Monday, June 26, 2006

Up and Down, Down and Up

We were riding our bikes fast down a dirt path lined with oak tree leaves, leaves that fell in autumn and will remain there until they become a part of the earth. There was a right-handed slope to the trail and my bike drifted into a gulley, making me yell out to A in front of me, “Move to the left!” My efforts were too late as his bike had drifted even further than mine did and when he hit the bottom of the hill, he finally lost control and fell hard to the ground, the wheel spinning, his leg under the core of the bike, his body sprawled in the leaves. He lay there and cried pitifully.

I jumped off my bike and ran to him, pulling his bike off him. I was concerned slightly about his ankle. I’d forgotten my cell phone and we were far away from any easy help, being well into a ten-mile hiking trail near Bonelli Park in San Dimas. We’d done most of the ride before, but never this far.

He looked up at me and just cried. He got up though and I saw there were no problems other than wounded dignity and mere minutes later we were speeding along the trail once again, up and down, whooping it on the downhill, huffing it on the uphill.

I was relieved to be there.

The past few days haven’t been good thanks to some drama affecting me – I sit here now, the day over, very sorry about a relationship that was once simple but is no longer that way. Simply put, I wanted to tag along with my brother and sister and their respective families on a weekend jaunt to the mountains when I discovered that my brother had built this annual trip into something far greater than he ever let on. He said to me, “Don’t take this personally, but I won’t go if you go.”

I was deeply hurt, taken by surprise, but I conceded. He’d been rather mean about it, both he and his wife. For weeks they'd been making jokes at my expense, saying they didn’t want me on the trip because they didn’t “like” me, saying these jokes often and as long gags, without telling me they were serious, that there was truth to their "jokes." My sister was hurt too at the awkward snub not knowing about this exclusion that he so learned to covet, that he never shared openly.

I sit here now in complete confusion. He hasn’t returned my calls, he’s not speaking to anyone, all because I thought it would be fun to spend some time with the siblings, me being free of my uptight husband and demanding kids. How fun, I thought, to kick back on the porch under the stars, chatting late into the night, glasses of wine in hand, with both Brother and Sister. This thing has turned into a nightmare.

I lost a beloved Aunt in a similar fashion – lost her to her problems, to my supposed insensitivity. We don’t speak anymore and it’s terribly painful. She won’t budge. No amount of kindness from me will bring her around. Again, she’s gone. I suppose I should look in a mirror and ask myself why. I know that the very challenging situation we have with our children has made us reclusive. I sometimes won’t call anyone for weeks and weeks simply because we’re working so hard at maintaining a schedule for the children and working so hard at keeping sanity within arm’s reach. I’m sure I’ve made bad choices in behavior. I give that I can be self-absorbed at times. I try not to be. I reach out…but I’m often pulled back into my cave with the hard work of my family life.

So…I’m confused and shocked and left speechless. My brother is someone I’m unsure of now.

I look at the time and cannot believe he has nothing to say to me. I’ve completely given him his coveted weekend – I got it, I’m over it. However, there’s obviously something more than I’m not able to grasp. If he didn’t completely disregard our childhood I’d blame it on unspoken wounds. Perhaps he’s angry at me for being an abandoning older sister. That could be true. We weren’t close as children. I bonded myself to my sister. We might have built an impenetrable wall without realizing it. We did so to protect ourselves from my parents. Perhaps…without realizing, we kept him out, too.

I don’t know what’s up or down. I do know that tonight, I’m not feeling the love. I’m feeling definite rejection, definite hostility. I’m stunned.


In this current low mood of mine, the mood that makes me look inwardly and into mirrors, I’ve decided that I’m tired of the celibate lifestyle. Yes, yes, I married and made all those vows about for better or worse and all that rot but really, am I expected to whittle away the last of my able years as an untouched woman? I think not.

So, I’ve decided to take on a lover. The lover should be taller than me, but at this point in my life with all my imperfections, I’m not going to be choosy. So…as long as the lover is not under 5’2” in height and is less than 5’2” across, I’m good. The lover does need to think I’m sexy – the lover should actually want to have sex with me. This is a must. If I wanted a lover who didn’t want to have sex with me, I’d continue on with the status quo.

And yeah, as you can probably tell, this relationship will be purely physical. Sure, a common interest in James Joyce and Joyce Carol Oates and films about heroin addiction would be nice, but not a requirement. I’m not interested in running away to the Dominican Republic for a quickie divorce and definitely don’t want an equally quickie marriage. NO COMPLICATIONS, that’s my new motto. I guess one could say I’m into the bootie call. My call, though. Don’t harass me for attention because I won’t give it to you if I’m distracted with the kids. But don’t ignore me either. Leaving love notes on my super-duper-secret yahoo e-mail account is fine. That I’d like.

