Coffee for the masses.

Life

A letter from Mexicanus Chicanicus to SF Weekly

The following letter is a response to a great piece on SF Weekly talking about gentrification in the Mission District, a place I called home until rents got so ridiculous my family and I could no longer afford to live there.  This was years ago, at the ass-end of the first dot-com bubble.  Since then, a second dot-com bubble has made the situation noticeably worse for Latinos in the Mission and it shows no signs of slowing down.  Whether you benefit from this displacement or you’re a Latino family who’s had to pick up and settle into the almost uninhabitable dead zone outside of the Bay Area, you have three generations of San Francisco mayors to thank.  Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, and now Ed Lee have worked tirelessly to turn SF into the yuppie paradise it now is.  And it’s not just the Mission: Bay View Hunter’s Point is feeling the pain, too.  Gentrification threatens to displace the African-American community that has made that area home for decades. (Muni constructed a new T line metro rail that runs all the way down Third Street; I guarantee you it’s wasn’t built for the black community.)  Pretty soon all of SF will be a playground for the affluent.  By then, who the hell is gonna want to live here?

And now, without further ado, the letter:

http://www.sfweekly.com/2013-03-06/news/the-continuing-evolution-of-24th-street/

Great article on gentrification in the Mission District.You say “evolution of 24th Street”, I say socio-economic Darwinism.As a Latino and exile of my once-beloved neighborhood, I generally sense in my people a great deal of defeatism towards gentrification that would have been unimaginable just 40 years ago at the height of the Chicano Power movement.Whatever the hell happened to us since then is beyond me, but if it’s anybody’s fault that Latinos are being shoved into the armpits of California (no offense, Stockton) it’s probably us.

But before us Latinos all stock up on Speed Stick, allow me to leave a few words of wisdom to the new (read: mostly white) residents of the Mission:

Dear hipsters and yuppies: (Is there a difference, really?  I’m not being sarcastic; we really don’t know.  We just call you yupsters for the sake of clarity.)

  • Every time you walk down our streets at night, point and snap photos in our store windows while we’re working late, and go “oooh”, and “aaaah”, and “hahaha, isn’t that funny”, it’s actually fucking obnoxious.  The Mission is not a zoo and Latinos actually resent being treated like exhibits in our own neighborhood.  (“See the endangered Chicano in its native habitat before it’s extinct!)  When the class-cleansing that started with Willie Brown has finally finished its work in San Francisco and there’s not a single one of us left, then you can open the exhibit.  Maybe breed a few of us in captivity.  Turn the place into a wax museum.  Preserve the traces we left behind so that future generations can discover who we were.  (“Look, they left paintings on the walls!”)
  • You might think we don’t understand when you make fun of us, but chances are we do.  (BTW, they’re called quinceañera dresses, they’re supposed to be big and colorful, and they’re designed for 15 year old Latinas, not a gaggle of snickering, siddidy, 30-something white girls already way past their prime.  Sorry ladies, you couldn’t rock those dresses if you tried.  If you find them overly ornate and ostentatious, why don’t you slip into something more your style, like a tasteful Scandinavian-inspired evening gown, or a bedsheet with straps?)
  • As much as we all love organic patchouli burgers, not all of us can afford to eat at upscale “foodie” joints.  Latinos for the most part find it counterproductive to impress first dates with conspicuous displays of wealth – we save that for the wedding.  Nor do we feel the need to wow her with our extensive knowledge of the esoteric world of kelp-based Sri Lankan cuisine.  You’d be surprised what we can do with pupusas and a sexy Spanish accent.  Don’t you yupsters have your fill of pretentiousness in the art scene?  Now you gotta be bougie about food?  How about just thanking God for something to eat in a city where hundreds of homeless go hungry every day?  But I’ll tell you what: you stop judging us for walking around with a Popeye’s drink, and we won’t make fun of your knit sweaters and corny old-timey mustaches.  Anymore.
  • Some things are just better left to the pros.  There’s something not quite right when November creeps upon us and the only people not actually marching at Day of the Dead are Mexicans.  It’s because we now know how black people felt when Elvis came along.  Day of the Dead is a sacred Mexican tradition, not a Halloween after-party.  Those of us who observe Day of the Dead have a connection rooted in hundreds of years of Aztec and Mexican culture that gives us the right to honor our ancestors in this way.  The only connection yupsters have to Day of the Dead is a pasty, almost skeletal complexion.
  • You can have Cinco de Mayo, though.  It’s BEEN played out for a minute now and really, it’s all about the booze anyway.

