Los Sures, Part 10: How Do You Say, “Smorgasbord” in Spanish?

Boared in Ponce

We ran back with the camera in her hand and tried to get the giant pig to come closer. “C’mon, Wilbur,” she said to it. But it stayed in a dark corner.

Fever said that the pig was boring and left. “Evie,” I said. “Look at this one.” A pig in the next stall had its snout pressed against the slats. Ever brave, he touched its nose. “Oh wow, it’s wet.”

I touched it too, but quickly. “Oh wow.”

“That’s snot,” Fever said. He was right behind us.

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is. Yes, it is.”

Evie said, “Let me take a picture of you.”

She took pictures of us and the pigs, and then Mami called.

We ran back to see Mami and Titi talking to the thin man. He was smoking a cigaret, and hanging from a hook in front of him was something weird. It was long and pink and something dark and red was coming out of it. We didn’t recognize at first.

“It’s a pig!,” my sister screamed.

It was much smaller than the ones we’d seen. Its little front hooves were bound. We could see its eyes still open and its mouth curled open to show its small bloody teeth. A stream of blood trickled from a hole in its neck. Without taking the cigarette from his mouth, the man cut open the pig’s belly in one, long cut.

“He’s killing the pig,” my brother said.

“Is it dead?” my sister said.

My mother took the camera from her and snapped a few pictures of the pig. You could see its skeleton inside. “C’mon, kids,” Mami said.

On the ride back, we were quiet. Evie just looked outside the car. “Poor little pig,” she said.

“Yeah,” Fever said. “But you like pork chops.”


I said, “Leave her alone.”

“Pork chops is pigs, you know.”

“Leave him alone,” Evie said.

Back at Titi’s house, they roasted the little pig over a barrel. The smell of it filled the backyard. That night Mami tried to get us to eat it. “C’mon, you like this.” She turned to my sister. “Evie, mira, it’s food.”

But Evie said, “No,” and so did I, even though I was very hungry. The grownups, their faces and fingers shiny with grease, laughed at us. My brother ate a big plate of pork with rachi rachi and rice and beans on the side. Later, my mother brought salami and cheese on buttered bread to me and my sister.

Evie said, “I wish Papi was here.”

“Me, too,” I said.

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Los Sures, Part 9: When I Was Nuyorican

Chin up! Chin up! Everybody loves a happy face!Evie loved pigs. Our father took my sister to see Charlotte’s Web on her 11th birthday. It was the only time he ever took just one of us to the movies. So Evie was really really excited when Mami said we were going to see real live pigs. We were all excited. Since we were from Brooklyn, we had never seen wild animals before. The Bronx Zoo didn’t count.

It was hot when we got into Titi’s car. We drove a long way. We were falling asleep in the car when Titi Evelyn stopped. The dirt was dusty, and there were metal and concrete buildings with big openings. You could see, if you looked hard, big animals moving around in there.

“What is that smell?” Fever said.

“Yeah, it smells bad,” I said.

“Is this where the pigs are?” Evie said. “Ooh ooh, I see them.”

“C’mon, kids,” Ma said.

Our mother told us we could go look at the pigs but not to get lost. We walked quickly toward the pens and finally saw THE PIGS. “Oh my god.” “Look at how big they are.” “Can we touch them?” “They’re fat like you are, Evie.” “Shut up!”

I looked around for Mami. She was with Titi, talking to a thin man with a big mustache. They were laughing.

My sister yelled, “Look at that one.”

I followed her finger. There, alone inside a pen, was a giant. A pig that could live easily in the Valley of Gwangi. A Gargantua pig. Pink and hairy, with black and white spots. It was bigger than our plastic-covered couch in Brooklyn.

“I wish we could take him for a ride,” I said.

“You don’t ride pigs, stupid,” my sister said. “I want to take his picture!”

We ran to Mami and asked her for the camera.

“Why?” Mami asked.

“We want to take a picture of this really big pig,” my brother said.

She laughed through her cigarette. She said, “Okay, but not too much.”

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New Story Up at Spinetingler!

“Oooh, they’re so cute”

My short story “Watching the Iguanas” is now up at the great online thrill-ride of a magazine Spinetingler. I wrote the story many years ago for my zine Mongrel, inspired by an Elvis Costello song and my brief experience petsitting a friend’s iguanas (FYI: they don’t fetch and they sure poop big but otherwise they’re quite cool). The first version of it was 500 words of drug-addled surrealistic weirdness, just enough to fill the two pages I needed to finish the issue. I’ve revisited the story many times since, but last year I finally remolded it into a sci-fi thriller, which Jack Getze and Sandra Ruttan were kind enough to publish. Many gracias, Jack!

Here is an excerpt from the story:

Watching the Iguanas
by Richie Narvaez

. . .
“I need someone to watch my iguanas, to take care of them while I’m out, feed them. You think you can do that?”
Do whatever it takes to survive, Manolo had told her once. Everyone else does. Don’t be stupid.
“What do they eat?”
“A green vegetable.”
“Sounds exciting,” Oonie said.
“It is. You stay at my house. Just one day. Clean up. Get some rest. Eat as much as you want. I’ll even pay you a shuttle to get wherever it is you want to get. This is easy work.”
Oonie wondered what the difficult part would be.
“One more thing,” the woman said. Oonie could not see the woman’s eyes behind the goggles.
“Yes.” Whatever it takes.
“My husband will be there,” the woman said. “I need you to kill him.”

Read the rest of the story here.

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Los Sures, Part 8: Nuyorican Go Home

You hear that? Godzilla!

We called my brother Rafael “Fever” because whenever he liked something—like Godzilla or baseball or Bruce Lee—he got a “fever” for it. When we went to Puerto Rico for summer vacation he was dying to play baseball, but the local kids in the ball field down the street from Titi’s house told him, “Janqui go home.” He told them, “I’m not a Yankee. I’m a Met.”

