Cupcakes in the Sandbox (PDF)
Parents and parenting on the West Side of Los Angeles, from the sandbox to the yoga studio.
Cupcakes in the Sandbox (PDF)
Parents and parenting on the West Side of Los Angeles, from the sandbox to the yoga studio.
When did American men stop being men? Once upon a time, they strode this continent with inviolate manhood. Conquering the West, they killed and hunted and cut paths through forests and grasses. On top of horses, or on the rails, they rode unopposed by lesser mortals in a vast march to the Pacific. They built cities of stone and iron, dams to stop the mighty rivers, and took to the air like eagles. Men hung heads of animals they killed on walls, and drank jugs of whisky until they passed out. From Boston Harbor to Death Valley, they built the most noble and valorous civilization that history ever created.
* * *
The Mall is the place where they gather every weekend. The young and affluent North Shore of Chicago converges on Northbrook Court. Like a cattle drive, hordes of SUV’s pour down Edens Highway and head for the vast, untamed parking lot on Lake-Cook Road. Hungry for adventure, seeking trophies and displays of wealth, the suburban hunter-gatherers and many who make their killing at the Board of Trade, put down their credit cards and walk away with the greatest assortment of riches available in the world.
These lucky Americans are the inheritors of those who laid down their lives at Omaha Beach, in Korea and in the swamps of Vietnam to preserve freedom. The beneficiaries of these soldiers of democracy are often seen on weekends making their way into the cozy and bland confines of the apparel smart “Banana Republic” store.
Inside the well-merchandised bi-sexual emporium little Emily and Zoe and Max and Dylan romp around the bleached blond wood floors as their parents try on solid colored robot garments in every shade of black, grey and dark brown. Scented candles in vanilla and lavender fill the air with a calming aroma. Soft lights flatter men who are persuaded and cajoled and belittled into wearing ribbed and solid crew necks and v-necks and flat front trousers and dark shoes. The guys, for the most part, have short trimmed hair, with just a dab of gel. The wives are aerobically thin, hydrated and slick. The Banana Republicans wear a uniform: prosperous, understated, cyber smart. These folks, are no longer very young, not quite middle aged. This store is a state of mind. It embodies a state of corporate caution.
Charles and Diana Spence belong to this club. Married seven years, the couple has one 3-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. They live in the town of Fort Sheridan, a former military base on the shores of Lake Michigan that has now been sensitively redeveloped for the Land Rover and Volvo set in shades of muted green. Residences are carved out of old officer’s quarters in homely yellow Chicago brick now lushly planted with elms, maples, hostas, and ivy. Ornate cast iron lampposts stand like sentries on curving streets paved in cobblestone. The train station is but a walk from the homes, and like the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a privileged few are allowed to live in exurbia with all of the commuting conveniences.
Charles has been out of Notre Dame for almost 15 years now. He played fullback at the fightin’ school and took his testosterone and Celtic manliness to the Board of Trade where he managed to build a successful career as a commodities broker. Six feet tall, 205 pounds, green eyed and auburn haired, he has a sharp jaw that could slice a sirloin steak. Yet his manner is as convivial as his practical jokes. He likes people, likes to kid around and if he had his way would probably just go fishing in Oshkosh every weekend rather than walk around Northbrook Court.
He met his wife when he went shopping for a suit at Marshall Fields on Michigan Avenue. He walked into the men’s department and was immediately confronted by a blonde, confident salesperson. Diana Jakowski was only 26, but she was already the highest grossing employee in her area. She had green eyes, and a navy woolen suit and took him by the arm to the 46 regular suits. She had already sized her future husband up.
“I’m looking for a 44 regular dark gray suit,” he said.
“Take off your coat. You’re a 46,” she said.
“OK. But I’m not a 46,” he said.
“Uh-huh,” she answered, “Here this is a Hickey Freeman. It’s a little loose in the shoulders which is just fine for you.” He put on the dark gray pinstriped jacket. She walked around front and grabbed his lapels and slid her hands down to button the top of the coat. He felt like a little boy getting dressed by mommy.
“See, I told you lady. I’m swimming in it.”
