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Two of the things my father enjoyed most were fashion and participating in illegal activities (not in that order) and saw the 80’s as a shangri-la that united both.
He recognized that it was an ideal time for smuggling–not because of larger demand–but because the acceptable dimensions that things like hair, leg warmers, MC Hammer pants and other fashionable items had taken. This allowed plenty of room to hide goods in the most inconspicuous of all places, making shoulder pads the most excellent channel; anything from an Armadillo shell ukulele to a Polar bear skin to the unoriginal but very profitable 5 kgs of cocaine per shoulder.
In order to carry out his newly conceived plan, he created a sweater company. He crafted the bulkiest sweaters with the most massive shoulder pads–something to a scale only seen on Joan Collins in an episode of Dynasty or any episode of Designing Women.
In order to get these oversized sweaters out of the country, he (unbeknownst to them) enlisted his parents, both of whom made frequent trips to Spain to visit family. It was unlikely that anyone would suspect two elderly people carrying 250 sweaters each, so his plan was rock solid.
He mass produced a variety of hefty sweaters from a mix of acrylic and wool of questionable precedence crafted in a fluorescent lighted room containing 30 machines operated by 45 young adults of almost legal working age. (which was totally acceptable in the 80’s by the way)
My grandparents were a little concerned with the weight, and although airline restrictions at the time were a lot more lax, they resolved to leave their oxygen tanks in order to make their cargo lighter and help my dad with his new business. My dad had brilliantly convinced them by saying that the sweaters had to get there in time for the running of the bulls, which apparently demanded bulky clothing as well as for an Ibiza Knight Rider themed party DJ’d by Boy George where giant shoulder pads were a must for all in attendance.
As much planning as my dad put into getting those shoulder pads in the perfect shape, he did not foresee that my grandparents would become suspicious after hearing in the news that the people of Spain were no longer wearing shoulder pads and had been boycotting their use in protest of Michael Jackson’s latest child molestation rumors, having shifted their focus onto stone wash and Debbie Gibson.
It didn’t take long for the two 80 year olds to discover the hidden merchandise and the real reason the sweaters were in demand in Ibiza. To my dad’s and Boy George’s great disappointment, the sweaters never made it to the Knight Rider party. My grandparents had donated them to the impoverished children of the Andes who had been undergoing record low temperatures and who were soon to become the most fashionable people to ever hit the mountains of South America.
I have always been afraid of the dark. Since I can remember, I always managed to sleep with my mom, my grandmother, my uncle, or any available relative in order to avoid being found alone by imaginary night assailants, camouflaged intruders, a sudden foray of cacatoes waiting in concealment to swoop in and poop all over me, or a sad clown that turns out to be Fabio.
It has always seemed to me that at night anything is possible. And I mean anything. Often, while laying in bed, gazing at the glow in the dark stars and penis shaped planets glued to my ceiling, I imagine demons, monsters and fairies dressed in tacky 80’s glittery pink and purple outfits flying out from my closet or from under my bed to torment me to the tune of Miami Sound Machine’s “Rhythm is gonna get you” which makes it even more terrifying.
For a while now, in order to keep myself safe I have been performing a few rituals before going to bed. I touch my nose seven times before laying down, which causes evil entities to flee in trembling terror (everyone knows 7 is God’s number and they don't wanna be anywhere near that). I place my hands always away from my chest and never crossed (crossed-hands-on-chest is a position reserved for permanent sleep–usually inside a coffin.) And I never, ever leave my feet or any of my limbs uncovered in the off-chance lurking spirits might try to pull on them for shits and giggles.
Every night I contemplate all the possible perilous scenarios that may come my way. I believe to have dodged dangers such as being tickled to death by a Chinese speaking Opera singer as well as surviving a failed attempt by my cat to bury me alive in the litter box.
One of my most spine chilling visions was possibly the one of a tall, dark and handsome stranger breaking into my home, not to burglarize me, or to charm and inflame me with love, but to secretly inject into my vitamins a special concoction made from Patchouli and other fragrant herbs that would obliterate my brain cells, so when I wake, I will have turned into a Joel Olsteen follower.
I can’t remember now what the intruder’s motive is, but I do know it makes perfect sense at 3 am as I lay there, terrified of finding myself the next morning reading “The Lord’s Corn Patch” and staring at my vitamin bottle, wishing I had hid it along with my athlete's foot and yeast infection lotions.
The first woman to fly over the Dead Sea, Normpetra set off on a round the world journey in 1902, which she was unable to complete due to a shortage of gas when she had just completed 3 miles of her 59,000 mile journey.
