Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Son, the Violent Homosexual

“… responded to another student’s insult with violence,” says the message. Actually, it is about seven minutes long but since it is all in French, this was as much as I could decipher. Josh, Josh, Josh, what have you been up to now?

Unable to raise my son via his cell phone and a text message (“Call me – now!”), I am forced to return the Dean of Student’s call. Josh’s transgressions are listed:
“The other child mocked his LAPD T-shirt and Josh reacted with violence,” she explains. Uh-oh! Not the LAPD T-shirt. The other child is probably in casts. “And,” she continues, “this wouldn’t have happened if he’d been wearing his sports shirt. The teacher says it’s the third time he’s forgotten it. And when I asked him for his Carnet de Correspondence,” (the book they use to communicate with parents) “he told me he’d lost it!” she states, resting her case. Obviously he’s a hardened criminal who is hiding other transgressions recorded in his CDC, is the presumption.
“And how is the other child?”
“I have him and his mother in front of me now.”
“Did he need to go to the doctor?” I ask, wondering if I need a lawyer.
“No, it’s not broken.”
“What’s not broken?”
“His finger.” Finger! I mentally readjust the amount of blood in the scene at the other end of the phone.
“His finger.”
“Yes, he was crying for an hour. He was in a lot of pain.” Hmm.
“Who is this other child?”
“Lucien.” It all becomes clear to me now. Lucien the cry baby, Lucien who is taller and stockier than Josh but acts like he’s five years younger. I’ve heard about this kid. Josh says he’s gay, but then the kids call anything they don’t like 'gay.' In my day Lucien would have been called a 'sissy' and anything we didn’t like 'spastic' – a term that is just as discriminatory and unkind, and was just as hated by our parents. But that’s the whole point. It wouldn’t be a cool word if your parents LIKED it. Duh!

I am summoned to a 3 PM meeting with the Dean of Students. She asks me and my son to take a seat at the end of the trailer she shares with yard staff and a parade of curious kids looking for water, soccer balls and if they hit the jackpot, humiliated mothers and their contrite sons. By this time I’ve managed to establish via a phone conversation with Josh that the insult was no more than the usual joke about a T-shirt that to the French proclaims 'I am gay.' (The slang for homosexual is 'un pede' – short for pederast – and it’s not hard to get from there to 'la pe-de.') His response, he assures me, was also no more than the usual retaliation, a playful shove. He didn’t mean to bend Lucien’s digit, as the French so delightfully call it. The Dean of Students is not in the mood for excuses. It’s ninety-eight degrees today and she spent the first hour of this insufferable heat listening to Lucien’s wails. She is about to launch into some serious remonstration when I intercede for my child.
“It was an accident. Accidente.”
“I didn’t hear ‘accident’ this morning. I never heard that word once.”
“So who’s saying it isn’t an accident?” I demand. (My blood is up now.) “Lucien and his mother? Why does this school never believe my son? It’s his word against Lucien’s. It’s not just!” Injuste is a word fortunately that I know in French and I am determined to bandy it about to good effect. The French never listen to you unless you get a little bit emotional, and besides which, I am sure I am streets behind Lucien’s mother and her earlier performance. “It’s always the same with this school! Toujours la meme chose!” I had been practicing that one in the driving mirror. But the French are nothing if not democratic and Lucien is immediately sent for.
“Bonjour madame,” he greets me obsequiously. Two of his fingers are in a brace.
“Tell us what happened,” instructs the Dean unwisely, unleashing a long, whining tale. When he arrives at, “I insulted Josh,” I jump in quickly before we can get to the part rated M for violence:
“But it was an accident, Lucien, yes?” He looks around uncomfortably.
“Er, oui.” Right, you little swine! Why didn’t you say so in the first place!
“All the same, I’m still giving Josh three demerit points,” pronounces the Dean.
“And what about Lucien?”
“Yes, yes, he has three points too.” Not for long, I imagine. Not when his mother comes back for Act Two.

Josh and Lucien are dismissed. The Dean still looks ticked off. “It was horseplay,” I offer, using Josh’s term, which unfortunately does not translate into French as it is my turn to discover.
“Why is Josh so keen on the LAPD?” The Dean looks up from her notes quizzically. “Is it a prestigious profession in this country?”
“Er, no, not exactly. I think it’s because he doesn’t have a father,” I am about to start my whole ‘looking for a father figure in the macho culture and structure of the police force’ psychoanalysis, but she jumps in ahead of me.
“Yes, this is what I thought! This is why he reacted so strongly to the insult.” No, no! She’s got this all wrong!
“He wasn’t insulted; it’s just something they all say to each other. It was a joke. Teasing. Taquinerie.” That is one of the new words I looked up in the dictionary and then wrote on a post-it and stuck inside my bag, just in case.
“I was told this was a big problem last year,” she says, “the kids calling each other homosexual. We are vigilizing it.” I like that French verb, I shall adopt it: Vigilize world peace.
“So when Lucien teased him, Josh was, he…” I’ve run out of post-it note words, so I put my hands on my hips and play-act someone being mock angry.
“Yes, yes, possibly these movements are provocant,” she says, in her mind still fighting a battle against rampant homophobia. “But to respond with violence is inacceptable.” It’s no use, she pegged my son as a violent homosexual due to my inadequate single parenting and there’s nothing I can do to change her mind.

