The Fresno Women’s Reading Series seeks to promote female-identified and non-binary voices in California’s Central Valley through events that are open to the pubic. Razorhouse Editor, Monique Quintana, recently interviewed one of its’ participants, Jennifer De La Cruz.
Monique Quintana: What genres do you write in, and how did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Jennifer De La Cruz: I primarily write spoken word and some free write poetry here and there. I knew I wanted to be a writer as a high school student, when I discovered how healing it felt to put my pain onto paper.
MQ: What do you find to be most challenging as a woman writer?
JDLC: As a woman writer, I would say it is quite challenging to not write from a female-only perspective, which can often feel judgmental or critical to a male listener. The majority of my pieces are pretty “feministic” in content.
MQ: What women writers would you recommend?
JDLC: I would recommend Jaz Sufi, who is a spoken word artist out of Berkeley, CA., Kat Magill, who is a poet out of Los Angeles, Rupi Kaur, who is a very well-known poet and writer, and Alyesha Wise, who is also out of Los Angeles. These are the female writers who have inspired me the most.
MQ: What moments stood out to you the most about the Fresno Women’s Reading that you participated in this past December?
JDLC: I think what stood out to me most was being able to be in a room filled with women of all different ages, skin tones, and body shapes. It’s not often that we, women, can do that and enjoy one another. The room felt empowering.
MQ: What do you do to prepare to read in front of the crowd?
JDLC: I usually take a ton of deep breaths.. I definitely always have to use the restroom (LOL), and I tend to pace back and forth as I recite my poem over and over in my head.
MQ: What kind of events and projects for women writers would you like to see in the future?
I would love to see woman’s open mic and/or poetry slam event take place in Tower District. I think that would be a ton of fun! I’d love to see women writers get more involved in Art Hop each month as well.
Jennifer De La Cruz is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern who enjoys having a career in which she can meet the needs of other people. She was born in Southern California, but has lived in the Central Valley for close to 28 years. Jennifer began writing as a teen that struggled with depression, but started sharing her work publicly in 2014. She is excited to be able to share her story and inspire others through writing and performing. Jennifer has competed and performed in various open mics and slams throughout the Central Valley, Southern California, and Hawaii. She was a participant in the Fresno Grand Opera’s Opera Remix event in 2015, as well as their Music & Verse event in 2016. Her most recent work titled, “Dear Pornography” was published by xxxchurch.com, and she has future plans to write a chapbook. She feels honored to be able to stand alongside Fresno’s local talented women, and she believes, “Poetry allows its writers to share life’s deepest sorrows and its greatest joys.”
block party whore
She stayed five houses down from the old boathouse and she’d never been invited once to a party there. The old boathouse didn’t look like the rest of the subdivision. There weren’t any trees in the lot and the patches of grass among the rocky soil sprouted old cars instead.
Her town had a habit of naming and renaming things in hopes that the name itself would make things better. Four blocks down from the boathouse was ‘Gunn Avenue Park’ named after somebody Gunn that no one had ever heard of.
But one afternoon someone near Gunn Avenue Park held his family hostage at gun point. Only one ‘n’ in that ‘gun’, but still. The city offered no one counseling, offered no insight into why the man held his family at gunpoint, and certainly did not take the lead in investigating his unemployment or his endless hours of daytime television. They did however, note that he lived near GUNN Avenue Park and that double N or no, the violence and offensive word invariably led him to tie up his wife and children to monologue at their frightened faces.
The park is now called “Adventure Park” in a neighborhood where most wild life adventure has long been sucked out. Old people tell of fishing and hiking and the occasional coyote howling at night. No one younger has such an imagination now.
The two blocks beyond the park provides a more contemporary adventure: Women getting off the bus with the audacity of shapely ass; girls walking their dogs with their coming of age hips. The shamelessness of existing: male eyes and words and gestures to bring them down.
