Vacation 8: Perdidos

The second most important thing I set out to accomplish during this trip was to once again establish a relationship with my cousins, the children of my aunt Yolanda, my mum's younger sister.

They have always lived in Colonia Chimalistac, but after fifteen years of no contact, it was anyone's guess whether I would find them at the same address.

The original rupture is complicated. Suffice it to say that they, a family of nine, began to disintegrate in a serious way once my cousins grew up, reached their late teens and early twenties. Mum tried to help her younger sister and the old Russian addage about life punishing he who volunteers good deeds rang true once again.

For many years now, though, I have thirsted to resume my relationships with my seven cousins, who range in age from 36 to 22. The last time I saw them was after the rupture, which was always more of a problem between our parents than between us. It was the year 2001, when the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional descended on Mexico City issuing their political demands to the then-new President of México, Vicente Fox. I went to Mexico City to witness this historical event, and while I was at it, I paid them a visit. Any anger they may have had towards my guilt by association vanished almost as soon as they opened their front gate and made me out. I remember that two of them escorted me to the airport on the day of my departure.

The prospect of finding them this time was complicated by the fact that their home in Colonia Chimalistac was never their own property. My uncle, their father, being an albañil, or construction worker, could never (and I mean never) afford to live in la Chimalistac except as a servant. La Chimalistac is one of the most expensive and attractive places to live in the Mexican capital. It is home to physicians, diplomats, and other such types.

Long ago, before any of my cousins were born, their father's boss, an architect, was given permission to live on the property, which also served as a storage facility. Their father built a home on the property out of construction site leftovers. The anomaly of a sturdy, but makeshift, house in the middle of a wealthy colonia, expressive of our world's "savage inequalities" (Kozol), was varnished only by the tall walls characteristic of all of those place´s properties.

This time, I would not have the same luck as in 2001 (when I found the same front gate and then the same friendly, contemporary faces on its other side.) From all indications, the property was sold long ago, since the gate has been replaced and now a white art-deco home towers even higher than the tall walls.

When I saw that last Sunday (which is when I went to Colonia Chimalistac in search of them), my cousin, and vacation host, Toño, was with me, and I stopped talking for about ten minutes as I tried to deal with what I was now experiencing: the possible and likely loss of all contact with this part of my family forever. In a city of more than 20 million souls, I would not know where to start looking for them.

As Toño and I walked away from their former home, towards Álvaro Obregón Monument Park nearby, where I wanted to go to walk off the shock, tears began suffusing out of me. I stopped and broke down. 


Vacation 7: Japanese Garlic

Yesterday was the big day, the most important reason for my trip here, to México, to see my dad, after twenty years.

Carlos drove me to La Raza (Line 3 and Line 5) metro station on his way to work.

La Raza is home to the world's first science/technology  tunnel-museum installed in a mass transit venue. Walking from Line 3 to Line 5, I read brief exhibits about maize and global warming. México is the global home of maize. Maize is the domesticated seed of the once wild teocintle seed.

I took line 5 to Indios Verdes terminal

Pino Suárez, home of an ancient Mexican ruin fragment that was found during excavation for the metro's construction and turned into an exhibit, where I transferred to line 1, taking that all of the way to Indios Verdes terminal where, after some anxious searching (I cannot help but stand out in the crowd, thus making myself vulnerable.) for the appropriate bus, I found the route to take me to dad's neighborhood. The ride was just over forty minutes long.

Dad´s part of the city is starkly poorer than Carlos's neighborhood. To an extent, it resembles a war zone, with very blighted infrastructure, many empty lots, buildings left unfinished, films of soot on walls, prevalent graffitti, lots and lots of trash. People are murdered and kidnapped for large ransoms on a regular basis. I took bare essentials with me: no cameras, a wallet, or any more cash than I could need. I reached my destination safely, though, with no cause to fear the entire way.

I visited my aunt Juana first, who lives two blocks from my dad's home. I had never met this aunt before. I stayed with her and her husband for nearly three hours before parting for my father's. We talked in their living room and then had a late lunch of chicken pipian with rice. I learned important parts of my dad's family's history through my aunt. We also talked about my father's philandering past. My father's father was also a philanderer, and I inherited this destructive vice, and am in the process of breaking.

I told my aunt, "I want this to stop here, with me!"

