Friday, December 11, 2009

Women In LA Punk - Heather Ferguson

I first met Valiant in the late '70s, when she still went by the name of Heather. She was a creature of the night who dressed like a punk rock Coco Chanel. She had a film noir air of glamour which she cultivated with fascinators and cigarette holders. Her sense of style was so strong that I instantly trusted her when she invited me to sit in her salon chair.

Heather was just as comfortable in the Beverly Hills salon where she sometimes cut my hair as she was in her little apartment in Hollywood. We'd sip wine or tea while she chopped, colored and transformed my DIY locks into a cutting edge 'do. Sometimes we'd dress up and go out after my makeover, other times we'd grab a cheap bottle of wine at La Brea Circus and talk the night away sitting on her couch. In those days, Heather loved Sylvia Plath, romance, and red wine with nice labels. In fact, it was Heather who gave me my first lessons on selecting wine. First rule: look for a bottle with a cork instead of a screw top. I was still buying wine like a kid cutting class in high school, what did I know?

Click on the Women In L.A. Punk thumbnail to read her interview.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Guadalajaratrippin' Pt 2. Vexing in Mexico

Angie and I slept like the dead in our room at the Hotel De Mendoza, located on the site of a former convent in Guadalajara’s Centro Historico. We made our way down to the hotel restaurant and feasted on their breakfast buffet which offered a mouthwatering spread ranging from pancakes to chilaquiles. The girls all woke up at different times (Angie and I being the early risers in the group), so we ended up eating and doing our sightseeing in shifts. This was a bit odd because although we would've preferred to go together, we had to settle for "Meet us at the Cathedral after breakfast," or "Meet us at the Museum." Eventually, we split up into small groups which worked out just fine.

My group headed over to the Parque de Agua Azul for a gigantic flea market that my new buddy Shizu Saldamando had told me about the night before. She described it as a "punk flea market" and I think the description was accurate. It wasn't like a big outdoor Hot Topic, it just seemed to have the sorts of things that we all liked: homemade silkscreened shirts, used and repurposed clothing, old comic books and records, handmade jewelry, lots of crafty items. Teresa Covarrubias and Lysa Flores bought beautiful necklaces, Colin Gunckel and I bought vintage comic books. Our friend Danny was turned away from making a purchase because his paper money looked “too thin.” "You look like a counterfeiter!" we laughed. It was such a big market that eventually we did get separated and by the time we finally reunited, it was late. The race was on to get back to the hotel and try to make it to soundcheck on time.

We drove up to the hotel where a mini bus was already waiting for us. We hadn't even paid for the cab before Judy Cocuzza started scolding us for being late (she is the most well-organized and responsible musician I've ever played with.) We ran up to get our stuff for the show, then burned rubber to the museum.

Outside the MUSA, a big stage had been set up for the Vexing performances. G, the head soundmeister, was unperturbed by our late arrival and quickly gave everyone the sound they wanted (thank you!) I was watching The Sirens soundcheck when I noticed the evening clouds had started to roll in, making the church behind the stage loom ominously like Dracula's castle.

Iphone photo by Alice Bag

Teresa, Angie, Patricia and I rushed off to the MUSA bathrooms to get gussied up for the show. I lined, shadowed and polished as best I could to try to make 50 look like 17, but I’m a musician, not a magician. I have to confess that in the restroom mirror I thought I looked pretty hot, unfortunately I couldn't see the bottom half of me and everyone was too nice to tell me that my clothes made me look lumpy. Oh well, I guess it's for the best, I couldn't very well have picked a new outfit from wardrobe.

The show started and The Sirens came out of the gates blazing! They played their hearts out and the audience ate it up. As I watched them, I knew I had to bring my "A" game because these ladies had set a very high standard for the evening’s performances.

Photo by Angie Skull

We were up next. Colin announced us and said lots of nice things. I was pleasantly surprised by the good quality of the monitor mix and pretty soon, Teresa and I were rocking out in tandem just as we had so many times before. Judy Cocuzza and Sharon Needles kept the rhythm solid and PK wailed on guitar. Lysa Flores joined us for Monedita de Oro and Angie Skull joined us for two songs: Modern Day Virgin Sacrifice (she was the sacrifice) and The Wolf. It was great being onstage with so many talented women. The audience was very warm and receptive, there were children and teens and middle aged folks all out for a night of free music and they liked us. At one point during our set, Colin Gunckel dove off the stage and started crowd surfing. It was sweet! We left the crowd wanting more, not to follow any old adage but because we didn't have any songs worked out for an encore.

Photo by Angie Skull

Lysa was up last, looking absolutely gorgeous in her little black ruffly dress. She was the perfect choice to close the evening. Lysa is a rose in full bloom; with her stage presence and musicianship at their peak, she easily made the audience swoon. At the beginning of her set, a mohawk wearing punk guy started to walk away, perhaps underestimating her edge but she won him over with her cover of Love Will Tear us Apart. He stayed next to the stage for the rest of the set, calling for an encore at the end.

The mood backstage after the show was electric. We packed up our stuff and got on the mini bus heading for Hotel De Mendoza, but we couldn't suppress our excitement and pretty soon an impromptu Vexing choir started singing and making up songs. When we ran out of invented songs, we followed up by singing Beatle songs.

Video courtesy of Danny Hound Dog.

After dinner at the hotel we cleaned up and went to the opening of 18 With A Bullet, an exhibit that Shizu Saldamando had invited us to. Shizu's work blows me away. I had seen her work in Vexing, Phantom Sightings and on the cover of the new Girl in a Coma album. Tonight, she was showing ballpoint pen ink drawings made on bed sheets and handkerchiefs. I asked her about the drawings and she made it sound easy, "Oh, I just put something firm underneath and draw while I'm watching TV" ...Genius! Really, she's a mega talent.

GrandStar, China Town, ball point pen on found bedsheet, 178x249 cm Shizu Saldamando.
Photo courtesy of Shizu Saldamando.

The cherry on top of the evening was meeting some of the young punks who had seen our show earlier in the evening. Shizu had met them at the show and invited them to her opening. They brought gifts of CDs, stickers and postcards and thanked us for giving them a taste of 70's punk. It was wonderful to feel like we'd somehow inspired these young artists and I felt truly grateful to have been part of the whole event.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Guadalajaratrippin' Pt. 1 - Vexing in Mexico

I just returned from Guadalajara where I participated in the opening of Vexing: Female Voices from East LA, an exhibition tracing the history of Chicanas from East LA who have been defining punk from the late seventies to the present. The exhibit, which opened at The Claremont Museum about a year ago, is now residing at the MUSA (Museo de las Artes de la Universidad de Guadalajara).

I'm not going to tell you all about the International Book Fair, or about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa coughing up a politically correct answer when asked whether or not he liked punk rock (he likes all kinds of music)...seemed sort of odd that he would deliver a speech in a museum surrounded by punk mujeres if he doesn't really like punk but I guess he likes mujeres well enough.

Hmmm, I guess I'm feeling a little mean spirited today. I'm still irritated. My ego took its own little trip when I walked into the rotunda at the MUSA and noticed that there were histories of my two Las Tres bandmates and none of me. This area appeared to be the historical epicenter of the exhibit and although there were pictures of me and other female artists in different rooms, the absence of any written history of my contributions as an OG ELA punkera who was playing punk rock earlier than any of the women in that exhibit pissed me off.

"Did you fly me out to Guadalajara just to write me out of history?" I hissed at curator Pilar Tompkins.

"No, of course not. There are pictures of you in other rooms."

"At Claremont, you at least mentioned The Bags and showed where we fit into this history, but here - there's nothing." Pilar looked upset. I felt like a mean ole bully so I decided to walk away and wait until I could ambush co-curator Colin Gunckel and see if I could get an answer from him. I pulled him aside and asked him the same question. Colin apologized and said it had been an oversight because setting up the exhibit had been extremely difficult. I continued to press the issue. “I think there has been some confusion all along about what this show is trying to be. Is it about female punks from East LA? Is it about The Vex? Is it about the evolution of Chicana music?” My questions and accusations upset Colin. This was supposed to be a fun night. Although I was angry, I consider Colin a friend so I gave him a few choice words, accepted his apology and decided to move on.

Colin and I are remarkably elastic and we had no trouble jumping back into party mode after our little heart to heart. The crowd at the opening was a strange mix of suits and punks; highbrows sipping champagne from flutes eyed the teen punks suspiciously. It was a little tense. My bandmates and I had to run after the waiters to snag flutes off the trays as they tried to avoid us. When I walked back to where the flutes were being filled, the waiter pointed to a nicely dressed woman with perfectly flat-ironed hair and said, "She is telling us who we can give champagne to." I knew the woman. She was one of my fluffers who only a little while earlier had been telling me how happy she was that I was here and how much she respected my work. I had wondered then if she was a friend or faux, now I had my answer.

