HOLLYWOOD HILLS—“I go outside for the first time in months,” Candy retook the thread. “El Güero made me believe I'm gonna be arrested and taken back to my country.”
The jukebox stopped whining, veni veni venii, corazoncito. Candy sighed, put on her outlandishly large sunglasses, and hid her sad eyes. Jason saw himself in their mirror-black convexities.
“I see a police on Lankershim Blvd., I want to die. He is Mexican. I'm scared: they are the worst to their own people. No papers and I leave El Güero dead. But this guy, he speaks Spanish and help me find a shelter for the womens. I was there for three days, and my last day in the shelter I see a sign in a laundromat—somebody looking for a housekeeper. That's when I meet Suzanne. She's an angel.” Upon hearing his ex-wife referred to as an angel, Jason had to smile. “It was my last day in the shelter and then back on the street. I don't know what I do without Suzanne. She's my angel, Jason,” she said. “Can I ask you a beeg favor? Can you loan me fifty dollars?”
“Ask Kit. She's your little banker,” Jason thought but didn't say. He was too in love. Then again, Jason had withstood too much to leave unanswered this rippling of inner peace caused by Candy's sudden request:
“Doesn't Suzanne pay you a decent wage?” Jason snarled.
“Of course she pay me.”
“You're Kit's nanny and she doesn't pay you a decent wage. If she did, you wouldn't have to go around begging other people?”
“She give me a wonderful place to live, food. Everything I want.”
“Candy, if she's not paying you, you could sue!”
“But I'm no a citizen, I can't sue.”
“You do work. You have a right to get paid. It doesn't matter what country you're from. Suzanne's gonna hear about this. After what she's been earning on 'Swag,' she's gotta be loaded.”
Jason was fuming as they walked out of El Ranchito. He and Candy reached the dusty once-white car, he stuck his arms into the yawning maw of books, papers and uncorrected tests, and retrieved the Book of Books, Mylanta's Oneness, the tome that had the power to help Candy.
“Open it anywhere,” he said. “You'll find it speaks to you.”
Candy did. She opened the drab cover and read: Hey Jason, cut Candy some slack. Just because getting hit up for money cramps your style, because it swings you into poverty-fear mode, that's no excuse to behave like a swine.”
Embarrassed, Jason grabbed the book back. Candy tugged at it tenaciously.
“I'm curious now.” She pulled hard on the front cover, Jason on the back. The fragile spine of the book, leafed, pawed, annotated and devoured by Jason, split right down the middle. Each got to keep their half of the book.
After leaving Mi Ranchito, they drove to San Anselmo Church, just a few minutes away.
The raw notes from the tinny upright piano, its mahogany sides carved by graffiti hearts and initials, assaulted their ears. Mr. Leonard sat on a piano stool delivering up exquisitely off-key music. Miguel was singing, to the tune of 'La Cucaracha,' also exquisitely off key:
“Welcome to L.A-A! Welcome to L.A.-A!/ First you're on top, then you drop/It's a dre-eam, it's a dre-eam/baby, what a scene.”
Jasmin strutted on stage, a coach's whistle dangling from her neck hounding a makeshift group of dancers through a number. Three dancers in various states of deshabille shuffled across the tiny stage. Busby Berkeley it wasn't.
“Hey, Jason,” Mr. Leonard wheeled around in the piano stool. “What's shakin'.”
“I needed your help last night, Joey,” Jason said soberly. “You didn't help.”
“Listen, you punk from Ohio. I got ex-wives who need my money. We all got problems. Miguel here. . .”
The fledgling composer looked guilty and played with the string bracelet around his wrist.
“My dad kick me out of the house because he think the musical not manly.”
“And Jasmin's grandma died in Chichuahua. She can't go to the funeral because she might mot be able to get back to the U.S.”
Gudelia spoke, “My baby had an asthma attack yesterday. He turned purple. I spent all night in the emergency room.”
“We all got problems,” said Mr. Leonard, “and we come to this sacred place, the theater, as I'm at liberty to call it, to be free for a while from the cares of the day. You heard the news?” Mr. Leonard asked Jason. “Well, there's plans afoot to close that whole Adult Division. It's a race to the bottom line, to save a few shekels. How do you like them apples?”
“Wow,” was all Jason could articulate.
“Doesn't it strike you as faintly ridiculous that we're going through the motions of the whole painful accreditation process for the school and the school may no longer exist?”
Just then, Miguel and Jasmine chimed in with glee, “Shut up, Mr. Leonard. Let's go on with the show!”
(To be continued...)
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