One Bark Family

Back when I lived in the “hood” — City Heights in San Diego — a young Navy guy and his Japanese bride moved into a house at the end of the street. She’d gotten knocked up in Japan and he’d “had to” marry her. He bought a house and a Labrador retriever puppy who lived tied up to a tree in front. The wife was named Sunny and the dog was named Shadow. Soon Sean (the baby) came along and about two years later the Navy guy was gone, never to be seen again. Sean was walking, Shadow was escaping, there was another dog, Blackie, a border collie mix, and Sunny was turning tricks to earn a living.

Shadow got little or no attention and somehow had sized me up as a person who liked dogs, so many mornings she’d slip out of the noose and come to my front porch. She would bark one “Woof” and I’d go outside and take her for a walk in the grungy canyon nearby and throw a ball for her. Then I’d take her home, refasten her to her tree, and come home. I didn’t — then — have a dog of my own.

Time passed, Shadow had a litter of puppies, one of which became my first dog, Truffle, who also only barked one “Woof” whenever she barked. A kid down the street named Shadow and Truffle the “One bark family.”

Truffle and Molly in the Medicine Wheel

Truffle, Big Red Dog, and Molly

Sean and Blackie began following Shadow to my house. When Shadow and her litter were ultimately picked up by Animal Control, Sean and Blackie (called “Brackie” by Sunny) came on their own. I very often fed them both breakfast. Blackie had figured out how to drop the bar on Sean’s crib and let himself and Sean out every morning.

Sunny, in the interval, got pregnant again but this Navy guy didn’t marry her.

Meanwhile, in Japan, her father died leaving her a substantial amount of money. Sunny, who was not a professional prostitute, started another career and began driving a popsickle truck through the neighborhood. Before long, her mother came to live with her in San Diego. They moved out of the hood and when I saw them last — two or three years later — Sunny had a beautiful akita, an old mom, a seven year old son, and a beautiful red-haired daughter.

That is the story of Shadow, matriarch of the One Bark Family.

Department Stores and Garage Doors

As a little kid, I had nightmares of being abandoned by my family. I almost think I was born with “abandonment issues” because I had the same fears in real life — especially if I went shopping with my mom and “lost” her in the (to me) tall racks of clothing. I have a dim memory — mostly colors (pink and gray) — of screaming (my mom would say, “bloody murder”) because I couldn’t see my mom.

As it happened in real life, my family is all gone and I’m still here. The fear of abandonment has not (heh heh) abandoned me, either.

I think little kids — well, me, anyway — know they’re small and relatively helpless, very dependent on their adults. It really is the worst thing that can happen to be left behind by your grownups.

Back in the day when I live in the “hood” there were a lot of illegal immigrants living there. They worked hard — three jobs were not uncommon for those people who were struggling with all their might to get a better life for their children. They risked a lot crossing the border, most from Mexico but many from points even farther south.

Unless you’ve seen the way the very poor live in Mexico, it’s pretty easy to be indifferent, but I had seen it. Here’s a clue for anyone who hasn’t. When I replaced my garage door, the man who replaced it (it was one big heavy panel of wood) told me he would take it to Tijuana where someone would use it as a wall for their shack.

A couple of these families lived in houses a few doors down from me. Lucio and his mom managed to stay long enough for him to finish middle school, but the family next to them were not so lucky. They had two little girls who, every day, dressed to the nines, hair perfect, shiny shoes, marched to the local elementary school where they were caught in the bilingual bind. The early 90s were a confusing time for Mexican kids in American schools. Should they be taught to read in Spanish, English or both? Some afternoons I helped these little girls with their homework, and I saw that they might not learn to read because of the confusion in the educational system. Basic literacy should have nothing to do with politics. “Teach them Spanish, teach them English, who cares but be sure they can READ! It really doesn’t matter WHAT language. We all learn second languages anyway.”

One late afternoon I was hanging out at home, maybe grading papers — I don’t remember — and there was a child-high knock on my front door. It was the little girls. “No one is at our house,” said the older one.

“Come in and we can do your homework ’til your mom gets home.”

They came in and we worked on spelling and the alphabet and whatever they had in their book bags. Night fell and no one came for them. The little girls were worried and so was I. What had happened? Finally, the police came through the neighborhood knocking on doors, looking for the girls. The little girls’ mother and grandmother had been picked up by “La Migra” and were in a detention cell at INS. Their aunt was coming from Tijuana to get them.

I know the little girls felt they had been abandoned when what had really happened was that their grownups had been stolen.

When I hear the presidential candidates rant on about immigration and “building a wall” and all of this horrendous cant I’m disgusted. Most of the people I have known who crossed illegally were not drug dealers or perpetrators of violent crime or out to “take jobs from real Amuricans.” They just wanted a better life for their family. They didn’t want to raise their kids in shacks made of old garage doors.

