I Got a Real A

Let me start by saying that when my dad liked something you did, he would say, “I give you an A!!!”  So, I never got real A’s, I got verbal ones.

One year, when Oliver was in school at SMC, I decided to join him and audit a cinema course.  Stupidly, I walked up to the teacher after the first class to make sure it was okay that I would be auditing.  This woman looked back into my eyes, real serious, sort of stern, and said no, she could not let anyone audit.  I was a little thrown.  I was sorry I walked up to her.  I should have just quietly done it.   Then she said, “Just sign up and take the class.”  Panic set in.  I looked back at her and said, “No, I don’t want to have to take tests or study.”  She said her one test isn’t very difficult and that there would be only one essay.  She acted like it would be easy-breezy.  Still panicking, I said in hushed tones, “I have brain damage.”  I said that to her.  I couldn’t think of anything else.  But, to be perfectly honest, I was suffering from terrible brain fog from toxic mold in my bloodstream.  That’s another story.  Trust me, I was not my normal, sort of sharp, but not-sharp-enough-to-take-a-test self.  The teacher assured me this class would be no pressure.

I signed up, legally enrolling myself in the cinema course.  Sat there each week, in the same class with my son.  I never even asked what he made of it.   Talk about crossing boundaries.  We weren’t even talking about crossing boundaries. See? Brain fog!

Take this celebrity-sighting detour with me.  One night, just before class, Oliver and I stopped at the little Mexican restaurant that we loved.  I miss that place.  Tia Juana.  On Olympic, near Bed, Bath and Beyond, when it was on the north side.  When you walked in the door, two women dressed in old style Mexican costumes would stand over a cast iron stove, hand making fresh tortilla’s brought hot to your table where you would smother them in butter (and salt).    Jackson Browne was eating all alone at another table.  The restaurant was empty except for us and Mister Running-on-Empty.

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As I often do with random people, I started chatting about what we were all eating, and he chatted back.  Then Jackson Browne and I shared our meal.  He gave me some of his, I gave him some of mine.  He told us about a foundation in film that he was launching.  I wanted to introduce him to my friend Doreen, who is the President of another foundation (Mr. Holland Opus) that supplies musical instruments to inner city schools.  But it had been a long enough stop & chat & eat.

Back to class.  We enjoyed sitting there, watching the movies.  Films.  Then the dreaded test day arrived.  I can’t remember it — brain fog and all.  But here is what I do remember.  The essay.  Oy.  I wrote on and on about how I’m not really that into the science fiction/horror genre.  I didn’t use any periods and it was basically just stream-of-consciousness for three pages.  I didn’t own a computer at the time to print anything out, so I wrote it on my husband’s computer.  I left him a little note attached saying that I needed him to print out my essay.  First he perused it.  Then he said, “Let me clean this up.”  I said, “No.”  He pleaded,  “It’s one long run-on sentence, I’ll just put in some periods and capitalize.”  “NO,” I said emphatically,  “Not one period, comma or semi-colon, I told my teacher I’m brain damaged, she will understand.”

And the tag to this story is that she did understand.  For some reason, I was absent the night we were to collect our graded papers.  Oliver, who is a brilliant writer and whose essay was extremely detailed with writing so above my head, I didn’t know what he was talking about, got a B.  He leafed through to find my essay and I got an A.  Crappy writing and all, she gave me a feel-sorry-for-the-brain-damaged-old-lady-A!!!


I feel a little bad for you if you never got to eat at Tia Juana which closed around 2007.  I will however turn you onto our favorite Mexican Restaurant in L.A.  I went with my dad since it opened in 1971 and for years we introduced  this place to many other people who went there and still do.  Gardens of Taxco in West Hollywood.  A delight.  This is the blurb on their site which pretty much tells you all you need to know except that you will really enjoy the dude that comes around to serenade you with any song you might request.  Yes, I’m talking “La Cucaracha.”


Your unique five course dining experience begins when your menu is presented verbally; combining details about the entrees with colorful signature sayings such as ‘born in the sauce’ and ‘Not hot, spicy’. The understated décor and festive atmosphere will transport you to a fine home in Mexico City.

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11 Responses to “I Got a Real A”

  1. David Miller-Engel says:

    When I lived on Bundy Tia Juana was a regular weekly oasis….
    Glad someone recognized your writing earlier than we do now !!!!

  2. Frank Slaten says:

    Fredde…. great article! I used to take my sister Debbie to Tia Juana all the time… fantastic place even though I am prone to El Coyote when I’m in Los Angeles….. There is a place in NYC call Pancho Villa on 46th st. btw 7th Av. and 6th Av…. it’s the closet I’ve ever found in the city that is like LA Mexican !! check it out the next time you are here….. oh! and btw I’m glad you got that A…..

  3. Lisa Coburn says:

    Gardens of Taxco! Haven’t been in years. Is Jamie still there. We used to do a pretty nice duet with harmonies on Cuando Caliente el Sol. Miss Tia Juana too. Love your writing as always, Fredde. You definitely have earned your A.

  4. Mitch says:

    Great story. Talk about a helicopter mom! If my wife or I ever sat in on one of my son’s classes he’d probably quit school. Since he’s attending school in another state it’s impractical for us to bug him that way. Tia Juana was just a few blocks from where I work and often we’d go there for lunch. Miss it. Now we go to Gilberto’s. Only ate at Taxco once, but the meal was memorable.

  5. pauli says:

    Great story – classic example of how content is so much more important than form. I like Don Pepe’s on Pico – been there over 30 years. $1 tacos on Wednesdays.

  6. Judi E says:

    I’m *still* depressed about Tia Juana… maybe that’s why you seem so familiar to me. Ate there whenever I could. My sister likes a place on Pico In Santa Monica called “Gilbert’s El Indio” — it is pretty great, I admit.

    Thanks for the post — totally entertaining, as always.

  7. Alan says:

    You should publish that paper. 😉

  8. cristi ulrich says:

    IF YOU PUBLISH – IT WILL GET ANOTHER “A”!! If you ever cross the Orange Curtain to visit your friend Cristi – or JUST BECAUSE… Visit Taco Mesa in Costa Mesa. The best and most popular dive around. YUM!!!

  9. Nile Hight says:

    I remember Tia Juana 🙂 But the very best Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles is Antonio’s on Merose. Remember when he had his second restaurant in Santa Monica?

  10. gari smith says:

    fredde i loved this!! thank you for sharing it~i love mexican food and i also went SMC for about a year and a half and would you believe while i was going there my mom decided to go for her GED since she left home when she was fourteen and did not finish high school~interesting going to school with my mom~

  11. Christel Chesney says:

    Did you ever have Tex-Mex food in Texas? A plus on all all your writing:))

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