Magdalena on: Navigating Los Angeles

I looked to the dash, 4:43 pm. In another hour Los Angeles would switch places. The freeways, already congested with the exchange, would be jammed in both directions as gardeners, housekeepers, pool boys, and handymen keeping up the homes on the Westside made their way east to Downey, Inglewood, El Monte and Echo Park while lawyers, bankers, producers, executives and industry types, working downtown, made their way west to Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Westwood and Malibu. Aspiring actors would stop circulating their headshots and start passing out menus. Musicians would climb down from billboards and arrange drum sets in someone’s cramped studio apartment. It was a slow parade of poorly documented domestics making the long walk to the neighborhood limits, because public transportation is restricted from entering designer drives (see decrease in property values) and chic canyons (see smog, see noise ordinances, see intentionally narrow roads that curve and chicane).

According to my navigation system, downtown L.A. is exactly 12.62 miles from Rodeo Drive (Start out going Southeast on N RODEO DR toward ELEVADO AVE. Turn LEFT onto S SANTA MONICA BLVD/LITTLE SANTA MONICA BLVD. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto BURTON WAY. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto N SAN VICENTE BLVD. Turn RIGHT onto S LA BREA AVE. Merge onto I-10 E. Merge onto CA-110 N via the exit—on the left—toward PASADENA. Take the 4TH ST/3RD ST exit—exit number 22B. Take the 6TH ST ramp). On a good day, say on a Sunday at 3 am, you might get there in the twenty-three minutes, Google Maps suggests. On most other days it will take you anywhere from forty-seven minutes, not including parking, to an hour and a half.

An hour and a half, without parking, to go 12.62 miles seems extraordinary in most instances, but it’s one of the only things in L.A. that actually make any sense; it’s one of those collegiate conundrums of place and space that can actually be solved, QED. My sociology professor would go nuts over it: income times quality of life divided by a quotient of perceived happiness, expressed or otherwise, minus assets, including but not limited to green cards, 401Ks, IRAs and dental insurance, and it takes a hell of a lot longer than twenty-three minutes to navigate from Olvera Street to Rodeo Drive. In fact, I’ve heard it said that, although it’s walkable in less than an afternoon, it can sometimes take upwards of five generations to make the trip.

Ricky, I suppose you could say made the trip in two generations and some change—which beats my fifth-generation white-ethnic slide down from Pollack Hill by quite a mean feat. The traffic must have been particularly light. Maybe he took the surface streets or maybe, oh the genius, he took the carpool and didn’t get caught!

Copyright 2012-Bridget Hoida- So L.A., a novel

Magdalena on: Fact

Somewhere near breakfast Juan Duran signaled, and one by one the train of now-dusty cars pulled to the left and parked near a field. The field was full of crops, something low-cut and greenish, like parsley; and speckled throughout the harvest were farmers in old Dodger caps and white t-shirts, digging up produce and depositing dirty bunches into large wooden crates beneath umbrellas of bright orange and yellow and pink.

You mean the umbrellas aren’t for the workers? I asked Ricky in a hushed voice.

What? Donna, who was riding shotgun, asked.

The umbrellas, I said, pointing, you mean they aren’t…

Unbelievable, Donna said, before opening her door and directing a sharp glare at Ricky. I thought she grew up on a farm. I should have guessed this from you, she said, though it was unclear to whom she was speaking. Then she slammed the door and walked off barefoot towards the lead Caddy, mumbling under her breath.

I sat in the backseat with my hat in my lap, stunned and looking at Ricky. It was a vineyard, I said quietly, a small one. When we hired people it was just a few and they used the house.

Hey, don’t worry about it, Donna’s second husband, Christopher, said as he pushed the tip of his foot against the e-brake and took the keys out of the ignition. She’s still bitter about the scars and the smell of cilantro brings it back. Then he opened his door and slipped out after Donna, carrying her heels in his left hand and her sunglasses in the other.

Ricky slipped an arm around my shoulder and rubbed the back of my head with his palm. Hey, don’t worry about it. How could you have known?

You could have told me, I thought. Should I apologize?

Nah, she’ll forget about it before lunch. Just next time, maybe save your questions for when we’re alone. He opened his car door and let in a burst of golden light that had been previously muted by tinted windows.

Right, I said, pulling on my hat and pushing my sunglasses against my face.