Truth is, whatever armpit we Latinos end up shoved into, we’ll always bring the Mission with us.  By the time we’ve all made the move to the unholy perimeter around the Bay Area, we will have brought with us drink, tacos, music, dance, murals, horchata, bachata, chancletas, women, men, rolling r’s, poetry, culture, and cholos.  In short, we will infuse LIFE into those barren wastelands of 100 degree summers and meth.  We turn armpits into cleavage!  Pretty soon the Mission will be the new armpit of San Francisco and yupsters will once again be on the prowl for a new trendy area to gentrify.  But as much as you yupsters won’t be able to resist telling all your friends about the scene in Watsonville and decide you want to “slum it up” for the weekend, please, this time do us all favor and stay home.  Don’t come running to our new hood when you’ve turned yours into Whitebreadistan and it’s no longer cool anymore.  Latinos know all about what happens to our neighborhoods when they become “hip”, and we hate packing.

– Ed  (Mexicanus Chicanicus)

Advertisements

Diesel Ad Campaign: “Smart listens to the head. Stupid listens to the heart – Be stupid.”

Uh huh.

The reason we’re mired in debt up to our ass, our kids are intellectually lagging behind China and India’s kids, and we’re more concerned about keeping up with the big booty bitches, is because hardly anybody listens to their head anymore.  In fact for most people the head is on life support right now, atrophied by years of neglect.  We’d all much rather talk about the douche-bags on Jersey Shore than keep an eye on what Congress is doing to fuck up the health care bill.  But then again, isn’t Diesel one of those douche-bag brands anyway?  Almost as bad as that Ed Hardy shit.w

And I’m going to be honest – Obama got some of you by the heart.  That’s the God-honest truth, and it’s a fucking shame.  Those who considered him the Messiah now realize that he can’t fix everything that is wrong with our country.  His administration is in dire need of a swift collective kick to the nuts.   For those of us who voted with our head, we saw it coming.  We just didn’t think he’d be THIS ineffective.

Listening to Glenn Beck saying that social justice is a bad thing, is to listen to the heart and give in to its worst instincts.  Check this out:

God I hate that man.  I hate him because he knows just what to do to turn people into the worst they can possibly be.  Hell, I don’t even have to agree with him to be a worse person just for listening to him; see the reaction he’s getting out of me?

So you have it, that values that were once universally applauded (such as social justice) and those that have been rightfully scorned ( stupidity) are now switching places.   All it takes is somebody with enough gall, someone with virtually no conscience to speak of, to stand up and say something like “social justice is bad”.  The obvious implication is that all you need is somebody equally vile to start speaking in favor of INjustice.

Enter Ayn Rand.

There is Ayn Rand’s way of looking at the world: cold, uncaring, and real.  Ostensibly, Ayn Rand’s entire philosophy of objectivism is about thinking with the head, and not the heart.  I too, believe in trying to look at things objectively (believe it or not.  I think that we’re so far to the right in this country that we NEED a bit of populist socialism just to move it to the true center).   Ultimately, I believe her books are nothing more than apologetics for egotism and selfishness.  I don’t see how looking at the world through clear lenses equates to being a dick.

OK, so perhaps it does come down to a happy medium between smarts and stupid.  I’m just saying though…let’s step the smarts game up, people.


