Giggles y Yo
by Tommy Villalobos
Giggles walked like she was dancing to Oldies But Goodies, Volume One. But she also looked sad all the time. It was like she wanted to be sad. Her friends already had a Sad Girl so they called her Giggles.
People called me Gordo. I wasn’t fat. Maybe just a little.
But let me get back to Giggles. She was the finest one in the Projects, 1950’s.
One day, Lil’ Chango, skinny with a face that not even a madre could love, tried talking to her. He was barking like a seal up the wrong playa. I looked at her face when she was listening to the bato. Her lips were twisted. Like he was making funny noises with his nariz.
He walked away with his head looking down, like he didn’t care if a carucha hit him. She looked at me and I made a serious face. Inside, I was laughing like when I saw that cartoon where the coyote gets hit by a giant rock when he’s chasing the pájaro loco.
Giggles started walking again with that special wiggle. I wanted to tell her something like a priest. I walked fast.
“Hija, you can tell me,” I said.
She turned to look at me like I was a cucaracha walking around her sopa.
“I don’t know you.”
“I want you to.”
“I like someone.”
“Never saw you with someone. Never saw you with anyone.”
She looked at me like I was another cucaracha but this time in her sopa.
“Are you following me around?”
“Even when I sleep.” I was trying to sound romantic like in a song.
“All girls like being looked at.”
“We’re meant to be.”
“Uh-uh.” She walked quickly away. Almost ran.
People could ask me why I didn’t give up. You know, chase other girls who liked gordos.
I would tell them that girls act in different modos. They can hate you but then you say or do something they really like, they grab you and put your arms around them. You feel like an octopus wearing a Pendleton.
“Where have you been, Felipe?” said my mother as soon as I walked in the door.
“Getting fresh air.”
“There isn’t any.”
I wanted to tell her about Giggles but she might not like her walk.
“Áma, I like this girl and—”
“She won’t be the last.”
“This one is the first and only. She is special.”
“She lives in Beverly Hills?”
“Take out the garbage.”
I took the garbage outside. A chavalo called Freddie saw me.
“Hey, Phillip,” he yelled. He was the only one who called me by my name.
“What?” I said to the mocoso.
“You want to play baseball?”
He didn’t see that I was grown up. Baseball was for chavalos. Girls were more fun now.
“Freddie, I like girls now,” I said like I was confessing to a priest.
Freddie was stunned, making a cara like I said I liked wearing dresses now.
“One day, you’ll throw your baseball to your sister because you won’t be able not to.”
I really thought of saying that because his sister Lydia was a better baseball player than him and she was only seven.
“You’re talking crazy, Phillip. Go get your mitt, let’s play.”
“Maybe later,” I said, knowing “later” really meant never.
He turned and walked away. He turned back to look at me as if he wasn’t sure who I was. Then he disappeared into the Projects. I felt kind of sad. Like my childhood was disappearing with him.
Then I thought again about Giggles and I wanted to kick Freddie and my childhood further into the Projects. God made something more fun than baseball.
Then my friend since I forget how long, Jimmy, saw me. We were the same age. He was more serious than me. Of course, my mother would say everyone was more serious than me.
Jimmy loved math and collecting baseball trading cards. His cards took up most of his life.
And the girls all looked at him like he was Elvis. It didn’t seem to matter to him. He spent his time with his math books and cards. Everything else was for other guys.
“Gordo, why are you standing there?” he said.
“Not sure. Where are you going walking all fast?”
“My mom needs butter.”
“You still run mandadas?”
“Sure. You don’t?”
I nodded slowly.
“Jimmy, oh, Jimmy!” said a high voice belonging to a running flaca with flying pelo.
It was Lorna Ritas. She was in a race for Jimmy with Sally Lomenez, Linda Mistasosa and Maria Lobermie. They had a better chance with the real Elvis. Jimmy barely said “Hi” to them but each time they took it like he wanted to make out with them at Belvedere Park.
Like that song, Jimmy only had eyes for Rachel Apenuz.
Rachel Apenuz had no personality I could see. Jimmy saw something the rest of the world didn’t, like in those spooky movies.
Compared to Rachel, Giggles was a shiny pair of spit-shined calcos. Rachel was like my sister’s paper dolls she used to play with. She was like cardboard. Her hair looked tired. In fact, she looked tired.
But I was glad Jimmy didn’t see Giggles. Then I panicked, my mouth turned dry. Maybe he hadn’t seen her glide like a lowered carucha down Brooklyn and Mednik.
“So, are any new girls waving at you?” I said, my mouth even drier now.
He looked at me like I said something in Chinese real fast.
“Yeah, like hot off the comal?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Is Rachel still your, you know…?”
He nodded with a strange smile.
“I still like Rachel.”
I could breathe normal, again.
Jimmy’s sister whistled for him from away off. She had the loudest whistle in the Projects.
Jimmy ran off. I went back inside.
I played “Earth Angel” by the Penguins on my sister’s record player. I played it over and over. The title said what I wanted to sing to Giggles. Then I fell asleep on my sister’s cama. The record player needle was stuck on the end of the record.
“What are you doing?” my sister screamed, making me jump. My heart wanted to leave my chest and jump out the window to find somewhere better to live.
“Man,” I screamed back, “you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“And I hate to fail. Now I’m really mad.” She got good grades in school. I think that’s why she said that. But she also had a big mouth my mother was always trying to slam shut.
Hearing my sister’s big mouth, my mother came running like my sister was on fire.
“¿Qué está pasando?” she screamed louder than even my sister.
“I have to wash everything,” my sister said, looking around the room like I spread pulgas all over.
“Don’t exaggerate,” my mother said.
“He’s a pestoso,” she screamed in her chavala voice so all the Projects could hear. I think all the people in the Projects were smelling the air.
My mother was quiet as if my sister said something like the president.
“I was only playing a record,” I said, explaining things to the judge, my mother.
Like a bailiff, my mother escorted me out of the room. My hermana had a crooked smile. The door slammed behind us. I would aim pedos into her room next time she wasn’t home.
To feel better, I went back outside. In the Projects you always ran into someone who either made you laugh or was madder than you.
Right now, it was Pete. He never made you laugh or mad. But he always had a problem to share. I tried telling him that was why he had a mother. That’s how they got gray hair.
But today, I think I caught him at a moment when people feel like unloading a problem on the first person they catch.
“Gordo,” he said, “I have a problem.”
“You’re the last bato I would guess had one.”
“I met the finest weesa ever made.”
“When you see her walk, it’s like seeing the ocean at Long Beach.”
“Go write a poem.” I said. It sounded like he was talking about Giggles and I didn’t want to hear.
“I have to win her heart first.”
Pete wasn’t a bad looking guy like some of the truly ugly ones around, but right now he looked like the ugliest feo of all time.
“I love Giggles,” he continued and I wanted to give him a Popeye-sized cachetada.
“Who is ‘Giggles’?” I said with a shaky voice. I was a nervous liar.
“She is a walking angel, like in the song, ‘Earth Angel’.” He said this with a stupid, faraway look.
“You okay?” he then said.
I felt mad then sick then mad again.
“Are you sure-sure?”
“My problem is that she is related to Jimmy and likes Loco.”
I sat on the sidewalk. I saw Loco’s crooked right eye. I think he hated the world and everyone in it because of that eye. He was born that way. God wanted him to look loco so he took the hint and became one.
“You look weird, man.”
“Why Loco?” I croaked.
“That’s what I want you to tell me. He is one ugly bato with an even uglier way with people.”
“And she is Jimmy’s cousin?”
He nodded weakly.
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, yeah. Your sister Rosie talks with everyone about everyone. The Queen of Maravilla Chisme.”
“Hey, that’s my hermana.”
“Everyone knows Rosie, Pete.”
“Yeah, but you’re wise.”
All those times talking to Pete, I was mostly trying to get rid of him.
“So, what do you think?” he said. He wasn’t going nowhere till he got an answer.
“Loco has that name for a reason. Jimmy is probably thinking of a way to stop his prima from getting hooked up with him.”
I said that for myself.
“What do you mean?”
“He wants to stop him.”
“Oh.” I always liked hearing Pete say “Oh.” It meant he was accepting what I said and would go away. Not today.
“You know, Jimmy invited Loco to the show with Giggles?”
I lost my words and thinking.
Pete batted for me. “I saw them walking back to the Projects after they got off the Kern bus. Loco was laughing like a hyena.”
My mother said life has surprises. One just kicked me in the head.
“Should we jump him?” said Pete.
“He would wrap you around me like a pretzel.”
“So, what are you going to do?” he said.
What I wanted to do was pluck Loco’s good eye out and do a pachuco hop on it.
“It’s up to you.”
“Then what should I do?”
I felt like I was running his life when he should be running his own.
“Find another one.”
“There ain’t no other around,” said Pete, looking around as if to prove it.
“All good times don’t lead to Giggles.”
At this point, I think I was again giving advice to myself.
“Yes they do.”
“What if she hates you? And your family? And your dog.”
“She don’t know me. Or my family. And this is the Projects, we can’t have a dog.”
“Maybe she has a drinking problem. She’ll start making ojitos at other batos.”
