“Guess who I saw today?” Oscar said as he rummaged through my kitchen cupboards, checking each package of ramen for his favorite, shrimp. At first I thought it was an off-handed comment, but when he answered his own question with, “Your best friend, Eddie,” I nearly choked. Just the mention of Eddie’s name and my guts clenched up like a fist.
“So?” I pretended not to give a shit.
“So?” Once he found the flavor he was looking for, Oscar smacked the bag against the counter and ripped it open. “So, he said your ass is grass next time he sees you.”
“He said that?” It came out as an unanticipated squeak.
“Dude, you never shoulda messed with Eddie.” Oscar laughed and poured the flavor packet over the shattered noodles. “So he doesn’t like cats. What’s it to ya? Tell your mom to get more shrimp. This is the last one.”
Oh, the injustice of it all…
Earlier that day, I was sitting on the porch when Eddie walked by and kicked my cat. Completely unprovoked. Fluffy was just minding his own business, sunbathing on the sidewalk. After he screeched across the yard, I went over to the fence and said, “Hey, man. Don’t kick my cat.” That’s all. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground. Didn’t even see Eddie make a fist before I saw stars. “Motherfucker,” I seethed when I came to a few seconds later. I jumped up and ran inside my house to get the aluminum bat I kept with my old little league gear in the living room. I charged outside, ready to rumble. Eddie saw me coming and took off. I chased after him, swinging the bat over my head and shouting, “Come back here so I can bash your fucking brains in!” By the time I reached the corner, he was a distant figure. “MOTHERFUCKER!”
Later that afternoon, as I held a sandwich bag of ice against my shiner, Oscar showed up. He lived on the other side of the freeway and, since our house was a few doors down from the bridge, he made daily pitstops on his way home to raid our well-stocked cupboards. My mother always made sure we had plenty of snack foods to tide us over until dinner, which didn’t usually happen until Benny Hill came on.
When Oscar told me that Eddie was on the warpath, I tried to save face behind a veil of bravado.
“Fuck Eddie. I’m ready to throw blows anytime. Lucky for him he ran away like a yellow-bellied homo. Otherwise, I woulda fucked him up.” I picked up the bat and hit my palm with the business end for emphasis. “Big time.”
“Stupid. You can’t carry that bat around with you everywhere you go.” Oscar tapped the bottom of his ramen bag to make sure he’d gotten all the crumbs and mumbled, “Besides, he’ll just take it away from you and shove it up your culo.”
“Just watch. One day you’ll be walking home from school or something and you won’t even see it coming. He’ll be like the fucking Predator.” Oscar cracked up at his little joke. As if he sensed my growing dismay, he added, “Course, you could just say you’re sorry.”
“Really?” I raised my eyebrows at the prospect. “You think?”
“Sure. I mean, he’s still gonna duke you, but at least you’d get it over with.” Oscar laughed so hard he spewed ramen crumbs across the table.
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have challenged Eddie’s right to kick my cat. He was a real thug. Long after the rest of us had given up the fantasy of being as buff as Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie kept pumping iron. He played football at Mark Keppel and walked like he was about to fall backwards.
Convinced by Oscar that a showdown was inevitable, I went on high-alert. For the next few weeks, I avoided certain streets and took the long way to the corner store. Day and night, I maintained a roving eye for any potential ambush. I walked with a lit cigarette, in case I had to stub it out in Eddie’s eye to make a getaway. But after a month or so, I began to think I could dodge Eddie indefinitely. Despite the occasional update from Oscar, all was quiet in the neighborhood.
I’d almost forgotten about Eddie, when I walked outside one day and saw Oscar and some of the poppers and lockers from across the freeway breakdancing on the sidewalk in front of my house. I was pissed. This was rocker turf, and they knew it.
Without thinking, I went out the gate and approached the group. One guy was spinning on his hand while the other four crouched along the edge of the cardboard watching and egging him on.
“Hey!” I shouted. “You can’t do that shit on my property!”
“Fuck you,” said Oscar. “This is city property.”
“I don’t care. You gotta go!”
“You gonna make us leave?” asked a guy whose back was to me. When he turned around, I felt a gob of panic suddenly lodged in my throat.
“Where’s your bat now, motherfucker?”
Before I could run, Eddie and the breakers surrounded me. I glanced through their smiling, menacing faces and heard the snap, crack and pop of sweaty knuckles. I thought of my trusty bat, leaned against the wall by the front door.
“C’mon, guys. Be cool.” I made a move to break free from the pack, but they instantly grabbed my wrists and shoulders.
“Not so fast, guero,” Eddie said. “You’re coming with us.”
