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tearing the rag off the bush again
A Boy from Los Angeles PDF E-mail

I haven’t seen my father since I rabbit-punched him in February, 1994



Billy Goat Skies & June Bug Graveyards: A Boy From L.A. 
 


San Gabriel has been home to the Yang-Na Native Americans and the oldest mission in Los Angeles, built in the 1770s.  The Gabrielinos, Indians, Spanish, Mestizos, Mulattos, Sonorans, and Mexicans settled Los Angeles.  Land of the Mexican Exodus migrating to northern California.  General Kearney’s Dragoons passed through, and military commanders controlled the city.  California annexed by the State of the Union in 1850.  Los Angeles up and came into and through the world.

1850-1890s: Pío Pico, one-time governor of Los Angeles and one of its largest landowners--along with the Machados, Talamantes, and Higueras--sold off his ranchos.  1860s droughts and floods destroyed the cattle industry, inciting a purchasing frenzy in which avaricious developers bought up the land, and initiated “large-scale” residential urbanization; the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads waged a price war for transcontinental passengers, who responded with a booming migration and one of the fastest and most lucrative real estate expansions in U.S. history.  The Los Angeles Star newspaper was founded, as was Francisco Ramírez’ short-lived, El Clamor Público.

The La Fiesta de Los Angeles, which “poeticized” Spanish-Mexican culture and prostituted the exotic image of the Mexican woman, was perpetuated by Anglos as a romantic promotional scam to seduce more Anglo settlers.  And a prominent northern university president described the city as “an itty-bitty village full of Spics and sagebrush.”

Adult Mexicans were exempted from the 1917 Literacy Act to maintain the labor force, the foundation of Los Angeles’ industry, meanwhile Mexican children were beaten with rulers for speaking Spanish in school.  A hard division between East L.A. barrios and West L.A. wealth was drawn.  

And in 1965 Watts lit up the sky.

1970s: Vietnamese immigrants cook French food at the end of the block.  Dog Town skaters, P.K. Rippers, Stu Thompson’s Redline, Scary Larry’s Diamondback, and the birth of Bicycle Motor Cross.  Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Steve Yeager, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, Rick Monday, Charlie Hugh, Don Sutton and Tommy John…that’s when the L.A. Dodgers had one hell of a baseball team.

1980s: Los Angeles is the Heavy Metal and crack cocaine capital of the world.  El Salvadorians flood McArthur Park and are not granted refugee status.

 

I was born in Los Angeles General County Hospital in 1968.  Robert Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel across from the HMS Bounty Cocktail Lounge where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had enjoyed drinks on Wilshire Boulevard.  The 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and my apocalyptic mother left me living out the next seven years of my life with inflamed tonsils.

Everyday I walked up and down Ramona Boulevard with an inner monologue that ranted a mantra, “I’ll never get off this street.  I’ll never get off this street.”  San Marino mansions to the north, a spliff at 2:00 a.m., and a Schwinn Beach Cruiser carried me up and down hills around Lacy Park and Huntington’s Estate.  I wondered who lived in those Spanish verandas and Green & Green custom homes.  What did they do?  Where did they come from?  And does the word “deserve” solve the task of one’s efforts?

8th Grade:  Kicked out of a private Lutheran School in 1983.  First kid to bring weed on school premises during school hours.  (A “concerned friend” ratted me out.)  First kid to compulsively ditch school and not give a shit.  Long hair, bad grades, chronic tardiness and I felt like Mr. T shouting, “Yeah!  I’m tardy!  What-a-ya gonna do about it, sucka?”

“Be expelled or leave on your own free will.”  I’m still not sure what I decided.  Either way I was out.  I left South San Gabriel (a shrub city east of L.A. proper), my dog, my mother, her third husband, the 10 Freeway, gang graffiti (Lomas and Sangra x’ed out SSG), and the PCP Koolies at Garvey Park, and made my way to the end of the pit in the San Fernando Valley: Vanowen Boulevard and Valley Circle Drive, not far from Spawn Ranch, Charlie Manson’s old family country club.

