by Robert G. Retana
The card was made of white construction paper and had a small flower on the front drawn with crayons. Each petal was a different color, and “Happy Mother’s Day” was neatly written across the top of the card. The handwriting was that of a child but neat and precise, nonetheless. Inside the card, the words “from Victor” were written in blue ink. Victor brought it home from school right before Mother’s Day and showed it to his Aunt Dolores.
“Can I send this to my mother?” he said.
His words pierced Dolores’s heart because she knew how much pain this poor child carried around and how much he would suffer for the rest of his life for things he had no part in.
“Yes, you can send it to her,” Dolores responded. “We’ll find an envelope for it and mail it tomorrow morning. She should get it in a few days.”
“When can I see her?” Victor asked.
“We can go for a visit soon. But she is in Chowchilla, a long way from here, and I don’t know how soon we can take a trip there.”
“When can she come home?”
“Baby, she might never come home,” Dolores responded. “But she thinks of you every day, and you can visit her there. It’s far, and we can’t go that often to see her. My car gives me a lot of trouble, and it takes forever if we take the bus.” Dolores hugged him, and he hugged her back. Then he went upstairs to change his clothes and play video games before he had to do his homework.
Dolores wondered whether she would have it in her to heal this child’s heart or whether the pain he felt would become rage, and he would wind up in prison like his mother. She prayed he would not change and that God would help her know what to do to make things better. Dolores had her own two children and never expected to raise a third. But now that he was hers, she could not help but want to take care of him. No one should start off in life with so much pain and sadness.
She looked at the framed picture of herself and Marisa, her younger sister, and Victor’s mother, which she kept on the living room wall. It was taken when they were little girls, four and five years old. They were clinging to their mother, who looked so happy and beautiful. She had long, brown, wavy hair and large expressive eyes, just like Marisa. Both girls were smiling and holding on to their mother for dear life. Behind them stood their father, a tall, handsome, nicely dressed man with thick black hair combed back and a neat mustache that framed his broad smile. Little did they know that soon after this picture was taken, their father would leave home and never return.
People said he had another family in Mexico and decided to return there. Others said he was spotted wearing a fancy suit in the bars with a new woman by his side. Whatever the story was, they never saw or heard from him again. It was too much for their mother to take, and soon after he disappeared, she killed herself, overdosing on sleeping pills.
Marisa was sent to live with her grandmother, who was too old to control her, and just prayed a lot for her salvation. Dolores went to live with an aunt who took good care of her but could not afford to take them both. The girls cried for weeks when they were separated. Although they kept in close contact, they went their separate ways in terms of lifestyle. Marisa always had boys chasing her, but she never found a healthy relationship. Men just brought her more problems. Dolores was more serious and had a stricter parental figure in her aunt. She could not run with the same crowd or tag along when Marisa skipped school or got a fake I.D. to go nightclubbing even though she was underage. Marisa quickly learned that any shyness or awkwardness she felt would go away when she had been drinking and doing drugs, and her self-esteem was boosted by the attention she got from men, even if it turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. There was always room at the parties for a pretty girl who liked to have a good time.
The pain of losing their mother and father and then being separated from Dolores never seemed to lessen for Marisa. She lied, made everything seem great, and gave Dolores expensive gifts and clothes that she could not afford to buy for herself, never explaining how she got them. Marisa could never look her sister in the eye and tell her everything she was caught up in. People said she used men and women to get what she wanted. Marisa would always drive nice cars but never had a job that would allow her to afford them. She dressed in nice, new clothes and always had her hair and nails done. She looked vivacious, but when she drank, the sadness in her eyes was unmistakable.
When she visited Dolores, she sometimes slurred her words like she was high but denied she had a drug problem. Dolores begged her not to use drugs when she became pregnant and feared the baby would be born with birth defects. Luckily, he was born a healthy baby boy. Marisa never said who the father was and gave the baby her last name. She named him Victor, after their father, which surprised Dolores since Marisa always said she hated him. “At least this Victor will never leave me,” Marisa explained. “He will always be mine.”
Marisa cared for Victor as a baby, but as soon as he could walk, she started partying again. She would leave him with friends and family as often as she could. She would ask Dolores to watch him for a few hours and then not pick him up for a week. Marisa’s heart was not right, and having a baby did not change that. She always showed up with money, a nice toy for Victor, and a long story. Dolores knew Marisa was headed for trouble; however, she never imagined how much trouble was ahead.
The drive home that night began in the Mission District of San Francisco. Marisa and her husband, Rob, had dinner on Valencia Street. When she took the driver’s seat of their new, black BMW 525i, she made a quick call on her cell phone and then hung up when the call was answered without saying a word.
“Who are you calling?” Rob asked.
“I want to see if my friend is coming over tomorrow to take me to apply for a job. But I didn’t realize how late it was, so I’ll call her in the morning,” Marisa responded.
“Okay. You don’t need to work, but if you want to, if that makes you happy, then you should do it.”
About half a mile away, Marisa stopped the car and said the check engine light had come on. “Don’t stop the car here,” Rob said. “This is not the best neighborhood; we can still make it home with that light on.”
Just then, a car pulled up behind them. A man quickly approached the vehicle’s passenger side and told Rob to get out. He held a gun pointed at Rob.
“Just do what he says,” Marisa told him. He got out of the car and tried to cooperate, not wanting any harm to come to him or his wife. Seven shots were fired as soon as he was out of the car. Three bullets pierced his skull while the rest entered and exited his chest.
When the police arrived, Marisa was crying, saying that Rob was her husband and that someone tried to carjack them and they shot Rob. But the car was still there, her purse was still inside, and she was still wearing the expensive diamond wedding ring Rob gave her. Marisa said she had no idea what the suspect looked like or what kind of car he was driving. She had no bruises, although she claimed the suspect hit her and pushed her to the ground so he could take the car. Her demeanor was also strange in that she did not ask about her husband’s condition or come close to his body, maintaining her distance from the crime scene instead. At the police station, she seemed confused and a little bit disinterested. She gave a vague statement to the police but became impatient when pressed for more details.
