Posts Tagged ‘Childhood’
I absolutely love the “Sons of Anarchy”! I received the first three seasons on DVD for my birthday and so I swallow 3-4 episodes at a time as I cannot stop once I start. It’s thrilling and my lower back aches from all the backstabbing and I am fascinated by the tight plot twists and boot-cut drama. It lives in the magical universe of “The Shield”, another one of my all time favorite television shows, and since I never got to be on The Shield, I hope one day to get to do the Sons of Anarchy. Maybe I could even ride!
The Sons of Anarchy reminds me of the northern California gangs of my youth, but they didn’t have impressive custom bikes, they just rode the trains, although a few among them had shiny, roaringly loud El Caminos and Mustangs. These belonged to the older boys, men really, and the muscle cars usually didn’t last long as they were quickly impounded or sold to pay for bail bonds and lawyers as the owners were carted off to jail and then inevitably to prison.
They called themselves the WPODs, and the primitive rock-painting-like graffiti of these letters on walls all over the city would later be covered over with the sophisticated, swirling spray can murals taggers eventually learned to create, discovering that they too had a right to art. I didn’t know then that the letters came from a song by the tubes, and they stood for white punks on dope, and this was mostly true, although they weren’t technically punk, as they didn’t have Mohawks or piercings made with safety pins and they never went to see bands at the Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco’s premier punk venue. They preferred laser light shows at the planetarium and the classic rock of Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and of course Black Sabbath.
They were always white, and mostly of irish descent, but not recent immigrants, as they didn’t regularly frequent the real irish bars of the Sunset and Richmond districts filled with authentic brogues and bitter beer and held no opinion or allegiance to Protestants or Catholics or Sinn Fein or the IRA or anything and they were too young to be in those establishments anyway. The dope of their moniker and choice was usually crank or what is now known as crystal meth, but then it was a heavily stepped-on early edition of the drug, so cut up with baby laxatives that everyone would fart up a storm at the mere appearance of a cloudy, stingy bag.
The Sunset District where I grew up was made up of these 4th and 5th generation Irish and 1st generation Chinese /Korean /Vietnamese /Japanese /Filipino families. It was a faintly depressing and conservative neighborhood that was defensively lower middle class. The streets were mean but they were clean. The trains were on time but filled with hard looking kids, who weren’t bad really, just high, and bored, which was me, and is still me sometimes.
The WPODs were like sentinels or soldiers, as they had a uniform, and you would see them strutting around, keeping watch, proud as roosters, in their derby jackets – deep blacks and blues and sometimes steely grey and even an odd khaki brown in there for the wild card crazy one who liked to set off fireworks and could make pipe bombs with the collection of pyrotechnics squirreled away under his bed.
There was a distinctive double seam going across the back of the jacket, shoulder to shoulder, which I took to represent the horizon that marked the farthest border of the Sunset District, the painfully cold and windy Ocean Beach, whose dangerous undertow made going swimming absolutely suicidal. You needed to get your affairs in order and write a note to your loved ones before taking a dip in there. Everyone I knew who went in that water died. That is not an exaggeration.
To go with the jacket there were loosely slung Ben Davis slacks, the wide leg giving way to steel toe boots, laced hard and tight up the shaft, holding their skinny boy calves in a confining leather hook and eye embrace. They walked with confidence and dirty hair that framed beautiful but haunted cold weather faces, and in their glittering blue and green eyes I could tell they were still little boys who got scared and cried when they were alone.
We weren’t supposed to hang around with them but it happened. The WPODs were encouraged to stay with their ‘own kind’, but they never did, being unable to resist the gorgeous asian girls growing up next to them, with our shiny black hair and plump lush Dr Pepper Bonne Bell mouths. They’d wait outside your house smoking Marlboros and trying not to act or look like they were waiting outside your house, dreaming of a whiff of your Love’s Baby Soft or Jean Nate After Bath Splash. Their hopelessly ardent crushes betrayed their hoodlum exteriors.
I was well liked for my humor and resemblance to the 26 year old woman whose purse had been stolen on the N Judah, and at 12 I could convincingly buy kegs of beer with that swiped ID and my ageless poker face and grown woman body. The WPODs would leave odd trails of saliva on my Izod shirts as they didn’t know how to kiss but tried to seem like they knew everything about sex and so they’d suck on odd areas around my shoulders and chest like lampreys sticking to the side of a fishtank.
