Creative Writing

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Be the Best


Dean Karnoski was a hometown hero who never saved anyone’s life. He was the biological father to three boys and a father-figure to hundreds. He inspired an entire city, but never spoke to half of them. Dean’s favorite phrase, “Be the Best,” is etched in the boy’s locker room of Glendora High School and will be there forever despite only coaching football there for five years. Dean suffered from a terminal disease, but never suffered from self-doubt or pity.
November 17, 1997 changed the Karnoski household forever. Dean Karnoski was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This disease gradually deteriorates nerve cells in the brain. Slowly, muscles begin to shut down while the immune system is also dangerously affected. The decline is ploddingly painful to watch. Each case is completely individual. For example, some may lose the use of their arms first, while others lose their legs. It becomes easier to become ill with other, common diseases that cannot be treated in a normal way. Catching a cold becomes a trip to the hospital.
Dean’s case was no exception. When I met Dean he was still able to drive. We had just moved across the street from the Karnoski’s and were getting used to his illness slowly. He worked at my high school and drove to and from work everyday during my freshman year. I would watch him come home from work, slink out of the car and saunter up to the off-white door. His head would be tilted to the left side with his arms slightly tucked into his sides. This was the first image of Dean I can remember clearly.
My mother had a special relationship with Dean: his first year of teaching was her freshman year of high school. They had stayed in touch since she graduated and saw each other around town every once in a while. With this previous bond already in existence, Dean had known about me since I was born. He knew me before I had even met him.
He had noticed all the correct symptoms: difficulty with pronunciation, weak muscles in appendages, and shortness of breath. After many tests, Dean was diagnosed with ALS and given two years to live. There is no profile for the perfect ALS victim. This disease is relentless and can be contracted by anyone. It is not contagious, but completely random.
With his youngest son, Luke, turning four years old in a few weeks, Dean dedicated the rest of his life to his family. He lived out his days working in the athletic department of Glendora High School, visiting with friends, and spending as much time as he could with his family. As time sped on, Dean’s health quickly declined.
“He is the strongest person I know,” says Claudia Karnoski, Dean’s wife. She would sit next to his medical bed and fold laundry while CSI blared from the television. Dean watched fervently and dreamed of being able to speak normally. It had been three years since I first moved across the street and Dean had since become bedridden. His legs were immobile, his vocal cords dormant. Watching home movies of the once hyperactive football coach was bittersweet.
“YOU LOOK LIKE A BUNCH OF IDIOTS OUT THERE!” Dean used to scream. We watched his halftime pep talks and laughed at his intensity. He would turn out the lights so you could only hear him. When the lights were on, objects were being thrown across the locker room. We laugh at his melodrama, but our smiles are broken when we glance at the ailing Dean who looks longingly at what he once was.
“Dean once told me that if this wouldn’t have happened to him, he wouldn’t have found God.” My mother reflects on Dean’s words of wisdom that stay with her to this day. She once had a dream that she was stuck inside of her body and was not able to move. “That was the closest I have come to understanding what he was going through,” she says, meditating on the fear she felt when she woke up.
Truth be told, no one could know what he was going through.
“I don’t even want to know how it feels to lose your husband to that. Just to watch him slowly die. You have no control. I don’t even want to think about it,” Stephanie Armenta, 20, explains in disbelief. “Everyone knew him. You can’t live in Glendora and not know about Dean. He was just a valuable person, you know? Just one of those people you can’t forget.”
“He was just a genuinely good person,” Stephanie’s boyfriend Matt states. “No one was more influential in this town.”
200 other citizens of Glendora agreed, attending Dean’s memorial on May 2, 2004, almost a week after his anticipated death. Dean had outlived his diagnosis by five years, which is average for most ALS patients. During this traumatic time, Dean met many wonderful people who enveloped his family with loving hearts and open arms. The day he died, instead of shedding tears, laughter could be heard throughout the halls of the Karnoski house, which was overflowing with loved ones.
“He isn’t in pain anymore. He can run, eat food, do whatever he wants. He gets to live with Jesus now.” Claudia surrounds herself with loving people who support her while she celebrates the life of her late husband. “Of course I’m sad,” she says, “but he isn’t hurting, and that’s all I wanted for him.”
