Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Accepting the Darkness Before Resonating in the Light

If you end a year and begin a new one in a depressing voice, those around you may scatter.  My intentions are not to depress the masses; but I propose to you that unless we acknowledge, understand and accept darkness, we cannot truly resonate in light.
So, I ask you to endure this New Year’s blog; 
See it through to the end.  
While many of us will bring in 2012 dancing, playing board games drinking libations and eating large amounts of fattening crap, others will bring in 2012 trying to stay warm and find food for themselves and their families.  These “others” live on our streets.
Homelessness is on the rise in the United States in most every city in most every state; an epidemic of colossal proportion, and from what I’ve been reading, added to the term “chronically homeless” is the term “the newbies”; folks homeless for the first time in their lives due to the economic state or condition of our country.  Large populations of these “newbies” are families.
According to Julie Bosman, in an article in the New York Times in 2010:
“…The Bloomberg administration said Friday that the number of people living on New York’s streets and subways soared 34 percent in a year; signaling a setback in one of the city’s most intractable problems.  Appearing both startled and dismayed by the sharp increase, a year after a significant drop, administration officials attributed it to the recession, noting that city shelters for families and single adults had been inundated.”
Robert V. Hess, the commissioner of homeless services, said in a subdued news conference, “…The city began feeling the increase in its vast shelter system more than two years ago.  And now we’re seeing the devastating effect of this unprecedented poor economy on our streets as well.  The city’s annual tally indicated an additional 783 homeless people on the streets and in the subway system, for a total of 3,111, up from 2,328 last year. That is in addition to almost 38,000 people living in shelters, which is near the city’s high.”

In an article for Times US by Steven Gray in March of 2009, 1 in 50 American kids were homeless in 2006; totaling 1.5 million children. 
At that time, The National Center on Family Homelessness and other organizations predicted, We know the numbers are going to skyrocket” and credit the recession for that accurate prediction 
made in 2006.

Although the numbers and percentages vary depending on what site you read, here’s some facts; hard and cold, and in my opinion, should not exist in the United States of America.

And while I just read that over half of our (elected) Congress are multi-millionaires (and a large child’s handful are billionaires), here are more facts:
Two factors help account for increasing poverty: eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce and the declining value and availability of public assistance.

The states with the highest number of homeless children in the period studied were Texas (337,105), California (292,624), Louisiana (204,053), Georgia (58,397) and Florida (49,886).

Whew!  Are you still with me, good people of this good land?  

Well, unlike those “find the hidden pictures within the big picture” puzzles we used to do as kids, you won’t find a “hidden answer” to this American epidemic called homelessness concealed in this blog.  You won’t even find it hidden between the lines.  I offer no solutions… Not even any humor, goddamn it!  But here’s the light I was talking about earlier.  I experienced that lightness last year, while walking the streets of a wealthy burb that lies just a jog over the Golden Gate Bridge. 
That light has a name, and his name is Van Bo.

Living on Bo Time

When I visited Sausalito, I felt a slight discomfort; like I didn’t really belong.  
You know, a trailer park girl pretending she owns that house on the hill…pretending her earrings aren’t gold-plated.  Yet, I must admit,
I was slightly charmed. 
The rows and rows of boutiques, wine bars, and “shi shi” gift shops where dog biscuits are made with free-range chicken and are 100 % organic… The spotless sidewalks… The manicured parks… The women, all a size 4… 
Facial make-up seems mandatory and every store has an official greeter who recites the same cheery, scripted welcome that you heard at the store two doors down.
I will never live in Sausalito.  Now that’s a hard, cold fact. 

The medium price of a home is $825,000 and that’s down about 11 % according to Trulia.  It’s sheik, classy, overpriced and contemporary.
Sausalites eat lobster and caviar like I eat chicken potpies.   
But tucked away; back in a tiny parking lot sits a funky, spray-painted van with expired plates.  Inside that van lives an “outsider” to this fairy tale city.
That outsider’s name is Van Bo; a man who’s lived on the streets of Sausalito since the late ‘60’s  and he affords it just fine. 
Van Bo makes his way painting on discarded pieces of wood and other trash.  He’s an artist.  He’s a character.  He’s a wise sage who doesn’t want a handout.  You won’t see him holding a sign declaring he’s homeless.  He won’t ask you for coin.  He lives on the streets, and paints for a living.

Van Bo is a male Cinderella in the midst of royalty; surrounded by castles and palaces; yet, never attending the ball.
Everybody knows him by name.  He’s a “fixture.”
His life began in the churches of Utah and extended to the dance halls of New York. Then to the North Beach and Haight Ashbury districts of San Francisco, and finally, Sausalito.
From to studying to be a preacher, then a dancer…
To porn actor… to eventually following a California woman, with ribbons in her hair, and becoming “her negro”… to ultimately, a painter. 
He used drugs, alcohol, and sex like everybody else in the ‘60’s.  He loved anything and everything liked everybody else in the ‘60’s.  But painting never even entered his mind until he realized he might actually have enough talent to at least buy his meals…

“Monet and those guys were paintin all those things that were real, but they needed some color.  (He laughs) I mean they were good and all but their day is done and mine has begun.             I’m all about color.”

“I got here in 1969 but it took me a long time because these people here, well, they are UP TIGHT.”  (He laughs)

                                   “I keep my head above water and my socks dry.”

I had the pleasure of interacting with Van Bo and buying one of his paintings. (He's touching it up in this pic.)

I asked him about keeping his head above water and his socks dry and he smiled, continuing to paint…
“You don’t wanna drown, now do ya?  Easy to drown in this world.”

I can drown just reading the newspaper or watching an interaction that feels desperate or harsh.  I can drown in loss… Drown in self-pity…
Drown in the realization that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. 
My socks could get soaked every goddamn day if I let them.

