Panorama of San Bernardino

Monday, February 28, 2011

Creature Comforts

I bought a Ralph Lauren comforter this weekend at Marshalls.  It is made of a stiff, thick cotton with pale blue stripes on one side and flowers on the other.  The total on the register made me wince, but I resisted the urge to put it back. 

When I got it home, my instincts were right on, the comforter was perfect.  It hung over the sides of our large sleigh bed.  I vowed to make my dogs sleep on the floor because Frodo sucked our last down blanket until its edges fell apart and Chewie peed the bed last week.   

The month before, I spent thirty dollars on a "bed in a bag" from Anna's Linens that turned out to be too small and fifty dollars on a quilted comforter that made our bedroom look like Holly Hobbie's.  The search for a low cost comforter was a natural urge because you see, I am cheap.  The trait was handed down from my parents like an old dresser. 

Some families try and impress people with their possessions.  My family, on the other hand, has always tried to impress people with how little they paid for their possessions. 

"Oh, you like the shirt?  Six dollars." 

"Nice necklace."  "Thanks.  I got it at the dollar store." 

Cheap is a Mantz badge of honor.

Adrian finds this horrifying.  His mom has class and style, but is thrifty and discrete.  I have never heard her say how much she paid for anything. 

My obsession with money is not just limited to bargain shopping.  Like most people, I worry about it constantly.  The worst part of being an adult is the focus on money.  Everything is about money.  I am constantly on Adrian about how we need more of it.   When I say constantly, I mean an every day kind of constantly.

My mom is even worse.  When my dad was alive, my mom and dad split the bills fifty fifty.  My dad was always behind because my mom worked and he didn't.  He had his social security check but there wasn't a lot left over after cigarettes, gas and his half of the rent.  Add in his gambling addiction and he was perpetually broke.  As a result, my dad borrowed money from my mom each month and paid her back on the first.  My mom had a little notebook where she kept a tally of every cent my dad owed her per month. 

"OK John, you owe me four dollars for those damn cigarettes," my mom would say as she wrote down the figure in her notebook.

My money obsession may also have something to do with the fact that I was a waitress for ten years.  I was a good waitress and made decent money.  If I didn't go home with at least two Benjamins in my wallet on a night shift, I was unhappy.  When I waitressed at Applebee's, the restaurant stayed open until 2 a.m. and I usually worked until close to get the late post club rush.  One night, a table came in at five minutes to closing and stayed until almost three a.m.  They left me a dollar and a couple of quarters on a hundred dollar check (which didn't even cover the taxes I paid).  I ran after them and threw their dollar and coins at their feet and said, "Here, you obviously need this more than I do."  

My focus on money has had some pretty serious ramifications in my life.  I majored in journalism at my junior college and was the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper.  I loved writing and my newspaper advisor pushed me to apply to Columbia's journalism program.  I researched the average salaries of reporters and decided to apply to UCR and major in English.  It seemed more practical. 

After graduating from UCR, I went to law school.  I couldn't qualify for any private loans and my public loans barely covered USC's tuition even with my scholarship.  Adrian gave me a car to drive and gas money and I stayed with him and his parents in their West Covina house to save on rent. 

When the commute got to be too much, I moved in with some fellow classmates into a three bedroom apartment off of Adams and Figueroa.  Our apartment had wires coming out of the walls, only one bathroom and lots of critters, but it was a steal at eleven hundred a month.  Despite the low rent, I still struggled to get by and we cut coupons from the Sunday newspaper before grocery shopping.  Some months, I didn't have enough for groceries and my roommate Bridget spotted me.

I figured once I graduated from law school and took a job at a fancy law firm that all my money problems would be solved.  I was wrong.  I was doing all right financially for a while as a private big firm lawyer with a six figure salary, yet, I was miserable. 

Despite knowing right away that civil practice wasn't for me, I let money, and my fear of not having any, rule my life for six years.  I went from firm to firm hoping it would get better.  It didn't.  Then fate intervened and I came to the public defender's office.  I knew it would be hard financially.  I took a fifty percent pay cut and Adrian had just graduated from dental school and wasn't even licensed yet.

Things are still not stable, two years and one loan modification later.  Adrian started his own business and then his dad died and we took his mom in.  Then my mom.  It has been a transition.  Last night, when everyone was asking what was for dinner, I thought to myself, how is it my responsibility?  I want to watch the Oscars!  I whispered to Adrian, "You better make them buy take-out."