I showed him my lanyard and pointed to the words "Invitada de Honor" but he blew me off. Grrr... so much bullshit. This time I ran after the waiter and caught up to him just as he approached a group standing near the woman. He started handing out the champagne, deliberately avoiding me. A gentleman in the group handed me his flute and I thanked him with my best smile as the waiter huffed off to bring the approved guest a glass of champagne. Daggers from Miss Flat-Ironed cheered my heart.

Artist and musician Angie Garcia had designed furry panocha patches for us to pin onto our clothes. "Panocha" is slang for pussy in Mexico, and we wanted to put our pussy in their faces so my bandmates and I pinned the faux fur creations onto different parts our clothes. Bassist Sharon Needles pinned her triangular patch on her pants right over her real panocha, causing a few passersby to do a double take. I walked around the room using my panocha as a conversation starter.

"What do you think of my panocha?" I asked one man in a suit.

"What?" he asked nervously.

"My panocha pin, do you like it? He laughed warmly and stopped to talk to me and I was reminded not to judge people by their suits (my own hubby wears one everyday).

A breath of fresh air blew in with the Sirens who were just the right mix of cute, loud and irreverent. They stood in front of the screen where footage of one of their concerts was being projected and rocked out while the paparazzi (me included) snapped away. LOVE THEM!

It's funny but the whole us vs. them atmosphere made me enjoy the opening even more. It reminded me of what we were all riled up about in the early days of punk, this whole gentrification of what had once been an anti-establishment rebellion movement. It made me wish Jessee Zeroxed had been there to throw beer at his own artwork!

Later, The Sirens, our band (Teresa, Judy, Sharon, PK, Angie and I) and our other droogies all followed pie-eyed piper Colin Gunckle over to the Pulp Bar where the smoothest tequila and coldest buckets of beer awaited us. It wasn't long before we were all shouting "Panocha! Panocha! Panocha!" and the barkeep had to come over to our table. Instead of shushing us, she handed us Sharpies and asked us to go autograph her bathroom walls, which we did happily. Halfway through the second bottle of tequila, jet lag hit us so we said our goodbyes and went back to our hotel rooms to get some sleep.

Stayed tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

Playing Pet The Panocha in Guadalajara. Video courtesy of Danny Hound Dog.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Raising The Dead

Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated with all the preparation and excitement of Christmas in my house. While not strictly related to Halloween, in the U.S. the two holidays have become associated by virtue of their proximity to each other, but they are not the same celebration. Dia de los muertos takes place on November 2, the Catholic feast of All Souls Day (which is itself an attempt by the Church to syncretize the pre-Christian practice of communing with the dead at this time of year.)

Dia de los muertos is a time to reflect on the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. The traditional practices are also predicated on the belief that for as long as we remember and honor our dead loved ones, they are still with us. To demonstrate our affection for those who have departed, we build altars and decorate them with photos, personal belongings, favorite foodstuffs and trinkets. We sprinkle marigold petals (the flower of the dead) and light candles to guide the spirits of our relatives home. We set out specially baked pan de muerto and brew hot mexican chocolate with cinnamon so that the aromas will entice the spirits to come and visit us. We decorate our homes with whimsical sugar skulls, calacas and calaveras to make light of death. Sometimes, we dress ourselves up in calavera makeup.

Greg and Alice in calavera makeup: "Hasta la muerte, 2009."

The photos below are from my family's Dia de los muertos altar for this year. I decided to build an altar for my parents, Manuel and Candelaria Armendariz and decorate it with some of their favorite things.

The altar for my mom and dad.

My parents and I used to play Loteria when I was little, so I covered the fireplace with Loteria cards. As I was setting this up, I remembered my father calling out the Loteria cards with funny sayings and rhymes. One of his sayings was "El caso (cazo) que te hago es poco," which was a pun meaning "I'm not paying attention to you."

El Cazo (tub) rhymes with el caso (attention). My friend Gabi wrote me and told me that Loteria cards used to scare her and I realized that some of the images might be scary for a little kid: la muerte (death, pictured as a skeleton), el diablito (devil), el valiente (a man brandishing a machete), la arana (spider), el corazon (a pierced heart), el borracho (drunk) staggering out of a bar...fodder for nightmares, but in my world, Loteria cards meant the family playing together, placing little beans on the game cards and calling out "Loteria!" By the time I was five, my father taught me to play poker, but I digress.

One of my dad's beloved ranchera records by Miguel Aceves Mejia is near the bottom and his old wooden cane (that was later used by my mother) is there, waiting for his return. My papi's old carpenter's mathematics manual is open in the foreground. You can't see them, but there are dried marigold petals sprinkled all over the altar. He loved the sweet Jarritos brand soda pop and would buy it by the case, probably not the best thing since he was a diabetic.

Altar para my padre.

In addition to his favorite soda, I set out his favorite Argus camera, a bottle of Tres Flores brillantina, muertitos playing billiards (like he used to) and Pan de Muerto. I scanned an old photo of him from Mexico and put that in a frame.

Altar para mi madre.

For my mami, I also scanned an old photo of her in Mexico and framed it. I set out a mug of Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate, Jumex canned juices, mazapan (candy), a miniature dining table displaying delicious foods, Pomada de la Campana for aches and pains, her dangling silver earring collection and one of the scandalous periodicals she loved to read. I would have put out a Whopper Jr. from Burger King but I am vegetarian.

This tradition really does raise the dead because the whole time you are planning and building your altar, you are concentrating on your loved ones, breathing life into memories while thinking of them. Last night, as I whisked the foaming hot chocolate into mugs, I watched from a distance as my husband explained the significance of the articles on the altar. My daughter watched him in wrapt attention and it made me feel like our whole family was somehow together because my daughter, who had never met my father and had only briefly known my mother, was getting to know them for the first time. My husband put the final touch on our offerings by putting in a DVD of "A Toda Maquina," a classic Mexican film with Pedro Infante and Luis Aguilar and a favorite of my mom and dad.

"I'm pretty sure they won't be able to resist this," he said. We curled up on the sofa to watch the movie with our hot chocolate, pan dulce and our daughter by our side, happy to be sharing this moment with each other and with the spirits of my mother and father.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn Does The Trick

Fall brings with it license to bake and eat candy and dress up in silly clothes, that must be why it's my favorite time of year. My household is in a full Halloween/Dia de los Muertos mood. This year as never before I'm indulging in relatively guilt-free sweet consumption and general silliness.

I had a strange, empowering experience when I was in California a week and a half ago, rehearsing for an upcoming gig in Guadalajara, Mexico. I was awake very early in my hotel room. As I was lying in bed playing with my iphone, realizing I couldn't call anyone, I noticed a full length mirror a few steps away. I had forgotten to pack pajamas so I impulsively got up and stood in front of the mirror in my panties, examining my nearly naked body. Something weird happened. Always in the past I would see nothing but flaws, a paunchy tummy and fat thighs reflected at me but this time as I looked at myself, I was filled with a sense of gratitude. I thought of how my body had seen me through so much, when others' bodies (like Brendan's) had let them down. I hugged myself right there, in front of that mirror and made peace with my body and as corny as it sounds, I whispered: "Thank you for taking care of me." At that moment I could see all the same things that I knew were there - body quirks that I'd seen a hundred times before - but it all looked different now, oddly beautiful.

You're probably wondering how making peace with my body ties in with baking, and to tell the truth I don't know that it does. All I know is that I've just baked a carrot cake which I'm planning to enjoy this afternoon and guilt is not invited to the party.

I was telling my friend Angie about my nearly naked exploits, describing the scars on my body and she told me that she thought scars were like war medals, a sign that your body had triumphed over an ailment or injury. I had never thought of my scars that way before. I think she's right.

Last week Angie came out to Arizona to visit me. She is a crafting dynamo who had me posing for calavera pictures as well as taking turns being a photographer. We sewed little gift projects and I taught her the basics of painting with oil. Thank you Angie, for getting me to pick up a paint brush again.

I was introduced to oil painting through a 6 week class at the local community college last year. Aleksandra Buha was the patient, talented teacher who got me all fired up. She made me feel like an artist and I was sure I'd continue to paint, but when the class was over, I only completed one more painting, a Christmas present for my husband that I'd hoped would hang in his apartment in Houston and remind him of us.

The painting never made it off the easel. I gave it to my husband for Christmas but I declared it unfinished and wouldn't let him take it. Perfectionism reared its ugly head and immobilized me. Everytime I saw the painting I saw things that needed improving but there were so many things I wanted to do to it and I was so unsure of my ability to do them that I just procrastinated and let the painting get comfortable on my easel, making it impossible for me to start another one.
Making a few quick, low-pressure portraits with Angie pulled me out of that funk and my enthusiasm for painting is renewed. Thanks Ange.

Alice Dia de los Muertos portrait by Alice. Angie Dia de los Muertos portrait by Angie.

Most people think of Spring as a time for renewal but for me, Autumn does the trick.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Deadly Stylish

I love seeing the change of color that happens in the fall. I'm not talking about the leaves on the trees, I’ll leave that to states with flashier foliage. I'm talking about the wickedly tacky Halloween decorations that help this oh-so tastefully homogeneous beige neighborhood loosen up a bit. The trees are festooned with ghosts and bats. An angry saguaro monster menaces an unsuspecting pet, out for an innocent nightly stroll. The great horned owl has returned to the neighbor's tree and hoots a crepuscular concert.

