Panorama of San Bernardino

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lost and Found

When asked if I have kids, I typically respond that I have two fur children, my Shih Tzus Frodo and Chewbaca.  Oh wait, I almost forgot about Neuron, the most recent furry addition to our family.

Speaking of forgetting, I lost Frodo Christmas morning.  It all started with a horoscope.  Early that morning, my mom read it to me over a cup of coffee. 

"Libra", the horoscope said, "everyone has an off day and today will be one such day, but this too shall pass." 

I told my mom she should have lied to me and told me that I was going to have a good day because, for me, prophecies have a way of becoming self-fulfilling.

Later that morning, my mom and I went outside to put the presents in my car.  We were going to Annie's house for a Christmas lunch of enchiladas, tamales and beer.  My mom pointed out that Frodo and Chewie were sitting in the driveway.  We packed the trunk full of presents and went inside. 

About thirty minutes and another cup of coffee later, I looked down at Chewie and something clicked in my mind.  I flash backed to the image of Frodo sitting in the driveway looking at me with his dark black eyes.  

In an echo of "Home Alone", I screamed, "Shit, I forgot Frodo!"

I ran outside and Frodo was nowhere to be seen.  I drove through my neighborhood and screamed out Frodo's name like a crazy wild-haired banshee while I clapped my hands out my car window in the hope Frodo would hear.

As I turned the corner back onto our block, I started crying.  Right then, a woman came into the street waving her hands.  It was our neighbor who lives about six houses down.  She had Frodo in her arms.  As I walked in the house with Frodo, my mom said, "I thought Christmas was going to be cancelled for a minute there.  I can't believe you almost lost him." 

"I know, I am a bad mommie," I replied.  "I hope I don't ever lose my real kids."

"That is, if you ever have kids," my mom said with a shake of her head.  My mom (obviously) wants another grandchild. 

Adrian and I want kids (dare I say desperately?), but it hasn't happened.  For sixteen of our eighteen years together we were very careful, maybe too careful.  It turns out that we could have went wild. 

Life is strange.  We are both professionals, we have a big house and are finally in the position to be "perfect" parents.  But alas, as John Lennon once said, life is what happens when you're making plans. 

I see women with babies everywhere, like someone is purposefully shoving a baby store catalogue in my face.  As I walked around Victoria Gardens last week, I saw women breastfeeding, men with those papoose looking contraptions strapped across their chest with butterball babies inside and strollers with identical twins. 

A little girl with dark curly hair walked by me and I smiled at her.  When she smiled back, I got a tight feeling in my chest and thought, this is what it feels like to want. 

I am not sure when I started wanting kids.  Some of it was seeing my sister Annie with her kids (who are fabulous and that's just a fact).  The other part of it was my realization some years ago that that my parents did the best they could with what they had.

It's scary because I am almost forty.  Forty seems far too old to have kids.  My mom had us when she was in her early thirties and she seemed like an "older" mom to us, especially compared with Mary, my best friend Melinda's mom.

Melinda's mom Mary was in her twenties.  Melinda's younger sister Pam was Annie's age.  We all hung out in their two bedroom apartment.  She made us lunch and we sat around the table telling jokes and laughing.  Mary sometimes let us take a sip of Midori liqueur or a wine cooler.

By the time we hit junior high, Jackie and I brought over stolen beers from my dad's fridge and downed them before we walked to the park with Melinda for the weekly nighttime baseball game.  Shadows followed behind us because Pam and Annie trailed us around with paper and pen taking notes for information to use for their blackmail side business. 

I know what you are thinking.  Why are these kids drinking?  Drinking was only the tip of the iceberg and the rest is a story for another day. 

My mom used to tell me that I would be cursed with monster children because I put her and my dad through so much hell.

I am willing to risk it and pledge to be a cool mom regardless of my age.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Mantz Christmas Story

It is Christmas Eve and I am thinking of Christmases long, long ago.  Maybe it was because we watched "Disney On Ice" and it reminded me of childhood.  Maybe it's all the Christmas movies. 

Christmas reminds me of waking up early to watch "The Little Rascals" on KTLA Channel Five.  Christmas reminds me of my dad's homemade donuts.  Take Pillsbury biscuit dough from the twist pop can and fry the rounds in Canola oil and then roll them in sugar, must eat hot.  Christmas reminds me of my sisters.

We were not well off, but my mom and dad always loaded the tree with presents.  The Christmas paper flew in the air on Christmas morning like colorful planes.  I asked my mom if she remembered the Barbie Dreamhouse they got us one year.  I must have been about six or seven and my sisters and I wanted it bad, we wanted it almost as much as the little boy in "A Christmas Story" wanted a Red Ryder BB gun ("You'll shoot your eye out!").

