The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive by Vanessa Libertad Garcia

Vanessa Libertad Garcia’s first book, The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive (Fiat Libertad Co., 92 pages), is a slim volume  of 23 short pieces, some of them poems, many of them first-person or third-person vignettes that capture a few minutes or hours of a given character’s “despicable, embarrassing, or repulsive” life.

Gritty and unflinching, the tone of the book is one of desperation and starkness as each character depicted—Marta, a young, disenchanted lesbian; or Diaz Diaz, a gay fashion designer, for example—speaks to us of their heartbreak, alienation, and sometimes of suicidal plans. The personas that Garcia invokes are products of a society that is too fast-paced, too materialistic, and too shallow for twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings trying to find a meaningful niche in life, as they struggle simultaneously to pay bills, be successful in a career, find true love, or simply forge a connection to someone or something outside of themselves that can make their lives fulfilling. Welcome to the underbelly of Los Angeles.

The voices Garcia creates for each of her personas are poignant and heart-wrenching. She describes “sweet-scented one-dimensional images that pop out at you like an early Warhol painting” (in “Longing”). There is little self-pitying though, no sugarcoating of the raw emotions that spill from her characters, many of whom are gay addicts who have seemingly accepted their sex orientations but nevertheless struggle to navigate life.

Matter-of-fact language, which contributes to the non-judgmental tone of the book and its authenticity, is often balanced against poetic descriptions or observations that catch the reader by surprise. Garcia gives us a glimpse of lives in torment but also reminds us that lives are not frozen in time but are forever evolving, and we must stay open to the possibilities of change.

Thelma T. Reyna, author of The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories

Used by permission. Originally published in American Latina/o Writers Today on March 30, 2010.

Excerpt:

It’s been 3 years since she’d last seen Catherine.  Cat.  Cathers.  Catty.  Babe.  Mami.  Momma.  Catherine Fritz.  Catherine Fritz.  For so long that name in the back of her head, loud at first, faded with time.  She hadn’t felt anything romantic or soft or exaggerated about anyone in so long.

She ate and ate and ate biscuits with gravy, cheesecake, fried plantains, tortilla Espanola, white rice, and reese’s peanut butter cups.  She drank and drank and drank Mickey’s, Sparks, King Cobra, Long Islands, and rum with diet coke.  Before she met Catherine and after.  She doesn’t remember exactly when the unquenchable pain of missing Catherine subdued and then eventually subsided, but she remembers the rabid freedom she felt when it did.

Freedom from the loud thumping beating of those two syllables in the back of her head and how excruciating they were when they trickled down her spine into her stomach and tangled her guts into knots.  Like Poe’s wronged heart pulsating in the floor, Catherine Fritz the thin half Jew with hazel blue green eyes and porcelain white skin turned into a sound of its own.

Since last seeing Catherine, her body had upsized.  She’d exploded into a “curvaceous woman,” but continued to carry herself with sophistication and grace at The Short Stop Bar off of Sunset every evening after 9.  It wasn’t a gay bar, but it had some of the prettiest young things in town.  Most were straight dead eyed hipster girls who enjoyed some lezzie fun in the car after a couple of tequila shots and a Morrissey song.  She, like the bar, was nothing too serious, just a good time.

It was a Wednesday night at 10:37 pm in the bar with the dance floor.  People were showing up in spurts.  The Short Stop was just getting started.  Her tattered stilettos, scuffed at the tips and worn out at the soles, dangled from a stool.  Masked by the dark lighting and the beautifying effects of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, the stilettos’ little misgivings had gone unnoticed at this particular bar for the last two years.

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