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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Prom Night

Amelie and I went to the senior prom with two band geek fairies: Billy Taylor and Warren Sells. It was something that we dreamed up during marching band practice.
         Billy was a dapper natural blond with a mass of thick wavy hair cut short on the sides and longer on top -- sort of mini 80’s pompadour. He had a smile that we all loved -- the kind you’d draw or wish for -- perfect mouth shape and dimples. Warren was a lanky band geek who liked to wear skinny ties and eyeliner. He had a totally eighties Flock-of-Seagulls-light haircut. He was in marching band, pep band, jazz band, and jazz choir.  Amelie was a big-boned Chicana with extra large breasts that she hid under over-sized punk band t-shirts; her black hair was shaved at the sides and longer on top. I was the petite one with the boyish body, and I wore my hair short and spiky, hard, shiny, and in held in place by pink, Dep hair gel and aqua net.
         “Wouldn’t it be funny if Billy and I took you and Amelie to the prom?” Warren asked one day, while his dad, Mr. Sells, our band teacher was busy between songs.
         We were all holding our instruments: Warren his trombone, Billy and Amelie their saxophones, and me my flute.
         “Billy could take Amelie, and I’ll take you,” he said making us all laugh at the image of the four of us together -- the image that we saw he was concocting in his head. Billy was about three inches shorter than Amelie who was tall and decidedly much more masculine than girls her age. I was barely five feet tall, had darker skin than Amelie, and way darker than Warren’s.
         I knew what he was going for. No one would expect the two of them to take girls to the prom. To take us would really fuck with everyone’s head. Warren did actually show an interest in women, dated them too, but most people just saw what they wanted to see -- a fairy in eyeliner with a trombone. Billy didn’t express an interest in anyone. It was easier that way. We all knew what he was, and though we never asked, everyone close to him knew that he knew too. But people liked Billy anyway. He was always smiling, and he had a disarming smile and kindness that could win over anyone, and that wasn’t an act at all. While there were certain things that Billy knew you didn’t flaunt that you didn’t test, Warren had a different approach: why not put on a show? Why not liven up their rented- Elk’s Lodge, helium balloon, pastel color fun?
         So we went, and I wore a red taffeta, 1950’s, cocktail dress that my my mom happened to have in her closet, and Amelie wore a black taffeta prom style dress with big puffy 80’s sleeves that my mom spent several days making for her from a Simplicity pattern. We knew that all the other girls would be wearing Easter colors: lavender, baby blue, pink, or metallic monstrosities in emerald blue or green.
         Amelie, Billy, Warren, and I had a rather wholesome time for two couples whose goal for the night was to shock all the preppy, popular kids, all the football players, homecoming princesses, cheerleaders, wrestlers, cowboys, and the couple made up of a junior girl and a sophomore boy, her a cheerleader, him a football star, the ones caught in the act of oral copulation in her car in the school parking lot one morning, her head bobbing up and down in his lap. And while there was a lot of talk about renting hotel rooms and partying after the big dance amongst the popular kids, Amelie, Billy, Warren, and I went straight home from the Elk’s Lodge which the prom committee had attempted to decorate in way that made the Elk’s Lodge look less like there were animal heads on the walls and more like prom, using school colored helium balloons, like every committee before them.
         The dance itself wasn’t even that memorable; we danced, fast dances, and slow dances. Amelie danced with Billy her hand resting on his shoulders, and me straining to Warren’s, and we switched partners too, often dancing all together in a clump when they played one of our favorite new wave hits. It was what happened before the dance that I remember most.
