Jacki Lyon’s Frugal Find Under Nine:
Description of Salty Miss Tenderloin:
SALTY MISS TENDERLOIN is a fiercely tender novel by award winning writer Jacki Lyon. Never shying away from the dark side of humanity, Lyon introduces Starlight Nox, a scrappy girl born on the gritty streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District when Jimi Hendrix and the Vietnam War are center stage.
Starlight learns at an early age to rummage food from dumpsters and collect clothes from the corner charity for survival. When the girl’s father dies with a needle in his arm and her mother disappears searching for her next fix, the forsaken twelve-year-old is adopted by wealthy grandparents. Uprooted from San Francisco to Cincinnati, Star spends the next two decades learning that danger doesn’t lurk just in pimps and pill pushers on Turk Street. She discovers that evil finds a welcome host in tailored suits and Chanel dresses and even glossy church pews. Star calls on her early, bitter lessons from the streets to navigate the more sinister roads she travels as a young woman.
SALTY MISS TENDERLOIN is a poignant coming-of-age story that proves the transition from child to adult is a process that repeats itself many times in life. Coming-of-age is about survival. For the lucky, the change begins with a raging gnaw of desire; for the unlucky, the change begins with a crying gnaw of hunger. For Starlight Nox, the treacherous journey begins much too early in life and continues to test her ability to grow and persevere, time and time again.
Jacki Dillon Lyon hit a home run again!!! I loved this book. Star is a character that you will fall in love with because of her determination, loyalty to her friends and grandmother and her ability to keep it all together at times . . . Get your book groups to read this. You will not be disappointed. Barb Rohs, Cincinnati, Ohio
I just finished reading Salty Miss Tenderloin and am not ready to let the heroine, Star, go. Jacki Lyon has written an awesome novel, but more importantly, she’s shown through Star, that regardless what life offers, one can find the strength to overcome adversity and perservere! Becki D., Sarasota, Florida
Salty Miss Tenderloin is available for purchase at:
An excerpt from Salty Miss Tenderloin:
Oreo Cookies and a Snickers Bar . . .
Tenderloin District, San Francisco 1974
The hour before dawn was Tony Martinelli’s favorite time of night. Most of the guns would be sleeping by then. He could relax. If something was going to happen, it usually went down by 4 a.m. The dealers and pimps had parked their Cadillacs in front of their one room efficiencies, and the drunks and addicts had found their own piss-stained stairwells hours before. Even these people had a routine, Tony thought.
But that was before the Symbionese Liberation Army decided to kidnap Patty Hearst, the millionaire heiress, brainwash her and rob the Hibernia Bank over on Noriega Street. Two bystanders were shot, and the left-wing-terrorist thugs got away with ten thousand dollars. Now, the entire force was on pins and needles from dawn to dawn, staking out store fronts, safe houses and communes, searching for the SLA.
Tony slowly drove his cruiser down Jones Street past St. Anthony’s Dining Room. The Sunshine Bread truck was already at the cafeteria door, delivering the only bread that most of the visitors would eat that day. St. Anthony’s was the backbone of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, feeding the meager spiritual and physical needs of the community. Tony grimaced as ‘feeding the hungry’ was one of the alleged goals of the SLA. Part of Patty Hearst’s initial ransom was a two million dollar donation from her big-time papa to feed California’s poor. The food distribution exploded into mass chaos as people fought for whole chickens and bags of carrots. Tony looked up at St. Anthony’s steeple, thinking about all the good people who actually worked hard because they really cared about their fellow man, but around the corner or across the street was the other guy who had the devil hiding behind a deluded smile and glassy eyes.
The police radio chatter had died down, but Tony knew the city wasn’t sleeping. He rolled down the car window to let in the chilly night air. Long, high-pitched whines drifted in from the fishing boats that were inching their way across the bay, laden with early catches of salmon. Ever since he was old enough to cast a line, the fog horns had a way of soothing Tony to sleep on the nights his father wobbled in late, all liquored-up and looking for a fight with his mother. Fiddling with the tail of his coonskin cap, he’d close his eyes and block out all sounds, except for the quiet songs that echoed from the bay.
Tony sucked in the salty bay air and stretched his shoulders back against the car seat to rouse awake for another few hours. As he turned left onto Turk Street, a sharp movement in the shadows of the bus stop shelter caught his eye. Slowing the cruiser, he leaned toward the passenger window and spotted a pair of pale yellow dog legs with thick, black paws folded under the bench.
