Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jesus of Visalia

When I returned from my vacation I found out that they had hired a new worker. His name was Jesus. I was supposed to train him, as I usually do with the new recruits. He seemed to be in his late twenties, but he looked older with his beard and mustache. I don’t know why, but I never liked bearded guys, or guys with mustaches. It might be because I can’t grow one. I think that if they are ugly they look uglier and if they are handsome they hide their handsomeness with their ugly beards but they always look older, dirtier, or smellier, but that’s just my opinion.

I work for a construction company in Visalia, a small city near Fresno. They pay us good and treat us well. I’m the supervisor in charge of the framing crew. We do rough carpentry that means we do the basic wood structure of the houses, the heavy part of the building. We are a little arrogant, compared to the rest of the workers like plumbers, painters, electricians and roofers. We usually are taller, stronger and faster than they are. We use all kinds of power tools, saws and nail guns. And of course, we have bigger hammers.

We hate sissies, if we fall, we don’t complain and if we injure ourselves we proudly show off our scars. When I met Jesus I took a look at his hands to see if he had any scars or scratches, and when I found one at the center of each hand, I thought it was a good sign. 

He had a little accent, when I talked to him in Spanish, he answered fluently, hmm, another Mexican. Even with the facial hair, I could tell he was handsome; I’ll try to convince him to shave it off, though.

He said his dad was a carpenter too, a finish carpenter. They used to make cabinets and furniture. A lot of difference from rough carpentry. He’ll be with us as a temp, for a try-out period. I’ll be the one deciding if he stays. I’ll put him as a helper for Pedro and Andres. Our crew consists of a group of six workers, all Mexicans, some of them don’t speak English well. We believe we are the best crew in the company; they give us the harder and bigger jobs.

I never understood why nobody names their kids 'Jesus', here in America. I mean, they use all the names in the Bible except Jesus. So different from Mexico, where it seems to be a crime if in your family you don’t have a Maria, (Mary) Jose, (Joseph) Jesus or Guadalupe, as in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Anyway, I always thought it was strange that no Americans were named Jesus.

The first day at work, just before our lunch break, Jesus was hit hard on the head by a small block of wood that was dropped accidentally. I went to check on him right away to see if he needed medical attention, but he said he was okay. I even looked for a bump on his head but there was none, good. He must have rocks instead of brains. When the lunch truck arrived, he said he’d pay for all we eat. He had no idea of the big mistake he just made. My guys are always starving, the total, $66.60, even the numbers were ominous.

Before the day was over, another accident happened. Yep, it’s Jesus, he fell from a six-foot ladder, and again I ran to him to see if he was hurt. No, nothing, just a little scratch on his right elbow. Good, his first scar. I told him that we’re allowed just one little accident a week, (I lied) but the way he’s going, he’ll be dead in a month. He laughed and said that from now on he’ll be more careful and that the accidents he had must have been caused by his desire and excitement to do well in his new job.

At the end of the day, we got paid, and as usual on Fridays, we headed for the Green Olive to shoot some pool and have a few beers. When we discussed who would be the driver, Jesus volunteered, but that was good and bad, because when we designate a driver we stay longer and we drink a lot more, but at least nobody would get a DUI ticket.

It turned out that Jesus was a pool shark; nobody seemed to be able to get him out of the pool table, not even Felipe and Tomas who were the best pool players in the joint. I almost got him, but I scratched after I made the eight ball in the corner pocket, the table must be out of level because the cue ball went into the pocket as if a magnet or something attracted it.

We had ordered at least ten pitchers of beer, and I noticed that our designated driver was drinking just like the rest of us, that didn’t look good. He was obviously having a great time, we might as well take a taxi cab when we’re done.

I had noticed that when we drink, we automatically change our names to the corresponding names in English. So Felipe is Phil, Tomas, is Tom, Pedro turns into Peter, Andres, becomes Andrew, and since I am Matias I turn into Mathew or Matt, it seems funny but we all like it. Even Simon and Pedro begin to speak in English “very fluently”.

Finally, Tom kicked Jesus’ butt and we’re glad, because Jesus had the table for almost two hours. Jesus seemed proud when he came to sit next to me.

“Man, you shoot pretty well, where did you learn?” I asked him.

“I have a pool table in my garage, I built it myself,” he answered, as proud as a peacock.

“Is that right, Jesus?” I ask sarcastically.

