Subliminal Ethnicity

Ethnically not fitting in is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. Some are even surprised that I’m of any particular ethnicity. The following essay was published in Fuller Theological Seminary’s student journal, Ember, in 1985. At the bottom of this post is a downloadable PDF version of the original submission and footnotes. Enjoy.

Ethnicity. At my wedding my Pastor made a passing comment to my mother about “How nice it is that Kim and Joe got together, coming from different backgrounds and all,”[note]As if it wasn’t bad enough that I wasn’t being married in the Catholic Church then my well—meaning very—Anglo Presbyterian pastor made that comment … What a way to begin married life.[/note] I’d understood the comment to refer to the fact the Kim and I grew up under different family arrangements and had different educational experiences, and how nice it was that the Lord brought us together. Unfortunately my mother saw it as some sort of ethnic put-down.

1960s, Mich, Joe, Kathie, Dad, Matt and Joyce

[/media-credit] 1960s, Mich, Joe, Kathie, Dad, Matt and Joyce

Even before leaving San Gabriel[note]My parents were born and raised in San Gabriel, CA of parents that immigrated to this country sometime around the First World War. San Gabriel lies in that area of Metropolitan Los Angeles that would eventually be called East L.A., L.A.’s major barrio.[/note] in the 50’s my parents had pretty much acclimated to the larger culture around them. They had been fortunate and resourceful enough to be a part of America’s Post-War Prosperity and any reminder of their “heritage” by an outsider was in some way a denial of their full rights as paying customers on this voyage. They weren’t like some minorities with a chip on their shoulder who lamented their supposed less-than-privileged status. But having chosen that road somewhere between San Gabriel and the fabled American Melting-Pot there were more than a few volunteers to remind us of our ethnic “heritage” and how fortunate we were to be here.[note] In 1977 my father (self-taught landscaper who spent many years digging ditches for college grads who couldn’t landscape themselves out a sand box) made his way into a “White-collar” position at the Irvine Company in the early 70’s. (Can you tell I’m proud of the man?) He took us from Walnut Creek, CA (near Oakland), where we’d been for two years to an little known collection of track homes just north of San Juan Capistrano (in Southern California) called Mission Viejo.[/note]

Having been raised in white neighborhoods all my life, my Ethnic Self-identity suffered from that sense of not really belonging, I’d essentially come to see myself as a white kid with a Spanish surname and an appreciation for good Mexican food. But no matter how well I identified with my surroundings, on the basis of my last name alone, I was always “that short Mexican kid that lives down the street,” or just “Joe Burrito.” Not that I have any problems with being called a Mexican, I am one (I think), I just wonder what they mean by what they say. I mean, I have yet to hear someone refer to another individual, second generation American, no accent, maybe a serving of sauerkraut once or twice a month, as “that short German kid that lives down the street.” There’s a subtlety here that disturbs me.

I am about as “Oreo” a Mexican as they come.[note]An “Oreo” Mexican is a Mexican that looks Mexican on the outside (Black hair, brown eyes, olive skin, etc.) but inside he’s as white as Jerry Falwell (political views not included). What is white anyway? I’ve never seen a White person. I’ve seen some that come awfully close. But if we’re going to be honest with ourselves we might as well confess that we are all just different shades of the same color.[/note] So why the differentiation? Why the preferential treatment, the EEOC quotas, etc.?[note]In my case, five years of undergraduate work at two private universities funded by the State of California to a large extent because of that infamous surname of mine.[/note] To make right the wrongs of racism committed in the past? Then why the almost simultaneous prejudice? Why this persistent distinction?[note]I may have not been refused a seat on a bus or admittance to a restaurant or theater or employment opportunities because of my race but I have had my share of relationships with females end because of a parent’s “concern” over the “unnaturalness” of the relationship. You’d think I was a Cholo or some’ting.[/note] What it seems to boil down to is that we are Ethnically more of what we think we are than what we may actually be. Subliminal Ethnicity. In my white neighborhood I was the token Mexican kid but when we went to San Gabriel I was the “Oreo” that didn’t fit in. Subliminal Ethnicity. The road back to San Gabriel is paved with memories for my parents but for me and my siblings it doesn’t exist, though our white neighbors always seem to assume it does.

In my white neighborhood I was the token Mexican kid but when we went to San Gabriel I was the “Oreo” that didn’t fit in.

