Si Hablo Español

Dad is third from left. Mom is fourth from right. Take in Philadelphia in 1968 (?).

I am not a great political activist, I admit. Since I grew up in Berkeley, Protest Capital of The World, this is confusing. My mom, a Mexican American, who was the first in her family to go to college, worked for Cesar Chavez.  She was not a first generation Mexican American only because my grandparents were from Canutillo, Texas and, as she liked to say, “the border crossed them.” I don’t know what The Man Who Occupies The White House would say about Mexicans on the American side of the border, but while I miss my mother, I am glad she is not here to hear it.

My grandparents in 1940s. Most likely in Arvin.

My mom enrolled me in the Spanish bilingual program in Berkeley schools, which put me in classes with mostly immigrant children, most from Mexico. I also spent my early mornings and evenings with Mexican families who babysat me. One family consisted of ten members who lived in a one bedroom apartment. The father worked as a waiter at a seafood restaurant. I was only 3 or 4 and needed things like juice or help using the bathroom.  So I learned to speak Spanish fluently in order to survive and get my needs met.  Like many first generations Mexicans, my mother didn’t speak Spanish to her parents.  She had a slight English accent. When I speak Spanish, however, I sound like Mexican immigrant.

As I grew older, and didn’t need to speak Spanish to survive, I stopped speaking it and it became rusty.  When I travel to a Spanish speaking country my fluency comes back.  A few years ago I worked at Herbalife corporate headquarters, a mostly Spanish speaking company, and I began to speak to the cooks in the cafeteria. I realized that I am a different person when I speak Spanish. A different part of my personality comes out.  I am not sure how to describe it, but one who is probably more chill, relaxed, grounded and non-judgmental.  Probably the part of me that stopped growing when I turned 12 or 13 and started hanging out with White Kids from the hills of Berkeley. I wanted to assimilate, and I guess, be white.

But I got over that.

In the last ten years, I have begun to speak Spanish to people providing a service, the guys at the car wash, my mechanic, or, more recently, the guys my building manager sent over to (miraculously) fix the cracks in the ceiling and walls.  When I said to them, “Si hablo espanol” they looked at me as if butterflies had flown out of my mouth.  Clearly, this is not a common occurrence in Los Angeles, a city with an almost 50% Latino population.  Even though I am 1/2 Mexican (and 1/2 half angry), I look like a White Girl. White women don’t go around speaking Spanish to the workers, let alone in a fluent Mexican immigrant accent.  It’s humbling to realize the effect that something so little, that requires so little energy, like saying a few words in a different language, can have on a person.

What does it mean to speak the language as the person doing a service for you in this country? It’s an extension, a show of respect. You are making their (and your own) life easier.  Quite often it results in excellent work, a great interaction, and for me, a feeling of connection. I never spoke English because I thought it made me superior, but there is something inherently superior about the native language of any western country. This is a racist world.

I have met none, if very few, Latino immigrants who do not work seven days a week.  The nurse who helped me in the hospital last week works seven days a week, the men who came and made new slip covers for my couch work seven days a week, my friend Francisco at Peet’s work seven days a week.  While I have no hard data on this (and I doubt any exists) I expect that the vast majority of immigrants do as well. Most work tirelessly and with gratitude. The way people live in Los Angeles would not be possible without the service of underpaid immigrants extend themselves beyond the traditional reaches of a 40-hour work week.  This is often not sitting in an office work. This is not scrolling through Facebook on big “mental” breaks kind of work.  This is labor; building things, creating things, like gardens, and clean bathrooms, keeping children fed and alive.  I am often tired, but I do not work that hard.

Because I grew up in a family with an immigrant mentality and was cared for and raised by Mexican immigrants, I love Mexican people.  Not everyone has that experience to draw from. But most white and middle-to-upper class people in Los Angeles, do benefit from the immense work ethic of the immigrant Spanish speaking population who make our tacos, care for your children, pick up your empty micro-brewed overpriced beer glass, clean your cars in the hot sun, and pick your oranges in the even hotter Central Californian sun.  I respect Mexican immigrants.  It goes without saying, light years more than the leaders of today.

What I want to suggest is that next time you interact work with a native Spanish speaker maybe try saying “Hola.” Practice your Spanish. Surely, you know a few words.  It’s not going to change the behavior of The Man Who Occupies The White House. But it will change the world, or one person’s day.

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Only Six Days Into 2018 And I’ve Already Had Two Days Of Needles Stuck Into My Face

My embattled superhero look.