I got older and these boys got into worse and worse trouble and without warning became men who couldn’t do anything else but be in trouble. I left my neighborhood for comedy and showbusiness and better and brighter things and sometimes I would hear of the incarceration of one and the death of another and I’d think about the clean hopeful Ivory soap smell of their necks and how the derby jackets they wore held the cigarette smoke inside them so they always smelled like they were smoking even if they were not. Whenever anyone lights a Marlboro red around me I remember so much and so hard and so quickly and so vividly I feel like crying.
Before reality television, I was aware of Dungeness crab season. The catches then didn’t seem so deadly (although I am sure they were – they just didn’t have cameras to document it) unless you accidently caught your finger in a set of snapping claws, but this thankfully never happened. When it would get really cold and foggy in San Francisco, my mother and I would go to the piers.
Back in the 70s, people went to Fisherman’s Wharf to actually get fish, crab in particular. We would go down to the slippery outdoor markets and my mother would buy a solid dozen writhingly alive deep blue Dungeness crabs, angry to be out of the water and cutting up the air with their scissor claws. They didn’t band them like lobster claws so if you got close enough you could get cut, but the danger of the Dungeness was part of the magic of them. I must have been about 7 or 8 years old but I felt ancient and alive and adult as I helped my mother pick out which crustaceans were going to die for my dinner.
I selected the ones with the fringiest legs, the featherlike hair that grew in whispery lines along the articulated limbs of the crab. To my young mind, this would indicate virility and strength, bigger meat from bigger muscles. My dad told me to get the ones that looked the maddest. I searched their stalk eyes for anger. They all seemed equally pissed off to me. I love the way that crabs look prehistoric and futuristically robotic at the same time. They are armored and they are packing and they need this because they are so sumptuous and delectable inside. The violent world that requires the hard shell and the weapon hands serves forth a delicious meal. Most things from the killing fields of the sea, the brutal ocean floor, taste really fucking good.
The live crabs would be paid for and then plunged into a rusty metal garbage can filled with boiling seawater for mere seconds. When they emerged from the cans, their color had changed to a deep orange red and they were wrapped steaming hot into white paper parcels. I would hold the parcels close to me and feel the warmth from the steam escaping from the crabs insides. I wondered if they were still somehow alive in there, as I let the fishy steam scent my small body in the car on the way home.
The kitchen table would be covered with Korean newspapers and my father laid out several hard rounds of sourdough bread with a refrigerator cold butter stick. The bread and the butter was almost as integral to the meal as the crab itself. You couldn’t have one without the other. The sourness of the bread and the mellow fat of the butter was the perfect compliment to the sweet nut taste of the crab. There was white wine too but I wasn’t interested in that. I am still not. I don’t like white wine, and my dislike is incongruous to my ladylike persona, I know.
There were instruments of extraction lined up next to the bread, surgery style. Nutcrackers stolen from the big bowl of walnuts that lived on the low table in front of the tv, kitchen scissors, a small fork with 3 tines instead of 4, fondue forks finding new life in the fish game, a chopstick here and there just for pushing out – now I forget what else, but I really think but there might have been tweezers in there. I don’t know if this is true, but I wouldn’t put it past my family. We didn’t have a lot of anything, so it was all about getting the most out of what we did have.
My parents would leave the legs and claws to me and I would pick out perfect pieces of crab meat, absolutely intact. This is just one of my strange and obtuse talents, shelling shellfish without flaws. I am so good at this, with my meticulous steady hand and coulda-been-born-swiss-precision – I have supreme concentration and I am in it to win it like I am cracking a safe. I should have a stethoscope, but I wouldn’t need it. I am that good. I showed this off once fairly recently at a fancy seafood bistro in Montreal where the pricey shellfish and champagne came on a tower of ice and polished silver. The other diners around me were breathless as I slipped the shell off of a stone crab claw with the ease of a showgirl stripping off an opera glove. I laid it in the middle of the table like a housecat setting down an offering. The meat was so shiny and red and the act was so impressive no one wanted to eat it so I had to.
My parents didn’t stop at the claws. They would break open the big hard crab body shells, opening the backs underneath the legs like they were changing the crab’s batteries. Brown green crab roe would spurt rudely from the cracks and my parents would suddenly turn primitive and start slurping the roe from out of the shells and I would get scared and stop eating. I still have nightmares about this. My parents then, really just young people, much younger than I am now, cracking crabs with superhuman immigrant strength to suck up the fishy gritty guts of the thing. Sometimes they would cut their mouths on the sharp shards of crab shell, the crustaceans small revenge, and the blood would mix with the roe and they would leave miniature red brown smiles of the mixture on their wineglasses. This is probably why I don’t like white wine, and I never developed a taste for that part of the crab. I leave that to the strong.
