Humberto's on El Cajon had been a Carl's Jr. in a previous life, like most taco stands, it had taken the shell of a flopped fast food restaurant and converted it. You could almost always tell what fast food place it had been in it's original incarnation: Taco Bell, Carl's Jr., Der Weinershnitzel, Jack In The Box, whatever. They changed the signs, put up new menus, and got to work. I was surprised some of them hadn't simply spray-painted a big 'X' over the old sign and sprayed the name of the new restaurant underneath. I once went into one, a recently-converted Jack In The Box, that was still using the leftover napkins and cold cups. Waste not, want not.
Ellen, Lucy, and I talked it over and agreed that I would order for the Nebraska contingent, so we wouldn't be searing tongues yet still get good flavor. For the kids, it came down to seven "flying Saucers" (five rolled taquitos with guacamole plus rice and beans on the side) plus four carne asada burritos cut in half, so each kid would get a half-burrito. For Lucy I ordered a carne asada burrito combo plate: burrito plus rice, beans, and a small quesadilla. Green sauce on the side, which she tasted and immediately grabbed for the soda. I bugged her by putting the cup of sauce down like a jello shot, explaining it as, "Hey, I like the flavor." Everyone else ordered whatever they wanted. I slipped the cashier a twenty, explaining that they were serving residents of the Midwest, so don't scare 'em too much with the spices: flavor, not burn. She smiled and took the bill back to the cook, who waved his spatula and yelled, "No problem, boss!"
While we waited for our orders --- it was dinner rush, so we were looking at twenty minutes --- I learned a bit about Chelsea and Ellen's history. They were close friends in junior high and high school, but after graduation, things.... changed. Ellen discovered her clitoris but did her best to resist its temptations, while Chelsea became simultaneously more abrasive and pious. I believe the phrase is "So heaven-bound they're no earthly good." No one was Christ-driven enough for her, and she became the pastor's tattletale. Have a couple drinks and kiss your wife in the parking lot of the restaurant a bit too passionately? She'd be the one to let him know. To his credit, he blew most of this stuff off.... But Ellen trying to seduce her boyfriend had to be addressed, never mind it was a private discussion between Ellen and Chelsea. Ellen rightfully felt betrayed, while Chelsea came back with some horseshit about Ellen betraying Christ. Their friendship headed downhill quick from there, at which point Chelsea ramped up the gossip about her former friend, true or not. Ellen suddenly became the town strumpet, only instead of being horrified and shamed, she got pissed off. She decided the scarlet letter people wanted her to wear wasn't big enough. She lost her virginity to a grain elevator operator in the back of a '74 Buick, and learned other things back there too over the course of a few months. Her parents derided their own daughter as a whore, at which point she began actively planning her move to Los Angeles.
Our orders came up, and.... were and instant hit. They literally had no reference point from which to work when it came to things like guacamole and carne asada, or even rolled tacos. The kids got a lot of food for their tiny bodies, but they all cleaned their plates. Lucy declared carne asada the most unique and amazing thing she'd ever eaten, and would somehow recreate this gastronomic orgasm back in Kearney. She asked the cook for his advice and he jotted down the ingredients.... But not the amounts, giving her an uncanny smile when she asked about how much of each item goes in. She was also wished luck when it came to getting a hold of avocados in Kearney, Nebraska. Besides eating at every taco stand she came across for the rest of their vacation, she would be on a quest to replicate properly a good carne asada marinade.
"Goodness! That was wonderful!" declared Lucy once we were outside. Dutch was giving gas tank rides to the kids around the parking lot ("Hold on to the bars tight and lean with the bike, not against it").
"Surely Kearney, as an agricultural town, has a Mexican population, or are they all too itinerant?"
"No, there is one, it's just.... Well...."
"The wrong side of the tracks?"
"Well, yes. Literally. My neighbors would be confused and suspicious of me spending time in the Mexican part of town, as would the Mexicans."
