Monday, July 31, 2006

Good Day

Our worries are over - I can tell because my acid reflux is in overdrive. As soon as the scare passes, when the danger is over, the nerves settle and the acid kicks up. J attended the first day of camp and he loves it. This morning, early, early, he was nervous. Mad nervous. He snapped at D on the way there. He scowled and spit out negativity when he got assigned to a band. His tics were noticeable. But later, as D was leaving the school, J smiled and waved and D had hope for the day.

So it was all good from there. Thank goodness. The camp had meant the world to him and I was so worried and here we are, all in bed, getting ready for another day.

We'll be out tomorrow - Natural History Museum for A, M, and the cousins. We've been busy. Saturday was Newport Dunes, Sunday was a big bike ride at the Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale. Fifteen miles for A and me, fifteen miles of a bike path that ended up at my mother's old townhouse in Duarte. It was strange seeing the place again, strange to see A and J's names scratched in the concrete outside the sliding glass door. The new owner had come out because the dogs were barking and because A and I were looking into her yard. I said to her when she stepped outside, "My mother used to live here. We're just reminiscing."

She introduced herself and said warmly, "My neighbor speaks of your mother with such fondness. I think I met your brother. What a hard time that was. Let me get my boys so you can meet them. Come on in. We love this house so much."

I got a little choked up but reigned it all in. She said, "Thank you for selling us this place."

A and I toured the yard, and I saw that they kept the miniature rose bushes my mother had planted and the life-size clay ducks that had once been at my house, put there by a stranger the morning after my father had died, and the dirt-filled herb pots with the scooped openings. The place was a little messy, evidence of a busy family. Which made me happy - my mother would have been pleased that two little boys continued to march around the garden, just like my two had.

Afterwards, A and I rode to the corner 7-11 and had Slurpees, oh yeah, the sour watermelon, a new flavor, and I watched the grey skies as I stood next to the bikes, remembering how many times we'd been there before, A just a toddler.

Today, as we passed the same spot on the 210, on our way to pick up J from his day at camp, A pointed out the path we'd been on, "There it is! Under the bridge, we were there." Like validation. Like an assurance we’d really been on that path, we really had ridden the fifteen miles, and visited a place that seemed to only exist in our imagination for the longest of times. Yes, yes, my mother really did exist. She was real, as real as the names scratched into the concrete that had once been fresh and wet.

I’m in bed now, the notebook heating my legs, making me sweat because I’m under a blanket. The day’s over…and fast as anything, it’s going to enter memory and act like a figment of my imagination.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Going seriously off-topic: The hell? (updated)

I don't get the outrage. Evidence of the American schizophrenic attitude toward breasts. They're never good enough.

Update: Speaking of people getting all up into a huff, check out the crying-children-exhibit uproar. Had I known the photographer needed crying children, I'd have sent M. She cries at the drop of the hat, an open-mouthed, agonized, soul-wrenching (her soul) cry, over the smallest things. She'd have walked out of the studio pleased with herself.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Tourette's is ruining my life."

J said that to me as we looked out from the third floor, over the railing, across the first floor of the California Science Center today. Children from summer camps across Los Angeles teemed below like red, blue and yellow water drops splashed onto a hot skillet.

"Can we go home?"


Did I say I imagined improvement with the vocal tic? Yeah, I imagined improvement. He's got this loud "huh" thing going on so much he's gotten hoarse from it. At the museum today, people would turn and look at him, and he'd glare right back. At other times, he just looked down, eyes hidden behind thick hair, cursing under his breath.

Called the doctor and said, "WHEN will we see improvement with the Keppra?"

In a few weeks.

Called the doctor again and left a message on the machine, "Can I add Tenex to the mix since the Clonidine isn't doing much?"

Probable answer: sure but there still won't be much change for a few weeks.

Yeah, yeah, I get that but see I'm fucking desperate to help, desperate to ease the tough circumstance, desperate for the magic fucking pill to make this fucking thing GO AWAY.

"When's it gonna change, Mom, to something less noisy?"

"I don't know, baby, maybe you can try to do something else. I've heard some people can psych themselves into a new, different tic."

He's starting music camp on Monday, a new camp where he won't know the children and he'll have to deal with the explanations and possible rejections and possible misery. To tell the truth, I've got a stomach ache from all this. He's stressed, too, but he has no idea the agony his parents are in. As a parent, you want your child to be the "best they can be," and yet here he is in a virtually unchangable situation. Yeah, yeah, I know this could be worse. Thank God it's not cancer, or some other life-threatening circumstance, thank God he's here at all, yes, I get that.

But still. God damn it. I hide it though, I offer positive thinking to him. I say, don't get mad, just educate them. You're talented at the drums, you're going to make them forget the Tourette's.

"I hate this so much," he says to me.