“Yes it is Matt, you’re welcome to practice. I can teach you a few tricks.

 ‘You cocky son of a gun’ I say, but only inside my head.

“Sounds like a great idea Jesus, but first go get a couple more pitchers, and remember, you’re the driver, so you better take it easy.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be okay Matt, you just don’t worry about it, okay?”

Just as Jesus came back with a pitcher on each hand, a man got up from his chair without noticing that Jesus was just passing behind him and Jesus showered him with the beer on his back. The tall guy seemed so upset; he slapped Jesus on his cheek. Jesus apologized right away, but we all stood up and were ready to defend him in anyway, but I made a signal to my co-workers not to intervene, because I wanted to see how Jesus reacted.

What the fuck is wrong with you, are you stupid or what?” the tall guy said, as he slapped Jesus on his other cheek, and pushed him menacingly.

“I’m sorry, man, I’m sorry, let me wash your shirt in the restroom, let me buy you some beers, I’m so sorry,” Jesus said, stuttering nervously.

“Just get the hell out of here; I don’t want to see your ugly face.”

I have to say that Jesus disappointed me. I thought he was a little braver than that. To me, even his attitude on this bar counts as a test to approve or disapprove his temporary job-testing period.

After the little skirmish, he went to get two more pitchers and to order some drinks for the table where the tall man sat with his friends.

“What’s up with that, man? I thought you were going to fight him, it wasn’t even your fault, you didn’t have to apologize at all,” I told Jesus as soon as he sat down.

“It’s all right, Matt, I don’t like to fight, I’m a pacifist, to me it’s all about karma. He’ll get what he deserves, sooner or later, you’ll see.”

A couple hours later Jesus went to the restroom and a minute later, the tall guy followed him. Obviously with mean intentions, but before he reached the door handle Jesus opened the door from the inside, hit him on the face with the door and knocked him down, then he hit the back of his head against the pool table and stayed on the floor unconsciously and bleeding.

Fuck! This time Karma acted very fast.

His friends stood up, and so did we, but they backed out. The guy couldn’t stop bleeding from his face and from the back of his head too. They had to call the paramedics and finally, they took him away in an ambulance.

When we left just before midnight, I knew Jesus was in no condition to drive, but he insisted. He said we were drunker than he was. When we were about to exit from the parking lot, a cop was passing by on his cruiser and sure enough, he followed us and pulled us over. Jesus told the cop he didn’t know how many drinks he had, which was true. He showed him his license, registration, and car insurance too. Incredibly, he passed the field sobriety test, counted from a hundred backwards and followed the officer’s finger with his eyes without moving the head. Last time I did the same test, I spent the night in jail. Then Jesus blew in the breathalyzer a few times and amazingly, he passed it too.

The cop didn’t have any options but to let us go. Afterwards, we were so out of control happy, that even Pedro mockingly mumbled quietly, “ha, you fool!” then the officer returned and asked the guys in the back . . . “what did you say?” Jesus answered for us  and said, “Never mind officer, they were talking to me” and the police officer, reluctantly let us go.

From that moment on, I and everybody else approved of Jesus. It was unanimous; he could keep working with us forever.

Being a good worker and a nice person couldn’t hide his clumsiness. During the following week, he had two more accidents. I explained to him in detail how to use the nail gun. I expressly told him how dangerous it was to operate it and he still managed to shoot a nail through  the palm of his left hand while holding a two by four against a piece of plywood. He also fell from a six-foot ladder and landed on the neighbors spearhead, iron fence. Thank God he held on to a three branch, but still one spear barely penetrated his rib cage.

He kept having minor accidents, but he always insisted not to report any of them. After every accident, even if he was bleeding he fixed himself up, usually with a wet napkin and some duct tape and continued working.

A couple of weeks later the whole gang and I went out to another bar to shoot some pool and have some fun. It was Karaoke night in that place and Jesus sang the Ballad of John and Yoko twice, he was pretty good at it. He looked a little like John Lennon with his long hair. He seemed to be everybody’s best friend now. Before we got wasted, Andres asked him if he wanted to be his Best Man, he’d be getting married in a few weeks. Jesus accepted.