The 50th Law: a Book Review

Today it’s 6:30 in the morning, west coast time, and I’ve been back from the hospital for a little over 1 hour.  My father had his rosary and was reciting Hail Marys; my inconsolable mother waited anxiously for good news from the doctors; my 36 year old uncle sat shell-shocked, no doubt wondering if this was the day he would lose his father, so soon after having lost his mother, too.  I had a copy of The 50th Law in my pocket when I went into the waiting room and I sat there reading it for hours on end.  I’ve already read this book cover to cover twice; I think it will take a while before I can internalize the very valuable lessons in this book.  I could certainly use them now; particularly chapter 10…

In high school, I made an appointment to see a counselor.  Sensing a profound lack of self-esteem in me, she forced me to write down a list of 5 positive things about myself.  I struggled for 5 minutes thinking of a single answer.  It’s not that I was being modest, or even that I didn’t know.  I knew I had one positive trait, but it’s one that I didn’t want to admit.  I didn’t want to admit that the only good thing I had going for me was my intelligence.  I didn’t want to be a nerd, and all that it implied.

Fear has been my biggest obstacle ever since I can remember.  For me it was the fear of failure.  Not the everyday “I might fall on my face and look like a fool” fear.  I’m talking complete and utter failure as a human being.  Because of an inability to relate to kids my own age, I never developed the kind of social awareness that even the least popular kids seemed to possess.  On the home front I was pressured into getting good grades and not even think about socializing – school was for learning, not for friends.  Because of my lack of social skills growing up I just knew – as a kid – that I would somehow end up homeless and alone.  I just KNEW it.  As a KID.  From that I developed an intense fear of growing up that only stunted my social progress further and made me suffer the lasting consequences to this day.  I scored excellent grades in elementary school but by the time high school came around I hovered in the mid 2.0s.  Suddenly I didn’t even consider myself smart – I was a socially awkward nerd, only without the perks of being smart enough to fund a high-tech start-up that would at least make me insanely rich.

Sure enough, I developed a pattern of fatalistic thinking that still plagues me to this day.  The thing about fearful and negative thinking is the way in which it reinforces itself; little did I know then that I had the power to shape my own reality all along and that I had instead been using that power to sabotage my own success.  The 50th Law confronts the fear that hold us back. It is applied psychology for the fearful mind, disguised as self-help, only it never condescends or treats you with kid gloves.  It has profoundly affected the way I look at my own life.  I was surprised to learn the many ways in which fear manifests itself – I didn’t know I could fear being bored!  But when Robert Greene breaks it down, it makes perfect sense. I now know that the yellow lens of fear is and has always been the most paralyzing force in my life and sadly, in the lives of countless others. This is the book I wish I got for my high school graduation.  Maybe earlier.

Don’t let the fact that 50 Cent gets top billing on the cover fool you into believing that this book was written by some illiterate hoodlum with shiny teeth.  You would be grossly underestimating 50 Cent, a mistake that countless others have made in the past, to their own detriment – just ask Ja Rule.  If you don’t know who Ja Rule is, that’s exactly the point.  The book uses the story of 50 Cent – née Curtis Jackson – to illustrate the lessons in each chapter of the book.  They are lessons that Fiddy had to learn the hard way as a hustler on the street, the tools and tactics he used to make it out alive and rise to the top of the music industry and beyond.  Just like fear manifests itself in many ways, so too does fearlessness.  It manifests itself in 50’s business savvy, his leadership qualities, and even his ability to stage beefs.  In many ways 50 Cent is the idea of “Makaveli” taken to its logical philosophical conclusion – not the passion-driven, at times hedonistic, thug poet embodied by Tupac Shakur, but rather the shrewd, cold and calculating mastermind like the man who inspired him – Niccolo Machiavelli.  If he hadn’t been murdered, Tupac might have become 50 Cent.  Or maybe he always was.

But this isn’t really 50’s book.  This is a Robert Greene book all the way, from the anecdotal stories of historical figures and power players past and present such as 50 Cent, to the neat authoritative analysis of the lessons derived from each story.  With the 50th Law, Greene has identified the key human characteristic on which his other books depend on for their success – the 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War – and that element is fearlessness.  The 50th Law is not a companion to these books; it is the spinal cord, the very essence of all his works to date.  For without fearlessness, you can never really apply the laws of power, seduce the fair maiden, or confront your enemies.

