Panorama of San Bernardino

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Family Matters Part I

My mother-in-law told me I am not part of her family because I do not have her last name.  Never mind the fact that I am married to her son and we have been together almost nineteen years.  Never mind the fact that we took her in after Alberto died and she resides in the guest bedroom downstairs that I spent months decorating.  None of that matters to her.  What matters is that my moniker is Juanita Mantz not Juanita Pelaez. 

This is the world according to Orieta and only Orieta because despite my choice not to take my husband's last name, I do consider myself a Pelaez as does my husband. 

The question is not whether she was serious when she told me this in her strong Argentine accent but why she said this.  It is more complicated than it seems and while I am inclined to treat this as a joke, it isn't.  She hurt my feelings and after a childhood like mine, I am sometimes surprised that my feelings can be hurt at all.

I am upstairs in my bedroom feeling rather bruised right now.  I don't want to see her.  I have worked hard at being pretty damn good at forgiveness, but forgiving Orieta's comment may take some time. 

It all started with Vegas and her birthday.  My best friend Tracy and her fiance J invited us to Vegas with them to see Lewis Black, the comedian.  We quickly answered yes, but soon realized that the weekend at issue was both Easter and my mother-in-law Orieta's birthday.  We felt compelled to invite Orieta and my mom along.  They accepted.

Then came the decision of where to stay.  Tracy and J were staying at the Luxor in a suite.  I wanted to stay in the same hotel with them.  Orieta wanted to stay anywhere but the Luxor.  "I don't like the Luxor," she said in a firm voice as she waved her finger in the air.  "It is too far from Cesar's Palace and the rooms are feo (ugly)." 

I tried to reason with her.  "Orieta, there are new rooms in the Luxor tower, don't you think we should stay in the same hotel?"

It wasn't working.  "No Juanita, I don't like the rooms and it is too far."

I looked to my mom for support.  "Mom, don't you want to stay at the same hotel as us?  That way we can have breakfast together."  My mom who is usually outspoken refused to take a stand, "I'll stay anywhere," she said.

Now that my mom was acting like fucking Switzerland, Orieta continued to argue her point, "I don't like the Luxor.  Maybe I'll stay home for my birthday.  Why do you care?  You are going for Tracy and J, not for me, not for my birthday."

I looked at her and shook my head, "But we invited you Orieta.  We wanted you to come with us."

"It doesn't matter," she said.  "I have no one.  Only my sons."

I looked at her.  "I'm your family too Orieta."

Then came the zinger. 

"You are not a Pelaez.  You are Juanita Mantz, not Juanita Pelaez."

"But, we are married Orieta," I responded.

"Yes, but even Alberto said, she married him and did not take the Pelaez name.  I remember he said that."

By this time Adrian was downstairs listening at the table while we argued.  I was glad he was there to hear her so he couldn't accuse me of exaggeration.  She was hitting below the belt.

I had enough.  I got on the phone and made the reservations.  It was the Luxor for us and Paris for Orieta and my mom.

My poor mom.

To be continued...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blow Up

When I get angry, I sometimes lose myself.  I mean, not literally, but I forget the person I want to be, the person I try to be.  My personality morphs from sunny to dark and ugly.   I grew up in a house where everyone screamed and fought all the time and these childhood norms may have predisposed me to a certain darkness in my soul. 

This anger is self destructive and the person who pissed me off probably forgot about it almost immediately while I focused and obsessed over it for hours (or days).

Yesterday, I had a blow out with a colleague at work and it ruined my day.  Angry as hell, I talked a lot of shit to whoever would listen.  I tossed and turned all night.  I cried bitter tears.  When I woke up in the morning I still felt miserable.  My head hurt, my feet hurt, and I stood in the shower with the water pounding on my face.

I got to work and the negativity continued.  That's the thing, when you are miserable and angry, people pick up on it.  Even an afternoon off did not lift my ugly mood.  I felt like a dark cloud hung over my head wherever I walked, no matter now sunny it was outside.

Perhaps a pedicure, I thought to myself.  It didn't help.  The guy was too rough and the dry callused soles of my feet were too tender.  Afterward, I limped into the Dollar Tree to buy some jelly, bread, a pregnancy test (a story for another blog) and wheat crackers.  At the last minute, I saw a lavender face mask and threw it in my cart to cleanse some of my bitterness out of my pores. 

