atmospheric tiramisu

that Friday had been particularly rough my science teacher Mrs. Thorndyke must’ve been on the rag or something i’m not even sure why i went to school that day i guess i just needed the routine life was unraveling all over me my folks money politics and a robust octopus demon had it’s addiction tentacles around by mind i felt heavy lost i wanted to make it all go away if i got a gold fish took out the trash make dad a clay ashtray maybe if i behaved but my check engine light had been flashing for almost two years now

i walked around downtown til i hit Main street i was too tired to go to the nickel besides i knew Taino wasn’t home i didn’t trust sitting in the lobby of the King Edward by myself i had a feeling i went up to the roof of the Cecil i was a runt back then no one knew i was alive the sky was baby blue like a Joe Jackson song and right where the mountain crests with the horizon an atmospheric tiramisu of different colored smogs

looking down at the sidewalk on Main i would count the people coming in and out of the lobby i remember thinking these must be really happy folks well mannered with nice houses and lawns and supper my mind began to wander my body relaxed i wasn’t comparing or analyzing anymore i was just of the moment alone face to face with my 17 years of invisibility of course i thought about jumping but that streak of rebel pomposity fed by my love of the Sex Pistols thought jumping off the roof would be utterly trite

thank goodness for my photographic memory finger tips without having to shift my eyes from the helicopters pigeons and flag poles i reached into my book bag and fished out the Ritalin pills that soothed me when i felt like curling up and sucking my thumb in about half hour or half day the lines blurred i was thinking about the news and the Contras Viet Nam vets and crack cocaine i thought about how many homeless people there were and the crips and the bloods and everyone in between

nowadays i often think of that Friday and i wonder what would have become of me if i had been a popular girl a girly girl a girl whose parents were proper closet alcoholic church goers conscious voters PTA joiners and i wore dresses and never took anything stronger than grape juice but we were not like that no one was ever like that in truth we were all just ragers in our own way

my daydreams about the world its wars and LA were just smoke and mirrors to hide from what would inevitably be an incredible ride into familiar unknowns of wanting to die and fly and vomit and binge and fuck and love and cry and laugh and feel whole

spare cock Amos

on my birthday the ritual is to go spend it in downtown first a nice long walk by myself thin flip flops so that i can feel the pavement and the hot pulse emitting from the man holes i like the forest of gray monochromatic shadows strewn across alley way walls and on the sidewalks mottled by the grime and chewing gum ground into the compacted sandy mineral flesh of the streets

this year i felt bold so i walked into the Cecil the rays of stained glass fluttered upon me like crazed butterflies it was as though i could almost feel the velvet of their wings swatting me gently on my face my feet moved me down the lobby and i sat in an upholstered camel tone lounge chair even with the bustle and shallow energy of the young tourists hip kids the Cecil’s heart was heavy like a vault

flooded by memories the ghosts of my adolescence entered the stage one by one and sat in the lobby with me i became Hamlet when he saw the spirit of his father the spell was temporarily broken by an old woman asking for spare change fumbling with my pink coin purse i empty a few dimes and made an offering as i repositioned my face back up toward her she vanished only the scent of gardenias to remember her by

atop of the service desk was an incredibly tall birds of paradise bouquet in an urn kind of vase the vignette of the greens reds yellows and oranges eased my mind into taking note of someone i had all but forgotten Amos

Amos was from Cite Soleil Haiti tall slender muscular ebony angular loud graceful kind honest fearless vicious fighter when provoked transgender and broken in some parts of her spirit fragile little girl Amazon goddess bitch i had fallen in love with her strength without knowing that she was my sister in pain i was a kid she was ageless and smooth

with us there were never any serendipitous conversations about plans for the future family traditions favorite color boys t.v. or candy during my visits to her she shared that her street name was Tiffany de Mournay i shook my head and blurted she had a pretty name but at 12 i had no awareness of what all that meant to me Tiffany Amos was Amos Tiffany and i really dug them both

at other times men would call her out in the hallway laughing and banging on the door they’d yell hey spare cock Amos come out man we got some business for you i didn’t ask her what that meant although later in life i think i understood it she would say hold on sweet and go answer her door shout back in French and slam her door as she roared in laughter they all knew each other and liked to fuck around with her when Tiffany Amos got the blues they were dark violet

