Everyone has their role. My mother is the martyr, my father the distant unapproachable figure, and Noel, with a few brief stints in jail, is considered misunderstood, not a handsome loser. Yolie is just outspoken, not a miserable bitter shrew, which would be her clinical diagnosis in the "real" world. And the rest of my brothers and sisters have problems that my parents consider normal, like bad marriages, unruly children, and too many bills. So is it a surprise that I'm considered the troublemaker of the family?
Not happy at home? Move away for college. Hate your job? Find another one. Fallen out of lust, er, love with your husband? Divorce him. I, so far, am the anomaly--or flake--in the family because I'm vocal about how unnecessary it is to be unhappy, and how important it is to do something about it to change your circumstances (thank you, Zoloft!) If I had it my way, my whole family would be comparing dosages at the dinner table the way some families talk about sports or politics. . .
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Read an Excerpt
Underneath It All
By MARGO CANDELA
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2007 Margo Candela
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMamá and Papá
I'm not looking forward to this but it has to be done. I've put it off long enough.
I clear my throat and lean forward, the sticky plastic covers on my mother's prized living room furniture squeaking under my sweating thighs.
"¿Necesitas algo, mija?" My mother half-rises from her chair, closest to the kitchen and with a clear view of the front window and door, always at the ready to take care of someone else's needs.
"No. No gracias. Uh, I'm fine, great, everything is ..." I trail off as my mother looks over at me and smiles expectantly. I have no choice but to bury my face behind my glass of limeade, made fresh from the limes my father grows in the side yard.
I'm home on a Saturday night, sitting with my parents watching "Sabado Gigante" (a raunchy Mexican variety show that seems to have been on before television was born) while my mother folds my laundry and my father hogs the remote. This is completely typical, except I don't live here anymore, my mother laundered clean clothes straight out of my suitcase and there are no batteries in the remote my father has a death grip on. (My brother Noel has been dispatched to the store to get some, conveniently leaving me alone to make my announcements in some privacy.)
It can go one of two ways. Either my parents will be upsetbut reasonable, and offer me their unconditional love, or they'll react the same way they did when I announced almost a decade ago that I was leaving our tidy home in Los Angeles to go all the way to Berkeley for college.
My dad just grunted and said I shouldn't expect him to pay for it. He thought it was just another one of my indulgences-like braces and driving lessons. My mother took to her bed for three days. The neighborhood priest had to be called over, even though my parents have never attended church on a regular basis, to coax her back to the land of the living. But I left and I made it! And now I'm back home asking for their permission, their blessing, their ... something, for what I've done now.
I look at my watch. If my brother takes his time (and I know he will) I can break the news and have things well on their way to being sorted out before he gets back. (My brother is the only one in the Sanchez family who doesn't like to fight.)
I think I'll get some more limeade.
"Jacquelyn, did I tell you Yvette dio luz a su bebé?" my mother calls after me. "A boy! He's beautiful."
"Yes, Mamá, you did."
From the moment she picked me up at Burbank Airport from my flight in from San Francisco, my mother has been dropping names of old friends and distant cousins who have gotten married or given birth, some even in that order.
"If Yvette could see you now she'd never recognize you!" This is her way of expressing disapproval that I don't live around the corner, if not at home, as do the rest of my brothers and sisters. "I told her you look so different every time I get to see you."
"When she knew me I was a gordita with a bad haircut."
"You weren't gorda, Jacquelyn," my mother says, dismissing what may have been the most formative experience of my teenage years. "You just weren't tall enough for your peso."
I double over the sink, laughing. Not only from what she said, but that I'm now doing my parents' dishes. It's only costing me my last free weekend and the $350 I spent for my last-minute full-fare plane tickets.
After I'm done I walk back into the living room and catch sight of Noel lurking in the bushes. I wave him off. He retreats back to the driveway to smoke a cigarette.
It's now or never ... I'll just wait for the next commercial. Much too soon Don Francisco, sweaty after judging the impressive posteriors of the dancing ladies, screams us all into my less-jiggy reality.