And as more groups are swallowed by the Monolithic Caucasian culture it’s important that those of us that are aware of our ethnic heritage (even if it’s just subliminal) retain it and express it for the right reasons. Too often ethnicity has been used as a means of exclusion from being a part of the whole. Even in a setting such as ours where Ethnic groups seem to have a voice in our social policies, if this voice, this platform is just a means to placate the demands of the minorities than we are obviously still not part of the whole. The important thing to me (coming from my white neighborhood and all) is not to see my ethnicity in distinction over again my white neighbor (whose only concept of heritage or history is completely egocentric —patterns of our existential ideal?) but to see it as something greater than I that has had a part in making me the kind of person that I have become. It is a point of unity, a point of community. It is family. For those of us that are Hispanics, it is our common Hispanic experience. And for all of mankind, if we’re willing to face it, it is the common human existence. Subliminal Ethnicity.

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SEX AND THE SINGLE BRAIN CELL: Sexual Ethics & The Resulting Internal Dialogues

Spring Cleaning continues… The following is the third of a series of three columns that I wrote in the late 1980s for a little publication called “Air, Dirt & Ink” (ADI) that I produced and shared with family and friends. Yeah, I’ve been writing these sad tales for a very long time, and they seem to continue. Enjoy.

Feb 1988
[ADI Editors’ Note: A friend recently asked me how the dating scene was going. I was embarrassed to admit that things were going real well. She asked, “So how’s this going to affect ‘Sex & the Single Brain Cell’?” I told her that I didn’t know, but I could get used to it if I had to. When I first began this column last June I never thought it’d become a “kiss & tell” sort of thing (mainly due to the lack of kissing going around) so I guess I should start by stating that the names have been misspelled in order to contrive the issues… ]

He looked beneath his shirt today
There was a wound in his flesh so deep and wide
From the wound a lovely flower grew
From somewhere deep inside

“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting

December 1987
A blustery day on the campus of Cal State Fullerton, an ocean of attractive co-eds scurry about between classes. I’m sitting on a bench outside the Humanities building using the pretense that I’m here to read my biology assignment as my excuse for plopping myself here. I feel like I’m on the leading edge of a jetty in this colorful current of life. Stupid grin on my face, I can scarcely bring myself to read a single complete sentence of the text on my lap.

In a matter of 10 minutes the feminine armada passes and I find myself alone with six chapters of biology still unread and a couple of militant squirrels who were bugging me for scraps (sounds like the title to a pop psychology book, “Militant Squirrels and Parades of Girls,” or something like that). That was over much too quickly. My education has obvious not endowed me with the good sense to come in out of the rain when I can hardly afford to get wet.

In this ocean of life and seemingly limitless possibilities I am unnoticed. I am lonely and affection-starved. I’m in sexual limbo. With the waves of cute Levi mini-skirts rushing by, I’m without a true confidante, which I guess is more important than this sense of physical isolation.

One of my buddies said that his celibacy was something that he has consciously chosen. But then he’s Catholic, which makes him just a little militant about his sexual abstinence. He made insinuating comments about folks who say that they are celibate … for, like, lunch or on Tuesdays, or when the wind blows from the north. He’s a serious Catholic (whatever the hell that means), he has a reason for not doing it. I guess I do too.

AIDS and all aside (like AIDS is an aside, right?) what I’m alluding to is an idealism that I periodically entertain, something about ones sexual practices having some association with ones emotional attitude toward the object of ones pelvic thrusting (yeah, I could have been less graphic, but seeing that some haven’t taken too kindly to my use of “colorful language” in previous columns I thought I’d try some “picture language” just for you). Where was I? Oh yeah, idealism and trying sex with someone you love. Yeah, I know it’s a novel idea, but given my incredible success with the general dating scene I thought I’d push this puppy completely off the map. At least I’d have a commendable reason for being alone on a Saturday night.

Childish sulking aside, life has handed me enough “wonderful memories” for me to realistically consider the question: when is IT right and when is IT not right? (Was that fucking euphemistic enough for you?) Ah yes, sexual ethics (throw that phrase around at the next party you go to, either the feathers will fly or it’ll be the last time you get invited to a party).

True to 1980s Southern California form, some friends have recited for me the proverbial, “Hey, ‘if it feels good, do it.’” Right. Just tell me this: when does it not feel good? Buddy, that sounds suspiciously like technique, not ethics.

Anyway, I think the feelings that I have here are the lingering attitudes of a previous incarnation. What I mean is that I have staked out for myself a sexual ethic that requires an emotional relationship with the person who would be my lover (yeah, I know, dumb move). And given the great success that I’ve had in establishing relationships with the women in my life it’s understandable that my sexual self is getting just a little impatient with my emotional self. This internal dialogue is beginning to take on proportions of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”

“So, how long?” I ask myself.

“When I’m good and ready,” I defensively respond.

“How will you know when you’re ‘Ready’?” I chide myself.

