Friday, December 31, 2010

The Sure-Fire Way to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

As I write this post, countless people the world over are conjuring up lofty resolutions for the coming year. You've heard it before - most of these resolutions fail within days, weeks, or (for those tenacious types) a few months of January First. Now I'm no expert on the human psyche, but after a few minutes of considering the issue, the word DUH! came to mind. It's absurdly apparent why most resolutions fail. They fail because we want them to fail, because they're unpleasant, because we'd rather drink our own piss than see them through.

Think about it; the most common resolutions look something like this:

Lose weight
Hit the gym frequently
Adhere to a more frugal budget
Quit smoking, drinking, toking, or otherwise indulging in addictive but soothing vices
Get a new job (or a second job, in this recession era)

Ugh. With such tiresome and obnoxious goals as these, it's little wonder we forget about them almost as hastily as we've made them. They sound like self-punishment, like drudgery.

But this year, I propose a revolution in resolutions. Let us each resolve to accomplish the delightful and amusing, not the dry and dreary. Leave the sober promises cited above for another relatively insignificant year, like 2013. For 2011, Dr. Nadya* recommends that everyone add some flavor to his or her otherwise bland New Year's resolutions. I will wager that an exciting, charming, and even silly resolution is far more likely to remain in your memory and on your To-Do list than something as unsexy as "stick to my budget." This year, resolve to do what you actually want to do, not the insipid chores you think you should do. This way, you might actually get something done - or at least take pleasure in the effort.

A few examples to help you get started (my own 2011 resolutions):

Gain five pounds
Notice something beautiful every day
Visit at least one new country and two new states
Make two new friends - the real kind, not the Facebook kind
Take a belly-dancing class
Commit an anonymous act of kindness once a week
Learn to make chocolate croissants

Now these are resolutions I can look forward to keeping :)

*I'm not actually a doctor. And I don't play one on TV. I'm not even a fan of primetime medical dramas. But I do think that McDreamy guy on Grey's Anatomy is appallingly gorgeous and I'd play doctor with him any day.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do You Haiku?

I wrote these last night during a bout of insomnia.

Tonight a child sleeps soundly
decisively dreams
of the spaces between stars.

Love is a carnival prize
a triumphant smile
after winning a stuffed doll.

Does anyone else out there ever write haiku? It's not my favorite poetic form, mostly because I'm so verbose and haiku requires brevity. But I'd love to read yours! Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

100 Words: Miami is My Native Land

Miami is my native land, a city that feels like an autonomous territory, complete with its own tongue, rhythm, and collective consciousness. Miami is an amalgam of flavors. It is roast pork bathed in Cuban mojo and peppered with sundry spices from islands and highlands around the globe. Miami looks like sunshine and wish-you-were-here postcards and telenovelas. At once it feels sopping and sticky and sunburned and sexy. It is sand in shoes and luxurious pearls of perspiration around golden-brown necks. Miami sounds like mambo beats and traffic jams and the clutter of noisy conversations. In Miami, nothing is whispered.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hairbrush Microphone

When I was a kid, I spent hours each day in front of the full-length mirror that was attached to my closet door.  I turned my little boom box up full blast and became Janet Jackson or Mariah Carey or Selena. At school and on the block I was a skinny, frizzy-haired ‘goody-goody’ who fit every nerdy stereotype imaginable. I even willingly wore plaid skirts, knee-high stockings, penny loafers, and a beret – an actual beret – to school most days. But as soon as class had ended, I hurriedly skipped back home, absconded to my claustrophobic room with the peeling floral wallpaper and circa 1970s shag carpet, shed my schoolgirl getup and became a diva. In the womblike safety of my bedroom I could be sex. I could be style. I could be success. I could be everything I wasn’t. I had scores of stuffed animals who sat enthralled through hours of impassioned singing (or lip-synching, when my parents were home) and showered me with shouts of adulation.
 Nowadays, it seems there are scarcely enough idle minutes, let alone hours, for me to spend daydreaming. But when I’m late to that thing I have to attend, to that place where my domineering adulthood requires me to be, it’s usually because I’ve stolen away to that little room again, that delightful world of my infancy. I unremorsefully miss your important phone call or fail to respond punctually to your urgent email because one hand is holding a hairbrush microphone and the other is sending kisses floating off into an imaginary crowd.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Regulars