This book may challenge deeply held views for many.  For me it was Chapter 5, which raises questions about morality and “reaping the wages of humility”. Jesus’ idea of humility on Earth in exchange for inheriting the kingdom of Heaven always felt right to me, a righteous fulfillment of karma.  I’m not even a religious church-goer, but I always gave Jesus credit for his un-worldly wisdom; Robert Greene’s books, on the other hand, are decidedly “worldly” (Ironic how even the book is designed to look like a Bible, from the leathery cover down to the last gold-trimmed page). I’ve tried to mesh the two world views into a new paradigm that I could feel comfortable with, but I just can’t do it.  Greene’s books at times promote the use of “badness” for our own ends is the antithesis of everything Jesus talked about.  Greene argues that all of us – especially the moralizers – have flexible morals anyway.  Jesus never said we were going to be perfect, but weren’t we at least supposed to TRY?  After 8 years of Bush/Cheney in the White House, certainly the last thing I want to do is embrace the kind of selfish ideals that led to the suffering of others halfway around the world.  I read language like, “push people out of position to get our way” and I think, “what ever happened to ‘turn the other cheek?” I read words like “taking on those who stand against your interests” and remember Condi Rice talking about “protecting our interests in Iraq”; I always knew that was code for “slaughtering civilians for oil and military contracts”.  But Greene preempts my bleeding heart liberal response by making examples of FDR and Abraham Lincoln; one lifted the US out of the Great Depression by crushing his political foes and the other ended slavery and maintained the Union by baiting the Southerners into a fight.  I was even surprised to learn that Machiavelli, raised a Christian, went through the exact same thing!  So maybe the ends can justify the means.  Sometimes.

Perhaps my beliefs are based on a lack of self-esteem, but I’d hate to believe that humility and peace are nothing more than a reflection of fear.  And yet, I can’t deny that much of what has held me back in life has been fear.  I know because I’ve been able to see the same qualities it in so many others ever since reading this book.  I see it in my grandfather, who just suffered a heart attack brought on by years of alcohol abuse.  My grandfather lived with the spectre of fear for most of his life.  A deeply sensitive man raised on the streets of Mexico in dire poverty, he turned to many vices to drown the pain, not the least of which was alcohol, which have brought him no shortage of self-pity, regret, and poor health in his old age.  He could have used this book more than anybody I know.  Well, almost anybody; his son, my uncle, suffers from a potent lack of self-worth, no doubt caused by not having had a positive father figure he could look up to.  I only wish they had learned to conquer their fears when they were coming of age. I hope I can still conquer mine.


The World on ‘Ignore’

I have a cell phone that I keep for keeping in touch, and I never have it on me.  It’s bulky and takes up valuable pocket space.  This is the reason I usually never pick up your calls; I don’t have you on ignore or anything.  I do pick up my phone at the end of the day to find 5 missed calls from all sorts of people.  I have myspace, a twitter, and facebook accounts, none of which I use regularly – but apparently when I do, I drop gems.  My boy Ian told me that I rarely ever pop up but when I do, it’s like Jesus preaching the Gospels himself.  I don’t know if I’d dare compare myself to the good Lord.  Maybe L. Ron Hubbard.

And speaking of Jesus, my boy Joaquin called me up today and it was probably just to say hi.  I consider Joaquin one of the most down to earth homies on the planet, one of only a handful of non-phony Born-Again Christians that I know of and one of even fewer people that I’m proud to call my friend.  But the last time he called, he mentioned the fact that he’s always the one calling, and I made a point of remembering to hollar back at him soon – and wouldn’t you know, he called me first.  Again.

It was then I realized that I really, really suck at keeping in touch with people.

It’s not intentional.  As a kid, I didn’t know how to relate to the others; over time it led me to develop a more detached personality.  One notable exception to this was high school; during high school I found people who shared some of my interests, and because of that I was able to confidently express myself in front of them.   Nowadays I rarely ever see even 1/5th of my friends in high school; I can easily go months on end without hearing a word from them or calling them up.  I understand that most people pick up the phone and call their friends out of the blue to do things, or just to say hi. I don’t.  It’s not that I’m purposefully trying to ignore them; it simply doesn’t occur to me to do it.  I tend to believe that people have their own lives to attend to and that the friend roster is “full” for most people.  I don’t speak unless spoken to; in fact, everybody I’ve ever met was through someone else.  I seem to be able to go for days without coming in contact with a single human being.  It’ll come in handy when I end up living alone, without a wife and kids.  Perhaps I’m just prepping myself for that day.