“Did you ever hear of a tailor? We have the best in the city. Mr. Piaggi. Your waist is about a 33, and your jacket is definitely a 46. Your traps are pulling your shoulders.”
“OK,” he said. “Bring out Mr. Piaggi. I want a man’s opinion.”
She wasn’t insulted. She liked his assertiveness and refusal to be pushed into buying a suit. “Mr. Piaggi!” she yelled. Piaggi– a short, older and elegant Italian gentleman– walked out with a tape measure. He stuck the numerical string at the back of Charles’ shoulders. He opened the coat and measured the waist again.
“Perfecto. Now please try on the trousers,” Piaggi said.
“If you’re wearing boxers sir,” she instructed, “Please remember that you cannot wear briefs if we measure you for boxers.”
He looked at her directly. “I’m not wearing any underwear today.” She looked down at his crotch. “Yes. I can see you’re right.”
He bought two suits that day. He also purchased three dress shirts, five neckties, and some socks. Diana asked him for his driver’s license when he got ready to pay. “Oh, you live on North Avenue near Clark. We’re neighbors,” she said. “Give me your number Diana,” he ordered.
They went out and discovered that they had a lot of things in common. They were both Catholics. She was part Irish and Polish and he was Irish and German. He grew up in Arlington Heights and she came from Edgebrook, on the Northwest Side of Chicago. She went to school at a small Catholic girls college in Kansas but dropped out and became a retail sales clerk at 21. He attended Notre Dame on a football scholarship and barely graduated due to his poor grades. They both loved sports. He had season’s tickets to the Cubs. She was a big Bulls fan. They loved beer. He drank Becks and she liked Kirin. They took showers two times a day and kept their cars scrupulously clean. They believed in the Church, but disagreed with everything the Church advocated. He wanted to succeed very badly in business, and show up his older brother. She wanted to make lots of money and show off her success to friends. They were aggressive, motivated, honest, hard working, athletic, clean minded, sexually driven. They married only six months later, honeymooned in Hawaii and moved back to Chicago and rented a two-bedroom apartment on Fullerton and Broadway near Lincoln Park.
In the early years of their marriage, they fought a lot. What interests they had in common were opposite to how they lived in private. She was organized. He threw his clothes on the floor. She had all of her receipts in files, he crumpled bills in his pockets and never cleaned out his wallet. He liked to dress in t-shirts and torn jeans after work. She was forever after him to dress up nicer. He never cleaned the house. She dusted every day.
More than once she had threatened to leave him. He had answered that he would rather live alone than be bossed around. She often burst into tears, and he would hug her, and then she might slap him, and he would get angry, and they would slam doors, and he would sleep on the couch, and then he’d wake up and enter the bedroom and crawl under the sheets with her and they’d end up making love and making up.
Friends like Sari Garentz, a sweet Jewish girl from Skokie who worked with Diana at Fields, adored Charles. He was just so sexy, so masculine, so playful, so funny. Diana’s stories of their fights and problems didn’t ring true with Sari. One Wednesday, Sari and Diana went out to lunch and were walking along Michigan Avenue when Sari suggested they stop off at Banana Republic.
The ladies eyed a table full of solid colored ribbed sweaters in such colors as black, dark gray, dark brown and dark blue. “Every guy looks great in one of these,” said Sari. Diana picked up a brown one. “My husband is too buff for this. Even XXL is going to be small on him.” Sari picked up a blue model. “Well, I’m going to buy Andy one. I hate it when he wears those horrible Western Shirts. He still has a closet of those awful rhinestone and embroidered Gene Autry shirts. Boots, Stetson hats, bandanas—in Chicago! Coming from Colorado he thinks he has to dress like a rodeo cowboy. Well he’s gonna wear Banana Republic from now on!”
Diana picked up the sweater again and pulled and stretched it. “I just don’t know. It’s so conservative. I think he’ll look just like every other guy in his early 30’s.” Sari rolled her eyes. “If you let him dictate what clothes he wants to wear, he’s going to dress like a slob. Your husband is gorgeous. I wish mine was half as sexy as yours. But you have to dress him up. You have to make him into the man you want him to be.” Diana bought the advice and the sweater.