I used to work at a diner as a teen. The characters I encountered there, both customers and coworkers, fascinated me then and continue to haunt me eleven years later. What follows is a glimpse at a few of the frequent customers, or regulars, who formed an integral part of the colorful landscape that was "Daisy's Diner."

On Sunday mornings, a motley bunch of regulars descends on Daisy’s Diner. Sometimes we get to know their names.

Shorty is a skeletal old man with exceptionally bowed legs who limps in at exactly six-thirty every day of the week, clad in a tattered denim jacket, equally worn blue jeans, and russet-colored cowboy boots. You can’t live in Mayville for long without noticing Shorty. He walks miles across and around the town each day, first to Daisy’s for breakfast, then here and there on errands, followed by a stop at the Shanghai CafĂ© for lunch, then on to St. Mary’s for evening mass, and finally to Bob and Millie’s house on Tree Street for dinner. From time to time, I pass Shorty on my way home from Daisy’s after my double shift. He’s just left Bob and Millie’s and is making his way home, a few streets west of my place. I honk my horn and wave, but never offer him a ride. Shorty hasn’t set foot in an automobile in over a decade, not since he killed a little boy on his way home from the Westridge Pub one evening.

Slick Sam shows up around eight with his brood of bastard children. He’s thirty years old and already has six kids with four different women in Mayville. Sam is the owner of Slick Sam’s Auto Body Shop on Union Street. He also sells weed to a few of my neighbors, so I see him frequently, creeping up the drive in a glossy red and white Corvette. Every Sunday, Sam picks up each of his kids from his baby mommas’ houses and takes them out to breakfast. He always makes a grand entrance, showing off each child to the waitresses and grinning smugly as if he’s expecting someone to crown him Father of the Year at any moment.

Maud is a middle-aged librarian whose astonishing obesity requires some foresight on the part of the restaurant staff. Each time she comes in, the hostess keeps her entertained for a few seconds while one of the busboys adjusts the corner booth so poor Maud can squeeze in. We began doing this after an incident three months ago. Maud was maneuvering her gut in the most fantastic fashion so as to fit into her usual booth when her colossal ass hit a nearby toddler’s high chair and sent the poor kid flying across the dining room and smack into the arms of a waiter who was carrying several bowls of oatmeal. We have tables and chairs, but Maud insists upon sitting in the corner booth. Whoever said that the customer is always right must have been a first-class dumbass.

There are nameless regulars whom we know only by what they order. There’s the hot chocolate guy, who reeks of sweat, beer, and cigarettes and comes in every Sunday morning to drink exactly four cups of hot chocolate. He has a long, gray beard and resembles a down-and-out Santa Claus. Peggy always serves the hot chocolate guy because she’s the only one who can stomach him. He sits at the counter for two to three hours, sipping his cocoa, talking to a filthy  little stuffed panda, and plucking hairs from his beard. After he’s finished his fourth cup of hot chocolate, the old man tips Peggy six quarters and a carefully arranged pile of coarse facial hair.

The seven peppers man is a professional panhandler. He’s not actually homeless.  He lives in a shabby little duplex two blocks away, which he pays for by begging outside the shopping mall downtown. Every Sunday around noon, the old man barks his order at Dolly, the timid waitress who works the counter. “YOU LISTEN HERE! WRITE THIS DOWN SO YOU GET IT RIGHT FOR ONCE. I WANT A TUNA SANDWICH ON SOURDOUGH WITH EXTRA TOMATOES AND SEVEN PACKETS OF PEPPER! SEVEN PEPPERS, YOU HEAR? NOT FIVE, NOT EIGHT, BUT SEVEN PEPPERS!” When Dolly nervously asks the old curmudgeon whether he wants his food “for here or to go,” he scoffs at the question and replies that if he stays, he will have to tip her “sorry ass.” The seven peppers man is not the tipping kind.