Oh, here’s a diagram made by the Border Patrol showing how effective the “fence” is against smuggling. 🙂 The red lines are lines INTO the United States. The semi-diagonal line at the bottom is the fence.


The Ritual Observance of the Daily Prompt

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Daily Ritual.”

A long time ago when I lived in City Heights, a colorful neighborhood of San Diego, my neighbor, Letha, died. That left two houses needing to be occupied. One of them ended up rented to a nice Wiccan couple.

The woman was about 5’1″ and about 230 pounds. The man was about 6’5″ and roughly the same weight. The woman had a Kim Kardassian ass and frizzy gray hair. She was also missing several teeth. They had recently adopted an African refugee, a 3 year old boy named Rhys. They moved into the little white craftsman house on the corner that was surrounded by very tall trees — including a monkey-tail pine that dropped five pound pine cones at odd intervals. Those that fell from near the top made the ground shake when they hit Earth.

September 21 rolled around and they spent much of that morning cleaning up the yard. Because I only casually noticed them, I didn’t see them arranging rocks carefully in a circle or setting up a fire pit in the middle. I took the dogs hiking and came back just as dusk was falling and noticed there were more than a dozen cars parked around their house. Later I noticed there was a fire and people were standing in a circle around the fire. They wore white robes, most of them, but some of the men, including the husband, were wearing purple or some other dark color. Little Rhys stood beside his adopted mom.

“Witches,” I thought, and forgot about it.

Not long after there were sirens and flashing lights. “Yikes,” I thought, “not another shooting.”

The next day the cops went door-to-door with flyers and small envelopes that turned out to contain invitations to a tea party at the new neighbor’s house the following Saturday afternoon. The cop said, “Hi, I wanted to explain what was going on last night at your neighbor’s house. It wasn’t a Klan meeting. It was a religious ceremony. Your new neighbors are witches so there’s nothing to worry about.”

Jurassic Park

Daily “Prompt” Every city and town contains people of different classes: rich, poor, and somewhere in between. What’s it like where you live? If it’s difficult for you to discern and describe the different types of classes in your locale, describe what it was like where you grew up — was it swimming pools and movie stars, industrial and working class, somewhere in between or something completely different?

Last time I wrote to this prompt I inserted one of the stories from Free Magic Show. Here’s another one. San Diego, 1993, I was living in City Heights, a high crime, low income area of the city. 20 years later I know it was one of the happiest times of my life.


I’m home alone, bored, lonely, frustrated and a little angry. My knee is up and iced; the brace is loosened, but never off. I manage to get to and from class on the crutches belonging to Che Pablo Salvador Mulholland, but it’s very hard work. I’m running a seminar for teachers and I never look good, cool, polished, anything but sweaty and irritable and tired. It’s the hottest time of the year and the cart that’s supposed to transport me from place to place on the campus never shows up. Finally I’m cleared to drive one myself, but I don’t like it so I go back to the clump slump crash of crutch walking.

I miss the boys; I miss hiking; I miss my friend Mike with whom I’d broken up a few weeks before when he made the comment that if I had his kid, I’d be giving birth to my own grandchild. He’s only 15 years younger; it’d be half-a grandchild. I’d missed a period and was scared; I don’t realize I’m just heading into menopause.

The phone rings.

“Martha? It’s Jimmy. Craig and me had this idea.”

“Yeah, what?” Grrrrr.

“You do so many nice things for us. I know it’s no fun being on crutches and stuff.”

“No. I feel like I’m in jail.”

“Can you drive now?”


“Well, Jurassic Park’s at the dollar movies Tuesday. We want to take you to the movies and to Mickey D’s for dinner. It’s 25 cent burgers on Tuesday. That’s tomorrow. Can you come?”

I’m dumstruck. All bitter feelings vanish. I have a meeting that night of the Citizens Advisory Council for Mission Trails Regional Park, but I think I’m going to miss it.

“I’d love that, Jimmy.”

“We miss you.”

“Yeah, well I miss you too.” I’m super emotional in this ordeal and my eyes fill. “What time?”

“Come and get us at 4. The movie starts at 4:30. Oh, and Martha, we’re paying.”


I get home from school about 3 and change my clothes and get into the truck and head to IB. All the boys are at Jimmy’s house. There’s Jimmy, Mikey, Jason, Greg and Craig. They’re cleaned up and ready to go, grinning, and silly, and I expect them to start turning somersaults and I feel the same way. Jimmy breaks the spell by saying, “Nice crutches, gimp.”