The police did not believe her from the start but had no basis for placing her under arrest. The facts, however, did not match up, as the route she took home was not the most direct route to the freeway entrance, which would lead them to the Bay Bridge and then to their home in the Oakland Hills. Something was up, and Marisa was not a persuasive grieving widow.
Rob died from gunshot wounds in the ambulance on the way to San Francisco General. When Marisa was told about his death, she did not cry. She looked more dazed than sad and said she wanted to go home. The police wound up notifying Rob’s family. They would soon learn that he was a 45-year-old executive at a software company in San Jose. He was a shy bachelor for most of his life and never dated much until he met Marisa. He met her at Golden Gate Park one day, where he was walking his dog. She approached him to pet his cocker spaniel. The dog seemed to like her, and Rob let her play with him for a while so he could get a closer look at her. She had long brown hair that was pulled off her face. She was petite, had curves in all the right places, and knew how to show them off. She was someone that people noticed. She was at ease with herself and struck up a conversation with him that flowed in a way his conversations with women never did. Before he knew it, she had given him her phone number, and they agreed to meet for a drink.
A drink led to her moving in with him quickly and then getting married in a civil ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco three months later. Rob bought a house in the Oakland Hills for them and gave her use of his credit cards, which she had no problem using. She bought expensive clothes, never worked again, and had frequent calls on her cell phone that she had to take in the other room. He never pressed for details of how Marisa spent her time or his money to prevent her from getting upset. In his eyes, she was a very emotional person with a strong personality and a quick temper, but also capable of moments of great tenderness.
Lonely nights alone at home in front of the television with fast food seemed worse to him than putting up with her mood swings. “Everyone can think you’re successful,” he would say, “but when you end the day at home alone, it sure doesn’t feel that way.” His family warned him about her, and she hated his family, saying they thought they were too good for her. Rob tried to keep the peace and wanted to make things work no matter what. He ignored her drinking and tried to bond with her son, hoping that being a good stepfather might score some points with her. It never did.
He never knew she was still seeing her old boyfriends, even after their marriage. Nor did he know or want to know who she brought to the house when he was at work. She partied with friends and lovers at home, impressing them with how she lived and telling them that she did not love Rob and would divorce him and collect alimony. They laughed and partied with her, had sex with her, but never imagined how far she would go.
The pain and abandonment she felt as a child and the men who used her along the way and then discarded her had caused a change in her. She was once a sweet, sensitive girl looking for someone to love her. Now, she only cared about partying and easy money. An expensive dress, nice jewelry, and money in her pocket validated her in a way that she never felt validated by other people. The pain she felt due to repeated abandonments made her do whatever was necessary to lessen the toxic energy she carried around inside despite the party girl vibe she projected.
She had no safety net, so she was not afraid to use any means necessary to get what she wanted. The drugs and alcohol eased the pain but blurred her sense of reality. Her old friends included several shady characters who fancied themselves as con artists and criminals who had gotten away with a lot, even if they wound up doing time for some of it. They would tell stories of schemes that had been successful and large amounts of money that could be made with the right planning and execution. When she told them she did not love Rob and was using him for his money, they encouraged her to get rid of him and cash in, as they were eager to keep her interested so she would continue to supply drugs and alcohol.
When she was high, it all seemed to make sense, and she had a feeling of invincibility that a sober Marisa would not have. She just needed to figure out how to get rid of him without getting caught. She spent many hours thinking about how to get it done. When an attorney told her that if she divorced him, she would not be entitled to very much, given the short time they had been married, she began to think that there was no other way to cash in but to kill him. She was not leaving this marriage empty-handed. She would not return to her old life with nothing to show for the time she was married to Rob.
Eventually, she persuaded Rob to agree to purchase life insurance policies and mortgage insurance for the house, with her as the beneficiary. Then, before she knew it, the drunken conversations about hiring someone to kill her husband and collect the insurance proceeds turned into a plan of action. Her ex-boyfriend, Alex, who left her several times for other women, was back in her life and was seeing her at her house when Rob was working. She seemed to forget all the times he abused her and left her without explanation. She needed his approval, even after everything he had done to her. His return meant he was wrong when choosing someone else over her. At least, that is the story she told herself each time she took him back. Each knew that even though they both looked good, their days of trading off their looks were ending, and they needed a score to set them up.
Rob’s family began to ask questions about Marisa and told him to divorce her before it was too late. Rob’s demeanor towards her changed, and she found out that his parents had arranged a consultation with a divorce attorney. The end was coming, and she needed to act quickly. Marisa and Alex agreed to kill Rob on a dark street in the Mission District and make it look like a carjacking. Marisa would keep the house and the car and most of the insurance. She would give Alex one thousand dollars and the proceeds of one of the life insurance policies Rob had purchased.
As they rode the bus to Chowchilla, Dolores and Victor tried to keep cool in the sweltering heat. It took several hours to reach the Central Valley. As the bus exited Highway 99 and went east on Avenue 24, Dolores was glad the trip was almost over. Victor needed to use the restroom, and she needed to get this over with. Some things needed to be said, and she hoped she had the strength to say them without making things worse. The bus was filled with families of prisoners who seemed anxious to get there. However, their collective enthusiasm was tempered by the realization that they were headed to prison.
Above the almond trees, they could see the large complex, Valley State Prison for Women. It looked almost like a campus if it were not for the razor wire. It took them an hour and a half to work their way to the front of the line so they could be “processed.” As they passed through the metal detector, they removed their shoes and were searched by prison guards. Dolores almost did not believe they would search Victor, an eight-year-old boy, but figured they had seen it all and had no reason to trust anyone.
They were assigned a visiting table, and when Dolores first saw Marisa, she was shocked. Her hair was cut short and combed back off her face like a man’s. The baggy orange pants and top were in stark contrast to the stylish way Marisa dressed on the outside. All the make-up and embellishments she thought she needed were gone, yet the beauty of her bare face was still unmistakable.