At 4:30pm (late), my aunt walked me over to dad's home. Neither him nor I recognized each other. After twenty years, I am no longer the teeanger I was the last time I saw him. He, on the other hand, is not the strong, colorful, healthy man he once was. Half of his hair is gray and thinning (which is not bad, actually, for being 73.) , and due to a recent illness he is very skinny on the shoulders and legs. I felt sad that our relationship had been absent for two decades. I did not want to be the late thirty-something I am today, contrasted with the youthful, ebulliently optimistic, glaringly handsome, athletic teenager I once was.

Sometimes, I could not stop staring at my father, as if in awe. This was my long-lost father! I was shown photos, one of his wedding day to the woman who had been his real wife all along. He was in his early twenties in the photo. They all told me I look a lot like my father, over which I felt a certain pride. Dad gave me his Bracero Program identification card from the early 1960's as a memento. After agreeing to visit his hometown of Acatlán, Puebla today, I left.

On our walk to Recursos Hidráulicos avenue, where I would catch a minivan back to Indios Verdes, a very young man, the husband of his granddaughter approached him. Dad introduced me as his son, and the kid asked,

"So he is Carolina's brother?"

Caroline is one of my father's marriage daughters. Dad could not bring himself to confess that I was a child born out of wedlock, a result of one of his many paramours. I was not angry at him, only a little embarrassed at my father's cowardice.

When the young man looked at me for verification, I looked back at him and moved my head left and right. The kid got it and did not judge me, and smiled.

On my way back, I got off at Tlatelolco, the site of the 1968 government-led massacre of the Mexican student movement on the eve of the Olympics hosted by México, and perused the neighborhood.

Back at La Raza transfer station, I saw the second half of the tunnel-museum, which was about coffee and water.

In the last stretch of my commute, I boarded the wrong route, and had to walk a few blocks from the station to Carlos's home in darkness. I made it home safe.

So why Japanese Garlic as this post's title? I will tell later in an update.


Vacation 6: City Outing

Yesterday, I went out into the city, el Distrito Federal, for the first time; in like ten years. Mexico City is where I was born and lived until I was seven. Despite the very young age when I left, I never forgot how to get around. Until the Great Recession, I returned to México regularly, visiting Tenochtitlán often, as well.

I left Carlos's home at nine in the morning, arriving at Pantitlán mass transit station at ten, in order to get on the subway. A good way to experience the massive population of el Defe (Mex. City) is to ride the subway. Especially at transfer stations, one will witness furious rivers of pedestrian traffic progressing along halls, traditional and electric stairways, and boarding platforms. I rode the metro line 2 to Pino Suarez transfer station, then line 2 to Zócalo, the city´s main square.

Once out of the subway, I walked to the nearby jewelry district, where I met my friend Franie, who was talking on the public phone. Franie and I met in Oaxaca, where she is from, in 2003, when she was an architecture student at UABJO. Once together, and after warm and affectionate greetings, we walked to la Alameda and spent a couple of hours there catching up; before I accompanied her to Ermita metro transfer station as she headed to pick up her son from school.

Franie got off the subway at Ermita, and I continued to the next transfer station to get on Line 3, and then to Coyoacán station. Coyoacán is a posh colonia in Mexico City, with a downtown that dates back centuries. In its plaza are an ancient cathedral, a square with iron-wrought benches and statues and sculptures of historical figures like Miguel Hildalgo, and symbolic ones like the fountain of three coyotes howling. "Coyoacán," a náhuatl word,  means, I believe, Heart of the Coyote.

In Coyoacán, I took photos, sat on the benches under shades, read, and wrote. When I got hungry, I bought tlacoyos and horchata. Coyoacán is one of my favorite places in the city to just hang out. It is very popular with students, tourists, street performers, and artists. The National Film Library, or Cineteca Nacional, is there, as well as Frida Kahlo's famous former residence, La Casa Azul.

Being an ideal place to read and write, I wanted to stay into the evening, but since I do not sleep well, I felt too tired to continue out by 4pm, so I started for home. Both times I rode the subway yesterday, I noticed there are many more people making their living by selling things on the subway nowadays. There was always a vendor on metro car, oftent there were two. On sale were everything from novelty whistles to music to USB drives and beyond.

By 6pm, I could not wait to get home because I kept nodding off on the buses. A little later, I got home, then straight to bed.


Vacation 5: Hosts

I am staying with my cousin Toño, a nephew of my father José Anastacio, his wife Gloria, and their children Mauricio, 15, Ana, 8, and Liliana, 2. They live in a five-bedroom, three-story home, with concrete walls lined with red bricks, tile floors, that Toño built himself. They do not pay a mortgage since they bought the land bare, then just began building. Their home is a work in progress. The third floor -- from which there is a panoramic view of Mexico City is a work in progress. 