In the yard, I see Lucien standing next to a tall, thin woman whose sundress reveals very white skin. There is something of the aesthete about her, which makes me think she’s either a church deacon or an academic. I can’t bear it that she believes my son is a bully because her namby-pamby son wanted attention and cried foul.
“I’m Joshua’s mother,” I say proffering my hand, “and I just wanted to tell you that I completely understand that your son calling my son a homosexual was a joke.” In other words, there is about as much reason to believe that the insult was real as there is to believe that my son deliberately attacked yours.
“Oh, yes, yes,” she agrees. “I only came to the school because they said he’d been hurt. I think this is something the children should sort out between themselves.” Ah, a sensible woman! I am prompted to kindness.
“I’m sorry for any anxiety you’ve been caused and, of course, I am sorry Lucien hurt his hand, but it was an accident.” I say the last part looking directly at Lucien who is standing to one side.
“I think the school needs to work on this issue of language. Lucien’s always saying, “Oh, I can’t wear that T-shirt because the kids will say it’s gay.”” Of course it’s gay. He’s gay. Doesn’t the mother realize this? “And I feel I should tell you, madame, that your son has un vocabulaire tres riche.” I almost say thank you, that he probably acquired it visiting his grandmother in France, but there’s something about the way she says “riche” that stops me:
“What do you mean, rich? Vulgaire?”
“Oui, vulgaire,” pipes up Lucien. What a nasty little prig! I’m sorely tempted to bend back the fingers of his other hand.
“Probably when you are not at home he picks it up from the television.” When I’m not at home? Like, out with my boyfriends? Because that’s what single mothers do, leave their children unsupervised while they continue to make rash and imprudent choices for their lives. “Last year my son came home using language I could not allow in the house. We have young children around! Other mothers have told me the same thing.” My heart sinks. Not only is Josh a violent homosexual but now he has a potty mouth to boot.

“Lucien is as bad as anyone else!” declares my son indignantly in the car. He does not fight the charge of bad language, just insists he does not use it inappropriately (like around me, when he’d suffer the consequences). I drive home berating myself. I did it again, accepted what someone else said about Josh instead of believing him innocent until proven guilty. Maybe somewhere deep in my soul I resist the idea that I could really have such a wonderful, if not perfect at least as near as is humanly possible, son.

One day later, and I am taking Josh and the recovered CDC to the Dean for formal documentation of the demerit points. She writes in the book with the frigid air I thought had somewhat thawed during the discoveries yesterday. Over Josh’s shoulder, I see Lucien and his mother coming up the path to the trailer. The Dean sees it too.
“You had a meeting with Lucien’s mother?”
“Well, it would be nice to keep me informed.” What? Then I realize I’ve mixed up my tenses again. She’s asking if I have a meeting with the mother now. I want to explain, but another wave of students arrive with clamorous requests and crowd around her desk.

Back in the yard, Lucien’s mother has obviously decided to delay her visit to the Dean and is talking to the Number One Gossip on Campus. My Honda Civic is parked right between their twin black SUVs.
“Bonjour,” I sing out, looking the gossip in the eye as I walk between the two women. I’m sure she is speculating about how Josh is growing up delinquent, deprived of the proper paternal guidance and discipline. How I dislike these smug women with their luxury cars and luxury life-styles that afford them the time to stand around judging others. I am proud to be a single mother, I remind myself, proud that I’ve done it all on my own. Poverty is an adventure, a private joke against the wealth and privilege that could have been mine. It is a truth serum for revealing the hearts of others: Do they like me for who I am or for my status? Do they want to be my friend because they enjoy my company or because I’m useful to them?

“Mum, I would just leave it,” says Josh, seeing me write this. “It’s making you sad and upset.” This morning, I installed a portable air conditioner on loan from a friend. I warned Josh that it eats electricity. When I go into his room, I discover he has switched it off despite the fact that the house is still ninety degrees. He can’t make up for my humiliation today so he does what he can – saves electricity. I look at him in wonder and decide that even if no one else can see it, I am the richest, luckiest mother in the world.