"Food is an international language. I'm sure the Mexicans would be pleased and welcoming when they saw what it was you were trying to accomplish. Brush up on your high school Spanish and explain your predicament. And explain you're trying to make a So-Cal style marinade. Hopefully they have Tecate brand beer in stock, may as well keep it as authentic as possible...."
It was getting late and the kids were getting droopy, so it was time to saddle up and head for their motel down in Mission Valley. There was amusement on Lucy's part as to how the bill for dinner was settled up: we flipped quarters, with tails being eliminated, until just one or two heads were remaining. As our guest, Lucy was naturally exempt, as was I, having kept fourteen kids well-loaded in arcade tokens.... $120 worth in total. Chip and Bekka ended up getting doubled on heads twice, so they split the bill. Lucy found this an entertaining and equitable way of paying up on a restaurant bill, one person covering the bill for the whole table by luck of the draw. Hugs were exchanged all around, with Dutch teasing Lucy, "You realize, now they're all gonna want crotch-rockets of their own!" Lucy and Ellen wanted to continue talking, and figured sequestering the kids (and Chelsea) in three of the four rooms with the TVs on was a good a way as any. Ellen would meet us later at a cheeseball dance club called Mony Mony's --- we found the place hilarious, as it was populated by fraternity types and their girls trying to be trendy for the night --- with Bekka doing the driving. Bekka promised that if Chelsea was too much of an aggravation she'd go smoke in the parking lot. If Mony Mony's was too much of an aggravation, we'd find someplace better to go, like always.
Lucy, Ellen, and Bekka arrived to a steamed Chelsea. They'd waited a good forty-five minutes before venturing off to Denny's on their own. Oh, the litany of things that Lucy had done wrong was long: socializing with the Whores And Criminals, eating a meal with them, eating at one of those horrible roach-traps they'd seen, Lucy's refusal to condemn Ellen's friends, and most importantly, Lucy's refusal to condemn Ellen, to outright shun her. And how did Lucy not get murdered on the spot when she showed up at the Family Fun Center?
Lucy calmly took Chelsea's braying with patience, helping get the kids get into PJs and waiting for her to run out of steam. (Strangely, Chelsea was ignoring Bekka's presence.) Then she calmly answered all of Chelsea's protestations.... Starting with Lucy nearly having a boot party thrown on her by Tawny.
"I don't know what drove you to hurt that young man the way you did, but I found him to be sweet-hearted, friendly, and mannerly. His girlfriend nearly attacked me because she thought I was you, yet she also turned out to be a truly good person. Lord girl, what did you say and do to these people to make them loathe you so? I had no problems at all. To a person, they were all wonderful and gracious, Lenny and Dutch even helping with the kids. Simply, I will not hear you denigrate Ellen's friends over your close-mindedness.
"I'm sorry you could not join us for dinner, as it was delicious. We'll have to eat at a taco stand again before we leave San Diego, perhaps more than once. Whether you choose to join us is entirely up to you.
"And so far as Ellen's.... life choices go, no I do not approve of them, and I never will. They frighten me, and I find them repugnant. But they are not my choices to make. She is still a God-fearing Christian, and for that I will always treat her with love and respect. I would find it abhorrent to treat her any other way; I would prefer to leave the matter of her life choices alone and up to the person they truly matter to: Ellen. Have I made myself clear?"
"Perfectly," said Chelsea with acid in her voice.
"Good. Let's consider the matter closed. Kids. Kids!" Ellen and Bekka had their shoes off and were roughhousing with the younger ones. "It's time for TV and bed, but first a prayer. Bekka, I understand you're a christian?"
"Indeed I am," said Bekka.
"Would you lead us in prayer?"
"Happily." Chelsea looked terrified, Ellen looked pleased.