“Catching a snooze, ol’ boy?” Tony sighed. “Wish I could be doing the same.” He settled back into the driver’s seat and began to pull away, but something tugged at him. He stepped on the brakes and glanced in the rear view mirror. He rubbed his heavy eyes and stared back into the glass. A tangled mass of hair and large, round eyes had popped out from under the bench and was peering at the back of the cruiser.
“Goddamn,” he grumbled. “There goes my hour of peace and quiet.” He backed up the cruiser ten yards, stopped and slowly got out. Moving around the front end of the car with his hand held firmly on his gun, Tony could now see a small body wedged in the corner of the shelter.
He shined his flashlight in the shadows and feral green eyes glistened back. The urchin let out a sharp cry and covered her eyes with filthy fingers. The child looked like a night monkey with greyish skin and wide, dark eye masks. Tony shrugged, anticipating the pathetic story that was certain to follow. Tripping dad. Tripping mom. Mom’s psycho boyfriend. Psycho mom. Abandoned. Hungry. The stories were different yet all the same. Tragic kids caught up in a cloud of dazed parents who couldn’t escape their own youth. Tony shifted the bright light from the child’s eyes and asked her to crawl out from the corner.
“Go away!” she screeched back at him and shrank deeper into her nest.
“Come on out,” Tony commanded, shining the flashlight back into her eyes.
“Go away!” she screeched again, but this time she raised her moppy head and spat at him.
“Out, now!” Tony demanded. “And tell me what you’re doing under there.”
“I’m hidin’!” she hollered, still tucked tight into her corner. “Jack says hide from da’ cars.”
“Who’s Jack?” he asked, but the child didn’t respond. Tony knelt down to get a closer look at the girl. “Where are your parents?” he asked again. This time she slowly pointed to a dimly lit window across the street, three stories up.
“Then, why are you down here in the middle of the night?”
“I’m waitin’,” she snapped.
“Waiting for what?”
“Till Sue be done.”
“Done with what?” he asked, eyeing her hollow, dirt-streaked face.
Tony had had enough. He stretched out his hand and told her to come out. “Giant rats live under there,” he warned.
“I ain’t movin’,” she said stubbornly. “Jack says I don’t move I get a Snickers Bar.”
“Are Jack and Sue your parents?” he asked.
She hesitated at first but then confirmed the question with a silent nod.
“Why did Jack put you out here at night?”
“‘Cause of da’ man.”
“What man?” Tony asked, shifting the weight on his knees.
“I told you! A man with Sue.”
“Young lady, come on out from under of there. I’ve got a bag of Oreo cookies in the car. Are you hungry?”
She shook her head no and contracted deeper into the corner.
“Listen, your pops won’t mind if you talk to a policeman. He just doesn’t want you talking to bad guys. Right?”
The little girl just stared back at Tony. Still kneeling, he bent under the seat and said, “I’m Officer Tony. What’s your name?”
“Star,” she whispered.
“Star . . . that’s a beautiful name. How old are you, Star?”
The little girl raised four fingers in the cool air. Tony shook his head. Her big attitude already defied her age. But the Tenderloin had a way of doing that to kids—ripping childhood right out from underneath their feet, leaving them with the gift of street smarts but stunted in most every other way.
“You want an Oreo, Star?” he offered again.
She nodded yes but coiled deeper into her nook.
“Then come on out with me.” He stuck his hand under the bench again. This time she grabbed it and unravelled herself from the corner. Star stood just above Tony’s knee and wore a mess of black curls that were matted around her face. Her thin arms and legs were lost in a baggy t-shirt that hung to her knees and was decorated with pictures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Her skin was grey, but Tony couldn’t tell if the grimy hue was from poor health or from living in the four walls of a shithole for her entire life.
He led her to the door of the cruiser and told her to climb in, but she refused to budge. She just stood next to the door, looking up at him with thick lashes and heavy eyebrows that were hiding a lot of life for her young age.
“Have you ever been in a police car, Star?”
“Nope,” she said with wide, frightened eyes.
“Well, jump in. It’s nifty-neat and extra cool, and the cookies are in there, too!”
With another mention of food, she slowly climbed into the backseat and tucked her knees under her shirt. She waited quietly while Tony unlocked the trunk and pulled out a blanket. He wrapped the scratchy wool around her shivering shoulders and then called dispatch for backup and a family service counselor. She kept a close eye on him as he grabbed the cookies from the front seat and squatted down next to the cruiser door. He pulled an Oreo from the bag and peeled it apart.