When they get to Telegraph Road, they exhale. The bright bad lighting of suburbia illuminates the Wal-Mart, the In-and-Out, the Target. Our neighborhood Target bull’s-eyed honesty. They exuded humility and no better than K-Mart, pragmatism. They didn’t try to pretend their merchandise would last forever or that their employees would have a 401K plan. They promised clean, well-lighted working class grace, the end. Perhaps because the great department stores of historic lore: The Buffums, the I.Magnins, The Robinson’s–May Company, The Broadways had been cut down by the hordes of the tasteless, Target now has no choice but to pretend at their greatness. They offer us furniture that rivals Ikea. They pretend at a lifestyle. A great land. Great outdoors. We rollerskate through career opportunities of nothingness. They don’t hide their sarcasm and neither do we, the backdrop of our lives now.
Elena walked often to Telegraph Road and sometimes rode her bike. The headlight didn’t always come on, and the homeboys often did come on. This is just part of the gym membership of the poor in the suburbs. She caught her breath in front of the boathouse sometimes, wondering what it was like inside such a big house with a floor plan not memorized.
The oldest building in the neighborhood, but not significant enough like a 1950s burgerstand sign to become an historical landmark, the boathouse predated the subdivision back when the whole unincorporated town had been underwater.
A few old people would confirm this. But the people who lived in the subdivision had a hunch regarding the primordial ooze which predated their 1.5 car garages and their 1200 square feet and their one citrus tree in every backyard. In every bathroom for a five mile square area, water bugs and silverfish climbed out of the drains looking for that-long-since-been-drained lake. The water bugs and silverfish came up through the drains with desperation oozing from their feelers as if to say, this doesn’t feel like home anymore.
We always felt the tension of being someplace one isn’t supposed to be.
The waterbugs and silverfish eyed us, not with fear and apprehension, but with resignation, as if to say, yeah, you’re here, but how to get rid of you?
The boathouse once had a pier, a small dock, and small boats attached to it. Farmers and okies from near by used to go out there to fish on a Sunday. Elena stood in front of the boathouse on the buckled sidewalk and tried to imagine a history eradicated, but she could not. She could not erase the two hedges of bushes masking pink sound wall, the elementary school and its high chain link fence, and all the single-family homes, two blocks from the Stater Bros, which now housed retirees, their adult kids, their kids and friends in every cranny of space: each bedroom, the former family room, the RVs that traveled nowhere on the side of the houses.
They say you used to be able to see the ocean from here.
The current occupants decorated the boathouse with Christmas lights. It wasn’t that the lights had been leftover from Christmas and someone was just too lazy to take them down. No, she’d watched on her walks as a man in an upcycled red leisure jumpsuit hammered nails into the roof to strewn it with Christmas lights in April.
Someone always moved in and out of the place and she thought she’d heard from neighbors that the couple, who owned the boathouse now, lived up North somewhere. It served as a boarding house these days. But someone there was throwing a party and had put a postcard on her car she parked in front of her aunt’s house five doors down.
The man in the red leisure suit drank milky white coffee from a mason jar precariously perched on the ladder’s tin shelf.
“Howdy,” he said as she passed on her way towards the adventure park. She smiled up at him, friendly but not overly.
“You coming to the party, tonight?” He asked, “You got a postcard, right? Up the street on the lefthand side?”
“Yes, I got it. Thanks. I might stop by.”
“Please do. This area could really be a community, you know, if we just knew our neighbors like people used to. We all need to make more of an effort. This doesn’t have to be the suburbs.”
Well, what could she say to that? That was her exact complaint. It was why she resented her aunt living here and offering her the fold out couch even if she was temporarily homeless again. This kind of here goes nowhere.
She continued her walk to Telegraph and saw nothing out of the ordinary: homeboys washing their cars in drought on the sly, kids sitting on front steps with games in their hands, ignoring the small bits of nature around them—the palm trees swaying like strippers for a disinterested audience of the dead, dead grass and leaf blowers. People coming home from work yelling for teenagers to bring the groceries in. Heat up your own damn, hot pocket. Someone yelled. She knew the women would shower and sit in front of their computers and pretend they were telling the truth to OKCupid. The men would hang it all out in front of their TVs and their beers and dream young girls want them. The kids would borrow money without asking and slip into a night of grand plans that ended in grand slams at Denny’s instead.