I was 14 years old when I left the low riders and the low life drug dealers of South San Gabriel and moved in with a man known as “The Cuban.”   He drove a black Alfa Romeo and a black Cadillac.  Each month he trafficked anywhere between 50 and 200 kilos of cocaine from Florida to L.A.  He supplied men like Thomas “Tootie” Reese and David Chow.  “The Cuban” was my father.

As a child I sat in a rumble seat driven by my mother’s whims and desperations to feed and house us.  She may have even had an inkling of hope that she might figure out what love was, but by the age of 14, I was well on my way to recidivistic inner-city “blow-backs.”  Every decision I would make, even the good one’s, that is, those society deemed respectable and responsible, like attending a reputable university, acquiring a trade, voting, and staying drug free would simply dig me into a deeper sense that I would never be given the opportunity to actualize myself with an immortal print.

What is inner-city blow-back?  It’s being trained and educated by the altruistic and sophisticated, yet society shows its back to you.  Eventually someone is going to get that which he or she feels he or she has earned.  And it seemed as if every authority in my life had been bossing me around, taunting me with a dangling, diamond-studded pickle.

A day spent with my father was like holding a box of popcorn in one hand and a leashed rooster in the other, while sitting in the foyer of the PussyCat Theater on Western Avenue.

My father and I would leave the house at about 10:00 a.m.  After he spent the morning banging his girlfriend, he would shower and dapperly groom himself with a three-piece silk suit and an array of jewelry, all the while sipping yerba maté or dunking bread in a café con leche.  When he emerged from his primping chamber, we would flop into the Spider and drive to his second house where his second wife lived.  The two of them would disappear for a stage of lovemaking.  I would spend my time dressing my five-year-old half-sister in a swimsuit and floaties, and tossing her in the swimming pool.  Or I’d watch movies on the beta machine.  The video collection consisted of Jaws, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Tora Tora, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Maybe OnTV would be airing something “good” like Scanners or Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  

My stepmother was a glitzy caricature of a Cuban woman.  She had glittery purple hair, glittery fingernails and a glittery vocabulary that rang out gutturally and was accompanied with violent hand jesters.  My nerves always went Richter around her as she swiftly paced around the house screaming at my father.

By noon we were driving over the hill, through the canyon and into Sun Valley.  A right turn down a dirt road overhung by trees until it emerged into a land resembling Puerto Nuevo.  Short Mexican men smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and Swisher Sweet cigars were cleaning cages and sharpening tiny plastic spikes with cupped bases.  My father dirtied his shoes and walked me around corrals, into barns and through alleys pointing out all his fighting roosters.  Every now and then, an anemic looking Capuchin monkey would swing by, carrying a corncob.  My father gave me a crash course in rooster breeding.  I didn’t listen very well and thought they were kept in too tightly confined cages.  The quarters were “effective,” he said.  They contained the rooster’s rage.  Fighting roosters were extremely territorial.  They’re killers, incapable of living freely without viciously engaging other roosters and even some chickens.  I wasn’t sure if my father was talking about himself and his associates, or his barn full of ill-bred cocks.

 After an hour or so of pedagogical tutelage on the pedigree of pugilistic roosters, my father and I would drive to Hollywood and Vine and park across from the Pantages Theater and eat a chilidog or burger at the DogHouse, which was constructed in the fashion of its name.  My father told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be.  “Just be the best,” he commanded.  I told him I wanted to be a guitarist in a Rock-n-Roll band like Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen.  He told me David Lee Roth’s name had come up a number of times in his line of work.  The following day my father brought home Wally Stockard’s--the guitarist from The Babies--flamed maple, book-matched, 25-50th Anniversary Gibson Les Paul and told me to be the best guitar player.  I settled for fast riffs because I was too busy fumbling the blues, which meant I was a mediocre player, so I filled my marijuana bong with beer and philosophy.