Human interaction has always been a mystery to me.  I remember being younger and seeing couples out at a park.  One moment they would be held in embrace, smiling, kissing and looking into each other’s eyes; sometimes, without taking their eyes off each other, the girl would then whisper something to the guy, and then he’d say something, and then both would just laugh like bubbly idiots as they looked into each others eyes and kissed.  I’ve always wanted to know: what were they saying? Personally I’m still baffled at what guys are supposed to say to a woman when they approach her, and I’ m not counting corny pick-up lines either.  I also doubt very much that the answer is as simple as “hi”; what’s the follow up to such a weak opener?  What do people gathered in groups at social functions talk about, and how do they manage to avoid the awkward silences that seem to plague my attempts at “mingling”?

When people talk to me, I have a feeling they see me as simple and uncomplicated.   I avoid emotional minutiae like most people avoid technical minutiae.  I don’t particularly care about the mundane details of every day life; maybe that’s why I naturally gravitate towards fantasy.   Nerds, I find, are fascinated with technical trivialities, but even when the topic is something I’m interested in I could not stand more than 5 minutes of conversation with some of them.  I can’t recite 20 years worth of Simpsons quotes; I don’t care about the extended Star Wars universe.  I’m somewhat peeved that George Lucas digitally inserted Hayden Christensen’s head onto the astral form of the deceased Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, but I’m far more interested in what it means in terms of the limits of authorship and whether the public even has a say in the matter.  Just like Star Wars technicalities leave me bored, so does the everyday banality of small talk and gossip.  What somebody said to somebody else and how they feel about it doesn’t really catch my attention.  Just reading that last sentence to myself made my eyes roll.  Naturally, I’m out of place at any social gathering where people stand around with wine glasses and talk; what are they talking about?

What does it mean to keep in touch?  Why would anyone call anybody else out of the blue; at any moment there are dozens of people you could be talking to right now – who would you choose, and why?  The question only gets harder the more time passes by until so much time passes that one day you decide that just sending them a Facebook comment would be really, REALLY awkward.

Perhaps those you do choose to keep in contact with are those worthy enough to be called friends.  Perhaps I don’t really have any friends.  Or maybe I’m not appreciating my friends as much as I should.  I guess the only way to know for sure is to make a better effort at it.  I’ll try harder.  But if I don’t take your call, chances are it’s nothing personal.  Keep trying until I get the message.  Better yet, just leave a message telling me I’m being a douche again.  That should do it.


Olbermann’s Powerful Appeal for Health Care Reform

A special episode long comment.  No need for words;  just watch the clips.


A Lifelong Bromance with Books

Levar Burton started it all. I remember being in second grade when Reading Rainbow would come on. That theme song alone just made it so appealing to read; it made books sound like these amazing mystical things that would transport you to another dimension. I discovered dinosaurs through books, and how could any second grader resist dinosaurs? Later on Jerry Spinelli would really ignite my bromance with books with a book called Maniac Magee. But if any one person had the biggest influence on me, it was my dad. On weekends he would seen my sisters and I to the thrift store to find anything of value, and he always sent us to the book aisles to pick out what we wanted. I started my book collection with books by Michael Crichton, who gave us Jurassic Park – again with the dinosaurs!

But from Crichton on I discovered better authors and books that I thought I would never read. John Grisham kept me company in 8th grade; later I discovered Stephen King and then I found that dead authors wrote some of the best books in the universe – my favorites being Cervantes, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. I began going on these thrift store raids myself and wandered the aisles of the many used book stores in my city looking for everything that stood out to me. I can easily drop 5 bucks for a stack of books as tall as a five year old. You know how some people will wait for a movie to come out on DVD? I wait for books to come out on Salvation Army.