My genius plan to start off the year at maximum productivity resulted in back-to-back dental and cancer (basal cell carcinoma) removal. As a result, I got to experience two days of needles stuck in my face…LET’S HEAR IT FOR  SELF-CARE.

Thrilled that’s it over, but humbled by the years of denial that led up to it.  I now understand how people die of treatable diseases every day. It took me years to get my “this is weird, probably not normal, I really should get this looked at” bump on the side of my nose looked at.

To my credit, I did go to the dermatologist about it  five years ago and he told me that it was probably a something something, but not cancerous. And if he removed it, it would leave a scar. SCAR! NEVER! So five years go by and this thing looks bigger and sometimes if I scrub my face to hard it starts to bleed. It causes a lot of stress about the idea that I might have skin cancer. So much stress that I can’t bring myself to go to the dermatologist about it again. Because what if IT IS CANCER?!  NOT DEALING WITH THAT. I got other stuff to worry about, like relationships ending, ultrasounds, and financial fears.  Next month I’lll do it. Oh, and next month. A few years go by and I go to the dermatologist for an entirely different reason and at the end I casually say, “What do you think about this thing?”

Dr. Lee apologized profusely, as if this were all his fault, and I left his office on Friday hugging the nurse after six hours of mostly-waiting Mohs Surgery.  At least I can feel like an adult now.

Bottom line: get your weird skin growths checked out. Happy New Year!

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“12 Days of Christmas” For Single and/or Casually Dating People

Just a reminder to myself to buy this album for my sister next year.

It’s tough to be single during the holidays. All the family, connection, and songs about “true love.” “True love” has not worked out for a lot of people. People like Romeo & Juliet, and Chris Brown & Rihanna.  I think at this point a lot of people would settle for “moderate concern”  Also, how is a “true love” going to buy you so much crap like a partridge from the Marshall’s clearance table? Everyone knows a real “true love” would leave catalogs lying around and then casually ask if you’d like a Pendleton shirt or some new wearable technology.  If they changed the song lyrics to focus on what “My Moderately Concerned Love” sent to me, it would make more sense. In the name of creating more holiday songs for single people, I came up with the following:

The Twelve Days of Christmas (for Single and/or Casually Dating People)

On the first day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: one ambiguous text to analyze.

On the second day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: two viral videos of animals who became “best friends,” and one ambiguous text to analyze.

On the third day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: three Facebook likes, two viral videos of animals who became “best friends” and one ambiguous text to analyze.

On the fourth day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: nothing really, but I did stalk his Facebook photos from 2011 and found four photos of he and his ex-girlfriend, three Facebook likes, two viral videos of animals who became “best friends” and one ambiguous text to analyze.

On the fifth day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: nothing again, but I did waste the time of five people asking them what they thought of his ambiguous text, four found photos of he and his ex-girlfriend from 2011, three Facebook likes, two viral videos of animals who became “best friends” and one ambiguous text to analyze.

On the sixth day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: nothing again, but I watched six Instagram stories about his parents’ dog, the time I wasted of five people asking them what they thought of his ambiguous text, four found photos of he and his ex-girlfriend from 2011, three Facebook likes, two viral videos of animals who became “best friends” and one ambiguous text to analyze.

On the seventh day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: seven hours between the text I sent him and his reply, six Instagram stories about his parents’ dog, the time I wasted of five people asking them what they thought of his ambiguous text, four found photos of he and his ex-girlfriend from 2011, three Facebook likes, two viral videos of animals who became “best friends” and one ambiguous text to analyze.

On the eighth through twelfth day of Christmas my Moderately Concerned Love sent to me: eight weeks of ghosting followed by a half-buzzed hostile “u there?” sent mistakenly on my birthday and immediately regretted, seven hours between the text I sent him and his reply, six Instagram stories about his parents’ dog, the time I wasted of five people asking them what they thought of his ambiguous text, four found photos of he and his ex-girlfriend from 2011, three Facebook likes, two viral videos of animals who became “best friends” and one ambiguous text to analyze.

No need for days 9-12. 

Happy Holidays!

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Episode #6 -Teaching Kyle & Matt to Dance Salsa

I taught comics and podcasters of “This Is Rad” Kyle Clark and Mathew Burnside some salsa moves. AT 6’6″ gentle giant Kyle proves that height is no obstacle to finding a salsa groove. I also got a chance to discuss my salsa passion on this episode of “This Is Rad.”

