Panorama of San Bernardino

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fat Girl

I am having fat girl surgery soon.  I am not ashamed of it.  Some people try and hide this kind of stuff.  I revel in it.

I haven't been fat my whole life, only the last ten years.  Sometimes when I look in the mirror I wince.  I feel as if I have a skinny person inside of me screaming to get out.  Hopefully, the lap band will help that skinny girl inside of me escape.

Annie Lamott calls her unflattering body parts by name.  In awe of all things Annie Lamott, I named the ring of fat around my stomach Edith.  I don't know why I chose that name, but somehow it felt right.

Sorry Edith, but I want to vanquish you.  I want you to be merely a memory that I can point at in pictures and say, "Look, I used to be that big." 

My husband says the problems started when I began eating half of a large pizza with him at Round Table.  I think the problems started long ago.  Growing up, my dad was obsessed with food and rewarded us with McDonalds. 

In high school, I swam fifty laps a day during my sophomore and junior year.  I could eat whatever I wanted.  It wasn't until after I quit the swim team that I started putting on weight.  I ate and slept my way through my senior year.  On the weekends, I drank to cure my blues which made them worse and added more pounds.

After high school, I went on Weight Watchers and dropped all the weight.  I was obsessed.  My sister Annie and I worked out at the Spa, an all female gym in Upland, for two hours every morning.  We ate toast for breakfast, white rice with salsa for lunch and boiled chicken breast with broccoli for dinner.   We went out dancing at least two nights a week and bypassed dinner for tight dresses.

At Mt SAC, I found solace in writing for the college newspaper and struggled to get enough credits to transfer to a university.  It took me five years and I took Algebra three times, but I finally transferred to UCR along with at least another ten pounds.

At UCR, I was a size twelve and felt fat.  I look at pictures of myself back then with my huge mane of hair and voluptuous body and want to scream, "You are beautiful damn it!"  I know I can get back to that girl although I might have to get some hair extensions.

During law school, I went up to a size sixteen and graduated at a size twelve/fourteen after I let Jenny Craig and her plastic foods into my life for three months.

I moved to Houston right after law school graduation and my weight spiralled out of control.  I slept only four or five hours a night and watched late night TV until two a.m. with my cat Leopold on my lap. 

I went to my job at a law firm tired and depressed.  I took Lexapro for three months and gained thirty pounds.  I didn't think it was possible to gain a pound of day, but I proved it could happen.  I was a size sixteen again (ahemmm, OK, a size eighteen).

I moved to San Francisco to join Adrian in his second year of dental school and worked out at Curves and ate low carb.  After three months, I was a size fourteen again and could squeeze into a size twelve if I held my breath. 

Six months later, my long hours at the firm made it impossible for me to get to Curves before they closed and I was back up to a sixteen again.

When my dad died I moved back home to the Inland Empire and lost all control food wise.  I remember one day, about a month after my father died, I stopped at a donut shop slash Chinese fast food restaurant and stuffed myself with orange chicken until I couldn't breathe.

When I became a public defender, I found passion in my work again.  I was making a difference and changing lives.  I had hated my job as a civil attorney for so long that it took me quite a while to recognize what fulfillment felt like.

About six months ago, I went to my doctor to talk about having a baby and he told me part of the reason I couldn't get pregnant was because of my weight.  I had to make a choice and I decided to try, to really try and conquer this demon.   I put the baby plans on hold and closed my eyes and visualized my thinner self.

The approval process has not been easy.  I had to see a dietitian and get a psychiatric evaluation and now they will cut me open, albeit laparoscopically.

I don't expect to ever get trimmed down to my twenties' Cybergenics induced weight.  I would be happy to be a size 9 or 10.  I want to keep my boobs.  I want to wear pencil skirts and get a tattoo.  I want to shop for my underwear at Victoria Secret.

I know this fat girl surgery is not a panacea.  It will not cure all my problems.  I know this.

And, as I told my husband recently, it will not make me nice because (unfortunately for him) there is no surgery to cure me of being a bitch.  But, I want to be a thinner bitch.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Memory Box

Today is the fifth anniversary of my dad's death.  My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer right before Christmas.  My dad, John William Mantz, Jr., died only three weeks later on January 14, 2006.

My dad was born in 1936 in Anaconda, Montana.  His family was dirt poor.  My grandfather was a German miner and my Scottish and English grandmother a cook.  My grandfather physically abused my dad and repeatedly told him that he wasn't his son.  When my dad was five, he and his little brother and sister were put in an orphanage.  Their parents couldn't afford to feed them.