Dear Lord, shelter us in Your arms. Help us resist the petty, the violent, the angry, and the sour which we too often find ourselves drawn into in our day to day lives. We are of mortal flesh, and give in to our weakness too often and too easily. Guide us through your word, help us cleanse ourselves through your teaching, and allow us to have the strength and courage to do what is right in your eyes and the eyes of our fellow man. Always know we love you unconditionally and in turn we thank you for your love.
In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
There were "amens" all around, a brief moment of silence, and then the TV went back on. Lucy reminded the kids to wind it up and be in bed by nine, and that the adults would be in their room should anyone need anything.
In their room, Chelsea asked, "Nice prayer. Where'd you learn it from?"
"I just made it up. Why?" asked Bekka.
"I just figured you'd memorized it off a paper napkin at a rescue mission somewhere."
Bekka came out her chair, stepped across the room, grabbed Chelsea by her ponytail, and held her at arm's length. Her fist came back as Chelsea tried to back away. Then she said, "God help me," and let go of Chelsea. She walked toward the door, pausing to say, "I promised I'd go in the parking lot and smoke if this broad got on my nerves too heavy. I'll be in the parking lot if anyone needs me," and went out.
Ellen stood from her own chair and pointed at Chelsea. "And that is what the entire afternoon went like. You have my number, Lucy, please call me. I'd love to talk to you , preferably a time and place where the air isn't so rank.. Goodnight. Maybe you can come up to Carlsbad with some of the kids." She went out with a slam.
Lucy snarled at Chelsea, "Don't you dare follow me," and ran out the door.
The Falcon was easy to find: you only needed to listen for it. Lucy ran towards the engine noise and practically threw herself on the hood. "Please, just talk to me, just for a few minutes."
"First, I understand your loathing of her. Her gossiping and tattletales are nothing new, but this.... attacking of people, near-total strangers, is out of left field."
"I can't even function with that bitch in the room! She made me...." And Bekka began crying. "She won. She got me to cry. Tell the bitch she won, okay? I can't even drive right now." Lucy opened the door to the Falcon and coaxed Bekka out, and hugged her. Bekka responded in kind, holding Lucy tightly.
Ellen said, "It really is new? She destroyed my relationship with my parents, with friends, with my church family.... I left for L.A. because of her. If I'm going to be called a whore, I may as well live up to it, to an extent. This will bother you Lucy, but I thank God I ended up at the production company I did, one whose crew and fellow performers were kind-hearted and understanding with someone new to.... Well...."
"So they're the opposite of what we've always been told porn producers are like."
"It helps we're not a big company. We all know each other. We share meals and joke around. I know that doesn't help your basic feelings towards the industry, but the horror tales of abuse you hear simply aren't true," said Bekka, sitting back down in the Falcon. "No one is going to hurt Ellen, in any way or form."
"That was the big difference between your reaction and Chelsea's. You showed concern, while Chelsea showed contempt, calling all my friends whores, with the obvious implication that I was one myself. She has been hurtful to me and my friends since the moment we met up.
"I have a thought," said Bekka.
"Please, tell us," said Lucy.
"She has a whole new group of people to look down upon. Not only does she view us as whores, mistakenly, she views us as unbelievers, also mistakenly. She's met a whole group of people who she can dismiss and denigrate with no kickback, since presumably we know we're all evil sinners or whatever. We can be abused at her leisure, either in person or in her own head."
"You're saying she needs an enemy, individuals or a group she can cast hatred upon," said Lucy.
"Pretty much, yeah. I was hoping my prayer would sort of sink in with her: it was directed at her, but also at myself and at Ellen and all our friends.... A warning, a pleading to not get pissed off and act out on the anger." Bekka sighed. "I'm afraid it went right past her. This will sound petty, but what I said bounced right off her fuckin' skull. Sorry. She seems to have the need to find the negative in anything. You, Lucy, you're Foursquare, and to be honest that worried me. I was afraid you would condemn me, and Tawny, and Chip, and everyone else out of hand.... But you didn't. You accepted us as we are and showed genuine love.