We are in Mexico State, which borders with Mexico City, on a mountain, immediately overlooking Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl -- a major Latin American city of working-class people. When I was a child and came to Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, the streets became muddy swamps in the rainy season. It was a city built by its people, not developers.

Toño is a regional sales coordinator for a major national daily. But these are not subscription, newsstand, or curb box sales. These are direct sales completed at traffic intersections, in the street, under the elements, commission-based. Toño's father, Silvano, did the same thing his entire life, and still does (now for Toño). 

Uncle Silvano never got an opportunity to  be a coordinator. He was an intersection sales rep. That is how he raised his family of five children and built his home (the same way Carlos is doing so now.) My aunt Cata passed more than a decade ago, a victim of diabetes. Uncle Silvano remarried.

The edition of the daily Toño sells is a pilot-project that my cousin has made a success. Due to its success, along with the fact that it is a unique edition of the daily that needs constant supervision, gives Toño the very unique opportunity of meeting with the OWNER of the major daily -- a powerful man in Mexico, on a regular basis. 

Gloria works as a housewife. Mauricio is a high school freshman who enjoy soccer and video games. Ana is in grade school. Liliana is in the toddler phase where she wants her mom all of the time.


Vacation 4:"Let us fly!" (Mexicana Airlines' Struggle to Fly Again)

My beloved cousin Carlos picked me up at the airport.

Before leaving the airport, I wanted to take some photos in front of a famous mural, so we went looking for it. On our way there, the shrieking sound of a whistle being repeatedly blown through pierced my ears, demanding my attention.

When I turned around to see what the commotion was about, I saw a row of middle-aged women holding protest signs. They kept chanted,

"Let us fly!"

After taking in the scene, I told Carlos I wanted to talk to the ladies, and proceeded to approach them.

"I support you 100%!, " I said first.

"Thank you!" they said.

"What is your struggle about?" I inquired.

"It is about demanding from the government that they reauthorize Mexicana de Aviaciòn to fly again. We are ready to fly. New investors are lined up!"

The dozen, or so, ladies were all retired Mexicana flight attendants who are not being paid their monthly pensions.

"Oh yes, I heard about Mexicana's bankruptcy a few years ago," I stated.

"Mexicana is not bankrupt nor anything like that. The only reason we are not flying again is because our competitors, like  Volaris and Interjet are blocking our reauthorization."

The spokeslady continued, "Mexicana has been an airline for eighty years. Before folding, we were a leader in the global industry. Volaris, on the other hand? The United States FAA has announced it will renew Volaris's U.S. concession because their planes are failing safety standards."

I flew in Volaris.

"What can I do to help you?" I wondered outloud.

She said, "Tweet! Tweet [our president] Enrique Peña Nieto and just say, "Let Mexicana fly again!" 

Vacation 3: I need to poo

I was on my flight on Volaris airline, sitting in 3C, only three seats from the front, and only, exit and entrance. I was glad I was not going to need to wait much to unboard once the plane landed. It was the reason why I paid an extra four dollars for the so-called privilege of selecting my own seat in advance.

I felt we were close to arrival time, and asked the flight attendant about it.
 "In forty minutes," she said with a pleasant, friendly smile.

"Forty minutes?" I said, with my eyes open wide in surprise. I was thinking more in the order of twenty.

Only a few minutes later, I decided I should go to the bathroom then. I got up and got in line to the front end bathroom, when an attendant said,

"One of the rear bathrooms is available gentleman."

I looked, and indeed, there was a lit green light above the bathroom indicating availability.

I began walking back. Inside, I sat down, settling into my business. I had been happily doing number two for about five minutes when, suddenly, the plane began moving like we were going through some turbulence. There was no mess, but it felt like I was on a roller coaster named Bowel Movement. There was a tinge of fun about it until I heard a loud, and demanding knock on my door.

"I am almost done!" I said strongly. The knocking stopped only about a minute when it resumed with a vengeance.


"WE ARE LANDING!!!," an attendant yelled, frantic-like, back.

"OH!" I said, by then I was already washing my hands and getting ready to open the door.

As soon as I stepped out of the bathroom, an attendant yelled to me too rudely, "SIT DOWN!"

I promise, had she been nice about it, I would have sat down. Instead, I asked, "Why are you angry at me?

"Because it is dangerous for you to be standing as we get ready to land!" she responded, only slightly sobered.