My dad and his siblings were returned to their parents after four years, but due to his time in the orphanage my dad never felt that he had enough.  My dad was obsessed with food.  He bought so much food that it spoiled.  My dad gagged at the sight of rice.  He said it made him think of his time at the orphanage,  A chronic insomniac, he sometimes sliced ham in the middle of the night for breakfast the next morning.  The sound of the slicer was in my dreams.

My mom and dad met at a bar in Portland, Oregon called Elsie's Bar in 1969.  My mom loved cowboys and my dad always wore a cowboy shirt and jeans with his custom belt buckle.  My dad loved fiery Mexican women and my mom certainly met his criteria. 

They had both been married before.  They moved in together two months after they met.  My mom brought her son David who was deaf.  My mom had come to Oregon to enroll David in a special school.

From the very beginning, my parents had crazy, passionate fights.  My mom told me a story about a party they went to in Portland.  They both had too much to drink.  They started arguing and my dad knocked my mom's wig off her head.

One morning about six months after they moved in together, my mom went looking for my dad with her son David in tow.  My dad hadn't come home that night from the bar.  David ran into the street and got hit by a car.  He died instantly.

In March of 1970, my mom and dad moved to Great Falls, Montana to be closer to his daughters Barbara and Roberta.  My dad's ex-wife Tiny moved to Great Falls after divorcing her second husband and my dad desperately wanted to see his girls. 

My twin sister Jackie and I were born more than a year later in October of 1971.  I have a photo album filled with pictures of Jackie and I dressed in identical snow outfits nestled in my father's arms.

My mom pulled out a memory box this evening as I was writing.  I opened up the black cracked leather box and out fell a letter in my dad's neat cursive.  The letter was addressed to his father and dated 1969.  It talked about how much he wanted to move to Great Falls and how much he missed Barbara and Roberta.

I read the letter written to a grandfather I never knew and I could almost hear my dad's voice. 

As if he was whispering in my ear while I read.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Breakfast at Benji's

My mom is quitting her waitress job this week and moving in with us.   We now have a matching set of moms because my mother-in-law already lives with us. 

My mom has worked at the same Chinese restaurant in Ontario since I was little.  It's called Yanghzee's and serves Cantonese food.  Growing up, we always waited up for my mom to come home with a bag of broken almond cookies. 

It's the end of an era for my mom who is seventy years old.  She should have quit waitressing years ago.   The last time I stopped by to have lunch, I watched her run around from table to table.  "That's my daughter Jenny," she said to her customers as she refilled their water.  "She's one of the twins, the lawyer one."

I know what it's like to waitress because I did it for more than ten years, up until my first year of law school.  Name a restaurant and I probably worked there.  I worked at Mexican restaurants, sports bars, barbecue pits, and a coffee shop or two.  I even worked at a hotel and delivered room service.  It freaked me out.  I hated waiting in a room while a man in his robe searched for his wallet.  I have seen way too many movies to do that for long.  I quit after a month.   

I still have waitress nightmares where I am working all by myself with thirty tables.  When I wake up, I have to shake myself  and remind myself that it's not real.   

I especially remember Benji's, a coffee shop I worked at in Upland in my early twenties.  The uniform was a peach polyester wrap around skirt, a dark green apron and a peach polo shirt.   When I think back to my waitressing days at Benji's it sometimes seems like it was yesterday, rather than almost twenty years ago. 

It was 1992 when I started working there.  I lived in an apartment complex in Upland on Benson and Arrow in a two bedroom with my nineteen year old sister Annie.  My friend and ex-roommate Melinda lived a couple doors down.  We had parted as roommates on good terms after Melinda moved her boyfriend Josh in which didn't match my single girl lifestyle.

Annie decorated our apartment in Southwestern pastels.  Our rent was only $567 a month because it was subsidized under some type of low income program.  Annie had the master bedroom with the attached bathroom and I had the smaller room.  Annie always kept the apartment and her bedroom neat and clean.  My bedroom was a mess, but Annie tolerated it as long as the common areas were orderly.

Annie worked at Zendejas in south Ontario.  Annie made about seventy five dollars in tips a night while I averaged about forty a shift.  I was forced to work at Benji's because I didn't have a reliable car and it was only about half a mile away on Central Avenue above Arrow.  I walked to work in my peach uniform and Annie usually picked me up if she wasn't working. 

I started out on the graveyard shift from nine p.m. until five in the morning.  On the graveyard shift, you served all the obnoxious kids and drunks on their way home from the clubs.  It was penance that you completed to get on the coveted breakfast or lunch shift.  I drank a lot of coffee to stay awake and got moved up early for good behavior.