The Lure of the Suburbs
They had been living on Fullerton Avenue for four years. One evening, Charles came home with a real estate magazine. There had been vague talk and rumblings almost inaudible of children and schools and “more space.” The double income couple lived quite well, their industriousness and energy had been marshaled into moneymaking and now they had the resources to choose where to live.
“Honey,” he said, “Look at this house in Evanston.”
She walked over to him and looked at color photo of a 1920’s Tudor home for 2.5 million. “Nice. If we move to Evanston, that wouldn’t be too far from downtown,” she said.
“Oh,” he said jokingly, “You do want to move. Last week you told me that Sari and Andy and Steve and Lisa loved it downtown and that you would never move to the dull suburbs.”
“I want to move to a nice town. But I don’t want to commute for two hours every day and raise a child. That’s why I like living here,” she said.
“Then we won’t move.” he said.
“We can’t raise a child in this small place?” she protested.
“What the hell! First you say we could move then you don’t want to move. Make up your mind,” he said.
It was Sari who told Diana about an old army base that had closed down and was now being redeveloped with “exclusive homes.” Fort Sheridan, named after Civil War General Phillip Henry Sheridan, was going to preserve the historic architecture and landscaping of the “prairie style” while adding stylish and upscale new homes.
One Saturday afternoon, Sari and Charles and Diana drove up to Fort Sheridan home so they could scout it out.
What Diana saw was not only the beautiful grounds, and historic buildings, but her kind of people: white, pretty, thin and rich.
Two months later, Charles and Diana moved into Fort Sheridan. Sari and Andy chose a “Parade Ground” home with five bedrooms, approximately 5,400 square feet of living area and an attached three-car garage. Charles and Diana bought a “Deluxe Parade Ground” model that featured a fireplace in the master bathroom. What luxury!
Diana and Charles had a longer commute, but they had their best friends to keep them company way up in the burbs.
One humid June Saturday , Andy and Charles were driving back up Edens Highway after attending a Cubs game. At the Willow Road, Andy pulled his Explorer off the road. “Hey, Chuck. We’re going to have a baby!”
“That’s great news buddy!” Chuck said. He smiled broadly but in his heart he dreaded the consequences of this announcement and Diana’s reaction.
Diana reacted politely when Andy and Charles told her the news a half hour later. Andy left and Diana was free to tell Charles that she resented that her best friends had beaten her to conception. Diana had a fine house, a great job, a socially acceptable husband. The baby was next.
Saturday night Charles was at home but his mind was at Wrigley Field. He was still thinking about Delino DeShields hitting his game-opening homer and Moises Alou with that double that drove in two runs. Diana was cleaning, her usual behavior when she was preoccupied. The 10pm WBBM sportscaster was reviewing the game when Diana turned on the vacuum.
Charles shouted, “Turn off that damn thing Diana!”
She pulled the plug out of the wall and started winding the cord tightly around the Hoover. “You saw the game this afternoon. Can’t you pay attention to me tonight?”
“OK. Let’s go out Diana,” he said.
“Fine. Where should we go at 10 pm in the suburbs?” She asked.
“The lake. Let’s take a walk down to the lake,” he answered.
The night was balmy, the summer humidity still hung in the air. They walked outside, not even locking the doors behind them.
The moon cast its glow over the waters and calmed their nerves. “Do you still love me?” Diana asked. He looked her in the eye. “Sometimes.”
Later that night, they returned home and made love. Diana is convinced that her elevated hormones that June evening were the reason Elizabeth was conceived.
March of Time
Sari Garentz had Jayson (with a y) Ariel on February 5th. Elizabeth Montgomery Spence was born on March 30th (the middle name honored Montgomery Ward, the first store Diana had worked in).
Jayson looked like Sari, dark haired with “knowing eyes”. The son would seem to emulate his mother in looks and love, and the boy, as Charles said, “is being smothered.” The spelling of the name annoyed Diana, but she told Sari that it was unique and kind of cute.