The 1970's was still an era of imagination.  The Barbie Dreamhouse had an elevator which was actually a box on a string that you pulled to take Barbie upstairs.  The Dreamhouse must have cost one hundred dollars and my parents tricked us and we thought it wasn't going to happen that year.  When we woke up and saw the building under paper we knew.  We screamed and yelled with joy and I can remember being the first one to pull the string.  "I'm the oldest," I reasoned to my sisters.  Annie was too young to argue and Jackie accepted the fact with resignation.

I wish I could get that excited about anything as an adult.

Not all Christmases were full of surprises.  One Christmas, we decided we would have Christmas a week early.  My sisters and I searched and searched for the Christmas presents and finally found them in the attic, all wrapped up.  My mom was not the neatest wrapper so we knew it would be no problem to open them and rewrap them. 

The fantasy is always better than the reality and our faces fell as we finished opening all our presents.  We knew we had ruined something beautiful.  On Christmas morning, we did our best to act surprised.  I always thought my parents knew, but they didn't. 

Years later, we told my mom about it.  My mom said that she was glad my dad hadn't known because my dad was big on surprises.  My dad would come home from work and say, "Pick a hand".  In one hand would be a Big Hunk taffy bar (preferred by me) and in the other hand a Milky Way (preferred by Jackie).

Christmas time also reminds me of seeing my dad's grey face in the emergency room right before Christmas five years ago.  We didn't know it at the time, but he would be dead less than a month later.

I shopped at the Rite Aid next to the hospital for him that Christmas and bought him a mini DVD player and some movies for him to watch in his bed on the Oncology floor.  

We got the news right around Christmas that my dad could go home on hospice.  I spent the two weeks after Christmas taking care of my father.  I tried to make him eat although he wasn't hungry.  By that time, he had lost almost seventy-five pounds.  I watched him sleep.

I try not to remember the day he died and how awful that day was. I try not to remember how it felt to tell the paramedics to stop their efforts and how hard it was to let him go.

Instead, I remember how my dad decorated the house for Christmas.  Some people are subtle with an all white or blue look.  My dad was the opposite, he went for the gusto with rainbow lights in the largest size bulb he could find.  He placed lights around the windows and on all the shrubs and trees.  Our house resembled a mini Vegas.

I remember how he decorated the Christmas tree with tinsel.  He threw it on the tree with a shout while we all sighed with displeasure.  We wanted garland not tinsel.  I remember the musical bird he hid in the tree that chirped and sang.

I remember our childhood games of Rummy and how my dad slapped his hand down on the table with a thud when one of us girls committed the grievous error of discarding a playable card.

I remember how my dad cooked breakfast: fried bologna and eggs or pancakes with jelly inside.

If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I can remember my dad dressed up in a Santa suit when I was little. 

And my Barbie Dreamhouse.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Girl Fight

I have only been in three fights in my life (not counting family fights).  The first ended badly, the second one was by proxy and the last time I ran for my life.

The reason I bring this up is because we went to see a movie at the AMC in the Ontario Mills Mall (mistake number one) and witnessed a girl fight.  Well truth be told, I didn't witness the fight itself, more the aftermath. 

We had just finished watching "Tron Legacy" and my husband and I waited outside the restroom for my mother-in-law to come out.  We heard people shouting and what sounded like a scuffle.  My mother-in-law walked out (clueless at first) and behind her was a twenty something girl with her hair all askew.  A fortyish woman followed shortly behind swinging her purse and the younger girl said aloud, "That woman hit me with her purse!" 

My mother-in-law and I were transfixed.  This was way better than the Tron sequel.  If only I still had my popcorn.

Adrian pulled me by the arm and said, "C'mon."  His mother and I walked away slowly, our necks craned as the two women continued to argue.

There is something intoxicating about watching women fight.  Although I like to participate vicariously, I personally hate to fight.  It comes down to the fact that I am a big baby, a wuss of the highest order. 

When we were little (and through our teens), my twin sister Jackie and I fought, but I hated to hit her.  I was scared that I would hurt her.  Instead, I usually threw something at her and ran to the bathroom and locked the door.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to avoid fights altogether.

My first girl fight was in elementary school.  I got my butt whipped big time.  The girl I fought was small, but super quick.  I remember standing in the back of Mariposa Elementary's playground with a ring of people circled around us.  She socked me in the face at least three times in rapid succession.  I didn't even try and fight back.  People booed with displeasure.  At some point, the girl must have felt sorry for me and stopped the fight.  I wish I could remember what the fight was over.  It was probably something I said because my mouth has always been way too big for my britches.

