The two of us are waiting in a wooded area at the center of Alamo Square, on a moldy old tree stump covered in dead pine needles that prick us right up our asses. It rained earlier, so the whole park smells like stewed leaves and dog shit. From this spot, Sophia is convinced we will be able to see the band West Coast Bunnies as they drive by on the way to The Fillmore. Some of the pretty girls, the ones whom Sophia has been hanging out with recently, have tickets for the show. We stopped by the ticket office after school, but the show is sold out, so we figure waiting here for a glimpse of the tour bus is the next best thing. She reaches into her book bag and hands me a bottle.
“Took it from my Mom’s liquor cabinet,” she says.
“Looks like good stuff.”
“How would you know? You’ve never even been drunk.” Sophia grabs it and reads the label.
“Yeah I have.”
“A couple sips isn’t drunk. I’m talking wasted, getting faded.”
“You’ve been drunk like two times,” I say.
“Two more than you, girl.”
A white fluffy dog wearing a knit sweater comes over and takes a dump near our stump. Sophia grabs up a handful of pebbles and throws them. The dog scurries away. The owner yells something about scaring her dog.
“Shut up, you damn hipster!” Sophia yells.
The woman picks up her dog and glares at us like we’re assholes, then continues walking down the park path.
“Can you believe those fools put sweaters on their dogs?” I laugh.
“White people are the worst,” Sophia says as she hands me the bottle. “Take a sip.”
I twist off the cap and press it to my lips. It burns like hot oil, burns more than you can believe.
“It stings a little.” I stay cool and try to keep my watering eyes from giving me away.
Sophia sips, and face equally contorted, swallows. “Damn girl, it burns a lot.” She takes another sip and makes the same sourpuss face.
Sip, cringe. Sip, cringe. I feel my face changing color. The goddamn Asian red-face. My grandma said Filipinas don’t get the Asian-glow, but I’ve watched her, my mom, all of my family get plastered. We all get the red-face.
Then, outta nowhere, I start laughing. Thinking about the red-face, how some homegirls start looking like tomatoes when they drink. I crack myself up thinking about my mom with a tomato for a head. Sophia cracks up too, but I’m not sure what she’s laughing about, don’t really care either. All I know is we are feeling good. Top of the world kinda shit.
I finger out two cigarettes from the pack I stole from my Grandma and give one to Sophia. I puff and feel real chill. I look over at her and notice she’s not even inhaling. I say, “You better quit wasting that smoke and take it down to your lungs.”
“I am,” she says and looks at me with this cock-eye. Like I’m crazy for even suggesting she don’t know how to smoke right.
“Like hell you are. This is how you do it.” I drag real deep, make the glowing end light up like it should be on a Christmas tree, then blow out a never-ending stream.
And this bitch doesn’t even care, doesn’t give a shit that she is wasting an entire cigarette. She goes right back to taking those baby puffs.
“What’s that on your neck?” Sophia says.
“Probably bug bites.”
“No, really, what is it?” Sophia reaches out and pulls back my hair. “Oh my God. Girl, who gave those to you?”
“Gave me what?”
“Girl, don’t give me that. Who was biting your neck?”
“Paulo Batista,” I say, keeping my voice cool.
“Oh, he’s nasty. You know those cold sores he gets? I heard he has herpes,” Sophia says. She probably made that up cause she’s jealous.
I take another swig from the bottle and look out through the park and across the street. A bunch of little kids are playing on the porch of some ugly purple house. And get this: these parents of theirs are sitting out there in these big wooden rocking chairs just watching them. They actually think these kids of theirs rolling around and throwing an inflatable rubber ball are something to see. And then—you’re not gonna believe this—but the mom pulls out this little camera and starts snapping photos of these little bastards throwing their ball.
“You sure West Coast Bunnies is gonna drive by this way?” I slug back a few more sips and watch the contents of the bottle slowly disappear. This stuff’s like a potion: drink a little and nothing can touch you.
Sophia looks at her watch. Hello Kitty stares back at her. “The show doesn’t start for a while,” she says.
“What if they take Divisadero? What if they take Webster?”
“They won’t. The will drive right past here.”
“How do you know?”
“They’ll want to see this view. White people always talk about how pretty the city looks from here.”
So we wait, passing the bottle back and forth, looking at the six brightly painted Victorians and the city skyline miles in the distance. I wonder why anyone would go out of their way to see a couple crumby buildings that look like doll houses painted the color of Easter eggs.
“That’s them!” Sophia shouts.
I look for a tour bus. I look for signs of anything to indicate a rock group is driving this way. I see nothing but a bunch of tourists. Sophia is probably bullshitting me, trying to get my hopes up, then knock me back down a peg because she is jealous about Paulo and me. West Coast Bunnies probably aren’t even playing tonight.
