By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Each night after dinner, the two women walk at a rapid clip three times around the 1.5-mile cement loop that encircles Evergreen Cemetery, a circular sidewalk that local residents have taken over as a makeshift jogging track. (A few years ago, the City Council talked about turning the loop into a real collegiate-level soft track, but somehow the funds never came through.) After a few weeks of walking, Frances and Beatrice graduate to light jogging. “It’s a total stress reliever,” says Frances.
Frances has also been talking about forming a support group for girls that would meet at Homeboy Industries. “The guys are always the ones who get all the attention,” she says. “But young women need help as much as the guys do. Girls around here grow up thinking certain things are normal — that aren’t normal. You get pregnant as a teenager, you think, ‘Oh, that’s normal.’ Your man beats you? ‘Hey, it’s normal.’ Meanwhile, it’s the girls who take care of all the kids while their man’s out in the street waiting to get shot, or locked up.” Frances pauses. “Well, none of that is normal. I want to help girls change that thinking. And I think I’d be good at it.”
Frances already has a name for the program, Platicas — Spanish for “chats.” She and two other female staff members have even met a couple of times to brainstorm. One staffer, Sara Weiss, is studying to become a licensed marriage-and-family therapist. “So, when Sara gets her license, we could apply for some grants,” says Frances. Although she talks about the benefit for other, younger women, it’s apparent that Frances would also welcome the support such a program might bring.
In late July, Frances and Sara decide it’s time to convert talk into action. A month before, at the Homeboy benefit, a woman who sat at Frances’ table said she has a sister who owns a small cosmetics line. The sister might be willing to do some free beauty make-overs if Frances thought girls would be interested. Frances and Sara decide that talk, combined with a field trip, would be a great way to kick off the Platicas idea. “And make-overs would raise everybody’s spirits,” says Frances.
The outing is scheduled for a Sunday afternoon. By 1 p.m., Frances, Sara and six other young women are camped out at picnic tables and benches along the boardwalk just south of the Santa Monica Pier. Norma Reyes, the owner of RAW Cosmetics, works on each of them in turn, while her photographer friend shoots before-and-after photos.
A 24-year-old homegirl named Lupe Garnica is the person whom the other girls most want to see made over. Lupe is a small, muscular-looking young woman with a painful past, and a style of dressing that might be described as “chola butch.” Her hair, shaved nearly to cue-ball status, is usually obscured by a knit beanie. Lupe has never worn makeup in her life. But, in response to Frances’ urging, she decides to come anyway.
As it turns out, underneath the macha façade, Lupe is fine-boned and very pretty, with a face that becomes animated in front of a camera. Yet, while she gamely puts up with the application of eye shadow, blush and lipstick, once her photo is taken, she goes into the nearest public bathroom and scrubs off every trace of color. “But, hey, I did it,” she says. “You gotta try new things, right?”
Later, everyone goes for ice cream sundaes on the pier, then straggles back to Frances’ van at the end of the day, tired and happy. “I think we all really bonded,” says Frances. “It was a beginning.”
But, as luck would have it, on her way out of the beach parking lot, a new-looking white Jaguar slams on its brakes in front of her, and Frances plows into the Jag’s back fender. Her van is fine, but the Jag is dented, and Frances has no insurance.
Trying to hold on to the mood of the day, Frances promises the Jaguar driver she will take care of everything, and tells herself that she’ll somehow find a way to work things out. But by Monday morning, this newest brick of pressure tips some precarious balance inside her, and Frances starts to fall apart in earnest. She has a blowup with Luis, an even larger blowup with a staff member at work — and then, at the end of the day picks a sobbing, screaming fight with Father Greg about her status — or perceived lack thereof — at the office that puts her completely over the edge. Once the priest is gone, the meltdown continues. “When I was doing wrong in my life, at least I could pay my bills,” she sobs. “Now that I’m trying to do everything right, it seems like everything just gets worse and worse.”
Boyle has left town, but he calls Frances a day or two later with a proposition. What if she took over Homeboy Merchandising? Homeboy Industries has a bunch of products — T-shirts, mugs, hats and the like, but the stuff mostly languishes in the storeroom. If Frances is willing, she can choose an assistant from the staff and start taking the line to retail stores. This also means Greg can bump her salary a little.
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