Dancing While White

As we all now know that for a long time in San Diego I lived in a racially mixed neighborhood. I was the mixture. Any-HOO this is not another post about racism. It’s a post about vari-colored people living their lives and having a good time spontaneously in the most ordinary place in the simplest way.

We also know I loved disco. We might also know that I like film — especially, probably, French film. Back in the late 90s/early 2000s there were still places where a person rented video tapes. The one I frequented most was Hollywood Video on University Ave and 52nd street in San Diego, basically down the hill from San Diego State and just when I made the right turn into the deep “hood” where I lived.

One afternoon on my way home from school, I stopped in Hollywood Video and found it nearly empty. Yay! They had an amazing selection of foreign films. Netflix doesn’t compare to what that little outlet of the chain store had. There was a market for foreign films there because the “hood” was one of the first places people landed after making their “world migration.” In my neighborhood were many refugees. Some from Afghanistan, some from Somalia, Ethiopia. Others from Thailand and Cambodia. French is still a “lingua franca.” (ha ha)

So there I was, looking at the French films, trying to pick one, and suddenly I heard Michael Jackson’s voice coming out of the giant screen in the back of the store. It was his great disco album, Off the Wall.

I hurried back, expecting a good video (I wasn’t disappointed). Another woman was there already, a black woman about my same age (that would have been late 40s). Michael Jackson was just starting to sing “Rock With You.”

“That’s when Michael Jackson was good,” she said.

“He was still black then.”

“You got that right, sister!”

We high fived and danced together until the song was over. Yeah, she was better.

Language Problems

In Guangzhou in 1983, toward the end of spring, I discovered the most incorrigible mosquito bite on my left forearm. Not only did it NOT go away, but it seemed to grow. We’d recently emerged from an El Niño winter — rain for four months — into a torrid spring. It wasn’t torrid in the sense of suddenly exposed bosoms and spread legs, but torrid in the sense of, “Holy fuck! Is my sweat EVER going to dry?”

After a couple of months trying to deal with this mosquito bite, and seeing it grow into an odd circle, I asked my friend, Lia. “What’s up with this?”

“Xien (癣),” she said. Pronounced she-en. “We can get medicine in Shi Pai. It’s very common. There are two kinds of medicine. One works quickly, but it burns. The other, well, men might use it when they get xien down there,” she nodded toward the ground, signifying the pubic area. We walked over to the pharmacy in the village and I came home with a little bottle of burning stuff. Soon the xien was cleared up.

Fast forward, I dunno, maybe four years? A wet winter in San Diego, another El Niño. I noticed that xien had returned. But what the hell was it in ENGLISH???? I had no idea. Luckily, I lived in the neighborhood where “world migrations end” and, at that period, were thousands of Asian immigrants in the Section 8 housing in my little barrio of the world. There were Chinese pharmacies all up and down University Boulevard.

One afternoon, on my way home from school (I walked the four miles) I stopped into one of these pharmacies. I felt as if the doorway was a magic portal to my Chinese home village of Shipai. All around me were the familiar jars of raw materials — desiccated lizards, snakes, spiders, herbs, dried ginseng, mysterious roots I couldn’t identify, slices of nutmeg, star anise… In the case in front of the the man were boxes and bottles of common Chinese remedies — even the famous hepatitis crystals from which my ex had had to make tea were there. I saw my favorite cold remedy — Gan Mao Ling. An abacus rested on the counter. I had to look around a few times to understand where I was. Outside the open door was University Boulevard. Inside this dim room was China. The smell! Wow. I closed my eyes and savored the transport of nostalgia.

“Can I help you?” He looked at me very bewildered.

I put my arm on the counter and said, “I have xien and I need some medicine.”

“Why you come here and not grocery store?”

“I don’t know what it’s called in English.”

How completely insane I must have seemed to him.

“Why you not know?”

“I lived in Guangzhou for a year and got it there. I never had it in America and I don’t know…”

He reached under the counter and brought out a black light. He turned it on and pointed it at my arm. The xien glowed. “You can use this,” he put a tube of Tinactin on the counter, “Or this Chinese medicine,” He set the familiar bottle of burning stuff next to the Tinactin.

That’s how I learned that I had ringworm and that ringworm is a fungus. I also learned that the word xien means “glow.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/26/rdp-thursday-fungus/

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 rant about immigration and “building a wall,” and all of this horrendous cant and the egregious threats to close the border and stop aid to Central and South American countries, 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.

alienfootprint2

Witches of Chamoune Avenue

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.”