Category Archives: Cuentos

Revisited: I don’t write fiction, just think it

Note: More from the old blog. And no, it’s not that I’m getting lazy.

i don’t write fiction, just think it
07.15.05 // 3:14 p.m.

David (Phenom Feat) asked four questions. I answered the first last night.

His second question:

Have you ever written any fiction?

I don’t write much fiction. I really don’t know why, but I think it’s mainly because I find starting difficult unless I have a good prompt. I think a lot of fiction. I make up stories in my head all the time, but I never write them down. Part of the reason most of what I write is non-fiction and autobiographical is because the only writing instruction I’ve ever had has been in academic writing (essay format) and in autobiographical writing.

I dug up the last piece of fiction I wrote in November. A friend gave me the prompt: eagle on a sundried cactus.

***

National symbols most people didn’t assume that blanca was mexican. she didn’t have the nopal en la frente and dark hair that shone like the feathers of an eagle. no, whites and mexicans always confused her pale skin, freckles and reddish-blonde hair as a sign that she was in or out of their group.

blanca didn’t let it bug her too much. she took pride in the fact that at mexican restaurants, after she’d had a few cervezas and a couple of shots, she could sing with the mariachis. they were always surprised that she knew the words. when she took trips to her grandparent’s house en la capital, she spoke perfect chilanga spanish. the cab drivers and shopkeepers who tried to overcharge were always amazed that she sounded just like them. the language and songs were just one thing, but blanca loved the fact that she had dual citizenship. that piece of paper proved what her skin, hair and freckles sought to disprove.

on one of her trips, blanca bought a small flag for 5 pesos. the street vendors were capitalizing on the upcoming fiestas patrias, and cheap flags were easy to find. she stuffed the small red-white-green flag in her backpack and forgot about it.

a few days later, she arrived in los angeles, her home. as she unpacked things in her room, she found the small flag in her backpack. rather than put it right next to her figurine of la virgen de guadalupe and makeshift altar of all things mexican, she took it out to her car.

blanca removed the small stick and added a string to hang the flag from the rearview mirror. she wasn’t concerned about confirming any stereotypes… in fact, it would be different since she was always breaking them.

two days later, blanca sat in the driver seat with the keys in the ignition. she eyed the red, white and green flag. her gaze settled firmly on the eagle perched atop a nopal with a snake hanging from its mouth. rather than smile or reflect on her most recent trip, blanca began a tradition she’d continue before her morning commute for several years.

she looked at the flag, and let out a grito that sounded like it came from a man twice her size. ¡ajúaaaa!

Revisited: el Sobador de Boyle Heights

I’ve been blogging since November 2001 and have tons of stuff, good and bad, in the old blog. You’ll get to read some of it for the first time, if you’re relatively new, or again if you’ve been following Lotería Chicana for a while. This piece was written nearly two years ago. It was inspired by my frequently achy right wrist and an LA Times Opinion piece by Luis Alberto Urrea on non-Western healing practices, particularly Mexican curanderismo. I strongly recommend his novel, The Hummingbird’s Daughter.

Don Bartolo, el Sobador de Boyle Heights
05.25.05 // 12:34 p.m.

My wrist hurts. This is rather normal. It’s been acting up since 1998. Every single time it acts up I wish I could go see Grandpa at the house with the nice porch on Hicks Street in Boyle Heights.

My Grandpa Bartolo was an amazing man. He passed away on December 28, 1996 after a short fight with renal cancer. I saw him wither away. The last time I visited him he hardly appeared like the man I remembered. He was no longer husky with a similar frame as my dad. Instead, I saw an incredibly thin man gasping for breath in his hospital bed. I hate to remember Grandpa on his deathbed, but that was the last time I saw him alive.

I’d rather remember Sunday visits to see my dad’s parents at their home in Boyle Heights. Danny and I would play games like Freeze Tag and Mother May I? with our cousins while my parents and other adults were in the cool house relaxing.
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That sarks!

Ninth grade honors English was great. We had a small class of no more than 20 students, one of which was my cute and dorky crush. We read Roman and Greek mythology and Don Quixote. We acted out the most famous soliloquies from Shakespearean plays. And we learned how to express anger, frustration and regret without using your everyday four-letter words.

Mrs. O was like my mom. She didn’t tolerate cursing. My mom’s punishment was bad. I quickly stopped saying words I knew would land a whole jalapeño or bar of soap in my mouth. Mrs. O’s punishment, subtracting points from our overall grade, was ten times worse. Let me remind you, we were the honors class. Points meant a lot to a bunch of 14-year-olds trying to get to college.

Whenever a classmate got caught saying “that sucks!” or some other non-FCC approved word, cursing, Mrs. O would call out “ten points!”

My classmate would immediately pull out a blank sheet of college-ruled paper and begin brainstorming alternate words for “sucks.” If he was lucky, others would offer some suggestions.