At the movies, they pay my way, very proudly having each pitched in a quarter (except Mikey) and we stand in front of the candy counter and they say, “You can have whatever you want, Martha. We have five dollars.” I pick some Red Vines and Jimmy says, “You need a Coke, but we’ll get a big one and split it, OK? But I’m not sharing it with butt crust (his little brother).”

“Jimmy!” Mikey whines and sulks and stops and gets his own.

We go into the theater and sit together, two rows from the front. The movie starts. We are the audience, except for a few people scattered in the back. We love the movie even when we think it’s dumb. At the end, we leave, a lot less hungry than we were when we went in. It’s been a candy orgy, but dinner is yet to come and two doors down are 25 cent burgers. We line up.

“Arrrrgh!” roars Jason at Mikey, holding his hands up like little Tyrannosaurus forelegs.

“RrrrrrrrRRRRGH!” snarls Mikey in return, jumping toward Jason’s throat.

“Cut it out, Butt Munch. What do you want?”

“I got my own money,” says Mikey, still pissed at Jimmy.

“I’m not talking to you, Butt Crust. I’m talking to Martha,” says Jimmy, all largesse.

“Umm, I’ll just have a burger.”

“You can have fries, Martha. I got enough.” He holds out his hand.

“OK. A cheesburger and fries and water.”

“Water? Don’t you want a coke?”

“Just had one.”

“You can have another one, Martha. It’s OK.”

So we order our 25 cent burgers and sit together in a booth in this freezing cold, antiseptic, yellow and red monstrosity. They are on their best behavior, taking me out. No one sticks French fries up their own or anyone else’s nose. I feel a little uncomfortable in this formality, but I adapt and am honored.

Then the event is over. I take them home and head back to City Heights feeling loved, less lonely, less angry and anxious for everything to be restored to normal.

Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That…

Daily Prompt Cue the Violins If your life were a movie, what would its soundtrack be like? What songs, instrumental pieces, and other sound effects would be featured on the official soundtrack album?

One of Denver’s “nothing” streets, E. 13th Avenue. It wasn’t Colfax, where it was all happening and it was a zoo, but it worked. Every morning I launched myself from my apartment on 12th and Marion and arrived half hour later at the law firm on 17th and Welton. I didn’t take exactly the same route every day, and, after I’d made the walk for a while, I turned it into a loop. Going? Down past the capital building, then across the park to Broadway, then to 16th street — much more interesting before the Mall was built — then over to work. Coming home? Up 17th street past Trinity Methodist church. The map below shows it exactly — down on the blue dotted line, back on the gray trail that’s NOT Colfax.


One morning, as I passed a large brick apartment building I (inexplicably) noticed the sounds of passing traffic. Maybe because it was the first warm day after a longish winter, and people had their windows rolled down, I heard music coming from the various cars. At that moment I had the idea that it would make a cool movie, just this, my 7 a.m. walk to work and the sound track, radios and tape decks of the random passing songs. (You don’t hear any of this if you’re wearing ear buds, but the Walkman had not yet been invented and/or if it had, I couldn’t have afforded one.)

So if you ask me for the sound track for MY life? I’d say it’s just that. Me moving along toward the destination accompanied by random, passing songs. The most dramatic of these moments happened in San Diego, at the corner of University and 54th. This is a mixed neighborhood in every way. It is near housing where many brand-new immigrants go to live. The ethnic mixture of this hood changed almost daily. At this particular moment, the Cambodians were moving on, leaving a gap that would be filled by Eritreans, Somalis and Afghanis. New immigrants still wear their “colorful national costumes.” It was also a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity — Mexican and African American territorial disputes raged constantly, and, at that point, the Hells Angels were still a presence. And within all that were people like me just trying to put a life together in one of the only financially affordable (it’s not any more) sections in San Diego.

It was the mid/late 90s. I was in a friend’s truck, coming down the hill from school to this intersection. On this corner was a largish and newer Asian mall with a restaurant and grocery story, pool hall, manicure shop, etc. Across the street was the soon to be defunct Jewish Community center. Across from that was K-Mart and a Chinese restaurant of the all-you-can-eat buffet variety. The next corner was houses, up on a hill. My friend had just asked if I’d ever heard Cypress Hill. I’d just asked what kind of music it was. He’d just said, “Rap,” and I’d just said, “I don’t like rap,” and he’d just answered, “Listen to this anyway.” At the moment we reached the intersection, the whole mad reality of City Heights, San Diego, was crossing the street in front of us, this song came on. Never has the vision of street reality coincided so perfectly with a song, the sound track of the moment.

The Windhover — Baby Hawks

Daily Prompt By Heart You’re asked to recite a poem (or song lyrics) from memory — what’s the first one that comes to mind? Does it have a special meaning, or is there another reason it has stayed, intact, in your mind?