They pushed me into the street, up the hill towards the freeway ramp.
“Where we going?” I asked. “Your sister on the clock? Seriously, man. I’m cool. I hit that shit last week and I’m still sick to my stomach. Tell your old man I want my nickel back!”
Before I could laugh, Eddie nailed me in the back while another guy slapped my head a few times.
“Hold him tight!” Oscar shouted. With a running a start, he kicked me right in the ass crack. I fell to the asphalt and winced as the rough surface bit into my hands.
“Yuck it up now, funny boy.” Oscar set off a real laugh riot.
“That all you got? You fucking beaners!” I lunged towards my fence, but Eddie twisted my arm and put me in a headlock. When I struggled, he squeezed tighter. Bent over, like a heretic in stocks, I looked up at Oscar. “Fuck you, Oscar Meyer, the dick dog. You better not come to my house no more.”
“Fuck you and your nasty house. You’re getting what’s coming to ya. I always told you that big mouth of your was gonna get your ass kicked.”
I took a few hits and then one of the breakers said, “No, no, I got a better plan.”
They huddled and then busted up laughing.
“Time to pay up, motherfucker.”
I was at their mercy now. I knew it. So as they marched me up the street, I unleashed a fusillade of invectives: “YOU COCK SUCKING MOTHER FUCKING WETBACK FAGGOT ASS FAGGOTS CUM BREATHERS SONS OF BITCH WHORES BUTT FUCKING HOMOS I BET YOU GUYS FUCK EACH OTHER UP THE ASS EVERY NIGHT WITH YOUR TINY LITTLE DICKS!!!”
Eddie tightened his hold and I made the rest of the journey up the hill struggling to stay on my feet.
At the end of the street, Eddie released the chokehold and pushed me onto the freeway ramp. I glanced across the sea of ivy at the speeding cars on the 10. Without the sound barrier of the wall, traffic was a cacophonous roar.
“What the fuck?”
“You only got one way to go.” Eddie pointed at the freeway entrance.
The others laughed.
“Really?” Now it was my turn to laugh. “You want me to get on the freeway?” Suckers. Little did they know... I grew up with the fury of transportation in my back yard. The freeway was my Mississippi.
“You know what?” Casually, I straightened the wrinkles in my t-shirt. “Fuck you and your cum-gurgling whore mothers!” I let out a long-winded kamikaze cry and took off down the ramp.
I ran along the shoulder, staying close to the wall and keeping an eye on ground for jetsam and tufts of weeds protruded from the broken patches of asphalt. A steady stream of cars and trucks whizzed by. Some honked, as if to let me know I was in danger. I passed my house and recognized the tree branches hanging over the wall. I kept going. Here, the wall was twice my height and there was no way I could get over. But under the bridge, there was a section of the wall shorter than the rest.
That’s where I jumped over and dropped into the ivy. To avoid a confrontation on the sidewalk, I headed for a narrow passageway between the wall that led to my neighbor’s backyard.
Safe and sound in my own back yard, I passed the lemon tree and smiled. With my shirt pulled out, I made a basket and filled it with fruit. Then I climbed onto the roof of my house and waited.
When I heard voices, I took aim.“FUCK YOU FAGGOTT WETBACK MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!”
As I chucked the lemons, I was screaming and laughing so hard I almost feel off the roof. Under the onslaught of citrus missiles, the breakers ran serpentine. By the time I exhausted my arsenal, they had scattered.
“Don’t forget your cardboard!” I yelled into the empty street.
The next day, Javier stopped by. He lived down the street. After pouring himself a glass of Kool-Aid, he said, “I heard about your chingasa with Oscar and Eddie.”
“Yeah. I really showed them, didn’t I?” I had been all smiles since.
“You know, you’re only making shit worse. You need to mellow out.”
“You just don’t get it, do you?”
“What’s to get? They’re assholes.”
“Let me see if I can explain this so you understand…” Javier tossed the plastic cup into the sink and wiped off the red mustache. “You remember how in Scarface the guy guy ended up with no allies in the end, so that when the assassins came for him, he was all alone? Well, you’re like that. You got no friends on the street. Everybody thinks you’re a dick. I think you’re a dick. If it weren’t for your brother, I wouldn’t even be talking to you right now.”
I considered his advice. “So what you’re saying is that I’m like Tony Montana?” I assumed a machinegun wielding pose and said in my best Cuban accent, “Fuck with me, you fucking with the best.”
“Stupid, I’m just trying to help.” Javier turned to leave.
“Say goodbye to the bad guy…”
güero chingón #3
cover by id.
illustrations by art mark.
cover by id.
illustrations by art mark.