The moms bought take out and we all ate together watching the Oscars.  It was nice.  And, that's the thing, money really shouldn't matter.  At least it shouldn't matter so much that it ruins precious moments or opportunities.  Those moments that you can never replace.  Like spending the last two weeks of my dad's life with him.  Taking my nieces for the day.  Winning a jury trial.  Hearing the moms laugh so hard they hold their sides.

Or a comforter that envelops you in its softness when you are at home sick in bed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cupcakes and Black Ops

It was five p.m. on a Friday night.  Tracy and I sat at Wing Nuts in Upland sipping on our Hanger 24.   It was not as if we needed to catch up.  Aside from my husband Adrian and our two moms that live with us, I talked to Tracy more than anyone and called her every day driving home from work.  We've been best friends since high school. 

There is something easy about our friendship and Tracy always sees the best in me.  I try and remind her on a daily basis how truly fabulous she is.  We are both in the same existential crisis.  We have the shared feeling there must be more to life, something out there waiting.  It must be the turning forty soon thing. 

Tracy and I finished our second beer and headed over to New Age Comics.  We browsed through their collection of punk rock t shirts.  Tracy bought her fiance John a T-shirt and I bought a Ramones t-shirt.   I couldn't decide whether to give it to Adrian or keep it for myself.  We wandered into the gourmet cupcake shop next door and I had a couple of maple bacon cupcakes boxed for breakfast for the next morning.

Even though I knew Adrian was waiting at home, I dawdled with Tracy in her truck.  We listened to music on her IPOD and laughed.  We talked about taking guitar lessons together or maybe a cooking class.  We agreed we needed to do something different.

I drove home squinting through the rain hitting my windshield.  I stopped at Chipolte to get dinner.  When I walked inside, the house was cozy warm and the moms were setting the table.  We ate dinner quickly and Adrian walked upstairs.  Is this what I hurried home for? 

"Oh no, he goes back up to the video game, not good," Adrian's mom said with a shake of her head.

I heard Adrian say, "Hey John, what's up?", as the door to his game room closed.  If I listened closely, I could still hear the rat a tat tat of gunfire.

I was back to reality and my husband's obsession for the last three months: Call of Duty Black Ops.  Adrian and John played on wireless headsets together until two in the morning most nights.  One night, there were half a million people playing the game.  There are a lot of lonely wives and girlfriends.

Adrian has a lot of stress and he says that the game helps him unwind.  The only thing is, I miss my husband. 

I know it's not easy living with our two moms, especially because my mom asks inane questions and is always going to the fridge like she hasn't eaten in years.  Adrian's mom is no better.  Even her sighs are depressing.  And, the two moms together, well it's like those two chipmunks, Chip and Dale, only one has a strong Argentine accent.  They love to talk even when American Idol is on.

So, here I am.  Adrian has Black Ops, our moms have one another and I have...well, at least I have my dogs...oh, and my Kindle. 

I ate my maple bacon cupcake for dessert and climbed the stairs to my room.  Snuggled under the covers, a dog on each side, I picked up my phone and called Tracy.  What the hell.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Quest

My quest for weight loss has officially begun. 

Today, I took the day off and went to a bariatric surgery conference in Orange County.  I woke up at five thirty in the morning to get dressed.   I threw on my stretchy jeans, a pink striped shirt with my grey high suede boots and a big snugly cardigan.  Comfort was of paramount importance and besides, there was no one to impress.

After more than an hour of traffic on the 91 freeway (the "Corona crawl" was made bearable by NPR), I pulled up to the hospital.  The office was on the fifth floor and I walked into the waiting room and gave my name to the receptionist.  They called my name and weighed and measured me.  I weighed more than I expected.  They took a picture.  I didn't smile.

The medical assistant directed me to an office where I met with a nurse practitioner who happened to be young and male.  He put me at ease as he went over my medical history, but that ease disappeared the minute he made me lift my shirt.  He seemed to sense my discomfort and took a (thankfully) brief glance at my abdomen. 

Next stop was an insurance coordinator named Peggy.  Peggy led me through the hoops I had to jump through to get approved for weight loss surgery: nutrition classes, support group meetings, and a cardiac clearance. 

