"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Of Ice Cream and Cockroaches

I often wonder as I've wondered about many times in my life, what would have happened if we had stayed in Santa Monica.  School wise, it would have been more stable, more comforting to be going into high school with an established group of friends.  I might have been popular.  I might have been a cheerleader, had a boyfriend.  But then again that all might have depended on what was happening at home, and in 1982 there was no sign of Direll stopping his drug use, or leaving us alone.  It was around this time that I started eating ice cream for breakfast.

I had dabbled in cooking, as I mentioned before, mostly baking but I wanted to be self-sufficient and learn how to make stuff.  I liked reading cookbooks and testing myself to see if I would be able to accomplish a particular recipe.  My mom, while she had all these cookbooks - well, an appropriate amount of Betty Crocker for a Mormon newlywed - was a terrible cook, it turns out.  She would cook for us and it was definitely edible but she was by no means interested in making anything new or different.  We had our regular staple of meals:  spaghetti (sauce made from a packet), meatloaf, tacos (she did make her own taco shells), hamburger hash (ground beef with fried potatoes), and roast beef (which usually dried out because it was cooked in foil with the seam face down, letting out all the juices).  Everything she cooked was on high, a sure sign of inexperience or impatience, as I know now from my Chef husband.

I already said that she didn't prepare lunches for us, preferring to give us lunch money instead; and we definitely did not have breakfast together.  If you were hungry, you made sure you were ready early enough to have it.

By 7th grade, I was the one getting everyone up in the morning.  I set my alarm with plenty of time to get dressed, make my lunch, whatever.  At some point in the morning when it was clear no one else was going to get up, I made the rounds to my sister and brother and my mom, telling them gently what time it was.  It usually took a couple of tries.  Why I thought this was my responsibility, I don't know, but no one else stopped me from taking that initiative so I embraced it.  Now all I had to do was convince my mom that we should have breakfast as a family (excluding Direll, of course).  My idea was nixed the very first morning I tried it.  Not only would Matthew and Julie not come to the table, my mom said as nicely as she could that she just couldn't eat breakfast, thanks anyway.  So there I was, my setting for four, and just me.  Ice cream for breakfast was sounding better and better.

I would get up before everyone else, clock radio tuned to the AM (I mean AM radio not the a.m. radio as in morning) station "The Mighty 690."  Everyday I would wake to Juice Newton, or AC/DC, or the Cars, slip out of bed, sneak downstairs and fill up a bowl with mint chocolate chip ice cream, or whatever kind we happened to have.  Sometimes I'd have seconds if I could get away with it.  It was probably the first time I consciously made the effort to eat in private, without anyone knowing.

Of course, there are a lot worse things that could have happened if we stayed in Santa Monica, other than me getting fat on ice cream for breakfast.  My mom could have been killed.  One of us could have been molested by Direll's drug buddies.  I could have rebelled and acted out since the friends I had at that time tended toward the "wilder" side (if that meant having a boy/girl party and playing kissing games in 8th grade, which they were planning to do the year I moved; was I disappointed to be missing it or relieved?).

I could have been eaten by cockroaches.

This is true, as our town home had become infested with cockroaches.  I had previously never seen a roach before except one time in La Crescenta when I spent the night at a friend's house.  They had roaches that would come out at night and then scatter when we turned the lights on.  We made a game of walking around the room on furniture to avoid the creepy, ugly creatures.

Three years later, we had our very own monstrous pets.  Mom said it came from living in a shared building, like apartments; that even if you fumigated or doused the place with Raid, they would eventually come back as each tenant went on the attack.  In my mind, they just travelled from town home to town home, looking for a place to stay.  They seemed to stay with us quite a bit.

I hated it and I knew my dad hated it, because we all equated roaches with filth and we were not filthy people.  My mom did regularly clean house, as did I and sometimes, Julie and Matthew.  We occasionally left food out, but not excessively, but either way, these roaches had decided that our digs were good enough for them to inhabit regularly.

At first it was just a few, some in the kitchen, maybe the bathroom, hardly ever anywhere else.  I squashed them any chance I had.  We set up "roach motels", the revolutionary product by Raid which promised that "roaches check in, but they don't check out."  Essentially, it was a small open-ended box with adhesive on the inside so that when a roach did step in, it literally couldn't step out because it was glued to the inside of the box.  Yes, this was considered advanced pest control.

Other than that, we didn't try very hard to get rid of them; that is, Mom did not call in professional services.  Store bought pest control products were rather simple:  buy can, spray poison on offending insect and hope it dies.  No killer food would be brought back to any roach nest, killing the rest of the lot.  One by one they all fall down, except if you know roaches then you know how they multiply.  And multiply.  And multiply.  It's practically a losing battle.

It was for us anyway.  The bright spot in our moving was that we had a chance to leave the roaches behind.  But Mom, in her frenzy to get out of Santa Monica, threw all our belongings and wares into boxes and got the hell out of there, bringing with her all our little roomies.

If the roach situation was bad in Santa Monica, it got worse in our new condo in Reseda.  We had created our own roach-scatter-when-the-lights-are-turned-on situation.  You had to be careful when entering the kitchen at nighttime for fear of a creepy crawler getting under bare feet or crawling over you.  I remember standing in the dining room and reaching around the wall to turn the kitchen light on before entering.  And they're off!  Roaches everywhere.  It was truly disgusting and yet we lived with it.

The most disgusting thing that ever happened was that Mom discovered that there were roaches in the sofa cushions.  This is the sofa we had had since Mom and Dad were married in La Crescenta.  She had the idea to spray the arm of the sofa with roach killer, right where the upholstery met the wood end of the arm.  She sprayed and suddenly an army of roaches came screaming out of the couch.  There were so many I couldn't believe and I think I never sat on that couch again.  So many.  It was unreal.  I had no idea at that age that roaches got into everything.  That they could live on anything, and would breed everywhere.  Even in sofas.  Just one more thing to be embarrassed about at home, another reason why friends shouldn't come over.  Please come in, just don't mind the scary giant black man snoring half-naked on the sofa or the roaches climbing over him.

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