“I finally can watch my soap operas!” My mom jokes, having been his caregiver all day, everyday for the past three years. “No, honestly, I will miss him dearly. It will be a hard transition.”
I talked to Claudia just recently about Dean’s ailment, two and a half years later. Walking into the house that was once abundant was oxygen tanks and medical supplies, it has taken on a new form. New furniture scatters the living room and pictures plaster to walls. Claudia has spent her days redecorating and working, but mostly getting her mind off of Dean.
“Things are constantly getting better. For a while, I was severely depressed. I thought it would be easier because we knew for so long that he was going to go, but it was worse. He was what kept me occupied all day long, and now I have nothing to do. Its getting easier though, I mean, it can’t get any worse. I know he is watching us and keeping us safe. I know that Dean is finally at peace.”

Monday, November 06, 2006

Take a Seat



Park benches are taken for granted. There they are, waiting to relieve pedestrians from a tiresome walk. No one thinks to take care of them. No one understands the strain placed on park benches as they sit in all types of weather, patiently wondering if they will support anybody’s weight that day. On Balboa Island, these benches exist and are constantly overlooked.
Joe smokes at least a pack a day in one sitting while on these benches. With legs crossed, coffee in one hand and his Marlboro red in another, Joe sits for hours, watching passersby. Joe doesn’t speak, he only watches, occasionally standing up and pacing around for mere seconds before sitting back down.
Mr. Taylor ties Maggie, his English Bulldog, to these benches while he shops. On warm days, Maggie sprawls herself on the warm cement, basking in the Southern California sun while panting and slowly closing her eyes. On cold days, Maggie hides underneath the bench, impatiently waiting for her master to return so she can snuggle in the safety of her Balboa Island home. Maggie has become an Island favorite.
Chase, the five-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Grier, sits patiently on the bench, eating his frozen banana and waiting for Mom to buy her gallon of non-fat milk. Chase’s intense blue eyes, chubby cheeks, and curly blonde hair are shadowed by his infectious giggle. Every time a dog passes by, Chase laughs one of those naïve, innocent laughs that I wish I still had. Remnants of chocolate and sprinkles streak his small hands and face as I routinely reach for napkins to hand to Mrs. Grier with a smile. She graciously takes the napkin and maternally wipes Chase’s hands and face.
Everyday the wear and tear of multi-millionaires takes its toll on Marine Avenue, the only area of commerce on the quaint island. Complete with a small, over-priced market, a family restaurant, and a handful of women’s boutiques, Balboa Island grants visitors the privilege of enjoying this very uniquie world. A prominent USC town, the island holds yachts, pure-bred dogs, and Chanel sunglasses close to their hearts. It comes as a surprise to find the diversity of the residents on the island.
Although consisting of mainly older, retired couples, the population also consists of young people. Balboa Island also provides onlookers with a chance to see the different economic classes within the residents, which may come as another surprise considering the island has become a very wealthy place to live. From the 67-year-old retired bank president with all three houses paid off to the 21-year-old full-time deli worker paying rent and trying to make it with his band, the island’s arms are held wide open for anyone and everyone.
Although the differences among the throng of the island’s residents make them unique, there remains one constant that infuses the island together: park benches. Lined along Marine Avenue, in front of almost every store sits a pair of wooden park benches. With “Balboa Island” largely inscribed on each bench, these places of rest bring a sense of pride to all who appreciate the peaceful island. Nothing special lay within these planks of wood. Just their presence brings comfort for Balboans.
Working at Hershey’s Market, the overpriced store mentioned earlier, I have noticed many park bench dwellers. My register stands only ten paces away from the park benches, which has provided me with a wonderful getaway from work, without being too far away. I have seen people, dogs, children, birds, and other amazing earth-wanderers take advantage of the combination of wood and bolts to find solace during a long day.

On October 3, these dependable benches were taken away from its citizens. A refurbishing of the benches was taking place.
“Where are the benches?” one frantic customer asked me as I rang up her small cup of clam chowder.
“Um, I believe they are cleaning them up. I’m not really sure.”
