writes books and eats food
eats food, and then writes books
Thanks for visiting. Here are some of the 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.
5/5/80 4 Roxy
“10,000 people were buried near Mission Dolores Cemetery,
of whom 5,000 Indians are buried in unmarked graves.”
— Br. Guire Cleary, S.S.F
“They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds.”
— Mexican Proverb
SAN FRANCISCO'S MISSION DISTRICT
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 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 grilled shrimp taco 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 the lunch, and then the dinner staff. 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 bizarre events unfolding in their city had given the bar customers ownership of the story. They debated over whether Pati was a brainwashed victim or a spoiled brat going through a rebellious phase.
When the discussion was dying down they began to make things up. An old man named Jerónimo 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 in a booze-fumed haze over the liquor bottles.
“Because they want to destroy the state capitals,” Jerónimo said.
Capitalist state, Roxy thought, but said nothing. Correcting adults was considered showing off. She knew that Siamese wasn’t right either, but couldn't come up with the actual word.
“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 three of a kind, maybe a straight, but the governor is a better hand.”
“What hand is Nixon?” Someone else asked.
Jerónimo finished his beer. He paused for timing. “A toilet flush.”
They all laughed uproariously. Roxy tuned them out. She flipped to the back of her school notebook and started a tally of the customers she seated.
MR. ZAMORA IS DEAD
Mr. Zamora was in the kitchen of the restaurant when his fatal freak accident occurred. He was electrocuted 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 el jefe 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. 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 actually need was beyond her. Sighing, she picked up her husband’s hefty ring of keys and went downstairs.
Chucha, the cook, conveyed his deepest sympathies as Mrs. Zamora entered the restaurant's kitchen. She nodded solemnly while selecting baked goods from the pink box he had brought. She served herself a niño envuelto with tongs, then a second one. On the ceramic plate the pastries looked like Princess Leias’ hair buns.
Mrs. Zamora lingered in the kitchen until she received condolences and hugs from her arriving staff. Pedro showed up fourteen minutes late. In between bites Mrs. Zamora berated the busboy, 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 closet-sized office. She stopped cold. Phone messages, junk mail and bills were swallowing the tiny desk. A wall calendar filled with her deceased 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 Cielo to jump. Their eyes followed their mother as she trudged into the living room crying hoarse, wracking sobs. When she momentarily cut off their connection with Bob Barker on TV, the sisters exchanged nervous glances.
The next morning, Roxy, age seventeen-and-three-quarters and Cielo, sixteen, decided to return to Saint Joan of Arc High School, also known as St. Juanita’s, although most people just called it St. Juan’s. Mrs. Zamora warded off thoughts of working on payroll by retreating to her bedroom and escaping into television and food. She only got up to go to the bathroom or to switch channels back and forth between las 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, an egg-roll and extra fortune cookies.
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 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 10:08 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. Spinning bottles of DeKuyper Schnapps were left on the floor 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 Cielo arrived home from St. Juan’s 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!
Cielo watched from the doorway as Roxy attempted 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?”
In a voice loud enough to hear, but soft enough to ignore, Cielo said, “What about us?”
“The restaurant is closed,” their mother said to Roxy. “Nobody wants to work here. Work for me.” She burst into tears. Roxy knew this was true and was not about to go there. She dragged the suitcase onto the floor and kept bouncing on it 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 putting their mother in a cab to the downtown bus depot, Roxy and Cielo faced their sinking ship. 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 booths and the conquistadors 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 Cielo. She realized that she had stopped seeing her sister right after she was born. Cielo looked so much like their father. Two brown whippets in the rain, only with curly hair. Their father kept his first communion-short and shellacked with Brylcreem. Cielo’s black spirals coiled down her back bringing 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 La Llorona wail. With a shock of panic, Roxy instinctively pulled her little sister into a tight hug. “It’s OK, it’s OK. I’ve got you,” she repeated until the terrible sounds softened to quiet sobs, and then breathing.
Cielo’s raw anguish wrenched Roxy out of her grief cocoon. As she rocked her sister, she felt a cold stab of panic and understood why Cielo was shaking. Oh my God! 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. Roxy held up an imaginary fist to the orange glow of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sky. With God as my witness, she thought, I will not be licked and I will save Sesos!
ROXY TIDIES UP
At seventeen and three quarters years-old, 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 years 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.
Roxy hung the ‘Help Wanted’ sign on the front window. She smiled to herself as people slowed to read the sign. Her father had been such a good boss that turnover was rare. Word that Sesos was hiring would soon spread through the Mission like a cold through a preschool.
As Roxy waited for applicants to show up, she wiped the surface of the menus, and then wiped down the table tops with bleach and water soaked towels. Noticing that some of the condiments were running low, she refilled the Sweet and Low and Equal packets, then married the ketchup bottles. After that, she restocked the self-service stations with napkins, take out containers and straws.
Roxy checked the entrance before heading back to the janitor’s closet for the vacuum
sweeper. She loved the way the broken tortilla chips disappeared like they were pulled under by a magnet. Untethered by a vacuum cord, Roxy got into it. She was Pac-Man maneuvering through the restaurant's table and chair maze. She kept going until every last crumb was gone.
No one applied.
Not even the illegals.
(To be continued on Sundays after the website launch in February)
Copyright @2021 All Rights Reserved
5/5/80 4 Roxy
Thanks for reading the pages from 10,000 Souls. I'll be adding new chapters on Sundays (after the site launch in February.)
This is the final draft and your editorial feedback is seriously appreciated.
If you have any questions or if you want to mourn the loss of Betty White, you can always reach me 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