"What procedure are you here for?" she asked. 

"I'm not sure," I said. 

"You can let me know later," she replied with a kind smile.  "Now go ahead and take a seat in the meeting room," she said, motioning to the right.

I walked into the meeting room and noticed that the seats were double the size of regular chairs.  I was struck by how many large women surrounded me.  They were all ages and colors.  Fat knows no boundaries. 

Some of the women were big and sexy, dressed in the latest Lane Bryant trends with their hair and makeup done.  A few women wore sad, stretchy pants and long, faded t-shirts.  One woman wore a burka like black robe.  Her pixie face peeked out from under her veil.  Another woman in her twenties was not very overweight.  A couple of husbands were there with their wives.  One man of at least four hundred pounds was there for himself.

The meeting started off with the director talking about each surgery.  For those of you who don't know, there are three different bariatric surgeries.  There is the gastric bypass surgery, the lap band and a relatively new procedure known as the sleeve.  In the gastric bypass, the surgeon stitches the stomach into a small pouch and cuts off a piece of the intestine and the system is re routed.  In the lap band, a plastic band is placed over the stomach and then tightened to restrict food intake.  In the sleeve, part of the stomach is removed and only a small banana shaped portion is left.   Each procedure has its own risks and benefits and they all sounded scary. 

By the end of the seminar, I was dizzy with all of the information.  I signed up for my nutrition class and left the building at a quick clip.  Once outside, I gave myself a quick shake. 

What had I gotten myself into?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Great Expectations

Insomnia has its benefits.  It sometimes leads to analysis and reflection regarding life.  A couple of nights ago I woke up at three a.m. and thought to myself, has my life turned out the way I imagined?

I thought my life would turn out one of two ways.  I would either be single living in Ireland and writing my book or married with two kids.  I am married, but the kids haven't happened yet.  I am a lawyer and a writer, but the two activities do not always complement one another. 

Somehow, it does not feel like enough.  I have great expectations for myself.  I feel as if I am meant to do more.  Like this is just the prologue to my life story.  It may be that I have read too many memoirs and seen too many movies.  But, it happens right?  Frank McCourt was in his sixties when he published his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir "Angela's Ashes".  I don't want to wait until I am sixty for things to change.

Recently, I made a decision to tackle my weight, but I struggle with an overwhelming feeling that life is passing me by.  Just this morning, I had a profound sense of discontent.  The discontent turned to anger and I screamed at Adrian that I hated my life, that I felt trapped and constrained, that I wanted a small little apartment for my dogs and I with no mothers and no husband. 

My tirade cleared the room.  My mother-in-law went to her bedroom, my mom went upstairs and my husband, patient and kind soul that he is, teased and fed me back into my normal (i.e. non evil) self. 

All things said in anger have a grain of truth, but much of what I said wasn't true.  I don't hate my life.  I have it pretty good and keep telling myself that am lucky, so lucky, by most standards.  I have my education, an attentive and disgustingly handsome dentist husband (disgusting because he just keeps better looking with age while I sag and drag my ass around looking more haggard every year) and a job that fulfills me.  If I write it maybe I will convince myself that it is enough.   

It is obvious that my high expectations are getting to me.  But, do I really want to lower my expectations?   It's high expectations that made me apply to USC law school and it's those same expectations that keep me up at night wondering if I should get my MFA in creative writing.
I always tell my clients to keep their expectations realistic.  Yet, time and time again I prove myself wrong and get them better deals than I ever thought possible.  Last week, a client was terminated from a drug program.  I thought his cause was beyond hope and he was on his way to prison.  Then, things changed and he was readmitted.  His family and I cried together outside of the courtroom and it made me remember why I do what I do.  My clients need me.

But, I need more from life.  I want more.  Yearn for more.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Driving Ms. Judy

Friday was a county holiday and I had to take my car to be serviced in Baldwin Park.  The question was how to get there.  Adrian was at work, my mother-in-law doesn't drive anymore and I was left with the scary proposition of driving with my mom Judy. 

My mom's bad driving is legendary.  When I was little, I thought everyone swerved from lane to lane yelling obscenities at other drivers.  It is not just that my mom is a bad driver, an erratic driver and an incompetent driver, she is a scary driver.  I have post traumatic stress from driving with my mom as a child because she always closed her eyes whenever a semi-truck was in the next lane. 