Moving on, the lover can’t mind the bumps and softness and grey hair. He needs to find me fairly attractive – yes, the lover can want to have sex with me but he needs to be turned on by my 42-year-old self. He also can’t mind my driving impulse to call all the shots. Look, I have a busy schedule to keep. I take M to swimming lessons in the a.m., there are drum lessons for J at noontime, and bass lessons for A in the evening. We have an agreement to go swimming every day at the pool and do lots of mountain bike riding (see above). We’re also trying to teach our dog to walk like a regular dog on a leash as opposed to some crazed, wild animal, which requires walks/pulls twice a day. So far we’re making these commitments work. I’m also trying to get the family on a healthier diet, so I’ve got to be around for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Fact is, we can’t talk on the phone or chat on the computer or meet very openly for obvious reasons. Discretion is the name of the game. I think I can swing the occasional drive out to wherever the lover is on a Friday night. But it has to be at the lover's place. My house obviously is unavailable as all five of us are here...well...constantly. Can’t afford motels and can’t get caught in a car. Can’t do Saturday night because that’s the day I go out on dates with the husband.

So…I’m thinking that the best we can do is the lover e-mailing me at my yahoo e-mail account which is “sxymama4bootycall at”. I make no guarantees that I will respond. This will be training for the affair.

Okay, that’s my advertisement. You don’t like it, not my problem. Now…buzz off because I need to cuddle on the couch with D.


I’m looking up, now. I’m choosing to laugh and enjoy the muggy Los Angeles weather. Tomorrow I’ll call my grandmother, chat with the sister, watch the soaps, and fiddle with my short stories. I’ll cook for the family and vacuum the carpets and mop the floor and forgive D and myself for things beyond our control. I’ll work with Sassy and swim with the children in the cool water.

I’m tired of the pain, I'm just going to love.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Learning to Swim

The mothers, fathers, and grandparents sit behind a latched gate to watch their kids in the swimming class – there are picnic tables beneath a lengthy canopy and covered bleachers. The sun doesn’t start to get hot until a half hour after nine which is why many pick the earlier swimming class. Ten to eleven is near unbearable once summer stretches into July. The shallow pool on the right is for level 1 and 2 learners. The deeper pool on the left is for the swimmers who are working on getting proficient. They can sort of swim but need practice and confidence. The teachers are all high school volunteers.

M is in the level 1 class. Putting her head underneath the water is the biggest challenge. She almost didn’t want to go to class. She’d come to my bed around 7:30 and said, “I don’t want to put my head under water. Tell the teacher I can’t put my head under the water.” I tried to assure her that the teacher already knew that and wouldn’t make her do something she didn’t want to do. But nothing I said relieved her of the worry.

She probably cannot stand the sensation of sinking, unable to take a breath, water stinging her eyes and getting up her nose and in her ears. I imagine she doesn’t take to total sensory deprivation – for the seconds she’s under water she does not know who’s behind her or next to her, she cannot see me or hear me, she cannot know what is happening in the world around her. For seconds earth and time stop…and she is at risk of losing everything. She shoots up and rubs her eyes fast and hard, looking around to see that nothing has changed. That is, when she dares to put more than her mouth into the water. Off she is now, hopping, holding hands with her classmates, singing, “Ring Around the Rosy.” When everyone else drops into the blue, she remains standing, smiling, tall and proud, determined not to go under.

Across the pool is a young, earthy-looking mother trying to convince her three-year-old to get into the water with the rest of his level 1 class. He grabs the cloth of his swimming trunks up into his tight fist and screams across the two pools. She bends down to him and offers treats and a juice and he sticks his lip out, digging in his feet, leaning against the gentle force of her pull at him, her easy push to get him to sit. She finally walks away as a teacher holds him and settles into the water. The boy cries loudly, hysterically, his call, short shocks of toddler terror. The other parents look sympathetic to the plight for a moment before pretending the boy isn’t screaming bloody murder. The mother hunches down on a bench, hoping that the father and son on the same bench block her from her son’s view. Maybe the loss of her will give him the courage he needs to swim with strangers, to face the water that the mother has warned him against his whole little life.

“Don’t go near the water!”

“Where are your floaties!?”

“Close the gate!”

“Don’t open the gate!”

“Stay away from the pool!”

“Stay out of the Jacuzzi!”

“Never get in the water without me or you’ll drown!”