There was a pause. I’ve never quite figured this part out. In fact, the truth of the matter is that I’m more likely to take advantage of whatever sexual opportunity that happens to present itself (quite dependent on the circumstantial willingness, availability, mood, horniness, etc. [take your pick] of the other party) before I seriously consider whether I’m “ready” or not. You know, shoot first, ask questions later.

Of course, all of this reveals a rather unsightly hole in the fabric of my values and sexual ethics. I mean, I don’t want to live like the horde of survivalistic animals who eat, drink, fornicate, flatus, sleep and eventually die (your friends and mine, the famed “cephalopods”) without so much as tipping their hats to the eternal consciousness of our species. Sure, sexuality is physical (at least that’s what I’ve been told by those who should know), all part and parcel with our identification as part of the animal kingdom. But our sexuality has the profound possibility of being something more than the hormonally controlled coupling of two dogs in the street.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t even bother me with beliefs that try to justify the panting and writhing and miscellaneous euphoric sensations by somehow engrafting the divine consciousness into the sex act (you know, “Sex ’cause God said so”). Excuse me for being such a prude but I’m more comfortable with one-to-one sex between humans. If a meta-physical menage-a-trios is your cup of tea … (just don’t confuse the children with your religious kinkiness). True, I have to confess that I’ve mentioned the Divine Name while engaged in the panting and writhing and miscellaneous euphoric sensations, but if anything it was an unconscious expression of gratitude for this decidedly human experience.

“So, how long?” I ask myself again.

Pause. “I really don’t know,” I have to answer in all honesty.

January 1988
So I was expecting good things from 1988. I mean, the way ’87 kind of passed out as it crossed the finish line, anything would have been an improvement, but I didn’t quite expect them to begin on New Year’s Eve. I mean, what better way to begin a year than with a heavy dose of infatuation (and infatuation that wasn’t unrequited at that!)? Can it be?

NYE champaign 2013-12-31

NYE champaign 2013-12-31

Beginning like many a notorious Bustillos social excursion, I wasn’t too surprised on New Year’s Eve when I arrived solo at the designated party place, a club in Anaheim called the BandStand, to find that out of the hundreds of partiers in attendance, I didn’t recognize a single soul. And my anxiety was little alleviated as the clock edged towards eleven. I began to wonder if my pals from the health spa hadn’t changed their plans and stiffed me. Thoughts of going home to witness the count-down with good ol’ Dick Clark began to seem more appealing to me than making another circuit around this sea of strangers.

“One more time around the room,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t even motivate myself enough to invest in an over-priced watered-down Long Island Ice Tea. Now that’s bad. Ha. Even my “Disneyland friend” said she’d be there. But she was no where to be seen. Should I have been surprised?

But just when it seemed blackest (around a quarter past eleven) the merry group of familiar New Year’s Eve revellers made a serpentine line through the thick crowd, heading in my direction.

Steve and Pam, Emanuel and Terry, Van and Ushee (however the hell she spells her name), Mutt and Jeff, Black and White, Red and Green, Off and On, In and Out… you get the idea, they were all there; plus at least one surprise…”

What are you doing here?“ she asked me as she gave me a deep hug, “I didn’t know you were going to be here.” I hadn’t seen this dark-haired beauty since last summer at Emanuel’s birthday party. And to think, I had been contemplating cutting out to see if Dick Clark was going to pass himself off as Baby New Years for the fiftieth plus straight time.

She and I managed some small talk over the pounding music about the new place she’d moved into and the party her 10-year-old son’s babysitter was putting on for the kids. Giving up on the inaudible conversation I periodically looked over at her and found her smiling at me. I finally got around to asking her if she wanted to dance. She said sure and took my hand when I led her to the dance floor.

Long full mane of curly brown hair, mischievous animated brown eyes, the svelte athletic body of a cycling and aerobic workout devotee; I thought about last summer, the attraction was there and I had debated with myself about whether I should ask her for her phone number. In a rare display of reasoning I had decided against it ’cause I didn’t feel the time was quite right (talk about articulate reasoning … ). But now, I simply smiled at my good fortune. The toil& of her hand seemed to wipe away all of the bitching and complaining that I had filled 1987 with.

But then, I had recently heard through the grapevine that she had been spending a significant amount of time on the phone with one of our party. So when she and I got on the dance floor I kept an eye pealed for those subtle signals that I was moving in on someone else’s territory (you know, the whispered death threats and glaring hateful stares). But her date-by-assumption was happily contented dancing with every other woman in the place, so I figured I’d received bum information.