Oh, come on, Magsie, Ricky said, ducking back into the car and planting a kiss on the top of my head. Don’t let it get you down. He tugged on my arm and I let him slide me across the leather seat and out of the car.

Outside, doors and trunks began to click open and slam shut as the Mora de la Cruz family poured out of their air-conditioned cars and into the heat of the Mexican morning sun. Their polo shirts and pressed Levis contrasted loudly with the tattered, muted colors of the farm around them.

We walked en masse along a cracked dirt driveway and into a stucco barn-like structure that functioned as sort of multipurpose dining room/mess hall. The girls and their men spread out and took up occupancy around the various tables, fanning each other with poorly folded maps and sun hats while Ricky, who held tightly to my hand, was corralled by his father into the kitchen.

Three old ladies tied up in faded paisley aprons—their arms covered in cornmeal to the elbows—were pounding tortillas, while a small, gold, portable radio hummed Mexican folk songs from the windowsill. When they saw Ricky they exploded into Spanish pandemonium, exclaiming and folding Ricky and Juan Duran into a sweaty embrace and littering their faces and starched black shirts with kisses and corn-covered pats. Overwhelmed, I managed to wrestle my hand from Ricky’s grasp and took a seat on a wooden crate in the corner. The old lady shrieks seemed to set off some sort of chain reaction and, before long, what appeared to be the entire town had gathered around, some of the children and a few older boys singing in broken English and particled Spanish, He’s here. He’s here. Yup the guy from California and his son. Happy.

Of course, the Spanish part I didn’t understand. My mother had been trying to teach me a working vocabulary since before I could walk, and Ricky had managed to teach me a word or two, but for the most part I nodded a lot, held up my fingers and used gestures. It worked well, but there were a few flaws. For example, my hand held like a cup to my lips seemed to be the universal sign for water (agua, duh), but even with the word there was no gesture for water from the bottles in the back of the truck and not Mexican water from a rusty pipe. So rather than ask I’d just brave the heat, follow the dirt drive back to the car, fish around under the tarp of the truck, wrestle with a gallon sized jug and pour myself a hot glass of L.A. tap. And that’s how it happened. How it hit me. How I knew that it would be water, in small plastic bottles, sold to America by a Mexican son. The irony was enough to make me choke, but I didn’t. Instead I spit the water from my mouth in a single stream onto the cracked brown dirt below and twisted the cap back on the recycled gallon-carton.

Of course, I could have said all this to the adoring crowd assembled around Ricky, but I didn’t.

Unlike Ricky I didn’t say a word. Didn’t correct a single fact. Didn’t rearrange anything at all. Instead, I stood with my back to the sea and looked around at Ricky’s assembled beach-front audience. I eyed each of the interns in turn. I scanned tanned and tucked faces illuminated by the subtle orange glow of Tiki torches and tried to figure out which one. Which slut. Which common whore was screwing my husband right under my $22,000 nose?

Magdalena on: Memory

It’s pretty, that story. Pretty enough to make you fall in love. And it’d be pretty too, to think the story ended there. To think that Mom, a little muddy but no worse for the wear, follows the river upstream until she’s spit out with her child on some San Diego shore. Towing the Styrofoam box behind her, she trudges through the silt to safety, her fingers prunish and her knees purple and sore. She puts her baby in the grass, where he coos and giggles from a tickle of dandelion brushing across his tummy, while she wrings out her skirts in the sun. That’s the way Ricky remembers it, so damn pretty. He remembers too that shortly thereafter Dad, an uncle of no relation and all six sisters came tumbling out of the hedges and trees; and before long they were in the big house in Riverside, splashing it up in the swimming pool, the river sledge long forgotten.

Of course, it didn’t happen like that. Never does. But whose gonna tell Moses that his momma pushed the cradle upstream while she swam up a sewer, filling her mouth full of piss and shit and raw scum? Who’s going to tell the baby that momma held her breath, the filth and refuge still inside and trickling down her lips, and faced the immigration police face front? That she spat the festering contents of her mouth, in one solid stream, straight into the blue-green eyes of the border patrol, and then she ran, her baby still bobbing about unawares?

Nobody. That’s who. Nobody’s gonna tell the baby a goddamned thing. They’re not going to linger on the lack of hedges in the desert. They’re not going to mention the indescribable taste shit leaves in between your teeth and on the inside of your cheeks. They’re going to let him float straight onto the chosen land, and they’re only going to cringe a little when the baby grows up and announces his intent to marry a yellow-headed wife.