Halloween arrives in the desert...night time view in my neighborhood.

My friend and former bandmate Angie Skull is out here visiting me this week. She's preparing for her first art show which happens to be Day of the Dead themed. She'll be part of a group show at Self Help Graphics that will also feature my friends Rigo Maldonado and Dawn Wirth. The show is curated by badass veterana artist Diane Gamboa and will open November 1st. If you're in L.A. on Dia de Los Muertos weekend, don't miss Self Help's Day of the Dead festivities.

To get into the deadly stylish mood, we dressed up like calaveras and took pictures for her installation. Her piece is called Waiting for Mr. Right. For your amusement, I've included a sample of some of our photos.

Top: Alice as Calavera, bottom: Angie Skull and Alice get deadly stylish.

Yes, it is as fun as it looks, so get on over to your local costume store, buy ye some white make up, and get your calaca on! Remember - there's room for one more.

"There's room for one more!" Alice Bag and Angie Skull live it up as dead girls.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ointments and Balms

Grieving has gone to the web.

Living so far away from so many friends who are in different cities and different time zones, I spent much of yesterday exchanging memories of the recently departed Masque owner Brendan Mullen with some of those out of town friends. Funny, touching stories soon managed to turn tears to laughter, and laughter as we well know is the best medicine. It is an ointment for a tender heart.

I told the story in my previous post about some questionable fashion choices involving my friends and the Masque. As I related it via email to another friend, she ROFL’d at my description of what dressing up to go out meant in those early days of punk. Stashed In my closet, I actually found the old 60’s cutout bathing suit I was telling her about, it's a bit different than I remember but it's even more stylish. I've enclosed a picture so you can imagine a slightly pudgy me wearing this out in public.

In a very natural way our online conversation drifted to children. There is a chapter in the memoir I've written called “Children Are The Balm,” which comes from a line in Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex: "Children were the only balm for death." I found that line not only poetic but very true.

My friend, who works in a school, told me about a little girl she was working with yesterday who was having trouble reading the word ‘second’ and my friend said "okay, let's split it up, what are the first three sounds?" They sounded it out, s-e-c- and the little girl burst out with "Sex in the City?!"

I was reminded of my own colorful stories from my teaching days. I was working with a first grade class of English learners. The children were just starting to add and subtract and I wanted to reinforce their writing and reasoning skills, so I gave them all pennies to buy and sell plastic fruit at a make-believe store. The children were instructed to write down their transactions. The room was buzzing with activity when lunchtime snuck up on us. I quickly collected the assignments and took them with me to lunch so I could correct them.

Uncontrollable laughter seized my body in the teacher's cafeteria as I opened the folded pages. The children had used their Spanish language skills to record their transactions:

10 penis-7 penis = 3 penis. I had page after page of penis problems.

Other teachers came over and tried to see what I was laughing at, but I hid the pages, mortified that I'd be fired for teaching them such things!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Remembering The Den Daddy of LA Punk

Yesterday had such a promising start. My daughter had the day off from school because it was Columbus Day so we went to a movie then hit the thrift stores in search of Halloween costumes. The evening dog walk treated me to a six pack of wild javelinas snorting as they meandered across the road, a sight that thrilled me and scared me at the same time. Just as I was getting ready for bed I decided to check my Facebook.

A message on my wall made me shudder "... Brendan had a stroke and died." I stared at the words thinking it must be an ugly prank. Brendan Mullen was one of the few old friends I have who had never complained to me of the aches and pains of growing old. He was strong, happy, debonair in his stylish hats, he was writing and in the middle of a full, productive life. This couldn't be happening.

In disbelief, I wrote to two other friends on Facebook, careful not to repeat the rumor. "Heard something about Brendan, is he OK?" Within minutes, my fears were confirmed. My eyes went glassy as I watered my pillowcase, remembering a recent argument I'd had with Brendan. We'd made a sloppy peace, each of us feeling we were right, but wanting to move forward and remain friends, we'd agreed to disagree. Like a bandage over an already infected wound, our truce hadn't healed our differences and our friendship had been strained over the past year. It's strange. I thought time would heal us; little did I know we didn’t have very much time left.

I went to sleep thinking of Brendan. When I first met him, he was a young man in his twenties who would blush and babble whenever he spoke to me. Half the time I couldn't understand what he was saying, his accent was so thick in those early days. In 1978, I, along with many members of the L.A. punk community, had made my home at The Canterbury Apartments, just across the blvd from The Masque. At any moment of the day or night my friends and I would invade Brendan's home, wanting to play music, get drunk, or just hang out. Sometimes we'd wake him up and he'd just smile and let us in. He had a little private office, no bigger than a walk-in closet where his bed and a small desk competed for space. It was his sanctuary, the one part of the Masque that was his alone.

One particularly cold night, I along with my friends Shannon and Allison had gone to the Masque to catch a show. All of us had dressed in stupidly scanty outfits, defying the winter weather. I was wearing a 1960's bathing suit which left my midriff exposed except for a narrow strip of fabric that stretched down the middle of my belly. I paired the swimsuit with fishnet stockings, leopard print shoes and bag (that's right, no skirt.) The girls were sporting lingerie as outerwear and we were all shivering. Other clubs got hot once people and bands were inside, but the dingy, concrete walled basement that was the Masque never really warmed up in winter. Seeing us rubbing our arms, Brendan finally came over and ushered us into his office. We sat on his bed and on the single chair he had. We all huddled under jackets and blankets, passing around a flask of rum, laughing at ourselves. I looked around and I could see that Brendan had very few personal belongings, but he put his only coat on me, his single jacket on Shannon and wrapped Allison in the blanket off his bed. When we had warmed up a little he walked us back to The Canterbury, where he dropped us at the gate. We tried to give his things back.

"You can return them tomorrow…" he said, but we quickly peeled off our coverings, dumped them over his arm and started to run inside. He smiled weakly, his arms heavy.

"Thanks Brendan - We love you Brendan!" we shouted as we teetered on our stilletos, racing against the chill night air.

I will always remember Brendan as that shy, blushing young gentleman, the Den Daddy of the L.A. punk scene whose quiet demeanor concealed a passionate promoter of art and music. A man who literally gave me the coat off his back.

Goodbye my friend, you will be missed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Freak Revolution

It's a beautiful day here in northeastern Phoenix. The pre-dawn drizzle brought out a lovely rainbow for my morning walk. I've settled into my Autumn rut, and I'm loving it. The cooler temperatures make the air crisp and clean and put me in a baking mood. The only problem with my baking obsession is that I like to eat what I bake. A few days ago, I made an awesome banana pecan bread and a few days before that, I baked a chocolate poundcake. I ended up eating most of the poundcake by myself because Snow doesn't particularly like chocolate. If I keep eating at this rate, I'm going to be in trouble!

I just wrote a dear old friend a really long letter and I forgot to save. I decided to include a picture of some of my baking but in attempting to attach the photo, I clicked on the wrong button and I lost the letter. I was so angry that I stuffed two cookies in my mouth. I'm feeling better now. Here's part of my letter that I'd like to share with my blog readers:

"Dear Miss Delicia...

I read a really interesting article which I wanted to tell you about. It's a manifesto from a website called Freak Revolution. I will try to add the link (fingers crossed)...It's If you have a chance to read it, I recommend it. They have some provocative ideas.

Freak Revolution graphic courtesy of

Basically, the authors claim that freaks are the natural enemies of the status quo, which makes sense, right? If you're a freak, misfit, or outcast, you've probably been functioning on the fringes of society for a while anyway and the status quo has essentially failed you. The freak revolutionaries boldly claim, "The world will not be changed by those who fit in" and god knows the world needs changing.

They go on to explain in detail why they believe that the world functions under a common set of assumptions (a paradigm) which is based on controlling the actions of others. Those with power exert control over those without power, creating scenarios where abuses of power, rebellion and friction freely proliferate, making a fucked up world.

They propose that we switch from a control paradigm to a connecting paradigm. The freaks want us to connect with others and connect with ourselves (with our inner feelings). They want us to put the human back in humanity. I know this sounds all touch-feely, but it also makes some sense to me.

One way in which they propose we start shifting from a control paradigm to a connection paradigm is by diversifying our "monkeyspheres." Have you even heard of the term monkeysphere? I hadn't, but I have one and so do you. The idea of the monkeysphere is that human beings can only really connect with about 150 people. This number was arrived at by studies done on monkeys whose brain sizes directly affected the size of their social groups, hence the name monkeysphere. The size of the average human monkeysphere correlates with the size of the average human brain.