Dinner There goes our good eating habits. Pizza and buffalo wings and something fried the place offers for free that you dip into ranch dressing. Positively deadly.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A New Day

Did I say in my last post that I didn't expect any more drama? Famous last words as they say. End of typical Bliss-household day: Sassy ran out the front door near ten. Black Sassy, ran out onto a street with no streetlamps, with lots of bushes, where many driveways have access paths to the trails. Problem was that she ran out without anyone seeing her - she snuck out at some point. So for about fifteen minutes while we were all looking for her, we were all thinking this was it, she was going to really disappear into the suburbs.

Thank goodness A has bat eyes - he stepped out the door and yelled, "I see her!" We all ran out, me with the leash, M with the flashlight, D with a dog biscuit, and J with the judgment of everyone involved.

Fun, fun, fun.

Near three in the morning, J woke D and I with his tics. Total insomnia then for the three of us. Didn't get back to sleep until five. More fun.

We did finally see a neurologist today for the tics and got a new medication to try: Keppra. I keep wanting to call it Kreppa...a la Crappa...because the poor kid has had no luck with the other four medications he's tried. However, I am actually seeing an improvement. Seriously...fifteen minutes have passed since I last heard him and he is nearby. Can see him out the window here, skating back and forth, hair pulled back.

He's funny though because if I ask him about it, or comment about it, then he'll tic. Very suggestible. So shhhh...ixnay on the ic-tay.

How boring is this blog post? I clearly need connection with the world outside the one I'm living in because I've been wanting to post, wanting to write...I plop myself at my laptop at the dining room table because J has taken over my office. I find though that I'm lacking the energy to spread in any detail the thoughts across the page, too lazy to sprinkle and arrange and fold and toss letters. I really wanted to submit something to qarrtsiluni since Brenda and Dale both did (me too, me too!) but nothing comes when I try to get creative, try to put out something fictional or unreal or beautiful.

Cabbage. J wants me to cut up some cabbage for him, purple cabbage with lemon, a splash of oil, and salt. My mother used to make that for us when were kids and she always did it without question. I complain, put it off. Not now, in a minute, get off my ASS! Okay, cabbage. Cut, chop, mince. Put the stuff into two bowls for the two boys. Pour the lemon dressing.

In an earlier post of mine a commenter used the word, "lonely." I realize that I didn't know loneliness until my mother died. I can be surrounded by my family now but deep down, deep within, I still feel lonely and that feeling did not exist when my mother was alive. Is that coincidence? Did my mother's death coincide with the death of passion in my marriage or with the birth of my third child? Is tiredness cloaked in "loneliness"? I don't know. A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with my sister and her friend JC, and I was upset about the deal with my brother and I remember weeping a little at a stoplight, eleven at night, and feeling terribly alone. Nobody to call, nowhere to crash on a couch, the bed I'd crawl into would be a bit cold, and not heart-warm but even if it was, it wouldn't be the warmth of my mother.

My grandmother had told me, tried to explain to me, that I should not feel lonely ever because she is here and I am her heart. But...but..I keep her at bay because death does cut off the connection. The end of grief has cut off the connection. I no longer cry for my parents and with that cessation a thread has been cut.

Cabbage...purple, lemony, crunchy, filling. Yes, yes, I'll do it. Here, my sweet, in the blue striped bowl. Just for you.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Blogging the Weather (Updated again)

The rain has come in on the heels of thunder and lightning. M asked me if the thunder was clapping for her and Sassy and I said, "Sure, honey." Except when my beautiful daughter got an expression of deep emotion and said, "Oh, Mommy, that is so sweet," I had to adjust my answer because she was sounding a wee bit too schizo for me.

I went riding this morning, five miles, I'd have gone more but the lightning freaked me out. Images kept coming to me of the eucalyptus trees getting hit and falling over me and my red mountain bike, cell phone ringing and ringing in the little pouch.

The rain is coming down hard now. D is reading by the window a Stephen Coonts book, I'm reading "Trails of the Angeles," and J is bickering again with A over which "Destroy all Humans" file A is playing on the Playstation. Damn it, A has emerged from the room and is starting to pick on M who is so happily watching PBS Sprout.

We've got to get out of here but D doesn't want to deal with the beach traffic. Not that I blame him. High humidity and 100 degree weather drive everyone to the same places. We're crowd-loathers.

J's tics have gotten bad again - we're starting him on a new medicine, clonodine. It's a patch we bandaid to his chest because the sticky patch it comes sucks. It might be my imagination but I think there's some improvement - instead of him sounding out every twenty seconds, I believe he's going for entire minutes in silence. Tuesday we have an appointment with a neurologist since his psychiatrist has run out of ideas.

I asked A to read a book and he's crying, "I wanted nachos but you guys won't let me because you guys are mean!"

