Spitboy Rule Review of Green Day’s Return to 924 Gilman

GREENDAY3

We used to call it the pest list, the list bands put names on to get their friends into the show for free. You can’t put everyone on the pest list.

If I remember correctly, when Spitboy was playing Gilman we were only allowed a few people on our guest list, a couple more if could make a particularly good case. The reason bands are only allowed a few people on their guest list at small clubs has everything to do with the size of the club, fire code, and of course money.

My son, Luis Manuel, and I weren’t on the guest list of last night’s Gilman show at which Green Day played (a benefit for the AK Press and 1984 Printing damage in a fire that claimed two lives) for the first time in twenty-one years, but we got in anyway. I won’t say how because it was a little dodgy and because I don’t want to implicate anyone (I did make a donation to the cause). A friend in one of the other bands that played offered to get my son and I in once we got to the door, so I guess we did have a real in after all.

My son who is thirteen and becoming mildly embarrassed of me (as is the order of things) is not the Green Day fan that he once was, but I am, so I made him come with me to see what all the fuss was about.

“We’re not even going to get in,” he said in his snide thirteen year old way on our way there.

As the parent of teen, I tend to ignore such behavior because it’s not worth the power struggle.

 “I bet some of my friends from school will be there,” he said later as we walked from the car.

I had my own doubts about getting into a show that sold out online in a reported ten seconds , but it was worth a try, plus I was meeting my friend Juliette from out of town at Pyramid Brewery across the street, a friend who did get on the guest list, someone I hadn’t seen in twenty years.

My son tried to play it cool when Juliette asked him if he was excited about the show once we got access to the wrist bands. He  just shrugged his shoulders. In addition to being a surly thirteen year-old, he can be shy around people he doesn’t know. I explained to Juliette that my son is a jazz musician, a piano player, and that he doesn’t listen to Green Day or any of the other alternative music that he was listening to two years ago. However, like Green Day, my son hopes to one day make money playing music because like Green Day, he is all about the music, playing it, thinking about, listening to it, and he hopes, one day composing it and playing for an audience other than his parents or other parents of his peers at recitals for the performing arts school that he attends in Oakland.

I understand the sellout argument, but I won’t bother rehashing it here. I was in a band that would not have been pursued by a major label. We were too loud, too angry, too feminist, but that was never a reason for me to turn my back on bands that have, to shame people I sort of grew up with. I, famously, went to see Nirvana play in 1993 at the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, I went to with Jason White who plays guitar in Green Day. It’s not in my nature to hate people for making a decision to make a living doing something that they love. I would love to make money on my writing, and I had a story recently published in an anthology put out by a major publishing house. No one is calling me a sellout or creating a bunch of controversy.

Punk rock is fussy. I know that. There are rules in punk rock too, rules made by people who hate rules, and that’s fine, I guess, but don’t ask me to make excuses for liking Green Day even though I played drums in Spitboy because I won’t do it.

I will, however, stand up on a table in the back of Gilman and dance just like I did when I was twenty-three years old if, even my thirteen year old son doesn’t approve.

Mother Power: A Birth Story Memory For Luis Manuel

Image

I had my baby in a hospital with a mid-wife and not the dicky doctor who was there harassing me at the end of his shift.

“According to your chart, you’ve been stuck at five centimeters for quite sometime.” He hung the clipboard back onto the hook somewhere near the foot the bed. “I’m going to recommend again that you take the Pitocin.

He knew I didn’t want it, kept checking his watch, eager to get off the clock and home to his Thanksgiving dinner. Who could blame him?

I had been laboring naked on my hands and knees just fine before he came in and now my resolve was beginning to cave.

“Give us a minute,” Ines said to the doctor, dismissing him from the room. “You can do it, Michelle. The mid-wife will be here soon. You don’t need that stuff.” He rubbed my arm and looked me in the eye.

I nodded and he was right. Raewyn breezed in all lightness and air, and she got me out of that bed. She wanted me off my back because that’s no way to labor. She wanted me on my feet where gravity could do its work. She put me in the shower and directed Ines, to spray my hard, stretch mark-lined belly with hot water, telling me to sit on the tool in the shower, whenever a strong contraction took hold. They used natural forces to encourage my body to do its job. My cervix, went from five to eight centimeters dilation in thirty minutes.

I was feeling strong again and prepared, feeling in the room of hospital sounds and encouragement and somewhere else at the same time, and I pushed that little baby out into the world sometime after midnight.

