Friday, May 29, 2020

Carvana: A Pandemic Purchase

Melinda Palacio

What's it like to purchase a car from a vehicle size vending machine? Stay tuned to La Bloga. My pandemic purchase took some side trips and my post will be delayed by two weeks. By then, you'll get to find out if I keep the car or return it. Until then, stay safe, practice social distancing, wash your hands and love life, as crazy as it may seem during the Rona.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

A Thousand Little Chores

          Point of clarification: to the guy who emailed me to ask if Satiro's gave weekend discounts, the characters below do not exist, even if they bear resemblance to someone you may know. They exist only in the writer's imagination. So, if you are on the West Coast, traveling north from Torrance on the 405, and you exit on Braddock Avenue, west, then go two blocks and turn right on Slauson, stop at 1313, please don't knock on don Macario Machado's door and ask if this is the place they sell medical marijuana. He won't know what you are talking about, but if you are looking for good agua fresca and fresh pan dulce keep driving north on Braddock to Inglewood, where you will find Northgate Market. Bring a mask.                                                                    
     I was relieved when my friend told me Satiro’s Sin Semilla was staying open half-day Memorial Day and closing at noon, out of respect for the fallen, even if Satiro, himself, had shifted from 1970s Chicano hippy, anti-war activist, over the years, to straight-up Quaker pacifist, telling my friend, “All wars are bunk, especially the drug war. Nancy lost that one for us.”
     Satiro wanted to make it home by 12:30 to watch the jets fly over his Mar Vista home with his brother Emiliano, a Marine, who had lost his left leg and three fingers of his right hand in the battle for Hue. In ’70, when his draft number was coming up, Satiro’s mom had said, “I don’t need another hero in the family. You stay in college, or I’m sending you to the rancho in Zacatecas to live with your padrino Satiiricon,” which scared the hell of Satiro because, as a kid, he always thought his padrino looked kind of like the Chupacabra.
     Satiro graduated with an MS in chemistry from Davis, right as Vietnam was winding down. My friend said Satiro wanted to be a pharmacist, but the job prospects, back then, didn’t look good. One neighborhood drugstore pharmacist leveled with him. “I’m not prejudiced son, just want you to see reality. Would you hire a Mexican to sell drugs from behind the counter?”
     Of course, this was before the big boys, like Rexall, Rite-Aid, and CVS had cornered the market and started hiring any pharmacist willing to work long, stressful hours for low wages.
     No lie, at the time, it pissed-off Satiro to no end, so he spent most of the early 80s getting high, until he really started understanding the merits in the miracle weed. With his neighbor, an old-school farmer, originally from Tripasbuenas, Tamaulipas, a master with seeds, the two began experimenting with different strains of marijuana, way before anybody else.
     Satiro even wrote his experiments up as patents, just in case Washington ever came to its senses and legalized weed, like the Quakers had insisted, arguing, “You can’t fight evil with evil or you become evil in the process,” a paraphrase, of course.
     It all worked out okay. Satiro retired in 2005, after twenty-five years with Cayer Pharmaceutical, figuring how get a stronger “kick” into regular aspirin, hence, the first Aspirin-Plus then the Extra Strength series, changing the whole industry, and flooding the U.S. market with legally imported coca and caffeine from Latin America, fronted by the fictional coffee icon, Juan Valdez.
     I pulled to the curb just about 10:30 A.M., thinking I’d be early. I was surprised to see the same guy in line I saw last time, third from the front, holding a conversation with the guy ahead of him, another Chicano-looking guy, who didn’t seem to be saying much. The talker looked at me, and said,
“I remember you. What? It’s been two months already.”