“Mom!” Victor shouted when he first saw her, apparently not noticing the change in her appearance. She hugged him awkwardly and sat him right next to her. Marisa was happy to see her son and sister but was ashamed that they would see her like this. Marisa asked Victor about school and his friends and whether he was minding Dolores.
He then asked her, “When will you come home?”
After a long pause, Marisa responded. “I don’t know, mijo. Not for a very long time.”
“Why do you have to stay here so long?”
Marisa froze for a minute, not knowing what to say. When she was arrested, Victor was being cared for by a friend. Although he had visited her in county jail and had been to Chowchilla once before, she never explained why she was incarcerated. She never asked what Victor had been told by family and friends. She tried not to think about it and prayed that one day she would find a way to explain to him why she had been sent to prison. “It’s complicated,” she told him. “They said I did some bad things, and I’ll be here until the situation gets straightened out.”
Tears began to fall from Victor’s eyes as he listened to his mother. He knew what she had done because the neighborhood kids had no problem telling him, having heard about it on the news. He knew Rob was dead and that his mother was the one who had him killed. He heard it many times from various people but never told anyone that he knew. This caused bouts of sadness and anxiety which made him introverted.
“People say bad things about you, but I don’t care what they say,” Victor told Marisa. His voice was trembling. “I want you to come home so we can be together like before. I miss you.”
Marisa did not know what to say. She hugged him until she was told to stop by a prison guard. Here, visitors may briefly embrace their loved one upon greeting and again upon exiting the visiting room. Anything more was deemed “excessive.”
After a long silence, Dolores told Victor to get some food from the vending machines. She gave him several dollar bills to buy junk food, the only thing available to the prisoners and their visitors. “Bring your mom something to eat,” she told him. When he ran to the vending machines, a small line of people was waiting their turn. Dolores hoped this would occupy him for a little while so she could say what needed to be said.
“He misses you so much.”
“I know he does,” Marisa responded.
“He writes to you and makes cards for you, and you never respond.”
“You know I was caught up in the trial. Then I was sent to the reception center for ninety days to be evaluated. Then they sent me here. I had to get used to being here. It’s not easy for me. Don’t make it worse by coming here to give me head trips.”
“You’re his mother,” Dolores responded. “You didn’t think about him when you were scheming with Alex. You just thought about yourself and all the things you wanted. Now those things are gone, and all you have left is a little boy that misses you.”
Marisa remained silent, not knowing how to respond.
“Listen, I am not here to give you a hard time. You know you can count on me to care for him and be good to him like he was my own son. But I’m his aunt, and he still needs his mother.”
“What good am I to him behind bars?”
“I don’t know what to tell you, but you can’t keep trying to take the easy way out. He’ll grow up angry and hate you if you keep ignoring him. You have to be a mother to him from inside here because you may never come back out. I am telling you this so your son can know who his mother really is. He’ll find newspaper articles when he gets older, and, as you heard him say, people will tell him what happened. Is that what you want him to know about you?”
“But I told you, I didn’t kill him.”
“Marisa, it doesn’t matter; you were mixed up in it, and Rob is dead. You were convicted. Alex testified against you to save himself. Things might have turned out differently if you had spent more time taking care of Victor instead of looking for your next score. Have any of your friends visited you?”
“No,” Marisa responded. Tears began to flow from Marisa’s eyes, and she began to look at the floor.
“You were the lucky one,” Marisa told Dolores. “My aunt loved you and took good care of you. My grandmother didn’t want to raise me. She did it because she had to. She always wanted to be in church. She never talked to me. She just kept telling me to get saved and accept Jesus. You have no idea how many times I have been abused. I finally decided I wanted to be the one to take advantage of others. It all made sense to me when I was using. But I know I was wrong, and I’m paying for what I did.”
“I didn’t come here to make you feel bad,” Marisa responded, “but being a mother to Victor is more than just tattooing his name on your chest. He needs to know you love him and care how he is.”
“I just don’t know how. My mother wasn’t around, so I never learned how.”
“Well, you have plenty of time on your hands to learn,” Dolores said.
Victor came running back, his hands filled with bags of potato chips, candy bars, and soda. “Mom, here are some Cheetos for you. I know you like them.”
“Why are you crying?”
“I’m crying because I am happy to see you.”
“Did you get my card?
“Yes, it made me very happy. It made me have a nice Mother’s Day even inside this place.”
“My teacher said I’m a good artist.”
“You are. Thanks for thinking about me. It’s hard for me to write to you because I sometimes don’t have much to say. Nothing good happens here. But I will try to write to you. Send me some pictures of you when you have a chance.”
“I will, Mom.”
Dolores looked around the visiting room and saw several inmates who seemed to be visiting with their children and other family members. Some kids were younger than Victor; others looked like teenagers, almost ready to become adults. She thought about the amount of hurt that gets passed down from one generation to the next.
She often wondered how intense the pain must have been for their mother when she swallowed the sleeping pills and made her two daughters orphans. Had she known that one of those daughters would wind up in prison for life, would she have found the strength to survive? Would she have continued to be a mother to her daughters and keep them on the right track? She wondered if Marisa had considered all the pain and sadness that Victor would endure, would she have stopped herself from getting caught up in a man’s murder?
Marisa had a lot of time to think about these things while behind bars. She realized that she had left her son without a mother, much like what happened to her when she was a young girl. It was the last thing she would wish on anyone, much less her own son. Love, it seemed to Marisa, was transitory. You can’t count on it from one day to the next. Victor was the exception to that rule, yet she had ruined his life with her actions and did not know how to make it right. The guilt for what she had done to Rob and Victor was almost unbearable.
Just then, Dolores saw Marisa peering at her through the brown eyes she had always used to her advantage. She was stripped of all embellishments now, and all that was left was a battered soul in prison clothes. Next to her was a little boy who looked a lot like her. His happiness at being with his mother would be replaced by tears when he was in bed tonight, knowing that his mother would probably never come home.