I have some wonderful new tattoos on my ass by the incredible Cris Cleen, who I love, and I posted a picture of them on twitter, which got many favorable comments but there were two negative ones, and I blew a fucking gasket. I screamed out loud and tracked the perps down and blocked them, but not before really ramming it to them in the strongest language I could use. It was over the top and really kind of ridiculous, but I cannot help myself.
Some outside facebook observer said that my “language” was too much and told me that I had “lost a fan” because she couldn’t condone my “language”. I am sorry for that, as I love my fans, and it sucks to lose one, but obviously she doesn’t understand that when you grow up the way that I did, with kids at school throwing rocks at my face because they hated it because it was so ugly to them and they wanted the blood from my wounds to cover it so it wouldn’t have to be seen and at summer camps stuffed dog shit in my sleeping bag because I was told time and again that I looked like shit – and that I had to empty myself in the dark forest and still sleep in smelling that shit all that night and for weeks after because my family was too poor to afford a new one, my “language” is on the strong side. I apologize for offending the former fan, but I am only myself. That is all I can be, and if I must apologize for that, I don’t mind. All I am trying to say is that no young girl should be told she is ugly. If she is, you kill her spirit, and she may grow up like me, and lose a fan.
I grew up hard and am still hard and I don’t care. I did not choose this face or this body and I have learned to live with it and love it and celebrate it and adorn it with tremendous drawings from the greatest artists in the world and I feel good and powerful like a nation that has never been free and now after many hard won victories is finally fucking free. I am beautiful and I am finally fucking free.
I fly my flag of self esteem for all those who have been told they were ugly and fat and hurt and shamed and violated and abused for the way they look and told time and time again that they were ‘different’ and therefore unlovable. Come to me and I will tell you and show you how beautiful and loved you are and you will see it and feel it and know it and then look in the mirror and truly believe it. If you are offended by my anger and my might at defending my borders and my people you do not deserve entry into my beloved and magnificent country.
If you were raised lovingly and told you were perfect and beautiful and loved and the best at all things, I am just jealous. You had it much better, and so you really should spread that love around as opposed to judging those like me who never had that, never knew what it was like and never could even imagine it. I could learn from you instead of feeling judged by you. Give the less loved and less cared for and less treasured a chance. If I had that opportunity, then my language and attitude might not be so offensive. If I had been told once when I was a little girl that I was pretty (other than when I was being sexually molested – that doesn’t count) it might have made me nicer. It just didn’t happen. So I had to make do and make up for it myself. And that made me a bit on the edgy side. It made me a bit of a bitch.
When someone says something negative about my face or body I will always and forever just completely lose my shit, because I have so much hatred in me, a violence that lies just beneath the surface of my delightfully illustrated skin. Being called ugly and fat and disgusting to look at from the time I could barely understand what the words meant has scarred me so deep inside that I have learned to hunt, stalk, claim, own and defend my own loveliness and my image of myself as stunningly gorgeous with a ruthlessness and a defensiveness that I fear for anyone who casually or jokingly questions it, as my anger and rage combined with my intense and fearsome command of words create insults meant to maim, kill and destroy.
Things I could say should be left unheard and unsaid because I am not willing to be the bigger person. I do not take the high road. I take the low road and blows below the belt are my absolute favorite. The best revenge is not living well. The best revenge is revenge. My mouth and mind and typing fingers are weapons of mass destruction and I pity those ignorant idiots who would leave insults about mine or any women’s bodies in comment boxes because there’s ways of hunting people down. Lots and lots of ways. It’s not as anonymous as they think, as stupid as they are.
I’d like to say things that would haunt them for the rest of their days, because their hideous words stay with me eternally. Their insipid spouts of “no fat chicks” are branded onto my soul, so they must reap what they sow. If I am in my worst way and I talk to you, you will know you have been talked to. I want to punish you with the unforgettable shit you will take to your grave and hurt you long after you are dead in the ground. may my poison bore holes in your dry, decaying bones. I am not proud of this, but it’s just the way this life has made me.
I want to defend the children that we still are inside, the fragile sensitive souls who no matter how much we tried were still told we were not good enough. I want to make the world safe and better and happy for us. We deserve beauty, love, respect, admiration, kindness and compassion. If we don’t get it, there will be hell to pay. I am no saint, but I am here for you and me. I am here for us, and I am doing the best I can.