Faye

the skill is to find life in the routine she said i’ve stood at this counter for 30 years pumping the same bottles into the air and nobody cares she said

do you want some advice i could tell you that you’ll age if you don’t cover up your face in these narcotics made in Spain but it’s your body love it any way you want

ya’ see this scar above my perfectly lined brow fell off a tree in 1963 you have a lot of scars all over are you ok or are you one of those foster girls from down the block

i’m sorry listen that was harsh there’s this cream for $49.95 that can help heal those dark circles under your eyes it helped before my divorce hearing when Harry hit me

the freckles on your face and the bleaching out of your hair you really should try this salve from France you’re far too young to have this damage men like long soft chestnut hair like yours

oh my i didn’t see those tattoos i have a concealer for that but you should really get it removed and it’s a shame with your good bones naturally formed you’d be a good model but you’re too short

can you smile yes that’s it i think you could be on the cover of this magazine but you really have to clean up child you look like a dog town mop head skater boy

those nails you’ve chewed them to your shoulders look i have to take a break my boss might give me a raise but i feel that he just might leave his wife for me tomorrow

Grady, don’t tell your mom she’s my best friend and i think she would worry here’s her order and some make up for you we all have the demons jumping out of us and soon the scars of sin we carry in will come up to the surface

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Artwork by Kira

the seeds

being a kid with 24/7 latch key clearance life was a wonderment full of things that logically i didn’t get but knew were painful for the human spirits amongst me

i frequented the Cecil more than homeroom at D Starr MS it was like a carnival backstage up close contact with the carnies included it was cool

the sixth floor had Abbey the hooker she was a Mexican-American lady with flan tone skin and perpetual bruises on her arms her pimp was some meth enthusiast with tax problems and a wife who was the daughter of an LAPD cop Abbey shared her Jack in the Box with me sometimes and we’d talk about Belmont HS years in the 60’s the student marches and such i just looked at her while flipping her records with my bony hands self-branded with the Anarchy sign i liked Abbey she never took drugs or drank not that i knew about she was just angry and beaten

in the lobby Mr. Petrucchio sat and read Time Magazine the same one for months on end the one on the Contra Aid scandal he was Sicilian from Corleone he turned me on to The God Father one and two he also shared that the movies were too glamorous i never asked what his first name was he was always Mr. Petrucchio to me it sounded hella cool i liked it when he taught me the dirty words in Siculu like fetuso or puttana or minchia but you kinda have to draw it out he said

i met Amos in the lobby one summer day i was reading the LA Weekly about the night stalker having been caught Amos had an intriguing accent and beautiful ebony slick skin eyes like black olives bright red lipstick and was wearing mermaid cut dress in peacock with crystals on the yellow satin sash i liked his wooden platform shoes he carried them guess he got tired

i must’ve been starring Amos looked and asked who i was i froze he laughed like the Un-Cola nut guy ay Mr. P is this your grand baby Mr. Petrucchio responded by shaking his head no and blowing out pewter smoke from his pipe what’s your name honey never mind what you doing here where yo momma at that’s a cool dress can i touch it Amos’s laugh echoed through the musty lobby shifting the dust sure it’s crushed velvet are you a drag Amos’s laughter roared making the glass at the front entrance rattle i smiled like an idiot

the last bus to east Hollywood pulled up and i left black safety pinned book bag and markered skateboard with a black flag logo returning after a few weeks Abbey was sick i took her a Jumbo Jack and chocolate shake she told me she lost a baby i said oh as i gulped tears back we sat silent in the lobby as she didn’t want to sit in her room anymore we didn’t cry