I’m 25 years old now and basically live in a library, books just occupying as much shelf space on my entire wall and spilling onto the floor in stacks. To think that there are people who have collected even more books than I have just astounds me. I don’t even think I will outlive the books that I’ve amassed throughout the years so I tend to be very picky about what I buy. I did the math – human beings on average have only hundreds of thousands of hours to live on this planet. I figure that to get my money’s worth from the things that I purchase, I better enjoy them as much as I possibly can. I don’t but a Playstation 3 because I have books in my room I haven’t even opened yet, DVDs I’ve only seen twice, music I’ve listened to once. While I do play video games, I’ll only play at a friend’s house or online when I don’t really feel like reading. But for me,actually investing in a gaming system would be pointless. Can you imagine the amount of time I would have to spend on a PS3, mastering all the video games available, to get my money’s worth? Now, maybe if I lived a couple hundred years I might gives video games a shot. I think people have to pick and choose their interests; mine were pretty much chosen a long time ago.


The Signs

One of the saddest days in my life started with the Land Before Time.

This movie hold a certain power over me that I’ve never been able to explain, in that I can’t explain how as a 25 year old guy it still makes me cry.   I first watched it when I was a kid; since it was about dinosaurs it was pretty much mandatory for me.   It starts off all warm and fuzzy and fun.  A kid’s movie.  Before the half hour mark, however, Littlefoot the little “long-neck” on whom the story is centered, tragically loses his mother in a battle against T-Rexes and earthquakes and poor, hungry Littlefoot is forced to embark on a long perilous journey in search of the heavenly Great Valley.   It makes me tear up because even as a kid I understood what that movie was telling me about my own mortality – more specifically, my mother’s mortality.  It’s the day I dread even more than my own death and that movie always reminds me that it could happen to my own frail mother at any day, any time, every time I watch it.  What really gets me is the music by James Horner and that damned Diana Ross song at the end.  That music and that movie always makes me feel…alone.   This Sunday morning I watched it again; I shed the first of many tears that day, and for almost the same exact reason.   Just 8 hours later, my grandmother would pass away.

The night before the hospital visit, I was told to pray for my grandmother.  As an agnostic, I refused to give in to the power of self suggestion during a time of vulnerability.  I should say “weak agnostic”, because although I didn’t pray to God, I was definitely in my bed talking to someone and hoping that someone was listening.  I asked for a miracle to prove that He was real.  I reasoned with Him;  what better way to prove to me that he is real than by making my grandmother well?  That would make me believe.  Not that I haven’t had my share of strange experiences; said experiences made me an agnostic instead of an atheist.

The first happened in Mexico as a kid and I was playing with one of the neighborhood stray pups – Mexico’s streets are overrun with strays.  I was so stupid I played with one of the dogs – this tiny, newborn pup – like a bean bag.  Literally.  I tossed it in the air to catch it a few times until I eventually fumbled and let it fall.  When one of my cousins picked him up, its body was limp, eyes were rolled back and its tongue was sticking out.  It let out a long, pitiful, continuous noise, the kind a kid makes when he’s been stabbed with an imaginary sword.  Horrified at the idea that this dog was going to die because of me, I went into a quiet corner in the house and prayed.  And I mean PRAYED.  I damn near poured my guts out.  I begged God to save this dog.   I even went as far as telling God to save it even if it meant taking years off my life.  I felt that awful that I was literally telling God to trade my life for the dog’s.   When I was done wiping away my eyes I mustered the courage to see the dog.  The last thing I expected to see was a healthy, scrappy, tiny little bean bag of a puppy running around as if he hadn’t just been dropped on his head.  But that’s what I saw.  I guess of course that means that I’m gonna go out in a freak skydiving accident at the age of 60.

The second sign was and encounter with a car full of thugs that would have ended in my own death.  I had just finished watching a pay per view at my boy Ray’s house and I was heading home with my other homie Kin.  Back in the day he was in the habit of wearing blue bandanas around.  I learned a while back to avoid anything red or blue; now my favorite color is black.  We waited for the bus to arrive in a bad part of town, at a bad time to be at said part of town, but it was pretty much the same routine every week.  This time, however, a group of thugs driving by on the other side of the street rolled down their windows and yelled out, “where you from”?  Kin thought it was best to agitate the scary men in the car by being a smart ass and yelling out “SAN FRANCISCO!”.  Wanting to investigate further, they made a u-turn to park right in front of us and just as soon as they did, I see the car of Ray’s mom come from OUT OF NOWHERE and she swerves right in, landing right in the spot the first car would have had she not flown in like the fucking cavalry, just in the nick of time.  We hopped in and bailed.  Ray’s mom had never offered us a ride home.  Not before then.  Not afterwards.  Just that one time.  Just in time.