For 17 years I lived in City Heights, a “mixed” neighborhood in San Diego. During the last 80’s and early ’90’s I spent a lot of my free time with a group of local boys who lived to ride BMX bikes. The jumps were in the same urban wilderness park where I hiked, so often they piled their bikes in the back of my Ford Ranger and off we went. I still know Jimmy and Mikey, twenty some years later. I wrote a blog about our adventures and if you want to read more, let me know. 

When I get to the jumps after a long hike with Molly and Kelly, the boys are all standing around the sumac bush, the bit of shade where they fix their bikes. Five of them. Jimmy, Jason, Mikey, Craig and Marc. Mikey hands me a large cardboard box with a T-shirt over it. “Here, Martha,” he says. “These are for you.”

I lift the shirt. Inside the box are two baby red tail hawks. One a dark morph and one light. The sudden daylight scares them and they begin screeching and opening and closing their mouths. In their experience, this can only mean food. I am enraged, “Where did they come from?” If the boys broke into a nest, they are dead. They’ve killed snakes for me. I can imagine this.

Mikey points at a pickup parked near the gate. “Some guy put them under his truck.”

“Under his truck? It’s a hundred degrees! How did you find them?”

“We were going down to the river to swim and we heard them,” says Jason. They did the right thing. I am proud and moved. But this is complicated; five boys, two dogs, all the bikes and parts, and now the hawks.

“We gave them some Cheetos,” says Mikey.


“They look like worms.”

I love hawks. I want to fly like a hawk. I want that freedom and that vision. I call all hawks, “My Love.” The boys know this. They point to every soaring hawk and say, “Martha! There’s your love!”



I recite Hopkins’ “Windhover” when I hike, remembering the first time I heard it, recited in a grad school class by John Bailey, Oxford Don, Hopkins expert, spouse of Iris Murdoch. He stutters when he talks, but recites Hopkins perfectly. “I caught this morning, morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin…” His right hand dived and swooped like a hawk as he spoke, marking the swinging rhythm of the poem. Having since watched hundreds of hawks in flight, I realize that Hopkins had, too. He has caught their flight exactly. The boys have heard this very esoteric English major stuff. They know what it is. Mikey — age 12 — has even pointed at the sky and said, “Martha! Morning’s minion!”

“What do we do?” asks Mikey.

“We take them to the emergency vet and tell them to call Project Wildlife,” I say, “but I don’t know how we’ll do this.” The birds are thirsty, probably hungry even with the Cheetos. They are definitely terrified. They have nothing to grab onto in that flat-bottomed box. They are too young to fly; too young to be comfortable uncovered; too young even to be under an open sky.

If the hawks’ parents found them, they couldn’t get them back into the nest, and they wouldn’t want to. The babies have been too long from home by now and smell too strange. I am desperately in love with them. I ache for them. I am afraid for them. Their chances aren’t good no matter what we do. On the ground, they are food for someone, snake, coyote, raven. If I were alone, I might just kill them quickly and try to resist the temptation to put their battered little corpses under the wipers of that guy’s truck after smearing hawk blood across his windshield.

I am affecting a cowboy hat these days. It’s nothing but a straw basket turned upside down. I realize how to transport the hawks. “Mikey, sit beside me and shift. I’ll let the hawks perch on my arm and cover them with my hat. That way they can breathe, but won’t be scared.” Jason takes the dogs and the other boys take the bikes. Jimmy brings the hawks to the truck, his shirt still covering the box. I get in behind the wheel. Jimmy puts the box on my lap and I slowly, deliberately reach inside with my right hand. The babies climb up as if my arm were a branch. I quickly put my hat over them and swing my arm inside the truck. The birds stop screeching and relax, clinging to me. Wow.

Mikey gets in, careful not to hit my arm. Jimmy gently slides in beside him. There’s no horseplay, no jokes about farts or tickle-fighting, no sound, not even from the back. I look in the rear-view mirror and see three faces looking through the window. We are all desperately pulling for these two small lives. I put in the clutch and turn the key. We start to move. I’m glad we don’t have to turn around. It’s only three stoplights to the vet. “OK, Mikey. Second!”

In wonderment I drive through town with a 12 year old shifting my truck and two baby red tail hawks on my arm. They are quiet the whole way. We reach the emergency vet who calls Project Wildlife, after saying, “What were you thinking? These should be in the nest! They will probably die.” I don’t even answer him. I know how he feels and I know I didn’t do it. I think he’s an asshole to say this. He doesn’t know how carefully these boys (all of whom are with me in this vet’s waiting room) protected these two babies. He’s looked at us — and we are a rough looking gang, I admit it — and reached his own conclusion. His assistant takes the hawks to a cage in the back. Thanks to some asshole, if the chicks survive, a cage will be their world. I don’t know their story, but I know that no one who hoped to rescue them would leave them in an open box under a truck on a 90 degree day.

