No, I didn’t say “unlikeable”, which could be the case. I know you clicked on this page to read my most hated stories, but I meant stories that can’t be linked due to one reason or another. What I isn’t accessible from my publication page, I’ll paste here. (I don’t think “unlinkable” is even a word. I made it up to suit my needs)
Published by Turtle Quarterly June 2010
From the important skills he learned in prison, my brother Russ made me a fake I.D. and a fraudulent work permit stating I was sixteen instead of fourteen. I landed my first job at the Donut Dandy, much to my health nut dad’s horror. Donuts, in our family, were sin-food indulged secretly at the homes of friends with donut friendly households.
Upon learning of my employment, Daddy, who had been engrossed in one of his non-fiction books of no less than 1,000 pages, snapped to and reminded me that donuts were the root of all evil. “Processed white flour,” he spat, “sugar, hydrogenated oils, empty calories! Moral decline can be traced back to a poor diet.” Rumor was my brother may have indulged in one too many. Moderation in mind, I managed to eat only five donuts by the end of the first day. By the week’s end, I ate all of my income.
My career at the Donut Dandy went sideways when the owner discovered I couldn’t hear. Mine was the morning shift. A very bad shift, because it was morning. Nobody enunciates that early. I was supposed to decipher an apple-fritter grunt from a bear-claw grunt like a code that needed cracked. I became frustrated by my own lack of translation skills. Why couldn’t the right donut hear its name and hop into the bag? Was that too much to ask? I appreciated the “pointers” as that was the extent of my sign language proficiency. There was so much confusion and such that my Iranian boss—who himself had a language barrier and thought he hired a perfectly normal white girl to fulfill the customer service role—noticed I couldn’t speak or understand the English language any better than he could and fired my ass on the basis of false advertising. I didn’t recall advertising that I could hear. People expect so much.
I got my next job at the drive-in movies when, one night, I picked the short end of the stick and had to escort my inattentive dad to the concession stand on account of he’d never find his way back. While Daddy used the restroom, I inquired at the office about a Help Wanted sign taped to the door. A bulging form with a twenty-something face and bloodshot eyes answered my knock. She shoved an entire corndog in her mouth and extended her hand.
“WhatcanIdoforya?” she burbled.
“I need a job.” A woman of few words, I never mastered the art of friendly salutations.
She swallowed. “You got it. Can you start tomorrow?”
“My name is Chris, by the way. Welcome.”
“Patty,” I responded, but enough small talk; I had just witnessed Daddy heading out the wrong door. It was a three-screen drive-in, and he traipsed out the door opposite from where we entered. I waved good-bye to Chris then ran out after him. He was a good four concrete moguls ahead of me, plodding along like he knew where he was going. I had to catch up before he sat in the wrong car.
Russ, having impersonated our father’s eccentricity for his own use, failed to persuade the judge that “attention failure” was his reason he drove off with “supposedly” the wrong car. I feared a similar mishap would someday involve my absent-minded father, and I needed to protect him from himself. I caught up to him before he yanked—he always yanks—the door of a Buick Skylark, an entirely different brand and color than of our yellow Oldsmobile station wagon.
“Wrong car!” I screeched out of breath. “Didn’t you notice a different movie playing?”
He looked down at the confused faces in the Buick and gave them a “my mistake” shrug then looked up at the big screen in front of him. “That’s not Superman?”
“No, it’s A Deer Hunter.”
“Hmm, they look the same.”
The next day my adventure in snack-bar began. I was disappointed when Chris never asked my age. What a waste of my prized felon-constructed fake documents. I was relieved that nighttime moviegoers were a louder bunch, often yelling their orders over each other at decibel levels compatible with my hearing deficit. Mumbling, incoherent stoners were a challenge, but I benefited with the condiments, napkins, and straws being conveniently located by the doors on their way out. They were usually in their cars by the time they realized the root beer they had ordered was instead a Mountain Dew.
In one of life’s bigger mysteries, my hearing problem was not a problem at this establishment. My boss and co-workers liked me, inviting me to their cars after work, to parties, to parties in their cars, but I can’t gloat too much; they were all stoned. I learned that not all people were hateful and intolerant—just the sober ones.
After ten blissful months of employment, I had to quit. My family decided a slower-paced small “walking” town might rehabilitate the intentional car thief and provide less opportunity for the unintentional one. Neither applied to me; I was still two years away from being legally able to drive one. I just wanted a job. A chance. A false superiority over my peers to soothe the agony of my imperfection, my defect. I would never be one of them. I sacrificed my youth to jobs, so I could have one enviable trait. Two if you count my family connections to counterfeit I.D.’s.
Before long, I acquired a job in the town’s only theater. My career in theater lasted only one day. Charles, the owner, said he needed to talk to me after work. Once the cinema cleared, I followed him to the dimly lit seating area. I knew he was going to fire me on account of a few minor mix-ups. One involving boxing a hotdog and a 7-UP when the customer asked for Hot Tamales and a large popcorn with extra butter-flavor. It sounded the same. Or maybe because of my casual style of dress. Acceptable for the dirty drive-in snack bar, sweats seemed out of place amongst the red velvet curtains, candelabra sconces, and gothic deco of a historical landmark.