© Copyright 2008 Louise Godbold

Friday, September 26, 2008

Harry and His Friends

"Do you have a seat?” asks the usher.
“Well, actually I was looking for someone who looked all alone to sit next to them,” I reply, feeling virtuous. Also, because for the month or so that I’ve been attending this church, many times I have sat with empty seats beside me feeling conspicuously alone. Previously that would have provoked a complaint that the church is unfriendly, except that a couple of Sundays ago – when I was still trying to get used to the fact that I was once again surrounded by Christians as an unfortunate by-product of having had a real and powerful experience of God in this place – a geeky looking man started to talk to me and I ignored him completely. “I don’t want you,” I said angrily in my head, “I want God. So leave me alone!” When visitors raised their hands, of course, he was one of them. And when the sermon was about being a church that was generous with our smiles as well as our money, the message finally sank in: I am the church. The fact that I’m sitting in these pews means to this man beside me and anyone else who walks in here, I am the church. If I want a friendly church, I have to be friendly. If I want a church that sees the people who are alone and sits next to them, it starts with me.

I am not feeling nearly so virtuous when I find myself placed next to an old lady in a wheelchair sitting alone in the back row. “The usher says you speak English and Spanish,” I try gamely. She answers something in a feeble old lady voice. “Are you Latina?” I ask. She says something and looks to me for a response. Heck, I don’t understand a word she’s saying. “Okay,” I improvise, tucking the blanket closer around her, although for all I know she may have asked me to take it off.
“Do you have any money?” I understood that. Please don’t tell me this sweet old lady it hitting me up for cash!
“Only for the collection,” I say with forced joviality.
“I wish I could help you dear, but I don’t have any money.” The poor old soul is confused. Or perhaps not as confused as I think. I am currently living on a loan from my mother and I really don’t have any money. Maybe she’s perfectly lucid and as frustrated as I am at our inability to communicate. We both resume watching the preparations at the front of the church for a service that is taking WAY too long to start. Groups of attractive young people gather and re-form. There is much greeting and smiling and tossing of long blond hair. Why are so many of the women blond? For that matter, why does the whole church look like they spent last night at the Emmy awards?
I hear the reedy voice: “Where are you from?”
“England.” No recognition. “United Kingdom? Great Britain.” Now she looks confused. Can a person be from three places?
“You speak very good English,” she says, kindly.

A wheelchair is parked on the other side of the old lady. A completely bald man sits hunched over, his head twisted in my direction. He wears thick glasses and has slack, rubbery lips, but somehow this endears me to him. One hand rests on his bald pate, moving slowly back and forth as if asking himself how he came to be in this wheelchair, unable to raise his head.
“Hello,” says the abuela.
“Hello,” he manages through thick lips, appearing to smile. I like it that the old lady has given up on me and is concentrating on welcoming her peers.

Finally, the lights dim and the music starts. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that there are so many talented musicians in the church, that gifted technicians work to produce lighting and sound worthy of a professional concert. The kids (that is, anyone under forty) love it, and I can’t wait for the day my own son throws off his agnosticism and is blown away by rap music in church. But I have to say I find it hard to worship God when I can’t hear the sound of my own singing, when I don’t know the songs, when, just as I think I’ve got it down, there is a guitar solo and I’m left mouthing words when no one else is. I hate clapping along – it makes me feel like I’m at a children’s party watching a tired entertainer bend balloons, or on a cruise ship listening to an out-of-tune dance band and trying not to notice the people leaning over the side. So there I am, feeling all bristly and superior, when I notice that the guy in the wheelchair has twisted his head some more to see the monitor and is singing along to the rap music and, with just about the only mobility afforded to him, is clapping his hands.

I remember last Sunday when I was going through a similar oh-no-here-comes-the-loud-music moment, watching another old guy grab onto the back of the chair in front of him and pull himself up. The liver spots on his bald head reminded me of my granddad. He turned to me, clapping his bony hands, with a big smile on his face that said, “Come on; let’s worship God!” I bet the old guy in the wheelchair today would love to spring to his feet if he could. I bet the old lady would love to clap her hands if they didn’t tremble ineffectually under her blanket. How can I not stand up and lift my hands to God, if this dear old man makes such effort to follow the words of songs that are as new to him as they are to me? I’m sure we’d both prefer Amazing Grace, but there you are. And when the music veers off into the inevitable solo, the man in the wheelchair continues to clap, undeterred.

