Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Hiatus

As the year draws to a close, I've been struggling with a terrible cold that has left me practically unable to speak and barely able to function. I finally broke down and went to see the doctor, hoping to get something to wipe out this crud. Fortunately, I've been able to communicate using text messages and emails.

One person with whom I've recently been in communication lives far away in England. She's someone who I had practically given up hope of speaking with again because our friendship had fallen apart along with our old punk band the Bags but I am hoping that the expression "time heals all wounds" will hold true and my old friend Patricia and I can pick up where we left off so many years ago.

Maybe it's the season or perhaps it's just the timing of this reconnection, coming as it does during the year of my 50th birthday, but it feels good to be back in touch with one of my dearest friends and someone who was once such an important part of my life. Patricia and I have lots of catching up to do and she has already sent me photos of her gorgeous daughter. It's also a remarkable coincidence that we are trading emails while I am writing about the early days of the LA punk scene and the Bags on my Violence Girl autoblogography. Patricia remembers details that I've forgotten, like why we kicked Geza X and Joe Nanini out of The Bags.

I'll be taking a break to recuperate and enjoy the holidays with my family but will be back with more episodes in the True Life Adventures of Violence Girl in 2009. Thank you all for continuing to read my blogs, your comments and words of support really keep me going. Here's hoping that 2009 will be a much better year and that time really can heal all wounds.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Panic In Detroit - Thumbs Down

In the bad old days of Imperial Rome, the fate of political prisoners and gladiators was sometimes decided by a quick poll of the citizens gathered to witness the bloody spectacles at the Coliseum. If the audience cheered loudly enough to spare the prisoner, the Emperor would raise the "thumbs up" sign, thus saving the person's life and allowing them to fight again another day. If the audience voiced their disapproval and the Emperor gave a thumbs down, well, then the lions had fresh meat.

Today, Ford, GM and Chrysler similarly find themselves exhausted, depleted and at the mercy of the people as they await a thumbs up or down in our own political Coliseum. The Big Three, who are responsible for so much damage to our country and our planet, who killed the electric car, who conspired to destroy and derail clean and cheap public transportation, who have lobbied against every effort to reduce harmful vehicle emissions and fought the mandatory implementation of safety features such as airbags and safety belts, who continued to pump out gas-guzzling Hummers and SUV's in gleeful partnership with Big Oil, who sold us exploding gas tanks on Ford Pintos in the '70's and rollover death traps in the 80's, who have fought every meaningful attempt to bring fuel efficient, clean vehicles to the marketplace are pleading for their lives.

This citizen's voice joins the chorus calling for a thumbs down resounding through the halls of Congress. Or throw them a $34 billion lifeline and see how much things will really change; corporate greed doesn't die until the corporation itself dies. It's not about individual players, it's about nameless, faceless greed that rolls on steel belted wheels in the name of shareholder value and profit. Save the planet. Let the Big Three die.

"Why don't cha take the day off and try to repair
A billion others don't seem to care
Better ideas are stuck in the mud
The motor's running on Tucker's blood
Don't let them tell you the future's electric
Cuz gasoline's not measured in metric
Thirty thousand wheels a spinnin'
And oil company faces are grinnin'
And now my hands are turning red
And I found out my baby is dead"

The Big Three Killed My Baby - The White Stripes

Friday, November 07, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me

I will be taking a very brief hiatus from posting new entries in my ongoing autobiography
True Life Adventures of Violence Girl while I mark my 50th year on the planet. Violence Girl will be back with more stories of Plungers, Weirdos and the early LA punk scene next week.



Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Euphoria

I'm still smiling over the exciting election last night! The sudden countdown to the West Coast states' poll closing followed by an unexpected projection that Obama had won the presidency was like the giant orb dropping at Times Square on New Year's Eve. My daughter and I clapped and cheered in our living room last night, surrounded by silent neighbors here in Phoenix, Arizona: McCain Country.

Congratulations to all of my friends who worked so hard to get Obama elected. Even though we did not back the same candidate, I hope you will allow me to bask in your triumph. After all, I was a Democrat for most of my life before deciding to go Green. Voting Green this election was a personal triumph for me and my own contribution to political diversity but last night I celebrated a different sort of diversity along with the nation and the world. My heart was jubilant at seeing our first African American president-elect and at the seats the Democrats gained in the house and senate. I was proud of John McCain, whose concession speech was gracious and upbeat. And when Obama spoke about being a president for all of us, I allowed myself to hope that he wasn't just speaking to the far right but to the far left as well.

It wasn't all good news. The right to a legal gay marriage was denied or lost in some states, including California. But after witnessing Obama's impressive victory, I can't help but be hopeful that these are temporary setbacks and that tenacity and tolerance will triumph in the end. President Obama has inspired me to dream of a day when Gay, Lesbian and Transgender couples will once again be able to say "I Do." After all, it wasn't so very long ago that the idea of an African American being elected president was almost unimaginable. Let's all join in the hope that some day soon all Americans will enjoy equal rights under the law and we will live in a country free from discrimination.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It's A Big One!

It's almost my birthday! It's funny the way we sometimes attach so much meaning to birthdays and other times we completely ignore them, well, at least some people do. I don't think I've ever ignored my birthday. I may have had quiet birthdays and loud birthdays but I always know they're there and I wouldn't want to ignore them.

This birthday is impossible to ignore. It's my half century mark. I still remember turning twenty and crying on Craig Lee's doorstep because I was so old and felt like I had done so little with my life. Craig was older and much wiser and assured me that I still had many, many years to make my dreams come true. I didn't dare tell him that I was certain I was going to die at the age of 24. That idea had just popped into my head one day and over the years it had grown roots, irrational roots but when I was young it was much easier to do a doublethink, or to think one thing and believe the opposite. I can't seem to do that anymore, notwithstanding the fact that I still buy lottery tickets and engage in vivid fantasies about spending my winnings when I know what my odds are. But 24 came and went and I lived. The failure of prophecy didn't deter me. Like those psychics who every now and then predict that California is going to fall into the ocean, when the expected event doesn't arrive we simply change and update our prediction; thus, my new expiration date was moved ahead to age 34. Obviously, I lived through that one too. Not that I was afraid to die; mind you, I felt liberated by the fact that I didn't fear death. I think if I feared anything it was the fear of being old and brittle and forgetting things. Now that I'm old, brittle and forget things, I realize it's not that bad.

It looks like being old is in my cards. I even had a baby beyond my expiration date. At age 36, I already considered myself a mom of two beautiful stepdaughters, then I had my own kid and I was suddenly filled with a freaky fear that I would die before she could talk, then walk, later finish elementary school, etc. Every year, for the first few years of motherhood, I saw the Grim Reaper around every corner. Now I did fear death, not because I didn't know what was on the other side of that filmy veil between life and death but because I wanted to be around to watch my kids grow up. No offense to the fathers out there but I saw the difference in the way my hubby and I related to our girls and well, I thought they needed me.

Then my step-kids got older and stopped coming around as often. They had those damned boyfriends they wanted to spend time with instead of me! My little one was in school and she had special needs so she still needed me, but being a parent advocate is all work and no play.

Throughout my life, I had been playing in different bands pretty much non-stop since I was seventeen, up until I was about 6 months pregnant, which is when my doctor told me I had to be on complete bed rest. I was playing, practicing or recording until the last possible minute. I remember tripping over a PA monitor on stage when I played with Goddess 13; I turned to the side as I fell, trying to protect my swollen belly. I was playing with Cholita during that time and I had to hold my guitar over to the side because my fingertips couldn't properly grasp the neck of the guitar while reaching over my baby bump.

I took a few years off to be a full time mom and with no music in my life, I became a ticking time bomb: angry, resentful and with no creative outlet, I was a real Stay At Home Bomb. I formed a new band to express my frustration. That - together with a long overdue hysterectomy - gave me a new lease on life. Suddenly, I felt excited and in charge of my own life in a way that only music has ever made me feel. I had no delusions about the viability of a forty-something rocker chick but it didn't matter. All that mattered was playing, writing, singing, collaborating with musicians I admired and respected. I think that's when I started to understand that my best years were in front of me, not in the past.

I went out to lunch one day with a bunch of my middle-aged girlfriends whom I affectionately call The Rolling Crones and as we sat around sipping Margaritas, I thought about how strong and powerful we were. We laughed out loud, comfortable in our own (slightly) wrinkled skin, confident enough to intimidate younger men, knowing that we could and would do whatever we wanted. Every woman sitting around the table that day was talented, beautiful and wise and it made me proud to be in their company.

In about a week I will be turning 50 and I am excited about it. I think of it as the beginning of part two of my life. It's a time to try new things, to bring out those old, stored dreams that I never got around to and dust them off. I want this year to be a year of closure and rebirth. Already I'm behaving differently. I'm writing my autobiography, The True Life Adventures of Violence Girl. Last week, I sent in my absentee ballot and voted for the candidate I like best instead of the candidate that seemed least offensive. That's a first for me and it felt good, really good not to compromise. I also signed up for an oil painting class at a nearby community college. I've been wanting to learn to paint with oils ever since I walked into the Los Angeles County Art Museum as a kid; how I got to be nearly 50 without ever doing it is a mystery to me. I'm finally going to cross that off my to do list.