When I got home, it was already three-thirty.   I walked in the house and the moms were sitting on the couch.  I threw the mail on the table and called Frodo and Chewie upstairs with me.  I put on the mask, ran a bath and opened my Kindle to finish a memoir called "Made for You and Me" by Caitlin Shetterly.  The memoir is about her and her husband's struggle to make it through the recession in a new city with a brand new baby.   In the end, they ended up moving home with her mom.   It felt a bit too close for comfort, but her voice got into my head and her anxiety lessened mine. 

That's why I love memoir.  Her story made me feel less bleak and reminded me that it can always get worse.  Yes, I have our two moms in the house, but we have plenty of room and both have good jobs.

Fast forward to tonight, Adrian stayed late at dinner with his business partner and I blew up again.  I had good reason mind you.  We are getting our taxes done tomorrow and when I saw the W2s, I freaked out.  In undergrad, I did people's taxes (longhand before the age of TurboTax) and know the tax brackets.  I was worried we hadn't withheld enough.  And, Adrian is a 1099er so I had to shift through a box of his receipts for more than three hours as I cussed him out silently to myself.  Well maybe not always silently because I might have said the word asshole aloud once or twice much to his mother's chagrin.  Don't worry dear reader, I made sure to tell her, "Not you Orieta, Adrian, tu hijo."

When Adrian waltzed in at nine, I was upstairs in bed on the last page of my book.  I started screaming at him and he walked out of the bedroom toward his usual safe haven of Black Ops.  For some reason as I watched his back, I wasn't angry anymore and I called him back in and said, "Shit babe, you should have stayed home tonight to go through those fucking receipts.  But fuck it, come to bed"

He did.  Thank goodness he is easily pleased.  And, in the end, it was nicer to go to bed happy rather than angry again.  Plus, there is nothing closer to pure bliss than laying in bed with my fluffy comforter, a dog on each side and my husband's hand in mine.

Monday, March 14, 2011


My seventy year old mother Judy has a crush.  She has always had a fondness for old white men in cowboy hats. 

My dad John was a cowboy and my mom loved him to distraction.  She admitted to me that she loved him more than us girls.  My dad died more than five years ago and we buried him with his "Big John" belt buckle. 

I think my mom yearns for someone to take care of her.  She always has.

My grandmother died when my mom was only fourteen from complications with diabetes.   My mom was devastated and tried to throw herself in the coffin at her mother's funeral.

My grandfather had a new woman before his dead wife was in the ground.  He put my mom in a convent to live.  My mom was depressed and her brothers convinced their dad to let her come back home after a year.  When my mom returned from the convent, she responded with a teenage rebel yell and caroused the streets with her best friend Tilly looking for love in all the wrong places.  My mom had no shortage of suitors with her dark skin, short skirts and beehive hair.

At sixteen, my mom got married to a boy named Leroy and by eighteen she was divorced.  She said she didn't love him and that he bored her.

At twenty, my mom got pregnant by Jerry and at twenty one she became a mother.  Their son David was born deaf and my mom's relationship with Jerry lasted only months past her twenty first birthday. 

Two years later, my mom married a man named Frank.  She thought it was a good idea, David needed a father.  She divorced him within three weeks because he bossed her around.
When my mom met my dad, she was twenty six and living in Oregon trying to get David into a deaf school.  All of her family was back in California and she struggled to pay the rent.  When my mom met my dad at a honky tonk bar, he offered her a place to stay and she took him up in it.  He told her that he would take care of her and her little boy.

David was only five when he got hit by a car and died.  My mom clung to my father in her grief.  My dad knew what it was like to lose a child because his ex-wife (also named Judy) killed his daughter Debbie when she was a toddler.

After David died, my mom and dad moved to Montana to be closer to my dad's two girls Barbara and Roberta who lived with his ex-wife Tiny in South Dakota.  My mom tried in vain to get pregnant for years.  To hear her tell it, God answered her prayers.  She promised God that she would take her kids to church every Sunday. 

My mom found out she was pregnant with twins when she was almost thirty.  We were born in 1971.  My mom says my dad was overjoyed and they wheeled us around Great Falls in a twin stroller dressed in identical snow outfits.  Only my mom could tell the difference between Jackie and I.  She said my head always lolled to the side.  We cried so much that we gave my mom headaches. 

Six months later, my mom found out she was pregnant again and convinced my dad to move to California to be closer to her family.  Annie was born in Orange County in 1973.  My mom said Annie was a perfect baby because she never cried. 