The first leg was supposed to be from Turks and Caicos to a tiny Troll inhabited island where a worship tower had been constructed by these Trolls in order to reach God (either that or they had way too much time in their hands)
Poor radio contact eventually led to her inability to refuel. For 8 days a search and rescue operation was mobilized by the Cockburn Navy which included some Mexican illegal immigrants as well as exiled members of the Pentecostal church.
The most prevalent theory is that the rescuers were enticed by the availability of free coconuts as well as the island’s beautiful women (in that order) and abandoned their quest in order to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh that had been previously denied to them by their lack of legal status and/ or religious sect memberships.
Photographs were later found of an official making whoopee with the local women whose bosoms were strategically covered with Coconut shells. It is thought that rather than abandon his station, he used these famous photos to advance his career in Hollywood. Equally the Cockburn authorities covered up the facts.
Since I can remember, my grandmother was either unable or unwilling to hold her gas, no matter who was present or where she happened to be at the time. She would let it rip anytime, anywhere and usually accompany the sounds with loud chuckles and exaggerated clapping in order to cover it up, but the unexpected clapping and laughter in the middle of a serious conversation, at a funeral or during my first communion ceremony had opposite effects and only made things more apparent.
My grandmother, did not concern herself with much, whether her children were fed or whether she was too busy tending to her garden and hadn’t seen her husband in 4 days straight was of little concern. Nothing seemed to faze her, as long as it was done in private, and most importantly, as long as the neighbors didn’t find out.
She placed great importance on appearances (with the inexplicable exception of her indulgence in passing gas in public). Everyone in our home was instructed to put on an act for the neighbors. She wanted to be perceived as a classy, rich, respectable, beautiful and asexual, so we spoke in low voices and tiptoed around the house, wearing our best outfits when we walked in front of a window in case one of them happened to be looking in.
One day, my cousin LM, who is younger than me by 7 years, came to me in search for answers. He misguidedly looked up to me as most younger siblings do, and would often come to me with questions regarding things he hadn’t yet discovered in life and that I would–without fail –meet with carefully designed half truths or made up notions that had the sole purpose of confusing him further and hopefully send him into a downward spiral of social inadequacy and possibly insanity.
On this particular occasion, his doubts were regarding the meaning of the word nymphomaniac which he’d heard somewhere in grade school. I informed him that the appropriate and more chic term was its shortened version nynpho and that it meant “A person or entity who is unable to contain their need to pass gas without regard for location or social consequence”. Naturally he made a quick connection and concluded that this was exactly the affliction that plagued my grandmother and proceeded to (predictably, as he had been known to promulgate any bit of private family information that came his way) tell everyone and yell it out the windows for our neighbors to hear.
My grandmother was still regarded as classy (amongst those who had not yet witnessed her farts and sudden clapping and chuckling), rich, respectable and beautiful but much to her shame, no longer asexual.
In high school, getting my hands on a much coveted pair of Guess jeans (or Reebok sneakers, Swatch watch, Billabong shirt, or any brand name item) proved to be slightly harder than I had anticipated.
We were not poor, but my mother did not see the need to purchase anything she could very well make. And much to my teenage misfortune, after taking courses on everything from “How to knit a Macrame Owl” to “How to make a metal carved jewel encrusted shrine for the Virgin Mary” she was capable of making anything, and I mean anything.
“Want a pair of those cool gleaming white Keds all the kids are wearing? No need to buy a pair! After a thick coat of some of this white house paint, no one will be able to tell this is actually an old pair of blue Bata’s” – Her words made me tremble in terror and provided me with an impending sense of dread. I knew what was coming, another public embarrassment. I had a sneaky suspicion that her hand-crafted items would have the opposite effect to what I desired, they would not make me more popular, but even less so.
Ocean Pacific shirts were not worth their cost either. She once grabbed an old shirt that she had misguidedly purchased for me on one of her trips to the fish market (Yes, they did sell shirts there, I guess in case you were shopping for fresh fish and some of it’s juices/ blood got on the shirt you were wearing) and proceeded to embroider the O.P. initials on it.
I loved her too much to tell her I wouldn’t show up in school sporting the sneakers she had so carefully painted for me, or wearing that enormous scrunchy she made me out of the fabric from her old pajamas, or play Volleyball with the old deflated Soccer ball our neighbor's kids had abandoned years ago and that she also painted white (With the same paint she used for the facade of our home and my sneakers) My love for her wasn’t the only reason I rarely protested though, somewhere deep down I believed as much as her that all the hand-made-brand-name items that she had crafted for me, would make me fit in and my classmates would open their eyes to finally see me for the cool kid I really was and not for the weirdo they had mistaken me for.