The three of them sat silently for a few minutes, not knowing what to say. They heard the loud voices and chatter of the other inmates and visitors around them. They all seemed to know what to say and could be heard carrying on. But the three of them sat there and looked at each other, unsure how to relate to each other under these circumstances. When it was time to leave, they hugged each other tightly, and Victor did not want to let go.
“Thanks for bringing him and coming to see me,” Marisa said.
“Of course,” Dolores responded. “Let’s take this one day at a time. Un día a la vez.”
Dolores took Victor’s hand and walked toward the exit. The Central Valley’s overwhelming heat was waiting for them outside. She wiped the perspiration from Victor’s forehead. The heat was nothing compared to all the pent-up emotions in the visiting room. “Don’t worry mijo,” Dolores said to Victor. “If there is anything this family knows how to do, it’s getting through hard times.”
Robert G. Retana is an attorney living and working in San Francisco. He is Chicano, originally from the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, as well as a Tribal Member of the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians. He lives with his husband, Juan Carlos, and their faithful companion, Tigre, a dachshund mix. Robert’s short story “Leaving Boyle Heights” was published in the Latino Book Review Magazine in 2021. He is a fan of the arts and currently serves as a Board Member of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco. As a writer, he seeks to tell stories from marginalized communities that are often left untold.
“No Soy Cholo”
by Jacob “Jake” Teran
The homies on the block always had something to prove. As mischievous misfits that did not fit in at home or at school, we found solace in the calles, perhaps because the streets had no barriers or rules to bar us from expressing what we thought or felt. We were young niños y niñas that dressed the way we wanted and expressed how we saw the world through our eyes. No parents to tell us to watch the profanity that spewed from our mouths, no teachers to correct the way we spoke, and no one to fear of getting into a fight because we all fought between ourselves. We did not belong to a gang, but we were prospects to the eyes of the gang on our street and they constantly tried to recruit us. As much as the thought of being in a gang flirted with our adolescent minds, it was something that none of us morros were down to do. At the time being, of course.
One summer I vividly remember, would forever change my perspective on joining a gang. This experience began on one summer night I paid a visit to the hood headquarters on my block to pick up a dime of some low-grade mota. Weed always put me at ease, especially at night. The night was warm enough to rock some brown Shaka shorts and a white crisp Pro-Club shirt. It was an hour or so from midnight on this cool summer night and my mom was already asleep. I was craving to smoke a joint to help me sleep and had the Zags but no bud to roll it with.
I became an expert at creeping out of my two-story apartment door with my skateboard on my hip without making a peep. As soon as I crept out from my apartment driveway and placed my foot on the pavement of my sidewalk, I took flight on my board. I rode down Sapro Street on this warm night, ollieing above all the cracks on the beat-up concrete that you could not see, but able to from the memory cemented from skating down my block so many fucking times. Although my street had an active and affiliated gang, us morros never saw them as “cholos,” or “gang bangers.” We just saw them as our “older homies” that had our back if anyone tried to fuck with us. They were also the connect if we ever needed some decent weed. I approached my destination and got off my board to not wake the homies’ grandparents up. I then made a distinctive pop with the tongue and roof of my mouth that we all made. Whether it was a whistle or a tongue pop, us barrio kids had ways to call each other, especially without the existence of today’s technology.
I entered the homeboy’s lot and chilled under a lemon tree to wait for him to come out and serve me. The tree was as old as my homies’ grandparents. It had rusty pocketknife carvings that read, “Barrio 323” and “Sapro Locotes.” I snagged a lemon and hid it in my left pocket just before I saw movement at the backdoor window, hoping it wasn’t my homie’s abuela. The backdoor opened, followed by the screech of the metal screen door, and I saw Bomber come out sidestepping down his 3-step porch. Bomber was a slightly bald and light-skinned Chicano whose shoes looked bigger than his head. He had this stroll when he walked that resembled a penguin due to his flat feet. Stalky and wide at the shoulders, somewhat tall, Bomber was known for scrapping with other rival taggers after school. But he was better known for his name – getting his hood’s tag up on barrio walls, especially since he was a prospect for getting in the barrio gang. At thirteen years old, he had five years on top of me, making him an “older homie.” Until it was his time to get in the barrio and put in real work, he was a notorious tag-banger who was affiliated with Sapro Street by family and preached the street politics to us youngsters whenever we chopped it up and smoked with him.
“What’s cracking, Guillermo, you good? What you doing out here so late?” Bomber’s eyes were wide open and looked as if they were about to pop out of his sockets as he glared at my hand that I stuck out before shaking it.
We shook hands and bumped knuckles. “Chilling Bombs, are you on deck?” I quietly kicked the tail of my skateboard up to my waist to hold.
“You already know you’re at the spot, Guillermo.” Bomber looked to his pad and then back to the street as if someone followed me. “Caile over here and chill behind the stairs. You already know what’s up, Guill.”
Bomber’s pad was rumored to be a “halfway house” – a residential location usually for formerly incarcerated people. A place that usually offered parolees a second chance to the society that they offended to one degree or another. At least, this is what my dad used to tell me when we drove by, but I never bothered to ask him how he knew nor to challenge him that I knew the people who operated there.
Bomber lived down the block from me in a three-building lot with his grandparents and tío that lived in the front, another tío and a distant cousin in an adjacent building to his own, and his mom, baby’s mom, and himself in the third. The third building directly in the back of the lot was where I hid since we both didn’t want his grandparents seeing any transas, although they knew what the fuck was going on.
I hid behind the stairs and looked up to the sky and appreciated the stillness of the night. No jura sirens, no ghetto bird, no train howling, just the sweet calm summer night scent that filled my street as well as the fresh lemon scent that permeated from my shorts. That, and of course, the smell of the marijuana that flooded Bomber’s lot since they had pounds of weed in the garage lots that I hid near. Bomber opened the door, annoyed and rushed.
“Come here!” Bomber exclaimed to me with his hand. I already had my $10 bill folded in the palm of my hand ready and Bomber had his bag of bud in his. We exchanged handshakes with a knuckle bump exchanging what was within. I could hear his grandma saying that it was late and that he shouldn’t be doing any transas or else the juras would come. “Vuelve a dormir, Grandma…fuck,” he told his abuela. I knew I overstayed my welcome.