Bo keeps his dry.  He lives on the streets, where he’s happy. 
He makes his living with his talent. He keeps his head above water. 
He’s not in any Sausalito Art Galleries.  I checked.

And even though he should be, that doesn’t even matter to him. 
He isn’t drowning over it.
And my friends, this is the light.

Now, I’m not so naïve to think that every homeless man, woman and child
can make a decent living playing an instrument, waving a paint brush or selling their wares on the street. Hell No!  What are you thinking? That I come from a longline of trailer park rednecks or something?

Hell, I “get” Van Bo is an exception to the rule and that the epidemic of homelessness rages on…
But isn’t this wonderful?  Isn’t he wonderful?

The video I’m sharing with you is lengthy; an hour or so, but you only need to watch the first 3 or 4 minutes to get an understanding and respect for Van Bo’s work.
If you have the time to watch the video in its entirety;
you’ll get a sense of the man.

Happy New Year!  I wish each of you the ease of your heads above water.  
I hope your socks always remain dry.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Have a Merry Merry!

      In a sleepy little town, just south of the big city of Salinas, one can drive an up climb and view Tommy Pinkston’s annual light extravaganza.  Tommy’s called me (higher than a Chinese dragon kite) 3 times this season, with minute-by-minute updates of this year’s amped up additions:  A blow-up snowman on the Harley, Rudolf sipping a Heineken, 2 new carolers whose scarves and caps blink in rapid succession.   The progression of his treasured and coveted Christmas display actually looks, as my pal Gilligan would say, like Santa threw up all over his yard.  I say “his yard” but this has been an on-going debate for years.
     You see, Tommy views his yard as a “common area” in the park.  Which means, Tommy doesn’t have to mow it, trim it or clean up his dog's shit.  The maintenance person does all of it because even though he has his lawn chairs on it, his fountains, his tomato planters and now his  “made in China” Xmas display, he doesn’t have to maintain it and never has in the 20 plus years he’s lived in the park because it’s a designated “common area.”

Christmas is a very strange time for me.  Alright.  I said it. 
It’s a time when we over do it on food and more so, we babble a lot about peace, love and friendship … Yet, much of the world continues to go hungry and we use our tax dollars to march to war in far off lands and kill people.  We talk about love and we send Hallmark cards saying so, but we secretly harbor hate in our hearts. 
AND… we are so fucking overwhelmed and busy that we don’t have time to call, write, think about or see our friends for the entire month of December. 

     I’ve heard from a source, who asks to remain anonymous, that Northridge Mall in Salinas is the reincarnate of any plaza square in Mexico, in that, it’s jam-packed this December with men of all ages sitting; crowding together, taking up every damn inch of bench, while the women of all ages, from teenage moms to old abuelitas, push baby strollers and crowd the stores to shop, shop, shop in order to bring gifts of frankincense and myrrh to all their dozens of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, god daughters, god sons, and neighbors’ families as well.
     If you’ve ever spent a Christmas in Mexico (and I have) you know what I’m
talking about.  The rooftops during the official “bienvenidos” of Jesus are decorated to the nines and some of them are so picturesque they belong in the SF MOMA. 
If you look up, (be careful or you’ll fall flat on your face in a cobblestone hole) you’ll see these enormous manger scenes; complete with 20 ft Marys, 25 ft Josephs all staring down at baby Jesus in the cradles.  There are, of course, camel, sheep, cows and gigantic blow-up wise men, on every rooftop too; all surrounding the infant who is, of course, Caucasian.   
Also included in the mix, standing shoulder to shoulder, hovering and gawking in amazement at the Christ-child, are giant Santas, snowmen, and all the reindeer, including Rudolf.   All are baring gifts.  
It’s a sight to see and quite complex to understand.  Frankly, probably the only way to truly understand it all, is with a couple shots of tequila.   Every goddamn roof is a full paycheck blown at Wal-Mart.
    And here, back at home, bell-ringers gather in front of stores and post offices collecting coin for the indigent as if those in need are only hungry during the month of December.  I have this thought that lives in the corners of my imagination, and every now and then, it raises it’s ugly head:
IMAGINE the Salvation Army bell-ringers in front of every store, 365 days of the year, ringing for coin and for the eradication of poverty…
IMAGINE children visiting our elderly and singing at convalescent homes 12 months of the year…
IMAGINE folks serving meals at all the soup kitchens at least one night of their busy workweek…
IMAGINE each of us singing carols for PEACE, LOVE, JOY and HOPE all the time and imagine those tunes blasting from every car radio, store intercom, IPod all year round…
IMAGINE rich folks giving because it feels good and it’s the right thing to do, rather than an 
end-of-the-year tax write off…
IMAGINE all the money spent each year on lights, trees, ornaments, fancy wrapping paper, expensive gifts, blow-up Santas instead going to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital or one’s local SPCA…

WHEW!  That’s an imagination on over-drive!  But it makes sense to me.  Truly, and I know it makes sense to many of you reading.  So let’s do it! And what better time to start than day one of a brand new year! Let’s unite and not only occupy our courthouse steps, but let’s occupy that place of our imaginations that, if we act, can make a difference and that difference is not to recognize any particular religious figure, but rather, that difference has only to do with KINDNESS and LOVE. 

     You know all last week I felt exhausted.  Totally and completely wiped out as a slight headache poked at me from the back of my noggin.  I thought it was the busyness of this strange time, the extra traffic in the Trader Jo’s parking lot, the needing another hour in a day.  Then, a friend, who had been visiting me for several days, asked me what kind of coffee we were drinking.   She liked it and wanted to possibly purchase the blend.  I handed her the bag and in doing so, I just happened to glance down at the label.   Seems, I had been drinking DECAF Major Dickinson’s for well over a week…
Now that sucks.