Pirate Monkey image courtesy of

The reason that the monkeysphere is important is because people inside our monkeyspheres matter to us in a way that people outside don't. If hundreds of people on the other side of the planet die, it's a sad news story because people outside of your monkeysphere are conceptualized as one-dimensional characters, but if someone within your monkeysphere dies you feel real grief (or joy) because you know this person and it becomes personal for you. The Freaks trace much of what's wrong with the world to the choices we make when we're able to detach ourselves from our humanity and therefore want us to make it all personal.

By diversifying our monkeyspheres, we cease to think of the world in terms of "us" and "them." I remember when I first moved out to Arizona, I felt a little out of place surrounded by the people who had always been the "them" in my world: Republicans. Sure, these people would say "hello" and "good morning" to me when I was out walking the dog, but I was still suspicious. I was sure that they were red-necked bigots, but I was wrong. I was the bigot, I was the one making assumptions. I didn't have a whole lot of Republicans in my monkeyspere, so I assumed they were all greedy and ethnocentric.

Over time I started getting to know my neighbors and before I knew it, they mattered to me. Some of my Republican friends were smart, some were generous and tolerant of other people's beliefs. I was diversifying my monkeysphere and I didn't even know it. It became impossible for me to think of my neighbors as simplistic stereotypes because I now had to relate to them as individuals. This was progress for sure, because I still disagree with much of Republican ideology. Expanding my monkeysphere has not only changed the way I see others, but also how they see me and people like me (left-coast/green party/vegetarian/punk rocker).

Still, I'm not sure that all the ideas the Freak revolutionaries propose would actually work. They suggest we opt out of all kinds of things like religion, politics, and public schools just to name a few. I'm not sure I'd want to pull Snow out of school so that she can bask in her freakiness, only to hate me a few years down the line when she can't get into the college she wants. Choosing to live like a freak is a very personal decision; I wouldn't want to make it for anyone but myself..."

My friend wrote back:

"Dear Alice...

As far as the monkeysphere idea, it is about right. The weirdos always make the changes. That was punk, eh? Misfits every one. And all the computer geeks. Unfortunately, the homogenized world with plastic surgery and identikit music (thanks Clear Channel and Live Nation, or are they finally one now?) makes sure freaks stand out even more. The world is a strange place. Alice, I was amazed how similar all the new houses in LA looked. Even the colours seemed 'approved'. Not one oddball amongst them.

Unfortunately, freaks in nature are usually killed off. Albino animals, etc. You know my cat I have, Pubert, was an oddball as a kitten. He once tried to sit up by pushing his paw off this lamp and he managed to balance and sit up, obviously like us. D____ saw this as well. The other kittens panicked when they saw him do it. They ran off and hid. Freaky. He only did it that once but it was such aberrant behaviour they instinctively felt it was wrong..."


Read more about the monkeysphere at

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Capitalism - A Love Story

My daughter and I couldn't wait to get to the Saturday matinee showing of the new Michael Moore film, Capitalism: A Love Story. I almost couldn't believe that our Phoenix area movie theatres were brave enough to show this film in the land of Barry Goldwater and John McCain. When we arrived at our local mall multiplex (ironic, I know) my daughter ran ahead to buy the tickets at the box office while I strolled at my comfortable senior citizen's pace, but when she got to the window she was refused a ticket.

"What's the problem?" I asked, rushing up when I saw the look of disappointment on her face.

"Sorry Ma'am, this movie's rated R," said the gray haired woman behind the glass.

"Oh, that's OK, she's with me," I told the concerned ticket vendor. I couldn't help but wonder what material in this documentary could possibly have merited an R rating. Michael Moore's films are not known for steamy sex scenes or gratuitous violence. Perhaps the rating board considered it Marxist pornography and they were looking out for the welfare of our impressionable young, soon-to-be voters?

"So, are you going to let her see it?" the woman asked, a somewhat disbelieving tone in her voice.

"Yes, I'm going to see it with her, that's all that needs to happen - right? 'R' means 17 unless accompanied by a parent."

"Well... does she have ID?" Clearly, there was no way I was going to slip an innocent child past this guardian of the ratings, this enforcer of the code, without a battle. A series of circuitous misunderstandings occurred and we had to leap backwards through a row of flaming hoops before we were finally allowed to purchase tickets. After getting the third degree at the box office it came as no surprise to me that the theater was only about 1/4 full and that my daughter was the only teen in that auditorium.

We are unabashed Michael Moore fans in my family: he is our Rocky Balboa, forever taking on the big guys and fighting against the odds. This time, Moore has decided to take on modern Capitalism by explaining the origins of our love affair with an economic system that (at least here in the U.S.) often gets confused with patriotism and democracy, as if the three words were practically synonymous.

Moore begins his film with a quick review of how Capitalism was intended to work. Free market capitalism was supposed to promote healthy competition which would benefit consumers as much as suppliers. In theory, the suppliers with the best goods, services and prices would thrive and those who did not give the people what they wanted would go under. In the honeymoon phase of America's romance with Capitalism we grew to believe that if we worked hard enough and were clever enough, we could attain riches and social status that other economic systems would not afford us.

As in the case of a bad marriage, Americans started to find out that the partner they thought they had (Capitalism) and the one they really had (Unchecked Greed) are two different things. Moore peels back layer after layer of outrageous practices and Congressional collusion that will have viewers ready to march on Washington and Wall Street. He goes on to expose the morally questionable corporate practice of secretly taking out life insurance policies on employees, thereby allowing the company to profit from the employee's death, a practice colorfully referred to as "Dead Peasants" life insurance. When the employee dies for any reason, the company collects benefits without the knowledge of the employee's family.

The film provides many such examples of unchecked institutionalized greed and chronicles America's increasing disillusionment with Capitalism, or at least the form of Capitalism we've all come to know and no longer love. The "marriage" starts to fall apart when the peasants rise up to take back what rightfully belongs to the people: our government, our homes, our nation. Demonstrations, strikes and the election of President Obama mark the turning point in this marriage. But will "Change" really win the day? We as the audience are left to decide if this marriage will survive. Will Capitalism change to become the mate we Americans fell in love with? Or is this love story over and is it time for something new?

As the credits rolled I clapped and hooted loudly, hoping other people were feeling as fired up as I was but only a couple of people in the sparse audience joined me. That's OK - I can make plenty of noise on my own.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Share Your Wealth

I recently began reading a book called Kabul Beauty School, written by Deborah Rodriguez. The book tells of her experiences in post-Taliban Afghanistan where she trained women to perm, highlight, cut and dry their way to self-sufficiency in that war-torn country. Kabul Beauty School brings back all kinds of memories for me, not only about my days spent volunteering in post-war Nicaragua but also about my experiences - sad, funny and bittersweet - as a cosmetology student whose punk aesthetic spelled her doom.

What makes Deborah Rodriguez's book so compelling is the apparent absurdity of her decision to go to Afghanistan in the first place. The lone beautician among a team of doctors and dentists who had gone to provide aid, one can only assume that her presence there must have had a few people scratching their heads. I remember feeling that same way in Esteli, Nicaragua when my efforts to work on a farm and a construction site made me wonder if I had anything to offer the people I was trying to help. On the construction site, I'd sent a bunch of bricks tumbling down the side of a hill and on the farm I sprouted blisters after about half an hour of hoeing. I was supposed to be removing weeds from a vegetable garden but I didn't know a weed from a plant and I killed about equal amounts of each.

Fortunately, I soon found out (like Deborah) that we all have something to offer. I was pulled off manual labor and ended up doing some much needed translation, assisting at a Salvadoran refugee arts cooperative and working with Nicaraguan teachers in their classrooms, all areas that played to my strengths.

Like me, Deborah was initially asked to do work ill-suited to her abilities. She took blood pressure readings for the medical professionals until she realized that her real value to the Afghan women was her skill in cosmetology. The beauty salons in Kabul had been shuttered by the Taliban, who controlled every aspect of women's lives, down to the details of their personal grooming. The women who formerly ran the salons had lost their way of earning a living. Deborah's decision to start a beauty school, when taken in the context of the social and political situation in that country, becomes an act of courage and a means to empower other women.

Video: Deborah Rodriguez Shares Her Experiences in Afghanistan in "Kabul Beauty School."

These days, I'm a stay-at-home mom with no time to run off and break bricks in foreign countries, but I still volunteer at my daughter's school, and this year I've also signed up to volunteer at Phoenix's own version of Comicon. I'm not building houses, giving kids new smiles or saving lives, but I am doing what I can and it feels good to do it. In fact, it seems as if my whole family has been inspired by the unusual situation we find ourselves in (living in different states) and has been doing a lot of volunteering lately. My husband worked at the Houston Food Bank this week, helping to fill and seal plastic bags with over two tons of rice that will be distributed to hungry families. He’s also been working adoption fairs for homeless puppies with an organization called The Pup Squad. My daughter volunteers at the library and helped them raise several hundred dollars at a book sale last weekend. All of us are convinced that these experiences enrich our lives. That's the funny thing about volunteering, you never feel like you're giving, you feel like you're getting.

