UNITED STATES—I often have an itch to contact some who lived at Estrella Ave. But they have invariably fallen off the face of the earth. Like Ron Leaf.
Ron was about the best guy who ever was, very nice and shy and regular with the rent. He was so regular. From the start Ron rubbed me the right way, he laughed at my jokes and said, “You’re young to be a manager.”
After I had moved to the yuppie house at Manhattan Place, Ron asked me to find a smaller, less expensive room among the owner’s houses. He got the best deal of all—a closet of a room on Kenmore, full of the dry smell of attic, for $ 200 a month. Even with the reduced rent, there was a time when he got behind. He still conscientiously sent in what he could every month. Cheryl in the office, who had never met Ron in person, admired his steadfastness and loyalty to pay what he could.
One Ron Leaf made up for so many people who didn’t care, didn’t give a damn. And since getting back from New York, it seemed like I was dealing more with the turkeys.
I was in the dumps after being in New York and coming back to Manhattan Place—but the strands of an active life pulled me onward. From the first day I touched California soil, taking care of rentals and the Spanish theater kept me moving. After the performance of the play, “Maxtlán,” Rafael Pajuelo’s theater group concentrated on pantomime, which was a crowd pleaser and perfect for my native slapstick. We rehearsed the “weight lifter” and other sketches, building up bits of business with the former schoolteacher Susana and Rene, the theater mate from Tecate, the town of beer.
“The show already has flesh, now we need to add bone and soul,” Rafael said after our last rehearsal.
On Thursday, my day off, I went to Hollywood to buy clown makeup for Sunday’s performance at Placita Olvera.
The day of the event we met on the corner of Alvarado and Sunset. From there I gave everyone a lift to Placita Olvera. Passing out fliers for the impending performance I ran into the drunkard from Estrella Ave., it was the greatest reunion ever, I smiled, he smiled back toothlessly. I didn’t have to worry about shooing him off the front porch. There is a paradise where we don’t suffer people’s stench and we are unburdened by their vices, floating briefly in little ellipses of heaven, and the theater, even on the street, is one such place.
On the side of the placita, around the corner from the Mexican consulate performed groups of folkloric music, indigenous songs, poetry. We did our sketches in great heat in the shade. The sweat almost washed the white greasepaint off our faces. A few of the stalwart Bohemios came to see us—Josefina, Alfonso Roman—we performed and then… applause.
Now it’s 2016. Just last Sunday in my Hollywood neighborhood, I had been hearing salsa music all day, snatches of amplified voices, caught the throaty smell of grilled meat. In the afternoon I went out and saw the pennant for a Peruvian Festival. I instantly thought of Rafael Pajuelo. I had to go to the festival and see if the Peruvian Rafael was there, always with a fondness for concerts and cultural gatherings. Seeing through the changes that 26 years had wrought would require an effort of imagination and clear vision. I passed by the lines of people waiting for grilled meat.
There was an older couple leaving the soccer field where the booths and musical stage were set up. The man looked short, thin and a bit stooped. There was a woman beside him with dark hair and gold glasses; hey, this is Hollywood, why not a little chemical color? Nor did the man have white hair nor was wrinkled. Finally it was the Roman nose and the shape of the face that got me to take a shot in the dark:
“Es usted Rafael?”
No recognition first, which was enough to give up. It was the woman who noted I has said something and encouraged me to repeat, “Es usted Rafael?”
It was him, it was Rafael Pajuelo—one of the few survivors I have found from my memoirs. To see him was to wake up with a souvenir from a dream in the palm of my hand.
Grady Miller is a humorist in Hollywood.