Behind the Article

Behind the Article

This week, I was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times.  Page A1, above the fold.  In newspaper land, that’s a pretty big deal.  Generally, it means “important story that we want you to see.”  Sometimes, during the summer, it means “story with colorful pictures.”

And that is what my story was–a story about people and their sometimes colorful blankets.  Many things are amusing about this story.  First, it was a front page story about thick, plush blankets on a day when the whole country was experiencing summer weather. Second, it was the centerpiece story on a day when famous Southern California-born writer Nora Ephron’s obituary ran, under the fold.  Third, these blankets have been around for over 30 years, hardly breaking news.  Fourth, when people see that you’re in the paper, you get emails like, “I assume you know you’re on the Los Angeles Times’ front page today.”

And here is how one gets on the front page of the Los Angeles Times with a story about her blankey.

A few years ago, I was sitting under my blanket trying to come up with topics for my blog.  I was focusing on latino-themed subjects and having a pretty hard time of the creative process.  My mom hadn’t done anything particularly crazy that day and nothing seemed quite big enough to write about.  Then I remembered how I’d gotten my San Marcos blanket (it involved a two week-long trip with my mother to Mexico by bus where I swear she read me every sign along the highway between Los Angeles and Parral, Chihuahua).  This made me wonder about the stories behind other people’s blankets.  And in February 2005, a short blog post was born.

That blog post is one of the most popular on my site.  It’s second only to the one on jacarandas.  Blog analytics tell me I have Google to thank because people searching the terms “purple trees” and “San Marcos” always seem to find me (as do people searching for “southfork ranch” and “magnetic jacket” but that is a separate story).  And of the purple tree people and San Marcos people, the San Marcos people are more apt to leave behind comments on my blog.

My cornering of the market for San Marcos-related information is amusing since I never really respond to comments and I don’t really know where to buy the blankets since I had to endure an international family trip to get mine.  But the volume of comments caught the interest of a reporter who’d been kicking around the idea of a story on the blankets.  Volume means people are interested and interested people means they’ll read a story about a blanket on a summer day.

I’ll spare you a narrative of the interview, but the photo shoot for what ended up being a fabulous picture of my mom and me is too good to save for myself.

Although I had told my mother the photographer was coming, she got upset when he actually arrived.  Somehow, she hadn’t figured out that having a photographer over meant a stranger would be in the house.  The concept of a stranger in my house led her suspicious mind to the idea that we would be killed, thus becoming a different kind of newspaper story. She blamed the internet too, because if I hadn’t put up a post with my blanket in it, this “killer” wouldn’t have known about us.

Her paranoia manifest itself in a couple of ways.  Every time the photographer turned around, my mom would use her fingers to make a slitting motion across her neck, thus signalling to me how she expected us to die.  She was also forgetting how to do basic things like breathe, smile, and move her legs.

So, in the picture where she looks all relaxed and kicking back on the blanket.  I posed her there by physically putting her arms and legs in that position.  This is not an easy task when your mother is yelling “calambre, calambre, calambre” every time you try to move her.    And me, I’m smiling while saying, “breathe, smile, breathe, smile, breathe, smile” like a Lamaze coach.  Because when my mom gets stressed, she forgets how to breathe and smile.

Then came the series of photos that didn’t get into the paper–the ones where we had the blanket draped around both of us.  The ones where he had lighting on us while we were under the thick, plush, too warm for a June day-blanket.  Apparently, being asked to kick her leg out from under the blanket while sweating profusely because she was under a blanket led my my mom to doubt that this was a photo shoot for a legitimate newspaper and she gave me a “Why the hell did you get me into this mess?” look.  I kept saying “breathe, smile, breathe, smile, breathe, smile.”

My favorite part of this whole experience is that my one above-the-fold story in the Los Angeles Times is a story about my mother and me.  I cherish that I get to have this as a memory of us, both the part captured in print and the part captured in my mind.

I guess I’m also grateful that my mom has no memory of killers and cramps and forgetting to breathe, because this morning she beamed, “Que preciosas salimos, mija.”