Monday, August 26, 2013

early adolescence ouch

Ah yes, I went to grammar school at Good Shepherd with a boy I will call JG. I so long to use his real name. Real names are so much better than anything I could make up. But I do not want to invade his privacy. I usually change the names to protect the guilty but poor sweet JG never did anything wrong that I knew of. 
The only two things I remember about him were that in 4th grade he threw a snowball at me. The combination of hard packed icy snow and his strong throwing arm gave me a black eye. The snowball was on purpose but the eye was an accident. He got in big trouble over it from a teacher and cried and had to write an apology note to me.  I remember the note was written in pencil in his bad handwriting.
The only other thing I remember about him was that in 5th grade he was going to ask me out. He seemed to have told everyone because all the boys were talking about it and laughing and running around making a big deal about it that clear Spring afternoon. Maybe they were just being 5th grade boys, excited that someone was going to do something involving those crazy new feelings we were all feeling in out bodies, the feelings between two people. I have no idea why there was so much commotion. All I know was that it scared me. 
I got defensive. I felt like he was calling me out, challenging me to a fight. “Go out with you? Them there are fighting words, baby.” I felt exposed, vulnerable, laughed at, and a bunch of other weird things my 5th grade self experienced. I cannot explain my reactions anymore than I can explain theirs other than the hell of adolescence and what that does to one’s young brain.
Everyone was freaking the fuck out, “JG is going to ask out Holly! JG is going to ask out Holly!” I could not take it anymore so I called him over. ‘Holly wants to talk to JG! Holly wants to talk to JG!” the grape vine worked both ways and he got my message and approached me. My stomach hurt and i was trembling. I had on a jean jacket over my catholic school plaid jumper, white knee socks and brown leather wooden-soled platform shoes with a buckle. I really liked those shoes and actually had a note from my mother allowing me to wear them even though the school dress code was blue or black shoes. 
JG bravely walked up to me with his disheveled mass of dark curls, his coat hanging off of him in an odd manner, and a big fat smile on the red lips of his decent looking 5th grade Irish face.  He was standing in the gutter and I was a bit higher than him, standing on the curb.
“Hey James.” I said with my thick New York accent and fake tough attitude. Before he could answer I kicked him in the shin as hard as I could with my wooden platform. THUNK! He bent over in the pain and the whole crowd that was gathered around us burst into laughter. Still trembling, I flung back my long hair and walked through the crowd, pretending I was fine. I went home and cried.
Sorry JG! God bless you. Hope you are happy as can be.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hot Fun in the Summertime

Oh how I love summer and road trips. The combination of warm weather and free time invites me each time to travel around the roads of this beautiful America.  You can read all about my auspicious beginnings here
Now as a mom, I take my girl with me on our glorious trips. Yes, it is different because I need more space, more money, more patience and infinitely more time. Yes, we cannot take the same kind of risks that I did in my misspent youth or really any risks, but I can work with that. I cannot get by on beans and orange juice concentrate as I had in the past, as I have to always have proper food stocked for my girl, so I do.
This summer the stars were aligned and my husband and I were lucky to have time off at the same time. What a joy. So we hit the road again and lived as nomads staying in different places each night, eating out of our cooler, enjoying smiling faces and lovely places in our amazing state, CA.
Yes we played it cool, and kept it short, less adventurous, closer to home. Paris will be great when our family is a little older, but right now we are keeping it manageable, because ultimately we do not have hours to look for cool restaurants and long evenings to roam. Been there done that. Instead we need to get food into our girl by a certain time, so “find a place, get there, and eat” is the order of the day. Then we put our daughter to bed and we to are in for the night. I admit it is a strange adjustment to make in my forties, after yeas of roaming free into the wee hours, but I am fine with my choices.
The glorious truth is that family friendly road trips are amazing:
We hit Dolores Park in San Francisco, had a ball at the new playground, laid in the grass, ate cherries, pointed out every single horse and cow on the road (and there were many), broke bread with friends (great dear ones), drank iced coffee, savored smelling the garlic and onion fields in Gilroy, shopped, and blew a ton of quarters at musee mechanique, one of my favorite places in the world, playing pinball on the vintage machines of my youth, where a free game came at 4500 points. Thrilled beyond belief, I bucked that machine like I did in grammar school, trying to get it to do what I wanted. I’m out of practice. Then, I read at night with a flashlight- the first half of the Richard Hell autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, about the history of punk and then some. Had a hard time putting it down to ensure a decent night of sleep. Had to. Can’t wait to finish it.
Then we came home. When we got to our driveway my daughter started to cry and said she did not want to go home, she wanted to stay on the trip. So did I. None the less, we went home and ate the freshly picked ears of corn we got at a farm on the way home. It didn’t need a thing on it, but I put salt and lemon and complimented it with a glass of ice water with lemon and basil. I cannot think of anything better. I want for nothing. I have everything I need. It is all right there for the having. For all. Enjoy. Ah, divine magical life. Gracias.

Friday, August 16, 2013

bronx science

I was afraid to take the Bronx Science test. Bronx Science was a free public high school in the Bronx that was a really good school. You had to pass a special test to get in. I was one of the smartest kids in my class and my parents wanted me to take the test to get into the school so they would not have to pay tuition. But I was afraid. Not afraid to take the test, as I knew I would ace it and get in, but afraid of going to a school where I did not know anyone. A public school. My parents had instilled in me a fear of public school. They were afraid too, afraid I might get hurt. They had grown up in the 1940” and 50’s around 100th street in New York City, in a neighborhood of low-income immigrants, where heroine was rampant and public school was wild. The public schools of the 70’s in upper Manhattan were institutions where some crime could occur, where news reports said that kids robbed the sneakers off your feet.  They sent me and my sister to Catholic school to protect us from those wild kids, the ones who might encourage us to take drug and have sex. Kids who went to public school wound up pregnant in 8th grade according to my parents and they wanted me to have a chance in this world.

Their dream for me was to become a receptionist and have health insurance. And I guess ultimately to get married and have kids when I was ready. They wanted only good things for me but their vision of good was really safe and tiny. I don’t hold it against them, my parents were both first generation Americans their parents had worked like dogs to give them a better life in the new world. It sounds so fucking prehistoric, huh? But it is true. My grandparents were immigrants and didn’t graduate high school, maybe even grammar school.

My long skinny grandfather, born in Puerto Rico while it was still a colony of Spain, father of my father, he worked in hotels, two jobs. His wife, my grandmother worked in her brother’s bodega. Her skin smelled like garlic and her long hair was braided and wrapped up on her head in big beautiful buns. She held herself like a classic indigenous woman, big and strong and loud, cigarette hanging out of her red lips, as she took money from the neighborhood gamblers hoping to hit the number that day. My mother’s parents worked like dogs too. They all wanted to give their kids a better life. It worked. Both of my parents got a better life than their parents, one half step up the ladder. They moved out of the tenements in the slums and into a pre war building in a nicer working class neighborhood. Their life was small but better, a step in the right direction. Mind you, they married in 1960, at a time when America was prospering so everyone did better than their parents.  Ultimately, they both hoped to give me the same, a teeny weeny life, a little better than theirs. It wasn’t their fault, it was the best they could come up with.

I inherited a tiny scared vision of the big bad world and I was terrified to venture into Bronx Science. I made it easy on my self and made up a lie and told them that I did not want to wake up on a Saturday to take a test. I was adamant. It was true in that I didn’t. I was sick of waking up for school, who wants to wake up one extra day to sit in a school and take a test. But really I was just scared. They couldn’t get me to agree to the whole plan and that was that. It would not be long before I realized what a mistake I had made.
TBC……goodnight mothers!

ps oh man, is the summer already over? it just started. i remember the first time i heard this song, second grade, brilliant! and i couldn't believe he actually said we can't even think of a word that rhymes...

Friday, August 9, 2013

jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine

the wall is high, the black barn, the babe in your arms in her swaddling clothes… have I never told you this one?

I first heard Patti Smith’s Horses when I was in seventh grade. My mom was cat sitting for some hippie guy with a cool record collection and one night I went with her to feed the cat and came home with some albums I borrowed. One if the LPs was Horses. I already had Easter, but I had never heard Horses. In order to hear music you had to have money to buy it or know people who turned you on to it. Well, now I knew someone.

I freaked out when the needle hit the vinyl and 2 chords alternate and this stunning voice started singing “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine..” As a young girl trying to find her peeps, I almost died when my ears experienced this recording. I was speechless. The song ends and the hits just keep coming, Redondo Beach, Kimberly, Land. I recorded it onto a cassette tape.

Every summer my family would join this amazing pool club right there in the Bronx on Broadway around 236th street, The Fieldston Bath and Tennis Club. The high falutin’ name was not a great indicator of the pool club experience. The pool was indeed fantastic and there were clay tennis courts, but the club was populated by predominantly Irish, Jewish, and Italian working class families from the north Bronx area, chilling out, smoking, drinking, cursing, swimming, having a ball.