“Look, they’re Teddy bear eyes,” he said gently.
Star gazed at the chocolate and cream without saying a word.
“How do you eat an Oreo? I pull mine apart and eat the inside first. Like this,” Tony explained and then ran the creamy center across his teeth, leaving tracks in the hard chocolate cake.
“I never had a Oreo,” she whispered.
“You’ve never had an Oreo!?” he asked in mock outrage.
“Nope!” she said, shaking her head earnestly.
“You’ve got to try one!” He pulled a cookie from the bag and gave it to her along with a tired smile. Star raised the cookie to her nose, took in a deep breath then clutched the disk in the palm of her hand.
“Aren’t you going to eat it?”
“Nope,” she whispered. “Gonna’ let Jack and Sue have a bite.”
Tony sighed, thinking that she was still young enough to love those assholes. In another few years, the illusion of parental love would be lost, and in a decade, Star would be perpetuating the same cycle of dashed dreams, neglect and waste when her own kid would surely be found roaming the streets at four in the morning.
Tony rubbed his eyes and shook his head. “Listen, go ahead and eat the cookie. I’ll give you the whole bag if you promise not to eat them all at once.”
“Promise,” Star agreed and smiled for the first time.
Watching her relax, Tony pressed on with more questions. “Star, why’s your mommy with the man? Is he your uncle . . . or grandpa?”
She shook her head no and took her first bite of cookie. A wide grin spread across her face as she crunched down on the chocolate.
“Why is the man at your house when it’s bedtime?” he pressed again.
“To play,” she mumbled with crumbs falling from her lips. “Fat Albert loves cookies,” she giggled and pointed to the hefty black character in red on the front of her t-shirt. Star pushed her spindly knees to the front of the shirt to make her belly grow bigger and sang, “Hey, hey, hey! It’s Fat Albert!”
Emerging from the over-sized t-shirt was the little girl’s true four-year-old self, hidden behind the grit and grime of street life. Tony peered down at the girl’s shirt and smiled. Fat Albert and his junkyard gang was the genius cartoon creation of Bill Cosby, a gutsy comedian from the tough streets of North Philly. Cosby was pushing racial and cultural barriers with parents who were accustomed to pleasantville sit-coms like The Andy Griffith Show whose Sheriff Taylor spent his days keeping peace in the peace-loving white town of Mayberry R.F.D. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, on the other hand, tackled real issues that tormented black, inner-city streets across America. Andy Taylor’s biggest threat was Otis, the town drunk, who let himself into jail on Saturday nights to sleep off his binge. Fat Albert faced real threats like the time when he mistakenly found himself entangled in a drug deal with Muggles, Franny’s older brother. Whether Fat Albert an d his gang were dealing with drugs, divorce, or bullying, they were always teaching a real lesson to real kids, which was part of Tony’s mission in the Tenderloin. He looked down at Star and understood that she was one of the kids that Cosby was trying to save, but he also knew her chances of success in the District were slim or none.
“Do you like Fat Albert?” Tony asked.
“Yepparoo! Bucky and Dumb Donald are funny, but Fat Albert’s da’ best,” she said with certainty, reaching into the bag for another cookie.
“He’s my favorite, too,” Tony agreed. “Now, tell me about your mom. Why is she playing with the man in your apartment?”
“Sue and him plays naked. Sue says they wrestle.”
“Does Sue wrestle at night a lot?”
Star nodded her head yes. “Da’ man didn’t want to play ‘cause of me. That’s why Jack says stay here.”
So, this john had a conscience, Tony thought for a second. Nah, not down here in the District. A performance problem, most likely. Probably couldn’t get it up with a kid in the next room. Eyeing the little girl behind her thick lashes, he was able to see the collateral damage brought down by needles and pipes and temporary joy rides. Just as he thought, she was one of hundreds of remnants from the psychedelic haze that blew over from Haight Ashbury, just one more kid who hid out in rancid apartment hallways while her old lady got some grandpa’s rocks off, just so she could get her fix for the night.
Tony patted the little girl’s thin knee and took in a heavy breath. She smiled with drooping eyes and rested her head against the seat. Tony tucked the blanket around her legs and stood up. He closed the door and leaned against the car, waiting for the social services counselor to arrive.
Salty Miss Tenderloin is available for purchase at:
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