I Don’t Have Ebola, I’m Just Single

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Twenty years ago Natalie, a close friend growing up, got married one month after college graduation.  At the bridal shower, her mom said, “One day soon, Laurel, we’ll be throwing one of these for you!”  It feels like this happened only yesterday, and it could have.

I spent my twenties working, partying, and sowing wild oats, my thirties were about achievement, self-actualization and coming into my own.

Friends got engaged or married along the way, but I always maintained a fairly large circle of single friends. We had each other and nothing about our lives seemed out of the ordinary.

But still, even in this day and post-feminist age, lurking when I least expect, someone will come out with, “You can only wait so long, Laurel, before you’ll need to settle down, get married and have kids.”

My mom has an entire drawer full of baby clothes for my unborn baby, but I’ve never once been pregnant. Whenever a girlfriend of mine has a baby, mom pulls out a baby outfit with the tags still on, and says, “This was supposed to be for my grandchild.”

Dad calls from prison and tells me, “You really need to think about settling down.”

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Why I’ll Never Get Picked for Jury Duty

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I remember when I was young, and my parents would get their jury summons in the mail. “Oh man, this is the last thing I need,” Mom would say.  Dad got out of it, being an ex-cop.  Growing up, I realized most people avoided their civic responsibility.  Wasn’t this illegal?  It sounded like fun to me, sitting in the court room with all that excitement, seeing all the evidence, aiding in the decision of the defendant’s verdict.

I got summoned for jury duty in Ventura County when I was 18.  I was excited.  I was serving my country, or at least my county.  Dad told me to bring a book, “you’ll be doing a lot of sitting around.”  I sat on a cold wooden pew, gazing out the window, reading my book.  At 4pm, a woman came out, “Thank you for your participation, you are now released.”  Wow, just like that.

I escaped jury duty for another 14 years, until I got another summons in September 2000 – a murder trial in Marin County.  The defendant was right there at the table, 5 feet away from me.  He didn’t look like the murdering type, yet  I looked at him as if he was already guilty.

I filled out a jury questionnaire form.  The trial was set to begin on October 11th.  Phew, I had travel plans to New York City then.  They excused me.

A month later, my father was arrested for the murder of his strip club business partner.  The tables had turned.  My mom, sister and I sat through the jury selection for his trial.  These strangers were going to hear intimate details about my family and decide the fate of my father’s life.  His current sentence was the death penalty.  Dad’s million dollar attorneys hired a jury specialist.  “Believe us, it’s money well spent, she has a great track record,” they assured us.

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Jailbird

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Huey del Fuego

These days, Dad’s wardrobe consists solely of double denim and flimsy white tennis shoes, but in 1984, after watching Jack Nicholson in Prizzi’s Honor, he sported pink and yellow blazers. Dad had a museum of cowboy boots – about 20 pairs ranging in color and animal hide, and he liked big gold rings and chains, and wore a gold bull around his neck.

But behind the curtain of Dad’s eccentricity, was a loving father, the evolution of a man who grew up in Hoboken projects, unattended by his mother, while his father spent his life in a sanitarium. He was one of nine children, but only kept in touch with one sister and a long-lost brother his mother had sold to neighbors.

Family meant everything to Dad. He enrolled my sister and me in an expensive Catholic school to ensure a good education, and went to church with Mom every Sunday, not because he was religious, but because it made Mom happy.

Dad ran a tight ship at home, and there were severe consequences for bad behavior. Once when I was sixteen, I snuck out of the house wearing a leopard-print tank top and leather miniskirt and hit a night club in Santa Monica, where I drank, danced and smoked cigarettes.

The next morning, Dad approached me, “Did you wear that outfit after your mother and I told you not to?” I loved him too much to lie. He walked away with disappointment in his eyes. It turned out his adult entertainment attorney had spotted me at the club. Two days later Dad sold my car and grounded me for six months.

In contrast to my flashy father was his business partner Mac whose steroidal frame stood 6’7″. Mac and Dad met while on the California Highway Patrol. Dad quit the force after a nasty motorcycle accident, and Mac was fired for accepting bribes. Later on, Mac brought Dad in as a partner to run his strip clubs in Los Angeles.

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Christmas with Phil Spector

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The alarm went off at 4:45am on December 25th, 2009, but I had long been awake.  My flight from JFK to LAX touched down nine hours earlier.  I was tired, jet lagged, and anxious about the day ahead.  I had that “first day of school” feeling.  Mom fed the cat while my younger sister packed a cooler of refreshments for the day.

We took off in Mom’s car a little after 5:30am.

Usually, the family spent Christmases on the beach in Maui.  Now we visited Dad in prison.  Prison?  How did this happen?

The trip to the maximum security Corcoran Prison clocked in at 3 hours.  Having been turned away before, we called the prison visitor center hotline to make sure the inmates weren’t on lock-down.

Mom turned on the radio “To listen to traffic,” but it was really to drown out the silence.  We drove by Magic Mountain and I remembered the Free Fall ride from my high school trip, dropping 50 stories in half a second and leaving my stomach back at the top.  That’s how it felt driving to prison.

We made a pit stop at the county line in Bakersfield for one last restroom break: prison restrooms, even at the visitor center, typically had no toilet paper or soap.  I’d seen Himalayan out houses that were cleaner.

The only things visitors were allowed to bring in were money, an ID, car key and an unopened pack of tissues.  Sometimes I smuggled gum in my bra. Dressing for prison was a constant costume conflict, and I had to come prepared with a suitcase of clothes in the car. I liked to dress for the holidays. Years prior, I rented an Easter Bunny costume and wore it to visit Dad in jail. Oh jail. Life was so simple then.

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