“Gracias, Bombs.” I stashed my sack of weed within my sock and was about to power step out of Bomb’s lot.
“Hey Guillermo, you know you’re welcome here and shit, but come earlier if you want bud. You already know it’s hot as fuck right now and it’s late to be serving.” Bombs was annoyed from his abuela but also knew of the interaction me and the homies had on Olympic just a few weeks ago. Bomb’s tío’s rival gang, South Side, were lurking and banged on us morros just a couple of weeks ago to where straps were pointed in our faces, although none of us were affiliated, yet. On top of all that, he looked stressed and him being faded on whatever he was on didn’t help.
“Spensa, Bombs, will do. I’ll come earlier next time.” I shook my head and headed out.
I walked a few houses down before skating back to my pad traversing the crooked and broken sidewalk that was my home. The breeze of the summer night that blew through my long hair felt fresh as I dashed on my wooden deck on wheels. As I got close to my apartment, I got off my board and walked to the front of my laundromat where I faced down Olympic.
I paused and stared at Olympic Boulevard for a few seconds to reminisce on how South Side pulled a chrome .45 that shined from the streetlight to my face… That spider-webbed tattooed motherfucker…Would he have pulled the trigger? If I get in the Barrio, I can look for that fuck…Fuck those levas. I was overthinking shit.
The mailbox that was on the left wall of the laundromat always had junk mail and coupons for nearby pizza places that promoted new toppings every week. I grabbed one of the coupon pages to use as a surface to break up the twigs and seeds from the sticky yet mediocre mota I just copped. It was a little more than a half an hour to midnight. I had Zags. I had weed to roll in. I was comfortably alone. I could hear a couple cursing each other on the next block over about a dispute on finances. The sounds of distant ambulance sirens echoed as well. These sounds of the barrio may be unsettling to others, yet, for me, I felt right at home.
About a week later, I got closer to what may have been a decision that I would not be able to undo. I was dry without weed and wanted to pick up some more bud from both the money I collected recycling from my place and from nearby neighbors’ recyclables that were left unguarded in their garage lots. I waited for my mom to fall asleep in her room as she usually did after saying goodnight. I wore the same clothes from last week, but this time, threw on one of my favorite black hoodies, and made my way to Bomber’s pad. I did my usual clucking sound to call Bombs, but instead of him, Bomber’s tío Funny, came out.
“Who the fuck is this? You know what time it is?” Funny whispered violently. Bomber’s tío was always straightforward and never shy to scold who came, in worry of burning the spot.
“It’s me, Guillermo, Funs.” I could only see the silhouette of Funny coming down from the same back metal screen door Bombs usually came down from.
Funs was one of Bomber’s tíos from the neighborhood. He was way older and was one of the main heads from the barrio. He was a frightening bald-headed chingón with a red lipstick tattoo on his neck and sharp nose. Every time he spoke, his eyes blinked as if he just put in eye drops. Every response you gave him was sharply returned by a swift “aha,” quickly confirming what he heard. His hands were always moving by his crotch and the pockets of his pants as if he was ready to pull out something, listo, of course, even from a 13-year-old like me.
“What’ssss up, little homie! What’s good?” His demeanor changed once he saw that it was me. His left arm wrapped around my shoulders as if an octopus found its prey, while his right hand was ready to pull something out of his pocket. I kicked up my skateboard to my waist as I usually did to act cool, but deep inside, I was scared of this fool. Too many rumors went around that he blasted and killed a couple of dudes from South Side.
“Chilling, Funs. How you been? Just want to get some bud and smoke out,” I told Funny as I kept my eyes on his hands from my peripheral.
Funny paused, almost knowing I was aware of his own paranoia as he blinked strongly at me. “What do you need, little homie? I know my nephew hooks it up with nickels and dimes, but I can’t be serving that small this late. Chales. If you and your little homies put your ins together, you can easily get a half ounce of this new green shit we got. Pretendo! Better than that fucking stress you little ass fools be smoking.”
Back at this time, there were only three types of weed: Stress, the lowest grade of weed with seeds and stems (which I didn’t mind picking up), Mids or Pretendo, which was the medium grade that had less seeds and stems, and the last tier of course, was Chronic – the highest grade of weed. This was long before Kush and medicinal mota came out.
“Here, smell this. Tell me that shit don’t smell bomb. Feel how sticky it is, too,” as he raised a baggie from his pants and opened it with his left thumb and index finger. I took a sniff, and the aroma confirmed what he previously stated.
“Fuck it, I’m down.” Funs blinked hard and looked down, at his pad, the street, and down beneath the stairs of the building where his nephew was already asleep.
“Alright. Go chill behind those stairs and I’ll come right back.” Funs instructed where to wait (where I usually went when I came). This time, I couldn’t snap a lemon like I usually did from their lemon tree. I waited longer than usual this time too, not knowing what the fuck Funs was doing or why he was taking so long. The grandparents must have not been there or were dead asleep since it was dead quiet this time around. Funs came out looking more serious and signaled me to come into the darkest spot of the lot… Fucking shit.
“Hey, so Guill, when you gonna get hopped in? The big homies are noticing you more. You come through to the barrio…We want little homies like you to come through for the barrio now.” Funs was rolling up a joint for himself as he was telling me this, while still observing my facial expression. “You would be perfect for the barrio, homes…Think about it…on your skateboard, no one would suspect you…” Funs was measuring me out as he was fixing his joint. A perfect expendable soldier for the hood. Long hair, no tattoos, baggy clothes, a “rocker fool,” as some would call.
“I don’t know, G… I don’t know if I am ready for all that shit,” I looked at Funs’ eyes, showing both fear and my seriousness that I wasn’t about that life. At least not now.