I trudged behind him down the sloping walkway, my heart in rapid beat mode. I searched the aisles for one last effort at impressing him by locating trash or a forgotten article of clothing that my eagle eye could detect. Complicating matters were my eyes were as useless as my ears, and I did not have the eye of an eagle, but that of a bat. So absorbed was I, scanning the room, I walked smack into the back of him when he stopped short and nearly caused him to spill the amber colored drink he held in his age-spotted hands.
He moaned at our impact and eased into a chair. “Sit right here.” He motioned to the chair next to him. He stank of booze and cigars. Though I preferred at least a seat between us, I obliged. “Do you like it here?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. Get it over with.
He finished his drink, placed the glass on the floor by his feet then leaned in to me, so I could afford a better whiff. He reached over, grabbed my inner thigh, and gave it a firm squeeze then loosened his grip, but his hand stayed put. My panic was two-fold: One, this wasn’t something I’d ever predicted would happen to me. Worse than a donut-related malady, it was wretched and personal and violating. And two, his hand rested near a fresh mustard stain on my navy blue sweat pants. I fixated on the stain while I struggled for a strategy. The stain offered me no guidance, so I looked up and around and let my gaze settle upon his head where wisps of white and red hair sprouted from random balding areas that looked eaten by the sun—scarred and scabbed. I felt him watching me with his jaundice-colored eyes, and my eyes briefly met his. He must’ve misinterpreted it as an invite and moved closer as if to kiss me. I abandoned diplomacy and calmly got up and left the room. I broke into a sprint as soon as I was out the double swinging doors.
“How was your first day at work?” Mama asked me.
That was the million-dollar question. I knew she’d ask. I knew to lie. I thought about just saying I was fired, but she didn’t take too kindly about people rejecting her kids. “I quit.”
“Why?” The spark in her eyes could ignite dynamite.
“A boy who works there kept at me.” Not entirely untrue. And better than saying I was fired, which would trigger her rage, and better than the truth, which would trigger a murder conviction. Russ didn’t get his criminal mind from our father, you know.
“Don’t start letting boys stand in your way of success. I’d of just ignored him (a lie, she’s never ignored an antagonist). By quitting, you gave the boy power, allowed him to affect your decisions …” She went on wagging her finger and lecturing me about the man’s world we live in. “Never show weakness by permitting their intimidating behaviors.”
If it had been her instead of me with that pedophile, she would’ve manually castrated him, then remained on the job as a taunting reminder of his crime and punishment. I wanted to be just like her when I grew a spine.
The next week I got a job at Tastee Freeze …
Published in March/April 2009 edition of The Rambler
“Ruthless Gypsies,” was my answer when someone would ask my ethnicity. Once I heard Mama on the phone laughing, saying our family was “Rootless Gypsies,” which I heard to be “Ruthless.” I informed countless acquaintances of our Ruthless heritage, resulting in many a hand-over-mouth snicker.
Daddy had bought a retired Granny Goose potato chip truck for our frequent moves that often took place in the middle of the night, and to places where blonde, blue-eyed folks like us were assumed as lost and never as residents.
Assimilation and impersonation were synonymous to me, so there in Los Angeles I tried to pass as Mexican. A stretch, considering I was pale as snow.
I walked home from William Greene Elementary, sometimes with Mercedes and her mother, Eva, who didn’t speak English. Mercedes interpreted when necessary.
“Patty, my mother wants to know where you’re from.”
“Mexico,” I lied. I watched Eva suppress a laugh—no interpretation needed—then she asked Mercedes something else.
“She wants to know if you can speak Spanish.”
My Spanish was limited to the Taco Bell menu. Since eating in Spanish didn’t make one fluent in the language, I took the safe route. “Forgot—bad memory,” I pointed to my temples. This met unsuppressed laughter when translated to Eva. She asked no more questions. Mercedes had one for me though.
“I thought you once told me you were black?”
“Ah … that,” I backpedaled, “that is … because we’re Mexican wizards with powers that makes us albino-ish-like-coloreds.”
When they rounded their corner, I heard Eva’s laughter echo throughout the neighborhood.
Maybe it was our truck still in the driveway Sunday mornings, or our Southern accents, or our invasive pet pigeon, Gerber, or my brother Eddie digging in the trash and peeing in the hedges, but the only other white family in the neighborhood was tempted to hate us, to withhold their whiteness from us. Their four kids—two girls around my age and two younger boys that I had no use for—went to a private Catholic school that my sister, Beth, called the Saint Agony’s School of Perpetual Suffering.
But we proved too charming for them to resist a dinner invitation from Mama.
I had no clue what dinnertime savages we were until I saw the reaction of our dinner guests. The family—I’ll call them the Whites—were victim to such an event.
At our house, dinnertime was wartime. Survival was crucial. Chewing, only a suggestion. Daddy, our “chewing” role model, insisted on twenty chews before swallowing. But even he knew that reminding Eddie to chew was wasted energy.