The Windhover
Gerard Manley Hopkins
To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
    dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Drawing from My Journal that Day, April 24, 1993

I’ve been lucky to see hawks train their young. They are relentless and fierce since the baby’s life depends on its ability to dive, to feint and to soar. In so many ways, the boys are hawks; they are the Windhover. “Sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion”


They practice and practice and practice and practice. I watch Mikey try the same 180 at Santee Ditch for a solid HOUR until he finally gets it right. Getting it wrong means face into chain link, over and over again, bloody lip, bloody chin, bloody knuckles. I watch them all attempt a can-can over the doubles and fall, and crash, and cut themselves, and break their bikes but they never stop, they never give up, they “…gash gold-vermilion” and get up again and try it again and again and again. And when it works? It is “Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air!” Absolutely what it is!
“I really caught air that time, didn’t I, Martha?”

Danny Was a Cross-dresser

It was because he loved me. I was about to write this story, but I have already written it! Here it is. I’ve also pasted it here:

One miserable day I got home from school (back when I lived in San Diego). It’d been an awful day. Frustrating, annoying, disputative, bleah. I drove up to my house disgusted with things, life and people and saw my porch was covered with red and pink flowers. Someone (I had a good idea who) had stripped every geranium, every hibiscus, even the thorny bougainvillea to do that. I was enchanted. I melted. I stepped over it and went inside. Soon there was a knock on my door, at about the height a 6 year old could reach. I knew who it was. Danny, a little boy being foster-momed by my wonderful neighbor. Danny was different; he liked his foster sister’s clothing and played with Barbies. His foster mom made no fuss over that, just left him to be himself.

I opened the door and there he stood wearing pop-beads, carrying a purse and wearing lipstick. He’d been sent over to apologize. His head hung in shame.

I said, “Did you do this, Danny?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry! I LOVE it. You made me so happy!”
“I did?
“Yeah. It’s beautiful. I had a bad day but you made it all better!”
He climbed up on my lap and hugged me, then jumped down and danced around the yard, his purse flapping, singing, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”

My secret admirers tend to be children. 🙂


Daily Prompt: First Sight, Whether a person, a pet, an object, or a place, write about something or someone you connected with from the very first second.

It was kind of strange because he was just a kid, a boy, 12 years old. He was in the garage with my ex-husband (good X, not evil X) and a bunch of other kids, including his little brother, Mikey. They were building and repairing bikes. He had a home-cut Mohawk, sun-bleached hair, green eyes, freckles and a crooked grin. He wasn’t even as tall as I am, yet, and I’m only 5’2″. He looked up at me from the vise where he had his bike fork. “This is Martha,” said my ex.
“Hi.” He grinned.”Hi,” I said, suddenly getting a kind of electricity from this kid, a feeling I’d had in the past when a relationship turned out to be important. I didn’t give it any thought at the time, but I remembered it, and Jimmy turned out to be one of my life’s best friends. I was 40.

Now don’t jump to weird conclusions. I don’t know about you, but there’s a part of me that IS a 12 year old boy. I have never BEEN a 12 year old boy, but that pre-pubescent moment, pre-romantic relationships, the first signs of adult physical power and skill, the liberty of being self-responsible in the “age of accountability” — well, I was happy at that age. At times I feel that all the other happiness in my life (though real) has been negotiated, compromised. At 40, I didn’t know my “inner 12 year old” wanted out.

That was the beginning of a 7 year adventure with a gang of “underprivileged” white kids and their homemade and patched together BMX bikes. Jimmy was the solid center of that gang, the sane and determined soul that held everyone and everything together. I spent my weekends with them — starting on Thursdays, usually — and a video camera I bought once I’d seen exactly what BMX is and how beautiful they were riding the jumps, and while most adults looked at me as the boy’s benefactor, it was a two-way street. Here is a story from our adventures that shows something of Jimmy’s importance to me in MY life. My life would seriously have been much less if I had not met him and spent four years filming wild boys and sharing their weekends. In this story, Jimmy is 13. His little brother, Mikey, is 9 and their friend, Ryan is 13. They all live on my street in a bad neighborhood (once San Diego’s “Crime Capital”)  City Heights.

Background: In 1992 I was chosen to go to Hong Kong to conduct a business writing program for Hong Kong businessmen through the American Language Institute. I was incredibly excited and worked it out so that after Hong Kong I would return to Guangzhou, to the university where I had taught 10 years before, and do the same seminar or whatever they wanted. I was going home.