Have a Merry Merry everyone!  Happy New Year!  May kindness and love occupy the streets of your neighborhood and may it begin with each of us…

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Days Like This

The single thing I love most about life, is the people in it. 
I have this desire that lives deep down in my soul: to experience as many people as I possibly can while on this magic carpet ride.  Hell yes!  You can't convince me of something more worthwhile.  
Because while you can travel to exotic places and witness amazing buildings that are architecturally magnificent;  it's the people sitting in the square, in front of those buildings, that are far more interesting.  
It's like this.  While eating a large piece of just-removed–from-the-oven apple pie is deliciously orgasmic, so might be the baker that baked that pie.  Sitting with her/him, listening to their savory morsels; tidbits of their life experiences, is far more satisfying to me than the pie itself.  
I love people.  That’s a bottom line.  I cherish my friends who have stuck with me for decades, those I have just met in recent years that I haven’t scared off, the Facebook pals I don’t really know but we pretend we do and the strangers I meet each day on the street, whose stories of life interest me and cause me to ponder each and every moment with them.  All are priceless.
Much like travel and food, 
Money, an interesting career, fame…none rate as high on my “importance list” as humans.
And of course, with the love of humans, comes the ones that offer up various situations that 
I must remember, cherish and ultimately, accept…


One day…I think it was a Friday, but that’s really irrelevant unless you’re living for the weekend, 
I was hiding out; blinds drawn, lights out, when there was a knock at the front door of my 
Silver Crest.  
God, I loved that pre-fab.  It was cheap, low maintenance and originally had white, flat paint on every damn wall and baseboard in the entire unit.  That is until I spruced it up with some sage semi-gloss.  

Anyway, when I opened the door, Lupe, the park’s maintenance person, was standing on my porch with a toilet plunger in her hand and a grim expression on her face.  I knew, in an instant, she was about to drop yet another “trailer trash bomb” on me. 

It seemed there was a problem in the park’s communal bathroom.  Using her hands (as if she were Italian) and broken English, she attempted an explanation of what was currently happening in the loo. 
In my  “enough to get by” Spanish, I was getting a clear picture of the crappy (pun intended) situation I was about to face. 
I heard things like, “over-flow”  “problemo” “big mess” and “Roto-Rooter” which, btw, was common language at the park, but when she uttered “books” I was perplexed. 
I asked her, “?Otra vez, Lupe…Que paso con el librito?”  (accent over the “o” in paso)

She attempted again to explain.  I was starting to get a visual and began to go into what I commonly call my “denial moment.”  It seemed we (I say “we” because I was in charge of this ship of fools) had run out of toilet paper at some point, and one of our resourceful residents (special human) took it upon himself to tear up one of the donated paperbacks and 
wipe his ass with it.   
Later, when I accompanied Lupe to the bathroom, I made a mental note.   
That paperback was a Danielle Steele novel titled, Special Delivery, which I found totally fitting at the time.  The culprit seemingly used an entire chapter to complete his business, and the pieces, now in clusters all over the linoleum and halfway down the toilet hole, resulted in a clogging nightmare.
The only beauty of the goddamn mess was that it was a Danielle Steele paperback.
That seemed satisfying to me somehow. 

You know mama always said there’d be days like this.   
She just neglected to mention the overabundance of them when you manage a trailer park.
Hey, but a person’s gotta do what a person’s gotta do, right?  Taking care of ourselves in dire situations.  Using whatever resources we have on hand at the time of the emergency, in order to see that an operation runs smoothly.  I can’t fault the guy.

Just like I can’t fault Sallie, my mail delivery woman who, up until a couple days ago, I had a lovely, open (perhaps superficial, but lovely nonetheless) acquaintanceship with.  
For some peculiar, postal reason, Sallie crossed the line for me the other day…my line; and yet, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…or, in this case, say.
So, it went something like… I cheerfully greet Sallie, as I often do, and tell her how I think I’m getting whatever’s going around.  “Yep, you’ve got the crud.”  She says and proceeds to tell me that it will only get worse; that soon I will get a very sore, itchy throat and a cough that is unbearable.  (She was right. I’m sicker than a dog right now.)  
She then advises me to “rest, drink plenty of tea…and pray."

I couldn’t help myself.
“Pray?” I questioned.

Yes.  Jesus will take your illness away, but you have to ask him.  Speak to him.  Let him know how you are feeling.”  (Wow. Okay.  Well, right now Sallie, I’m feeling like attacking your jugular.)  I stared at her with eyes that said, “Can’t we just talk about the weather, Sal, while you reach into your mailbag and hand me my bills and ads?”
But unlike my UPS driver, that barely has time to wish me a nice day because “The Brown” demands you punch a clock, Sallie begins "witnessing" to me right then and there on federal company time.

“Don’t you believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior?  You’re not one of those people who think we came from pollywogs, are you?"  She gave me no room to respond.  She continued…
”The Lord loves you anyway.  Even if you don’t reach out to him.  Even though you haven’t asked him into your heart.  He loves you anyway.”

Though I love humans, apparently like Jesus loves me, I must say Sallie pissed me off.
I get this fuming little “anger dragon” pacing in my head for the next few hours after such an interaction. 
Why does it take me awhile to laugh about Sallie’s need to make her faith my faith and why can’t I locate an instant chuckle when I have to clean up clusters of poop-pages strewn all over a bathroom floor? 
If humans are the coolest thing on this planet, why the irritation, eh?

I think human beings attempt a facade which is harder than a stone.  Yet, all of us are really more fragile than an egg.  But that’s the part I dig: the inner fragility behind the outer armor.  
I sometimes set my mark on getting inside a person;  reaching that part which exists in a friend or a stranger...that part that is real, uncomplicated and yes, fragile. 