     Talker wore an olive-green baseball cap, Desert Storm Veteran, U.S. Army, stitched in front. His black facemask had an Aztec warrior throwing a spear at an enlarged image of the corona virus. The other guy, his graying hair tied back in a ponytail, his scalp peeking through the thin strands, wore a brown facemask that said, “Rifa Rules,” kind of redundant, above the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe, but instead of roses falling from her tilde, there were psychedelic-colored marijuana leaves.
     “Cool masks,” I said as I took my place in line, a little embarrassed by the simple $5.00 mask I had bought from the Oaxacan lady at the corner of Venice and Sepulveda boulevards, next to the Burger King.
     Talker said, “Might as well look good, you know, if we gotta wear them,” doing one of those laughs, no sound, just his body jerking.
     The other guy said, “My daughter made mine. She’s at Cal Arts.”
     It was eerie. When he said something, the leaves on Mother Mary’s tilde appeared to move and fall to the ground. I wanted to ask if his daughter had planned it that way, but I held my curiosity in check.
     Talker looked closer at my mask. “You better double-up, Ey.”
     “What?” “One mask’s not enough. It’ll stop the out-going but won’t protect you from the incoming.”
     As an example, the other guy lifted the bottom of his mask, picking up the Virgen’s bare feet, to reveal an N-95 surgical mask underneath. “95% protection,” said Talker, “and it keeps the top mask smelling clean.”
     I looked around. “I see Satiro made some improvements.”
     “Satiro is serious, bro’, a real proponent of Dr. Fauci.”
     There were perfectly spray-painted yellow circles on the driveway, six-feet apart, and two framed, computer-generated signs, Algerian script, one--OPEN FOR BUSINESS with the hours printed underneath, and the second, NO SPACING! NO SHIRT! NO SHOES! NO MASK! NO SHIT!
     “Bug’s spreading fast down here. I ain’t even stopping at Northgate for tamales or fresh tortillas, today, just getting my mota, er medication, and jamming straight home.”
     “Back to Torrance,” I said, remembering where the talker said he lived, about ten or fifteen miles south of Satiro's, on the Culver City-Venice border.
     “There it is. More people wearing masks there than here. When I got off the freeway onto Braddock, man, only a few people had masks. The Essentials down here aren’t taking it seriously, man. Up north of Wilshire, in Playa del Rey, down to Rolling Hills, the Non-Essentials learned their lesson and flattened the curve, bro’, but down here it’s still climbing, probably last time you see me here.”
     "People gotta work," the other guy said.
     Two new people stepped into the circle behind me, kind of dorky-looking couple, a kid with a battered skateboard, long, red kinky hair sticking out of his beanie cap, and a girl in a Grateful Dead sweatshirt, the hoodie shading her cute, mousy face.
     The window above the garage opened. We all looked up. “Hey!” came a booming voice, Satiro pulling his oxygen-powered facemask below his chin. “One person, one circle.” He was looking down at us, his head cleanly shaven, his gray fu-man-chu down to his jawbone, his face more wrinkled than I remembered. Still, not bad for a guy in his late sixties.
     “We’re together. I mean, we live together,” the kid called.
     "That's got nothing to do with what I just said.” Satiro’s voice was stern.
     The kid quickly moved to the yellow circle, six-feet back. Satiro followed up with, “Are you in line without a mask, man?”
     “Masked-man. That’s funny, bro’, like the Lone Ranger,” said Talker.
     The kid said, “Last I checked, there's no law. We can choose whether to wear masks or not. We were born free,” his voice a little shaky.
     Satiro stood silent for a moment, then, “And last I checked, I can kick your ass off my property. Now you either put on a mask or split.”
     And to the rest of us he said. “I make the rules here.” The window closed shut, then opened again. “Hey, is that you, Desert Storm, Sammy?”
     The talker answered, “Yeah, Sati. I need a prescription refill.”
     “All right. Thank you for your service, be with you in a few minutes.”
     The girl reached into her pocket and pulled out a wrinkled rag and tied it around her face. Grumbling, the kid put on a surgical mask. She pulled out her phone and started texting, her fingers moving like dragonflies, fast.
