This is the story of four women who eat food, challenge cultural assumptions and accept posthumous donations of tattoos. Set in the 80's and against the tapestry of San Francisco,10,000 Souls paints a picture of life in the Mission District during the era of Purple Rain and parachute pants.
I'm inviting you to take part in this final group edit. Your thoughts and editorial comments are welcome. New chapters will be added each week. Some of the chapters are pretty graphic and were written for mature readers. Other chapters are kind of raunchy and were written for a cheap laugh.
San Francisco’s Mission District, 1974
The service at any family-owned restaurant varies throughout the day, but late-afternoon is the absolute worst time to expect to be served at Tacos de Cabeza, Tripa y Sesos, or Sesos for short. The lunch staff is engrossed in their daily ritual of smoking cigarettes while counting tips. The dinner staff make a point of not looking up as they roll flatware into paper napkins.
On the barstool in the cocktail lounge, twelve-year-old Roxy was eating the shrimp tacos Chucha had prepared for her. As she chewed she watched another potential customer give up and leave. When she complained about the loss of business to her father, the bartender, he gave her a ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ shrug. He refilled her glass of Pepsi, which was actually a generic cola and only cost pennies per pint.
Well, Roxy was going to do something about it. She started doing her homework on the corner barstool so she could keep an eye on the entrance. Customers were greeted by a lumpy girl dressed in a parochial school uniform. Most thought she was cute in the way that all children are cute. Even the ugly ones.
Roxy seated four National Dollar store employees at the best table by the window. She turned around and glared at both waitstaffs. A quick game of piedra, papel, tijeras ensued to see who would wait on them.
As Roxy headed back to the bar she glanced at the overhead TV showing local news though the sound was off. Video footage of Patricia Hearst wearing a beret and wielding an M1 carbine was on the screen. The events unfolding in their city gave the bar customers ownership of the story. They debated over whether the heiress had been brainwashed or was a bored teenage hippie getting back at her rich father.
When the discussion was dying down they began to make things up. An older customer staring at the raw egg floating in his Michelada said, “I heard the Siamese Liberation Army is still around and they’re planning on kidnapping a politician next. I think they said Mayor Alioto.”
“Why?” Mr. Zamora said, mesmerized by the fruit flies hovering over the liquor bottles in the well.
“Because they want to destroy the state capitals.”
Roxy thought, ‘capitalist state,’ but said nothing. Correcting adults was just showing off. She knew ‘Siamese’ wasn’t right either, but she couldn't come up with the actual name.
“What if they go to Mayor Alioto's house to kidnap him and Governor Brown’s visiting?” Another customer said.
“Wouldn’t they take Jerry instead? I mean, the mayor is like a full house, which is pretty good, but the governor is a better hand.”
“What hand is Nixon?” Someone asked.
The man slurped the egg. He paused for timing. “A toilet flush.”
They all laughed uproariously. Some wheezed while slapping the bar. Roxy tuned them out. She flipped to the back of her school notebook and started a tally of the customers she seated.
San Francisco, 1980
MR. ZAMORA IS DEAD
Roxy and her younger sister, Leah, were at school when their father’s fatal freak accident occurred. He was electrocuted in the kitchen of the restaurant while attempting to unplug a faulty electric bean masher. It was actually an industrial electric potato masher, only they used it for beans. To this day, no one can explain why he was mashing the beans in the first place. That was Pedro’s job.
After Mr. Zamora's tragic death most of the regular customers stopped patronizing Trips y Sesos, or Sesos, for short. It wasn’t that the people in the Mission District didn’t feel bad for the Zamora women, now without a husband or a father. It was just that everyone knew that his widow was running the restaurant. And no one wanted to spend good money in bad company.
On the Monday after the funeral, Mrs. Zamora buttoned the top button of the lightweight black suéter she wore over her simple black polyester blend dress. She paused to stare at herself in the full-length mirror. Her lifelong fear of living without the security of a man, first her father and now her husband, had come true.
Why women without the decency to shave their underarms demand more liberation than they can use was beyond her. Sighing, she picked up her husband’s hefty ring of keys and descended the backstairs for her first shift as the sole owner of Sesos.
Chucha, the cook, conveyed his deepest sympathies as Mrs. Zamora entered the kitchen. She nodded solemnly as she selected baked goods from the pink box he had brought. She served herself a niño envuelto with tongs, then a second. On the ceramic plate the strawberry rolls looked like Princess Leias’ hair buns.
Mrs. Zamora lingered in the kitchen until she received condolences and hugs from her arriving staff. No matter where the waitresses looked their eyes were pulled back to the burnt tiles where their real boss had met God.
Pedro arrived fourteen minutes late. In between bites Mrs. Zamora berated the busboy, who worked three jobs, on punctuality. She handed Pedro the tongs and her empty plate before dismissing him.
If you can’t earn their respect, take it, Mrs. Zamora thought as she headed to her husband's closet-sized office. She stopped cold. Mounds of papers and stacks of mail covered his desk. A wall calendar filled with her husband's cramped cursive writing caught her attention. Two of the dates were lassoed in red ink. “Payroll” was written in both. The second “Payroll” date was in four days.
The loud crash of the front door caused Roxy and Leah to jump. Their mother trudged into the living room crying hoarse, wracking sobs. As she momentarily cut off their connection with Bob Barker on TV the sisters exchanged nervous glances.
The next morning the girls decided to return to school. Mrs. Zamora warded off thoughts of working on payroll by escaping into television and food. She spent her days in bed only getting up to go to the bathroom or to switch channels back and forth between the novelas on UHF and the ones on ABC.
The employees were sympathetic. They brought her meals up to her apartment on trays and took the dirty dishes away. If she did not feel like ‘real food’ they ordered whatever she wanted. Usually sweet and sour pork served with pork fried rice, an egg-roll and extra fortune cookies.
On the dreaded payday, Mrs. Zamora retreated to her bathroom to hide. As the minutes counted down she wiped her sweaty face with the lacey hand towel reserved for guests. In the restaurant’s kitchen Chucha and Pedro performed last rites while splashing tap water on each other.
The riot began at 10:06 a.m. Dressed in their puffy off the shoulder uniforms inspired by the Mexican revolution, the normally benign group of waitresses clamored for la jefa. When she failed to show her ‘ugly face' they raided the walk-in refrigerator and freezer. They took their due earnings with meat and seafood wrapped in butcher’s paper, huge blocks of cheese and butter.
Las Adelitas stormed the storeroom where they claimed unpaid sick days and vacation time owed to them with cases of beer, liquor and wine. Bottles of DeKuyper Schnapps were left in their wake. As they departed the restaurant the new mothers snatched up the stacked baby booster seats near the kitchen door.
MRS. ZAMORA SKIPS TOWN
Roxy and Leah arrived home from school to find their mother filling three suitcases without folding the clothes first. Sensing motion Mrs. Zamora’s head snapped up. Relieved to see it was just her daughters, she said, “Don’t just stand there, Roxana! Help me!”
(To be continued next Sunday)
EARLY REVIEWS ARE IN
“Some of the most interesting, well-drawn character incontemporary Chicana literature...It shines.”
—Rudolfo Anaya, author, Bless Me, Ultima
"...female friendship and empowerment strikes a universal chords that will resonate with all readers.”
—Michael Nava, author of The City of Palaces
“The yarn Sandoval spins of their lives…
would make an HBO show-runner proud."