reading and writing the poetry and stories of our people and places

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Five Foot Three, Long, Orange or Red-tinted Hair, Sunglasses

(I was inspired by an article in The Chronicle about a woman who has robbed two banks in four days.)

She doesn’t say anything about it. Not even when they show her face on the front page of The Chronicle or on channel 7.

She doesn’t say nothing except “Get the rest out of his car, girls.” This is in the arms of an older African American man wearing a hat. I lose track of how many back and forth, up and down trips from his LTD tank, the outside stairs, the inside stairs, and down the hall to our refrigerator we make.

“Is there anything else, ma’am?” he asks, when we are done, towering over her even though she’s wearing her 3-inch heels.

“No, sir. Thank you.” Then she passes him more bills than necessary even if they were all ones.

He pauses then grasps the pile which he tucks inside pocket of his jacket. He tips his hat to her.

“Girls,” he murmurs while he looks at us for the first time.

He turns toward the hall and she follows him.

“I’ll close the door behind me, ma’am.”

“Thank you” she repeats and marches right back to the kitchen. By the time the door clicks shut we are knee deep in empty brown paper bags.

We have never seen so much food. She bought two jars each of jumbo-sized peanut butter. Skippy not generic. With nuts. And jam not jelly. Strawberry. She bought a half-pound of freshly sliced--not pre-packaged--baloney and a pound each of salami and ham. American, Monterey Jack, and cheddar cheese. Two flats of eggs and two gallons of milk.

There is more meat than we’ve ever seen on Easter, Christmas, or Thanksgiving put together. A ham. The kind with a bone in it. A turkey, five chickens, dozens of hot dogs and hamburger patties. Five family-sized packs of pork chops and ten of steaks. Real steaks not cube or minute. A case each of tuna and Underwood deviled ham. Half a dozen boxes of fish sticks and a few packs of real fish.

Me and my sister don’t like fish. Mom used to threaten us that she was going to buy fish, but she never did. We always made faces. We didn’t even try to do it behind her back. Out came the tongues, the rolling eyes. We clutched our throats like those kids on TV she says annoy her. “Why do you watch that garbage?” she asks us. “You’re not like them.”

She takes out three tall bags of tortillas. One for each of us, I think to myself.

“Mom, El Toro, couldn’t go through one of these bags in a night,” my sister says laughing.

“We don’t need to go around the corner. That taquería doesn’t have nothing we don’t got right here.”

“Yeah, okay. I was just saying.”

Mom just looks at her. She takes out two loaves of the brown bread she likes and has been trying to get us to eat and one Kilpatrick’s in the blue and white checked bag.

I feel the bag of bread. It’s still warm. I untwist the tie. Soft, white, goodness just like the commercial says. I tear a piece of bread and mash two sides at a time until they are in the shape of a box. With my nail, I poke holes in each of the six sides. I do the same to another piece. I open the fridge and lift one of the cold Pepsis she has just set inside. Then I get the bottle opener and pull off the cap. I pour a glass. There’s a hiss when the warm, smashed dice plunge into the dark liquid.

“Snake eyes!” I say then swallow it all. My mouth foams and my eyes water.

“Stop playing with your food,” Mom tells me.

“I’m not playing with my food,” I say, “I’m gambling with my food.”

“Whatever the hell you’re doing, stop it!” she scolds.

I tip my glass and feel the last of the Pepsi bubbles tickle my throat. I crave more, but I know not to push her.

Before we can fit the sacks of beans and rice, bags of potatoes, packages of lasagna noodles, cans of marinara sauce, the big daddy mozzarella cheeses. Not only the usual apples, oranges and bananas but the cherries, grapes, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and mangoes. Before we can put the lifetime supply of Bisquick and Log Cabin syrup away, and all the rest. Before we see the Miss Clairol boxes labeled Midnight. Before we can tell her the fridge and cabinets are running out of room, we hear the doorbell ring.

We all stop.

“Ma’am! I forgot your flowers!” We hear the elderly gentleman shout from the bottom of the inside stairs.

“I’ll leave them right here on the stairs!”

“Okay! Thanks again!”