     Talker: “I tell you the bug’s getting bad. Every time I cough, I panic, thinking maybe I got it. My wife told me what I got is paranoia from me smoking too much yesca. ‘Medicine,’ I corrected her. You know what she said? ‘Sammy, you'll justify anything to get stoned.’”
     “You’re right, though. It’s spreading pretty fast,” the other guy said, leaves on the Virgin’s tilde rustling.
     Talker: “Actually, I was digging it in the beginning. The bug was isolated with the Non-Essentials. They locked themselves inside. They didn’t even want the Essentials up there working, afraid of getting the bug, no nannies and no gardeners. They shut it all down.”
     The other guys said, “Yeah, everything was pretty tranquilo, at first, wasn't so bad. Blue skies, no traffic, nobody in the stores, pick-up at Tacomiendo, Johhny's Pastramis, Talpa or Lares on Pico, no work, just cruise and nobody honking. Even social distancing was cool, nobody breathing all over you at Costco. I had my Spotify going, my books, and even got a Hulu. I don’t know why everyone was complaining.”
     He was on a roll. The Virgen on his mask wasn’t just dropping colorful marijuana leaves. He had her doing a zapateado. “Man,” he continued, “I could park anywhere. Life was good. Now, it’s all opening-up again, same ol’ crap. Frat boys out, no shirts or masks, flexing muscles at Mar Vista Park, taking over the basketball court. The Mejicanos are back out on the baseball field, and the Hindus and Muslims with their cricket.”
     Talker: Even in Torrance, it was pretty chill, until the Non-Essentials from Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes started opening-up, too. None of the Essentials wanted to work up at Gelson’s or Pavilion’s, too many asymptomatics walking around, passing the bug. Carson and Wilmington, just a few miles south of me, are getting crowded again."
     The other guy interrupted, "All my wife talked about was getting her roots done, like gray hair is a curse. 'Hey,' I told her, 'What's so bad about looking like a racoon? Hijo, man, you know there aren’t really that many true blondes out there.”
     “The roots don’t lie,” said Talker, doing that laugh again. “The bug is taking us all back to our roots, no pun intended, you know, like what’s really important in life, what is really essential. Imagine what would happen if the Essentials all said, ‘Basta!’ we quit! More PPE’s or forget about it. Go pack your own groceries, cut your own meat, pick your own vegetables.' You think the asymptomatics are gonna do that work? Essentials, man, right up there with the doctors, nurses, and first-responders?”
     From a little speaker attached to the wall above the garage door, we could hear Satiro say, "Next." A guy in a suit hopped up the stairs. We all moved up to the next yellow circle.
     The other guys said, in a lowered voice, almost a whisper, “Eugenics, that’s how they’re getting rid of us gray-hairs, Chicanos, blacks, and the poor, like we’re breathing somebody else’s air.”
     “That's some Rush Limbaugh talk, right there. That’s all conspiracy crap. I’m more into the little things, like taking Escapulario y Escalera for walks, checking out the trees, nature, you know. Now, they tell us the bug lives on concrete for nine-days.”
     I didn’t think I heard him right. “Escapulario Escalera?”
     “Yeah, my dogs.”
     “One or two?”
     “Two, a chihuahua, Escapulario, for me, and a Pekingese, Escalera, for my wife, to keep the Asian-thing. She’s Korean, my wife. I guess it’s because I always have them with me, I got to calling them one name, after a friend of mine, a Tejano, I knew in the Army. Poor guy got cancer from being in Kawait. He's a tough dude, beat it."
     The other guy asked, “She from South Korea?”
     Talker: “No, Mid-town, over near Vermont and Wilshire. I met her in college, both of us computer science geeks.”
     I said, “Weren’t you the one talking about too much ethnic mixing last time.”
     Talker: “Bro’, you never hear of do as I say not as I do. Anyway, it upset her, me giving her a Chinese dog for her birthday, said I was stereotyping. I told her, hey! I’m Mexican, and I got a chihuahua. You don’t see me getting all huffy about it. She said she always wanted a Yorkie. How was I to know?”
     I still wanted him to clarify. “She calls her Pekingese, Escalera?”