With the coming of midnight, there was a bit of an awkward moment. Surrounded with energetic examples of affection and profound lust, I resisted the temptation of a kiss and gave her a simple hug (the Ghost of my “Disneyland friend” harboring my memories, no doubt). After the other couples disengaged themselves from their lip-looks all of us exchanged hugs and handshakes to greet in the New Year. That concluded she and I danced the night away. This was becoming quite unbelievable. I was actually having a great time.

On the fast songs she actually followed my steps (which never happens in the world of detached dating and dancing). Then after the first set of slow songs she made a rather appreciative comment about how closely I held her as we danced. When the fast numbers kicked back in she asked rather breathlessly if I wanted to continue dancing (which, using the McConnell method of interpreting obviously innocent gestures, might have indicated an interest in continuing the close contact in a more private setting, then again… flaw, I wasn’t misreading her signals). Having apparently achieved the “erotic higher ground,” I elected to continue dancing.

After the DJ kicked us all out at around 2 a. m., I drove her back to her car and asked her if she wanted to go to breakfast or something. She smiled and said that there was an all-night Norm’s around the corner from where she lived (which turned out to be on the other side of town in Costa Mesa).

At breakfast we exchanged life-stories and she invited me to come over. In an obvious effort to make it look like she wasn’t being too forward she added, “I have two bedrooms” (one being for her ten-year-old son, who was away at the babysitter’s for the night). I said, “Oh boy, can I sleep on the top bunk?” Under normal circumstance that one phrase would have spelled the end of any erotic encounter. But heck, it was New Year’s Eve and she seemed willing to put up with my kidding.

Using the pretense of watching some TV we snuggled up on her °ouch. Then at a rather random moment I leaned over and kissed her. She mumbled between kisses that my talents were obviously not limited to dancing. It appeared that we weren’t going to be needing the services of the second bedroom that night.

When I woke the glowing morning sun was happily smiling through the curtains of her bedroom window. I kissed her and then quietly got up and dressed. Stupid grin permanently fixed on my face, I drove home and thought, “Ah the beauty of infatuation, I lift my empty beer bottle to thee, visit me often and happily this new year!”

Two Week Later…

Be still my beating heart
It would be better to be cool
It’s not time to be open just yet
A lesson once learned is so hard to forget
Be still my beating heart
Or I’ll be taken for a fool
I sink like a stone that’s been thrown in the ocean
My logic has drowned in a sea of emotion
Stop before you start
Be still my beating heart

“Be Still My Beating Heart” – Sting

Early Sunday morning. The ten-year-old, who had been sleeping in her bedroom, woke up startled by the wind and the rain. He wandered into the living room where she and I had made uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, to announce that we were having another earthquake. Vainly I pulled the blankets over my head. Radio and TV came on in an effort to reassure him that it was nothing. He sat and listened while she got up to retired to her room. I stayed on the couch (why get up and join her when I can stay here, naked under my blanket and watch Sunday morning cartoons with him? I mean, wasn’t that why I was there?).

Any self-respecting romance novelist would have ended the story on the morning of New Year’s Day (or at least soon afterward, while the glow of infatuation still shone). The curtain would have come down, the audience would have been satisfied, the author well paid for his services. But then I guess I have a decidedly twisted knack for peeking under the curtain in order to watch the “happy couple” grapple with the responsibilities of their emotions and desires. Hey man, ain’t that what life’s all about?

I faded in and out, semi-consciously deciding on whether to watch another Donald Duck cartoon, go back to sleep or get up and take a shower. I finally opted to get dressed while the ten-year-old took the couch pillows that had been piled on the floor and made a fort. My sleep-walking lover made her way back to the living room and settled herself into my newly vacated blankets on the couch. She asked me if I wanted breakfast. Sure, I said. She told the ten-year-old to show me where everything was (I guess she wasn’t about to get up). He whined that there wasn’t any more milk. So breakfast ended up consisting of one navel orange.

Something had obviously happened between our New Year’s Eve kiss and the one navel orange breakfast. Well, actually a lot had happened. Like the nondescript sense of euphoria that got me started down this path, I was now aware of a nondescript sense that something wasn’t right. Again, there was an internal debate going on between my emotions and my libido (the latter one thinking that we had finally landed in heaven).

“What do you mean something’s wrong?!” my sexual self angrily asked. “As far as I can tell, everything’s just great.”

“No, no, You don’t understand,” my emotional self, who was beginning to sound too much like Woody Allen, tried to explain.

“No, you’re the one that doesn’t understand. Every time something good starts happening, you get to thinking that something must be wrong!”

“No, it’s more complicated than that.”

“The only thing that’s complicated about this is that you’re always sticking your fucking head where it doesn’t belong.”

“My point exactly!” Pause…

“Uh oh … so what do we do now?” This little dialogue took about seven days to finally arrive on the surface of my facial expressions. This of course complicated the process by bringing another personality into the dialogue, my sleepwalking lover.