My sister looks at me; I look at her. Mom looks at both of us. We hear the door shut. She continues to put away the groceries.

“Mom, want me to get the flowers?” I ask finally.

“Duh! Just get them,” my sister moans.

I walk down the hall to the stairs. I look through the sheer curtain to see if the man is still around. He isn’t. I open the door and push the button. I close the door and twist the dead bolt.

Yellow roses. Her favorite. She never buys this many groceries and she never, ever, ever buys flowers. Once, my sister and I thought Mom should have candy and flowers for her birthday. We watch too much TV, she told us later. We couldn’t decide how many so we asked her her favorite number. Seven.

We counted our money. However much seven slices of See’s pecan roll and seven yellow roses cost, we knew two dollars and thirty-six cents wasn’t enough. We went to our aunt’s house.

“Why do you need ten dollars?” she asked back when ten could still buy twenty.

We told her. We promised to pay her back with the money we hoped to get for our next year’s birthdays. She knew about hope and money. She had her own five kids but found her purse and the ten.

That day, we came home after school and didn’t change our clothes like Mom always told us to. We had to go down Mission Street. Nana and Auntie Annie used to make See’s candy so we knew they had the best. We passed Si Tashjian’s buckets of jazzy bouquets on 21st every Saturday and Sunday. We had our chance to go inside the shop that played the too loud Muzak.

When we gave Mom the flowers and candy, she looked more surprised than happy.

“Where’d you get the money?”

We told her.

“And she said we don’t have to pay her back!”

Then Mom looked worried. She smiled but she still didn’t look happy.

I started walking up the stairs then recognized she had the same face right now putting away all those groceries.

A loud knock. What did that old man forget now? I wonder. I look and see him. Them.

“Police. We know she’s there. Open up.”


They see me running up the stairs. They bump into each other to bang on the door.

“Police! Open up!”

“Mommmmm! The police!”

My sister has stopped putting stuff away. She stands there looking at Mom.

Mom walks to the pantry. She comes out with our biggest skillet and puts it on the highest flame on the biggest burner. She pours in some oil then opens a pack of steaks and places the thickest three on the black metal.

“Peel those potatoes,” she says as she throws a knife and the potato peeler onto the table.

Slowly, my sister reaches for the knife and a potato.

We hear glass breaking.

“Mom!” I yell.

Mom grabs at the table, picks up the potato peeler and shakes it in my face.

“Peel. Those. Damn. Potatoes,” she hisses and presses the potato peeler into my hand.

I can’t hear the boots tramping up the stairs. I can’t hear my sister’s whimpering. All I can hear are those steaks searing and those heels clacking down the hall.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

End of an Affair

Good-bye United States

It’s clear you don’t want me

Today the mayor of Albuquerque

Proclaimed sanctuary for ICE officials

In the city’s jails

Good-bye U.S.

Arizona’s cancer is spreading internally

First that sheriff gets to play like he’s a federale

then we gotta show papers for being brown

Now we can’t teach our young people our history

And you know if you don’t know where you come from

You don’t know where you’re going

Isn’t that what you always told me?

It’s been ovah since before Arizonah

Yes, U.S., I knew you embraced

That Colorado politician full of hate

You thought I didn’t hear you cheering him on

While you watched FOX news?

U.S., I knew it was over

When Nevada’s economy tanked

and you went there

told all the “foreigners” to go home

Oh, U.S., truth is

I knew it was over

Back in Cali

that love—lust?—cradle on the coast

you wanna send my children

who’ve grown up there

to places they’ve never been

or don’t remember

I should’ve known years ago

When I found the numbers

187, 209

I knew there were more

The writing was on the wall

I just didn’t want to read it

Basta Ya! No Más!

I know you don’t like it when I speak Mexican

You studied in Spain

“Where their Spanish sounds like French or Italian”

Where they look French or Italian

I’m tired of having a second class accent

In your ears, U.S.

Yes, mi amor, it’s over

Don’t try to talk me out of it

I’m not going to change my mind

I see it in your eyes

you know it too

don’t pretend

Since it’s over

Since we’re done

Through with each other


I’m not going to

Make your children avena con canela in the morning

Blow on mugs of chocolate

Walk them to the neighborhood school

Take the baby to the park

Come home

Bathe the baby

Throw some laundry in the wash

Go pick up the big ones

Teach them Spanish

Well, my Spanish

Help you prepare dinner

Clean up

I’m not going to do it

Don’t look so sad

Just cuz you wanted to break up with me first

Don’t look so surprised

That I’m standing up for myself, cabrón

Okay, of course, you can look at me any way you want (you always have)

They’re your eyes

I’ve spoken to my family

The ones who build the houses

Tend the yards

Clean the pools

Just so you know

My brothers told our cousins

The ones who pick all that delicious produce in the fields

the ones who work in the slaughter houses

And you know I talk to my sisters every day

They’re waiting at their sewing machines

Our aunts and uncles are standing by their vacuum cleaners

And shampooers on the office floors

My nieces and nephews have stopped asking,

You want fries with that?

Our barbers, hairdressers, and stylists

Are holding combs, clippers, curling irons, and blowdryers

Our teachers are at mid-word at the chalkboard

Our lawyers are at mid-sentence in the courtroom

our small business owners have fingers on cash register keys

Yes, they’re waiting



Why the long face?

Lump it or leave it


That didn’t come from me

This is our border

you might say

Between our past and our future

No one can say we didn’t try, U.S.

We almost made it to our 250th silver anniversary

I know, I know

Our history goes back more than 500 years

But you don’t want me

Going over those first 250

If I had focused on those first 250

We would’ve never made it this far

Don’t worry, U.S.,

We won’t make you swim home

We don’t hold you to the same standards

We hold for ourselves

Our shipbuilders

Crafted a fleet

That will carry you

your funny hats

ruffled shirts

black shoes with big, brass buckles

your guns

your diseases

our taquería workers

have wrapped all your stuff

up in a huge tortilla

so you have a snack for your journey

U.S., look on the bright side

They got democracy and religious freedom over there now

the two things you came here for

Consider yourselves: Mission accomplished!

Come on, U.S., let’s not part on bad terms.

Tell your people we said hello.

And another thing,

Before you go

You should know that

we learned something from you:

In the future

If you ever want to get together

Call first

Monday, April 19, 2010

Irene Nexica's Review of LA MISSION

I couldn't stand to think someone might miss this if you didn't catch the link on the side so here it is in all its beauty:

Local director Peter Bratt’s second film La Mission is an allegorical cruise through San Francisco’s Mission District that features complex issues and characters. An ode to the healing power of history and community, the film wears its humanistic heart on its sleeve without being cloying or disengaging. It’s likely to please Bay Area film fans on several different levels.

The film has many ambitions – to talk about how Latino family and community can adapt to acknowledging queer members, analyzing the destruction caused by rigid masculinity, and proposing avenues for healing.

Lowrider culture forms an extended metaphor for audience and character journeys. It’s clear a lot of love went into this production, and it largely works, with depth of intention sometimes smoothing over rough elements in the storytelling.

A strength of the film is that it addresses complex issues without alienating, and asks tough questions without finger pointing. The acting helps move the story forward, creating sympathetic and human characters.

The core of the film is Che (Benjamin Bratt), a tightly wound man whose love for family, community and cars is tempered by the respect he commands through fear. Bratt aptly conveys Che’s volatility and keeps him from veering into stock gangster status.

Che’s son Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez) is in the process of transitioning to a different world – he will soon leave for college. He’s innately aware that being gay is not a subject to bring up with his dad and friends, and that secret further increases the unspoken distance between him and folks who love but don’t fully see or know him. Valdez’ rendering feels natural, and at the same time his motivations can appear hazy.

Che’s neighbor Lena (Erika Alexander) also has a secret, and her character could be drawn in more detail. She’s the narrative’s moral compass, but her life and thoughts are mostly inferred. She has a charisma that’s likeable and you may find yourself wanting to know more about her perspectives and history.

The dynamics of these overlapping worlds; the Mission changing as hipsters move in, Che’s concern that a white lover means Jesse’s become a “Mexican bitch,” all point to the need for a delicate balance of storytelling in showing the connection between inner and outer worlds and the political context of life in San Francisco and the United States.

To the extent that the film remains true to its focus on people these plot elements work. As it veers into the allegorical, it can drift. At times the story is not dense enough and the pacing feels slow.

Cinematography by Hiro Narita is lyrical, beautiful, and symbolic in its own right, with window reflections, mirrors and faces viewed through a split lens conveying the character’s split lives. If you are already in love with the colors and homegrown sights of SF and the Mission, you’ll feel sated by the images, and for those who’ve never been, it’s likely to generate more than a few visits.

At a recent screening, Peter Bratt described his process of writing the screenplay as one where the themes of the film came first, and then he sculpted the characters around the narrative. This idea-driven plotting style can be a difficult one to resolve with the need for characters that move beyond the archetypal.

The characters sometimes feel remote as a consequence of the burden of carrying the plot, while at other times they are intimately familiar – they could be your friend or cousin. While precise acting helps add depth to characters, sometimes the people seem to be outpacing the script, and the messaging can be heavy handed.

These bumps along the way are easily forgiven, as the film’s heart is resoundingly in the right place. Audiences will likely carry insights away as there’s enough substance in play for everyone to find both points of connection and details to ponder.

Audience support for community-oriented independent films like this create more opportunities for stories to be hammered out by Bratt and other kindred filmmakers.

Irene Nexica's Interview with Peter Bratt, director of LA MISSION

From Oakland Local blog (with way more words than I expected from me at the end):

Peter Bratt, his actor brother Benjamin Bratt (Law & Order, Traffic), and a whole film promotion crew have their days cut out for them at least for the next month as their new film, La Mission opens for a small run across the country. The moment of truth is here.

Peter Bratt spells it out: “The state of independent filmmaking in general is dire. When the economy crashed, a lot of the studios cut their independent labels. Theatre owners don’t want to exhibit independent films like they used to – they’d rather show big releases on five screens. It’s getting harder and harder to find venues. It’s an even tougher scenario for minority independent films.”

Lately, the brothers have been attending question-and-answer sessions with audiences, asking people to use word-of-mouth to boost attendance the first week. Despite a strong California following, screenings at three Los Angeles’ Laemmle Theatres already risk cancellation.

Given the huge Latino population across the country and strong endorsements from people who’ve seen and heard about the film, how has it come to be in jeopardy?

Much of the issue is getting the word out, Peter Bratt explains. “We don’t have an advertising budget. We have a viral, word-of-mouth campaign, and so our work is double time. We’re encouraging people to come out and support independent film, and help La Mission stick around.”

Bratt’s film is aptly titled after a barrio, rather than a character, because it’s grounded in a social context that affects characters who come together in the city. Bratt has a long history and connection with San Francisco. Growing up, it was the site of his first job, first kiss, first dance and first political rally. Originally from South America, his mother was an activist in the Native American rights movement and, as a single mom, brought the five kids along.

It was in the context of political solidarity among communities of color that Bratt encountered social engagement linked with art: “The art, the music, the politics merged into each other and that’s still the case today.” Bratt continues this legacy, saying, “I wanna be a filmmaker and tell stories because I love movies and I love collaborating with all the different people that you meet in the film world. I’m also a product of the culture and when I look at what’s happening with my people I’m concerned and there’s this urgency to act.”

In choosing to chronicle the neighborhood through characters, Bratt chose a childhood hero as the inspiration for Che, the film’s central character, fully aware that the working class, ex-con, lowriding patriarch was an archetype that filmgoers may feel they already know well.

His challenge was to turn that portrayal on its head, veering into emotional territory where Che may actually be the weakest community link. Bratt calls the plot “a coming-of-age story, not of Che’s son [who Che discovers is gay, to explosive effect], but of the middle-aged man who is moving past the heroic state. He’s putting old attitudes in question and who knows how it will turn out?”

And just like the Mission is more than burritos, characters like the extended Rivera clan (of which Che is one member) and their neighbors form a living history with many levels. Those strata are largely untouched by mainstream portrayals, Bratt says. “In the mainstream, lowriders are associated with thugs and gangbangers. Many people don’t know that the actual lowrider car arose out of the Mexican American experience and in many ways was a political statement when it was created.”

As a counterpoint to the post-WWII consumer culture where those enjoying prosperity bought new cars off the production line and raced them as a sign of power, Bratt says, “Young Chicanos went to the junkyard, took cars that the mainstream was throwing away, dropped ‘em low, painted these incredible murals in vibrant colors to reflect their cultura, and drove ‘em as slow as they could. That was a political statement and the birth of a new art form.”

As a film that carries the weight of representing several communities that have often been given short shrift in Hollywood, La Mission also holds a vision of future portrayals that are detailed and compassionate, even toward characters like Che.

That aspect of the film makes the stakes of success high, not just for Bratt, but for many artists working toward similar goals of speaking truth to power about all kinds of community.

Critical responses to the film have been mixed, especially in mainstream outlets, which has been a disappointment for others making art in a similar vein.

Writer and educator Cathy Arellano grew up in the Mission and is editing an anthology called Homegrown: A Cultural History of Latinos in the Mission. She hopes the film will show in Albuquerque, NM, her current home and a lowrider capital in its own right.

She says: “I’m reading all the interviews, reviews, and readers’ responses to reviews I can find on the internet. The Bratts are continuing important cultural work on a larger scale that began more than 40 years ago when Latinos started to replace the Irish and Italian residents who left the neighborhood for the suburbs.

"Numerous Latino artists have come from and come to the Mission and filmed, photographed, painted, written, performed and sung about its people and history. The Bratts recognize that the Mission and its people are as creative, dynamic and complex as any other people and place.

"From the responses I’ve read, many mainstream critics have dismissed the film, but their readers seem to feel La Mission’s heart. The film is making an impact and will continue to make one even if theater owners, distributors and studio heads don’t see the dollars they want. I know here in Burque folks are hungry for it. In some circles, Albuquerque is called the new Hollywood or 'Tamalewood.' The town may have changed, but something in the film industry hasn’t: People of color’s stories aren’t being told.”

Bratt’s energy and optimism carried him through the years-long process of making the film and he said he continues to believe that, if they hear about it, audiences will come along for the cruise: “The fact that we have even limited distribution in this economy is a miracle. But in order for an independent film to stick around, the first week’s box office receipts determine whether or not that film is pulled or will continue on, and possibly even grow to other cities.”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Some Thoughts on LA MISSION

Note: The above photo was taken by a Tiny Loca whose work made up the bulk of the show "Two-Four Homegirls Circa 1980" at San Francisco's Mission Cultural Center last month. Vero Majano and two other folks curated the show. I don't remember their names, and I looked on the MCC website. I will find all the names and update later.

I’m reading all the interviews, reviews, and readers’ responses to reviews I can find on the internet. In one interview, Peter Bratt talks about how Spike Lee’s films are set in—and I’ll add: feature African Americans—and show his New York world. That's what it sounds like the Bratts are doing with LA MISSION. That's what I want to do with HOMEGROWN: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE MISSION.

The Bratts are continuing important cultural work on a larger scale that began more than 40 years ago when Latinos started to replace the Irish and Italian residents who left the neighborhood for the suburbs. Numerous Latino artists have come from and come to the Mission and filmed, photographed, painted, written, performed, and sung about its people and history. The Bratts recognize that the Mission and its people are as creative, dynamic, and complex as any other people and place.

From the responses I’ve read, many mainstream critics are dismissing the film, but their readers are feeling LA MISSION’s heart. The film is making an impact and will make one even if theater owners, distributors, and studio heads don’t see the dollars they want. I know here in Burque folks are hungry for it. In some circles, Albuquerque is called the new Hollywood or Tamalewood. The town may have changed, but something in the film industry hasn’t: people of color’s stories aren’t being told.

My college friend and New Mexican Irene Nexica has seen LA MISSION, and I'm including a link to her smart and insightful review (http://oaklandlocal.com/blogs/2010/04/La_Mission). Irene has been writing and critiquing culture longer than I had any idea what cultural criticism was. I'm still figuring it out. We go back more than twenty years and there's too much to say so I'm going to leave it at that for now. Here are the first few lines:

Local director Peter Bratt’s second film La Mission is an allegorical cruise through San Francisco’s Mission District that features complex issues and characters. An ode to the healing power of history and community, the film wears its humanistic heart on its sleeve without being cloying or disengaging. It’s likely to please Bay Area film fans on several different levels...

Nuevoméxicana poet Andrea Serrano shares my excitement at seeing this film. That might sound strange cuz author of A LOVE LETTER TO BURQUE chapbook and poem is a proud homegirl from right here, a thousands miles from there. But one of the reasons I'm attracted to Andrea and a friendship with her is cuz she loves her people and her land like I do. And she loves them as she loves herself and as I try to do the same: with warts and all.

I have to finish grading a stack of papers that I shouldn't have left hours ago (but there are times when the work for money must be put aside for the work that pays in other ways). I couldn't find her "A Love Letter to Burque" poem so I leave you tonight with Andrea's "To All the Cholos I've Ever Loved Before" (I know we all didn't love cholos or cholas, but it's a great poem). Find her on facebook, buy her chapbook, and enjoy the cruise:

Andrea J. Serrano
(c) 2008

I can't help but want you
you break into me like poison
sweet absinthe that takes me back
to those days
guys like you
whispering "mi'ja" softly in my ear
just before nuzzling my neck
a barrio king
and me
hoping to be queen

The memory of you
keeps me warm the way your Pendleton used to
The smell of yesca mixed with Tres Flores still makes me hungry
the way you used to
and the memory of the backseat of your homeboy's '85 Regal
still makes me tingle
the way you used to

I can't help but turn my head twice
when I see a full bigote and goatee
I watch you walk down the street
white t-shirt slung over your left shoulder
tattoos blazing against your brown skin
and I imagine you
humming Brenton Wood songs in my ear

I wish things hadn't changed
I wish we hadn't changed

Shit gets heavy and we had to choose
you walked your path
and I walked mine
the crease in your Dickies cut a rift between us
and we couldn't fix it
I don't know if it was growing up
that burst my bubble
or you
but you hurt me when you hurt yourself

I don't want to believe that you were as bad
as they said you were
because I done had my fair share
of your complete opposite
and though you let me down
you were never as bad as they were

Or maybe you were
and I just couldn't see it

I wrap myself in Pendleton memories of you
do me a favor
whisper "mi'ja" in my ear
for old time's sake
let me be your barrio queen
just one last time

Home-House and Home-Heart

(I wrote this last weekend then got shy. Ready or not, here it is.)

Today, I pulled weeds and raked leaves. I counted 10 garbage bags from the Costco box underneath the sink. I told myself, Once I fill these ten, I’m done. I figured I’d be out there for one hour, maybe two. I almost left five bags back. How much was I really going to do? I brought out all ten and placed them on Geen’s Grandma’s kitchen table that we keep on the patio. The table is one of those yellow formica 1970s pieces that almost everybody had and you lucky ones still have. I think ours from 19th Street was grey. The “patio” is a small patch of concrete outside the back door with beams and aluminum with some shingles eight feet high.

Well into my second hour of raking leaves, a roadrunner passed me by on her (it coulda been a her) way from the front to the back yard. I’ve seen a few roadrunners in these yards. Mostly, I see them in don José’s. The roadrunners have better pickins across the road with his chickens, doves, pigeons, apple trees, and some crops that are beyond a garden. His yard looks like a yard that is worked on every day, evening, and weekend. He was working on something and blasting his truck’s radio so long yesterday that his battery ran out and he blocked in his guests parked ahead of him.

I’m lucky to have a house. I’ve had homes, but this is my first house I’m paying a mortgage on. I’m a renter from a family of renters. I’ve paid and my family has paid the mortgages, taxes, vacations, time-shares, college educations, dental jobs, fancy eyeglasses, new cars and boats of landlords and their children for generations.

My sister who visited last weekend told me that our great-aunt--Nana’s sister—moved out of her place in the City’s Dogpatch neighborhood. I don’t know how many years Tía Mary had been living there, but her flat had that kind of comfy feeling that takes at least 10 years to get. She’d lived in that neighborhood her whole life. Her and Nana (b. 1920) grew up there. Their father worked at the nearby shipyards after the railroad. My grandfather worked at the shipyards too. In the late 1960s Nana moved to Pacifica then came back to the City and settled in the Mission. Tía Mary stayed where she had been.