Once you turned in the ten words, you were pardoned and the points were tacked back on to your grade.

At the time, this was just a pain. We had better things to worry about, like memorizing Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Besides, why was “sucks” even considered a bad word?

Thirteen years later, I’m glad Mrs. O challenged us to come up with ten alternate words to whatever curse word she caught us using. If it weren’t for her and my mom, I’d be a potty mouth and no one would ever be surprised when I let a “fuck!” slip out. Then again, it’s also Mrs. O’s fault that I adopted a classmate’s alternative for “sucks” and occasionally say, “that sarks.”

Adventure on the River Kern, II

My rival for coolest tshirt collection

To read Part I, go here.

Little Anthony’s t-shirt read what we were all thinking the next morning as we nursed our banged up legs and knees, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

And even though it did seem like a good idea, no one regretted the harrowing trip down the river.

***

I was sitting on the river bank, reading one of the hilarious essays in David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day when Rene asked if I wanted to take a trip down the river.

“Where are we going?”

“Just down that part,” he replied and pointed to the right fork in the river where it looked a little rough. “We went down in the rafts earlier.”

That was all I needed. If they had gone down earlier in the day, it couldn’t have been that bad, right?

Wrong.

The six of us — me, Rene, Lindsay, Heather, Adán and Nancy — piled into the two rafts. I got in to one raft and kneeled down.

“You should sit down,” Lindsay advised. “Those rocks will bust up your knees, but your butt can take the bumps better.”

I followed her advice and sat down. Lindsay pulled the grey raft closer to her and jumped in jolting the raft the behind me. Rene was the last to get in and sat on the top of the raft up front.

I was nervous. I hadn’t gone rafting in a river in years… and the Kern was no friendly river. Rafting would be different than just floating down in a River Rat innertube for a few yards in the calm part.

As we started off following the yellow raft filled with Adán, Heather and Nancy, Rene gave me one last bit of advice.

“Whatever happens, don’t let go of the ropes.”

Yeah. Letting go of the ropes in a river nicknamed Killer Kern would be bad.

Danny made up the last of the group in a single yellow inner tube. He was the only one wearing any sort of protective gear, a purple and red life vest.

***

Rene lied. And it’s a good thing too, or else I wouldn’t have anything worth blogging about.

Our mini-rafting trip didn’t end once we made our way down the familar part of the river. The familar part of the river was a little rough, but we were all able to deal with water splashing in our faces and getting jolted by the river around boulders.

Once the two rafts and inner tube made it through the familiar part, we decided to keep going. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Adventure on the River Kern, part I

The grey raft returns “Cindy!” my mom exclaimed as she looked up from cleaning the campsite. She was obviously happy and a bit surprised to see me.

“Your dad has been asking for you. He says he ‘wants his Cindy’.”

Dad gave me a look. He looked tired and a little darker after swimming in the river for most of the day.

“You guys shouldn’t have gone down the river… You don’t know how worried we’ve been.”

As he continued, Danny walked up, still wearing his life jacket and holding a bright yellow inner tube.

He went on with his fatherly duty and did his best to knock some sense into his two eldest children.

“I’ve been here all day and every time I saw someone rafting or kayaking down the river, they were all wearing helmets and life jackets. Those guys are experienced, they know what they’re doing! You guys went down without life jackets, helmets, or even a clue about what you were doing. You’re very lucky you were all able to walk back in one piece.

“You don’t know how helpless I’ve felt sitting here. I had no idea whether you guys, your cousins or Heather and Lindsay were safe.”

My mom continued cleaning up. Danny and I stood silently listening to our father, something quite rare. Dad was right and we were reckless. We’d just added a half dozen more canas to his salt and pepper hair.

Dad spoke from more than just the worried father’s point of view. He also spoke from experience. When I was 8 years old, we made one of many Labor Day weekend trips out to Kern River. I remember rafting down with him, my mom, and two cousins. We all had life jackets, except for my dad who had a false sense of courage partly due to several beers.

We pulled our yellow and blue raft up the river toward a fork. The western fork was much more rough, but we tackled it anyway. We had some trouble. We got lodged between two rocks, my dad got out and tried to dislodge us, but at that moment was pushed by the current and slammed against a boulder. The alcohol numbed the pain that day, but he was out of commission for a week thereafter and could not move. His ribs were been bruised.

“It could have been worse,” dad finished after recounting the story.

I knew he was right. There was a reason the river was called Killer Kern, but I didn’t regret the decision I made earlier that afternoon when Rene asked, “we’re going to raft down the river in a little bit, do you want to come?”

Note: originally posted in October 2006, recovered after the blog meltdown.