What Color Are You? A Reflection on Racialization in US Schools and Communities

I wrote this short reflection piece over a year ago in a course I had to take for my Masters degree and teaching certificate. It describes a moment that was critical to the formation of my teaching philosophy and views on race labels. I have been thinking about this experience lately, and how far I have come as a social justice educator since then.

What Color Are You? A Reflection on Racialization in US Schools and Communities

Margaret and Fatima[1], two high school sophomores from Liberia and Somalia, respectively, recently bumped into me in the hallway after school. I know the two girls fairly well because I tutored them in reading twice a week when they were in junior high, and now see them from time to time at the high school. We took a moment to catch up on the usual topics of interest to teenage girls: clothes, popular music, and boys. Or at least that is how the conversation began. For some reason (the memory escapes me) the girls began to ask me about my husband. What does he do for a living? How did you meet? In this vein our chat somehow evolved and suddenly Margaret asked me a question that left me fumbling for words to respond: “What color are you and your husband?”
I paused, frantically thinking of ways to dodge the question. I decided I would make a joke and quickly move on. “We’re purple,” I replied with a smile, and attempted to change the subject. Not so fast, Margaret’s expression seemed to say. “Everyone in America has a color,” she said. “Yeah, we’re Black here, and Americans hate Black people,” added Fatima. “Purple is not a color. You can only be black, white, brown, red, or yellow. What color are you?”  My intention was not to patronize or pretend that issues of race in the United States do not exist. I simply did not know how to answer the question, or at least half of it. My husband has pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes and his family can claim American citizenship for several generations back. Consequently, I know most people would regard him as White. But what color am I? I have dark hair and eyes, with light olive skin. My parents are Cuban refugees.  In the limited menu of race/color labels in the United States (sadly to which these two African students had already been introduced), “Olive” is not an option. I have been called White in some circles, such as among people of Cuban descent. I have heard others refer to me as Brown. Still others prefer to add me to the catch-all category of Persons of Color, a controversial term which includes all people but Whites. And then of course there was my own self-perception to consider: I do not and have never seen myself in terms of color. With all this confusion of complexion hues muddying up my mind, I found myself at a loss for the ‘correct’ way to respond to such a question. The conversation ended, we went our separate ways, and I felt I had failed Margaret and Fatima by not supplying an adequate response to such a weighty question.
This vignette illustrates the first time that students have asked me about my skin color, but I know that it will not be the last. I am planning to teach immigrant students such as Margaret and Fatima next year, and I hope that my future students, who will likely grapple with issues of race and color for themselves, will trust me enough to ask me such questions. However in order to build and deserve that trust, I clearly have some work to do.
First, I must address the color question for myself. Am I Black? I do not believe so. Am I White? Brown? To some folks, perhaps. What about a Person of Color? It is a phrase commonly used by educators and theorists to refer to non-Whites. But is it appropriate? Multicultural theorists Sonia Nieto and Patty Bode (2008) think not:
[One problem with the term] is the implication of a common historical experience among all groups and individuals included under this designation. Aside from a mutual history of oppression at the hands of those in power, a shared historical experience among these disparate groups is an illusion…People of color is also inaccurate when referring, for example, to Latinos of European background, as is the case with many Argentinians and Cubans, and light-skinned Latinos in general. When these Latinos refer to themselves in this way, they risk implying that they have experienced the same level of virulent racism as their darker-skinned compatriots (p. 38).
I agree with Nieto and Bode here, but would add that “People of Color” is not the only problematic label used to color-code people in the United States. The other labels are just as complicated. “Black,” for instance, is a tricky label for students such as Margaret and Fatima, who do not share the same historical or cultural experiences as African-Americans. Nevertheless, Margaret and Fatima know that that this color has been assigned to them by American society, whether the girls will it or not. They have been racialized, as Bigelow (2008) puts it.