"Maribel With Marigolds" - I just painted this last week for Dia de Los Muertos, it's one of my very first attempts with oil painting and I can't wait to do more.

Sure, age has it's setbacks. My knees are messed up and I can't drink everyone under the table the way I did when I was young but there is so much that I can do better and with more confidence and conviction that I have to say I wouldn't want to be any other age. I don't know what I'm going to be when I grow up, but whatever it is, it's going to be fun because now I know that the journey is more important than the destination.

Mexicans have a special holiday to acknowledge the inevitability of aging and death while at the same time, celebrate living. It's called Dia de Los Muertos and is celebrated on November 2, All Soul's Day. It's the perfect time for remembering those friends and family who have passed through the filmy veil separating this life from the next and taking stock of which dreams we have accomplished and which ones we have yet to accomplish. In that spirit, I'm off to watch one of my favorite Mexican films, Macario.

Death shows Macario that life is as brief and vulnerable as the flame of a candle. From the great Mexican film, Macario.

Viva la vida!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Deleted Scenes - The Marbellite

Another deleted scene from my autobiography in progress, Violence Girl. You can read the full work in progress here. At the time when this story takes place, it's the mid-seventies and I am going through a mad obsession with Elton John. I'm enrolled at a private all girl Catholic school called Sacred Heart of Mary and I'm going by the nickname of Ziggy.

The Marbellite

I joined the Marbellite staff almost as soon as I got to Sacred Heart of Mary High School. I'd never had a journalism class and felt a little out of place on the school newspaper. Unsure of my writing skills, I opted for what I thought would be the easy way out; I volunteered to be the resident cartoonist and to my delight the teacher agreed. I went right out and bought a pen and ink and would have started up immediately if I'd known what to draw. I began with a few drawings of the cheerleaders and some poor caricatures of students and teachers engaged in a variety of activities throughout the school. It turned out that I sucked at being a cartoonist, which was much more difficult than I'd imagined. You can't just copy a picture the way I'd done in the past, you had to have something to say, you had to infuse personality into the characters who were like silent screen actors speaking with their faces and gestures. I had no idea how to do that and after a few of lame attempts, I decided to try to write an article instead.

The dilemma was that Ms. Milton, the teacher who supervised The Marbellite staff, was very open minded. She allowed us to choose our own stories based on what interested us. Some of the girls were writing about sports, others about certain classes or teachers but none of that really thrilled me. All that freedom and I didn't know where to start, so I called a friend of mine who was on the Montebello High School newspaper. The year before, my friend and I had pretended to be real journalists in order to get tickets to the first ever American Music Awards where Elton John's record Goodbye Yellow Brick Road had been nominated for best album. The award show was new and eager to generate as much press as possible so when I spoke to the woman on the phone and said I was from The Derrick Diary she didn't ask me if it was a high school paper and I didn't tell her. I scored two passes for me and my friend from Montebello High. Sadly, Bernie Taupin, not Elton John had been in the audience and my chance to meet Elton John in person was thwarted once again, but it was still fun going to the event. True to my word, my friend wrote about the award show in The Derrick Diary. Now we were hoping to do it again.

The American Music Awards had been a huge success and the organizers had moved the show to a larger location, the Santa Monica Civic auditorium. Weeks before the show, I started bombarding them with calls that they easily ignored. When I finally got through to someone she informed me that yes, she realized that The Derrick Diary had been invited before but now the show was more popular and there was much more interest in attending. We were off the list.

Never one to take no for an answer, I decided to show up anyway to see if I could figure out a way to sneak in. By sheer coincidence, Elton was again nominated for an award. Hoping to have better luck than the year before, I got together a small gang of Elton fans and our posse showed up early to wait outside the venue. We broke off into teams to ensure that Elton couldn't get past us and to see if anyone could find a way in. Yes, this was supposed to be about the awards but true love is more important that journalism. We met a few people who worked behind the scenes as they went in early. One of the people we met that day was a man named Sherwood Schwartz; he stopped to talk to us and find out why we were there. He didn't help us get in, but I still thought he was a really sweet man whose name I knew because he produced two of my favorite TV shows: Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch.

While I was busy talking with Sherwood Schwartz, the lookouts had spotted Elton's gold limousine and they ran over to tell me. EJ had entered the building and his limousine was now pulling up to a parking space behind the building. We rushed over too late; the security guards saw us and though we tried to evade them, they caught up with us and evicted us from the property.

We got some snacks from a store across the street and sat on the sidewalk watching as fancy cars, stars and paparazzi started to arrive. It could have been depressing but it was actually kind of fun sitting there on the ground, snacking, laughing at ourselves, loving Elton. We'd met a cool TV producer, spotted Elton's limo and been chased away by security guards, nothing to write a newspaper article about but it sure beat staying at home.

I had wasted so much time with cartoons and award shows that I eventually had to ask some of my classmates for help to meet the newspaper's deadline. Since I didn't have anything real to write about, I decided to dissect some classic literature. I started re-telling the story of Chicken Little and got the others involved in adding crazy details. We made up our own ridiculous version of the story. It was bad, really bad and only funny to us because we were giddy with the absurdity of the whole thing but it went into the paper. When the story finally came out in print, I was embarrassed to see my name attached to the piece. I thought to myself, "I don't ever want to be a writer!"

Thursday, October 02, 2008

White Hot Interview

A new online article by Sandra Vista about the Vexing exhibition just appeared at You can check out the article here.

Pink Viscera—A Permanent Triumph

Here are the original interview questions and my responses:

-While looking at your website I saw a current photograph of you in Phoenix. Your face appears soft and characteristic of a time of peace. (cara lisa) How do your experiences as being part of the East LA Punk movement contribute to what you are doing today-musically, with your family life and other creative aspects?

Yes, I'm cara lisa as opposed to that scary, angry gorgon that I used to be in my punk days but you don't have to scratch the surface too hard before the gorgon reappears! I don't know if I can honestly say that I'm at peace. I think I have figured out a way to negotiate a truce which allows me to express myself in positive ways, or at the very least, to be less impulsive than I once was. I still have the capacity to rant and rave when I'm angry and I still consider myself fairly uncivilized, but with age and experience, I learned how to channel my energy in different ways. Peace is a big word, I can't isolate a few events in my life and say that I'm at peace when all around me the world is getting fucked by corporate interests and our country is waging war.

-How is East LA, as a community, responsible for the Punk movement that you were associated with in the l970's and 80's? Does the community still have a reservoir of creative energy for the current generation of musicians and artists?

My part in the ELA punk movement is really as someone who helped set the stage for what would transpire later. I was part of the Hollywood Punk Scene which was a well integrated scene that preceded the scene at the Vex. As part of that earlier scene, I, along with other Latinos was performing alongside other punk musicians in integrated bands. My band, The Bags, was one of those bands. I know that some of the younger kids who shared my gender, ethnicity or economic level were inspired and motivated by seeing a woman from a poor, working class family from East L.A. play and sell out the most popular clubs of the day. I wasn't singing about being a woman or about being poor or about being Latina: I was simply being who I was and singing about a broad range of topics.

By 1980 when the East L.A. scene at the Vex was going strong, The Bags had broken up and I was going back to school for my B.A. in Philosophy. I still attended and played shows infrequently but I didn't consider myself part of a scene at that time because my focus was elsewhere and to be part of a scene, I think you really have to be immersed in it. I played the Vex with The Castration Squad, an all female proto-goth ensemble and I also played with other groups. Although I was not immersed in the East L.A. punk scene, I was immersed in East L.A. I moved back to my parents' house in East Los and worked my way through Cal State L.A. by working at a Franco Florist in Montebello. I worked all day and practiced and played gigs at night.

I am traditionally associated with the Hollywood Scene that centered around the Masque and predates the opening of the Vex in 1980 by at least 3 years. East L.A. is where I was born, grew up and spent most of my life. My experiences there have shaped every aspect of my life. I was in my late 40's when I moved to the Westside of L.A., then to Phoenix, and now San Diego. Every community has a reservoir of creative energy. There is no ethnicity, gender or socio-economic group that has a monopoly on talent. The problem is that not everyone has the opportunity to make his/her voice heard and that the dominant culture controls the means of production, distribution and promotion and they select artists based on corporate goals rather than artistic ones. Of course, that has all changed radically thanks to punk rock's DIY ethic and the internet. There is a more level playing field today but it is by no means an equal playing field.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Qualifications To Be Vice President

After receiving various emails from friends asking me to weigh in on whether I feel Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President of the United States, I took a quick peek at Wikipedia to see what the actual qualifications are. They are:

1. You must be a natural born US citizen.

2. You must be at least 35 years old.

3. You must have resided in the U.S. for the past 14 years.

There are no other legal barriers or guidelines.