"You're not getting any more food until you've read for fifteen minutes."

"Stop forcing me to read! I'll read when I'm older!"

He's reading now. Anything for food...ahhh my dearest A.

I love summer! Updating later.

(Update) Our dog is a hunter, a growling, black, hot dog of a hunter. We found the little beast at our back door with a bird in her mouth. The screams! The running! The search for something to pick up the feathered carcass with! Wheee!!

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

I took a nap - found myself keeling over at three because I watched Quills last night at one in the morning. Didn't get to sleep until after three. Have no idea why, but the insomnia took me and made me her bitch. I mean, I was in bed at 10:30 or so and was on my way to the land of nod...but nooooo....

The movie was a good one - fantastic performances. Interesting story. Worth a rental, I think, if you've got a strong stomach for a bit of gore. I enjoyed the movie so much I watched the Forty Year Old Virgin this afternoon, why we waited for our dinner to cook. Dumb but I did laugh. The language is that cheap-laugh way.

Also managed a trip to Trader Joe's for entrees - lots of frozen stuff and organic food in my continuing quest to eat better, such as carrot juice, 100% vegan buttery spread, wheat pita bread, organic hummus, organic apple sauce, and organic marinara sauce for our wheat-free, gluten free noodles.

J took a nap, too, but most likely it's from the meds. He also hung out with a friend of his in front our house, commenting that she just isn't the same anymore. I asked what was different about her.

"She's weird."

"But what exactly is weird? Be specific."

"She's just...all positive. Like everything she says is...optomistic."

"I shudder."

" told you she's really weird after her two years in the psychiatric hospital."

Shhh...I hear M screaming at A...something about a yo-yo, about her teeth, about the dentist. Oh dinner's done. Off to gather veggies out of my organic, I'm kidding. I'm opening some frozen veggies for the microwave. Hopefully all those stories about the death rays comeing from innocent-looking microwave ovens aren't true.

Remind me to tell you later about the Christian luncheon I attended recently with the lady who loved afternoon tea. Amazing tale of flowery napkins, mismatched tea cups and saucers, lacy dresses on elderly ladies, and finding Jesus.

(Epilogue) I always try to encourage my children to do for themselves as they have a tendency to treat me like their personal servant. So I do need to commend my son, A, who is learning to play the bass guitar, for gathering up his amp and trying to plug it into the living room's electrical outlet without asking me. There was only one problem - a plastic plug cover on the outlet prevented easy access. Seeing an obstacle, he did what any intelligent person would do when plastic blocks access. He went into the kitchen and got a dinner knife. He sat down on the carpet and wedged the knife in between the plastic cover and the outlet...

...yes, the little self-doer...

There was a rather large-ish explosion of sparks, a wide-eyed child shaking his head in a wordless claim of innocence, and a knife with melted stainless steel along its edge. Oh yeah, the circuit blew, too. Oh the commotion that ensued - screams, J's calling A names like idiot, stupid, etc., proper scolding.

We have a learned a lesson: not all self-doing is a good idea. When electricity and knives are involved, ask an adult for help.

Well, I'm signing off. I don't think our day will have much more drama. A and I are going for a walk with the dog, we'll all have ice cream, there'll be baths, then bed. Then...yadda, yadda, yadda...the billion-degree sun will rise tomorrow morning as it always does.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

110 Degrees (updated again)

Bicker, bicker, bicker.

"I'm getting the cd out of your drawer."

"No, you're not!"

"Stop it!"

"No, you stop it!"

[hitting and wrestling ensue]

"J, go to your room! A go to time-out, THERE!"

"Why do you always go after me when HE'S the one being a jerk?!"

"You're both being punished!"

"Mommy," M says, "he's calling me a loser!" [Who the hell knows who "he" is?]

That's our household today despite taking the kids out to breakfast and then watching Monster House. They're all irritable. Criminy, it's hot. We got into our Chevy Suburban after the film and literally could not touch the windows, they were THAT hot. When driving home from the film on the 210 Freeway, the temperature gauge on the truck read 116.

The movie. Gotta say, the trailers didn't tell just how scary the movie is for the little ones. There are scary faces in the frame screaming how "you're" going to die, kids calling for their mommy as they're being sucked into a green funnel of doom, there's of course the creepy house that literally turns into a very scary monster with teeth and claws and eats everything and everyone that dares cross its threshold, sad tales of abused carnival freaks, shadows and scary hands and trees that pluck children as they're running for their lives...really, it's a twisted, cartoon version of Poltergeist.

Several parents left with their children clinging to them. We didn't leave (oh hell no, not after spending $40 for online tickets) but M made her way to my lap and her cousin, TH, made his way to his mom's lap. J loved was right up his alley, having puberty mentions, absentee parents, a kiss of a girl on the lips, and violent, wrenching scenes of people getting eaten alive. Yummy!

