Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hot Malasadas

Back in April of '02, Island Scene published a narrative of mine in their "I Remember When" segment. Here is a revised version:

One morning my mom brought down the old deep fryer, and I knew within a few hours the house would be filled with the warm, yeasty aroma of hot malasadas. It would take all day to make these Portuguese doughnuts, but it would be worth the wait.

As she kneaded the dough, the familiar stories about Vovo began to roll. Vovo, meaning “Grandmother” in Portuguese, raised fourteen children on Ohai lane in the Pauoa valley of Honolulu. Times were rough in the ‘30’s, so when she made malasadas it was a big deal.

My mom spooned each drop of dough into the crackling hot oil, telling me how her brothers and sisters would anxiously watch the malasadas transform into various shapes. I listened as I watched the sizzling dough twitch and contort in the oil, trying to imagine which auntie or uncle would claim which of the randomly shaped animals.

Auntie Kiki’s three-footed pig ... Uncle Malin’s pregnant chicken ... Uncle Ben’s plump, bobbing seahorse ...

“Vovo, she’s one one saint, you know,” my mom said with her deep, raspy voice. “Raising all us kids and nevah complaining. She took us all Blessed Sacrament Church up Pauoa road every Sunday, and every day she wen’ pray laddat. Cuz you know, hahd times for her and Papa. Aye, all da beatings!”

“Mom, can I do the glazing this time?”

“Here,” she handed me a pair of metal tongs. “Careful yeah, da buggah’s hot.”

One by one, I dipped the golden creatures into the hot sugar glaze and lined them up on a paper towel. My mom pulled her apron up to her face to wipe her eyes.

“Sweat,” she said.

Tears, I thought.

At sunset, we sat out in our California back yard by the pool with some cold milk and devoured the hot malasadas.

“Mom, look, a two-headed turkey.”

“Aye, da cute. Eh, look mine. It’s one naked sheep.” I busted out a laugh so hard the milk sprayed from my mouth. We laughed and ate and laughed some more. Closing my eyes, I saw Vovo there on Ohai lane, gathering up her flock and heading for church.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ironing Man/Ironing Maiden

I think it was a gift for my 22nd birthday. An unromantic Sunbeam iron and ironing board from my soon-to-be starch-ridden spouse. I was not impressed, mainly because I had made it known right from the get-go that I did not get along with irons. I'm predominantly left-handed, and no matter what right-handed ironers say, it is more awkward (and dangerous) for us south-paws to wield one of those fire-breathing appliances. And I had the scars to prove it, one of which was emblazoned on my stomach from an attempt to iron a dance costume...albeit, while actually wearing the costume.

Future Spouse, aka The Ironing Man, ironed everything under the sun. Empty cans of starch lined his laundry counter like trophies. So after the I-do's were said and done, I made a few lovingly unsuccessful attempts to press his garments, which tragically wound up costing him more to replace than the value of the iron itself. I had over-zealously burned the hell out of more than one of his favorite shirts, leaving an array of Star Trek shaped emblems in undesirable locations.

So I kept my distance from that Sunbeam...until years later, after moving to Hawaii. Our munchkin Ryan was two years old and was sleeping peacefully in his bed. I was up late, perhaps working on a new piano song, when I went downstairs to use the bathroom. It was dark, and with my poor vision, I caught a glimpse of what looked like something scurrying toward Ryan's bedroom. I flipped on the light switch and there on the carpet, underneath the ironing board was a six-inch long centipede. It stopped moving when I turned on the light, so I used the foot of the ironing board to temporarily pin the beasty creature, which began to wriggle every which way in frantic desperation to eat me alive.

I had to think quick and upon noticing that Mr. Ironing Man had left his appliance plugged in, I cranked it up to the highest setting and after a few seconds, I gave it the old finger-saliva sizzle test. It was ready, but I wasn't as I made eye-contact with one angry centipede that was bound and determined to escape and wreak havoc on me and my home.