These 3 criteria are not exactly open to debate; either Sarah Palin meets them or she doesn't. If she does, then legally she is qualified to run for the Presidency or Vice Presidency. If we are unhappy with these criteria, then perhaps we should change them; however, I don't know if we want to do that. Having these very loose guidelines allows inexperienced people to run but it also allows for a fresh point of view. If we institute too many requirements, we effectively limit our choices to career politicians.

The question of whether Palin is qualified to be VP is not really a question about her qualifications. It is a question about her beliefs. I don't agree with her beliefs, so I'm not going to vote for her. It's that simple. I refuse to participate in Palin bashing because she has openly stated what she stands for. It is the voters who are responsible for knowing what they stand for and voting in accordance with their beliefs, not simply choosing a candidate based on that candidate's personality or his or her portrayal in the media.

We are a nation where name recognition, financial backing and the ability to woo the media are much more important to winning an election than experience, knowledge or wisdom. We are a nation where movie stars, pop singers and wrestlers can and are elected to public office, why then is Sarah Palin being singled out as unqualified? Is it because she is a mother, because she is a fundamentalist, or simply because she is a woman who will make history if elected? Perhaps it's a little of all these things.

I would suggest that we move beyond discussing Sarah Palin's qualifications and focus on the candidates' voting records and what they stand for. We don't need to pull another woman down to feel superior. It isn't necessary and it distracts from the real issues. I applaud Sarah Palin's desire to break through the glass ceiling but I will not vote for her because I disagree with her, not because she is less qualified.

For the first time in my life, I intend to vote for the Green Party candidate. Her name is Cynthia McKinney. I've decided to vote for the candidate I like best regardless of her viability because this election year, I've learned that the Democratic party is too big to be responsive to me. I want to take steps towards correcting this situation by helping the Green Party take at least 5% of the vote and help legitimize it's goals. I think diversity in people as well as in political parties is a good thing. Perhaps some of you will feel like I am helping the Republicans win by voting Green. I have used the same argument in the past to convince others to join me in preventing the Republican party from winning but all that did was make the Democrats complacent. Once assured of my vote, they promptly sought to win the votes of centrists by pleasing them instead of me. My relationship with the Democratic party is over. I don't want to be in a relationship where I do all the vote giving and I get taken for granted in return. I understand why people feel that we have to choose between the two major parties; I believed that myself for many years but if we never change the way we vote, we'll keep getting the same results. This time I'm voting for long term change because that is change I can believe in.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Golden - An Excerpt from Violence Girl

I normally like to separate my Violence Girl stories and post them on my True Life Adventures of Violence Girl blog, but I realized that we have just marked the 35th anniversary of a famous tennis match known as The Battle of the Sexes. If you were old enough to be watching TV on September 20, 1973, then you already know what I'm talking about. If you aren't that old, then I invite you to read this excerpt from my autobiography-in-progress, Violence Girl.



The television ad promised golden, sun-kissed locks if I used their product. All I had to do was spray my hair with Sun-In and go outside. I followed the directions, saturating my coal black hair with the spray and then letting it air dry in the sun, but my hair was so dark that the sun had no power over it. This gentle method was not designed for people like me with coarse, jet black hair but those ads had worked their influence on me and now I had my heart set on those golden streaks. I'd have to call in the big artillery.

I bought a package of hair dye at the drugstore and lightened my hair with it. Hair dye must be different nowadays than it was when I was growing up because my hairdressers always repeat the same refrain: "Color cannot lift color," they say to me and I do understand that, but what about the peroxide they mix it with? In the old days, hair color was mixed with peroxide and you could buy a light blonde color at the drugstore that would lift your hair several shades. I know - because that's exactly what I did. Of course it was a gamble, you didn't get the color on the box right away. With black hair you'd get a brassy, deep red the first time, then a copper penny color and if you kept at it and didn't burn your hair off, after multiple treatments you could end up with a lovely dye job just like mine.

I've always had a problem knowing my limitations. When I was very little, my father made me believe that I could be anything: President, brain surgeon - I just added blonde to the list. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see what others saw: the cheap dye job, the broken, crooked teeth and braces, the bulging midsection. I saw myself through my father's eyes. I was a beautiful blonde and if the world thought it could limit me or beat me down, then it had another thing coming. I would never be a beaten woman.

That summer of '72 I was golden and I wasn't the only one. My world expanded beyond the everyday concerns of East LA when Munich, Germany hosted the summer Olympics. Making history was a sexy American swimmer named Mark Spitz who captivated the attention of people all over the world by winning seven gold medals, a record which stood unbroken until this year. I became a fan of his and of the Soviet gold medal gymnast Olga Korbut, but not for the same reasons. Olga made athletics look graceful. She would later receive a Star Magazine "groupie" makeover.

Olga Korbut gets the Star groupie look.

At that time in my life, I looked up to groupies. I thought they had style, sex appeal and chutzpah and I imagined their lifestyle was quite glamorous. I wondered if Olga Korbut knew what she was in for when she agreed to let the makeover team at Star dress her up. I for one wholeheartedly approved of her new look and my appreciation for her increased.

Tragedy struck at the Olympics that year when a group of Israeli athletes were murdered . Because he was Jewish, Mark Spitz was perceived as a potential target and left the Olympics early. That Fall, I started 9th grade and I drew a huge, poster sized charcoal portrait of Mark Spitz for art class. It won me a summer scholarship to the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

The following Spring, a loudmouth, braggart tennis player started making news with his sexist statements about women in tennis. I had absolutely no interest in tennis but I found myself getting angry. Later that year, that loudmouth named Bobby Riggs would challenge Billie Jean King to a tennis match which would become known as the Battle of the Sexes. It was at that point that I realized for the first time in my life that there was a name for what I was and still am - a feminist.

Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs

The Battle of the Sexes was like no other tennis match I've ever seen. It was more like a Lucha Libre bout: the amount of theater that went into it and the things that the athletes stood for was every bit as important as (and perhaps even more important than) the athleticism. Billie Jean was carried in on a golden litter, trimmed with bright pink feathers. She looked like an Egyptian queen and handed Bobby a live baby pig for his male chauvinistic pig statements.

Billie Jean King didn't just defeat Bobby Riggs that September day 35 years ago, she triumphed over sexism and male chauvinism and men and women who championed equality of the sexes all over the world celebrated with her. News of Billie Jean's victory reached all the way into East LA, where a bottle-blonde teenage girl whose world had been rather small up until this point suddenly realized that a woman who refused to play by the rules could change everything.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Deleted Scenes - Caliente!

Here's another "deleted scene" from my autoblogography in progress, Violence Girl.

Caliente means hot in Spanish but it was also the name of a racetrack in Tijuana. Well, Agua Caliente was the complete name but everyone just called it Caliente. I guess the abbreviated name better conveyed the postcard image of sunny Mexico whereas Agua Caliente (hot water) only made you think of a bathroom faucet.

With my dad, it was always feast or famine. If he was working we felt rich and if he wasn't we had to scramble for food and shelter. In times of plenty we'd make the two hour car drive south from Los Angeles to the international border crossing and then on to Tijuana. My mom liked to visit the doctors in Tijuana; she claimed they were more attentive than American doctors and that the medicine was much less expensive. My father, despite being diabetic, rarely went to the doctor if he could help it; instead, he liked to go bet the ponies.

Going to the horse races at Caliente was a real treat for me. As soon as we walked in, we were swept up in the excitement. There was an aura of old time glamour and shadiness to it. It was the sort of place where one could find a wide variety of people from all walks of life, from the well-to-do who looked like Italian movie stars to American tourists in casual shorts, straw hats and newly purchased huaraches to regular working class Mexican men in groups of two, three or four. The local women were never there alone or in groups unless they were accompanied by a man. They were usually well-dressed within their means.

Double exposure of me at Agua Caliente.

The first thing we'd do was to get a program and a copy of The Racing Form. I'd take the program, look at the upcoming races and circle the names of the horses with the most interesting sounding names. If my mom and sister were with us they'd go for the snacks. Food at racetracks is traditionally cheap, so we'd stuff ourselves but sometimes if we had cold leftover bean burritos from the drive down my mother would make us eat them instead.

My dad liked to bet Quinellas so he'd pick two horses and I'd pick one and we'd box them. If you're unfamiliar with horse racing, a Quinella bet is one where you pick the horses that will come in first and second in any order. To box a Quinella, you pay triple the amount for your bet but your three favorite horses are covered if they should come in first and second in any combination. I knew way too much about horse racing for a little kid because my father was an avid gambler. He didn't make foolish bets, except where I was concerned. Oddly, my methods for choosing horses seemed to be just as effective as my dad's. We often won when we went to Caliente - not a lot, just enough to make it fun and keep us going back.

Me astride the burro with my family in the cart.

