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The Best Thing About Today

Day to Day Thoughts, Recollections, and Chicanisma

Authorized Personnel Only
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Trying to help a student recently, I went to the Counseling office in search of a late add card. Two very helpful administrative assistants whose offices are cubby cut-outs in the hallway, assumed I was there to see the Dean of Students, a person who happens to oversee several campus programs with which I am involved. When I explained that I was in search of a late add card, they directed me to an adjacent set of offices through a door marked "authorized personnel only."

"I can go through there?" I asked, surprising even myself, for just after I asked the question, I knew the answer.

"Your authorized personnel, aren't you?" the women whose cubby is closest to the door said, more a statement than a question.

"Well, I guess I am," I said, laughing at the realization.

Now, as I've gotten older, I am the kind of person, who can, when entering a location in which I am not exactly allowed, like a wing of a hospital after visiting hours, walk in with so much confidence that no one will question me otherwise, but I still have not grown accustomed to the fact that in many cases, that I am actually authorized personnel -- somebody with power, somebody who belongs, who belongs behind doors where confidential records are kept, and where important things get done, important things that I care a great deal about, things that will impact the futures of many, and where I am trusted to keep confidentiality and to do my job with integrity.

In second grade, I made an attempt at a regular short-cut through the cafeteria to the bathrooms. Mrs. Handy was mopping a large area in the middle of the cafeteria, so I was careful to not step into the areas that were clean and wet, my bladder about to burst at any moment.

Stopping her mop when she saw me, she said, "You're pretty bold for a Mexican girl."

I didn't really understand what she meant. I understood that she was angry that I was walking on the very floor that she was mopping, but I didn't really get what being Mexican had to with it. In my confusion, I stopped to look at Mrs. Handy, trying to better understand what she meant, considering whether I should turn back and go the other way. Already halfway to the bathroom, I decided to keep going, but for years after, I couldn't shake what she had said.

"You're pretty bold for a Mexican girl."

Perhaps it's a combination of comments like Mrs. Handy's, growing up on welfare which came with all sorts of restrictions that my mother didn't exactly obey,  and the other illegal activities in which my mother engaged, but it's still hard for me to see myself as "authorized personnel."  And it makes me laugh when I realize that I am.

In Defense of Lifeguards
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I've realized that I'm mildly obsessed with lifeguards. I know that it's all a result of what I perceived as an antagonistic relationship with Colleen, the head lifeguard of the Tuolumne Pool -- a place where spent a great deal of every summer for many years in my youth. But there's another reason too -- for this obsession. Being a former pre-school teacher, I can't help but notice how much yelling they do, "Noooo, running!" "Hey, wrong way on the slide!" I've even judged them for being so mean and seemingly angry. Pre-school teachers/childcare providers are trained to never shout, to always go to the child in need of direction, and kneel down to their level and make eye-contact.  A pre-school teacher would say something like, "I noticed you're having trouble remembering to walk inside. If you need to run, you can run outside," or "I need you to walk inside. I don't want you to run into someone or hurt yourself."

The thing is, a pre-school teacher's job is to help instill an internal sense of right and wrong, or in this case, safe or dangerous, but a lifeguard's job is to save your life. They are paid only around $10-12 an hour (starting pay)  to keep kids from, running, falling, and cracking their heads open on concrete pool decks across America, or save them from drowning in three, five, six, seven, and thirteen feet of water. In talking about lifeguards and all the shouting that they do with Smythologies blogger, Karin Spirn, we decided that there are lifeguard moments in life too -- times when you have to shout to save someones life, times when not screaming at a friend or your child when a car comes dangerously close to hitting them while trying to cross the street -- times when not taking the time to give a succinct but detailed explanation about why somebody should not do what they are about to do is necessary.

The concept of lifeguard moments in life would probably be a relief to parents who try very hard not to should at their children but do more often that they'd like in spite of themselves or any past pre-school training. The danger here, of course, is convincing yourself that shouting at your child because he didn't put his shoes on after you asked him to do it nicely five times already is somehow saving his life -- perhaps when I was growing up that might have been actually true. It was much better to have my mom scream at me than go after me with any nearby object that was in reach as she charged in my direction. While I don't hit my child or use any other kind of physical punishments, a very conscious decision made by my husband and I, and since parenting can be frustrating, I do occasionally lose my temper and shout. That's not a lifeguard moment -- that's a bio-reaction -- the part of the brain that is on the look out for danger, the amygdala, is stimulated and the owner of the brain reacts without thinking about her reaction, just reacts without making a choice, usually resulting in embarrassing, regretful, or even dangerous behavior. We have 20 milliseconds to choose a different response; that's obviously less than a second -- not very much time, but the more we become aware, the better we can get about choosing a different response.