Racing Eddie to the table provided a daily challenge not for the meek. When Mama broadcasted, “Dinner!” Eddie shot to the table, wiping out anything and anyone in his way. With a blur of flailing arms, elbows, hands, and a glazed look in his eyes, he inhaled all that was edible before him—and this was before sitting down. Then, if anyone else was lucky enough to have eaten their first forkful, he’d politely ask, “Are you going to eat all that?” followed by a belch that could rattle teeth.
Mama attempted to tame the wild beast in the presence of our dinner guests by bonking him on the head with a wooden spoon. “Calm down, sweat hog; you’re embarrassing the rest of us.” Her eyes dug into him with fierce authority before she really lost her patience, ordering him to eat on the floor. “If you’re gonna act like a dog, then eat like one.”
On the floor, he fended off Dorky, our dog, by growling and barking at him. Russ, my more civilized, oldest brother, flicked a dollop of his potato at the boy-dog. Beth decided Russ needed stabbing. I was rocking back and forth, fixated on a ceiling stain. Meanwhile, the White family sat stunned, appearing whiter than usual, with Gerber flapping and squawking atop the head of Mr. White, who sat in rigid horror.
“I should just stick my head in the oven right now while it’s still hot,” Mama remarked to no one in particular, resting her head in her palm.
Our behavior had an appetite-suppressant effect on the White family; they escaped before dessert.
But some of our neighbors practiced acceptance and tolerance toward us: my new friend Maya invited me to my first sleepover.
“Where you from?” her dad, Jorge, asked in broken English while we sat at the dinner table. “I mean originally, like Europe or Ireland?”
I stared at the Jesus painting looming behind Jorge lending its holiness to all in the room. Careful this time about ethnic forgery, I answered slowly, “We are from Ruthless Gypsies.”
He looked to his wife, Lupe, who just smiled and shrugged.
“Wow,” he said. “I no heard of such place.” I saw Lupe pinch him. He refrained from further questioning.
Maya and I played four games of Candy Land with her annoying little brother, then we watched Laugh-In on a color TV until bedtime. Once the lights were out and Maya finally settled down to sleep, I worried that tonight would be the night my family would have to move—without me. I tiptoed to the window but only saw the side of the house next door. Then I crept out of Maya’s room, down the hall, and to the living room for better surveillance. Crouched low, I watched until my house went dark. I kept observation awhile longer, in the darkness, waiting. With our Granny Goose truck still in the driveway, I decided it was safe to go to bed.
I awoke at dawn and raced to the living room window. The Goose was gone!
I crept into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and called home. I needed a voice—proof they hadn’t left—but it rang and rang. I called again just in case I dialed the wrong number, but no answer.
They had left! Logic took flight. Alarms blared in my head. Are Jorge and Lupe in on it? I don’t want to live here—here with that little brother—although the cat is a nice incentive. Probably my family chose the Gomez family because they’re normal and felt I had a fighting chance with a more conventional-type upbringing.
I scared myself so stupid, I tore out the door and up the street to my house. I tried the door handle. Locked. I rang the doorbell, pounded, rang, pounded …
The door swung open. “What?” Beth loves sleeping. Her face suggested I had interrupted her lovefest by the look of her mad-morning squint.
“Hi,” I said with complete composure, pretending nothing was wrong.
“What in the devil are you doing here so early?”
“I rang, but nobody answered. I wanted to come home.”
“Well, you’re home,” she snapped then trudged back to bed, leaving me in the living room.
I flipped on the TV and found Tom and Jerry. I didn’t want to be noisy, so I turned it lower than I could reasonably hear and sat close enough to damage my DNA from all the electromagnetic radiation poisoning. At least that’s what Daddy always warned.
The phone rang. I didn’t answer it. It rang some more. Mama padded in. “Who keeps calling … why’re you home?”
The doorbell chimed along with a pounding on the door. As she headed for the door, Mama’s eyes narrowed to “What have you done now?” slits. She opened the door to Jorge’s bulging, bloodshot eyes. When he spotted me, he did a chest crossover. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We worry, we scared, what happened?” He looked from me to my mom. “My wife … she call police, I tell her wait, she no listen. Police here. Why you leave?”
Daddy pulled up in the Goose and came to the door carrying a carton of eggs. Jorge explained to him the trauma I caused (it hurt just as much to hear it the second time). The two went to talk to the cops standing on the sidewalk, probably telling them I was unbalanced and they would have me institutionalized—I made a mental note to agonize about that later. Lupe was crying and, for some reason, holding the eggs. Daddy opened the back of the Goose vessel and stood on the loading ramp. He appeared to be raising a staff, as if beckoning moving boxes and furniture to follow, two by two.
I viewed the freaky scene with my face smashed up against the living room picture window. Behind me, Beth and Eddie scorned me and told me what a horrible burden I had caused that poor family. Russ, so calm and nonjudgmental, sat reclined, watching Rocky and Bullwinkle; and somewhere in the chaos of my twisted mind I thought, Hey, he changed the channel.