“Well, where am I going to eat my soup?” She looked at me as if I were supposed to pull out two park benches from behind the counter in order for her to comfortably eat dinner.
“Well, at home, I guess,” I replied, feeling as though I had to provide an answer for her accusing stare.
“This is just horrible.” She saunters off to her mansion, shaking her head in the direction of the empty spots where park benches once sat. Looks like it will be a hard night for her.
Another customer ranted about city council’s priorities.
“Refurbishing? Good grief! What we need is more law enforcement! I have had too many ruffians parking their golf carts in front of my driveway and it always takes half an hour or so for someone to come…” I nodded my head fervently as The-Man-Who-Knows-Everything walked away, still complaining. Last week, he was telling us how to run the store, saying that a three dollar loaf of bread was “insane!” He obviously hasn’t been off the island in quite some time.
Never was there a demand for these seats than when they were not there anymore. Joe had to sit on the curb, looking dismal and uncomfortable as he left twenty minutes later. Maggie had to stay at home while Mr. Taylor went grocery shopping, probably day-dreaming about a walk. Chase had to get his frozen banana after the shopping trip while Mom dragged him around the store.
For six days, the morale of Balboa Island shifted slightly, from radiant and friendly to slightly frustrated and annoyed. Residents and visitors were discouraged to find nowhere to sit and enjoy the weather.
Then came October 8, when all was right in the world once again. The newly refurbished benches were replaced and ready to be sat on. After being sanded down, re-stained, and slightly re-painted, the benches sparkled like Chase’s eyes. They stayed silent, like Joe, and waited anxiously for someone to notice their new look. Mimicking Maggie’s calm demeanor, the benches peacefully soak in the sun. Finally, they are home again.
Joe was overjoyed, although, because he doesn’t speak the only way to tell was by his knowing smile. Maggie spread herself out on the concrete even more than usual, and even refused to move when Mr. Taylor wanted to go home. Chase sat and contently ate his frozen banana, laughing at the puppies that walked by.
These benches create a casual and relaxed feel to the already mellow island. Without them, Marine Avenue would not be as busy, would not be as happy, and would not be the same. Although absent for only a few days, it has proven to everyone that these benches are important and useful to all who need a little rest.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Take a Seat



Park benches are taken for granted. There they are, waiting to relieve pedestrians from a tiresome walk. No one thinks to take care of them. No one understands the strain placed on park benches as they sit in all types of weather, patiently wondering if they will support anybody’s weight that day. On Balboa Island, these benches exist and are constantly overlooked.
Everyday the hustle and bustle of multi-millionaires takes its toll on Marine Avenue, the only area of commerce on the quaint island. Complete with a small, over-priced market, a family restaurant, and a handful of women’s boutiques, Balboa Island is a world of its own. A prominent USC town, the island holds yachts, pure-bred dogs, and Chanel sunglasses close to their hearts. It comes as a surprise to find the diversity of the residents on the island. Although mainly white, the population also consists of young people. Balboa Island also provides onlookers with a chance to see the different economic classes within the residents, which may come as another surprise considering the island is a very wealthy place to live in. From the 67-year-old retired bank president with all three houses paid off to the 21-year-old full-time deli worker paying rent and trying to make it with his band, Balboa Island is a somewhat diverse place.
Although the differences among the throng of the island’s residents make them unique, there is one constant that infuses the island together: park benches. Lined along Marine Avenue, in front of almost every store is a pair of wooden park benches. With “Balboa Island” inscribed on each bench, these places of rest bring a sense of pride to all who appreciate the peaceful island.
Working at Hershey’s Market, the overpriced store mentioned earlier, I have noticed many a park bench dweller. My register is only ten paces away from the park benches, which has provided me with a wonderful getaway from work, without being too far away. I have seen people, dogs, children, birds, and other amazing earth-wanderers take advantage of the combination of wood and bolts to find solstice during a long day.
Joe smokes at least a pack a day in one sitting while on these benches. With legs crossed, coffee in one hand and his Marlboro red in another, Joe sits for hours, watching passersby. Joe doesn’t speak, he only watches, occasionally standing up and pacing around for mere seconds before sitting back down.