The third, which happened first in the actual sequence of things but I felt worked best for last; it’s easily the least believable one and it doesn’t even involve me directly.  My mom sometimes tells a story of how she once heard singing coming from her room in the sweetest, most angelic voice she’d ever heard in her life.  When she went into the room she discovered my little sister looking out the window of our third story house, talking to herself.   My sister said she was talking to a voice – though she didn’t identify that voice as an angel.  Instead when asked to draw who she saw, she only drew a glowing orb.  Apparently, the voice had told her to take good care of me.  My sister doesn’t like it when the story is brought up, but I bet you a cent it’s the primary motivation behind her decision to go into health care.  Maybe she gets to be the one who prescribes me the happy pills.

Oh, and there’s this other totally weird moment when my dad cut a nasty gash in his finger making floral arrangements for a church, cupped some holy water to wash his finger, and later on could not find even the slightest hint of a cut – or even a scratch – anywhere on his hands.  That one really kinda did it for me.

Flash forward back to the UCSF hospital, where I wait in a room with possibly the largest assembly of Mexicans ever gathered during that hospital’s entire history (my grandmother had thirteen kids; I don’t even want one!).  The doctors come in to deliver the bad news and we realize right then and there that soon we’d lose a loved one.  My dad, a man I’d never seen cry, had tears in his eyes.  The sight of that alone made me lose my own composure.  But that’s all he had; tears.  My grandfather was the same way, just tears.  My grandfather, in fact, pretty much made the decision before everyone else that we should cut life support for my grandma and end her suffering.  That’s all he wanted.  When she died, both he and my dad were calm as I’d ever seen them, and that was saying something.  They were comforted in the knowledge that my grandmother was no longer suffering.  Much more comforting, however, was the belief that she was with God now.

When I was hit with a shock as sudden as this, I found that my rational mind began working overtime to suppress my emotions.  I questioned how they could be so…calm…about the idea of cutting her off from life support without exhausting every option and if it had anything to do with religion.  I wondered if they didn’t believe in God, would they be saying this?  In retrospect, it’s not a rational thing to believe at all.  My rational mind may have been pulling overtime, but it was slacking off on the job.  Maybe there really were no answers to all the pain.  At least, not any that I was willing to discuss with anybody.  The logical answer was put forth by a particular dickwad of a doctor who spoke to us in a tone best suited for a dog who just shitted on his carpet.  The logic was, there was nothing they could do to save my grandmother from the damage caused by her heart attack.   In addition to her heart she suffered from some sort of unknown stomach ailment that they think  was microbial (but they’re not sure).  This is adding more strain on her already weakened heart and the only reasonable choice was to pull the plug.  Actually, it was quite logical.  Stopping the life support was the right thing to do.  But it was also the moral thing to do.

Ever since I could remember, my mother had never gotten along with my aunts.  Let me rephrase that – she despised them.  The beef stemmed from some incident between one of my aunts and my mom that pit a few of my uncles against her, for reasons I don’t quite understand.  It was bad enough that I wouldn’t be allowed to see them; I met many cousins this day for the first time.  Another aunt had run afoul of my mom more recently, which only added to the beef between the families.  Much of this was the reason for which I rarely saw my grandmother.  I loved my grandmother, but I was almost as saddened by the fact that I’d been kept away from her all these years because of my mom’s issues with my dad’s family as I was about her death.  There was guilt, too.  I could have seen here more often myself. Today, however, I saw my mom and my aunts hug and cry in solidarity; today they had made peace with each other, after damn near 25 years of mutual distrust and disrespect.  This couldn’t be the miracle.  It just couldn’t be.  I held out for something better.  I needed a definite sign that everything I’d just seen was God’s work.  I needed to see that dad was right and that my grandmother was in a better place.  I was determined to get my sign from God.  I didn’t expect the signs to come so soon.