Elizabeth was chubby and blonde and laughed a lot. Sari told Andy that Diana fed her baby too much and that the “kid was going to be obese.” Andy was bored with both his own baby and Elizabeth and longed to go back to Colorardo to ride in a rodeo.
It was a secret life and fantasy that Andy Garentz had. He was outwardly a prosperous Chicago dentist, but inwardly he hadn’t left his Western upbringing behind. His dad had been a Jewish cowboy in Durango, Colorado and Andy grew up with horses, dust, saddles, mountains and steaks on the campfire. It was a soft and constricting adjustment to live in the polished confines of the suburban North Shore of Chicago where barbecue flames were delivered by natural gas and steak came from Dominicks wrapped in plastic.
He had met Chicago girl Sari Sethbart at the University of Colorado. She was the only Jewish girl he had ever dated, because he was the only Jewish boy in his high school. He thought he would marry her, move back to Illinois temporarily and then set up practice back in Colorado. Yet luxury and malls and family and passivity glued them, like so many, to the Land of Lincoln.
Diana and Charles continued to live with their new baby in Fort Sheridan. Sometimes Charles would conjure up a secret fantasy life, where he was back at Notre Dame and just hanging out with the guys. He had no responsibility, and no schedule, no nagging expectations. He just did what the hell he felt like. He imagined a life where he never married and never had a daughter and remained a free spirit. But it was just a thought, that’s all.
# # #
Just north of tony Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, within breathing distance of the ocean, an interview with a LA Times reporter was taking place in an elegant old Spanish hacienda home.
The lifestyle reporter, Liza Palazzo, sat in the living room of Margarita Lopez-Camilla, a Santa Monica film producer. They were talking about Margarita’s friend and housekeeper, Carmelita Sanchez. The Columbian born domestic worker was the founder of a successful health care program begun at one of LA’s poorest clinics.
“How does Carmelita feel about being honored tonight at the Biltmore Hotel for her work at the Crenshaw Clinic?”
The aristocratic Margarita put her teacup down on the glass coffee table. 46 years old, also a native of Columbia, she was born in privilege to the head of a coffee plantation. She studied film at UCLA 25 years ago and decided to stay in the City of Angels. She was now head of Caustic Productions, a film making company here in Santa Monica.
“Oh, it’s the highlight of her life. She is absolutely thrilled to be honored. Only 10 years ago in the little mountain village of Ciudad Sana, she started “La Flora” and look at what has been accomplished,” said Margarita.
Carmelita, the nueva Americana, worked for Lopez-Camilla as a maid, nanny, housekeeper, cook and chauffeur. Carmelita, the Columbian had trained as a nurse, and in Ciudad Sana she had started a health clinic financed by the sale of coffee, a tax paid by the growers to finance the hospitalization and medical care of their workers.
“May I ask Carmelita a question?” asked the reporter, a solicitous and still young acting girl of 33. Palazzo, with red hair, faded jeans, 70’s sneakers and fashionably quirky gelled hair tousled in every direction emitted the very essence of hip in contrast to Margarita’s patrician being.
“Of course. Carmelita, can you come in here?” Lopez Camilla yelled .
The French doors, which led out into the lavender bush and lemon tree garden, burst open and five year old Zoe ran in with Abraham, a lethargic Basset hound. “Mommy, mommy Carmelita is going to take me to get ice cream!” Carmelita ran behind the child, breathless. “Sinõra, I told her no. But she wants to go.”
The reporter smiled at the child, a courtesy so often extended without sincerity, to impress a parent. “What’s your favorite flavor Zoe?” the reporter asked as if the question were of supreme philosophical import. “I don’t know” Zoe answered.
“That’s not very nice Zoe.” Lopez Camilla instructed. “You like Rocky road. Tell Ms. Palazzo that’s what you like.”
“I don’t know if this is a good time for your Carmelita,” said Palazzo.
“It’s a fine time for her. She doesn’t start dinner until 5.30,” said Margarita. “Zoe–Go play with your Barbie dolls honey. You cannot have ice cream before dinner. Let the grown ups have some private time.” Zoe nodded in compliance with the request and walked out sucking her index finger and dragging a pink security blanket.