The teacher gives up the fight and there they are, emerging from the pool, walking hand-in-hand back to Mom. The gate is unlatched and the boy is relieved and plops down on the concrete next to his mother. He plays with a toy while they wait for his brother to finish with his class, while the mom coos, “You’re supposed to be in the class. You can’t have your treats. Ready to try again?” The Superman figure in his hand flies over the table and he chases it down, sunk deep into his imagination.

In the meantime, M has shifted into lawyer mode – from here I see that she’s been given a green-colored “noodle”, a long flotation device, for her to hold onto as she practices her kicking. Green is unacceptable. She scoots over to a younger girl who has the pink one. M smiles and puts her hand out and seems to be chatting up the benefits of green. Suddenly the little girl smiles and they trade. M is satisfied with the deal and off she swims, kicking up a large spray of water, moving to the other side of the pool, pink…pink…pink.

As I sit there among the crowd of parents, as the sun pin-pricks my arm, I slowly lose my identity and become an anonymous parent. I am one of thousands across Southern California at this time of year whose children are getting “water-safe,” whose kids are participating in the custom of swimming classes. I think of cliché images – the duck with her chicks behind her, the birds being tossed out of nest, kids on two-wheeled bikes in parks, teens in cars for the first time in parking lots, the kindergarteners raising their hand on the first day of public school to tell their name, and many little hands grabbing onto strong legs, little beings wishing to hide from the inevitable flow of time and a future. We are part of something much bigger than us. We’re the current of a massive river, flowing over colored stones and plants and fish. If only things could stop right now…if only we didn’t have to learn to hold our breath and lose sight of all that matters to us…

I remember being ten and swimming in the Huntington Hotel’s wonderful swimming pool in Pasadena with its fancy tiles and raised rows of lounge chairs. My parents didn’t have a pool so they joined the summer club at the aged hotel. They’d drop us off at ten o'clock and pick us up at one. They’d leave us money so we could buy snacks and virgin Mai-Tai cocktails. Because the pool was so big, and because we were so “water-safe”, my mother had no problem just leaving us. This was before the days of abductions and Amber-alerts. On these fantastical days of summer, my sister and I loved to play “tea party”. We’d get as deep under the water as we could and try to sit cross-legged, opening our eyes and pretending to lift china tea cups to our lips. We’d never last, our giggling and bobbing getting the best of us. Down again we’d go. Sometimes I lasted longer than Sister did, and when she left, I’d look across the water, at the swimmers and colors and light. The noise from outside was muffled and everything was colored blue. I had learned to love that strange place that only existed for the briefest of moments.

The class nears the end and every child is tested for their learned abilities this hour. When it’s M’s turn, she dips her whole face into the water, hair loose today because I forgot the band, and she stays there through a count all the way to eleven. She pops up and wipes her eyes and smiles big.

With a crowd of other parents, I step through the gate, towel and sandals at the ready. M is in her own crowd, coming to me, her face serious. When she reaches me, she grins and puts the sandals on, letting me wrap the towel around her chilled body. She turns and says, “I put my head underwater, did you see me?”

“I did! You were so good!”

“I have class everyday?”

“Everyday for two weeks. Before long, you’ll be swimming. What a big girl.”

She walks with her Dora backpack and when we burst through the front doors, she runs across the grass, the world looking a little different to her now.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day!

The picture was taken two years ago and I still love it - it's quintessential D and M.

Today, a breakfast with cereal and coffee, running shoes and a Tommy Bahamas shirt, cards, World Cup Soccer on the "big T.V.", and later, a Disney movie with lots of kids and popcorn. I couldn't help but giggle from the bed late last night when I heard cursing and water running as D fought with sinks that had backed up. Life.

Happy Father's Day to all the blogger Dads!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Slacker Times Begin

School's out for the kids.

M took a long nap in the afternoon. J spent the time skateboarding, but now he's on the couch with a Diet Coke and "Boy Meets World" reruns. A is playing the "Cars" videogame with a neighborhood kid in his room, D is reading, I'm here, but I was watching a really low-budget action film with C. Thomas Howell on near-mute while chatting with my sister, while kicking back on my bed with M sleeping next to me.

The weather is lovely, Southern California bliss.

Time clicks by slowly.

Tomorrow we'll be attending the graduation from the University of California at Irvine of our dear babysitter. She came to us when she was fourteen - we were her first official babysitting employers. I don't think she ever worked for anyone else. We have loved her all these years - for a younger sibling, for a girl who never had babies to care for, she's the most reliable caretaker I know. She can watch six kids without flinching. She's brilliant (a valedictorian in high school and cum laude at college), independent (when everyone told her she should be a doctor because she could, she chose film studies), and will be phenomenal in whatever she chooses to do. I'm so proud of her...and am kissing the sky that she's still willing to watch my wild children.