Now lifeguards, usually young men and women in their teens or early twenties, aren't trained to be pre-school teachers, or to be aware of their bio-reaction, and judging the faces of many who shout at kids to quit splashing, running, or dunking others, they are probably in bio-reaction a lot of the time, and that's a good thing for those of us who want our children to live, but having now had many students who work as lifeguards, I have learned that some of their fear and frustration comes from the fact that a lot of parents bring their kids to the pool or their local lake and don't spend enough time shouting at them themselves. In fact, many parents bring their kids to a swimming facility, a place where a good time could result in death and don't hardly watch them at all, or they even encourage their children to take swim tests in deep water that they can't pass, even hassling the lifeguard when he/she won't allow the weak swimmer to swim in the deep water.

Recently, I saw a news story on some ABC news show about beach lifeguards who listen to ipods or spend too much time texting while on shift rather than scanning the beach for someone in need of help, and someone at one of these beaches actually drowned. I also saw a news story about a storm resulting in huge waves off the shore of some beach town where people were told to stay off the rocks near the ocean, and a man took his two kids to see the waves anyway. He and his two daughters were swept into the ocean and one of his daughters did not make it back alive. That man did not understand the concept of the lifeguard moment at all.

Waning Days of Summer
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For kids out of school for the summer, swimming is the definitive summer activity. The sunscreen, tan lines, and the smell of chlorine, for most, help create and maintain the feeling of summer. The shimmery blue water and lines at the bottom of the pool always take me back to the days spent at the Tuolumne Pool. In a place whose downtown center only spanned one square block of store fronts, many of which were boarded up, three of five or six that were open being bars, the pool was Tuolumne City's one modern amenity. In summer, it sparkled like a jewel among it's back drop of open dry grass land and tattered drunks hanging around across the street in the park. Leaving my mom's run-down house and her run down friends to go to the pool in the summer was like an escape to some place clean, a place where things were predictable, a place where there were rules and people, mostly, lived by them.

While I take my son and niece to the pool and stay there with them to make sure they drink enough water, reapply sunscreen, get out to eat lunch, and don't drown, or forget the rules, a sort of back up for the lifeguards, rather than imagining that they'll be just fine on their own, like the majority of the parents in Tuolumne did. I rather enjoy my time playing with them in the water or observing them from the side of the pool. They are best friends in spite of being a different gender and 2.5 years apart in age. They have fun anywhere, but in the water especially. Having done swim lessons together for two years in a row, they're becoming better swimmers, but they spend most of their time in three feet water, turning somersaults under water, doing cannonballs from the edge, or attempting handstands. They recently invented a game where they take turns tapping someone they don't know on the back or shoulder, swimming away before being noticed -- I've warned them about the possible dangers of such a game.

Last Sunday, I took my son and niece to a nearby city aquatic center.  I tried inviting other mom friends and their kids, but contacted everyone too late.Ironically, I found myself beyond glad that none of my friends could make it because I had a good book with me, and in this particular pool where beginning swimmers are only allowed to swim in the roped-off three feet waters or in the less than two feet waters in and around the climbing structure slide area, I realized that I could sit nearby for stretches at a time and didn't have to be in the water if I didn't feel like it.  Sure I kept an eye on them, looking up from my book even more than I really needed to, and I got into the water to cool off and to play with them, and to encourage them to practice what they had learned in swim lessons, but mostly I read and enjoyed just being in my own head with my thoughts and memories. When I wasn't reading, I made comparisons between my own experiences at the Tuolumne pool, and summers in general, with my son's experiences. My mom shooed us out the door, "get out of my hair," and I chauffeur my son and niece around in my car, carrying their stuff like some kind of high priced assistant, and I wouldn't have it any other way, especially since summer is and feels a lot shorter than it used to.