About six months ago, I got a message on my cell from my mom.  It started out benign.  "Hi Honey, just calling to say hi", she said.  All of a sudden I heard beeping in the background as my mom screamed, "Motherfucking asshole, shit for brains, get out of my way."  She dropped the F bomb at least another five times.  At the end of her tirade she said, "Honey, call me back".

Thus, you understand my quite rational hesitation to have my mom follow me to the mechanic.   However, when I balanced my hesitation against the fact that my eight year old Mercedes was two thousand miles over service and needed brakes, the car service won out.  I had no choice but to risk it. 

As I drove south on the 15 freeway, my mom followed me in her white 1993 Honda Accord.  She moved from lane to lane at only forty miles an hour.  I pulled over on the shoulder and waited for her.   She drove by me shaking her head and muttering to herself.  

As we got on the 210 heading west, I slowed down to let her catch up and watched her in my rear view mirror as she moved from lane to lane.  I called her and screamed, "Mom, stay behind me."  She got behind me after she cut off a green taxi driver who sped by her with his finger in the air.  I tried to drive slow enough, I really did, but soon despite my best efforts to stay at fifty five, I was at least five cars ahead of her.

I wish I could say it got better from there, but it didn't.  We hopped on the 57 south and after about ten minutes, I merged to get on the 10 and she almost missed the on ramp.  I watched her cross three lanes of traffic. 

By the time we hit Kellong Hill, my mom was so far behind me that I couldn't see her.  I tried to call her again but my phone died.  I slowed down to forty five on the uphill crest and it took about ten minutes and a lot of head wagging by other drivers as they passed me for her to catch up.

When we finally got to the shop in Baldwin Park, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I felt as if the world had somehow righted itself again.  Until I had to drive her car home. 

My mom's car is a piece of shit.  I can say this because I helped buy her the piece of shit for cash after her car blew its engine and got repossessed.  My sisters and I pitched in what we could but we only had two thousand dollars.  We got our money's worth.  The air doesn't work, the tint is coming off the windows and worst of all, her rear view mirror is broken.  

I drove my mom home with one hand on the wheel and one hand on the mirror trying to fix it.

At least I got to drive.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Country Girl

I  didn't always love country music..  I grew up a reluctant listener.   At our first house in Ontario, my dad blasted his favorite country tunes on hot summer days while we sunned ourselves by the pool.  My sisters and I groaned every time we heard the voices of  Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams.  I wanted to hear Oliva Newton John.

As a teenager, I distanced myself from country music.  I loved punk and rock, not that old hillbilly music. 

As a child, I watched my parents getting ready to go out.  They frequented a local bar called "The White Horse" on Holt and Euclid.  The bar had a three piece band and my parents danced the two step.  My dad wore a light blue shirt with a denim vest, blue jeans held up by his "Big John" belt buckle and cowboy boots.  My mom, whose favorite country singer was Freddy Fender, wore a denim outfit with fringe. 

My dad took me to see Loretta Lynn at the Pomona Fair when I was little.  I can't remember much of it other than I was there.  I remember her thick, dark hair or maybe that image is from seeing "Coal Miner's Daughter" too many times.  He also took us to the race track.

It wasn't until I was an adult that country music called me.  I was in my twenties and working my way through Mt. SAC junior college.  I lived in the back room of my parents' trailer in Pomona.  I had lost my job as a waitress and vowed to only stay with them for a couple of months.  My car had broken down and soon thereafter, Adrian and I had broken up.  I stumbled upon one of my dad's Patsy Cline CDs and played the song "I Fall to Pieces" over and over until my mom yelled at me to turn it off.

When I transferred to UCR, my dad often came to visit me at my college apartment to bring me groceries.  I lived on top of a bar.  The first time my friend Emily saw him she looked surprised and asked if he was my real dad.  I never let him stay very long.  When he left, he kissed me goodbye and always gave me a strong hug.  I always pulled away.  One time when he stopped by I was listening to Lucinda Williams and he said, "That's country.  You always said you hated country."

Years later, after I had graduated from law school and moved to Texas for a job, my parents came to visit me in Houston.  They came all the way from Southern California on a train because my dad hated to fly.  It took them three days to get there.  I worked long hours at the firm and couldn't take much time off.  One night, I drove my parents to a casino in Louisiana and watched my dad play poker.  We spent the night and the next morning we drove home to the sounds of the Oak Ridge Boys.

