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Monday, December 19, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past (and Now)

Last Christmas I awoke to the movie scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s dad opens the Fragile stamped box with that infamous leg lamp. “Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!” I burst into tears at the realization that I was alone on Christmas Day. Back home in San Diego, my entire family was celebrating without me: my mom would be singing terribly off-key to Christmas carols on KYXY; my younger sister would be trying to weasel my mom into letting her open “just one” present; my older sister would be well on her second cup of coffee, and my dad would be bursting through the door (an hour late), wearing a Santa hat and hauling a garbage bag filled with presents. Even my ruca was down south celebrating with her family, eating pozole and tamales. So I did what I was left alone to do: I went to work and sucked it up.
Like most normal kids who love presents, I always loved Christmases growing up. My only downfall every year was the fact that my younger sister always got more presents than me. (“MOM! Why does Laura have 22 presents and I only have 18?”) Still, it was such an exciting time. Our family would go pick out a tree, then we’d decorate it while listening to Christmas records and sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows. My mom always had the final hand at the tree’s decorations, hung streams of tinsel in the sala, and arranged the nativity scene just so; things were always made beautiful by her touch. My dad would put out his little train that ran around the tree, and I would curl up on the couch and read my Babysitters Club books beside the taka-taka-taka of the miniature locomotive beating over the tracks. Each year he would also groan tiredly and say, “I don’t know about the lights this year, sweetheart,” and each year I would stubbornly go out and hang them anyway until the ladder made him nervous and he came to help. These are the memories that spark like magic through my mind. Joy fell down all around me as if in a snowglobe. The excitement, the thrill—the presents!
I looked forward to our annual family Christmas parties as much as I looked forward to Christmas itself. Our house vibrated with the sizzle of Spanish, and heaping plates of tamales took over the entire table. Tios and primos were in every corner of our casa; the men talked about football while my glamorous tias—all made up beautifully, with their fresh coats of lipstick and clouds of perfume—fussed over how the tamales turned out. Gangs of us kids ran in packs through the house, gulping down handfuls of red and green M&M’s, us girls dolled up in our lil’ red dresses. My closest cousin Karla and I were the designated olive stuffers on the tamale assembly line, and we took great pleasure in finding out who the “winner” was that night who had gotten their tamale stuffed with 10 olives—much to our tias’ annoyance.
Now when I come home, my mom defrosts the tamales that have been frozen from weeks ago. The ornaments I grew up with—“Sarah Bear,” “Baby’s first Christmas 1980,” and a Santa head from my 2nd grade teacher—are split between both my parents on their artificial trees. I don't hold this against my parents, but it is bittersweet. The fresh burst of pine that once filled the house diminished with my childhood.
This year, my ruca and I joined our friends—our Frisco familia—in their tree decorating ritual. As we listened to the chiquita sing Christmas carols and Katy Perry, I realized that just because I’m not a kid anymore doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy Christmas. I’ll always hold the Christmases of my childhood very dear to me; now they’ve just evolved. They say the holidays are the “happiest time of the year,” although if you’re already happy of where you are in your life, then the jingle bells and jolliness only magnifies that feeling.
I was lucky to get time off of work this year. I’ll be in San Diego with my family and will spend Christmas Eve with my in-laws. This of course means double family, double tamales, and damn does the ruca's familia know how to get down with some bomb-ass pozole. I will also finally lie to rest the ever-notorious battle of presents between the middle child and the perpetual baby of the family. In the true spirit of the holidays, I promise I won’t get mad if my younger sis gets more presents than me…in fact, I might just encourage it. 
Happy Holidays! Felices Fiestas! See you in 2012...

It's not technically our tree, but we can pretend!
© All Rights Reserved, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011


I was on the bus coming home, the 14 as crowded as ever. Crammed between a clique of teenage girls, I couldn't help but overhear their conversation. “How do you not know how to post a photo on facebook?” one of them was saying. “Seriously, you’re fucking retarded.”
The rest of the girls laughed, even the “retarded” one. I hear people throw that word around a lot, and it always burns me inside. What are people trying to say when they call someone or something retarded? That it is stupid? dumb? incompetent?
As the bus lagged along, I thought about my younger sister. Growing up, I always knew she was “different” somehow. Her almond slanted eyes didn’t quite match mine and my older sister’s rotund peeps. And my parents doted over her with a unique type of fuss, rarely punishing her for doing something wrong. (When she was six, she went through a phase of waking up every morning and dumping boxes of cereal onto the kitchen floor—and not once did she get put in a time-out.) There was other stuff that set her apart from us too: her words didn’t have the same lucidity as mine did, and that smaller yellow bus took her to a different school every morning.
I overheard conversations my parents had with other adults. Words like ‘Down Syndrome’ and ‘Junior Arthritis’ didn’t make much sense to me then. What did an “extra chromosome” have to do with the fact that she was always at the doctor’s, or in and out of hospitals for numerous operations? “She has special needs, her body works differently than yours,” my mother explained. I took it for what it was and all throughout my childhood we were inseparable, always playing together; sometimes school, where I’d teach her colors, or restaurant with PB&J sandwiches, or nursery with our Cabbage Patch Kids. We played like sisters, tattled and fought, loved like sisters, and stuck our tongue out at the other when our mom hugged one of us—the way squabbling sisters do.
Now that I’m older and have moved away, she plays the harmonica on my visits home, as soon as I walk through the door. And when we watch movies cuddled on the couch, she looks adoringly up at me and coos, “I love you, sis.” As I listened to the girls on the bus, I wondered if they would still call each other “retarded” if they would’ve seen the blurry look in my sister’s eyes when my date picked me up on prom night; or if they would’ve been there to sing happy birthday to my sister while she lie bed-rest in ICU, a 50/50 chance of surviving the pneumonia her tiny lungs were fighting…
The bus slammed on its brakes, finally at my stop. I freed myself from the pockets of people and bid the girls a silent adios. They were still laughing, passing around pictures on one of the girls’ phones. I could tell by their innocent happiness that they were not evil or mean-spirited girls in the least. They were just young and maybe not mature enough to realize how painfully ignorant their language was. They were girls who were special though, and loved by someone; they were someone’s daughter and they were someone’s friend. And maybe—and very likely—they were even someone’s sister. 
At a cousin's wedding, 2011
© All Rights Reserved, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Birthday Dress (& Heels!)

Every year I buy myself a birthday dress. This year, when I stepped out of the dressing room in a smoldering silver number, my ruca was speechless and the Ambiance attendant swore I looked like a curly-haired J.Loso of course I was sold. And because turquoise is my birthstone color, it was only natural that I sought out a pair of turquoise suede heels, right? Now many of you may think I’m going over the top, but considering I wear a boring black uniform to work and dress bundled in layers year-round, I don’t mind giving myself one day to work the hell out of a skin tight firme dress and be able to stop traffic on Mission Street.
Aside from buying my annual dress, I also make birthday/early New Year’s resolutions. This year is unique though, as my goal will not just be “getting my novel published,” nor will I beat myself up for not getting it published again…
In my late teens, I began writing a coming-of-age novel about three girls who lose their fourth best friend in a car accident. Between the lines of the 518 double-spaced pages is not only a beautiful story, but a decade of my soul’s evolution. Because I played “god” at creating these characters who came to life in my head, I sometimes still feel a weary sense of nostalgia for them that perhaps only a puppet-maker could explain.
While I’ve wallowed in self-pity many years over not getting the novel published, I haven’t given myself credit for the process of simply becoming a writer. Indeed, it has been a journey. I spent an entire year submitting my manuscript to publishing houses, only to find out by one of those how-to Dummy books that unsolicited submissions are about as likely to get read as a letter to Santa Claus. (Talk about feeling like a dummy.) Deciding I needed some experience beefing up my resume, I spent another year interning for a weekly city paper and a magazine. I learned lots of things that year: one, that I’m lousy at fact-checking and that mistakes in print really suck; two, that transcribing is not meant for day-dreamers with ADD; and three—and most importantly—I learned that I didn’t want to work for a magazine or newspaper. Sure, being a food critic forced to sample 20 different ice cream flavors for “research” was fun, but I am a fiction writer. I want to write short and long stories, not only about myself, but about the imaginary people in my head that I breathe life into. (Call me crazy; I call myself a writer.)
This past year, I’ve undergone a major growth spurt in my writing. Starting a blog where I can openly share my work has been monumental. I’ve begun talking with other writers, going to workshops and authors’ talks, and getting on twitter and facebook to advertise myself. I’ve been invited to a spoken word in Albuquerque next year by some down-ass Chicana writers—awesomeness—and even decided recently to go back to school. 
While it may have taken lots of time (and many birthday dresses) to realize what type of writer I want to be, I’m not focusing on what I didn’t become over the years or what I haven’t gotten published. Instead, come December 1st, I will be celebrating what I have become and the fact that I’m continuing on my path…. Having a super firme dress (and heels) to cross that rite of passage in will just be the icing on my birthday cake.  
Can I walk in these? Who cares!
©All Rights Reserved, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Día de los Muertos

In honor of Día de los Muertos, I’ve written a special tribute to honor those in my life who have passed on.
Aunt Lucy: When I think of you, I think of hot summers in L.A., melting popsicles and sticky fingers, playing your piano off-key for hours, and both my sister and I anxious over breakfast while we waited for that sleeping beauty daughter of yours to wake up. (“Maybe another hour, mijas.”) Growing older, I realized the things that had made you gracious (besides your sophisticated collection of high heels my sister and I envied over); there was always coffee in your home, a sweet to nibble on, and conversation that penetrated a layer deeper than the surface—there was a genuine care of our lives. You were elegant, classy, a strong current always at the core of your essence. I keep a picture of you on my vanity; so when I’m powdering my nose and glossing my lips, I’m reminded of how much I love a woman’s glamour.
David: Smile now, cry later—that’s what was tatted on your chest, with the masks that peek-a-booed out to your neck. Mama always said don’t hang out with no thugs, but for some reason I never had a curfew when I was with you. Your natural charm and the polite, yet un-phony way you greeted my mom got me out of the house. Then, it was joints and 40s galore (good ol’ King Cobra and seedy dime sacks). We sat on the porch steps of your hood, talking, indulging, waiting for life around us to happen. But while monotonous suburbia track-homes towered up around me, I grew restless, itching to escape. You came to say goodbye on my last day, to wish me luck in San Francisco. You were a new man. Your eyes shone as you spoke of your newborn; how you’d held him on top of you and drifted asleep as your hearts beat chest-to-chest. “There’s no feeling like it in the world, Sarah,” you confided. And there were tears in your eyes. A couple months later, my sister and I were sitting on the porch of a bar under an orange tree. I’d just gotten the news from back home about the red light you’d run, and the oncoming car… We guzzled through pints of beer as oranges fell down all around us; it was as if someone were shaking the tree by its roots.
Grandma Celia: We weren’t that close because copious years had already washed over you, like waves over a shell in the sand, until one day the current was strong enough to simply sweep you away. But for the one special day in my childhood that you babysat me, I was your only nieta. In your tiny nest of a home, I shadowed you through the natural rhythms of your routine: novelas in the background, a leisurely stroll over to Safeway (you whistling the entire time), tortillas with queso fresco, “Otra tortilla mijita?” I wanted to know you so badly. How had my own mother looked to you the way I’d always looked to her? What was it in our parallel blood that made us Corral? Did you have that same restlessness that ached inside me too? You were an entity of mystery to me. I yearned for something in you that I could not explain. We sat calmly on the sofa together; you watching your novelas, me watching you.

Nick: At first you were just the new guy that everyone at the pizza parlor gravitated towards. But even after many months, the novelty of you never wore off; you were charming and fit into our tight-knit staff of family beautifully. There were jokes on the assembly line and beat-boxing over side-work. At closing time, all of us slipped quarters in the jukebox and video games, ate leftover pizza and raided the beer-taps, with you always at the center of our attentions. Then one day, an alarm of emergency spewed through us; after you’d gone on break, our delivery driver found your orange jacket on the side of the road before the paramedics in a horrific three-car crash. Days later, we all stood on the side of the street where it’d happened. The traffic of cars was so deceivingly innocent in the morning. I looked behind us, struck by the irony of a fully flourished field of weeds. Four teenagers had lost their lives on one street: you, my friend’s brother, your other friend, and a teenage girl in an oncoming car who was learning to drive for the first time. We stood there, shattered, as cars continued to speed by and weeds continued to grow. 
Gustavo: I still choke at the sight of the cherry tree blossoms every spring; earth is revealing her new year of promise to us, and you’re not here to see it. I’d never lived your life, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t understand it. There were many talks about those other years…sometimes you’d cry and sometimes I’d cry with you. On a quest to heal, there were walks in the woods, drives through the city, carne asada at family parties, cookies because my mom always stocked up on your visits, and your favorite: all-day home-cooked meals. There would be beer while you cooked and wine with dinner. Our aromatic laughter seasoned the food as much as chiles and oregano. And now…and now what? Now there is an empty seat at family get-togethers. Now our tamales are missing an essential ingredient. Now I can only love your memory, and love you through your wife and daughter, both of whom I adore. And that love, primo, is unconditional too.
            Also, a special bendición to my suegro, who I never had the honor of knowing. Salvador, I’ve loved so much of what remains of you, it’s as if we’ve been familia all along.

© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Down The Escalator

            The problem with the homeless in San Francisco is that after awhile, the locals become almost immune to caring for them. When they’re zig-zagging the sidewalk like bug-eyed zombies screaming at an invisible dog, we nonchalantly turn up our I-pods and walk past them. When that crazy long haired dude who looks like Jesus flown over the cuckoo’s nest is trying to sell you roses, we politely say no—if we say anything at all.
Today began playing out like any other day as I got on the escalator, coming home from downtown. I saw the same black homeless man downstairs in front of the train station that I see almost everyday. Instinctively, I began to play dumb, looking busy so I’d be too distracted to “see him” as I rummaged through bags filled from my latest shopping spree. Before I could un-wrap a Mac turquoise eyeliner (that I may or may not ever use), something about the man caught my attention: Shuffling nervously, he went up to two other black men—tourists—who were struggling to get their LV decked luggage onto the escalator going up. He cleared his throat…tapped them on the shoulder.
The tourists crinkled their faces like they’d just stepped in dog shit. In front of them, the man was holding up a Street-Sheet. (It’s a monthly paper written by the homeless for the homeless to freely sell for a buck as an “alternative” to panhandling.)
“Street Sheet, brutha?” he asked them. “It’s our special poetry edition.”
The tourists, dressed in ironed polos, black shades, and flecks of silver shining from their necks, swatted at him as if he were a horse-fly in the kitchen. “Nah man, get away,” they thwarted.
“It…it’s only a buck,” he choked at them, clutching lamely at the paper.
The men became angry. They’d just gotten their suitcases on the stairs, and we began to cross each other; me going down, them going up. “Man, get away! Don’t ask me again if I already told your broke-ass no!” “Yeah, man, get your raggedy-ass a real job!”
Their reaction seemed to sting the “bum.” And then, it occurred to me that in all the years I’ve seen him, I didn’t know this man’s story at all; What if he’d had everything at once, and lost it all in one streak of bad luck? Maybe he’d gotten the pink slip from his kindergarten teaching class, and his wife and kids took off with a richer man after the house foreclosed. Without a clean shower, interview clothes, and a legit address to reference, it’d become harder and harder to pull himself back up…and now here he was. I didn’t know this man’s life but what I did know was that he had probably seen himself in those men—with their fancy luggage, polished leather shoes, and Ray-bans, no less. He saw probably what he could’ve been, and maybe who he wanted to be. But the tourists, same skin color or not, did not see themselves in the bum at all. If they had, it repulsed them.
Hollering “stupid-ass bum” and “raggedy-ass motherfucker” all the way to the top, the men’s bodies grew smaller against the backdrop of towering buildings until they disappeared completely out of sight.
I felt terrible as I dragged off the escalator. While people around had gawked and stared, no one made a single gesture of empathy. And then, everything carried on as it was before: Tourists poured out of the station, unfolding their maps and squinting up at the sky; a flock of teens lit up a blunt; a clique of girls smacked me out of their way with their Forever 21 bags.

I couldn’t get just leave and get on the train though. I knew I had to do something. (I wouldn’t leave someone abandoned on the side of the street who’d just gotten hit by a car—how could I leave someone who’d just been emotionally run over?)
            Reaching in my purse, I tapped the homeless man on the shoulder.            
He turned around quickly, not meeting my eyes. I wondered if they had tears in them. I handed him a five-dollar bill—it was the only money I had, and it was supposed to be my Bart fare home.  
            As I waited for my good Samaritan-ness to be rewarded with a filling look of gratitude in his eyes, I was stunned instead, that the man snatched the bill out of my hand and pocketed it without even a thank you. When his eyes finally looked into mine, I flinched away like a bird with a wounded wing. His soul seemed to have vanished. His black eyes were hollow—no feeling or emotion attached—and the only thing that made him human was the jittery twitches of his body. He was a dead man walking, his entire livelihood sold to nothing more than his daily fixes of crack or heroin.
As quickly as I’d given him the money, he was gone.
            Suddenly, the reality of what I’d done kicked in: I’d just assed myself out of a train ride home!
I fought with some rowdy kids and a lady with a stroller to “sneak” on the back of the bus. The driver rolled her eyes at us, and mouthed what looked like “sons-of bitches” under her breath. My no-hassle 10-minute train ride home had turned into a 45-minute trek across town—and, of course, I picked the aisle seat next to some girl yelling at her boyfriend the entire time that he was “hella stupid” for not calling her back last night.
When I finally got home, I must’ve chugged an entire beer down in one standing. The buzz went straight to my head, smoothing out those rough edges almost instantly. I played Scrabble on my I-phone and dug through my shopping spree purchases, while nibbling on leftover pizza from last night’s delivery. Back to my perky self in no time and buzzed off Blue Moon, I thought back on my deed of the day. And that’s when I realized, who was I to judge anyone on how to get their fix?

© All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 17, 2011

Riding a Bike

The first time my dad took the training wheels off my bike was like a classic T.V. sitcom moment: Dad held my cherry red Schwinn as he sprinted beside me. “Pedal faster,” he instructed. I pedaled faster. “Keep going, sweet-heart!” I did! I kept going, pedaling fast and faster until I was no longer a leaf attached to the branches of his arms; it was just me on my bike, streaking down the sidewalk, a blast of Shirley Temple curls trailing behind me. The rest of my childhood, if I wasn’t reading books (the entire Babysitter’s Club series), or spying on my older, cooler sister, I was on my bike. We lived in a quiet serene neighborhood, and I lived for my parents’ instructions of “Go outside and play.”
            For my 6th grade graduation, I was gifted a 10-speed mountain bike...but something inside me had fizzled away. My leaves had changed. I no longer wanted to ride my bike to spy on the neighborhood “crazy” who had about a hundred animals in her backyard (including a very cool llama, and a one-eyed cat). I no longer cared to ride to the orchards of pomegranate trees, where I would bask in the shade and watch passing clouds in the sky. (I’ve always been a dreamer.) Instead, I became more interested in trying to smoke my first cigarette, and of taking those Does he like you? quizzes from big sis’s Seventeen.
My dad ended up taking the bike with him when my parents divorced; a surefire symbol that the ride of my childhood had ended. Years passed. Over 15. Then last year, on a visit up to San Francisco, my dad strapped a bike onto his jeep, drove it up, and proudly boasted, “Here. A present for you.”
The entire time it had served as a lovely ornament in the garage, collecting dust alongside our friend’s bike. But the other Saturday morning, the ruca suggested we take out the ol’ wheels. At first I thought she was crazy. Frisco streets are a parade of pandemonium! I’ve always been terrified to bike the streets and share with hundreds of busses, Muni trains, camera-snapping tourists spilling out of cable-cars, way-agro cab drivers, and pedestrians who take their ‘right of way’ as seriously as their middle-finger. (Just last week, I saw the 14 slice a rearview mirror clean off a Lexus, while a gang of teens in the back of the bus hollered Boo-yah!) Still, my ruca was determined to soak up the few days of our Indian summer, and pretty soon I was determined too, but also a little bit annoyed with myself; Why (and how) had I grown to be such a freakin’ wuss?
Ready to take on a new adventure by the handlebars, I marched my no-guts-no-glory ass outside and did something I hadn’t done in years: I got on a bike. Instantly, my feet re-connected with the pedals, my hands with the brakes. Everything flooded back to me, a déjà vu like haze of my childhood blooming through as an adult. Clearly, this was not a difficult task like recalling the Pythagorean theorem; it was something you could never forget, as easy to remember as—duh—riding a bike.
The wind splashed on my face and whipped at the curls that had escaped from my helmet. Why is that when we get older, we become more afraid? Is it because the more we live in life, the more we potentially have to lose? Or is it because we’ve begun to live long enough to know that we are not invincible? For years I’ve been scared of riding a bike, and even though I didn’t know that fear as a child, it had engulfed me somehow as an adult. I’ll admit that while the thought of eating shit on the Muni tracks is still kinda scary, I was no longer going to let that fear be a reason for not wanting to ride.
The city was the same as any other day, but it all felt completely different on two wheels. I zipped past herds of people packed in coffee shops and sipping mimosas at brunch spots. I watched employees flip their signs to ‘open’ in the window of boutiques. I chuckled at the religious señoras with their Despierta! pamphlets as they stood beside the shouting preachers clutching their bibles. Then, as I pedaled fast and faster, everything became a blur…Yoga mats, grocery tote bags, skaters filming their friends eating shit, pigeons in puddles, murals on schools and liquor stores, a man with no legs and a ‘Jesus Loves You’ sign, Goood Frickin’ Chicken, a tatted-up dude with a pet parrot, the rainbows of Castro, drunks in alleys, March for your rights Oct. 29th, $8 corte de pelo, Shoe Biz, best Bloody Mary’s in Town!, Free HIV testing, men playing dice, howling kids on playgrounds, Naan-N-Curry, hopeful workers on César Chávez Street, pizza by the slice, pastel colored projects next to exquisite Victorians, seedy strip clubs—XXX, GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS!—pupuserías, boba in your fruit drinks, the gated up GUNS shop, cops interrogating cholos while stoned-ass hipsters tapped their badges for a match, BuY $1 bOOks here!, a new show at the Roxie tonight…the city unfolded before my eyes like a thousand Polaroids as I blew past it. It was an early Saturday afternoon and the streets were as alive as after. I reveled in that same glorious sensation of feeling so alive and new—as if my dad had just taken off my training wheels for the first time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