From the look I gave Funs, he knew I could be properly groomed to be the right soldier for the barrio, especially to retaliate what South Side did not long ago. He knew we were scared what South Side did, but he also knew we didn’t like it, either. He capitalized on that. I just wanted to get faded and knew I had to say something if I wanted to leave without friction or some bullshit happening.
“On the serio, Funs, I think I’ll be down soon. I see you and the hood. I know you got love for us, too. I just don’t feel ready, but I’m down…” I fronted. I gave him false hope that a youngster like me would be down and put in work as a soldier, because I knew I could. But, at the same time, I honestly felt like I was too young to be soldier; to get hopped in a gang. But in reality, there was no age limit. I knew this and so did he. Funs saw something in me though – the potential to ride and put in work. Maybe an expendable soldier to take someone out that was of a higher rank.
“Trip out, Guill. Listen, I see you putting in work for the barrio. You already know the hood and all the bigger heads. Chino, Happy, Fader and my nephew Bombs all said you’re firme. That we can trust you. Trust don’t come easy in this area, homes. You ain’t dumb and I know you know what’s up with that. Can’t you see yourself posted with a .22 riding your board? Come on now. You been coming here more than any of these other younger fools in the neighborhood. I like you, Guill. Plus, you want those bitch ass fools like South Side to keep running up on you like that? You need to protect yourself and the people around you. Your familia.” Funs had rhetoric to his advantage. I kept my eyes on Funs holding his pocket, not knowing whether a cuete or a fist was going to come out.
I heard stories of homies getting hopped in even without their consent. If the older heads wanted you in the hood, they’d jump you not giving a fuck whether you wanted to or not. Once you got jumped in, you were in. And if you denied you had affiliation, you’d get hopped again. It happened to one of my cousins while chilling with the White Fence Barrio in Boyle Heights. I didn’t feel ready but thought having a strap on me would be firme as fuck. If someone pressed me, I could pull out my strap and handle it. I felt powerful knowing I could be from my own barrio with a cuete on my hip. The thought of having that kind of power, I could take a life away… But something just didn’t feel right. Until then, I made excuses and was direct about not getting in just yet. Bombs and his tío Funs as well as the other members had respect for me for always coming through, especially alone. It showed them I wasn’t afraid, but maybe also showed them I was stupid enough, as well.
“Naw, G, I feel like that’s some shit I’ll be ready for next year. I got some shit going on at home that has my mind occupied.” I too had rhetoric that allowed me to come this late to get served, but now, my street reputation was being tested. I kept my distance from Funs with my board ready to use either as a weapon or shield from his next reaction.
Funs stared me down with his blinking eyes, sharp nose, and even sharper gaze, and I fearfully looked back. This is how it starts – before getting hopped. I was waiting for the putasos to start flying. He stuck his hand out, looking disappointed, but also knowing it was not the time and place. He shook and squeezed my hand hard, smiling, blinking at me, knowing I would come back. There is a reason why he’s called Funny in the barrio, but I didn’t care to find out. At this moment, I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. He knew I was scared, but he also knew I had heart for my age. Most of my homies on the street would bug me to roll with them to Bomb and Funs’ pad because I knew how to communicate and deliver transas without any pedo. But here I was, alone with Funs. He hadn’t let go of my hand yet. I couldn’t look away or flinch either. I stood my ground.
“A’ight, little homie. Get home safe and I’ll be seeing you on the block soon.” Funs finally let go and I said al rato. I got on my board still in his driveway knowing it was loud but took off anyway. I got home and didn’t blaze it; I just went to bed.
The very next day, the homeboy Turkey and I went to our local park. We were ditching school like we usually did and went to smoke out. The Montebello Park down Sapro Street had a firme program that would feed anyone who came during lunchtime regardless of age. It was to help homeless people, but they didn’t care if kids came to eat the free lunch, so we took advantage. A load of benches near the designated skatepark within Montebello Park was where all the marijuanos chilled at, and Turkey and I had our own special spot that nobody went to, by the second tallest tree of the park.
From the bomb ass bud I got the night before, I pulled it out and showed Turkey. “Eeeee, some gourmet shit ‘er what?” Turkey chuckled as he snagged the bag from my hand.
“You already know. Fucking Funny was acting weird last night, too. Bombs was knocked out or somewhere else, so Funs served me.” Turkey looked at me with his right eyebrow arched up.
“You keep going at nighttime alone, something funny is gonna happen to you.” Turkey was looking down, breaking up the stems and seeds.
“Fuck you, dick,” I let out a laugh. “But serio, that fool is either tweeking it, or not all there.” Turkey and I were tripping out how sticky and good the weed stunk.
Just as we were done breaking up our bud, Bomber and his homeboy Rome came to our spot unexpectedly. Rome was taller than Bomber and about the same age. Rome already had tattoos on his arm and looked like most of his tattoos covered up some scars on his right arm. Bomber’s homeboy was notorious for starting fights with random people and this fool could scrap. Whether he was drunk, faded, or straight sober, he would speak less by using his fists, and was known for having manos. Rome eventually got hopped in the rival gang South Side a couple of years later, which betrayed Bomber and his familia, but before all that shit went down, Bombs and Rome were best of homies and got into a lot of shit together, especially for their age.
“Orale! What’s crackin,’ Guillermo! What’s really hood, Turkey! What are you fools doing here?” Bomber always looked happy as fuck to see us.
“Quiubo, Bombs! ‘Sup, Rome! Just chilling about to burn it. Want to throw some ends? Gonna roll a leno.” I offered a firme rolled joint to Bombs.
“Fuck that! Put that pencil dick joint away. Rome and I got some shit that will have you stuck.” Rome pulled out a fat blunt with some Chronic. Because Chronic was so expensive and you got so little, it was always a treat when somebody came through.
We got into a circle and started the rotation as laughter, cannabis smoke, and coughing ensued. We spoke about how fucking boring and stupid school was, the latest drive-by shooting, and rival taggers that were plotted against. Finally, the four of us started talking about how South Side came through the other night. This was the conversation – the cherry on top – that further influenced the direction I was going regarding getting jumped in the hood or not. Smoked-out Turkey bounced; he said he had to go somewhere but probably felt uncomfortable talking about South Side since it happened at his house on the corner of Sapro Street. Bomber, Rome, and I continued our smoke session as we all took turns packing bowls from Rome’s pipa.