My favorite person at Benji's was a girl I will call Dana.  Dana was a curvy Puerto Rican blond with green eyes and a sassy sense of humor.  She taught me all the ropes and we joked and laughed while we buttered our toast. 

One day I was working what's called a split shift.  On a split shift, you worked from twelve until three for the lunch rush and then came back from five to eight for a dinner shift.  Three to five was dead time where you clocked out and went home.  It should have been called the we're fucking you over shift. 

On that day, I didn't go home probably because I didn't want to walk and sat at a table and finished a book.  The other waitresses and regulars teased me and called me a bookworm.  At five, I went back on the floor and the time flew by.  My dinner shift ended at eight, but I stayed late and finished my side work.  After I cleaned and refilled the salad bar, I called my dad from the pay phone to pick me up.  Annie was working late that night.  My mom and dad lived about fifteen minutes away.

My dad answered the phone.  "Jenny, I can't pick you up right now," he said.  "I'm taping a movie."  My dad was obsessed with his VHS collection of tapes which he kept in a swiveling wood cabinet. 

"Fine, I'll walk," I told him and hung up.  I grabbed my sweater and made sure my tips were in my check holder in my apron.  It was a short walk and I got home in ten minutes because I had to go to the bathroom.  I unlocked my front door, ran to the bathroom and walked out to the living room in my bra and skirt.  I froze when I saw a man in our living room.  I had left the front door unlocked.

"Who are you?  What do you want?"  I said as I crossed my arms in front of myself.  I looked at my apron lying on the coffee table with my tips from the night.  I didn't know whether I should try and grab them.  The man was a young, skinny Mexican guy.  He looked at me with a strange, vacant look in his red, glassy eyes and said, "I want you." 

"Fuck", I thought to myself and gave up on my tips and turned and ran into my sister's bedroom and locked her door.  I grabbed her phone and locked myself in the bathroom.  The man pounded on the master bedroom door while I called 911.  "There's a strange man in my house," I said.   "Hurry." 

The dispatcher calmed me down and stayed on the line with me and within five minutes, an officer was outside the bathroom door.  The officer said to come out and that everything was all right.  My hands shook as I opened the door to him. 

The officer interviewed me once I put a shirt on.  My apron with my tips was missing along with my house keys. 

My dad showed up at the apartment a few minutes later.  He had stopped by Benji's to pick me up, but I had already left.  He said he was sorry and hugged me.   I pulled away and told him I could have been killed.  Even back then, I knew the definition of leverage.

The next day at Benji's, I regaled all the regulars who sat at the counter with my story and lucky escape.  I made light of the situation and acted tough.  "I could have taken that guy down," I told them. 

Later that week, Annie and I changed the locks.  We made sure we always locked the front door when we came home.

But the feeling I got while I waited in the bathroom, the feeling that I was all alone, didn't go away for a long time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Girl's Hunger

Food is love, it is comfort, it is joy, it is sadness. Food is childhood. In short, food is who you are (another way of saying the oft repeated phrase, you are what you eat).

My favorite food memoir is a book called "Toast: A Boy's Hunger" by Nigel Slater which uses the food of 1960s London to tell the story of his childhood and adolescence. Slater's boyhood food consisted of such unfamiliar things to this Inland Empire girl as crisps, lemon meringue, jam tarts and something called Cadbury's MiniRoll (the name alone sounds delicious). 

My childhood weekday breakfast consisted of either Lucky Charms or Fruity Pebbles and a side of Wonder Bread toast with margarine. Dad always bought his bread at the Hostess bakery outlet store on Holt and San Antonio in Ontario.

Bet you didn't know that there was such a thing as an outlet for baked goods. 

On the weekends, Dad made his famous (hmmm maybe infamous) pancakes with a smear of jam or peanut butter inside or fried bologna and eggs. I still have not figured out how he got the bologna crispy without burning it. 

My dad loved donuts and sometimes for a special treat, he would go to Yum Yum Donuts on Fourth and Grove and get the day old donuts for half off. My favorite was the glazed with strawberry jelly inside, but Dad always got the lemon filled ones by mistake. I would settle for an old fashioned and Jackie would eat a maple bar. Annie always picked the one with sprinkles.

The cafeteria at Mariposa Elementary served the typical 1970s California cafeteria fare of pizza, hamburgers, tator tots and Sloppy Joe's. The coveted role at Mariposa was to work in the cafeteria line.  They school only allowed sixth graders in the cafeteria. My twin sister Jackie and I waited in anticipation.  The summer before sixth grade we got the news that my mom was sending us to St. George's, a Catholic school on "D" Street and Euclid in Ontario. We never got to work the cafeteria line. My parents struggled to pay our tuition and we were back to public school after two years.