As I laid there alone in the grass on my towel, in my red bikini, reading my book, and listening to my ipod, while looking up frequently to keep my eye on the kids, I thought about myself circa 1982, at the Tuolumne Pool, my towel near the diving boards where the older kids hung out, listening to a cassette tape of Adam and the Ants on my wannabe Sony Walkman. While earlier that day, I had been disappointed not to have found any of my friends at the pool to hang out with, I had suddenly become swept up by the joy of being in the moment and in my own head. The song "Scorpios" was playing in my ears, and people were diving off the diving boards in front of me. The bright sounds of the blasting horn section, Adam Ant's singing English accent, and the image of his olive complexion, square jaw, high cheek bones, and what I assumed were Spaniard good looks, invoked a tingling pubescent response that made me feel more alive than I had probably ever felt. The feeling was a combination of everything all at once, the hot sun on my skin, the bright music in my ears, the shimmery blue water in front of me, and the thought of Adam Ant in leather pants. To this day, while at the pool with my son, or while listening to "Scorpios," I can still conjure up that same feeling.

I'm Back To Blogging and Maybe with a Slightly Different Focus
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After the election in November, which is what I had veered into writing so much about, I felt like I had lost focus on the other things I could be writing about. Those things being day to day, perhaps slightly philosophical musings. I'd like to continue to record some of my inner musings, but I'd also like to begin writing more about writing, the process, the product, and memories that stem from my writing, which will hopefully generate more memories and more stories. Of course, all that I write will include my special brand of Chicanisma whether I'm writing specifically about race, identity, mexicanismo, la raza cosmica, or not.

In order to keep the amount of pressure that I put on myself to maintain my artistic pursuits and because I will be taking a writer's workshop and a video journalism course on top of my important teaching responsibilities, I will most likely only be posting two times per week. Only one if necessary and more than two when particularly inspired.

Please sign up to be my friend, check me out every once in a while ,and comment when you feel like it.

Stay tuned for my next post which will be inspired by the waning days of summer and that will be muse on the experience I had taking my son and niece swimming last Sunday and which will reference "Queen of Chlorine," an older version of a story that is part of my personal essay collection and one of my more recent postings. Check it out in advance of my next post!

Another Personal Essay Entry: Queen of Chlorine
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                                     Queen of Chlorine


Her name was Colleen, and she ruled the pool. Each blow of her whistle was followed by a “Heeey, don’t run!” or “Get off the staaairs!” or “Nooo splashing!” She usually wore white-framed Vaurnet sunglasses that matched any of her brightly colored bikinis: a solid pink, a solid yellow, a solid turquoise, and white. When she wasn’t screaming at us and blowing her whistle, she spun it around her finger with the intensity of boxer jumping rope. With her left hand on her hip, she’d get that whistle spinning to the right, and once the string had wrapped itself around her index finger, she’d get it spinning to the left. It was like her special lifeguard lasso – you didn’t dare get too close.

I don’t know if it’s because she seemed to single me out, or because I was intimidated by her sun-bleached blond hair, and all-American beauty, or a combination of both, but Colleen became my nemesis. She was everything I wasn’t: beautiful, blonde, and powerful. Sure, she was a bit thick around the hips and had cellulite, but to me she fit a standard unattainable to all those around me. All the kids who swam at the pool were afraid of her, and she seemed to revel in her role as queen of chlorine. You didn’t dare pee in the water anywhere near Colleen’s umbrella perched high above the mass of sun damaged bodies. She was tightly wound, that was for sure, but it’s true that the majority of the kids at the Tuolumne pool had been sent or dropped off by parents without jobs who used the pool like they used elementary school, as a babysitter, only the pool stayed open much later and there was no homework.

 It always seemed that nearly half the town’s kids were there. Even on weekends, when I would get there on foot with my brother in tow there was always a line of kids waiting at the gate before the pool had even opened. My family had very little money and while my mom didn’t like us to eat candy, she always managed to scrounge enough change from pockets of dirty pants and under the couch cushions to get us into the pool and a treat. Meanwhile, she’d stay home and get stoned with her friends. We’d usually see their kids at the pool or in line at what we called the “little store” – a lot of poor and working-class white kids, a lot of the super dark Mi-Wuk kids from the racheria, and me and my brother, two of the only Mexican kids in town, passing as town Mi-Wuks. There were a few parents who came to the pool with their children; these parents often wore swim caps and nose plugs while they splashed around in the water with their little ones, or they sat on towels in the shade. They were an oddity and their kids even odder. I don’t think I ever heard Colleen or any of the other much younger lifeguards tell those kids to take a shower before entering the pool, and they never came wearing cut-offs, so they were never turned away.

