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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, June 25, 2012

Blondes Have More Fun

      Mr. Lark, the school’s double-duty vice principal and music teacher, called me into his office early one morning just after the bell rang. I was surprised he couldn’t wait to see me until band practice later that day but happy about it anyway. When I got to the front office, I was asked to wait while Mrs. Handy poked her head into Mr. Lark’s office to let him know that I had arrived. She motioned for me to enter his office, and I, always pleased to be in Mr. Lark’s company, practically sprinted the short distance from the front desk to Mr. Lark’s door. The name plate said, “Donald Lark – Vice Principal.” I was in fourth grade, and I had never been inside his office before. There was a large window near his desk that looked out onto the Kindergarten class’ play yard and beyond that the parking lot.
      I was one of Mr. Lark’s favorites, or at least that’s how I saw it. He gave me a vocal solo in the annual Christmas program for two years in a row until I decided to play the flute in the third grade, so I could later join the school band under his tutelage. As a second grader, he gave me one of the coveted solos in “Silent Night”, and I remember feeling special singing about Jesus. As a third grader, just when I started getting interested in boys, Mr. Lark gave me a solo in “Let It Snow;” perhaps I was one of the few girls who could pull off the flirtatious verse and chorus, “The weather outside is frightful/ the fire is so delightful/ and since there’s no place to go/ let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” I’ll never forget how pleased he was when I played up the flirtatious lyrics with my third grade version of charm and nailed the sentiment that I thought he was going for. My being a poor Mexican-American girl from across town never factored into my solo potential, and so with “Let It Snow,” I left baby Jesus innocence behind and was well on my way to fourth grade. Though, to my horror, Mr. Lark was beginning his career as an administrator. I had always thought he wanted nothing more but to bring his guitar to each of the lower grades to sing, “There’s a hole in the bucket dear Liza,” “John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt,” and “Old Dan Tucker,” that song about a man who washed his face in a frying pan and combed his hair with a wagon wheel.
      As soon as Mr. Lark greeted me with a bright smile, I realized I had been called to his office for reasons other than to see his new digs.
      “Michelle, do you know why you’re here?”
      What I had done to Melissa Wheeling the day before suddenly popped into my head.
      “I think so,” I said, looking out the window toward the parking lot where I had grabbed Melissa's precious white blond hair and yanked her to the ground.
      “You know that there’s no fighting allowed on school grounds; do you want to tell me about what happened?”
      I trusted Mr. Lark a great deal, so I told him the truth. I also suspected that since he spent so much time on the play yard that he had some idea that I was involved in a very complicated love triangle.
      Melissa Wheeling, blond-haired, blue-eyed Melissa Wheeling, who had been my friend, had stolen my boyfriend Donnie Baugh. Donnie and I had been carrying on for a whole month or so, and to make matters worse, he lived up the hill from me. We’d walk home together and kiss on the hill above my house to the intoxicating scent of wild lilac until our lips were sore and until after our parents had started wondering where we were. I actually don’t think I mentioned the kissing to Mr. Lark, but he had a daughter who also in fourth grade and who was just as frisky and much more popular.

      “So Donnie broke up with you to go out with Melissa and that’s why you pushed her to the ground?”
      “I didn’t push her Mr. Lark; I pulled her by the hair, and not because Donnie broke up with me. I did it because of what she said. And we were off school grounds, out of the parking lot.”
      “But you were on the sidewalk.”

      We were on the sidewalk, and Melissa and Donnie were showing off. They were holding hands, and when I called Donnie’s name, Melissa turned around and said, ‘Blondes have more fun,’ flipping her white blond hair over her shoulder. So I grabbed it and yanked her to the ground.

      With a slight hint of amusement showing on his appropriate administrator face, Mr. Lark listened intently to my version of the story, nodding from time to time. Sure he was the vice-principal, but he was also the school’s music teacher, my music teacher, a music lover. Surely he had seen the recent Rod Stewart album, the front showing Rod wrapped in a leopard-print-clad blonde, himself a blond. Surely he had heard the song that had been all over the radio that year, “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy,” surely he saw the back side of the album, Blondes Have More Fun, which showed a mischievous-faced Rod with the dark-skinned brunette.      
      “I see,” said Mr. Lark with a twinkle in his eye. He tried not to smile, but I’m sure I saw the beginnings of one as he turned to look toward the window where I had been motioning. “Michelle, you know you’re not supposed to be fighting at all, and not on school grounds, right?”
      “Yes,” I said. His words stung, but when I looked out the window to where the tussle took place, I was still glad I hadn’t let Melissa get away with pointing out just how different I was from her, Ronnie, and just about everyone else.
      “I’m supposed to keep you after school for forgetting, but given that,” he paused, cleared his throat and then smiled wide, “well given that you’ve never been in any trouble like this before, I don’t think that’s necessary.”
     And it wasn’t. Donnie broke up with Melissa soon after. The word on the playground was that Donnie broke up with Melissa because she had bad breath. I felt secretly avenged. And I had learned something back in Mr. Lark’s office, something about being discreet. It didn't feel good that everyone was talking bad about Melissa. I tried catching her eye, to be her friend again. Still, I was glad when she moved away.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Table of Contents: A Preview