Once upon time, I managed a coffeehouse in a not so far away city.  It was a nightshift, I recall, and the outside temperature was around 48 degrees, if that.  I had interacted with this homeless woman before; but this night I offered her a free cappuccino and a table by the window.  
(The owners weren’t in the café that night.) 
There was something about her I liked.  Respected.  I treated her carefully because of what I sensed to be a certain fragility. 
When the time came, I approached Catherine and told her we were closing.  She seemed appreciative for the coffee and the hour or so she had spent inside, and really wasn’t seeking anything more, but I wanted to extend myself further.

When Elaine came home from working the graveyard shift that night, she put her bag down and headed to our bathroom.  She must have done an “about-face” because she stormed back into our living room …
"Who is in our tub taking a bubble bath?”

That’s Catherine.”  I replied.  She’s leaving in just a bit… just as soon as I paint her nails 
as promised.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

I’m Experiencing A lot of Happiness Right Now

“All those writers who write about their childhood!  Gentle God, if I wrote about mine, you wouldn’t sit in the same room with me.” ~ Dorothy Parker

Tina Fey’s biography, Bossypants, isn’t a Pulitzer by any means, but it’s got meat.
Chapter 2 jogged a few magical childhood memories; specifically; the special ones that resurrect vivid details of going from Little Girlhood to Woo Woo Womanhood, and all the incredible little tidbits that marked that unforgettable, noteworthy moment.  The question of “When did you first realize you were leaving your childhood behind and entering womanhood?" was asked to a selected group of women--
the group being racially and economically diverse.  Their answers varied only slightly.

The majority of these gals recall “car creepery”  and actually claim it to be that exact moment of entering the halls of womanhood.  I, too, encountered what Tina refers to as “car creepery.”
You know, those times when you were just walking home from school and some dick-head drives by, rolls down his window and yells intelligent remarks like, “Nice tits.” and “Hey, baby, I’ll take some fries with that shake.”  It’s hard to wrap my brain around the fact that a large majority of women claim that experience as their entering into womanhood.  (It’s equally hard to wrap my brain around why the majority of women marry those dick-heads.)
Let’s just dive right in…
Uncle Tom (Time Of Month), Aunt Flo, A friend’s visiting, A snatch box filled with red roses, high tide, back in the saddle, ammunition, the beast, chasing waterfalls, Are you getting another monthly visit from an annoying relative?, code red, closed for business, the gift, on the rag, devil days, Goddess is calling, Happiness or I’m experiencing a lot of happiness right now.

My “happiness” arrived at age 12.  I was with Britt Bales and the other Bible Thumpers from Oxnard Presbyterian Church.   We had a play day at Magic Mountain in Valencia, California.  
I was in love with Britt Bales.  It was a first date.

I held Britt’s hand while waiting in this long ass line for the Log Ride. 
My palms were sweating.  My stomach; a 8”x 8” cage filled with fluttering monarchs.  My knees were jello and my nervous excitement was killing me.
The idea of Britt Bales getting into that log and spreading his legs for me to sit in between them was more delicious than a Big Mac and fries. 

I remember leaning back into his Izod-clad chest.  I remember pressing up against “that area” of his Dockers and feeling what it might be like to have sex.
(FYI: We didn’t have sex back then because we were Christian teenagers in the 70’s, and Christian teenagers in the 70’s didn’t have sex because Jesus was always watching.)

My friend, Susan, and her “date," Jeff Jones, were seated behind us in the back of our log.   Susan was perfect.  She had beautiful olive skin that wasn’t too dark or too light.  She didn’t scream like a girl or yell like a guy when we shot through the tubes of water in our “love log.”   She simply muttered little appropriate exhales and sighs.  It was because of her feminine perfection that I refrained from just totally letting loose.
The ride came to an end and that’s when “it” happened.
Jeff and Susan climbed out of the log, giggling and all dreamy-eyed at one another.  Britt waited for me to get out of the log first, and as I did… BAM!  That’s when I noticed lots of red liquid on the already water-drenched vinyl seat where I had been sitting.  Britt climbed out and I remained frozen; mortified at the thought he might have looked down and seen “it.”
Of course, and this is the honest f*%king truth, I was wearing cream colored
Dittos. (which are back I hear)

Description: These were the first must-have label jeans. They came in a large array of colors and styles with names like "Hi-rise."  They were so popular (at least in southern California).

I wrapped my sweater around my waist, grabbed Susan’s arm and headed for the bathroom. Neither of us had any “pads” because neither of us had faced this situation before in our lives.  Yep, I entered womanhood at Magic Mountain and months before Susan Everett.
“Cigars” were out of the question for the same reason that sex was out of the question. 
Pushing one of those babies up into the dark, dismal cave was most certainly a "Top 10 Sin" in the eyes of the Lord.  Luckily, there was a machine than sold Maxi Pads on the wall and Susan had a quarter.  And doubly lucky for me was taking the sweater; which had been at my mother’s insistence.  

It never worked out for Britt and me, but of course that had nothing to do with my “experiencing a lot of happiness” on the log ride that day.  It did, however, have to do with me experiencing a different kind of happiness in the years ahead though. ;) 

Girls enter womanhood at various stages of their lives and as much as we hate to admit it, 
there’s no way out.
My pal, Carolyn, a postal carrier, has enough material to write her own blog, fo’ sure.  
She recently was delivering a package and after ringing the doorbell, a lady came to the door to sign for it in only her bra, underwear and a smile.
(Carolyn was glad it wasn't just a smile.) But I’m thinking that this lady either lives in a trailer park, or she was experiencing her womanhood at that very celebratory moment. Reaching our womanhood is when we toss out the Barbies and replace them with handcuffs.  
Check this ad out on Craigslist:

Now evidently, Jay Pee’s are the best. 

In the day, you just didn’t speak of your “womanhood."   Straight up.   My mom, like Tina Fey’s mom, bless her heart, handed me a bunch of pamphlets and told me to go talk with Ms. Utsunomya, my 6th grade teacher, about “this wonderful time in my life."  (All I remember about Ms Utsunomya was that she was short, mean and walked like she had a corncob stuck up her ass.)

