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.


Jenny Lens said...

LOL! Although your editor feels this doesn't "fit" with your other stories, I always say we are the manifestation of all that happens or doesn't happen to us. And the fact we punks spent so much time in Chinatown and downtown, places where rock was not exactly common.

I always think about that when I pass by something that holds so many punk memories, but the original building is gone.

Remember your first visits to Chinatown as a kid or young teen? Would you have ever thought you'd be there later, performing or watching friends of yours perform at Hong Kong or being ostracized by Madame Wong? LOL!!

Every time I pass by Santa Monica and Crescent Heights, I am still shocked the Starwood is gone, gone. Ghosts rise up to grab me, pulling me out of my reverie to pay attention and remember.

Bottom line, you are quite a writer! One moment I'm almost crying as you relate being separated from your mother and then laughing about her cooking philosophy. No wonder you are open to all foods, having been restricted as a kid.

I struggle being a raw foodist, but there is nothing like great Chinese food, but so much of it is blah (even in Chinatown). I've found some of the best to be in little industrial strip malls.

Linda Ramone invited me to sell and sign my book, Punk Pioneers, at the Ramones event, Aug 1, at the Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Blvd. I walked about a mile to the bus from my home, then arrived early. I walked past the cemetery, trying to find acceptable food.

I had the MOST amazing and cheap Chinese food that afternoon. I've never had such tasty brown rice. The other patrons, mostly picking up orders, were Latino.

I grew up on Northridge, when people still had goats in the front yard and rode horses down Reseda Blvd, pre-CSUN. The only two restaurants were a Chinese take-out and Morigi's Pizza. My father brought home little white containers full of Chinese food all the time or we ate pizza at the restaurant.

My mother was a great cook and open to all foods. Esp bacon and sausage on Sundays. We didn't keep kosher, that's for sure! Probably because her mother made Russian Jewish food from scratch and my mother either didn't like it, wanted something different or it took too much time/work. We ate tons of meat, veggies, fruit and of course, sweets. What us raw foodies call the Standard American Diet, or S.A.D.

Oh well, keep the stories coming, no matter your subject matter or wherever they reside!

La Traductora said...

My mom and dad met at the Million Dollar Theater right next door to the Grand Central Market back in the 1950's, and I must say that I adore El Gran Mercado. Today I love to go to Adelita's Bakery to buy their fantastic tortillas, especially the green ones (for green burritos--never wraps!) Downtown is still a place that inhabits my dreams.