 Maybe I wasn’t the only one, but Colleen always glared at me whenever I had to walk passed her and her flying whistle lasso on the way to the diving boards. There were two boards, the low board and the high board. Just climbing the stairs to the top of the high board made my stomach flop over, but it was a fear I knew I had to conquer. Some days, I’d march right past Colleen, daring to get close to the blur of her whistle, and other days, I’d walk the long way around the pool, opposite of Colleen, as slow as I could until I reached the high board. I’d let a kid or two, who seemed more eager, to cut in front of me, and once the board was empty, I’d make a panicked assent to the top. The slight bounce of the board under my feet as I made my way to the tip gave me a floaty, slow motion feeling that I savored. It was exhilarating to be up so high above the smell of coca butter, baby oil and chlorine. Inevitably, my thoughts were interrupted.

“Heeeey, you on the board; you’re taking tooo long,” Colleen would scream and blow a long shrill blast on her whistle. I remember her using my actual name only one time – it made me feel very important, but normally she’d shriek, “Hey!!!!!!!” or “Hey, you!!!!”

Sometimes, when spooked, I would turn and make my way to the stairs then down, each one a mark of inadequacy, but after about my third summer in row of Colleen screaming and blowing her whistle in a way that had nothing to do with saving my life, I forgot about wanting to disappear. Instead, more swiftly than ever before, I climbed the ladder, hand, foot, hand, foot, then pulled myself up and onto the board, and marched to the end. Hesitating at the tip, I waited for Colleen to notice, and I forced myself to jump at the first blast from her whistle. I heard a “heey” cut short as I fell through the air until, splash, I was under the water, fighting my way back to the top.


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I recently took my son to the neighborhood pool one unbearably hot afternoon, and when a young lifeguard passed by me in white-framed sunglasses, I found myself thinking about Colleen. Did she really hate me? Maybe she was just tired of the noise and being under appreciated. Tired of busting kids for dunking each other under water. As I fought my way through throngs of kids in rather warm pool water, I found myself thinking fondly of her, hoping she, unlike the rest of us, wore sunscreen with a high SPF. I wondered what she’s up to these days, and as I was sure I was being peed on by more than one of the nearby children, I found myself wishing her well.

Beer Shampoo -- non-fiction personal essay
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Beer Shampoo



    Our good friend Brooke prances through the school

                     looking really keen; she thinks she’s really cool

                     We tend to disagree…

                      ---from the song “Beer Shampoo” by Bitch Fight        

     In around fourth grade, there was a girl who came to Summerville Elementary school who got a lot of attention. Her name was Brooke, a pretty unusual name at the time, for Brooke Shields had not yet made Pretty Baby, Blue Lagoon, or had yet to appear in any Jordache Jeans commercials. In Tuolumne, the name still meant something from nature, a small stream, something that even ran in some of our backyards, but not as a name for a girl. 
     Summerville’s Brooke was an adorable, doll-faced girl with sandy blonde hair that curled into perfect little ringlets. I hated her right away. Her clothes were always crisp, her tights never snagged, and her Mary Janes never had scuffs on them. She also thought she was really great because she had reportedly appeared in an episode of Little House on the Prairie, which was occasionally filmed nearby on Baker Ranch. She even thought she might be in more episodes, which could mean that she might ride through town in the eight-door, black station wagon used by Michael Landon and company. I had seen it drive through town, and I had even seen Michael Landon and his big hair inside.

The Little House on the Prairie book series was only my favorite book series of all time. I read several of the one-hundred and fifty to three-hundred plus page books in one-day sittings on our saggy green couch in front of the wood stove on rainy days in the winter. Little Laura and Mary had a woodstove too. They also played with a pig’s bladder filled with air like a balloon after Pa slaughtered their pig, ran around in the snow in dresses and bloomers, and were afraid of Indians. I had seen The Little House on the Prairie show at a friend’s house a couple of times, but we didn’t have a TV, so it was easy to pretend that I didn’t care about the show or that Brooke appeared in it, or that she was a star. A lot of other girls did care, however, and they orbited around Brooke like planets. I watched from afar. It was annoying how difficult it was to ignore her, to not admire all her new clothes, or not notice the cute freckles on her nose.

