In this knuckle-cracking finale to the Trilogy of Tomatoes, Erika Lopez refuses to wipe her nose, curtsey, and exit gracefully. Hoochie Mama: The Other White Meat is another eclectic novel that belongs somewhere between the coffee table and the bathroom, but this time we're a little older, yellowing like freezer-burned chicken, and dabbing on just a touch of rouge before hobbling down to the street corner to scream at the computer programmers who've skipped into San Francisco and peed all over the toilet seats out of excitement. You see, fresh from prison, Tomato Mad Dog Rodriguez returns to find her once-bohemian Mission neighborhood overrun by Latte People trading stocks on cell phones while careening down sidewalks in their Ford Explorers. Rents have multiplied to the square root of horror, forcing the families, elderly artists, and hippies -- those who didn't already get run over on the sidewalks -- to flee in droves, leaving behind only those willing to serve noisy coffees and change the deadly Firestone tires. If we spill your non-fat decaf lattes on our skin, do we not burn? In spite of its resentful minimum-wage tone, this book is not only for the person who feels herself to be part of the cleaning staff for this rip-roaring American party of overachievers with perfect credit ratings. For some in the middle of their own urban hell, this may be like having your head jammed in a toilet and flushed over and over again. But others, with medical coverage and a morbid curiosity about what it's like to be a renter pillaging the sofa for change as if it were a lucky fountain, will find sharing this glimpse of the underachieving class as fascinating as staring atroadkill, then sniffing it. But whether you view Mrs. Lopez's latest literary caterwaul as high entertainment of the outrageous sort, or as part political polemic, part act of subversion, you are sure to be entertained. For her part, she sees it as a creepy warning for renters to beware. Run and hide, she warns. Remember when the Martians landed and when it was almost too late, we found out that their supposedly philanthropic book, On Serving Man, was really a cookbook? It's a fun romp through the seal-clubbing world of gentrification, with a girl who's run over a cat, kidnapped her lover, forged her roommate's checks, slept with married Canadians, ordered Columbia records under dead neighbors' names, tried on numerous occasions to murder Chihuahuas...and still is easily the nicest person in the whole story. So y'all gather 'round the heating duct -- assuming your deregulated electricity hasn't been shut off -- turn out the lights, and hold flashlights under your chins...then read this tale to each other well into the wee hours of the night before your rent is due...[insert scream here].
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We rented a house in West Virginia and when we moved in, we brought along our wooden notepad holder that was shaped like a small, old-fashioned children's sled. It was the kind of thing you hung next to the kitchen phone. You dropped a roll of paper in the top, threaded it through a bar at the bottom and you were set to go. It was all about taking only what you needed when it came to Thanksgiving grocery lists or tiny local phone numbers. Nothing more/nothing less.
My mom, Debby was thirty-two then, the same age I am now, and my sister Elena Glane, was unformed five. I was seven and learned how to crack eggs in that house. Mom taught us how to make sugar cookies. And so that we wouldn't be the subject of an urban myth, we used a wooden spoon instead of an electric mixer. When I was bad I got spanked with that same wooden spoon to keep me in line, so I sat on it to make it snap in half. After that, in a pinch, when I was bad she'd use her hot-pink hairbrush. But if my mom knew then how I'd turn into a demonic Monster Girl, she'd have not only made cookies with the electric mixer, but punished me with it as well.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
Just down the hill from us was a brother and a sister who lived in a house that had a big hill as their whole backyard. It was covered by lush wild onions. Sometimes I'd pull off handfuls and inhale and wonder if we could make this stuff into soup in case of an emergency, like a war.
The sister's name was Kim and I had a crush on her older brother because he had a blond bowl cut and wore wire-rimmed glasses. I can't remember his name right now, but he looked like a sensitive, chunky folksinger at a time in America's history when everyone in the country looked like a sensitive folksinger. Especially in those candid Instamatic photographs, squinting thoughtfully into the sunset or helping a butterfly wrangle itself free from the clutches of modern life. A modern life that cried for the understanding of a folksong.
Kim's brother had a lot of passion brewing under his Sears Toughskins from the Husky department, and I wanted to grow up and be the one to undo the zipper that would make me a Woman with a capital "W". I didn't need a poem, a song, or even nary a glance in my direction. It was enough that he could make a different clubhouse every week our of the same musty, oniony wood and then share it with all of us without being such a dork. He liked company. You see, he had the strong, silent image that the wildly successful cigarette industry was based on. "How insightful of them," I'd later admit.