When I left Nicaragua, I knew I'd had an experience I'd never forget, one that would change my view of the world forever. That continues to be true. I try to remember that what we do best is often what we enjoy most, so I don't worry so much about not being able to build houses. I have my own set of talents, my own wealth to share and I'm going to share it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Scents & Sensibility

Our family dog, Cinnamon was especially anxious to take her morning walk today. Thinking she really needed to answer nature's call, I tumbled into some clothes and hurried out the door with her in tow. I was more than a bit frustrated as we walked along for a block or two, stopping every few feet for Cinnamon to sniff one of the mesquite bushes or scent the air. Normally, she can't wait to find a patch of soil to relieve herself but this morning was different. She was into smelling her surroundings. I know that dogs have an especially keen sense of smell and I started thinking about how animals use scents to tell them about their world: what's good, what's dangerous, which way is home.

I began to think about my own scent memories and associations. Here are a few:

The scent of Night Blooming Jasmine: when I was a teen in East LA, my bedroom window was right up against my mother's garden. On warm nights when the window was open, the sweet, subtle perfume of this night blooming plant would permeate my room and help me drift off to sleep.

Tres Flores Brillantina: the floral odor of this hair oil reminds me of my father, who used it daily to comb back his thick, curly hair. This one comes with a visual memory as well: the oily impression of my dad's head left on the passenger window of our family car when he dozed after a long drive.

The Sonoran Desert after a summer monsoon: I love the smell of the wet dirt in the desert after a summer thunderstorm. Its deep, earthy smell, somewhat musty and mixed with the green scent of wet creosote is usually carried through the air on cool, welcome breezes after a scorching hot day. The smell somehow conveys the promise of life. Now I understand why so many Bollywood films feature dance sequences during monsoon rains. It's like a blessing from heaven to mother earth.

Scent of Mexico: The tortilleria near my aunt's house in Mexico City is completely open. At night they roll down the metal door but during the day, the area where the tortillas are made and the sidewalk is separated only by a narrow counter. Here, one can place a basket lined with a dish cloth to receive a kilo or two of hot, freshly made tortillas. The warm odor of sweet corn masa practically pulls the pedestrians off the sidewalk towards the humble, delectable treats which can be sampled for a just few centavos. The scent reminds me that the best things in life are often the simplest: a rough hewn stool to sit on, a handmade tortilla with fresh butter, the company of a dearly loved family member.

Yesterday, I roasted red potatoes with rosemary, salt, cracked pepper and a little olive oil. It's a very basic, simple dish but the rosemary smelled so appetizing that I could hardly wait to taste the potatoes. I opened the oven and, using the excuse of tasting the potatoes for doneness, popped a hot spud into my mouth, burning and effectively numbing my taste buds for the evening.

It probably sounds insane that I'm baking at all during summertime in Arizona when the temperatures outside are in the triple digits, but baking is my weakness. In winter, I bake cakes, cookies and quick breads several times a week and usually end up gifting a loaf to an unsuspecting neighbor. There's nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven and a pot of good strong coffee brewing, its dark aroma mingling and complementing the lighter fragrance emanating from the oven. It puts me in a good mood and colors my whole day.

When my daughter and stepdaughters were growing up, I recall them watching an episode of Sailor Moon where one of the sailor scouts is remembering her childhood. In a flashback, you see the little sailor scout entering her cool, sparsely decorated Japanese abode where her mother is baking cookies. She breathes in, takes a bite and a jubilant smile spreads across her face. The scene made an impression on me so I try to have warm cookies waiting now and then around the time the school bus rolls around. The cookie smell says "welcome home, come in, sit down and unwind, I'm happy to see you."

The power of the sense of smell is not to be underestimated. I once broke up with a man just because I didn't like his scent. He wasn't dirty, but his body chemistry was just wrong when it mingled with mine. By contrast, I slept with my husband's unwashed t-shirt for months when he was in prison. I kept the shirt next to my pillow and would take deep breaths from it, hoping to fall asleep and dream that he was in bed next to me. Now that he's often away working in another state I cling to his pillow, trying to inhale the last traces of my lover.

Last Weekend for American Sabor in San Antonio

Hello everyone,

Just a quick post to let you know that this is the last weekend to check out the American Sabor exhibition in San Antonio (full disclosure: I have a small featured artist spot in this important show.)

Plus, today is a free American Sabor MusicFest show at the Museo Alameda venue in San Antonio featuring one of my favorite bands, Girl In A Coma who have a fantastic CD "Trio B.C." out on Joan Jett's Blackheart label. Go support these talented young women and see the show before it gets to the Smithsonian in 2011!


Friday, September 11, 2009

It's More Mass Gluttony

Greg's in town this weekend and we found ourselves with a little play time on our hands this morning so we decided to make the half hour drive to Glendale, a quaint little town just west of Phoenix that's rich in thrift stores and Mexican eats. There's a neighborhood restaurant there that sells tasty bastardized cheddar cheese green chile tamales that scream pocho! every time you bite them, but I'm getting ahead of myself because today, lunch came after dessert.

I'm a firm believer in dessert after every meal and I'd push for dessert after every snack too but my bathroom scale won't allow it. It just so happened that this morning as we were driving out to Bitzee Mama's for lunch, we drove by Cerreta's Candy Company. Cerreta's is a real throwback to the days of mom and pop operations, in fact, the store is decorated with murals of the Cerreta family. The patriarch, Jim Cerreta is a real life Willy Wonka who raffles off Golden Tickets and assigned each of his sons to one of the departments: chocolates, caramels, creams and the retail store. The candy factory has been around for forty years and most of the machinery is original or only slightly modified. Tubes and hoses run along the ceiling and walls, carrying molten chocolate to giant vats where it is carefully measured into plastic molds of hearts, Santas or rabbits, depending on the season. They also have some unusual molds, such as bones and feet.

Cerreta's offers free daily tours of the small factory and we'd tried to take it once before but had come at the wrong time. Today the sugar gods were smiling and we walked in right at 10:00am, just in time for a tour. We were the only two people waiting for a tour and I was certain they'd send us away but instead, a sweet smiling lady came over and started telling us all about the factory. My eyes grew as large and round as lollipops watching the thin sheets of caramel being chopped into bite sized squares, then shooting down a conveyer belt to be wrapped in cellophane and dropped off the end into neat little white boxes. Just when my inner Veruca Salt was about to be unleashed, the tour guide offered us a sample of some warm, fresh caramels that we popped into our salivating mouths and I was sent floating in heavenly bliss.

We ate our way through the various departments then hit the candy store where we sampled more, including some yummy prickly pear cactus brittle. I selected a bag of a strange looking confection called Arizona Gold; it's crunchy but light and airy like cotton candy that's been through boot camp and has gone from soft, pink and bouncing to a firm honey gold.

We buzzed out of there riding our sugar high to our lunch stop where we packed away the green chile tamales, chips and salsa, cheesy refried beans and rice then complained on the way out about our bulging panzas and our inability to move. I felt like my belly was going to pull me off balance and tip me over as I wobbled along the Glendale town square.

On our way home Greg and I looked at each other as we approached our favorite Arizona panaderia, should we stop, hadn't we eaten too much already? What the heck, as long as we were in the neighborhood we might as well get some pan dulce. We showed some self contol and only purchased half a dozen pieces of conchas, cuernitos and elotes.

It was a great day for pigging out because like the song says "Everyday will be like a holiday when my baby comes home..."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


"What did you say?" My icy voice followed my daughter as she scurried into the hallway.

"Whatever, that's fine," she enunciated without breaking her stride. Had I imagined it or was the original "Whatever" delivered in a dismissive tone? I'd spent the whole summer reminding my kid to dig into her rich vocabulary and pull out language that was more precise than her usual "Whatever," but it was a losing battle. I'm convinced that she favors the term because aside from the implied neutrality, it can be delivered by a teenager as a sort of passive resistance while she drags her feet to do her chores or in the face of some other unreasonable authoritarian command.

Yes, that's right - I have a teen at home. High school started a couple of weeks ago. She's a freshman this year and had to attend Freshman Camp to get acclimated to her new surroundings. I drove her to camp the first day and walked with her into the gym where the students were gathering. My daughter promptly walked to the other side of the gym and after a few minutes walked back and politely asked me to leave. I shuffled off with my tail between my legs, looking back at her as I walked out the glass doors, wondering if she'd get lost, if she'd make friends, if she'd survive without me.

A few hours later when I went to pick her up I was all smiles, eager to hear about her first day at summer camp. I parked the car, got out and stood near the entrance as the freshmen poured out. Finally, I spotted my baby.

"How was your day?" I asked, all sunshine and lollipops.

"It was great. Can you wait for me in the car next time?"

"Oh..." I said, looking around and noticing that only a handful of parents were hovering at the school entrance, their respective offspring looking every bit as embarrassed as mine seemed to be.

"You don't have to get out," she said, rolling her eyes as if I'd neglected to read the memo.

"Whatever..." I thought to myself.

