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: 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?

Magdalena on: caution tubes & cement dividers

Now I consider breaking things just for conversation. Like the Tank. It’s silver and colossal and has a gazillion cylinders, so I run over things for adventure. It started with those little concrete blocks that separate parking spaces; initially I had to escape an irate gas man, but once I realized I could do it, I started to run things over on a regular basis. My favorites are orange tubes. Not the cones, those get caught in between your tires and can’t clear the muffler so you end up dragging them for a block or two and people look at you funny. But the orange tubes, they’re taller and usually stuck to the asphalt by a black hexagon. They’re also a harder plastic so when you run over them you get a nice click-thump rather than just a chub. The trouble is the tubes are usually located on on-ramps to alert your attention to cement dividers, so it’s quite a trick running over the tubes and still clearing the concrete. A trick I’ll most likely be avoiding today, considering the ’Vette and all. I mean I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the pinnacle of caution, but I’m not exactly malicious either. Although I should add—not many people know this—when you’re in a Polo White ’53 ’Vette with a personalized license plate that reads ARTGRL, you can’t see the front from the back, parking’s a bitch and you can forget cutting anyone off.