“I’m serious! Look!” Sophia squeals.
And then I see it. Not a big tour bus with flashing lights and all that, but a crusty looking van. I’m talking one of those creeper vans, with curtains in the windows, that perverts drive. The band’s name painted on the side is faded and chipping.
Sophia is running, stumbling down the grassy hill at full speed, and I’m chasing after her. We race into the street and wave our arms around and scream, “Stop! Stop! Just for a second!”
Ahead the van’s break lights flash. This is it! They’re gonna wave us over, tell us to jump in, tell us we will be special guests at their show tonight! Afterward they will take us with them on tour! Pretty soon we will be in Hollywood and our mothers can brag to all the other Fillmore mothers about their famous daughters.
The van stops completely. We are running as hard as we can. The windows roll down and a pearly arm flashes. Something is thrown, and it flutters in the wind, then touches down on the street. The van pulls away.
“Stop!” Stop!” Sophia yells. “Please wait for us!”
We watch the van’s taillights flicker away until they finally become lost with all the others down the street. Sophia, panting and out of breath, stumbles toward whatever was thrown from the window and picks it up.
“What is it?” I ask. I figure maybe it’s a couple tickets to tonight’s show.
I watch her stare at her hand. Her face is blank. Then, for a moment, I think it might break.
“It’s a goddamn sticker,” she says.
I wanted to tell her to just throw it down the sewer, but before I can, she pulls off the backing and sticks it to her chest.
“Looks nice, right?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Let’s go back to the park.” Sophia’s voice strains.
“I could use some more of that bottle,” I say.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” There are tears in Sophia’s eyes.
No joke, this stuff turns on you. I’m leaning forward with my head in my hands and gritting my teeth. I look over at Sophia; homegirl is balled up worse than my drunk ass. The bottle is empty in front of her, the open mouth is pointing right at me like a middle finger. Shit starts spinning. My vision is pulling hard to the left; the trees, the grass, the city skyline streams out across my face.
Sophia is crying so hard that her caked-on eyeliner melts in black streams. Girl is sobbing something about her dad kicking her ass when she goes home. I tell her “stop being such a little bitch about it,” and she gets pissed and storms off, wobbling down the hill. You should have seen her ass, pinballing off parked cars.
This is how you do it: If you want to get away with something, just wait to go home until after your family is drunk. Wait until they are too fucked up to care if you’re fucked up.
My mom and grandma are right where I thought they’d be, sitting on the sofa watching the ten o’clock reruns of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, a half empty bottle on the table between them.
“Where’ve you been?” Mom tries to sound tough. Her words are empty. She doesn’t even take her eyes off the TV.
“I’m going to bed.” I sort of yell it. On the TV, Regis Phibin asks the “thirty-two-thousand-dollar” question.
In my room the walls start whirling. I’m talking like those rides on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, the ones that really make your stomach flip up into your eyes and down to your feet. I figure there is no stopping it. Downstairs Mom screams like crazy at the television. How’d he not know that? I knew that answer. Put me on this show and I’d be a millionaire!
I fall to my knees. I’m so messed up I drag myself across the floor to my bed. I pull myself up and can’t even find the energy to take off my jeans.
I got this stupid stuffed rabbit named Zuzu that I’ve had since I was a baby. Its fur’s all nasty now and kinda matted. I tuck him under my arm, scared if I move anymore I will puke all over the place. My bedroom door opens, and I figure it’s my mom coming to bust my ass. Any excuse she gets to pound on me she takes.
“Vonica, you are drunk.” It was my lola. Her accent is so whack she can’t even say my name right. I tell her: It’s Veronica, with an ‘ERRR’ sound. But she just goes on saying it with ‘O’, says she doesn’t care if she can’t speak English right.
I roll over, so she can’t see my face. “I’m just tired.” My voice muffles behind the pillow.
“Vonica,” she answers with the emphasis in the ‘O.’ I know she means business.
I tense up, expecting her hand to come whacking down on my dome, but instead she sort of pulls my head up and cradles me against her chest. “Oh my child, my little baby Apo.” She squeezes me in close. I feel her hands shaking. She rocks me a little bit, then tucks me in, and puts this big plastic bowl from the kitchen on the pillow next to my head. I listen to her bare feet shuffle out of the room and back down the stairs.
It’s not until she leaves that I feel the urge to cry. Pressing my lips together, I tell myself: Little bitch, don’t start getting soft on me. I lift my head and place it in the center of the bowl. Then this wave of nausea flows over me, and I swear it’s only because I feel like I’m gonna heave that this one little tear slips out.
Photo by Jeremy Brooks