writes books and eats food
eats food, and then writes books
Thanks for visiting. Here are chapters
from my latest book,10,000 SOULS.
It's the story of four women who
eat food, solve mysteries, defy
cultural expectations and collect
human tattooed skins.
Some chapters are pretty graphic
and were written for mature
readers. Other chapters are flat
out raunchy and were written for
a cheap laugh.
I prefer the cheap laughs, but
that's just me.
5/5/80 4 Roxy
SAN FRANCISCO'S MISSION DISTRICT
Mr. Hector Zamora decided to end his own life during a rerun of I Love Lucy. He was sitting next to his wife on the living room’s plastic slipcovered couch. Their two teenage daughters watched TV cross-legged on the green shag rug. Leah would occasionally get up to adjust the reception by rotating the coat hanger antenna.
With the not-so-agonizing decision finally made, he tuned back into the show. It was the episode where Lucy places a bet with Ricky. She was going to keep from buying a hat for longer than he could keep from losing his temper. Mr. Zamora caught himself before saying, "Why a hat? A Cohiba cigar I could understand, but a pinche hat?"
As if picking up the vibrations of the unspoken question through her jaw, Mrs. Zamora nodded once. "I hate Lucy." Her tone was so full of loathing Mr. Zamora had to resist the urge to gape at his wife. Their daughters knew better than to look back at their mother. In the wilderness they called home, eye contact was an act of aggression.
Mrs. Zamora spoke again. In his peripheral vision, she looked just like a beanbag with a russet potato for a head. "Lucy is so spoiled. She can’t cook and never bothers to clean their apartment. She’s always spending her husband’s money and doing things she shouldn't be doing behind his back. Now what kind of a wife is that?"
Mr. Zamora was thinking about how familiar that sounded when the potato spoke again. "And what kind of a name is Ricky Ricardo anyway? Did his parents really name him ‘Ricardo Ricardo?’ You see! That’s what happens when los otros write about us. They always get it all wrong!"
Roxy cautiously spoke to the chancla dangling from her mother’s big toe, aware that she could wield the house sandal with the precision of a ninja throwing star. "Enrique. His name is Enrique Ricardo. Not Ricardo Ricardo."
"Oh." Annoyed by the correction, Mrs. Zamora folded her arms over her heavy bosom. She sank deeper into the cushions, causing the plastic slipcovers to make a farting sound. "Poor Ricky. If he had married a good Mexican woman instead of that...he would have been much better off."
"He’s Cuban, Mother," Roxy said through clenched teeth. She braced for the flying chancla.
"I know that!" Mrs. Zamora said, offended. "He’s Catholic and he speaks Spanish. If that’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me."
On the screen, Enrique bends Lucy over his knee and starts spanking her. Mrs. Zamora perked up. "Harder! Hit her harder!"
Mr. Zamora watched as his wife cheered on the domestic abuser. He felt his earlier fatigue return as his vision blurred with tears. This is too awful. Then, at the end of the day, this. Listening to the laugh track, he wondered how many members of the audience were dead.
As he reached for the TV Guide on the coffee table, he stared at his daughters. Roxy, at seventeen, was just like his late father. Both had a good head for business and have the rare gift of being able to do math without a calculator. When Roxy was born, she looked just like her mother. He had hoped she would grow out of it, but she never did.
Leah, younger by one year, favored him. Two dark brown whippets in the rain, only with curly hair. Her haunted brown eyes were too big for such a delicate face and skinny frame. He sighed. There are so many people in that face.
Mr. Zamora could not bring himself to think of how much he would miss his daughters. He needed to make sure that his girls were taken care of after he was gone. The first thing he would do is draft a will. Second, was to get life insurance. He needed to find out how long it takes before the death benefits kicked in.
Anticipation of the afterlife increased his pulse. How am I going to do it? It has to look like an accident. Mr. Zamora became serene. I own a restaurant. Accidents are always happening there.
MR. ZAMORA IS DEAD
Mr. Zamora's fatal freak accident occurred in the kitchen of his restaurant. He was electrocuted while trying 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 Sesos. The people in the Mission District felt bad for the Zamora women, now left without a husband or a father. The food was great, authentic, but 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 applied a face powder that was two shades lighter than her walnut brown skin, then the same dusty rose lipstick color she had been wearing since she was Roxy’s age. Before leaving, she sprayed a generous amount of Aqua Net Hairspray over her recently permed and colored hair.
