In junior high school, Blanca Hernandez rode the bus to school with Angelo Moore. Later, Angelo Moore would become a vocalist in a punk-funk band called Fishbone. Later, Blanca Hernandez would lead an ordinary life but would always wonder what Angelo Moore had done with her Plum in Sunshine.
Blanca—timid, sweaty, and awkward—usually sat behind Angelo during the half hour bus ride from South Central to the Valley. He never noticed her, but it was impossible not to notice him. When he wasn’t sleeping on the bus, Angelo would slap funky rhythms on those green vinyl bus seats. He’d start with tiny, rumbling riffs that would grow until every kid on the bus had joined in a Ride-to-Fucking-School Jamboree. He’d lead some mix of happy-go-funky school songs, punctuated with grunts and ahs. Of course his music moved Blanca out of her severely shy self, and what started as a schoolgirl crush morphed into something more. To Blanca, forging a friendship looked hopeless from the start—Angelo was so much Louder-Than-Life, she, more into solitude—so she nurtured a sweet longing for his companionship. Whenever she worked up nerve to talk to him, it was always the wrong time; she said all the wrong things. She’d try to make him turn her way only to discover he was nodding off or snoring.
During one of these naps, Blanca noticed something crawling on Angelo. Could it be a giant, hairy Mojave scorpion? Now, how the fuck had that creature boarded the bus? Blanca remained calm. While the scorpion’s pincers sought out purchase on Angelo’s skin, Blanca quietly and ever so gently removed her thermos from her lunch and unscrewed the top. Angelo snoozed on. Blanca stopped breathing. She used a steady, quick hand. With the lid of the thermos, she silently scooped up the creepy predator and dumped it into the scalding honey tea that her mama had lovingly blended. Blanca shivered and swiftly dumped the entire contents of the thermos out the window as the bus raced North along the Harbor Freeway. She shared the incident with no one, but saved the whole story for when she was home with her mother and father.
Back in 1965, Ernesto and Liliana Hernandez had arrived from Guatemala. Thanks to the Watts Riots and the subsequent middle class relocations, the Hernandez couple was able to find an affordable, two-bedroom apartment just off Vernon and Central in South L.A. Blanca’s mother found work cleaning houses. Blanca’s father washed dishes at a bar & grill. Blanca told them about the scorpion, her fear, and her frustration, “Oh Mama, he doesn’t even know I exist.” Her mother said, “Child, all you’ll ever need is within you.” Her father added, “Blanca, just be glad that it is easier to find a good meal than a true friend.” And friendships proved hard for Blanca to forge throughout her academic career in San Fernando Valley. Perhaps in the 1970s there had been a feeble attempt to integrate the schools in the Valley, but that did little to integrate human beings.
Or did it?
Once. Angelo spoke to her on the bus. He noticed her reading Esperanza Rising and asked if he could borrow it for English class; he needed to do a book report. She quickly savored the last chapter of her favorite book and surrendered it over to him. She knew he would never return it, but she’d get over that. The important thing was that now she had the courage to approach him. She’d been meaning to give him something.
She worked up the nerve to give him one of her paintings.
In Ms. Rose’s 8th grade art class, Blanca discovered that she possessed modest talent for still life oil painting. At home, she would while away free time with brush to canvas, painting with pure love for her subject. She always attempted to make a piece of fruit look good enough to eat off the canvas. Her favorite work was one she called Plum in Sunlight. She saved up her babysitting money to buy an 8 X 10 inch frame for it. When it looked absolutely perfect, she wrapped it in yellow paper to present to him.
“Angelo, I like you. I want you to have this.” She was awkward, but she had said it. He accepted the gift with his usual good cheer and said, “I like you, too, Big Blanca.” The sound of her name off his musical tongue stunned her into awareness that he knew her name. What else might he know about her?
But when the bus rides ended, Angelo and Blanca parted ways forever. He eventually went on to pursue a rocky marriage with the music industry while Blanca pursued her education. She made a silent promise to remain a devout Fishbone fan.