     “No accent, whatsoever, made her a hipster with the people at the dog park, before they closed it down.”
     The other guy just rubbed his cheek.
     Talker: “Anyway, my wife had a hard time with the new life, her being Korean, and wanting to work all the time, be productive. She's beautiful, I tell you, a sculpted Asian face, like Nancy Kwan, but always got a thousand little chores to do.”
     “Tell me about it,” the other guy said, as if completely understanding. “That’s why I go cruising, for hours, ey.”
     “So, I tell her, look babe, no use rushing around, stay in bed, watch the View or Wendy Williams, Dr. Phil. We can’t go to work, no school for the girls. It’s like the movie, the ‘Day the Earth Stood Still,’ except for the Essentials, nobody’s working. Everything’s closed. Nobody knows who’s got the bug and who doesn’t. It’s a jungle out there. I can’t even do any repairs around the house. Home Depot? Forget about it, too crowded with people from Rolling Hills and Redondo Beach--the bug carriers, A-symptomatics. The people who work at Home Depot don’t know shit, anyway. True Value Hardware, in Lennox? Come…on, the people there don’t even wear masks, and the place is so small by the time you find what you need, boom, you got the bug, and then I bring it home to you and the girls, or worse, to Mama-san #1. That’s what I call my mother-in-law, Mama-san #1. My wife called me a racist, said she was going to start calling my mom, instead of Francine, Dona Panchita, but her mom told us how much she digs the moniker, makes her feel important. Ah, bro', it's been two months of bliss, but now? She-e-i-t. Everything’s opening up again, same ol', same ol'.”
     Silence. Somebody with a broken muffler hauls down the street.
     Even the dorky couple was listening to Talker, the girl’s arm dangling, relaxed at her side, her phone in her hand, at the ready, just in case.
     Talker: “So, I won’t be seeing you guys anymore. Our old barrio here is a petri dish, probably bugs crawling all through the projects and up and down Slauson, man, probably all on the sidewalk and shit.”
     The girl looked down, around her sandaled feet, as if looking for the virus. Her boyfriend with the beanie said, shyly, “Maybe they’re going for herd immunity.”
     We were quiet. Then Talker said. “That’s pretty damn smart, kid. Herd immunity, in the ghetto, a few get sick and die but everybody else is immune. Brilliant! Like the Swedes.”
     “Cucarachas got herd immunity,” the other guy said, with a chuckle. “They’re like little tanks, immune from everything since prehistoric times.”
     I couldn’t help myself. “Okay, but which one of you wants to sacrifice yourself to the virus, so the others can get immunity?”
     No one answered. Then they looked at each other, like hoping for a volunteer.
     Just then the window opened, and Satiro yelled, “Hey! I told you before! Get that goddamn sign out of here.”
     We all raised our heads to Satiro. He was looking beyond us. We turned. Just then we saw a guy with a straw, battered ranchero’s hat, a sleeveless Levi jacket, and dirty khakis, holding a sign, high over his head, “Liberate Satirico! My Freedom over Your Ass!”
     The window slammed shut and Satiro flew down the stairs, mask swinging in his hand, like a madman.. He stopped at the bottom and rubbed his knees. He took off again. The guy ran up Slauson and turned on Braddock. We followed. Talker and the other guy, right behind, for backup. I tried keeping up.
     As he ran, the guy in the ranchero’s hat started yelling, “Free Satirico! Free Satirico! Libertad! Libertad!”
     Talker was faster than the rest of us, veteranos fighting to keep up. The ranchero-hat-guy had youth on his side. He jammed around the corner into an alley, between the apartment carports on Slauson and the concrete drainage canal. I had to stop to catch my breath. It was no use. We lost him.      Satiro hobbled back. “That bastard can’t even get my name right,” he said, "Keeps calling me Satirico."
     I remembered when we were kids, and I’d visit my cousins who lived in the projects. We pretended the concrete canal was a beautiful river running through the city.
     As we walked back, Satiro found the sign and picked it up. He said, more to himself than to us, "Liberate Satirico."

