Magdalena On: Psychological Highlights

After Junah, my hair went dark.

They say that can happen, you know. Shock or something. But not my whole head, just a streak. Like an inverted skunk of brown tailing its way through the top left part of my yellow head. Jersi, my stylist, said on most people it usually goes white.

Well fuck me for being the exception.

He sighed, brushed a small brown strand high above my head and held it there, the ends tightly wrapped around the bristles of his brush. The rest of my hair was wet, and my shoulders and chest were covered with a silver smock. I looked at my reflection and followed the lock of brown hair upwards towards the exposed bulbs running in a straight line across the top of the mirror. There were six of them and they cast a hyper-white glaze across my face so that my skin appeared translucent. You could actually see the veins pushing blood across my forehead. It was rich. It was much too much. I looked at my lap and said, Do what you can.

Jersi looked at me, or at least the mirror image of me, and said, I’m not going to pretend that it will be easy Cupcake, but I think, although the texture’s changed, that I can bleach it out, maybe add a few psychological highlights.

That’s when I started screaming. When I couldn’t stop.

Losing Junah isn’t something I like to talk about.

So I’m not going to.

What I will say is that sometimes I wonder, if Ricky wasn’t on liquid time, if he didn’t sleep only four and a half hours a night, if I would be able to stay awake and pretend not to go crazy, pretend not to know that it’s impossible to only sleep four and a half hours a day, pretend not to care that if he isn’t sleeping here he must be sleeping somewhere, right?

But where?

And with whom?

And if he slept, say, six or seven hours like most people, would I make it? Would I be able to lie beside him night after night and hate him? Night after night in some sleek and silly nightie with my arm almost touching his thigh, with my head almost touching his chest. (If I actually touch him, he says, Mags go on your own side. Like we’re six and seven in the backseat of the station wagon and have drawn imaginary lines to mark territory. Pretend there is a chain saw running down this line, Junah would say, tracing the vinyl ribbing that ran the length of the upholstery, and if you cross it you will loose your arm. That’s how it is with Ricky, only now it’s a bed and we’re twenty-nine and thirty-four.) For eighteen months I’ve lain here, almost insane, almost ready to leave, almost ready to scream: I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you! I’m not touching… But before I can finish, Ricky’s alarm (set to New York time) sounds. If we were in New York it would be 7:30 am. But we’re not in New York. We’re in Los Angeles, or some Hollywood extension thereof. And in Los Angeles Ricky will shower and shave and dress himself up in gray slacks, a lavender shirt and paisley tie because it’s the outfit I have laid out for him. On the back of his belt I have written i love you in Mauve-a-licious nail polish. He won’t notice. It’s been there for three months.

Should I say it again?

That he doesn’t notice anything?

When he actually does notice he’s liable to shout. Then I will have to go to Bloomies and buy him a replacement. It will be something to do. Something besides trying to peel the label off a bottle of gin in one fluid, untorn piece. Something besides imagining my hangover is morning sickness. Something besides seeing Junah die, over and over and over again in the backspaces of my mind.

Excerpt from “Treatment” So L.A. by Bridget Hoida, copyright 2012

Magdalena on: Bombshell Variations

WHEN I first met Ricky I was a Central Valley bomb- shell, which, as anyone who’s traveled far enough north to know, is quite different from the L.A. bombshell variety. In NorCal you only need to shave more than twice a week to be considered feminine, so you can imagine how little it takes to be glamorous: wear a charmeuse gown to bed instead of a t-shirt, trade your boots in for a pair of kitten heels—no matter if you kick them off at every opportunity—and always insist on gin.

When Junah died I stopped wanting to be me, and so when Ricky and I moved to L.A. I suppose you could say I wasn’t really myself. Maybe, if Ricky and I had stayed up north I would have tired of gin-induced tantrums and dangling diamond earrings, maybe I would have joined forces with my father and poured my creative talents into the renovation of our vineyard, but after Junah’s death Ricky felt it might be a good idea to get away for a while—“breathe some new air” were his exact words—and so we moved south where everything smelled like acetone and Errol Flynn.

from So L.A., copyright 2012, Bridget Hoida

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

Bridget Hoida on: macramé bikinis (or why characters are not people)

I was at a magical gathering last night–starlight, fire-glow, sea air, and an expanding circle of plush deck chairs occupied by a few dozen striking women. As the conversation shifted focus: from Cabernet to chicken farmers; chicken farmers to iPhone apps; iPhone apps to the genetic composition of jelly fish… it eventually landed on literature.  And it wasn’t too long [insert vampires, a certain non-vibrant color spectrum, and a post-apocalyptic survival game] before someone asked: “Well you wrote a book, how much of it is real?”

It’s a tricky question, that one. Because unless you’re dealing with the aforementioned supernatural creatures or speculative geographies, it’s hard not to say: Everything.

It’s hard not to say: Nothing.

I’ve been living with this book, with these characters for years now. To say I know them intimately is comical. I know them surgically well. I birthed them in the painful, messy, magical way all bodies are brought into being. But that doesn’t mean I am them. That I know them off the page. That I’ve dated them. Held them. Or covered my screams as they fell to their death from high, rocky places.