I was faded and just spoke my mind freely, “Who are the South Siders and why the fuck does Barrio 323 beef it with them?”
“Because they’re bitches,” Rome jolted back with lightning speed while letting out a cloud of smoke.
“They’re the enemigas, Guill. Fools that belong in the dirt,” Bomber added in.
For me, that wasn’t good enough. My dumbass continued talking. “Yeah, I get that shit, but why does our hood have beef with those fools? Like how did that shit even start?”
“It’s complicated, Guill. Years and years of beef from older heads and it gets passed down. It’s all politics,” Bomber got a little more serious.
“But what about Raza? Yeah, I’m faded and not trying to sound like a fucking tree hugger and shit, but aren’t there other groups or hoods we should be beefing it with besides Raza.” Although my young mind was “white vs black” at the time, I really wanted to know why there was beef amongst our peoples. Sure, the Aztecs had beef with neighboring tribes and the North Native Americans did, as well, but I just couldn’t understand and let go of why hundreds of years later, we still beefed it with people that looked like us – amongst ourselves.
Laughter erupted as Bombs and Rome looked at each other. Most likely thinking I was naïve and I was, but I could not wrap my mind around beefing with neighboring tribes because of some shit that happened years ago.
“Don’t even trip, Guill. It’s all politics that you’ll get soon enough. Your ticket will clock in soon,” Rome said as he was getting up from our circle.
We all said al ratos and took off from the park. I completely forgot to get lunch, but I wasn’t in the mood; I just walked home. On my way home, though, I came to the realization that I could not be a part of my barrio or any hood for that matter. I couldn’t fathom inheriting enemigas that I never met, let alone, never knew of. Not to mention having to represent your hood 24/7, while you could never reject, hide, or deny it, or you could face the consequences for ranking it amongst your comrades. I probably like the music and style of gangbanging, even would go so far as to say it looks cool. But when push comes to shove, when it’s time to do gangster shit, it’s straight up scary as fuck. Not too many people I knew at that point in my life ever had a gun pointed at them. Last week when South Side came mistaking us for their rivals, my life slowed down almost as if it was paused. But life does not go on pause. This shit is not a video game and there are no restarts. I was scared shitless when I saw the chrome .45 pointed at my face two feet away from me.
I wanted to be down, represent who or where I come from, but I just couldn’t do it the way so many of my homies were doing it. I wanted respect and to be respected, but I couldn’t fuck someone up, let alone shoot them, unless I know I am in danger; unless they did something to me or my family and they deserved it.
I looked at the blue sky above me as I walked down Olympic. I stared at the clouds trying to envision an image that might give me a sign, but they were just shapes and abstract figures as they hovered slowly. Maybe there is a point here. Maybe we are just clouds floating alongside our concrete world. I began to think I wanted to make an image or sign appear from these clouds in my mind; the same way I probably wanted to appear a certain way when others looked at me. I was just spewing a bunch of bullshit and must have been high out of my mind. I continued walking and took a deep breath and let it all out. I let it all out. I let all that shit out, while watching over my shoulder.
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 his first two short stories on Somos en escrito, called “A Quiet Night on the Boulevard,” “Niños del Sol,” 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 M.A. degree in Rhetoric and Composition. He was recently published in an anthology by Querencia Press where his short story “Soy Chicano” and two poems, “Mi Color” and “Bare Tierra” can be found. He is currently teaching composition to several departments in colleges that include indigenous and Chicanx literature. In addition, Jake is an advocate for social justice, self-care, and embracing the identity of others. 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 that he calls home.
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.
Rinconcito is a special little corner in Somos en escrito for short writings: a single poem, a short story, a memoir, flash fiction, and the like.
Pictured is an open cannister of Scho-Ka-Kola, a caffeinated chocolate produced in Germany starting around 1935 and distributed to many German soldiers during World War II. The protagonist of “Out of Range” recalls widespread starvation in the years following the Spanish Civil War, coinciding with World War II, and a fortuitous encounter with Nazi chocolate.
Out of Range
by Olga Vilella
It happened sin darse cuenta apenas. One minute, Josefina Corrada was the exceptional mujer she had always been. A responsible professional. Puntal of the eight o'clock Mass de San Aloishús, even in the worst snowstorm in February. A mother who never disappointed. And the next day, she consigned everybody to hell.
“Se me van a hacer puñetas, todos. Y el que me esconda las llaves, me va a oír.”
Which is how she came to be waiting for Dr. Haddad, that day. Maybe she should send la familia that funny meme of the cat. Pa’l carajo…a mí nadie me manda. Even Joey, the only among her relatives she could stand these days. But el guaifi seemed to be down.
Certainly not to Josie, there was no reasoning with Josie lately. When Josefina thought of her eldest, she had to ask los cielos what sin was she paying for in this life, to have been saddled with such an ingrate of a daughter. Who never called, unless she needed something. Trite, trite, and verging on the caricature, but oh-so-true.
A flash of memory sparked in Josefina's mind. She blinked then, assaulted by a draught of icy air and un recuerdo. The pinkie finger in Josie’s left hand, curved slightly inward. The dedo that was a replica of her own. And then she closed the screen pa'quick. No thinking of la Josie. La que me va a armar cuándo se entere.
Swipe screen left. Not for anything Josefina was the only one among her friends that Twittered and Instagrammed and Facebooked and TikToked. A brief smile lifted the corner of her perfectly drawn mouth!--Cherris-in-de-esnow de Reblon—with the next image popping up in her head. A circle of silvery heads, jostling around, whenever she showed las amigas how to get on? in?—maldito inglés—social media. Yet again.
A small whoosh brought her back to her surroundings. Another blast of frigid air fell on her shoulders from above, like a shower at Varadero Beach Club, on a morning in August. Dios mío, ese aire acondicionado me va a matar de pulmonía. Y esta camilla.