Finally, feeling like Xena, Warrior Princess, I felt a surge of adrenaline as I raised the steaming hot iron over the centipede's head (or maybe it was its tail as it's hard to tell one end from the other). In one fell swoop, I seared that buggah good. Stinking, burning centipede flesh consumed the air. In horror, I watched the other end twist and contort, so to put it out of its misery, I finished him off.

When it was all over, I turned off the Sunbeam and left the charred remains of the centipede there on the carpet as a caveat to any of his devilish friends. I went to bed with one eye opened that night, and after a long night of patrolling the graveyard shift, my husband in his stiffly pressed uniform came home in the morning to a crime scene unlike any he'd seen before. I assigned him to clean-up duty, which upon removal of the body, he would discover a permanent imprint of the centipede's mutilated form on the carpet. The imprint served as a permanent reminder to Ironing Man not to ever entrust his wife with such an appliance ever again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To Grieve: Perchance To Sleep

My eight year-old son Noah’s nine year-old friend Jack died on Sunday, but we didn’t find out what happened until today, and now here I am at 2:30 in the morning unable to process this tragic loss, let alone sleep with this flooding of emotion that keeps rolling through me.

Noah and Jack were after-school care friends for the past two years. Jack, who was one grade older, tried to teach Noah his times tables last year, and I remember Noah telling me how nice Jack was to try so hard to teach him such a difficult subject. Tonight when Noah brought it up again and was trying so hard to be optimistic about Jack’s passing, I had to do whatever I could to not cave in.

Noah has only two really good friends at his school, and Jack was one of them. He described Jack as “whiter than me,” which means that most of the kids at his public school are more local looking, and because of this, kids like Noah and Jack do not always get the popular approval from the darker majority. Noah told me how he saw Jack this past Friday and they played together just like any other day, and now he’s gone. Just like that.

The grief I’m experiencing tonight is multifaceted.

As a mother…I feel the agony that Jack’s mom must be experiencing. More than likely, she too is wide awake right now, thinking over all the memories and lack of memories to come. This is November. What will she do with Christmas? What will we do with Christmas?

As Noah’s mother…I feel his loss probably more so than he does right now as I know how death works on a person’s mind, especially as time passes. I lost my first boyfriend Paul when I was fourteen. He was killed on his bike by a drunk driver. We were out roller skating together the night it happened, but I didn’t find out until the next day. It didn’t make any sense to me at all. I didn’t even go to the funeral.

As a teacher…I feel the loss in Jack’s classroom. The empty desk will be empty for the rest of the school year. His teacher will see his name on the rosters until it is deleted, and then she’ll see the absence of his name.

I’m typing with my eyes closed. My face is overwhelmed with tears. I want to climb up the ladder into Noah’s new loft bed and hold him until he’s an old man.

Prior to writing this entry, I tried a number of distractions to keep myself from dealing with this gaping hole in my heart. I played around on Facebook, commenting on pictures and bantering with some students on my wall. I went to bed but it was too quiet, so I turned on my ipod and put it on shuffle. The first song that came on was by Casting Crowns. The song finally broke me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found
I once was lost, but now I’m found
So far away, but I’m home now
I once was lost, but now I’m found
And now my life song sings

I once was blind, but now I see
I once was blind, but now I see
I don’t know how, but when He touched me
I once was blind, but now I see

And now my life song sings

I once was dead, but now I live
I once was dead, but now I live
Now my life to You I give
Now my life to You I give
Now my life to You I give

Let my life song sing to You

So it’s 3:30 now. The noises outside are few. A brewing storm. An occasional car. A moped. A chirping gecko. A baby. A dog. The clock on the wall. My own breathing…

Goodnight Jack. Hold me a spot, k?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Few Good Songs

As the end of NaNoWriMo's week-one approaches, I feel the need to share some of the songs that have generated the right momentum to keep the word count flowing (just under 8k right now). And while I don't usually listen to music while I'm hammering out my half-brilliant works of near genius, I do listen to my CD d' jour while I'm zipping around in my car all over the place. This is where my muse likes to visit me most, and if the music is just right, she'll flood me with new scenes and rampant dialogue to the point that I sometimes have to jot stuff down at stop lights. It's a messier situation when she visits in the shower, but let's not go there.