One time I gave him a ride home when he had his pick-up truck at the repair shop. He lived on the outskirts of town in a small farmhouse. They had some farm animals, including a donkey. Jesus said that his dad never learned how to drive a car. He told me that he bought a horse for his dad, but he still prefers his donkey. I could see that his mom was distinguished and beautiful, she could show it, even through her timid personality and humble garments. Both his parents were reserved and respectful.

His mom offered us some lemonade, and as we sat under the patio cover to drink, I noticed a slingshot, and then I immediately grabbed it. I put a small rock in its pocket and aimed at a bird on a nearby tree, never thinking I would hit it, but I did. Jesus and his mom saw what I did and exclaimed sadly, as the bird fell from the tree “Oh!”

I felt terrible and ran to get the little bird. I brought it back and apologized to them, the poor creature was barely alive. Jesus’ mom stared at me disapprovingly, before she took the bird inside the house.

“You shouldn’t have done that, it was just a little bird, man,” Jesus said, and made me feel smaller than an ant.

“I’m sorry, I never thought I was going to hit it, I swear I never meant to do it. I’ve never killed a bird in my life,” I knew the apology wasn’t good enough, not even to lessen the anger I felt at myself, but I continued talking,

“Why do you have a slingshot in the house, anyway?”

“I only use it to protect the chickens from the coyotes, but I have never killed any of God’s creatures. My mom is amazing with animals; she might save the little bird.” I knew he said this to relieve my guilty conscience. Which I knew I sincerely showed it.

“Do you believe in God?” I asked him, knowing a hundred percent in advance that he did.

“Yes, I believe in my dad,” he said without hesitation.

“No, I said God, do you believe in God?” I corrected him.

“Oh, yes of course . . .  don’t you?

“Yes I do, well, sometimes, like right now. I wish God could save the little bird, otherwise I’d feel bad for a long time.” 

“Why did you ask if I believe in God?”

“I don’t know, well, I knew you’d say yes, you seem to be a good spiritual person, but don’t you have to kill your chickens to eat them? And what’s the difference between a little bird and a big bird?”

“But you didn’t kill that bird to survive or because you were hungry, that was just a stupid action. I guess I don’t have to kill a chicken to survive either. Anyway you got a good point there, in any case, what you did was very stupid and you have to admit it. Such an innocent bird, and he was singing for us.”

“Yeah, but your chickens are innocent too, well, never mind. I feel bad enough already. I’m sorry Jesus. I should have killed one of your chickens instead and we’d be having chicken in "mole poblano" by now,” I finished mumbling my last words and we ended our morality talk laughing.

After I apologized to his mom I said goodbye and told Jesus that I’d be back in the morning to pick him up. Before I got in my pickup truck, unbelievably a bird shat on my head, and we laughed when Jesus said, “You deserve that.”

In the morning when I went to pick him up I felt relieved after I saw the little bird singing in a small cage.

Our crew consists of six workers. We divide the group in three pairs, so each leader has a helper or partner. Andres picked Jesus as his partner. Jesus is turning into a good carpenter, he’s very precise and clean with his cuts but accidents keep following him relentlessly. Yesterday he fell from the roof, he tripped and slid and kept yelling in a funny way until he landed on his butt. We started laughing outrageously after he stood unharmed.

On the day of the wedding, before the ceremony Jesus bought a Beatles CD from a group of vendors that gatheres outside the church, but he got upset after he opened the CD case and noticed that it was clearly a pirated item.

When he asked for his money back, the vendor refused, saying that he had opened it already. Jesus then got mad, turned the table over spreading dozens of CDs on the sidewalk and angrily shouted at them, saying that it was immoral to sell merchandise outside the house of God, especially if it was pirated stuff and that they were deceiving and committing fraud to decent people. He didn’t calm down until the bride and the groom showed up. His attitude was a little bizarre, I thought.

Andres had invited the whole crew to be his groomsmen. We sat on the same pew. I was next to Jesus. Before the ceremony started, two six or seven-year-old kids approached Jesus shyly and one of them quietly asked him, “Are you Jesus?” and he answered, “Yes, I’m the Best Man,” and one kid exclaimed excitedly and said to the other kid, “See, I told you he was Jesus, the best man in the world, the son of God!” I couldn’t contain my laughter. Then the priest asked them to be quiet, because mass was about to start.