            Bigelow (2008) argues that “[t]he process of racialization has a powerful impact on immigrants of color, like Somalis, who may or may not have come from such racialized societies or were considered the dominant race in their own country” (p. 28). In “becoming black,” Somali immigrants must grapple with their new minority status as well as with a label that negates the very existence of a Somali culture and attempts to lump them together with African-Americans, which Somali students might not identify with (p. 28). This labeling, warns Bigelow, can have various adverse effects on Somali and other African students, such as racial profiling by police and a loss of cultural and linguistic resources (such as when Somali students opt to speak African-American Vernacular English instead of their native languages, in order to fit in) (p. 29).
            What then, is the answer to Margaret’s question? What color am I? After significant research and introspection, I have come to the conclusion that “I don’t know,” followed by a discussion of the implications of color labels, is a far more useful answer for students than succumbing to racialization and replying with “white” or “brown” or some other color label. Students, particularly those who are members of oppressed groups, want to talk about race, and open, honest discussion about race can help improve the educational climate for children like Margaret and Fatima. As a teacher, I must be comfortable talking about color whenever students bring up the issue. However I need not wait for students to bring it up. Bigelow recommends that teachers initiate these discussions with their classes: “All students should learn how racialization occurs at schools and in communities. Students can [be encouraged to] engage in their own inquiry about racialization practices” (p. 32). Teachers should also make sure not to assign labels to students. Dark-skinned students are not all the same and thus should not be treated as though they are. For that matter, light-skinned, “White” students also come from diverse backgrounds, and educators should be careful not to assume that all “White” students have shared historical or cultural experiences or perspectives.
            I do not wish to give the impression that I am advocating ‘color-blindness’ in school communities. Skin color has long been and continues to be a basis for discrimination and oppression in the United States. Darker-skinned students like Margaret and Fatima will learn harsh lessons about racism whether or not teachers discuss it with them. However, educators can be agents for social change when they assist students in deconstructing the white/black, or white/colored, dichotomy through honest dialogue with students about race. In The Dreamkeepers, a book about culturally relevant pedagogy for African-American students, Gloria Ladsen-Billings (1994) writes:
African American children cannot afford the luxury of shielding themselves with a sugar-coated vision of the world. When their parents or neighbors suffer personal humiliations and discrimination because of their race, parents, teachers, and neighbors need to explain why. But, beyond those explanations, parents, teachers, and neighbors need to help arm African American children with the knowledge, skills, and attitude needed to struggle successfully against oppression (p. 139).
Although she is writing about African-American students, Ladsen-Billings’s argument can certainly be extended to students from other marginalized groups, such as immigrants from African countries. I did Margaret and Fatima no favors by avoiding an honest and constructive discussion about race and racism.
            How to begin engaging in useful dialogue with students about race? Stovall’s (2005) explanation of Critical Race Theory (CRT) can provide a springboard for such discussion. Teachers can explicitly teach such theories and their application in the classroom. I am planning to teach language arts at the secondary level. I see no reason why I should not introduce students to the same critical theories that I was exposed to in the university. I can teach students how to use CRT as a lens for analyzing literature. For example, I am currently planning an inquiry-based unit in which students will explore how African-American authors have used and continue to use language as a tool for subverting systems of oppression and effecting social change. This unit would be part of a year-long investigation of the “racialized, gendered, and classed experiences” of women and other historically marginalized authors, and would apply the “interdisciplinary knowledge base of [CRT] to better understand” their experiences (Stovall 2005, p. 97).
            Through my experiences working with immigrant youth, I have begun to learn what it means to be an “ally” to members of historically oppressed groups of people (Kivel 2005, p. 139). Kivel argues that being an ally “includes listening” to people when they have encountered racism in their lives (p. 139). However, for educators being an ally also means exhibiting a willingness to engage in thoughtful, honest discussion with students about race. As an educator, I do not need to have all the answers. I do not need to have a one-word response prepared for the moment when a student asks, “What color are you, Ms. Perez?” Instead, I need to be ready to engage in critical inquiry with my students, and support them as they learn to navigate and challenge the complex and color-coded world they in which they live.