"Mamá, Papá, I have something to tell you guys." My mother stills her hands, my father glances away from the TV. "Nate and I are getting a divorce."
Technically we're already divorced and he's moved out, but I don't think it's necessary to burden them with those details.
"And," I blurt out before they can say anything, "I've got a great new job! I'm going to work for the mayor of San Francisco! Actually, his wife, but it'll make it easier for me to get a job on his staff. I'll finally get to work in politics like I've always wanted. Isn't this great?"
My mother sits there, blinks for a few seconds and then unleashes her tears. My father shakes his head and tries to change the channel with the useless remote.
"Noel!" my father barks, causing me to jump, "las baterías!"
"Don't cry, Mom! It's totally OK. De verdad, really. It's all been sorted out. Cuidé todo," I add before my father can make some comment that I've come home so my parents can clean up my mess. "Everything is settled and taken care of."
"¿Otro trabajo, Jacquelyn? You left how many jobs this year?" I know I'm not meant to answer so I keep quiet while my father gets warmed up "Es un commitment, un compromiso. You just can't walk out of it because you are bored or it's hard. What will people say? Personas hablarán."
"People will talk about my job history or my divorce?"
This makes my mother cry harder. I can only assume she thought I flew home out of the blue to tell her to expect another grandbaby. Poor woman.
"¿Qué dice, Nate?" my mother asks through her sobs. "He agreed?"
"Nate?" I knew she'd take his side. Righteous anger fills my chest and I think it's time my mother got a realistic view of her adored Nate. "It's as much his divorce as it is mine. It's both of our culpas, not just mine, Mother."
"Don't talk to your madre en ese tono de voz, Jacquelyn. This is my house, you will respect us." My father looks angry, but then again he always looks slightly pissed off. "This is our casa, hable con respeto."
"Or what? Move out?" I snort under my breath. If they want respect, shouldn't they respect my decisions, too?
My mother's crying continues and my father turns his face away from me. This just makes me angrier and bolder.
Over the years, I've composed a speech in which I declare my independence from following the unwritten Mexican-American handbook that seems to dictate our lives. This seems like a good time to give it. It's not like I can get in any more trouble than I am in now.
"Mamá. Papá. I know you don't understand, but I have to do what is best for me. Whether it's leaving a job or a husband. I am not a bad girl, I mean, person ... I just ..."
The phone rings. Noel creeps into the living room sheepishly and tosses the batteries at my father before fleeing once more. My mother answers the phone and bursts into a fresh bout of tears, news of my divorce out of her mouth before she says hello. My father jams the batteries in the remote and turns back to the TV.
I think it's best to save my announcement about entering therapy for another time.
"Never, NEVER let Anita or Lei answer the door. That's rule number one." Myra, wearing old jeans, a peasant blouse and Teva sandals, leads me at top speed up a grand staircase into the inner sanctum, as she calls it.
"Aren't they the housekeepers?" I was under the impression it was one of the benefits of having them around. It's my first day on the job and clearly I wore heels that are too high for all this sprinting.
"Security announces everyone on this cell. It's your job to figure out if they are to come to the front door, garden or back through the kitchen if they park in the garage. She answers the door for her friends and guests. She likes to keep things informal but controlled."
"Do they use the front or back door?" So far I have two other cell phones I need to keep track of: one for her appointments and another for her personal use. "Is there a difference other than, uh, location?"
Myra pushes open a pair of double doors and rushes inside. I glance around nervously, but avoid looking at the huge, picture-perfect bed that dominates one side of the master bedroom. Without looking back she leads me through another doorway into a walk-in closet of epic proportions. It's as big as my living room/dining room/kitchen and filled with a dizzying array of clothes, shoes and handbags.
"She absolutely covets these black thong panty liners. Buy them in bulk when they're on sale. It'll make your life a lot easier." Myra shoves a velvet case in my hands. "To her jeweler, number is on the desk, the clasp is broken again."
"Holy crap!" Inside is a collar of diamonds. My working-class family didn't have much, but we would never have let a virtual stranger come into our house and start going through our possessions. "Should I be fingerprinted or something? Or, I don't know, meet her?"