The second fight was in high school in ninth or tenth grade.  I was still in my nerdy phase.  Soon, my nose would be pierced and my hair dyed blue black (after which no one messed with me because they thought my friend Tracy and I were witches). 

My opponent was a bad ass heavy set chola who I will call Carla who wore her hair straight up blow dried with Aqua-Net.  Her little sister and I got into an argument and I talked trash to Carla when she confronted me on her little sister's behalf.

Carla told me to meet her in South Quad after school.  Word got around quick and my twin sister Jackie, who could throw down with the best of them, ran up to me at lunch and told me she had heard about the pending fight. 

Jackie looked at me and said, "You can't fight her Jenny.  That girl is tough.  She'll kick your ass."  She was right.  I sighed, "I know." 

Jackie continued to lecture me, "Dammit Jenny, why do you always have to talk shit if you can't back it up?  I didn't say anything.  Jackie hesitated and then shrugged her shoulders, "Fuck it, I'll fight her for you."

Jackie and I walked to South quad after school and I remember my proxy Jackie and that girl going at it, blow after blow, for what seemed like twelve rounds.  Jackie totally held her own.  I closed my eyes at some point and when it was all over, the general consensus was that the fight was a draw.  Jackie's only battle scar was a deep scratch down her face because the girl had raked her nails, nails which she had sharpened to a point, down Jackie's face.   

I don't remember if I hugged Jackie, but I should have because she saved me a serious ass kicking.

The third fight was in my twenties and it was more of a chase.  We were at Flamingo Hills in Pomona and Jackie got kicked out after she threw a drink at some girl who bumped into her.  Jackie took off with our younger sister Annie and I stayed until closing with my friend Gina. 

After last call, Gina and I walked out to her Silver Celica and as we were driving out of the parking lot, a car drove by and a girl hung her head out the window and pointed at me and said, "There's that bitch who threw the drink at me."

"Shit," I thought to myself.  Being a twin can suck at times.  I didn't try to explain to this pissed off girl and her three crazy friends that I was her twin.  They were convinced.  "Get out of the car bitch," one of the girls said as she tried to block us with her Toyota. 

"Drive," I screamed at Gina.  "Fucking drive."  Just two of us and four of them was not good odds.  Gina was tough, but I was a negative in the equation. I could do the math.

Gina maneuvered her car around the Toyota and the sped down Kellogg Hill toward the freeway.  Speeding as fast as she could, Gina hopped on the 10 West to the 57 North.  The Toyota followed us the entire way and when we exited in San Dimas, they continued to follow us down Arrow highway.   At one point, the car tried to run us off the road.  I was scared sober.

Finally, after at least an hour of chase, we drove by a police station and parked and just waited.  The girls drove by a couple of times, but finally gave up.

I chalked it up as payback for the fight Jackie fought for me years earlier.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Puppy Love

I am playing doggie referee tonight.  My three dogs are all in the house together because big bucketfuls of rain are falling from the sky.  There is a lot of tension in the house (not all from the dogs because remember my mother-in-law lives with me). 

Neron weighs approximately 100 pounds and the combined weight of Frodo and Chewie is about twenty-five pounds.  Based on sheer power alone, Neuron should be the alpha dog, but Frodo and Chewie rule the roost with paws of iron.  Frodo is king and Chewie is prince and his second in command. 

One would think King Frodo would stay in costume and wear the royal red cape that I bought him for Christmas, but he refuses to wear clothing.

Frodo is laying on our couch with Chewie cleaning him and each time Neuron moves from his prescribed spot on the tile next to the patio door, Frodo bares his teeth and gives him a Gizmo like growl and then a deep bark if he doesn't listen.  Poor Neuron sits tearing up a towel and wagging his tail.  He just wants to play, but Frodo and Chewie won't play doggie games with this Rudolph like doggie.

Their hatred is escalating.  Last week, I let Frodo and Chewie out in the backyard and before I could say "bad dog", Frodo and Chewie cornered Neuron behind the barbecue and Frodo bit Neuron in his hind leg.  Neuron, silly big dog that he is, responded to Frodo's bite with a yelp and then turned onto his back, feet in the air. 

Now, I know what you are thinking.  Neuron needs to get some balls and this household needs Cesar Milan.  I know I need Cesar Milan. 

My dogs rule my life and I am sublimating my yearning for children with my obsession with Frodo and Chewie.  When I went on vacation to New York for five days, I came home a day early because I missed my dogs and my husband, in that order. 

I love seeing my dogs' furry faces when I walk in the house.  They make me happy even though they gnawed the legs of my dining room table along with all of our baseboards (and I won't go into the carpet issues).

