Thursday, May 17, 2012

Disco Brats: Donna Summer Is Not Dead

After my mother divorced our biological father, her gringo boss, Mr. Carson, wasted no time in pursuing and wooing her.  His courtship was successful and she finally gave in.  He divorced his second wife, married my mom and took in her whole family. And by "whole family" I don't just mean her three kids. That’s how we ended up Carsons and rich.

I can say without doubt that the most fun I ever had as a kid was roller-skating to disco music.  While I write this, I’m listening to the Donna Summer Pandora station and awful disco song after awful disco song takes me back to those very happy times.  There were two rinks in Mexicali but Patinerama was the one where the rich kids skated.  It was the place to be and be seen.  Patinerama made it easy to determine who were the privileged kids by selling expensive memberships.  With the membership, you got unlimited skating but most importantly, you got special-order skates and to pick the color of your wheels and case.  After what seemed like an eternal wait of about four weeks, you received a cool valise with your black skates if you were a boy and white if you were a girl.  The general public--the have nots--got used hideous brown and beige skates with orange wheels. My brother and I had blue wheels and my sister had pink. The class separation was crystal clear for all to see.  And no one else inside that rink, even if they were richer than us, got dropped off in a blue Mercedes Benz sedan. No one. 

I was the oldest, I led the pack and I set the example.  Yes, I was the worst and it was definitely not the height of my snobbery but the beginning, as it's demonstrated in this post.  I find some comfort in believing that most kids would have acted the same way if they were the only ones in the city being driven around in a Mercedes.  It was back in the late 1970s when only politicians in Mexico City were seen in foreign luxury cars.  And even that was rare.  It was a big deal and I felt special.  I often caught the popular teenage girls sneering with envy as we pulled up the front.  The boys would ask us questions about the German oddity and sometimes if they could see the inside.  It was even better when my dad gave my mom her very own car and we were either dropped off in a blue or a brown Mercedes.

Yes, it was a very happy time.  We had a blast skating around and around and around for hours.  My brother was a daredevil and he would attempt tricks but the most my sister and I did was skate backwards and spin a few times.  It didn’t matter.  It was fun to skate in an endless loop to the hits of 1979.  Any time I hear any of those disco tunes, I'm there, gliding on my white skates with stick on California plates on the heels having the time of my life.  

Then, something awful happened.  My mom and grandma got too busy to drop us off.  My dad owned maquiladoras (factories) and business was getting better and better.  In fact, it was booming and the “girls,” as my dad called them, had to work overtime and be fed dinner every evening.  My mom always made sure the employees were taken care of, so my parents hired Carmen, a full time cook and her father, Don Francisco, just because he needed a job.  I don’t really remember what he did, except the one thing my mom asked him to do at around 5:00 p.m. every afternoon.

It looked more like a boat than a station wagon.  It was old, stinky, rusty and falling apart; the complete opposite of the German beauties.  It was a very short ride to Patinerama from our house so I didn’t have a lot of time to plot.  I was sweating it.  There was no way I was going to let it happen. I was not going to arrive in that monstrosity.  What was I supposed to do? Explain? Explain to those bitches why we weren’t arriving in our usual cars?  I didn’t even speak to them, how could I explain that this was our new chauffeur and "limo"?  About two blocks from the rink, I told Don Francisco to stop.  “You can drop us off here,” I said.  My brother and sister looked at me like “what the hell?”  Don Francisco pulled over.  “Why,” he asked.   I hadn’t thought of that scenario—having to provide an explanation.  Even at that young age honesty wasn’t an option for me.  I knew what it meant to hurt someone’s feelings.  They were all looking at me waiting for an answer. 

I looked down at my paunch.  His daughter had made us fat with her lard-filled, homemade flour tortillas.  She would make them every day; for breakfast, for lunch, for snacks, for dinner.  I suspect it was her favorite thing to make because she was always making flour tortillas.   “We need the exercise. I want to exercise and walk,” I replied.  That seemed to satisfy Don Francisco.  We got out of the car and on our walk to the rink I explained to my siblings.  They agreed with me and became my accomplices.  This went on for months.  I forgot when and how Don Francisco let it slip and told my grandmother, but I remember her reaction.  She got angry and she called us chamacos desgraciados.  It didn’t matter.  I still made Don Francisco drop us off in the same spot.

In the summer of 1980 we left Mexicali and moved to the top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla, California.  Every other car in La Jolla was a Mercedes and there was no Patinerama.  I didn’t feel so special then.  I felt lost and afraid in a completely different world.  I would not feel special because of a car until my high school senior year when my parents gave me my own convertible 380SL. A year later I rolled it down a hill, but we’ll leave that story for when Phil Collins dies.

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