Once real classes started (as opposed to the fun and games of Freshman Camp) my daughter had to catch a new bus to the high school, so I walked the few blocks to the stop with her and took our dog for a walk at the same time. I repeated this pattern for about a week until my husband came into town. When I told him that he needed to walk our daughter to the bus stop, he gave me a funny look.

"Does she really want us to do that?" he asked.

"Yeah, I want to make sure she's OK," I replied.

"I know what your motivation is; I'm wondering how she feels about it though," he mused.

Greg walked out the front door with our daughter. He returned just a minute later, then he informed me that we would not be walking her to the bus stop from now on.

"Don't you think it's ironic that someone who had so much freedom as a teenager should be so overprotective of her own daughter? Didn't your mom drop you and your friend off to go rollerskating on Hollywood Blvd when you were her age?"

"But there are coyotes out there early in the morning, I've seen them..." I protested.

"There were plenty of wolves in Hollywood when you went rollerskating," he laughed.

"We'll see who's laughing when a coyote bites her butt."

The latest of my adventures in parental humiliation ocurred during Open House. Students were supposed to print out a copy of their class schedule for the parents to follow when visiting their child's classes. When we first got there, we raced to get to first period but once that presentation was over, the real race began. As she led me to the next classroom, I found myself having to walk ten paces behind my long-legged baby girl. I had to jog to keep up with her long, steady I-know-where-I'm-going stride. Of course, I wanted to look at the campus, but she'd have none of my rubber necking and pulled me to keep up with her pace on an invisible leash.

"Can't you slow down? I don't want to walk behind you." I was breathing hard now.

"I don't want us to be late. Do YOU want to be late?" she asked, deftly turning traditional parent-speak against me. Although I was fairly certain that there were other parents there that night who hadn't trained to sprint, I grudgingly trotted behind her, my wooden clogs making pony sounds across the commons, feeling like the old gray mare who just ain't what she used to be.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cinny Crybaby Bread

Lightning in the desert can be a spectacular, awe inspiring display of nature's power, beautiful to behold... except when you have a wimpy ass dog that keeps you awake all night with her whining and trembling. I thought our dear little Cinnamon was going to have a heart attack with each strike of Thor's mighty hammer.

The storm finally subsided in the wee hours and I was able to get some sleep but a really annoying thing happened. The alarm clock went off. This can't be right, I thought to myself but sure enough it was 5:30, time to rise and shine. I poured myself a cup of hot black coffee and decided to bake myself awake. Here's my RX for a sleepless night:

Cinnamon Crybaby Bread


2 cans of refrigerated biscuit dough (the cheap stuff is fine)
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons of cinnamon
6 Tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of pecan pieces (optional)


1.Preheat oven to 350F, butter or spray a round cake pan.

2. Sprinkle about half of the pecan pieces into the pan (if using pecans)

3. Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon in a plastic zip bag or bowl.

4. Cut the biscuits into different sized (random) halves and quarters and roll into balls.

5. Drop a few balls into the cinnamon sugar mixture and coat. Small batches work best or the dough sticks together and the balls don't get coated properly.

6. Arrange the coated dough balls in the cake pan.

7. Melt the butter and brown sugar over a medium flame, stirring constantly until it starts to bubble.

8. Pour the mixture over biscuit balls.

Place your pan in the oven for 25-30 minutes. If you use a small cake pan, put a baking sheet underneath in case the sweetness bubbles over. Cool about 10 mins, then invert it onto your serving dish.

Bad Housewife tip- Pull a piece off with your finger and clean that messy pan, yum!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Back In The Saddle

I've been absent from blogging for too long. It's easy to get sidetracked and once that happens, it's hard for me to get back in the habit of writing. That's why I'm happy that my husband is so persistent about nagging...I mean motivating me to write.

My husband Greg has been working in Houston while my daughter and I have moved back home to Arizona. Greg and I talk to each other on the phone several times a day and he comes home for extended weekends about twice a month. It's been tough for all of us but we try not to complain because times are hard for everyone.

When Greg was home with us, he and I would often walk the dog together in the evenings; it was our time to transition from the work day to home life. Last night during the walk (the dog's and mine) Greg talked to me on the phone and tried to inspire me to start writing again by being generous with the compliments. He told me my writing had really improved when I was working on my Violence Girl blog and we both agreed that it was the daily discipline of journaling that had forced me to improve.

I have a rebellious spirit, so feeling like I had to write every day became something I wanted to rebel against. As soon as I was done with Violence Girl, I took out my old workout tapes, cookbooks, incomplete sewing projects and in a very short time I filled in the hours that had once been reserved for writing with other fun projects. I pretty much ignored my blog.

Last night my chat with Greg helped me realize that I haven't really been getting as much out of blogging as I should. I've let Diary of a Bad Housewife get a bit dusty. What it needs is for me to inject some of the enthusiasm I feel for the new projects I'm involved with, so you'll be hearing from me more often. I'd like to share some of my patented bad housewife tips with you, so I'll be adding a few tutorials along with my occasional rants, reviews and travelogues.

Let's start the tutorials off with an easy summer drink recipe, perfect for cooling down on these last few days of the season.

Gin Gimlet

Two oz. gin (the very best you can afford because you're going to taste it)
One oz. Rose's Lime Juice*
(Can be made in equal parts but I'm giving you my preferred measurements.)

*If you are feeling ambitious, use fresh squeezed lime juice and simple syrup instead of Rose's. I'm not that ambitious but if Greg is home, then I insist upon it!

Pour into a shaker with ice, shake for at least thirty seconds, then pour into a rocks glass if you prefer ice or strain into a cocktail glass if served without ice, a la Thin Man. Garnish with a lime wedge.

That should wet your whistle!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Colorado Socks It To Me

I'm happy to report that I recently signed on with Feral House publishing. I'm not going to write too much about The True Life Adventures of Violence Girl because I'm superstitious about the projects I work on. I don't like to talk about something and then have something go wrong - not that I think anything will but that's not my style.

My advance check was burning a hole in my pocket and I didn't have to think too long before I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. My husband's birthday is this month and my daughter is about to go back to school. I decided to seize the opportunity to grant Greg one of his long unfulfilled wishes: to spend the night at the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining, the famously haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

The Stanley is located about an hour outside of Denver so the first leg of our adventure starts in Denver, a town I couldn't recall ever wanting to visit. Not being a skier or an outdoorsy type, it was hard to imagine what attraction Colorado could possibly hold for me. Aside from the fact that it's the place Nina Flowers (the first runner up in RuPaul's Drag Race) calls home, I imagined Denver to be culturally delayed but I couldn't be more wrong. Not only does the place have awesome natural beauty, it knows how to get a little dirty and funky.

We did some of the touristy things like watching a screening of the 1970's version of Willy Wonka outside on a giant screen in front of a grand old clocktower and taking in the Molly Brown House tour (love her!). On Sunday night, my husband and I went to a bar called Charlie's where a local promoter hosts a drag revue called Vivid. OK, so maybe a drag show is not cutting edge but the vibe was so good, the admission was free, the bartenders poured with a heavy hand and the audience was an unpretentious mix of gay, straight, glamorous and slovenly drag enthusiasts that I had a wonderful time. I was really hoping for a chance to see Nina Flowers but she was out of town. Still, it was a great time and I recommend Charlie's if you find yourself in Denver on a Sunday night.

I've already mentioned that The Stanley is the hotel that Stephen King credits with inspiring him to write The Shining. My husband loves ghost stories and every time we go out of town, he tries to find the haunted sites so we can visit them. The Stanley had been on his list for a long time and I have to admit I was afraid to stay there, but love is stronger than fear so we made the hour plus drive north to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The Estes Park area is beautiful, very green with a mountain stream running alongside the winding highway. A few teenagers walked on the side of the road carting their inner tubes, disheveled and wet, looking like they were having the best time. Almost as soon as you get into town, you can see the hotel in the distance up on a little hill. The Stanley really does "shine." Maybe it just seemed like it to me but as soon as we started to drive up the hill towards the hotel, I felt like I was transitioning into a different reality. The Stanley Kubrick movie wasn't shot at the hotel so it doesn't look the same but you know how some places (like some people) just seem to have loads of personality? Well this place has got it. I quickly went from feeling scared to feeling excited.

We got there early and our room wasn't ready so we got a bite to eat then walked around exploring and taking pictures. When check-in time finally arrived my charming husband received an upgrade from the front office clerk who put us in a large, supposedly haunted two room suite on the 4th floor. It just kept getting better after that. The early evening was filled with a staff guided ghost and history tour where we had the chance to meet other ghost hunters of varying levels of commitment. We took the last ghost tour of the day and I got an orb in one of my photographs. My husband observed that the Stanley Hotel is like Disneyland for ghost enthusiasts and as the evening progressed, the regular tourists cleared out and the ghost hunters took over.