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“A California For Everyone” – Documentary

I directed this short documentary about how the misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has affected the current housing crisis.  Hope you enjoy, or at least  become a little outraged.

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Sexual Assault, Louis CK And Are We Winning?

I can’t bear to have a picture of LCK on my blog, so here’s a cute kitten.

I’ve shared so many “think pieces” on sexual assault/harassment/misogyny in comedy that my fingers hurt.  I’ve needed a few days to process the possible reality that just maybe male actions could begin to have *gasp* consequences.  But mostly I’ve had to come to terms with my own enabling behavior when it comes to  misogyny in comedy.  For a woman who has written a blog dissertation about being a woman in comedy it’s appalling to me how much I have tolerated.

Comedy is where I learned that the rage and hatred of women is real.  That we are in danger, spiritually, if not physically (though, apparently that, too).  The abuse I’ve withstood has been relegated to what I’ve sat and listened to.  I’ve sat in mics where men told jokes about beating up prostitutes, abusing their girlfriends with a curling iron,  yeast infections, how women talk too much in movies (not in theaters, AS ACTORS IN THE ACTUAL MOVIE), and my favorite, how women can’t be friends with each other. (If that were true, all women would be dead).  I have ended up outside of shows in tears or in a rage.  I wanted to be tough.  A “real comic” (whatever that is).  But I gave that charade up after my mom died. No woman can or should tolerate the open season hate and misogyny that comedy delivers to women. And, in my opinion, no woman who toughs it out is “winning.”

But I do have a shared responsibility in this dynamic, and not because I choose to be in comedy.  Strangely, I have not always severed connection with guys who tell misogynist jokes.  I think some sick part of me felt sorry for them.  The same part of me that would like to “forgive” Louis CK’s thinly veiled last-stand-at-masturbation-disguised-as-an-apology. (I have never been assaulted by an apology before). I sometimes joke that misogynist comics don’t support my “heroine’s journey”…unless they gives me stage which case: “Under his eye…under his eyes” *eyes cast down*(It’s a “Handmaid’s Tale” reference, which I think it’s funny, but it doesn’t do great on stage…).

I don’t have any good reason for not calling out or confronting misogynist comics more.  Sometimes they were “nice” off stage, even supportive. I told myself that their jokes were like a stream of bad blood that needs to be exorcised.  I have the same relationship with male friends whose frustration with their last girlfriend goes a little too far, and I have to tell myself, this is the same guy who supports me and listens to me. It’s not always so clear who the enemy is, if there is one. We all absorb the poison of misogyny, to some degree.

One night I sat at an intimate mic when a “comedy friend” on stage made a joke about how women aren’t friends with each other. I sat there, amongst my  female comedy friends, all gorgeous and hilarious and said aloud, “That’s simply not true.” It just came out of my mouth.  I couldn’t help it.  This did not go over well, as it is assumed that other comics, especially women, should sit silently because somehow a constitutional law that protects individuals from being sued or imprisoned by the government applies to an audience member at a comedy show. After that, I started speaking my mind more at mics.   I became rude, a bad comedy person, “not a real comic.”  Who cares? I will always be a woman first. And having a voice helps me.  Why tolerate all the horror of comedy if you’re going to stay silent when your sex and gender is openly insulted and demeaned IN FRONT OF YOU.  Speak out, ladies.  Self-respect lasts longer than laughs. Plus, most male comics, are not rooting for you anyway.

“Women can’t be friends” is such a dated, obviously patriarchal myth propagated by a system to control women, it didn’t register as relevant in 2014 Santa Monica and it doesn’t now.  Sure, women still compete, but if you regularly ingest feminism you start to understand that women don’t win. Hilary Clinton did not win. Angelina Jolie did not win.  And thousands of beautiful, talented, smart rich women in Hollywood are not winning. So long as you are a woman in 2017, you are in a world that preys and abuses and assaults and rapes women all over the world .  There are millions of Harvey Weinsteins’ and Louis CK’s, they are everywhere…in all pockets of the work force; in corporate offices, classrooms, libraries, dentist offices.  And no matter if you’re white or rich, you can always find the local Harvey Weinstein to remind you, that a woman is a lower caste.

I do expect the pendulum to swing back.  I do believe that Louis CK will have a career comeback, filled with part-real part-fake humility and “aw shucks” I’m-such-a-perv hang dog mannerisms, and stories about his 12-step sexual addiction recovery program, and whatever he encounters as he tries to embark on a journey somewhere resembling health.   He might help some guys, but he has and will always creep me out

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Kaiser Permanente Profits From Breast Cancer Screenings

Chose to use the Kaiser logo for maximum shaming purposes.