Carmelita was sweating and felt embarrassed. She entered the high sanctuary of the living room with its tea service, high-beamed ceiling, floral sofas, and symmetry in a filthy t-shirt and dusty jeans. She grabbed a napkin and wiped her face and poured herself a glass of water. There were parcels stacked atop a rigid high back chair against the wall. Margarita removed them and sat down. “Yes ma’am. What would you like to know?” Carmelita asked.
“How long have you worked with the clinic?” the reporter asked.
“Oh, let’s see. I think five years,” she answered.
“No dear,” Lopez-Camilla interrupted. “You came to the US in 1993 and you worked there only six months when I met you.”
“Oh, you’re right Madam. It’s over eight years.”
Palazzo wrote down Carmelita’s answer. “How did you approach Councilwoman Herrera and convince her to enact “La Flora” in that community?”
“I introduced her to Councilwoman Herrera.” Lopez-Camilla answered.
“So next Friday you and the Councilwoman and the entire clinic are going to be honored at the Biltmore and you will receive an award for outstanding community service. How does that feel?”
“An honor. I feel not so big for so great a recommendation,” Carmelita said.
A child’s piercing scream filled the room. Carmelita bolted from the room and ran to find Zoe while the mother sat calmly. She came back holding Zoe who was crying and holding her nanny tightly. “I’m sorry. She fell down and hurt her knee. I have to go put band-aid on it. Don’t cry honey. Don’t cry my little Zoe!” Nanny and child left the room while Lopez-Camilla poured honey into a fresh cup of Earl Gray. “More tea Liza?”
“Oh, no thank you. I feel like I’m here on the worst day of your life!” the reporter said.
“You’re almost right! First my husband smashed his new Audi as he was pulling out of the driveway. He was on his way to a meeting with Arturo Herrera to discuss a new Angelina Jolie project. Of course, he missed the meeting. He was so upset. Now I have an injured daughter. Can you forgive me?”
Ms. Palazzo stood up. “No. I’ve been here too long. I think I’ve gotten enough. Thank you so much for your time. I know the Chandlers appreciate this. They really think the world of you.”
“I hope,” added Margarita, “that we’ll see you at the Hollywood Film Awards on Sunday. My husband is getting an award as well for ‘The New Hee Haw Show.’ Lopez Herrera could not resist the plug.
Ms. Palazzo slipped into her cardigan sweater. “That’s the funniest show on TV. I watch it all the time. What channel is on it again?
Carmelita always woke up first in the household. She could barely sleep past 5.30am, her dreams tortured with kidnappings, killings and other unspeakable horrors of her Colombian past. She had come to Los Angeles to escape that. Though her bedroom was above the garage, to Carmelita it was a palace. It was in the back of the property, and between her and the main house stood a yard with a pool, surrounded by lemons, oranges, olive trees, lavender, jasmine, palms, a brilliant red Bougainvillea and an always gurgling fountain. It was a Garden of Eden. A devout Catholic, she prayed just as the sun was rising and the first droplets of orange light freckled the lawn.
After she put the good book down, it was the beginning of a long day full of chores and busy work. She had to take Abraham for a walk. Then she fed the dog.
Carmelita fixed breakfast for the little girl, and attended to Zoe’s needs—like changing her from pajamas into clothes, cleaning her up in the bathroom. Lopez Camilla did not allow Zoe to wear clothing that had been in the dryer. She claimed that allergies from fabric softeners might harm the child. These were one of the many prohibitions the mistress of the home legislated.
Carmelita dodged a minefield of laws that made her role onerous at times. She cooked breakfast, for example, but could not microwave because that was “dangerous” to Lopez Camilla. Jorge, the husband, only drank filtered water, and Carmelita had to lug the enormous 5-gallon Sparkletts container from the curb to the dispenser. When the owners awoke, Carmelita had to again watch over Zoe as both Mr. and Mrs. exercised on step masters and watched Matt Laurer (an old friend from NBC) on the “Today” show. As Jorge showered, Carmelita had to lay out his freshly ironed suit, tie and dress shirt on the bed and slip quickly out of his room before the half-naked master emerged from the toilet.