La Santa Cecilia

            We were off to San Jose, that close yet distant town from Emerald City. It was a Saturday night, the car was filled up with our homegirls, and we guzzled down Fat Tire in coffee thermoses with the same merriment as frat boys doing keg stands. (Except for my ruca, who was designated driver.) We were going to see La Santa Cecilia, a Latino band from L.A. who my ruca has been raving about since she saw their last show. I wasn’t thrilled that she wanted to go again, or rather that she wanted to take me with her. Concerts aren’t really my thing. Besides getting nervous in huge crowds, I don’t dance salsa. Or merengue. Or cumbias. Or…well, you get the point. That’s not to say I can’t dance—indeed, I can bootie-shake like no one’s business. But anything that involves a 1-2-3 step with a partner, a dip, a twist and a twirl, and I am lost. I didn’t grow up salsa dancing at home—I grew up listening to my parents’ Beatles and Elvis, and watching my mom bust the Mashed Potatoes, the Watusi, and the Twist!
Needless to say, going to a concert where I’d spend the evening as a cute lil’ wallflower surrounded by flocks of Latinos who really know how to cut a rug, did not sound like a fun night—but I decided to go. While I powdered my nose and glossed my lips, I promised myself that tonight, I would enjoy a different taste of life out of my comfort zone. After all, I am too young to be a 30-year old “square;” a helpless homebody who’s life is consumed only with work and writing. I needed to break loose a little—live. I needed to color in the black and whites of my soul, and feed myself a new adventure.
We arrived at our destination early. Or maybe the show started late, whatever. Sipping cocktails in the lounge of an uppity hotel, I admired the two striking women sitting next to us who chatted with our homegirls. One was dressed in a stunning autentica blusa with brightly embroidered flowers. A long elegant trensa hung down her back like a crow’s feather. The other woman had cute curly hair and chic framed glasses that would’ve looked silly on me, but looked unfairly cool on her. Conversation flowed easily with them, which is how I quickly found out that they had not come to see the band—they were the band! I took a big gulp of my vodka on the rocks, keeping my cool yet completely blown away. These rockeras were down to earth, cool as shit—raza—and they shared awesome stories of their international travels. We congratulated them on their Grammy nomination for their song, La Negra. I was mesmerized by their humbleness. I was in complete awe of their super chill vibe. I was…already a fan.
            When it was time for them to go on, we raised our glasses, threw them back, and made our way inside. Lights simmered low with the spotlights glowing only on the band. All at once, their music filled the room, heating up the hazy club like steam in Mama’s kitchen. Between the guitar and the drums and the accordion, all of the instruments blended together vibrantly, a tie-dye spiral of sounds. The singer’s voice was incredible, switching high notes to low as easy as a snap, her Spanish and Spanglish a melodic sizzle.
The booths along the wall emptied out. Glasses clinked, toes were stomped on. Girls wiggled in their mini dresses and stilettos, their heels skinny as a needle, and eager guys scanned the crowd, searching for whichever girl would say yes to them. Two girls got kicked out for almost fighting, and another girl in the tightest animal print dress I’d ever seen fell face-flat on the floor not once, but twice. (I almost caught her drink on the second timberrr down, but missed.) I was hardly fazed. I didn’t need to know fancy footwork, like salsa or cumbias—my hips were fluid on my body, riding the rhythm of the songs like a surfboard coasting along a wave. Between me and my homegirls shooting up our pulses in sync to the beating songs, a warp of time captured us, and swallowed us away. Too soon they were performing their last song. The slosh of crowd almost turned rowdy, demanding more as they hollered back at them: “Otra, otra!” The band shrugged, giving their fans what they wanted. And their last song they left us with? A beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields.
Gratified, I reflected back on the night. I’d not only gotten out of my comfort zone and tried something new, I’d genuinely enjoyed myself. I tossed my arm around my ruca, swaying gently to the final song as the mood shifted to a mellow flutter. And in case you were wondering, I did not bust out the Mashed Potatoes, or the Watusi to this song…just a very mild Twist to my signature bootie-shake.

Check out the band! Here’s a link to their homepage, and a YouTube clip of them. Good luck at the Grammys, guys!

© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Night Run

Normally, streams of sunshine pour through the capes of leaves that hang from the trees, but tonight, all I could see were their branches, curling out like witch’s fingers. At my insistence, the ruca and I went for a jog after work, except we waited a little too late. The last rays of twilight had flickered away, and the innocent beauties of day felt tainted by the inability to see them at night. Instead, I noticed all the eerie nuances of night-life that thrived on Bernal Hill: cobwebs drooled across street signs; scampers in the bushes kept me on alert; sticks crackled, and dirt kicked up at our feet like puffs of smoke.
We sprinted up the last staircase that leads to the top of the hill where we run one arduous lap. I led the way since I have the keen eyesight of a cat (compensation, probably, for my hearing that’s gone to shit), and I scanned the bushes rigorously, searching for anything unordinary that might jump out at us. Checking back on the ruca, only a few steps behind, a dull flicker hazed her eyes instead of the warm connection I’ve come to love and need from her. I felt that familiar throb inside me that had been tender all week, but I ignored it. If I kept running, it would all disappear eventually, right? The strain of my lungs would exhaust, and start anew without even a trace of memory to mark that pain. Then everything would go back to how it was…wouldn’t it?
The hill itself was dark, as if someone had blown a candle out in the room, but the lights of the city spewed out in front of us. I like to consider this picturesque view my prize for actually making it to the top without passing out, but tonight, a completely different panorama played out before me. The Bay Bridge lit up magnificently, shooting land to land across the water, which was dotted with several lights that bobbed on the bay. The usual sparks of sound that flare up the city had dimmed to nothing more than a distant hum beneath us. On the hill, few people remained, their faces blurred in the blackness as they made their ways home. Some whistled out to their dogs who’d tangled themselves in trails of the hill, others packed up their wine bottles from their sunset picnic, and a pack of high school kids shuffled away, their 4:20 session now long gone.
Continuing on, we breezed easily downhill and through the streets. We neared the last stretch uphill that circles back to the staircases we came from. I usually love this desolate trek, so close to the finish line, but tonight the cautionary whoo-whoo of owls took on the voice of my two angry parents yelling at me in my head: “Why would you go running at night?! What were you thinking? Where is your common sense?!”
Suddenly, the ruca called out to me, her voice a cracked yelp. “Wait!” she gasped, a desperate hunt for her breath. “Wait!”
“Need a breather?” I halted, not thrilled about her timing.
“I…I have something to… to tell you,” she huffed.
She approached me, the glisten of sweat shiny on her face.
“I…I’m still upset with you. From our fight last week. I’m just…I’m still hurt.”
I let my lungs exhaust too. Just the mention of the fight swallowed me back to the scene, forgetting the trepidation that, a moment ago, had prickled my skin. While it’s typical for the ruca and I to squabble over regular stuff (“Please don’t borrow my lipstick!” “Do you even know where we keep the mop?” “No I will not wake up at 6am to make you coffee!”), our spats usually extinguish as quickly as they fire up. But every now and then, like last Wednesday, we just can’t let up and we explode, firing at each other like cannons. Maybe it was a crappy over-time/underpaid day at work, maybe it was that hormone raging time of the month when the SPCA commercials are enough to make me cry, or maybe it was the annoying neighbors who sounded like they were bowling upstairs. But I was in a toxic mood, bloated with all the crap of my day, and took it out on my ruca for forgetting her keys (again) and making me wait 40 minutes longer than promised when I’d had plans. Becoming defensive, the ruca lashed out too, and the next thing we knew, a mishap over keys had turned into a full out screaming match with all swords being thrown including “And I’ve told you three times to put the dishes away!”
The choleric duel had taken place a week ago to the day. Though we’d grumbled our apologies and called a truce, we’d carried on the rest of the week as if we were ordinary roommates. Intimacy had become an awkward strain between us, and the cariño had vanished from our usual I love you’s. Like two stubborn turtles hiding irritably in our shells, we’d emotionally withdrawn from each other.
 “I’m sorry,” I wheezed. “I was such a (huff, huff) jerk to you. I wish I could...wish I could take it back. But for the record (huff, huff), I’m hurt with you too!”
“I know I was a jerk too,” she panted. “And I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t…fall out of love with me, did you?” I croaked, almost scared to ask the most pivotal question, should one of the answers crush me completely.
“No,” she shook her head. “I just realized I was still hurt (huff, huff) while we were running.”
“We can’t get so out of hand when we’re that furious. (Huff, huff.) We can’t treat each other like punching bags!”
            “Yeah,” she agreed. “No punching bags.”
There was nothing we could do to change what had happened. The feeling of regret had to digest through us, like spoiled milk. For some reason though, just acknowledging that we were hurt felt slightly soothing in itself; like we were officially ready to come out of our shells, and look the other in the eye.
I peered down the dark road that winded through the hill, suddenly longing for the familiar comforts of home.
“C’mon,” I coaxed persuasively. “Let’s run the rest of the way.”
A renewed energy shot through us. My body worked through its motions, expelling the sordidness that had poisoned me the entire week. My heart and lungs were firecrackers exploding in my chest, and my calves triggered with heat, like sticks rubbing together before they catch fire.
We weren’t home when we made it back to the staircase, but we heaved a huge sigh of relief anyway, and slapped high-5s. Clambering back down, the lampposts on the staircase had finally turned on, and lit the way home for us.
© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011


            Sometimes I think I would like to be a mom. Like really like to be one. On the train, babies propped on Mama’s shoulder often gaze back at me, and a fuzzy feeling melts inside me that can only be described as Awww. Yesterday, I saw a woman in Walgreens slap her kid’s head as she told him to “shut his ass up,” and I realized I’d probably be a much better mother than a few that are out there. But motherhood is not my reality—not right now. Not only do I not have the means (or to be quite frank, the sperm), but I will admit the one thing that us women are not encouraged to say, be it the truth or not: I am selfish. I love my life. This life now, the one I’ve created for myself…
            I love waking up in the morning, sunlight spilling on my face, with the option to go back to sleep if I like, or to get up and spontaneously plan out my day; maybe take a yoga class, or get a mani/pedi, or pick up some fruit from the farmer’s market. I never have to arrange for babysitter, or leave the house with a ten-pound diaper bag—just my ten-pound purse. Also, I’m a bit of a helpless romantic. I love date nights with the ruca, and discussing the profound nuances of everyday life that usually have nothing to do with Sponge Bob Square Pants. When we go out to eat, the first words out of the host’s mouth are not: “Kid’s menu with crayons?” And I’ve yet to experience sitting down to have our waiter crinkle their nose at the sight of a high chair in their section, as if our kid were a skunk.
Most importantly, the reason I am not ready for kids is because I am convinced that I am going to “make it” as a writer in this decade, my 30s. My teens were a rebellious mess filled with “dime” sacks and 40s; my 20s were about getting to know and like myself, lots of traveling, and getting dragged off the barstool after last-call. This era is going to be the decade that my books will be published and my dream of establishing myself as a writer will unravel like a magic carpet setting off to fly. Ideally, I don’t want “making it” to mean I can afford rent without having to bartend for a few weeks. Screw that. I want a shot of snagging that huge house on Russian Hill, rooms with a view, and extra rooms for Mom, Pop, and the in-laws. A separate work studio in the city sounds perfect, with prospects of setting up a writer’s workshop for young kids of color down the line. Sure, it may sound like a long shot, but I’m stubborn as hell and know exactly what I want. I also know I need to work really hard to get there—I need to have that time to myself to work really hard. It wouldn’t be fair to bring in another life knowing that they are not the focus of my most driven desire at that moment. On career day, I want to go to my kid’s school, proud of myself, and say: “My name is Mrs. Jiménez and I am a writer,” instead of “I am an aspiring writer, but for now I’m just a bartender. You kids know what a martini is?”
Aside from waiting for my career to blossom and loving my carefree independence, I confess yet another reason for not having kids: I am terrified. Does anyone else feel me here?! Raising children is a HUGE responsibility! There’s the usual stuff to worry about, like will I be too strict a parent, or not strict enough? What if my kid hates broccoli and fish and bananas and pretty much every single meal I prepare for them? What if little Juanito get his ass kicked at school everyday for having two moms, neither of whom taught him how to play football—or worst, what if Juanito is the school bully? But there are also the even bigger things in life: what if I don’t agree with their lifestyles? My children—whether adopted, or from my womb, or the ruca’s—will obviously be a blueprint of me, but children are not statues that parents are free to sculpt as they wish. While parents may be a child’s most influential impact, we all come wired with our own souls, our unique spirits. Still, how accepting a parent will I be if my kid grows up and decides they don’t want to be a radical revolutionary like Mommy wants, but are content enough to simply pass their life away a stoned-ass couch potato whose only motivation is slanging weed? (And no, Mommy won’t be thrilled about that discount on “dime” sacks!) Or even worst than that, what if they decide to become (gasp) a Republican?! Dear God! What a terrifying leap of faith parenthood seems to be!
If I could, I’d put motherhood off for another decade until I’m 40. But evolution seems a little sexist, and so far has not kept up with a woman’s career. If I don’t start cookin’ that bun in the oven by the time I’m 36, my eggs will probably go extinct. Or be as rare a species as the panda or the great blue whale. I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get there. Because sitting here now, drinking my coffee spiked with Kahlua and wondering how to spend the rest of my day off, adoption in ten years is suddenly sounding like a no-brainer.
Whenever that time comes, and my house of cards is fully built, and the ruca and I have established a cozy nest for the esquincles to call home, maybe then motherhood will call to me with more than just a knock on my door. And I will answer that need, that desire. I will someday be so important to someone else that they will need me for nurture, acceptance, and unconditional love. I will be ready to take on that key role for the rest of my life. For now I have myself to take care of, and a fledgling dream of becoming something bigger than myself. I have my little nest, a cozy one bedroom in Bernal, the ruca to come home to, and a 20-lb cuddly cat who I am not afraid to say I adore. Until the day our mini family grows, and blossoms into bigger branches of life that extend from us, I will be more than happy with this amazing life I have now. 
© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rick's on the Wharf: Sofia

This is an excerpt from my 2nd novel I am co-writing with a friend. The novel is a collection of perspectives from all the different positions in a restaurant. This particular chapter is written from the perspective of Sofia, a manager of the restaurant Rick’s on the Wharf. Enjoy!