She stared at herself in the gold trimmed vanity 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 need was beyond her. Sighing, she picked up her husband’s hefty ring of keys, and flipped through them. She only recognized a few.
In the kitchen, Chucha, the cook, conveyed his deepest sympathies. Mrs. Zamora nodded solemnly while selecting baked goods from the pink box he had brought from the panadería. She served herself a niño envuelto with tongs, then a second one. On the ceramic plate the jelly rolls looked like Princess Leias’ hair buns.
Mrs. Zamora lingered in the kitchen until she received condolences and hugs from her arriving staff. Pedro, the busboy, was ten minutes late. His bowl haircut and small stature reminded her of one of those little men from the Amazonian tribes in South America. For all she knew he might have been one. In between bites she berated Pedro, who worked three jobs, on punctuality. No matter where the waitresses looked, their eyes were pulled back to the burnt floor tiles where their real boss had met God.
If you can’t earn their respect, take it, Mrs. Zamora thought as she headed to her husband's wood paneled office. When she reached the door, she stopped cold. Stacks of unopened mail, phone messages, and parcels obscured his desk. A wall calendar filled with her husband's cramped 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 eyes followed their mother as she trudged into the living room crying hoarse, wracking sobs. When she momentarily blocked Bob Barker on TV, the sisters exchanged nervous glances.
The next morning, Roxy and Leah decided to return to Saint Joan of Arc High School, also known as St. Juanita’s, although most people called it St. Juan’s. Mrs. Zamora warded off thoughts of working on payroll by retreating to her bedroom. She escaped into television and food. She only got up to go to the bathroom or to switch channels back and forth between the novelas on UHF and the soap operas 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 and an egg roll from the Chinese restaurant on Market Street.
On the morning of the dreaded payday, Mrs. Zamora hunkered down in their apartment bathroom. As the minutes counted down, she wiped her sweaty face with the lacy hand towel reserved for guests. Preparing for the inevitable uprising, Chucha and Pedro performed Last Rites while splashing tap water on each other in the restaurant's kitchen.
The riot began at 10:08 a.m. Dressed in their puffy, off-the-shoulder uniforms inspired by the Mexican Revolution, the normally benign group of waitresses clamored for their paychecks. When la jefa 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 baby booster seats stacked 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 that it was just her daughters, she said, "Don’t just stand there, Roxana! Help me!”
Leah watched from the doorway as Roxy tried to close an overstuffed suitcase by sitting on it. Her face pinched as questions tumbled out. "Where are you going? How long will you be gone? What about the restaurant?"
"The restaurant is closed," their mother said. "Nobody wants to work here. Work for me." She burst into tears.
Roxy knew this was true and was not about to go there. “It’s okay, amá. We’ll figure it out.”
“It’s not okay!” Mrs. Zamora roared. “The life insurance claim has been denied! They won’t accept his death certificate. They’re calling it a suspicious death and are starting an investigation! If people find out about this…”
Rendered speechless, Roxy dragged a suitcase off of the bed and onto the floor. She sat on it and bounced until the latches clicked shut.
Mrs. Zamora was catching the next bus to Watsonville in the Salinas Valley, where she would care for an elderly aunt who did not send for her. After seeing their mother off at the downtown bus depot, Roxy and Leah returned to the restaurant. Someone named Güey had recently graffitied over the graffiti on the door.
With some reluctance, the sisters stepped back inside the restaurant. As Roxy’s eyes adjusted, she stared at her surroundings candidly. The dark, horseshoe-shaped booths padded with faux leather, and the conquistador statues were straight out of medieval times. A blackish stain on the red carpet in front of the hostess stand could have been dry blood spilled by a surf bearing bad news.
Roxy’s eyes landed on Leah. She realized that she had stopped seeing her sister right after she was born. Leah's liquid brown eyes were raw and red with worry. The black spirals of hair coiling down her back brought virgins and volcanoes to mind.