Magdalena, the protagonist of So L.A. and I have lived in a lot of the same places. And we’re both blonde. But that’s about the extent of our similarities. Moving to Los Angeles from Berkeley was extremely difficult for me and I suppose that, in part, is how Magdalena was “born.” Perhaps I was unconsciously embodying a B-movie cliché, but I really did take my first steps on the streets of Los Angeles in a pair of Birkenstocks and a tie-dyed sundress. I wasn’t tan, I didn’t have a designer purse, and even kitten heels made my ankles wobble. It took a good three years before I felt comfortable wearing a bikini, even to the beach, but I was surrounded by these insanely beautiful women who seemed to have been raised in string bikinis and had no qualms wearing them to school. In fact, I was teaching a class at USC called “Social Issues in Sex & Gender,” and one of my students did exactly that. She showed up to class in what people from Berkeley might consider a string of macramé potholders, or maybe a dream catcher? Either way, she was wearing this extremely revealing “bit” as a dress and I was simultaneously awestruck and horrified.

Was she mindlessly objectifying herself or was she making, as she claimed, a bold feminist statement?  Magdalena has a lot of moments like this; moments where the means and the ends get confused and tangled up by someone else’s perception.

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: 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.

Bridget Hoida on: Quotation Mark Murder

In So L.A. I was looking for a way to tell not what really happened, but what could possibly happen. The novel opens with Magdalena falling off a boat and then moves both forward and backward in time.

This is how most people tell stories. They begin in the middle and then jump around, forgetting, amending, and calling attention to the most important parts, while the listener rarely ever exclusively listens but instead interjects and provides his or her own connections, observations and experiences. Eliminating quotations allowed me to access some of this interplay. This is important both for me as a writer, and for Magdalena’s character development. Although Magdalena may appear to be whining about the lack of parking on Robertson, what she’s really bemoaning is a deeper, more personal, unspeakable grief. In my mind, having your brother (or anyone you love deeply), fall to his death off a granite rock is devastating. Although Magdalena is awake for most of the novel, she is walking through (and waking in) the intense fog of grief and her motivations, as well as the plot, are submerged—that is they happen off the page.

For her nothing adds up and so she seeks to make trouble where there is none –Ricky’s imaginary affair; Puck’s unintentional betrayal.

Because the plot of So L.A. is elliptical (and dependent upon the unreliable narration of Magdalena), and, as has been noted, void of conventional quotation marks, I needed a structure of some sort to hold the narrative together. Robert McKee’s STORY! gave me just that. A primer for how to write a winning screenplay, McKee offers priceless nuggets of advice, like “The Problem of Surprise” or “Characters Are Not People” which not only became the headings of some of my sections, but also function to bind the narrative together and instruct the reader (albeit satirically), how to approach the accompanying text.

This week I’ll post on the Three Levels of Conflict: Imagination, Memory, and Fact from Magdalena’s grief-addled perspective.

Magdalena on: naked rush hour bingo

When we first moved to L.A. my favorite thing to say was, That’s so L.A. I used it to describe just about everything from fake boobs to traffic. Then I got implants and started to drive. Drive not to go someplace, but as sport. On the 10 you can pick out the regulars from the tourists. Those who merge left just before the lane ends and then have to merge back right again versus those who know the La Brea shortcut: exit but don’t ever get off. During a crunch you can save five minutes plus if there’s a pile-up. My favorite time to drive is early morning and right before dark. I like the added thrill of the sun in your eyes. It throws mirage into the game and the DJs are at their prime.

Sig alert on the Santa Monica Freeway West, the Shady Lady hums through my speakers. Since nobody’s going anywhere anyhow I’ll take caller number nine for some naked rush hour bingo.

I kid you not. Bingo. Naked. In rush hour.

Shady Lady here. Name, make and license plate, please.

Oh hi-yee! I’m Alyson, with a y, and I’m in a silver 325i on the 10 West, wearing pink and black—

Which, as you may realize, is the physical description of a gazillion people on the 10, but everyone plays along.

Okay listeners we’re on the prowl for a silver Beemer license 1MY325I. If you see her, honk. And Alyson, you know the rules: you lose a piece of clothing for every honk you hear.

As if there isn’t enough honking on the 10. As if taking your clothes off while stuck in traffic weren’t so L.A.

Magdalena on: the courtesy wave

The best part about freeways is the lane change. I like to cross from middle to fast without hitting the reflective bumps that divide the road. It takes a lot of practice, especially at speeds above sixty, but if you tune into the blinker, if you play the clicks of the flashing green light like a metronome, you can usually succeed provided some asshole—the type who refuses the courtesy wave—doesn’t speed up when he sees you attempting the merge. I always give the courtesy wave; it’s like waiting the requisite three seconds before making a left on yellow: survival. If I were a cop, I’d ticket anyone who didn’t wave. It’s inexcusable. Almost as bad as strutting down Rodeo with a Prada knockoff bought from a vendor on Venice Beach or screwing another woman’s husband.

I said almost all right?