My daughter and a couple of teenage boys put candy out as bait in the 4th floor corridor where the nursery used to be and where the sound of spectral kids playing and apparitions of children have been seen and heard. This led to more orbs in the photographs. Groups of investigators armed with electromagnetic frequency detectors and other gadgets combed the darkened hallways searching for cold spots and energy spikes. We caught a glimpse of a professional video and sound crew taping a "ghost session" in a bedroom. Around 11:30pm, we decided to go back out and look for ghosts on our own. The lunatics had taken over the asylum - I mean the ghosthunters had the Stanley to themselves. With foot traffic at a minimum it was easier to hear. We walked past the music room where I thought I heard the sound of a piano playing a melody that was incongruous with the classical music that was being played in the lobby.

"Can you hear that?" I asked my husband incredulously and he gave me a puzzled look. Feeling brave, I decided to walk up to the piano to see if the sound would get louder, but I was distracted from the sound when I saw a faint cloudy film moving in front of the piano. I thought there was something wrong with my eyes and exclaimed "Oh my god!" I'd been carrying my cell phone in my hand and started snapping pictures as quickly as I could with my cell phone camera. Greg rushed to me when he heard me gasp and looked over my shoulder.

"What is that? It's moving around!" He could see the white mist on the digital camera screen as well.

I don't know!" The hair on my arms and on the back of my neck stood at attention, then as suddenly as it had appeared the cloud vanished. We looked back at our photos and realized that the substance appeared in some shots but not in others.

Three shots of the Music Room at The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park CO. Shot by Alice Bag on August 3, 2009 with an Iphone camera.

We wandered around a little more after this excitement and finally crawled into our beds around 1:30 am, thoroughly exhausted but enchanted with our experiences. I slept soundly and didn't wake until the next morning but my husband reported that sometime between 3 and 4 am, he was awakened by the muffled sounds of children having a conversation overhead. The only problem was that being on the 4th floor, we were at the top of the building and no rooms were above us. Tapping and knocking sounds kept him awake for awhile before he pulled the blankets up and fell back asleep.

We left Estes Park the next day to catch our flight back home, sad that our mini-vacation was over so quickly but happy to have had the chance to scratch off one of the stranger items on our quirky little family's list of places to go and things to do.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

On The Passing Of Heroes

I started writing this blog to mark the passing of two of my personal heroes, both of them very different but both of them artists in their own right. It occurred to me that when a person achieves a certain heroic status that they can never really die. They've achieved immortality because of the lives they've touched, the young people they've influenced, the indelible mark they've left on the world.

I was still a teenager with dreams of becoming a singer when I first heard Koko Taylor, who passed away yesterday at the age of 80. At that time in the seventies, there weren’t a lot of contemporary pop role models for girls like me who were ready to challenge gender stereotypes and play just as hard as the boys. That’s where the blues came in. Blues had a long tradition of powerful women who weren’t afraid to speak their minds and who sang with a raw, sexual energy that I found lacking in female pop singers of the day. Listen to Koko Taylor singing the classic “Wang Dang Doodle” and you’ll instantly know what I mean: the swaggering, in your face, no-holds barred attitude is all there in that three and half minutes of sexual bravado. Or sample her recording of “I’m A Woman” – no man ever rocked harder than Koko.

I had the privilege of seeing Koko Taylor perform live at a blues festival just a couple of years ago. Thanks to my friend Candye Kane, I was able to go backstage and see Koko before her performance. Having listened to her powerful voice for years, I was excited to meet this Amazonian woman so I was surprised to see that she looked a little frail and was being supported on the arm of her daughter as she shuffled towards the stage. I hurried around to the front so I wouldn’t miss her performance and I witnessed the magical, transformative power of music. Gone was the shuffling, fragile, elderly female I’d just said hello to backstage and in her place was the legendary powerhouse Koko Taylor – a still vital force of nature, dominating the stage, the crowd at her command. A consummate professional, she gave us her all and never let her age or her infirmities stand in the way of a great performance.

Thank you, Koko. Thank you for the inspiration and the music. Thank you for breaking down barriers so that other women could follow in your footsteps. We are forever in your debt.

Also a brief mention of the sad passing of David Carradine. It's hard to explain but for those of us who came of age in the seventies, Kung Fu was an incredibly inspirational television show. Who didn't want to snatch the pebble from the master's hand and head out on a spiritual journey, kicking bad guys' butts along the way? For me, David Carradine will always be Kwai Chang Caine, the half Chinese, half white seeker of wisdom who never looked for a fight but always seemed to find one. David Carradine created much more than a television character, he created a hero for my generation.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Deep In The Heart of Texas

With June busting out all over and my daughter safely tucked into a cruise ship cabin alongside her school friend on a week long sail to Alaska, I finally got a chance to hop on a Southwest jet and fly out to Houston to visit my hubby. The economic recession has hit many industries, including the travel industry that employs him. Texas is one of the few western states with a relatively sound economy so he went where the work was. It's a hardship being apart but it makes the much longed-for reunions sweet. My husband made this reunion even sweeter by greeting me at the airport with a bag of freshly baked pan dulce from Houston based Arandas Panaderia.

"The first thing you have to know about Houston..." my hubby explained as we crawled to a slow roll behind a line of brake lights on the freeway, "is that it's very much like L.A. It's spread out all over the place, most people live in the suburbs and there is almost no public transportation, which means you have awful traffic during rush hour." He dutifully pointed out downtown, Minute Maid park ("where the Astros play") a new outdoor venue called "Discovery Green", the museum district and the area he described as one of the original four wards of the city. "Houston was originally divided into four wards and slaves were almost half of the population of the city. After the civil war, some of the former slaves created an area in the Fourth Ward called Freedmen's Town and part of it still exists. They're practically the oldest buildings in the city but they want to knock them down to build luxury condos." I realized that he was right about the city resembling LA; even the attitude towards architectural history was similar.

As we headed north, I was struck by how lush Houston is: acres of tall trees form green borders alongside the roadways. We continued driving northwest towards Austin on Hwy 290, passing through gently rolling countryside and cattle ranches, punctuated only occasionally by a small town where we'd gawk at signs for the local taxidermist, like the one that read "Blast 'em and Cast 'em."

In Austin, we decided to check out the historic and supposedly haunted Driskill Hotel. We found some friendly spirits at the upstairs bar, where the bartender poured with a heavy hand. After a couple of rounds, we started our ghost investigation. In the Maximilian Room, where we went to view the Carlota Mirrors (a gift from the Mexican Emperor to his wife) my husband noticed a dark shadow rise up in the reflection of a mirror hanging on the opposite wall, right after he'd seen my reflection pass through the same spot. "You're not going to believe this, but I just saw a shadow pop up behind you in the mirror." He had no idea that a few seconds before, I'd suddenly gotten very cold and the hairs on my arms were now standing up on goose pimples. As we looked for more apparitions in the mirrors, one of the overhead light fixtures flickered. Thoroughly excited by these occurrences and inspired by my viewings of the Ghost Hunters Sci-Fi Network show, I attempted to provoke the spirit by daring it to touch Greg. He shot me a worried look but apparently the spirits decided not to come out and play.

We found a great place to eat called Mr. Natural where we enjoyed the $6.99 lunch special: tofu and black bean gorditas, mole cheese enchiladas, spicy pepper potatoes, zucchini and chickpea poblano, homemade tortillas, veggie tamales...I was in VEGGIE HOG HEAVEN and decided it would be ok to live in Austin if I could live within walking distance of Mr. Natural. We both gave it thumbs up.

Later that evening, we made our way to the Congress Bridge to watch a local phenomenon: the flight of thousands of bats from under the bridge to begin their evening feast of insects. But first, we had to wait. And wait. Hundreds of people showed up, lining the bridge and the banks of the river: adults with batman shirts and capes, kids with bat t-shirts, people camped out with snacks and six packs of beer, all awaiting the emergence of the nocturnal creatures. Excitement mounted as the squeaks from under the bridge grew in volume and a few random bats took tentative test flights, circling out from the bridge for a few feet then circling back. It seemed as if the bats needed to build up steam in order to take flight, either that or they were waiting to build the crowd's expectations. Finally, the cloud o' bats emerged in waves, starting at one end of the bridge and rippling across the river. They flew off in a serpentine pattern toward the forest alongside the river and just when you thought they must surely be done even more emerged, darkening the sky with their multitudes.

Although part of the trip was for pleasure, there was also work to be done. I wanted to help my husband move into his temporary home in Houston, so upon returning from Austin we got to the business of stocking his new apartment. It was nice to be able to help Greg get settled. I wanted to make sure that despite his being away from home and family he would have a place to call his own. It's difficult being apart and having to commute such a long distance but I try to remind myself that economic hardships are cyclical and I have faith that things will get better and our family will be together again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

"It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions." - Harvey Milk

I'm sad to write that I'm truly disappointed with my country on this day. This day, which started out so promisingly with the announcement that President Obama had selected a liberal Hispanic woman, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, to be the next US Supreme Court Justice was tainted by the damnable decision of the California State Supreme Court to uphold Proposition 8, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and thus denies legal recognition and protection to same sex unions.

