waitressed and my dad was a truck driver who loved his beer.

For most of my childhood, our family owned a four bedroom tract home in Ontario, California.  In a twist of fate, my dad mortgaged it to buy a bar.  A drinker owning a bar is never a good idea and the bar soon went belly up and like something out of a Dickens' novel, so did my parents finances.  In a sign of defeat, my parents filed bankruptcy and let the house go. 

Life changed for my parents when they lost the house.  My mom was furious with my dad.  She ranted and raved.  “It's all your fucking father's fault," she muttered in a bitter voice.  "I should have never signed those damn papers." 

They were forced to rent and found a deal on a three bedroom condominium in Upland, a city just north of Ontario.   If Ontario was a Budweiser like town, Upland was a Champagne type city although anything below Foothill was considered less desirable.  The condo was on "D" Street and Euclid right below Foothill and within walking distance of Chaffey High School. 

My parents fought hard and loud in the Ontario house.  The police were common visitors and their red and blue lights signaled our family's dysfunction to our neighbors.  Annie worried about moving to the condo because we shared a wall with our next door neighbors. 

My parents pledged that it would be different, but as quick as my mom could scream "fucking asshole", we were again the talk of the neighborhood.  I didn't care because it was my sophomore year and I spent most of my time hanging out with my friend Tracy. 

Tracy and I met in Chaffey's "YOU" class in 1986.  The "YOU" class was a cross between a psychology and sociology course.  Tracy sat a couple of seats behind me and I admired Tracy's style from the first day.  Tracy had light blond hair with spiked up bangs and she wore red lipstick and thick black eyeliner around her eyes like Siouxsie.  I felt like I wasn't cool enough to talk to her because she hung out with Mariella, a popular cheerleader who looked like Nia Peeples.

One day after class, Tracy came up to me and started talking as if she knew me.  She thought I was my twin Jackie that she had PE with.  We started talking about music and it turned out that we were both obsessed with the Smiths.  We had an instant connection, the kind that usually only happens in the movies.  I wanted to be just like her.

I remember the first time we hung out together.  Her mom picked me up in front of my condo in a blue Chevy Blazer.  When they drove up, Tracy's mom asked if my mom wanted to meet her and I waved off the question.  The day at Corona Del Mar was a dream.  Tracy's mom didn't yell at any drivers on the road.  We soaked up the sun all day and grabbed lunch afterward.  I didn't want to go home that night. 

A couple of weekends later, Tracy's mom took us to Hollywood and we went to Nana's on Melrose and I bought red monkey boots, a short version of a combat boot.  The next weekend, we went to Claremont and hung out at the Crystal Cave.  Tracy bought a pentacle on a long velvet string and I bought a necklace with an Egyptian cross symbol.  We spent hours reading books about astrological signs and tarot cards. 

Although it made me nervous, I introduced Tracy to my mom.  My friend Melinda always handled my mom's variations of moods with ease.  Melinda never held it against me if my mom told her to "get the fuck out".  I wondered if Tracy would be understanding about what it was like in my house.

There was no need to worry because Tracy handled it like a trooper and my mom's affection for Tracy surprised me.  Tracy always smiled at my mom when she came tired home from work and made conversation.  When my mom got angry, Tracy would just say with laughter in her voice, "Your mom's fucking crazy."   Then we went to my room, cranked up some Smiths or Pixies and made fun of my mom's expressions.

Later that year, my family received an invitation to my cousin Queytay's wedding in Orange County.  Queytay was the daughter of Uncle Poncho and Aunt Tilly.  Poncho was one of my mom's four brothers and Tilly and my mom had been friends since elementary school.  My dad hated Tilly and didn't want to go.  My mom said he had to go even though he complained that my mom's brothers talked about him in Spanish.

My mom said we could bring Tracy and we picked her up in my dad's beat up old pickup.  My sisters and I opened up the back to the shell and waved Tracy inside.  My parents fought the whole way to Orange County.  Tracy and I giggled in the back of the truck while my parents cussed each other out.

