Total Pageviews

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Drunk-ass Chicks on BART

One of my pet peeves is when people don’t answer my direct question. You’d think I’d grown up with a drill sergeant of a dad or something, seriously. Yesterday at my bar, I asked some dude if he was over 21 and he said, “I have an I.D.” I repeated my question in the same tone. He said, “My birthday’s next week.” I wanted to pull my hair out. Really, what’s so hard about answering a simple yes or no question? Turns out it’s not always so easy to answer direct questions, and I got a taste of my medicine recently.
I was riding BART to work and torturing myself by reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, since I didn’t read it in 6th grade like “everyone else did”—according to the ruca. I was on the last pages, concentrating very hard on not crying when Lennie is asking George about the rabbits while George has a gun in his hand. My silent torment was broken as four girls who looked like they’d barely turned 21 stumbled aboard—wasted—with the drunkest of the four plopping down next to me. She was easily three hundred pounds. Now I’m in no way a fat-a-phobic like most of America. In fact, I think most of America is disgustingly obsessed with the anorexic look, and I also think that trains, planes and BART make their seats too small to begin with anyway. (Plus, anyone who knows me knows the ruca's got hips like no one's business.) What bothered me about homegirl sitting next to me was that she spread herself completely out, opening her legs and thrusting me and my book and my lunchbox and uniform against the wall. Then she let her head roll back on the cushioned seat, facing me, and began to snore. Her alcohol rancid breath spewed through the air of the clammed up train—I half expected a handful of flies to be dazing lazily around the invisible cloud. And her friends? Sitting right next to her, taking pictures with their phones. The one with the shirt that said Nasty Girl schemed, “Wait till everyone sees this shit on facebook.”
I was appalled. Sure I’ve been dumb and drunk and 21 before so I couldn’t really judge, but I also couldn’t move: my legs and nose were pressed against the window, and my rosemary ham and swiss-cheese sandwich was smushing like a pancake. I only had two stops left, about four minutes, but her breath was making me nauseous. I snorted tiny breaths through the coolness of the window, but the reek still found a way to spiral to my nose. I tried breathing through my mouth, but I could still feel the rancidness spoil on my lips. Her friends were all laughing, just sitting there taking pictures as she began to drool. Jesus Christ, all I wanted was to finish my book! But no— this drunk-ass chick who’d probably just drank the bar dry at the Kilowatt was ruining my tragic good-cry ending! What about the rabbits, George? What about the rabbits?!
We stopped at Civic Center. I should’ve gotten up but I froze; just sat there doing nada as the train filled up with 9-5ers off work going back to East Bay. I planned my exit route since my stop was next: she’d have to wake up as soon as I tapped her. Then she’d get up and move for me. Easy. Least it should’ve been.
The doors closed. The seats of the train had all filled up and some of the suits and skirts with briefcases were left standing. I put my plan into action. I stood up, the first of everyone on the train to stand, and very politely tapped the drunk.
“Excuse me?” I said.  “I need to get off.”
She snorted. The three friends looked at me, bored.
“Umm,” I tapped her again, poking harder.  “Hello? Can you please get up? I have to get off.”
Nada. An entire mariachi band could’ve been serenading Mi Cielito Lindo for her and homegirl wouldn’t have batted an eye. I was getting worried. Her legs, white and bare in cut-off daisy dukes, were completely blocking any chance I had of squeezing by in front of her.
Desperately, I looked at her homegirls. “Your friend needs to move,” I snapped.
Nasty Girl looked at me, her hair highlighted with blocks of blonde and black. “Jessie,” she said, snapping her hot pink acrylic nails in her face before she gave her a little slap. “JESSIE!”
The train was approaching Powell, the screech slowing down.
The friend looked at me. “Just climb over her.”
What? Oh come on. I’m not the 21-year old borracha—how did I get sucked into their world? Still, I had no choice. The train was about to stop and pretty soon people would be flooding on and filling up. Fuming, I climbed over her, stretching out one long leg and swinging around her, completely awkward as my purse fell off my shoulder and onto her lap. I felt slimy and sordid as I pinched my fingers like claws to pick it up—except it slid on the sweat of her thighs and into the crack of her legs. I finally grabbed it as she slurred some kind of moan and the three friends cracked up hysterically, either at her or at me or at both of us while they snapped away on their phones.
I couldn’t hold back any longer. “You guys are some fucked up friends,” I hurled at them.
Blonde and black and skunky-haired, Nasty Girl glared up at me, her heavy-coated pink glossed lips looking like shiny puss on her mouth. “Who the fuck asked you?” she retorted.
And since I hate not answering a direct question, I fumbled, not having an answer as all the standing suits stared blankly at us.
I was stumped. Who had asked me?  Not one of those broads had asked for my opinion, not at all.
Seeing that they’d caught my weakness, all three friends laughed again as the train pulled to a stop, jerking us passengers slightly. There was already a mob of people impatiently waiting for us to get off so they could get on. I cut my losses, even though I hated the burn of humiliation for simply trying to school some 21-year olds with my 30-year old wisdom. The doors opened.
It wasn’t until people began shoving on and shoving off that my response came to me. I yelled like a crazy person as I got pushed like a fish swimming upstream against its school: “I don’t need to be asked, you girls need to be told!” I hollered, and made it out the train by seconds, the door almost snagging at my shoelace. I looked back, feeling quite proud of myself. From the windows, the friends were still laughing—as they held up the worn and torn copy of the book I’d somehow left behind.
The train’s engine roared loudly and pulled away, growing smaller in the tunnel until all that was left was its fading red light. “But what about the rabbits, George?” I squeaked weakly to myself.

