Page 12


BOOKS & THE CULTURE L.A. Navidad BY DAGOBERTO GILB That December was a mist against the skin at 6:15 a.m., a slimy dew which burned away only hours after the sun rose I switched on the wipers, squealing, a few streaks. It was almost too cold to have the car window down on the drive to the jobsite. I wore a sweatshirt until an hour with the hammer and nailbags, concrete mud and rock I was warm enough, and then the gray winter shadow of moisture in the air became another of afternoon smog Winter wasn’t cold but an absence of hot a T-shirt Winter in Los Angeles is grayer than in spring and summer and fall. the conquest, a spilling of Indian and Spanish blood. “He’s not getting away with it,” she said. “I wish I were a man. He thinks he can say that to me, I can’t believe he thinks he can get away with saying that to me.” “So where’s Torso?” I asked. He was five. “He’s waiting for us in the car.” I shook my head as a kind of sigh of res It was Saturday, a half-day of OT, tools back in the lock-up, and before I headed home I drank a few of the beers with the crew next to the superintendent’s shack by the excavation pit, a city block big, off 2nd and Beaudry. It would be called a clear day in Los Angeles, the sky would be called blue. Three months earlier we’d moved into a two-bedroom apartment in East Hollywood. We’d left the last apartment, which was cheaper, because of a little legal disagreement with the landlord there. I’d had this job a thirty-story poured-inplace for two months and, if I didn’t get laid off, it would last a year or more. As depicted by an artist on a billboard next to the site, it was the first of four highrises to go up there against the Harbor Freeway. Once I got home, I wasn’t even able to think of a shower before Becky slammed through the door. “Come on!” she told me. “We have to go now!” She was holding the baby, Ricardo, in her arms. “What?” “He called me a stupid Mexican.” As black as her hair was, her eyes glared even blacker. “I am so mad!” “What?” “This man. When I was pulling out, he didn’t like something I did, and so he screamed at me. ‘You stupid fucking Mexican! Why don’t you learn to drive?’ I almost had a accident driving back, You just had to be here, I had to get you.” She was furious. She did have this primordial temper ancient, pre-Columbian. When we had fights, we really had fights. I imagined them as telenovela metaphors of -V6 .,11,0,1b She lead our family into the House of Pancakes, ignored the sign about letting the hostess do the seating, and up the first aisle, Ricardo pressed against her shoulder with one arm, holding Torso’s hand with her free one, until she stopped. “Him,” she said. It was a booth by the window, a parking lot view. I centered myself on the open side of the formica table, directly across from the salt and pepper, the sugar and diet creamers, and the different-flavored syrups. He was seated at my left: my age give or ignation: There was no backing off. It’d been years since she’d made any demand like this. The first time, not long after we’d met, she’d escorted me to a telephone booth, where she’d been waiting so patiently, where some rude guy refused to get off the phone. She told me once, Why have a boyfriend who’s big if he can’t do what I always wish I could? It wasn’t a long drive, a few blocks away, off Vermont and Santa Monica. “He might not be there by now,” I suggested. I was still having to work myself up some, getting mad too, but I had converted, decided she was right. Seemed like we were getting a lot of this stuff lately. Like whenever we walked into the store owned by those Armenians around the corner, they’d watch us all Mexicans were thieves, you know. “He went into the restaurant. I saw.” “But you probably only know him by the car he drives.” “I’ll recognize him.” We parked in the mini-mall lot. It was where the nearest laundromat was, where a bakery that sold the best bufiuelos and pan dulce was. 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 19, 1997 t