Sometimes we'd be so busy during the day in Tijuana visiting the doctor, taking pictures with goofy hats or sitting on donkeys painted to look like zebras that we wouldn't make it in time for the horse races but that only made things even better because the one thing that I enjoyed more than an afternoon at the ponies was a night at the dog races. The dog races seemed to move at a faster pace. They were easy to watch without binoculars and being out at a race track late at night just felt a little bit naughty. It was very rare to see other children at the racetrack at night except for the little kids who were sometimes forced to sell four packs of "Chiclet" gum (3 four packs for a nickel); most of the other tourist children were tucked safely in a hotel bed or back in San Diego.

Caliente all lit up at night was like an opulent palace. Surrounded by so much poverty, it was an oasis where locals and foreigners alike could escape to a place that was worlds away from everyday life. Over the years and to this day one of my favorite things to do is to play hooky from work and spend an afternoon at the racetrack, making bets on horses with crazy names, eating racetrack junk food and drinking beer or a nice glass of scotch in the middle of the afternoon.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Violence Girl - In Progress

The True Life Adventures of Violence Girl - my online autoblogography project - continues at with tales of masked wrestlers, fighting heroes and a little girl named Alicia.

"Santo" by Gary Panter.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lessons From Chavez and Huerta

Thank you for the well thought out comments on my previous blog entry. I know that most of you understand where I'm coming from. I don't think either disappointment or anger are childish traits. Many times, they force us to find a new direction.

It's hard for me to write this because I am still upset. I know that I've written before about how this election has personally affected me and my family but for the first time this morning, I realized that I just have to move on. Reading a transcript of Dolores Huerta's nominating speech for Hillary Clinton at the DNC really got to me. Dolores Huerta, who has been through so much and has meant so much to Latinos, helped me remember the many setbacks that the UFW has faced over the years and the long, painstaking road that she has walked to improve conditions for those who have neither a voice nor a vote.

I see now that this is one of those setbacks for women like me, who are tired of being pushed around by a seemingly omnipresent patriarchy. Change is infuriatingly slow and I am not a patient woman.

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta helped the world understand the lack of basic human rights that migrant farm workers were denied. They taught us to look beyond our own concerns and to remember that whenever there is injustice toward others, we must stand united to fight against it.

This time was not our time to break through the glass ceiling and as much as I am saddened for myself and for my daughters, I realize that there is something to celebrate. As angry as I was at Barack Obama for not choosing a woman as his vice presidential running mate, it is time for me to look beyond my own concerns and celebrate the step forward that the Democrats are making by becoming the first major party to nominate an African American for President of The United States. I am familiar with Obama's voting record and as I've said before, it is very similar to Hillary's. While it is possible that he may turn out to be the best choice, I did use my anger constructively and I began to look outside the two major parties. I am currently researching Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party's presidential candidate who also looks like a good candidate. I'm not ready to say how I'll vote yet, but I am ready to move on, re-group, and move forward.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Women's Equality Day

As the Democratic National Convention unfolds in Denver, I find it ironic that today of all days, as we celebrate Women's Equality Day, I can't help but feel betrayed by my lifelong party. How could the party leaders ignore the message that we want a woman for President, or at least Vice President? The fact that 18,000,000 registered Democrats cast their primary election ballots for Hillary Rodham Clinton (and not Joseph Biden) is being completely disregarded in the name of "party unity," which is starting to smell more like a compromise to me.

How dare Nancy Pelosi accuse us of wallowing and tell us to "get over it." What part of the democratic process does she not understand? The convention was designed with the purpose of selecting a candidate, not crowning the party leaders’ chosen one. The people tell our elected leaders want we want and how to govern, not the other way around. I was under the apparently mistaken impression that we had a representative government, reflective of the will of the people. I expected the Democrats to understand that there is a larger victory to be won than the upcoming election in November. Putting a party victory ahead of party ideals would be a hollow victory for me and many of my sisters. It would make my party stand for nothing.

Today is a day when our delegates can make a statement. I applaud Gloria Allred, who had the guts to protest at this morning’s caucus by wearing an impromptu gag and declaring that “she was not elected as a delegate to be a potted plant."

I guess you think I'm off on this one. I'm very angry and I suppose there is probably a better way to voice my anger. But I will not simply go along quietly (shut up and sit down) while women are once again written out of the equation. What do you suggest? Women, it's time to take control of our party! There is no way Obama could not get the message that we wanted a woman in the White House, but he chose not to act in accordance with our wishes. Why? Because he is trying to win an election by wooing white, middle class voters who might otherwise go to McCain. The party is doing this at our expense because they think we're going to just lie back and get fucked. Well, I for one am not going to. If we don't fix this trainwreck, I intend to look for a candidate, perhaps among the independent parties, who puts women's issues at the top of their agenda.

Wake up Democrats, is this the sort of change we can believe in? Keep your eyes on the prize, ladies. This candidate chose another man to be his running mate when it was obvious that a very large portion of his party wanted a woman on the ticket. Instead of reaching out to the Hillary supporters within the Democratic Party he chose to reach out to mollify the conservatives within the party and on the Republican side. Where are all my liberal friends? What have you to say about this? Is this a new kind of liberalism?

I don't care if Hillary tells her supporters to vote for Obama. I will vote for the person who espouses my ideals. Our delegates need to step up today in Denver and send a LOUD message to Mr. Obama and the party not to take our votes for granted. Ladies, if we do not make ourselves heard we have no one to blame but ourselves. It is estimated that women make up over half of the Democratic Party. We need to make that party responsive to our needs. We will be heard. We must be fairly represented, NOW!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Deleted Scenes - Grand Central Market

I've been writing my blogography or autobiographical stories for the past couple of weeks, but there are some stories which haven't made the cut to my Violence Girl blog, not because I don't like them, but because my editor insists that they don't fit the tone of Violence Girl or move the story along. I've decided to trust his judgement...for now. Here's one of the stories I like to call "deleted scenes."

Grand Central Market

My mom loved to shop downtown. On weekends, we'd take the bus to Broadway or if my dad was around, we'd drive to Grand Central Market to do our grocery shopping for the week. If it was just me and my mom, we'd use the Broadway Street entrance. There, we'd often see an old woman who sat with a little makeshift tray and a pail of tunas (Prickly Pears), selling her sliced fruit. My mom loved fresh fruit and always stopped to have the woman slice up some tunas for us. The woman's aged, leathery hands deftly arched around the fruit, holding it steady, never allowing the spines to prick her as she peeled it with a small paring knife. In a few seconds, the fruit was peeled and cut to resemble a flower blossom. The tunas had the texture of kiwi fruit, the sweetness of a strawberry and a very faint, delicate perfume that rewarded you each time you took a bite.

After finishing off our tunas, we were ready to face the busy market. Each stall had its specialty: there were fruit stalls, cheese stalls, sausage stalls, stalls selling cooked food and much, much more. The main problem for a young kid was the hordes of people who thronged the marketplace. Everyone was pushing to get through, reaching across to get a pinch of this, a taste of that. The thought of buying a pound of anything you hadn't tasted seemed ludicrous to these discriminating shoppers. People shouted their requests to the merchants like thirsty patrons at a crowded bar, trying to catch their attention before someone else beat them to it.

"Give me a bunch of spinach!" "A pound of grapes!" Anonymous voices shouted above the din of the bustling marketplace. It was hard for a little kid to be seen or heard over the shouting, shoving crowds. Every so often, workmen would push their way through the aisles with big metal handcarts stacked high with crates of fruit or vegetables, threatening to mow down any invisible little kids.

One particular day, my mother was trying to get the attention of a fruit vendor when one of the men pushing an overloaded handcart came barreling down the aisle. It was stacked so high that the man pushing it could barely see over the top and there were so many people that he couldn't look around it. It was obvious he was pushing it blindly and recklessly through the crowd, straight towards me. I panicked and let go of my distracted mother's hand. As soon as the man passed, the crowd flooded in to close the gap between me and my mom and pretty soon I couldn't see the top of her head anymore. I felt like I had been swallowed up by a sea of people. My heart started pounding. I squeezed my way towards the back steps, where I knew I'd have a better vantage point and might be able to spot my mother. I stood on tip toe on the steps and surveyed the whole market. So many people!

"Mami!" I shouted out, starting to cry now. "Mami!" Concerned adults stopped and tried to talk to me but I was afraid of being stolen and I pushed them away. I imagined never seeing my parents again and being taken by strangers. I saw people talking and pointing at me as I continued to cry out, "Mami!"

"Alicia!" I heard an answer in the distance. My mom was pushing her way towards me. "Stay there!" she shouted. People smiled at me and seemed relieved. They resumed their previous pace. When my mom finally reached me, I got scolded for letting go of her hand, but I didn't care, I was so happy to have my mami back.