evermore

on the last day of Hanukkah 2001 i was hung over from too many filterless Camels and clove cigarettes the night before i couldn’t sleep and i chain smoked i made my way to the cold bland bathroom to wash up the radio was on and i danced as i walked i moved like any skinny slinky Brit androgynous heart throb it boy from the 70’s i thought and felt kinda embarrassed after my ritual i went downstairs to chew the fat with Jonathon O’Mara from the coffee shop in the Tenderloin he wasn’t home so i went for a walk the sun was hot for a San Fran morning back then i was able to ride the bus for a quarter the drivers would mistake me for a high schooler it was easy i always wore boys clothes and black chucks my gay boyfriends always gushed over me as they tried to capture my femininity i loved having gay boyfriends we’d all have fun dance etc and i didn’t have to put out and if they needed an emergency fiancé to introduce to their waspy east coast family members they’d send out the beard signal and i was there we were all excellent fucking actors but behind the good times and the jokes we all lived our lives as prisoners in very painful cells some of the folks in our circle were even handed death sentences through illness or addiction as far as i went i had to fess up to my boys that men’s clothing might keep the rapists away and that when someone had the balls to tell me i was beautiful it would hurt very badly along with a litany of other issues most of my boys would gasp and then weep because they too had been deeply hurt continually for long periods of their life but we were a rowdy bunch we had survived our way and through those unfortunate passages we realized we were all connected and that race gender orientation and any other label didn’t really define us we were very strong and wise human beings with the capacity to love hard and relentlessly  as for Jonathon and i woe upon anyone who’d mess with his sweet pea for a portion of my life i was blessed enough to know such a human capacity existed and i can move forward with this evermore

Valentina

little Valentina jumped up and down by the crosswalk waiting for the light to turn lime jello green her little black patent leather shoes tip tapped on the dirty dusty sidewalk she let go of her mom’s hand to clean the dust off open little palms were no match for the dirt those were her prized church doctor and special school event shoes they couldn’t get dirty Valentina had an excellent day at the dentist and her mom and dad promised her she could go to Olvera Street and get her treat as the family made their way to the Plaza Valentina’s eyes search like a hawk she didn’t see Don Chema the paleta man with his cart filled with frozen delights it was a humble little ice box covered with ice pop stickers shaped like action heroes Sponge Bob and even the Disney Princesses once they got to the kiosk and the giant tree Valentina’s hopes dimmed she looked up at her dad with the biggest brownest sullen eyes and he offered a dreadful solution would you like a churro instead Valentina searched once more and as a small crowd of Japanese tourists dispersed she saw Don Chema she hopped and squealed with delight Valentina pulled on her parents to walk her to the paletero Don Chema in a nasally raspy voice asked her que le gustaria mi reina Valentina whispered up to her dad and she asked for the prized watermelon paleta juicy red with the little black seeds frozen inside

Doña Margarita

now as i look in the mirror i see the scar on my neck where his ring ripped my skin off and wrinkles from all of the times i smiled before and after the event during that moment i fought back with everything i had i too was Jacob Israel in my bathroom looking down as my fingers blindly feel for eyeliner i think of Doña Margarita standing four feet tall outside of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church where i had gone that night looking for watermelon agua fresca i was thirsty for normal human contact she cajoled me about buying one of her amulets a little brown felt square with a saint on it or was it Michael i don’t recall anymore i smiled and shook my head no and as i walked away my mind was already boarding cloud nine but she followed me and said llevatelo es gratis i took her offering as her eyes turned stony with warning a few blocks away deranged in the annals of fifth street i lost it somewhere so into the bar i stepped had a few laughs saw a few flies guzzled a few vodkas and prepared to go up to the third floor to visit Taino another LA merchant turning the corner to go into the morgue like hotel lobby two arms wrapped around my 80 pound frame and into Werdin Alley we rolled but i swung with weak little arms i reached and i scraped faces arms noses tracers in denial that this was reality i focused on our collective flailing tattoos then ink covered my mind i woke up in County over hearing LAFD say she’s been a victim of a violent crime yet i could still feel the brown felt of Doña Margarita’s amulet in my hand it was anchoring

