Last week, for the 10th anniversary of the day he came to live with me, my small buttercup of a son got a punching bag and boxing gloves. I'm writing this two days before Christmas, and he still doesn't know that he'll be getting an air hockey table, minus the "air" part because it was the cheap one. He and his two friends from across the street have done amazing things to the garage already, where I informed him he could start a gang. They found carpets and posters, strung up purple Christmas lights and put a jar of snacks on the serape-covered, dilapidated round table, and now he's suggested a mini-fridge, though when I explained about energy consumption, he said a cooler would do. They're all yelling out there now, probably jumping in the girl who just moved next door. Please note I said "jumping in," not "jumping on." "Jumping in" is just a gang term for a bit of violent, bloody hazing. It's no big deal, just like Deke Week or Abu Ghraib.
His friends across the street are home-schooled, with all that implies, and are really great, well-mannered boys. Once I gave them $5 to feed my dog when I was away for the weekend, and they also brushed her, played with her and picked up her poo. I'm a good neighbor; I respect the boys' parents and haven't once sat those kids down to talk evolution.
If anyone deserves a gang, it's these three. They just now decided they're washing my car.
My first Christmas with my son, he was 18 months old. If I took him into work with me at the just-founded Weekly, I could perch him on a stool and never worry about him toppling; he never moved an inch. My stepmom, his mother, had died of AIDS, and before she did, she was medicated most of the time, so movement on his part wasn't encouraged. It simply wouldn't have been safe, so he sat on the bed with the television, humming to keep himself company. After my stepmom died, my dad, in his grief, wasn't caring much for the baby, so my boyfriend and I took him for the weekend and never gave him back. Eight days later, it was Christmas. The three of us lived in a one-room studio, with a two-foot tree hung with my earrings and the toys Jimmy had brought with him gathered beneath. I tried the same trick for years—putting things he already owned along with his presents, so it looked greater and more bountiful, until about four years ago when he wised-up. He was righteously pissed about it, too. This year, there's bounty. A 10-foot tree in a two-story house. Hockey and iPods and The Gorillaz and Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, intoning that he's "Hurt." There's $1 Store crap that won't last a week, straight from a sweatshop to us, but that looks nice and plentiful in its pile. I don't feel guilty about showering my boy with items; it's not like when we lived in the ghetto and I had to remind myself, when faced with the neighbor kids' wonder, awe and jealousy, that having our own rooms—Jimmy in his, I in mine—was no luxury. In Vanity Fair, Wm.Thackeraygoes to town on London's own conspicuous Newport set, but there's nothing wrong, he says, with a good roast, a warm fire and a nice claret.
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I haven't liked it much here lately. It took me 10 years to realize I was wrong: OC is just as conservative as the stereotype, which I'd denied up and down to anyone listening. Hell, I was surrounded by right-thinking folks at the Weekly and consorted only with museum types, punks and drunkards. John Birch is dead. Long live la raza!
It took Arnold's propositions, overwhelmingly denied through the rest of the state and overwhelmingly approved here, to make me see just how willingly I'd blinded myself. But it's not the conservatism that bothers me: principled stands of any kind are a-okay with me. It's the nastiness. The nattering classes I'd thought were fringy were in fact the opinion makers. The Scrooges on the local blogs went to war lest the OC Board of Supes approve LouCorrea's motion to insure 20,000 of the county's poorest kids with an outlay of just $2.1 million. It would, they fumed, create an entitlement. Now, how many millions do you think the supes spend on mailings?
Listen, I don't like to hang out with poor people any more than the rest of y'all. They're often boorish and usually distressingly uneducated, which leads to really boring conversation. And when Stevie Wonder sang, "Her clothes are old, but never are they dirty," Stevie Wonder was clearly on crack. But they will always be among us. I know 'cause Jesus said so.
Why did the media stop demanding a death toll in Katrina? Why did the government stop searching the attics? Why was it so easy for us, after a week of horror, to put it aside for the next piddling story just because the next hurricane came and uneventfully went? Why the fuck doesn't anyone care?
I never thought I'd be happier to see a year end than when I was almost rid of '01. But 2005's not looking much better. I don't even care that people are finally starting to talk about "impeachable offenses." Really, name one that wasn't.
I hope Jim Washburn's column at the front of the book was full of his outrage and optimism because you sure ain't getting it from me. Next week, I'm going to San Francisco to see my brother's new baby, and I'll hate it just as much there, but for totally different reasons. And after that, I'll be back here, drinking and fighting, with my girl gang all around me. Give us a call: we'll jump you in if you want.
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