         Maybe because it was the first time that Billy took a girl to a dance, I’ll never really know, but his parents, who were not very well off at all, must have spent the whole afternoon cooking a Chinese food dinner that they served to us on a table moved into the living room. And the table had been set with a table cloth, and there were candles, and menus written by hand, and Billy’s younger brother waited on us, refreshing our drink glasses, and bringing each course separately, one dish at a time. We ate by candle light, in awe of how we each looked dressed up, and how good we felt; we didn’t care about dancing, or shocking people, or prom.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fashion Farce

MCG and family, Christmas 1984

It was hard work being an anti-establishment rebel, and all that rebelling against trendy clothes somehow made us the worst offenders when it came to adhering to a uniform. It took a lot of time and energy to find what we were looking for, for what was required, the right clothes and in the right size at thrift-stores, but being anti-establishment made shopping at thrift stores and army surplus stores cool and necessary which was convenient because money was always tight. Amelie, Sammie, and I actually got pretty creative with thrift-store apparel, but it took dedication and luck. They may have been affordable for those of us living under the poverty level, but thrift stores in the 1980's were over populated by puce colored polyester shift dresses and slacks, and skimpy on anything black, except slips, which were a find when they fit in the bust. Finding the right clothes to complete our look, especially in Tuolumne, was hard, but finding the right shoes was even harder.
Amelie, Sammie, and I wore high top Converse because that's what Clash loving, fist pumping, alienated, punk rock kids wore -- but I hated them. I had a couple of different pairs, but the most vivid pair was a light blue pair, not sky blue, and not navy blue which would have been a lot better. The light blue pair was on sale. I needed shoes; I could afford them, the last pair in my size. Size six shoes sold out quickly because stores don't stock as many as they do the sevens and eights. When I laced them and tied them tight, the light blue Converse pulled inward in a strange way, giving my foot a clownish look -- wide in the toe and narrow in the middle. They looked okay with baggy shorts but terrible with leggings, skirts, and dresses. I guess I thought they were supposed to look good with any outfit; they looked good on Amelie. She wore them with skirts over long johns and a different punk band t-shirt for nearly every day of the week: the Clash, Dead Kennedys, MDC, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Subhumans. She didn't have clown feet. She had the black converse -- the black ones were slimming apparently.
         Before Converse, and before discovering Doc Martins, I remember being pretty confused about shoes. Most girls my age wore Keds, or Reeboks, and the rich Twain Harte girls were Topsiders.  I wasn't going to wear any of those shoes. But what kind of shoes was I supposed to wear? It was hard to find shoes that worked with my army surplus/thrift-store look. Until about the ninth grade, whatever I wore on my feet had been chosen by my mother whose budget barely covered the shoe strings: sturdy winter boots, tennis shoes, saltwater sandals, and rubber flip flops that cut into the webbing between the big toe and the toe next to it. Before getting the light blue Converse, my mom took me shopping and I picked out a pair of imitation leather shoes in gray. They were loafers, or maybe they were moccasins, but with a couple of studs on top near the toes and silver buckle on the side. Tough looking loafers? Punk rock moccasins?
They seemed like a good idea in the store. I stared at them a long while in the mirror. I thought they looked cute with the skirt that I was wearing, a catholic-school-girl skirt in green plaid wool. I turned this way and that and lifted the toe of my right foot to get a better angle. I like the way the studs on the toe caught the light, and they were the only pair of shoes that I like even a little bit in the whole store. All the others my size looked either too cheap or too trendy, so I nodded to my mom that I’d take this pair. She said that she thought they were cute, a bad sign that I neglected to notice.
         When I got those shoes home and put them on and looked in my own mirror without my mom hovering around impatiently, and without the bright lights in the store, I realized that I couldn't wear them. They were ugly. A dead, ugly gray with a couple of tacky studs and a buckle to cheer them up. And not cool dead, ugly old-lady dead, and not with a cool Wicked Witch of West buckle but a useful buckle, one that actually tightened the shoe to the foot. I didn't want to wear them, but I knew that I was stuck with them, that my mom would flip if I told her that I didn't like them after all. And it was getting too cold for my worn out black, canvas, China doll, Mary Janes.  I'd have to either wear the ugly, dead, gray, old-lady studded moccasins and hope nobody noticed them, or I'd have to scuff them up a bit and try to pretend I thought they were cool.