She took a shower. Leisure Suit was off the roof by then but she could hear old school house music blaring from the upstairs window in the boathouse. That made it an odd place too—it was the only building for miles—commercial or residential—with three floors.
She settled on a black dress that fit a little more snugly than she’d have liked and heels she could walk actually in. Before she left her aunt’s, she checked herself out in the dining room mirror and downed a few shots of whiskey and a glass of water and ate a bolillo her aunt had left out for her with extra butter and called it dinner. She didn’t eat at parties where people could watch and sneer and judge. She would have her usual ‘one drink’ once there.
She knew no one, but the house music was decent and there were far too many people there so she didn’t feel obligated to make small talk. The boathouse had five bedrooms and an ancient living room with uneven wood floors and three baths—two with claw foot bathtubs and pull chain toilets and each room seemed to have at least 10 people in it who all seemed to be there on their way to somewhere else. She kept herself company among the strangers by staring at the built in bookshelves and the stained glass inset in most of the windows on the second and third floors along the old wooden staircase. It was someplace she’d have wanted to stay, if empty. She couldn’t help but feel the house talking to her. Like shouldn’t most of these people be in some Frat Bro bar in downtown Brea drinking rum and cokes and pretending a pretense of cool?
She agreed with the house. Everyone needed to leave, occupants included. Just Elena should be allowed to be there and only Elena appreciated its historical former grandeur. But sigh. She had no such power. She shrugged at the wainscoting. Dude, sorry these shitty people party in you.
“Ah, there you are! Glad you could make it, my dear,” said Leisure Suit man as he wrapped his arms quickly at her waist and gave her an air kiss on the cheek. He drank a new hip rum with old school Coke out of a mason jar and sporting a purple leisure suit that had silver sparkle glitter and black Beatle boots.
“Thanks for the invite. Great house.” What else could she say?
“I hope you stick around. We’re doing a séance in the attic at midnight! Stick around for another couple of hours. You’d be great at the séance! I mean, look at you!”
What did people meant when they said shit like that? She imagined she had some sort of hidden ink inscribed in her forehead that read, “tell me fucked up shit. Tell me I’m perfect for all things weird.”
The hours went by. Elena entertained herself by making up stories about herself and speaking to the well-meaning boys who smiled her way and wanted to know what she did for a living and was she somebody? Why had they not seen her there before? She alternated her answers. She was recovering from syphilis. She was a lawyer; leisure suit was her client. She used to live in a convent. She was in med school. She cleaned houses. She made her accent thicker or lighter for the audience. She was Lena. She was Elena. She had no name at all.
She made out in one of the bathrooms with the girlfriend of Leisure suit’s best friend. She planned to ask for her phone number or leave the bathroom when the girl pinned her against the door and stuck the number in her bra. She straightened out her dress and went down stairs to the kitchen and grazed the formica table for a Pabst Blue Ribbon and some guacamole and chips.
The clock said almost midnight. She might as well climb the stairs to the third floor and the séance. She opened the door slowly.
Leisure Suit sat there in a black full-piece pipe-trimmed in red and a top hat on like some hipster version of Aleister Crowley.
“Ah yes! Come in! Come in! Girl down the street…”
“Elena,” she reminded.
“Ah yes, Elena. You’re the last to arrive but perfect timing!” He reached for her hand, very gentleman-like, to which she raised an eyebrow but let him take it. He led her to a wooden chair and with one swift move, he tied her hands to the back of it.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Untie me now.”
“Can’t. It’s all part of the—“
“Oh geezus, really? Not even a real séance? What am I, your Rosemary’s Baby sacrifice?”
“Don’t fidget. You’ll see,” grinned Leisure Suit man. He needed a gold tooth so that when he smiled menacingly it came off a little more hip, she thought. Elena sat perfectly still and eyed the tiny room. The door to the stairs wasn’t all that far away. If she could wiggle out…
“You are going to sit here until I tell you ‘you can go’!” Elena pushed her whole body to the right, she felt the slam and the wind and the wooden floor echo against her ear. Leisure Suit laughed and a clone of hers set her upright with his help.