But that’s how we did it. 
That’s how we rolled.
Seems now days, you just go online and ask Kotex for answers:

Hey... have a free ‘flowin day!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Y’all!

I guess I’m ‘outta-da-loop’ because I thought the latest craze this Thanksgiving is deep-frying the bird.  My aunt informed me they’ve been sizzling the poor fowls in oil for years.  
Anyway, thank god it wasn’t the “in thing” when I managed the park or we could have very easily had a situation like this one:

I got hell from various halfwits in the park when I tried to enforce the “no open flames” and 
“no unattended fire” regulations.  Boy, they were pissier than a DMV worker on a Friday afternoon.  They’d mutter under their breath something about civil rights and this being America and too much control and dictatorship, etc. etc.  as if I were Hitler himself or some female Machiavellian dictator who didn’t give god damn ounce about their safety; rather I got off on controlling their lives every little chance I could get.
According to the Western Manufactured Housing Committee Association, aka WMA, and the California Codes: Health and Safety Code Section 13000-13011, and summed up nicely by yours truly, it’s not only illegal to have unattended and/or open flames in a modular home park, it’s f*#king dangerous.

I remember when space 5 had one of his monthly Latin shindigs and half the town of Castroville showed up…


I got the call around midnight when space 2, the “bee-otch” with the little rat-face dog, could no longer take the techno/rap/Latin/hip-hop/ jive music coming from 5's yard.  I, wearing only my jammies and a sour disposition, jumped in my Bug and headed over the hill to “that” side of the park; only to find Jaime drunk off his ass, and a bonfire the size of those they used to have at Texas A & M during homecoming week, blazing out of control under the roof of his carport.
No one gave a damn about the 8’-foot flame.  Actually, no one gave a damn about anything except the tequila.
I’m irritable.     
I hate dealing with inebriated Latin men who feel the “fiesta fire” is an extension of their manhood and a cultural phenomenon, with roots buried deep down in the heart and earth of Mexico; stretching from there to the great beyond and all the way up the 101 to the hills of Prunetucky. 

When he finally does focus and notice me standing there, his breath reeks of Patron.
Baalaria! …?Waz ‘up?

“Jaime, you gotta put this out, man. It’s muy dangerous.”

Okay…okay…Baalaria.   I put it out…No promblemo.”   He continues to slowly swirl his hips to the music.  We’re not talking Kardashian here... more like Rico Suave only “off.”

I leave knowing I’ll be back and sure f*#king enough, I get another call from unit 2, 20 minutes later.  I return with an ultimatum.

“Jaime, you either put this god damn fire out or I’m calling the sheriff and we’re gonna shut it down, baby!”

When necessary, I’m a barracuda.

It’s humorous though because space 6, 10 and 28 also felt like the not allowing of an open flame was a violation of their civil rights.  Now wouldn’t this be more of a violation of sort:

For me, Thanksgiving is a diabetic nightmare.  It’s carb and sugar hell and you might as well handcuff me now(wink) as I must practice enormous restraint.  
It’s a holiday that my achy breaky heart pains for the turkey as well, so I usually eat my dinner in my own private guilt.  I baked a Tofuki one year, with all the traditional sides, hoping the stuffing, mashers, and gluten-free pumpkin pie would disguise the fact that the entrée wasn’t the real deal.  My guests tried to remain polite, best they could, but soon they began gagging 
in 5-second intervals.

The numbers vary depending on the source, but according to wiki.answers, over 45 million turkeys, about 15 % of the population, were slaughtered for last year’s “Honor the Native Americans” holiday.  That number is considerably low according to several national animal rights organizations.
Don’t panic, my faithful, I’m not gonna ruin your upcoming meal... 
So, on a happier note, here’s the “pardoned” one:

The tables that are set on this day vary, depending on how and where you grew up, or how determined you were to shed the “how’s and where’s” of your childhood.  Mine was the meat and potatoes, t.v. trays and football. The meal was served at halftime and you could only converse with one another during the commercials.

Whatever yours was and whatever it is today, I wish you a spiritual awakening that fills your soul as much as the turkey fills your belly.  I mean it.  If there’s one thing that Thanksgiving brings out in most of us, it’s gratitude.
And gratitude is exactly what I have for each one of you buckaroos.
Enjoy this last ‘little ditty.’  It amuses my trailer park heart and it will yours too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ode to the Selfless Saints

This week’s blog is dedicated to all who teach in the public school system in the United States of America; especially my close pals, who, if you’re still standing after a long day at school, kick your heels up and enjoy!

Let’s look at that career to end all careers; second only to the esteemed profession of Trailer Park Manager: The Kindergarten Teacher.

I have 3 close pals who teach kindergarten. God love 'em.  I tried one time in the 90’s. YOWZA! It’s Barnum Bailey meets Mr. Rogers and the neighborhood’s not sprouting up roses, people.  I remember when I was placed in a bilingual class in 1997 (made since because I did know 3 words in Spanish).  During the first week,
I said,“!Recojer, por favor!” which loosely translates as “Clean up, please!”  All the sweet little Latina chickadees quickly and obediently started picking up the toys, wiping the tables, looking for brooms…while the little boys, after wrestling for 5 minutes, took their places on the carpet, waiting for the girls to finish cleaning. 
Clearly, those little guys didn’t know who they were dealing with.

And you might ask, “How could cute, innocent 5 year-old little munchkins become reckless, blood hungry Godzillas in the blink of an eye?” and I say to you, “How could a demure, John Denver-loving, gift-giving resident call your land line 12 times in 5 minutes, leaving twisted love messages on your machine?”  Same deal.

