Watching LA Burn in Black and White (creative nonfiction)

At this time in 1990, I knew my elementary experience was over. I knew I was headed off into 7th grade and the dreaded changing of periods, seven classes a day, grown up stuff.

I knew I would no longer see some of my classmates. Some went off to starrier climbs, as it were. Some went off to Richardson where you had to win a lottery to get in because it was oh-so. The other was Golden Valley where all the white kids went. It was equally as snobby as Richardson, only without the academic record to back it up.

The school I went to from the fourth grade on, the school I’d continue to go to through the seventh and eighth grades, was a certified ghetto school, a magnet school, a school it shocked my mother’s Mormon friends that she let me go to.

At my school we really did have the academics to back up any snobbery, and we were absolute snot-heads about our school, but under the radar. Mostly people thought riots and, I don’t know, chain fights a la West Side Story went on there every day. No such thing ever happened.

Fast forward a couple of years to the LA riots re: Rodney King. They were in April. A bunch of us hung out in Mr. Espinoza’s room for lunch. It was shady in there and quieter. And it wasn’t just nerds, which was weird. We talked a little about the rioters and what we heard they did and did not burn down in our town.

Eating pizza the night of the riots at my aunt and uncle’s house, my friend Elizabeth and I watched it all on the news. I don’t know how we got this intel, but we heard “they” had burned down the FedCo. That was a huge disappointment. FedCo had the best popcorn and Icees and it was a privilege to go there because your parent had to be some kind of state or federal employee to get a membership card.

My sister breezed in and told me her boyfriend’s dad had taken up residence sitting on his roof with a shotgun lest anyone get close to his house. My sister was kind of a racist and a liar, so we took that with a grain of salt.

We speculated if they would come to the north side of town.

My friend spent the night that night. She lived in the poorest part of town which was adjacent to the black section of town, (incidentally, we still have a black section of town and it’s almost 23 years into the new millennium). We weren’t sure if she would be safe. We called her mom. Her mom said to stay put where we were.

Interesting thing about it is how many odd OLD references there are from both the 90s and the 60s LA riots, like the self-segregated neighborhoods and us watching the destruction on a black and white television with rabbit ears. People who don’t know history didn’t apply. A thirty year curse maybe. A vortex.

A lot of wicked shit put up with for way too long.

-M.

Ghost of San Berdoo

Serrano, Latino
Sunburned dark

Jeans
baggy T-shirt
train soot gray

Trenchcoat
patched leather
slain ranchers’ tack

115 degree morning
blacktop risen
shining
son of god

Round shoulders
Clinging glass
windshield clear
beer bottle green.

-M.

On Being Albino in Southern California

Photo on 2012-06-07 at 18.06Last week, out to lunch with a friend, a pack of neo-valley-girls blustered in and sat down in our section. Not too long after, one of them pointed at me, they whispered to each other, then all laughed loudly. It happens. It is an extreme unpleasantness that goes with the albino turf.

As galling as it was, however, I think the thing that galls me most is realizing that these idiots, obviously students at CSU Berdoo, are probably the same type who shout diversity and inclusion from the rafters all day, every day, as they flit from class to class. I see tolerance only goes so far. Only certain types are worthy.

One interesting thing is that in the thirteen years I lived in Nashville, I never encountered that. Not even once. Since I have been back in California, however, it has happened several times, and has always come from adults. In Nashville, if someone were curious, she or he would just walk on over, strike up a conversation, and ask. They’d most often want to touch my hair and ask whether I preferred “an albino” or “a person with albinism.” I found this pleasant and endearing.

While I’m not prepared to make any sweeping conclusions about the virtues of southerners as opposed to the vices of southern Californians—individuals are individuals after all, and hypocrites can be found under any slimy rock you care to turn over, regardless of geography—in my heart, I feel those conclusions beginning to boil.

The Sheep of Little Mountain (poem)

In spring when I was a child,
a red dog barked every day on Little Mountain
where insubordinate sheep swore back at him
and also the shepherd—
their bells clanging against the epithets

The shepherd, hot and blasé about it
by mid-afternoon,
sat in the shade of his trailer
eating cheese and day old bread
he shared with the dog
but not with the foul-mouthed sheep—

that don’t come anymore,
the barking and swearing replaced
with gunshots
and drunk singing
and the chop of ghetto bird blades
echoing against the dead yellow slopes.

-M.