When mass was over, a whole bunch of little kids were following Jesus, grabbing his hands and looking up to him, mesmerized. One of them kissed the palm of his left hand when he saw his scar. Jesus’ face turned red and could only get rid of them until he spoke loudly in Spanish, “Váyanse de aquí, chiquillos, yo no soy Jesus, soy ‘Heh-soos’”. (Translation) “Get away from me, kids, I’m not Jesus, I’m ‘Heh-soos’”.

At the reception, a voluptuous girl with a glass of wine in her hand was trying to tempt Jesus. She kept chasing him all night. Finally, she convinced him. She danced sensuously and poor Jesus had no rhythm at all.

My whole crew and I had bought all the wine, beers and drinks for the wedding. We thought we had more than enough for everybody. But as usual, we were wrong. There’s never enough alcohol at Mexican weddings, no matter how much we stock up.

When Jesus came from the dance floor, he was fuming. He said that the girl he was dancing with, had just insinuated that he was gay.

“Damn, if a girl wants to save her virginity until her wedding, they say she’s a virtuous girl, but if it’s a man, they say he’s gay. How stupid is that.” He said.

“Come on man! You’re acting like a man from two thousand years ago. And please, don’t tell me that you are still a virgin.”

“I don’t have to answer dumb questions. Besides, you’re acting like a typical Mexican macho man, why can’t a man say no to sex?”

Jesus was now talking in a low voice and very close to my ear. He knew everybody would laugh at him if they listened to his antiquated opinions.

“But how can you say no to a girl like that.”

“Argh, never mind, I need a beer.” He said, expressing his anger and frustration.

“Sorry, we ran out of alcohol already. That’s what always happens in all Mexican weddings, you know that.”

Then he went to the unattended bar, jumped the counter and started to pump the beer keg. He kept extracting beer from several ‘empty’ kegs all night long.

In the end he got drunk, his frustration disappeared and he disappeared too, along with the voluptuous girl.

Edmundo Barraza

Visalia, CA. 10-24-2012

Thursday, July 3, 2014


In the Mexico of my childhood, in the Mexico where I grew up, every slum had one. Some were hidden with much shame in the back rooms of the most miserable homes of the outskirts of town. They were called by different names, lunatic, crazy, unhinged, mad, insane, nut case, loony, cuckoo, wacko or worse.

My mom had a benevolent heart, and somehow she had thought me to be respectful to everybody, and never to laugh at anyone with mental or physical deficiencies. She never gave me a lesson or mentioned the subject, I just probably learned by her example.

In the poor neighborhood where I lived, I had a friend my age, he had a brother that most of the people in the neighborhood never knew he existed. His brother was kept apart and secluded in a small room behind the kitchen. He was physically deformed, I could never guess what his age was, and he was obviously mentally impaired. I only saw him once, and I felt sad for his misery. I know it sounds awful, but when I saw Quasimodo in the movies, he reminded me of him. He had to be totally dependent on his parents.

Then, there was Marcelino, he was a little less dependent, but anybody could see that he was crazy from a mile away. He was mentally deficient or disabled or retarded, you can choose the term you prefer. He was able to work (more or less). He needed to work because he had to support his younger sister and his mother. (as I later found out.)

He didn’t live in my neighborhood. I only saw him every two or three weeks, I guess that’s the time it took him to travel his route. Sometimes I saw him in other parts of town, but always in the poorest areas of the city. I didn’t know his family or where he was from. I didn’t know where he slept. Marcelino sometimes changed his route to avoid the rotten food and vegetables that were thrown at him by mean kids and meaner adults. Sometimes old ladies would defend him, but their presence was never permanent.

Going door to door, Marcelino would offer to sing your favorite song for change or for some left-overs. He would never beg for anything free, except maybe for an old 45 for his record player. He would exchange his services as a troubadour for a taco or for ten cents.

He carried a little wooden box with a rusty nail sticking out of the middle. It was probably the only possession of his that wasn’t a hand-me-down, or hadn’t been reclaimed from the back alley. Ten cents would buy you a song. Not really singing anything, he’d just hum and mumble the same tune no matter what the request had been. Turning his treasured records with his stubby fingers on his wooden box, he’d perform for you, your song.

To hear the fading man whine, older kids from town would snatch Marcelino’s records. All the kids did something to him at some point. Frisbeeing the records over his head into the hands of another kid, they make him chase them around, until someone finally dropped one. Marcelino would pick it up, clean it off with his dirty shirt and walk straight to his record player to start singing again. Maybe he was too slow to see it, but I think it was excessive innocence; he’d fall for their pranks every time. Spotting him a block away, kids would climb tree tops and roofs, and just when Marcelino was close enough, they’d jump out of their hiding places to throw a bucket of water or watermelon rinds, rotten eggs and tomatoes, or whatever was at hand.