Margaret will be on The Mortified Sessions on Sundance on Monday, January 2nd – 8pm!
From Huffington Post TV: On Sundance Channel’s “Mortified Sessions,” celebrities reveal their dirty laundry. From how they learned about sex to childhood crushes, they’re not holding anything back. On the upcoming new episode, “Suburgatory” star Cheryl Hines and comedienne Margaret Cho are next to spill their secrets.
For Cho, realizing she wasn’t white was a shock.
“When I was maybe six, I was really angry that I was not white. When I realized I wasn’t white I was so furious … I still have deep fantasies about being white — it must be so relaxing to be white. I wish I could go to the spa and just be white for an hour,” she said.
When I was a little girl, I had a problem with nosebleeds. It wasn’t enough that I already socially maimed, being weird and half-feral and creepily thin and of a kind of fish flavored superimmigrant stock that even being born here had no effect on, I also had to profusely bleed from my nose without warning or reason, bloodying polyester hand-me-downs and dresses my mom made and orange berets that made me look like a little decorative pumpkin and buster brown shoes and small desk/chair combinations and jungle gyms and brown paper bag covered school books and even other children(!).
Now I realize it was because even then my sinuses were dry and worn out and inflamed from the monstrous amount of dust I would breathe in at the constantly under construction site of my ancestral home, but doctors in the 70s didn’t really think about the dangers of dust, and we had limited money for office visits and preventive medication. It wouldn’t be until I was well into my adulthood that I would discover neti pots and the sinu-pulse and inhalers and nasal steroids and blessed loratadine and develop a passionate love-hate relationship with prednisone.
So for most of my formative years, I just bled out of my fucking face. I could tell when it was starting, the copper penny itchy trickle that would start down the back of my throat first. I could taste it and I could smell it and I knew it was happening again and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I would optimistically try to just tilt my head back and allow the blood to just flow uninterrupted down my throat, and if I looked in the mirror I could see the back of my mouth fill with red, my tongue brown from the saliva mixing with it. my vision was good enough then that I could see clots develop and slip thickly down into my gullet, and I swallowed them anxiously, not wanting anyone to have witnessed yet again my bloody wet masses of elementary school paper towels, which had a texture so rough that if you blew your nose on them, they would take your whole face off with it.
There was also the option of putting cotton balls up your nose too, but these were as useless as slim regular tampons, as I would come to find as a teenager. I bleed out of my body hard, whatever hole it happens to be. Maybe because I am more alive than everyone else.
My mother wept about it and teachers were concerned but not all that concerned because back then bodily fluids weren’t as atomically taboo as they are now and so it was less of a biohazard and more of a bio-hassle and finally the doctor said that it was due to chocolate, which was odd because as a child I barely consumed it, yet the restriction from what would become my favorite food of all sealed my devotion to it. how could the delicious extract from a glorious bean, mixed with milk and sugar and nuts and caramels and toffees and whatever other fantastic substance wreak such havoc on my nostrils? It seemed impossible and terrible and when I was first told I was forbidden to eat chocolate I couldn’t believe it.
I’d stand outside of a candy shop about a block from school on the other side of an ominous intersection where an older girl from my school had been killed in a car accident. It was an unguarded crosswalk with no stoplight and poor visibility with bushes on the street that were exactly a 10 year old girl’s height and so it was a very real death trap for underage pedestrians. Still, I would make that perilous journey at least once a day so I could look at the ever-changing seasonal variety of chocolates. In spring there would be valentines, huge heart shaped boxes filled with luscious assortments for new and old lovers and the forgotten lonely who I suspected would have the plush velvety organs mailed to themselves, and then fat foil covered eggs and hollow bunnies for easter. in winter there would be chocolate logs or yuletide logs and chocolate coated gingerbread men. I would stare at the forbidden sweets in the window, leering at the candies through the glass wishing I could talk to the chocolates on a phone, like I was long overdue for a conjugal visit yet had no luck with the appeals process.
The white chocolates my mother bought me as a kind of apologia were unimpressive. There was nothing to them. I felt no passion for the vapid buttery sugar. it was lifeless and drab and meaningless to me. it wasn’t chocolate as far as I was concerned. It didn’t fill my wanting mouth with deep pleasure and satiety. The sweetness was empty and bland, barely warranting the title of ‘chocolate’ at all in its moniker. I still think white chocolate is bullshit, although I now acknowledge that it can have its (sparse) merits, especially if combined with some sort of truffle, or used in a sauce, but in general, I am still married to the hard stuff, dark chocolate, with a cocoa content of over 85% – yeah I am hardcore.
