mother taught me about the dualistic cosmology of things -- a view
of the universe as a battleground of contending forces. And she
taught me that kindness has rewards, and that there is nothing for
anyone who wallows in apathy or anger, and that imagination and
invention are the keys to a good life.
labor with me was induced by the bite of a black widow spider and
I entered the world with great severity and trauma, exhausting everyone.
To this day, whenever my life explodes, my mother says, "Goddamn
my parents are New Yorkers and left the tenement streets of the
Bronx and came to Los Angeles in the late fifties, when West
Side Story was real. Mom has the knife marks to prove it.
used to break the bottles on a fence and chase me home, all the
way cutting the back of my neck. Look where they got me."
scenario was straight out of one of those Warner Brothers B pictures
that she used to let me watch with her on Saturdays on the Fabulous
just a kid, and the story of her scars terrified me.
Who were "they"? Could they find us here at my grandmother's
bungalow in Echo Park, with its palm trees and dry scrubby backyard?
That sorry, bulging bungalow that smelled of freshly ironed drapes
and mint, where a distant chicken sang behind an ivy wall.
grandmother was a lefty, and her house in Echo Park was often filled
with people who had been exiled from many places -- Socialists and
Communists, violin soloists. For a while it was filled with lesbians
who had fled Fidel Castro's Cuba.
to tell people that my family "absorbed lesbians during the
Cuban Missile Crisis." My mother didn't like me saying this
in front of my father; it was too much for Dad's ears.
those lesbians were a big part of my childhood -- a good part
a scary part. They would arrive midday wearing camouflage military
gear, and sporting masculine pompadour haircuts. Sturdy and unwavering,
they had no time for children. I would see their thick legs pass
me by from my vantage point under the dining room table.
Lesbians would arrive with hot bread in thin paper bags. The Lesbians
would produce sticks of sweet guava paste and butter while my grandmother
poured strong cups of coffee. After they feasted, the meringue music
would begin, and all the ladies would start to dance, taking turns
whirling my mother around the living room floor. Tossing her shiny
brown hair back off of her shoulders, my mother would giggle, the
flan would jiggle, and for a Proustian moment all was right in the
I remind my mother about those times, she laments, "Why the
hell do you have to only remember The Lesbians? Ugh? Do you remember
the skiing? The leather jacket and the gold chain we got you? No!
But you have to remember Connie and Irene
Mom was not a butchie -- she actually was boy crazy. During World
War II, she worked in a factory that manufactured medals of honor
for soldiers. She attached the medals to gold braids and ribbons,
and placed them in velvet boxes to be sent overseas.
no one in the factory or the federal government knew was that my
mother was writing her name and address on little pieces of paper
and sticking those pieces of paper into every velvet box.
her if she ever met anyone that way. "Yeah, after the war ended,
there was a knock on the door and it was a tiny Filipino sailor,
looking for me. I told him I was my sister and that I had gotten
father was a charismatic sportsman who played short stop for the
Watts Giants farm team and lived all sports.
gloves he wore as a middle-weight championship boxer hung proudly
in our garage, the ancient cracked leather reeking of a million
up in the permanent summer of Los Angeles, I used to tell the change
of seasons by the change of gear in the front room: baseballs meant
summer, footballs meant winter and jock straps meant Indian summer
and in this, a time of shellacked baguettes and Virginia Slims,
with the help of my mother, my father did very well. We moved into
a great ultra-modern Tudor house in the hills of Glendale, California.
Glendale, which is so boring it makes Burbank seem like Berlin in
the early '30s. And it was here, like Mildred Pierce before
us, that we had our new family business! The first batting cages
in the Verdugo hills.
pitching machines sat under a gargantuan chain link cage and spit
out the balls at lightning speed. Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Whitey
Ford. Fifty cents for twelve pitches.
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