As Luke dimmed the lights of the dining room, Sofia straightened up taller and poofed out her hair. This sent a subtle wave of perfume that graced the air around her—although too bad the intoxicating whiff was wasted on the lousy hostess, Gwyn. The dimming of lights from lunch to dinner was the cue that this night, Friday, had officially begun. Friday nights (along with Saturdays) were the nights that any magic—good or bad—was bound to happen. And Sofia would be damned if she wouldn’t be dressed for it in her sexiest animal print.
“Sofia, we got a 10-top at 8. Who should it go to?” asked Gwyn.
            Sofia scanned the line-up of reservations for the night. “What do we know about them?”           
Gwyn clicked on the side notes of Open Table. “Some financial investors…it says they just won something and are looking to celebrate.”
            Sofia envisioned the 10-top of businessmen at the end of their work-week looking to celebrate: martinis and calamari for the first course, steak and bottles of wine for dinner, and expensive scotch for dessert. “Hmm. Businessmen, potentially young and attractive…Give ‘em to Lola.”
“Isn’t that slightly bias, Sofia?”
            “No,” she snapped. “Listen, honey, this is a tough business. If you want to be a good host, then you gotta learn how to work the door.”
“Look, Sofia, I’m not here for life. I’m only here because my parents said they’d pay for my schooling and rent if I work at least three days a week for my own spending money. Someday when I finish school and get a real job, I’ll look back at this and laugh.”
            “Honey, I hope someday you do get a ‘real job’ where you sit behind a desk because you couldn’t make it in this industry. You have zero communication skills and the work ethic of a lazy ten year old who just wants to play video games. I’m sure you’re great at the books, sweetheart, but this industry’s reserved for hustlers who know the art of charm.”
            The insult should not have hurt Gwyn, who considered herself far too above the job to work menial pay anyhow, but it did. Sofia was just always so blunt. She’d tried pointing this out to her once, but all Sofia had said was, “Sugar, if you can’t handle the truth, you know where the door is.”
The truth was that if Gwyn were Sofia’s protégé (or if Sofia even liked Gwyn as a person), then she would’ve gladly taught Gwyn some tricks of the trade. First and above all else, the person running the door had to learn their servers’ capabilities. Take Josie for example. Josie was jubilant, wholesome, and was so excited to be a server trainer at Rick’s that she would greet her table with pom-poms if she could. A family of five in San Francisco for the first time would love to have Josie wait on them. In fact there’s nothing she’d love more than to up-sell pink lemonades to kids in “rockin’ ” animal shaped cups. Then there was Elton. Sure, he was 6’5, a complete goof and more than a bit eccentric, but the gentle giant was harmless; he worked his shifts and was content as long as he wasn’t buried. He was even so fascinated by the Europeans that he would actually do okay with them, mostly by saying outlandish shit like, “So is it true that French consider eating snails a delicacy? Cuz if so, then I would’ve been considered, like, a total king of my childhood. Oui oui.”  Then there was Ingrid, the vegan yogini hippy. She did best with low-maintenance locals who’d gotten stuck on the Wharf for some reason or other. As long as no one asked her which steak she recommended, she usually did all right.
            Sofia knew all her servers better than they even knew themselves. Upon first impressions, she knew immediately who her guests would be best paired with—with the same knowledgeable complexity as she would know how to pair a certain steak with wine. But still, she had to mismatch her guests and servers often. Otherwise, Elton would start complaining that he only got sat with foreigners, and Daniel would start bitching that Lola only got hot young businessmen that he wanted. Besides that, tables would not be properly rotated and server counts would be off. In order to prevent a full-out bitch-fest, Sofia had to take all the rules and throw them out the window throughout the night, which was usually when things would get messy. Elton sucked at taking big parties if he wasn’t teaming with his buddy Jack, Ingrid had no idea how to sell steak and wine to the plush guests in section 5, and Daniel became bitchy with too many old ladies in his section—“hens,” he called ‘em—who slowed down his service with hot tea and lattes. Things would run in a controlled sense of chaos—controlled, of course, because Sofia was responsible for it. But even though she deemed them necessary, those “mismatches” were always foreseen train-wrecks without the servers ever really knowing why.
Sofia knew that running the door was one of the most overlooked, yet tactical positions in the restaurant—why couldn’t Gwyn see the authority she had as a hostess? She had the power to give a couple the tiniest table on 27—the crappy deuce that sometimes the restroom door would hit on the way out. Or she had the power to make their experience by seating them on table 15; the circular elevated booth adorned in velvet in section 5, that was best reserved for guests who wanted to show off their expensive bottle of wine they’d be more inclined to order. Location, so true in the real estate world as a dining experience, was everything. That power to make or break that experience was entirely up to the host. And yet, here this key person Sofia was supposed to have running the door was nothing more than a spoiled trust-fund kid.
            Luke joined them just then at the host stand. “Hey, there Gwyn, how you, uh, doin’ today?” he asked, fiddling with his tie. Fidgeting was such a helpless habit with alcoholics.
            Gwyn scowled. “I’ve had a headache all day.”
            “Aww,” he cooed.
            “Drink some coffee,” Sofia smacked, unsympathetically.
            “Well if you wanna go home early, you can,” Luke shrugged.
            Gwyn lit up. “Really? Oh, that’d be great I have so much homework to do and—”
            “Excuse me!” Sofia cut in. “Honey, you can’t go anywhere. It’s Friday night, I need you here.”
            “But Luke just said—”
            “Luke says a lot of dumb things, but hear me out, you’re staying!”
            “Geez, Sofia,” Luke muttered, rocking back and forth on his toes. “I was just trying to—”
            “Well don’t,” she interrupted. “Running the house is my business and—”
            Two ladies walked up to the host desk just then. On cue, all of them straightened up and smiled their best fake smiles. Well, all of them, except Gwyn.
            “Two!” the old ladies barked.
            “Take ‘em to 37,” Sofia ordered Gwyn. It was Daniel’s section. He didn’t do well with old ladies and they would’ve been better suited with someone kind like Josie, but Sofia didn’t like their attitude and Daniel had been late.
            “Enjoy your dinner, ladies,” she smiled at them.
            “Ladies, enjoy,” Luke chimed in, even though they ignored both managers.
            Sofia dropped her smile as Luke skittered away and Gwyn took them to their table. Once she returned, Sofia made her rounds. Her heels tapped away across the floor, a slight echo stirring up behind her. She was pleased to see that as she turned the corners of the dining room, her employees were keeping busy. She was no idiot though. She knew more than half of them looked busy when they heard her coming, which was okay by her too. Besides, she already knew who her real work-horses were.
Saul was shining silverware, Dulce was lighting candles, Jack and Elton chatted about last night as they folded napkins, and Ramon was texting.
            “Ramon, get off that phone and go help Saul shine silverware,” she snapped. “Daniel, you just got sat.”
“I know,” he grunted, tying his apron with exaggerated irritation. “I seen ‘em dinosaurs stomping in.”
            She turned the last corner, finding Luke adjusting employees’ in-times from the morning. “Goddamnit, Luke. If you know competence isn’t your forte, why don’t you let people who are more capable handle the responsibility?” she blasted.
“What?” Luke exasperated, looking confused. It must’ve been too many big words in one sentence.
“Sweetie,” she softened her attack. “Let me handle the door and you handle your…whatever it is you do here.”
He looked sheepish. “Is this about Gwyn?”
“Don’t you think if the girl was deathly sick I would send her home?”
“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I just…I can’t do anything right today.”
Sofia felt sorry for many people in her lifetime, but never for drunks. It was such a selfish disease. But still, being the nephew of the owner, Luke had more job security than even she herself probably had. And like it or not, she had to learn how to deal with him.
“C’mon, Luke. We’ve got a ton of reservations tonight. But seriously, next time we’re hiring a host, let me do the interviewing okay?”
Not waiting for an answer, she turned the corner, her long zebra faux fur coat waving dramatically behind her as she clapped her hands at everyone sitting and goofing off in the empty back booths.
“C’mon, guys, it’s 5:00!  Who are our 5 o’clockers? Get on the floor, detail your section and put those napkins away. Jack, spray some Goddamn cologne on, you smell like cigarettes! Elizabeth, what section are you in?”
“Three,” she rolled her eyes, not pleased.
“Well get in your section three! Come on, let’s go! Hurry up!” She stopped Lola as she was walking away. “Sugar, what’s wrong?”
Lola looked surprised, even though she always wore her emotions clearly. “Nothiiiing.”
“Honey, spit it out.”
She sang like a canary. “It’s Günter. He’s such a jerk to me sometimes. I come in here, I do my job, I do a good job—”
“Honey, I’m gonna stop you right there. Günter was right in telling you that you need to be here at least ten minutes before your shift so you can be ready to go on the floor at the time you’re scheduled—not walk in strolling with a spring in your step two minutes after four, not even changed. If you want Günter to respect your hard work, then show him you can be professional.”
Lola nodded. “Okay.”
“Now come on. You’re one of my best employees. I’m giving you a 10-top of businessmen all looking for steak. I know you can handle it, right?”
Lola lit up. “Oh yes, of course I can!”
“And what’s the rest?”
“Wine, wine, wine,” Lola boasted, all-too-cheerfully repeating Sofia’s motto. “And I don’t mean the bitching.”
“That’s my girl. And where’s your lipstick or your lip-gloss, or whatever?”
            “Why, do I need it?”
“You just look a little pale, probably from before our talk. Go to the ladies’ room, freshen up and look your best. You’re my prettiest waitress here, and I want you looking sharp.”
“O-kay! I’m on my way now,” she chirped. She hurried to the restroom, the bounce back in her step.
Sofia applauded herself. She never felt bad that she’d never had children; she had an entire restaurant full of waiters instead. She made her way back to the host desk where Luke was sneaking peeks down Gwyn’s button-down blouse. Now how the hell am I gonna get rid of that host?

©Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Cat that Never Left

A scene...
She sat at the door of the vintage shop, her coat a shiny slick of black with slits of gleaming amber eyes. Blinking dully up at us, she did not scurry away from our peddling feet, nor flinch, rather seemed to permit our entrance into her domain.
Inside, amidst treasures and trinkets of many eras past, I momentarily forgot the feline as my fingers tapped away on an old typewriter. I watched as each key jumped its symbol to the center, then back, like fists pounding on screaming chests.
Upstairs in a low-ceilinged attic, a silhouette of a man gazed down at me, pausing his work from the typewriter he was fixing. His face was blocked by a blast of sunshine pouring in from the windows behind him. The brilliant rays lit up the dark wood interior of the shop, and even the floor we walked on that sighed its gentle creaks. 
             “How much is this?” my ruca asked the salesman. She was in awe over a 1968 Life Magazine of Martin Luther King Jr.—it was the week he’d been assassinated.   
“Price should be on the back,” the guy answered, fiddling with some records.  “But I think it’s twenty.”
The ruca hooked pleading eyes with me. Twenty bucks seemed a reasonable mark-up from the 35 cents it had sold for back in ’68.
In the middle of the shop were two large phone booths, the kind you’d only see now in old black and white movies with lovers trapped inside them. I was admiring them when suddenly, the air exploded with a burst of melody; a man had started playing the piano. There were no petals at the bottom of the instrument, but he tapped his feet grandly on the floor anyway, keeping beat to his tune. I tapped along myself, feeling like I should be in an old Western saloon, with feisty cowboys drinking whiskey and cleavage busting broads swinging from chandeliers. I watched the pianist, fascinated that the sheets of random scribbles and symbols, like pensive cursive, held the secret to the harmonious sounds that painted the air. I let the music fill me up. A tip in the cup and a helpless jig of my feet and I was back to the front of the store, where the ruca was still running her fingers across the soft creases of the magazine. 
The cat was gone.
“Do you want it?” she asked, though obviously wanting it herself. 
“Sure,” I nodded, understanding her tie with the King himself; her Capricorn birthday always falls the same week as the notorious leader. Plus, when you’re not born in the most incredible decade of the Civil Rights Movement, such rare tokens are priceless.
We paid for the magazine when the music stopped, and that was when the cat came out again. Her gentle stroll revealed an astute, regal air of pride. Although her body was petite, a tiny paunch on her belly dragged slightly, almost sweeping the floor that the pads of her paws stepped soundlessly upon. I guessed her age to be about a decade old—I’d been around enough cats all my life to know.
“What’s her name?” I asked, nodding towards the door. A black whip of a tail pointed back at us.
“Sasha,” said the man, placing the magazine delicately in a paper bag.
“Does she ever run away?”
A smile spread his lips open, his knowing eyes filled with stories.  “Every now and then, she thinks about it. She’ll stretch her paws across the line of the door and you can see her debating, contemplating.  It’s like she’s thinking ‘oh freedom! Oh sweet, terrible freedom!’ And then…she changes her mind, comes back inside.”
I could picture her now: contemplating a nomadic life amongst a sea of traffic-filled hipsters in skinny jeans and Converse on Valencia Street, hunting rats out by the dumpsters and fighting feral cats for a warm place to sleep. But here, in her very own castle of polished rustic gems, she is probably fed kibble and canned tuna everyday with fresh changed water, and gets an affectionate pet when in need of cariño. But still—to know the unknown!  To journey out onto ventures far beyond the confines of the shop! What escapades she could live—what adventures she’d dare find!
We looked over at her. At her shiny black coat with her ears slightly flat, knowing she was the subject of our conversation. Her tail swooshed softly at attention.
“Wow,” I exhaled, not realizing I’d been holding my breath, or why.
With the iconic King wrapped carefully in the paper bag, we exited the shop, clicking our tongues and cooing our goodbyes at the majestic black creature who sat statuesque at the entrance. Out on Valencia Street, we walked upon the concrete of our own freedom—sweet, terrible freedom—as Sasha gazed silently back at us.