"I hope you like to read." Myra hands me a stack of magazines, journals and newspaper clippings. "When she asks for a new magazine or newspaper, always subscribe for two-one for you, one for her. She expects a summary of every interesting article, news event and other topical stuff, divided by subject, articles photocopied onto acid-free paper and in the ivory folders. The red are for event backgrounds. Blue are for family and friends. Birthdays, current job, rehab stints, eating disorders, divorces. Usual stuff."
"She keeps files on her friends and family?"
"She doesn't. You do. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory." Myra finally stops moving and turns around to give me a hug. "Don't look so worried. This job is a piece of cake! You're perfect for it."
"Can I call you if I have, you know, questions?"
"I'll be in Tibet and India, Jacqs."
"Can I come with you?"
Chapter ThreeMrs. Mayor
"Katherine?" Nothing. Not even a courtesy flicker in my direction. "Katherine?"
My boss, Katherine Bishop-Baxter, née Kate Bishop, aka Mrs. Mayor when she's not in earshot, scrutinizes every inch of her perfect exterior while she keeps the City of San Francisco waiting.
In the year I've worked for her she's never been on time, much less early, for any of these things. You'd think I'd be used to it by now.
Behind me her makeup artist, Natasha, a six-foot-four-inch former college football player wearing tiger-print pants and a halter top, bites into her fist as she watches Mrs. Mayor pick up a lipstick brush.
"Katherine, the Mayor would like to know if you'll be much longer," I say, trying to sound neither intimidated nor frustrated. To show any sign of either just encourages her to further debate lip liner and gloss versus just gloss on her collagen-enhanced lips.
"You couldn't look more luminous," Natasha adds in hopes his, er, her canvass won't go from masterpiece to velvet painting with one unnecessary stroke.
"Is he waiting?" Clear blue eyes blink back at me innocently.
She knows he's waiting. He's always waiting for her. We're all always waiting for her.
"Do something, Jacqs," Natasha hisses into my ear as she swoops in on her custom-made Lucite kitten heels and begins to smooth out Mrs. Mayor's already perfectly coifed hair. "You couldn't look more perfect, Katherine. So classic."
"Thank you, Natasha." She doesn't put down the lip brush.
Since she rather suddenly ascended, by virtue of a fabulous marriage, into one of the most established and prominent social and political families in America, Mrs. Mayor has totally transformed herself. From her hair to the color of her toes, all is engineered to convey an image of a refined Wasp. But something is missing. Something so elusive Mrs. Mayor has made it her life's goal to steal it, buy it or fake it-class.
"Don't you agree, Jacqs?" Natasha digs her favorite hairbrush into my side.
"I completely agree." I do and I don't, but now is not the time to quibble about the shade of eye shadow and the way Natasha applied it.
"I just think I look so ... bland?" Many of Mrs. Mayor's sentences end in a question even when she's making a demand.
"Bland!" Natasha gasps. "I don't do bland, Katherine. I am not a bland person. It goes against my nature."
"I don't think Katherine means bland, Natasha. More like refined and classic." I quickly step in between Natasha and Mrs. Mayor.
"I don't know?" With some difficulty Mrs. Mayor squints at her reflection. Her most recent round of Botox has left her skin smooth and expression-free.
"You'll photograph well, Katherine." This usually gets the process moving along, but today Mrs. Mayor is extra-doubtful.
"Don't you think I look a little too like I'm playing the part of the first lady? That part of my life is over. I want people to accept me in my new role, not in my old one."
Mrs. Mayor's insecurity about her soap-star past isn't helped by the fact that the Baxter clan thinks she's a bit déclassé. Not that there is anything wrong with being a former soap opera actress, but a former soap opera actress who posed for Playboy ... that kind of muddies the waters.
"Do you have any plans today, Jacquelyn?" Mrs. Mayor continues to hold the brush centimeters from her cupid's bow. Natasha emits a low-pitched wail.
The new stylist, a small, birdlike woman who, in the week I've known her, has worn a variation of the same black pants and turtlenecks with a changing array of chunky jewelry, pokes her head out of Mrs. Mayor's walk-in closet. "Is everything OK?"