There was lots of humor, too, don't get me wrong - lots of jokey, cute dialogue. The characters were drawn well and the story was a classic story of releasing grief (perfect for the kids!). Overall, Monster House is an excellent movie - just be warned that it might be too frightening for more sensitive kids and children under 7.

So yeah...there's our day.

What else...oh yes, D and I saw Michael McDonald and Steely Dan in concert at Verizon Ampitheater in Irvine this past week. We really had a wonderful time (the kids stayed home with the babysitter which is always good). The music was wonderful, the night was gorgeous. Perfect, really.

Well...I'm off to have lunch. I'll check in later on this very, very hot day.


(Update 1) Ahhh...the heat continues. So our oldest and dearest wants to go to a friend's house to spend the night. D and I are wary because he's been very grouchy, grouchy to the point where we think maybe he's been skipping medication for his mood swings. Anyway, he wants to go to church with a friend, but he also wants to spend the night. D says fine, "But wear your black pants, not the torn-up ones." J doesn't want to wear the black pants, "They're too baggy."

They're not too baggy. They're not peg-legged, but they're not baggy.

"What about my gym shorts?"

"Wear nice pants - you're going to church."

The battle escalates. A half hour later, J demands to know why we became teachers and not something else that pays more so we can buy his Krew pants that he likes.

"Why are we so goddamned poor?! Why can't I wear normal pants?! I'm going to kill myself!!"

Needless to say, J is staying home tonight because he might kill himself due to the fact that we won't buy him sixty-dollar jeans. I don't care how much he wants to find Jesus, he's NOT going anywhere. So, dinner is all messed up. M is eating ice cream covered in Trader Joe's Midnight Moo (pretend chocolate syrup) and A is eating left-over ribs. I'm eating Sunchips because they're better than regular chips. D is sulking in his room. I love summer! Be back later to update.

(Epilogue) The house is calm. J is on the computer, M and A are playing quietly in front of the television, D is watching the Tour de France. I'm posting. There was one final request to spend the night out by J, but I quashed that with a smile. The night will be here soon. The day will be done.

Then...well, you know the rest, sun rising and all that.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Chasing the Unicorn

The routine in our house isn’t ideal, but it is as expected when we decided to forgo summer school – a tendency to stay up late, an inclination to sleep in. Problem is that by the time we’re ready to do anything, the temperature outside is past 100 and we’re ready for our two hour lunch. And even if we’re ready at an earlier time, we have to deal with our lack of finances. So…we stay home. Not bad other than the resulting cabin fever … the kids bicker, D and I snap at each other, the dog runs out the door. We’ve taken steps to resolve the problem – we go swimming at the pool or we go hiking or biking along the creek near our house. No need to get in the car, no need to spend money.

The trail nearby offers a constant reminder of the city it cuts through – the trees and purposeless concrete structures bear layers of graffiti, trash is everywhere, old chain link fences lean to and fro. Yet on the other hand, there are signs that nature is winning out. Those fences lean into the water and are covered with vines and spider webs and the skeletons of springtime weeds. The concrete structures are equally covered with plants, each year getting increasingly buried. The trash comes and goes – people pick up, boy scouts do their part, fewer and fewer people travail the pathways.


The other day, D, A, and I went riding in spite of the heat. We go there because all the shading by the aged oak trees drops the temperature a good ten degrees. A and I hit the dirt road at a good pace, realizing quickly that D trailed behind us a good ten yards. A said, “I feel sorry for Daddy – he’s not used to this like we are.” We waited and when D rolled up next to us he said, quite openly, “I feel out of control going down those hills.” I found his nervousness interesting, revealing for a man who ran three marathons in his past life. Granted, life has changed us – he’s not the same, neither am I. We’re bound to come upon our limitations. I resisted the psychoanalysis. Anyway, we three were riding over the rocks, attempting to get our bikes through the water without putting feet down, when A and I turned a corner and way down the creek, we saw a large white bird. Looked like a heron or an egret. The beautiful creature dipped its beak into the murky water and then flew away in a burst of cloudy white. A and I barely breathed as we watched.

“Is it a magical bird?” he asked.

“No,” I said, smiling to myself at his innocence in the face of living with a cynical almost-thirteen year old. “She must live in the trees. I’ve never seen a bird like that down here.”

We waited and only when we left the spot, did we see her return for a brief moment.

“We’ll come back tomorrow with a camera,” I said.

The mosquitoes and bees and flies buzzed loudly as we zipped past spider webs and avoided poison oak. We finally turned around at the foot of a massive incline, the path going upwards without end. We rode back beneath a canopy of oak trees and over an old spray-painted bridge, spotting an overturned shopping basket in the water, its plastic mesh long invaded with water-loving plants. The end is always rough going – a steep, weed-covered incline. We huffed and puffed all the way home, our drinking water gone.