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Eleventh Week: Activities to do at home with our children

Read Together Texas is a Texas Book Festival initiative to connect readers of all ages with the children’s books that we love. Whether you’re looking for a family storytime, an educational resource for an at-home learning activity, or just want to introduce your child to new stories and ideas, this page has you covered! We have authors, Texas leaders, and friends of the Texas Book Festival reading their favorite children’s books. In the bottom tab, we also share resources to help make the most of the storytimes. We will be updating this page with new storytimes as we find new ways to connect to each other during this time. Happy reading!

You can find English-language Stories and Spanish-language Stories. Also, there are many additional learning resources and activities.

Free Printables

Get instant access to a wide variety of free educational resources for teachers, homeschool families, and parents. Ready to print, these free materials make it easy for you to download and use immediately! Choose from reading, language arts, math, social studies, science, and more!

A resource for families with children of different ages & areas of interest
As schools around the world close their buildings and families find themselves at home, we want to ensure that learning together continues. So we’re partnering with learning creators to bring parents & families resources and activities. These resources are not meant to replace homework assigned by teachers, but meant to complement that work.

Author and Illustrator John Parra

Coloring Pages

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Bumblebee Watching in Plague-time

Michael Sedano

Carpenter Bee hovers above nectar pool looking out at lens
OK, you’re right, Mrs. Phillips, my eleventh grade English teacher. There’s substance in that poem that used to crack us up when we did choral reading as 16-year old boys, the line about squirrels hiding their nuts in grass. We boys were impatient with corny sentiment.

The poem argues a fulfilled life is one that pauses to observe, to n.b., to dar cuenta. At 16, there’s a lifetime ahead that we shall fill up with cares and regrets. At 75, dar cuenta, and allow Davies his old man’s sentimentality.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

What indeed, is this Plague-time, if not an opportunity to use a super power, the power to stop time by standing, or sitting, and staring. For me, I sit staring at a spot in the air waiting for a bee to fill it, and when it does, I will stop time. In the meanwhile, time has little relevance, I'm bound to a bee's randomness. I like that.

Echinopsis blooms in multiples
One morning this week, I position my tripod to capture bees flying into an Echinopsis trumpet, floating in mid-dive above the gorgeous flower. This floral season, few bees made a show, at least when I was looking. I have two, maybe three flowering days left. I’m totally dependent upon blossoms in their season. Today’s crop dawned an impressive bouquet of violets, yellows, one red.

Standing at the tripod setting it up to stand and stare at the cluster of violet blossoms, a giant Carpenter Bee shows up to challenge my equipment and my eye. I hear the buzz approach from behind and loosen the tripod head. I look toward the sound now at my periphery, catch the bee whirling toward the Yellow Echinopsis.

Bumblebee digs in for a hearty fill-up.
I use the tripod like a monopod to steady the frame, tilt down and autofocus. I miss her going in.

The bee works that sweet meal. Several times she hits the flower, rises, returns, I miss the entry. I stand and stare, count my breaths and hum a waiting song. 

This Yellow Echinopsis exudes ambrosial perfume that permeates its immediate space. At night, when the flower first opens, the breezes catch the perfume, wafting it through my open window into my dreams. I feel the scent-induced smile stretch across my dreaming face, the perfume occupying its own space outside dreamworld, giving me something to look forward to in the light.

The giant bee dives into the trumpet mouth to be slowed by the double ring of anthers and filaments circling the trumpet’s inviting well. I don’t get a foto. The bee wedges itself deeper into the mouth until it disappears into the elongated body of the suddenly throbbing flower. I imagine a rich pool of nectar holding the bee powerless in the nectar’s sway. Like in a whirlpool, the bee cavorts head first in the liquid. She spins and spins inside the wall testing my patience to stand and stare, waiting for her to get on with her day.
Bumblebee singing "they had to carry harry to the ferry..." (Cal Drinking song)
Dizzy from nectar the bee struggles to emerge. She backs out to display pollen grains she’s gathered on the back set of legs that now grab the rim of a petal to fulcrum out enough to spin about. The bee’s rear leg reaches out blindly for the tip of a petal. Finding purchase, the bee pulls herself through the resisting filament forest. The petal bends the bee loses her grip. The bee abandons the task in favor of another plunge out of sight into the fountain of delights.

Sated, the bee makes her way out of the pool, careful not to pull too hard on the flexible petal she uses to millimeter her route out, the bee pulls and turns and maneuvers, finally she has fully emerged and takes a breather on the soft bed of anthers. I take the foto.

Freed from the confining forest, she whirls about to face the sky. Making her way to the edge of the trumpet’s mouth, the gloriously beautiful bee looks at me with a satisfied grin, and lifts off the Yellow carpet. I steady the tripod and get to work.