One night, in 1988, a year after she graduated from Cal State, Blanca sat at a bar drinking gin when a stranger, a large, wheezing, first-time visitor to L.A. introduced himself as Sidney Spar. Sid hovered over her, a bulking monument to masculinity. He said, “Aren’t you a work of art? Well, I’m a dealer. I’d like to make an offer on those eyes of yours!” When Spar got a closer look, he added, “Whoo wee! Girl, you’ve got a surreal look that could fetch a fortune on auction at Christie’s!” His attention was enough to woo her. Initially, she didn’t want to sleep with Spar, but she couldn’t help wondering what sex was like. She had spent so many years secretly loving Angelo through metaphysical intimacy. Now an opportunity had arrived for real, physical intimacy. Though reluctant, Blanca’s curiosity got the best of her.
When Blanca discovered she was pregnant, Spar, who had never wanted a relationship, was long gone. She never searched for him. She didn’t need anything more from him.
During her pregnancy, Blanca was most grateful for her solitude and her library card. She was reading a book called Music and the History of Human Consciousness when she came across a story about the theremin. She was well-aware that Angelo Moore of Fishbone played that instrument. She learned that the theremin was the product of Russian government-sponsored research into motion sensors. The instrument was invented by a young physicist named Lev Sergeivich Termen after the outbreak of the Russian Civil War. After reading the part about the Russian Civil War, boom, Blanca went into labor.
Naturally, she named her son Lev. The name was on her mind from her reading and that name was associated with Angelo’s strange instrument. Blanca couldn’t wait to bring her boy home from the hospital and introduce him to Fishbone’s music.
Alas, Lev was born deaf.
Blanca’s stoic nature would not have allowed her to lament this condition except that she yearned to share Fishbone’s music with her only child. After crying over the tragedy for a few weeks, she summoned back her strength and decided to hell with ears! “Lev, you will listen with your heart.” She played Fishbone albums over and over while she nursed him, rocked him, fed him, changed him, and played with him. She pretended he could hear it, but Lev Ernesto Hernandez grew into boyhood never hearing Fishbone.
But that didn’t mean he had not been listening.
At an early age, Lev proved himself to be a genius. He excelled at Astronomy and built an instrument that could link up with the consciousness of other planets, stars, comets, nebulae, and star clusters. Lev’s accomplishments, at the age of nine, were making scientific breakthroughs in human understanding of cosmic spinning, breakthroughs as significant as Copernicus’s heliocentric model, Galileo’s telescope, or Nasir al-Din al-Tusi’s Tusi-couple. Because of the breakthroughs Lev was making, people asked more questions, not about life or intelligence, but about consciousness in the cosmos. Could what some mystics refer to as Divine Love have an eloquent scientific explanation that had to do with the spinning of the cosmos? Lev’s work penetrated the essence of spinning.
At first, his teachers couldn’t hide their astonishment. All too soon, the government found out about the rich resource of Lev’s intelligence, and the boy was treated with extra special, Official attention. When he was only fifteen, Lev was whisked away to a private school for Mensa International members where he could hone his intelligence for the benefit of all humanity. His mother yearned for, and savored, the holiday visits and daily Skype sessions.
Around this time, Blanca read in the newspaper that Angelo Moore had moved back in with his mother. To Blanca’s mind this was good news. The thought of Angelo and his mother made Blanca feel that much more tender toward him. She didn’t understand the mainstream attitude on this matter. Why should a grown man moving in with his mother be considered a sign of “failure?” Honestly. Weren’t Angelo and his friends influential to musicians and fans around the globe? That’s booming success. So what if it aint commercial? Besides, ain’t nothing wrong with a man and his Jehovah’s Witness mama sticking together in life, sorting things out. Hell, that’s probably the way things ought to be.
As far as her own Lev’s fame and genius were concerned, Blanca actually credited Fishbone. Had to be the Fishbone we listened to together that shaped that mind of his. Blanca explained it to herself this way: Yes. Dr. Mad Vibe medicated my baby boy.