In addition to the domestic routine, Carmelita worked three days a week at the Crenshaw clinic. Latina-American Congresswoman Hilde Herrera took a special interest in Crenshaw. Carmelita’s work with involved her in the politician’s rising career. The clinic had become a symbol of liberal complaints against so called Republican cuts in health care.
The Los Angeles Times had editorialized that the Crenshaw Health Clinic’s “La Flora” program was “perhaps the most promising vision of health care financing for poorer people enacted in the last decade.” The name was intoxicating, too, with its promise of fertility, hope and holistic lyricism. What Carmelita had given birth to in Columbia, had come to maturity in the Golden State. The powerful had quickly adopted this child whose true parentage was fast becoming vague.
“I don’t give a shit about her!” Margarita was screaming at Jorge just outside Whole Foods on Montana.
“Keep your voice down Margarita!” Jorge begged with clenched teeth. A red Lincoln Navigator swerved to avoid the feud in the back parking lot of the gourmet food store.
“I don’t have $45 to spend on a cake for her. How come she has a birthday and you remember and you forgot my birthday?” she asked.
That red SUV pulled up and a 35 ish blonde woman leaned out the window. “Hello Margarita!” she said with a perfectly capped smile.
Margarita broadcast an ear- to ear grin. “Hi Joanie! How ya doin’ kiddo?” Joanie waved a fingery good-bye and sped off. The argument continued.
“I just think we should treat her to a cake! What’s wrong with that?” Jorge asked.
“Isn’t it enough that she’s having a party at the Biltmore? My god. She’s lucky to live in our home. That’s how I look at it. I’m too god-damned busy to make nicey nice with her.”
The Park along the Palisades
Blocks from the Lopez-Camilla home, along the Palisades of Santa Monica, runs a sweeping park promenade that overlooks the Pacific. Carmelita would often take Zoe for walks along the palm lined, tree-shaded expanse with its sunset views, mountain vistas, joggers, strollers, and bicyclists. Despite the beauty, the carefully groomed vegetation, and the aura of groomed greenery, a sinister social illness plagued the paradise.
Scores of homeless slept on the grass, wandered the park. They pushed carts, muttering, lost, alcoholic, or in drug induced confusion. Who were these people she wondered? Where were they from? Had they once been young and loved and taken care of? How did they lose grip and fall out of society and how could they be saved? She thought of Jesus and his ministration. With mercy in her heart, Carmelita walked amongst the poor along these verdant paths at the edge of the American continent.
Walking in anger
Margarita walked home in anger. She would not ride back in the car with Jorge. He had made her very angry and to top it off, had taken his bruised Audi into the repair shop and had rented a white Toyota Celica. It was a cheap piece of crap, and she wondered if he had deliberately taken a poor man’s car to embarrass her.
Party in Hancock Park
A few nights after the fight in the parking lot, the Herreras held an invitation only party at their home in Hancock Park. It was an affair with black tie and valet parking, caterers, cocktails and scented candles. A backyard pool glowed with blue underwater lights and a pianist on the veranda played Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture.”
Margarita was bi-polar about parties. On the one hand, she could get drunk, dress up and forget her regular cares as she slipped in and out of banalities and polite talk with the hoi polloi of Los Angeles. On the other hand, it was deadly serious work, making friends and alliances with producers who could finance her films, and make things happen. Then there was the necessary work of pretending to care about causes, about the less fortunate, which earned her added respect in the community and increased her stature.
Margarita stood in the middle of a speeding intersection of political power desperate to catch a ride to the top. Scanning the room, she could see Nicole Kidman and Cardinal Mahoney, Mayor Hahn and Jennifer Lopez. Dolly Parton was flirtatiously conversing with UCLA’s Dr. Harvey Fishbein, who perfected cosmetic surgery for transsexuals in the late 1960’s.
Jorge walked up to his legal wife. “I just spoke to Hilde. She’s said KCAL wants to do a story with Carmelita.”