On days when my father went with us to the Grand Central Market, it was a very different story altogether. My dad liked to go into the market using the Hill Street entrance. My mom would go ahead of us into the market and, unbeknownst to my mother, my father and I would sneak a ride on Angels Flight, which was just across the street. Angel's Flight was a very brief funicular ride up the side of Bunker Hill but those red cars with their old fashioned wooden seats were so much fun to ride. You would pass so close to the car coming in the opposite direction down the hill that for a split second you thrilled at the possibility that one of the cars would jump its tracks and they'd come to a head-on collision. At the top of the hill there was nothing, just the whole City of Angels spread out for everyone to look at.

We usually spent just a few minutes at the top before riding back down. Our first stop when entering on Hill Street was always the juice stall. Into a big blender half full with ice, the juice man would put freshly squeezed orange juice, a scoop of a mysterious white power and a raw egg. He'd whip it up, then pour us the tall, frothy concoctions my dad and I loved. In those days, raw eggs were freely consumed. I remember my mom and dad ordering egg shots from the same juice bar. Into a small glass, the juice man would break a fresh, raw egg. My parents would then add salt and chili and swallow them in one gulp. That was one treat I never indulged in.

After orange drinks, my father liked to eat Chinese food. My mom hated Chinese food because it wasn't Mexican food and, being a creature of habit, she only ate and cooked Mexican food (the only exception to this was my mother's pathetic attempt at spaghetti - a soupy concoction of limp noodles swimming in tomato sauce straight from the can, covered in melted jack cheese. I loved it!). I have a hazy memory of my dad sitting at a Chinese cafe counter on the lower floor of the market. He loved Chop Suey and Egg Foo Young and he'd always let me taste his food but I never got my own order, because my mother said that I didn't like Chinese food. My father exposed me to new and exciting cuisines by allowing me to have tastes of his own food, usually the first bite. He worked all over Los Angeles and was no doubt exposed to all sorts of unusual food from different cultures.

Even though my mom insisted on maintaining the ethnic purity of her cuisine at home, she eventually allowed a chink in the "no Non-Mexican Foods" armor by consenting to take me and my sister to Taco Bell, which appealed both to her ethnic pride and her sense of economy. Of course, this put us on a slippery slope which inevitably led to McDonald's and Burger King. My mother practically died with a 99 cent Whopper in her hand.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My New Form of Therapy

Let me start off by saying that I don't consider myself a writer. When my husband suggested that I start writing autobiographical stories with the intent of working them into a book, I tried to put him off by insisting that I am not a writer. He pointed out that I had been writing a blog for the past several years, albeit sporadically, so I allowed that he had a point and I decided to try. He hinted that writing these stories would be good for me and that the process would help me to better understand myself, even if they never got published.

Sifting through long forgotten stories of my childhood and writing on a daily basis, I have become obsessed with following the threads of my memories, one leading to another. I start pulling on a single, seemingly trivial strand, but then I discover that it's attached to a larger strand; that one in turn is attached to an even bigger one. Sometimes, I find have I have tugged a whole, long forgotten piece of my past into view, one thread at a time.

I find that I doubt my own memories, wondering if my mind has confused situations or invented places that never existed or were in different times and places than I remember them. Was there really a carousel at Lincoln Park? Didn't my father like to eat Chinese food at a little diner on the lower floor of Grand Central Market?

I spend most of my weekdays - the days when I write - walking around like a zombie, my head filled with images and scenes from over forty years ago. Some of the darker stories still have the power to break me. I had to leave the supermarket the other day because I couldn't stop crying, thinking about one of many terrible incidents involving my parents. That day was emotionally exhausting and I realized that forcing myself to write these memories is a form of catharsis for me, in much the same way performing onstage with the Bags was.

Not all memories are dark and heavy. Thanks to my mother (once again) who saved all of our old family photos in albums, I have the ability to flip through pages of my history. Yes, there's the neighbor family just as I remember them; there's the old carousel at Lincoln Park, it did exist. The photographic images spur memories and then I sit down to write the stories as fast as they come to me.

My work in progress is called Violence Girl and you can read it here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Violence Girl In Progress

No new post for the Diary today, as I am still furiously writing and posting my online autobiography (hopefully to become a graphic novel) - Violence Girl. Please read the latest installment at my Violence Girl blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Put On Your White Bonnets, It's Cine Time!

I grew up watching Spanish language movies. Peliculas de La Epoca de Oro (films from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema) were the ones my parents liked best. They'd seen them all before, but would never tire of watching Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Libertad Lamarque, Pedro Armendariz and Sylvia Pinal on the big screen.

Pedro Armendariz and Dolores del Rio in Los Abandonadas.

There were plenty of movie theaters in the 'hood that showed these movies and it was our one splurge as a family to go to the movies on dos por uno night, a buy one - get one free special, usually offered on a different night at each of the theaters we frequented. My mom and I would split one admission, then my dad would wait outside for another solo male to come along and he'd split the admission with him. In order to cut costs even further, my mother would pack half a dozen bean burritos, wrapped in foil along with some canned sodas and bags of chips or Fritos. Once inside the darkened theatre, she would produce all of these from a seemingly limitless bag of tricks, like the one Felix the Cat carried. If we were out of tortillas, my mother would make white bread bean and cheese sandwiches. These were a tasty change of pace and probably a uniquely pocho cuisine.

As soon as the lights went down, we'd start passing our feast around and before long, we were transported to an impossibly glamorous black and white version of Mexico. It was escapism at it's finest. In those days, you got to see two or three movies at a time when you went to the cine (cinema). Sometimes, there were even live acts who performed in between the films. The Million Dollar Theater in Downtown L.A. was famous for its "Variedades." There, on weekend afternoons, we'd watch the first movie then be treated to touring singers, actors, jugglers, comedians, dancers, ventriloquists, gymnasts, mariachis... you name it. The word "Variedades" means variety and there was certainly plenty of that. Young men and women would walk up and down the aisles with large trays strapped around their necks, selling cigarettes and BonBons and candy. It was a total experience.

The Million Dollar Theatre, Los Angeles.

The Million Dollar Theater was a grand old movie palace with beautiful alcoves and balconies. One weekend afternoon, we were seated in the balcony. I was getting bored of the movie and asked my mom for some change to buy a toy from the vending machine in the ladies' bathroom. Those machines used to stock all kinds of goodies, from small plastic toys to entertain fidgety kids, to lipstick, combs and emory boards. To keep me out of her hair, my mom gave me the change and let me go back to the bathroom to get myself a little toy. When I went back to the bathroom, I discovered not one but two vending machines. The second vending machine didn't have a glass front showing all the different goodies that could be purchased which puzzled me, but as I stood there wondering, a woman came up, put her coins in and was rewarded with a little white paper bag.

Aha! I figured it must be a grab bag type deal. I knew from shopping with my mother who often bought grab bags of fruit and soon-to-expire bread at the market that you could get more for your money if you were willing to take a chance. I was excited by the prospect of getting a really special surprise treat, so I put my money in the machine and turned the knob. Out came my little white paper grab bag. I tore it open and pulled out a small, white pillowy looking bonnet. It had two straps that didn't quite fit around my head so I was disappointed that I couldn't put it right on.

I ran back to the balcony where my parents were seated about five rows up. I stood at the bottom, front and center, waved the sanitary pad in my hand and called out to my mom, "I didn't get a toy! Look what came out!" My mother was mortified and rushed to me as some people suppressed snickers and others glared at me. My mother whisked me up and out of sight but when I asked her why she was angry with me, she couldn't quite say except to tell me that "Those things are for ladies!" When I asked how they were used, my mother couldn't tell me. The mystery of the little white bonnet would remain unsolved until 6th grade, when my teacher at school would show my class a film about it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

East L.A. Bobsleds

I've been blogging for many years now and during that time, I've told bits and pieces of my life story in various posts and interviews, but I'd never seriously thought about writing my autobiography until fairly recently. My husband had been after me for some time to write life stories that could be worked into a novel, or more specifically, a graphic novel, which is a format that I am particularly fond of. I had actually begun writing some of my memories down expressly for this purpose when I went to the latest Comicon and it dawned on me that publishing a graphic novel based on my life might actually be possible.

In the punk spirit of doing it yourself and jumping into the water before you've fully learned to swim, we've decided to post my autobiography (or autoblography, since it will appear as a blog) as a work in progress, in hopes that those who read it will find it worthwhile and interesting. Perhaps a comic book artist is out there who would find the challenge of illustrating and lettering my little stories intriguing. I am hoping to find someone whose aesthetic and graphic style matches the material. If you think this describes you, please contact me by email at

So begins the saga of Violence Girl, which can be found on

I will continue to post on Diary of A Bad Housewife about my usual interests (which is to say, anything and everything) but my Violence Girl blog will only feature excerpts from my autobiographical stories.

Poor Little Poor Girl

Growing up poor in East L.A. during the early 1960's didn't bode well for one's future success. It certainly didn't put you on the fast track to rock stardom, especially if you happened to be an overweight, unpopular, eyeglass wearing, Spanish-only speaking daughter of Mexican immigrants like me.