The next day, A and I woke up with a mission: to capture the heron or egret or whatever bird we’d seen with our cameras. We gathered our equipment – A has a compact film camera from his aunt, and I’ve got the digital Canon. Got a zoom lens, too. Dragged along the tripod.

This time however, we hiked. We trudged across the creek at the trail’s several spots, bearing the ninety-degree heat well because we had cold water and the drive. The first thing we noticed on our walk in was the unusual spider webs on the weeds – spiders wove their webs into funnels, through which we assumed they’d crawl. All around us, all along the bottoms of tall spiky, dead weeds, were white, downy black holes. We carefully stayed to the center of the trail, unsure of the type of spiders that built these homes. We must never have hiked the trail at this time of year because we’d never seen these before. And when on our bikes, we sped past them without looking.


Slowly, we made our way to the site of the white bird. Again, A asked whether it was magic. I asked why he thought so to which he replied, “Because the unicorns are magic and the bird looked like a white unicorn. Only a bird.”

“And here we are, the only ones who saw it.”


The spot was an active part of the creek. Schools of tiny black fish swam in the greenish water, bees flew around tree roots, mosquitoes buzzed close to green swampy moss, and the water gurgled over colored rocks. Plants lay flat in the water, pressed down by the current, like ladies in repose. A balanced on a board between two rocks. Our feet got wet as we tried to find a place to sit quietly to wait for the bird.

We did find a nice rock on which to perch. We crawled over thick roots and through water, landing on the flat, leaf-covered rock. We waited. We listened. Birds cawed and bugs buzzed. Rabbits and squirrels rustled bushes. But no white bird, no heron, no egret. What we did see were the dragonflies. Red and blue ones danced around us in pairs, and one black, noisy one kept buzzing past us so loudly we couldn’t help but laugh at its motorcar sound. The dragonflies soon captivated us to the point where we forgot about our magical bird. We set the tripod up back across the creek and worked at getting pictures, not the ones we wanted, but new ones of something sweet and surprising.


The red dragonflies accommodated us with their habit of landing one at a time on a lone branch in the middle of the creek and sitting there for long minutes. Plenty of time for me to focus and shoot. Click, click, click. We took a bunch of shots for just the few that would turn out. For the longest time we played in the water with the dragonflies, making stories up about who they were, about their playful dances in the air. The afternoon moved slowly, the excessive heat far away from us, up above on the hill where we live.


The creek seemed an idyllic place – strangely untouched even though there was plenty of proof of the city’s population here, plenty of empty bottles and cans and paper. But there wasn’t anyone else there in those hours. Just us, alongside our imaginations and a kind of slow peace that is easily forgotten in the hectic rush of the regular city’s day.

We went home, tripod on shoulder, cameras swinging, chatting endlessly about the dragonflies. And what about that bird?

“Something magical happened today,” I said. “Maybe because of the bird?”

A agreed, to a point, “We have to come back again.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beyond the Edge of the Pool

From the pool’s edge, M smiled at me before dipping underwater and popping right back up. I never shifted focus from the very spot she occupied. I believed that if I did, I’d be taking some trust away. As she dipped, she needed to know I’d still be there when she emerged from beneath the water.

I suppose I felt the same way when my brother called me last night – I suppose I wanted him to know on some level that no matter what, when he emerged from whatever sea he’d fallen into, I’d still be here, the same sister, the same person.

“How come you never call your brother?” he asked me late last night, on the phone.

“Oh it’s the back-stabbing traitor,” I said, in a voice that only teased him.

He chuckled, relieved, I could tell. And so it goes. Nothing has changed for forever – I’ll still be there for his birthday, my dramatic promises of never-seeing-him-again, over. We went on talking, reviewing what the kids were up to, what we all were doing, about his search for a new car, mulling over the choice of a hybrid rather than a gas guzzler, the Honda Civic most likely. Benign stuff that spoke of normality, spoke to my still being there when he dipped, still there when he popped back up.

As I scanned the benches alongside the pool behind the fence, I saw the other parents and grandparents divided: half reading books, half concentrating on the swimming children. I divided my time in half: half reading, half watching M. D joined me today – we two watched her and waved when she reached the edge of the pool. We sat close, chatting about nonsense as the heat rose.

Later, in the afternoon, D and I sat close again at our kitchen table and listened to my grandfather tell about his past, his roots. My grandparents had stopped by with the last cutting from the cactus tree in their backyard.

“The last dish of nopales for the year,” my grandmother murmured, as she watched with adoring eyes my son A eat the cactus with a man’s love of good food. The kind of love that might have spurred the saying, “The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.”