A wants us to barbecue steak - I need to cook the cobs of corn that sit on the counter waiting to be shucked - Sassy has a chunk of M's hair in her mouth as they play on the floor, getting M to giggle, a sound that carries throughout the house.

"God darnit," she curses, running down the hall, waving a chewed-up sock in her hand, calling A's name.'s out.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Weight Game

The thing with a sponsor is that you're supposed to call them before you do the bad thing. My sister and I act as each other's food sponsor, except contrary to tradition, we call each other after the bad thing has been done.

"I ate a BLT chicken sandwich from McDonalds...with the crispy chicken and fries. And a Diet Coke."

"Yeah, I hear ya', sister, I crawled my way through dust and sick children and toys and one very big black Labrador to get at the Doritos. The Extra Cheesy kind."

"One small dish won't hurt you."

"Who said it was one small dish? We're talking a half-bag...of the Family Size."

"Ahhh...a Sam's Club special."

"That's the one."

"Just say no, the next time you want to get into the bag."

"And for you...just don't order fries. At least you ordered a diet coke with lunch and not a chocolate shake. Oh wait...did you mooch off M's shake?"

"Two sips."

"Penance...we work it off this afternoon. You take the dog, I’ll bike ride with Izzy in the carrier."

"We can’t – AH has microplasmic pneumonia and M has strep throat. Maybe I'll wait for the boys to come home from school then go. After the homework. After A's inevitable breakdown over some transgression by J."

"Okay, tomorrow we exercise. What are you making for dinner?"


"Sounds good. Maybe I'll take a quick spin to the market. Get some blue cheese - always good on burgers."

"Hmmm...reminds me. I should stock up on the ice cream. The kids are going through it now that it's hot."

We'll have to change our system.

Disclaimer: I'm exaggerating the subject of our conversation. Actually, my sister and I have been on a mission to filter out the junk food from our diet. We have a good jumping point - our kids have always snacked on vegetables: cucumbers, tomatoes, red cabbage, and salad. They do have a weakness however to grab chips when they're starved (and so do I). They've learned the guilty pleasure of eating chips out of the bag while in front of the T.V. I've tried to change the habit by making them use a Tupperware cereal bowl for chips instead. M and A are pretty good at that - J rejects the method. We're also working on dropping the sodas, preferring low-fat milk or natural juice. A has been good about it, so has M, J rejects the shift, always pulling out a soda or two. Now, I could simply not buy the bad stuff, but I've always been an advocate of moderation not abstinence, believing that absence makes the heart grow fonder. So we're trying to work with less rather than none.

For me...I've been all right about the adjustment but not over the past week thanks to A's birthday party. D brought many bags of chips much to the delight of my happy junk-food-eating-self. We had left-overs! My problems date back to being a skinny teenager and young adult. I could eat anything without gaining weight. When I got married at a young 26, I weighed 125. Then I had my first child and things have never been the same. The third child just pushed me over the fence, you know? Now...145. I can't seem to go below 140. Sometimes I'll drop to 138...but that doesn't last long. And that's all with decent eating.

Another difficulty is the exercise thing. In truth, I'm not committed to exercise because I don't like to exercise. The only thing I enjoy is bike riding and that's a rarity because it requires that I leave the house alone for more than an hour and I really can't do that all too often, not with my battling, challenging darlings of my life. I'm hoping to pick up the riding again next week when there's no homework, when D's home, when we're not up to our ears in junk food leftovers.

As a note, I have been trying high-energy yoga. That's not too bad. When I can get to it.

Back to food. Part of the trouble is that food's meaning has changed for me, as I've mentioned before. When I was younger, food served two purposes: (1) prevented death by starvation; (2) served as the centerpiece to social interaction. Today, I look to food for comfort, as a reward after a hard-day's work, as entertainment, as something very pleasurable, for social interactions, prevent death by starvation. The role of food has so expanded in my life that I turn to it far more often than before which...increases the inches and pounds and...

So I cry. I cry over my inability to gain control over what clearly is a problem. Some say, 145 isn't bad! Better than 175! Or 200! Yeah...but it's not good, not for me, not with tendencies. My 145 tends to look like 160.

I’m whining, aren’t I? Whining and doing nothing to resolve the issue.

I’m writing this with a Diet Coke to my side, sitting. Wishing I smoked. ‘Cause cigarette smoking cuts down in the calorie intake. Maybe I should order those diet foods advertised on T.V. with the free week of foods delivered to my door? Or the diet supplements or the diet pills that make people go from pudgy to six-pack abs in mere weeks? Or get that workout machine for only $69.95 a month for five years!