                                                                                               Finding My Way Out

Photographed with my sister --1987 Summerville High Graduation 

Elementary School                                               Middle School                                  High School

Blondes Have More Fun                              Middle-School Malaise                              Cowboy

Mexicans In Tuolumne                                            Stranded                                         Saving Face

My Plymouth Rock                                            Abusing Authority                               Fashion Farce

Middle-Child                                                            Faking It                                            Prom Date

Mexican Girl                                                 Punk Rock Americana                    Who Is The Fairest of Them All?

Secret Rivalries                                                                                                                      Delilah

Queen of Chlorine                                                                                                    Collecting Boyfriends

Me and My Flat Tire                                                                                                               Ride

Patches                                                                                                                                  TRAILS

The Foot Stamp Diet                                                                                                     Beer Shampoo

Chores                                                                                                                             Dont You Forget It

Flour Tortillas with Butter

David K and The Spaghetti On The Wall

Isnt She Lovely


                                                                                     Delmar Street

Monday, June 18, 2012

Finding My Way Out

         I didnt run away. I left.  
         I left the long dusty drive way, the creaky front door, Mom and her lines on the kitchen table, my flunking-out-of-school brother, my blonde, eight year old sister, and April -- the baby who came to live with us because her mom was doing more drugs than ours.
         I left and my mom cheated on her boyfriend -- our step-dad, starting doing lines with another guy across town; my brother dropped out of school; my sister developed early, started her period at nine and started hanging out with boys, and April went to live with another family. April would go on to live with yet another family, my brother Amonie would wake up hungover everyday, and my sister would get pregnant at twelve.

          Two weeks after graduation and I was gone. I was only seventeen.  Sammmie and I packed up our clothes, my drum set, and my green trunk filled with stuff for the kitchen wed share in our new apartment on Delmar Street, the attic apartment with the slanted ceilings, the one just off Haight -- walking distance to Escape From New York pizza for lunch and/or dinner, the music store where we bought strings and drum sticks for band practice, and twenty-one year olds whod buy us beer.
         I remember standing in the tiny kitchen of the apartment on Delmar street, only big enough for one person at a time, marveling at its brilliance. The sink didnt leak, the cabinets all had doors, the counter wasnt perpetually damp and crumbling away, and the four by four space of linoleum on the floor was intact, not faded and worn, or pulling away at the corners.  My mom wasnt there awake and wiping at her nose for days on end, flipping out and screaming then sleeping for two or three days straight. We kept the kitchen clean, so as not to be reminded of home.
         I dreaded calling, but I missed the kids, worried about them. I missed my mom too, but I had been missing her long before I moved to the city. With no phone in the apartment, Id walk down to the corner of Masonic and Haight to the phone booth near the bus stop outside of Rasputin's. Id have to quickly put my handful of coins in the coin box when someone answered the line, ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink. While waiting for the line to connect, I'd watch for people I had gotten to know, the cute blond guy Billy, Matteo the compact, muscular stage hand from the Farm, Lauren, the guy with a girls name, and the two girls we hated whose names I cant remember.
         Tired of eating just-add-water falafel and not being able to afford more than one slice of pizza a day, I called home, sobbing into the phone as soon as I heard my moms voice. I had wanted to come home to visit, but Sammie didnt want to drive all the way there, and I didnt have the money to pay her for the gas. I told mom all about it between tears and wiping my nose on my arm. I told her about the falafel and the fog even in the summertime -- maybe it was just the fog that was making me depressed.
         I can send you the gas money, she said.
         Is it hot there? I asked looking toward Rasputins.
         Yeah, too fucking hot, she answered.
         I could hear the neighbors rooster crowing in the background from her end of the line.
         You can send me the money? I asked.
         Ill send it Monday, she said.
         A Muni bus was crossing the intersection at Haight coming my way.
         Sammie isnt going to want to drive up there anyway, I said quickly before the bus got to the stop in front of me and opened its doors.
         You could always just come back home, she said. I could send someone down, and you could just come home.
         No Mom, I cant. The bus doors wooshed shut and it pulled away. She didnt believe me.
         Just come home, she said.
         I wished I had a tissue. My nose was running, and fresh tears were streaming down my face.
         No, Mom, you dont understand, I said gulping for air. I cant. I cant go back there. I won't go back.