I understand that basic reasonable-ness among health insurance providers is a lofty  expectation in 2017 America.  And I understand that mine is far from the worst health insurance nightmare story.  It is, however, my goal with this blog post to shame Kaiser Permanente into addressing the fundamentally sexist practice of charging women whose breast cancer screenings fall outside of mammograms. SO LET THE SHAMING BEGIN.

Thanks to the miracle of poorly researched female health sciences, I have taken five trips to the radiology lab to determine if my mystery cysts/ducts have developed any scary cancerous properties. Thanks to God, Godess, HP, the universe, that I have not been diagnosed or even biopsied.  However, the cost of these visits have netted out well over a $1,000 for me.  Not only have I lost some some of my life to extreme anxiety and worry, but I also had to pay money in premiums in order to pay more money so that I AND KAISER, don’t have to pay more money in the event that I get sick. Meanwhile, I am perfectly healthy.

Over half of all women will experience a cystic lump at one point in their lives.  If she chooses to have it looked at, and has a deductible, chances are high that she will have to pay for that service.  Thanks to Obamacare, mammograms, cost $10.  However, studies show that they are mostly ineffective.  Also, completely painful and mortifying.  Shaped like a panini-maker, these machines have not been updated in 40 years. I have had 8 versions of the iPhone since 2010.  But unlike iPhones, mammogram machines are exclusively for women — for whom it’s assumed that a tolerance for pain and discomfort are built into our chromosomes.  If men had to take a test that turned their testicles into pancakes you would have NASA scientists working on these machines.

So, forget about mammogram machines. You found a lump. You can always ignore it, but you can’t ignore your aunt, mother, sister, friend who went through a difficult diagnosis, treatment, illness or death. And you can’t ignore the statistics on breast cancer, which are:

  • About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
  • About 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer

Do you think this was invented by a man? YOU THOUGHT RIGHT.

Interestingly, 3,000 to 49,000 people will also die of the flu.  So, at the high end, the number of people who will die from breast cancer is around the same number that will die from the flu.  Every year that I go to an appointment, Kaiser gives me a flu shot. I don’t want the flu, but the chances of me dying from it are pretty slim. So, sure, I’ll take a needle if it will save me a week of misery. However, the people who will die of breast cancer will be overwhelmingly female.  Breast Cancer screenings, however, are not $10 at CVS or Rite Aid, but a financial burden.  (For me it averaged to about $300 a visit).  Unlike the flu, a lump or an abnormal screening, is considered “diagnostic” — another word for “you pay for it.” Diagnostic is another way of saying, “We really don’t give a shit” about this epidemic or the subtleties of women’s bodies, or how HALF OF ALL WOMEN (roughly 2 billion) have dense fibrous breasts and need this kind of screening.

What makes me sick about the whole endeavor is a) the lonely horror of it b) the reality that Kaiser profits off of an epidemic that affects millions, if not billions, of women.  It reeks of white men sitting on boards thinking of women’s problems as trivial and irrelevant, the kind of sleek  brand of misogyny that devalues women in every day ways; that puts a tax on tampons and blames women for having an attractive body.

Thanks to of the Internet, I have found that I am not alone. A freaking CANCER SURVIVOR was charged for her sonograms because she no longer had BREASTS TO MAMMOGRAM.

As Cosby, Weinstein, Trump and others have so accurately illustrated, western civilization’s gains in acknowledging the human rights of women remain vastly overrated.  The leap from believing that women “asked for it” in sexual assault and harassment, to the unspoken assumption that the care of our reproductive organs (and the people who are made because of them) should be our burden to bear.  The condescending patronizing letter from the claims department giving me a onetime courtesy reimbursement for the service of screening my body, did not ameliorate my anger and fury.

In other words, I should not be punished because I have boobs.

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Episode #5 – Teaching Jim to Dance Salsa

In this episode I teach long-time friend Jim Coughlin salsa and merengue (because sometimes you just need to march in place a simple beat).  Songs include “Plastico” by Ruben Blades & Willi Colon, “Agua Que Va Caer” by Ismael Rivera and “El Vicio de Tus Labios” by Eddie Herrera.

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What I’ve Noticed About Young Dudes

Smith Jerrod respected Samantha even when she didn’t respect herself.

I cancelled Tinder. If you see me on there, it’s a mistake.  Nothing personal. I wish I had swiped right on every man’s (or couple’s) profile before I bailed.  One gesture of love on a device made to reject.