A little face, all eyes, peered then from around the curtain of the cubicle. An orangey tube—¡cómo el presidente!—was poised firmly between his lips and a bag dangled from a grubby paw. ¡Un Chito! Food from the gods. Now forbidden by Josie. The sight made her stomach rumble, not for the first time. Josefina tried her nicest smile. Kids usually responded to her abuela charm, but this one was not parting with one curly bit.
El niñito left quickly, but the curtain of the cubicle had parted long enough for Mrs. Cou-rra-dah to catch a glimpse of a group in scrubs planted around the nurses’ station. Call me “mom” one more time, anda. See what’s going to happen to you, mija. Will you look at the size of those culos? People are really unattractive these days.
“Body shaming, grandma.” “Don’t call her china, grandma, she’s Korean.” The list of her many social sins clacked like dominoes in her memory. Swipe definitely left.
But Joey’s gently reproachful face, a caramel Mater Admirablilis, refused to budge, once invoked. “Grandma, be nice. I love you, but be nice. Te quiero mucho,” repeated to signal no bad intent, pronounced in that cute gringuita accent of hers.
Joey, tan bella, mi niña. Joey qué no salió a su mamá, that’s for sure. “If those people are Italian, I’m china. Coreana,” Josefina spurted out loud, almost choking, on a breathy yelp.
Look at the time, caballero. Deja, que estos van a trinar cuando yo termine con el presidente del hospital. ¡A mí! Qué me hagan esperar a mí, Josefina Corrada, la primera doctora hispana de Jersi Sity.
But the memory of her granddaughter’s brown eyes still hovered, stubbornly, before her. It was getting late. And Josefina was so tired. And more shook up than she had thought when the car stopped spinning. Tired, hungry, in need of reviving. “Latte with an extra shot,” she heard Joey order in that papery hoarse voice of hers. Even Joey, even her.
“Un café con leche, mijo. Cargadito.” These days, saying those words, en español, felt like an act of resistance. En español, like it or not. Café con leche. Y tu MAGA que te la metes por dónde no te da el sol. Besides, calling out for a café con leche at el Estarboc also conveyed, loudly she hoped, what she thought of people willing to pay más de cinco pesos for a latte. Café con leche, guanajos.
“Well, dear heart. It is a fallen world,” as Catalina always repeated, while dusting her bolster of a chest. She knew las niñas would worry about her when she didn’t show up. But she was also sure they went ahead and ate. At this point in their lives, not one of her friends was going to delay ordering lunch because one of them didn’t show up. They would never eat.
Maldita vejez. ¿Quién te prepara para esto? ¡Nadie! As if there were any medical textbooks that could prepare you for the indignities of old age.
The carefully calibrated contempt in the voice of los jóvenes at the cellphone store. The looks of disdain when you don't put away your wallet fast enough. As if they were never getting old. As if. As if. That movie with la rubita de Beberli Jills. How they had laughed, she and Joey, escapadas, both of them. “No PG-13 movies for her until she's old enough, mom.” As if Joey didn't hear worse every day in school, so guanaja.
I wonder what's taking Dr. Haddad so long. Had she been in her right mind, she would have refused the ride to the ER. What had she done instead? Let them wheel her, in while making un chistesito. And not even a good one. “What happened to la ambulancia de los guapitos?” At least, one of them—dominicano by the looks of him—had laughed. “Lady, that's the next crew. And they won't be here for a while.”
“You think you’re really funny, don't you, abuela?” As a matter of fact, yes, she thought she was pretty funny. Even Joey turned on her these days.
For nearly seventy years, she had been a good girl. Not anymore. ¡Se acabó! She was now primed for war. Ready a dar guerra like the warrior she had once been. The buena hija who told her father she was going to medical school during that lunch, so, so many years ago. Dios mío, cómo se puso, loco furioso.
Contrarian, contrarian, cómo eres, Enrique used to say. The faces from other days of conflict crowded the small space around the gurney. Her father hitting the lunch table with a fist, the afternoon she told him Enrique was coming to talk to him. Certainly, she was marrying him. And she was moving to La Habana con él. Y mamá, llora que llora. Why couldn't she understand? She left México con papá.
Igualitica, igualitica que tu padre, Enrique used to say. David Juño, cerrado cómo un puño. The man who refused to ever go to el paseo once the war was finally over. “Cara al sol/con la camisa abieeeertaaaaa.” Somebody would intone the anthem of the Nacionales in the middle of la Alameda and the crowd would pause, as if paralyzed. Shifty eyes taking note. Black shirts and a sea of raised hands, saluting. An arm lifted, stiff like a gravestone, like el Caudillo's, meeting Hitler in Hendaya.
Not that don David had any use for the other side. Not after what they had written on the doors of the apartment building in Madrid. “Muerte al dueño de este edificio.” And Lelia's daughter dying during the siege. She died of a pneumonia, they said. We knew it was hunger.
“Recuerda, Pepiña. En este pared, unos españoles asesinaron a otros españoles.” Y el hambre por todos lados. As many maids as any house would want, to be had for a pair of alpargatas and their keep, during those years of darkness. Niñas, niñas todas. And then the years of that other war. Grey uniforms, all over the city. The whole of the province, all of Galicia, was overrun by them. On leave from the German submarine base in El Ferrol, la tata Rosalía would whisper, moving away from their Nordic raptor eyes. And Amelia, all blonde trenzas and blue eyes, pretending she was a refugee. “Kinder, kinder, schokolade.” After all these years, those words remained fresh in her memory, as bittersweet as the taste of that chocolate long gone.
Better make sure next time Joey took her to el Cosco she bought enough garbanzos. And a big bag of those small Esniqers.
“My dear colleague, what is this I hear about you still driving?” El doctorcito Haddad. Here we go....
A native of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, Olga Vilella is currently at work revising Los que llegaron, a historical novel based on the unsuccessful attack by the English to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1797, a work that seeks to upend Caribbean notions of race, religion, and ethnicity.
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.