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VALERIE FOWLER AFTERWORD Rite of Passage BY DAGOBERTO GILB MY SON RICARDO is thirteen years old. That’s the age when so many things matter. He wants to be looking good: the hair cut not too little and not too much, the pomade to furrow and shine and hold back and down right. He wants the shoes to have a squeak to them, the shirts ironed, tails out, the pants new and baggy. He just got braces. He wanted them as much as his mom and I did. He’s looking up the road, and he’s seeing pretty girls walking. It’s the age when music first begins to matter, when that sound means, when it separates who knows from who doesn’t. Lots out here in El Paso still listen to the oldiesBen E. King, the Four Tops, Mary Wells. But mostly that’s boyfriend-girlfriend music, for those nighttime dedications: for La Cindy, thinking so much of you esta noche, from Edgar. Like kids everywhere, my son’s into watching MTV and learns what music he likes there. It’s the hit sound heard in every city, even by Chicanitos like my boyAlanis Morrisette, Hootie and the Blowfish, Ace of Bass, Collective Soul, Natalie Merchant. He works hard following this music too, sorting and combining his favorite singles from the radio, his and his friends’ handful of CDs and tapes, into cassettes he can listen to on a Walkman. I had told Ricardo some time ago that the time would come when he and I would go off somewhere together alone, no mom or big brother, and more recently I promised him that the next time I got to stay in New York City I’d fly him out for a few days. Last month I kept my word. We did all the Dagoberto Gilb is the author of The Magic of Blood and The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuria. He first read a version of “Rites of Passage” on the National Public Radio Show, “Fresh Air.” things you’re supposed to: ride taxis and subways, foot cruise the Soho and the Lower East Side. Eat Jewish food at Katz’s Deli. Boat to the Statue of Liberty and climb to the top of the crown. Elevator up the Empire State Building. Spiral the Guggenheim for abstract modern art, walk and walk the Metropolitan for Egyptian mummy tombs and armor from the Middle Ages and a stare at Cezanne and Van Gogh. I wanted us to hear music together. I love nightclubs, no less now than I did as a boy. I was fourteen when I heard the Yardbirds on Sunset Boulevard and a world opened. So I imagined a rite of passage, my son and I sharing live music, real music the first time for him. I told him we’d try, though he shouldn’t count on it because I wasn’t sure about clubs and liquor laws and minors. ONE NIGHT, down some nearby stairs, I heard a stylishly flat woman’s voice, dissonant but sweet with youth, and a punky folk electric guitar. We’d just eaten, gotten too much food, were carrying a doggie bag, but why not? The door was open. They were warming up, setting up the stage, testing sound. She had shoulder length platinum hair, flowery clothes, while the guitar player dressed studded punk and swung his pale head with Neil Young hair. We went in. It was a small nightclub, the classicblack walls and ceiling, a purple curtain, blue lights on one side, red on the other. It was very small, an intimate club. Soon another band warmed up. Another woman lead singer, her cropped hair so silvery it was white in the stagelight. Tables in the club weren’t even set up yet, but there was a big patent leather couch right in front of the bar, the best seat in the house, and Ricardo and I took it. We settled in and relaxed. Finally the club manager came around asking the few people insideAre you in the band, are you with a band? Around us, but not a word to us. Weren’t we visible? The most obvious of all? A thirteen-year-old boy and his big old dad sitting on the only couch? He shut the door pocked with band and instrument and studio stickers, snapped no at people who pounded to come in too early. He set up tables inches from us, slid chairs underneath them so close to me I had to move my legs. And even then he didn’t make eye contact with me or my son. The sound man, New York to the bones, in purple spandex, gold jewelry, long and frizzy brown hair and tinted shades from ear to ear, looped around us back and forth. The bartender wandered in, started setting up behind us. Ricardo and I whispered. He sat close to me. Years earlier I showed him and his brother how to sneak into Dodger Stadium. I could explain the how and why of that, but not this. Now I said, Not until they ask us to leave. The nightclub doors opened to cover charges. We sat comfortable. We heard sets. He drank Sprite, I had a gin and tonic. The shortest person there, he went next to the stage when he wanted, came back. We stayed for hours, and when he was ready to leave, he grabbed our doggie bag, and we excused our way through the hippest crowd. fl THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23