         I didn’t understand why it was so hard to find shoes that I could afford, shoes that were cool, shoes that were feminine, but shoes that were tough too, and shoes that were as distinctive as my new look? I needed shoes that looked good with my frilly Mexican-looking skirts and my skater shorts. I had a white skirt with green and red rick-rack, Mexican flag colors, even though I didn't realize it at the time, or my favorite a black skirt with lace between each ruffled panel. I wore it with my favorite Clash t-shirt, and black, stiff-soled, thrift-store granny shoes. Those shoes were my favorite, and I wore them nearly everyday until they practically disintegrated on my foot after not being worn for the fifteen or twenty years they sat in someone's closet before winding up at the Red Church thrift-store. I also needed shoes that looked good with my paisley skater shorts or boys 501 jeans. I somehow thought that there was just one pair of magical, cool, feminine, tough-looking shoes that could do all that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Saving Face

MG with "Amelie" and friend Lara Sprinkles
Summerville High circa 1986
In any other school at any other time Rick Oliveros and I might have been a couple. He was a short, compact, dark-skinned, muscular Mexican-American (the kind who wouldn’t have wanted to be described as dark-skinned at all) who almost always wore the classic grey pullover hooded sweatshirt, the look of his sport. Rick was a wrestler, known for lean, bulging muscles and quick moves. His athleticism gave him access to popularity that my being a band geek did not.
         Rick Oliveros, who was a year older, hated my guts. He hated Amelie too, called us freaks and spit in our direction whenever weren’t able to avoid crossing his path. It was because of Rick Oliveros that Amelie and I developed a sort of defense system. I was the mouthpiece.
         “Fuck you, Rick. What’s the matter, you upset you don’t have any sweaty guys to roll around with today?”
         We had to respond, to be nasty back, to save face.
         If Rick made any aggressive gestures in my direction, Amelie would get between us and stare him down, for she was several inches taller.
“Little man complex, eh?”  I’d add before he’d turned to walk away.
Fucking freaky bitches,” he’d say loud enough for others to hear that he had gotten in the last word.
We both knew he wasn’t likely to take his threats too far and jeopardize his place on the wrestling team, though we went to the kind of school that might let such a slip-up slide the first time. And he never said anything to Amelie when she and I weren’t together, but we both sensed that I had to take special care not to run into him on my own between classes or coming out of the bathroom alone.
         At my locker one day, on my way to a class that Amelie and I did not take together, Rick crossed the breezeway, crashed into me, slamming my body hard into the metal lockers. Shocked and in pain, I did nothing but grab my bruised hip with one hand and shut my locker with the other. Some watched on amused and at least one or two looked concerned, but no one intervened.
         “That’s what you get,” he said, nostrils flaring.
         I watched and waited until he turned and lumbered away.

         Though, I guess we both knew that he was, Amelie and I never talked about the fact that Rick Oliveras was Mexican-American just like we were. In fact, his English was lightly accented, that of a Spanish speaker, and his older brother Omar spoke with an even heavier accent. Only Omar was skinny and nerdy and nice, nice to everyone. Maybe it was because we were tired of hearing about it from the adults who pointed it out for us, like our Spanish teacher who liked to remind everyone that we were best friends and we both had Spanish last names and French first names, but Amelie and I never spoke much about being Mexican at all.
         Maybe Rick was secretly angry that I had sullied my chance of dating him, sullied our hyphenated identity by dressing weird and purposefully chopping my hair short in response to the ascribed standard of beauty. Or was he simply a short, dark-skinned Mexican kid in a small town that didn’t want him either –Amelie and I threatening to expose what he was trying to mask with his singlet and that hard look on his face. 

Monday, November 5, 2012


MCG, in front, in a crowd of Tuolumne and Sonora punks and weirdos -- circa 1986.