China was the greatest love I had experienced until then and it was years before I recovered from the broken heart of having left. Not that I didn’t try to keep the wound open by studying about China, bringing home stray Chinese people I met at the post office, writing a book proving that Pearl S. Buck wrote from the Chinese rather than the Western literary tradition. In 1992 I was still “carrying a torch” for China and going back was all I thought of. Naw, that’s not not true. Looking through the journals I wrote at this time, I actually thought of many other things, many of them quite silly.

Jimmy was out of school and hanging out with me whenever he could, including going with me to work. He had conceived a code of honor in relation to those who mattered to him, his family, his friends, that they should be defended from all the dragons and monsters and evil-doers.

I was married. It was a marriage that possibly should have worked, but it didn’t work. Bottom line, both of us were just not good at forming an intimate relationship with anyone in our close environment. Jim didn’t see such a thing between his parents as he grew up, and I grew up in a house where the closer I was to someone, the more likely they were to hurt me. By 1992, we were very near the end of our marriage, but we didn’t know it yet. Jimmy was the first to point it out to me, and the “man” who demonstrated that what I needed and what I had were not the same thing. That is what this story is about, the wisdom of a 14 year old boy offered to a 40 year old woman, and a kind of love that opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t known anything about.
We leave tomorrow and Jim’s passport is still not here. The INS had a problem legitimizing Jim’s presence in the U.S. He was not born here, but rather in Canada, and we’ve had a whole run around with getting this taken care of so Jim can go with me to Hong Kong. Jimmy shows up early in the morning; he’s going to help me photocopy materials for the class. He jumps in the truck.

“You must be excited!” he says.
“I’m very excited. But we haven’t gotten Jim’s passport yet.”
“You’re taking that guy? Why are you taking him? He doesn’t even like you.”
I’m stunned. “He’s my husband.”
“So? Take me.”
“You don’t have a passport, Jimmy, or I might think about it.” I look at his home-hacked Mohawk, home-poked ear piercing, and know I’d be proud to have him along. Those elderly Chinese women I knew on my old campus, who had come from the mountains of Hai Nan Island, would just think I’d brought my own tribal warlord.

We’ve been listening to Right Said Fred — “I’m Too Sexy”. The boys mimic the video in a way that that makes parody out of parody with their skinny boy chests, the random safety pin hanging from the random pink nipple, the briefs with the elastic separated from the cotton in back, the jeans falling down not out of fashion but because they’re too big, the worn Vans. Mikey, Jimmy’s little brother is the funniest, doing his little “…walk on the catwalk.” Jimmy turns on the music. Right Said Fred takes us all the way to the intersection of Chamoune and University at which point Jimmy giggles and says, “I’m…too sexy for this tape!” ejects it and throws it out the window in a winsome, elegant little over the shoulder toss.

I laugh. The serious moment has passed. We arrive at school and are ready to begin our last minute prep, when the boss tells me that he got a fax explaining that the program has been cancelled because there was a “fire in the venue.”

“Fire my ass,” I think. “They don’t want me and this is their way of saving everyone’s face.” Fuck the Chinese. I am over my love affair. I see them for what they are. Not me. Damn them. I know exactly what had happened. The ALI lacks the cultural awareness to fully appreciate that sending a young woman is something of an insult; to begin this relationship — which they hope will turn into a lucrative contact — they should send the boss.

Jimmy and I get back into the truck. Jimmy says, “I bet you’re disappointed.”
“Yeah.” I’m actually fighting tears. “I really wanted to go.”
“Maybe there’ll be another chance.”

We’re silent. No music, no talk. Damn. I bought very nice clothes for this.

My husband, Jim, is home when we arrive. Ryan and Jimmy’s little brother Mikey are there, too. Ryan is a great kid with a weird mom. Ryan’s big liability is that he is physically as beautiful as any girl. Tall, slender, enormous blue eyes, blond hair. He’s wearing his Guns n’ Roses “Use Your Illusion II” t-shirt which Jimmy mocks mercilessly. Jimmy has intuitively — and accurately — determined that Ryan needs a thicker skin or he’s going to be crucified.

“Are you hungry?” I ask Jim, thinking we could all go to Taco Bell, but while we’re eating lunch, it hits me what has happened and the whole world seems a little askew, surreal, dishonest. I am really disappointed and angry; I’m sad, in fact.

We walk down the street a bit. The light is flat ugly and white. We pass a dead yellow cat in the gutter, really the last thing I need to see at that point. It looks like Sandy, the cat owned by my Chinese brother when I lived in Canton. It seems to represent all my now flattened dreams.