When I first sat down to write the memories of my early childhood, I was shocked to realize how much of it was a blank. My memories of that time are like shards of a broken mirror or a movie, cobbled together from film clippings left on the editing room floor. Instead of a neat, linear montage of stories, my memories grudgingly crawl back to me: my mother, battered and bleeding, standing in the bedroom. My mother, covered in blood, kneeling on the floor. My father in a violent rage, spitting his false teeth out of his mouth as he screams curses at my mother. My father, commanding me to spit on my kneeling mother. Past and present collide and as I recall more details and images, my stomach begins to hurt. I feel the urge to vomit. Nearly fifty years later, long buried memories of my caustic childhood still have the power to bring me to my knees.

The first house I lived in was on 8th Street in East L.A. We had moved from this house to another house on Ditman Avenue by the time I entered kindergarten, so I don't have many memories of it. Our second house on Ditman was tiny, even by the standards of a poor barrio in East L.A. and it was completely infested with brown German cockroaches. The funny thing was that even though our house was too small to have a dining table, we did have an upright piano, which I think my dad must have gotten in trade for some of his work.

My dad was a self-employed carpenter, which meant that sometimes he worked a lot and other times he didn't work at all. He had printed up some business cards, advertising his services and he'd carry them around with him, posting them on public bulletin boards and that was how he sometimes found work. My mom didn't work outside of the home and she cooked, cleaned, sewed and looked after me and my older sister. Both of my parents immigrated from Mexico, although my mother had grown up in Los Angeles and my father had come over as an adult. They met on a bus in Mexico. My father was coming home from work, sweaty and dirty from a day of labor and he sat down next to my mother. They started a conversation and eventually my father said, "I'd ask you out to the movies, if I wasn't so dirty," to which my mother replied, "You're not dirty." My father always laughed when he told this story, recalling that he was, in fact, extremely dirty - so he knew that my mother liked him.

When I was older, I accidentally found my parents' marriage certificate, showing that my mother had been eight months pregnant when they finally got married. I confronted my father with it, joking with him by saying "You didn't want me." It was obvious that he'd waited until the very last minute to marry my mother. He replied, "I always wanted you, I just didn't want to get married."

My earliest memory is of being at Hollenbeck Park with my father. We are sitting under a tree. I am very young, maybe three years old and there is a vague sadness connected to the memory. My father is trying to cheer me up. My mother is missing. She is in the hospital, and hasn't been home in days. The memory fades there, but usually another image of the same park appears.

I am older now, 6 or 7 years old. There is a bald spot on the hilly part of the park. A group of children have flattened large cardboard boxes and are riding them down the dirt slope like toboggans, kicking up clouds of dirt. I muster up my courage, grab a discarded box and join the strangers, who don't seem to notice me. I push off and feel the rush of excitement as I race down the hill. Some of the children get a much bigger box and climb onto it, one behind the other. The boy in front pulls his knees up to his chest, the others stretch their legs out in a V and pile on behind him, in a choo-choo train style. They have made a cardboard bobsled, but it's a bust. It crawls too slowly down the hill, looking like a big centipede as the kids try to propel the box with their legs akimbo. It's back to single-person toboggans, or doubles on luges. The more adventurous kids go down head first, face up or face down. We take turns, speeding down, adding tricks as fast as we can make them up. I am a coward and I ride seated, holding onto the upturned sides of the cardboard. My tricks are simple: legs stretched out in front of me, then legs bent to my chest, but nobody cares. Nobody's looking at me. They're all planning their next trick, or enjoying their current one. The heat of the summer day and the activity has made the kids sweaty, providing something for the flying dirt to adhere to. They all look like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. Mothers start coming over to put an end to what will surely mean an extra load of laundry. My own mom waves me back, she's been sitting under a tree with my older sisters, reading Novelas de Amor and Confidencias. The fun is over, but who would have thought that a few spontaneous moments of makeshift play with a castoff cardboard box, a dirt hill and a bunch of kids who were having too much fun to bother picking on me would be one of my happiest childhood memories?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Making Nice On The Playground

"Meet me under the 1300 sign!" my friend Chris shouted into the cellphone. It was hard to hear her over the din in the background. As my daughter and I made our way down the stairs, we stepped into the grown up playground that is San Diego's annual Comic Con.

When I was a young child, I spoke only Spanish but I was taught to read in English and I supplemented my reading lessons with comic books. The colorful pictures helped me understand the nuances of this second language better than any textbook and increased my English vocabulary. Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Hot Stuff, The Archies and Little Dot became my at-home language tutors. When I had learned enough English to feel comfortable, I went back and taught myself to read and write in Spanish using Mexican comic books and photonovelas. Memin Pinguin and Novelas de Amor were my favorites. Comic books provided the bilingual education that was lacking in my grammar school.

But back to the playground. My friend Chris was a real Comic Con superstar. She knitted her own Wonder Woman costume and was unable to walk more than two feet at a time without someone stopping to compliment her or wanting to take her picture. It was fun basking in her glory. Here's a picture of her being taped for The Tonight Show.

Wonder Woman Chris at Comic Con -08, photo courtesy of Mondo Rick-o.

We spent the first hour in the playground just looking at costumes. The level of creativity was off the charts. My daughter dressed as a character from Gaia Online and wore a blue wig, even though I tried to talk her into bleaching and dyeing her own hair blue. She said she didn't want to damage her hair and I told her "hair is dead anyway." But I digress. The costumes were amazing; people must plan this stuff all year long. My own posse included Gaia's Timmy, Wonder Woman and Sailor Mars. I was not in costume (what a noob!) but I saw Chewbacca, several Jedi, a Wonder Woman outfit made entirely out of duct tape, super heroes of every shape, size and color from all over the galaxy and people out of costume standing in the crowded convention hall, holding signs reading “free hugs” or “free high-fives.” My daughter went for the hugs and I took the high-fives. My girlfriends passed on these freebies, but I have to say they missed out. The exchange made me smile. The guy holding the free hugs sign had a huge, silly grin on his face all day. Hugging strangers, what a concept.

My posse split up to attend different presentations. My daughter wanted to see Lynda Barry and my husband got out of work early to join us and attend the Ghost Hunters panel. I walked my kid to Lynda Barry's conference room, planning to join my husband in line for the Ghost Hunters presentation, but when we saw the line extending out the door and around the building, we decided to see Lynda Barry instead. It was a fortuitous decision.

From Lynda Barry's book, What It Is.

I am so glad we got to see Lynda Barry, who was very funny and wise. Her presentation not only had the audience in stitches, it was truly inspiring. She talked about the importance of play and of allowing ourselves to approach creativity in the way a child approaches play, without evaluation, simply enjoying the process. She also talked about editing and self-editing, explaining how we do it constantly in our own lives. Those occasions when we think back and say “Oh, I wish I'd said this or done that,” and we think of something much more clever to say or do and replay the scene in our heads with the new action or dialogue – that's self editing. She explained that it's a necessary part of our mental health.

Lynda's comments hit close to home because earlier that afternoon, I'd been talking to my friend Jane Wiedlin who was promoting her upcoming comic book, Lady Robotika.

Lady Robotika photo by Bonnie Burton.

While I walked away to meet my husband, some guys went over to Jane and started interviewing her. When I came back with my hubby, he waved from a distance, not wanting to interrupt the interview. “Where's Alice?” she called. She playfully dragged me into her interview, but I can't be witty at a moment's notice. In fact, talking into a microphone is a million times harder for me than singing into one. I edit myself to the point of muteness. It's strange, but as I've gotten older, I've tried to stop and think before speaking or taking action. This keeps me out of trouble, but doesn't make for an especially interesting interview. Sorry, Jane.

Sometimes, it is necessary to edit. For example, a couple of days ago, a woman in a car cut off my daughter and me as we were crossing a parking lot. I had to keep myself from throwing something at the car, as I have done in the past. I kept Violence Girl in check but later, I edited my response in my mind. I threw my car keys at her, or spat on her car, or followed her and smacked her, but in reality I didn't do any of it and I'm sure my daughter was happy about that. She and my husband have taken to calling me “EeeeeevA” after the character in the movie Wall-E (she is quick to blast things that startle or annoy her.) I'm a grown up now and have to play nice most of the time, at least when the kids are looking. But Lynda Barry got me thinking that you don't always have to play nice; sometimes it's O.K. to be a smart aleck kid, even if you're nearly fifty.

Special highlights of the day for me included:

  • Admiring Sergio Aragones from behind a crush of his fans. Sr. Aragones warped my impressionable young mind with his pantomime cartoons for Mad Magazine.

  • Hearing Lynda Barry sing “You Are My Sunshine” without moving her lips. I wanted to give her a standing ovation, but edited myself.

  • Meeting Al Jaffee, who was a co-conspirator with Sergio Aragones in the warping of my mind.

  • Watching Chris be a Rock Star.