No matter how many times Cesar Milan says that dogs are not human (as you can see, I have read his books), I see a consciousness in Frodo's deep black eyes that is humanish.  Frodo even sucks a blankie like a baby at night.  And sometimes, when Chewie looks at me from the corner of his soft brown eyes, I swear I know what he is thinking (usually it's about food because although Chewie is a ten pound Imperial mini Shih-Tzu, his appetite rivals someone five times his size.  Chewie eats so much that he throws up.). 

The funny thing is, growing up I was always a cat person.  My whole dog experience is a result of the fact that three years ago, right after we moved into our new house, my black cat Leopold Bloom was murdered.  Yes, murdered.  The assassin was either a coyote or a bobcat and was never prosecuted. 

I made the mistake of putting a bell on Leopold and the killer(s) tracked him.  I was at the fair and when I arrived home that evening, Leopold was not on the stoop as usual and I knew something had happened.  Later, we noticed claw marks on the back screen door, like he was trying to scratch his way into the house. 

My husband looked all over the nieghborhood for Leopold, including in all the drains, and I passed out flyers of Leopold in his Superman Halloween costume.  One night, I woke up at two a.m. because I thought heard meowing.  At the time the house next door was empty and I padded over there in my pajamas looking for Leopold, but he was not there.  Finally, I had to acknowledge that Leopold was in kitty heaven (there is a cat heaven and a doggie heaven too).

I went through a depression after Leopold died.  Leopold was with me all through Houston and and San Francisco.  I couldn't snap out of it.  In desperation, my husband took me to a pet store at Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga to cheer me up and I saw a black and white puff ball with polka dots on his tummy.  It was love at first nip and once we got Frodo home, my grief dissapated with the stress and joys of owning a new puppy. 

After a few months it became clear that Frodo was lonely.  We had Chewie shipped from a breeder in Kansas City, Missouri.  I picked him up from the airport and he looked like a kitten with matted reddish brown fur.  He smelled like pee, but he loved to snuggle and kissed me with the longest puppy tongue I have ever seen (his Gene Simmons tongue still doesn't fit in his mouth).   Once we had him shaved down, his hair grew back a soft caramel color. 

Then came Neuron.  I found Neuron in Banning, California.  At the time I was stationed at the courthouse there and was coming back from lunch with my colleagues.  A puppy ran down the street, we stopped my car and he jumped inside.

Neuron is the dog of many names.  His original name was Chelo, my friend and co-worker Jen named him after a restaurant in Banning.  I changed his name to Jack Shepard after the lead character in Lost.   But, alas it was not to be.  Once I brought him home, Frodo and Chewie attacked him and I had to take him to my in-law's house.  Orieta and Alberto promptly renamed him Nueron which only sounds good if you say it with an Argentine accent. 

When Alberto passed away, my mother-in-law came to live with us, Neuron came too.  We are one big cozy family now. 

At the fair a couple of months ago, a psychic said I would have three kids.  I looked at her like she was crazy and said, "I'm thirty-nine, unless I get pregnant soon and have triplets, that is very unlikely."  She looked at me and smiled.

I think she meant fur children.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This is not a love song

One of my favorite songs is "This Is Not A Love Song" by PIL (and not just because Johnny Rotten/Lydon sings it).  The song's refrain captures the way I feel about love in general.  I am an anti-sentamentalist and have a hard time saying how much I adore my husband without sounding sarcastic.  My sister Roberta is the opposite and I admire how she can say without any trace of irony how dearly she loves her husband.  If I tried to say that, I would add something smart ass to the end.

That is not to say I am not a romantic because I am.  There is a host of evidence to support my assertion. 

Rhett Butler was my first crush.  After reading "Gone with the Wind" at age eight, I vowed to write a sequel in which Rhett came back to Scarlett and they lived happily ever after. 

By the age of ten, I had read at least one hundred (a low estimate) Harlequin romance novels.  My father built a bookcase in our garage to house all of our family's paperback "literature".  My mom read them first and handed them off and I read them over and over until they were dog-eared, their pages crinkled by bathwater.  In grade school, my teachers commented on my mature vocabulary because I used words like ravished and swooned. 

I am a sucker for both a fairy tale and a chick flick.  I've seen "When Harry Met Sally" at least fifteen times and "Sleepless In Seattle" ten times. I heaved with sobs the last time I watched "An Affair to Remember".

My favorite singer is Morrissey (formerly of The Smiths) who is an alternative crooner of sorts.  His most romantic song is "There Is A Light Which Never Goes Out" ("And if a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die").  Two years ago, Adrian and I learned a tango to it and just last week, I sat in my car and listened to the song and imagined us dancing.

It's a given then that I am a hopelessly hopeful Libra romantic. 

My husband and I have been together for eighteen years, but only married for two. 