And that, I did not have an answer for.

© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Back in the days when my Spanish was barely Spanglish, and the only Spanish I did know was from picking up random drunken words stumbling down Revolución in T.J., I had what you would call a “pocha moment.” I’d just moved to the city and was making $35 a shift on busy nights as a food runner with $750 rent (which by city standards is actually cheap). As broke and hungry as I was, I pimped myself out to the alpha chef behind the line, Julian, a handsome, arrogant Michuacano. Flirting mercilessly with him, I batted my lashes, giggled like a school girl and ate up my rewards later: tender roasted rack of lamb, shrimp pasta pomodoro, chicken marsala with garlic mash and creamed spinach. Hey, don’t judge. You would’ve busted the femme fatale role too if your broke-ass was at home eating corn tortillas with peanut-butter for the fourth day in a row. Once Julian left, the umbrella of protection I was shielded with ended, and Lucho, his quiet scornful nemesis took over.
Lucho made it clear that he wasn’t smitten by my charm. I’d been polite enough to him all those months, but hadn’t showered him with the same doting I had for Julian, a devoid that would not lift his resentment over me. One day, when I passed him the tenajas for the fries, he said “Thank you, bizcocho.”
Bizcocho…I’d heard that word before. It was a sweet bread you dipped in your coffee—like a biscotti. But why were the other cooks suddenly snickering? 
“What does that mean?” I demanded. “Es un sweet bread,” he shrugged innocently. “Because you sweet.”
Since I didn’t know any better, I took it for what it was.
One day, one of the new Latino room-service guys overheard Lucho calling me bizcocho across the line. Appalled, he pulled me aside. “Do you know what they’re calling you?”
“Sweet bread,” I answered matter-of-factly. “It’s cuz I’m sweet.”
He himself snickered, then whispered the meaning in my ear.
Well, there’s no direct translation, really. But slang-wise, the closest you can come up with is that the sweet bread symbolically means a woman’s…
“Mother FUCKER!” I roared, blasting into the kitchen and hurling a bowl of fries onto the floor. (I can be quite hot-headed at times, a trait that either works for me or against me.) “I know what that means now!”
Lucho just laughed. “It’s sweet bread,” he shrugged coolly. “Because you sweet, bizcocho.” The cooks were all on the floor, rolling. This is the entertainment people get when they live at work.
“Stop calling me that right now!
“No,” he said plainly. “It’s your nick name.” He handed me a fresh bowl of fries to continue my work.
For weeks after, the name bizcocho trailed behind me everywhere. I didn’t want to squeal to my gabacho managers because they were hesitant to put a woman behind the line to begin with—expos are mostly a male dominated position. I wanted to prove them wrong and hold off long enough until I got the “experience” they wanted from me to be promoted to the floor serving. With servers whining over making a hundred bucks on slow nights, that was where the money was at. And no one—not even a punk cook—was going to stand in the way of my money flow.
My respect in the kitchen was at an all-time low. Every time I forced myself to go to work, I felt like Carrie at prom being incessantly ridiculed: “They’re all gonna laugh at you, they’re all gonna laugh at you.” And being that I was too proud to ask for food, I was also hungrier than half the city’s squandering pigeons.
Something had to give and finally the answer came, but timing was everything. I waited an entire six days for the opportune moment, then pounced like a patient bullfrog snapping at a fly when it approached. It was a Saturday night, the kitchen was packed, and all the cooks were standing around admiring Lucho’s new phone that had a camera. Big technology in those days.
“Let me take a picture of you, bizcocho,” he said.
I grinned to myself, setting out ramekins to dry. “Let’s do it…Anchovy.”
He stopped, looked up at me. A pause fell across the kitchen: no servers asking for re-fires, no food that had to be plated. Not one expo ticket printed on the sauté or pantry line, and not a single soup ladle stirred. The thousand actions that give life to a kitchen halted in those very exact seconds that Lucho and I sneered silently at each other: him full of pride and need for respect, me full of my own.
“What you call me?” he seethed.
“Oh, it’s your new nickname. Anchovy,” I repeated simply. “You know, like that disgusting salted dead fish they put on top of pizza. Cute, huh?”
Lucho’s face twisted and creased, spit flying from his mouth like he’d just warped into a rabid wolf. He had deep wide set Mayan eyes, indigeno looking, and a long ponytail that hung down his back. He was handsome, no doubt. But the defeated look that scorned his eyes now was anything but charming.
“Don’t call me that!”
“No,” I decided, enjoying the two minutes of torture that was almost equivalent to my entire month. “It’s your new nick name, Anchovy.”
The cooks were nudging each other hysterically now, “coño’s” flying left and right. “Anchovy!” they busted.
“Basta!” Lucho fired, bellowing.  
I glared back. I could be quite threatening at times, call it the wrath of a woman. “Fine, I’ll stop. But quit calling me bizcocho!”
He nodded. The cooks were still rolling at his feet. “Algo más?”
“Yes,” I declared. “I’m starving.”
He took a big gulp, probably of his pride. “Pollo o pescado?”
I got promoted to the floor eventually and Lucho moved on as well; the restaurant business is transient like that. The other day out of the blue, I happened to think of him and wondered if he ever thought of me too. I wondered if he ever silently scowled when his friends joke about ordering anchovies on their pizza—or better: If he ever sulks when he does eat a bizcocho, wondering why its sweetness is gone as he dunks it into his coffee.

© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 3, 2011

Split Pea Soup & Chicharrón

I should’ve been writing because writers write—even when they have writer’s block or just plain laziness block—they write something. So was I? Nope, not at all. I spent my entire afternoon flipping through pages of an astrology book, fascinated, skeptical, and completely wasting time.
This is what I concluded: I’m a Sagittarius sun, Libra moon, and Scorpio rising. Sag’s are notorious for being infected with a chronic disease called Foot-in-the-Mouth syndrome, leading me to say mindless shit like: “Damn those pants make your ass look huge!” Or “Have you ever noticed how bad your breath stinks after eating curry?” (Hmm…and I’d always just considered myself honest.) Luckily, my Libra-ness can charm my way out of my messes while my Scorpio is supposed to make me silent and cool…Yes, I confess that aside doing laundry, this is how I spent my day.
I picked up the ruca from work later and we got home to find our neighbor blocking our driveway—again. And not by a hair or a couple lousy inches, but literally half of his black SUV’s ass rearing into our garage. The ruca and I looked at each other through clenched teeth—it was the second time this week. She had to run an errand and would be back in an hour. “If his ass ain’t moved by the time we get back, shit’s gonna hit the fan.”
“My Sag wants to get fired up and kick his ass, my Libra wants to politely ask him to move, and my Scorpio wants to flatten all his tires in the middle of the night,” I babbled.
She looked at me as if I was crazy.  “What?
“Nothing,” I shook my head. “Can you hide my astrology when you get home?”
I had an hour to cook dinner and to think about how I would deal with the situation. I hate confrontation. Awhile back, I agonized for days over how to tell a co-worker she’d hurt my feelings by calling me “too sensitive.” (Once I realized the irony of it though, I had a shot of whiskey and drank it off.) Seriously though, I’d rather be taking out the garbage or scrubbing the toilet than dancing around the inevitable awkwardness of, “Uh…we need to talk.” I wondered how I’d cower today as I set the preparations out for dinner.
Now anytime I cook, I pour energy into what I am making and depending how I feel at the moment, it tends to parallel my emotion—very like water for chocolate-ish. If I’m feeling romantic, my spicy shrimp linguini is exquisitely seductive. If I’m sad or doting on a memory, my picadillo is woefully intense. (Once I made the mistake of cooking veggie burgers while arguing, and both me and the ruca got the runs later.) I was still driving myself astrologically neurotic, but was feeling quite powerful as I rehearsed things I would say to our neighbor when the confrontation would go down.
I sautéed garlic and onions and added chiles, oregano and cumin seeds. I would tell our fellow neighbor—a huge towering Samoan man that makes Giants’ Pablo Sandoval look petite—that he had no right to block our driveway. “We’re neighbors and shouldn’t have to ask you to give back what is rightfully ours.” Or: “We pay a lot of money for the garage, and would appreciate being able to park there without asking you to move all the time.” Or: “Dude, seriously? Next time your ass is gettin’ towed.”
