HOUSE ON METRO.
The house on Metro had been listed for $75,000.00 but the owner was willing to negotiate with any prospective buyers who might have “cash on hand” as was stated in bold type on the orange colored leaflet that had been placed on the windshield of my ’66 VW Beetle and held in place by an inoperable rusty wiper blade. The car had been parked for less than an hour on Brooklyn Avenue nearly a block away from East Los Angeles College. Within that brief period of time, the rear tail light fixtures and front passenger seat were stolen. A large black “F” had been spray painted across the back seat. The graffiti was crude with the still wet paint smelling like chemically treated perfume. A parking violation citation with a fine in the amount of $48.00 had also been slipped alongside the leaflet by a humorless cop who had taken advantage of parking restrictions that had sprung up on temporary signs during my quick visit to the college.
I was on the campus looking for Winds, an acquaintance from Boyle Heights who had agreed to trade a new Nikkor 24 mm wide-angle lens that he had somehow come across during a spontaneous road trip across New Mexico. His legendary getaway driving skills were matched by his purported capacity for mayhem whenever anyone might annoy him for any minor reason. The agreed upon exchange of five stylish 1950’s era radium dial watches for photography hardware carried a stern warning, I would not be allowed to photograph any of his ex-girlfriends nor would I be permitted to put the lens in hock at any of the local pawn shops should I find myself in need of a few dollars since the serial number on the precision instrument might be traced back to a smashed display case of an authorized retailer somewhere in the Southwest. The lens was mounted perfectly onto my Nikon F2 35 mm camera but there was no film in my bag. I must have made quite a picture that day in 1982.
“I’ll pay you a hundred dollars to photograph my three-legged dog. Two hundred if you can make it look like he’s got four.”
She had been following me since I first parked the car. Despite her appearance, I was ignoring her because she looked so intent of being invisible. She was wearing a blonde wig and her somewhat distorted figure was the result of many layers of clothing and hidden objects beneath sheets of fabric, lace, and plastic that were stapled onto the rim of her wide-brimmed hat. Thick theatrical makeup and dark sunglasses made her completely unidentifiable. Her familiar voice with its lyrical Chicana slang and intonation of threat combined with an inherent sexuality made her a compelling dialogist. She laughed when her purse opened to reveal a handful of colorful confetti that she tossed into the air.
“So much for money. I guess you’ll have to take my picture for free.”
I opened the car door and informed her that I wasn’t a commercial photographer and that my real passion to become a famous rock star had been quashed by a complete lack of music studio support. I pulled out my harmonica and played a few bars of something I felt would have been an excellent solo track to accompany a Top Ten hit.
“You’re off key. No one is going to buy it. Get real. I remember when you were kicked out of music class for throwing the clarinet out the window.”
“It was a flute followed by a trombone as a metaphor for the grand piano that just couldn’t be lifted by a sole teenager.”
“Oh yeah, you were the skinny kid who smoked Marlboro’s in class.”
“I used to love tossing lit matches onto piles of homework. Who are you?”
“You don’t know me. You never paid attention. Late introductions are always false. Let’s pretend that you are the rock star and that I’m an avid fan. Give me a ride to my apartment in City Terrace and I’ll show you something that you’ll never forget.”
She draped a black shawl over the back seat and sat leisurely as though we had made a date to take a joyride across the barrio.
“Turn here and drive straight up the hill until you get to the first alley. You’ll have to slow down and make sure they let us pass.”
“Yeah, the local gang, they won’t shoot, my brothers, uncles, cousins, and father, are lifetime members.”
“You don’t look very much like the stereotypical chola.”
“Yeah. I killed my TV too.”
As the car pulled up to the alley two men approached and motioned for me to stop.
“You here to party or is it time to say your prayers?”
“He’s here with me. A bit of respect, eh?”
“Man, she’s just like a movie star, chauffer and all. Sorry miss, we would have rolled out the red carpet but you know, it’s flying in the air with all of the other genies.”
“C’mon, my homie’s just kidding. Mi varrio es tu varrio.”
The men moved aside and we drove a few blocks to her apartment building that was balanced gracefully against the hillside on two triangular metal frames.
“You’ll have to remove your shoes and everything else before stepping inside. And, put this on.”
She handed me a silk Japanese robe before disappearing into an interior doorway.
During my youthful 20’s I experienced many interesting situations that ended in great fun or exploded into absurd forms of disaster. My 30’s were starting off with seemingly endless chaos that pointed towards multiple caveats ensuring evermore confusion and fun. The scent of incense and rose petals filled the air. I entered the living room expecting a bit of improvised eroticism.
“Is that him?”
The living room was set up like a theater with elevated stage and enough chairs to accommodate the group of more than forty men.
“What’s this all about?”
I asked the basic question but already knew any answer would be something that I’d probably rather not hear.
“You made a business transaction with our avowed enemy. Winds killed our beloved mother in Alamagordo. It’s time to atone for your actions.”
“No way, I’m a musician, an artist. I’m not a gangster.”
“Don’t deny your culpability. My sister here is going to make you pay.”
She was incredibly beautiful without her excessive makeup and street costumes.
“Open your mouth and close your eyes.”
I closed my eyes and felt the bitter pill as it was popped onto my tongue. I swallowed hard. Within a few minutes I was fully engulfed in the most delightfully strange hallucinations and am still unsure if we made love in front of a live audience or if Winds was brought into the room to be ritually slaughtered. I quite literally fell into a dream.
Later that evening, two men who fluctuated in their appearance as being either forest creatures, angels, gang members, or spies, drove me in their customized Lincoln Continental to a different neighborhood where my car was now parked in the driveway of a house that I had never seen before but that somehow seemed to hold some special significance in relation to my future.
“Here you are brother, lucky for you she was impressed by your inherent sensuality and madness. Go for broke or go loco in this city. And don’t ever think about removing your new tattoo.”
A big “F” was elaborately inked in Old English script across my bare chest. The 24 mm lens had already been removed from the camera as I held the Nikon firmly in my grasp.
“And remember, we’re your new family now.”
I walked over to my car and noticed that the missing auto parts had been replaced with the painted graffiti completely removed. The leaflet was still in place as I picked it up to discover that I was in front of the house on Metro.
“So you finally decided to come home. A man called earlier and made an offer on the house saying that he’ll be bringing some money over in the morning. The baby’s asleep, don’t make any noise. I’ll heat up the enchiladas and you can warm up the bed.”
I walked into the house of faint memories that would surely return to me after a night of comfort. The many pictures on the wall were of a loving couple with their young child and other images of extended family, with everyone and everything arranged neatly in an unexplained ordinary orderliness that now seemed so foreign and distant.
She walked back into the room carrying the infant who was smiling happily.
“Here, tell him one of you favorite bedtime stories, I’ll bet he’s too smart to believe any of it.”
The child was now in my arms and laughing in a way that echoed my own sentiment of elation that the dream still had a bit of time before it would dissipate into nothingness.
House on Metro
©2013, Harry Gamboa Jr.
You can contact Harry Gamboa Jr. at: firstname.lastname@example.org