My nickname should be the patron saint of patience because it took me sixteen years to get Adrian to marry me and only when I gave up did he finally give in (there goes my serpent's tongue again).

We met at a club in Pomona, California called "Flamingo Hills" (now called Coco Cabana) located at the top of Kellogg Hill right where the 57 and the 10 freeways meet. 

The night we met was not one of my highest points fashion wise.  I wore a black pleated skirt with black tights and high boots and a white pirate like blouse with a black vest covered in small mirrors that Adrian later called my "flair". 

I was at the club with my twin sister Jackie and my younger sister Annie.  Although the music was good, my mood was not because my hair had frizzed out and my sisters had hooked up.  I walked around the cavernous club and every so often, I went to the bathroom and tried to fix my hair.

I stood in the corner and got madder and madder as I watched my sisters on the dance floor.  They could care less that I was alone.  I wanted to leave.

I heard a deep voice ask, "Hello, would you like to dance?"  I retorted with a short, "No".  As I turned around, I caught a glimpse of a tall handsome guy with black hair and striking features.  His two friends laughed and gave him grief as they walked away, "She dissed you, she didn't even turn around."

"Shit", I thought to myself.  A decent guy finally asked me to dance and I rejected him.  I wasn't about to let him get away and when a Depeche Mode song came on, I squared my shoulders and walked right back up to him, frizzy hair and all. 

His friends jostled him as I walked up which didn't intimidate me because his friends were way shorter than him.  I saw that he was even better looking than at first glance.  He had thick black hair, a dimple in his chin and hazel flecked eyes.  I was sure he could see my nervousness, "Do you want to dance?" I stammered.  He looked at me and nodded and held out his hand, "I'm Adrian," he said in a soft voice."

That night he got my number and called me the very next day.  We went out the following weekend. 

He picked me up from my apartment in Upland in a white convertible Mercedes Benz.  "Holy shit, this is a nice car," I said as he opened my door for me.  He smiled. 

We went to Acalpulco in Montclair for dinner and he impressed me when he ordered guacamole that the waiter made right there at the table.  His manners were impeccable, but he was shy and soft spoken which made me nervous.  I blabbed on and on and the more I talked, the more positive I was that he didn't like me.  The poor guy probably said five words during dinner.  Afterward, Adrian walked me to his car and said, "You have the most beautiful eyes." 

That was the beginning of our eighteen plus years together and time has gone by so fast that I cannot believe it.  We have been through everything together.   The good times, the bad times, the ugly fights, the beautiful moments along with the sadness and tragedies that make up life. 

When my dad was dying from pancreatic cancer, he used to tell Adrian that he was glad he didn't have to worry about me because he knew Adrian would.

It took us so long to get married that people had given up.  No one bugged us any more and I no longer hassled Adrian about it.  For the four years he was in dental school, I hounded him every day to get married.  He refused to talk about it.   Finally, enough was enough, if he didn't want to get married that was fine with me.  I was tired and owning a couple of houses and living together was enough for me.  I didn't need a piece of paper. 

That's when Adrian decided that he wanted to get married.

We planned a huge wedding, but decided to elope.  On December 23, 2008 (exactly two years ago this coming Thursday) we went to the San Bernardino courthouse and got married.  As I stood and recited my vows in the courthouse chapel, this avowed anti-sentimentalist got all teary eyed as I recited my vows in front of my mom and Adrian's parents.

That afternoon, Adrian's dad Alberto took us to the Mission Inn for lunch.   I wore a cream suit and hat for the occasion and of course, I spilled bright red salsa down the front of my shirt (damn those Shrimp Fajitas). 

That evening, life was back to normal.  Adrian and I went home to our Shih-Tzus and ordered a pizza for dinner and played video games all night. 

This story is a love song of sorts, but if asked, I will deny it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Fun House Mirror Effect

My seat wouldn't buckle on Sunday at Knott's Berry Farm.  Hence, I am now officially a part of the humiliated fat person club along with director Kevin Smith.  Smith was kicked off a Southwest flight for being too fat and is not bad company to be categorized with.  The choice between being skinny or being the genius who made "Clerks" is an obvious one. 

The evil ride at issue was the Joe Cool "skate" ride in Camp Snoopy, a little kid ride that looked like a humongous roller skate with seats attached.  The ride swished back and fourth as it traveled up in the air similar to a Viking ship ride.

As we got ready to board, I thought to myself, "those seats look really small".   I knew I should just forgo it and let my niece and nephew ride together.  I mean why humiliate yourself if it's avoidable?  Masochist that I am, I had to to try.  We waited more than an hour and shoot, I wanted to ride that damn roller skate. 