Oh, the confrontation!  The butterflies in my stomach that came from sticking up for myself!  Could I do it? Yes! My Sag told my scaredy-cat Libra. Just be blunt and out with the truth! Don’t even think about it so much, I coached myself. I rinsed the green peas and added them to the broth of sautéed onions and garlic, then shredded chunks of chicharrón so the smoky flavor of pork would melt together with the peas. I’m a 30 year old woman, I’ve dealt with harder things in life than how to tell a pesky neighbor to move his stupid car, I concluded, and cut up chunks of potatoes and carrots to toss in the boiling pot.
An hour passed. The spicy smell of peas and grasa tickled the buds of my mouth as I set the comal for tortillas. The ruca would be home any minute.
The peas had softened. The chicharrón had shredded. The carrots and peas added the perfect burst of texture. My soup was a strengthening soup and would give me the power I needed to take charge, to diplomatically “go off”—and to not be such a fucking wuss for god sakes. 
Outside, the ruca honked.
I ran to the door. Her eyebrows were raised, frustrated that the SUV big enough to transport an entire football team was still there. I waved a reassuring hand at her. “I got this.”
Marching upstairs, an entire monologue memorized in my head—“Rightfully ours…our space…appreciate it if…shouldn’t have to ask”—his wife answered the door. She seemed to open it wider for me, as if inviting me in for the first time.
“Uh…parked in our driveway,” I mumbled. 
She called out to her husband as I fled back downstairs to hide my cowardice. Still, I was not giving up. I would stand tall, tell him exactly how I felt. Get everything off my chest and give him a piece of my mind. I made the strengthening soup, damnit!
The neighbor hobbled out the door and down the stairs, an obvious limp dragging at his leg. “Hey there!” he called out, friendly as old chums at a Sunday picnic. “Sorry ‘bout the car!” he said, and got into the SUV.
Sag, Libra, Scorpio pushover…none of it mattered. Because over the roar of his engine, the only thing one could hear that came out of me was a pathetic croak: “It’s alright.”
The ruca tasted the soup.
“Whaddayou think?” I asked her, like I always ask do when I’m extra proud of something.
She rolled her eyes to the back of her head, a mind numbing face to show she approved. “It’s delicious,” she said, dipping her tortilla in it. “Absolutely phenomenal.”
I tasted it myself. It was spicy, strong, a smoky flavor of grasa and a reminiscent breath of cumin. It was my powerful soup—even if I didn’t always feel that way myself. Sure, there are things about me I wish I could change. But even if I could, would I really want to? If I got rid of all the things about myself that drive me nuts—my wussiness, my foot in the mouth-ness, my Sag or Libra-ness or Sarah-ness or whatever you want to call it—would I be here right now, tasting this cathartic and mind blowing soup?
“Should I have made it spicier?” I asked.
“No. It’s perfect as it is.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, slurping down the next spoonful.  “I guess it is.”

© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved