UNITED STATES—The owner of the store had moaned and whined about the neighborhood before the shooting. The porch homies affected his business as well as mine. He moaned and whined about it more afterward. “Oh the gunshots and the graffiti,” the Korean said, “they keep me awake at night!”
The bags under his eyes deepened, and his skin tended to a sickly yellowish tone. He soothed his nerves listening to classical music in his store. All in all, he seemed poorly prepared for the ersatz war zone we lived in.
Another fall afternoon around the time of Snoopy’s shooting, I walked a few blocks to get a piece of meat from a philosophical butcher, and he said, wrapping up the chorizo, “I love my mother, the one who gave me life, and I pray for her.” At this point I was ready to pray for mine but not pick up the telephone. Maybe it helped.
I later learned that around this time my mother got on the phone. She called an assemblyman, and this assemblyman threw his power around, and the hotel—my parents’ whole nestegg and retirement—condemned after the World Series earthquake, was saved from the wrecking ball. (You can see a photo of it if you look up Watsonville on Wikipedia)
A young couple from the same town in Mexico, Pedro and Taba, shared the lower floor of the house with me and Lawrence Brown. They worked in a sweatshop on one of the top floors of a downtown building, amid the ghostly glow of fluorescent lights and the clamor of sewing machines. Now Pedro’s dad was living with him. He did some kind of cleaning job, I think; all I know is that he slept days and looked mostly bewildered when he was awake.
At any rate, we had barely got Pedro’s dad under contract, and a new couple moved in with them, Adán and Delfina, and we all chatted amiably in the kitchen, and they helped me out with my Spanish. And they let me use their video player on which I saw Buñuel’s “Ensayo de un crimen.”
There came the time when I was liable to let it slide and look the other way. It was shortly before Thanksgiving, and I wasn’t so quick to jump on what would be the eviction bandwagon, and take care of what the owner called “squatters.” After all, not so long before I had been a squatter of sorts myself on some friends’ couch. The short of it is the old man up and left one day. I think I liked the idea of Christmas in Mexico better.
When Christmas came in L.A., Pedro and Taba proposed having a gift exchange and, what’s more, having a Mexican-style barbecue. It was their first year in the United States, and a barbecue, or barbacoa, would help ease the aching nostalgia they felt for their homeland.
I gave my permission, but there remained the problem of Mac. I preferred that he knew nothing about the barbecue. Mac, hothead that he was, would object because, after all, we were going to dig a pit and have a bonfire practically in downtown Los Angeles. Mac would scream bloody murder, and he’d call the fire department, or something like that.
Christmas Eve came. Pedro and Taba and the other couple went to one of the cities neighboring Los Angeles. Thanks to the culinary tastes of the local Mexican population, there was a butcher shop where it was possible to select and slaughter a goat. Afterward, they cut some broad maguey leaves from the garden of a house in the Sunset district.
Christmas Day, the sun shone through the milky veils of smog, this sad and hopeful sun that bathes the days of Los Angeles. Around noon, the neighbors loaned me a shovel and we began to dig a pit over three feet deep. Pedro and Adán placed mesquite firewood and lit it. When the wood was turning to embers, they put a layer of bricks on top. Then we took the boxes of butchered goat out of the fridge and, wrapped in cloth tarp, the hunks of meat were placed over the hot bricks, folding the broad maguey leaves on top, with more bricks above, and everything covered once again with shovelfuls of earth. All day long the meat cooked slowly in the mesquite embers.
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “A Very Grady Christmas: Three L.A. Christmases,” available on Amazon.com. Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.