“How do you know she has a drinking problem?”
“Just looking at all angles.”
“She could wet her bed, chew food with her boca wide open, have a voice like Jimmy Durante, and I would still like her.”
“What if she has a record?”
“Even if she was serving life at juvie, I would still visit her every day.”
He was almost as crazy over her as I was.
“Don’t you have a girl you liked? What about Edith?”
“Edith was in the second grade. Her family moved out of the Projects when I was nine.”
He looked at me real let down. He walked away.
I went and sat on my porch. I saw a girl coming toward me on the sidewalk. She was walking like a wave at Long Beach, like Pete said.
It was Giggles.
“Hello,” I said, trying to sound like some actor I heard in a movie.
She kept walking like I had been a squawking perico.
I was hoping for a “Hello” back or at least her head to turn up all conceited. But she kept walking.
But then for a little bit, she turned her head toward me. Not mad or happy.
Jimmy would make everything right. He would talk to his cousin and tell her that he and I were closer than gum under a zapato and she should grab me, crying.
Jimmy said that they were cousins when he came to the door.
“So, she just likes him like a cousin?” I said.
“She and Loco are closer than gum in your hair,” said Jimmy.
“So she likes him like a favorite cousin?”
“She likes him like she likes to kiss him.”
“He kisses her back.”
“You know Loco. You know what he’s like.”
“Since we were babies.”
I swallowed hard. Then I swallowed hard again. Then a third time and maybe a fourth.
“You look like you swallowed a moco,” he said.
“Why do you even know him?”
“He’s my step brother.” Jimmy didn’t even say that like he was sorry.
“I don’t make the rules. Loco’s dad married my mom years ago. My mom had kids. He had one, Loco.”
“So he can’t love Giggles?” I said.
“Why can’t he?”
“She is my cousin but she is nothing to Loco. Well, that could change, but that doesn’t keep them from liking, maybe loving each other and making a whole bunch of kids to spread around Maravilla.”
“That shouldn’t be allowed.”
I walked away, stomping on the ground like it was Loco’s ugly ojo.
I went to Pete’s house to report.
He opened his door then smiled like if I was going to say that Giggles loved him.
I broke the news over his head. But it was my own cabeza that hurt.
Tommy Villalobos was born in East L.A. and also raised there. He thinks of the lugar daily and love the memories while remembering the tragedies of his neighbors and of his madre. Tommy’s mother had a great sense of humor and he inherited about ten per cent of it. She had a quick wit and response to all verbal attacks, whether to herself personally or to her Catholic religion that she loved. Tommy dedicates all his works to her, knowing she had him when she had no idea how she was going to feed him and his four siblings. She was a single mom until the day she died. He lives in a boring suburb now, outside of Sacramento, but his heart and soul will always be in East Los Angeles where his mother was always by his side to protect him.
Niños del Sol
by Jacob Teran
“¿Puede venir Guillermo?” Silence from his mother as Miguel rode shotgun and I sat in the back of his mom’s green 1996 Honda. I could never make out what she said.
“¿Pero, por qué mommy?”
Miguelito’s mom then went on a short rant on why the dark-skinned pocho with divorced parents who didn’t know any Spanish could not come over today. Sí, at this time of my life, I knew little to no Spanish. My parents, who were both Mexican-American, spoke perfectly good Spanish, and whose parents can be traced back both to Zacatecas and Michoacán, never spoke to me or my sister in Spanish. The story of my acquisition of Spanish will come later, but for right now, I was ass hurt because for one, I did not know why Miguel’s mom said no so often and two, I could not understand “why” because of my lack of Spanish.
“Pero, mommy…” Miguel would then go on a short rant of his own on why it was imperative that I come over to play soccer and PlayStation. I mean, after all, both of us were quite close, played handball and soccer during recess and lunch, and had a couple of classes together.
All throughout elementary school, if you played outside, you got recognized for your athletic prowess by the girls. You know how boys always wanted to impress the girls in the yard, at least, that was my conception as a youngster. Eventually, we ignored the girls, and the boys did what we did in the field during recess because it was fun. In first grade, tag was the game to play, if others were not playing hopscotch or jump rope, or reading outside their teachers’ classrooms. I remember that I was one of the “fastest” kids next to my Korean friend Benson. Now, Benson was fast as fuck. Every time I was “it,” I would go directly to Benson since I knew he would be a challenge. I almost never got him, but when I did, he knew it would be almost no different when he came after me. We would run through the play sets that were accompanied by monkey bars and slides and us elite tag players would use them like obstacle courses to escape our pursuers. This was the upper field where the younger kids would play at Wilcox Elementary School, adjacent to Schur High School. The lower lot of my elementary school is where the real fun was.
The lower lot was where the basketball courts, handball courts, and soccer field were. These were my stomping grounds, and I was now known for being one of the best handball court players. Throughout second and third grade, you could find me here hitting the side of a bouncy burgundy ball. Handball in my school was basically hitting the ball downward to where it would bounce off from the ground to the wall and back to the opponent. After the ball hit the wall, your opponent was only allowed to let the ball hit the ground once before they needed to hit it again. The challenge was to trick your opponent into missing their chance to hit it back or with trick shots.
This one trick shot called “slidies” or “sliders” everyone tried to master, and I was one of them who did. To do this trick, you had to bend your knees and spread your feet to shoulder length. From there, you then brought your palms together as if you were praying and positioned yourself as if you were about to bat a homerun but being very low to the ground. Timing was everything. Once it was your turn to hit the ball, you got in this position and if performed with precision and power, your iron palms became an instrument that would smack the ball like a speeding bullet leading you to sheer victory. The ricochet from the wall made this executed shot so difficult to hit back. Not for me and many like me though.
Some games would last for seconds to minutes (quite long when you are moving in all directions trying to defeat your opponent). This is the particular game where and when I met Miguel, my dear friend.
“Guillermo and Miguel are playing!!” Some kid screamed. An audience formed around us.
I knew of Miguel at this point but never got to know him. Apparently, Miguel would play handball from time to time too and won quite often but we were on different handball courts until now. He is on my court. A light skinned Mexican-American who had short buck teeth and a high hairline. He always wore a white uniform shirt with navy blue pants that complimented his dark blue shoes. He looked confident and ready. We were about to do battle.
Winners served the ball first and I won the last two games. Not everyone asked, but I saw it as a courtesy to ask if he was ready. He nodded. I served the ball with two iron fists.
I struck the ball as hard as I could to see if his eyes could grab the ball’s location on where it was going to fall next. He did.
He did the same! He made me chase the ball that almost escaped the reaches of the handball court line. A legal shot! The ball bounced on the ground, and I could not let the ball hit the ground again or I would be out! I got behind the ball with ninja speed and struck the ball back making the hit legal but barely. My opponent then hit the ball lightly, making me dash to the wall to save myself from losing. I crashed into the wall while simultaneously hitting the ball the other direction as the ball nearly hugged the wall. I anticipated his next move. He was clever but not as sharp as I was. Because he was ambidextrous, he swung both of his hands as fists, shuffled to the left, and struck downwards, causing the ball to fly backwards again, which made me sprint away from the wall again.
This guy. He was going to gas me out. A sheer skill that would guarantee victory. Not today in my court.
Because I anticipated his next move, I quickly recovered from running into the wall and back to the court line well before the ball hit the ground. I found the ball’s trajectory and awaited the ball’s return back to Earth.
“He’s going to do a slidie, watch out!” Some kid obviously on Miguel’s’ side screamed.
“Hey, no helping, shut up!!” Some other kids obviously on my side screamed back.
I spread my feet, squatted, and put my hands together to time the shot just right.
My slidie was virtually unhittable. But with the right kind of eyes and reflexes, you could catch it and hit it back. Miguel was one of the few who could catch my trick shot.
Miguel hit the ball, breaking the sliding trajectory of the ball. No time to stop in awe. The audience of our classmates “ooh’d” and “awe’d.” This time the ball landed in the middle, to where I was. I repeated my same position for a slider, but this time, rather than aiming straight to the wall, I aimed at a slight angle, an even harder shot to catch.
He caught it again! But how?! I muttered to myself.
Miguel caught my angled slider, but he slightly lost his balance. He was near beside me in the middle but to the left. I shot it in his direction to the left corner of the wall, giving him a very brief window of reply to hit back. As he did, and because of the angle, he backhanded the ball, making it a legal shot. This is my chance.
I struck the ball hard, making the ball go back to the end of the court just within the line. My soon-to-be friend could not make it, and I won the game. He dusted himself up as I approached him, and he gave me props for my angled slider shot. Nobody was able to hit that shot, but he did so; I gave him props for that as well. The bell rang and it was time to go back to class.
“That was a crazy game!”
“I know, I thought Guill was going to lose!”
“Guill got lucky!”
“Miguel is the one who got lucky!”
“You are crazy, Miguel took it easy on him.”
Our classmates spoke in admiration for both of us. But see, Miguel was not really a handball player like I was. His dad played soccer and in turn, got his son to play. Miguel was damn good too. As I was the fastest on foot in tag and in the handball court, Miguel was skilled in tricking you in the field with a soccer ball. The beginning of our friendship happened after that handball game we played.