“So what’s your problem?” she angrily asked me over the phone.

“What, you wanna list?” That did little to alleviate the tension. What was I going to tell her? That I had changed my mind? That I didn’t like the shoes she wears? That I wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility of a relationship with a woman who has a ten-year-old son and a shaky financial future? I was beginning to think that now would be a good time to strangle my sexual sell. Then I realized that that wouldn’t have produced the desired effect.

“You know,” she interrupted my thought, “I guess I was just beginning to forget that I just can’t trust anyone.”

That hurt. My romantic predecessor had been an apparent womanizing son-of-a-bitch, who did very little for her sense of trust, only being available at his convenience and very secretive about his other social involvements. And my little emotional hiccup had put me in the land of the shitheads.

morally bankrupt - but still spending (2008-01-01)

morally bankrupt – but still spending (2008-01-01)

God damn it, I tried to do what I could to understand my feelings and be honest about them. Sorry it took a whole two weeks to come to this conclusion. And she just dumped it all into a kind of generic emotional bin marked “more reasons for not trusting men.” Perhaps I tried too hard to not repeat my predecessor’s mistake and scrutinized the relationship too early. Things appeared to me to be in such either/or categories that I knew that I couldn’t make the commitment. Of course that’s not the way she saw it. So I became one among many wishy-washy assholes who had let her down. She said goodnight and hung up the phone not anticipating that I would ever call her again.

“Way to go, asshole,” my sexual self remarked.

“I had to say something. At least now you can sleep at night,” my emotional self offered.

“Hey, sleeping at night was never one of my problems.”

“Yeah, I know.”


  • image: NYE Revelers by Joe Bustillos, 12-31-2013
  • image: NYE champaign by Joe Bustillos 12-31-2013
  • image: Morally Bankrupt: But Still Spending by Joe Bustillos 01-01-2008


Spring Cleaning continues… The following is the second of a series of three columns that I wrote in the late 1980s for a little publication called “Air, Dirt & Ink” (ADI) that I produced and shared with family and friends. Yeah, I’ve been writing these sad tales for a very long time, and they seem to continue. Enjoy.

Dec 1987
[ADI Editors’ Note: Is it true or fiction? . . . Well, you saw this whole spiel before, but then, some of you weren’t really paying attention. “Warning? What Warning?” So here it is again: BEWARE: Due to the author’s vagrant disregard for other’s sensitivity toward “salty language,” prolonged exposure to this article by small children, TV evangelists and field mice has been known to cause the kind of anarchy and chaos that only Charlton Heston has been known to overcome.]

7:02 p.m.
The night is black and clear and the blinking red lights from the oil refinery towers on the distant hills are uncharacteristically visible. The faint light of a small plane silently glides across the starless blackness. Saturday night, a steady stream of oars cruise up and down Palm Drive behind my apartment. I debate with myself about whether I should open my bottle of White Zinfandel or wait until my prospective date for the night tells me that she already has plans.

8:08 p.m.
A lifetime can pass in the moments it takes me to deliberate regarding such things as the fate of my bottle of wine in the refrigerator. What’s-her-face was in the shower when I called so I shall let the fate of the corked-one remain unchanged until I call her back. Her mother said to give her another twenty minutes—my jaded sense of what this night holds for me says that that should be just enough time for her to shower and get out the door before I call back.

Okay, in the last “Sex and the Single Brain Cell some of you might have thought that I was being a little over sensitive about the trials and tribulations of getting a date and/or asking a girl to dance.

I mean, seriously, how hard can the man be working if it takes him four and a half hours to hear three different women say, “No thank you, not right now” (Then again you may not appreciate the mental dilemma that one undergoes to walk across a room in front of God and everyone only to walk back in front of God and everyone when she delivers her now epic line, “No [sigh] not right now”).

Anyway, last summer I went to Baxter’s once with my sister (what does that tell you? Joyce is fun and all but there’s a certain stigma attached to going out with one’s sister. Not that she was the one needing a date, e.g., a typical dialogue between my mom and sister:

Mom: “Will someone please get Joe out of the house . . . Joyce, you’re nominated.”
Joyce: “Ah mom, do I have to? Every time I take him out, he slobbers all over everyone and won’t stay on his leash…”).

Anyway, she was quite forward in criticizing my style of asking women to dance, like I was the one being too selective. Come on, how selective can one be when there’s only three available women and 150 slobbering cephalopods (not counting yours truly, of course)? I mean, I just didn’t want to get trampled on in the bottleneck that was forming in front of the table of the three women.