If Blanca had an enterprising mind, perhaps she could have helped produce a line of albums called Baby Fishbone. Perhaps she could have sold the idea of creating high-quality, age-appropriate products that could “put the funk in the punk” of being a bewildered baby. It would be sort of like what had been done already with Baby Mozart. Blanca’s mind, however, was never consumed with consumerism. She never had her finger on the pulse of the market economy. But what she lacked in business sensibility she made up for in persuasiveness.
When she eventually moved to Westminster Terrace in San Diego, Blanca converted her well-to-do neighbors to Fishbone fans.
Blanca didn’t leave South L.A. for reasons people supposedly try to leave the “ghetto.” Yes there were sunless Saturdays in the hood, but Blanca always felt tender toward her neighborhood. (Besides, who is anybody to judge another’s nesting instincts?) Blanca viewed South L.A. an adequate place to live (though she never really had the L.A.P.D up her ass). She maintained a sort of aloof, peaceful demeanor combined with innate, worldly stoicism, an attitude that offered her self a kind of protection from ever becoming a hard-edged street tough. Despite what one may read about in the papers, daily life in the hood could get down right boring. When she could finally afford her own home, she chose a Spanish style bungalow in San Diego.
Why San Diego? Blanca had intentions.
Blanca Hernandez privately regarded it her duty and privilege (she’d never call it her Latina American woman’s burden) to convert the quiet beach culture of San Diego into a devoted Fishbone fan base.
Being a grown woman and a mother, Blanca had outgrown the cloak of invisibility she wore in her younger years. She’d grown more confident simply because she’d grown older, and it all had less to do with buying her own home or getting that offensive mole removed from her face than Blanca had suspected.
Boldly, she knocked on her neighbors’ doors to introduce herself, and they saw a bodacious woman with a fat grin.
After speaking with her for a moment, neighbors felt assured that Ms. Hernandez would be no trouble. One of her neighbors, the Mayor of San Diego, Christopher Petsle, was a left-handed, left-brained, left-his-ego-at-the-door kind of liberal who had made his success in the surfboard business.
Another neighbor, Perry Foster, was President of the County Credit Union and a total dweeb.
Nonetheless, when Blanca gifted them Fishbone albums at her housewarming party, both thanked her for the music, listened, and instantly loved it. So Blanca could play Fishbone on her Ohm Guru Surround Sound System whenever she damn well pleased. Her neighbors never complained. In fact, the Mayor threw his weight around with the local radio stations and soon Fishbone recordings played on Z 90.3, Sophie 103.7, 101KGB, 100.7 Jack FM, and Jazz 88. No one bothered to classify Fishbone; they just listened to Angelo and Norwood’s music.
There was one soul rebel whom Blanca wished she could have converted but never did. For years, Blanca had worked as an assistant to an overweight power broker by the name Albert Buckley. Everyone affectionately called him Fat Albert because he looked like that famous cartoon character. For his birthday, Blanca gave Fat Albert the album Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe. Buckley, though growing hard of hearing, had always been a devoted listener to speeches delivered by Heads of States. To be polite, he listened to the Fishbone album and reported to Blanca that he didn’t like it. His wife, on the other hand, played the music for their infant son, Fat Albert Junior, who suffered severe colic. Fishbone helped relieve Junior of whatever discomfort had been vexing him. The baby listened to Fishbone all day and slept peacefully all night.
Blanca even brought Mister Fat Albert Buckley to a screening of the kickass rockumentary, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. Fat Albert ate a Pork Belly sandwich and drank a stout; Blanca drank an Avery White Rascal wheat beer. They enjoyed the film, laughed, and agreed that Fishbone really knew how to soul search, make music, and party. Later, as Buckley’s hearing abilities changed, Blanca taught him how to sign.
In Autumn 2017, Blanca’s health declined. Lev stayed by her. When he sensed she was near the end, he pressed “Play” on her stereo so she could listen to “Everyday Sunshine” while she held his hand and let go of her life.
While Blanca took her final breaths in this world, Angelo Moore, miles away, was reaching into a bowl of fruit in his mother’s kitchen.