“Umm, do I like football?” I always felt moderately embarrassed when someone talked to me in Spanish and I didn’t know how to respond back.
“Sorry,” he chuckled as he asked the same question but in the tongue that I first learned to speak.
“Do you like to play soccer?”
“Oh! I mean, I never really played, but I did play kickball a few times.”
“Nah dude, soccer is different. Picture it like basketball in a way, except you cannot use your hands and the point is to shoot the ball with your feet into a goal.”
I’m not an idiot; I knew what soccer was.
“I know all that. Dude, I thought you asked me if I liked football.” I chucked slightly, changing the subject with minimal embarrassment.
He knew I was one of “those” kids that was most likely Latino but didn’t know Spanish. He was kind though. Not prejudiced like other kids might have been who spoke Spanish and didn’t feel comfortable befriending a pocho who only spoke English. It was definitely vice versa where I grew up too. Most kids in my school spoke English and hung around the other kids who spoke English like themselves.
Many Spanish-speaking kids at my school stuck with themselves too. I don’t blame them either. I remember a lot of English-only-speaking kids making fun of the Spanish-speaking kids since they were placed in ESL (English as a Secondary Language) classes, and kids being as cruel as they can be, thought they were placed in there because they were slow and couldn’t speak the “right” language.
“Why don’t you speak English?”
“Is it too hard for you?”
“You sound so goofy when you speak Spanish!”
“You look like an Indian!”
These were just some of the common statements kids would say to the Spanish-speaking kids whose parents and grandparents spoke Spanish and practiced their custom diligently, not willing to be watered down by the Americanization that has been taking place for decades, if not, centuries.
Many Latinos y Latinas who grew up as Mexican American, especially in the San Gabriel Valley, were not only attacked for speaking Spanish, but were taught in their schools that Spanish was “bad” and that it would hinder the acquisition in learning English. I learned this as I got older.
Miguel invited me to play soccer with the other Spanish-speaking kids and they were mostly cool with me playing, just as long as they didn’t have to explain every rule to me. There was probably a handful of white kids in our entire elementary school, at least that I was aware of, and one of them would play with us. Everyone would shout out in Spanish when we were in the middle of our games.
“QUÉDATE CON ÉL!!”
“PASA LA BOLA!!”
“NO SEAS TONTO!!”
Slowly but surely, I began to understand what they meant, not the language itself, but the phrases. I was never as good as Miguel, Joshua, or Matthew, but I held my own. When I played defense, I covered whoever I was on like a fly on shit. When I played offense, I did my best to get away from the better players that could easily steal the ball from me and pass it to my teammates that were the shooters to make a goal.
That was the word that everyone from either team wanted to hear. This one time, Miguelito and I were playing a rough game with Jaime and his twin brother Jefferey. Jaime and Jefferey looked pretty much identical and were both tan like me. They each had a high hairline and had their hair combed to the side (almost all of us chicos in that time had our hair combed to the side in elementary). They were enthusiastic about soccer and would have conversations about soccer with Miguel and others when we all sat down for lunch.
But back to this epic game that I last remember. There must have been about eight of us on each team, including a goalie. Miguelito was as good an offensive player as he was a goalie and would switch with our other classmate, Joshua. Joshua was shorter than the rest of us. He was one of the few boys that did not comb his hair because of how wild it was. Josh must have had four cowlicks on his head that made it impossible to tame, even with the strongest hair gel. He had crooked teeth like me with a sharp pointy nose and small ears. As short and skinny as he was, the kid could run fast. When he sprinted, I swear, both of his legs would be exactly horizontal in the air when he took off. He always reminded me of a mouse.
Matthew was probably the second or third best player out of our bunch, including Jaime and Jefferey’s friends. Matthew was not as dark as me, but not as light as Miguelito. We knew each other from our earlier years of playing tag and handball. A humble friend whenever he won or lost a game, he’d have a smile that was instantly contagious. Matthew was known on the soccer field for running towards you if you were defending him and with the graces of his own abilities, he would grab the ball with the inner sides of his shoes and catapult the ball over his own body and the person in front of him, making the defender stop in his tracks to see where the ball was going, only to see the ball and Matthew were driving full speed to its destination.
The epic game we started was 2-2. Lunch was almost over, and we wanted to settle the score to see who was the better of our teams, Jaime and Jefferey’s, or Miguelito’s. Joshua had the ball in his possession and was ready to kick off to the field so that either of our teammates could safely receive it. We did! The only white kid with red hair on our team, John got it. John dribbled the ball down the field but a kid on the other team slid, tripped John, and stole the ball out of our possession. Out of frustration, John pounded the ground with his fist. Jaime and Jefferey’s teammates passed the ball to Jaime and faked Miguelito out, kicked the ball toward our goal, potentially ending the game. But our goalie Joshua saved the day. Josh dived for the ball, knocking his air out, as he landed hard on the dry grass field. His face was in the ground and looked up only to see that he caught it! We all shouted out in cheer on his defense as a goalie. But we only had a few more minutes left before lunch was over.
“Hurry! Do it now!” Miguelito commanded.
Joshua, with a red face from his goal save, kicked the ball, and Miguelito received it this time. Miguelito dribbled it right down the field. Jefferey ran right at him, making Miguelito pass it to John. John did not make the same mistake of losing our ball again and sprinted across the field into our opponent’s side of the field. John faked out one, two, three kids. John was on fire and his red hair complemented how fast he was moving. John then stumbled as his right foot landed awkwardly on the field causing him to lose his stride and almost the ball.
“I’m open, pass it now!” Matthew screamed as he ran behind him.
Three of our opponents were on John and he had to make a move, fast. He pretended to kick the ball, only to kick his foot forward without hitting the ball purposefully and with precision, kicked back with his heel passing the ball to the approaching Matthew. Jaime was now on Matthew, and they were elbow to elbow pushing and shoving, one trying to maintain the dribble down the field, while the other was trying to steal it.
“I’m open!! Pásala!!” Probably the first time I ever screamed in Spanish.
Matthew saw me and scooped the ball, directing his body toward the direction I was at. The ball shot from the right side of the field to the left, right where I was. I caught the ball with my forehead, giving me a slight stun of lights and stars by the sheer speed and accuracy of Matthew’s powerful kick. It felt like all of Jaime and Jefferey’s team rushed towards me like a pack of pissed off tigers and I was their prey. I was near the goal with the goal and goalie and a small army right behind me.
“Kick the ball! Now!!!” Everyone shouted from our side.
I did. But Jefferey got in front of his goalie and deflected my shot by mere inches. The ball shot back at knee height right in front of me. Jefferey sped like a jet to where I was, since he knew he could quickly take the ball away from me.
He stole it! My new friends were depending on me as they were not near Jefferey and me. I knew I had to act fast.
I learned this trick to slide and steal the ball in a scoop-like motion and I did just that. We were running right beside each other with elbows grinding against each other like two racecars trying to bump each other off the racetrack. Running as fast as we were, I dropped my left knee, twisted my entire body towards the left of where Jefferey was and scooped the ball with my right foot out of his grasp. He did not expect it, as he was about to kick the ball to his teammates on our side of the field. Miguelito was right by the goal post, and I had to make a split-second decision. I was to either try my “not-so-great kick” against a skilled goalie or pass it to my teammate who was wide open. Jefferey was right behind me, so I had to move fast.
I pretended to wind my right leg for an attempt to shoot at the goal, but I feigned the kick. I kicked the air as hard as I could, causing Jefferey to stop in his tracks to see the outcome, giving me an extra second or two. I retracted and planted my right leg down and tapped the left side of my shoe to the ball, allowing me to pass the ball right to Miguelito. Miguelito stopped the ball with his left foot and feigned a kick of his own. Jefferey’s brother Jaime was on Miguelito and aggressively covered any shots Miguelito attempted. I ran to the goal to anticipate a victory only to see something had gone very wrong. We were going to lose if they got possession of the ball!
Miguelito struggled and wrestled with Jaime while Jefferey and their entire team rushed in. I was the only player by our opponent’s goal at that very moment. Miguelito took one look up and saw me open.
Everyone’s attention was on Miguelito, including our opponent’s goalie. The ball streaked across the patched grass, and I made no hesitation to catch the ball. I timed the ball’s destination to my right foot and kick…
Miguelito raised his hands and arms to the clouds above like a bird and ran toward me. I had no idea what was going on. We didn’t do this prior to making the two goals before. I saw our teammates do the same, while the other team we were playing looked disappointed. The contagious and enthusiastic energy drew me in, and this sudden surge of euphoric joy permeated throughout the field. Suddenly, I was raising my hands and arms like the rest of our comrades as we soared across the battleground back to our side of the field. I soared along with my camaradas like proud Mexican eagles in victory and chanted in unison.
That day was a time I will never forget. I saw what a band of players from different homes, different skin colors, and different languages could do when we worked together as a team. I felt mighty for those last seconds before lunch was over, and it was that much better because I shared this feeling with my classmates and friend, Miguelito. After this, I began to play more and learn additional Spanish words so that I could communicate with the other Spanish-speaking kids, but they mainly taught me all of the malas palabras. But besides so many feelings of acceptance and comradery I felt that day, I began to feel like this was the beginning of my identity as a Chicano, even though I was not familiar with the word at that age. I knew I wasn’t one of the white kids, and I barely knew any Spanish – I was somewhere in between these two worlds and the bridge to my identity was built on this soccer field.