So he would go to a corner of the field and hit rocks into the air with a small bat that Tio gave him.

I would go watch him, because all of the cartoons were in Spanish and there was nothing else to do.

“You’re standing too close,” he said one time. “I don’t want to hit you.”

“You won’t hit me.”

“You better move back,” he said.

“You won’t hit me.”

Fever swung at a rock and probably in his mind he was thinking about the rock flying in slow motion over the fence. But that’s not what happened.

He had hit me right in the face like he said he would. I think he thought he had hit my eye for a home run.

I was on the ground holding my face where it hurt.

“Oh shit,” we both said a lot. We both knew Mami was not going to be happy.

I said, “I think I can hide it.”

“But it’s swelling up,” said Fever.

“I’ll hide it till it goes away.”

We walked back to Titi’s house. Mami was there with our cousin Coquetosa and our Titi Evelyn. I walked in, going the long way around them to keep the right side of my face facing them.

My mother asked if we wanted to eat something. My brother, who was always hungry, said, “Yes.”

”I said. “I’m going to sleep.” I ran to the room where we were sleeping.

I lay down on the cot they had for me, hoping the swelling would disappear after a quick nap.

But Mami came in right away. “Quieres algo a comer?” she said, and I was proud of myself for thinking to keep the hurt side of my face against the pillow. But Mami had x-ray vision.

She kneeled down and turned my face. “OH MY GOD!” She yelled for my brother. “Rafael! What happened? Why did you do to him?!”

“Mami,” I said, “it was an accident. I was standing too close.”

She told Rafael to get a paper towel with some ice. She bent down and pointed a finger at me. “You try to hide from me. But I catch you.”

While she held the towel to my face, she asked me again if I was hungry. I said I was, and she got me a sandwich of salami with butter on white bread.

“When’s Papi coming?” I asked her.

“Soon, soon,” she said.

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Los Sures, Part 7: Donna Who Lived Downstairs and Who Put Her Hand Down My Pants

Fine four fendered

Donna who lived downstairs with her mother in the bottom floor apartment at 121 South Second Street was probably my first girlfriend.

Donna was our landlord Mojona’s granddaughter. Donna was the daughter of Mojona’s daughter, Melancholia, who worked at the Domino’s Sugar Factory and played numbers with my father.

Donna’s father only came around once in a while. He didn’t live with them, like our father didn’t live with us.

Donna was my same age, and Mojona would babysit us together in her apartment. They had more toys down there because Mojona had about 15 grandkids. There had better toys than we had, like a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car with wings that you could stick out. I played with it a lot but then one of the wings came off in my hands. So I hid it under the couch, as far back as I could.

Sometimes Mojona would watch us, but sometimes Mojona’s husband Rheingoldo would. He was a nice man. He talked mostly in Spanish. His face was always red.

He would listen to the Mets on his radio and let us play all over the apartment. One day, he fell asleep on the couch and Donna asked me if I wanted to put my hands in her pants and touch her thing. I said, “Okay,” but only if she did the same to me.

So we slid our hands down each other’s pants. We stayed like that for an hour. We walked out of the apartment, into the hallway, down the stoop, and around the front yard like that. And then we decided to go back before Rheingoldo woke up.

From then on, I kind of felt Donna and I belonged to each other. She was in my first-grade class at P.S. 84, but after that they transferred her to St. Peter and Paul Catholic School.

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Tainos Still Kicking

For those of you who read my story “Juracán” in the anthology Indian Country Noir, this report about the survival of the Native Americans I write about might be of interest.

Decimated Tribe Seeks Recognition Through 2010 Census
Puerto Rican Tainos were nearly wiped out after arrival of the Spanish

A people thought to be dead for 500 years hope to prove they’re still very much alive, thanks to the 2010 census.

The census counts everyone in the United States, including territories like Puerto Rico. Thousands of Puerto Ricans are rediscovering their indigenous heritage and plan to ensure that the U.S. government knows about them.

Click here for the full story.

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Los Sures, Part 5A: Our Booger Wall

My brother and I had a booger wall. We had bunk beds in a room with a window that had a fire escape that looked out over the stoop of 121 South Second Street. Our bunk beds were up against the wall on one side of the room, and in the wall was a door going to the hallway that was painted shut. The door had a frame all around that came out about one inch away from the wall, and when I was in my bunk, which was the bottom bunk because I used to move a lot in my sleep and Mami thought if I was at the top I would roll off the side and break my neck — “You’re gonna break your neck up there,” she said — or when Fever was in his bunk, we could look over from our pillows to our left and right there was the door trim. And Mami used to send us to bed early but we never wanted to go to sleep, so we would talk and make jokes. And when we had to pick our noses, we didn’t want to get out of bed, so we would pick our noses, and look at what we picked of course, and roll them, and then we didn’t want to put it on our pillows, and we were not the kind of kids who ate our boogers, although we knew kids who did, like Scotty Almodovar, who was half Polish and half Puerto Rican, so we just took it and put it on that side of the frame. No one would see the booger there, we both figured logically.

After a while, though, the boogers started to add up. It was okay because they would dry up, so you could put one on top of another.

When it got to springtime, Papi painted the apartment. He started in the living room and we were helping him but when we started doing tic tac toe he told us to stop and stay in the kitchen.

Later, after Papi finished, Fever and me were walking around the apartment, with all the furniture piled in the center of the rooms under blankets, and we were liking the smell of the paint, and then we both said, “The booger wall!”

So we ran to our room and looked at the door frame. We were wondering if Papi had cleaned off the wall with a scraper. But no — we saw right away from the bumps that Papi had just painted over our boogers.

We both turned to each other and said, “Ewwww.”

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