She was good at sewing, embroidering, metal work, welding, cooking, plumbing, painting, sculpting, knitting and everything in between; there was nothing she couldn’t make. She made my prom dress, my pencil case (not a fabric one either, but one of those plastic ones that closed with a magnet and opened on both sides) She made me a toy T.V out of a scroll of printer paper and a cardboard milk box. She made me clothes, birthday cakes, piñatas, sports equipment, electronics, and beauty products. I constantly asked myself why she couldn’t be like the other normal mothers who had real jobs and were too busy to pay attention to their offspring and had no ability or desire to sculpt clay figures of the entire Smurf village for their children.
My material demands started early as a child. Amongst the things I demanded–before becoming a teenager and brand-name clothing became my priority–were a chemistry set, (to create mini home explosions) a microscope (to observe the insects I captured in our garden), and most of all, a Barbie doll along with her very own Dream House, Malibu home and a pink Corvette convertible where she would parade around town to show off her hot boyfriend, Ken.
I never got the chemistry set or microscope, and instead of the blonde long haired Barbie that I had hoped for, I inherited my mother’s Barbie, a 60’s version that was missing half a leg, had short thick brown hair and way too much eyeliner.
Along with Barbie I also inherited Barbie’s little sister, Skipper, whom I was suspicious of from the beginning as she didn’t seem to belong in the Barbie family. She wasn’t like Barbie, she wasn’t hot or had a tiny waist, she wasn’t wearing any makeup and had an innocent rosy cheeked complexion that made her appear to be more appropriately suited for the Ingalls Family rather than the dysfunctional and sexually charged environment I had created at the Barbie Manor.
Thanks to my mom's abilities, Casa Barbie was constructed out of an old wooden kitchen cabinet that she had set apart when our kitchen was being remodeled (due to extreme erosion and moth infestation) to be Barbie’s future condo. The cabinet’s two inner shelves would serve as the upper and lower levels of the duplex, both of which my mom carpeted, wallpapered and furnished.
Barbie (or Maria-Barbara Velarde Fuentemayor Torrejon as I liked to call her in order to make sure everyone knew she was a rich girl) and young innocent Skipper were not enough for the kind of play I had in mind though, I needed a male figure to create some sexual tension, one that Barbie could slap across the face and pretend she didn’t wanna have sex with, so he could–after much struggle–grab her by the hair (which was not as steamy with a short brown haircut) and force her to kiss him passionately until she succumbed with desire and allowed him to rub their plastic imaginary genitals together.
I received Barbie’s new mate for Christmas–not Ken but Klen, a bootleg reject my aunt had purchased from the returned items bin that featured some massive bite marks which led me to conclude that the previous owner had Rabies.
I had to make due with what I had, so I used Klen’s bite marks as part of my rough sex story line and made 60’s Barbie and 80’s Klen enact all the romantic fantasies that I had conceived by watching Mexican soaps and peaking through my dad’s Manga porn collection.
I wasn't sure, and I'm still not, of whether I was the luckiest or unluckiest kid in school and I often ask myself who would I be today had I owned blonde Barbie, a real pair of Guess jeans or that chemistry set I so longed to use to make my own little bombs.
My grandmother was old-school. And when I say old school, I mean it in the colonial pre-abolitionist sort of way.
She was under the unyielding belief that white people were not only superior, more beautiful and smarter humans (particularly those with blonde hair and blue eyes) but they were also never to consort, under any circumstance with people of darker shades (unless they happened to be Italian–the only group of acceptable dark people) and had a skin color that wasn’t any darker than Café au Lait–heavy on the lait and light on the café). These defective bipeds could not be seen entering our home (unless it was through the back door and they were dressed in uniform) where we welcomed only white, beautiful and preferably rich people. Any combination of two or more of these attributes was most esteemed.
Unfortunately these pestiferous people composed the majority of our country’s population making them hard to avoid, constantly popping up at our places of leisure and infiltrating themselves in our schools. My grandmother was increasingly threatened by these people’s growing audacity, so in order to keep her kids away from them, she had not allowed them to have any friends at all growing up, thus avoiding the possibility of one of these darker agents seeping through the cracks.
My mother, who was not only sheltered and naive but also desperate for a friend, threw out all common sense and decency and became friends with one of these people, consequently unleashing my grandmother’s ire and determination to eliminate such unseemly friendship.