Mr. Taylor ties Maggie, his English Bulldog, to these benches while he shops. On warm days, Maggie sprawls herself on the warm cement, basking in the Southern California sun, panting and slowly closing her eyes. On cold days, Maggie hides underneath the bench, impatiently waiting for her master to return so she can snuggle in the safety of her Balboa Island home. Maggie has become an Island favorite.
Chase, the five-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Grier, sits patiently on the bench, eating his frozen balboa and waiting for Mom to buy her gallon of non-fat milk. Chase’s intense blue eyes, chubby cheeks, and curly blonde hair are shadowed by his infectious giggle. Remnants of chocolate coating streak his hands and face as I routinely reach for napkins to hand to Mrs. Grier with a smile. She graciously takes the napkin, maternally wiping Chase’s hands and face.
On October 3-8, these dependable benches were taken away from its citizens. A refurbishing of the benches was taking place. Never was there a demand for these seats than when they were not there anymore. Joe had to sit on the curb, looking dismal and uncomfortable as he left twenty minutes later. Maggie had to stay at home while Mr. Taylor went grocery shopping, probably day-dreaming about a walk. Chase had to get his frozen banana after the shopping trip while Mom dragged him around the store.
For six days, the morale of Balboa Island slightly shifted, from radiant and friendly to slightly frustrated. Residents and visitors were discouraged to find nowhere to sit.
Then came October 8, when all was right in the world once again. The newly refurbished benches were replaced and ready to be sat on. Joe was overjoyed, although, because he doesn’t speak the only way to tell was his smile. Maggie sprawled herself happily, and even refused to move when Mr. Taylor wanted to go home. Chase sat and contently ate his frozen banana, laughing at the puppies that walked by.
These benches create a casual and relaxed feel to the already mellow island. Without them, Marine Avenue would not be as busy, would not be as happy, and would not be the same. Although absent for only a few days, it has proven to everyone that these benches are important and useful to all who are in need of a little rest.

A Boy named Boy




Boy aspires to become a hip-hop star, a professional baseball player, and his father. Boy can recite Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” word for word. Boy lives in basketball shorts, hats that are too large for his head, and plus sized t-shirts regardless of his gangly frame. Boy believes himself invincible, or so his strut makes people assume. Boy owns his Mexican heritage despite the fact that his Mexican grandmother speaks perfect English and has all the enchiladas catered for holiday meals. Boy lives with his parents and finds no shame in doing so.
Even though Boy lives with his parents, popularity overrides family time. Charging his cell phone provides him with a daily chore after the continual text messaging, which he has acquired much skill in, and the incoming calls he receives on a regular basis. As a junior high school student, Boy plays many roles. While being the No-Love-For-My-Family-Tough-Guy, he also assumes the position of Oh-So-Cute-Number-One-Lady-Killer/Athlete.
By law, Boy can’t drive a car. This poses a problem for his overactive social life when everyone is meeting at the bowling alley for some Cosmic Bowling. For situations such as these, Boy has become very charming and funny. The normal response to his “you know you want to take me to Chaparral Lanes, you older high school girls,” consists of, a majority of the time, “sure Boy, whatever you want” followed by a flirtatious giggle.
Boy has a girlfriend, but don’t ask him about it. He refuses to talk about it. Although his relationship status remains filled, Boy has many admirers who are older.
“He was asked to homecoming,” his mother gossips.
“Mom! Oh my gosh!” Boy rolls his eyes and dramatically slumps in his chair at the dinner table.
“Well. You did didn’t you? I said no anyway, even if you wanted to go.”
“Mom! Who cares? She was ugly anyway.” As his father tries not to laugh, he smiles, ignoring his mother’s discipline. In the end, Boy apologizes, gives his mother a kiss and proceeds to engage in Kitchen Patrol, his nightly chore.
Boy loves to say ‘psyyyych!’
“So, how was school today?” his father asks every day.
And every day Boy comes up with something new. “I got a referral for lighting things on fire in my science class,” Boy replies like a stone-faced killer.
“What?!”
“Psyyyych!” Boy laughs, shaking his head in disbelief that his dad fell for it again.