After delivering the placenta and resting and holding the thick, black-haired nene to my breast, the nurses helped me to my feet so I could use the bathroom. One nurse guided me by the arm to make sure I didn’t faint or fall on the way. The bathroom was several steps from the bed and once inside a large bloody mass the size of the baby’s head came flying out of me, bouncing lightly on the floor, resting somewhere near the sink.

“Oh, that’s okay, don’t worry about that,” the nurse chirped, releasing my arm to grab for some towels to clean the mess up and avoid embarrassment. “That’s normal,” she continued.

I nodded and smiled, unfazed, unafraid of my body, and still high from my new mother power.

Sewing Mama: What I Learned Learning To Sew

IMG_0506 - Version 21149545_10201050734683373_1858688899_o

It’s strange. Whenever I sit down at the sewing machine, I feel like my mom, the same flick of the wrist when I drop the foot lever down, the snip, snip, sound of my scissors cutting the thread. I haven’t been sewing long, but each time but each time I do, I learn something new about mom and understand why she has wanted me to learn all these years.

You see, like most women, I have resisted being like my mom, even though I know very well that I sound like her, laugh loud like her, and I have a bit of that wild woman in me like her too, and even though sewing is how she makes her living today, I have always associated using a sewing machine with those dark days in high school, her in her full-blown addiction behind the sewing machine all day and all night for two or three days in a row, and me doing everything I could to get away from it all.

Though, my first memory of sewing is a good one. I am sitting in the back yard of our house in Menlo Park with my mom. She is teaching me to hand sew. I am working on my lap, the sun is warm on my head, and I am happy. Then I lift the fabric to show my mom my work and my whole skirt comes with it. I have sewn the hem of my pillow case project right to the skirt that I happened to be wearing – my favorite skirt. I start to cry immediately.

“Don’t cry; we can get that out.” She leans my way and smiles, then digs in her tin of sewing supplies and pulls out a seam ripper.

I sit in my blouse and underwear while she pulls each seam one by one, freeing my favorite skirt from the pillow fabric.

Being taught to hand sew at the age of four is something that I have always cherished, and it came in handy many times over the years, but even though I knew it would be convenient to know how to sew on a machine, and even though I have always had one in my house, I was too afraid to learn. I have owned a number of sewing machines given to me by mom, sewing machines that I never used. Sewing machines that my mom thought were as necessary as a plunger or vacuum were to own, sewing machines that I feared, that collected dust, that were only used when my mom came to visit and I needed something hemmed: a pair of jeans, a second-hand dress.  I left the cute blue one, which she claimed was easy to use, behind in the attic of a house I rented in my twenties. She took back the heavy black Singer because I had complained it smelled like it was on fire and because she knew it was too complicated to ever operate on my own. It was tricky to thread and then there’s the thing with the bobbin casing, requiring a mechanic’s know-how, sewing machine oil, and screwdrivers. Then two years ago, the stakes higher than ever before, with me, her oldest daughter now in her forties, she bought me a new current model machine. She never gave up on the idea of passing this craft on to one of her children; she never gave up the idea of me, the family academic (good with my brain but not with my hands), learning to operate a machine, learning to sew.

It wasn’t until I learned to embroider that I got the courage to sew on the new machine.  I had run out of the hemmed tea towels that I like to use for embroidery, and I was in the middle of a project.  A few months previous, my mom had hemmed several for me using the machine she bought, even showing me how to do it myself. She did the first few for me, and I did a few on my own with her standing over my shoulder, teaching me how to guide the fabric through without the screw from the needle casing slamming down on my finger. And now, months later, I was in the middle of a project; I was all out of the towels we had hemmed together. There wasn’t time to wait for my mommy to come down and do it for me, or to show me how again, so I gathered the courage and did it myself.

I ironed the towels and hems first like she showed me, glad not to have to sit down at the machine straight away, but as I fished the bobbin thread out of the body of the machine or reversed the machine at the end of the fabric to secure the stitches of the first towel, I was surprised myself by how much I really knew. In my teens, I had after refused to sit with my mom at the sewing machine, preferring to be anywhere but home with her, preferring to play drums in my punk band, and run around with my friends, preferring not to have my fingers sewn shut by a machine needle. I guess, since I had seen my mom at her sewing machine so often over a ten- year period before moving away from home and listened to her talk out loud about what she was working on that I had by osmosis drawn some of the knowledge into my own body where it lay dormant but ready for access when needed.

When I finished hemming several tea towels, I called my mom on the phone to tell her what I had done all by myself without her help. I was, at forty-two, finally ready to learn to sew and not afraid of the sewing machine. She was as happy as she was the day I told her I was pregnant ten years before.