I watch my friends who teach this wondrous grade begin each year jolly, positive and energetic, but by April, each one becomes The Bride of Chucky. This year, for teachers in all grades of public school, due to the state of our public educational system, the burnout of April is now hitting in mid-November.
Two of my kinder pals are room partners this year, which means the fun is doubly delightful.  They tell me stories weekly about the trials, tribulations and escapades of Room 1.  (This makes it excruciating for me to not want to renew my credential and jump back into the circus.)

When you teach on the frontlines in a town like Salinas; in schools now labeled “Program Improvement Schools,” (Thank you very much George F** Bush for your ingenious plan, which I commonly refer to as No Child Left a Dime and All Teachers Left Behind) you have only a couple of options:
1.   Give it all you got.
2.   Fake it till you make it.
3.   Drink heavily.
Option one leads to crash and burn; while option two, the most popular and sought after method of practice, leads to artificial smiling till it hurts, lying to the parents, faculty and the children themselves and cheating on standardized tests.   
Option three, also a favorite amongst many teachers, is the best in my opinion, though I wouldn’t recommend starting before 2:45pm on weekdays.
In teaching, just like in park management, I opted for all three.
Here’s an important 41 seconds that’s a ‘must view’ before proceeding.

Each year the stories get better and better. But the fact is our nation's public schools are no laughing matter; especially those designated as program improvement ones. More and more have closed their on-site libraries, eliminated the arts, sciences, and physical education while increasing class size to 28-36. 
No aides. No creativity. No nada.
Oh! Wait! Testing!  Yes, there is testing!  A GINORMOUS amount of testing.

This year’s kinder kapers, however, are amongst the best I’ve heard of late... 

Important background information:
Roberto’s parents think he’s pure genius.  The first week of school they approached my friend, his teacher, to tell her so.  They also indicated their concern that their son’s feelings got hurt that day because she didn’t call on him when he raised his hand.
Today, during center time, my pal looked up and noticed “the genius” sitting on the floor, gripping one of the legs of a table.  With the intense motion of a piston engine, ’cept moving horizontally, he was rocking back and forth in a continuum of rapid speed and force; moaning and freaking out, which disturbed the other 28 in the room.
The teacher’s thoughts explored the unthinkable, as you might imagine. 
She quickly left her table to assist Roberto.  Kneeling down beside him, she was relieved that her initial thought wasn’t the case, but shocked to find Roberto had intentionally torn and tied the elastic waistband of his pants to the leg of the table and was stuck. 
Trying with all his might to free himself, the teacher stepped in. 
Of course, when she cut him free, he had a minor problem to deal with…his pants wouldn’t stay up.  As harsh as this sounds, my friend, showed him where the belt loops were on his trousers and encouraged him to hold onto them for the remainder of the school day. 
Whew!  Those teachers are big, bad meanies in kindergarten.

Then there’s Beatrice, who has a severe speech impediment.  She’s as cute as a bug, follows directions, shares the toys, makes it to the bathroom “on time”, knows how to write her name, and never is disruptive. 
Her speech is challenging for the teachers and children to understand though, and all have to lean in close to hear her and often times, ask her to repeat herself.

Room 1 has a daily ritual that is oober cool: Barnaby Bear.  
Each day a different child gets to take Barnaby home with her/him.  They have a little 'kinder essay paper' that they can color and write what they and Barnaby did together.  Because they’re only five, most dictate the experience to a parent or guardian and that individual documents for them.  The next day they sit in front of the class, Barnaby on their lap, and share about the fun they had together. Then the other kids get to raise their hands with questions.
Beatrice begins calling on kids and calls on the boy in the back row, who happens to be sharp as a whip…
“Yes, Retardo.”
“WHAT?!” Ricardo shouts out, totally understanding his new name.
Quickly the teacher encourages the conversation in a different direction.

There are lots of “special” kids out there.  Ms. C (we’ll call her that to protect her dignity) had a kid last year that was that rare “interesting special.”
All year, August through June, each and EVERY DAY, he would sit close to her at circle time, gaze up into her eyes and ask the same damn question, 
“Ms. C…Are you a policeman?”
“No, Justin.”  She would reply.  “I’m your teacher.”

I remember my first year teaching sixth grade…I thought I was going to pull a Samurai and just end the misery quickly. To this day, I blame that class for my having to dye and highlight my hair.  Anyway, I looked out my door and saw both the principal and vice principal walking toward my room with very serious expressions on their faces.
In my principal’s hand was a black and while journal. It belonged to one of my students.  As they opened the book to a page filled with cartoon-like figures; all with “talk bubbles” above their heads, I felt my stomach drop to my feet.
At the top left corner of the page was an explicitly drawn picture of a naked woman; voluptuous bosoms and anatomically detailed. (How my student saw voluptuous bosoms out of these babies, I'll never know.) The figure had my name scribbled below it and above my head, the talk bubble read:
“I WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH DR. SCHMIDT.”   Then there was the character labeled Dr. Schmidt, naked and quite large in the genitalia region, staring at me with these wild, heathen eyes.  
His bubble… "LET’S DO IT!”
I found it difficult to make contact with Dr. Schmidt for several months.

It’s a toss up: the life of a trailer park manager vs. the life of a school teacher. 

This is Susan J. Lundeen and this is what she has to say about teaching

“The world is a wondrous place where there is always a new adventure or finding around the corner.”

Susan’s not on the up and up with us, and we all know it.

Here’s Chris Chi, who wrote a blog titled: Endangered Species-Smiling Teachers

Here’s Chris on a Friday night after a week in public education

I’m formulating a compare and contrast thing right now between two settings: 
the trailer park and the classroom, and I’m here to tell you I’ve been bitten, flipped off, tortured, laughed at and hit by flying fruit…
Thank God the classroom was a little less brutal.  

Ode to the Resource Teacher sung by a classroom teacher.
I think you’ll dig it!