“Honestly, honey. It’s not like real exciting things ever happen to you, do they?” Just relax and enjoy,” the Leisure clone said. She felt something sting her arm. Then nothing. Then her knees widening, like she was swimming in the ocean. Like seaweed was flowing out of her. She was tired and the universe was grabbing at her. Let me sleep.
When the officers arrived, Leisure Suit told them he didn’t know what happened. He’d tried to be nice and invite some of the neighbors. But this one got too drunk, as they tend to you know, officer and well he tried to be nice. The party just didn’t suit her—they get drunk so fast. He tried to hold a block party as a community effort, but that girl, just didn’t want to interact with the community. She’d come on to several of the guests. Block Party Whore, the officer had written down.
They carried Elena out unconscious on a stretcher. She’d fallen down a flight of stairs. She would have unending back pain for the rest of her life. She would complain endlessly to the cops of the man in the boathouse and how he threw her down the stairs while tied to a chair. That what flowed from her wasn’t menstrual blood. It was her neighborhood. He wasn’t from there. He shouldn’t be there.
No one noticed the rope marks on her wrists, or the splinters in her skin, the floor dust in her hair. The ropes were no longer there.
Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of the dark fiction short story collections Sad Girls & Other Stories (Solstice Literary Press 2015) and Mary of the Chance Encounters (Lit Star Press in 2017). Selections from Mary of the Chance Encounters came out in October 2017 on Wretched Productions as an audiobook. She is also a contributing editor for HipMama Magazine, and a three time director of the national spoken word series Listen to Your Mother Show. She also writes and directs plays and djs for Plumas Community Radio.
Can I order a Michelada with a Modelo Especial? I say rubbing my right temple.
Yeah, I’ll have the same, and a menudo, wait do you have pozole? Mari says, adjusting her gold bangles.
Yes. We have menudo and pozole on Saturday and Sundays only. All day, our waitress says collecting the menus.
A text message from Faith: Hey prima, order me red beer. I’m on the way! J
The waitress scurries off to place the cure for our hangovers, as my girlfriends and I, begin piece together our girls night from the night before.
A forty-dollar cab ride.
A phone number from a guy named Gil written on a napkin torn in half.
A Jack in the Box receipt for thirty-dollars. Except we don’t remember who ordered the jalapeno poppers.
And for some unexplainable reason Montell Jordon’s “Get it on Tonight” still on repeat in my head.
Here you go ladies, enjoy! Beerfest mugs overflowing with clamato juice and Modelo Especial accented with jumbo shrimp garnishes, and tejan salted rims decorate our previously naked table. Mari and I take our time snapchatting our drinks to let everyone know how much fun we had the night before. Our buzz revives as we take the first long sip of our Micheladas.
In walks my cousin Faith wearing yoga pants with a white tank top exposing her cheetah print bra.
A Mexican family is seated in the booth behind us. The wife gives a curious glance our way, followed by her husband. The couple’s two-year old plays peek-a-boo with me over the partition between our joining tables. An innate part of me wants to hold the baby in my lap and feel its warmth against my skin. It’s after 12:00pm and families begin to slowly trickle in after mass. And I’m thinking we should’ve gone to the El Tarasco on Main Street, a darkly dimmed bar, for our borachaness.
The hostess seats more Mexican families next to us¾husbands in Portrillo Cowboy boots, wives in beautiful dresses from JC Penny’s and Dress Barn. And that occasional white family you don’t expect to see, but down for Mexican food. I start to feel anxious in my clothes from the night before, my face still halfway composed with greasy makeup, topped with even greaser hair. I reach for my sunglasses, an attempt to create a barrier between myself and the families. I don’t want to think about marriage, children, or church. I don’t want to think about why I’m thirty-two and single, still drunk from the night before. I don’t want to be reminded of the things I should be doing, on a Sunday in my thirties.