Angelo’s eyes fell upon a painting his mother had hung up on her kitchen wall long ago, a painting of a perfect, purple plum lolling in the green grass, soaking in the sun. His mother confessed to Angelo that she didn’t know why that painting inspired her to pay close attention to the way she arranged the fruit in the bowl.
Angelo raised an eyebrow as if to say, “Uh huh!” He noticed sunlight bathing the skin of the fruit in the bowl, and words for a funky song came to his mind. Angelo sang the words “Fruit Loop Mama” in a voice as sweet as it was metallic and crazed. When Mama gave him that stare, Angelo bit into a plum from the bowl. Plum juice dribbled down his chin.
In the moments leading to her death, Blanca experienced an illusion that only a deathly ill person can—she heard her name in the Fishbone music. She heard Angelo singing her name. She felt her body tremble and rise. Then she saw this: Her corpse, naked, was lifted above everyone’s head. Her dead body was crowd surfing. At least this is what Blanca could make out with her skewed perspective. At once, she felt removed, watching from above her body as if watching the whole thing on film. She saw an excited crowd of music lovers tossing her wasted body from one place to the next. At the same time that she watched herself, she could also feel all those hands touching her, rubbing, pinching, grabbing, and releasing her flesh and her bones. She felt the strength in the arms of those people who were lifting her and tossing her.
She witnessed the crowd’s growing excitement. First, someone shouted, “She’s buck naked!” And that was followed by an excited hoot. Then someone else shouted, “It’s a fucking stiff!” And someone else shouted a deep, thunderous, “Oh, fuck yeah!” The excitement shook the earth. A naked, dead, fat bitch surfed a crowd that was partying on Freeway 8. This mass of party people occupying the 8 Freeway lifted Blanca from Windsor Terrace, through Mission Valley, all the way out to Ocean Beach. They passed Blanca’s corpse and chanted “It ain’t over. It ain’t over. It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady splash!” The chanting grew until the crowd was raging ecstatic.
On precise beat with a colossal cymbal crash, the crowd tossed Blanca over the ends of the earth and into a seething sea.
She turned into an enormous skinless, meatless fishbone; she breached thirty feet into the air, turned, and came down with a splash that sprayed the sweaty crowd.
Blanca Hernandez died of kidney failure on December 17, 2017.
They played “Skank & Go Nuts” at her memorial service.
Using sign language, Lev delivered a touching eulogy. For those present who were illiterate in American Sign Language, an interpreter named Laurence Fishfry spoke Lev’s signs with booming, gruff authority. Lev assured mourners that his mother rested now. Without fear or regret, she had taken full responsibility for every action, decision, and incident she ever lived through.
And about her last moments, Lev signed, “If you could only hear what I heard in my head as my mother exited this world,” Larry uttered Lev’s signs. “I heard a crowd of divine beings chanting, protesting, cheering, praising. I heard the sounds of their arms rising above their heads as they held my mother’s weight and carried her to Infinity. Divine beings, a crowd of divine beings, divine motherfucking party animals! The same divine animals who are campaigning, warring, fucking, protesting, cheering, shouting, tweeting, twinkling, procreating, pontificating, scheming, killing, cheating lying, voting, loving, and rocking out. Divine beings. One. And. All. In my head, I heard these beings roaring, like at a rock concert. And still, Mother’s last moments were peaceful.
With trembling hands, Lev continued: My mother’s exit from this world told me to learn how to joyfully embraced Death. Accept Death for what it is—the ultimate creative anarchist.
Death (Lev’s hands froze and seemed to form ice crystals on his fingertips) is the ultimate creative anarchist (burning flames rose off the ends of his finger tips).
The Creative Anarchist. Embrace the Creative Anarchist. Lev’s hands went wild with circular gestures that baffled everyone, even and especially Laurence Fishfry. The room started spinning. There was grief and ecstasy.
Everyone got funky.
Death! Uh! Funky! Uh! All right! All right! Hey! Death! All right! Don’t you want to funk up? Funk up. Funk up.
Hey! Woof! Woof! Bark! Bark! Yo Mamma Dead! Yeah! Keep it funky! Move baby! Move!