Tinder is broken.  I may have matched with wonderful men, but I would never know it because of one word: “Hi.”  It’s no one’s fault.  I’m guilty of “Hi’s” as much as anyone — and I’m a writer. “Hi” is just what happens when you meet through a piece of technology intended to perpetuate our single state.

I am now taking my chances in the Real World: smiling, eye contact, maybe I’ll even make a joke about stevia at the coffee condiments bar. What I’ve found: lots of young dudes.  A few months ago a millennial asked me out, texted me for two weeks and then stood me up when his band got in a fight and broke up.  No hard feelings. You can’t ask a 27-year-old drummer to not be a 27-year-old drummer. Then, the other day I was sitting in a granite coffee shop, surrounded by wire framed and neutral-toned adorned people, while sipping a $5 latte, when a wire framed young man walked up to me.  As it turns out, he had sat through two of my sets when the show I co-produce assaulted him at a coffee shop. Then I saw him salsa dancing a few months later. And now we meet again… I would think it was the most fabulous meet cute in the romantic comedy of my life if he weren’t, alas, also late 20 something…

I don’t have any inherent interest in younger men. I’m not fixated on abs or hairlines.  I actually like seasoned, wizened people.  However, I do notice that younger men (i.e., under 35) are a) more prevalent and, more importantly, b) offer something not commonly found in our society: they respect older women.  I don’t recall the same cross examination questioning of my chosen life occupations from young dudes: “So are you funny?” “Tell me a joke,” “What have you done?”  They treat my weird projects and pursuit with a sincere reverence that I have not always found in dating.

These interactions have caused me to wonder if Harvey Weinstein and Cosby are really part of a generation (one that spans from the beginning of time) that denigrated women to sustain itself. Of course, we are hardly in any place of victory to celebrate. Sure,  there are young fraternity brothers and high school football players assaulting young women in small towns, my anecdotes of West LA are hardly proof of anything.  “The Handmaid’s Tale” persists in Africa and the mideast.  But maybe in urban post-Sex and the City America, young white men can look at an older woman and value her.  I mean, it’s something.

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Too exhausted by sexism to take a decent selfie.

Sometimes I forget how tiring it is to be a woman. Not tired from work or kids, although, from what I have witnessed, that is the first and primary source of exhaustion for women around the world. I’m talking about a different kind of tired, the spiritual exhaustion that comes from living in this Man’s World: the condescension, the mansplaining, the patronizing, and THE WRITING BLOGS ABOUT IT.

The owner of the establishment where I perform comedy told me last week that it’s good that I *smile* because my jokes “need work” (they do need work, because they always need work, but that is not why he said that…which isn’t to say that feedback isn’t important, in which case GUYS, YOUR DICK, PORN, AND MASTURBATION JOKES COULD ALSO USE A LITTLE WORK.)

My father was born in 1944, so  just barely missed the hippy era, which, while hardly a socially progressive time, did beat out the 1950’s.  He recently told me without the slightest bit of irony that women aren’t as interested in “science.” However, he was never more proud of me than when I performed at The Punchline in San Francisco. After many debates and battles, all of which I lost, I just accept that he prefers to see women as soft, maternal creatures who shy away from loud noises and dirt.  He was a divorced Don Draper. He was amazed that I could be a “girl” AND do sports.    What I’m trying to say is that — like all women — I’ve lived with in-my-face sexism in  for a long time.

I have a better chance of reversing the aging process or time traveling than I do in changing the mind of a white male born in the 40s. I once asked my mom how she dealt with the endless onslaught of misogyny in the world and she said, “You can’t live your life being angry all the time.” I miss my mom terribly, and yet, I disagree with her on a lot.  But I wonder if she was right.  Yes, you can be angry all the time. But do you want to?  Or maybe the question is, do I have the bandwidth?

I recently read this New Yorker article which discusses the effectiveness of protests and seems to conclude the importance of restrained strategy. Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit in the back of the bus was not a spur of the moment expression of indignation, but the next step in a long, patient and calculated step in a united effort to change this country’s unjust laws.

I’m not saying that I’m unwilling to fight.  But the injustice will be here for al long time. For right now, I am more interested in the right actions, choosing the right battles, preserving and building my strength and staying sane.

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Episode #4 – “Teaching Benny & Serafina to Dance Salsa”

We did it! We made another made salsa dance video! In this episode we worked on counting, a strong lead and keeping your eyelashes on.

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