A helper comes to retrieve the wheelchairs at the end of service. He squeezes the old guy's shoulders, hard, the bent body jerking into an upright position under the attack. The helper is behind him and can’t see the old guy’s face. To me, it looks as if he’s in pain – the rictus of his mouth certainly doesn’t suggest he’s enjoying it.
“What is this gentleman’s name?” I ask the helper.
“Harry,” I say, bending down beside him, “I just want to tell you how much you ministered to me. Clapping along,” I add, feebly. What I want to say is, How much you ministered to me by praising God when you’re stuck in that body, not able to do anything for yourself. He takes a while to process why his clapping would cause this tearful middle-aged woman to crouch at his side. He grasps my hand more tightly and pulls me closer into the collapse of head and shoulders.
“I was a Baptist,” he’s saying, “but forty years ago when I came to a Pentecostal church I came alive.” Indeed you did, Harry. More alive than me, that’s for sure.
An usher offers the old lady a lollipop. She looks at him suspiciously.
“I don’t have any money.”

Copyright © 2008 Louise Godbold

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Upswing

After describing the pit into which my life had fallen in the last blog entry, I wanted to record the marvelous reversals in fate that have occurred since Sunday.

“Please represent me, because you’re the only agent who could cope with me.” The agent to whom I’d sent the first 50 pages of my book responded to this pathetic plea by agreeing to take me on, but at my own peril. He recommends I don’t fall for his flattery and continue my search for The Perfect Agent. I don’t know if he’s any good at selling books, but anyone who describes himself as the descendant of an Irish horse thief and whose latest addition to his skill set is growing hair on his ears, sounds just perfect to me.

My mother is less easily impressed:
“I’m very suspicious of these people – “I’ll make you a star, I’ll get you into modeling” - How much do you have to pay this agent?” she demands.
“Nothing. He just takes a commission when I sell the book.”
“You see!” She is very canny, my mother. “Are you sure he’s reputable?”
“No, he’s entirely disreputable, that’s why I like him.”
“No, seriously, I checked him out with a friend in the publishing world who said this guy has a great reputation for spotting talent and developing it, and that he’s someone editors in the business respect.”
“I don’t know… you’re such a worry to me - you’ve always lived so close to the edge. Why couldn’t you have been a dentist?”
“Because I’d have been bored on the first day and wired someone’s teeth together just for the heck of it.”
“I should never have had children, I should have bred poodles,” she laments.

My son, with all the world-weariness of a 13 year old, says he’ll congratulate me when the agent has read the rest of the book.

But my mum did send me an email this morning in her terrible, tortured typing, entitled “apresent” and saying, “I,ve sent some cash and hope your luck changes soon. It WILL. Love Mum.xx (I guess getting an agent doesn’t register for her as the Best Thing That’s Happened To Me Since My Composition Was Read Out To The Class In Junior Two, like it does for me). She’s lovely my mum. Her heart’s in the right place and God forbid she should ever change - she provides me with an inexhaustible source of material.

My other inexhaustible source of material, my health care provider, did not disappoint. Today, after four days of getting a recorded message when trying to obtain my biopsy results, I finally called member services, who managed to put me through to Debbie, the advice nurse in dermatology.
“Debbie! I was beginning to think you weren’t a real person!”
“Yes, well I’ve been on vacation. So there we are.”
There we are indeed. Stress-related illnesses are obviously low on Kaiser’s list of preventable diseases.
“You HAVE got skin cancer,” she says after rustling through the notes. Visions of my coffin being carried through the street. “But it’s only superficial.” How can you only superficially have cancer? Is that like being a little bit pregnant? “Nothing like the melanoma you had before.”
“Yes. Wait a minute, what’s your name again? Louise? Okay, I read that wrong. There was just a suspected melanoma. Anyway, the doctor will be contacting you about taking it off.”
“It is off. I have a great big hole in my back. The mole’s in a little bottle somewhere.”
“Little bottle,” she repeats, testing out the 't's.
“Yes, Debbie.”
“Okay. Well, I’ve been on vacation. So there we are.”

After this conversation, I spent an interesting afternoon getting up to speed on legalese and contract law. My new agent suggested I wrote the contract as I didn’t like the one he offered me. Smart man, that agent; I’m fixing his contract boilerplate even now. I am just wondering if it’s all still legally binding if you get rid of the “hereafter, herein, and hereofs.” Is it like a spell and these are the magic words that give it power? As a lover of language, but no lover of obsolete Elizabethan English, I’ve taken them all out, which probably means I’m completely wasting my time because any lawyer will look at it and snort: “This cannot be upheld in law because people can UNDERSTAND it! What were you thinking?”