Bigelow, M. (2008). Somali adolescents’ negotiation of religious and racial bias in and out of school. Theory into Practice, (47), 27-34.
Kivel, P. (2005). How White people can serve as allies to people of color in the struggle to end racism. In P.S. Rothenburg (Ed.), White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism (2nd Edition), 139-147. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Ladsen-Billings, G. (1994). The Dream-Keepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Stovall, D. (2005). A Challenge to traditional theory: Critical race theory, African-American community organizers, and education. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 26(1), 95-108.

[1] Students’ names have been changed out of respect for their privacy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

100 Words: Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will break out of here. I will wriggle out from beneath the weight of your overfed opinion, which lounges oppressively on my lap and numbs my limbs. My cadaverous legs, feeble but free, will need no command, no pointing in the direction toward which they must stumble.
Tomorrow my will and my shall become my am. No more am I a courtesan in the house of your hubris. I flee the bordello of your self-indulgence for the beautiful specter of a new morning in a nameless town...
unless tomorrow should again ensnare me in the trap of hope.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This is Nadya

Lately I’ve received some colorful spam email from considerate visitors to my blog who wish to offer me such necessities as penis enhancement potions and anabolic steroids. I thought that since they were pushing such personal products on me, they should at least get to know me better first. A bit of an introduction might help them learn useful tidbits about their target audience, such as the fact that I do not actually possess a penis and thus have no need of enhancing one. So here’s a bit of help from yours truly, a few scraps of my messy identity.
My recurring dreams:
Dream One: My teeth are falling out. I have this dream at least once a week. The plot varies but the conflict remains the same. I’m losing a tooth or teeth. When I wake up, I run my tongue across both sets of chompers to make sure all are accounted for.
Now and then I wonder what the tooth dream means, and why I dream it so frequently. My best friend read somewhere that this sort of dream is quite common. She believes that it has something to do with anxiety over having said too much to someone, or a terror of having one’s words misinterpreted by others. She may be right – I regularly lie awake at night fretting about the nonsense I have said over dinner with in-laws, during a run-in with the neighbors, or to a colleague in the hallway. This unease happens most often after an encounter with someone outside my exceptionally exclusive inner circle. My collection of confidantes is small because of this pernicious angst over being misunderstood, this fear that I am a misread and misquoted text. Of course, I see most individuals as arcane epics, replete with vague allusions to characters and experiences and worlds that lie far beyond the borders of my ability to comprehend. I venture to guess that I am not alone in my “nobody gets me” anguish.
Dream Two: George Clooney and I make wicked love. No ambiguity surrounds this dream, no hidden meaning. Ladies and gentlemen, when you dream that you are having sex with George Clooney, it means nothing more than the obvious and understandable fact that you want to have sex with George Clooney.
Dream Three: I am forced to repeat high school, specifically the math and science classes. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth while typing the words. Ugh. I hated math and science! I think the meaning behind this dream is that I have done something awful and God’s preferred method of castigation is to force-feed me a little taste of hell. Maybe the dream is meant to punish me for having impure thoughts about a certain Oscar-winning actor? Perhaps I’m on to something here….
My injurious vices (this is not a comprehensive list):
The Twilight books and movies: Yes, I know they are bad writing and worse cinema. But they would not be vices if they were not embarrassing and inimical to one’s brain cells.
Doughnuts: Big squashy ones with chocolate frosting. I’m devouring one right now. I have to get rid of the nauseating flavor of high school memories. Have I ever mentioned I teach at a high school? Hmmm, some irony there.
YouTube: I could search YouTube for hours. And, um, sometimes I do. EVERYTHING’s on YouTube! I live for funny videos.
19th Century British novels: The really long ones that only a masochist would read and reread. I love to lose myself in Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend and Vanity Fair and Middlemarch. These books possess the status of holy books for me. They have changed my life and shaped my soul – and not necessarily in positive ways. ;)
Take-out: My poor husband works incredibly hard to support my weakness for restaurant goodies. I have a rather neurotic relationship with food, and I suffered from anorexia during most of my teenage years. I’ve maintained a healthy weight for some time now by keeping a guarded distance from the preparation of my meals and by allowing myself any food that I crave.  This is all a bit indulgent, but I figure at least it’s food and not crack.