         We called him Cowboy, and we sneered when we said it, “Cawhoboyee" in our affected southern drawls.  It was a ridiculous display of hatred. He was a junior, and Amelie and I were sophomores. He was lanky and awkward in his light colored denim jeans cinched tight at the waist with an over-sized belt buckle, his cowboy hat, and dark blue corduroy FFA jacket. “Future Farmers of America, sheep fuckers,” we’d say under our breath as he’d pass by the band room on his way to the FFA building. He would usually be walking alone to his class, to that side of campus where none of the band geeks dared to go. We practiced our marching formations on the football field, and during football games, we sat in the bleachers as the pep band, but we never went beyond the snack bar out where the FFA building stood. 
Amelie and I had become known in town for being those punk girls. We had become a topic of conversation, derision, and stares. Meanwhile, tensions had been growing between the punks and hicks who perceived a threat, a takeover of some kind, even though we were rather small in number. Things had gotten so bad at school that Amelie and I, and many of our friends, like the super tall, lanky freshman, Josh Wilson who had bleached bangs, wore ripped jeans and got called a faggot, didn’t bother going into the school’s cafeteria, not even for nachos. We had grown tired of guys in cowboy hats or buzz cuts beaming us in the head with tater tots or launching half-full cartons of milk in our direction. Both newly vegetarian, Amelie and I decided it was best to bring our lunches from home anyway, but we sure did miss melted, hot, artificial cheese poured over corn chips. Things got so bad that when we went to visit our punk friends in Sonora, we took special precautions, traveling only in packs when we went to the movies or cruised the shopping center parking lot. We drove around in Amelie’s mom’s Fiat that by this time could only be started by putting two wires together because her mom couldn’t find the ignition switch in any of the local auto parts stores.
One night in Sonora, we were confronted by a truckload of hicks who found several of us parked in the movie theater’s overflow parking lot. We had just finished drinking beer, sitting in the branches of a tall tree just off the lot. The tree was of our favorite places to drink because once up in the tree, we couldn’t be seen by hicks or cops. Walking back to Amelie’s Fiat, tipsy and giggling, Sammie, Cindy her best friend at Sonora High, Toby, Cindy’s younger brother, and his friend Tim, and I noticed a raised American-made truck coming our way; the bright headlights flashing directly into our eyes blinding us a little, we knew we had to make a run for it. Fortunately, Amelie who vacillated between being straight-edge and not was straight edge that night and she got to the car first, unlocked the driver side door, dove in and unlocked the passenger-side door, where I jumped in and reached over the seats and unlocked both the back doors. Sammie, Cindy, Toby, and Tim were shouting and screaming for us to hurry. As they clamored into the back seat and slammed the doors shut and locked them, Amelie attempted with jittery hands, to connect the bare tips of wires to get the car started. The raised truck was now directly behind the Fiat, terrorizing us with its bright lights. We could hear the hicks shouting, "Fucking freaks! Commies! Fuck You!" The Fiat lurched forward a couple times, began slowly and picked up speed, taking off just as the truck inched closer to the bumper. We weren't sure if they would really kick our asses or not, but we knew we had to protect Toby and Tim. They were younger than us three girls, and the hicks would go after them first. They weren't likely to hit us girls unless we hit them first. I had mouthed off to them a number of times, and they never did more than say, "fuck you, bitch" or "suck my dick." 
         “Go, go, go,” someone was shouting from the back seat, as we sped out of the parking lot. Our favorite drinking spot now exposed and ruined forever.