Miguelito then began asking his mom to allow me to come over after school so we could play soccer in his backyard. She did allow it from time to time. A beautiful light-skinned Mexican woman with gorgeous green eyes, she always smiled at me and in her accent always greeted me.
“Hello, Guillermo. ¿Cómo estás?”
I would always smile back awkwardly since my Spanish was pretty much non-existent. “Bueno. How are you?”
I had the innocence of a child with no full understanding of our mother tongue. She looked at me with sorrow, it seemed, when she learned that my parents were divorced. Until then, Miguelito and I would play soccer in his backyard, sometimes with his dad, who actually played in an amateur league. Miguelito’s papá was a tall, darker skinned-Mexican man whose head reached the clouds. He actually played goalie and always showed his son and me new tricks to use when playing against others.
When I was allowed to sleep over, Miguelito and I would always have a blast. We would stay up watching Dragon Ball Z movies that I brought over since I was a huge fan. Since Miguelito brought me into the world of soccer, I wanted to bring him into my world of Japanese cartoons, anime. We would watch Dragon Ball Z and then criticize who was better between characters, Goku and Vegeta. If we weren’t watching Dragon Ball Z and debating what character was stronger, we would play Gran Turismo or Final Fantasy 7 on his PlayStation console. If we weren’t playing video games or watching our favorite shows, we were playing Yu-Gi-Oh cards. We became really close friends, Miguelito and I. But then something terrible happened.
Miguelito’s family was Catholic. Their being Catholic was not the terrible part, as my family was Catholic as well; we just didn’t practice it. They moved to another city called Menifee, about 75 miles away from our hometown, Montebello. They converted to the religion of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons. I was crushed. Not crushed because of their change of religion, after all, I knew so little about religion and the talk of God at that age. No. I was crushed because I did not have a friend to play and hang out with. No more sleepovers, no more debates on whether Goku or Vegeta was stronger, no more soccer playing in his backyard. No más de nada.
I already moved to my old barrio at around this time and the one guy who had a “normal” family without dysfunction like my own, was gone.
* * * * *
When I got in touch with Miguelito a few years ago when I was 25, I was shocked! He knew I got into smoking weed, however, he never knew about the barrio I lived in nor the things I did in my neighborhood throughout my teenage years.
“Hey Miguel! It’s me, Guillermo! Hope you still remember me, man. Wilcox Elementary, soccer, Dragon Ball Z? I’m sure it will come back to you. Anyway, I hope all is well, man. It has been many years. I tried reaching out to your mom and sister by email, but not sure if they got my message. Reach out when you can.”
That was my message to Miguel through social media. I was never really on social media, and at that time I was already planning on getting off social media for good, since I didn’t see the point to it. After the message I anticipated his response. One day passed, nada. Second day, still nothing. Third day, radio silence. Fourth day, he probably moved on. Fifth day…
“Hey, Guillermo! Of course, I remember you! You were my best friend…” I choked up a little reading that. “We had so many good memories. How have you been, dude? I tell my girlfriend about you all the time actually. I always tell her about my friend Guillermo and how close we were.”
He was right. We were. But friendship doesn’t just end, does it? I mean, friends are friends for a reason, right? All the time we spent together, it doesn’t have to stop even though we haven’t spoken in so many years, does it? But why? Why now? Why back then?
I shared what I accomplished over the years. Graduated from adult school, got my Associates degree at Rio Hondo College in philosophy. I also shared that I was working on my B.A. in both philosophy and English. I was proud of myself, and I think I was also proud sharing these milestones with my old and close friend. The friend that I played soccer with almost every day in elementary school. The same friend that shared our victory of that one game against Jaime and his twin brother Jefferey. I knew he was proud.
“That is so cool, Guillermo! I am proud of you, man.” I knew he would be proud.
But then I told him about my upbringing. Not everything. Not the time I was there when Iggy’s primo was shot and the homies thought he died after fainting from blood loss. I did not share all the drugs I did or the way I rebelled, nor the way I spoke to my mother. I would not dare tell him I used to borrow my mom’s car without her knowing to drive around East Los Angeles by myself or with my homies from the barrio. It would break his heart if he knew I used to go and steal beer from the local Superior Supermarket. He would bemoan it if he knew I used to sell half-pounds of weed when I was fifteen years old. And he would certainly curse me if he knew I had driven someone to kill a rival gang member in my black 1996 Explorer. So many more things in between that I could not tell him.
But I did tell him the time I went to juvenile hall. I figured he must know something about me, and well, going to juvi really affected me. I was sixteen years old, and I had to pay for all the shit I was doing. I did not tell Miguel what I did to get there but told him I went.
Why did I have to tell him?
¿Por qué? I wanted to. He was mi amigo after all, verdad? I wanted him to get a small glimpse of the troubles I went through but to then see the hole I dug myself out of.
He stopped replying to me right after that. I am not sure if juvi was too taboo for his new religious beliefs or if he thought I was some deranged lost soul. After all, my parents were divorced, he knew some things I shared of me witnessing how my parents would fight, and he also knew I smoked weed after he moved to Menifee. Maybe just knowing those things were enough. Maybe juvi was the final straw. Possibly, he just grew out of our friendship and did not want to know or remember his childhood.
Was he ashamed of me? Ashamed that I didn’t know Spanish. Maybe he felt that I was a dysfunctional person. I mean he wouldn’t be wrong on that last notion, but I had evolved, transformed. Haven’t I?
I waited for his reply for days to weeks. I decided to follow through with another message, but nothing again. As a few weeks passed, I stuck with what I wanted to do and deleted my social media like I had previously planned.
Why didn’t he reply back to me? Why?
¿Por qué?... ¿Por qué, mommy?... ¿Pero, por qué, mommy?
I can feel his words within me when I was in the backseat of his mom’s car. The same words that long to understand why his mom would say no to me coming over to hang out or sleep over. The same universal question that almost everyone asks when someone or something does not make sense: why?
Some truths we may never find out in life. I am coming to terms with understanding this in addition to learning to accept myself, my past, and my ever-evolving identity as a proud Chicano.
What I do know is this. That for those twenty-five minutes of playing soccer during our lunch break at Wilcox Elementary, we were good friends, we were champions of that soccer field, nosotros éramos niños del sol. This is a truth of a time and place that will never, ever, drift away.
Jacob “Jake” Teran is a proud Chicano living in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles. Jake is a 2nd generation Chicano who was born in Montebello, Los Angeles, east of Los Angeles. He has published one short fictional story at his community college at Rio Hondo College and a master’s thesis for his graduate program, where he obtained his Masters Degree in Rhetoric and Composition. He is currently teaching composition to several departments in two colleges that include indigenous and Chicanx literature. Jake currently lives in the San Gabriel Valley where he is working on a novel based on his experiences growing up in his barrio that deals with gang lifestyle, drugs, violence, and finding one’s identity in a chaotic concrete jungle.
Am I running away?
by Armando Gonzalez
Fernando was in the living room, sitting on the couch and watching T.V. He was watching iCarly, a show he knew he would get made fun of for watching if he ever admitted this to others at school. Although he had already seen the episode where Carly finds out the cool, hot kid likes to collect peewee babies, he wanted to watch T.V. because he did not want to get a haircut.
He had done everything that morning very slowly. He took a slow shower and let his thoughts wander. He did this often, and liked doing this because in part it was relaxing, but he felt there was some other reason why he liked doing it but he could not figure out the reason. Of course, that morning when he took a shower, he really let his thoughts wander so far beyond himself that it was as if his mind was slowly leaving his body, so that when his thoughts eventually returned back to him, he felt like he was in someone else’s body that just so happened to be called Fernando. He would annoy parents when he did this, most particularly his father, who wanted to avoid using too much water for the fear that the landlord would tell him something. Since he always locked the door, his father would have to pick the door lock with something that looked like a small metal cane.
When he went inside, he would tell Fernando, “Cuando no vas usar el agua, apágalo.”
Fernando would just say, “Okay.”
Fernando had done everything he had to do that morning. He had even brushed his teeth. Now he just had to leave the house, go over to the beauty salon that was about a block away, and get a haircut.
His mother, who was in the kitchen washing dishes, began to call him, “¿Fernando, qué hora es?”
“Son las tres.”
“Ya se está haciendo tarde. Vete a la peluquería antes que tu papá venga, o se va a enojar.”
He went into the kitchen where he knew the semi-wrinkled ten dollar bill would be, waiting for him on the kitchen table. He picked it up and looked at it. He looked at Alexander Hamilton’s hair, which was a wig, but Fernando was unaware of this. Although he didn’t really like the way Hamilton’s hair looked, Fernando was jealous because his hair looked longer than his. He wondered for a short time why it was that men back then were able to have long hair but now had to have short hair.