My pet peeves (again, not a complete list):

I hate the words literally, loin, vulva, scrotum and darling (esp. when darling is used to describe objects, such as “What a darling house!”)
And I loathe the non-words yourguyses, irregardless, and chillax.
I do not allow anyone, including Hubby, to touch my face. No idea why. Kisses are fine but hands on the face are not cool.
It upsets me that even though I don’t watch TV, I know who Kim Kardashian and Snooki are.
My eye twitches when people ask me if I speak Mexican. I've got nothing against Mexicans but they, like myself, speak Spanish, not Mexican.

A Few of My Goals:
I’d like to publish a trashy trade paper romance novel with a scandalous title like Throbbing Love. It just sounds like fun.
I’d like to be one of the outtakes on American Idol. :)

I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I want to learn to belly dance.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sacred Profanity

I wrote this poem as a companion to a previous poem called Before the Flood, which I published on this blog in October. Both pieces are about that obsessive, imprudent, delicious love that we so readily embrace with boundless faith so many times in our youth. Lately I've been thinking about how easily and entirely one falls in love at sixteen or seventeen - and how often. At times I wish it were as easy now as it was back then to recklessly love, without armor or logic or cunning or calculation.

Sacred Profanity

I loved him
With the sort of sacrilegious fervor
That enrages the most indifferent of deities.
I knew that divinity resides even in the wretched
And we would erect a heavenly realm
To rival celestial kingdoms real and mythical
Or perish readily of our heretical delusion.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hear Me

Bestial beings
Trouble my dreams
Sieze my words
And rend my seams
But I don’t need
Darning or defense
Common sense
Or recompense
Merely an ear
To heed my screams

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


We were soldiers
Fighting our fathers’ war
For an antiquated honor
And the medal of public opinion.
Captured by the adversary,
We tried to abscond
The yoke of tradition,
But he fell to the enemy
And I left him down.
I did not look back
But still I turn to salt.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Little Lucy

Little Lucy is pregnant at sixteen.
Her mother laments the loss
Of the coat-hanger epoch
And curses the deity who cursed her first.
Meanwhile Lucy is gravid with the promise
Of promises unkept
Tears wept and unwept
Nights slept and unslept.
And yet
Little Lucy of only sixteen
Will deliver a marvel in the morning.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Childhood Bargain with My Guardian Angel