Popping open a Bud Light and taking a couple of sips first, Papa Ul then explained that his father came from Chihuaha, Mexico, and his mother from Parral, the city where Pancho Villa was first buried before being moved to Mexico City. He said said that he took a trip once with my grandmother to Parral and visited the church where his mother had been baptized. The church’s priest arranged for a letter to be drafted, detailing the names of his mother’s family members and other such details. He got the letter and pictures, too, and to this day, they sit in a box he periodically studies. The information meant much to him because he lost his mother to death when he was a teenager. "I have a similar letter," he said, "about my father and family." That, too, sits in the box which waits for him in the hall closet, near their television.

“You lived in East Los Angeles, didn’t you?”

“Yes, and I had many jobs.”

He recounts that he once worked for Sears Roebuck, packaging orders from the catalogue. “I worked in that old, old building in Downtown, Los Angeles, the one you could see from the 10 Freeway.” He remembered that he also worked for a stove company, O’Keefe & Merritt, up until the factory blew up. He recalled running like hell down a hallway and through a glass window. Then watched as the building burned to the ground. Later, he worked at a company that made battery cases. He also worked for a company that made specialized oil derricks in Los Angeles, machinery that pumped the oil in a much more efficient manner than the others at that time.

“I became good friends with the son of the owner.” He didn’t say much more about that, just smiled to himself, lost for a moment in memory.

“When had your father come to the United States?”

“He came in 1917 – first to New York, then across the north to Chicago and Minnesota and Idaho, then to Los Angeles. We lived, I was born, in East Los Angeles. For miles to the east, you could see the orange groves.”

Every so often, we’ve driven to San Pedro for lunch and in getting there from Pasadena, we have to drive across Downtown. Never fails that when we cross between the 110 and the 10 freeways, he’ll grumble over the change of the name Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar E. Chavez Avenue.

“It was Brooklyn when I was born, and Brooklyn it should have stayed,” he says.

My grandfather isn’t my biological grandfather – he married my grandmother in 1968 – but he is the only grandfather I know. He’s a bit…gruff. He lost both his parents as a teenager and he and his brother had to make it on their own. No time there to build a sentimental or tender personality. He’s always worked, he’s always made due. His last job was an importer of tequila. He walked the crates to Trader Joe’s, to the Liquor Barn, himself. He brought shot glasses and made sales to these big stores. They always bought from him, bucking their usual bulk requirements, because he was a damned good salesman.

When the clock began to inch its way to dinnertime, my grandparents gathered their things and walked slowly out our front door as we walked with them, saying our goodbyes. The sight of the two of them, my grandfather carrying a bag of returned containers, my grandmother in her hat and carrying her purse, is a familiar one - they are steady, always returning to the surface as if nothing ever happened despite their own troubles. We were grandchildren...we were not impacted by their chaos (and they certainly had it in their day) in the same way we were impacted by our parents' actions. Though the buffers are gone now, they are older and can no longer afford to be away from each other. My grandfather now refers to my grandmother when talking to me or my sister as, “Your mother,” such habit he was in when talking to my mother about my grandmother.

They climbed into their car and waited for the air conditioning to cool them off. I noticed a new dent on the side, just a small one, but black and definite. The dog sped past me, running off again, out the door, and D and the kids hoofed it after her. The heat continued though it was mild today. The kids are growing so, so fast. Our lives are in constant motion.

I found myself grateful for my grandparents’ presence in my life as they drove off…slowly, slowly down the road. They have not changed much, no matter the dips that have taken place over the years – they are always there, beyond the edge of the pool, waving, never shifting focus.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Connecting the Dots

We’re off to the movies, A and I, to see “Pirates of the Caribbean,” to see Johnny Depp in all his wacky glory. Got a pair of tickets in my pocket, candy in my purse, cell phone turned to vibrate. Last week D and I saw the worst current movie on the face of the planet, a thing called, “The Break-Up.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why the hell would you see a movie that looked like crap in the trailers?

Because “The Devil Wears Prada” was sold out.

I really have to get on board with the online purchasing of tickets. I’m so behind the times. Today was a perfect example, actually. A and I flew across town to the multiplex, waited in line, only to learn at the window that the showing we were there for was sold out. All in 100 degree heat.

So…we’re waiting for the six o’clock showing. I’m posting while I’m waiting.

As I sit here, J chatters away, sitting on my desk. He’s not coming because he’s too involved with his friends. He wants to hang out with the neighbor kids, which is fine with me. I smile as I type, as he rattles off, “You know, those pills aren’t doing a damn thing for my tics. Fuck the pills!”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. My god, where’s the soap when you need it! Wash his mouth out! The thing is, he’s in a cursing phase. He tries out these bad words whenever he can. “Mom, can I have some goddamn eggs?”