  • Ninja kissing Jane Wiedlin.

I still read comic books, but my Mad subscription expired (hint to hubby). I gravitate more towards graphic novels these days, here are a few of my favorites:

Buddha Series by Osamu Tezuka

Adolf Series by Osamu Tezuka

Hino Horror series by Hideshi Hino

Maus 1 & 2 by Art Spiegelman

Persepolis 1 & 2 by Marjane Satrapi

Evangelion Series by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

Ranma ½ Series by Rumiko Takahashi

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pan Dulce de Mi Corazon and SF Travelogue

I had written a long, detailed description of my recent trip to San Francisco, but it started sounding a bit like any other tourist's travelogue with the exception that I focused more on food than most tourists, save perhaps Anthony Bourdain, so I decided I should write about something else. As I started my second concha and Silk, I was finding it increasingly difficult to type between mouthfuls. My hands get a little crumby and truthfully I don't eat to nourish, I eat to savor - so I was getting distracted by the ecstasy dissolving in my mouth. I found it hard to focus on Haight Ashbury, Alcatraz, or even the wonderful Frida Kahlo exhibit at SF MOMA. All I could think about was pan dulce, or Mexican sweet bread.

My love affair with pan dulce goes back to my childhood in East L.A., of course. When I was a teenager, there was a period where I subsisted on a diet of nothing more than pan dulce and milk for breakfast and chicken gumbo for linner (lunch/dinner). That diet, along with daily Kung Fu lessons, helped me lose a lot of weight but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Imagine my delight when a few months ago, my husband and I discovered a little panaderia fairly close to our house in San Diego that has now become the supplier for my addiction. I go there at least twice a week and I have yet to taste a piece of pan that hasn't been delicious. The elotes are my favorites: they're shaped like a piece of corn in its little silk coat and are usually lightly sprinkled with sugar (editor's note: Alice uses the phrase "lightly sprinkled" interchangeably with "coated with" here.) I like the standard elotes but they make two or three variations of them here. Cocodrilos are a close cousin to elotes, as far as flavor and appearance go. They're long and appear to have scales; sometimes I go for those just so my family doesn't accuse me of getting the same thing all the time. My kids and my mom were always partial to conchas, which are light, puffy pastries with a crumbly hard, sweet topping applied to resemble a conch outline. They usually come in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. My husband is an ojos de buey man - I mean that's the kind of pan dulce he likes. He does not have ox eyes, which is what ojos de buey means. In some places, Ojos de Buey are a completely different concoction and the coconutty red jam ball my hubby likes goes by the name of Yoyo in those places, because it resembles a fat yoyo much more than an ox eye.

There are more types of pan dulce than I can name: from Orejas de Elefante to Cochinitos, the selection is enormous. Fortunately, you don't have to know the names to sample their supreme yumminess. In a recent Yelp review, I read someone who described the pan dulce they loved as looking like a vulva. Well, I went over to Panchitas Panaderia that day, found the vulva looking pan and discovered that it was indeed one of the best pieces I'd had. If you haven't had pan dulce from anywhere but the grocery store, you owe it to yourself to seek out your neighborhood panaderia. Get a little taste of the glory.

As for my San Francisco trip, it was lots of fun. My husband was working, so my daughter and I were on our own for most of our adventures. We got Muni passes and went all over town like good little tourists. We walked until our feet throbbed then walked some more just so we could squeeze in as much fun as possible out of our vacation. We walked up the Filbert steps to the top of Telegraph Hill and then went up to the top of Coit Tower and I was glad that god invented cortisone injections for my bum knee. We went to City Lights and Cafe Trieste and saw an excellent Frida Kahlo exhibit at SF MOMA. My daughter got a kick out of the fact that this still life, which Frida painted as a gift, was considered so pornographic that the recipient refused to hang it in her home.

I suppose all of this goes to show that the connection between food and sexuality is fairly strong in Mexican culture - remember "Like Water For Chocolate"? My daughter and I ate our way through San Francisco at inexpensive little holes in walls like the Theater Two Cafe that was literally hidden behind a temporary plywood wall due to construction; we skewered tasty marinated tofu at the funky Asqew Grill in Haight Asbury. We packed so much into our little vacation that I was happy to get home and relax!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Punk Pictorial

I've just posted some new photos to my website/Flickr gallery pre-punk and punk galleries. While in the process of archiving our collection, we're trying to post high resolution copies of as many photos and documents as possible so that anyone who is interested can access this material through the website. Here are a few samples along with my commentaries:

"Joanie (top - Black Randy's main squeeze), Shannon (left) and I used to play dress up and take photo booth pictures when we were bored. Here Shannon is trying out a new hairdo. It goes well with that maniacal expression, don't you think?"

"Another shot of The Bags walking down Hollywood Blvd. Joe Nanini's doll looks obscene! Those green bubble tights have a crotch panel that makes my thighs look lumpy and I think Janet Koontz is having some serious misgivings about this band right around now. Patricia looks cool and Geza..."

"At the Canterbury. Lise looking new wave, me, happy to cut Terry's throat, Joanie thinking she can do it quicker and Terry Graham in the throes of ecstacy. Note the Fonz poster in the background. Someday, someone's going to make a punk sitcom just like Happy Days. Who will be the punk Fonz?"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Punk Summer Reading List

With the renewed interest in the history of American punk, there are many new books popping up, so many that it can be overwhelming and confusing at times. As with any history, getting the most complete and balanced information means seeking various sources rather than relying on just one or two "experts." Some of the books that I've come across lately are worth a special mention because they tell the story of the very early and very unique punk scene in Los Angeles.

A while back, a couple of friends brought over their copy of Live at The Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley, which was written by Brendan Mullen and features photos by several of the original scene photographers. As I flipped through the pages of this punk year book, I was transported back to my crazy, fun teen years. There are lots and lots of candid photos and the general mood of those first few months of the Hollywood punk scene really comes across. Brendan and I have had our differences lately and even though I'm mad at him right now, I have to say that this is an excellent book and a must have for anyone who was there or who is interested in understanding what went on at the Masque when we thought no one was looking.

Punk Pioneers by Jenny Lens is far and away the most awesome coffee table quality book about the early punk scene. The book, published by Rizzoli/Universe, contains an incredible range of artists that were around during punk's conception, birth, and childhood. Its scope is much broader and helps the reader understand where punk was coming from and what was going on in the parallel musical universes of bands like Van Halen and artists like Bob Marley. I think this aspect of Jenny's book is really important, because as I've said time and time again, seeing early punk in isolation does not really convey how far it was from the mainstream nor does it acknowledge the influences of what came before it. Jenny's book acknowledges the New York punk and early glam bands that set the stage for what would become a unique West Coast cultural movement. Punk Pioneers cements Jenny's status as punk photography's Alpha Bitch.

Finally, I'd like to say a little about a book a friend of mine made. Louis Jacinto is a talented photographer who has the largest collection of Bags photographs that I've ever seen. Louis approached me several times about collaborating on a book with him and although I love his photos, I just never found the time to sit down and write a book. But Louis would not give up. He kept writing to me and finally I suggested that he write his own narrative and takes quotes from my blog for his book. Well, at my Eastside Luv show a couple of weeks ago, Louis surprised me with the book he self-published. I love his D.I.Y. attitude! The book contains great photos of The Bags with quotes from my Diary of a Bad Housewife blog and various interviews I've done. The blog excerpts are odd for me to read because I know there is a complete blog entry that goes with those quotes. Luckily, Louis does send people to my website (thanks Louis!) so they can get the whole story if they feel like it. But to tell you the truth, the real stars are the photos. Louis deserves all the credit for making this book happen. So, if you want to see some cool Bags pictures, check out his book The Bags, from Onodream Press.

I know I've mentioned Punk 365 before, but it also features several of the best photographers of the time and is well worth investigating.

Book Reports are due at the end of summer : )

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Real Victory

I spoke to my 13 year-old daughter on the phone yesterday as I sat waiting for my plane at Sea-Tac airport. I had to figure out how to explain to her why our candidate was pulling out of the Presidential race and what it meant to us. Not that we hadn't been through something similar before; she still remembers voting for Al Gore in her elementary school's mock elections and learning that her candidate had lost in the real elections. It was a big disappointment (he had won at her school), but this year was different.

As with many families across the nation, this year's race for the Democratic nomination had become very personal. My husband supports Barack Obama and my daughter and I were backing Hillary, while the paternal grandparents are going for McCain. Over the past few months, we have found ourselves in many a family squabble over the qualifications and shortcomings of our respective candidates, so hearing that our candidate was out of the race hit us hard. It was not really a surprise. Although we were always hopeful, we knew we were fighting an uphill battle. Still, I had the feeling as I spoke to my daughter that she was waiting for me to say something to reassure her that this was not the end.

"What do we do now?" was the question she finally asked.