My girlfriends are:
Real Estate Agent.
So what’s the happs? What exactly happened last night? I don’t remember a thing, Faith says, resting her shades like a headband on top of her head, before reaching inside her handbag for a Kleenex. She wraps the Kleenex around her index finger, swooping makeup boogers from the corners of her eyes. With each swipe she makes, I feel closer to my old self. The guilt and pleasure from a eighty dollar bar tab, and the weight of hooking up with a guy named Gil feels somewhat lifted.
You spent how much at the bar?
You hooked up with Gil? On Nadia’s couch! Whaaaa! Isn’t he related to Raymond? Wait didn’t you date Raymond back in the day?
How did you get home Faith?
I don’t remember taking that shot
You drunk dialed your ex? Fukkkk
You left your chonies at my place
I don’t know how I got home
I think I left my card at Lums
ABC Taxi picked us up
Wait, oh shit, that’s my friend Brian, we went to high school together. I haven’t seen him in years. Faith waves over at him excitedly.
Fucking Faith she knows everyone! Wait don’t call him over here, I look like shit Mari says, reaching for her sunglasses.
We look like shit! At least you showered, I remind her, sinking further into our booth.
Brian walks over. He is Portuguese cowboy meets Jason Statham. Before proper introductions are made, Faith starts drilling him with questions. But the only question we care to know is if he is single.
I’m going through a divorce. We were married for fifteen years. His Jason Statham camera-ready grin fades and he looks into a football game on mute behind our table.
Aw, so sorry to hear that, we say in kinda disingenuous unison. Faith exchanges numbers with Brian, no one has to mention it, but we all secretly hope he will call. That he will join us later for a drink or two. Because on some visceral level we need Brian or the Brians of the world to remind us that it’s okay to be a little displaced in life.
Another beer. Another bar. Another beer. Another bar.
The sun is setting on Main Street as we walk into Tommy’s restaurant. More girlfriends have joined our Sunday Funday posse, and now we’re rolling five deep.
We’ve transitioned from Micheladas to anything with vodka.
Okay, one “last, last” Mari says making Dr. Evil quotation marks with her fingers. Then home.
Yeah, right we aren’t going home. It’s Paisa night at El Presidente, let’s go dancing! I say moving my shoulders and snapping my fingers in my seat.
Hey. Wait. Is that¾is that…Brian sitting at the bar? Mari says peeping from behind the specialty cocktail menu.
Oh shit it is! Faith starts giggling out loud. I think he’s with someone. She still waves unapologetically.
Brian catches our gaze and waves casually over to us. He does not leave his seat to say hello. Instead, he tips his Coors Light bottle in our direction.
I think he’s on a date.
What the fuck? That’s our date!
I think¾ I know that girl. Um…Yeah…I don’t like her.
Is she cute? I can’t see that far.
Mari goes into stealth mode and puts her shades on to get a good look.
Yeah. I mean…she’s all right.
It looks like they’re on a first date.
Yeah. Her laugh is annoying.
Whatever, that fool has five kids anyways.
We place our drink orders and watch the sun completely set. Something shifted in all of us and somewhere in the space of ordering drinks and Brian’s date we lost our momentum. One-by-one our girlfriends closed their tabs, and said their goodbyes. Mari and I stayed a little longer, not ready to go home to our empty spaces and observed as Brian engaged in first date awkwardness. We listened to the nervous pitch in his date’s laugh; we noticed her order drink after drink in attempt to dilute her awkward timbre. Brian, his date, Mari, and I, kept drinking until the bar closed. Brian and his date left with his hand on her lower back, turning back once to say goodbye with his movie star grin. I called ABC taxi to pick us up. We decided to skip dancing and head home. We both had work and school in the morning.
Jackie Huertaz was born and raised on the north side of Visalia, California. Where she still lives today. She received her English degree at Fresno State University where she is currently in her third year in the creative non-fiction program. She teaches at Fresno State and is an assistant editor for the Normal School and San Joaquin Review. She writes about the working class, friendship, and the strong Mexican women in her family.