At home I ask Jim if he wants to go hiking with me. A few hours under the open sky will make me feel better, but I’m lonely in my disappointment and don’t want to go just with the dogs. Jim he tells me he has a Toastmasters thing, so no; he won’t go along. As I turn to go inside, I hear Jimmy yell something but the angry noise in my head, angry at the Hong Kong businessmen, my boss and now Jim, blocks the words. Jimmy takes off on his bike. I change clothes as fast as I can thinking, “Fuck Jim,” get in my truck and head to Big Dog Health and Fitness Spa (Mission Trails) for a couple of hours with Molly and Truffle to do as my mom says, “Get my head on straight.”

When I return my whole life changes.

Jimmy is sitting on the curb in front of my house. “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you,” he says. “I went home to ask my mom if I could go with you, but when I got back, you were gone. You’ve had a big disappointment today and you shouldn’t have to be alone.”
“Wow,” I think. I was gone at least two hours. To Jimmy I say, “Well, go ask your mom if you can go with me for pizza.”
“Can Ryan go?”
“Sure, and Mikey. I’ll go clean up. Come back in about an hour, OK?”

This is our first of many, many trips to Woodstocks. Good pizza, indestructible atmosphere, and the ability to feed half a dozen boys on $20. We sit in the corner that will later become ours, and we play Megadeath “Anarchy in the UK” on the jukebox, then Iron Maiden, then Metallica. We discuss their comparative merits. Only Metallica has any merits. We use paper plates for Frisbees, plug the tops of the salt shakers with torn napkins and loosen the tops on the pepper shakers. We sprinkle too much chili on Ryan’s pizza and then the best moment comes. Ryan goes to the men’s room and comes back. “Martha, can I borrow fifty cents?”
“What for, Ryan?” I’m amused and flabbergasted; he’s 13 and there’s only one thing for sale in the men’s room. We’ve already put enough into the jukebox. It’ll play our four selections over and over for the next hour.
“They have these cool stickers in the men’s room. I’d like to buy one.”
Jimmy actually gets Coke up his nose at that, and then it sprays everywhere. At nine years old Mikey has NO idea, and I’m trying not to laugh.
I say. “I’m pretty sure they’re not stickers. I think they’re probably condoms.”
“Are you sure? The ones on the machine have cool spiders and stuff. One says, ‘Spyder Skiwear’. It’s got this cool spider on it. I want that one.”
“Ryan, people probably put stickers on the condom machine.”
“Do you want to come and look?”
“I don’t think the other guys in there would appreciate it if I went in there to check out the condom machine.”
“Yeah, sure.”He wipes the Coke off his face with his napkin and follows Ryan into the men’s room. Mikey and I wait and wait and wait. They finally come back, both laughing like maniacs. I hear Jimmy say, “Dude, you gotta’ learn to read.”


Post Script: Not long after this, I got a video camera because I wanted to make a movie of our adventures. We wanted to film this scene so we staged it at Woodstocks. It required I follow the boys into the men’s room with the video camera. We actually did this, but the challenge of getting the men’s room to ourselves and acting out that bit was more than we could handle without side-splitting laughter. It took about 8 tries and a couple of surprised — and embarrassed — men. I had to be the one with the camera since all the boys were too goofy to film that shot.

As for Jimmy and the rest, well, Jimmy ultimately rode pro BMX; he got the sponsorship he always dreamed of. He and his brother, Mikey, both graduated high school — that made their mom both relieved and proud. I still know Jimmy. He’s very happily married with two kids (his lifelong dream was to be a dad).


The Hood Back in the Day/Daily Prompt

Daily Prompt: West End Girls: by Krista on February 18, 2014 Every city and town contains people of different classes: rich, poor, and somewhere in between. What’s it like where you live? If it’s difficult for you to discern and describe the different types of classes in your locale, describe what it was like where you grew up — was it swimming pools and movie stars, industrial and working class, somewhere in between or something completely different?

Dusk. Friday. Late spring, a normal Friday. 1993. Phone rings, “Can we come down?”

“Sure, of course.”

“See you in a few.”

I go out onto the front porch to wait for the boys to whirrrrr down on their BMXs. The air has that bright end of sunset red tinge. Standing in the middle of my street and looking southwest, you can see a strip of ocean and the lights of Tijuana, on a clear days you can see the bull ring. My old neighbor, Letha, and I sometimes watched fireworks on Coronado and in Imperial Beach on the Fourth of July from that very vantage point sharing a glass of wine. Thinking of that, I get up from my porch and walk out into the street and look toward the ocean. Fog is fast gathering down there and the bright sunset is swallowed, dusk no longer tinged with gold. I hear a gunshot behind me, and not far. I turn toward the sound and take a few steps up the street. My heart goes cold when I see the boys coming on their bikes. Where’s the shooter? They stop at the corner. I began walking as fast as I can toward them. I hear Jimmy, “Don’t let her see, Jason! Stop her!”