"Your told me we were twenty minutes away from landing, and then you allowed me to come and use the bathroom. If I sit down here now, I am not going to get out of the plane for an hour. I bought front row seats precisely to avoid the traffic," I said, disregarded her, and began walking back, aaaalllll tttthhhe wwwwaaaayyyyy toooooo ttttthhhhhe fffffronnnnnt.

The attendant made a run for me for about the length of six rows of seats when a sudden loss of altitude, for which we both had to stop and hold strong to handles, hit. Recovering from that much long before her --- who was wearing a weighty uniform not designed for chasing passengers quit. I had to stop twice more, as well as watch the suspenseful eyes of the front attendants watching me, before arriving to my seat, but I made it.

Vacation 2: I need to pee

I had to leave home at 3am. I bought shuttle service from San Diego Amtrak Santa Fe Depot to Tijuana airport. My stepfather, Enrique, drove me to the depot. While waiting for the shuttle, I got the urge to pee but the terminal was closed. I would normally go in some bush, but a cop made the rounds every few minutes and I could not stand anywhere there was not some camera looking at me.

I really needed to go when the chauffeur came.

"Sir, I need to use the bathroom," I said to him.

"I am sorry, the shuttle has no bathroom," he answered.

"Then please stop somewhere on the way," I ordered.

"I am on a schedule, kid," was his response. Kid? Whatever.

"If you do not obligue me, I will issue a complaint because your service should be prepared for a situation like this," I countered.

A Spaniard tourist interrupted, saying, "Gentlemen! I still need to stop at customs. In the time you are here arguing, we would be at a bathroom already."

He had a point, so I stopped arguing and went to the bus. The conversation continued in the bus.

"Can't you hold it? Customs is only sixteen minutes away." stated the chaufferu.

My penis was sore from the holding that had already transcurred. I gave the man an "are you kidding look?" but accepting that he was in a bind himself, I said, "I will try my best."

About ten minutes into the ride, I said, you need to pull over.

The chauffeur was stubborn, the Spaniard demanded that I wait, that we were almost there, and the three other passangers tacitly agreed with him.

I could not believe these people! So I went militant.

I said, "Okay. If you don't stop right now, I am going to pull my zipper down in here, walk to the back of the bus, and relieve myself in between two seats. Let´s see how you feel about my urine running to your feet when the bus stops."

I heard the only female passenger gag, "Ugh!"

Suddenly, all of my fellow travelers became very understanding.

Before I knew it, I was peeing on the side of the freeway. It was a long pee, but for good measure, I stayed out a little longer. Just to jab at the Spaniards' patience.

Vacation: Intro

Unemployed, I have decided to leave for vacation in México. 

I have flown out of Tijuana airport on Jun 2, at 6am, and arrived in Mexico City at noon. I will take the return flight on the fourth of July. In the interim, I will visit with my father, José Anastacio, for the first time in two decades, visit a beloved cousin of mine and his lovely family, and travel to Oaxaca, where I will visit more relatives as well as do ethnographic research for future books of mine. Upon return, a post-Godzilla Tool chapter of my life will begin. 

My destinations in Mexico will be Mexico City itself, Mexico State, and Oaxaca. 


Luis Rodriguez

Photo: www.latinopia.com

San Diego, CA

Sometime ago, I saw author Luis J. Rodriguez speak at the San Diego City College International Book Fair and came away inspired to continue my own writing and to fight for social justice. 

Rodriguez closed this year's SDCC Book Fair when he took the Saville Theater stage at 4:30 pm. The theater, which seats several hundred people, was standing room only. Most attendees were young Latinos, with a significant black, white, and Asian presence. Rodriguez appeals to people across race because his work affirms pain that affects all these communities, like incarceration, violence, and addiction. 

During the question and answer session, the first person to speak was a woman who could barely hold her tears back as she spoke about the pain of watching one's children follow in the same wrongful steps as the parents. This is an experience that Rodriguez has first-hand experience in. After he himself had been a heroin addict and had served a prison term which he finished at 19, his son Ramiro went on to join the gang life. 

Ramiro's sentence was longer than Rodriguez's. Ramiro did over ten years of prison in Illinois. Afterward, Rodriguez, tried everything possible to keep Ramiro from staying in the gang life, and he failed. But his son finally got the message that his father tried to instill in him about seven years into his prison term. According to Rodriguez, Ramiro wrote him a letter telling him so. 