When I wasn’t alone on the playground, captivated by Brooke, the embodiment of everything I didn’t have, I was playing with Joelle Parker, Julie Kroaker, and Jenna Wilson. Nicole Lopez and I had not yet become good friends, so I made do with some girls in my class who made me feel less bad about myself than Brooke. Joelle’s dad was Mr. Parker, the school music teacher and vice principal, and Joelle and I were in band together, both on our way to becoming band geeks. Julie was a pretty blonde girl who played clarinet and who lived in Ponderosa Hills, Tuolumne’s more upscale neighborhood, which boasted a community pool, but was in Tuolumne, nevertheless. Julie’s parents were working class professionals, her mom an overweight nurse, who had passed the chubby gene down to Julie, which actually made her cuter. Jenna Wilson was the awkward looking one of the bunch with what some would describe as a horse face. Her mom, sometimes, ran in the same circles as my mom, which meant they were hippie types, dabbling in unsavory extracurricular pot smoking and the occasional psychedelic drug – a secret which both Jenna and I guarded with our lives, for our reputations depended on it, though my mom’s reputation around town for being wild and loud escaped just about no one. My role in our clique, the out of season tan, the trying- -not-to-be-shabby clothes, and the thick, long, straight, dark hair, added an edginess and mystique not possible for a group of friends, which included the daughters of the school’s vice principal and a nurse, for we, already, fancied ourselves a bit different from the other girls.

One thing that made us different from the other girls was our preoccupation with pretending to be Charlie’s Angels, running around the playground and saving each other from dangerous men, AKA gross boys on the playground, wielding our forefingers and thumbs into the shape of guns and posing provocatively with our legs spread, and in our imaginations, our long hair blowing back behind us. While playing Charlie’s Angels, however, Joelle, Julie, Jenna, and I probably spent less time running around the playground and more time arguing about who was going to play the part of which angel. Joelle, being the dominant girl in the group always got to be Farrah Fawcett’s character, Jill Munroe, and Julie who was too sweet to argue, but blonde, always played Cheryl Ladd’s character, Kris Munroe. Jenna and I were left to fight over which brunette to play. I always wanted to be Jaclyn Smith’s character and usually got my way because I was better at arguing my case, or maybe just louder. I secretly thought Jaclyn Smith was the prettiest woman on the show, in spite of not being blonde. Jenna wanted to be Jaclyn Smith’s character too, and whenever she got to the tires before me I’d be stuck playing Sabrina Duncan, the pointy-faced, short, dark-haired angel, played by Kate Jackson. Sometimes after all our wrangling, just when we had each of parts and our scenario worked out, the bell would ring, leaving us stuck to play which ever part we had worked out at the next recess.

When we weren’t playing Charlie’s Angels, Joelle, Julie, Jenna, and I would hang out around the spinning bars, all three of us attempting to pretend that Brooke, who I thought tried to hang around us for the sole purpose of flaunting her greatness, did not exist. In what I now understand as an approval seeking method, Brooke, liked to demonstrate to us that she had another talent besides looking cute and acting: spinning on the low spinning bars. Joelle, Julie, and Jenna did a lot of spinning too. Since I was never coordinated enough to eek out more than one spin, I would keep watch as each Joelle, Julie, and Jenna would hook one knee around the low bar and get going as fast and for as many times as they could. On a good day, Julie and Jenna could do three or four revolutions. Joelle, who was great at just about everything she did, was a very good spinner -- she could do about four or five revolutions in a row, her hair flying. Brooke, however, who was a year younger, could do even more, though I wasn’t counting. It seemed like whenever she saw us at the bars, she’d float on over with her planets all around her and wait her turn for a spot on one of the two bars. Even though there were four places to spin, and I didn’t usually take up one of those spaces, when I’d see her coming, I’d lean against the empty space and make her wait. Occasionally, she’d float over unnoticed and find a spot on the bar, and in a dress with shorts underneath for modesty sake, hook her leg over, and start spinning, the skin of her hands on the bar making little squeaks, her hair a sandy blonde blur. It was hard for Joelle, Julie, Jenna, and I to not stop and watch, though if we’d happen to see her coming our way, we’d leave the bars entirely, or we’d make her wait for her turn, then leave just as she was about to get on.

Brooke didn’t last long in Tuolumne. She moved, eventually winding up in Sonora, only about seven miles away. And once she was gone, I gave Brooke, very little thought (unless I happened to see an episode of Little House on The Prairie then I’d find myself looking for her) until high school. I wasn’t surprised that Brooke and her family had moved to Sonora. Boasting its own police department, courthouse, jail, newspaper and more grocery stores than bars, even a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sonora is Tuolumne County’s capstone city, a much more sophisticated place than Tuolumne, a much easier place to stay clean. What did surprise me about Brooke when she returned to my life was that she still wanted my approval and the approval of my group of friends.