Here's to all my friends who teach…Damn.
I dig you and believe you’re all just selfless saints or crazy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Way

I quite possibly need a disclaimer for this blog:
I am in no way advocating the consumption of or over-indulgence in alcohol.  Any conclusions of this sort, drawn from reading my words, are merely the little demonic thought mongers who live inside the person reading.

Remember Leonilda?  The resident at the park, who a year ago, left a voice message asking the rules and regulations with regard to spray-painting her trailer. She expressed concern she might accidently spray one of her neighbors' units in the process… 
I returned her call, after pouring myself a strong, bubbly one and she answered after 4 rings. 
I was polite, professional and steady.  (I’d only had a couple sips.) 
After giving her a well crafted, polished pitch, she replied,
"Valerie, I gotta go.
 Could you please call me back at another time because I’m drunk right now."

Why certainly, Leonilda.  I wish to hell I was, but it’s only 3:15 on a Tuesday afternoon.  
You might’ve already conjured up a “judgment talk-bubble” above your head right about now, but look friends, the hard cold truth is that Leonilda has to spray paint her own house because she can’t afford to hire a professional painter to do the job.
Leonilda also drinks cheap booze, quietly in her trailer, because, one, she can’t afford to go out on the town and get liquored up at some high-class bistro, snazzy restaurant or wine bar and two, she most likely has agoraphobia and is scared to death of the world.   Millions of Americans fall into this plight.   And you may ask of me, “Where does your judgment lie, tpg?” and I must tell you, “It’s certainly NOT with Leonilda!”

My judgment lies at the corner of Hypocrisy Avenue and Greed Lane.  Plain and simple.  
Black and white with not an inch for gray. Everybody drinks.  The whole damn world drinks.
And if you are in the minority who don't partake; my guess is that you once did.  People drink to elude pain.  People stop drinking because of pain.  People drink to feel good.  People stop when they feel just a little too good…people drink to avoid things, and those sober folks, who don’t avoid things, chain smoke and cry all the time.  People drink to loosen up.  People stop drinking because they get so loose, it lands them in prison.  People drink to expand the horizons of their creativity.  People stop because the expansion of that horizon put them in bankruptcy. 
Folks drink because it’s a prerequisite of watching the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA,WWE, and PGA just to name a few.
It’s an accepted national pastime much like gabbling at “Indian Casinos” and yet, Lord forbid and strike me dead as roadkill, if we should legalize weed. 
I remember my dad mumbling some gibberish when I was in my teens about “all the low lifers hooked on pot” all the while pouring himself his 4th or 5th glass of Scotch.  And I remember a friend’s mother once saying,  “Don’t give homeless people any money.  They’ll just spend it on alcohol.” And then we’d go out for a glass of $8 Cabernet.

I often give $5 bucks and hope the homeless person does buy some comfort.  I mean, I would if all I had to my name was one torn flannel, a pair of ragged sweats and worn-out shoes and all of my life’s possessions fit in a single shopping cart?  Hell, we all might buy a beer in that situation!

All this talk of drinking prods me to a different tangent.   Now this wasn’t a “drinking flick,” per say, but there was a helluva lot of wine flowing in the film I saw last night called The Way.  
Pretty much wine and open road in just about every frame.  Of course, that’s ok because it takes place in Spain.
The Way is written and directed by Emilio Estevez and stars his father Martin Sheen.  Some have said it depicts a “spiritual journey” and had I read those reviews prior, I would have bought a ticket to The Ides of March.  Luckily, I didn’t read any reviews, including the one written by Pastor Rick Warren who LOVED the film as much as I did. 
The Way is about a ragtag quartet of seekers who walk the 800-mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago; a trek from the Pyrenees to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the burial place of St. James.
It’s filled with dusty country roads and lots of vino.  But it’s also filled with revealing, moving dialogue and intentional silence that still has me pondering it 24 hours later.

Not being of the Southern Baptist persuasion like Pastor Warren (Although, I did dabble a bit in the ‘70’s) and not being Catholic like the multitudes of peasants and gypsies who shower the travelers with wine and wisdom, then bless them with a “Buen Camino” and send them on their journey…I must admit, I was spiritually moved by the film.

I think it was the glaring realization that a part of myself was in each individual trekker: 
Tom’s resistance and deeply rooted anger… Jack from Ireland’s internal struggles with writer’s block and self-doubt, which go disgustingly hand in hand…Joost’s outward veil of kindness and innocence…Sarah’s sharp tongue and sarcastic armor. 
Emilio Estevez, as if peeling a ripe orange, slowly and artfully strips away layer after layer of each characters’ skin until we are left looking, not only at them, but more importantly, 
at our own self in the mirror.

This leads me to a point and that’s always a comforting destination to reach, isn’t it? 
I find this almost essential if we are to live a true and genuine life:  Taking a hard look into that mirror each and every day.  While standing there, naked and vulnerable, we must relinquish all masks and allow for the peeling away of layer upon layer of the bullshit.  If we can bring all of our vices, all our truths, all our ironies, hypocrisies and imperfections to the surface and make eye contact with only our self, we might truly find the way to some sort of grace.  Because it is there, in front of our own individual mirrors, that we admit to our imperfections as humans; 
no better or worse than anyone else.  Then and only then, can we accept the Leonildas, the mothers of friends, the Rick Warrens, the dads who drink Scotch, the homeless on our streets, the dude who puts you down each day… 
And when we truthfully do this, we benefit and in some way, the world does too.