He said goodbye to his mother and started heading over to the beauty salon, slowly walking. But it didn’t matter how slow he walked because it took little to no time to reach the beauty salon. He stood in front of the beauty salon and hesitated to enter. He touched the tips of his bangs. It wasn’t long or anything, about medium length size to be exact, but it got long enough for his father to tell him to get a haircut. He knew that he would have to get a very short haircut and would be angry the whole day. He also knew that if he didn’t get the haircut, his father would get angry at him and would force him to get one. It didn’t seem like there was any room for compromise. He did not like fighting with anyone, especially grownups. He felt adults for the most part knew more than him, but sometimes he felt adults were just as clueless as him.
He finally went inside and went towards the glass counter. On the glass counter there was a yellow legal pad with a list of names crossed out and others that were not. It was the sign-in sheet. He picked up the black pen next to the yellow legal pad and wrote his name.
Fernando walked towards a chair and sat down. It was a Saturday, a popular day to get a haircut, and just after noon, so the wait was going to be a little longer. In the beauty salon were mothers who had brought their children to get a haircut, one that was presumably going to be short. He saw men there, too. They looked like they were by themselves and all had short haircuts. The men who sat in the beauty styling chairs were getting their hair cut and looked like they enjoyed having short hair. Some of the hairdressers, who were mostly women, had a variety of haircuts. Some of them had long hair, medium hair, and even short hair. Some of them even had their hair bleached or dyed another color like red.
There was one gay hairdresser, or at least he appeared so. Fernando noticed that most men, if they were not in any kind of hurry, did their best to avoid having their hair cut by him. His father told him once, after he had his hair cut done by the gay hairdresser, that he thought that that man was weird.
The beauty salon had gotten more packed since he walked in, and now every chair was taken. With so many people the hair salon had now gotten hotter. One of the hairdressers went to turn the air conditioner on, but it was going to take time for the place to cool down. Fernando decided it was probably better to wait outside, even if there was a chance he would not hear his name called out. He just wanted to get out.
Fernando got up from his chair and waited outside. There were two men standing outside, too. He leaned against the wall of the beauty salon and as usual began to get lost in his own head. Across the street was the field of the middle school he would soon attend next year. From what he understood from movies, middle school was usually not a great time for most kids. He wondered what he would be like when he was in middle school. He had typical middle school self-conscious thoughts: Would he be popular or unpopular? Cool or uncool? Outgoing or shy? Smart or dumb? Funny or unfunny? Interesting or boring? Mysterious or unmysterious? Handsome or ugly?
Regardless of these thoughts, Fernando fantasized about having a good time. He was also getting to that age when he started to notice girls sexually and how he liked being around them a lot more than most boys. He thought of having a girlfriend, but then he wished he had not thought of this because he did not know whether he was fit to get one. He felt boyfriends had to be strong enough to get into fights. He did not feel he was this kind of strong.
Maybe I am strong in other ways, he thought.
Just then a hairdresser opened the door.
“¿Está Fernando aquí?”
The two men looked at the hairdresser. Then the two men and the hairdresser looked at Fernando. Since he was lost in his own thoughts, it took him a couple seconds to register what was going on.
“¿Qué?” said Fernando.
“¿Usted es Fernando?”
He was about to say yes when the thought of being strong in other ways occurred to him. In the moment he was driven by emotions instead of reason.
The hairdresser said okay and went back inside.
Fernando immediately regretted what he had done. His heart was beating fast. He tried to calm himself down and thought of going back inside and telling the hairdresser that he had misheard, that he was in fact Fernando. But he was too ashamed to do even that. In reality, there was nothing to worry about. If he had simply gone back inside and told the hairdresser that he was in fact Fernando, she would most likely think nothing of it. But this was a big deal to him, as it was the first time he had ever truly done something for himself.
As if he was no longer in control of himself, Fernando’s legs began to slowly walk away from the beauty salon.
He was walking on a sidewalk, unsure of where he was going or what he was doing. He came to a crosswalk and pressed on the traffic light button. As he stood there waiting for the white walking man sign to come up, he began to think where he should go. All he knew was that he did not want to go back to the beauty salon or home.
Am I running away? Fernando thought. No, I can’t be running away. I have nowhere to go. I only have ten dollars…But it feels like I am running away.
The white walking man sign came up. Fernando walked to the other side of the street. While he thought about where he should be going, he mindlessly walked straight ahead, as if turning right or left would be wrong or be too much effort.
He arrived in a part of the city where there were many homeless people on the sidewalk. Some of them were either sleeping on a piece of cardboard or a mattress. Others were leaning against the wall of a dollar general store, thinking who knows what. It did not matter if one wanted to walk to the other side of the street because they would be there as well. Fernando had no choice but to walk on another street in order to avoid them altogether. He decided to take a right.
But even when he made a deliberate effort to avoid them, he saw one coming his way. He was a lanky homeless man with a blond and entangled, stiff beard. He had long blonde hair that looked like it had not been washed for days. Fernando wondered what his parents thought of his having long hair. He was shirtless but had a shirt hung around his neck like a shemagh. Fernando tried hard not to make eye contact with him. When the man finally got next to Fernando, he asked him if he had any change. He smelled extremely sour, so it was hard for Fernando not to make a disgusted reaction.
For a split second Fernando thought about giving the ten dollars to the homeless man because he felt sorry for him. He remembered what his father told him about homeless people, that they were all lazy people who didn’t want to work. He decided against giving the homeless man the ten dollars. Maybe if he had a dollar he would have given it to him.
Fernando shook his head. The homeless man, with a blank expression, said nothing and walked away.
Eventually the sidewalk ended and he was now facing a street divider, which to him almost felt as if it was demanding Fernando to make a choice, to either go left or right. Since he still had no idea where he should go, he thought it best to go somewhere where he can rest so he can think about it better. To his right he saw a McDonald’s. He thought McDonald’s would be a good place to rest and walked towards it.
In the McDonald’s he walked towards a table near a window and sat there. Once again, Fernando had to think about what he was doing.
Do I ever plan to go home? he thought. I know I have to go home at some point. But I still haven’t gotten a haircut. I know my father will get angry with me and probably force me to get one. There is still time to go to the hair salon to get a haircut. As long as I come back home with shorter hair I don’t think my parents will care too much if I come home late.
Fernando looked out the window for a while, staring at nothing in particular. He understood the simple fact that boys were supposed to have short hair and girls were supposed to have long hair, but at the same time he did not understand.
So what if I do have longer hair? It’s not the end of the world.
He touched his bangs.
Why does it matter so much to my father that what I am touching is a little long?
For some reason, Fernando had the strange feeling that someone was staring at him. He looked up and noticed that a woman, who was sitting with a man and two boys, and was a table away from Fernando, was staring at him. He assumed she was the mother of the children and the man sitting next to him was her husband and the father of the children. When Fernando made eye contact with the mother, she looked quickly away. Fernando thought nothing of this. But he then noticed other people, other parents, and even the cashier, were giving him stares too, as if he was strange looking. Their stares creeped Fernando out.
Do they know I didn’t get my haircut? he thought despite knowing how such a thought was nonsense.
Then he knew why. He was the only child in the McDonald’s who was all by himself. The other children were probably with parents or an older relative. Fernando thought maybe they thought he was homeless and was perhaps watching other people eat, although he did not exactly have the look of a homeless child. He felt his face grow a little hot. He wanted to leave as soon as possible. But, as soon as he got up to leave, he felt his stomach grumble. He was hungry. He remembered he had a ten dollar bill. His hands trembled as he took the ten dollar bill out of his right pocket. There was Hamilton once again with his long and white wig. This was the bill he was given to get a haircut, but now he was thinking of using it to buy something to eat at McDonald’s.
At first he was reluctant, but he realized that as long as he did not spend more than five dollars, he would still have plenty of money to get a haircut because it was exactly five dollars. But he wondered what his parents would think when he didn’t give them any of the change back.
I can say that after I got my haircut, I got the sudden urge to eat something at McDonald’s, thought Fernando. He figured it was such a simple reason that the worst that could possibly happen is his parents telling him he should have let them know before he went.
Fernando went to the cashier and ordered himself two cheeseburgers and a meal. It was $4.89. He now had $5.11. Just enough to still get a haircut. He ate his two cheeseburgers and fries and small coke without feeling too much guilt.
After he was done eating, he decided it was probably time to go home. If he still wanted to get a haircut, it was his last chance, that is, if he did not want to be dragged by his own father to the beauty salon. Images of his father yelling at him and grabbing him by the shoulders formed in his mind. He no longer hit Fernando, but nevertheless, he was still afraid of him. Even though he knew others would find this a little silly, to Fernando, yelling and hitting almost felt like the same thing. He asked someone in the McDonald’s for the time and she told him it was about to be three. He started to feel anxious again. He walked quickly out of the McDonald’s and planned on going back to the beauty salon.
He stood in front of the beauty salon. The place was much more packed with people since it was now later in the afternoon. He entered again, this time with shame, and avoided eye contact with any of the hairdressers that might have seen him enter the first time. When he walked towards the counter and looked at the names written on the yellow legal pad, he saw his own name was crossed out. He wrote his name on the yellow legal pad again.
He looked around to see if there were any empty seats. He saw one, but it was between two seats that were occupied with people, an older man with a grown out buzz cut to the left and an older woman to the right with a long ponytail.