In the past, I have tried to set up the romanticized writing environment, complete with oil lamps, cozy pillows, and carefully burned CDs; but perhaps because I'm a closet musician, I usually catch myself analyzing the metrics and circle of fifths, which in turn usually ruins my stream of consciousness--also known as "the zone."

Using earphones makes it worse. When I got my first ipod a few years ago, I thought I had died and gone to music heaven as I dug up hundreds of obscure songs for a mere .99 cents a pop, which soon turned into (gasp) hundreds of dollars over a six-month period. I had to cut back, but now am glad I made, and still make, the investment. So there I was one night in my picture-perfect writing environment, trying to write a scene where my main character was making a life-or-death decision--while in my ears Leonard Cohen (whom I love) was singing (sort of) about Suzanne, who is half-crazy as she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China. My pen (or keyboard) had to shut down while I imagined how nice it would be to have some tea and oranges from China as I listened to the rest of the song:

And just when you mean to tell her
You have no love to give her
She gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover...

See? I'm doing it right now...trying to write a decent blog entry without getting lost in a song!

So before I go off on another meandering tangent, here's the current list of what I've been listening to and some of the lines that make it happen...

1. Bulletproof Weeks
by Matt Nathanson.

So what happened to bullet proof weeks in your arms
What happened to feelin' cheap radio songs
What happened to thinking the world was flat
Yeah what happened to that

2. Down
by Rakim Y Ken-Y.
(also one of the best reggaeton songs to Zumba to!)

Pero todo fallo en todos los intentos (gotta hear it to fully appreciate it)
Translation: But everything went wrong in every attempt

3. Summer Again by The Afters
(absolute poetics set to music)

As she falls I try to catch her
For one last touch of warmth from summer
As one thing leaves to become another again
I remember when
Oh to be with summer again
The days were warm and we wore them like skin
Now I feel the effects of October again

4. Writing to Remember by Matt Brauwer
(has a slight country feel but it throws a powerful punch)

They say that you can’t go back
I wouldn’t try even if I could
Cause somehow in the darkest hours
Something always came around for good

5. Sky Blue and Black
by Jackson Browne
(I'll never grow tired of this song...)

You're the color of the sky
Reflected in each store-front window pane
You're the whispering and the sighing
Of my tires in the rain
You're the hidden cost and the thing that's lost
In everything I do
Yeah and I'll never stop looking for you
In the sunlight and the shadows
And the faces on the avenue
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
That's the way love is
Sky blue and black

Other songs I'm listening to this month are directly and intentionally selected to give me a feel for the time and place element of my Romanian setting. I'll be adding Turkish tunes soon as well as Brazilian as my story progresses...

6. Romania by Elana Timaru
(a lullabye sang in Romanian)

7. Dark Eyes by Zoltan and His Gypsy Ensamble
(an instrumental--love it!)

8. Romania by Gary Sills from his album, Restless Hearts
(a piano piece that I must learn--in December! It's not the same song as #6)

9. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; I Love You Sweetheart of My Dreams; & Ask Me Now by Thelonious Monk
(I can imagine these three in the movie!)

10. Solace & Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin
(Joplin is my soul mate!)

So there it is, my top-10 (13)...

Noapte buna si Dumnezeu miluieste!
(Goodnight and God bless)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Introduction to Lucia

Coincidence or Fate? You decide. It was May of 2008, prom night for my eighteen year-old son Ryan. His date was Cristina G., a beautiful blonde senior from another high school. We were invited by Cristina’s parents John and Cathy to come to their house for a pre-prom photo gathering. When we arrived, the spectacular view from their home in the coveted neighborhood of Hawaii Loa Ridge took my breath away. I had never before seen Lēʻahi (more famously known as the Diamond Head crater), from this lofty angle. I tried to imagine its last eruption, estimated over 150,000 years ago and was grateful for its permanent state of dormancy, being that I live only a few miles away from it. The panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean reminded me that I live on a very small and isolated speck, yet the place from where I stood created a dichotomic sensation of immensity.

