Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rest In Peace, Dear Francie

Rest in Peace, Dear Francie
A short story by Ellie MacBride

She didn’t even put up a struggle as I ripped off her clothes.  Her white jumper, once covered in a geometric pattern of pinks and greens, was now caked in mud and trailing behind as I dragged her by her hair, past the cankered wicker bench and farther into the garden.  I picked up the thorniest rose I could find, tore off the head, and wrapped the stem across her plump pout and over her ears, piercing her ivory glow.

 “You think you’re better than me?!  So you have nice clothes and eyelashes longer than summer—that doesn’t mean shit!” I spit, sending a glob of saliva across her perfect coral cheekbone.

I wanted her to suffer.  For years, I had been teased for the way I looked; I had the most popular boy’s haircut of 1996, but looking like Matthew Lawerence wasn’t as cool when you were a twelve year-old girl.  My boobs were as big as my areolas and since my mom wouldn’t let me shave my legs until I got my first boyfriend, I started to believe my name really was Wolverine.

Earlier that day, I had taken the utility lighter I found in the cupboard—next to the half-full box of candles from my birthday—and practiced lighting it the way my mom had showed me.  “Slide up with your thumb and push with your pointer,” she said, before handing it off to me so I could light my own cake.

I slid up with my thumb and pressed with my pointer three times before I brought the flame near Francie’s perfectly placed golden mane.  Her seraphic expression melted as her ember eyes flickered with the reflection of the approaching blaze.

While holding her down with my left hand, I reached into the oversized back pocket of my grass-stained jeans with my right, and pulled out a pair of shiny silver tweezers my older sister used to shape her eyebrows into two little sandy pyramids.  The blue rubber grips helped keep the pincers in my hand as I plucked each of her lengthy eyelashes out, one by one.

Francie and I had been best friends since the day I lost my first front tooth.  She was the only one who didn’t laugh at me at recess when I bit into my Red Delicious apple and got stuck.  I tried to hide my face as I wiggled the apple off but it was too late; the impenetrable fruit had won the battle and I had won a new crevice to poke my tongue through.

This day, however, I decided Francie and I weren’t friends anymore.  We were having lunch together in the greenest patch of grass under the climbing tree when something hard hit me in the back of my head.  I felt a stream of blood dribble down my neck, past my t-shirt collar, and descend all the way until it reached my belt.  I gently closed my eyes and accepted the fact that I was dying.  I went to fall back into Francie’s delicate arms, but she wasn’t there to catch me.  Instead, I landed on a fizzing can of Dr. Pepper—the same Dr. Pepper that I thought had killed me.  Whoever had thrown the soda was gone, so I pulled open the tab the rest of the way and drank the remainder of what I had thought was my blood, as Francie just sat there with the same stoic semblance she had had the day the apple won my tooth.

Now naked and hairless, Francie was less beautiful than me.  My back was soaked in sweat and soda as her defectless porcelain legs resisted my attempt to bend her knees behind her back.  I yanked my laces out of my sapphire-striped Adidas and secured her arms and legs together, tying the same knot my little brother had showed me they used in his Cub Scouts troupe.

I left her next to the Amaryllis as I went to get a shovel.  The tool shed was closed with a wraparound chain and padlock, but I had practiced using a hairpin to open doors, once even breaking into my next-door neighbor’s house.  I never stole anything—just liked the feeling of opportunity.  It took me all of ten seconds to pick the lock, beating my record of fifteen.  The heavy chain fell to the dirt as I slid open the creaky door, allowing the midday sun to creep in and bounce its blistering beams off a rusted hand saw.  I rehearsed what I could do with each item in my head before I remembered the Amaryllis and grabbed the pointed green shovel.

Once I broke the sun-hardened crust, the rest of the hole was like digging sand.  Francie and I used to love playing in the sandbox.  Sometimes, we would pretend we were royalty and I’d spend all day building her a castle, only to destroy it once it was finished and say, “No castle is worthy of you, my Queen!”

But this was no castle; it was a prison—an inescapable dark grave where there weren’t any jesters to make you laugh, feasts to make you full, or friends to make you merry.  I looked over to where Francie lay—her cheeks still as rosy as the Amaryllis—and apologized for what I was about to do.

The voice from behind caught me off guard.  Shrill yet stern, I knew it all too well; it was my mother and she was coming our way.  Panicked and terrified as to what might happen once she found out what I had been up to, I froze.

I couldn’t tell if it was shock, disgust, or anger that made her lip curl and nose twitch as if about to sneeze; her sea-blue eyes grew so wide I thought I might sink if she got any closer.  She looked once at the empty grave, once and Francie, and then right back at me before she spoke.  Her tone was hard to pinpoint but her words were very clear:

“Laura, you really need to stop burying your Barbies!”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Life's a Peach and Then You Die

The hardest part of writing is the first sentence.  You may have some morsel of inspiration, whether from a purposefully perplexing History Channel special on the theory of theorems or the much more mind-muddling magician who just stole your wallet, but until you have a punctual family of words, that inspiration is left constipated on a thought toilet somewhere in your 250 Sq ft San Francisco brain.

Unfortunately, my shit was just interrupted by an email: "You've been assigned the task 'Clean My Small Apartment'.  Contact task poster now."  On New Year's Eve of last year, my resolution was simple: To never work for "The Man" again.  Now, seven months later, I wonder if I'll run into him one day in line for soup.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Throwback or Up?

Remember when a rainy day was spent weeding through all of your Myspace bulletins, looking for those juicy surveys your friends would post about their favorite colors, number of people they've kissed, and where they saw themselves in ten minutes?

Yeah, I'm glad Tom is somewhere sucking it for change now too, but there is something about a rainy day and Stan Getz that inspires retrospection.  That, along with the fact that the last time I saw one of these innocuous inquiries of innocence I was watching the newest episode of Stargate SG-1, influenced my decision to post this more than the great amounts of whiskey I've consumed since my last purity promulgation.

So, here you have it.  A rainy day survey from me to you.

-Ellie


  1. Four jobs you’ve had in your life: (1) My first job was as a banquet tray-holder when I was fourteen.  I had to stand like a statue as I held a tray of champagne because they wouldn't let me move since I accidentally shattered a giant mirror during a wedding procession. (2) After that, I got a job at a tourist-trap souvenir shop in Old Sacramento called 'Stage Nine' (I forgot the significance of the number "nine", but recall it being stupid), where I'd sit on the counter reading old Batman comics as I yelled at foreigners to not touch the light sabers without permission.  (3) 'Stage Nine' opened up a vintage toy store around the corner, where I worked some of the time, once saving a woman's life as she was choking on Pucker Powder candy.  After moving to San Francisco, I was approached on the corner by a Moroccan man who claimed he had a serving job for me.  (4) I became a slave for Medjool for three years, and even made the mistake of agreeing to work at the owner's friend's hip hop clothing store, which was cut short when the owner (a seventy-something year-old man) attempted to woo me with Lagavulin after driving me out to the beach. 
  2. Four jobs you wish you had:  (1) Whiskey Sommelier (2) Youtube sensation (3) Train robber (4) Iron Chef America judge
  3. Four movies you can watch over and over again: (1) Wings of Desire (2) Tuvalu (3) Rushmore (4) City Lights
  4. Four cities you have lived in: (1) Levittown, PA (2) Hell (Tucson, AZ) (3) Sacramento, CA (4) The greatest city on Earth
  5. Four TV shows you love to watch: Seinfeld, The Life and Times of Tim, any gay version of MTV dating shows, and of course, Billy the Exterminator 
  6. Four websites you visit daily: Bigfatdicks.com, evenbiggerdicks.org, wearedicks.gov, ...and facebook.
  7. Four of your favorite foods: Vlasic Zesty whole dill pickles, hydrogenated oil, Doritos, and Flinstones vitamins.
  8. Four things you won’t eat: Tofu, olives, imitation animals, and the day after Thanksgiving.
  9. Four things you wish you could eat right now: Fat without getting fat, cookie dough without getting doughy, past 8 without gaining weight, and garlic bread.
  10. Four things in your bedroom: I don't have one of those.
  11. Four things you wish you had in your bedroom: A bedroom.
  12. Four things you’re wearing right now: I'm not wearing four things, unless you count angst and B.O.
  13. One place you’d rather be right now: Coasting down Golden Gate Park to the ocean on my yellow steed.
  14. One fictional place you’d rather be right now: With all those divine beings who ascended last week.
  15. Four people you’d really love to have dinner with: Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer.
  16. Four things you’re thinking about right now: (1) The amount of flies dancing above me makes me wonder if there's a dead body under my rug.  (2) If there were no such thing as clouds, would blue skies have so much appeal? (3) How many licks does it take to get to the centerfold? (4) I haven't worked for the man since New Year's Eve, and somehow, I'm still surviving this city.
  17. Four of your favorite things/people: (1) The woman on Mission and Van Ness who uses her one leg to push her wheelchair into traffic in an attempt to collect insurance money.  (2) People who use smiles and gestures more than words.  (3) Open mic night at the Page Street library. (4) Imbroglio.
  18. Four people you tag: The last time I played 'Blind Man's Tag', I fell off the playground equipment and ended up wearing a patch on my eye.  So I have decided to forgo this step, against absolutely no other judgement.

Monday, May 16, 2011

American Alliteration

The transfixed transgender transient transcends traditions, while watching white workers wonder why weeping willows weep.

"I don't understand nature," words white worker one.

"Yeah, I couldn't care less about why the willow weeps or what makes the sky blue," another aimlessly answers.

The transfixed transgender transient's tears trickle toward tangled thistles thwarting treacherous trenches through time.

"The willow weeps only to mock you and the sky knows no other color than your despair," the transient tacitly testifies, then travels tenuously to total tranquility.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Life and Times of Rich

          What do Hispanics mean to American culture?  If we were to ask Richard Rodriguez, he might invite us to read a passage from the latest edition to his autobiographical trilogy expounding his life as a Hispanic in the United States.  “Hispanic”, a chapter from Rodriguez’ Brown: the Last Discovery of America, is a literary blend of irony, subjectivity, and sarcasm, decorated with illustrious personal anecdotes to help motivate Rodriguez’ idea that while people witness the “browning” of America today (Rodriguez uses the term “browning” to describe Latin immigration into the United States), America has been brown from the start.  Unfortunately, though, Rodriguez’ elaborate and sometimes overly complex rhetoric suppresses the core ideas of the piece, leaving the reader confused and uninformed as to the intricacies involved with the subject of Latin American assimilation.  At the same time, Rodriguez crafts a beautifully written essay that is both thought provoking and poetic.  “Hispanic” surely “force[s] upon us the necessity to sharpen our own ideas” (Stavans 30), but will reading it help us to learn anything about Latin American assimilation, or Latin America at all?  Or will we inadvertently be lost in a foreign sea of hyperbole captained by a man without any navigational skills?
          
          Upon reading "Hispanic", several instances arise where Rodriguez seems to repudiate his heritage, rather than promote it.  This shifting, oxymoronic rhetoric leads me to question Rodriguez' intent, as well as whom he might be writing this piece for, as his loyalties don't appear to lie with his Mexican ancestors or the ignorant Americans he addresses throughout the hard-to-follow text.  In the beginning of "Hispanic", Rodriguez renounces his heritage with a plethora of generalizations sociologically accepted in mainstream America; he defines "Hispanic" as "Ducking under the cyclone fence...Seen running from the scene of the crime (Rodriguez 422), which he believes will emotionally captivate his audience, thus blanketing his ulterior purpose of providing a sociopolitical poetic essay, rich with "a gamut of anecdotes, mostly about himself in action in an environment that is not always attuned to his own inner life" (Stavans 30).  While Rodriguez paints a poignant picture of the life of a Mexican-American, he sticks to what he knows best: the self-portrait.
          