My father wanted me to be a flamenco guitarist or a medical doctor.  I was too busy reading John Fante, Jim Thompson, Herman Melville, and the New Testament while I flirted with William James’ Varieties of Religious Experiences.

When we finished lunch we drove to an underground parking structure on Crescent Heights.  We took an elevator up to the 7th floor.  My father walked into an apartment like he owned it; that’s because he did.  A full-tittied brunette with her derrière tightly wrapped in metallic, baby-blue spandex threw her arms around him and they necked.  Her eye caught mine and she broke from my father’s arms.  She swiveled up to me, stroked my face and pressed her moist lips on my cheek while her fingers ran through my hair.  I was hoping she was for me, given the Latin tradition.  Instead I got more OnTV, while my father and the brunette disappeared into the bedroom for 30 to 40 minutes.  After which he made 30 to 40 minutes of phone calls.  Then we were back in the black convertible Spider heading toward Down Town L.A., connecting with the 10 Freeway, driving east.  Shit.  He’s taking me back to my mother’s and the old neighborhood.  Saved.  We drove past the New Avenue exit and into El Monte and along some back roads I had never been down.  Boring Luck.  Another hour at another rooster ranch.  There were no Capuchin monkeys but the same Mexicans who worked the Sun Valley ranch also worked the El Monte ranch, which had goats, a few donkeys and truckloads of caged roosters.

Back in the car, returning west.  The 10 to the 101 Freeway: exit Sunset Blvd.--turn right into the east side Sunset Plaza strip mall, and into my father’s travel agency and jewelry store named H.A.M.A.C.I., which was an acronym for seven cities in Cuba; Havana, Antilla, Matanzas, Amanico, Camagüey, and Isla De Pina.  Places the family was from.  It would have been more considerate if my father had named his business Playa Los Cocos, rather than dragging the family heritage down with him.

I sat in my father’s office across from him at his desk reading a Guitar World Magazine or studying the daily baseball stats while he made more phone calls and flirted with the travel agents, Yvette and Patty.  Manny and Carlo, the jewelry salesmen with their rolled up sleeves, would periodically poke their heads into the office to ask questions or to announce visitors.

Italians and South Americans were dropping off or picking up envelopes and packages.  No discussions about these exchanges were made.  Parcels were placed on the desk and lifted off the desk nonchalantly, as if it wasn’t even happening, completely unacknowledged.  The safe under the desk was opened and closed in the same subsidiary manner.  African-Americans came in talking about cars.  Asians came in talking about fur coats.  Everybody talked about roosters and women and walked out the door with a new ring, necklace, bracelet or travel tickets.

Silk suits, slicked hair, jeweled and manicured hands and hard eyes; the men shared these five characteristics and I had never shaken so many hands in one day with the same L’Oréal feel.  They were all caricatures of a joke.  Every one of them had been depicted in Hollywood Mafia movies.  The Italians, African-Americans, and Asians made fun of my long hair, clueing me into the fact that Rock-n-Roll was dead, that Led Zeppelin was over. That I was behind the times.  That I should be listening to Boy George, WHAM, Duran Duran and Run DMC.  I wasn’t sure if they thought I was gay or if they were gay.  Either way, something gay was going on.

The South Americans fixed an introspective gaze on me, with respect and distrust.  When I was introduced as my father’s junior they shook my hand and looked me straight in the eye with an appellate qui vive, as if they could end everything right then-and-there.  Then they would smile and nod approvingly back and forth between me and my father, as if they would, one day, know me more intimately.  They bantered minimally unless they were looking at nude photographs of a Cuban Diplomat’s daughter my father was nailing when he took trips to the island.

A couple of hours later we were driving west on Fountain toward Sweetzer.  Park in front of an apartment complex and knock on a door.  An African-American man named Coolidge, answered the door receiving us like my father owned the place.  Because he did.  Coolidge, along with two other black men, worked for my father.  The apartment was full of TVs, VCRs, Video Cameras, Stereos, Telephoto Lenses, Nikons. Liecas, .9 millimeters, .45s, .357s, police issued .41s, paintings, art supplies, and various other goods.  The paintings and art supplies were confiscated from L.A. artists who could not pay their depts.  Where the guns came from, I didn’t ask.  Everything else was new and still in their boxes.