By the time we were sixteen, Nicole, Suzy, and I, both of whom I had known since childhood, were running around in a punk rock contingent that had grown to a sizable number of about eight solid with a few peripheries, and four of us had formed an all-girl punk band. I played drums, Nicole played guitar, Suzy sang, and with each new song we wrote, we’d teach Chris Canella, Suzy’s friend from Sonora High, the bass lines. While I was still friendly with Joelle, Julie, and Jenna, I had left our Charlie’s Angels days far behind, and I had become a minority among minorities – a Mexican-American, punk rock girl, though I had cool punk rock friends and a band.

One clove-smoking weekend at Suzy’s in Columbia, where she lived with her mom and super skinny younger brother, before the band was ready start playing parties, before we stopped going to high school dances, Suzy was complaining about some snooty girls at Sonora High – she called them the “beige girls” because they all only wore khaki and white – crisp white tops, khaki jumpers and white Topsiders, or crisp white tops and khaki pencil skirts with Keds. I couldn’t help but laugh when she mentioned that one of them was named Brooke. I new immediately, without Suzy even giving me the last name right away, that her snooty Brooke was the same Brooke who had strutted her stuff around the Summerville Elementary school playground with her nose in the air, thinking she was so hot, in her perfect clothes, and her little planets orbiting all around her. Apparently, things hadn’t changed all that much – I was just glad it was Suzy who had to now put up with her and not me. My dirt on Brooke only fueled Suzy’s ire, as Suzy was easily much angrier than I could ever be, though Brooke moving in on my love interest, Tobin Denton, also a marching band geek and a drummer, gave me a whole new reason to be pissed off at the world and every single privileged blonde in it.

Tobin Denton, was Suzy’s good friend Sandy Denton’s little brother and a year younger than I was, two years younger than Suzy and Sandy. The Denton family had an interesting story. The Denton patriarch, a musician, had played in a band that toured in a bus taking the young Tobin, Sandy, and their mom with him until they thought they should settle down, winding up in a nice double-wide trailer in Jamestown on a tidy lot in a neighborhood with other big tidy lots and other double-wide trailers. Like his father, Tobin played the bass guitar and also the drums. We had noticed each other once or twice before I met him through Suzy, as the Summerville High and Sonora High bands did programs together a couple of times a year. I had noticed his pegged pants, cropped short hair, earring, eyeliner, and shiny braces from my place amongst the wind section. I played drums too, but not in the high school band. In the high school band, I played the flute as I had done since the fourth grade.

Because there was absolutely nothing punk rock about Tuolumne, no good places to skateboard, no one to see our spray painted graffiti, no cops to hate, and no place to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries, Nicole and I often hung out in Sonora with the other punks. We’d meet Suzy, Sandy, her boyfriend Chris, her brother Tobin, and Sean, a Billy Idol look alike who Suzy was all crushed out on, and this crazy wannabe bi-sexual girl Becky who smoked way too much pot, at the Europa, or as it was often referred to, the Throw-upa. The Europa was your run of the mill, greasy-table-top diner that also served a few Greek dishes and had really good Baklava. Both being band geeks, Tobin and I had a lot in common and a lot to talk about, though he didn’t talk much, which meant we often just sat side-by-side in a cramped booth at the Europa, our thighs all mashed together, making it difficult for us to look at one another, except from the corner of our eyes. Before long, everyone could tell we were in to each other, and thinking it was so cute, Suzy and Sandy, always made us sit together in the backseat of Nicole’s Fiat.

Becoming more visible in town, and in the eyes of many, a threat, we punkers made a concerted effort to travel in a pack, both to make a statement and for self-preservation, so when Suzy and Sandy invited Nicole and I to a Sonora High dance, we couldn’t pass up a chance to go and scare Brooke and the rest of trendies and serve as back up for our Sonora counterparts. Suzy took Nicole as her date, and Sandy took me as hers. Tobin, Chris, Sean, and Tobin’s friend Bill, would all be there. Arriving a little late, having taken extra care to dress for the occasion, ratting my hair extra high, and applying my black eyeliner extra carefully, and dressed, not in my regular black, but in a vintage, frilly white top with layers of vertical ruffles, and red leggings, and black granny shoes, I was horrified when I walked into the Sonora High gym and spotted Tobin surrounded by the beige girls and talking to Brooke – or her talking to him. While the punk rock girls would never date trendy guys, only other punk guys, stoners, or working class dudes, the punk rock guys lusted over the most popular trendy girls in school and visa versa. Tobin, I thought, was an exception to this rule, and mostly he was, but I could tell he had a weakness for any kind of female attention.

