It's 2011 and the only memory I have left from the 2008 Democratic presidential primary -- in which Barack Obama was fighting a political death-match against the Clinton machine -- is Bill Clinton saying something mildly demeaning about Obama's campaign while in South Carolina.
So I was surprised when I opened a note from a writer who said she'd like me to read a book she wrote about a young gay Latina in East L.A. with a drinking problem, and set during the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The following is an excerpt from that book, "The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive," by Vanessa Libertad Garcia. This is from a section called "Lament," while the speaker is on the beach drinking 40s and watching a homeless man collect trash:
I've given others money: Friends, Acquaintances, Churches, Family, Causes, Co-workers, and Other homeless people. I drink the second bottle and catch him to my left not too far away.
I call him over. "Hey you!"
He walks over. It takes him a couple of minutes. Each small step he makes, I take a long swig. I finish it. He opens his bag. I drop it in. We both hear it clank.
I ask him to sit. I ask him his name. I open the third 40.
We're both liberal. Eugene is a lot more hopeful than I. I ask him why he's homeless, of course. He responds and then I reply with a monologue about why I want to die.
Busting up. Throughout, in a series of loosely interconnected sections of prose and poetry (and even a long transcribed IM chat), the book is this wonderful mix of coy and cutting, open-hearted and bleak. It is a short book and ends without a looping resolution, yet it is an enjoyable, satisfying read. The prose sections in first-person have some real gems. Here's another:
Look at me in this mirror, my tits, breasts look great, my face is doing its job and this forty tastes so gooooooooooooooooooooooooooood. I wonder if that bi chick, with the ex-boyfriend, is going to be there tonight. Why can't we just get drunk and then I fingerfuck her and then she falls asleep in my arms all lusty and needy like Kathleen Turner in all those early films before the fun went to her face and turned her into Chandler's dad and then I leave at 6am and then I get a mcgriddle.
See what I mean?
A real voice. "The Voting Booth After Dark" also did something only good books can do: It reminds you --- or tricks you into being reminded -- of places you've been, people and crews you know, even situations that feel familiar or thought-trains you've had.
The thing also made me miss L.A. a little. The billboards. The stucco-choked windows poking out from behind sound walls on the freeways. The unpretentious yet sophisticated L.A. kids who are usually, deep down, from East of East L.A. The bars.
* Above, 'The Voting Booth After Dark' in video form. Mmmmm. Stucco.
Weeks ago, I sent some questions to the author, who is a native of Los Angeles, is Cuban American, and is also a filmmaker and a blogger. Here are some highlights from her responses, with my apologies for the delay in posting them.
Q: How did the book come about?
A: I wrote The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive over a period of about 3 years. I didn't know I was developing a book, however, until the end of the 3rd year. During that period (2005-2008), I bottomed out on nightclubs, Mickey's Malt Liquor, and half-hearted affairs with bi-curious women in heterosexual relationships. They weren't my proudest moments, but undeniably some of my most consuming. An intense period of trying out remedies that seemed to cure other people’s despair, but just deepened mine.
[... My friends and I] were driven go-getters with artistic aspirations working hard to forge our paths in the adult world, which required embracing thwarted expectations on a daily basis. We worked loathsome pay your dues jobs and took to the LA Eastside/Downtown/Chinatown nightclubs in desperate attempts to forget our unpredictable futures. George Bush Jr. was president at the time, Hollywood was making Mission Impossible 3 or 4, and oppressed Palestinians continued suffering merciless injustice. Feelings of utter powerlessness and hopelessness overwhelmed us, and we grew apathetic together.
[...] I spent late nights, usually in the sober moments before I cracked open a bottle of Carlo Rossi since I can’t write while boozed, jotting down our emotional dismemberment. I didn't think many people would want to read them. I mean another poem about drunken misery? Honestly, I sort of hated myself for them.
[...] Everyone is affected by and affects politics whether they're political or not. So in regards to the characters in my book, they continue to live the minor accounts of their daily lives in the backdrop of the 2008 presidential elections -- meaning that they still form some part of the greater political puzzle.
Q: Where did you grow-up? Tell me more about your background.
A: I was born to a middle-class Cuban family in Los Angeles, CA. I've lived throughout the burbs' & hoods of Los Angeles such as Glendale, Downey, South Gate, Bell, and Koreatown. I also lived in Miami & Ixtlan Del Rio, Mexico for several months. I moved around A LOT as a kid. Around 25 times, I think. I spent most of my childhood at the Maywood Baptist School and then transferred to a couple of public schools in Downey. Ultimately, my high school home-stay was the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) where I majored in Theatre Arts, and I graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2005 with a Bachelors in Film Production & minor in Theatre.
Q: Will you be voting for Obama next time around?
A: NO. No I definitely will not be voting for Obama in 2012. As someone once said, "I was in love with the idea of Obama."
I've never met Vanessa Libertad Garcia. I have no real idea of what she looks like, and for all I know -- if we live in our trends these days -- she could be a middle-aged straight white man in Montana or whatever (she isn't, of course). But, for those of us who insist on keeping the faith, here is her website, her blog, and here, she tweets.
Check out this recent blog post, "On Being Latina & Lesbian in the U.S.A."
* Thanks, Vanessa! ** Photo above, the author at work.