Our mothers would defend him then, but they didn’t realize that they themselves embedded resentment in our little minds years before, saying, “Do as I say, or Marcelino would take you.” Comparing him to the boogie man.

Patiently waiting, crouched in my balcony, I’d be armed with rubber bands and orange peels, ready for any unlucky victims to walk past my house, Yeah, I had dirty tricks too, but I was choosy, no grandmas, pretty girls or Marcelino. 

When his daily route brought him to my house, mama always had a taco or whatever we had for lunch, waiting for him and I’d always take him to the door. She’d never forget to give me his ten cents, so I could have my song. Some days he would show up with bruises and gashes on his face and arms, and then we’d pay for two. Everybody knew when he’d get all bloodied up, that somebody had been extremely cruel and everybody would feel bad about it, but all that temporary compassion would fade away before he moved to the next neighborhood. 

On some occasions my dad would give me money to give to church on Sundays, and I never thought of using that money for my own pleasure. I never kept it for me, not even once, except to give it to Marcelino when he came up all beaten and defeated.

He sang obscure or invented on-the-spot songs, whatever came to his mind I guess. We could never understand the words. But there was one that he would sing endlessly, it sounded like a lullaby. If you requested that one, he would smile mischievously, because he also knew it was the best in his repertoire. While he was humming that sad tune you could find a little happiness behind his eyes.                                                                                                                         
He had dark skin, after all his life under the sun. He was eternally tanned, no, that’s not the word, he was eternally sunburned. You could see he had extraordinary strength, the strength of a hard working peasant, but he could never use it in its entire potential to defend himself, because he could easily be punished by the law, or overtaken by a mob.

He could never win, he was always alone. No matter what, he’d be the guilty party, even if he’d win, but he could never win. And he never won. Nobody could be on his side on those instances. The loony, the mentally deranged is always the loser in these parts of town or anywhere else. If he acted “irrationally” his final destiny could be jail, or the hospital, and in some extreme case (if he was lucky) the cemetery. 

Sometimes we would try to guess his age, it was very difficult. Our guesses varied from twenty to forty five. But his mind was of a seven-year-old child. (I could cry just thinking about that.)

You could see he was extremely innocent, even though he had been eternally abused. I say this because it was easy to make him smile. He didn’t ask for much. If you smile at him, he knew you were a friend, but the thing was that he could easily forget that, and the next minute you were the enemy again. It was easy to gain his trust but it was easier for him to distrust you, probably because he had been abused by so many, and for so long.

One of the kids my age was especially mean to him. Years later he wanted to date my sister, but I highly recommended her against it. I was glad she followed my advice.

One time I came out of my house, and right away I knew I had missed him, when I saw many tiny pieces of black, hard plastic on the ground. I was sure it was one of his records. 

After a while, I saw less of Marcelino. By the time winter came, he had even left most everyone’s mind but mine. I missed his rusty muttering, his toothless smile, so after I apologized to my older brother for purposely leaving his records in the sun and warping them, I asked if I could give them to Marcelino and set out on his route to find him.

To my ten year old legs it seemed no one had ever walked as far to reach a tiny house at the edge of town, having gone through all the repairs it could take. A small woman opened the door, his sister, “They took his leg, from the knee.” She said. One of his bruises never healed. Too scared to go inside I left the records with her and went back home.

Summer came and so did Marcelino, with a wooden leg and crutches. Around his neck, hung his record player by a string, and swinging from his hip, his 45s in a cloth bag. It was good to see him again, but I was deeply sad to see him like that.

His new appearance softened very few hearts. He’d forget to avoid the produce alley, where the men would tease him, asking him if he had a wife, if he’d ever been with a woman, if he wanted to. Now, the mean grown-up men thought it was funny to watch him hobble back down the alley to fetch the crutch they’d just thrown.