When he went to sit down on the chair, he noticed how fast his heart was beating. He started to wonder what his parents were thinking. The thought formed in his head that his mom was probably thinking why their son was taking so long to get a haircut. He could picture his mother being worried at the moment and his father either driving home from work or having just arrived home. He could picture his worried mother telling his father that Fernando had not come home. His father would most likely get furious. “¿Cómo que no ha llegado? La peluquería está muy cortita.”
He was shaking now. He wanted to get his haircut right away. The walls to his right had pictures of men with combovers, tapers, undercuts, buzz cuts, short spiky hair, spiky quiffs, fades, etc. He didn’t even bother to look at any of them because he thought maybe if he got the shortest haircut that his father would not be so mad at him.
“Fernando,” a hairdresser called his name.
Fernando stood up immediately and walked over to the hairdresser that called his name. Luckily she was not the same hairdresser that called him the first time, or that would have been embarrassing. The hairdresser was a short, skinny Mexican woman who had a pixie haircut with highlights. She led him to the stylist chair. He sat down and looked at himself in the mirror. He had an overgrown hairstyle and, at most, his fringe barely passed his eyebrows. He secretly wanted to have long and flamboyant hair like a male anime character.
Only after the hairdresser put the hair cloth on Fernando did she ask him: “¿Cómo quieres tu pelo?”
Although he was feeling anxious before about his dad yelling at him if he arrived home late and without a haircut, Fernando did not respond right away. The hairdresser stared at him and asked him again.
Fernando told her to give him a short haircut, a number four on all sides.
Just then, his father came into the beauty salon. Fernando could feel someone staring at him, hard, to his left and turned to see his dad standing near the entrance. His father, while looking noticeably angry at Fernando for taking such a long time to get a simple haircut, at the same time had an expression on his face of approval. He walked over to where Fernando was seated.
“¿La lista de gente era larga?”
Fernando nodded his head.
“¿Qué tipo de corte de pelo vas a agarrar?”
“Un número cuatro en todos lados.”
“Eso está bueno.”
Fernando just looked straight ahead and said nothing.
“Voy a estar sentado. ¿Okay?”
Fernando nodded again.
The hairdresser reached into a counter drawer for the hair clippers and turned it on. As soon as he heard the buzz, Fernando went stiff, and suddenly he remembered once again what he had told himself earlier in the day which made him run away for a short while: Maybe I am strong in other ways.
When the hair clippers got near his hair, he moved his head away, which surprised the hairdresser.
From where he was seated, he heard his father yell “¡Fernando, quédate quieto!”
Fernando did not listen. Without having to think about it, he got off his chair and made a run for the door. When he got near the door, his father, who was so caught off guard by what was happening, had to register what was going on, and because of this, he had lost a second or two that would have enabled him to grab Fernando. This resulted in his father’s failure to catch Fernando, as he only managed to snatch the hair cloth off him.
He ran as fast as he could without ever looking back. His father kept calling out his name. Without looking both ways, Fernando ran across the street to the middle school’s chain link fence. Cars honked at him and the wheels of cars screeched on the pavement and people yelled things at him, mostly in Spanish. He did not have a second to think where he was going to turn when he got near the chain link fence. He turned right. Soon after he made the turn, he almost ran into a short Mexican lady selling flowers to cars. He kept running straight ahead. He no longer heard his father calling out his name. Either he was too focused on chasing him or he had stopped chasing him.
Now I’m going to get it, Fernando thought.
About an hour or so had passed since he last ran away from the beauty salon. He was back to running away, except now it felt much more official. Whereas before he was scared enough of his father to return back to the hair salon, now he was too scared to even go back home. He had no idea what he was going to do now. All he had in mind was to be as far away as possible from his home.
By now he was walking by the Santa Ana riverbed. He stopped walking and looked down at the riverbed, which was bone dry. He decided to walk down the riverbed, where he could hide easily and sit down in some shade under the overpass. There was a homeless person sleeping at the very bottom of the riverbed and using a black backpack as a pillow. He had a blanket, coated with some dirt, wrapped around himself. Fernando made sure to avoid stepping on any broken glass bottles or any sharp object. The place smelled like piss and shit. Fernando sat down on an incline. And once he did, he realized just how tired he felt. Altogether, he had been practically walking the whole day, and because he felt very tired, he thought of absolutely nothing. For about half an hour he simply listened to the cars pass him from above. Occasionally people on bikes would pass by him and some would look at him with a concerned face.
Despite how dirty and smelly the place was, just listening to nearby sounds and sitting underneath the overpass was extremely peaceful for Fernando. It was something he didn’t know he needed.
However, he got the sudden urge to take a massive dump. The McDonald’s had finally wanted out. He had about three options: he could go back home, find a nearby place with a restroom, or take a dump where he currently was. Fernando knew he was too tired to walk long distances, so the first option was out. Besides, he didn’t want to face his father, at least not yet. He wanted to do everything he could to avoid the last option so he tried hard to think of restrooms that were nearby. He noticed there was a park next to the riverbed, so he figured that was probably his best option.
He walked slowly to the park so as to not let the poop come out. He got near a lake in the park which smelled of duck poop and saw a young looking couple sitting on a bench and thought about asking them where the nearest restroom was. Once he got closer, he realized it was two women who were sitting very close to each other, almost like they could kiss each other on the lips at any moment. Fernando was slightly uncomfortable when he saw them, but at the same time he didn’t really care if it was two women who were sitting so close to each other, he needed help, so it didn't matter who it came from. Also, by this time he really had to go to the restroom and had no time to be picky. When he got near them, he said, “Excuse me.”
Both women turned their heads around to look at him. They appeared to be hispanic. The one on the right was wearing a septum piercing. Fernando noticed that they smelled like something but couldn’t identify what exactly the smell was though. For him, it neither smelled good or bad. He noticed their eyes were very red, too. He had never smelled marijuana before. They also didn’t look like those kinds of women, the kind to get close to other women. They had long hair, wore tight jeans and both spoke in feminine voices. In a few words, they basically looked and sounded like normal women.
“Hi,” the one sitting on the right said. Both smiled and laughed a little more than was necessary. They seemed pleasantly surprised to see a child, all by himself, approach them.
“Do you guys know where the nearest restroom is?”
Both had to think for a few seconds. Then the one on the right pointed with her finger in a direction and said: “If you keep going that way, you will see a dirt track. There is a public restroom right next to it.”
As Fernando walked over to the public restroom, he heard the two women talking silently and laughing. They were probably talking about him.
Once he saw the dirt track, it was easy to find the public restroom. When he entered the public restroom, he noticed there were no doors for the toilet. There was just a wall to cover yourself on one side and that was it. He was scared that someone might walk in on him while he was taking a shit, but he had no time to worry about that, so he walked over to the toilet and sat down and did his business. He wasted no time.
After he was finished, it dawned on him that, once again, he had no idea what to do next. He figured he needed to find a place to sit down and think for a little, just like he had done when he was at McDonald's. He saw a ledge nearby and walked towards it to sit down, which was in front of the dirt track. He watched people jog. When he noticed how golden the people’s skin appeared, he realized that it was soon going to be dark. It was going to be dangerous for an early adolescent like him to walk the streets during the night when different kinds of people came out. He thought about how this might be his first time ever walking in the dark.
Fernando’s stomach rumbled. He was getting hungry again. The thought of buying food with the five dollars he had occurred to him. If anything was going to force him back home, it was going to be food.
Suddenly, the idea of buying a bus pass occurred to him. He remembered that he passed by a bus stop near the riverbed. He knew the one-day bus pass cost five dollars from the times he took the bus with his mom to places like the pediatrician when his father could not take them. If he took the bus he would definitely be able to get home before it got fully dark.
He walked over to the bus stop. When he got there he noticed that there was no one sitting on the bus bench. He chose not to sit down because he did not want anyone to sit next to him, especially since it was getting late.
It didn’t take long for the bus to arrive. When he saw the bus coming he saw on top of it bright orange letters which read “Golden West Transp Center.” He took the five dollars out of his pocket before the bus pulled up next to him. For a second he thought how it was a little funny that the money he was given was used for anything but a haircut. Who knew what his father would do to him when he arrived home with no money at all? At this point though, Fernando was tired and hungry and just wanted to get home, so he sort of didn’t care what his father did to him anymore. It was a bit of an amazing feeling, to not care at all anymore, he thought.
The bus pulled up next to him, the doors opened, and he got in. He inserted his five dollars into the fare box. He felt like the bus driver was staring at him, but he chose to ignore this feeling. Few people were on the bus. He sat on the seat all the way in the back on the right side of the bus, which was right next to the window. When he looked out the window, his mind wandered. He had many thoughts, and they went deeper than usual, almost like he was at home showering again. He expanded on a thought he had earlier, which was why his father wanted him to get a haircut so badly. Of course, he was not a stupid child. He obviously knew that his father wanted him to have shorter hair so that he looked more like a boy than a girl. But what amazed him is the fact that this simple thing of having longer hair, which was really nothing to get upset over, was something that made his dad uncomfortable, like he was a child like him, who was uncomfortable with the dark.