So she told me to loosen up. Jesus, I was just asking them to dance, not to marry me, or even to stick around long enough to learn my name. Anyway, in the intervening month I’ve gone out twice and as unbelievable as it may seem, I actually got a chance to do some dancing. However, before you get all giddy for me you should know one other thing: the first time I was with a group of friends (so the dances were just about built in; but don’t think that the dances weren’t appreciated, Jenny) and the second time I stumbled into a black hole and found somebody who didn’t know it was uncool to say “Yes” when I asked her if she wanted to dance (“Yes? Wait a minute, maybe you don’t understand the question”). My buddy, Ed said that I’d better keep it up ’cause I was on a roll…

9:05 p.m.
The formality of contacting tonight’s date and hearing that she’s got plans for the evening, along with the fate of my now-uncorked friend has been attended to—now I can get on with this exciting narrative in peace — Oh, but she is going to call me tomorrow about catching a matinee together. . I can hardly wait…

So this birthday party came up and I didn’t really know all the details but I figured if there wasn’t dancing there I’d probably be able to connect with my friends and go dancing someplace else. Cool. Then a couple of days before the party I ran into aforementioned my ‘Disneyland’ friend and she asked me what I was doing for the weekend. I mentioned the party and she said that she might be interested in going (did you catch that? “Might.” Now which one was “might,” “as a last resort” or “please leave”?). I must have stumbled into another black hole ’cause with only a minimum of negotiating she actually agreed to go with me to the party.

On the evening of the party I was late leaving my apartment (what else is new, anyone who’s known me longer than fifteen minutes—the average length of time that I’m late—-is quite familiar with this particular scenario). When I pulled up to her place she met me in the driveway and before I’d even had a chance to say, “hi, you look great” or why I was late, she said, “So . . . why are you late?” I felt like saying, “’cause I’m Joe Bustillos.” Jesus, don’t they teach people anything in school? Writers don’t know what time it is. I left as soon as I’d given up on whatever it was that I was trying to write (a previous flame once warned me that I’d better find someone who’s willing to play second fiddle to my computer). Besides, my typical 15 minutes is well within the realm of being fashionably late for a party.

So, after the first few jittery moments I relaxed enough to make small talk about whether there would be food at the party, and about how good she looked in her white mini-dress and about the guy that the party was for, it being his 30th birthday and all. Blab, blab, blab. She then asked, “Um… so, how old are you?”

I laughed, “Oh, I’m 29.” [yes, this was written a very long time ago…]

Silence. There was still enough tension in the air about me being late that I didn’t want to plunge this date into an immediate tailspin by bringing new areas of incompatibility into the conversation. Besides, I was always told that it was rude to ask a woman her age. But I was dying to find out how old she was. I thought, you know, early 20’s. I mean, this is the 80’s, a woman’s age isn’t really that important. It’s not like she was too old for me or anything…

After a dozen failed attempts at maintaining a conversation that involved more than a question followed by a one-word response (you know those kinds of conversations, Q:”So, do you know these people very well?” A: “No.” Q: “What kind of music do you like listening to?” A: “All kinds.”), my curiosity got the better of me and I asked her how old she was.

She said, rather nonchalantly, “Oh, 19.”

Right. Nineteen. I took a firm grip on my steering wheel while my mind swam with thoughts containing the words “almost-jailbait,” “young thing,” “lucky guy,” and “trouble” (in no particular order). I have levis that are older than she is! I smiled at her. Nineteen. Right. There should be a law against sexy 19 year-olds wearing white mini-dresses.


taco beach cutie by joe bustillos 2008

When we got to the party it was seven-thirty. People were spread over two patios and a family room of this elegant Newport Beach home, talking, drinking beer and not dancing. No problem, Ed and gang wanted to go to a club called the White House in Laguna Beach later and do some movin’ to Motown sounds. ‘Disneyland’ said “no” and at eight-thirty announced that she was ready to go home. Eight-thirty (I guess her mom wanted her home early).

I thought, Okay, she might want to go someplace else and sit and talk (did I mention how low I scored on the SAT?). No, she just wanted to go home. I wondered if this had anything to do with the phone call she made a half an hour before she told me she wanted to leave? Hum-m-m. Oh, Probably not.

It was kind of quiet on the way back to her place. I took the scenic route. I figured if my night was going to end this quickly I might as well enjoy the drive back to Anaheim Hills (besides, with any luck I was going to make her late for her second date).