Misperceptions

I’ve been having some interesting conversations on the way to and from the airport. These days I’m going to LAX so often that I don’t feel like bugging anyone for a ride, especially if I’m only going to be gone a day. I drive to a pay lot and then take their courtesy shuttle. When you arrive, they pick you up at the terminal. It’s all simple, and I don’t have to worry about giving anyone a headache on the way to/from LAX or at LAX itself.

The owners of the lot are Middle Eastern and the drivers are often Latino. I like the drivers. They’re nice to me. Perhaps it’s because as service people, I don’t ignore them. I ask, “¿de dónde eres?” A short question leads to a short conversation from the parking lot to the Southwest terminal. On Monday, I was the only person in the mini-bus. The young and handsome driver was from Costa Rica. We talked the whole way to the airport about English classes, school, Costa Rica and the World Cup. As we approached the Southwest terminal he asked, “y tienes novio?”

“No.”

“Tan bonita y sin novio, se me hace difícil creer.”

I smiled.

He unloaded my suitcase and walked me to the curb. I said goodbye and walked to the check-in desk so that I could check my small carry-on sized suitcase (damn no liquid or gel rules!). Sometimes a little flirting — or just a casual conversation — with a stranger is nice.

Yesterday evening, the middle-aged man who picked me up was from Nicaragua. He told me about his daughters, how all his wives (three!) had been Mexican and how he really loved Mexicans because they had done a lot for him.

He also asked questions, and was surprised by one of my answers.

“¿Cuántos años tienes?”

“Veinticinco… casi veintiséis. Mañana los cumpló.”

“¡Veintiséis! Tienes la cara de niña. Pensaba que tenías unos quince o dieciséis. ¿Qué comes?”

People guess my age in the -teens all the time. I’m used to it, but still amused. Why is it that the gap in my actual age and perceived age keeps growing? You think by the time I turned 26 people would actually guess that I was in my 20s.

Mil palabras: el malcriado

There's a story behind the White Polo Guy
Julieta Venegas and Maldita Vecindad concert at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa

I looked over my old high school yearbook recently. It was weird. So many people wrote something about me being one of the nicest people they had ever met. You might think that they were just saying that because they didn’t know what else to write, and that may be true.

I was nice. I still am… most of the time, but I don’t let people push me around when I feel like they are disrespecting me or treating someone I care about in a horrible manner.

The mean me came out on Saturday night. Almost as soon as Julieta Venegas left the stage, the night turned sour. The music and performance was great, though I’m beginning to think that Maldita really needs to release something new and that they need to change up their show a little. I enjoyed spending time with my friends, Gabby, Isa, Ralph and cousin Rene.

I enjoyed the show in spite of el malcriado who was sitting behind me. During the Julieta Venegas show he or his friend was talking on the phone way too loud. I also heard some rather homophobic comments coming from them. They were drinking the whole time, but I don’t think alcohol is not an excuse to be an ass.

In short, the guy in the white polo did the following at one point or another during the night:

  1. He spilled beer on Gabby. I think Gabby told him something, but I don’t remember.
  2. While “dancing” wildly he managed to smack me on my back. When I turned around and told him to watch out he acted stupid and could not even apologize. In fact, he seemed to get mad at me for trying to defend myself. Ralph jumped in at that point and told him to calm down and not smack his friends.
  3. He peed on the floor. Yeah, this was heinous. Gabby and I both felt something splash our feet. We thought it was beer again, but when we turned we saw his hands at the zipper of his pants and no beer in his hand. His friends didn’t do anything either but just stand there. Gabby immediately called security to get his drunk ass out of there… but it still stunk and we were still pissed (literally!)

Now, this guy wasn’t alone in his abuse against women. He had a friend in a brown shirt who also managed to spill beer on me. I yelled at him too and he told me to move because he was just dancing. Aaah! Ralph had to tell him to chill too.

I tried to get a photo of el Malcriado in the white polo to do a public shaming like the one described by el Chavo, but alas he was too drunk to hold his head up. Figures…

La abogada

Way before the JD and the PhD
Chispa and I (December, 1999)

I don’t remember when I met Elizabeth/Liz/Chispa, but I remember singing Happy Birthday to her in the Hedrick dining hall a day after our orientation. Her roommate, Cheryl, asked other Freshman Summer Program (FSP) kids to join in and wish her a happy birthday. I think it may have been her first birthday away from home. I sang and later got to know her better. She lived down the hall from me on Sproul Hall 3 North. We were “warriors.”

Chispa and I developed a strong friendship beginning that August. Since then we’ve shared dozens of inside jokes, wordy emails full of chisme and drama, countless heart-to-hearts, and many tears.

For the past three years, she’s lived and gone to school in San Francisco at Hastings College of the Law. I remember thinking it was so cool that she’d be going to school in SF because then that would mean I’d have one more good friend to visit on my frequent trips. A few weeks after she started classes, I visited her for the afternoon in her studio apartment on the 13th floor of the Hastings Tower. She had a wonderful view, but I doubt she spent much time looking out the window with all the studying she had to do during her tough first year.