"We keep going. We make a little progress at a time and we keep going," I said to her. We were both talking about the same thing, not just the presidential election, which of course we will continue to participate in, but about our struggle to break through the glass ceiling. Hearing Hillary Clinton's speech in which she reassures her supporters that we have made "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" was inspirational. It was just what we needed to hear. We didn't need to hear that our candidate didn't win, nor that we now need to throw our support behind the presumptive Democratic candidate, but that our candidate and millions of her supporters still recognize that women have not only "Come a long way, baby," but still have a long way to go. Thanks to this campaign, we're a little closer and that in itself is a victory.

Putting the focus on women's issues is a victory too. Hillary was much more than a women's candidate. I truly believe she was the best qualified candidate, regardless of class, race or gender. Even my husband learned to respect her tenacity and resilience. In debates, she was focused, articulate and quick-thinking. She has inspired me. I've never seen a fighter take so many punches and still keep getting up. When I told an interviewer for CBS-TV in NY that I thought Hillary and punk music went together well because Hillary is hardcore, this is what I meant. Hillary never backed down. She took her punches like a woman, as strong and as big as Sojourner Truth. Can you imagine those two in a slam pit? Look out, all those who doubt! I am reminded of a speech Sojourner Truth made so long ago, at the Women's Convention in 1851: "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them." Now that's Hardcore!

American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music

Hillary's concession speech was even more poignant and meaningful to me because of the history I've learned recently from participating in two museum exhibitions: "Vexing: Female Voices From East L.A. Punk" at the Claremont Museum of Art (which I've written about previously) and "American Sabor: Latinos In U.S. Popular Music," currently on display at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, WA. I was invited to fly out and view the exhibit along with my friend, Teresa Covarrubias. Teresa and I also had the privilege of facilitating a class last Friday at the University of Washington. I think it was a wonderful learning experience for all concerned. As with the Vexing show, albeit on a much larger scale, I was able to immerse myself in the history of Latino musicians and artists who have contributed to popular culture and music. Many of these artists often worked in semi-obscurity and achieved minimal mainstream recognition. Others are internationally recognized.

One of the most rewarding aspects of participating in these exhibitions and symposiums for me is hearing directly from young female artists that my own music inspired them in some way. It reminds me that the real victory is sometimes not in the "winning" or in mainstream success, but is most often in the doing and in the legacy one leaves for future generations. Progress and societal change are part of a continuum. Seeing and hearing the amazing contributions of so many Latina/o artists who came before me and in many ways, paved the way for me to take chances in my own music was truly inspiring, perhaps in the same way Hillary Clinton has now inspired my own teenage daughter.

So thank you, Hillary. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Unearthing Bagasaurus Rex

More stuff from the archives today, a vintage Bags flyer from the infamous Trashing of The Troubadour show (uploaded in high resolution to my Flickr page) and a couple more audio files, courtesy of the folks at Artifix, who originally surfaced these and brought them to our attention. I believe these live recordings are from 1978 at the Hong Kong Cafe, but I am not certain. The first song is our cover of the old standard, "That's Life," popularized by Frank Sinatra, but more specifically, this is a cover of a cover. Actually, it's a cover of a popular TV commercial from the 1970's for Sanyo home electronics which featured a pretty, glamorous actress named Susan Anton singing the tag line, "that's life, that's what people say...Sanyooooo!" Obviously, it sounded nothing like the Bags' version. It's immediately followed by a version of TV Dinner, much different from the version which was released on the Live At The Masque cd.

These bootleg recordings are very raw and we cleaned them up as well as we could. Enjoy!

The Bags - Sanyo Theme/TV Dinner-Mp3

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Rummaging Through The Archives

I'm in the process of archiving some of my personal collection of photos, flyers, clippings, video and audio recordings from my various bands and musical projects. It's a daunting task and we are taking it a little at a time. The plan is for this material to eventually be archived at UCLA, but my husband is frustrated because he would like to scan it all and put it up on the website, only he doesn't have the time. Here's a vintage Bags flyer for a show at the Masque in January 1978.

As we were sorting through some of the boxes tonight, we came across a disc labeled "Bags Recordings" which no doubt had surfaced during the search for material for the Artifix Records LP, All Bagged Up. Some decent bootleg recordings of the Bags performing live, probably in 1979, were on that disc. My husband corrected the speed because the original source tape was warped and the results will be posted on my media pages for anyone wishing to listen.

Here's the Bags doing our cover version of the Standells' song, "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White."

Left click HERE to play in your browser OR RIGHT CLICK AND "save file as" to download the song to your desktop!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Women In L.A. Punk Part XXVI - Hudley Flipside

Hudley Flipside's interview came about completely by chance. My husband happened to notice a message on the Masque MySpace page that seemed to be directed to me. I should clarify that I have nothing to do with the MySpace Masque page. I conduct these interviews with women who were involved in the early LA Punk scene for my own website, but I haven't been in contact with most of the interview subjects in over 25 years and I don't usually try to track people down for interviews. They typically happen by chance, just like this one.

Hudley Flipside

Hudley's interview also differs from the norm in that she chose to completely disregard the question and answer format I sent to her. That's great, because I encourage all of my interview subjects to go off topic and write at length and Hudley took me at my word. Her expressed desire for total freedom is as close to the essence of what punk meant for many of us in the early L.A. scene.

Click on the Women In Punk thumbnail to read the interview with Hudley Flipside.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Road To (and From) Claremont

With the opening reception of the Vexing exhibit behind me, I'd like to say a little about the way in which this experience has changed and is continuing to change me. Colin Gunckel and Pilar Tompkins put on a very ambitious exhibition, both in scope and depth. It reached out with long arms to people whose relevance to the East LA music scene was not obvious and thus sparked controversy; it plunged deeply into virginal archives to illustrate the beauty and creativity of an under-appreciated music and art scene.

Points of Departure, an installation by Jessee V. and Colin Gunckel, currently on display at the Claremont Museum of Art.

The road to Claremont was a difficult one for me. On one side of the LA River, I was perceived by some as betraying the Hollywood scene. To quote part of a nasty email: "I think it's kind of creepy that you'd sell out the old scene just to be down with a couple of dink bands." On the other side of the LA River, there was much discussion about who should be included in the show and which participants were perceived as outsiders.

Detail from "Do The Math", a 10' x 50' paint on canvas installation by Diane Gamboa.

To top it all off, there was an undercurrent of denial of the racist and sexist landscape against which punk played out. My statement to the LA Times that by 1979, some Eastside musicians felt that the Hollywood punk scene was closed and unwelcoming was seen as an attack on the integrity of that scene, despite the fact that some of the individuals interviewed in the Women in Punk section of my website mentioned that they themselves had difficulty breaking into the LA punk scene in the late seventies. The fact that Eastsiders were making the same assertion was interpreted as an accusation of racism and I was accused of "playing the race card."

I found this very insulting, so I deliberately set out to get some answers by questioning some of my friends who had frequented the Vex. I wanted to find out who had and who hadn't experienced racism in the LA Punk scene. Not surprisingly, the results were mixed: some people had racism to report while others did not, which only seems to prove that racism was not more concentrated in the punk scene than it was in the general population; neither was it completely absent. Some people felt it and some didn't. Unfortunately, that was a bit of a myth buster for some, who wanted to believe the Hollywood scene was a utopia. Even though I frequently say that I didn't feel discriminated against, my experiences are my own. I will not deny anyone the right to point out discrimination by belittling their experiences with a dismissive phrase like "playing the race card." This response is insulting and only discourages people from shedding light on discrimination. Racism is not a game to be played, nor is there any real victory to be won by bringing it into an argument. If whatever argument you are trying to make is predicated on perceived racial favoritism or discrimination, it's legitimacy will be called into question, so most people I know will avoid bringing race into the discussion at all. Many Latinos I know would rather deal with racism in quieter ways, precisely because they don't want to be accused of playing the race card. And that is how accusing people of playing the race card effectively silences anyone from bringing up issues of racism and supports the status quo.

The fact that the Vexing show ignited this discussion is a great thing. That is what art is supposed to do: challenge people, provoke, and raise uncomfortable questions. A week after the show opened, there is a new article in the LA Times where the question of racism in the LA punk scene is still being explored. This Vexing show has been like a much needed enema, so let's get all the shit out of our systems and see what happens.

Lysa Flores, Alice Bag and Gaby Godhead live at Vexing opening show, 5/17/08, photo by fauxtografer.

Being involved with the show has made me realize that even though I wasn't a regular at the Vex, the East LA scene did not exist in a vacuum. Hollywood's punk scene preceded it and other music scenes preceded that one. Like Tenochtitlan, where each culture is built upon a previous one, each artist, whether or not he or she knows it, builds upon a foundation that stood before them. Thank you to the young artists who helped me understand that. Thank you to the curators, who believed in the validity of my place in East LA punk history before I did. Thank you to my friends, who shared their previously untold experiences of racism with me. Thank you to all of those who continue to challenge me, disagree and/or agree with me; you make the road to and from Claremont a fruitful one.