Although he felt that he was becoming less and less scared of his own father, he still wanted to avoid a harsh clash with him, as hopeless as that sounded.
What can I say to my father? Fernando questioned himself. How can I convince him that there is nothing wrong with a boy who wishes to have longer hair?
The bus was getting close to Main street, where he knew he had to get off. He thought of staying on the bus until he knew what to say to his father. Fernando thought and thought, but it seemed like there was just nothing he could say to convince his father that long hair was just as good as short hair, regardless of whether you were a boy or a girl. He knew his father was a very stubborn man and wanted things his way. He vowed to himself to never be like his own father.
He pulled on the yellow string to get off at the bus stop on Main street. As the bus stop wasn’t that far away from his home, he decided to walk the rest of the way home.
The walk home was a quiet one. He did not walk fast. There didn’t seem to be any good reason to do so other than to make his parents worry one less minute. He couldn’t imagine his father being worried about him at the same time being angry at him. He just couldn’t for some reason.
As he walked home, he passed by a church called Saint Anne’s. He looked at the bell tower and wondered what it was like to ring the bell. Fernando was not very religious, but he was not entirely against religion either. He had some questions about religion, whether one needed religion to be happy. Anytime he had a question like this, his mother always insisted that you did need religion to be happy, as if this wasn't obvious enough to Fernando that any free moment she had, his mother would devote that time to praying. Or when his mother would be in the kitchen cooking dinner, meanwhile she would have her phone on the kitchen table playing loudly some YouTube video of a catholic priest giving a sermon. In stark contrast to his father, his mother was a lot gentler and timid. He remembered once he asked her what it was that made her want to marry his father. Besides some other characteristics, the first thing that came to her mind was that he was a very hard worker. Fernando wasn’t sure if being a hard worker was something he liked enough in a person to want to want to marry them, but he understood.
He was now standing below the green Old Mcfadden and Main street sign. In just a few more steps he would be home. He stood below the street sign for a few minutes, getting himself prepared for his parent’s reaction. It was eight thirty p.m. Once again, his heart was beating fast. All kinds of thoughts about his father were going through his head. It was easy not to care when he was away, but now that he was a lot closer to his home, all his worries came back to him and he felt the tension in his shoulders, as if someone were squeezing them.
He started walking. He was scared but he continued to walk. As he got closer to the front window, he saw lights coming through a gap in the curtains. They were home. He walked up the red steps towards the black steel door and knocked on the metal screen. He heard footsteps. The knob of the door turned, the door swung open and before him stood his father.
The next day he was at the beauty salon again, this time with his father standing by his side. His father did not say anything to him when he arrived home. But the next morning he gave him a short, but assertive and even threatening sounding lecture.
“Ese si quieres quedarte en esta casa, necesitas obedecer lo que te digo que hacer. No quiero que vuelvas a correr porque solo te digo que te cortes el pelo.”
“Pero nada más es pelo.”
“¿Ese nada más es pelo, por qué no te lo cortas?”
Fernando only nodded his head and said okay, making little to no eye contact. His mother stood by, saying nothing.
“Vamas ir al peluquería. ¿Estás listo?”
He nodded his head.
So there they were again, in the beauty salon. His father told the hairdresser to give him a number three on all sides of his head.
“Por fin ya se va a cortar el pelo,” the hairdresser said.
“Sí, ya era tiempo.”
Both the hairdresser and his father chuckled. Fernando did not chuckle.
The hairdresser took the hair clippers out of the drawer and started. It was an easy haircut and of course no scissors were needed. It didn’t really matter where she started. She started on the top. Fernando saw his father in the mirror, with his arms folded, and with a satisfied look. He could have killed his father right there and then. He had all the necessary emotions boiling inside of him.
Armando Gonzalez was born in Santa Ana, California and continues to live there. His parents migrated from Mexico and met here and married. He has no schooling in creative writing, and “Haircut” is his first published story. He is Mexican American/Chicano.
It does not flicker
A Quiet Night on the Boulevard
by Jacob Teran
The block was not as active tonight. Olympic Boulevard is one of the gateways to enter our urban domain known as South Sapro Street and, on this night, it is absent of travelers and hostile combatants.
You can hear the last metro bus making its way down the Boulevard to the depot drop off—final destination. A long day of picking up hard workers, tweakers, cholos, and dropping them off to where they need to go.
Neither juras pass by with sirens, nor local tweakers roam the block looking for a potential vehicle to break into, just, the calm and quiet sound of the wind and train that makes its presence known to our barrio. These nights seldomly visit my barrio and when the sweet sound of silence makes its way to Sapro, the tranquility is always welcomed.
I am in my messy room of my mom’s 2-bedroom apartment that I have not cleaned for days, lying in bed. I can feel the temperature drop from my open window as the smell of rain and burnt cannabis roaches permeates my room. I slip on my already tied DVS skating shoes, grab my hoodie, and make my way out into the abyss of my barrio.
I head to the local Valero Gas Station to pick up a blunt wrap to indulge with my homeboy, Iggy. A light haze of cool droplets penetrates the dark sky making the lonely night that much colder. The smell of wet asphalt is refreshing with each sloshing step that I take. The local Valero was the place to buy a 3-pack of some cheap beer if no one was in the mood to go to Superior Market. The fluorescent lights beam blue and yellow, and read, “Valero Gas Station” with the “o” turned off or perhaps, dead. The people inside know me and even though I am still a minor by age, they never card me when I buy a pack of frajos, especially blunt wraps.
As I make my way back on the wet asphalt of the Boulevard, I can smell and hear all sorts of familiar elements that ignite my senses. Across the street from the Valero was Cedar Ave. Someone was always washing their clothes on the corner of Cedar and the Boulevard in the evening. An old steel clothesline is engulfed with colorful socks, white t-shirts, and blue jeans. Probably a small family since I always see a group of three to four kids playing in the street just before the sun sets. The scent of Suavitel Fabric Softener always reminded me of my Abuelos in Boyle Heights, as their neighbors used a similar product for their clothes.
The next thing I immediately notice is the fresh scent of cannabis burning nearby. It must be the homies from my block congregating at Cheddar’s pad since he lived two houses from the corner of Cedar. The thick skunky aroma of indica burning in the street at night always felt like I was home—a comforting feeling. Suavitel and marijuana were the telltale signs I am home.
Between Cedar and Sapro, an area on the Boulevard, is where I feel the most alone as I walk. As I walk pass Cedar, I look to the left side of the Boulevard stretches to its desolate side of abandoned buildings bathed with graffiti. To my right was a long fence of white wood that closed off the side of an apartment. This wooden canvas is marked “SLS,” for SAPRO LOCOS, the acronym for the locotes on my street. Other times, they were crossed out by the rival barrios in the surrounding area and down south of us, passing the railroad tracks, beyond the Boulevard and away from the domain of Sapro.
The spray on walls, scribes on windows, markings on wooden fences, trees, light posts, and curbsides, are all voices without faces that speak. A language that only people that live here understand.
I walk under the streetlight between Cedar and Sapro, probably the most remote section of the Boulevard where peculiar occurrences would take place. In this desolate part of the Boulevard, voices could be heard with not a single person around, tall, shadowy figures have followed people only to disappear in a blink of an eye, and the streetlight itself would flicker violently when someone walked under. I could never account for the first two things that homies and neighbors have spoken of, but the streetlight flickering, that was real. Probably some glitch with the wiring under the asphalt, but, whatever rationale could explain, it always made me feel like some ominous entity was following me.
I walk under it tonight. It does not flicker.
I pass by the streetlight and eventually the Cliff to walk across Sapro to a dark grey Astro van. I could see the radio’s light slightly brighter as I approach the van’s sliding door. I knocked on it twice before opening it to be greeted by my homeboy, Iggy,
“Fuckin’ Guill! Finally! Ah Ah! Ah!” Iggy’s laugh was always amusing. Iggy or Iggs, always sounded like his laugh was backwards.
“’Sup G, was’ crackin’?” Coming into the van, we shake hands.
“Nada güey, posted trying to get faded. ’Sup with you? Where da bud at?”
“Shit, I thought you had it.”
“Lying ass vato! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
I pop out the grape flavored swisher I bought from Valero as I come in slamming the sliding door after me.
“Firme! Grape will go good with this shit.”
Iggy starts cutting up the swisher with a dull razor as I begin to break up the sticky indica from the baggie I was clenching since the odd streetlight. Iggy hands me a ripped Home Depot cardboard he used to dump out the tobacco from the swisher. Bone Thugs’ “Resurrection” is playing in a CD player he installed for his mom’s van’s radio. The music suits the quiet night and the session we are about to have. The dank bud begins to stink up the van with a skunky aroma as I break up the sticky flower that sticks to my fingertips.
We start conversing about the extracurricular activities that have been making the block hot: South Siders and Veil Street have been coming through our block and hitting up their placas in our area. A few tweakers from a few blocks away stealing the vecinos’ recyclables. Really typical mamadas that occur in our barrio. Sometimes we laugh about it. Sometimes we get into heavier conversations.
I hand the cardboard with the potent shake I just broke up to Iggy, “Trip out G, isn’t tonight quiet as fuck?”