Tracy and I dyed her hair pink for the wedding with Cherry Kool Aid.  My hair was short and curly and we had colored it blue black the weekend before.  I borrowed Tracy's red lipstick which matched my monkey boots and Tracy applied my eyeliner so it looked like hers.  We wore similar outfits of concert T-shirts and black skirts with black tights.  Jackie wore a tight dress and looked at us askance and said, "Are you guys really wearing that?"  

When we got to the reception, we grabbed a table and my parents took Annie and went to talk to the relatives.  We noticed the bartender was a preppy twenty something guy with blond sandy hair.  Jackie sauntered over to him and struck up a conversation.  She motioned us over and he handed us a small plastic glass with a yellow liquid inside.  Tracy and I went to the alley behind the recreation room to do our shots.  We drank the kamikazes quickly and grimaced with the tang of vodka and lemon.  There were a number of guys hanging out back there, some in their teens and some older.

Jackie hung out at the bar talking to the bartender and his friend who was the deejay.  Tracy and I smoked cigarettes outside and we did a round of purple shots that tasted like grape punch. 

Soon, my head was spinning and we were out of cigarettes.  I walked into the recreation room and saw my mom's purse sitting on a chair.  I grabbed the keys out of it and walked up to the bar where Tracy and Jackie were joking with the bartender.  "Let's go," I said to Tracy.  "We need cigs." 

"You stay in case Mom and Dad are looking for us," I ordered Jackie who nodded her head in agreement.

Tracy had her learner's permit and I nominated her to drive.  Tracy was always a worrier, but I convinced her that everything would be fine.  She had a hard time maneuvering the bulky pickup through the complex.  We drove down the street and looked for a gas station and I told her to "flip a bitch" when I saw a 7-11. 

As Tracy made the u-turn, a car headed straight for us and I screamed.  Tracy swerved the car barely avoiding an accident.  We pulled into the parking lot of the 7-11 and looked at each other and Tracy said in a shaky voice, "That was close Jua Jua." 

We convinced a guy to buy us cigarettes and drove back.  We must have turned the wrong way because we made our way through a maze of streets before we found the apartment complex.

My parents met us at the front door of the recreation room and my mom grabbed the keys out of my hand.  We were caught.  "We were just listening to music mom," I said.  She shook her head and said, "Where the fuck is Jackie?" 

My uncle Poncho and Aunt Tilly walked over and asked if anything was wrong.  "Judy, calm down," my dad said with a slur in his voice.  I stammered, "I'll go get her."  Tracy's eyes begged me to hurry. 

I  found Jackie and told her, "C'mon, mom and dad are pissed."  We followed my mom and dad to the pickup truck.  My dad could barely walk.  We all piled in as he started the truck.  The truck refused to budge. 

"John, you're just fucking drunk, that's the problem," my mom screamed.  My dad threw his hands up in the air and said with resignation, "Judy, I can't get the car to go."   My mom's brother Roland drove us home that night in his van (we found out later that my dad had left the emergency brake on).  The drive home seemed interminable.  My mom yelled at us the whole way home.  I placed my face against the window and watched the cities roll by on the 57.

When we got home, my mom said, "You girls need to go to bed.  You are going to school tomorrow, don't even think about trying to stay home."

Tracy and I sat cross legged on my bed and talked for an hour before we turned out the lights and went to sleep.

In the morning my mom woke us up with a yell, "Get up you're late!" she screamed. 

To get her off our backs we got dressed and walked down Euclid toward school like a trio of misfits.   

We knew my mom had to leave soon for her breakfast shift.  We walked for about half an hour and when we were about five or six blocks away from school, Tracy looked at me and said, "You think she's gone yet?"  Jackie and I nodded in unison and we turned around and walked back to the condo.

Thankfully, my mom had already left.  Jackie went to bed and Tracy and I parked ourselves on the couch and watched "Alice Sweet Alice", a creepy slasher movie starring Brooke Shields.

We took turns dipping into my dad's container of Thrifty's ice cream with our plastic spoons.

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