pink paws

The walls spun around as the grains of steamed rice rolled off the table top like drops of mercury. Asian ladies watched in slow motion as thick moisture atop my brow trickled into a stream. My mouth parched and cottony could no longer pass air through my teeth to form words. I used my eyes to find contact, to cry for help. Nothing. Just stares. The breezes coming through to cool down the sweaty wanderers in the buzzing basement had now spun into typhoon winds crashing into my body.

Guatemalan gawkers and Salvy breast touchers hovered over my limp body laid out in crucifix formation on the concrete floor.    

“Nina, nina, are you okay?” said one Oaxacan with a blinking Bluetooth on his left ear.

From where my head laid, I could see the plastic bags filled with pea green plantains, shrimp and Jose Cuervo. One woman with thick legs and a large camel toe bent over me, almost in a bowing formation. I thought I was saved.

“Rafa, Rafa, coll de fire meinz, andale!!” She belted out as she turned her great ass toward my face and the light went out.

No one read minds. Had someone known that my chest was imploding and my soul hovered above me playing poker with John Fante, they would have called for help much sooner.

mashed potatoes

mornings are hard when you know you’ll have to be with people with lots of soul pain. the typical refrigerated store air nipped at my nose as i trudged to the coffee line. Larry  read the hospital paperwork poking out of his coat pocket with the torn leather elbows.

Larry had probably seen Halley’s Comet twice. he wore a blue plaid shirt with faux mother of pearl snaps, black dickies and steel toes. he had a decently robust head of hair, silvery with a darker shade of gray streaking towards the back. per chance when his brain cells had a more cordial relationship amongst themselves, he might have been only assigned to crafts requiring brawn and handy work. his face was anglo. blue eyed, long and thin, perhaps an Irish boy.

     he had steady hands. a little calloused, but one could tell that he’d done his fair share of manual labor and partook in bare knuckle bar brawling, often. his dull downward stare declared days fleeted away full of insults, dukers’ blows and abysmal marks where many tears had corroded away at the spirit. all, of course, to the voice of Patsy Cline in the background. broken spirits usually have the ability to sit graciously across from a chair full of spilled coffee or possibly the Devil as well. no one paid attention so the old man introduced himself to the arabica soaked nothingness sitting at his table.

     ‘i know how to make mashed potatoes. you can’t leave the skin on, otherwise they don’t taste good.’ Larry abruptly spat out his directions to the emptiness in front of him. he had a good tone, not raspy or squeaky, kinda’ like if John Wayne and Bogey had a baby. ‘you put the butter in after you mashed them sons-of-bitches up real good! but the butter has to be soft, otherwise the potatoes taste fake.’ i relished in his pronunciation and perfect punctuation.

     distracted by the buzzy voice overhead blazing the $5 specials the old man then looked at me. turning slighty pink Larry smiled and quickly began to wipe the table down as he stuttered and apologized. i smiled and offered my extra napkins. together two bruised souls sopped up a mutual figurative mess.

Little Christmas at Maggie Rose Doyle’s

Margaret Rose Doyle was crying when I stayed with her on Sunday January 6, 1980; Little Christmas she called it. Her face was drenched in tears just as the brandy cakes on her kitchen counter were soaked with booze. The whites of her green eyes turned salmon pink and her porcelain cheeks boiled hot with sad emotion. Maggie’s breath fumed from the useless curses and the bitter whiskey. My tio Gjeo had admitted, again, to infidelity. She didn’t have to tell me, I had always known that face. It was a communal mask shared by the hapless women who entangled themselves with the rambling men of my family.