She didn’t die right away; it took hours, more than enough time for everybody in my enormous family to get their chance to see her and say good bye.  Most of the time she drifted in and out of consciousness as she was administered painkillers for her stomach problems and weaned off the life support systems.  I held out a sliver of hope that my miracle would happen.  I watched the monitor next to her bed for heart signals, checking the numbers every now and then.  Every time the damned thing made a beep, I looked at it again.  Noticing the noise, the nurse came in to silence the intermittent beeping, which just made me more determined to look at the monitor.   She must have noticed because right after fiddling with the monitor some more she whispered to me something that stuck with me the rest of the night.  She said something along the lines of, “don’t look at the numbers.  Focus on her.”  If you’ve ever seen the end of the film “Pi”, you’ll be able to figure out the level at which that line changed my perspective.  My whole life up to that point has been the numbers, logic, the science, this quest for knowledge for its own sake and my insistence of reducing things as complex as humanity and even the soul itself to a quantum – instead of seeing the humanity in people and enjoying that instead.  It was about experiencing moments with people, moments that are unquantifiable by nature. “Don’t look at the numbers” made me see the folly in reducing humanity to numbers on a computer screen.  Mind you, those numbers keep other people alive.  They’re important, but they’re not the point.  Don’t focus on the numbers.  Focus on the people.

So I did.  I cried with my uncles and for them.  I felt their pain.  I felt most of all for my dad.  During her final moments, my grandmother looked up at us and around us, struggling to open her eyes, and shed thin tears.  She knew her children were all there, and that she was loved.

The night before, one of my aunts said she had heard my grandmother taking to children.  This may be meaningless to most people, except that right before my other grandmother passed away 6 years ago, she was also seen talking to children who weren’t there; she’d identified them as her grandparents.  Both of them had the same visions; both could be attributed to hallucinations of a brain on sedatives and gasping for air.   Sure, they saw the same thing…but that had to have been coincidence.

My mom recalls that during the funeral of a close friend, a moth flew into her lap.  My sister recalls asking for a sign that my other grandmother was in heaven; yep, a moth.  And surely enough, just as we entered the hospital lobby elevator to the parking garage I saw this enormous moth fluttering about a fluorescent light, right above me.  On the way home I asked my family, “why a moth”?  That was the only part of it that didn’t make sense.   And you know what else?  It just occurred to me right now; they’re “going towards the light”.

When I saw that moth, I smiled.  I laughed to myself.  I always figured God had a sense of irony.

Miracles happen; however they are usually small by our standards and many go unnoticed by us simply because we don’t acknowledge that they are extraordinary.  Many miracles can be explained scientifically.  Any miracle, really, can be scientifically written off, provided we know enough about God and the physics of existence to come to the logical conclusion.  But I believe – emphasis on “believe” – that the fact that we are beings capable of philosophy a miracle in and of itself.  Does out intelligence have a scientific basis?  Of course it does.  We evolved.  Our brains are an organ that gave us an advantage over other animals and we just developed this  brain over a thousand generations until one day it became powerful enough to become aware of itself in relation to the universe.  It developed the ability to see the universe not literally, but abstractly.  It enabled us the ability to know, as well as to believe.

My grandmother’s death was a bittersweet reprieve from physical suffering.  We pray to God to keep our loved ones alive, even though they may want nothing more than to die with dignity.  What about what she would have wanted?  I’d like to think she’s better off now that she is free from pain, rather than shackled to it.  Furthermore, I believe that instead of the miracle I was asking for, the course of events leading up to and after hear death revealed the hand of God more than a miraculous recovery ever would.  Had she lived, had God granted me my wish, would I have believed it to be His doing?  Or, would I have attributed her recovery to the hard working doctors of UCSF?  It was the unexpected signs that let me know He was there.  The signs that followed so soon after her death have no explanation other than coincidence.   But “coincidence” is the numbers talking; what does the human element feel?  I believe that when you can see that human element, you will see miracles.  Or, to borrow a quote:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” – Matthew 5:8

It is only now that it all starts to make perfect sense somehow.

In memory of Zenaida Rodriguez AND Mama Reme…mis abuelitas.