The teenager who worked there wasn't happy with me.  As I squeezed my too womanly butt and hips into the seat and pulled down the large bar, she looked at me with skepticism and said in a robot like voice, "Seatbelt." 

I looked back at her and attempted a charming smile.  Maybe she would let me slide.  It wasn't as if I was going to fall out because I was wedged in there so tight that I wasn't sure I could even get back out.

This girl enforcer wasn't playing.  She picked up one end of the seat belt and said, "It needs to buckle" and motioned to the other side of the belt which sat hopeless in my hand.  At that point, I gave up and tried for honesty as I responded, "It won't".   Then I shrugged and gave her my woeful hound dog look to see if she would take pity on me.  

No dice.  "You can't ride then," she said.  In one last sad attempt I tried to suck in my stomach and buckle the seat belt, but it was a no go and I finally gave up and heaved myself out of the seat.  As I fell onto the landing, I looked at the large Santa-ish man who sat in the seat behind me with his granddaughter and thought, "How the fuck did he fit?" 

Head down, I shuffled over to the waiting area with the parents.  No one said anything so I wasn't sure if they had noticed the incident. 

My family sure did.  My husband and mom stood in the sun with their hands shading their eyes as they shook their heads in unison.  I suspected my husband was trying not to laugh.  My five year old niece Sophia exited the ride and said, "Auntie, maybe you won't fit on any ride!"

For the record, Sophia was wrong because I easily squeezed myself into both the short bus ride and the Tugboat Lucy ride.

By the way, that stupid evil skate ride lasted thirty seconds.  If only I had known.

The whole horrible scenario made me think of a fact that I have known for quite a while.  It's something I have even discussed with my therapist.  I have reverse body image issues.  I think I am skinny, but I am fat. It's as if I see myself in one of those fun house mirrors that stretches you out.  Or maybe I know I am fat. but just forget sometimes.  Selective amnesia.  

I had the opposite problem when I was thin.  When I was thin, I thought I was fat and was always trying to lose weight which made me gain weight.  I look back at thin photos of myself and wonder what the hell was wrong with me.  I was hot.  I just didn't know it yet.

That's not to say I am not hot now because being skinny and being hot are too vastly different things.  Hotness is confidence.  It is about knowing who you are and loving yourself no matter what your weight.  I think that's my problem, my self esteem is simply too high.  I love myself too much and I know I still look hot in a classic black dress and high heels (albiet with Spanks).

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.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Something About My Mother

My mother is not the same mother she used to be.  That's a good thing. 

Growing up in Ontario, our life was chaotic and to say my my mom was crazy and unpredictable back then is an understatement. 

Not that my mom didn't have reason to be crazy.  First she had us twins and then a too short fourteen months later, she had my youngest sister Annie, all while she worked as as a waitress at the local Chinese restaurant and moonlighted at Circle K. 

Add into that equation my good natured but alcoholic, barfly father and you get it, right?

We were latch key kids (before they called it that) and most days after school we parked ourselves in front of the TV watching "CHIPS", "What's Happening Now", "The Brady Bunch" (reruns) and "Good Times".   At around five p.m, we tensed up because my sisters and I never knew whether it was the good or bad mother coming home. 

My mom always stopped by Mayflower Moving Company where my dad worked to make sure he was done for the day.  The "good" days were when my mom found my dad at work or on his way home.  On those days, she acted like Carol, the mom on The Brady Bunch.  She complimented us and asked about our homework. 

When she couldn't find my dad, we knew right away.  On these "bad days", she walked in and screamed at us for not doing our chores and yelled about my dad.  A typical rant went like this. "That mother fucker.  I know he's at the bar with that shithead loser Johnny Reitner." 

Then, after she threw some plates or furniture, she kicked us out of the house.  We got used to it and it was almost a relief to be able to leave and go hang out at the small park that was next door to our cul de sac.

One such "bad" day, I remember my mom yelled at us to "get the fuck out".  We ran out the back door as she pulled at her hair and muttered to herself.  "You're mother hates you," my neighbor David taunted as we walked past his house.  My always braver twin sister Jackie flipped him off as we skipped down the street double dutch style, my little sister Annie in tow.

A few minutes later, like clockwork, my mom drove by the park in her brown Pinto station wagon.  I could tell she was still upset by the way she turned her head.  "Girls," she screamed from the window of her car loud enough for us to hear her across the park, "I'm going to go find your fucking father." 

"No shit", Jackie said and we laughed and mimicked my mom as we pushed Annie on the swings. I pictured my father sitting on a bar stool wearing his Mayflower uniform swinging his beer glass in the air, happy to be away. 

The waiting was the worst part.  My mom always tracked him down and eventually we would see her car as she followed his battered blue pick-up down "D" Street past the park.  Soon enough, my mom yelled for us to come home.  What happened next depended on how drunk my dad was. 