Things are looking promising on the job front too: I had a telephone interview for a job in Palo Alto, where I would be working as a Program Officer for a relatively new foundation. I would have a portfolio of 50 grantees, including some in developing countries. Groovy! I’ve always wanted to get into International Development, but so far have been unable to convince anyone I have the qualifications. Luckily, this foundation seems more gullible than most. So I’d better get working on that contract, because hopefully I will soon be busy packing up my house (or rather, what’s left of the furniture once I’ve got rid of the various items that serve as Flea HQ) and moving to Northern California. When I pick up my son from the airport after his trip to London, the conversation will go something like this:

“Hello, darling. Did you have a nice time?”
“Yes.” (Teenagers only answer in monosyllables.)
“We have to go to gate 15.”
“So we can board our flight for Palo Alto. But don’t worry, I brought your Junior Police Academy certificate and the Joseph Wambaugh’s books will follow in the crate with our furniture.”
“Furniture?” He is so taxed by the attempt to communicate in multi-syllables the iPod earphones pop out of his ears.
“Yes, the coffee table.” Registering his frown. “It’ll be fun! A whole new adventure. And then there’s always the book deal to look forward to. Perhaps we can use the money to buy you a bed.”
“God!” he mutters, and rams the earphones back in his ears.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

You Know Life is Sucky When...

You panic when you hear a Californian bank has failed
And then realize you don’t have any money to withdraw anyway

The pulled muscles in your back hurt too much to sit
But you can't lie on the floor because of the fleas

Your sister sympathizes about the washing machine that broke
But you don’t have a washing machine
(It was the computer, fridge/freezer and car that broke)

The doctor gives you a number to call for your biopsy results
And it is answered by a recorded message
For two days
And counting…

You’re supposed to be enjoying time for yourself
But cry when the store clerk asks if you miss your son

You ask the eight ball if you’re going to get that job
And the eight ball doesn't work

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Passing the Sniff Test

Her email address reads: Penelope Davis, Ph.D. This may be the first clue that my future boss may be a little hung up on appearances. Other information was not forthcoming, despite a series of increasingly urgent emails. This is how I end up sitting in Starbucks one hour before the client interview, during which I am to represent myself as the Project Manager for a project about which I am remarkably vague. But $40K a year is no small incentive, especially as I’m seriously unemployed right now.

Twenty minutes later, a tall white woman comes through the doors talking animatedly into her Blackberry. She stops two feet away and despite my smile, continues to stare into the middle-distance: “No, just include it in the proposal with the other… I know, but we have to get this out today. I’ll see when I’m back in the office… Okay, bye.”
“Penelope?” She turns to me blankly, as if surprised that the only other white woman in the place should turn out to be the Program Evaluator from England.
“I need to use the restroom,” she says, pivoting on her four-inch heels.

I have to admit to feeling a little pissed off. Terribly busy people think that being terribly busy is a legitimate excuse for inconveniencing other people who obviously have less busy and therefore less-important lives.

A flash of shiny magenta blouse crosses my vision as Penelope plops down in the armchair opposite. She pauses, looking quizzically at my face, then proffers her hand. “Penelope Davis. Pleased to meet you.” I shake the outstretched hand and then wait as she rearranges her Jimmy Choo purse on the table in front of us. I know it’s Jimmy Choo because each corner has a large, shiny gold hinge emblazoned with “Jimmy Choo.” I guess the ostentatious bag serves the same purpose as the email address – lest we forget.

There is now only twenty minutes before we have to leave for the client’s office, so I start straight in with my questions: Why no parent measures?
“Well, the program is not for high-risk youth, so we wouldn’t expect behavior changes,” she answers, with the tight smile of someone who’s just been asked to deposit money into an account in Nigeria. “It’s what we call high cost, low yield data.”
“But as a parent,” I go on, refusing to be intimidated by the academic bling, “I know that any changes in my child, I’m going to notice them first. Besides, with only the staff and students as data sources, don’t we need to triangulate?” Hah! Stuff that in your Jimmy Choo!

Penelope puts her arms into her black jacket – a signal we need to leave? Preparation for a showdown? Does she have the tasseled mortarboard to match? She appears to be wearing the star from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on her jacket, or maybe it’s a hi-tech device that is even now broadcasting live to the American Evaluation Association, offering further evidence of my attempts to bring the profession into disrepute. “We’ll also be using a standard assessment tool,” she fixes me with that same cold smile, tapping her finger on the proposal document. “We have 17 research assistants we can send out to the sites.”

Seventeen research assistants? This is definitely the time to ask. “Your partner said forty thousand dollars when he first spoke to me. Am I still in the budget for the same amount?”
“Ah, yes. That’s something else we changed. You’re now in for thirty thousand.” She registers the flinch. “If that’s okay.”