“Go to the Violet Echinopsis” my mind chants as I work the tripod head. Tormenting me, the Carpenter Bee floats and flits toward the violet beauty I’m targeting. I frame a gorgeous still life; with the bee, a vividly vital image. Come, bee, find the spot.

The giant bee noses into yesterday’s now-fading violet blossom. I hold my breath. I’m rapidly setting the tripod and focusing the lens on the next flower in line. Got it, sharp, framed, focused. All I need is the bee directly above the stigma.

I have set the shutter speed at 1/2000 of a second. Even when the bee flies parallel to the lens, the speed should freeze the wings in mid-beat. Bees flying away from the lens diving toward the nectar should display the veins of the open wings, at 1/2000--provided the bee is in the right spot, which is a cube 3" by 3" by 3" with this good lens at this close to the object.

I have the sensitivity set to ISO1600. At the speed I use, my aperture will provide the 3" depth of focus above the center of the trumpet and stop wings. Outside that range, the bee is a blurry blot. Failure. I take several of these too soon grabs, and lots of too lates. 1/2000 isn't fast enough and the wings partially display detail.

The beehemoth from the Yellow delight now floats toward the leading edge of my target flower. Where I am not focused, so I must stand and stare, like the poet says. Now the bee catches a scent of the delicately faint violet nectar. The gigantic bee so photogenic, its buzzing wings so loud, floats upward. My finger lightly presses the remote. The receiver lights green, shutter ready to click at near light-speed. The bee sniffs, floats back unimpressed. Once you’ve had Yellow, she must have said. The shiny black abdomen catches the sun and with the bright spot on her rump, she turns and I hear her buzz doppler off down the driveway.

I have time tomorrow to sit in the same place, and stare. The Violet Echinopsis plants have a single bud remaining. One more flower tomorrow, one more opportunity to stop and stare. Hey, big bumblebee, spend a little time with me. As it turns out, a shiny black Carpenter Bee visits and lets me stand and stare. It is the final Violet Echinopsis blossom of the year.

The last Violet Echinopsis of the season.
In Plague-time, what is this life but a lifetime's chance to watch squirrels hide their nuts in grass, and some bumblebees torment anxious photographers. The compensation of standing and waiting is multiple fotos of the lone Carpenter Bee who visited the lone echinopsis flower, that final flower of the blossoming season.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Interview of Alex Espinoza by Xánath Caraza

Interview of Alex Espinoza by Xánath Caraza

Alex Espinoza is the author of Still Water Saints, The Five Acts of Diego León, and Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime. He’s written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, LitHub, and NPR's All Things Considered. The recipient of fellowships from the NEA and MacDowell as well as an American Book Award, he lives in Los Angeles and is the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at UC-Riverside.

Xánath Caraza: Who is Alex Espinoza? 

Alex Espinoza: Never really given it much thought. I guess I would say that I’m a writer who likes to both read and produce stories that illuminate the marginalized voices that typically go on undocumented in the world.

Xánath Caraza: As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

Alex Espinoza: My elementary school teachers who constantly read stories to us, who encouraged us to fall in love with books, and my mother who would often take us to the library.

XC: How did you first become a writer? 

AE: I don’t know the exact moment when I first became a writer. I think I’m in a constant state of “becoming” with each new project I take on. That is, the process is always teaching me new things, always challenging and tempering me. I published my first piece in my community college literary journal. I won the short story prize and was awarded $50. It was one of the biggest ego boosts, and it motivated me to continue to pursue the art.

XC: Do you have any favorite authors?

AE: Tons. James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Helena Viramontes. These are just a few.

XC: When do you know when a piece is ready to be read by others?

AE: When I answer yes to the question, “Is this the best that I can make this piece?”
XC: Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist? 

AE: I see my writing as a means to incite and support social change. My writing is always grounded in the belief that art and words can shape communities of color to act up and resist preconceived notions about class, race, gender, and dis/ability.

XC: What projects are you working on at the moment that you would like to share?

AE: I just completed a novel about a family of luchadores. I will be revising it this summer.

XC: What advice do you have for other writers?

AE: Edit. Revise. Read. Be humble in your efforts and let yourself be challenged.