“Hey! Did you see the shit?!”

“Now what the hell was that?”

We’re all hearing it. We all just say, “Watch your language!”

He just chuckles. The whole thing makes him laugh. Though I’m not laughing at his insomnia. He completely has his hours turned around. Up until 4, asleep until 1. It’s up to us to keep him awake now so that he’ll drop off at a reasonable hour, like 10. ‘Cause D and I so need that quiet time without the children around. They really are sucking the life out of us.

I had a long conversation with D about our lack of intimacy that’s going far beyond the sexual thing. I realized a problem when the two of us were lying on our bed and there was a perfect moment for him to reach over and touch me, give me a hug, whatever it is married people do, only he didn’t. After he woke up, he simply got up and left and I lay there in wonder. A few minutes later he was back on the bed and he did reach over…but instead of caressing me in a warm, affectionate way, he sort of rubbed the top of my head in this weird, dog-like manner.

“Woof,” I said.

Fireworks ensued. So yeah, I cornered him later that night.

“The hell? Does this satisfy you? Are you happy like this? Forget the sex, I'm talking about the three feet between us on the king-size bed.”

Then the diatribe came and he used words that I understood and I was so sad. He said to me, “The kids have dulled me to everything. When they’re not near me, all I want is to just sit there and embrace their absence. I don’t think about anything beyond that.”

I saw what he was talking about, I could understand the dullness. He left me alone to watch a movie about a girl who bashes her hand in drawers, the daughter of brilliant writers, with Ed Harris and Will Farrell, called, “Winter Passing.” A quiet, odd film that left me staring at the opening screen of the DVD, saying, “Hmmm.”

God, it’s hot outside…hotter than a motherfuck. Time to go. Need to line up so we can get decent seats to watch the drama unfold.

Update: Saw "Pirates," last night and enjoyed the visual gymnastics. Really, the pictures were pretty, Johnny Depp was perfect, but that was pretty much it. The best part of the movie was running into the ex-husband of a very good friend of mine. It was sweet to see him there with his family - a bit of a flashback to unbelievably more innocent days, before "divorce" meant anything, before the kids could ever talk back, before our parents died...before...before...before...

Last night I dreamt of opening a dress shop in a mall with some girlfriends. The thing that kept getting in my craw was the late hour we'd have to stay open, the every-day-ness of the store. I kept envisioning the long drive home after dark, kept trying to find a way out of it. The girls said, "We'll rotate the hours. Don't worry...just look at these beautiful dresses." Except the dresses weren't beautiful, they were plain, the only difference being in the color.

I think it was the late-night hummus with wheat pita bread that did me in. I might be thinking of the upcoming school year where I'll be teaching two night classes.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Outsider

Last night was warmish so we kept a window open in our bedroom. The cool night air though kept me awake, the air permeated with a skunk's bitter perfume. For hours I drifted in a half-sleep, too awake not to smell the skunk but too asleep to get out of bed to shut the window. Later, I dreamed angry dreams - my sister had taken something of mine and I hated her. We cursed one another and yelled. When I awoke, my bed was filled with little creatures, M on my one side, D on the other, and Sassy at my feet. I could barely move. I grew uncomfortably hot, stuck under the covers, limbs pinned by bodies. If I moved, I'd waken them. The dog would most likely get up and wet the carpet, M would would ask for food and television, D would rage, and my night would be over. Or worse, I'd throw everyone out of the room and I'd remain comatose until noon.

I lay still.

When I was ten, my parents sent me to an exclusive private girl's school in Pasadena that went from the fourth grade to the twelfth. From the moment I stepped onto that campus, I stuck out like a sore thumb and to this day I have no idea why. All I can figure is the girls knew something about me - perhaps they sensed an inherent vulnerability, a weakness. Perhaps they sensed I was in between worlds. Neither Mexican nor Jewish, neither rich nor poor, neither pretty nor ugly. They snickered behind my back, they shunned me at lunch. I'd get upset and sulk. I became profoundly self-conscious. I never could do anything right. I read the wrong books, I wore my hair the wrong way, I developed far too early. The girls in my class remained beyond my reach.

In order to pass the time, I followed various groups around but was never invited to be a part of them. I watched the Lesbians kissing in the bathroom and stood by as the Thieves stole the goods out of a forgotten notebook in an empty classroom. I stood in line with the Athletes to play handball, and I walked with the Ditchers to the outfield to eat sour weeds. One time I spent the night with the Short Girls, bringing the wrong kind of stuffed dog, finding the night long and painful as I endured make-believe games that didn't include me.