I don't expect you to accept what we do for a living.... But you could have attacked us and you didn't. You simply said, 'I condemn your actions, but as christians, I love you. And that was beautiful of you, and I thank you."
Lucy sniffled and said, "Thank you, Bekka," and crouched down to hug her. Ellen reached around to also get a hug.
They heard a door open behind them, and Chelsea's voice saying, "Are you okay, Lucy? They haven't hurt you, right?"
"I. Am. Fine, Chelsea. We are three christians having a conversation."
Chelsea made a chuffing noise and went back in the room. Ellen giggled and said, "I don't know what she expected to find. Us stuffing you in the trunk pumped full of drugs or something. Although...."
"Lucy looked alarmed. "What?"
"Well, we do need a boom microphone operator, and it's a really dull job, so drugging someone into doing the job wouldn't be out of line. Seriously, swinging a boom mike is D-U-L-L dull!" The three of them laughed.
The motel room door swung open again, Chelsea checking that Lucy wasn't being kidnapped. To everyone's surprise, Bekka called Chelsea over. Chelsea walked over slowly, as if expecting a knife in the ribs. When she was close enough, Bekka reached forward and hugged her. "You are a fellow christian, and I love you, Chelsea. Please think about what I said in my prayer, it was directed at everyone this afternoon.
"I.... You're not a christian."
"Why do you say that?"
"Look at what you do for a living!"
"Well.... Mary Magdalene was hardly the purest flower in the garden."
"She has a point, Chelsea," said Lucy. "One's faith is not determined by their method of income. And remember, it was the women who first went to the tomb to discover Christ had risen from the grave.... Mary Magdalene proclaiming his resurrection first and loudest."
"So you're saying she is the equivalent of Mary Magdalene?" Chelsea sneered.
"No, merely that the Lord will speak through many voices, and you should not judge or condemn those voices just because you don't like them, because you find them unappealing. Look at the atrocity the Lord inflicted upon Jonah!. Yet Jonah spoke, and found believers, despite his disfigurement. Never discount anyone, ever, no matter what your base feelings about them are. They may be vessels of truth."
"Amen," said Ellen and Bekka. Chelsea made her chuffing noise and went back inside.
"Lucy promised t o call Ellen in the morning and see if there were enough kids interested in the beach to make an excuse for Lucy to head for Carlsbad.. Lucy wasn't too worried about it.
Chelsea and Lucy went back into their room in silence. Once in, Lucy said, "Tell me, what did you fear about me having a conversation with Ellen and Bekka. I will confess to being lost on that point."
"That.... I don't know, they would try try to snatch you away, to kidnap you and drag you off into their life of evil."
Lucy laughed. "Even if they somehow had kidnapped me, do you really think they could break me of my lifetime of faith? They could turn me away from God so easily? Why would you think my faith would be so malleable, I could turn a lifetime's worth of faith could be destroyed so easily? Do you honestly believe my faith to be so weak? Really, Chelsea: not only is my faith strong, they are fellow christians and would never behave in such a manner. While I don't agree with with Bekka's beliefs, she is still a christian, and a faithful one. Did you listen to what Bekka had to say in her prayer? I mean, really listen? She spoke truth and honesty, and spoke from the heart.
"Bekka spoke of not allowing anger and distrust to override love, and our love of fellow christians to not be taken over by mistrust."
"She's not a christian! All she does is false!"
"Why do you say that? What about her angers you so much? Her faith is.... unusual, but nonetheless, she she has the faith, and the love of God and Christ in her heart. Her faith is strong, and cannot be shattered."
"Listen to yourself, Lucy. A girl no better than a whore has you convinced that she has the faith. She has you deceived. I should call Pastor Carlson tomorrow and tell him how you're spending your time associating with whores and criminals.
"Chelsea, I will dial the phone for you if you you wish."