I have to admit that I've missed living in a so-called "blue state" for the past couple of years. California, which I used to think was so much more liberal, so much more enlightened than some of the so-called "bible-belt" states has proven itself to be just as ignorant, just as conservative and perhaps even more hypocritical than the red states. The liberal west coast loves gays in the entertainment and fashion industry, just not enough to extend them the same rights as straights.

I found my own identity and consciousness as a bisexual woman around the same age as I found my identity as a Chicana and I've never had to think twice about defending the rights of my gay, lesbian and transgender friends to enjoy the same freedoms and protections I enjoyed. It's sad that even as President Obama makes one giant step forward and leads our country towards a brighter future (yes, I'll admit that I was wrong about him - he makes me proud and happy to eat my own words), narrow minded bigots beholden to the social conservative Neanderthal constituency insist on dragging us two steps backwards.

Shame on you, cowardly Justices of the California State Supreme Court. My fellow Californians, I urge you to take to the streets and let your voices be heard! In the words of Harvey Milk, hope will never be silent!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Belated Mother's Day Post

This snapshot is from one of the old photo albums that my mother saved. I'm guessing this photo was taken in late 1978 or early 1979. Michael Gira (later of Swans and Angels of Light), me and Rick Jaffe/Morrison (BPeople, Catholic Discipline) are sitting on the steps outside my parent's house on Ditman Avenue in East LA. We were all experimenting with new musical styles by this time as early punk was splintering into post punk, dance, noise and hardcore.

The reason I've chosen to post this photo is that it reminds me of my mother, who was always warm and hospitable to my friends when they came to visit and hang out with me. She's probably in the kitchen while we're posing for this photo, whipping up some bean and cheese burritos to feed my hungry friends. She never made anyone feel strange or unwelcome simply because they had crazy colored hair or wore clothing that was considered "weird" at that time.

I'm very grateful to my mother for being so supportive and caring. If I hadn't had her and my father's unconditional love, I'm not sure how my life would have turned out.

Happy Belated Mother's Day to all the loving mothers out there.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Keep On Trekkin'

OK, I'll admit it. I can't wait to see the new Star Trek movie being released tomorrow. I've been a fan of the adventures of the Starship Enterprise since I was a young girl and I've never quite gotten over my childhood crush on Mr. Spock. I mean, what sensitive young female could possibly resist that tormented half-vulcan, half-human psyche hidden behind an (almost) impenetrable mask of stoicism? The infallible use of logic in the midst of chaos, the one eyebrow raised to indicate bafflement or surprise, the pointy ears with the bowl haircut and the (swoon) tapered sideburns?

But the hottest crew member hands down was Lieutenant Uhura, who helped define what it meant to be a strong, sexy woman for young girls like me. She wasn't just a sex kitten; as the ship's communications officer, she was smart and in control and quite possibly one of the first true feminist role models on TV.

It's probably obvious to people of my generation, but Star Trek is arguably one of the most influential cultural touchstones of the past fifty years. Sure, there have been more critically acclaimed plays, books, films and television shows during that time, but I can't think of one that touched on issues of war and peace, racial and gender equality, good and evil, the merits of unbridled technological advancement, the very nature of reality and the universe like Star Trek did. Perhaps Twilight Zone but that series never had the staying power of Kirk and co.

So I'm looking forward to seeing the early stories of some of my favorite fictional characters. I'll take my daughter of course and I'll bet you that she falls in love with Spock by the time we leave the theatre.

Live long and prosper,


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Bring On The Heat

It’s been over a month since I’ve posted anything on my blog and it’s finally time for me to get back into the habit. Six months of almost daily writing while I was working on my Violence Girl stories really took a toll on me and I was very much looking forward to a nice long break upon finishing, so I guess you could say I treated myself to some time off for good behavior. In the meantime, I’ve kept myself busy with lots of baking and cooking, sewing an Elizabethan outfit for my daughter to wear to a school presentation and plenty of daily walks in the increasingly hot mornings and evenings.

It’s the time of year when Phoenix starts to heat up and the reptiles come out of hiding. So far I’ve seen rattlesnakes, a huge white lizard that scared the hell out of me and either a king snake or a coral snake; I was too busy screaming and hopping around to be able to tell the difference. It did have lots of yellow along with the red and black and I vaguely remember something about "Red and yellow, kill a fellow..." but all in all, I would say that I’ve adjusted well to desert life.

I’ve learned that a lot of the plants and animals living in the Sonoran Desert are naturally more dangerous than anything I grew up with in the city; they have to be tough just to survive in this arid environment. A couple of friends from LA, Colin and Jessee came out to scan some of my punk collection for the UCLA archives over the past few days. As we were walking through my neighborhood I told them about the jumping cholla, a type of cactus that is rumored to literally jump onto animals that get too close. They didn't believe me and insisted on seeing it so I walked them over to one, whereupon my friend Jessee went right up to it and called out to the cholla "Put up your dukes!" He bounced around a little like a prize cactus boxer but while he was looking the other way, the cholla bit him in the butt, attaching itself to his denim pants. The plant seemed to have launched two or three little cactus grenades at Jessee who made the mistake of trying to brush them away with his hand. He was visibly in pain.

"See, I told you," I grinned at him. Colin came over from where he'd been inspecting the other side of the cholla.

"Aww...I missed it, do it again!" he told Jessee.

"Fuck you, you try it, you wuss! Go on, you do it now, see if it bites you!" But Colin declined, pronouncing that he was now a firm believer in the legendary jumping cholla. The poor guy walked home with a bloody hand and liitle barbed spines sticking out of the tops of his fingers, pants and shoes. We all walked back to my house with Jessee holding his porcupine hand up like a spiny Edward Scissorhands. The patient required two shots of vodka before allowing us to removed the fish hook-like barbed spines from his fingers and from under his fingernails with a pair of pliers, "Count to three, OK? Just hold it... don't pull it yet!" he pleaded with me and Colin through red, watery eyes. We eventually got the nasty little pricks but we practically had to sit on him to get him to hold still.

Round One went to the cactus but Jessee cursed and promised he'd take revenge by peeing on it the next day. We advised him against it and the thought of a second attack from the Cholla on an even more sensitive part of his body was no doubt a strong deterrent.

The next day my city friends accompanied me on my dog walk again and as we walked on the opposite side of the street from the Jumping Cholla, Colin and I swore we could hear the cactus laughing and calling out to Jessee, "Why you walking on that side today?" So believe me when I say you should never, ever pick a fight with a jumping cholla cactus.

We are still in the process of editing and rewriting my autobiographical series, The True Life Adventures of Violence Girl. Several exciting developments have come out of my writing of Violence Girl but the most exciting and rewarding has been one that was completely unexpected. After almost thirty years of not speaking with my old friend Patricia, we are once again in regular email contact with each other. It took the process of writing about the breakup of the Bags to force me to examine my own motives and actions and to admit my own fault in the messy breakup. That led to our reconciliation, for which I am so very grateful. As difficult as I found the process of writing this book, every second of it was worth it because I have my old friend back.

Realizing that one can still change at age 50, that there is still time to learn from one’s mistakes - that’s the real reward of writing for me and so I’ll continue to blog on my Diary of a Bad Housewife.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Last Entry of Violence Girl

I've posted the final entry of True Life Adventures of Violence Girl, my online autobiography project today at We've already taken down the first half of the entries; the second half will come down in a week or so. I will not be reposting any of this work in the foreseeable future, so please check it out now if you are at all curious.

Thanks again and I'll be back to writing on my Diary of a Bad Housewife blog in no time at all!


Monday, March 02, 2009

Coming Into The Home Stretch

Half a year ago, I unwittingly embarked on a journey of self-discovery when I began what I thought would be a fairly straightforward project: writing a storyline for a comic book called Violence Girl, loosely based on my experiences as a punk musician. As with most journeys taken without a road map, I had a vague notion of where I was heading but no idea of how to actually get from Point A to Point B. I just got in the vehicle and naturally headed towards East LA: my birthplace, the place where my mother, father and half-sister are buried and the place I will always consider home.

Six months of almost daily writing have passed and I find myself on the final leg of my journey. Strangely enough, it feels like I’ve been to hell and back when the truth is I haven’t left the familiar surroundings of my home in the desert north of Phoenix. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that the end is in sight. I’m 50 this year and my story only covers the first two and half decades of my life, a time when I discovered the world, life, love and death. I lived and discovered so much in those years but it took the writing of this book to make the biggest discovery – me. Writing about my childhood forced me to look in the darkest corners of my memory where the monsters were hidden. Writing about my adult relationships made me realize how much I’d been affected by my own parents’ examples. It was as if I was seeing myself clearly for the first time and I didn’t always like what I saw.

As I said before, I’m looking forward to typing the final words on the final page of Violence Girl. It’s my sincere hope that someone out there who is dealing with their own monsters will recognize a bit of themselves in Violence Girl and know that there is a way out of the darkness.

Starting this week, we will be taking down all of my previous posts starting with East LA Bobsleds and working forward. Over the next few weeks, the entire Violence Girl series will come down permanently for more editing and revisions. Thank you to everyone who joined me for the ride.