Roxy’s brow furrowed. "Why are you shaking like that? It’s over 70 degrees in here." Her concern came out more like a rebuke.
Roxy heard a low rumble. It wasn’t an earthquake. The moaning sound coming from her sister erupted into a full-on Llorona wail. With a shock of panic, Roxy instinctively pulled her little sister into a tight hug. "It’s okay, it’s okay! I’ve got you," she repeated until the terrible sounds softened to quiet sobs, and then breathing.
Leah’s anguish wrenched Roxy out of her grief cocoon. She thought, we’re about to lose everything, our restaurant, our home, this building...and no one is doing anything!
Roxy had seen "Gone with the Wind" a bunch of times and thought back to the scene where Scarlett takes charge of Tara—also by default. She held up an imaginary fist to the orange glow of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sky. As God as my witness, she thought, I will not be licked, and I will save Sesos!
ROXY TAKES CHARGE, SORT OF
Roxy Zamora was in charge of a restaurant with no waitstaff, no customers, no food, and no idea what to do next. On autopilot, she pulled the Help Wanted signs and the folder of application forms from the office filing cabinet. As she grabbed the promotional coffee mug filled with pens, it occurred to her that her grandfather had also died in the restaurant way before she was born. A ruptured bladder was the cause of Papa Pío’s death. He was hit with a baseball bat swung by a little girl when he stepped too close to a piñata at a birthday party. He returned to close the restaurant and sort of keeled over while counting chits.
As Roxy waited for applicants to show up, she wiped the surface of the menus, and then wiped down the tabletops with bleach and water-soaked towels. Noticing that some of the condiments were running low, she refilled the Sweet’N Low and Equal packets, then married the ketchup bottles. After that, she restocked the self-service stations with napkins, take out containers and straws.
No one applied. Not even the illegals.
When no one showed up the next day to apply, Roxy panicked. She looked around the empty restaurant for Chucha to explain what was going on, then remembered he had taken a job at some tourist trap in Tijuana. Roxy shrugged her jacket on. She made sure the keys were in her pocket before leaving through the kitchen door.
Her heart was pounding in her ears as she jog-weaved around the bustling sidewalk to the Mission District’s epicenter. Rollo’s News and Cigarettes Stand had been in the same spot since the neighborhood was mostly Polish and Irish Americans. So had Rollo. In the 1940s, construction of the Oakland Bay Bridge forced the Mexicans to leave their barrio around Rincon Hill. Most of the displaced moved to his neighborhood. Noting the new arrivals, Rollo added Spanish publications to his newsstand. He started carrying the snacks he had seen Mexican children eating. His biggest seller was the Astro Pop. Children would lick the spaceship lollipop’s already sharp tip to a needle-fine point. Out of stupid, idle curiosity, he wanted to see a kid sucking on one trip and fall face forward, just to see what would happen.
Without preamble, Roxy said, "Have you heard anything about Sesos?"
"It’s closed," Rollo said, without looking up from his crossword.
"I know that!" Roxy said, perturbed.
Rollo tilted his head toward the daily newspapers. "Chronicle or Examiner?" His tone made it clear that the information would cost a quarter.
Roxy dug into her pocket. "Chronicle." She slapped change and a bit of lint on the counter.
"Because," Rollo said, as his ink-stained fingers slid a quarter and an extra dime toward him. "You never paid your workers."
Roxy’s jaw dropped. "They robbed me blind! Us blind!"
Rollo shook his head. "That was the lunch staff. What about the dinner staff?"
Roxy was of two minds as she thought this through. Rollo leaned in close enough for Roxy to smell his breath, which was surprisingly pleasant. "A bad reputation is like cooking salmon in a cast iron skillet. The skin sticks and the smell never goes away."
(To be continued)
5/5/80 4 Roxy
That's it for now. I’ll be adding more chapter as I revise.
This is the final draft.
Your feedback is more than welcome.
If you have any questions you can always reach me right here.
“…strikes 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...”
"...rich plot twists, interspersed with delightful culinary details that make the recipes almost characters in themselves."—American Library Association
“...some of the most interes!ng, well- drawn characters in contemporary
—Rudolfo Anaya, author, Bless Me, Ul!ma