Only a few years ago, Boy gave his parents something to complain about. With lies, back-talk, and remarks ineffectively hidden under his breath, he conformed to the typical teenage mold. Fortunately, Boy’s parents have no tolerance for this mold. His attitude changed, but did not entirely disappear. He still has his moments, as most boys do.
The phone rings and Boy answers, in his contrived man-voice and casual attitude.
“Hello,” Boy greets, more like a statement than an inquiry.
“Hi Boy!”
“Oh, hey.” He seems distracted.
“What’s goin’ on, man?”
“Nothing…” And just when he seems like his interest has been taken captive by the TV, his sense of cool drops. “Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you about this kid at school. Dude, he is so weird…”
On and on the stories unfold as Boy forgets his social status, his all-star athletic ability, and his funny man attitude. He unfolds his life to someone important. Boy remembers the only older girl he loves besides his mother.
At the end of his conversation, Boy gets ready to hand the phone off to his mother.
“I love you, Boy.” I say.
And without fail, as he does every other time I say goodbye, Steven replies, “I love you more.”

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Boy Named Boy





Boy aspires to become a hip-hop star, a professional baseball player, insanely rich, and his just like his father. Boy can recite Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” word for word. Boy lives in basketball shorts, hats that are too large for his head, and plus sized t-shirts regardless of his gangly frame. Boy believes himself to be invincible, or so his strut makes people assume. Boy is extremely talented on the court, on the field, and on the diamond. Boy has a large safe in his closet where he stashes his weekly allowance of twenty dollars to buy iPods and cameras. Boy hates reading, unless its about Ozzie Smith. Boy owns his Mexican heritage despite the fact that his Mexican grandmother speaks perfect English and has all the enchiladas catered for holiday meals. Boy has been living with his parents for over fourteen years, and won’t be leaving anytime soon.
Even though Boy lives with his parents, popularity overrides family time. Charging his cell phone is a daily chore after the continual text messaging, which he has acquired much skill in, and the incoming calls he receives on a regular basis. As a junior high school student, Boy plays many roles. While being the No-Love-For-My-Family-Tough-Guy, he also assumes the position of Oh-So-Cute-Number-One-Lady-Killer/Athlete.
By law, says Boy can’t drive a car. This poses a problem for his overactive social life when everyone is meeting at the bowling alley for some Cosmic Bowling. For situations such as these, Boy has become very charming and funny, the two most attractive qualities to an adolescent girl. The normal response to his “you know you want to take me to Chaparral Lanes, you older high school girls,” is, 93% of the time, “sure, whatever you want” followed by a flirtatious giggle.
Boy has a girlfriend, but don’t ask him about it. He refuses to talk about it, unless his confidant is fourteen years old, just like him, and just as immature. Don't ask him if they've kissed, cause he'll roll his eyes and walk away. Don't tease him about being in a serious junior high relationship, he'll only get embarassed. Although his relationship status remains filled, Boy has many admirers who are older.
“He was asked to homecoming, by a freshman!,” his mother gossips.
“Mom! Oh my gosh!” Boy rolls his eyes and dramatically slumps in his chair at the dinner table.
“Well. You did didn’t you? I said no anyway, even if you wanted to go.”
“Mom! Who cares? She was ugly anyway.” As his father tries not to laugh, he smiles, ignoring his mother’s discipline. In the end, Boy apologizes, gives his mother a kiss and proceeds to engage in Kitchen Patrol, his nightly chore.
Boy’s favorite saying is ‘psyyyych!’ He has perfected the saying and uses it frequently.
“So, how was school today?” his father asks every day.
And every day Boy comes up with something new. “I got a referral for lighting things on fire in my science class,” Boy replies like a stone-faced killer.
“What?!”
“Psyyyych!” Boy laughs, shaking his head in disbelief that his dad fell for it again.
Only a few years ago, Boy gave his parents something to complain about. With lies, back-talk, and remarks ineffectively hidden under his breath, he conformed to the typical teenage mold. Luckily, Boy was not born unto passive parents. His attitude was quickly changed, but did not entirely disappear. He still has his moments, as most boys do.
The phone rings and Boy answers, in his contrived man-voice and casual attitude.
“Hello,” Boy greets, more like a statement than an inquiry.