After he died about five years ago, I listened to my dad's Johnny Cash collection in my search to find music for his service.  It was as if my dad had come back to life and showed me music for the first time.  I loved the deep timber of Johnny Cash's voice, his Gothic tendencies and his storytelling.

It brought back memories of our house in Ontario, of my dad's smile as he watched me shift the gears on his sixteen wheeler and how he always drove his old pickup truck with one hand on the wheel and a Kent cigarette in the other as he hummed along to his country music.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sing Your Life

I just bought a new album by the Decemberists called "The King is Dead".  Although their folk rock music is completely modern, the music reminds me of high school.  Maybe it's because the lead singer sounds like Michael Stipe from REM.   I listened to the whole album straight through three or four times.  It brought back how important music used to be to me.  How much it defined me.  How much I ached for it.  How I would use my last dollar for a concert and beg for money if needed. 

My favorite band in high school was The Smiths.  For me, they epitomize 80's alternative/punk music (although they were more post-punk than punk).  I remember seeing a building spray painted with the words "The Smiths" when I was in junior high.  I wanted to know who the band was.  What had inspired someone to love them so much that they spray painted their love from a can and why did mysterious looking guys with black hair and long bangs wear The Smiths' name on their trench coats?

By high school, I was well versed in an obsession for The Smiths.  Their album "Meat is Murder" came out in 1985 in my freshman year of high school.  The music touched something deep in me.  The Smiths' masterpiece album "The Queen is Dead" came out in 1986.  Soon, my style changed from goody two shoes to alternative.  I dyed my hair blue black, pierced my nose and exchanged my tennis shoes for combat boots.

Johnny Marr's guitar combined with the plaintive sound of Morrissey's voice was like butter on toast for me.  I played their albums until they were scratched beyond recognition. 

The Smiths played at the Hollywood Palladium and we drove to Hollywood all wide eyed in my friend Tracy's tiny Honda Civic.  I fought my way to the pit and jumped up and down to the music as if there was no tomorrow.  At the end of the concert, Morrissey gathered up the flowers from the stage.  The Smiths broke up in my junior year of high school and I was devastated.  The day we found out, my friends Tracy, Melinda and I blasted their song "Big Mouth Strikes Again" from a boom box from our place in the quad. 

The Pixies album "Doolittle" came out in 1989 and the album is my senior year of high school.  I remember dancing to "Debaser" with my friend Tracy in her parents' brand new condo in Creekside.  Tracy's parents were out of town and we drank beer after beer as we listened to the album on their brand new CD player.  We switched back and fourth between "Debaser", "Here Comes Your Man" and Gigantic".  We debated whether we preferred Frank Black or Kim Deal as lead vocalist.  We agreed that they ruled regardless.

There were so many other bands that I loved.  The Cure, The Replacements (I listened to the song "Alex Chilton" for inspiration before writing this post tonight..."I'm in love.  What's that song?"), Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dramarama, The Smithereens, The Screaming Blue Messiahs, The Sex Pistols, The Violent Femmes, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, The Cult, X, The Alarm, REM, early Inxs, U2, Depeche Mode and New Order.   The list goes on and on.  We went to concerts every weekend, drank Strawberry Hill in the parking lot of the venue and danced and screamed ourselves hoarse. 

What happened to the girl who screamed for hours on end when her band came on stage and fought her way to the front?  What happened to that kind of desperate, but pure joy? 

I know she's still in me somewhere because she made a guest appearance at a Morrissey show in Pomona last year.  I unearthed some silver combat boots, a black skirt and tights and outlined my eyes in black kohl.  Adrian had to work late so we met at the Fox Theater and when I walked up to him, he looked at me with surprise as if he didn't recognize me at first. 

Morrissey came on stage and sang song after song by The Smiths and when the song "Ask" came on, I screamed and jumped around as if I was sixteen again.  I jumped around so much that I accidentally stomped on my friend Shiela's toe.  She had just underwent foot surgery. 

I was obnoxiously happy.  I still had it in me.  The girl I thought had been submerged underneath days of worry and drudgery was inside of me all along.  She just needed a little music to come alive.