“Carmelita? Why would they want to talk to her?” she asked with one eye on the chopped liver and Michael Eisner spreading it on a cracker.
“Stop looking at him,” Jorge said. “Listen to me. Carmelita is the reason La Flora is working. Do you want to deny her that?”
“I’m not listening to you. You want to start up trouble here? You’re not gonna get me into a fucking argument.” She walked away and went over to shake the hand of Michael Eisner. She then segued into a conversation between Councilwoman Herrera and the head of the Crenshaw Clinic, Glen Kirsch.
“Hi there Margarita,” Glen said. “ How is Caustic? I read in Variety that you may get Salma Hayek for a project next year?”
She stuffed an olive tapenade topped wheat cracker into her mouth. “You read Variety? The head of a health clinic reads Variety? Ridiculous. Only in LA!”
He didn’t seem offended. “Of course I read it. Do you know before I ran the clinic I was a screenwriter? I think I have about six screenplays in my closet in West Hollywood. I would love to show you one sometime. I mean maybe when we all meet next week at the Biltmore.”
“I was just kidding,” Margarita answered. “ I’d love to read them. Why don’t you send them over to my assistant Jenny? We’re right on the Sony lot.”
“Did you hear that KCAL wants to do a story on Carmelita?” he asked. “Isn’t that fantastic! The clinic needs the publicity.”
“Why don’t you write a screenplay about a big phony social climber who uses your health clinic to seize political power and make a name for herself!” she said with drunken abandon.
“I don’t understand what you mean.” He said.
“I don’t either!” she said laughing and walked away.
On the day of the party at the Biltmore, Margarita Lopez Camilla had a million things to do. She could only think of her hair, her shoes, her nails and her aching shoulders. She needed to get a massage, but then she had to be at Caustic because the editor was working on a 7-minute short film about Carmelita and “La Flora” and Councilwoman Herrera was the narrator. Editorial changes were made at the last minute. Margarita told the Councilwoman that the politician who was the adopted mother of “La Flora” should be the star of the film. The poor housekeeper would now be demoted on-screen to supporting player.
That day Carmelita was her usual happy and calm self. She barely thought about her impending moment of fame on the stage that night.
Other domestic crises occupied her. The dog had shit on the leather sofa in the library. Carmelita was rushed to clean it up and spray disinfectant on the stain.
At 4 pm, Lopez-Camilla called from the 405 freeway and asked Carmelita to run out to the drugstore to buy a Lancome powder. At 5.30pm they all were supposed to leave to go downtown to the ceremony, and time was running out. Carmelita carried the cell phone with her and got into the car to drive over to buy the missing make up. As she pulled into the parking lot, the phone rang again and Lopez-Camilla said Carmelita would have to stop off at a shoe repair shop to retrieve Madam’s shoes and then to the dry cleaners to pick up the freshly cleaned gown. All of these orders came in the final hours. and Carmelita would have almost no time and preparation for her own night of honor.
A Little Bowl of Soup
As Margarita Lopez-Camilla dressed, Carmelita heated up some vegetable soup in the kitchen. Little Zoe was with Daddy in the den. The aroma of food soon filled the house. Carmelita eagerly poured herself a bowl and sat down to hurriedly ingest a few spoonfuls. It was the first time she had eaten all day.
Lopez-Camilla emerged in an exquisite black sequined gown, her red glossy lips contrasting with slicked back hair and a powdery face. She sniffed the air. “What are you doing Carmelita?”
“Huh?” asked Carmelita.
“I asked WHAT- ARE- YOU- DOING!” she yelled. “It smells awful!”
Jorge came into the kitchen. “What’s wrong? Why are you yelling at her Margarita?” he asked.
“She is cooking! My clothes, your clothes, are all going to smell like soup! How can you be so STUPID to cook food when we are all dressed and ready to go to an event at the Biltmore! My god, when people kiss me they will smell god-damned food!”
“I’m sorry ma’am. I haven’t eaten a thing. I run around all day, and I’m hungry.” She said.
Margarita grabbed a dish-towel off the counter and shoved it into Carmelita’s nose. “That’s what you smell like. A cook in a kitchen! That’s what we all smell like.”