She asked me if I was upset ’cause she wanted to leave so early. No, not really, I thought to myself. Somewhere deep in my irrational mind I figured that she still wanted to spend time with me (perhaps not tonight or tomorrow night or next week or . . . ). As I parking the car in front of her place she told me that there was no need for me to walk her to the door and was out of the car the second it came to a complete stop (obviously she was under the impression that I was going to tear her lips off with an ill-advised but hotly passionate kiss . . . then again, maybe she was in a hurry to get into something sexy for her second date. Oh God, I wish I hadn’t thought that). She stepped away from the car and said, “um, call me tomorrow.”

Right. I had to chuckle because there was an unreal quality to the way the evening collapsed. Sure I’ll call you tomorrow, sweetheart. I’ll need someone to explain to me why I’m driving home from a date at nine-thirty.

So, like the proverbial dog returning to his vomit, I managed to find my way to a local Baxter’s. I sucked down two Long Island Ice teas, found two women to say, “No thank you, not right now,” and got home in time to watch Star Trek.

You know, I really wish she would have just said, “No.”


SEX AND THE SINGLE BRAIN CELL: I Survived the EET . . . Kind’a


Spring Cleaning, or a sorts, I’ve been scanning in boxes and boxes of old essays and various bits of writing and stumbled up this gem. The following is one of a series of three columns that I wrote in the late 1980s for a little publication called “Air, Dirt & Ink” (ADI) that I produced and shared with family and friends. Yeah, I’ve been writing these sad tales for a very long time. Enjoy.

July 1987

[ADI Editor’s Note:Is it true or fiction? Take into consideration that it’s making its debut in the pages of API, that the subject is Sex, and that the writer is male you’ll then have your answer. BEWARE: Due to the author’s vagrant disregard for other’s sensitivity toward “salty language,” prolonged exposure to this article is not recommended for small children, TV evangelists and field mice. Ignoring this warning may result in the kind of anarchy, lasciviousness, and chaos that only Charlton Heston has been known to overcome.]

Driving around Southern California on a sunny Sunday morning, the only thing on my mind is getting to my destination without someone pointing a Smith & Wesson at me. Hopefully all the freeway terrorists are on their donut break, hanging out at the local Winchell’s with the CHP. It’s generally not my policy to take my life into my hands with needless freeway driving but I was called in to work. Then, along the way I got cutoff by an attractive blonde in a white Honda Prelude. That got me to thinking that right about then those in the Saturday-night-fever crowd were probably making their Sunday-morning introductions and/or exits. (Yeah, my mind works in strange ways when I get exposed to direct sunlight this early in the morning).

Uh . . . Last night I was hoping to have been a part of the dancing portion of the Saturday night festivities (I’ve always believed in working my way up to those other big goals). Anyway, I ran into a snag during the negotiation portion of the dating ritual. My prospective date decided to give her former boyfriend another try (I hate it when they flirt with me for two weeks only to go back to Mr. Right just when I muster up the nerve to ask them out). Not only was I out gunned in the historical precedence department but the man had tickets to Disneyland. She excused herself by saying that she needed an amusement park fix. (“If a good ride is what you’re really looking, honey . . . .” Nah, I could never bring myself to say that). So, hours of ambiguous gestures and tentative plans came crashing to the floor all because of fucking Mickey Mouse.

Regardless of what I was feeling on the inside, I was a good sport on the outside and said something lame like, “Don’t get too crazy.” She smiled and told me to have fun “with whatever it is you end up doing.” Gee, thanks. There was a choking, asphyxiating quality to the way the sun set that evening.

“Have fun with whatever it is you end up doing.” Yeah, and I hope Space Mountain breaks down while you stand in line for two hours! What a shitty way to begin a Saturday evening. Ha! But I have to admit that I was the one who screwed up. I didn’t have a contingency plan. I should have known that when she said, “Yes” she meant, “Maybe.” And if she had said, “Maybe,” she means, “Only as a last resort.” And if she had said, “No,” she means, “Please leave before someone sees me talking to you.”

”Have fun with whatever it is you end up doing.” God, some people can be so cruel when they’re wishing you well. This was certainly not a night for me to sit at home (even if ADI was two months behind. Hey, we’re talking about my social visibility here. How am I ever going to qualify for Cosmos’ bachelor of the month If I spend my Saturday nights at home, alone, working on a stupid news-whatever?! Get serious). Going to the movies alone sounded depressing. A buddy was going down to a local 50’s era dance club called The Hop.” But getting nostalgic about an era I was too young to remember sounded more depressing than the movies. So . . . even though I swore that I would never do it again, I knew that the only way for me to regain my social respectability was for me to go down to another (more contemporary) dance club called Baxter’s and undergo the Ego Endurance Test (the dreaded EET!).

The EET is an ego busting, mind numbing experience. It is little wonder that both males and females undergoing the EET tend to drink copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. It has a certain “Twilight Zone” feel about it.