The revelation didn’t stop my Maggie from throwing herself and a bunch of surly biker mommas the biggest post-Christmas Day party in Silver Lake. As I understood it, Little Christmas was a party mostly for women and girls practiced in Ireland, Maggie’s homeland. On this date the three wise men allegedly reached baby Jesus and the epiphany that he was the Savior was proclaimed.

My 9 year old mind could not reconcile what Baby Jesus and biker women partying and getting drunk had to do with each other on account of what I had learned about Christianity from the kids’ show Davey and Goliath. Davey was a Lutheran. I liked the show because Davey, the boy, was always getting into some kind of moral dilemma with his big brown talking dog, Goliath. Davey hardly ever did the right thing, but he wasn’t cursed to Hell during the episode and usually got to learn an important life lesson instead. I liked the idea of going against the grain for a good cause and not being punished for it. Yes, that was my life at the time: talking Lutheran dogs, cheating men and drunken women. On this particular Little Christmas, I had a terrible dilemma.

My greatest joy during Maggie’s parties was to watch the women talk and laugh, particularly because the rest of the year they were raging or crying over guy problems. I’d serve them cocktails and sometimes would stick my tongue in their glasses to have a taste myself. Vodka became my favorite and by the ripe age of 9 and half I could drink about a cup and sleep fine through the night without throwing up and without waking up with bad breath. Vodka and I had a very nice relationship in my youth.

Through their essence of boisterous character and furious conversation I felt like I was part of something. They’d pet me, call me “China Doll” and call me stuff in Italian, like piccola signora (little lady). There were a few South American ladies too, with short tempers who’d always call me nina or preciosa. In their thick exotic accents, they would tell me stories of how they got the shiners on their faces. I knew they didn’t fight off a purse snatcher as they claimed. I knew my dad’s friends gave them those bruises. I felt helplessly sad for them, but I just smiled, refreshed their drinks and complimented their hair, make-up and jewelry. They really liked that kind of attention, but I didn’t understand why.

There was this golden, olive toned Italian lady, Carmela Clemente. She was a curvy woman with blonde hair and hazel eyes. She was known for dating a few of my uncle’s biker buddies. I liked Carmela because she was known as a cascavel, the rattle snake amongst the biker boys. I even think she went a few rounds with my dad in the love ring, but she mostly liked the sand blonde dudes from the San Fernando Valley. Carmela’s meaty hands spoke before her thick magenta lips did. She was as friendly as she was striking in her manner of not putting up with the guys’ poor treatment of the women they dated. Carmela hid blades in her hair which she showed me in the bathroom one time, because Los Angeles was molto pericoloso, very dangerous. I also heard stories of her cutting up guys’ break lines and their faces if she felt they weren’t treating her nicely. I thought it was funny she felt Los Angeles was dangerous to her. Nevertheless, I wanted to be bad ass like her when I grew up later that summer when I’d be 10.

Maggie and I got up around 5 that Little Christmas morning to clean up the house, but mainly to spend a little time together before the festivities started. I made her coffee and she fixed me a cup of Nescafe with lots of milk and a few tablespoons of Nestle Quick. “For your health, little one.” She cooed at me.

My uncle wasn’t home from Bakersfield yet. After we drank our coffee and talked about me going over to Gardner Elementary in West Hollywood next year, we went into the garage to get her giant, see through plastic bins to store away her Christmas Day decorations later on when her guests arrived as she traditionally got her guests to help her do. I could tell that Maggie was upset about something. She would walk in and out of the house, her face wasn’t made up, and she took quite a few shots of whiskey when she thought I wasn’t looking. But, being the little soldier that I was trained to be, I was always looking.

As I grew up, my love for Maggie was complicated. Often this love was sickly, full of stomach butterflies, confusion, and frustration. I didn’t like her drinking. Her longing for her country caused me to fear losing her, and my uncle’s cheating on her caused me to harbor conflicting feelings of anger toward him.