Once we hit junior high, we started bringing our lunch and Dad usually made it the night before because Mom worked nights. Dad loved the shock of our faces as we watched him make us a sandwich of hot dogs and pickles on white bread with mustard, or his dreaded potted meat with lettuce and mayonnaise or worst of all, spam sandwiches. I wanted peanut butter and jelly. But damn, I miss those hot dog sandwiches as an adult.

Dinner depended on who cooked. Mom's specialty was taco night. She sauteed ground beef with tomato sauce and served it with shredded lettuce, cheese and tomatoes in small glass blows with tortillas on the side. She made a mean Mexican rice with lots of garlic and salt (the trick is to fry the rice with oil and leave it alone to simmer with the red sauce).

Being German, Dad's top meals were meatloaf with a ketchup glaze on top, pork chops and applesauce and his legendary overcooked roast. His roast was always well, well done and he boiled the vegetables until they were grey.  

I preferred a dinner of Kraft Mac and Cheese and mashed potatoes out of the box.

Our favorite fast food restaurant growing up was Pup N Taco. Pup N Taco was a precursor to Taco Bell. My best friend Melinda and I would ride our bikes over to Pup N Taco which was on the corner of Fourth Street and Vineyard. Melinda would order a couple of 39 cent tacos and I would have a flat crispy tostada. We only had enough change for our entree so we would drink water or share a soda (no refills in those days).

You can't forget McDonald's if you are going to talk about a 1970s and 1980s childhood. If we stayed home sick, the gift was a cheeseburger and fries. I groaned if Dad decided to get me Weinerschnitzel instead which was his favorite and always more of a gift for him.

My favorite afternoon snack was Melinda's tomato and lemon soup which made me pucker with delight. The best after dinner snack was my dad's salty popcorn. Dad popped it in a big pot with Canola oil.  Dad dumped the popcorn into a brown bag and melted down a stick of margarine and poured it inside.  It wasn't complete until he shook Morton's salt all over it. My sisters and I raced to see who could get the first grab of the hot buttery mess.  I can almost taste it. That popcorn is what memories are made of.

This whole story is making me hungry.  I think I am going to make me some popcorn in the microwave with my mother in law's unsalted butter and no salt, well maybe just a pinch.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Skeletons In My Closet

Recently, someone challenged me to write about something humiliating.  Maybe I am wrong, but I think I make fun of myself more than anyone and the barb is always pointed inward.  That said, I think this story needs to be told. 

There are some skeletons in my closet.  So many that if you looked inside it would look like a Halloween store.  I have learned to love my many skeletons.  To celebrate them even.  This post is about one of my skeletons.

I am a high school dropout.  I hate the stigma associated with it, but my accomplishments prove that transcendence is possible. 

I went from a depressed dropout who took her GED to the editor-in chief of a community college newspaper to graduating magna cum laude from UCR to a top twenty law school on a scholarship.  I graduated in the top twenty percent of my law school class and ended up at the largest and most prestigious law firm in Texas.

Add in the fact that I put myself through undergrad and law school working as a waitress and my story becomes almost unbelievable.  I am a fucking walking miracle.

Humility has never been one of my strengths. 

Truth be told, I didn't do it alone.  I had a lot of help along the way.  I had people who cared and saw something in me that I couldn't even see in myself sometimes. 

A journalist who saw an editor rather than a waitress.  A community college professor who saw a writer.  A law school professor who read my law school application essay and convinced USC to let me in with a scholarship.  A lawyer and his wonderful wife who gave me a job and even a place to stay for a summer.  A boyfriend (and future spouse) who motivated me.  My family and friends who simply loved me, despite all my flaws.

Of course, there was also God.  I am not a holy roller, but I have faith. I didn't always believe and until my twenties I called myself agnostic.  All that changed one semester while I was in undergrad at UCR.  I was so broke that I didn't have money for food.  Now, I hadn't prayed since my elementary Catholic school days and was unsure of what to do.  It wasn't pretty, but I got down on my knees and asked God for help.  Less than a week later, I got a letter in the mail stating that I had received a $5,000 scholarship.  It was as if Moses had put down his cane and turned it into a snake right before my eyes.  I believed.

God also has a sense of humor and made me a public defender.  So my so called skeleton now has a purpose. 

That's the thing, all of my skeletons have a purpose.  Every person on this Earth is made up of their blunders and mistakes.  I learned the most from the trial I lost where I believed my client was innocent not the ones I won.  It's the heartbreaking stuff that makes us who we are.

In the end, I am who I am, skeletons and all.