But we don’t really have time to discuss whether I can coordinate this project (including the legion of research assistants) on only five hours a week, because it’s time to set off for the interview. Circling the client’s building, I wish I had paid more attention to the parking instructions. The entrance to the underground parking proclaims, “Only for the clients of the Curacao supermarket.”

I am expelled from the elevator directly into the office, in full view of the people assembled in the conference room to my right. Dr. Davis turns her head without disturbing a single perfect strand of her orange Cleopatra haircut. “I thought I was in the wrong place!” I exclaim, dumping my pile of papers on the table, “Solamente para los clientes de Curacao!” A handsome Latino man at the table looks up and smiles when he hears the Spanish. Dr. Davis seems to be suffering from indigestion. Recovering, she launches into the pitch:

“We have conducted many multi-site evaluations, including a National Youth Survey,” she says, lowering her lashes in false modesty, “and can help you achieve model program status.” Hang on! We don’t know this program warrants model program status. In fact, we know nothing at all beyond the opinion of a District Supervisor, who told Penelope the program is "good." The previous evaluation only proved that while the kids remained in the program they were kept off the streets. Amusement arcades do the same thing. But after being asked exactly how many after-school programs she has evaluated, Penelope turns to me.

“People work in social programs because they believe with all their heart and soul they are making a difference… Well, it’s certainly not for the pay!” This raises a laugh. “So I ask the staff what tells them there is a change – even if it’s a smile on a kid’s face – and help them to measure that change. I don’t believe in the approach of some academics who come in with a whole bunch of assumptions and then try to impose their framework of outcomes and measures to prove some theory, and completely miss what’s really going on. I’m not interested in publishing, I’m interested in making programs the best they can be.” The Latino man, who turns out to be the Program Director, nods his head. Penelope has become red in the face.

“Of course, we’re not going to make Louise do anything she doesn’t like,” her smile oozes like mango sorbet around the room – sweet and chilly, “That’s why we’re here! I’m not an academic, I’m a clinical psychologist, so I don’t need to publish, but,” she continues in a hushed, serious tone, “to become a model program the evaluation has to be published in a peer-reviewed journal and” she looks hard at me “we have to use standard instruments in order to pass the sniff test.” Which I apparently don’t.

I spend the rest of the hour kicking myself for pitching the project all wrong, then resenting the fact that Mrs. Choo had not taken the time to prepare me. When it’s all over, the Program Director and I drop into easy conversation on our way to the door. “So you work in South Gate and Huntington Park? They’re my old stomping grounds,” I tell him.
“Yeah, we’re doing some really exciting work, organizing the parents and families.” I look at him, astounded.
“Why didn’t we talk about this during the meeting?”
“Oh that? That was just data,” he says, confirming that there are things Dr. Davis and her standard instruments will never find out.

As the elevator door closes over Penelope’s face (which still maintains the professional expressionlessness of the clinical psychologist, but only just), I am left wondering if I could ever have worked under this Over Achiever who is philosophically at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to evaluation… and fashion accessories. Then I wonder if I’m not interested in publishing after all: Godbold, L. A. (July 2008). Passing the Sniff Test: A Case Study on How Not to Win Evaluation Contracts.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Eyebrow Diaries

Last night, I was supposed to go with a fellow poet to an open reading that only happens every two months. I hate open mike readings because you have to listen to so much execrable poetry (about yeast infections or beatnik rhythms that don't seem to be about anything but never come down in inflection). However, my friend Jan got her own reading out of it last time - okay, at the Sunland-Tujunga library, which proved to be a white Republican outpost, but a reading none-the-less. I also feel a bit of a fraud, as I rarely write poetry nowadays, preferring prose. I was wearing the same sweats that I pulled on that morning, my hair needed washing, but my eyebrows were outstanding, having discovered that shaping eyebrows not only makes me feel like a groomed LA woman, but it is a great distraction from The Meaning Of Life, which seems to be eluding me recently.

So there I was, unwashed hair in a ponytail, pink lip gloss to complement the graceful arch of my eyebrows and actually quite looking forward to reading a couple of pieces, when Jan rang to say the reading had been cancelled. I flirted with the idea of suggesting we go over to the nearby Damon's anyway for their famous Mai Tais and steak, but I never drink Mai Tais or eat steak - it would just have been the thing to do in situ, if you understand. Like eating ice-cream on piers, or chips out of newspaper in London, or drinking Retsina in Greece and realizing that it smells (and tastes) like paint stripper when you get it home. Instead, I watched "So you think you can dance," and in the commercial breaks undid all my good work with the eyebrows by Going Too Far. I now have uneven eyebrows that look chewed at one end and very surprised at the other. It could be the inspiration for a whole new look: "Marcel Marceau?" they'll ask. No, Louise Godbold before the grooming police confiscated the tweezers.