I’m scared for the boys. There’s someone with a gun up there. Jimmy, Mikey and Marc stay where they are while Jason rides quickly toward me. I wish they would just come HERE. We could go inside. The news tells daily of drive-bys. I don’t want them lost to that random killing.

“You wanna see me do a can-can, Martha?” Jason asks and launches into this complicated trick.

“What happened?” I ask.

“How about a Bunny Hop? Do you wanna’ see me do a bunny hop?”

“Jason, what happened?” I now hear sirens in the distance, coming from the fire department a mile up the street.

His response is, “Don’t go up there, Martha.”

“Is it a body, Jason?”

“Yeah. Some guy was shot.”

By then I’m at the corner. The boys try to stand in front of me, shielding me from the sight of a middle-aged Mexican lying face down in the dirt beside a neighbor’s driveway.

“Is he dead?” I ask the boys.

No one has ventured any closer than the corner where we stand roughly 30 feet from the body.

We hear screaming and running coming from the alley down which this man had run. A woman’s voice, a man’s voice. If they’re saying anything, I can’t understand it. It might not even be words, just crying and screaming; fear, rage and anguish seeking expression.

He’s just a man. He’s wearing navy blue work pants and a white shirt; the kind of sensible, serious black steel-toed shoes a delivery guy wears to protect his feet. That this simple person would be involved in some deathly drama seems absurd. I stare without really getting what I’m seeing. The boys are worried. I should not see things like this. Their Martha should never see anything so ugly.

I realize this and think that it’s my job, as an adult, to shelter the boys, but here they are sheltering me. I decide to let them, and I turn toward home.

“Let’s go home,” I say. “The cops will be here and it’s their business, not ours.”

“I wonder what happened?” asks Mikey.

No one answers. Not long before, maybe only a year, someone had broken into Ryan’s house and cut up his mother. We learned of this the morning after, when Jimmy went down to get Ryan to go to the jumps. The house was cordoned off with Do Not Enter Crime Scene tape. He came back up the street to get me, to go down there, to get me to go look. It was horrifying, chilling. There was blood on the concrete sidewalk by the front door on the stucco walls and on the door itself. Someone had been hurt badly. Neighbors said that the fire department had taken Ryan’s mom away on a gurney. Ryan had stayed with the neighbor for an hour or so until his dad came and got him. We never saw Ryan again.

Our neighborhood is constantly in competition with two others for having the most violent crimes. It’s the result of the clashes of cultures and drug gangs (Asian vs. Mexican vs. Black vs. White meth farmers and dealers). It’s the result of people working three jobs to hold a life together, exhausted, frustrated, poor people who want more than they’ll ever have — their desires fed by the outrageous entertainment centers for which they’ve hocked their lives. It’s the result of passion and love and cheating and child-stealing and coyote depositing and INS deporting and all the rough unjust moving around of people for one reason or the other. It’s the result of despair.

Larry McMurtry wrote about California in the introduction to his book of essays about Texas, In a Narrow Grave.

“…present-day Texas is a very rich subject, particularly for the novelist. Present-day California might be even richer, but California, whether as a subject or a place to live, is almost too taxing. There the confusion is greater, the rivalries of manners more intense: the question is whether anyone can live in California and comprehend it clearly now…”

It’s a very good question. My gang of white adolescent boys and I stand on the edges of this violent, multi-ethnic neighborhood some distant sentimental liberal has named the “Urban Village,” and watch it shoot itself, knife itself, beat itself up mostly in relation to race, custom, language, territory, drugs.

“For the Mexicans,” says my neighbor Chayo, “it’s about territory, not drugs. For the Blacks and Asians it’s about territory and drugs.” For the Whites? No one knows. Few hang around, only people like me who can’t move; finances hold us here. Where would I get another house in San Diego for $800/month? The white neighbors across the street have lived here since the ‘60’s when it was a beautiful neighborhood. Most of the older Mexicans have lived here that long, too, and attended Hoover High when it was one of the best high schools in San Diego. Old photos of the hood show fancy cars, immaculate lawns and gardens, men in white shirts and fedoras, women in pretty shirt-dresses with aprons. But this Mexican is face down next to the light pole, dead. None of us knows why.

We sit on the curb under the palm tree in my front yard, watching the street. Night falls soft and starlit somewhere, but here the sky is a wild red and blue disco show of police cars and fire engines. No one asks questions, looks for witnesses or talks to neighbors. It seems they simply examine the body, check his I.D. and haul him away. Chances are good he has no I.D., another “Illegal” come up to earn a living where he might actually have that chance. Most of our stories have no better or more meaningful ending than that.

Neighborhoods where other kids live:

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