“Hi Boy!”
“Oh, hey.” He seems distracted.
“What’s goin’ on, man?”
“Nothing…” And just when he seems like his interest has been taken captive by the TV, his sense of cool is dropped. “Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you about this kid at school. Dude, he is so weird…”
On and on the stories unfold as Boy forgets his social status, his all-star athletic ability, and his funny man attitude. He remembers who he is talking to.
At the end of his conversation, Boy gets ready to hand the phone off to his mother.
“I love you, Boy.” I say.
And without fail, as he does every other time I say goodbye, Steven replies, “I love you more.”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Boy named Boy


Boy aspires to become a hip-hop star, a professional baseball player, and his father. Boy can recite Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” word for word. Boy lives in basketball shorts, hats that are too large for his head, and plus sized t-shirts regardless of his gangly frame. Boy believes himself to be invincible, or so his strut makes people assume. Boy owns his Mexican heritage despite the fact that his Mexican grandmother speaks perfect English and has all the enchiladas catered for holiday meals. Boy has been living with his parents for over fourteen years, and won’t be leaving anytime soon.
Even though Boy lives with his parents, popularity overrides family time. Charging his cell phone is a daily chore after the continual text messaging, which he has acquired much skill in, and the incoming calls he receives on a regular basis. As a junior high school student, Boy plays many roles. While being the No-Love-For-My-Family-Tough-Guy, he also assumes the position of Oh-So-Cute-Number-One-Lady-Killer/Athlete.
By law, Boy can’t drive a car. This poses a problem for his overactive social life when everyone is meeting at the bowling alley for some Cosmic Bowling. For situations such as these, he has become very charming and funny. The normal response to his “you know you want to take me to Chaparral Lanes, you older high school girls,” is, a majority of the time, “sure, whatever you want” followed by a flirtatious giggle.
Boy has a girlfriend, but don’t ask him about it. He refuses to talk about it, unless his confidant is fourteen years old, just like him. Although his relationship status remains filled, Boy has many admirers who are older.
“He was asked to homecoming,” his mother gossips.
“Mom! Oh my gosh!” Boy rolls his eyes and dramatically slumps in his chair at the dinner table.
“Well. You did didn’t you? I said no anyway, even if you wanted to go.”
“Mom! Who cares? She was ugly anyway.” As his father tries not to laugh, he smiles, ignoring his mother’s discipline. In the end, Boy apologizes, gives his mother a kiss and proceeds to engage in Kitchen Patrol, his nightly chore.
Boy’s favorite saying is ‘psyyyych!’
“So, how was school today?” his father asks every day.
And every day Boy comes up with something new. “I got a referral for lighting things on fire in my science class,” he replies like a stone-faced killer.
“What?!”
“Psyyyych!” Boy laughs, shaking his head in disbelief that his dad fell for it again.
Only a few years ago, Boy gave his parents something to complain about. With lies, back-talk, and remarks ineffectively hidden under his breath, he conformed to the typical teenage mold. Luckily, Boy was not born unto passive parents. His attitude was quickly changed, but did not entirely disappear. He still has his moments, as most boys do.
The phone rings and Boy answers, in his contrived man-voice and casual attitude.
“Hello,” Boy greets, more like a statement than an inquiry.
“Hi Boy!”
“Oh, hey.” He seems distracted.
“What’s goin’ on, man?”
“Nothing…” And just when he seems like his interest has been taken captive by the TV, his sense of cool is dropped. “Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you about this kid at school. Dude, he is so weird…”
On and on the stories unfold as he forgets his social status, his all-star athletic ability, and his funny man attitude. He remembers who he is talking to.
At the end of his conversation, Boy gets ready to hand the phone off to his mother.
“I love you, Boy.” I say.
And without fail, as he does every other time I say goodbye, Steven replies, “I love you more.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Susan Orlean’s novel The Bullfight Checks Her Makeup explores a handful of incredibly unique people living in the world today. From an infamous show dog, to a young basketball superstar, Orlean meets and lives with variety of different people as each chapter unfolds. In living and traveling with these people, Orlean is able to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. She allows for regular, law-abiding citizens to read and relate with somewhat fantastic law-abiding citizens. She describes each person she meets as normal people, even though in come cases, like eighties teen-queen Tiffany, they are celebrities. Susan Orlean successfully creates a realistic picture of people normally viewed as inaccessible to the public, while exposing the smaller, yet just as extraordinary people in the world.