The raised truck followed as we sped down the hill toward the shopping center where other teens were cruising, making out, or standing around in packs, with nothing better to do. Knowing there'd be police patrols the hicks, while staying on our tail drove at a reasonable speed down the main highway and through downtown Sonora. The truck tailed us through downtown, passed the Europa, and the one stoplight in the whole county, over the small hill by the red church, and passed the high school. Going uphill toward Columbia where Sammie lived with her mom and brother, both vehicles picked up speed. Amelie tried to lose them, but the white boxy Fiat was heavy with teenagers and easy to see. We thought for sure that once we turned off of highway 49 onto the road that turned to dirt, was dark, lined with trees, and filled with ruts that they would give up, but they didn't. We didn't want them to know where any of us lived, but we didn't know where else to go. The Fiat slowed a little at the first small hill, but Amelie knew the road better and had a better idea of how to avoid the rocks that could damage the under carriage, and we bounced over ruts, swerving this way and that. The trucks followed its lights bouncing and lighting the way ahead of us. The road, which came to a dead end at Sammie’s rented two plus bedroom house, was just in front of us. Skidding to a stop, the truck stopped behind us, its headlights practically scraping the back window. The doors flew open, and three hicks jumped out, shouting, cursing and banging on the Fiat. Sammie got out, screaming for them to get the fuck off her property then her mom came out too. Seeing there was an adult and probably fearing others, the three hicks jumped back in the truck and it began backing up and turning around before they had time to shut both doors.
By junior year, the tensions between the hick and punks climaxed with a street riot on Washington Street near Sonora High. School had just let out and male and female students, mostly male on the hick side, cursed and taunted the punks with insults like’ faggot’, and ‘fairy’, and ‘freak,’ threw rocks and bottles and whatever else they could find on the ground, while the punks, and some stoners too, shouted ‘sheep fuckers’, ‘KKK’, and ‘fuck you’ and even came to blows in a scene the resembled West Side Story minus the cool dance moves. The fighting was broken up by the police before anybody was seriously hurt, and it made the front page of the Daily Union Democrat the following day.
         In Tuolumne, things came to a head between Amelie, Cowboy and me too. In PE, stripped of our black clothes, band t-shirts, and studded bracelets, Amelie and I had to exercise with the other juniors and seniors who had PE during that period. In baggy t-shirts, shorts, and Converse, we did wobbly-armed push-ups and lots of jumping jacks. Inevitably, the gym teacher chose a team sport that would only humiliate us further: dodge ball. Not picked as team captains and picked second to last (Amelie because she was tall) and last for a team (me for the opposite reason), Amelie and I both noticed that Cowboy, in his shorts that only accentuated his long, skinny, pale white legs, was on the other team. He had been picked almost last too. 
         In position and waiting for the teacher to blow her whistle, I just hoped nobody would notice me in my baggy plain white t-shirt, short spiky hair, and heavy, dark eyeliner. At the teacher's whistle, balls began whizzing past me, looking up, I saw Cowboy on the other team with a ball in his hand, aimed right for me. Notoriously afraid of balls, I froze in place just long enough, and fwap! The ball hit me in the face and skidded off my forehead with great force. Falling to the floor, I grabbed my head in a display of attention-getting agony. On my way down, I saw the look on Cowboy's face -- a look of surprise and maybe even regret. Amelie ran to my side and helped me off the floor, as the teacher and the others impatiently waited for us to get the hell out of their way. 
         “You hit me in the head,” I screamed.
         Cowboy just walked back to position on his team.
         A couple of months later, after being picked on even more by others in PE and watching them pick on Cowboy too, Cowboy struck up a conversation. We were all three sitting on the gym floor waiting to be tested for how many pushups, pull ups, and crunches we could do.
         "I never meant to hit you that hard," he said, his long legs crossed awkwardly in front of him. He reminded me of a newborn foal.
         Neither Amelie nor I knew what to say at first.
         “With the ball,” he continued.
         "It hurt," I said finally speaking for one of us.
         "I'm sorry," Cowboy said, looking down at his dirty gym shoes.
         "We haven't exactly been nice to you either," Amelie volunteered,
saying what I was already thinking.
         "I didn't know that I could throw a ball like that."
         "I didn't know you could either," I answered.
         "I always get picked last for teams too."
         "Yeah, we noticed that," said Amelie.
         He looked down again.
         "That's okay," I said, "It's just PE."
         "Yeah, he said, "It's just PE."
         "Can we still call you Cowboy?" Amelie asked, as people in our line were standing and moving forward.
         We knew by then that his real name was Sean.
         "You can still call me Cowboy," he said smiling.
         "Okay," we said in unison, smiling and moving forward with the rest of the line.