If my dad was only slightly drunk, they would go get us a pizza or McDonald's and my mom talked to us in her nice voice, the crazy person gone.  If my dad was drunk drunk, we went to our rooms and listened as they screamed and yelled at one another.

My sisters and I paid my parents back tenfold for all the chaos by being unruly and delinquent teenagers.  We drank and smoked at an early age, cussed them out, ditched school, stole their cars, and shoplifted.

We put them through hell. 

My mom clearly doesn't understand karma because she talks about our teenage years with amazement and is still surprised that we were so awful.

Through the years my mom gradually became more mellow.  She is different.  Much different.  Especially since my father died four years ago of pancreatic cancer.   She is calmer and dare I say it, almost sane.

Sure, she has an occasional bad day and doesn't handle stress like a car breaking down well, but she doesn't get that crazy look in her eyes anymore, the one where I can't recognize her.  Maybe it was having young kids, working too much or mental illness.  Or maybe my dad was the trigger.  I am not sure.  All I know is that she is not who she was. 

I think the scary mother of my childhood is gone.  I say I think because I can never really be sure. 

My mom comes over every Sunday to have coffee and we sit and read the paper and watch Hallmark movies on TV.  There is none of that old tension, no bombs about to go off.   So I am pretty sure that was then and this is now. 

Regardless, my mom cannot waitress much longer and is moving in.  Next weekend, I am painting her room a bright optimistic yellow,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Wrath of a Mother-In-Law

I returned home from the party at Casino Morongo on Saturday around noon covered in puke and Sprite to find that my mother-in-law was not speaking to me. 

At first I thought it was my smell.  But, it turns out it wasn't the fact that I was covered in spit and Sprite that made her turn her head in silent reproach. 

I soon found out (once I awakened from my hangover induced slumber Saturday evening) that my mother-in-law took offense to the fact that I used the F word while I was waiting for my husband to get ready for the gala the night before.  She told my husband that she couldn't sleep all night because she was upset with the way I spoke to him.  She added that she would move out within the year.

OK, I need to just say it (my mother-in-law will never read this blog because she doesn't use the Internet)...what the fuck?

Let me take a slight detour right now and tell you all that has happened in the last three months. 

My father-in-law Alberto died suddenly in his sleep one day about three months ago and my mother-in-law moved in with us.  Now, it wasn't something that we planned on or even anticipated, it was awful and horrible and we never hesitated to invite her to stay.

It was also a practical necessity because my seventy-six year old mother-in-law doesn't drive on the freeway and doesn't speak English too well.   And, even though I hate to admit it, I knew my husband was a momma's boy when I married him.  I think it was even in our vows.

So, in the space of one morning, everything in my life changed and I changed with it. 

That's the good thing about us Libras, we adapt. 

I didn't complain when I gave up my guest room, the one I personally painted Laura Ashley red and decorated with white lace curtains, white furniture and Gone With the Wind photos (it came out exactly the way I pictured it).  Instead, I said thank you to a higher power that we had a downstairs bedroom for her. 

I also didn't complain when I had to share my 72 inch television or when I had to start watching "Dancing with the Stars" on Mondays instead of "How I Met Your Mother" and the rest of the CBS lineup (thank you tivo).

Nor did I complain when she dyed her hair in the bathroom, leaving a black stain on the wall.   I just sucked it up like a good daughter-in-law. 

There were definite benefits to having her around.  She washed my clothes if I left them in a basket in the laundry room.  My husband started to cook dinner every night.  We started eating together as a family.  No more picking up Del Taco or pizza on the way home and eating in front of the TV. 

Besides, and don't repeat this too loud, I love my mother-in-law. 

I love her even though she always buys me monster sweaters as presents.  I may be many things, but a size 3x is not one of them. "Just try it on," she demanded last Christmas, "I am sure it will fit."

I love her even though she never wakes up before 10 a.m.  I love her even though she tattles me out to Adrian if I sneak chips and dip at night.  I love her even though every time she sees an old (i.e. skinny) photo of me she will always ask me, "What happened to you Juanita?  In short, we are family.

So there we were, my husband, myself, my mother-in-law and our two Shih-Tzus living together in a relatively harmonious existence.  Relative because I almost forgot to mention that with my mother-in-law came her Chow/German Shepard mix named Neuron that my two Shih-Tzus hated at first sight.  Neron promptly ate our hose and barbeque cover and ruined our backyard.
Now back to my mother-in-law freaking out about me dropping the F Bomb on my husband.  Her reaction made no sense.  I use the F word all the time and besides, my mother-in-law knows that my potty mouth is inherited from my mother.  I can't be blamed for it because it is simply a matter of genetics.  