Taking away the chocolate as a child didn’t cure me of my nosebleeds, which eventually faded as I got older and changed schools and started to have friends and bad grades, but it did make me addicted to the stuff, and I recently procured a bar of 99% – a Lindt rarity, with almost no sugar cut with it, virtually unstepped on, like hard white or china white or ice or that kind of smoke-able crystal meth that makes people go crazy and lose their teeth. The 99% tasted exactly like the beginning of the nosebleeds of my youth. Go figure.
I have always been a voracious reader, once my eyes began to form an understanding of letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs – I was hooked. I read and read and was offered children’s books by teachers and librarians and I would pretend to read them but there would be forbidden tomes hidden inside Dr. Suess – like collections of Dear Abby columns and hints from Heloise and the greatest of all the household saints – Erma Bombeck.
I don’t know why but when I was a child I was obsessed with the inner lives of housewives. I wanted to know what they struggled against, what they wanted, how they kept their homes and husbands and secretly and openly hated their children. These books scared me and enlightened me and made me grow up fast and furious.
I first learned of my writing ability when I was about 10, when my class got in trouble for unruliness as a group and our punishment was to write essays about what we had done. This I take a major issue with – teachers, do not use writing as punishment. It’s damaging and crippling and ruthless and cruel. Do not make kids write sentences over and over and over and over as you will make them hate writing.
Writing is an art and a gift and a privilege and a lifesaver and if children learn that it is meant to be torture they will never discover that. They will forever associate writing with cramped hands and blurry vision and there will be a generation of writers whose writing could have saved the world that will never come to be because you couldn’t think of anything better to keep them in line.
Because of writing sentences as punishment I incorrectly hold pencils. I lay them in between my second and third finger rather than gripping them between my thumb and index finger. It’s really weird and fucked up looking and I did it because i had to write sentences so much when I was a kid from repeatedly getting in trouble and so my hands would actually bleed.
Thankfully my father let me use his typewriter or I would have never have blossomed as a writer like I eventually did. And of course thank god (Mac) for powerbooks. This machine kills fascists. The essay that made me realize I was a writer was handwritten. It was a scathing criticism of the teacher and the values held by the school. It was personal and it was nasty and it was sarcastic and I wish that I could print here what was written there, but the essay was handed in and then sent directly to the principals office along with yours truly some hours later.
The principal, i think her name was Shirley Merrill, a Nervous Nellie of a woman, all bones and tight skirts and white turtlenecks and gold chains and what I am sure was some kind of frothy blonde wig that did nothing for her looks except make the cartilage in all her joints stand out in greatly unflattering relief breathed hard as she read my essay aloud back to me.
She read passages, which I cannot remember now (damn I wish I did) and then said, “I must admit this is good writing but….” and then proceeded to try to punish me verbally, but not having really anything to say except compliments, couldn’t really go anywhere with it. She knew I was smart and she couldn’t punish me for it. She knew what I had produced was satire, but she didn’t understand it and she didn’t know what to do with it and so she just kind of sputtered out. I left the principals office and wandered in the weird dead space between the classrooms and the teachers lounge and took a long way back because I treasured the silence of the hallways and the kids all in their desks and me free to roam without even a heavy wooden hall pass or a need to go to the bathroom.
Later, I stood by the teachers lounge where an intense cluster of polyester clad men and women who were younger than I am now sat together and gossiped in hushed voices as they smoked More and Pall Mall cigarettes (!!!!!!). I listened as they read my essay aloud to each other. I heard my words bandied about and there were accusations of plagiarism, but that was argued because the insults were too specific, too spot-on – where could i have copied them? They laughed at my jokes and my astute, tight as a drum writing and they agreed that I should be punished, but they were at a loss trying to figure out how.
I believe I paid for my indulgence with a call to my parents, who didn’t really seem to care about it because they were just too tired from working day and night, and some afterschool detentions which consisted of me sitting in an empty classroom with a physical education teacher (later fired for allegedly sleeping with a student) silently doing my homework until the sky grew dark. So no big deal really and for once I didn’t even get molested.
In the end, I felt like I won something. I realized that my words had power. The way I put them together had a charge and an electricity and an energy that I could use to hurt and maim but also praise and worship. I learned that pleasure of committing ideas to paper and that the things I thought in my head had little trouble on their way through my heart and into my hands. I was a writer then, and I am one now. And I am good.