If you were female, living with a man from my family meant you had to be tough, loyal and with an incredibly open mind and closed mouth. Males were expected to work hard, party harder, make money and be loyal to each other. Maggie served my uncle with a subtle cognitive dissonance. She had to in order to keep her sanity intact. She struggled to keep her identity as a strong, intelligent, beautiful, deserving woman, so she drank and spent his money. She was loyal and faithful to my uncle in spite of his actions. Perhaps she felt indebted to him for giving her a home and for supporting her and her two then teen aged sons after arriving in New York way before I was born. Maggie and her sons were in America illegally after having had her husband murdered in Northern Ireland was what she’d tell her girlfriends.

Maggie encouraged me to learn all I could about science, Astronomy, history and anthropology and, as soon as I was walking, I faintly recall her move empty liquor bottles to the sink and the random slumbering biker from the party the night before from the kitchen counter to finish their sleep on the floor so that she could plop me on the counter instead. Then she’d read to me from National Geographic, the L.A. Times or her special books from the book case. She loved Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare and Dos Passos, although at that young time in my life I had no idea what impact any of them had made in the world. When I was a teen, she claimed that she’d seen Bukowski and a young girlfriend at Musso and Franks once.

My Maggie Rose also loved her whiskey, more than me sometimes. But for long periods of my life, she was my only mother figure. Maggie would fight both of my parents when she saw that they would abandon me. Maggie would feed and clothe me and made sure I went to school most of the time. Maggie taught me how to dress and groom myself and how to be a lady while eating at the table. And, it was from Maggie that I learned how to mask hurt, betrayal and anger with booze, smiles and laughter.

Tio walked through Maggie’s kitchen door at about ten that morning, his Rolling Stones tee shirt inside out and an aura of Channel perfume all around him. At the sink, I was babbling about cherry flavored candy canes while washing the dirty coffee cups when I saw Maggie and Gjeo locking eyes, his hands half way up trying to articulate an excuse out of the sugar cookie scented kitchen air.

There were no words expressed or exchanged. Maggie put on her communal mask of pain, and asked Gjeo to go into the garage with her. When they walked back into the kitchen, she was gracefully devastated. She smiled at me then him, she talked about the garden, about taking me to the movies and China Town and going to Sun Valley or Saugus to see the horses. The bigger her heart wound got, the bigger she’d smile and the tighter she clung to Gjeo’s neck to show me that everything was o.k. and then she’d poured gin and orange juice into a plastic, turquoise tumbler.

Gjeo cupped my face with his big hands dirty with betrayal. He didn’t look at me with his hazel gypsy boy eyes, but asked if I wanted to go to House of Pies for breakfast. I hugged his legs because my 9 year old self hurt for them both and I did not know how to fix them. I shook my head “no” with a lump in my throat and as I let go of his rock steady legs, I quickly flashed on how those same hands rescued me from my father, provided for me, and held me tight when I couldn’t sleep at night. Tio quietly went into his room to rest. I was very confused in my sense of loyalty and integrity: I loved them both, but even though my uncle was my blood, Maggie was a hurt human being. In my 9 year old heart, this wasn’t right and some kind of action on my behalf was required to set the universe of our house on balance again.

After meticulously winding up what seemed to be 40 acres of Christmas lights and entertaining Maggie’s leather and denim clad girls, I stole away to the back patio of the house and opted not to wait until I grew up in the summer. I decided to be like Carmela Clemente that afternoon. Taking out offerings of three C and H 5 pound sugar bags and one and a half bottles of Mrs. Butterworths syrup from a brown Safeway paper bag, I introduced the gifts into the tanks of my uncle’s 5 Harleys and 3 Ducatis. “Rompapapa-rompapapa that, tio!” I sighed with satisfaction in my mind. I was very unlike baby Jesus that day and I never watched Davey and Goliath again.