Magdalena on: Imagination

Truth be told, Ricky’s father learned English off the portable radio and his children suffered the consequences: Rhonda, Donna, Sherry, Cheri, Venus, Barbara Ann and Ricky. Six Spanish-speaking baby girls and one American-born prince. The Mora de la Cruz girls, with the exception of Venus (who staged political protests and came out at sixteen), grew up in the shadows of Los Angeles and came into the city as one might expect: they married well, divorced, took half and then married again to second and third husbands always a little bit older and a little bit richer than their first. Other than Barbara Ann (who had three daughters with three different daddies), they remained childless, thin, beautiful and determined above everything to choose and maintain a certain lifestyle. To erase a certain past.

In the past the Mora de la Cruzs’ picked grapes, asparagus, peaches and—worst of all—strawberries from the time they set foot on California soil until the youngest among them turned twelve. They moved with the harvest, living in the dust and hay of the farm labor camps from Salem to Stockton, Bellingham to Riverside. Between the nine of them they were deported—individually and collectively—thirteen times under various grounds and foundations. Yet somehow, with assorted auspices and finagling, they always managed to make their way back to the states.

Juan Duran de la Cruz, a.k.a. The Cauliflower King, put on a bathing suit and—unable to swim—kicked a rubber tire a treacherous fifteen miles to shore. Rhonda waded through raw sewage in the Tijuana River. Sherry and Cheri jammed themselves into boxcars with hundreds of other norteños, unable to move, hardly able to breathe. Donna rode across the border spread-eagle on the top of a freight train, her blistered hands white with holding on. And Venus, a particularly bold and quick girl of fourteen, sprinted through the backed-up traffic at the port of entry, defying Border Patrol to chase her. Barbara Ann had to pay $550 American dollars to a coyote smuggler to take her to Fresno. She rode sewn inside the bench-seat upholstery of a Volkswagen Vanagon for 149 miles; and once she crossed la frontera she was held hostage for another $250 in ransom, which required her to work a full five months indentured and hungry, sleeping in the dirt with rotten lettuce for a pillow. But Ricky—the only true-to-flesh American born citizen of the de la Cruz clan—holds the best yarn by far.

Caught as an infant sucking on warm milk and stuffed inside the folds of his mother’s dress, Ricky was deported with his mother, Angelina, without question of the papers that secured his legitimacy. On the wrong side of the Rio Bravo, Ricky was stuffed into a Styrofoam cooler and floated across the border like Moses while his mother trailed behind. Kicking against the current and steering little Ricky away from eddies, Angelina fished crawdads from Ricky’s makeshift cradle and tucked him into the tulle at the first sign of danger.

References the Los Angeles Times article “3 Men, 2 Nations, 1 Dream” (Jennifer Mena, June 30, 2001, A-1)

Magdalena on: Three Levels of Conflict

When Puck and I returned to the party Ricky was […] in the middle of what I like to call his A&E Biography. You know, his well-rehearsed life story in case anyone wants to film, record, document or otherwise preserve it for some future generation. The one that starts with, On a day that was more hazy than it was hot, my father left Juarez with six little girls, a pregnant wife, and a pocket full of cauliflower seeds. Middles out around: After working the fields from Washington state to San Diego, learning English from schoolchildren and earning the handle Cauliflower King, my father saved enough to buy 600 acres near Riverside, two Cadillacs, a house with Spanish tile and two swimming pools, even though he couldn’t swim. And climaxes somewhere near, And that’s when I said, Papa, I only have two goals: to run a Fortune 500 company and to see my face on the left side of the Wall Street Journal, next to a line drawing of Janet Reno stating her intentions to split my company for antitrust. If you’re lucky enough to be in his office when the story spills out, he’ll lean back in his leather chair, kick his boots onto his desk, stretch his arms towards the panoramic view behind his head and nod towards the wall, where the front page of the Journal hangs framed behind anti-glare glass.

I’ve heard the story maybe a gazillion times. So often, in fact, that I’ve stopped trying to correct his exaggerations, stopped trying to remind him that his mother came from money, stopped trying to include my name in the water-industry plot. Hell, on good days I can almost remember the first time I heard it. And then I believe him myself.