Five Alive

When Lucia saw the one where Bugs cut carrots into his own cauldron, the one he was being cooked in, she went to the kitchen and got a bag of carrots from the bottom drawer of the fridge and a knife from the wooden silverware drawer. On the sofa, she cut the carrots into disks and pretended to be boiled alive while singing like Bugs.

Lucia was five, her favorite number. Her next birthday loomed large. Every day she worried that she wasn’t going to be able to hack it as a six-year-old. She would wake up at the break of dawn to be alone and watch Looney Tunes.

Lucia watched Bugs Bunny caught in a cauldron of rabbit stew, singing at the top of his lungs while acting like he was bathing in a luxurious hot tub. Bugs’s boyish mirth conflicted with the reality of his dire circumstances. He didn’t express fear or pain - a defensive tactic that threw off his captors. If it didn’t give him the upper hand, at least it dampened the pleasure they got from hurting him. Most of the cartoons with Bugs bathing in his own stew were overtly and covertly racist. Like almost all media in American history, it tacitly supported the terrorism that kept whites in power. In “All this and Rabbit Stew” a blackface version of Elmer Fudd ineptly tries to get Bugs. In “Wackiki Wabbit” a couple of escaped convicts try to cook Bugs while lampooning Pacific Islander traditions.

In the back yard grass Lucia would brush her attack dog’s teeth. And she would pick boysenberries off the overgrown bush in the backyard while keeping an eye peeled for rats that ran from palm tree skirt to palm tree skirt via the phone wires. When Lucia would notice a rat glide by on the wire there was nothing she could do but it felt like knowing helped even if to avoid being seen. She could create a magical forcefield, fashioned out of her stunned fear. And there’s the fact that being fore-warned about creepy things helps you to be less traumatized when they do strike. But the rats always kept their distance.

At night the men would share important-seeming chatter about the dangers of the rats and the men influenced one another to hire other, apartment-dwelling men to cut the palms bare to clear the rats’ nests. The rats were a nuisance to the neighborhood and threatened the safety and cleanliness that people who live in the suburbs look forward to.

It was 1982 and Mommie Dearest was broadcast on TV. Finding it too adult and boring, Lucia gulped down the horribleness of it anyways. She gawked at it while pretending not to watch. Children crave campy violence since it mirrors the behind-closed-doors social interactions that aren’t openly acknowledged, and the actual subconscious leverage between people. Children eavesdrop on their parent’s fights. Like tea leaf readers they look for signs in the nonsense for what their futures hold.

A Black family lived in her house before Lucia and her white family moved in. Her father got a deal on the house because white people overtly and covertly put a lower price on houses owned by Blacks. He considered this purchase to be a sign that he was a great negotiator as well as… well, not quite an abolitionist, but pretty close. Even though he used racial slurs and spoke condescendingly towards non-whites, he thought that he was very open-minded and sympatheitic for buying a home at below cost from a Black family.

After the palm trunks were cut naked by the poorer men, the rats moved into the English ivy that was smothering the wooden fence. Before the rats had to move from their nests in the crispy palm fronds, Lucia kept vigilant watch for them. She brushed her dog’s teeth in the manner of a recurring video short on Sesame Street of a city dentist who brushed a llama’s teeth. Except Lucia had a collection of twigs rather than professional dental tools. Neither the llama nor her dog wanted to have a person doing things to their mouth even if it was labeled as being for their own good.

She watched the Secret of Nimh at her grandmother’s house two years later in 1984. Her grandmother kept her eyebrows well-arched and went to church frequently and stopped to give cash to drifters but berated the men she lived with. The Secret of Nimh was a boring and unsettling cartoon and was too grown-up for a kid to consume like cereal on Saturday morning. It was something a child secretly kept tabs on. Lucia absorbed it like her safety depended on it.

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