Not knowing what else to do, I marched right up to where Tobin stood surrounded by Brooke, and the beige girls, with, Suzy, Nicole, and Tobin’s sister, Sandy, behind me, cut my way through Tobin’s adoring crowd, and said, “Hi, Tobin.” He looked from me to Brooke, and back, his eyes making their way down to my red leggings and back up. I smiled, and Suzy, never known for her patience, cut in from behind me, and grabbed Tobin by the hand and dragged him to the dance floor, where we descended on him like magpies. Chris and Sean joined us and we danced together for a couple of fast songs, making lewd hand gestures and faces at anyone who stopped to stare. When a drippy 80’s slow song came on, changing the mood entirely, Suzy pushed me toward Tobin and left the dance floor with Nicole, leaving Sandy and Chris to slow dance, and Tobin and I in an awkward but not terrible position. Knowing this was my chance to make it clear to Brooke, and to Tobin, that he was mine, I moved even closer, looked up and smiled my best seductive smile, and when he smiled back, a shiny braces smile, I leaned into him and put my arms around his neck. Trembling a bit, he drew his arms up slowly and put them around my waist, letting one droop down and rest on the rump of my tight, red, dollar- store leggings. About halfway through the song, with Tobin’s breath hot in my ear, I spotted Brooke with her beige girls standing at the periphery scanning the dance floor. When she saw me in Tobin’s arms, dancing with his hand resting on my rear, I narrowed my eyes and smiled, then nuzzled my nose into his neck, breathing in the smell of his Polo cologne.

Maybe it was because she was still after Tobin, or maybe because she still wanted our approval, or a combination of both, Brooke showed up to a party at Suzy’s house, thrown one night when her mom and little brother were out of town. It wasn’t a big party, but our cool friends from Sonora High were all there, and a few others who had heard about it from a friend who told a friend, who told another friend, and who could navigate the bumpy, deeply rutted half-mile long dirt road out to the property where the Suzy’s small house and another sat amongst a grove of oak trees. Brooke knew we hated her, that she was our nemesis, and that she represented everything we thought was wrong with the world, but she had a friend who considered herself one our peripheries, and this friend drove her to the party anyway. Having this connection to one of our peripheries, in our eyes, gave Brooke a sense of entitlement over our shabby part of town – her pass into our world, and we were pissed off about it. Suzy and I were especially pissed. Suzy couldn’t believe that Brooke, who at school, with her friends, looked at Suzy like she was a piece of trash, would think it’s cool to show up her house. I just knew that Brooke was there to move in on my man. After having tortured me with her beauty and privilege in elementary school, she had returned and posed a threat to my love life, holding up what represented a perfect standard of female beauty like a mirror, in which I saw (and had created) a freakish carnival mirror version of myself reflected back at me.

Suzy and I both knew that Brooke had to go, and I had the perfect way to get rid of her. Because she was a two-faced, approval-seeking, boyfriend-stealing, trendy, and because I was a jealous, insecure, angry, self-hating, punk rock Chicana, I was just the person for the job. Calling Suzy to the kitchen, I grabbed a beer from the fridge and slinked up along side Melissa and Brooke, in crisp white and beige. They were in the center of the front room on Suzy’s mom’s thrift-store couch. I played nice, saying, “Hey Brooke, how did you find out about he party?”

When she looked up to answer, I began dumping beer from a can of Old Milwaukee that I had just opened onto her head. Squealing, she sat stuck to the couch in shock, allowing me time to drain the entire remaining amount of beer all over her sandy blonde hair and to drop the can, which bounced off her head and landed somewhere on the floor. Suzy who had posted herself nearby for the show, was howling with laughter along with the rest of the witnesses. When Brooke finally jumped to her feet, she was crying and wiping beer from her face and hair, and in a deliciously satisfying fit of gulps and sobs, she managed to say that she couldn’t believe how she had been treated after she had come to the party at Suzy’s hoping to make friends with us, hoping to bury the hatchet, and after making some kind of lame threat, she stormed out, her ride Melissa, following along behind her.