Chispa graduates today. She told me a few days ago that she didn’t know what she would say for her short speech. I told her she better not cry, “crying is for suckers.”

You know, I’m a sucker.

Cindyitis

anatomy of a fallThis re-post (most of it was written in March 2002) was inspired by my cousin, Nancy, and her accident on Adrian’s skateboard.

***

You may not know it simply by seeing me, but I have a horrible illness. It affects everything I do, and rears its ugly little head at the most inappropriate times. There is no cure for it and it may be contagious.

Symptoms include: unusual difficulty doing simple things like walking in a straight line (sober and without chewing gum), distorted depth perception, general clumsiness, and last any of the above symptoms in the presence of large amounts of people.

Cindyitis was one of the lasting changes brought on by puberty, besides the breasts and hips. I don’t remember being such an accident-prone kid. I played sports, danced, had good hand-eye coordination as a result of plenty of sessions of Mario Brothers and Tetris. Maybe when I got my period, I didn’t become the gracious women I was supposed to be.

I first noticed it the summer before high school. As I walked along a curb in my band uniform, I tripped over it and scraped my black wool-blend pants. The curb must have moved and jumped in my way, I swear. Maybe it was the shiny patent leather band shoes.

Later, I tried to walk off a stage by stepping onto bales of hay covered with sheets. I didn’t want to jump because I knew I might fall. I should have known that even in Australia I could be struck with Cindyitis. I fell flat on my face in front of 50 people, including my crush at the time. For the record, that was the second time I had exited the stage in an unorthodox way.

I learned quickly from that accident and others early on how to deal with the effects of Cindyitis. Although there is no medication, there are other effective ways to mitigate the embarrassment of falling in front of dozens of people.

First, you have to be able to deal with people laughing at you. Laugh with them, if it doesn’t cause you pain. If I saw myself fall, I know I’d have to suppress a giggle or two. I’m not a cruel person, it’s just a reflex.

Second, use those tear ducts. It’s amazing how nice people become when you cry. Sometimes you’ll do this naturally, but other times, you’ll need to fake it a little. You’ll get sympathy and helpt rather than laughter. It’s great if you’re a person who enjoys or craves attention.

Third, be prepared. I don’t mean carry crutches in your trunk. Just make sure you own a basic first aid kit to deal with those pesky cuts and bruises. At least if your ego is bruised, you can still take some care of your body.

Last, be creative with the details of your accident. If you fell down the stairs and have bruises on your face, don’t give the boring truth. Make up a “story” of how you tried to protect a helpless old lady from a purse-snatcher. As you caught up to him, you tackled him and grabbed the purse back, but not before he swung at you with the purse. It’s a white lie, it doesn’t really hurt anyone, and we all need to use our imaginations more. If you feel bad about it, you can always clear things up right after your explanation with a quick “just kidding” and the truth.

Cindyitis is not quite in remission these days (we all know about my accidents last fall), but I’m improving…

Poor people’s food

On Wednesday, I went through a dozen old voice mail messages and started deleting them. I came across one from my sister from last week. I don’t think I ever fully listened to it, because I would have remembered the content of the message.

“Hey Cindy, just calling to let you know that we’re making tacos de papa (not VR [our dog who we also call Papas]) and wanted to see if you wanted to come home for dinner. Or we can bring them to you ’cause we’re nice like that. Ok, love you. Buh bye.”

A craving for tacos de papa (potato tacos) immediately developed and I called out to Isa, “Hey, you want to go to dollar tacos night at Don Antonio’s?”

Isa was down and we showed up to the crowded restaurant on Pico and Barrington. We drank sangría and margaritas while we waited. I half watched some NBA playoff game about to go into overtime and munched on chips while we caught up. She felt behind in her first few days back at school (teaching) and scolded me for some recent actions.

We were seated 45 minutes later and devoured our tacos de papa and tacos de pollo. In the mean time, we had a conversation on how some of our favorite foods are “poor people’s food.”

I get the phrase from my mom. Back when we were kids, she’d occasionally take care of Adam and Gigi, the children of some friends who were pretty well off. They weren’t rich, but definitely middle class. We weren’t poor either, but the differences between the two families were clear.

Adam loved the food my mom cooked and insisted that he hated going out to dinner all the time with his parents. One evening, Adam raved over the chilaquiles my mom served for dinner.

My mom said, “well Adam, you know this is poor people’s food.”

Adam replied, “well, if this is poor people’s food, then I want to be poor.”

I love poor people’s food.

My taste buds love the following:

  1. Tacos de papa
  2. Chilaquiles
  3. Sopa de fideo
  4. Tacos de aguacate
  5. Frijoles de la olla