The only friend I had was a Polish girl who played the cello and with her own body in class. I caught her once and was fiercely embarrassed. For some reason on that day, we were sitting all over the classroom. I was one of a few who sat facing the bulk of the students. She was in the back, sitting on top of a desk and I saw her touch herself between her legs. I remember my reality dawning on me - it made sense she was the only girl willing to be my friend. I knew then why she had none. When I told her I saw her, trying to help her not be as much of an outcast as she was, she of course became angry. She spread rumors about me. Told people she and I had sex together. I was horrified because I sort of knew what sex was - I'd learned about it from a book - I assumed it was an extension of the kissing lesbians in the bathroom. She'd laugh at me openly in her newly found acceptance among her peers. She was no longer the bottom girl. The other students snickered even more. The year was agonizing.

Towards the end I'd cry in the mornings, begging my mother not to take me to school. I never told her about the Polish girl - she had a feeling though something was going on. I remember her telling me about "blackmail," asking me if someone was blackmailing me. I figured, yes, that's what it was. Of a sort. I kept the nasty situation to myself. When the year concluded, my parents relented and sent me to another private school, a smaller one. That year I spent not as much on the outside, but more on the verge of independence. I knew the following year I'd be in a public school, with hundreds of students. I couldn't wait. I bit my tongue and bided my time.

Years later in the public high school, I joined the tennis team. I wasn't very good, but I had a good time with my friends since none of us took the game very seriously. We couldn't. After all, we were at a public school. Few students could afford private tennis lessons, me included. We always lost our games. One afternoon, we were scheduled to play the same private school I'd attended when I was ten.

The day had been a hot one and we sweated buckets as we drove across town in the hired school bus. Everyone was talking, chatting, giggling - we'd lose, we knew it. Just another day. What mattered was coming home, the bike ride home. Pizza maybe at someone's house. Not for me, though. I gritted my teeth in memory of my miserable year. I wondered who I would see, if anyone. They all had their private coaches. I stared out the window as I saw the changes in the neighborhood. We left the average to less-than-average suburbs and moved into the higher end of Pasadena. Massive lawns spread in front of equally massive homes, expensive cars lined long driveways, the trees and gardens were impeccable.

We unloaded our stuff and walked to the tennis courts with their beautifully maintained green concrete and the flowering, shading shrubs covering the surrounding chain-link fences. At our school, we had black asphalt, open fencing, no shade. The courts at home were unforgiving on hot days. I was sick with nerves. Determined. I couldn't play for shit but that day I was going to be a monster on the courts. I knew it wasn't possible but it was what I wanted.

The coaches met and assigned courts to various team members. I was given one at the far end. Across from me was Tracy with her expensive racket, one of the Short Girls. There she stood, all five-foot-two of her, freckles, strawberry blond hair in a pony tail. She didn't smile at me, she barely acknowledged me. She tossed the yellow ball in the air and slammed it across the net. It hit the ground next to me, perfectly within bounds and bounced away. I stood there, grinned and shrugged. We tried again. I finally began hitting her lobs and volleyed as best I could. But I had no game, no strategy. All I did was hit hard as hell, all over the court. I watched her sweat as she ran around, huffing, exasperated, thanks to my total lack of game. She sweated profusely, her face reddening under the sun, as I watched her beat me.

By the end of our time together, she was so frustrated with my inability to play which made her unable to play that she let a few balls just fly past her. My only points. At last, having lost the match, I turned around without shaking hands as courtesy demanded and walked to the benches where my little clique was sitting. I danced a little dance, boasting my great loss to my friends, as we compared our losses, in stitches over all of our bad games. We chuckled as the rich kids sauntered by, exhausted to the core, dragging their metal rackets behind them, their pretty outfits and pony tails wilted in the extreme heat.

Thanks to us, the outsiders, they were a mess.

I brought M closer to me, kissing the top of her head. The dog raised her head and then plopped back down. From here, I heard J squeak, his usual tic. He's greatly improved with the new medication actually - he hardly makes noise now other than the occasional chirp.

Yesterday, D and I spoke of J's tics, concerned about the vocal ones coming back when he begins his music camp in August. They're stress-related - if he gets nervous he might end up hiccupping and squeaking like mad. D assured me that in the end it wouldn't matter much.

"He's got the goods - he's stylish in his own way, he's a damn good drummer, and he's funny. Kids forgive him - he's not an outsider."


"Yeah. In the last week of school, some of the girls in my class were talking about him and one said, 'sure he makes some funny noises, but I don't care because he's sooooo cute!' Honey, he'll be fine."

In that moment, as I do periodically, I sort of kissed the proverbial ground that in spite of obvious differences, he's accepted by his peers. Thank god. The door creaked a little as A came in, sleepy-eyed, and collapsed on my bed next to the dog. I looked at my brood as I perspired in the darkened room, pinned in place by them. I felt a part of something wonderful, accepted. A perfect ending, really.