As the other prom-goers arrived, we enjoyed chocolate chip cookies and guava juice out by the pool. The girls, dressed to the nines, paired up with their respective dates, and we snapped an onslaught of pictures by the pool and in the house. Cristina, dressed in a sleek red with white polka-dotted dress, confessed her love of all things Disney, especially Minnie Mouse. After all, she told us, her dad used to work at Disneyland. Of course, since I used to work there, I jumped in and asked her dad about his Magic Kingdom career, which he admitted was probably before I was born, which it was. This conversation led us into an unusual discovery of beyond coincidental circumstances.

Cristina’s dad John told me he had lived in Long Beach, California. I told him I was born in Long Beach and lived there until I was three. He asked me where specifically, and I told him, “West First Street.” He responded, “I lived on East First Street.”

“What years did you live there?” he asked.

“1965 to 1968. You?”

“1957 to 1966. But,” he added, “my parents remained there for the rest of their lives.”

So we lived on the same street for one year, but that was just the beginning. John told me he went to St. Anthony’s, a Catholic School in Long Beach, and graduated in 1960, which happens to be one year after my half-brother Miles graduated—FROM THE SAME SCHOOL! Needless to say, we were both stunned by this amazing discovery.

“What are the chances of that?” John asked.

“It’s a small world after all,” I chuckled.

He agreed.

Our conversation drifted when I noticed Cristina had donned a sequined pair of Minnie Mouse ears. I had to get more pictures, so I left John to converse with my husband, and this is where it gets unbelievable.

Somehow in their conversation, the topic came up that I am a writer. This alone is weird because anyone who knows my husband knows that he has not been one to boast about my wanna-be writing career. Perhaps he mentioned that I was working on a masters, which could have possibly lead him to say that I was a writer of sorts, but for whatever reason, his statement sparked an immediate response from John, who proceeded to tell my husband that he had been looking for a writer who could create a novel based on the true story of his Romanian parents and himself having to suddenly and permanently flee in 1944 from the incoming Russian Communists, leaving behind their family estate and loved ones in Romania.

I had wandered back inside to catch the tail end of this conversation and was immediately intrigued with the idea of creating such a story. The rest, as they say, is history—Romanian history, that is.

John asked me if I knew anything about ghostwriting or co-authorship projects and if it was something I would be interested in doing. I told him honestly that I didn’t know much about the legal technicalities, but that I was definitely interested in retelling the story for him. I explained to him that without conscientious intention, most of my stories have a common motif of displaced persons, so his story is right up my proverbial alley (except for the fact that I knew nothing at the time about Romania or its involvement in World War II). John then told me he had envisioned this story to be reminiscent of the classic Casa Blanca, starring Ingrid Bergman.

“Well,” I told John, “my maiden name is Bergman, and my favorite black-and-white film has always been, and always will be, Casa Blanca.”

We exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up right away, which we did and have done several times since. John and his wife Cathy have worked hard to keep the documents and photographs preserved. They also have shown me the few family heirlooms that were salvaged from his parents’ estate in Romania and traveled with them to Turkey, then to Rio de Janeiro, across the Atlantic to New York, then to Ohio, across the United States to California, and now dwell safely in Hawaii. What has helped me most, however, is the four-hour video footage of John’s mother Lucia talking at age ninety-two about her remarkable life. I have watched and re-watched this video, taking extensive notes and generating in my mind the voice of an astute, even perhaps sneaky woman who has lived out a plot that I could have never generated on my own.

If done right, this writing endeavor will deliver a riveting plot, a rich exposé of Romania’s ambivalence toward World War II alliances, and a mind-blowing twist of fate at the end. I see it as a film and am writing it with a screenplay in the forefront of my mind.

So as they say in Romania, “Nu lasa pe maine ce poti face astazi” (Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today).