A hundred people were gathered in a mini-ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel. Some came from the clinic, working class Latinos, wearing glitzy dresses with big shoulder pads and enormous sparkling jewelry. There were also political people: Councilwoman Herrera and her husband, the Mayor and a couple of news people from TV and the print world. The esteemed publicist Gretchen Ungar was there. She had been hired by Margarita to promote “La Flora” and orchestrate a campaign to promote the Caustic Films and it’s pet cause—health care for the poor.
Later on, Councilwoman Herrera spoke of La Flora and the exciting new concept of financing health care clinics in Los Angeles and eventually in every state. “We are simply too poor in funding to continue our wasteful ways of the past and La Flora returns to the working people the care they so rightly deserve.” This line drew great applause from the crowd.
Margarita Lopez-Camilla addressed the audience. “My dear little friend Carmelita whose idea has now founded a movement to be led by the great Councilwoman Hilde Herrera.” She then introduced the short film with its quick cuts of Ciudad Sana. The audience viewed images of poor men and women of Columbia entering a health clinic, getting inoculated, filling prescriptions and smiling. A few remarked uncharitably that it looked like a propaganda piece.
At the end of the evening, Carmelita went to the rest room and emerged in a back hall behind the ballroom. Glen Kirsch ran up to her and kissed her. “You look beautiful tonight. You really deserve this honor. Thank you for what you’ve done.”
“Oh, Glen. My pleasure. I cannot take all the credit. You, the clinic and Ms. Herrera and Margarita; you all share in this honor,” she said.
“Did you like the film?” he asked.
“Oh, very much,” she answered. “Why do you ask?”
“I just thought they would talk more about you. I think most of it was about the Councilwoman,” he said. Glen patted Carmelita on the shoulder and walked back into the ballroom.
He went straight over to Margarita, sitting on the edge of the stage and smiling wearily into space.
“I just spoke to Carmelita”, he said. “I hope I’m not going to upset you. But I think she thought she should have been the star and that you didn’t feature enough of her in the movie. That’s what she thinks.”
Lopez-Camilla froze up. Her smile and tightly pressed lips went into defense mode. “Oh, I think she’s tired. She’s done so much for us. I wouldn’t worry about it. Where is she by the way?”
“I saw her back near the janitor’s area or the rest room,” he said.
Lopez-Camilla, poisoned with Glen’s indictment, went looking for Carmelita. The guests were now leaving, and Councilwoman Herrera stopped by to say good night. “I’m leaving Glen. Thank you for everything. Where’s my little Carmelita? I want to see her before I leave?” she said.
Glen answered, “She’s with Margarita back there.” Lopez-Camilla was indeed sighted talking to Carmelita. As Ms. Herrera drew closer she could sense unpleasantness.
Lopez Camilla yelled at Carmelita. “We’ll discuss it later! You’re not going to ruin my evening. I know what Glen told me so don’t lie to me!” Margarita grabbed Carmelita’s ear and pulled her against the cinder block wall.
“You’re hurting me! I don’t know what you’re talking about! Stop it!” Margarita maintained her sharp nailed hold on Carmelita’s lobe. In desperation to free herself, Carmelita took her rigid and powerful right hand and slapped Margarita across the face.
Margarita looked stunned and dropped her hand.
“May the Lord forgive me and have mercy on you. You are a fucking bitch. You will not treat me this way again,” said Carmelita. The shaken socialite almost lost her balance in the assault. Carmelita hit and ran out of the ballroom. The Councilwoman arrived just as the incident ended.
“What’s going on? Are you all right Margarita?” asked the Councilwoman.
“Yes, yes. It’s OK.” Margarita said. “I guess if you don’t make a film they like then you get a slap in the face. That’s how friends in Hollywood repay you. Well, we know what we’ve done for her and this is her moment of fame so I guess she feels entitled.”
Ms. Herrera took Margarita’s hand. “Oh, I’m sorry Margarita. Let’s talk in the morning. I spoke to David Geffen last night and he is very interested in La Flora. Let’s talk tomorrow.”