birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

No Hometown

This is what I want to tell you.

This is how it all began.

After the Los Angeles riots of 1992, my husband, Kiffen, was teaching in South Central. In fact, he had just driven through the same intersection as Reginald Denny a few minutes earlier on his way home from school.

I had the kids, ages two and four, at a birthday party for a two-year-old named Brooklyn, who later moved to Brooklyn.

(I promise this will be about a hometown or lack there of.)

So at this party, one women, Barbara, fretted about the Rodney King verdict just in from Simi Valley, and the other parents gathered said, "Oh Barbara! Oh Barbara, it'll be fine."

It was sunny Silver Lake and the two-year-olds were eating cake and the four-year-olds were sword-fighting with Barbies.

The mother of Brooklyn was stressed and said, "I've never seen Barbie used as a weapon before" as two boys battled with Sophie's Barbies as swords.

Sophie was Brooklyn's big sister.

Anyway, the city went up in flames a few hours later.

And of course Barbara was right.

Kiffen's mother, Frances, Mama Frances, called from Tennessee late that night and said, "You are not going to school tomorrow, Kiffen."

He told her all LAUSD schools were closed for the week.

I was teaching ESL at Garfield Adult School in East LA and when classes resumed I had my students write plays about the unrest and they loved acting in them and writing them.

One was called "One Hot Date" about a girl who wanted to go on a date during the riots.

There was also a Frida and Diego play, and Flannery came with me to school that day to play Frida's monkey. But when it was time for the Frida and Diego play, he refused to go on without a banana.

I handed him a plastic green cucumber and told him to pretend.

There was a lot of plastic fruit in that school for the teaching of English.

He refused to take the cucumber and we began to argue.

He was three and a half and he would not let Frida hold him.

He insisted, "I need my banana first!"

I said, "Take this cucumber and pretend!!!"

"No!"

"Yes!"

"NO!"

I had five plays to get through in a very short amount of time, and soon the bell would ring.

"Please, just do it, Flannery!"

"NO!"

The girl playing Frida looked just like Frida Kahlo with tons of makeup and extravagant flowers in her hair. She had spent hours becoming Frida.

The boy looked just like Diego and also just like the chubby boy, Tony, playing him.

But Flannery wouldn't budge.

I was growing desperate as the administrators were watching. The whole school had gathered in the cafeteria to watch these short plays reflecting the riots.

Then whispers and murmurs swept over the crowd.

I turned around and heard, "Teacher, teacher, look..."

And a lone banana from the back of the cafeteria was being passed up row by row. It was the most generous sight I'd ever seen as the banana slowly made its way toward me. Finally, a student handed it to me at the foot of the stage, and I gave it to Flannery like a baton hand-off.

For he jumped in Frida's arms with the banana and the play began.

***

But I meant to tell you about not having a hometown.

Several months after the Rodney King verdicts, one of the mothers at Brooklyn's party - one of the "Oh Barbara!" mothers decided LA was a bad place and the family was going to move to Spokane where it was clean and safe and beautiful.

That mother's name was Patty, and she had two daughters, Simone and Nanette, and a husband, Kirk. She wanted her children to be safe in Spokane, so she threw a going away party/birthday for Simone. Patty and Kirk and the girls wanted to move to Spokane and build a house out of bales of hay or something and plant vineyards.

And we all had to speak on videotape to tell Simone how much we would miss her and tell her how special she was blah blah blah. (Nanette was a baby who couldn't talk yet, so we didn't have to make a videotape for her.)

Simone was three and therefore needed to process the move.

It brought back a ton of memories of my own childhood and moving every three years or so, and my own father yelling at me, "Get your ass in the car. Say good-bye, you big turkey. You'll never see these people again. We got football games to win. You want to stay in the same hometown your whole life? What kind of life is that? That's a bullshit life. You get to see things and meet new folks!"

I would be weeping in the driveway hugging friends good-bye vowing not to forget them.

So Simone's lavish good-bye, which also included Patty hiring Kiffen to dress up as the going away/birthday party entertainment, brought up memories that ignited my first novel, OFFSIDES.

I began writing about moving away and saying good-bye and never having a hometown and longing for one with all my heart.

The writing of the novel began as memories, inspired by Brenda Ueland's book, IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, that eventually turned into chapters.

But I don't think I would have written the book at that time had we not had to make such a big deal over Simone moving to Spokane at age three.

I wanted to say - "Hey, try moving at six, ten, eleven, fifteen, eighteen, Simone!"

But, of course, I only said kind things for Patty was videotaping.

And what was Kiffen dressed up as for the Simone's going away/birthday party?

"The Little Mermaid."

Were the children a little scared of this mermaid slip-sliding down the hill in Glendale on a rainy Sunday in stocking feet and dyed red hair in pink polka-dotted seashell bra and fin?

Definitely.

But that's another story.
 

Landlocked and Homesick

Oaktown