We all ignore her.
"Besides this coffee thing with you and the Mayor this morning?" I've officially been on the clock since 5, she slept in until 6:30. We're supposed to be there at 7:30 which is like ... now. "I have a couple of midday meetings to resolve about that, um, issue with your steam shower and then, um, I'm coordinating your schedule for next week, after you and the Mayor get back from your weekend in Napa."
"And the dry cleaning? I want to wear my Narciso Rodriguez and they promised they could get the awful cigar-smoke smell out of it." Label-speak is Mrs. Mayor's second language. A dress is not a dress but a (insert designer name here).
"Of course, top of my list. I'll pick it up right after this thing that we're supposed to be at now."
When I started working for Mrs. Mayor, I thought my dreams of hobnobbing with San Francisco's political elite and working to make the city a better place for everyone were a little closer to coming true. Instead my days are full of meetings with personal shoppers, aestheticians, fitness trainers, private chefs and dieticians. I don't have time to figure out solutions to the homeless issue, turning around bad schools and how to keep potholes filled. I have enough on my hands with making sure the Mayor's wife looks and sounds good so he can do his job.
"Busy girl, Jacquelyn." She fluffs her hair and moves one golden highlight from the left to the right side. And, just like that, she's gone from sophisticated first lady to aging LA party girl.
Natasha throws up her hands in defeat and starts to alphabetize her huge makeup case.
"Yes, busy." What I really plan to do is meet a couple of friends for lunch and go to a doctor's appointment.
"Sounds like fun. I wish I could putter around like a normal person. It must be nice," Katherine says sincerely as she continues to stare blankly at her reflection. "What kind of mascara are you wearing, Jacquelyn?"
"I'm not wearing any, Katherine." I want to add that it's not even 8 in the morning and I haven't had a chance to have my first cup of coffee of the day, much less sweep on a coat of mascara.
Mrs. Mayor, on the other hand, has two people (Natasha and her stylist) dedicated to the sole task of getting her ready for a burnt coffee and sticky-donut meet-and-greet at a neighborhood recreation center in Chinatown. Downstairs, a house staff of three takes care of all the other essential tasks like cleaning, cooking and opening the car door. And then there's me, her personal assistant. I take care of everyone and oversee everything Mrs. Mayor.
Excerpted from Underneath It All by MARGO CANDELA Copyright © 2007 by Margo Candela . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow, a book about an intelligent, professional Latina that's not married or a mom and is really okay with all of that! A well-written and witty book. I really enjoyed the touches of the Mexican culture that added a sense of reality and warmth to the story. Anyone who has lived in both cultures and gone on to develop their own way of thinking (that's somewhere in between) will be able to relate. I'm looking forward to Margo's next book!
It's great to finally find a great Latina centered novel that doesn't hit you over the head with stereotypes. I been search everywhere and I finally found it, plus it's so funny! I hope Margo's next book is just as good!
I love books about traditional families and how they mess with your head. It was like reading about my own family, but only way more funny. The characters in the book were interesting, funny, sad and made you think. The author writes about a lot of hard subjects but she does it with humor and respect. Like why its so hard to talk to your dad about anything real and how people sometimes let us down but not on purpose. I'm really looking forward to the Margo's next book and in the meantime will suggest this one to my girlfriends and maybe even my dad!
I stayed up half the night to finish off this book, which is quite a feat for someone who values her beauty sleep as much as I do! Margo Candela¿s prose is fun and often quite witty. Her main character, a savvy San Franciscan with LA roots, stands out as someone most women can relate to as she navigates the waters of friendships, relationships, career, and still tries to deal with family. She insightfully offers her take on reality, yet combines it with fantasy artfully. The plot is fast-paced and the short chapters make it a fast and easy read. Her colorful cast of characters, each displaying an interesting set of human flaws, often acts out in scandalous ways that really held my interest. I also enjoyed that Candela¿s writing showed she is capable of finding fresh, unique ways to phrase things without sounding as if she¿s consulted a thesaurus. Her analogies are delicious! This is a must read!