Well, I should go. I need to order pizzas for tonight for the kids and their friends.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Fiction: Relevance

The kids called him Suicide. There wasn’t a lot of imagination that went into the name. See, the minister’s son really did commit suicide. During the spring break of his high school senior year he lifted a 12-guage shotgun, aimed it at his chest, and pulled the trigger. The blast cut him in two and left a cascade of blood on the back porch of his parents’ Pasadena bungalow especially for them to find.

I remember him as Richard. He shuffled along the sides of filled hallways and ate peanut butter sandwiches alone on the bleachers with Star Trek novels for entertainment. Bad acne and a lanky build made for a tendency to trip over his size 13 feet. He always wore grey slacks and collared shirts. He must have owned ten sets of the same outfit because he never wavered from the uniform. Not good for self esteem in the early 80’s where preppy was significantly more…stylish. His father preached from a local Baptist pulpit before Christianity was cool.

Richard tried drama in the fall of his tenth grade year. Played Charlie Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” We all attended because the school play was a main social focus, ranked third in importance behind the Homecoming football game and the Senior Prom. The depressive Charlie Brown with the beaming smile fit him perfectly in spite of the bad skin. He moped around the stage and sang in key and towered over the rest of the cast. He was weird enough that I developed a fascination with him. I loved Peanuts cartoons, having discovered them in a Bluejay bookstore, near Big Bear, on vacation with my parents when I was in the third grade.

To me, he embodied Charlie Brown.

I was his ninth-grade Lucy.

Beginning the first Monday morning after the play, I followed him around campus as much as I could and recorded notes about him in my black-and-white composition notebook. “CB walked to the bathroom twice today. The jam in his sandwich looked red instead of purple. His shoes were scuffed. He sneezed so hard at lunch he blew snot all over his sweater. Today, he wore the blue sweater with the college emblem. His acne is worse than ever.” Months it went on. I had a hundred pages of notes.

One spring day he caught me staring at him during Mrs. Tolbert’s mixed doubles tennis. I was waiting for my turn to play, sitting on a bench with the notebook at my side. He came up to me and grabbed the notebook out of my hand. I was mortified.

“Who’s CB?” he demanded after flipping through some of the pages, white shorts and yellow t-shirt (representative of our school team, the Bumblebees) too tight on his skinny body. They had to be hand-me-downs.

“Nobody you know,” I said.

“You’re a freak. You know that, don’t you?”

“Pot…meet kettle.”

I sidled up to him, craning my neck to get a good look up his nostrils. He snorted like a bull and shoved the notebook against my bulbous chest, pushing me far back. I collapsed back on the bench, immediately pulling out my pen to write of the interaction.

Mrs. Tolbert screamed my name to get onto court three, causing me to jump. My words got jumbled. She yelled Richard’s name and much to our horror, we were made partners.

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” he muttered.

I thought his arrogance was amazing considering how bad he looked and how wrong a fit he was for our average, checker-board high school. He should be moping on stage, I thought. He should be at the performance arts high school where students learn to sing and dance and act instead of the usual stuff. Richard had talent. I wanted to tell him, but his affront prevented me from offering the compliment.

The tennis game went badly. I kept missing the ball, I couldn’t serve worth beans, and I kept crashing into my partner. He panted and cursed under his breath and finally at the end, threw his tennis racket across the court, the racket skipping and sliding along the black tar. At the top of his lungs, he belted, “You’re an idiot!”

He stormed off to the boys’ lockers.

Appalled, I marched across the court and grabbed my notebook, sitting on the bench and writing, “Mrs. Tolbert is an evil servant of Satan. She paired me with CB and I discovered that he has a bad temper. She should have helped keep that trait hidden. The real CB gets frustrated but never throws rackets.”

Three days in a row we had to play together due to the racket-throwing incident. I never improved but we did get into a groove. I would simply step aside while he hit the ball the entire time. We won most of the matches that way. He didn’t speak to me the rest of the week.

I thought I’d never interact with Richard again. I’d accepted that. I was satisfied to resume my observations of him. Unfortunately, Mrs. Tolbert thought we made such a good pair at mixed doubles that she continued to pair us throughout the following week. After a particularly exhausting match in which I had to sidestep more than fifty lobs in typical Pasadena ninety-degree, smoggy heat, I offered to get him a cold soda from the school canteen.

“You paying for it?”

“If you don’t have any money.”

Shrugging a shoulder after a moment or two, he agreed. “I don’t have any money,” he said.