Still during the Q and A, the stories of people with similar experiences poured out, each emphasizing how Rodriguez's work heals and encourages. Rodriguez reminded us that it is very important to not give up on the lost youths in our families and communities because this is the type of support that helps them pull through in the end. Rodriguez and his family supported Ramiro from start to finish during his prison term. 

The searingly painful experience of failing to keep one's children from joining gangs or becoming addicts is only one of very difficult, visceral subjects that Rodriguez tackles in his new book, It Calls You Back. Another taboo he discussed, associated to his family history, was incest. In later life, Rodriguez discovered that his father had sexually molested his two younger sisters. 

Rodriguez spoke well into an hour. He had a lot of important things to say and we were an eager and captive audience. At least half a dozen times, Rodriguez was interrupted by spontaneous applause. 

After he had learned that his father had incested his sisters, Rodriguez felt a lot of rage and hatred as well as a sense of misplaced guilt. After all, during the time that his sisters had been molested, Rodriguez was locked up in prison. He later reproached himself for not having been home to "protect his sisters." Tonight Rodriguez showed us that his depth as a human being traverses a wide spectrum of human emotion, from rage to hatred and finally to forgiveness. 

When his father was on his death bed, his mother called Rodriguez on the phone to say his last words to his father. Rodriguez explained to us that he didn't know what to say. Personally, I wanted for Rodriguez to tell us that he had grabbed the phone speaker and told his father that he hated him. 

But before Rodriguez put the phone in his hands he said that thought about the forces that give us our parents. He talked about how these forces are mysterious and more powerful than anything we could imagine, therefore suggesting that it was not his place to judge his father.
"So I said to him something that he had never said to us: 'I love you father',"  narrated Rodriguez.

Afterward, his mother told him  that those words had done something to his father, impacted him some way as he said them. 

Watching Rodriguez inspired me on many levels. Not only is Rodriguez a great writer, he's also a man that takes an active role in healing communities. Rodriguez, along with his wife Trini Rodriguez, run a "centro cultural and bookstore" in the northeast San Fernando Valley, called Tia Chucha's. Rodriguez is convinced that art is not a luxury, but instead a life-saving force. 

In a brief video he showed before his talk, wherein he promotes an upcoming project, he asserts: "Artists are not special people. All people are special types of artists." Meantime, in the video there is footage of performing theater troupes, poets, musicians, painters, dancers, all working in classrooms, local cultural centers like Tia Chucha's, and the streets and community venues in the hearts of their communities. After the video, Rodriguez told us about a girl who embodies his convictions about art. 

"We started Tia Chucha's in the San Fernando Valley ten years ago. My wife is from there and when she left, twenty years ago there was nothing. No cultural centers, no movie houses, no museums, nothing. Then when we settled there ten years ago there was still nothing! One day, soon after we opened [Tía Chucha´s] up, we learned that a fourteen year old girl was walking around looking for a place to kill herself. Then she heard the Aztec drums coming from Tía Chucha's which aroused her curiosity and led her to the center. She ended up joining the danza Azteca, learning rituals, the language, traditions. A few months later, as we all sat in a circle telling our stories and those of how we had come to the group, she told us that story. We all cried and she cried." 

His new book, It Calls You Back is filled with stories like these. The book is the sequel to his much acclaimed Always Running. Always Running ends as he realizes that his next challenge is to save Rodrigo from joining a gang. It Calls You Back catapults us through Ramiro's descent into gang and prison life, through the strife that Rodriguez and Rodrigo face with each other, and finally to the day when his son finally regains his freedom. And all of it is real...

...as real as Rodriguez himself, who was dressed tonight in an all black suit, gray-haired, large jaw, and big body. He took me, and others, out of our complacency, our alienation, and our despair, to a terrain of hope and community that is possible through art, family, and community.

Rodriguez joined a gang at 11. By the time he was 19, 25 of his fellow gang members (many of them his good friends) had died. At that age, he also finished a prison term, was freed, and had important choices to make in his life. He was already married and his first child had been born. It was 1977.

"Once you quit a gang. What is there left? I'll tell you what was left at that time. Industry. Do you know what I mean? When people think of the Rust Belt they don't think about Los Angeles, but at that time, Los Angeles was the largest industrial city in the country."

Rodriguez gave up gangs and heroin and began working in a steel mill. Already, though, literature was in Rodriguez's blood. All throughout his life in gangs, he had been an avid reader. This image of Rodriguez: hard gang banger who took time out to visit the library and check out books was ironic to the point of humor. 