Up to my own tricks in my balcony, I was aiming my orange peel at some kid walking up to my neighbor’s house. I couldn’t get my shot in. The kid had started playing with my neighbor's little girl in the front yard. Throwing her in the air and catching her, they were both laughing. Suddenly, the girl's dog came out growling and cornered the kid against the fence, when the little girl began to scream, Marcelino appeared at the gate and hit the dog with his crutch, the dog then jumped at Marcelino’s neck, and the kid, scared that it had been his fault, started yelling at the people that were now coming out of their houses.

And he told everybody that Marcelino was trying to take the girl. 

Was it the dog or the enraged mob who ended Marcelino's life? In the end nobody knew, and nobody cared. 

Most people believed the kid was telling the truth about Marcelino, after all the dog was defending the master's daughter, but nobody believed me. Only my mom and my dad.

There were only a handful of people at his funeral, where an old lady began to sing a beautiful song. 

The same song I heard Marcelino hum hundreds of times all throughout my childhood.

Michelle Solano / Edmundo Barraza
Lancaster, Ca. July-2014

*I first told this story to my daughter Michelle, when she was seven or eight years old. Later she wrote it in High School. Most of the story happened in real life when I was ten or eleven years old. What seems amazing to me, is that my daughter wrote the story  ten years later with such great detail. I only added a few paragraphs and changed the ending a little bit.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Incarnations of Burned Children.

The Daddy was around the side of the house hanging a door for the tenant when he heard the child's screams and the Mommy's voice gone high between them. He could move fast, and the back porch gave onto the kitchen, and before the screen door had banged shut behind him the Daddy had taken the scene in whole, the overturned pot on the floortile before the stove and the burner's blue jet and the floor's pool of water still steaming as its many arms extended, the toddler in his baggy diaper standing rigid with steam coming off his hair and his chest and shoulders scarlet and his eyes rolled up and mouth open very wide and seeming somehow separate from the sounds that issued, the Mommy down on one knee with the dishrag dabbing pointlessly at him and matching the screams with cries of her own, hysterical so she was almost frozen. Her one knee and the bare little soft feet were still in the steaming pool, and the Daddy's first act was to take the child under the arms and lift him away from it and take him to the sink, where he threw out plates and struck the tap to let cold wellwater run over the boy's feet while with his cupped hand he gathered and poured or flung more cold water over his head and shoulders and chest, wanting first to see the steam stop coming off him, the Mommy over his shoulder invoking God until he sent her for towels and gauze if they had it, the Daddy moving quickly and well and his man's mind empty of everything but purpose, not yet aware of how smoothly he moved or that he'd ceased to hear the high screams because to hear them would freeze him and make impossible what had to be done to help his child, whose screams were regular as breath and went on so long they'd become already a thing in the kitchen, something else to move quickly around. The tenant side's door outside hung half off its top hinge and moved slightly in the wind, and a bird in the oak across the driveway appeared to observe the door with a cocked head as the cries still came from inside. The worst scalds seemed to be the right arm and shoulder, the chest and stomach's red was fading to pink under the cold water and his feet's soft soles weren't blistered that the Daddy could see, but the toddler still made little fists and screamed except now merely on reflex from fear the Daddy would know he thought possible later, small face distended and thready veins standing out at the temples and the Daddy kept saying he was here he was here, adrenaline ebbing and an anger at the Mommy for allowing this thing to happen just starting to gather in wisps at his mind's extreme rear still hours from expression. When the Mommy returned he wasn't sure whether to wrap the child in a towel or not but he wet the towel down and did, swaddled him tight and lifted his baby out of the sink and set him on the kitchen table's edge to soothe him while the Mommy tried to check the feet's soles with one hand waving around in the area of her mouth and uttering objectless words while the Daddy bent in and was face to face with the child on the table's checkered edge repeating the fact that he was here and trying to calm the toddler's cries but still the child breathlessly screamed, a high pure shining sound that could stop his heart and his bitty lips and gums now tinged with the light blue of a low flame the Daddy thought, screaming as if almost still under the tilted pot in pain. A minute, two like this that seemed much longer, with the Mommy at the Daddy's side talking sing-song at the child's face and the lark on the limb with its head to the side and the hinge going white in a line from the weight of the canted door until the first wisp of steam came lazy from under the wrapped towel's hem and the parents' eyes met and widened--the diaper, which when they opened the towel and leaned their little boy back on the checkered cloth and unfastened the softened tabs and tried to remove it resisted slightly with new high cries and was hot, their baby's diaper burned their hand and they saw where the real water'd fallen and pooled and been burning their baby all this time while he screamed for them to help him and they hadn't, hadn't thought and when they got it off and saw the state of what was there the Mommy said their God's first name and grabbed the table to keep her feet while the father turned away and threw a haymaker at the air of the kitchen and cursed both himself and the world for not the last time while his child might now have been sleeping if not for the rate of his breathing and the tiny stricken motions of his hands in the air above where he lay, hands the size of a grown man's thumb that had clutched the Daddy's thumb in the crib while he'd watched the Daddy's mouth move in song, his head cocked and seeming to see way past him into something his eyes made the Daddy lonesome for in a strange vague way. If you've never wept and want to, have a child. Break your heart inside and something will a child is the twangy song the Daddy hears again as if the lady was almost there with him looking down at what they've done, though hours later what the Daddy won't most forgive is how badly he wanted a cigarette right then as they diapered the child as best they could in gauze and two crossed handtowels and the Daddy lifted him like a newborn with his skull in one palm and ran him out to the hot truck and burned custom rubber all the way to town and the clinic's ER with the tenant's door hanging open like that all day until the hinge gave but by then it was too late, when it wouldn't stop and they couldn't make it the child had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead, and whatever was lost never thenceforth mattered, and the child's body expanded and walked about and drew pay and lived its life untenanted, a thing among things, its self's soul so much vapor aloft, falling as rain and then rising, the sun up and down like a yoyo. 

"Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being." 

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dark Stuff

I’ve been writing lately a lot about death and suicide, rapes and all kinds of human suffering.  It could be that I am at the second stage of my life, (or third, or final) but I know I’m not afraid of dying. My sweet dreams have turned into nightmares about misery, injustice, and a lot of twisted horrible things man does. I love people and I love the world and new experiences as little as they may be. But I still find depressing and heartbreaking stories fascinating. In every story I write I need to have at least one death or some kind of excruciating misery. Otherwise, I think it’s missing something, and I find it boring.

I might be angry at God, the Pope, all angels and saints. I’m actually pissed at all of them. I’m not afraid of them, even if I think we’ll meet soon. (Hopefully not, not that I don’t want to see them, I do, but not just yet.) One thing’s for sure, I’ve been a little disappointed at God for many years, most people could find this aberrant, but I will never be an abnegated or submissive person, (question authority, remember?) anyway, I’m upset, because I know He can do a lot better. 

I’m still assuming that God exists, but a couple of days ago I read an article that said that the only proof that God exists is the Bible, and that the only proof that Spider Man exists is the comic book, can anybody question that?

Anyway, I mentioned God because if he wanted, things could be better. I don’t blame him (totally) for the situation in our planet; humans should take at least fifty percent of the blame. But the current state of our world wouldn’t allow my mind to think or write about anything but dark stuff. 

If I keep writing about suicidal thoughts and obscure stuff, my family and friends might be afraid, (or happy) that one of these days I would appear hanged inside a closet, but I will never do that, because I’m not brave enough. (Have you noticed that I use a lot of parenthesis?) (Well, I like them a lot; they’re like thoughts inside my thoughts.)

What worries me is that I used to be optimistic, but now I think I moved to the other extreme. I didn’t notice when I began to change. I feel better on this side. An optimistic person would never think about committing suicide or about the end of the world. But my masochistic mind enjoys it.

I also think that being a negative or a pessimistic person shortens your life, lessens your joy, and reduces your happiness. It attracts sickness and makes friends disappear. I definitely share that opinion, but I had never followed my own advice. I’m not satisfied with my way of thinking or my attitude, but at the same time I don’t want to change.

There’s a song by Billy Joel that goes:

“I rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
Sinners are much more fun.”

He knows it too, “Good is boring.” That’s another reason my mind likes to be on the bizarre side of stories, because good is boring.

There’s no “they lived happily ever after” in my stories, there has to be a death, a rape, a suicide or something macabre going on in any of my tales to be entertaining. The Bible is a perfect example for this kind of reading material. Whoever wrote it was thinking the same way. 

I prefer chaos, hostility and murder over romance, comedy and happy endings. After all, we all know that we have a death sentence in our future. Every second that passes we get closer to our deaths. We are constantly dying while we are constantly living. We could never experience the best of all possible worlds, simply because human beings exist in it. There’s no need to blame anything or anyone. 