When I returned, he took the generic coca cola with a huffy attitude. I attributed it to the soaring temperature.

“What’s it like being a minister’s son?”

He looked sideways at me, asking, “What’s it like being a freak?”

I got brave, thinking he needed my sympathy, thinking I was being a good person to befriend the friendless. “You were really good in Charlie Brown. You should think about doing community theater.”

He snarled, “I’d rather slit my throat.”

In complete shock, I plopped down on the bench next to him. “What do you mean? You were in your element up there on stage. Your singing was the singing of angels, you were sublime. You’ve got more talent in your little toe than any of those other hacks on stage with you.”

He looked at me sideways, letting out a slow tongue-against-teeth whistle. “I’m your CB. You’re following me around.”

Grinning, I purred, “You are Charlie Brown incarnate. I am Lucy.”

He sucked down the soda and threw the can in the trash. He stood up, all six foot two of him. “Being a minister’s son,” he said, “is much like being a freak. We have our missions that have been handed down to us from a place that only exists based on faith. We have purpose that’s greater than we are. We venture into the great beyond, passing the word to our fellow man from on high. We are…relevant.”

“Oh yessss,” I murmured, my blood on fire, my limbs spaghetti. I was in love. I was in heat.

He stepped back at the raging furnace of my being and turned around to head to the lockers. I called after him and he put up his hand to shut me up. I dug through the trash and collected the soda can he’d drunk from. I breathed in the air from the empty hull that only moments before had been filled with cola nectar touched by his saliva. I ran my tongue up and down the sides of the can, willing to risk a slicing just to taste the sweat from his hands. Hoofing it to the bathroom, I locked myself in a bathroom stall so I could strip down and touch my body until I was exploding in orgasmic energy, slamming down onto the toilet to regain my footing.

I wanted to be with him, I wanted to be inside of him so I could course through his veins and slide through his heart and swish around in his belly like Jonah and the whale.

The next day he scuffled away from me when I reached for his hand during the passing period.

I wrote in a fever, “CB is running away from his love of me. He wears a purple sweater with a monogram that reads RS. He has new shoes. The Star Trek novel is stuck in his back pocket, pressing up against his ass. He threw away his sandwich in the trash and I ate it. Bologna. Very different from peanut butter. Strife perhaps has hit his home.”

The semester ended without getting so much as one word from Richard. I snuck into his church one Sunday to see him sing in the choir. He opened his mouth and pure heaven came from the depths of his soul. Being Jewish, I wasn’t familiar with any of the hymns. As he sang, I felt every cell of my body come alive. I got on my knees and put my hands in the air, grateful for every note that hit me. When the singing was over, he saw me and grinned. Mouthed the words, “We are relevant.”

The entire next year I spent in a psychiatric hospital for delusions, I was told. They did not understand love. They misinterpreted the slashing of my wrists for suicide. What they did not realize was that I was sending a love-gram to Richard – I was spilling my blood a la Christ, admittedly an over-the-top, dramatic display of my devotion. They took my notebooks. My parents were told that I had developed an unhealthy fascination for the fictional character, Charlie Brown.

When I returned to campus for my junior year, I learned that Richard had gone to a private school. When I learned that he’d committed suicide following spring break, I wore a hooded sweatshirt in mourning. I wrote in my notebooks. I spoke to nobody and refused to do homework for one week. I ate nothing but peanut butter sandwiches sloshed with grape jelly and layered with bologna.

When my English teacher asked me to write an expository essay on the definition of symbolism, I wrote over and over and over, “We are relevant.”

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The year was 1985 and Los Angeles’ Night Stalker haunted our dreams and waking hours. Once the sun set, once the moon rose, my brother stood watch in our parents’ bedroom of our Pasadena home, holding the orange-tinted sheer curtains aside, looking for a very real serial killer. The thirteen killings of the hard-working suburbanites were bloody, brushed with satanic symbolism and sexual in nature, perfect to feed intense media speculation and public paranoia. Living mere miles from several of the murder sites (Eagle Rock, Glendale, Monterey Park, Whittier) my parents, siblings and I would sit around the dinner table, listening to the television news reports for the latest clue regarding the curious pattern of the Stalker.

There was the idea that the murders took place in homes near freeway exits, and then the killer might have focused on homes painted yellow. Our house was about a mile, maybe more, from the 210’s San Gabriel exit and was painted white with green shutters so we felt somewhat protected. But those suggestions were just that: suggestions. One never knew if a house was vulnerable. The crimes themselves varied. There were shootings, stabbings, and rapes. The victims were just as varied, the ages ranging from 84 to 8. As outsiders not exposed yet to FBI profiling and CSI methods of identification now popular, we couldn’t possibly know what was in the killer’s terrifying mind.

An early survivor of the Night Stalker saw enough to help create a crime artist’s rendering. We had a face to focus on, a devil’s face with the dark eyes, cut cheekbones, and black, longish hair. This man was easy to envision breaking into houses, cutting the owners up, leaving lipstick pentagrams on the walls. We saw him everywhere. In the supermarket, at the post office, in the car next to us. We knew this man.

The real break came towards the end of the Stalker’s run, from a series of victims who were able to provide a better physical description of the man and his orange Toyota, along with his license plate. The car was found abandoned. A fingerprint was gathered which lead to mug shots from previous crimes that would be publicized. Now we knew positively what the killer looked like.

So much so that when Richard Ramirez was on the move through an East Los Angeles neighborhood, he was spotted and physically attacked by a throng of anxious urbanites. The Spanish-speaking crew brought him down and brought him down hard. He was found cowering and beaten, the police having to protect him from a near-lynching. The next morning, the Los Angeles Times ran a photo of the scared Ramirez as he was put into the police unit. An aunt of mine said later, “You know, with guilt I say, he was kind of sexy.”

She wasn’t the only one to think so. In the years that followed, Ramirez developed a real following of women, receiving wedding proposals, money, countless offers of love. In 1998, he received the ultimate gift: the death penalty. Los Angeles could breathe again. We could sit now in peace until the next paranoia-inducing event, such as the air crash over Cerritos which set off a paranoia about mid-air collisions.

Today, I was reminded of those days when I read that Ramirez is seeking a new trial based on the lack of competence by his first lawyers. The timing of the article was rather…coincidental, being that today is the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year of the millennium, 6-6-6. The article claims the lawyers were too new to provide an adequate defense. One might think so considering Ramirez pretty much received the heaviest punishment with no mitigation. On the other hand, as his former lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, said in the article, “But we did it pro bono. Didn't get a penny. For free, I think we did a hell of a good job.” Well, I suppose one could argue that you get what you pay for.

In the meantime, while we wait for the results of the Ramirez effort, on this day, I’ll be sure to lock my windows and doors and keep an eye out for the ghosts in the shadows, for the devil walking my quiet suburban street.

Picture of Darren McGavin from: The Night Stalker

Picture of Richard Ramirez from: All Serial Killers

Monday, June 05, 2006

Death by Cuteness

We attended M’s ballet recital on Saturday afternoon, a show focused not on skilled turns but on profound cuteness. When the first group of four-year-old ballerinas tiptoed onto the bright stage in their blue, chiffon tutus, tears welled in my eyes and I thought I would die from the cuteness factor. In a line the girls swayed and stepped and looked at one another for guidance, finally following their teacher's movements as she stood to the side. The audience clapped at every twirl, at every tiny jump. The babies (because they’re still babies at four) did so well considering they were at the Duarte Performing Arts Center, in front of a significant audience. Of the forty children, only two cried, one from stage fright, the other a kindergartener who slipped and hurt her stocking-covered leg.

M slid out from behind the curtains several numbers later, hand in hand with her best friend, skipping around the stage and smiling surprisingly huge. I was taken aback at how comfortable she seemed because she tends towards shyness. She is so shy that she cried over attending the last rehearsal, saying she didn't want to go on stage. Not so on Saturday. In fact, her constant smile made me wonder if she has a bit of a “star” in her. Not that I have any desire to be a stage mother, but I was so happy to see that she showed no nervousness, no hesitation. She was all joy up on that stage, completely the opposite of her mother. She didn’t remember all the steps, but that didn’t bother her in the least. Two dances she had (all the kids had two), and later she told me she liked the second one best, the quicker paced “Greased Lightening”. She said she loved the “shaking” of her body to the beat, the hand movements, and the skipping, too.

At the very end D, along with the many, many family members of the other dancers, rushed the stage to give a pink rose bouquet to her sweet, smiling self. The morning had been a warm one, over a hundred degrees but I was basking in the coolness of my daughter who maybe will always be brave under harsh light of watchful eyes.

That evening we celebrated A’s 9th birthday at a Mexican restaurant in Pasadena, his favorite, with my sister and her family. Sunday brought a kiddie birthday party in La Verne, near Pomona. And today? Registering for swim lessons, ordering an ice cream birthday cake, and lunch at the Vault with M in Glendora. We had the finest conversation, mainly revolving around the interests of Barbie and her friend Crystal.

“I will be learning to swim, Barbie?” M asked in her most sophisticated voice.