"Does anyone remember Charlotte's Web here?" Rodriguez asked the audience, and many people rose their hands.

"I learned to read reading. I read Charlotte's Web 17 times," Rodriguez told us. 

After some time working in the steel mill, where each day her performed very dangerous work, he quit because what he really wanted to do was to write. 

"That's when my family really quit on me. I mean, it had been one thing to join a gang, then another to use heroin, but to want to become a writer?," said Rodriguez with a hint of irony and humor. 

Rodriguez showed up at a local newspaper, simply saying, "I want to be a writer," and he was given a job. 

"It didn't pay much, but that didn't matter. I was into it," Rodriguez said, provoking yet more laughs. 

Rodriguez, though, had not started writing when he started at the newspaper. In fact, he had been writing during his entire time at the steel mill. 

"Pretty soon I had many, many poems and a book written." 

In addition to writing, Rodriguez has always been interested in social justice. One time, still in his early twenties, he went to Mexico to report on political uprisings. 

"There were a lot of uprising in Mexico in the 80's," he reported. 

He ended up in Juchitán, Oaxaca.

"I went there to write about the movements, but ended up getting involved. You know how that is. Like everybody else who goes, once I was in Mexico, I wanted to stay. You know how that is. You just think to yourself. Forget America!"

Rodriguez worked with Zapotecs and Mixtecs in Oaxaca.

"I had a wife and, by then, two children back in the United States, but I really wanted to stay. I talked about it with my companieros in Juchitán.

Viva Luis!


Laid Off

A few days ago, I was laid off by Godzilla. I was t-boned by the news.

It was Friday, and clocked in to work a little before 8:30am. I put on my uniform and twenty minutes later, I had just lifted a large square of wood towards an open second floor, where Cipriano pulled it and stored it; when Donny called me.

"Pull your gloves off and come with me," he ordered.

The first thing that ran through my mind was that, since I am hurt and not following directions not to lift things, I was going to be put to work in the office. Instead of going upstairs, though, Donny led me to a conference room on the first floor.

He opened the door, invited me to take a seat, and said, "Josh wants to talk to you. He called the meeting."

"Okay," I replied, and began wondering what in the heck he could want.

I sat there across Donny for nearly ten minutes, each one making me more apprehensive than the last. I tried to force myself to remain cool, in case he was going to come in hostilely.

I felt better when the door opened and Mary, his wife, came in. She was joining the meeting and I remembered our pleasant Holiday party conversation, as well as her poise when it came time to figure out how to distribute the presents.

Josh followed her and after they had settled in, the boss went straight to business.

"Tomás, we are letting you go because of a slowdown in the industry. Being things as they are, we have to start cutting down, beginning at the bottom of the rung," he announced.

I did not know how to respond to that, other than an accepting "okay." That is what I said.

"I hate to lose you. I think you are a great.  worker. We are sending you away with a letter of recommendation to help you find your next job."

"Okay," I repeated.

How do you answer to these things if it is your interest not to lose your job? Is there anything you can say to buy time or to force the boss to reconsider letting you go in particular. There are, but for me they only came in hindsight.

After some pleasant talk, Josh handed me my file, and he and Mary shook my hand and wished me luck as they walked out.

Now Donny, in charge of these things, went to work. It was his task to see me out.

We walked back to the shop and he ordered me to go to my locker and get my things. By the way, just after Josh had left, Donny told me he had no idea that is what Josh wanted me for.

Upstairs in the lounge, I found a sturdy black plastic  Staples bag and threw all of my things in there: sneakers and toiletries. When I returned downstairs, I was not even given a chance to stay goodbye to my co-workers.

"I am sorry. It's company policy. I do not mean to be rude, and I have another meeting now with Josh," he explained.

I walked towards my car in a daze, each step taking me farther from the dark slits between the shop curtains and doors; the same ones that helped me feel at home each time I arrived to work the past year.


Yeah, I said it!


I am a member of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ, in Carlsbad, CA, since February 2010. PUCC is an Open and  Affirming member (meaning that our doors are open and affirming of people from the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Queer, etcetera--LGBTQ-- community) member of the UCC, with a progressive theology and a commitment to social justice. Since the summer of 2012, I edit the church newsletter,  Pilgrim's Progress. This month, I am debuting a monthly column I will call Yeah, I Said It!. This month's column, "50 Great Days," is a critique and proposal of the UCC's national Earth Day initiative. The column is published here verbatim to the version in the actual newsletter.