Illa died when I was six years old. I don’t have many memories of her, save the smell of her perfume, her passion for telenovelas, and the foam curlers that were permanent fixtures on her head, loosely covered with a patterned silk scarf. When it happened, Mami told me two things about my grandmother’s death. First, that she had died from smoking and don’t-you-ever-smoke-ever-ever-ever-in-your-whole-life-or-you-will-die-too. Second, that Illa was now in heaven con Jesus y los santos and would watch over all of us from heaven. Will she be watching us all the time? I asked. Until we see her again, Mami whispered, tears cascading down her mourning face and carving tiny canyons through her makeup.
I took my mother at her word and believed that Illa would watch over me for the rest of my life. Sometimes this was a comfort, as when the monsters under my bed threatened to come out of hiding. It was reassuring to trust that my guardian angel would keep the goblins at bay. But now and then my grandmother’s saintly vigilance felt like oppressive surveillance, akin to the secret police in Cuba that Papi told me had once landed him in jail for selling meat to dissidents. Was she watching when I surreptitiously picked my nose during Mass? When I forgot to say the Lord’s Prayer for the third night in a row? Or when I stole two dollars from Mami’s coin jar so the twins and I could egg Fat Joey’s house? What about when I was in the bathroom? I was mortified to think that she might catch me bathing or relieving myself. Eventually I concluded that Illa and I would need to have a little chat about when and where she offered her protection. I didn’t want her to see me doing anything except that which would make her proud of me, but I somehow knew I wasn’t going to stop being wicked anytime soon.
 One night, after Mami had tucked me in, traced the sign of the cross lightly on my forehead, and tiptoed out to read the latest Agatha Christie novel, I called a meeting between Illa and me. I sat up and retrieved an old leather coin purse with Illa’s name stitched on it in thick black thread, one of several little trinkets my mother had given me de recuerdo after my grandmother’s funeral. I cherished this little purse and had hidden it in my pillowcase for safekeeping. Tonight it would serve as a physical representation of its original owner, since she could not be present in the flesh.
Illa? I called out softly. If you are watching me right now, could you give me a sign, like in the Bible? I counted to one hundred, and then one hundred more, this time Mississippi-style. Nothing. Illa? Can you hear me? I need to talk to you. The only sound was my father’s familiar snore coming from the adjacent bedroom. After several minutes I decided I would just get on with it and hope that she was tuned in.
Illa, sabes que te quiero mucho, and I like that you’re my guardian angel, but I’m a big girl. I can ride my bike without my training wheels now and Mrs. Jensen said I’m the best reader in her class. You really don’t have to watch me ALL the time. Maybe we can have a codeword or sign so you know when to take a break and catch up on your telenovela. They have telenovelas up there, right? I mean, it’s heaven, and Mami said heaven is full of stuff that makes you happy. I could twitch my nose like the Bewitched lady and then you’ll know I’m okay. Watch, like this. See? But wait, that was just practice. Keep watching, okay? I get scared at night. But that’s what I’ll do when it’s safe for you to leave me alone for a while. And then when I need you again, um, I’ll sing a song. You like when I sing. I’ll sing a song and you can come back and be my angel again. So don’t ever go away too far, so you can hear me singing.
Over the years, there were times when my nose twitched violently, like it was struggling to remove itself from its sinful proprietor. But those moments were few, even though I erred often. The truth is that it never takes long before a child discerns that life is full of reasons to require the protection of angels. If Illa is in fact my guardian, then in the last two decades she has received far more beckoning songs than gestures of dismissal.
Until we see her again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Salt Lake City Smog

On a typical winter day the valley of the saints is swathed in a thick gray blanket woven from the contents of our collective To Do lists.  Most residents call it smog. The grandiloquent weatherman calls it particulate matter. I call it us. We are asphyxiating in the fog of our own pedestrian routines which we refuse to carry out as, well, pedestrians.
The soccer moms live out their lives in their massive SUVs, rocking Colbie Caillat tunes and sipping on frappuccinos while they drive Molly to pianoviolintapballetgymnastics and Johnny to soccerfootballbasketballbaseballBoyScouts. The kids never walk to school anymore, because the pervert registry indicates we’re all surrounded. No one shops at the corner store because Costco is only five miles away and has everything – except, of course, for the things it doesn’t. Those we buy at one of a slew of big-box stores at the shopping plaza on the other side of town. The men commute back and forth between their suburban subdivisions and their downtown offices in the latest model of the latest trend in sports cars or oversize trucks because they’ve earned it, damnit.
We drive to the park when we want to take a walk. We stare nonplussed at our double-chins in the rearview mirror as our engines idle at the drive-thru window.  We trek in our Jeeps to organic supermarkets because it’s cool to be natural. And all the while, we choke on the ashen excrement of our excess.