          This aversion to that which is not Rodriguez’ masterpiece (himself), flourishes further into the piece as Rodriguez’ fluctuating fluency denounces Americans as being “soft on geography” (Rodriguez 429).  He is quick to teeter in this poetic playground by following with “But American obliviousness of the specific becomes a gift of prophecy regarding the approaching mass.  Our impatience has created the map of the future” (Rodriguez 430).  He believes American ignorance has shaped the modern world, as Americans’ lack of geographic perception in the past created the notion of a society of blurred borders, quite similar to the cultural diversity seen today.


          Additional proof of Rodriguez’ subjective intentions are seen in the beginning of the piece when Rodriguez follows his question, “Do Hispanics exist?” (422), with a discourse of his present purpose: “Look at all this!  Folders.  It looks like a set for The Makropolous Case.  I will turn instead to the death agony of a moth, the gigantic shuddering of lantern-paper wings.  Or I will count the wrinkles on Walden Pond.  I will write some of those constipated, low-paying, fin de si├Ęcle essays about the difficulty of saying anything in this, our age” (422).  It almost seems as though Rodriguez is avoiding pontificating the Americanization of Latinos that he has come to address so freely.  Ilan Stavans, a professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and author to several books related to Hispanic life, believes that Rodriguez shares similar writing qualities with British prose veteran, V.S. Naipaul.  In his critique of Brown: The Last Discovery of America—a piece accordingly entitled “The Browning of America”—Stavans asserts that when reading works from these two intellectuals, we must look past whether or not we agree or disagree with what they have to say and instead focus on “our own conception of who we are” (Stavans 30).  Rodriguez and Naipaul both “explore a culture through its nuances and not…through its high-profile iconography; they are meticulous litterateurs, intelligent, incessantly curious; and, more important,…[retain] the position of the outsider looking in”(Stavans 30).


          But is Rodriguez an outsider?  Many might argue otherwise, as he was born in the United States.  However he does hail from Mexican immigrant parents who stem from an even greater lineage of the Latino people Rodriguez is so enamored by.  And he has accepted the term “Hispanic” to describe himself, so I can’t help but wonder what exactly it takes to be a part of this culture that has become the largest growing minority at 35.3 million (Stavans 31). 


          For some greater insight into what exactly it might take to be considered Hispanic, I turned to an article from a weekly English/Spanish newspaper called La Prensa—a column labeled “Hispanic: What Does it Mean to be Called a Hispanic?”  Much like Rodriguez states in “Hispanic”, the article accredits the Nixon administration for establishing the term “as a catch all for Spanish-speaking people in the United States…” (Herrera), but goes into much greater detail than the gallivanting Rodriguez by pointing out that using the term “Hispanic” made it easier for politicians to address the fast-growing minority who were beginning to shape a “political conscience” (Herrera).  “In the United States, the term Hispanic has become omnipresent.  In the past, for some immigrants, being called Hispanic represented a successful assimilation into the American culture.  For others, to be defined as a Hispanic was seen as a derogatory term” (Herrera).  So for a culture that can be summed up in a two-column article and made as black and white as the newspaper itself, why is it that Rodriguez has spent so much time “[pursuing] Hispanicism, as a solitary, self-appointed inspector in an old Hitchcock will dog some great Hoax” (Rodriguez 423)?  As previously stated, Rodriguez’ essay comes from his third installment of an autobiographical journey recounting life as a Latino in the United States.


          In his piece, Rodriguez frankly admits that his literary agent has “…encouraged from [him] a book that answers a simple question: What do Hispanics mean to the life of America?”  (Rodriguez 424).  So is “Hispanic” merely an assignment for Rodriguez and not a lifestyle?  In Brown is the Color of Philosophy, an interview focused on Rodriguez’ Brown: The Last Discovery of America, Rodriguez admits to interviewer Claudia M. Milian Arias that "Brown is a literary performance, not a scholarly one…I intend my work to be read in response to the political and social issues of our time” (Rodriguez 278).  One can only infer then that “Hispanic” in response to the question “What do Hispanics mean to the life of America?” can purely be read for entertainment, and not—as one might imprudently assume—to learn about Hispanics; or what they mean to America.