50 Great Days

Earth Day is in April, and with the holiday comes lip service and token activism on behalf of Nature. Everyone pretends to be an environmentalist for a day. The California Lotto made the occasion into a marketing campaign: “Win the, Lotto Host Earth Day.” My jingle would have been, “Win the Lotto, Create a Civil Disobedience Legal Fund.”
Being the predictable, politically correct, liberal church that we are, the United Church of Christ just had to have its own Earth Day initiative. The three embarrassingly safe goals of our “Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days” are to 1) perform one million hours of “engaged Earth care” 2) plant more than 100,000 trees, and 3) write and send more than 100,000 advocacy letters.
All these goals are well and good but they fall far below the litmus test of what we our apocalyptic moment in history requires of us. These goals are cosmetic and only assuage our guilt and stroke our egos. They do not address the fact that we are far above the tipping point of 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide when climate change became catastrophic and irreversible. They do not address the fact that energy corporations are hell-bent on extracting every last bit of natural resources before the Earth finally collapses; that, for them, the environment’s disintegration is a business opportunity and they will not be squeamish about capitalizing to the fullest. 

You and I, shrouded in our self-righteous liberal, progressive, liberation theologies just. Don’t. Get. It. But we will. We’ll get it where it hurts us the most. When the time comes, it will swipe our comfort from us, our security and we will cry and kick like infants.
I am ashamed of my United Church of Christ as well as of my local Pilgrim UCC; the latter for instituting safety and harmlessness, the former for going along and letting it pass. Religion, faith, is for adults, and we are acting like children!

Goal 4 is missing: Identify a local issue and prepare a civil disobedience action around it. Select 2% of the congregation, its leadership automatically included, to volunteer in it. Prepare to be arrested. Us Pilgrims don´t need to wait for national leadership to endorse this. It is not too late to do something like this and set the moral example, not just for the remaining UCC, but for the local community at large. The body politic needs air, oxygen, CPR, and we have an opportunity to provide it. Let’s not let it perish. This is why we are Pilgrims!
Sierra Club fights Keystone XL with Civil Disobedience. Photo: http://www.hcn.org/issues/45.3/sierra-club-fights-keystone-xl-with-civil-disobedience
Our civil disobedience action need not be self-destructive in any way. It is an act of moral courage and survival. We are standing up for the earth that gives us life and which God left in our care, fully expecting us to honor his gift. Congregational leadership goes first, followed by the best-heeled of our congregants who will be able to withstand the financial consequences of the action. Less well-heeled congregants go next but they are supported by a congregation-sponsored legal fund to protect them from further economic hardship. 

The full-scale of legal and economic consequences are weighed for the purpose of preparation, and not as a preliminary exercise to decide whether to do it or not. No. We research, prepare, and do! Once we are prepared, we invite allies and show them the map we have created. 

Now that sounds like a “50 great days!”


Blake, New Hire

In the past month, Godzilla Tool has hired about one dozen new full-time employees. One of these has joined the third shift. His name is Blake. He is a young, pleasant Caucasian who loves to fish on his time off. His first professional dream was to become an firefighter and he was enrolled at Palomar College to complete the coursework. Then, he was arrested for a DUI and even though he was able to reduce it to a reckless driving citation, he still lost the privilege of ever becoming what he had wanted. Now he hopes to join a crane-operator union. An acquaintance of him has been operating cranes for a decade and he makes very good money for not having a college degree. According to Blake, this acquaintance has paid off his home mortgage and drives a good car.

As a result of overt racist abuses I´ve endured in my life, historic antagonism between gringos and Mexicans, and the role of whites in the oppression of people of color, I walk around with a healthy distrust of white people. This distrust, though, has vanished between Blake and I. He´s a very pleasant, wide-eyed, polite young man and I wish him well.

At work, he has come on to work as a loader, the position that I started at.

...In Tru-Tech land, the production manager has decided to make all of us three operators to complete a log of the work we do each shift. He is doing this because according to him, ¨work never gets done¨on the machine. It will be interesting to see how he reacts when we don´t complete the same number of parts he will expect of us per hour and shift.

His calculus involves dividing the time it takes for the Tru-Tech machine to grind one tool, dividing that by one hour and multiplying that by seven. Haha! Managers are so naive about what production is actually like on the floor. How is he going to account for all things like bathroom breaks, tool measurements, dressing of wheels, minor but time-consuming issues with the machine, taking time to help another co-worker, and all of the other non-measurable things that include a work shift?