When Halloween came around, some girl up the street made a haunted house in her basement, and yeah, she had the peeled grapes for eyes. To this day I still won't eat grapes.
We went trick-or-treating and got big Hershey bars and baggies of chocolate chip cookies. We dumped our loot on the hoods of cars and swapped candy like Kennedy Tragedy Trading Cards, and I gave my big Hershey bar to Kim because I wanted her to think I was the best friend a girl could have. It was like giving her an engagement ring, for we were the future fat girls who'd later dress it all up with lots of eyeliner piled on our top lids and shiny rings jammed down to the bottom of our fingers.
We'd never became the kind of apologetic fat girls who knew our places in the bodily caste system -- smiling too much, giving away cigarettes and letting people keep our Tupperware. I wonder if Kim still has her eyebrows, because back then you lost them along with your innocence. It was the price you paid for staying in West Virginia.
I was in second grade and the janitor at the school was an old hunched-over black man and his wife worked with him. Every day she wore an easy blue broadcloth muumuu with rags, sponges, and gloves sticking out of the useful yellow patch pockets she'd stitched on after buying the muumuu.
They had this cramped, dark little office where they had a big old TV on the floor that played soft elevator music and had boring typewriter writing constantly going down a blue or green screen, reporting the weather, community events, and school lunch menus.
Neither one of them talked much, but they smiled whenever they saw me and every once in a while the husband would lean his mop against the wall, wave me over to him, and hand me a small, sealed envelope to give to my mom.
He wrote little notes to her and I don't remember what they said, but he'd fold in a twenty-dollar bill for her to spend on my sister and me, just to help her out.
Mom made arts-and-crafty wall hangings in our house for the YWCA Christmas bazaar. She had a big round friend with no waist who made these crafts with her; this friend had lots of black eyeliner piled on her eyelids, and rings cinched at the bottom of her own short fingers like hose clamps.
We'd all go out to a Greek place called Lopez's Grill to eat pizza. We couldn't have soda in the house, but when we were at the grill, Elena and I got to drink as many RC Colas as we wanted because it kept us quiet while the adults talked. Since Elena wasn't even seven yet, she didn't have a whole lot of ideas as to what to talk about, so I'd quietly drink RC, listen to the jukebox, and wonder why some guy would admit to shooting the sheriff but not the deputy. Why would he actually admit shooting anybody? I looked forward to the day when I would finally understand. That day has yet to come.
My mom's round friend with eyeliner didn't like kids because she'd been an only child herself, and no matter how old she got, she didn't like having the attention off her. But her parents once gave my sister and me a couple of Wrigley's Spearmint gum boxes that were taller than we were, so we didn't care how irritating she was when she harmonized to Streisand records like a Barbra shop quartet.I looked forward to the day when I'd finally understand America's pay-through-the-nose love for Barbara. That day has also yet to come.
Together, she and my mom made felt-snail wall hangings on yellow burlap with dowels at the top and a dab of cotton under the snail shells to make them more three-dimensional so they looked like they were popping right out at you. I was amazed and thought it was the most clever thing I'd ever seen.
Later in that summer some of my friends ran over and banged on the aluminum screen door because my puppy, Mittens, had been hit by a car. I ran to her, but I felt so useless. She was panting, lying on her side with her tongue sticking out more than usual, and I didn't want to touch her and make anything worse inside of her. It was only a few minutes before she died. With such a fair mom who explained every spanking, it was the first time I just didn't get it/didn't understand why.
At bedtime that night I sat on Mom's double bed, crying as she tried like Sesame Street to explain the life and death things we never really understand until that very last minute when we're sprawled and gasping before the tires of our own deaths. She was trying to get ready for bed as she talked to me, but then she stopped fluffing her pillows and she started crying, too. Not like a grown-up mom tear or two, but her face got all wrinkled up and red and she was crying and crying, just like a kid. I was stunned. At first I wanted her to know everything and make it better, but then it turned out she wasn't so sure. It took me a minute to readjust my expectations from an omnipotent mother to a human mom. I loved her so much for not being that much older than me after all.
The next day in school, I sot in the bathroom stall and sobbed. As I unrolled the toilet paper to blow my nose, I promised myself I'd remember the date of Mittens's death forever, but now I'm not sure whether It was June 6 or even if it was a Monday.
Later that fall, when a spider moved into my bedroom window, I gave it a name, talked to it so it woul
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Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2001. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110684869748
Book Description Simon & Schuster. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0684869748 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0263653
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