For months afterward, some huge girl, a friend of Brooke’s, threatened to kick my ass and got in my face any chance she got. However, the memory of the night I humiliated a trendy, the laughs we got from those who witnessed the beer shampoo, and the song we wrote, and performed at parties which elicited wild chanting during the chorus, made it all worth it, even if it wasn’t a nice thing to do.


Surprise Parties
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No one has ever thrown a surprise party for me before last weekend.  Let me just first say that the reason no one has never done so is not because my family and/or friends haven't ever been thoughtful . It's just that I have always been, admittedly, a bit full of myself and always thrown my own parties because I've always thought I deserved one, that all my friends would want to celebrate my birth, and because I've always liked the attention.

As I've grown a bit older and matured a bit, however, I've grown out of the need to switch on my spotlight. I've stopped taking advantage of every excuse to direct attention my way  -- it takes so much less energy, and I can now appreciate a much more quiet life and humble approach -- emphasis on the word "more" because I know in comparison with others, I am not humble or quiet at all. 

 I suppose these things happen with age, but I also know that I've learned a thing or two from Ines. There are other factors too, one being money and the other parenthood. As a mother whose only child's birthday is less than a month from her own, I found that I am much more concerned with planning his parties than my own. Financially, it makes sense to spend whatever I might be able to spend on Luis Manuel rather than myself. Perhaps it is this very stage in my human development that prompted Ines to go all out this year and throw me such a big party because it happened just when I least expected it to, I don't think there's anything Ines hates more than an obnoxious sense of entitlement and selfish expectations.

Anyway, the thing I meant to say about surprise parties was that the real surprise isn't showing up to your house on a rainy day to a house full of people shouting surprise on day that you haven't showered, wearing some funky jeans, an old top, hardly any make-up, and wet hair, but the real surprise is seeing who came it out to share the surprise -- the people you see all the time who still like you anyway, who haven't yet grown tired of your loud mouth, the people who you don't even know who just happen to your husband's friends from soccer, and the people who you haven't seen in a while, your dear old friends, who came out to show they still care about you after all these years.


Strange and Wonderful Visions
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This past Monday morning, the morning before the election, while making toast for Ines' breakfast sandwhich, I had a vision. As I rested one hand on the cold tile counter, waiting for the bread to finish toasting, I saw Barack Obama being sworn into office --  he and Michelle were both dressed in long, warm coats to ward off the cold January day; he had one hand on the Bible, the other in the air. Call it a vision or wishful thinking; all I know is that, in my state, stomach in knots, anxious about the outcome of the election, this clear picture of what I know will now be, provided me a great deal of comfort.

This election vision was not unlike another vision that came to me once in a different moment of need. While in graduate school, one of my professors, Amanda Davis, died tragically in a plane crash on her way to one of her several book tour readings. The small plane being piloted by her father, went down suddenly, killing all three people on board: Amanda, her father, and her mother. While I wasn't terribly fond of Amanada, as a professor, I did get the impression that she was very  talented (just too persnickity for my liking) and generous. Her not being my favorite creative writing professor didn't make her death any easier to understand. I don't remember where I was when I had the vision, but in a moment of despair over her death, I had a vision that comforted me a great deal. In the vision, Amanda and her mother, realizing that their plane was going down, clung to one another and uttered what I understood to be some kind of hebrew prayer, as the Davis family were of the Jewish faith.

I don't know where these visions come from, but they are worth paying attention to, remembering, and trusting.      

 Amanda Davis 1970-2003

Obama: Not Just a Footnote in History
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Historic. Truly historic indeed.

I just heard that one of my colleagues went to Ohio to campaign for Obama and he got chased off of someone's property with a rake!

Election Jitters
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My stomach is in knots. I can't concentrate on anyone task for longer than 5 minutes (my poor students), and I'm experiencing intermittent waves of nausea. I'm hoping Ginger Chews will help.

Nothing in politics has ever seemed to matter so much.

Barack Obama's win could dramatically change the lives of so many of who have been invisible, too visible for the wrong reasons, and disenfranchised for too long.

Many of my students have told me they voted no on Prop 8 -- I've seen many other students wearing no on prop 8 stickers too. Let's hope it's them that the pollsters weren't polling when they found that a slim majority is in favor of the ballot measure that claims to "restore marriage."


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