Orlean’s use of voice fluctuates between chapters. Her voice tends to mirror the person she is creating a portrait of. For example, the first chapter is about a young boy of ten years. Her opening sentence puts herself at the youngster’s level, saying “If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks.” (3). By doing this, Orlean automatically connects to each reader and their memories of their wn experiences. It is also a light and humorous way of starting a non-fiction story, by looking at a small detail that makes the person who they are. Her voice changes, however, when she speaks about Fred Brathwaite, an MTV personality whose niche was Hip-Hop. She opens with the understatement, “the coolest person in New York at the moment is Fred Brathwaite.” (51) Instead of automatically instilling into readers the more popularly notable things about “Fab Five Freddy,” as we later find out he is called, Orlean creates a smaller picture of him, then adds in the more flamboyant aspects later on.
As stated earlier, Orlean’s ability to create an extraordinary experience out of the ordinary is compelling in this novel. One of the people Orlean observes is Felipe Lopez, a high school basketball phenomenon with offers from big-leaguers coming from every different direction. Although Felipe seems to be popular and important, compared to fashion designer Bill Blass, or underwear-sporting model Marky Mark (both in Orlean’s novel), Felipe’s existence seems minuscule. However, somehow readers are wrapped up in the eighteen-year-old’s life. Orlean accurately portrays Felipe in an innocent, adolescent light, even though she clearly points out that, “…he is not nearly as naïve and eager as he appears.” (105) Felipe seems to act, speak, and think ordinarily, but Orlean’s intriguing representation of his lifestyle draws readers into his story. She takes what this boy thinks is ordinary, and creates an extraordinary way of interpreting it.
Susan Orlean also very successfully includes a satisfying back-story to each of her portraits. In her article entitled, “After the Party,” Orlean dives into the life of former Hollywood agent Sue Mengers. After briefly visiting Sue in the present, Orlean relives Sue’s past, commenting on certain celebrities she worked with, parties she threw and clients she lost along the way. She notes the struggles that came along with this certain profession, while accentuating the glamorous elements only seen on the surface by on-lookers. The back-story helps to justify the person introduced initially in the chapter. By recollecting Sue’s past, readers are drawn to be more sympathetic with her, becoming compassionate and understanding as serious past experiences are exposed.
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup is humorous, yet sentimental. It allows for readers to completely relate to otherwise impersonal people. Susan Orlean sharply observes a colorful variety of people who otherwise readers would not know. Orlean’s wit, creativity, attention to detail, and ability to completely relate to each of her subjects intertwine to create a unique and memorable reading experience. Personally, I feel that Orlean does not necessarily “face the dragon,” nor does she really deliver a promise. This could be because of the genre in which she writes, which is portrait. Although she does not fulfill these standards, the novel is still satisfying. The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup is a great book to learn technique from as well as laugh out loud at the normally overlooked originality of individuals.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Solitare is My Favorite Game



In October of 2003 I turned seventeen. I had a great boyfriend, I was a starter on the Varsity Field Hockey team and eventually was voted Most Humorous in my senior class. I had never experienced any other lifestyle besides the one I was living everyday from 8:00am to 1:30pm on the corner of Foothill and Valley Center Boulevard. Being so sheltered, I thought of my life as ideal and never anticipated change. The only thing I was truly focused on was my relationship with Alex and where it was going. In my mind, we were going to get married and live a long happy life together. In my mind, everything was perfect.
Jump to today and I’m not with Alex. He is now a Marine at Camp Pendleton. I haven’t talked to him in a while. I haven’t had any other boyfriends since Alex. It’s not that I never wanted one again, but when you start to truly grow up you realize what you really want in a significant other. I do not consider settling a form of true love. I know what I have in mind and I’m waiting for it.
