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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Los Sures, Part 6: Ants in My Pants

Twice on the pipe, if the answer is "No"

Our landlord’s name was Mojona, and she used to babysit us when Mami went out to her second job. Mojona lived on the floor below us, and if I ran around too fast or jumped too hard or laughed too loud, she would bang on the radiator with a spoon, and Mami would yell, “See what you did? Behave!”

Getting Mami mad was one thing. You would get hit with the belt or her slipper. But if you got the landlord mad, you didn’t know what she would do.

She was shorter than Mami, and wore little glasses. Her face was like a raisin, and she had a voice like a man’s.

When Mami went to her second job, we would go to her the Mojona’s apartment and wait for Mami to come home. The ceilings were very tall, and there was a picture of a pretty Spanish lady on the wall, and Mojona said that that was her. In the parlor, she had a wardrobe and the top of the lace on top of the wardrobe were these little statues of Jesus and saints, and there were candles and crosses and old palm leaves from a hundred Palm Sundays.

Her apartment was always dark inside, and always quiet, and we always behaved there.

But outside, in the hallway and our own apartment upstairs, I would run up and down the stairs, and jump on the furniture, and laugh really loud. Until I heard the banging on the radiator.

“Edgar! See what you did? Behave!”

Sometimes, the landlord would appear in our apartment. You never heard her coming up the stairs or the door open. She would just be there, in the kitchen, in the seat under the phone. She and Mami would talk, and whenever she saw me should would point at me with her chin and say, “This one—this one has ants in his pants.”

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Los Sures, Part 5: Hell Is for Children

Arriba! Pa' bajo . . .

They told me the Devil killed my uncle Jesus. My older cousin Fátima told me, “The devil shot our father in the basement.”

My aunt Religiosa had seven daughters, Eunice, Fátima, Judith, Mary, Magdalena, Novena, Ruth, and Sarah, and they lived in a house on Cornelia Street in Bushwick. They were very poor, and every time they came over my father told us to watch them. They always came over like a swarm of mosquitoes moving like a hurricane like the Tasmanian Devil. When they were gone, our whole apartment was a mess and we had no pork chops, no Yoo-Hoos, no Ring Dings.

Anyway, my other cousin Novena, told me the whole story about her father.

One day their father, who she said was a very, very good man, was in the basement in their building. And he was there at night, just being a good man, a good father. And then behind him, out of the darkness, the Devil appeared. She said he had tiny black beard, a shiny bald head glistening, sharp horns, feet like a goat, and big, yellow teeth. The Devil likes basements, she said, because they are the the part of a house closest to Hell, which everyone knew was underground. The Devil probably popped up right out of the dirt floor or came out from that dark, dark spot behind the boiler, she said. There was probably a little door back there that went straight to Hell. That’s where the Devil came from and took out a gun and shot their father in the back.

Later, in the winter, the landlord made my brother Rafael and I go down to the basement, since Papi didn’t live there or else he would do it, to turn on the hot water. I stayed close to my brother, knowing that the Devil was hiding down there, waiting to jump out from the darkness, waiting to kill us.

One time it was very hot down there, and I wanted my brother to hurry. He was in a hurry, too. But he bumped into the lightbulb hanging from the low ceiling, and the light went out. We were it black black darkness. We ran for the wooden stairs. Just as I was going up, I looked down once more and saw two red eyes staring at me from the floor.

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Indian Summer Signing/Reading

Left to right: Reed, Mistina, and that's me in the corner

Saucy Mistina Bates, salty Reed Farrel Coleman, and silly me read selections from and signed copies of Indian Country Noir at the Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, NYC. Good selection of wine! Thanks to everyone who showed and imbibed, and of course thanks to the folks at Mysterious. Check out pics of the event at the Bookshop blog.

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