When my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age sixty nine, my mom was in a state of disbelief.  She thought he could be cured.  The day he died she hugged me for the first time in years and wailed his name.

When my mom moved in a couple of months ago even the smallest things would annoy me.  Her coffee cups left around the house half full.  Empty sugar packets scattered on the counter tops. The front door left wide open.  She talked during my television shows.  She set off the alarm every morning.

For some reason, my mom doesn't annoy me as much anymore.  Maybe it's because she tries so hard to be nice to me, even when I'm irritable.  Maybe it's because she is a companion to my mother in law and drives her to the senior citizen center in Fontana.  Maybe because I see how hard my mom struggles for her independence and how lonely she is.  

My mom goes dancing every Saturday night with her singles club at the American Legion in West Covina.  I picture the group of them dancing to the oldies.  In my mind's eye, I see my mom jumping and waving her hands in the air to the fast songs.  Her rhythm is always off. 

A slow song comes on.  My mom asks a man in a cowboy hat to dance.  His arms wrap around her as they sway to the music.  She leans her head on his shoulder and sighs.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

TV Wasteland

When I was growing up, TV was more real, sometimes too real.  And not the fake reality of today, but a gritty real.

The most realistic shows were the blue collar shows.  There was "All In The Family" with Archie and Edith which was set in Queens, "Good Times" which was set in the Chicago projects and "What's Happening” about a single mom raising her kids in Watts, and of course, "Sanford and Son".

The protagonist of "Sanford and Son" was Fred, a widowed, old black man and the original hoarder.  He lived with his son Lamont.  The show was set in a junkyard in Watts.  The opening credits depicted the city's boarded up business and dilapidated houses.  Everyone was poor and struggling to get by.  The Sanfords owed an old pick up truck.

"What's Happening” was centered on single mother Mabel, her son Roger and her daughter Dee.  Roger and his two best friends Dwayne and Rerun always met at the diner where "Big Shirley" worked.   Dwayne's saying was "hey, hey, hey" and my sisters and I used this expression whenever possible.  Dee was a tattle tale just like my little sister Annie who blackmailed me into paying her off just like Dee did to Roger.

"Good Times" hit even closer to home.  In "Good Times" the family of five struggled to get by.  James and Florida Evans had three kids: J.J., Thelma and Michael.  The Evans family was often in danger of eviction.  James worked hard like my dad and fancied himself a pool shark.  My favorite characters were the feminist neighbor Willona and her adopted daughter Penny who was played by Janet Jackson.  Penny's mother was abusive (she burned her with an iron in one episode) and Willona called CPS and saved Penny.

Archie Bunker from "All in the Family" reminded me of my father in his heavy coat and hat and his thinning hair.  Archie always got his words mixed up just like my dad.  I remember watching the episode where Edith died.  I couldn't stop crying.  After Edith died, Archie bought a bar that reminded me of my dad's bar "The Big O".  Sometimes, I switch the channel to an old rerun of the show when I want to be reminded of my father. 

A blog about television must talk about the "The Brady Bunch" which defined suburban life in the 1970's.  As a child watching reruns, I was transfixed by the Brady Bunch episodes.  The story lines were simple, Jan broke her glasses, Marcia's prom date stood her up, the kids used the phone too much, but the narratives were well plotted and always tied up at the end.  What drew me into the Brady house was how pleasant life was.  No one ever threw anything at one another or screamed at each other in the Brady house.  And, they had a maid.  It was an escape into another life for me.

Nowadays, with the obsession with reality television, TV is a wasteland of the worst sort.  The problem with reality television is that it is not realistic at all.  Instead, it is fake and melodramatic making TV mountains out of molehills.  Shows such as "Real World", "The Hills" and Jersey Shore" fall into this category.  And, please do not even get me started on the celebrity reality television sub-genre which is meaningless, mind numbing television,  These shows are addicting like candy bars and if you watch too much you get a stomach ache.

 The concept of reality television has undermined the whole purpose of television that was present in the 1970's.  "The Jeffersons" showed it was possible for a man of color to make it, Archie Bunker showed viewers that a man could be more than the sum of his prejudices and "Good Times" demonstrated that life in the projects was hard, but still a life full of love and laughter.

And, that is what I want more of in my television.  I will continue to watch the quest like/game show reality television (i.e., "Top Chef", "Amazing Race" and "Project Runway"), but from now on, I expect more. 

We all should.