“Fuck yea, Guill…but…” Iggy licks the wrap’s end to seal the blunt, “…it’s firme, I like nights like this. Don’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s just trippy,” I kept looking down the Boulevard from the second-row window of the van. Usually, a suspicious car or jura patrolling would pass, but nothing.
Iggy hands me the lighter, “Do the honors and spark it up, Guill! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
I light one side of the blunt and roll it around slowly as if I’m hot roasting a pig, making sure the cherry got an even burn. I take a couple of light hits as if I was smoking a cigar to get the cherry just right. As the smoke enters my lungs, I can feel it spread throughout my chest making me want to cough. I hold it in and exhale through my nostrils, feeling the euphoria of both weed and Krayzie Bone’s lyricism.
Iggy is chain-hitting the blunt and seemed like he forgot I was in the session with him. He looks halfway towards me from the driver’s seat, “…Guill, I wanna tell you some shit that some OG told me a while back. This vato was a firme ass foo, a real one. The shit he said was the truth dog, palabra, and I still believe this shit to this day.”
I looked at Iggy thinking ahh shit, this foo is faded. “Handles, G.”
Iggy put the blunt down to his chest as it continues to burn, “And I don’t give a fuck what anyone says, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise either. You gotta believe this shit, Guillermo. You’re gonna have foos try to press you, call you a bitch and all that…but fuck that.”
I was thinking, Iggy is never going to get to the point, “Yeah Iggy, handles, I hear you foo.”
Iggy turns as much as he could to the seat behind him where I’m sitting, “You don’t got to be from nowhere and still be G wid’ it. A lot of foos think you gotta be from somewhere to be hard, claim a hood, get into mamadas and put in dirt, and all that bullshit, but chales, güey.” He pauses and takes another rip from the blunt.
“Escucha güey…Just be you dog…and that’s keeping it gangster.” A bit of mota and street wisdom Iggy shares as he takes one big rip and lets out a huge cloud of smoke that makes him start choking and laughing.
Iggs passed the almost finished blunt back to me as he was coughing all over the place. “Damn, foo, you aight, haha!” “Hit that shi…that shit…Mem…” Iggy kept coughing and all I could think about was why he was telling me this.
I sit there as Iggy is coughing his lungs out and felt this was the most genuine thing my homeboy ever told me. Growing up in the hood, I always thought I would eventually get jumped in the hood when the time came. But what Iggy just confided hit me profoundly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it during our session.
We kill the blunt and hear a few of Iggy’s primos coming back to interrupt our private hotbox. Fuck. Who is this? There are a chingo of us on the block and whoever comes to a session either has weed or none.
“Eeeeee, look at you scandolosos right here,” Iggy’s primo Fat Boy always loves putting people on blast.
Iggy looks up and blasts back, “fuck you dick, where were you when I hit you up earlier to blaze it?” Fat Boy smirks. “Don’t even trip, I share my shit homie, not like you assholes,” Fat Boy starts opening up a bag with his own weed that he had.
Looking to me, Fat Boy laughs, “’Sup Memo, where’s all da bud at? You and Iggy are straight holdouts.”
I smirk and laugh. “Dick, you foos had your own VIP sesh, so Iggs hit me up. Got ends? Still have some leftover yesca.” Fat Boy ignores me as his brother Scraps and Cheddar come through pushing themselves in the van talking mumbling and complaining that Iggy and I were smoking without them, although they just smoked without Iggy and me.
“Hey dick, my Jefa is gonna come out trippin’ with all you foos in here being all loud and shit,” Iggy always snapped when unexpected dudes came, even if they were his primos.
“Don’t even trip, my Tía loves me,” Fat Boy said as he was breaking up some of his bud nudging me for the cardboard with the leftover bud on it.
“Not you fat ass, you’re burning the spot,” Iggy capped back as he was looking for a track to play on the van’s CD player stereo. Scraps, Cheddar, and I all started busting up laughing from the exchange between Iggy and his primo, Fat Boy. DJ Quik’s “Pitch in On a Party” surrounds the van’s speakers as the van gets louder and I kept thinking about what Iggy told me.
Fat Boy looked back at Scraps and Cheddar, “Shut the fuck up turkey and you too cheddar.” Fat Boy’s hermano Scraps was chubby like Fat Boy, but shorter. Everyone called him “Turkey” or “Danny DeVito,” which he hated. Cheddar had pretty poor hygiene when it came to his teeth. He never brushed his teeth, and the result made his dientes look like picante corn nuts.
“Dick, you’re fucked up,” Cheddar shakes his head.
“You’re a scandalous vato too, ‘Gay-mo,’” Fat Boy looks to me. The homies would either call me “Guill” or “Memo,” short for Guillermo. Other times, “Gay-mo,” because it sounded funny to them, and I also hated it.
“Just be you dog,” I pat Fat Boy hard on the back of the shoulder.
“Fuck, let’s go finish this shit out in the front of your pad Fat Boy, you burned the spot.”
“Fuck it, let’s bounce then,” Fat Boy said as we all get up to leave the van.
We all walked to the front of Fat Boy and Scrap’s pad. Their mom was asleep, so we had to creep and crawl if we didn’t want to get kicked out of the yard. Fat Boy and Scrap’s oldest brother Beaker wasn’t home either, probably getting all pedo with some lady that he would always say he was going to marry but then break up with weeks later.
We all post up on the bed of Beaker’s 1987 El Camino, laughing quietly, talking about how cold the night was. We start packing bowls from Cheddar and Scrap’s weed pipes and begin a new rotation. Iggy’s stomach was bothering him, so heads to the restroom. The four of us, without Iggy, sit in the back of the El Camino getting faded as the night continues to get colder and quieter.
Suddenly, a car comes out the cut from the corner of the yard where we are posting up, on the Boulevard. Fat Boy and Scraps lived at the corner of our street and had thick bushes that made it hard to see who was walking or driving by, especially at night.
* * * *
We then see four shadows running around the corner of Fat Boy and Scraps’ pad outside the fence. The moonlight was our only aid in seeing through the darkness. One shadow stood at the corner keeping trucha, while one other dude stood outside of the gate. The other two shadows came up to us in front of the fence where we happen to be sitting.
“Where the fuck you from, Ese?! This is big bad Southside Greenwood Gang! Fuck ‘Scrape’ Street!”
The bald shadow brandishes a .45 cuete and points it to each of our stunned skulls. All of us with our sweaty palms open, shield our chests, afraid and frozen in an already cold evening. The nefarious shadow, only three feet away from the silver diamond-shaped fence that separates us, stands fiercely. The streetlight reveals his inked face, a black spider web trapped his entire face with the center of the web starting from the shadow’s nose. Eyes as black as obsidian, stabbing us with his soulless glare, listo for anything.
“Hey dog…we’re from nowhere…we don’t bang. I live right here,” Fat Boy being the oldest of us speaks, shaken up, choosing his words carefully. The shadow looks at him with disdain and then all of us. He points his cuete at each of us asking us individually if we claimed Sapro Street. With our arms raised, palms open, not knowing what to think or do, we deny because we are in fact not from the hood, yet.
“I don’t give a fuck! You’re caught slipping out here! This is Southside Territory! Fuck Sapro Street! Bitch ass levas! The spider webbed shadow looks to his homeboy for confirmation to off us right then and there. The shadow raises his less dominant hand and cocks his cuete. Coming back from the restroom, Iggy comes out to a situation he was somewhat familiar with.
The second shadow by the fence gate sees Iggy and hails out, “Who the fuck are you?! Southside Greenwood Gang, ese!”
Iggy opens his palms towards the second shadow, “Hey, I don’t bang dog. I live right here in the back, this is my Tía’s pad. These are all my primos, we’re just right here burning some bud. My primos are kids G, they ain’t soldiers. We are family right here.” Iggy being much older than us already knew the street lingo—along with his street intellect and rhetoric, Iggy’s response disheartens the shadows.
Although this was a typical night in my barrio, we never had a neighboring group roll up on us like that. This night made me realize the brevity of life, the choices I make and the words I choose influence what can happen next. Iggy’s words echoed in my mind and made me realize a lot of shit—life is short and can be taken in an instant. I want to change and do better, but it’s difficult when you have no direction or positive influences. But Iggy made me think and that was perhaps one of the most impactful things someone ever told me.
The dude with the cuete throws up his insignia, claims his hood one last time so we could all remember it, and dashes off to the car with the other shadows and drove off into the abyss.
The rain never came but the smell remained…Some fuckin’ quiet night.
Jacob “Jake” Teran is a proud Chicano living in the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles. Jake is a 2nd generation Chicano who was born in Montebello, Los Angeles, east of Los Angeles. He has published one short fictional story at his community college at Rio Hondo College and a master’s thesis for his graduate program, where he obtained his Masters Degree in Rhetoric and Composition. He is currently teaching composition to several departments in two colleges that include indigenous and Chicanx literature. Jake currently lives in the San Gabriel Valley where he is working on a novel based on his experiences growing up in his barrio that deals with gang lifestyle, drugs, violence, and finding one’s identity in a chaotic concrete jungle.
Artie Finds The Right One—For Someone Else