I’m sure the new owners of Tía Mary’s building think they’re making the neighborhood better. The only thing that will definitely be made better is their wallets.

In 1983, we were evicted from our flat—two bedrooms (rooms with doors that closed), two livingrooms (we used one as a bedroom), diningroom (we used it as a bedroom), toilet room, sink and tub/shower room, mantel like the kind over fireplaces (no fireplace), cool molding everywhere, hardwood floors, second story sunhsine for days! The place is on Dearborn, that street that intersects 18th right there where the Women’s Building is and Dovre Club used to be. (Okay, Dovre Club was on the corner, but I had to put it in here if I’m going to mention TWB.)

We weren’t evicted for non-payment of rent. (See the SF Rent Board for the 15 reasons for “just cause” evictions www.sfrb.org.) The sheriff woulda got us outta there a long time before if Mom and Nana hadn’t paid rent. We weren’t evicted for excessive late payments. Money wasn’t rolling around in the ladies’ purses, but they knew there were limits.

Nana, Mom, my sister, her 1 1/2-year old son, and I were evicted cuz this is America and if you buy property, you get to live in it, on it, around it. Or not.

There have been times when I thought, no one should be able to own anything. This was after growing up with a bunch of cousins when I wanted my own everything. Instead we were made to follow Lopez-style communism. I owned or Mom owned and let me use my (her) choines, socks, shoes, shirts, pants, that one Easter dress, and sweaters. Okay, I had access to more than many people in this world ever have. But some of my stuff, yes, including the choines, were my sister’s or cousin’s before or after me depending on if said item was too big or too small. Maybe I was lucky that I was chubby – “Barríl” Grandpa christened me with the r’s rolled, “Barrel,” my uncles, aunts, and Nana said, “husky” Mom soothed, “Fat” my sister clarified. If I wore a 4 or 5 like my cousin my same age did instead of 6X, I would had to share even more. (My cousins, Bucky, Bones, Stinky, Coch(ina), and Harpo never weighed in on my weight.) It didn’t seem that way at the time, but I guess all my extra pounds did me a favor.

The owners told us to leave so they could live in our home/their property. Mom said they were gay. Not a quality my 100% heterosexual and, yes, at least slightly homophobic mother valued. I was so closeted/in denial about my own rainbowness I hadn’t noticed theirs. Once she told me, I thought about the smaller one’s soft face. Mom took us to live with Tía Mary in her flat on 3rd and 20th.

A few months later, Mom and I moved into a converted garage an in-law. Mom died within six months. There are three likely causes listed on her death certificate. One’s missing: “Eviction.”

I filled bag #10 and told myself, Ya! Actually, I sounded more like Roberto Durán: “No más, no más.” There were still more leaves on the ground. I started to pick up the rake to put it in the shed. Then I came inside and got bag #11 and filled it. Truth is I could spend the rest of my life filling bags with leaves and pulling weeds, but I stopped. I’m not old, but I’m old enough to have sore back and legs.

Here in my home-house that I can afford 1,000 miles from my home-heart, I sometimes miss calling the landlord when the drain clogs or the faucet falls off. Truth is, I miss the idea of calling the landlord. None of us often called the landlord when something went wrong. We didn’t want to get blamed. Mostly, we didn’t want the landlord to think we broke something and were gonna break more. If that happened, then two things we didn’t want to happen were going to happen: he was going to raise the rent or evict us. Until we found out we didn’t have to break anything to make that happen. No matter if there were 5 or15 of us living together, we couldn’t afford to move. So having a relative we could stay with for a while sure helped.

I can’t get evicted anymore. I guess Geen could try, but she really likes not dealing with the leaves or weeds so I don’t think she will. I could lose this house. We’re both working and have been since we arrived—thanks Mom, Nana, diosas! and knock on wood--but something could happen and we could lose it. Lose it to a bankrupt-in-so-many-ways system.

I guess I’d go back to paying someone else’s mortgage or jet ski. Then I wouldn’t have to pull any more weeds or rake leaves.