To make things worse, the eyebrows didn't provide sufficient distraction and I was forced to consume half a bottle of red wine and half a jar of peanut butter. (I think it was the sight of all those young and beautiful bodies doing things that I couldn't even do when I had a young and beautiful body.) I woke up in the night with a sore throat and a deep heaviness. The fact it was 3 AM and the consumption of wine could explain that. However, the conditions persist and I believe it is my body finally giving way under the strain of the recent weeks... months... years. But I can't give in yet - not if they have an open casket and my eyebrows haven't grown back in.

And you guessed it, all this procrastination is in order to avoid a real project: I'm rewriting my book in chronological order as the fifth agent just rejected me on the basis that "the reverse chronology doesn't work for us." Of course, once I've done that, they'll find some other reason to reject me, but I gain satisfaction from narrowing their options.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Top 10 Favorite Signs In My Neighborhood

1) Served in a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant: Homlet.
If you retranslated it back to French, would it mean "little man?"
2) Coming onto my son's school campus: Drive slow.
I wonder if the class on adjectives and adverbs is next semester?
3) Painted on the Amtrak platform: Stand in back of the line.
What happened to the perfectly good word "behind?" Was it considered too rude?
4) The name of an Armenian coffee shop: Ancient Grounds.
How appetizing!
5) The name of a Cambodian bar: Little Joy.
A place to cry in your beer.
6) Elvis dress shop.
Elvi really should punctuate or she'll perpetuate the myth he's still alive.
7) Outside La Parrilla restaurant: A real Mexican kitchen.
That has many scratching their head, but it's the literal translation of the French word "cuisine."
8) On the left rear bumper of a laborer's truck: Passing side.
On the right: Suiside.
9) Legal Bookstore.
What would the illegal one sell?
10) Outside the library: Literacy class ->

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Am I An Alcoholic?

He looks deep into my eyes. "I read your blog."
"Oh yes?" (Thank goodness it's not just my mother.)
"I've been in therapy 4 years myself."
"Oh?" (Hells bells! He's telling me this on our first date?)
"I thought your writing was fiercely honest. I just wanted to tell you that."
"Thank you!" That's more like it! A man who recognizes my fearless self-revelation. But wait a minute, what the heck did I write?
"So how long have you been in recovery?"
"Me? Recovery? Ha-ha ha-ha!" Gosh, he's serious. "I'm not in recovery."
"Oh! So, it's still a problem then?"
"The drinking?"

Suddenly the disparate parts of my flow-of-consciousness writing come together in my head, not, as I intended, a poem to those great and profound moments in life that as human beings we long for and at the same time want to suppress because of their sheer sweet agony, but as it obviously appears to my readers – a confession of alcoholism!

So, to all of you who read my last blog entry and have gone strangely quiet, I am not an alcoholic. Although, if my writing continues to get me into this much trouble, it soon might be the only way to pass the long lonely hours. Hic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Saving A Life

When women alcoholics are in recovery, the hardest thing about sober living is having sex without booze. I just thought you might like to know that.

Hemingway wrote with a glass of whiskey at his side: obviously he was not married to someone like me, or he would unaccountably keep finding his glass empty.

The other day, we whirled and twirled our way through a dance class until we hit a moment of hushed stillness. We had put our hearts in our dance, stretched them through our upraised hands into the clouds and let them go as prayers. There is a silence that comes over the soul after that. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began," said my heart, "though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice." No, not my heart, a woman reading Mary Oliver:

"But little by little,
as you left their voices behind...
... there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save."

By this time, tears were streaming down my face. I feel like the canary that has been living with a dark cover over its cage. I sing and sing and then realize no one can hear me because I am only singing in my head. My words are read by random visitors to my site (and a few regulars, God bless you!), but my book lies unpublished, my heart unseen.

The funny thing was, after all that emotion, the first thing that popped into my head was, "God, I need a stiff drink!" So quick to bury the very moments that make life meaningful because they are almost too hard to bear. Almost. I came home and wrote my blog.

Thank you for continuing to read me. Thank you for saving my life.

Monday, March 3, 2008


"I don't want to go!" My son looks on the verge of tears, something I've become accustomed to, as well as the pimples and the faintest, faintest shadow on his upper lip.

We are sitting on his bedroom floor, surrounded by a sleeping bag, back pack, snowboarding helmet, silk long-johns and discarded wrist guards and gloves.