But I assure you, I’m a happy pessimist and I enjoy the fact that my stories will never end well. 

Just like in real life, where all ends in death.

Edmundo Barraza   
Lancaster, Ca. May-31-2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

My Angel

I first felt his presence when I was six years old.

While crossing the bridge, above the raging waters of that fearful river, I felt his protecting wing next to my shoulder. I know I don’t have any proof, but I’m here, that’s my proof. 

A few years later I was performing one of my tricks riding my bike on the middle of the street, standing up on the frame with my arms extended. I don’t know what happened, but when I regained consciousness I was lying down with my head resting against a tree. I could mention many more examples of my angel’s heroism. I sure had him busy.

I never saw him of course, but I often felt his presence. I began to call him Angel. 

When I was a kid he got me out of trouble many times, you know, little kid trouble. However, as my innocence began to fade, so did him. 

Now, I’m not so sure if it was my guardian angel who kept me out of trouble. That angel might have been my mom. She probably was his substitute or an alternate, or the ‘afterwards’ angel, or the ‘just in case’ angel. My mom was never on time to save me from accidents or personal tragedies, but she always cured me and consoled me afterwards. She used to protect me against my daytime fears, like hunger, sickness and cold, and also against my nighttime fears, like monsters my own mind created. Just a hug and a kiss from her, and I was brave again.

Eventually, the comfort of my guardian angel (real or invented) evaporated. He wasn’t there anymore, not when I fell, or when I failed, or when I wasn’t well. 

Then, his angelical presence felt more like a stalker’s shadow, because it seemed that he didn’t intervene anymore. Then, he was just an indifferent bystander, an impartial passerby or a blind witness.

However, I believe he was still there, but if he’s been with me since I was a kid, he must be ageless, because I don’t think he would have been assigned to care for me when I was a baby, if he was a baby too. 

That makes me wonder, will he die when I die? Are angels really ageless? Do they get sick, tired, bored? Do they make mistakes? 

I know I kept mine busy when I was younger. Now, with my semi-sedentary life, his days must be filled with boredom; he might even be retired already. I bet he is a little stubborn and lazy too.

I remember when I loaned him to my son in law when he was in soldier duty. I thought that he (my angel) came back a little traumatized or something. He was never the same; he became careless and began to ignore his duties.

During that time, I got involved in a fight and some guy kicked the crap out of me. I know it was my fault, I know I was completely drunk. I know I initiated the whole incident, but still . . . 

Probably the other guy’s angel was bigger too.

On another occasion, I remember I was a little drunk too, a little more than the time previously mentioned. I was driving my pickup truck when a stupid mountain crossed my path. I made a sudden turn and I crashed near the edge of a cliff. I know, it was my fault and I was completely drunk. My drunkenness provoked the accident, but still . . .

Where’s an angel when you need one.

He abandoned me a long time ago. That’s for sure. No hard feelings, he wasn’t needed that much anyway. 

At work, using power tools and ladders, I rarely had any accidents. I was never careless, even if I was a little drunk. Or maybe he did help me after all.

On another occasion, I was drowning in a river. He was swimming behind me; I think I was the only one who made it to the riverbank.That’s the last time I "saw" him.

After that, I had to learn how to avoid getting in trouble because I noticed the prolonged absences of my inept, or absent angel. 

Another theory I had, when he disappeared for long periods, was that he was probably chasing female angels. I don’t believe all angels are male, why should they be? God couldn’t be so discriminatory. Anyway, I think mine was a male. But if they exist, they must need companionship too.

Sometimes, I thought I got it backwards. I never knew if my angel was there to guard me, or if I was supposed to keep an eye on him. Could it be that he was the fool and I was the angel? In which case, nobody would have won anything anyway, because I never did anything for him either.

Maybe I’m complaining in vain. After all, I am alive. 

Anyway, angels and good human beings should always be recycled. That should be the perfect reincarnation. In which case, neither my angel nor I should consider coming back after we’re gone.

Angels are supposed to give us nurture and counsel and to help us heal. They’re supposed to radiate their love and glory. They are here to keep us safe, to assist us with our fears and phobias. He probably succeeded with all of that. 

But he was never able to remove the dark cloud I was under. 

Or perhaps, keeping bad luck away from me was not his duty.

And now, finally, I can blame somebody.

Edmundo Barraza
Lancaster, Ca. May19-2013