Oh boys and girls, it’s beginning to sound like a pulpit, so I’ll step down!
Check out The Way.  Maybe consider hiding a small bottle of your favorite libation in your backpack to go along with the buttered popcorn.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dorothy, You Ain't In Austin Anymore

    When you’re a non-Texan trying to explain Texas and Texans to others, it’s awkward.
But leaving the “nation” of Austin and driving south on the 35, passing the interesting sights of cattle, cattle and more cattle, one realizes, like Dorothy, that you ain’t in paradise no more.
As Molly Ivins (Texan and renowned columnist) once wrote,
Texas is big sky country because there are no trees.  Texas is not a civilized place.  Texans shoot one another a lot and they fight in the bars all the time.  You can get 5 years for murder and 99 for pot possession in this state.”   
And here’s the clincher to that:
They are darn proud of it all.  
Ivins goes on to say, “ Texas is an un-self-conscious place.  Nobody is embarrassed about who he is.  Rich folks aren’t embarrassed.  Reactionaries aren’t embarrassed.  Rednecks aren’t embarrassed.  KKKers aren’t embarrassed.  Even liberals aren’t embarrassed because they all see it as their callings.”

    While driving on the open highway, I was recognizant of the many billboards and church marquees that plentifully line the roads, cow pastures and hog pins… 
I’m told this has been the biggest drought since 1952 and that the farm animals are in dire straights.
The Baptists, a large majority in these parts, thank the Lord Jesus anyway.
Churches and dance halls are everywhere out here and they don’t give a jackshit about separation of church and state.  I have it from a very reliable source that the Baptist preacher and his flock, who have the best seats at Shiner High School football games, all pray out loud before, during and after the National Anthem.  Consequently, the Lutherans and Methodists, though Texan to the bone, don’t sit on the 50 yard line. 
     I didn’t actually attend a church service, so of course what I’m about to offer up is 100% pure embellishment, but you know you’re in a Texas church when the preacher asks Bubba to help collect the offering, and 5 men and 2 women stand up.

     Shiner Texas is rich in history and though it’s older than the hills, it made it on the map in 1909 when Kosmos Spoetzl opened what today is The Shiner Brewery.  Shiner Bock is the beverage of choice and let me tell you it’s chosen from sunup to sundown.
You drink Bock at picnics, football games, church functions…at dance halls, family gatherings, bank ‘meetins’, booster ‘meetins’, girl scout ‘meetins’, cub scout ‘meetins’, baby showers, engagement parties, and ‘christenins.’ 
You even drink ‘em while you shop. 

At one store in the historic downtown, Antiques, Art and Beer, Beverly proudly awards you with a certificate for each bottle you consume while shopping.

     Kosmos Spoetzl had a simple marketing philosophy: A good beer will sell itself.  
So he set out to brew the very best beer he could. That done, he had to make sure that people drank it.  So he bought a Model T, and with a couple of kegs iced down in the back, Spoetzl drove the country roads that surrounded Shiner, plying the thirsty farmers with ice-cold beer.  Spoetzl produced "Old World Bavarian Draft," which was a heavy, dark, all-malt German-style lager.
     Today Shiner Bock preserves the traditions of the original brewmaster and even uses some of his original recipes.  Each vat is brewed individually. 
After tasting Shiner Black Lager, I easily gave of gin for the 48 hours I was there. 

This is the cutest webpage ever.  Check this out!

     There’s something about Shiner that makes me shout, “Charming!”  (almost)
It could be the free tokens for beer they hand out at the Brewery or the buildings from the 1800’s that still have the original tin ceilings and rent for a song, but more likely, it’s the lovely resident historian/goddess/palm reader/Dog-Eared Democrat and my friend who made me 
feel so welcome.
For some, that charm could wear off quickly though.
I certainly couldn’t wear my Sarah Palin Ignorance is Bliss tee for fear of getting shot.  And I’d have to remove all my bumper stickers, trash my peace flags and bite my political tongue hourly if I resided within such charm.

     My pal was born and raised there.  Both her family and her husband’s family have lived in Shiner for generations and so I felt quite comfortable in her company. 
I was treated darn right like a queen.  
But there is a strange cloud that lingers over you if "yur frum Cali."  
I mean, just answering the question, “Where y’all frum?” can cause perplexed expressions to form on the faces of locals. 
Texans believe that Californians either lie around and smoke weed all day, or that we are all heathen terrorists who are constantly thinking up ways to provide handouts to the illegals rather than the “real” Americans. 
Either way, you’ll burn in hell, darlings.

     I did meet some lovely folks in Shiner though, and got to ride around on
“the farm.”  My friend’s grandson, who’s all of 12, laughed hysterically at this ‘weird city gal’ as I took pictures of hay bales, dirty work rags hanging on fences and baby pigs.  Then I prayed to the Lord Jesus that he’d lie to me when I asked, "Are they all going to be slaugh…?” 
They laughed their asses off! 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a vegetarian, though I’m thinking of converting. 
These farmers love their animals, treat them well and even name them;
“That one over there’s name is ‘Dinner.’”  My friend’s grandson informed me. 
I just look into their eyes and want to scream,"Can’t we save them all, live happily ever after and eat tempeh burgers till the crows come home!"

     What I sensed there are two things we are so far removed from:
the connection of humans to the land and humanely raising all that we consume. 
I recall my mama’s favorite saying, “Waste not, want not.”  
All this makes good sense; even to me.
Most kids eat meat and think it comes from Safeway. 
They haven’t a clue.  And if you’ve ever driven Highway 5, then you know the livestock are crammed in small, overcrowded pens and you can bet your ass they don’t get a friendly pet on their head each morning.    Walking “the farm” made me ponder the days when my ancestors lived in Tennessee, Oklahoma and yes, Texas.  I’m a good ‘ole girl and come from a long line of country folk and yet somehow, as if to fall off the flatbed of a pickup, I ended up in some conflictive state; dangling on a fine thread between trailer trash and city vixen.  
I mean, I dig the boots and cool shiny belt buckles, but I’m a recycle freak. 

I understand the feeling of bliss when breathing in that fresh country air,
but give me a good protest in a major downtown city any day.

     Shiner, Texas is my last stop before returning to California.  I smile now when I say its name.
It’s a town rich in history, pride (possibly foolish) and cow pies.  And oh yea…beer.

All for now, buckaroos!