Out of all the strategies available to her, my grandmother went for the smart approach: a folkloric form of local witchcraft which entailed the use of a broom and some magical incantations. The bewitchment consisted of placing an upside-down broom behind the door of whichever room the undesirable happened to be seated in. According to unwritten local accounts, the energy the broom emitted would make the abominable creature leave never to be seen again. This would take a few tries, as only the most committed of apprentices could make it happen on the first visit, while my grandmother relied mostly on her natural God-given wizardry.
It became standard procedure that whenever my mom’s friend was over, the upside-down broom would be placed behind the appropriate door. I accompanied my grandmother while she carefully positioned the broom and then I would run to the other side, to the room where my mom was seated with the troublemaker and impatiently lied in wait to see the magic happen. I watched this ritual with a delightful sense of mischief and wonder as I eagerly awaited to see if the broom trick worked.
On one of these occasions my mom’s friend unexpectedly opened the door while my grandmother was busy hiding her underwear (she was convinced these people were after it, and would steal it at the first chance they’d get to sell as padding for post-op breast cancer patients) and saw the broom fall to the ground. I don’t know whether my mom’s friend was aware of its intent and was offended by it or if it was the broom’s powers that made her leave. Either way, we were all in awe of the broom’s magical aura over the entity and became convinced of my grandmother’s witchery. We lived in fear of the possibility of her using her considerable powers on us. So we never again dared bring over to our home anyone who wasn’t as beautiful or as smart or as blonde as we were, but as it happened, none of us were particularly brilliant, beautiful, rich or blonde. Just white (ish). Oddly enough, her underwear stopped disappearing.
My grandmother was a classy lady, always overly concerned about appearances, good manners and appropriate behavior.. I was always fascinated and would eagerly listen to her stories about being young, when she’d only date Germans with blue eyes and blonde hair or about the dogs she had owned as a child, trained to attack anyone who wasn’t white. These stories warmed my heart and gave me nostalgia for better times past.
But as uptown as my grandmother was, some of my memories of her remain a mystery, and a select few haunt me still, among them, the memories of her insisting on watering the plastic plants, or the one of herstanding over the toilet bowl searching for tomato seeds in my shit.
She often warned me of the great perils that would come to those ingesting tomato seeds and urged me to avoid them at all cost. She went into great detail about the havoc these seeds would wreak in my system but never said why she needed to find them after they’d been digested. One of many cliffhangers that remain unrevealed in my life.
Throughout my childhood, and into my teens I was terrified to sleep alone. I feared The Incredible Hulk hiding under my bed or inside my closet. I feared waking up in the middle of the night to a black Doberman staring at me with bloodshot eyes. (And he wouldn't be really a dog, he’d be Satan impersonating one). I feared I might be a spawn of Satan myself and searched for years for the mark of 666 etched in my scalp. I wasn’t interested in finding a distraction or sleep aid, a TV or a radio, would hinder the alertness I needed to jump out fast enough to escape. What I needed was company, someone to alert me should any of these things come to pass. My grandmother happened to sleep alone in a King sized bed, so it seemed only sensible that I should sleep there. So I did. From age of 3 until the age of 20.
This decision brought me a few inconveniences. Amongst the most troublesome, was the fact that she refused to use the bathroom and kept a bucket under her bed for any and all bathroom related purposes. It wasn’t that she couldn’t walk, she was quite agile, and it wasn’t that the bathroom was too far, it was right outside her room. I guessed she was into extreme comfort, and didn’t care that it might be quite uncomfortable for anyone else present, which made me secretly admire her for her grit and daring. Seemed any place was preferable to take care of her private business than the place that had been socially imposed on her. She was a dissenter, an iconoclast, so she’d protest the establishment by using the neighbor’s lawn, our front patio, or anywhere in our own garden (which also happened to boost the growth of the cooking herbs and veggies we had planted there she’d said.)
Every night I’d be woken up by the sound of her urine hitting the bucket, or her spitting, or her depositing of God knows what. I tried not to decipher what each sound might mean, so in order to cover up the sound of the eruptions, I sang to myself “Bad Medicine” using the various noises as rhythmic cues.
I fantasized often about sleeping in my own bed, but what were a few bodily secretions compared to a Satan possessed dog trying to kill me? or The Incredible Hulk trying to rape me? so after weighing my limited options, I stayed. For 17 years. During all that time, it occurred to me, I never saw her search for tomato seeds in her own bucket. Or maybe she did–while I was performing one of my renditions of Bon Jovi's top hits.