Alex and I were together throughout our first year of college. He went to Long Beach State, which isn’t too far away, but the transition from seeing each other everyday to being limited to only weekend visits was trying on both of us. Alex would commit long weekends to spending them with me, cruising over in his Navy blue Bronco and unloading his black duffle bag into my friend Kenny’s room so he could stay the night. Sometimes he would be standing at my door holding white daisies with an illuminating smile. Other times, he would walk in, tired and tense from a long drive in southern California traffic. Our relationship seemed promising when summer finally came and nothing seemed wrong. Most of our summer days and nights were spent together at his apartment, sitting on the deep green couches, doing nothing at all. In all actuality, our relationship became boring.
“What movie should we watch tonight?” I would ask routinely, as if I was a nurse asking for the previous medical history of a random patient. The only thing moving faster than us were the images on the screen, lighting our unenthusiastic faces up with each click, click of the remote.
“I don’t care. Pick one.” He would reply, flipping between ESPN and Fox Sports, gripping the remote with bored fingers. Click, click.
“I can’t decide. What do you want to watch?”
“I dunno.” Click, click.
“Well, what do you want to do then?” At this point I would find more enjoyment
in playing with a small piece of fuzz with my toes while lying on the shaggy tan carpet. All Alex would say back was click, click.
That’s why I stayed in it. That never-changing arm to hold onto while going up stairways, that familiar smell of his truck, that consistent phone call every morning, all parts of the routine I thought I needed to be happy. I needed to feel like I would never be lonely again.
And now, I’m single. Of course I get lonely sometimes and get jealous when my friends find someone, but I can’t control it. Of course I want to throw up when I see cute, love-drunk couples holding hands and giggling at their own enviable adoration for each other. There is a lot of pressure at this age to find someone and be secure. At this moment I know of nine different couples who are engaged to be married. I also went to the wedding of two nineteen-year olds fresh out of high school, while preparing for my cousins wedding in November. Within two weeks I discovered that three girls from my graduating class have since been united in matrimony with good looking men whom they have been with for less than two years. How can I not roll my eyes, sigh dramatically and cross my arms in a five-year-old fashion every time something like this is brought to my attention?
However, these reactions are rare. Most of the time, I am overjoyed by the news of an engagement. I try my best to bare my teeth with great magnitude each time I am told that a new ring has been placed on a young woman’s finger. I take a small step back, realize it isn’t their fault I am single, and shower them in congratulations only because I know that one day, I will be just as giddy and overly happy as they are.
Alex and I broke up in an extremely immature manner. He decided to end things with me five minutes before he left for work. While I sat on his bed, not believing any words coming out of his mouth, he grabbed the brown leather belt I gave him from Christmas and brushed his teeth.
“Listen,” he said, “you can stay here if you want. You’re kind of emotional. I don’t want you driving like this. I’ll be back at nine if you want to talk or something. Bye.” He turned and opened the door.
“Wait, uh, Alex…” I tried to make a complete sentence before he was gone. It didn’t work. He left and after about thirty minutes, I did too. I thought I was going to die. The pain in my chest was worse than anything I had felt before. It even beat out the shin splints I had acquired during Field Hockey season. There is no athletic tape for a broken heart.
My friends told me the obligatory reassurances:
“You’ll find someone else.”
“There are plenty of fish in the sea.”
“He just wasn’t the one for you.”
“You’re better off!”
Normally, people don’t listen to these cliché statements which are routinely made to the freshly brokenhearted. Their words are void compared to the aching pain in their chest. If only I had known how true those words would be only months later.
Being in college for the first time as a single woman has really changed my lifestyle. I am able to confidently explore my options for my future without having to add in the relationship factor. Even though my phone is not ringing off the hook with gentleman wanting my undisturbed attention, I’m secure with the fact that it will ring eventually and someone important will be on the other end. I like being able to hang out in my grungy pajamas and lime green facial masks with my friends without worrying about surprise significant other visits. I like to try new things with new people whenever possible.
Presently, I am at ease with being single. There is nothing about my life that I would change at the moment. I live with three amazing friends whom I am more myself with than anyone in the world. I have made more changes with my major, my future, and my goals than ever before and I feel good about each decision I’ve made. Everyday I wake up, anxious for the future. I know won’t be single forever, but for now, I am and that isn’t a tragedy, it’s an opportunity.