 © Sarah C. Jiménez 2011, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bruja Magic

Flashback to Pride, the last weekend of June 2011…
Cousin Edna was blasting Mexican music (and probably freaking out the gabachos upstairs), because that’s what my down-ass cousin Edna does when she’s in town: She fills the house with her bubbling fire of energy, philosophizes about love, life, people and family, and renews her and the ruca’s soul with music they grew up to. It was Pride weekend, San Francisco’s biggest holiday of the year, the house was alive with family and a non-stop ringing phone, and even I was singing along in my best Spanglish to Rocio Durcal as I began reflecting about all of my past Prides over the years. I’ve spent a couple too intoxicated to say my name, a couple as an awesome Samaritan assisting disabled elder dykes in wheelchairs, and several sitting next to Edna in the front row as we watched the ruca perform as MC on stage. Then, it hit me.
“Babe, what’re we doing for the march this year?”
“Well…” the ruca started, in that tone that said she already had conspired some type of plan. Never one for subtleties, she was painting her eyelids a bright tropical turquoise with gold eyeliner, and feathers in her hair to match her pink and red flowered dress. (It’s too bad she’s so hell-bent on saving the world, she’d have made such a great performer.) “I was thinking after we’re done with the rally at the park, we could sit at Delfina, eat some really good pizza, and watch the march pass us by.”
“Delfina?!” I blasted. Delfina is like the crème de la crème of gourmet pizza in the city; a must do at the top of every foodie’s list. But (and there had to be a ‘but’) it was also right in the heart of where the march was going to be passing through. “There’s probably 30,000 people in the city right now. Do you know how many other people probably have that same idea?”
The ruca looked at me, a glare of scorn. “You’re such a pessimist, you know that?”
“I prefer the term being realistic.”
“Realistic?! Ha! That’s funny, coming from someone who lives in the clouds.”
I handed her the eye-shadow brush she was looking for, sticking my tongue out at her.
“Your pessimism aside,” she continued, “Would you want to watch the march from there if we had the chance?”
“Or course!” I piped. It was true that the ruca had a genius idea about watching the parade while dining at one of the best spots in town, but those kinds of miracles only happen to holy people who walk on water. “I just don’t wanna get my hopes up for something that seems nearly impossible.”
“You watch,” she said. “I’ll find a way to make it happen.”
“What’s going on?” Cousin Edna asked, walking into the room.
“We’re just talking about what to do after the rally,” I filled her in. “Your cousin wants to eat at this spot where the parade is going through and watch it passing by.”
“Oh,” she said, rubbing the ruca’s coconut lotion on her arms. “Will that place be hard to get into?”

We arrived at Delfina’s before going to the park to scope out the scene for later. I was stuffing a salchicha wrapped in tocino in my mouth while the ruca did the talking: “No reservations? Show up and sign our name in? How long a wait?”
I shook my head, grilled cebollas dangling out of my mouth like monster tongues. Even with all the odds seemingly against us, the ruca was determined. I didn’t want to tell her that I’d already resolved on watching the show from the sidelines, and getting trampled by thousands of rainbow flags rippling through the masses.
We crossed the street to the park where we could hear blasts of taiko drums thundering through the air. The park burst at its seams with all kinds of people: butchy dykes in leather vests, glittery-eyed femmes, androgynous lezzies, tutus and chains, pink and purple mohawks, bouncing boobs in every letter and number size imaginable, and taut cherubic-esque booties hanging out—and, of course, the ever sweet incense of skunk, sweating its fumes throughout the park.
Picking a spot close to the stage, we laid out a blanket where we met up with friends and made new ones as scores of scenes played out in front of us. Marga Gomez, the notorious comedian, was working the crowd, saying that there was a new 2-floor lesbian club opening right in the heart of Castro. Our attention piqued, we all eyed her onstage as she hit us with her punch-line: “It’s called TRADER JOE’S!”
We walked along the top of the park, alongside the Muni tracks where some of the more hardcore dykes were soaking up as much booze as they could, concealed under the denseness of shade. Women everywhere and all around us kissed in their own celebrated sanctuary, captured in the exhilarating aura of open love. How cool it was that so many lesbians from all over the world made a pilgrimage to San Francisco for this one special day, and here we just drove right up the street for it!
The afternoon passed leisurely. After our friend Wanda sang onstage, our clique of four—Cousin Edna, our homegirl Viva, the ruca and me—began to pack up. It was early, and we had about an hour to go before everyone in the park filed out for the march that would take over the streets. We headed back to Delfina where we put our name on a wait-list that was longer than Santa’s “Naughty List.”
 I sighed, getting my butt comfy on the curb where I’d probably be sitting for the next few hours.
Names got called out for the restaurant, though I did not get my hopes up. My stomach began to churn, that salchicha I had macked down earlier no longer filling me up. I was getting hungry, thirsty, and had to pee. And I was really ready for a drink, having held out all afternoon. Tables came in and tables got bussed, people wined and dined and watched the crowd. I wanted to be one of them so badly: wanted to be the one on the inside looking out, watching the thousand wonders uncoil before my eyes over courses of food and glasses full of wine. I realized suddenly that I really have grown up. All I was looking for was a mellow way to party, and celebrate my own personal pride with the intimate family of people I’ve created for myself. I consider Cousin Edna just as much my cousin as I do the ruca’s, and I’m just as attached to Viva and her partner as I am to morning coffee and my daily writings. The realization of my own personal blooming evolution left me deep in thought. I was proud that I no longer felt the need to be ‘that wasted chick’—like the one in the street who was puking next to me. Sagacious and reflective, everything felt at peace. Well, everything but my growling stomach, and my parched dry mouth, and the lingering stench of vomit, I guess.
All at once, a thunder of engines ripped through the crowd and clusters of dykes on bikes zoomed down the street, their shiny machines dazzling all the more with hot chicks clasping onto them from behind. High passing fives were slapped as they strolled down the limbo line, followed by the roller derby girls, their swiftness an almost oblivious blur that zipped down the street. The rest of the on-foot parade would be catching up shortly, but for now an antsy anticipation spread through the fans of people like a wild itch. The calm before the storm only seemed to promise a grander finale.
I was beginning to get poked and pushed and shoved, with an uneasy feeling of claustrophobia coming over me, when all of a sudden, in a majestic and surreal wave of brilliance, the host called out, “Sarah for 4!”
I looked at my gente, my peeps, as I giddied incredulously at the ruca. “Sarah, like me?”
“Yes!” she squealed, pushing me forward. The server was already standing over our table—by the window! It was the best spot in the house: a front-row view of the march sashaying by us with the interior warmth of the oven just steps from the kitchen. Baked herbs of basil and toasted parmesan were emanating from the ovens and tickling my taste buds. We could hardly believe our royal flush of luck as we settled in, the ruca with a knowing look in her eye, proud of her bruja magic.
Wine was poured and poured some more, and the food was nothing less than incredible: a classic Margherita, mushroom pizza with truffles, sides of collard greens drenched in seasonings, and fresh sprigs of oregano served on the side to garnish. The service was super attentive and genuine. While engaged in conversation, we watched as the entire march passed us by; flags swirling, signs held up, screaming frenzies of fanatics, and tiny tots wearing tops that said I love my two Moms.
Between glugs of wine, I felt a little ashamed at myself for not having any faith in my ruca’s manifestation at being able to make things happen. I have to remember that when you want something so badly, the universe can aspire to make it happen for you: whether it’s front row seats to the biggest show in the city, or getting my books published. (The latter I have to remember not to lose hope in, and to continue manifesting my talents going golden!) As I dipped my cherries in a creamy dish of mascarpone for dessert, I could feel the ruca tap me underneath the table. I already knew what she was going to say. And beating her to the punch, I said it for her. “Yes, my love. You did tell me so.”

© Sarah C. Jiménez 2011, All Rights Reserved