UNITED STATES—The house filled with rich smells of punch that simmered on the stove. Aromas of cinnamon, guava and sugar cane thrilled our nostrils. Later the punch was served hot with a shot of tequila.
Mac leaned on his elbows out the second floor window and toasted us with his can of beer, each time more raucously. I was surprised that he hadn’t made a single complaint about the barbacoa.
“It smells gooood!” Mac shouted when he came downstairs to get a beer out of the fridge, and then returned to his room, where hard rock pounded. In the living room we sat and drank soda and punch with much expectation. It was the best part of this fiesta, waiting while the goat slowly cooked deep in the earth.
Night came. Taba and Delfina prepared salsas in a stone molcajete, and they heated tortillas on the stove. We put wrapped presents in a corner of the sitting room. Mac came back down for another beer and, opening it, he said, “I’m so hungry, I could eat two horses.”
He returned to his room and the speed metal blasting out of his stereo. Soon we heard from upstairs the sound of the doors slamming and the shouts of Mac and another tenant, then more doors slamming. Those of us in the sitting room exchanged looks and I thought, “Now Mac is going to spoil everything with a fight.”
We were just about to sit down to the feast of goat’s meat, when I heard a very loud knock on the front door. I went to answer. There stood two uniformed from the LAPD.
“Does Mac Murphy live here?” they said languidly as two cops working a Christmas Eve. “We received a call about a disturbance.”
They came up the stairs. First door on the right, I pointed out. Into the hall came another tenant in a purple satin robe, David, a timid office worker with Afro hair who had been shouting.
David spent more time than a girl in dressing, combing and perfuming himself, and now he had a voice more hysterical than any girl, explaining that he had complained about the loud music to Mac, and Mac had punched him in the arm.
“Open the door. Police,” they said to Mac’s closed door. “We want to talk to you.”
After a few moments, Mac’s brick-red face appeared in the crack, and they asked him if he had struck David. He denied it. David shrieked that he was a liar, and lifted up his satin sleeve to show the bruises on his scrawny arm.
“It’s not necessary, sir,” one of the cops told him. Meanwhile, the other cop looked over Mac’s shoulder: the walls of his room were decorated with street signs, from the Santa Monica freeway, the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, and a stopsign.
“Those your signs?” they asked him. “You know, sir, that having these is in violation of the law.”
Mac insisted that he had found them in the closet when he moved into this house—they’d belonged to a previous tenant. Despite his vehement protests, the cops took him away and he spent Christmas in jail. Poor Mac. I would’ve liked to have seen him there, among thieves, murderers, rapists, and drug dealers, trying to explain how they arrested him for having some lousy street signs.
In the end, we had our feast of goat’s meat, white and tender, with its slightly smoky flavor that melts on the tongue. In the sitting room there piled up dirty plates with goat bones picked clean, empty bottles of beer and cans of soda. For a long time there was only the contented sound of chewing and drinking and the tinkling of glasses being replenished. Afterward, we were stranded on the living room chairs, stuffed full of food and toasts.
Long past midnight Lawrence Brown arrived from the airport, and we invited him to have some goat tacos. The camel-faced man wanted none of it. He withdrew from us with a withering look as if we were lepers, a look that said, “Thou art sinners. I will not feast on the meat of horned beasts and gulp liquors like thyselves, and dull the senses, cloud my mind, and sully the temple of the body. I can already imagine all of you sizzling in the flames of hell, shouting for God’s mercy for having strayed from the good path.”
He turned his back on us and shut himself in his room to stick to the narrow path of righteousness and write a letter to his dear Joy, who was spending Christmas in the women’s jail.
The next day Mac called from his jail to wish us a merry Christmas and tell us he regretted having taken the signs from the streets of Los Angeles.
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “A Very Grady Christmas: Three L.A. Christmases,” available on Amazon. Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.