"I said I didn't want to go!" Now this is news to me. When my mum offered to pay for the school ski trip, he seemed happy enough. When I parted with $100 in Big 5 Sporting Goods, he did not demur. On this occasion, I am relieved that any hesitation about cancellation is not selfishly motivated on my part, nor has nothing to do with plans to spend four blissful childless nights with the man of my dreams because, despite Cupid's best efforts, he has yet to appear, if ever.

"Come here!" I say, and he crawls into my arms. I savor the moment, stroking his elbow and sniffing his peppery hair, planting a few quick kisses before he remembers he's a preteen and any signs of affection herald a perilous descent back to the days of Barney videos and food cut into shapes.

The dilemma is that the gloves no longer fit over the wrist guards - something we hadn't thought to check out since last year. And he can't wear his goggles over his glasses, so he has the choice of being blinded by the sun or smashing into a tree. Problematic, I agree, but then life's not perfect.

The next morning dawns sunny and with a pleasant edge of chill. I rouse my son with a John Belushi (drinking chocolate with coffee - terminology straight from jail, so he'd better not use it with his LAPD buddies) and pack his lunch. His bags wait by the door. I throw on some clothes in case the carpool is late - we can't risk the bus leaving without him. I'm still in the bathroom when the carpool arrives. I hasten out to help my son with his luggage.

"I don't need you," he calls from the door, hoisting the backpack onto his shoulders and snatching up the other bags.

I watch from behind the screen as he throws the bags into the trunk. No, you don't, I think. But I'm here just in case.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Well Woman

"What drugs you take?"
"What drugs. You take."
I am being cross-examined by the Kaiser nursing assistant who somehow skipped the role-play class where you learn to be empathetic to your client's need for privacy and tact.
“Yes.” I allow myself a little defiance, despite the “JESUS LOVES ME” in chunky letters around her neck.
“One drink a day,” she concludes and makes a note. How did she arrive at that? Is it because my hands are not shaking and my lipstick smudged? For all she knows, I’m hiding empty bottles down the back of the sofa.
"Er, female?"
"No. You have sex?"
"Every now and then."
No, sheep and pigs, is what I want to say, but I don't think my humor will translate well into Armenian.
"You put on gown, opening to the front." With that she disappears and I am left to wonder how to fasten the gown without strangling myself or cross-hatching my breasts whilst doing nothing to cover them.

The well-woman check-up is something I dread. It's not the physical discomfort (although I'm not a fan of the part when they sandwich your breast between two waffle irons), but the loss of dignity. And no one knows how to do that better than Kaiser.

"Next!" It's time for my mammogram. Holding the sides of my gown across my chest, I walk jauntily into the room. Got to put on a brave front, so to speak. The technician looks at my chest from under lowered brows, then without a word snaps the current plastic tray out of the machine to replace it with something that looks like it was made to hold earrings. Okay, I know I'm not well-endowed, but no need to make a big production out of it.

Back in the waiting room, I bond with the other señoras clutching gowns. "Ella esta muy mala," glares one of them at the technician who has just emerged from the room. The technician glares back. I leave as the señora is ushered away, grateful that I will be spared her screams.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tender as Love

Your touch
sets incandescent
to swim in my blood
a shiver of atoms
through the layers
of my skin

your hand
slips warm against
bare back
brushes my belly
in a frisson
of nerve endings
their delight

on a landscape of shoulder
I pillow a kiss
pressing soft
like the curves
I fold against you

your nose seeks
my mouth
lips breathe in
the distance
and sweetness

and your fingers
move the hair
from my cheek
as if not a dance -
tender as love

Friday, February 15, 2008

Update on my ex

Alma, my sister-in-law as was, told me that Francisco is the pastor of a church near the border in Juarez. He’s doing well, she said, calls twice a month full of energy.

I could imagine it well. The Francisco I fell in love with. The man of God with a call to the Mexicans. But what happened? That was my future too. How come I am here in LA, raising a son by myself? Why did God abandon me? I wasn’t the one using heroin. I wasn’t the one who lied and deceived, the one who broke into houses or stole everything a person had, including their belief in God.

Why am I now the one subsisting in the struggle for money, rolling out the dreary routine week after week so my son can be fed, housed, educated. How wonderful that God has worked miracles in Francisco’s life. I am sure he thanks God with great enthusiasm before the congregation. But what about us?

I gave Josh the news on the way home from school.
“So, if he’s clean and doing well, perhaps he can come live with us.”
“No-o!” I shudder.
“But I want a dad.”
I inform Josh that Francisco has remarried.
“Does he have children?”
I don’t know.
“Doesn’t he care about me?”
“That’s what I said; I said, “Alma, does he ask about Josh?””
There is a silence in the back of the car. When I turn round, Josh is crying. He’s 12. He never cries.