Lately, I have found myself going to my sewing machine more often. And when I sew, I get to know better how she sees the world, how it looks from over the top of a sewing machine, the details she sees when she eyes beautiful fabric and imagines how it might look on an apron, the cut of a dress, a delicate lace hem. I see her as I reach up to roll the wheel forward by hand to back the needle up and out of the thread so I can cut it and move onto the next area in need of stitching. I can feel her in my breath when exhale and flick the foot lever down so it will hold the fabric in place as I send the needle through it. I know what it’s like to feel the hum of the sewing machine motor under my hands, the rush of excitement for the moment I can pull the work from the machine and see how it turned out, knowing whether my mom would approve or disapprove, her standards for good work as my guide.

And I know what it feels like to create something tangible with my own hands, to take many parts and pieces and put them together and the ways in which creating in this way is not unlike writing, crafting living documents of our lives.

Our relationship has changed a lot of over the years, but I know my mom has sometimes has a hard time relating to me, and I know she feels I haven’t always seen her the way that she sees herself. She didn’t finish high school and she had me when she was only eighteen. I graduated high school, went to college, traveled, seen places she’s only dreamed of seeing, waited until I was in my thirties to have a child, and I only had one.  Still, mothers want to pass something on and like all mothers, my mom wants to be understood.  And I have always thought I could understand her and why she did the hard things that she did all those years, but maybe she was right. I hadn’t really known her, not in the way she wanted to be known, because I didn’t practice, or worse,  didn’t care to practice the craft, the art form that that defines her, the thing that distinguishes her from others, the thing that she is best at, the thing in which she excels. But I’m beginning to understand it now, how what she does feels, how it works, the time it takes, the patience (something she is not often associated with), and the practice and the talent that it takes to be really, really good. I won’t ever get there, and that’s not my aim, but I do love feeling closer to her for learning to sew, and I know now that’s all she ever wanted.

 

Does Your Mom Play Drums: Video!

Reading my piece “Does Your Mom Play Drums?” in the San Francisco Listen To Your Mother show on Mother’s Day was unbelievably fun. Many of my friends came out to see me read and paid money to do it, even when they can listen to me speak for free anytime. Even though I couldn’t see their faces from the bright stage lights shining in my eyes, my husband and son, who are featured in the piece were there, and my mom drove two and a half hours to be there too.

You have probably read the piece here, but now you can watch the performance for free. I don’t remember who it was, but before we all went on stage that night, someone told all the readers to really take it all in when we were up there, and you can see me do just that in the video at the very end — really being in the moment, savoring it. I’m glad I did.

***LTYM joins with our national video sponsor The Partnership at Drugfree.org in preventing ½ a million teens from abusing prescription drugs.

P.S. Please share!

Stretch Marks

Image
photo by ilona sturm

                                     1

The first bands of stretch marks lined my inner thighs and lower back, places exposed by my black and white striped bikini, the year my body blossomed into womanhood, smoothing, widening, and scarring.

While swimming at the river, surrounded by sparkly granite rock, I would crane my neck back and turn my hip to see if these first scars of womanhood were visible to anyone else. I sucked in my belly too not realizing at all that it was nearly flat — as tight, and, flat, and smooth as it  ever would ever be.

2     

I didn’t bother putting any kind of wives-tale-advice lotions or creams on my belly when I was pregnant — no cocoa butter, no honey butter, no Mederma. My mom had stretch marks; my sister had stretch marks; I would have stretch marks too. The tattoo on my belly, once a water serpent, stretched to the size of a thunder lizard.

My breasts grew too, from a 34A to a 36B, to a 36C, and by the time I had the baby, I was a 36D. Within the first two months of giving birth, I went back to a C cup. For somebody who had in the past hardly ever wore a bra, I sure had collected a lot of them.

                                                                             3

My son breastfed for two years; by the end of those two years, he would drain the left breast quickly and say, “mama, chicanana side,” referring to the tattoo over the right breast. I ignored people who said that children should be weaned before they could ask for it by name and those who said I held him too much. He loved chichi. He stared at my breasts, patted them, rested his head on them and soothed himself to sleep. While nursing, he’d gaze up at me with eyes so big and full of love that each time it was as if I had never recalled being loved that much before.

Image
photo by ilona sturm

                      4

By the time I weaned us both, he was capable of reaching his dimpled hand into my shirt, under my bra, pulling out a breast and latching on. I’d let him do it; sometimes I didn’t even notice.  Now, my breasts are stretchy and elastic, and somehow larger than before, or perhaps just longer, and they are lined with stretch marks, scars of motherhood, the kind that you don’t hide, or complain about, or call a sacrifice. 