“Oh yes, Crystal. You’ll be in a big pool with a teacher.”

“But I won’t be putting my head under water until I’m eight, Barbie.”

“Not until then?”

“I’m not a grown up yet. When I’m eight, I’ll be ready, Barbie. Will you be taking swimming lessons, too?”

“Oh definitely, Crystal. I’ll be learning to dive. There’s nothing like going hands-and-head first into a cold pool!”

“Especially on a hot day, Barbie!”

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Stopping to smell the orange blossoms...

Finally back online this morning. For the entire day yesterday, I had no connection to the internet. Couldn't read my favorite blogs or e-mail, couldn't screw around with my college's online course I'm on the waiting list for, couldn't read the news or play online scrabble. My god, my life had ceased! In truth, I didn't miss it as much as I once might have.

The bulk of the day was spent with my middle son, attending a field trip to our City Hall and museum. Because the trip was local, the cost of a school bus wasn't an option. $700 is far out of the question thanks to the skyrocketing insurance costs. So we used the public buses. Picture forty, squirmy third-graders with two teachers and six parents, all waiting for the bus in 90 degree heat, then getting on. I tell you, regular bus riders had the gamut of expressions ranging from eye-rolling impatience, to reflective sweetness (the homeless was either sweetness or he was a child molester), to amusement. The bus drivers get a lot of credit – they were unbelievably gracious having to give our passes, work out the fares (or not – by the time the last of the adults were getting on, I don’t think they were counting anymore), all despite having their time schedule to keep.

I couldn’t remember the last time I took a city bus anywhere. The last public transportation I used was in Washington D.C. and New York City, two years ago. In the Los Angeles suburbs, public transport use is dominated by the long distance business commuters that really have someplace to go and the hoppers who have no place to go. In fact, riding the bus seemed to be the occupation of the some of the passengers.

When we first got on, a man appearing to be in his forties, with raggedy black trainers and overly large plastic frame glasses, with nondescript slacks and t-shirt, jumped to our assist with our upcoming transfer. He knew which corner the bus we needed would be (the southwest corner), he knew the time of the stop (we were cutting it close) and the next time it would come by if we missed it (in thirty minutes). Even though my son’s teacher had the itinerary, I could tell she was glad to hear it from an insider. Walking that many kids from school grounds to the bus stop took time, the line of children kept separating as they discovered things around them (sticks, leaves, stuff on each other like backpacks, cameras, pocket toys), and then again, getting on the bus, delayed us even further. The man sat close the driver and watched the kids with peaked curiosity.

We tried to get all the children on seats in order to lessen the chances of injury – you definitely have to hang on to something if you’re going to be standing because those buses really lurch when the driver puts on the brakes. I had to laugh at the stiff sitting of the passengers who ended up next to the two or three kids small enough to squeeze into one seat. They hardly breathed lest they touch a coutie-ridden kid.

I have no doubts at the audible sigh of relief when we unloaded at our destined stop.

The tour of the city hall was interesting – the children were divided into small groups led by various docents. While most were of retirement age, ours was younger, a worker at our local camera shop. He gave an excellent tour, kept the children intrigued and gave me some food for thought about oranges being that such was the San Gabriel Valley’s main crop back during the founding years of Southern California.

He told a story of his grandmother who lived back east. One Christmas remained in her memory all her life, the Christmas where she received as a gift one navel orange from Southern California’s Sunkist Oranges. One orange. The children laughed at the story but of course didn’t understand the larger idea behind the story. They eat oranges all the time, orange juice, orange popsicles, orange Kool-Aid, orange Skittles. Orange, orange, orange. They simply couldn’t fathom the treasure of the orange. Later, the museum curators explained how the local folks never got to taste the most luscious oranges, the sweetest, because those were always shipped. The locals only ate seconds, the rejects from the packing houses.

“The best oranges were too valuable. You wouldn’t use it, or eat it, you’d sell it.”

So the grandmother remembered that one amazing orange.

As I watched the kids toss about balls in the park after eating their sack lunches before we hit the buses home, my son’s voice echoed in my head about what he wanted for his upcoming birthday. A video game, a PSP, more Nerf missiles for his toy “gun”, a radio control car, etc. Where was the orange? This birthday will come and go and will fade into his tangle of memories. It will most likely disappear.

In our society today, in modern, American society, is there any orange to give?

Tonight will be J’s band performance at school. Saturday will be M’s ballet recital. Sunday is a birthday party to attend with M for a school friend. Then the week will start all over. I’m glad the internet is up and running again, glad to be online again. Just another week…eh?