At a certain time in the day the air took on the dreamy smell of cookies baking from the Stella D’Oro factory next door. I cherish those summers spent swimming all day, running around free like a wild animal, tanned and chlorined, eating french fries and ice cream and playing pinball till 9pm when the sun finally set and the workers threw us out. We could have stayed all night as well.

So it was the summer of 7th grade and I had this Patti Smith Horses cassette and I played it again and again, from my moderate boom box that I dragged on the bus every day and bought batteries for every few days. I manually turned that tape over and over as I lay in my beach chair, lost in the poetry of Patti, my goddess, unconscious of other people’s space or tolerance to sound. I played that tape until it wore out, or until some working class lady with a clumpy body in a matronly one piece would yell in a shrill voice in between cigarette drags, “Turn that thing off for Christ sake.” or “Shut that music off already”. I would get shocked back into my surroundings and sheepishly lower the volume or turn off my precious songs. Until it was safe to turn it back on again.

I write this with such sweet joy, thinking about how I put that music into those ladies’ consciousness. It was the late seventies, so really, there is no other way in hell that any of the folk at that pool club would ever hear those songs. I was born to hear them, dedicated my life to finding music, and still it was a struggle to find.  Those folk would have died happily never having heard Patti Smith’s Horses, except they didn’t. And if by chance any of them heard any of those songs again today they would have the strange feeling of knowing it already, knowing every word possibly because I played that tape a million times for them. Viva la Revolution!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

When courts decide your fate.

I understand what it means to have decisions about your life made by the courts. There is something terrible about not having control, not getting to do what you want, not having the last say. Even before I had personal experience, I had aversion to it. Yes, when someone commits a terrible crime they should be put in jail at least to keep the public safe, but what about all the other situations- when the crime is not so terrible or the circumstances were grey, or the defendant is innocent? There are so many extenuating circumstances. We have a system that works often and fails horribly sometimes.

I used to date an ex con who used to say that our justice system was the best in the world, but often it still came down to coin toss. You might get off or you might go down.

Have you ever seen footage of people doing life in prison? Some of them are so beautiful, shining with light. Some people change deep down inside, but don’t get paroled. I once talked to a man who killed someone. He was so profoundly changed. He glowed with love. He was reformed, it was obvious. Our justice system cannot always recognize inner transformation, it is not set up to look for that. Some people get away with stuff and some don’t, some are guilty and go free and some are innocent and do life or die.

What is really on my mind is Baby Veronica, the two year old who was taken from the only home she ever knew, a good home that she lived in since birth, a home with her adoptive parents, who were picked by her biological mother. She was taken from her parents in order to be placed with her biological father, a stranger she never knew. She was taken by an appellate court because of a loophole in the law. (You can read my article with all the details at

Then eighteen months later, with Veronica approaching four years old, the Supreme Court reversed the decision. This ruling did not necessarily mean that Veronica was going to go back to her adoptive parents, it just meant that they were concluding that the appellate courts verdict did not stand up, which was really just a grand legal victory, and a precedent setter for future cases hopefully.

Then, a South Carolina Supreme Court decided that baby Veronica should go back to her adoptive parents. I am thrilled beyond words for the adoptive parents, who were the only people to be there in everyway, unconditionally, for Veronica since her birth. They experienced the terrible injustice of having their family broken up by the courts and they fought the law and triumphed. And then they were granted back custody of their daughter. How wonderful.

Still, my heart aches for baby Veronica right now and I keep her and her family in my prayers as she goes through the (hopefully) final hurdle of this saga, her transition back to her adoptive parents. This little girl received the brunt of the injustice of this fiasco. Such a big burden for a little girl to handle. Now she is being uprooted again. I truly want her to be reunited with her unconditional parents, I just hate that she has to go through any more pain or separation.

This fiasco has hurt many people. I think about Veronica’s birth father, another person who wants to raise and love Veronica, someone who has also fought for her. I appreciate the depth of the pain he must be in right now as he is about to lose her. I am truly sorry that he is hurting. I do not however, think that he is a victim of injustice. He made a decision to give up his child up at birth, and as I have said before, we all have to live with our reproductive decisions.

The cool thing about life is that everything is fixable, healable, transformable. The biggest deepest pain can be mended. I write that from experience and believe it from the bottom of my heart. Love heals and one thing baby Veronica can know for sure is that she is loved.