Does Your Mom Play Drums? — Listen To Your Mother 2013

Image
MCG and her son LM after the show

When I was playing drums in a punk band, rocking out in a tank top and no bra, or just a bra and no tank top, I didn’t imagine my favorite performance would be with my ten- year-old son.

For three years, Luis Manuel played piano in his school’s variety show. In fifth grade, he decided to play guitar. Guitar was way cooler. He had taught himself to play guitar in like three months, you know, on youtube: chords, notes, picking, everything. He was going to play a rock song for the variety show; Sean was going to play with him. They began practicing three months before auditions because they didn’t want to suck and they had girls to impress.

Then Luis heard a rumor that Sean wasn’t going to play with him.  When he heard it again, I suggested he find a third person for his act just in case, but he said maybe Sean was just too busy to practice. Then two days before the audition, only two weeks before the actual show, Sean admitted that he was going to be in a dance act with his popular friends instead.

A dance act? Who in the hell would rather do synchronized dance moves like some boy band over playing actual music? It occurred to me that for fifth graders this variety show had more to do with showcasing your friends than actual talent.

 “Do you want to be in their dance act?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes. “No, I want to play guitar.”

I was relieved.

In tears the night before the auditions, Luis sat on the couch with his Les Paul.

“Maybe, I won’t do it,” he said.

I took a deep breath to hide my panic; then I told him to play every song he knew. I would help him decide which sounded best. He played “Float On” which needed another guitar, The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” sounded good, but the picking needed work, and the Weezer song had one really hard chord. When he played Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” we both knew it was the one.

Then it hit me. Luis’ participation in this event had become our family’s way of not being totally invisible. I worked full-time and made an effort to be involved, volunteering in the classroom and going on field trips when I could, but I was not part of the blonde moms’ crowd, the stay-at-home moms’ crowd, or an attending member of the PTA. I was the Chicana with chest tattoos married to a dark-skinned Mexican with an accent. I wasn’t going to let some fucking dance routine, keep my son from changing his mind about performing in that show. Besides, I knew he wanted to.

“I just wish I had someone to play with.” He looked dejected.

“You know, I can play that song on drums in my sleep.” I tried sounding nonchalant. But it was true, anyone who played rock drums in the 90’s had learned to play that song, had wanted to rock as hard as Dave Grohl.

You want to play with me?” he made a face.

 “Look, I know you don’t think it’s cool to be in an act with your mom, but the auditions are tomorrow; there’s no one else.”

“Okay, “ he said, sounding the way you do when you know you’re totally out of options.

I wanted to hug him, jump off the couch, plan our outfits, and gush about how fun it was going to be, but I restrained myself.

 “What if someone teases me?”

“Just say this: “Does your mom play drums?”

Still nervous that he was going to be teased for being in a band with his mom, I knew I had to tone it down, wear a loose fitting tank top and a bra, and no flashy make-up. I did put on red lipstick called “Rocker” before leaving the house. I wanted to stand out from the PTA moms and help my son show his friends what real and inspired talent looked like. Getting on stage and playing the drums in front of the entire school without lipstick wouldn’t achieve that. 

 “Next, we have Luis Manuel Peralta playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’” the MC on other side of the curtain read from the intro we wrote,  “and no, that’s not his mom on drums.” I heard loud laughter, the curtain lurched open, and Luis launched into one of most recognizable chord progressions in rock and roll, drawing whoops and cheers from the crowd. Then I came in on drums, careful not to hit the snare as hard as I could or move my head wildly as I had in my band Spitboy. 

Like we practiced to combat nerves and to help us stay together, we made eye contact across the stage, mother and son. I nodded as we made the transition from the intro to the soft part that follows, and by the time we got to the distinctive chorus, da, da, da diga, diga, diga, da,da,da, the crowd was roaring. Luis looked up from his guitar, and I saw his anxiety slip away. Then as we wound down for the big finish, Luis locked eyes with me and smiled wide like he did when I nursed him as a baby. The crowd went wild and Luis’ girlfriend swooned in her chair; his friends in the dance act jumped to their feet and clapped; my husband stood at the front of the stage with the camera grinning, and lots of other husbands rehearsed what they’d say as they approached me afterwards. And me and my son punctuated the end of the song, hitting each beat together, ba, ba, ba.

This piece was written specially for submission for the cast of Listen To Your Mother, of which I was member with thirteen other women who told their stories too. Special thanks to all my LTYM sister — what a great adventure!