Pride (featuring Rainbow Salad on Parmesan Crisps with Basil Vinaigrette)
It was pitch black in my room when the alarm started its scheduled screaming. My right hand emerged from the covers and pawed at the clock until the tiny button was located and the racket was stilled. My beagle Lulu, asleep at my feet, sighed heavily. I lay on my back and began the bargaining of early morning wake-ups.
I could sleep for another 10 minutes, rush to get ready, and maybe be only a few minutes late. What about another 20 minutes? I could call in sick and sleep for another 4 hours. What are they gonna do, fire me for getting sick? I bet a lot of people in our group call in sick today. I bet everyone calls in sick. Sleep is important. It’s like one of the most important things. If I don’t get enough sleep, I could get really sick and miss a ton of work.
Lulu sighed again, a warm exhale on my ankle. I reached for the light and staggered to the shower.
It was 1996. I was living in Los Angeles, struggling to find work as an actress, and had found a job as a peer health educator going to public schools in the San Fernando Valley to educate kids about HIV/AIDS, STDs, sexuality, and birth control.
A small group of us worked through a special branch of The Valley Community Clinic called the Valley Teen clinic, a health care center that still provides adolescents with low/ no-cost primary care services, preventative care, and wellness education in a confidential teen-sensitive environment.
I had auditioned and been hired by the clinic to perform small morality plays wherein grown-ups pretended to be high school students acting unsafely and then experienced sudden insight into making good choices instead. The plays were terrible, of course, and eventually, the actors that stayed with the program decided we could inform and entertain the kids better without the patronizing theater bit. It was a challenge to keep high school students interested for the 56-minute long classes – especially for the odd little redhead. I was the polar opposite of the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) Latino majority and had to work twice as hard to get the kids on my side. It was transformative work for me, deciphering who I really was in the world as I talked about penises and vaginas in front of an auditorium of high school students. There is a burn-out factor with a job like that though, and after a year and a half, I was quickly approaching full-char.
The clinic had been invited by The Names Project to participate in the unfolding of the AIDS quilt at the Rose Bowl, which felt like a much more exciting prospect at 5:00 in the afternoon than 5:00 am. I was a party girl back then and had seen the sunrise from the night’s entry many, many times. It was curious, this waking up in the dark and watching the sun peek the tip of its nose up onto the horizon. As I got out of my car at 7-11 for a cup of coffee and a sleeve of mini donuts the sun pushed the night sky back with crimson and gold streaks. I felt innocent to see the day from its beginning.
As I walked onto the grounds of the Rose Bowl, I felt an exclusivity I hadn’t experienced since I was young. When I was a little girl, my parents were New York theater actors. I spent days, months, years in empty theaters while they rehearsed, playing in their dressing rooms, napping in vacant audience rows. The metamorphosis from a few actors, voices echoing into the empty room, to the thundering buzz of an auditorium full of eager attendees was something I knew only a few people got to see. And I was one of them. I might have been 6 years old, but I knew the secret of that transformation.
It would be another hour or two before the public was allowed into the Rose Bowl stadium. Teams were slowly gathering around the designated squares that held the portion of the quilt they would unfold. Our team was trickling in and I seized the opportunity to walk around the mostly empty field and indulge my childhood thrill.
Gently teething my Styrofoam coffee cup, I came across a large portion of quilt that been unfolded the previous day. It was a treat to view the quilt without others. There was no putting on airs to show its impact. No posturing. It was just me and the quilt. The panels were sweet. Sometimes they were cute and crafty, sometimes they were colorful and basic. Some had pictures, others just words. And they grew with impact as I walked as if they’d been intentionally laid to build more tension as you viewed them. I lifted my gaze and realized how far the panels would reach when all were unfolded. This wasn’t the whole quilt either. So many people and their lovers, friends, families affected.
Then I looked down and saw this, tears cascading into my bitter coffee:
I don’t remember whose panel it was, but I will never forget its impact.
I only lasted another couple of months at the job after that day and, though I don’t miss the exhaustion of teaching, I miss the feeling of participation in change for a greater good.
I think it’s naïve to be surprised by racial and sexual discrimination, but I am devastated by how many steps we’ve taken backward over the past few years. As June is Pride month, commemorating the Stonewall riots, I am reminded of how important it is to keep a unified front against those trying to so desperately to pit us against each other.
America is diverse. I thought that was the point.
And here’s an appetizer that grabs all the colorful flavors of the season, the perfect app for a Pride party!
Rainbow Salad on Parmesan Crisps with Basil Vinaigrette
Makes 15 crisps
- 3/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a parchment lined sheet pan, press 2 teaspoons into a 1/4 inch high circle. Repeat, keeping the distance between the circles at least 2 inches wide (they will stretch out as they bake).
- Bake for 7 minutes. Let cool.
- Sprinkle pepper over the crisps.
- 1 cup fresh basil
- 1/2 shallot (1 tablespoon)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar
- 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Place ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until it is bright green and smooth.
Tomato Corn Salad Topping
- 1/2 cup red tomato, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
- 1/2 cup yellow tomato, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
- 1/2 cup white or yellow corn, cooked and kerneled
- 1/3 cup red onion, cut into 1/8 inch cubes
- Toss the tomatoes, corn, and onion in a bowl. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Delicately spoon 2 teaspoons of the salad onto each parmesan cracker and then top with a 1/2 teaspoon of basil vinaigrette. (Just a side note here, you can drizzle the basil vinaigrette over everything in the bowl before you put it onto the parmesan crisp, but if your corn is white, it’ll look green — and not that appetizing.)
I did get the chance to make these yummy treats on KATU’s show Afternoon Live. Click on the pic below (but be patient because they toss to another reporter before my segment begins).