Painted in various shades of purples, the apartment was decorated with a black leather sofa, two matching recliners, a black entertainment center, shag carpeting, purple linen drapes, candles, voodoo artifacts, and a black panther coffee table on which Playboy Magazines were freely displayed.  Steel framed prints of Léonor Fini’s The End of the World, Roland Penrose’s The Invisible Isle, a nude young girl by Egon Schiele, an Edward Arnold Reep (I don’t remember which one) and André Breton’s The Comte de Foix to Assassinate His Son hung on the walls.  

My father grabbed a Heineken from the refrigerator, sat in one of the recliners, lit a cigarette and shot the shit with Coolidge who was rolling a fat joint.  He sparked it up, took a hit and handed it to me.  I was tempted to take a drag while my drug dealing father watched my reaction.  I declined.  My father gibed, “You smoke grass in your bedroom but not in front of your father?  Go ahead, but don’t let me catch you doing anything harder.”  I firmly decline, feeling embarrassed,

“I can’t handle public paranoia.”

“Good boy,” my father proudly said.  He also declined when Coolidge offered him the joint.  My father handed Coolidge a fist full of money and the keys to his car, telling him to take me wherever I wanted to go.  Coolidge and I drove up Sweetzer turned right on Sunset and went to the original Guitar Center smoking the rest of the joint together in the car.

Guitar Center was banging music through the sound system.  Jackson, Fender Gibson, Krammer, Carvin and Charvel guitars hung on the walls.  My father, through Coolidge, bought me a white Krammer and some MXR and BOSS pedal effects.  Coolidge said Krammer’s were toys compared to Les Paul’s and Fender’s.  He never tried to convince me to cut my hair, and he told me stories about my father while we ate french-fries and sipped Orange Bangs at All-American Burger.  Coolidge considered my father a fair man who never took advantage of anyone’s addictions.  He never kicked around the dead beat artists who owed money and were unable to pay up.  He calmly asked them for the keys to their cars and houses and informed them when he would be coming with a truck to confiscate everything they owned.  Coolidge was responsible for selling their possessions.

We smoked the rest of the joint in the car ride back to the Sweetzer apartment.  When we arrived there was a black woman and a white blond, scurrying around in their bras and panties scrambling for their clothes.  My father came out of the bedroom wearing only his pants and holding the cardboard tubing from a wire hanger.  Coolidge mocked my father’s homemade sex toy.  The four adults burst into laughter.  I cracked a dazed smile.

My father and I jumped into the Alfa Romeo and drove back to the Valley.  His girlfriend was waiting with ropa vieja on the stove.  My father showered.  I smoked another spliff and noodled on my new guitar.  Then we ate.

10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A day spent with my father was like looking through a theodolite, trying to level out horizontal and vertical angles.  I lasted six months, returning to South San Gabriel, and to the low riders, low life drug dealers, graffiti, the pajama-wearing French-cooking Vietnamese refugees, my mother and her third husband and my friends.  I never finished the 8th grade, but I registered for High School anyway.

As a teenager I had to invent my own moral compass, to determine which targets of opportunity were appropriate, healthy and advantageous and which were potentially--if not--out right self-destructive.

I haven’t seen my father since I rabbit-punched him in February, 1994, because he was too busy planning a vacation for his new girl to Venezuela and too broke to help me out with a hernia surgery.  No one I know has seen or heard from him since he posted bail and the Feds have been looking for him since 1995.

If anyone has seen a frail, demoralized, yet finely articulate, charming Cuban man with the penmanship of our Federalist Fathers and who would fuck a rattlesnake if it stayed still long enough, buy him a drink, and tell him it’s from his son, who never was the best at anything.  Tell him that I extend no apologies for the rabbit-punch, and that I hope his rooster crows wise.
 
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