          As earlier mentioned, “Hispanic” stems from a larger work entitled Brown: The Last Discovery of America.  This autobiographical rendering, along with Hunger of Memory and Days of Obligation (Rodriguez’ first two memoirs), attempts to answer the question “How did Hispanics become brown?” (Stavans 30).  Regrettably, this is another inquisition tarnished by lavish language and arbitrary accounts from Rodriguez’ personal life.  In his preface, Rodriguez warns, “You will often find brown in this book as the cement between leaves of paradox.  You may not want paradox in a book.  In which case, you had better seek a pure author” (Rodriguez xxi).  Rodriguez keeps his promise, as confirmation of his counteractive approach is evident as he rants about what it takes for a piece of literature to be considered a classic: “One cannot arrange a classic.  It is the reader’s life that opens a book.  I am dead.  Only a reader can testify to the ability of literature to open; sometimes this opening causes pain” (Rodriguez 12).  Rodriguez has allowed his mind to wander as far as the countless clauses his 232-page ramble will allow.


          After reading “Hispanic”, I felt almost altered—admittedly bewildered—and fundamentally enlightened.  Rodriguez composes an incredible landscape, depicting life as a Mexican American with language that is both beautiful and shows a “mind engaged” (Stavans 31).  Ultimately, however, Rodriguez’ lush jargon acts as a barrier, disabling the reader from understanding the importance of the subject matter presented in “Hispanic”.  The exclusiveness of his own affairs in an essay about cohesion in all races contradicts the main ideas found within Rodriguez’ piece.  Perchance this rhetorical paradox is a metaphor for what Hispanics mean to American culture?





“Sometimes they hate me for the freedom I describe to them.  Sometimes they are freed by my description” –Richard Rodriguez
           
                       

                       

           


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Crappy Things to Carry



Carrying things is necessary for living.  In order to ride the bus we must carry a transfer, we are constantly judged by how we carry ourselves, and if we wish to live by the credo of Tim Gunn, we must "carry on".

However, there is a dark side to carrying things, which I will share with you in a list I'd like to call:



"Crappy Things to Carry"






1) Twins: If you like doing things for "shits and giggles", make some twins so you can enjoy double shits and double giggles



















2) A Box of Desk Items After Getting Canned: And you thought last night's walk of shame was bad



















3) Disease: Carrying this skin disease makes it a lot harder to carry much anything else



















4) Cliche Cardboard Signs: The only thing worse than having to beg for money is doing so without originality



















5) A Cross: Especially if you are about to be nailed to it





-Ellie

Monday, April 11, 2011

These Boots Weren't Made For Walking in San Francisco

"Once upon a time there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. And they grew next to each other. And every day the straight tree would look at the crooked tree and he would say, "You're crooked. You've always been crooked and you'll continue to be crooked. But look at me! Look at me!" said the straight tree. He said, "I'm tall and I'm straight." And then one day the lumberjacks came into the forest and looked around, and the manager in charge said, "Cut all the straight trees." And that crooked tree is still there to this day, growing strong and growing strange."


-Tom Waits in "Wristcutters: A Love Story"




I can't think of a more perfect quote for how I felt yesterday.  Walking out of my apartment was almost like walking into a "house of mirrors".  I couldn't figure out what was me and what was simply a crooked mirror.  Maybe I just forgot to change out of a "Huh?" expression; or perhaps I was getting ready to say "good morning" to somebody, requiring a similar tilt of the head.


I tried to lock eyes with people as we passed, but they seemed to be in their own mirror houses, and I just continued on, viewing life at a slant.


My perplexity quickly spawned perturbment and I began to wonder if maybe I was about to spiral out of control, and this minimal degree turn was a warning--or possibly a foreshadow--to what was to come.


I considered the idea that others might be walking crooked too, but looking out onto the sea of suits and stilettos only reassured in me the constant constraint of conformity lurking around crooked corners.


So I decided to embrace my strange slant.  If everyone else just saw eye to eye, nobody would have the same angle as I.  I was different, and by Jove, I was going to celebrate it!


And it wasn't until I kicked up my heels...


...that I realized I was missing one.


-Ellie