So I freaked out back.  I told my husband this was a bunch of bullshit.  That I shouldn't be censored in my own house.  Who was she to complain about a fight?  She could move out and good riddance and the more I raged, the more pained the expression on my husband's face. 

After venting to Adrian for an hour, I called my mom.  My mom had come over to keep my mother-in-law company the night of the gala.  My mom was also surprised by her reaction  "I told her you were just arguing because Adrian was dragging his feet trying not to go.  And I told her that you didn't tell him to Fuck off' although you did say 'Fuck Adrian, hurry up already!'" 

So now I was getting to the root of it.  My mother-in-law thought I told Adrian to "Fuck off." 

And therein lies the root of many of our problems.  It comes down to a simple language barrier. When I said , "Fuck Adrian hurry up already" she heard and translated it as "Fuck Off!"  Kind of a big difference don't ya think?

So what did I do with the wrath of my mother-in-law in the end? 

I looked at her from a different angle.  She was a seventy-six year old woman who had lost her husband only a few months before.  She was worried that we weren't getting along.  She thought she was in the way.  She was scared.  She was stressed about all the bills.  She was still grieving. 

I started thinking back to my first year of law school when she and Alberto let me live with them.  I thought of how she and Alberto used to take us with them to Vegas and pay for our rooms and a fancy party on New Year's Eve.  And, I remembered how small and frail she looked in her black dress and pearls the day of Alberto's funeral.

And then I did something which I rarely do, I let it go.  I gave her a hug and said I was sorry.

Plus, I need to practice letting shit go because my mom is coming to live with us in January.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why one should not do the "sprinkler" dance at the Public Defender Gala and other observations

I did the sprinkler dance at my work's holiday gala this weekend and I regret it.  I mean I really regret it.  My regret tastes bittersweet,  like one of the numerous B-52's (a mixture of Grand Marnier, Bailey's and Kahlua on the rocks in a short glass) that I quickly downed one after another after we finally found a seat at a table.

I could try and blame my husband because we were late (he was trying to get out of going as usual), but if I am honest with myself, and you, the truth is that I was trying to stifle the anxiety that made my palms sweat and my temples pound. 

I don't know what I was anxious about. 

Maybe it was the fact that my dress (bought in the fat girl section of Macy's the night before) didn't quite cover my ample chest so that I had to wear a sequined tank top underneath. 

Or, perhaps it was because when I tried straightening my hair like the girl at the salon did the week before, it turned out puffy and frizzy.

I guess it could be just plain insecurity although I usually fake being confident pretty well.

It didn't have to go this way, it really didn't.  I tried switching to beer but it was too late because the hard alcohol had already deluded me into thinking I could dance when in actuality I have inherited my father's German genes in that regard. 

Before you know it, I was "smurfing" (put one foot over one another for approximately five sidesteps to the right and then turn and do the same thing to the left) to Madonna's "Holiday".

Shortly thereafter, I started doing "the Robot" (put arms out in front of you and move arms up and down while bending at the waist in a jerky movement, think of the robot from "Lost in Space") to some random 70's song. 

The worst part is that I keep on having flashbacks, as if I am in a Quentin Tarintino film where everything is out of sequence. 

Flashback one:  Three drinks in, I leave my husband at the table while I go smoke downstairs in the casino with a co-worker I will call Jane.  I return twenty minutes later and my husband is annoyed. 

Question: Do I do the right thing and try and make him happy by hanging out?  No, of course not (five points if you got that right).  Instead, I go stand in line for another twenty minutes to buy myself another drink.  By this time Adrian is refusing to drink with me because after eighteen plus years together, he knows how this story will end. 

Flashback two: I stand up to applaud when "Jane" wins an award and my beer
spills in large pools onto the table. 

Did I mention my new supervisor was sitting next to me?

Flashback three: I see myself on the dance floor with my arm cocked behind my head as my feet slide around in a circle, my body mimicking a back yard sprinkler.  I look as if I am putting on my own personal version of the "I'm a little teapot short and stout" nursery rhyme from my childhood.  I feel as if I could dance forever, until I see people pointing and laughing. 

I know that public defenders are a forgiving lot, but can they forgive my travesties of body movement?  Can't wait for Monday

Flashbacks aside, I payed bitterly for all my joyfulness the next morning.  As we drove home, I barfed into Adrian's Starbucks bagel bag not once, not twice, but three times.  And then the bag broke and spilled puke slash Sprite all over me.

There is no moral to this story by the way.  This is not an after school special episode.  I guess what I learned, if I learned anything at all, is that I should not be allowed to do the sprinkler dance ever again.