Laith the Chaldean Lion

Laith is the Chaldean Iraqi tow truck driver who came to open my car after I locked myself out.

Laith means "lion." Chaldean Iraqis are Christian Catholics. Long ago, told me Laith, the City of Babylon, known today as Iraq, was populated entirely by Chaldeans. Then the Muslims invaded and failed to conquer the great city in their first attempt. The second time they allied themselves with Iranian Muslims and this time they succeeded. As a corollary, Chaldeans migrated to Northern Iraq and to other countries including the United States.


"Chicago." said Laith, "Michigan. San Diego. All Chaldeans...Babylonian Chaldeans were the richest people on Earth. After them it was the Jews."


Laith talked about how Operation Enduring Freedom affected the Iraqi economy.

"Before the war, the gallon per oil: $20! After the war: $60! Why? Why? Also. Before the war. One Dinar was equal to $3 USD. An Arab came to New York City. People kiss his ass. "Oh, gentleman! Come here. Go there. Today? One Dinar is equal to .001 USD. Why? Why?

To Laith, the U.S. government invaded Iraq for the oil. It had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein.

Laith reasoned, "Saddam Hussein was one guy!." Laith showed me his index finger signifying the lone numeral.

"Americans are smart! If they wanted to take out Saddam, they use sniper. Why invasion? They wait for Saddam to go to a market. Have a guy up on a roof top. Bullet to the head. Easy!"

The last three tow truck drivers who have assisted me were all Iraqis, like Laith the Lion.


Part 5 of "The Party:" The Open Bar

Installment 15 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in San Diego, CA

We drank a lot. The final tab on Godzilla was well over $5000. Again, on the subject of unionizing my fellow workers, I thought about this party: the open bar, the unlimited free food, the luxury of the restaurant, the great time that everybody had. I thought about how, if we begin to unionize, management would surely take this party away. I wondered if the crew would be willing to risk this; this moment of happiness. My tragic conclusion was that probably not.


I myself had three margaritas and half a dozen shots of tequila. Four of these shots, I shared with Big Bird. Big Bird is a very tall former Marine. He smokes like a train and is fond of sharing the sweet snacks he brings. He earned his moniker because he really looks like Big Bird without the costume and the feathers, and because he only filled out one bubble on his last voting card. It was a vote against Mitt Romney. 

Big Bird is a recovering alcoholic but he broke his sobriety that night. Him and I had four shots of El Patron tequila together. It was great, and after the weekend, he was steady and sober again.


To end, remember the sycophant? At the end of the night, she was found topless in the bathroom puking her guts out. I'm sorry to leave you on that note. Then again, it was practically the last thing that happened that night.


Part 4 of "The Party:" The Girlfriends

Installment 14 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in San Diego, CA

Everyone brought their girlfriends. The girls were variety. 

One, going out with Matthew the brazer, came dressed alternative/indy. She had short, tight black and white striped shorts with black stockings underneath. Then a blouse that fell off one shoulder to show her many arm and back tats. 

Brendan, the tall, muscular blond with blue eyes who likes to dye his hair green and has a tattoo of a flaming sun covering his entire back, has a girlfriend so cute that she reminds me of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. She has exactly the same pointy, celestial smeller. Brendan is Godzilla's latest grand acquisition. He's coming in as a manager because he can program a machine to make any tool in the book. 

During the night, I caught Magdalena and Sam who had cornered the girlfriend at a table and appeared to be asking her if she was marrying Brendan, or maybe just giving their advice on how to get him. I don't how I knew this. I just knew.

My favorite girlfriend was Joanna, Joel's girlfriend. Joel is the Original Gangster I featured in a previous blog post, "Life is Circular." I highly recommend it. 

The moment I saw Joel I decided give him a dig related to him being my former student. They say "once a teacher, always a teacher." He was sitting at an outdoor table, eating with Joanna. I approached him and asked him in jest, "Hey, would you like some extra credit?" Lol. 

Joanna cracked up. Her laughter seemed to me like a crystal vase falling from a counter-top and smashing to smithereens in a beautiful way. I fell in love with her instantly. They're very young. She's a color de la tierra chaparrita with silky skin, dimples, perfect teeth, straight brown hair, and gleaming brown eyes. I was happy that she liked me right away. She really got a kick out of all the teacher jokes I made on Joel.

At the end of the night, when I said good-bye to her, she stood up, opened her arms for a hug, and invited me to kiss her on the cheek. It was the warmest moment of the evening. I really like them, Joel and Joanna.