I can picture a beady-eyed Rod Serling, cigarette in hand, narrating the scene:

“You’re stuck in a dimly lit room with two hundred heavily muscled cephalopodic males and three extremely selective females. The three females sit at a single table in the center of the room.”

Thanks Rod. Anyway, each time one of the females got up to go to the restroom, one of the drooling cephalopods insisted on commenting on the more prominent features of her body in only the most graphic (and may I add, crude) language. Add to this, the fact that I couldn’t help but noticing that she wasn’t wearing enough clothing to pose for a lingerie ad.

“The music, it’s incessant beat, washes over you, pouring forth from the brightly lit one square foot dance floor. The sunken dance floor is surrounded by a heavy wooden rail designed to keep the drooling males at bay while the three females decide on who will get to dance with them next.”

Ah, Rod, do you mind? Anyway, I practically had to take a fucking number just to hear one of them say, “Oh . . (sigh] not right now, thank you.”

Depressing, huh. At this portion of the story Rod is suppose to walk in to explain the moral lesson behind this sad tale. . . Ah, Rod? Great, I must’ve pissed him off.

One of the last times I did this to myself I didn’t go solo. I took along my buddy, Ed. I don’t remember whose stupid idea it originally was, but Ed, being a good buddy, must’ve figured that I needed a break from the four walls of my apartment (“But Ed, I like my four walls. See how close together they are. Do they seem to be getting closer to you?”). So, in a misguided attempt to re-establish my virility we collided head on with Baxter’s and the EET. Granted, he wasn’t under any kind of threat by this “going out to a dance club” stuff. I mean, he was still married (did you catch that cleverly inserted “still”), at least he had a reason for not dancing.

That night I was shut out in three attempts (Ed kept his ego intact by restricting his smiles to our barmaid). Now that I think about it, I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad about last night. At least last night I got one dance out of three attempts (not bad for four and a half hours of work).

“Are we having fun yet?” Why do cute barmaids always ask that?

Fun. Oh yeah, that’s why I was doing this to myself. I was suppose to be having fun. About the only thing I was having was a bottle of Corona and a silent debate with myself centered on the word, “Why?”

“Why?” I mean, why convert one rejection (the thwarted date) into an evening filled with rejections. After one night of asking perfect strangers to jerk around with you on a crowded piece of linoleum and being gunned down by their concerned looks (some bordering on panic), wouldn’t you want to know why we do this to ourselves? (This is the kind of question we should have dealt with in our high school Humanities class.

“What is man?” Who cares? I wanna’ know, “Why date?” Somebody’s gotta be profiting from our emotional martyrdom?”).

“Are we having fun yet?” God! Ed, buy a beer from the woman so she’ll go away and I can think this problem through. Better yet, let me have another beer. (Somehow I didn’t get around to thinking the problem through, until last night).

Please excuse the somewhat forced analogy (this is what happens when one tries to “think something through” after copious amounts of beer)—but, I think an analogy can be drawn between this dating stuff and writing.

With writing (“Now class, when you write your little essays for the school newspaper, please avoid making the kind of mistakes that Mr. Bustillos makes in his essays. When making an example use the third person singular pronoun, one’ instead of the second person pronoun, ‘You.’…” ) you go on and on and on and on (“And do not over use parenthesis, it hurts the flow of the main sentence.”) and on and on and on—as if you couldn’t tell, right?. The idea behind all this excessive verbiage is the writer’s vague hope that with all of this writing he’ll eventually stumbling onto something worth keeping. I can only guess that it’s the same with dating (“So how many frogs have you kissed today?”).


In all honesty I should probably thank my Disneyland friend and the overly selective females at Baxter’s. Because of their willingness to sacrifice what good times they could have had with me, I got home early and was alert enough this morning to accept the job offer from my work. In all, I ended up making a few hundred bucks instead of spending it on someone else’s need to deal with the EET. Um . . . thanks?

You know, I just can’t get over how sunny it is today. I never get out this early on a Sunday morning. Pretty nice. God, on a day like this it only seems fair that after work I should go over to Disneyland and see how Space Mountain is holding up and say, “hi” or “fuck you” to Mickey or something.

image: Los Angeles Traffic – The Newhall Pass by Jeff Turner, some rights reserved June 2, 2008,

Church shopping

Mount Pleasant Church In Condit, Ohio by Mark Spearman


It’s one of those weird freedoms of our culture to be free to go to any church one wants to go to. But in an area like Southern California one could easily drown in the ocean of choices when it comes to churches. I’ve been feeling of late, given all the other lifestyle changes I seem to continually undertake, that maybe it’s time for me to find a church that is in the same county or maybe in the same city as my place of residence. Just a thought. JBB