Los Sures, Part 12: A Nuyorican in Ponce

Tiny dinosaurs

We were playing in a bar next to the airport, waiting for Papi’s plane. Mami, Titi Evelyn, Tio Poco Loco, and the Skipper were drinking beer and rum and coke. The little, little planes that flew to Ponce kept flying over our heads but none of them with Papi yet.

It was really hot and there was nothing to do but wait and wait and wait. My sister Evie was the first to see the lizard. “Look!”

It was a real, alive lizard, shiny green, walking on the clay floor.

“Don’t let it get away!,” Fever said and ran to the bar and got a plastic cup.

Unlike back home in Brooklyn, PR was filled with amazing animals and insects. You didn’t see any nice insects in Brooklyn. We only had cockroaches.

“What are you gonna do?” Evie said.

“I’m going to catch it.”

“You think we can take it home?”

Fever put the cup over the lizard but the cup was too small. He picked it up, and we all saw that he had cut off most of the lizard’s tail.

“You killed it!,” I said.

“But it’s not bleeding.”

“He doesn’t look hurt.”

“It’s gonna die,” I said.

“It’s not gonna die. The tail’ll grow back.”

“Really?”

“I think so.”

“Ask Mami.”

Like nothing, the lizard started walking again, leaving its tail behind.

“Wowwwww,” we all said.

And then Mami said that Papi’s plane was coming in.

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Los Sures, Part 11: Welcome to La Jungla

Supernature

Every day we were in PR, Mami promised to take us to a pool. And every day, we would go to a someone else in our family’s house and sit and watch TV in Spanish and not understand what was going on. I was so bored my ankles were itching me.

One morning Mami told us once again we were going to a pool.

“You always say that,” my brother Fever said.

“Yeah, you always say that” I said.

“You see,” she said.

The car was hot and sticky, and Tio Poco Loco drove. We liked it better when Titi Evelyn drove because she had what Papi called “a lead foot.” And since the breeze coming through the window was the only way to get cool, the ride was better when she drove.

So we were suffering two times. Because we were so hot and there was no breeze going to come. And because we knew we were never going to see no pool.

All of a sudden Tio stopped the car on the side of the road underneath a lot of trees. Then Mami said: “Here’s the pool, kids.”

We got out of the car. All we could see was trees and a road. Where was the sign for the pool? Where were the lockers?

“Where’s the pool, Mami?,” “Mami, I don’t see no pool,” “Mami’s lying,” we said.

Mami told us to take off our t-shirts. Our cousin the Skipper—we called him that because he always wore a hat like the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island—and Tio Poco Loco took a cooler from the trunk and walked right into the woods on the side of the road. Mami made us follow.

I heard it before I saw it.

We passed through the trees, and there, making a giant rushing round, was a stream with clear, cool water.

“This ain’t no pool,” Evie said.

“This is a lake,” I said.

“It’s a river, stupid,” Fever said.

“This is better than a pool,” Mami said. “Let’s go.”

We had to walk over slippery rocks to get to the water. It was hurting my feet.

“But what if there’s fishes?,” I said.

“They could eat you,” my brother said.

“Mami!” I yelled.

“Cut it out,” Mami told Fever.

“There’re fishes,” my sister squealed. “Look. Look.”

She was right. In the clear water that surrounded us, small fish swam all around. And did not bite.

Mami and Tio and the Skipper sat on the rocks, dangling their feet in, drinking beer. There were other people there, with a radio playing Spanish music.

“Isn’t this fun?” Mami said.

“Look, mami.” My brother dunked himself into the water past his head. “I can see the fishes swimming underneath!”

I walked through the water to Mami and told her I had to pee.

“Go ahead,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “Do it right there.”

So I did.

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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.”

“So?”

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?”
“Lettuce.”
“Lettuce?”
“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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